Disclaimer: Twilight belongs to Stephenie Meyer. I'm simply borrowing her characters for the time being.
Chapter 13: Cool, Collected, and Composed
Today was, indubitably, the most incredible day of my life.
My meadow was an amazing to place to spend unclouded days. The sunlight restricted the places I could go, what with my skin's less than common reaction to it, but this quaint meadow was a private, picturesque place to relax and soak up the bright beams. The beauty of the meadow, though, was nothing compared to the angel sitting not a foot away from me.
If someone had told me just a few weeks ago that today I would be spending a sunny day with a human whose blood called to me with unbearable strength, smelling of freesia and lavender and moonlight and desire, my personal ambrosia, truly, a human who knew my family's terrible secret and still wanted to be here with me, I would never have believed them.
Bella's clothing—which matched mine, thanks to Alice's meddling—rustled and heat spread across the back of my hand. I opened my eyes, pleasantly surprised at the unexpected contact. She sat curled with her chin on her knees, like she had been all afternoon, but was now stroking my reflective skin with one hesitant finger.
Warmth. Blissful, incredible warmth. Her pulse hammered into my hand, vibrating through my skin, up my arm to my chest, almost replicating the feeling of having a beating heart, of being human, a thing I hadn't felt anywhere close to being for nearly a hundred years.
I pulled my mind away from dangerous thoughts of her blood. Even though I'd been hearing the heady, crimson life-giving fluid rushing through her veins all afternoon, having Bella so close with such tantalizing thoughts was beyond tempting, crossing the line into incredibly perilous.
Bella didn't seem to notice this. As deadly and abnormal and terrifying as I was, she went on stroking my cold, rock hard, glistening, inhuman hand, immune to her instincts that had to be screaming for her to flee.
Her rich brown eyes flicked up to mine. I smiled, careful not to show my teeth so as not to frighten her. "I don't scare you?" I questioned, softening the serious question with a light, playful tone. Bella was an intelligent girl. Didn't she realize that I was a vampire, a soulless monster only found lurking in the pages of horror novels and the shadows of Hollywood thrillers? That my self-control could so easily slip and I could drain her sweet, warm, intoxicating blood from her body, ending her life? More importantly, did she even care?
"No more than usual," Bella replied casually, her eyes surprisingly sincere. For a moment, I was horrified, thinking that she'd been referring to my doubt of the existence of her instincts, a musing I feared I'd accidentally voiced aloud. But this was ridiculous, for as observant as she was, she'd only been responding to my question of her fright, and I allowed myself to smile. Too eager to give no indication that I'd been flustered, I showed my teeth by mistake. The sun glinted off their razor edges, painfully bright. I fully expected her to recoil, if not in disgust then in shock, and braced myself for the blow to my self-esteem.
But, instead, she further uncurled her hand and brushed it along my arm, leaving a pleasantly tingling trail. Her heart beat furiously and her fingers trembled. They created the strangest sensation as they stroked my forearm. It was foreign and wonderful and conflicted so strongly with the desire flaming in my throat as her blood laden fingertips traced the muscle in my forearm repeatedly, practically beckoning my lips to her throat in more ways than one. I let my eyelids flutter shut, overwhelmed and bewildered by these feelings.
"Do you mind?" Bella asked softly, her caresses pausing shyly.
"No. You can't imagine how that feels," I breathed unthinkingly and sighed contentedly, a far different inflection to the ambiguous exhale than usual. It was an embarrassingly honest admission, but I couldn't find it in myself to regret it as, encouraged, Bella's hand travelled further up my arm to paint patterns on the inside of my elbow. I glanced up to her face, trying to decipher her lovely countenance in an attempt to understand what she could possibly see in an anomaly like me.
Her eyes followed her hand as it traced my veins, the blood in them replaced by venom, a pathetic imitation of humanity. Oblivious to this reality, she simply marveled at my glittering skin, full lips parting unconsciously in awe. She reached over my body to my other hand, wanting to flip it over so that it matched my left, I assumed, as humans are drawn to symmetry. As she reached, her body heat radiated to my torso and I was suddenly enveloped in a startlingly wonderful blanket of warmth. Without fully thinking it through, I eagerly turned my palm up as she wished. She froze.
I opened my eyes, flooded with guilt for frightening her, shown in the smell of adrenaline coursing through her quickened blood and her wide eyes staring at my hand, which, to her human eyes, had flipped instantaneously, as well as the selfish reasons behind the innocent action. I had wanted her to touch me, craved the sensation that shivered through me when she pressed her heated palms against my frigid skin.
"Sorry," I murmured, closing my eyes again in shame. I could never seem to find a balance in my awareness of her humanity. I was either overtly aware of her painfully addictive fragrance or forgetting altogether how easily startled humans were. "It's too easy to be myself with you."
Recovering quickly, Bella raised my hand to her face and examined it. She concentrated on the light it threw, brow furrowing as she stared intently. Her breath caressed my skin as she brought my hand closer, searching for something, a flaw perhaps. Being scrutinized so thoroughly was something I hadn't permitted anyone else to do and anxiety suddenly swept through me. I doubted there was a flaw, as the transformation would have smoothed them all out, but was the strange uniformity of my skin a flaw itself? Did its foreign texture alarm her? Was the way the sun's rays bounced off of it disturbing? I was cripplingly self-conscious for the first time since 1917.
"Tell me what you're thinking," I whispered anxiously and she met my intent gaze. "It's still so strange for me, not knowing."
"You know, the rest of us feel that way all the time," she replied instead, almost admonishingly, and I wanted to smile. I wasn't like her, like this rest of us she was talking about. I couldn't be grouped with her. Like night and day, death and life, devil and angel, black and white, Romeo and Juliet, we didn't belong together, but by some strange twist of fate, I'd been blessed with her company.
"It's a hard life," I murmured, our impossible contrast saddening me. We could never be together. "But you didn't tell me," I reminded her.
She looked down, her dark locks shrouding her face. "I was wishing that I could believe that you were real," Bella whispered, fidgeting nervously. "And I was wishing that I wasn't afraid." What serious thoughts! And here I had been so vain, worrying so frivolously while she mused over my very existence, an existence that frightened her! I was ashamed.
"I don't want you to be afraid," I told her, my anger with myself requiring me to make a real effort to sound gentle and human. Human. What a terrible attempt I was making. Here I was, lying vulnerably, moving slowly, speaking softly, and I still managed to strike fear in her. I should never have returned from Alaska.
"Well, that's not exactly the fear I meant," she corrected wryly, "though that's certainly something to think about." I couldn't believe it. She wasn't frightened because of what a monster I was? She must not have fully absorbed my identity. That's what she must have meant by wishing to know that I was real. Any sensible creature would be terrified of a vampire. But what other fear could she possibly have, if not of my intrinsic danger?
Anxious to hear her answer, I sat up to see her better, intending to stay a polite distance away, but finding myself drawn closer, closer, until I was mere inches from her cherubic face. The red-eyed monster in my chest reared as her pupils dilated and adrenaline fueled blood pumped frantically through her veins. I tried desperately to pull away from her, away from her neck, from her blood, from her breath, from her beauty, which I found I was nearly equally entranced by, defenseless to the foreign need, acute and searing, to be closer still. I was half convinced that she wasn't human at all, seemingly crafted to pinpoint each and every one of my weaknesses. How else was it possible that she could be so desirable, both inside and out?
She was startled and confused, I could easily see. I had to feign compose, pretend I had a reason for being so close. I couldn't reveal how conflicted away, how pained, how out of control, couldn't give her any more reasons to fear me.
"What are you afraid of then?" I breathed, recalling our conversation and hoping that the question would break the trace cast over us, and that she would then move away, leaving me free to do the same. But Bella responded oppositely as my venom sweetened breath wafted into her face. Instinctively, like any obedient prey would, she leaned even closer, eyelids fluttering dazedly as she inhaled, her chest rising, back arching, and throat baring.
It was the straw that broke the camel's back. A crimson haze clouded my vision as the monster erupted. Already, I could picture how the scene would unfold. I would reach forward, as if caressing her neck, and easily snap her spine. It would be quick, easy, relatively painless for her. Then I would close the infinitesimal space between us and sink my teeth into her throat. I could already imagine how it would feel, sliding down my throat and quenching my blistering thirst more thoroughly than any mountain lion or serial killer possibly could. After burning for nearly ninety years, I would finally be satisfied by such nectar. Satisfied, until I saw the aftermath.
No! The denial exploded from the rational part of my mind as one of Alice's visions flashed, dangerously close to becoming reality: Bella, her skin waxy and bloodless, throat mangled, eyes closed in a mockingly peaceful surrender. The possibility restrained the monster only for a moment, but a moment was all that I needed.
I bolted from her, fleeing into the trees like the weak, cowardly creature that I was. My mind spun madly, trying to regain a semblance of control, and the thick limb of the fir tree I was holding onto crumbled, no more impervious to my wild strength than an eggshell.
Though the air around me was cool and mercifully untainted by Bella's fiery scent, it was still thick on the back of my tongue and fresh in my memory, clouding my judgment and pooling venom in my mouth. This was Bella, I forced myself to recall, throwing up vivid memories of her voice, her hair, her eyes, her innocence as a barrier to my thirst. In an effort to strengthen these memories, I pulled my glance back to her stunned form, sitting twenty feet away with her hand still forlornly cradling the air where mine had previously been. Her impossibly wide eyes met mine, illustrating all too clearly how much I'd stunned her, frightened her, upset her.
Yet, she was the one who spoke first. "I'm…sorry…Edward," she whispered, the words trembling with the depth of her apology.
She was sorry? She was sorry? I dug my fingers into the bark of the tree next to me, making a great effort not to fling it to the other side of the forest. I was the one who had foolishly lost control, who had nearly killed her in my precarious struggle to be near her. I was the only one who should be sorry, and I should be dreadfully sorry, completely sorry because I'd promised myself and her that I would bring her home and she'd trusted me, but I'd nearly broken that promise.
I was coming close to having a breakdown, right there in the shadows of the trees, right there in front of Bella and God and everyone, but I fought to collect myself, to show no indication of my fury.
Cool. Collected. Composed.
"Give me a moment," I requested politely, raising my voice just enough for her to hear me, but not quite enough for her to be able to hear the tightly restrained edge to it. Her expression relaxed and she leaned back into the grass, ever so slightly, waiting—wanting—for me to join her again.
Oh, dear God, I had to join her again. I had to ignore the alluring fragrance that she radiated so obliviously, completely unaware that the very air around her hit me with the force of a thousand wrecking balls. I had to pretend that those carefully plotted plans to end her life still clearly laid out in my mind had never existed. I had to not only ensure that she was enjoying herself, but that she felt that I was too, even if I'd never been more tormented in my entire life.
Cool. Collected. Composed.
I held her gaze steadily as I took a step forward, testing my resolve. I approached her slowly, slowly, ever so slowly, carefully measuring the strength with which the cloud of her adrenaline spiced aroma reached out to me with ensnaring fingers and secured manacles around my wrists. I kept my expression steady as the flames in my throat grew, but at the same time, my resistance to them strengthened, barely, but enough to make it bearable.
Cool. Collected. Composed.
I measured her expression carefully as I lowered myself to the ground several cautious, but necessary feet away. She was terrified by my reckless demonstration of what speed I was capable of, that much was perfectly clear. To her, such swiftness was incredible, inconceivable, inhuman, especially from someone with a vaguely human form. It was almost laughable, I found. She hadn't seen anything. That had been nothing but a minor slip. If she could knew what I was capable of, if she saw it with her own eyes, she wouldn't be sitting here trembling. She'd be fleeing for her life. I was half-tempted to flit from edge to edge of the meadow, or to uproot a tree and send it sailing through the treetops, as a sort of terrible, sadistic joke. But I simply smiled.
Cool. Collected. Composed.
Well, here we are: the first chapter of Edward in the Meadow - Version 2.0! Not super long, I know, but, hey, I'm a busy girl. So, please review to let me know whether I should continue, or dump the whole editing process.