Mandatory disclaimer: All recognisable characters belong to Stephenie Meyer. This goes for the whole story.
OK, this is my very first fanfiction attempt so go easy on me :) I really hope you like it.
The stem of feathery grass tickled my cheek as I lay, staring up at the cornflower blue sky, watching the pillowing fluffy mounds of clouds scud across above my head. I closed my eyes and let the sun warm my face, basking in the orange glow that surrounded me from behind my eyelids. If I lay completely still, I could hear the summer breeze wafting through the tree tops and rustling the plump green leaves above me, and every so often a twig would fall and drop into the quiet stream that bubbled a few yards away, plinking over the pebbles in the bottom as it was carried along by the cool, shallow water.
A twig landed on my neck, disturbing my reflections, and I brushed it away as I tried to sink back into my meditative state. A moment later, a pebble from the brook dropped into my upturned palm and I closed my hand around it, puzzled by the feeling of the cold water on my warm skin.
I opened my eyes slowly, squinting against the brightness of the mid-afternoon sun, and glanced around me, only to see that I was alone in the meadow as I had been all afternoon. I closed my eyes again but found it practically impossible to relax back into the calmness I had experienced before, so instead I ran my fingers over the smooth texture of the pebble, wondering how it could have landed so perfectly in my palm. I was struck, mid-contemplation, by a broken piece of a stick to my ankle and I shot upright, staring around me as I sat alone in the tall grass.
Peering behind me, I saw a flash of brown disappear behind one of the larger trees and I fixed my eyes on it as I rose slowly to my feet. "Bella," I called softly, "I know you're there, and you'd better come out now. There's nowhere else for you to hide."
Narrowing my eyes, I stalked quietly towards the tree, not taking my eyes off it as I edged closer to where I had seen the movement vanish. However, as I approached, there was a sudden noise as the person who had been hiding behind the tree took off into the woods at the edge of the clearing, darting between the trees, their long brown hair flying out behind them. With a cry, I started off after them, tearing past the trees into the shady copse, hardly noticing as my shirt caught on low branches until one nearly collided with my face and I had to duck to avoid it.
I could see that I was catching her up and I put on an extra burst of speed, soon getting close enough that I could hear her shallow breathing as she struggled to outrun me. Using my height advantage, I stretched my legs and gained on her, throwing out my arms to catch her round the waist and stop her from evading me. She squirmed at first, but soon realised that I was too strong for her and stopped wriggling. I let her go and she slumped to the ground, her legs twisted up in her long brown skirt, panting to catch her breath.
I dropped down next to her and leaned back against the trunk of the nearest tree, exhaling deeply. As her breathing returned to normal Bella looked over at me, a mischievous smile on her face, her eyes crinkled up in amusement, and I found myself smiling unconsciously back at her, almost as a reflex.
"Is it entertaining for you to throw things at me when I am defenceless?" I asked her, amusement colouring my voice, and she laughed, a beautiful sound that seemed to echo back from the trees surrounding us to chime in my ears.
"I'm sorry," she gasped in between giggles, "but you looked so peaceful lying there spread-eagled with tufts of grass in your hair; the opportunity was too hard to resist."
I frowned at her, trying to appear severe which only set her off into a further peal of laughter, and after a few moments I joined her, revelling in the carefree afternoon and the feeling of the sun warming my back from in between the trees.
When we finally stopped laughing and quieted down again I asked, "How did you know I'd be here?"
"I didn't," she replied, "I just came here to walk and enjoy the sunshine." She paused, looking at me sideways from under her lashes, which set my heart pounding in my chest although I couldn't fathom why.
"But now that we're both here," she continued, "I have something I need to discuss with you."
"Oh, yes?" I inquired, my interest peaked as I leaned forwards slightly so that she could whisper in my ear conspiratorially.
"From what I have heard," she breathed, "somebody is having a birthday tomorrow."
She pulled back to grin at me, her eyes twinkling as I rolled my own at her, slightly embarrassed.
"My, my," she continued, smirking at me, "our little Edward's going to be eighteen years old."
I bristled at her words and puffed out my chest, staring down at her imposingly as she sat on the forest floor. "I am still three months older than you," I retorted slightly haughtily, raising my eyebrows at her challengingly. "You won't be eighteen until September, so mind who you call 'little'."
She smiled back at me, indulging me by allowing my small tantrum, and immediately I felt ashamed and dropped my gaze. It was becoming increasingly difficult to know who I was supposed to be at any given time; my parents were expecting me to sprout into a man at any moment, and while I knew I was as tall or strong as any man, inside I sometimes still felt like the child I had been a few years ago.
For a moment I wanted to ask Bella if she had ever felt the same way; she was my oldest friend and we had grown up together so I was sure she would not think badly of me for asking. However, before I could get the words out, she stood up, pulling me to my feet along with her, and set off back towards the clearing with me in tow.
"Bella?" I asked, slightly confused.
She ignored me and kept walking back, never checking behind her to see if I was following. I smiled quickly to myself – she knew as well as I did that I would follow her wherever she went. As we approached the edge of the clearing, she stalked out into the middle of the one remaining patch of sunlight, glaring at something on the ground, and turned abruptly to face me.
"Edward Masen," she rebuked me, capturing my attention.
"Isabella Swan," I replied, merriment dancing in my eyes as I watched her, waiting for the next part of the statement. I couldn't help but notice the way her chestnut hair shone in the sunlight, its ripples catching the light and throwing its dark glossy hues into waves of mahogany brown. Frowning at me in disapproval, she bent down and retrieved something that had been lying amidst the long grass. She held it out for me to come and fetch, and I sighed before reaching out to take my hat from her and jam it back onto my head. She nodded, satisfied, then her eyes sparkled as she asked excitedly, "Can I give you your birthday present now?"
I raised my eyebrows in an unspoken question, but she just looked at me expectantly with those big brown eyes so I inclined my head in acquiescence and she grabbed my hand and started pulling me through the meadow back towards the town. "It's in my bedroom. We'll have to go home to get it."
We walked in companionable silence through the woods and over the bridge that led to our homes. When we reached Bella's house, she opened the side gate and we walked around to the garden where she left me under the apple tree with a promise to speedily return. I flopped down onto the soft, manicured lawn and watched her progress through the house.
My gaze followed her through the lofty windows as she ran upstairs and then I saw her flit into her bedroom on the third floor and begin rifling through a draw of her dresser. It seemed that she found what she was looking for as after a few moments she withdrew and began her descent back to me as I waited for her in the garden. The sun was finally setting behind the house when she raced out of the door, a small parcel clutched in her hand.
She flew across the lawn towards me but just as she was about to reach my tree she tripped and careened forwards. I tried to catch her but only managed to grab her sleeve so we ended up in a heap on the grass. Lifting her off me by her shoulders, I looked her over to check that she was unhurt and then sat us both up against the trunk of the apple tree.
She giggled slightly, an embarrassed sound, and grimaced at me apologetically. "Sorry about that," she murmured, "I guess I just got a little carried away."
I rolled my eyes at her and she took that to mean she was forgiven as she smiled at me and thrust the small parcel into my hand. I looked down at it curiously; it was about three inches in length and quite flat, wrapped up in brown paper and tied hurriedly together with a piece of string. I turned it over and picked the knot undone, pulling off the paper to reveal a small piece of folded linen.
I raised my gaze to Bella's and she smiled at me encouragingly so I opened the folds of fabric to reveal a stiff piece of card with small writing on the face of it. Suddenly excited, I turned it over and my jaw dropped as I stared at what I held in my hands. I couldn't believe that I was actually touching the one hundredth cigarette card from the second Great War series. I looked up at Bella, my eyes wide, begging her to tell me that it was really true. She bit her lip nervously and nodded and my jaw snapped shut as I bent to examine the card once more.
As I turned it over slowly in my hands I confirmed that it was really the card that I had been seeking for over a year, the one hundredth card that would complete my collection and slot into that last space in my presentation book that I had saved for weeks to get.
Over the last year I had become obsessed with collecting each of the cards and had spent all my money on cigarettes, although I did not smoke. Instead I tipped them into a draw in my dresser, anxiously shaking them all out until I was left with only the card in the bottom which I would either add to my growing collection or toss aside in disgruntlement.
To my great disappointment, the cards had been discontinued a month ago due to the need to conserve all valuable resources for the war effort, and I had never had the chance to complete my collection. I had spent the last five weeks asking everyone I knew if they had in their possession this last card and none of them had seen it, believing it to be fairly rare.
Without taking my eyes off the miracle in my palm I asked breathlessly, "Where did you get it?"
She laughed delicately and I tore my gaze away to see her twirling a strand of hair around her finger in a gesture I knew to be slightly nervous. Allowing my fervour to saturate my voice I hurried to reassure her. "Thank you, Bella. This is unbelievable. How on earth did you get hold of it?"
She beamed at me and dropped the piece of silky hair, shrugging her shoulders nonchalantly and replied, "I asked around. I knew that somebody had to have the card and with a little persuasion I convinced them to do business with me."
"You are amazing," I vowed sincerely and she laughed, an embarrassed flush sweeping across her cheeks and lighting up her face.
"I'm glad you like it."
"I love it," I assured her. At that moment, the upstairs window swung open and a male voice called,
"Bella, can you come in here please?"
"That's my father, I guess I have to go," she sighed and stood up, brushing down her skirt, and I jumped up next to her. She leaned towards me and went up on tiptoes before softly brushing my cheek with her lips.
"Happy birthday," she whispered before turning and running into the house without a backward glance. I stood, staring after her for a short while, before heading out of the side gate and down the street to my own house.
Pushing open the front door, I called out to let my parents know that I was home, then climbed the stairs to my bedroom, throwing myself down on the bed and staring up at the ceiling. Still clutching the precious card in my hand, I blew out the breath I had been holding for I did not know how long, and tried not to dwell to much on the way her soft lips had felt against my cheek, her breath blowing into my ear, making me shiver.
It seemed that turning eighteen had a lot to answer for.
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