Stephenie Meyer created Twilight and its characters.
I'm just trying to purge a plot bunny.
I sat in the passenger seat of Jasper's car, much too far away from the security of my office in downtown Seattle, pinching the bridge of my nose and fuming at my idiotic behavior.
We were in the middle of nowhere, in an area of western Washington State that I'd never set eyes on before. Even though it was tempting to lose myself in my thoughts, I watched every bend in the road and took note of every landmark I could. I was in a real dilemma about how to find my way back to the city as soon as it seemed polite to excuse myself from Bella and her friends. It wouldn't do me any good to disappear in the wilderness and I couldn't have Bella believing that I could get lost so easily in her own backyard.
After driving by a small lake filled with boats pulling water-skiers and jet skis zipping by, we crossed a small bridge and I realized we must be getting close to her.
Close to Bella. My heart began pounding in my chest with that realization. I just didn't know if it was from anticipation or fear of her reaction to my surprise appearance at her father's cabin.
"What in the hell was I thinking?" Although I wasn't sure I was looking for a response from Jasper, I felt better for voicing my doubts. "I'm not blaming you, but how did you talk me into this?"
I turned to look at Jasper, to gauge his reaction. He smirked without taking his eyes off the road.
"I don't recall that it took much persuasion, Edward."
I huffed air out through my nose in annoyance as I turned my attention back to the passenger side window. He was right, of course, but that didn't change the fact that my anxiety was escalating with each turn in the road.
It was pure luck that I happened to run into Jasper late that morning while I ran out of the office to get some fresh air and a bite to eat. Until his unexpected invitation, I had intended on spending the weekend at home, not doing much of anything. I thought I would probably drive over to see my parents on the Fourth of July but those plans had been up in the air. Usually, these kinds of holidays were planned for me by either friends or family in advance, but that weekend nothing had materialized ahead of time.
I'd been looking forward to some quiet time. That was until Jasper mentioned that he and Alice were going up to the mountains to spend time with Bella. When Jasper mentioned he would be spending three days in her close proximity, I was instantly envious of him. To my great surprise, he asked if I wanted to join them for the weekend and I hadn't hesitated in saying yes. In the span of a few seconds, I'd convinced myself my lack of plans for the weekend was a blessing in disguise.
I went back to the office long enough to let someone know I was heading out and then I hurried back to my apartment. I threw a few things into a bag and soon after Jasper arrived to pick me up. I had very little time to think about my impetuous decision. I was too excited about having another opportunity to get to know Bella better, to be near her once more. But as soon as I was in Jasper's car and we were on the road, my mind began focusing on how impulsive my decision had been. I finally thought about how uncharacteristic the choice was. I was not known for flying by the seat of my pants, and yet I was speeding in Jasper's passenger seat towards a situation I'd never placed myself in before.
I hadn't seen Bella since her father's funeral and even though I'd sent her a card soon afterward, I hadn't heard back from her. I didn't have the slightest clue regarding how she felt about me … if she thought about me at all. As the weeks moved along, I found myself lingering on that question often and wondering what, if anything, I could do about finding the answer.
Our interaction had been so brief and yet I remembered every moment so vividly. I'd given her a ride home after her father's funeral, thrilled when she asked me to do so. And yet she had spent half of that time with her nose scrunched in revulsion, as if she couldn't stand being near me within my own space. Weeks later, I still couldn't figure out what had been so offensive to her. I knew it had to be something with my car, although I couldn't detect it myself. After letting the mystery control my every waking thought for a few days, I ended up splurging on a detailing job, just in case I was lucky enough to see her again.
Another impulsive act on my part.
I couldn't stop thinking about the fact that I should have been still sitting in my office, putting the finishing touches on the marketing plan for an upcoming fundraiser at the hospital where my father worked; the same hospital where I had overheard Bella crying over her lost father from the other side of a closed door. It was my first memory of her and one that I knew would never leave me. The need to move past my father, push through that door and offer her whatever comfort I could had been overpowering. Instead, he had quietly taken my arm and led me away down the corridor.
That night, lying restless in my own bed, I'd replayed the scene over and over again in my mind, hearing her cries but unable to see her face.
I'd never been so affected by a woman in my life. I wasn't the kind of guy who spent his evenings at bars or clubs looking for action and working where I did, I'd been successful in dodging advances or avoiding dates with several women. At least when I was in the work setting I was comfortable. I was able to handle dealing with women without offending them in the process. Maybe that's why Bella's reaction in my car remained on my mind. I didn't know anything about her other than the fact that I desperately wanted to know her better, and I wanted her to want to know me too.
I didn't know how to handle anything when it came to Bella. Meeting her had sparked something in me I had never felt before.
And I was nearly certain it was completely one sided.
"Fuck." I ran my hands through my hair in agitation. "I shouldn't have said yes, Jasper. Not without checking with her first. This is a big mistake."
I finished my confession right when Jasper turned off the main road. The car was now on a narrow drive that led us in a straight path towards the front door of a two story cabin. The river next to the house was moving swiftly and my racing thoughts were keeping pace with it perfectly.
We had arrived. There was no turning back.
Jasper said nothing until after he had parked the car and turned the engine off, but I swore I could read his mind. And he was mumbling about how it was too late to run away.
He took the keys out of the ignition and turned to me, holding them up in the air.
"I wouldn't have offered to bring you up here if I wasn't sure Bella wouldn't welcome you. Now, if it makes you feel better, you can take my keys and head home at any time. Alice drove Bella up in her car this morning, so I can always ride back to Seattle with them and have her bring me to your place to get my car later. Does that help?"
It did help and I nodded in confirmation. Immediately, I held my hand out and Jasper dropped the keys into my palm. I closed my fingers around them and felt a sense of calm wash over me.
"Thank you, Jasper."
"I don't think you'll need them, but you're more than welcome." He nodded his head in the direction of the cabin, unfastened his seat belt and opened the car door to climb out.
I followed him, wondering what Bella would say when she saw me. I felt my stomach twist in nervous knots and turned away from the cabin. I stretched my arms and back, hoping the action would release all the tension that had built up during the car ride. It felt good to lengthen my limbs while admiring the beauty of our new surroundings. There definitely were worse places to be stranded with a mysterious, gorgeous woman.
As Jasper pulled his own bag out of the car, I decided to take a few extra moments to calm my nerves. I tugged at my hair again as I debated internally whether I should follow his lead and paced around the car, trying to work up the nerve to retrieve my own things to carry inside the cabin. I found myself pausing at the driver's side door. I toyed with the idea that it wasn't too late to just get in the car and head back to Seattle, but I knew I couldn't do that without saying hello to everyone first. My bag was staying in the car until I could see how Bella would respond to me.
I needed to prepare myself for the idea that I would head home after saying hello to Bella. I had to accept that just having the opportunity to see her for a few minutes was far more than I'd expected from my previous plans for an unexciting weekend, and I would just have to keep that in mind.
And I understood right away that it wasn't enough … but it was going to have to be, for my own comfort level and perhaps, more importantly, to respect hers. Impetuous decisions were not always the best ones and it was clear in that moment why I rarely made them. It was too soon, too fast, too unpredictable.
I was trying to swallow the emerging lump in my throat when I heard the screen door slam shut. I'd been so wrapped up in my own thoughts that I hadn't heard it open. When I looked up, I saw Bella standing on the edge of the porch. I froze when our eyes locked and waited to see where the chips would fall.
When she spoke, her voice was sweet, welcoming and a radiant smile accompanied her words.
"Hi, Edward. It's great to see you. What a nice surprise."
How could she know those were the exact words I needed to hear the most? The weight of five weeks of worry lifted from me immediately and I was drawn away from Jasper's car to join her on the porch. We met one another on the steps, our faces level and for the first time I looked deeply into her dark brown eyes. I couldn't help but smile back at her. I had never seen her happy and I was completely entranced.
"How are you doing?" I asked her. Her expression was conveying a certain amount of joy, but I knew she must still be reeling from her father's death. I wondered how much she would feel comfortable sharing with me. I was watching her so intently, I noticed a slight narrowing of her eyes right before she answered. It was as though she wasn't exactly sure how to answer me, but it didn't stop her.
"I'm good. How about you?"
"Alright." I nodded. In that moment, I really was. And I'd be damned if I was going to burden Bella with my weeks of trepidation.
A silence began to grow between us, but it wasn't uncomfortable. I occupied the quiet moments by continuing to study the woman in front of me. From what little I knew of Bella, her personality was similar to mine. She was quiet but with an air of self-assurance. There was nothing arrogant or vain about her. She was capable and independent and after watching how she carried herself during the funeral, I knew she was strong.
"I'm glad Jasper was able to have some company on the drive up here. It can get long sometimes."
And she was nice.
"I didn't know about this area at all. It was a nice drive. It seems like a great place." A great place enhanced by great company, I thought as I finished my observation.
"It really is. Would you like a tour before dinner?"
I felt the surprise fill my face at her invitation. Somehow I didn't believe I could be hearing her words correctly. "Dinner?"
"It's not a short drive up here. You have to be feeling a little hungry, right?" All at once, without thinking, my eyes focused on her mouth. I wanted to kiss her and the realization kept me from answering her right away. I forced my gaze away from her soft lips and turned my attention to the wooden porch railing. I reached out to grasp it, to steady myself before my body language could reveal the attraction brewing within me. In the process, my hand came close to touching her arm and I perceived the slightest of tremors pulsing through Bella's body. But I dismissed the impression, certain I'd imagined the movement.
"You aren't in a rush to get back to Seattle are you? I don't want to keep you from anything."
I shook my head and took a chance on making eye contact with her again. Her skin was pale but smooth, flawless. She really was mesmerizing. I fought to maintain control over my voice, terrified of giving anything away to her. She had dealt with so much and was still doing so, the last thing she needed was some strange man leering over her.
"There's no rush, but are you sure? I don't want to impose on your time with your friends."
"Well…aren't you my friend?"
Another pleasant surprise. She thought of me as a friend? The smile that broke loose from me was undeniable and she spoke again before I could contain it.
"C'mon. Let me show you around."
Bella moved down the porch stairs and passed right by me. I watched as she placed her small hands into the pockets of her shorts and felt a small twinge of doubt pass through me. Somehow, I had the feeling she didn't welcome my touch but it wasn't quite enough to stop me from following her. She was petite and I caught up to her in just a few steps. When we turned the corner of the cabin, I was amazed to discover a lush green lawn that extended from the back of house almost the entire way to the river's edge. It was one of the largest backyards I'd even seen. The grass was so immaculate; it was difficult to believe this was a property only used occasionally.
"Jasper told me this was your father's cabin?"
"Yes. He spent years creating all this. Every spare chance he had."
I stopped and turned to look at the cabin once again. The structure was two stories with a wraparound porch on the bottom floor and a sizable deck secured on the floor directly above it. The house was just as impressive as the lawn.
"This yard is huge. You could build another house or two on it."
"Did you get a chance to meet Harry and Billy … at the service?"
I nodded. They had been friends of Bella's father and although they had both been stoic on the surface, it had been easy to see how deeply Charlie's sudden death had affected them. Their pained faces were just one impression from the funeral that had lingered with me, leaving me to wonder what kind of man Charlie must have been. If his amazing daughter was any indication, I knew I had missed out on knowing someone special.
"Well, Harry, Billy and my dad … they all loved to fish together and this was one of their favorite areas to go. One time the three of them showed up here and this property was for sale. They decided to go in on the deal together and then share the space."
Bella pointed to her left and for the first time, I noticed the house next door. It was well hidden among the trees that divided it from the Swans' property. "That cabin belongs to Harry and his family."
Next, Bella pointed to her right, where a third house sat next to the river. It was a small red home, just one story with no stairs of any kind. "And that cabin belongs to Billy and Jake. The yard is considered community property. Between the three families someone is up here regularly, so whoever gets here first gets to take the riding lawn mower for a spin."
I couldn't help my curiosity; somehow I couldn't imagine Bella performing the chore, even though I knew she would be more than capable. "Was it your turn today?"
She shook her head, but didn't laugh or roll her eyes or otherwise indicate that the notion was out of the question. It confirmed that she had experience with it after all. "Someone beat me to it this time. I'm guessing it was Jake. I haven't noticed any activity at Harry's place."
The mention of Jake's name took me back to the funeral. He had been a pall bearer for Charlie as well. It was clear that he and Bella had known one another a long time, most likely since childhood. At the conclusion of the graveyard service, he had walked Bella back to Alice's car with his arm wrapped securely around her shoulder and when he had lowered his head to whisper something in her ear, she had effortlessly leaned into his body. The intimate interaction confirmed a close friendship. But was that all there was between them? I knew so little about her life and attempting not to succumb to emotional knee jerk reactions when it came to Bella was frustrating.
Bella began walking again bringing me back to the present. We moved toward the river to an area where the grass ended and an expanse of pale gravel began. Sitting in the gravel was a circular arrangement of similarly colored boulders and just as I noticed the pile of darkened ashes in the center of the circle, Bella confirmed what we were looking at.
"This is the fire pit. During the summer, we pretty much spend all our evenings out here telling stories, eating s'mores, drinking beer. The usual campfire stuff."
"Right next to the water, huh? The view is incredible." I whistled in appreciation. I took a few steps toward the water to get a better look at the river. The water appeared shallow but it was fast moving and I knew appearances were deceiving. I wondered briefly how many times Charlie had been forced to keep an eye on his only daughter whenever she neared those waters. The thought unnerved me, even though I knew Bella was safe and sound next to me.
When two kayakers suddenly sped by us, I watched them with great interest as they moved downstream. It only took seconds from them to come and go from my view. Suddenly, I needed to know how much experience Bella had around this river and I turned to look at her, hoping my worry for her was not too obvious.
"Do you ever do that?" I hoped to hear Bella say no, but somehow I knew better. Somehow I knew she wouldn't be afraid.
"Sometimes. Do you?"
I shook my head, amazed by her bravery. "Never."
"Well, I'm sure at some point this weekend we'll take a few rafts and float the river. It works out perfectly because one or two of us drives the rest of the group a few miles upstream where there are a couple of good launching sites. We set off down the river, end up back here at the house and jump out. You're more than welcome to join us."
Truthfully, it was the last thing I wanted to do. But if Bella would be going and I was still at the cabin, I knew nothing would keep me from joining her. I felt the concern appear on my face. "Where do you get out? It seems pretty fast here."
"Ah, yes. Well, let's move on with the tour and I'll show you." She turned to her right and I followed her over the lawn, walking alongside the river. As unfamiliar as I was with the area, I should have been watching my step but instead my eyes were fixed on her, making sure that Bella kept her own footing.
That and admiring her long, lean legs as she walked in front of me. In the process, I found myself admiring her bottom as well and had to remind myself not to stare…too much.
Eventually, as we moved closer to the red house, we began to maneuver down a small slope and closer to the water. Just as I was becoming more nervous about our proximity to the rushing current, a small beach came into view. The placement of boulders at this particular point in the river had created a calm, welcoming swimming area and I imagined Bella swirling in the soothing waters on a hot summer's day. The thought made me smile once again.
"It's like your own private beach. No wonder your father and his friends bought this land. It's great!"
Bella smiled at me and I realized I'd said something to make her happy. I had only been at the cabin for a few minutes and already it was easy to understand how much joy the place held for Bella.
"They definitely knew a good thing when they saw it," she told me.
Her words collided with my euphoria and I savored the sight of the lovely woman who stood just mere inches from me. I wrestled with the desire to reach up and brush my fingers along her cheek, to touch her beautiful skin, to tell her how wonderful I thought she was … that I knew I'd found someone good in her.
Before I could triumph over my hesitation, Bella turned and nodded to the hills behind us where I noticed many other homes resting on their slopes, overlooking the entire area.
"When I was a little girl, there was nothing up here but these three cabins. But eventually people found out about the area and now they're moving in. Every summer there's another new house or two being built. It's starting to look more and more like a neighborhood back there. But I'll always have this spot. I'll never give it up and I'm sure the Clearwaters and the Blacks feel the same way."
Listening to Bella reminisce over her fond memories was bittersweet to me. I couldn't fathom the emotions she must have been dealing with under the surface. I knew they had to be there, she was clearly an intelligent and loving person, but her strength held once again. She let none of it show.
"I can't imagine how many great memories you must have of this place. I'm glad you were close with your dad."
When Bella inhaled at my words, I was afraid I had finally taken that one step too far, that I had crossed the line with her. I would need to be more careful if I was fortunate enough to remain in her company for long.
"I have some great memories. And I hope to make many more here."
Her words and the emotion in them connected with me immediately and I felt my heartbeat pick up within the restrictive walls of my chest. I wanted to tell her how much I wanted to be included in those future endeavors and I locked my gaze onto hers once again, trying to understand what I was seeing in her eyes. They were full of emotion, but she seemed as calm as I'd ever seen her. I watched as a certain determination washed through her expression and then she seemed to be at peace.
When she spoke, Bella's words took my breath away and changed my life forever.
"I hope you'll stay for the weekend."
Shortly after finishing our tour, Emmett and Rosalie McCarty arrived at the cabin and Bella excused herself to help them settle in for their stay. As I watched her walk away from me, I took in the sight of her entire body for the first time that afternoon. She looked thinner than I recalled from the funeral, but then again she had been dressed in something more than a tee-shirt and shorts. Maybe that was it.
I found my way to the kitchen where Alice handed me a beer and Jasper and I kept her company as she prepared dinner. Our offers to help in the kitchen were politely declined, but Alice instructed that we should set up the table on the porch outside and I was happy for the assignment. It was difficult to sit around, trying to act casual when I was still trying to process Bella's invitation.
Bella's request for me to spend the weekend at the cabin was on constant replay in my mind and the temptation to do just that was only intensified by the amazing dinner Alice had made for us all. It was delicious and everyone was enjoying themselves, dining outside with the roaring river providing the background soundtrack.
I knew Jasper and Alice well enough that I was comfortable in conversation with them, and now that I'd been formally introduced to the McCartys, I found them to be wonderful additions to the weekend get together. However, the meal was only made perfect when Bella took her place right next to me.
Partway through dinner, I turned my attention to her plate and was distressed when I realized she wasn't eating. She had been going through the motions but her food was mostly untouched. I watched out of the corner of my eye as she would occasionally take small bites, but when she finally sat back in recognizable defeat, I couldn't keep silent on the issue any longer.
"Is something wrong, Bella?" I spoke in a near whisper, hoping to keep our discussion private. I sat silently as Bella began to speak, anxious to learn if there was something I could do to help her.
"I wish I could just eat this and not have it be a big deal. It's not that I don't want to eat. I do. I just…can't. I can't eat all of this." Bella pointed to her plate, and the strain she was feeling was evident in the gesture. I decided to press further, not wanting to add to her stress but hoping to help find a solution. It wasn't acceptable to me that she didn't eat. We needed to find a way around that.
Bella paused at my question and I felt my concern elevate slightly. I reminded myself we didn't know each other well and it wasn't really any of my business. It wouldn't be surprising to hear her say those words back to me in response, but she ended up startling me with her candor.
"I have an ulcer. It developed the week my father died. It hurts all the time and when I try to eat, I get sick."
I hadn't followed my father into the medical profession, but I had learned enough from him to realize that this was the reason why I'd noticed Bella's weight loss. I frowned at the thought of Bella in pain and resolved to call my father as soon as I was able to ask for his advice.
Bella had been honest with me and I was honest in return. "You are thinner. I was wondering about that."
It was clear by her reaction that Bella was upset, but I also understood I wasn't the cause of her stress and it gave me confidence. The bond between us was strengthening and I thought about how happy she had been when I first arrived at the cabin. I wanted to see her smile again and enjoy our time together. I wanted her nourished both physically and emotionally.
I thought about my favorite comfort food and decided to prepare it for her. Feeling happy about finding a solution for her, I moved in closer to Bella. I smiled and was rewarded with a dazzling smile from Bella in return. It took every ounce of willpower in my body to stop myself from brushing my lips across her cheek. We were so close I could feel her sweet breath tickling my skin.
"I'll tell you what..." I began. "I know just what to do. I've learned a few things from my parents over the years. Why don't you wait here? I'll bring you something I guarantee you can eat."
"Yeah? You sure you're up for that challenge?" Bella's tone was playful and she smiled at me again. She was flirting with me and my grin broke out into a full-fledged smile. I even winked as I answered her.
I never winked.
"Oh yeah. I'm up for it." I waited for her response, drumming my fingers on the table and watched her closely as her eyes moved away from mine but lingered on my arm. She was studying me too and my smile held its place, thrilled by her scrutiny.
"Ok. Thank you."
Somehow my smile increased and before she could change her mind, I stood up and cleared our plates from the table.
"I'll be right back," I told her and although I didn't look back, I could feel her attention still focused on me as I walked back inside.
I strolled into the kitchen and set our dishes down into the sink. I began opening cupboards looking for the ingredients I needed when Jasper and Emmett entered the house, carrying their own sets of dinnerware.
"Why we are on KP, exactly?" Emmett grumbled to Jasper.
"Because the ladies want to talk and because Alice cooked for us all. It's fair."
Emmett nodded my way. "What are you doing, Edward? Still hungry?"
I hesitated to answer Emmett's question. I wasn't sure what they knew about Bella's ulcer and fumbled for the right words as I opened the peanut butter. "Just making a special treat."
His brow furrowed slightly as he watched me begin to spread the peanut butter on the bread. "Um. Yeah, that's cool, just remember that…"
"Emmett?" Jasper called from his station at the kitchen sink. "Why don't you take the garbage out? And make sure the lid to the trash can is secure this time. I'm not cleaning up after scavengers again."
"Scavengers?" I asked, looking up at Emmett.
"Yeah. Bears." Emmett raised himself to an impressive full stance. "I chased one away once."
"Don't let him fool you, Edward. He chased off a raccoon." Jasper declared, not even turning away from the sink.
"No, man, I'm telling you it was a small bear."
"It was a big ass raccoon and you know it."
"You know no such thing because you stayed inside."
While the two men performing domesticated duties argued about what kind of fierce creature they may or may not have chased away one fateful night long ago, I finished making Bella's sandwich and quietly walked away from them.
As I went back outside, I was immediately greeted by the pleasant sound of Bella's laugh. She was joined by Alice and Rosalie and the three of them were lost in a shared moment, I almost hated to interrupt her joy. Her mood was infectious and I found myself smiling from ear to ear once again.
I paused behind her and reached over her shoulder to set the peanut butter sandwich in front of her.
Bella stopped laughing before she even looked down at her plate but it wasn't until I took my seat and could see her face that I realized something was wrong. My smile disappeared completely when I recognized her expression. It was the same repulsed look I'd seen in my car on the drive back to her father's house. I had done something wrong … again. This time I couldn't ignore the issue.
"What is it?"
Bella answered me quickly and she was tense.
"I'm allergic to peanuts, Edward. Do you mind taking this away? Please."
She had barely finished her sentence when I grabbed the plate away, cursing at myself in the process. All I could think about was getting the sandwich safely away from her but the guilt was overtaking me before I could make it back inside the cabin. I stopped and turned to look at her.
"I'm so sorry, Bella. I wish I'd known."
"It's alright. I should have said something about it before now."
The peanut butter cups in the car. I had offered her peanut butter cups and then gone on to eat some right there in the damn car, just inches away from her. The guilt finally expelled itself from my body as the pieces fell into place.
"Damn it. I can't believe I did that."
Bella shook her head at me and the look on her face made me wonder if she felt guilty somehow.
"It was my fault. I should have said something. Please don't blame yourself. I'm pretty used to dealing with it. It's ok. I promise."
The awkwardness of the moment began to expand between us and it was Bella who attempted to move us beyond it. I was amazed by the idea that she was attempting to comfort me.
"No harm's been done…then or now." She looked over at the sandwich and if I hadn't been so intent on trying to help her and failing miserably in the process, I might have found her expression comical. It looked as though she were trying to comprehend how anyone else could enjoy a food that made her violently ill. "I'm sure it's great. Really. You should save it for later."
"Yeah?" Was Bella really suggesting I should eat the sandwich? Did that mean she didn't want me anywhere near her for the rest of the night? Had I blown all my progress over a jar of peanut butter?
"Absolutely, Edward." Rosalie interjected. "You should have it. Of course…you won't be able to kiss Bella good night." My mind shut down at the suggestion and the moment was only made worse when Bella turned her attention to glare at her friend.
If Rosalie was making such comments out loud, my attraction for Bella was obvious to everyone. I turned and went back into the house, quietly. Slowly, I made my way to the kitchen island where I set Bella's plate down and found myself in conflict over a girl and her sandwich. I knew I wouldn't be eating peanut butter again for a long, long time. I was just about to toss the ugly thing into the trash when I was distracted by the sound of heavy footsteps ascending the porch stairs.
I turned my attention to the window just in time to see Bella's face break into a glowing smile as she jumped up in excitement from her chair at the dinner table. She was magnificent in that moment and I had no part in it.
"Jake!" Bella called out her friend's name as she approached and embraced him. I felt the knots in my stomach tighten like I'd taken a blow to the gut.
"I heard a rumor you were here." Jake's arms were wrapped tightly around Bella's waist as he swung her around in greeting. I mentally attempted to pry her from his grasp and failed miserably.
"Yeah. Alice talked me into the trip."
"Great. You and me on a bike ride tomorrow morning then?" He asked the question as he set Bella gently back onto her feet. I felt myself relax but only slightly. I waited for her to answer him, willing her to turn down his invitation. I selfishly wanted all her time.
"Absolutely." she nodded happily and I felt ashamed and jealous at all once. "It's tradition."
"Alright. I'll be over after breakfast. Hey, do you have any batteries? It'll save me a trip into town."
"I'm sure there are some in the pantry. Help yourself."
"Thanks." As Jake entered the cabin in a much too familiar manner, Bella turned and made eye contact with me. I'm not sure what my face conveyed, but Bella reacted by clearing her throat and readjusting her tee shirt before taking her seat once more at the table, her back turned to us both.
Jake paused on his way out of the pantry, batteries in hand, staring at me quizzically.
The less mature, infuriated side of my personality wanted to bark at him but my father's voice rolled through my head, sternly reminding me that this was a close friend of Bella's. This was someone who brought her happiness.
"Jake," I greeted him. "Good to see you again."
He crinkled his brow and tilted his head slightly before answering. "Edward? Right? From Charlie's funeral."
I nodded in confirmation but said nothing more.
Jake looked down to the plate that sat nearby. "Whatcha got there? Peanut butter?" He shook his head and glanced in Bella's general direction. "You're brave for even cracking the lid on that stuff around her."
I grimaced in response before the perfect solution occurred to me.
"Sorry you missed out on dinner, Jake. Why don't you take this with you?"
He began to raise his hands in protest but it was too easy to see that Jake was the type of guy who rarely turned down food. I quickly grabbed the knife and the jar of peanut butter to add an extra layer of enticement.
"No, I insist," I said as I extended the plate toward Jake, bristling internally at the not so mild hint of severity in my voice. Jake paused again, looking me in the eye. He had picked up on it too. He took one last look at Bella sitting outside on the deck, before grabbing the sandwich with one hand.
He consumed half of the sandwich in just two bites, his eyes locked on mine the entire time before he turned and exited the cabin in a rush.
"See you in the morning, Bella." Jake waved in her direction as he spoke to her with a mouthful of peanut butter. He kept his distance from her and I felt more than a little satisfaction by my success. Feeling smug, I grabbed a bottle of beer from the fridge as Jasper and Emmett watched in contemplative silence.
I sauntered back onto the porch and retook my seat next to Bella, watching Jake's retreating form with great happiness and couldn't help myself from remarking on my brilliance.
"I guess it's Jake who won't be kissing Bella tonight." I toasted myself and took a swig from the bottle.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Bella's head turn slightly toward me and somehow managed to hold my composure.
I had made my declaration. My plans had just been firmly established. If I had my way, Jake would be eating peanut butter sandwiches for the rest of the weekend.
It was late, but I found myself unable to sleep. I'd made the decision to stay the weekend at the cabin but somehow I couldn't relax. With the exception of my socks and shoes, I was still fully dressed and sitting on an unmade bed, my back against the headboard, trying to concentrate on a book I had randomly pulled off a shelf in the living room. I was rereading the same paragraph over and over and not understanding a word of it. My thoughts were unfocused on the story. My mind could only revolve around Bella and the fact that she was just across the hall from me, sleeping soundly.
I was still dressed because part of me was so amped up that I kept telling myself to go outside and run off the excess energy, but I kept sitting on the bed, trying to read because another part of me was too reluctant to stray very far from her. Something unknown held me firmly in place despite my agitation. When I first heard a muffled cry emanate from Bella's room, I thought I'd imagined it.
Nevertheless, I set the book down in my lap and leaned forward, straining to hear another sound.
Her second cry was unmistakable and I bounded off my bed without hesitation. I sped into the hallway and paused only long enough at her door to hear yet another shout emerge from inside her room.
I pushed through Bella's door and took in her writhing form on the bed. I stopped once again, uncertain about what kind of situation I was walking into. The thought crossed my mind that I had intruded on a private moment and I nearly backed out into the hallway before she would be able to detect me, causing us both embarrassment.
But when she whimpered once again, I realized she was crying out in distress, not pleasure.
She was asleep and it was then I realized she must have been having a nightmare.
I wanted to wake Bella but understood I might frighten her more in the process. As I walked around the side of her bed drawing closer to her, I pondered on the best strategy to wake her. Should I call out to her? Should I touch her gently on the shoulder? Should I just sit on the bed and hope my weight on the mattress would be enough to lure her into consciousness? I just didn't know.
All I knew was that she was continuing to cry out and I wanted her to feel safe. I slowly began to lower myself onto the edge of the bed when she yelled out loudly and sat upright, her eyes blinking in confusion and tears glistening in her eyes. Her fingers were gripping the bed sheet tightly but she lowered her head and took in a deep breath in an obvious effort to calm herself.
As seconds passed by, I remained still and held my own breath, concerned I would frighten her further with a single movement. When she detected my presence, I prepared myself for the worst possible reaction if only to remain calm and keep Bella's unease from escalating further.
When her eyes met mine, the accompanying silence was deafening, perplexing. I felt my brows furrow in near confusion as I watched the peace settle into her expression. I felt the air around us shift, the tension of her dream morphing into another delicious form of anticipation. I wanted to keep my attention riveted on her well-being and blinked in an attempt to clear my mind of intruding, all too pleasant thoughts.
As I blinked, I shifted my gaze downward and when I reopened my eyes, I realized for the first time she was sleeping in the nude. I should have torn my stare away from her chest immediately, but I was transfixed by her beauty. Bella was stunning and I watched as her body responded to my attentive eyes, her breaths shallow and her nipples hardening.
I pulled my gaze away and met her eyes once again, feeling ashamed for wanting Bella when she was under such stress. The next move was up to her. Whatever she asked of me next, I knew I would comply. I was captivated by Bella the first moment her cries had pierced my heart five weeks earlier. I would do anything she asked of me. And what happened next was beyond anything my wildest fantasies could have conjured.
The sheets were rumpled around her waist as her long, dark hair fanned around her face on the pillows beneath her. Her lips parted slightly and her breasts rose and fell steadily as her breaths calmed. I'd never seen anything so beautiful and all common sense was shoved aside so I could continue to bask in her boldness.
I moved slightly, in a last ditch effort to remove myself from the room - to do what I knew was the right and respectful thing. But when push came to shove, I simply couldn't do that. I could feel her want for me resonating around us. And I wanted her in return. I wanted to hold her in my arms, smell her scent, taste her body and feel her wonder all around me.
So I moved up the mattress, closer to everything that had suddenly become imperative to my existence. And even then I wasn't close enough to satisfy my desires.
I was about to lean down, to finally touch her and claim her as mine when Bella pulled her eyes away from mine. I froze, waiting for her next signal and felt excitement surge through me when her hand slowly moved over the sheets, closing in on my arm. When Bella's fingers curled around my wrist, I inhaled in relief and allowed my fingers to explore the soft, beckoning interior of her arm, inching them up until they rested next to her breast. I merely needed to fan my fingers out to touch the delicate swell of her chest. I was testing fate, pushing my limits of self-control.
I drifted my fingers up and down her arm, hoping to relax and satisfy us both and watched in captivation as Bella's eyes closed in response, her gorgeous face softening in her relaxed state. I took such pride in that moment, amazed by how my gentle touch was transforming the woman beneath me. Bella sighed and her hand began to move up my arm in reciprocation, sending a shiver of excitement through my body.
When her fingers dug into my forearm, the reality of the moment intruded our bliss.
"You're frightened." And part of me was frightened that Bella was affected by more than just her nightmare.
She nodded in confirmation and pulled on my arm. Pulling me toward her, asking me not to leave her.
"I'll stay," I promised her and it was the easiest promise I had ever made. Staying with Bella would be effortless and I watched her posture relax considerably. The fear of the moment finally drained away from her. It was exquisite to behold.
I watched in continued fascination as Bella let go of my arm and opened her eyes. I swallowed nervously, unsure what would transpire between us next, yet thrilled at the prospect that whatever took place we would decide together. Bella rose from the bed, drawing herself right next to me and I felt her breath tease my neck as she reached for the collar of my shirt, undoing the top button. Her fingers paused minutely and I knew she was seeking permission to continue to undress me. I remained still as a sculpture, willing her to continue on. Within moments, she was pushing my shirt open, back and over my shoulders. I shook my arms slightly only to ease the garment away from us sooner. Once freed, Bella held my shirt in her hands momentarily but to my happiness, she dropped it as soon as her eyes glimpsed my chest. I watched her face as she became transfixed with the shirt's free fall to the floor and made a mental note that I wanted to see her wearing my shirt the next morning.
I wanted to understand what that fascination was all about.
She was across from me, our bodies just out of reach of one another and we sat quietly for several moments, allowing an erotic tension to dance around us. So far Bella had been the aggressive one and now she was oddly still. I waited for her to reach out for me; just one touch of her fingertip was all that I needed. All I craved was one signal from her for me to move forward, to lose myself in her. Finally, I couldn't help myself. I reached forward and pulled her gently by the waist and to my relief, Bella relaxed beneath my grip.
I leaned into her body and simultaneously felt her breasts press up against me as I kissed her. Bella's fingers tickled my face as they explored my cheeks and jaw. She moved them upward slowly, delicately into my hair, massaging my scalp briefly before she tugged me closer to her. Her passion thrilled me. I licked her lip with my tongue carefully and Bella responded by opening her mouth to me. My desire for her exploded and yet I explored her slowly, savoring every twist and turn of our tongues. When she moaned into my mouth, the reverberation sent shivers throughout my body. Bella's grip on my hair grew stronger and I couldn't hold still for her any longer. My hands drifted away from her waist and around her hip, pausing to explore the dimples on her lower back. The urge to continue their descent, to grasp the roundness of her bottom nearly overtook me but somehow I found the will to move them in the opposite direction, up her slender frame and down again. I released myself from our kiss just long enough to vocalize my discovery of her.
"Your skin is beautiful. Smooth…soft."
She was the most beautiful woman I'd ever encountered and I would spend the rest of my life telling her so if she allowed me the opportunity. I wanted to tell Bella so many things in that moment, but the newness of her touch was irresistible and I succumbed to our kisses once again. She was becoming more excited and her desire was fueling mine, urging me to the point where I was losing all self-control and common sense. We were breathless and yet we couldn't pull away from one another. Before I could stop to think, I was pushing my chest against hers, using my body weight to lower her into the bed. There was no resistance from Bella and I understood she was as willing to lose herself to the moment as I was.
Bella held onto me tightly, allowing our bodies to fuse against one another, the tips of her breasts were hard against my chest and our frenzied movement on the mattress allowed her chest to explore my upper body in the most sensual experience of my life so far. I wanted Bella and I couldn't stop myself from grinding my hips into hers, offering myself a glimpse of how it would feel to push my body into hers. When she pushed back against me just as eagerly, I wanted to be surprised by her excitement, but I was distracted by the seductive movement of her left leg as she pulled it from underneath the covers and rested it behind my knee. She held me in place against her body as we continued to move against one another, our pleasure mounting. Bella was feeling emboldened and she extended her right leg so that it fell down the side of the mattress. She was opening her entire body to me, giving me the permission that I was seeking.
Deciding to slow things down with her was a difficult choice. Forcing myself to stop was nearly impossible. I wanted to consume every inch of her and groaned against her mouth as I remembered how I came to be in her room in the first place. Minutes ago, Bella had been asleep and frightened by something so powerful that I'd heard her crying out behind two closed doors. I'd come in to her room to comfort her, not take advantage of her vulnerability.
My hands glided up along the sides of her body and I slowed my kisses, allowing myself to gently disengage from her touch. I raised my body away from hers and waited until she opened her eyes before I spoke. There was an expression of dazed wonderment reflected back at me and I had to make her understand I was not rejecting her.
"I'm sorry, Bella. This isn't why I came in here."
I watched her reaction carefully as Bella took in a deep breath and felt immeasurable happiness when she gently placed the palm of her hand against my cheek. I leaned into her hand immediately, still recovering from the loss of contact.
"What happened in your dream?"
"I don't know, really. I was falling into darkness."
"I heard you from my room. I didn't know what was wrong but I wanted to help you."
"Will you stay with me?"
Nothing could keep me from leaving her but I merely nodded in response, keeping my overwhelming desire for Bella firmly in check. I needed to be with her but I also needed her comfortable, so I presented her with an offer.
"Of course. I'll go change and I'll be right back."
I wanted so much to undress and crawl into the bed with her but I didn't know if I could trust my own willpower. Before I could sit back up to leave, Bella rose up and pulled me back into her arms, making it perfectly clear that she shared my desires. My will began to crumble but I made one last attempt at resistance.
Her lilting laughter surprised me, but her words did not.
"I think we're past the point of modesty. Besides, this is how I always sleep."
Would it be so wrong? To lie naked with her so soon? To hold her in my arms the rest of the night? I stroked the skin of her back once again as I battled with these questions.
Bella turned to whisper in my ear and the combination of her breath, her warm soft skin and the conviction of her words eased my mind.
"I trust you, Edward."
I titled my head and felt our foreheads connect. I studied her intently. Her gorgeous face was set with determination and her eyes reflected nothing but sincere adoration for me. I watched her in awe as I observed a look I'd never seen in another woman's eyes before that moment. Whatever had unfolded between Bella and I was wholly unique, something entirely foreign, but holding this woman in my arms felt like the most natural thing I had ever experienced. Once I let her go, anything else would feel less right, less whole. I needed her and I needed her to feel safe. I would watch over her and protect her.
I would love her forever.
It was that realization that finally allowed me to let go of her and stand up from the bed.
I felt her eyes on me as I walked around the bed. Quietly, I turned my back to her and closed my eyes in thankful consideration as I unfastened my pants.
I heard Bella's body shift on the mattress but I resisted the temptation to watch her graceful movement. I wanted these precious moments of separation to refocus, to shift my attention away from the physical arousal of our encounter. I wanted nothing more than to hold her in my arms and lull her back into a restful sleep. I wanted her to feel how much I wanted to take care of her.
Once my pants were off and I placed them on the loveseat across from me, removing my boxers was simply a formality.
As I turned to face Bella, I briefly admired her curves before focusing on her face. The look in her eyes communicated her lingering desire for me and I was glad she found me as pleasing to look at as I was to behold her. I drew back the sheets and settled into the bed, lying on my back. I couldn't stop the fantasy of Bella sitting astride me, gently but repeatedly pushing me into the mattress with her sensual movements. I needed to keep my hands otherwise occupied before they could reach out in the moonlit room and pull her on top of me, to make my desire a reality.
I raised my arm above my head and patted my chest with the other hand.
"Let me hold you, Bella."
When her body melded into mine and our legs circled around one another, I relaxed considerably. Bella rested her head on my chest and I drew my arm down around her back, splaying my fingers around her hip. She moved her fingers softly, randomly through my chest hair and as she began to speak to me, I felt a satisfaction settle over me.
"Remind me to send Alice a nice bouquet of flowers."
Bella's words surprised me once again and I laughed, enjoying the serenity that surrounded us. "Why?"
"I wouldn't be here this weekend without her strolling into my office yesterday, insisting I take some time off and get away."
"Really? You hadn't planned on being here?"
She shook her head and I sought out her hand with my own. Our fingers tangled together carefully but we continually twisted them in a playful and relaxed manner. The lightness of the moment gave me the confidence to confess my own feelings.
"I didn't know I would be here either. I ran into Jasper this morning when I left the office to get a quick bite to eat. He asked what I was doing this weekend and I said nothing. He started talking about heading up to the mountains for a few days. He mentioned you would be coming along too and then he just asked me, spur of the moment, if I wanted to come along. As soon as your name was mentioned, I needed to be here."
Having revealed my true feelings, I waited and I watched in awe as Bella raised her head and rested her chin on my chest, locking her expressive eyes on mine. I had surprised her.
"I don't understand."
I looked deeply into her eyes and was amazed how her direct reciprocation of my gesture didn't force me to look away. I spoke honestly and from the heart, with no hint of hesitation.
"Bella, I care for you. I know we don't really know each other and I can't explain why this all feels so…"
"Right." Bella finished my thought for me and my heart began to race. I couldn't understand how it was possible for her to understand exactly what I was feeling for her. But I decided in that moment I didn't need to understand. I simply had to believe in her. In us.
"Exactly." I'd come this far, there was no reason to hold anything back from Bella now. Still, I felt a slight sense of nervousness and looked away from her as I made my full confession to her.
"I felt it from the moment you first spoke to me."
"I care for you too, Edward. I'm so happy you're here."
Relieved and glad to hear those words from this wonderful woman, I turned our bodies gently and our mouths connected once more as our arms tightened their hold around each other's bodies, solidifying the seriousness of the moment. I didn't need to speak another word and I didn't need to hear another word from Bella. I simply needed her reassuring touch. We didn't push our boundaries, we simply focused on our kiss and when it eventually ended, I asked Bella to sleep.
Her head relaxed against my chest as before and I traced my fingers against her back until long after I heard Bella's breathing settle into a slow, steady pattern.
It was only when I was wholly convinced she would sleep peacefully in my arms that I allowed myself to do the same.
I wish to thank Bronzehairedgirl620 for allowing me the opportunity to take part in fundraising for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
I would also like to thank everyone who donated to help her reach her fundraising goal. The generosity others have shown in this and many other fandom endeavors never fails to inspire and awe me.
As always, I need to thank my betas, GothicTemptress and Ishouldntbehere as well as my pre-reader, Morgan Locklear, for their efforts.
Finally, I wanted to apologize for taking so long to update Restless. Several unexpected real life events took place during the months of September and October and they all prevented me from sitting down to work on the Monday chapter of the story. But I'm happy to say I have finally begun writing the new chapter. I am very hopeful that it can post on Monday, November 14th.
I wish to thank everyone for their patience and understanding. I really am committed to finishing the story and just needed to clear my RL plate so I could devote my undivided attention to the couple at the cabin.