One-two, one-two, one-two...
I repeated the two numbers in my head in time with my heavy footsteps. The sand made my legs work even harder, but I welcomed the burn of my muscles as a much needed distraction.
I was sweaty and hot, and the cool, clear water looked so welcoming. I looked behind me, the long expanse of wood and stone that made up the Isle Cullen house all but gone out of my line of sight. I felt almost like I was on a deserted island, with the endless span of blue ocean to one side of me, and a dense line of vegetation to the other.
Once I could no longer see the house, I collapsed onto the sand. My chest rose and fell with each heavy breath. You'd think after running for almost a year, I'd build some sort of endurance, but I barely noticed a difference from when I had first started.
I looked up at the cloudless, sunny sky, and hoped I would get some color out of this vacation, if anything. I didn't mean to sound ungrateful, but this trip wasn't exactly what I was expecting. And trust me, I wasn't expecting much.
Shortly after our arrival, Edward started pushing me away. Not so subtly, either. He was polite about it, but we hadn't had a single conversation since the night we arrived. Just pleasantries and small talk. He interacted mostly with his brother and Jasper, leaving me to brood to myself. Either he was an amazing actor, or he had some sort of overnight epiphany, wherein he suddenly realized how not worth the trouble I was.
Anthony and I, on the other hand, were getting along swimmingly. He apologized for his childlike behavior the very first morning we arrived, and was back to his pre-Seattle self. We were all getting along like one happy, Stepford family.
I felt alarmingly like Nicole Kidman's character in that little scenario. Suspicious of the unrealistically happy people, and just slightly paranoid. All I knew was that if there was some kind of Isle Cullen Day Spa, I was staying the hell away from it. Just in case.
After regaining some of my energy, I hoisted myself up from the sand, taking some of it with me, and stripped out of my running shorts and sports bra. Clad in one of my new bikinis, I dove into the crystalline water.
I swam and dove and marveled at the clarity of the water. The sky above me subtly darkened and I soon noticing how much closer I was to the house.
The current was slowly delivering me back from where I came. I looked to my small pile of clothes, a tiny black heap in the distance. I was almost equidistant between them and the house. I swam along with the weak current, gliding underwater with grace I could never even hope to possess on land.
Once in front of the Cullen's grand domicile, I emerged from the water, dripping wet and without a towel.
Before entering the house, I tried to shake the excess water out of my hair. During my little headbanging session, I heard a chuckle come from nearby.
In one of the front gazebos, Edward was sitting on the bench, looking directly at me.
My eyes widened in embarrassment at the fact that he had just witnessed me shaking myself off like a dog.
I looked between him and the front door, trying to decide which to go to.
Without looking back at Edward, I marched up to the door.
"Bella!" I heard Edward call out. I froze before turning to him. He didn't say anything, only motioned for me to come closer. "I think we need to talk."
I walked across the partially roofed deck to where Edward was seated. I stood before him, not wanting to sit down until I knew what he wanted.
"About what happened on the plane," he said, sparking my interest. Was he finally going to address it? I nodded, letting him know he should continue. "I just wanted to apologize again about it. What I attempted to do was completely inappropriate, and I'm sorry if I've given you some kind of message, or led you on in any way. It won't happen again, I assure you."
Stunned, and feeling slightly queasy, I nodded once more, this time much slower.
"I also think it's best if we don't speak of it again," he continued, his polite smile not reaching his empty eyes. "You understand, right?"
"Yes," I choked out. I looked away, the look in his eyes tearing me apart from the inside.
"Great, I'm glad we're on the same page." I pursed my lips, knowing if I opened them, I'd either say a lot of stupid things or throw up. Neither of which would help me at this point. "I'll see you around."
Without a word, I spun on my heel, leaving Edward to his book. I could barely process what had just happened. What had I done wrong? What could I have done to warrant that kind of behavior from him?
Something told me I'd never find out.
I quickly walked back inside the house with my head held high. I didn't flatter myself into thinking Edward was watching me walk away, not after that display, but if he did happen to glance my way, I didn't want to look diffident and dejected. No, I wanted him to think I was just as unaffected as he apparently was.
I rushed past an embracing Alice and Jasper, and headed to my room to get dressed.
I moved on autopilot, thinking about my encounter with Edward the entire time. After days of avoidance, he finally decides to confront me, only to basically tell me to kindly fuck off? Sure, those weren't his exact words, but they might as well have been. They'd have given me the same message.
I used a towel to dry my hair and body before putting on some dry clothes. I didn't entirely care that my hair would dry a salt encrusted mess, or that my eyes were most likely bloodshot.
My skin felt gross and dry, so I squirted a copious amount of lotion into my hands, spreading the citrus scented goop over my arms and legs, immediately softening my skin. There was nothing for me to do in my room, and I refused to sit alone and brood, mulling over my encounter with Edward.
I wandered down to the living room area to find something to keep my mind off of him. Maybe watch some TV or be with someone who wasn't Edward.
"Come help me, Bella!" a sweet, chipper voice called as soon as I entered the room. I smiled slightly and walked over to where Alice was standing over the stove in the kitchen. Cooking would be as good a distraction as any.
"What are you making?" I questioned, taking in the eclectic group of ingredients spread across the long counter.
"We," she stated, standing over the ingredients closest to the oven, "are making roasted mushroom and brie tartlets, wine poached salmon, and individual soufflés for dessert.
"Yum," I said, moistening my lips. "It sounds complicated."
"Nothing you, me, and Rosie can't handle," Alice said. As if on cue, Rosalie came into the kitchen wearing a floral, frilly apron. That, combined with her flaxen, blonde hair and perfect makeup, she looked like a chauvinistic man's dream come true.
The three of us made the tartlets first, because they took the longest to prepare, then Alice and I prepared the salmon, and the sauce that it would be seared in, while Rosalie put the ingredients for the soufflés together.
The sun was completely set when we finished the meal. It looked and smelled absolutely amazing. The men had gathered in the living room, and were sitting around, watching sports.
I shuddered, more images of Stepford Wives coming to mind. This was getting a little freaky.
Or maybe this was just normality for them, and I was becoming irrational and paranoid.
I liked my Stepford theory better.
The food had finished cooking and with a call from Alice, the guys came into the kitchen to set up the table. At least we didn't have to do all the work.
The table in the dining room was glass lined with bamboo, and covered in a gauzy, white table cloth. The table was set quickly, and we all sat around the delectable food I had helped prepare. The mini soufflés hadn't been put in the oven yet, since Rosalie wanted them to be fresh. All the ingredients were compiled, and they were waiting in the kitchen for Rosalie to pop them in the oven towards the end of dinner.
While we ate, my eyes periodically drifted towards Edward, who was sat at the head of the table on the end opposite to me. He conversed animatedly with his family, telling stories and jokes, and made eye contact with seemingly everyone but me. I ate in silence, taking small bites of the food I wasn't particularly enjoying. It barely had any taste to me. For the rest of dinner, I just pushed my food around my plate quietly.
"Bella?" I lifted my head to see Alice looking at me with wide eyes. I waited for her to say something more, but she just continued to look at me expectantly.
"I'm sorry, what?" I asked, figuring she had said something before.
"I asked if you were okay," she said softly. "You've been awfully quite, and you've barely touched your food."
"I'm just not very hungry," I told her truthfully. After the encounter earlier, being near Edward had made me lose my appetite. It was a pity too, I'm sure the food was delicious. "But I might have room for a soufflé."
"Oh, I forgot about those!" Rosalie announced, quickly departing to the kitchen.
The rest of dinner went by fairly smoothly. The soufflés came out perfect, and tasted as good as they looked. Appetite or no, I always had room for chocolate.
"Let's go skinny dipping!" Emmett suggested boisterously as we put away the dishes and cleaned up the mess. "I'm going skinny dipping."
"Please don't subject us all to that, Em," Edward laughed. "Rose might like the Sasquatch thing you've got going, but I don't want to see your big, hairy ass running around the house."
"You love my big, hairy ass," Emmett taunted with a smirk.
"Let's just go swimming," Alice piped up. "Swimsuits recommended, but optional."
"Yes!" Emmett shouted, yanking his shirt up over his head. I watched in wide eyes as he stripped off his pants, too. Was he going to go skinny dipping? My eyes were glued to Emmett's departing form until I could no longer see him. I felt my face heat up after his little display.
Actually there was nothing little about his display at all.
I chastised myself for checking out yet another one of Anthony's family members, but good lord, was Emmett ripped. If not a little too much so. I never really thought about what he would look like with his clothes off before, but I figured he maybe had a little pooch under there. But he was all muscle. I found myself wondering how he didn't absolutely crush Rosalie while they...
Please stop, I begged myself. I drew the line at imagining Anthony's aunt and uncle going at it.
I scurried to my room to find a dry bikini, and threw it on before running out the front door.
I caught sight of the gazebo where Edward had basically snubbed me earlier, and I felt my stomach drop a little. Edward, Anthony, and Emmett were already in the dark ocean, swimming and messing around. I joined them, making my way to where Anthony was standing. I was glad we were on better terms now. It made everything so much less awkward.
"No girls allowed!" Emmett bellowed, staring me down. He stalked towards me, and I was completely dwarfed in front of him.
Before I knew it, Emmett had me in the air, and I was flying. I screamed, flailing my limbs. My ass hit the water first, and the rest of my body followed. I came up gasping and soaking wet. "You are so dead!"
I dove under the water and pushed the backs of his knees in as hard as I could, effectively sending him below the water. I stood on his back for good measure, knowing he could get me off easily.
I looked around to see the highly amused faces of Anthony and Emmett.
The person I was standing on emerged, and I slid off of them.
I still wasn't entirely believing when I met Edward's surprised, soaked face.
"Sorry," I squeaked out, humiliated. The three guys started laughing and my cheeks grew warmer.
"Don't worry about it," Edward said, doing the unexpected. He rested his hand on my shoulder, and crouched down to where my head was barely above the water. "But I will get you back."
I tried to hide the shiver that coursed through my body, but I'm pretty sure he noticed.
"Cold?" Anthony asked.
I nodded, lying to him with the gesture. Movement caught my attention, and I saw Rosalie coming out of the house and into the water, clad in a tiny, red bikini. Her hair was pulled up into a stylish bun so that none of her hair would touch the water.
"Where are Alice and Jasper?" Anthony asked his aunt.
"They're a little... preoccupied at the moment," Rosalie answered, trying to conceal a smirk.
"Jesus, those two!" I blurted out. I mean, did they ever take a break?
"Tell me about it," Rosalie agreed, her plump lips set in a grim line. "Their room is right beside mine."
We splashed around in the dark water, laughing and swimming. I was surprised I wasn't more scared being in the water so late at night. Sharks, eels, jellyfish, the whole gang could have been right at my feet, and I'd have never been the wiser.
I did feel the sensation of something brushing against my leg every once in a while, giving me the willies. I knew, rationality, that it was probably just seaweed or a harmless fish or maybe even someone's feet, but it still put me on edge.
I was positive I felt something slither across my feet, causing me to scream and shoot straight up. I clutched at the nearest person, hanging off of them so only minimal parts would be in the water.
I heard a chuckle, and found myself face to face with Edward. Of course it was him who I jumped on.
"Something... my foot...," I babbled nonsensically. I was still grabbing at him, my arms wrapped around his neck and my entire body flush with his torso.
"I think you're safe," he said, putting me down. He backed up away from me, leaving me cold and a little embarrassed. I looked around to see that no one was paying us any mind. I glanced back at Edward, whose eyes were trained on me. He looked pained, and frankly kind of constipated. Maybe whatever slithered across my foot shimmied up into his ass, which aptly described how Edward was acting lately.
"I'm going back inside," he announced to no one in particular. He waded back to shore and disappeared into the house. My eyes followed him, trained on the tattoo that may or may not have made a guest appearance in a steamy dream or two.
I wanted to leave with him, but I knew that would arouse some sort of suspicion, so I stayed in the ocean until a good amount of time had passed.
I told Anthony I was leaving to go back inside, and he just nodded in return.
Alice and Jasper were coming in as soon as I was getting out. I looked around to see that there were no towels in sight, and I didn't want to get everything wet upon returning inside. I shook the water out of my hair before going inside to search for a towel. The fans were on and the house was freezing. My flesh constricted into goosebumps, and I tried to remember where the nearest towel closet was.
I wondered down the hall, where it was noticeably warmer, and heard a muffled sound that only grew louder the further down the hall I went. I heard the rushing of water and someone's voice.
I froze in place after hearing Edward's voice calling out for help. Holy shit! Was he hurt?
"I need somebody!"
I let out a breath in relief. He wasn't hurt, he was singing. And quite well, actually.
"Help! Not just anybody. Help! You know, I need someone. He-e-elp!"
I stood silently outside the bathroom door, listening to Edward belt out Help by The Beatles. I bit my lip, picturing Edward in the shower, wet and naked, singing one of my favorite songs.
Not a bad visual.
I leaned against the wall outside of the bathroom, listening to Edward's alluring voice.
I almost had a heart attack when the bathroom door opened.
Edward was still singing, and I clearly hadn't noticed the water turn off.
He turned the corner, clad in only a towel, and came face to face with me.
I stared wide-eyed at him, unsure of what to do or say. I wasn't sure how completely obvious it was that I was listening in on him. Did he know how long I'd been standing there?
"I need a towel!" I blurted out at an inappropriately loud volume.
I was still frozen in place when he leaned past me to open the door to the linen closet. He reached up to grab a towel, handing it to me. I had mostly dried off, but I took it anyway.
"Thanks," I said, wrapping it tightly around my half naked body. "You've got an amazing voice."
"You heard me singing, I take it," he noted, looking a little embarrassed. "I suppose I get carried away sometimes."
"At least you've got the voice for it," I said, smiling. "When I get carried away singing, I just get formal complaints."
"You do not," he challenged, thinking I was exaggerating.
"You obviously haven't heard me sing," I told him. "I used to sing in my apartment, and my landlord came and talked to me after my neighbors started complaining."
"That's terrible!" he said, unable to conceal his smile.
I merely shrugged in response. "I've come to accept my lack of talent."
"Come on, you've got to be good at something," Edward said, not understanding what I meant.
"Oh yeah, tons of stuff," I said with a smile. "Just not singing."
"Well, uh, I should probably go get dressed," Edward said with a nervous laugh. For a moment, I had forgotten that neither of us were dressed properly, or even at all, in his case. Which is quite a feat, because it takes a lot for me to not notice that Edward is practically naked in front of me. Usually, when he's in any form of undress near me, it's all I can think about. I'm not proud, but it's true.
"Right," I said, biting my lip. I tried not to check out Edward full-on, but I was eye fucking him thoroughly in my peripheral. "I think I'm going to take a shower." A cold one.
Edward's nostrils flared, making me laugh softly. He winked before turning around and walking to his room at the end of his hall.
I stared at his retreating form, starting at his sculpted calves, pausing on his delicious ass, and ending on that goddamn tattoo nestled between his muscular shoulders.
When he looked back to find me staring at him, I quickly ripped open the bathroom door.
Right into my face.
"Ah!" I yelled, bringing my hands up to cover the injured area. It really fucking hurt. Tears sprung to my eyes immediately.
I felt a warm hand on my shoulder and heard Edward asking me if I was okay. I nodded, standing upright.
"I'm fine," I assured him, trying to smile. My towel had dropped sometime during my incident, and I reached down to get it. I sprung back up, but my head came into contact with something hard.
"Fuck," Edward growled in a way that would have turned me on to no avail in any other situation.
Okay, it still turned me on a little.
Edward rubbed at his reddened jaw and I clutched the back of my head.
"Sorry," I said sheepishly. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah," he said, the muscles in his jaw flexing. "You?"
I nodded, wondering how I had managed to injure the both of us.
"I was going to pick your towel up for you," he explained, as if he'd read my mind. "But you beat me to it."
I nodded in understanding. "I'm just going to take a shower now."
"Are you sure you're okay?" he asked, eyeing me suspiciously. "You hit your head pretty hard. Twice."
"I'm great," I assured him. The pain really was beginning to dull considerably.
"Bella, your face is starting to swell," Edward said, looking worried. "Come on, let's get you an ice pack."
"Fine," I grumbled, following behind him.
He was still naked except for his towel.
I tried relentlessly not to think of him without the towel, but of course that didn't work. He guided me to the couch before making his way to the kitchen to get the ice.
I sat, in only my ridiculously tiny bikini, on the couch, waiting for Edward to come back. He returned with a blue pack of ice, sitting next to me on the couch. He gently pressed the freezing pack into my face, causing me to wince, pulling my face away slightly.
"I know it's not pleasant," he said, holding the ice pack away momentarily, "but it'll help the swelling go down and prevent further bruising."
"Okay," I said with a sigh. He pressed the ice back into the injured side of my face once again.
"How's the back of your head?" he asked with a chuckle.
"Fine," I told him. "How's your jaw?"
"Not bad," he said, pressing his fingers to the spot. It was a little reddened, but I was fairly sure he'd live.
As for me, I might die of spontaneous combustion... if you catch my drift.
Scantily clad Edward in such close proximity to me was dangerous, not only to my bikini bottoms, but most likely the expensive couch I was sitting on, too.
Edward took the ice pack away and lifted his hand up to my face, stroking my cheek with the back of his hand. I leaned into his touch, having never stopped craving it. His hand trailed down my neck and over my collarbone, sweeping my damp hair over my shoulder. He slid his fingers over the back of my neck, holding me in place.
His head leaned forward towards mine, and his intentions were pretty clear.
He was going to kiss me.
His lips ghosted over my bruising cheekbone, making sure not to apply too much pressure. He then moved his lips to the corner of my eye, pressing them down harder. My eyes flickered shut as I relished in the feeling of his lips on my skin and nothing more.
Edward placed a final soft kiss on my eyebrow before pulling away. I opened my eyes and stared directly into his. He didn't break eye contact as he pressed the pack of ice over half of my face. I pursed my lips, suppressing a giggle. He looked so forlorn as he tended to my face, and it just made me want to laugh for some reason.
I cracked a smile, hoping it would catch on. Edward was sending me an assortment of mixed signals, and had been since we'd arrived, but I didn't want to see him look so broken. He returned my smile, making my heart beat just a little faster.
Edward and I simultaneously turned our heads towards the front door, where Anthony stood, Emmett and Rosalie not far behind him.
"What's going on?" he asked, eyeing the both of us suspiciously.
"Bella got a little banged up," Edward said. I didn't know whether to laugh or cringe at his word choice. "I was just helping her out."
"Naked?" Anthony questioned askance.
"I had just come out of the shower when she hit her head," Edward explained coolly, while I sat beside him wide eyed and speechless.
"I'm all better," I blurted out stupidly. "I'm going to take my shower now. Thanks for the ice!"
With that, I darted down through the living room and down the halls until I reached the bathroom. My towel was conveniently on the floor outside the door. I bent down, increasing the dull throb in my head, and picked it up.
I slipped into the bathroom and hastily turned the water on. I stepped into the shower, cringing at the heat of the water. I turned down the hot water until the temperature was manageable.
A small smirk fell over my lips as I thought about Edward in this shower not ten minutes ago. I was mildly obsessed with him in any state of undress, and I wasn't sure it was healthy.
I took my sweet time in the shower, not wanting to get out and face the real world.
I stood underneath the water, mulling over what had happened, and what would greet me once I stepped out of the shower.
I turned off the water with a sigh and began to dry myself off. Once the majority of the excess water was absorbed from my hair, I wrapped the damp towel around my body and made my way to my room.
"Jesus Christ!" I gasped, holding my hand over my heart.
It was Anthony.
"What are you doing?" I asked him, my eyes widening.
"I came to ask you the same thing," he said nonchalantly.
"Well, I just came out of the shower," I told him, fully knowing that wasn't what he was asking. "I went swimming a couple of times today, so I felt a little grimy."
"Let me rephrase," he said, his tone cold and even. "What are you doing with my father?"
"Nothing," I said honestly.
"You're telling me there's nothing between the two of you?"
"Nothing at all," I assured him. There really was nothing going on between Edward and me. I had feelings for him, and for a little while my feelings might have been reciprocated, but there was nothing going on between us. And there never would be.
"Somehow," he said, standing up fully, "I just don't believe you. Either of you."
"Whatever," I snapped, getting annoyed. I might as well have been cheating, if this is how Anthony was acting. "I've never known you to be this insecure. It's ridiculous."
After he left and the door clicked in place, something else clicked.
Either of you.
That's what Anthony said. Either of you.
Had he talked to Edward about this, too?
I concluded that Edward had told him basically the same thing I had; that there was nothing between us.
Nothing at all.
I didn't know how many times I'd have to tell myself that before it would finally sink in.
I let my towel fall onto the floor and put on some comfortable clothes before braiding my hair. My damp braid hung over my shoulder, heavy and wet.
As I reached for my book, a knock sounded on my door.
"Come in," I called, wondering who it was.
I closed my eyes briefly, faintly hoping it was Edward about to open the door.
"Hi," said Alice as she slipped into my room.
"Hey," I said, smiling genuinely. I was pretty sure I had made a true friend in Alice, and I was glad. I quite liked her. "What's up?"
"Oh, nothing," she said, looking at her feet. "I just thought I'd stop by. You know, to talk."
"About what?" I asked, folding my legs beneath me on the bed.
Alice sprang onto my bed, sitting cross legged before me. "You."
"Okay," I said, a little taken aback by her bluntness. "What about me?"
Alice looked pensive for a moment, as if figuring something out. "Anthony's not really doing it for you, is he?"
I sat before her, shell shocked. What the hell was I supposed to say tot that?
"I just don't think your feeling match his," she concluded. "Am I wrong?"
I opened my mouth to answer her before closing it again. I liked Alice, but this was none of her business. I also didn't want to foolishly put my trust in anyone and regret it later.
"I get your hesitance to tell me anything," Alice said, noticing my sudden reluctance to speak. "But I just felt like you needed someone to talk to, and I figured I was probably the best person here to do so with. I mean, I'm not related to him, unlike everyone else here. Plus, I'm your age."
She had a point. I had also recently come to find out that Alice was only a little less than a year older than me. Up until then, I thought she was more Rosalie's age, around twenty-five. I guess it would be nice to vocalize my situation, so I decided to give it a shot.
"You're right," I told her, pursing my lips. "I don't think I'm being fair to Anthony."
"I'm not here to talk about him," Alice clarified. "Forget about what's fair and right to him for a moment, and think about how you feel."
How I felt? Aside from feeling like scum... I guess I felt a little tied down to Anthony. Restricted. So I told her that.
"Why are you still with him? If you don't mind me asking," she said softly.
"It's complicated," I told her, giving her the most overused, bullshit line there was, but not intentionally. It really was complicated. "I like being with him, and I don't think I'm ready to let him go."
"I understand," Alice said, nodding.
"I'm being selfish, aren't I?" I asked, fully knowing the answer.
"I don't think so," she said, shaking her head. "I think you need to prioritize some things and get it all figured out before you make a decision. It's not selfish, Bella. Not if you don't know what you want."
"Thanks," I told her with a smile. It really was nice to have someone to talk to about all this. It helped.
"I have one more highly intrusive question," she told me with a sheepish look on her face. "Do you have feelings for Edward?"
So what do you think Bella's answer is going to be? Will she open up to Alice? Any thoughts/theories on Edward's behavior?
I'm so sorry for the delay on this chapter. I've had a lot going on this month, and writing hasn't been very easy for me lately. I've already started on the next chapter, and I'm actually pretty excited about it. It might even be out before August! :)
Also, I've finally made a Twitter. I'll be posting links, teasers, and other things relevant to this story, so if you want to check it out, I'm on there as fernnffn.