*NOTE: My writing ability and style has changed a great deal since I started on this journey. I don't have the time to go back and rewrite my stories, so I apologize in advance for the mistakes in early chapters and one-shots. As you read on, I think you'll notice the change in my writing. For a sample of the way I write today, you might want to take a look at the latest chapter of one of my WIPs. I admit to cringing when I read some of what I wrote in the past, but I've made the decision to leave my early work up on my profile untouched. For those willing to go on this journey with me, I thank you.
Second Place Winner (public vote) of the 'Pick A Pic Challenge'
Title: Broken Windows
Rating/ Disclaimer: Rated M. Twilight characters belong to Stephenie Meyer. I don't own anything except Twilight merchandise and a huge Robporn collection. *The plot-line and original characters in Broken Windows belong to me.*
Summary:When Bella arrives at the mysterious Masen Island to finish her manuscript, she is faced with the resurgence of dreams and memories of the beautiful boy who glared at her all through high school. Now, four years later, can she solve the puzzle of Edward Cullen before losing touch with reality?
To see all the stories that are a part of this contest please visit: www .fanfiction-challenges. blogspot. com
A/N: Yes, I've written another story. Thank you all for being so wonderful while I keep searching for a local Twi-Anon meeting. I highly recommend listening to Warning Sign by Coldplay while reading this story.
Love and Edward hugs to my pre-readers Keye and Sandy for all their invaluable help and support. Special thanks to Katsflowergirls for her thoughts, suggestions and enthusiasm.
Big love to my awesome beta, Jess (jkane180), for getting this baby back to me in record time, and for all her valuable input. I still think she might be a vampire. Shh...
Excerpt from 'Warning Sign'
A warning sign
It came back to haunt me, and I realized
That you were an island, and I passed you by
And you were an island to discover
Come on in
I've gotta tell you what a state I'm in
I've gotta tell you in my loudest tones
That I started looking for a warning sign
When the truth is, I miss you
Yeah the truth is, that I miss you so
And I'm tired; I should not have let you go
With trembling fingers, I slit open the letter. The return address indicated it was from The Masen Foundation, an illustrious and mysterious group that helped to further the careers of individuals involved in various creative endeavors that had not found success yet. Each year, they put the call out for those who dared to submit an essay as to why they deserved a shot at their internship. Along with your essay, you were to submit your most prized piece of work—not what you thought others would love—what you loved best.
My heart started to pound in my chest; I'd taken a chance and submitted something I never thought would see the light of day, would never be read by anyone else's eyes but mine. Even now, four years later, when I thought of him my pulse fluttered, my mouth ran dry, and I felt a tingling in my nether regions that caused my face to blush crimson.
In a moment of sheer insanity, I'd written an essay and submitted my as-yet-unfinished piece. It was a chunk of my very soul put to paper, and once I'd dropped the package off at FedEx, I had a major panic attack when I got back in my car. What had I done? I'd cringed inside, just knowing that someone at The Masen Foundation would be laughing their ass off at my ridiculous attempt to gain entry to their exclusive program.
The letter was open... so why was I still standing there like a coward? What was the worst they could say? No? It was nice of them to send a response at all.
Stop being a coward, Bella! Just read it already so you can get on with your life!
Sliding the thick, creamy slice of very expensive stationary from the envelope, I unfolded it and began to read:
Dear Ms. Swan,
Thank you for submitting your work to The Masen Foundation. Each year, we look for sources of untapped talent that has yet to be discovered.
I stopped reading. This was sounding like a form letter... a very nice form letter saying 'Were you daft thinking we would consider your piece of work worthy?'
With a sigh, I tossed the letter on the kitchen table, tears filling my eyes. The piece I'd submitted contained parts of me that I had never shared with anyone before. Maybe it was time to put it to rest even though it had no ending. It was loosely based on real life events which had no real resolution, so maybe it was fitting that it share the same fate. Picking up the letter, I decided to finish reading it.
Many talented people submit their work to us, only to be turned away; this is not a rejection of their efforts, but simply means we only have so many spots we can fill in our unique program.
Our team was extremely impressed with the unfinished manuscript you submitted. We would like to extend an invitation for you to spend a month at our private facility. There are a few conditions to your acceptance into our program, as follows:
1. You must sign a non-disclosure agreement which states you will not share any private information, the location of, tutoring methods (if provided), or photographs of The Masen Foundation.
2. Your acceptance is dependent upon your agreement to finish the manuscript you submitted while you are under our tutelage. No other works are to be started, or continued, during your stay with us.
3. The Masen Foundation claims ownership rights to said manuscript and will compensate you handsomely.
If you successfully complete our program, we will promote your future work as long as it meets our quality standards.
We hope you will consider our offer. We look forward to hearing from you and hope your decision will be to join the mounting number of successful artists and authors that have come out of our program.
CEO, The Masen Foundation
Holy shit! They accepted me. They accepted me! Oh, my God! I jumped up and down in the kitchen, squealing like a lunatic. I was bursting at the seams with the news! This was the kind of thing a girl wanted to share with her best friend over drinks and dinner. Too bad Angela was away at college; yet another reminder of my boring existence.
After high school, I'd stayed around town, going to the community college. My dad, Charlie, started having heart trouble (could it be all that diner food he ate?) just before graduation, and I felt he needed me close by. I gave up my dreams of Dartmouth and accepted that I would probably leave Forks in a pine box. It was okay though; I could write from anywhere, and writing was my passion.
Ironically, Charlie was killed in an automobile accident six months ago, and I was now the owner of our little homestead. There was nothing holding me to Forks after Charlie died, but the memories of our time together were tied to this place, to this house, and so far I hadn't had the heart to sell it.
My eyes unfocused as I fell back into memories of the unfinished story I'd submitted to The Masen Foundation. Nothing else that I'd written had the same feel, the same pull, as that one. I could never bear to finish it, to put an ending to what had consumed me for so long. Still, I dreamed of him; his darkened eyes glaring at me with hatred, but sometimes it was different, and that's where the fantasy part came in—sometimes his eyes were of the softest golden honey, and he looked at me with longing...
Shaking off the memories, I started to get excited about my internship in the program. I called and accepted before I had a chance to chicken out. Maybe finishing the manuscript once and for all was exactly what I needed to do so I could move on with my life.
~*Two Weeks Later*~
Finally, the day arrived; I was leaving for the island where I would be staying for the next month. After several conversations with representatives of The Masen Foundation, meetings with their attorneys, and an atrocious amount of paper signing, I was official.
A limo picked me up at the house; a long, black stretch with darkened windows. It seemed like a bit of overkill for one person, but who was I to judge? I sank back into the butter-soft leather seats and enjoyed the ride to the airport in Seattle. My bags were taken onto the private Lear jet which would be whisking me to... the island. What island? That was a grand question. One of the many conditions of my acceptance was that the location of their private island remained private. I was informed to pack clothing befitting of Forks—the climate where I would be was very similar. Oh, joy... more foggy, rainy, unpredictable weather. Couldn't they have chosen somewhere sunny and balmy?
When the plane landed, I was handed a blindfold. For real? Apparently, they were quite serious about it, and someone was assigned to be my 'seeing eye person' for the duration. We walked for a long while, drove in another limo—I could tell because of the cushy seats and the ridiculous amount of leg room—and then boarded a boat. By my approximation, the boat ride took about an hour, and then my blindfold was removed as my feet touched down on the wooden dock of the island. Squinting my eyes, I tried to adjust to the light after being in darkness for hours. Thankfully, it was a gray and foggy afternoon, and I was soon able to take in everything around me. There was a small beach that led up to extremely green grass—green like Forks—and in the distance I could see a forest; again, much like Forks. A sense of déjà vu struck me.
The island was quite hilly, and looking up the expanse of grass and woods, I spied a clearing all the way at the very top where there was a beautiful house. Even from here, I sensed its regal beauty and could tell it was very old. It was made of stone the color of a stormy sky, with three levels of intricate stonework, turrets and uniquely styled windows; I was in love with it immediately. My mouth dropped open as I gaped up at it, and the captain of the boat smiled.
"She's a beauty, isn't she?"
An awed, "Yes," was all I could muster.
"I've radioed the house; someone will be coming to fetch you in a few minutes."
"Already sent ahead, miss. You enjoy your stay now." He tipped his hat to me and then went about readying his boat for the return trip.
I stood on the dock looking out over the water, but as far as my eyes could see, there was no land in sight. Granted, it was foggy, but the ride here had taken an hour. For a moment, a shiver of apprehension flitted up my spine, reminding me of something out of a horror movie, but I was just psyching myself out; after all, The Masen Foundation was well known for donating to charitable causes and furthering careers. I'd never heard of anyone that entered their program disappearing; to the contrary, everyone spoke very highly of it—the little they would say about it anyway—and many of their 'graduates' now had extremely successful careers.
"Miss Swan?" a brusque voice came from behind me.
I turned to see a tall, thin, tanned woman in warm-up clothes. The deep blue of her very expensive looking sportswear set off her ash blond hair nicely. Her appearance was extremely tidy; her hair was pulled into a low ponytail, and she wore minimal make up. Her blue eyes sparkled when they met mine, and I could see that time had been kind to her; she appeared to be a well-kept fifty.
"Welcome to Masen Island. I'm Caroline Strauss, the director of the program." She reached a hand out to me, and I found her to have a firm, dry handshake.
"Nice to meet you, Ms. Strauss."
"Oh, please; call me Caroline." She waved a hand at me. "We have some things to discuss before I leave you."
"Leave me?" I queried.
"Well, yes. I'm headed back to the mainland today; I just came over to get things prepared and greet you when you arrived. Sonia will be along in a moment to escort you up to the main house. She'll be your point of contact while you're here."
"Point of contact?" I echoed, sounding like a parrot.
"Yes. Sonia will take care of any needs you have, and if you need to communicate with the foundation for any reason, it will be through her. Mr. Masen is in residence at the moment as well, but you aren't to bother him with any trivialities; that's what Sonia's here for."
"The Mr. Masen?" I asked in awe.
"Yes, the Mr. Masen, who runs the foundation in honor of his mother's memory." Caroline looked amused at my naïveté. "But be aware, you're not to disturb Mr. Masen during your stay here. He's a very private man, and you will be expelled from the program if you pique his ire," she warned.
"Do I get to meet him?"
"You may, and then again, you may not. Mr. Masen is a bit... eccentric. He chooses which candidates he meets, and I have to tell you, it doesn't happen often, though he does like to communicate with our interns indirectly."
"And how would he do that?"
"He might leave notes in the mailbox outside your door or by the computer where you'll be writing. He shows a lot of interest in our talent, and he may want to see your work and give pointers or make remarks for you to consider."
"I see." A strand of hair whipped into my eyes, and I brushed it behind my ear, glancing up at the house as I did. I thought I saw a shadowy figure up on the third floor looking down at me, but I was sure it was just my imagination.
"A few other things… You're free to roam the island as you wish; explore to your heart's content. We do have wildlife here, so you may want to avoid the forest."
"Yes, we import deer, elk and mountain lions. There is an electric fence to keep them in the wooded areas. The first hundred feet of forest are quite safe, but you'll see yellow markers where the electric fence starts. Going beyond that point is... at your own risk."
Why in the world would they import animals to a remote island?
"Okay, no woods for me." I grinned, and Caroline smiled back, but it never reached her eyes.
"Moving on; the first floor is probably where you'll spend the bulk of your time and consists of the kitchen, dining room, music room, writing lounge, gym, etc. The second floor houses the quarters for anyone staying here—currently just you. The third floor belongs to Mr. Masen, and under no circumstances are you to disturb him up there. Nobody is allowed in his quarters; not even Sonia."
"I understand. Where does Sonia stay?" I asked curiously.
"Sonia stays in a cottage away from the main house. You'll have an intercom to reach her in her quarters, but employees stay away from the main house as much as possible to give our interns alone time with their creative process."
"But Mr. Masen stays in the main house?" I asked carefully.
"You won't even know he's there... with the exception of piano music if he's in the mood."
"He likes to listen to piano music?"
"No; he plays. Quite beautifully. You'll be in for a treat if you get to hear Mr. Masen play."
"Well, I look forward to it."
A dark-haired young woman came up behind Caroline. She had lovely brown eyes, high cheekbones and olive-toned skin. She had a petite build and walked with confidence.
"Hello! You must be Isabella Swan. I'm Sonia." She held her hand out with a welcoming smile.
"Please call me Bella." I couldn't help but smile back; she seemed very open and friendly.
"Welcome, Bella. Are you ready to head up to the house?"
"I think so..." I looked to Caroline for approval.
Caroline turned to Sonia. "Good afternoon, Sonia. Yes, Ms. Swan is ready; I think we've finished here." Looking back to me, Caroline said, "Good luck. I hear you're very talented, and I hope this is all that you want it to be."
"Thank you. It was nice to meet you, Caroline."
A few minutes later, I found myself hiking up a steep trail of packed dirt with Sonia. I found it strange that the trail from the dock wasn't wide enough for a vehicle, but I'm not sure I'd feel safe in one at this angle anyway. Suddenly, I understood the track suit Caroline had been wearing, the equally practical sweats and windbreaker that Sonia had on, and I was grateful that I had followed the travel tips I was provided by the foundation by wearing loose, comfortable clothing and sneakers. I was in decent shape, but the hike wasn't conducive to deep conversation, so I kept my questions to myself.
There were a number of things I found strange about this place already, but perhaps their unconventional methods were part of what made them so successful. I couldn't deny that having a beautiful mansion and the rest of this intriguing island mostly to myself to stimulate the creative process made my body hum with anticipation. I hadn't touched the manuscript in nearly four years, with the exception of making editing tweaks; I'd been so afraid to put an ending to it, but for some reason it felt right now.
The path wound back and forth along the hillside, sometimes leveling out for a short time. The wind continued to move in off the water, working my hair into a flying frenzy on my head, and I gave up trying to push it out of my eyes and just raked it back with my sunglasses, resigning myself to a hundred-stroke brushing once I got settled. Thankfully, there was nobody here to impress.
A sudden tingling feeling that spread across my shoulder blades and up to my head set the hairs on the back of my neck on end. I stopped abruptly, stumbling a bit, and turned around to glance behind me. There was a slope of grass leading out to the woods, and I thought I caught a slight movement through the trees.
"Everything okay? Am I going too fast?" Sonia turned with a look of concern, her long ponytail flopping over the front of her shoulder.
"I'm fine; it's just... it felt like I was being watched, and I thought I saw movement over by those trees. Is someone else out here?"
"Nobody goes out there; that's where the wild things are." Sonia's eyes grew large for a moment, but then she laughed. "Seriously though, there are wild animals on the island that are penned in by electric fence, so maybe you caught sight of one of them."
"What happens if the power goes out?" I asked with a shaky laugh.
"Backup generators. We can keep going for at least a week here without power."
"How do they get power out to a remote island anyway?" I muttered.
"I have no idea! Underwater, I suppose. Ready to go? We should reach the house in about five minutes."
It was at one of the flat portions of the trail with the hill at higher than head level that it ended as we rounded the next bend, and I was graced with the beauty of the main house. If I thought it was a sight to behold from down below, it was absolutely magnificent up close.
"Oh, my God. It's beautiful! Beautiful doesn't do it justice... I don't think there are any words that would do it justice."
The entire house was built out of the stormy colored stone with numerous turrets and unique crevices. The windows had leaded panes and were all different sizes and shapes, but the one thing most of them had in common was their large size, made for letting in lots of light. The windows of the third floor were a bit smaller, but even those were larger than usual. The front steps were pale gray marble; I would have expected white, but somehow it worked with the darkness of the house. Because there was no need for a driveway, the greener-than-green grass rolled almost all the way up to the front steps, but a lovely stone walkway and small patio with a wrought iron table and chairs provided a buffer.
"This place is something else."
"It is," Sonia agreed. "I love it here... so tranquil and peaceful."
"Are you always here, Sonia? Don't you get lonely?"
"I'm here when we have an intern, but then I go back to the mainland for a few months until the next one comes."
"And where do you live when you're not here?"
"Unh-unh! The location of this island is top secret. Nice try though." Sonia smiled cheekily. "You don't want me to lose my job, do you?"
"Yes. If I slipped and told you, I would be dismissed immediately."
"How would they know?"
"Mr. Masen knows everything. There's no hiding anything from him."
"How does he know?"
Sonia shrugged. "I have no idea, but he does. I appreciate all that he's done for me and my family, so I have no problem being honest and loyal."
"Sounds good to me."
Sonia led me inside, and I was immediately smitten. There were hardwood floors with huge plush rugs and runners throughout the house. The walls were a lighter shade of stone than the outside, and the kitchen was stone and brickwork with a real, working brick oven. The furnishings were expensive but tasteful—there was nothing ostentatious about this house—it was welcoming and cozy despite its large size. There were several fireplaces in various rooms on the first floor including the 'writing room,' which was a cozy little study with butter soft couches, built in bookcases filling two walls, and a desk facing floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the water.
"It's perfect, isn't it?"
"God, yes. How could you not be inspired in here?"
"Let me show you up to your room. By the way, you're only to use the main staircase; the back stairs that enter the kitchen are only utilized by Mr. Masen."
I followed Sonia up the grand staircase with its curved mahogany railings, which were polished to a gleam. An intricate crystal chandelier hung from the cathedral ceiling, and despite all this glamour surrounding me, I still felt completely at home here.
The second floor walls were pale white stone with an almost pearlescent sheen to them; thick white carpeting hushed our steps as we traveled the long hallway which had several doors on each side.
"Here you are."
Sonia unlocked a mahogany door to our right, standing back so I could enter first. My jaw dropped when I saw my 'room,' which was really more of a suite. The same white carpeting and pearlescent stone walls made up the room; it was a vision of white, cream and pale pink—all airiness and light. The only real color in the room came from the mahogany dresser, armoire and four-poster bed. The queen-sized bed was draped with frothy layers of netting held aside by shell pink tie-backs, and there were plump pink throw pillows resting softly on the white duvet to match. There was a sitting area over by French doors that led out to a balcony with a gorgeous view of the hillside, beach, and water. There was a walk-in closet almost as large as my bedroom back in Forks and a delightful en suite with a multiple head shower and separate Jacuzzi tub.
"Wow. This is more like a resort, Sonia! I could just enjoy spending time here and get nothing done."
"I know, right?" Sonia smiled indulgently. I'm sure she'd been through this numerous times with other interns.
"I'm sorry; back home, my whole bedroom could almost fit in the walk-in. This is... different for me. The funny thing is, despite the size of this place, and the obvious expense it must have taken to decorate it, it's just so homey and cozy."
"It is. I think a lot of planning has gone into giving the house that atmosphere so our interns would feel comfortable and creative here. Your bags are over there in the corner. I'll leave you to get settled in."
I glanced where Sonia indicated and saw my luggage piled neatly in the corner.
"Oh, what about my laptop and my cell phone?"
"No electronic devices with outside communication are allowed here, Bella. You'll get those back when you leave."
"How will I work?"
"The computer in the writing room has already been loaded with your manuscript. There's internet access if you need to do any research, but no emails can be sent from it."
"I know it sounds a bit strange, but you'll find the lack of outside distraction helps you to focus on your craft. Before I go, would you like to come down for some dinner or should I bring something up?"
"I can make my own food, Sonia; you don't have to do that." I shifted my feet uncomfortably.
"No way! You're here to work on your manuscript, not to cook. I don't even want to see you near my kitchen unless it's to get a snack after hours. Would you like a hot meal, a sandwich, a salad?"
"A sandwich would be great. Thank you, Sonia."
After Sonia left, I hung some of my clothes in the closet and put my socks, underwear, t-shirts and sweats into the drawers that were built into its walls. I stored my suitcases out of sight in the back and decided to sit down and brush my hair.
Sitting on the side of the bed, I stroked the brush through my hair, zoning out a bit as all the tension started to drain from my body. The brush felt good pulling gently through my hair; for some reason I found it a grounding experience. When I was nearly finished, my senses started to come back to me, and a vague scent wafted into my nose that seemed familiar—slightly sweet, musky and woodsy all at the same time. My eyes snapped open, and I noticed an envelope propped up against the lamp on the night table. Written in beautiful, old-fashioned script it invited... Please read.
I slipped the thick piece of parchment out of the envelope—who wrote on parchment paper these days?—and opened it to find a note written in the same flowery hand.
My apologies that I don't know your name yet and can't address this properly. I only just arrived last evening, but I promise not to be so rude in my next communication.
I hear your work is riveting, and my sister has assured me that it's something I must read. I look forward to perusing your manuscript, and I hope to have some remarks and/or suggestions for you soon.
I hope you will enjoy your stay with us.
Interesting... the scent seemed to be coming from the stationary. Lifting it to my nose, I inhaled deeply. God, but it was so familiar—maybe a cologne I'd smelled somewhere before? A memory tugged at the periphery of my thoughts, but I couldn't drag it out into the light of day to examine it.
Shrugging it off, I slid the note carefully back into the envelope and placed it in the nightstand drawer; I had the compulsion to preserve it just as it was.
When it was time for bed, I put on a pair of sweats and a tank top (my usual nightly uniform) after taking a long, hot shower. I padded around barefoot on the thick pile carpeting, enjoying the feel of the fibers squishing up between my toes.
Before Sonia had left for the day, she showed me the intercom consoles which were spread around the house so I could reach her if necessary. I was a little apprehensive that I would be creeped-out being in this house all alone, but I felt surprisingly at home.
Struck by the munchies, I slipped down to the kitchen for a late night snack and was on my way back down the hall to my room when I heard a loud crash from upstairs. Startled, the knowledge that I wasn't supposed to go to the third floor never crossed my mind; my only thought was that someone might be hurt. For that matter, I had no idea how old Mr. Masen was—he might be an elderly man in need of assistance from a fall.
Locating a door that looked different from the rest, I pulled it open with some difficulty, the hinges creaking loudly from disuse as it swung out. Looking up the stairs before me, I was confronted by a yawning darkness. I had no idea if there were flashlights around anywhere, but I could see moonlight streaming through a window at the top, so I grasped the railing and started climbing the steep steps.
When I reached the landing, my eyes were beginning to adjust, and the moon bathed the large foyer in a pale wash of bluish light. There was a big, solid looking door which I presumed was the entrance to Mr. Masen's chambers.
"Mr. Masen?" My voice came out in a croaky whisper.
There was no response. You could hear a pin drop in the cavernous silence, and I worried that he was passed out in there somewhere.
Moving closer to the door, I knocked lightly. "Mr. Masen? A-Are you all right? I, um, heard a loud crash come from up here..."
A strangled moan came from behind the door.
"Mr. Masen? Can I do something to help you? Have you fallen down?"
There was a low rumble that sounded almost like a growl. Something skimmed across the floor, and then there was ragged breathing from farther away. Suddenly, I heard the sound of glass breaking and the tinkle of shards hitting the floor as someone took deep, gulping breaths of air.
"Mr. Masen? Sh-should I call Sonia for you?"
"No!" a voice rasped, sounding far away. More deep breaths were taken, and then he said, "Were you not told to stay off this floor?"
"Well, yes, but I heard a crash up here! I was worried you'd hurt yourself."
A short, bitter laugh issued from him, followed by more gulping breaths. "I assure you, I was far better off before you came barging up to my door. Please go." His voice came out in a hoarse whisper, his tone rather harsh.
"Okay... I'm so sorry I disturbed you; I really am. Please accept my apology."
I hesitated, hoping Mr. Masen would absolve me, but there was complete silence from him. A few seconds later, there was a loud crack! as more glass shattered, followed by another strangled moan. It sounded like someone was breathing through gritted teeth, and I wondered if Mr. Masen had some kind of condition that caused him a great deal of pain.
"I'm so very sorry," I whispered, tears filling my eyes as I backed away from the door until I hit the wall beside the stairway. Turning quickly, I rushed as fast as I dared back to my room before allowing the tears to fall.
How stupid was I? Disturbing the man in charge of my program the first night here? I was explicitly warned never to go to the third floor or I would be immediately expelled from the internship. Crawling under the thick duvet comforter, I prayed hard that Mr. Masen didn't demand that I leave tomorrow.
In the morning, Sonia was around bright and early, but no word was spoken of my transgression from the night before. I waited and waited throughout the day, but she never said a word or acted differently. Perhaps Mr. Masen had decided to keep my idiocy to himself and give me another chance?
Most of the day was spent sitting at the desk in the writing room, looking out over the water. Since I was left to my own devices, Sonia didn't know I wasn't working. Besides, authors needed time to dream; so much of writing is done in the imagination first, and then the challenge is to translate that through the fingers onto the paper in a way that makes the reader feel it, see it, taste it. Was I plotting my story? Dreaming it into existence? No. I was quaking in my fuzzy pink socks (yeah, that's right... socks) all day waiting for the other shoe to drop; waiting for Mr. Masen to summon Sonia to inform her that I was expelled from the program and banned from the island. It never happened.
That night, I again crept down to the kitchen for a snack before bed, feeling just a little bit like a sneaky kid. When I got back to my room, I smelled that intriguing scent again; the one that tugged at the edges of my subconscious mind. It was a bit stronger, and I inhaled deeply, trying to place it, but it still eluded me.
As I was about to turn down the bed, I saw it; a small envelope rested against one of the pillows. Sliding the paper out, I opened it with trembling hands. It was written in the same perfect, flowery hand as the first note I'd received.
My apologies if I frightened you last evening. It always saddens me when a woman cries; more-so when I have a part in it.
It is imperative that you follow the rules during your stay here. Regretfully, another mistake like that could mean the end of you. No matter what you hear coming from upstairs, NEVER step foot on the third floor again. If you can't abide by this, perhaps it's best that you leave immediately. I'll leave this to your discretion.
If you choose to remain here, I look forward to reading your work.
His note was very formal; from the wording right down to the flowery script and parchment paper. I had presumed Mr. Masen to be a much older man, but the voice I'd heard last night, while extremely rough and gravelly, did not belong to an old man. His voice had been filled with pain and anger at the time, but there was a soft, velvet quality underlying all of that—one that had me yearning to hear his normal voice for some reason. That would likely never happen! After my big moment last night, he would never want to meet me.
It was odd the way he worded the sentence, 'another mistake like that could mean the end of you;' I assumed he meant the end of my internship, but a cold finger of fear slid slowly up my spine when I reread what could be considered a veiled threat. And how did he know I'd been crying? Bella, stop this! You're psyching yourself out again. You broke the rules; he didn't seek you out. Don't make this into a horror scenario.
The good news was Mr. Masen was leaving it to my discretion whether to remain here or not. I guess that meant he wouldn't be sharing my moment of stupidity with Sonia. Gratefulness filled me, and I grabbed a piece of stationary and a pen from the drawer of the nightstand to write him back.
Dear Mr. Masen,
Thank you for being so understanding and giving me another chance. Please accept my apology; I truly didn't mean to invade your privacy but was simply concerned you might have been injured. I hate to admit that I wasted the entire day quaking in fear and didn't do anything creative whatsoever. I hope my mistake will not cause you to think less of me as I had only the very best of intentions.
I was unsure where I would leave the message for him, but I recalled Sonia saying there was a mailbox outside my door, so perhaps there was one for Mr. Masen. Cautiously, I opened my door and tip-toed downstairs to the kitchen where I'd seen Sonia's message box. Sure enough, next to it was a slot marked 'E.A. Masen.' I slipped my note in and then headed back to bed.
It didn't take long for me to fall asleep in the downy softness; it was like being suspended inside a cloud. For the first time in several weeks, I dreamed of him; Edward Cullen – the man who was the object of all my desires, disappointments, and the true subject of my manuscript...
Turning in my narrow bed, I lifted my head, sensing a presence. "Dad?" I mumbled. There was no response, and after looking around the room, I saw nothing. Shrugging it off as part of a dream, I buried my head in the pillow and fell back to sleep.
Drifting up to consciousness slowly, I felt a coolness tracing my bare arm softly; goosebumps raised on my flesh, following its path. My heart started beating hard, and the cool touch retreated. Opening my eyes cautiously, I looked up into the golden eyes of Edward Cullen. My mouth opened in shock, but he placed a cool finger over my lips, a lopsided smirk pulling at his.
"Shhh..." he whispered. "Close your eyes, Angel."
How could I ignore the request of his smooth, velvet voice? I closed them. There was a cool breeze, and I felt the loss of him immediately. Opening my eyes, I saw that I was alone. There was no way he could have been here at all; nobody could disappear without making a sound in three seconds...
Jolting awake with my heart pounding, I found myself surrounded by softness. Was I still dreaming? Cool air wafted over my bare arms, and I lifted my head. The French doors were open slightly, a damp breeze blowing in off the water and rustling the filmy curtains. I was in my room on Masen Island, not my room back home at Charlie's. It slammed home that my father was dead, and a searing shard of pain sliced through my heart causing me to curl inward, clutching my chest.
"Oh, Charlie... I miss you so much," I whispered. "I've screwed up my life so badly. I still dream of him, Dad. I haven't seen him for four years; he hated me, and still I long for..." I drifted off. What? What did I long for?
Falling back against the pillows, I wrapped myself in down and sank into a dreamless sleep.
The next morning, I was determined to start making the most of my time here on the island, to stimulate my creativity. My manuscript would be finished, and then I could put the memory of Edward Cullen behind me for good.
Taking a Styrofoam cup of hot chocolate (one of my guilty little pleasures) with me outside, I started exploring the island. Walking around the side of the huge house, I found a tool shed and maintenance area. The woods caught my eye before I went further, and I changed direction, heading into the verdant green grass. I would have expected the grass here to be scrubby, not lush and healthy, and I was fascinated with its striking contrast against the iron gray sky. The rolling hills of Ireland flitted through my mind—not that I'd ever been there—but it was how I pictured it in my mind.
Spying a stone bench at the edge of the woods (these people thought of everything!), I set my hot chocolate down. Glancing around furtively to make sure I was alone, I lay down in the lush grass with my arms and legs splayed out. A giggle erupted... then another... and another. Soon, I was rolling around on the lawn like a little kid, laughing.
After regaining my senses, I sat down on the bench to sip my hot chocolate. I hadn't rolled around like that since... probably ever. I didn't know what came over me, but it was a lot of fun! Turning my head, I peered into the trees, looking for the signposts for the electric fence. I saw some bright yellow flags at the bases of certain trees, and I supposed it would be wise to stay well back from those.
Deciding I should probably get some work done, I started walking back toward the house. My eye was drawn up to the third floor, and I noticed that several panes of glass in one of the windows were broken out. Could that be the breaking glass I'd heard coming from Mr. Masen's quarters? The deep, gulping breaths... maybe he had asthma or some other breathing condition, and he needed air? Again, something tugged at my mind, skittering away before I could grasp it. Shaking it off, I went to the kitchen to get a fresh cup of hot chocolate and a turkey sandwich before settling down at the computer in the writing room.
The computer was a top-of-the-line laptop. I signed in with the user name I was given, and a custom desktop came up with my manuscript pre-loaded. A box popped up with blinking words:
Message waiting: Click here.
Curious, I clicked on it, and an instant message box popped up with The Masen Foundation logo.
E.A Masen: Good morning, Isabella. I trust you slept well. I've started reading your manuscript, and I find myself intensely curious about it already. Before I ask the questions that are flooding through my mind... is any of this based in truth?
E.A. Masen logged off: 5:16am
Hmm... how much should I tell Mr. Masen? There was no way I could admit that most of it was true—not unless I wanted to be locked away—but it might be important if he knew that my main character was based on someone I knew. I hit 'reply,' and the system asked me to enter a display name, so I chose 'Bella.'
Bella: I slept very well, thank you. To answer your question: yes; some of the manuscript is based on truth. The inspiration for the story is a boy I went to high school with. I never could figure out why he hated me so much. Since the first day we had a class together, he glared at me with hatred whenever our eyes met, and it's something I've tried to understand and reconcile within myself for a quite a while. I've spent a lot of time thinking about him, developing strange theories on reasons someone could possibly wish death on a stranger—and that's just what I felt he wished for me: death. (I know it sounds melodramatic.) I also started to observe him closely in my quest to find out information, and it led me to some really weird thoughts. Much of the manuscript is just theory, fantasy and conjecture, but a kernel of truth does lie beneath. I hope this clears up your question, and I look forward to further discussion with you.
The rest of the day was spent reviewing my manuscript, allowing the feel of it to seep back into my bones so I could start work on it again. I found while away from my writing for any length of time, it was beneficial to re-immerse myself in it before continuing. So, although it brought back painful memories, I spent the afternoon soaking in the details of my pathetic obsession with Edward Cullen and his hatred of me. I still had a hard time understanding why I was so smitten with someone who had absolutely no interest in me; in fact, I'd barely dated in the past four years because nobody measured up to my lofty image of the boy with the messy bronze hair and the crooked smile—of course, he never aimed that panty melting smile my way; I only merited dark looks and snorts of disdain. Tears pricked at my eyes, and I was transported back to my first day at Forks High...
Everyone was interested that the police chief's daughter was the new girl; everyone had a theory, a desire, an angle. Ducking my head, I tried to stay under the radar, but it was nearly impossible in such a small school. I was called to the guidance office about a glitch in my schedule, which made me late for Biology, and I got there when there was only five minutes left of class. When I walked in, the teacher welcomed me and directed me to the only open seat. As I moved across the front of the room, a fan blew my hair into my face, and once I'd swept it away, my eyes landed on my lab partner. He was the most beautiful boy I'd ever laid eyes on, and I wasn't a girl that was easily impressed; in fact, I was shocked at the instant attraction coursing through me. Too bad it wasn't mutual. The boy—tall, lean-muscled, pale skin, perfect features, dark eyes and a mass of chaotic ginger hair—placed a hand over his mouth, glaring back at me with revulsion. His eyes appeared to darken several shades, and he clutched the side of the lab table. As I slowly made my way over to sit down, he jumped up from his seat and rushed over to the window. The bell rang then, all the kids beginning to file out noisily, but I was worried about the boy; he looked ill. I made my way over to him.
"Are you all right? Do you need help?"
Ignoring me, his hands slid up the pane of the window, tendons standing out on his lean arms, and there was a loud crack! as the glass splintered beneath his palms. I would have expected him to yank his hands away from the sharp glass, but instead, he pushed harder until the window fell outward, and cold air burst into the room in a rush. Resting his forehead against the window frame, he took in deep breaths of air.
Moving next to him, I addressed him again, "Are you sick? Can I help?"
Dark eyes—blacker than pitch—turned my way and glared. "You can get the hell away from me for starters!" he spat.
Involuntarily, my hand clapped over my mouth, and I feared for my life. Mr. Banner came up behind me. "Miss Swan, you can go. Edward has a breathing condition, and certain things set it off. Please, everyone, clear the room." Mr. Banner guided me away from Edward, toward the door. "Edward, the room will be empty in a moment. I'll close the door to give you privacy."
There was a strangled, "Thank you."
My head snapped up, and I wandered restlessly over to the window, looking out at the water. Perhaps that's what was bothering me about the incident with Mr. Masen: he seemed to have some kind of breathing problem, too. That could explain why I had a strong sense of déjà vu when I was up on the third floor.
Fingering the filmy curtains absently, I recalled how that first day set the tone for the rest of my interactions with Edward.
Edward was absent from school for a few weeks after my first day, and Mr. Banner assigned me another partner since I was a new student. Angela Weber was a straight A student and was amenable to working alone until Edward returned to school, so Mr. Banner paired me with Jessica Stanley instead.
When Edward returned to school, he gave me a wide berth and looked at me with distaste or outright malice whenever I got too close. Foolishly, I longed for him in a way I'd never experienced before, and I soon started to have dreams about Edward. The most common dream was of me waking up in my bed at night to find him hovering near me, his golden eyes tender. When my heart started to pound, he would either disappear or whisper something, such as, "I'm sorry, Angel; this is the way it has to be," before taking off.
As time went on, I discovered that my fear, surprise or heart rate tended to send my dream Edward running, so I practiced slowing my heart beat, hoping to hold onto the fantasy of him as long as possible. Once, I sensed him but fought to remain calm, keeping my eyes closed. After a little while, he stroked my cheek lightly. "I wish things could be different, Angel," he whispered, and there was such longing in his velvet voice.
"Why can't they?" I whispered back, keeping my eyes closed.
"I can't tell you that. Just know that I wish it with all that I am."
Frustrated, I opened my eyes, grabbing his hand in mine. His golden eyes darkened immediately, and he broke away from me, disappearing in seconds.
The dreams of Edward came less frequently after that, and over the past four years, most of the dreams were flat and two dimensional compared to those early ones that felt like he was really there with me, touching me. A tear slid down my cheek, and I swiped it away. "You're pathetic, Bella," I whispered. "Pining over someone that hated you... that probably hasn't given you a second thought in years. Get it together."
Deciding I needed a break, I opted to take a walk. The cool dampness of the air outside helped to pull me out of my wallowing. I stood at the highest point of the island, looking out over the choppy water, which was nearly the same stormy blue-gray as the stone of the house. Mist hung in the air, imparting an eerie feel, and I sat on a boulder, soaking up the atmosphere. I was enjoying connecting with nature and forgetting my troubles when the hackles rose on the back of my neck, similar to the day I'd arrived here. Stiffening, I turned my head quickly, looking out toward the woods. I saw nothing, but the feeling of being watched wouldn't leave me until I was safely back inside the house.
I wasn't sure why, but I was disappointed that no further messages came in from Mr. Masen. Did he think I was demented? That my foolish schoolgirl crush and the wild theories I'd developed to insulate myself from the fact that Edward Cullen hated my guts rendered me pathetic?
As darkness fell, I stood staring out the window in the writing room. Sonia had set some logs ablaze in the fireplace, and I decided to indulge in a glass of brandy from the snifter resting on a side table. Curling up in a cushy wing-back chair, I stared into the flames, swirling the brandy in my glass. Fire had always held a special fascination for me; it was almost as though the licking, dancing flames held all the answers to the questions of the universe, if only I knew how to decipher them; to speak their language. The brandy was liquid warmth coating my insides, and I found myself hypnotized by the flames...
With a start, I awoke. Glancing at my surroundings, I saw that I was still in the writing room in the wing-back. I must have fallen asleep, but the strange thing was that the remainder of my brandy was over on the table, and I was covered by a warm fleece blanket. In the fireplace were dying embers, so I must have been asleep for a few hours. Sonia left right after she set up the fireplace, but maybe she'd come back for something and covered me up. I'd have to remember to thank her in the morning.
Yawning, I stretched like a cat, standing up and folding the blanket neatly. As I turned to leave the room, I smelled that sweet-musky-woodsy smell just for a moment, but I couldn't place where it was coming from. A haunted feeling crept over me, leaving tingles along my spine and prickling my scalp.
"What is that scent, and why does it affect me so much?" I murmured.
It wasn't uncommon for me to talk to myself, and since I was basically alone in the house, who was going to hear me?
A low ding! sound came from the laptop. Unable to resist, I lifted the lid curiously.
Message waiting: Click here.
My heart sped up slightly, although I wasn't entirely sure why. I was a bit apprehensive about what Mr. Masen had to say about my manuscript, but a bigger part of me was screaming that I needed to find out. I clicked.
E.A. Masen: Good evening, Bella. I've been reading more of your work, and I have many questions; some of them are questions for you to mull over. Have you ever considered that Brad (is this the boy's real name or a pseudonym?) did not hate you? Some of the behavior you refer to is common on school playgrounds and in classrooms everywhere—boy picks on girl because he likes her and doesn't know how to deal with it. The idiosyncrasies you mention about him (cold skin, doesn't appear to eat, unusually pale, very strong) could be explained by any number of medical conditions, I'm sure, yet you chose to consider (at least in your story) that he might be... a vampire? Do you believe in mythical creatures? For argument's sake, if he was a vampire, why would he hate you? Or, for that matter, be going to high school? Despite my questions, which I hope are not too antagonistic, I find your writing to be riveting, and I'm enjoying it immensely. I look forward to your response.
Bella: Good evening, Mr. Masen. No, I never considered that 'Brad' (a pseudonym) might have feelings for me other than disgust and revulsion. Now, I can't deny that I was smitten with him, and I spent a lot of my time daydreaming that something kept him from showing me his 'true' feelings... that he might have actually cared for me in some small way. Yes, pathetic, I know. And so, I observed him quite closely from afar. Brad and his siblings (who were adopted, just as in my story) were all extremely pale, didn't seem to fit in with the rest of the student body, appeared to only pick at their food, never really consuming anything, and did not come to school on sunny days. There's also the matter of when Brad saved my life from the van that skidded on ice in the parking lot—that part of the story is also quite true. To address more of your questions: no, I've never believed in mythical creatures. If he was a vampire, I think he might hate me because he wanted my blood—perhaps I smelled really good to him, and it was disturbing. As far as why a vampire would be going to high school... your guess is as good as mine! I'm happy to hear you're enjoying my twisted tale of woe, and also glad you haven't mentioned padded rooms or suggested medication... yet.
I had written a long response, and I expected it would take quite a while for him to digest it and answer, so I headed up to my room to finish the night in my comfy cloud of a bed. Mr. Masen had certainly given me some things to ponder, but I still thought it was a pipe dream that Edward Cullen thought of me as anything more than a pest that should be exterminated. For the millionth time, my heart broke to pieces in my chest, and I realized that I wasn't as close to putting a lid on that part of my life as I'd thought. For God's sake... I didn't even know where Edward was! After high school, the Cullens had moved away, and I hadn't heard anything about their whereabouts since. As I slipped in between the sheets, I heard a muffled slam come from upstairs. I wasn't tempted to check on Mr. Masen this time.
I woke up some time later in a sweat, kicking at the duvet while strangled whimpers lodged in my throat. Sitting up, I saw signs of the first light in the sky through the French doors and attempted to calm my speeding heart. I couldn't recall what I'd been dreaming, but whatever it was had distressed me to the point that I'd cried out, waking myself.
Flopping down on my back, I tried to go back to sleep to no avail. After a while, I heard piano music wafting through the house; a hauntingly beautiful tune that spoke of suffering, longing and desire. My heart started to beat faster even though the music was slow and should have been calming—there was something about it that reached inside me and tugged. My eyelids grew heavy as I let the notes of the music wrap around me, caressing me like a lover—that's exactly what the piece felt like—as though whoever wrote it was lamenting over a lover they couldn't be with but desired more than anything. With a soft sigh, I sank into oblivion.
The day was cold, with snow on the ground and icicles hanging from every available surface. I was distracted with thoughts of Edward Cullen after he'd shot me a particularly dark look when we ran into each other in the cramped guidance office. I leaned on the hood of my truck, pressing my forehead down on my backpack. Why did he hate me so much? My scalp prickled, and I turned my head sharply to see him standing there like a Greek God, drumming his fingers on the roof of his Volvo. From this distance, his look seemed more curious than hate-filled, and I imagined that he was changing his mind about me. Dream on, Bella...
Things happened very fast then. I heard the sound of tires losing purchase on the pavement behind me, and I turned curiously only to find Tyler Crowley's big blue van skidding sideways, straight for me. I barely had a moment to think, 'Oh, shit!' before I found myself knocked to the ground by something hard and cold a split second before Tyler's van would have slammed me up against my truck. My mind was a miasma of crazy thoughts as I lay pinned to the ground, wondering if I was dead and just hadn't realized it yet. I heard a slamming sound just above me; the screech of metal twisting against something in protest, and then Tyler's van came to rest just inches from my gaping mouth. I started to hyperventilate.
"Bella?" The voice was soft and velvety, full of concern. I was speechless at the thought that Edward Cullen could possibly be the one speaking to me as if he gave a shit if I was alive or dead. "Please talk to me. Where are you hurt?" Again, his voice was soft, pouring over me like warm honey.
"I'm dead, but at least I made it to heaven..." I mumbled, because surely Edward would never sound so concerned over me. Shit; I was dead. "Oh, my God, I died."
Cool fingers stroked my face. "You're not dead, Bella; I promise. I couldn't let that happen..." His soft words drifted off, and I turned my head to find my eyes locked on the tortured gaze of Edward Cullen.
"An angel. You're a beautiful angel." I giggled, whispering, "I didn't think it would be so cold here, but I guess it's better than the alternative."
"Bella, I'm no angel, and you're not dead. I'm sorry you hit your head against the pavement; I didn't get to you fast enough."
Realizing that I was indeed still alive, and Edward Cullen had saved my life, I said, "Oh, yeah, you did—you got here right in time. I'd be the filling in a Bella sandwich right now if you hadn't -" I halted, my memory of him across the lot flickering by. "How did you – I mean, you were all the way over by your car..."
"I was right beside you, Bella. When I heard the sound of the van, I knocked you to the ground." His eyes did this funny thing, widening slightly, burning into me as though trying to hypnotize me.
"No... I was looking right at you by your car. There was no time." Reality became a slippery slope, and I was losing my grasp. "Please; I know what I saw." Tears sprang to my eyes.
"Shh... you hit your head. It's going to be okay," he crooned softly. As I lifted my head, Edward slipped his hands underneath, cradling it carefully. I could feel his long fingers probing gently over my scalp, the coolness of his fingers a balm against my fevered skin.
The paramedics arrived, and I lost track of Edward in the crowd. Tears gathered in my eyes; I longed for his gentle touch, his soft voice, and his concerned eyes. Instinctively, I knew it was probably a passing thing, but now that I had a taste of him, I wanted more.
At the hospital, Edward slipped into my room, hanging back by the foot of the bed. "How are you, Bella?" He swallowed convulsively, looking as though he wanted to run the other way, but his eyes weren't hate-filled right now; they were kind.
"Edward, thank you. I'm sorry I acted like such an ass—thinking I was dead and all—but I would be if not for you. H-How did you get to me so fast?"
"I told you; I was right beside you. The hit you took to your head must have confused things a little bit. That's normal."
"You stopped that van, Edward. You can't tell me that didn't happen—I saw the imprint of your h-hands on the side of it. How?"
"Leave it alone, Bella. Please." His eyes were pleading with me to let it go.
"Okay." I would say almost anything to make him happy.
"Thank you." Edward smiled crookedly at me for the first time, and my heart started to pound in my chest. He stiffened suddenly, clamping a hand over his mouth and nose. "I – I have to go."
I blinked, and he was gone...
Sitting up in bed, I realized I was dreaming of the van incident again; it was a recurring dream of the only time that Edward acted as though I wasn't just a fly to bat away. Tears streaked my face, and I was mumbling, "What did I do wrong? Why did you go?"
After I'd returned to school, Edward had gone back to avoiding me, although his looks weren't as malevolent as before. The dreams of him coming to my room increased a great deal after that, and continued right up until the Cullens moved away. I was never brave enough to just confront him, but I knew he hadn't been next to me, and he definitely left hand prints in the side of Tyler's van. It only added fuel to my theory that Edward Cullen was something 'other.'
The clock on the nightstand informed me it was seven o'clock. I headed down to the kitchen to find Sonia already bustling about, cooking.
"Good morning, Sonia."
"Hey, Bella! Did you sleep well?"
"No, not really." She turned her face toward me, her brow wrinkling with concern, but I waved my hand. "Nothing to do with the accommodations; believe me. This place is like heaven, and my bed is like being suspended in a cloud. It's me and my stupid dreams." I shook my head.
"Do you have nightmares?" Sonia asked as she continued working.
I pulled a stool up to the counter, leaning on my elbows. "Not exactly. I dream about... things from my past—things I should let go of but haven't been able to."
"I see." Sonia nodded her head but didn't say anything further. She was rolling out pie crust on a wooden board.
"Oh, by the way, thank you for covering me last night."
"You know, for putting the blanket over me when I fell asleep by the fire in the writing room, and for putting my glass of brandy on the table. I would've felt awful if it slipped out of my hand and stained the carpet."
Sonia's smooth, rolling movements halted suddenly, but she didn't turn my way. "I didn't cover you, Bella. You know when I left the house; I said goodbye."
"But I just assumed you came back for something..."
"Afraid not." Sonia went back to rolling the crust.
"Well, then who did it? I thought we were the only ones here."
"We are. It must have been Mr. Masen." Sonia shrugged.
"Have you... met Mr. Masen, Sonia?"
"Yes, of course."
"How old is he? What's he like? I mean -"
Sonia held her hand up, turning to face me. "Bella, I like you a lot, but I value my job here. I can't discuss Mr. Masen with you. He's not a perv or anything if that's what you're getting at; his manners and sense of ethics are exemplary." Sonia seemed a bit defensive, and I felt bad.
"Oh, no! Sonia, I would never want you to get in trouble, and it never even crossed my mind that Mr. Masen would be inappropriate. I was just curious, but I'll try to restrain myself in the future. I hope you aren't upset with me."
"Of course not, Bella! It's natural to be curious. This isn't exactly a... conventional type of internship, but the foundation has a lot of resources, and I think you'll find yourself having a lot of success with them backing you and promoting your work."
"Even if my work isn't that good?"
"Bella, if your work wasn't top notch, you wouldn't be standing here talking to me right now. They don't take just anyone, you know."
"Thanks." I blushed crimson, not used to receiving compliments. "So... what are you making in here, and do you need any help?"
"Chicken pot pie, and no, I don't need any help! Your job is to be creative and write; my job is to see to your comfort while you're here."
"Mm-mm, sounds delicious! Okay, I'll back off. Just so you know... I love to cook; it relaxes me. So if you ever find me invading your kitchen, it's probably because I have writer's block."
"Noted. Now off with you!" Sonia shooed me out of the kitchen, handing me a cup of hot chocolate and a muffin on my way out.
Entering the writing room, I headed straight to the laptop—not to get to work, but to see if Mr. Masen had answered me yet. For a moment, I contemplated the need to look deeper into why I was so anxious to hear from my eccentric host, but then I decided that I had enough issues to deal with already.
I was not to be disappointed.
Message waiting: Click here.
E.A. Masen: I wouldn't dream of mentioning padded rooms or medication. We all work things out in our own way. You're finding your way, and I'm sure 'Brad' is finding his. You may not agree with me, but I don't believe for a moment that he hated you—I think he cared about you a great deal and felt he wasn't good enough for you. Honestly, I can't imagine anyone hating you, Bella. As for your theories, they're a bit dangerous and wild. I wouldn't recommend making it public knowledge that you might believe in the existence of vampires. While I don't think you're crazy, others probably will. Dreams are a way for our subconscious to work things out, so I don't think it's unhealthy for you to dream of him, but I do think that, for your own peace of mind, you need to finish your manuscript and put your past to rest. Surely there's a wonderful young man waiting for you to return home? Another question for you to ponder—what if he is a vampire? How would that change your feelings for him?
Bella: You're a very understanding man, although I disagree with you about 'Brad.' I'm almost sure he hated me and wished I lived several states away from him. Your words are very kind though, and I appreciate them. No, I wouldn't mention my wacky theories to anyone; I understand that could land me in big trouble! I thought I would be able to easily put my past to rest, but since I arrived here, my feelings have resurfaced for me to examine, and I've realized that I haven't put 'Brad' behind me. I'm not sure I can. No, there's no young man in my life. I think 'Brad' ruined me for others; every time I try to date someone, I only end up comparing them to him, and they never measure up. I'm not sure why I tell you all these things—I rarely confide in anyone—but I feel like I can trust you. Your last question was very thought provoking, but, in the end, I came to the conclusion that 'Brad' being a vampire would make no difference to me. I don't believe the heart discriminates.
The rest of the day was spent writing about my feelings for Edward in deeper detail. I wasn't yet ready to deviate from true events and delve into the ending I was going to dream up for the story. Originally, I intended to find my 'happily ever after' in someone else, but I couldn't get myself to write it, just as I couldn't bear to date anyone for long. As soon as a man's fingers brushed my skin, it felt all wrong—their fingers were never cool like Edward's, they didn't smell like Edward—they just weren't Edward.
When I climbed into bed that night, tears sprang to my eyes. I was never going to move on, was I? Edward Cullen could be anywhere in the world, and I was pretty sure he wasn't there alone. He looked like a Greek God; surely he never lacked female company. The tears welled up and spilled over, running down my cheeks in rivulets, and I didn't even have the strength to wipe them away.
"What was so wrong with me that he hated me? Why can't I forget him and have a normal life?" I whispered into the night. Pain flared in my chest, and I stuffed my face into the pillows to muffle my sobs as I fell asleep.
The next thing I noticed was a familiar scent... sweet-musky-woodsy... permeating the very air around me like a fragrant cloud. My entire body tingled, very much the way it did when I used to have my most vivid dreams of Edward. Part of me fully expected him to be in the room, so I did my exercise to keep my heart rate calm.
"Edward?" I whispered.
Okay, so maybe I was wrong about why my body was humming, and it was simply wishful thinking.
"Yes," he answered softly. My Edward delusion was here! It had been four years since I'd experienced him this way. Tears leaked out the corners of my eyes. "Please don't cry, Angel." His voice, tinged with sadness, was smooth and velvety just like I remembered. His words caused more tears to flow, and I remained frozen in place, afraid to turn over and see my beautiful hallucination.
Cool fingers trailed along my arm gingerly, and I fought to keep my heart rate under control. "Shh... don't cry, love. I wish I could take all your pain away. I wish..." He stopped, letting out a sigh of frustration.
"Edward, are you... a vampire?" I asked in a hushed whisper.
His fingers stilled on my arm. "Yes."
My heart started pounding erratically at his answer, and I felt a cool breeze ruffle my hair. Turning my head slowly, I found my room empty. I'd scared him away again.
Frustrated, I hopped out of bed and walked out onto the terrace. Leaning my arms on the railing, I sucked in deep breaths of the damp, salty air. It was chilly out there in my tank and sweats, but I didn't care—I felt as though I needed to clear my head. Digging my fingers into my hair, I tugged in frustration.
Suddenly, I felt that tingle again, and I fought to remain calm. This was a very intense lucid dream I was having; everything felt so real.
A cool finger ran along my shoulder and down my left arm, and I could feel his body just inches from mine. He pushed my hair over to one side, leaving my neck exposed, and I felt his lips as he pressed a kiss against the back of my shoulder.
"You're so precious, my Angel," he whispered. His Angel? Swoon.
"Edward..." I whimpered, feeling wetness pool between my legs.
"Shh... I made a mistake by allowing you to believe I hated you. I thought I was doing the right thing—protecting you—and I wish I could go back... change things." He placed both hands on my shoulders, squeezing lightly.
"Why did you let me believe that, Edward? It hurt so much." My eyes fluttered closed as his fingers continued to knead my shoulders tenderly.
Then I felt myself being pulled back gently against his hard, muscled chest, his arms snaking around the front of me. With a soft sigh, he spoke into my hair, sending electric shocks throughout my body. "The first time I saw you—in biology—your scent hit me between the eyes like a freight train. I've never smelled anything so delectable, and I wanted nothing more than to -" Edward hesitated, his breathing heavy.
"Drink my blood?" I asked.
"Yes," he moaned. "When you came up beside me at the windows, I didn't know if I would be able to control myself—your scent was so concentrated and maddening in that enclosed space, with the fan blowing it my way. I had no choice but to break out the windows, or I would have hurt you. I was so angry at my loss of control, and I didn't trust myself around you, so I went away for a few weeks."
Edward's words spoken into my hair and the puff of his breath moving the strands gently caused a deep stirring within me. I wanted to whirl around and look into his eyes; I wanted to feel his lips on mine, his hands all over me. My face heated up as I contemplated these fantasies. Instead of acting on them, I said, "You were able to come back though."
"Yes, but only because my sister Alice borrowed a few of your shirts so I could get acclimated to your scent. Once I was fairly certain I wouldn't attack you, I came back. But the scent on a shirt is nothing compared to the living blood rushing through your veins, pulsing against your neck..." Edward's voice dropped to a strained rasp, his body going rigid behind me. After a few moments, he relaxed, letting out a breath. "Sorry. It was so much harder than I anticipated it would be. I hated the fact that I wasn't strong enough... that I had to engage in this constant battle. That's why I glared at you; not because I hated you, but because I hated me. I hated my urges, and I watched you, hoping you would prove to be someone worthy of my distaste—but instead, I slowly started to have feelings for you." The last few words came out in a desperate whisper.
My mouth dropped open, and I tried to keep my heart from slamming right out of my chest.
"The day of the van incident... I was trapped in that hot little guidance office with your scent swirling all around me, and I thought I would lose it right there. You looked frightened, and I knew you must have seen the murderous look on my face. When we were outside in the parking lot—when I saw Tyler's van coming right for you—I just couldn't let you die, Angel; I had to take the chance of someone seeing me appear beside you so suddenly. I wasn't worried they would see how fast I ran because I can run faster than the human eye can register, but if someone knew I was by my car then saw me with you, they might have questioned it. My family was pretty pissed off at the chance I took, but I would do it over and over again to save you."
Tentatively, I slipped my fingers around his forearms, which were still held protectively across my front like two steel bars. I didn't feel constricted by his embrace though; I felt safe and cared for. I never could reconcile the angry Edward at school from the one that would come to me in dreams. Perhaps this was the answer.
"Edward, did you ever... come into my room at night?" I asked carefully.
There was silence for a moment, and I could feel that he was trying to figure out the best way to answer, so I gave him time.
"Yes. I'm sorry for invading your privacy, but it was the only time I could be close to you without the fear of harming you. As my feelings for you grew stronger, so did my need to be close to you."
"It's okay. I just needed to know if it was real or not. You always looked at me so tenderly when you were in my room... I wished you would always look at me that way."
"You knew I was there?" His voice registered surprise.
"Yes. If my heart rate went up, you would disappear, so I practiced biofeedback, learning how to slow my heart. Sometimes I would pretend to be asleep because I knew if I opened my eyes you'd leave."
"I'm so sorry, Bella. All I wanted to do was keep you safe; I never wanted to hurt you. Please turn around and look at me?" he requested softly.
Shivers ran up and down my body, joining in with the electric current already filling me to capacity, and I felt as though my body was being pulled apart from the inside out. "I – I can't. I'm afraid."
"Are you afraid I'll hurt you?" he asked in a pained whisper.
"Yes, but not the way you think, Edward. I'm afraid you'll disappear... that you'll leave me and never come back."
The only way I knew he was still there were his marble arms encircling me, holding me against his chest.
"I should leave, Angel. I never should have come to you; I'm sorry."
"No! Please, Edward, don't." My voice was barely a whisper on the wind as my legs went weak, and my full weight collapsed against him.
"You deserve a normal life—a life with a human male that can love you without hurting you."
"You don't understand, Edward. I can't have that with anyone." I shook my head slowly, my hair brushing back and forth against his chest, and he suddenly stiffened behind me. I found myself scooped into his arms and carried over to my bed. My arms went up around his neck instinctively, and I looked up into his beautiful face, although it was hard to make out his chiseled features in the darkness. His sweet breath wafted over me, calming me and bringing a peaceful feeling.
Edward lay me down gently, his eyes boring into mine as he hovered over me. In the scant moonlight filtering through the billowing curtains, half of his face was in shadow; the other half shown with an eerie luminescence. His jaw was tight and his face unreadable.
He shook his head. "Shh... please… this is very hard for me." He stroked a finger down my cheek slowly, and his eyes strayed to my lips. He didn't elaborate on what exactly was hard for him.
Biofeedback be damned; my heart flew into overdrive, pounding in my ears. I gasped as I felt it, and I heard Edward gasp as he sensed it. And then he was gone.
The next day, I woke with a pounding headache. Rolling over with a muffled groan, I glanced at the bedside clock, which indicated it was ten o'clock—really late for me to get up. Gray light filtered in through the filmy curtains which were flapping with the gentle breeze. Oh, joyfulness... another dank day on Masen Island. As I swung my legs over the side of the bed, the entire dream slammed me in the chest, leaving a dull ache. I couldn't even hold onto my dream Edward—I'd scared him away, and he might never come back. Fear flooded through me as I thought about living a life without him—even if he was just a dream; a figment of my subconscious mind that I used to work things out. Tears slipped silently down my cheeks, and my body shook.
When I stumbled down to the kitchen, I found Sonia there with a huge pot of brewed coffee. She turned to me with a concerned look. "Bella? Are you okay? You have dark circles under your eyes."
"Yes, I'm fine. Just another dream... You made me coffee? How did you know I needed coffee today?"
"It wasn't that hard, Bella. You slept really late, so I thought you might need something heavier duty than hot chocolate."
Sonia poured me a cup, placing it before me. Black; just the way I needed it this morning. "Want to talk about it, honey?"
I shook my head, tears pricking my eyes. "I can't. My life is so screwed up—even on a semi-deserted island! How pathetic is that?"
"You'll work it out; I just know it." Sonia patted my arm comfortingly.
I'm glad someone had confidence in that because I sure didn't.
Taking my coffee and a piece of toast, I sat down at the computer in the writing room. A message popped up immediately, and I clicked on it.
E.A. Masen: Bella, you can always feel comfortable confiding in me. I assure you, I would never breach your trust. It seems to me you really should try to move on with your life and find someone to share it with. You do realize you're comparing your potential suitors to a dream, yes? How could anyone compare to an image from your imagination? I still disagree with you about 'Brad.' I think he cared about you but knew deep down that he wasn't good for you—whether he was a vampire, a werewolf, or just an average guy (which is more likely). Sometimes the right decisions really hurt. Look deep inside you for the answer. It doesn't matter what I think or what anyone else thinks; what does your gut tell you is right? What do you need to do? What's best for Bella? Give it some thought and know that I wish you the best. I think it says a lot about you that you wouldn't care if 'Brad' was a vampire. You deserve to find peace and happiness.
After reading Mr. Masen's message, I sat there for a long time, staring into space. Yes, he was right; I was comparing potential boyfriends to my dream image of Edward. An idea started to niggle at my mind, but I wasn't quite ready to deal with it yet. That was okay; I had a few more weeks before reality had to come crashing back down, and until then, I was going to delve deeply into my subconscious mind. I just hoped I'd have some semblance of sanity left when the time came to do what I had to do.
Bella: Thank you so much for your words. They triggered something inside me that I'm not quite ready to verbalize even to myself yet, but I know that I'll be working on it over the next few weeks here. I still need to reconcile things with 'Brad' before I can even consider moving on; my feelings for him are what keep me from wanting to be with anyone else. That's something I have to find an answer for, and I know it isn't going to be simple. I'm beginning to think only talking more with 'Brad' will help me work this out. You really are easy to talk to. I hope I'll get to meet you before I leave here. Sonia did say few interns are granted that honor, but I hope to be one of them. No pressure or anything...
Perhaps I did lay it on a bit thick, but I really had the desire to meet Mr. Masen for some reason. Even over an impersonal instant messenger, he felt familiar to me, like a friend. Then again, maybe I was just grasping at whatever straws were available here on the island. It's not like I had a lot of choices when it came to socializing. A sarcastic laugh erupted out of me.
I spent a few hours trying to work on my manuscript, but nothing I wrote felt right, and I ended up deleting most of it. Frustrated, I spent the rest of the day perusing the many volumes held by the built-in bookshelves of the writing room and walking around the grounds. The sun decided to peek out mid-afternoon, and I couldn't waste the opportunity; I brought a blanket outside with me and spent a few hours lying on my back, allowing the gentle rays to warm my face.
Later that night, there was still no response from Mr. Masen, and I found myself vaguely disappointed. I sipped on my nightly brandy—a habit I probably shouldn't take home with me—and when my eyes grew heavy, I climbed the stairs to my soft bed. Sleep came so quickly that I had no time to register any thoughts.
A strange scent tickled at my nose... something that vaguely reminded me of childhood. Underneath it was that sweet-musky-woodsy smell that meant my beautiful delusion was nearby. As usual, I calmed my heart and remained quiet.
The foreign smell wafted to my nose in a more concentrated form, and I could pick out eucalyptus. My curiosity got the better of me, and I turned slowly to find Edward crouched right next to my bed. His unexpected closeness sent my heart soaring, and I cursed softly. His usual disappearing act never happened though, and his eyes remained golden, if a tad bit unsure.
My eyes widened, and I sat up slowly. "Edward?"
Edward swallowed hard and nodded. Reaching out slowly, he cupped my cheek in his large, cool palm, and I drew in a breath. My heart beat a bit harder despite my best efforts, but he didn't flinch.
"Edward... how are you doing this? Why haven't you run from me yet?" My face tingled where he caressed it, and I leaned into his hand.
"Vicks," he replied with a proud smile; a very crooked, panty melting smile. Oh, dear God.
"Your scent destroys me, Bella, so I decided to look for a solution. I put Vicks under my nose; it dilutes and distorts your scent so it's not so... enticing."
"Vicks... wow. I'm a genius!" I smiled. If I ever did find Edward, I'd be sure to bring a tub of Vicks with me.
"Um-hm?" I answered, distracted by my stray thoughts.
"Stop talking. I want to try something," Edward whispered, his eyes focused on my lips as he slipped his hand in my hair to cup the back of my head.
"Oh..." I realized his intentions, and my heart stuttered.
Sitting on the edge of my bed, Edward leaned in slowly, his gaze shifting between my eyes and my lips as we drew closer. When his lips were a hair's breadth from mine, his eyes slipped closed, and he whispered, "You're so beautiful, Angel," and I could feel the vibration of his words and smell his sweet breath as it wafted over me.
And then his lips touched softly against mine, light as a feather, sending electric tingles throughout my entire being. His other hand found mine, and our fingers entwined together; a perfect fit. I forgot where I was, who I was; the world around me simply ceased to exist. The only thing I knew was Edward; his scent laced with menthol, his cool lips moving against my own, his fingers woven through mine, and his other hand supporting the back of my neck as he deepened the kiss. My body was no longer my own, no longer under my control, and I trusted him completely—feeling so vulnerable within his embrace.
Edward pushed himself forward, leaning me back against the pillows as he rose up over me, our lips still touching. "Mm-mm..." Edward's hum went straight to my core, and I rubbed my legs together.
He pulled away, looking down at me, his eyes unreadable in the darkness of my room. "Are you okay with this, Bella? I shouldn't have assumed..."
"Yes, Edward. I'm more than okay with this." But then I drew in a breath as I thought of how I felt every time he'd run from me, glared at me, abandoned me... and tears filled my eyes. Yeah, this was a great dream, but tomorrow I would still be pathetic Bella pining after a man that might not even know I existed anymore.
"What's wrong, Angel? Why do you look so sad?" he murmured, a look of concern crossing his chiseled features.
"It's hard to explain, Edward. What it comes down to is that it hurt me four years ago when you'd glare at me and ignore me. Then I'd think I saw you in my room at night... that maybe you cared about me. Last night you told me you care but you should have stayed away, and then you disappeared on me. Now you say you've found a solution to my scent, and you're kissing me... I – don't you see? I'm afraid to let go. I'm afraid you'll leave and never come back. I feel like I'm being pulled apart inside." A sob hiccuped out of me.
Even in the darkness, I could see the tortured look on Edward's face. He brought his forehead to rest against mine, one hand reaching up to caress my face while his other still cradled the nape of my neck. "This is why, Angel—why I tried my damnedest to stay away from you. The last thing I've ever wanted is to cause you pain. I knew—I know—I'm not good enough for you, which is why I fought my feelings for you. Bella, knowing how you feel about me—what you wrote about us—I couldn't stay away from you anymore. I'm not strong enough."
"But, Edward, shouldn't I have a say? This is my life we're talking about. It's very noble that you want to protect me, but your actions are what have me in the emotional state I'm in. Having you here is bittersweet because I know you might disappear again."
"I'm so sorry," he whispered, feathering kisses along my jaw. His lips rested against my ear as he continued, his hand dropping from my face to caress the juncture between my neck and shoulder. "I would never purposely hurt you. Anything I've done has always been with your best interests in mind. You're right though—you do deserve a say, and I've taken that away from you so many times. Do you want me to go?"
"No. Please stay. Please give me the chance to work this out for myself, to decide what's best for me. Right now, I'd just like you to shut up and kiss me."
Edward's lips were on mine again in seconds, my neck held reverently in his hand and his fingers tracing over the racing pulse in my neck. Our lips moved together, tentatively at first, getting acquainted with the feel, texture and taste. My breath left me; I was so mesmerized by Edward's kiss, his gentle hands, his ragged breathing, and the feel of his cool skin on mine.
Lightly, Edward licked at my lip with a groan, and I opened my mouth to his cool tongue which probed softly against mine. He tasted slightly sweet, and there was a vague numbing effect. Placing my shaking hands on his shoulders, I could sense the raw power in his body. Thinking of the way he pushed Tyler's van away back in high school, I knew it must take incredible restraint not to crush my skull. Knowing how carefully he handled me brought tears to my eyes and filled me with gratitude. He was going against his very nature for me.
Slipping my fingers into his soft, unruly hair, I pulled him in closer to me, deepening the kiss. Our tongues moved together, both of us making 'mm-mm' sounds that sent vibrations straight to my core. Edward's fingers left my collar bone to stray down the bare skin of my chest, slipping underneath my tank top to rest over my heart, which pumped furiously. I slid one of my hands out of his hair and brought it down to join his hand over my heart. Pulling back, Edward placed gentle kisses down the front of my neck until he reached the hollow, which he licked at reverently.
"Oh, Edward... you feel so good. I never dreamed it could be like this with us."
"God, Bella. You don't know how long I've wanted to do this, but I never thought I'd be able to—so afraid of hurting you, Angel," Edward whispered breathlessly, his lips vibrating against the base of my neck, sending my desire into overdrive.
"You feel my heart, Edward? That's because of you. I haven't been able to get close to anyone the past four years because every time someone touches me, the only thing going through my mind is that they aren't you. Please don't break my heart; don't run from me again." The tears spilled over then, streaking my face and dripping down my neck to Edward's waiting lips. He drank them in with a ragged sigh. I felt the tip of his tongue as it ran up my neck, gathering more tears, and the sob I was trying to suppress escaped.
Bringing his head up, he stared down into my eyes; again, I was foiled by the shadows in my room, unable to see his eyes clearly. "You'll never know how much I regret what I've done to you. I – I don't know if this can work between us, if I can continue to control myself. If you want me, I promise to try." He pressed his mouth against mine, our lips meeting over and over again. One hand remained against my drumming heart, and I held it to me as tightly as I could.
"Yes, Edward; I want you," I murmured between kisses. "I've always wanted you."
"Oh, Angel, I've spent so much time daydreaming of you—of what you would say if I told you of my feelings." Edward shifted his body, crawling fully onto the bed with me and laying down beside me. Wrapping his arms around me, he turned me toward him, so we were facing each other on our sides. "I always thought you would turn me away in disgust because of what I am, but you're so open, so accepting."
"Edward, the heart doesn't discriminate. What I feel for you comes from deep inside me; I can't stop these feelings any more than I can stop the sun from rising." Carefully, I traced my fingers along Edward's chiseled features; the moonlight streaming through the French doors afforded me a clearer view of his otherworldly beauty. His eyes glistened as he looked at me with longing, mirroring my actions and tracing a cool finger over my face gently.
A yawn crept up on me, and I was unable to stifle it. A crooked smile spread slowly across Edward's face. "Go to sleep, my sweet Angel. You need your rest."
Panic assaulted me, and I gripped Edward's shirt in my fists. "You won't leave me again, will you? I'm afraid if I close my eyes -"
Edward put a cool finger up to my lips. "Shh... I'm not going anywhere. I'll hold you until you fall asleep, and I promise I'll come to you tomorrow."
"Tomorrow? You promise?"
"Yes, love. I'm done hiding." Edward hooked a finger under my chin, tilting my head until I looked into his eyes. "I'll see you tomorrow." He kissed my lips gently, wrapping me tighter in his arms, where I fell into a dreamless sleep.
The next morning dawned... gray. I felt euphoric as I bounded out of bed, fully rested and chipper. Whether or not he was a figment of my subconscious mind, Edward had promised not to desert me, and I drew closer to the conclusion that had been brewing in my mind recently—I had to find the real Edward Cullen. Maybe all of my theories weren't correct, but I suspected that at least some of them were. There was no way for me to move on with my life until I knew the whole truth, and that meant confronting Edward with my theories, even if he thought I was a lunatic.
That also meant I couldn't finish my manuscript until I found him. As much as it pained me to do it, I was going to have to leave Masen Island with my internship incomplete. I would ask if I could continue it after doing my research, but I didn't hold out much hope that it would be allowed. It didn't matter though—my life and sanity were at stake.
When I arrived in the kitchen, Sonia was nowhere to be found. Getting a cup of hot chocolate, I headed to the writing room. There were no new messages from Mr. Masen, but I could hear beautifully haunting piano music filling the house. I decided to compose a message to him; I felt I owed him a full explanation since he'd been such a great sounding board for me during my stay.
Bella: First, I wanted to let you know how much I love your piano playing. Your songs are so haunting and poignant. I wish I knew what your inspiration was. I have some news, and I hope you aren't going to be too upset with me. I have to leave the island. I realized that I can't finish my manuscript until I find the real 'Brad' and confront him with my feelings and theories. My dreams grow more vivid by the day, to the point that I'm starting to question my own sanity. One way or another, I need to know what 'Brad's' feelings for me are, so I can move on with my life and complete my manuscript. I hope you understand. You've been so good to me; I hate to disappoint you. I was hoping I could return here once I find out what I need to know to finish the manuscript, but I fully understand if that's not possible. Thank you again for everything. You're a very special man.
By the time I was finishing up my message, tears were leaking from my eyes, and I realized that the piano music had stopped. Hitting 'send,' I got up from the desk, swiping the tears away as I moved over to the windows to look outside. The water was extremely choppy today, much like my emotions, and I gazed at the iron gray sky, wondering how I was going to find Edward. I wasn't even sure where to start searching for him, but I was determined nothing would stand in my way.
My mind started replaying last night's dream; it was the most vivid one yet, and my lips and skin still tingled whenever I thought about Edward's gentle touch. My heart started to beat faster in my chest, and I longed to get home so I could start my search.
Suddenly, the atmosphere in the room changed; I felt tingling overcome my body, and the familiar scent of Edward mixed with menthol curled up my nose. I froze, shaking my head hard as I opened the window and let cool, damp air rush over my heated face.
The tingling persisted, and even though the breeze coming off the water rushed in the window to cool my face, the scent of Edward persisted as well. For some reason, I was deathly afraid to turn around—scared to death that I would find an empty room filled with a scent that didn't exist—even more scared that I would find something.
"Get it together, Bella," I said through gritted teeth.
I drew in a harsh breath as I thought I recognized Edward's voice in the room. It was morning; I'd just gotten up and knew I wasn't asleep. Was I now starting to imagine things?
"Shit, Bella; get a grip. You can't be hearing voices now."
The scent grew stronger, along with the tingling.
"Bella, turn around." Edward's velvet voice wrapped around me. Oh, dear God.
"Edward?" I whispered.
"It's me, Angel. I told you I would come to you today."
Slowly, I turned around to find Edward standing in the middle of the room. My heart slammed in my chest as I took in his perfection in the light of day. He stood with his hand on the back of one of the wing-back chairs, his tousled ginger hair perfectly imperfect, golden eyes warm and tender, and his lips a sinful shade of reddish-pink. He wore dark-wash jeans and a navy button-down shirt with rolled up sleeves, the leather cuff he'd always worn visible on his wrist.
"My God, you look so real," I breathed.
Edward looked perturbed. "I am real. I'm here... for you." He held out his hand, beckoning me to him.
Closing my eyes tightly, I shook my head, backing toward the windows. I smelled him, saw him, felt him... I was afraid my mind was cracking. "No, no, no, no... This isn't happening."
"Bella?" his voice was closer. My eyes flew open, and Edward was only about ten feet away, a concerned look crossing his features.
"No, don't! Don't come any closer! You're not really here. Oh, my God, I'm losing my mind; it's the only explanation." Tears started to form as I felt my sanity slipping.
Edward became agitated. "It's really me, Angel! I promise you that I'm real." He moved closer, reaching his hand out.
"Bullshit!" I spat as the hands I'd clasped defensively against my chest started shaking. "Prove it."
"Vicks. I used Vicks to cut your scent." Edward pulled a small, royal blue container from his pocket.
"Give me more."
"We kissed for the first time last night. It was the best night of my life—knowing that you accept me in spite of what I am."
I continued to shake my head in disbelief.
"Angel, you wrote about us. That's why you're here—to finish our story."
Finally, he'd said something I could latch onto. There was no way he could know that if he was the real Edward; my subconscious mind was pulling out all the delusion stops.
"Aha! You can't be the real Edward! He'd have no way of knowing what my manuscript is about." I shook an accusatory finger at him.
Edward's face dropped. "Angel, please. Let me talk to you; tell you everything." He came toward me, but I started backing to the side and around, so the door was now at my back.
Holding my hand out, I yelled, "Stop! Don't come any closer! You're. Not. Real."
"I am real, sweetheart. Please believe me. Let me show you; touch you." Edward walked toward me slowly, his eyes pleading.
My eyes widened as our fingertips brushed, and electricity ran up my arm. I slapped a hand to my mouth, emitting a shriek. I pulled my hand away, turning my back to Edward.
Clapping my hands over my ears, I started to run. I fled down the hall and started up the grand staircase. I could hear my delusion yelling to me.
"Bella, no! Don't run from me, please! You don't understand." His voice drew closer; he was pursuing me.
"Stay away from me! You're not real!"
"It's a mistake to run from me. Please, Angel, stop now!" Edward's voice sounded different; there was a ragged growl within it, a barely concealed threat. He sounded like he was about to lose it.
I kept going, taking the steps two at a time. I hit the deep-pile carpet running, my breath coming in short pants. My door was looming up ahead—for some reason I thought if I could just make it to my room, I would be okay. It was ridiculous, I knew, but there was nothing rational about your delusions coming to life in the daylight and chasing you either.
When I was about ten feet away from the door to my room, I found myself slammed up against the wall. Shutting my eyes tight, I cursed softly as my head bumped against the stone behind me. There was a low, rumbling growl, and I felt something hard and unyielding pressing up against me. I could smell Edward stronger than ever, the sound of his raspy breathing filling my ears.
My eyes flew open, and I found myself looking into Edward's shirt. His lower body was pressing into me, his arms caging me up against the wall. The sound of something pattering softly drew my attention; peering down, I saw powdered stone sifting to the carpet, creating a small pile of dust. My mouth rounded into an 'O' as I forgot this was supposed to be a dream. Terror filled me, and I slowly looked up into Edward's face. His nostrils were flaring, his eyes were black as pitch, and he looked every bit the pissed-off vampire.
"Oh, shit!" I whispered.
"Don't. Move." Edward let out a warning growl. "Don't struggle. Please don't try to run from me." His voice softened, and there was something pleading in his blackened irises.
Unable to answer, my mouth opened and closed. Even if I'd wanted to, I couldn't have tried to escape him. Glancing to the side, I saw the source of the powdered stone; Edward's hands had clawed into the wall next to me, crumbling it as though it was made of chalk.
"E-Edward?" I whispered, turning my eyes back to his coal-black ones. "I'm sorry... I'm s-scared."
Edward didn't speak. Lowering his head, he ran his nose along the side of my neck, another growl rumbling in his chest. There was a cool wetness as his tongue snaked out and licked at the slamming pulse in my neck. Closing his lips over it, he sucked gently, and I could feel the light scrape of his teeth as he let out a soft groan. My fingers made their way into his hair, and I held on for dear life—I had no idea what was about to happen, but I wanted to be holding onto Edward when it did. Was this it? Would he bite into me now? Drink my blood? If a waking delusion killed you, did that mean you were really dead?
"A-am I going to die?"
Edward's head shot up, the look in his eyes glazed and horrified, as though just realizing where he was. He pulled his hands out of the wall, small chunks of stone plopping to the carpet, and he grabbed my face, pushing his fingers into my hair. His grip was gentle enough, but I couldn't move my head, and had no choice but to look into his face, which was twisted in anguish. "No! Never!" he whispered fiercely. "You shouldn't have run from me. I'm a predator, Bella. The sight of you running from me, the scent of the adrenaline and fear... it set me off. By all rights, I should have crushed you, but I fought it with everything I had. I never want to hurt you."
Tightening my hands in his hair, I tipped my head forward to rest on his chest. "I couldn't help but run; it was a knee-jerk reaction."
"Promise me you'll never do that again," he murmured into my hair, kissing the top of my head.
"Bella..." he sighed, strain evident in his voice.
Lifting my head slowly, I looked into his dark eyes. Sliding his hand behind my head, he used the other to tilt up my chin and crushed his lips against mine. His kiss wasn't as careful as last night's; his lips devoured mine, stealing all my breath. Edward's tongue pushed past my lips, invading my mouth. His hips tilted forward, and I could feel his growing erection pressing against my stomach.
The feel of his tongue as it took control of and explored my mouth caused a thrumming to ignite between my legs. Having my neck held in his large, powerful hands—knowing he could snap it with a twitch of his wrist—caused me to moan into his mouth as I gripped his hair tighter in my hands, locking my arms around his neck.
Edward's hands slid down my shoulders and back, grabbing me behind the thighs, hiking me up and wrapping my legs around his waist. His lips moved over my jaw and neck passionately, and he whispered between kisses. "Oh, Bella... you feel so good in my arms... how did I stay away so long? Please forgive me."
"Anything, Edward; anything. I would give you anything."
And then we were moving... Edward pushed my door open with his foot, walking us swiftly over to my bed, which we tumbled onto sideways. We landed in the same position; Edward's body between my thighs, my legs wrapped around his slim hips. Rolling us so he was over me, he looked deep into my eyes, his lips brushing sensuously across mine. "You're so beautiful and perfect, Angel. I don't deserve you."
"Don't say that, Edward. We both deserve happiness, and I can only find that with you."
"Are you sure? Bella, I'm a monster..."
"No! I don't want to hear that from you! You're not a monster, Edward. Would a monster save my life? Would a monster resist my blood?"
He looked down at me with surprise and awe. "How could you have so much faith in me after what I've done to you?"
"Edward, I can't think about that right now... not with your body pressed up against mine… with your lips so close."
"I know what you mean..." he whispered, nudging his nose against mine. Our lips met in a slow, burning kiss, and Edward leaned on one arm, running his other hand along my side to caress my hip. I thrust up against his hardness, but he pulled back.
"Is something wrong, Edward?"
"No. It's just that when we take this any farther, you need to be sure."
"I am -"
"Shh... you need to be sure you're with the real me. I don't want to be with you when you think I'm a hallucination. When we're together next, you'll be sure that it's really me, Angel."
Disappointment flooded through me for a moment, but I realized that Edward was right. The first memories I made should be with the real deal, not a dream image.
"Okay, Edward. You're right. I need to get myself together."
Edward sat us up, smoothing my hair back gently. His eyes were golden again; his crooked smile set my heart aflutter. Taking my face in his hands, he placed a chaste kiss on my forehead, and it felt like a goodbye.
"Edward?" Fear shot through my veins like ice-water. "You're leaving me?"
"Not leaving you; waiting for you, love. The next time you see me, you'll know that I'm real."
"No more visits, Angel. The next time we meet, you'll have no more doubts. That's my promise to you."
Tears streamed down my face. "Edward, no. I need you... please."
He wiped away my tears with the pads of his thumbs. "No. This is all my fault, and I'm going to fix it. You will see me again—but not like this. No more tears, Angel."
But the tears wouldn't stop falling, and Edward lay us both down and cuddled me until I fell asleep from sheer exhaustion. There were no dreams, no visits, and no nightmares. I slept soundly, waking up at one in the afternoon with my decision made—or rather reaffirmed—I had to find Edward Cullen.
When I was able to get myself together, I headed downstairs to inform Sonia of my plans. I found her in the kitchen cooking dinner, and she wasn't as surprised as I expected her to be.
"Mr. Masen informed me that you're planning to leave us, Bella. He sends his regrets, but he had to leave the island rather suddenly and was unable to respond to your messages. He asked me to let you know that you'll be welcome back into the program when you've found your answers. I'm not sure what all that means, but Mr. Masen assured me that you would understand." Sonia tilted her head when she saw a smile starting to form on my face. "Can I take it that you do know what Mr. Masen meant then?"
"Yes. Please thank Mr. Masen for me and assure him that I will be back. At least I know what direction I need to go in now."
Sonia wiped her hands on a dishtowel before reaching out to pull me into a hug. "I'm going to miss you, Bella! I look forward to your return. You have this look about you... I think you'll find your answers and be back here in no time."
"Thank you, Sonia! You've been so good to me while I've been here. So, when will the boat be here to pick me up?"
"Well, I've started the preparations and called Captain Joe; he should be around to pick you up on Thursday morning."
"Two more days. I think I can be ready."
The next few days were spent packing my things, walking around the island, and writing. I wanted to capture every moment with my dream Edward, so I could make it part of my manuscript, or at least refer to it, since there was some important information I'd discovered if Edward did turn out to be a vampire. Vicks was at the top of my list of things to buy when I got back to the mainland.
It wasn't normal to see, hear and feel delusions in the light of day, but I decided that as long as it wasn't a recurring issue, I'd let it go. It seemed to be my subconscious' way of kicking me in the ass and getting me to make a decision. In the past few days, nothing abnormal had occurred; I found myself just the slightest bit disappointed over that fact, too.
Thursday finally arrived. Sonia came into the writing room, where I was curled up in the wing-back reading a book.
"Bella? It's time. Your things are down by the dock and Captain Joe is here. I'll walk down with you." Sonia smiled, taking my hands in hers. "Are you excited? You're about to go on a new adventure, right?"
"Yeah, I guess I am." It was finally starting to sink in that I was really doing this; I was going to find the real Edward.
Sonia led me down the same path we'd taken up to the house that first day; it was gray and windy, much as it was the day I'd arrived. This time I wore my hair in a ponytail, following Sonia's lead, and the windy salt air stung my eyes, causing me to squint, but I didn't have the added annoyance of my hair whipping me in the face.
As we reached the dock, I saw the boat and the familiar scruffy face of Captain Joe as he moved about, getting things prepared. "Good morning, Ms. Swan. Come on aboard whenever you're ready."
"Good morning, Captain. I'll be there in a moment."
I wanted to get a last look at the house and the island. This place had helped to shape my future; I felt sentimental about it and extremely grateful for the friendship and understanding Mr. Masen had shown me. I turned back toward the house, shielding my eyes with my hand as I looked up at its majestic beauty. Sonia watched me silently. Taking a deep breath, I was about to turn away when something behind Sonia caught my eye.
No way... it couldn't be.
Edward stood on the dock, looking like he'd just stepped off the pages of GQ; one hand was in the pocket of his tailored, charcoal gray pants, the first few buttons of his blue and gray striped shirt undone. He was so much taller than me, but his head was ducked down in an almost self-depreciating way. The wind ruffled his tousled hair, making him look even more handsome.
My mouth opened in shock. Edward had promised me he wouldn't do this anymore! Maybe I did need to see someone about my waking delusions; he looked so real, so delectable.
Sonia noticed the look on my face and turned to see what I was staring at.
"Sonia -" I started, but the words died on my lips when I heard her call out.
"Mr. Masen! What are you doing here? I thought you'd gone back to the mainland."
"M-Mr. Masen?" I echoed. "Sonia, you mean to tell me you see a man standing there? You know him?"
Sonia turned back to look at me with concern. "Yes, of course; that's Mr. Masen. Why wouldn't I see him standing there?"
"Holy shit," I whispered.
"Sonia, I need you to get on the boat with Captain Joe and go back to the mainland," Edward's warm-as-honey voice requested.
"Er... yes, Mr. Masen. Will you need anything before we leave?"
"No, thank you, Sonia."
"Okay. Well, Bella, let's go then."
"No, Sonia; just you and Captain Joe. Ms. Swan and I need to discuss some things."
Oh, my God! Were my ears deceiving me?
"As you wish, Mr. Masen. And the luggage?" Sonia pointed to my suitcases, which were still on the dock.
"Just leave them, and they'll be taken care of."
"Wait a minute," I said, holding my hands out. "Sonia, Edward is your employer?" I leaned in close to her and whispered.
"Yes, Bella. Edward Masen is my employer. I take it you know each other somehow?"
I nodded dumbly.
"Well... take care, Bella. I'll see you soon."
"Goodbye, Sonia. Thank you again for everything."
Captain Joe leaned out, offering Sonia a helping hand onto the boat. He saluted Edward. "Mr. Masen."
"Captain Joe." Edward nodded, offering up one of his lopsided smiles. "I'll let you know when I need you back here."
"Aye, aye, sir."
Sonia and Captain Joe waved as the boat moved out of the slip, and I just watched in awe, unable to reconcile what this all meant. They both saw my delusion... which indicated that Edward wasn't a delusion. How many of my lucid dreams were actually dreams then? Or was I simply dreaming the ultimate lucid dream right now?
My mind splintered, fault lines shaking the very foundations of my sanity. My eyes shot from the retreating boat over to Edward in all his beauty and perfection. He stood in the same position as before, seeming to intuit that he should keep his distance from me.
My eyes moved to the boat, the house, the dock... Edward. My mouth worked, but no sound came out.
"Bella?" Edward called to me softly.
My legs would no longer support me, and I sat down hard on the dock, my fingers seeking the rough feel of the silvered wood. There I sat, shaking my head, mumbling to myself like a patient in a mental ward.
Edward's voice was a little closer. Blinking rapidly, I looked up at him, and my eyes widened. He came within ten feet of me and then crouched down until we were almost at eye level.
"It's going to be all right; I promise."
"They can s-see you." Scrunching my brow, I tried to put it all together without screaming, without getting up and running—which would be a really bad idea.
"You're r-real? You aren't a hallucination, are you?"
Edward stared off into the distance, seeming to choose his words carefully before looking back at me. "No, I'm not a hallucination."
"The dreams? The night visits?" I asked in a hushed voice.
"Oh, dear God." I covered my face with my hands. "I feel like such an ass."
"Oh! When I ran from you?" Uncovering my face, I stared into his topaz eyes, which immediately showed remorse.
"I'm so sorry, Bella. That was not my finest moment."
"And my first night here... the broken windows?"
"That was me. Your scent took me by surprise when you arrived, and I had to break out the windows to get air so I wouldn't... hurt you." Edward hung his head.
"That's why you broke the windows at school that first day, isn't it?"
"Edward, does that mean you're... a vampire?" I whispered, afraid to say it too loudly even though we were alone.
"I'm afraid so, Angel."
So many things were flitting through my mind, connections being made and memories being resorted. What I'd thought were dreams never had been at all. How could I have fooled myself so completely? On some level, I had to know the truth, didn't I? Maybe because I thought Edward would disappear for good if he realized I knew I wasn't dreaming?
"May I come closer, Bella?"
I looked up, startled and unsure how to answer. Edward waited patiently, his hands resting on the same wood that was beneath my fingers. It hit me that we were alone here on the island. There was no fear of physical harm; my problems were all in my head at the moment. Slowly, I nodded without speaking. My fingertips stroked over the wood of the dock a bit harder, perhaps in an attempt to remain grounded.
Edward remained in his hunched down position, and he shuffled toward me unhurriedly, maintaining eye contact, and his expression was reassuring. He stopped when he was about two feet away and made no attempt to touch me.
"Is this okay?"
"What are you thinking, Bella?"
"I – I don't know. This is so hard for me to wrap my mind around, Edward. I've spent the last several years believing I had vivid dreams about you... now I find out that... I mean -" I gestured at him, unable to finish.
"I know, and I'm sorry. You deserve to know the truth."
"Truth?" I laughed shakily. "I think I'm about ready for a padded room here." I stared down at my fingers, which began to fiddle with the frayed hem of my jeans.
Edward reached out tentatively; his fingers brushed the back of my hand, sending an electrical charge racing up my arm. Two pairs of startled eyes met, and I suspected he could feel the thrumming energy, too.
"I've been running for a long time, but I'm finished with that," he said softly.
"Yes." Edward stood up, holding his hand out to me. "I need to tell you everything. Stay with me, Angel. Please?"
I took his hand.
A/N: I hope you enjoyed my novella. I've come to the conclusion that I'm a word-hOOr that just doesn't know how to write a short story. My enabling pre-readers have coerced me into continuing this for at least a few chapters. It won't be a really long story, but I think we need an Edward POV and, of course, I rated it M for le-M-ontastic reasons. Yes, lemonade will be served in future installments.
This story certainly can stand alone as is, but if you're interested in continuing on this journey with me, then add it to your alerts.
Please remember to read all the contest entries and vote on your favorite whether or not it's mine! Voting begins on January 8th. Thank you for reading!
Reviewers will receive a teaser for the next chapter! (can't be continued until after the contest is over)