I looked behind me and saw Beth, my enthusiastic roommate, waving frantically in my direction. I sighed.
“Bella, come on! You have to see this one!”
Knowing my roommate wouldn’t stop pestering me until I checked out what she had found, I walked over to join her.
“This is unbelievable—have you ever seen anything like it?” Beth rambled excitedly. “What would my parents think if I brought this back for them as a souvenir?” She looked at me expectantly.
I sighed again, barely glancing at the item in her hands. “I dunno, Beth. They’d probably think you’d finally succumbed to my evil influence and forbid you from visiting Europe ever again.”
Beth sighed dramatically and put the inappropriate DVD back on the shelf. We were in the final week of our summer trip to Europe and Beth was determined to make the most of it. After traveling through various cities in Spain, France, Italy, and Germany, we were ending our trip by visiting Amsterdam. Beth’s parents—southern Baptists—had tried to discourage their adult daughter from traveling to such a “corrupt” city, but that had only made her more determined to go. Having never been further east than Albuquerque, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The architecture was legendary and the places we had seen were amazing, but I found the hominess and coziness of the Netherlands the most comforting of all the European cities we’d visited. It brought me back to a time period that reminded me of the classical ages in which so many of my favorite authors had lived. At least until Beth had dragged us to the infamous Red Light District, where she was currently scouting for the most inappropriate DVD she could find in one of the many “specialty” shops in Amsterdam.
We had both just graduated from college in Virginia, and we had decided to see the world together before being separated and thrown to the wolves—so to speak—in the working world. For me, Virginia had seemed like the perfect compromise to my Plan B of becoming a vampire after high school. I had needed to leave Forks but hadn’t been quite ready to move to Florida to allow Renee to smother me. I also hadn’t wanted to move somewhere where it was too rainy, in case I ran into—I abruptly stopped that train of thought. I wasn’t thinking about him on this trip.
So I had chosen neutral territory—my own personal Switzerland. Somewhere between both of my parents, where the sun shone and the moss wasn’t too thick. Jake, my best friend and a werewolf, had tried to convince me to stay somewhere close to home. He hadn’t understood that I’d needed some distance from him too, but in the end he had supported my decision. He had been hoping my time away would give me the chance I needed to pick up the pieces that had been missing since that fateful junior year in high school…
I rubbed the cool, crescent-shaped scar on my wrist. Some wounds never healed.
Surprisingly, I had been able to move on, in a matter of speaking, and I had found college every bit as enjoyable as Edw—as someone had told me it would be. It wasn’t the life I had envisioned for myself five years ago, but I was content, had great friends, and was looking forward to my immediate future. Although why I had agreed to let Beth exclusively plan the next few days was still a mystery to me. Must have been a moment of weakness.
Beth snapped her fingers in front of my face. “Are you awake now? Ready to move on?”
I smiled wryly before answering. “Yeah, thanks. Where to next?” Beth was used to seeing me zone out occasionally, lost in memories. I had tried to explain it to her once—a highly edited version involving a high school crush and unrequited love—but she’d understood that it was too difficult to talk about and had never pressed for more. She was a great friend like that.
My great friend smiled at my fake enthusiasm, but answered my question regardless. “Now, we walk to the Torture Museum, visit the Bloemenmarkt, and have dinner near Leidseplein. Then we’ll go back to our hostel to get ready for tonight!”
We started walking, and I held back a groan—barely. “Why do you insist on making us visit these clubs in every country? If you’ve seen sweaty, stinking bodies in one country you’ve seen them all!”
She grinned. “They’re not all that bad! The last one didn’t stink, and they even had air conditioning.”
I looked at her incredulously. “Aside from the fact that the bartender was so high I worried he was going to poison me by accident? That they handed out gummy bears to go along with the other, various sorts of drugs you could get there? Or how about the fact that the music was so loud I still hear a ringing in my eardrums?”
Beth laughed unabashedly. “That’s all part of the European experience! Come on, Bella. When are you ever going to get a chance like this again? We’ve got to live it up while we’re still young enough to enjoy it!”
That stopped me in my tracks, and it took Beth a few moments before she realized I wasn’t walking beside her. She looked back at me, the smile slowly fading from her face as she took in my expression. She probably didn’t understand exactly why, but age was still a touchy subject for me. I tried to shake the melancholy off, for her sake.
“Well I guess that’s one good thing about this trip being almost over then,” I joked, trying to lighten the mood. I started walking again to catch up to her. “Although I can’t say I’ll miss having to wait in line for a shower, or having to read a menu in a language I don’t understand, either.”
Beth glanced sideways at me, trying to gauge my mood. “Oh, but I did my homework for tonight! You just need to know, ‘Een biertje, alsjeblieft’. Try it!”
“Are you kidding me? What was that, gibberish?”
She laughed at my expression. “Of course not, it’s Dutch! It means, ‘one beer, please’. Or at least, I think it does.”
I rolled my eyes. “Why am I not surprised? Now come on,” I said, taking her arm as we crossed the street together, passing Dam square on our way to the next grand sight. “Let’s get all of the sightseeing out of the way so you can have some fun this evening.” I realized as I said it that I actually meant it. I would try to make the most out of this, for her sake.
Much later that evening, we were huddled together as we walked through the streets of the old city, making our way to the Rembrandtplein. According to one of the thousands of city guides Beth had read, this club called Escape was supposed to be the best there was. I only hoped that the club was as promising as the name suggested.
“I can’t say I’m going to miss the weather here,” I commented as we walked arm-in-arm down the narrow street. “It’s the middle of August and practically freezing! I should have worn something warmer.”
Beth tut-tutted her disapproval. “Are you kidding? It was World War three trying to get you in the outfit you have on now—and that was even a compromise! You definitely needed something sleeveless—preferably strapless, too.”
I tried not to be appalled but failed. Beth had had the shirt I was currently wearing hidden in her suitcase for just such an occasion as tonight—our last night out. She only went through the act of choosing horribly revealing clothing she knew I wouldn’t wear so that this sequined monstrosity would seem like a compromise. Sometimes Beth really reminded me of Alice.
Oh Alice. I miss you so much.
We stood in line outside of the club, and after a short wait, we were able to enter. The temperature difference between the cool night air outside and all of the hot, writhing bodies inside made me almost glad I was wearing something so light. Almost.
“Come on!” Beth yelled over the music. “Let’s get something to drink and scope the place out.”
We managed to push through the crowd and make our way to the bar, where Beth proudly yelled, “Een biertje, alsjeblieft!” The bartender rolled his eyes but smiled at her nonetheless. He probably heard tourists massacring that sentence every day. When he handed her one beer, she looked confused for a moment before grinning at me sheepishly. “I don’t know how to ask for two.”
“That’s okay,” I replied quickly, before she could order another one. “I don’t want anything yet.”
We fought our way through the crowd once more to find a table we could stand near, away from the stage at the front and the source of most of the noise. There were strobe and colored lights flashing overhead, mist hovering near the stage, and a DJ who was surrounded by a group of girls wearing way too little clothing for any time of year.
Beth finished her beer in a few swigs and then cleared her throat loudly and looked at me thoughtfully. “Bella, listen. I have something I’ve been trying to say to you since our trip started and if I don’t get it out now then I never will.” She paused for a moment before forging on. “You need to have fun tonight—you need to let loose, find a guy to have a good time with, and just forget about everything that’s been haunting you for longer than I’ve known you.” At my dawning look of horror she quickly continued. “I’m not saying take home the first guy you bump into, but Bella, what I’m trying to say is—I don’t know who it is you’ve been holding on to this long, but maybe it’s time to move on. As your roommate, I notice these things. Let’s just go out, dance like nobody’s watching and all that jazz, and have a good time. Okay?” She looked a little worried, as though she wasn’t sure how I would react.
I let out a breath I hadn’t realized I’d been holding and tried to keep from letting my emotions show through. I thought about what she was asking from me—just to let go for a little while and pretend I was a nameless tourist, looking for a fun night out. I could do that. I could Escape for one night, just like the name of the club implied.
Realizing I had yet to answer her, I gave my favorite roommate a genuine smile. “You know what? You’re right. It’s time to let loose a little.” Her answering smile was dazzling, and I was glad I could make this night even better for her.
Without giving me the chance to change my mind, she grabbed my hand and pulled me towards the vortex of whirling bodies. I threw myself into the rhythm of the music and imagined, if only for a short while, that I was just like the rest of them.
It felt like minutes, hours, or even days later when I came back to myself and realized I was extremely thirsty. I was hot and sweating, but I was also carefree and extremely glad I had let Beth talk me into this. She had been right; this was exactly what I needed.
I looked around me and saw Beth nearby wrapped around a good-looking, foreign stranger. She looked up briefly and met my gaze, winking at me to let me know she was all right. I smiled and decided to make my way to the bar for a drink.
If it were even possible, it seemed as though it had gotten even more crowded as the night had worn on. As I brushed past hundreds of hot bodies, I tried to keep the bar in sight, like a lighthouse keeping me away from the dangerous cliffs. So when I brushed past something that was cold and impossibly hard, I chided myself for running into walls and not paying attention. I glanced to my side to see what it was—
I must have been more dehydrated than I’d thought, as I was clearly hallucinating. Because it was absolutely impossible that he would be here—in this country, in this city, in this club.
Looking for all the world as though he’d rather be anywhere than here was the object of all my daydreams and fantasies. He didn’t seem to have noticed me, and I silently thanked any deity that was listening for this undisturbed moment. The colored lights from the ceiling reflected oddly off his exposed arms and neck, and even though he wasn’t looking in my direction, I could see how still he held himself, looking extremely out of place in this madhouse of movement. I blinked several times, wondering if anyone had slipped something into a drink I’d ingested earlier in the evening. I opened my eyes. Nope—still there.
All thoughts of thirst completely forgotten, I realized that my imagination had not done him any justice. This god-like man, who had stolen my heart and taken it with him when he’d left, was perfect beyond any of my wildest dreams. His messy, bronze-colored hair was begging me to run my fingers through it. His hard, sculpted chest and arms were crying out to be touched. It took everything I had in me not to throw myself at him that very moment and blubber about how much I had missed him. Clearly he was out enjoying his…distractions.
I tried to fight the wave of emotion that threatened to overwhelm me. None of it mattered, I decided. The pain I’d felt when he’d left, the months it had taken me to function normally, the pain I’d caused Jake by being unable to return his affections, the countless guys in college I had turned down. I would do it all over again just for this one amazing, unexpected glimpse of his perfection.
Knowing that I only had two available options open to me—either ignore this amazingly impossible act of fate that brought us together and continue on to the bar, or finally act on impulses I had been too young to think about five years ago. My decision was made before both thoughts were even fully formed. I moved forward, as though in slow motion, and came to stand behind him, my back against his back. Slowly, as though testing the waters, I leaned against him like I was just another tourist trying to dance with an attractive man. I shivered as I felt his body against mine, cold and hard; it was such a contrast to everything around us that I had to fight against myself to keep from moaning aloud. If I never saw him after tonight then this brief contact would have to be enough to sustain me for the rest of my life. The ecstasy of finally, finally feeling his body next to mine again was almost enough to make me turn around and look into his eyes.
But I didn’t want him to know it was me—not yet. For now, I selfishly wanted to enjoy this brief contact as long as it could last.
I could feel him turning slightly to look behind him as I pressed myself more fully into his back. What he thought of me or my scent or anything else was anyone’s guess, but he continued to stand there and I released a sigh of relief that he wasn’t moving away. Not wanting to make a scene, he probably hoped I would go away on my own.
Slowly, I began to dance against him, smiling wryly as I felt him hard and unmoving against me. Perhaps I wasn’t the right kind of distraction for him? Before he’d left me, he had told me that his kind got distracted easily. I could work on that. Gathering courage I didn’t know I had, I turned around and wrapped myself around him—my chest against his back and my hands on his hips, swaying to the beat around us. I felt more than heard his quick inhalation, and I hoped I was getting to him. I could feel my nipples tighten against his back and I tried to pretend that it was the cold, and not the raging desire I could feel, that evoked that reaction in me. I briefly wondered if he had noticed my scent but his chest seemed to be still once again, and I thought he was holding his breath.
In for a penny… I thought to myself, as I moved myself around his body—carefully, so as not to trip over any legs as I was prone to do—and pressed my back against his chest, dancing, unrestrained against the body of my own personal Adonis. The hardness of his body sent my imagination into overdrive, and I felt my face grow even hotter as I began to blush.
With Edward still unmoving behind me, I decided to just be glad he hadn’t moved away from me and I continued dancing. The heat from the other bodies around me was in stark contrast to the cold marble of the god-like man behind me. I was suddenly, enormously grateful to my crazy roommate for dragging me to this place, of all places, on this night.
Knowing that I couldn’t take it anymore, I decided I had to see his face. I felt like I had been waiting for this moment my entire life. I stopped dancing, and slowly turned around until I was flush against him, my arms wrapped around his back and my head tilted upwards, looking at his face.
I was breathless.
He wasn’t looking at me, for which I was grateful—the second he recognized me I was sure he would be gone in his impossibly fast manner, but I couldn’t help the emotions that flooded me at this first glimpse of the one who held me so completely, so irrevocably.
My hand reached out of its own accord to touch his face, and two things happened simultaneously.
“Edward,” I sighed, unable to keep the longing out of my voice. At that same moment he looked down at me as though to brush me away and froze.
No one could be still like Edward. As his eyes met mine, they widened noticeably and his mouth opened slightly. I, too, stood frozen; my left arm was still wrapped around his back and my right hand was extended, reaching up to touch his perfect jaw.
At that moment, we were alone in a place with no sense of time or space. I could see the question in his eyes, and I felt more than saw him inhale my scent as his chest expanded to draw the air in. He opened his mouth as if to speak, but I quickly put my finger to his lips, silencing him. I didn’t want to lose this moment—this piece of forever that I knew I would carry with me the rest of my life. Slowly, I began to move again to the rhythm of the music that was breaking into the peripherals of my consciousness. He followed my lead, wrapping one arm around my back and cupping the back of my head with his free hand. The sensation of him touching me after so long caused me to close my eyes in pure enjoyment.
I couldn’t tell you how long we stayed like that, gently swaying to the music as our souls met and danced with one another. After impossibly long, and yet not nearly long enough, he began to move. Before I could issue a protest, he brought his other hand to my face and leaned his face closer to mine.
I held my breath.
Slowly, gently, giving me enough time to pull away, he leaned his forehead against mine and trailed his lips along the side of my cheek, leaving flames of desire in their wake. I felt his tongue reach out and taste my skin, only then realizing that I had begun to cry. The sheer magnitude of this moment was overwhelming.
Stroking my hair back from around my face, he gazed into my eyes with an intensity that spoke more than any words could. Finally, he leaned closer and, closing his eyes, pressed his lips against mine.
Despite the hormones raging through my body, I was able to control myself even though I was longing for much more sensual contact. The moment lasted for an eternity, and there were no words for what his touches, his lips, were doing to me. I felt a hundred things at once: desire, longing, happiness, caution, love.
It had always been inside me, even though I had long since tried to bury it. But as I looked into the eyes of this man that I knew without a single doubt I was meant to love, I could feel my soul ready to burst with the strength of my emotions.
He must have seen it too, because the look on his face was a combination of wonder, desire, and another strong emotion I dared not hope he felt for me.
“Bella…” he spoke softly, reverently.
As the pounding of the music impeded into my consciousness, the moment passed and we must have looked extremely out of place, standing still and looking intensely at each other, pressed closely against each other by the movement of the bodies around us.
Not wanting to lose the physical contact with Edward, I wrapped my arms around his neck and tried to pull his head closer to mine, as though I were going to whisper into his ear. As he leaned down next to my mouth, instead of speaking, I pressed my lips to the side of his neck, right below his ear. I heard his quick inhalation of breath and I quickly reached out with my tongue to taste his skin as I trailed soft kisses down his neck. His taste was exquisite—far better than anything I had ever imagined—and I felt him shudder with what I hoped was desire. Before I could embarrass myself by making any noises I was sure he would be able to hear, I once again turned my body around so that my back was pressed against his chest. I leaned my head back near his cheek and began to sway my hips in time with the music, rubbing against him in intimate contact and bringing my right arm up and behind me to wrap it around his neck. He surprised me by wrapping one arm around my torso while the other one rubbed my side, and he turned his head away from me to press kisses on my arm.
I drew a shaky breath and closed my eyes as a new kind of warmth, completely unrelated to the heat of the club, raced through my veins, increasing my heart rate. The heat was so intense that I was afraid I might spontaneously combust. As the heat became unbearable, I opened my eyes just in time to see Beth making her way through the crowd, looking around frantically. I felt a pang of guilt—I had completely forgotten about her and had no idea how long I had been gone.
Slowly, regretfully, I stepped away from my personal angel to wave in Beth’s direction. She must have caught my movement as she honed in on my location and I could see the relief in her eyes. My feeling of guilt increased.
“Oh thank goodness, you have no idea what I was thinking! I was looking for you everywhe—” she broke off her comment as she looked behind me. Her eyes grew wider and her mouth opened slightly. I could only imagine what she was seeing but I dared not look, as I wasn’t certain that once I looked into his eyes I would ever be able to stop.
“I’m so sorry,” I explained, “I, um, got a little sidetracked on my way to the bar…” I trailed off, not quite knowing how to put one of the single, most significant moments of my life into words, let alone with Edward standing right behind me. “I’ll explain later,” I mouthed to her. Edward was a statue behind me, but his hand was still on my hip, reassuring me of his presence.
I saw movement behind Beth and noticed the foreign stranger she had been dancing with when I last saw her. She looked behind her to see what caught my attention and began to blush slightly.
“I was coming to find you to see if you were ready to go. I invited my friend here to walk back with me to our rooms.” She gave me a meaningful look.
I thought quickly, trying to decide what to do next. “That’s a good idea. Would you give me a minute, though? I’m going to step outside with my…friend… here,” I motioned behind me with my eyes, “and then I’ll be ready to go, okay?”
She nodded in perfect understanding. She really was a great friend.
Finally, I turned around to look at Edward. He stared at me intently, and for a moment I was unable to move or speak, being dazzled by the look in his eyes.
“Would you mind coming outside with me?” I asked him huskily.
Without speaking, he nodded and took my hand as I led the way. Once outside in the cool air, we walked over to a secluded corner and I took a deep breath to begin speaking, wrapping my arms around myself for comfort. As always, Edward opened his mouth and beat me to it.
“Bella, I’m so sorry. I can explain, I lov—” I pressed my finger to his lips to silence him. This was neither the time nor the place for the kind of discussion we needed to have, and I refused to analyze what his words could mean.
I knew at that moment beyond any doubt that I was at a precipice and that my life was going to change irrevocably based on what I said next. Without thinking twice or looking over the edge, I took the plunge.
“Will you… do you—I mean,” I paused and took a deep breath, forcing the words out before my embarrassment could stop me. “What I mean to say is: would you like to come back to my room with me?”
His face lit up, as though he was seeing the sun for the first time, and he leaned closer to me, his cool breath against my cheek. “I would love nothing more,” he whispered into my ear.
I drew back and smiled at him timidly, long beyond the ability to form coherent sentences. I reached for his hand uncertainly, but he grabbed mine quickly, without hesitation. Together, we walked away from Escape toward a place where we would be able to talk and figure out our future. For the moment, however, I allowed myself to relax for the first time in five years and I just concentrated on the feeling of having his hand in mine, and his body close against me.
The rest would figure itself out.