Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer owns several of these characters, I just enjoy taking them around the world.
Almost everything you see here is based on my own crazy and wonderful experiences in Kenya, all except meeting Edward Cullen of course - which given I was there on my honeymoon may have been a little awkward! ;-)
Thank you to the fabulous Trip (aka FFFan1664) as I couldn't write without her awesome beta skills and to the lovely dreamalittledream83 and ladyeire3 for pre-reading. FatesLoveQueen made a beautiful banner for this story which you can find on my Facebook profile. This one-shot was originally written for Fandom4Children.
"This is not what I signed up for, Rose." I grumble to my long-suffering best friend for the hundredth time.
When you book a trip to Africa in September you don't expect torrential rain but that has been our experience of Kenya since the moment we landed at Mombasa airport three days ago.
"What do you want me to say, Bella?" Rose says, throwing supplies into her backpack. She's getting a little exasperated and I don't blame her.
"There is supposed to be a drought for crying out loud!" Yes, even I can hear the whine in my voice.
"Exactly. And I reckon the locals are pretty relieved to see all this rain so maybe you should count your blessings and keep quiet."
Three days of endless Black Jack games under our sheltered balcony while watching monsoon-like storms flood the swimming pool and crash against the palm trees has taken it's toll on our nerves, and our ten-year friendship. So far I'm down 4,500 Kenyan Shilling and grumpy.
I've been saving for this vacation for the last 12 months on my meagre teacher's salary. It was during a messy drinking session that Rose decided to tell me how she really felt about my "sheltered lifestyle".
"Bells," she'd slurred. "You know I love you right?"
"Uh huh." Sentences that begin that way are never going to end well.
"But you need to see more, you know what I mean?"
"You're 28 years old and you've never left the US! You went from your father's house, to college and back to Forks to teach at the high school you attended. You haven't had a date in, what, six months?"
Thanks for the reminder, Rose.
"And you are constantly complaining about your poor salary and how the red tape in the educational system is too stifling for any real talent to show through."
She's right; I do say that. But now my defences are up.
"So? What's your point?"
"You need to get away, babe. You need to experience something. Free yourself from the confines of the prison you put yourself in."
When she's wasted Rose tends towards the philosophical. Something to do with her hippy parents I think.
"Oh right, because you're so cultured?" I retaliated.
She scoffed. "More so than you! I've left the country at least!"
"Whatever, Rose." I had mumbled before passing out.
The thing is though, once my tenacious friend gets an idea in her head, she can't shake it off. A week later she gave me a brochure for Africa and a detailed spreadsheet for how I could realistically save the cash within 12 months.
Much as I loathe to admit it, she was right. I had got stuck in a rut. A grumpy, self-pitying rut, and I figured I'd let Rose try to drag me out of it. So I agreed.
Although going out and getting laid would have been the easier and more economical alternative.
So here we are. Every spare penny I have saved in the last year sunk into a trip to an area being assaulted by more rain than Forks.
Today we have a slight reprieve though as we're leaving the hotel to begin a three-day safari in Tsavo National Park. The websites promise this is the best game reserve in Eastern Kenya for seeing the "Big 5" but I'm a little concerned that elephants and lions may be even less keen on precipitation than I am.
Bags packed, we arrive in reception for our pick-up with several other grumbling guests. It's amazing how rain on vacation really brings out the worst in people.
Patrick on reception greets us with "Jambo!" and the same huge and welcoming smile he has offered every morning. One thing's for sure, the locals and the staff are the friendliest people I've ever encountered.
"Jambo, Patrick. How's it going?" Rose says.
"Wonderful, wonderful. Are you having a good time, ladies?"
"Sure, Patrick," I answer a little wearily, before asking him the same question we've asked every day this week. It's become a bit of a private joke.
"We're just wondering though, when will this rain stop?"
Patrick chuckles and gives us the same response we have heard many times. "Any minute now."
I laugh despite myself and Rose throws her arm around me, leading us to the waiting safari bus.
"Come on, babe, let's get this damp little show on the road."
"I can't see it."
"How can you not see it?"
"Because I can't."
"Okay, you see that jaggedy rock?"
"You see that tree left of the rock with the branch hanging down?"
"It's there! Just at the bottom, hiding in the grass. Can't you see its mane?"
"Ohhhh. Yeah, I see it now."
"Do you really, Bella?"
In my safari guidebook there is a picture of a lion walking alongside the bus, literally three feet away. So far this is our first "sighting" of a big cat and he is so far away and well-hidden that I'm sceptical that he is even there at all.
"Let me use your binoculars again, Rose."
She hands me them and I once again peer eagerly in the direction my gaze has been fixed since we pulled up 15 minutes ago.
Rock, tree, grass...wait, that's not grass! That's his head! As soon as I think it the lion pulls up a little and his whole head becomes visible. He takes a lazy glance in our direction before collapsing back down.
"I saw it! I saw it!"
Rose smiles. "Well, thank God." She calls out to our driver, Gathii. "We can move on now, thanks!"
It had taken us twice the usual time to reach the national park entrance today after getting stuck in traffic in one of the poorest regions of Mombasa. Clearly, you have never been gridlocked until you've been gridlocked in Africa. When a tanker overturned, the highway was virtually transformed into a parking lot and we didn't move a single inch for two hours. When we did eventually get going, Gathii got into an altercation with another driver who nipped too close during the mayhem, they shouted at each other in Swahili while locals swarmed around the safari bus and Rose and I huddled together in terror.
As I had feared, the weather, reduced to cloud and drizzle now that we were further inland, had so far kept most of the animals in hiding. This was the first big cat we'd spotted. I was most disappointed about not seeing any Kenyan red elephants. But it is only the first day, and after all the rain was due to stop "any minute now", right?
Satisfied that I'd seen the majestic lion, albeit from a distance, we move off again, hurtling down the rough and mountainous terrain of Tsavo West. Gathii has absolutely no fear as he swings around the muddy corners but after several hours we're used to it. We continue to vigilantly watch out of the windows, searching for wild beasts.
A while later we reach the lower part of the mountain and thankfully, the path widens. The only problem here is the roads seem a lot more waterlogged and every mile seems to be more and more of a struggle for our little bus. We hit a particularly awkward spot and grind to a halt. Gathii turns the engine over in an attempt to pull us out. There is a wheel spin and then nothing. Changing tack, he puts the bus in reverse and tries to pull back and then forward again. Nothing, and if anything we are now wedged deeper.
Rose and I exchange a silent glance as Gathii turns the engine over yet again. We remain stuck.
"Don't worry, he has his radio." Rose whispers as he grabs his two-way and speaks urgently in Swahili.
Several voices crackle back at us before he hooks the radio back up and turns to us.
"We're going to be stuck here a while I'm afraid."
"How long a while do you think?" Rose asks, her tone polite but with just a hint of panic.
"Until they have chance to reach us. Route we took too waterlogged so they must come a longer way."
It's 5.30pm and getting cooler and darker by the minute. When I look out of the window now I fervently hope we don't see any animals.
The minutes tick by and we sit in silence. When the roar of an engine comes from behind, it makes Rose and I jump and a moment later a black jeep pulls up alongside us.
I stretch my neck to watch the driver's side window wind down and the best looking man I've ever encountered leans out towards our driver's open window. His hair is insane - coppery brown and pointing up every which way, sprinkled in dust.
"Jambo," he greets in a deep, delicious voice and then speaks to Gathii in a mixture of English and broken Swahili. I definitely detect a US accent and feel instantly comforted. I might be imagining it, but during their conversation, I could have sworn he cast at least two glances in the direction of my window. Although maybe they are just talking about us. I hear "tow" and "thanks" and Rose and I smile hesitantly at each other in relief.
Sex Hair leans back into the Jeep and talks to his passenger, who I don't mind admitting I hadn't even noticed until this point, so distracted had I been by our apparent rescuer. Next thing I know our driver and both the guys from the jeep have leapt outside. Number one rule on safari is not to leave your vehicle, what with man-eating animals supposedly wandering around etc, but I guess there is only one way to attach a towrope.
Sex Hair goes to his trunk while his passenger checks out the front and wheels of our jeep with Gathii.
"Well, fuck me, look at the shoulders on that, B!" Rose suddenly exclaims in a loud whisper. She gestures towards Sex Hair's buddy and I pay attention to him properly for the first time. I roll my eyes - tall, dark and bulking with muscles he is exactly Rose's type.
"Personally, I prefer my men a little leaner," I grin. "Like Mr Fuck-Me-Hair over there."
Rose raises her eyebrow at me, smiling. "I think our day just got a little better."
I giggle while she goes back to ogling Muscles, who is now standing to catch the towrope Sex Hair has thrown towards him.
When my door suddenly flies open I almost fall out. Sex Hair smiles and holds out a hand to help me clamber down.
"Hi," he says. "We're going to try and pull you out so do you want to step out for a second?"
His eyes are the loveliest green I've ever seen and having momentarily lost the ability to speak I just nod and grin as I accept his hand.
I hop down and he helps Rose too.
"You're American, right?" he asks.
"Um...yes...how did you know?" I stutter when I realise neither Rose or I have spoken a word.
"Oh, your roof is open an inch or two, I just heard your accent when you spoke to your friend."
I look back in horror at where our safari bus roof is indeed popped up. I watch as he self-consciously pats at his hair. Oh God. My face is at once the same colour as the clay beneath us.
Thankfully, Rose saves us. "We're from Washington. How 'bout you?"
"Chicago, originally," he replies. "I'm Edward. That's my brother Emmett over there."
Finding my voice, I ask. "Are you on vacation too? I didn't think they allowed private vehicles in the park grounds." I gesture towards his jeep.
"No, I live here. I have a park permit."
"You live here? Wow, how did-"
I'm interrupted when Emmett yells for Edward's assistance. I begin to hope that they are staying at our lodge, as I definitely want more time with those incredible eyes.
Once they drag us out of the muddy hole we follow them all the way back to the lodge, just in case we get stuck again. When we arrive I'm surprised by how beautiful it is; entirely constructed from wood the main building contains a reception and open air restaurant and is surrounded by cute little footpaths leading to dozens of tiny lodges.
"Are you guys staying here too?" Rose asks Emmett, staring intently at him. He seems equally enamoured with her.
"Yeah," he replies. "Just one more night then we're on to Taita Hills."
"Emmett's visiting me, so I said we'd get out of Mombasa and see some wildlife this time." Edward explains.
I desperately want to ask more, specifically how he came to leave Chicago for Mombasa but we're interrupted when a bellboy grabs our bags and leads us to our cabins.
"Oh we'll probably catch you later on then." I say, trying to mask my disappointment.
Edward's eyes hold mine when he says, "I hope so."
Our cabin is basic but pretty. While Rose showers I step out onto our little balcony and enjoy the most stunning view of the plains. Something catches my eye to the left and I see Edward twenty feet away, standing with his back to me also taking in the view. But something about his stance is different, like he is waiting for something. Tall, lean and wearing brown cargo pants and a white shirt he really is beautiful. I decide to abandon the view and just watch him instead.
A few minutes later I decide watching isn't enough, I want to talk to him, learn about him. I mean, the least I can do is thank him properly for rescuing us, right?
I yell to Rose that I'm popping out and follow the row of cabins round to the back. I clear my throat as I approach, not wanting to startle him. He turns around and when he sees me his face breaks into the most gorgeous crooked smile.
"Hi," he whispers.
"Hi." I stand beside him, trying to force my heart to stop pounding. I clear my throat again. "So listen, Edward, I just wanted to-"
He quickly puts his hand on my arm and gently presses two finger of his other hand over my mouth, silencing me. The sudden and unexpected contact makes me gasp and I'm suddenly aware of how close our bodies are. If I just slipped my tongue out I could taste his skin.
He stares at me for a second, apparently surprised by his own movements, before pulling away from me and gesturing to the watering hole in front of us.
"Look," he whispers.
Walking towards us, across the red clay plains, is an enormous elephant. As he gets nearer I notice many others behind him, six or seven at least, of various sizes. From the right there are another three, including a tiny baby.
I stand in frozen silence as they amble nearer and nearer. Eventually the entire herd stops at the watering hole mere feet from where Edward and I are standing and begin to drink.
"Holy shit," I murmur.
Edward chuckles softly.
"If you wait long enough, they always come to you," he says.
I watch as the huge male sprays water from his trunk and the tiny baby cowers under the protection of his mother's body. They are beautiful, incredibly graceful despite their size, their skin the gorgeous reddish brown I have heard so much about.
As if reading my mind, Edward says softly, "They aren't actually red you know."
He shakes his head. "Their skin is grey, like any other elephant, the brown and red is just from the clay and dust beneath us."
Edward speaks about these animals in the most reverent way, as if he knows them, and I wonder if that is why he moved here, to work with animals.
Edward glances back toward the row of cabins. "I should get Emmett, he should see this but..." he stops and casts his eyes downwards.
He eventually meets my gaze and I watch his throat bob as he swallows. "I like sharing this just with you."
A shiver runs through my whole body at his words and I wonder if this is actually some sort of monsoon-induced dream. Elephants temporarily forgotten, I stare only at him.
"That's crazy right?" he whispers, while I can't drag my eyes away from his mouth. "I don't even know you."
"Yes. Totally crazy," I stutter. "But I feel that way too."
A terrifying deep roar pulls my attention back towards our giant companions.
"God! Is that normal?" I'm suddenly a little frightened by our close proximity.
"Yes," Edward says. "Don't worry, they are just communicating. When it's a roar of aggression you'll know about it!"
The female with the baby looks up and holds my gaze while I hold my breath. Edward and I stand in silence and a weird, nervous tension buzzes between us.
Eventually the elephants slowly retreat. We watch as they leave in the same direction, walking off into the waning sun.
"Incredible," I say quietly, watching them.
"Yeah," Edward murmurs but when I look at him he is staring only at me.
Uncomfortable under his scrutiny and this odd atmosphere, I ask in a louder, more confident voice, "You don't see that every day. Thank you, Edward. And for rescuing us earlier too."
"Of course, no worries," he replies.
I don't want to leave. I need to see him again. I need more time with him.
I speak quickly before I lose my nerve.
"Can we have dinner together tonight? With Rose and Emmett too of course," I add quickly.
Edward's green eyes light up and his crooked smile returns.
"Yes please," he says.
The lodge restaurant looks spellbinding at night, a shining beacon standing out against the pitch black like a single star. The darkness that surrounds us, and pushes at its edges, is the thick, impenetrable kind you only encounter in the most remote of places.
I spot Edward and Emmett waiting for us out front and can't help the small, nervous noise that escapes me.
Rose stares at me. "B, what's gotten into you? You just met the guy, why all the drama?"
"We had a weird...moment earlier."
Rose frowns. "What sort of moment?"
I think carefully. "A tingling, goosebumpy one."
She let's out a low whistle. "Well damn, I can't remember the last time you had one of those with a guy."
She's right of course. It's pretty rare that I venture onto a date at home but when I do I always return disappointed. I always hear about people feeling a spark with someone but all I feel on dates is anxious and a little bored.
I'm prevented from replying when I realise we're in earshot of the men.
"Evening, ladies," Emmett greets in his confident and booming voice. Rose quickly attaches herself to his side and they lead Edward and I to a table. Rose has always possessed that most enviable of qualities - complete self-assurance. I see the same thing in Emmett so I can't imagine much awkwardness there.
Edward smiles at me a little shyly.
"You look great," he says, while I fiddle nervously with my black tank top. I wish I'd brought something nicer with me, maybe a dress, but this is a safari. How was I to know I'd be meeting the best looking man I'd ever encountered in real life?
"Thanks," I say. "So do you."
And, my god, he does. He has changed into dark jeans and a pale blue shirt, sleeves rolled up to reveal strong, tan forearms.
Stop staring, Bella.
We follow Rose and Emmett to an empty table and order our drinks. Conversation flows easily between the four of us and I'm relieved. We tell them about where we're from and they in turn wax lyrical about Chicago.
We tell them about where we are staying in Bamburi and Edward tells us that ours is one of the better hotels in the area. I see my opportunity and go for it.
"So, Edward, what made you decide to move to Africa?"
He looks a little uncomfortable and I wonder if he is embarrassed to tell us or if he is just a little awkward by nature. So far I'm leaning towards the latter and, unfortunately for me, that just further endears him to me.
He clears his throat. "Well I came here on vacation, just like you, two years ago. I did all the usual trips, the safari, the animal parks, the carving centre. Then the hotel manager recommended I see a bit more, venture into the real Africa. We'd chatted quite a bit and I trusted him so he took me and some other enthusiastic guests into one of the villages."
His gorgeous face looks so serious and intense that I have to check my tongue isn't lolling out while I hang on his every word.
"It's another world, light years away from what I'm used to back home. You've seen downtown Mombasa on the drive here, right?"
Rose and I nod and my mind flashes to the corrugated iron roofs of the shacks that operate as stores and homes. To the bare-footed locals wearing old soccer shirts with rips in the seams.
"The villages are similar," Edward continues. "They are still painfully poor of course but it isn't the first thing you notice because their culture is so prominent. Their homes are huts built into the dry woodland, their jobs are all centred on the community - building, carving and cooking. The women spend an entire day grinding maize flour using large rocks to make enough food to see the rest of the community through to the next week.
"Everything we hold dear, every materialistic item that we crave is utterly irrelevant to them. And I've never seen people happier."
His face has turned calm and wistful. This means so much to him and I can't understand why that makes my heart pound so fast.
"Of course there are heartbreaking elements to it. Many don't believe in western medicine for most ailments so they visit the local witch doctor instead, which often leads to infections and illnesses we consider non-life threatening, taking many lives. The schools are painfully understaffed with little or no equipment. One school I visited didn't even have a roof."
I think of Forks High and all my complaints about the students and the parents and the hours. About budget cutbacks and staff politics. The wave of guilt that rocks over me almost makes me shudder.
Edward swallows and casts his eyes downwards. "But the part that gets you the most is the orphanages.
You see them on TV and you think you understand but until you visit a tiny house, with walls covered in damp and 8 children sleeping in a space barely big enough for two, you can never truly comprehend it."
"Jesus," Rose murmurs.
"Yeah," Edward shrugs sadly.
"So you decided to...help?" I guess.
He smiles gently at me, his eyes crinkle at the edges and I'm desperate to run my fingertips over his face.
"Yeah," he says. "There really wasn't much tying me to Chicago so I moved here to volunteer."
Emmett snorts and rolls his eyes.
"Dude, your modesty is fucking ridiculous!" He turns to us. "Edward doesn't just work here. He came back and used his damn trust fund to build an orphanage!"
"Holy shit!" I exclaim without thinking.
They both laugh and the blush slowly forming on Edward's cheeks makes me want to lean forward and kiss him.
"You built an orphanage?" Rose repeats.
Edward shrugs. "You need to understand it wasn't entirely selfless, I had my own motivations for wanting to leave Chicago." I watch as he and Emmett exchange a quick glance and I realise that topic is not going to be up for discussion.
"Well, whatever the reason I'm sure those kids are mighty grateful," I say, wanting him to realise that it's okay for him not to talk about that right now.
He breaks into a grin. "The kids are completely awesome," he agrees.
Imagining this handsome, sweet, deliciously intense man surrounded by cute African kids makes me remember I have a uterus.
"I'd love to meet some of them." I say, tentatively. I feel nervous. I have no idea if Edward will even want to see me again after today. The moment with the elephants felt charged with...something, but I'm wondering now if I imagined it.
"I'd love to show you, Bella," he says and his eyes stay on my face a little longer than is normal.
"Immediate plans first, big bro," Emmett says. "What about our proposal for tomorrow?" He eyes Edward pointedly before winking at Rose causing her to giggle. Jeez, my Rose doesn't giggle.
Edward clears his throat. "Um, yeah so, as we said before, I think Em and I are heading to Taita Hills tomorrow and if you are too we'd love to accompany your bus if you wanted? I'm confident I can find us plenty of animal photo opportunities."
Rose and I exchange a glance. We've been friends long enough to almost have mind reading capabilities.
"Actually," she says. "Our driver is kind of crazy. He nearly punched a guy in a fit of road rage this morning and he corners those narrow mountain roads like Michael Schumacher, so we're more than happy to ditch him and, if it's agreeable with you guys, could we travel with you?"
Emmett grins and Edward smiles slowly while holding my eyes with his.
"I say fuck yeah!" says Emmett.
Several hours in the African wilderness alone with two men we met 24 hours before, I guess that's pretty insane. But one of the men is Edward and in all my life I've never felt safer with anyone.
After dinner, we move to the bar and watch the night as people slowly slope off to their cabins. The night sky looks a little clearer and I hope the sun finally makes an appearance tomorrow.
As I listen to Rose and Emmett's colourful chatter and laughter drifting through the air and feel Edward's long body warm beside mine my eyelids getting heavy.
I jerk awake when I notice fingertips sweeping along my hairline.
My eyes flash open and his green ones are right there.
"Hey," he says softly. "You should go to bed. We'll be leaving at 6.30 tomorrow."
I nod, embarrassed to have practically drooled on him.
"Are you ready to go, Rose?"
Rose turns her flushed face towards me as if she has only just noticed I'm there.
"Aww, B, I'm not tired yet and there won't be any light to even read by." We've already been warned that the power in the cabins is shut off until 5am. It freaks me out a little but I'm not going to admit that.
"I'll walk Bella back then," Edward offers and my heart races.
We wish the others goodnight and make our way down the winding pathways with the aid of a flashlight Edward borrowed from reception. We reach our cabin way too quickly. He helps me inside and lays the flashlight on the nightstand where it gives the room a dull glow.
"Will you be able to see well enough?" Edward asks and I nod.
Suddenly I'm hit by how much I don't want him to leave. I've never felt this drawn to a man before. I want him to stay in this lonely room with me, wrapped around me, keeping me safe from the wild beasts and thick darkness outside. More than anything I want his lips, his hands, his body on mine.
But what does he want?
"Night, then," he says. "We'll see you at breakfast."
He heads for the door and I scramble after him. He reaches for the handle and I touch his wrist, turning him towards me. His face is an inch from mine but I can't read his expression in the almost-dark. His breath is slightly laboured though and it's all I can hear.
"Thank you," I whisper, finding his cheek in the darkness and placing my lips there. I'm frozen, captured by his scent, his warmth, his quickening breath in my ear.
Slowly, hesitantly, he slides a hand around my hip and moves his lips a fraction towards mine. I do the same. Nearer and nearer until they might touch if either of us uttered a word. Then suddenly his hand grasps the back of my head and pulls me those extra few millimetres, his lips fusing with mine.
He tightens his arm around my waist and pulls me closer, running his tongue gently along my bottom lip, asking for entrance. I grant it willingly and the first taste of him makes me tremble. He is new and fresh but also somehow familiar, every move he makes seems exactly what I need.
He pulls back, stares at me, breathless.
"Bella, it's-" His hands capture my face gently. "God, it's like I know you."
I nod, swallow.
"I know," I whisper, pulling his head back towards me. "Please."
He answers with a groan and with hands that grip and a mouth that searches and my hand finds his and pulls him in the direction of the bed. My fingers find the bottom of his shirt and slip inside, grazing his stomach. He curses and kisses me harder, threading his hands into my hair. I hastily begin unfastening the buttons of his shirt.
His hands touch the bare skin of my back under my shirt and I shiver, pushing closer to him. We're still clothed and yet I've never wanted a man this much. He pulls my tank over my head and tosses it aside, moving his mouth back to my neck, where I have always been most sensitive.
"You taste amazing," he whispers.
He pulls back to look at me and the dim light reflects concern in his eyes.
"Do you want this, Bella? I mean, you don't know me; we just met today."
I can see the doubt has crept in and seeing it in him makes me feel it too. We have only just met, I have never slept with someone this quickly before but something deep inside says I can trust him, that this thing between us is not just a vacation fling. It means something else, something more.
I grip his shirt collar and bring him closer, resting my forehead against his.
"Yes, I want this." I whisper honestly. "I don't care that we don't know each other well, I want this. I want you."
His mouth crashes back to mine and his hands are everywhere, exploring my body feverishly. We sink down unspeaking onto the bed and I pull him down on top of me, pushing my hips against his, causing him to moan and curse and push back harder.
We undress and although I can barely see him in the dim light, my fingers run over the satiny muscle and skin and memorise every part of him. He explores every inch of my naked skin with his hands and mouth and I feel worshiped in a way that I've never felt with anyone else. I hold my breath when his fingers trace down my body, between my legs, and when he slips his fingers inside me I make a sound I've never heard myself make before. Soon though fingers aren't enough; I want all of him, everything.
"Edward," my voice is nothing but a needy moan. "Please, I want you. Now."
He covers the length of my body with his and finds my eyes in the dim light. He just stares at me for a moment and every single part of me calls out for every single part of him. Who is he? How can someone I've only just met instantly mean more to me than any other man I've ever known?
He moves away and I wonder what he is doing rifling on the floor before I realise he must be looking for his pants or his wallet. I've never been so grateful before for taking the pill for my heavy periods.
"No, it's okay. Edward?"
He looks at me in question.
"Just you. I want to feel you."
He frowns. "But -"
I shake my head and push his hair back from his face. "It's fine. I'm protected. And I trust you. I don't know why but I can't help but trust you."
He kisses me, moves between my legs with a stifled groan. "I trust you too."
He pushes inside me with a curse and I watch his eyes slide shut. It's been a long time for me and I feel so stretched and full; so perfectly full. His eyes flash open and stare into mine as he starts to move, slow and deep at first and then harder and faster when I rock my hips in encouragement and wrap my legs around him.
"You feel so good, Bella, so right," he murmurs in my ear and I know, I understand. We may have only just met but everything about this does feel right. That wonderful moment comes where you know it wont be long, just a little more and you can fall off the edge.
"More, Edward, faster."
His voice is strained. "Bella I...I can't. I'm close. I don't want to...before you."
I grip my nails into his back, push back harder against him. "It's okay, it's okay. I'm nearly there. Please."
He thrusts harder, faster, stronger. His breathless groans in my ear and his public bone rubbing against where I am most sensitive, drives me closer to the edge.
"Bella," his voice is a desperate plea. "Now. Please."
His words and his voice and his face are enough and my orgasm jolts through me, making my whole body tremble, just as his flows into me and he gasps his pleasure against my neck.
There is silence apart from our panting breath and thumping hearts. This is where I usually feel uncomfortable. This is where something usually feels wrong, not enough. But I don't feel any of those things.
He pulls out of me and my breath catches a little sharply. He lies next to me and I turn to face him. He stares at me, then smiles and my heart threatens to crash out of my chest.
"That was -" he kisses me hard then grins. "God, that was incredible."
I smile back. "It was."
He pulls me into his arms and I snuggle into his chest and it's as if we fit exactly together.
"I want to stay here," he whispers.
"I know. I want you to. But Rose will be back."
"I know," he says sadly.
When my phone beeps with a text message I wonder if somehow the stars really have aligned today. I instinctively know what it will say but I reach over to look anyway.
I turn back to Edward with a shy smile. "She won't be back actually. And I don't think you're welcome in your cabin."
He smiles, kisses me and pulls me back into his tight embrace. "Thank you, Emmett," he mumbles and I laugh.
Edward wasn't making false promises about the animals, although how much credit can be given to him and how much to the miracle of the blazing Kenyan sun finally appearing is debatable. Either way by the middle of the next day we've encountered giraffes, gazelles, cheetahs and a lioness mere feet away. Not to mention more red elephants than anyone deserves to encounter in the wild. In fact, we've nicknamed Edward "The Elephant Whisperer" as they seem intent on appearing wherever he is. At one point three were blocking the road ahead of us and we were forced to hold back in the jeep so as not to startle them.
Seeing the animals has been thrilling and exhilarating but being with Edward has excited me even more.
Every glance, every word, every touch sends a thrill through me that I've never encountered outside of a romance novel. Rose keeps looking at me like she doesn't even recognise me. The rarest breed we've seen today; Bella Swan falling for a man.
By evening we're at the final lodge. Rose and Emmett already went to "bed" and Edward and I are enjoying the warm night air and a glass of wine overlooking the plains. Even in the dark you can just make out the animals coming to drink. Edward wraps his arm around me and nuzzles my throat and it's the most peaceful I've felt in years, although I can't help feeling anxious about what happens tomorrow, and worse, what happens in 10 days when I return to Washington.
"So, tomorrow. Back to Mombasa?" I begin, as casually as I can.
"Yes, that's the plan. I'll still be on tourist duty with Emmett until he leaves." Edward watches me carefully and I wonder if he is thinking what I am thinking. My plane leaves the same day as Emmett's - when he says goodbye to his brother I am leaving him too.
He turns his chair a little to face me, slides his hand around my neck and pulls me gently to him. He kisses me softly, sweetly. Please don't let this be goodbye.
"Bella," he says. "I want to continue seeing you, if that's okay? At least until...you have to leave."
I nod, afraid to speak for a moment. How can I feel so much for someone after only two days?
But I know what I want. Even if all we have are these 10 days, even if fate is so cruel that it finally drops a man into my life that I actually want to be with only to take him away again. If this is all the time we have I want to make it to count.
Finally, I say, "Edward, show me the real Kenya. Show me everything the way you saw it."
He smiles, beautiful green eyes twinkling in the starlight and kisses me. "I'd love to."
Two days later we leave Rose and Emmett on the beach in Bamburi while Edward drives us an hour inland to one of the villages. Village is hardly the word. He wasn't exaggerating when he said that people lived essentially in huts in the woods. A whole community of people in fact. The people in this particular village seem to know Edward well and although they can only speak a little English, and Edward only a little Swahili, they communicate just fine. They are welcoming and kind, the women show me how to make ugali out of maize and when I find out that they eat this bland, stodgy food almost every day I think of my food at home, or in the hotel even, and the guilt almost floors me. When I try the home made coconut beer it takes everything I have not to spit it out, bitter and alcoholic enough it nearly burns my oesophagus. Edward laughs hard and the sound is so pleasing it almost makes me want to chug back the whole bottle just to hear it again.
After food and drink the young women of the village begin a song and dance routine, it soon becomes clear that participation is mandatory and Edward pulls me to my feet with a grin. He holds me close as we stomp around the camp to words I don't understand. But alongside the African drum my heart beats out its own refrain - don't leave him don't leave him don't leave him.
In the afternoon, we visit a village school but I can hardly even identify it. It's a rough stone building, like an outhouse, only 25 feet square. The roof is made from dried palm leaves and mud but there is a hole in the centre.
Edward looks at me with a small smile and takes my hand. "Want to go in?" he asks and I nod, curious.
We walk inside and at least 20 children turn their eyes to us. They are separated into four groups by chalk lines on the stone floor.
"That divides up the classes," Edward explains and I almost choke. There are four classes in this tiny space!
Edward greets one of the teachers.
"This is Bella," he says. "She's a teacher too."
Even though I know this sentence is true I can hardly reconcile the schools at home with the building we are in now.
"What do you teach?" the woman asks in perfect English.
"High school," I reply. "English."
She nods, smiles. "This is probably a little different then?"
I laugh nervously. "You could say that!"
Edward turns to me. "Unlike in the villages, the children have to speak English in school or they are punished. Speaking English is a sign of education in Kenya. Do you want to meet some of the kids?"
We crouch down next to nearest group. "What are you learning today?" I ask a boy of perhaps seven, with a shaved head and eyes that seem so huge on his face.
"Maths," he says in a quiet voice. He shows me the battered notebook in from of him, covered in long division sums. That's when I realise that all of the children in his "class" are sharing one workbook and one textbook. There is a bucket of pens and pencils in the centre of the room.
When the children I distracted I whisper to Edward, "This is all the equipment they have?"
He nods and his jaw is clenched.
"Bella," the teacher says. "Edward told me he was coming today and the children want to sing for you, if that is okay?"
I shoot Edward a surprised glance and he grins at me.
"Of course, " I stutter. "That would be lovely."
The children clamber to their feet. I wasn't expecting it to be a song I knew, perhaps another tribal number, so when on the teacher's instruction the whole class erupts into a word-perfect version of If You're Happy and You Know It I gasp and laugh with surprise. Edward laughs too and squeezes my hand.
I watch every child carefully as they sing. They all seem so happy, so content despite the fact that they have so little. Every Kenyan I've met so far seems incredibly peaceful. It makes me realise that having materialistic things, having wealth and huge homes and cars and everything I take for granted at home doesn't necessarily make you happy. It hasn't made me that happy. These people have nothing, and yet they have everything they need. By the time they finish their song I have tears in my eyes.
The following day Edward takes me to see his orphanage and I can hardly sit still with anticipation. He seems a little nervous, even more than usual, and I reach across to hold his hand while he drives.
We pull up outside one of the most modern buildings I've seen here. A middle-aged woman greets us at the door.
"Edward!" she shouts in greeting, with a grin, before embracing him. He hugs her back warmly.
"Bella, this is Adhra. She manages the orphanage. Adhra, Bella."
She watches me with a warm smile before saying something to Edward in Swahili, I watch him swallow hard and nod.
"What was that all about?" I ask, while Adhra leads us inside.
"I'll tell you later," he whispers, before "Get ready."
Moments later a herd of children run towards us, wrapping themselves all around Edward's legs. They are aged somewhere between 4 and 10 and look in a lot better shape than the kids I've spotted in Mombasa.
"Mr Edward! Where have you been?" one boy asks.
"I told you, Radhi. My brother is here, I was showing him around."
Apparently satisfied, Radhi, and several others, turn their quizzical brows to me.
A tiny girl with braids that stick out in every direction tugs on Edward's hand and asks. "Who that, Mr Edward?" Her tone is almost accusing and I can't help laughing.
Edward chuckles and puts his arm around my waist. "This is my friend, well my..." he looks at me with a question in his eyes and I understand it. What am I to him? I can't be his friend but I can't be anything more either, I'm leaving in a week.
Finally, he says softly, "This is my Bella."
And he's right, because I am his in every possible way.
Edward speaks to the staff and does some paperwork while the children show me around. There are 12 in total and they share two to a room. They tell me about school and the games they play and show me their drawings. The girl with the wild braids, Samiha, shows me a picture she has next to the wall above her bed. It's clearly of her surrounded by a host of small stick figures and one taller one, on the head of the taller one she has scribbled wild hair with a reddish brown crayon.
"I asked Adhra to write the words, " she whispers as if she is telling me a secret. "But I told her what to say."
I look at the words written neatly in Swahili.
I crouch my head closer to hers. "And what does it say?"
Her fingers linger on the tall figure with the crazy hair and then she turns her huge brown eyes to me.
"My family," she whispers.
It hits me all at once. This is Edward's home. He might be American, he might be from Chicago but this is where he belongs, helping these people and these children to lead a better, safer life. He belongs here. And I don't.
"Ready?" he asks, suddenly at my side. I nod, not trusting my voice and we say goodbye.
In the car I hold back my tears.
"Kind of overwhelming, isn't it?" he says. "They are such awesome kids."
I nod. I reach over and push a strand of hair from his face, thinking of crayons.
"You're awesome, too," I murmur, and he kisses me. I kiss him back until my thoughts are pushed away.
We break apart and I see conflict in his expression.
"Bella, I'd like to take you somewhere else, but only if you'd like to."
"It's not...pleasant but I want to show you another orphanage. It isn't like this one. It's like the one I saw when I first came here." He runs his fingertips over my cheek. "It's the reason I did this."
I want to know him, every little detail, so I nod. On the way, we pull over and Edward buys rice, beans and stationary from the grocery store. You can't go inside and wander around like at home, you have to request what you would like through the bars at the front of the store and the shopkeeper fetches it for you.
"Security," is Edward's only explanation in response to my curious glance and I don't think I want to know any more.
We eventually park outside a run down, two-storey house with an iron gate. Edward asks me again if I'm sure and I nod my head but I'm not really certain at all.
Inside, the children who greet us aren't as exuberant as the ones at Edward's orphanage but they are still smiling. Each one we pass holds out their hand for us to shake and I take them willingly. Edward introduces me to the two men who run the place and they accept his grocery bags gratefully. Then they show us around and it's exactly as Edward described that first night in Tsavo; the walls are flaky and covered in damp, there are two lots of bunk beds in each ten foot square room but when I add up the number of beds and the number of children I realise they must sleep two to each bed, four to a bunk. In the corner of one of the beds there is a small pile of toys and a dirty, pink teddy bear. It dawns on me that the child who that belongs to didn't have it bought for her by a relative but it must have been donated by someone visiting like we are. This child doesn't have anyone in the world to buy her a teddy.
Afraid that I'll lose control of my emotions in front of the kids and the orphanage leaders I whisper to Edward that I'll meet him outside and stumble my way back to the fresh air. I gulp in huge chunks of the stifling hot air and try to stop the tears that insist on spilling unchecked down my face.
I hear his voice behind me and he slips his arms around my waist, holding me tight. "I'm sorry, Bella. I shouldn't have brought you here."
I turn in his arms and try to calm my tears. "No, Edward. It's not that. I'm glad I've seen this."
I look towards the ground. "This is why I came here. Rose said I needed to see the world, and this is it. This is far away from Forks and I'm glad. I am. Everything I complain about, everything I hate about my life at home is nothing."
He grazes his knuckles down my cheek. "Love, that's not true. Your life is important and so is everything in it. It is just different here."
"But that's what I mean! It is different. And I'm never taking everything I have for granted again."
He holds me close and leads me back to the jeep. When we're inside he says:
"I was in finance in Chicago."
He nods. "My father is the head of a global financial management consultancy. He's very wealthy. I went to college to learn to be exactly like him, to take over the business eventually, the way Emmett now will."
It is hard for me to put the casual Edward I've known here in a corporate bubble but I am so grateful to him for opening up.
He turns to me. "I came here for the same reason as you, Bella. I wanted to see something real, something outside of my father's empire, and my father's shadow. I guess I didn't expect to see so much."
"When I returned home everything I thought I wanted meant nothing. My father's company seemed like nothing more than a mountain of pure greed and I suddenly wanted nothing to do with it. The money in my trust fund came from that greed and I couldn't bear to know it was there when I knew all this poverty was here. It was irresponsible, and I'm not sure my father will ever forgive me, but it's like I was standing at a crossroads and every other option was blocked by this one."
I reach over and take his hand. "You've done a lot of good here, Edward."
He smiles, shrugs. "I guess, but there is so much more to do."
He's right. There is more to do and they need him. But now so do I and I have no idea what to do about that.
That evening Rose finds me on the balcony, tears tracking down my face.
"Babe, what's wrong?" she wraps me in her strong arms and I can't help the sob that escapes.
"I can't leave him, Rose. What am I going to do?"
She looks at me in understanding. She knows me and she's never seen this kind of emotion from me.
"You need to talk to him." She answers simply, and I know that she is right.
Two days before we leave Edward is agitated. It is the most tightly wound I've ever seen him. We're walking on the beach in Bamburi and the sunset is so beautiful but his face is lined with worry. We make small talk but the words we need to say hang between us in the humid air.
"Can we sit for a sec?" he finally asks and we collapse onto the sand, watching the ocean.
"We need to talk about it," he whispers, dragging a finger through the sand.
I know exactly what he's going to say but I feel like my chest will split open if I hear the words.
"About what?" I say, deflecting.
"The red elephant in the room, " he quips with an ironic smile that doesn't reach his eyes.
My own fill with tears before he even says the words.
"You're going to leave, Bella."
I nod, miserably.
"And I can't stand it."
I nod again and move silently into his arms. He pulls me close while tears fall freely from my eyes.
We hold each other for a few moments and when he speaks again there is anger in his voice.
"I want to be selfish."
I pull back and look at his smouldering green gaze. "What do you mean?"
He kisses me softly, cups my face in both his roughened hands. "I want to leave with you."
I stare at him in stunned silence.
"I can go back to Chicago, beg for my father's forgiveness. Hopefully, he can give me a job, we have an office in Seattle, and we can be together."
The temptation to say yes is overwhelming. I can't think of anything I want more than to have him come back to the US with me, to be with me for good. But Samiha's innocent face swims in front of my eyes along with the drawing of her "family".
"No, Edward," I whisper. "You can't."
His face contorts in hurt and I realise he thinks I'm rejecting him.
"No, no, you don't understand," I say quickly, "I want that, I do. So much. But you can't leave Kenya. They need you, Edward. Those children need you."
He looks conflicted and I know he knows I'm right, even when he whispers. "But I need you."
I kiss him, softly at first before I slowly open my mouth and he opens his. I can taste the salt of tears and I don't think they are mine alone.
When we eventually part, he rests his forehead against mine. I know what he is going to say and I almost don't want to hear those words because they don't change anything.
"I'm in love with you, Bella. I know it seems crazy, we've only known each other a matter of days but I've never felt anything like this before."
I nod and reply without hesitation. "I love you, too."
He kisses me again, pulls me so tightly against him I almost feel crushed but in the best possible way.
"You could stay here," he says and I can't help the scoff that escapes my mouth.
"Edward, be serious. I'm not cut out for this! I cried when we went to visit an orphanage for Christ's sake!" I shake my head. "This is the first time I've left the US. I can't live in a country where you have to buy groceries through metal bars. I'm not strong like you."
He eyes are animated. "Bella, you are! Give yourself credit. There could be so much here for you.
You saw that school, you saw how understaffed it is! They need you. My next idea was to begin raising funds to rebuild that school, you could help me."
He looks so excited by this idea and for a brief moment I'm tempted but I know it wouldn't work. I know nothing about living abroad. A two-week holiday is one thing but to leave Forks, my father, my friends for good? To live amongst this heat and poverty and everything being completely alien to me. I would freak out and run away within a month, I know myself. How could I risk hurting him, and myself, that way?
"I'm sorry, Edward, I can't."
He looks like he wants to protest and then thinks better of it.
"So what now?"
More tears sting my eyes. "We have to just take everything good away from this that we can. You've made this last two weeks the most amazing of my life. You've opened my eyes, Edward, and I'm never going to forget that. I'm never going to forget you."
With glazed eyes himself, he replies. "I'm never going to forget you either."
That night we make love and he takes me with such intensity, such love, such adoration, that it's as if every touch, every kiss, every moment is infused with one word. Goodbye.
Emmett's flight leaves two hour after ours but he and Edward come to the airport with us anyway to say goodbye. I watch, envious, as Rose and Emmett kiss goodbye with a promise to meet up soon. He may live over 2,000 miles away but they live in the same country at least. If they wanted to be together Rose could move, or Emmett could, they have options where Edward and I don't.
Edward and I hold each other in silence, everything that needed to be said has already been uttered, and there isn't a simple solution. When we kiss I try to memorise every single thing about him, his smell, his touch, his taste. Feeling myself about to give over to sobs I eventually pull away but he grabs my hand at the last minute, staring at me intently.
"Can I write you, Bella? Call you?"
I want him to, I do. But I wonder if that will only make everything more painful.
"Will that not make it worse?" I whisper brokenly.
"Maybe," he shrugs, miserably. "But I can't just forget you exist. I can't just never speak to you again."
I nod in agreement. "Me neither."
Eventually, Rose softly reminds me that we have to check in now before we miss our flight. I turn away and don't look back, knowing that I can't watch him as I walk away or I will never be able to.
I'm quiet as we check in our baggage and make our way through the many security checks. Rose doesn't even try to coax words from me. She buys us coffees in the departure lounge and after she has handed me mine she grabs my spare hand in hers, squeezing tightly.
When I look at my best friend she has tears of her own in her eyes. "B, I'm really sorry," she whispers.
"What do you mean?"
"I should never have made you come here. If we hadn't you wouldn't have met Edward, and you wouldn't be so upset. I'm so sorry, babe."
Something about what she has said doesn't sit easily with me.
"Rose, don't say that. I'm not sorry I came here at all. And I'm definitely not sorry I met him. He's shown me so much, and I don't just mean in Kenya, I mean in me."
Rose just watches me.
"At home I was stuck, you were right, I wasn't happy. I didn't appreciate anything but I didn't have the guts to change it. He has shown me there are so many other ways to live and I need to start trying some of them."
She frowns. "So what now then? What will you change when you get to Forks?"
For the first time I allow myself to think about the home I'm going back to. What will I change? Will I change my job? My home? Will I go on more dates, try to meet someone else? But I know that last part wont happen any time soon. I've never met anyone like Edward in all these years, anyone I've felt connected to in that way, so I can't see how I will now. So what will be different?
Then it hits me. Nothing will. I've had this incredibly trip, I've had my eyes opened to some unusual and wonderful and terrible things and yet I'm about to go back to my father's house and pick up exactly where I left off. So what has been the point? What has this all been for?
I'm interrupted from my thoughts by the crackly loudspeaker.
"That's us," Rose says.
I automatically stand up, grab my carry-on and follow her to the gate. There are two queues and we pick one. A choice.
Edward's words come to mind in a moment of stunning clarity. I see the crossroads, a central point amidst several dusty tracks, each leading in a different direction. Except every route appears dark, empty and miserable. All except one; the path that leads to Edward.
He is the only route I can take.
My urgent tone startles her but when she turns and sees my expression a small smile of understanding crosses her face. She grips me tight in her arms and I squeeze back, a new goodbye. But this is a goodbye I can handle, a goodbye from Edward seems impossible.
"Just go, B," she murmurs into my hair.
"Thank you," I reply and I mean it for so many things.
I run back through the airport with only one thought in my head.
The minutes stretch on like hours before I finally spot him, waiting with Emmett at the coffee bar. When I'm a few feet away he glances up and sees me and the smile on his face that lights up every fibre inside me convinces me I've made the right choice.
I throw myself into his arms with such force he almost falls backwards before quickly recovering and lifting me into his arms.
"You're here," he gasps. "Why are you here, Love?"
I pull back and kiss him, grinning. "I'm staying, Edward. I want to stay here."
He doesn't question me. He doesn't ask what made me change my mind. He doesn't ask what my plans are - where I will live, what I will do, what I will tell my father. He questions none of that and neither to I.
Everything about us from the moment we met has been based on pure instinct and sometimes you need to follow your heart no questions asked.
I know nothing about Kenya. I know nothing about adjusting to a life in this strange country. But suddenly I know it is where I belong. Home is dusty roads and monsoon rain and bright-eyed, smiling children. Home is maize and tribal dancing and red elephants at sunset.
Of one thing I am absolutely certain.
Home is Edward.
Thank you so much for reading, I hope you enjoyed this dip into something a little different to the norm. Reviews make me so happy, I would love to hear your thoughts.