Chapter One: Not Antarctica
It was beautiful. I thought it had been beautiful before, the few times in my life when I had awakened early enough to see it. But the sight of that orb-- not just orange but a whole spectrum of colors that my new eyes allowed me to see-- making its magnificent ascent through the hazy atmosphere, was almost baffling. I was mesmerized.
First day of summer, I thought to myself fleetingly. Earliest sunrise all year. As I stared out the bedroom window, I allowed my thoughts to flow randomly of their own accord. Even in a peaceful moment like this, there was so much to see, so much to take in. And my mind was capable of thinking of so many things at once. But it wasn't at all exhausting. It was just... normal now. And I wouldn't have it any other way.
Barefooted, standing perfectly still and clad only in a short silk robe, I let my body bask for a while in the first few rays of the summer solstice. The new season light felt so comforting, almost caressing, along my exposed legs. It hypnotized me as its warmth inched its way up my calves, to my lower back and slowly up my spine. How had I never noticed this-- sunlight's tingling effect-- before?
Unconsciously, I let out a small moan. And suddenly, my ear tingled from the sensation of something even nicer than sunlight: Edward's lips.
His hands inched around the sash of my robe and came to rest at my waist, his nose buried in my neck. "I'm sorry to disturb your reverie," he whispered. The feel of his breath on my skin, and his unclothed body pressed against my back, shot a current through me. "But you looked so beautiful standing there, lost in thought, and twinkling in the morning sunlight. I just couldn't resist." He placed a soft kiss on my neck.
I inhaled deeply and felt a smile tug up the corners of my mouth. "Mmm," I moaned approvingly in response to his touch. I allowed one hand to lift up behind me and cradle his neck with my palm. "Don't ever apologize for touching me."
I felt Edward's smile against my neck. "Mmm, thank you for forgiving me," he whispered. And he deepened his kiss on my neck, trailing his lips across the top of my shoulder and sliding my robe out of the way with his soft, long fingers.
Never removing his lips from my body, Edward slowly turned me around, kissing along my decolletage, up the front of my neck, and finally to my lips. I sighed into the kiss eagerly and tenderly, pressing my body close to his. I allowed my lips to mold to his soft, wet mouth and threaded my fingers into his hair, just sinking into Edward. I could do this forever.
Edward pulled back to stare into my eyes and, holding my gaze, used his fingers to slowly untie my robe. It fell to the floor noiselessly, soft and billowy around my ankles. "I hope you'll forgive me for that, as well," he breathed huskily. "It is utterly indecent for you to wear so much clothing."
And with that remark, there would be no further talking. I hastened Edward back to me, pressing my now nude body into him forcefully, and drawing his lips to mine with a need stronger than any thirst. Edward let out a stifled, urgent sound and swept me off my feet, literally, carrying me bridal-style to the bed.
As gently as if I were a priceless, extremely breakable piece of art, Edward laid me on top of the soft mattress. He stared at me for a moment, allowing his eyes to roam up and down my body and finally rest on my face, with the most awed expression. His golden eyes were wide and sparkling, and his perfect lips were parted. He almost looked... reverent. He was so beautiful. I was aching for him.
Finally, Edward slowly lowered himself on top of me, allowing each section of our bodies to make contact one at a time. It started with our feet and our legs; then our torsos; and finally our chests. My body now a live wire, I almost gasped each time I felt a new sensation. At last, we engaged in a deep and hungry kiss, our tongues seeking active contact. And then we were one.
I eagerly ran my hands over Edward's sculpted chest and strong back, as he breathed in my scent and lathed his tongue over my breasts. We moved in time to each other, listening to the other's body and communicating through our locked gaze. I was so attuned to Edward's every breath, his every facial expression, and his every almost-silent utterance, that we had developed our own language and rarely felt the need to speak during these moments. Edward communicated everything he needed to through his body and his eyes, and I hoped that my body reciprocated.
When I felt my physical need and my emotional love for him reaching its height, Edward's eyes darkened and his body reacted in accordance. Fireworks exploded from deep within my center, radiating their sparks out to my fingers and toes. And in that moment, something other than my brain took over and forced my mouth to exclaim, "Edward!!"
More pleasurable than even what I had just experienced was to see Edward's reaction to this vocalization that broke the silence-- his name rolling off my tongue during the height of my ecstasy. His body hardened and convulsed in waves of pleasure, seeking the deepest possible contact with mine. It was so intense that I thought I would topple over the mountain again.
But slowly, the tension waned for both of us, and Edward allowed his strong arms to rest against the bed on either side of me. He leaned over me softly and nudged my nose with his before sealing the moment with one soft kiss.
Edward collapsed onto the bed next to me and immediately scooped me up into his embrace, tangling his fingers in my hair as I appreciated the beauty of his chest.
We were silent for several moments before Edward finally broke it. "What were you thinking about before, when you were staring out the window?"
I still hadn't mastered keeping my mental shield down, especially in moments when I was lost in thought. So Edward's favorite question, "What are you thinking?" was still very much a part of our life together.
"Lots of things, of course," I replied, kissing his chest. Edward understood my new ability to multi-think. "But mainly... I suppose I was just thinking about how beautiful the sunrise was."
"It pales in comparison," Edward said, stroking his finger along my cheek. I smiled at him and kissed his hand. I had finally gotten used to his over-the-top compliments. Now that I was like him, I felt at least somewhat deserving of them.
I sighed slightly-- happy to be in this moment, but a little preoccupied.
Edward pulled me closer and put his lips to my ear. "Are you changing your mind? We don't have to go, you know. We can always go to Canada with the family instead. I'm sure they would all be thrilled."
Summer vacation plans. Edward had planned a week-long trip for just the two of us-- destination a surprise, of course. The past few months had been blissful for Edward and me, but even with our own cottage, we hadn't gotten much alone time, especially during the days. So much in our life together had changed-- being newly married, my being a newborn vampire, and of course learning to raise our rapidly growing child together. It was a lot to take on. We had gotten our fairy tale ending and were unbelievably happy, but even fairy tale characters get tired from all the excitement.
And even though I still hated surprises, I was practically giddy at the prospect of having
Edward alone to myself for a week. The location mattered little.
I sighed again, heavier this time. "No, it's only a week. I'll miss her horribly, but... I'm sure I'll find something to distract me..." I trailed my fingers across Edward's stomach and smiled mischievously.
Renesmee. Since reuniting with her after her birth, I had never been away from her for more than twelve hours. My little nudger had become a full-on necessity to life. Other than Edward, she was my everything.
Edward returned my smile and murmured, "Okay, well just remember you can change your mind at any time. And if we get there and you miss her too much, we can always leave right away." And then more softly, he added, "I'm going to miss her, too."
I smiled adoringly at my husband. Seeing the love he had for our daughter-- so different from his feelings not so very long ago-- almost made me love him more, if that were possible. It had brought us closer on a whole new level. Renesmee had balanced and put the finishing touch on our relationship. She was something we could be protective of together, in opposition to the hero/victim dichotomy Edward and I had once shared. It felt... healthy.
"Well you just say the word, too, then," I smiled at him. "But I think we'll make it. Besides, they're all dying to get her to themselves. We shouldn't spoil that."
Renesmee had left the previous evening with all of her aunts and uncles, as well as her grandparents, for a week-long camping trip in a remote part of British Columbia. I had watched how, over the past several months, each of them had developed their own special relationship with her. Alice loved dressing her up like a china doll; Esme had been giving her art lessons; Rosalie had already taught her how to change out a carburetor; and Renesmee and Jasper shared a love of Civil War-era literature.
On many a Sunday afternoon, I would find her curled up in Carlisle's lap, in his office chair, with a human anatomy book spread open in front of them. He looked like the proudest grandfather in the world as she recited to him, "Tibia, fibula, patella, femur..." The first day I had witnessed this, silently peeking my head around the door, I had almost felt moisture in my eyes.
"Yes, they'll have fun," smiled Edward. "And I know Nessie has been dying to watch Emmett wrestle a grizzly."
I laughed. Oh, Emmett. His relationship with Renesmee consisted of wrestling, teasing and providing a constant source of comedic entertainment for her. Emmett could make her giggle like no one else could, and he adored her.
We lay in silence for a few moments, smiling and thinking about our favorite babysitters, and then Edward rubbed my back and said, "We should get going, Bella. We have a semi-long drive ahead of us."
I rolled onto my stomach, prepared to exit the bed, but not before looking up at Edward from underneath my eyelashes and batting them in a coquettish way. "Before I pack my things, darling, I'll need at least a hint about where we are going. How will I know what to wear for the weather conditions?" The location still really didn't matter, but the surprise thing still irked me.
Edward hesitated as his eyes took a moment to appreciate my body's new provocative position on the bed. But then he threw back his head and laughed at my sneaky attempt. "Oh no, love," he said, still laughing, "that one would have worked when you were human, but not now." Vampires didn't need to dress for the weather.
I rolled my eyes in frustration. "Please, Edward?" I whined. "Just a hint?"
Edward was still chuckling. "I was really expecting your patience to improve after your change," he said through a smile. I rolled my eyes again, about to tumble off the bed in defeat. Dang, that "Please?" thing usually worked.
"Okay, I'll give you one hint," he said. My eyes brightened. "It's not Antarctica."
I narrowed my eyes at Edward, tightened my mouth and stalked off to the closet. "Very funny, Edward," I said through clinched teeth. I pushed the closet door open and began inspecting my clothing choices. "And I was really hoping to get that first taste of penguin."
Edward was in full blown laughter now, shaking the bed with his convulsions.
"Glad I amuse you," I said morosely. I pulled out the giant piece of Louis Vuitton luggage, one of many that Alice had insisted I own. Truthfully, I thought they were a little ugly, but I wasn't going to let a little thing like my luggage ruin Alice's fun.
I scanned the nearly overflowing shelves and hangers for something to put into the bag. Much to my chagrin, over the past several months Alice had added an absurd quantity of items to my already healthy wardrobe. And unfortunately, practicality was not in Alice's fashion vocabulary. The new additions stared up at me from their hangers uselessly. I didn't know where we were going, but I had a feeling Dolce & Gabbana, Prada and Christian Louboutin would not make good traveling companions.
Not Antarctica, I thought. Real funny, Edward. Edward's arms were suddenly around my waist. "Here's a real hint, then," he murmured as my skin tingled, any trace of irritation now completely out the window. He really is too good at this.
"We're going on a summer vacation, Bella. So just pack like you would have when you were living in Phoenix." Edward started pulling shorts and tank tops off the shelves.
"So... somewhere warm, then?" I asked curiously. Possibilities filtered through my mind.
"I didn't say that," said Edward, smiling at my persistence. He tossed the shorts he was holding into the bag and pulled me to him.
"Look, Bella, you know our choices for geographic locations right now are rather... limited." I was still a newborn. Wherever we were going had to be remote, and not too far away because I couldn't travel with people on airplanes in my current condition. "But I think I've chosen somewhere you'll like. Somewhere we'll both like." He smiled at me.
I sighed in concession and smiled at Edward. "Okay, I'll stop being a pain now. I'm sorry."
Edward stroked my cheek. "Nothing at all to be sorry for. I'm rather glad your patience hasn't improved. It makes the surprise that much more worth it."
"I guess some things never change."
"Thank goodness." Edward kissed me softly.
I pulled back and stared at the shelves. "Summer vacation. Hmm."
"I was always under the impression that summer was probably your favorite season... before." Edward was looking at me in an odd way.
"Really? Why did you think that?" I questioned. Out of all of our "favorites" we had shared as Edward and I had gotten to know each other, we had never discussed seasons. Unless Edward had deduced as much from my aversion to Forks weather.
"Just something about your personality, I guess," he said. "Vibrant, alive, laid back... warm." He stroked my cheek again.
"I love you."
"As I love you." Edward pulled me in for another kiss.
"So, shorts and tank tops it is, then," I said against Edward's lips.
"Bella, regarding you, me and the next week... I really think clothing will be the very least of our concerns. In fact, it would be much more... convenient... if you didn't wear any at all." Edward gave me his favorite crooked, sexy smile, and I felt my stomach in my throat.
And then he did something that completely caught me off guard. As he made to exit the closet, he placed one swift slap on my rear end. I let out a short, high pitched chirp of surprise and stood there, wide-eyed and open-mouthed, as Edward chuckled toward the bathroom.
I shook my head to clear it, staring back at my clothes as I heard the shower start. I didn't care where we were going. This was going to be a very good week.
I tossed a bathing suit and the rest of my shorts and tanks into the bag, and just for the heck of it, I threw in a few dresses, shoes and some lingerie that Alice and I had purchased on the last online shopping trip she had forced me into. One of the dresses, and the shoes that went with it, was particularly fancy, but something made me pack them on an impractical whim. I guess Alice was really starting to rub off on me.
After Edward had showered (I had discovered vampires did shower, more for the energizing effect of the water than for any cleansing purpose), I did the same and commenced packing my toiletries bag. Compared to the plethora of items I had needed as a human-- razors, soap, toothbrush and toothpaste, tweezers, moisturizer, etc.-- this bag was laughably lighter. It was mostly filled with several scary hair styling products and implements Alice had forced upon me and I probably wouldn't even use.
I just didn't need to worry about these things anymore, and it felt strange not packing them. For a split second, I panicked when I realized we didn't have any sunscreen, my former number one necessary item for summer vacations.
A moment later, Edward heard me laughing to myself and peeked his head into the bathroom to look at me questioningly. He cocked his head and wrinkled his eyebrows.
I smiled and shook my head. "Just still getting used to this vampire thing," I said, peering into my near empty cosmetic bag. "It sure is simpler in a lot of ways."
Edward laughed with me and placed a peck on my check.
Ten minutes later, we were on the road in Edward's most recent auto purchase: a deep blue monstrosity of an SUV that was somewhere between a Jeep and a Hummer. Or perhaps more accurately, somewhere between a small building and a dinosaur. The tires stood about six feet off the ground, and when the engine started, it had rumbled with the force of an airplane taking off. This vehicle was decidedly way more Emmett than Edward.
I quietly giggled as I looked back at our luggage occupying its postage-stamp-sized spot in the enormous back seat.
"And what has you so amused now, Mrs. Cullen?" Edward asked, smiling at me from the driver's seat as he turned onto the highway.
"I vaguely seem to remember you once chiding me about taking gas guzzling automobiles on long trips," I said teasingly.
Edward's laughter echoed through the cabin of the vehicle. "Good one, Bella. But you'll be happy to hear this one runs on biodiesel."
I gaped. Of course. "You are amazing, Edward Cullen."
Edward just continued chuckling, somehow reaching his hand to mine across the colossal expanse of the front seat, and began playing with my wedding ring.
We easily settled into road trip mode, and it felt nice. Relaxed... normal. Edward had made a playlist of some of his favorite summer road trip songs from the last five decades, and they were casual and breezy.
I had of course noticed the direction we were heading-- almost directly south. But I decided not to push Edward about our destination anymore and just enjoy going along for the ride.
There were a few expanses of minutes when we didn't talk, just enjoying each other's silent company and the scenery of Olympia, Portland and eventually Eugene.
But during the rest of the time, we talked. About anything and everything. We talked about Renesmee and our family, telling funny stories about Emmett's antics. We talked about Jacob, Renee and Charlie, and how they were all adjusting since Renesmee had been born. We talked about movies we had watched together and books we had read. We even debated about politics and economics and environmentalism. We talked about our plans for the future.
We hadn't talked so much in months. Something about the enclosed space of the car, and the sense of starting out on an adventure together, made it even more conducive to talking than our sleepless nights together. It was our special time to grow even closer, and it felt amazing.
Finally, there was a lull in our conversation and I looked at the clock. Had it really been ten hours? I peered out at the forested California landscape around us. We were on a tiny, barely paved road that looked like it hardly received any traffic. Large tree boughs arched across our path as the early evening sunlight streamed through them and made patterns on the road.
"Where...?" I started to ask Edward.
But Edward just gave me a sly grin and suddenly veered the wheel in a sharp, right-hand turn, taking the SUV directly off the road and into the woods.
"Edward, what on earth?"
This was barely a path and certainly not any kind of road. To call it that would have been an insult to roads everywhere. The Emmett-mobile was bouncing up and down as we plowed over felled tree limbs, rocks and forest floor vegetation. I made a silent prayer that any small animals had heard us coming and scurried out of the way.
Edward didn't make much of an attempt to drive any slower. Frankly, in fact, he looked like he was having the time of his life. He had a grin plastered to his face as we ricocheted off our seats like nuclear-powered Mexican jumping beans.
"The road is going to be like this for a while, so I might as well tell you now," called Edward over the din of the breaking sticks and twigs. I almost laughed at his use of the word road.
"We're going to the Lost Coast. It's an 80-mile stretch of rugged mountains and beaches in the King Range mountains of northern California. It's called the Lost Coast because the terrain is so rugged that they've never been able to build highways that could facilitate any kind of human population there. There will be some great hunting, and the chances of us seeing a human are rather... remote."
"The Lost Coast," I replied. "Sounds romantic and mysterious." Just as I smiled, my head bounced off the side of the doorframe. Edward put his hand out instinctively, a frightened look on his face. Then realization hit him and he smiled at me, relieved and a little embarrassed, as if to say, Oh yeah, forgot for a moment.
"And... where will we be staying?" I asked.
But Edward just smiled and said, "Patience, Bella."
We bounced and shook and jostled for about half an hour longer, until we finally reached a narrow dirt path. This was still nowhere near deserving of being called a road, but at least there were no tree limbs or rocks in the way. The semi-silence was a welcome relief. The vehicle was slightly too wide for the path, and overgrown limbs brushed harshly against it as we plowed through. We sat in silence for another half an hour as Edward drove.
"Please just tell me our accommodation is not a recent purchase on my behalf," I pleaded. "Please tell me the Cullen family either already owns it, or we are renting."
But Edward just smiled and rolled his eyes. We were starting to climb in elevation. Suddenly, the path made a sharp hairpin curve that presented us with a long stretch of ground to climb that went almost straight up. I gawked up at it in amazement as Edward stopped the vehicle.
He rolled down his window and pushed aside a tree limb to reveal a weathered, wooden placard. It hung from a rusty, thin metal chain and must have been at least eighty years old. On the placard was inscribed the letter "C" in an elegant, embellished script of kelly green paint.
Edward held back the leaves for me to get a good look at the sign, and I nodded at him and raised my eyebrows in understanding. I had a feeling I was in for an eternity of discovering new Cullen properties.
The Emmett-mobile groaned and grunted and ground its way up the steep expanse of the mountain. The brush was still thick and pelted our doors and windows as we pushed through. Edward looked like a little boy on a carnival ride as he floored the gas. It was wonderful to see him enjoying something so much. I was frankly ready to be there, though... wherever there was.
Finally, little by little, the brush started to clear, and we started to see more sunlight. The dirt path was getting gradually wider.
"We're here," said Edward, his voice almost singing with excitement.
"Where?" I asked. All I could still see was dirt path, the trees perhaps a little sparser.
But then Edward made one final sharp turn, and it was like the sky had opened up. The sight that greeted me was such a stark contrast to the rustic, enclosed, claustrophobic atmosphere I had traveled through for the past few hours. We were at the top of the world, and it was magnificent.
"Here," said Edward. And he kissed my hand as he watched me, silently staring at what was to be our home for the next week.