Breaking Dawn (Twilight #4)(10) by Stephenie Meyer

My breathing started to accelerate again and my hands trembled - so much for the calming effects of the shower. I started to feel a little dizzy, apparently a full-scale panic attack on the way. I sat down on the cool tile floor in my big towel and put my head between my knees. I prayed he wouldn't decide to come look for me before I could pull myself together. I could imagine what he would think if he saw me going to pieces this way. It wouldn't be hard for him to convince himself that we were making a mistake.

And I wasn't freaking out because I thought we were making a mistake. Not atall. I was freaking out because I had no idea how to do this, and I was afraid to walk out of this room and face the unknown. Especially in French lingerie. I knew I wasn't ready for that yet

This felt exactly like having to walk out in front of a theater full of thousands with no idea what my lines were.

How did people do this - swallowall their fears and trust someone else so implicitly with every imperfection and fear they had - with less than the absolute commitment Edward had given me? if it weren't Edward out there, if I didn't know in every cell of my body that he loved me as much as I loved him - unconditionally and irrevocably and, to be honest, irrationally - I'd never be able to get up off this floor.

But it was Edward out there, so I whispered the words "Don't be a coward" under my breath and scrambled to my feet. I hitched the towel tighter under my arms and marched determinedly from the bathroom. Past the suitcase full of lace and the big bed without looking at either. Out the open glass door onto the powder-fine sand.

Everything was black-and-white, leached colorless by the moon. I walked slowly across the warm powder, pausing beside the curved tree where he had left his clothes. I laid my hand against the rough bark and checked my breathing to make sure it was even. Or even enough.

I looked across the low ripples, black in the darkness, searching for him.

He wasn't hard to find. He stood, his back to me, waist deep in the midnight water, staring up at the oval moon. The pallid light of the moon turned his skin a perfect white, like the sand, like the moon itself, and made his wet hair black as the ocean. He was motionless, his hands resting palms down against the water; the low waves broke around him as if he were a stone. I stared at the smooth lines of his back, his shoulders, his arms, his neck, theflawless shape of him....

The fire was no longer a flash burn across my skin - it was slow and deep now; it smoldered away all my awkwardness, my shy uncertainty. I slipped the towel off without hesitation, leaving it on the tree with his clothes, and walked out into the white light; it made me pale as the snowy sand, too.

I couldn't hear the sound of my footsteps as I walked to the water's edge, but I guessed that he could. Edward did not turn. I let the gentle swells break over my toes, and found that he'd been right about the temperature - it was very warm, like bath water. I stepped in, walking carefully across the invisible ocean floor, but my care was unnecessary; the sand continued perfectly smooth, sloping gently toward Edward. I waded through the weightless

current till I was at his side, and then I placed my hand lightly over his cool hand lying on the water.

"Beautiful," I said, looking up at the moon, too.

"It's all right," he answered, unimpressed. He turned slowly to face me; little waves rolled away from his movement and broke against my skin. His eyes looked silver in his ice-colored face. He twisted his hand up so that he could twine our fingers beneath the surface of the water. It was warm enough that his cool skin did not raise goose bumps on mine.

"But I wouldn't use the word beautiful" he continued. "Not with you standing here in comparison."

I half-smiled, then raised my free hand - it didn't tremble now - and placed it over his heart. White on white; we matched, for once. He shuddered the tiniest bit at my warm touch. His breath came rougher now.

"I promised we would try" he whispered, suddenly tense. "If... if I do something wrong, if I hurt you, you must tell me at once."

I nodded solemnly, keeping my eyes on his. I took another step through the waves and leaned my head against his chest.

"Don't be afraid," I murmured. "We belong together."

I was abruptly overwhelmed by the truth of my own words. This moment was so perfect, so right, there was no way to doubt it.

His arms wrapped around me, holding me against him, summer and winter. It felt like every nerve ending in my body was a live wire.

"Forever," he agreed, and then pulled us gently into deeper water.

The sun, hot on the bare skin of my back, woke me in the morning. Late morning, maybe afternoon, I wasn't sure. Everything besides the time was clear, though; I knew exactly where I was - the bright room with the big white bed, brilliant sunlight streaming through the open doors. The clouds of netting would soften the shine.

I didn't open my eyes. I was too happy to change anything, no matter how small. The only sounds were the waves outside, our breathing, my heartbeat...

I was comfortable, even with the baking sun. His cool skin was the perfect antidote to the heat. Lying across his wintry chest, his arms wound around me, felt very easy and natural. I wondered idly what I'd been so panicky about last night. My fears all seemed silly now.

His fingers softly trailed down the contours of my spine, and I knew that he knew I was awake. I kept my eyes shut and tightened my arms around his neck, holding myself closer to him.

He didn't speak; his fingers moved up and down my back, barely touching it as he lightly traced patterns on my skin.

I would have been happy to lie here forever, to never disturb this moment, but my body had other ideas. I laughed at my impatient stomach. It seemed sort of prosaic to be hungry after all that had passed last night. Like

being brought back down to earth from some great height.

"What's funny?" he murmured, still stroking my back. The sound of his voice, serious and husky, brought with it a deluge of memories from the night, and I felt a blush color my face and neck.

To answer his question, my stomach growled. I laughed again. "You just can't escape being human for very long."

I waited, but he did not laugh with me. Slowly, sinking through the many layers of bliss that clouded my head, came the realization of a different atmosphere outside my own glowing sphere of happiness.

I opened my eyes; the first thing I saw was the pale, almost silvery skin of his throat, the arc of his chin above my face. His jaw was taut. I propped myself up on my elbow so I could see his face.

He was staring at the frothy canopy above us, and he didn't look at me as I studied his grave features. His expression was a shock - it sent a physical jolt through my body.

"Edward," I said, a strange little catch in my throat, "what is it? What's wrong?"

"You have to ask?" His voice was hard, cynical.

My first instinct, the product of a lifetime of insecurities, was to wonder what I had done wrong. I thought through everything that had happened, but I couldn't find any sour note in the memory. It had all been simpler than I'd expected; we'd fit together like corresponding pieces, made to match up. This had given me a secret satisfaction - we were compatible physically, as well as all the other ways. Fire and ice, somehow existing together without destroying each other. More proof that I belonged with him.

I couldn't think of any part that would make him look like this - so severe and cold. What had I missed?

His finger smoothed the worried lines on my forehead.

"What are you thinking?" he whispered.

"You're upset. I don't understand. Did I... ?" I couldn't finish.

His eyes tightened. "How badly are you hurt, Bella? The truth - don't try to downplay it."

"Hurt?" I repeated; my voice came out higher than usual because the word took me so by surprise.

He raised one eyebrow, his lips a tight line.

I made a quick assessment, stretching my body automatically, tensing and flexing my muscles. There was stiffness, and a lot of soreness, too, it was true, but mostly there was the odd sensation that my bones all had become unhinged at the joints, and I had changed halfway into the consistency of a jellyfish. It was not an unpleasant feeling.

And then I was a little angry, because he was darkening this most perfect of all mornings with his pessimistic assumptions.

"Why would you jump to that conclusion? I've never been better than I am now."

His eyes closed. "Stop that."

"Stop what?"

"Stop acting like I'm not a monster for having agreed to this."

"Edward!'7I whispered, really upset now. He was pulling my bright memory through the darkness, staining it. "Don't ever say that."

He didn't open his eyes; it was like he didn't want to see me.

"Look at yourself, Bella. Then tell me I'm not a monster."

Wounded, shocked, I followed his instruction unthinkingly and then gasped.

What had happened to me? I couldn't make sense of the fluffy white snow that clung to my skin. I shook my head, and a cascade of white drifted out of my hair.

I pinched one soft white bit between my fingers. It was a piece of down.

"Why am I covered in feathers?" I asked, confused.

He exhaled impatiently. "I bit a pillow. Or two. That's not what I'm talking about."

"You... bit a pillow? Why?"

"Look, Bella!" he almost growled. He took my hand - very gingerly - and stretched my arm out. "Look at that"

This time, I saw what he meant.

Under the dusting of feathers, large purplish bruises were beginning to blossom across the pale skin of my arm. My eyes followed the trail they made up to my shoulder, and then down across my ribs. I pulled my hand free to poke at a discoloration on my left forearm, watching it fade where I touched and then reappear. It throbbed a little.

So lightly that he was barely touching me, Edward placed his hand against the bruises on my arm, one at a time, matching his long fingers to the patterns.

"Oh," I said.

I tried to remember this - to remember pain - but I couldn't. I couldn't recall a moment when his hold had been too tight, his hands too hard against me. I only remembered wanting him to hold me tighter, and being pleased when he did....

"I'm... so sorry, Bella," he whispered while I stared at the bruises. "I knew better than this. I should not have - " He made a low, revolted sound in the back of his throat. "I am more sorry than I can tell you."

He threw his arm over his face and became perfectly still.

I sat for one long moment in total astonishment, trying to come to terms - now that I understood it - with his misery. It was so contrary to the way that I felt that it was difficult to process.

Theshock wore off slowly, leaving nothing in its absence. Emptiness. My mind was blank. I couldn't think of what to say. How could I explain it to him in the right way? How could I make him as happy as I was - or as I had been, a moment ago?

I touched his arm, and he didn't respond. I wrapped my fingers around his wrist and tried to pry his arm off his face, but I could have been yanking on a sculpture for all the good it did me.

"Edward."

He didn't move.

"Edward?"

Nothing. So, this would be a monologue, then.

"I'mnot sorry, Edward. I'm... I can't even tell you. I'm so happy. That doesn't cover it. Don't be angry. Don't. I'm really f - "

"Do not say the word fine." His voice was ice cold. "If you value my sanity, do not say that you are fine."

"But I am: I whispered.

"Bella," he almost moaned. "Don't."

"No. You don't, Edward."

He moved his arm; his gold eyes watched me warily.

"Don't ruin this," I told him. "I. Am. Happy."

"I've already ruined this," he whispered.

"Cut it out," I snapped.

I heard his teeth grind together.

"Ugh!" I groaned. "Why can't you just read my mind already? It's so inconvenient to be a mental mute!"

His eyes widened a little bit, distracted in spite of himself.

"That's a new one. You love that I can't read your mind."

"Not today."

He stared at me. "Why?"

I threw my hands up in frustration, feeling an ache in my shoulder that I ignored. My palms fell back against his chest with a sharp smack. "Because all this angst would be completely unnecessary if you could see how I feel right now! Or five minutes ago, anyway. I was perfectly happy. Totally and completely blissed out. Now - well, I'm sort of pissed, actually."

"You should be angry at me."

"Well, I am. Does that make you feel better?"

He sighed. "No. I don't think anything could make me feel better now."

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