It was morning, and Edward was stuck, stock still at the base of an evergreen.
Carlisle had left hours ago. He'd called out a goodbye, but when Edward didn't answer he couldn't wait; he had a flight to catch - one of the benefits of travelling without a newborn. He'd thanked Isabella yet again, and she'd told him everything would be fine. Carlisle wanted to believe her, but Edward had listened to him fret and argue with himself as he headed down the trail, his thoughts becoming quieter, a repeated refrain fading out until he was gone.
Edward had hunted again, pulled through the woods by the scent of a lame wolf, and afterwards he wasn't sure what to do, so he did nothing. He wished he had a book with him. Maybe he'd go get one from his bag. If he stayed away she'd think he was afraid to face her, or she could accuse him of sulking. He'd heard that one before, and he had a ready comeback, but once he turned his attention miles away to the house everything was forgotten.
Isabella was taking a shower.
If he'd thought her single minded focus on the sensation of walking was dull, it was only because it had not yet occurred to him that she might point that laser of attention to the rest of her body. In the water. With soap.
Most people let their thoughts wander to regrets, memories, plans for the rest of their day. He could read their minds without even knowing where they were until they woke from a daydream and noticed their surroundings. But so far Isabella had been present for everything she did, and at the moment she was rubbing a rough luffa over the thin skin above her heel and higher to the handful of firm white flesh beneath the back of her knee. Her foot was propped on the side of an old tub, and as she bent forward in her scrubbing, her breast pressed against the front of her thigh.
Wet, sudsy, cool, slick where skin met skin and abrasive wherever she drew her sponge. Edward watched through her eyes and felt with her hands. He heard a tapping sound and realized his fingers were rapping an SOS against his thigh. His breathing was shallow and faster than hers. He could tell, because she noticed her breathing. She noticed the pounding of cool water on her shoulders, and when she bent further, on the small of her back. The sensations were so clear that he almost felt wet, and he tensed to run perhaps all the way back to Forks if that's what it took. Anything to keep the truth from her, because if she knew she could bend him to her will this easily, he was done for.
She straightened, and she drew the luffa up with her, so he stayed, transfixed between two trees. The luffa brushed across the slight swell beneath her navel, the thinner skin that moved across her ribs. The cell-like spaces between luffa fibers pressed against the pads of her fingers, and her movements were steady, as though she were merely scrubbing the hull of a boat. The smell of the soap was verbena and lye. She brought the last sliver of the bar up, between her breasts, across her collar bone and around to the back of her neck. When even her soapy hand washing behind her ear caused his body to respond, he let out a growl.
He'd been aroused in his human life, but memories from before the change were muddy, distant, facts in a ledger. This was like eating fire. The bloodlust was enough without having to contend with another pull that left him dancing on a string. He would not let her bend him. Not with the way she looked at him. Not with the curve of her hips or arc of her neck. He made himself stop panting. The only way to do it was to cease breathing altogether.
After a while a few birds settled into the trees around him and began the quick, repetitive cries that marked their territory. A warbler hopped to the branch beside his head. Edward had been tensed in one position so long that it might have thought he was a stone. By the time he had settled down enough to go back to the cabin, the sun was high in the sky, and the way he hesitated like a deer as he neared the open doorway made him want to pull the bottom log from the house and watch the rest tumble down.
He stuck his head in first and found her sitting cross legged on the floor with her eyes closed. She had her hair pulled in a ponytail, and one strap of a faded lime sundress hung off her shoulder. Edward waited in the entryway, but when she didn't open her eyes, he grabbed the handle of his duffle bag and took the stairs four at a time to the second floor. There were three doors up here, plus the bath. He could still smell the soap and the damp in the air, but he stayed clear of that room.
He opened a door with a dented copper knob and found an oak desk with a pen stand and a blotter. There was a stack of old books on the floor. Just some worn paperbacks and a few hardbacks with a library stamp that said cancelled. There was a dresser that someone had painted white, but now the paint was starting to flake away. He pulled out a drawer, and mothballs rolled in circles around the empty space.
The room across the narrow hall was smaller. There was another desk in the corner, a cheap flat-pack pine box with a couple of drawers. This room had a window seat with a lid that would open, but a dark clay urn was on top of it. In the far corner a tin wash tub sat under a hole about two feet wide in the roof. Why hadn't she fixed that? The sun was casting a square of light through it and onto the wall. Opening the folding closet door, he caught the scent of cotton and verbena from her clothes. He reached out to Isabella's mind, but he was nowhere in her thoughts.
The last room was the smallest, and it was empty. He unzipped his bag and hung up a few shirts before tossing his books and pants on the floor. He didn't have much else. Just a few pairs of shoes and a garnet ring that had been his mother's. The shoes were thrown in with the rest, but with nowhere else to put it, the ring went in his pocket.
He'd explored. He'd unpacked. Now what? The timber walls pressed in around him. He ventured back downstairs to find Isabella exactly where he'd left her, and he had the strangest desire to startle her to attention. There was no television here, no radio. He didn't even know if she had electricity. Twenty minutes must have passed while she ignored him. It seemed pointless to go back upstairs or into the woods again. Then he noticed the piano in the corner. It was a squat upright with faded gold scrollwork and a plaque that said Wm. Rolfe and Sons. He sat down at the bench and flexed his hands. His mother used to make him take lessons as a child, and he remembered "Ah! Vous dirai-je, Maman" so he started to play it, surprised that his hands remembered where to go. With his new reflexes, his fingers flew so fast that to a human it would have been nothing but a buzzing blur of sound, and he hit the end of the piece in three minutes. He stopped and looked at Isabella. Nothing. If he went over and shook her, what would she do?
He started beating "Chopsticks" into the keys like a punishment, holding back just enough to not break the ivory off the tops.
He smashed keys down in a jumble of ugly sound. The high G stayed down, wouldn't spring back into place. He felt something light on his shoulder, and he leapt to grab her neck and slam her back against the wall before he knew what he was doing.
"I…" He didn't know what to say. He had his hand on Isabella, holding her at arm's length with enough force to crush the bones of anything weaker than their own kind. Something in him fought to press harder, but he stayed still, holding her by the throat. Her breathing was calm, and she didn't struggle. He was almost afraid to set her free for fear of what she might do.
"Let go, Edward." Her mind was a pillar of stone. She had absolutely no fear that he would hurt her, and not through any misguided faith in him. He was a gnat, a flea; he was nothing. He dropped his hand and fell to her feet.
"I didn't mean to," he said. "I was startled."
"Go upstairs. I'll come up to you in a minute."
He pushed himself back, and then he ran.
There was plenty of time to worry, because she went outside to a small shed in back and then started to dig in her garden. He was able to predict how her mind would focus now - the dried out wooden handle of the shovel in her hands, the resistance as it met the earth. But he was surprised at the way she jabbed it so hard into the ground. He heard a cracking sound, and felt with her as the handle broke beneath the pressure. She took the two pieces into the shed and came back with another shovel to plant a pair of flowering shrubs. They were covered in thick white blooms, but he didn't recognize them, and she didn't think their name.
It was almost evening when she finally climbed the stairs. She went into the room with the oak desk. What was she waiting for? After a moment she came across the hall. He'd left the door open, and he was sitting on the floor, his chin on his knee. She stood in his doorway looking vaguely confused; then she shrugged and walked to him. There were smudges of dirt on her shins and her dress. Her fingernails were black with it. He'd imagined her towering over him, but she didn't. How had he not realized how short she was? It was like a curtain was pulled back and he could see the old man behind the great and powerful Oz.
"How old were you, Edward?"
"How old, when you ran your car off the road?"
"Nineteen," she repeated. Her voice was soft. "You're not a child, so I'm not going to treat you like one, no matter how you choose to act." She dropped down so her face was in front of him. "But if you ever lay a hand on me again you will wish Carlisle had let you die. You understand?"
She went into her room and closed the door. He realized he hadn't been breathing, and when he drew in a shaky breath it was rich with the scent of the earth and of her. He heard her pull the sundress over her head and reach into the closet for a robe. She crossed the hall to the bathroom, and Edward pressed his forehead to his knee when he realized what she was doing. Not again, not this soon.
She dropped the robe at her feet and turned on the shower.
Thanks for reading, and thanks for the reviews from ch 1.
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