In September, Edward Cullen carried me over the threshold of our new home. We unpacked boxes, we arranged furniture. We put our wedding photo on the bookshelves. We made love - in the bedroom; and the living room; and the billiard room.
October sped by and November flew.
But in December a Christmas tree pushed its way through the front door - and a new tradition started.
Like most mornings, the sound of the juicer greeted me as I came downstairs into the kitchen. There was a pile of orange skins on the granite counter, the toaster was toasting, the coffee was percolating and Edward was standing amongst it all, his back to me as he filled a glass with orange juice.
He tossed me a smile over his shoulder as I went to him. I kissed his cheek, running my hand down his back and over his behind. He lifted an eyebrow when I squeezed.
"Here," he smiled, handing me the glass with one hand and pulling me against him with the other. He kissed me full on the mouth, his hand moving over my curves, and I was breathless when he let me go. He nudged my nose lightly with his before he turned back to the counter and I went to sit at the table to catch my breath.
Being married to Edward was fun.
I watched as he reached out swiftly to grab the pop tarts that shot up from the toaster. He put them on a plate, poured me a cup of coffee and then brought them to the table.
"Thank you," I smiled.
"You're very welcome." He pushed his hair out of his eyes and sat opposite me, swinging back on his chair, just like he usually did. But this morning there was a sneaky smile on his lips.
I rolled my eyes. "I know that…but there's something you aren't telling me. Come on, spill."
He chuckled. "You know me too well."
He gave me that crooked smile and leant forward, resting his elbows on the table. He drew circles on the table top with a long finger, his face down now, concentrating on his invisible doodles. He was avoiding eye contact.
"There's an errand I need to run this afternoon," he said simply. "Will you be alright driving yourself home after class?"
Errand? Immediately my curiosity was piqued but he was deliberately being vague so I knew better than to ask outright what it was - I'd work my way around to it.
"Of course I'll be alright. But why don't we just go separately today? I'll take my truck. Or the Audi."
"Mm, but then I don't get to enjoy the pleasure of your company on the drive in." He looked up now, smiling. "AndI'd like to use your truck this afternoon, if you don't mind. I'll run back here after lunch and pick it up."
He needed the truck?
I raised my glass of juice, swirling the contents absently, watching the pulp sway back and forth. Edward went back to his circles. He knew I wanted to know; I knew he was hedging. Under the table our feet were playing footsy.
"So, what's this errand?" I almost sounded disinterested…almost. But he knew how curious I was – he'd hear it in my heartbeat.
"You'll have to wait and see," he smiled again, looking up now. I groaned internally, not because he obviously had a surprise planned, but because my curiosity was off the scale now.
And that was new for me
There was a time when a conversation like this would have had me panicked and frantic, wondering what extravagance Edward had planned – but not now. Now I loved the thought behind his gestures. And I loved the joy it obviously gave him.
So instead of the panic I went for the pout. And Edward laughed.
"Modern American poetry this morning?" he asked, changing the subject.
I nodded. "We're starting Gwendolyn Brooks today."
"I know. I'm looking forward to it." I finally took a sip of orange juice. "So, basics of form and function for you?"
"Yep," he grinned. "Also known as how to make a bus shelter look good."
I laughed and set the juice down. "I'm sure you'll design beautiful bus shelters...if our house is anything to go by."
I looked around me at the restaurant quality kitchen with the cathedral ceiling and exposed beams; the high glass wall with French doors that opened onto the garden.
He shrugged, smiling, his mouth curving deliciously at the corners as he watched me bite into a pop tart.
"How is it?"
"You know," I mumbled through my mouthful. "You're really getting the hang of these."
"I should hope so," he smiled. "I've had almost six months to get it right."
Six months. I shook my head.
"What?" he asked, still smiling.
"So much has happened." I sighed as I reached for my coffee.
Wedding, honeymoon, then Edward had carried me over the threshold of our new home on September 2nd and college had started later that month.
"We've been busy," he agreed.
I smiled as I looked at him over the top of my coffee. He'd used my favourite mug - the white one that said I love Rio on it in big, black letters and a bright red heart. The one he'd bought for me from the airport gift shop the day we flew home from Isle Esme.
It had been a wonderful honeymoon.
Romantic, playful, sexy, relaxed.
Isle Esme was a tropical paradise.
And Edward did sparkle all over.
We'd spent hours laying on the beach, letting the sun warm our skin, while small waves rippled and licked at our toes.
We swam and played - chasing each other along the sand, splashing each other at the water's edge. And Edward was as graceful in the water as he was on land. He could turn perfect somersaults - two, three, seven in a row! And he could swim like a dolphin. Sometimes he'd drop below the surface and I wouldn't know where he was until he'd tug on my legs and pull me under as I squealed in surprise.
He taught me to snorkel, though the fish would disappear whenever he was in he water. But once he was confident that I knew what I was doing he would sit on the sand and watch me while I swam just below the surface, following the jewel-bright fish that darted here and there among the seaweed and rocks.
We would walk, exploring every inch of the island - its open beaches, its secluded places, its rainforest and jungle.
In the shadowed depths of the rainforest was a lagoon and waterfall that Edward was eager to show me. It was perfectly round and perfectly beautiful. He held my hand tightly as we made our way in bare feet over wet rocks that rimmed its edges, heading for the small, pebbly beach that led into the turquoise water. We'd stood, letting the spray from the crashing waterf splash over us. I wriggled my toes in the wet sand. Suddenly, Edward let go of my hand, stripped off his shorts and dived into the water, naked. He surfaced a second later in the middle of the lagoon. He was grinning as he shook his wet hair out of his face and beckoned me. I hesitated, I'd never skinny-dipped before. But a second later I was grinning and I slipped out of my sundress and undies and waded into the water, reaching for Edward's outstretched hand.
But some days we would barely leave the bed. We'd spend hours making love, discovering each other. And learning. Edward's hands, his lips, his body, brought me pleasures I never knew existed.
And I did the same for him.
Edward giving in to his desires was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. Braced above me, or on his back beneath me; in bed, on the sand, in the water, behind a waterfall; hearing him cry my name, head thrown back as he shuddered and shook - it was my own private paradise every time, right there in his arms.
Every morning he made me breakfast and brought it to me in bed.
Every evening we'd bathe together, washing the sand and salt from our skin and hair.
There was a hammock tied between two trees, just outside the house, and sometimes we'd lay there, head to toe, and Edward would play the guitar and sing to me, or sometimes he'd read - one of the books from the library, and I wished those moments could last forever.
There were a couple of cloudy days and we'd take the boat to the mainland and browsed the shops and the markets. Edward's arm would be curled around my waist, holding me close, as we'd move through the crowds. If we saw something we liked he'd barter and bargain in perfect Portuguese and it was fascinating to watch him. Now we had art work hanging in the living room, there was a vase on the dining room table and a sculpture in the hall. And there was the bracelet on my wrist.
Yep, a perfect honeymoon.
I took another mouthful of coffee and stared out the wide windows that looked onto the clearing. The grass was carpeted, white and glistening, as the snowflakes swirled and floated gently downwards. They reminded me a bit of...
"Bella? You're blushing." Edward's foot nudged mine. "What are you thinking about?"
I bit my lip and felt my face heat, not from embarrassment but from desire.
"Isle Esme," I whispered, looking at him through my lashes. "And feathers."
"Ah." He smiled and leant forward across the table. He lifted my hand to his lips and whispered too. "The pillow fight."
I nodded slowly, biting my lip harder now as I let the memory play out in my mind.
I'd been lying on my towel on the sand, soaking up the sun. Edward had come out of the ocean, dripping wet in his board shorts, and shaken himself like a dog, spraying me with water. I squealed and jumped up, laughing and running for the house. He chased me across the sand, laughing too, letting me lead.
He was right behind me as I raced into the bedroom and grabbed a pillow from the bed. I turned, holding it up.
"I have a pillow," I warned, trying to sound menacing through my giggles.
Edward skidded to a smooth, elegant stop and raised his hands in surrender.
"Then you clearly have me at a disadvantage, Mrs Cullen."
He took a slow step forward. I jabbed the pillow at him and he retreated quickly.
"Careful," he grinned. "That thing could go off."
I was trying to keep a straight face - and failing.
Suddenly Edward lunged for the bed and grabbed a pillow of his own.
"Ah ha!" He held it up, victorious, switching it quickly back and forth from hand to hand. "Now we're evenly matched."
He began to circle me and I followed, moving around him. We were grinning, our pillows ready, each of us taking a jab here and there. Edward's hair hung over his forehead, into his eyes, little rivulets of sea water running down the sides of his face. Every now and then he'd blow out a sharp, upwards breath, trying to move the hair out of his face. His chest and shoulders and arms were wet and glistening. His board shorts were making tiny puddles on the floor and I tried not to slip in them. Apart from our breathing the room was silent. His long fingers curled around the pillow's edge.
The circle got tighter. And tighter.
I kept my eyes on Edward's. His gaze was hot, like fire, and every now and then his eyes would wander over me and the bikini I wore. His look would darken and I had a fair idea how this was going to end. My body was on alert.
We continued to move slowly, the circle tightened - smaller, closer.
And then I swung.
My pillow connected with Edward's shoulder at the same time his hit me on the arm. We were laughing now as I went for his stomach and he got me around the hips. We went back and forth like this, giggling, laughing, whacking each other as we danced around the room. We both knew he could grab me before I'd even see him move, but he liked to play, and this was fun.
We ducked and weaved, then Edward lunged for me and I leapt onto the bed, standing on it, using my new height to bring the pillow down, square, on top of his head.
There was a ripping sound and suddenly the air around us was full of feathers.
And Edward used that moment of distraction to drop his pillow, grab me behind the knees and tip me backwards onto the bed. I was laughing again, and so was Edward, as he crawled over the quilt, sat between my legs and bent over, dragging his wet head the length of my body. I bucked and writhed beneath him, his damp hair tickling me while his hands held my arms still above my head. And all the while the feathers floated and spiraled down, covering the bed and us.
"I'll...get you...for this...Cullen!" I gasped and giggled.
"I look forward to it," he grinned, and continued rubbing his head over me.
But soon it was his lips moving over my body, trailing across my skin, and my feet were pushing his board shorts off his hips and down his legs while he let go of my arms and his fingers pulled my top free. The laughter stopped.
Edward's lips moved lower now, kissing, sucking over my belly button and moving beyond. He stopped at my hip, right near the bow of my string bikini. I gasped as he placed a small kiss in the hollow there. He lifted his head and his gaze made its way slowly along my body until he met my eyes. My chest moved with fast, shallow breaths and I tried to anticipate what he was going to do. He watched me closely, and I watched him as he took the end of the bow between his teeth...and pulled.
I was panting now. Edward's tongue slid across my skin to my other hip, and I watched his teeth untie that bow too.
Then, he took the small piece of fabric in his mouth and pulled it away.
My breaths were coming faster as Edward groaned and his hand fisted in the quilt beside my legs. Then he blew a slow, cool breath on the sensitive skin he'd exposed and I gasped and whimpered, my thighs shaking as my head pushed back into the bed and my hips arched upwards. This new sensation had me making sounds I didn't know where possible.
Edward blew another breath, even slower this time, and my world span and spiraled and I was nothing but raw, aching sensation.
There were feathers across my stomach and Edward picked one up now. He trailed it over my breasts and between them, circling in a torturous figure-of-eight, then along my body, whispering, teasing, criss-crossing from side to side, leaving no square of skin untouched. I was gasping, writhing, as Edward played my body like an instrument, making it sing and sigh.
And all the time his eyes stayed on me, mesmerised, transfixed, his amber eyes gleaming fire as he continued to graze the feather in spirals, downwards now, lower, towards my thighs. Then his lips followed its path. And I was lost.
"Do you like this?" His voice was rough and ragged and I could only moan my answer. My body was quivering now, strung tight with anticipation and want. My fingers clawed at the quilt. My blood was on fire, my heart was about to erupt and burst through my chest.
I felt just the slightest tremor from Edward's body where it pressed against my legs. I lifted my head again. The muscles of his arms flexed as his hands gripped tighter in the sheets. His tongue swept over his bottom lip, once, twice. Oh, Lord...was he going to... was he…?
Then I watched, breathless with need, as Edward slowly lowered his lips and his face disappeared between my thighs.
"Those feathers were everywhere," I murmured and took another mouthful of coffee.
Edward nodded and stood quickly. He scooped the orange skins into the bin.
"I think I'll just go finish getting ready." I pushed back my chair.
"Will you grab my watch?" Edward's voice was thick and there was a tightening in my belly at its sound.
I downed my juice and carried my things to the dish washer while Edward rinsed the juicer. He was moving just a little faster than usual.
Perhaps I shouldn't have mentioned the pillow fight - it was going to be a long day now. For both of us.
I hurried upstairs, brushed my teeth and splashed cold water on my face. It helped a little.
From the ensuite window I saw Edward walk into the backyard and stand in the snow, looking up at the sky, letting the flakes fall all over him. I smirked. When there's no time for a cold shower, go stand in a snowfall. He stretched his arms out from his sides, face still upturned. He was smiling now, eyes closed. I smiled too and wondered what he was thinking.
I walked back into the bedroom, grabbed my boots and sat on the leather, cushioned seat of the valet stand that had been Edward's father's. I shoved my feet in the boots and laced them up, then I stood and picked up Edward's pocket watch and chain from the tray at the top of the stand and slipped it carefully into my pocket.
The valet stand wasn't the only piece of Edward's past that had found a place in our home. While we'd been on our honeymoon he had decided he was finally ready to sort through the belongings from his family home, so when we left the island late in August we'd returned to Forks via Chicago. We'd spent two days looking through boxes and crates, deciding what could be sold and what could be donated to museums or charities. And if I'd been worried that it might make him melancholy then I was wrong. I listened and laughed as he told me funny stories about his childhood and shared memories of his parents. His human years had obviously been happy ones. But I'd nearly cried at the end of the second day when he'd asked, almost nervously, if it would be alright to bring some things with him, even though they were old fashioned.
So now, downstairs was the beautiful mahogany dining suite, and the mirrored hall stand near the front door. We'd added some of his old books to our bookshelves, many with his name, Edward Masen, written on the fly leaf. I'd been fascinated, running my fingers over the faded ink, feeling the gentle impression made by the nib nearly one hundred years before.
Holding the books in place were the marble, gargoyle book-ends. On the desk in our study sat the elegant pen and ink set that had been his mother's.
On the top shelf of our closet was a tin full of toy soldiers and a boxed-up train set.
The book-ends weren't really my taste but that was okay, because I knew Edward wasn't overly-fond of my lava lamp either. I was just kind of glad he hadn't wanted the gilded statue of Cupid with a clock in its stomach.
I liked that Edward's past was mixed now with his present and even his future - it felt like here, in this house we'd created, everything had come together for him.
I walked to the wide window seat and picked up my satchel that sat in the corner. Edward was still outside, but heading for the house now, running his hands back and forth through his hair, shaking loose the snow that had settled there.
I slung my satchel over my shoulder and turned to grab my jacket off the back of the rocking chair - but I stopped, startled.
My sneaky vampire was standing just inside the doorway. And he was smiling that smile.
I felt a flash of heat scorch through my body.
I grinned back and dropped the satchel. Edward shrugged out of his jacket.
Looked like it wouldn't be such a long day after all.
We finally left the house but as we stepped onto the front verandah Edward stopped. He lifted his face skyward, and sniffed the air.
"What is it?"
"I know it's snowing." I rolled my eyes. "What's with the sniffing?"
He chuckled and flipped the hood of my jacket over my head so it covered my eyes.
"Hey!" I giggled and pushed it back again.
"There's a storm coming," he said.
"You can predict the weather now? You can smell it?"
He nodded, looking back up at the clouds. "We'll make it to Dartmouth fine, but we might get stuck there, it could be hard coming home." He looked back down at me. "Wanna risk it?"
I wasn't sure. I was about to ask Edward just how stuck we would be but my phone vibrated in my pocket.
It was Jen, my friend from social history class. Her text was straight to the point.
Not going, 2 much snow. U?
A second later a new message came through from Ellie, another friend, answering Jen's text to both of us.
Staying home. Snow storm vs The Little Drummer Boy is on cable - no contest.
Edward looked over my shoulder. "I'd say it'll be a quiet day on campus."
I nodded, typed a quick reply text and slipped the phone back in my pocket.
"I can start on my essays," I said and turned back to the house.
"We're staying home?" Edward's face lit up.
"Yes." I saw the glint in his eyes. "But don't get any ideas!" I was biting back a grin. "I'm studying."
He held his hands up as though in surrender. "I wouldn't dream of distracting you from your studies, love."
"But you will take breaks, won't you?"
I set myself up at one end of the dining room table with my laptop. De Bussey was playing in the background, I had a hot chocolate beside me, my boots were off, the cosy socks were on and I threw myself into my essay.
I liked college, it was so vastly different from high school. I enjoyed the freedom and flexibility, and I loved the way some of my classes challenged my thinking, made me look at things differently.
And college with Edward wasfun.
We were in entirely different faculties, shared no classes, but that didn't matter. There would be passing kisses in corridors and shared looks across the grounds. And when we did come together again in the afternoon it was with an eagerness to hear what had happened in each other's days.
Some nights we would sit up late, in front of the fireplace, talking about a book or a play or a writer I was studying. Of course Edward had already read everything and we often had differing opinions. Edward would be animated, eyes bright, gesturing as he'd emphasise his point, clearly enjoying the to and fro of our debate. And I'd argue back, waving my arms around, making my point, sometimes playing devil's advocate just for fun. It was stimulating and exciting and new - and I loved it.
And I'd made friends with Ellie and Jen. We went for coffee sometimes after class, and I'd been to the movies with them a few times - girls' nights. A couple of times Edward and I had joined them and their boyfriends and we'd gone out as a group and that had been great. But I knew the friendships could never be long term - in a year or two I would disappear, yet it didn't worry me. I was really enjoying now, but college wouldn't last forever anyway, and I knew where my future was.
And right now it was sprawled out at the opposite end of the table, papers and books taking up three spaces to my one. His head was bent over his work, one hand fisted in his hair, holding it out of his face. Until we'd started college I'd never seen Edward study or do homework.
"You chew on the end of your pencil when you're concentrating." I smiled, surprised.
"Human habit coming out," he muttered absently as he speed-read his notes.
"I've never seen you do it before."
He smiled up at me as he turned a page, his long fingers flicking the paper so quickly I didn't see it move.
I began to wonder if he'd done his schoolwork at this table when he was a boy.
"Did you sit here to study when you were human?"
"I did sometimes."
I looked along the table and tried to imagine human Edward doing his homework. There was a small mark in the polished surface and I ran my finger over it.
"Did you make this scratch?" I joked and Edward's eyes focused on my finger.
"Probably," he smiled. "I set my trains up here a few times - there might have been a derailment."
I laughed and he grinned, before turning back to his notes.
"Do you actually need to study?" I wondered as I watched him. "I thought you knew just about everything. You never seemed to study at highschool."
"That's because I've done highschool over and over," he grimaced. "But vampires still need to learn things. The knowledge isn't automatically there in the brain when you change. I only know a lot because I've studied a lot." He shrugged. "And I learn very fast."
"And you remember everything."
"Everything," he nodded. "A vampire brain can hold so much more information than a human one. And whatever goes in, stays there."
"It'll be like that for me, too, right?"
He nodded again, smiling. "And you'll be able to focus on many things at once. It will be distracting and disorienting at first, but you'll adjust, and I'll be there to help you. And then you'll be able to hold a conversation with Alice while you play chess with me, build block towers with the baby and hear each individual instrument in a concerto playing on the cd player."
He smiled and my heart fluttered. I loved it when he talked so happily and eagerly about my change. And I especially loved it when he talked about us having a child.
In recent months we'd joined Carlisle in his research of human-vampire offspring and with each new piece of information we uncovered Edward's belief that we could do this grew. Now it wasn't an if or even a maybe, it was a when. I'd had tears the night Edward curled himself around me in our bed and whispered that he was ready to have a baby whenever I was.
Across the table his smile stretched wider and I knew we were remembering the same thing. His foot pressed affectionately on mine.
"So what's going on in your brain now," I asked softly.
He took a deep breath. "Well, I'm wondering which tree in the garden would be best for a tree house, because every child needs one of those..."
I smiled and rubbed my foot over his.
"And I'm also working out the angles and stresses for a load bearing beam as part of my assignment; it's my turn to cook tonight and I'm planning lasagne so I'm thinking what that will involve; I'm mentally writing my essay on the history of the Bauhaus movement; and I can hear the mailman's van coming down the road trying to deliver as much as possible before the storm hits."
"Wow!" I sat back in my seat. "That's quite a list."
"I know." He gave me a triumphant smile then stood up. "I'll be right back."
He was as good as his word and it was only a moment later he was back in the dining room, snow in his hair again and the mail in his hand.
"Break time?" he asked, quirking an eyebrow. I nodded, my essay only needed the summary now, so I stood and followed him into the living room.
We curled up on the couch, me nestled between Edward's legs.
"What have we got?"
"Looks like a Christmas card from Callum and Leah."
He handed me the envelope and I pulled out a card with a cartoon picture of Santa compiling his naughty and nice list on a computer spreadsheet.
"Very Callum," I chuckled.
Callum and Leah were married now. The November wedding had been brought forward and arranged in a hurry when Harry Clearwater's heart took a turn for the worse. He had died in September but he'd seen his daughter walk down the aisle at the end of August with only two weeks of preparation. The short notice meant Prof McLeod couldn't make it in time from his new dig in a remote part of Russia - but his absence meant that Edward could come to the wedding with me.
It had been a small, intimate gathering. The ceremony was held at dusk on the cliffs of La Push. Afterwards there had been a bonfire and party at the Res. Leah had looked beautiful in white with flowers woven through her dark, glossy hair, but I'd I barely recognized Callum in his suit.
"It's a rental," he'd told me conspiratorially as he tugged uncomfortably at his collar.
"I'm surprised you didn't wear your Pac-man t-shirt," I joked. But Callum blinked at me, stunned.
"It's underneath. How did you know?" he hissed.
I looked inside the card and read Callum's brief note ... college is good, apartment is small but Seattle's a blast. Leah says hi! See you at Christmas.
"It'll be good to catch up with them," I said. "I'm glad we're going back to Forks for Christmas."
I stood up and went to put the card on the mantelpiece, in line with the others we'd received, next to the fancy Christmas candles and the small, ornamental tree. That was the extent of our decorations and the room didn't really look very festive but a tree wasn't really practical. We were going away for Christmas in three days, we wouldn't really have the opportunity to enjoy a tree and it would be all brown and dropping branches by the time we got back after New Year.
I flopped back on the sofa, looking at the other envelope in Edward's hand.
"What else have we got?"
"Just the electricity bill." There was just the subtlest edge to his voice and I knew I wasn't meant to hear it. "Do you want to take care of that?"
I looked up at him. He gave one, curt nod and I reached up to smooth the crease that had formed between his eyebrows. Immediately his face relaxed and he smiled. His thighs flexed against mine.
"You still don't like it, do you?" I asked softly.
He shrugged. "It's not that I don't like it - I understand it, I really do, it just...goes against the grain." He shrugged again, and gave an apologetic smile. "And I don't want to fight again."
The past six months had been wonderful, but it hadn't been all smooth sailing and pillow fights. There had been real fights too. Mostly just small disagreements, over little things. Edward kept wiping his hands on the dish towel instead of the hand towel in the kitchen and he'd just leave his shoes wherever he happened to take them off.
Sometimes I mixed the rubbish with the recycling, and I kept leaving the garage door open and Edward would grimace and ask me, very politely, not to.
They were only small things, but early in November we'd had a major fight.
We had been driving back home from college on a rainy afternoon. The song on the car radio finished and an ad came on for a local electricity provider. I turned to Edward.
"We haven't had an electricity bill yet. Actually..." I frowned as I puzzled over it "It's been two months and I haven't seen any utilities bills come in."
"We had a gas bill last week, electricity the week before that. I've paid them."
"Oh." I was surprised. "You're quick, I didn't even see them."
"They come electronically, direct to my email. I just transfer the money across."
He looked at me, eyes wide and innocent. "Is that a problem?"
"I, uh...well, it would have been nice to discuss it."
"Oh." Now he seemed genuinely surprised. "I guess I didn't see the need."
He didn't see the need? Annoyance flared through me.
"You...are you serious? You didn't see the need?"
"It just seemed the easiest way to handle things," he said simply.
"By hiding the bills from me?"
"What?" His head snapped around to look at me. "I'm not hiding anything from you, Bella. Why would you say that?" He was annoyed now, too.
"Then why haven't I seen a bill? Why didn't you talk to me about this? It's my house, too, and I don't even know how much we're spending on things!"
His expression changed. He started to smile now and that made me bristle. My annoyance was well on its way to anger, now.
"Money isn't an issue, Bella, you've seen the bank account."
I had. It was our joint account now and it's eight figure balance always made my head spin.
"You're right, money isn't the issue, Edward. But the fact that you've organised all this without involving me is."
"Bella, it's a mundane, routine task. I didn't think it mattered how the bills got paid, as long they did."
"You're missing the point entirely!" I snapped.
"And what point is that?" He snapped back.
I waved my hand between us. "We're supposed to be partners in this. I want us to share the mundane and the routine. And I thought you felt the same."
"I do, but..." He frowned again, and gave a casual shrug of a shoulder. Too casual. "It's just paying bills, Bella."
"No, it's not!" NowI really was angry. "And don't dismiss me like that!"
I copied his shrug. "Like it's just Bella being silly."
"I'm not dismissing you. I don't think you're silly, I just..." He pulled his hand through his hair, frustrated, scowling, like he was lost and out of his depth. "I didn't think it was a big deal and I suppose...," He paused and took a heavy breath, like he was bracing himself for something. I noticed he stuck out his jaw just a little. "I know it might seem old fashioned to you but as your husband I feel it's my role to look after these things. To look after you."
My eyes shot open as I gasped, shocked.
"You did not just say that," I hissed. "You did not just use the I am your husband and I'll look after the money line."
"I did not say..."
But I cut him off. "That's not just old fashioned, Edward, that's... insulting! Insulting to me, and my intelligence and..."
He turned to me, eyes flashing and angry. I stopped talking.
"Then I must apologise." His voice was tight, clipped. "It was never my aim to offend you and if I have done so it was inadvertent and unintended." He took a slow breath. "I was trying to make life easier for you. I would never, ever insult you. You've completely misinterpreted what I said."
"Oh! Have I really?" I was all skepticism.
"Yes!" He shook his head and turned back to face the road. His hands were claws on the steering wheel, his chest was moving heavily. "This whole conversation is ridiculous," he muttered. And for me that was like red rag to a bull.
"Ridiculous?" I threw my hands in the air. "So, it's ridiculous because I want to discuss our financial commitments and arrangements?" I was shouting.
"But we're not discussing anything!" He shouted back. "You're overreacting to something that..."
"I am not overreacting!"
"I think you are!"
"You called me ridiculous!"
"I did not!"
"You might as well have!"
"Ugh!" He slammed his palm against the steering wheel. It rattled and groaned. "Now you are being ridiculous!" he growled.
"Stop the car." My voice was quiet, flat.
"Stop the car."
"I'm walking home."
"I don't care. Stop the car."
There was silence...and then...
His voice had gone deathly quiet.
"Stop the car."
"STOP THE DAMN CAR, EDWARD!"
He growled loudly. The car swerved roughly to the side of the road. I got out, slammed the door and started to stomp away. The rain was cold, running down my neck and I pulled the collar of my jacket up and put my head down. The Volvo crawled along beside me. The passenger window rolled open.
"Get back in the car, Bella."
I ignored him.
"You know I could just put you in here myself."
"Yeah, like that's going to make things better!" I snarled at him. "Just hit Bella over the head and drag her back into the cave by the hair."
I thought I heard him muttering under his breath, but I couldn't be sure.
"Bella, just get in the car...please." He was trying to keep his voice steady, but I could hear the anger leeching into his words.
"No!" I folded my arms over my chest and kept walking.
"It's wet and it's cold, you could get sick."
I wavered for a moment. If I caught the 'flu he'd be beside himself. A small spark of compassion flared but was quickly doused by anger as I remembered why I was out here in the first place. How dare he think he could just take things over like that. Who did he think I was - some kid that had to be looked after? Did he think I was helpless, like my mother?
I shuddered and kept walking. Suddenly the car sped up, heading away from me. It spun and expertly skidded to a stop further down the road, spraying a perfect arc of mud high into the air.
Edward got out and the car shook as he slammed the door. He stormed back towards me, his face like thunder, eyes wild, glaring, and I wondered what he was going to do. I braced myself to be thrown over his shoulder.
Instead he held out the keys.
"Here," he snapped. "I'll walk. You drive. I can't catch my death twice."
He grabbed my hand and pressed the keys firmly into my palm.
Then he turned, shoved his hands deep in the pockets of his overcoat, and stalked off through the rain. He moved quickly and through my surprise my heart clenched as I watched him go. His posture wasn't just angry, I could see that now. His head was bowed, his shoulders hunched.
He was hurt.
I'd hurt him.
But he'd hurt me, too, I reminded myself. Although now my anger and indignation were starting to fade.
Maybe I had overreacted. What he did was wrong, but what he said was true...he would never insult me. Or upset me. Not on purpose.
I let out a heavy sigh as I watched the distance growing greater between us. The shoulders of his coat were darkening with the rain. Soon he'd just be a dot in the distance. I hugged myself and shivered against the cold and the wet.
Edward had lived through huge social change and a sexual revolution but he was still, in some ways, very much a man of his time. Some of his ideas and beliefs would always be out of step with mine. I needed to remember that, and not deal with it by yelling at him.
He didn't respond, though I knew he would hear. I was actually surprised when he just kept walking and I realised now how upset he must be. I was so used to him always making himself available to me, no matter what. He was always so ready to please me, to be with me...had I taken that part of his nature for granted? I bit my lip.
My chest tightened and my eyes burned. I hadn't meant to hurt him.
I could hear the faint edge of anxiety in my voice now. Immediately he stopped, inhumanly still, like a statue.
"Edward!" I took a couple of steps towards him, unsure and hesitant, my feet scuffing on some rocks, snapping some twigs.
His whole body shuddered, I could tell even at this distance, and he shook his head. Then he turned.
And he started running towards me.
His coat flew out behind him as he ran, his hair streamed back despite the rain. I was running too. But I'd only taken three or four steps before he reached me, scooping me into his arms and holding me hard and close.
"I'm sorry," he said, his lips at my ear. "I'm sorry."
"No, I'm sorry. You're right, I did overreact."
"I should have discussed it with you."
"Yes, but I should have..."
"Lets talk in the car. You're getting cold."
We got back into the Volvo. Edward threw his coat on the back seat and I pulled off my jacket and grabbed the spare one that was always kept in the car for me...just in case. He turned up the heat and clasped my hands with his.
"I'm sorry..." he started, and I thought he was still apologising about paying the bills, but he wasn't. "I'm sorry I didn't turn back the first time you called me." His expression was clouded, troubled, and as he dropped his eyes I realised what this was about. "I shouldn't have kept walking like that, not when you called me."
I lifted our joined hands and put my fingers to his chin, tilting his face to look at me.
"You're allowed to get angry with me, Edward. You're allowed to storm off, it's okay. I know you're not leaving."
He blinked a couple of times. We'd decided a long time ago that we couldn't side-step around our break-up. It was a part of our history, it had brought us to now, and we had to be able to talk about it openly and honestly.
He nodded, then the corner of his mouth turned up in a small, almost-smile. "But it was very rude of me to ignore you like that."
"You were hurt."
He breathed deeply and nodded again.
"I'm sorry," I whispered, wrapping my arms around his neck. His arms wound around me, too. "I overreacted. I know you'd never deliberately do anything to upset me. And I shouldn't have assumed you'd turn around and come back just because I called you. I shouldn't expect you to dance attendance on me like that."
His eyes softened and warmed. "Dance attendance? You've been reading too much Austen again."
"Maybe. I need it to balance the Kerouac."
He laughed softly.
"I'm sorry," I said again. "I was being a bit touchy about the whole being looked after thing. I think..." I hesitated, wanting to explain but knowing it would make me feel and sound disloyal. "It makes me think of Renee," I finally spat out. "How helpless she is unless she has someone to look after her. I love my mom, I really do, but I hate the thought of being like that, and I always promised myself I never would be. I guess it's important to me that I know what's going on." I swallowed as I finished my rant and Edward nodded.
"I never meant to imply that you couldn't look after yourself - I know very well that you can." He gave me an apologetic smile. "I'm very new at this," he continued. "And in my human time the husband was responsible for providing for his wife and family. He handled the finances, that's what he did. It was what my father did. For many years it was what Carlisle and Emmett did. I suppose I was modelling myself on that. Even though I know times are different now it's still...it's ingrained in me I suppose." He sighed. "Like I said...I'm new to this."
He smiled, but I had the feeling there was more. I gave his hand a squeeze.
"But there's also...," he paused, hesitant.
He tilted his head to his shoulder, like he was trying to think what to say.
"Well, we discuss our investments, the stocks and shares, the credit card bills, but with the utilities, I guess it comes back to Renee again."
My eyebrows shot up.
He took a breath. "At the picnic the day before the wedding your mother was very nostalgic. I could see in her mind all her memories of you. I could see how much you took care of her."
"Oh." My voice was very quiet and I looked down at the gearstick.
"You only looked about eleven or twelve, but I could see you telling her to put money aside in the old coffee tin in the kitchen so there would be something to pay the bills. When you were a little older I saw you at the kitchen table with her, matching the cash to the accounts. I saw the notices threatening to cut off the phone or the electricity because she had forgotten to pay." He shrugged. "Your face was so worried. I just didn't want you to have to worry anymore." He turned his head and his eyes found mine.
I squeezed his hand and moved in my seat so I could rest my head against his shoulder. He let go of my hand and curled his arm around my shoulder.
"Thank you for the thought," I whispered.
He kissed the top of my head as he drove.
"But you're right," he said. "I shouldn't have just gone ahead like that. It was presumptive of me. I'll change the arrangements. I'll have the accounts posted to the house."
"Thank you." I felt his lips in my hair again.
We sat quietly as the car wound along the road. Water was dripping from Edward's hair onto his neck. I brushed some of the drops away and he smiled.
"You'll need a warm bath when we get home." He rubbed his hand briskly up and down my arm. Mm, a warm bath sounded good.
"With bubbles," I sighed and he chuckled.
"With bubbles. Definitely."
I lifted my face, looking at him, finding his eyes.
"Will you join me?"
He blinked, surprised.
I rolled my eyes and giggled. "Yes. So will you?"
He smiled then, eyes darkening. "It would be my pleasure."
That had been a month ago. Edward had arranged for the bills to come to the house and now this was the first one to arrive under the new system. He was still holding it out to me. I took the envelope and opened it. My eyebrows went up when I saw the total.
"That seems a lot."
Edward leant forward, resting his head on my shoulder as he looked at the paper in my hand. "That would be the heating," he said. "It's a large house."
"I guess so." I was frowning and Edward pointed at the comparison column for the last bill and the one before that.
"We're fairly consistent with last month, but the month before was less. I think, given the size of the house, and the season, it's not that bad." He shrugged against me. "Do you want to take care of it?"
I set the bill down on the coffee table. "One of us can do it tonight, on line."
"One of us?"
"It doesn't really matter who actually hits the buttons, I just need to be included."
He smiled and his eyes softened as he nodded again.
"I get it," he said.
I turned to kiss him but my stomach rumbled.
"Time to feed the human." He gave me a quick peck and started to move. "Do you want me to..."
"Nah, you did breakfast, and you're doing dinner - I'll get this one." I winked. "I know you're the new expert in the kitchen, but I can make a sandwich you know."
The storm hit in full force as I piled ham and cheese onto my bread roll.
I ate lunch on the sofa with my feet in Edward's lap and a dvd playing. While I was in the kitchen Edward had lit the fire in the grate and the flames crackled and burned.
We were watching Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. It had been Callum's wedding present to us and Edward had laughed when I'd explained the significance to him. Today was the first time we'd watched it, although of course, Edward had seen it before.
"Ugh, this is so...creepy," I muttered, cringing into the cushions.
Edward stopped the foot massage and held out his arms. In a flash I had cuddled against him, peeking through my fingers at the screen while his lips caressed my hair.
"It's not scary like a horror movie it's just..."
"Disturbing?" he suggested.
"Yeah. Disturbing. Really disturbing. Like, in a spine-chilling, goose bumpy, I won't shower again, sort of way."
The wind blew up and the windows were white as outside the snow was thrown against the glass. I snuggled closer to Edward, listening to the wind howl. The sound added to the whole atmosphere and the creep-factor of the goings-on at the Bates Motel. I was glad it was the middle of the day.
"It will be over soon," Edward said quietly.
"The storm. It's about to blow itself out."
"You can tell that?"
He nodded. "And then everything will be very quiet, and very still." He kissed the tip of my nose. "And then we can go have a snowball fight."
I laughed and opened my eyes to his goofy grin.
"Sounds good to me."
The movie ended, its climax leaving my open-mouthed, staring at the screen.
"You're kidding? It was Norman all along?"
Edward laughed. "I'm surprised you didn't already know that."
"I told you, I haven't seen it before."
"But everyone knows the twist in Psycho."
"I'm not everyone."
"I know," he grinned.
I shuddered again, trying to shake off the creepy feeling. I wanted to distract myself. I wanted to go outside in the fresh, cold air, but the storm was still going.
So we listened to music instead. Edward pulled me into his arms, pushed the coffee table out of the way, and we danced around the living room. He tried to teach me to do The Twist, which was fun but also very awkward - balance was never my strong point. Then we switched to the Salsa. Edward, of course, was very good, and I enjoyed watching his hips sway to the music. He whirled me expertly around the room, grinning as I threw my head back, laughing. But as he extended his arm, meaning for me to spin away from him, I got carried away - I was showing off and I span too far. I crashed into the shelves of the entertainment unit and Edward's cd's crashed to the floor. They were in a heap, out of place, out of order, mixed up and confused. I buried my face in my hands and groaned. Not the music!
Surprisingly Edward laughed.
"But, you hate it when your music is mixed up," I gasped.
"I told you, remember, I wouldn't mind so much if it was you who mixed it up. Especially after such a spectacular spin."
He laughed again and so did I and we got down on our knees and gathered up the CD's.
"It won't take us long," he said.
I handed them to him, one at a time and Edward put each case in its proper place. It was very clear to me that he could have re-stacked the shelves in about two minutes flat and that my helping was actually slowing the process down. But he didn't seem to mind. In fact he seemed to be enjoying it. We talked about where we'd been when different songs came out; he told me which of the bands on his shelves he'd seen in concert; why he preferred Elvis Costello to Devo, or Yello to Kraftwerk.
Once the CD's were back in place he asked if I wanted to keep dancing but I suggested we give up on that idea and play cards instead. Edward liked to play games, but I was the only person he could play with - my silent mind meant there was at least some challenge for him.
We sat back at the dining room table.
"What are the stakes?" I asked as I shuffled the deck.
"You want to bet?" His eyes shot open. We'd never done that before.
He pulled his hand through his hair, unsure.
"I don't know. I guess..." His eyes narrowed now, a cheeky smile forming on his lips. "What do you want to bet?"
"Mm..." I thought for a moment. "Back rubs?"
His lips stretched into a grin and he nodded. "Fine with me. I like your back rubs."
"Oh? And what makes you think you'll be winning?" But I already knew the answer to that one.
Okay, so we'd played cards before and I was yet to win. It was the same with checkers. And Scrabble - who else but Mr Vampire Dictionary would know that a xebec was a ship with three masts? Stupid triple word score. But still, there was no need for that level of smugness.
"Okay," I muttered. "So there's a good chance you'll win. But it's not guaranteed...it could be me."
He shrugged casually. "It could. But I also like giving you back rubs, so either way, I win."
I narrowed my eyes and he laughed, but he wasn't laughing fifteen minutes later.
"Yes!" I shouted and punched the air in shocked victory when I laid my full house down on the table. "Yes!" I shouted again, then stopped still. "You didn't let me win did you?"
"No," he said, frowning. He almost seemed confused. "I didn't."
"Yes!" I punched the air again, bouncing in my seat, while Edward stared at my cards, brow furrowed.
"I'm not used to losing," he muttered and looked up at me bemused.
"You're not going to sulk, are you?"
He considered a moment. "I don't know. I think I might." He looked up hopefully. "Wanna play again?"
"Oh no..." I shook my head. "Ain't gonna be no re-match."
He rolled his eyes. "The Rocky quotes," he muttered sourly and I laughed.
"I get a back rub!" I smirked.
"You would have got one, anyway. You know I like giving them to you."
"You really are sulking aren't you? You're actually sulking!"
"Not really," he shrugged and gave me a soft smile. "I like to see you happy."
"Still sulking," I teased and he chuckled lightly.
Then suddenly his eyes were bright and gleaming. He stood quickly and his mood shifted at the same speed.
"The storm is over," he said. "Snowball fight!"
I bundled myself up against the cold and Edward opened the door and walked outside in his bare feet, t-shirt and jeans.
I made the perfect snowball - soft and round and fluffy. I threw it straight at Edward's back but he heard it flying threw the air and raised a hand, catching it neatly without looking. He turned and threw it back to me, with a spin on it this time and it splattered right across my chest.
"Ugh!" While I was distracted with brushing myself off he tackled me, landing me on my back in the snow. And he began to tickle, his long, strong fingers making themselves felt even through the bulk of my layers.
"Stop!" I squealed. "Is this revenge for beating you at poker?"
"Yep," he laughed back.
I managed to wriggle my hand between us, under his t-shirt, and dragged my nails across his belly, where I knew he was sensitive.
He hissed and bucked, moving back sharply, grinning at me as I basked in my own ticklish revenge. I wiggled my fingers at him.
"Well played, love," he chuckled.
We chased each other, throwing snowballs, some hitting, some missing. I got Edward right in the middle of his chest and he dropped to his knees and fell flat on his face, arms spread wide. The snow billowed up around him. It would have been quite dramatic if he hadn't been laughing so much.
We made snow angels and built a snow man. We hunted for sticks and stones to make his arms and face.
"It looks like you," Edward teased and I poked out my tongue.
We played and laughed till the tears ran down my cheeks. But at the first chatter of my teeth I was scooped into strong, icy arms and carried inside.
"That was fun!" I pulled off my hood and shook the snow from my boots.
"It was." Edward's face was lit up, grinning like the seventeen year old he was, his damp hair flopping into his eyes. He grabbed my hand and pulled off my gloves before helping me off with my jacket. "Come and sit by the fire," he said.
He wrapped the cashmere blanket around my shoulders. Then he watched me as I warmed my hands, and I wondered at the soft look in his eyes.
"What are you thinking?" I whispered.
"I'm thinking that I wish I could warm your hands for you."
My heart faltered.
"One day," I said. "When I'm like you."
He nodded, smiling gently. "I'll look forward to it."
I shifted then, moving to sit with my back against the sofa. Edward came and lay down with his head in my lap. The fire had warmed him a little and I ran my hands through his hair. He was almost purring, eyes closed as my fingers scratched over his scalp. I ran my fingers through the silky strands of his hair, letting it play and move between my fingers. Behind his left ear, deep beneath the top layers, his hair was shorter, blunt and bristly. It was just a small section, about the size of my thumbnail. I wondered about it as my fingers stroked over the stubble and then Edward opened his eyes. He lifted a hand and reached up, gently touching my locket that sat displayed on my sweater.
"Oh," I smiled, understanding. He smiled back and closed his eyes again, nestling deeper into my lap.
We sat that way for a while, just quiet, peaceful, in front of the fire, my fingers playing in Edward's hair. He was so relaxed, just the smallest smile on his lips, his long lashes casting shadows on his cheek. He could almost be asleep. I loved it when he was like this. But he wasn't always so relaxed, and I smiled as I remembered the previous Wednesday.
My classes finished later than Edward's on Wednesdays, so I usually took my truck, or the Audi, whichever I felt in the mood for, and Edward drove separately in the Volvo. Last Wednesday when I came home he met me at the door, as usual, but this time he had the pool cue in his hand.
"You're playing?" I asked as he leant in to kiss me.
"Mm, want to join me?"
We walked into the billiard room and Edward racked up the balls.
"I think I'll just watch," I sat in the comfy leather chair in the corner. "I like to watch you play."
He rolled his eyes, knowing exactly what I meant, and proceeded to lean over and make his first hit. Inside my heart gave a little sigh.
"How was your day?" he looked at me over his shoulder as the balls scattered.
"Not too bad. You?"
"Not too bad." He smiled and moved around the table, leaning over to pot the red ball. It fell neatly into its pocket and he moved again as he repositioned himself to hit the yellow ball.
The pool cue slid back and forth between his long fingers, he pressed his hips against the edge of the table as he leant forward, his chest almost touching the green baize surface. His hair fell in his face and he blew it out of the way with a quick breath.
I curled my legs beneath me as I watched him.
"I got invited to a frat party today," I remembered.
There was a tearing, snapping sound as the cue stick broke in two and its point sliced through the green fabric.
"You what?" He was standing straight now, shoulders squared, pulled up to his full height.
Oh, geez... and I'd seen those eyes before. He was angry. No wait...he was furious.
"Edward, it's okay..." I got up and went to him. I put my hand on his arm as his eyes blazed at me. "It's okay, really. It was just a party. I said no, of course."
"Do you have any idea what happens at those parties?"
"I think...I have a fair idea." I'd seen some movies, Renee had Animal House on DVD. "Um, have you been to one?"
He rubbed his hands over his face now.
"No, but I've been to enough colleges and read enough minds."
Suddenly he took my hand, staring down at my wedding ring.
"Who was it? Did he not see this?" He rubbed his thumb over the plain, gold band, his voice seething.
"I don't actually know who he was. He only introduced himself when he invited me."
He groaned, his grip on my hand tightened as he shook his head. "And a lot of women wear rings, Edward. I'm a Freshman, he probably didn't expect me to be married." I tried to soothe him. "But I told him I am married and that I wasn't interested in his party. He won't be asking me again." I stroked his cheek. His jaw was like stone. "You didn't actually think I'd say yes, did you?" I wondered suddenly.
"No, of course not, but..." There was a growl brewing, he was struggling to contain it, I could tell. He turned away from my touch and grabbed the wooden edge of the billiard table. He hung his head between his arms. "I'm sorry. But just the thought of someone having those plans for you...for my wife..."
His fingers clawed at the wood. His teeth ground together.
He shot me a dark look, one eyebrow raised.
The tension was rolling off him, I could feel it. I stroked his back.
"You want to growl, don't you?"
He didn't answer. I knew he was trying to be calm and rational and all the things he wasn't actually feeling.
"It's okay, go ahead." I hoisted myself up to sit on the edge of the table. I leant in close and whispered in his ear, letting the warmth of my breath linger on his skin. "I like it when you growl."
So he did.
It was low and deep, but as it travelled up from his chest his lips curled back from his teeth and the growl became a full-blown, blood chilling snarl. And it went on for a long time while his fingers carved grooves in the wood.
When he finished I pulled his head against my chest and started playing with his hair. He sank against me, his arms wrapping possessively around my hips.
I held him as hard as I could.
"I wanted you to experience college life," he murmured after a moment. "And I guess being invited to that type of party is a part of that. And I know there will be other invitations, and...I'll just have to deal with it."
I rested my cheek on the top of his head. He shifted, moving one of his legs between mine.
"You know I'm not interested in all that, don't you? And I wouldn't go to a party without you, anyway;
"I know." His hands gave me a gentle squeeze.
"And you know I'm yours."
"Mine." There was a little growl behind his words. It made me smile.
"I think I know what will make you feel better." I leant in close again and ran my tongue around the shell of his ear. My knee nudged suggestively against his groin.
He hissed and I giggled. Then in a pure caveman moment he threw me over his shoulder and strode out of the room and up the stairs, three at a time.
I grinned now as I remembered and stroked my fingers along Edward's cheek.
Outside a small wind blew up, stirring the snow into little eddies across the ground. Edward sighed and sat up slowly.
"If I'm going to do this errand, I'd better go now," he said. His eyes were shining, excited.
"You're still doing that? But what about the snow? My truck won't get through all that."
Edward smiled as he shook his head. "I can manage without the truck," he said, kissing me softly. "And this is something I want to do. I won't be long. No more than an hour. Will you be alright alone?"
I rolled my eyes. "Of course, Edward. I'm alone here every time you go hunting."
He nodded, smiling. "An hour," he said, kissing me again. And then he was gone.
I climbed onto the sofa and started flicking through the tv channels. I decided there was nothing worth watching and had just put some music on when my phone rang.
Hardly a day went by when we didn't talk.
"I've decided on the Christmas theme," she trilled and I rolled my eyes. This had been going on for weeks now.
"Which is it? The full traditional or the stark minimalism?" She'd been toying with the idea of bare tree branches, painted white, arranged artistically around the house, each baring a single bauble.
"I'm going with Winter Wonderland," she said. "Jasper's just putting the tree up now and it's huge."
"What's that noise in the background?"
"Emmett. He's singing Christmas carols and Jasper's telling him to stop."
"I can't wait for you to see it, Bella! You're going to love it! I have Austrian crystals to hang from the branches, and to decorate around the room, and the baubles are all hand blown Venetian glass."
"Wow, sounds impressive."
"Oh, it will be. So to complete the look, can you make sure you only use silver or white wrapping paper?"
"Um, we've already wrapped the gifts. They're all different colours. And patterns."
"Oh." There was a pause and I knew this was a flaw in her plan. I also knew her brain was ticking over at lightning speed. The solution came to her just a second later. "That's alright, we can work with that. Your gifts can add a bit of colour - they can represent the grass and flowers poking through the snow of the forest floor as Spring comes and winter melts away."
"That's really poetic, Alice."
"I know. And we can always drape some silver tinsel over them anyway. Ooh, wait till you see the star for the top of the tree. It's strling silver with crystals set in it - it'll send sparkles all around the room!"
I laughed. "It'll be like a vampire in the sun."
"Yes!" she cried. "It will!"
And we both dissolved into giggles.
"This is going to be such a good Christmas," she sighed and I knew what she meant. "And especially since you sneaked out of your birthday this year and refused to have a party." I could practically hear the pout. And beyond that I could hear the raised voices of Jasper as he offered to stick the tree somewhere else if Emmett didn't stop his rendition of Jingle Bell Rock.
"I didn't sneak out of it, Alice. I had a perfect birthday - quiet and romantic."
I'd been worried that Edward would want to somehow make up for the disaster of the year before and do something extravagant. Or that he'd be morose and moody. But he wasn't. He brought me breakfast in bed, then climbed back under the covers with me as he presented me with a stunning Cartier watch.
"Edward, it's lovely." I clasped it on my wrist and admired it. I didn't want to think how much it would have cost...so I didn't. I just appreciated it. "Thank you, I love it."
"You're welcome," he smiled. "But there's something else."
He pulled a large, flat, rectangular package from under the bed. Underneath the pale blue wrapping paper was a painting. A watercolour of the meadow. Our meadow. I gasped, my hand flying to my mouth.
"It's beautiful," I breathed. "The light, the colours, it's like really being there." I reached out to touch the canvas, almost believing I'd feel the grass and trees. I could almost think the flowers were blowing in a breeze. "How? Where did you get this?"
"I painted it."
"You?" I dragged my eyes away from the painting to look at him. "I didn't know you could paint."
He shrugged. "I can do a lot of things."
He wriggled closer, his head resting on my shoulder, and we studied the painting together.
"We won't get back there very often...so I wanted to bring it to you. This was the only way I could think of."
"It's perfect," I'd whispered, my eyes filling with tears that I dashed away quickly. "Thank you."
But my special day hadn't ended there. He took me for dinner that night to a little restaurant that served the best Italian food I'd ever tasted. And later, back home again, he wished me happy birthday in the slow, tender, intimate way that only he could.
Definitely the perfect birthday.
But two days later Edward's mood had changed. I stirred awake with him curled around me. There was nothing unusual in that, but without looking at him I could sense something was wrong. It was in the way he held me... like he couldn't get close enough, like I was a life line he was afraid to let go. I could feel his anxiety and silent desperation. Immediately I was on alert, frightened, wondering what was wrong, until I realised the date.
A year since he'd left me.
I could barely move in his locked embrace and when I finally turned in his arms and he lifted his head from my neck I could see the echo of that pain in his eyes.
"Edward..." I whispered, and touched his cheek, stroking my fingers tenderly over his jaw that was taught and hard with tension. His eyes were so sad, his expression full of apology and remorse.
I didn't want him to be like this and I wondered why he was so effected, we'd come so all...but he was Edward. And, of course, his perfect vampire memory meant he could relive every part of that day in perfect recall. On this morning a year ago he would have been preparing his goodbye, perhaps rehearsing his farewell speech, believing this would be the last day he ever saw me.
"Edward..." I whispered his name again. His eyes didn't move from mine and the memories and sadness in them made me want to cry. But I wouldn't let myself.
I kissed him softly and his hands clutched at me. When I pulled back I pushed on his shoulders.
"Lie down," I whispered. He obeyed, and rolled from his side onto his back, but I could see he was unsure.
I shifted, sitting astride him now. I pulled my tank top off very slowly and his eyes opened wide. I let it drop to the floor and I hooked my thumbs into the waistband of my shorts, trying not to be too awkward as I slid them off.
Desire was creeping in now, I could see that, but his eyes also held questions.
I leant forward, bracing myself on his shoulders and letting my breasts lightly graze over the skin of his chest. He sucked in a breath. I felt him stir and harden beneath me and his fingers gripped my hips.
"Bella..." he breathed.
"Ssh." I shifted again, raising myself up and then slowly easing myself down, taking him in, surrounding him. Loving him. Watching the sadness fade away. He bit his lip as he moaned. I let out a long, slow breath of pleasure.
"Ssh," I said again, leaning forward to kiss him, rocking my hips against his. "Let me give you a new memory."
Alice's voice called me back, startling me.
"Sorry, I was, um, miles away."
"Mm, I could tell."
"So, uh, what were you...what were you saying?" Was it hot in here?
"Only that I can't wait to see you both. It feels like aaages," she drawled and I laughed now.
"Same here, Alice."
The Cullens had actually been fairly frequent visitors. They would come in pairs or as a group and spend a couple of days here and there and we were always excited to see them. And next year we'd see them all the time. Esme had found a big old farmhouse on land about twenty minutes away. She was in the process of renovating and sometime after New Year Carlisle would resign from the hospital, the Forks house would be shut up and the family would move to Hanover. Jasper and Alice, Emmett and Rosalie, had all enrolled in college. But the newly weds would still have their privacy, Esme assured us. We wouldn't all live together again until I was ready to be changed. The house had been designed with that in mind, and we knew we'd need the extra physical and moral support of our family during my prospective pregnancy and afterwards during my newborn phase. Not to mention that there was no way the Cullens could stay away from their grandchild, niece or nephew.
"And Charlie's actually got some lights up on the house this year," Alice went on.
"Really?" That didn't sound like him. He hadn't mentioned it when he'd emailed two days ago. But then Charlie wasn't much of a communicator - brief sporadic emails, occasional, awkward phone calls. It was easier when he visited, and he'd visited twice. Once not long after we moved in, and again for Thanksgiving.
My dad had Christmas lights up. Wow.
"I think it's a welcome home gesture for you," Alice said. "Oh, maybe I shouldn't have said anything."
"No, that's okay, don't worry, I'll act surprised."
"Esme's cooking a casserole for him now. She'll take it by the station later."
Esme had loved cooking as a human, and she'd rediscovered that love recently. Two or three times a week she would cook meals and take them to Charlie at the station, or drop by the house.
"Will you thank her for me?"
"Sure. But Sue Clearwater's been stocking his freezer, too."
"I know," I laughed. "I don't think Charlie's had to cook a meal since I left."
We laughed and then Alice became all business. She could change direction just as dramatically as her brother.
"So, your schedule for Christmas day..." she started.
"Does there need to be a schedule?" I asked, still trying to catch up with the subject change.
"I'll ignore that question," Alice said brusquely. "As I was saying, your schedule...you'll be with us in the morning, then you're going to Charlie for lunch, then in the afternoon you're going to La Push to see Callum and Leah and Jake, and Charlie will visit Billy, then you and Edward come back to us for the evening. Charlie's welcome to come too, of course, but he'll probably want to stay at La Push with Sue." I detected the knowing tone in her voice.
"Alice, Harry Clearwater's only been gone three months. Sue and Charlie are just friends."
"I know, I know," she clarified eagerly. "But she leant on him for support a lot after Harry died, and she's helped him since you've been gone - they've developed a close friendship, and that's all it is, for now. I can't see anything, but I get the feeling one day there'll be more." She paused.
I had to admit I hoped Alice was right - Charlie had been alone too long.
And suddenly a new thought came to me.
"Oh my gosh, Alice...if something did happen between Charlie and Sue, that would make Callum my step-brother-in-law!"
There was silence and then Alice burst into peals of laughter.
"You could have worse," she said. "Leah could have imprinted on Mike Newton."
We were both snickering down the phone, and then suddenly Alice was talking again.
"Ooh, I have to go - Jasper and Emmett are brawling. I have to save the tree!"
"Oh, okay, bye!"
I set my phone back down on the coffee table and stretched out on the sofa. I imagined Alice's winter wonderland. I imagined sitting around the tree, exchanging gifts with the Cullens. Exchanging gifts with Edward.
This Christmas was so different to last.
Last Christmas I couldn't have conceived the changes a year could bring. I smiled as I thought of Edward and me two nights ago, both of us sitting cross legged on our king sized bed, surrounded by Christmas paper and ribbon as we wrapped gifts.
"Your bows are perfect," I'd said and Edward had smiled.
"Have you got the adhesive tape?"
"It's here. Do you have the gift tags?"
He stuck tape on my nose and I stuck some in his hair. In the end we had a pile of brightly wrapped gifts. They were stacked neatly, now, at the side of the fireplace.
I looked at them from my place on the sofa. It was obvious who had wrapped what. His had perfectly neat corners, straight stripes, symmetrical patterns and, of course, the perfect bows.
Mine were sloppier, rounded corners, droopy ribbon.
Last year I'd wondered what the Cullens did for Christmas. I'd wondered how Edward opened gifts, whether he tore the paper off, or unfolded it neatly. Now, in five days I'd find out - and that would be the best present of all.
I shook my head as more memories of last Christmas crept in.
I thought of Jake and the surprise Christmas tree that had just made me miss Edward even more - how I'd wished it had been him coming through the door that afternoon. And I remembered how, afterwards when Jake had gone, the future had loomed up, dark and empty, and terrified me.
I took a deep breath.
The music had stopped and the house was so quiet now. Suddenly, I was very aware of Edward's absence. I wondered where he was, what he was doing...just like I had wondered last year. My heart tightened in my chest as those old feelings waved at me from the distance. I told myself I was being stupid and while my rational mind knew better, the memories tugged and pulled at me, trying to get my attention. I took another breath and focused on now - this new Christmas, this first Christmas.
I focused on what happened with the tree, how it gave me back my birthday gifts, and the journey that had led me on. We mightn't have been here now, like this, without that tree.
I picked up the lounge cushion and hugged it. I thought about putting a movie on, or reading my book, some sort of distraction...anything.
It was so still, so quiet. I felt unsettled and agitated.
There was a noise at the front door and it startled me. Edward had only been gone twenty five minutes, so it couldn't be him. I went to the hall and peeked through the peep-hole in the door, but my vision was obscured by green. Lots and lots of green.
I turned the handle of the door and as I pulled it open some tree branches poked in, curling around the door edge, their fingers of green waving hello. I stepped back. A sob caught in my throat. It was too much, it was like last Christmas, when he wasn't here.
"Bella?" Edward's voice came from the other side of the foliage. "Surprise, love!"
And suddenly the tears were streaming down my face. He kept talking as he pushed the tree, dripping snow on the floor, further into the hall.
"I know we said it wasn't practical, and we're leaving the day after tomorrow, but this is our first Christmas and we should have a tree. We can make our own decorations, or buy some tomorrow if you like, but I should tell you, I make really good paper lanterns...Bella? Love?"
I was trembling now, the tears flowing freely as Edward moved from behind the tree and stared at me, horrified.
I shook my head and threw myself at him with as much force as I could muster. His arms snapped around me, holding me tightly while I scrambled to get closer.
"Bella..." His hands rubbed over my back and I could feel his confusion.
"I'm so happy," I managed to get out. "And I'm just so glad it's you."
Suddenly a look of understanding flashed across his features.
"Oh, Bella, love..." he crooned.
"I'm sorry," I sniffed.
"It's just...I was remembering..." I looked up at him. "I'm so glad it's you," I said again.
"It will always be me, Bella." He scooped me up into his arms and cradled me close against his chest, my head tucked under his chin. "For a thousand Christmases and more...it will always be me."
I nodded and sniffed against him. "I know."
Still holding me, he bent down and grabbed the tree with one hand. Then he carried it, and me, into the living room. He leant the tree against the wall near the fire place, then set me gently on the floor. We stood there, our arms around each other. I looked up at his face, into his eyes, seeing the love there. He was smiling as his fingers came up to softly stroke my cheek, his touch was so tender.
From somewhere he produced a piece of mistletoe. It was bent and broken and scrappy looking, like it had been crushed in his pocket. It made me laugh.
He held it over my head while his other hand pressed me against him. I smiled up at him as he beamed down at me. He bent his head and his lips grazed softly over mine.
"Lets start a new tradition," he whispered. I nodded and slowly he lowered us to the floor, beneath the branches of the tree. His nose nudged mine as he took my face between his hands. His eyes shone as he kissed me again. "Let me give you a new memory."
A/N: There, we're done! This was the final chapter of Distractions. I've had a lot of fun writing this, and hope you've enjoyed reading.
Thank you so much to everyone who has read, left reviews, sent me messages, recommended and supported this story.
And super special thanks to EDWARD'S ETERNAL, Melanie, who beta'd for me. She's been great fun, speedy and so, so supportive - thank you, thank you, thank you!