Disclaimer: Stephanie Meyer owns Twilight
Claimer: ATTENTION! This is a first-draft brain dump one-shot with minimal checking, but I just had to get it out of my head and onto the page. I'll go back and check/correct it soon, but in the meantime … enjoy!
It was like being inside a washing machine. Squeezing her eyes closed Bella tried to pull her knees to her chest as the water tumbled her head over heels. There was no way of knowing which way was up, and she'd barely had the chance to suck in a quick breath before the wave had rolled her up and over. All she knew was that she was bring washed into shore, but the main question was whether or not she had enough air to last the distance.
Her lungs were burning now and the issue of where the surface was became a more pressing issue. She couldn't have been that far out, surely. Her diaphragm relaxed a little as her body sent out frantic messages to breathe breathe breathe. Her lips parted at a bubble of precious air escaped. Before the fact could register her hip impacted with the seabed. It startled a faint exhalation out of her but it was also enough to give her a sense of direction. One more rotation and she was able to push off from the sandy bottom. It was a weak kick to be sure but it didn't matter, she was … out.
Bella broke the surface and sucked in a desperate lungful of air. Her momentum decreased and she began to slip back into the water as the wave continued rolling on its way without her to wash up on the shore. She managed another breath, and another before her body began to offer a belated protest at its harsh treatment. Air and water hit the back of her throat and she began to cough in long wracking shudders that left her on her hands and knees in the shallows. Another waved rolled through, smaller this time and she braced herself against the gentle swell as it curled around her shoulders before fetching up against the shoreline.
Bella shook her head and kept coughing as someone splashed their way towards her. A pair of feet appeared in her vision and she felt a warm pair of hands cup themselves beneath her arms to pull her to her feet.
"Come on, we'd better get you out the water," the voice went on.
"I'm okay," Bella shook off the helping hands and began to walk in to shore. Her efforts were somewhat hampered by the undertow as the water began to recede back out to sea for the next swell, but she managed well enough.
"You sure you're okay? You were under for quite a while."
"I'm fine," Bella nodded and turned to regard her Good Samaritan.
She didn't recognise him, which meant that it was a good chance he was a new swimmer there. There were about forty swimmers that indulged in a morning swim at the beach day in, day out, regardless of weather. They all knew each other by name now and had formed a casual community that took a perverse joy in swimming even during the colder months of the year. Bella was relatively new to the group as she had only been swimming there for three years now, but had earned her stripes soon enough.
After her second season of leaving her towel in the change room and running through the rain to end up standing thigh deep as the waves pummelled her, she had been awarded by a heady accolade; a t-shirt from the Pod. The t-shirt itself was a simple grey cotton affair, but it was the words printed on it that gave her access to a very select club.
Where were you in winter?
The Pod had no formal membership, no structure. It didn't even have a secret handshake. What the Pod t-shirt did however was afford recognition of the wearer's commitment to the water and the morning beach community. This alone bestowed a value on the shirt that was a price above rubies.
"Really," Bella repeated and offered a smile at the man who stood uncertainly in front of her. His board shorts were riding low on his hips exposing enough skin to make the view interesting. "I'm fine. It's not the first time it's happened."
She looked down at herself and sighed before reaching up to peel a long strand of seaweed off her shoulder. Her legs were crusted with wet sand and as she shifted her weight she could feel sand gritting in places where she really wasn't in the mood to have it today.
"Allow me," he smiled as he reached out to remove a sizeable clump of seaweed off the back of her head.
"I bet the little mermaid never had to put up with this shit," Bella grumbled as she dropped the seaweed back into the water and watched it swirl away, looking up as the man began to laugh.
"Sorry," he coughed and rubbed his chin, "it's just the way you fetched up like that and then being so grumpy." Another laugh threatened to escape but he managed to suppress it although his green eyes danced with mirth.
"Well it's one way to start the day," Bella shrugged with a good-natured grin. "Certainly reminds you that you're still alive."
"Especially when you're nearly not," the man replied and then cocked his head. "Nearly not," he repeated, "yup." A sigh. "I'm articulate this morning."
"Welcome to my world," Bella assured him as she moved away and up the beach to where she had left her backpack and towel. "Have a good swim."
"Thanks," he called after her and watched as she waved a casual hand in farewell.
The showers in the changing rooms at the beach had no hot water, but after the chill of the ocean this was redundant. The cold water rushing out of the aged showerhead felt warm against Bella's chilled skin, and she closed her eyes to tilt her face under the spray. She'd gotten to the beach early this morning so there was no particular reason to hurry. Bending over she picked up her bottle of shampoo and began to lather a generous dollop into her hair, wincing as she worked her fingers through the wet snarls.
By the time she stepped out of the shower cubicle there were other women in the change-room in various states of undress. Whilst the shower cubicles themselves had doors, the privacy ended there. The women's change room was little more than three shower cubicles flanked with a long bench along the facing wall. A row of pegs above the bench and three toilet cubicles on the wall behind the shower completed the ladies' ablution block.
When she had first started swimming at the beach she had huddled beneath her towel, trying to dry herself and pull on clean underwear without being seen. Two years of daily swimming later she strolled out of the shower entirely unselfconscious of her nude state, throwing her bathers ahead of her so that they landed on the bench with a wet splat before pulling her towel off the peg and rubbing herself dry as she made small talk with some of the women around her.
The swimmers were a varied lot; some of the women were like Bella in their early thirties, the oldest of them was Sue, a blunt spoken doyenne who still appeared at the beach every day regardless of the fact that she had just turned eighty-two. Nubile young women stood laughing and chatting beside wrinkled women decades their senior, and every woman there wore their years proudly. Bella watched Sue laugh and sass a woman fifty years her junior and hoped she would be the same when she reached that age.
Bella finished getting changed and swept her wet hair off her face and up into a ponytail before pulling on her polar fleece jacket. The weather forecast for the day was mild but her skin felt chilled from the swim. Rolling her bathers up into her towel she stuffed her backpack full and then sat on the bench to brush the sand off her feet before pulling on socks and sneakers.
"Get dumped today, Darling?"
Bella looked up to see Sue pulling on her bathers.
"Comprehensively," Bella gave a wry smile, "watch your step when you get out there."
It was common knowledge amongst the pod that Sue had undergone hip replacement surgery a few months prior. She had gotten mobile soon enough but the combination of the uneven seabed and undertow sometimes made her a little unsteady on her feet in the water.
"Always," Sue nodded and then went on in tone of too-polite inquiry, "and I hear you had a nice young man fussing over you."
"Huh?" Bella paused as she pulled on her second shoe and gave Sue a blank look. "Oh, right. Yeah some guy wanted to make sure I hadn't drowned."
"Mmm," Sue gave a sage nod.
"How did you know?" Bella stamped her feet on the ground and wriggled her toes to settle into her shoes a little better. Her skin still felt damp and she wasn't going to feel entirely right until she'd had a coffee.
"I can't fly down those stairs like I used to," Sue nodded her head in the general direction of the stairs outside that led from the road down to the change rooms. "I was watching that nice young man watch you."
"Whatever," Bella laughed and stood up to sling her backpack over one shoulder. "At least one of us had a good perv."
"Listen I may be old but I'm not dead, but it seems to be that you could pay a little more attention to what's under your nose," Sue poked Bella's shoulder with a papery finger as she gave her a sly smile. "Am I going to have to take this matter elsewhere?"
"No, no," Bella shook her head with a hasty smile, "that's fine. Thanks for your concern."
If Sue followed through on her threat it wouldn't be the first time. The older woman occasional took a proprietary interest in Bella's love life, or lack thereof. All it would take would be for Sue to make a few casual comments to other members of the Pod and then before Bella knew it, she would have thirty well-intentioned matchmakers watching her every move. Calling out a few farewells Bella made her way out of the change room, exchanging nods with other swimmers as they made their way past and stopping to pat a few dogs that had been left tethered while their owners swam. She smiled when she saw her two favourites Ringer and Singer up ahead.
Ringer was an old Labrador whose black fur around his muzzle was turning to grey, and was lying on the ground as far away from the other dog as he lead would allow, his attitude broadcasting acute embarrassment. Singer was a tan Staffordshire terrier who sat shivering with loneliness and whimpering enough to sound like a car with a broken fanbelt. His wailing broke off as Bella approached and he got to his feet to snuffle against her legs and look up at her with mournful eyes.
"Oh Singer, what are we going to do with you?" Bella murmured as she rubbed the tips of his ears and watched his eyes close as he leaned into her caress. The two dogs had been at the beach nearly every morning since Bella had been swimming there, and still the morning theatrics continued. She stayed a moment longer making a fuss over the smaller dog before moving to Ringer and leaning down for a comforting pat. The older dog opened one eye and gave her a long-suffering look before ponderously rolling over onto his back for a belly rub. Bella laughingly obliged before straightening up and walking into the café the two dogs were tied up in front of.
From the outside the café was nothing spectacular. It was a standard construction with paintwork that continually faded in the sun, canvas awnings that received constant salty sprays and harsh wind and windows that were slightly filmy from years of having sand and salt thrown at it by the elements. The inside however, was an entirely different story. An enormous aquarium that held an ever-changing assortment of tropical fish and shells flanked the front door, and the walls were a riot of colour. Some of the regular swimmers were artists, other people were simply drawn to the ocean's edge and compelled to capture the view on canvas, albeit with varying degrees of success. Children's figure paintings were carefully stuck to the wall at just the right height for toddlers to delight in the display, and at a more mature height were piles of magazines, newspapers and postcards.
Grabbing the daily newspaper Bella exchanged a nod with the head waitress before making her way out onto the deck. It was an extension of the main building and built up and out over the sand. Bella dropped her bag onto an empty wicker chair before sinking into the one opposite and flipped open the newspaper. Before she started reading however, she glanced over the top of the broadsheet and out towards the water.
The water was rolling in unceasing undulations back and forth, white foamy caps appearing as the waves crested and broke in a rhythm entirely their own. The colour of the water shimmered from emerald green to sapphire blue and back again as the early morning sun hit it, and Bella gave a quiet sigh of pleasure.
"Hey girl, found you another piece."
Bella blinked as a smoothed stub of green was dropped onto the newspaper she had open on the table and she gave an involuntary smile of pleasure.
"Thanks, Sam," she picked it up and rubbed her thumb over the water smooth edges.
It was a piece of seaglass, a twisted piece that looked to have once been from the neck of a bottle. She held it up to the light and wondered how far the sea shard had travelled before making its way to her.
"How many pieces have you got now?" Sam leaned against the back of the chair and squinted at her.
"Not too many and not too few," Bella countered with a grin as she unzipped a side pocket of her backpack and dropped the glass inside.
"Nice one," Sam grunted with a smile. "You going to have another exhibition soon?"
"I will," Bella promised, "when I've got enough I'll invite everyone over."
"Yeah? And when will that be?" Sam looked curious now, his salty grey hair whipping around his head as he wrapped his towel around his shoulders.
"Depends on how many more pieces you guys can turn up for me," Bella wrinkled her nose at him.
"I'll put the word out to the troops," Sam assured her in a grave tone and then patted her shoulder as he made his way towards the door, his stock body bobbing and weaving as he stopped and bent over tables to greet other members of the Pod.
Bella watched him go and then returned her attention to the newspaper with a smile, looking up moments later with a sigh of appreciation as a hot coffee and fresh blueberry muffin arrived. She tucked into her breakfast, pausing only to turn the page or exchange greetings and small talk with other café regulars. She received more than a few comments about getting dumped and she accepted the ribbing with a resigned smile knowing that she would be the butt of a few jokes until someone else wasn't paying attention in the water. Experience had told her it would only be a matter of time before someone else had a mishap for everyone else's viewing pleasure.
After settling the check and making her way outside Bella stopped the pat the dogs again and stood talking to Sue who was yet to make her way across the sand and into the water. The older woman was looking especially fabulous today wearing a rubber-swimming cap festooned with floppy rubber daisies that bobbed as she nodded and laughed with the Good Samaritan.
"See you here tomorrow?" Sue asked.
"As if you need to ask," Bella said with a fond smile and went on her way.
A pair of green eyes watched her go.
The seasons began to shift and turn and soon the swimmers were making sounds of pleasure as they felt the ocean currents shift to a warmer temperature. The number of people at the beach in the morning began to increase, and the Pod took a quiet pleasure in pulling out their t-shirts and wearing them as a badge of pride as they made their way through the groups of tourists and fair-weather beach-goers in search of favourable ocean currents and vacant café tables.
This morning the ocean was like a millpond as the wind blew off the land and out to sea, persuading any waves to take their disruption elsewhere. Bella waded out into the water and stood with her hands on her hips as she gazed at the watery landscape before giving a slight nod of satisfaction and diving beneath the surface. She emerged and dove in again before surfacing and rolling over to float on her back and stare up at the blue-sky overhead. She felt weightless and entirely at peace as she bobbed on the surface of the water. Were it not for the splashing nearby she could have almost fallen asleep. As it was, her eyes were beginning to flicker and droop before her hair brushed against a surface that felt unfamiliar.
"Oh Jesus," the oath was heartfelt and filled with foreboding.
Bella blinked and squinted against the light as she looked up to see what was going on, just in time to see someone step in front of her and block the sun.
Step forward? But she was in the water …
She gave a surprised jerk and then coughed as the movement splashed some water into her mouth.
"Oh shit, you're alive?" the voice exclaimed as someone jumped into the water beside her. The movement splashed her further but they were clearly too concerned to notice. "Oh thank god, I … it's you!" Almost immediately the voice changed from horror to surprised recognition.
"Who else would I be?" Bella coughed once more and then righted herself in the water. When she discovered she could touch the bottom she stood to face her would-be rescuer.
"You were hanging in the water like you were …,"
It was green eyes again.
"Dead, I know," Bella gave an apologetic shrug before stepping back and dunking herself under the water to freshen up. When she appeared and pushed her hair off her face she saw he was still regarding her with amazement. She looked around to see that she had drifted along the shore a little further than she thought, and had ended up at the small outcropping of reef that jutted out from the shore. "Just as well you were there, I was nearly asleep."
"I don't really know," Bella replied, "I can't sink for some reason and," she waved a hand in an uncertain gesture. "Sorry about the scare."
"So this is twice we've met in unusual circumstances," the man went on and somehow contrived to offer a slight chivalrous bow despite the fact they were both standing waist deep in the ocean and wearing next to nothing. He put out his hand. "Edward."
She regarded the proffered hand for a moment and then reached out and shook it.
"Bella," she nodded.
"So Bella," Edward went on as if they were merely passing time, "what else do you do when you're not half drowned or sleeping your way out to sea?"
"Oh, various things," Bella replied in a vague tone. "Some writing, website design, that sort of thing." She looked up at him, "how about you? What do you do when you're not rushing to my rescue?"
"Similar sort of things," he gave a shrug of his own and then regarded her with a long measuring stare. "You're …," his voice trailed off and he gave another shrug.
"I'm what?" Bella shook her head to try and get some water out of her ears.
"Different," he replied.
"Different is good," Bella nodded.
"Very good," he agreed as he nodded at her slowly.
Bella shifted again in the water and resisted the urge to duck beneath the surface again. The water was as clear as a saint's conscience this morning so it would provide no measure of camouflage other than to muffle the outside world for a while.
"Well," she said after an awkward pause, "sorry to have freaked you out like that."
"I'm not," he gave a grin that transformed his face from attractive to breathtaking in an instant. "It got me your name."
"And it-," Bella broke off what she was saying as she looked in at the shore. Sam was wading out of the water.
"Shit, is that the time?" she swore.
"What?" Edward looked confused.
"It must be later than I thought," Bella said. Sam's routine was like clockwork and she was usually out of the water well before he made his departure. "Sorry, I've got to get going. It was nice to meet you."
"Likewise," Edward nodded and she could see the disappointment in his gaze. "Maybe I'll see you again sometime."
"If you swim here it's more than likely," Bella offered and then with a quick smile turned and gave a shallow dive into the water. He had watched her a little closer than was comfortable for her these days. She swam into shore with a steady stroke until her knee grazed the sand and then pulled herself to her feet, turning to see Edward was still standing in the water by the reef. He raised a hand to her in farewell and stood watching as she strode out of the water.
Over the next few weeks the weather continued to warm and the sky grew brighter earlier in the day. Bella barely noticed that her skin was shifting to a warmer hue and that her bathroom at home acquired a dry smell from lack of use. The weather grew hotter still and so Bella spent as much time as she could at the beach; a swim in the morning, an afternoon cool-down and then a third swim at dusk. Even the members of the pod began teasing her about checking her neck for gills.
"There's another one here who's as bad as you," Sam grunted one morning as he pulled up a seat opposite Bella at the café and sat down. He regarded Bella with black eyes that twinkled like coal before taking another sip of his espresso.
"Yeah?" Bella barely looked up from her newspaper, "and who would that be?"
"You've met him once or twice, name's Edward."
Now Bella looked up.
"Figured that'd get your attention," Sam gave a low chuckle, "we've see you two talking."
"I haven't seen him that much," Bella argued in a mild voice.
"No," Sam sipped his coffee and leaned back in his seat with an expansive sigh, waving as another swimming walked past, "but he's seen you. Mind you," he went on, "everyone has. You're practically living down here."
"It's hot at home," Bella shrugged, "and I like the water."
"Mmm," Sam nodded but said nothing more.
"There you are," Sue appeared at the table. "I thought I'd find you here somewhere. You know that Edward's just down at the-,"
"Morning Sue," Bella smiled, hoping to cut off the conversation.
"I was just telling her," Sam threw more fuel on the fire with a quick wink at Sue.
"Ah," Sue nodded, "and Embry is talking to him now."
"Oh god," Bella moaned as she leaned forward to put her head in her hands. Between the three older people she knew she was doomed. Sam, Sue and Embry were the three oldest members of the pod and took an innate interest in the lives of their favourites. Bella was one, and it seemed that Edward was fast becoming another.
There was no way of getting out of this with their dignity intact, particularly if neither of them were willing.
"He seems like such a nice young man," Sue was saying now. "You know he has his own business, just like you Bella."
"Really," Bella offered a wan smile.
"And he clearly loves the water almost as much as you do," Sue nodded.
"Well that's it then," Bella waved her nearly empty cup, "I guess we'd better run away and get married."
"Now, now," Sue chided, "there's no need to get defensive, I'm just telling you what I know."
"Sorry," Bella ducked her head feeling chastened.
"Aw c'mon girl." This time it was Sam who leaned forward to pat her shoulder with a gruff hand. "What's the worst that could happen?"
The worst? Bella kept her face carefully blank at this. She hadn't suffered the worst compared to some out there, but her last relationship experience was enough to want to hide from the world for as long as possible. She liked her life the way it was; busy and self contained. She wasn't sure she had the time to get to know someone new.
"He isn't seeing anyone," Sue offered in a helpful tone.
"Speak for yourself," Sam grunted, "when Bella's here he can hardly take his eyes off her."
"Really?" Despite her best efforts, Bella's interest was piqued. "Anyway," she gave herself a mental shake and finished her coffee, "I've got to get going. I've got a meeting in half an hour."
"At this time?" Sam looked at his watch and then gave Bella a hard look.
"Really," Bella nodded. "International call," she offered by way of elaboration. She set her cup down and then got her wallet out of her backpack, not noticing Sam and Sue exchange a disappointed look before glancing down at the figure who was making his way up the stairs towards the café. "See you tomorrow," she stooped and brushed a hasty kiss against two cheeks, one weathered, one powdery, and then turned to make her way through the breakfast crowd.
Paying for breakfast she paused at the aquarium to admire the starfish clinging to the glass and then turned for the door, running straight into a warm, broad chest. Her breath whooshed out and two arms automatically came up to hold her steady.
"We meet again."
Bella blinked and looked up to see who it was.
Like the other swimmers he had showered and changed. His hair was wet and stuck up in warm copper spikes matching the bronze stubble on his jaw, and his green eyes gleamed in brilliant contrast. He was wearing an old t-shirt and a pair of board shorts that had seen better days. His feet were bare and she could see sand on his feet from his path up the stairs.
"Hey," she said and immediately cursed herself for sounding like an awkward teenager. She wanted to curse again as she felt the familiar but dreaded rush of colour into her face.
"Are you leaving already?" Edward seemed surprised at this, "But Li-," he broke off and pressed his lips together in a tight smile as he bit his tongue. "You're busy?"
"I am today, I've got a meeting in-," she checked the wall clock above the coffee machine, "twenty minutes, and it's an international call."
"Where do you-," Edward's eyebrows went up.
"Work from home," Bella said carelessly as she set off towards the door. "See you later."
"Okay," Edward had to raise his voice as she was halfway out the door and other people were coming in. "Have a good one."
Bella trotted towards her bicycle that she had left chained to a tree by the café and fumbled with the combination lock. Her mind was racing ahead to the website specifications that she was going to be talking about for the morning. It was a good commission, one of her biggest so far, and yet somehow she felt disappointed as she rode away from the café towards home.
A few days later Bella arrived at the café and sighed when she saw how many people were crowded inside. She joined the line forming at the counter and settled her backpack into a more comfortable position on her shoulder, wondering how long she was going to have to wait for her morning coffee.
She looked up to see Tanya, the head waitress waving her over. Giving a quick glance to the people in the line beside her she strolled over to see Tanya beckoning her out onto the deck with a wide grin.
"Here," she said in a conspiratorial whisper as she pulled out a chair, "it's the last table outside."
"Thanks," Bella said with a grateful smile.
"No, thank you," Tanya went on. "You can keep on eye on Jake."
"He's here?" Bella's face lit up.
"Yup, I'll send him your way soon," Tanya half turned and then looked back. "The usual?"
"Please," Bella smiled.
A while later Bella was stirring sugar into her coffee when she registered a presence at her side.
"Is this seat taken?"
Edward again. He was wearing his usual mismatched assortment and had a damp towel slung over one shoulder.
"Nope, knock yourself out," Bella smiled and returned her attention to her coffee. She had expected Edward to take the chair to another table to join a group but instead he slid the chair out and took a seat, dropping his towel and bag at his feet.
"Sorry," he offered a disarming grin, "it's crowded everywhere else so I hope you don't mind if I-," he broke off as Tanya appeared and deposited a gurgling baby onto Bella's lap.
"Here you go," Tanya announced with satisfaction. "He's in a good mood today." She paused enough to take Edward's order and then hurried back indoors.
"Thanks Tanya," Bella grinned and immediately covered the baby's soft cheeks with kisses. "How's my boy?" She looked up to see Edward regarding her with mild consternation.
"Ah," he began, "listen I can go if you've got someone joining you I can move."
"Huh?" Bella gave him a blank look.
"Well don't you have someone-," Edward gestured at the baby in Bella's arms who was squirming enough to nearly tip himself out of Bella's lap before she hauled him up against her shoulder.
"Oh Jake here? No, " Bella shook her head with a smile, "he's not mine." She patted Jake's diapered rump and blew a raspberry against his neck that made him squeal with delight. "He belongs to one of the Pod."
"Oh, so … what?" Edward's expression cleared for a moment and then became confused again.
"You know the Pod, right?" Bella nodded over at some of the other tables where there were more than a few grey t-shirts in attendance.
"Sure," Edward nodded and then leaned back as his coffee and muffin appeared, same as Bella's.
"Well Jake here," she bounced the baby for good measure and smiled as Jake gurgled and patted her chest, "belongs to a couple of them. His mom and dad take it in turns for their morning swim."
"Right," Edward said slowly, "but where are they?"
"Sorry, I'm not explaining myself very well. When I say they take it in turns, Mom says at home for a sleep in, and Dad and Jake come to the beach. Dad has a swim and the Pod take care of this one here." Another gurgle. "Tomorrow Mom will be swimming and Dad gets to sleep in."
"Sounds very democratic," Edward nodded, obviously impressed.
"It is," Bella agreed, "and in the meantime we all get to enjoy this one with no strings attached."
Edward laughed and reached for his cup to discover there was no spoon. Bella flicked hers across to him and they fell into an easy conversation. Edward was halfway through his muffin before he realised that Bella hadn't touched hers yet because she was otherwise occupied.
"Pass him over," he offered as he rubbed his hands against his shorts, "you need a shot at your muffin before it gets cold."
"C'mon," Edward arched an eyebrow at her and she acquiesced. A squirming Jake was handed over and Bella turned her attention to breakfast. The baby looked even smaller against Edward's large frame, and Bella smiled to herself as the two males made each other's acquaintance. Jake reached up to pat Edward's face and became fascinated with Edward's morning stubble, patting his cheeks and pulling at his hair until Edward gave a mock indignant squawk that the baby found uproariously funny.
"There's my boy."
A dishevelled man had appeared at the table and Jake looked up with a coo of recognition.
"Hey Mike," Bella smiled. "He's getting big."
"Tell me about it," Mike grinned as he picked Jake up with a quiet grunt. "Turn your back for a minute and he gains weight. The only other time I've seen someone pack on weight that fast was when I quit smoking a few years back."
Bella threw her head back and laughed.
"Edward," Mike glanced down at Bella's companion with a pleased smile. "Didn't see you in the water this morning so I didn't know you were here."
"I'm ahead of schedule this morning," Edward commented.
"Mmmph," Mike rubbed his face with his spare hand in an unsuccessful attempt to hide a grin. "How's that workin' out for ya?"
"Early days," Edward allowed with a smile of caution.
"Good to know," Mike nodded. "Bells, I've been instructed to pass something on."
"Oh?" Bella was halfway through some more muffin and put her hand up to her mouth as she spoke. "What's that?"
"Hang on," Mike shifted Jake to a better position on his hip before twisting and digging into his back pocket with one hand before coming up empty. "Shit, left them inside. Back in a minute," he ducked back into the café before returning with a triumphant grin. "Here," he said as he set a ziplock bag down on the table.
"Oh Mike," Bella gave a reverent sigh as she opened the bag to spill its contents onto the table. It was a collection of sea glass in colours of green and blue. "Beautiful, where did you get this?"
"My niece," he said. "Angela's staying with us for a few days and when she fold a piece last week I told her you collect it she's set herself the task of finding as much as she can."
"Really? That's fantastic, I'll have to find a way to thank her," Bella replied.
"I know she likes cake," Mike suggested straightaway, "you could bake something."
"Right, because your niece likes cake, right?"
"Probably, who doesn't?" Mike agreed with an unabashed grin. "Gotta get this one home, so I'll catch you later."
Bella waved at Jake who was peering at her over Mike's shoulder and then turned her attention back to the glass fragments on the table with a sigh of contentment.
"You collect sea glass," Edward said after a comfortable lull. It wasn't a question.
"Guilty as charged," Bella agreed, and looked up to see him shaking his head with a smile of quiet amusement. "What?"
"Nothing, I'll tell you sometime," he offered and then sipped at his coffee with a carefully neutral expression when Bella narrowed her eyes at him.
Summer came and went and the weather began to cool again. As the weeks passed Bella thought nothing of seeing Edward at the beach every morning, rain, hail or shine. When the weather was particularly foul they met at the café for breakfast instead, sitting inside beside the glass doors so that they would watch the weather roll in across the water. From time to time Bella accepted sea glass offerings from the Pod and café staff with exclamations of delight, and Edward sat back in his seat and watched the transactions with a quiet smile.
On one particularly wet morning Bella stopped at the roadside with a series of quiet curses.
"Shit shit shit," she cursed. The bike had felt wobbly and now she could see why. The front tyre was deflating rapidly and she was still half a mile from the beach. She flicked out the bike stand with her foot and then looked at the bike frame to see where the puncture kit … should have been. "Shit." Now the curse was even more sincere. The rain was getting heavier and Bella looked up to see the grey clouds gathering overhead. She paused to consider her options. She was closer to the café than she was to home, and she knew where the coffee was better. Sigh a sigh of resignation she flicked back the bike stand and began to walk, wheeling the bike beside her.
A moment later she heard a vehicle slowing beside her and looked up to see a Jeep pulling onto the verge ahead and a familiar copper head peering out the driver's side window.
"Need a lift?" he called.
"Please," she called back.
Edward hopped out of the Jeep and jogged towards her with a grin, picking up her bike and putting it in the back.
"Felt like a walk this morning?" he said once they were in the Jeep and buckled up.
"Not especially," Bella groused. "Flat tyre and the puncture kit's gone missing"
"Ah," he nodded slowly. "I've got one at home somewhere, I'll dig it up and get it to you."
"Thanks," she nodded.
"So in the meantime I guess you'll be driving," Edward hazarded a guess and was surprised to see Bella shaking her head.
"No car for me," she said with a careless shrug, "it got totalled in an accident a while ago and I haven't replaced it yet."
"Really? So how do you get around?"
Bella gave him an amused look. "Well," she said with exaggerated slowness, "the bike here's generally pretty good, and I live within walking distance of the stores I need. Anything else I can get delivered."
"I'm impressed." Edward replied, and after a pause Bella realised that he meant it. They drove on in silence for a few beats and then: "I'll get that puncture kit to you tomorrow."
"Appreciate it," Bella nodded.
They entered the café together and Tanya pointed out a table for two in a corner by the window that they accepted with alacrity.
"See that?" Sam nudged Sue to was giving one of the younger women some pointers for her literature thesis.
"What?" Sue said distractedly and then, "George Elliott, that's a reference you need," before turning to Sam. "What are you talking about?"
"Over there," Sam nodded to where Bella and Edward were shaking off their coats and sitting down to settle back into an animated conversation.
"Ah," Sue nodded. "They're going well."
"Yup," Sam nodded looking pleased with himself; he'd put Bella's puncture kit back on her bike in a few days.
Bella's bike was repaired in due course but as the weather continued to worsen Edward got her address and took to swinging past to pick her up on his way to the beach every morning. It seemed entirely natural and neither of them thought anything of it, although the Pod watched their every move with quiet delight and Tanya mysteriously always seemed to have a table for two whenever they arrived.
The seasons turned and Bella started riding to the beach again. She enjoyed the exercise but found she missed the sleepy snippets of conversation she and Edward had exchanged when she climbed into the Jeep on those many grey mornings. When she remembered the shy smile of regret Edward had given her when she had reinstated her cycling she realised he felt the same.
"So," Sue finished drying herself off and began to pull on her bra as she gave Bella an arch look. "How's that young man of yours?"
"What young man?"
"The one you've been seeing so much of," Sue pressed.
Unbeknownst to them, Bella and Edward had been the subject of much discussion by the Pod when they left the café every morning. Tanya was under strict instructions to report any snippets of conversation back to the Pod for analysis and further discussion and strategies were discussed and refined.
Bella's forehead wrinkled as she tried to work out who Sue was talking about and then comprehension dawned.
"You mean Edward?"
"But we're not dating, we're just friends," Bella laughed. "Nice one Sue, but you're wrong again."
"We'll see," Sue said with a placid smile as she pulled on her shirt. "See you at the café."
Bella was still chuckling to herself when she sat down opposite Edward who was flicking through the newspaper.
"What's going on?" He couldn't help but smile at her amusement.
"Sue," Bella said as she set her bag at her feet and wrapped her hands around the coffee that Edward had waiting. "Apparently the Pod are getting ideas."
"About what?" Edward went back to reading his paper and took another sip of coffee.
"They think we're dating," Bella snickered.
"Do they now," Edward set his cup down and folded up his newspaper to set it aside. "Well maybe we should do something about that."
That had Bella pausing with her cup halfway to her lips.
"Have dinner with me," Edward said with a quiet smile.
Bella regarded him in silence.
"Okay," she said, bemused at the sudden turn of events before looking up in surprise as Tanya delivered their oven-fresh muffins.
Tanya moved away and stopped one of the larger tables with Sue, Sam and other members of the Pod were sitting.
"We have lift-off," she muttered from the corner of her mouth before getting back to work.
That evening Bella yanked a brush through her hair, groaning as it tore through knots and snarls that she hadn't taken the time to smooth out at the start of the day. She'd gotten distracted with work and had realised that Edward was due to collect her in less than twenty minute's time.
The whole process of getting ready for a date felt foreign. She had shimmied into an emerald knit wrap dress and then added a swipe of lip-gloss. After moment of quick consideration before the mirror she had added a quick spritz of scent. Edward hadn't told her where they were going; only that she'd be comfortable. Thinking about his casual statement she eschewed her high heels with a sigh of relief and slipped on a pair of flat sandals. The doorbell rang and she peeped with surprise when she looked at her watch and saw that Edward was ahead of schedule.
She opened the door with one hand whilst pulling on a sandal with the other.
"Hi," she said as she straightened and pushed her loose hair off her face with a slight huff.
"Wow," Edward was slackjawed. "You look amazing."
"Really?" Bella was pleased. Her preparation had practically been nil but going by his response she was reaping the dividends. "Thanks. So," she grabbed her wallet and keys, "where are we going?"
"You'll see," Edward grinned. He had recovered from his surprise enough to offer her an enigmatic smile as he ushered her to the door.
"Mmm," Bella nodded as she looked him up and down. He was wearing a pair of butter-soft linen trousers and a button down shirt. Not too dressy, not too casual. It was impossible to read anything into his expression. Bella gave a mental shrug. The evening would be what it would be.
"Now that," Bella set down her spoon with a sigh of wonderment, "was sensational." She gazed around the room with its warm lamplight and walls that were covered in pictures and bric-a-brac before regarding Edward with a slight smile. "And such an exclusive establishment too."
Bella had watched the streets as Edward had driven them to their mystery dinner location, looking at him with surprise when he had pulled into the driveway of a small house that was only a couple of blocks from her own.
"Your place?" she guessed and then laughed at his pleased nod.
"I had no idea what sort of food you liked beyond blueberry muffins and scrambled eggs with bacon, so I figured I'd hedge my bets and take you around the world instead."
The meal, like the location, had been a revelation. Edward had mentioned an international journey and he hadn't disappointed. Entrée had been flat bread with Hummus and Baba Ghannouj, followed by a spicy Thai laksa with plenty of fishcakes and lemon grass. Dessert had been a traditional Indian rice pudding with fresh cardamon pods.
"And you made all of this?" she waved a hand at the coffee table. Edward had set up an array of dishes on a long broad teak coffee table and they had perched themselves on enormous embroidered cushions, curling their legs beneath them as they tucked in to the feast on dispay.
"Yup," Edward gave a pleased nod as he topped up their glasses.
"So much variety, have you trained as a chef?" Bella cocked her head before accepting her glass and took a sip.
"Not really," Edward conceded, "but I used to have a job that required a lot of travel. I got into the habit of making friends with a few locals here and there and instead of buying souvenirs all the time; I'd get them to teach me some traditional dishes. You're reaping the benefits of that tonight."
"I certainly am," Bella agreed with a fervent smile.
The hour was late by the time that Bella could no longer conceal her yawns, and Edward eyed her with considerable regret.
"I guess I should get you home," he admitted.
"Yeah," Bella swilled the last of her wine in her glass. "I guess."
"I've got something to give you though," Edward said with a smile as he got to his feet and disappeared into one of the side rooms.
"What are you up to?" Bella called after him.
"I'm looking for something that I think you'll like," he called back, his voice muffled as doors were opened and closed. He reappeared carrying a gift bag that had contained a bottle of wine in a previous life but was now serving a different purpose. "For you," he said as he held it out, one hand supporting the bottom.
Bella took the bag, her eyes widening with surprise when she felt its weight.
"Wow, what is this?" She peered into the bag and gave a gasp of delight.
Sea glass. Lots of it.
"You collect it too?"
"A bit," he gave a modest shrug but couldn't contain his smile of delight. "I just never did anything with it."
Bella tipped the glass out onto the floor rug and sifted through it with a gentle touch making exclamations of pleasure when she saw the variety of colours and some of the large shapes in his collection; her collection now.
"Thank you so much," she said, her eyes shining.
Edward helped her put the glass back into the bag and then they both moved with considerable reluctance as they gathered up the dishes from the table and carried them through into the kitchen. Bella leaned against the sink and Edward stepped so that their bodies were flush against each other.
"Maybe we should do this again sometime," Edward murmured as his head dipped closer.
"I think I'd like that," Bella nodded. She looked at the smooth line of his jaw and let her eyes wander. The tone of his skin was beginning to turn golden and an idle part of her mind wondered what it would taste like. She licked her lips and shifted imperceptibly closer.
Taking a quiet breath Edward reached up to cup her by the elbows and then ran his hands up her arms to her shoulders so that he could pull her close. They swayed together into a kiss that crested and swelled into another, breaking apart and then returning over and over. By the time they parted Bella was breathless and Edward had his fingers threaded through the hair at the nap of her neck.
"Do you really have to go?" Edward whispered against her ear.
"I've got a meeting tomorrow morning," she said with considerable regret before pressing herself against his chest for another kiss. She had a warmth in her belly that was spiralling down, drilling further through her body that an ache that was turning into a need. It wasn't something she hadn't felt for a long time.
"God," Edward groaned as he felt the softness of her breasts against his chest and her warm scent that spiralled up and around him turning his ache into a need that he thought he had all but forgotten about. He ran his hand down her back to gently cup her bottom and pull her against him, making them both moan.
"Okay," with a herculean effort Bella pushed herself away half a pace and stood starting at him with her hands on his chest. She reached for his wrist to check his watch. She still hadn't gotten into the habit of wearing one, and had gotten used to relying on Edward's. "I've got a meeting early tomorrow morning that I have to take but," she stopped to lick her lips and watched Edward's eyes darken further still as he gazed at her, "tomorrow night you're coming over for dinner."
"Dinner," Edward nodded distractedly as he ran his hands up her back and began to nuzzle her neck. "What do I need to bring?"
"Just you," she said as her eyes fluttered closed, and then, "and a toothbrush."
Edward pulled away and regarded her with a wide smile.
The next evening's dinner was at an equally modest establishment. Whilst the meal wasn't up to world standards it was certainly comfortable.
"I love pizza," Edward said as he scooped an olive off his slice and popped it into his mouth.
"More wine?" Bella proffered the bottle of red and then filled up their glasses at his enthusiastic nod. They were curled up on Bella's expansive sofa, bare feet and in t-shirts and shorts. The evening was mild and Bella had switched on a few lamps to provide some soft illumination. The television was on in the background, but Edward's gaze returned again and again to the lighting in the room.
There were four lamps that he could see. Three of them sat on small tables around the room but the centrepiece was the lamp beside the kitchen doorway, a tall column of frosted glass that on closer inspection was a glass and wire-sculptured piece that shimmered and glowed in the light; Bella's sea glass.
"Amazing," Edward had breathed when he saw them, and Bella had left him to go on a journey of exploration around her small home. It seemed that sea glass had been incorporated into every room; a mirror frame here, a lamp shade there, bowls and vases. Even set into the windows of the house itself. "How long have you been collecting this?"
"Years," Bella said, "but a lot of it has come from the Pod and people at the café."
"Do you sell any of it?" Edward paused beside a large shallow bowl that he knew his mother would swoon over.
"When I accumulate too much," Bella answered, "and some of it I just give away as gifts."
"You give it away?" Edward was surprised, "but each piece must take a long time to assemble."
"They do," Bella agreed, "but the sea always provides."
"I think you could be right," Edward smiled as he reached out to grab Bella's hand and pull her close.
What started out as a gentle kiss became something more urgent; tongues dipped and hands explored, punctuated with encouragements of yes and want and more. Always more.
Edward ran his tongue across Bella's clavicle and smiled as she shivered while she curled herself against him.
"You taste like salt," he whispered as he kissed her again.
"Get the tequila," Bella smiled as she pulled him closer and hooked a leg around his hips.
Bella arched her back as Edward nuzzled her neck and began to work his way down her body, his stubble rasping against her smooth skin as he nipped and tasted his way. By the time his tongue dipped inside her all she could do was groan and offer herself up for more. Bella was still shivering from her release when Edward appeared on the pillow beside her with a very satisfied smile.
"Hi," he smiled, but his smile turned to one of consternation as she shifted away.
"Be right back," she gleamed as she wriggled down the bed.
Edward sighed as her hair draped and slithered across his chest as she moved, and at the first lap of her tongue his eyes closed as he offered up a heartfelt sigh. It had been entirely too long, but it seemed they were both making up for lost time. When at last he slid inside her they both sighed at the long-awaited contact and simply gazed at each other before they both began to move. Bella pulled Edward closer, trying to get more as she felt his chest rasp against her breasts, their skin becoming slick with sweat.
"God," Edward dipped his head to give her a quick kiss before resting his forehead on her shoulder, "so good."
"Mmm," Bella couldn't speak, pulling her knees up and sighing at the increased contact.
"I can't-," Edward stuttered, "I'm going to-,"
He did, and after a moment Bella did too.
"We've missed the morning crowd," Edward said in a tone of drowsy satisfaction the following morning.
"S'okay," Bella yawned as she wrapped herself against him. She felt pleasantly sore in all the right places and hadn't felt this happy in a long time. "We can swim later."
Edward gave her an indignant look. "And there I was thinking you were a devout beach-goer, what changed your mind?"
"Well," Bella shifted again and smiled when Edward groaned as her body came into direct contact with his in a way that totally distracted him, "I guess I found anther way of starting my day."
"As you wish," Edward muttered as he reared up and rolled her over onto her back.
It was another three mornings before they made it down to the water, and they walked down the stairs hand in hand exchanging greetings with members of the Pod. Dropping their bags and towels they stripped down to their swimwear and half walked, half jogged into the water. They didn't get much swimming done, because they suddenly had a lot to say to each other, and there were waves to catch and bodysurf in to shore, and then there was the kissing. It didn't take them long to discover that Bella's natural buoyancy meant that she could take Edward by surprise and wrap herself around him for a kiss while he tried to stay afloat.
As their bodies rubbed together in the current Bella hitched herself a little closer, breaking off the kiss when she felt Edward's immediate response.
"Want to take this further?" he whispered as he nipped at her throat.
"Maybe another time," Bella nodded as she tipped her head back, "when the Pod isn't here."
"Deal," he said as he squeezed her against him enough so that they both groaned before Bella looked over Edward's shoulder.
"Wave!" she shrieked.
She had time to see Edward's quick glance before she was ripped away with an indignant yelp. She felt Edward's hands rasp down her leg as he tried to grab her ankle but the swell was too strong. Her warning had been enough for Edward but too late for her, and this time she had no time for air. All she could do was tuck her knees into her chest and hope that the water would carry her into shore soon. The sound of the surf was a roar in her ears and she felt her clasp around her knees begin to slacken as her chest ached with the need for air. She had been underwater for at least a minute now and had absolutely no sense of direction. By the time her roll began to slow there were spots of lights dancing in front of her eyes and she was dimly aware of her body starting to relax.
The world was getting quiet and she could hear the muted sounds of splashing nearby. She dimly wondered how much more she would hear before she drifted away into the dark. Her chest hurt and she felt herself relax and open her mouth to breathe. There was no air but her body didn't care, sending out frantic messages that had Bella breathing in water.
More splashing, but her body drifted instead of being buffeted in the water. The splashing paused and then started again in earnest, getting closer now. It wasn't a wave, it was Edward, who scooped her up in his arms and carried her towards the shore. Bella hung in his arms coughing and spluttering as he staggered before dropping to his knees. He alternated between clutching her to his chest and then pounding her on her back before holding her at arm's length to see if she was okay.
"Bella," he repeated, "come on sweetheart, open your eyes," he coaxed in a voice that sounded a little hoarse.
".. 'kay," she gave a weak cough, salt water dribbling down her chin.
"Oh thank God," Edward pulled her to his chest and rocked back and forth slowly. Another wave washed through and buffeted them gently where they sat in the shallows.
Bella recognised the voice and cracked her eyes open to see Sam standing on the beach regarding them with some concern.
"She got dumped again," Edward explained, his voice a warm comforting rumble in his chest. Bella sighed and nestled closer, wanting to sleep.
"I saw," Sam nodded, "she was under for over two minutes."
"Is that all?" Bella offered slight smile.
"Felt like longer," Edward muttered. "That's it, we're done today."
Bella eased herself off his lap and then allowed Edward to help her stand.
"You're making a habit of this you know," Edward commented as Bella swayed against him.
"Hey c'mon," Bella had stopped coughing and gave him a gentle punch on the shoulder, "that's only twice now."
"Twice too many," Edward commented as he kept an arm around her shoulders, looking over his shoulder to check the surf even though they were well out of harm's way.
"So," Sam cocked his head to regard the way Bella and Edward were standing entwined. "I suppose we can all guess why you two have been a no-show for the last few mornings."
Bella ducked her head against Edward's chest with a blush at Sam's knowing chuckle.
"Sue's going to be very pleased with herself," Sam observed, "and as for you," he indicated Edward with a nod of his head. "You've been swimming down here long enough, I think I might have to get you a Pod shirt.
Edward regarded the t-shirt's proud slogan. Where were you in winter? Another wave rolled through, a bigger one this time that washed knee-deep against their legs. The undertow began to pull them back as the wave receded and Bella stumbled against Edward's side in a way that had him clutching him to her.
"Thanks, Sam," Edward grinned and gave Bella a very public kiss.
"Might not see much of you in winter though," Sam went on in a leading tone, "I think you've both found a better way to keep warm."
Sue watched the exchange from her table on the café deck and then sipped at her coffee with a satisfied smile. That had all worked out very nicely indeed. Now, her eyes narrowed slightly as she watched Tanya laughing with Eric, another member of the Pod. His divorce had been finalised six months ago and he was being incredibly shy despite his obvious interest in the waitress who looked after them all with affection. She was going to have to do something about those two next.
A/N: At last! A one-shot that's actually a ONE-shot.
This one is all the fault of Swimom7 who incidentally, has a great story going called INTERVAL TRAINING. Go check it out!
I've written another one called 'In a Flash', but that one's for the 'Fics for Nashville' fundraiser. A simple donation of $5 will get you a collection of one-shots written by FF authors across a range of genres. I'll post some details on where to donate as soon as I have them.