Real life less chaotic than anticipated today, thanks to the little one's very first head cold. Ugh. Monday.

As always, thanks for reading, and thanks for the lovely reviews. xo

. . .

February 14, 2013 – Word prompt: Red. Audio-visual challenge: Imagined image.

. . .

"Hey, Swan." Emmett sits on the top step of my father's porch, a puffy Patagonia parka making him look even more humongous than he does already. The apples of his cheeks and the tip of his nose are red, and I wonder how long he's been sitting here waiting for me. I'm surprised by his presence for many a reason, but I opt to address the most innocuous of them.

"Shouldn't you be helping your parents with party prep?"

He shrugs. "Probably." He pats the wooden step on which he's sitting, inviting me to sit next to him on my own porch. I don't have the energy to act affronted, and anyway, with Emmett, there's really no point. "It's really good to see you, Swan," he says as I settle and lay the newspaper I'd volunteered to pick up beside my hip. "I'm glad you came."

"I love your parents," I say. "They were always good to me." I look out at the front yard, where green blades of grass poke up through the already-melting snow. "You all were."

"Some more than others?" he asks, and when my head swivels to face him he's studying me intently, as if his words are a test. I don't know what he's looking for, but finally he sighs and returns his gaze to the lawn; I wonder what knowledge he gleaned from my reaction. "I hear you turned my brother down for a dance the other night."

I shrug. "I've turned your brother down a lot over the years; I'm sure he's used to it by now." Before he can address that, I change the subject. "Why weren't you there?"

"I just got into town yesterday morning."

"Oh."

I shift slightly on the cold wood, grateful that the overhang has at least kept it dry. "So, Swan, there's something you should know, and I feel like I should be the one to tell you."

My muscles are rigid, my heart rate picks up, and I curl and uncurl my fists. "Oh?"

His eyes slide over to me, and he drums his knuckles on his thighs. "I'm getting married."

"What?!" That was the absolute last thing I expected, and my entire body deflates in inexplicable relief. "Em, that's great – congratulations! I'm so happy for you!" I reach out and grab one of his fists in my hand, squeezing it in a pathetic substitute for the hug I would have given him if we were both standing. He places his other hand over mine, sandwiching it and effectively trapping me. "To Rosalie."

My short-lived relief vanishes; if I thought my muscles were tense before, now they are stone. "What?"

"I know. This could be…awkward. But Edward thought you should know, and he's right, and I thought I should be the one to tell you." He's studying me again, but I'm too railroaded to worry what kind of truths my face is telling without my permission. "Bella, I'm marrying Rosalie."

. . .

"It's only a matter of time," I hear Rosalie say from the other side of the library shelf, and I'm only halfway paying attention until I hear his name. "Lord knows Edward's balls have to be blue by now." My head snaps up, and I'm staring at the spines of a row of books on South America. "I get that they're childhood sweethearts or whatever, but it's one thing to be dating your childhood sweetheart and another thing to be dating a CHILD. Lord knows she's built like one." I hug my reference book to my apparently nonexistent chest and swallow the knot that is suddenly at the back of my throat. "I mean it's no great surprise that she's a virgin, but for him not to be getting any action is a TRAGEDY. Like those Italian ones we read in English all the time."

"Aren't they Greek?" The new voice belongs to Jessica, Rosalie's second-in-bitch-command.

"Whatever. Point is, it's time for Edward Cullen to experience all of the pleasure that dating has to offer when it's done with someone who isn't afraid of what he's got in his pants."

My feet finally unstick themselves from the floor and I bolt, snatching my backpack from the chair and making a break for the door; it isn't until the alarm goes off that I realize I'm still clutching the guidebook to Rio de Janeiro to my chest like a breastplate.

That night, with Charlie working, Edward comes over to watch a movie with me and is pleasantly surprised when, five minutes into Old School, I'm lying on top of him on the sofa, kissing him with everything I have and running my hands up the warm skin of his stomach. He's grunting into my mouth, and when I feel his hips buck ever so slightly up into me, his arousal is once again between us.

Lord knows Edward's balls have to be blue by now.

I banish the taunting words, the teasing tone to the back of my mind and before I can lose my nerve, run my hands back down his stomach to his waistband, finding his belt buckle with clumsy fingers and trying to slip it free without looking. When I can't, I return my hands to the skin beneath his belly button, a not-quite-innocent expanse of skin I've seen a million times, but never touched.

"Please," he pants, his hands sliding all over me – over jeans, over sweater, over skin. His kisses are making me delirious, nearly desperate with want, but not enough to entirely eradicate the ever-present anxiety.

"Edward," I breathe, gasping as he rolls us over, and his hands slide the button of my jeans free before I even realize they're there. I wrap my fingers around his, stilling his movements.

"Please don't stop," he begs into the skin of my neck, pressing his erection into my hip, and I gasp as trepidation begins to ebb away my arousal. He slides his hand into the open fly of my jeans, pressing his warm palm to the front of my underwear, and before I can curb the reaction, my entire body goes rigid. He notices, and after a few moments of panting into my hair, our hearts hammering against each other, he pulls back and sits upright on the sofa, running a hand through his disheveled hair and looking at the muted TV.

"Edward?"

"Just…give me a sec," he says, his voice gentle but his words frustrated. I don't say anything, buttoning my jeans back up with trembling fingers as our breaths slow. Finally, Edward lets his head fall back to rest against the back of the sofa. "You okay?" he asks finally.

Guilt. "Yes."

"What…" He pauses, licks his lips. "Want to tell me what that was about?"

Embarrassed tears threaten to gather along my eyelids as I move my gaze to his hands, which are resting on his thighs. "I just…I thought I could. I thought…" My voice begins to wobble just as my chin does, and I close my eyes, the threatening tears escaping and sliding down my face.

"Bella?" The thin trace of frustration in his voice has yielded to concern.

I shake my head. "I just…I know all the other guys in your grade are doing it already, and I'm holding you back."

"Hey." He angles his body to face me, grabbing my wrists in his gentle hands and rubbing soothing circles on my skin with his thumbs as the tears I can't seem to stop slip silently over my cheeks. "Hey," he says again. "Bella, I love you. You are not holding me back. I do want to, and when you're ready, we will. Okay?"

"I don't…want you to get sick of waiting for me."

"That won't happen."

I finally find the nerve to peek up at him, and the love in his eyes – despite the tightness that still lingers along the line of his jaw, the heavy breaths that still lift and drop his chest – makes me feel safe, relieved, grateful that he can forgive me my insecurities, that I've been saved from the ugly meanness of Rosalie Hale. "I love you, too," I whisper, and he pulls me into a tight hug. I listen to his heartbeat against my ear, and I wonder what it will take for me to finally feel ready to give him the only part of me he doesn't already have. I feel the faint trace of his fingers over my back, drawing indistinct patterns that feel like letters and words he's branding into my skin, but I don't ask what they are. I don't have to.

. . .