Here we are with the final chapter. Sorry it took so long – blame the evil flu bug that wreaked havoc in my house. See you on the other side.
Disclaimer: I don't own Twilight, it belongs to S. Meyer. I'm just playing with her toys again.
This storyline is still mine though, so please no stealing or fiddling with it without my permission
From Chapter 24
Exhausted and sated I don't give my nerves another thought, I simply curl up in the arms of the man I love and drift off to sleep. Tomorrow? I'll worry about it in the morning.
Chapter 25 Nothing's Impossible
I awake to a sound that fills me with dread. The drumming of pouring rain. I glance at the clock on the bedside table, barely five in the morning. Hopefully it'll ease off in time. Edward is still fast asleep, curled around me like a warm blanket.
I carefully extricate myself from his embrace and crawl out of bed to make myself a drink, clutching the cup as I watch the rain cascade down the window. Grey clouds abound, and they don't look like lifting anytime soon. I inwardly rejoice that I've a relatively early draw and will face the course before it's too churned over.
Edward stirs and slowly awakes, reaching for me, and then blinking in confusion when he realises the bed's empty. He sits up, rubbing his eyes, searching me out before he spots me curled up in the window seat. He pats the space next to him with an adorable sleepy man-pout.
"Come back to bed, please? It's early yet."
I eagerly comply. It's starting to get chilled over here in my cramped perch. Curling up by his side, I contemplate pulling the covers over my head and hiding for the day. I fold myself into his sleepy warmth and close my eyes, deciding to try and sleep a bit longer. Just a few minutes - as Edward says - there's still plenty of time. Warm and soothed, sleep takes me quickly.
I wake in a panic, sitting bolt upright. What time is it? I glance and the clock and leap out of bed. I've been asleep far too long! No time for a shower. I throw my clothes on hastily, deciding against waking Edward. I scrawl a quick note and leave it next to him. He doesn't need to be there as early as me, anyway. As I pad into the hallway I run slap into Rose who was on her way to look for me.
"There you are! I was about to fetch you. We need to go now!"
No time for breakfast, I snag a banana from the buffet on the way out. No sign of Jane, she's apparently gone on ahead. Rose drives us as my nerves are shot to pieces. Sitting in the car, I'm unable to focus as the countryside flashes past, the radio in the background is a wall of noise I can't decipher.
The next hour blurs by. No time to panic. Shoving my banana to one side in disgust, Rose drags me to one of the nearest catering kiosks and insists I have a large bacon roll. I choke it down and hope it doesn't come straight back up. Then its time to collect Charlie and start getting ready. I change into my protective gear and we warm up. No sign of Edward yet. I hope he isn't still asleep. I meant to call him, but there was simply no time.
All too soon we're making our way down to the start. Instead of an inconspicuous starting box, the course now begins in the main arena, before a crowd. The stand is only half full, thankfully, as it's still early. Despite the rain, crowds of people in wet weather gear are thronging along the pathways, jostling to get a good position to watch. I can imagine the lakeside stand being full already. My stomach lurches at that prospect. I dart behind the nearest hedge just in case, but nothing happens.
Scary Siobhan gives Charlie one last polish. I'm in my new protective gear, feeling a bit like Robocop. Forty-five "jumping efforts" await us. Let's do this.
Fence number one is straightforward and easily cleared by Charlie, we leave the arena and make our way through the park, following the marked track. Groups of spectators line the route. Fence two is simple - made from a log and straw bales - we soar over and head towards the Quarry: two fences, the second with a massive drop on landing as the ground falls away sharply. I remember to lean back as we land, so I don't do a header over Charlie's shoulder. He recovers from the steep drop and on we go.
The next few fences fly by and we jump into the relative darkness of a small wood. It's a reprieve from the light drizzle that's still falling, saturating my clothes. Unfortunately, the respite is brief - we're back out and on our way in no time - heading down the hill to the lake. The crowd thickens as we draw closer. I decide to take the direct route, a deep drop into the lake then a straight line across the middle, jumping two very narrow obstacles. As we head down the path, I hear the noise of the crowd, I can see some of them craning their necks to get a better view.
"Bastards," I mutter under my breath.
Charlie's steps are sure and he soars over the fence, landing in the lake with a resounding splash. I take perverse pleasure in the knowledge that we've likely soaked those closest to the lake's edge. He wades confidently through the water and we pop over the narrow brush fence in the middle, climbing out and up the bank.
We made it! Wet but in one piece.
We push on, the next two fences passing by in a blur. All I remember is one being made of two pickup trucks pushed together. Into the park, with ground to cover. The course has a strict time limit and any lagging will result in penalties. I urge Charlie on, wanting to try and get ahead before he gets too tired. There's still a long way to go, we're not even halfway.
We're just nearing the next fence, a sunken road, when the PA system crackles into life. It almost makes me jump. I can't ignore the tiny thrill that runs through me when I hear my name mentioned. Yes, that's little old me.
The next three fences don't pose any problems. The drizzle has now become more of a downpour. The surface is greasy underfoot and Charlie is not enjoying it, becoming sluggish. As we reach halfway, I check my stopwatch. We're just about ahead of time, but it's going to be close. I glare up at the clouds, wishing they would let up.
Before we get to the next fence, we are stopped by a marshal. There's been a fall and we'll have to wait while the horse is caught and reunited with its rider. I feel sympathetic towards the competitor whose adventure is over. A fall means elimination, regardless. I ride Charlie in circles, trying to keep him warm. The rain is pouring down my neck. Charlie is getting irritated by both the weather and the hold up.
Thankfully after not too long a wait we're on our way again. We clear the next fence - a post and rails. As we approach the next, a bank, I can feel Charlie starting to tire and hang to the left. I use my strength to keep him on track. He baulks as we approach the fence, and we scramble over, only just staying the correct side of the flags. I give him a talking to as we gallop out into the park.
We jump brush fences, post and rails, and one weird brush where we literally jump through the hole in the middle, like a giant doughnut. I urge Charlie on up a set of steps set into the hillside. I can hear him breathing hard now.
The next fence is designed to look like a model village. My heart is in my mouth as Charlie slips and almost straddles one of the fences but we still manage to make it. We jump an odd fence that looks like a tree branch and another road crossing then head for home. I check my stopwatch on the long gallop back to the arena. We're inside the time by a hairs breadth.
There's a muted cheer from the small crowd as we re-enter the arena, pop over the final jumping effort and cross the line. I'm briefly aware of Edward and Rose at my side as I slide to the ground. My legs feel like jelly and my heart is pounding. I manage to weigh in and Charlie is taken away by Rose's groom for a well earned rubdown. I'm almost carried away to the beer tent by Rose and Edward. Jane is mysteriously nowhere in sight. I know she isn't due to ride until later. Where is she?
I collapse upon the nearest chair. We made it. I'm sweaty, mud splattered and in dire need of a shower, but I want to just bask in the euphoria for awhile. Then, there's a surprise as my Dad appears at my side. I'm over the moon to see him.
"You think I'd miss this?"
I'm thrilled. My Dad's an armchair sports fan and rarely ventures out of his comfort zone – aka the sofa. He's almost vibrating with pride.
"I'm recording it as well. My girl on the telly!"
I haven't the heart to tell him I'll probably be on screen about thirty seconds at the most. I'm very much small fry here. Several riders pass by, clapping me on the shoulder. Once my legs have recovered, we make a brief walk around. The rain has returned and I completely forgot my coat, having instead to make do with one of those nasty disposable plastic rain capes from a nearby stall.
Excitement builds as the day goes on and the big names make their appearances. The rain doesn't let up and I thank the stars I for my early draw. There are many mishaps as the ground cuts up and those that do complete the course are well and truly mud splattered. Jane makes it round, but well outside the allotted time, clocking up a lot of penalties. She's relieved to be in one piece, though.
Miraculously after the end of day two, I'm in sixth place. I shake my head in disbelief. We leave the grounds and head back to the hotel. After a well needed soak in the bath, I drag my aching muscles back to the bedroom and dress for a celebratory dinner. Having passed this most difficult and exhausting of tests, my appetite returns and I'm absolutely ravenous, devouring all three courses of my dinner.
By ten, I'm drooping over the table so we make our excuses. I have to be up early in the morning to take Charlie for his final inspection by the panel of vets. He won't be allowed to compete if he doesn't satisfy their concerns. Tonight I don't need Edward's distraction techniques and fall asleep in his arms almost the moment my head hits the pillow.
Sunday dawns and I wake for the last time in my hotel bed. I'm looking forward to going home, for sure. Yesterday's clouds have disappeared and it's a bright sunny day. I leave Edward to sleep in and nip off to meet the girls. Half an hour later I am trotting Charlie up the gravel in front of the big house for the final time. Thankfully, he's in good spirits and passes with flying colours. Jane's horse also flies through but others aren't so lucky. There are some very tired legs following yesterday.
After a hearty breakfast back at the hotel, it's time to head back to the showground. I change into my gear, despite knowing I'm not riding until much later. I'd rather be ready. I walk the course with Jane, trying to listen to the advice she gives me. None of the fifteen fences are overly taxing, nothing much above four feet but that will be enough. I pace out the distances and plan my lines.
The stands are starting to fill up with spectators as excitement builds. I'm the subject of much more attention today, due to my promising round yesterday. The BBC reporter even collars me for a brief interview, much to my family's delight and my absolute horror. I bluster and stumble through my words and only just manage not to humiliate myself.
On the final day, everyone competes in reverse order, subject to score. Jane has an early round, due to her high score yesterday. She completes the course with only two fences down and finishes well down the field. She's disappointed, but happy just to get round, of course. Once done, she claps me on the back and wishes me luck, before disappearing again. Rose and I are still baffled by this. Where does she keep going?
All too soon, our moment comes. Charlie has been polished and plaited to perfection by Scary Siobhan. We hop over several practice fences whilst waiting to be called.
This is it. It's time.
My number is called and we ride into the arena. It's full. All eyes and cameras are upon us. My nerves are in full force, stomach churning. I try to calm myself. I am not going to throw up. Not now.
I try to ignore the crowds as we canter slowly in a circle, awaiting the bell. It sounds and we ride to the first fence. Charlie pops over easily. Fourteen to go. On to the next, a double. We clear the first easily but Charlie trails a leg, rattling a pole of the second element. The crowd gasps, collectively.
We move on and Charlie settles into his rhythm. He soars over each fence and I start to believe we really can do this. Then one brief lapse in concentration and a pole falls.
Can't afford any more. We make it safely over the next few fences and there's just the combination left. You can almost hear a pin drop as the crowd all hold their breaths.
One fence. Clear. Two fences clear. One to go. Sadly there's a resounding clang as Charlie trails a tired leg and the pole falls. The crowd sigh in disappointment. It's now extremely unlikely I'll place in the top three.
I try to swallow my disappointment as we ride out, reminding myself that all I had hoped was to get round. I pat Charlie enthusiastically. We did our best. We exit to loud applause. Everyone loves the underdog, of course.
I bring my horse to a halt and slide to the ground. Instantly, I'm enveloped by arms. Edward and Rose compete over who gets to hug me first. We settle for an awkward group effort in the end. Edward doesn't let go of my hand and we go off to the riders enclosure to watch the last five rounds. Bizarrely, the next rider has three fences down. But the next rides clear. And the next. So far I can still be third. We all cross our fingers.
The next horse is clearly exhausted and has a simply disastrous round, notching up twenty faults. Just one more to go. Who just happens to be the world number one. Of course he doesn't disappoint and rides a completely faultless round.
But I've placed fourth. Not in the prestige positions, there will be no lap of honour or glorious presentation, but still way way better than I ever hoped for.
I simply can't believe this. I'm surrounded by other riders offering hugs and support. I get separated from Edward by the sheer volume of people offering congratulations. So many faces from back home have made the trip.
Out of nowhere, Jane appears at my side, asking for "a word" and steers me outside, where a couple of famous faces are waiting.
"Let me introduce you," she states.
Of course, Aro and Renata need no introduction. They are among the leading riders in the country and their yard is legendary. I am momentarily star struck.
I shake their hands. They didn't have such a good Badminton. One horse eliminated in the cross country and four fences down today. Then they start talking and I'm speechless. They want me to join them for a year as a protégée. To see if I can "make it" so to speak.
My stomach turns over. Six months ago I wouldn't have needed to give it a thought. It's everything I thought I ever wanted. But now there's Edward. I can't leave him. Aro can see I'm struck dumb and simply pats me on the back, telling me to let him have an answer as soon as possible. They walk away and I stagger back to the horsebox in disbelief. Jane keeps nudging me. She's getting concerned as I haven't uttered a single word since Aro's proposal.
Edward takes one look at me and furrows his brow.
"What is it? What's going on?" He asks. I simply mumble "Later" and we carry on packing up. We won't have chance to talk yet as I'm travelling back in the horsebox and he's following on behind in the car with Jasper and my Dad. The journey back is filled with excited chatter and once we're home and unloaded I feel exhausted.
Before she drives away, Jane comes to my side.
"Well, Bella. You mull things over and let me know, yeah?"
I turn to Jane and nod. Although perplexed, Edward squeezes my hand and his silent reassurance is all I need. We'll discuss this later, in private.
Once Jane leaves, I take a moment to admire this man of mine. He's turned my life around. He's brought me to life. I briefly zone out, watching him help put everything away. He seems to fit so perfectly here, in my little world.
How did this happen? I used to think my life here was complete. Now I see what an empty shell it has been until Edward.
My mind is made up. No more going it alone.
I know, whatever lies ahead, we're in this together.
Thank you to everyone still reading and reviewing. It truly means a great deal.
That's it *sniffles* as far as the main story goes. There will be a short epilogue up within the next few days.
Thanks always to EMCxo for whipping this into shape and Monamour for her prereading and ever present support.