Twilight belongs to Stephenie Meyer. I just taught Bella how to bake at high temperatures. No copyright infringement is intended.
A Delusion to Die For
Summary: Bella spends her every waking moment with the dead, and she's perfectly happy with that. When a mysterious man appears during the night shift, she's strangely drawn to him–even though she's positive he came in a body bag. Is she going crazy, or is he all too real?
Friday, Oct. 28, 2011
"Oh, good God!" Staring down at the gruesome sight in front of me, I fought the reflex to zip the body bag right back up. "Really, Tyler? An open casket?"
"Well, you are the best, Bella. And Mrs. Newton insisted..." Tyler sputtered, shrugging. His bow tie was crooked and the buttons of his shirt were off by one, making him look less like a funeral director and more like my unkempt science teacher from the ninth grade. He even had the stain from his spaghetti lunch on the left chest pocket, in the same spot. I'd be amused, if I hadn't known that he came to work this morning looking immaculate as ever.
Seemed like Mrs. Newton had employed some pretty convincing tactics to get Tyler to agree to that open casket for her late husband.
Gross. And extremely unethical.
But I wasn't here to judge. I was just here to pretty up the dead and do a little...baking. At temperatures around 1700 degrees Fahrenheit.
"The man shot himself in the head, Tyler! Why in the world would you tell her we can do an open casket?"
"He didn't do it on purpose," he explained, sounding perfectly rational, like I should automatically understand. "It was an accident. Jess—I mean, Mrs. Newton thinks that an open casket would help squelch the rumors of..." he paused, eyebrows rising, "suicide."
Oh, here we go. People would do anything to avoid the gossip gristmill. Nothing like living in a small town.
"How, exactly, is it not suicide, when the guy shot himself in the head?" I asked, suppressing the laughter that wanted out. It was just common sense! I didn't mean to seem overly callous, but when working in the mortuary science field, one had to try and find humor wherever possible.
"Well..." Tyler looked from left to right, scanning the room to make sure no one else was listening. He was only doing it to be dramatic. We both knew we were the last two employees left in the building. "According to Mrs. Newton, the deceased kept a Smith & Wesson .38 Special on his nightstand," he said in a hushed voice, eyes glinting with glee. "Unfortunately, that's also where he kept his cell phone. He received a phone call late last night and...well...he answered the gun."
Oh, good lord. A little giggle escaped before I had a chance to stifle it. That's a priceless example of Natural Selection if I've ever seen one.
"I'm afraid not. Mrs. Newton is very upset by it all," he answered, shaking his head as he gave me a remonstrating glare.
I had my doubts. "Sounds like Mrs. Newton's trying to cover up the fact that she murdered her husband," I muttered. "Mark my words, we'll be seeing her on an episode of 48 Hours Mystery soon."
"Now, Bella! It's not our place to discuss such things."
"So speaks the man who just banged the dead guy's wife," I shot back, not bothering to contain my smirk. "They'll want to interview you for sure. Hope you have an alibi..."
Tyler went white. "Wha—how—you can't possibly know that..." he babbled.
God, it was too easy to tease him. That was part of what made my job so much fun. The other part was that my 'clients' never talked back.
"Your shirt's buttoned wrong, Romeo. And your tie is a little crooked."
"You're not going to say anything, are you?" he asked, nervously fingering the skewed button down.
With a sigh, I moved past him on the way to the cabinet that housed my Hollywood box. It earned its name because it could work miracles worthy of Hollywood movie magic. It was really just a simple, extra-large tackle box, but in my line of work, it was a lifesaver. In that simple box, I had all the goodies I was going to need to make this guy look like he hadn't had an accident with a stick of dynamite and a meat grinder. It held everything from modeling clay to fake hair to spirit gum, and that was just the beginning. This guy was going to take a lot of work. I made a note to brush up on my sculpting skills, because his right ear looked more like hamburger than an actual human ear.
"No, Tyler. I'm not saying anything. But if you ever agree to something like this again," I pointed to the disaster that lay in wait for me on the gurney, "I might change my mind."
He nodded emphatically. "Understood."
I set the tackle box on the corner of my station and began to set up. This one was going to take all night, so I might as well get started. My workspace took shape fairly quickly. I lined up scalpels, tubing, cotton balls, q-tips, and other assorted tools of the trade along the edge of the station, noticing Tyler still hovering out of the corner of my eye.
"You want to help me transfer this guy to the table?" I could do it myself; our equipment made it fairly easy to transfer dead weight (pardon the pun), but it would be a lot faster with his help.
We worked quickly, and I had the unfortunate Mr. Newton laid out in no time, the embalming fluid working its way through his veins. Tyler took off after informing me that I'd have one delivery tonight, an unclaimed John Doe we were going to store in our cooling room, since they'd run out of room in the tiny morgue at Forks Hospital. We'd keep him here at Eternal Twilight Mortuary & Funeral Home until someone came to claim him, or until Halloween. If the body hadn't been claimed by then, he'd be cremated.
I loved the night shift at the funeral home. I got to work with no supervision and only had to deal with my boss for a couple of hours before he left for the day. As the only funeral director (or mortician, if you wanted to be a dick about it) that specialized in reconstruction in this region, I had the run of the place. Sure, I had to live with the "undertaker" stereotype, but it didn't bother me. I didn't mind being alone.
Both my parents were gone, killed in a car accident when I was a freshman at Arizona State. The grief of losing them was what had led me down this path. They hadn't been suitable for viewing after the accident, and I felt like I'd never gotten to say goodbye. Sure, I had a life full of photo albums—for which I was extremely thankful—but some part of me had wanted to see them one last time, to get that final closure I needed. After losing my parents in such a traumatic way, the best I could think to do with my life was to help others deal with their grief in any way I could. If I could make their loved ones presentable, help someone in the same position I'd once been in, I was happy. I was crap at comforting people, but I could make sure they got to say a proper goodbye.
I was working on Mr. Newton's unfortunate ear when the back doorbell rang. After stripping the latex gloves from my hands, I made my way to the back bay and raised the garage door. A nondescript, white van was backed into the drive, the driver already opening the back doors.
"Hey, Ben!" I greeted, smiling. "Long time, no see."
"Bella! That's because you're always holed up over here for the night shift. Angela and I miss you on poker night." He pulled the gurney to the edge of the van, sliding it halfway off before he lowered the wheels to the ground.
"I know, I know. Can't beat the lack of coworkers, though," I joked. "What are you doing working tonight?"
"I'm covering for Paul. His kid is sick or something."
"Yeah, I heard there was something going around."
We made more small talk as I helped him wheel the gurney back into the cooling room, where he helped me transfer the heavy weight to one of our own wheeled tables.
"Well, I'd better get back. If I'm gone too long, they'll think I stopped at the diner on company time," he said, raising his brows comically.
"God forbid," I breathed, resting a hand against my chest.
"You give us a call, Bella. Ang misses you." He made a face. "Then again, we don't miss you cleaning us out at the poker table."
I laughed as we walked back to the hearse bay. "I miss Angela, too. I also miss taking your money."
"Shut up. You've got to be the luckiest person I've ever known when it comes to a deck of cards, because you can't bluff for shit."
"Maybe that's what I want you to think," I said slyly as I let him out. I helped him slide the empty gurney into the back of the van. "It was good to see you, Ben. Tell Angela I said hi."
"Will do, Bella. Have a nice night!" he called before climbing into the driver's side and slamming the door. Red taillights flashed, glowing in the velvet darkness as he drove away.
A gust of wind blew, bringing circling leaves that scraped crisply against the pavement. I fought back a shiver and tucked my hands into my pockets, inhaling the chilly fall wind. The air smelled fresh and clean, if not a bit damp; it was very welcome after being cooped up in a room with all that embalming fluid.
Not to mention the corpses. Wouldn't want to forget about those.
Halloween was coming up in just four short days. I wondered what had happened to the summer. Hell, what had happened to most of the fall? When had I missed the mums that decorated everyone's porch steps, or the brilliant fall foliage everyone was supposed to love? Now, instead of painting the landscape with bright, warm hues of red, orange, and yellow, all the leaves were brown and on the ground. I'd missed everything. One of the downsides of this job, I supposed, but I couldn't bring myself to mind the isolation.
When I'd had enough of the chill, I wandered back to the prep room to put the finishing touches on Mr. Newton. He was turning out better than I thought he would, which made me proud. I mentally patted myself on the back for my mad skills. Tyler had better be giving me a raise after this one. If not, I supposed I could always try for a job in special effects makeup. It might be fun to try to re-create carnage instead of trying to cover it up.
About an hour later I was finished with the major part of the job, leaving the last-minute touches to the day shift, who would dress Mr. Newton in his finest suit and prepare him for his final appearance. As it was, he already looked a hell of a lot better than he had earlier this evening. I cleaned up the station and stowed my Hollywood box back in its proper place, then shoved my implements into the autoclave for a cleaning cycle. Hey, my "clients" might be dead and didn't have to worry about infection, but not sterilizing that shit was just gross.
I kept glancing back at the cooler room as I finished up, wondering about the man inside. I wanted to know who he was—like if I could see his face, I'd be able to figure out what got him here. Tyler had told me he was a young man, death inconclusive. In this day and age, that likely meant a drug overdose, another tragic waste of life. But when I wheeled Mr. Newton into the cooler, curiosity got the best of me and I just had to take a peek at our new arrival.
Yes, I'm strange. But it's just a peek.
I took my time unzipping John Doe's heavy black vinyl body bag, leaving it mostly closed until I'd pulled the zipper down halfway. Carefully, I parted the seam—and revealed the most perfect face I'd ever seen.
He was pale, not surprisingly, with dark lavender smudges underneath his eyes. His lips were a strange, light pink color, almost lifelike, and I wondered if that was a side effect of whatever drug he'd been on. By all rights, they should have been a dull, bluish-grey—lifeless, just like his complexion. Dark, bold brows slanted over peaceful eyes, his lashes so long that they cast shadows over his cheeks. Razor-sharp cheekbones accented by a strong, square jaw framed those perfect, almost kissable lips. His hair was a million shades of golden and brown, accented with strands of brick and cinnamon. He wore a crisp, black button-down, open at the neck to reveal a dusting of hair that started just below the hollow of his throat and disappeared beneath the fastened fabric. He was tall and lean, with a look of subtle strength that showed in the way his shirt stretched over his still chest. This man didn't look like a drug addict. In fact, if it weren't for his deathly pallor and drawn, slightly sunken eyes, I'd wonder if he was even dead.
It didn't change the fact that he was the most beautiful man I'd ever seen.
I swallowed heavily before taking a large step back, realizing I was nearly drooling over a corpse. My heart was pounding and my breathing became heavy and ragged. Pressing a palm to my chest, I shook my head to clear it.
He was a fucking corpse! What the hell was wrong with me?
Oh, shit. All those nights alone—with the dead, no less—had finally taken their toll. I was officially going insane.
You are not a necrophiliac, Bella. Get a grip.
Roughly, I zipped up the body bag and covered up that face, as if my callous, clumsy movements could erase the sight of him from my memory. Disgusted with myself, I left, slamming the cooler door behind me.
Desperate for something to take my mind off John Doe, I checked the autoclave, noting with some surprise that the cycle was done. I'd been in the cooler for over thirty minutes!
You're such a creep, Bella.
I sighed as I released the lock and removed all my implements, storing them in the drawer where they belonged. Then I swept and mopped the floor, cleaned off the countertops, and even took the dust rag into the visitation room, where I chased the dust bunnies away from the various flower and picture frame stands, even though it wasn't even remotely part of my job description. The mindless work helped to clear my head a little. Finally, with nothing else to do before my shift ended at eight A.M., I tossed my soiled lab coat in the laundry and settled on the couch in the receiving room to think. I made sure my phone was on, in case we got any more deliveries during the night. My mind kept trying to drift to the man in the cooler, but I refused to go down that road again. Instead, I mentally tallied the inventory of embalming supplies I'd need to order next Wednesday.
It wasn't long before my eyelids were drooping, becoming heavier and heavier as the minutes wore on.
That was the first night I dreamt of John Doe.
Or Edward Cullen, as I came to find out...
The voice was soft, melodic, like warm, auditory velvet to my ears.
"Huh?" I asked, rather eloquently, in my opinion. I opened my heavy eyelids to find John Doe hovering over me, eyes open and glowing in warm, sparkling ochre. There was a lustrous amber cast to them, ringing the edges of his deep, dark pupils. It was a color I'd never encountered before, and I wondered briefly if he was wearing contacts. I blinked once and then he was gone, and I was left staring at the textured plaster of the popcorn ceiling.
"You're awake." It was the voice again, coming from a bit farther away this time. It resonated deep in my chest, making me feel warm, like a favorite blanket on a cold winter night.
I sat up, starting in shock as I realized I wasn't alone after all. He sat in the armchair directly opposite, calmly reclining, large hands resting on widespread knees. John Doe.
"You're alive," I whispered, shaking my head slightly. What the hell was going on?
His eyes went dark. "If you want to call it that."
I had no idea what that was supposed to mean. Silence fell upon us, and we simply stared at one another. I couldn't get enough of the sharp angles of his jaw, the strong lines of his cheekbones. He seemed to study me just as intently, those glowing eyes taking in every line of my body. It heated me from the inside out, sending tingles to the very tips of my extremities.
"Who are you?" I whispered, biting my lip. Was I really talking to a dead man? Was I speaking with his ghost?
He smiled gently, almost shyly. "Please, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Edward Cullen. And you, if I'm not mistaken, are Isabella Swan," he said in that dark velvet voice. It coated me like honey, sticky and sweet and oh, so thick and warm.
"Bella," I croaked, not knowing why I was offering that piece of information. "Everyone calls me Bella." I should have been asking him how the fuck he knew my name. But then again, maybe ghosts were omnipotent. Who knew?
"Bella," he repeated, my name rolling off his tongue in a tone filled with satisfaction, like he loved the taste of the word. He stood slowly, taking deliberate steps toward the couch where I sat. He stopped when his toes touched mine, one hand extending to take my own.
I put my palm in his, gasping at the spark that zipped through me at the touch of his cool skin. Pulling me up effortlessly, he waited until I was fully upright, our bodies inches away from one another.
"You're beautiful." It was a breath, barely words, as his head dipped lower. His eyes drifted shut and he inhaled deeply, letting the tip of his nose graze along mine. "And you smell so..." He exhaled, before taking another breath. A low hum escaped him, which started a warm tingle deep in my belly that traveled south.
I was trapped, frozen in the wake of his words and the nearness of his body. He smelled sweet and spicy, like some irresistible, forbidden confection. My mouth watered as my breathing sped up, my heart pounding in response to his presence.
The heat kicked on, the furnace making its usual racket as the vents creaked and popped, snapping me out of the haze of want he'd so effortlessly woven. I stepped back, catching my heel on the leg of the couch. Off-balanced, I started to waver, but he steadied me with a movement of his arm that I never saw. He was just suddenly touching me, his fingertips cool through the thin cotton of my long-sleeved tee.
"Who are you?" I asked again, shutting my eyes for just a second. I couldn't quite get my bearings, my head swimming like I'd had one too many drinks. He hadn't moved when I opened them again. I took in the sharp angles of his face, marveling at the way light from the streetlamp outside accented his features.
"Yours," was all he said, his voice low and husky as he stared down at me. His eyes darkened, revealing want and hope and...hunger?
God knew, I felt all of those and more. I wanted him to be mine...
He was so close that I had to tip my chin up to look at him properly. I reached up with a tentative hand, letting my fingertips graze the angle of his jaw. His head turned, until the tip of his nose brushed against the inside of my wrist, and his chest rose and fell. Then he flinched, rearing back, and he was across the room before I could blink.
What the hell is going on here?
"I'm sorry," he grated, breathing hard, eyes downcast. His hands fisted at his sides, and I could practically feel the tension radiating from his body. "I just...I'm not strong enough." His words were laced with disgust, and I wondered if it was directed at me or himself. "Yet," he added. "But I will be."
What did that mean? Was he using up too much of his ghost energy or something? Damn it, I should have watched more of that Ghost Hunters show when the marathon was on TLC the other night...
He fixed his gaze on mine, those eyes gleaming with something that scared me, and they were coal black and bottomless now. The way he looked at me...it was like he wanted to eat me alive.
I was very much afraid that I'd enjoy it.
He was gone a second later, dissolving before my very eyes. I blinked a few times, trying to clear my head, giving up when I felt my knees begin to weaken. Dropping to the couch, heart racing, I let my head fall back against the cushions and stared at the ceiling.
What had just happened?
Had I just had my first paranormal experience?
More importantly: was I going crazy?
I was. I knew it. I should have known when I found his damn corpse attractive. Maybe it was time to hang it all up, to get the hell out of this tiny, rainy town and start fresh, doing something new. Everyone had always told me my job wasn't healthy, wasn't normal. I was looked upon as a freak because of my profession, tonight's events were starting to make me think that everyone was right. Maybe it was time to make that appointment with the psychiatrist that everyone had suggested back when my parents died. Though I wasn't quite sure how to explain what had brought me to this point. "Hi, Doc. I have the hots for this dead guy..."
I closed my eyes for a moment, trying to relax. At least, I thought it was a moment. But when I woke later, with a huge crick in my neck and drool trickling from the corner of my mouth, I realized I'd fallen asleep again. Maybe I'd never woken up!
I latched onto that idea, relief flooding my body down to my very toes. If it was all a dream, maybe I wasn't going crazy after all!
For the rest of my shift, I tried to forget about the dream. I found myself fighting the niggling impulse to check the cooler room, to make sure I hadn't hallucinated the whole thing. Maybe Ben hadn't even been by to deliver the body yet. Maybe I'd dreamed it all.
Just to ease my mind, I crept to the walk-in door, trying to make as little noise as possible. Sure, Bella. If you're quiet, you're not doing anything creepy. The cooler opened with a soft rush of air, revealing the dull glint of stainless steel as the light shone in. And right in the center stood the gurney, topped with a large, black shadow stretched out flat. My heart started pounding as I inched my way closer.
I tried to convince myself that he couldn't possibly look the way I remembered from earlier tonight. Perhaps I had only dreamed about taking a peek at the corpse? I wasn't sure if that was any better, because then I was dreaming about ogling dead people...shit. Now I had to look, to make sure. Crap.
Just do it, Bella. Nike says so.
But somehow, I doubted they meant it this way.
I pulled the tab of the zipper down and then parted the vinyl, my heart somehow managing to sink and race simultaneously when I saw his face.
God. He was just...beautiful, the same as I remembered. My stomach tightened and fluttered and flew as I stared down at him.
"Shit!" I hissed. "I'm doing it again!" It was only natural to add talking to myself into my equation of crazy. "Jesus Christ, I need a vacation. I'm just over-worked and suffering from lack of human contact."
Sure. That explains it. I'm not insane or mentally disturbed. At to myself definitely proves that.
With a trembling hand, I touched his forehead, starting at the feel of his cold, hard flesh. I drew my hand away, curling my fingers into a fist. The imprint of his skin seemed to burn me.
"Who were you?" I whispered, not expecting an answer. Slowly, I made myself draw the zipper back up, being gentler than I had the first time.
When I reached his lips, I had to convince myself he wasn't smiling just a bit. That would be just too much.
Saturday, Oct. 29, 2011
In a small town like Forks, gossip was easily the most valuable currency. Working in the town's only funeral home—surprisingly, a hotbed of juicy tidbits of information—made me privy to plenty of things others didn't want getting out. I'd lost count of the scandals that crossed our threshold. In my four years here, I'd learned to expect the strange and unusual, since there was apparently nothing to do in this town other than screw around on your spouse or do stupid, dangerous things for entertainment.
There was Waylon Forge, who'd died in flagrante delicto while cavorting with his next door neighbor, Shelly Cope, who was twenty-five years his senior. He'd collapsed right on top of her, trapping poor Mrs. Cope under his considerable weight...until her husband came home on his lunch break.
And then there was Eric Yorkie, who passed away from a stroke after letting a prolonged erection go on much too long. Guess he should have consulted his doctor after taking Viagra. Dressing him had been...difficult, not to mention the horrendous time we had trying to close the bottom half of the casket. I'd never think of rigor mortis in the same way again.
However, the past two days just might put those stories to shame. First, there was Mr. Newton and his .38 Special, and today I was prepping the body of Jacob Black, the latest unfortunate victim of Forks-induced boredom. It was a tragedy, really; at twenty-three, Mr. Black had been a year younger than me. Though strangely, his death did nothing to remind me of my own mortality—probably because he'd died doing something idiotic. The deceased had been fishing on his own in the Sol Duc River, accompanied by only a twelve-pack of Vitamin R, a fishing pole, and a sack full of illegal M-250 fireworks. After finishing his beer and discovering he'd forgotten all his lures and bait, he attempted to kill the fish in the river with the explosive power equivalent to a quarter-stick of dynamite. Unfortunately, all it had done was blow a hole in the bottom of his John-boat. Since poor Jacob had never learned to swim, he never had a chance. Rescuers pulled his body from the river six hours later.
I was just glad it hadn't taken six days. Not even I could fix that kind of damage.
I'd been working on Mr. Black for about fifteen minutes when Tyler rushed into the workroom, slamming the door closed behind him. I hated having the door shut, because embalming fluid smelled awful. I liked to work in a well-ventilated area, and the vent hood in the corner didn't do a good enough job for my liking.
"What's going on, Tyler?" I asked, not bothering to disguise my glare.
"Jessica is crazy!" he hissed in a whisper, eyes wide.
"Jessica?" Who the hell was that? Was I supposed to keep tabs on his personal life now?
"I don't like to say 'I told you so,' but..." Yeah, like I had any room to judge. I'd spent the night having strangely arousing dreams about the John Doe currently frozen in our cooler. Who was full of the crazy now?
He actually whimpered. "I know, I know!" Leaning closer, wringing his hands, he said, "I'm beginning to think she really did kill poor Mr. Newton!"
Duh. Though, if he was dumb enough to keep his gun on the nightstand—right next to a cell phone, no less—it was possible he really did die by accident...
Keeping my face neutral just to mess with him, I questioned, "What makes you think so? Is she boiling bunnies in your pressure cooker?"
He scowled and crossed his arms over his thin, frail-looking chest. It drew attention to the terrible Halloween-themed bow tie he wore; it was orange and dotted with black bats. Very festive.
"You're extremely morbid," he said, his mouth taking a sour turn.
I laughed loudly, unable to keep it contained. "This, coming from a funeral director. Do you remember who you're talking to? I reconstruct dead people, for Christ's sake!"
Way to go, Bella. Deflect all your strangeness onto your poor boss.
Tyler ignored my comment and went on. "She's talking about marriage, Bella! Her husband hasn't even been dead for seventy-two hours! Is that even legal?"
"Well, it's not bigamy, that's for sure," I quipped, lips twitching. I stripped the latex gloves from my fingers and tossed them into the Biohazard bin, wiping the residual powder from my hands. "I don't think there's a waiting period to get married after your spouse dies—tactless though it may be. I'm not sure what to tell you, Tyler." Aside from cliches like you made your bed, now you can lie in it, or current colloquialisms like sucks to be you, dude, I had no idea what to say. "Maybe you should lie low for a while. Stay away from desperate widows and such."
Yeah, 'cause he was such a catch. But I had no room to talk. I had a crush on a corpse.
He gave me a baleful glare. "Thanks, Bella. I hadn't thought of that." His tone let me know he was anything but thankful.
I stifled a snort as I turned back to the table and resumed my work. "Anytime."
With a resigned sigh, he said, "Just...if Mrs. Newton comes by, I'm not here. You have no idea where I am."
"Got it." I shot him a mock salute. Judging by the way he ripped the door open before stalking out, I didn't think he appreciated my gesture. I didn't know why he was asking me, since it was after eight P.M. and he was leaving for the night. Besides, I wasn't a damn receptionist. If someone came to the front door, I wasn't answering. The only people I let inside came in a body bag.
I got back to work, sinking comfortably into the routine of preparing the body. My thoughts kept drifting to Edward as I worked, and I got more and more disgusted with myself. Oh, so now the corpse is Edward, is he? Nice to know you're on a first-name basis with a dead person, Bella.
It had to have been a dream. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I didn't want it to be. The fact remained that dream or not, I felt more alive than ever when I thought of the encounter. Even now, my cheeks heated when I thought of the intensity of his gaze; my heart pounded when I remembered the smell of him, the soft swirls of his breath on my face, and the electric feeling that raced through me at the touch of his skin.
But I couldn't keep dwelling on something that had never happened. I had work to do, work that wouldn't wait for me to puzzle through my developing mental problems. My clients might not be rushing off anywhere, but I wasn't exactly without a time limit. With that thought, I heaved a cleansing sigh and turned back to the gurney. I had a date with Mr. Black.
"Do you like your job?"
I jumped, dropping the scalpel I was holding, narrowly missing my sneaker. "Goddamn it!" Whirling around, I came face to face with John Doe. Or rather, Edward Cullen. Fuck, when did I fall asleep? And what am I doing with a scalpel while I'm sleeping?
I hoped I was asleep, anyway. If I wasn't...
He smirked, eyes glinting. "Tell me how you really feel about it."
Now he's joking with me?
"Yeah, I like it," I answered, keeping my eyes on him as I squatted down to pick up the scalpel.
"Careful," he warned, staring at the instrument between my fingers. "Don't cut yourself." The skin around his eyes was tight, strained. He looked a little less pale tonight, the lavender smudges beneath his eyes less pronounced.
"I know how to handle a scalpel, believe me," I scoffed, turning to transfer it to the blue towel next to the autoclave. Of course, as soon as I said the words, my hand slipped, and I sliced the pad of my thumb. "Shit," I hissed, shoving it into my mouth. Guiltily, I glanced in his direction, only to find him across the room. His back was against the wall, his eyes wide and completely black, palms pressed flat to the drywall.
His face creased in anger. "Watch it!"
"What the hell is your problem?" I demanded, yanking my thumb from my mouth. It wasn't even bleeding anymore; I'd barely nicked myself.
His eyes followed the motion of my hand before he squeezed them shut. "I just...I can't handle it," he grated. His body was so still, yet it looked like he might burst into life at any moment. He was practically vibrating with energy that made the hair stand up on the back of my neck.
"It's not like I cut you."
He laughed harshly. "No, that wouldn't be possible. It's bad enough that you injured yourself."
Feeling completely weirded out, I went to the first aid kit and got a bandage. Neither of us said a thing as I cleaned and dressed the small cut. It was so quiet in the room that I was actually surprised to find him still there when I finished.
He was simply watching me, arms crossed over his chest. The motion pulled the cotton of his shirt tight across his pecs, and I found myself swallowing thickly. Damn it, why did this temperamental ghost have to be so freaking hot?
"What's your deal?" I blurted, gesturing to him.
I rolled my eyes. This guy sure liked his questions. I guessed it was part of his ghostly mystique.
"Do you like haunting people? Or whatever it is you...do?"
"Is that what you think I'm doing?" He stepped closer, and though he was still halfway across the room, I swore I could feel the energy coming off him. "Do I...haunt you, Bella?"
"Yes," I whispered without thinking. My cheeks blazed and I screwed my eyes shut in embarrassment.
"Good," he said softly, his voice much closer this time.
I lifted my lids to find him inches away, golden irises boring into my own. Wait...golden? They were black just a minute ago...and yesterday they were more of a dark amber...
"Why are you here?" I asked, trying to write off his changing eye-color as part of my developing insanity.
"I'm here for you." He lifted a hand, trailing one long finger down my arm. My skin tingled even through my bright white lab coat and cable-knit sweater.
"But why? You've passed on. Aren't you supposed to...I don't know...go 'into the light' or something?"
He smirked, but it was flat and humorless. "I'm afraid there's no going into the light for me. Ever."
"But you have to," I blurted. The very idea distressed me more than I was willing to admit. Surely this man, with the face of an angel, belonged in heaven. "Is that why you're here? Am I supposed to help? Do you need me to lead you into the light?"
Fuck it, if I was going off the deep end, I might as well make it a worthy leap.
His lips twitched, that smirk morphing into a smile that had my fingers and toes tingling. Heat blossomed in my stomach, expanding until I felt like I might be glowing with radiant energy.
"I'm not entirely sure why I'm here...I only know that I can't stay away," he admitted, looking down at our feet. "Will you tell me about yourself, Bella? Keep me company?"
How could I say no?
Tentatively, I reached out to take his hand, trying to conceal the way my own trembled. Our eyes locked, and then he smiled. Cool, hard fingers enveloped mine, his thumb brushing against my palm, making me shiver. I led him to the receiving room where we sat on the couch, me on one end and Edward just close enough to keep my heart speeding recklessly.
"What do you want to know?" My voice seemed loud in the dim room, but in reality it was barely a whisper.
"Everything." His breath clouded my senses as he leaned forward just a little, further invading my personal space. I was shocked to find I didn't mind it—quite the opposite, actually. He shifted his legs, his knee grazing mine. I didn't move.
"Well...you already know about my job," I began, gesturing around us. "I spend most of my time with the dead."
He laughed a little, a sad, lonely sound. "Fitting," he murmured, shaking his head.
"What's that supposed to mean?" I was a little offended. "I couldn't possibly hope to do anything else? God forbid someone like me does anything that requires actual interaction with live people."
So it was pretty much the truth. So what?
"No, that's not what I meant at all," he protested, laying a hand on my knee.
I couldn't bring myself to make him move it. His touch felt too good.
"It was more of a dig at myself. I can't exactly call myself alive. You spend your time with the dead. And here you are, with me." He shrugged. "I'm glad. I'm just...so glad."
I let out a relieved breath. "Oh. Okay. I'm glad, too."
I was. Even if it meant I was crazy.
He smiled, cocking his head slightly. "What do you do when you aren't here?"
I shrugged. "I probably watch too much TV. Sometimes, I play poker with a few friends and take all their money. They don't invite me much anymore."
Edward raised an eyebrow. "A card shark. Interesting."
"I wouldn't go that far...but I do okay." Looking down at his hand on my knee, I tried to slow the rapid pulsing of my heart. He was so close...yet not nearly close enough. "What about you?" I gasped in embarrassment, wanting to smack myself for my idiocy. Of course he didn't do anything...he was dead. "I'm sorry...I didn't mean—"
He laughed warmly, interrupting my mortified blabbering. "There's no need to apologize. I do many things."
"Of course. Like you, I'm able to entertain myself. I spend a lot of time alone."
I frowned, a pang of sadness resonating in my chest at his words. Though I accepted solitude as a fixture in my life, I didn't want that for this man.
"I used to love playing the piano. Something about creating such sounds...letting my thoughts come out through the music; it's fascinating to me." He paused, flexing his fingers on my knee. "But I haven't played in a while." Our eyes met, and his look was hopeful. "You're fascinating to me as well. You inspire me. Perhaps you'll let me play for you sometime?"
Huh. That was a new one. No one had ever called me inspiring before. Once they found out what I did for a living, most people didn't tend to stick around for a conversation.
"Of course! I'd love to hear you." I smiled, blushing as he responded in kind. Really, his smile was enough to make a girl go brain-dead.
"Then I'll make it a promise."
I learned many things about Edward that night. He was wickedly intelligent; he'd been to medical school and had two undergraduate degrees, one in chemistry and one in biology. He was fluent in at least six languages, and the sound of his voice when he spoke French was enough to make me melt. His favorite color was brown, which I thought was a little strange, but I didn't tease him about it.
He was able to pry a lot of information out of me as well. From my favorite foods and television shows to my most treasured books, he questioned me relentlessly and listened just as intensely, like he was trying to absorb me through knowledge. I didn't mind; he was extremely easy to talk to once I forgot about my nerves—and ignored the increasingly weaker, rational side of me that insisted I was having a mental breakdown.
I found it was easy to make him laugh, which he admitted was a rarity for him. Knowing that I was special in that regard only made me work harder at it, just to hear the husky, genuine sound that made my stomach swim with butterflies. It wasn't long before he'd taken up the task himself, easily eliciting many embarrassing giggles and more than one mortifying snort. When I hid my face, he just told me I was adorable and shot me that smile.
I knew I was in a heap of trouble...but I couldn't bring myself to care.
Sunday, Oct 30, 2011
A haunting melody echoed throughout the funeral home as soon as Tyler left for the night. The notes were soft and lilting, lingering in the air like fading, fragrant smoke.
It had to be Edward.
I quickly washed my hands and slipped out of the prep room, shedding my lab coat along the way. Following the sound, I made my way to the antique piano in the little chapel that we rarely used. Edward was there, his back to the door as his fingers ghosted over the neglected keys. The piano was a bit off-tune, giving an eerie quality to the sad, mournful melody that flowed from his hands, but the song was no less beautiful. It lent a discordant note to the music that was somehow appropriate for our situation.
We were in a funeral home, after all...and the pianist happened to be a ghost.
I waited until he finished before I spoke. "Hi."
He turned, a wide smile on his face. In a movement so fast I barely saw it, he was before me, one palm cradling my cheek. "Hello."
The sweet, crisp scent of him floated around us, robbing me of any words I might have uttered in response.
"Are you always this nervous, Bella? Should I leave?" he teased, stepping back just a bit.
I shook my head in an attempt to clear away the Edward-induced fuzzies. "No! Don't go." I smiled sheepishly and shrugged. "Sorry, I've always been kind of quiet. I get it from my dad."
"Will you tell me about him?" He led me to the piano bench, where he sat and patted the empty space next to him. A single, blood-red rose sat in the cradle that was meant to hold sheet music.
I sat down, ignoring the way the entire left side of my body tingled where it brushed against his. "My dad was a homicide detective for the Phoenix Police Department. A man of few words, but boy, could he squeeze the truth from just about anyone." I laughed softly, remembering my human lie-detector of a father. "I tried lying to him once as a teenager. It took him all of five minutes to break me. Nothing like being questioned about your 'extra-curricular' activities by an actual interrogator."
"He put a damper on your evil plans, did he?" Edward quipped, smirking. I could tell he was trying to picture me as a wayward, scheming teen.
"They weren't even evil! I just wanted to go to an unsupervised party," I griped, crossing my arms over my chest. My elbow brushed against his bicep, and I fought back a shiver at the contact.
"Poor girl," he snickered, shaking his head in mock sympathy. "And what about your mother? Was she the proper detective's wife?"
I choked on my laughter. "Um, no. My mom was a new-age freak. She was into palm-reading, tarot, Chi energy...anything metaphysical. I'm pretty sure she was a pothead, to boot. She drove my dad nuts, but he loved her. We were a really happy family," I finished in a whisper, unable to keep the sadness from my voice.
"What happened?" Edward placed his hand on the bench between us, his smallest finger brushing against my thigh.
"They were killed when I was in college. A car accident."
"Oh, Bella," he murmured. He took me into his arms suddenly, and I gasped, my whole body buzzing with warmth at the way he held me. His embrace was so gentle, like he was afraid of breaking me, yet he simply couldn't keep away. "I'm sorry."
I nodded against his chest, content to let him try to take away some of the pain. "Thanks," I whispered after a moment, pulling back slightly to look up at him.
He gazed down at me with dark amber eyes that moved all over my face, finally settling on my lips. His head lowered a fraction, coming closer, and I only realized he was going to kiss me just as it happened.
Cool, firm lips met mine as his breath washed over me in a wave of sweetness and spice. His hands knotted in my hair, fingers clenching, pulling at the strands in a way that was just this side of painful. I froze for a moment, absorbing the arousal that coursed through my veins like bubbling champagne. Just the mere touch of his lips to mine was like grasping a live wire; it made my whole body come alive. I sighed against his mouth, parting my lips slightly, letting the tip of my tongue graze the supple curve of his bottom lip. His fingers tensed, tightened, as he sucked in a short breath in response to my advance. He seemed to freeze for a moment, and then those lips parted ever so slightly, letting me suck his lower lip between my own.
A low, needy sound escaped him, one that started as a rumble deep in his chest. One of his hands released my hair, drifting down my back slowly. He reached my waist, hesitating, and I silently begged him to move lower as I wrapped my own arms around his shoulders, holding on for dear life. With a groan, his lips broke from mine, leaving me dazed.
When I opened my eyes, I found his eyes blazing down at mine, and they were pitch-black. I didn't know what that meant, if it was some kind of ghost thing, but I didn't care. It was him, and that was all that mattered.
I let out a breath. "Wow. I kissed a ghost."
His eyebrows shot up near his hairline and he laughed, shaking his head. "No, you kissed me. Or rather, I kissed you."
I rolled my eyes a little. "Semantics. Now let's do it again." I reached for him, frowning when he pulled away.
"I promise it will happen again, Bella," he explained, a sexy grin planted firmly on his lips. "Give a man a moment to recover."
Involuntarily, my eyes darted down to his lap. I couldn't tell in the dim light, but he might have had a situation going on down there. Flame leapt into my cheeks when I realized I'd been caught trying to ogle his junk. He just watched me knowingly, amusement stamped all over his features.
"I love that blush."
It only got worse at his compliment. "Thanks...?"
He reached up with one finger to touch me, and it was ice-cold against my heated skin. Sucking in a sharp breath, he quickly dropped it away, letting his hand fall to his lap. Awkward silence grew between us, and I grasped at something, anything to get back to where we'd been before.
"What about your family?" Okay, so I wasn't the greatest conversationalist. "Do you have one?"
He smiled, and just like that, the tension was gone. For the remainder of the evening, Edward told me about his adoptive parents, Carlisle and Esme, and his siblings, two sets of married couples: Alice and Jasper; and Emmett and Rosalie. He spoke of them fondly, his descriptions of their sometimes combative but always affectionate interactions making me long to meet them and see it for myself. I wondered what it was like to be part of such a large, loving group, and my heart ached when I wondered how they were coping with the loss of Edward, just as I'd had to deal with losing my parents.
We talked until dawn, when I fell asleep in his arms. Both of us sat on the floor of the little chapel, me leaning against his chest, his back braced against the wall. When I woke just before eight, I found myself laid out on the couch in the receiving room, covered with a soft blanket.
The rose rested on the pillow next to my head.
I knew it hadn't been a dream. If only I could have been so sure I wasn't crazy.
Monday, Oct. 31, 2011
That night, Edward didn't even wait for Tyler to leave before he appeared. I'd just wheeled a new arrival into the cooler when he popped out of his body bag in the corner. I barely managed to stifle my scream.
"Can't you act normal? My boss is still here, you know!"
He grinned unabashedly and gestured to himself, as if to say, "Me, normal?"
I just shook my head and put a finger to my lips to hush him. He leaned back against the wall and shoved his hands in his pockets, one knee bent, his foot tucked behind the other. I had to shut my mouth to keep a little groan from slipping out. God, just looking at him was like the best kind of torture.
Just as I was about to drop everything and give in to the impulse to jump all over him, I heard Tyler enter the prep room just outside the cooler. Edward flashed over and had the door shut before my eyes registered the movement. Suddenly I was pressed up against the cold metal door, with Edward plastered to my front. He gave me a taste of my own medicine, putting one slender finger to his lips as he smirked down at me. One hand cupped my shoulder and smoothed down my arm, and he linked our fingers together.
"Bella?" Tyler called, his reedy voice muffled. "You in the cooler?"
Edward nodded, giving me permission to answer, which made me scowl at him. Bossy man. Er...ghost.
"Yes, Tyler," I called, "what do you need?" Please, please don't come in here. Because if you can't see Edward and act like everything is fine, then I'll be faced with irrefutable proof of my craziness...
"I just wanted to let you know I'm heading out for the night. The little monsters come out early to trick-or-treat in my neighborhood."
"O-oh, okay," I stammered, relieved when I couldn't hear his voice coming any closer. Edward lowered his head and rubbed his nose over mine, making me go weak in the knees.
"Be glad you have the night shift. You don't have to spring for all that damn candy," he complained.
"But I don't get to see the cute costumes." I had to try to act normal, or he'd know something was up.
I could hear Tyler's snort through the door. "There's a reason I called them monsters, and it isn't because of their costumes. Ungrateful brats. They're never happy with what they get."
"That's because you hand out raisins and mini-toothbrushes, Tyler," I teased. Lifting his head away from mine, Edward rolled his eyes at me, and I giggled a bit. "It's true!" I mouthed.
"Their parents will thank me. Anyway, I'm heading out. See you tomorrow night!"
"Good night," I called, watching as Edward's shoulders shook with suppressed laughter. The door to the prep room slammed, and I sagged against the door in relief.
Sighing, Edward gathered me to him. "Good riddance." He set his lips to my neck as we hugged, which made me even more boneless in his grip. God, he felt so good.
I thought about protesting, but I more than agreed with him. I'd been waiting for this moment since I woke up to get ready for my shift tonight.
"Would you like to take a walk with me?" He released me but kept hold of one of my hands.
"You can leave this place?"
"Why couldn't I?" he asked with a sly grin.
"I don't know; I just thought..." I didn't know what I'd thought. Maybe that ghosts couldn't be more than a certain distance away from their bodies?
"Well, I can. And there's someplace I'd like to show you."
I was scared to death, my heart pounding as Edward swung me down from my perch. I'd spent the twelve seconds from the funeral home to this place plastered to his back, clutching onto him for dear life as he sped through the woods. The world tilted and swayed as he placed me on my feet, and I was afraid I'd lose my breakfast.
"Is that what it feels like to get beamed up by Scotty?" I mumbled to myself, clapping a hand to my forehead in an effort to steady my swirling head.
Edward just laughed. "Welcome to my world."
I glared at him. "Just so you know, that was not 'taking a walk.'"
"Close enough. We're here, aren't we?" He gestured to the small clearing around us, a tiny field filled with the crisp, brown remnants of dead wildflowers. Though the plants were settled into their dormant cycle as winter approached, I knew it would be beautiful when they came to life in the spring. As it was, there was a certain ethereal quality to the space—bright light spilled from a huge harvest moon, illuminating the low-hanging boughs of the evergreen trees that ringed the clearing. A single, ancient spruce stood tall in the center, its trunk almost wide enough to accommodate a car, like the giant redwoods I'd only seen pictures of.
"It's beautiful, Edward," I said in a hushed tone, spinning in a slow circle as I took it all in.
"I thought you'd like it." His smile was warm and satisfied as he came close, linking his fingers with mine.
"Thanks for bringing me."
"Forgive me for the mode of transportation?"
I nodded and he squeezed my hand. His gaze turned serious, and a thick wave of foreboding settled in my stomach.
When he spoke, his voice was pained. "I have something to tell you."
The blood drained from my cheeks in one cold rush. This was it—where he'd tell me it was time for him to leave, to go wherever it was ghosts went when they left Earth. I didn't want him to go, ever, but I couldn't keep him tied here, where he didn't belong. I stayed quiet as he led me to the spruce and gently guided me to sit down beside him, our backs resting against the wide, rough trunk. But when he finally spoke, it wasn't what I expected to hear.
"I'm not a ghost, Bella. I'm alive...if only because of you," he murmured, placing one large hand in the center of my chest. What was going on? Would he be able to stay with me? Had I been blessed by some kind of cosmic accident that allowed me to bring him back to life?
"I don't understand," I whispered, trembling beneath his touch.
"Do you trust me?" His voice was hushed, matching the soft touch of his fingers as he stroked a hand through my hair.
"Yes." And I did. Implicitly. I might be insane, but I know Edward will never let me down...
"I want to be with you, Bella. Please tell me you feel the same."
Tears pricked my eyes, because what he wanted just wasn't possible. "Oh, Edward...I do. But how?"
"What if I told you that there were things in this world...things you thought were just legend?"
I smiled without thinking. "After what's happened to me in the past few days, I'd be inclined to believe you. I've been convinced that you're a ghost for days. Well, either that, or I'm crazy."
"You're not crazy. But, Bella...there are monsters out there. Things that would frighten even someone of your...practical mien."
"Are you talking about serial killers? 'Cause those fuckers are pretty scary." I couldn't help joking—I always babbled when I was nervous.
He dropped his forehead to mine, smiling as he laughed sadly. "In a way, I suppose. But they're human. Think harder. Think...supernatural."
He laughed again, with more mirth this time. I loved the way his eyes crinkled as he smiled. "Closer, but no. Unlike zombies, we'requite sentient. If I mentioned coffins, dungeons, and moats, would that ring a bell?"
"Not quite." What, was he the ghost of some medieval knight? No, that wasn't possible, because he'd said he wasn't a ghost...
"What about garlic? Stakes to the heart?" He swallowed heavily, lifting his head from mine. Gazes locked, he whispered, "Blood."
My mind flashed back to two nights ago, when he'd freaked out over my tiny little cut.
"Vampires?" I asked, my eyes widening as all the hints clicked into place like reels on a slot machine. Cold skin. No heartbeat. The pale complexion... "You...you're a vampire?"
He nodded slowly, eyes darting back and forth from mine to somewhere off in the distance. His shoulders hunched in on themselves, his posture reminding me of a puppy that was afraid of being kicked.
"You mean, you're really not a ghost?"
He shook his head, and I started laughing, tipping my head back. It was a release, finally knowing what was really going on. I wasn't having crazy conversations with a ghost after all, though it was still entirely possible that one of us was certifiably nuts. After all, I was currently sitting next to someone who claimed to be a vampire. I should have been running in the opposite direction, but I believed him.
When I finally managed to stop laughing, questions began forming rapidly. How did a vampire end up in a funeral home? Surely he would have had many opportunities to escape before he ended up here...so why didn't he?
"How did you end up in the morgue?" was the query I settled on first.
He winced, eyes darting away for a second. "I'm afraid you're not going to be very happy with me when I tell you."
I snorted. "I'm not running away screaming, and you've just told me you're a mythical creature that drinks blood. I think you can tell me."
Sighing, he muttered, "I did it to meet you."
Come again? "Huh?" It's hard to be eloquent when you're shocked.
He shifted nervously before answering. "This past week...it wasn't the first time I've seen you. I haven't been able to get you out of my head since I first came to town three months ago."
Three months? He's been here for three months and it took him that long to talk to me?
"Even when I tried to move on, I thought of you wherever I went. So I came back...and I formulated a plan."
Oh, well, that sounds reasonable.
As reasonable as could be, considering I was having a late-night conversation with a vampire. I ignored the little voice in the back of my head that called me an idiot for not being concerned that he'd quite possibly been stalking me for that length of time. It wasn't stalking when the guy was ridiculously good-looking, was it?
Oh, it was? Never mind.
You can't stalk the willing, Bella...
The cautious cast to his features slowly morphed into puzzlement. "Bella? Won't you say something?"
I cleared my throat, nervously twisting my fingers together, becoming uncomfortably aware of the closeness of our bodies. The temptation to touch him, to ignore his socially unacceptable behavior and just kiss him until I couldn't breathe, was so overwhelming that my palms literally itched with the need. I tried to inch away, but he placed his hand on top of mine, holding me in place with that one, soft touch.
That was fine. I didn't really want to go anywhere, though I definitely should. Deliberately pushing the annoyingly rational side of my brain away, I went with the only slightly cautious approach.
"You still haven't mentioned how you ended up in the morgue. How did you keep the medical personnel from discovering what you are?"
"I set the scene for an accident—a drug overdose, to be exact, and waited for the paramedics to arrive. Since I have no heartbeat and don't need to breathe, it was quite easy to play dead." He smiled wanly, a pale imitation of the expression I'd grown to need almost as much as air or water. "Add in my...pallor and cold skin, it was easy for them to assume that I was long dead."
"But what about the forensic pathologist? Surely they tried to take toxicology samples...wait, do you...do vampires even have bodily fluids? Oh, my God! Did they try to take your vitreous humor?" I shuddered as I said it, because even though I worked with the dead daily, a girl had to draw the line somewhere. Mine was a huge needle in the eye.
A genuine grin curved those soft-looking lips, secretive amusement dancing in his eyes. "I promise you, my eyes remain unharmed. I have a connection who pulled a few strings to ensure I wasn't discovered."
"Who?" This town had more secrets than even I'd imagined. I thought I knew them all.
"Carlisle is the new Chief Medical Examiner."
"He knows what you are?"
A soft laugh rumbled up from his chest. "I should say so, since he made me."
"Holy shit. Is this town full of freaking vampires?"
"Fortunately not. There's only my family and me." He averted his eyes, as if he was embarrassed of what he was.
"They're vampires too?"
Nodding, he said, "We're not related by blood, but our bonds are just as strong, if not stronger." He brought a hand to my face, traced my cheekbone. "Sometimes we're not born into a family, but one chooses us."
I wanted Edward to choose me, because my heart had certainly chosen him. Closing my eyes, I leaned into his touch, exhaling softly as I relaxed against his chest. He stiffened underneath me, physically separating us by his hands on my shoulders.
"Aren't you afraid of me?" he questioned, brows slanting down almost angrily.
"No." It came out on a shuddering breath. I wasn't afraid of him...only of what I'd allow myself to do. He had me completely under his spell, and I was very much afraid that I'd do anything for him.
And that was why I was crazy. After only four days, I knew I was willing to throw everything away...just to be with him.
He peered down at me, disbelief written all over his beautiful, stark features. Narrowing his eyes, he said, "Then ask yourself just one question: what do vampires eat?"
I met his challenge with one of my own. "Are you going to eat me, then?"
Pain creased his beautiful eyes, made his whole body tense against my own. Silence hung between us like a translucent curtain, blurring the lines of my ever-evolving reality. The world was nothing like I'd thought, and it was okay. The path of my life up until now—every twist and turn and detour along the way—led me to this man.
"You won't hurt me. I trust you."
When his mouth met mine, he was open and eager instead of tentative. His tongue caressed the inside of my bottom lip, and a groan vibrated between us. It could have come from one or both of us. I opened to him fully, consuming his taste, and it was overwhelming. Thoughts faded and feelings took over, heat building in a tight, swirling knot in my stomach that threatened to consume me.
"I might eat you alive," he breathed between kisses, "but I promise you'll enjoy it." His hands drifted down to grip my hips, urging me to sit in his lap so that I was straddling his legs. He held me tightly, grinding my body on top of his. "Perhaps even more than I will..."
I whimpered, the sound muffled by his lips. Pressing closer, I wound my fingers through his hair and held him to me. If I could crawl inside him, I'd be there in a heartbeat. Between my legs, I could feel the hard length of him—a firm, tantalizing pressure—and it made me curse the layers of denim that separated us. His fingers slipped underneath my shirt, feathering along my sides, and goose bumps rose all over, making my skin tingle. He traced up my ribs and back down again, teasing, testing. When he made contact with the edge of my bra, I clutched him tighter, pulling at the cool, soft strands of bronze hair. His lips stopped moving on mine for an instant, and I mentally begged him to go higher. I wanted him to just rip away every shred of clothing that stood between us.
"Please." I didn't know if I actually said it, but he heard me.
His eyes snapped open, pupils large and deep, his need plain to see; it echoed my own. I needed to be close, closer, until every inch of me was pressed up against every bit of him. Without taking his gaze from mine, he moved his hands to the outside of my shirt.
I wasn't beyond begging. "No, please don't stop." My voice was hushed, but it seemed as if the words echoed throughout the clearing, the syllables bouncing off the trees before they floated up into the night.
One long finger came up to my lips, pausing as he smiled, the curve of his mouth full of promise. Lower, I felt his other hand working at the buttons of my shirt, pulling them open one by one. When he was finished, the material hung open, allowing the chilly autumn breeze to hit my stomach and chest. Slowly, he trailed the backs of his fingers up my belly and slipped one underneath the front closure of my bra. He held it there for a moment, tugging the fabric away from my skin. My heart tried to leap out of my chest just to get to him. With one flick of his thumb it was loose, and I felt as if something inside of me snapped free at the same time.
He placed his palm flat against my sternum, like he was trying to hold my heartbeat in his hand. Those eyes pinned me, almost glowing in their intensity. His breath feathered across my face, hitting my lips in cool, fragrant puffs scented of honey and spice. Then he slid his hand over, taking his time, pushing my bra and shirt to the side. His gaze finally dropped away from mine as he covered my breast. He simply stared as he brushed his palm over my nipple, absorbed in the sight of his hand on my flesh.
"Oh, Bella..." he breathed, lightly tracing his finger over my lips. "You're so soft...so warm..." His head dipped, those cool, firm lips landing on the swell of my breast, dragging down as his hand pushed me up.
I gasped at the sensation of his tongue on my sensitive skin. He glanced up, locking eyes with mine as he tasted me. And then there was more—he pressed his finger into my mouth. I closed my lips around the tip, savoring the slight sweetness of his smooth skin. He felt along the edges of my teeth, and I couldn't resist the urge to bite down gently, like I wanted him to do lower.
I wondered if he'd do it. I wanted him to do it.
"No, Bella...I can't." His voice ragged, he lifted his head. He pulled his finger from my mouth and slid his palm over to cradle my cheek. His pupils seemed to swallow the golden hue of his eyes, a look of longing, followed by pure panic crossing his features. It was gone in a second, smoothed over by determination. "No."
I hadn't even known I was speaking my wishes aloud. I was in that deep. I was drowning in him...in the feelings I knew only he could create.
"Why?" I whispered, his answer hurting more than it should have. "I thought you'd want to..."
He laughed once, but it was bleak and hopeless. "Oh, I want to." He paused, lashes lowering as he took a deep breath. "But there's no coming back once I taste you. You'd become like me from just one bite, and that's if I managed to refrain from draining you."
"What if I want to be like you?" I blurted, not even knowing that it was true until I heard the words tumble from my mouth.
Though I hadn't known vampires truly existed an hour ago, hadn't even known Edward last week, I knew that he was meant for me. All those years of feeling left out, like I didn't belong...all those moments of playing the outsider, floating in social limbo...they all led to this moment.
I was born to be his.
He froze, shock written all over his features. "What?"
"I want to be with you, Edward. Forever. Just like you said." I brought my hands to his cheeks, mirroring his touch, stroking the sharp angles of his cheekbones. "Make me like you. Please."
He blinked once, twice, and I felt him tremble where our bodies pressed together. "Oh, God," he moaned, lips crashing into mine. His hands were everywhere then, stripping away my shirt and bra, ripping at my jeans, leaving me naked and shivering in his arms, but not from the chilly air. It was cold, but I didn't care; just the touch of his flesh to mine heated me from the inside out. He noted the chill and guided my arms back through the long sleeves of my blouse, leaving it hanging open down the front, my breasts bared to him.
My own hands fumbled with his clothing, pushing his shirt from his shoulders and yanking at the buttons of his fly.
"I've been waiting for you for so long," I mumbled against his lips, resting my hand against his abdomen. His muscles clenched under my touch as I dragged my fingers down, releasing his button and zipper before parting the rough denim and snaking my hand inside. I curled my fingers around the hard length of him, swallowing his gasp as I stroked up and down once, twice. "Don't make me wait any longer to start a life with you."
"You don't know what you're asking, Bella." His voice was pained, stifled, like he was holding back.
I knew he wanted this just as badly as me, but he was afraid.
"I want this, Edward. I want you."
"I don't know if I can stop," he almost sobbed, tipping his head back as I tightened my grip, his mouth falling open as I rubbed my thumb over his tip. He grasped my hand in his own, pulling it from his hard, needy flesh. He was going to stop this, and that was the last thing I wanted.
"You can. You will," I whispered, eyes never leaving his beautiful face. "Take the chance, Edward. I promise you won't regret it. I won't let you regret it."
"Bella..." He straightened, looking at me with black, intense eyes.
"I promise, Edward." Tears pricked my eyes as I held his gaze. Though I didn't know it until he walked—or rather, was wheeled—into my life, everything had been empty without him. Things would be even more bleak and lifeless if he left. "Please." I poured every bit of my need for him into that one word, hoping, praying it would be enough.
He dropped his head to mine and whispered, "It might be the most selfish thing I'll ever do, but I can't refuse you. I want you too much."
"It won't be selfish, Edward. It can't be, not when I was made for you."
After that, we didn't speak. Our lips were otherwise occupied with slow, drugging kisses, nipping and tasting, exploring one another. I closed my eyes, wanting to concentrate on the feel of his body against mine and absorb the rush of energy that came with the meeting of our lips and tongues.
His hands were all over me under the fabric of my shirt, stroking and squeezing. When he dragged a finger down the midline of my body, stopping to trace a slow circle around my navel, I stopped breathing. And when his hand dipped lower, sliding right into the wetness between my legs, my lungs sprang to life again with a ragged gasp. He played me slow and sweet as we kept on kissing, echoing the movements of his fingers with fleeting caresses of his tongue.
I planted my trembling hands flat on his chest, digging my fingertips into his cool, hard flesh. A low moan hummed against my lips, creeping up from deep in his chest. Two fingers circled slowly, gently, until I bucked my hips, sending them sliding deep inside me. The heel of his hand met my heat, rubbing against my clit in a rhythm that had me crying out. I bit down on his lower lip, wishing I was riding him and not just his hand.
"Oh," I breathed, letting his lip slip from my mouth as he curved his fingers slightly, going deeper. Opening my eyes, I met his heated stare, my back arching, my muscles so tight that I felt I might break in his arms. "Right there. Right there," I whispered over and over, frozen under the spell of his touch.
He smiled slightly, one side of his mouth barely tilted, lips parted. "Like that?"
I barely managed a nod as he drove me higher, eyes blazing with the knowledge of what he was doing to me. His other hand drifted to my hip, where he tempered my wild movements, helping me to move in tandem with the thrust of his fingers. My body tightened, every fiber pulling taut in every direction until all sensation gathered in one hot burst of flame low in my belly. It seemed I hung there for ages, suspended in pleasure so strong it bordered on agony before I exploded beneath the motion of his talented hands. My head fell back and I moaned his name, too weak to do anything but surrender to the climax.
He dropped soft, loving kisses on my cheeks, my eyes, the slope of my nose. His arm wound around my back, gathering me to his chest. When I went boneless in his arms he withdrew, trailing wet fingertips along my inner thigh. Though I could barely hold my head up, I managed to wind my fingers through his belt loops and tugged, urging his jeans far enough down his hips to let his erection spring free.
"Are you sure, Bella?" he questioned, his voice strained and husky.
Rising up on my knees, I linked my fingers behind his neck and brushed my lips across his. Scooting closer, my soft lined up against his hard, I whispered, "Yes. I've never been more certain. I'm already yours, Edward...so take me." I moaned as I felt his hand slip between us to grasp the base of his cock, angling himself to slide through my wetness.
He held his shaft steady as I sank down slowly, taking the thick, piercing pressure of him inside me. I gasped when our hips met, flesh to flesh, my eyes wide and fixed on his.
"Oh, God," he groaned, holding me still atop him. Hunger filled his gaze, black and deep and utterly mesmerizing. "You feel...oh, fuck..." His control visibly snapping, he thrust up into me, using both hands to keep my hips immobile. He went so deep it almost hurt, but I loved it.
I wanted him to lose control, mold me to him, break me down. I gripped his shoulders, feeling the tension building in his muscles as we moved, grinding into one another. He skimmed his fingers up my spine and wound my hair around his fist, pulling it taut until my head tipped back. My throat was completely bared to him and he wasted no time setting his lips to the sensitive curve. He traced the throbbing line of my carotid with his tongue in rhythm with his hips, faster, faster. The sensation was like nothing I'd ever felt before, and coupled with the hard thrust of his body against mine, I felt another orgasm approaching.
The sharp edges of his teeth scraped across my skin, a cold pinch followed by a hot sting. His tongue followed, and a deep groan rumbled up from deep in his chest. Another pinch, this one much harder, but he fastened his lips over the spot and sucked hard. I arched against him, all pain forgotten as I came again, throbbing around the burning pressure of him inside me. He thrust frantically through my orgasm, his mouth pulling at my throat just as desperately.
Fire began to creep into my body, spreading from my neck into my chest as he moaned against my skin, his frame going rigid when he spilled himself inside me. Even when he relaxed, his mouth remained fixed on my throat, pulling in a rhythm that set off aftershocks low and deep. He was still moaning, the low sound reminiscent of a growl that reverberated throughout the very heart of me.
My hands and feet went cold, the tips of my fingers and toes tingling like they were falling asleep. Fogginess rolled over my vision, until even the bright light of the full moon was almost gone.
I didn't have much left to give. If I didn't stop him soon, he'd go too far.
"Stop, Edward," I managed to croak, my voice weak and thin.
He stiffened and the movement of his lips ceased. Endless moments ticked by, his body tense and almost brittle against mine, like he was fighting a battle with himself to not drain me dry. Fear tried to overwhelm me, slithering around me with long, sinuous arms and sharp claws, but I refused to give in. Deep down, I knew he wouldn't truly hurt me.
Finally, he pulled away with one last, sensuous lave of his tongue. I blinked up at him, trying to smile as I attempted to clear my vision. I could just make out the faint outline of his face, a look of satisfaction stamped firmly on his features.
"Told you." I think I only mouthed the words, but he smiled in response.
"You did," he answered, that perfect mouth widening into a blinding grin.
It was that sight that I kept in my mind as true blackness descended, and the fire consumed me.
Wednesday, October 31, 2012
The rumors that surrounded my disappearance were quite entertaining. Though I wasn't able to hear them for myself, one of my favorite things to do was listen as Carlisle regaled me with the latest tale of what had befallen poor Bella Swan. Apparently, the morgue of Forks Community Hospital was also a hotbed of gossip.
First, I'd become Forks' first and only victim of the Sasquatch. Apparently, old Mrs. Stanley had seen some kind of hairy, bipedal monster roaming the woods around Halloween, leaving giant, bare-footed prints in the mud. There were tales involving werewolves, the Chupacabra, the Mothman, and even the Blair Witch. My personal favorite was that I'd been abducted by aliens. Apparently, strange lights had been reported over Forks on the night I disappeared. Half of the residents believed I was up in some other galaxy getting anally probed or something.
Well, I'd say this: I was getting probed. Repeatedly. And I enjoyed every minute of it.
Of course, no tale even came close to the true story of my encounter with the sexiest vampire in existence.
I'd spent the last year sequestered in a cabin high in the Cascades, and Edward had been with me every step of the way. His family had welcomed me into the fold enthusiastically, delighted that Edward had finally found his mate. They taught me how to resist the temptation of human blood and quench my thirst with the blood of animals. They taught me how to rein in my often volatile emotions, how to temper my new-found strength, and showed me everything I needed to eventually walk among humans undetected, for the most part. And through it all, I grew to love them almost as much as I loved Edward. I became one of them.
It was strange that I'd had to die to gain a family again. I truly had been reborn.
Today would make it official. At twilight, I'd become Mrs. Edward Cullen at last.
As if my thoughts had conjured him, Edward appeared in the threshold, looking dashingly dark in an all-black suit. His hair shone with golden and red highlights in the fading sun, as unruly and untamed as ever. A splash of crimson peeked out of the breast pocket of the slim suit, providing the only spark of color in his clothing. Prisms danced off his features as the last of the sun's rays hit his crystalline skin. He was lean and tall, strong as ever, and completely mine. I felt the same rush of sensation that always consumed me whenever he was near, and I couldn't help my wide smile. His was just as bright and open as he held out a hand, gazing at me with the love and devotion I could still barely believe was all for me, even after all this time.
"Ready, love?" he questioned, his voice soft and eager.
It took me less than a fraction of a second to reach him, and then I was slipping my hand into his. He rested his other hand on my hip, holding me at arm's length as his eyes raked me up and down. I knew he'd love my simple, sleeveless white dress, made of filmy silk charmeuse and accented with a thin strip of blood-red satin tied at the waist. A matching ribbon wound itself through my hair, which I'd gathered into a messy bun just below my right ear. Rubies, a gift from Edward shortly after my change, dripped from my earlobes in a gentle fall, completing the look.
As he studied me, his eyes glazed over, went dark. "You're stunning." He drew me closer, wrapping one arm tightly around my waist, our hands still clasped. His lips grazed my temple in a long, slow kiss as he drew in a deep breath.
I breathed him in just as blatantly, almost floating on the high I got just by being near him. "You're pretty fucking hot, yourself," I told him, hiding my grin against his suit as his laughter rumbled in his chest. I took a moment to hug him, and then tipped my head back to meet his gaze. "I love you."
"As I love you, my Bella." His eyes were dark and possessive, overflowing with the same emotions I felt when I looked at him.
"Are you ready?" he asked again, and I blinked back the sting of phantom tears.
Didn't he know?
"I've been ready since the day I met you," I vowed, and it was no less the truth than the ones we'd make to each other in mere minutes.
With a nod and a slow smile, he led me from the cabin out into the twilight, and into the rest of our eternal lives.
Thank you to my beta, KristenLynn, for fixing up this monster and helping me stay motivated to get it finished. Thank you to Breath of Twilight for hosting the countdowns and asking me to be a part of it. I had a lot of fun! If you'd like to read the other one shots from the Halloween section of this year's countdown, please visit http:/www(dot)fanfiction(dot)net/s/7348457/1/. Lots of great tales from great authors!
Super nerd credit to darwinawards(dot)com for the incredible inspiration for a few of the deaths in this little ficlet. Yes, those things really happened to some idiotic people, and it won them Darwin Awards. Priceless. Check out the website for morbid laughs. If you're not familiar with the Darwin Awards, then look them up immediately to experience Natural Selection at its finest.
I've bastardized the line "...or a mortician, if you want to be a dick about it," from the movie Half Baked. The original line was "I'm a custodian...or a janitor, if you want to be a dick about it." I couldn't resist.
As usual, if you think you spot lines from the book(s), you're probably right. They're not mine (obviously), but I like to play with them.
Last, but not least, Happy Halloween! I know it's not a Chain Reaction update, but it's something, right? I'm working on the next few chapters, and I want to make sure they're worth your time. Hope you can forgive me for the lapse in posting (I'm sorry!).
Leave me some love if you feel like it. See you soon!