A/N...With a deep breath, I start a new adventure....
Just a little note before you start...
Let me start by saying that I got this idea by watching a special on the Applachian Trail. It's over 2100 miles from Georgia to Maine, through 13 states, and it's completely done on foot. There are hostels along the way, not to mention campsites. They say it takes approximately 6 months from beginning to end.
Nature of Love is not about the AT...but about Bella Swan, photojournalist, documenting the experience. It's about the relationships that develop along the way with brothers, Edward and Emmett, and friendships, hardships, and getting to know each other for the next 6 months. Plus, life after the trail.
Edward is a lost soul, trying to find himself with the help of his brother, Emmett. He is haunted by nightmares and a dark past. The nightmares start to wane as soon as he begins hiking with Bella and her dog, Maggie.
Like I said, it's not about the states or the trail. Everything that you will read will be completely fictional...every hostel, character, and landmarks are not real. This story isn't meant to be a documentary, but a fictional story. This is about love, loss, relationships, friendships, and trust.
SM owns the characters...I own the plot. This rated M for many reasons.
The Drop Off Point
"Jesus, Bells. You really don't have to do this," Mike sighed. He looked extremely guilty, which he should.
"It's called a job," I sighed, opening the door to his car and walking around to the trunk. "Something your little girlfriend might benefit from, I might add," I mumbled to myself, rolling my eyes.
"If this is about me moving out..."
I groaned, my head falling back with frustration. "It's not about you moving out, or your cheating, or even the fact that I can't stand the sight of you. It's about my job, Michael." I frowned as I realized we were not the only ones in the parking lot. "I am a photojournalist. This has been a long time coming, and you know it. So stop acting like the victim, it's disgusting."
"But six months?" he asked, shifting on his feet.
"Damn it," I growled, snatching my backpack out of the trunk and setting it at my feet. "Fuck, I wish Charlie could have taken his vacation days for this. Let Mags out of the car."
"Hell no!" He shook his head. "She hates me."
My head turned when Maggie popped her giant head out of the backseat window. "Hey, pretty girl, tell him you can't help it that you have an asshole detector built in." I heard a few chuckles behind me, and spun around to see two guys, one largely built and the other leaner with dark hair and unusual reddish highlights, trying to stifle their amusement at me. I shook my head. "Let her out, Mike."
"Fine," he groaned, opening the back door to let my best friend out. My German Shepherd was the equivalent of my child and guardian. She stood in the doorway for a moment, eying Mike. With a quick flash of her large white teeth and a deep, "Boof," she hopped out and came to my side.
"Good girl," I laughed. She hated my now ex-boyfriend since he brought another woman into our home. It was just one more reason to love and trust my dog. And apparently entertain the boys behind me. As I hooked Maggie's leash to her collar, I looked over at the boys again. They were unloading their own equipment, casting glances my way.
The bigger one turned to the other and said, "Five bucks says the guy cheated." His smile was huge and sweet, with dimples on each cheek. I snorted, kissed Maggie's head, and stood up straight.
"Here's how this will work," I sighed, realizing this is the third time I had explained this trip to him, and he still didn't get it. "Six months," I said. "That's over two thousand miles, thirteen states, and almost three different seasons. I'm taking pictures of the whole thing. The publisher is waiting for it, Michael. It's not about you. Keep the apartment, keep the plants...fuck, keep the furniture. You probably ruined it anyway. But this," I motioned between the two of us, "is over. I'll fly back to New York when I'm done. I'll be out of contact until then." That was a lie. I was only going to be out of contact with him.
"Don't call me, I'll call you. Is that it?" He frowned. "Look, Bells..." He sighed, shoving his hands in his front pockets. "I know I fucked up," he whispered, shaking his head slowly. "I can't explain it."
"I don't care," I laughed, pulling on my jacket and tugging on my backpack. "Your timing was perfect. Now you can fuck your teenage girlfriend all you want, with no worries," I smirked, folding my arms across my chest.
"Damn it, Bella," he growled, "she's twenty."
"Once again...I don't care." With one last check that I had everything I needed and could carry, I hooked Maggie's leash to my belt. It wasn't that she needed a leash, but the rules on the Appalachian Trail were all about respect for everyone else. "Go home, Mike. It's been real."
He took a step towards me, and Maggie growled deeply, lowering her head. "She hates me."
"She does hate you. And with good reason." I nodded, walking past him. "Go home," I mumbled, rolling my eyes.
I walked past the two boys as they shouldered their own packs and waved goodbye to their ride. I looked up at the leaner one, and my breath caught. He was beyond handsome. Beautiful, really. His green eyes were sharp, his smile crookedly spectacular as he looked at Maggie and me. "You owe the big guy five bucks," I sighed, walking past them.
"Aw, dude! I told you," his friend laughed, doubling over.
"Shut up, Emmett!" the pretty one growled, smacking his shoulder. Even his voice was beautiful. It was smooth, almost comforting.
"Pay up, tool," Emmett boomed from behind me. I huffed a laugh and kept walking.
Mike was right, it was about his cheating. I actually wasn't scheduled to go on this hike until next year. When I found out my boyfriend of two years had been cheating on me for half of that, I decided it was time to go.
The Appalachian Trail was twenty one hundred miles. Thruhikers, which was what I would be considered, traveled south to north through thirteen states. It took approximately six months to walk from Georgia to Maine. With stops at hostels and campsites along the way, it was supposed to be the ultimate in communing with nature. It was supposed to be the best hiking experience ever. And I was going to get it on film, publishing a book about the entire thing.
It was late March, so there was a light dusting of snow on the ground as Maggie and I made our way into the trail. The further I got from Mike and the parking lot, the better. Maggie whined, looking up at me as I wiped away a tear.
"Don't sweat it, Mags," I sighed, scratching her head. She read my moods better than anyone I knew. "Now no one can kick you out of bed." I smiled as she wagged her tail and bounded a few steps ahead. "Silly girl."
"Thanks for the ride down here, Uncle Alec," Emmett said, grinning as he opened the door.
We met at the back of the truck, pulling out our equipment. I cast a glance around the drop off area of the Appalachian Trail. The AT was something my brother and I had dreamed of doing since we'd started college. Both of us loved the outdoors, but neither of us had the time until now.
"It's about my job, Michael," I heard behind me. I turned to see a couple at the back of a car. She was very pretty, long dark hair, and she was pissed. The guy with her was nervous. "Let Mags out," she sighed, looking like it was taking all she had not to smack the guy with over-processed hair. I smiled when the head of a German Shepherd popped out of the back window.
"Hell no!" Michael whined, "She hates me."
"And with good reason, I bet," my brother chuckled. "She looks like she wants to deck him." He smirked, folding his arms across his chest. "Should we do it for her?"
"No," I smiled, breaking into a laugh when the dog indeed showed her displeasure for the man. "Damn." I chuckled when the girl praised the dog.
"Five bucks says he cheated," Emmett snickered, checking his gear and casting side glances at the girl.
"Maybe," I sighed, thinking the guy was an idiot if he had. She was pretty, and obviously sharp-witted, but she held herself with pride in front of him. She smiled when she hooked the leash onto the large Shepherd, shaking her head. "She heard you, dude," I laughed, shrugging my pack on.
"She's hot, man," he sighed, pulling on his own pack.
"Leave her alone," I frowned. My brother had no shame when it came to girls. Break-ups could be nasty. I understood that if she was going on this hike to get away, then she needed space.
We both turned to our uncle, and I said, "Thanks again. Tell Aunt Jane we'll be fine and not to worry. First chance we get, we'll check in."
"Look, boys," he sighed, "I know things are rough between you and your parents, but check in with them, too, okay? Six months is a long time not to hear from your kids."
"Fine, Uncle Alec," Emmett grumbled. I said nothing. Although our parents were the reason, financially, we were able to do this, our relationship with them was tentative at best. "What parent buys his own kids' business right out from under them?"
"He was protecting you boys. You were about to go under."
"Whatever, he can have it," I growled. "I would have rather gone under on our own than have Daddy come to the rescue." Dad had everyone around him snowed. He was a prick.
"Edward," Alec warned, sighing with frustration. "You two are more like him than you know. Give that some thought. Good luck and be careful."
"We will." We both nodded, waving as he drove away.
I turned my attention back to the girl, and my breath caught as I watched her walk away from Michael. The dog was trotting happily by her side. She wasn't just pretty; she was stunning. And so very sad. When her deep brown eyes locked with mine, I could barely breathe.
"You owe the big guy five bucks," she sighed wearily as she passed us.
"Aw, dude! I told you," my idiot brother boomed loudly, holding his sides as he laughed. It wasn't funny.
"Shut up, Emmett," I growled, as I watched the facade that she had been holding up fall away. I smacked his shoulder.
I had a feeling that once her back was to us, she let it all go. I had an overwhelming desire to protect her. Being cheated on sucked. I don't care who you were.
"Pay up, tool," he smirked, holding out his hand. I rolled my eyes. My brother could be an insensitive jerk sometimes. I pulled out a five and slapped into his awaiting hand.
I lost sight of the girl after a few hours into the first leg of our hike. Emmett and I were both quiet. I didn't have to read my brother's mind to know that he was thinking about our parents. Carlisle Cullen was the CEO and founder of Cullen Construction. My brother and I had started our own roofing business, EE Roofing, and found ourselves outbid on just about every job that came our way. We were outbid by our own father. I knew he was a shrewd businessman, but I never thought the man that had taught me how to throw a baseball would make sure my own business failed. It was revenge. We didn't want to work for him. We wanted to make it on our own, and he was angry at us because of it.
We came up on a vista overlooking a mountainous range, and suddenly, I was staring into the face of a giant dog. She was sitting eerily still and staring at us, her eyes sharp. As I got closer, her teeth bared. Her owner was down on her knees with a camera in her hands, snapping pictures of the stunning view.
"Um, those are really big teeth," Emmett muttered.
"Oh, shit," the girl gasped, "Maggie, get your fuzzy butt over here." She stood, pointing to the ground beside her. "Sit. Stay. Sorry, guys," she said, her face either pink from the cool air or a sweet blush, I couldn't quite tell. Maggie fell at her feet, looking up at her for her next command.
Emmett smiled. "It's cool. I'm Emmett, by the way." He stopped when Maggie bared her teeth again. "This dork is my brother," he laughed, hitting my shoulder with the back of his hand, "Edward."
"Bella," she giggled, when I rolled my eyes. "Are you guys doing the whole trail?"
"Yeah," I nodded, still eying the large dog.
"Then here," she smiled, catching my wariness. "Maggie, say hello to Emmett and Edward." Maggie stood up, moved in front of us, and sat back down. She held out her paw for a shake.
"No way," I laughed.
"She's more human than most people I know," Bella snorted. "But once she's met you, she won't be so...on guard."
Emmett knelt down, holding out his hand, and Maggie placed her paw in his large hand. "Nice to meet you, Maggie," he chuckled. The dog looked like she was laughing at my brother when he tried some stupid secret handshake on her.
"Move, you big oaf," I sighed, shoving him away to Bella's entertainment. "Hey, Maggie." I smiled, holding my hand out, but she stepped up and licked my face, her tail wagging. "Ha! She likes me better."
"Apparently," Bella laughed. "Maggie, enough." She reached down and hooked the leash back on the dog.
"Photographer?" Emmett asked, stealing my next question and pointing to her camera.
"Photojournalist," she nodded, putting the cap on the lens and hanging the strap around her neck. "I'm documenting this whole...thing." She bit her bottom lip, her brow wrinkling slightly.
"By yourself?" my brother asked, his mouth hanging open.
"Yeah," she sighed, turning towards the trail. "For a while anyway," she smiled sadly. "My manager is supposed to meet me at the halfway point. She couldn't start with me."
"Still, that's a thousand miles, Bella," I frowned. "Alone?"
She laughed, nodding her head. It changed her whole demeanor. The darkness of her eyes lightened, and her hand nervously tucked her hair behind her ear. "I'm used to being alone," she smiled, the sadness creeping back across her face. She shrugged. "And I'm used to camping. I grew up in Washington. My dad like to 'rough it'."
"No shit?" Emmett beamed. "Seattle," he motioned between us.
"I went to UW," she smiled.
"We did, too," he nodded, "for about a year."
And they were off and running. I sighed, falling back slightly. Emmett was the more outgoing of the two of us. I looked down to see that Maggie had fallen in step with me. She stared up at me with almost a doggie grin. I smiled, ruffling her head. I looked up to see Bella watching us, a slight smile on her face. Again, a pinkness tinged her features. So it was a blush.
We walked for miles, sometimes quiet and sometimes with Emmett dominating the conversation. When we finally came to the first hostel, I was tired of hearing his voice.
"I gotta take a piss," he sighed, walking away.
Bella snorted, shaking her head and sitting down on a rock. She pulled Maggie's leash off, saying, "Go ahead, pretty girl. Scope it out." Maggie huffed a soft "woof" and tore away, her tail in the air.
I sat down against a tree with a sigh.
"Your brother is quite...hmm, chatty," Bella snickered, leaning her pack against the rock.
I closed my eyes to stop myself from staring at her. I wanted to know what made those flashes of sadness, what made her shoulders hunch in wariness. And it didn't help that she was so very attractive that I could barely think a straight thought.
"He is quite verbal," I smirked, not opening my eyes.
"So, that makes you the shy one," she mumbled.
"I suppose. If he bugs you, just tell him to shut the hell up. He will. He won't even take offense."
She giggled, and I opened my eyes to see her lay a few sticks down in the center of the clearing.
"Hey, let me help," I frowned, jumping up from where I was sitting. "I can't let you build our first fire." I smiled, bringing a few small twigs to start it.
"'Kay," she nodded, her brow wrinkling again. She turned her head quickly, and walked away to find more wood.
"Ed, I'm starving," Emmett growled, plopping down.
I got the fire going and rummaged around in our packs for supplies. I pulled out some beef jerky and tossed my brother a bag. Bella returned, setting a bowl down, and poured water in it for her dog.
"Jerky?" I offered.
"Soup?" she countered. "I can heat it up for everyone. This will be a cold night, I think."
"Hell yeah," Emmett nodded. "You know, I can keep you warm."
"Emmett," I sighed, shaking my head.
"As tempting as that is," she rolled her eyes and I laughed, "um, no. Maggie is perfect. And that's the worst line ever, Emmett." She laughed, rolling her eyes again as he chuckled and nodded. She turned to me. "You're right. He doesn't get offended."
"Told you," I laughed, tossing her a bag of jerky, which she caught nicely.
"Thanks," she smiled sweetly.
"Wait," my brother smirked, "you talked about me when I was gone?"
"Yeah," I laughed, "about your big trap and how it never shuts. Eat. Put something in your mouth, bro."
"Come here, Mags," Bella sighed, giving my brother one more side glance. She took a bag of food out and poured a little into a bowl. Maggie tore into it. She also set a kettle of water on the fire. "Give that a minute."
"Yes, ma'am," we both said, watching her walk away.
I poked the fire as the dawn slowly crept in. I set more logs on and added water to the kettle. I wanted, no...hell no, I needed coffee. I looked over at the sleeping forms of Emmett and Edward. Emmett sucked in a snore and rolled over. I bit back a laugh and shook my head. My gaze shot up when Edward sat almost straight up with a gasp of air. He was sweating, despite the cold air.
Maggie ran to him instantly and settled down beside him. She took great pride in making bad dreams go away, and for some reason, she really liked Edward. Excellent taste, Mags, I thought wryly.
I wasn't even sure if he was truly awake. He laid back down, his fingers curled in her fur. She snuggled closer with a comforting sigh. I smiled when her muzzle rested on his chest.
As much as Emmett talked the first day, I found that when Edward actually did speak, he was polite and intelligent; something I was not expecting from such a good looking guy. He looked like the type of man that could walk into a room and command the hormones of every female, sending them into heat immediately.
Damn, Bells, you really need more human friends, I snorted, sitting back against the rock.
Emmett was like every guy I grew up with – cocky, loud, and crass. My friend Jake would have gotten along with him perfectly. Edward was different. His nightmare confirmed the darkness I saw in his green eyes. As my father, Charlie, would put it, Edward had seen some shit. While he looked to be about my age, his eyes looked like they held the wisdom of someone far older, someone that had witnessed sad and terrible things.
"Good morning to you too, Maggie." I heard a soft chuckle from the other side of the fire. I smiled, made Edward a cup of coffee, and took it to him. My dog was licking his neck, and I was quite jealous for a split second. "Coffee?" he asked sleepily, taking the cup from me with a soft smile.
"She rushed to you a moment ago," I whispered, kneeling beside them both. He sipped his mug, stopping when I continued. "She's good at smoothing nightmares. I call her my dream-catcher." His eyes shot to his brother and back to me in a panic. I shook my head. "Your secret's safe. He's still sleeping."
"Thanks," he murmured, nodding, and focused on his mug like it was the only thing that existed.
"I'm going to fill up my canteen. Want me to get yours?" I looked at him for a moment, thinking he looked deliciously sleep rumpled and nervous. "Since we're apparently hiking together, we can all deal, right?"
"Um, yeah, thanks."
"Come on, Mags," I sighed, standing up. "Let's get you some water, too."
I walked away from him, thinking he needed a moment. He seemed embarrassed at having been caught having a nightmare. I could imagine with Emmett's personality, he could get quite the teasing. While I liked the boisterous big guy, I bet he was hell on his brother growing up.
"So, wait a damn minute," Emmett growled. I sighed and rolled my eyes. "My baby brother got coffee, and I didn't."
"I'm not really sure I want to see you with caffeine in your system," I frowned, looking up at him. "The thought is quite scary, actually." Edward snorted behind us, nodding in agreement when I turned to look at him.
"Laugh it up, Eddie," he huffed.
"Edward," his brother growled. "Damn it."
"Not a fan of nicknames, huh?" I smirked, watching him pout adorably.
"Not for my name," he sighed. He had been a little standoffish when we first started out that morning, but had slowly come around.
"Well, I prefer the nickname to the full name," I countered with a grimace.
"It can't be that bad," he chuckled.
"Isabella," I sighed.
He eyed me for a moment, a smile playing on his handsome features. "Hmm, it's a pretty name, but Bella suits you better." There was a look on his face I couldn't quite place.
I nodded. "As Edward does you. Eddie...not so much."
"Thanks," he smiled, his face reddening a little.
"Are you two done?" Emmett pouted. "I want to get back to our traveling rules." I jumped, realizing I had completely forgotten he was there. I had let myself get wrapped up in Edward, forgetting everything else.
"Yeah, yeah, rules." I sighed, shaking my head to clear it, and felt my tell-tale blush creep over my face. "And after that, you're shutting up for a while." Edward laughed, his head falling back in amusement.
"Good girl," he chuckled, sending a wink my way.
"Fine," Emmett sighed. "Okay, so you're obviously better at the food thing. We can handle the fire thing."
"Right...man make fire," I grunted, rolling my eyes. "Are you seriously giving me that caveman bullshit?"
"It's not bullshit, it's a fact. Men created fire. It's a naturally born talent," Emmett huffed.
"Oh, Em," Edward snorted, shaking his head. "Bella looks small, but I guarantee she and Maggie can kick your ass." I giggled, shooting him a wink. Maggie woofed in agreement, getting a scratch on the head from Edward.
"Fine," Emmett sighed again. "We'll just share everything. But I want coffee in the morning."
"If you're up, you can. Sleep in like today, and no chance, buddy." I pointed at him. "Sounded like sleeping with a grizzly in the camp," I mumbled.
"I don't snore."
"Yes, you do," Edward and I said together.
"Oh yeah?" He looked between us. "And how did you sleep, Eddie?"
"I slept fine," he murmured, looking out into the trees around us. He looked hurt and guarded. I frowned, looking up at Emmett. I didn't know why, but suddenly I wanted to punch him.
"Rules are done. We don't need rules. Shut up, Emmett," I sighed.
We walked along quietly for a few miles, when I glanced over at Edward, who was staring at me with a confused look on his face. He turned away quickly when he caught my eye.
A log popped loudly in the fire, snapping me out of a dream that I couldn't quite wrap my sleepy mind around. I sat up and stretched, then reached for Maggie, and came up empty handed. I looked at the loud lump that was a snoring Emmett, and then over at Edward. Maggie was snuggled next to him as his hands twitched in his sleep.
Using the light of the fire, I found my pen and notebook. I lay down and started to jot down a few notes. I wanted to keep as accurate a record of my journey as I could. It also helped me get rid of some of my thoughts. As I wrote about Mike, I sighed, tears hitting the pages.
I had known him most of my life, graduating high school and attending UW together. We naturally bonded and formed a relationship. As another log cracked in the fire, I wondered if it was all a waste. Had I been shocked that he cheated? Yes. But was I heartbroken? No. That thought caused me the most sadness. What a waste of time. What a shame that we just did what we thought the other wanted, what everyone expected of us.
With a whine, Maggie slipped from under Edward's arm and trotted over to stand in front of me. She plopped down with a sigh. "Keeping you busy, aren't we?" I sniffled, rubbing her nose. Between Edward's nightmares and my tears, Maggie didn't know which one to help first.
"You okay?" I heard a voice softly beside me. I sat up, wiping my face, and nodded. Maggie lay her head in my lap. "May I?" Edward asked, pointing beside me. I nodded, looking down at my dog as he sat down on my sleeping blanket next to me.
"Yeah," he sighed. "You?"
"They say it takes a few nights to get used to," he said, nodding. Maggie got up, squeezed between us, and settled down with a sigh.
"If she bothers you, let me know." I shook my head. "I've honestly never seen her take to anyone this quickly."
"It's fine." He smiled, the light from the fire highlighting his sharp jawline. He was showing signs of stubble. "She helps actually," he mumbled, his brow furrowing as he stared into the flames. Emmett snorted in his sleep and rolled over, pulling a frown from Edward. "Thanks for not telling him."
"Telling him what?" I smirked, finally getting a small, sad smile from him. He nodded, running his long fingers through Maggie's fur. He looked up at me, studying my face.
"You missed one." His voice was soft as he reached over and brushed a stray tear away. I felt his soft touch everywhere. My cheeks flamed in response. "He hurt you, didn't he?" he asked quietly. "That guy that dropped you off. You weren't kidding about the five bucks."
"No," I snorted, shaking my head. "I wasn't kidding."
"Idiot," Edward grunted, shaking his head.
"He is that," I smiled. "Mike and I had known each other a long time – through high school and college. We had the same friends, hung out at the same places. Naturally, people assumed we were together. Eventually, we were together. I just don't remember actually making that choice."
I sighed, rubbing my face. Edward reached over, brushed a hair away from my face, then motioned for me to continue.
"After college, we moved in together. He was cheating on me for a year of the two years we shared the same apartment. Jessica." I huffed in annoyance after voicing her name. "She was nineteen when they met. He's almost twenty-six. Why the age bothers me, I don't know," I shrugged. "Maybe it was because it felt like he was trading me in for a new model. Or maybe it was because she was everything he said I wasn't. Pretty, blonde, sweet, and stupid."
"Sounds like he found his perfect match," Edward smirked, and then tilted his head at me, "though I'm sorry you were hurt in the process."
"I didn't think of it that way," I sniffled, smiling despite the topic of conversation. "You're right, they are perfect for each other." I gave a soft laugh. "I'm not as hurt as I thought I'd be."
"It's still a betrayal, Bella," he frowned, petting Maggie in long strokes. She took a deep breath and sighed. "And you shouldn't let him tell you that you aren't pretty. That's an unforgivable sin. You're beautiful." My heart beat pounded at his words, our eyes meeting in the flickering fire light. He looked so sincere and so very vulnerable at that moment.
Before I had a chance to thank him or pinch him to make sure he was really awake, Emmett made a sound again, rolling over. "Pizza," he groaned in his sleep.
I snorted, covering my face to hide my laugh. Edward's deep chuckle joined mine, and we soon found ourselves trying super hard not to make any noise, but our laughter could not be contained. I fell over, trying to muffle my giggles into Maggie's fur.
"He's so hearing about this tomorrow," Edward snorted.
"You should do it subliminally," I chuckled. "Just throw the word pizza out randomly throughout the day."
"Okay." He smiled, and for the first time, his face was shockingly beautiful and young. "Together?"
"Sure," I nodded, a yawn taking me by surprise.
"Get some sleep," he said, smiling sweetly, and started to get up.
"Take her," I said, pointing to Maggie. "If she helps you...I mean, she loves to do it."
"Will you tell me about her tomorrow?" he asked suddenly. "A dog like that...there's got to be a story."
I nodded. "There is, and I promise. Mags," I whispered, "go take care of him." She got up and trotted over to his sleeping bag to wait for him. "Edward?" I sighed, looking up at him as he brushed off his jeans. "Um, thanks."
"You're welcome, and thank you."
I rolled over the next morning to see Bella still curled in a ball, asleep. My brother was still snoring away. "She looks cold, Maggie," I sighed, "go lay with her." Maggie gave my cheek a quick lick, and softly trotted over to her owner. There was a part of me that was jealous of the dog as she snuggled under Bella's arm.
After taking care of business, I started filling the canteens. The best part of the hostels, even though they were just basically sheds with a clearing, was the fact that they had running water. According to the map, there was another hostel just inside North Carolina that had beds and other amenities. I was looking forward to a shower and shave. I hated for my beard to get too thick, because it started to itch.
I set a pot on the fire for coffee, and set about rolling up my sleeping bag. My mind wandered back to Bella's and my conversation in the middle of the night. The nightmare had woken me up, but it was her tears that drew me to her. She had looked so hurt, so small, curled up on her sleeping blanket. I didn't know what it was, but just being near her made me feel comforted, calm – quite the opposite of my nightmares, that was for sure.
I ran a frustrated hand through my hair as I remembered the things her ex had said to her. What he had done to her. She was too beautiful, too smart, to have put up with his crap. And it was his loss. I had only known her for a few days, but he had known her his whole life. That fact alone made me angry. Bella said she wasn't as hurt as she thought she'd be, but she was still upset about it. Who could blame her?
I turned to look at her. She looked so sweet, so vulnerable curled up with her dog. Her face was relaxed, and her long eyelashes rested on her cheeks. She never once asked me about my bad dreams. She just offered help, keeping my secret from Emmett. There was a part of me that wanted her to ask, but then another part of me knew she'd run screaming from me once she heard the truth.
My brother was well aware I had nightmares. We lived together, but he didn't understand why I wasn't over them already. Emmett had such an easy going disposition that I don't think he'd had a bad dream since we were kids. I was different. Our mother called me her quiet brooder.
I sighed at the thought of our mom. Esme Cullen was the best mother anyone could hope for. It wasn't her fault Dad had acted like a jerk. I decided right then to call her as soon as we reached either a land line phone or a cell signal. I knew she would want to hear from us. Ignoring our parents because we were mad at our father wasn't fair to her.
"Hey," I heard softly behind me. I turned to see Bella holding out her bag of coffee. "Thanks for putting the water on." She yawned adorably. "Do you mind? I'm going to..." I couldn't help but smile when she yawned again.
"I got it," I chuckled. "Go do what you have to do to wake up."
"'Kay." She smiled sleepily and took Maggie with her into the woods.
Emmett sat up, stretching. "You like her," Emmett whispered, his brow wrinkling.
"Yeah, she's cool," I nodded. I tried to sound nonchalant, but I knew he wouldn't buy it.
"Ed, it's all right," he smiled, sitting up. "She's more your personality type than mine. And I think she digs you, too, man." He yawned, looking like a big bear. "She knows about the dreams," he stated, looking at me sharply. I nodded, frowning at him. "You should tell her. I bet she won't care."
"She'll hate me, Em," I growled, standing up to grab the hot water off of the fire. "Here." I sighed, handing him a cup of coffee.
"Thanks...and she won't hate you," he sighed, rolling his eyes. "Ed, it wasn't your fault." This was the side of my brother he rarely showed, and the reason he was also my best friend. He did care. He was very protective of those he loved, and he would give anything to take away their pain.
"Enough," I barked, seeing her come from the woods looking a bit fresher. I poured her a cup and handed it to her.
Bella looked between the two of us, so observant. She smirked. "So, according to the map and everything I've read, there's a place just inside North Carolina we can stay. Showers, hot food...even," she snorted into her cup, "pizza." I huffed a laugh, turning away from her, or I would lose it. I didn't think she would really do it.
"Aw, damn," Emmett sighed longingly, "what I wouldn't give for pizza."
"Can we stop?" Bella groaned, rubbing her leg. "I know, I'm acting like a girl, but..."
"Yeah," Emmett smiled, "come on, Princess." He headed for an overlook, helping her take her pack off.
"Screw you," she growled, smacking his arm. "Fucking leg cramp."
We had just come through quite the up and down terrain. I needed a break as well. "Thank God," I sighed, plopping down beside her and taking a long drink from my canteen.
She pulled out her camera, snapping a few shots of the bridge we were about to cross. She sighed. "Mags, get back over here." Maggie was panting, her tongue lolling out as she sat between us. "Drink, pretty girl," Bella crooned, setting a bowl of water in front of the dog.
When Maggie had licked the bowl dry, she slurped up the side of my face in a wet kiss. "Aw, Maggie," I groaned and laughed at the same time, wiping the drool from my face.
"Sorry," Bella laughed. It was a sweet sound, like a child only so much more. "Oh, I was supposed to tell you how I got her!" She smiled.
"Yeah," I nodded, eager to hear about the dog. She was super smart, and quite the personality. I couldn't imagine she came from a pet store.
"My dad's a cop," she nodded, stashing Maggie's bowl back into her pack. "He's the Chief of Police in a little town called Forks, Washington. Ever heard of it?"
"Hell yeah," Emmett and I smiled. My brother added, "It's not far from that Indian reservation we used to hang out at."
"Right," Bella beamed, "La Push." We nodded excitedly. All of us were pretty shocked we came from the same area. It was a fucking small world.
A dark look came over her face, but she continued, giving me a pointed glare. "Mike and I had just found a new place right outside New York City. We'd had a place for a year, but wanted a bigger apartment. Then we went home for the holidays."
"That's the guy that dropped you off?" Emmett frowned.
"Yeah," she sighed, wincing at the memory. "Anyway, Mike went to his family and I stayed with Charlie, my dad. There was a cookout with all of his officers. One of them bred German Shepherds. You know, police dogs."
"She's a cop dog?" I laughed, eying Maggie and looking back at Bella, who was smiling and nodding.
"Okay, so Paul, the officer and breeder, told me to go check the new litter out in the barn and I did," she smiled sweetly with the memory. "While I'm out there, my cell goes off and it's Mike. He was calling to tell me that he was flying back to New York. You see what he did, don't you?" She looked at me with a frown. "He went to her."
I wanted to throw Mike off the overlook we were sitting on, rub the fret from between her brows, and protect her from guys like that – all at one time. The feeling was overwhelming.
"I should have known then," she muttered. "I think a part of me did, because I was pissed. I kicked the closest thing to me and it was a metal bucket. All it did was hurt my foot." She snorted adorably. "I sat down and cried angry tears. This little puppy waddled up to me and crawled up into my arms. Maggie. She was round and sweet. Her ears hadn't even popped up yet. I had to have her. She made me feel so much better. I couldn't explain it.
"So, I asked Paul," she continued, "but he wasn't going to sell her to me. She was worth too much as a police dog."
"What? Why?" Emmett growled, apparently not realizing the story obviously had a happy ending, considering Maggie was sitting right there.
"Emmett," I chuckled, shaking my head. Bella giggled, looked at me, and continued with her story.
"I begged, pleaded, bribed, and blackmailed. Nothing worked. Even Charlie saw how much I wanted her, and offered to take her as another cop. Nothing worked. I had almost given up. Just before I left for New York, Paul called me. He said she'd failed her health check, and he couldn't use her after all."
"What the hell?" I asked, looking at Maggie, who looked perfectly healthy to me.
"Her eye." She smiled. "Look," she said, pulling Maggie's head up. "See that scar on her left eye?" Emmett and I nodded. "She had to have surgery to remove a growth. But she was considered imperfect. I took her home with me that next day."
"She was fated for you," Emmett beamed.
"One tiny scar and she's imperfect." I shook my head.
"It's the scar that made her mine," she smiled. "Scars are good things. They make us who we are."
"Understatement," Emmett smirked, looking at me with a raised eyebrow. I sighed, nodding, but I wasn't sure I agreed. Scars made us imperfect. I agreed with Paul – it was my scars that would make me unworthy of the girl sitting next to me.
"How's your leg?" I asked, standing up. My voice sounded rough and angry. I took a deep breath to calm myself.
"Better," she frowned, gauging my mood. "We can go. We'll be in North Carolina either today or tomorrow."
"Yeah," I nodded.
"Thanks for the story," Emmett smiled, but his eyes were on me. He looked like he could hit me.
"Thanks for the break," she mumbled.
I knew my change in demeanor had hurt her feelings. Just one more reason that she was too good for me. I was way too moody for the sunny personality that was Bella.
Bella stayed quiet for miles. Not just miles, but until we came to the last campsite in Georgia. It didn't help that I wasn't talkative either. Emmett had apparently had enough, though.
"Hey, bro," Emmett sneered, gripping my neck roughly. "Come help me find some firewood." He practically threw me into the woods. "I love you, man. You're my baby brother. But you gotta lighten up. This is a fucking long walk we're on. You like her. I like her. I don't see us separating from her, do you?"
"No," I frowned. I had grown so accustomed to her that the mere thought of walking the rest of the AT without her caused an ache to throb through me.
"Then chill the fuck out. You don't want to tell her, then don't, but don't take your sorry ass mood out on us. Neither Bella nor I deserve it." I nodded, closing my eyes to relax. "And, Edward? She won't hate you," he whispered, his face nothing but sincere.
Dinner wasn't as quiet as the day was, but everyone was a little edgy. Bella sat quietly with her notebook open, writing away. I watched her from my sleeping blanket as long as my eyes would stay open. I was hoping just the sight of her would keep the dreams away. I was wrong.
I woke up suddenly, gripping Maggie and sweating like I had run a marathon. I gasped, a cry leaving my lips before I could rein it back in. The dog snuggled closer, a soft sigh ghosting against my neck.
"Here," Bella sighed, handing me a cup of water. She reached up and wiped my brow, brushing my hair back. Her face was full of nothing but concern. Just her being near me made my heart settle down from the rapid pounding it had been doing in my chest.
"Thanks," I sighed. She started to stand and I grabbed her hand. "I was a jerk yesterday, I'm sorry."
"We all have bad days, Edward," she frowned. "I won't take it personally unless it is personal. Did I upset you?"
"No, God no," I shook my head.
"Look," she sighed, looking at where our hands were still together. "I don't know what your nightmares are about, but I know you've been through something. We don't really know each other, you have no reason to trust me, but if you need a friend, I'm in. Okay?" She squeezed my hand to make me look up at her. "I like hiking with you and your brother, but if..."
"Oh, please don't go," I begged, sitting up still holding her hand. For some reason, I couldn't find it in me to let it go. "I'm an ass, Bella. I'm moody and foul tempered. I'm the complete opposite of Emmett. But I would go mad with worry if you were off alone. Please don't. I promise to behave."
"You're also really sweet and kind, Edward. You know, you're the first person I've told about Mike?" I shook my head no, since I hadn't known. "I haven't even told my dad or my best friend that I left him. I just came on this hike. I was running away. But you know what?" she asked, tears filling her eyes.
"It followed me. There's no avoiding problems, or running away from them." She stared at me for a moment, and then looked down at our hands again. "I'm sure you have a thousand girls back home that could take care of you," she frowned, pulling her hand from mine. "But out here, I'll listen if you need to talk."
She started to stand.
"Bella," I said, shaking my head, "there's not a thousand. Hell, there's not even one. I'm not easy to deal with, and I..." I stopped, knowing I was saying too much.
"When you're ready..." She nodded, walking away and lying back down on her sleeping bag. Maggie got up with a huff, looking at me like I was a jackass. She walked over and snuggled with Bella.
I laid back down, knowing that it would take forever for sleep to come to me now.
I moved quietly about the camp, rolling up my sleeping bag, boiling water for coffee and oatmeal, and casting worried glances at a sweating, twitching Edward in his sleep. He was wrapped around Maggie, who was trying her hardest to keep him calm.
"She helps him sleep," Emmett said quietly, sitting up and following my gaze.
"She tries," I sighed. "She's been there for me more times than I can count. It's just her personality."
"You like my brother," he smiled, his dimples making him look like a little boy.
"He's a good listener," I said simply. I couldn't say more. I didn't know what I was feeling about Edward. When he held my hand the night before and apologized, telling me he was the opposite of the man I was currently talking to, I wanted to hold him and make everything bad disappear for him. "But there's a wall up around him."
"There is," he nodded. "He's...tortured with a mistake he thinks he made."
"Don't," I smiled, holding up my hand. "If he wants me to know...let him tell me."
"Fair enough," he smiled, standing. "I'll get the water."
"It's done." I held out a cup of coffee, and he sat down next to me. He wrapped his large arm around my shoulders.
"I'm gonna tell you a secret." He smirked. "When Eddie was on the way," he chuckled, "I wanted a sister instead." I giggled, leaning into him.
Edward stretched and rolled under Maggie's heavy head. "I'm sorry to have disappointed you," Edward sighed with a beautiful smirk from his sleeping bag. His hair was everywhere, giving him a just sexed look that had my heart skipping beats.
"Well, you're PMSy like a sister," Emmett teased, laughing when Edward flipped him off. He cast a glance our way before wandering into the woods. "Give him time," Emmett whispered in my ear. "You're good for him; he just doesn't know it yet. He'll see it before long."
I looked up at the guy that had driven me nuts from the minute I saw him. I was finally seeing the real Emmett. He was a big, sweet guy, fiercely protective of his brother. He honestly cared.
"We're just friends, Em," I frowned, looking at my cup. "I'm sure that's all we'll ever be."
"Right," he laughed, squeezing my arm and standing as soon as Edward joined us. "Next stop, North Carolina!"
A/N...There's the first chapter. I hope that you'll stick with it. I'm happy at the way this story is going. I hope you will be too.
Just so you know, time will move pretty quickly through this story. It's ridiculous to see every minute of their day, especially when they are walking.
I want to thank Jenrar for her beta skills on this...and thank you for taking on this project from me. I truly appreciate the help.
Please review, let me know what you think. I can't go on without input...okay that was a little over-dramatic, but whatever...LOL Just talk to me! ;)