Contest entry for the May to December Romance Contest

Title: The Man Next Door

Name: RobzBeanie
Rating: M
Beta(s): moosals
Summary: When Edward Cullen is released from prison, 18-year-old Bella becomes fascinated by her new next door neighbor.

Disclaimer: The author does not own any publicly recognizable characters herein. No copyright infringement is intended.

I hear the chatter the moment I sit down at my desk for my first period Calculus class. Edward Cullen is being released from the state prison in Walla Walla today, after 18 years on death row for the rape and murder of 16-year-old Bree Tanner. Despite the fact that DNA evidence now points to another man, some people in and around Forks still believe Edward is guilty. The case is dividing our tiny Washington town; it's the biggest thing to hit Forks since the murder itself.

At the time of his arrest, Edward Cullen was the town's golden boy, the son of a prominent surgeon and interior designer. He had recently graduated from Forks High School near the top of his class, making State in both basketball and track.

Bree Tanner's mutilated body was found one night in mid-July in the forest near the Sol Duc River, which ran through the back of the Cullens' property. After an anonymous caller called in a tip to 9-1-1, the police found the body and only one real shred of evidence: a footprint in Bree's blood.

With the Cullens' home the closest to where the body was found, Edward and his parents were interviewed by the police and their property was searched for potential evidence. Not only did the pair of Edward's Nikes that were found in their trash have blood on the soles, they also matched the footprint at the scene.

After the discovery, Edward admitted that he had found the body and called in the 9-1-1 report, but he swore he had nothing to do with the crime. The police didn't believe him, and neither did a jury nine months later, despite the Cullens being able to afford the best lawyers for their son.

Shortly after his conviction and death sentence, Edward's parents sold their large contemporary home and moved to Seattle. His father, Carlisle, went back to medical school to get a second specialty in forensics, while his mother, Esme, went to law school, with the sole aim of freeing her son.

The chatter is heating up when I enter the cafeteria a few hours later. Everyone is talking about it.

"Hey, Bella," Eric says as soon as I sit down at the lunch table, "Don't the Cullens live next door to you?"

"Uh, yeah, they do."

For as long as I can remember, Dr. and Mrs. Cullen have lived next door to my father and me. They're nice people, though they keep to themselves most of the time. They moved back to Forks a few years after the murder — into a much smaller middle class home — where they could keep in touch with the detectives who investigated the case. While working to clear her son, Mrs. Cullen took on several mostly pro-bono cases. Due to his son's conviction, patients were uncomfortable with Dr. Cullen, so he took a lesser paying job in the hospital's lab.

Someone at the table has today's newspaper, with Edward's old mug shot on the front page. I glance at it, and then do a double take. My God, he was beautiful as a teenager. How could anyone believe that someone so pretty could commit such a heinous crime?

Even the boys notice that Edward was good-looking. More than one makes the comment that someone that young and pretty probably became Bubba's bitch. I frown, hoping that's not the case.

After many years, Edward's parents' efforts got the attention of the Innocence Project, and they worked to go back over every piece of evidence in the case. When long-forgotten DNA evidence was discovered, they worked tirelessly to convince Clallam County to use today's advanced DNA testing to try to exonerate him — or confirm Edward's guilt.

As it turned out, every shred of DNA found on the body pointed to one man: James Hunter. He was already serving a life sentence without parole after pleading guilty to another rape and murder near Spokane. He'd been a nomad, a drifter who hitchhiked around the state, camping in various state parks.

Even faced with this new evidence, it still took months to convince the State to drop all charges against Edward Cullen.

And now the day has finally come for him to be released. The issue on everyone's mind — will his parents bring him back here to Forks?

When I get home from school, I pull my 1950s era Chevy truck into our driveway, parking on the right side, as I always do, to leave room for my father's police cruiser. Just as I move to open the door, I see him.

The Cullens' driveway is adjacent to ours. Besides the main entry on the front porch, their home has a side door, which opens onto a tiny two-foot by two-foot porch with steps down to the driveway. Sitting hunched over on this porch, a cigarette in his hand, is none other than Edward Cullen.

I recognize him right away from the unusual shade of reddish-brown, almost bronze hair, just like in the mug shot, though his hair is significantly shorter now than in the old photo. He's wearing faded jeans and a black leather jacket.

I open the door, keeping one eye on him as I step down from my truck. When I slam the heavy metal door closed, he looks up as if startled, staring straight at me.

And I'm powerless to keep from staring back. The last 18 years have done nothing to diminish Edward's looks. In fact, if it's possible, he looks even better now, more… manly.

Hitching my book bag up onto my shoulder, I cross the driveway, stopping in front of Edward. He gazes up at me, not speaking.

"Um, hi," I begin nervously. "I'm Bella. I, um, live here… um, next door." I point lamely toward my house.

He brings his cigarette to his lips and inhales deeply. Good lord, but he has pretty lips. He exhales a cloud of smoke, then looks up at me again. Still staring. Standing so close to him, I notice that his eyes are an unusual shade of blue-green.

"Your, um… Your mom won't let you smoke inside?" I guess. I can't stand cigarette smoke myself.

He just continues to stare at me, not speaking, and I start to feel really, really stupid just standing there looking down at him.

"Um, bye," I call stupidly, hurrying across both driveways to our front sidewalk.

"Hey, Dad," I ask later that night as we're sitting at the dinner table, "Were you on the police force when Edward Cullen was arrested?"

He sets his beer can down, stroking his moustache. "Yeah, I was, but I was just two months out of the police academy. I did patrols around town and had nothing to do with the homicide investigation. Why do you ask?"

"Just curious," I try to appear nonchalant. "I, um, I saw him today. When I got home from school."

"I saw him too," Dad says, "Outside smoking a cigarette. You should stay away from him, Bells. Even if he's truly innocent, there's no telling what 18 years in prison did to his mental state."

I nod for my father's sake, then pick up my glass and take a sip. I know he's just being protective, because he taught me not to judge people without good reason. Edward is innocent, so I have no intention of staying away from him… unless he tells me to.

Later, as I'm washing the dishes, I move the curtain aside and peek out the kitchen window, which faces the Cullens' house. He's still there, huddled in the same position on the porch.

The next morning, I try waving to Edward when I see him on the porch, but I get no response.

When I arrive home after school, three police cars are parked in the street, and my dad's is in the driveway. I also see a van parked in front of the Cullens' house, which I recognize as being one of the Seattle network affiliate TV stations. Several people are standing around on the Cullens' driveway.

I pull in next to my dad's cruiser, watching the scene with interest.

"Bells," my dad calls from the edge of their yard as soon as I step out of the truck, "Go in the house."

I frown at being ordered around like a child, but I turn toward the front porch, not wanting to make a scene.

"Miss!" I hear a female voice shout. "Miss!"

I turn around, noticing a woman with a microphone walking over to me. "Miss, how do you feel about living next door to Edward Cullen? Are you afraid?"

My brow furrows. "Why should I be afraid of an innocent man?"

"Bells, go inside," my dad yells again. Sighing, I walk up the steps and unlock the front door. I rush into the kitchen, not even stopping to take my jacket off, and peek out the window at the chaos. The window is old and it sticks or I'd totally try to open it so I can eavesdrop.

Of course Edward's release after 18 years is big news. It's not surprising that the Seattle TV stations are interested; it's probably more surprising that only one of them is here. It seems like a larger crowd of people than would've come in the van, so I wonder if some of them are newspaper reporters.

After 20 minutes or so, I get bored with watching nothing happening out there, so I move to the kitchen table and start doing homework. My dad finally comes inside after another couple of hours, looking exhausted.

"Did they leave?" I ask curiously.

"Yeah," he sighs, "After the Cullens agreed to an interview." My eyes widen — does that include Edward? "Do you want to start dinner?"

"Uh, yeah, sure." I'm already plotting though.

Later that night, I finish my homework upstairs until my dad goes to bed. Then, I sneak downstairs and turn the TV on, just in time for the late news. Sure enough, Edward's release is the top story. I turn the volume up as loud as I dare.

"Mr. and Mrs. Cullen," the interviewer begins, the camera on Edward's parents, "How does it feel to finally have your son home?"

"It's the happiest day of my life," Esme Cullen begins. "Happier even than the day Edward was born. We've worked for over 18 years to clear his name, and to finally be successful, it's just—"

She stops, getting too emotional, and Carlisle Cullen pats his wife's hand. "We're only sorry that we couldn't make this happen years ago."

"What do you have to say to the prosecutors and jurors who helped put your son behind bars?"

He sighs, removing his glasses to rub his eye. "I know the Lord teaches us to forgive, but I'd really like for anyone who thought Edward was capable of committing such a crime to experience even for one day what it's like to be locked up in a tiny cell surrounded by vicious criminals."

"And you, Edward? What do you think about all of this?"

The camera pans over to where Edward sits next to his mother; he's staring down at his lap. He has what looks like a stress ball in his right hand, while his left hand shakes uncontrollably. I see his Adam's apple move as he swallows, before he looks up at the camera. "I keep thinking I'm going to wake up in my cell and find out that all of this is a dream," he says quietly.

"It's real, Edward," his mother says passionately, her hand squeezing his forearm.

"What are your plans now that you're out of prison?"

He stares at the interviewer in what looks an awful lot like disbelief. "I think… right now I just need to get used to this world I've come home to."

"Any last thoughts from any of you?" she asks.

"I'd just like to let everyone in Forks know that there is no danger from Edward being home," his father begins. "Edward is innocent. The right man is already behind bars. It's time for all of us to move on and heal."

When the interview ends, I turn off the TV, creeping back upstairs to my room and crawling into bed. I can't get that image of Edward sitting there, shaking and looking so incredibly lost, out of my head.

When I leave for school the next day, Edward is in his usual place on the porch, smoking. I don't try to wave this time though. At school, the chatter is even louder than it was on Monday. "Did you guys see that interview with the Cullens?" Mike begins as we sit at the lunch table.

"What was up with him?" Eric asks. "He was all shaky and weird."

"Withdrawals," Jessica answers, taking a bite of her apple. She chews then looks up at us all staring at her. "What?" she shrugs. "My dad would shake like that when he first quit drinking a few years ago."

"Figures he'd be on drugs," Tyler scoffs.

"He was in prison, you dumbass!" his girlfriend, Lauren, says, smacking the back of his head.

"There are drugs in prison, babe," he insists.

"It's not drugs," I speak up before I can stop myself. "It was probably nicotine withdrawal. I've seen Edward outside a few times since he came home, and he's always smoking," I explain. "He'd been inside for a while before the interview, so he was probably just craving a cigarette."

"Have you talked to him?" Tyler asks eagerly.

"I… I introduced myself the first day… you know, as his next door neighbor. He's pretty quiet though." I almost chuckle at the understatement, given that the man hasn't said a word to me.

"I hope you keep your doors and windows locked," Lauren suggests.

"The evidence proved that Edward is innocent. He's not a threat to me or anybody else," I reply angrily. Why can't everyone see what I see?

Every single time I leave or arrive home for the rest of the week, Edward is sitting out on that porch smoking, rain or shine. I don't try to engage him again. And now it's Sunday afternoon, and I'm baking chocolate chip cookies for my best friend Angela's birthday tomorrow. I know it's more traditional to bake a cake, but cookies are much easier to take to school.

I'm cleaning up while the last pan cools, when I get the urge to lift the curtain and peek outside. Edward is sitting on the porch again. Or still — I'm not sure if he ever goes inside. My dad said he was out there late Thursday night when he put the trash out, too.

I start putting the cookies into a tin for Angela, then stop when I get an idea. I pull out a small plastic bag and add a half dozen cookies to it. Grabbing my coat, I step outside, marching over toward Edward.

He looks up at my arrival and I hold the bag out to him. "Um, I was making cookies for my friend. I thought you might like some."

He stares at me for a moment, before snatching the bag out of my hand. I stand watching as he pops the first cookie into his mouth whole. I mean, I know they're small, but… I take two or three bites to eat one.

My eyes widen as he does the same thing with the second cookie, and the third… until the entire bag is gone. I must look comical the way I'm staring down at him, wide-eyed.

"Thanks," he finally replies, in a voice that seems hoarse from lack of use.

"Uh, you're welcome." I remain standing there, fidgeting, as I wonder whether I should try to engage him or just go back inside.

"Been a long time since I've had a treat like this," he says quietly.

I'm too shocked to speak for a moment — Edward is actually keeping the conversation going?

"Didn't your mom make you a 'Welcome Home' cake or something?" I ask.

"She did," he replies with a nod. He pulls his pack of cigarettes out of his jacket pocket, lighting up another, and I watch him, oddly fascinated with the whole process.

He's sitting toward the far right side of the porch, not in the center. There's enough room for me to sit beside him, so I take the chance and do it. Edward looks over at me out of the corner of his eye, but he doesn't tell me to move.

"So your mom doesn't like you smoking in the house?" I try asking again, trying not to stare at his perfect profile.

"I can smoke out my bedroom window."

"You're always outside though."

"I like to be outside," he says quietly. "For a long time, I thought I'd never see the outside of the prison walls again. I don't want to be cooped up indoors."

I nod quietly; his explanation makes perfect sense to me. "So, um, what do you plan to do now?"

"Do?" he asks, turning to face me.

"Yeah, with your life," I reply. "Like… for a job and stuff."

"I have no fucking idea." He takes another drag on his cigarette, blowing the smoke out away from me, which I'm grateful for.

"What, um, what were you planning to do be-before you were arrested?" I cringe as soon as the words are out of my mouth, wondering if he doesn't want any reminders of what happened.

"I'd been accepted at U-Dub. Pre-med," he adds. "I planned to follow in my father's footsteps."

"You can still do that," I encourage him. He must've been very smart to be planning to go to medical school.

Edward whips his head around to face me, looking at me like I've got two heads. "Yeah, right, I'd be fucking 50 years old before I'm a real doctor." He shakes his head, tilting it back to stare at the sky.

Before I have time to overthink it, I reach over, placing my hand on Edward's arm. In a flash, he's up and off the porch, standing several feet away and facing me.

"S-sorry," I mumble. "I didn't mean to startle you."

It's my chance to be startled when the door suddenly opens behind me. "Edward, it's — Oh, hello, Bella."

I quickly stand up, brushing off my jeans as I turn to face Esme Cullen. "H-hi, Mrs. Cullen. Um, I was just… just bringing some of my fresh baked cookies for Edward."

Her eyes narrow as she gazes back at me. "That's very nice of you, dear. Edward, dinner is ready."

He lets out a breath, running his hand through his short hair. "Ok."

His mother disappears inside, leaving the door cracked, and I turn back to Edward. "Hope I didn't just make you spoil your dinner."

He gives me a crooked smile in return, tossing his cigarette away and leaving at least two feet between us as he walks back toward the porch. When the door closes behind him, I sigh, heading back to my own house — more fascinated with him than ever.

That was the first night I dreamed of Edward Cullen.

The following Friday night, the whole gang is at First Beach for Angela's 18th birthday party, just a few days late. It's only April so the weather is still cool, but someone from the nearby Quileute reservation has started a bonfire. I spend most of my time making s'mores over the fire for everyone until someone's older brother shows up with a keg and various types of liquor.

I'm handed a mixed drink and I shudder at the burn as it goes down. I really don't drink much, but tonight I need it. Ever since last Sunday, I can't stop thinking about Edward Cullen. I tell myself that I just want to… I don't know, comfort him? He seems like a lost puppy in a way, after 18 years behind bars.

I tried waving to him on Monday morning, in recognition of our conversation the previous day, but he didn't acknowledge me. I don't know why I expected him to.

I'm not a huge fan of beer, but when my first drink is empty, I accept the red plastic cup that Mike hands to me, before sitting down beside me.

"Um, so… would you like to go to prom with me?" he asks hesitantly.

I sigh. Mike is a good-looking enough guy, a star baseball player at Forks High. He has been asking me out since freshman year, and I've turned him down every single time. I've never attended any high school dances, though I've been asked before. None of the boys in my school do anything for me; never have, never will.

I imagine briefly what it would be like to attend my prom with Edward, to dance the night away in his arms.

And then I realize what a fucking idiot I am. That is never going to happen.

"Come on, Bella," Mike persists. "How about it?"

"Just as friends?" I ask, turning to face him.

His face falls, and I feel bad for a moment, but I can't help how I feel, or don't feel, about him. "Just as friends," he finally agrees.

Hours later, designated driver Tyler drives everyone home from the beach in his van. He drops me off in front of the house and I stumble my way toward the front door, thankful that my dad has a night shift tonight so I don't have to be extra quiet.

Out of habit, I glance over toward the Cullens' and see Edward outside in his usual spot, the cherry from his cigarette glowing in the darkness. It must be two in the morning — doesn't he ever sleep?

I put the key in the lock and turn, but it won't budge. I pull on the handle, twisting the key over and over, but nothing is happening. I'm drunk and tired and getting very frustrated. I may let out a few curse words under my breath.


I nearly jump out of my skin, spinning around so quickly I almost fall over. Edward Cullen is standing on my porch. On. My. Porch.

I open my mouth to speak, but can't form words.

"Is something wrong, Bella?" he repeats.

"I… I can't get the door open."

I swallow thickly as he takes two large steps toward me. We've never stood this close to each other before, and I'm shocked at just how tall he is.

"Step aside."

"Oh, right." I take one large step to my left, watching Edward as he places his hand on the doorknob, trying to turn it. He jiggles it a few times, then pulls the key out of the lock. He tries it again, and in one turn, the door swings open.

"How did you—?"

"You had the key in upside down." He stands out of the way, his arm extended as if to say "go on in."

I feel my face flaming hot… I must be really, really drunk. "Thank you," I whisper, beyond embarrassed. I hurry inside, mumbling, "Goodnight," to Edward before closing the door.

The next Friday, Angela and I drive to Port Angeles together after school to pick out prom dresses. She's going with her longtime boyfriend, Ben Cheney. I look through all of the racks before choosing a sleeveless, v-neck dress with a metallic bronze floral pattern. The color reminds me of Edward's hair, though I'd rather die than tell anyone that.

And once again, I find myself irrationally wishing that he could be my prom date instead of Mike. But I doubt Edward is harboring any schoolgirl fantasies, not that I'd dare ask him. I don't enjoy disappointment.

Light rain is falling when Angela drops me back at my truck in the high school parking lot. Minutes later, I pull into our driveway, early enough to still get dinner on the table for my father. I lift the gown in its long plastic bag, carrying it over my arm as I hop down from the truck. I don't have an umbrella with me so I rush onto the porch.

Unable to help myself, I glance toward the Cullens' house, seeing Edward watching me curiously. A small awning covers the porch, though his legs must still be getting wet as he sits there smoking. For the first time, something about his stare unnerves me, but I wave to him before opening the door.

He doesn't wave back. But then, he never does.

When Mike comes to pick me up for prom eight days later, I invite him inside to meet my father. My mother has lived in Phoenix since the divorce when I was two, and she's been begging for pictures from prom, but I refuse to let my dad take any of the two of us. Mike may be my prom date, but he's not my boyfriend. I don't need to memorialize this night for eternity.

As Mike leads me out to his old gray Honda, Edward is in his usual spot, his eyes trained on us. Mike holds the car door open, closing it behind me, then goes around to the driver's side.

"Dude, he is creepy," he says the moment he's closed the door. "Tyler said he was out there when he drove you home a couple weeks back, too."

"He doesn't like to be inside," I relay Edward's explanation from weeks ago. "Not after he was locked up for so long."

"Still, the way he's just… watching us." He shudders, backing out of the driveway.

Prom is held in the school gymnasium, which is decorated in an underwater theme. Mike and I hang out with our friends, drinking punch — which amazingly doesn't taste spiked. I dance a couple of faster dances with the entire group, resisting Mike's efforts to try to get me to dance one of the slower ones with him.

The after party is being held at Eric's house, since his parents are conveniently out of town for his older brother's college graduation. After the hangover I had two weeks ago, I'm really not interested in drinking with the gang, so I just stick to Pepsi.

Mike, on the other hand, is drinking. We're seated on one of the basement couches together, watching a chugging contest between two football players, when he tries to put his arm around me. I scoot away, gently removing it.

After a half hour of fending off Mike's advances, I've had enough. "Mike, we aren't dating. We came as friends, so cut it out."

"You're no fun, Bella," he whines.

I shake my head, huffing out a sigh. "I'm leaving."

I climb the stairs, squeezing through the throngs of people upstairs until I finally make it outside. I don't have a jacket with me, since I really hadn't planned on spending any time outside, but my house is only about three blocks from here.

I rarely wear heels of any kind, but my dress is pretty long, so I'm wearing the strappy black sandals with 3 ½" spike heels that I bought two years ago for my mom's wedding. Even still, I lift up the bottom hem of my dress, carrying it as I walk home.

I'm perhaps a block from my house when my left heel gets stuck in a crack in the sidewalk. I'm thrown wildly off balance, landing with a thud on my hands and knees. I remain on the ground, stunned, for several moments before I start taking inventory.

Both palms are skinned, the left one far worse than the right. My beautiful dress is torn near the bottom and as I lift it up, I see I've skinned my knees, too — like I'm eight years old instead of 18. Oh yeah, and the heel has broken off my shoe.

I angrily yank the broken part of my heel out of the crack then try to stand up, fighting back tears. I don't know what hurts worse — my pride, my knees or my hands. I take a few tentative steps, feeling ridiculous as I hobble with one heel and one flat shoe, but I really don't feel like going barefoot.

It's only one block, I tell myself as I hobble along. One block. I round the corner, breathing a sigh of relief at the sight of my house just up ahead. Just a short walk to go.

Finally, I reach the driveway, limping along the left side of my truck. Just as I turn onto the sidewalk leading to the porch, I hear footsteps moving quickly toward me. I panic for a moment, trying to get my keys out of my purse — along with my pepper spray.

"Jesus, Bella, what happened?"

At the sound of Edward's voice, I instantly calm down, turning around to face him. "I… I fell. I broke my heel."

"Why were you walking home alone? Why didn't your date drive you?" he asks.

"Um… we were at an after party and he got a bit… handsy, so I left," I finish with a shrug. "It was only three blocks."

Edward stares at me, his breaths seeming to come faster. "Did he hurt you?" he asks in a low, serious voice.

"What? No! No, he… he just kept trying to put his arm around me. Handsy, like I said."

Edward tears at his hair, still breathing quite heavily, then turns around so that his back is to me. I have no idea what his deal is — I'm fine — so I reach out, lightly touching his back. He spins around so quickly that he nearly knocks me over, given how unsteady on my feet I already am.

My brow furrows as I gaze back at him. "I'm fine, Edward," I assure him. "I mean, I broke my heel and tore my dress, but…" He doesn't speak, just stares at me, and I start to feel a little uncomfortable under his scrutiny.

"Um, I also scraped up my hands and knees, so… I'm gonna go inside and take care of that. Goodnight." I nod at him, then hobble my way toward the porch.

"Bella?" he calls softly, and I stop, turning around to face Edward. "You look beautiful tonight."

I smile shyly, feeling myself blushing, as I turn and climb the steps to the porch.

Inside, I remove my shoes, wondering if I should try to get them repaired or just toss them. I'm alone, since my dad has another night shift. He always has the night shift on prom night, thanks to the extra patrols.

I climb the stairs barefoot, then quickly get undressed. Once I'm in my pajamas, I head into the bathroom, carefully cleaning my scrapes, then wash the make-up off my face. I brush my teeth, then brush out my hair and climb into bed, still thinking about Edward and his odd reaction tonight.

And the fact that he called me "beautiful."

Ping!… Ping!

I moan, trying to figure out what the noise is that woke me up. As I sit up in bed, my alarm clock reads 2:42am.


This time I recognize it as the sound of something hitting glass. I roll out of bed and walk over to the window, unlocking it and pushing it up. I peek out, seeing Edward standing below my window, poised for another throw.

"What do you want?" I whisper-yell down to him.

"Can you come down?"

I sigh heavily. "Meet you at the front door."

I close and lock the window, then leave my room, thankful that my dad is still at work, or he'd be having a heart attack about now.

Downstairs, I open the front door, looking at Edward, who stands there fully dressed. His eyes drift down, and as I try to follow his line of sight, I realize my nipples are clearly visible through my sleeveless pajama top. I cross my arms over my breasts, then look up at him.

"I couldn't sleep."

I can't help it, my hands and knees hurt, and I'm tired and I'm cranky. "What do you want me to do about it?" I snark.

He tears at his hair, sighing. "Sorry… forget it."

He starts to turn away and I race to stop him. I nearly touch his back then remember what happened the last time I did that. "Wait!"

Slowly, he turns back around, gazing down at me with the saddest puppy dog eyes I have ever seen. I momentarily forget what I'd planned to say. Shaking myself out of my stupor, I ask, "What do you need, Edward?"

"I need to get out of here," he begs.

"And go where?"

"I don't care, anywhere, just… not here for a while."

"So… why do you need my help?" I ask, truly not understanding why he had to wake me up for this.

"I don't have a valid driver's license anymore," he shrugs. "I see your dad's not home."

"Uh, yeah, his shift ends at six. I'll, um… let me get my coat and some shoes." I close the front door, then lean my forehead against it. My heart is beating madly at the thought that Edward came to me when he needed help. That has to mean something, right?

I quickly find my Chucks and a coat, then grab my purse and keys. I lock the door behind me, walking over to my truck where Edward is already waiting. I unlock the passenger door for him, then go around to the driver's side.

"Nice truck," he says quietly once I've slammed the door.

"Are you being sarcastic?" I love my truck.

"No," he chuckles. "I do like it."

"It, um, used to belong to my dad's buddy from the rez. His son fixed it up for me when I turned 16."

The truck starts with a loud roar — I'd be totally caught if Dad were home — and I back slowly out of the driveway. I'm not really sure where to go, but as I drive down the 101 through the center of town, it comes to me. I make the turn onto LaPush Road, heading toward the Pacific Ocean. If Edward wants to be outside, what better place?

I think about driving to First Beach, but there may still be after prom parties there. Instead, I make the turn for Rialto Beach. Edward and I ride in silence the entire way, but it's not uncomfortable. The radio is tuned to the one station I can pick up, the volume turned down low.

I park near the trail head for the beach, then open my door. "Lock your door," I tell Edward. "I'm gonna leave my purse here."

I shove my keys into the pocket in my pajama pants, then shove my hands into my coat pockets. Maybe I should've brought gloves.

Edward lights up a cigarette almost the second he's out of the truck. At least he didn't ask if he could smoke inside it — or worse, just light up without asking.

We walk along the water's edge under the light of the almost full moon, just out of reach of the waves crashing against the sand. He suddenly stops, leaning his head back as he stares up at the unending sky.

I look around the beach, spotting a large rock up ahead. "Let's go sit down," I suggest quietly, touching his arm lightly.

Edward jumps back as if he's been burned and I want to kick myself. "I'm sorry," I apologize quickly, "I forget I shouldn't touch you."

He pulls at his hair with the hand not holding his cigarette, staring down at the sand, then finally lifts his head. "You can touch me, just… make sure I see you first."

"Ok," I nod. "I can do that."

I try not to think about what happened to him that he needs this. A part of me really doesn't want to have my suspicions confirmed.

He tosses the remains of his cigarette onto the sand and we walk over to the rock, sitting down beside each other, though about a foot of space separates us. I look over at Edward, seeing him watching me intently. For the first time, I notice a faint scar above his left eye. I slowly reach my hand out, making sure he sees what I'm doing, as I trace the scar with one finger.

"What happened?" I whisper.

"Fight," he replies with a shrug.

"Do you want to talk about it? Your time in prison, I mean?"

"Not particularly."

I nod, knowing I have to accept his answer. I turn back to stare out at the endless dark ocean, trying to think of something else we can talk about.

"Your parents have lived next door to us for as long as I can remember. They never gave up on you."

"I know."

"What about you?" I ask, turning toward him.

His brow furrows for a moment before he shakes his head. "I gave up a long time ago."

The thought makes me sad. "But you're out now, you're free."

"I'll never be free," he scoffs. "Everyone in this fucking town, every time I go out…" He shakes his head again, staring down at the sand, his hands in fists beside him on the rock.

"I didn't know you ever left the house," I reply before I can stop myself. Stupid, Bella.

"Mom made me start seeing a shrink twice a week."

"That's… good. Right?" Clearly, Edward still has some issues caused by his prison time.

He shrugs.

"Why couldn't you sleep tonight?"

"Can't sleep most nights." I turn and look at him then, really look at him, and I see the dark circles under his eyes, though even they can't mar his beauty.

"Maybe the… the shrink could give you something, sleeping pills or whatever."

"No drugs," he says sharply. "I don't want to feel like I've lost control."

"You're safe now, Edward," I assure him softly.

He whips his head around, staring at me. "Who said that's what I'm worried about?"

I hold my hands up in surrender. "No-no one, I just…" I shrug, not knowing what to say. He's too defensive, so I know I've hit a nerve. I don't want to make him uncomfortable with me though.

"Sorry," he whispers.

My hands are resting on my thighs, and I'm shocked when he picks up my left hand, bringing it closer to his body. Edward has never touched me before.

"Nasty scrape." He traces his index finger lightly over the torn skin on my palm.

"Yeah… it hurts, but it'll heal." I stop myself from adding, just like you will. I expect him to drop my hand, but he doesn't… he just keeps tracing his finger over it, almost mindlessly.

"Your dad doesn't like me."

"No, he — well, he doesn't not like you. Why do you think that?"

He shrugs, finally dropping my hand to light up another cigarette, blowing the smoke out toward the ocean. "He never tries to talk to me. No one does, besides you… and my parents, of course."

"And the shrink," I add quietly.

"And the shrink," he nods, taking a deep drag. "But Jenks is paid to talk to me."

We sit quietly for a few minutes while Edward smokes. I keep stealing glances at him, still wondering how he can make such a disgusting habit look hot.

"Is this… helping?" I ask gently. "Being out here?"

"Yeah… it is. Thank you," he adds, barely audible. He takes one last drag off his cigarette, then tosses the butt aside.

My eyes are drooping; it must be four in the morning. I exhale heavily then without thinking, lean my head on Edward's shoulder. I'm startled when his arm comes around me, hugging me to him. I look up at his face to see him looking at me, a soft smile on his face, and I know what I want to — no, have to — try.

An earthquake couldn't stop me from my mission.

I lean closer to Edward, until we're only inches apart. When he doesn't move away, I take that as a good sign and press my lips softly against his. I suck gently on his pouty bottom lip, startled when he increases the pressure, kissing me back.

I kiss him again, a little more firmly, drunk on the feeling of being this close to him. I pull back slightly to breathe and he leans forward, taking control of the kiss. His right hand comes up, tenderly tucking my long hair behind my ear, and I kiss him a little more eagerly. I part my lips slightly, inviting him in, but am startled when he jumps up off the rock, ending up several feet away from me.

Edward scrubs his hands over his face, staring down at his feet. "We should go back." Without waiting for a response from me, he starts walking back down the beach toward the path.

I scramble off the rock, trying to keep up with his long strides, but it's not easy walking on sand. When I reach my truck, he's already there waiting for me to unlock it. I quickly turn the key in the lock for him, then move to my own side.

The ride back to Forks is as silent as the drive to the beach — only this time, it does feel uncomfortable. I'm not sure what to say to Edward. I mean, he kissed me back, so I know at least some part of him must've wanted it. But now I'm not so sure; maybe he regrets it.

I park the truck in the driveway, grabbing my purse from the floorboards before locking the door. I'm stunned when Edward follows me up onto the porch, looking up at him questioningly as I stand in front of the door.

"It's late… just making sure you can get in ok."

Nodding, I place the key in the lock, pushing the door open. I step across the threshold, turning to say goodbye, but he's already halfway across the driveway.

I get up late the next morning, but it's Sunday and I don't have anywhere to be. As I make myself a sandwich for lunch, I lift the curtain, hoping to get a glimpse of Edward.

He's not there.

He's always there, so where could he be? Still sleeping, maybe? I force myself not to look as I work on my homework, but by the time I'm making dinner for my dad and myself, I can't take it anymore, so I sneak another peek.

Still no Edward.

I get this pinch in the pit of my stomach. I'm worried about him. I want to go knock on the Cullens' door and ask his parents if he's ok… but I can't do that. They'd think I'm insane.

When I leave for class on Monday morning, he's outside, and I breathe a sigh of relief, waving to him. He doesn't wave back. He's looking in my direction, but it's like he doesn't even see me. I briefly consider walking over to him, but I need to go over my notes for a test in Calculus… and I don't want to push him.

I give him the rest of the week to give me some sort of acknowledgement, but when he's still ignoring me on Friday afternoon, I march right up to him as soon as I've climbed out of my truck. I stand in front of Edward, looking down at him as he puffs on his cigarette.

I stand there for five minutes, getting more furious by the second when he doesn't even look up.

"We're back to this again, are we?" I ask angrily.

Now he looks up, staring at me with a cold expression. I put my hands on my hips as I glare down at him, but still he doesn't speak.

Staring me in the eye, he takes one last drag off his cancer stick, then tosses it aside. He stands up, turns around, and walks back into the house.

And I stand there stunned. And fuming.

Two weeks later, Edward and I still have not spoken a word to each other. I try not to look for him, but I can't help myself. I remember that cold look on his face, and I'm torn between being furious and wanting to cry. How did he get under my skin so quickly?

I let my dad talk me into having lunch at the diner with him on Saturday afternoon, before his evening shift. He wants to discuss my upcoming graduation, with my mom and her husband flying in, and whether or not I want a party.

A party!

I politely decline. I'm not in a party kind of mood.

"Everything ok with you, Bells?"

Shit, he would pick now to become observant. "Fine," I shrug, trying to play at nonchalance.

"You've been acting a bit… off for the last three weeks. Something happen at your prom?"

A perfect out. "Uh… Mike and I had a fight, and I walked home. I broke my heel and tore my dress."

"What did you fight about?" He sounds like a cop doing an investigation.

"Just… I was ready to leave and he wasn't. You know, no big deal." I shrug again.

"You'd tell me if it was more, right?"

"Sure I would, Dad," I reply with my best fake smile.

After we've finished eating, we walk outside and my eyes are immediately drawn to a flash of bronze across the street. Edward is here, downtown — and he's talking to none other than Tanya Damon. My jealousy flares white hot.

Tanya has been married three times — divorced twice, and now widowed after her much older husband, Garrett Damon, died of a massive heart attack last year. She's pretty much looked down on as a gold-digging whore by the rest of Forks. What on earth would she want with Edward?

And then I remember something my dad mentioned in passing one day, that Edward is due $50,000 per year as compensation for his false conviction — that's $900,000! I want to run over there and warn him to get the hell away from her, but I know it's not my place. And my dad is right here.

"Bells! What are you looking at? Come on, get in the car."

I tear my eyes away from Edward, reluctantly moving to get in the cruiser.

At 4pm, my dad leaves for his shift. I peek out the kitchen window, and Edward isn't on the porch. Undaunted, I head outside, walking back toward the Cullens' garage to see if his parents are home. Both cars seem to be missing, so I come around to their front door and ring the doorbell.

A minute passes and no one answers, so I try again. After another minute, I'm just about to leave, assuming that no one is home, when the door opens.

Edward is standing in front of me in a tight gray t-shirt, dark wash jeans and bare feet, and I realize I've never actually seen him without his black leather jacket on before. His body is something to behold.

He doesn't speak, but he's opened the door wide enough that I can squeeze through. So I do, barely brushing his arm as I step inside.

He closes the door, standing with his back leaning against it as he watches me carefully.

"Why were you talking to Tanya Damon today?" I blurt out. "You've spent the last three weeks ignoring me, but you can talk to her?"

Edward stares back at me through narrowed eyes before licking his lips. "What's wrong with Tanya?"

"She's a fucking gold digger!" I shout. "She got a little bit of money from her two divorces, then married some old guy and collected half his estate when he dropped dead of a heart attack two years later."

I cross my arms over my chest, trying to keep myself from going to shake some sense into him.

"Tanya and I dated for a year in high school."

My eyes widen and I'm struck dumb by that piece of news. Tanya and Edward?

"We were… catching up," he adds with a shrug.

"Why'd you break up?" I ask curiously. "Because of your arrest?"

He shakes his head. "Because she cheated on me. I was downtown for my shrink appointment and she spotted me coming out of the building."

"Why have you been ignoring me?" I whisper, my bottom lip quivering.

He sighs, running his hand through his hair, which doesn't seem to have been cut since he came back to Forks. "I'm no good for you, Bella."

"That isn't your decision!" I shout.

"Please, just… let me do the right thing," he begs.

"No!" I stalk across the floor until I'm standing just a foot away from Edward. I feel pathetically small next to him — not exactly helpful when I'm trying to seem tough, and adult, and intimidating.

"Do you want Tanya?" I ask in a small voice.

"What? No, that ship sailed a long time ago."

"Do you want me?"

"Bella," he sighs, closing his eyes and pinching the bridge of his nose. And I've got my answer.

I take another step closer, waiting for Edward to open his eyes before I pounce on him. When he finally does, I stand on my tiptoes, bring my arms around his neck, and crash my lips to his.

In a flash, he spins us around, pressing me against the door with his long lean body. He kisses me hungrily, his hands tangling in my hair. I kiss him back just as eagerly, my lips parting when I feel his tongue begging for entry.

I feel his hands underneath my ass, and then he's lifting me off the floor, pinning me to the door with his hips. I wind my legs around his waist, pulling and tugging at his hair. When I feel his hard-on, I whimper at the knowledge that I can affect a grown man this way.

A man that I want, more than anything else in the entire world right now.

Suddenly he lets me go, pushing back, his breaths coming in near pants as he stares down at me. No! No, no, no!

"Don't you dare try to deny this," I growl.

He shakes his head. "I don't have the strength to stay away from you anymore."

"Then don't," I reply boldly.

"I have no idea when my parents will be back, so… we should take this somewhere more private."

A slow smile spreads across my face as I register his words. I move quickly to the staircase, not even waiting for Edward. At the top, I have to stop and wait for him to show me the way. I follow him into his bedroom, turning to watch as he closes and locks the door behind us.

And then I start to get nervous. I have virtually no experience with guys, beyond Spin the Bottle. Acting with a confidence I don't feel, I launch myself at Edward. He catches me, lifting me up as his lips crash into mine.

And suddenly we're moving. He deposits me on the bed, crawling over me before kissing me again, his hands pawing at me.

"Fuck, you're so soft," he moans.

His hands grab the bottom of my shirt, and then he begins lifting up, ever so slowly. I raise my arms, letting him pull my shirt off. My breathing picks up as Edward then reaches underneath me, unsnapping my bra and pulling the straps down my arms. I've never been bare in front of a man before, and I can't stop the worry that he won't like what he sees. But then I remember that he hasn't seen any woman in 18 years.

He sits up, tugging his t-shirt off, and I stare unabashedly at Edward's bare torso. Clearly, he spent many of those 18 years working out.

Kneeling between my legs, he begins undoing the button and zipper on my jeans. I lift my hips without him even asking, breathing heavily as he tugs my jeans and panties off, then stares at my naked body.

"Gorgeous," Edward whispers. He lays himself out over me, kissing me until I feel dizzy with want, while I run my hands up and down his muscular back. Finally he breaks away from my mouth and begins trailing kisses down my neck until he reaches my breasts. I cry out when he sucks one nipple into his mouth, swirling his tongue, while he massages the other one with his hand.

Still suckling my breasts, he brings one hand down between my legs, pressing into me with first one finger and then another. I try not to gasp at the foreign feeling. He strokes in and out and I feel the way his fingers slide along my slick walls. His thumb circles my clit, and I've never felt anything like this before, so many different sensations. In no time, I shatter into a million pieces, crying out nonsensical words.

"Fuck, I can't wait another minute to have you," Edward growls, sitting back as he starts undoing his own jeans. "Please tell me you're on birth control."

"I-I'm on the pill," I confirm, glad that my doctor prescribed the pill two years ago to help with heavy periods. Any condoms in Edward's bedside table probably expired nearly two decades ago.

My eyes widen when I get my first look at Edward's hard cock. He crawls back over my body, kissing me thoroughly.

"Every time I fall asleep, I dream about all the different ways I want to have you," he whispers. I feel the head of his cock pressing against my entrance, and then suddenly he pushes inside in one strong thrust.

I gasp at the intrusion, clinging tightly to his shoulders.

"Fuck! Bella, why didn't you tell me?" He stares into my eyes and I almost think I see a hint of betrayal.

I shake my head, needing him to do… something… anything. "Just go… move," I plead. And he does, pulling back out then pushing in again just as hard and fast as the first time.

I close my eyes, which are stinging from the pain, as he works up to a steady pace, breathing heavily in my ear. I don't know the exact moment, but at some point, the pain turns to pleasure, and I begin to understand what all the fuss is about sex.

"Not… gonna… last," he pants, and I stroke his hair, letting him know that it's ok. I never expected to come my first time; all the girls at school have said that never happens.

His thrusts start to become erratic and I think he might be very close to coming undone. I lean forward, sucking gently on his neck, and he shatters in my arms, cursing and shouting as he comes deep inside me.

I'm spent when he pulls out, rolling us onto our sides and hugging me close. Edward strokes his hand through my hair again and again, until I succumb to unconsciousness.

When I wake up, Edward's warm body is no longer next to me. I lift my head, easily spotting him standing in front of the open window, smoking. He's put his jeans back on, but he's still shirtless.

I look around for my clothes, but I spot Edward's t-shirt on the floor first, so I throw that over my head, then climb out of bed. I forego panties since I have no idea where they are.

I walk up to him, making sure he sees me before wrapping an arm around his waist. I notice another nasty-looking faded scar near his other side, just above the waistband of his jeans. My eyes widen when I realize it looks like a knife wound.

"Another fight?" I ask quietly, brushing one finger over the scar.


"Did you… get in a lot of those?"

Edward shrugs, blowing a cloud of smoke out the window. "Not in the last 15 years or so."

"The scar is that old?"

He nods, bringing his cigarette to his mouth.

I lean forward, kissing his chest. When he doesn't stop me, I place soft kisses in a trail until I've reached his left nipple. I suck lightly on it, and he hisses.

"Don't, Bella."

"Why not?"

He tosses his cigarette out the window then turns to me. "This… this was a bad idea. You were a virgin, for God's sake."

"I know what I'm doing. I'm not a kid," I protest.

He shakes his head. "I was a fucking idiot for giving in to you. This," he motions between us, "Can't go anywhere."

"Don't say that!" Now that I've had a taste of Edward, I am not going to give up.

"Bella, your dad is never going to approve of me for you." He shakes his head sadly.

"Tough shit. I'm 18 years old, so he doesn't get to decide whom I do or do not date."

"That doesn't matter… he's never going to allow it, and we can't keep this from him forever."

"We don't have to keep it from him forever, just… another two and a half months," I answer with a shrug.

Edward's brow furrows. "I don't understand."

"My high school graduation is a week from now, and in August, I'm starting college at the University of Arizona, not that far from where my mom lives in Phoenix. You can come with me."

"Are you insane?!" he shouts, moving away from the window to pace across the room. "I can't just move to Arizona…"

"You were completely exonerated, right? You're not on parole, so there should be no reason why you can't leave town, or leave the state."

"Bella, where the hell am I supposed to live? What the fuck am I supposed to do for a job? I've never been to college, I'm not trained in fucking anything!"

"Didn't you do any kind of work in prison? Make license plates or train service dogs or something?"

He barks out a laugh. "I was on death row, Bella. They didn't let us do shit like that."

"Ok, well… you… my dad said you have a lot of money coming from the State, for the false conviction. You can live off that until you're ready to go to college or some sort of trade school… whatever you want to do."

Edward stares at me, but he's no longer arguing, so I wonder if I'm getting through to him.

"Bella, baby, I'm no good for you," he says sadly. "I'm fucked up in the head, not to mention twice your age! I will be 40 by the time you graduate from college. Do you really want to tie yourself to someone like me?"

"I don't care how old you are," I reply stubbornly. He's still fucking hot.

Edward stalks over to where I remain standing by the window, grasping my face gently in his hands.

"I'm fucked up. I have no idea if I'll ever be normal, if I'll ever be able to work a nine to five job indoors or around other people — like a normal person."

"I don't care, Edward," I repeat slowly. "None of that matters to me."

He stares into my eyes, looking for what I don't know — honesty, sincerity, the fact that I'm not batshit crazy myself for wanting him.

"I never expected to find anyone who could bring me back to life," he whispers, dropping his hands to my waist. "I never expected to find someone like you, someone who could want me after…"

"I do want you, Edward. I'll always want you."

He lets out a shaky breath. "Arizona, huh?"

I nod. "In Tucson. It's sunny there, not so wet and cold like Forks. You could stay outside all the time as long as you can stand the heat."

He smiles, leaning in to place a soft kiss on my lips. "It sounds nice," he whispers, kissing me again.

"You could… you could start over, in a place where no one knows you, no one judges you."

"All I need is you," he replies, shaking his head. He then leans his forehead against mine, pulling me close. "Can I have you?"

"You've got me," I plead.

"Can I have you now?" he asks, pressing his erection into my lower stomach to make his point.

"Yes," I whisper, though I'm honestly still a little sore from the first time. Edward unbuttons his jeans, pulling his cock out of the opening as he lifts me up, sliding himself inside, making us one.

Making us whole.

A/N: Those of you who read the contest entry can see that I left the "four years later" part off. I wrote that because I had no intention of continuing this and didn't want everyone asking me to. But my brain keeps seeing more scenes from this when I should be writing Grad Night, so yeah…

The premise comes from the TV show Rectify on the Sundance Channel, but not the plot at all. I'd held on to the plot bunny for over a year waiting for an appropriate contest.

EDIT: (May 3) I've prewritten almost to the end (about to start Chapter 33) and regular updates will begin Tuesday, May 5. While Edward will never in his own words go into detail about his time in prison, things will happen that will make it fairly obvious. If that may trigger you, please don't read.