A/N: This is a one-shot of OR&N Ch. 23. It is told in first person—unlike the actual story—from Edward's POV. Several readers suggested I do this, and I am glad they did. I've had fun writing it, and I hope it gives further insight into Edward's character since the story pretty much focuses on Bella's perspective. Thank you so much for your support and encouragement! Hope you enjoy. :-D

Olympic Rain & Novocain
Chapter 23: World Upside Down (EPOV)

There has been only one other time in my twenty-one years when my world has been turned upside down. The first time was in June, three years ago; the second, September. Two months ago I had no idea this girl existed let alone that she lived in my hometown. And even upon our initial acquaintance that night at my uncle's bar, I had barely taken a second glance at her. I'd be lying if I said I had found her breathtaking at first sight because I didn't.

I must have been blind.

When Alice had placed her drink order, I thought it was a little strange—a glass of ice water and some Maraschino cherries? I'd never had a customer make such a request before. The lighting is always dim inside the bar, the atmosphere thick with a haze of cigarette smoke, which had made it difficult to distinguish the girl's features from across the room. I could tell that she was young, slender, with brown hair that fell in waves to the middle of her back. That was all I could make out from my distance; no details of her face.

Then, the girl had returned for the second night in a row. She'd walked through the front doors alone and dressed casually, but she had moved with an air of confidence—something I now realize to be nothing more than a well-played act. She'd sat down and ordered a Michelob Light. Her youth was obvious, and there was a detectable sense of innocence in her wide eyes. I'd hesitated initially, but for whatever reason, I gave in without asking for her I.D. I'm not sure if it was the way she'd ordered with such self-assurance in her tone, or if it was the boyish urge inside me that wanted to play a part in her mischievous action. She'd cocked her eyebrow at me—showing impatience at my hesitance to fulfill her request—and that was all it took. I was done.

When I had returned from my small performance on stage, she was still there talking to Alice. It was then that I suspected she was just another one my cousin's friends passing through town. I'd probably never see her again, and at that point, I was tired, still stuck in my head after having played a set of songs and just ready to go home. Alice introduced us briefly, and my response had probably come across as brusque and taciturn. Some nights I tend to fold in on myself—become distant and withdrawn regardless of the number of people around me—and this had been one of those nights.

I enjoy my job at the bar. I like observing all the different people as they come and go. It is interesting, often quite amusing, to watch how people interact in such a setting…what they order, what they say and how they say it. As strange as it may sound, I also find the process of mixing drinks and filling orders to be somewhat soothing—methodical, even. I don't do it for the money for obvious reasons. Carlisle doesn't pay me. He appreciates having someone he trusts to work for him, and in turn, I like helping him out and spending time with my family—my only family. Plus, I have the opportunity to perform a few nights every week; singing and songwriting has become my release in recent years. Most importantly, however, work gives me something to think about other than all the negative shit that clouds my brain whenever I'm alone or unoccupied. It gives me a distraction and helps me maintain some sort of routine. I need that for my sanity's sake.

Since September, I have been blessed with something else…a girl who turns my world upside down.

Now, here we are. I'm sitting next to this beautiful woman in the Port Angeles Mall Cineplex enduring one of the worst chick flicks I've ever seen, and I can't imagine anywhere else I'd rather be. There is something about Bella Swan; words fail to capture her with any precision. Passion. Depth. Beauty. Brilliance. Mystery. None of those descriptions do her justice. Her gaze alone is beguiling—the way her coffee-colored eyes pierce straight through me, hiding her secrets yet somehow swaying me to reveal all of mine. Happenstance had brought us together, and the empathy of having suffered past tragedies has helped to catalyze our connection. Both of us know loss—broken families, death and the agonizing grief that comes with it. Her presence is pure comfort. She makes me forget the worst of bad days gone by, numbing the pain with her touch while still allowing me to feel all of the pleasure in the moments we spend together. It's intoxicating.

I have come to realize all the things I find intriguing about her. That dry sense of humor colored by quick-witted sarcasm that peeks through when you least expect it. Her clever taste in literature and music and her ability to carry on an intelligent conversation…never boring. Her compassion and acceptance—learning my darkness, yet offering light. And of course, that little Southern twang she forgets to conceal. It's so different than the local cadence—just another facet that sets her apart from the rest. As I consider all the features that have drawn me to her, I become increasingly aware of a deeper sentiment that is present. It is far more profound than mere attraction, and the more time I share with her, the stronger it becomes.

God, I am so lost in this girl. Completely. Lost.

I can't exactly pinpoint when it first happened—when I first began to fall. Our first kiss wasn't it, although it had been one hell of a lip-lock. No, I was gone long before that. It could have been the night I walked with her to her truck, when I pressed my lips to her forehead and confessed how she'd haunted my mind since that night in the alley.

The alley…

Just thinking of that night and what that son-of-a-bitch had nearly done to her ignites a sense of rage within me that I haven't felt since my father was alive. And then, there was the evening she'd run to me in the pouring rain, her face distressed and tears in her voice as she'd asked for the truth. Perhaps that was when it happened. It had been the first night we'd fallen asleep together. She'd held me in her arms as I sobbed like some kind of helpless child. I had felt so pathetic then, expected her to run away—which I wouldn't have blamed her for doing, honestly—but she hadn't. Waking up beside her that morning had been it.

I have fallen madly in love with this girl, and it is driving me fucking crazy.

Before I know it, my contemplations have consumed my full attention, and the credits are rolling. We bid Jasper and Alice goodbye and head for my car. The ride back to my apartment is only a short distance, and I can't help but feel a creeping sense of mourning in the pit of my stomach that the evening has reached its end. As soon as I kiss her goodnight, she'll get in that beat-up, red contraption of hers and drive away. The whole way back I steal glances of her, marveling at the striking contrast of her near-black hair and vermillion, heart-shaped lips against the smooth, creamy pallor of her complexion. She catches me staring, and I flash a sheepish grin in her direction. I've noticed the blaze it brings to her cheeks whenever I smile at her like that, and admittedly, I grin much more often now just to witness her flustered reaction.

Sexy as hell and she doesn't even know it.

When I pull into the parking lot, I exit the car and move to open her door, but of course, she doesn't let me. So Bella. I keep fumbling with the keys in my coat pocket while trying to contrive ways for her to stay the night. I don't expect anything more than to have her fall asleep in my arms, to wake up early for breakfast, and to see her off to work. I doubt she is ready for our relationship to become physical yet. Of course, I am more than willing—so eager to feel her—whenever she is ready. I've lost count of the times I have awoken from lustful dreams to find my body aching for her and had no other choice but satisfy my needs in the shower. Kissing her, touching her, seeing her is enough to drive me mad with desire. But if patience is what she needs, that is exactly what I'll give her. She is worth waiting for.

She leans back against the side of my car with her hands tucked in her pockets and her feet shuffling rocks on the ground. She's not ready to leave either. When she peers up at me and starts chewing on her bottom lip, I just lose it.

Tell her. Stop being such a damn coward and tell her!

Cupping her cheek in my hand, I draw her face to mine and begin kissing her with a newfound passion. My lips move of their own accord, claiming her mouth and refusing to set her free. I don't realize at first how hard I am pinning her against the car until I hear her whimper as the soft curves of her body press firmly into mine. God, I've never wanted her more. But I can't if she's not ready, and I don't think she is. I pull away long enough to finally speak the words that need to be said. She has to know…needs to hear it. Her quickened pulse thrums against my fingertips as I cradle her neck.

Resting my forehead against hers, I take a deep breath and make my confession. "I'm in love with you, Bella Swan," I tell her, hoping there is nothing less than conviction audible in my tone. "Absolutely in love."

I swallow hard, anxiously awaiting her reaction but there is nothing but silence. It's unnerving, and when I can no longer stand the absence of sound, I repeat the words. More silence, and just when I'm about to go fucking insane she reaches up and tangles her tiny fingers in my hair, tugging me to her lips and kissing me senseless. My mouth can barely keep pace with hers.

All I breathe…touch…taste…is Bella. The ardent movement of her lips against mine is the only answer I need.

Just when I think this moment cannot possibly get any better, I feel her hands travel down my body. She shoves past my coat and rubs her palms over my chest, down my stomach, and holy mother of…she stops…right at the waist of my jeans. I open my clenched lids to look at her, and I see the question in her eyes. She wants to.

"Are you sure?" I ask, panting white clouds in the frigid air. When she nods and says yes, I mutter a mental prayer of thanks. The denim at my waist becomes uncomfortably constricted in my suddenly aroused state. It's all I can do not to pin her against the car, rip open her jeans, hitch her leg around my hip, and take her right there.

I lace her fingers with mine and we hurry toward my building, padding up the stairs until we reach my apartment. Once the door is shut and locked behind us, I grope for the light switch—the location of which I can hardly remember in my frenzied state—but she objects, telling me she prefers the lamp in the corner. She is nervous, self-conscious, just like she had been that morning I'd stumbled upon her in a towel. The memory brings a devilish grin to my face. Unconsciously, I'd gawked at her like some kind of twelve-year-old boy, and she'd mistaken my surprised expression for disgust. It's true that her arm and shoulder are marked with some pretty mean scars, but after my brain got past the initial shock of seeing that, all I could really think about was how fucking sexy she looked. For heaven's sake, I had stepped through my door to find a dark-haired beauty dripping wet and draped in nothing more than a white towel, and I wasn't supposed to stare in amazement? In all honesty, I found myself wanting to drop the bag in my hand, tear away that loathsome towel, and ravage her on the kitchen counter until both of us fell to exhaustion on the floor.

Instead, I'd spent nearly twenty minutes outside the bathroom door pleading with her to come out, and then I'd resorted to ridiculous measures to try and put her mind at ease again. I had stripped shamelessly out of my clothes and pointed out every scar I could find on my body just to show her that none of that superficial shit made a damn bit of difference to me. No one is perfect—me, least of all—and I can't stand the idea of her thinking that a few marks on her skin does anything to tarnish her beauty. Thankfully, my bizarre little show had made her laugh and encouraged her to open up, even if she had only provided me the bare minimum details of her ordeal. Bella doesn't trust easily, and I gladly accept whatever piece of herself she is willing to offer me. Her heart is earned—not given—and tonight, she has decided to pour all of her faith and love in me.

Please God, don't let me screw this up.

We dance across the room to my bed, our busy mouths and hands hindering our efforts to shed our clothing along the way. Soon, there is nothing more than underwear to obscure our naked forms. I attempt to move more slowly now, to savor each delicate moment as it unfolds. She stands before me, her eyes trained on my actions as I work to remove the baby blue satin and lace from her chest. I toss the garment aside and stare fixedly at her breasts, each nipple pert and beckoning for my attention. She lies back onto the sheets, all the pastel colors of her naked flesh in contrast against the white linen. My lips and tongue dance languorously across her skin, singeing a trail down her neck, over her breasts, and along the length of her stomach. I shudder slightly when her roaming hands make contact with my skin. Ghosting her warm palms over my torso, she explores the contours of my shoulders, chest and abdomen, and her touch sends wave upon wave of desire throughout my body. I tug at the cotton material at her waist, and she nods her permission, raising her hips slightly to help me slide off her underwear. She is closing her eyes, gnawing that bottom lip like she always does, when full awareness of her exposed form strikes her. I can't help but smile as my eyes take in the stunning sight of Bella lying naked before me, and I kiss her again before moving from the bed. As I gaze at her in the dim yellow glow of lamplight, I stop to remind myself that this is her first.

Jesus Christ, I am her first. She'll remember this—good or bad—for the rest of her life.

I know her well enough by now to understand that regardless of how self-assured she pretends to be at times, she is nervous and afraid. Fear is the last thing I want her to feel right now.

I open the drawer of my nightstand in search of the box of condoms I hadn't had any reason to open yet. I'd bought them a couple of weeks ago shortly after Bella began sleeping over. I had no idea when, or even if, this moment would come for us, but I wasn't about to be unprepared when it did; now I was thankful for my forethought. Feeling awkward as hell, I remove my boxer-briefs and begin opening the packet. My hands are shaking with nervous energy almost as if this is my first time. This is different…so very different. Bella Swan is not some girl—not teenage fun or a single night's mistake or a convenient fix. No. She is the girl that I am damn proud to walk beside on the street; the girl whose voice is the first and last sound I long to hear each day; the girl I wish I could introduce to my mother…because I know she would adore her as much I do.

A fierce blush overtakes my face when I notice Bella's curious gaze weighing heavily upon me. She is sitting on my bed clutching her knees to her chest as she watches me. For a moment, I wonder if she'll reach out and offer her hand as I roll the latex over my length. I want her to—want her to know what I feel like in her grip and to discover my body as I wish to discover hers. Once all the necessary precautions are taken, I rejoin her on the bed and once again, she unfolds beneath me as I hover above her.

"If it hurts too much, tell me and I will stop." I ask for her promise, and she assures me she will. I speculate about her expectations, and this thought concerns me greatly. I want so badly for this to be perfect, but I know it won't be. Of the three women I've been with in the past, neither one of them had been a virgin. My first, my high school girlfriend, Victoria, had been with one other guy before me. Tanya, the woman who had become my lover during my stay in London, was older than I and far more experienced. And I'm fairly certain that the girl in LA—her name escapes me since I was too intoxicated at the time to remember—was no innocent. This is new, and I am simultaneously terrified and excited.

I crawl between her legs, balancing carefully over her as I position myself at her entrance. Her breath is loud and heavy, her chest heaving and her glinting, brown eyes wide. Firmly clasping her hands to my back, she braces herself for the action that will bind us together. Slowly…cautiously…I guide my length into her, reveling in the blissful sensation of her warmth surrounding me for the first time. When I push further, I can feel it—the sudden stretch and tear that finally makes her mine—and I cease my movements instantly. A sharp gasp escapes her lips and a grimace contorts her features.

"I'm sorry, Bella," I whisper as I rest my forehead against hers. "So, so sorry."

Before I can withdraw, she stops me. "Don't. Just…slow, very slow," she encourages. The quiver in her voice sends a surge of fear through my stomach. If she cries, I'll lose it. I had promised her once that she would never cry because of me, and I sure as hell don't want her to do it now. I won't be able to take it.

Ignoring my anxiety, I continue where I left off. With a steady, deliberate thrust, I fill her body completely and wait for her encouragement to move forward. With her consent, I begin gliding inside her with tentative, slow motions. Eventually, I feel her hips rising to meet mine until we finally capture a satisfying rhythm. I wonder if I feel as good to her as she does to me.

Soft curves melding with hard lines. Warm. Wet. Taut. And absolutely fucking amazing.

As the combination of blissful sensations becomes overwhelming, the throbbing ache in my groin becomes more intense. A white-fire blaze radiates through my body—like an electric current branching from my fingertips to my toes—and finally, I am driven to a welcome release. In her arms I fall apart, come completely unraveled and collapse onto her chest. Recovering, I raise my head to ascertain her expression but find an ambiguous mixture of emotions.

"Are you okay?" I ask as I caress her flushed cheek, and she assures me that she is fine.

Clutching her to my chest, I roll us over until we are lying on our sides. The strands of hair around her face are dampened with perspiration, and I gently brush them away.

"I'm sorry it wasn't…" I fumble for the right words, suddenly feeling like an inarticulate moron. "It will be better next time."

Somewhere down the road we will get this right. I will learn her, eventually—discover what she likes and memorize how her body responds to my touch until she moans my name in ecstasy again and again. In time, I hope to see her touch become more brazen, more learned and confident, as well.

Practice makes perfect, and you and I are going to have lots of practice, Bella. I grin at my musings, afraid to verbalize them aloud.

Her full, rose-colored lips curve into a smile. "It's alright, Edward," she says understandingly. "Don't apologize. I'm not good at this."

I shake my head against the pillow and chuckle lightly at her absurdity. Silly Bella. Before she can utter another word of self-doubt, I shush her with my lips and whisper my love. I exit the bed just long enough to discard the latex in the bathroom. When I return, I nestle behind her, pull the blanket tighter around us, and wrap my arms around her softness. Several times before we have fallen asleep like this—albeit fully clothed—but drifting into dreams next to her naked skin is a thousand times more gratifying. The sweet scent of her hair and the gentle tempo of her breathing are the only lullaby I need. Exhaustion overtakes me, and just before I doze, I smile at the thought of waking up beside her in the morning.

* * *

The faint light of dawn seeps through the only window in my apartment, effectively rousing me from my dreamless slumber. I am curled in the same position in which I'd fallen asleep, tangled in the sheets beneath the heavy blanket.

But I am alone.

I reach over and find nothing but a vacant pillow, still sunken with the imprint where her head had lain. I think nothing of it at first. She must be in the shower, or perhaps she has stepped outside to make a phone call. One glance around the loft tells me I am wrong. As I rise from the bed and search for my underwear—which I find among the piles of fabric strewn across the hardwood floor—I notice that my clothing is all that remains. There is no light in the bathroom, no sight of her in the hall outside my door. Frantic, I slide into my jeans and race barefoot and shirtless downstairs to the parking lot. I shiver as the bitter cold of the November morning chills my bare skin. I scan the lot for her truck, but find only my Volvo and an old Toyota on the other side.

Maybe she went to get breakfast. Maybe her father called and she had to rush home. Surely, she's not upset. She was perfectly fine last night.

My head reels with questions, concerns, and ideas but I come to no conclusion. I climb upstairs again and search for a note on the kitchen counter. Again, nothing. I see my phone sitting on the granite next to my keys and discover one new message waiting for me on the screen.

I'm sorry.

And for the third time in my life, my whole fucking world gets turned upside down.

A/N: So there ya have it. To be honest, I'm more pissed at Bella now than I was when I outlined this chapter. I had to stop and remind myself that she has no clue what's really going through his head, and she's young, impulsive, and wounded. Forgive her and her poor cynical mother. Cross your fingers that Edward forgives her, too. Thoughts, questions, comments? Until the next chapter, much love. Happy New Year! ;)