I woke up alone and disoriented.
Head full of stale wine and nose full of lavender. Still in my silver bikini and already sweating in the early morning heat. I flopped over in bed, squinting my eyes against the light, and the very first thing I saw was my sarong lying in a puddle on the deck beside the lounger.
Last night came sloshing back through the muck of wine and spin of flowers.
Edward’s hands on the backs of my knees.
My fingers shaking as I undid the sarong. The swan constellation on his chest and the way he plucked Alice up off the couch as though she was a feather pillow, glancing at me once before disappearing out the door with her. I could still feel the faint patterned burn he’d left all over me and lifted my arm up in front of my face to inspect, just in case he really had left a mark.
There was nothing there.
Even though I could feel it, my skin was unblemished. I flopped my arm back to the mattress and tried to fight off the spins which weren’t all due to the inebriation. I was too close to giving in. Too close to handing it all over without even the hint of a fight and I was finding it impossible to resist him when he was within reach. Keeping him at an arms’ length, gated in that imaginary garden, was only possible when he wasn’t nearby. I had to fight every urge in my body that was telling me to slip from my bed and across our side-by-side beaches to find him.
I went on the hunt for Alice instead.
She wasn’t at her own villa. Wasn’t at Esme’s, or in the mermaid lagoon. By the time I was trudging back toward the hotel I was beginning to worry that she flounced into the ocean in a drunken stupor last night and found a new group of friends, ones with tails and tits covered in starfish and secret underwater lairs. Just about the time I was getting around to convincing myself of it, I was distracted by a song.
A soft, mournful melody tripping across the sand.
I followed the tumble of notes up from the beach and into the lobby, a lone girl smiling at me from behind the desk. The place was empty, save for tasteful seating arrangements and a gigantic black lacquered piano in one corner. The backdrop was a view of the lush jungle and the song was so much more beautiful inside the lobby than it had been out on the beach. A clear, crooning lament that was equal parts hope and melancholy.
The person making that piano sing was the last one I expected.
Alice was perched on the piano bench with her arms splayed along the keys, fingers to the ivory in a delicate, tripping melody that looked a lot more labor intensive than it sounded. She was in a dark purple dress, strapless with loose flowing fabric to her knees. Her feet were bare, dusted in sand and I wondered how she hadn’t learned her lesson about doing that, the jagged scar on her sole asking me the same question.
There was a gigantic black bird etched across her shoulder blades that flexed its wings with every movement of her arms.
I sat in one of the plush chairs behind her, listening to her song and wondering what the fuck had happened last night. I basically got naked in front of Edward, let him inspect me just so that I could inspect him and only barely escaped with my dignity. Saved by Alice demanding to be taken back to her own bed to sleep off her liquor binge. I was counting on his feelings for her to work in my favor and he didn’t disappoint, sucking his bottom lip into his mouth for a moment before he released my knees. I faltered a few steps backward and let him slip-slide up the front of me as he stood. Watched in silence as he re-entered my room, plucking a soft-jointed Alice from the couch and heading for the door.
He didn’t say anything as he left, just looked back at me with his eyes gone dark and hollows appearing in his cheeks.
Alice’s song came to a merciful end with a final singing note pealing through the air like a bomb and snapping me out of me head. She sat there with her fingers still to the keys, silent and still and thoughtful.
“That was beautiful, Alice.” I smiled as I stood and walked toward her, her face going up in flames when she spotted me.
“I didn’t know anyone was listening,” she shrugged. “I’m always better when I think I’m alone.”
“When did you learn to play?” I expected her to tell me that she’d taken lessons all her life, forced through a childhood of piano-teacher-trauma considering how fluidly her fingers danced along the keys. It looked as though the action was second nature and, if I had to guess, I would have bet that her eyes had been closed the whole time.
Alice swept her fingers lightly across the keys. “In Africa. Edward taught me.”
“You had a piano there?” It seemed like an odd choice, especially if your selection was limited to what you could carry. I couldn’t imagine a camel lugging one across the sand dunes.
“There was a piano at the Embassy, and I’ve played on Esme’s a few times, but I sort of like it better on Edward.”
“On his tattoo.” She rubbed the backs of her fingers along her rib cage, indicating right where Edward’s giant keyboard was. “He’d sing the note I touched.”
I touched a fingertip to a single key, letting off a high note that exactly matched how tightly I was strung. Imagining her sitting with her knees against his side, fingers to his ribs, his low voice echoing every spot she touched. Pressing out a halting melody that sounded vaguely like Claire de Lune.
I wonder how soft his skin is there . . .
I collapsed onto the bench beside Alice and she pressed her colored arm up against my plain one. I tried not to think about the metal pierced through her nipples. Tried not to think about the dove between her tits and the way her mouth tasted. But my mind drifted to Edward and the metal in his own mouth when I wasn’t thinking about hers.
Last night would have probably been a disaster if she hadn’t woken up.
“What happened last night?” She rubbed a finger against her temple, tender and soft, and I wondered if her head felt as fucked up as mine did. That, or she was reading my mind.
“You got wasted. Edward implied that it was it because of me.”
Alice shrugged, eyes falling to her lap. “Sort of. All our talks . . . she just finally caught up with me.”
“Jubilee,” she whispered, nodding absentmindedly, face gone blank and eyes long-gone.
I’d spent this entire time thinking that Alice’s discovery had been a casual act of coincidence. A randomly chosen short-cut home that lead her across something fate had destined her to find. The doctor miraculously stumbling over their next patient. “You knew her?”
“I delivered her. She was next in line to assume her uncle’s chiefdom,” she said in a small voice and that was it, right there.
The Devil’s Claw and her Kissi Pennies.
Two for the mother, gifts from an indigo nomad chief and a thousand of them for the daughter, furnished by Edward.
“I’ve been trying my best to forget her, but it’s harder than I thought it would be,” Alice sighed, which it didn’t surprise me at all considering that she walked around with those two souls tied to her bag. What could it have done to her, watching someone you ushered into life slowly slipping away from it?
Unable to save the mother, and then possibly poisoning the daughter?
The guilt must be unbearable.
We sat in silence for a few minutes while I let Alice adjust, unsure of what I could ever say to make the feeling go away and unwilling to try, lest my broken mouth get the better of me. She sniffed a few times but pulled out of it surprisingly fast, either starting to move onward or denying it altogether. She batted her eyes at me, still a little sad but suddenly strung through with a hint of mischievous curiosity.
“What did you and Edward talk about while I was drooling on your couch?”
“You don’t already know?” I arched an eyebrow at her, not taking a single thing for granted, especially the fact that nothing was a secret between them for long.
Alice shrugged, not even bothering to justify it. “He said you made a trade.”
Of course he did. “He told me about the dandelions. Let me look at his octopus.”
“What did he want in return?” She sounded like she already knew.
“Probably more than I gave him.” I rolled my eyes so hard it almost hurt.
Alice chuckled, nodding in agreement. “Did you find his bell?” Her diamonds sparkled and she looked positively evil. She wanted me to find it.
“No, but I finally saw his legs. The elephants.”
Alice made a harsh sound in the back of her throat. “Those fucking elephants,” she grumbled.
“You don’t like them?” I thought they were oddly beautiful, legs stretched impossibly long and thin. They were reminiscent of her Kissi Pennies, heavy bodies with faraway feet.
“Not recently,” she chewed on the inside of her lip. “I’ve been having a nightmare about them.”
“Reoccuring.” Her eyes sucked into her face, astral and pensive, voice gone slippery with faded. “I’m in the Savannah. The grass is up to my armpits and there’s a storm coming. The sky is black and the wind is howling and it’s blowing the grass around like the ocean. I can barely walk through it and I’m certain I’m going to get blown away. Edward is there, far off ahead of me, screaming at me to run, but his voice is so small through all the wind I can barely hear him. There’s a tree way off in the distance and I have to fight the grass to make it there. The rain starts and I finally get to the tree just as the wind picks up even more, so I wrap my arms around the trunk and press my face up to it. It’s warm and soft and has springy hairs growing from it and long trailing roots that sink into the ground and just about the time I realize it isn’t a tree . . . something comes down out of the clouds and wraps around my waist. Tears me off and up into the wind.”
“What is it?” I choked in a whispered, vicariously terrified.
“A trunk. From an elephant so tall that it disappears into the clouds. It picks me up and tosses me into the storm.”
“And then what?”
“I wake up screaming,” she shrugged bluntly, as though there was really no other option.
“Wake up sweet girl. I come bearing gifts.”
Jasper’s nose ran down the length of my neck, breath and hair tickling my skin, and I woke with a start, trying to pull my head from the mercifully dreamless sleep it had sunken into. I’d fended Alice off with claims of a headache, hating that I sounded so much like Edward but unable to come up with anything more plausible on the spot. It was partial truth and I was jealous that she showed no outward signs of her previous night’s indulgences. I spent the entire day in bed, Alice’s piano melody following me across the island and singing eerily through my subconscious as I slept.
Wine was evil.
“You’re back.” I blinked up at Jasper, his face blurred around the edges until my eyes focused.
“Finally,” he huffed, flopping down next to me and pulling me close with his lips to my hair. “It turned out to be harder to convince the authorities than we thought, but they came around. Eventually.”
“Do I even want to know what that means?”
“It was nothing that an expensive bottle of bourbon couldn’t cure. You know Emmett can drink just about anyone under the table.”
“Maybe he is perfect for Rose.” I grinned, fully aware that she shared Alice’s near superhuman resistance to inebriation. A talent which I, sadly, was lacking.
“I’m just waiting for the day he slips and calls her Moonflower. She might castrate him.”
“Or fall in love,” I chuckled. Rose was a sucker for anyone who gave her a nickname. Jasper laughed at me because I was right and pressed his lips to my hair.
“On that note, I have something for you. Come.” He stood and pulled me from the bed, patting down my wild hair and looking a little sleep-deprived himself, now that I had the chance to really inspect him. There were dark circles cupping his eyes, whites gone a little bloodshot, and his lips were pale. He tugged me to the deck and kept an arm wrapped around me as he waved the other out over our lagoon with a flourish.
There was a little boat moored a few feet out, the lilliputian version of a luxury yacht, with a partially shaded seating area up front and two seats tucked into the miniscule cabin in the back. Pearly white to match the sand, the upholstery done in a light sea-foam green, and the name of the boat scrawled across the side made me laugh. The script was the unintelligible fancy Thai lettering that looked more like art than language, extravagant shapes that curled over on themselves with squiggled dots scattered here and there.
“Do you even know what it’s called?”
“Yes, roughly, though don’t ask me to repeat it verbatim. It’s an old proverb,” Jasper chuckled and glanced down at me, tucking me close. “To make a sculpture out of water.”
“Yes. Something out of nothing . . . though the man who sold it to me seemed to imply that it was about lies. To be good at telling them, so to speak,” he winked at me cheekily.
“Is that what you think we’re doing? Building a lie?”
Jasper’s mouth softened and he leaned his face down close to mine, studying me intently for a second with a wrinkle between his eyebrows before kissing me softly on the mouth. Brief and sweet. “Our water sculpture is beautiful, Bella. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
“What are we going to do with that thing? We can’t take it home.” I pointed at the boat, struggling to keep my composure, his declaration stinging deep down inside of me in a way that wasn’t exactly painful but hurt nonetheless. Biting the insides of my cheeks seemed to work, distracting enough to make me wonder if that was why Edward chewed on his lip rings all the time. To keep that steely composure of his in place.
“This one is yours.” Jasper motioned toward the villa with a casual tilt of his head. “Whenever you want it. The boat stays here.”
“Carlisle agreed then? To keep it?”
Jasper perked his eyebrows. “I’m quite persuasive when I want to be. Especially after a bottle of bourbon,” he ended with a wink.
“And if there’s someone who’s already booked it? This is a resort, after all,” I reminded him.
“I’ll kick them out.” He grinned like the kid in the sandbox who has possession of all the shovels.
“That doesn’t seem like it would be good for business.”
“Isn’t is obvious by now that I break all the rules for you?”
He took my hand and turned, trotting down the stairs, across the beach and right into the water until we were nearly knee deep. The boat was even better up close, a truly tiny version of something that I was sure came in a jumbo size option. Jasper lifted me out of the water and up onto the deck, following close behind and letting me inspect the entire thing from tip to tip, which took all of thirty seconds.
“I’ll show you how to drive it. It’s actually pretty easy once you get the hang of it, though it doesn’t go much over five miles an hour.” Jasper flopped on the large padded area up front, shielding his eyes from the sun while I sat in the driver’s seat. It looked just like that shitty old truck I used to drive, a gear shift protruding right from the floor and a couple of pedals by my feet.
“How did you get it here? Did you tow it?” I gripped the wheel in both hands, feeling like I was on an amusement park ride, rather than my new boat.
“I drove it. Why do you think it took me so long to get back? Emmett swears he could have swum here faster.” His eyes were closed heavily against the sun, skin flushing red over his pallid complexion and I knew he probably hadn’t slept at all last night. I wondered how much that bottle of liquor and his talk with Carlisle had to do with it, or if his all-nighter was because of something else.
“Did Jacob go with you?” I asked, recklessly toying with Emily’s connotation that Jacob had joined the Cullen Corp on their journey to the mainland.
“Well, we did have an extra seat.” Jasper’s eyes fluttered open and his mouth curled in a lopsided smile. “A certain someone was suspiciously absent.”
“He made up some lame excuse,” I deflected. The same one I’d used myself earlier today, but I was planning on forgetting that particular inconvenience.
“I figured. When he didn’t join us, I knew why.”
“Nothing happened,” I shrugged, moving to the seat opposite Jasper in a huff. Not that I hadn’t been standing right there on the verge of it, toes curled around the edge of something unfathomably deep. One good shove, and I would have gone over.
“Why not? I thought we’d agreed that-”
“We didn’t agree on anything,” I snapped, cutting him off. “I have no goal here.”
“Maybe you should.” Jasper narrowed his eyes at me before speaking again. “I have something else for you. I was going to wait for tonight, but I’d rather see you wearing them.”
“Jasper, you didn’t,” I sighed.
He just grinned at me and dug in his pocket to hold something up in the air between us. An earring, three delicate gunmetal grey chains hanging nearly four inches long, each bobbed with a trio of black pearls in descending sizes, the biggest at the bottom and all of them polished to a reflective shine. A sparkling diamond was perched on top of each of the smallest pearls and an even fatter one adorned the studs.
He was addicted.
“Why?” I stammered, watching the pearls sway back and forth in front of me, wondering if this is what the mouse felt like watching the snake.
He shrugged, dropping the earring along with its match into my hands. “What can I say, I have good taste in jewelry and you look good in all of it. Plus . . .”
He trailed off, his eyes twinkling in the bright sunlight and his fingers wrapped around my chin, tearing my gaze from the finery in my palm to meet his eyes. For a second, I could have sworn he was close to tears.
“Happy anniversary, Darling.”