Chapter 22: Girlfriend

Quick recap of last chapter:

Edward picked up Emmett and went to Rose's. Emmett met Royce, the douche bag, and the gorgeous Rosalie for first time. Edward collected Henry and the three of them drove to Bella's motel room to pick her, and all her stuff up. They then drove to San Juan Island campgrounds where they met up with Jasper & Alice and their two boys, Liam (7) and Brody (5).

Jasper and Emmett have their tents in one cleared site, while Edward has his big tent, and the little tent he set up for Bella at the other adjoining site.

Bella asked Ed to show her where the toilet block was. Bella felt excited but also a little nervous about her plan to get Edward alone.. Edward is all eagerness!

He asked her to sit on a log with him. She took off her glasses (hoping for a kiss) and… They did kiss, for the first time since they were together. It was hot and steamy!

But they were interrupted by a wayward soccer ball.


-xxx-

A massive thanks to my fantastic pre-reader and beta, Belindella. Big hugs and kisses XOXO

Friday, July 4th: Camping trip. First day away.

Edward:

With the children playing soccer nearby, I knew we had to stop what we'd started.

I licked my lips and tucked Bella's hair behind her ear. I never imagined I'd get to kiss her within the first few hours of camping!

She slid her fingers from the nape of my neck, over my shoulder, and paused on my bicep. "Mmm." She squeezed my muscle, and I teased her by flexing it. She giggled. My skin tingled from her touch as her fingers traced my veins right down to the back of my hand. Her bottom lip disappeared between her teeth.

"God, I love your lips." I leaned towards her, wanting to taste her again.

She lifted her mouth to mine, and I cradled her face, kissing her; gentle, slow, and soft. The temptation to sit there for hours, lost in my thoughts of nothing but her, was damn hard to refuse.

With a regretful sigh, I tucked her hair behind her ear. Her eyes fluttered closed as I stroked the side of her neck. "I hate to say it," I said. "But if we don't start heading back soon, there's every chance that Alice will send one of the guys to come looking for us."

"Mm. I wanted to give Alice a hand preparing dinner, anyway." After one last peck, she picked up her glasses that were beside her and placed them back on her little nose.

"Did you want to use the restroom while we're here?" I asked.

"I will, actually," she said, pushing off the log.

"I'll wait here." I rearranged myself so my shorts weren't as tight.

Her lip disappeared between her teeth again. "Okay," she said, giving me a girly grin before jogging away, a little skip in her step.

The gentle afternoon sea breeze carried the salty, sulphurous scent of the ocean, and I breathed it deep into my lungs. I'd just kissed my former nanny – me. I'd been her boss for months and had ignored her countless times. She'd had to cook and clean for me – and Rose – and do everything we asked.

And yet she still liked me!

The moment I saw her again, I reached for her hand. "Come here."

She gave me a warm smile and entwined our fingers together. As we walked back to the campsite, she hugged my arm to her, and laid her head against me. With a deep, contented sigh, I pressed my lips to the top of her head.

-xxx-

"So, are we gonna see any fireworks tonight?" she asked as we walked back to camp.

"Definitely. We can see them from the campsite. The town puts on a big parade and festival down at Friday harbour with a huge fireworks display at dusk, but we've found we enjoy just relaxing here by ourselves. It's quieter, and we don't have to worry about losing the kids in the crowd. Or one of them getting taken. I hope you don't mind."

A soft chuckle escaped her. "Not at all, Mr. Protective. All the better to get to know your family and friends a bit more."

I kissed her temple. Mr. Protective, indeed.

Henry and my nephews were entertaining themselves on the rocky shoreline, allowing Emmett to cradle his beer with both hands. I was still concerned about Henry running around after enduring his recent concussion, but my father had assured me he should be fine. He was certainly acting fine.

Bella unwound her arm from my waist, but I wanted to let everyone see us as a couple. I held her hand and led her up to the fire.

She pulled on my arm. "Are you sure, Edw-?"

"Hey!" Jasper gave us a huge grin. "Look at what's goin' on here, boys and girls! "

Yes, boys, this is my girl.

Emmett let out a low wolf-whistle that made Bella giggle. "That was some momentous walk you two had," he said, waggling his eyebrows. "Congrats, Dude!" He pointed his finger at Bella. "You must be one hellova girl, Bella. I've known Ed for almost three years and never seen him like this. "

I squeezed her hand. "She sure is one hell of a girl."

Her cheeks tinged with embarrassment, but she was beaming as much as me. "So are you. Um, a man."

About to chuckle at Bella, I noticed my sister who had stopped on the other side of the fire. Her mouth gapped, her stunned eyes flickering between me, Bella, and our joined hands. The cup she'd been holding now lay dumped at her feet. What was so confusing?

"How's dinner coming?" I asked her, to snap her out of her statuesque shock.

Bella pulled her hand from mine. "Do you need a hand, Alice?"

Alice blinked a few times. "I could have, half an hour ago," she said with a tinge of annoyance to her tone "But I've done it all. The kebabs are just finishing off now, so…"

"What are you talking about?" Jasper said. "I offered to help and you said you had it all under control."

She scoffed. "You, are as useful in the kitchen as tits are on a bull."

He looked at me. "Have you met my loving wife?"

"If you want something to do," Alice said to me. "Clean the boys up for dinner." Alice turned and strode the several yards back to the camp kitchen under her tent's awning, mumbling under her breath.

Subtle. Something was up her ass about my being with Bella.

I pointed to the chair I'd brought for Bella and had previously placed between Emmett's and my chair. "Sit down, Bella, and I'll go get the boys."

"No. I'll get 'em," she said.

"You're not the nanny anymore."

She frowned. "I know. I want to. You sit down and relax."

"No, you sit down and relax."

"Oh, Jeez," Emmett whispered, looking up to the sky.

Bella and I looked at each other, trying not to laugh at ourselves. "May I get you a drink, Bella, while you get the boys?"

"Mm, yes, you may." She beamed in triumph.

"What do you prefer," I asked, walking around to the ice-box next to Jasper. "Beer, red or white wine, Vodka, or Bacardi and Coke?"

"Go the beer!" Emmett said, holding up his beer like a salute.

Bella wrinkled her nose. "Psh, no! Bacardi."

Emmett shrugged. "Fine. More beer for me."

Bella walked down to the shore. "Hey, boys! You ready for dinner?"

I pulled out a beer and watched Henry run up to her.

"Bella!" He rushed into her open arms. "Do you wanna play tag with us?"

"Umm, just a quick game. Dinner's almost ready." She stood up with her hands on her hips. "So? Who's the tagger?"

"You are!" Liam said, swatting her butt and bolting away. The other two boys, slower than Liam, ran away from her too, but she was right behind them.

"I'll get you!" she called, her hands outstretched for Brody and Henry. "I'm gonna get you!"

Henry squealed with delight when she grabbed him around his waist and spun him in a circle.

"What's so funny?" Emmett asked me.

I nodded toward the shore. "Bella and the boys."

Jasper and Emmett followed my line of sight and chuckled.

"Imagine Rose doin' that, man?" Jasper asked.

Emmett shot him a confused look. "She seemed like a good Mom this morning."

"She is," I said.

"She's just not..." Jasper didn't have the words.

"She's not like that," I said. Not like Bella.

-xxx-

Jasper reversed his 4WD closer to the fire pit and after opening the rear doors and connecting his iPod, he turned the speakers up loud. Country rock, and mixed pop music filled the air and we all started tapping to the beat. My fingers where itching to hold my guitar and play some tunes.

I was dying to play the new song I'd learned during the week. The moment I'd heard it in the movie Country Strong, I knew I wanted to sing it for Bella. It said all the words I've thought, and all the feelings I've felt towards her. The same way I wanted to give her my whole heart, I wanted hers unguarded, too. I wanted her to give in to me completely and utterly.

After her game of tag, Bella rounded the boys up and helped Henry and Brody wash their hands in the bucket of soapy water in the camp kitchen. But Liam insisted he was big enough to wash his hands by himself.

"Dinner's ready," Alice called.

Alice had prepared most of the food prior to coming, so it was easy for us to plate it up ourselves from the large containers. We filed into the camp kitchen, which consisted of a couple of long tables with a gas cooker on top, plates and cutlery, a water container with tap, and a couple of buckets; one for washing hands, and the other for dirty dishes. Under the tables were another ice-box and a couple of big plastic boxes loaded with food.

We heaped our plates with steak burgers, marinated chicken kebabs, potato salad and much more. The air was infused with delicious aromas that were tempting us to stuff ourselves like sharks in a frenzy.

We sat around the fire, our fold-out chairs in a semi-circle, with the kids sitting on two long wooden logs that were arranged on the other side of the fire from where we were sitting. Unfortunately for them, the breeze – though it had calmed right down – would pick up now and then, and blow the smoke straight over them. They didn't care, but I didn't like the thought of Henry breathing it in much longer.

"Daddy!" he said, dropping the stick he was poking the fire with and holding his crotch. "I need to go wee-wee's." He crossed his ankles.

"All right." I put my plate on the ground. "I'll take you. We'll just go behind a bush, okay, Buddy?" He nodded. I walked around the fire, squinting from the smoke, and led Henry to the row of big bushes that separated us from our neighbours. "Your arm okay, Buddy?" I asked. He nodded. "Do you have a headache?"

"No." After he'd peed, and I'd pulled his pants back up, he jogged off to rejoin his cousins who were eating sliced fruit in the kitchen. "Make sure you wash your hands, Henry! Liam? Liam? Help Henry was his hands, please. Mind his cast."

"Okay," Liam shouted. He led Henry over to the bucket of soapy water on the table.

"Wow." Bella licked the corner of her mouth. She'd eaten everything on her plate, despite her mentioning earlier that she didn't feel like much. "That was such a nice dinner, Alice."

Alice put her own plate on the ground, her eyes looked straight past Bella to her youngest son, Brody, who was whining that Liam had taken his slice of watermelon. "Liam! Stop teasing your brother! Don't make me come over there."

Did she just ignore Bella on purpose? Alice got up and pulled out her bottle of wine from the ice-box next to Jasper.

"Hey, Alice?" Bella asked. "How's work been?"

Alice looked up at her. "It's alright." She put the wine back in the cooler.

"I looked up your website," Bella continued. "Pretty impressive. And those baby clothes…! They were soooo cute. But who were the babies that were modelling the clothes? Were they children of friends of yours? I recognized your two boys modelling the 'boys wear' section."

Alice sat down and gave her a weak, polite smile. "Yes. They're my friends' kids. I gave 'em some clothes for payment."

Bella nodded. "Good deal."

My sister didn't reply, and my fingernails dug so hard into the palms of my hand, I could've drawn blood.

"Did you end up going shop hunting the other day?" I asked Alice through my teeth. Anything to get her back to her old self. What the hell could she think was wrong with me dating Bella? "Find anything suitable?"

"Mm, I found a couple that would be good, but they were both out of our price range, so…"

"We'll keep looking," Jasper said, rubbing her back. "The right one will come along. Just be patient."

To distract myself from snapping at Alice that she didn't deserve such compassion right now, I picked up my long-handled shovel and broke the coals up to displace the fire's heat better. A lightshow of sparks erupted which brought the kids over. The three of them sat on the two long logs, getting smothered in smoke.

"Out of the smoke, Henry!" I yelled, pointing to my chair. "Sit there." Poor kid had no way of knowing my annoyance wasn't for him, but happy-natured as he was, he climbed into my chair and continued his awe at the fire.

"Settle, petal," Alice told me, and I could've ripped her head off. "And I'm not washing up tonight. I cooked, so one of you guys are gonna have to step up."

I'll do them," Bella said. She mock-laughed at us guys. "Ha, beat ya'll to it. You miss out."

"DAMN!" Emmett boomed. Beer made Emmett boom.

"No, I'll do it," I said. "Bella's my guest."

"Who likes washing up," she added.

"Fine," I said. "But I'm drying."

"Oi," Emmett said to himself and looked at Jasper. "The dude's in deep if he's drying."

"Yeah, he's never dried for me."

-xxx-

"This feels weird," Bella said, pouring hot water from the kettle into the large wash bucket. "I've never washed dishes outside before. And never in a bucket!" She giggled and dunked a dirty glass into the soapy water.

"I thought you'd camped before," I said, picking up a tea towel.

"When I was at school. We had school camps, but we'd had running water and slept in cabins. I haven't been camping like this before."

"Well this isn't exactly roughing-it. But you'll get used to it quick enough. It's like living back in time. Everything is back-to-basics. Are you enjoying it?"

She thought for a moment. "Mm. I've missed the smell of a campfire."

Not the enthusiastic answer I was hoping for. "There's nothing quite like it, is there?"

After Bella, Liam and myself finished washing, drying and putting away the dishes, Liam joined his younger brother and Henry who were searching for their flashlights before it got dark. The setting sun had bathed everything in a golden orange glow, and the boys couldn't wait to use their flashlights. Though it was way past their bedtime, I couldn't bring myself to ruin the fun they were having by sending Henry to bed. Especially the first night.

Bella and I rejoined the others around the fire, which had died down to red coals and little flickers of flame. I bundled some wood together, from the pile beside my chair, and placed them on the fire.

Bella turned to Emmett and Jasper. "You guys aren't into stoking the fire?"

Emmett laughed. "No one messes with Ed's fire. No one."

Bella chuckled. "Oh really?"

"Don't listen to them," I said to her. "They're both liars."

Jasper giggled. The beer had kicked in. "Hee-hee. He waved his axe at me one year for putting on a log he thought was too big."

"That's right!" Alice laughed. "He's got to be in control of everything. Ha!"

Bella shot me a mocking grin. "Edward, controlling? Never!"

The guys rumbled with laughter, and I furrowed my eyebrows while I sat next to Bella and brushed the dirt off my hands. "I'm not that bad."

"Yeah, you're worse," Jasper said.

They laughed harder, cracking my pretence at seriousness. "Maybe a little bit…"

Bella moved to bump my leg with hers but stopped herself. "Well, you make good fire, Edward Caveman." She chuckled into the now-blazing flames, and I studied her side profile, mesmerized by how the flickering light danced over her high cheekbone, her slightly dipped nose, the curve of her throat. When could we be alone again so I could touch her soft skin, kiss those sweet lips?

Bella turned to the others. "What has Edward like when he was younger? Was he a rebel?"

Jasper giggled. "Edward, a rebel? No. He was always top of the class. Weren't you, Ed?"

I picked a stick up off the ground and threw it into the fire. "You make me sound like a nerd."

"You were!" Alice said. "You were such the teacher's pet. Our mantle and fridge at home where always cluttered with his trophies and certificates."

I scoffed. "You were just jealous. Unlike you, the teachers liked me."

Bella was grinning, finding this all so amusing. "So he didn't play sports?"

"Yes," I answered her. "I did. Throughout high school I played pretty much everything."

Bella tilted her head to the side, a smirk playing about her lips. "And did exceptionally well at them all, I bet."

My phone rang in my pocket, turning my smile to a frown.

I answered the phone. "Hello, Rose."

"Hi, Edward."

"Esme told you I called earlier?"

"Yes, but I wanted to tell you something. And to say goodnight to Henry. Is he okay?"

"He's fine. He's playing with the boys." I shouted for Henry to come. "Enjoying your weekend?" I asked her.

"Not really. I um… I wanted to tell you that I… I… I broke up with Royce."

My eyes popped wide. "You broke up with him?" It was the best news she'd ever told me.

"What happened?" Alice asked, leaning forward. "Did you say she broke up with Royce? Why?"

I stretched to my feet, pacing out to the dirt road, away from Alice's interruptions.

Rose sighed. "I'd just had enough of his selfishness. Everything's about him. I don't think he ever really cared about me, you know."

What did she want me to say? "Uh-huh." An awkward silence followed.

"Yeah, he begged me to stay with him. But only 'cause he was going to be socially mortified. He'd put a photo of us in the newspaper for tomorrow's wedding announcements as a surprise. We hadn't even set the date yet! And all he could talk about since we got back from Switzerland were who we could invite to the wedding." She growled in frustration.

Why was she telling me all this? Didn't she have any girlfriends? "Rose… Have you told your friends?"

She took a deep breath. "Yeah. They've convinced me to go out with them tonight to that new nightclub … Club Veto. You know it?"

Know it? That's where I'd met Marie. Bella. "I know it." I cleared the frog in my throat. "Nice place."

"Is that Mommy on the phone?" Henry asked, walking into view. I waved him over, hoping he'd hurry up and save me.

"Henry's here," I said.

"Okay, bye Edward. Say hi to Alice…"

Henry snatched the phone from my outstretched hand. "Hello, Mommy…! Yeah I'm having so much fun…" I stayed and listened to Henry's answers. "Yeah we're going swimming tomorrow, and Aunty Alice said we're going to the whale museum and if we're good, we can have lunch at the harbour… I will… I will… Daddy has been holding her hand a lot… Mm-hm."

My eyebrow shot up at Rose being so blatant in asking my son about my personal life. In front of me, no less.

Nodding as he answered "yes" a few times, Henry smacked a kiss into the handset. "You too, Mommy ...Night-night… Okay." He stabbed his finger on the hang-up button, pleasing me that I didn't have to talk to my busy-body ex-wife again tonight.

"So what's new?" Alice asked me before I'd even sat back down.

"Rose broke up with Royce."

Everyone exclaimed their shock, except Emmett who just stared at me.

"I knew it!" Alice chewed on her gleeful lips and rocked back in her chair. "What'd I tell you, Jasper? Royce was just a rebound crutch. I knew it! That's great news, Edward. Really great news."

"Yes, it is."

A boom of fireworks silenced my voice, explosions pounding the air around us.

The boys sprinted past us whooping and hollering up at the sky as it ignited with sprays of colour, pops and sizzles.

We all leaped to our feet and ran after the kids to the shoreline where the view of the brilliant display was clearer. Bella stood at the back of our group, so I moved behind her and wrapped my arms around her. With a contented sigh, she leaned against me and held onto my forearms, laying her head back against my chest. I tightened my hold on her.

The fireworks glowed brighter against the darkening sky. The moment they finished, Bella stepped out of my arms. I understood. Alice could see us. I didn't agree, but I understood Bella's feelings.

With the sun having disappeared a while ago, the boys' flashlights were useful illuminating the path back up the bank. The kids chased each other around the dying fire playing Cowboys and Indians. "Boys!" Jasper said. "Take it away from the fire."

They ran down the dark path to my tent. "Henry! Stay close where I can see you." A moment later, they came back down the path.

"Another drink, Edward?" Bella asked, walking over to the ice-box.

"Huh? Yes, thanks." One more beer then I'd put Henry to bed.

She handed me a beer and walked back to get her self a drink. "Thanks," I said, twisting the cap off with my hand. I took a mouthful before setting it down, giving me two free hands to use the shovel and get the fire roaring again.

"Anyone else want one?" Bella asked with the ice-box lid open. "Jasper?" He shook his head. "Emmett?"

"No thanks, sweetie."

"Alice?"

"I'm fine, thank you."

"Okay." Bella began mixing her own drink.

"I wonder…" Alice said after a moment. "I wonder if Rose broke up with Royce so she could get back together with Edward?"

Bella's eyes flung to Alice's. So did mine. "What!" I said, almost dropping the shovel. "Why would you think that?"

That was never gonna happen.

"Rose hates Edward," Bella said with her chin pulled in and brows knitted together.

Alice shrugged and cast her eyes to me. "Did she say why she broke off her engagement then?"

Bella lowered herself into her chair, her puzzled eyes fixed to the ground in front of her.

I stabbed the coals with the shovel. "She said Royce was too selfish and too preoccupied with becoming a socialite – which coming from her sounded ridiculous, considering she has become more and more superficial over the years."

Jasper sucked on his beer before ducking to the side to avoid the fire's smoke that had swung his way. "Maybe dating someone like him has showed her how empty and shallow life like that is."

Alice nodded. "It would explain why she's reaching out for her old life again. Have I told you guys how Rose apologized to me at the hospital? She phoned me during the week and we had one of the best talks ever."

I groaned and tossed the shovel on the ground. Now her and Rose were chummy again? Great.

Collapsing in my chair, I placed a hand on Bella's leg. Bella looked at it, then at Alice who was also watching my touch. "God," I said, rubbing my hands over my face. My first girlfriend since my divorce, and my sister was making her tense up at every sign of my affection.

"What do you think, Edward?" Alice asked. "Surely you think Rose breaking up with Royce is good news."

"The only thing I'm glad about, Alice, is that Royce isn't gonna be around my son anymore."

"Hey," Jasper said, cracking open another beer. "You guys remember that trip we took to the snow a few years back? Remember Edward?" He laughed. "Ha! When you almost got in that bar fight with that big dude because you refused to let him have the pool table! Remember that?"

I took a pull of my beer. "Like I could forget."

"Oh, that was a great family holiday," Alice said, sipping her wine. "It was incredible how Rose made that bulky ski gear look good. I swear she could make a sack of hessian look like a designer dress. She was so beautiful. Still is. Remember how Edward and Rose never emerged from their cabin till lunch time every day?"

Bella didn't know where to look.

My jaw clenched. I had to end this. "Alice? I need your help with something for a minute." Bella turned anxious eyes to me, but I got up and strode away. Pine needles and twigs crunched under my shoes as I headed to the dirt road, where I hoped my conversation wouldn't be overheard.

I kicked the stones on the road, trying to tame the raging tiger that wanted to rip into my sister.

"Edward," she said with a chuckle as she came into view. "What's going on?" But I saw straight through her drunken confidence.

Despite how hard my adrenaline was pumping, I kept my voice low and controlled. "Talking about my ex-wife like that in front of me and Bella, it's going to stop."

She scoffed. "Last week, you promised us she was just a friend. And now she's what? Your girlfriend? How could you possibly feel that much for her since last week?"

"Man, you're being a bitch."

She frowned. "I am not being a bitch."

"Yes. You are. Especially to Bella. I don't need your approval, but I thought I'd at least have your support in getting on with my life. Can't you see she makes me happy?"

She took a deep, steadying breath. "I just want the best for my brother. Have you forgotten you were listed as one of Seattle's Top Ten Eligible Bachelors last July? Do you really want the papers to print that you, Edward Cullen, are now dating your nanny? Your nanny?" She lowered her voice. "Rose, on the other hand, is—"

"Oh, shut up about Rose!"

She whacked her hand against her thigh. "Goddamn it, Edward. Rose broke up with Royce – today – after you were at her place this morning. And then she calls to tell you! Think about it. Think about how great it would be for Henry to have both his parents back together again."

I blinked, unable to respond.

"Look," she said, calming down and stepping closer. "I can see Bella is young and doe-eyed and sweetly naive, and of course she likes you, but if you'd never noticed Bella, how do you think you would feel about Rosalie's change toward you now? Knowing there was a possible chance to mend things? Honestly?"

"I ..." I might've started thinking like Alice. "But, I'm with Bella so there's no point in speculating what I might have felt."

"I know you, Edward. I remember how devastated you were when your divorce went through. You cried that you would have done anything to get Rose back. To try for another baby. To have another chance at your marriage. Well what if this is your chance? What if –?"

"That was years ago, Alice. And you've disliked her as much as me over the years too, remember?"

"I know. I know. And I'm sorry for that. But… I never thought Rose would change, or want to be friends with us all again. But she's a better person now, Edward. Just… Just don't throw away forever for a bit of fun right now." When I didn't answer, she turned on her heel, but before she stalked away from me she gave one final dig. "You could turn back the hands of time, here, Edward."

In the engulfing silence that followed, I struggled with my jumbled thoughts, justifying my heart over my head.

-xxx-

My heart was with Bella.

End of debate.

Bella may be young, but she was not naïve when it came to hardship and loss. She had been more than understanding of my divorce and loss of Cynthia. Bella had her own sad past to deal with, and if we could share each other's problems, carry each other's burdens, and make each other laugh, then we'd both be stronger for it. I knew we would.

I trusted her enough to know that we had every chance at happiness.

After a few calming breaths, I walked back to Bella. With concerned eyes, she gave me a tentative smile.

"Hey you," I said, sitting down next to her. She had a fresh drink in her hand. "How you doing? You ok?"

She rubbed her leg. "I'm fine." She glanced towards Alice. "What happened? What did you say to her?"

I leaned closer to her, wanting to feel her warmth. "Don't worry about my sister. She's just meddling like always." I could tell Bella wasn't satisfied with my answer, but thankfully she didn't push for more.

"Oh, I love this song!" Alice said, starting to sing and sway in her chair. Jasper started singing American Pie with her. I hated that she was enjoying herself after what she'd just said about Bella.

I needed a piss. "That tire's leaking again."

Alice sighed as I walked off. "Psh! It's so easy for guys to pee outdoors, hey, Bella? They don't have to worry about getting their feet wet or a snake biting their butt." Everyone laughed, even Bella. I watered the tire and zipped myself up. Alice rose to her feet when I walked into sight. "Well, since you're done defiling our car, I'm gonna drive myself to the bathroom. Bella do you need to go, too?"

Bella looked up at her, surprised. But not as surprised as me. I was glad Alice was trying to be nice, but I couldn't squash my suspicions that she had an ulterior motive.

Bella shook her head. "I'm okay, Alice. Thank you anyway."

"Okay then. See you guys soon." She got in the car and took the song with her.

In the sudden absence of our music, we sat there, watching and listening to the kids laugh as they chased each other by flashlight in the dark. "Boys," I called. "Start settling down. It's almost time for bed."

Bella turned to me, looking uncomfortable. "I, um…" She twisted to face me more. "I know I said I didn't need to go, but I do." I frowned, not knowing what she was talking about. "Do you know where some toilet paper is?" she asked. "I need to go."

"Oh! Yes." She followed me into the kitchen, and I passed her a toiletry bag that had tissues in it. "Alice packed this for you."

Bella studied the bag of hotel-size shampoos, soaps and lots of other tid-bits. Her eyebrow quirked. "That was nice of her." She walked to where the iridescent light became shadow. But turned back again. "Where should I go?"

"Anywhere you feel comfortable." Her face remained blank. "Just tuck yourself into some bushes where you feel like people can't see you."

She blinked and looked over her shoulder into the darkness. "Could I have a flashlight? To make sure there are no snakes or spiders."

"Uh… Yes." I handed her the bright, L.E.D lamplight off the table. "Here. You might want to turn it off before you pull up your dress, though."

Fear flashed in her eyes. "And um… what do I do with the tissues? Do I leave them in the bushes or…?"

I'd never had to think about it. "Erm… How about…" I gave her a plastic bag. "Put them in this and then you can put it in the trash."

Lifting her chin, she squared her shoulders… and tiptoed behind the tent. The glow from the lamplight illuminated the rear of the tent for a few minutes, before it went dark. Feeling peckish, I opened a bag of potato chips I found in one of the food boxes.

Jogging back into the makeshift kitchen, she was breathing fast and her cheeks were flushed. She placed the lamplight on the table before dumping her plastic bag in the trash. "I don't wanna do that again anytime soon."

"Aw. You'll get used to it."

She shook her head as she lathered her hands in soap. "I don't think so. I should have walked to the bathroom."

When she finished drying her hands, I held out the bag to her. "Chip?"

She took a chip and placed it in her mouth with a playful smirk. "Mmm. Delicious." Such a teasing little minx. I licked my lips and moved towards her. "Come on, Mr. Fireman." She winked, grabbing my hand and leading me away. "You've got a fire to attend to."

-xxx-

As soon as car headlights blinded us all, Bella took a slow, deep breath in and out. Alice had returned. My grip on my beer tightened. Even the beer wasn't dulling my annoyance at how she'd managed to dampen this holiday. Alice reversed the car between the two tents again and though music filled the air once more, the tension returned, too.

"Missed me?" Alice asked Jasper, walking over to us all in her matching pajama shorts and top. Her hair was wet and spiky, so she must have stayed for a shower.

"Mom?" Brody said, walking over to her. "Where'd you go?"

"What are you boys still doing up?" She asked, lifting him onto her hip. She turned to Jasper. "I told you to put our boys to bed."

He waved her off. "Ah, let 'em be. They're still having fun."

"Hey, kids?" Emmett said. "Wanna sleep in my tent tonight?"

Liam jumped up and down. "Really? Really? That'd be so cool! We can stay up all night telling ghost stories."

Emmett looked at us adults. "Alright you guys – and girls – you're on your own tonight. But it's only for tonight. I can't handle two sleepless nights in a row."

Henry tugged on my arm. "Can I sleep in Uncle Emmie's tent, too?"

I lifted him up. "How're you feeling? Does your arm hurt?"

He held his cast to his chest. "It hurts a little."

"Okay. We'll get you some tough boy medicine. You really want to sleep with the boys tonight?"

"Yes! Yes, yes, yes!"

"Okay." I patted his back, trying to contain my own excitement. Bella and I could be alone... "Come on. We'll brush your teeth first."

Bella looked at me through lowered eyelids. The air between us filled with electricity, full of possibilities for the night ahead. Her cheeks flushed with heat as she moistened her bottom lip with her tongue. My eyes were mesmerized. What she did next sent my blood hammering through my body.

She lifted one corner of her lips… and smirked.

-xxx-


Chapter End Notes:

Well there we have it. The next chapter. Took a bloody long time to update, I know, and I deeply apologize to you all. You'll be glad to know that I've already written the next 2 chapters. Chapter 23 is in with the pre-reader now. So it won't be long till the next update!

I'd love to know what you think about Alice's hopes for Edward and Rose!

Do any of you know what song Edward hopes to sing to Bella next chapter? The clue is there!