Disclaimer: I own nothing Twilight-related. Anything recognizable as Twilight belongs to Stephenie Meyer
A/N: I wrote this as a one-shot. Then, I began to expand it. Things haven't worked out.
I had a very distinct vision for how I wanted this to go. I wanted to have an older adult couple (not 20 somethings) rediscover a chance they thought long lost. I intended for Edward to be damaged and not talk much as a result. I figured that they both had tried to live lives without one another for over 20 years. I wanted to show how each was making not-so-ideal choices because the stars hadn't aligned for them, so to speak.
I considered it an artistic choice not to announce/spoil that they did not start out together but rather were fully participating in other relationships and encounters with others. These encounters were integral to the plot I had in mind. Bella and the reader needed to witness him in order for the differences in his life to show as the story progressed.
Not making it clear upfront that Edward and Bella would be with others in the beginning was not well-received by some readers. I do understand their feelings. Unfortunately, that was the story I had wanted to write and I had plenty of others say they did not want "spoiled." So, I made a call & I'm not sure it was the right one.
Most everyone has been respectful and for that I am grateful.
I apologize to anyone who read this with the thought that I would expand and elaborate. Whenever I think I'm ready to jump back in and write this thing, I see another review that expresses the hope that I am not doing PRECISELY what I planned to do with the plot. Even though I am a firm believer that one should write whatever one feels compelled to write, knowing that so many people truly don't want it really dents my motivation.
So, I leave this here because I really do feel like the one-shot/first chapter is a solid story.
I leave the 2nd chapter up for kicks. Read it if you want. I'd be honored. At this time, however, I have no intention to write something that would upset so many.
I hope you understand.
These hardwood floors, run smooth by old-time whores, each with a tale ingrained.
I owed it to the old man. That's what I kept telling myself.
I walk up the long drive, a letter folded in my left shirt pocket. It had been years since I'd made my way up this lane.
Swore I'd never come back.
Over the years, the gravel drive had ground down; most of it was now dust, sticking to the cracks of my boots, coating the creases, the thinnest layer at the points. The dust that didn't stick kicked up around me, hovering like the brown cloud still twisting behind the pick-up that had dropped me off here.
The wisdom of the one-way ride is waning.
It's a long walk to town if the new owner doesn't take me on.
I'm not too concerned, though. They'd be downright stupid not to. No one else knew the place. No one else worked here; everyone's gone…one way or another.
A shadowed memory of a brown-eyed, young girl peaking up from a barrel invades my mind. She wears a huge white dress, her dark hair loose and tangled. She tries to get me to put down my shovel and look at new kittens.
I blink hard.
Like the gravel, worn down and nearly gone, so is this place.
Once a respectable little homestead, churning out real food, real work, real life…a generations old family operation, standing strong, as long as it could in changed times. Those times had changed again, this time in a small farm's favor. If the new owner needed help as much as the boys in town said, I had to believe it could happen.
I was going to save this place like it had saved me.
Though they are deepest red, I treat them like gold. Cherry tomatoes in pint containers line the counter, the stove and the top of the deep freeze. These are the last crops grown from the last seeds sown. They are the last of my grandmother.
She, of course, didn't plant them, these heirloom seeds. She's been gone for a while. An executor I never met, ran the place for nearly a year, stripped it really, but he'd had enough and moved on. It had come to me now. It had been mine all along, but I never stepped up, because, well…I am not a farmer.
I know Jack crap about farming.
Until this time yesterday, I was still able to catch a few spare moments where I could pretend this wasn't my reality. It's been half my life, fifteen plus years ago, since I've set foot on this farm. The peeling paint on the windmill a sad reminder of what time does to us all. Gravity is a ruthless bitch; I sag as much as the old barn roof.
Until yesterday, I'd been able to take a deep breath and, for a few glorious minutes, fully envision myself back in my apartment, crystal highball half-full of whatever-I-so-choose in-hand, kicking off my heels at the end of the day.
This time yesterday, I lost that ability. Nothing special happened. Not as far as I could tell. Just - this all became real - inescapably real.
Everyone was gone, not that there were that many people in the first place. Mom, who I hadn't talked to since college: car crash years ago. Dad: line of duty. Grandpa: stroke. Gramma: broken heart six weeks later.
Everyone leaves. One way or another, everyone leaves.
And I'd given up everything left in my life to come here.
To come to this land, the place where my grandparents had met and stayed, until their dying days. The love they shared coated the place, saturated it, or it had always felt that way to me. An inexplicable aura of caring. I'd spent more time with them than my parents. My time on the farm was nearly without pain. Nearly. It was the only place I'd felt so safe…loved. The memory of a tall boy, an older boy, a forbidden boy, dances behind my eyes, dances across my lips, until the memory of being sent away chases him into the cold corners of my mind.
A hollow knock on the screen door startles me and I drop a tomato. It rolls under the edge of the freezer while I make for the door. When I'm a few feet away from it, I can see the person knocking.
I stop short.
He's standing to the side, apparently surveying the place. I can't see his face, just the tip of a new cigarette glowing beyond the brim of his hat. I note, appreciatively, that his belt buckle is standard issue rather than large enough to serve as a turkey platter next Thanksgiving.
He's wearing the norm. Jeans, snap front shirt, cowboy hat. It's how he's wearing them that stop me.
Let him be here for the job. Oh, it won't last long, but the farm can go down in a blaze of glory.
The inner door is already open. I lean on its frame and speak to him through the rusted mesh of the screen.
"Hello. Did Billy send you?"
He shifts now, pulling his eyes off whatever he'd been accessing – be it the downed fence line, or the empty cutting garden – I do not know.
He's…wow. Okay, I finally get it now, this whole rugged thing.
Varied degrees of tan color his complexion, weathered like a favorite, leather bag, wrinkles in the corners, the kind that only men make look good; creases born of back-breaking work, sun-soaked wisdom, and the strongest jawline I've ever seen.
Clouded green eyes lock on me, something unknown moving in their depths.
He says nothing. Just holds the cigarette tighter between his lips. He holds my gaze while he fishes an envelope from his shirt pocket.
Even from the shade inside the house, the wooden slats on the screen door are burning in the afternoon sun. I push the door open and take the folded envelope he offers. It's to the point.
"Well…Cullen is it? Billy has said you worked here before. I hope it wasn't recently. As you can see, the most recent caretakers did more take than care."
He nods. It seems like an agreement as a whole. I open the door and he lifts the bag and something larger leaning against the house, which I barely catch in my peripheral; he's brought a guitar.
Leading him down the hallway, I continue to avoid the closed door to my grandparents' room.
I gave up everything to come here.
But, that's not true.
I'd given up on everything long before I ever came back.
She's walking me down the hall, as if I don't know the way, as if I hadn't patched the walls and polished the floors here over the years…as if she doesn't know me.
But, then, she really doesn't.
"You may pick from either of these two rooms," she gestures toward the rooms on the left. I'd figured myself bunking back in my old room, but she stands against its door. I look from that doorway down to the closed master bedroom door.
She must see the question.
"That room is off limits." She looks down at the door to the old man's room. I swing my head back to the doorway of my old room. "And this is my room," she says, and pats the frame.
I notice her nails are shiny and red. I figure I truly don't know her anymore either.
"Is there a problem?" her voice is like bells, which bothers me. She's clearly irritated with my lingering in the hall, outside my old room, plus there's really no call for bells around here.
I purse my lips and shake my head once, as I haul my gear into the room behind me.
The orange sun is low in the west by the time I do the bare minimum of what needs to be done. It shouldn't be possible for one soul to run a place this size, but most of the fields still lie fallow, and there are only a few head now. The single, black horse seems to pretty much take care of itself. If we're…No, if she's going to make a go of it, we'd need to visit the stockyards. We'd need to plant more than whatever used to be in the house garden.
And so it continued this way for days. I'd haul my ass outta bed, do the chores, repair this, re-string that, and she'd managed to get a few regular folk to come and buy most of the milk. Tomorrow's the Farmer's Market in town. The cherry tomatoes she'd been working on must be meant for that.
I haven't seen her since I left the house earlier. I don't know how she thinks she can make a go of this if she spends all her time inside. I can picture her in front of the window unit with her feet up, conditioned air blowing directly on her, reading a book. This riles me. It hasn't been the hardest day's labor, but what's the point if she's grown up afraid to get her hands dirty?
I wash off the worst of the day at the water pump, cool ground water spilling from its red spout, and scuff across the gravel drive to the house.
The window unit sits silent.
As I get closer, I can see all the doors are open and a breeze slams a scent against me, sweet and tangy. All I can think is that I haven't eaten since dawn.
Inside the mudroom, the sweet smell swirls in the air, but there is an undertone of something more. I leave my caked boots on the tray and make for the shower, and hope to heaven she intends some of that for me.
Down the hall, she's just coming out of the shower. A threadbare towel wrapped around her, taut across her chest, the soft swell of her breasts pushed near flat beneath. Everything about her is soft. I find it both maddening and...curious.
The women I've been with were either the tough as nails kind from standing shoulder to shoulder with the likes of me every day, or they were the mostly fake ones who'd spot me in a bar and want to save a horse.
"Oh!" She jumps and holds the towel impossibly tighter. "Cullen…I…I didn't hear you come in."
I shrug and try to put my mind to anything but imaging what it would be like to hold something so soft.
She frowns as she brushes past, and I enter the bathroom. "Dinner will be on the table when you're done in there," she says and I hear the door to my old room shut.
He is without a doubt, bar none, the most infuriating man on the planet. If I didn't need his help so desperately, I'd send his ass packing. Right after I took a picture of it.
How long has he been here? Four days? Four days and not a word out of him! The most I get from him is a condescending look now and again, as he lights yet another cigarette. As if I should have any idea what I'm doing. As if I even want to.
Yesterday, just when I'd begun to consider that he was, perhaps, mute – a fact that Billy should've included in his letter – I'd heard Cullen outside, clicking his tongue and talking to the damned horse.
And now, he's looking at me, staring at me in the hall, as if someone who looks like him has never seen a woman in a towel before. Well, probably not a woman like me, I'm a few years down the line. Caution: Contents may have shifted during flight.
No doubt he has his pick of young girls, toned bodies, nubile and pert. That's the way, now isn't it? Strong, hard and lean seeks same. Not that it mattered. Not that I wanted him to want me. Not at all.
Ugh, stupid hormones.
I fling open my closet door and realize anything I want to wear is out on the line. I throw on an impractical long, white cotton dress – it will surely drag in the dirt - and head out to bring the wash down. It's a major inconvenience to dry things this way, but the days are so hot that running the dryer makes the house just that much more unbearable. There's no way one little window air conditioner could keep up with that, coupled with a blazing oven baking things for market tomorrow.
Even outside, I can hear the old pipes creak and moan with the water travelling down the pipes to the shower. The sun is low on the horizon, the sky like watercolor paint from melting popsicles.
Before I even take down the first garment, sweat has formed on my back. My back is killing me from hours rolling out dough, and canning. I twist and stretch. I'm desperate to make enough to get by, to self sustain, not to touch the paltry funds still left to the estate. The farm needs more cattle, more seeds, more…everything if it's going to survive.
I don't realize my fingers have dug into the window frame until a splinter pierces a knuckle.
She's at the clothesline. I saw her there when I was pulling on a clean pair of jeans. The setting sun is low beyond her, its rays shine through the thin material of her white dress.
It's like nothing on her.
Every movement, every bend, is silhouetted by the light. Her thighs look longer than seems possible for such a small person. Where her waist and hips meet, curves so smoothly, I notice my hands move up to mime holding her there.
Well, this is damned inconvenient.
I can hear her setting the table when I step out of my second shower a few minutes later.
"Cullen," she says, and removes some sort of casserole from the oven. The white dress is mercifully gone and she now wears shorts and a blue shirt. On the table are dinner rolls and, if I'm not mistaken, cinnamon rolls. I notice for the first time that the counters are lined with packages of rolls, pies, and canned jellies.
I am a horse's ass.
She's been in here, in this inferno, baking and rolling, and pounding out enough dough to feed an army. All, I suppose, to make sure there is some income, all to make it work, all on survival instinct.
I wait for her to sit down and then I pull my chair out. She watches her own fingers unfold the napkin in her lap, and continues to keep her eyes on her plate. Her cheeks are flush, whether from the heat or frustration I do not know.
We reach for the serving spoon at the same time. She pulls back like I might burn her.
I put the first huge scoop on her plate.
Okay, I do not understand this disturbing, beautiful man.
Fully intent on laying down the law about communicating with me, I spread my napkin in my lap. The thoughts I have to collect on the subject are few. I acknowledge that I do not know about the nuts and bolts of the operation, but I do have plans and research. I'm waiting on permits to use the back acreage as a wind farm. The organic certification process is intense but under way.
But none of this works if we…the farm can't survive the short term. I'd never been in a position to admit someone else knows better than me at anything, but it's my understanding that, at this, he does…and he's not giving me anything to work with.
I reach for the spoon and notice him looking directly at me, for what might be the first time. I expect to find the same aloof judgment, like all the previous sideways glances he's thrown at me. I expect to feed the fire of anger that threatens to blaze. What I don't expect is to find him gauging me, a near light in his weathered eyes.
Before I can process the moment, he's piled my plate with enough food that, if I choke it all down, we can probably sell me at market.
"Cullen," I say, and watch him spoon food onto his own plate. The tendons in his arms dance with each scoop. "Things need to change." I swallow hard. "Tomorrow, I'll be at the Farmer's Market all morning. After that, we should sit down and go over what you think we can afford at the yards, what we need to prepare the fields."
I straighten my silverware and notice that the butter is ready to melt right off the dish.
"If you're not comfortable talking with me, maybe just write a list. But, I'll need you to come with me to the Sale Barn."
He's still listening, fork in hand. He's got to be starving. He never comes up to the house for lunch. Suddenly, I wonder if I've been remiss.
"Would you like it if I start bringing you lunch? I don't mind. It never occurred to me how you'd have to clean up just to head back out."
His gaze drops down to his plate and he gathers up what will be his first bite.
His voice is a song. It is midnight velvet and the strum of an acoustic guitar.
I am done for.
While she clears the dishes I notice the bookkeeping stacked up on a far corner of the table. There are permits and licenses, and forms for most everything I've ever thought might make a place successful.
Organic. The old man would belly laugh at the idea.
But, the old man didn't know everything.
He'd sent me away. From her.
And now, when I thought I'd come back and save the land, I find she's here. And she's already laid the frame.
I open the door to put the leftovers into the fridge.
That's when I see them.
Sandwiches and devilled eggs and salted tomato slices wrapped up, sitting in the back. There's another plate of similar food underneath.
She's been making me lunch and I've been too stubborn to come up here and get it.
I take the plate out and smooth down the peeling cellophane like gift wrap. The thin plastic catches on my cracked skin, tearing down the plate.
"Are you okay?" I hear her behind me, her voice smaller than usual for some reason, almost a whisper. I'm still staring at this plate with its simple fare, and wondering what more I've misjudged.
"Cullen? Are you still hungry?"
No. I shake my head. Of course, it would seem that way, the way I'm coveting this plate of food.
He's holding one of the lunches he never eats up tight to his shirt and trying to make the wrap stick, but his fingers keep catching. They keep catching because the skin looks as though it has to be on the verge of splitting in twain.
"Oh my God, your hands," I grab his hand in mine and press on the split fingertips, willing them to knit back together. How is he not bleeding?
The next thing I realize, I'm pulling him down the hall to take care of him. I grab a foot and heel paste from my dresser and begin to work it into the cracks and splits. They're already incredibly clean; I'm actually impressed. I look up and his face is what I'd call bemused.
"Is something funny here? Were you going to wait until a finger fell off before you did something about it?"
He shakes his head softly, a smile pulling at one corner. I keep working more and more lotion into the crevices of his long fingers, on the hand I hold, until it can't possible absorb any more. I release his hand and he's already offered the other one, palm up. Suddenly, I can't keep a memory safely tucked away.
"Shh! Come on Bella. Come on!" The tall boy, breathing adventure, beckoned me with an open hand to pop the screen and crawl out into the night. "They won't be there for long."
I slid on my Keds under my nightgown and he helped pull me through the window.
I could barely keep up. Surely, he was not running at full clip but he held my hand tightly and kept me at his side.
We reached the small thicket and then its inner clearing. The grass was low, the wildflowers high. Moonlight filtered through the woven tree canopy, forming shadows on the floor. Though it should've been far too late for them to be out, lighting bugs pulsed and hovered.
"Where?" I whispered.
He placed a single, long finger over his lips and pulled me to a downed log. We crouched and he lifted a broken section of bark to reveal the farm's mouser nursing her four striped kittens, and one tiny, eyes-welded shut, baby rabbit; a kitten in his own right. Though not family he was utterly at home.
We watched in silence for an untold time, until he gently placed the bark back in place.
Then, I was caught up in the boy, the man. What was he? Four…five years older than my sixteen. I should've been scared. But, this was him. We'd spent the past several summers together. Gramma said he was like a son. But he had never been my brother.
His palm was outstretched again, offering to help me up by the one hand he hadn't been holding the whole time. The planes of his face were highlighted with the pulsating lights, his disheveled hair whipped by the breeze. I placed my palm on his and he pulled me up. It was too fast and I stumbled against him, the thin cotton of our clothes barely separating us.
And his lips were on mine.
My first impulse, for the briefest of moments, was that I thought I should be marking this momentous occasion, committing to memory my first real kiss.
But then, his hand moved up within my tangled hair. The warm pad of his thumb pressed softly along my jaw, angling me, opening me. All thought left my head.
All that remained in the night was the lucifrase-laced magic of fireflies, and the gentle force of his lips on mine.
I'd forgotten how to breathe. The smooth skin of his lips played along mine. His rough hands travelled deeper within my hair, wrapping it around his musician's fingers. I fought back a moan bubbling in my lungs.
And then I tasted his tongue.
Silk and mottled ridges, honey and an unnamed something that would forever be him. I drew myself up on my toes, wanting to be even, wanting to be his equal, wanting to be…his.
I closed my arms around his neck. With a flat hand against the small of my back, he pressed me to his chest. Air rushed past my face and I felt as if he was breathing me in. My knees failed. He held me closer and we began to lower to the wet grass.
On the edge of the clearing, branches snapped. Then men shouted. A gun cocked.
He held me tighter, turning my face to his chest, shielding me from the many sets of eyes. I noticed my nightgown and felt exposed for the first time.
I heard a man spit then clear his throat.
"Please." His voice echoed in his chest. "Please, it's not what you think."
The other men gave dismissive laughs. "Get out, while the gettin's good."
"Bella, I have to go."
"No, don't. Please Edward."
"Edward." I hear my voice resonate in the bedroom.
Not like this.
Not in her room with her taking care of me, when all I've ever wanted is to take care of her.
Not when I've been so cold.
Her troubled eyes lock onto mine and she reaches for my hand. I don't have the will to keep it from her, to keep anything from her.
I think she's going to rub the same salve onto it, but she bends it to her face and presses her cheek to my palm. My whole being hums at the contact. She's so soft, the softest thing I've ever known.
I know I must be gaping at her, but she's unphased. She purrs into my skin and rubs her face within my leathered hand.
I've often wondered if she remembered that night, our night, in the clearing. It had never occurred to me that she'd forget me completely. I'd been coming to grips with that for days. Now, it seems, without reason.
She runs her lips up past my wrist and along my arm. She traces the blue veins. Half kiss, half taste. When she reaches my rolled sleeve, she looks up and I recall why I cared about this land in the first place. It's a part of her, the part of her I shared. The tether to whatever meaning my life may hold.
She smiles and I can see the best of me reflected in her bright eyes.
Those same eyes that danced with light a moment ago shift, waves surge in their depths.
I don't know when she grabbed my shirt, but if there were buttons instead of snaps the floor would be littered with broken half circles. She pulls it open and free of my jeans. She's tugging and pulling and pushing me to her bed and it's all I can do not to step on her little feet as they move near mine. My knees hit the mattress and I fall back to sit on the bed.
She straddles me and wraps her hands around my chest, cocooned between my ribs and loose shirt. She's struggling to balance and pull off her own shirt, rubbing herself on my lap in the process.
Holy shit… should we do this right now…do I want it to happen like this?
She tears her shirt over her head, pushing her breasts into me. Her hot center rubs against the already painful erection which scratches against my jeans.
Um, yeah. I sure do.
And I know, in the future, there will be more times for tender. There will be nights for exploring and days memorizing and, I think my heart momentarily stops at the thought, hot afternoons in the hay loft for come-what-may. But this? This moment, this right here is about recollection and claim.
I lift her head and weave my fingers within her hair. I don't know who moves first, or if we move together, but we are kissing and it's everything I remember of her every day.
The rest of our clothes hit the floor. She pushes me back on the bed and I waste a second wondering if her skin or the silk comforter feels smoother.
She hovers over me, her hair a curtain, a shelter from anything but us. Oh, God. She's everything I remembered, but more, better.
And I can't understand how I lived between then and now.
I run my hands along her sides, across her ribs, and cup her breasts. Real. Everything about her is genuine and real, and perfect. She moves over and runs her tongue along my jaw.
Then she lowers herself onto me.
I grunt, push forward and hold her waist like I'd mimed earlier. She moves and slides and though the air outside is hot, it's nothing compared to her. Inside her. We pull apart, slowly, and nothing feels the same, it's a different, departing kind of pull. I lean up and claim her lips.
She arches back and I stretch to meet her again. We kiss as deep and full as ever. I cup her face between my hands. Another move and a moan escapes her. I pull back and the way her flesh grips my length, it sears, it brands, it claims. I sigh, a lament for whenever I'm not deep within her.
My hips go forward and pound against her again and again. Her chin drops down and near silent words pass across her lips. I smile, fully realizing for the first time, this is happening. She nods soundlessly, matching the rhythm I've set pumping inside her.
"Edward," she murmurs, looking down at my face. "Ung, is this how…you want me?"
I want to give her more, if that's what she wants; I want her, however she will give herself to me. We slide slowly, savoring, and I swirl my tongue around her nipple, drawing it deep into my mouth, across my tongue. She moves against me, rocking at my base, pulling me deeper.
I can feel my legs begin to shake as I border on desperation. I know we need more. My fingers play across the flesh of her thighs. When we pull apart next, I bend my knees behind her, like the back of a chair for leverage. She braces against my thighs and finds a way to make me slip further in.
"Oh fuck Bella." My eyes roll back in my head.
She bucks against me and I feel her begin to clench. I hold her tighter still and grind against her.
"Oh, please…please..." Her voice is soft and low. She's lost her rhythm, but I keep pounding into her. She widens her legs and I really hadn't realized there was any of me left but I feel the difference, the grip and heat where I've never felt it before.
Her limbs begin to shake over mine and she writhes on top of me as she begins to come apart. I cry out and I let myself follow.
She stills above me and I can feel my blood pounding.
"We can do this. I never wanted to leave. I never want to leave." My voice borders on choke.
She kisses my chin then flattens herself against me. "Then don't."