This wasn't that big of a deal, right?
I tried to convince myself of that, but I just couldn't. And I was working myself up into a full blown panic attack.
But why was it such a big deal? I couldn't wrap my brain around an answer to that. I just knew that my heart was racing and my breathing was completely and erratically off the charts.
If I didn't calm the hell down, Edward would likely bust through the door to be sure I was okay. I knew he could hear me freaking out.
I did the best I could to push Alice's revelation out of my head as I moved through my nighttime routine, but as I was finishing up, a new wave of adrenalin hit me. I would have to face Edward eventually. Soon. I couldn't live in his bathroom.
I gathered up my crap, stared at the door for seven years, then unlocked it and took a step out into the hall. Straight into Edward.
"Crap! Sorry!" I nearly shouted at him from the surprise of it.
When I looked up at him, I recoiled. He was in agony again.
"I should not have agreed to her speaking with you. I'm so sorry."
I shook my head. "I'm okay," I said.
His eyes narrowed a little. "You promised you wouldn't lie to me about your mental wellness."
"I'm not lying. I'm just… not sure what's wrong."
"You have every right to be upset with me." His expression was back to anguished.
"I'm not upset with you," I told him. His eyes narrowed again. He looked incredulous. I couldn't blame him, really. I would think I was lying, too, if I were him. "I admit, I'm something, but upset isn't it."
Shifting past him, I headed for his room. He followed. I threw my stuff at my suitcase before flinging myself onto the bed.
Irritation bubbled up. Determining my own feelings and emotions had never been difficult before! Why was it now?
He sat on the bed with me, but to the farthest edge that he could without falling off onto the floor.
"I just need a minute to think," I whispered. But, really, I didn't believe things would be any clearer in a minute. Maybe in a few hours, but to leave him in limbo like that for so long… he would try to hang himself. He would fail, of course, because I seriously doubted that a vampire could die so easily, but still. I didn't want to do that to him. What Alice said was obviously true. He was hating himself.
I have no idea how much time passed. It could have been days, for as much as I was aware. It felt like I was in a fog.
But eventually, I thought, and considered, and reasoned my way through it.
And then I sighed. "That's about as close to truly intimate as we're ever going to get, isn't it? Anything… further… because you feel you'll lose control, is out of the question."
"I think that's what's bothering me the most," I admitted. "We're so limited, yet you want to pull that away, too! Yeah," I added, "I was embarrassed because Alice was the one to tell me what was going on…" I heard Emmett laugh at that. "Shut up, Emmett," I muttered. I rolled my eyes when he laughed again. "But now I'm just frustrated. Why make this harder than it needs to be? If we have… restrictions we need to work within, let's work within them!"
"So, you're not appalled that I acted so shamefully, but you are upset because I don't want to dishonor you by repeating it?"
"How did you dishonor me?"
Emmett laughed again.
"Shut up, Emmett!"
Edward and I both said this, at the exact same time. That broke the tension a little. We both smiled at each other.
"You didn't dishonor me, Edward." His smile dropped, then mine did, too. "Did you imagine that we would never want to have something like that? I don't know about you, but I've sure thought about it."
Okay, Emmett was at serious risk of being murdered. "Edward," I asked in an icky sweet tone of voice, "exactly how does one kill a vampire? There's one on my hit list right now."
Emmett roared with laughter. Edward smirked, then I did, too, but we both dropped them quickly.
"You keep talking about acclimation," I continued, "but how can we if we don't try?"
"There are some situations we should avoid trying. The ones that could get you killed, or worse, for example."
"What's worse than death?"
That was a very bad question. He looked as if he was enduring the worst form of torture a captor had ever inflicted upon a prisoner. He pushed off the bed and walked over to the window wall. For a moment, I thought he was going to leap out of it and run off, but he didn't.
I joined him. He tensed when I did, but he still didn't move to leave.
"Okay, let's drop that for now," I said. "Maybe the only reason you tried to kill me today, was because you weren't expecting it, and because you haven't acclimated yet. We could wait a while. We could try again, but start simpler. Maybe no biting. See how it goes."
He sighed deeply. "Physical intimacy is important to you, isn't it?"
I hadn't really thought about it before. It sure seemed to be. "Yeah," I said. "I mean, I get that we'll have… limitations, but some form of it would be nice."
"I would like you to understand something." He turned to look at me then. His tortured expression had eased considerably. "I was born in a different era. Things were a lot less… complicated. If I had met you back then, I would have courted you. We would have taken chaperoned strolls, and had ice tea on the porch. I may have stolen a kiss or two."
Wait. "Okay, so, this isn't just about you losing control? It's about… propriety?" His return expression answered my question. I sighed. "Great. Now I feel like the villain here, trying to steal your virtue."
"It's not my virtue I'm concerned about."
That surprised me. Why on earth would he be concerned about mine? I was born in this era. And I obviously didn't have any qualms about behaving like a wanton slut.
"I know this is not a very modern notion," he said.
"It's bordering on ancient, Edward, but I get where you're coming from." I turned away from him and headed back towards the bed. I asked as I dropped onto the edge, "Where does that leave us?"
"I only want for your happiness, Bella."
Translated: I'll sacrifice my morals if you want me to. Yeah, I was not okay with that.
"And I want for yours. So, where does that leave us?" I asked again.
"If you are accepting of a compromise, I will give you whatever physical intimacy I am capable of, and comfortable giving you."
So, essentially, I would have to let him lead. Why did falling in love with a vampire have to be so complicated?
"I'm accepting," I said. Then I pushed up fully onto the bed. "I'm also exhausted. This was a very long day."
I didn't even look at him as I patted the empty space beside me. I felt him climb in, then I turned and snuggled up to him. I didn't even bother getting under the covers. I was too tired to move, and I knew if I got cold later, Edward would tuck me in.
"How do you kill vampires?" I asked again. I heard several of the Cullen clan laugh that time.
"You would not be strong enough to accomplish the task, my love. Sleep. I will kill Emmett later."
More laughter. I smirked, but it faded as I drifted off to sleep.
"Get up, get up, get up! It'll be here soon!"
Alice's chipper voice roused me, but I didn't even open my eyes in response.
"What will be here?" I asked.
"And I care about that, why?" I forced a smile from forming when I heard her laugh.
My eyes flew open. "Huh?"
"We're all playing! Edward is playing!"
I felt his arms tighten around me as he nuzzled into my hair.
"I don't play baseball," I told her.
She scoffed. "You are today! Get up, get up, get up!"
She then twirled out of the room. I shifted a little and snuggled in deeper against Edward.
"You remember the story I told you, right? About my misadventures trying to play softball?"
"Vividly. You could not injure us if you tried, my love. Relax."
"Since when do vampires like to play baseball?"
He chuckled a little. "Well, it is a favorite American pastime."
I shrugged. I never much cared for it. Charlie sure did. The TV in our house was tuned to sports more so than anything else. "And the storm matters why?"
Okay, vampire games are just way more fun than their human equivalents.
Every hit of the ball – which sounded like a crack of thunder; hence the need for the storm – was easily a homerun. Except it wasn't, especially when Edward was in the outfield. He was fast, and he could throw all the way to home plate from deep within the forest. It was dizzying to follow, let alone play.
They made me play. I honestly didn't see the point. Everyone had to humanize themselves while I was up at bat. I doubted I would have even been able to hit the ball if it wasn't for Edward standing with me, behind me. We both held the bat, but I basically just let him do all the work. His swings were more powerful than any human's would be, but far less than he was capable of.
And then the ball would go flying, and he would pull me up onto his back and run me through the bases. I liked participating for that reason alone.
When we were in the outfield, I just stood there and watched. Though that was fun, too, but only because Edward and Emmett made it so. Brotherly competition was alive and well in the Cullen clan. They were always trying to be the one to catch the ball – make the out – and they often crashed into each other in the process. And I mean crashed. Their bodies colliding sounded like thunder, too.
They didn't appear to be keeping score, other than the three outs required so that they could switch which team was up at bat.
Esme insisted, after about an hour and a half of playing, that I take a break and eat the snack she had prepared for me. I resisted the urge to define the word snack to her. At least with them all caught up in the game, I wouldn't have to hide the fact that I couldn't possibly eat even a fraction of what was in the wicker picnic basket.
Edward sat out of the game with me.
"Are you having fun?" he asked.
"Yeah. I feel a little like a piece of equipment, though." I grinned at him so that he would know I was joking, then I chomped into my sandwich.
"We play a little rough. I don't want you to get hurt."
"Not to mention I wouldn't be able to keep up with you guys," I added.
"Yes, there is that consideration as well."
He inched closer to me, watching me eat with the most adoring expression on his face.
"How often do you guys play? I've probably heard you before, assuming it was the thunder."
"Not often. Two or three times per year."
I nodded. I'm not sure why, but it made me happy to think that during some of the many storms over the years, I had probably heard Edward playing vampire baseball.
"Rosalie hasn't glared at me once today," I mentioned. Edward shifted his eyes a little.
I had become fairly proficient at determining what his little quirks meant. The eye shifting thing usually meant he was reading someone's thoughts.
And then it dawned on me. Crap! How could I have forgotten that they all have super hearing? Rosalie must have heard my comment.
I tried to fix it, though I wasn't sure how to. "Sorry, it's just… I'm glad she's having a good time. That I didn't manage to upset her today."
His eyes were back on me. "Her problems are self created. You have done nothing wrong."
I had to force myself not to glance in Rosalie's direction. Knowing we were talking about her, I was sure she was glaring at me now.
I sighed in defeat and took another bite of my sandwich. I was just going to have to accept the fact that Rosalie was never going to like me. It was the not knowing why, though, that was most bothersome. I knew Edward wouldn't tell me, and asking her about it directly seemed like a very bad idea.
I changed the subject. "I see Emmett is still alive." I heard a soft chuckle behind me. Edward smirked.
"I spared his life in exchange for his promise to behave."
"That was very generous of you."
Another laugh. Emmett certainly didn't seem to share Rosalie's view of me. If nothing else, he found me to be amusing. Sometimes his amusement was annoying, but really, I liked him. We seemed to have slipped into the role of siblings. The kind that both irritate and love one another.
I smiled at that.
"What are you thinking?"
I looked up at Edward. He was smiling, too.
"Emmett. He's kind of like a cuddly teddy bear." Edward quirked his eyebrow; I hid my grin. "Like a big, lethal, cuddly teddy bear."
The field erupted into laughter. And then Emmett was sitting right beside me.
"You got the lethal part right," he said, grinning at me. "Are you guys ever coming back to play?"
I gestured to my half-eaten sandwich. "Human moment," I said. "I'm sure you'll do fine without me. You can have Edward back, if you need the help."
Emmett laughed. "Like he'd leave your side! You guys are a packaged deal now!"
I didn't even have time to squeal. I was suddenly up off the ground, over Emmett's shoulder in a fireman's carry, my sandwich still in hand. Edward followed us with a smirk on his face. I returned it, then casually took another bite of my sandwich.
"He's met his match in you, little one," Emmett said. It was almost a whisper. There was really no need for him to lower his voice, though. Not only could Edward hear him, but I was sure he knew Emmett was going to say it before he did.
Emmett was obviously approving of our relationship. That made me feel good. I knew Alice was, which meant Jasper probably was, too. Esme seemed to be as well, based off our brief conversation Friday morning. Dr. Cullen was a bit of a mystery, but if everyone else was fine with things, I couldn't imagine he had any issues with it. He was the father-figure of the clan. If he was unhappy about my relationship with Edward, wouldn't the others take his cue?
Rosalie hated me, so of course she wouldn't like that I was with Edward. She probably didn't think I was good enough for him. I doubted she would care, but we were actually in agreement on that. I wasn't good enough for Edward. But for as long as he wanted me, I would overlook that. I had to. I loved him too much to walk away.
I was on my feet, and then I felt a pat to my head. It didn't seem to be a condescending gesture, though.
"Keep him on his toes, little one," Emmett said. He smiled at me, and then, whoosh, and he was across the field from me.
Edward stepped up to beside me a second later. Wrapping his arm around my waist, he pressed his lips to my forehead and inhaled.
"Wake up! One more out and we're up at bat!"
"Shut up, Em."
Alice had said that. I didn't dare open my eyes. I just knew the entire family was watching us. I pushed the thought aside and gently scratched his hair at the nape of his neck. He liked that, if his soft hum was any indication.
"They're waiting for you," I whispered.
He chuckled a little, then pulled back and locked eyes with me. "A few minutes is nothing to a vampire, trust me. Let them wait."
I smirked. "But the storm doesn't care about that. Play. I'll just be standing here, eating my sandwich."
He hummed again, in amusement. "You enjoy that, then."
I laughed at that. He'd taken my own joking remarks from the other day and had teased me right back with them.
"That's the plan," I quipped. Then I shoved him, which he allowed by taking a graceful stumble backwards.
Rosalie was at bat. I noticed she seemed irritated that everyone's attention wasn't back on the game yet. It eased a bit when they returned to playing. She made it to third base. Then Dr. Cullen was up. I continued to eat my sandwich as I watched.
Crack, and the ball went flying, right over my head. It all happened insanely fast after I realized that.
Edward and Emmett rushed for the ball. The momentum of their speed as they passed me must have messed with my equilibrium, because next thing I knew, I was flat on my back looking up at the cloudy sky. In a split second of time, I had six vampires hovering over me.
On my right, Edward was kneeling next to me, on my left, Dr. Cullen was. Edward looked anguished again. Carlisle seemed to be in medical practitioner mode.
"I'm okay," I whispered. The wind had been knocked out of me, apparently. It was a struggle to speak normally. "I just lost my balance."
"Carlisle?" Edward said his name in a questioning manner, like he was asking his opinion.
"She doesn't appear to be injured," he answered. "Bella? Do you trust my diagnosis, or would you like us to take you to the hospital?"
I shook my head. "I'm fine." To prove that, I moved to sit up, but the head rush that created made me fall back to the ground.
Edward's concerned expression intensified.
"Maybe we should just take her home," Alice suggested.
Crap! "No! You guys don't have to stop playing! Really, I'm fine!"
"Edward, stop it! You promised to try. I'm o-kay. Just help me over to the sidelines, and I'll watch from there. It's not like I was much more than a spectator anyway."
All eyes then shifted over to Edward. His remained on me.
"Edward…" I whispered his name, but sternly. "You promised."
Several long seconds passed before he nodded. "Would you like me to carry you, or would you prefer to walk?"
Emmett clapped a couple times, like he was excited that the game wasn't over. Dr. Cullen stood but remained nearby. Everyone else moved away, back into their playing positions.
"Just help me up. I can walk."
It was like I was walking, but really, my feet were barely touching the ground. Edward had his arm around my waist, but was lifting me in such a way that it seemed like gravity wasn't working.
He helped me to the ground next to the picnic basket, but then just hovered over me.
"Go play, Edward. I'm fine. I have snacks and everything," I added with a smirk.
He nodded. "I will make this up to you, I promise."
"There's nothing to make up. I don't mind being a spectator. I excel at it, actually." I grinned at him, which finally earned me a smile in return. "Go. Before Emmett explodes."
Laughter. Even Edward laughed.
And then the game continued, as I munched on cheese, and fruit, and pretzels, and…
To be continued…
I continue to be humbled by the amazing reviews. Thank you.
Some of my fave lines from Eclipse are in this chapter. I was thrilled to be able to work them in.
The lines I wrote that made me cry are in chapter twenty-nine. I'll let everyone know what they are, after we play a little game of guess. (smirk) They will probably be obvious, though.
ADarnell: LOL, verbal smackdown! Yeah, that was satisfying to write, and had been in planning since almost the start of my writing the fic. I am continuing to do well with the no smoking thing, thank you. Today at four-thirty P.M. will mark exactly two weeks since I have had a cigarette. Arms are still intact. (grin)
xxxbulletxxx: Bella does like that. She's embarrassed because Alice was the one to tell her what had happened. Hopefully, this chapter eased your confusion.
Brooke: To Bella, not to passersby.
Mrs. Edward B. Cullen: Thank you. You're forgiven. (smirk)
The fat cats meow: The epilogue chapter will make up for the shorter chapters now. It's freaking huge.
The next chapter has a funny little scene/moment that is one of my faves. The chapter after that (twenty-eight) is one of my faves of the entire series. Chapter twenty-nine is probably the most angsty. Just giving you an idea of what's to come.
In this chapter, I did try to avoid the vampire baseball scene being a regurgitation of the book/movie scene, but love the idea of it so much, I just had to throw it in. Minus the game being interrupted by annoying nomadic vampires, of course. Hopefully, I succeeded in making it different enough to be entertaining.
Please keep showing the love by reviewing! And MTLBYAKY