Sorry if you've received this a second time. My story mysteriously disappeared. Poof!
So I've started over. Lost some of your beautiful reviews, but I have them in my email. :)
Also, if you added this story to your favorites or alerts, you'll have to redo that.
This story originated as a one-shot for the Fandom For Twi-Fan G compilation, but it grew too big, way past the word limit. So I wrote a different story for the compilation and decided to post this one as a four part novella.
Myimm0rtal is my wonderful beta. Dragonfly336, Dreaminginnorweigen, Ireen H, moirae, and thimbles are my crazy, late-night writing motivators.
On a Limb
I was eleven when I had my first boyfriend. We met in a tree. Well, he was in a tree.
Its leaves were late-summer shimmery green, some yellow. I counted four yellow ones before I noticed there was a boy hidden in the branches.
"Girl," he said from way up high. "Girl!" I didn't know why he was calling to me in loud whispers.
Hands on my hips, squints in my eyes, I looked up. "I'm Bella."
Behind the tree peeked the kind of sky that looked like the lightest blue Crayola rubbed all over paper. A hot wind shook the leaves. Yellow and green rustled together.
"Shh. Come up here."
I glanced past the rosebush path to the back of my new house, where, through the sliding glass door, I could see my parents in the living room, arching their backs, carting boxes in front of them like pregnant bellies. I was supposed to be helping.
I whispered as loud as I could. "Why are you whispering?"
"Are you coming up or not?"
"I can't come up." I lifted the end of my dress. "I'm wearing a dress." It was my moving day dress—white with blue and yellow flowers. My mom called it a ditsy pattern; I called it pretty.
"Stay down there then. But you're gonna miss it."
"Miss what?" I looked for a branch I could reach and tugged. It seemed sturdy enough. I hoisted myself up, my dress flying in the wind. Throwing a hand back, I caught it, holding the thin material close to my thighs, and waited for the breeze to die away.
I stretched for the next branch, and then the next. He was up high. I told myself not to look down, but then I did and felt dizzy. I lifted my head; he was still five or six branches above me.
"How did you get so high?" I was still whispering, even though I had no idea why the whisper was important.
"Don't worry. It's safe."
I gave him a frown and a lip-pursing. How could he say that? I'd break my leg, probably both of them, if I fell.
That was when I knew he was crazy.
When I was one branch below him, he lent me his hand to help me up the rest of the way. It was a little bit sticky, with sweat maybe, hopefully not sap.
"Don't let go," I said, stepping on a rickety limb. I didn't like the way I was bouncing. It made me gasp.
"Shh," he said, and I glared at him.
Finally I was sitting beside him, my feet dangling. Dirt marks stood out against his pale face, and his breath smelled like red licorice and sweet-stripes gum. His messy hair was the color of acorns, but his eyes were as green as the leaves of the tree. Only tiny patches of the sky could be seen from under here. It was like being inside but out at the same time. I wondered if we'd even get wet if it rained. The leaves shook around us; his eyes shimmered.
I didn't remember ever noticing eyes before. But his I wouldn't forget. They were pretty.
If my eyes were pretty, nobody had ever told me so.
What could I compare my eye color to? The tree trunk, dirt, my hair. That's probably the best. My eyes were the same color as my hair.
"Look." He pointed to the branch across from us. There was a nest with four tiny eggs the color of the sky, a split in one. "They're hatching."
This time when I gasped, it was quiet, and my eyes widened and my fingernails worked their way in between my teeth.
One of the eggs was shaking, and the crack was widening, and it was nothing I'd ever seen before. I almost cried. And I didn't even realize I was still holding the boy's hand until I squeezed it and he squeezed back.
"Where's their mom?" I said in a whisper quieter than ever before.
"I don't know."
"What if they all hatch before she comes back?"
"I don't know."
"Will she come back if we're here?"
"What if she never comes back?" he asked.
"They might fall. They'll die."
The crack began to widen more and I saw tiny pinkish-redness inside, wiggling and pushing. And all of a sudden there was the head, all twisted around, wearing the top of the eggshell like a hat, and it stilled for a little while, and I wasn't breathing. And then it shook and pushed some more and something came out that looked like a pointy sharp finger but I guessed was a wing. And the bird pushed and jerked and used its wing to push harder, and then stilled again. Being born was a tiring thing.
The boy and I waited, hands squeezing.
We looked at each other and I had tears dripping and I wasn't even embarrassed about it.
"Don't cry," he said, but he was crying, too. I saw the tears fall before he swiped them.
That was when I knew he was sweet.
"We should go in case the mom comes back," he said and swooped down easily branch after branch like a monkey.
I began to climb down, too, but climbing down was scarier for me than climbing up had been. I took my time and the boy was growing impatient. I ignored his complaints until he said, "I can see up your dress."
This time when I gasped it was the loudest, and I let go of the branch with one arm to hold my dress, but my foot slipped and then I slipped, only holding on to the tree with a bent arm. My gasp turned into a scream.
"Whoa, whoa," I heard him say below me. "I was just kidding. Hold on. Don't do that again."
I swung my free arm back up to the branch and I regained my footing on the lower branch.
From then on, I imagined the tree's limbs to be arms, moving under me where I needed them to be. I had no more trouble and no more fear. The tree was taking care of me.
When I got closer to the ground, he put his hands on my waist and told me to jump. I tried to kick him away.
"Jump," he said again. I let go and he caught me, tripping backwards and lowering me to the ground.
"Why did you do that? Why did you say you could see my underwear if you couldn't?"
"Trying to hurry you." He shrugged at me. I could've fallen and cracked my skull, and all he could do was lift his shoulders? I pushed him.
"Hey," he said.
"I'm never going up in that tree again!"
"Yes, you will." The look on his face was smug.
That was when I knew he was a jerk.
I spun around and stomped off like some baby. But I wanted my stomping feet to show him how mad I was.
"Where are you going?" His voice was light; he sounded amused.
"Inside to help my parents." My voice was hard, brisk.
I stopped and he circled around in front of me, putting his hands on my shoulders. We were the same height.
"Are you really mad?"
I didn't answer.
"You are. You're mad." He was smiling the type of smile that makes it hard to stay mad. "I order you not to be mad at me."
"You can't order me."
"I'm older, so I can."
"How old are you?"
I huffed giving him my folded arms, tilted head, and narrowed eyes look. "Why were you in my tree in the first place, anyway?"
"That's not your tree. It's my tree." He pointed next door. "I live there."
"Still, that tree is on our property."
"No, it isn't." His smile turned into a smirk. "You said you're never going up again, so why do you care?"
"I might change my mind." I tried to make my face as smug as his. I tightened my lips and raised my eyebrows.
He said that if I met him in the tree again tomorrow, we could share ownership. I knew it didn't matter who owned the tree, but I agreed anyway.
As I opened the sliding door to my house, he called to me. "You're wearing pink underwear."
My head snapped back to him and he was running away. I rushed inside to my new room, boxes all over the place, and lifted my dress and then breathed relief. My panties were blue.
That was when I knew he was a liar.
Our town had one market-restaurant-bar, one school, and one church that was called The Little Brown Church.Aside from religious events, other types of events were held at that church—parties, school dances, bridal showers, town meetings. Whatever you could think of that needed a building, that was the building. And way up in the canyon, too far to walk, with a view of trees spread over the canyon below so close together they looked like green cloud tufts you could skip across the tops of, was a vineyard, the fanciest place in town.
In our house, down the canyon from The Little Brown Church and slightly up the canyon from the school, my parents were arguing about where to put the couch. My dad wanted it up against the wall in front of the window. My mom wanted it facing the window.
"Where will we put the TV?"
"Who cares about the TV?"
"I do," I said from the kitchen, licking donut powder from my fingers. There was no table yet so I was sitting on the floor. I wasn't usually allowed donuts except on special occasions, but today was a busy one, and we didn't really have any food yet. Or a refrigerator. The fridge was supposed to be coming today. We had milk and sodas and beer in the cool chest I was using as a table.
"That's my girl," my dad said.
The kitchen area was so open that it may as well have been a part of the living room.
"Don't bring her into this!" my mother said. I tuned them out, picking another powdered donut from the box. I wouldn't think about this until I was older, but eventually I came to understand that when adults argue, they're not really always arguing about what their mouths are saying. In other words, neither of them really cared that much where the couch ended up. This argument was about the move. My mom never wanted to move. My dad did. And since he was the one with the sheriff job, and the money, we no longer lived in Arizona, but in this tiny country California town, where even at its hottest was nowhere near as hot as Phoenix.
I left them to argue and went out to meet the boy in the tree. And I met him there the next day, and the next day after that, and by that time I knew his name was Edward. And he didn't like Ed or Eddie. Just Edward. As if he was a man who wore suits and ties every day. And he told me that both of his parents were writers; his dad wrote children's books and his mom wrote porn. Then when his mom and dad came over to bring us fresh-baked neighbor-welcoming bread, they introduced themselves as Carlisle and Esme Cullen and said they both taught at a local community college. Mr. Cullen taught science and Mrs. Cullen taught algebra.
I eyed Edward, who was laughing.
"Liar," I said too loud, and I was the one who got disgusted looks, who was reminded by my parents to mind my manners.
We were in the tree again, the tree that had become ours on my second day in this town. Except for one time when Edward went all the way up high to count the birds, to make sure all four were alive, we no longer climbed up to the nest. We didn't want to scare them or keep the mother away. We could hear them every once in awhile, baby chirps, and we'd smile at each other. They weren't ours, but they felt like it.
It had been two weeks, now, since I'd moved into the house next door to him. All our furniture and most of our stuff was put away, except for some random boxes here and there and a bunch in the garage that looked like they might just live there forever.
School would start in another week and I had no friends except for Edward. This made me nervous. Edward had lived here his whole life; he had an elephant's weight worth of friends; he didn't need me like I needed him.
"You shouldn't bite your nails."
Our branch wobbled when he took my hand, lifting it to my face to show me why I shouldn't bite my nails. My fingers were dirty underneath the nails, probably from my climb up the tree. I yanked my hand away from him.
"You should stop telling me what to do."
"You don't like me."
I didn't answer. Sometimes I didn't like him, but most of the time, I did.
"Do you or not? Just say it."
He wasn't smiling and his eyebrows were a little stiff-looking and he looked like, depending on my answer, his face could either continue to harden or relax into a smile.
And in this moment, the look on his face dependent on my answer, I liked him. I really did. So I nodded and he did smile, even if it was a small one. And then he lowered his head, his eyes lifting to me. "Do you have a boyfriend?"
I felt my face grow hotter and hotter. A boyfriend? I was eleven. I kind of liked boys, and Edward was so cute. But a boyfriend? My face was boiling with embarrassment. That was teenager stuff. That was... that was... that scared me.
"No?" His eyebrows rose and then a corner of his mouth followed.
I shook my head.
"You should be my girlfriend, then."
Speechless. Now I knew what it meant to be speechless. I'd heard people claim speechless on TV, read about people feeling speechless in books, but I never believed it. There were always words to say. Until now.
"Mm-hmm." That was how I answered. I didn't say yes or okay or even no. I made a sound of agreement, and it did not even include eye contact. I would learn pretty fast that that was what to expect from girlfriend me. Unsure and shy. Frazzled. I could hardly recognize myself in moments like those. It was easier when he made me mad. But when he was sweet like this, there was no anger anywhere.
"But what do we do? We can't go on dates." I knew my parents would never allow that, not in a billion years.
"We hang out."
I didn't see how that was any different from what we had been doing.
"And sometimes kiss."
My head sprung up like it was catapulted. I made eye contact.
"Sometimes," he said. And there it was again, his quarter-smile. He was the only person I knew who could smile with just one corner of his mouth. And his left eye kind of squinted with it. And I thought that if he asked me now, I would let him kiss me.
It was a new thing, my parents' fighting. And it was my new thing when they got too loud to go out to the tree. Edward wasn't always there when I went, so I'd begun to bring a book with me. I carried my book against my chest, past the spotted-leafed rose bushes that needed pruning—the roses all over were browning or brown already, petals falling to the ground. Late September, and still so hot, the lawn was browning, too. We just learned our sprinklers didn't work so we had this one that attached to the hose that my mom or dad, or sometimes I, moved around the yard to try to wet everything. But it was all so thirsty, still. And my mom and dad seemed to stop caring.
Everyone at school knew that I was Edward's girlfriend. When the whole school, kindergarten through eighth grade, has under two hundred kids, it's almost impossible to keep anything a secret. And we weren't exactly keeping this a secret. Because so many of the girls had a crush on Edward, it was hard to get them to like me. That didn't stop them from asking me about Edward, though. Didn't I think he was so cute, didn't I like the freckles on his nose, and the dimple in his cheek, and his eyes?
I said yes to all their questions.
Up in the tree, I looked at those features closely, his freckles, his dimple, his eyes.
"Do you want a kiss?" he asked, and I felt his breath on my nose.
I flinched a little, not realizing I'd been staring so close. "No."
"Are you scared?"
"No," I said, too fast. I was scared. My heart was Thumper's foot.
"Come on. It's no big deal."
Not a big deal? Kisses were for moms and dads and even then it was only cheek kisses.
"Do you want to?" he asked, his lips coming closer and he pressed them to mine, holding them there. His were a little wet. I closed my eyes because I thought I should. I pressed against his lips too because I thought I should. And I waited to see what he did next. When he pulled his lips away there was the slightest suction and my eyes didn't want to open, my fingers floating up to cover my mouth.
"Not that bad, was it?"
Eyes still closed, I shook my head.
I let my eyes blink open and the sunlight sneaking between leaves burnt them to a squint. "Have you kissed anyone before?" I asked.
"Sure I have."
I sighed and shook my head at him. "You're such a liar. You should write stories."
"I do." He picked up my book and looked at the cover. It was Tuck, Everlasting. "But I don't write about girls and kissing. So you probably wouldn't like it."
I grabbed my book from him. "This one isn't about that. It's about living forever, and never changing or growing up, and if you would choose to if you could, even though you had to keep it a secret and everyone else you know and love would die."
He took my book again and flipped through the pages, but didn't say anything. I thought he wanted to read it, and I gave him back one of his own smirks.
"What do you write about, then?" I cocked my head at him like a bird.
He didn't want to tell me. He sat back against the tree trunk, crossing his arms in front of him and shook his head. And the more I asked him, the more he refused.
Finally I said that if he didn't tell me what his stories were about I'd assume they were about kissing, and only kissing.
"All right, I'll tell you." He swung a leg over the branch so he was sitting on it like it was a horse, leaning against his hands in front of him as if holding on to the saddle. "But you can't laugh and you can't tell anyone else." He brought his face close to mine like he might kiss me again, and he held his pinky out. "Do you promise?" His eyes were right on mine. I took a breath.
"Promise." I linked my pinky with his and we shook.
"Okay." He leaned back again. "I write about creatures who look human but aren't." His voice got quieter. "And some have one eye, or a hunched back, and some are trolls."
"Are any of them people?"
"The creatures that are the ugliest look evil, and the people think they're evil and banish them from their village, but really they're not. Evil. They're..."
I pulled my lips into my mouth, thinking about that. That was something I wanted to read, but I wasn't sure if I wanted Edward to know this. "That sounds romantic," I said, and laughed, even though I'd promised not to, just so I could be like a bug worming my way under his skin, and it worked.
He climbed out of the tree and I felt bad. I really hurt his feelings. Like, really. Because actually that story sounded beautiful.
"I want to read it sometime," I called down to him, but he didn't turn back or answer.
I climbed out of the tree by myself.
The following day we were lined up outside our homeroom portables, sixth graders in our line, seventh graders yards away in theirs. I was toward the end of the sixth grade line. Bree, whose family owned the vineyard, and who I'd come to know as one of the smartest kids in our class as well as Queen Bee of the sixth grade girls, and Rina, her worker bee, came up to me with big excited smiles, holding hands.
"Edward wants to break up with you," said Bree, still smiling.
I glanced at Rina; she wasn't smiling anymore and she wasn't meeting my eyes either. She looked uncomfortable and like the concrete was something she'd never seen before and she was trying to figure out how it got there and what it was made of. I looked back at Bree.
Maybe I should have told them to mind their own business.
"Okay," I said, and as the girls went away my gaze floated over to Edward, standing toward the front of his line. He was looking at me in a way I'd never seen before. He didn't look sad and he didn't look glad; he looked scared, maybe. A little wide-eyed. And he wasn't looking away. I felt tears pricking at my eyes like needles so I turned my face straight ahead.
I thought, But we watched the baby robin birth together, as if it had really meant something. And it had. To me.
I was quick to catch the tear that bled.
A/N: Thanks for reading! :)
Next chapter: Thirteen