FF: Edward/Bella pairing
Beta'd by: jstshirin
Disclaimer: These characters aren't mine but they sure are fun to play with!
"Oh my god. Is this, like, your bra?" Lauren Mallory grabbed the thin piece of cotton fabric from Bella's hands, waving it in the air above her head, a taunting smile curling her lips.
"Please give it back Lauren," Bella's voice wavered as she watched the other girls in the cabin gather around Lauren to examine the current source of Bella's embarrassment.
"Why do you even have a bra? It's not like you need one." Irena's eyes were narrowed in disdain as she pinned Bella like a bug with her cold, assessing gaze. Bella knew what all the girls saw when they looked at her; nothing more than a mouse of a girl, skinny and short and awkward, covered in a mass of scabs and bruises. She would be found wanting. She never was enough. That was the whole reason she was here at camp, after all. No one wanted her.
Smothering a defeated sob, Bella raced out of the cabin, letting the door bang shut behind her. She could hear the echoes of her roommate's laughter following her as she ran haphazardly down the path and away from the cluster of small cabins that made up the living quarters of Camp Wanakita.
It was a dark night, and Bella didn't want to run too far from the safety of camp, so as soon as she was clear of the sharp, taunting laughter, she slumped down against a tree, pulled her legs up to her chest, and let herself cry.
Eventually Bella's sobs slowed down and she found herself drawing shaky breaths in and out as her emotions began to settle. She felt small and alone, and a little bit scared as she realized just how far she had run. The woods around her were never really silent, and she listened, wide eyed to every creak and crack and squeak that seemed suddenly to surround her. A strange shuffling was coming closer to her. Bella scrunched herself up as tightly as she could as images of bears and wolves and deranged serial killers circled wildly in her head. She closed her eyes and held her breath and prayed with all her soul for whatever was moving towards her to just keep going. But of course the shuffling steps stopped right in front of her.
For one long moment, nothing happened. Then Bella felt a shifting in the air around her. Her entire body tensed. She drew in a huge breath, ready to scream bloody murder, when she felt a gentle hand on her knee. Cautiously, she opened one eye, then the other. There was a boy kneeling in front of her. A very, very beautiful boy. And his face was filled with concern.
"Hey there, little one," his voice was soft and careful and Bella decided he must be used to dealing with timid creatures. She knew, of course, exactly who he was. His name was Edward Cullen and he was a junior counselor at the camp and the object of Lauren and Irena's vapid obsession. Each girl was convinced that they would be leaving camp at the end of the summer with intimate knowledge of exactly how Edward Cullen's lips felt pressed against their own. Bella had doubts about the likelihood of this ever coming to pass. For one thing, the girls were only 14 and Edward had to be at least 16. She doubted very much that he would ever think of them in "that" way. For another, Edward seemed quite close with another counselor, Tanya, and Tanya was exquisite. She looked like a blond Angelina Jolie, all long legs and pale, creamy skin and perfect boobs. There was no way Irena or Lauren stood a chance, no matter how short their shorts were. That was just a fact. Not that Bella would ever say it. Teasing she could deal with but outright hatred was another thing entirely.
"Are you ok?" Edward's voice cut through Bella's thoughts and left her blinking up at him stupidly.
"Y-y-yes," Bella stuttered shakily. She wiped the back of her hand across her runny nose and wiped her face against her shoulder in an attempt to compose herself.
"Uh-huh." Edward sounded doubtful as he watched her. Suddenly he straightened, smiling as he extended his hand out to her. "C'mon. I know just what you need." He pulled her up and then turned and started off into the dark, leaving Bella to scramble after him.
She couldn't quite see where she was putting her feet as she stumbled along in his wake but somehow she managed to stay upright. Finally they broke through the trees and Bella saw he had led them back to the central cluster of buildings that surrounded the main rec hall. Edward walked purposefully towards the large building, leading her around and past the main doors and back to a smaller door set in the rear of the hall. He reached his arm up and felt around along the top of the doorframe, smiling in victory as Bella saw his hand come away clutching a dull bronze key. She watched curiously as he unlocked the door and held it open for her.
Bella hesitated. She was pretty sure that campers weren't allowed in the hall after lights out, but Edward seemed to think it was fine. And he was a counselor, after all. As if he could read her thoughts, Edward reached his hand out to her and smiled encouragingly.
"It's O.K. I promise, you won't get into trouble." His hand closed firmly over hers and he tugged her gently along behind him as he walked casually into the building. Bella was still unsure. She didn't want to break any rules and she really didn't want to get into trouble but his hand was so warm and his grip was so solid and for once Bella felt truly connected to someone. So she followed him.
The rec hall seemed entirely different in the dark. It was eerily quiet and their footsteps echoed as they weaved easily through the rows of stacked tables and towards the kitchen. Edward still held her hand and every few steps he would glance back at her and smile.
They pushed through the kitchen doors and Bella stood still as Edward felt along the wall until he found the light switch. Light flooded the room and Bella blinked rapidly as her eyes adjusted to the artificial glare. Edward flashed a mischievous grin at her as he moved quickly to the large industrial refrigerator, pulling the door open and leaning casually against it as he surveyed its contents.
Bella watched with interest as Edward started pulling items out and placing them on the long counter that divided the kitchen in two. Milk, orange juice and ice cubes were followed by vanilla and sugar from the cupboards. Edward rummaged around under the counter for a minute and Bella giggled as she listened to him muttering to himself.
"Now where is it? You'd think they would keep it…oh, here it is!" he stood quickly, a very professional looking blender in his arms.
"Do you really know how to use that thing?" Bella asked hesitantly, inching closer to the counter to watch. The contraption had a ridiculous amount of buttons on it.
"Oh ye of little faith. Watch and learn, Squirt." He winked at her before dumping the gathered ingredients unceremoniously into the blender.
"Don't you need to measure anything?"
"Nah, it's a gut thing. You've just got to feel when it's right." Edward slapped the lid down onto the blender and pressed a series of buttons. The motor whirred to life, and Bella jumped at the noise, crossing her arms quickly across her chest. Edward smiled reassuringly at her before turning his attention back to his frothy orange creation.
She studied him furtively as he stood bent over the blender. He was tall, much taller than her, and tanned too. His dark hair was shot through with streaks of ginger and gold from countless hours spent in the sun. He wore grey sweat pants and a white t-shirt, both with the camp logo emblazoned across them and she couldn't help noticing exactly how closely they fit him. He turned away from her for a moment to reach into a cupboard for two glasses and Bella found herself in the surprising position of actually agreeing with Lauren and Irena. Edward Cullen did have a very fine ass.
Edward turned back towards her and Bella's eyes shot away from him and around the room. The noise of the blender cut out and she turned back to see Edward filling the glasses. He passed one over to her and watched her expectantly.
"What exactly is this?" she eyed her cup suspiciously.
"This, sweet girl, is liquid sunshine." He grinned at her before raising the cup to his mouth and taking a long swallow.
Bella watched, mesmerized by the way the glass lay heavily against his lower lip and how his adam's apple bobbed with each swallow. She felt something flip over deep inside her body as she watched the tip of Edward's tongue dart out and sweep across the rim of the glass. Half the liquid had disappeared before Edward lowered the cup with a loud and satisfied "ahhhh."
"Well go on, give it a try. And then you can tell me what a genius I am," he nodded expectantly at her.
Bella raised the glass to her lips and took a tentative sip. It was good. Her eyes widened in surprise as she took a longer drink and tried to identify the taste. It was sweet, with a hint of citrusy tang and oh so smooth. She felt the corners of her mouth pulling up into a smile. It did taste like sunshine.
"This is really good," she told him.
"I know. It's because I have mad skills in the kitchen," he boasted, setting his glass down on the counter and leaning back casually.
"Nah," he laughed, "this is about all I can make, unless you count Mac and Cheese."
Bella wrinkled her nose in disgust.
"That's a no, huh?" Edward's smile was teasing and Bella felt herself smiling back.
"So, Squirt…you got a name?"
"Bella. Isabella Swan."
"Well Isabella Swan, it's nice to meet you. I'm Edward Cullen."
"I know. I mean…" Bella stammered to a stop. She was sure her face was bright red and she prayed for a hole to open up in the floor in front of her so she could just disappear.
"Hey, it's cool. Everyone knows me around here." Edward leaned closer to Bella, dropping his voice to a whisper, "I'm kind of a legend." And then he winked.
Bella burst out into peals of laughter before her hands flew up to cover her mouth, as if she could push the sound back in. But Edward was grinning wide, a smile that reached all the way up to his eyes and shone right back out to her. Bella couldn't help smiling back.
She finished her drink as Edward moved efficiently around her tidying up. When she was done he washed their glasses and turned to look appraisingly around the large room.
"Look good to you?" he asked.
Bella nodded and shuffled her feet nervously. Now that her drink was gone and there was no more reason for them to be there, she found herself growing self-conscious. She suddenly realized that she was standing in an empty kitchen, late at night, with a boy. And even though there was no way that Edward Cullen thought of her as anything other than some scared little kid, Bella couldn't help being entirely too aware of him and the way his eyes crinkled up in the corners and how one side of his mouth lifted just a tiny bit more than the other when he smiled. And she couldn't seem to stop herself from thinking about how sunshine-sweet his lips would taste.
Bella was sure she was blushing a fiery red as she wrapped her arms around herself once more and tried to find anything to look at other than Edward Cullen's glorious face. She fixed her eyes on her feet, determined not to make anymore of a fool of herself than she already had.
"Well, I guess I should get you back to your cabin. Don't want you getting in trouble if anyone finds out you're missing, do we?" Edward ushered Bella out ahead of him and they retraced their steps to the back door.
"So, Squirt, where am I taking you?" he asked her.
"Um, to my cabin?" Bella looked at Edward in confusion.
"Which cabin are you in?" a wry smile was tugging at the corner of Edward's lip.
"Oh, um, Algonquin?" Edward's eyes widened in surprise at the information.
"They put you in the Snake Pit? Shit. No wonder you needed to get away." He shook his head and headed off down the path towards the cabins.
"The Snake Pit?" Bella hurried after Edward who seemed to be muttering to himself again. He stopped and turned so suddenly Bella almost crashed straight into him.
"What were they thinking putting a sweet kid like you in with those vipers. Honestly, sometimes…" Edward shook his head and all but growled. Bella put her hand on his arm tentatively, fingertips barely skimming the coarse hair that covered his forearm.
"It's ok," she said softly.
Edward looked at her incredulously. "No it's not Bella. Those girls are a bunch of conniving, vindictive, malicious…they've been coming to this camp for the last 6 years and every year they get worse. And who's your counselor? Gianna, right? As if she's any better." Edward leaned forward, his face a mask of rigid intensity, but his voice was soft as he spoke. "Are they bullying you, Squirt? Because I can have you moved. You don't have stay in that cabin. We can go pack you up and I'll move you right now. Let's see…which cabin has a spot…" and he was striding back down the path before Bella had a chance to answer.
"Edward," she called after him. "Edward, wait. You can't. Stop. You can't just move me like that."
"You can't stay there. What are you, twelve? They'll eat you alive!"
"I'm 14. And I think I can handle them. It's nothing I haven't been through before."
Bella was surprised at how much Edward's assessment of her age stung and she found herself bristling under the implication that she couldn't handle herself. "And besides, if I switch cabins now they'll just think I'm some weak little cry-baby."
"And they'll pick on you even more. I get it."
Edward was silent for the rest of the short walk to her cabin. He walked with his head bent, his forehead wrinkled in concentration and Bella wondered what exactly was running through his head. They shuffled to a stop in front of her cabin. She hesitated at the steps, unsure of what to do. She wanted to say thank you and to tell him that she'd be ok, that he didn't have to worry. Instead she looked down at her feet awkwardly and chewed on her lip.
"Hey," he whispered.
Bella looked up.
"If you need me, you come get me, ok?" it was practically an order but Bella didn't mind. She nodded once, before turning to climb the wooden steps, pausing at the door when he cleared his throat behind her.
"You'll be ok, Squirt." And then he smiled.
Something in Bella's chest seemed to break loose and expand, filling her up completely. She thought that this must be what love feels like. She blinked once before smiling shyly back at him and slipping through the door.
Bella made her way carefully to her bunk. The room was filled with the steady breathing and light snores of 5 sleeping girls. It seemed that no one had been overly concerned by her absence. She didn't mind. She was still smiling as she slipped between the cotton sheets and closed her eyes.
The next day, Alice Cullen moved into Bella's cabin.
Bella came back from breakfast to find the tiny dark haired girl standing in the centre of the cabin, a speculative look on her face, while the other girls clustered around her in apparently rapt attention. The screen door had barely had time to bang closed behind her before Bella found herself swept up into an exuberant hug.
"Hi! I'm Alice Cullen and you're Bella. I'm your new bunkmate. Oh, I took the bottom bunk, I hope you don't mind. Do you snore? I don't. Well, Edward says I do, but I don't really so don't listen to a word he says, ok? He's all lies. Oh my gosh, you do have such pretty hair! I guess he didn't lie about that. Is this your natural hair color? God, I would kill for it!" Alice had looped her arm through Bella's and walked her back to their bunk as she talked, seemingly non-stop, about the bunk and her clothes and the terrible camp uniforms they were forced to wear. Bella was vaguely aware of the rest of their cabin mates gathering their things and leaving while Alice kept up a non-stop commentary. When the last girl finally sauntered carelessly out the door, Alice finally slowed down.
"Phew. I thought they'd never leave," she threw herself flat across the bed and smiled warmly at Bella. "So this is your first year huh? And I bet Queen Irena and crew haven't exactly been welcoming. Well, don't worry about it. You've got me now." Alice studied Bella appraisingly and Bella felt her stomach twist anxiously. She felt like this strange, effervescent girl held her future in her hands and for once she couldn't tell herself that it didn't matter. She liked this girl. And she really wanted to be liked in return.
Alice sat up and grabbed Bella's hands in hers, pulling Bella down to sit with her. "We're going to be good friends Bella. I can feel it. It's a gut thing." She smiled and squeezed Bella's hands. Bella smiled back.
The girls were in the middle of unpacking Alice's bag when the screen door creaked open and Bella looked up to see Edward backing awkwardly into the room.
"Honestly Alice, how much stuff did you bring with you? I swear if this isn't all of it you're moving it yourself. And what they hell do you have in here? Rocks? Oh. Hey there, squirt." Edward grinned at Bella as he crossed the room, loaded down with two more duffel bags slung across his shoulders and a box of odds and ends.
Bella felt as if all the air had suddenly left the cabin, leaving her breathless and shaky and a little bit dizzy. She managed to stammer out a hello and looked around a little desperately for something to do. She didn't like this off-kilter feeling. She felt as though something within her had shifted, had changed, and there was no going back. She wanted to be alone so she could dissect this feeling, maybe get used to it, but she had a friend now and introspection was going to have to wait.
"That's my flat iron, be careful!" Alice ran over to take the box from Edward and carried it carefully back to the bed.
"In this box, Bella, are my prized possessions." Bella watched curiously as Alice started pulling items from the cardboard box. The flat iron was followed by an assortment of glittery make-up, an ipod and a stack of magazines. Alice pulled the first one up and gazed at it adoringly. "Hello, gorgeous. Did you miss me?" she cooed.
"I'm really sorry about inflicting Alice on you, Bella," Edward shook his head as he dropped the duffel bags unceremoniously by the bed. "She's crazy but harmless, I swear."
Alice snorted. "I'm the best thing that happened to your life," she rolled her eyes and went back to fawning over her magazine.
Edward leaned down so that his face was level to Bella's, his cheek so close to hers that she could almost feel skin pressed to skin. "You have to be gentle with her," he said softly, "she has low self esteem issues." He laughed as a magazine came flying towards them, only to flutter to the ground a good foot in front of them. "And she throws like a girl."
"Why are you still here, Eddie? Don't you have someone else to be torturing?"
Edward held his hands in front of himself in mock surrender. "All right, all right, I'm going. Relax." He turned his back to Alice and put a hand on Bella's arm.
"You'll be ok?" he asked quietly.
"Thank you." The words came out so quietly she wasn't sure he would hear them but he must have. A smile, slow and easy, spread across his face and he grinned at her.
"No problem, Squirt. I'll see you around." And then he was loping across the cabin and banging noisily out the door.
Bella stood staring after him, her hand absently rubbing the warm patch of skin where his fingers had just been. She was startled out of her daze when Alice slipped an arm through hers and leaned her head against Bella's shoulder.
"Come on B, let's put this stuff away and you can tell me all about you. I want to know everything."
Bella smiled at the girl beside her. She was suddenly incredibly grateful that her mother had sent her to camp. She had a friend now. And that made all the difference in the world.
Bella saw Edward frequently over the passing weeks and every time she felt that shift to her equilibrium, that dizzy, breathless, free-fall kind of feeling. She tried her best to push it to the side. She tried to ignore it. She tried to compartmentalize it, but it was always there, itching at her.
It was there when she watched him lead his campers through activities. It hummed to life when he'd bump her on the shoulder and grin in greeting. And it clawed agonizingly at her when she sat at the campfires and watched him wrap an arm around Tanya Andersen and whisper in her ear, sneaking kisses while she giggled and rubbed her hand up his thigh. Bella never slept well on those nights.
Before she knew it summer was over and Bella found herself clinging almost desperately to a teary and shaking Alice. The girls whispered heartfelt promises and vows of undying friendship and then Edward was leading Alice away, one arm draped comfortingly across her shoulder, pulling her close to his side.
Bella felt as though her chest was going to crack apart. She watched the brother and sister disappear into the waiting car. It pulled out of its spot and made a wide arc before turning towards her. The window lowered and a familiar dark head poked out. Alice's tear stained face broke into a radiant smile as she blew kisses at Bella.
"Check your e-mail as soon as you get home! I'll miss you! Edward! Watch it! That's my head! Hey!"
Alice turned to glare at her brother as Edward's face appeared in the window next to her.
"See you next year, Squirt!" He grinned and waved.
Bella couldn't contain her smile as she watched her friends waving wildly until the car was out of sight and the Cullens were gone. Next summer couldn't come soon enough, as far as she was concerned. But she was happy because for the first time in a very long time she had something to look forward to. Bella turned and made her way down the path to the rec hall to wait for her own ride home, smiling all the way.