Contest entry for the Happily Ever After TwiFic Contest
Summary: I am wild. I am unruly, yet somehow constant, like a rushing waterfall, pounding against rock, spraying moss and ferns with my clear, cool water. I'll never be tied and tethered again. No one will hold me back.
Disclaimer: The following is a work of fanfiction using characters from the Twilight world, which is trademarked by Stephenie Meyer. I do not claim ownership of said characters. No copyright infringement is intended.
My wedding dress is like a dove in flight: white and wispy. It's a ruffled, beautiful mess of sparkles and tulle. The princess-cut bodice fits me like a glove; tight all the way to the waist where if blossoms out like a flower blooming open in the spring. It is nothing short of magical. It is a dress I've imagined donning since childhood.
My bra and panty set is the color of a cloudless sky. To say that it is demure and completely un-sexy is an understatement, but it is both new, blue, and fits well with old tradition, and the staunch guidelines set forth by my mother.
The long, green stems of my white camellia bouquet are clutched in my trembling hands. The fragrant smell of the state flower normally brings a wistful smile to my face, as it typically reminds me of happier times, when I would go exploring my grandmother's flower garden.
Today, however, there are no smiles.
My heels are a size too small. The only dress shop in our tiny, rural town consists mainly of beauty pageantry-type ensembles and shoes more appropriate for the nineteen-eighties. My toes are pinched painfully inside the stiff, satin heels. I wish they were broken in like my favorite star-spangled cowboy boots, but they're not. I love those boots: blood-red, creamy white, royal blue, and spattered with stars. Paisley patterns flow along the edges of the cracked leather. Those boots have been hidden in my closet for some time now. My mother and Jake both despise them.
Who's Jake you ask? Jake is my fiance and the rat-bastard I'm agreeing to spend the rest of my days on God's green earth with.
Funny, until last night I'd never been nervous nor questioned my decision to spend the rest of my life with Jacob Black. But that was last night.
The night I caught Jake having sex with my stepsister, Lauren.
In my bed.
"You don't have to do this," my friend, Rose tells me as I stand hunching over the bathroom sink in the church basement, struggling for breath. "You can leave, right now. Leave this church and Jacob behind."
"It's too late," I gasp, reaching for the paper towel dispenser and removing a stiff, paper sheet. "The invitations were sent, everyone is here, and my mother..."
"Your mother will get over it," Alice, says, rubbing soothing circles across my lace-covered back. "Eventually...she'll find out what happened with Jake and Lauren. Please, tell her, Bella."
I shake my head and wipe tears from my face. This is not me. I'm not weak, nor pathetic, but I find myself trapped in an inescapable situation.
Rose and Alice don't understand my plight. They haven't been raised by a zealously religious mother within a strict church. Even if I told my mother about Jake, she would encourage me to forgive him, for she believes in utter forgiveness for other people's transgressions.
She also believes Jacob Black hangs the moon.
I met Jake at the tender age of sixteen, after I moved from one small town to another. My father passed away when I was still an infant, leaving my mother, Renee, a widow. My mother met her match in a man named Phil Dwyer when I was fourteen-years old. They dated two years and then were married.
I gained a lot of things upon their marriage. I gained a new home in a new town, and a new high school where everyone was a stranger to me. I gained a father in Phil that I never had in Charlie Swan, and most of all, I gained two wicked stepsisters. It was completely Cinderella style, except that my stepsisters fought way dirtier than Drizella and Anastasia Tremaine ever dreamed of.
It was at my new high school that I met Jacob Blake. Jake was the perfect guy: tall, dark, and handsome. He was popular and charismatic, just like Prince Charming, and full of good, Southern, gentlemanly-like manners, he was always opening doors, pulling out chairs, and making sure to call when I traveled alone at night, checking to make sure I made it home safely.
There were flowers on my birthday, our anniversary, and Valentine's Day. Jake had a way with words, seduction, and sex. The sweet things he whispered in my ear still send chills down my spine. As I cried out in pain the first time we made love, he held me in his arms, whispering his apologies and promising to never hurt me again.
Jake was always my advocate, gracefully dismissing my oldest stepsister's flirtatious advances towards him, and scorning the two of them as they made it their life's mission to mentally and emotionally beat me down. Besides Rose and Alice, he was the only person I could depend on in my young life. I fell completely in love with him.
As sweet as Jake could be, he was equally as arrogant. I found myself drawn to his self-confidence and no-holds-barred attitude. In the end, my attraction to that sort of man would be my downfall.
"You can't marry Jake," Rose snaps, breaking me from my reverie. "Just because it's your wedding day doesn't mean you're obligated to marry him! You should have broken things off last night when you found him with Lauren the Horrid! Where's the Bella Swan I grew up with? Where's that girl who kicked James Johnson's ass in the ninth grade for telling everyone I had crabs?!"
Through the tears, pain, and betrayal, I laugh at her words. It's true. As quiet and shy as I can be at times, I'm still a spit-fire at heart, especially when it comes to defending my friends.
When Rose turned down James' advances at the ninth-grade formal, he grew bitter and spread a nasty rumor that he had seen Rose at the local pharmacy buying medication to rid herself of crabs. I heard the words come from his mouth one morning as I rounded the sturdy oak tree standing tall and noble in front of the high school.
Without hesitation, I walked directly up to James, glared at the smirk on his face, and punched him in the nose. James screamed and hollered like the little girl he was. Then he regained his composure, met my glare head-on, and socked me right in the jaw. The two of us hit the ground, swapping punches, screaming, spitting and cursing. It took both the football and baseball coach to separate us. Our punishment was in-school suspension for a week. It was a week spent together in hard, uncomfortable desks, glowering at one another, but it was well worth it.
"Rose is right," Alice agrees, shoving a lock of her unruly black and burgundy hair behind one ear. "You haven't said 'I do' yet. Do you really want to spend the rest of your life with some loser who slept with your step-sister after his Bachelor's party? Jake's been dragging you down for years! What will it take, Bella? What will it take to show you that it's not too late to back out?"
I don't know how to answer her. I stare into the chipped mirror over the bathroom sink. I don't recognize the girl holding my gaze. She looks like me: large brown eyes, a heart-shaped face, and thick, wavy, disobedient, brown hair. But the girl in the mirror looks scared. Her eyes are rimmed in red and full of tears. There's a tremble in her chin. She's not strong. She's weak. I don't like this girl, not one little bit.
"A spark!" Alice pipes up, causing Rose and I to glance at her in confusion. "A spark of a memory of who you are, deep inside is all you need! Give me your house keys!"
"I don't have my house keys," I tell her, wondering why she needs them. "No place to put them."
I pat the poofy material of my wedding dress and crack a weak smile, as an attempt to make a joke.
Alice huffs, rolls her eyes, and darts from the room. The fitted, lilac dress clings to her tiny body and clashes horribly with her burgundy hair. A Dixie-heart tattoo sits cutely on the bare flesh of her right upper back, near her shoulder. Silver earrings line the length of her ears. Alice is constantly changing her hair color and her look. She's currently in her 'country rocker chick' phase. My friend is nothing if not a firecracker.
Rose finds my makeup case and forces me to sit on the toilet. The next several minutes are spent in a stiff, uncomfortable silence as Rose tries to salvage my ruined look. The two of us gasp and curse in surprise as the door flings open and Alice stumbles inside, slamming the door behind her.
"Here!" she declares, thrusting a backpack in my hands.
I stare down at the backpack in awe and confused wonder. It is a backpack fit more for a twelve-year old girl than a twenty-one year old woman. The material is pink with glittery hearts and swirling comets darting across it. The pink zipper has been broken for some time and the backpack sits wide open. My name is written in sloppy, childlike handwriting just inside the bag, in purple permanent ink. This backpack shouldn't be in my lap. It should be in the back of my bedroom closet, carefully stowed away with everything else I gave up when I met Jake.
"Alice," I whisper, my voice cracking at the end as I meet her satisfied smirk.
Alice simply smiles, gesturing for me to open the bag. I open it and remove a thick book with a heavy, lavender cover. Flipping it open, I smile as my eyes drink in page after page of my old poems and song lyrics, all in my own handwriting that I haven't see in years. My fingers ghost through these pages, a sad smile forming on my lips.
"Keep looking inside the bag," Alice urges with a sparkling grin.
I nod and pass the book to Rose, who thumbs through it with a whimsical smile on her angelic face. I am not ashamed of the things I have written in that book. My words are not a stranger to my friends. That book was, after all, an intricate part of all of our pasts, for we shared the same dream: to write and sing.
A pair of boots rest in the bottom of the bag.
My red, white, and blue Americana boots.
The leather is comforting and familiar, like Granny's sawmill gravy. My fingers brush against the worn surface, drinking in the happiness those silly boots gives me. I kick off my stupid heels and slip the boots on over my hose-clad feet. They still fit. Two years later and they still fit.
"Wear them," Rose urges, drawing my attention. "That is, if you're still going through with this sham of a wedding."
I nod dumbly, because that's what I am; dumb. I'm dumb for still loving his cheating heart and I'm dumb for going through with the wedding, but mostly I'm scared. I'm scared of what people will think if I back out of our wedding now. Rose and Alice exchange concerned glances and sighs.
A firm knock on the door halts any further conversation. The door cracks open slightly and my mother's beaming face peeks in. There is a look of pride and happiness on her face that I haven't seen in years. It is not only my own selfish pride that spurs me to marry Jake, it is the sense of absolute happiness my marriage brings to my mother.
"It's time," she giggles excitedly.
I take a deep, unsteady breath and nod. I stand and smooth out the invisible wrinkles in my dress. My heart pounds in my chest because I know I'm making a mistake. I'm making a mistake by not backing out while I still have a chance.
The sanctuary is bursting with people. Everyone is wearing their Sunday best. Some are already teary-eyed, caught up in the romantic notion that two people are about to pledge their undying lover to one another.
My stepfather's arm is tucked into my own. Phil is a nice guy. He's been a nice replacement for the man who helped create me. It is not Phil's fault that his daughters have black, wicked souls. I give him a shaky smile and he squeezes my arm reassuringly, probably imagining I've got the pre-wedding jitters.
I wonder what he'd think if I told him what a slut his daughter, Lauren, really was.
We enter the sanctuary and my chest constricts as people stand, turn, and beam at Phil and me. The wedding march is playing, crackling through the old speakers of the tiny church. The music is slightly distorted and it's oh so ironic, because it fits right in with the discordance of my life.
Jake is standing at the end of the aisle looking strikingly handsome in his black tux and shiny shoes. A mixture of emotions play on his face: nervousness, guilt, happiness, fear. When his dark orbs tear away from mine and dart to the nearby pew everything changes. Oxygen is sucked from my lungs, and the earth tilts on its axis.
My stepsister is staring back at him. Lustful oblivion passes between the two of them, but no one sees. No one sees the desire and desperation in my future husband and stepsister's eyes. No one sees except for me, because everyone in the sanctuary is fixated on the girl in the ridiculous, white, Cinderella dress.
Lauren's gaze breaks away from Jake's and meets my own.
My brown eyes are locked on Lauren's icy blue ones. Satisfaction dances on her features as she smirks, thinking that she has beat me know, by taking the one thing she'd previously been unable to get from me. The corners of her mouth curl up and twist like a snake. If she had a forked tongue I wouldn't be surprised.
I'm frozen. The heels of my boots, hidden beneath mounds of white fabric, are planted firmly to the ground.
I smile because I am liberated.
Lauren gives me a quizzical, frustrated frown. Phil tugs on my arm, attempting to force me up. I stumble beside him, allowing him to ease me up the aisle. The smile remains on my face. My family and friends smile and sigh as I grin. They think I'm bursting with joy on my wedding day, and they're right. I am bursting with joy.
As I reach the end of the aisle, I pause once more. I shrug Phil's strong, protesting arm from my own. Turning on my heel, I toss my camellia bouquet at my treacherous stepsister. The white, fragrant flowers hit her chest with a rusting thud and fall to the floor at her feet. Gasps and murmured exclamations fill the tense air.
My mother spots the red toes of my boots peeking out from beneath the princess wedding dress. Her eyes are big as saucers as she attempts to say something. Her frantic, rushed voice cuts above the whispering onlookers, but I don't distinguish her words.
Because I'm running, flying down the aisle in a dizzying, blood-churning escape.
People are gasping and staring. Their eyes are wild in shock and disbelief. My small hands yank up the white tulle of my billowing dress, pulling it above my knees. The skirt ruffles and flutters as I dart down the center aisle. My red boots thump loudly against the thin carpet of the sanctuary. I pass row after row of murmuring friends and family. Rose and Alice's cheers are the last sounds I hear as I fling open the doors of the church, bursting into the sunlight.
The rusty cage is open. The flightless dove is released.
And so my new life begins.
After I leave the church, I leave it all, including my angry, disappointed mother, my sweet stepfather, and 'Double, Double, Toil and Trouble.' That's what Alice calls my stepsisters.
I've been staying in with Alice and Rose the past few days. They're both home for the summer, taking a well-needed break from college. Rose and Alice are not only gorgeous, but smart. Rose will make an excellent engineer one day and Alice, bless her heart, wants nothing more than to travel the road, taking photographs of the countryside. Her goal is to be a photographer for some fancy magazine. I know in my heart she'll do just that.
Hanging out with the girls in my old hometown, the town where I was raised until my mother married Phil was a bit strange. I never realized how much I missed that rinky-dink town until I returned. It brings back the old hopes and dreams that I've pushed away over the years.
Rose and Alice shared the same dreams, once upon a time. When they asked me what would make me happier than anything else, I told them. I told them how I dreamed of nothing besides pursuing our childhood desires. The three of us cook up a plan for the summer and it's only a matter of days before that plan is set into motion.
Old Mrs. Cope, my boss and manager, is shocked as I tell her I'm quitting my prolific job as a cashier at Turner's Dollar Store. I've worked there since high school, slowly watching my life wither away, feeling as though I was stored inside a can. My friends from high school cut out into the great unknown, escaping the confines of our town for college, marriage, or life in the big city. I envy them. Leaving Jake brings forth all those old cravings for something greater than the shitastic life I'm currently leading.
After I turn in my tacky, red, polyester apron and plastic name badge, I stand in front of the dollar store, ignoring Cope's judgmental state as I wait on Rose and Alice to arrive. I'm smoking a cigarette, a new, disgusting habit I've picked up.
The ugliest most atrocious vehicle pulls into the parking lot. It's a seventies-model van, box-shaped and as orange as the setting sun. Rose is sitting behind the wheel grinning like a possum as she roars into the parking lot, running over the curb and almost hitting me when she parks. The van backfires and the few straggling Dollar Store customers lingering in the parking lot stare at us.
"Why are you smoking?" Rose asks, after slipping from the vehicle. Alice is standing beside her, eyeing the cigarette in my hand.
"Why am I smoking?" I ask, taking a deep drag and tossing the butt on the dirty ground, smashing it with a red boot. "Because I don't give a fuck."
"We see that," Rose snickers, following me and helping me pull a few bags from the bed of my truck. My truck is a red, monstrous hunk of metal, full of dents and rusty holes. It's older than my own mother and treats me a hell of a lot nicer. It's breaking my heart leaving her behind.
"Where'd you get the van?" I ask Rose as she pulls open the back door and we toss in my bags. The back is of the van is packed with guitar cases and luggage.
"Bought it off a man desperate for cash," Rose said. "You like it?"
I struggle with the side door until it finally budges and I pull it open. I pop my head inside and take a good look at the condition of the van. There are cigarette burns in the cheap interior, and the fabric of the seats reek of tobacco and mildew. The fabric on the ceiling droops down, and the windows are smudged with dirty fingerprints.
"Like it?" I ask, drinking in the imperfections. "I love it. What's her name?"
"Orange Blossom Special," Rose sings with gleaming, happy eyes.
"Perfect!" I sigh dreamily, pulling myself into the van, plopping myself down on the stained seat, and wiggling my feet out of my boots.
Rose and Alice nod in agreement. I spread out in the backseat, ready to begin my journey with my two best friends, my only true friends. They're all I have left after the spectacle I made at the church just days before. Within minutes we're driving down open highway.
I am wild. I am unruly, yet somehow constant, like a rushing waterfall, pounding against rock, spraying moss and ferns with my clear, cool water. I'll never be tied and tethered again. No one will hold me back.
Rose, Alice, and I head north, drifting from town to town. The tires of the shitty van we bought kick up clouds of dust behind us. We relentlessly hit bar after bar, singing for tips until we wind up in a small town in eastern Tennessee. We are a mere thirty miles from Nashville, and from my childhood dream of becoming a country music songwriter.
It's a silly, simple dream, but it's mine. When I was a just a young girl I'd watch, in fascination, as my mother sang along to the old, classic, country records she played on the turntable while cleaning the house. My mother was beautiful, singing like a bird along with the voices of her favorite singers. I once asked her why she didn't become a singer herself. She laughed, shook her head and looked at me in a pitying, degrading sort of way.
"Childish dreams, Bella Swan," she'd snicker as she patted my head condescendingly. "The best thing you can do in life is find a good man and settle down. Don't be like me, living on silly dreams. You'll only get burned in the end."
Renee Swan's idea of a 'good man' for me was none other than Jacob Black.
I'm not entirely consumed with bitterness over Jake's disloyalty to me. The traitorous thing Jake and Lauren did that night forever changed me, and for the best. I am now a different Bella Swan; a better version of myself.
I'm no longer a doormat.
Digging deep within, I find that fiery, feisty sixteen-year old girl, the girl who stood up for herself and for others.
I am bold.
I am brave.
And I am hungry. Hungry for companionship, but not love.
No, never for love.
I am pretty, I suppose. I'm not as pretty as Rose, with her placid blue eyes and long blonde tresses, or Alice, with her sparkling smile and witty personality, but I can hold my own. Jake made me feel as though being his girl was a privilege, like he was doing a great service just by being with me.
It only takes a couple of weeks on the dusty back-roads to make me realize the way Jake made me feel was all a lie. He wasn't doing me any favors by being with me. The pretty boys in the smoky bars smile at me just as much as they do my two gorgeous friends. As the days drift by, so does my shyness. I find myself not only brazen, but wanton; craving nothing but slick, rugged cowboys beneath me.
The cowboys are a very specific, select set of men. They must be handsome, but not outlandishly so. They must be soft-spoken and sweet, without a hint of arrogance or aggression. They're usually heartbroken, sitting at the bar nursing a beer or a glass of whiskey. Those are the easy ones. They beg for comfort for their battered and bruised hearts.
As we hit each dusty bar I feel as though I'm being watched. My skin pricks in gooseflesh and I glance through the dimness searching for my source of discomfort.
I never find it.
So I grab my disheartened cowboy, ignoring the feel of roaming eyes crawling across my flesh.
My cowboys find solace in me, and I in them.
It's Friday and noontime. The June sun is hanging directly over our heads as we stare morosely at Orange Blossom. She's sitting on the side of a dusty country road with grey smoke billowing from beneath the hood. Rose props the hood open and fans the smoke out of her face with her elegant hands.
"I'll get a better look once she stops smoking," Rose says, glancing up at us with trepidation in her eyes.
Rose digs around in the van for something, although I'm not sure what it is. Rose is good with vehicles, a real mechanic to some degree. Her daddy spends lots of his good, old family money restoring and racing cars. Rose is his only child, so it's natural that he bestowed his talents upon his daughter.
Alice and I sit in the van for a while as Rose tinkers under the hood, but the sun beating down on the van and lack of ventilation in the stuffy vehicle drives us back outdoors. The road we sit on cuts through steep hills covered in wildflowers of purple, yellow, and pink. We climb the grassy incline off the shoulder of the road and plop down in the long blades of grass and flowers. My thin, deep blue sundress flows around my legs, ending above my knees. I sit with my legs twisted beneath me, thoughtfully chewing on the edge of my bottom lip, lost in thought. My purple journal is lying open in my lap, and a sparkly silver pen rests in my hand.
Alice pulls flowers from the ground and weaves them through my braids. Her small, lithe fingers wind a crown of asters, larkspurs, and buttercups together. She places the floral tiara on my head and I smile.
The low rumble of an approaching vehicle draws our attention. Alice's fingers are still in my thick hair as an old, white, extended cab pickup truck is roaring down the road. It slows as the driver spots Rose bent over the hood of the van.
Alice immediately stands, slipping and sliding down the steep hill as she makes her way towards the van. There's a pistol inside Orange Blossom and I secretly believe Alice is itching to use it. She claims the gun is for our safety as we travel alone from town to unfamiliar town, but I have my doubts.
Two men, around our age, ease out of the truck. The driver is a large beast of a man and the passenger is a tall, long-legged, lanky fellow. The large man is charmingly handsome with deep dimples and an honest, playful grin that I can spot all the way from where I'm sitting. I realize I'm no longer paying the big guy any attention. I have eyes for no one but the tall drink of water who's facing me.
The lanky fellow is sexy and sweet, wearing tight Wranglers and worn, brown leather cowboy boots. I struggle to see his face, but it's hidden beneath the shadow of a low-sitting beige cowboy hat.
The flash of a pale pink tongue wetting his parched lips pulls my attention to the one distinguishing feature the cowboy hat cannot hide; his full, perfect lips. Those lips are the color of my late grandfather's strawberry wine, and I wonder if they taste just as sweet.
The shirt he wears boasts the firm body that lies beneath. The jeans he's wearing are so damn tight they look as though they're painted on. My fingers twitch unwillingly as I imagine the feel of his muscles as I skim my fingers across them.
The cowboy is leaning casually against the truck, with one foot crossed lazily in front of the other as his beefy friend helps Rose with the van. His gaze is unwavering and is trapped on my own. I'm beholden to this man, to this beautiful stranger. It is other-worldly, the draw I feel for him.
The soft-spoken, sorrowful cowboys of the past few weeks are virtually forgotten. The handsome stranger's gaze is daring me to descend the hill, beckoning me to him. I stubbornly shove the feeling aside, take a deep, ragged breath, and break my eyes from his own. The tip of my pen flashes against a blank, white page as inspiration I've not had for years, finally strikes like a red-hot poker. I describe it all: the way he looks, the way I feel, the things I imagine doing to him. I write it all.
Love me tonight
I'm burning for you
Don't think about tomorrow
I'll part before the dew
Luscious pink lips
Like strawberry wine
Your fingers grazing the silk of my hips
If you loved me tonight
The taste I would know
The sensation of your skin
Your face in the early morning glow
How I'd love to see it
If only one time
So love me tonight
I'm burning for you
Don't think about tomorrow
I'll part before the dew
I'm so engrossed in my words that I don't notice him climbing the tall hill until he's standing at my feet. I glance up and we lock eyes once more. The cowboy hat is still pulled down low on his forehead, ending at his eyebrows, but still I somehow find his eyes.
They are clovers: bright, green, vibrant clovers. They are lined in dark lashes and topped with thick, perfect brows. They dart across my face, across my crown of wildflowers, and down my bare legs. I tuck my pen inside my journal and shut it tight, raising an eyebrow as the stranger assesses me.
"Like what you see?" I snap irritably, because the way he's staring at me is unnerving.
"As a matter of fact, I do," he responds, licking his pink lips once more and giving me a sideways smile.
The sound of his voice triggers a sense of familiarity, but I'm sure I don't know this man. It's been years since I've been to Tennessee, rarely venturing out of Alabama for any reason unless it was the occasional vacation, and that was so rare.
"Is that so?" I muse, frowning at the cowboy.
The cocky, self-assured way he smiles at me with his probing eyes reminds me of someone, someone I'd rather not think about.
He reminds me of Jake.
"Your van has a blown head-gasket," he says, pointing his thumb in the direction of Orange Blossom. "I told your friend I'd run to town and get my brother the stuff he needs to repair it. You were lookin' pretty lonesome sittin' on this hill. I was wonderin' if you'd like to ride."
The smirk on his face, his lusty eyes, and the way the word 'ride' rolls of his wet tongue tells me he's not talking about a simple drive to town. I force myself not to squirm where I sit because, hot damn this man is sexy. Thankfully I remember that he instantly reminded me of Jake. Shaking off my brief, burning desire for the man staring at me, I let out a snort of a laugh.
"Does it come that easily for you?" I ask in honest curiosity, tilting my head as I study his features. "Do girls just fall at your feet when you say things like that?"
The cowboy is stunned. He frowns, narrowing his eyes at my snickering face.
"Usually," he says in an irritated voice, which causes me to throw back my head and laugh.
I shake my head, still giggling as he carefully watches me. Pushing myself from the soft, moist ground, I tuck my journal beneath my arm and brush off the back of my dress.
"Sorry, stranger," I tell him with a smile. "I've had my fill of cowboys this week. Maybe next time."
Before descending the hill, I grab his hand. I pull a forget-me-not from my hair, and press it into his open palm. Wrapping my fingers around his hand, I close his slightly calloused fingers over the flower.
"Something to remember me by, Cowboy," I snicker, rolling my eyes.
I leave him on that hill and join my friends, laughing at the boisterous argument that has erupted between my engineer friend and the big, dimpled stranger. They're having a debate over car parts, speaking Car and Driver, which is a language I admittedly don't understand.
As my laughing eyes find their way back up that hill, I'm surprised to see Cowboy still standing there. The most stunning thing about him, as he stands there with the wildflowers, oaks, pines, and cedars painted around him, is the smile on his face and the way he twirls my forget-me-not with his long, guitar-picking fingers.
"Where are y'all headed?" Emmett asks with a gleaming grin.
His enthusiasm and obvious zest for life is contagious. I find myself comfortable and at ease in his presence. Well, I would if it weren't for the man sitting beside me, still twirling my flower between his fingers.
"Nashville, eventually," Rose replies, popping gum and blowing pink bubbles between her shining, blood-red lips. "We're hitting all the honkey-tonks and bars, picking and grinning along the way."
"Are you a singer?" a buttery voice asks beside me.
Cowboy is speaking to me in a soft, low voice, laced with curiosity and wonder. The others don't catch his question. They carry on with their conversation in the front seat as I shift awkwardly in the cab of the truck under the cowboy's gaze. I squeeze my journal reassuringly between my fingers.
"No. I'm not a singer. I'm not anything," I tell him honestly, meeting his deep green stare. "I'm no one. I'm just caught up in wanderlust for the summer before I head back home to my shitstorm of a life."
I surprise myself with my frank admission. The apples of my cheeks burn slightly. A flash of compassionate understanding storms across his eyes. I frown at my own stupidity for opening up to this arrogant stranger.
"You're special to someone," he insists, reaching out and grasping my hand.
The journal falls from my grasp. Cowboy turns my hand until the sunlight hits the small diamond engagement ring I still wear. Tiny colorful rainbows dance along the interior of the van. He twists the small, cheap diamond ring around my finger. His hands are rough, manly, and warm. I immediately pull my hand away. I turn to stare out the window at the trees and hills as we fly down the highway.
"What's in the journal?" he asks, pressing on with his questions.
"My life story," I snap, irritated by his persistence.
The cowboy slides up beside me, unbeknownst to Rose, Alice, and their new friend who continue to chat happily in the front seat. I turn to glance at him uneasily as his spicy scent washes over me. He shoves the cowboy hat far up his forehead, and I'm assaulted by those clover-green eyes and pink, full lips. He leans in, brushing his lips against the shell of my ear. I'm frozen, suddenly unable to move at his close proximity.
"I'd like to hear more about that story, if you don't mind," he whispers, skimming the tip of his nose across my ear.
"Why's that?" I mutter pathetically.
"You fascinate me," he answers, nipping my earlobe with his teeth.
"You just met me," I sneer.
I scowl and shove him away. The cowboy is grinning now, not a bit fazed by my dismissal. He pulls the cowboy hat completely from his head and I can't stop staring at his messy hair. He's running his long fingers through the long strands, trying and failing to tame it. It's a haphazard mess of bronze, copper, and gold. It's a color I know well. It's the same color of his mother's; a color you can't get out of a bottle.
"Slap my ass and call me Sally," I mutter below my breath.
Edward Cullen is sitting beside me. Edward Cullen, son of Carl Cullen. Carl Cullen is one of, if not the, greatest country music singers of his generation, who happens to be married to Esme Platt, another great country music singer. He's also an up-and-coming musician himself.
My gaze darts from Edward to the burly man in the front seat. The longer I look at him the more familiar he looks as well. In fact, he looks a lot like the drummer in Edward Cullen's band.
"I'm guessing you just figured out who I am," Edward smirks, pulling the cowboy hat back down over his head, yet less low this time. "I'm sure this changes things."
We pull into the parking lot of an auto supply store. Emmett, Rose, and Alice slide from the front of the truck. Rose shoots me a questioning glance and I shake my head slightly. She shrugs and slams the door, leaving Edward and me behind.
"What does it change?" I ask, twisting in my seat to stare at him. "You think that matters to me?"
"Please," he laughed. "It always changes things. No one gives me a second glance until they find out who I am."
I doubt his words. He's handsome and stubbornly charming, but the satisfied smirk on his face as he waited on my response infuriated me.
"I don't give a damn who your parents are," I snap, grabbing the handle of the cab door as the smirk falls from his face and is replaced with astonishment. "All that matters to me is who you are. And I can tell you, without a doubt, that you're a conceited jerk!"
With that, I fling the cab door open and stomp across the parking lot. I rip the flowers from my hair, cursing below my breath as I toss them to the dirty ground.
I force Alice to sit in the backseat with Edward on the way back to the van. His cold, hard glare is boring into the back of my neck, making my skin crawl.
We pull up in front of Orange Blossom and I hop out of the truck, stomp across the loose gravel on the side of the road, and throw myself into the backseat of the sweltering van. I don't care if die of heat exhaustion. It'd be better than spending another minute beside Edward Cullen!
The boys help Rose under the hood of the van. I pretend not to listen as Emmett and Rose casually flirt with one another. Guilt washes over me as the sting of jealousy shoots through my chest. I'm suddenly overcome with loneliness as I lay in the backseat of the van, staring at the sagging fabric hanging from the ceiling.
Edward tried to tell me goodbye, but I have my arms crossed over my chest and my eyes fixed on the ceiling. He huffs and mutters below his breath. Emmett and Rose part ways. I don't take a good, deep breath until the trunk sitting in front of us roars to life.
"What's up with you and Cowboy?" Rose cracks, snorting as she and Alice exchange knowing glances.
They don't recognize him. It doesn't shock me that they don't. Edward's parents are legends, but he's not very popular on the country music scene yet. Only someone obsessed with country music would know who he is.
"I don't care to ever see him again!" I declare, knowing that the words are all lies.
Rose and Alice laugh as they see right through me. I don't tell them who he really is. I hate the feeling of protection I hold over knowing his true identity, but I can't deny that it is there. Orange Blossom roars down the road, leaving nothing but a trail of putrid exhaust behind her. I push all thoughts of Edward Cullen aside. For now.
It's a Friday night, hot and muggy. Rose, Alice, and I pull into the muddy parking lot of a run-down honky-tonk on the outskirts of Nashville. It's off the well-beaten path, at the end of a muddy road nestled in a nowhere town. The parking lot is full of beat-up pickup trucks and motorcycles. A group of unruly, haggard men and scantily-clad women are laughing, drinking, and smoking in front of the bar. I smile because everything is right with the world and I'm in my element.
Heads turn when the three of us enter the bar. It's our last night and we make it count. I'm wearing a black corset and leather pants. My hair is twisted in huge, loopy curls.
I breathe in the sights around me, feeling truly at home for once in my life. The smell of stale beer and whiskey washes over me. There's a jukebox lit up in one corner, but it's not in use. A band of older, roughened men, wearing bandanas, leather, and worn jeans are playing on the small stage. A rambunctious crowd cheers them on, sloshing beer from the sides of their mugs. Sawdust covers the floor and I kick at it with my boots, smiling as particles of dust and dirt swirl around through the dim lights.
We find a corner to hide in and order our beers. The table is small and rickety and the bar stools are too high. My feet dangle from the stool as I scan the area around me looking for a good time. I'm just about lit, when I spot my someone for the night.
The guy looks to be around twenty-six or so. He's sitting at the bar with his head in his hands. A beer is sitting in front of him, but is replaced with a glass of amber-colored whiskey by the burly bartender. He's the perfect distraction. He's just what I need to get my mind of the man my thoughts have been consumed with since I first met him.
The man invading my thoughts is most definitely not Jacob Black.
I give my girls a smile and slip from the bar stool. Rose and Alice are tapping the toes of their boots against the metal rungs of the stools to the beat of the music. They give me giddy grins as I walk away.
"Howdy, Cowboy," I tell the blonde man as I slide up beside him.
He raises his head from his hands and I'm breathless. He's a beautiful man with large, ocean blue eyes that are glazed over in drunkenness. He silently appraises me and gives me a sexy smile.
"Hey, good lookin'" he mumbles, swaying slightly on the seat.
He's good and drunk.
"What's wrong, Cowboy?" I ask sweetly, pulling myself up on the stool beside him. "Some gal broke your heart."
Sadness floods his face as he nods. I feel a twinge of guilt for taking advantage of this man, but I shove the feeling aside. I'm always honest with the cowboys I spend time with. I don't lead them on. They always know that my company is only for one night. I swallow the knot of guilt and open my mouth to give him some comforting words when Rose and Alice pop up beside me, giddy with excitement.
"Bella," Rose breaths out in a rush, "please sing for us! I spoke to the house band and they said they'd play whatever you want! Please sing, Bella! We haven't heard you sing in so long."
"I haven't had a reason to," I sigh, glancing up at the stage.
An older man wearing a leather vest and a goatee grins at me from the stage, beckoning for me to join them. It's been so long and the urge is there; the urge to throw caution from the wind and belt out my feelings through a song. I roll my eyes at my friend's excitement and glance at the man sitting at the bar. He gives me a watery, yet encouraging smile.
"I'll be back," I promise him, hopping down from the stool.
Rose and Alice are screaming 'Patsy Cline!' as I walk away. I shake my head in amusement. They always love it when I sing Patsy Cline.
My brain is in overdrive trying to figure out what song I want to sing. I climb the stage and greet the biker man with the goatee. The overhead stage lights shine down on me, warming my skin. I have on my favorite cowboy boots and they give me the strength to sing in front of a crowd, something I haven't done since junior high school.
"Patsy Cline," I tell the gruff looking men.
"Which song, Darlin'?" the one sitting behind the old upright piano asks, picking up his burning cigarette from the ashtray resting on top of the piano. The man takes a deep drag.
"Surprise me," I declare with a grin, turning and adjusting the microphone.
I'm lying if I say I'm not a bit nervous. The bar is rough and run-down, but obviously popular. It is filled to the brim with rowdy rednecks and cowboys. They cheer as the gentle rhythm of piano, drums, and acoustic guitar fill the air.
Of course, I think bitterly to myself with an exasperated smile.
It's a song that plays through my head each time I mourn the lost time I spent with my former fiance. I cast a glance up at the dirty, nicotine stained ceiling and raise one eyebrow.
"So not funny," I mutter below my breath.
The music flows and the opening lyrics are coming up soon. I quietly clear my throat and grab the cool, silver microphone stand. I open my mouth and let the words flow from my lips.
Crazy, I'm crazy for feeling so lonely
I'm crazy, crazy for feeling so blue
I knew you'd love me as long as you wanted
And then someday you'd leave me for somebody new
My dignity is long gone, and I care not what people think about me as one, lone tear streams down my face beneath a smoky eye. A crawling sensation runs the length of my body. My eyes scan the dark room which is suddenly very quiet. I'm looking, searching for the source of my discomfort.
Worry, why do I let myself worry?
Wond'ring what in the world did I do?
Crazy for thinking that my love could hold you
I'm crazy for trying and crazy for crying
And I'm crazy for loving you
I find him in the back corner of the bar, not far from where Rose, Alice, and I sat earlier in the night. I can't deny myself the pull I feel for him. It's like an invisible lasso has been thrown around my body and he's dragging me like a steer towards him.
Everything is silent apart from my voice washing over the crowd. I ignore the stares of old and young men alike. The good old Dixie women nod their heads, agreeing with Patsy's lyrics as their troubled hearts tangle with my own. Those green eyes continue to watch me. My voice falters slightly as I swallow, gasping for air and trooping on through the song. I will not let this man's presence faze me.
I gather, from the crowd around him, that he obviously frequently inhabits this bar. People recognize him, even with the dark clothes and the hat pulled down low over his forehead.
Girls; beautiful, ethereal girls, flock around him, but he has eyes for no one but me. I feel myself enthralled, my own eyes transfixed on his as I belt out the lyrics of the song. The microphone stand is clasped in my hands, the metal cool and hard. I bring it closer between my legs, smirking when his left eye twitches as I do so.
This man is everything bad; everything Jake, but I find myself caught up in his trance.
My surroundings fade away: the house band playing behind me, Alice and Rose swaying at the base of the stage near my boots as they clasp their hands together near their hearts, the beautiful women fanning around Edward. They all blend into nothing.
It is only me, him, and this song.
Crazy for thinking that my love could hold you
I'm crazy for trying and crazy for crying
And I'm crazy for loving you.
As the song closes I find myself gasping for breath. The smoky bar erupts in gracious applause and the foggy haze slips away, bringing reality back with it. I stumble blindly from the stage as the beefy hands of the band members jar me as they pat me appreciatively on my back, hollering words of encouragement as I leave the stage.
"Where are you going?" Rose asks, grabbing my arm as I rush through the complementing crowd.
"Fresh air," I tell her with a forced smile.
My two friends give me a hesitant nod and I leave them where they stand. I rush outside into the hot Tennessee night, drawing in deep, sobering breaths.
Orange Blossom sits at the far end of the parking lot. I dig around the van with my ass hanging out the door, oblivious to the sound of boots digging through gravel. I pull a squished pack of cigarettes from where it is wedged between the seats. I pull one triumphantly from the pack, turn, and scream at the dark stranger standing in front of me.
"Are you trying to give me a heart attack?" I holler, glaring at Edward as I pull a cigarette from the pack and light it.
He's staring at me strangely, like he doesn't understand how to take my attitude. I frown as he reaches out, pulls the cigarette from my fingers, and wraps his lips around it. He takes a deep drag, tosses his head back, and blows the smoke towards the big, white moon hanging overhead. The sight of that smoke stroking against his pink lips is hands-down the hottest thing I've ever seen in my life.
"Why don't you like me?" he asks in a serious voice, handing me the cigarette.
"I don't dislike you," I tell him, taking a drag of my own, and ignoring the thrill of his close proximity. "I don't know you well enough to dislike you. It's your cocky attitude that I don't like."
"You're right. You don't know me," he agrees, gesturing for the cigarette once more.
I hand it to him and he takes another drag, wrapping those sweet lips around the filter.
Dear Lord in heaven, blessed be thy name, I think to myself.
"What?" he asks with a shit-eating grin.
"Uh, did I say that out loud?" I ask, reaching for the cigarette with red-stained cheeks, hoping he doesn't see the color in the darkness.
"Yeah, you did," he laughs.
I take the last drag of the cigarette and toss the butt to the ground. Glancing up, I meet his deep green eyes. The sexy smirk is slowly fading away as he drinks me in. His eyes dart to my lips. My heart begins to unwind, pumping erratically in my chest. My body is on fire and I'm suddenly hot, burning under his gaze. I think about jumping from the seat of the van through the open door, but I can't, because he's suddenly very close. Edward places his hands on each side of the opened sliding door and leans in towards me.
"Be with me tonight," he urges from beneath the shadow of his cowboy hat.
"What kind of girl do you think I am?" I ask with a raised eyebrow.
"The type of girl I've seen in bar after bar the past few weeks, leaving with drunk cowboys," he replies, causing my rushing blood to freeze in my veins. "I've got a question for you. Have you found it yet? Have you found what you're looking for in these men?"
"You bastard," I mutter, finding the strength to slide from the seat of the van, remembering the feel of eyes watching over me the past few weeks. "You've been watching me like some sort of creepy stalker? You think I'm just some easy lay? Is that what you want, a night of meaningless sex? Well, I've got some news for you, buddy. It ain't gonna happen! Not with me."
I duck under his arm that leans against the van, but he grabs my wrist and pulls me to his hard body, sending my heart into a frenzy.
"I don't think you're an easy lay," he whispers, bending towards my face. "And I wasn't watching you on purpose, not at first. Is it my fault you're suddenly frequenting the same bars I do? How can I not watch you? You're the most beautiful creature I've ever seen. I think you're looking for something that you have yet to find. Maybe it's something I'm looking for too."
I can't be attracted to this man. I can't let him swindle me with his sweet words. Edward is rough and tumble, more bad than good. He's the type of person you know is no good for you, but you want him anyway.
"I'm not looking for anything," I mumble feebly, hating the tingling sensation in the pit of my stomach.
"Oh, but I think you are," he says, brushing his lips against mine. "I think we're looking for the same thing, but you're too stubborn to see that it's standing right in front of you. I'd like to wring the neck of the man that broke your heart."
"Jake didn't break my heart," I mumble against his lips as my body grows weak. "He set me free."
"Keep telling yourself that," he chuckles, fully kissing me.
I moan as our lips meld together. He doesn't taste like wine. He tastes both salty and sweet with a hint of tobacco on his lips. I've never tasted anything so perfect. Our tongues continue to explore each other for a moment before I breathlessly push him away.
"I know about you," I admit, staring up into his solemn eyes. "I've heard and read about the things you do after your shows, drinking and bedding your fans."
"Is that so?" he asks with a smirk. "Isn't that a little hypocritical? Judging me for the very same things you do?"
My face falls and I'm ashamed. His gaze bores into mine and he knows. He knows he has me pegged. He has me right where he wants me.
"Be with me, even if it's just for one night," he insists, placing his warm hands on my waist and pulling me back to his body. "Don't think about tomorrow."
Edward's words haunt me, and I find myself nodding, mutely, unable to form a coherent sentence. A dazzling smile lights his handsome face and he's tugging me across the parking lot to a large, black pickup truck.
I take his advice. I don't think about tomorrow. I'm his, even if just for one summer night.
I'm shocked when Edward doesn't take me to a run-down motel. Instead, he brings me to his home. The white plantation house sits at the end of a long, oak-lined drive. He pulls me inside, twisting his fingers through mine. The house is beautiful and ornate, covered in artwork and antiques.
Edward is kind and polite. He offers me something to drink and a tour of the house. I'm speechless yet again, by the look of gentle sincerity on his face, and the fact that he has yet to let his cockiness show. I tell him I'd like a tour and he guides me around the house, from room to room.
He leaves his bedroom for last. I follow him inside and he abruptly stops walking near the end of the bed. When he turns around, I swear there's a blush on his face.
"Suddenly you're shy?" I quip, reaching between my breasts and tugging the zipper of the corset down in an agonizingly slow way.
Edward swallows. His eyes are fixed on the motion of my hand as I pull the zipper. I reach the bottom of the corset and shrug it from my body. Hungry eyes roam my chest as I walk towards him.
I pull the cowboy hat from his head and place it on my own. The desperation playing on his face causes me to laugh. I reach down, take his hands in my own, and place them over my breasts.
Edward gently massages me, flickering his thumbs against my nipples. My body sets ablaze as he gently tugs and teases them. His hands slid to my waist and he pulls me to him, crushing his lips against my own. He's unzipping the front of my leather pants as he kisses me. Before I know it I'm standing before him, naked as the day I was born.
He's so gentle with me, picking me up bridal style and laying me on the bed. I watch between hooded eyes as he slowly undresses himself. The tight shirt is tossed over one shoulder and the sight of Edward shirtless is one to behold. Lean, sharp muscles ripple as he slowly unbuckles his belt. My eyes widen as he shimmies out of his jean, gazing down at me lustfully.
"You like what you see?" he asks with a smirk, repeating the very first words I said to him.
I nod, but remain silent. Edward reaches in a nearby drawer, removing a condom. He rips it open with his teeth and slides it over his length.
Edward climbs onto the bed, towering over me and dropping a passionate kiss on my lips. He teases me with his fingers before slowly sliding into me. The rhythm of our hips meeting one another is soft at first, but soon turns into a desperate frenzy as he pounds into my body. His face drops in the crook of my neck, licking and sucking at my flesh as we move.
"Tell me," he pleads. "Tell me it's not just tonight."
"I can't," I whisper.
Edward's eyes narrow. He pulls out of me and guides me onto my knees. A thrill shoots though my body to my very core because I've never been taken this way before.
Edward grabs my hips, yanks me against him and pushes roughly into my wet body. A cry escapes my lips as he moves against me. I feel his hand in my hair as he gently tugs, turning my face slightly. I glance over my shoulder, capturing his gaze.
Those green eyes penetrate mine with lethal intensity as he pants and thrusts. Those long fingers drop my brown tresses and skim across my cheek. He presses two fingers in my mouth and I suck and moan, swirling my tongue around the tips, watching him through my lashes.
I'm surprised when he uses his free hand to reach around my waist and tease me between my legs. He's the first man to show concern in that manner. I suddenly realize that Edward Cullen may not be the man I think him to be.
And It terrifies me.
Before long my body quakes and shudders against his own. He follows suit shortly after. Edward disposes of the condom and collapses beside me on the bed. He pulls the soft sheets over our naked flesh. Wrapping his hands around my waist, he pulls me back, flush against him.
I do something I've never done with a man other than Jake; I fall asleep in his arms. When I awake, it's some time well into the night. Edward is spooning me. His hands are cupping my breasts and his lips are on my neck. My hand finds his length and I guide it inside me. We move at a slow, tantalizing pace.
The sex is different. It is neither angry nor aggressive.
It is sweet and soft.
Tender and kind.
I bite my lip because it has never felt this way before and I know that this is not just sex. We are making love.
Again, I am terrified.
We both find our release and Edward falls asleep with his arms wrapped around me. He snuggles, freaking snuggles against me, drawing my head to the bend of his neck. His chin rests on my head and I'm awake. I'm wide-eyed with a hammering heart and struggling to remain calm.
An emotion bubbles in my chest, an emotion I've never felt in my life. That emotion coaxes me, beckoning me to run. He said it was just one night. I know I can't wake up to this man's rejection. It's something I know I can't handle.
When his breathing deepens and his racing heart slows down against my back, I ease out of his arms. I cast him one last glance as I pull my cowboy boots on.
There is a pout in his face and his hands fumble unconsciously around, until he pulls a pillow in his arms. His hair is a dark mess of sex and sweat. I realize I'll miss that damned hair.
It doesn't matter. In the end, it doesn't matter.
I swallow the knot in my throat and quietly call a cab. I slip out of the exquisite house and into the sultry Tennessee heat.
It's only a matter of minutes before he wakes up and joins me as I'm sitting on the steps waiting on the cab, staring at the moon and questioning my sanity. Edward drops down beside me, wearing loose-fitting sweats and nothing else. There's a sheet of paper in his hands that he silently hands me.
I give him a questioning gaze. His face is guarded as he watches me. Slowly, I unfold the note. My fingers still as I read the written words.
"It was the last entry in your journal," he says quietly, as my shaky fingers hold the note. "I read it when you went into the auto supply store. It was wrong of me to do that, but I had to take it. I had to get to know you better."
"Why?" I ask, just as two dim headlights appear in the distance.
"Because you called me on my bullshit," he quietly admits as the cab draws closer to the plantation house. "You don't care who I am or where I come from. I'm falling for you, Bella. I fall every time I see you. And I don't want to get back up. I want to keep falling and I want you to fall with me."
The cab pulls up to the house, blaring the horn, but we ignore it. Edward's eyes are locked on mine, and mine on his. His words make me breathless and I want nothing more than to throw caution to the wind yet again.
"Don't break my heart," I whisper, caving into his plea for me to stay.
"Never," he promises.
Edward grins that stupid grin that takes my breath away. He pulls me into his arms, drawing me in for a kiss.
I don't know what tomorrow may bring. Maybe this thing with Edward will work. Maybe it won't. Who knows?
I do know this: I have feelings, strong feelings for this man that I can't ignore.
There are two things I can do with my wounded heart: I can selfishly guard it, keeping it to myself. If I take that route in life I might live the rest of my days cold and all alone.
Or I can put my heart out on the line and risk the chance of having it broken yet again.
Glancing up at Edward, I see nothing but hope and yearning etched across his face. I grasp his hand, pull it to my lips, and give it a gentle kiss.
And then I put heart out on the line.
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