Pick a Pic Challenge
Title: Windy Afternoon
Rating/Disclaimer: M for lemons. All characters are owned and created by Stephenie Meyer. I just play with them for my own amusement.
Summary: Can a chance encounter heal a damaged past? Sometimes, we are sent just what we need, at the exact time we need it…
The grey sea was wild that overcast November morning, the CLOSED sign up on the beach to deter surfers and swimmers until spring. I was the lifeguard here every summer and even now, out of season, I still walked the sand daily, breathing in the raw sea air and allowing the loneliness of the deserted beach to calm my mind, reminding me of my own insignificance in nature's great plan.
Today was no different. I stood and watched, as the waves crashed onto the rocks beyond the safe swimming point. They roared as they swelled and raged their way towards shore, disintegrating into spray, before fountaining up in an impressive display of white foam, hissing their way back down the stones before hurling themselves at the rocks once again; a never-ending attempt to overcome their eternal obstacle.
Screaming seagulls wheeled overhead, and I stood enthralled at the spectacle until my attention was diverted by a flash of reflected light in the distance. I shaded my eyes and squinted a little: binoculars, perhaps? I set off in the direction of the flicker and, as I drew closer, I noticed that, firstly, it came from a camera lens, and, secondly, the camera was in the hands of a girl.
She was completely oblivious to my approach, as she snapped picture after picture, crouched down with her elbows on her knees. I took a moment to observe her, eyeing her worn, brown leather jacket with the open lapels, the dark jeans that clung to her slim legs and curvy butt and flared out over a pair of scuffed brown cowboy boots.
I grinned to myself.
There's just something about cowboy boots on a girl that makes me melt. She's cute as a button.
Her hair was shoulder length and dark, whipping about her face in the wind. She looked at one with nature, as she trained her camera on the cliffs in the distance, the clouds of birds swooping and circling looking for purchase on the wet rocks.
She was breathtaking.
"Hello?" I was loath to disturb her, but I had to know if the voice matched that tiny, delicate frame.
The clicking ceased and she turned to me, casually looking over her right shoulder and squinting slightly against the winter sun, her eyebrow quirked at the intrusion.
"Hello, yourself. Something I can do for you?"
The voice was girlish and softly mocking, the eyes were green, and I was mesmerised.
Damn. Those eyes are bluer than cornflowers.
I had been minding my own business, taking some atmospheric shots with which I hoped to win over a new client, and I had been sure I was on my own. I should have been mad, being interrupted in mid-flow, but this stranger, this tall, muscular, good-looking stranger, looked both nervous and hopeful as he greeted me and I couldn't bring myself to be dismissive.
I stood up, brushing myself down and stashing my camera in its case. I stuck out my hand.
"Alice Brandon. Struggling photographer."
He shook my hand.
"Emmett McCarty. Temporarily unemployed lifeguard."
He had a grin that lit up his face and I saw dimples amid the blush.
The wind was picking up and the rain clouds were looming closer. As I glanced back at the sea, I felt a spot of rain on my cheek.
"Well, I guess I'm done. Time to go before this storm hits, I think. Nice to meet you... Emmett McCarty." I turned and started to trudge back up the sand when I heard him call after me.
"Hey! I'm free this afternoon and it'd be nice to have some company. Would you ... have some lunch with me? There's a diner not far from here, and Bill will be happy to open up for us. What do you say? Have lunch with me, Alice Brandon?"
I looked back; he stood where I had left him, his hand slightly extended, the other shading his eyes.
Every fibre of me said 'No'.
'No' to spending time alone with a strange man no matter how genuine he appeared to be. And yet ... I felt I could trust those beautiful eyes.
We walked slowly, talking haltingly, each feeling our own way in a sea of uncertainty. We looked at each other, askance, like kids on a blind date. Sitting opposite each other in one of the diner booths, over glasses of orange juice and burgers, we slowly and cautiously opened up a little to each other.
"So why were you on the beach today? Don't you get enough of the place during the summer?" I questioned, curiously.
He grinned and I saw those dimples again. That smile could melt the polar icecaps.
"I love it. I feel peaceful and free on that stretch of beach. My house is just a short way back from where we met so, even when I'm not working, I'm always nearby."
"So – what made you decide to become a lifeguard? Watch too many reruns of Baywatch?" I chided, playfully.
He smiled faintly and I saw pain behind it. It was something I recognised only too well.
"No. My ... brother drowned when we were kids. There was nothing I could do; the tide took him so fast. I could hear him screaming for help, but I couldn't reach him. He got caught in a rip. I was twelve. Dale was ten."
Without thinking, I covered his hand with mine.
"I'm so sorry, Emmett."
He smiled at me, his eyes clouded at the memory. He gathered himself.
"How about you, Miss Brandon? What made you decide to become a photographer?"
I laughed a little at that. I stirred my juice, the ice cubes clinking in the glass.
"I can't really call myself a photographer until I have clients, but it's the career I always wanted. My former partner hated the idea of me following my dream. He said that I didn't have the talent, that I was only good enough to take kids' snapshots on the end of a pier." I sat up a little straighter. "But he's out of my life now and it's my time."
"It's my belief that only a coward puts a woman down like that."
I looked into his eyes expecting to see humour, but seeing only sincerity.
"I have the opportunity to make a new start. I could have a burgeoning career happening in a year or so if I work hard. This little commission I'm working on today is just the beginning, I hope."
"Can I see what you took today? Would you mind?"
I looked up in surprise. He gestured to my camera with his pinkie finger.
"Sure, if you want. They're probably not that great, but I saw the clouds rolling in as I drove along the coast road and just had to pull over to take some quick shots. I didn't expect to end up right on the beach." I laughed self consciously. Handing over my camera, I felt strangely exposed, as if my inner self would be laid bare for him to see.
He looked at the shots for a long time, quietly paging through the images, until he stopped, focusing on just one image.
"This one. This one is stunning. Of course, I'm no professional, but when it comes to that beach I know what I like."
He turned the camera to me and showed me a shot of water spraying up into the air, the sun shining through the droplets in a halo of light.
"Now that... that is beautiful. As is the woman who captured it."
I looked up sharply and saw he was blushing slightly, his fingers making a pile out of the crumbs on his plate as he refused to meet my eyes. Is he for real?
When he finally met my eyes, looking up under his lashes, I swallowed, hard.
My head screamed at me not to do this. Don't fall for him. Don't trust anyone, look after yourself. Protect yourself.
As the afternoon wore on, the storm really took hold and I knew that I had to make a move; the weather wasn't going to improve tonight, and I'd stayed here too long. I stood up, tying my jacket tightly around me.
"Well, I wouldn't call it 'home'; I'm renting a room at a boarding house for a couple of nights while I scope out the area." I made a show of patting down my pockets to find my car keys, delaying the inevitable, not wanting to leave.
He looked at me with concern.
"You don't want to be driving in this storm. Come over to my place 'til it passes. I have food there, and a fire. At least you'll be warm."
I was shocked by how readily I agreed.
As I listened to the fire crackling and spitting, the flames licking at the wood, I felt myself relax. I was starting to appreciate the unique situation of having found someone who listened, took me seriously and treated me like an adult: an equal.
His home was small but cosy, pictures of his family displayed on the walls. He pointed them out to me, one by one as if formally introducing us and I felt a knot of warmth unfurl inside me that had nothing to do with the fire. It was then that I realised that he was all alone in this world; I had stumbled upon a kindred soul.
I looked at his face, animated as he recounted tales of his family, and I could see the love so plainly etched there. On the spur of the moment, I reached for my camera and snapped a picture of him, smiling, lost in his memories.
He looked at me, confused for a moment, before asking to see. He stared at it for the longest time before suggesting that he be permitted to take one of me. I opened my mouth to protest but found myself nodding.
Reaching into a drawer, he pulled out an old 135mm camera. Putting his arm gently around me, he fell back into an armchair pulling me into the curve of his body. He held up the camera, grinning like a little boy. I didn't hear the click; all I heard was the thumping of his heart.
I felt his chin rest on the top of my head for the longest moment. When he spoke, his voice was troubled.
"Something happened to you - was it the guy?"
I stayed silent. I had never discussed this. Not with anyone, and lord knows, the police had tried to make me have counselling, but I had known what I needed. I had needed to get far, far away.
"You don't have to tell me. It's ok." His big arms crept around me, holding me tight and before I knew it, tears were running down my cheeks. I trust him. How is that possible?
I couldn't tell him the details, I was too ashamed. However, I found myself telling him about how James had hurt me, that he had 'shared' me with his friends against my will and that I was running, hiding behind a false name until the police caught him and I could see justice handed down.
"You must be disgusted with me. I know I would be." I shook with tears as I spoke, and I felt Emmett's arms tighten protectively, his lips skimming my hair.
"No. You are so strong. You will get past this, and come out healed. I know it."
We stayed like that for some time with me curled in his lap, my face pressed into his soft shirt, the pair of us watching the fire in peaceful silence.
The room was dark now, lit only by the flickers from the grate, and I realised how late it was getting. The storm was still raging outside; the rain lashing down. As if reading my thoughts, Emmett loosened his arms and stood up, sliding me to the side of the chair.
"I think you should stay here tonight. I'll sleep out here by the fire and you can have my bed. I wouldn't be able to rest thinking that you were outside in that weather."
He held out his hand and helped me to my feet, leading me through to his bedroom, fetching himself a spare pillow and blanket from the cupboard. The room was sparsely furnished, all the soft furnishings in shades of blue with blue blinds at the window overlooking the ocean.
"It's lovely, Emmett."
He drew me into a hug and kissed the top of my head.
"Sleep well, Alice."
I watched as he left the room and slowly got myself ready for bed. I curled up in the centre of the mattress, my head on one of the pillows and breathed in the scent of Emmett. It felt so reassuring, like a missing piece of my life's jigsaw. I dozed for a little while before waking again, and for once in my life, I didn't question my actions, I gave in to them.
Wrapping myself in the soft, blue blanket, I padded silently in bare feet through to the other room. Emmett lay by the fire, stretched out under his blanket and, for a moment, I thought he was asleep. As I drew closer, his head turned and he sat upright.
"Alice? Is something wrong?"
I shook my head nervously and knelt down next to him on the rug.
"I don't want to be alone."
With that, he gathered me in his arms, wrapped our blankets around us and held me close as I drifted into sleep once more.
I woke in the dead of night, the fire spitting as it slowly consumed the last of the wood. Emmett was sleeping; his arm now lay loosely over my belly, and I turned carefully to face him. In repose, he was even more beautiful, if that were possible. His blond hair was cropped short but had a wave that suggested it would curl if he grew it longer. His long eyelashes brushed his cheeks and his full, soft lips were slightly parted in sleep. He was angelic.
Unable to stop myself, I ran a finger lightly along his eyebrow, pulling back when I saw him twitch. I pressed my lips softly to his forehead, and he uttered an almost silent sigh; leaning over him, I touched my lips to his in the softest, gentlest kiss, intended only to sweeten his dreams. However, when I pulled back I was startled to see those blue eyes watching me with surprise and confusion.
"Alice? What are you doing?" His voice was cracked with sleep. My face fell – I had made a fool of myself. I should have known.
"I... I wanted to say thank you for letting me stay."
He pushed himself up on his elbow and looked me deep in the eyes, his hand brushing my hair away from my face.
"After all you've been through, don't feel like you have something to prove to me, Alice. You don't."
I took a deep breath and looked at him.
"It's all I know. And if I submit willingly it hurts less."
He looked stunned. His voice was a hoarse whisper.
"You think I would ever want to hurt you? If ever anyone needed and deserved love, sweet girl, it's you."
His hand brushed my cheek and I leaned into it like a cat.
"Has no one ever loved you? Never made you feel like the most important person in the whole world?"
I must have looked utterly bewildered because he leant into me slowly, until his lips were on mine, soft and gentle as a butterfly. He pulled back and looked into my eyes.
"Let me love you, Alice Brandon."
He laid me down on the soft rug, and when I tried to reach for him he gently moved my hands away, shaking his head. Leaning over me, he dropped slow, soft, open-mouthed kisses from the base of my throat up to my jaw, before nuzzling into the sensitive spot beneath my ear and working upward. When his tongue found my ear, I groaned at the unfamiliar sensation, my body leaping with pleasurable shudders. He kissed along my collarbone, his fingers tracing patterns on my skin as he worked, pausing when they reached my bra. As he looked at me for permission, I nodded and he reached around, unhooking it with little effort. He removed the wispy bit of material slowly and reverently, revealing me to his gaze.
My nails dug into my palms. I had never felt womanly. James had mocked my small stature and lack of 'attributes' constantly and I feared now that Emmett would be repelled by my boyish figure. However, when I realised that his warm hands were cradling my small breasts lovingly and his mouth was softly sucking at first one nipple, then the other, tears leaked from under my closed lids.
He saw the tears and stopped immediately.
"Did I hurt you? I'm so sorry..."
I put my fingers over his mouth to stop his apology because never had a man been so wrong.
"You didn't hurt me, Emmett. You're wonderful. I just never expected to feel so... desired."
I ran my fingers over his lips.
His lips finally met mine in a kiss that could set the ocean on fire. Our tongues reached for each other and my hands slid into his hair, pulling him in closer, unable to sate this thirst for him. My hips were weaving, desperate for the age-old dance of man and woman. I had never desired a man this way before, it had always been something I submitted to or was forced to endure. I never knew my body could crave it of its own accord.
We kissed for millennia, and when we broke apart for air, I felt brave enough to ask for what I truly wanted.
"Make love to me, Emmett. Show me how it should feel."
"You really want to?" He looked surprised.
I nodded. "I really do."
His fingers hooked into my panties and drew them down, as he kissed his way down my stomach. As he reached my core I held my breath, not knowing the feel of a man's lips on me there; his tongue ran lightly up and down my wet folds making me gasp and burn, and for a second I was lost in pleasure. However, as his tongue slipped lower I tensed, automatically expecting pain, and he withdrew, circling my clit again and making me sigh. The next time, he changed the sensation by rubbing a wet fingertip through my soft flesh, diverting my attention by drawing one of my nipples into his mouth and suckling it lovingly. When I realised there was a finger inside me, and no pain, I started to move, meeting his hand as a second finger slowly joined the first, as they gently moved in and out.
"Please..." I breathed.
Sliding off his underwear, he lowered himself over me. Gazing into my eyes, he whispered,
"You say stop, we stop. Okay?"
I nodded, my eyes hooded with unfamiliar desire. As he pressed at my entrance, his lips found my ear once again, distracting me just enough. As he slid into me, I gasped aloud and he stilled, anxiously checking my face. Running the backs of my fingers across his jaw in a gentle caress, I met his eyes, smiling reassuringly. I felt him start to move, so carefully and considerately, and I moaned, my head falling back as he filled me, over and over, my legs wrapping themselves around him, pulling him deeper... deeper...
We moved as one, spurring each other on. His face was buried in my neck as he struggled to retain control for my sake. Leaning my head, I kissed his cheek, making him raise his head to look at me.
"Let me..." I whispered in his ear. He looked at me questioningly. "Let me please you. Please – I want to."
He slowly pulled back and, keeping us joined, flipped us until I was lying on top of his beautiful, naked form. I straightened up before leaning back, my small hands clasping his muscled thighs for balance. Then I started to move, hearing his growl of appreciation, not knowing if it was my movements or my naked body inspiring his reaction. I felt his thumb against my clit, and my movements grew more frenzied as the burn started to build. I began bucking wildly against his hand, as heat spread throughout my body before blazing through me like a river bursting its banks. As he felt my spasms and heard my cries, I felt Emmett tense beneath my hands before filling me with his release, my name falling from his lips like an incantation.
We spent the rest of the night sleeping peacefully in each other's arms, but all too soon, it was morning. We lay there, both awake until finally, he spoke.
"You're leaving." It was a statement of fact as we had both known what the morning would bring.
"Yes. It's something I have to do – rebuild myself. I can't rely on others to do it for me. I have to be strong enough."
"You'll come back?"
I turned in his arms to face him, my hand tracing his profile.
I wanted to stay. I wanted to stay so badly, but I knew that if James found out about him he would be in danger and I couldn't do that. I couldn't risk him being hurt now I had finally found him. I would be back – as soon as James was caught and I was free, I would be running full tilt back here into his arms.
The beach house was deserted and locked when I arrived, and so I parked the VW outside the little diner, deciding to go and speak to the owner. Bill, his name is Bill. Pushing open the battered, metal reinforced door, I stepped out of the wind and into welcoming warmth and familiarity. Walking to the counter I looked for Bill, anxious to know if Emmett had been around recently and to gauge how welcome my return might prove to be.
He bustled out of the kitchen, wiping his hands on a towel and, seeing me standing there, apologised and asked if I knew what I wanted to order. I introduced myself, and after a few moments of explanation, I saw recognition flash in his eyes. I smiled and relaxed. He fixed me an orange juice and slid it over the counter.
"So, tell me what brings you back to us, my dear," he asked, "not that it isn't a pleasure to see you once again."
I played with the straw, the ice clinking against the glass.
"I came back to see if...if Emmett McCarty was still the lifeguard here. I made a promise to him that I would come back once I had sorted some things out, and," I breathed out with a sigh, "I so need to see him, to talk to him and explain."
I looked up and saw the look on Bill's face.
"How long has it been, sweetheart? Since you were last here?"
My face fell.
"Two years, almost. I waited too long, didn't I? I knew it – he's met someone or moved away. The beach house looks empty."
I shook my head. I had known it was a long shot, but still, I had prayed for the impossible; my heart had been singing the entire journey back here.
Bill reached out, his warm, work-worn hand resting on mine. He let out a heavy sigh.
"'Bout a year ago, toward the end of the season, Emmett went into town to pick up a delivery for the local surf shack. He needed wax for his board and Tony's truck was off the road so Emmett offered to go collect it. Tony was real happy and promised Emmett his wax for free. Anyhow, on the way back, he got stopped by some out of towners who claimed their jeep needed a jump. By all accounts, Emmett got out his jump leads and it was then that they decided that they wanted his wheels. He-he..." Bill gathered himself for a moment before continuing, "He was badly beaten. The ambulance guys said he put up a hell of a fight, but ..."
I let out a sob, the back of my hand over my mouth, as my head shook from side to side.
"He died on the side of the road, sweetheart. Before they could even get to him, he was gone. There was nothing that they could do." Bill's voice faltered on those last words.
Tears were pouring down my face as I scraped back my seat and I stumbled as I made for the door. I could hear Bill calling after me, telling me to wait. When I turned, my hand on the door, Bill handed me something from a drawer under the counter.
"This was found in his wallet. He carried it everywhere. I said I'd keep it just in case."
It was a folded, slightly overexposed, 135mm photograph.
Wrenching open the door, I ran from the diner, unable to bear the sympathy on Bill's face.
WHY? What was the point of anything anymore?
To have struggled with my own demons and finally won, only to lose the one dream that had sustained me, was too much to bear.
The memory of his smile, his kiss, his touch, all so fleeting; now all they would ever be.
How was it possible that someone who dedicated his life to saving others, a life so full of hope, could be snuffed out – left to die in the dust on the side of the road?
I wiped my tears away, but more simply fell to replace them.
Walking slowly down to the beach, I clutched Emmett's photo of us, tracing the line of his jaw, the curve of his lips. Looking up, I saw a dark haired girl with a child playing on the sand. The child watched me curiously, as I walked toward them. When I looked at him, he stared back at me with cornflower blue eyes, before his face erupted into a happy grin, crowing with joy as he slapped the sand.
My miracle. My little piece of heaven who would never know his father, and how wonderful he was. The son that Emmett would never see.
Bella smiled up at me before seeing my tears. She had come with me on the trip for company and to help with baby Dale, and knew how much this trip had meant. I clutched my photo as I told her what Bill had said and she hugged me close as I sobbed, my heart fit to break.
We both looked at Dale, who had stopped playing with the sand and was now squinting down the beach, a big smile on his chubby cheeks. Looking into the sun, for the briefest moment, I thought I caught a glimpse of sparkling eyes and a dimpled smile.
I shook my head. Emmett, my dearest love, I'm so sorry I was late.
Lifting Dale onto my lap, he continued to smile into the bright sun at the spot where Emmett and I had met, that fateful day.
He looked at me and pointed into the sun.