A/N: A huge thank you to Midnight Cougar for her patience and support each chapter. xx
Song inspiration for this chapter: “Lean On Me,” Bill Withers
“Lean on me when you’re not strong
I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on
For it won’t be long
‘Till I’m gonna need somebody to lean on”
(Playlist for this story can be found on my YouTube channel, if you search for “ghostreader24”)
Disclaimer: Laura Numeroff and Felicia Bond own the adorable little mouse whose needs inspired this very adult version of their story. Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight. I’m here having fun.
Our departure at three in the morning is a mix of tears and laughter as my mother takes the last minute opportunity to cram as many of her books into Bella’s suitcase and my duffle bag as possible. I have my grandmother’s ring stashed in an inside pocket of my bag, hidden from either of their views, but I’ll be the first to admit that I can’t wait to ask Bella to be my wife. Our ride to the airport is waiting downstairs, and while it’s clear my parents have been sleeping, Bella and I have yet to sleep. After bidding my parents good night earlier, I spent our last hours in Chicago keeping my promise about taking care of Bella and using our remaining condoms.
With promises of future visits, video calls, and a final round of hugs from my parents, Bella and I are on our way back to the airport. We have four and a half hours of flight time ahead of us, plus at least another three and a half hours for me to drive us home once we land. I’m scheduled to work this evening, so I’m hoping to sleep on the plane while Bella plans to read. There’s always the possibility that maybe I’ll have time to take a nap this afternoon before going in for my shift.
Traffic is light this early, and we arrive at the airport faster than expected. After making our way through security with ease, there are only a few shops open at this hour, but we stop and purchase snacks for later then find a place serving breakfast. I tease Bella when she doesn’t order coffee, but she claims she’ll need to ease herself into drinking it regularly. I keep it to myself, but I’m positive that plan will require plenty of sugar and some form of chocolate for her.
We find our way to our gate, and when our flight is called a while later, we’re both excited, ready to be home. After scanning the boarding passes on our phones and walking down the jetway, we locate our seats without issue. I think I nod off before we reach our cruising altitude, because the next thing I know, Bella is nudging me awake, and we’re getting ready to land.
After exiting the terminal, I’m thrilled to be almost home as I load our bags into the trunk of my car, but concerned when I check the traffic map on my phone app to see which way will be best for driving to Forks. It looks like there are one to two hour delays around Lake Crescent for construction today. So rather than drive north through Port Angeles as I normally do, I go south through Tacoma and Olympia.
It’s been about three hours into the drive and I’m getting restless, shifting in my seat, but happy to have less than an hour to go. We’re driving north on 101 and about to cross the Queets River Bridge when I see a man on the wrong side of it and staring below.
I get a sinking feeling in my stomach, sitting up taller in my seat. “Bella.”
“What?” she mumbles, only slightly awake, as she dozes against the window.
I get a good look at him before we finish traveling across and watch my rearview mirror closely. When he disappears from view, I pull to the side of the road and slam the gearshift into park.
I unbuckle my seatbelt and pull my wallet from my pocket, dropping it in the cup holder.
“What is it?” Her brow furrows in confusion while looking around our surroundings. “Why are we stopped? This isn’t Forks.”
“We’re less than an hour away.” I remove my phone from my front pocket and hand it to her. “Call 9-1-1. Tell them you’re at the Queets River Bridge on the edge of Jefferson County. We have a jumper—male, black hair, tan complexion, camouflage jacket—in the water. I know they don’t have a swift water rescue team in this area, but they’ll send the help I need once I get him to shore.”
As a member of the water rescue team for our area, I know how most of these situations end, and I’m determined to keep this a search and rescue, rather than a search and recovery. Bella blinks rapidly at my directions while staring down at my phone in her hand.
“I’m going in,” I say without question, exiting my car and searching visually for the best way to gain access to the river.
Walking back to where the man disappeared, I notice Bella is out of the car and approaching quickly.
“Edward, what are you doing?” Her eyes widen with panic as she looks over the edge. “You don’t have any equipment.”
I’m well aware I’m at a disadvantage without a helmet, dry suit, gloves, lifejacket, or rope, and the nearest first responder is probably back in Quinault over thirty minutes away, but I intend to draw on every bit of my experience in this critical moment.
I’ve never been more thankful for the training I received from a former Navy SEAL who vowed that there would be some point in time when I only had myself to rely on for making a save. A man’s life is on the line, and I can only hope that some volunteer lives nearby to give me a hand once I get this guy out of the water.
“I’ll do my best. Every minute counts.” I search the water, kicking off my shoes. When I spot the man bobbing below without a struggle, I forgo stripping from my clothes and heft myself to the other side of the concrete barrier. Pointing toward my phone still in her hand, I repeat but expand my instructions further. “Call 9-1-1, Bella. Stay up here until help arrives. It could take a while for them to get here, but watch for where I exit the river and send them there.”
“Edward—” She reaches out, grabbing my arm and squeezing it. Resignation flits over her features when she realizes I have no choice, and she says the words that will always keep me fighting to return to her. “I love you.”
My gaze locks with hers, and I give her a slight smile with a nod of a promise. “I love you too. I’ll see you soon.”
Bella puts the phone to her ear as I stride jump off the bridge, plunging feet first into the icy waters of the Queets River. Log jams are common on this river and there’s seldom a time when there isn’t woody debris disrupting the flow. Today is no different. Below the surface, the water is murky, limiting my visibility as I try to locate the man underwater. When I surface, it takes a moment for me to spot him then front crawl in his direction as the light current pushes me along, aiding with my ability to catch up to him.
When I reach his location, I assess the man, immediately noticing that the buoyancy of his jacket is helping to keep him near the top of the surface.
“Sir, can you hear me?” I ask loudly, treading water, and can feel my teeth starting to chatter. “My name’s Edward.” Nothing. “I’m here to help you.” I get close enough to pull back his head and glance at his face. “Can you open your eyes?”
The man is unresponsive, and I grab onto the collar at the back of his neck, staying behind him in case he comes around and straight-arm tow him toward the shore while fighting to swim across the current. I’m making little progress and know the best way for keeping his head above the surface is for me to swim completely immersed. After taking a deep breath, I submerge myself, swimming until we’re close enough to the edge of the shore that I can dig my feet into the riverbed below us.
I’m soaked and panting with exhaustion as water streams down my body, but I pull him from the river and drag his body farther away from the water’s edge onto a clear flat area. He’s unconscious so I leave him on his back, falling to my knees and evaluating the situation. I talk myself through my next steps, helping to maintain my calm and knowing that getting to this point is only half the battle for a drowning situation. There’s also the possibility he’ll come around to the sound of my voice, and I’m hoping I can revive him.
“Okay. First, clear the airway.” I try to catch my breath while tilting his head and lifting his chin.
“Next, check for breathing.” I hold my cheek above his open mouth and watch his chest and stomach, looking for any sign of movement while I count to ten in my head. “Nothing.” But I can hear a siren faintly in the distance.
“Hang on, buddy. They’re on the way.” I pinch his nose, then give the man five rescue breaths by mouth, because in my assessment I believe he has a respiratory problem rather than a cardiac issue. By starting with breathing or helping him to breathe, it’s more likely he’ll come around on his own if I push air into his lungs first.
“Chest compressions—gotta keep the blood flowing.” With straight arms and my hands clasped in the center of the man’s chest, I administer thirty compressions.
I pause, shifting back into position. “Two more breaths.”
“Repeat.” I return to chest compressions, counting to thirty in my head. “Come on.”
“Two more breaths.”
“I’m not giving up on you,” I tell the man. I keep checking for any type of response, but without one, the only thing I can do is to continue administering the combination of thirty compressions and two breaths repeatedly until help arrives.
I can hear the roaring of an engine pass over the bridge, and with the squealing of tires, a siren ends nearby, giving me hope while another wails in the distance. Within moments, I can hear voices shouting my name.
“Edward!” It’s a man’s voice I don’t recognize.
“Edward!” That one is Bella.
“Over here!” I yell after the last two rescue breaths and start compressions again. “Help is here, buddy. Don’t give up.”
A rustling of branches and rapid footsteps come from behind me until Bella and a Jefferson County sheriff’s deputy emerge from the woods, stepping through the brush and moving into my view.
Bella’s chest heaves as she relays what she knows about the other man. “Edward, this is Deputy Embry Call. He’s a friend of Jacob’s. I told him you’re C-C-F-D.”
My eyes shift from them back to the man on the ground, and I nod, still counting out the next thirty compressions in my head.
I gaze up at Deputy Call to find his expression filled with disappointment. “You recognize him?”
“Yeah. Kevin Littlesea. He’s got a wife, Connie, and a son, Collin.”
Bella gasps from beside him, putting a hand over her mouth as her eyes fill with tears before explaining. “Connie is Jacob and Rachel’s aunt. She’s Billy Black’s sister.”
I finish two rescue breaths and return to compressions. “Come on, Kevin. Your family needs you.”
Deputy Call speaks into his on-body, two-way radio, as I hear a siren getting closer to our location. “Rescue, we’re on the west side of the Queets River Bridge. Drive past and you’ll find a path. It’s too overgrown for a stretcher. Bring the backboard and we’ll carry him out. I’ll meet you at the road.”
“We’re less than a minute away,” a voice says over the radio.
I notice some pink color returning to Kevin’s cheeks, and a soft cough comes from his chest. “He’s coming around.” I announce, then ask, “Do you keep any blankets with you? We’re going to need to get him warm.”
“Yeah, I have at least one in my trunk. I’ll go grab it and be back with help.”
After Deputy Call leaves, Bella kneels on the ground across from me. Her eyes flick between the man struggling to regain his breath and me.
“What can I do?” She sits back on her heels, looking hopeful.
I’m cautious, but my confidence soars when I hear another cough from Kevin, and he shifts slightly on his own.
“Let’s get him on his side to the recovery position; he’ll probably start spitting water or vomit.”
Together we roll him toward me, and I’m right as water spills from his lips.
I speak close to his ear. “Kevin, my name is Edward Cullen. I’m here to help you.”
He tries to roll away from my voice, but I hold him in place as his eyes crack open slightly.
“You need to stay put. We’re going to get you out of here soon.”
“Where will they take him?” Bella asks.
“Forks is probably the closest hospital.”
She wipes away a few stray tears. “You’re shivering.”
I shrug off her concern, not wanting her to worry about me. “I’ll be okay. Once we get him out of here, I’ll change out of my clothes.”
Deputy Call emerges from the woods with two paramedics who take over my position, and he hands me a blanket that I use to cover Kevin. One of the paramedics slips a mask connected to an oxygen tank over his face while I answer all their questions and they complete their own assessment. Bella and I step back while Kevin’s strapped to the backboard, then I assist in carrying him from the shore and through the woods. We reach the ambulance where a stretcher is waiting, and we all agree that taking him to Forks Community Hospital is the best and closest choice.
Once the ambulance is on the way and Deputy Call leaves the scene, I walk with Bella to my car. She’s quiet, but never leaves my side. I open the driver’s side door and press the button, opening the trunk. I grab a shirt and a pair of jeans from my duffle bag, then pull off my wet shirt, exchanging it for the dry one. With a quick look around and no one in sight but Bella, my pants, underwear, and socks are next to go. My decision to go commando isn’t lost on Bella, bringing a slight smile to her lips when I wink at her not-so-innocent perusal.
I look back toward the bridge. “Are my shoes still over—?”
“No, I brought them over here.” She runs to the passenger’s side and retrieves my shoes. “Here.”
“Thanks.” I lean against the edge of the open trunk and jam my sockless feet inside. “Are you ready…”
My voice trails off when I notice the fresh tears and Bella rushes toward me, wrapping her arms around my shoulders. I hug her tightly against me, burying my face in her hair and warming quickly with her added body heat.
“Edward.” She gasps when a sob escapes her lips while her body shakes.
I reach up, brushing the hair at the back of her head soothingly as she rests her head against my shoulder. “Hey, it’s going to be okay. Kevin has a very good chance of recovering. Once he’s physically better, hopefully, he’ll get the treatment he needs for whatever drove him to this act of desperation.”
“I know, but that’s not it.” She shakes her head as tears trickle down her cheeks. “We never come this way to get to Forks. We almost always drive north through Port Angeles, but today we did…”
I know what she’s getting at, because what are the odds that today of all days, our lives would intersect with this man’s, who is clearly in need of help and battling his own issues to a point where he could see no other way out. While I thought he was only a stranger, it’s heartbreaking to know he’s not only known to Bella but also related to so many around us. When something happens like this, putting me in the path of someone in need, it renews my faith or belief of something else—a higher power at work. Maybe my grandmother. I don’t know how else to explain it.
Bella pulls away and her chest heaves while her eyes search mine. “When you jumped off the bridge… I’ve never been so scared in my life.”
I smile, tucking the loose hair swirling around her face behind an ear and offer a bit of reassurance that she probably didn’t realize after kissing the tip of her nose. “I’m a strong swimmer.”
“And-and he was dead, wasn’t he? When you pulled him from the water?”
These are the tough questions, because we don’t have answers. “I don’t know. It’s one of those blurred lines when someone is unconscious, and hypothermia takes over. We help them breathe while keeping the blood flowing through their body. In a drowning situation, the first minute is critical. I started rescue breathing and chest compressions as soon as I could.”
“You never gave up. Had we not been here… had you not been here, Kevin wouldn’t…” She holds out her arms. “I mean, look at this place, Edward? There’s no one around.”
I nod, completely aware of how different this day could have turned out for him, his wife, and son.
I clear my throat, focusing on the hope of possibilities of what I do know and shaking my head. “We’re trained… you never know how long it’s going to take. I’ve read about responders reviving people without any brain damage forty-five minutes after their heart has stopped beating. Most of those situations are due in some part to the person’s core body temperature being low after being pulled from icy waters. I think it is a similar situation with Kevin today. I don’t know for certain that he didn’t take anything prior to jumping. He could have, since before I jumped, he wasn’t struggling in the water. I worked from a position that there wasn’t anything wrong physically with his heart, but with his lungs full of water. When I took over, I helped push oxygen rich blood through his body for as long as necessary, which was probably less than ten minutes, but felt like forever.”
“You saved his life.”
I lower my voice and worry that today Bella’s been exposed to too much. This is my life, and for the first time, she was here with a front row seat. “When I saw him on the bridge, I knew we were stopping, but he jumped before I could park and convince him otherwise. I did the best I could, given the timing of the situation.”
Bella’s quiet as she contemplates my words.
“There’s no way I wasn’t jumping in after him,” I explain further. “I was his best hope of surviving.”
“It’s scary,” she whispers. “I’ve never been in a situation like this and you’re… you’re always on the job. You’re always risking your life. This… this is what you do—day after day.”
“It’s not for everyone, Bella.” I brush away her tears and wonder what other reassurance I can offer her. “I’m sorry you had to see what you did. You should have stayed up here on the bridge.”
“Are you kidding me?” She shakes her head adamantly. “There’s no way I was staying away. I needed to know that you were okay.”
“I don’t want to be the reason for your tears—ever.”
“You aren’t. I mean, I’m just so overwhelmed with everything… gratitude… and proud of you… I can’t stop them.” She sniffs back another round of tears threatening to fall. “You and so many people like you—first responders—the ones to be there in a time of need, never giving up hope on anyone regardless of whatever the emergency… whether or not you’re on duty. I-I didn’t get it, but I understand a little better. You’re an incredibly selfless person—my very own hero.”
I’m uncomfortable with the label “hero” for doing my job but like the part of being named hers.
“All yours,” I confirm, lean forward, and kiss her lips lightly. “You’re so beautiful.”
She lets out a snort in disbelief. “I’m—”
“You are.” Wrapping my arms around her body, I hold her tightly as she nuzzles her head under my chin and against my chest. “I love you, Bella.”
“I love you too.”
I press a kiss on the top of her head. “Are you ready to get back on the road?”
“Yeah, let’s go home, but I should warn you, I’m going to need my own version of mouth-to-mouth before you leave for work.” A slight smile tugs at the corners of her lips. “With plenty of tongue.”
“I need a shower first.”
“Would you be interested in some company?”
“Absolutely.” I agree without a second thought and kiss her perfect lips, then walk her to the passenger side of my car.
It looks like there will be no napping for me this afternoon, which keeps a smile on my face the rest of the drive home.
If you give a postal worker a love note, she’ll wonder about the identity of the author when it’s delivered by an unintended mail carrier.
After a visit from a sexy firefighter, the mystery surrounding the note will add to her curiosity, but it won’t be solved any time soon, when she has no choice and accepts another job far from home.
Her secret admirer will hold on to hope for their paths to cross again, and when they do, he will find that being near her again is better than he ever anticipated.
Visiting her during his breaks and getting to know each other will be the best parts of their days, until one day she unknowingly makes his favorite childhood cookies, giving him the sign he needs to move forward.
She’ll hold back nothing as she tempts and teases him when they’re alone, testing his resolve, until a few adorable photos of him with a friend’s new baby causes an unexpected shift in her world.
As they grow closer, they’ll understand that the intimacy between lovers isn’t only about a physical connection, but the everyday interactions through the simplest moments and sharing of new experiences.
Through private conversations, their relationship deepens with the reveal of a variety of secrets, and with a new confidence, the truth of their adoration for one another is undeniable.
After another wonderful evening together filled with fun and flirting, she’ll realize that she’s never been loved like this before, and for as much as he wants to be everything she needs, she wants to be that for him too.
With constant reminders that every day together is precious, she’ll consider their future options, and after the first step of moving in together, everything will start falling into place.
When he opens his heart and shares treasured memories of a time long past, a trip to visit his parents will further satisfy her growing curiosity about other areas of his life.
In a moment abundant with shock and awe, she finds a kindred spirit in all things naughty, and the natural affinity between the two most important women in his life surpasses all expectations.
Brimming with courage, her normally reserved firefighter confirms a wish for their future, overwhelming her in a rush of love, but later, respect and admiration, when she experiences first hand insight into the perils of his job.