Twilight character names belong to Stephenie Meyer. I own Dodge and Burn.
Much love and thanks to Pre-readers BtwntheStacks and Lemonmartinis and Beta-MsKathy...I appreciate your wise insight, support and friendship so much.
This chapter is dedicated to my mom who was always my hero and my staunchest supporter. She gave me my wings to fly. Although she is 13 years into Alzheimer's and no longer knows who I am, she lives in this story. I couldn't have written it without her.
I wrote Dodge and Burn because I needed too. Bella's fears live in me and writing this story made me face it all, and I am changed for it. The fact that you traveled this rocky road with me, shared your pain and stories, and hung in there even when the flawed characters made you furious means the world to me. I give you all a big collective hug. Thank you…thank you, I am so grateful.
Dodge and Burn / Chapter Thirty-Four / Wings to Fly
Six months later…
"Oh my God," Bella gasps. "I think it's too big. I don't think it's going to fit."
"We've come this far, Isabella," Edward says, panting. "Even if I force it, I'm going to make it fit."
"Be careful!" she warns him. "You can't force something like this! It's just so huge," she groans. "Maybe it's too big."
"You know I like that it's so big," he says proudly. "And if it were smaller, yes it would fit more easily, but I'm not giving up."
He grunts as he pushes harder.
"Look at your muscles, handsome. God you're so sexy when you exert yourself like this."
He looks down at her. "I'm glad you think so, but can you focus, baby? I need your help to do this."
"Okay, okay, just a little more I think. I'm still not sure why we thought we could do this."
"Because it's going to be amazing once we've got it in," Edward says, pushing a little harder.
Bella tips her head back and moans. "Oooo yes! That's it, that's it! Perfect!"
Edward lets out a deep breath and sighs with relief.
She sweeps her arms up dramatically. "And you're right, it's amazing. It's found it's new home."
"It only took five months to finally get it up!" he exclaims, shaking his head.
"Yes, but it was worth the wait," she says.
Bella imagined weeks before they decided to live together that Edward's painting would look great in the front room of her studio, and it makes her so happy to finally see it there. Finally, after months of transitioning and weaving their lives and worlds together, her home is his, too.
Edward steps back to join her, and grins. "Oh yeah, it's perfect. It was a tight fit, but the effort was worth it." He gives her a big hug. "Thanks for your help."
"We make a good team," she says happily.
Bella brings out two glasses of lemonade while Edward finishes watering the freshly planted flower beds they worked on earlier. He notices the exotic henna tattoos covering her hands and wrists from the street fair have almost completely faded.
"It was so warm today, I thought they could use a good soak," he says, gesturing towards the budding flowers.
She loves that he takes pride in their home; he always seems to be fixing something or tending to the yard.
"Thank you for doing that," she says. "Sometime, remind me to tell you about a dream I had where my mom visited me back here. We talked about our garden and the flowers you and I planted."
He brushes off his hands and sits down next to her, accepting his glass of lemonade.
"Really?" he asks. "Tell me about it. Was before I moved in?"
"Actually, about six months ago…the night of the Esme's Place fundraiser."
Edward sits and thinks for a moment. "As I recall, that was a very big night. The next day was crazy town…the day that changed everything."
"Yes, it was," she says, smiling.
"Oh, I get it now," he says knowingly. "Did this dream with your mother have something to do with the epiphany you spoke of? The one that sent you on your mission to Hermosa Beach."
She sighs and nods her head. "Mom spoke to me about you, Edward. She was very encouraging. And you know what? She was right. She said you were just getting your legs and the best was yet to come."
"Did she now?" he says, fighting a smile.
"Yes, and look at what a success you've made of Esme's Place. And thanks to Jonathan, it looks like the second Esme's Place will open downtown next year."
He smiles and nods. "Things are good. I don't think I've ever felt this content."
"Me either," she agrees, curling up under his arm.
He holds up his glass. "To Esme."
For a minute, Bella allows herself to think that her mom's spirit is somewhere near, experiencing this moment with them.
"Yes," she agrees as she lifts her glass. "Thanks, Mom."
The sun's warm and Bella fights the urge to just strip down and dive into the pool. Feeling lazy, instead, she sits down on the pool edge, pushes her shorts up and eases her legs into the water so she can dangle her feet.
"So how did Jacob seem when you saw him earlier to pick up the painting?"
"He was in great spirits," Edward answers. "You know he had that meeting this morning at UCLA."
"Right, at the Easton Center. That's where they're doing the Alzheimer's research," Bella says. "It was the first meeting with the actual team he'll be working with."
"Yes, and he was really excited. I'm glad he decided to take the position here as opposed to the one back east."
Bella nods. "So am I. But as we know, Carly factored into that decision greatly. He's so crazy about her. I think he'd go to the ends of the earth to be with her."
"I think so, too," Edward agrees. "You know when we were in the loft to carry out the painting, all the colored flags you hung for me were still up there."
"Really?" says Bella. "That surprises me. I thought that'd be the first thing he would take down when they moved in. He's not always a fan of my penchant for lots of color."
"Yes, but today he told me that Carly loves them, so they're staying up."
"Well, what do you know, my son actually took my advice," she says surprised.
"And what was that?" Edward asks.
"I told him to try to imagine what Carly wants, and do what would make her happy."
"Good advice," Edward says, nodding.
"Thanks," she responds, watching him finish off his lemonade. "I learned that from you. Speaking of the kids, Edward, Jacob says you haven't cashed their rent check yet. What are you waiting for?"
"Oh, I don't know," he answers vaguely as he joins her poolside.
"What's up?" she asks, sliding her foot over his in the water.
"They're students, Isabella. And they just spent all that money on their trip to Italy."
"You're undercharging them as it is. Besides, Leo paid for their flights and they stayed with him. I doubt he let them pay for anything."
"Can't I just spoil them a little? I don't want things to be too hard for them."
She leans into him. "I love you, you big softie."
He lifts her hand and kisses it. "I love you, too."
She looks up and studies the way the light is filtering through the nearby tree. With each breeze brushing over them, it shimmers. It makes her think about how some of the best things just can't be truly captured in a photograph and yet lucky for her, some can.
"Hey, after my shoot tomorrow, I'll need to get into the darkroom," Bella says. "Jacob asked for a picture of us. He wants me to bring it to dinner tomorrow night."
"Really? Why a picture of us?" Edward asks.
"It's sweet, actually. When he and Carly were in Italy, they got to know all of Leo's big family."
"That must've been overwhelming," Edward says.
"It was, but he also got a kick out of it. He said there were some really grand personalities in the group. He joked with me that I must be part Italian."
"I can see that," Edward agrees, grinning.
She rolls her eyes playfully. "Anyway, he said it made him feel weird that he came from such a tiny family. But then he realized that he does have a big family, but it's made up of our good friends who have become family to us."
"That sounds like something Jacob would say. He's so upbeat," Edward says.
"So that's why he and Carly are throwing this family potluck dinner, and having a bunch of us over."
"I see. I was wondering why it was such a big group. I saw the table and chairs you loaned him earlier at the loft."
"Yes, and he asked each of us to bring current pictures of ourselves that he could put them in an album and take it to Italy when they go back in the spring."
"He wants to show Leo's family his family?"
"Yes," Bella says. "So I'm going to print one of us from our shoot months back."
"Can I help?" Edward asks. "Remember you promised me once that you would show me how."
"I'd love to show you. What time are you done at the center?"
"Since it's Saturday, I should be out of there by three," he says.
"Okay, I'll get it set up and then wait for you."
"Isabella," Edward calls out the next afternoon in the front room of the studio.
"I'm in the back in the darkroom," she calls back. "You changed into old clothes, right? You don't want to get the chemicals on your good jeans."
"Yup, I changed," he says as he reaches her just outside the darkroom. He's got old worn, faded jeans on with a paint-stained T-shirt.
"Oh, I love those jeans on you. Are you sure you want to risk them?"
"I'm sure," he says. "They're falling apart. Look, they have a hole on the backside."
He turns around to show her and she reaches over and slips her fingers inside.
"Yeah, that's why I like these," she teases, as her fingers explore.
He grins at her as she takes an apron off a hook and loops it over his head and then wraps the tie around him, lingering so she can step close and breath in his scent. When she's done, she gives him a kiss.
"Okay you," she says as she leads him inside. "Ready for your lesson?"
"Sure am. But wait a minute, I thought it was supposed to be dark in the dark room. You've got the lights on," he says. "What fun is that?"
"Just while setting up the developing trays. It probably wouldn't be smart to pour chemicals in the dark. I'll turn off the lights when we're ready to start."
"What about that smell?" he asks, pointing to the trays. "It's not very sexy."
"Did you expect this to be sexy?"
"You, in a dark room? Developing things? Of course I did," he teases.
Bella tries to get him to focus and shows him the basic equipment: how the enlarger works, the lenses, paper tray, and various tools. "So you put your negative in this holder, spray it with the canned air to get any dust off, and then fit it into the enlarger."
"This is pretty cool," he says, watching her closely.
"I think so," she says, happy that he's interested.
He watches her set the timing dial. She hits the button so he can see the image project on the tray. She then points to the table behind them and explains the timing on the developer, the stop bath, and then the fix bath.
"Okay, are you ready?" she asks. "I'm going to turn off the light now."
"You bet," he replies as he places his hands on her hips and squeezes. She can feel the tension vibrate off him already. He's not the first man she's known whose libido goes off the chart in a darkroom.
When she shuts off the main light, all that's left is a faint red glow.
"What's that red cast?" he asks, feeling strange that he can barely see her. His fingers press into the soft part of her hips and she sighs, feeling her libido spike, too.
"It's called the safelight. Once your eyes adapt, it give you just enough sight to see what you're doing. The printing paper doesn't get exposed from the red light."
"Interesting it's called a safelight. It doesn't seem safe in here at all." He runs his finger down the center of her back.
"We'll see about that," she teases. "Are you ready?" She reaches behind her until her fingers graze his abs.
He steps up behind her as close as possible. She feels his breath against her ear and she smiles. "Yeah," he whispers.
"First, we want to position the image on the tray." She turns on the enlarger light that projects the image, and adjusts the lens up and down, then the paper tray side to side to get the cropping and size she wants. She uses a viewing tool to focus the image precisely.
"Look at that striking couple," Edward says as she tapes the holder down so it doesn't shift while they work. "You're so beautiful," he whispers, kissing the back of her neck.
"And you're so handsome," she says, grinning as she turns off the light then pulls a sheet of printing paper from the light tight box and slides it in the tray.
"Now first, we'll do a test to determine what the exposure should be."
"Okay, boss," he says, finding her technical expertise very sexy. He moves his hands up to her waist.
"Pay attention to what I do," she says, pretending to be stern.
Edward nods and watches her hit the exposure button, then hold a piece of black cardboard over the image, revealing more of the print every five seconds.
"I think it should be about twenty seconds, but we'll see." She slips the paper out of the tray and then moves to the developer bath. She pushes the print under the liquid and taps it down with a pair of tongs. "You need to immerse it fully or it won't develop evenly," she explains.
He watches her gently rock the tray and hum quietly. "Look, Edward! There you are," she exclaims as their image starts to appear.
"It's like magic," he says as he watches their image form more fully with the descending stripes of values, dark to light.
Using the tongs, she lifts the print from the corner, lets it drip, then lowers it into the second tray with the stop bath.
"It's weird. You give it a bath to stop it. What if you don't stop it?"
"It gets dark and muddy," Bella explains. "Now the fix bath." She moves the wet print into the third tray. "This is what makes it permanent."
"This makes me want to give you a bath," he whispers.
"That can be arranged," she says, leaning into him.
When she finally moves the print from the fix to an empty tray, she turns to him. "Okay, follow me, Romeo. We're going to go look at it now."
With the fixer rinsed off, Bella lifts the print to the stainless steel viewing frame for them to study.
"What do you think? Which stripe looks best to you?"
Edward leans in and studies the different values. He points to tone of the stripes. "This one is too washed out and this one is a little dark to me, so I think this one is best."
"Good eye," she agrees. "And the contrast looks good, so let's try a full one."
They go through the process again with Bella batting his hands away every time he tries to lift her skirt. "Focus, Edward!" she says, laughing.
Once they're out in the light, Edward smiles. "I like it. Don't you?"
"Yes, but see how I'm a little washed out here, and you a little dark there? We can fix that. Come on; I'll show you."
Back at the enlarger, she pulls out her tools and then sets up a fresh sheet of paper. "Okay, watch this," she says. "I'm going to have you do the next one."
When the exposure starts, Bella waves a black disk at the end of a wire over the dark parts of Edward's face. Then she holds a large black card with a hole up near the lens and turns the enlarger back on so she can wave more light to the washed out part of her face. "This is called dodging and burning," she explains. "This extra light will add more value to me…"
"And you lightened the shadows where I was too dark?" he asks.
She nods. "So now we will balance."
"Funny," he says. "I think you've already dodged and burned me, baby. Haven't you? You've been doing it since we first met."
She laughs softly, then turns to him. "I don't know…I'd like to think we've developed together. Light and shadow, finding our balance until we got it right."
He pulls her into his arms. "And it's so right," he says softly before he kisses her.
She's almost lost in him when she suddenly pulls away. "The stop bath!" she reminds him.
"Oh, yeah." He laughs as she turns back to the trays and moves the print from one bath to the other. He leans into her from behind and lets his hands wander. By the time she pulls the print out of the fixer, his hands are under her shirt cupping her breasts, his lips grazing her neck.
"Not safe at all," he groans as his fingertips circle her nipples. He's no longer paying the slightest bit of attention to his lesson.
She moans. "I have to finish this one for tonight, and you're making this so hard."
"Oh yes," he groans, grinding up against her to illustrate her point. "Yes, I am."
Determined, she breaks away from him and rushes out to the print washer to immerse the print. She's pulled off her apron by the time she turns to see him moving toward her. Judging from the dark look in his eyes, there's no question that the printing lesson is over.
"Wall?" he growls, taking her into his arms and pressing her against the cool stucco.
She shakes her head while pushing off her panties. "Couch," she gasps before he can undo his jeans.
He grins and lifts her in his arms so she can wrap her legs around him as he carries her down the hall to the front office.
A moment later he lets her take control as she laughs, pushing him onto the couch and climbing up to straddle him. He watches as she pulls off her shirt, skirt and bra with amazing dexterity. When she opens his jeans and takes him in her warm hands, his head falls back with pleasure.
"Oh, Isabella," he whispers. "Can I...?"
"Hush," she whispers just before she kisses him.
The last images he sees before she sinks down over him are her beautiful breasts still flushed with his handprints and her bright eyes reflecting her tender-hearted love. He sighs, realizing that she's framed in an abstract halo from the big painting behind her. It's a perfect moment.
As she slowly rolls her hips, taking him deep, she is swirling passion, soft sighs, and brilliant sparks. Ever moving and changing, she's his kaleidoscope he holds up to the brightest light.
"So here's the print," Bella says proudly, holding it up to Jacob as he greets them at the door.
"Oh, that's a really great photo of you guys," he says, taking it carefully. "You shot it didn't you, Mom?"
"I did," she says happily.
"Thanks for remembering to do this and all the other stuff to pull tonight together," Jacob says.
"Anything for you," Bella says as she hugs him.
"Hey, Isabella, have you noticed how long it's been since you've forgotten anything? You're reminding me to do stuff I'm forgetting these days," Edward says.
"Yeah, I agree," says Jacob. "You've been nailing it, Mom."
She grins. "I was thinking about that the other day. I'm feeling so sharp. Maybe it's because life has calmed down, surely all the stress we were going through a while back wasn't helping anything."
"See, what'd I tell you?' Jacob says, squeezing her arm affectionately.
"Hey, guys," Carly says, approaching and giving Bella and Edward hugs. She notices the photo in Jacob's hand and her eyes get wide. "Wow, Bella, what a great shot of you two."
"She's so talented," Edward says proudly. "And she baked this pie, too!"
"But you made the pasta," Bella points out. "He's becoming quite the cook."
"Look at you guys getting all lovey-dovey and dull on me. Honestly, you were more exciting when you were fighting all the time."
"Really?" asks Edward, genuinely curious before remembering that being exciting can be highly overrated.
Carly takes the pie from Bella and leads them further inside. "Is it weird coming to your old place as a visitor?" she asks Edward as they enter the main room.
"Actually, it's kind of great. This place finally feels happy to me."
Bella reaches over and takes his hand, squeezing it knowingly.
He looks down at her and smiles. "And besides, I was meant to be with Isabella. My home is wherever she is."
The wine pours freely, while Angela tosses the salad and Michael and Emmett grill steaks on the barbeque. Rose shows Jacob the picture she brought of her, Emmett, and the kids taken on the beach, and one of her parents with her and Edward when they were kids.
Leah's brought her grilled vegetables with quinoa, and Maria shows Eric, Rose's oldest son how to smash avocados for her homemade guacamole and chips. Sarah wants to show Bella her latest Pokémon card acquisitions, so they sit on the couch along with little Caleb while Sarah excitedly points out her new favorites.
Carly has covered the table with brightly colored cloths and has tealights running down the center of the spread setting off a festive glow. One by one, people fill their plates and take a seat until everyone has joined the group. Bella beams with pride as Jacob stands at the head of his table and raises his glass.
"This has been a big year for Mom and me. I have my Carly back, and thanks to Edward we get to live together in this amazing loft. Mom has found a great man in Edward, and his family has become part of ours. And I've met my dad and we've traveled to Italy to meet the rest of his family. Wow, right?"
Everyone laughs happily.
"You know, when enjoying all this goodness I can't help but think back to the hard times, during Grandma's illness, how you guys got us through. Even after she died, Mom and I never felt alone. You showed us the true meaning of friendship and love. So what I've learned through these years is that true friends are the family you chose, and family is everything."
Bella presses her fingers into her thighs, willing herself not to cry. She knows it would embarrass Jacob to see her lose it. Edward instinctively reaches out and clasps her hand under the table.
Angela looks over at Carly who's watching Jacob with tears in her eyes. She smiles as she tips her head, overwhelmed with how wonderfully things have worked out.
"So, tonight is about celebrating you guys, my family…our family. Thank you for being the most important part of our lives."
"To family," Emmett says, grinning and lifting his glass toward Jacob's.
Everyone lifts their glasses. "To family!"
Early in morning, several weeks later, Edward sits on the edge of the bed and runs his hand along Bella's arm. "Baby, wake up" he whispers.
She rolls over and looks at him with dreamy eyes. She's surprised to see him already dressed and looking so alert. "Hey. What's up?"
"I'm taking you on an adventure," he says, grinning like a little boy.
She blinks a few times and then looks out the window. "It's still dark outside," she says.
"I know," he says, laughing softly. He holds up her jeans and sweater. "Can you get dressed for me?"
"For you," she says, smiling softly as she rises. "Anything."
Their drive is dimly lit in the serene quiet of the early morning. He drives with one hand on the steering wheel, the other holding on to her hand. She looks out the window, imagining that he's taking her to another world. Whenever she asks where they're headed, he just smiles and shakes his head. "I'm not telling," he whispers, a secret now dangling between them.
She looks into the back and peeks in the large canvas bag he's brought. "Is this breakfast?" she asks, opening up a bag and pulling out a muffin.
"Maybe," he teases. She feeds him bites of the muffin in between hers, and hums happily.
As the short stretches turn to miles and the minutes to over an hour, she's lulled back to sleep by the quiet hum of the car as it cuts through the early morning haze. She curls into her seat and dreams of floating peacefully, everything pale blue and shadowless.
She wakes to a sense of the car descending and opens her eyes to see the vision of wide ribbons of color unfurling in the distance. The patterns of color are a sharp contrast to the fields of green they are stretched across. Then before their eyes, some of the flat stripes start to slowly take shape. As they watch, Edward leads the car down a hill and into the valley, their final destination.
With one of the shapes rising toward the sky, it hits Bella. "Hot air balloons!" she says happily. "Are we going to back to Kansas or off to Oz?"
"Maybe both," he teases.
She laughs and claps her hands.
"No, actually our route today will follow along the shore and over then fields of horses. Finally, for the last part, we'll fly over the local vineyards." He smiles at her, looking particularly pleased with himself.
She marvels that he's planned all this and kept it a secret. "Are we celebrating anything in particular?"
He grins. "A year ago today an amazing woman called me and asked me to play music for her."
"Ahhh," she says, the pieces of his plan falling into place. "Amazing? As I recall, you tried to get out of it. You seemed to think that the woman was crazy."
"Well, not crazy, but a bit eccentric perhaps," he admits. "But I was intrigued enough to go play for her, wasn't I?"
Bella smiles quietly with the memory.
"I will never forget when I first caught sight of you, Mr. C. I knew I was in trouble," she says, sighing.
He pulls into a parking space and turns off the ignition. "As I was when I first saw you. Big trouble," he agrees. He runs his hand along her arm before reaching over to kiss her.
After they get out of the car, the guide waves them over. Edward steps away to settle the arrangements and Bella walks through the field, marveling at the grand helium orbs that looked so small and deflated in the distance, only to be majestic up close when fire has breathed them full of air. She senses they're alive as if they're desperate to fly, fighting the ropes that bind them to earth.
When Edward returns to her, she looks at him appreciatively. "You know I've always wanted to do this," she says.
He smiles. "Yes, you mentioned it in Italy. But even if you hadn't I would've presumed it anyway."
"Really?" she asks. "See that? You really understand who I am."
"Yes, I do. Do you remember telling me about your mom trying to help you make wings?"
"When I was little?"
"I've always understood that you should fly." He follows the pilot into the private basket and waits as he closes himself into the partition so they have privacy. Edward then turns to face Bella and motions for her to join him.
She steps into the basket and into his arms.
The pilot does his magic until they're lifting off the ground. She looks down as they float up, watching the world below become a tiny place. Her gaze then moves up to the sky before looking into the blue infinity of his eyes.
Edward feels the thrill in his bones as they climb higher and higher. Bella's hair whips madly around her and he takes both of his hands to frame her face and tame the wildness. He gazes at her tenderly before kissing her. "I love you," he says softly. "And you love me, don't you?"
"More than anything," she says. "I honestly don't know what I did in this life to deserve you."
"Me too," he says as he wraps her tightly in his arms.
She holds onto him as they soar, the ocean now within sight. They may not have feathers, but despite all their obstacles they've learned how to fly.
He rubs her shoulders. "You know, Isabella, if I could have, I would've given you wings."
She looks at him, every part of her shining bright. "Oh my love, you already have…"
Like Bella, I hope you find your wings and never stop searching for what will bring you joy.
Thank you for sharing this journey with me.
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