Chapter 4:

Kiss Away the Pain

Sometimes in her dreams, Esme knew precisely where she was. The surroundings would be as familiar as the back of her hand, a place she knew well in real life – perhaps her kitchen at home, or the pasture behind the horses' stables on her father's farm. The scents, the sights, the colors, and the air would all feel as real as if it were not just an illusion. In these kinds of dreams, she may as well have been awake.

When Esme was eighteen years old, her dreams no longer took her to familiar or even conceivable places. Instead, the world inside her sleeping mind was twisted and vague. She rarely recognized her surroundings in her dreams, and when she did spot something familiar, it was never as it should have been. There was always something missing or something askew.

Nightmares were plenty, and she was always glad to wake. But in between those nights when she woke with a startled heart and a breathless bosom, she sometimes was given a night where her dreams were intensely pleasant.

But for as pleasant as these rare dreams were, there was an element of strangeness that always accompanied them. No dream was perfect for Esme; there was always a touch of pain. In the case of the following dream, her greatest pain was having to wake up.

Before Esme had fallen asleep that night, she'd had her first glass of wine at a party in Columbus. The night had been a blur since her first sip. In the back of her mind she had suspicions that one glass had quickly turned into two, which may or may not have turned into three or more...

She vaguely recalled walking half the way home in the snow with her father's arm around her shoulders. The streets had been too slippery for her to walk on her own, her balance being as terrible as it was from intoxication. The winter's breath was icy on her face, but not even the bitter cold could calm the fire that raced under her flushing cheeks. The effects of the wine were impenetrable for poor Esme, who was a blatant virgin to alcohol.

Perhaps that glass of sparkling red liquid had something to do with the intensity of her dream that evening. Her mind had been cloudy and her thoughts had been scattered long before she surrendered to sleep. She made her way up the stairs to her room without bothering to light a fire. It was her duty to keep the household warm, but she had carelessly neglected that duty in favor of immediate sleep. Her feet could barely carry her weight as she struggled to undress and slip into her nightshift. By the time her head hit the pillow, the effects of the drink had rapidly consumed her.

Behind her closed eyes, Esme felt herself being pulled downward in a spiraling grasp of darkness. Her arms and legs seemed bound by a frightening magic, and no matter how violently her body fought against it, she could not seem to break free.

Down the mysterious spiral she went, plunging into a darkness most unusual – for the darkness that swallowed her was not black in color, but a color that did not exist in the real world. At the end of this dark tunnel there appeared a great blast of light. As it touched her feet, she felt a spark light her skin, and her yelp of surprise echoed in the empty void.

When her eyes opened to the world around her, the world of her dream, Esme felt as if she had walked straight into a twisted fairytale.

Surrounding her was a forest of glittering flora and frighteningly exotic looking plants that towered so high they blocked out the sun. The trees were tall and willowy, their leaves glistening and dancing slowly in the wind as if they were underwater. On the ground, hills of lush foliage and grass sprouted all around, threads of shining tinsel that swayed like waves on a rolling ocean. Beneath her bare feet, a shallow pond of lilac colored waters rippled, lapping at her skin. The thick, perfumey air smelled of her own bath soap and the wine that lingered on her breath – her only links to the real world she knew waited just beyond this mysterious dimension.

The enchanted forest of her dream was so thick that the only light came from tiny little spots between the leaves on the trees above her. The tops of the trees were so high, they made a canopy that served as a sky, and those speckled dots of sunlight became stars.

All at once, the sunlight behind those trees dimmed, turning orange and pink, then eventually violet. The plants all came to life, glowing and blooming under the strange purple light. Above her head, she could make out a pink crescent moon and a smattering of galaxies that hung low enough for her to reach up and touch.

But when Esme tried to move closer to the wonders that lay ahead, she was pulled back harshly, bound by a force she could not fight. When she peered up and down her own body she saw that her wrists and ankles had been tied tightly to a tree behind her. The rope was twisted twice round, the knots too complicated for her to untie on her own.

She was trapped.

Such a beautiful dream this was, yet the circumstances were so cruel. How unfair that she could not explore the wonderful world that stretched out just before her very eyes. Instead she was stuck in one place, unable to take even one step out into the wonderful land that awaited her.

Every moment that passed was torture. The grass made music when the breeze raced through it, fireflies winked at her as they floated past, begging her to come and chase them. Flowers bloomed, stars danced, trees swayed, tiny silver fish waltzed around her in the pond – but Esme could not touch any of it. All she could do was watch.

She wished she would just wake up.

Just then, a stirring from the trees ahead of her caught her attention. In the quiet clearing where she was trapped, the rustling of leaves and distant footsteps from beyond were welcoming sounds indeed.

A twinge of fear tightened her stomach for a moment before she remembered that in such a beautiful dream, there was no way that her visitor could be anything less than beautiful as well.

And after all, it was a dream... To some extent, she could control it if she truly wished. She could make anyone appear... Anyone that she desired...

It seemed not a moment had passed where she was given the chance to imagine him, for he was already there. She saw his arm first, reaching forward through the thick leaves and vines, as if drawing back a curtain to make way for his entry.

He materialized out of the dark violet shadows in an aura of pale gold, looking positively ethereal in the dreamy setting. He belonged with it, she supposed – for he, too, was strange yet beautiful.

In every dream her doctor appeared, he was always exactly as she remembered. His face was never more clear in her memory alone than it was in a dream, and this was why she longed for her dreams to be of him. The deep world of slumber was the only place she could speak with him, see him, possibly even touch him.

All she could hope was that she did not wake before she had the chance to do those things.

If only she could be freed from her bonds.

She watched him come out of the forest and into the clearing, like a prince making his escape from a forbidden forest. His chest was cloaked in a dashing white tunic, his legs clad in toffee colored breeches, and his calves covered in buttery leather boots. Esme could only guess he had been traveling for a while to reach her, but he did not look at all weary or breathless from his journey.

She wanted to call out to him in case he would pass her up, but she could not make a sound. She was stunned into silence at the mere sight of him.

Even if she had summoned him into her dream with the power of her own mind, she could still not believe he was here. It was so hard to believe he was only an illusion, for she had thought him nothing more than an illusion that day when she'd met him. With his luminous blond hair and skin as smooth and pale as an empty page in her sketchbook, he was always striking in this way – a walking dream, too perfect to be real.

Esme struggled vainly against her bonds, but to no avail. The ropes stung her wrists and ankles when she tried to pull free, and the pain, even in her dream, was smarting.

She winced and fell back against the tree with a heady sigh that echoed eerily in the clearing.

As she had hoped, the sound of her distress drew his attention towards her. He stopped moving, stood stock-still in the middle of the glittering shrubbery, and stared at her.

His eyes were as lovely as she remembered, a titillating gold that could pierce her very soul with no more than a fleeting glance. The fireflies that swam around him looked dull in comparison to the glow in his eyes.

Come closer, she thought, begging the dream to obey her. Please come closer...

At her unspoken bidding, the image of her childhood doctor stepped a few inches nearer to where she was trapped. His eyes widened slightly when he noticed her state of peril, and his body became tense as he came cautiously closer, step by step. His boots brushed through the long tendrils of green grass, each soft footstep bringing Esme another bout of comfort. Eventually she ceased in her struggle against the bonds that kept her tied to the tree, filled with reassurance that he was coming for her, slowly but surely.

"You found me," she said, disappointed to find that her voice was capable of no more than a whisper in this dream. Dearly hoping he could hear her, Esme was relieved to see him smile softly as he stepped into the water that surrounded her.

With every step he took closer, her heart beat louder. The water level rose with his entry, swallowing her heels and creeping up well past her ankles. It was both cool and warm at once, the way hot water might have felt with spots of ice that had just melted. The sensation was wonderfully strange, but she should have expected nothing less from such a dream.

She looked down to watch the purple tinted waters ripple outward from the pair of approaching boots. Her heart pounded mercilessly when he stopped right in front of her, the tips of those boots just inches away from her bare toes under the shallow pool.

"Why have you tied yourself to this tree, you silly girl?" his deep voice cooed from above her head. The sound of it was watery and musical, magnified, but at the same time distant and quiet, muffled by the undulating matter of her dream.

Shyly, Esme peered up at the tall man before her, finding his face striking as a vision of an angel in the dark, fantastical space.

"You think I did this?" she asked incredulously, jerking her hands forward in the clutching ropes that tied them to the tree.

"Are you not in control of this dream?" he challenged smoothly. His voice still sounded as if it were coming from behind a thick panel of glass. It frustrated her greatly.

"I suppose, but..." Esme paused, caught off guard by his odd question, "I did not choose to be trapped in it."

He raised one regal golden eyebrow and tilted his head down to look her more squarely in the eye. "Didn't you?"

In his whispered words, Esme sensed something far deeper in meaning. He was not speaking to her about the bonds of this dream, but the bonds to which she had tied herself in real life.

Esme looked down at her feet in shame. "How did you find me?" she asked him quietly.

"I was searching," he answered. Even muffled by the strange liquid echo, his voice sounded sure and proud.

She looked up hopefully. "For me?"

His handsome face positively glowed with a gentle, affectionate smile. "I am always searching for you."

A blazing warmth crept into her chest as his fingers suggestively grazed the ropes around her wrists. In that moment Esme forgot all about the lilac colored waters and the firefly infested gardens that surrounded her. He was the most enchanting creature she would ever see, and he was about to set her free.

She watched as both his hands drew together over one of her tied up wrists. His concentration focused entirely on that complicated little knot, and within the next twenty seconds, the rope swiftly came undone, hanging limply at her side. As the rope fell away she could see that it had left an angry red impression around her wrist, which her doctor found worthy of his attention. The sheer care in his golden eyes stole her breath away as he leaned down to press a soft string of kisses around the red mark that circled the base of her hand.

Esme watched with wonder as the redness instantly vanished, like a line of ink being wiped away by soap and water. She perhaps should not have been surprised that in her dream, Doctor Cullen's kisses possessed magical healing properties as well.

She had a strong feeling that his kisses would be just as magical in real life...

Knowing that this was only a dream did nothing to discourage Esme. She allowed herself to enjoy the moments of peace she had been given to spend by Doctor Cullen's side. She watched him with eager anticipation, every move he made to free her from her uncomfortable bonds. The pain she felt was very real as the ropes scratched her skin, but the relief she felt was even more intense when his lips pressed patiently along her other wrist, repeating the same miracle cure. With careful fingers, he caressed her skin gently, soothing the burn left behind on her skin from the scratchy fibers.

With both her hands freed from the ropes, Esme longed to reach forward and embrace her doctor. But he had work to be done yet. As he knelt down before her in the water, she remembered that both her ankles were still tightly tied to the tree. She savored the ticklish touch of his fingers as he deftly undid the loops around her feet beneath the water.

His trousers were soaked at the knee when he raised himself up, the droplets of pale purple water sliding down the buttery leather of his boots. He smiled with satisfaction as he stood before her, and in an achingly soft voice he said, "Now you are free to go."

But the last thing Esme wanted now was to explore the forest around her. She wanted to stay right here with her doctor and never leave his sight. In fact, she wished that her dream would lead her to become trapped in the very same spot so that he would have to untie each of her limbs all over again.

Most of all, she wanted to feel again the sweet circlets of kisses he had placed around her wrists. But perhaps next she would let his lips wander around her ankles... Then if she was persuasive enough, he would lay that circle of kisses around her waist...

"I don't want to leave you," she whispered to him, her voice desperate, caught snugly inside her throat.

His forehead crinkled in confusion, as if she had just refused the most precious of gifts. "Do you not want your freedom, Esme?"

She swallowed hard, glancing around at the strange forest as she considered his question. It had all looked so appealing before, but now she had eyes only for him.

"What if I become lost again?" she asked urgently.

Esme's heart sighed as one large hand rested soothingly on her shoulder. "I will always come and find you."

His words felt heavy and sure, sinking into her as absolute truth. Esme had never heard anyone speak to her with such resolute assuredness, such forthright honesty. Her trust in him was downright dangerous. He was, after all, only a dream.

But he was more real to her than anyone she knew in the waking world.

With that, Doctor Cullen leaned down and placed one of his precious kisses on Esme's forehead, a kiss that burned like the summer sun.

Esme opened her eyes again as the rain started to fall through the canopy of trees overhead. Each droplet that fell erased a part of his beautiful face as it streaked through the air. He stood before her, still smiling softly, still staring into her soul with his ethereal amber eyes. But as the rain came down harder, it took part of him away streak by streak, until he was melting away in a stream of endless watercolors that stirred together in a whirlpool of misty nonsense.

Into the whirlpool Esme felt her body being pulled, and she willingly submitted herself to it, knowing she was really submitting herself to him.

The colors wound and swirled around her, tangling about her wrists, ankles, waist and neck like angry ribbons that threatened to choke her until she could no longer breathe.

When Esme woke with a start from the strange dream, she found herself coiled in her bed sheets, still dizzy from the wine she had taken before she had fallen asleep. She untangled her shivering body from the sheets, now regretting her failure to protect herself with a fire before she turned in for the night. Winter's unforgiving chill was a most unpleasant presence in her room. While she was sleeping, a barricade of frost had formed over her windows, locking her into a chamber of ice.

When she turned the lamp on, she saw that her wrists and ankles were still smarting with faint red marks from where the sheets had been wrapped too tightly.

How dearly she wished that her doctor could kiss them away.