|Between the Bars
Author: theladyingrey42 PM
She dances from my arms into his, never knowing the damage she inflicts, nor the risk she runs as she tests my control. I want to be everything to her, but I can no more change my past than I can bring myself to let her go. Summer Lovin' Contest WinnerRated: Fiction M - English - Romance/Angst - Words: 10,257 - Reviews: 168 - Favs: 225 - Follows: 56 - Published: 08-01-10 - Status: Complete - id: 6197993
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A/N: This story was originally written for the Summer Lovin' Anonymous One-shot Contest, and by some miracle it won 1st Place in the Judge's Round and 2nd Place in the reader poll. Thanks so much to everyone who voted for it and helped it become a finalist, and thank you too to the judges and hosts for all their work.
To read the other entries for the contest, please visit fanfiction[dot]net/u/2393148/summer_lovin_contest
Thanks to echoesoftwilight for pre-reading and talking me off the ledge repeatedly.
The title refers to the song by Elliot Smith.
Stephanie Meyer owns Twilight.
She arrives on the first warm wind of summer. It blows through her hair, warm chestnut lengths matching eyes full of distance and discernment, and standing in stark contrast to skin that is pale and rose.
From over the white picket fence around my mother's house, I see her unloading two weathered suitcases. There is sweat on her brow and a look of tension on her face as her father insists on taking one, her pale and slender arms folding over a chest that is ripe and full.
To the boy who races out of the house next door to hers, she is clearly a familiar face, his russet arms wrapping around her as he lifts her into the air and earns a smile that looks like sunlight and the sweetness of reunion.
To me, still new to the dark green heart of this sleepy town, she is a spark amidst so much damp and mouldering earth. She is vitality and lush curves to my senses and eyes, and soft skin and warmth to empty hands that have gone a long and lonely year without the pleasure of human touch.
I turn away from the open window and from the lingering embrace of their bodies and of their laughter. I don't watch as he grabs her hand and tugs at her, stumbling up her stairs and through her door. I don't hear it banging shut or watch as their glowing faces appear in a picture window, like a one-way mirror into a world that is not mine.
And never will be.
At dinner that night, my mother goes on and on about the police chief's daughter and the summers she has always spent in Forks, musing absently about the beautiful young lady and the once-gawky girl that she used to be. Mother speaks pointedly about how she is a nice girl, drawing an implicit contrast to the sorts of girls I associated with back when I lived in my father's home.
She informs me pointedly that I might do well to be polite for once.
I am less than polite when I scoff
Mute as usual in her presence, I touch my napkin to my mouth and push back my chair as an indication that I am done. Sighing, she simply stares away and reminds me to take my medications. I pale, chafing at her reminders of things I can scarcely forget.
Swallowing down both pills and bitterness, safe in my room, I glance out my window at the house across the street.
The same neighbor boy from before sits beside her on her stoop, close but not touching, and I place my palm to dusty glass in a pathetic approximation of contact. With her legs folded up against her chest, she rests her cheek to her knee and eyes the ground as she speaks too quietly for me to hear from way up here.
He, on the other hand, stares at nothing but her.
And for the first time in the year that I have lived here, I find that the boy and I have something we share.
The summer sun makes a rare appearance, lending a drier quality to the moist heat that usually blankets the area. I arrive at the pool in the early hours of the morning, raiding the employee room for the sunscreen I so rarely need and taking off my shirt to rub it into the still-pale skin across my chest. Pulling it back on, I meander back outside and over toward toward the life-guard chair, killing time until the pool is scheduled to open, when the roar of an engine filters over the fence.
Two figures sit on a motorcycle near the entrance. A boy and a girl, soft arms unwrapping from around a bulky waist. My heart hammers hard as delicate hands lift a helmet up and off of chestnut tresses, glinting with just a touch of red in the sun. She hands the helmet forward and he takes it from her, turning in the same motion to pull her into his arms, lips moving near her ear as she hugs him back and then retreats.
As she steps off the bike, I feel my own body, too hot beneath the sun and beneath an imagined touch as I let my gaze dip down to the way her shorts rise up around her thighs.
Realizing how my eyes have wandered, I jerk them up only to find her brown ones staring back at me.
And in that moment, they are anything but distant.
I scarcely realize that she and I have both frozen until the boy pushes her teasingly, directing her to walk forward, and, in so doing, breaks our gaze. My eyes settle on the sight of his dark skin pressing into the paleness of her arm, my own hand clenching, arousal and envy peaking as she stumbles toward me.
She is all the way through the gate and making her way toward the building before the boy on the motorcycle tears
his eyes away from her form, and for a moment those eyes settle on me. In them, I see the spark of jealousy, and it's the first time I consider that she and he may be anything less than lovers.
There is something hungry to his glare. Unsatisfied.
My stomach leaps.
It does not settle when she stands before me, her soft greeting all but drowned out by the heavy thrumming of the engine just beyond the gate, the boy's form retreating in a cloud of dust and spite. Once the roar of the bike has retreated, she blushes softly and looks down. "Um, I'm supposed to be starting work here today, but I'm not sure where I'm supposed to go."
I smile, an unselfconscious gesture that seems so foreign to me these days. "Are you life-guarding?"
"No," she laughs. "I'm basically the new pool boy." She looks down and then glances up at me, almost coyly; it makes my breath catch. "Kind of embarrassing, but it was all I could get on short notice, even with my dad trying to arrange stuff for me before I got here." I smile even wider, but she slaps her hands over her face, peeking through them. "Oh gosh, that's even more embarrassing isn't it?"
"No, not at all," I try to reassure her, watching closely as she lifts her head and crosses her arms. As we stare at each other, I find myself getting lost in studying her features up close for once. My eyes follow lines of freckles over round cheeks and a heart-shaped mouth, lingering over the point of her chin and the slope of her nose.
At last, she coughs, and I shake it off, clearing my throat and shifting. "Mrs. Cope should be in the main office near the locker rooms. I can show you?"
"No, that's fine," she says shaking her head and stepping back. Unconsciously, I frown. "I'll just, um, I guess, see you around …?"
"Edward," I offer, and I am rewarded with a smile.
"Bella," she replies, pointing at herself before turning. She walks toward the building slowly, and I give myself a moment to study the motion of her hips and the curve of her ass, covering the front of my swimming trunks with my hand as casually as I can.
By noon, the sun is directly overhead, heat pouring off of concrete and tile, my shirt discarded beside me. One of the other life-guards offers to reapply my sunscreen for me, and I let her, soft fingers lingering too long on skin that has gone so long without touch. But the entire time, I am staring at Bella.
Back up on my chair, I glance less than subtly from her to the figures of the other women around me, marveling at how, even in a t-shirt and shorts, she exudes sex in a way that too-tan women in bikinis never could. All morning, she has been wandering around the grounds with Mrs. Cope, listening attentively as the old custodian imparts advice and instructions about chemicals and equipment. I watch the way she bites down on the side of her bottom lip and scratches at the skin of her outer thigh, moving from time to time to sweep the heavy mass of her hair away from her shoulders in relief from the crushing heat. She is clearly bored and yet too polite to say anything about it, her inner eyes retreating to far-away places even as she nods and indicates repeatedly that she understands.
Occasionally, those eyes wander to me.
And I wonder just how often she catches me staring.
By the time we begin to take our lunch breaks, Mrs. Cope has finally left her to her own devices, and I watch in amusement as Bella wrestles with the weed-whip, tackling months of overgrowth that have been left unchecked. The machine seems like it should be whipping her, but she takes to it with a quiet determination, bending it gently to her will. When it's my turn to leave for my break, I cannot stop myself from going over to her, knowing that I have no right, and that I have no power to resist.
Wondering if I have the power to be her friend and nothing more.
My body reacts with a shocking level of thirst and desire as I approach from the opposite side of the fence, taking in the way her eyes train themselves intently on the ground. I pause for a moment to stare and gulp, coughing to get her attention, only it's hopeless over so much noise.
"Bella?" I finally yell, and she starts, grinning sheepishly and turning the machine off before looking up at me.
Unnerved by the trill of my name on her tongue, I gesture uselessly, "I was going to run out for something to eat. Do you want to come? Or can I bring you back anything?"
Her expression is strangely wistful as she darts her gaze from the parking lot to my mouth and then my eyes, my hunger growing for something so much more than just food. "Sorry, I can't," she says. I feel an unacknowledged hope sink back down where it belongs as she jerks her thumb toward the gate and continues, "Jake is picking me up."
I swallow bile and try to smile. The boy's name registers along with a flash vision of his face and of his lips moving beside her ear. The boy and I have been thrown together often enough in the past year, but I've never taken the time to learn a thing about him. I'm certain now that I never will. "That's OK," I manage. "Maybe some other time."
Her face lights up, warming that same small shred of hope that has yet to consent to die in me. "I'd like that."
My hand goes instinctively to the links of the fence between us, gripping like a claw at metal twists. To my utter shock, her hand joins mine there, just one link over so that her pinkie brushes my thumb, a casual touch that makes my ribs twinge with a pain that feels like longing.
I turn my grimace into a reluctant smile, walking away without looking back. The entire time, though, I feel eyes watching me.
When I hear the roar of the motorcycle at the gate later, I keep my own eyes trained steadily on the ground.
The days pass the way that summer days often do. Bella and I have overlapping shifts three days a week, and each time, she arrives on the back of the neighbor boy's motorcycle, clinging always to his sides. When he arrives to take her to lunch, I retreat into the staff room, choking down reminders of why I am not worthy of her touch and wondering if I will ever have a chance again to speak to her from anyplace other than the safer side of a window or a fence.
In the evenings, I see her both with him and alone. Sometimes she stretches herself out maddeningly on a hammock in her father's yard, reading unselfconsciously and beckoning me with the shape of her breasts, gently easing up and down with her breath as she reads, or with the curve of her lips when she smiles.
I consider approaching her.
I never do.
Until she starts approaching me.
We have been working together and apart for a few weeks before she decides to come see me. I am startled from my idle scanning of the pool by the nervous sound of a throat clearing from just beneath me, looking down to find her there and staring up at me. I wave to catch the other lifeguard's eye and hop down, landing just beside Bella and grinning in spite of myself at the sight of her smile.
She twists her hands behind her back and glances up at me shyly. "So Jake has to take his dad to the doctor's today."
"OK." I wonder why she thinks I am concerned with him, scratching at the back of my neck and quirking a curious eyebrow up.
"So, I wondered if you wanted to get some lunch? Whenever you can take your break."
My heart hammers hard, pumping both poisoned blood and yearning as I check my watch. "Sure. Give me five minutes?"
She beams and I glow at her nodding assent. Out of her sight, I find myself in the staff room once more. Pills shake themselves into my hand with the trembling motion of my arm, and I swallow them along with my own hopes and desires.
But it's hard to keep either down when she turns to me and follows me to my car. And smiles.
Pulling out onto the street with her beside me, I am panic and desire, and there is no air. Our conversation is stilted, choking as I am on a scent of strawberries and skin, fists gripping tightly at the steering wheel to keep me from seeking out her thigh.
To keep me from touching what isn't mine.
What shouldn't be.
Sitting across from each other in a tight booth, we brush knees and talk. I am pleased to find that words begin to come more easily as we consider colleges and the web of possibilities that seems to stretch out to infinity.
At least for her.
"It just seems exciting, you know?" she muses, fussing with a straw. "New people. A chance to be a new you."
I nod, but it is reserved.
I gave away the chance to be someone new a long and lonely year ago.
She doesn't acknowledge my hesitation, and her eyes gain that distant quality again as she continues, "I mean, my mom and I are really close, but she has all these ideas of who I am, and sometimes they're not really right anymore. And coming back here every summer is even worse. It's like I'm frozen as this same five year old girl in everybody's eyes."
I chuckle ironically beneath my breath, remembering how Jake is always staring at her.
Raising one eyebrow, I intone conspiratorially, "Not everybody."
She flushes and tilts her head down, glancing up coyly. Flirtily.
Something in me stirs.
Her voice is thick with implication as she asks, "And how do you see me?"
The stirring is a leaping, but I am still taken by surprise. I choke, coughing and sputtering until I have to turn to catch my breath. "That's not what I meant," I protest.
"Oh." Even the tips of her ears glow crimson. There's an unhealthy pause, and I curse myself, wanting to tell her exactly what I see and what illicit thoughts her mouth and body bring out in me. Thoughts that neither of us can afford.
Too scared to speak those words aloud, I deflect. "Please tell me Jake didn't look at you the way he does now when you were five."
To my surprise, I am met with laughter. "Oh please. Jake? He's like my brother. Totally gross."
She's back to digging into her sandwich, but my throat is still too closed for me to speak.
"So you're not together, then?" I manage finally, my voice low.
She giggles again and sips at her soda, shaking her head. "Hells no. Single here. Through and through." Cocking her head to the side, she pauses for a moment before asking quietly, with an air of indifference, "And you?"
"Me? I'm single, too."
Silently, I add, 'As I should be.'
Walking from my car to the pool, our hands brush more than once, and each time it fills me with thrill and dread.
There is something humming in the heavy air that separates us as we each slow to a stop, with nothing left to do but say goodbye and part. Awkwardly, she ducks her head just slightly, a long lock of hair falling over her eyes. We each move for it at the same time, the backs of my fingers brushing hers as she tucks it back behind her ear. The touch is almost too brief to be noticed, only it seems to last an eternity of perfection before I remember myself and jerk back.
She catches me, though, my hand stopping when she closes her palm around it, and I can feel the warmth and softness radiating all the way up my arm. With one gentle squeeze, she lets me go.
But in no conventional sense am I truly released.
The entire afternoon, I sense her as if she is beside me. Over the shimmering heat of the concrete and asphalt, she is a vision of faintly wavering lines and curves. I watch her and catch her watching me.
And if the straining, sweating quality of summer were not enough to burn me, I would be turned to ash through the virtue of her blush each time I do.
Ten minutes before our shift is supposed to be over, she sweeps by my station, walking in a manner that is all a pretense of casual nonchalance, only it is nothing of the sort. As she passes, she lets one hot hand reach up to touch my calf, a brief but deliberate caress that feels like my flesh is melting down to bone.
Sauntering on as if nothing has happened, she turns her head for just a moment to wink and smile, and then she is a swaying line of hips and ass, walking away.
The willing touch inflames all the parts of me that I have kept dormant for so long, feeding air to a fire reborn of her vision across the street from me and of her scent when she is so close. I am no longer in control of myself, no longer content to be on the other side of a window or a fence or a lunch table, even. Giving up, I let the unbearable ache of being so close and not close enough possess me.
Glancing just once at another lifeguard, I follow her.
Near mad with desire, I find her with her back to me as she digs through the shed.
And she's beautiful.
I stalk closer until I can smell her, sweat and grass and life overwhelming the scent of fruit as I feel my empty hands open and close, my arousal hot and hard; were she to turn around there would be no hiding what I want.
With one last shake of my head, an effort to deny all of the reasons why I shouldn't be here and all the words I shouldn't speak, I close. My fingers flex slightly at my sides before I let them find the curves they so desperately wish to seek, molding my hands to the soft swell of her hips, skimming my nose over the fragrant skin of her neck before my lips find her ear.
There's no shock in her. No trembling or uncertainty as I give in to so much need. As I touch.
Instead there is only a sigh. And the sigh is my name.
"You want to know what I see when I look at you?" I whisper softly. Huskily. Every word dripping with lust for her body and longing for her company.
"I see everything," I murmur, my lips brushing softly over skin as I pulse, gripping harder at her hips. "I see the way you're in another world sometimes. The way you smile when you're alone or when you read.
"I see your mouth and your eyes and your body. I see them when I sleep." I admit slowly, and she ceases to breathe.
"Everything," I whisper, kissing cautiously at her throat, the very warmth of it burning me. "Everywhere."
"Edward," she sighs, melting, and I shudder as her back collapses into me.
At just that moment, just as I am about to make an even larger mistake, another voice rings out, piercing the bubble that has grown up to enclose our bodies, and my hands fall, my heaving chest pulling away from the curve of her spine.
"Bella? Bella, where are you?"
A familiar face and suspicious eyes round the corner at the same moment that Bella breathes again, her waist expanding and retreating. She turns, taking in both me and him, and her eyes seem torn until they settle on my face.
Her eyes are wanting.
Just like mine.
"This guy bothering you?" Jake bristles, stepping in to place a dirty paw on her shoulder, and my lust is reborn as rage.
"No," Bella snaps, stepping out of his embrace, and I cannot mistake that it brings her subtly closer to me.
To where I should never have allowed her to be.
I step back this time, horrified and mumbling, "I'm sorry."
Before she can speak, I am at least six feet away and still retreating, my eyes looking anywhere but at hers as my head shakes violently.
Safe in my car, my windshield becomes another pane of tempered glass to watch her through, my chest constricting as she steps in behind him on his bike, and the pain is a burn that satisfies something deep inside of me.
Until I see that her face, beneath his helmet, is not just distant.
That night, I watch through another window, from high above, as she slams her book closed again and again before reopening it to the same tattered page. Reading, if only briefly. Growling.
The noise filtering into my window sets my body aflame, my cock swollen, and I wish all over again that things were different. That I was the better man and that I was the right choice for her. That I could contain the need that seems to flair so acutely whenever I am around her.
That, back when it had mattered, I had waited.
My head thunks against the glass that separates us, and the sound echoes, perhaps for miles.
And certainly to the hammock in the yard across the street.
Wide eyes connect with mine, questions and desire radiating as she stands.
"I see you," she mouths, faltering. But then, more certainly, "I see everything."
I close my curtains and close my eyes. But behind them, she's still there.
I don't see her for a day, shut up in my room, unworthy and alone, with the curtains drawn.
When I do see her again, at the pool the following day, it is with her chest to Jake's back, tumbling off of a motorcycle too quickly and turning to me with searing eyes. I let them burn me, holding her gaze with one that I hope reflects everything I want.
But that speaks too of my apology.
I find things to do and ways to be away from her all day, but there's still a pull.
Finally, she finds me in the staff room, the medication still on my tongue as I swallow, my throat closing bitterly in synchronicity with the motion of her hand pushing with certainty at the door.
"So," she says, her voice curt and bristling with defensiveness.
"Bella, I - "
"Are you planning to avoid me forever? Or just send me mixed signals until I go crazy?"
"I wasn't - I didn't - "
She rounds on me, backing me into a corner in every possible way, the scent of her flooding my lungs, as the vision of those eyes, so close and so viscerally alive, crumbles my will to dust and sand.
"Jake doesn't like you, you know," she accuses, and I choke out a humorless laugh. "He thinks you're hiding something."
"Like he isn't?"
She ignores it. "What are you hiding, Edward Cullen? Why are you running?"
I continue in my own vein, hoping and praying.
Only I don't know which outcome I am praying for.
With my back to the wall and her body a foot away, I insist futilely, my voice weak, "He hides the way he feels about you."
Her palm presses in one scalding movement to the still-beating apex of my chest, her eyes staring into mine as if she can see through me. They flicker to my lips, and we are so close that I can taste her breath. She glances upward once more and whispers, "So do you."
The instant her lips touch mine, I let my defenses and my reasons fall, yielding, mind and body to her kiss. My hands unfurl to form the open shapes that fit so perfectly to her curves, tracing hip and spine to neck and face, pulling her instead of pushing her away. Parting my mouth in invitation, I let her in and let myself and my terror seep away, losing myself in touch and lips and tongue, wet and sucking, and it is everything that I have missed.
And so much more.
"I did," I whisper against her lips.
She counters with a breathy, "But not any more."
Only she's wrong.
Because even there, in the perfect bliss of soft arms, I'm hiding still.
"Let me drive you home," I whisper huskily against her chest, behind the shed on my break. She's flushed, her lips red with the force of our kiss. My mouth makes long paths from her jaw to her collar bones, licking and sucking there as my hands sweep ever closer to the soft curves of her chest.
There's a freedom to giving in and giving up, and for the moment, I am enjoying every inch of it, even if I know that the leash of my own making still binds me.
Even if I know how soon it will snap.
"Jake will be here soon," she pants, but her hands in my hair are holding me to the skin just above the place where chest gives way to breast, showing me what she wants.
"Call him. Tell him you don't need him." I mean this in every sense, but I pretend that it is just the one.
She pushes me away, and it's with reluctance that I yield.
"Not today," she murmurs, placing one soft kiss to my lips.
I nuzzle the side of her cheek with my nose. "Tomorrow? Let me drive you tomorrow?"
It's not fair when I kiss wetly to her ear, sucking on the lobe and breathing loudly. With more seduction than should ever be used for the topic, and with far more seduction than should ever be used by me, I whisper, "For the environment. Wasted gas is a sin."
I hold the word 'sin' in my mouth with all the promise that it holds, even if those promises are verboten to me, and she shudders.
I smile against her skin, checking the time, and kissing her once more before letting her go.
Jake is at the gate, waiting for her, when I walk her there, and I can't help but tighten my grip around her waist at the sight of him.
Ignoring him, I pull her into me, our noses touching, and I smile into her kiss. "May I see you tonight?"
Her lips curl up to echo mine, even as she is shaking her head, tipping it unseeingly toward the long line of rage and jealousy vibrating against a motorcycle not five feet away. "Jake and I are going to a movie. You could come with us, though?"
I look away from her and into murderous eyes, darting down to glance at hands that are fists.
"Nah," I whisper, and touch my lips once more to hers.
"Maybe next time?"
I hold his eyes when I offer, chuckling, "Sure."
He does the same to me when she steps from my arms into his, radiating triumph, and I feel a burn in my throat. We both push it down the moment her gaze shifts from one face to the other.
But neither of us can mistake the challenge there.
He watches through his own curtains in the morning when she runs to my door instead of to his. I pick her up in eager arms, ones that in spite of all my guilt and my reservations, imagined holding her the whole night through. In a fit of too-eager enthusiasm and bravado, I twirl her gently, setting her back down and pressing my lips to hers, and she smiles.
"I missed you," she whispers, and I glow.
"Is it weird to say that I did, too?"
She is laughter and smiles as she shakes her head no and climbs willingly into my car.
I don't even bother to glance at the house across the street as we peel away.
Instead of kissing behind sheds and in the staff room, that day, we talk. We share a sandwich and the sound of gentle laughter and dreams.
There is a light in her eyes as she does. Instead of radiating distance, she is a bright presence, sparkling with intelligence and warmth and every other thing that I could want in a woman.
And every time she speaks, she grows more beautiful, my hands aching with even more intensity to touch her and to kiss her.
To make her mine.
She talks to me about the books she reads and the father she doesn't know, and how this sleepy town has never held much appeal for her before. She speaks of Jake and their adventures.
And then she looks at me.
And she tells me that Forks is growing on her.
I drive her home with too much pressure in my foot upon the pedal, urgency and her hands making me careless.
It's the one thing I can't afford to be.
On her bed, I push her into a mattress and try to restrain the parts of me that want nothing more than to touch and claim and fuck, daring to take my hands only to the clothed surface of shoulders and ribs and thighs, swallowing her moans like they are sustenance even as I keep myself from pushing further.
The moment her hand settles on the waistband to my pants, I growl and pull away, though.
I don't even bother to pretend to check the time when I tell her I need to go.
Weeks pass in stolen kisses and conversation and the intimation of our bodies pressed together.
But never the real thing.
It does not escape my attention that I do not allow Bella to come any closer to my body that she does to Jake's, settling onto the back of his bike and waving at my window before she turns and tells him she's ready to go. He takes just a moment to sneer at me himself, the side of the helmet blocking his expression from her.
Eyes full of jealousy settle on mine, but there is triumph there as well.
It's the victory that stirs my temper.
I smile anyway, waving and keeping my face a mask to hide the hurt as he turns and hits his throttle and they go.
The next night, at dusk, she is in my arms instead of his, her body forced against mine by the netting of the hammock, my fingers in her hair as we sway and rock and stare at the stars. It's hot and damp, and the presence of her skin against my side only magnifies the sense of heat, though so much of it is coming from inside me.
It's the kind of night for secrets and for hushed whispers in the dark. For the motions of lovers, discovering what eyes may never see but which hands and mouth and other parts may come to know so intimately.
It's the kind of night that terrifies me.
At the same time that it emboldens me.
"What are you thinking about?"
Her voice is quiet in my ear as her fingertips dance across my face, gentle motions that serve as kindling to so much flame. She makes her way down my nose, lingering on my lips where I kiss gently at her skin, before tracing over my neck and chest to rest over the warmth of my heart.
I turn my head to find her staring at me intently. A firefly passes over her cheek, gracing it with a momentary burst of soft light, lending a highlight to eyes that are both present and focused and a glow to lips that beg to be kissed.
Our conversation yields to the motion of mouths on mouths, her tongue soft between my lips as she opens herself to me immediately. As if she has been waiting for this as long as I have.
The hammock rocks and she rolls along with it, settling over my body until there can be no mistaking all the ways that I want her, my cock hard and insistent against the ridge of her hip as she parts her legs around my thigh and I moan, long and low. My hands trace up her sides as she kisses me more deeply, breathing in shuddering pants, until I feel the curves of her breasts, heavy and soft in my palms.
"Oh," she sighs as I pass a thumb over nipple and cotton, rearranging herself to press the heat of her sex directly over me, sitting hard and pulsing, grinding, inflaming my need. I almost growl, a sound like desperation, letting the motion of the hammock flip us until I hover over her, my cock fitting to the perfect V between her thighs as I stroke once, a rolling of hips that is more intense than any touch of bare skin to wet flesh has ever been.
And it's drowning.
"We have to stop," I whisper against her lips, but she only agrees because she is looking all around at everyone in the neighboring houses who could see.
Her eyes settle on the window next door.
For once it's empty of his form, but it doesn't fool me into thinking he isn't watching.
"My dad won't be home for hours," she breathes, and her hand dips down to palm me through my shorts, sending a shudder through my body, a trembling pleasure at the touch of another. "We could go inside."
I am pressing closer, wanting more.
I am retreating.
I lift myself reluctantly and shake my head while still kissing at the perfect, supple line of her lips.
"For both of our sakes I think that would be a very bad idea."
Something in her closes, and my heart falls along with my hope. I dip my head back down again, the tip of my nose stroking the curve of her ear and I kiss wetly at the skin beside it. "Not because I don't want to," I whisper. "But you deserve better."
She has no idea how much better she could do.
At home that night, I stare at her house.
I touch myself and I think of her, moaning and catching my release. So hot that it could burn my hand.
So poisonous that it could burn her.
"So … Bella Swan?"
My mother butters her bread with a feigned indifference, but I know that her imitation of idle curiosity is hiding so much more.
"Yeah," I mutter.
She stares at me for long moments across the expanse of the dinner table. I fix my eyes on the window – on the vision of a girl on the back of a motorcycle, giggling in the warmth of the pre-dusk light.
"Does she know?"
I push my peas around my plate and shake my head, failing to look up at the sound of her clucking at me disapprovingly.
She takes a bite and returns her eyes to the newspaper.
"You'd better be careful, there."
"Come with us," Bella pleads, her hands on my hips and her breath warm across my face.
"You know I can't," I laugh, but it's with bitterness.
She all but stamps her feet as she pulls away, pouting. Adorable. "You know, if you actually tried, you two might just find out that you like each other.
He is eying us already from his perch on his porch, but she doesn't seem to notice, running a hand up and down my chest.
"I sincerely doubt it," I whisper. "He loathes me."
I do not tell her that the feeling is mine as well. That every time he closes his hand around hers or pulls her into his body, my heart screams for murder.
It screams simultaneously for me to let go of her.
To let him have her.
"He does not." She kisses my nose and dances over to him, oblivious to his glee and to the silent pain inside my chest.
He knows, though. He knows the minute she willingly crosses the boundary of the property line. He knows the moment that she is his.
She turns with one small wave and a smile that sets forgotten parts of me aglow. I return it.
And I watch with a twinging hurt inside my stomach as she bestows upon him the smile that I can't help but wish was for me alone.
I kiss her with desperation, replacing images of his hands on her skin with the reality of my own until I am awash in flesh. Pushing my boundaries, I am helpless to the hunger in my bones tonight, finding her breasts bare before me and my mouth moving over them as her hands grip tightly to my hair.
The air in the room is stifling and thick, closing a world down to the untamed pleasure of two bodies moving together. I can think of nothing but the feel of softness and skin as over and over again I rock into her, my bare chest shuddering at the texture of her own, slipping and drenched in sweat as we are, my cock chafing against fabric and her hipbones teasing tantalizingly above the waistband of her jeans. Her body stretches and tenses, her whispered voice even more alluring when it is telling me what feels good and what she wants.
I don't dare to tell her what I want, for fear that she might tell me to take it.
Pushing deeper into the hidden heaven of her, I am both gasping and elated, my forearms settling on either side of her head as I begin to let myself give in. She whimpers my name and presses her heels into my ass as I groan.
A year of self-loathing and denial tell me this is wrong, but all rational thought reminds me that it's safe. Irrational thought tells me it is necessary, my cock throbbing and hands aching and that perfect tension building and fit to explode.
Trying to stay silent, we push and rock, as below me she sucks her lip into her mouth and pulls me down, my own mouth moving to swallow her moan when she finally tenses and tightens her grip around my shoulders, her neck beautiful as it is arching.
I groan at the sight and fall a little farther.
"You're so fucking hot when you're coming, Bella," I rasp, my mouth at her mouth as she shudders. "So good. You feel so good."
Her hand slips from my hip to my ass and pulls me closer.
"Come, Edward," she whispers, pushing at the back of my head until her lips can brush my ear. I press my lips to her neck. Tasting. Sucking.
And as I do, thrusting mercilessly against her hips, I dare to imagine a world where it would be possible for me to become a new man after all.
Possibilities fade in the light of days which, once punctuated by the different compartments in the pill case I am forced to keep, are now marked by the motion of her presence in and out of my space.
At night, she pushes my limits further and further, grasping for flesh I'm still too terrified to let her touch, panting and begging for contact and to feel my body moving inside of her.
Each time, I close my eyes and rock us each toward a pleasure which, while safe and satisfying, is no longer enough for either of us.
And I know that it never will be.
By day, she pushes me in other ways, probing for details I want to give, only my throat closes every time I begin to.
Worse, she begins to demand a sort of charity of heart I do not possess.
"I don't understand why you two can't just get along!" she growls in frustration. I roll my eyes and bite back comments about how I cannot possibly be friends with anyone who stares so longingly at the flesh that I want so desperately to make my own.
She catches my flippant expression, her face flaming with irritation as she pounces, straddling my lap and taking my hands in hers. "Just come out with us this once. It would mean so much to me."
And there's something so innocent in her eyes as she gives me her most convincing pout. Something I cannot deny.
"Fine," I finally assent.
Her smile and the feeling of her lips against mine are all the incentive I could ever need.
I sink down deeper into the vinyl seat and stare blindly at the movie screen, my outrage simmering at the same time that my despair and my bitter frustration with myself are peaking.
At her insistence, I have come here with her, ostensibly as her date, but with every passing moment, I understand more and more clearly that I am really here to be the witness to Jake's constant flirtation and his infuriating efforts to reassert his claim on her. She sits between us, oblivious to it all, and it is for her sake alone that I strive to a keep a smile plastered on my face. Throughout the previews, the two of them joke and laugh, his eyes flickering to mine with a condescending smirk every time he redirects the conversation to some old piece of history that is exclusive to the two of them.
And I feel my bile rising as I find, again and again, that I have nothing to say.
The dimming of the lights brings no reprieve, and if anything, I find myself curling even deeper into the lonely scar of hurt I have dug into the earth with the dragging of my feet. Throughout the movie, he is constantly touching her, pulling her over toward his side, and I silently seethe at the sound of her quiet laughter and at the sight of her turning toward his face. My only anchor to myself and to my lingering shreds of calm comes from the warmth of her hand in mine.
But it is a tenuous grip indeed.
When the credits finally begin to roll, I pop up with unnecessary speed, and I catch Bella's suspicious glance upward, returning it with the best look of indifference I can manage while gritting my teeth. Her eyes are torn from mine when Jake whispers in her ear and points at an image flashing on the screen. I am left empty and barren and devoid even of the comfort of her touch, staring at the two of them as a person outside of their intimate circle.
And yet it's comfortable, there within the lonely pain of it.
It's where I belong.
When they stand, I hang back and follow behind them with my shoulders slumped, resigned and nursing the deep panging in my chest. Bella shoots me a couple of concerned looks, only I cannot even be bothered to fake a smile for her. Instead, I shrug and shake my head.
We pause for a moment outside the women's restroom, where Bella disappears, leaving Jake and me to shuffle uncomfortably. I lean back against the wall beside the door and let my head fall backward. To my surprise, Jake takes up the position beside me, too close for comfort, and I can't suppress a shiver when he speaks, his voice filled with an anger that is patient and cold.
"She'll come around eventually, you know."
My stomach lurches, and I look at him to find his eyes focused straight ahead.
"Yeah?" I manage.
"Yup. It's only a matter of time." He turns and leans in much too close. "And when she does, I'm going to rub it in your face with every single bit of arrogance you've ever shown when you've paraded her around in front of me.
"And I hope it hurts just as much as it does every time I see her with you."
I know it will. It already does.
At just that moment, she comes out, wiping her hands and staring at our unexpected proximity to each other.
Without another word, we move away.
Outside, we stop between his motorcycle and my car, the distance persisting between Bella and me as I mull Jake's words over in my head.
"So you guys just want to follow?" Jake asks, his voice carrying a hint of a sneer.
My head pops up in surprise, but Bella is looking me expectantly.
"To Mike's party?" Bella prods, as if I have forgotten.
Only it's hard to forget what one has never been told.
Jake grins and reaches for his helmet, slinging one leg over his bike, and I do not miss that the other helmet is hanging from the back. Ready for her, as he always is.
"Oh," I breathe. "Mike's party."
And I can't.
I can't do it. Can't spend another minute watching their interaction, wanting desperately for her to want only me. Standing on the outside and waiting for her to leave.
My voice is robotic when I finally hear it passing through my lips, my throat weighted down with lead. "Actually, I think I might head home. I'm tired." I can't hide my wince when I say, "But you two should still go."
Bella's forehead crinkles with worry and it is another dull stab through my heart. It's not enough to sway me, though.
"You sure, sweetie?"
I nod, unable to speak, my eyes itching. There are more words to try to convince me, only I am deaf to them all, just shaking my head numbly. And then I am standing there alone, watching them drive away.
Instead of going home, I drive past the pool and use my key to get in. Stripping in the dark, I dive in naked and let the water hold me up, floating physically the way I feel I've been floating now for days in my mind. With every blink against the clouded sky, I see her body entwined with mine and then her hand in his.
I see my own body, my own carefree laugh of so long ago, as I took and claimed what I did not even want to keep.
And lost myself in the process.
And I have no idea why I would let someone who actually means something to me slip away.
I steal a towel from the deserted lifeguard station and redress quickly, driving to the right end of town and letting the sounds of drunkenness and music lead me on. Parking amidst the other cars haphazardly strewn about the yard, I pick my way past beer cans and the laughing faces of the people who have never taken the time to get to know me. When I pass the motorcycle that has haunted my waking nightmares, I resist the urge to key it's shiny surface, looking only ahead. Searching.
What I find turns me inside out all over again.
Standing against the side of the house, I see them, him with his dirty hand grasping at her waist, speaking with passion in words that cannot reach me. Because it is at that precise moment that he bends, dipping down, angry lips pressing to tense ones as he kisses the only girl who has ever meant anything to me.
The gasp of pain that tears through me is crippling in every possible meaning of the word, cutting off feeling to my legs and stranding me in place, powerless to do anything but watch.
And I am not a fool. Not enough of a masochist even to be able to pretend that this is willing. There is nothing in Bella's posture that does not speak of discomfort, nothing that tells me that she wants this.
But it still reminds me that she should.
Even as her body goes slack, passive non-participation keeping her stationary to the insistent motion of his mouth and hands, I simply watch. Crumbling.
When he pulls away, I find myself released as well, turning as she is twisting toward me, only I do not stay to let her eyes meet mine or to find out what may be lurking there. The broken, choking sound of her voice calling my name is lost to me.
I am almost all the way back to my car before she catches up to me, the warm feeling of her hand closing around my arm opening up just another river of grief as I allow her to stop me.
"Edward, please! Just stop! I didn't - that wasn't - I swear, I didn't want him - "
I stop her numbly, a cold tremor of a laugh escaping me. "But you should."
"What?" There's shock in her voice, but I need to erase it.
This wasn't how I planned to tell her. I finally meet teary eyes, wide with confusion and fear. And I make my heart hard.
"You should want anyone but me."
She stares, uncomprehending and mute.
So I tear my own heart out.
"I have fucking HIV, Bella. I fucked a girl without a condom more than a year ago, and my dad kicked me out of his fucking house, OK? It's why I can barely even touch you even though I want you so badly it almost kills me." I laugh again and I feel like crying. "Only it's killing me faster."
Her face crumples in horror, exactly how I always knew it would, her hand falling, and it's all I need.
I'm in my car again before I can change my mind, before I can even look at her, and she doesn't stop me.
The entire way home I am laughter and tears, miles falling away in darkness before me – too broken to be happy and too relieved to realize that the entire world of hope that I had allowed myself to exist in has evaporated before my eyes.
I call in sick to work the next day, but Bella is still at my door in the early morning. She knocks for what feels like hours, but since I'm not giving her a ride, I see no reason to answer. I simply sit on the other side of it, letting the vibrations coursing through the metal push their way into me, because at least that way I remember that I can feel something.
Minutes after the knocking finally stops, I hear a door slamming and the firing of engine.
And I smile and bury my head against my knees.
Yet another day passes before she comes looking for me again. Somehow she manages to barrel her way in and through past my mother, even though I expressly told her not to let anyone in to see me.
Standing there, seething on the threshold to my room, she's the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.
"Bella, you don't - "
She silences me by hurling an armful of papers at me, burying me in them where I sit, slumped dejectedly on my bed before placing her hands on her hips.
And what she says next is something I never imagined, even in my happiest, most impossible of fantasies.
"It doesn't matter to me."
I am still agape as she stalks over to me, picking up one pamphlet after another and throwing each at me with more force as she does. They have titles like "Sexual Intimacy After Diagnosis" and "Living with HIV."
"You think I didn't know that there was something wrong? That this would change anything?"
I grab her wrist and sit up straight, looking pleadingly.
Only I don't know if it's because I want her to stay or to go.
"Please, Bella, I just - I won't do this to you. You deserve so much better than me."
She stares at me, eyes open and truthful.
"But all I want is you."
Hours later, we are huddled together on my floor. My mother has come by three times and seen that we still have our clothes on and left us alone.
Bella, however, refuses to leave anything be.
We talk about feelings and about each other and how we came to be here. I explain everything that's happened to me. The casual life I once knew and the night that changed everything. The teary, terrified flight that brought me here, to the chilly but accepting reception of my mother's home. The sad and lonely year and the few people who found out and how they shunned me with more venom than I had used to isolate myself.
The feeling of freedom I had felt with her in my arms, and the pain every time she wasn't.
The contrition on her face when I lowly whisper Jake's name makes the ache in my chest even worse. She lowers her eyes and tells me that she didn't know - that his feelings and my hurt had each been hidden so well.
With her hand on my cheek and her lips just inches from mine, she whispers, "I'm so sorry, Edward. So sorry. Please forgive me."
I touch her, too, when I agree. "But not as sorry as I am."
"I already told you, Edward. It doesn't matter to me."
A tiny spark of hope slowly opens and unfurls in the kindness of her eyes.
And suddenly there's a whole map of possibilities spreading out into a future that is infinite – every one of them ripe with the chance for each of us to try to be whoever we want to be.
I don't see Jake again for the rest of the summer. The only indication I have that Bella has even seen him is the day, less than a week after we hashed everything out, when a door slams and she stalks over to my house with tears in her eyes.
And then I hold her and kiss her until she has nothing more to say about him.
Summer begins to fade even as our smiles and trust begin to grow, my heart warming with every moment in her sun.
But the sun can't last forever.
The night before she is to go back to her mother's home, I drive with her out into a clear, hot night full of stars, and off toward the forest where I have gone so many times to scream my frustration and to nurse my anger at the future I had imagined had been denied to me. The one Bella helped me find again.
Rumbling over the barely beaten path, we emerge into a clearing and step out of the car, standing in a world that is only us and dark and stars.
And she whispers, "I trust you."
I lay her down in the lush softness of the grass, our faces surrounded by wildflowers and a looming canopy of stars. With tentative strokes, we let our lips brush, kisses that are wet and slow, hands touching and exploring. We find the skin over chests and ribs and breasts, and I suckle softly at her, gasping with fear and pleasure when her fingertips dip below my waistband, parting buckles and buttons and zippers.
The moment her hand closes around my bare and venomous flesh, I feel every nerve heighten and contract, moaning softly and coming to hover over her as I push away my instinct to pull back.
"I trust you."
I find her skin, too, peeling away fabric from both of our bodies until we are naked beside each other, the searing flesh of my cock resting at her hip, and I steel myself against the fear of even that tiny bubble of fluid at its tip.
"I want you," I whisper, admitting finally what I have spent a summer all but denying, and the glitter of the moon is the reflection in her glassy eyes.
We take painstaking care as we cover my need. It's the only step I can take to protect her from what I am now, and yet it's still with a wincing pang of pleasure and pain, fear racing through me, that I slowly push forward, feeling every inch as I am collapsing into hot, wet flesh, our bodies one.
The pleasure is staggering, better than anything I have ever felt before, as with one hand I grasp hip and the other grass. I lower myself down onto her, and together we move, bodies feeling and dancing and her thighs wrapping around my waist, pulling me ever closer. Long and soft, we linger, kissing and touching and making love the way I wish I had my first time.
Wishing this was my only time.
That I was sharing this only with her.
That showing her I love her wasn't at the risk of condemning her.
She pulls me back with a shuddering whisper of my name, her eyes open and wide and her body seizing around me, hot fingers squeezing hard at my shoulder. I feel my own pleasure peaking, need building, until the rhythmic pulsing of her sex renders me senseless, falling and moaning and releasing in so many more ways than just the one.
I linger for only a moment. Just long enough to breathe the words that need to be said in this of all moments.
"I love you."
"I love you, too."
Pulling away as quickly as I can without appearing to panic, I inspect the condom and discard it, relieved but not complacent.
Turning back into her, we lie together naked for the first time and stare up at a sky as vast as the world spread out now before us.
Still looking up, I ask, "So what happens tomorrow?"
Her lips are soft against my cheek. "I call you. And then the next day you call me."
I can't help but smile, shifting so that I can see her.
"And after that?"
She takes my hand, and presses both to the skin above my heart.
"Absolutely anything we want."