Chapter 9

We churned into the docks at Port Angeles on a surprising day of blue sky and sun. Emmett vigorously cursed the sea kayakers bobbing unpredictably along the pier. The engines coughed as we throttled back and reversed.

Jasper made a spectacular leap to the dock. I, in an attempt to prove my competence, heaved the massive ropes across the six-foot gap. Peter and James rode the boom over to help Jasper snug the trawler to the bollards, raucous in their delight to be unexpectedly ashore, and free to go.

I had to wait with Charlie for the Port Authority to board and take our report. I unshipped the gangplank to the dock, and killed time by calling my mother.

"Edward?" my mother's voice was warm; she recognized my cell number and therefore knew I was in port—there was no reception out on the ocean.

"Hi Mom."

"Darling, what are you doing in port? Are you okay?"

"Yeah, Mom, I'm fine," I sighed out my lie. "We had a, um, incident. We had to come in. I'm in Washington."

"Oh. Okay." I could hear the hesitation as she battled between her concern and her not wanting to intrude. The concern won: "An incident, you say?"

"Well, yeah," I mumbled into the phone, raking my empty hand through my hair. "There was a big storm and we…" I chuckled at the ridiculousness of what I was about to say—standing in the brilliant sunshine, it seemed like a bizarre dream—"We caught a person, a girl… a woman. In the trawl."

"Oh dear." I could hear the skepticism in her voice. "I'm not sure I'm following you. You say you caught a person?"

Now, my mom was a hundred percent behind my career switch, but coming from landlocked Chicago, she wasn't down with all the boat talk. I elaborated, "There was a person in the ocean. We caught her in our net."

"On purpose?"

My mother's innocence was refreshing and exactly what I needed to ground me. I chuckled again. "We didn't know she was in the water, Mom. She must have been thrown overboard in the storm and somehow, she got tangled in our research net. At first we thought she was drowned. But I got her breathing again. She was pretty banged up."

"How extraordinary! You had to bring her back to hospital? Thank goodness for your medical training!"

"Ah yeah. Not exactly. I mean, yeah, I'm glad I knew a little bit about caring for her—she'd taken a nasty blow to the head. But we didn't bring her back to hospital," I hedged, not quite knowing how to relay what had happened. It seemed so surreal. I hadn't been able to sort out my jumble of emotions yet. More than anything, I felt bereft.

"Sooo… ," my mother drew out the word, again hesitating to press me—so very "mom" of her to sense my reluctance, even across the miles—before asking in a determined tone, "She'll be all right, then?"

I could tell Mom thought the worst, that we'd rescued someone who died on the trawler. I almost wished… well, that might have been easier. Shit, I was so confused!

"No. I don't know," I blew out a frustrated breath.

"Edward," my mother's voice grew firm; she knew this wasn't a social call. "Tell me what happened?"

"She went overboard, Mom," my voice broke, and I covered the sob rising in my throat with a cough, but she detected it anyway.

"Oh, darling, are you okay? Should I come to you? I can catch a flight tonight?"

"No! No, Mom. I'm okay, really. It's just all so strange," and then it flooded out of me and I couldn't seem to stem the flow—how scary and exhausting the storm was, the hurt girl, everyone expecting me to help her, how she couldn't understand us and seemed so disconnected, like she was from another time. How she clung to me, followed me. How she acted trapped in the wheelhouse and how, when I'd taken her on deck, she had flung herself in the ocean and disappeared.

As my words unwound, and my energy drained away, I sank down on one of the ropes stretched taut between Bellissima and the dock, letting it take my weight.

My mother, uber-perceptive as always when it came to me, spoke into the silence, "You said she was beautiful?"

Leave it to my mom to strike right at the heart of the matter—I would have laughed out loud, but just then Emmett hollered at me from aft, "P.A.'s here, Ted! Come aboard!"

"Mom, I gotta go. I need to make a report. I'll call again before I leave."

"Okay, dear boy. Do something nice for yourself. I love you."

"Love you, too." I pocketed my phone, automatically velcroing the flap shut before swinging back aboard.

Charlie was waiting in the wheelhouse with a uniformed officer. I could here noises below, assuming Rose was shutting down the engines and the boiler. After introductions, Charlie motioned me to sit at the navigation table, where he'd spread out a chart. Emmett was already seated there, and I pulled in next to him. The officer plunged right in with his questions. He was both thorough and implacable. What was our position when we took on the rescue? What time had we radioed port? How old was the person? What were her injuries? Where had I gotten my medical training? What language was she speaking? Why had I brought her into the wheelhouse? What had we done when she fell?

I started to interrupt, to explain that she hadn't fallen, she'd jumped, but Charlie silenced me with a glare. The P.A. looked back and forth between us, but when it was obvious we had nothing else to say, he stood and shook hands all around. He asked me if I was staying locally in case he had more questions, and I suddenly realized that, other than the boat, I had nowhere to go. My surprise must have shown on my face, because Emmett said, "Our place is small, but you're welcome to crash in the spare room."

"Thanks, Em," I said gratefully, and Emmett gave an address close to the harbor.

As Charlie and the P.A. walked to the gangplank, talking in low voices, I went below to gather up my few belongings, hoping Em and Rose had a washing machine I could use. All my clothes were salty from both the ocean and me. I jammed my watchcap over my riotous hair, and snatched up my wallet—I wasn't used to carrying it onboard, but I made sure I had it so I could spot them a meal and beer in exchange for their hospitality.

I helped Rose and Em with the last-minute shut-down routine—it seemed weird to lock up the wheelhouse—no need for that at sea—and we stowed the gangplank, before walking to the shipyard where Rose's truck was parked. I felt like the earth was rocking under my feet, a common experience among those who spend lengthy times on the water. I found myself missing it already.

I was brought up short when Rose put her key in the door of a blood red behemoth. She grinned at the surprise on my face, "Ted, meet my real baby," she chuckled, swinging the door wide and patting the roof line. I stood frozen in astonishment as Emmett took my duffle, swinging it into the truck bed with their own bags, before scooting into the center of the bench seat. This vehicle was a monster!

"C'mon, motherfucker!" Emmett bawled, whacking the seat next to him. I climbed in, my grin widening as I took in the dash, with instruments rivaling Bellissima's. Rose turned the key and the beast roared to life, all of us whooping out the windows as she tore from the lot with a spatter of gravel.

As Emmett said, their house was small. I helped carry in the beer and dinner fixings we'd picked up on the way there, then Rose lit the pilot lights and Emmett threw open all the windows to let in fresh air. She showed me the washer tucked in a closet next to the bathroom and motioned me to the shower, telling me to take as long as I wanted. Grateful for the offer, but knowing they'd both be eager for a real bath, I swiftly scrubbed from top to bottom and back up again, luxuriating in the hot water with lots of soap. Jesus, what a great feeling!

As I toweled off, I heard Emmett groaning and cursing and Rose shushing him. I blushed to hear the distinct squeak of a bed frame, realizing what they must be doing. For sure, there wasn't much privacy onboard. Not wanting to inhibit their sexy times—as if!—I dressed quickly and stepped across the kitchen, grabbing a beer and taking it into the back yard with me. I was curious to see a homemade swing hanging from an immense big-leafed maple tree—it seemed incongruous that these hardy seafarers would have made the effort to put up a swing, and the idea made me smile. But as I sat, I understood. The swaying motion made me feel more at home, like I was still on a gently rocking boat.

I was almost finished my beer when Emmett's voice boomed out from the bathroom window, singing Led Zeppelin in the shower. Rose emerged from the house, wrapped in a short robe, the ends of her blond hair wet. She tippy-toed barefoot across the yard and snagged my beer, taking a long pull before handing it back. She studied my face, "How you doin' Ted?"

I shrugged and she leaned to hug my shoulders. "Don't think about it for a while," she advised, before stepping back to the house. She was right. I pushed all thoughts of the past few days and Bella from my mind, and chugged the last of my beer.

We had a good meal and talked about things we needed to do in port; I wanted to get in touch with the Volturas about getting the latest version of Vortex for running population models, and help Emmett pick up supplies. Keep busy. Not think about what might have happened to Bella.

But when I slept, I dreamt of her.

There was a moonlit night. There was a gently rocking sea. The sky was glowing inky blue. I could smell the moist salt air, a balm to my sad spirit.

What I had to feel sad about, I could not say, for my arms and my lap were full of girl. She was solid, yet light. And warm. So warm.

I nuzzled the top of her head, taking in her sea scent, humming with satisfaction. She murmured in return, and shifting in my grasp, looked at me.

Her eyes were luminous in the watery light, and the depth of her gaze made my thoughts stutter and my lungs sing with every breath. As I watched her eyes, darker than the darkness around us, flick back and forth between mine, her pupils dilated and she sucked in a gasp, parting her lips.

My mouth, needing something to do, burrowed through her hair to the crest of her ear, lipping the delicate shell, then gently scraping it with my teeth. Her long strong fingers gripped my shoulders. She tilted her head away from me, exposing her moonlight pale neck, where her pulse rushed beneath her satin skin.

I clamped my mouth around that essential throb, sucking lightly, then with more force as she locked her legs around me.

Softly, in a singsong, she began to chant my name. Her hips lifted in time to her chanting. I murmured into her hair, over and over, liquid nonsense syllables, sounds of the sea.

Around us, as though we were underwater, shoals of metallic fish darted and spun, suspended like marionettes played by Neptune, pulled this way and that through the shimmering water as she repeated my name. I ached for her, kissing and clasping and rubbing, my lungs tight like I couldn't breathe and she was air.

Her skin was silver and pewter and bronze, sleek and turgid under my fingertips, which were fluent in the ways to make her moan. We were simmering against each other, wet everywhere we touched, slipping on each other's smoothness. She was tide, she was moon-glints on water, she was waves running before the wind, she was everything.

As I licked and sucked my way along her wetsuit skin, her hair curled out behind her, cursive where it floated. Her feet and hands beat slowly in the open, bouncing her along my length, my stomach tightening, my balls twitching, her name on my lips, her tongue in my mouth, fierce and salted rippling water tossing silver and gray and jade promising whale song gull cry ever-whispering wind porpoises bottle noses nudging newborn calves up go up and breathe seaweed pulsing purling on the sand sharks tossing up their stranded beads of eggs mermaids' purses filling with doubloons pirate booty liquefied bursting under water volcanoes steaming pouring hot and streaming rock hard and islands rising as she filled my lap with whipping energy and liquid grace and I filled her and filled her with my own bitter boiling need.

Gushing and slippery, I couldn't hold her. I grasped with no purchase, my mouth opening with no sound save gurgles bubbling out. A muffled pounding, my heart in my ears like the swim club pool in seventh grade. Reaching. Cool green on skin. Bella drifting away backwards until her form grew dim, her hair obscuring her face, my heart pulled out to sea on the racing tide.

I awoke with a start, gulping air like I'd been holding my breath, staring at the ceiling to get my bearings. My ass was glued to the wet spot of my missing Bella. Turning my face toward the window framing the moon of my dream, a lone tear slipped down to the pillow, salted like the sea. I knew I'd be consumed by thoughts of her until I found her again.

Oh Bella: my fresh air fantasy, my ocean lust, my longing, my heart, my life.

Where are you?

Author's note: What song do you think Emmett is howling in the shower?