The Twilight Saga and its characters belong to Stephenie Meyer
Show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy.
~ F. Scott Fitzgerald, Notebooks
Alabama ~ October, 1916
Five pairs of shoes stood guard on the end of the Brandons' dock.
The five youngsters belonging to them had withdrawn from the party, their uncharacteristic absence from any festivity unnoticed by most of the partygoers.
None of the two hundred guests celebrating Jasper Whitlock's commission as an officer in the United States Navy—and his proposal that very evening to Alice Brandon—had any idea that he'd snuck out right under their noses.
Most of the homes on that stretch of the bay were summer homes for locals or winter homes for rich northerners. The twinkling lights of the Brandons' soiree quickly yielded to the currently uninhabited darkness.
Alice and Jasper's parents had brought in champagne just for this occasion. It had arrived from New Orleans the day before.
They knew that Jasper would propose; he'd asked for Mr. Brandon's blessing only days ago. No one doubted Alice would say "yes." But because they were uncertain if they would ever be granted the mercy of a wedding for their children—for more than a year, the rest of the world seemed to be pulling America into a foreign war—they celebrated while the opportunity presented itself.
The entire evening had seemed enchanted.
Each of the five friends had brought something to contribute to their private engagement. Jasper was a gift in and of himself. He felt certain he would be taken away from them and they didn't pretend that this last bit of Indian summer with him wasn't precious. Nevertheless, he held a bottle of champagne determinedly by the neck. This is a celebration, by God, he thought.
With equal decision, he held Alice Brandon by the waist. Since the Brandons purchased the property on the bay, Jasper and Alice had been pained to be parted for even a moment. Occasionally, it bordered on nauseating.
That night, it was heart-wrenching.
Pressed into her tiny hand, the hand now blessed with sapphires and the approval of every eye at the party, was her parting gift to him: an old-fashioned pocket watch with her photo and a lock of her ebony hair inside.
Bella Swan, holding Alice's free hand in her own, had an odd assortment of items in her pockets. Among them was a flask of brandy—Jasper's favorite—and a tightly folded note. She threw a glance and a smile over her shoulder every few steps to make sure their group didn't lose one of its number.
A very specific one of its number.
Alice wondered with which of the two boys Bella was preoccupied. She had an idea.
Emmett McCarty, a walking celebration himself, knew exactly what to bring. In his suit jacket were hidden the tools to break into the Islers' home and a flask of whisky.
Straggling even farther behind, and downcast for more than one reason, was Edward Cullen.
Always the maids' favorite, he carried a bag of fried shrimp, crusty bread and sweets one of them had smuggled out to him. The only payment she'd required was a crooked, dimpled grin from the beautiful child and a promise to return safely.
He'd exchanged presents with Jasper already.
Jasper's thoughts buzzed as they walked the sandy waterfront, the water idly lapping at his toes. Every hour or two he reconsidered his commission; his doubts were running right on schedule.
Did the Navy really need one more officer? The United States hadn't declared war just yet; maybe it could be avoided.
Alice let go of Bella's hand to tug on Jasper's shirt. "Mr. Whitlock? I'm right here, darling boy. No need to daydream about me." She turned to press a kiss into his chest. It was convenient that her mouth was at the same altitude as his heart.
"Of course. It's a habit now, you know."
"Something else we have in common then."
Emmett rolled his eyes and shot out ahead of the group. "I'm going to get the door open. See you fellas in a second."
Edward increased his pace for a few steps so he could fall into stride with the lovely Miss Swan. She heard his approach and slowed, leaning to meet him. Their arms brushed against one another.
She leaned back in and bumped him. He reciprocated.
Wordless had become their habit recently. She needed a ride into town; he and Jasper appeared at just the right time. She looked for the cream and he was already handing it to her. She couldn't stand another minute of the lovebirds; Edward arrived to whisk them away in his little sailboat.
At that moment, she needed to feel like the world wasn't spinning so fast that it would sling her to the stars and the gravity of his presence grounded her just enough for comfort.
They carefully kept their hands to themselves. At her tender age of sixteen, touching seemed so forbidden.
Every boy wanted to know what it was that made sweaters curve so invitingly but exploring so much as their hems seemed impossible.
What girl didn't want to be kissed breathless beneath the moonlight? It was just so difficult to know how to hint that it was copasetic without seeming like a trollop.
Silently pondering life's mysteries, they walked in step, only their shoulders occasionally kissing.
Alice and Jasper kept their heads forward, willing the two would-be sweethearts to figure it out. Bella wasn't worried about losing Emmett at all, it appeared.
Jasper hoped that his new friend would get as many months with Bella as he could before he found himself going off to war as well. He expected it to happen any day.
Alice was thinking the same thing.
The old summer house was empty and Emmett had been charged with maintaining the grounds by his father. It was punishment for taking Rosalie Hale to a speakeasy.
Well, punishment for his dad finding out. It was never the doing that would get you in trouble. It was always the getting caught.
Alabama was "bone dry," despite its new governor's best efforts. A good time was not easy to come by, between that and the war.
Emmett had grown used to making his own fun.
He pried open the French doors leading to the veranda and boat dock, swinging the doors wide open as if he were giving his friends all of Mobile Bay and the world beyond instead of just borrowing someone else's view.
The jasmine winding around the pillars was older than any of the five of them. It was just starting to bloom and perfume the balmy air. The scent crept into the house, slow and thick.
They sat inside and reminisced. This was the sunset of their childhood—even at their young age they knew it. The world was a different place than it had been just two summers before.
Alice took a swallow of champagne from the bottle that the girls were passing between them. "Emmett, do you remember introducing Rosie to us?"
"Oh, do I ever. I've never hated a person so thoroughly as I did her. She was just awful to me."
Bella coughed, choking on her bubbly drink. "Her? Emmett, you should be ashamed, trying to lie to all of us like that! We were witness to her being 'awful.' She called you out in front of Lois Winter for kissing Inez Winter earlier that night. You were just mad that both sisters gave you the boot."
Jasper chuckled. "It's too bad she was only here for the summers. She never got chance to warm up to you, Em."
They walked to the end of the Islers' old dock and slipped their feet in the bay. Edward just knew that heaven was a place very much like this. The angels could only hope to look like Isabella Swan.
Bella dropped an oyster shell into the water. The ripples glowed.
The other four smiled.
Their bay was inhabited by creatures like tiny, water-bound fireflies. And just like lightning bugs, they lit up when you alarmed them.
Bella stretched forward to drop another oyster shell straight down and enjoy the best vantage of the resulting glow. Edward grabbed her waist, unaware that she had purposely put herself in the precarious position of leaning out over the water.
What could be the harm in a little extra safety? She could find none and said nothing about his grip. Nor the things it did to her breathing.
As soon as he had her securely in his grasp, he understood that she hadn't been in danger of pitching into the water. She didn't have any forward or downward momentum. And yet, she didn't object to the almost-embrace.
She lingered in her examination of the sinking oyster shell, watching it meander down like a feather long after the water had lost its tinge of light. She never saw it reach its bed, but that wasn't the reason she kept looking.
Edward realized that, aside from her filmy dress and his greedy fingers, nothing else was cinching her waist. His hands spanned from rib to hipbone and, in their slow-motion release of Miss Swan, they memorized the lay of the land.
She memorized the satiny friction, warm and insistent, because she didn't know what else to do with the novel cocktail.
For a shimmering moment, she forgot where she was.
She planted her hands firmly on either side of her hips and let the dizzying sensations calm; he did the same.
When he placed his hand on the wooden slats, his pinkie, guided by the most primitive form of gravity, linked itself to hers. Neither of them shifted.
On the other end of the dock, Alice curled into Jasper's side, her tiny torso fitting neatly into his like a bird in a nest.
Once again, they began to tell stories. But instead of telling old stories, stories that Edward had no place in, they recounted their golden summer.
Rosalie had joined their group now that her older sisters were all married. Bella hadn't ever been allowed so much freedom as when Alice's cousin Emmett stayed with them. The Swans hoped he and Bella might become more than friends and loved that the overgrown boy intimidated lesser specimens his own age. Emmett and Jasper hadn't ever been as interested in spending time with the girls as they had been in the last few months. And Edward hadn't spent any summers with the privileged youth on the bay before this one.
The six of them had aligned their orbits for the first time.
So they had as many stories from those last few months—jumping from docks and sneaking out to swim when it was just too hot to sleep and tiptoeing out the back of the noisy speakeasy in Mobile when Emmett's father strode in the front—as they had from all their years of sharing this stretch of bay every summer before.
And there would be no more summers like this one.
Edward crossed two of his fingers over Bella's.
She neither rebuffed nor encouraged the advance.
Edward realized that someone was missing from their stolen moment. "Why didn't Rosie walk down here with us, Emmett? We wanted her to come. I mean, I know she hasn't been around long but we won't hold it against her that you did the introduction."
He smiled broadly at Edward. "Thank you kindly, sir, but I believe Bella gets that dubious honor. Anyway, her Daddy has his eye on her around me. He thinks I'm trouble."
That got a chuckle out of everyone. And a chorus of feigned shock.
Emmett continued, "I'll give it to him, he's no fool. And that daughter of his…she's something else."
Bella asked too-sweetly, "The good kind of 'something else,' right? I'm left to assume since you aren't divulging any details."
"Oh, I can give you 'details,' if that's what you're lookin' for, Isabella Swan."
Bella clucked. "Only the gentlemanly kind, Em."
He batted his lashes like a debutante considering her first proposal. "Are there any other kind?"
Bella wanted to reach over and swat at him but four of Edward's fingers were laced into hers and that seemed more important.
She settled for glaring at him.
Emmett was suddenly serious. "If I go to Europe, I'll ask her to be Mrs. McCarty before I go."
Jasper hugged his friend. "I had no idea, you scamp. How long has this been going on?"
"I guess it's always been going on. We fight a little, make up a little…it just took the possibility of never getting to fight with her again to make me realize that I don't want her making up with anybody else. If you know what I mean."
They all expressed their surprise and congratulations.
Bella and Edward each murmured something appropriate. All they noticed was their own hands, now clasped tightly between them.
Only Alice would be so bold as to say, "It will be a lovely wedding, Em. Rosalie will be the prettiest bride anyone's ever seen."
"Yes, well. Let's just hope she's my bride. I don't think there's a shortage of alternatives."
It occurred to Jasper that celebrating their past had been a delight but their purpose on that night was properly greeting their futures.
And Emmett's future was probably warding off every yahoo from New Orleans to Savannah while his friends were drinking champagne a quarter of a mile away.
So Jasper offered, "Let's go check on the future Mrs. McCarty, shall we?"
"Aw, y'all can stay if you want. I'll go back by myself."
As much as it pained them to separate their fingers, Bella and Edward knew that getting back before their absence was noticed was the better idea.
Edward took one more opportunity to slide his hands around Bella, encircling her waist as he helped her up.
She turned to face him so that his fingers danced along her spine instead of her stomach. The other three suddenly noticed the charge in the air and turned to watch the sparks.
"I just realized that you haven't even asked me for a dance this evening, Mr. Cullen. I do hope you haven't squandered your opportunity."
Surely he could scrape together enough money to bribe one more song out of an orchestra. Maybe Carlisle had some cash on him. It would be worth every penny.
It turned out that the orchestra was nowhere near finished for the evening. The party continued even as the parents and grandparents found reasons to shuffle off to their own homes.
In an unspoken show of solidarity, Emmett, Jasper and Edward monopolized the dances of "their" girls. Only Jasper had just cause to keep Alice to himself; some sharing would be necessary by the other two gentlemen. Alice was more than happy to release her new fiancé into the service of his comrades-in-arms as they defended their lady-loves.
It was during one of her down dances that Bella found herself in Emmett's oversized paws. "I can't say enough good things about Rosalie Hale. Jasper's been saying for weeks now that you two would be perfect for one another if you'd ever stop arguing over…nothing and everything. And Jasper and Alice are getting married. And Edward is…." Her sentence trailed off into a sigh which, in Emmett's mind, worked just as well as any adjective she could've articulated in its place.
She smiled a dreamy smile and looked over his shoulder at the handsome young man twirling Rose around the dance floor. "It just seems like my life was upside-down and inside-out until an hour ago. And now it's all just fallen into place."
Bella suddenly realized how naïve she sounded and her self-consciousness turned her cheeks deep pink. "I'm such a cliché…I just…"
Emmett hugged her tightly. "Just because it's a cliché doesn't mean it can't be true. I mean, those ideas are used over and over for a reason, right? I'm probably only saying so because I agree with you. Nothing could be more right than the way things are tonight. I haven't wrecked my chances with Rose, your parents don't know—"
"Don't say it, Em. It might not have to come to that."
The giant of a boy cursed his own stupid mouth. There was no reason to worry about tomorrow when tomorrow could be filled with trenches and smoking rifles on foreign soil. For a young man in love for the first time, an evening could not have been more surreally beautiful.
He wanted to make sure Bella's evening was tinted the same shade of rose. Her bubble would be burst long before his, he surmised.
"Of course not, sugar. Are you ready to show Rose and Edward how it's done?"
"I'm a little dizzy from the champagne; don't you let me fall!"
He would never let her fall if it were in his power to help it. It was mostly to get Rose back in his arms that he even let Bella dance with Edward.
By their fifth dance of the evening, Edward's hands already knew just where sit on Bella's waist. While low on the small of her back seemed preferable in theory, higher was better in practice. The back of her dress dipped in a sweeping arc between her shoulder blades. If he was patient, he could turn her to face the herd of chaperones and graze his thumb over her spine. She always shivered and her lashes might flutter closed for a moment.
Her warm skin just did things to him.
Every thought he formed about Bella and their budding…something felt trite. It would have eased his mind tremendously to hear the same threadbare phrases peppering her thoughts or to know that she'd confessed the same sentiment to Emmett.
Around one in the morning, the six of them knew that the orchestra was about to pack it in. Alice whispered in Bella's ear, "I'll be right back."
She returned a few minutes later with her older cousin. "My mother says we can go for a walk along the bay as long as Tanya comes with us."
Bella was sleeping over with Alice; her parents were long gone. She didn't even have someone to ask, had she wanted to. She didn't.
They were a few steps into the shadows of a giant live oak when a swarthy young man stepped into their path. Tanya jumped into his arms. "There you are. I promised I wouldn't keep you waiting all night."
Without so much as an introduction to the 'children,' she took his hand and walked away with him.
Alice smiled wickedly. "Laurent just moved here from New Orleans. They'll be a little while."
"Hopefully it'll take more than a little while." Rose snickered.
Bella didn't completely understand what she meant but her cheeks warmed anyway. Her hand found Edward's in the dark. Their eyes grew accustomed to only the moonlight again.
They paired off, the other two couples finding something very interesting on the periphery and wandering away to investigate, until it was just Bella and Edward.
He walked up on the grass and put his jacket on the ground.
Bella threw her shoes and stockings beside it and held out her hand. "Walk to the water with me."
His shoes joined hers on the ground. He rolled up his pants and followed her until their ankles were covered. "You should wear that color blue all the time. It suits you."
"Thank you. I like your hair with a part in it. It's very debonair."
Self-consciously he ran a hand through it, immediately regretting it when the pomade stuck to his fingers. "It's usually such a wreck. Rosie helped me."
"I'll thank her later." She regretted her boldness almost instantly and hushed.
There was a quiet lapping of water as Edward moved closer to her. He swept a strand of hair from her face. She closed her eyes and leaned into the touch. Though the hair was out of her vision, he couldn't bring his hand away.
Her heart was hammering away madly. But she wanted to touch him—and not in any prescribed-for-dancing, chaperone-appropriate way. She wanted to know what his face felt like, all smooth and shaved. Or the muscles on his back that rippled when he pulled the rigging on the boat.
Or his mouth. No mouth that made words so velvety could be anything but…what? She wasn't exactly sure, but she knew she wanted to find out.
So she just reached up and put her hand on his face, rubbing the square of his jaw with her thumb. It seemed like a good start. He clenched his jaw so that the muscle would flex under her hand and she laughed softly when she realized that he was playing with her.
They stood very like that, not moving from the waist down. Girls like Bella Swan didn't take moonlit walks with boys who had no family, it didn't matter who had taken them under their wing. He'd already gotten more than he should've expected. Edward was afraid to kiss her because, in water up to his ankles, he was out of his depth.
Bella inched towards him, wondering if he even wanted her to, until she was close enough to feel the warmth radiating from him.
He decided that he didn't care if it was wrong and placed his lips softly to hers. Their movements were exquisitely slow, like honey dripping from a comb.
He thought she tasted like champagne.
She later remembered him tasting like salt.
Finally pulling his mouth away from hers, he whispered, "Let's get out of the water," and kissed her on the bridge of her nose.
To make sure she didn't get dirtied by the ground, he knelt on the grass and left his jacket for her, while she sank down and tucked her feet behind her. He arranged himself so that she was between his bent knees.
Before she could even decide how to sit, he leaned in and kissed her again. And for a long time, that was enough; whether or not she was comfortable didn't matter to her. They learned the curves and valleys of the other's lips, a landscape more important than any they'd ever known before.
Eventually, Bella threaded a hand—then two—into Edward's soft hair. That possessive caress stoked her simmering curiosity and she rose to her knees to lean into him. Their chaste, experimental kissing became desperate, full of friction.
It had dawned on Bella that she might never get this chance again. What if he joined the military with Jasper and Emmett or her parents found out and sent her away? What if he changed his mind about her?
Finally, he peeled his mouth from hers and whispered, "My knees hurt—I know yours must."
She smiled bashfully. "I hadn't noticed…but now that you mention it, I think there's an acorn or a stick under me."
He stretched out on his side and she followed suit, though still on his coat. She whispered, "Do you think we are the only ones nearby?"
"They'll be back soon."
Her hands couldn't stay away from him. They toyed with his buttons, tugged on his bowtie and traced his fingers. She knew that she didn't have to memorize him that night; he wasn't going to just disappear. That knowledge didn't keep her from trying.
He could tell that she was frenzied and pulled his mouth away from hers. She huffed.
"You seem kind of nervous. No, not nervous…I'm nervous. You seem frantic, like you're in a hurry."
Her mouth dropped open. "Why? Why would you be nervous?"
"Because I'm what could mess this up. I don't belong here, with families like yours, but Carlisle and Esme have been kinder to me than I could have ever asked them to be. Being here with you seems greedy."
He picked up her hand and began playing with her fingers, kissing them and winding them in his own.
Bella refused to acknowledge the gap in their social standing. She'd been successfully avoiding the topic all evening; why capitulate after so long? "It is. I'm very greedy and I'm not sure it isn't me who's getting more than they deserve."
He shook his head. He was only eighteen months older than Bella. She was definitely old enough to understand why cotton farmers' sons didn't marry into old money. He'd barely lived with Carlisle and Esme long enough for the blisters on his hands to have calloused over.
"Did you know that this is the first tuxedo I've ever worn? I'd never been to a party like that before."
"Then we're even, I guess." Her words were quiet.
"You've been to a party like that before…probably not long ago."
"But I've never kissed anyone before." She said it as if she assumed that he knew.
He didn't. "Aw, Bella. You make me wish I hadn't."
"Have you kissed lots of other girls?"
"I don't want to talk about any other girl right now. I promise I'll tell you later if you let me pretend for now that they never existed."
She tipped her face to the side and looked at him with wide, faux-innocent eyes. "That might hurt Tanya's feelings, especially since she was nice enough to disappear."
"Why, you little…" He tickled her until she was gasping for breath, his hands across her stomach, his mouth on the base of her neck and her collarbone.
While she caught her breath, he put his arms around her, one hand at the base of her neck and the other between her shoulders, and leaned her back. When he thought she'd gotten enough of a breather, he put his mouth to hers again.
It was in that embrace that Emmett and Rose found them.
Emmett had the decency to cough as they approached. "Party's over, lovebirds. Big Daddy Brandon will be looking for his angel soon."
Bella giggled and leaned up to whisper in Edward's ear. "I'll definitely be hearing about this again." She pressed the sharply creased note she'd been carrying around all night for him into his palm. It was the first of many they exchanged over the next few months.
He smiled and slipped the paper into his trouser pocket before he murmured back, "I'll be hearing about it the whole way home."
Jasper left two months later, Emmett three months after that. Both of them had a wife to kiss goodbye. When Edward left in May, Bella was not allowed to ride with Carlisle and Esme to the train station.
Author's Note: I've been plotting "Gatsbyward" on Twitter with Ms Ouiser and justduckie and ElizabethanTX and xoEMC and JAustenLover for months now. I
Thanks to MsOuiser, Brooke, justduckie (Clementine) and Denver Popcorn for their kickass prereading.
As always, let me know what you think.