DISCLAIMER: ALL THINGS TWILIGHT BELONG TO STEPHENIE MEYER.
A/N: Thank you to my fabulous beta, Justine - you rock! This was written for the Truly Anonymous contest where it received an honorable mention.
Cigarette smoke always reminds me of him. The pungent smell. The way it would curl up around his fingers and across his face.
I don't miss the smoke, not really, but it brings on floods of memories. Memories of the first time I saw smoke billow past those perfect lips… Memories of tobacco scented fingers caressing my skin…
I close my eyes to the world around me, blocking the sights of the rundown city that has grown up around my once peaceful neighborhood, blocking out the young man pulling languidly on his cigarette responsible for setting off the flood of memories in the first place.
I breathe deeply, letting the acrid smell fill my nostrils. The familiar smell takes me to another place...another time. A time when my hair was still a warm chocolate brown and my skin was smooth as silk. A time before all the modern hustle and bustle, where kids are handed everything and do nothing. A time where if you didn't work, you didn't eat. My time - 1933.
The newspapers called it a depression, and I agree. There was very little to be happy about in those days. Food was scarce, jobs even more so.
Daddy had gone west to the coast and found a job with a logging company in Washington. He sent home money, but it wasn't enough, there were simply too many mouths to feed.
Momma saved a quarter every time Daddy sent money. She put it in a sock and hid it in the bureau. I soon found out what it was for…
Two days after my sixteenth birthday, Momma came to me just after breakfast, pushed a worn pillow case and that old sock into my hand.
"There's a loaf of bread, five apples, a change of clothes, and four and a half dollars in the sock. You're old enough to care for yourself now, Bella."
There was no fanfare, or teary goodbyes. That's just how life was. I wasn't the first kid to be sent from home—many families were sending their older children off to fend for themselves, to lighten the burden in order to feed the younger ones. A quick hug from Momma and each of my four younger siblings, and I was out the door. I felt guilty with my pillowcase of food, knowing my family would have to tighten their belts further for the next few days to give me that food, so I did my best to make it last.
I knew there were no jobs in the area, leaving me with one choice—travel.
Trains were really the only option. I had heard stories of people hopping trains. The better of those being people who rode for days undetected, and the…not so good ones of people who misstepped while jumping aboard and were crushed beneath the massive iron wheels. I didn't know anything about hopping trains, or the best place to try and hop one, but I did know one thing: I needed to be near the tracks to do it.
It was quiet, people going about their usual business as I made my way through, heading for the tracks on the far side of town.
I heard enough talk around town to know train-hopping in broad daylight was asking for trouble, so I knew I needed to find a place to lie low until nightfall.
I took shelter in the woods near the tracks, far enough in to be unseen but close enough to the tracks to be able to see the comings and goings of the iron beasts.
That day was so warm; I remember the feel of the grass sticking to my sweaty legs where I sat on the ground...I hated that feeling.
When the sun set, I edged as close to the tracks as I dared, listening and waiting for a sign of a train. I didn't wait long as our town had trains passing through regularly. After passengers and cargo had been loaded, the wheels began their slow grind and the cars started to slide past me. I made my way to the edge of the grade, waiting for an opportunity to board. I spied what I had hoped for—a boxcar with an open door. The gravel crunched and slipped under my worn shoes as I began running alongside my way out of town.
My bag was the first thing that made it into the darkened space of the boxcar. My first attempt to find a grip to hoist myself up failed. Either the warm, humid night or my nerves made my palms slick, making it impossible for my fingers to find purchase. My legs were beginning to ache from the effort I expended trying to keep up with the train. I had enough energy for one more attempt. I prayed I could get a solid grip this time. If I failed, it meant the loss of my few precious possessions and possibly my life. My second try I was able to get my fingers between the floorboards and kick my heels up as well. I thought I was home free until the board began pulling free beneath me. I remember thinking that was it for me. I was dead, but unbeknownst to me, my efforts had been observed, and this hidden stranger—my savior—came to my rescue. Just when I started feeling myself fall, a hand grabbed the back of my shirt and pulled me inside.
I lay facedown panting for what felt like hours, almost too afraid to move. While I was extremely thankful for my mystery rescuer, it also meant I wasn't alone on my journey, and not knowing who my companion might be had my nerves on edge.
"Skirts ain't smart for train jumpin'." The voice startled me, not by its presence, but by the fact it was female.
After getting my bearings and pushing myself to a seated position, I was able to make out a small figure in the moonlight coming through the open door.
Had I seen this person on the street, I would have passed them off as a boy of about eleven, but as my eyes adjusted to the dim light, it was clear it was a girl before me. Baggy denim pants held up with suspenders and an oversized shirt hid her form. When she noticed me looking at her, she removed an aged newsboy cap to reveal blunt-cropped blonde hair.
"I'm Jane. Who are you?"
There was no exchange of pleasantries; Jane didn't seem to be interested in conversation.
After securing my pillowcase of belongings(,) I found a corner opposite Jane and made myself as comfortable as possible.
I had never slept away from home before, so falling asleep didn't prove easy.
That first night sleeping in a strange and uncomfortable, not to mention moving, place was restless. I woke up many times and each time I did, Jane was sleeping soundly. I wondered how long it look her to get used to sleeping on a train, and I wondered if I would get a chance to ask; every time I woke I expected Jane to be gone.
That first morning waking up was rough, too. Nothing compares to the jolt of train brakes, especially when they wake you from a fitful sleep.
"You better gather yo' stuff quick. This train is fixin' to stop, and we better be outta this car before they check 'em," Jane told me. She was already sitting in the doorway, her own tattered pillowcase slung over her back, preparing to jump.
I scrambled from my spot on the floor as fast as my stiff legs would let me and joined Jane in the doorway, eyeing the ground speeding beneath us with fear.
"Are you really going to jump?" I asked.
"How else do ya think we'll get off this thing?"
Truth was I hadn't thought about much. I hadn't exactly been expecting to be kicked out of my home. I wasn't angry with my momma for her decision, I understood, but that didn't stop me from feeling lost and alone.
"Wait until the train slows, then before the depot...we jump." Jane said this with the matter-of-fact tone of someone who had done this many times, and I figured she probably had.
The screech of metal on metal became louder, and I could see the sparks flying up from the wheels as the brakes strained to bring the train to a stop.
The train continued to slow, enough that a fast runner could have kept pace.
I followed Jane's lead, standing in the open doorway.
"You ready?" Jane asked.
I nodded, but it was a lie. Ignorance can be an ally at times, allowing you to do things you wouldn't do if you had the knowledge.
Jane coiled herself, like a cat ready to pounce, and then she was gone. She made it look easy—jump, roll, get up.
Ignorance made me jump and knowledge came when my knee met the ground, ripping my flesh. Knowledge came when twigs and rocks pierced my palms and the ground pummeled my body as I rolled across it.
Once the bouncing and rolling stopped, the pain started—throbbing in my knees, my hands, my ribs.
"Told you skirts ain't smart." When I looked toward Jane's voice she was already on her feet, her rough denim pants hardly worse for the wear and, other the a few new scrapes across her hands, one couldn't tell she had just jumped from a train.
She helped me to my feet and then looked me up and down. "You best clean yo'self up and try and find some work, if you wanna keep eatin'."
Her words sounded like a goodbye and, though I didn't know her, I also didn't want to be alone.
"Wait!" I called after her as she walked off. She never looked back, just kept walking, and I was hurting too much to attempt to keep up with her.
I never saw Jane again. I thought of her on occasion over the years. What happened to her? How she lived her life…?
I washed my wounds as best I could in a nearby stream before getting on my way.
I opted to not bother with the first town, instead I chose to make my way back to the tracks and follow them. The town Jane and I landed in wasn't much to brag about and it didn't appear there would be much in the way of jobs. I kept to the tracks, knowing sooner or later I would come to another town.
After a couple hours of walking my feet ached and the sun beat down mercilessly. I needed rest and water.
The trees in the distance proved an ideal spot for rest. I found a small rock outcropping with a little ledge - enough for me to crawl under and get out of the sun.
The whistle of a distant train woke me with a start - I didn't even remember falling asleep.
It had been hours since I lay down. I dug an apple from my bag, satisfying my hunger and some of my thirst.
My body hurt and stretching was painful; there was no way I was going to be jumping another train, at least not anytime soon.
It was too late to start off again, so I chose to stay put and nurse my wounds.
Waking up the second time was no easier. I was stiff and my knees were swollen, but my food wouldn't last long so I needed to keep moving, to find some kind of work.
That day was slow going. I couldn't walk very fast and had to make frequent stops. I hadn't run into another town or even another person, for that matter.
There was nothing but grass and trees and train tracks for as far as I could see.
A late afternoon rain slowed me down some, but the water felt good on my overheated skin. The rain kept on well into the evening, forcing me to stop and seek shelter in some dense undergrowth and hope I would reach a town the following day.
My body was still aching when I set out the next day - sleeping on soggy ground didn't make for a good night's rest.
It's was well into the afternoon when I first spotted a glint in the distance. The sun was beating down again making the air feel thick and heavy. At first I thought maybe I was imagining it, but then I saw it again. The sun was definitely reflecting off some kind of metal in the distance. As I got nearer to where I could see the glint, an old run down farm came into view. It didn't appear anyone still lived there. Most of the windows were broken and the front door was hanging off the hinges. The fields surrounding the house were brown and dry. The previous day's rain had been only a teaser. If this area was anything like my home, it had been a long time since there were days of good, soaking rain.
I walked up to the lonely house, hoping the family that once lived left something—anything—I could use.
Dust was thick on the floor when I entered - a clear sign that no one had been there in a while. Of course there was no food of any kind, but I did find an old tin cup. It was missing a handle, but I could still use it and it was much better than trying to cup water from a stream with my hand. I also found a threadbare quilt. I didn't know how much warmth it would provide, but it would be something to lie on. Happening upon that house gave me hope that I was close to a town and I decided to press on rather than stay in the abandoned house.
A few more hours of walking and I found myself on the edge of a small town.
I had no idea where I should go or what I should do. Night was fast approaching and getting something more substantial to eat than stale bread was in the forefront in my mind. A small roadside food stand had just what I was looking for - a bowl of soup and half a sandwich. The sun was near setting when I walked from the food stand into town, hoping a place to sleep would present itself.
There were still people out going about their business; they didn't talk to me and I didn't talk to them. Having no other option, I made my way to the train depot, hoping there would be a bench outside I could sleep on and perhaps even another train I could jump.
The depot was empty, the board out front telling me the last train of the day left several hours prior. There was a bench on the side of the depot, out of site of the nearby road—a perfect place for me to rest.
It didn't take me long to fall asleep. My body was weary from a long day of walking.
Later it was to the sounds of raucous laughter I woke up.
When I opened my eyes, the light of dawn was streaking the sky. The laughter that had woken me was close by, coming from a group gathered near the tracks. There were a couple girls and six or seven boys, passing a brown bottle between them...all appearing to be drunk. Being as quiet as possible, I stuffed the quilt inside my pillowcase, hoping to slip away unnoticed. My hopes were dashed when I heard voices and footsteps approaching.
"Well lookit here, boys… Look at this little gal over here." The slurred words brought fear into my heart.
"Hey, girl, come on over here."
I ignored the request, flung my pillowcase over my shoulder, and turned to leave.
The group had wondered closer than I realized and I found my way blocked.
"Stay and have a drink with us, girl."
Three of the boys from the group were surrounding me and closing in.
I backed away only to run into the depot wall, left with no way to escape.
They continued to close in, drunken smiles on their faces. I was so frightened I wasn't even able to scream, just clench my eyes and wait for what was coming next.
"Step away from her."
The voice beyond the crowd was deep with a hint of growl and caused the advancing boys to stop.
When they turned to look, I caught a glimpse of the mystery man. Had I been able to breathe properly, I would have gasped. I had never seen anything like him before, not only was he unusually tall, but he was uncommonly handsome - beautiful really.
A cap was pulled low over bronzy auburn hair and smoke curled up around his face from the cigarette perched precariously in his lips.
He gave the cigarette a flick and walked slowly toward the boys gathered around me, never taking his eyes from their faces. The boys backed away further as the stranger stepped to my side and placed his arm around my waist, pulling me close to his side.
I was completely taken off guard when he leaned down to whisper in my ear, his voice surprisingly soft, "Lean into me, try to look comfortable." All I could do was nod and do what he requested. The mystery man hugged me tighter to him and turned his gaze back to the boys. "If there's nothing you boys need, I'll kindly ask you to leave me and my gal alone." His voice was low and soft, but with an edge that made you believe him.
Whether it was their initial intention, or their fear of the glowering man at my side, the group took their leave, glaring at the both of us in their retreat.
"What are you doing out here alone?" he asked when they were out of earshot.
His voice sent a jolt through me, and I quickly pulled away from his grip to stare into his face, my heart pounding wildly. I was surprised to find his bright green eyes full of concern, and though I was thankful for his aide, I was frightened to think of what he might want with me.
When I didn't answer immediately, the man stepped away, hands raised cautiously, as if to show me he wouldn't strike me, and he sat on the bench that was to be my bed for the night.
"I'm sorry if I scared you by being so forward, you just looked like you were in trouble. Please, sit down. I promise I won't hurt you."
Even now, I'm not sure what made me believe him; maybe the soft, pleading look in his eyes or the sincere tone in his voice. Whatever it was, I believed he wouldn't hurt me, so I joined him on the bench.
"Can I see you safely home?" he asked.
"I don't have a home anymore." I dropped my gaze when I spoke, ashamed of the tears beginning to form in my eyes.
He didn't say a word in response and after a few moments of silence I raised my eyes to look at him. His eyes were fixed on my face, sadness and understanding within their depths. "I'm sorry to hear that," he murmured.
I didn't know how to respond to him, so I didn't, and we both remained silent.
"You look like you've been roughed up a bit," the man said, leaning forward, jerking a thumb toward my cut and bruise covered legs.
My face went red when I realized my skirt had ridden up, exposing my knees. I quickly tugged at the fabric until it covered my damaged skin.
"I...I had a slight disagreement with the ground while disembarking a moving train."
To my surprise he laughed out loud. "I've never heard train jumping described so eloquently."
I watched him in wonder, his beauty before was nothing compared to the beauty of him smiling. It made my heart ache, made me want him to keep smiling for however long I was gifted with his presence.
"So where are you bound, my fellow train jumper?"
"Not sure," I told him. "Not even sure where I am now."
"You're in Missouri," he informed me. "What do you say to a partnership, Miss…?"
"Swan. Bella Swan. What kind of partnership?" The nerves were back. I wasn't a woman of the world by any means, but I knew the kinds of things most men wanted from a woman.
"I'm pleased to meet you, Bella Swan. I'm Edward Cullen. I thought perhaps we could travel together. I can offer you protection so you won't have a repeat of this morning. It really isn't safe for you to travel alone."
"And what do you expect of me in return?" My imagination ran wild, thinking of the things he might expect from me.
The pink that crawled up his neck and into his cheeks told me he knew what I was implying. "Just companionship...someone to talk to."
There was a sad tone to his voice, and it made me wonder what his story was.
"I would like that," I confessed.
I was rewarded with another dazzling smile, and we sat staring at each other, me lost in a dreamy haze. A distant whistle warned of an impeding train, pulling me into reality.
"Sounds like our ride is coming. Let's put some distance between us and the depot. You ready to run?"
I nodded and sent up a silent prayer that I wouldn't fall or make a fool of myself.
After retrieving a knapsack he left sitting a few feet away, Edward set a quick pace into the trees along the track, and I did my best to keep up with him.
The sound of screeching wheels filled the air as we moved further from the depot. Once we reached a bend in the tracks, Edward stopped. "This is a good place to wait," he told me. "When the train comes, wait until I tell you to start running. I'll jump on first and then help you."
We waited in silence, each passing moment twisting my nerves more and more.
After what seemed like hours, the long, shrill whistle of the final boarding call filled the air and not long after the vibrating rumble of the advancing train could be felt through the earth.
I gave Edward a quick nod. I was as ready as I would ever be.
We stepped to the edge of the trees as the engine passed our view. Once the engine disappeared around the bend Edward shouted for me to start running and I didn't hesitate. I followed him up the small incline to the track grade, my legs pumping hard to keep up with his long stride.
The train was picking up speed, car after car was passing, and we had yet to find an open door. I was beginning to wonder if we would be able to jump this train at all.
When I thought my legs couldn't go any more, an open door passed us. Edward increased his speed and reached the open boxcar, swinging up inside the car with ease. I pushed myself as hard as I could to catch that boxcar, Edward hanging out the door urging me to run just a little faster. With a final rush of energy, I pushed myself forward, my fingertips stretching toward Edward's palm. His hand closed around my wrist and with a jerk he pulled me straight up into the boxcar.
We both lay panting side by side, exhausted by our efforts.
"Are you alright?" Edward finally asked me.
Scrambling to sit up, I assured him I was fine and thanked him for his help.
The boxcar we were in was half filled with barrels of cargo, and I watched with curiosity as Edward began shifting them around, making a small alcove amongst the stacks of barrels.
"What are you doing?" I asked, my curiosity getting the better of me.
"Making a little wall. I thought you might like some privacy, plus it will provide some protection from the wind."
I curled up in the corner of the small room Edward created while he stayed on the other side.
After several moments it became obvious Edward wasn't going to join me in the space, so I called out to him, "It's difficult to be company to you when you're out there and I'm in here."
A small chuckle and shuffling of feet and Edward's head was poking around the makeshift wall.
"I didn't want to assume anything."
I motioned for him to sit.
He stretched his long frame in front of the mock doorway, close enough for us to talk, but still leaving space between us.
We talked for hours. Edward told me all about his family; how his father had been a banker, and how when the market collapsed in 1929, they had lost everything. The bank his father worked in went under and his father lost his job. The mortgage for their home, as well as their savings were all in the same bank. Another bank took over the mortgage holdings, but their savings were forever lost. Edward's father had been unable to find another banking job and wasn't able to keep up with the mortgage payment. Edward told me about his sadness at having to leave his childhood home and how much he detested the tiny apartment they rented. His whole family went to work then, all trying to find odd jobs here and there. I listened with tears in my eyes as he told me of his father's dwindling hope and growing despondency, ending with him taking his own life. Edward's voice was barely a whisper at that point, and I had no words to express my abject horror at that kind of loss. He went on with his story, telling me how his mother succumbed to grief and was placed in a state sanitarium, leaving Edward on his own. The apartment was lost and all he had left was what he could fit in his canvas knapsack.
My heart ached for him and all he had lost.
"What about you?" he asked after a few moments of silence. "What's your story?"
With a deep sigh, I relayed to him the story of my father losing his job and heading west to find work. I told him about leaving school to help my mother with the laundry she took in to help keep us all fed. I even told him how scared and hurt I was when my mother sent me from the only home I had ever known.
We slipped into silence after that. For my part, I was lost in my own thoughts, and Edward appeared to be lost in his as well.
Days passed and we jumped on and off trains and shared what little food we had between us. I enjoyed Edward's company. He laughed easily and smiled often and I found myself looking at him with longing. I wanted to be more than just company for him.
It wasn't until we reached the Kansas/Oklahoma line that we ran into any trouble. Just thinking about it makes me shudder to this day.
We had run out of food and the little money we had dwindled fast. Finding any type of work had been almost impossible as that area was hit hard by drought and farm foreclosures.
Edward's first priority had been to find us some kind of shelter. It didn't take us long to find a "Hooverville" near the rail yard. Mismatched tin and scrap-wood huts and a few tents were scattered in an open space across a rutted dirt road from the rail yard. Edward approached and spoke to a grizzled old man sitting by a fire, asking him where he could find building materials and work. The old man told Edward all the shelters had been built from scavenged material, either from garbage heaps or abandoned farms. "And as far as jobs," he said, "good luck."
Edward had wanted me to stay in the camp and rest while he went looking for scrap material, but I wouldn't have any part of that.
After hours of walking who knew how many miles, we managed to get ourselves a decent pile of scraps. I was amazed to see how Edward was able to take a seemingly useless pile of junk and turn it into a small, but adequate shelter.
Our dinner that night consisted of cold water and an old, hard biscuit each. It wasn't very filling, but we were very grateful to the old hobo for sharing what little he had with us.
When night fell, I climbed into the small lean-to. Edward stayed outside, sitting around the fire with some of the other residents of the makeshift camp.
I fell asleep quickly, despite the hard ground under my thin quilt.
I woke in the night, unsure why. Edward hadn't yet joined me in the lean-to and it worried me. I could still hear the murmur of voices outside. When I poked my head out of the small doorway, Edward was still sitting by the fire, his only company the old man we met when we first arrived.
"Someone's missing you, boy." The old man inclined his head in my direction. Edward turned in my direction, flashing a brilliant smile.
"If I had a pretty little wife like that, I wouldn't be out here with me." The old man laughed out loud, and Edward and I both blushed.
"Good night, Alistair. It was nice talking with you."
Alistair bobbed his head as Edward walked away, joining me in our small shelter.
"I was worried about you," I whispered.
"I was just trying to give you some space. It's kind of cramped in here. I'll try and find some more scraps tomorrow and make this place bigger," he told me as he lowered himself to the ground, curling up on his side in front of the door.
"Edward, please come sleep over here. I know this quilt isn't much, but it's better than the ground."
His face showed disbelief in the dim light.
"Are you sure?" he asked.
I scooted over and patted the cloth covered ground as my answer.
We fell asleep facing each other, a few feet apart, both of us smiling.
When I woke in the morning, I was snuggled into Edward's side, his arm slung across my waist.
Even now, all these years later, I can still feel his warm body next to mine.
Alistair had been right to wish us luck in finding work, it was almost impossible. Edward didn't want to jump another train until we were able to store up a few days' worth of food.
Each day we set out roaming business to business asking for work, most people were very polite when they turned us down. A few would take pity on us, giving us crusts of bread, moved, I'm sure, by the hunger that was beginning to show in our faces. I felt terrible for Edward. He was a large man, forced to exist on food that wasn't enough to satisfy a child. As often as I could, I gave him the larger share of whatever food we got, but he usually caught me and insisted I take my fair share.
We had been a week in the camp with no real luck in finding a job in town. Edward suggested we try some of the residences, to see if anyone had any work we could do.
We had about the same luck with the homes as the businesses. There just wasn't work to be had. We roamed out further to the more rural areas, hoping to find anything.
It was late afternoon when we came to the drive of a small farm about a half mile out of town. The fields were dry and brown, but there was a small garden near the door - maybe they needed help weeding...anything that would get us a little food.
I waited halfway down the lane as Edward walk to the house. He insisted I do this; some people were not as polite as others, and he didn't want me exposed to the crass language.
I sat down on the shriveled grass beside the lane, weary from a long day. I felt like I could almost doze off until I heard raised voices.
I looked up with a start to see a man swinging a stick at Edward and the blow landing hard across his raised arm.
"Get off my property, filthy beggar!" the man screamed, continuing to rain blows down on Edward. He staggered backward trying to get away from the man swinging furiously at him.
The man was advancing faster than Edward could back away, and Edward's promises of being willing to work fell on deaf ears. The man kept swinging.
Everything happened in seconds before I even had time to react.
Edward lost his footing, slipping backward until he hit the ground. The man with the stick didn't stop once; the blows kept coming and coming.
I don't know what I was thinking at the time, maybe I wasn't thinking at all. I took the old worn pillowcase I always carried with me and stuffed it under my skirt, giving me the rounded look of a woman with child and went stumbling toward the house.
"Stop! Please Stop!" I cried out as I made my way closer.
I don't know if my voice startled the man to his senses, or if he finally got tired of hitting Edward, either way he stopped and without a word or look went into the house.
I knelt at Edward's side as he tried to sit up. He fell back with a groan, clutching his ribs. Cuts and welts covered his arms, a spot on his cheek was starting to bruise, and blood trickled from a split on his lip.
Tears sprang to my eyes at the sight of Edward's battered body.
Before I could ask him everywhere he was injured the door opened again.
This time a woman stepped into the yard. She came and stood on Edward's other side, looking him over. When her eyes landed on me, a look of horror filled them and she quickly turned on her heel and marched back into the house.
"Can you move?" I asked Edward quietly. He nodded and I helped him as he struggled to sit up.
The door opened again, the woman stepped back into the yard. She walked right to me and pressed a small bundle wrapped in cloth into my hands.
"I'm so sorry," she whispered. "He gets that way when the bottle gets him."
Her voice held a note of sadness that made me think his blows usually landed on her.
I thanked her and watched her walk back into her house.
With great effort I was able to get Edward to his feet. He leaned heavily on me as we made our way back down the lane.
I don't know how long it took us to get back to our camp, but it was long passed dark.
Edward had broken out in a cold sweat with effort to keep himself upright.
Alistair approached when we entered the camp. "You been roughed up pretty good, boy."
All I could do was nod, feeling near collapse myself.
The elderly man disappeared for a moment into his own hut and returned with a dirty, patched quilt that he offered to me.
"Ain't much, but you're welcome to it. He needs rest and so do you, especially in your condition," he told me with a wink.
I blushed deeply. I had forgotten the bundle stuffed under my skirt.
He laughed loudly. "No shame in trying to get a meal. Both of you rest, and holler if you need anything."
We made our way into our shelter, Edward collapsing almost as soon as we were in the door.
I took Alistair's quilt and spread it on the ground. It was a bit thicker than the one I had, and it would make a softer bed for Edward.
"Edward, can you roll over onto the quilt?"
He acknowledged my words with a quiet moan, moving himself until he was on the quilt.
Though I was exhausted myself, I wanted to clean the cuts on Edward's arms and face.
I dug through his knapsack to find the canteen he kept there and taking the old sock that had once held my money, I began dabbing the cuts on his arms.
I thought he had fallen asleep until I reached one of the deeper cuts causing him to wince in pain.
"Sorry," I whispered.
His hand sought mine, removing the old piece of cloth I held. "Lie down. You're tired." He emphasized his words with a gentle tug on my hand.
"Let me clean your face first," I told him taking the worn material back and rewetting it.
I could feel his gaze on me as I shifted closer to him, sitting so I could place his head across my legs. His eyes never left my face as I pressed the cloth to his bruised cheek, being careful not to cause him more pain. My fingers lingered on his face, gently tracing the edge of the puffed wound before moving the cloth to the dried blood on his lips, wiping all traces of it from his face.
Things changed with us that night. Words were unnecessary - I could see in his eyes his feelings for me, and he seemed to have no doubt how deep the feelings behind my gentle touches went.
It took a week of being laid up in our little hut before Edward felt he was strong enough to attempt jumping another train.
The little bundle the woman had given us held some dried meat, a loaf of bread, and several apples - a godsend that, with careful rationing, lasted us the week Edward recuperated.
We walked away from the camp two and a half weeks after arriving, my hand held firmly in his.
Despite my objections Edward walked us into town to see what money we could get for a gold pocket watch that had been his father's.
I was amazed when he was able to get the sum of eighteen dollars for it.
I can't help but see the humor in eighteen dollars changing someone's life, seeing as now I have more than that in my pocket book and I could throw it in the garbage and never miss it.
At that time, though, that money was everything to Edward and me. It enabled us to build up a stock of food, buy some much needed cloth and thread, and even have a little to save for later.
Edward and I made our way further west and then north jumping on and off trains until we finally landed in the city of Denver, Colorado.
Finding another camp was easy, and scrap wood and metal were much easier to come by in a large city. Work was also easier to come by. We still had to roam business to business and house to house, but we were both able to find regular work. Most days we were lucky enough to find work together, always posing as a married couple.
After two months of hard work and careful saving we had a good amount of money saved up, enough that we could make our front official.
On the thirteenth of August, 1933, Edward rented a room at small boarding house, I went upstairs alone to bathe properly for the first time since leaving home and slip into a simple, but new, dress I had been able to buy with our saved money. I dried my hair the best I could with the rough towel and then brushed and brushed until I removed every snarl. I carefully pinned my hair in a low, loose bun and pinched my cheeks to add a touch of color.
I don't know where Edward had cleaned up, but when I came down stairs he was waiting for me, freshly scrubbed and shaved and looking particularly handsome.
We walked eagerly to the courthouse and exchanged simple, timeless vows - nothing fancy, and it was perfect.
Edward took me to a lovely restaurant that night. It wasn't elegant by any means, but the food was good and after never being able to eat your fill for months and months on end, having a full stomach was pure heaven.
When we returned to our rented room no words were exchanged - he knew what I wanted...what I needed.
His hand was sure and steady as it skimmed up my thigh, his long fingers wrapping nearly all the way around and his thumb stroking the sensitive skin.
He was slow and gentle with me, kissing and sucking across my flesh until I thought I would lose my mind with desire.
I expected pain when he entered me, but there was none. There was a gentle pressure and a satisfying fullness, and the intense pleasure at the release of pent up longing my body had held for his for months.
We made love long into the night, stopping occasionally to catch our breath or take a sip of water, but there seemed no need for sleep...only a need for each other.
As August turned to September Edward began to worry about the coming winter with us living in our little pieced together hut.
We had both heard the stories about plentiful work on the produce farms of California and three short weeks after we were married we hopped another train and began our journey west.
It took us three more weeks of travel before we reached the California coast. We had stopped jumping trains near the Nevada/California line after I told him my suspicions that I was pregnant, and we relied on walking and hitch hiking from that point on.
We spent the next month roving from one fruit farm to another, mostly picking the different harvests. It was November of 1933 and I was beginning to show. Many farmers were hesitant to hire us when they saw my condition and the money we had built up was quickly beginning to dwindle.
I let out my dress a little, hoping to mask my growing body, and Edward and I kept searching.
My ruse worked for a while, landing us several more jobs picking fruit, it was in one of those fields we learned of an opportunity that changed our lives forever.
A Christmas tree farmer west of Los Angeles was looking for a husband and wife team to work on his farm. He needed a strong man to help him with his trees and he wanted help around the house for his wife - the only catch was his wife had to approve and apparently she was very hard to please.
Edward got the information on the location of the farm and we hitchhiked to it.
We arrived at McCarty Farms with a spare change of clothes each, two worn quilts, a couple of old pots and twelve dollars.
Mr. Emmett McCarty met us in front of a small, tidy white house, and he and Edward talked about expected duties and wages. Mr. McCarty gave me an up and down look his eyes full of doubt and I feared we wouldn't be getting this job. A strong gust of wind came up pulling my dress tight around my gently rounding belly, making my condition evident to all.
A sharp tap brought all of our attention to a lovely blonde woman sitting at one of the windows of the house. I hadn't noticed her before, but I felt certain she had been watching the whole time.
"Mrs. McCarty would like to speak with you. Wait here."
We watched as Mr. McCarty held open the door and Mrs. McCarty appeared. She was as strikingly beautiful as she appeared from the window, but her need for an aide was evident now that she was in front us. Metal and leather braces were strapped to her legs and she walked with the aide of two canes. I would learn later that she had been struck by polio when she was twelve.
Mrs. Rosalie McCarty didn't beat around the bush, she got right to the point. "When are you due?"
I told her I figured late May to early June. She eyed me for several more moments, her gaze so piercing it felt like she was looking into my soul.
She finally turned to her husband and gave him a nod.
We started work that same afternoon, Edward out in the rows of tiny trees and me inside, cleaning and cooking for the McCarty's.
We became fast friends with Emmett and Rosalie, living and working side by side, and when our son Anthony was born they were like second parents to him.
It was an arrangement that stayed the same for ten years. The hours we worked were long and hard, but filled with love and the feeling of close-knit family.
In 1945, Emmett made Edward an equal partner in the farm, and the three girls that followed Anthony helped me continue to care for Rosalie, though it was out of love at that point rather then obligation.
By 1955, Anthony and our five farm hands were taking over much of the hard physical labor, leaving the business part to Edward, and giving Emmett more time with Rosalie, whose health was rapidly failing. She held on for two more years before finally passing away in her sleep. To this day I still miss her.
In 1970, Edward officially retired, turning the farm over to Anthony and his growing family. Emmett stayed on, continuing to live in the little white house. He said he could never leave the home he had brought his bride to.
"Mrs. Cullen…Mrs. Cullen." The sudden calling of my name jolts me from my memories and I find that I'm sitting on the sickly green seats of the city bus. I don't even remember boarding.
"Mrs. Cullen, we're at your stop." The bus driver gives me a kind look as I struggle to my feet, purse, flowers, and cane in hand.
I hobble down the path, my cane making a distinct tap every time it hits the pavement. My eyes survey the familiar scene: slabs of stone raising from the grass, some smooth arches, others blunt rectangles - each bearing the name of some loved one. My feet know which path to travel, down toward pine trees next to the pond - he loved his trees. When I reach the right spot, I lay my cane aside and sink to my aged knees. I place the stem of freesia, his favorite, on the grass in front of his stone. The tears come like they do every week when I visit, making their moist paths across my wrinkled skin. Pressing my fingers to the cold, indifferent marble, I trace the letters on the stone.
Edward A. Cullen - Devoted Husband and Father.
"I miss you, love. Soon. I will be with you soon...I can feel it."
I wipe my eyes and struggle to stand, leaning heavily on my departed husband's grave.
"Let me give you a hand, ma'am." The distinct southern twang draws my attention.
To my great surprise, I find myself looking up at the young man I had noticed smoking earlier in the day.
I have no idea why he is here in this cemetery, but I gladly accept his kind assistance.
"Thank you, young man."
"No problem, ma'am. Can I walk you to the front gate?"
I gladly take his offered arm, thankful for the help.
"Do you have a loved one here, dear?"
"Sort of, Mrs..." He trails off.
"Cullen. Mrs. Cullen."
"My loved one works in the cemetery office. Alice."
I can't help but chuckle aloud. I have gotten to know Alice Brandon quite well in the year since my husband's passing.
"You must be Jasper then."
"Jasper Whitlock, ma'am."
I feel oddly grateful to this young man. It's been a long time since I thought about how I met my husband. I needed that today.
"Would you like to hear the story of how I met husband?"
"Yes, ma'am," he tells me.
I pat his hand affectionately as he leads me into the cemetery office.
"Have a cup of tea with me, Mr. Whitlock, and let me tell you all about my Edward."
A/N: Thanks so much for reading!