Okay folks. Getting back into the swing of things as much as I can. I can't guarantee a particular schedule, I'm posting as soon as I can crank out the editing. That said, that this is happening at all is because of you, my lovelies! Your prodding is helping to keep this at the forefront of my skull, and I thank you all again for your support. I'm also enjoying reading your own little tidbits about child-rearing. Y'all crack me the fark up!
This story is written in the first-person point of via, and sometimes switches between characters by scene or chapter. (Please do not panic; I do not repeat each scene from various points of view.) I do not label my chapters with character names. Subsequently, your key is thus: chapter titles that are short and succinct are Bella's. Long witticisms are Esme's, song titles are in quotes and belong to Edward, and Rose's are questions, finished off with an interrobang. It's been a while, so members of my team are either unavailable or I've decided not to bother them for a while until I'm totally back on track, so let me make it clear that any screw ups are entirely my own and not those of any of my past or present beta team.
Thanks to cookEgawd for his usual awesomeness.
Chapter Thirty-Seven: The Circle Married The Line.
Twenty four hours after my laboratory adventure, I was bundled in more clothes than I had ever before worn at one time, standing at the top of a ski slope, wondering why there hadn't been enough time for him to take me to Fiji instead. I was initially appreciative when the plane landed and I had stepped into a wonderland of snow, but now, in high altitude, low oxygen, and freezing digits in spite of gloves the thickness of a brick wall, I was wondering how the hell I got here.
"Edward, are you crazy? What made you let me talk you into taking me to ski lessons? Why did I think this was a great idea again? This is a horrible plan. Look at that downhill. Who in their right mind labeled this a bunny slope?"
Whomever came up with the idea of strapping two slabs of wood to their feet and sliding down a long, steep, snow and tree covered mountain was stupid. No way around it, it was just plain stupid.
Edward laughed. He actually laughed at me in the midst of my abject fear.
"You've been talking about learning to ski ever since you saw the sign at the airport that told you where our destination would be. This is not my fault. We could be sitting in front of a fire and I could be feeding you marshmallows and hot chocolate right now, but you wanted to do this, so I suggest you get going, love. I'll be right behind you, I promise."
"Miss Swan? Miss Swan! Point your feet that way—no, no, like this, remember?" The name tag of my ski instructor read "Hi, I'm Dagbjørg, and I'm from Norway!" Poor Dagbjørg was doing all she could to not give up on me.
I was beginning to regret making the decision to hire an instructor. Edward could have taught me, but every time he got near, I felt the sudden urge to strip. Obviously, this was not such a bright idea given the 20° temperatures. I scowled at Dabgo—Dagboor. Ahem. Dagbjørg. I didn't think she should be teaching anyone to friggin' ski. Just from her name I knew that she was probably born somewhere in the backwoods of Nord-Trøndelag with a pair of skis strapped to her feet fresh out of the womb. Hell, she probably had to ski to and from kindergarten each day. Those types had no business trying to teach people, as they themselves had never learned, they had been born with the innate ability to do this, and had no business trying to help the hopelessly and mercilessly uncoordinated. I began to wonder if there was a Special Education class for the ski students who just couldn't get the hang of it, when I felt a gentle nudge set me in motion down the slope. That was all it took. Shortly thereafter, my brain made an important connection.
You, my dear, are sliding down the side of a mountain. The act, in itself, is fraught with peril. You could break a limb—again. You could hit a tree. You could trip and roll down the face of the mountain until you become a human snowball. Okay, not really, but the point is that you, silly rabbit, love danger. This is, for all intents and purposes, dangerous. Why aren't you having a blast?
It did the trick. I spent the rest of the day on an adrenaline high, and Edward spent most of the afternoon talking me out of launching myself onto a Black Diamond-level slope. By the time we got back to the rented cottage Edward and I had entirely to ourselves, I was completely blissful, and totally exhausted. I knew my face must have been expressive, because he looked up at me with a raised brow as I stiffly moved to sit across from him at the dining room table.
"What's wrong, love?"
"I'm just ... a bit stiff. Going to be a bunch stiff in the morning."
"Given the fast onset in your case of DOMS, I'd concur. It's going to be tough for you."
"Delayed onset muscle soreness. It's the technical term for your stiffness, only yours doesn't seem to be so delayed. There are some things we can do to help you, though."
"Yeah? Such as?"
"There's a steam room somewhere around here. Put on your bathing suit and jump in. When you get out, we'll get you a massage. It will help your muscles if you can stretch them out a little."
"Sounds like a plan." Actually, the second part sounds like a really friggin awesome plan, if you ask me.
I wasn't really too keen on saunas; I always felt like the breath was being sucked out of me, and the concept of trying to relax in a hundred and ten degree room made no sense, but I was willing to do anything if it would save me from misery tomorrow. Besides, we had both pledged to sit around and do absolutely nothing but relax on our last day before heading out to Forks, and I was rather looking forward to the idea of doing exactly that: nothing. After the semester I'd had, even the word "nothing" had a calming vibe to it.
Half an hour later I escaped the sauna, sans swimsuit. I was hoping that my "oops" moment might trigger other things. Good things. Lustful things. I was sorely disappointed. Edward walked down the hall holding a thick, white resort robe in front of his face, which he promptly draped over me. The small part of me that held out hope prayed we were making our way towards the bedroom for my promised massage, but instead I was led to a tiny room at the top of a partial staircase. I noticed it was there during my initial tour of the cabin, but the door was closed, and at that time I hadn't bothered to look inside it.
I took one step in and was amazed. Candlelit with soft, relaxing instrumental music playing from an invisible source, a nicely heated room with just the right humidity, and a massage table in the center, currently sprinkled with rose petals. The cabin had a fully decked out, designated massage room. What else could I have missed in this place? Just as I began to get incredibly excited about stripping and having my muscles beat into submission, I heard a voice from the corner of the room, the speaker hidden by the open door I hadn't yet walked completely past.
"Good evening, Miss Swan. I'm going to step out for a minute to allow you to undress. Please get under the covers, and I'll be back in a minute."
I wish I had been able to hide my disappointment better, but I couldn't; my shoulders drooped and I threw my head back to glare up at God, in utter annoyance that I wasn't going to get my much anticipated Edward-massage.
That having been said, I must admit that an hour and a half later, "Pire from Chile" had convinced me there was an upside to my predicament. The massage was so good, in fact, that I fell asleep on the table. I woke up to the most potent and direct rays of the western morning sun around 6 am the next day, comfortably in our bed, bare, soft and supple from the massage oils, and wrapped snugly in sheets.
Plan "Get Bella Laid" was failing, and miserably so. My insistence on having a downhill ski adventure the day before, while resulting in the best massage on the face of the planet, ruined my opportunity to lure Edward into bed. Our "Day 2" plan to sit around and stare at pretty things wasn't working out too well, either. It ended up taking me two hours just to decide where to eat lunch. Trust me, it would be a problem for anyone considering there were so many options to choose from and considering I had just come off of several months of campus cafeteria food.
Afternoon was fast passing, and Edward insisted I allow him to take me out somewhere nice for an early dinner.
"But Edward, I didn't bring anything fancy to wear."
He pointed to a garment bag hanging in the closet beside me.
"What's that?" I stared at the bag with a mixture of curiosity and fear.
"Your attire for the evening. It may make you less trepidatious to know Rosalie picked it out, not Alice."
"Less trepidation, sure. Far more weirded out now, though."
"I certainly do not plan on making you uncomfortable in any way, especially during what is supposed to be your momentary respite, so if you don't like what you see, I'll order you pizza and we will stay in for the evening. Whatever makes you happy."
The idea of some poor pizza guy having to snowmobile over here to the outskirts of the resort made me think twice about the backup plan, but just having the option relaxed me somewhat, giving me just enough courage to walk over and unzip the bag. What I found stunned me. A fitted, strapless bust and an A-line skirt was a simple silhouette, but it was the tiny details that made it astounding. Silver from top to bottom, a sparkling applique winded its way across and down the top of the gown in a crystal formation that, when viewed as a whole, were positioned to give the illusion of a cluster of delicate snowflakes cradling my bosom. It immediately reminded me that I didn't have that much of a bosom to begin with, but when I began to maneuver it off the hanger I saw that the internal structure of the gown was designed to present what I had in the most flattering way possible.
Wow, Rose, consider me impressed.
As much as I was normally hesitant to succumb to such fanfare, the moment I saw that dress, I couldn't wait to put it on. I had come to recognize that sometimes a piece of clothing can have the same effect as any of the design pieces I was most proud of: just holding the finished product, or in this case, wearing it, had the power to make me feel transcendent. Even the ugliest duckling would become a swan in that dress, and I knew it.
It is, after all, my last name. Hell yeah.
I would be the attention stealing ice princess in that dress, and I would be damned if I didn't get that man to peel me out of it at the end of the night.
I remembered Edward was still in the room, and finally noticed that he was leaning against the wall, arms crossed and staring at me. I could have sworn I saw a grin form on his lips before he turned away from me, forcing me to guess at whether it was truly a grin or not. He grabbed a second garment bag from the other side of the closet and began to walk out of the room.
"And just where are you going?" I tried to block him with my body, annoyed that I had been so obvious with my approval of the dress. It felt as if I were betraying my nature by being excited over the prospect of wearing a dress.
"Going to get dressed. Meet you in the foyer in twenty?" He kissed me on the cheek, a lame attempt at distracting me so he wouldn't have to push me out of the way. I could tell it was getting harder for him to hide the grin I suspected he wanted to display; he knew better.
"I don't have vampiric speed, you know. Try forty. Do we have reservations for a specific time?"
"They will serve us whenever we get there, so forty minutes will be fine."
He kissed me on the forehead before he walked out. I was left to wonder what kind of formal restaurant didn't require reservations, but I was quickly distracted by the sight of the sparkly silver gown again. Even with the gown entrancing me, the idea of having to adorn all the accoutrements that came along with wearing a gown made me hesitant. My next thought that flickered across my mind, however, was an image of Edward in a sharp, crisp suit.
Any downside to this situation will be well worth it.
What met me in the foyer was pure perfection. Standing tall in an understated tuxedo, gunmetal shirt and black tie, there was nothing in the world that could have pried my eyes away from that man until I'd had enough eye-candy to sustain me until we returned to the cabin. Judging by the way his eyes roamed the length of my body, I assumed the ice princess dress was performing its own brand of magic on my proportions. I'd suddenly gained curves I knew I hadn't had forty minutes before. I wasn't sure I would ever want to take it off.
I had no idea what to expect, but it didn't matter. There was no way to imagine what I would be walking into that night. We had to take an escorted sno-cat ride to our destination, which was quite literally 10,840 feet up from sea level, and right on the side of a mountain.
"Edward, it's half past four. Five is when it starts getting busy for restaurants, right? And we don't have a reservation. Are you sure there will be room?"
"Relax, love. All will be fine."
"What is it you're not telling me, Edward?"
"Nothing that has any bearing on whether or not we will have a wonderful, enjoyable evening."
"You really think I'm just going to accept that line?"
"No, but I figured it was worth a try."
I thought I saw a hint of a devious, twisted smile in the shadow that hid him.
I tried to ball my fists and place them on my hips as a warning, but there wasn't the room for it. I had to settle for an unimpressive glower.
"Really, Bella, is it so wrong that I want you to experience exceptional places and events?" He leaned over to whisper in my ear. "We may be around for a long while, but places change in the blink of an eye. I want you to see these unique things whenever we can possibly squeeze them into the schedule. Besides, I've discovered that the task of finding these places is kind of fun."
"I'm not complaining, per se, it's just that I do get somewhat uncomfortable when these forays of yours cost obscene amounts of money." I nudged him in the arm. "Didn't anyone ever tell you there are starving children in the world?"
"I'll promise you that for every dollar I spend on you, I will donate at least five to charity. Would that make you happy?"
"Better, yes. I can't guarantee I won't freak if I find out you've done something completely outrageous though. You may as well tell me in advance so I can prepare myself for wherever it is we're going."
"Tonight isn't anything too grandiose, I assure you. My goal tonight was only good food for you in a beautiful, semi-private setting. We're having dinner at a private club near the top of the mountain. It's in a beautiful location and is rumored to have excellent cuisine; the menu focuses on sustainable, seasonable, local ingredients, and game."
I smirked. "How long did it take you to memorize that spiel? Rhetorical question; don't bother answering."
"Well, I do appreciate sustainability, you know, even if I have no taste for the ... preparation. After all, the fewer irreplaceable game slaughtered, the more left for me." He laughed, and we continued our relaxed, happy banter on the trip further up the mountain. Even in the shade of the sno-cat's interior, I could see his wide, bright smile. It was the one thing that kept me distracted during the less-than-smooth ride to whatever super-secret-bat-cave-restaurant we were headed to.
"So what's the catch, cupcake?"
"Cupcake?" His brows raised, expressing the curiosity that may have completely derailed my scheme to get him to reveal what the big deal about our destination.
"Yeap. You don't mind it, do you? I mean, you call me 'love' all the time, and you don't like your name shortened. I need my own term of endearment for you."
"You can call me whatever you like, love, I just want to know why you chose 'cupcake.'"
I fought to keep from blushing. "Aww, that's not really important." I turned to look out the window, hoping he'd drop it.
"Come on, Bella, tell me. Please?" He leaned closer and kissed my temple.
If he keeps doing that, I'll never answer. I'll be lost in my own little happy place.
I grabbed my bottom lip with my teeth, and did my best to mumble my answer so that it would be completely incoherent. "Becuz ..."
"Because ... like a cupcake, every time I look at you ... I want to eat you."
I'd guessed my news wasn't any big secret, but it was still embarrassing to say it aloud. The past few years of life had drained me of the ability to give-a-fuck about many things. I suppose it was this I could thank for the ease in which I could share my opinions, display my bitter indignation, and put glimpses of my sexual frustration on display. It did not, however, mean I was totally absolved of my propensity for shyness, and the character trait would still manage to hit me in full force the second I overstepped my mental filter's bounds.
He turned me towards him and pressed up against me, snuggling his face into the crook of my neck. "In that case, you can call me cupcake all you want. Every other word, if it so pleases you. I'll never mind being reminded of this new bit of information."
An abrupt bump and loud noise that occurred as we crossed over a dangerous-looking chasm in the snowpack jerked us out of our intimate moment.
"Back to the previous subject." I said. "What's the catch? You know, the part about this place you don't want to tell me. And don't beat around the bush; you already know what part that might be."
"Well, like I said, it's a private club, and exclusivity ... costs. In this case, membership is restricted to 395 persons." He kissed me right below my ear. "Cost of membership notwithstanding, dinner itself is free and we can drop in as often as we wish. The timing was somewhat serendipitous. Normally there is a lengthy waiting list to join, but with the economy being what it is ..."
I saw lights in the distance and felt relief that we were getting close. The bumpy trip up the mountain was making me nauseated. With little time left to dig, I figured I needed to hone in on the most relevant clue I had been given so far. "Membership dues, then. How much were they, exactly?"
"Well dues are different—they're paid yearly. If you must know, they're about $2,500 a year."
If I had been drinking anything, it would have just gotten sprayed across the room. Having no nearby source of liquid, my mouth went dry instead. Assuming there weren't any plans I didn't know about, given how many times we were scheduled to come back, it meant he had paid $2,500 for a single dinner—a dinner for one. Then it occurred to me that he still hadn't answered the original question.
"You still haven't told me how much it cost to get in."
"I didn't? Oh. Somewhere around fifty."
"Fifty? Why would it cost less to get in than it would—" Apparently, I could be really dense sometimes.
"Edward. Please tell me you didn't spend fifty-two thousand, five hundred dollars for me to have dinner at the top of a mountain."
His look grew sheepish. "The chef has three Michelin stars, I hear they have their own farm nearby where they raise and slaughter their own Wagyū beef. The wines are direct from the Rothschild estate ..."
Each proclamation begged to hear my approval in response, but he wasn't gonna get it.
"You don't really care about any of this, do you?"
I tried to give him the most innocent look I could manage. The truth was that I didn't think I was enough of a foodie to appreciate much of any of it. As long as it didn't taste like dog food, I'd be happy. I really didn't know what much of the things he said meant, anyway. At this point, I only wanted to know one thing.
"Do they have coffee? I'm going to be freezing by the time we get there, and I'll need something warm."
"I remember being told they offer something called Kopi Luwak coffee. I'm not familiar, but the gentleman I spoke with made a big deal out of it."
My eyes widened. It was finally a name I recognized, but it wasn't for good reason.
"What is it?" Edward suddenly looked worried.
"I've heard of that before. It's supposed to be ... very tasty."
"Then why do you look like you're about to vomit?"
"It's made from beans that have been eaten and cast from the anus of a civet. In other words, it's Indonesian weasel-shit coffee."
Edward already tended to get a disgusted, wrinkled look on his face whenever food was the topic of discussion, but this evoked a new level of revulsion from him.
"I'm, um, certain they will have another option ... I hope."
"You better. You're the one that'll have to kiss me afterwards."