A/N: Thanks so much to my betas and prereaders: coldplaywhore, aciepey, sncmom, and askthemagic8ball. They're better than fairy tales.
Still don't own a thing.
When I was a little girl, my mom and I used to curl up together in her huge bed and hide and giggle and count how many seconds it took before the thunder rumbled after the lightning struck. I loved the early morning storms, too hard to tell what time it was because the sky was so dark and brooding – like now. I'd run into her room, and she'd always have her arms outstretched waiting for me. We'd yelp when the lightning flashed; she'd tickle me and we'd count between giggling.
I miss her.
One… two… three… four…
I'm cocooned in my blanket and I stare out of my window. Lightning strikes. It illuminates and shadows the palm tree that's just feet away from our house. Storms don't scare me from this vantage point, no matter how sudden and strong they start. I feel safe inside my four walls, looking out through the window at the possible danger. If I hold my covers around me tightly enough and if I stay right where I am, nestled in the familiarity and the comfort, there's no way they can touch me.
Alice traipses into my room and crawls into bed with me. "Rise and shine, cupcake," she says.
"Feeling okay?" The bed dips and shakes as she settles herself behind me, but I continue to stare out the window.
"Yeah. Yesterday was just… ugh. I'm an idiot."
"Sometimes," she teases, and I reach back to smack her. We're both quiet for a bit, watching the rain pound at the window. "Some storm."
"Some storm," I repeat. "It'll be over soon, and in an hour it'll be like it never even rained."
"And too hot."
"What time is it?"
"A little after ten."
"Do you think Abby and Jack are driving Jasper crazy yet?"
"Nah, but I do have to get going. Jasper's going into the shop. Here," she says, handing me a piece of paper. "Charlie left you a list of things to get for Sunday."
I take it and look at the words on his list, but none of them are really sinking in. We're going to Founders Park to watch the fireworks after Charlie gets back from his trip. All of us will be there, just like we are every year: Rose and Emmett, Alice, Jasper, and Jack, Liz, Charlie, and me and Abby. The beach is always packed, but the sky is so open over the ocean that there isn't a bad place to be to watch the show. My mind wanders, and I wonder what it must be like to watch fireworks in a city, if all the lights and buildings get in the way, if Edward has any idea how beautiful a rainbow of explosions look against an entirely black sky. He keeps creeping into my thoughts, even after I tried to push him out of my mind last night.
He's probably already in Key West, but I need to call him to apologize for yesterday. He asked if he could kiss me, and for a second I thought I was going to say yes. I felt a tiny pull toward him, but I panicked. He must think I'm a basket case - maybe I am - but he's too nice a person to have a door slammed in his face no matter what the reason.
"I'll follow you to your place to pick up Abby," I say, rolling over to face Alice.
"No rush. We don't have anywhere to be, and if I know Jasper, he's probably turned our entire living room into a fort. I don't think Abby will mind hanging out for a couple more hours." She laughs, and I smile because I know this is true. She holds her cell phone in front of her, scrolling, and then shows me the screen.
"What's that? Who's legit?" I ask.
"Edward is. It's a text from J from last night. Seems they had a few beers together at Rudder's."
He's still here. Or at least he was last night. My stomach tightens, and not in an Oh, crap. He's still here kind of way, either.
"Is he… did he go to Key West this morning?" She shrugs and eyes me for a second. "Why did you show me that text, Al?"
Alice scoots off the bed. "Don't know, really. I guess I don't want you to second guess his intentions, you know? So you don't think he was another guy just trying to get into your pants."
"I never thought that," I protest, sitting up. She turns and cocks her head to the side. "Okay, maybe a little at first, but-"
"Just call him so you don't beat yourself up later."
"Why would I beat myself up?"
She smiles and puts her hands on her hips indignantly. "Because that's what you do, Bella."
"Whatever," I mutter, rolling my eyes, a small smile forming. "I was already planning to call him anyway."
"Good," she says, and I stick my tongue out at her. Alice hugs me goodbye. "See you soon."
As I lift and snap the comforter to lay it flat on my bed, the room instantly brightens from the sun. The storm is over as quickly as it came.
If my mom were still alive I'd ask her what to do about Edward. She'd tell me to jump in with both feet, to spread my arms wide and scream all the way down because falling for someone is like jumping off a cliff into the water below. She had said those exact words once, and that was exactly how I felt when I met Riley. She had also said to jump off cliffs as often as possible. My mom never got to meet Riley, but I know she would have loved him. I'm pretty sure she'd like Edward, too.
Charlie's to do lists are nothing if not precise. I lean against the kitchen counter, skimming over it once again and laugh. Like I don't know what kind of beer he drinks or what size t-shirt he wears – we're wearing semi-matching patriotic shirts for the Fourth. Silly? Probably. But it's what we do, and Abby gets a kick out of it. His requests are endearing, though, especially the specific type of candy he wants me to pick up from Leah and Claire's store. It's like he thinks we need to have a huge supply of essentials (yes, peanut clusters are as vital as Miller Lite is to him) as if we're going to some remote island for several days when we're only going to be a few miles away from our house. But that's just how my dad is. Maybe it's the sailor in him, I don't know.
Underneath my keys is an envelope. My name is written on it with handwriting I don't recognize. I don't pay too much attention to the fact that an envelope has mysteriously appeared on my kitchen table that was obviously put here sometime last night or this morning by someone who may or may not be my dad or Alice. The idea slightly creeps me out. Alice didn't mention anything before she left, but she probably didn't see it. Suddenly, I remember we're supposed to meet with Mr. Jameson next week. He runs the marina where we dock our boat. The lease on our slip is up in August – we're going to extend it, but he mentioned there would be a few minor changes in the contract, which my dad has left in my hands. I'll bet that's what this is, and that Charlie left it for me.
But it's not.
And, at first, I'm utterly confused.
It's said that the Chinese believe the dragonfly represents prosperity and luck.
Once upon a time, a man traveled on the wings of a powerful bird over many lands in search of these things. He believed luck would be brought forth from the air and the sea thus giving him a prosperous mind. The man was not interested in material things as the word prosperity would suggest. Instead, he'd hoped to be enlightened.
After many hours, the man found himself again on land. He stopped at a welcoming tavern to nourish his weary body, for his journey was still far from over. He indulged himself in the food and drink the town had to offer, this town so unlike his own. He enjoyed the friendly people he encountered, noting how the sun had bronzed their skin. Again, he thought, so unlike his own. As he allowed the salty air to surround him and the sound of waves lapping at the shore to ease his tired head, he was approached by a beautiful child. Her eyes were big and shiny which reminded him of a priceless coin his father had gifted him long ago. The girl's hair looked as though it had been spun from dark golden silk, and the man couldn't help but smile at her approach. The girl spoke freely to the man - no matter that he was a stranger in her town; she showed bravery and trust which, to the man, seemed like an impossibly peculiar thing to expect from someone so young. He soon discovered the girl possessed insurmountable bravery.
The man was suddenly attacked by a flying beast with huge wings that spanned several feet, evil, black eyes that bore into the depths of his soul, telling him death was near. The man envisioned a bloodbath, his own blood being spilled, and his quest finished before it had begun. But before the beast could open its jaws any wider, and most likely shoot fire from its angry mouth turning the weaponless man into its meal, the man reacted swiftly, swatting at the beast with one hand. The flying, hairy beast fell to the ground, tumbling toward the feet of the young girl. The man felt powerful and was certain the girl would thank him for saving both their lives. However, he was mistaken, and instead of erupting into smiles, tears fell from the girl's shiny eyes.
You can imagine how confused the man was by her reaction. Commotion ensued as the man attempted to console the beautiful child. Could this be a pet of hers? he wondered. Surely not, for what child would want to tame a creature of this nature? The man worried not only for the girl's broken heart at the loss of her pet but also his own safety – the townspeople may not take kindly to a stranger upsetting one of their own.
During the ruckus, a young woman appeared out of nowhere, like magic, enveloping the girl into her arms. It was the girl's mother. When the man looked at this woman, something sparked inside him, he'd never before seen a woman more lovely than she.
Of course, the man apologized immediately and repeatedly, hoping the woman with hair the color of roasted chestnuts and the same big, shiny eyes as the child would understand and forgive him, but alas, she did not. The man surmised the woman was a protector of sorts and would do anything in her power to shield her brave child. Still, the man would not allow the girl and her mother believe he was a killer of children's monstrous pets, although, he did feel quite proud to have taken down an enormous beast with his bare hands. No, he would gift them both with decadent sweets and replace the girl's pet with one which was less violent so that he may grovel for their forgiveness.
Lo and behold, the man was successful with his gifts. The woman's father, a great and legendary sailor, invited the man on his ship so they might battle creatures of the sea thus allowing the man to be able to see the woman yet again. The man was confident the woman's father thought him worthy of such perilous opponents as the two shared a love of an ancient sport played in a diamond shaped arena with wooden sticks and white balls – he'd hoped the woman would eventually think the same, that he be worthy. Although the woman showed hesitancy after receiving her gift, the man could not wait for the coming day. When he boarded her father's vessel the following evening, he was mesmerized by the view even at night, but nothing compared to the woman - she took his breath away with her smile.
"What are you up to, Edward?" I say to myself, smiling, peeking inside the envelope. I shake it, looking for more, but, obviously, there's nothing. After a quick glance around the kitchen, I don't see any more envelopes and I'm a little disappointed.
Edward's voicemail comes on after the first ring, and instead of leaving a message, I decide to try again later so I can actually talk to him. I'm not sure what I want to say, though. This whole thing with him is, well, I don't know what it is, but I'm confused as hell.
I read the story he's writing for a second time. He's funny and smart and…
And I took his breath away.
Alice claims to know nothing.
"You're lying," I say to her, smiling, holding Edward's story in front of her.
We're standing at the edge of what Abby and Jack call The BFG Island. Sheets and blankets are knotted together, draped over a bunch of chairs and their couch. Somehow Jasper managed to peak the middle so their island actually looks like a huge tent. It's impressive. Abby and Jack haven't come out aside from poking their heads out to say hi when I walked in.
"I have no idea," Alice says. "Really." She knits her eyebrows together and hardens her mouth.
"What's that face?"
"That!" I laugh and point, mimicking her, and then she starts laughing. "So, you're really not going to tell me?"
"There's nothing to tell. I don't know anything about it."
"About what?" Abby asks, crawling out of the tent.
"Nothing, sweetie." Her hair is sticking out everywhere, and she's wearing a bright blue t-shirt that has "Southpaw" written across the front of it. I look at Alice and then back to Abby. "Abby, where did you get that shirt?"
"Um…" She looks down at her shirt and then toward Alice.
"It's mine," Alice says. She shakes her head – just barely – at Abby. "I forgot to pack her clothes last night."
"Oh, really." Alice is small, but there's no way this shirt that fits Abby perfectly is hers.
"Interesting choice of shirts, Al."
"I thought so."
"I'll bet," I say. "Abs, go grab your stuff – we have some things to get for Sunday." Jack bursts out of the tent; he has "Deep Dish" written on his shirt. He takes off after Abby. "Subtle."
"Hm?" Alice begins to tear down BFG Island. Jack screams NO! at her, and she drops the sheet, raising her hands in surrender.
"The shirts – they're very subtle. Did you know Edward is left-handed?"
"Southpaw? Left-handed pitcher? Baseball? He likes it?" She's still feigning indifference, and I sigh. "Deep dish? Hello? Chicago pizza?"
"Uh huh. So what about this story? What happened to you being sorry for pushing me to go out with Edward?"
"I'm not pushing a thing," she says. She walks toward me; our teasing is gone. "Stop thinking so much. Just go with it."
There's a seriousness to her tone, but her expression is soft. Alice has been there for me countless times; I feel like I'm sucking her patience dry. I fold Edward's story and stuff it back into my purse. Abby is waiting quietly at the end of the hall. She has a raggedy stuffed gorilla in one hand and her bag in the other. "That's a good color on you. You look pretty," I tell her. She smiles as she straightens her glasses. "Go with it?" I say to Alice; she nods, and I take a deep breath.
"What time is it?" Abby asks.
"About noon." We're walking down Garden Street on our way to buy sparklers.
"Okay." She digs into her tiny purse and hands me an envelope which has been folded a few times so it would fit. "Here, Mommy."
My name is hand written across the front; it's the same as the other. "What's this?" My daughter seems to be good at keeping secrets. I wonder if Edward promised her anything if she agreed to play along. Funnily enough, I think it's kind of sweet.
"I don't know," she singsongs, giggling.
"What's so funny?"
"Hmm. Maybe I should look at this later; I'm a little hungry. Are you?"
"No, Mommy! You have to read it now." Abby sticks out her hand. "Give me some money, and I'll get you an ice cream from over there."
I look toward the ice cream shop a half block down. There are benches outside the doors. "Ooo, ice cream sounds really good. Here… I'll take a chocolate. What are you going to get?"
"I'll get chocolate, too."
Abby, grinning so big, walks into the store as I sit down. Pretty soon, I'm smiling as big as Abby was.
What a surprise for the man when he discovered how physically strong the woman was! Not only did the woman possess beauty and wit (which he'd discovered after conversing with her on the deck of the ship) but to also encompass the strength of ten men… or women? Well, this woman was certainly unlike any other the man had ever encountered. A massive fish clamped its mouth mercilessly on the hook of the man's line yet the woman showed no signs of worry. Amazed, he watched as she effortlessly pulled it from the angry sea. She won the battle, and in celebration the man invited her out for drink the following morning. She agreed; he was ecstatic.
The woman and her daughter showed the man around their small town. The three shared sweet treats, and the woman introduced him to a pirate who had a room full of gold. Before they parted ways, the man became filled with dread. This couldn't be the end of their journey. How could he tell this woman about the distinct pull he felt toward only her? Surely, she'd think him insane if he admitted she visited his dreams before they'd even met. No, he wouldn't do that. Perhaps… he'd tell her another time. Perhaps he would do so as his final effort to gain her trust. Before the man could say any more to the woman, something terrifying happened. The beautiful child had found herself in danger. The man's heart was in his throat as he ran to snatch the child into his arms and away from the threat that could have caused her harm. The man felt horribly for the child and her mother, but thankfully, the child was uninjured.
With caring hands, the woman tended to the man's insignificant wounds. He added compassion to her growing list of attributes. He'd learned a degree more about her as she washed away the little blood and plucked pebbles from his arm; she was easy to talk to.
That night they feasted generously on the fish the man had caught.
It was during this feast that the beautiful child unexpectedly rewarded the man. Beasts. Not one, but two of the same creatures the man had fought only days prior. Would he ever be free from this terror? However, and much to the man's relief, these particular flying fiends were contained and much smaller than the slain one. He was humbled by the girl's kindness. After studying them for a little while, he saw their wings were iridescent and quite spectacular. The man now understood the child's fascination; he'd thought perhaps he could learn a thing or two from the child. Throughout the feast, the man stole furtive glances at the woman. He noticed the soft curve of her shoulders and counted five freckles on the left one; he couldn't see how many might have been on the right. If he had, he'd probably memorize those as well.
Before he left for the evening, he held the woman's hand in his. He wanted to touch her hair to see if felt as soft as he'd imagined, but the man remained reserved, for he knew the woman's heart belonged to another. One day, perchance, there would be room for him.
I look down at my shoulder: five freckles. I close my eyes for a second and imagine what it would be like if I had let Edward kiss me.
"Mommy?" Abby asks, snapping me from my thoughts. There's a spot of chocolate on her chin, but more on her shirt. I was about half-way through reading when she came out and handed me a cone. Mine is now gone and she's practically wearing hers. Her eyes are huge; she's upset that her shirt is dirty.
"It's okay, baby. Those spots will come out in the wash."
"But I wanted to wear it all day. Edward gave me this shirt and now it's dirty!" She gasps because she realizes she's just flubbed the secret… this secret that apparently everyone in Tavernier is in on because one of the guys who is a regular at Rudder's is walking by wearing an "I love the Cubs" t-shirt.
He nods in our direction. "Bella. Abby."
"Hi, Joe," we say; he smiles and keeps on walking.
I point to him with my thumb after he passes. "Did you see that?"
"Mr. Joe was wearing a Cubs shirt."
Abby grins. "Edward likes that team."
"Yes, he does." I look back at Joe; something clicks, and then I playfully narrow my eyes at Abby. "Abby, did you plan this stop for ice cream?" She zips shut her mouth and throws an invisible key over her shoulder. Abby looks back down at the chocolate stains. "Don't worry about your shirt, baby. Edward is a really nice and understanding person. I don't think he'd mind if you got a little bit of ice cream on it. In fact, I bet he spills all the time." She giggles. "You know what? Let's call him right now and ask."
Voicemail again. I still don't leave a message, but I have a feeling Edward knows I'm calling. What would I say anyway? Hi, Edward. This is Bella. I'm not exactly sure what you have up your sleeve but I'm finding it awfully sweet and slightly romantic.
Not slightly, more like incredibly. Who goes to these lengths? Now I feel like an even bigger jerk for slamming the door in his face.
I redial his number. "Hey, it's Bella… Listen, about yesterday, I'm really sorry. I shouldn't have ended the morning like that… and… I just finished part two - I'm looking forward to part three." That's enough, I think – I don't want to say too much just yet, but my palms are a little sweaty thinking about seeing him later. I'm sure I'll see him later, right? That's got to be part of this elaborate scheme. If not, I'll figure something out. I don't want him to go back to Chicago without seeing him first.
Putting my phone away, I ask Abby where we need to go next. She reminds me that we were on our way to buy sparklers and then to Leah and Claire's store. She's wearing this determined expression and she looks so much like Riley right now, chocolate covered chin and all, that I feel a small pang of guilt. I wonder about something that I haven't given too much thought: What if he was still alive, and it had been me who died? Would he be able to let me go? I'd like to think he wouldn't. Is that selfish? I'd want him to be happy, though.
I can almost hear Alice telling me in an exhausted voice to shut up and just go with it. So I do.
Claire is wearing a shirt with "Wahoo" written across her boobs (so very Claire), and Leah's reads "Old man and the See what you've done to me?" I compliment their shirts, and they play dumb. I ask Leah about her shirt specifically because it seems really un-Edward-like. But I get the picture: everyone is pulling for Edward.
"What?" she asks. "I think it's catchy."
"You should coin that phrase, Leah."
"Can't – someone already did."
"Oh, yeah?" I ask, pulling out my wallet. "Does that person happen to be from Chicago?"
My smile falters as I hand her some cash; she bags our shirts for the Fourth. "So it's not Edward?"
"Geez, Bella. Got Edward on the brain or something?"
"No. It's just-" Leah hands me my change along with another envelope.
"Haha." My smile is back. Butterflies have seemed to move into my stomach somewhere between seeing Joe and walking through the front door of the store. "Thanks."
"Uh huh. Hey, Abby, we have new hermit crab shells. Wanna see?"
"Yeah!" Abby runs behind Leah to the other side of the store.
The man found himself alone with the woman on a deserted beach. The scorching sun beat down upon them, but they found respite underneath the shade of tall trees which swayed gently in the breeze. He unpacked a bountiful assortment of fruits and breads, spread the delicacies atop a blanket, and offered her a red apple. The man couldn't imagine being anywhere else in the world at the moment. Her company was all he wanted.
Once upon a time, this man set forth on a journey. Countless seasons could have passed, his surroundings ever growing, ever changing, and morphing into something unrecognizable as to what they once were; ages upon ages could have gone by, and not once would he have presumed he'd meet a woman so lovely, this woman who had somehow taken over his thoughts so suddenly. But he did, and it was now unmistakably clear to him that his journey had changed.
He spoke with her contentedly as the sun shifted in the sky; the ocean ebbed and flowed, leaving traces of weightless foam along the pale sand. The woman humorously shared tales of the sea to which he laughed. Her smile could light up a thousand skies, and the man was entranced, falling like he'd never had before. Could she ever feel the same? Oh, how he hoped she would.
A kiss. This was a notion dizzying to the man, yet he thought there was not a better moment to seek her permission to do so than now. A simple kiss, he thought, would bring him closer to her. And although he was sentient of her circumstance, he spoke truly and only from his heart.
He asked. She said no, but he understood.
Defeated was the man, you ask? For a short time, yes.
However, he would not give up, for deep down he knew she was worth pursuing; nothing would convince him otherwise. And so, the man invited the woman to meet him at the same location where mystical, flying creatures had first brought them together at precisely four hours past noon.
…to be continued?
When I look up, Leah, Claire, and Abby are staring at me expectantly.
"Well?" asks Claire.
"How fast can you make a shirt for me?" I ask. "I… I have a date."
a/n: Next up, Edward's pov of the big date. Thanks so much for reading.