~ Bella Betty ~
It had been four days since that day with James, and I had lived my life as a recluse for the most part. I hadn't gone downstairs for movie day or watched any sex lessons. I hadn't accepted any invitations.
Hadn't received any, to be honest.
Well, to be fair, it felt like the whole house went silent for a bit. I felt kind of bad, like it was my fault, despite how many times Rosalie, or Alice, told me that it was common in the program for things to settle down for a week or two. 'Life here isn't just about sex, sex, sex . . . ' They insisted that it wasn't because what had happened between me and James. But I didn't believe either of them. Not for a second.
I'd stayed in my room most of the time, writing, trying to process. To center myself.
Writing had always been that outlet for me . . .
But lately, my stories were consumed with the unattainable.
Much like my life . . .
I didn't understand the program any longer. And it wasn't because of what happened with James. It was how I'd responded to Edward.
He'd come to see me in my room that day, wanting to talk to me. I guessed he'd been standing outside my door for hours before he'd come in, but learning that fact from Jacob had done something inside me. It turned my brain into a confused jumble of emotions and warnings. Telling me that reading into Edward's behavior was a wrong idea yet I wondered about the conclusions that simple logic brought to the surface.
He liked me . . .
And not in a way that was appropriate for our platonic yet highly charged sexual relationship. It's true, we'd been dancing around each other since the moment I'd entered those large oak doors, but it should have stopped there. If the program made any sense, that is.
It was supposed to stop there . . .
And yet, there I was . . . in my room again . . . writing about a romantic god that wooed the young girl into a daring yet passionate, hot and heavy relationship. Despite her need to keep emotionally distant, he knocked down every wall she had surrounding her heart, charging in like the hero fighting a raging monster . . . saving the woman he loved.
My emotions had consumed me, taking over my outlet, my writing, and saturating it with everything Edward symbolized to me . . . everything he'd become that day he'd entered my bedroom.
~ ß ~
Jake had been in my room for the better part of an hour comforting me, trying to convince me not to leave because of what James had done. Truly, at that point, I didn't see why I should stay. I mean, if James felt like he could treat me like some plastic blow-up doll for his enjoyment, no matter how much I didn't want it, who's to say the other guys didn't feel the same way?
Eleazar, Garrett, even Carlisle . . .
And the thought of my vulnerability in that situation had me second guessing not only my sanity, but what kind of person I was to willingly put myself in such a provocative and, frankly, dangerous situation.
But Jake had made some good points about his take of the mating process and how it related to the program, and it had me leaning toward giving this whole thing another shot from a somewhat different perspective. One that scared me, if I was being honest.
"I know that you haven't watched many scenes yet," Jake said. "And I hope you don't leave because I want you to stay, if only to witness the true beauty of what this program can be about. But could you imagine Eleazar doing that to Carmen?" he asked, speaking of James' action to Victoria once she questioned his behavior with me. I kind of felt bad for her, after what Jake had told me. "Or Jasper to Alice?"
"No," I answered automatically.
I thought for a moment, trying to put my answer into words. The mating concept seemed to be different for those couples, even for Jake as he sat on my bed, describing how he interpreted their relationships.
I wasn't able to answer his question, however. A soft knock on the door broke my thoughts, and I looked up to see Edward sticking his head into my room with a solemn expression on his face.
"Can I come in?"
He stood in the doorway not moving, watching me and Jake on the bed with a furrowed brow. Something in his face made my heart freeze, and Jacob's words previously were circulating through my mind.
"If Edward hadn't . . . "
"If Edward hadn't what?"
"If Edward hadn't flattened his face, I would be right about now . . . Open your mind, Bella. Your heart just a tad. There is a reason people find their mates here. Why they stay together for so long . . ."
"Sure, come on in," Jake replied, smiling as he rose from bed. His word settled my confusing thoughts, and I turned to look at him questioningly. It was common for me to have a man welcome another one into my bedroom.
Wait...that came out wrong.
"If you guys are busy, I can come back later," Edward said, gesturing back toward the hallway.
"No," Jake told him. "I was just leaving."
"Jacob," I scolded. I didn't like how he was taking control of what happened in my own bedroom.
What. The. Hell.
It wasn't like I didn't want Edward here, but one little heart to heart and suddenly Jake thought he could answer for me?
"Look, it's obvious that she doesn't want me here, so I'll just go." Edward's voice was clipped, making me wonder how things looked from his point of view.
Right . . .
"It's not that, Edward," I said hurriedly, causing him to pause in his retreat and look uncomfortably between Jake and me.
"Stay, brother," Jake told him, glancing back at me with a wicked, knowing smile that made me blush for some reason. "I've got my own Betty to go see about." He left with a wink, and my mind began whirling.
He's got a Betty to go see about? What the fuck . . . ?
I started thinking about who he could possibly be talking about, but Jake left before I could say anything, leaving Edward and I alone.
He stood at the end of my bed, staring at my hand, swollen and bruised, still resting in the small bowl of witch hazel.
"It's not that bad," I told him as I held my hand up for him to see. Edward showed me his in turn. Cracked skin, swollen knuckles.
"Quite the pair we make," he said with a smirk.
"Well, I heard that you got a better shot on him than I did."
"Lies..." Edward said softly. There was intensity in his eyes, a sincerity that mirrored something Jake had said. Something . . . different.
Mates . . .
"I guess I did make him bleed," I mumbled, looking back to my hand. I had to look away. Something wasn't right in his eyes. They made me see things . . . feel things . . . or maybe Jake's words were fucking with my head.
Jake . . . and his Betty . . .
"Who was Jake talking about?" I asked suddenly and without thinking.
"When he said . . . does he have a Betty?"
"You're all our Betties, Bella." His answer was delivered with a soft tongue but I didn't like the bite to its meaning. Like we were nothing but toys, pocked pussies for the men? That thought made me feel cheap. It made me feel angry.
You're all our Betties . . .
And James had proven that, hadn't he.
"Yes, yours to do with as you wish." I stretched my bruised hand for emphasis. "I feel like this is more like a brothel than a sex club. James didn't have to give me any kind of invitation, now did he? Tell me, Edward, you've been inside me a couple times now and I received only one invitation from you. Is that what all you men expect out of me?"
"Did you give one to Lauren?" I asked, looking at him now. "You know, after I didn't come downstairs for tea this morning?"
"What? I'm just trying to figure out the players, here. I mean, this is turning out to be something completely different than I'd imagined. I'm not learning anything but how to please a man, and to be honest, I don't think I had much of a problem in that area before."
"No, but you had a problem receiving pleasure before. Don't you remember?" Edward seemed almost panicked, coming to the edge of my bed with his hands clamped by his sides. "Bella, you have learned more about yourself that's what's important. You've made me see something more in myself."
"Knock it off. You're starting to sound like Jake," I exclaimed, rising from the bed and spilling a bit of my witch hazel. I didn't care.
"What do you mean?"
"Meaning that you both act like this club is more than just a way to learn about pleasure."
I whirled around on him.
"No, it's not!"
"Bella, you're surrounded by mated couples that found each other in this house."
"Yes, after they'd slept with several other people."
"You don't know that," Edward replied calmly, his tone changing into a quiet hush.
"What do you mean, 'I don't know that.' It's the whole premise behind the program, Edward. Don't you think I know that?"
"You don't know about how everyone's relationship developed except what they have told you. You are making assumptions."
"Oh, excuse me for assuming that these people kinda lucked out in falling for their fuck-buddy."
"Gah, Bella," Edward exclaimed, rising from the bed. "Do you really think that's what I am to you?"
I stopped for a moment, watching him. It took me a moment for me to gather my thoughts, and when I began to speak again, my tone was softer than before.
"Edward, I have to keep those kinds of thoughts away from me right now. Don't you see that? Would I like to think that I meant something more to you than a sure-thing, yes. Deep down, I knew that it was going to be close to impossible to keep my feelings at bay, but I have to try. After all, we are 'all your Betties,' right?"
"That's not what I meant . . ."
"Really? What did you mean, then?"
"I meant that you were all here for a reason, chosen for a reason."
"Yes, to learn about pleasure. To seek out our own fantasies — "
"No!" Edward barked in frustration. "No. You are here for me!"
"Oh, I am." I couldn't keep the sarcasm from my tone of voice. "And Lauren? Is she here for you, too?"
"She doesn't matter to me. I didn't do anything with her."
"Sure. You just disappeared behind the cabana and her top magically came undone by itself."
"Bella, please . . . Listen to what I'm saying to you."
"Why are you here, Edward? In my room. Are you here to convince me to stay, too?"
My question seemed to catch him off guard for a second.
"I'm here for you," he clarified. "Because I care about you. I wanted to make sure you were okay. To let you know . . ."
"Yes?" I asked after he'd remained silent for a moment.
"I just . . . He didn't hurt you, right? I mean . . . it didn't get that far . . . right?"
The concern in his voice softened my edges, opening me up and keeping me more vulnerable than I liked.
Damn it . . .
Without my permission, my hand found his.
"No, he didn't hurt me. The guys got there before anything happened . . . "
Edward glared at the floor, a sudden wave of anger clouding his perfect features.
"I should've found you first."
"Well . . ." I sighed. "You were a bit preoccupied it seemed."
He pulled me to him, resting his forehead against my shoulder. I could feel him breathing onto my skin, and suddenly, I felt very heated . . . in a more than platonic way.
Because this way, Edward looked more vulnerable than I felt. He seemed to be able to take away his mask of indifference much faster and efficiently than I was. Here, I could see his emotions. They were evident in his eyes as he spoke to me, laced in every breath he exhaled even now. But where did that leave me?
A jumbled mess of illogic and mixed emotions, that's where.
And then I felt his hand leave my wrist and slowly wrap around the small of my back. I felt his thumb caress the skin there, slightly moving up the bottom of the tank top I'd thrown on over my suit.
"Bella . . ."
His lips began to touch my shoulder, soft at first, followed by the hint of his tongue tasting me.
It was more than his comfort I wanted in that moment. I wanted all of it. The feelings, the emotions. And I hated myself for it. That, more than my hand or my pride, was going to hurt in the morning.
"Let go . . ." he whispered against the skin just below my ear, his tongue tasting me, his breath warming me.
"I . . . " his lips pressed against my throat.
"I . . ." his fingers played with the edges of my skimpy bathing suit.
"I . . . can't."
Edward stopped his movements. I swallowed the lump in my throat.
He pulled back to look at me but his hands didn't move – one at my back, the other holding mine. I looked into his eyes and saw . . . regret.
It broke my resolve.
"Just . . . give me some time, please?"
His hand left my back and slowly met my face. I could feel the pad of this thumb tracing my cheekbone.
"I just need time . . . to think about things."
"I understand," he said as his hands fell to his lap. His gaze left mind, his posture almost . . . defeated.
"I care about you, Edward." I couldn't stop the words. "Despite every wall or guard I've put up, do you know who I thought of when James was holding me against that wall? Who the first person I wanted to see when I was safe back in my room?"
Edward looked at me, his head tilted with a sad smile on his face.
"It was you," I replied, and I grabbed his hand in both of mine. "Somehow, you found a way through all my safeguards I'd planted before coming into this place, and no matter how much I want to shove you out again . . . I can't."
Edward smiled a bit more warmly then, but his eyes drifted away from me, back down toward the ground, and that made me pull him toward me. It just wasn't acceptable to see a man as amazing as he look so down.
His arms wrapped around my waist, his head rested on my chest.
"Hey," I told him.
"Mmmm?" he replied in a satisfied sound without looking up. He nuzzled his cheek against my breasts as if they were a comfy pillow. I laughed.
"Comfy?" I chuckled.
"Cozy," he answered with a smile. My fingers brushed back the hair at his crown automatically. "Just don't . . . leave, okay? I can give you whatever time or space you need. Just don't leave me, Bella. Okay?"
His eyes met mine and I knew at that moment I was stuck, in every sense of the word. My hands cupped his face, my lips pressed against his softly. And it was at that point I realized no matter what I had to come to grips with, or how many days I needed to recoup after everything that happened, I couldn't leave him.
I wanted him.
To know him . . . to touch him. To learn about what he wanted, and how he could give me what my body craved.
The Cullen Program hadn't proven anything to me but given me a means to meet this beautiful, fascinating man. And despite what I wanted initially when I walked through those doors, my heart superseded all of it.
I was stuck.
And it was a very new, but really good feeling.
I think this is one of my favorite chaps. Thanks everyone for continuing with E/B. You guys are awesome.