Just him saying it, and my stomach growled angrily. I hadn't even realized I was hungry until that moment. I could almost hear him smiling in response.
The return trip to his house was just as thrilling, and just as dizzying. Again, I had to hide my face to stave it off. Adding nausea on top of hunger would equal bad for Edward. I doubted he wanted to wear my vomit all over him.
When we got back to his house, my lunch was already waiting for me. Like they knew the exact moment we would be arriving.
Alice. As soon as we made the decision to leave the meadow, she probably got a vision.
At least this meal was simpler than the previous ones. I was starting to feel bad for wasting so much food.
The half a sandwich looked like the finest chef in the world had created it. Lettuce, tomato, two kinds of cheese, light mayo, lighter mustard, avocado, cucumbers, sprouts… and everything was in perfect balance. French fries on the side… which looked homemade, but didn't taste like they were. Maybe some people could get it right, but fries are typically the kind of thing one can't do as well at home as they can in a restaurant. And then a little bowl of sliced and cubed mixed fruits. Even the grapes were cut in half, which almost made me laugh.
I ate everything but a handful of fries, all while Edward watched. The rest of the Cullens seemed to be gone again.
My mom called shortly after I had finished eating, but I couldn't muster any excitement when talking to her. Knowledge is a tricky thing. You think you want it, but sometimes it's better if you don't have it. She could tell something was wrong, of course, but I played it off as annoyance over my English essay. Which reminded me that I would have to finish it before the weekend was up.
Edward knew I was upset. Really, one didn't need to be a mind reader to figure that one out.
As soon as I ended the call with my mom, he took my hand, kissed the back of it – and, okay, that's an old-fashioned thing to do, but, really, that should so come back into style! – and then he led me to the piano room.
I could have listened to him play for hours. Maybe I did. Time was distorted again. He never tired. He could probably play for days straight and never become so.
Super stamina? Probably.
He never used sheet music. He had each song devoted to memory.
Initially, I watched him intently. His fingers danced across the keys. When the song grew passionate, he would lean in a little. As he slowly brought it to a close, his body would almost sway.
After a few songs – or maybe it was a hundred – I closed my eyes and let the music whisk me away.
Each song took me to a new location. Mountains. Beaches. Forests. Deserts. Foreign countries. Other worlds. It was almost spiritual.
And it was definitely relaxing. I wasn't upset with my mom anymore. I wasn't anything anymore but happy. Content.
He saved my song for last. My lullaby.
The song ended, but my eyes remained closed. I was too at peace to open them.
"What are you thinking?"
"This has been the best day of my life."
Truthfully, that wasn't what I had been thinking. I hadn't been thinking about anything, actually. I was still contemplating his music in the silence of the room.
But it just sort of came out of my mouth. Maybe I had been thinking it subconsciously.
I finally opened my eyes, to see that he was turned on the bench, facing me, staring at me with a quizzical look on his face.
"That surprises you." I knew it did, but I wasn't sure why.
A tiny smirk showed itself, and then he scoffed as he shook his head. "You just found out that you are staying in a house with vampires, and it's the best day of your life."
"Learning that only helped with understanding things better. It didn't change anything. And that's not the only thing that's happened today."
He quirked an eyebrow and reinitiated eye contact. He wanted me to elaborate.
We had already essentially admitted it, with the whole lion and the lamb analogy, but I still wasn't ready to say the actual words out loud yet.
But I wanted him to know that he was the reason for the statement. It had been the best day of my life, and it was because of him that it was. I needed to acknowledge that.
"I've enjoyed our time together today."
I found myself wanting him to say it back. I wanted him to tell me that it was his best day ever. Or at least that he had enjoyed today with me, too. But, realistically, maybe he hadn't. Maybe it wasn't his best day ever. He was older than his seventeen years, I knew, though I didn't know how many more years older he was.
He had a lot of years on me. Many more days in his life that could very well have beat this day.
I was just on the verge of feeling disappointed, when, once again – and probably forever – he surprised me.
"Each day before I met you was a mere existence."
And then my heart exploded. But death wasn't what I expected it to be. There was no pain or panic. No light at the end of some long tunnel. No pearly gates or castles in the clouds. There was just Edward, staring at me, and the most euphoric feeling I had ever experienced.
I did – I sucked in air like a drowning man gasps for breath after coming up from the water – and it was only then that I realized I hadn't actually died. But the euphoria remained, soon to be joined by the largest wave of embarrassment I had ever felt.
All of that emotion, all because he had said one sentence.
"Don't be embarrassed."
I had been looking away, too self-conscious to brave eye contact, but when he whispered those words, I couldn't help but glance up. And then I found myself locked into his stare, unable to move.
"If it were able to, my heart would be racing, too."
I was aware of it, but then again, I wasn't. He stood, walked over to me, then knelt down beside the chaise lounge I had been on for the last however many years since we had entered the piano room.
And then, like so many times before, we just stared at each other. We could have the most stimulating conversation, or do nothing but this, or anything else in between, and they were literally the best moments of my life.
The effects of my near death experience began to lift, and as I started to regain my head enough to think again, I realized something.
Like he had done once before, he was inhaling and exhaling in slow, measured breaths, encouraging me to follow his pattern. The first time he had done that, I thought he was just reminding me to breathe, but that was only part of it.
He was calming me. He knew my body was on overload, and he was bringing me down from it.
Maybe I should have been unnerved by the control he seemed to have over me. He could take me to the brink of death by the simplest of actions – a touch, a sentence, his close proximity – then bring me safely back from it just as easily. Instincts told me I should be concerned, but I just wasn't. Not by a long shot.
Instead, I found that I craved it. I craved the adrenalin rush, the feelings of intense love, the deep in-unison connection and sense of calm after feeling so much too fast. It was more than just a feeling of intoxication. I felt like I was on the best drug in the whole world. If someone could find a way to bottle and sell it, they'd make billions.
Fifty-four years later, give or take a decade, and I was starting to feel normal again. Well, normal for me.
"Thanks. I think I'm better now."
He blinked, and in that flash of a second, his eyes changed to amused. "Amazingly perceptive."
I didn't have long to beam with pride. Edward's ears perked, and then his expression changed.
"Alice plans on assaulting you."
I knew he didn't mean literally. But we had 'played' last night. Did she want to again so soon?
"How long do I have?"
"A minute, maybe. Say the word, and I will help you escape."
Okay, you know the children's game Tag? Yeah, the vampire version is much more fun.
The moment I nodded, I was on Edward's back, and we were running up the stairs, through his room, and out the window wall to the tree just outside it.
He paused for only a moment, smiling back at me over his shoulder as he teased, "You better hold on tight, spider monkey."
Before I could even laugh – and I did laugh, but it turned into a squeal – we were scaling the tree and jumping to the next one.
"Edward Anthony Cullen! No you don't! It's my turn with her!"
Edward laughed, but he didn't slow down. He jumped from one tree to the next, and when he ran out of those closer to the river, he jumped down and leapt across it. I almost had a heart attack, but it happened so fast, I didn't have time to worry for long. Then we were running, flying over the ground, Alice in hot pursuit.
"You got all day with her! Get back here!"
I watched some of the time, but when nausea would hit, I forced my eyes closed and buried my face in his shoulder. When it passed, I'd watch again.
Edward was obviously faster than Alice. She never did gain the ground, and after a while, I think she just gave up. I thought this because Edward finally slowed, then stopped.
"She's on her way back to the house." He wasn't even winded as he spoke.
"She's not mad, is she?"
"Not with you, and not very with me. She thinks she is going to have you all to herself tomorrow."
"I feel like the new doll both siblings want to play with," I said, laughing. The idea of it was just too funny. I could imagine them playing tug-of-war with me and everything! Of course, if they actually ever did play that with me, I wouldn't survive the experience. Either that or I'd be armless.
"Now that I have found you, I don't plan on sharing you… much," he added, smiling sheepishly.
Edward was capable of 'sheepish'? Interesting. And adorable.
He helped me off his back, helped me to find my sense of balance, then took my hand and led me to a large rock slab that was perfectly suited for sitting on. Taking my waist, he effortlessly lifted me onto it, and then he joined me. He hopped up to beside me – yes, hopped – and then reclined a little, leaning back on his hands behind him. If the rock formation had space to do so, I swear he would have started swinging his legs.
I had never seen him look so carefree and happy.
I sighed contentedly, then, lying back, I took in the beauty that was the sunset. There were just a few stars making an appearance, but I knew more would soon follow. I wanted to see if I could spot them when they did.
"What are you thinking?"
I chose one thought over the other, that I had just had. "You seem to be in a good mood. Happy."
"For the first time in my existence."
I smiled. My eyes drifted shut. It was uplifting to know I affected him, too. His reactions were so very different from mine. There was no flush of his cheeks, fluttering of his heart, quickening of his breath. But he could clearly see how he affected me. I almost felt at a disadvantage.
His hand closed over mine, and my smile grew wider. Such a simple gesture, yet it meant so much. It showed love, and kindness, and comfort, and protection.
I absorbed that for a moment – just basked in the feeling of it – then I opened my eyes to watch the sky again.
Whoa! Wait. For how long had my eyes been closed? It was much darker than I had expected. There was almost no light at all, which my vision took immediate issue with. I struggled to see, but I still couldn't. It was like my eyes refused to adjust.
I bolted upright, frantically looking this way and that, just to get my bearings.
"It's so dark all of a sudden."
He sat up then, too, or at least I assumed he did. I could feel his movements, but couldn't make him out at all.
"Are you afraid?"
I could hear the worry in his tone.
I had never been one to be scared of the dark – never even needed a nightlight as a small child – but this was somehow different. Ominous. You take for granted the amount of light streetlamps and houses give off when you're in a populated area. It's never truly dark. Not like this was.
But he thought I was so brave. If he knew how terrified I was, he certainly wouldn't think that any longer.
"It's just… how are we going to get back?"
"Bella…" He whispered my name, and then I felt his arms wrap around me. "I can see in the dark."
Super eyesight? The 'super' list kept growing.
"I— I'd like to go back now." I tried to keep the fear from my tone, but it was there despite the effort. I knew he could hear it, too, because he tightened his hold on me.
I wasn't the only one who was amazingly perceptive, and he had an advantage I didn't. Well, several advantages, actually.
He scooped me up, and then there was a sensation of falling. Panicked, I screamed as I wrapped my arms around his neck, grasping at him desperately.
"I have you, Bella. We'll be home soon."
His hands never left some part of me as he helped me onto his back, and then I knew we were running because I felt the wind in my face. I couldn't see anything, so it didn't make me dizzy, but I still hid against his shoulder.
I had the vaguest sense of it when he leapt over the river, but only because the wind changed. Or the trajectory did, at least. That thought comforted me.
I felt safe with Edward, but a part of me just needed to be in a house. In a building of some kind, with other people. Or, in this case, vampires. The forest didn't seem to be my friend anymore. Not since Friday, when I felt that menacing presence in the forest just off school grounds.
I wasn't feeling that now – that menacing presence – but the memory of it was niggling at the back of my mind, making me anxious.
The wind rushing at me slowed, and then stopped. It was suddenly warmer.
"We're home now, Bella. You can open your eyes."
I had never been so happy to see someone else's bedroom. His room had light. His room signified safety.
He didn't help me off his back onto my feet. Instead, he helped me around to the front of him, then carried me to the bed, where he gently set me down.
His worried scowl made me realize just how much I had overreacted. It was just darkness, and Edward would never have let anything happen to me.
"I'm okay. It just struck me weird, is all."
His expression eased a little, but then his ears perked.
"Alice is on her way up."
The word 'up' wasn't even out of his mouth when she appeared in the doorway. She looked as if she was set to snap at him for taking me away earlier, but before a single syllable even left her mouth, her eyes softened, and then shifted over to me.
"What happened? Are you okay, Bella?"
Embarrassed, but yeah, I was okay. "I overreacted to how dark it was out there. There was an incident, at school yesterday, and the darkness triggered the memory, I guess."
Edward stiffened. I could only assume it was his protective nature kicking in. I guess the word 'incident' did leave a wide berth for interpretation.
"What kind of incident?" Alice asked. Edward tensed further.
With the way he held himself, I decided that lying was my better option. If I told him the truth, he was liable to jump out the window and go on a hunting spree until he killed everything in the area, guilty of the crime or not.
"There was a blackout…" But there would be windows, stupid! "…in a classroom that didn't have windows…" And you're such a chicken you couldn't help but panic? "…and some of the kids were panicking. It was just… really chaotic. Is all."
Yeah, I shouldn't be allowed to lie.
Edward relaxed a little, but it was a very little. Alice just seemed perplexed.
"Yeah, see? It was just an overreaction. I'm fine, really."
She didn't buy it, I was sure, but she didn't call me on it.
"Well, I was going to ask if you wanted to play again, but, maybe not today."
"Yeah, thanks, no. Maybe tomorrow?" I asked in return.
"Okay, sure!" She was back to happy, and then she near about twirled herself out of the room.
Edward and I were alone again, but it felt like there were a million miles distancing us. He was still tense, and from what I could see out of my peripheral vision, he wasn't looking at me, but at the floor like it had wronged him heinously.
"Why did you lie?"
He sounded angry. But somehow, it didn't seem like that anger was directed at me.
I decided to play stupid. "What do you mean?"
"You know what I mean, Bella."
He spoke through clenched teeth, and his eyes seemed very dark. Almost black. I braved a glance to see for sure.
"Why did you lie?" he repeated.
His eyes were black, but despite the fact that they were, I found myself coming clean, anyway. Or maybe it was because they were. "The truth isn't much better, and you look like you're about to kill something."
His stance softened considerably, but the black of his eyes remained. "Yes. Myself."
That just confused me. Why would he want to kill himself? Because he wasn't there to protect me from something that didn't happen? Because he wasn't there to protect me from my overactive imagination?
"Edward," I sighed, "nothing happened. I don't know that anything would have."
"You were safe," he said, and then his eyes began to lighten. His anger was dissipating. "But it frightened you."
Wait. What were we talking about? What did he think happened? "Briefly," I admitted.
"Until you were closer to the school." He didn't ask this. He knew it.
But how did he know? "Edward?"
He dropped into a cross-legged position by the bed – gracefully, with control – then he just stared down at the space in front of him.
"I wasn't trying to frighten you."
"It was you?"
"In the forest, during lunch?" I asked, to be sure we were on the same page.
So, it wasn't menacing. It was something else. I thought back, reevaluating the emotions I had felt at the time.
"Why didn't you say something?"
He looked up at me then. His eyes were back to the rich butterscotch color. "You thought I was stalking you. In a way, I was."
"I thought some loser was stalking me. If I had known it was you…"
"I had no way of explaining why I was there. I didn't want you to think poorly of me."
I had been sensing his guilt somehow, on Friday, in the forest. He felt like he was a menace, and I had, strangely enough, picked up on that.
"I wouldn't have thought poorly of you. I would have wanted to talk with you. It would have been a far better lunch period than what I went back to, at the cafeteria. Jessica is like a pit bull sometimes, if she thinks she can get some gossip."
Wait. Whoa, back up. "Wait, were you there on Thursday, too?" I asked. Deep down, I knew the answer.
That's why I had felt comforted. I was listening to his music in his company. "Will you be there again on Monday?"
I knew he meant that. He certainly didn't need my permission.
"Do you want me to be there?" he asked.
But I guess he wanted it. "Yeah. I'm not usually scared of the dark, you know. It was just… really dark."
He smiled. God, it was good to see him smile, especially after the murderous glare he had directed at his floor.
And then he perked to listen to something. If it was in him to do so, I would've sworn he wanted to roll his eyes. "Since you're feeling better, Alice wants to play with you."
I spoke directly to Alice, since I knew she could hear me. "Anything but dress up? I felt bad washing it away so quickly, after all the hard work you had put into it."
That was a partial truth. I did feel guilty, but I just didn't want to go through it all again. Like my mom had said, it just wasn't my thing.
"She would like you to choose."
Okay. What do vampires normally like to 'play'? Besides 'Tag'? I stifled a laugh. "What kind of recreational activities do vampires normally engage in?"
His return smile was the best gift one could ask for. Better than anything from the most expensive store on the planet. Right then, I didn't want to do anything but stare at that beautiful expression for hours.
Staring was good. When doing so, we seemed to connect to each other in some deep, profound way. I briefly wondered if it would always be like that. Our relationship, consisting of nothing more than long sessions of staring, interrupted by brief periods of flying through trees and over rivers. Oh, and the piano. Him playing, me listening.
I could live with that.
"Chess?" He was asking, like he wanted to see if I was game.
"I'm not very good," I admitted.
"You won't need to be. Alice can predict your moves. She will win."
I laughed. "Then what would be the point?"
His grin turned mischievous, then he stood and offered me his hand.
It was the strangest game of chess in the history of forever. Every time I would start to make a move, Edward would discreetly shake his head at me, so I would put that piece down and make another selection. I did this until he would nod his approval.
It didn't take a genius to see what was going on. He was reading Alice's thoughts, evening out the fairness of the game. She still won, but I – or rather, Edward – didn't make it easy on her.
After that, Edward and I went back up to his room. I was hoping for another long staring session, until I eventually fell asleep, but instead we ended up talking for hours. Well, he did most of the talking. I just listened, entranced.
He had done so much with his life. He used to attend school – they all did – but after about ten diplomas each, they stopped bothering. He had even attended college! Had a medical degree and everything! He didn't feel like he could practice, though. He seemed too young to the general public, and didn't feel he could handle the situations involving blood like Dr. Cullen could.
I couldn't even remember the moment I had fallen asleep.
To be continued…
This chapter contains one of my favorite scenes. Can you guess which one it is? (smile)
I am now about halfway through writing chapter thirty-one. I'm starting to feel that this fic will be thirty-five chapters, based on where I'm at now, and the content I still want to cover.
The next chapter is one of my favorites. I'm kinda excited to see what people think of it.
I'm excited to see what people thought of this chapter, too, LOL! So, please review! (grin)