It was dark when Edward woke. It was also deathly quiet. There was no noise coming from the other bedroom which meant Em was either sleeping or he wasn't there. Rolling to his side and squinting to read the time on his watch Edward figured he was sleeping as it was three in the morning.
Not wanting to wake him by having a shower he threw on a sweater over the clothes he'd slept in and slid his feet into his shoes. Moving out into the living room he realised the TV wasn't an option with the noise factor and neither was the radio. Finding his cell in his carryon bag he cursed silently to see that its battery was flat and useless for reading. He found his charger but, as with his shaver, the plug wasn't going to fit so instead he snatched up the pack of cigarettes, Emmett's lighter, his information folder and his key and went outside.
A security light came on when he stepped out the door and he winced at the sudden brightness. The dining hall lights were still on beyond the trees but the rest of the camp looked to be in darkness.
He left his belongings on the small table under the awning of the cabin and then made his way down the slight slope to the hall. Inspecting the contents of the chiller cabinets he chose a danish and made himself a strong cup of coffee. He took an extra danish in silent rebellion to his mother's rules and went back up the hill to his cabin.
The coffee was good and the danish sweet enough to take the edge of his hunger. He'd not been able to eat on the plane because of his nerves and after fifteen hours of sleep he was ravenous. He polished off the first danish in just three bites and sat back with a grin. Take that, mother!
Opening the folder he laid out all of its contents and began to sift through it. He studied the map for a few moments then put it aside. There was another smaller one with emergency exits and fire gathering points on it and yet another that showed the relation of the camp to its surrounds. The nearby town was tiny. Just a main street with a few businesses, all surrounded by bushland with the main road snaking through the middle. Isolated and quiet but close enough to suburbia should he wish to check that out. Just as he'd hoped.
The sheet of local business adverts listed an Indian takeaway, a fish and chip shop and a noodle bar. All things he'd never eaten before. His eye was caught by the advertisement for the bakery and he wondered if that's where his pastry had come from. There was the hairdresser, supermarket, liquor store and pharmacy that Rosalie had mentioned as well as a veterinary clinic, bookstore, a music studio and store, a printers and stationers and last of all a real estate agency. Reading the blurb on that ad made his body shake.
He had six years of business school under his belt and another two of real estate development. He had two degrees that he hated and a future using one or both of them that made his gut clench to think about.
He shoved the pages back into the folder and closed it. After another sip of his coffee he reached for the pack of cigarettes. He tore the plastic from around it and then took one out. He sniffed along it and then slid it between his lips. Leaning forward to shelter it from the slight breeze he lit it and sucked. And then he choked.
Great wracking coughs came from deep in his chest as the nicotine made its way into his system. The smoke made his eyes sting and his nose run. Holding the offending stick away from his body he tried to take deep breaths which only made the coughing worse. Leaning forward he braced his hands on either side of the chair and swallowed over and over and managed to get the coughing under control before he woke the whole damn camp with it.
He took another drag, a shallower one, and inhaled the smoke more carefully. This time he held it in his mouth as long as he could and then blew it out over his lips. The taste was bitter, very bitter, and not anything like he'd imagined it to be but he took another drag all the same. Leaning back in his chair he closed his eyes and held the smoke in his mouth before letting it out of nostrils like he'd seen so many men do before.
"Is it awful?" a soft voice whispered, startling him.
Peering through the haze of smoke and out beyond the scope of the security light Edward could only just make out the shape of a body. A female body by the sound of the voice. "It's not awful," he chuckled truthfully. The taste would take time to get used to but the feel of it in his fingers and the rebellion it represented felt wonderful. "Do you want one?" he asked, reaching forward for the pack and holding it out in front of himself.
Isabella wondered if she did. Stepping forward she motioned toward the empty seat opposite the copper haired man and after he nodded she sat in it, being careful to keep her knees together as she'd been taught. "I don't know if I want one," she whispered, conscious of the quiet cabins around her.
"I didn't either," Edward admitted before taking another drag and blowing the smoke out quickly so he could keep speaking, "I bought them in the airport before we boarded and thought I'd give it a try." He flicked the pack across the table and watched it spin to a stop in front of the brunette who'd come out of the shadows. He recognised her from his flight but hadn't caught her name when Rosalie had been pairing them up earlier. "Try it if you want," he nodded towards the pack and sat back against the chair.
Staring down at the packet Isabella wasn't sure. "Why did you buy them if you weren't sure you'd like it?" she asked so she wouldn't need to make a decision.
"That's a very good question," Edward grinned as he threw her a tip of his head. "It was an act of rebellion," he told her with a wink.
Isabella understood rebellion. She had never been brave enough to actually make a stand before but she'd thought about it plenty. Snatching the pack off the table she tapped one out for herself and then looked across at Edward. "I have no idea what I'm doing," she giggled.
Edward didn't either really but he was quite enjoying himself none the less, so he imparted what advice he could. "Just rest it on your lips a little," he coached. "Don't suck too hard," he warned as she was about to light it.
Before she could Emmett's booming laugh rent the air. "Man!" he bellowed, "If I didn't know you two were talking about smokes I'd swear you were talking about blowjobs!" he cackled as he came into the light from the path that led away from the cabin.
Groaning in embarrassment Edward shook his head at his roommate. Isabella blushed so red she thought she might be able to light the thing without the aid of the lighter and use her body temperature alone!
Sensing their embarrassment Emmett told them both 'sorry' with a shrug and sank down onto the ground, resting his back onto one of the poles that held up the awning. He took a cigarette out of his own pack and after Isabella had lit hers, and began to puff very daintily, he took his lighter from her and lit his own.
"Isn't this a nice little party?" he chuckled quietly and leaned back against the pole, raising his knees.
Edward watched him as he drew in the smoke and then let it out slowly. "What do you think?" Edward asked as Isabella puffed on hers.
"It's pretty awful," she said with a smile. But as an act of rebellion went it was a good one she thought as she puffed a little again.
"Where were you coming from?" Edward asked Emmett. "I was being quiet because I thought you were in bed."
Raising his eyebrows comically Emmett nodded over his shoulder towards the entrance to the camp. "I had to see a guy about some bait," he chuckled, the emphasis of the word bait. "Met him in town and stayed for a drink or twenty," he grinned. "You're Isabella, right?" he asked, nodding towards their guest.
Caught mid puff Isabella choked a little and could only manage a nod for the first few seconds. "I think I want to be called Bella," she giggled, raising her eyebrows at Edward. "Act of rebellion," she said more softly with a wink of her own.
"Cool, I'm Em," Emmett said casually and took another drag himself. "This guys Ed and it's obvious that you're another Seppo," he chuckled.
Edward stepped in because he knew this one. "He means you're American," he chuckled and drew a little more heavily on his cigarette before letting the smoke out slowly, like Emmett had.
Bella had never heard the term Seppo before either but she agreed that yes, she was an American too. "It's nice to meet you both," she said quietly. "I don't think I'm going to be much of a smoker," she said with a grimace and stubbed what was left of her cigarette out in the empty coffee cup Edward nodded at. "The rebellion is fun but the taste, not so much," she grinned as she ran her tongue over her teeth.
"It's not for everyone," Emmett mumbled and got to his feet. "You get that from the dining hall?" he asked Edward with a nod towards the coffee and the lone pastry and when Edward agreed that he had he asked if the others wanted anything before he took himself off to investigate what was on offer.
Edward continued to smoke and thought that perhaps he might make quite a good smoker himself. Lighting another from the end of his first he drew the smoke in and took a better look at the woman sitting across the table. She was strikingly beautiful but he'd known that from seeing her on the plane. What didn't seem to fit was her sadness. Her eyes were dull and she only smiled when rebellion was mentioned. How could such a beauty be so sad he wondered as he stared at her? "Why are you here?" he blurted out. She met his gaze with wide eyes and he apologised for being so blunt. "My parents sent me here because I couldn't handle the pressure of my first day at my first job," he shrugged, hoping she'd open up if he did first. "They gave me three months to get my head in the game."
Lifting her chin she looked him in the eye. "My parents sent me here too," she said sadly. She brought her hands up out of her lap and sat staring at the garish diamond on her left ring finger. With eyes cast down she mumbled, "They said I needed a rest before I get married. They gave me three months too."
"So it wasn't your choice to come here?" Edward asked more interested in the sadness in her voice and on her face than the actual answer. He knew all about not having choices and to him it seemed as though she could be doing with a little rebellion in her life, even if smoking wasn't going to be her thing. "Do you think you need a rest before you get married?" he asked.
Nobody had ever thought to ask her what she thought before so the question hung between them unanswered for quite a time. Strangely the silence wasn't awkward for either of them.
Edward was thinking that for the first time ever he could make his own decisions, even if it was only for the three months he'd be at the camp.
Bella was thinking that she had better make the most of the three months she'd been given to get herself prepared for the marriage.
When Bella did speak next it was very quietly and with her eyes on her hands that had gone back to being clasped in her lap. "I didn't ask to come here, I was sent. And I don't think I need a rest before getting married," she admitted. "It's not about being tired," she added defiantly at the end.
Thinking about that for a moment Edward began to smile. "So don't rest," he said simply and when Bella looked back up he smiled again at her confused expression. "I'm serious," he said. "If you don't think you need a rest before you get married don't rest. Only you can say when you're tired," he said, knowing instinctually that what she was telling him was more about the marriage itself than being well rested enough to go through with it. He'd seen the desolation in her eyes before. He'd stood in front of his bathroom mirror every morning and seen that same dullness, the same frustration and that same lack of hope in his own eyes. He didn't want to be a business man and he knew without being told that Bella didn't want to get married.
"That simple, huh?" she chuckled.
"I don't see why not," he laughed and took another cigarette from the packet. "Like these things," he said holding the smoke out for her to see. "I decided I might like to become a smoker, so I have. If you aren't tired don't rest. Simple," he told her, hoping she'd see through the words and understand what he was trying to tell her.
She understood perfectly. He was telling her not to do something she didn't want to do.
It made perfect sense to Edward. To Bella it seemed just a little too easy a solution.
"Choice is a nice concept," she said dully. "Pressure is a dangerous thing," she said pointedly as she stared at him. "I hope becoming a smoker relieves the pressure you're feeling about your job." Rising from the table she brushed down her skirt and smiled at him over the table. "Thank you for the little slice of rebellion, Edward," she said. "I'd better go and shower before the therapists smell it on me in the morning." With that she turned and moved back into the shadow of the night.
Ignoring the comment about pressure and his job because he already knew that nothing was going to be able to save him from what he was going to return to, he leaned back in his chair and lit the cigarette. Edward thought about what she'd said as she was leaving. If there were therapists in the camp and they wanted to see him they were going to smell the smoke on him because he had no intention of hiding the pleasure he had gained from the simple act of making a decision for himself.
Taking the danish off the table he devoured it in quick time, put the remains of his latest cigarette between his lips and then put his hands behind his head.
That's where Emmett found him when he returned to the cabin with a tray full of food and drink. "Mate, you look like James Dean sitting there," he chuckled as he put the tray on the table and took Bella's freshly vacated seat. "I got a bit of everything, beer makes me hungry," he shrugged and selected an enormous slice of chocolate cake from the tray.
Watching Em polish off the entire slice Edward put his hands on the tabletop and leaned in. "Next time you go to town for a drink can I come to?" he asked.
Eyeing Edward warily he cocked his head to the side while he finished chewing. "How old are you, mate?" he asked. When Edward answered that he was twenty five Em nodded happily. "You ever been drunk?" he asked next but wasn't surprised by the shake of the head he got in reply. "You got your own cash?" he asked as he chose a long sliver of apple strudel.
"No," Edward replied. He hadn't thought to ask for any from his parents because he'd been told that every eventuality was covered by the camp fees.
Emmett thought on that stumbling block for a second and then smiled. "I'll spring for the first slab," he said.
Edward had no idea what a slab was but was grateful to be having one bought for him none the less.
Even with only four hours sleep under his belt, and despite his early morning festival of cake and pastry, Emmett ate heartily at breakfast the next morning. At the same table Edward consumed another danish and made his way through muesli and a coffee in the same time it took his roommate to eat four eggs, toast, three strips of bacon and two cups of black tea.
Bella was ravenous so she opted for an omelette, toast and some fresh fruit and coffee. She'd been brave and had asked to share the boys table and was very happy when they'd agreed that she should join them. She'd brought Ange with her and had made introductions quite confidently she thought. She was shocked to see what Em consumed but found his affable personality a welcome relief from the total silence of breakfast at her home.
"What's on the agenda today, ladies?" Emmett asked as he finished off his tea.
"I don't know yet, I haven't been given my schedule," Bella replied.
"I'm heading straight for the gym," Angela piped up between bites of her croissant.
"What about you, pretty boy?" Em asked Edward.
Scowling at the term pretty boy Edward shrugged. He had no plans for the first time in his life and was looking forward to spending a lazy day recovering from the rest of his jetlag. "Whatever happens, happens," he said when it didn't look as though Em was going to be satisfied with just the shrug. "What about you?" he asked in return.
With a sinister grin Emmett stood from the table and collected his dishes. "Walk with me, mate," he suggested to Ed, and to the ladies he wished them a good day. When the two boys had disposed of their dishes they went outside and Em suggested they go back to the cabin for a smoke and a chat.
Sitting across from one another, a cigarette dangling from each of their mouths, Em began to outline his plans for the day. "I've been thinking about your cash flow problem," he said matter of factly. "I think I've worked out a way to get what we both want."
"What is it we both want?" Edward asked cautiously.
Grinning around his cigarette Emmett leaned forward and beckoned Edward to do the same. "There's no point going back and forth to town all the time in taxis," he whispered conspiratorially. "That'll just eat up the drinking money before we even get there. So we'll go into town today and buy a few things and we'll set up our own still right here at camp. We'll sell half what we make," he said seriously, "and that'll give us some cash flow to buy more supplies to keep up with demand. The other half we'll drink ourselves. Sorted." With that he sat back triumphantly and grinned at his own brilliance.
"A still?" Edward asked, shocked but impressed by the ingenuity.
"Yeah, a still. I think you lot call it moonshine," Em chuckled.
"I believe so, yes," Edward agreed. "And you know how to make a still?" he asked.
"No, but I watched every single episode of M*A*S*H so I know how it's done. How hard can it be?" Emmett asked as he reclined in his seat.
After breakfast Bella headed for the administration block with her appointment book clutched firmly in her hand. She'd made some notes about things she wanted to ask so she made her way to the main reception desk and asked for Rosalie. Asked to wait in an office she ran over the things she needed to know and tried to wait patiently.
Ten minutes later Rosalie joined her and took her seat behind the sprawling desk. "I hope you slept well?" she began as she took Bella's booking sheet from a folder on the desktop.
"The cabins are lovely, yes," Bella replied. "I have a few questions if that's all right?"
"Ask away," Rosalie replied, waving her hand so Bella knew it was no trouble at all to be having the impromptu meeting.
With her pen poised beside the first item on her list Bella steeled herself, "Where will I find the therapists offices? They aren't marked on the map," she asked first.
Furrowing her brow Rosalie took in the demeanour of the woman opposite for a second before looking down at the profile page on the booking form. She'd answered to her name at the initial roll call so she had the right person for sure. The booking had been quite ordinary and because Rosalie had taken it herself she knew that whoever had made the booking understood what kind of facility they were paying for. "Um, you are Isabella Marie Swan, aren't you?" she asked, just to make sure. When the woman nodded she looked back down at the form before looking back up again. "You have a list of questions, right?" she asked and when Bella nodded she sat back in her chair and folded her hands in her lap. She was quite confused. "Do you mind if I have a look at your list? It'll be quicker, I think," she said calmly while all the while she was struggling to work out why this woman thought she was at camp to undergo therapy.
Bella happily handed over the list. Rosalie read down it quickly once and then returned to the top to read it again. She couldn't quite believe what had been written and instantly began to feel desperately sorry for the woman opposite.
"Do you mind if I ask you a personal question before I answer these?" she asked when she'd read the list through twice.
"Of course," Bella replied, still determined to be a compliant inmate if it would help her get through her time at camp easier.
"Why did you come to Crossroads?" Rosalie asked quite simply.
It was the second time Bella had been asked that question and thought on it for a moment before answering. Rosalie was the director and manager of the camp so she would be reporting to the therapists so Bella decided she had better tell the truth this time. "I'm not living up to expectation," she mumbled. "I let my parents down and I'm being punished for it. I'm not right," she shrugged. "Mother says I should be happy to have made such a good match. She's worried I'll sully the family name if I don't perform inside my marriage correctly, so she's sent me here to correct my behaviour."
Rosalie listened intently and by the time Bella had finished what sounded like a very well rehearsed speech she had a clearer picture of where the mix up had occurred.
"I think it was your mother I spoke with when the booking was made," she said, looking down at the form for the name. "Renee, that's your mum?" she asked.
"Yes ma'am," Bella replied formally.
"I'm not a ma'am," the director smiled. "Please just call me Rose. I think there's been a bit of a miscommunication here," she said as she slipped the form back into the folder and shoved it aside. "This isn't a self help centre," she told the clearly confused woman. "There aren't therapists, schedules and structures here. You can do as little or as much as you like, but there aren't classes and courses."
"But what will I do with my time?" Bella all but moaned. There had never been a time when she didn't have a clear outline of where she needed to be and when.
"What would you normally fill your days with?" Rose asked, leaning back in her seat casually.
Thinking on it a moment Bella began to list her obligations. "Well, now that I don't go to school I have a voice coach and a deportment tutor. I take dancing lessons and our chef always insists on me being present when the evening meal is prepared. There is usually a dress fitting or a wardrobe consult depending on my what things are on my social list, and then there are the sewing, decorating and flower arranging lessons. Sometimes I have to have lunch with my sister or my mother and sometimes I have to visit with my grandmother."
Stunned, shocked and appalled Rose could hardly contain her anger at what she'd been told. No wonder the poor girl looked so lost and seemed so lifeless. She would too if she'd been forced to live some sort of 1950's perfect-wife life.
"I see," she said eventually. "And if you didn't have all these obligations and lessons what would you want to do with your time?" she asked.
"Want to do?" Bella asked with raised eyebrows. Since when did want factor into any equation? She knew exactly what she wanted, but wanting it and getting it were two very different things. Once again figuring that total honesty would be the only way to make the best impression Bella told the truth. "I want to go to college."
"And what would you study there?" Rosalie asked.
"Accounting," Bella answered instantly. She didn't need to think about that at all. She was good with numbers and she loved the challenge of finding errors in column after column of figures.
Smiling Rosalie leaned forward, "Have you ever made a choice for yourself before?" she asked simply.
"Just twice," Bella whispered in reply.
"And they were?" Rosalie prompted.
Raising her eyes Bella smiled at the memories. "I swallowed an entire bottle of depression medication and spent a blissful week in the hospital where my mother and sister weren't allowed to visit," she said triumphantly.
Rose wasn't surprised to learn that the girl thought of that decision as a triumph but she was keen to learn what the other choice had been and so she asked.
This time Bella smiled widely. "I smoked a cigarette last night," she all but giggled.
That answer was a surprise to Rose. She'd seen girls like Bella come and go so many times. They'd arrive broken and lost and leave confident and headstrong with clear plans and aspirations. This girl didn't seem any more or less lost than some of the others had and she hoped that Crossroads was going to work its magic on this one too.
"I was serious when I said this isn't a self help centre," she said firmly to a nodding Bella. "But, this place does have a way of helping people all on its own. You have three months here. There are no classes, no lessons and no schedule. I saw you this morning at breakfast, you were sitting with three others and you were all talking and laughing. You could spend these months making some friends and having some fun and then, at the end, if you choose to go home and follow the path your parents have set down for you then that is what you'll do. But, I want you to think about something while you're here. If this is the only time you're ever going to have to freely be who and what you want to be, do you want to waste that chance?"
Bella was already shaking her head before Rose finished the question. Her mind was spinning with all the possibilities open to her now. She wouldn't have to attend therapy sessions. She wasn't going to be monitored and her progress wasn't going to be reported back to her mother. She had free reign over the money she'd been given as she'd left and she had no restrictions on her time. She couldn't wait to begin. She thanked the director for her time and made to leave but was called back before she could exit the office.
"A couple of questions on your list were relevant," Rose laughed as she opened her top drawer. She took something from within it and moved to Bella at the door. "Tell the others I have more of those if they want them," she nodded towards the adaptor she'd placed in Bella's hand. "And there isn't anyone here you're forbidden from socialising with. When you're dragged to town, and you will be, just remember to drink lots of water before you pass out."
A/N: Thank you for reading.