Welcome baaaack!

Hi everyone.

I forgot to say this last time… I don't own twilight, or any of the canon characters, but Dan, Cassie and a couple of others are mine…..

And Sandy and Lalina, and all the girls on the threads who helped to boost my confidence when it took a hit, thank you so much for getting my head out of my …. Yeah well, there you go!!!.

To those of you taking the time to review, thanks for the feedback – it's appreciated.

This chapter is a biggy. Get a coffee, or a wine, and sit back for the read.

I hope you enjoy.

Ch 6 – When the cat's away

Bella woke in her bed and stretched lazily. She rolled over and contemplated not having to get up straight away and start her regular routine.

Now that she was officially on her summer break, she had time to waste if she wanted to: time to read; time to relax; time to devote herself to something other than being a teacher and carer for other people's children.

She looked over to the clock that was perched alongside a couple of unfinished books on her bedside table. 7:15 a.m: too early to have to consider getting up just yet.

Bella noticed her phone flashing steadily next to her clock radio. Since having missed the text message Dan had sent the night he'd arrived in Sydney because she had left her cell in her handbag downstairs, Bella had taken to putting it on her bedside table each night. The time difference made it difficult for Bella to get Dan's messages as they came in. He usually texted her late at night his time, which meant it was early the next morning her time when they arrived on her phone. Still, it was a nice way to wake up. He didn't text her everyday but it was a regular enough occurrence that Bella looked for her phone each morning as she woke. Sometimes he didn't text at all, but rather sent emails with the odd photo attached. It was easy for him to do this from Dean's place. She suspected that once they hit the road and travelled north as they planned to do, his emails would become less frequent as it would mean that he would have to find an internet café somewhere en route to post his messages.

Still, for the moment at least, Dan had kept her relatively well informed of his adventures. He'd told her about his trips in and around Sydney itself: Bondi Beach, Darling Harbour, the Blue Mountains, Circular Quay and Manly had been described in detail, and Bella had Googled each of the locations he mentioned to get a visual on what he was experiencing. It helped her feel a little more connected with him when she did that.

She was impressed with the detail he had gone into regarding his climb of the Harbour Bridge. It was one of those iconic landmarks that most people around the world could identify easily by sight, and to think that he had experienced it first hand was just amazing to her. If she was being really honest with herself, Bella was a little jealous of Dan and his holiday experiences.

Bella leant over to pick up her cell from the bedside table. She unlocked the phone and opened up the text message he had sent her. Thinking about it now, she really didn't know why this piece of new technology had scared her so much when Dan had given it to her as a going away present. Most of the time it seemed so second nature to her now but she was still a novice at sending messages. Reading them was one thing but sending them was quite another.

Bella read the text message eagerly.

Hi Mom. Pick up wicked camper 2morrow. Plan to head off next day (Tues am here) to drive north. Looking forward to it. Travelling with another couple of Americans we've met in Sydney. Will txt you again when underway. Luv u.

Bella sighed at the brief message. Emails always held so much more detail.

Bella put the phone back on her bedside table and picked up a book to spend a lazy hour or so in bed with some reading. She rolled over onto her side and settled in to the chapter. She wanted to see the movie the next week and she was trying to remember what the devil Malfoy was really up to in the Room of Requirement.


Dan and Chris had been to the Wicked Camper office after researching the campervans online following a recommendation from Dean. Wicked Campers were a campervan with a unique appeal. Cheaper and more basic than regular campers for hire, Wicked Campers were also painted "graffiti style" with unusual slogans along their sides. Considered a little risqué at best, the campers were ideally suited to backpackers who could afford to drive themselves around the country. Each camper was fitted out with the bare basics, fundamentally two single beds, a small table, camp kitchen, icebox, sink and stove. They were affordable; at least when the two boys split the cost between them. It also meant they could travel at their own pace, touring the country and stopping whenever and wherever they wanted.

After meeting Cassie and Sam on the bridge climb, Dan and Chris had seen the two girls regularly over the next week or so. They found they had a lot in common, and that they had really enjoyed each other's company as they continued to tour the sights that Sydney had to offer. Dean had to spend less and less time with them as the demands of the real world invaded on his time with his friends. Unlike the tourists, he had to focus on getting a job now that his studies had finished.

One day, as the four tourists were strolling around Darling Harbour, their conversation turned to discussing what each duo was going to do after they finished their time in Sydney.

"Dan and I are planning to head north, up the coast. We hope to get as far as Cairns if all goes well. What about you two?"

"We were going to fly to Brisbane next. Stay there for a while, and then head further north after that. Maybe we can hook up again somewhere along the way?" Sam suggested.

"Why not travel with us?" Dan asked. The thought came out of nowhere and he had asked it before even considering the implications or discussing it with Chris.

"Bus it?" Sam was incredulous, "I don't think so. Bussing it isn't our style."

"We're not bussing it," Dan said. "We're going to hire a campervan and drive ourselves up the coast."

"Seriously?" asked Cassie, joining in the conversation.

"Yeah, why not? That way, we can stop off wherever we want, whenever we want. We've got nearly two whole months to make the trip. We can take our time and really enjoy it."

"Do you intend to drive the whole way back to Sydney again? That's a bit pointless isn't it?" Sam questioned. Campervans really didn't seem like a great way to travel in her mind.

"Nah. We plan to leave the camper in Cairns and fly back to Sydney before heading home."

"Can you do that?"

"Sure. Wicked Campers have offices all over the country. They are designed for one way trips, to cater for the tourist trade."

"What's a Wicked Camper?"

"That's the name of the camper company we're hiring from. They're basic and pretty cheap, which suits our budget nicely."

"You are seriously going to drive yourselves all the way to Cairns?"

"As long as we stick to the left and keep heading north, we think we'll be fine,"

boasted Dan.

"What do these Wicked Campers look like?" Cassie asked.

"We can show you on the net if you like. If we can find an internet café I'll pull up the home page. Why? Would you seriously consider coming with us?" asked Dan.

"I don't know," Sammy hedged. "I kind of like the hotel life to tell you the honest truth."

"Yeah, well we don't all have the luxury of that kind of money to fund our trip, so a camper is the way to go for us."

"Where would you stay?"

"Caravan parks and the like."

"Shared amenities?"

"That's generally how it works in caravan parks."

"Oh, no way."

"Oh, come on Sam. It might be fun. It'd definitely be an adventure, something we came here for in the first place, remember?"

"I didn't come here for a camping holiday Cass. My god, I've never been camping in my life."

"Well, since your taste runs a little more extravagantly than ours," Chris commented, "there are a whole range of campers, that should you be willing to give it a try, might be more to your liking than a Wicked Camper. Some even have their own toilet and showers and everything."

"Besides, it really isn't that much of an inconvenience the shower thing. Dean's Mum told us that you just need to wear a pair of thongs in the shower."

"Excuse me?"

"Yeah, I thought that one would get ya," Chris quipped.

"Well it got you too when Julie first told you about it, remember?" Dan reminded him.

"Well, who knew the word "thong" had such different connotations here than back home. I've got to admit, the mental image was pretty funny."

"You guys are speaking in shorthand. Go back to the whole thong thing," Sammy interrupted. "Why would it be necessary to wear a thong in the shower? I'm not showering anywhere that's that filthy," she added.

"Not a thong, sweetcheeks. Thongs. They're what Aussies call flipflops."

"Seriously?"

"Uh huh," Chris nodded.

"And we need to wear flipflops in the showers because…."

"Well, you don't want to go getting any foot nasties from using the public showers, do you?"

"Chris, shut it. You're not doing a great sales job on this idea you know," Cassie admonished him, before turning to her cousin and continuing. "Don't worry about it Sammy, I'm sure we could get some kind of camper with a toilet and shower in it if you're really interested."

"I don't think I'm interested. In fact, I know I'm not."

"Sam, this could be fun," Cassie said, looking firstly at her cousin and then towards Dan. "This could be something really different."

"Our parents would have a fit if they knew."

"Not if we don't tell them about it. We could tell them that we are hiring a vehicle and driving ourselves around. They would assume we were staying in hotels and things. They would be none the wiser."

"Cassandra Ann! Whatever are you suggesting?"

"A little adventure, if I'm not mistaken? Are you game, cousin? Or are you going to stay Daddy's little girl for ever?"

"I thought you had that role all sewn up, not me."

"Well, you're the one acting like it."

The two girls looked at each other. Cassie was staring at Sammy in a way that basically challenged her to go for it, or continue being known as a Daddy's girl.

Sammy glared at Cassie for a long moment. She really wasn't prepared to lose face in front of the two boys and be known as Daddy's spoilt little rich girl.

"So," Sam said finally, turning towards the two boys, "we would drive one of these portable bathrooms on the road would we? Moving from place to place as the wind takes us?"

"Basically, yeah."

Sammy looked at her cousin again carefully before turning back to the boys and declaring, "Where would we go to check out one of these 'up model' portable bathrooms on wheels then?" she asked in a challenging tone.

The two boys looked at each other and laughed. "I am sure we can find that out easily enough. Let's go find us an internet café."

The four of them started off through the maze of shops, the boys stepping it out in front taking the lead, trying to remember where they had seen an internet café earlier in the week.

"Have you got your camera on you, Sam? I think we should shoot off an email home while we're there," Cassie said. "I'd like to drop a line to Mom and Dad."

"You're not going to tell them about the whole camping idea are you?" asked Sam incredulously.

"No, of course not silly. Check out the date Sam. It's Grandma and Grandpa's wedding anniversary tomorrow. We should really drop them a line to say 'Hi' with a couple of recent photos you know. Everyone is coming to Mom and Dad's place for a party, remember?"

"God, I'd forgotten. Is the whole family going?"

"Apparently so."

"Even …..?"

"Yep."

"What did they do? Haul him out of the music room by his ankles?"

"I have no idea, but Mom said he was going."

"But it's not even Thanksgiving or Christmas!"

"I know."

"Geez, maybe he is getting a life after all."

"The way he always locks himself up in the music room with all his instruments and computers, makes me think he's become part vampire. You know, like he'd go 'poof' and become nothing more than dust if he walked out into the sunlight."

The boys had stopped outside the front of an internet café and had waited for the girls to catch up with them. They had only caught the last bit of the girl's conversation.

"Who would go 'poof' if they went out into the sunlight?" asked Dan.

"Our Uncle," Sammy said.

"We don't get to see him too often," Cassie added.

"So what's his story? Is he a little weird or something?" Chris asked, curious.

"Hardly. He's a musician and really gorgeous. He works from a music studio at his place. We see him a couple of times a year but my Mom speaks to him a lot on the phone. He's always 'around' – you know, emails, phone calls and the like, and we have a great time with him when we do actually get to see him. He just, I don't know, prefers his own company I suppose."

With that, Dan pushed open the door to the internet café and stood back to usher the girls inside. They paid for twenty minutes access and began to search sites for campervans. Dan showed Cassie and Sam the Wicked Camper site and Sammy looked shocked.

"There is no way I am travelling around in something like that!"

"That's why we're going to show you other alternatives, sweets, don't panic," Chris told her. They had to pay for an additional twenty minutes of net time to research alternative styles of campervans and get contact details for the girls to make enquiries. By the time they had finished looking up things on-line, Cassie had a huge smile on her face. She took Dan's hand and squeezed it tightly.

"You would really consider doing this then?" he asked, not believing his luck. "You'd like to travel with us for a bit?"

"Yeah. I think I'd really like to spend a lot more time with you, I really would. Would that be OK with you?"

"That would be more than OK with me, Cass," he replied with a grin. "That would be really great." He couldn't help the smile that had spread across his face and she answered it with one of her own.

By the time the girls had downloaded some photos and composed a brief message home to their family, they had been in the café for over an hour and they all had sipped a couple of coffees in that time.

"The next thing I need to find is a bathroom," Cassie said dancing on the spot as they got ready to leave.

"By all means, my dear lady," Chris gallantly replied. "Let me show you the way."

"You know where the nearest bathrooms are?"

"No. No idea. But it will be really funny watching your eyes start to water as I walk around trying to find them."


Cassie and Sammy did in fact hire a camper, albeit a little flasher and much less noticeable than the one that Dan and Chris had hired. Their camper came with two single beds, a small kitchenette and a compact toilet and shower. Luckily, Cassie had thought to secure an International Driver's licence before leaving America, so after using their credit cards to come up with the security deposit for the camper, the booking went smoothly. Samantha was still a little hesitant about touring the east coast of Australia camper style – she didn't like the idea of roughing it - but because she was outnumbered, she went along with the others.

Dan and Chris were really excited to be travelling with the girls, but for different reasons. Chris was glad to have extra company. He and Dan got on famously but the thought of spending nearly two whole months together in such close quarters without a break seemed a little much for him. Dan, on the other hand, relished the idea of spending as much time with Cassie as he could.

Even though they had been in each other's company a lot over the last week, Dan and Cassie's original attraction to each other hadn't diminished with the passing of time. In fact if anything, they'd both become even more aware of an intense electric feeling that flowed between the two of them whenever they were in close proximity to each other.

The four tourists, accompanied by Dean, had spent a couple of nights out and about around town visiting nightclubs and pubs and experiencing the nightlife Sydney had to offer. A trip to Sydney's infamous Kings Cross had been a highlight and they were all feeling a little gobsmacked and lost for words at some of the getups worn by some of the night-time locals. That was the first night Dan and Cassie had crossed the careful boundaries they'd established as 'friends'.

They were in a pub at the Cross and Cassie had been propositioned by a couple of local yokels who wouldn't take a politely worded 'no' for an answer. Dan and Dean had stepped in to protect the girls from the unwanted advances, and Dan had pulled Cassie into his arms and held her closely while telling one of the sharks to "nick off" in no uncertain terms.

The thing was, when the would-be dates were no longer a problem, Dan didn't let go of Cassie but continued to hold her close to him for some time after that. She'd later suggested they go out to the dance floor and Dan found that it had given him plenty of opportunity to hold her close yet again, especially when a slow song by the Irish group, The Corrs, had played. Much to Dan's delight, Cassie hadn't tried to pull away. She'd actually snuggled up close to him and returned his tight embrace during the song, only pulling away when the music changed yet again to a loud and raucous number by Pink.

Chris and Sammy had watched the exchange with interest. Both of them had looked at the other as they slowly sipped at their drinks.

"So, looks like these two may be starting to get a little hot and heavy. Do you thing we should….?" questioned Chris

"What? God, no. Not on your life," Sammy replied, taking another swig of her drink. "You're a great guy and all, but you're not my type. Don't take this the wrong way, Chris, but I'm just not that into you."

"Oh, thank god," Chris replied, clinking his bottle against hers. "I like you too babe, but nah, it's just not ever going to happen."

"Nuh. Not ever. I suppose we'll just have to be the chaperones then. Huh?"

"Yeah, sure looks like it. Whoop-dee-bloody-doo!"


Bella got a brief text from Dan the day he left on the road trip.

Just leaving Sydney. Headed for Newcastle, maybe even further north. See what happens. Will txt again soon.. xx D

She sent back a brief message.

Drive safely. Have fun.

Dan had never mentioned much about the fellow American travellers he and Chris had met in Sydney. Still, she felt better knowing that he and Chris were travelling in a small group and hoped that everyone was able to get on well enough during the planned two month trip together. Still, she surmised, it shouldn't be too difficult for them to go their separate ways if things didn't work out.

Bella too had a few things happening in her own life at this point in the summer that she hadn't shared with Dan yet either.

After a spur of the moment decision, she enrolled in a social dancing group. She went twice a week, on Tuesday and Friday evenings to a social dancing club and was learning to do something she had long aspired to: ballroom dancing. She didn't think she was very good mind you, but it got her out and about a couple of nights a week and she was meeting some wonderful people.

At first, Bella had been very hesitant to join the group as a single. She was very concerned that she would be a wallflower without a dance partner, but one of the co-ordinators, Angela, had assured her that there were plenty of willing dance partners available. She also told Bella that the emphasis of the evening was not always on dance proficiency but on positive social interaction and having a good time.

Bella had bitten the bullet and gone along to her first class, enjoying herself immensely. She had danced most of the night and nobody seemed to mind that she didn't really know what she was doing most of the time. As the night progressed, she picked up a few of the basic combinations of the quickstep, which really got her heart racing. She spent most of the night laughing and apologising to her dance partners for her clumsiness, but realised that it had been a long time since she had enjoyed herself so much in the company of strangers.

After the first dance social, a small group of men and women, some couples and some singles organised to go out for coffee and dessert. On a whim, Bella decided to join them and it had become a regular occurrence since. These nights out became a highlight of her week.

Bella also began to teach remedial English classes at the local community centre. The pay was minimal but seeing as she only had to herself to support and no other work lined up for the summer, she took the job. She spent four days a week teaching small groups of adults who had managed to slip through the cracks in the education system. She covered basic reading and writing skills as part of a government program to increase the literacy skills of the long term unemployed.

Bella found this job particularly challenging. It was a very different experience to teaching younger children and at times it was down right difficult. As always though, she found a couple of people to whom she could really relate, and who, despite their histories, really wanted to learn and achieve. This made each trying day just a little bit better.

These activities helped to pass the time during her summer break. They also gave her time to balance her life and do many things that she regularly put off during the school year. She cleaned out boxes in the garage and tossed heaps of things that she hadn't bothered to unpack after her move over four years ago. The whole summer was a turning point for Bella – a chance to get rid of the old and embrace the new. It was an experience she realised that she was enjoying and embraced it wholeheartedly.

******************

The four tourists had spent nearly two weeks travelling north from Sydney, stopping at a number of picturesque coastal towns en route before reaching the tourist mecca of the Gold Coast on Queensland's south coast. They had heard so much about the Gold Coast on their travels north and had believed it was the place to be, but they were disappointed when they finally got there. Sure, it was a great tourist destination and had a number of theme parks and tourist spots, but they had experienced so much beautiful scenery on the trip north to this point that the whole city theme of the area seemed out of character with the rest of their journey. After only a couple of days they moved on again to the Queensland capital, Brisbane.

There were a number of caravan parks in and around the city suburbs and it didn't take them long to find one that suited their needs. They only planned on staying a couple of days before moving off again but they really needed to take care of some of the more mundane aspects of a driving holiday – laundry being one of them. The caravan park had a laundry room so their first evening was spent washing as much clothing as they could find and hanging it out on the communal washing lines to dry.

Sammy was struggling with this aspect of their holiday. She was not averse to doing her laundry but the fact that her fashion sense was reduced to wearing what was clean and easily accessible rather than fashionable, added insult to injury. On the other hand, the boys didn't seem to care what they wore, or how often they wore it, so much so that on more than one occasion, Sammy refused to go out with them unless they found something cleaner or less familiar to wear.

Brisbane was situated in the zone known as the sub-tropics. The days were warm, even though it was winter and while the nights were cool, they weren't really cold. The four of them visited the area known as South Bank. Brisbane was situated on and around the Brisbane River, and right in the middle of the city, along the southern bank of the river, was a man-made inner city beach. Complete with white sand and lifesavers on patrol, these man-made pools looked exactly like the beaches they had seen on their travels except that the river and the city were right next door. Walking along the boardwalk, they watched as people swam, families picnicked and office workers exercised their way through a lunch break.

Dan and Cassie had, in recent weeks, begun to demonstrate their growing attachment to each other. There were slight touches when they thought they weren't being watched and brief whispers to each other when they thought they couldn't be overheard. Dan couldn't help the tight feeling in his stomach he got when Cassie came and stood close by him, or when she touched his arm gently to get his attention when they were sightseeing. Cassie also couldn't help the breath that seemed to catch in her throat every time Dan leant closer to her to tell her something or the smile that came to her lips as she watched him laugh out loud at something funny that had transpired.

At the same time, Dan and Cassie were both very conscious that they were travelling as part of a foursome and were also very wary of becoming too demonstrative in front of Chris and Sammy, despite their growing attraction to each other. They weren't fooling anyone. One night as the boys cooked on a BBQ in the van park - the night before they planned to leave Brisbane and head further north - Chris had a quiet word with Dan while the girls were trying to put together a salad out of their limited supplies.

"So, Dan. What's going on between you and Cass then?" Chris asked is his usual upfront style.

Dan looked carefully at Chris, trying to gauge his motivation before responding.

"Look mate, it's as obvious as hell to both Sammy and I that you two have a thing going, and to be quite frank with you, it is driving us nuts that you two won't just come out in the open and get it on already."

"What?" asked Dan, a little taken aback. Up to this point, he and Cassie had done little more than the occasional holding of hands and slow dancing at some pubs and clubs. While Dan was sure that his feelings for Cassie were developing into something much more than just a passing crush, he thought he had been very circumspect in his behaviour.

"Ah, come on, it's as obvious as hell that you really like her, and blind Freddy could see that she's got something for you, too. I just don't get why you don't do something about it, that's all."

Dan took his time turning the steaks on the BBQ before looking up to answer Chris.

"Is it that obvious?"

"Ye-ah!"

"And Sammy has picked up on it?"

"She might be blonde, but she's not blind, you dumbass."

Dan looked at Chris closely while taking a swig on his beer.

"I don't know, Chris. I wasn't looking for some kind of holiday romance."

"Is that what you think this is then?" asked Chris intuitively.

Dan didn't respond. He just took another sip of his beer and his silence confirmed what Chris had suspected. "I didn't think so. You don't do anything by halves, do ya?"

Dan just shrugged his shoulders and focused his eyes back on the BBQ.

"Don't let me or Sammy stop you from taking things forward with Cassie, mate," Chris added, trying to help Dan feel more at ease. "We both picked up that something was brewing before we even left Sydney. She's a grown up, you're a grown up. Let nature take its course if that's what you want."

"It's a bit more complicated for me than that, Chris."

Chris looked at Dan seriously. The fact that Dan used his name twice without abbreviation or nickname meant that this conversation was important to him.

"How so?" he asked, genuinely trying to understand what his friend was getting at.

Dan paused a fraction before replying quietly, "I just don't want to take advantage of the situation that's all." He looked Chris in the eyes and held his gaze for a moment before he returned to flipping the steaks and the moment was apparently over just as quickly as it had appeared. Chris wasn't sure what had happened to cause the change.

"I'll leave it up to you then, mate," he said, "but it's all good from my end. Don't let me or Sammy be the reason you don't make thing happen with your girl." And with that, Chris turned and made his way back towards the two campers that were parked side by side. "Hey girls, have you got that salad ready yet? Dan's just about charcoaled the steaks!"


The next morning as they were preparing to leave Brisbane, they began to pack up their campers ready to head off north towards the Sunshine Coast on the next leg of their journey. Everything was as it had been over the past two weeks. Cassie and Sammy were tidying their van and Chris and Dan were throwing everything haphazardly into theirs.

Dan hadn't done anything as a result of his brief chat with Chris about his feelings for Cassie. That little chat had only served to heighten Dan's awareness of his own confusion and self-doubt. He had spent most of the night tossing and turning as he thought about the implications for all concerned if he pursued a relationship with Cassie and he was more than a little tired and cranky from lack of sleep.

Dan knew his feelings for Cassie were becoming stronger with each passing day and that it was becoming almost impossible for him to stop himself from acting on them. He would find he wanted to reach out to touch her, or hold her hand, only to check himself just in time.

As a group, they only had five, maybe six weeks at most left of their trip. The girls, coincidently, were scheduled to leave a couple of days before the boys and Dan was only too aware that Cassie literally lived on the other side of the country from him. What hope had he of maintaining a relationship with her once their holiday was over? How would he and Cassie becoming more than just friends impact on what was left of their holiday?

Chris reckoned that he and Sammy were both aware that something was "up" between the two of them and that he was OK with it if Dan wanted to take things further. But again, Dan worried about how the dynamics of the group would change if Chris and Sammy were left as the 'odd couple' – the couple forced to spend more and more time together because the other pair had paired off. Dan's concerns, however, didn't do anything to dampen the pull he felt towards Cassie and he was pretty sure that she was interested in him too. By the time they were underway and on the road, Dan's mood hadn't brightened and he was decidedly grouchy.

"What the fuck is up your ass this morning? Have you got PMS or something? Cause if you have, you're in the wrong bloody van," Chris challenged Dan as they headed out of Brisbane driving towards the Bruce Highway. "You're being one hell of a grumpy bastard this morning, that's for sure."

Dan casually looked in the side view mirror as he drove along. "Nothing. Nothing's up," Dan replied, playing dumb.

"My point precisely, smart ass. Something is up and you're not doing a damn thing about it."

Dan shot Chris a blackened look as he continued to drive.

"Don't look at me like that, and you need to take a left up here," Chris pointed as he continued to talk. "I just don't get what all the fuss is over. You like her. She likes you. Do something about it."

"It's just not that simple."

"So you've already said. I just don't get why it's not."

Dan indicated and turned left where Chris had told him to, and then checked behind him again to see that the girls had done the same.

"Spill, Dan. You've got an hour and bit til our next stop and I want fun Dan back on the trip. This moody bastard is really starting to piss me off."

Dan remained silent for a few minutes, concentrating on the road in front of him. Finally he responded to Chris' statement.

"I've just got a lot on my mind, that's all."

"No shit, Sherlock. Geez." Chris took a deep slow breath and looked steadily at his friend. "Dan," he started. "I'm not really into all this D & M shit between guys. It's not me, you know that. But if you really need to get something off your chest then now's your chance. Otherwise, just suck it up and get on with enjoying the holiday. Cassie's here. You're here. Just relax and go with the flow. I can't believe I'm about to say this …but…oh, fuck it… If it's meant to be, it will be. Shit, I can't believe you've just made me say that. Fuck. This is not how I operate," he said as he shook his head then turned to look out the window.

Dan smiled and then looked across at his friend, his discomfort obvious. Dan realised that Chris had probably never before been so openly philosophical with a male friend.

"Ok." Dan said. "OK."

"OK?" Chris responded. "That's it? That's all the fuck you're going to give me? Just an OK?"

"Taking your advice here buddy and sucking it up."

"Shit, if I thought it was going to be that easy, I wouldn't have given you the 'meant to be' crap."

"Crap?"

"Right, well, not crap then. How about Bullshit?"

"Bullshit?"

"OH, for fucks sake Dan, shut up. Go back to being all emo guy. He was pissing me a hell of a lot less than the whole 'echo man' version you're bringing out now."

Dan laughed, and after a few moments Chris did too. The mood of the morning was almost all but forgotten.

They arrived at Coolum Beach around lunchtime. There was a great van park right on the beach and they booked in and set up camp. Coolum was about twenty minutes or so south of Noosa, a well known holiday spot, surrounded by national park with great walking tracks. It had even better shopping on Hastings Street, according to the local tour guide that Sammy had picked up from the front desk of the van park on arrival. Without too much fuss, the girls dragged the boys off to Hastings Street, with the promise of coffee and ice-cream for their efforts. As the girls spent time browsing the shops, the boys set off to trek the six kilometre return walk to the Noosa Headland, through the National Park. They agreed to meet back up in a couple of hours for coffee and the promised ice-cream. There was no way they were going to be relegated to bag handlers.

That night, back in Coolum, they ordered take out fish and chips from the shop across the road and bought a six-pack of beer from the bottle shop next door. They walked down to the beach and ate a leisurely dinner on the sand in front of the surf club.

Dan got up early the next morning and decided to go for a run along the beach. He tried to move around quietly and laughed to himself that it really wasn't necessary as Chris' snoring was likely to drown out any sound within a two mile radius.

He pulled on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt along with his joggers and tried to quietly creep out of the camper. He headed off down the sand path towards the beach, stopping for a quick nature call on the way.

Cassie woke to hear movement outside the van. She pulled back the small curtain covering the window near her bed and watched Dan walk over towards the beach. She lay back down in her bed and tried to go back to sleep, but her mind was on the young man she had just seen. Throwing caution to the wind, she got up and pulled on some clothes. Dan, she'd noted, had his running gear on. Well, she wouldn't be going for a run but a walk on the beach would be good, and for a walk she wouldn't need to search around for her runners. She grabbed her toiletries bag and then she too tried to creep quietly out of her camper without waking Sammy. She really felt like she wanted time alone with her thoughts this morning. She didn't want company, or to have to explain where she was going. After a brief stop to the amenities block, she went back to the camper and left her toiletries bag on the small table near their door, and then headed off down the same track she had seen Dan disappearing fifteen minutes before.

Cassie walked out onto the open beach and looked to the north. She was amazed by the number of people out and about at this time of the morning, walking, running and even cycling along the beach. There were people with dogs on leashes everywhere. She decided to head north as there was a small headland only a little distance away to the south and she wouldn't get far before she would have to turn around.

Cassie realised that the beach was a wonderful place to be this time of the morning, and after walking for about ten minutes or so, she decided just to sit in the sandhills above the high water mark and watch the waves. The sun was reflecting brilliantly on the water and as she watched the waves and the people strolling past, her mind drifted back to Dan and her growing feelings towards him. She was sure that her feelings were being returned, and she was also aware that the way he made her feel was different to anything she had ever experienced before.

Cassie had had a few boyfriends in her twenty years. One or two during high school, another couple during college, but there was no one at the moment, and for that she was grateful. She'd never even considered meeting someone on her summer holiday while travelling with Sammy, let alone a fellow American, and definitely not someone who could make her smile just with a simple glance in her direction or a quietly whispered word in her ear. Cassie hugged her knees to her chest as she tried to work out exactly what it was about Dan that got her heart racing. One thing she did know was that if she had the chance, she would like to work it out.

Lost in thought as she was, looking out over the ocean, Cassie failed to notice the jogger who was gradually coming closer and closer from the north. It wasn't until the noise of a barking dog startled her out of her reverie that she looked towards the sound of the noise and noticed a man bending down to pat a dog and chat briefly to the owner before moving off again. On closer inspection, she realised it was Dan, and her heart rate sped up as she noticed he had his shirt off as he ran. Without thinking, she stood up and shaded her eyes with her hand trying to get a better view. She started to walk down towards the water, effectively walking directly into his path as he ran along parallel to the surf.

Dan had used his run to try and clear his head. He was becoming frustrated with his constant ramblings and self-reflections over his feelings towards Cassie. On his run, he'd realised that while Chris and been the one to ask the questions, it wasn't Chris he wanted to give the answers to. It was Cassie. He'd realised that he needed to speak to her. She was the one he wanted to and needed to, talk with. He wasn't prepared to deny it any longer and the rhythmic pounding of his feet on the sand had helped him work through his emotions and understand what he had to do. He was lost deep in thought until the dog near him had barked as he'd approached. He'd stopped to chat to the dog's owner briefly before patting the dog and moving off again. As he ran back towards the van park, he wondered how long it would be before he would have the chance to talk with Cassie privately. Now that he'd made up his mind, he wanted to speak with her sooner, rather than later. He was completely taken aback then, a few moments later, when he looked up to see her twenty yards or so in front, standing on the beach and looking directly at him. He slowed to a walk almost immediately, his heart hammering even faster than it had been while he was on his run.

Cassie couldn't help herself. She just stood there and stared at Dan as he walked towards her. His shirt was tucked into the back of his shorts. His body glistened in the sunlight, a thin layer of sweat from his run coating his upper body and arms. His hair stood out in all directions and his chest expanded with each breath he sucked in as he brought his breathing back under control. He looked divine, and she was lost for words.

"Cass," Dan said as he neared her.

"Hi," she said. It was all she could muster in reply. She just stood there, mutely, looking at him, her eyes raking over his appearance and she felt her throat tighten, making any more conversation impossible at this point. She looked into his eyes, only to see a million questions form there as he looked just as intently back at her.

Without uttering another word, Dan closed the distance between them. He reached up to hold her face in his hands and he leant in to kiss her gently on the lips.

Cassie's breath caught in her chest as the warmth of his lips touched hers. Dan pulled back just slightly enough to let her breathe and waited for a second before closing the small space that had formed between them and kissing her again. This time, she didn't freeze. She responded, putting her own arms around his waist and reaching her up with her hands towards his massive shoulders, pulling him to her. It was all the response Dan needed. He moved his hands from her face to enclose her in a tight hug, deepening his kiss at the same time. They stood there like that, lost in time and space for a few moments, before Dan broke the kiss once more and leaned back slightly.

"Cass," he said again looking into her eyes. "I want to talk with you."

"Mmm. OK," she replied. Once again, she felt like she'd been rendered mute.

"Cass, honey. Will you walk with me?"

"Yeah."

They let go of each other only for Dan to grab her hand tightly in his as they moved off south along the beach.

"I've got so much I want to be able to say to you, but I just don't know where to start."

"The beginning's usually a good place don't you think?" Cassie responded, trying to regain her ability to speak. Her mind was still mush from that sizzling first kiss she and Dan had just shared moments ago.

"The beginning. Where's that exactly? Is that the first time I realised that my stomach clenched every time I looked at you? Or would that be the first time I heard you laugh and realised that it was the most wonderful sound I had ever heard?"

Cassie looked up at Dan and smiled at him. Happiness shone in her eyes as she realised by listening to Dan's words, that he did in fact feel the same about her that she felt towards him.

"Or was it the first time that I realised your smile could make mine appear without any thought?" Dan asked as he looked intently at her.

They strolled along the beach in companionable silence, holding hands and headed towards a set of rocks at the bottom of the headland. When they reached them, Dan helped Cassie to sit down on one, and then took up a position on a rock in front of her, putting on his shirt as the breeze started to cool him down after his run. Cassie smiled to herself thinking that she may now be able to focus a little better on the conversation that Dan wanted to have.

"What's so funny?" Dan asked when he noticed her smile.

"Nothing. Just trying to collect my thoughts, that's all. My head's in a bit of a spin."

Dan nodded at her words and then took a deep breath, trying to work out how to begin.

"Cass, I've been a bit all over the place lately. I feel like there's this thing between us, and I can't get a handle on it. I keep thinking that maybe you feel it too, and I'm hoping to hell that I am right. Am I?"

"I feel it too, Dan. God, when you held my hand back there, it felt like I was like jelly or something. I can't explain it well either," she finished as Dan looked at her with raised eyebrows.

"Just when I held your hand, huh?"

"Well, not just when you held my hand."

"Thank God for that. I don't think that I could be happy with just holding your hand all the time."

Cassie laughed. "Mmm. That would really suck."

Dan smiled in response and then he took a deep breath. The words were forming; he just had to get them out.

"I wasn't planning on this. I wasn't expecting anything like it to tell you the truth. It's taken me a bit by surprise, and well, I've spent most of the last two weeks coming up with every reason under the sun not to kiss you like I just did. My head has been all over the place, and Chris has been giving me a bloody hard time about it all."

"You too huh? Sammy's been riding me pretty hard too."

"Really?" Dan replied, giving her a quizzical look, his tone suggesting that her words held some kind of double meaning.

"Oh Shit. You know what I meant. Don't look at me like that," she said as he hid her face in her hands.

"Ok, I'm sorry. Don't hide your face. I won't make fun, I promise," he responded as he gently pulled her hands away from her face. He smiled warmly at her when she looked up at him, and she was grateful she was sitting down because she didn't know if her legs would have kept her upright at that moment had she been standing.

"Look, like I said, Chris has been asking me what the problem is, and I haven't been able to answer him. And then, this morning on my run, I realised it wasn't Chris I wanted to give the answers to. It was you. So let me just try and get this out, OK? I doubt I'll be making much sense, but I've got to try and explain where my head is."

Cassie nodded encouragingly in response, but kept quiet, giving Dan permission to go ahead.

Dan told Cassie about his reflections and concerns while trying to decide if he wanted to pursue a relationship with her. He also explained how on his run, he worked out that, really, he was already too far gone not to want to try and see if they could work something out, together.

Cassie listened attentively, not interrupting him as he shared his thoughts. It surprised her to find just how much thought and contemplation Dan had given this. He was definitely an introspective person, a deep thinker, and she realised that this quite nature was one of the things that drew her to him.

"The thing is, Cassie, there is something else from my past that has had a big impact on me trying to work through all of this."

"Do you feel like telling me what that is?"

He nodded his head silently in response.

"Cass," Dan said, taking another big deep breath before continuing, "I am the product of a holiday romance. Well not even a holiday romance so much as a one night stand."

Cassie stayed quiet, but tried to let Dan know with her eyes that it was ok for him to keep going with his story, to let him know that he could trust her, because this obviously wasn't easy for him to tell.

"My Mom had just finished high school and went away with friends for ten days on a post high school trip. On the last night of the holiday, she'd too much to drink. She ended up sleeping with some guy, and she ended up pregnant with me." Dan found the words difficult to say, and he was quick to want to tell Cassie more so that she understood more about his mother and their relationship. "My Mom's a great lady, Cass. She wasn't like that. She didn't sleep around. She just made one mistake, and that resulted in me."

"Dan, you don't possibly think that you could be a mistake do you?"

"No, no, nothing like that. My Mom is a fantastic woman but it has been really hard on her. You have no idea how much she has had to sacrifice over the years, and how that one mistake so many years ago has cost her so much of her time and her dreams. Cassie, I don't want to be involved in a holiday romance. The whole idea holds just too much of a bitter history for me. I don't know my father. I have no idea who he is. And I don't want to be the guy who starts something that he has no hope of maintaining and then just leaves when he's done. That's not me. That's not who I want to be. I won't be that guy, Cass," he implored looking down, unable to keep eye contact with her any longer.

There, he'd said it; the one thing that he'd buried deep down inside of him, that he didn't want to have to air to anyone. Anyone, it turns out, other than Cassie. He needed her to understand just how much this was affecting him. He wanted her to understand why he was so hesitant, and that it had nothing to do with what he felt for her.

Cassie sat silently for a moment or two as she watched the emotions spill out across Dan's beautiful features. She watched as the pain of what he just shared with her bubbled to the surface.

Silently, she placed her hand under his chin and lifted his gaze to meet hers once again.

"You won't, Dan. You're not that person. You're decent and kind and strong. I don't know what the future holds for either of us, but I would rather have this time together now than miss out on it completely. I promise you, we can take this as slow and as carefully as we want. I'd rather be with you than without you on this trip. So, whatever it takes. Whatever you need to have this be OK for you is good with me. Baby steps, Dan, as long as we take them together. Would you be OK with that?"

Dan looked in awe at this woman in front of him. He reached up with his hands to take hers from under his chin. He did the most gallant thing he could think of. He held her hand in between his and kissed her fingertips before bringing it up to rest them on his cheek. He looked at her in the eyes and held her gaze. "I am so OK with that Cass. So OK with it."

"Me too, Dan. Together. From this point. Small steps together."

"Yeah," he said as he smiled back at her. "Would a small step mean that I could kiss you again, right now then?"

"I think that would be just fine," she smiled in response, and Dan then leant in to kiss her gently before laughing out loud as he tumbled forward off the rock when he lost his balance.

"Oh that was smooth, Casanova. Real smooth," Cassie joked as she joined in his laughter.


Bella was eating her breakfast at her kitchen table one fine sunny morning during the third week of her summer vacation when she heard her cell chime from over on the bench. She got up from the table and put her empty cereal bowl in the sink before wandering over to pick it up. She opened it up and noticed she had an email from Dan, with photos attached, so she went to her computer to turn it on so she could get a better look at the pictures on a larger screen. While she waited for it to boot up, she went and poured herself another coffee and then made her way back to the computer desk in the lounge room. Bella used technology for her work, but she'd never bothered to get herself a laptop model. She made do with the tower version for the time being, but thought that when she next needed to upgrade, she would probably get a laptop one; not that she really understood what she needed to buy, it was all gobble-dee-gook to her. That was definitely a thing she needed Dan's help for.

Bella sat down in front of her computer and logged on, then opened her email account. Sure enough, there sat a new email from Dan. She clicked on it, and up came his message, with a link to the attachments she assumed were his newest photos. Bella read through the message.

Hi Mom,

Have been having a great time. We are in Queensland now and making our way slowly north towards the Reef. We hope to be there by this time next week. Hervey Bay is our next stop. We've booked tickets on a Whale Watching cruise for the day after tomorrow. It's pretty early in the whale watching season, but hopefully we might be able to see some.

It's t-shirt and shorts weather here. Slightly cooler at night time, but these Queenslanders really don't know what a cold winter is I think. The vans are making the trip OK. Ours in a little slower than the girls' one, but then again, they are paying a small fortune for theirs. I have included a couple of photos of our van – it is unique, that might be the best way to describe it. You can see for yourself. Chris and the girls say "hi". Cassie and Sam are embarrassed by our Wicked Camper. I think they deliberately speed up on the high ways to avoid being associated with us, but we pull up next to them at the caravan parks so we get our own back.

We are currently in Noosa and checking out the local area. We hired a small boat yesterday (don't worry, I could run faster than it moved!) and we spent a couple of hours on the Noosa River and got totally lost around the waterways in a place called Noosa Sound. That also sounds bad, but it wasn't. All the channels eventually lead back to the start, so we made it out fine. Boy, there are some fantastic homes in there.

The budget is going ok, but I think I am going to have to dip into the funds that Nan and Pop left me. There's no rush, but when you get the chance, could you transfer some money across for me from that account? $1000 should see me through.

Hope you are enjoying the start of your holiday. Will text you again soon.

Love U

Dan

xxx

Bella clicked on the attachment and scrolled through half a dozen photos. She gasped aloud when she read the slogan painted across the back of the boy's van. No wonder the girls didn't want to be seen next to that!

As Bella continued to look through the photos, she noticed something a little different about them. Dan had his arm around Cassie in two of them. Chris, too she noticed, had his arm draped around Sammy in one shot as well, but it just looked different somehow – more casual. She looked more closely at the photos, and noticed the way Cassie and Dan seemed to lean into each other in them. They looked, intimate – there was no other word for it.

"Oh, Dan," Bella thought aloud to herself.

Bella sat back in her chair and continued to look at the photos while she sipped at her coffee. Her mind wandered. She was filled with concern for her son. She'd become aware a week or so ago, that the two American friends Dan had first alluded to in a text message, were girls. This had made her concerned, but Dan had been quick to reassure her when she had texted him briefly that they were all just friends who'd decided to travel together. He had sent her a photo of the two girls at some beach in northern New South Wales and had told her who was who. He was insistent that there was no romance involved. These new photos now suggested something different altogether.

She leaned forward in her chair and took another closer look at one of the photos. Obviously, they had gotten someone else to take this particular shot, because all four of them were in it. She looked at Dan's face and his relaxed posture. The way he was leaning back against a railing, with Cassie leaning up against him, her arms wrapped around his waist and her head on his chest. Dan's arm was draped casually around her shoulder, his head resting on top of hers. She compared Dan to Chris. Chris was relaxed too, holding Sammy, but it was done differently to Dan. Chris had one arm around Sammy's shoulder, but both of her arms were folded across the front of her body. She leaned back against the railing, rather than into Chris as such. Yes. There was a definite difference there.

Bella sat there in front of the computer for a while longer, staring at these pictures of her son's holiday, lost in thought. She was worried for her son, her own past haunting her. She tried to push the niggling thoughts away but they wouldn't stay buried. She closed her eyes and prayed they were being responsible. He was a 21 year old man after all, but not all 21 year olds were responsible. Bella had firsthand experience with that and she was looking with concern at her son, the evidence of her own irresponsibility from so many years before.


A/N:

If you want to see what the Wicked Camper that Dan and Chris hired actually looks like, pop over to the thread on for The Ties that Bind, by Yesyov. Pics and Robporn included free of charge!!!

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Oh, and Edward is coming into this fic…. eventually… there are some significant plot points that have to happen before he can make his grand entrance….