Disclaimer: Twilight is the property of Stephenie Meyer. No copyright infringement is intended.
Palm Beach is nestled on a lush green peninsula in Sydney's northern suburbs. With a stretch of pristine ocean beach on one side a sparkling bay on the other it's a beautiful part of the world, but not the place to find a vampire. But old habits die hard, it seemed, because twenty four hours after I saw Edward Masen's name on that database, and eight years after he left me in that forest, I found myself chasing him once again.
And I hated myself for it.
That name in the database was going to haunt me though, until I'd proved to myself, beyond any doubt, that I was right. I'd already wasted half my weekend trying not to think about him, and that was half a weekend too long. So I would come here to Palm Beach, probably discover that Edward Masen was a middle-aged man with a Kawasaki and a mid-life crisis, and that would be the end of it. I'd go back to my real life, and Edward Cullen would go back to being a cautionary tale from my past.
Some of my tension faded away as I drove slowly along the narrow, windy road towards Edward Masen's address.
He lived on the ocean side. Number 42 was my goal and I smiled as I pulled up across the road from a beautifully renovated traditional beach bungalow of grey and white, with a wide verandah. I got out for a closer look, feeling more and more like my old self as I felt the sun kiss my skin. How could I have ever considered that he'd live here? With a surfboard leaning against the verandah railing and neighbours either side of him? A cat stretched lazily across the stone front steps, enjoying the warmth of early spring and obviously very much at home.
"I am such an idiot." The hard knot in my stomach at last slipped undone. And even if it had been him, what would that mean?
"Not much." Because, really, what sort of life could we have?
In a sudden moment of clarity, I realised I wasn't just over Edward Cullen, I'd outgrown him. When I'd thought of him in the past, and even yesterday in Marc's office, it was through the filter of my adolescence. Those painful memories came from the heart and mind of an inexperienced, insecure teenage girl. But I was twenty six now. The life I lived, the future I wanted, held no place for a seventeen year old boy. Especially a seventeen year old boy who had to live on the edge of society, always on the run from the sun.
I felt a pang of pity for Edward Cullen, and a sudden, gentle fondness. I found myself hoping, wherever he was, he was happy.
I was about to walk away when the front door of number 42 opened. The cat and I watched as a man crossed the verandah and came down the front path. He was tall and blonde, and very human. Maybe a little older than me, he was wearing a Stormtrooper t-shirt, with a laptop bag tucked under his arm, and he was yawning spectacularly.
So maybe this was Edward Masen?
At the end of the path he stopped.
"You right?" he asked, giving me a puzzled smile and I realised with a stab of embarrassment that I'd been leaning against his letterbox, staring.
"Oh…no, sorry…" I took a quick step back. "I'm just, um…" I waved my arm around, as if that might explain me loitering outside his house, and my car keys flew out of my hand. They landed at his feet with a clunk.
He bent quickly, scooped them up, and said something as he held them out to me, but he was yawning again, his words a low mumble I didn't catch. So I smiled a little and gave a vague sort of nod, hoping that would work as a response. He nodded too.
"You'd better come in then, I'll let him know you're here."
Crap! Why did I nod? What did I just say yes to? I turned and hurried back across the road to the car, nearly stumbling over my feet as I went. It wasn't until I grabbed the door handle that I realised the sleepy blonde guy still had my keys. "Shit!"
He was up on the verandah now, disappearing through the front door, and I ran up the path behind him.
"Wait! No! There's been a mistake…"
The door opened into a long hallway. There were three doors to the right, all closed. To the left was the entry to a large living room. And my quarry was nowhere in sight.
"Um, hello?" There was silence and I took a tentative step inside, my mind racing with hastily concocted excuses for why I was here. Was I a scout for Vogue Living looking for t month's cover? Or an Uber driver come to the wrong house to pick up a fare? I was just deciding that my best option was to say, in my broadest American accent, that I was a lost tourist, when I took a proper look into the living room.
It was large, open plan, flowing into a gourmet kitchen with views over the ocean, but that wasn't what made my heart skid to a halt.
It was the shelves behind the sofa. They reached from floor to ceiling, and were neatly stacked with row upon row of CDs and vinyl records.
Without thinking, I took a small, shaky step into the room, then another, my eyes furiously scanning the rows.
Everything was categorised by genre, then in alphabetical order within that genre. Jazz, blues, classical, rock, punk, indie…
Just like Edward Cullen's music.
"I've let him know you're here." The blonde guy was back and my thoughts scattered.
"Oh, um…actually…I think there's been…" He gave me a sheepish smile as he held out my keys. I'd forgotten all about them.
"These are yours, sorry." I took them from him, mumbling a thank you. "He shouldn't be long," the guy went on. "The piano's just there, if you want to try it out while you wait. It's a good one, but I know he's happy to negotiate on the price."
I hadn't even noticed the piano. A glossy black upright stood against the opposite wall.
The Stormtrooper fan yawned again, and ran his hand through his hair. "Sorry. We've pulled an all-nighter, Ed's just waking up." He frowned and I could only imagine my expression.
"You don't mind waiting, do you?"
"I…no…" So this guy wasn't Edward Masen, then?
He smiled, flashing perfect white teeth. "Okay, look, I have to get going, but if he doesn't show in five minutes it means he's fallen asleep again, so go and bang on the door. Last one on the right." He slung his laptop bag over his shoulder and began backing away. "But bang hard. Because seriously, the guy sleeps like the dead."
Alone in the living room, I took a deep breath and tried to think logically.
I already knew someone with that name lived here. But someone with that name, who stored his music this way?
"Coincidence," I muttered. A spectacular coincidence, but still a coincidence. Renee used to watch documentaries on cable about this sort of thing. And what was I still doing here anyway? I clutched my keys tightly and walked back into the hall, ready to leave.
At the end of the hallway, the last door on the right stood slightly ajar now. All was silent. Thankfully, Ed seemed to have fallen back to sleep, and I could get out quietly before embarrassing myself.
I had planned to walk outside, I really had. I was going to go down the path, climb into my car and drive away. But curiosity was burning through me, and instead, I found myself creeping towards the bedroom door and holding my breath as I peeked inside.
He was sprawled across the massive bed on his stomach, his face turned away from me as he snored softly. His tanned legs were tangled in the sheets and one arm hung over the edge of the mattress. The blinds were open and the midday sun fell brightly on the long-fingered hand without any hint of a spark.
If I'd had any doubts before, now they disappeared instantly. He wasn't Edward. Well, at least, not Edward Cullen.
The hard-muscled breath of his bare back and shoulders was more proof. This was no lanky teenager.
But his hair…
It was a mess of vivid bronze against the white of the pillow and I began to wonder…
Could this be a human relation of Edward's?
Some distant Masen cousin who'd inherited his name and his love of music, along with the hair?
I'd heard of much weirder things from Renee.
The possibility hit me like a wrecking ball, and I gasped. A little too loudly.
The snoring stopped, the figure in the bed stirred, my curiosity fled and the thought of being caught in a strange man's room, watching him sleep, sent a wave of hot panic pulsing through me. I started to back away, bumped into a chair I hadn't seen, and fell flat on my backside. The chair toppled over. It crashed into the bedroom door, slamming it shut, and Edward Masen sat up with a start.
I didn't stop to look. I scrambled to my feet, shoved past the chair, opened the door, and took off down the hallway, bumping into the wall and sliding along the polished floorboards as I went.
There'd be time to think about Edward's descendant later and hopefully I'd be in my car and gone before he had a chance to dial triple 0 and have me arrested.
Then with one word, my whole world changed.
I knew that voice. From a long time ago. Deep and smooth, hearing it again brought a heated rush of pleasure and pain and stopped me in my tracks.
I turned slowly, and faced Edward Cullen.
He stood there, sheet clutched round his hips, chest heaving with rapid breaths. His green eyes vivid with raw shock and disbelief.
"My God…" he whispered, and his gaze ran over me slowly, like he was taking in every detail. But I was taking in details of my own.
The line of his jaw, the curve of his cheekbones, were as familiar to me as my own, but they framed the face of a man, not a boy. At a guess, he looked like he was close to thirty. His nose was different than it had been when I knew him. Not quite as fine or straight, like perhaps it had been broken as some stage. There was heavy stubble on his jaw, and a light dusting of hair across his chest. It was a nice chest.
And those eyes, now so green, yet still the same.
I used to drown in those eyes.
My mind couldn't keep up with what it was seeing. It searched for logic and understanding, and failed miserably. Silence stretched between us, two people obviously trying to reconcile past with present, and then suddenly, Edward spoke, his tone clearly incredulous.
"What…what on earth are you doing in Australia?" He dragged his free hand through his sleep-tousled hair.
"Work," I blurted. "I work here. Live here." My heart didn't seem to know whether to pound even harder than it already was, or to stop altogether. My eyes raked Edward's form from head to toe. He was different, but still beautiful. His feet were bare and I realised I'd never seen him without shoes before. Suddenly, it seemed very intimate, looking at his feet, and I glanced away.
"I thought…" he began, voice soft. The column of his throat moved slowly as he swallowed hard. His free hand moved, it was just a small movement and I thought for a moment, with thudding heart, that he was reaching for me. But then he curled his fingers into a fist that he dropped back to his side. He shook his head and briefly closed his eyes. "You're interested in buying the piano?" His voice was matter-of-fact now.
"Huh? Oh, no."
"The guy with the Stormtrooper shirt?"
Now it made sense. "You're selling your piano?"
"Nick thought you were answering the ad."
There was another silence as I continued to stare at Edward, and Edward stared back, his intense gaze almost a glare. I wondered what my face looked like. And whether we'd ever mention the elephant in the room. Or the ex-vampire.
"I…you're…you're…" The word wouldn't seem to come. "You've got a cat."
"Neighbour's cat," he said, frowning. "It just likes to hang out here. I don't know why."
"Because you're…" Still, I couldn't say it. It was as though the impossibility of what I was seeing had robbed me of the right words.
"Human," Edward said quietly. "I'm human."
Yes. He was. Very human. "Um…how?"
Edward took a slow, deep breath and looked towards the living room. "You have questions, of course."
There was something in his tone, in his posture, that gave me the feeling he didn't want to talk. That there was some inner conflict he was trying to conceal. It reminded me of some of the first conversations we'd had, back in the Forks High cafeteria almost a decade ago.
"I'll just…er…" He indicated the sheet bunched round his hips, the faintest hint of an apologetic smile on his lips, and I was surprised when a subtle blush coloured his cheeks. "I'll be right back." He paused. "Make yourself comfortable. It's a long story."
A/N: Thank you to Edward's Eternal who kindly cast her expert eye over this chapter. Mwah! xx
And thank you, thank you, thank you all for the wonderful response to this story so far! Your comments and reviews have been amazing and I appreciate them all J
I'm going on holiday tomorrow so I won't be able to update for about a week or so. But I'll be working on chapter 3 while I'm away J