SMeyer owns all things Twilight. We only play around with the characters.

Nic does own a nifty new cell phone and a five pack of Bic lighters—I'm always losing those damn things.

Dawn owns a 14-month-old cell phone and a half-used package of Aquafina chapsticks—can never go without it!

A bit of back-step, but there are things here you couldn't see in EPOV, and a TON of new stuff ;) A/N at the end. Enjoy!



A wind has blown the rain away and blown the sky away and all the leaves away, and the trees stand. I think, I too, have known autumn too long. –
e. e. cummings


What am I doing?

For the twentieth time, I repeated the same question to myself. I felt mopey as I curled further under the blanket and settled myself deeper into the couch. A scary movie blared from our television, the screams and chainsaw a macabre soundtrack to my morose thoughts.

After finding out from Alice that Edward was in a frat, I had shamefully decided to skip the party. My convoluted thinking at the time was that if Edward was still interested in talking to me after my absence, I could come up with some lame excuse later. However, I wasn't happy with my plan and had ended up spending my Saturday afternoon sulking around my house, talking myself out of texting Edward nearly a dozen times.

Playing the coward was not something I liked to do, and I was terribly upset with myself for how I was behaving.

To try and justify my decision, I considered whether or not my first impressions of him were wrong. I mean, he was a frat boy, and I'd had nothing but bad dealings with them. Specifically, James. His raunchy attitude was more than enough to cause me to turn my nose up at the whole lot of them.

But… was that fair?

Honestly, I would hate to write Edward off over an assumption: that he was like all the rest, end of story. That was judgmental, and I wasn't that type of person, either. Plus, he had seemed so nice…

With a deep sigh, I re-situated myself on the couch and turned my attention back to the scary movie. The party was in just a few hours, and I still hadn't completely made up my mind as to what I was going to do.

Just then, Alice sailed through the living room, hands full of shopping bags and what smelled like Chinese food.

"Bella, why are you still in your pajamas? And your hair looks awful… shouldn't you have already been out of the shower?" she asked, shooting a purposeful glance toward the clock above the mantle.

"I'm not going," I mumbled, keeping my eyes fixed on the movie.

"What do you mean, you aren't going? Why?"

"Alice," I groaned. "You know that isn't my type of scene. I wouldn't be comfortable."

"Grow up," she growled. She set the bags down on the coffee table and sat down next to me. "You like him, right? No, don't look at me that way. Just answer the question."

"I think so…"

"Where has my best friend gone? You're acting like the Cowardly Lion; do I need to go ask the Wizard for some courage for you? And, come on… you do too like him. Weren't you the one going on and on about how nice and sweet and cute he was?" she mocked, placing a hand over her heart and fluttering her eyelashes at me.

"Shut up, ass." I said as I cracked a smile. Happy little dork could always make me smile. Sighing, I began to answer her questions. "Yeah, but that was befo—"

"Uh uh, none of that. You said you thought he was different, so what's the problem with seeing if you were right?" I started to interrupt, but she quickly held her hand over my mouth to quiet me. "Shush, I'm talking here. So, you go to this party tonight, right? What's the worst that can happen? You see him around his friends, and then you can decide for yourself if you were right to want to stop talking to him or not. Doesn't seem that bad to me."

Irritated that she still had her hand over my mouth, I licked her palm.

"Ew, gross. Brat."

"You asked for it," I said, laughing. "I guess you're right. I suppose it would be a good way to 'see him in action'."

"Of course I'm right. Now, go get dressed, please. You look worse than that monster in the movie," she nodded toward the television.

Laughing, I stood and quickly leaned down to muss her hair before taking off toward my room.

"Brat," she called after me, again.

As I worked shampoo into my hair, I thought about what Alice had said. I had thought Edward seemed different. Okay, he was in a frat… so what? Granted, that wasn't really a good thing—not in my eyes at least. However, Alice had a good point: by going to the party, I could observe him around other people, see how he acted around his friends and if it was any different than the way he was around me. That should be enough to at least prove or disprove my thoughts of his character. If I noticed anything I didn't like, well… I at least could say I'd tried, and hadn't chickened out.

My thoughts continued to wander as I got out of the shower. Deciding to 'test the waters' I grabbed my phone, figuring that I could just use the excuse of needing directions to contact him. I sent off a playful message, wanting to see his response, and threw my phone down and began to straighten my hair. I'd barely gotten through one small section when my phone buzzed. I picked it up, shocked to see that he had responded so quickly.

Sexy and gorgeous? He thinks that?

Checking my reflection in the mirror, I was unsurprised to see that I was blushing. That seemed to be happening way too often lately. Bolstered by both the talk with Alice and Edward's compliments, I sent another text, ending it with my own teasing nickname.

Worries somewhat abated for the time being, I finished my hair and makeup before changing into my costume. I was just zipping up my boots when I heard a knock at the front door.

"Bella," Alice called, "can you get that? I'm not ready."

I grabbed my hat and placed it on my head before opening the door. Jasper was on our porch, decked out in a baseball get up.

"Nice," I teased, letting out a wolf whistle. "You looking to round some bases tonight?"

"A gentleman never tells," he drawled, languid and smooth.

"Whatever," I laughed, rolling my eyes. "Come on in, Alice isn't ready yet."

I led him to the couch before grabbing some of the Chinese food Alice had brought home. Jasper wasn't hungry, but told me I should eat if I were going to be drinking. We chatted about nothing in particular while we waited for Alice. Finally, fifteen minutes later, she breezed into the living room, holding up my red mary janes. "Hey, you said I can borrow these, that sti– oh, hi, Jazz."

It was funny the way Jasper's eyes darted up and down Alice's frame as a slow smile spread over his face. "Hello, Miss Alice, you look nice."

Yep, he definitely wants to round some bases.

"Thanks," she grinned. I grabbed my purse from the coffee table before we headed out to Jasper's SUV and set off toward the party.

~*~

As soon as we arrived at the house, my eyes immediately sought out Edward. However, when I found him standing in the middle of a large group of mostly girls, my stomach dropped. I watched them flirt with him, batting their eyes, body language suggestive, and my gut twisted violently.

I was surprised by my reaction, and had just started to turn toward Alice to tell her we should leave when a motion out of the corner of my eye caught my attention.

It was Edward.

Transfixed, momentarily forgetting my distress, I watched him as he politely and good-naturedly shrugged out of a short, pretty brunette's half-hug/half strangle-hold. Even from where I was standing, his nice smile spoke of his disinterest.

In my short dating history, I'd been blown off a time or ten by guys. I'd been rudely ignored, and even received some once-overs that made me feel like less than I was. However, Edward wasn't being rude about it, and once again I was struck by how nice he seemed to be. I watched as he made his way over to our group, graciously greeting various people that spoke to him

The girl looked after him longingly, a slightly confused expression still on her face; I wondered briefly what that was about. While Edward continued to move in our direction, I covertly whispered a last request for Alice not to completely abandon me before I turned to face him. Not wanting to show my nerves, I turned to him with a smile… and then I finally noticed his costume.

A snug tan colored tee shirt, dog tags, and desert camouflage cargo pants with a pair of tightly laced boots. My heart gave a funny little flutter.

He was dressed as a Marine.

Really, who can resist a man in uniform? It's, like… unstoppable sex.

Blushing at my thoughts, I tore my gaze away from his arms and looked back up to his smirking face.

"Hi," he greeted me, that damnable smirk morphing into a cute grin.

Behind him, a girl screeched as she threw herself at her friends, drink sloshing over the rim of her cup and down her arm. Frat parties, I thought. Great. Not wanting to let my dislike of this scene get to me and still encouraged by the talk with Alice, I shook the negativity away and turned my attention back to Edward. "Hi."

Well, that was anticlimactic.

"I'm glad you found the place okay," he said, stare still locked on me. He hadn't even spoken to the rest of our group.

"Oh! Well Jazz was able to help out, since he was pretty familiar with the route…" I trailed off, nodding to Jasper next to me.

Jasper took a step forward, reaching out to shake Edward's hand. "Hey, man. I extended your invite to these ladies, but it seems you beat me to the punch."

"I'm very happy you all could make it." Instead of looking at Jasper as he spoke, Edward's gaze flickered back to mine, holding me captive.

Giddiness flooded through me, and the obvious way he spoke while singling me out triggered one of my easy blushes. I introduced Alice, and then I'd met his brother, Emmett, and his girlfriend Rosalie. I couldn't quite place them, but knew I'd seen the two of them before. They seemed nice, friendly at least, and Emmett's pirate jokes were silly and put me at ease.

Once his brother had wowed us with his… ah, wit, we followed Edward into the kitchen, where a few kegs, some large coolers and mountains of booze were laid out. If not for the copious amounts of greek-types, I had a feeling that this would be a very comfortable place to hang out; I wondered what it would look like on a normal day.

Almost immediately, Emmett interrupted us and quickly pulled Edward away after a joke about 'hotties' that made me laugh and shoot a wink in Edward's direction when he had to leave. As we stood around the kitchen, I couldn't help but notice all the looks Alice and I were getting from the assembled partiers crowded around the kegs. After Jasper had gotten our drinks, Alice and I made our way back to the main room, and she led me to the dance floor.

"If any jerky looking dude grabs me to dance, you gotta help, got it?" I warned her.

"Yeah, yeah. Get to dancing, please."

We'd only been dancing for a few minutes when a girl dressed as Cleopatra passed us, deep in conversation with Emmett's girlfriend, Rose.

"Hey, it's you," Cleopatra said, stopping Alice and I in our tracks.

"Uh…okay?" I muttered, unsure of who this girl was.

"Pink chucks. I remember you from the bar. You know Victoria, right?"

Well, great. They knew Victoria. I suddenly remembered where I had seen them: the two blonde girls who had given me timid smiles at the bar a few weeks back.

Beside me, Alice laughed uproariously. "Oh, she knows Victoria all right. They've been antagonizing each other for the past year and a half."

"Alice, shut up," I mumbled, not wanting to piss them off if they were friends with Victoria. Rose was Emmett's girlfriend, and therefore had an inside line to Edward.

"I knew I had seen you before," Rose said suddenly, confusing me with the wide grin that stretched across her face. "You're the girl from the bathroom that made Victoria shut up. God, that was classic!" She turned to Cleopatra, imitating a fish, opening and closing her mouth. Cleopatra laughed.

Stunned, I looked over to Alice, who shrugged.

"I'm Tanya," Cleopatra said once their giggle fest was over.

"Bella," I introduced myself, "and this is Alice."

"Bella is here with Edward," Rose said, winking at her friend.

What was that about?

"Hmm," Tanya hummed, a speculative look on her face. It made me uncomfortable. And what was that about?

"Well, I'm not here with Edward; he just invited me as a friend…"

"Hah!" Rose interjected. "That boy's been having trouble picking out his ass from his elbow for weeks… and I think you have something to do with it. Trust me, you're here with him."

Alice giggled next to me, and I looked over to see a smug look on her face. "Told ya so," she whispered. Raising her voice, she said, "Yeah, Bella here has been stuck in stupid mode lately, too. All back and forth–'do I or don't I'–she's driving me nuts!"

"What's she so confused about?" Tanya asked.

"She's got this thing about frat boys," Alice explained. "I've been trying to tell her—"

This time, she was the one unfortunate enough to have a hand clapped over her mouth.

"Alice, shut up," I hissed, aggravated.

"But, Edward is really nice," Tanya said, sounding confused. "Why would you worry about him? He's one of the decent ones…"

"Hmmph" Alice snorted. I pulled my hand away when I felt her trying to work her mouth open. "See, what did I say?"

I looked at Rose, who had been mostly quiet through the last part of our exchange, staring at me with a look of astonishment on her face. "God, you must think I'm a bitch," I said to her.

"No," she said slowly, "I think I like you… and I think you're gonna give Edward a run for his money. He needs that." Tanya nodded in agreement.

Just then, a large group of girls descended on us, chattering loudly. "Rose, Tanya, you gotta come see this," one of them squealed, grabbing at their hands. The girls looked back to Alice and me and called over their shoulders that they'd catch us later.

"Stop worrying so much," Alice whispered in my ear. "C'mon, dance with me."

We danced together for the next half an hour, laughing at some of the girls costumes and some of the drunk dudes who obviously had no idea what they were doing. She'd slide behind me when a male that we weren't interested in would get too close, and we'd both snicker.

I finished my drink quickly since Alice had pouted that I was behind, and I'd just handed her my cup for a refill when some random guy strolled up behind me and grabbed my hip. He began to thrust himself against me, rhythm evidently be damned. I turned to face him, an angry glare on my face, but he was completely oblivious. However, a touch on my arm caused my head to swing back and, with relief, I saw that it was Edward standing there.

"Wanna dance?"

Knowing that freedom from the dancing dipshit was near, I joked with Edward. "But, I'm already dancing, Edward." Winking to let him know I was teasing, I danced to the opposite side of my unwanted pest, effectively putting Edward between us. The guy backed away, no doubt in response to the angry look he got from Edward.

Once the ass had moved along, I moved closer to Edward, easily picking up on the beat that was pulsing out of the speakers.

"Are you having a good time?"

"I am now," I replied, glad that he found me. I quickly lost myself to the music, his closeness… fuck, just him. I was unsure of how long we danced, but I was completely wrapped up in his presence. He'd point out funny dancers here and there, cracking jokes that made me laugh uproariously, or he would perform his own silly moves without caring when people would laugh at him in return.

I was spellbound, drawn to him in ways that were both new and welcome. A happy smile was perma-glued to my face. When the music changed to something slower, I glanced up at him. The grins melted from our faces as we moved closer to one another. When his hand touched my hip, a soft, happy sigh left my mouth. The dance was wonderful, positively sensual, and I suddenly wished that he would kiss me. Unable to get close enough, I pressed into him and was surprised when I felt him against my hip. Hmmm. He liked our dance, too…

With a deliberate twist of my hip, I brushed against his hardness, biting my lip at the knowledge of what I was doing to him. I looked up; our eyes locked, and I was mesmerized. His hand moved lower, pulling me directly against him, and my heart began to race as he moved our intertwined hands to smooth a finger over my jaw.

He lowered his head to mine, and I sucked in a quick breath and began to rise up on my tip toes. He was going to kiss me… and I wanted him to.

But then, in the most jerktastic move ever, some drunken douchebag knocked into us, stopping us from our intended path.

Son of a bitch!

Pissed, I glanced around quickly, trying to find the fool who had dared to interrupt, and Edward's aggravated look caught my eye. He was angry, too. I suddenly I began to giggle at the outraged look on his face, and the sound drew his attention back to me.

"I—"

"Do you—"

I nodded at him to continue, smiling because we seemed to do this often. "Would you like some more to drink?"

"Oh, no, thanks. Alice had me chug two cupfuls already. She was going to bring me back another, but I guess she got sidetracked," I scoped the room and spotted her dancing with Jasper. A soft smile stretched across my face at that.

Maybe…

Edward interrupted my thought by asking if I would like some water. I said yes, but first, where was the bathroom? He pointed me in the direction and told me he'd meet me in the kitchen.

I navigated the hallway, searching for the bathroom. Rounding a corner, I had to draw up short to avoid hitting the wall of bodies waiting in line.

Gross.

Figuring that there had to be another bathroom somewhere around here, I made my way past the group gathered around the door, and up the stairs. The first door I opened was a closet; I took a peek around, hoping no one had noticed. It didn't seem like anyone was paying me any attention, so I kept opening doors.

Finally, I hit pay dirt at the very end of the hall. The last door I opened was a bedroom, and from the hallway, I glimpsed a bathroom through a slightly ajar door.

Thank God.

After I washed my hands, I took a quick peek around the bedroom. The large collection of CD's against the wall drew my attention. I couldn't make heads or tails of the way they were organized, but I was astounded by the sheer volume; there had to be hundreds of CD's here, and no musical genre went unrepresented.

This had to be Edward's room.

From our conversations at lunch over the past couple of weeks, I knew we shared a similar love of music. The topic had dominated quite a few of our chats between classes, as we hung around the lawn of the quad. Obviously, I hadn't grasped the extent of his obsession.

As I looked further around the room, I noticed a bunch of posters that were apparently from live shows and what appeared to be sheet music stacked haphazardly on his desk.

Was Edward musical?

Even more intrigued now, my eyes darted around, taking in the bag he carried with him to classes and the track jacket I'd seen him wear a few times. Curious, I walked over to his closet and peered down at the floor.

My hand flew to my mouth as I tried in vain to stop the loud guffaw from breaking free.

Holy shit.

He had almost as many shoes as I did, and that was definitely saying something. I noticed a few pairs that I'd already seen. His favorite brand was well represented.

With a final giggle, I shut the closet door and left the room. As I was turning to go back toward the party, I came face to face with James.

What is he doing here?

One by one, the pieces began to fall into place. James was the big guy in his fraternity house, and I suddenly remembered where I knew Emmett from: I'd seen him around a time or two on campus with James. Quickly putting two and two together, I realized that they had to be in the same fraternity… meaning Edward was, too.

"Well well well," James slurred. "What do we have here? Was that Edward's room you were so sneakily leaving?"

I tried to ignore him and moved to sidestep him, but he was having none of that. Moving to counter me, he planted himself firmly, holding his arms out and effectively blocking my path.

"Cat got your tongue?" His eyes roamed up and down my frame, and I suddenly wished I had worn a different costume. "Or," he chortled, "did Eddie-boy give you a mouthful?"

"Fuck you," I seethed, still trying to get around him.

"You letting Cullen tap that?" James asked crudely. "'I've been wondering what his flavor of the week was this go 'round."

Wait…what?

"What the fuck do you want, James?" I asked wearily.

"Cullen's track record. Don't tell me you thought he was actually into you," he spat, looking at me like I was nothing.

I needed to get away from him, before I did something I wouldn't regret. I tried once more to walk around him, but he grabbed my arm, jerking me back in front of him.

"You know what, Swan? I changed my mind." His hand, which had been cupped tightly around my elbow, moved further up my arm, past my collar bone, until it reached the side of my neck. "I got more than a mouthful for you." His leer was starting to gross me out, and I'd finally reached my breaking point.

"Yeah right," I scoffed disinterestedly. "James, dear James… If I wanted something that small, I have my own fingers."

The expression on his face quickly went from leering to murderously angry. The hand that had been curled around the side of my neck flexed, and he used it to push me away from him. "You fucking—"

"Is there a problem here?" An angry voice interrupted whatever he was about to say, and I peeked past James to meet Jasper's eyes. I thanked him silently.

James took a moment to compose his expression before turning around to face Jasper.

"Naw man, I was just giving Bella here directions back. Seems she got lost," he joked, almost containing the anger in his voice, but not quite.

"Bella…" Jasper looked to me for confirmation of James' story.

I made a split second decision: I didn't want to give James the satisfaction of seeing me ruffled.

"Yeah," I confirmed. I wanted to get away from this guy and not start any more drama; I just wanted to get back to Edward. "I got lost."

Finally able to get around James, I gave him a wide berth and walked over to my friend. His eyes swept me, looking for any clues as to what was happening before he came over. "Follow me, Bella," he said, grabbing my wrist and dragging me away from James. When we were out of earshot he let go, but stayed close beside me. I looked up to him questioningly.

"What?" I asked.

"Bella…" he trailed off, looking around before focusing his attention back on me. "What was that back there?"

Nothing," I said. Jasper still looked skeptical, but I really didn't want him to say something about what he'd witnessed. "Really, it was nothing. I think he was just a little drunk." I hoped he believed me.

Knowing now that James and Edward were in the same frat, I was wary of coming off as trying to cause problems between them. In his frequent visits to Trax over the past few months, Jasper had heard more than enough of my bitching about the 'random frat jerk' who often bothered me. I was suddenly worried that he would put two and two together and bring it up to Edward.

His skeptical eyes roamed my face for several seconds, before he nodded his acceptance of my explanation. He didn't look convinced, though.

"C'mon," he said. "Let's head back to the party. Alice was looking for you. I think she's a little drunk…"

Glad to be away from James and vowing to keep it that way for the remainder of the night, I followed Jazz down the hall and toward the stairs. Internally, I was shaken. The run-in had been entirely scary, and I just wanted to get as far away as I could. About halfway there, a random partygoer drunkenly hollered his name.

Catching Jasper's eye, I nodded toward the stairs, letting him know that I was going down. Hopefully I wouldn't need to worry about James anymore tonight—now that we'd been interrupted, he would more than likely leave me alone. It was his M.O—throw a few bombs, get me riled up, and skulk away like the asshat he was.

Still, I was pissed. I headed down the stairs, where Edward was supposed to be waiting for me in the kitchen. As I walked, I angrily huffed out a short breath. Fucking asshole… Why was James intent on ruining my fun every-fucking-time? He had to be a prick just because I wouldn't give up the goods. Plus, it pissed me off even more that I now knew he was more than likely associated with Edward.

This can't be a good thing.

Thinking about how James might say something crude about me to this guy that I had a big crush on, I wasn't paying attention as I reached the bottom step.

"Bella?" Edward's voice broke into my thoughts, and I looked up to see him staring at me with an anxious expression on his face. "Is everything alright?"

Quickly, I ran through the benefits and disadvantages of telling him what had happened upstairs. And I settled on not ruining his night. I forced a smile to my face. "Yes, everything's fine," I lied.

Like Jasper, he didn't seem convinced. "Are you sure?"

"Yeah," I tried to assure him as I let my face relax into a bigger smile. Racing through excuses in my head, I bit down on the inside of my bottom lip. "I just got a little lost. I hope you don't mind, but I think I used your bathroom. The one down here had a really long line…" I rambled, hoping that he would drop it.

"Of course! I'm glad you found it okay," he said. His eyes roamed across my face once more before he seemed satisfied that everything was fine. "Do you want to step outside for a bit? For some fresh air?"

"Sure," I enthused, not even having to fake the cheery tone of my voice. I could certainly go for some time away from the party, especially if it was one-on-one time with him.

His hand rested deliciously on my back as we stepped out through the sliding glass doors and into his backyard. The revelers had miraculously stayed away from this area, most preferring the front where an extra party area had been set up. We headed toward a small pond next to the only tree in the yard.

We stood silent, just watching the moonlight bounce sparkles off of the rippling water. His hand was still at my back, warm and reassuring as his thumb lazily drifted back and forth. A slight breeze blew off the surface of the water, and without many trees to break its path, my body began to shiver. Or was it because of his touch?

"I'm sorry, you're cold. I should've thought…"

"N—no, I'm good." Smooth stuttering there, Bella. Shifting my focus back to him, I gave a small, embarrassed smile.

With a soft, almost silent chuckle, Edward pulled me close. "Come here, you." A startled laugh left me as he his arms encircled me.

I relaxed into him as his warm hands begin to rub against my bare arms. My back rested against his firm chest, and suddenly I wasn't so cold anymore. His hands began to slow, the rigorous movements of only a minute before turning into slow, gentle caresses. My heart thudded against my chest spastically as that strange pull I'd felt to him while we were dancing earlier reemerged.

This is nice…

I reveled in his touch, his scent, his body heat slowly seeping into the fabric of my costume, warming me.

I want to kiss him.

"I come out here a lot," he said, his body tensing slightly behind me. Odd…

Still a bit befuddled, I answered him softly, my voice barely above a whisper, not wanting to break whatever spell he had worked on me. "Do you?"

"Yeah, I like looking at the pond. It's… peaceful."

It was. The sounds of the party still thrummed behind us, muffled by the walls. But there, in that spot with him, his hands moving down and up my arms in lazy, feather light touches, I was happy.

"Yes," I agreed, "the view from here is great. It is peaceful."

When his fingers began to move in a circular motion over my skin, I sagged against him further, my knees going weak. It took him only a second to steady me before his arms wrapped around me tightly, pinning my arms to my side. A soft sigh escaped unbidden at this—verbal acknowledgement of just how…content I was now.

Wrapping one arm around mine, the other going to my waist, he pulled me tighter against him. I smiled to myself, glad he couldn't see the surely goofy look on my face. Wanting to touch him, too, I curled my hands around his arms, lightly stroking his forearms and watching the water, hyperaware of him behind me the entire time.

It was so nice, so comfortable, being with him in that way. The wind rustled around us, picking up strands of my hair and blowing them into my eyes, but I dared not move to bat them out of the way. We stood there in an easy, content quiet, enjoying the relaxed silence we'd settled into.

Wrapped in his arms, I was content for the time being. His skin was so warm that I couldn't resist gripping his arms more firmly, wanting him to pull me even closer; I delighted when he did. At my touch, his hips pressed closer to me, and once again I could feel the…effect this was having on him.

Well, hello there. Again…

And just like that, with barely a discernable movement, the atmosphere around us changed. Palpable, electric, undeniable… I pressed myself closer to him, emboldened. His nose nuzzled my neck, and I felt him inhale. Gooseflesh rose on my arms, warranting a shiver.

"Cold now?" he whispered, his lips barely touching the flesh of my neck as he spoke.

"No…" my words choked off as his lips, which had only been faintly brushing my skin as we stood wrapped in each other, now made firm contact with the skin of my neck. They moved in a deliciously slow line up my neck to a spot just behind my ear, soft touches peppered every so often by the gentle drag of his tongue. My body sagged into him slightly as my knees started to give out on me, hands gripping his arms tightly to hold me up. I felt more than heard his soft chuckle. His arm tightened around my waist, fingers splayed against my stomach as he supported my suddenly weak frame.

Every inch of my skin that was in contact with his felt aflame. The heat of his hand soaked through the thin material of my dress. I moaned softly as his hand started in a slow, dragging motion across my stomach, moving underneath the weird corset-belt contraption that was a part of my costume.

Warm lips grazed my ear as he whispered, "Bella…"

Turning my head slightly, searching for his brilliant sea green eyes, our gazes locked. I turned my body slightly more toward him, angling our faces better.

"Wha—"

I rose on my tiptoes, cutting his question off with my mouth.

Surprised, he stiffened, his arms losing some of their hold on me before he suddenly gripped me tighter, crushing my side to his chest awkwardly.

My senses exploded. The soft sounds of our sighs, the steady thump - thump - thump of my quickened heart beat, they were a soundtrack to this moment. His overwhelming smell, clean and fresh, washed over me like a heady ocean breeze. My eyes drifted shut when his did, leaving a lasting impression of his dancing verdant eyes etched onto the back of my eye lids. His touch, firm and sure, wrought a tremor from my body.

Our mouths moved together, his lips slanted over mine as I clung to his full lower lip. Passionate, but decidedly… chaste. I longed to deepen the kiss further but he broke away, turning me to face him fully.

"Edw—" I began to protest, but this time his mouth silenced mine, and his hands dropped to rest low on my hips.

Leaning closer in to him, desperate to feel more of his touch, I wound my arms around his back. Our lips moved together, taking and giving in turn. He moved us backward to the tree—when I felt it at my back, I leaned against it. One of his large, warm hands left my hip, tracing its way up my arm. Fingers tangling into my hair, he angled my head to the side a bit.

His mouth became more insistent, his tongue tracing my lower lip. Guessing what he wanted, I opened my mouth, tentatively touching my tongue to his. I heard him groan, and his fingers flexed once, twice, on my hips before sliding around to my lower back, yanking me closer to him.

The molten need for him in my lower stomach flared and my hands traced his back, one coming to rest at his shoulder as the other continued toward that hair that I'd been dying to touch. I had to—I needed to—touch him. My fingers curled into the nape of his neck, softly threading their way through the thick, silky soft strands.

Our tongues continued a slow, languid rhythm, teasing, touching, tasting. He tasted like spearmint mixed with whiskey. Heavenly, divine… tortuously so.

I sensed him pulling away, and my hand gripped his shoulder, not wanting this to end yet. His hand left my hair, coming forward to cup my cheek as he slowly pulled his head back from me.

His mouth lingered, planting three soft, open mouthed kisses against mine before he drew his head back to peer down at me. His eyes, half lidded and positively smoldering, raked over my face, resting on my lips for a few seconds before darting back up to my eyes.

"Wow," he breathed.

"Yeah…" I agreed dazedly.

Breathing embarrassingly heavily, I started to disentangle myself from the octopus' hold I had on him. His hand rose to ruffle through his hair, and he smiled down at me before taking a few steps back.

My mind whirred at a dizzyingly fast pace. My free hand fidgeted nervously, tucking my hair behind my shoulders, pulling at the hem of my dress, moving to trace my lips that still held the feel of his.

"Do you want another drink? I forgot your water earlier… " he offered, and I felt a small bit of relief when I noticed that his voice shook just slightly. He was nervous, too.

"Yeah, that'd be great. I am a little thirsty." I admitted. Elation from our kiss surged through me, resulting in a satisfied, happy grin.

When he headed back into the house, I took a moment to scope out the back yard. Off to one side of the manicured lawn sat a picnic bench. I wasn't really ready to rejoin the party yet, and I wanted to spend a few more minutes away from the crowd that made me so uncomfortable, so I headed toward the bench to sit.

It had gotten rather chilly and I wished I had a jacket. I rubbed my arms vigorously in a vain attempt to generate some heat. As I sat there I replayed the kiss over and over in my head. I hope he liked it as much as I did…

The noise from the party suddenly spilled out across the lawn, and I looked up to see Edward making his way across the lawn, two red plastic cups in his hands. He reached the bench where I sat and I held my hand out to take one of the cups, but he sat them down on the bench beside me instead. It was then that I noticed the thick fleece jacket that he carried.

"I thought you might be cold," he said, his eyes traveling slowly over my exposed skin as he handed the jacket to me.

"Thank you." I was touched by his thoughtfulness, and I eagerly slipped my arms into the jacket.

I grabbed the cups and he sat down beside me, slinging one arm loosely behind me to rest on the top of the table behind us. As I handed him his cup, I scooted a little closer to him—just to stay warm, of course.

Yeah, even I'm not buying that line of bullshit.

"So," he started. "Having a good time?"

A small smile made its way across my face as I thought of how good of a time I was having…now. "Yeah, thanks for inviting me. Your brother and his girlfriend seem really nice."

"Yeah, Em's great," he said fondly. "He's loud and obnoxious at times, but he's definitely someone you want to have in your corner. Don't let that silly charm of his fool ya though, he's actually not just a dumb frat-type; he's really fucking smart. Rose is, too."

I felt a small flicker of shame for my quick judgment when I'd learned that Edward was a frat-boy; it was obvious that I had jumped to the wrong conclusion. If I'd just stuck to my initial impression of him, that he was smart and nice, funny and thoughtful, perhaps he wouldn't have felt the need to explain and defend himself to me and I wouldn't have been such a big baby earlier.

"He's the reason I pledged S.A.E," he told me, setting his cup down between us, breaking me from my thoughts. I really needed to stay focused. "When I moved here for school, he was already a member. I've always looked up to him, so I decided to join. If not for him, I'd probably be sitting in a dorm room tonight with a book and my notes instead of here hanging out with you," he finished softly.

"I've always wanted a brother or sister," I confided. "Being an only child got lonely sometimes. But then again, with all the guys from the 'Rez, there wasn't much of a quiet moment to myself," I laughed.

"The 'Rez?" he asked, sounding confused.

"Yeah, there's a tiny Native American Reservation near the town I grew up in. My dad's best friend lived there, and they liked to go fishing a lot…" I trailed off at the confused look on his face.

"So, that big guy I've seen you with—"

I snorted; I just couldn't help it. The only 'big guy' I was ever around was…

"Who, Jakey? Where have you seen me with him?" I racked my brain trying to remember a time I'd ever been around them both in the same place, but I drew a blank.

His hand rose to ruffle through his hair. I was quickly coming to realize this was his nervous habit. Giggling softly at that, I set my cup down and crossed my legs toward him to form a barrier from the wind. I really didn't want my beer to spill and to end up smelling like a brewery.

"I saw you that night at the bar. I was uh, leaving… and saw you and him get on his bike. Which is very dangerous by the way. Do you know how—"

"Not you, too," I groaned, interrupting him. "I get enough of that from my dad."

He took another sip of his beer. It sounded like he mumbled smart man around the rim of his cup, but I couldn't be sure. He cleared his throat. "So anyway, who's Jakey?"

"Billy, my dad's fishing buddy that I was telling you about? Yeah, Jakey is his son. We grew up together. He's one of my very best friends." I explained, smiling as I thought of him.

"Oh, that's cool."

"Yep, when our dads would go fishing, we'd play on the beach or with the other kids. I wasn't very good at it." Truthfully, it was because I'd have probably ending up hooking the person I was fishing with rather than an actual fish.

Yeah, not gonna share that bit of information…

"So, you're an only child? Did your parents decide one little angel was enough?" he teased.

"Yeah, something like that," I muttered as I reached for my cup. I took a big drink and looked around the lawn, avoiding his eyes. They had this strange power over me, to make me feel comfortable about laying out all my drama when I didn't really want to. Not to mention that I tended to get chatty when I had a little buzz working…

Shivering a little as a gust of wind swept over us, I burrowed further into the jacket, trying to stay warm. The arm that rested behind me swept across my shoulders and Edward pulled me against him.

"Do you want to go back in now?" he asked, and I shivered again, but for a completely different reason this time. I felt his warm breath whisper against the side of my face.

"No, this is nice." My legs were actually cold, but the warmth of his body next to me was certainly… heating me up.

"Yeah, it is," he agreed.

We stayed that way for another forty-five minutes, huddled into each other for warmth just talking and getting to know more about each other. His strong hands rubbed against my shoulders occasionally, and I was starting to think he had a thing for my hair—every so often the wind picked it up and he would thread the ends between his fingers and softly tug on it before moving it out of the way again.

The time seemed to pass too quickly, and before I knew it Alice and Jasper were making their way across the yard to us. Alice was trying to keep her shoes from getting dirty, and her timid steps mixed with her wobbly gait from whatever she'd had to drink made me giggle. She looked like a flamingo, all little legs and crazy stances. I noticed Jasper's hand hovering behind her, looking for all intents and purposes like he was hell bent on catching her if she should lose her footing.

Aww…

"Belllaaa," Alice whined. "I missed you. Jasper wouldn't dance with me at all. You would have danced with me. We always dance," she pouted as she started to spin in a circle, her tiny arms waving around crazily. "Have you been out here this whole time? Didn't you want hang out with me? What were you doing out here…?" Her barrage of questions trailed off as she started to giggle uncontrollably.

She made a move toward me, more than likely wanting me to dance with her, or something equally silly. Wanting neither my heels to stick in the soft ground or to egg her on any more, I took a step back, not noticing Edward standing so close behind me until I came into contact with his hard chest. I started to lose my footing and he reached his arms around me quickly to catch me from falling on my ass.

As his arms pulled me to him, I sank into the comfort of his embrace, just as I'd done earlier by the tree. A soft laugh in my ear let me know that this hadn't gone unnoticed. Again.

"Hello," he laughed.

"Uh, hi. Sorry about that."

"Nothing to apologize for," he laughed, slinging his arm around my shoulder and leading me toward the door. "I think they're ready to leave," he said, sounding down about that.

Looking over my shoulder at Alice, I saw that she was trying to get Jasper to dance with her in the middle of the lawn. "Yeah, I think I need to pour her into bed… soon."

"Well, let me walk you out."

"Okay," I smiled happily.

As we maneuvered our way through the still-packed house, my mind went over the events of the night. On a one to ten scale, I'd give this night a fifty. The dancing, the time spent talking in the cool night air, the kiss—these things added up made me feel positively giddy. In spite of myself I'd had a lot of fun, and was so happy that I had let go of my silly negativity over pursuing this further.

After a lot of careful steps to avoid any flailing elbows or a misplaced ass rub, we finally made it out to the car. I looked behind me and saw that Alice and Jasper still hadn't made their way out front.

Good. Better make this quick…

"Thanks for inviting me, I had a lot of fun," I said, turning around to face him.

"I'm glad you came," he said, moving the arm that was around my shoulders down my back, settling along my waist. He inclined his head toward me and my breath sped. I started to inch my face to meet his…

"I can't drive!" A loud voice sounded out, making us jump away from each other.

Are you fucking kidding me?

Annoyed, I looked past Edward's shoulder to see a rather reluctant Alice being led by an amused Jasper. He bent low over her, whispering something in her ear. She dug around in her bag and handed him random makeup items. Oh my god, is that a tampon? I started to giggle at the look on his face: a cross between mild disgust and amusement. He waited patiently, holding his cupped hands to his chest as she piled more and more items into them. Finally, she waved her keys over her head, looking like she had just won a prize at a carnival booth.

"I found them!" she screamed.

"I swear I don't know her. She's just some charity case I picked up on my way over," I mumbled to Edward.

He laughed loudly before he leaned down to hug me tightly. I smiled into his chest, happy and giddy from the contact. "Bella, your friend is a riot. Is she always like this?"

"Please," I scoffed, "this is just the warm up. Wait until next time, when she pulls out the party tricks."

"Next time?"

I quickly shot down the nerves that tried to take over when I realized I'd basically just invited myself to a possible date."Um, yeah," I said, trying to deflect. "You haven't seen anything yet. I'd hate for you to miss out." I hoped that he'd ask me out again, perhaps for a nice, normal date where we could spend time together without the extra people.

"Hmm, I'd hate to miss it then. Sounds like fun."

I was just about to suggest 'hanging out' sometime—hopefully soon—when the major leaguer and his drunken sailor arrived at our side.

"Ya ready to go?" Jasper asked in that soft drawl of his.

"Yeah, let's get her home before she starts dancing for dollars," I quipped.

"Shut up dork," she laughed. "I would never… okay, maybe once, but I wouldn't again."

Edward and I snickered as Jasper's mouth opened into an 'o'.

I squeezed Edward once more before moving to help Jasper get Alice in the backseat; she finally stopped squirming long enough to let me buckle her in. Keeping my other hand in a tight grip on the hem of my costume, lest an unfortunate flashing occur, I managed to crawl out of the backseat with Edward's help.

"Um, have fun with the rest of your party," I said, a little sadly. I would have liked to stay and talk to him some more.

"I'll try," he said, and I thought I detected the same reluctance in his tone. "I'll see you Wednesday?"

"Wednesday," I agreed.

He squeezed my hand once before letting it go, and I walked around to the passenger side and slid in next to Jasper. As we pulled away, Edward raised his hand in a wave before turning around to head into his house, back to the party.

Alice chattered to us happily from the backseat, relaying all the things I had missed while I was outside. Evidently Emmett's girlfriend had hung out with Alice a bit and they had gotten along quite well.

I tried to pay attention to the conversation, but eventually I tuned them out. Left to my own thoughts as Alice and Jasper threw around suggestions for where to stop and grab a soda, James' words from our interaction in the hallway came back to me.

I'd blown him off at the time, more worried with just getting away from him than I was in paying attention to what he was saying. Now, without Edward's presence to distract me, I couldn't stop from wondering what he had meant. I didn't want to let James succeed in planting even the smallest seed of doubt where Edward was concerned, but I couldn't really help it. What if there was actually some grain of truth to his words?

"You letting Cullen tap that? I've been wondering what his flavor of the week was this go 'round…"

"Cullen's track record… Don't tell me you thought he was actually into you…"

~*~

I woke up the next day, groggy and bleary eyed from last night's debauchery. Rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I made my way to the kitchen. As I sat waiting for the coffee to finish, I replayed the events of last night in my head.

To say that I'd been shocked when I realized that Edward was in a fraternity was by no means an understatement. I'd accepted the fact that he was in a frat, and had chosen to let this play out and see where it led. However, our prior encounters, Alice's insistence that I give him a chance and my own observations while at his house had helped calm my worries. No longer convinced that he was just some stereotypical 'party all the time' frat jerk, my nervous hang-ups were now soothed.

The coffee machine buzzed, and I poured myself a cup. Sitting at the small island, I sipped my drink and let my mind wander back to the rest of the night.

That kiss.

That kiss had been incredible, almost surreal in its perfection. His lips, soft and warm, had melded to mine so nicely. His lean physique pressed tightly to my own, hands moving softly but surely over my frame. It all combined to make for a magical first kiss.

Our time spent just talking was great, too; trading stories back and forth as we huddled together in the chilly air, the small touches and flirty banter back and forth–it was all so nice. And he'd been so cute, acting tense over Jakey, of all people.

Still, I was a little worried. We'd been drinking, and while the clues were all there—the touches, the dancing, the flirting that we'd shared up until that point—I was unsure. Maybe I'd taken his caresses of my neck for something that he hadn't meant, and I'd let my hormones take over. We had been drinking, after all.

But he'd seemed into it, too… And he stayed with me the rest of my time there…

My coffee eventually turned cold, and I grimaced at the sour taste. I dumped the half-finished drink into the sink.

Alice eventually rolled out of bed around two in the afternoon, and by then I was done ruminating. Instead, I listened to her more… coherent version of the night than the one I'd heard in the car. She'd had fun with Jasper and had talked to Rosalie for a while. But, that was Alice. She could make friends anywhere.

Our Sunday passed uneventfully. We spoke a little about her date she had scheduled for Thursday with Demitri. Apparently, they were going to go out on Halloween night. She'd talked him into taking her to a few haunted houses, but I knew that she just wanted an excuse to cuddle close to him. I'd half-heartedly helped her plan her outfit, disappointed that she hadn't grown tired of him yet.

I stared at my phone for a good portion of the night, trying to work up the nerve to text Edward, but unsure of what to say to him. Deciding that I'd let it ride until I saw him on Wednesday, I finally went to sleep around midnight.

~*~

Tuesday was a long day of classes for me, and as I tiredly drove myself to work after my last class, my mind wandered to Edward. I was slightly upset that I still hadn't heard from him, although I could blame myself as well. I'd still not worked up the nerve to contact him, and was growing more and more frustrated with myself over it.

Where had the confident, self-assured girl of a few weeks ago gone? Alice was right; I'd turned into the freaking Cowardly Lion.

I began to mentally berate myself. I hadn't acted this way since I'd first gotten to college, and my thoughts turned to scathing self pity. Suddenly, I realized that I was letting James' words affect me. His comment about me being just the 'latest flavor of the week' had thrown me for a loop. That had, of course, been one of my own initial thoughts, and his not-so-subtle reassurance of my own doubts had been left to fester, gnawing at and disintegrating my confidence.

I pushed the damaging thoughts aside as I parked my truck in front of the store. I was determined not to let the insecurities I'd fought so hard against get to me.

Making my way to the back, I found Alice bent over the computer in her office. I had about fifteen minutes until I was scheduled to work, so I walked up behind her, intending to sit and chat for a bit. I needed her reassurances. However, noticing that she had an order form partly filled out and a clipboard lay beside her computer, titles of new releases and older best sellers partially crossed off as she entered them into the computer, I tapped her on the shoulder.

"Hey, I'm here," I told her, breaking her out of her typing. "Where do you need me?"

She lifted her eyebrows suggestively at me. Laughing, I made a move toward her hair, shiny and curled in tiny wild ringlets today. Her short spiky hair cut was starting to grow out, and she'd been styling it differently every day this week. She slapped my hand away, glaring at me when she guessed that I'd been about to mess it up.

"Eric needs to leave soon, so can you take over the register?" she asked. "Oh, and there's a box up front underneath the counter by the window. Could you sort the titles for me so Garrett can shelve them tomorrow?"

"Sure thing, sweet-cheeks," I said as I settled into the chair opposite the desk. "Do you have a few minutes?"

"Of course I do. What's up?"

"Well," I started, grabbing a pen from her desk with which to play. "It's about Edward. I haven't heard from him since the party, and that James guy said something that made me worry, and you know I don't deal well wi–"

She held up a hand, cutting off my verbal onslaught of negativity. "Stop it, right now," she scolded. "I know what you're doing. You do this all the time. You're scared that you may actually like this guy, and you're trying to find a way to make your feelings seem like they are less than they are."

I nodded but said nothing. She was right.

"Bella," she sighed, "let it alone. What did James say that has you all worked up? Let's start there, okay?"

"Okay," I agreed. "Well, I ran into James at the party after I was leaving the bathroom."

"You didn't tell me that. What happened?"

"He was being an ass… as usual. He made some crude remarks, and I got pissed and shot my mouth off," I felt my anger begin to rise as I remembered his lewd comments. "Then he started to taunt me that I was just a 'flavor of the week' and how Edward evidently runs through girls like tissues…"

"Do you believe that?" she asked quietly.

"I don't know."

"And this is why you're worried?"

"Yes. I do like him… but you're right, I'm also scared to like him. What if James was actually being truthful and I'm just another notch to add to some bedpost?"

"But, don't you…" she trailed off, her voice fading out before she could ask her question.

"Don't I what?"

"How many guys have you stopped talking to when you thought they were catching feelings for you?"

"What… you…" I spluttered indignantly.

"Don't be a brat, just listen to me. You cannot deny that you are quick to back out of a possible relationship if you think it has the potential to go anywhere. I'm not saying anything negative; I'm just trying to get you to see this from both sides. Maybe… you could try a relationship, and everything that comes along with that? The ups and downs, talking out issues instead of running away from them…"

I bit back the "you're one to talk" retort that wanted to escape when it occurred to me that Alice was at least willing to dive into relationships, even if they were with men who were completely wrong for her. My defensive instinct chose that moment to turn into offensive instead.

"You talk about my track record? You've got more blemishes on yours than I do. I mean, what the hell are you doing with this Demitri guy? He only calls you or sees you when it's convenient for him."

Her pretty features twisted with hurt, and I immediately regretted my words. "Get to work. If you're gonna be a bitch, than I'm not going to talk to you."

I scooted the chair back and left the office, heading to the counter to relieve Eric of his register duties. The store was quiet and I busied myself with the box of CD's, my mind reeling over my spat with Alice. We so rarely had fights, so even this mild one sent me into a tailspin.

Deep down, I knew what my problem was. I was unsure about Edward, and lashing out at her and her spotty history with men was my way of deflecting the spotlight off me, even though I had willingly asked for her thoughts. My gut churned when I realized how mean I had treated Alice when she was just trying to help me. She was right, but I reacted in the same way for which I often chastised her: defensive and quick to react. That just wasn't like me.

Navigating my mental excursion to Bad Friendville: Population One, I was sorting the CDs into four neat piles started when the bell above the door rang. Glancing up disinterestedly my eyes widened as I came face to face with Edward. He was leaning over the counter toward me, a smirk upon his lips.

"H—Hi," I stuttered.

His eyes roamed my face, settling briefly on my mouth before darting up to my eyes. "Hello." He smiled at me, a small but happy grin. I felt myself relax slightly. He was here, alone, and I hoped that he had chosen to seek me out.

"What are you doing?" he asked, looking down at my piles.

Rolling my eyes at his silly question, I laughed softly. "Working."

As that cute half grin of his came back, a small smile graced my own face and I felt my tension ease as his presence relaxed my lingering guilt.

"You look upset… are you okay?" he asked, obviously picking up on my sour mood.

"Yeah, but it's nothing. Don't worry about it."

His gaze shifted back down to my piles, and he grabbed a CD from the top. Flipping it over, he studied the back before silently chuckling to himself and setting it back down.

The Violent Femmes… Nice.

"You know," he started, "that is the same CD I bought the other day."

I laughed, remembering his confession that he'd bought a CD simply because the cover caught his eye. Thinking back to the party and my perusal of his room, I wondered how often he did that.

I picked up the CD and turned it slowly in my hands, taking in the familiar cover. "This is one of my favorites," I said, looking up at him. "I listen to it whenever I need a pick-me-up."

"Oh, really? And how often is that?"

Shrugging, I placed the CD back into its pile. "Not very often, but it's guaranteed to make me happy when I do. Have you listened to it?"

"Yeah, it's… different."

"Different?" I scoffed. "It's amazing, is what it is."

"Why, Bella," Edward said, pretending to be shocked, "are you arguing with me over music?"

Obviously, our playful banter hadn't been affected by our impromptu, inebriated kiss. A sudden rush of warmth hit my face as I remembered that kiss, and his head cocked a little to the side, face contemplative.

"What?" he questioned, still smiling.

"Just a memory," I replied, looking down to my piles.

I saw his hand rise and a second later felt it touch my chin softly, raising my face up to meet his. His gaze turned probing, searching my own for something. His eyes softened then, and his mouth settled back into a smirk.

"A good memory, I hope?"

I cleared my throat and his hands left my face, drifting back down to the counter. Trying to calm my galloping heart, I straightened myself up, as I had unconsciously been leaning toward him. "I think so," I said softly.

"Good. I'm glad." He drew his hand up to scratch through his already wild hair. He's nervous. "Uh, I actually stopped by for a reason."

"Oh, really? What's that?"

"Well, I was next door with Jasper when I realized that I won't be able to see you tomorrow," he trailed off.

My mind instantly jumped to the worst possible conclusion: he hadn't had as much fun as I'd had with him Saturday night. That must have been the reason I hadn't heard from him yet, and now he was coming here to try to let me down gently. Of course he was, because he was a nice guy…

"Bella," Edward's voice interrupted my dismal line of thoughts. "Did you hear me?"

"Um, no, sorry." I told him, ducking my face down to hide the disappointment that must have been clearly visible. "What were you saying?"

"I said that I have a paper I need to work on with a few people from my class." He paused until I lifted my eyes to meet his. "But I still want to see you sometime this week. Do you think that maybe…" he hesitated, hands returning once again to tug at his hair.

My nerves eased slightly at this, but I was still wound tight, waiting for his next words.

"Um, would you like to go out Thursday? We could go out for coffee or something."

Breathing a sigh of relief, I smiled at him. "Yeah, I'd love to get coffee with you."

Edward's grin was wide and utterly adorable. "Great," he said. "Can I pick you up at home?"

Running over my schedule quickly in my head, I realized that I would be at work that day. "Actually, I have to work on Thursday. Could I meet you here?" Figuring that I could get ready at the store, I continued. "What time? I'm here until six-thirty."

"How does seven sound?"

"Sounds perfect." I was already planning it: if I made sure that I dressed appropriately before my classes that day, I could be ready before he got here.

"Great," he agreed, smiling at me widely. "Well, I need to get going on my paper, but I'll see you then?"

"Sure. Good luck on your paper," I told him as I walked around the counter, wanting to see him out the door. "I guess I'll talk to you then."

"Well, you do have my number," he laughed.

"And you have mine," I reminded him archly.

"Touché." He grabbed me suddenly around the middle, pulling me to him for a quick hug. Leaning back to look down at me, he asked, "Would it be all right if I called you later? Just in case I need a break from my studying?"

"I'd like that," I said, disentangling from his embrace as I saw a young man open the door. I noticed his odd glance over in our direction, and I realized that our embrace may not be entirely appropriate for my work place, but I just couldn't find it in me to care. Edward wrapped his arm snugly over my shoulder and we started to walk toward the exit. "I'm looking forward to Thursday," I said, secretly dancing inside at the thought of an actual date with him.

"Bye, Bella." He swooped in for another quick hug before turning to leave the store.

Sighing, I watched him walk away down the square. When he was out of view, I turned from the window and headed back to the counter.

I had just started to ring up the lone customer in the store when I heard my phone beep from my bag. I hurried with the rather cute customer who had interrupted our little goodbye, handing him his bag and wishing him a nice night; his lingering perusal of my frame and flirty smile didn't escape my notice. This had taken some getting used to over the years: guys looking at me, liking the way I looked now. It was a natural reaction for me to be flattered by their attention, but it had taken some time for me to be entirely comfortable with it.

Until Edward, that is.

The reactions he elicited from me were new and exciting. He made my heart race, and I found myself nervously fidgeting when I was in his presence. His casual touches, the sweet but meaningful looks that he threw my way… I couldn't help but wonder if he somehow saw through my carefully constructed walls, if he somehow knew just what to say to me to put my over-worked mind to rest.

My phone beeped again, and I came back to the present from my space-out. I dug around in my bag for my phone, and my screen informed me that there was a new text message… from Edward.

Grinning, I opened the message.

I'm looking forward 2 coffee 2. Call me when you get home

You can bet on it…



A/N

Nic – Sorry for the delay, ya'll. RL is not nice sometimes and it's not easy focusing on first kisses when you have sick family members. (By the way… SQUEE! They KISSED! Did you like it?!) We would love to be weekly updaters, but I don't think that will ever happen. We will finish this though, someday. We apologize for this and if you are still with us… THANK YOU for reading and the reviews you leave—they make us excessively giddy ;)

Major love and thanks to our betas, AHealthyAddiction and Vixen1836 for keeping us in line and smacking our hands when we go off on an odd tangent. We adore you ladies, truly.

A few things:

Nic—I wrote a short O/S for the Haiti relief compilation that Ms. Kathy organized. It's smutty and fun, so if you have it, check it out. It's called An Unexpected Site. I was going to post it here but I won't be doing that now. I'm in the process of moving my stuff over to LiveJournal, which is where the O/S can be found after March 1st. The link to my LJ can be found on my profile. Also, I posted another O/S for the Write What You Know contest here. It's called Finding Hope, if anyone would like to read :)

Dawn – MASSIVE apologies for the absolute review-reply FAIL. I promise, I'm usually better and just sucked at life this go 'round. Nic is way better at it always, so if you are so inclined, leave us a review and you'll get teased. :D

Oh, and HELLO!! new readers.

There is a nice little story by Rae Cullen and Agoraphobiantic called Animal I've Become that I'm terribly intrigued by—I love what has been posted so far, and I'm hoping for more soon. Check it out and wait anxiously with me, lol: http://www(dot)fanfiction(dot)net/s/5597527/1/Animal_Ive_Become