This was my entry for The Secrets and Lies contest. Thanks to Elise de Sallier for choosing it as her judge's favorite! Her lovely judge's review of the story is posted on my profile. And Mina Rivera's fantastic reward banner can be found on my Facebook page.

Thanks to everyone involved with running the contest, those that read, those that wrote, and those that voted.

Cracking Cullen has been separated from the one-shot into two chapters and will be continued. I'm thinking within a few weeks, but I'll add more of an author's note on that at the end of chapter two. I'm both super nervous and super excited to share this story.

Thanks to sri ffn for prereading and all your time spent brainstorming with me, YourVixen for prereading and getting me when I'm being stubborn and encouraging me along, and dazzled eyes22 for pre-reading and betaing on this and being my sounding board countless times. My husband made me a banner that can be found on my Facebook page: Mylissa Denicks

Cracking Cullen: No one touches Cullen. They keep trying as if winning his affection is a game. No one gets a chance with him. At least, that's what they think.

- DISCLAIMER: The author does not own any publicly recognizable entities herein. No copyright infringement is intended.



Cracking Cullen



It's a blurry warmth in that place between consciousness and sleep. Lately, insomnia has been hounding me. I hold on to the abyss and try to drift back, but there's a pain that starts with a stiffness in my neck and moves up through the back of my head to my temples. There's a new-found tension as I turn my head to the side and light penetrates my eyelids. I wonder if I left my curtains open or if I failed to turn off the light.

Rolling my shoulders, I try to relax back into a Zen-like state. I shift around, trying to find a more comfortable position, but my hand meets skin that isn't mine. I freeze, trying to find the clarity to rewind my night, but the more awake I am, the stronger the pain in my head gets.

The body to my right rolls over, hand sliding across my waist, but I can tell by the breathing pattern against my arm that whoever it is, is not awake. With the most minuscule of movements, I run my fingers up my left side. My heart stops as I find not a single thread of clothing on me.

Oh, hell. What did I do last night?

I keep my eyes closed as a chill passes through me. Drinking has never been my thing. I don't know what I was thinking, but I do. I remember enough to know exactly why I decided alcohol was a good idea.

Bad decisions—I'm full of them. I used to strive to do the right thing, but this last year, I've lost sight of what the right thing even means. Last night, has me reaching a new extreme. I've had sex before—once. I was with Jake for six months before we reached that next level. Six months seemed like a good amount of time to make him wait. I thought it'd bring us closer, that I'd find that missing piece lacking from our relationship, but after that night, I broke up with Jake because sex was something I never wanted to do again … ever, yet here I am.

Mike Newton's house, I remember first—followed by the memory of Alice wanting me to come out. Newton's parties are never a good idea. When Jake stopped by with my things after months of holding my stuff hostage, he glared over his shoulder and said, "You're frigid anyway."

I decided Newton's party wasn't the worst thing I could do.

Frigid. The word called out my biggest fear. I'd tried to be a good girlfriend, but I could never get it right. Empty and useless summed up my attempt at a relationship with Jacob Black. I should have never let Jake get to me. I'd hurt him, and through his struggle with our breakup, he'd shown me just how bitter and angry he could be.

Drunk Bella is obviously as bad at decision making as Sober Bella. Newton's party, a dark room, and giggling are as far as I've gotten. Then, I get a flash of a game of pool with Tyler Crowley in the basement. Mike insisted the party be held down there while the lights upstairs stayed low so the neighbors didn't call the cops again.

I remember the feel of latex sliding through my hand as I helped roll it down. This could be worse. I'm not on birth control. At least, there's that. Maybe Drunk Bella isn't completely stupid.

I lose all traces of fear and regret as the memories hit: the conversations, newfound confidence, and blossoming feelings. The concept of giddy emotion had been foreign before but experiencing those emotions firsthand was out of this realm. My smile lifts and everything seems brighter.

I peek between my lashes, and as soon as my eyes adjust to the overhead light, I get a good look and immediately close them. I only looked for a fraction of a second, but the image is already ingrained—bronze hair across his forehead, his bare chest, and long eyelashes skimming the top of his cheeks. So many have tried to get where I am now—shamelessly tried and failed. I never tried, never even considered it. Yeah, I was with Jake for a while, but I still wouldn't have ever done what other girls have tried to get his attention. I sneak another peek at him because even though I've never tried to go after him, I've always seen the appeal.

My thoughts flash to Jessica and Irina last night with their skirts too short for the weather in Forks. Hypothermia is okay as long as you're sexy. Cullen gives no one the time of day. They were no exception, and yet I was.



Mike tried to usher everyone downstairs, but a few lagged behind—myself included as Alice and Rosalie went on without me. I wasn't going to walk down those stairs with any of my peers walking behind me with their excitement to get the party started.

Cullen moved to the living room and sat on the couch as if he hadn't heard where the party was. I smiled at his defiance and then rolled my eyes at the girls that followed him. Girls were always following him.

"Are these seats taken?" Irina asked and purred, pointing to his dark-wash jeans with one hand, while her other hand was about to disappear up the front of Jessica's black, pleated skirt.

He barely looked, just pulled the hood of his hoody over his head, and said, "Please, go away."

Jessica pouted her glossed lips. "Someday, you'll crack, Cullen."

"So you keep saying."

Irina's hand moved up Jessica's leg a little more. "We'll come find you later. You work on changing your mind, but if not, we can help you with that too."

I didn't listen to his response as I braved the steep basement steps, bracing myself on the splintering wooden banister as I went. The two girls approached the top of the steps just as I reached the bottom. Surrounded by concrete walls and flooring, I looked around for my only actual friend, but Alice was busy talking to people I didn't want to talk to. I kept looking around for a way to bide my time, bypassing card games and the drink selection. I looked just in time to witness Jessica and Irina's threesome offer being retried on Forks High quarterback, Riley Biers. He'd never turn them away. They wouldn't be going after Cullen again after all, or maybe they would. That was a disturbing thought.

Tyler Crowley pointed a pool cue in my direction. With a shrug of my shoulders, I accepted. Why not? Tyler was easy to be around, friendly but not overly so. The girl he was in love with was another story. The game was okay. I could have played all night and enjoyed myself, but catching one glare from Lauren Mallory, even though rumor had it that she ended it with Tyler to pursue a relationship with someone else, made sitting out the next round an easy decision. A game of pool with an okay guy wasn't worth the drama his ex would bring.

An arm around my shoulders had me recoiling. "How about a tour?" Mike offered. The smell of beer wafting off of him, as if he'd bathed in it.

"No, thanks," I said, while removing his arm and then holding it until his balance steadied.

"Suit yourself." Mike stumbled away from me and threw his arm around the next girl to walk by.

The basement was filled with people—way too many people. I leaned against a wall, shivering as the cold structure went through my thin T-shirt. I tried to create some warming friction by rubbing my hands against my arms and caught Emmett McCarty's attention. Being a successful wallflower means only making subtle movements. Even at being a wallflower, I'm a failure.

"Ms. Swan, I think I may have just what you need."

I laughed at the persona Emmett took on at parties. I held out my hand, and for the first time, accepted a drink mix from him. Maybe I was Frigid Bella before, but I could change that.

The heat from the shot I'd taken of Emmett's 'special elixir' was warming my chest and frazzling my brain as I stood there, wondering if I should find someone worth talking to or give in and follow Alice on her quest for the night.

Mike caught my gaze as I looked around. He gave me a wink and a head nod, offering me something. What? I didn't know. I shook my head, and his shoulders slumped. Before he could offer me a tour again, I decided to give myself one and steer clear of him. He'd tried to garner my attention from time to time, but luckily, some girls did like him, so he didn't keep his sights on me long.

The stairs were easier to walk up than down. My fear of being knocked down them from behind wasn't present as I went up. There were a few lamps lit throughout the house but mostly darkened rooms greeted me. Touring unoccupied areas wasn't boding well for the persona I was going for, even Cullen's former spot in the living room was empty.

I flicked on a hall light and kept on the tour I'd set out on. When I was done, I had every intention of resuming pool with Tyler or talking to Mike as if he were the friendly guy everyone else perceived him as. He probably wasn't as bad as I made him out to be, but being downstairs with so many people was overwhelming. As I walked down the hall, there was an opening with no door, just a cutout room with a TV playing. I peered around the open wall and found Edward Cullen sitting in the middle of a worn-out couch. The furniture, electronics, and décor screamed man cave and reminded me of my own house. Every room, except for my bedroom, screamed the same thing.

I looked at Cullen's profile, admired the fullness of his lower lip and the lines and curves that made up his face. It was no wonder girls threw themselves at him. He looked flawless.

Green eyes met mine when he caught me staring. He gave me a nod, and said, "Bella, hey."

I might have died right there just knowing he knew my name, but I had that shot on my side and a desire to prove to myself that I wasn't frigid. "Hey, Cullen. Hiding out?" I asked, taking a few steps toward him.

"I meant to go down there, but it's the same shit as school, and I don't feel like being annoyed right now." His gaze went from me to the TV and back to me again.

I looked at the commercial playing on the screen, watching it sounded like a much better time than the party. "There are a lot of annoying girls around here, but if you want to go down there, I could help you block their advances."

The corner of his mouth lifted. "Oh, yeah. How's that?"

"I don't know. What are they after tonight? Lap sitting? I can make it look like that seat's taken," I said, eyeing his lap and not believing the words coming out of my mouth, but it could work. They'd probably leave him alone if I was there, even if I had different intentions. I wasn't trying to seduce him. I don't think Frigid Bella could handle a seduction rejection. "You know … just so they leave you alone."

He lifted his hand off his thigh, and said, "… Or we could stay up here, and you could sit here anyway. You know … just in case someone comes up."

"Yeah?" I asked, taken aback. No one touches Cullen, and I'm not good with affection. Looking at him, though, I understood it: the desire to be touched by somebody.

"Yeah, sit here if you want." He leaned his head back on the cushions.

I took a step forward, but when I hesitated, he reached his hand out and helped me bridge the gap between us.



He shifts beside me. I hope he doesn't regret waking up with me. He kisses my shoulder, and then there's more stillness. Nothing about this feels like regret.

"Hmm, Cullen." My voice is raspy from lack of use.

"You feel okay?" he asks as he rests his palm against the side of my face with his thumb caressing my cheek.

We were both drinking. If either one of us had refrained, I don't know that I would have talked to him, and if I had, at some point, he might have told me to go away.

"Kind of achy. You?"

"Same," he says, squeezing his eyes shut and then blinking a few times. "I'll try to find us something." He stands up, fully naked and making no attempt to cover up, and walks to one of the two doors in the room. When he flips the light switch on, it's a bathroom, and I could really use one right now. I drag my eyes away from his naked form to an alarm clock on the bedside table. The digital, red numbers read that it's just past five o'clock in the morning. He closes the door, and I take a moment to look around the room. There are flower prints on the curtains, blankets, and framed wall art. I can't walk around naked like he did, but there's a small blanket hanging off the back of a chair in the corner, so I grab it and wrap it around myself like a towel. The quick action makes me light headed.

Cullen opens the door and comes back with a paper cup and a bottle of generic pain pills. "Two?" he asks as he hands me the cup.

As I nod, I train my eyes on the offered water and not his body.

"Do you need to leave or can we go back to sleep?" he asks and sits beside me before dropping two pills in my hand.

I swallow one pill at a time. My dad thinks I'm with Alice. I'm supposed to be with Alice, but he won't check with Alice's mom. "I'm good. Do you think we're okay to stay here?"

"Yeah," he says and lies back on the bed. "Mike's folks are gone all weekend. Come sleep."

"Okay." I finish my water, ask him to give me a minute, and head to the bathroom, pleading with my bladder to hold on the way.

As I gaze in the mirror, I look like a wreck, and I wonder how my appearance looks to him since he helped cause it. Normally, I wouldn't want anyone to see me like this, but maybe this isn't so bad. I smooth my hair down with water and run my fingers through it. Next, I try to clean up the smudges in my eyeliner. I didn't bring anything else to this party except my phone, wherever that is. I didn't bring anything to help me look more presentable. I wish I had.

My body feels heavy and the pain is radiating. I drink more water using another paper cup from the stack of them. I still look like a mess, and I don't feel good at all, but my smile is big because Cullen … Edward Cullen … with me. I'm embarrassing myself with these feelings, but it's still mixed with the excitement that I'm having them in the first place. Emmett might be onto something with those cures of his and that I apparently needed them.



"What's going on here?" Emmett asked, carrying a tray of shot glasses with green liquid sloshing around. His presence startled me, but I shouldn't have been surprised to see him since he hung out with Cullen all the time. The hall light that I'd left on illuminated Emmett's attire. He wore a white short-sleeved button-up and a tie like a professional working an event.

Cullen didn't make an attempt to acknowledge him, and if it weren't for the arm he wrapped around me after I sat on him, I'd say he wasn't acknowledging me, either. "Guard duty," I said. "The girls are relentless tonight. They could come find him at any time."

"Well, I'll be damned if I don't have just the cure for what ails you." He held up his tray; the color of the liquid looked chemical.

Cullen chuckled behind me and reached for a shot glass. I copied his action, and we both threw the shot back.

Poison. Pure toxin. I didn't know what it was, but it tasted awful—worse than the one I'd had before.

"You two look like you could use another," Emmett said, giving us another glass and then taking a shot of his own. "I'm glad you're guarding him because when I do, I have to take on his castoffs. There's only so much of me to go around."

"Don't even lie. Who exactly have you taken on?" Cullen asked as he set his empty glass on the tray.

"Well, someone has to let those rejected souls down easy. The things you say are just mean. Do you not understand how fragile these girl's egos are? You're causing permanent damage, man."

"Emmett," Cullen said. His arm around my waist moved, as he brought his hand down to squeeze my upper thigh. "Go away."

"You see, Swan. He's an ass. You can keep the guard dog, or guard cat, job because he's broken my heart one too many times. Any chicks trying to come around here, just hiss at them. I'd follow them up to see that."

"Em," Cullen said, a warning in his voice, but it didn't matter what Emmett was saying. I was caught up in the feeling elicited by the squeeze on my leg.

"Okay, you want one more of these before I go perform more miracles."

I didn't even think about it. I just reached forward and grabbed another glass, and they followed suit before we clanked all three together because why not? It was a party and getting sleepy drunk as I guarded Edward Cullen's lap sounded like a pretty good evening. Cuddled up with Edward Cullen, maybe I wasn't as frigid as I thought.



The room is dark when I open the door, so I feel my way back over to the corner and put the blanket where it was on the chair. Back under the covers, I try not to disturb him in case he's already asleep. I'm not sure how to lay, or how he'd like me to. There's spooning, holding, and arm laying. I settle on lying on my back but turning my face his way. Body language is important. I angle a leg toward him, but then turn it back because he can't see it and really, he's already in bed with me naked. Wait. I'm still naked, and he turned off the light while I was in the bathroom, so maybe he's not. I stop myself from getting up and getting dressed because he may not be. No matter what I do, I'm weird.

Bella, please don't be weird.

He rubs the length of my arm from my shoulder to my wrist and back again. "Good morning night." He laughs. "Sorry. That was dumb. I didn't know what to say."

I should probably touch him back in some way, but going about that isn't easy. Where do I touch? How do I? "Not dumb," I say, relieved he's feeling awkward in this moment too because we're in this together, for now anyway. "Good morning night." I laugh, too.

His hand stops moving at my wrist, so I bring my other hand over to cover the back of his and leave it there.


That feels okay … like I'm doing something right. I close my eyes, feeling less weird.



"I think it's the pheromones." My nose was in the crook of his neck.

"What is?" he asked as he intertwined the tips of our fingers.

"Why girls throw themselves at you?" I took a moment and just felt his fingers against mine. It was the pheromones. He had even me craving to be touched by him. "I mean you're hot and all, but it's not like you're the only hot guy around. Plus you've got that whole untouchable thing going on, so that's probably why they try so hard." I smelled his cheek because he was wearing some sort of cologne on his clothes. It was nice, but I just wanted to smell his skin. "Yeah, it's definitely this. You're like a siren. Girls pass you in the hall and then all they can think about is getting you in bed."

His fingers slid down further between mine, so we were fully holding hands. "Even you?"

I smelled him again because how did his skin smell like that? "Even me, and that's saying something because I'm not seducible." His chest rumbled against my shoulder with silent laughter. "And you see, this guarding you thing is working. No girls have bothered you, unless they're flashing you behind my back. Are they flashing you?"

He laughed out loud. "No. I haven't seen anyone but Emmett come up here." His hood was off and his hair was all mussed up. "But maybe. My phone's buzzed a few times. I usually get those kind of texts on the weekends."

I tipped my face upward and smelled his hair. "Well, this sucks because it's completely unlike me, but I'm probably going to be sending you those kinds of texts too, but on the weekdays. Definitely on the weekdays." Somehow even in my fuzzy haze, I knew how ridiculous I sounded, but the idea didn't sound as absurd as it should have.

"Is that right?"

Nodding, I said, "I'm not trying to crack you, though. I wouldn't do that."

He flipped our joined hands over and squeezed. "And why is that?"

I didn't look at our hands. I didn't like holding hands because it felt like bones and knuckles and sweaty palms. He moved his thumb over the back of my hand though, smoothly gliding back and forth. Of course, he was a perfect hand holder.

"Because everyone knows you don't want to. Trying to convince you is just wrong. I won't send you naked pictures, either. I shouldn't have said that."



I wake up to his fingers sliding back and forth across my stomach. The light penetrating my eyelids is softer than before, so I presume this is daylight coming through curtains and not ceiling light, illuminating the dark. The bed dips as he shifts more, and I'm still closing my eyes. I don't feel as bad as I did the first time I woke up with him, and I'm not as confused, but that still doesn't mean I know what the hell I'm doing, and I don't want to act odd or get something wrong.

His leg is against mine, his whole side is against me with so much skin on skin that the question of whether or not we're both still naked is cleared up. His caresses move upward between my breasts, but he doesn't touch them. He can if he wants. I guess he doesn't know that. I don't know how to tell him. I can't tell him anything as he doesn't know I'm awake yet.

As he traces my clavicle and kisses just above it, my smile creeps up without my permission, and I have to let go of my charade of still sleeping.

Last night, with the flirting, even when it got weird and my slips of the tongue went too far, we came back from it. I can do this.



"What if I want to?" His lower teeth pushed against his upper lip.

I wanted to feel them—both his lips and his teeth. "You want naked pictures?"

He shook his head. "I mean … send them if you want, but the cracking thing, don't think I'm always going to say no."

"Oh, I thought you must not like that. Should I stop guarding you?" I shifted to stand, but he held me still.

"No, you're right. I don't like it. I don't like being a game, but just … if you're not playing one … don't censor yourself or hold back because I've said no to other people."



I lean against the feel of his hand on my cheek, never before finding as much comfort in a touch as I'm finding right now and last night.

He leans forward with his perfect everything and kisses me with the softest lips, making my eyes close as I breathe him in and manage to kiss him back. He chuckles against my lips and kisses me again.

I'm not sure what's funny, but I smile, find my nerve, and kiss him this time. I only have a fraction of a worry that he won't kiss me back since I'm the one doing it. He has no hesitation in his kisses nor in his caresses. He's a natural at this touching thing, and I have to work at it. I blame my mom with her kiss-kiss to the air, not even near my face, but from the doorway every time she wished me goodnight or goodbye. It's been an adjustment living in Forks this last year and a half, but I think my dad, Charlie, and my closest friend here, Alice, took the hint pretty quick and quit trying to hug me. Jake was a whole different story. I was supposed to want him to touch me. I thought it would always be that way, and I had accepted it. Now, I don't know what's wrong with me. Before last night, I'd never even spoken to Edward Cullen, but his hands are giving me goosebumps, and his kisses are leaving me wanting more.

My palms are sweating, so I rub his torso with my knuckles. He starts kissing my neck and this breathy whimper sound leaves my throat. His chuckle vibrates against my skin, but the sound was mortifying, not funny. I want to be the girl that I was last night, who made noises freely and didn't have hesitancies and hang-ups over what she was doing wrong. I want to be the one who wanted to leave the light on and not the one who covers a body I've already shown him with a blanket.



I mimicked his thumb movements on my hand, rubbing mine on his. "So, if I said we should find a room or something, you'd say ..?"

He smiled. "Do you want to?"

"Only if you do." My heart raced. I could be that girl and be with him in all the ways I never wanted to be with anyone.

His eyelids fell, and it felt like the whole world stopped, freezing everyone but us in that moment as he said, "Okay."

We exchanged timid smiles as we walked down the hall. He walked a few paces ahead and looked into a few rooms before choosing one.

He held his hand out for me to enter the room first—the room I asked him to find us. When he closed the door, I made sure he locked it. Our movements were slow from nerves or drinking I didn't know. He reached for the light switch, but I stopped his hand. I wanted to see him. I couldn't stop looking at him.

Our faces brushed, his nose found my cheek, and his fingers found my chin. "I like your pheromones too," he said before he kissed me. As our lips moved, all sense of hesitancy and insecurity was lost.

I'd been kissed before by Jake and a few guys back in Phoenix. It was lips and puckering and pointless movements. I'd never been kissed with heated breaths and hips that seek to find and move against. We lost clothes like we had to, like they were in the way of us kissing the way that we were trying to. I sent a silent sorry to Alice as I got the condom that she told me to hold on to out of my pocket.

"Are you going to ditch me after if we do this?" I asked, but I opened the wrapper anyway.

"No. Are you going to ditch me?" He kissed my neck and found one of those feel-good spots that other people have, spots that I didn't have, but he found them anyway.

"I'm pretty sure I'm going to want to do this again in the morning. No ditching?"

"I like this plan," he said as our hands met, rolling the condom down as I stole feels of his skin just below the unroll of the latex.



Last night, I had amazing foresight, but I don't know how to progress what we're already doing into more. Last night, it was kissing and taking clothes off. Now, there's kissing, so much kissing, but our clothes are already off.

I look in his eyes, and he looks back, smiling before he presses his mouth to mine again. Moving my hands to his sides, I pull him closer, angling my body so we're more front to front than we are next to each other.

He lets out one of those breathy chuckles. "Yeah?"

The relief in him getting my drift makes me feel as if I could float. "Yeah."

He moves away, and I want to pull him back as I feel every single inch of distance as he reaches over to the floor and grabs his pants.

"Whose room is this anyway?" I ask as I try not to come off as desperate as I feel.

"I think Mike's grandma stays in here when she visits." He drops the pants back to the floor.

His answer gives me pause. I defiled a grandmother's bed. We defiled a grandmother's bed. My thoughts are running rampant with what a horrible person I am, but Cullen's busy opening a condom and setting the wrapper on the nightstand. His hands disappear under the blankets. I look away. The action feels personal. I should probably be doing something, but we're already naked in bed, and I'm still trying to be normal.

He's kissing on my neck again as he moves over top of me. My legs cooperate by moving out of the way, but I don't make a sound. It feels nice, but I'm nervous. I glance at the condom wrapper. Its contents are pressing against the most inner part of my thigh. My body's reacting, wanting to pull him closer, but my mind gets stuck on remembering that the one we used before wasn't mine.

Alice shoved it into my pocket to hold onto when I arrived last night. She had every intention of seducing Jasper Whitlock. Alice has been trying to get his attention for months. I don't want to assume that I ruined their night and what she'd hoped would come of it, but I might have, and I don't like that feeling. Edward carries his own. Maybe Jasper does too.

Edward catches me looking at the wrapper. "Is it the wrong brand or ..?"

"No, it's fine. Just … last night's wasn't mine. I was holding it for someone."

"I should probably feel bad for whoever, but I don't." Now my nipple is in his mouth.

I'm distracted—thoroughly and efficiently from the wrapper. I don't feel the latex anymore, but it's there. The energy is down there somewhere between my legs. It's there. I'm not sure how the hell I'm feeling it without him touching me, but the pulse is strong, like a super power or something.

His mouth moves to my other nipple with a swirl of his tongue followed by a flick. I'm just lying here—frigid and lifeless. He's about to be the only person I've had a recurring sexual experience with. It's not the time to be shy. I drag my nails up his back, liking the way his skin feels. I've heard guys talking about marks on their backs, but even as Cullen adds teeth to his ministrations on my chest, I can't bring myself to leave marks on his skin.

He moves up my body. I feel him position himself, but it's not this monumental entrance that I expect. It's this fluid moment of kissing and my body seeking that more feeling, but my mind forgets to be hyper-aware of when it happens. It's a natural shift of kissing to kissing and connecting as if my body knows how to do this. The same thing happened last night too, but that version of me didn't analyze a thing.

His slow movements speed up, and my own somehow follow. I don't know how. They just do. He kisses my mouth, adding suction to my lips and then teeth. I think he's trying to get my mouth open, but as much as I want that, I can't, not without brushing my teeth.

When I don't relent, his mouth moves back to my neck, and my hands move up the back of his. I do that shameless thing because I can't be in this position and not touch his hair a little, just at the nape of his neck. I expect it to feel sleek with how shiny it always looks, but it's soft. I only mean to touch just a bit, but my hands move up into the silky strands he lets no one touch … ever. Girls ask all the time. Some reach out and blatantly try. Maybe that's why he always wears that hoody.

His movements don't falter, so I keep touching his hair. He pushes one of his arms under the small of my back, letting more of his weight rest on me. Air is forced out of my lungs, and he's pressing on me in such a way that I can only take in shallow breaths. Breathing doesn't matter, not with whatever angle this is that feels better than anything I've ever felt before … ever.

"Damn … Cullen," I manage to say with the bit of oxygen I have.

He moves faster, and it's even better. The feeling is more intense, and my ability to breathe is a little less hindered now. Who knew he would be so good at this? Who am I kidding? Everyone knew he'd be good at this. People must have a radar for this sort of thing.

"Shit," he says, and stills. "Sorry."

"Why are you sorry?" I ask and push the hair off his forehead. I'm horrible. He doesn't let people touch his hair, and I'm here acting like I'm entitled to.

"You didn't come." He looks down at my body as he slips out. "I can try something else."

"It's okay. I don't … I've never. It was good. You feel good. Don't be sorry. I'm not."

His brows knit together. "Were you faking last night?"

My mouth opens, but I can't speak. Last night, I let loose in a way that I never do. All those good feelings were magnified in my lack of restraint, and as much as I wanted to be that girl this time, I didn't let myself go that far. "No, I didn't mean for you to think that I had. We were drinking, and I was extra expressive. I'm not really like that. Well, I don't know what I'm like because I don't really do this, but that was probably over the top."

His brow furrows further. "Last night, you wanted to though, right? You were really—"

"Aggressive," I say, pulling blankets around my body and tucking them under me so I'm cocooned. "I wanted to—both times. Did you? Isn't this what I was supposed to be guarding you from?"

His features relax. "You weren't guarding me from you." He kisses me and then walks to the bathroom, making no attempt to cover up.

I smile while he's gone, bringing my fingers up to my lips as if I could hold his kiss there. He's really sweet. The first thing Jake said after was to ask me what to do with the condom and then get annoyed when I had no idea. He was gone for a while as he figured it out, and I was left with a pit in my stomach after an event I couldn't take back. This is nothing like that. This feels good and right, and if he wants to see me after this, I really want that. If he doesn't, I can be cool about it. It's good to know how great being with someone can feel. It could have taken me years to try again, if the events of last night hadn't lead me to right here.

When Edward's back from the bathroom, I make the trip myself, taking the blanket with me again. I should be as confident as he is being naked in front of each other after all of the seeing and feeling we've already done, but I can't bring myself to go through with it.

Edward's dressed and on the phone when I get back into the room, so I grab my clothes and head back to the bathroom. He must be talking to his parents because he's talking about being home eventually and rolling his eyes.

When I'm dressed, he's sitting on the end of the bed, amongst the unmade blankets.

"Everything okay?" I ask and set the blanket I brought with me on the bed.

"Yeah," he says and pulls on my arm until I'm sitting beside him. "Do you want to get out of here?"

I don't know what he has in mind, but I nod anyway. He kisses me, trying to deepen it again, so I lean back. "If I had a toothbrush, I would kiss you better."

He kisses the side of my mouth, and says, "Grandmothers probably have stashes of stuff like that. I'll check."

Cullen's hoody is laying on the bed, so I touch it as I focus on the sounds of his search through the bathroom drawers and cupboards. My smile is so big it's starting to hurt my cheeks.

I spot my phone on the nightstand and grab it. There are seventeen missed messages, mostly from Alice, and one from Rose, all asking where I am in different ways. I send off a text to Alice, telling her I'm still at Mike's and my phone immediately rings.

"I'm okay," I say. "Are you okay? What happened with Jasper?"

"Absolutely nothing, and I'm great aside from not being able to get a hold of you. No one at Mike's seemed to know where you went, but then there was Emmett asking me to keep it on the down low that you were keeping girls away from Cullen. I'd like to hear what exactly this entailed because if you managed to get close to Cullen, this is going to be epic. I don't think you fully understand what this could mean."

I don't know what to tell her, especially not with him just a few feet away. I don't know what last night and this morning mean for Cullen and me going forward, but I know one thing I don't want is Alice's overwhelming interference. I'm no good at lying. My dad knows I was with Alice last night. That's all I told him, and it was my intent to spend the evening with her. It's not my fault her intent was to follow Victoria around all night since her boyfriend, James, is Jasper's neighbor. Victoria is too much and so is feigning friendships to get closer to a guy.

"Girls were being extra gross, so I offered to guard him. Don't start jumping to conclusions."

She groans. "Oh, I have plenty of conclusions. Admit it. He's hot. Everyone thinks so, even you can't be immune to that. If you cracked him, even the slightest bit, you're as good as royalty around here."

I squeeze the phone tighter, not wanting to lie to her, but she won't let this go. "Alice, stop! There was no cracking. I was just guarding him. Did you see Irina and Jessica with Riley?" At her sound of disgust, I say, "See, we can agree. He needed guarding, so stop it, please."

"Dammit," she says. "I was about to get excited. Why do you have to be like this? I thought we were ready to go through with getting you a new boyfriend. I was talking to Peter. Bella, if you'd just relax and live a little, I think he'd be perfect for you."

"Stop," I say, grabbing Cullen's hoody off the bed. I just want to feel it. I have no interest in Peter. "That's not going to happen. I didn't come to this party to find a boyfriend. I know you're trying to help, but can we just drop that."

She sighs. "I'm sorry, I just thought that's why you came out … because you were ready."

"More like because Jake pissed me off again. Anyway, where are you?"

"Heading toward Rosalie's. Should we swing back and get you?"

"No, I'm good."

"Okay, if you're sure, and Bella, don't worry about what Jake said. You guys just weren't compatible. We'll find you someone else when you're ready. I'll give you a break from my matchmaking."

Edward's standing in the doorway empty-handed when I end the call.

"Sorry, Alice is dramatic. Any luck in there?" I ask.

"Just tiny shampoo bottles and meds. Let's just go." He reaches toward me, and I think it's for my hand, but I've got his hoody, so I hand it to him instead.

After he puts it on and zips it up, I'm not ready to leave. He's changed so many of my perceptions from handholding to kissing to sex, but there's one more thing, one more thing that's for friendships as well as relationships that I have so far sucked at, but I want things with him despite the fear that I suck at them.

I take a step forward and wrap my arms around his neck. My arms are locked, but his just move lightly to my sides. I don't know what I was expecting, some monumental hug that shattered expectations, I guess. He still smells nice.

I kiss his cheek, and say, "Okay, now we can go."

I expect him to chuckle, but he doesn't.

The house is fairly clean and quiet. It's understandable why the party was relegated to the basement.

Edward's looking for something in the refrigerator when Emmett rounds the corner. "How are you two doin'? You feelin' it today? I might have just the thing—"

Edward shuts the fridge. Slamming it is a harsh word, but he closes it pretty hard. "Drop it, Em. And don't give me any of that shit again."

Emmett lifts both hands and backs away. I don't know why Cullen's mood has changed, but I keep my distance as we make our way to his car in the driveway.

"Are you okay?" I ask as we buckle our seatbelts.

He lifts the hood of his hoody. "Fine."

When he pulls out of the drive, he doesn't head toward town where the diner is, and it's the only place to eat around here. As we near my house, I think maybe we're going to shower, change, and get those toothbrushes. It makes sense. We're not really presentable for public audiences.

He pulls into my driveway. I look over to him to figure out what the plan is, but he's looking straight ahead, and I can't see his face because of his hood.

"I'll see you around," he says in a monotone voice.

I guess I misinterpreted what getting out of there meant, but this is more than that. I've never been needy, but I've never been good at emotions, either. He's already had me feeling more than I knew possible, showing me what heartbreak feels like is another new one. I don't say anything. I just get out and go in my house without looking back.



A/N: Thanks for reading! Let me know what you think.