Disclaimer: Belongs to Stephenie Meyer and her publishers.
The longest chapter of all; it seems a good ending. The muses stole this one and wrote their own story. It was supposed to be something completely different. Maybe I'll try my hand at the intended plot one day. I hope you enjoy it and thanks for reading!
10. Last Days of Summer
The Cullens had a tradition. On the last weekend of summer they would all go somewhere together.
Bella was introduced to this concept on Tuesday when Alice announced it in her typical way: with no warning.
'So, we're going away this weekend and you need to choose where.'
'What?' Bella said to her, in the middle of lunch in the Cullen's kitchen.
'The last weekend before school begins each year we go away as a family. Every year, one of us picks where. And since this is your first year as part of the family, we thought you should get to pick.'
'Whose turn was it supposed to be?'
Alice smiled. 'Jasper's, but he doesn't mind.'
'Okay,' Bella decided. 'Where should I pick?'
Alice rolled her eyes. 'No, silly, you pick! Here,' she said and unfolded a massive map of America across the kitchen counter.
'Yes,' Alice sighed, exasperated. 'Pick wherever you'd like.'
'Alice, I can't just take off for the weekend. Charlie – '
'Has already agreed,' Alice promised with a secret smile.
Bella might have known. Alice seemed to have wrapped the Police Chief around her little finger.
'Anywhere?' Bella emphasized.
'Well, I told him we might go to Canada, but only if you wanted to. Staying in the continental United States is probably better.'
'Okay,' she said. Bella put her sandwich aside to study the map. 'Where have you guys been lately?'
Edward snickered. 'Pretty much everywhere, but that's alright.'
'Do I need to pick a city?'
'Nope!' Alice all but popped the word. 'A little town might not be as interesting, but it's really wherever you want to go.'
Bella raked her eyes over the map. She had been to California and Florida already that summer.
'Oh, just don't pick Texas,' Alice piped in.
'Um, okay. I wasn't planning to. Any particular reason?'
Edward and Alice exchanged a look. 'It's a long story. Maybe another time,' Edward replied cryptically.
'How about Colorado?' Bella decided. Maybe it would be cloudy enough there for the Cullens to be outside.
Alice's eyes glazed over for a minute.
'Good choice! Now pick a specific city.'
'Denver?' Bella queried, as it was the only city in the state that she knew.
'Hum...' Alice thought. 'It's going to be sunny on Saturday, but we could make it work.'
'No, that's alright. I don't want you guys to all have to stay inside. Um, is it going to be sunny all over Colorado?'
'Pick another city. Try one up in the mountains, it's more likely to be cloudy,' Alice suggested.
Bella glanced down at the map, studying the detailed road system of the mountainous state. 'Oh, there's an Edwards.' She smiled at Edward.
Edward leaned over the map beside her. 'How about Vail? It's not far and it's a beautiful town. And not one I've been to before. It's mostly known for skiing in the winter, but the weather should be pleasant in August.'
'Yes!' Alice all but screamed. 'Mostly cloudy every day; it's perfect!'
'It sounds good to me,' Bella agreed.
'I'll tell everyone!' she shouted and raced off.
Edward smirked. 'I think they already know,' he commented dryly. All the Cullens were home, even Emmett and Rosalie.
The decision was met with all around agreement. The hunting would be good up in the mountains for the family and it would be much easier for them to do so under the cover of darkness.
By Wednesday Alice had found a hotel, booked the flights, and had already packed; for herself and Bella.
'So, Colorado?' Charlie asked her that night after Bella told him the plan. 'Well, it's a nice enough state. You haven't been up in the mountains much, have you?'
Bella shook her head as she served dinner. 'Not really. Mom and I went to Albuquerque a few years ago. We drove through the mountains. I don't think they're as high as in Colorado though. It'll be weird to see snow caps in the summer, without having to worry about snowstorms. Alice says the weather's really nice actually. Warmer than Forks.'
'Well, you'll have a good time. Nice of the Cullens to invite you, but Alice was really excited about it.'
'Yeah,' Bella agreed, because she was.
They left Friday morning to drive to SeaTac for an early flight. Denver was a direct flight and even with the time change, they landed in the mountainous city by mid-day. With Bella, they numbered eight and so two cars were waiting for them. They were both Jeeps. Emmett had clearly gotten his way.
Alice and Jasper offered to drive with Edward and Bella, saving her from two hours in a car with Rosalie.
By the time they reached the ski resort, Bella was feeling tired and hungry. Edward suggested room service and a nap, and Bella was more than willing to take him up on both while the others went out to explore the town and probably to hunt as well. Being cooped up on an airplane with a hundred humans was probably difficult for everyone except Carlisle.
When she woke up it was early evening, her head ached and even rolling over left her dizzy. Hell of a time to get sick, she thought bitterly.
But Edward had another thought. 'It's likely altitude sickness. We're high enough and it's common after a fast ascent. We can go back down to Denver tonight.'*
'No,' Bella protested. She didn't want to ruin the tradition. 'It should pass, right?'
'In a day or so, usually. The best thing is to rest. I'm going to find Carlisle,' he told her and left her on the bed.
'Great,' Bella muttered to the empty room and then shut her eyes as a wave of dizziness sent the room spinning. It would figure she would be prone to this.
It wasn't long before Edward returned with his father. The others had probably already returned to the chalet; their own private house for the weekend. Alice didn't do anything by half.
'Good evening, Bella,' Carlisle told her with a slightly rueful look.
'Oh God, don't blame yourself for this!' Bella moaned. 'Seriously, this is completely unpredictable, right?'
'Yes, but I had not even considered it. And I should have, since we are above eight thousand feet here.'
Bella buried her head in the pillows. 'Yeah, and it figures it would be me. But I don't want to go back to Denver. And I don't want to ruin everyone's weekend. Edward said I should be fine by tomorrow.
'Likely,' Carlisle agreed. 'Hypobaropathy usually last only a day or two with mild symptoms.'
Bella quirked an eyebrow at her boyfriend.
'Medical term for altitude sickness,' Edward explained.
'Then why can't you just say that?' Bella muttered.
Carlisle smiled apologetically. 'Rest Bella. Though do send for me if the symptoms get worse. You can take Tylenol for the headache if you need it and drink plenty of water. Dehydration will make the symptoms worse.'
'Fine. Good night,' she told him.
'Sleep well,' he told her and patted her exposed arm gently. She heard the door close a moment later.
'Drink this,' Edward pressed her. Bella managed most of the glass of water, because she knew he would leave her to sleep afterwards.
By morning she did feel better. There was still a dull ache in her head, but the dizziness was gone and she didn't feel so tired.
'We'll take it easy today; stay in town. Alice has a whole list of things to do.'
Half of them probably involved shopping in one way or another. And that probably wouldn't be considered strenuous enough for Bella to fake her way out of.
'Breakfast first,' she told Edward after she was dressed.
Downstairs in the kitchen, which was just as chic rustic as the rest of the place, Alice and Jasper were talking quietly.
'Morning!' Alice announced loudly when she caught sight of her brother and Bella.
'Morning,' Bella returned, at a much lower volume, when she neared the table.
'Feeling better?' Jasper asked.
'A bit. I'm hungry though.'
'I'll get you something,' Edward offered and abandoned her to Alice's tender mercies as he went to search through the fridge. Bella remembered someone saying something the day before about the place having been stocked with food.
Jasper gave her a sympathetic look and Bella felt a slow wave of calm wash over her. She smiled at the Southern vampire gratefully.
'So, I spent yesterday investigating all the stores. There's a few I want to take you to. And the resort has a great spa area.'
'Alright,' Bella agreed, because it was easier to. And a few stores and a day at the spa sounded doable. Maybe Carlisle had read Alice the riot act already. 'What's everyone else doing?'
'Well, Rosalie and Emmett decided to have a race to the top of the Mount of the Holy Cross. It's about fourteen thousand feet up, so they could be awhile. Especially if the snow is bad,' Alice winked at her. 'Esme's coming shopping with us. She and Carlisle are out for a morning walk right now. And Edward should hunt.'
'I'm fine,' he said, in the middle of making a cheese omelette.
'That's not what I meant,' Alice explained. 'The hunting is excellent, so you should go today while Bella is occupied. I'll look after her, I promise.'
'Esme will look after her,' Edward corrected. 'You will drag her around until she collapses from exhaustion.'
Alice looked affronted at her brother. 'I'm not that bad. And I know she's sick. And she has to be better by tomorrow!'
'What's tomorrow?' Bella asked hesitantly.
'We're taking the gondola up the mountain to go horseback riding!'
Bella blinked at her for a full minute. 'Um, no, I'm not,' she finally said.
'Yes, you are,' Alice reiterated. 'It's going to be fun. And you'll be fine. You can ride with Edward if it's that scary.'
'The gondola I'm fine with, but do we have to go horseback riding?'
'Oh, come on Bella!' Alice whined. 'You should try everything once, right? And it's the best way to get to the restaurant for brunch!'
Right, well that explained it. 'Only if I'm feeling okay,' she compromised.
'You'll be fine, I told you. Honestly, why do you always fight me on these things? I've already decided and everything will go great,' Alice promised.
'Here,' Edward interrupted them. The omelette was half the size of the plate and Bella suddenly realised she was starving. 'Just make sure she rests today, Alice. The lethargy from altitude sickness can last a few days.'
'The spa all afternoon,' his sister said.
'Right, then Jasper and I will be off,' Edward said.
'What? Now?' Bella coughed to stop the squeak in her voice.
Edward kissed her hair gently. 'We'll be back this afternoon. And you'll be busy all day. I can stay if you really want me to,' he capitulated.
'Oh, no, go hunt. Sorry, I'm just...' she trailed off. 'I'm fine. Thank you for breakfast. I'll see you later.'
'Have a relaxing day,' Edward told her, though the comment was clearly directed at Alice. She must have said something to him silently, because he quirked a smile at her.
'Enjoy the day, ladies,' Jasper told them too.
Edward gave one final wave before he disappeared out the chalet door with Jasper in tow.
'Finish eating,' Alice demanded. 'Esme will be back in a minute. We'll start at the shops. I've booked the first spa treatment at eleven.'
Bella sighed, giving in. The trip to LA had surprised her; maybe today would too. And she'd worry about tomorrow, tomorrow.
The 'shops' turned out to be attached to The Lodge where they were staying. The one really good thing about Vail was that it was tiny. Most of the stores were souvenir related or small expensive boutiques. It was the clothing boutiques that Alice zeroed in on. Esme linked an arm through Bella's; gave her an encouraging, but slightly exasperated smile and followed Alice into the first one.
Vail was not overly crowded. It was the last weekend before school in most of the country, but many school boards were already back in session. So there were very few children to be seen, and not many college kids either. The resorts of Vail were mostly filled with adults who didn't have school aged children to worry about.
The first store was empty, except for a sales lady that immediately cottoned on to Alice's excitement. And the glittering diamond wedding band on her finger that screamed 'money!' The sales lady's excitement lasted about five minutes before she concluded that Alice neither wanted nor needed her help. She retired to the counter, trying not to look sullen, but still hoping to get her commission.
'This and this and oh! This!' Alice was grabbing things from the racks without even seeming to look at them. 'Oh Esme you have to try this!' She brandished an eggplant coloured piece of fabric that seemed to have no shape, thrusting it towards her mother.
'Of course, sweetheart,' Esme said and took it from here, moving towards a changing room.
'Oh Bella, this will look amazing on you!' Alice immediately turned her attention to the abandoned human.
'Yes,' Bella agreed. Followed by, 'yes'; 'oh, I love that'; 'sure Alice'; and 'the blue one'. By the time she made her own way to the adjoining changing booth, Bella was weighed down by an armful of cloth.
It took nearly an hour to go through everything. Even at human speed, Esme was done trying on Alice's choices long before Bella was. By the third dress, Bella was starting to think she wouldn't get through a morning of shopping, even with the spa to look forward to.
It was Esme that had to remind her prescient daughter that they had a spa appointment booked at eleven. Alice had only managed to drag Bella through two stores by that point, and she pouted deeply when the reminder came.
'There's always tomorrow,' Bella said. And hopefully most of the shops would be closed on Sunday. Besides, they had a terrifying experience waiting for them up the mountain just to get to brunch. It was entirely possible that Bella could claim frayed nerves after the fact and get out of an afternoon's shopping before the flight home.
Bella was still thinking similar thoughts the next morning.
'Do we really have to go all the way up the mountain just for brunch?' she begged Alice as the pixie helped her to dress the next morning.
The outfit had been carefully chosen by Alice, both for the horseback riding part of the morning as well as the colder temperatures at altitude. Bella had had a vain hope that her altitude sickness on arrival might prevent the day's foray further up, but Edward said she was adjusted now and could manage a few hours at a higher elevation.
'You're going to love it, I promise,' Alice argued back. They both knew she had won, because there really was no arguing with Alice. At least not arguing that involved Bella winning.
'Right, we need to get going. We have to be there by ten thirty and it's nearly ten now!' She gave one final inspection to Bella's outfit before grabbing her hand to drag her downstairs where the rest of the family were waiting.
'Ready for this?' Edward asked.
'Not even remotely,' Bella managed a smile.
'Hey, Bella, you can ride with me!' Emmett shouted across the crowded room.
Rosalie's immediate frown told Bella a different story, but it was nice of him to offer anyways.
'Um, thanks Emmett, but Edward already offered.' Bella gave a shrug at the big burly vampire.
'Ah, that's alright. Maybe next time,' Emmett grinned.
Alice wrapped an arm around Bella. 'It's all going to be fine, I promise. Why doesn't anyone believe me?' she whined.
'It's not that, Alice,' Bella started. 'It's just, I'm not sure even your gift can trump my clumsiness.'
Alice frowned, 'stop worrying. And we need to go,' she pleaded.
'We're going,' Esme assured her, already headed out the door with Carlisle.
It was a short walk to the gondola. That part, at least, Bella had sort of been looking forward to. It would be beautiful to see Vail and the surrounding area by height. That much she wouldn't have argued. Even taking a vehicle up the mountain to the restaurant would be alright. But did it have to be horses?
They had to walk nearly a mile through the town to reach the base of the gondola out by Lionhead. The sky was overcast and a little foggy up the mountain, but the temperature was mild and the walking easy. Bella held Edward's hand as they walked along. It was a bit strange to be out in public with all the Cullens together.
In front, Esme was walking arm in arm with her husband, her head bent closely to Carlisle as they had a whispered conversation. Rosalie and Emmett were joking and teasing each other. Alice had her head on Jasper's arm as they strolled along, his hand tucked behind her back. They all looked so human to Bella. She knew others looked at them differently; saw the unusual beauty and perfection and the similar looks and wondered. She had been one of those people a few months before, but now she saw only a loving family who enjoyed spending time together.
'What are you smiling about?' Edward whispered to her.
Bella glanced up at him, smiling wider as their eyes met. 'I'm just...enjoying the moment.'
He smiled back. 'I'm glad. You don't have to do this, you know. We can walk or take a truck if you'd prefer.'
'It's alright,' Bella said, before she realised that it was. 'I mean, Alice isn't going to let me do something dangerous and I'll be with you. I'll be fine. I just...you know me, I worry.'
Edward rolled his eyes at that. 'Far too much. Honestly, do you truly think any of us would let anything happen to you?'
'No,' she answered quickly, because it was true. 'I trust you. All of you. I just don't trust myself sometimes.'
'You should,' Edward told her, as he usually did.
'I'm trying,' Bella admitted. Sometimes, it was just hard. Like when it involved riding large mammals up a mountain.
Edward kissed her hair gently and wrapped an arm around her waist. They walked the rest of the way in companionable silence.
The gondola ride was already busy when they arrived at the base of it. Alice had pre-booked the excursion, so there was no standing in line waiting for tickets. They were ushered to the front of the line, since they had reservations for a tour. The gondolas only sat four each, but since there were eight of them that worked well enough. They climbed into the next two gondolas as they arrived. Bella and Edward ended up sharing one with Carlisle and Esme.
It took a short while until the gondola passed far enough up the mountain to get out of the treetops and see over the resort buildings that clustered at the base of the lift. Soon enough, however, Bella had a clear view across Vail to the mountains in the south and to either side. The ride was only fifteen minutes, but she was so entranced by the scenery they seemed to have arrived at the end only minutes after it began. Near the top they passed through a thin layer of cloud, but they emerged at Eagle's Nest to a high thin layer of cloud and clear visibility in all directions. Below them, Vail was lost in a shrouded mist.
As they disembarked the gondola Carlisle put a hand on Bella's arm. 'How are you feeling dear? Any dizziness or trouble breathing?'
Bella took a deep breath to make sure, but she felt fine. 'I think I've adjusted. I'll tell you if I start to feel bad.'
He gave her a smile as he turned away. Alice led the way towards an area with a large sign emblazoned Adventure Ridge, only a few dozen feet away. She made short work of checking them in for the tour that was due to leave in only a few minutes. Safety questions were asked about whether anyone was having trouble with the altitude and did they have experience riding.
Alice said there was no altitude sickness and that everyone had ridden before, except for Bella. But, if it was possible, she could ride with one of the others who did have experience. The gentleman she was speaking with seemed to consider that a moment. Clearly it wasn't a common request.
Finally he shrugged. 'Suppose that would be alright. Safer too, I'd think. There are a few horses that could easily carry the weight. I'd suggest she ride with an experienced rider, though.'
Alice nodded in agreement.
Helmets were doled out, a brief rundown was given on safety and etiquette while out on the trail, and then they were shown to their already saddled horses. The advantage to this particular tour, Bella soon learned, was that it would be just the Cullens and two guides. That made her feel a bit better; she wouldn't embarrass herself in front of more than two strangers.
Jasper swung into the saddle first, reminding Bella once more of the time he and all the rest had been born in. At dinner the night before, the Cullens had happily shared stories involving horseback riding. Bella had learned very quickly that of them all, Edward actually had the least experience. She had been surprised and quite interested to hear that Jasper was born in Texas and raised on a ranch. She had also been surprised, when she gave it some thought, that the Cullens could even ride. All other animals seemed to have a healthy fear of vampires, but horses were a bit different. At least well trained horses.
Bella hesitated when Edward held his hand out to her. 'Are you sure about this?' she reiterated.
Her boyfriend smiled and she felt the usual fluttering of her racing heart. 'Trust me?'
Bella smiled. Anyone else would have run away screaming, but Bella did trust him. She grasped his hand firmly and allowed Edward to pull her up. It felt foreign to be on an animal's back. The horse was well trained enough to stand still, but even so Bella gripped Edward's waist tightly as soon as she was settled behind him. They had spread a blanket out under the saddle, so at least she had something to sit on. Bareback wasn't something Bella wanted to try quite yet.
It was a few minutes before everyone was ready and they set off up the mountain. The trail was wide and well travelled and the ruts clearly showed it was used for vehicles as well. Soon the forest closed in on either side, restricting any view of the mountains. Bella frowned, disappointed. Alice must have caught the look because she moved her own horse over to walk beside them. 'It'll be a gorgeous view from the restaurant, I promise!'
Bella just nodded, concentrating on the movement of the four feet below her and the uncomfortable feeling of the horse's spine.
'How are you doing Bella?' Edward asked after a while. Bella's grip hadn't loosened.
'Still here,' Bella half laughed. 'Just, don't go any faster, alright?'
'Not planning on it, love',' he assured her.
From his place on the other side of them Jasper smiled at her. 'We're about half way there,' he announced and Bella felt relief wash through her. Jasper came in handy sometimes.
But he was right. Soon enough the trees pulled back once more from the trail and they rode out into a wide area. Below them the mist seemed to be clearing and part of Vail could just be seen. Across from them the mountains rolled away to the south as far as the eye could see.
'It's beautiful,' Bella breathed.
'It is,' Edward agreed.
They reached Game Creek Restaurant not long after. It was set on a wide ridge on the mountain slope, above the tree line. They dismounted in front. Or rather, the others dismounted and Bella sort of slid down into Alice's waiting arms while Jasper laughed. Once on the ground she felt much better about the whole thing, though for a minute her legs were unstable and she gripped Edward tightly as soon as he dismounted beside her.
He laughed softly at her and held her close.
'Come on!' Alice danced up to them a moment later, laughing. 'Brunch won't wait for the human!' Smiling, she took Jasper's proffered hand and set to climbing the staircase to the restaurant door. The others were already inside.
'I can carry you?' Edward offered.
'Don't you dare,' she threatened. Bella turned in his arms to gaze out across the valley below. 'Imagine what this looks like at sunset.'
'I suppose we'll have to come back another time. It would be a nice hike up here in the evening.'
'Hiking,' Bella stated. 'Yeah. Maybe next time. Come on,' she said and led the way on her now steady legs up the stairs.
Inside it was warm and bright and very welcoming. Bella chose to ignore the stuffed heads mounted on opposite walls. It was terribly ironic, considering she was about to have breakfast accompanied by a large group of vegetarian vampires.
There were only a few tables already occupied. A large one had been reserved right along the front windows that boasted the best view in Vail. Bella sat down in one of the facing seats, across from Alice and Jasper.
'This is nice, Alice,' Bella told the small vampire.
Alice's face lit up. 'I told you,' she sighed. 'And the riding wasn't so bad, was it?'
Bella shook her head slightly. 'It helped to have an experienced rider.'
Emmett snorted loudly and Bella blushed red as she realised the double entendre of what she'd just said.
'Emmett,' Esme scolded her youngest son.
'Sorry Mom,' he said, but he winked at Bella as he did.
'Uh,' Bella started to say, but Edward stopped her.
'Don't worry about it. I got the correct meaning,' he assured her. Alice giggled.
'Moving on,' Jasper interjected.
'Quite,' Carlisle agreed from the other end of the table, with a pointed look at Emmett as well.
'Welcome to the Game Creek Restaurant,' the waitress greeted them. 'Can I start you off with drinks?'
They went around the table, settling mostly on coffee, though Esme and Bella both ordered tea. The waitress left them with a word about the stunning view and a lingering smile.
'Are you really ordering brunch?' Bella asked the table in general.
'Of course,' Edward shrugged. 'It would look strange if we didn't.'
'But you aren't going to eat?'
'As little as possible,' he said with a grimace.
'Speak for yourself;' Emmett butted in again. 'I don't plan on eating a single bite.' He made a thoroughly disgusted look to prove his point.
'I dare you,' Jasper chimed in.
'Not here,' Esme hissed, but it was loud enough for even Bella to hear. 'Honestly,' she sighed exasperatedly at Carlisle. He gave her an understanding look.
Coffee and tea arrived shortly thereafter. The waitress was a bubbly woman, probably in her early twenties and on summer break from college. She had blond hair and by the time she placed the coffee down in front of Edward, it was clear she had a bit of a crush too. Bella tried not to be affronted by this. Edward could read her mind and had probably figured out the woman's opinion of him before Bella noticed. He didn't even glance at her as she set the coffee down; instead he pointedly leaned over to whisper in Bella's ear.
'Laugh,' he told her. So she did. The woman's eyes narrowed and she looked annoyed. It made Bella laugh harder; giggling into Edward's shoulder. He wrapped his arm around her and ignored the waitress.
With an ill concealed huff she placed Bella's tea none too gently down on the table. The water sloshed out of the tea spout of the little stainless steel pot.
'Careful,' Alice warned. The waitress had the grace to blush and mumble an apology Bella could barely hear.
'Thanks,' Bella told the woman. Even if their server was going to ogle Edward for the entire meal, it didn't mean Bella shouldn't take the high road and pretend she hadn't noticed. After all, did it really matter what the woman thought? Edward was more than spoken for.
'Can I take your orders now?' She asked the table at large once she had set down the last of the mugs.
'Have you decided love?' Edward asked.
Bella looked thoughtfully at the menu. She hadn't really even glanced at it yet. 'Ask me last,' she told the server.
She shrugged and moved down to the other end to ask Rosalie and Emmett instead. Bella listened to the Cullens order as she perused the offerings. It was the typical breakfast fair, though all of the meals looked very gourmet in the pictures. The others were ordering simple things like eggs and bacon or bagels with toppings.
'We could share,' Edward offered as the waitress moved back to their table.
'Eggs Benedict?' she asked him.
He smiled and gave the waitress the order, making sure to point out that he and his girlfriend would be sharing it. Bella watched the blond woman's eyes flicker slightly at this, but she made no other movement to show her disappointment at the declaration.
Bella giggled again as she walked off. 'You really have to stop doing that. One of them is going to slap you one day,' she told Edward.
'That I'd like to see,' Alice declared with a grin and a wink. It was clear what she meant by 'see'.
Jasper didn't seem as amused. 'They'd break their hand if they tried.'
'Really?' Bella asked, somewhat bemused.
'Have you tried to hit him?' Alice asked her.
'Um, not really. Why would I hit Edward?'
'Bella, honey,' Esme piped in from down the table. 'I wouldn't suggest trying. If you put any amount of force behind it, you're likely to injure yourself.'
Bella blinked at her. 'I'll keep that in mind.' Turning to Edward she poked him in the stomach, gently. There was no resistance. It was like poking a rock. 'Okay, I see your point. No slapping Edward.'
'Or poking,' Alice smirked.
'Or poking,' Bella agreed. Her fingernail gave a twinge as if to remind her. 'So, what was she thinking?'
'When we first walked in,' Edward began, 'it was the usual focus on my, uh, appearance.' He almost looked embarrassed. 'When she brought our drinks she was thinking a few particularly unpleasant thoughts about you.'
'What else is new?' Bella asked petulantly. She was used to people looking at her with unpleasant stares. Their thoughts were loud enough even for someone who couldn't read minds. Women usually gave her lidded looks that screamed 'why are you with him?' She was used to them now, but she knew it was worse for Edward, who could hear each thought.
'It doesn't make it right. They are jealous of you without reason.'
'I think that's pretty much the definition of jealousy,' Bella said dryly. Alice snorted softly.
'Even so, I do not particularly like listening to those thoughts.'
'I guess not. But you know they don't bother me, right? I mean, I don't care what other women think. Just thinking things like that means they'd never have a chance with you.'
Edward's eyes were full of respect when he looked at her. 'They would never have had the slightest chance. I was always meant for you.'
Bella grabbed him and planted a hard kiss on his mouth. She could hear Alice giggling like a little girl across the table and Emmett gave a very loud cat call before Esme told him to shut up. The waitress, if she saw, was probably now planning murder. That thought was laughable. Between Edward and Alice's abilities, not to mention sheer vampire speed and strength, there wasn't a human in the world capable of even attempting such where Bella was concerned. It made her feel very safe.
'You two are so cute,' Alice exclaimed when they broke apart. Rosalie's face told a different opinion, but Esme looked on the verge of unshed tears and even Carlisle was looking at them with a fond expression.
Bella coughed self-consciously. 'So, what are we doing this afternoon?' she changed the subject.
'Shopping!' Alice announced gleefully.
'No,' Edward warned. 'Something we can all participate in, Alice. This is family weekend.'
His little sister pouted. 'Fine. We could go hiking? Or walk around town. Or we could go back to Denver early! It's cloudy today.'
'Wait, speaking of hiking, who won the race yesterday?' Bella interjected.
'I did,' Rosalie said.
'Only because she cheated,' Emmett whined.
His wife glared at him dangerously. 'I. Did. Not.'
'Yes you did,' Alice smiled sweetly.
Rose glared at her too. 'I did not cheat. Emmett was just sidetracked. That's not my fault.'
Emmett had obviously learned a thing or two during his marriage, because he didn't argue with that. Instead he shrugged and said 'it was a good distraction.'
Bella had a good idea what kind of 'distraction' was involved.
'Moving on,' Alice segued easily into a more fitting topic. 'How about we drive up to that little town called Edwards for a bit and then head down to Denver for dinner?'
Bella nodded. 'Edwards would be fun,' she smiled at Edward.
The others nodded or agreed out loud, except Rosalie, who declared she had no interest in driving to 'another silly town'.
'Why don't we stay here, babe? They can pick us up on the way back,' Emmett suggested.
At that Rosalie just huffed in a put upon way.
'We'll stay with you,' Esme offered. 'Or we can head down to Denver early.'
Emmett said something then to his wife, too soft and fast for Bella to make out, but Rosalie shrugged in response before shaking her head at her mother. 'We'll come along, I suppose.'
Esme gave her daughter a grateful look. 'Thank you, Rose.'
'Whatever,' she sighed.
'Now that that's settled,' Alice began cheerfully – too cheerfully – 'can we at least try to enjoy this brunch like a normal family?'
Edward snorted. 'The day this family is anything close to normal, is the day I'll be able to read Bella's thoughts.'
'There's no need to be snappy,' Alice sounded annoyed again. 'We can at least pretend.'
'Yes, we can,' Esme agreed. Carlisle nodded encouragingly. 'I think that's best, considering. We will be home soon enough, but until then I would appreciate it if all of you made an effort to end this trip on a positive note.' This last seemed to be directed specifically across the table to his eldest daughter. Rosalie sighed exasperatedly.
'I'm having a really good time,' Bella dared to chime in, smiling hesitantly.
'We're glad to hear that, dear,' Esme said sincerely. 'And we're very glad to have you here with us. It wouldn't be quite the same without you.'
Bella blushed, embarrassed by the compliment.
'No, it definitely wouldn't,' Edward agreed with a smile.
'Everything's more fun when Bella's around!' Emmett declared loudly. A few dinners' heads turned their way, but Emmett seemed unbothered.
'Uh, thanks?' Bella said.
Edward looked bemused by his brother. 'I wouldn't have put it quite like that, but I am very happy to have you here.'
'I'm really happy to be here too. Honestly, it's been a good weekend. Even the horseback riding was okay.'
They tried very hard for the next hour to give the impression that they were a normal family having a lovely brunch with a fantastic view. The restaurant began to fill up as they ate. Obviously there was a lunch crowd arriving as brunch ended.
When the waitress brought the bill, with one last lingering look towards Edward, the Cullens' plates were mostly empty and Bella was stuffed. She'd eaten half of Alice's order as well as what she'd 'shared' with Edward.
The horses were gone when they left the restaurant. 'We're not walking back to the gondola, are we?' Bella asked.
'No,' Edward assured her. He turned her around to where two heavy duty 4x4 vehicles waited. 'We're taking those.'
'Oh. That's good. I don't think I can walk very far,' Bella groaned. Standing or sitting she felt full enough she was almost ill.
The trip down had a better view, since the lower clouds had dispersed. Bella actually felt better for the walk back to the chalet, and she was feeling better about their next adventure by the time they had collected their already packed bags and piled into the Jeeps.
They drove up to Edwards, which was ironically at a lower elevation than Vail. It took barely fifteen minutes and Bella thought they'd nearly missed it. There wasn't much to see. Avon, right before, was the sort of town you could blink and miss. Edwards seemed to boast a few more residential roads lining the highway, but even compared to Vail it was tiny. If she hadn't noticed the 'Edwards 1 Mile' sign, she might have missed the town altogether, because there wasn't much at all to see from Interstate 70. They bailed off at the only exit one mile later and turned south to Edwards Village.
Pulling over at a gas station, they piled out of the cars. 'Well, this was a wasted trip,' Rosalie expounded out loud.
'It's so cute!' Alice declared, ignoring her sister.
Bella had to agree with Rosalie in this case. Alice snapped a photograph anyways. They piled back into the Jeeps once more and took Highway 6 back towards Vail to pick up the interstate again to Denver. They arrived back in the big city in the late afternoon; with plenty of time before their flight was due to depart, Alice won the argument on what to do in the meantime. They went to the mall.
Or rather, they went to Cherry Creek, which was a large collection of boutiques, art galleries and restaurants. It seemed the 'family' vacation was over. Esme made a beeline for an Asian looking gallery as soon as they parked. Rosalie dragged Emmett off to a jewellery store with a loudly muttered 'you owe me' and Alice practically skipped over to a store named Bella Bridesmaid.
'Save me,' Bella whined to Edward before she even left the car.
'Not from my sister,' he shrugged apologetically.
Bella pulled a look that promised retribution for that at a later date, hunched her shoulders, and followed Alice. Edward and Jasper trailed behind.
She entered the store to the words 'she's going to need so much help.'
The sales lady gave Bella a pitying look. Bella doubted it was because she pitied her Alice's enthusiasm.
'Bella! Come and look at these! Oh, I'd look gorgeous in this. But we have to match the bridesmaid's dress to the wedding dress, of course. And that will depend on the time of year. Have you thought about a season? Oh, but summer, of course! Winter in Forks would be silly.'
Bella blinked a few times, hoping the hallucination in front of her would disappear. It didn't work.
'Alice?' her voice squeaked.
'I was thinking purples, but that might not work if it's summer. They're in this year, but that will be so outdated by next summer.'
'Alice?' she tried again, with a bit more determination.
'Yes?' Alice smiled sweetly.
'Let me put this very simply. I am not getting married.'
'Of course you are silly,' Alice stated.
There was just no dealing with the pixie when she was like this. 'Edward!' Bella called in the cavalry.
'Alice,' Edward started, in a voice one might use to calm frightened animals or small children. 'I think it's a bit too soon to be discussing wedding plans. Perhaps we could wait a while? Until after I propose?'
'I need to...gah!' Bella threw up her hands as Alice opened her mouth to argue. Before Jasper could stop her she sidestepped him and exited the store.
'Thanks, Alice,' Edward scolded his sister.
'But you will. I know it, Edward. She's going to be family,' Alice announced.
'Someday, yes. But not right now. And not next summer. And not forever,' Edward told her pointedly.
'You keep saying that,' the pixie scoffed. 'As if it's your choice.'
'Darlin',' Jasper finally cut in. 'I think that's enough of that particular conversation. At least in public,' he motioned to the two sales ladies standing at rapt attention.
Alice ignored them. 'I'm just trying to make things easier. To make things right. Please Edward, why won't you believe me?'
'I believe you, Alice.' Edward shut his eyes as if in pain. 'I would just prefer to ignore that belief. For now, at the very least.'
'I'm on Bella's side, you know.'
'As long as that doesn't involve a wedding, I'm certain she's happy for the support. But before you go any further down that road, perhaps you had best ask her opinion on marriage,' Edward stated before he followed Bella out the door.
Jasper wrapped an arm around his wife. 'You mean well and they both know that. You may have come to terms with this a long time ago, darlin', but they haven't.'
'Fine,' Alice huffed. 'But that doesn't mean I can't at least shop around.'
'Bella wait!' Edward's voice caught her just as she was climbing back into the Jeep.
'I'm not going to apologise,' she started.
'No,' Edward cut her off. 'I don't want you to. Alice knows better than that. She also knows my opinions on the matter and she is choosing to ignore them. Bella, I want to marry you. You do know that, right?'
Miserable about the whole thing, Bella could only nod.
'But not now. And it doesn't matter if Alice has the entire wedding planned out, if you want to run off to Las Vegas – ' Bella's lip twitched '–then that is what we'll do.'
'In a few years?'
'If you want to, then yes.'
'Thank you,' Bella sniffed.
'Let's find Esme and Carlisle, alright?' he offered, kissing her forehead and taking her hand.
Bella wiped away the tears from her outburst. 'Okay,' she agreed.
Esme drew her into a hug as soon as she walked through the gallery door. 'You ignore that daughter of mine, dear. She means well, but Alice can often be a bit misguided.' Clearly they had heard most of the very loud exchange from the next store.
'Thanks Esme,' Bella smiled at her.
'Come and look.' The vampire mother drew her away from Edward towards the art offerings. 'I'm thinking of this for the front entrance. What do you think?'
Bella studied the screen divider with its intricately carved Oriental motif. 'I like it,' she admitted.
'Good! Is there anything else you like?'
Bella; happy for the distraction and ignoring the half-whispered conversation that Edward and his father were having by the door, wandered around the shop. She considered the range of artefacts and obvious reproductions. She found that nearly everything appealed to her. The light, airy feeling definitely represented the style of the Cullens' home in Forks.
'What about this?' She asked after a circuit of the room.
'Oh yes!' Esme agreed. 'In the living room? Or maybe up the stairs by the bay window?'
'Sure,' Bella said. It was one thing to pick a pretty vase out of a room full of nice things and another to know where to put it in a house.
'We'll take this too,' Esme told the man who was discreetly following them around.
'Certainly, ma'am,' he gave her a winning smile.
'Is there anywhere else you'd like to go, sweetheart?' Esme asked her.
Bella shook her head. 'Just home. Sorry, this isn't the best way to end a vacation.'
Esme hugged her. 'You don't worry about that, do you hear me? And Alice will be apologising before we even get on the plane. I hope this doesn't put you off any future trips together?'
'No, of course not!'
'Good. Let me just take care of the order and we'll go.'
Bella wandered back to where the men were standing. Carlisle held a hand out to her and when she grasped it he drew her into a cold embrace. 'My apologies for Alice.'
'It's not your fault. I know she just gets carried away sometimes. But that was a bit over the top even for her.'
'Indeed. Are you ready to go home?'
Bella nodded into his chest before he released her. 'Let me just hand over my credit card to these nice gentlemen and we will meet you at the car,' he winked at her.
It made Bella smile.
'Come on,' Edward said and drew her out of the store.
Alice and Jasper were already sitting in the back seat of one of the Jeeps, which meant they would be driving to the airport with Rosalie and Emmett. Bella needed a bit before she was willing to face the prescient vampire.
It was only a few short minutes before Carlisle and Esme emerged. By then, Rose and Emmett were back and Rosalie was sporting a very glittery pair of diamond drop earrings. Bella was curled up in Edward's arms in the back seat and remained that way for the rest of the drive to the airport.
They dropped the Jeeps off at the car rental concierge and a porter came to pile their bags onto a cart. It wasn't until they arrived at the check in counter for Premium Class that Bella was confronted by Alice. Jasper was a step behind.
'I'm sorry I pushed,' Alice said. Her mother gave her a hard look. 'I...apologise for getting ahead of myself. And I promise I won't mention anything more about marriage until you and Edward decide it's time.'
'Thank you, Alice,' Bella accepted the apology. It sounded heartfelt and serious enough.
'But...' Alice hesitated. 'Can I still be a bridesmaid?'
'Of course, but seriously Alice: me and marriage? Not going to happen any time soon.'
'Right,' Alice said, which clearly meant the opposite.
Bella sighed. That argument was lost, obviously.
They were early, so it was a wait before the evening flight. Bella ate McDonald's for dinner, despite both Edward and Carlisle's protests regarding the complete lack of nutritional value. She just wanted comfort food.
Alice and Jasper disappeared for a while, but returned just before the flight started to board with a new novel for Bella to read on the plane. Bella thought it was a nice gesture of reconciliation, though typical of Alice to go out and buy something in order to say she was sorry.
'Thanks, Alice,' she smiled. Alice smiled back. As long as they avoided sensitive topics like marriage, it seemed their still new, but close-knit friendship was safe.
'Want to sit with me on the flight?' Alice hedged.
'Sure. Want to watch a movie?'
'Yes!' And that was that.
The flight landed at Sea-Tac shortly after nine. Bella was in bed before eleven and exhausted enough to fall asleep almost immediately, Edward by her side.
Tomorrow there would be school and all the things that that brought with it. And in a couple of weeks – much too soon – there would be a birthday. But for now, she had had a fantastic summer; the best she could remember. Bella burrowed further into Edward's hard chest with a smile on her face.
* Altitude sickness can start anywhere over 8,000ft, though it's more common over 10,000. Bella, being as prone to accident and injury as she is, would probably be one of those lucky people that suffers from it.