The Sandbox Presents: Anything Goes Under the Mistletoe
Story Title: Just This Once
Vamp or Human: Human
Number of Words (not including A/N or header/footer): 9697
Disclaimer: Twilight characters and related likeness owned by Stephenie Meyer, Little Brown Publishing. No profits have been received in the production of this piece.
Just This Once
"So you're a man," I began. My elbow was propped on the table, my cheek resting in my hand.
"That's what they tell me," he joked.
"Well, I could use a man's advice." I took a drink of my beer. "What am I doing wrong, Edward?"
"What are you talking about?" A bemused expression accompanied his question.
I sighed. This would have been an extremely uncomfortable conversation if I weren't already several beers into the night. I'd known Edward for years, ever since I moved to Forks. In high school, we didn't really hang out in the same crowd, but his brother and my best friend had been dating for as long as I could remember. I'd barely seen him since graduation. He left for college in Chicago, and I moved to Seattle. In the three years since, once in a great while, we'd end up back in Forks at the same time, and that's how we happened to be at the Main Street bar, throwing a few back. We ran into each other while filling our gas tanks earlier in the day. We'd casually discussed the fact that we seemed to be the only ones from our class back this early. Rose had later finals, and Emmett could only get a few days off work. I'd come early because I had to go back the day after Christmas. I'd joked that I was going to go insane when the town shut down at nine, and he suggested we meet up later. It seemed like such an innocent thing at the time. I didn't actually think he meant it, so I was surprised when his follow up call came.
That innocent acceptance led me here.
"I like to think I'm a reasonably attractive woman."
He contemplated the statement seriously. I began to question my own confidence in making the claim.
"I think one could objectively argue you're more than reasonably attractive, Bella." He leaned back in his chair, but kept his hand on his beer bottle.
"Thank you." I tried not to go all gaga over the compliment, wanting to stick to my original purpose. "So, why have I not had sex in two years?"
He coughed. "Is this a physical problem?"
"I'm being serious. I think I need a one night stand."
I shrugged. "I don't have any relational prospects at the moment, and I do, in fact, have needs."
"I hear they have toys for that." He smirked at me, seemingly incapable of accepting that I wanted to engage this as a serious topic of conversation.
I rolled my eyes. "Now you sound like Rosalie. Would you believe she got me a dildo for Christmas?"
He snorted. "Why does that not surprise me? So, then you're all set. What's the problem?"
"Edward, I wouldn't say it's the same thing now would you?"
"I sure as hell hope not. Men, in general, are praying they never find a good enough substitute." He paused, furrowed his brow. "But I am curious. Why has it been so long?"
"Good question. That's what I was hoping you could help me understand. For a while I didn't want a relationship, so I was fine with it. I didn't have time anyway, and my last breakup was pretty shitty, so I let it go. Sort of."
"Meaning?" he encouraged.
"I go out with Rosalie and my roommate Alice, and guys always hit on them, but not me, which is particularly disturbing since I'm the only single one in the bunch."
"And you want to be hit on at a bar?"
"No," I protested too quickly. "I mean, yes, not really. I guess I don't really want drunk guys all over me, but it would be nice to be wanted, you know?"
"Has it occurred to you that it shows?"
"What shows?" I asked, honestly wanting to know the answer.
"That you're above it. Not the type of girl who would respond to the attention. Better than the rest in a way."
"I'm not following. I mean, you know Rose, she's better than all of us."
"But Rose wants that attention. From the minute she walks into a room, she puts out a vibe that says 'look at me.'" He struck a mock pose.
"No, your vibe says, 'I would turn you down, so don't even ask.'"
"It's that bad?"
"I don't know that it's necessarily bad. Going back to the original statement, not being the kind of girl who wants drunkards slobbering on you doesn't mean there is something wrong with you. But guys will avoid that vibe because it's not good for the self esteem," he informed me.
"But Rose and Alice turn everyone down."
"Oh I'm sure they do, probably dismissively too, but they made the guy think they wanted him to approach first. It's probably in their stance, the way they make eye contact, that kind of thing."
When I ran into Edward at the gas station earlier, I certainly never would have expected to talk about something so personal, let alone having him dissect my love life, but he made a good point.
"So you want to get laid? Not a relationship?" he asked clinically. I pondered it. I really didn't want a relationship, not right now. Guys near my own age were typically way too self involved to maintain anything substantive. I didn't have the energy to deal with investing in a relationship that provided no return. But casual sex was not something I had any experience with. I was willing to try though, for the sake of ending my frustration.
"Well then, I have a suggestion."
"I'm all ears."
He sat up straighter, then leaned forward. "How about me?"
"How about you what?"
"For a one night stand," he answered. Then he took a long drink of his beer, avoiding eye contact.
"Why would you want to?"
He raised his eyebrows at me. "Are you serious? I don't know many guys who wouldn't want to, Bella. Besides, I have needs too."
At the mention, of his "needs," I swallowed hard.
"Fine, bad question. I mean, don't you have a girlfriend or something? I mean I never think of you as being without . . . company." I didn't actually know much about his dating history. I think there may have been a time or two when Emmett mentioned a girl, but it wasn't a common topic of conversation. It was more my own perception of him. I just couldn't imagine any guy that good looking being lonely.
"I'm not sure how to take that. But no, I'm not seeing anyone." He turned the bottle around with one hand." Would it surprise you to know that it's been about six months for me?"
"Seriously?" I challenged. He nodded. I bet my mouth dropped open. "Yeah, I guess it does. Why so long?"
He laughed. "It's been two years for you, and you're asking me about six months? Double standard, there, Swan?"
"I suppose. It's just that . . . well, you're . . . you."
"What's that supposed to mean?" he appeared incredulous.
"I can't imagine women not throwing themselves at you."
"And if they do? Does that mean you think me impossible of resisting?"
"You are a man," I shrugged. "And you did just offer to be my one night stand."
He laughed but regained himself quickly. "Yes, but I can assure that's not typical. I'm actually highly selective with women. If you ask my mother, she says I'm too picky."
"Is that why it's been six months?"
He took a deep breath. "Sort of. There's more to it than that, but it's not worth getting into right now."
I sat back in my chair, contemplating the odd turn of the conversation. I couldn't believe I'd ventured into this territory. I had no idea what prompted me. I began to play with my hair, pulling it back into a ponytail, holding it together with an imaginary rubber band.
"So, now that you know I'm unattached and not a man whore, what are your thoughts on my earlier proposition?"
I wanted to be sure of my answer. I didn't want to offend him, but it didn't seem like it was a very real offer either. "I don't know, Edward. It's complicated isn't it? I mean, would it be odd? With Emmett and Rose and everything?"
"They're not here are they? Why would they even have to know about it? It's not like you and I run into each other frequently anyway." As he spoke, he seemed to grow more and more convincing in his tone, as if he hadn't quite believed himself at first either. I let go of my hair, and reached out for my beer. His hand grabbed mine. "Bella, why shouldn't we meet each others' needs? Unless . . . you don't find me attractive."
"Do you find me attractive?" I responded immediately.
"I asked you first. Besides, I already said you were more than reasonably so."
"True, but I thought that was in the objective sense."
"Yes, I like to think of myself as an objective kind of guy. Now, answer my question, please."
I stared at him for a minute. Of course he was ridiculously handsome; he always had been. In high school he was the guy every girl lusted after but you never thought you could be good enough for him. In the few times I'd interacted with him, I found there was more to him. He was smart, funny, engaging. To say he was attractive would be an understatement, but what else could I say? I couldn't tell him he was better than a fantasy, or that I was afraid being with him would ruin me for anyone else. He was still holding my hand, and he rubbed a few slow circles in my palm with his thumb.
"What was the question again?" I asked, stalling.
The corners of his mouth turned up. "Am I attractive to you, Bella? Enough to spend the night in bed with me?"
He winked at me on the last line. My chest constricted, and I sucked in a quick breath.
"Oh I'd say you're positively dazzling," I admitted.
"Is that a yes?" he questioned.
I broke my hand free of his grip and looked away from his gaze, attempting to free myself from his spell. Could I do this? But even without his touch or the penetration of his eyes, I knew my answer. I looked down at my hand, where I could still feel the warmth of his touch. "Yes," I practically whispered.
I heard him draw a ragged breath.
"Just this once," I added quickly. "But I'm not doing it in a car."
"I think we can work around that."
I still didn't look up, but I heard the sound of his chair dragging on the floor. I glanced up.
"Are you ready?" he asked as he stood.
As I'll ever be I thought to myself.
He walked around the table and held his hand out for me. I took it, silently acknowledging his question. This was completely surreal and happening much faster than I expected.
He walked me to his car. I didn't question it. I didn't question anything as he drove. A couple of minutes later, we pulled up in front of the convenience store in town. "Got the munchies?" I finally asked.
"Um, no. I . . uh . .. am not quite as prepared as I used to be."
My eyes narrowed and then flew wide. "Oh. Sorry."
"It's okay. I'll be right back."
I was thankful he parked on the side of the building. No one inside could even see that I was here. I might be an adult, but gossip about the chief's daughter and the surgeon's son buying condoms in the middle of the night would not go over well.
"Well that was interesting," he said sliding into the seat. "Did you know Erick Yorkie works here?"
"I think he was jealous."
"What? Did he know I was out here?" I almost freaked out.
"No, not jealous of me, but of you . . . if you know what I mean. I think I might have had another shot at a one night stand, if I were so inclined."
I laughed at his expense. It was a good way to lighten the mood, to distract me. "So where are we going to go?"
"I was thinking about that . . . clearly we can't go to either of our houses."
"What about the motel just outside of town?"He suggested. I probably looked a bit panicked. So he followed up. "Outside entrances. No one has to see you going in. I'm not worried about my reputation. Double standards appear to have taken care of that already."
I gave him an apologetic look in return.
"I guess I can't think of any where better," I responded. "I'm sorry if I hurt your feelings earlier, with my assumptions."
"Nah, it's okay. I should take it as a compliment."
The hotel was clean, but dated. I'd never actually been inside, but it was kind of legendary in Forks. Many a prom night had been spent here. We'd both been quiet since we arrived in the parking lot. I was incredibly nervous. I had no idea how this worked. Did we just jump right in and start humping? Did we talk first? Put on music and dance? I guess that would be corny. Plus, for the first time I started thinking about stupid things like the fact that I hadn't exactly planned for this. Did I shave my legs today? Was I wearing decent underwear? What if I wasn't any good? After two years, was it possible to forget how it all worked?
I stood frozen for a minute when we walked in. He walked across the room and hung his coat on the back of a chair. He looked at me and smiled but seemed to sense my uncertainty. He grabbed the remote off the nightstand and turned the TV on. He flipped through channels, stopping when he came across a re-run of an old sitcom. I shrugged my coat off.
"I need to use the bathroom," I announced.
He just nodded at me. My heart rate had been up since the gas station. At this point, I started to wonder if it was possible to have a sex induced heart attack before one even took their shoes off. I looked at myself in the mirror. It wasn't the prettiest picture ever, but it could have been worse. I ran my fingers through my hair, and splashed some water on my face.
I gave my reflection a few positive affirmations and a swift kick in the ass. I had an absolutely perfect man laying on a bed waiting for me. No more stalling.
I opened the door slowly and was hit with another decision. What next? Should I climb into the bed with him? He was half sitting with the pillows propped up against the headboard.
"Hey, how are you doing?" he asked.
"I'm okay," I answered. I walked to the other bed, and sat down facing him.
"Are you sure?"
He sat up more and studied me. He looked back to the TV then grabbed the remote and flicked it off. "Why are you over there?"
I took a breath. "I didn't know how to start."
He smiled again. "You're nervous?"
"Me too," he admitted.
I smiled back at him. He climbed out of the bed and came over to sit next to me. I instantly bristled in involuntary reaction. "It's okay," he continued. "We don't have to do this."
I must have looked pained in response. I hated the idea of not doing it almost as much as I was scared about the prospect of going through with this.
"We can take our time, at least," he said. I had no idea what to say or do next. Thankfully, he was more on the ball than I was. "I have an idea. Why don't you lie down on your stomach and close your eyes?"
I raised one eyebrow. "Trust me, Bella," he pleaded.
I did as instructed.
"Keep your eyes closed," he demanded.
He began to massage my back. It could have been from a masseuse. There was nothing inherently sexual about it. He kneaded, loosening knotted muscles. I could feel my heart rate changing. I almost forgot the purpose of his massage was until he slid his hands up under my shirt. When my body reacted with a jerk, he let his palms rest on my back for a second, waiting for me to relax. He moved again, but his touch shifted. Slow circles, finger tips, more sensual. I warmed.
"Don't open your eyes yet," he said quietly. I felt his body move. He lay down next to me, creating more contact points between us. He continued to move one hand under my shirt. He nudged me lightly, and my eyes fluttered. "Not yet," he insisted, but it was clear he wanted me on my side. I adjusted and his hand followed, moving forward to my waist. His fingers traced a pattern from my hips to my bra. It was slow but the anticipation was building. After about ten circuits, he surprised me by moving his entire hand to my breast. I drew a sharp breath, and when I exhaled it, I think I said, "Uh."
He gave a single laugh and continued to palm my breast, flicking a thumb over my nipple. I felt my whole body igniting under his touch. His breath on my cheek indicated he had moved even closer. His lips grazed mine, and my mouth opened of its own accord. He pulled back.
"Are you sure, Bella? Do you want this?"
I opened my eyes finally. His face was so close, it was shocking. I could see his own apprehension, his questioning of my desires. In the space I contemplated, he didn't remove his hand from my breast. He continued to move his fingers slightly.
"Yes, Edward. I want this. I want you."
Our lips claimed each other. His touched became less tentative. I grew braver, and I reached an arm over to him and let my hand follow a similar path to the one he'd traced on me.
I wanted to take my time. It had been so long, I wanted to relish every kiss, every touch, every lick. But my body grew desperate and began to betray me. Grabbing and sucking, moaning and gasping loudly.
I couldn't recall when my clothes came off, or which one of us had been the one to remove them. All I knew was that each time his fingers slipped inside me or his mouth made contact with my skin, I came alive a little more. His expression mirrored my own. There was no way to know whether our reactions were so pronounced simply because it had been so long for both of us. It might have been five minutes, or five hours. I never looked at a clock. At some point, I straddled his hips and asked, "Are you ready?"
"Oh god, Bella," was all he said in response. I didn't hesitate.
Just for those few hours, in that dinky hotel room, I let him in. And I don't just mean his tongue or fingers or any other way our bodies connected. I opened my mind; I offered my heart. He was inside my soul.
He gave, and I took. He took, and I gave.
I couldn't identify much in the middle, but the end was more pronounced. I was so swept up in the during part that I forgot to be nervous, but as we lay there, my heart rate crept back up. Our legs were still entangled, and he was tracing imaginary shapes on my stomach, but I wondered how long it would last? Was there a time limit in this situation? Would he be disgusted with what we'd just done?
"That was . . . just . . . wow," he said quietly running his hand up the center of my body. When he got to my chin, he dragged his thumb across my jaw until he could weave his hands in my hair.
"Mmm. Yeah, but it's almost like Pringles huh? Once you pop, you can't stop?"
He shook his head and chuckled.
"Sorry, bad metaphor. It's kind of true though isn't it? Maybe I was better off not getting any because now I don't know if I can ever get enough."
"You want more?" he rasped, his voice low and quiet.
"Yes," I breathed.
His face was close to mine, and he allowed his tongue to follow the path his hand had along my jaw, only in the opposite direction. When he reached my ear, he whispered. "Give me a minute. I'm not as good as I used to be."
"Yes, you are," I promised.
It was four in the morning before we exhausted ourselves beyond repair. I didn't want to go home. I wanted to fall asleep next to him and wake up at noon. I wanted more of this, but I wouldn't get it. I'd made the claim before we left the bar. "Just this once."
He didn't seem any more anxious for the night to end than I did. Every time, I suggested it was getting late, he distracted me with kisses.
"We still have plenty of condoms," he protested.
"We can save them for next time," I answered automatically. I sucked in my lower lip and hoped I hadn't just ruined everything.
"That sounds like a plan," he answered, showing no sign that he was even fazed by the comment. "So, I can call you?"
"I'd like that," I admitted.
It was both the best and the worst Christmas vacation I'd had.
Unfortunately, with Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, family and friends, food and presents, I didn't see Edward again.
He called me on Christmas day, around noon.
"Hey, I'm sorry I didn't call sooner."
"It's okay. I know you've been busy. Rose has been filling me in on her struggle to balance Cullen and Hale traditions."
"Still, I said I'd call."
"And now you are."
"When do you go back?"
"Shit. No way you can stay?"
"I have to work on Wednesday. I wish I could stay; it's going to be lonely in the apartment with Rose staying in Forks the rest of the week. You fly out on Wednesday?"
"Yeah red eye."
We were both silent, knowing that it all meant. We would not have another clandestine meeting; we wouldn't even catch a glimpse of each other.
"Any regrets Bella?"
"Not a one. I hate that I couldn't say goodbye in person."
"I know. But I suppose we did say just that once right?"
"Technically, it was already more than once," he teased.
"Looking for loopholes?"
I laughed. Whether he really meant it or not, it still felt good. It could have been so awkward between us; I wasn't even sure I could get through a conversation with him.
"Well, it really was good to see you."
"Are you cutting me off now?"
"Not really. I just figured . . . . who knows when we'll see each other again . . .you know?"
"Yeah, I know."
The silence took over again.
"I should go; the pies are almost done."
"Okay." Another awkward pause and then he continued quietly. "It was amazing, Bella."
"Thank you, Edward. I'll never forget that night."
I hung up first. I was afraid to hang on too long. It was best this way. A clean break.
I was in a fog for the rest of the day. I had to force myself to be excited about gifts and dinner. When I packed up my car the next morning, I kept looking down the street, hoping I might see him pull up, but I knew he wasn't coming. The drive back to Seattle seemed to take forever, and I wasn't the only homeward bound traveler.
My apartment felt too quiet, too empty. I wasn't used to being there with no roommates and no roommates' boyfriends. Usually I would have relished the silence, the freedom, the opportunity to think in peace, but I wasn't especially interested in listening to the thoughts rattling around in my head. They just kept drifting back to him.
Work was better. At least the after holiday returns kept me so busy any mind wandering was kept at bay. I was exhausted at the end of the day; I stopped at the grocery store on the way home to stock up on a few lonely evening essentials: pretzels, wine, and ice cream. After a shower, a glass of wine, and an hour of mindlessly surfing channels, I'd finally settled in to a chick flick and the container of ice cream. Both were half gone when I heard a knock at the door.
It jarred me. We got drop bys now and then, but they were usually for Rose or Alice. I took another bite of ice cream, almost willing whoever was on the other side to go away. But the knock came even louder.
"Coming!" I yelled. I set the container on the counter and wiped my hands on my sweats. I had to get up on tip toes to look in the peep hole.
Edward stood on the other side of the door. I looked down at my attire and squeaked. Squeaking and squealing were not typical sounds for me. I ran my fingers through my hair. I couldn't do anything about the well loved sweatshirt now.
I opened the door.
We stared at each other for a second.
"HI, um, come on in," I finally said. He rolled a duffel bag, and I resisted the urge to ask if he planned to move in. "I'm sorry," I muttered looking down at my clothes. "I wasn't expecting anyone. It was a long day at work, and I . . ."
"You're perfect, Bella," he interrupted.
"Oh, thanks. Uh, why are you here?"
He took two large steps toward me before pulling me into his arms. "Because I needed to do this again."
His lips met mine before I had a chance to respond. He lifted me up, and despite the fact that I wanted to protest more to try to understand what was happening, I ignored my own complaints and wrapped my legs around his waist. We began moving, our lips still joined. "Bedroom?" he mumbled into my mouth.
"First door on the left," I responded breathlessly.
He kicked the door open with his foot and set me down on the edge of the bed. He stepped back to take his coat off, pulling a red box out of the pocket before he let it drop to the floor.
"I told you I'd save them."
I smiled and lay back on the bed inviting him to join me. There was no need to pretend I didn't want what came next. It may have been the exact thing I'd been trying to avoid thinking about but when it was warm and breathing and in my bed, there would be no avoiding it.
The intensity was as strong as it had been the other night. We moved together seamlessly. Few words. Actions spoke volumes. Mouths rarely disconnected; our bodies never did.
Not even in the wee hours of the morning when we'd finally spent ourselves. He lay on his back, and I curled into his side, running my fingers down his chest, while he traced the freckles on my arm.
"So why are you really here? I thought you were leaving tonight."
"I couldn't go."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean I got to the airport; and I had every intention of going home, but I sat there in the little waiting area, and all I could think of was the fact that you were out there, so close. And I never got to say goodbye to you. So, I changed the ticket and grabbed a cab."
"How did you know where I lived?"
"I have Rose's contact information in my phone."
"Oh. But you didn't know I'd be here."
"I got lucky."
"I guess so," I teased, raising my eyebrows at him.
He kissed my hair.
"Are you staying the night?"
"Unless you want me to sleep in the airport."
"I don't want you to go anywhere," I answered. But I second guessed myself and added quickly. "Right now."
I wasn't normally a cuddler at night. I'd actually broken up with a guy once because he kept throwing he leg over me at night, and it drove me crazy. That we fell asleep with me curled up against him was surprising enough. That I woke up with our limbs still wrapped around each other was downright shocking. I tried to disentangle myself without notice, but I didn't succeed.
"Where are you going?" he whispered when I got out of bed.
"Hurry back." His eyes were open, and I became more self conscious, reaching for a robe on the back of my door.
"What time is your flight?"
"It's nine now. We should probably get up."
"I know. I can make you breakfast if you want."
His eyes opened, and he looked at me intently. "I'd like that."
"Let me just go hop in the shower, and then I'll get it started."
He took his turn in the bathroom while I scrambled eggs and cut fruit.
"Sorry, it's not much. I forgot I didn't stock the fridge when I got back."
"This is perfect, Bella. Much better than airport food."
Our words were limited. I didn't know what to say. Small talk seemed so . . . small. Insignificant. I didn't want to talk about Emmett or family or school or work. "Was it okay that I showed up like that?" Edward asked out of the blue.
"Did you hear me complain?"
He laughed. "No, I guess not. I just . . . Well, I worried that you would think I was assuming too much. I mean I know this is awkward."
"I don't expect anything, Edward. I mean it just wouldn't be realistic."
He opened his mouth but nothing came out. He gave me a half smile and took a bite of egg.
"Do you want me to give you a ride to the airport?"
"I can call a taxi."
"It's not a big deal. I don't mind."
The ride was as quiet as breakfast. More than once, I started to say something, but it just felt off. It started to feel like very odd.
"Are you sorry you came over?" I finally wondered aloud.
"Not at all. Why would you think that?"
"You've been so quiet."
"So have you."
He reached over, and threaded is hands in my hair. "Absolutely no regrets, Bella. I just wonder . . . I don't know . . . what if . . . you know?"
I turned my head slowly. He was looking out the window. Not expecting a response.
It was the first time I really let myself ponder that. What if? Could we be something more? Could you form a relationship based on a one night stand? Wasn't the exact purpose of one to avoid all the trappings of love and commitment? It made no sense. Of all the times to feel a spark.
The airport came too quickly. I didn't want to say goodbye. That was hard to admit to myself. I was still trying to delude myself into believing it was all a strange fluke of some sort, and the minute he left I'd forget all about him.
The bustle around the drop off zone was intense. I could feel the pressure, but we sat there for a few minutes, saying nothing.
"Well," I began, but I had nothing else to say.
Without looking at me, he grabbed my hand. "It was amazing," he whispered. Then he turned toward me to look me in the eye. "No matter what I want you to know that."
He leaned in to kiss me. I'd seen goodbye kisses at airports before. Some were quick pecks, hurried and obligatory. Some where the kind you thought indecent in public. Then there was this. The kind that had just enough intensity, just enough emotion; just enough hesitance to stop.
We pulled apart when the honking began.
"You're amazing," I said with his lips still nearly touching mine. He smiled and kissed me one last time.
The image of him walking away burned into my brain. He threw the duffel over his shoulder. He got a few feet from the car before turning around to face me. He waved and continued walking backward for a few minutes.
The honking grew more incessant, so I inched my way out into traffic. As I pulled away from the curve, he stood, rooted to the spot, watching me drive away.
Weeks went by, and I attempted to deal with life. I ate; I worked; I went to class; I wrote papers. I talked with my roommates, and I hid the most important thing that had happened to me in a long time. I wasn't sad though; more introspective, I guess. I didn't have regrets; I got what I needed out of the experience, several times over. I just didn't expect to get more than the quick release. It was unnerving, but I was coming to terms with it. I decided it must have been the newness of it all. Maybe I would project emotion on any one night stand since it wasn't how I usually saw sex. I thought maybe I should try again, as an experiment, but the thought of actually touching someone else made me physically ill.
Somewhere in there, he sent me an email; I texted him once. We began to engage, slowly. Every couple of weeks, I'd get a random message. They were never deep. He'd tell me about a book he'd read or a movie he saw. He'd mention a class he hated or ask me the latest Emmett news. I responded in kind. Small talk. Something we hadn't really mastered in person became out only form of communication.
Spring break came and went. His parents had flown him, Emmett, and Rose to someplace in the Caribbean for a week. Rose was overjoyed. While I helped her pack, I casually slipped in the question that bugged me from the second she mentioned it.
"Just the three of you? Edward's not bringing anyone?"
"I don't think so. Why?"
"No reason. I just wondered if you'd have another girl to hand out with."
"Oh, um, I don't know. Last I heard, he was playing the field."
"I see. Well, I'm sure you'll have fun either way." I moved quickly to her closet and pretended to dig through her summer clothes so she wouldn't see me choke on my secrets and lies. I didn't want to believe I was member of the team on the field, but it made sense.
It was nearly June before I heard his voice again. I don't know what made me do it. It was late; I was buzzed; I was lonely. I suppose that's about as logical as it gets. At a base level though, I just couldn't get him out of my head.
The phone rang a few times before he answered, winded.
"Bella?" he said, obviously reading his caller id. "Is something wrong?"
"No," I stammered. "I just . . . I don't know . . . called."
"Oh, good. I mean. I'm glad nothing's wrong. Hold on a second."
I heard the muffled sound of his voice. He must have put his hand over the receiver.
"Okay, so, what's up?"
I suddenly felt so stupid for calling. He was clearly uncomfortable, and I began to think I had misjudged the emails and texts when a female voice called out in the background, "Come back to bed, Edward."
"Oh my god," I squeaked. "I'm sorry. I had no idea. I didn't mean. . . I'll um text you sometime."
I hung up before giving him a chance to respond. I wanted to cry. I should have cried. Maybe I would have felt better. Instead, I sat on my bed with my knees drawn to my chest.
I couldn't sleep. I wasn't really thinking either. I was just there, trying to avoid imagining what he was doing right then. Twenty minutes later my phone rang. I jumped. It had to be him. I ignored it. Things were awkward enough.
A ring tone let me know I had voice mail. I didn't check it.
A couple of minutes later I got a text. "Please talk to me."
I fingered the buttons on my phone, toying with hitting play on voice mail. It rang again.
I let my finger rest on "answer" indecisively letting time run out.
The curiosity got to me.
"Bella, I'm so sorry. It wasn't what you think."
"You don't need to be sorry. You can do whatever you want."
"I wasn't having sex with her, if that's what you think."
"Really, it's okay if you were. I mean it's not like we're anything, you know. It was just the once or twice or whatever. It's not really any of my business who you date . . . or do whatever with."
He exhaled in to the receiver, and I practically felt his breath hit my ear. "It wouldn't matter if it had been one time or a hundred times. If it were me, I wouldn't be able to sleep with that image running through my mind."
"I'm not thinking that," I lied.
"I was trying to take care of a drunk friend. Well not really a friend. It doesn't matter, but I promise, there was nothing there. And I know you say it doesn't matter to you, but it matters to me what you think. And I'm not dating anyone . . . or doing whatever."
"Okay." I didn't know what else to say.
"Now, what made you call? After all this time."
"I don't know. I guess I was just bored."
"No plans tonight?"
"I went out with Rose and Alice, but we came home early."
"Did anyone hit on you?"
"Have you been working on your body language?"
I laughed. "I haven't really been paying any attention."
That seemed to shift the mood. We had what for all intents and purposes could be described as a normal conversation. Normal for two people who'd had sex with each other, sort of kept in contact, and had no idea what to call their relationship. In other words, we danced around each other. We avoided questions about love lives; no one said, 'when can we see each other?' and I never gushed about how great it was to hear his voice.
All those things underscored the conversation though.
I heard it in questions like, "So what are you doing this summer?" And "Oh who'd you see that movie with?"
I had no idea whether his questions were as strategically veiled as mine. I wasn't sure what he thought. I knew he'd enjoyed our time together enough to come to my apartment. I didn't dismiss that. I knew that it wasn't just about good sex either. He'd pondered the what ifs. But it had been five months. He might not ponder anymore. He might not think much about me at all.
At the very least, he didn't seem annoyed by the conversation and he had cared enough to call me back. We ended up talking for over an hour before my yawns grew too loud to ignore.
"It was good to hear from you, Bella."
"Thanks for calling back."
"You know this is why I don't call right?"
"How did you say it? Once you pop . . . I don't know how to stop."
"You want me to hang up first?"
"We can do it together."
"Count of three?"
We counted down to a quiet click. In the dark silence of my room, I wanted to cry. At least I thought I should cry. But tears didn't come. All I could do was hold the phone, and smile.
I didn't see him again until fall. That wasn't unusual. In fact, if even seeing him then was a surprise.
I was cleaning up the kitchen after dinner one night when Rose announced, "Oh hey, you wanna hang out on Saturday night?"
"I'm not sure. I have to work all day; I might be beat."
"Please? Pretty please with sugar on top? Em wants us all to go out. His brother's going to be in town."
"Edward's coming? What for?"
She shrugged. "Not sure. I think he's just passing through on his way home for a few days. Anyway, Em said he's been stressed and he wanted to take him out to relax. So are you in or what?"
I worked very hard to manage my facial expressions and my tone of voice. I refused to give away any of my excitement or my apprehension. I wondered if he knew he was about to see me.
"I suppose. But please pick a good place. That last club was ridiculous."
"You're just getting old, Bella."
"We're the same age, Rose."
"Yes, but I'm young at heart, and you're twenty two going on forty."
"We'll have fun. I promise. "
All week, I wrestled with whether to send him a message. I figured if he wanted to see me, he would have contacted me on his own. So a part of me worried that this whole evening would be awkward, but it would be strange for me to back out at this point, and well . . . I wanted to see him. How awkward could it be in a group?
I was a little on edge all week, half expecting him to call or write. I jumped every time my phone buzzed. But it was never him. By Friday, I'd given up any hope that I'd hear from him.
By the time I got home from work on Saturday, I only had about two hours before we were all meeting up. Rose and Alice had begun their typical pre-going out routine. Nails had been painted; outfits were being modeled. I ate a quick sandwich and decided it was a mistake because it was at about that time the butterflies hit.
I was going to see Edward. In less than two hours. Oh my god.
I quietly stole back to my bedroom to grab my robe. I rushed into the shower so I could hyperventilate in private. How in the hell was I going to keep it together the whole night?
I took an usually long time in the bathroom, most of it with the water just spilling down on top of my head while I tried to calm myself. I don't know how long it had been before I finally shook my craziness off.
He was just a guy I'd had sex with after all. People ran into former lovers all the time. It didn't have to be awkward, especially not since we'd remained friendly. I simply wouldn't let anything ruffle me tonight. So what if he hadn't reached out to me? I shouldn't have expected it, but that didn't mean I had to cower in fear either. I had no reason not to go out with my usual group of friends. He was the fish out of water in the scenario.
"Hey, Alice?" I poked my head into the living room. "You have fifteen minutes and free reign on my closet. You in?"
"Oh I wouldn't miss it! To what do I owe the honor," she said scrambling to her feet.
"Too tired to think about it," I answered nonchalantly.
The truth was. While I was not going to let it show, I was certainly didn't mind making him suffer just a little bit at the sight of me.
Not wanting to deal with driving, we splurged on a cab.
"They're already there," Rose said reading a text from Emmett. "They have a table in the back."
"It better not be too far from the dance floor," Alice whined.
"Please," I teased her. "How else will everyone check you out if you don't have to walk across the room several times."
"Hey," she protested. But then she smiled. "Fair point, though."
At this point, I knew he had to know I was coming. Apparently, Em had also invited some people from work, but still even if he said Rose was bringing her roommates, he knew that included me.
We wove through the hoards as swiftly as possible. Alice turned at winked at me. "You're right. I like this part."
So I was laughing when I saw him.
He, Jasper, and Emmett had claimed a very large table. I hung back, letting Alice and Rose fill in the seats closest to them. Emmett introduced Edward to Alice. "And you remember Bella, right?"
"Of course," he answered. "It's good to see you."
He was good. He gave nothing away.
I stopped counting the glances. Thankfully the table was large enough and some other friends of Emmett's drifted in and out of our area, so I didn't have to worry about hiding it either. I watched him. A lot.
He caught me. Quite often.
The first time he smiled.
The second time he chuckled a little.
The third time, he leaned his face against his hand and stared back.
We didn't say anything. We couldn't. Not without outing ourselves. Even if we casually mentioned hanging out last Christmas, the fact that we never told anyone would raise a great big red flag.
I barely noticed there was an entire bar scene happening around me. Usually, I spent so much time people watching that I would have been an excellent crime scene witness. I was completely shocked when I felt a tap on my shoulder.
"Excuse me?" I turned to see a tall guy with short hair. He was cute, maybe a little trying too hard to achieve the All American look, but cute enough. "Would you like to dance?"
I couldn't help it. I looked back toward the rest of the table just so I could see his reaction. He winked at me. He fucking winked. I flipped my hair, and turned back to Mr. I shop at whatever the hottest store in the mall is this week. "Sure."
He rested his hand on the small of my back. I pretended to trip so I could step out of his touch. The dance floor wasn't far. I would have been able to see the table, but I kept my back facing it.
We danced a couple of songs before I announced the need for a break. He seemed nice enough, not too grabby. Not the best or the worst dancer.
I snaked my way across the dance floor and headed to the bathroom.
I was halfway there, when I felt a hand on my arm. "Hey, feel like dancing?"
This guy was built like a truck. A little too ripped for my tastes, but a brief peek over my shoulder indicated a certain head was looking in this directions, so I gave in to a dance. When the song was over, I sought the solace of the ladies room.
My purse was slung across my shoulder, and I heard my phone the second the door shut.
"You're reeling them in tonight."
My heart began to race. I fluffed my hair and dabbed at the drops of sweat along my brow before replying.
One last check in the mirror and I waltzed confidently back to the table.
"Well aren't you Miss Popular tonight?" Rosalie joked when I sat down.
"I hear it's all in the body language," I retorted. Edward smiled and looked away.
"So, Edward, why did you want to go out anyway? You're don't seem all that into the scene," Emmett asked suddenly.
All eyes were on him. He waved his hand dismissively. "Just wanted to." It was the first I'd ever seen him flustered by anything. He'd asked to go out. Had he also asked Emmett to invite a group?
It was another hour before we finally ended up alone at the table.
"So," I said.
"So," he answered.
"It's weird isn't it?"
"Bella," he began. "You're killing me here."
I was going to ask him what he meant when yet another guy interrupted to ask for a dance. I declined, and returned my attention to Edward.
"You wouldn't have a problem tonight."
"A one night stand."
"Oh yeah, it's strange. This never happens."
"Is anyone getting lucky tonight?"
My eyes flew open in shock. "No! I'm not like that, Edward. I'm not that kind of girl. I know it might seem like it because . . . well . . . I'm just not."
"Relax. I was kidding." He pushed his hand a few inches until his finger tips were just touching mine. "I know exactly what kind of girl you are."
He pulled his hand back abruptly and leaned back in his chair. I was about to comment when Rose and Emmett plopped back down.
"Ugh I'm beat," Rose said. "Should we call it a night?"
My head filled with panic. This was it. All I had of him. And it was over.
"So, Edward, when do we get to meet this girl?" Emmett began a side conversation with his brother. I couldn't turn and look. I couldn't do anything. I swear it felt like the bottom had just fallen out of the floor. I had no claims on the man, but I swear he'd just been flirting with me.
"I'm really hot, Rose. Go find Alice, and I'll meet you outside."
I bolted, and I didn't look back. I waited outside, avoiding the goodbye scene with the guys.
I got a text before I went to bed. "Please call me."
I turned my phone off and tried to sleep.
He sent me an email later that week. He told me Emmett had misunderstood something, that he wasn't in a relationship, and that he wished we'd been able to talk more.
I replied, but my response was short and sweet.
It's no big deal, Edward. It was great seeing you.
Talk to you soon, Bella
He only wrote me one other time before Christmas.
He'd texted me the week before asking if we could get together while he was home. I wrote back and told him I was just too busy with family obligations, but maybe we'd run into each other. I was tired of the games, dragging it all out. I had been forcing myself to push any thoughts of that man out of my head.
I already knew seeing him was inevitable. Emmett had finally proposed to Rose. It wasn't a surprise to anyone, including Rose. Both of their parents decided to throw a huge engagement party on Christmas Eve because they knew so many people would be in town. It became the holiday event of the season.
The house was packed. Pretty much all of Forks had shown up. I was able to avoid Edward for the first hour. Standing at the punch bowl, I felt hand on my elbow. I would have jerked away, but I knew who it was.
"Careful, that one's spiked."
"Maybe I want to get drunk tonight. Sometimes it's fun to lose control."
He leaned in very close and whispered, "It's too bad you're opposed to cars, because I'd be happy to help you unwind."
He left, and I exhaled.
That's how it began. He kept showing up whenever I was alone. He alternated between small talk and innuendo.
"Are you sure you're booked solid?" he asked on the third meeting.
"Maybe something will open up," I sighed.
"I hope so. I've missed you." I swear he sniffed my hair as he walked away.
I decided to try to catch him off guard. I figured he must have been following me and waiting for his moment to pounce. I would do the same thing. He was gathered with a small group of adults, including his mom.
"Yeah, I keep saying. One down, one to go," she joked.
He looked down at the floor. "Mom, please don't."
She reached up and put a hand on his shoulder. "We all know he has someone special. He keeps talking about how amazing this girl is, but he hasn't brought her around to meet us yet. We keep begging."
"Mom," his voice was more stern. I couldn't look away. I should have run.
"You should have heard him when we went to the beach last spring. No woman was anywhere near good enough. I asked him how he was ever going to find the right girl if he was so picky and he said, 'what if I already have?'"
At that moment, someone bumped into me, pushing me up against a bookcase. "Ow," I yelled inadvertently. The small crowd turned to see me. His eyes locked with mine. I turned and ran out the front door. Rose called after me, and I ignored her. I ignored everything.
I heard the footsteps behind me.
"Bella," he called out.
I maintained my pace.
"Where are you going?"
"You're not driving are you?"
"No, it's a nice night. I'll walk. It's not that far." I slowed but didn't look at him, afraid to let him see my face.
"It's late, and it's dark. Let me take you." From his tone, it was as if nothing happened.
"No," By then the tears had started to fall, and the evidence was in the way my voice cracked. I might have tried to convince myself I didn't want more, but I'd been deluding myself all that time.
"What upset you?"
"Nothing, I'm just an idiot, that's all. I heard your mom and well, I didn't know."
"But why are you . . . oh god, are you really that dense?"
I turned on a dime.
"Fuck you." I couldn't believe he would insult me in that way. Yes, I'd been stupid and immature, thinking he wanted something more from me, but that was cruel.
"You don't get it? You really don't?" He took a few steps toward me.
"What are you talking about?" My hands were shaking, and he was so close I could feel the heat of his breath when he spoke.
"It's you, Bella. The girl I couldn't stop talking about? The one I told my mom was the most amazing person I'd ever met? It's you. I can't stop thinking about you either. I sit around my god damned apartment, and I imagine you're sitting across from me at the breakfast table commenting on stupid stories in the newspaper and stealing a bite of my bagel. I don't know why I can't get you out of my head. Sometimes I think you're just an illusion I made up and none of it's real, and then I saw you in Seattle, and there you were; nothing about you is fake. I thought you hated me after that. I didn't know what to do. But then tonight. . . . god, I thought you knew. How do you not know this?"
"How would I know it? What have you ever said that would give me that impression? Maybe it was all the phone calls? Oh wait, there weren't any! So, yeah, tell me again how I would know?"
He closed the space between us and grabbed my hand. "Bella, don't pretend you're innocent here. Neither of us has been particularly upfront with our feelings, but I never ignored yours. You should have known because you feel this." He placed my hand directly on his heart. "Because you're scared shitless about how much you want this. Because it kills you every time we talk knowing that it's just a brief moment and you'll spend the next few weeks trying to get the conversation out of your head. Because whenever we're together we can't take our eyes off each other, and all night you've been looking for the magic mistletoe that would make it okay for me to kiss you." His tone had been so insistent, so the last statement threw me. My face must have reflected my reaction, because he smirked back at me.
I stared at him, watching to catch my breath. Any resolve I had disappeared.
"I did, huh?"
"Yes, you did. You want me to lick that pouty lower lip right now, in fact." He reached his free hand around my waist, eliminating any space between us. "I take it then you were aware that you've wanted me to run my hands through your hair all night long," I whispered.
That was all it took before his tongue darted out to trace my bottom lip. My hands wove themselves into his hair.
"Edward, there's no mistletoe." He exhaled, understanding my meaning.
Nothing had changed. Our life circumstances weren't about to put us in the same state anytime soon. Our families would be shocked. The complications were almost insurmountable.
Yet, at the same time, everything had changed.
"Screw the mistletoe."
Our lips met for the first time in a year. I sighed; he moaned. Edward pulled back slowly, holding my face between his hands.
"Any chance you might let me give you a ride home now, Bella?" The need was apparent in his expression.
"I don't do cars, Edward." I smiled coyly.
"You won't make an exception?" He kissed my forehead and waited expectantly for answer.
"Well, It is Christmas, I suppose."
"Is that a yes?"
"Maybe just this once."
E/N: Thanks to Hmonster4 for betaing and to Staceygirl aka jackbauer and Daisy3853 for reactions.