Thank you to ShearEnvy, livie79 and jandco (is everyone as obsessed with her as I am?) and a huge apology to everyone else that I forgot to send this to for prereading.
"I like parties," I say, insistent. There are enough people at the river tonight that I have to speak over the other conversations. Emmett is sitting to my right. Alice was on his other side but she ran off somewhere. Her flip flops are still sitting next to him in the sand.
"No, you don't. You pick a spot and you don't move...like, all night." Emmett is trying to get me into the spirit for Friday. "Last time you didn't even dance."
"Oh, come on. That isn't dancing. It's an excuse to rub your genetalia on people."
He concedes that point and I laugh.
Sometimes when people meet Emmett they're intimidated. The first time he came to my front door I thought my mom was going to call the cops. He's got dark hair and features and pretty much exclusively wears black. He's got the best smile, though. It's disarming.
"Your parents are going to kill you."
He grins. "Probably."
His family is probably the happiest, most well-adjusted family I've ever known. Emmett retaliates against all that normalcy by listening to music that expresses his inner angst through demonic screaming and charging basslines.
"Al said you're inviting east siders." From his tone, I can't tell what he thinks about that, and honestly, I'm not sure how I feel either. When I got home from the diner with Alice this morning I stood with my hand on the phone, ready to call Edward, but I didn't dial.
"Yeah, I think I'm going to, if that's okay."
"Edward seems cool. I don't like that fucking Jasper kid, though."
I can't help but smile, thinking about Alice's face when she told me to invite them. "He's an acquired taste."
We both stare at the fire.
"I hope Rosalie will come. The two of you have nothing in common except your terrible taste in music, but I think you'd like her."
He shrugs but he's seen a picture of her, so there's a slight smile on his face. He offers me a beer but I'm not drinking tonight. Tonight I want to be present and aware. I run through the conversation with Edward again in my head and Emmett bumps my shoulder with his.
"It's all going to work out, Bella."
He's right, but I'm not sure it's that simple. "I just wish I could do it over again."
He shrugs. "But you can't."
I know I can only move forward, but the thought of moving forward without Edward makes me feel sick and sad. I gave him an out, though, so I just have to wait for his answer.
It's written on the whiteboard in the kitchen when I get home, in my mom's looping handwriting.
Edward called! Call him back!
She followed that up with about eighteen more exclamation points. Even though there's no one there to see it, I blush and erase the message with my sleeve.
I check to make sure my parents are in their room before I go in mine and close the door. I dial slowly, more nervous than I thought I'd be. He answers on the third ring and his voice sounds rough, like he's sleeping.
"Is it too late?" I ask, and when he doesn't answer right away the double meaning makes me grimace.
"No," he says, finally. "Did you just get home?"
"Yeah, I was at the river…my side. Not yours."
I imagine him laying in his bed staring up at the ceiling. I lay back and do the same. We're quiet for long enough that I start to worry that he fell asleep.
"I'm here," he says.
"I'm really sorry," he says. "All that stuff you said...you were right. I'm sorry."
I blink, letting my eyes go out of focus so the ceiling seems like it's inches away from my face. I blink again.
"Do you forgive me?" he asks.
I smile. "Yeah."
I wish we were having this conversation in person. I want to see his face. Glancing at my flashing alarm clock just reminds me that they're working on the electrical this week. A glance in the mirror reminds me that I used to be brave.
"Do you want to come over?" I ask.
He laughs and the sound makes me want to see him even more.
"What about your parents?"
I shrug. "They're asleep."
"What are we gonna do?" he asks, just enough suggestion in his voice that I roll my eyes, but I'm smiling.
"Keep your pants on, Cullen."
He laughs again and says he'll be here in fifteen minutes.
It's the longest fifteen minutes of my life.
I wait on the porch, a hoodie that used to be Ben's pulled over my shorts and tank top. It's long past the point where it still smells like him, but I like to put my thumbs through the holes in the sleeves. He pulls up at the end of the block and I stand before I can think about it, waiting barefoot at the top of the stairs as he walks up.
He stops, hands shoved in his pockets. He's not wearing a hat and his hair is starting to get a little too long, curling over his ears and on the back of his neck. I want to brush it back off his forehead.
I want to hold his hand, so I hold mine out.
He looks at it and smiles, taking it and moving to the step in front of me. I still have to look up to see his eyes. I'm not sure why mine start to water, but they do.
Warm, rough fingers wipe the tear off of my cheek.
He kisses me like he's been waiting to for a year. Like he can kiss away that year. He kisses me so good that I lose all sense of self-preservation and decency and I tell him to come upstairs.
"Your parents," he says, protesting, but I can tell he doesn't mean it.
"We just have to get up the stairs then we're home free."
"Which stairs creak?" he asks.
I smile. "All of them."
"If we get caught…" he says, shaking his head.
"You can hide under my bed."
He looks apprehensive and I remember a time when none of us knew what it was like to really worry. This isn't something to worry about.
I drop my gaze. "Since when are you afraid of getting caught?"
"I'm not afraid. I just...I respect your parents."
I roll my eyes and when he smiles I can tell he's bullshitting just a little bit. "They love you."
"They wouldn't if they could read my mind right now."
I raise an eyebrow. "They would probably be a little shocked if they could read mine, too."
He stares at me, his gaze going to my lips. Then he nods toward the door.
I hold his hand and we move as quietly as we can through the old house. Neither of us breathe until we get to my room and I shut the door behind us. He looks around, but there isn't much to see. I kick a pair of underwear under the bed before sitting on it.
He looks at me for a second then lays down, stretching out next to me on his back.
I trail a finger down his wrist and he puts his palm face up so I can slip my fingers between his.
"Do you want to talk about it?" he asks.
I shake my head. I really don't.
"Are you tired?" I ask.
He shrugs then yawns. "We started practice this week." He means soccer. I forget how they would talk that way, like everyone should just know what sport he plays. There was a time when that thought wouldn't even have occurred to me. "Jas is going to get cut if he doesn't start showing up."
"No he won't," I say, automatically.
Edward laughs, but we both know it isn't really funny. Jas won't get cut because of who he is, but maybe that isn't good for him. Maybe he should experience something like a real repercussion. I'm starting to think that's how you find out what you're really made of. I don't say any of that, though.
He rubs his thumb over the back of my hand and I'm struck by how intimate this feels, just holding hands and talking. It feels more intimate than kissing him on the stairs in front of my house, or anything we did before.
I think he realizes it at the same time I do. We're both quiet.
"Sometimes I feel like I go through a whole day and it's like I talk to all these people, but I don't say anything real."
I give him a small smile. "So say something real."
We stare at each other. He opens his mouth and closes it.
"I've thought about this a lot." I think he means being here with me like this.
I decide to keep it light. "So when you think about it, am I topless, or…?"
He laughs, but I can tell he's slightly wounded by the joke. I sigh. I don't mean to dismiss him, especially when he's speaking so honestly. "I've thought about it, too," I admit. "A lot."
He watches me carefully.
Something nags at me and I slip my hand out of his. The specter of Angela hangs in the air between us and I wonder how long until I can forget about that. I look away. "Before we…" I try to think of how to say it. "You're more experienced than I am and-"
"Bella…" His expression is heavy with guilt. There's a long pause while he searches my ceiling for the right words. "I would wait forever."
On any other guy those words would sound stupid and cheesy and trite but I guess we're past being embarrassed by our own sincerity. At least he doesn't seem to be. He turns his gaze to me and holds out his hand again.
I take it and lay down next to him, turning so I can watch his profile while we talk.
I'm not sure when I fall asleep, but I wake up pressed into his side, his arm around my neck. I breathe deeply and silently and listen to the steady thud of his heart. I want just a few minutes of this before he wakes up. He doesn't stir, though, even when I get up to brush my teeth. I check on him once more before I go downstairs to see if there's coffee made, but he's still sleeping, his arm thrown over his face to block the morning sun.
It's all I can do to hide my crazy good mood when I walk into the kitchen. My parents are standing at the counter in their usual spots, sections of the paper open between them.
"Morning," I say, but it comes out too bright and I turn to the cupboard, trying to tamp down my smile while my back is turned.
As I reach for a mug, I'm struck by the thought that this is the most like a teenage girl that I've felt in a year. The twist in my stomach, the lump in my throat that threatens to erupt with the kind of girly giggling that I normally despise. At this moment I wish Alice were here so we could do that jumpy excited thing that girls do when they can't contain themselves just so I could get it out of my system.
My dad leaves for work, giving me a kiss on the forehead, but my mom hangs back. "What's on the agenda today?" she asks, watching me.
I shrug, smiling, catching myself too late to tone it down. She stares at me, smiling back, but tears cloud her vision after a few seconds and she looks down. Clearing her throat, she looks back up.
She shakes her head. "You just look so happy." She composes herself and then looks at me expectantly and I know the jig is up. "Did I see Edward's truck parked down the street?"
I don't answer, but I doubt I need anything more than my facial expression to confirm what she suspects. Then I hear Edward get out of my bed upstairs and I'm officially sunk. He walks the familiar path to the bathroom. The lazy thunk of the toilet seat reminds me of Ben and makes me smile despite the situation.
My mom smiles briefly and I wonder if she's thinking the same thing, but then she closes her eyes, pinching the bridge of her nose before she continues. "I think sometimes we forget that you're only sixteen. We've probably given you more freedom this last year than we should have."
"Mom-" I don't know what to say, though.
She holds up a hand. "I want to be mad. Hell, I should be mad." The tears return and she swipes at her cheeks. "But it's good to see you smile."
I hug her. She squeezes me tightly and whispers "you're grounded" over my shoulder. I laugh even though it'll ruin my weekend because it's so normal and it feels really, really good to feel normal.
"Are you gonna tell dad?" I ask.
She nods and I'm about to start protesting but she stops me.
"He'll understand. He might give Edward a little talking to next time we see him, but he'll understand."
I vow to myself that Edward and my dad won't see each other for at least a few months...years if I can get away with it. There's no way I can handle that level of mortification.
As soon as she's out the door I pour another mug of coffee and bring it upstairs. Edward's sitting up on my bed, propped up on my pillows. He rubs his eyes and yawns.
"I used your toothbrush," he says, smirking.
I roll my eyes but I suddenly feel kind of awkward, setting the mug on my nightstand for him. He reaches for me instead of the coffee, pulling me onto his lap.
We stare at each other. His hands run down my thighs; resting on my ankles.
"Why does it feel so right with you?" he asks.
I smile and look down but he ducks, catching my eye.
"Tell me..." he says.
I stifle the part of me that wants to make a joke about how I can feel that he's hard, because we're jokes and laughter but we can't just be that.
"I feel it," I say, and he seems relieved, like he really did need me to say that.
He sits up to kiss me, pulling our bodies flush. This kiss is different from last night. It's desperate and a switch flips inside of me, making me pull him closer and kiss him harder.
After a minute he pulls back, closing his eyes and resting his forehead against mine. I let my breathing slow and slide my fingers to where I can feel his pulse on his neck. He sighs.
"I'm grounded," I say.
He pulls away enough so he can see my face. "Shit."
Then I remember Emmett's party and I slump forward. I explain it all to Edward and he laughs.
"Maybe I can talk to your parents."
I sit up, incredulous. "After spending the night in my room? Yeah, right. I mean they're cool but not that cool."
He shrugs. "I'll tell them it was strictly PG."
He smiles, but then his fingers trace the hem of my t-shirt and I'm back to feeling like every nerve ending in my body is buzzing. Hesitating every few inches, he slides it up and over my head. He reaches behind his head and pulls his t-shirt off in that way that boys do, unconscious of where it lands on the floor.
We spend the morning that way, kissing and teasing and talking, skin on skin.
I forget that I'm grounded. I forget that I've ever been sad. All there is are his arms and the stubble on his jaw scratching against my shoulder when our chests press together. All there is are his lips mumbling and smiling even when they're pressed against mine.
Everything is heightened and I know that I want the release that will come at the end of all of this but I'm not ready to let go yet. I watch him sit on the edge of my bed while he calls Jasper, his bare back smooth under my fingers. He jumps when I trail my hand over his ribcage and I make a note of that ticklish spot.
"Want to come meet up with Jas?" he asks, finding his shirt on the floor and pulling it over his head.
I'm still shirtless, laying on the bed in my boxer shorts and underwear. "Grounded, remember?"
He grins, looking me over. "Was it worth it?"
I narrow my eyes, pretending to think it over. I shrug. "I guess so." We grin at each other.
He glances at my alarm clock, which is still flashing the wrong red numbers. Then he moves to the end of the bed and pulls me down to the edge, sliding down my remaining clothing before kneeling between my legs. I'm about to protest but he stops, looking up at where I'm propped up on my elbows.
I feel self-conscious and ready and beautiful.
"Have you ever done this?" he asks.
I shake my head and he smiles. "Just relax."
"Easy for you to...oh god."
"I can't believe you're all going without me."
Edward, Jasper and Rose are sitting on my front porch, waiting for it to get late enough to go to Emmett's.
I pleaded with my parents to let me go but they won't give in. I'm grounded for the weekend and that's that. Edward apologized but even that didn't get me off the hook.
Jasper checks his watch for the nine thousandth time and Rose winks at me from across the porch at the small indication of his nervousness. He pulls out a flask but smoothly puts it behind his back when my mom opens the screen door.
"Anyone want dinner before you go?"
Jasper gives her the white, shining smile he reserves for parents and teachers and politicians. "No thank you, Mrs. Swan."
She squeezes Rose's shoulder before she goes back inside.
"Your parents are the best," Rose says, still staring at the screen door where my mom was.
"Ugh." I drop my head back and sigh loudly. "You and Ben had it easy. I'll say that much."
The answering silence makes me look at Rose, whose eyes are on the floor. Edward's hand finds mine.
It takes a minute for the conversation to restart. Sometimes it's like that. We're all just going along like everything's normal and then someone says his name and everything stops for a second so it can sink in all over again.
Jasper makes a show of unscrewing the top off his flask and taking a swig. "What kind of whiskey will they have?" he asks me.
I give him a look. "You know this is a high school party, right? Like a normal, run-of-the-mill, high school party. No Glenfiddich. No crudite. No butlers."
"Plastic cups, I assume," he says glumly.
Rose rolls her eyes but when he checks his watch again, she and I grin at each other.
"You should go," I say, turning to Edward. I don't want him to leave. I want to take him upstairs and hide him under my bed for later.
He smiles. "Should I stop by after?"
I glance toward the screen door. "Not unless you want Charlie Swan's foot up your ass."
Rose laughs and Jasper's mouth twitches with what might be a genuine smile.
Edward kisses me and gets up. Rose and Jasper stand, as well, but he hangs back when they start toward the car. Jasper's driving tonight and he's turning the car key in his hand. I start to say something about a sober driver but hold back. He looks like he has something to say.
Rose turns to wait for him and he holds up a finger. She smirks and follows Edward instead, giving us privacy.
"So, about Alice…" he says, like it's killing him a little. Like he doesn't want to attach that much importance to her name but can't help it.
Part of me wants to stop this before it starts. I could tell him that she's not interested or that she hates him, but I just can't do it. He looks like he actually cares what I'm about to say. To say it makes me uncomfortable is an understatement.
I think about the conversation we just had and I wonder whether he's actually into Alice in a real way. "What about the whole plastic cup thing?" I ask, studying his face. Because if you can't have the plastic cups, you can't have Alice.
He goes still, then answers in a mumble that I can barely hear. "Maybe I don't care about that, really."
I want to believe him. I really want to believe him, in fact. I sigh. "Just be yourself."
He stares at me like an idiot. I roll my eyes.
"Look, for whatever reason she seems to like you and if you start acting like Prince Charming now she'll know you're full of shit so...just be yourself."
"Be myself," he repeats. It occurs to me that he's as uncomfortable with this exchange as I am and I start to feel a little bad. "Great."
He stares off somewhere behind me.
"You actually care what she thinks about you, don't you?"
"No," he says quickly, but it's a lie.
I raise my eyebrows and his cheeks redden just the littlest bit. I doubt he's ever had to do this... to try. It's almost sweet. I cave. He's got his eyes on the ground but I can tell he's listening. He nods slightly as I speak.
"Ask her about moving to Oregon." I think for a second. "And ask her about tattoos. She wants, like, a lotus flower or something. It's all she talks about."
When he looks up he's frowning but looks relieved. "Thanks, Swan," he says. I think he really means it.
Edward stands with his car door open after Jasper and Rose get in. He smiles widely at me and motions that he'll call me later.
My parents leave me alone. They let me take my dinner to the living room and when they go to bed, they say goodnight but don't tell me I have to. I think they actually feel a little bad for me. I have a fleeting daydream where I sneak out and show up at Alice's, but I know I won't do it. The thought of making my parents worry makes me feel sick. Plus, they trust me...maybe more than they should.
The TV goes from late night talk shows to infomercials and I try to call Emmett's but no one answers.
I wonder if Emmett and Rose got to talk. I wonder if Jasper and Alice did. I wonder what Edward is doing and why he hasn't called me yet. His phone just rings and rings.
I fall asleep watching a grainy black and white vampire movie and wake up to someone tapping on the window. The TV screen has gone to static so I flip it off. My heart pounds even after I see that it's Edward. He nods to the door and even though I shouldn't, I know I'm going to go out there.
With a precision that I'm beginning to master, I open the front door silently and step out, careful to close the screen door slowly. He's got his hands shoved in his pockets and he's grinning, his eyes lazy with keg beer and probably more than a little weed.
"What are you doing here?"
He pins me up against the side of the house, his whole body pressed up against mine, and he kisses me a little too hard but in a good way. He picks me up and pushes against me again and then we're so close to something really big that I can feel it. I know that I don't really want to do this here but I will if he wants. I would do anything he asked, I think.
It's him that slows down and when he presses his forehead to mine I breathe out words that make him groan and squeeze his eyes shut. "I want to do it," I say. "I'm ready."
"Jasper's parked down the block," he says, like it's the only reason he wouldn't. Maybe it is, but nonetheless he puts a little space between us, setting me on my feet and putting his hands on the side of the house behind me. He straightens his arms and looks down like it's painful not to touch me. That makes me smile.
"How was the party?"
"It was cool. But Jasper said something to Alice and she slapped him." He shakes his head, smiling. "I didn't see it but he's got this red handprint on his face and he's fucking pissed."
I sincerely wish I could've seen that, although after my talk with Jasper I wonder what went wrong. "Did Rose have fun?"
"Yeah. I think she really did."
"Your friends are cool," he says.
I smile. "I know."
"Still grounded tomorrow?" he asks.
I nod. "Maybe we can do something Monday?"
He nods but then shakes his head, frowning. "I have practice. But after, maybe."
Maybe. A sick feeling blooms in my chest and I look down. I forget about the future. I get so caught up in the right now that I forget anything could happen. We're both going back to school in a few weeks and we'll be busy and...he'll see Angela. Then he has to pick a college and he'll leave and I'll still be stuck here for a year.
I suddenly feel pathetic and desperate and I know even more that I'd do anything he asked.
"Yeah, maybe," I say, avoiding his eyes.
I see him glance down the street at Jasper's car, shinier than any other car on the block. He flashes the lights once and from here I think I see Rose in the front seat next to him.
"Hey," he says. "You okay? You look pissed or something."
I shake my head. "I'm good. Just tired."
"So...we saw a bunch of people from the west side that Ben knew. That was kind of cool. They kind of…" he pauses, "...had a lot of questions. Maybe it was better that you weren't there."
I wish I could start this conversation over again and steer it differently so it didn't end up here. I look down and after a few seconds he ducks to catch my eye. "Hey," he says, catching on to my mood.
I look up and he frowns, but doesn't say anything right away.
"You're doing that girl thing."
I roll my eyes, but whatever he's referring to, I'm probably doing it.
Jasper honks and he looks over his shoulder again. "That asshole really will leave me here," he says, his smile falling when he sees my face. "Bella…"
"I'm good. Go...before my dad wakes up."
He stiffens and despite my mood I have to hide a smile. I kiss him back when he presses his lips to mine and when he turns back to look at me halfway to Jasper's car I smile. Rose waves as they roll past my house. Jasper keeps his eyes on the road.
I should go back inside but instead I sit in my usual chair and listen to the city sleep around me. This reminds me of another night in another time, and I can almost hear what Ben would say. He would tell me to play it cool. He'd tell me to enjoy the ride and to stop overthinking it.
He'd tell me that loving someone is heartbreak because no matter what, it ends. Everything ends. But he'd tell me it's worth it.
Or maybe that's what I would tell him if I could go back.
I don't feel like sleeping and I don't feel like crying, so I just sit.
Just to be.
Because sometimes that's enough.
Thank you for reading! xoxo