The Prettiest Regret
Summary: He looks like summer. He looks like freedom. He looks like the best kind of bad idea.
Acknowledgement: This is where I should be thanking HollettLA for fixing my overabundance of semicolons, but instead I'm gonna go ahead and thank her for the ridiculous salted caramel Rice Krispie treat and chocolate-peanut-butter-Kit-Kat-crunch-bar recipes she just sent me. Because hooooooly balls.
This is just a fun, smutty, summery little one-shot. If you're looking for a significantly detailed plot or a certain amount of depth, you may want to look elsewhere. Otherwise, welcome!
Here's the thing about going away to college: you spend months feeling like you're out on your own, like you're finally living your life, like you're doing your thing, and you've left the trappings of your past behind.
You go out and party.
You sleep in other people's beds.
You make adult decisions – or, at least, what feel like adult decisions when you're making them. You do a very good job convincing yourself that you're an honest-to-God, independent, grown-up. And with the doing of laundry, the buying of groceries, the balancing of checkbooks, it's a relatively easy thing to believe.
And then comes summer. And you go home to a too-small bedroom in a too-small house in a too-small town, and you realize that the life you were living was mostly smoke screen. You cross a threshold to find parents who expect you to be the person you've always been, the person you were before you learned what freedom tasted like. You try to be patient with the raised eyebrows that come when you ask for coffee with breakfast instead of milk, with the piercing stare that lands on you when your mother finds your compact of birth control pills as she's returning a stack of clean towels to the bathroom cupboard.
You try to squeeze back into an old skin, even if it never seemed to fit all that well the first time around.
You try to remember what it felt like to be the girl who was afraid of the world, instead of the girl who was desperate to get back to living in it.
You feel, with each passing day, like the new version of you is fading, yielding to the version of you that had existed for eighteen years prior: the one afraid of change, even as she was desperate for it. The one terrified of heights, even as she yearned to soar. The one who dreamed of grandiosity, even from the safety of her tiny little life.
You pretend, but with every minute you spend pretending, the lie begins to feel a little more like the truth. And, day by day, you forget how to breathe.
. . .
I can't stand this town. I never could. It's suffocating and smothering, prying eyes and clutching hands. For as long as I can remember, it's been a place I wanted to escape.
And I did. I escaped. Bright lights, big city – they called my name long and loud, and I answered. I went. I flew. And yet here I am, back in this nowhere town for three interminable months, pretending that my skin doesn't feel too small for my bones, pretending that I'm not being crushed beneath the weight of expectation.
"Bella," my mother says the second Saturday I'm home. Her hair is carefully pinned away from her face, her white capri pants painstakingly ironed into precise creases, her sleeveless blouse the color of lemons. The Keds on her feet are a pristine white, and if I didn't know better, I'd think she'd never worn them outside the house.
My mother is a JCPenney catalog summer spread.
"I promised Pastor Weber that we'd do our booth at the carnival again this year." This is my mother's way of asking without asking – in years past, I've helped her sell her homemade soaps at the church flea market, which piggybacks on the annual carnival.
My help has always been a foregone conclusion, and a protest wells up in me at the increasingly familiar sense that she's trying to stuff me back into a mold that no longer fits. But as different as I am, as much as I've grown, I still haven't quite figured out how to respectfully deny my mother's orders-disguised-as-requests, and I'm still searching for the words when she turns away with a curt nod, a dismissal, an unspoken acceptance of the agreement I didn't offer. I bite my tongue, and my silence tastes bitter.
. . .
The day is hot, the sun relentless, and I'm grateful that our table is beneath the shade of one of the looming trees that line the church parking lot. Mom's soap supply is dwindling, and she's abuzz with pleased satisfaction. It's the oddest thing, how the woman who once scoffed at organized religion and prayed to a sun god has embraced the structure of small-town Methodism, how she has become a Church Lady, baking and making soaps and shepherding potluck lunches and Bible study groups.
I haven't missed the number of times today she's tossed disapproving looks at my tank top, which shows a barely-there amount of cleavage, but I refuse to do what I once would have done: take the bait, be the one to make a comment, give her an opening through which to actually voice her disapproval. Instead, I pretend not to notice her frowning at my boobs, and I smother the laugh that threatens to bubble up when a few of her patrons rather shamelessly ogle my tits. Her carefully lipsticked mouth pinches in a moue of disapproval, and I look away, smiling at her customers as I slip bars of honeysuckle-, lavender-, vanilla-scented soaps into paper sacks.
A few times she tries to start inquisitions described as conversations, but after years of practice, I can identify when she's trying to bait me, and I resist, a small flicker of triumph surging through me with every successful deflection.
Have you decided on a major yet? They say you should know going in to your sophomore year.
Have you met any nice young men? I know you're smart enough be responsible about dating.
How is living with that nosy roommate of yours?
My mother, whose life is too bland for any genuine drama, likes to live vicariously through the dramas of others. I don't have the heart or the energy to tell her that, actually, Alice turned out to be pretty cool, and that no, I haven't met any boys she would deem "nice young men." I also don't have the heart to tell her I'm declaring art as my major, knowing that she'll only launch into a tirade about the impracticality of it. Instead, I shake my head, offer noncommittal answers, wait for the soap stock to vanish entirely and thereby grant me a brief window to freedom.
When all that remain are a few bars of coconut lime and sandalwood soap, my mother checks her watch and gives the go-ahead to start packing up our table. Just as I'm reaching beneath it for the cardboard box with the leftover individually wrapped bars, Pastor Weber's wife appears at the table before us. Her eyes are slightly red-rimmed, and her usually smiling mouth is pinched into something that looks like she was aiming for a smile but somehow fell short.
"Hello, Karen," my mother says, placing a hand on my shoulder.
"Oh, I'm going to miss your soaps," Mrs. Weber says in lieu of greeting, and her eyes pass once over our empty table. "I just love your orange blossom."
My mother leans halfway over the table, as if she's a black-market haggler. "I've just made a fresh batch for you to take with you."
You would think, judging from Karen Weber's face, that my mother was a dealer who just offered her a free hit. "Oh," she breathes, and her eyes well up. "Oh, thank you so much, Renee." She fishes a wadded-up tissue from the sleeve of her blouse. "I'm just going to miss all of you so much." I glance across at my mother, who's nodding in sympathy as Mrs. Weber blows her nose.
"We're going to miss you, too," she says, and I vaguely remember her writing in one of her thousand e-mails over the course of the spring semester that Pastor Weber had been reassigned to another church somewhere in Oregon. "Both of you."
Mrs. Weber nods, and I watch her curiously, trying to imagine wanting to say in Forks, being sad at the idea of leaving. Unsurprisingly, I can't. Then again, I can't picture being happy as a pastor's wife either, so I suppose there are just lives some people aren't meant to lead.
After my mother promises to bring the supply of orange blossom bars to Sunday's church service, we finish loading things into boxes and pack them into the back of Mom's station wagon. "I'm going to stay for a bit," I say, sliding the last box into the back of the car before brushing imaginary dust off the cotton fabric of my skirt. "I think maybe Jess and Lauren might show up soon." It's a lie – I haven't spoken to Jessica or Lauren since we said goodbye last August – but I just can't stomach the idea of going back home again and sitting on the couch with Mom and Dad to watch whatever's on the Hallmark Movie Channel. I feel a pang of longing for my noisy dorm, my nosy roommate, my fake ID. My freedom. My autonomy. My life.
"Okay," Mom says haltingly, glancing at her watch, as if 8:30 is too close to the witching hour. She purses her lips the way she used to when I was in high school, right before she'd remind me that "Curfew is eleven!"
Please don't, I silently will her. I don't want to have an ugly mother-daughter argument in the middle of the church parking lot, but the oppressive heat and the weight of my mother's watchful eyes have been bearing down on me all day, and my composure and patience are melting faster than the ice cream cones that have been dripping tracks down the hands of people emerging from the carnival. "Okay," she says again, and for a brief moment, I can breathe. She looks like she wants to say something, and I don't think it's lost on either of us that, for the first time, I didn't ask her permission. Finally, she simply nods. "Call when you want me to pick you up." I rankle at this, a seemingly innocent offer, knowing that it's a subtle parry for a modicum of power. I wonder if it was always like this, if she was always so desperate for control. Then I wonder if that's what it is at all, or if I'm just being overly sensitive. Then she adds, "Preferably before eleven," and I nearly bite my tongue bloody not to sass her.
"Thanks," I say instead, slipping away before the last tether to my control snaps. I blend into the crowd, desperate for anonymity, knowing as I look around the sea of once-familiar faces that I won't find it.
. . .
The sky is a watercolor wash of blue and purple with a thin thread of pink draped over the tree line, and the lights of the carnival grow brighter by the minute. The smell of fried dough and spun sugar sits heavy over the church lot, the normal hum of crickets and bullfrogs overridden by the plinky carnival music, the beeps and blings of game booths, the whir of whizzing rides.
People gaze up in wonder at the Ferris wheel, laugh at their own failed attempts to sink ping-pong balls into fishbowls, gorge themselves on carnival food, all in the name of Jesus. If there are two things less suited to each other in my mind, it's traveling carnivals and churches. But the Forks Summer Carnival is an annual event, and the Forks Methodist Church has the nicest lot in town – and, until recently anyway, was the home to a pastor who didn't mind hosting a festival of gluttony and gauche if it gave the church a little extra padding in the bank.
Good ol' Pastor Weber. I always felt sorry for his daughter, Angela, who seemed to wilt beneath the heavy weight of expectation that came with being the only child of the good reverend. Sometimes I think we could have made pretty decent friends, if we'd been in the same grade. But she was two years behind me – just far enough for our lives to never overlap outside of Sunday service – and I didn't really realize the true extent to which I found my own life oppressive until I escaped it.
As I pass the Ferris wheel, I gaze upward. It's the only ride I never attempted in all the years I came to the carnival; I was always too scared to see what the world would look like from the very top, always knew I wouldn't be able to resist the temptation to look down. I stand, watching it spin lazily against the backdrop of the sunset, and I try to remember why I was always afraid of it.
"You don't like heights, Bella," the memory of my mother's voice reminds me. "It's too high for you at the top."
Then it occurs to me that I never saw my mother on it.
I never saw her on a ladder, either.
Or near the windows when we went to Seattle, and Dad took us to the top of the Space Needle.
And I wonder, as I step into the line, if fear can be inherited.
. . .
He's manning the control switch when I see him, sucking on a lollipop.
When he registers that I'm not moving, he slides the lollipop to one side of his mouth, his cheek bulging like a squirrel's. "Single rider?" I feel faintly embarrassed, but his face is open, expectant, and I nod. "That's fine." He holds out his hand for my ticket, but as I glance up at the ride, which suddenly looms larger than life above me, I find that my feet won't move. "Heights?" he guesses, and I honestly don't know the answer. How do you know you're afraid of heights until you're already in the sky and it's too late?
His eyes soften. "Hey, Jasper," he hollers over his shoulder, hand still sitting on the control lever. A blond guy attempting to swallow half a hot dog in one bite turns to face him, eyebrow arched. "Can you come take over?"
The guy nods, winding his way around the massive trailer chassis and swallowing the second half of his hot dog before wiping his hands on the seat of his already-dirty jeans. "Thanks for the break," he says from behind his mouthful of food, and I grimace as a few bits of hot dog bun fly out of his mouth.
"No sweat. Free ride?" the guy asks, tilting his head toward the wheel.
"You bet," Jasper replies, gesturing toward the waiting car.
"Come on," carnie-guy says, grabbing my wrist in his hand and leading me toward the car like a pony. And before I can decide whether or not I'm okay with it, he's lowering the bar across my lap and the car is swinging slightly and we're propelled backward as the guy manning the controls – Jasper – sets the wheel turning. My heart is pounding and blood is rushing behind my ears and there's sweat beneath where my palms grip the bar that has nothing to do with the humidity.
"Breathe," the stranger next to me suggests, and I watch the back of the car in front of me, stare at the black number 14 stencil-painted against white, watch as its subtle rock matches the swaying of my own. Bright lights glow on either side of me, and as we climb, I feel like I'm in an illuminated cage, the crisscross of spokes like glowing bars holding me in. Then we climb higher, overtaking the spokes of the wheel, and all that I can see is sky. Dark blue and purple but the pink is gone, having yielded to the soft lavender of dusk that sits above the black treetops.
And my heart is still pounding, but with exhilaration now. With adrenaline. With freedom.
Forks looks so different from up here. Pretty, almost. I nearly don't recognize it. Except there, in the distance, is the water tower. And there's the roof of the diner, the general store, the gas station. I know exactly where my house is, even if I can't see it from here.
"Not terrible?" I had almost forgotten his presence beside me; when I turn to look, the pretty beneath me is nearly rivaled by the pretty beside me. His eyes shine in the carnival lights.
"Not terrible at all," I reply, returning my focus to the tiny town beneath me. For a brief moment, I feel sorry for my mother. I'm not afraid of this anymore, but she always will be. Forks looks like somewhere else, and for this handful of moments, it's almost enough.
. . .
Saturday night, and the carnival is alive again. There's a subtle shift from the afternoon crowd – toddlers and unsupervised school-aged kids and young families – to the evening crowd – teenagers and townies and twentysomethings. And I wonder how many of them are like me, using something as pitiful as a small-town traveling carnival to escape from their too-small lives, if only for a handful of hours.
I gaze at the Ferris wheel as I draw closer, its lights once again shining brightly against a darkening backdrop. My trepidation from yesterday is a memory, replaced by anticipation. The same guy from yesterday – Jasper – is manning the controls; I don't see my guy anywhere. "Single rider?"
I nod. Hand over my tickets. This time, I sit alone, and as the car climbs into the sky, I feel like I could fly. The thrill from yesterday is still there, this time bolstered by the ecstasy of flying solo. I'm falling in love with the way the world looks from above. I'm amazed by the way it can feel like I'm squeaking out from beneath the thumb of my hometown just by seeing it from a different perspective.
I don't want to be on the ground again.
I don't want the carnival to pack up and leave tonight, taking its seat in the sky along with it.
I don't want to forget what it feels like to be free in a place I didn't think it was possible.
I want to close my eyes, feel the sky in my hair, but I don't want to miss a minute of what this feels like. Fearlessness.
. . .
Back on solid ground, I wander, aimless. I feel like I have a secret, even though I'm not the only one here who spent a few minutes in the sky.
I wander past the food booths, but nothing appeals to my still-butterflied stomach. Hot dogs, hamburgers, cheese fries, funnel cakes. Cotton candy, ice cream.
But then, the last booth on the end makes me feel like a kid again in the best way. I remember the leather of my dad's bomber jacket beneath my thighs as I crunched cherry-flavored ice shavings between my teeth, riding on his shoulders and staring wide-eyed at the lights around me. It's the first time in a long time that I bother remembering what it felt like to be happy to be the police chief's daughter. To be happy in Forks. To not wish to be someone, somewhere else.
I buy a red one. It tastes like memory.
I walk around the familiar lot, crunching. Savoring. Just breathing. Feeling free, even inside this familiar cage. Feeling brave, even in the face of no tangible threat. Feeling, for the first time in a long time, like I can be the new version of myself, even in this old place.
. . .
When I see him, he's crouched down near the ticket booth, fixing the sign advertising the prices.
His fingernails are surprisingly clean for a carnie, and his jeans are faded and worn, an almost-hole visible near the pocket. A single point of ink peeks above the collar of his t-shirt. It's barely visible, a curved triangle of black, like a serpent's tongue snaking up to lick the skin of his neck, and I'm seized by the desire to know what the rest of the picture looks like.
The shirt itself is threadbare, advertising some campground I've never heard of, and it hugs his chest and shoulders like a second skin. His actual skin is sun-darkened, a few faint freckles barely visible across the bridge of his nose, and there are strands of gold in his otherwise copper hair. His lips are pink, maybe from another sucker, and his eyes are bright, a lively shade of green.
He looks like summer.
He looks like freedom.
He looks like the best kind of bad idea.
When he straightens and spies me, a smile stretches his lips. "Back for another fix?"
"Junkie," I agree.
He gestures toward the sign.
"It's only three tickets to ride the wheel."
I take a lick of my sno-cone; it tastes like courage. His eyes watch my tongue, and the thrill that buzzes through me is familiar.
"How many does it take to ride you?"
Those bright eyes widen, and I can see the entire circumference of the Ferris wheel reflected in his irises. His mouth is – rather comically – hanging open, and his lips are still an inviting shade of strawberry pink. "What?"
"I think you heard me."
A beat later, the surprise is chased from his face by something darker, something more elemental, and he turns his head, scanning the carnival. As he does, I follow his gaze, wondering what he's looking for. Then I'm distracted by the weight of his hand, the feeling of his warm palm sliding against my own, the slight squeeze of his fingers around mine. "Come on." He leads me through the crowd, and I feel a delicious surge of recklessness careen through me. I dump my barely-eaten sno-cone in one of the garbage barrels we pass and watch the people go by: mothers carrying sticky-faced kids, teenagers hanging off each other, locals juggling baskets of fries, bags of cotton candy, plates of fried dough dusted with powdered sugar. I watch them all, feeling devious and mischievous as I follow him across the uneven ground. A bead of sweat rolls down my spine beneath the cotton of my good-girl sundress, and as I look up and spy the damp patch of cotton at his lower back, all I can picture is our sweat-slicked skin sliding together, my tongue darting out to taste the summer salt of his neck.
Suddenly, he yanks me to one side, and I follow him between two of the caravans that line the back of the lot. Immediately, I realize that in all the years I've been coming to this carnival, the idea of the people who work it actually sleeping here never even occurred to me. The vision of me pinned beneath this boy's leonine body as he rears over me, the thought of writhing beneath him as sweat plasters us together, the image of us rocking one of these caravans to and fro like the pirate ship ride somewhere in the sea of lights behind us makes a familiar heavy weight settle low in my stomach, and my fingers tighten on his. I start cataloging the little campers we pass, wondering which one is his – the one with the blue door? The one with the beach chair in front of it? – but he moves past each one with a singular determination, and I allow myself to be dragged easily along.
Finally we step between the row of tiny little shelters and into a patch of grass shielded by a small hedge of bushes on one side and the curving line of campers on the other. He pushes me up against the cream-colored back of the nearest caravan, and his large palm presses into my lower belly as his teeth find the side of my neck. "Don't move." Then his hands are sliding up my thighs, taking the hem of my sundress with them, and he's dropping to his knees on the grass at my feet. He hooks a finger into the side of my panties, and before I can take another breath, his tongue is between my legs.
"Shit," I hiss, and my head drops back against the aluminum side of the trailer with a small thump. His breath against me is even more damp and humid than the air around us, and the side of the caravan is warm beneath my flattened palms. The point of his tongue finds my clit, and my hips hitch toward him involuntarily; he moans, and the vibration hums through me.
And I feel free and reckless and young and old in the best ways and like my real life can follow me home, even when it doesn't feel like it will fit.
I'm all sensation, all centered between my legs, where this boy's pink tongue is slipping against the pinkest part of me, spiraling me upward like my very own carnival ride. The music and the beeps and the voices of the lot just behind us fade into the background, and I can hear the wet-on-wet of his mouth against me, and it makes my knees begin to shake.
"Fuck," I hiss, and it's the first time I've said that word this close to the church. One hand finds his hair – soft – as the other slips beneath the neckline of his shirt to find his shoulder muscle – hard. "Fuck."
And he's going for it, and it's so good that, for a split second, I think about saying Fuck college and running away with the circus. Carnival. Whatever. Then his tongue slips lower and inside and his finger takes over the swirling that his tongue was doing, and I see my own spray of lights against the purple night sky as I splinter and shatter and soar.
High, so high.
His mouth leaves me and he pulls back, sliding my underwear down my legs and off, balling them up to shove them into his pocket.
Sexiest thing ever.
I realize that, for all of my so-called experiences in college, I've never been naked outside, never felt the warm summer air on my bare skin, and the decadence arouses me nearly as much as the boy before me on his knees, holding my dress up around my waist. His mouth finds my hip; he bites down just hard enough to sting, and I whimper. "I want to make an absolute mess of you," he breathes into the skin of my thigh, and his hands slide up to the straps of my dress. "I want to see your tits."
Then my sweet little floral dress is gone and I'm completely naked; I'm on my back, and there's nothing between my bare body and the wide-open sky.
"Jesus," he breathes, and I wonder if he goes to church. He peels off his own shirt, and I echo the sentiment, silently. The ink I spied was the wing tip of a bird in flight.
The grass is soft and warm beneath me, and a pink tongue swirls around my pink nipple. "You sure about this?"
A wallet, found and flipped open. A condom, torn and unrolled.
Then his mouth is on mine, and he tastes like sugar and sex. I feel the tip of him teasing where he's already done what he said he would – made a mess of me – and despite already having come, arousal still trips through my veins, burning at every point where his skin slips against mine.
I'm open, wide open, so open and ready. The air smells like grass and sugar and the dusk sounds like crickets and carnivals and I want, want, want.
And he's pretty, so pretty, and he looks like my favorite kind of freedom, wild eyes and wild hair and wild breaths.
And then he's gone, rolling off to settle against the grass beside me. My head lolls, and I spy a sly smile, a chest rising and falling. "You wanted to ride me," he reminds me between almost-heavy breaths, and power surges through me.
He folds his hands behind his head. "This ride's on the house." The smirk that curls his mouth is faintly wicked, and I lift a knee to slide it across his body. The smirk vanishes as the back of my thigh brushes across where he's hard; he grits his teeth, and his hands come down to my hips. "Fuck."
"That's the idea," I murmur, rocking against him, feeling my wet slide against his hard. And it's my turn to make a mess of him.
His fingers flex and dig into my hipbones. His eyes slide from my chest to the place between my thighs. I let him watch as I slide down, and his mouth falls open slightly. I wait for words that don't come, and I relish the heady drug of control. The power of making a beautiful boy into a beautiful mess.
I can feel him trembling slightly against the skin of my inner thighs, and I wonder at the cause of that quiver. Arousal? Restraint? A slight swivel, and the muscles of his lower abdomen become even more visible, teeth clenching.
I swivel again, and his fingers tighten. I lean forward, tits in his face, and pluck his hands from my hips, pinning them against the flattened grass. "I want to see what you look like when you come," I breathe into his ear, rocking gently, feeling the length of him inside me, the soft skin of his balls against me. "I want to hear what noise you make." I straighten, and his hands turn, gripping the grass behind his head as if it's a bed sheet.
He slides deeper, and a soft grunt floats out on the night air. His eyes are on my breasts, which sway gently with the roll of my hips, and I can feel my own wild: hair, eyes, breaths, heartbeat.
I roll languidly atop him, a slow, lazy fuck in a summer field beneath a quilt of stars.
"I like this," I murmur, tracing the soaring bird on his shoulder.
One of his hands leaves the grass and a thumb brushes across my nipple. "I like this."
I moan, and I've never come twice in a row before, but I might here, now, behind the church in which I've received communion. Riding a boy whose name I don't know but whose eyes I do. My moan makes those eyes glimmer, and he returns his hands to the grass, gripping tightly and watching all the most heated parts of me: chest, sex, lips, eyes. His hips lift to meet mine, and I move from my slow roll to a harder rock, rubbing my clit against him and leaning back on my knees, my nipples pointing toward the sky as my breasts bounce with the rest of me.
I can feel him deep inside, and I feel debauched and sinful, fucking this boy beneath the sky, riding him with abandon, moaning and panting as we make a mess of each other.
"You gonna come like this?" he pants out, and I nod, closing my eyes and seeing in my mind's eye the picture we make.
Then his hands are back on my hips, and he's yanking me against him with every bounce, and the rhythm is perfect, and his dick is perfect, and he's perfect, and the thrill of a carnival ride has nothing, nothing on the absolute bliss that shoots through my body as I come around him.
He sucks in a breath, and then, "I'm gonna come…fuck, I'm coming."
And I can feel it, even through the barrier between us, and I use my last bit of strength to press down against him, taking him as deep inside as I can while he rides it out. Then I fold forward, pressing my sweaty torso to his, licking the summer salt from his skin, feeling his hot, damp breaths against my shoulder. I bite his neck before rolling off, stretching out beside him, already in love with the feel of the summer night on my bare skin.
"Jesus," he gasps, staring at the sky, one hand pressed to the space between his chest and his stomach.
And I stare at the back of the caravan that, in a few hours, will be packed up and headed out to some other nowhere town, taking its Ferris wheel and its cherry sno-cones and its beautiful, wild-haired boys with it. But I can feel the wild in my heart, and I know for the first time since I got home that I can make it through the summer.
I turn my head to the side and gaze at his profile, his closed eyes, his remarkably long eyelashes, his soaring ink.
And I wonder just looking at him if I might regret this tomorrow. But even if I do, oh, what a pretty regret he'll be.
. . .
I pluck at my skirt and shift on the wooden bench, feeling the delicious twinge of reminder of my wild-haired, wild-eyed carnival boy as I do so. My skin heats despite the air conditioning in the church, and I try to tamp down the memories of his pink tongue between my legs, his thighs sliding against mine, his hands on my breasts. I may be a shameless hussy, but there's no need to be a heathen. Especially when I'm sitting between my parents.
"Thank you," comes Pastor Weber's booming voice from the pulpit, and I force thoughts of my debauchery from my mind as I look up. "There are so very many things I'm thankful for, and the past six years I've spent here with all of you have bestowed so many blessings upon me and my family that I can't begin to list them all. Suffice to say, I will miss our church family very much, even as I know that God sends us where we are meant to be, and He has determined that my family and I are meant to move on."
I settle into the familiar rhythm of his voice, remembering when I was a child and I found it intimidating, as if just by virtue of being a man of God, Pastor Weber could read my mind. Now, I thank God that isn't the case.
"I will always hold this church close to my heart, as I will all of you. And now, I'd like to formally introduce my replacement. I know many of you had the wonderful opportunity to meet him during the interview process, and we owe our committee a great thanks for finding the perfect fit for our church. It's my pleasure to introduce Pastor Carlisle Cullen."
A blond, youngish man joins Pastor Weber at the front of the church, and when he faces the congregation full-on and smiles, the swoons from the church ladies are nearly audible. He looks less like he belongs in robes and more like he belongs in a calendar or on an underwear billboard. "Thank you, Pastor Weber. And thank you to the church – My family I feel very honored to be joining such a special community." He gestures toward the front pew. "I'd like to ask my family to come up so that I can introduce them as well."
A woman with hair the color of a latte stands. "This is my wife, Esme," the new pastor says, gesturing toward her.
A beautiful girl with blond hair and eyes the color of aquamarine. "And my daughter, Rosalie."
And suddenly, as the third person rises from the front pew, my heart is hammering in my chest. I know that hair. Those eyes. That mouth.
"And this is my son, Edward."
Oh, what a pretty regret, indeed.
. . .