A/N: Thank you to my PTB betas Alice's White Rabbit and mcc101180. Huge thanks, as always, to TwiSNFan, because ... she knows.
I don't own Twilight ... etc.
Mate of Honor
Sunlight streams through a crack in the curtains that seems strategically placed to hit me right in the eyes. I scramble to the side of the bed because, frankly, that shit is offensive. Instead of getting up right away, I stare at the ceiling for a while and contemplate going back to sleep, but a thought that pops into my head is all the motivation I need: Bella's here. So I stretch, scratch, and roll out of bed. Twenty minutes later, after a shower, shit, and shave, I feel really refreshed.
It's quiet in the main part of the house when I wander out, and I'm thankful to have some peace before the others get up. I need coffee, and I need to think.
Because … I've done it.
I'm here. I'm in a different country in a different hemisphere. And I'm here to put a stop to this ridiculous wedding bullshit.
The screen door creaks when I walk out onto the porch, and the sound is oddly comforting. I sit on the steps, and in the early light of day, I'm able to view my surroundings. Because it was dark when we came in last night all I could see was shadows and the house. As I look around now, I'm a bit taken aback by how big everything looks.
The trees are tall and sheathed in light-colored bark. There's a shed or something off to the side, its brick wall covered with some kind of flowery, sweet-smelling climbing plant. Bright flowers are scattered around the house, and a few trees with tiny, bright yellow blossoms line the driveway. Somewhere high in a tree, a bird warbles, and almost as if in response, a flock of white, screeching birds fly overhead.
What gets me most is how fresh the air is. It's not the damp kind of fresh like in my hometown, but it is crisp and sweet-smelling with no hint of the rotting type of sweetness I'm accustomed to. No matter what I thought Australia would be like, I never thought it would be quite like this.
The screen door creaks again, and I turn to see Jasper wander out wearing boxers and a T-shirt, looking disheveled. "Hey," he greets in a croaky voice.
"Hey," I reply and hold up my cup. "There's coffee in the kitchen. Took me a while to figure it out, but it's there and it's hot."
"Thanks," he says, scratching his belly. "Think I'll shower first. Em's in there now."
I chuckle. "Weren't you quick enough?"
"Apparently not," says Jasper with a grimace. "Hope he leaves me some hot water."
Sipping my coffee, I hum noncommittally. The bird in the tree warbles again. We sit in silence until the door squeaks again and Emmett wanders out, hair wet and cup in hand.
"Hope you left some water for me, fucker," grunts Jasper, heading back inside.
"I think so," replies Em, slurping his coffee. He sits next to me on the porch step and stretches his legs out in front of him. "Bloody quiet," he comments.
I cock an eyebrow at him. "Talking the language now, Em?"
He shrugs one shoulder and slurps his coffee again. "Gotta fit in somehow."
"Somehow, I don't think that's going to happen," I reply, tossing the last of my coffee into a bush beside the porch. Although, Em probably has the best chance of any of us at fitting in—he seems as big as the country surrounding us. It's almost like he belongs here.
When Jasper strolls out again holding the car keys and a piece of paper, we all look at each other. "Should we walk?" I ask, and Jasper shakes his head.
"Paul left this last night. It's a map," he explains, pointing at squiggling lines on the page. "I think we'd better drive."
We pile into the rental car, and I take the wheel. It feels thoroughly strange to have the steering wheel on the wrong side of the car, and I keep checking the rearview mirror only to find it's not there. I guess I only hit the windshield wipers three times on the way, so that's something. After we pull into the driveway just past the big hollow tree, the dirt drive turns to gravel, and tall trees that form a canopy over the road take us toward a large, whitewashed building.
"Holy shit," Jasper says, breathing a gust out as he says it. From his position crammed into the back seat, Emmett whistles.
"Is that their house?" Em asks in awe. "That can't be their house. No way can that be their house."
The car rumbles as we drive over a grate between two white gates, and I take it easy on the gravel driveway leading to the house. I pull up behind a large pickup parked out front and kill the engine. When we get out of the car, my friends have their jaws on the floor.
"Maybe it's a hotel," comments Jasper. "Although I have seen some pretty big ranches back home, it could be ..."
Just then, a tall, dark-haired figure comes loping toward us with an easy stride and a huge smile on his face. "G'day, boys!" Benno calls. "Glad ya could make it!"
There are handshakes all around, and I notice that here Benno seems much taller than he did in Chicago. Whether it's because he's comfortable in his own environment or because they eat kangaroos as big as the one we saw at the airport, he definitely looks larger. I straighten my back and stand up a little taller.
"Come on 'round the back," he says, his drawl sounding thick. "Everybody's eaten, but Cookie saved you some."
We follow him across a lush, green lawn and past some rose bushes. A few steps take us up to the wraparound porch that snakes its way around this huge, huge building until we're on a monstrous deck, half of it covered and the other half open but shaded with what looks like a canopy of grapevines. Two ceiling fans hang from the rafters and move the otherwise still air around gently, and a massive flat screen hangs from a wall. The deck is fully equipped with an outdoor kitchen and a long, broad table laden at one end with plates covered with light cloth. The most delicious smells waft from the open kitchen window, and my mouth starts to water.
"Have a seat," says Benno, gesturing to the table. Jas, Em and I sink into chairs, and Benno heads over to a screen-covered window. He raises his voice, like he's calling to someone at the other end of the house. "Cookie? Can you bring some bacon and snags out?" He takes a seat with us. "Dig in," he says and pours himself a glass of orange juice from an iced pitcher on the table.
"Where's Bella?" I blurt out. Smooth, Cullen. Real smooth.
Benno smiles, and I want to hit him. "The girls were up early. They've gone into town." He glances at his watch. "Shouldn't be long."
Jasper throws me a look and asks Benno about what they farm here. I let my attention wander as Benno goes on about sheep, olives, and wheat, and I really look at my surroundings.
I was wrong about Benno's house. It's fucking huge.
The house is surrounded by lush, green gardens and a wealth of modern conveniences. There's a swimming pool, a path leading to a tennis court, and a greenhouse. In the opposite direction, it's like a separate world because where the boundary of the house ends, a vast expanse of flat brown plains goes on forever. Way past the back of the house, beyond the pool and tennis court, is a long path leading to a line of trees. The tall trees run beside a wide river. A deck stretches from the path into the water, and docked to it is an expensive-looking speedboat.
So it would seem the kangaroo cowboy, or at least his parents, is loaded.
"Here you go, boys. Dig in!" A delicious-looking and smelling plate is set before me by a thick-set, older woman. She's dressed in a blue dress with grey hair piled in a bun on top of her head. "Second breakfast?" she asks Benno.
He grins at her. "Yep. Thanks, Cookie."
"No worries, love," she replies, ruffling his hair before wandering off.
Benno reaches for a bottle of ketchup and shakes it over his eggs. He holds the bottle out to Emmett. "Dead horse?" When Em looks at him in shock, then down at the sausages on his plate, Benno laughs. "Sauce, mate. Tomato sauce."
"Ohh," says Em. "Thanks." He takes the bottle, but he still eyes the sausages dubiously.
"So will you blokes be able to help me out?" asks Benno around a mouthful of eggs. "I need to help the boys get the shearing shed ready for the ceremony. And I kind of wanna get away from the house, if you know what I mean."
We reply with "sure" and "no problem," but he holds up a finger and looks at me. "Not you, mate. You gotta help out the girls."
I blink at him and throw "help me" glances at my boys. "I do?"
Benno throws his head back and laughs. "Of course! You're the mate of honor!"
I'm about to protest when Jasper coughs loudly. Benno bangs him on the back, and Jas takes a sip of orange juice. "Thanks," he says. "So is this area big for beef farming? My folks have a ranch back in Texas …"
It's when he winks that I finally get it. Ohhh… helping the girls equals—fuck, I'm an idiot.
The distant rumbling of an engine gradually gets louder, and a dust cloud moves toward the house. A white, albeit dust-covered, SUV comes tearing along the driveway, slowing down as it approaches the grate at the boundary to the house. As four doors slam and the occupants get out, the chatter around the table goes quiet.
Four women walk toward us, three in shorts that should be illegal and tank tops, and one in a fitted skirt and a button-up shirt. They all wear flip-flops or sandals and huge smiles below enormous sunglasses.
"Damn," mutters Jasper, beef cattle forgotten.
"Who's the blonde?" asks Emmett, a little slack-jawed.
I look at them stupidly, but Benno answers. "That's Rose," he says. "What? Haven't you guys met?"
Emmett pulls his shades down and looks pointedly at me. "No. We haven't."
I take a sip of my orange juice and go to correct him, but then I think about it. "Oh. I guess you haven't."
"The short one seems a little overdressed," comments Jasper, watching Alice as she powers toward us with the quick, officious manner I've come to know and despise.
"Overdressed, over-worked," I mutter. "Over-the-top. You're not missing much."
"Ouch," says Benno with a laugh. "She's not so bad. She's kind of sweet. In a high-maintenance kind of way."
I grunt in return. Emmett hisses at me as the girls approach. "Why haven't you introduced me? She's hot!"
I'm on my feet and walking toward the girls as Benno says something about Rose being a "top bird," despite not being the brightest crayon in the box. My eyes are only on the girl swinging her hips and swirling a set of car keys around one finger.
"Hey!" she shrieks excitedly, grasping the keys and breaking into a run. "You're here!"
I catch her as she hits me, and the momentum swings us both around. She's laughing, and I'm smelling her hair and dying to kiss her.
"I'm here," I tell her, setting her down. She smiles brightly and squeezes my arm. Her skin has a light tan, and when she pushes her sunglasses on top of her head, her eyes are bright. She looks relaxed and happy. I grin back.
"What took you so long?" says Benno, a teasing note in his voice. When I turn around and our eyes meet above Bella's head, I see something there I hadn't noticed any other time I've met him. He glances at her then back at me.
And that look in his eye tells me something else.
And with that, my confidence is back. And that just makes me grin even more.
A/N: Thank you for reading!