I don't own Twilight.
A self-sustaining reaction that, once started, continues without further outside influence.1
"The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed."
- Carl Jung
-Chapter 1: Catalyst-
When I was a little girl, I always expected to meet the man of my dreams in an overly dramatic, romanticized situation, like in a classic movie or from the pages of a beloved novel. Maybe he'd rescue me from the mustache-twirling villain as I was being tied to some train tracks. Maybe he'd pull me from a runaway horse, or yank me from the path of an oncoming car. Maybe I was destined to marry the Dread Pirate Roberts and sail away on the pirate ship Revenge.
I met Edward on a boat. A very large boat ―the morning ferry commute from Bremerton to Seattle.
Content with my life, I wasn't looking for anything...I was happy in my safe little rut. But that's the funny thing about Fate ― it often strikes when you least expect it. Mine came in the form of blazing toffee-colored eyes, a wicked smile, and a mane of unkempt golden and chestnut hair.
What I didn't realize at the time was that Edward is a paradox.
Edward is not the man of my dreams. It's sort of impossible when I can't have them anymore.
This isn't a love story. This is a seduction. A complete persuasion of mind, body, and soul. Of behavior and beliefs. And I wouldn't change it for the world...I think.
"Crap," I muttered to myself as the book slid out of my grasp, pausing to carefully place my dangerously full coffee on an empty seat and depositing a paper bag ― containing the chocolate croissant I was definitely not supposed to be eating ― right next to the paper cup. When I turned to retrieve the wayward paperback, I came face to face with someone's chest. A hard swell must have rocked the ferry, and the movement sent me falling into him. I smashed my nose right against his sternum, just hard enough to bring the sting of tears to my eyes. It was like running into a brick wall.
The pain was soon forgotten as woods and salt-air filled my nostrils, an essence that lurked just beneath the clean linen scent of fabric softener. Before I knew it, I was inhaling deeply, and the realization that I was blatantly sniffing a perfect stranger sent me jerking back, my face flaming with scalding heat. Sweet Jesus, but everything about him hit me like a battering ram. It's okay to look, Bella. There's nothing wrong with a little harmless ogling.
"I'm sorry! It's windy today. The waves," I blurted. Great. I'm talking to him about the weather? I blinked to clear my watering eyes and began a more thorough inspection of the sight in front of me. The top of my head barely reached the man's shoulders, which left me staring straight at his chest.
And what a nice chest it was. Pale skin, with a sparse smattering of reddish-brown hair peeked through the opened top button of his dress shirt, inspiring all sorts of really dirty thoughts ― all featuring him, me, and a locked door somewhere on the ferry. Maybe there was some type of maritime version of the Mile High club? The Love at Ten Knots club? Maybe we could make one up, together? Where the hell are these thoughts coming from? It's not like me at all! What about Tyler?
Wait a minute...is his chest moving at all? Is he holding his breath?
"No, it was my fault." His voice hypnotized me, combining with the scents of spice and sin and weaving the perfect illusion, the most beautiful mirage. His was a voice I wanted to hear panting in my ear, muffled from pressing his lips to my neck, and whispering along the length of my spine. Stop it, Bella! You just can't be thinking things like this.
Wow. I'd never experienced such an intense attraction to someone before, but why did I have another, equally strong instinct to run? This particular combination of basic human impulses was a first for me.
Why. Can't. I. Stop. Staring?
This feeling, this instant, overwhelming attraction, called forth instinct that couldn't be ignored. That, I understood. It was just an odd byproduct of some ancient genetic code hidden within my cells. Thinking about it in biological terms made this...whatever it was more manageable. Feeling just a bit more confident, I smiled as he backed away and bent to retrieve my book. A hint of something played at the corner of his mouth as he read the title, some strangely appealing mix of smirk and grin.
"The Gospel According to Biff," he said, holding it out for me to take. "You like a little blasphemy with your breakfast, do you?" The amusement just dripped from his voice, but what really captured my attention was the underlying current of darkness that hid beneath the charm. "We seem to have that in common." For a few eternal seconds, I struggled to formulate some kind of response.
Then my reflexes kicked in, and the laughing started ― not a ladylike giggle, but the full-on, obnoxious, my Lord, I'm trying WAY too hard kind of laughing. I shut my mouth abruptly, wishing I could rewind the last couple minutes. Someone, please give me a Mulligan. A do-over. An old Delorean and a flux capacitor.
"So you've read it, then? Lamb, I mean," I said quickly, willing to ride out the humiliation if it meant I could keep talking to him. I didn't understand it. A frisson of something trickled down my spine, some long-buried survival instinct slowly coming to life. The curiosity and attraction was intense, yet goose flesh prickled the back of my neck, the little hairs standing on end.
"I just love it. I feel so awful about it, but I laugh through the whole book. When they're learning to be stone-workers and they decide to circumcise the Romans' statue and end up cutting the penis completely off―" Oh...my...God. I've just tried to begin a conversation with a man by discussing the accidental unmanning of a pagan effigy.
He stared at me intently, toffee-colored eyes pinning me more effectively than a bug collector's stickpin. A slight frown flashed across his expression before he seemed to change his mind, and his face lightened with a full-fledged grin.
"What?" I stuttered, trying not to giggle embarrassingly.
"It's one of my favorite books," he answered, his hand reaching out, as if to touch my arm in reassurance. My heart sped up in anticipation of a contact that never came, but he'd come so close, I swore I could feel it in my bones. The pang of disappointment that rocked me when he dropped his hand was even more intense.
"Oh," I said quietly.
"It's somewhat...heartening to think that even Jesus ran with the vandals as a boy," he murmured dryly, raising his hand to his mouth and rubbing at his lips. It was the hand he'd almost touched me with. His Adam's apple bobbed as he swallowed and lowered his arm, licking his lip, the dull rose color made richer by the wet shine.
"'Vandals?'" I laughed, rocking back on my heels nervously. The old-fashioned word sounded strange coming from his lips. I couldn't quite discern his age. By my estimation, he was anywhere from late teens ― which would make me a very, very bad girl ― to mid twenties, like me. His frame, however, suggested he was on the older edge of the spectrum. He looked tired, the distinct lavender smudges beneath his eyes making him look a little world-weary. Something about it made me want to give him comfort.
Everything about him invites me in.
Clear, deep toffee-brown irises ringed pupils bright with intensity, drawing my eyes and refusing to let go. His hair was a tangled but still-attractive mess, and a little on the long side. His face was clean-shaven, but I could barely see new growth beginning to shade his sharp jaw. The all-black clothes and his slightly drawn demeanor made him look more sinner than saint, like he was more comfortable with a few coarse words rather than embellished formal speech.
"You know, the chisel-wielders," he returned, miming a chiseling action and flashing me a quick grin that had me imagining my heart was beating faster. I suddenly felt like I was in that 'David Goes to the Dentist' video on YouTube. Is this real life?
God, I hope so.
No, I don't hope so. I'm afraid...
The ferry lurched ahead, sending me falling right into his chest again. He was prepared this time, catching me with hard arms around my back. He was cool, but not clammy. Definitely not warm. It was over too soon, but I took comfort in the way his fingertips lingered on my upper arms, as if he didn't want to let me go.
"And away we go..." he whispered with a frown, more to himself than as part of our stilted conversation. Gesturing to the seats next to us, he continued, "We might as well sit."
Oh, wow! He wants to sit and talk! Don't blow it, Bella...
"Oh, yeah..." Quickly gathering up my things, I plopped ungracefully into a seat, thanks to the whitecaps that dotted the sound this morning.
"What have you got there?" he asked curiously, pointing to my bakery bag, as he chose the seat beside me.
"Chocolate croissant," I said guiltily. "My only vice." Besides entertaining very inappropriate thoughts about handsome strangers on the ferry... What if he's a serial killer? Washington isn't exactly devoid of sociopathic white males with an affinity for stalking and killing women...
I did have that pepper spray in my bag. Thank goodness for Charlie's paranoia.
"Makes it taste that much better, don't you think?"
I gulped at the low, devilish tone in his voice. "Yeah, I guess you're right."
"Let me introduce myself. I'm Edward Cullen," he said confidently, holding out his hand. It was smooth and hard, just like the rest of him, and the contact was over all too quickly.
And cool...his hand is very, very cool.
"I don't suppose you'd be open to sharing your pastry?" he asked with a sly grin.
My mind plummeted straight to the gutter faster than an overfilled elevator with no brakes. I really, really wanted to share my 'pastry.' Metaphorically speaking. As wrong as it was, I couldn't deny it. But it wasn't like I would do anything about it. I wasn't going to be an adulteress.
Adulteress? The man has me speaking in biblical terms! Probably because I'm positive getting to know him in the biblical sense would be absolutely amazing...
Wordlessly, I tried to hand him the croissant, but he waved it off with a pained laugh, looking embarrassed. Huh. Strange... "Better not. I'm on a...special diet." Well, whatever he was eating, it certainly was working for him.
"I really shouldn't be eating it either. The animals sort of like the smell of the chocolate. It makes them a little too curious."
"Animals?" he questioned, leaning a bit closer and taking in my khaki uniform. As he came nearer, his face seemed to freeze. After a moment, he sucked in a short breath, squeezing his eyes shut as he moved backward abruptly.
What's with this guy?
"I work at Woodland Park. As if my "ready for safari" look doesn't give me away," I joked, wishing I didn't look so pale and washed-out in khaki.
"So you're a zookeeper? Do you soothe the savage beasts?" The liquid sin was back, and when combined with his smoldering stare, I couldn't help but think about how much I'd like to soothe the savage beast in front of me.
This is so, so wrong. Maybe that's why I'm enjoying myself more than I have in months. Years.
"I'm a caretaker. I work with the big cats. Lions, tigers, mountain lions."
"'Lions and tigers and bears, oh my,'" he said lowly, quirking an eyebrow. "We are in the Emerald City, you know." I blinked at that, laughing nervously, but I recovered quickly.
"Not the bears." I couldn't keep from smiling, and I had a suspicion that the tips of my ears were flaming red. Hoping my intent wasn't as obvious as I thought it was, I gave my head a little shake, letting my hair fall forward over my shoulders. Success! Glowing ears successfully hidden!
"Hmmm...not the bears," he murmured, his lips twitching, but the humor was gone as soon as I noted it, replaced with a serious intensity that baffled me. "You know, I have a soft spot for mountain lions. They were hunted nearly to extinction in this area. It's good to see a resurgence in their population."
I relaxed a little, glad we had something to discuss in which I could make intelligent conversation.
"Oh, yes, the zoo is very proud to be a part of it. I'm part of the team who helps nurse orphaned and abandoned cubs whenever they're found. It's amazing."
"So you enjoy your work?" he asked, once again flashing me his charming grin.
"Very much." I nodded enthusiastically, flying high on the beautiful curve of his lips.
His eyes seemed to change, taking on a darker ochre tint, and... Whoa! I think his pupils just got bigger! The frisson was back, its skittering path a bit more insistent this time. We were suddenly sitting very close, much closer than was appropriate, but I couldn't bring myself to care.
"So, why are you on a ferry before five a.m.?"
He blinked, as if he'd lost his concentration. The tension between us eased for a moment as he smiled slightly. "I'm going to get in line for an iPad."
"Ah, I see. New toy," I teased, growing nervous when he once again looked at me with that focused expression. "What?"
"I'm sorry; I'm just trying to figure you out. You're very...hard for me to read." He was so serious, equal amounts of earnestness and frustration warring in his eyes.
"Am I? I'm just your average girl. I do give myself points for having an awesome job, though."
"Will you tell me your name?" His brows drew together in a slight frown, those fathomless pupils of his holding me pinned in place. Closer, closer, they beckoned, urging me to relax in his presence. While my limbs were only too happy to oblige him and remained still, my heart raced faster, faster, and I honestly couldn't tell if it was fear or desire that affected me so. My silence had lasted way beyond what was appropriate for a conversation,
Ever so slowly, he raised a hand, his fingertips hovering close to my jaw. He watched his fingers intently, a look of extreme concentration on his face. I couldn't help the gasp that rushed over my lips when the tip of one finger traced a line up to the top of my ear and rubbed softly against the overheated arch. It was cool against my skin, soothing the embarrassing burn with his lightest touch before he moved his hand into the hair at the back of my neck. His lips parted the slightest bit as his eyelids dropped just a fraction. He feels it too...
"Please, tell me your name," he whispered, and I could feel the words on my face. He was that close.
"Bella," I managed, my voice barely audible to my own ears.
"Bella," he mouthed, and I couldn't hear it. But I knew it was my name, and I loved the way it formed on his lips. "Very apropos...Beautiful." One of those body-wrenching cold chills attacked me at his words, making me fight to appear normal, and not as if I was having a seizure.
Oh, God, what is happening to me? I'm not this kind of person! It was as if I was watching myself on video as we both leaned closer to one another. I let my eyelids fall closed and leaned forward slowly, needing to feel his lips under mine, but I just couldn't cross those last few millimeters. Like somehow, what I was doing would be less wrong if he was the one to kiss me. Cool, sweet breath ghosted low over my cheek.
So, so close...
"Edward," I whispered, just so I could feel his name form on my lips as I tasted his breath.
I felt more intoxicated with each lungful of air we shared, every molecule of me attuning itself to every molecule of him. Being so close to him was slowly lulling me into some sort of sensitized lethargy, where only he and I existed, his cool strength soothing my warm skin. His forehead grazed mine, the tip of his nose tickled my cheek, and his lips were coming closer. I was only breathing him now, taking shallow breaths as he exhaled. I was almost floating; adrift on a cloud of lust and adrenaline and Edward, and my only anchor was the hard fingers clenched so tightly in my hair.
What is he doing to me? Things like this...they just don't exist.
And then, it didn't. He didn't.
Without warning, I was falling forward onto the seat next to me, barely managing to get my hands out to protect my face.
Edward was gone. No sign of him whatsoever. Had I been sleeping? No, he couldn't be a dream ― because right at the back of my neck, where he'd been clutching me so tightly, my scalp stung. Some of my hair must have gotten caught in his fingers.
What the hell just happened to me?
"Looks like it's just you and me tonight, Jake," I sighed as I let myself into the small bungalow I could barely afford. It was nothing fancy, but it was home. I liked things cozy, and the house just fit me. There was no room to grow, of course, but I wasn't worried about it at this point in my life.
Tyler had always complained about the size. He insisted it wasn't a good home for a family. I thought he was getting way ahead of himself ― the thought of...this being my forever was terrifying. My encounter this morning had done nothing but convince me that Tyler and I just weren't going to work. If I could be so easily swayed, so strongly attracted to a stranger ― one who, quite frankly, scared as much as enticed me ― then maybe we just weren't right for each other.
Our relationship was comfortable and safe, but I was beginning to realize that it wasn't the kind of life I wanted for myself. Call me naïve, but I wanted ― no, I needed ― a stronger bond. But confrontation was not my friend, so I had no idea how to broach the subject with Tyler. It could wait. It wasn't fair to him, but I couldn't find the will to worry about it.
I'd changed so much in the last twelve hours, and I had no explanation for my mental shift other than Edward. I knew he wasn't good for me. How could anyone who affected me like that ― an influence so complete that I would do anything he asked ― possibly be a good thing?
Deep in thought, I settled into my spot on the couch with a can of Diet Coke, letting Jake snuggle into my side. He fit perfectly against my hip, his long body and short legs making him an ideal fit for a girl like me. A corgi mix, he was Tyler's dog, but I was Jake's favorite person. I found it rather humorous, because the dog shared a name with my high school ex.
Nevertheless, Jake the dog was mine now, and everyone knew it. He was my pal. Nothing was more comforting than petting his thick, soft fur, which was shaded with deep russet and a few white patches over his nose and chest. Jake was just big enough to sound ferocious when someone knocked on the door, but small enough to think he was a lap dog. He gave me a quiet comfort, offering just enough warmth on nights that sometimes felt a little too lonely and chilly.
We sat in comfortable companionship as I absently stroked his thick coat, trying not to think of the pale, enigmatic stranger called Edward.
It was dark, but my vision was clearer than it should have been. Shadows didn't blur as they covered the row of seats, the crisp darkness broken occasionally by shafts of moonlight that glinted off the plastic seats. Edward sat in one such seat, the milky light dancing strangely in his pupils and glinting off the brick-colored strands of his hair. His clothes were the same as before, and that alone told me I was dreaming. But I can't wake up! Shouldn't I be able to wake up?
He crooked a finger in my direction, and my feet started toward him of their own accord. Soon, I was standing directly in front of him as he stared up at me, those fathomless eyes pulling me deeper and deeper under his spell. His lips curved in a knowing smirk, and he reached up to pull me down into his lap. I sat stiffly, unwilling to comply, but equally unwilling to run away.
Is he...compelling me to move? No. Surely not...
"Why can't I read you?" he questioned soundlessly, but I somehow knew what he was saying, like I could hear him in my head. He leaned forward, forcing me to recline back against one of his encircling arms. This time, he didn't pull away. The cold tip of his nose traced over my jawline and down my neck, leaving a cool swath of prickling skin. He paused, dipping into the hollow of my throat. I felt threatened with his lips hovering just above my sternum; he set my teeth on edge, and I froze like a gazelle catching an unexpected whiff of lion.
Breath rushed in and out of my chest shallowly, my ribcage growing uncomfortably tight in direct proportion to my racing heartbeat.
"Breathe, Beautiful. Slowly..." I could feel his lips moving against my skin, barely. Deep breath, slow and steady, his shoulders rising in response. He dragged his nose right up under my chin, and I instinctively matched his breathing. He exhaled, touching his lips to my pulse. Again, the uncomfortable feeling returned for a split second. I wanted to cover my neck with my hands ― to protect myself ― though he was nothing but gentle. I ignored it, finally exhaling, expelling all the spent air from my lungs.
He flattened his palm over my chest and inhaled again; I followed suit, and he guided me through a few slow, savoring breaths. Although I knew he was...scenting me, somehow I couldn't keep from doing a version of the same thing to him. His scent was addictive and compelling, in the best ― and scariest ― possible ways. It was lulling and calming to the point of intoxication, just as it had been before.
All too soon, it was over and he was feet away, leaving me with no recollection of him slipping out of my reach. His face was in shadow, his eyes catching and reflecting the moonlight in a way that wasn't even close to human. He didn't just appear the bad boy, he embodied the notion. He was dangerous.
"Choose," he whispered, his eyes boring into mine through the darkness.
Not heeding the warning in that dream was my biggest mistake. I was like an object buzzing with maximum potential energy, and I could go one of only two directions. Gravity always wins in the absence of outside influences. Edward is my gravity, and there are no variables in our equation. I want to resent it...I should resent it. But I don't. Now, the fire of conscience burns at the edges of my perception, but it's only fleeting. After all, anything worth having is worth a little pain...right?
This one will be much shorter than WiP and I've got chapters pre-written. I'll try to keep up with a weekly update schedule.
Many thanks to pre-readers eye_ree, karentwilighted, and YogaGal. Any errors are mine.
Thanks for reading! Reviews are greatly appreciated, as always, but not required. :)
Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal, by Christopher Moore. 2004, HarperCollins.
1The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition | 2008 | Copyright 2008 Columbia University Press.