Once upon a time, in the tiny little town called Forks, there was a man whose name was Edward...
"I think you just like to watch me reach for the top shelf, Bea."
The short, white-haired woman grins devilishly, baring a set of pearly-white dentures. "Goodness me, no. I'm old enough to be your grandmother," she clucks, blushing like a girl half her age.
Reaching for the can on the top shelf, Edward smiles ruefully as the woman gets a good look at his behind. Now, he's not usually one to let that sort of thing fly, but since she's his favourite customer, he gives it a little wiggle for good measure.
"That just about does it, I think," Hhe says as he lugs the heavy basket back to the front counter, his obnoxiously long hair flopping in front of his eyes. With a puff of breath he blows it from his forehead, only to have it fall right back again.
"I still think you should take me up on my offer," Sshe urges, handing him the last of her groceries.
"And which offer was that? You know I can't elope with you, I've got a shop to run," Edward answers with a wink. He's charming our Edward, and he knows it.
"My niece. She's single, and very, very pretty."
Edward nods. "I imagine she is."
"You need a woman around here, Ed." Bea waves her hand, gesturing to the tiny general store. While it's neat and tidy at first glance, the stock is dusty and no doubt out of date, and the shelves are in need of a good clean. A good store keeper he might be, but a housekeeper Edward is not.
"I think I'm doing okay on my own."
Bea shakes her head, tisking at him in a motherly way. "You need someone to give you babies! And to cut that hair of yours!"
Brushing it from his eyes again, Edward can't help but grin. "I like it longer. Anyway, why would I need a wife when I get to see you every day?"
It's a grim state of affairs when helping a sixty-something year old woman with her weekly shop is the highlight of your day. But he made the choice to move to Forks - the middle of nowhere - so he's sticking with it.
Pondering his sad, lonely existence, Edward turns the sign over on the front door, closing the shop for the night. As he does every night, he cashes up the till and closes the shutters on the front windows, checking twice to make sure the door is locked tight.
"What culinary delight awaits me tonight?" he wonders aloud as he opens the freezer door, revealing row upon row of boxed frozen meals. Right at the top, behind a chicken pie, is a steak dinner - his favourite. Reaching up on to his toes, his fingers stretch and wriggle as they reach.
"Just a little further..."
Using the shelf for leverage, he reaches just that little bit further until...success!
As he pulls the dinner from its frozen confines, it brings with it the rest of the shelf, including the heavy wire rack. With a clatter and bang the rack falls - frozen dinners and all - right on top of his head, sending his world plunging into darkness.
And this, dear reader, is where our story begins.
The fog clears in Edward's mind, the last vestiges of a heavy sleep clinging to his consciousness. With his eyes shut tight he groans. His eyes hurt, his temples throb, his back is sore and his mouth feels like cotton wool.
"He looks like he's waking up."
"Oh, you think? They should have called you Smarty, not Dopey."
"Happy, get the cold compress for his head. That cut will be stinging right about now."
Groaning again, Edward opens one eye slowly, and then the other. It takes a moment, but slowly his vision begins to focus.
"Here," says a gruff voice from beside him. "Put this on your lip."
A washcloth appears above him, and Edward takes it gratefully, his eyes slipping closed again as the cold cloth soothes his throbbing lower lip. Focusing his memory, he tries to piece together what's happened.
A frozen dinner.
The shelf he's been meaning to fix for months.
His memory sinks back in, the pieces clicking together one by one, until suddenly, he realizes that the ceiling above him is not the one he should be looking at. It's darker and much lower than normal; it looks almost like it's made of dirt and...tree roots?
"Should have left him where he was. He could be dangerous!"
"I'm not..." Edward begins to argue, sitting up. "Whoa!"
At the sight of a room full of strangers, he jumps to his feet, only to whack his head on the low roof. "Oh, fuck!" he curses, his head vision spinning as he slumps to the ground, holding his throbbing head in his hands. Now he's got a busted lip and a sore head.
Swallowing hard, Edward counts to three before opening his eyes again, startled beyond belief to see that nothing has changed. Crowding around him like he's a museum piece are six, no, seven little men. No taller than his hips, with pink cheeks and brushy beards, they're all looking at him with curious eyes.
Except for the one at the back who looks like he's asleep standing up.
"What are...where am I?" Edward stutters, clutching at his head.
A short, rotund looking man with a long white beard smiles, stepping forward. "Goodness, you did give yourself quite a bump, didn't you?"
Edward nods, wincing at the pain, unable to form coherent words as he look around the room. Now, Forks was a small town, and Edward liked to think I knew most of its residents. He would have thought that a house full of little men in funny hats would have caught his attention sooner.
"Why, you're in our house of course!" smiles the one with the long grey beard.
"He's not stupid, Happy. He can see that," snaps one of the men, frowning fiercely.
With names like Happy and Dopey, Edward wonders how hard he's hit his head.
"We found you out by the side of the road," offers one of the men. "Thought it best we...we...we..." he stops mid-sentence and sneezes so hard his moustache flaps violently and his hat tumbles from his head. "We thought it best to bring you inside."
They're all staring at Edward like he's the weird looking one.
"Is there a...little people convention in town or something?"
"Hey!" objects the angry one again. "We're not little people, we're dwarfs!"
Edward giggles manically, groaning again as the force of it rattles his sore head. "Right. You guys are the seven dwarfs. Happy, Dopey, and I guess you're Grumpy, right?" The dwarf's dark moustache twitches as he nods gruffly.
"Sure," Edward says with a chuckle. "And I bet Snow White is around here somewhere."
Happy shakes his head, laughing. "Of course not! Why would Snow White be here?"
"Exactly," mumbles Edward as he shuffles to his feet, this time more wary of low hanging ceilings. Whatever seven bat shit crazy guys want to do in the privacy of their own home is none of his business. He figures it's a better time than any to get gone.
"She's in town at the bakery."
Overcome with frustration, Edward pinches the skin between his eyebrows. What had started as a dull throb is now an eye watering, brain splitting headache.
"Of course she is. Look, thank you for your help." He hands the damp washcloth back and sidesteps the little group of men. "I'm just going to get going."
"But where will you go?"
"Home," spits Edward, fiddling with the tiny latch on the front door.
"Where is home?"
A murmur goes up among the men. "Never heard of it."
The latch on the door finally clicks over and Edward almost jumps with delight. "Thanks again!" he calls as he ducks out the front door and into the sunshine.
But, oh dear reader, Edward is not in Forks any more. I fact, he hasn't a clue where he is.
The door he's just come through is cut deep into a tree so big he can barely see its top. The roots of the elm are almost the same height as he is, sprawling across the forest floor like an octopus' tentacles. Tiny white butterflies dance in the air and sunlight filters through a canopy of trees above, shiny-eyed squirrels scrabbleing around the tree branches.
It looks like a page from a childhood's child's storybook.
"Why don't you come...com...com...ahhtshooooo!"
Edward takes a step back as the dwarfs emerge from the house, the one with the glasses and stethoscope stepping forward. "Come inside, sir. Have some tea and we can best decide on how it is to get you home."
"No!" The blood thunders in Edward's ears, his heart racing as he stumbles back, almost tripping over a tree root. "No. I'm going home!"
Before they can object, he makes a break for it, running as fast as his legs can go.
He's dreaming, he thinks as he runs at full tilt through the forest. Surely he must have hit his head and now he's dreaming or unconscious in a hospital? Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, a fallen branch appears, and, noticing it too late, Edward's toe catches, sending him face-first onto the forest floor.
Rolling on to his back, he groans as he lifts his hands to his face. There's not too much blood, just some minor scratches and grazing on his palms. But it hurts. It hurts too much for it to be a dream.
But if he's not dreaming then where in the world is he?
Steeling himself, he stands up and dusts himself off, shooing away a swarm of butterflies as they dance around his head. A plan forms in his dazed mind, a plan to find a road, flag down a car, and get home. Once he's safe and sound in his own house, he can figure out what the hell is going on.
The path he's walking is worn, the grass around it bent and flattened, the dirt compacted. He follows it for a mile or so, marvelling at the size of the trees around him; like massive wooden giants, soaring high up into the air. All seems to be going to plan as he stumbles out on to a gravel road. It looks well used, and he doesn't have to wait long until he hears something rounding the corner ahead. But standing in the middle of the road, Edward is more than a little flabbergasted as a rickety wooden cart rolls by.
Unsure if he should hitch a ride in a cart of all things, he waits for a further half an hour, getting more and more impatient and perplexed as another half a dozen or so carts pass him.
Has he somehow found himself lost in the middle of Amish country, he wonders. It would explain the outdated modes of transport and the strange clothing. And everything is so green and lush, it could definitely be Iowa. Not that Edward has ever been there before, but he's seen pictures.
It's amazing the things our brain can come up with of in times of trouble.
A slick looking cart, complete with jingling bells and a plush looking carriage, comes to a halt right in front of him. A beautiful chestnut horse, bigger than any he's seen before whinnies and stamps at the ground, shaking out it's dark mane.
"Are you lost?" asks the girl from atop her seat in the cart. Her bright red cape swathes her entire body, leaving only her head free.
"Yeah," Edward answers with a laugh. "I think I am." That's the understatement of the century.
The girl purses her bright red lips tentatively. "Would you like a ride somewhere?"
Before he knows it, he's seated next to her, holding a wicker basket in his lap.
"I hope you don't mind," she says, her dark hair flapping in the breeze. "I just need to make a quick stop at my Grandmother's house to drop that off." She nods to the basket, patting the red and white checked cloth that covers its contents.
"She's sick, so I'm bringing her some of her favourite muffins from the baker."
Red cape. Grandmother. Basket of baked goods.
Edward ignores the nagging voice in his mind, shoving it right back where it came from. It's impossible after all.
"That's nice of you," Edward says, taking a quick peek at the food. His stomach growls loudly as the smell of fresh muffins wafts from the basket. Chocolate, blueberry, raspberry, they're all there.
The girl laughs as she catches him eying them hungrily. "I tell you what, you hold on to them and I'll take you to the best bakery in all the land when we're done."
Edward shakes her hand, marvelling at how pretty she is. Small and petite, but with dark features, her skin is the colour of milk - perfectly white and flawless.
"I'm Alice, by the way," she says, snapping the reigns twice as the horse rounds the corner. "But you can call me Red. Everyone does."
"Edward," he says, ignoring the nagging voice as gets louder.
It's just a coincidence.
"So - where are we?"
Alice looks at him strangely, her head to one side. "We're in the Enchanted Forest, of course."
"Uh, yeah." He nods, his fingers grasping the basket tightly. "But...where is that exactly?"
Laughing, Alice shakes her head. "You are strange. We're right outside of Gwynhallow, about an hour's ride from the palace."
Funnily enough, Edward's mind seems to go completely empty, like a wind tunnel, as Alice takes the cart deeper into the forest. He can't seem to form a single thought that makes any sense, mostly because nothing around him makes any sense to begin with. It's as though he's stepped into a book from his childhood, complete with fairy tale characters and enchanted forests.
Moments later he's snapped out of his stupor as Alice scoops the basket out of his hands. "I won't be long," she says as she jumps out of the cart lithely.
The house is, thankfully, not built into the side of a tree, although it does look like a story book cottage if ever he's seen one. Flower boxes along the two front windows, a bright red door and a smoking chimney - it's all there.
Edward rests his head in his hands, closing his eyes tightly. He takes big deep breaths, letting them out slowly in an attempt to collect his thoughts.
It doesn't work though. His head is full of How? And why? And what?
With a loud bang, the front door of the house bursts open, and from it, a six foot dog tumbles.
"You filthy mutt!" screams Alice, following it out. "I'm going to kick your ass!"
Scrambling for a foothold, the wolf seems to be tangled in what looks like a bright pink nightgown, complete with cap and slippers.
"And who taught you how to apply make up? Christina Aguilera? You look like a tramp!"
The wolf howls as Alice lays into him with her right hook.
Normally, Edward is the kind of guy who jumps to a female's aid - chivalry and all that. But Alice seems to have the upper hand as she kicks the stuffing out of the cross-dressing wolf.
"Yeah! You run, you big scaredy cat!" she yells as it lopes off into the woods, its tail between its legs.
Righting her cape, Alice stomps over to the cart and jumps back in. "Stupid dog," she spits. "He thinks he can pull the wool over my eyes." The cart rocks violently as it takes off at a quick pace, almost throwing Edward into the back. "Well, the joke's on him," she continues, grinning like a madwoman, "I've been taking Tai-Bo at the Y. I'll kick his ass into next Sunday!"
A cross-dressing wolf? A Red Riding Hood that could kick Buffy's ass? This fairy tale is ten shades of mixed up, and Edward is ready to go home.
Edward clambers back into his seat again. "Does he...er...do that often? Dress up like your Grandma, I mean?"
"Who, Jake? Yeah." She waves as a carriage full of elves rolls by. "He pretends he's this big macho wolf, but we all know he dresses in women's clothes on the regular."
"So where are you from, Edward?"
Alice's face screws up as she thinks hard. "Huh, never heard of it. Is it near Florent?"
The road winds through rolling hills, thick with lush green grass. Row after row of yellow-gold corn fields, and quaint little cottages roll by, until eventually they give way to an even quainter, picture-perfect town. Alice brings the cart to a halt outside of a small building in the centre of town. A low hanging wooden sign with the words 'Swan Bakery' creaks in the afternoon breeze as she leads Edward inside.
"Best bakery in all the land," she says as she pushes the door open. As soon as they enter, Edward is floored by the smell of baking bread and cinnamon. The smell of apple pie and raspberry tarts drifting in the air makes his mouth water and his stomach grumble loudly.
"Bella?" Alice calls, practically leaning over the front counter.
Edward's not sure if it's because he's starving, or if it's the strange town, but everything seems to smell so darn good. Row after row of golden, crusty loaves of bread line the shelves. A cabinet at the front is packed with jewel coloured sweet pastries that glisten in ruby red and cerulean blue.
Swinging doors thud as a brunette emerges from behind them, wiping her floured hands on a towel.
"Who's this?" she asks, looking Edward up and down pointedly.
All thought of food forgotten, Edward is instantly mesmerized by the girl standing behind the counter. She is, without a doubt, the most amazingly beautiful woman he's ever seen. Ebony hair falls in soft, shiny waves around her delicate shoulders. Her skin; pale as morning snow, glows in the soft light of the afternoon. She smiles, beautiful, blood-red lips curling at the corners...
And like a light bulb has gone off inside his head, Edward finally catches on.The words tumble out of his mouth before he has a chance to stop them. "You're Snow White."
The brunette narrows her eyes at him. "Bella, actually," she snaps, hands on her hips. "No one's called me Snow White since I was twelve."
"And who are you? Prince Smirks-a-lot? Prince Dazzling? You all have ridiculous names like that."
Bella arches a perfect eyebrow, and her eyes narrow as she sizes Edward up. She's had her fill of pompous princes and stuck-up suitors. Sure, they're all easy on the eyes, but move past the good looks and they're nothing but vain, empty-headed horse's asses.
"What can I do for you today, Red?" she asks, ignoring Edward and turning to Alice.
Alice is practically bouncing on her toes as she links her arm through Edward's, smiling that manic smile again as she pulls him towards Bella. "This is Edward, I found him stranded by the side of the road. He's from a far off place called Washington. Doesn't that sound exotic? He came with me to see my Grandma, and didn't even try to cop a feel once..."
"Slow down," says Bella as she packs half a dozen delicious looking pastries into a pink box. "Have you been eating those éclairs again? I thought I told you to lay off the sugar?"
"Don't be silly, it was only one. And anyway, I need all my energy for the ball tonight."
"Is that little Alice I hear?" booms a voice from the back as the doors swing open again.
Dressed in a flour-covered apron and chef's hat, is the biggest, scariest, meanest looking baker Edward's ever seen. His arms are thick, like rippled bands of muscle wrapped around bone. The thickest, darkest, most macho moustache you've ever seen graces his top lip, its ends curling right around his rosy cheeks. His dark eyes gleam under heavy eyebrows as he lumbers across the bakery towards Alice.
"Charlie!" she squeals as he picks her up and spins her around. For such a big guy he's surprisingly delicate with her. Putting her down gently, he turns to Edward, his dark brows furrowed.
"Who's this?" he asks, sizing Edward up, wondering who he is, and if he'll fit in his bread oven. You see, Charlie is not only the maker of the best bread in all the land; he's also one very protective, sometimes over-bearing father of a devastatingly beautiful daughter. Needless to say, lesser suitors have fled at just the sight of him.
"This is Edward," smirks Bella over Charlie's shoulder as he crosses his arms over his barrel-like chest.
"You here to see my Bella?"
Now, this is where Edward finds himself in a dilemma. If he says yes, then there's a chance he's going to have to deal with Charlie and his meaty biceps. But on the other hand, if he says no, he'd be lying. And the thought of being caught lying to said meaty biceps is just as terrifying. There's just something about the girl that has Edward completely enraptured. Not one to ever believe in love at first sight, Edward's sure it must just be her stellar ass and long legs.
As if saved by a fairy godmother, Edward is saved by the bell, or bells as it were.
The front door swings open, making the bells over head jingle and clatter as it slams against the wall. Edward's eyes almost bug out of their sockets - he's never seen so many beautiful women in one place! Maxim would have a field day with this town.
Her hair is golden blond, like corn silk or sunshine; her eyes the bluest of blue. Tiny birds flutter around her as she slams the door behind her, a fearsome scowl etched onto her perfect face.
"Fucking shoes, fucking broken again!" she yells, holding up a glass shoe, its heel snapped clean off.
"And you call yourself a princess with that mouth?" asks Alice with a gasp.
Bella snorts, tucking her hair under a scarf. "I've told you, Rose. You need to go and see the shoemaker."
Bella seems intently focused on placing the cupcakes into the box, but every now and then Edward catches her sneaking a little peek at him from the corner of her eye. Seeing she's been caught, she blushes, the apples of her cheeks tinged pink. Edward finds he would like nothing more than to get a little closer, touch the back of his fingers to her skin to find out if it warms when she blushes. Or, truth be told, maybe to sneak a little look down the front of that shirt she's wearing. But, he's standing about six inches away from the scariest looking father he's ever seen, so he stays put, keeping his eyes to himself.
"Right," Rose snorts, ripping the other shoe from her foot. "Have you seen what he charges for those shoes? Highway robbery, I tell you. God damned magic elf labour."
Cinderella might look prim and proper and everything a princess should be. But the girl has a foul mouth and an even worse temper. "Who are you?" she asks, looking Edward up and down.
"Edward," he replies, like a stunned deer in headlights.
Rose looks at Edward, then at Alice, and then to Bella, who just shrugs her shoulders.
"You here for the ball, Edward?" asks Rose as she peruses the cabinet full of chocolate cakes.
"Wait a minute!" exclaims Charlie, his eyes wide and focused on our Edward. "You're that prince! The one that got turned into a frog!"
Edward opens his mouth to respond, but alas, Charlie is already in motion. "My Bella is a beauty is she not? Perfect for a wife?"
"Makes the best apple pie in the land, too."
"Dad!" scolds Bella, blushing furiously as she tucks the box of pastries under her arm.
"Where are you going?" demands Charlie. "You've a suitor here to see you."
Again, Edward is stuck between a rock and hard place. Charlie Swan being that very hard, very muscly-looking hard place.
"I have to take these to the boys down at the construction site," interrupts Bella, saving Edward from an awkward and maybe painful conversation with Charlie.
"Oh," laments Alice, pouting. "Those poor guys. Imagine losing everything like that."
"Well, that's what those idiots get for building their houses out of hay," answers Bella, already half way out the door.
And like a moth to a flame, Edward follows – meaty biceps be damned!
"Wait up!" he calls, chasing the raven-haired beauty down the cobblestone road.
With the pink box tucked under her arm, Bella keeps walking, ignoring Edward's calls. Puffing lightly, he catches up and falls into step beside her, matching her leisurely pace.
Bella smirks, the sun catching her deep brown eyes as she peeks at him from beneath her scarf. "You're kind of a pest you know?"
"I'm not a pest, I'm chivalrous! I'm walking a beautiful lady safely to destinations unknown."
Bella rolls her eyes. "It's just the other side of that bridge."
"Would you believe me if I told you I just wanted to spend a little time alone with you?"
There's that blush again – subtle, the lightest shade of pink tinting the apples of her cheeks. Only this time she doesn't turn away from him, doesn't hide it. Instead, her face lights up, a tiny smile tugging at her lips, gentle and pretty.
They walk side by side silently, winding through the streets of town. Market stalls line the road; their colourful awnings alight in the afternoon sun.
"Goose eggs!" shouts one man, holding a shiny gold egg in his hand. "Free range, grain-fed, twenty-four carat gold goose eggs!"
"Magic beans!" shouts another. "Five dollars each, or three for ten!"
"This place is amazing," says Edward, still utterly astonished at the sights around him.
Bella smiles, her red lips a perfect contrast to her pale complexion. "It's okay, I guess."
Rubbing his empty stomach, Edward's mouth waters as they pass a stall selling gingerbread cookies. Noticing his hunger, Bella opens the box under her arm and pulls a glossy éclair from inside, creamy white filling oozing from each end. Eyes wide, Edward takes the dessert from her and makes short work of it as he and Bella stroll through the town.
He pretends to listen as Bella points out various landmarks, but truthfully, he's just happy to look at her. Her delicate mouth and perfect button nose, her slender fingers and feminine hands. The pictures in his storybooks never drew women like this; finely built and graceful, her thick dress hinting at hidden curves underneath.
"And see that girl asleep on the park bench over there?" she says, pointing behind Edward. A young woman is sprawled out on an uncomfortable looking park bench, a tangle of blonde curly hair tumbling off the end of the seat, her arm off the side.
"Narcolepsy," explains Bella with a shrug. "She falls asleep everywhere. Hey, Ssleeping Bbeauty!"
The girl doesn't move a muscle, just continues to snore loudly. Edward smiles, checking another fairy tale character off his list. He's not sure how he got there, or how he'll get home, but being the happy-go-lucky kind of guy he is, Edward is content to let things play out. Especially if it means spending a little more time in Bella's company.
"So, there's a ball on tonight, huh?" asks Edward, noticing a poster tacked to a fence post.
Bella nods, looking less than excited. "Everyone who's anyone will be there."
Edward kicks a rock across the surface of the road, shoving his hands into his pockets. "Will you go?"
"No," Bella replies with a shake of her head. "Not really interested in all that stuff."
"You mean you couldn't find a date?" teases Edward, hoping to get a little rise out of her, the teaser that he is.
Bella snorts. "I can find a date."
"Oh yeah," challenges Edward. "Who?"
"Lots of guys asked me," she replies, her lips forming an adorable pout as she scowls at him. "I'll have you know three princes asked to take me."
Bella huffs, blowing a strand of hair from her face. "They were all idiots. Don't get me wrong, Peter the Troll Prince is nice. I like trolls; some of my close friends are trolls. And I'm not against interspecies relationships, believe me. He's just not my type."
Edward nods, trying not to laugh at her earnest response. "It is the warts?"
Laughing, Bella nods. "Among other things."
Going against everything her head is telling her, Bella Swan can feel herself being charmed by this oddly dressed stranger. While her brain tells her to be wary, her heart thrum-thrum-thrumming in her chest tells her otherwise.
A moment later our dreamy-eyed couple stumble upon the fresh foundations of three identical houses. Big groups of people are helping hoist a wall into place, elf and troll alike all pulling on the ropes.
"Hey, Bella!" calls a pudgy looking guy as he jogs over. His skin is pink from a day working in the sun, his hair sweaty and matted to his forehead.
"Hey, Mike," replies Bella, handing him the box of treats. "How's the house coming?"
"Good," he mumbles around a mouthful of tart. "Got the sticks arriving tomorrow and we should have the roof up by the end of the week."
Now, Edward doesn't know much, if anything, about building houses. But sticks just don't seem like a sturdy building material, especially not for a house. "Sticks?" he asks.
"They're stronger than hay, you know," snaps Mike.
Bella steps in quickly, intercepting Mike's stony glare at the decidedly more attractive, and therefore threatening, competition.
"Well, good luck with the house, Mike. It was nice to see you again."
Mike just glares at Edward as they leave, flakes of pastry hanging from his lips.
Bella and Edward make idle chit chat as they pass back through the town toward the bakery, and the nearer they get the more Edward realises that he's not ready to say goodbye just yet.
Edward's never asked a girl out on a date before, not formally anyway. He's sure it should be eloquent and maybe a little romantic, but he's suddenly nervous. Even though he's only just met her, there's something inside of him telling him not to let her go. It's not a specific place he can feel, it's just a feeling. It's not his heart, otherwise it would be a heart attack. It's not his stomach, it's not even his brain - it's all of it. Like every part of his body has become attuned to her - it hums when she's near, vibrating and singing like a tuning fork.
"So, this ball...if I were to say...be your date. Would you go?"
After a minute of excruciating silence, Bella smiles tentatively, her head bobbing in agreement. He wants to throw his hands in the air and high-five the passers-by on the street. But he doesn't. Instead, he turns on that charm that he's kept so well hidden, and leans in to place a single, soft kiss on her cheek. And, like he's wanted to all day, his fingers follow his lips, feeling her skin warm with a beautiful blush.
Bowing like he's seen in the movies, Edward bids Bella good day and sets off to find out what the hell it is you're supposed to wear to a ball at a palace.
Edward waits on the steps of the massive castle, Alice, in her bright red ball gown beside him, is almost dancing with excitement. Nervously, Edward toys with the tassels and buckles and belts on his suit. Jasper, Alice's husband, and a prince to boot, kindly offered a suit of his own to make Edward more comfortable. He feels a little silly in the navy blue military style jacket with matching white gloves, but all the other princes are wearing them so who is he to complain?
A giant orange carriage rolls to a stop in front of Edward, its pumpkin-like sides curving inwards, its wheels silver and shining in the moonlight. Dressed in a powder-blue ball gown, Rosalie steps from the carriage, escorted by a dark haired prince of her own. Winking, Rosalie steps aside as her husband reaches into the carriage, helping a dazzling Snow White out.
Edward is stunned into silence by her beauty. Her silvery-blue dress, adorned with hundreds upon hundreds of tiny sparkling gems, accentuating her ebony hair and red lips.
"You scrubbed up nicely," she says, feeling a little uncomfortable under Edward's gaze.
Snapping out of it, he flashes that cheeky smirk of his; one side of his mouth lifting a little higher than the other. "You don't look too bad yourself."
Stifling a swoon, Bella allows Edward to lead her into the ballroom. Couples twirl and eddy around the room as the band plays, laughter and the clinking of glasses echoing around the sumptuously decorated castle. Almost immediately, Emmett, or Prince Charming as he's known, whisks Rosalie onto the dance floor, followed closely by Alice and her Prince Jasper.
Taking their time to wander through the room, Bella tries not to notice the looks that Edward seems to garner from the female population. It takes a few stiff drinks to stop her from wanting to claw their eyes out, but it helps that every time she looks at him, she finds him looking at her. He looks so resplendent and polished in his suit, the navy a perfect colour for his complexion, the green in his eyes verdant and shining against the inky blue.
"Hey, Bella!" calls a girl as she tugs a long, thick braid along behind her. "Love your dress!"
"Love what you've done with your hair," replies Bella.
Edward watches her heft the heavy hair along with her. "Rapunzel?"
Bella nods. "Someone told her once that guys like girls with long hair. She hasn't cut it since."
As they join the crowd on the dance floor, Edward suddenly notices a naked man sitting at one of the long tables.
"Did you know there's a naked guy sitting over there?"
Laughing, Bella twirls gracefully, her dress shimmering in the fairy lights. "Yeah, that's the butcher. He went a bit coo-coo after his wife ran away with the candlestick maker. He thinks he's wearing enchanted clothes."
Wide-eyed, Edward nods. "Oh."
Now, he's not much of a dancer, our Edward. But in the right setting, with the right lighting and the proper partner – no, he's still not very good. But Bella is a great lead and she soon shows him the ropes.
"Mind if I cut in?"
Edward's head snaps around to see a woman in a long black dress standing behind them. Her makeup is heavy and her face angular, she looks like the scary queen type. Before Edward can reply she's taken him by the hand and whisked him away, her bony fingers attached firmly to his butt cheek. She's stronger than she looks too, try as he might, Edward just can't seem to pry his hands from her, or his ass for that matter.
"Back off, Tanya," snaps Bella, appearing from behind Edward.
"I don't see your name on him, Snow," snaps the queen.
Tugging on his arm gently, Bella places herself between Edward and the queen. "I said, get your hands off my man, bitch."
"Oh, no she didn't!" hisses someone in the crowd.
The queen's face turns dark, her eyes narrowed. "You skank, Snow White. I'll put a curse on you..."
Holding a hand up to the queen's face, Bella rolls her eyes. "Oh, blah blah blah, you tell everyone you're going to put a curse on them."
And suddenly, as if Jerry Springer has somehow leaked into this magical land, Snow White and evil queen leap at each other. Edward is shoved back in a blur of hair pulling and name-calling as they fall to the ground in a heap. He tries his hardest to be shocked, but the sight of two women wrestling on the ground is a little hot.
"Bella!" yells Rose, diving into the melee.
"Two chicks," comments Emmett from beside him. "Hot."
Jasper and Edward agree; happy to sit back and watch the three of them tussle.
Rose pulls a scrappy-looking Bella to her feet and wrestles her outside. "You'll get yours Snow White!" screams the queen as Edward high-tails it out after Bella. Prince Charming calls a carriage around, and hoisting a bad-tempered Bella over his shoulder, moves to shove her into it. He laughs raucously as she kicks and flails, trying to storm her way back into the castle.
Following after her, Edward lifts himself up into the cab of the carriage, closing the door behind them.
Pink-cheeked and puffing, Bella sits in a corner of the cab, her hair loose and messy from the fight, her blood thundering in her ears. The driver moves them on and before Edward even has a moment to sit down properly, Bella has flung herself at him. There's no time for heart-stopping, knee-popping first kisses. Instead, it's wild and rough, teeth and tongues and lips and hands. Bella gasps as Edward's lips find purchase on her exposed collarbone, the delicate material of her ball gown rumpled around her knees as she straddles his lap. Her fingers grip his auburn hair as he moves lower, his hands greedy, his mouth ravenous. There are no sounds but the connecting of lips and short ragged pants as Bella tries to find purchase on his lap, desperately trying to move and find friction. But there are just so many damned petticoats! Layer after layer of tulle and lace, satin and silk create a frustratingly thick barrier between her and Edward. Sensing her frustration, Edward tries to lift a layer, only to find another, and another, until they're both swamped with yards of white material.
"Stupid dress," curses Bella, trying to pat the skirt back into place, whilst kissing Edward at the same time.
Smiling, Edward takes a hold of Bella's arms, his fingers circling her wrists. "Stop."
Ignoring the dress, Edward tilts his head up slightly, kissing her softly. Responsive as ever, Bella relaxes into him, her arms wrapped around his neck. Their kisses are still passionate, still heated and demanding, but the desperate edge has gone. Now, as the horse pulls the carriage back into town, they're happy just to be wrapped up in each other.
"What are you doing to me?" he whispers, his head coming to rest on her chest, her heart pitter-patting under his ear. Smiling, Bella rests her chin on his head, tucking him into her arms while he encircles her in his.
It feels like only moments later that the carriage comes to a sudden halt, and Bella almost slips right off Edward's lap and onto the floor. The door opens and after making sure she's decent, and doesn't have a petticoat or two tucked into her underwear, Bella exits the cab. Adjusting himself slightly, Edward follows, stepping out into the cool night air. The moon is full and round in a sky so bright with stars it could be painted.
"Will I see you tomorrow?" asks Bella, her earlier ferocity ebbing into sweet shyness again.
Stepping forward, Edward brings a hand to cup her soft cheek, sighing as she leans into his hand.
"Tomorrow, and the next day. And the next..."
She smiles, her hands pressed against his on her cheek. "Very smooth."
Sweet and chaste, their goodnight kiss is lingering and soft, stolen between smiles and gentle words.
Edward watches as she slips into the house, leaving him behind in the dark. Half of him wants to run after her and steal her away, tuck her back into the carriage and ride off into the sunset. The other half of him wants to shout and yell and jump, proclaim to the whole world that he, Edward Anthony Cullen, is in love!
But he doesn't. The driver clears his throat conspicuously, giving Edward a knowing smile as he gets back into the carriage.
"Where to, Sir?"
Shrugging, Edward flops back into the soft leather upholstery. "Anywhere."
With a snap of the reigns, they're off again, rambling through the countryside.
What an adventure he's had, our Edward. From dwarves to palaces – he's seen it all in just one day. Suddenly going home is not quite as exciting as it had once been. But as we know, all fairytales must come to an end. And end it does as Edward, lulled by the movement of the carriage, falls fast asleep, dreaming of cherry red lips and alabaster skin.
"Slap him, maybe that will wake him up."
"Don't you dare slap that boy! Look, he's coming around."
"Why is he smiling like that?"
Jolted awake by the voices, Edward's eyes pop open and for the second time in two days, what he sees is not same as it was when he fell asleep. A paramedic is kneeling on the floor beside him, busy fiddling with something attached to Edward's arm. The hard tiled floor of his shop is uncomfortable and cold underneath him, the fluorescent lights bright in his eyes. He feels like Dorothy after her trip to Oz, confused and more than a little mixed up.
Standing behind him, with her hair still in rollers, clutching a robe around her waist, is Bea, his favourite customer.
"You frightened the life out of me, Ed!" she chides, a bony hand at her throat. "Thought you were a goner."
Sitting up slowly, memories drift back in pieces. Splashes of vivid colour, tastes and smells, the feeling of petal-soft lips against his. It's all gone. All the colour and magic of his dream seems to fade away like paint down a sinkhole, swirling, twirling, eddying, until there's nothing left. He can barely remember what the palace looked like, what colour her dress was, what her face looked like.
Leaning his back against the cold refrigerator door, Edward brings his knees up to his chest.
"Oh, there you are, child. Did you get the washcloth?"
"Yeah, I've got it."
A voice from nearby cuts through the fog in Edward's mind. Clear and beautiful, it triggers something deep inside – a memory perhaps?
His eyes widen as he takes in the sight before him.
"Edward," interrupts Bea. "This is my niece, the one I was telling you about. She's come to stay for a while."
But it's impossible!
Surely he was dreaming.
Lucky for the paramedic the heart rate monitor isn't still plugged in; otherwise Edward's sky-rocketing pulse would have surely blown the machine to pieces. He gulps audibly as she takes a seat on the floor beside him, bringing a cold wash cloth to his head.
"You've got quite a bump," she says, wincing as she touches the cloth to the lump on his forehead.
"You found me," he whispers.
She looks at Edward strangely, a little dazzled by the soft look in his eyes.
"I...yes, I found you. Aunt Bea ran out of milk and sent me down here on the off chance you were still open."
Edward looks at Bea from the corner of his eye. He knows very well she hasn't run out of milk, he packed it into her grocery bag just that morning. Bea just turns her attention to a magazine on its stand, pretending she didn't hear anything.
"I heard the crash as I pulled up and saw you lying there. I called the paramedics right away."
The throbbing in his head seems to fade away as he looks at her – at his Bella. The similarities are there, the pale skin, the delicate features. Her hair is lighter maybe? Dark still, but more chestnut than the dark ebony in his dream. Her lips, while not blood red, are still a beautiful shade of pink, and just as soft-looking.
Paramedics bustle around him, taking tests and asking questions. Does this hurt? What about now? Look here. Touch this. Not for one moment does Bella leave his side. Instead, when his pinkie brushes hers, their hands close on the floor, she returns the touch, rubbing her small finger along the back of his larger one.
Watching from a distance, two knowing eyes watch as a pair of dreamy-eyed lovers meet. Two planets, their gravity pulling them together, destined for a fiery explosion. They don't even notice that the ambulance crew have packed up and left. They barely notice that the shop has fallen silent again, that the only people left are them.
Well, them and her.
But not for long.
Clutching her robe tighter, she pulls her hair net securely over her rollers and slips out the front door, careful not to disturb the goings on inside the store.
As she pulls the door shut she sees Edward turn to Bella, his face a picture of wonder.
"Bella, you're going to think this is crazy, but..."
And they all lived happily ever after.