An Introduction to Swirl and Daisy: The Non-Romantic Romance

Beta: xsecretxkeeperx

Chapter 37: The First Time

. . .

April 7, 2006, was the day I became a woman.

Not because I made love for the first (and fourth) time in my life. Not because of how beautiful and empowered and irresistible Edward made me feel. It wasn't the fire in his eyes or the intensity of his breath or any of the reactions his body had to mine or mine to his.

It was the after.

. . .

Morning.

English was a grating subject when all of Emmett McCarty's hopes and dreams would either be dashed or surpassed in three minutes time. I was wearing Marilyn Monroe and feverishly tapping my pen against the textbook. The impulse to chew on the pen cap had almost won when Edward whispered, "No pen-chomping today," and pried the pen from my fingers, replacing it with his hand.

"I'm nervous."

"Don't be. We have this," he said, eyes full of mischief above an easy smile. Plotting, pillaging, and problem-solving our way through the senior prank had done wonders for his heartache since Mrs. Evans' passing. "Now, last chance, tell me what song you chose."

I shook my head, the curls of my platinum blonde wig bouncing against my cheekbones. I'd managed to keep that particular detail a secret for the last three weeks, worried Edward or Emmett would nix my song choice. It was driving Edward bonkers.

"Come on," he urged quietly. "It's too late to change it now, even if I don't like it."

"Wait two minutes and be surprised."

"I don't want—"

"Mr. Cullen."

"Yes, Mr. Berty," Edward answered without missing a beat.

"Did you hear the question?"

"No, sir." Well, maybe he'd missed a beat or two.

"I asked how you could personally relate to Romeo, given your…" Mr. Berty nodded to our joined hands.

Edward sniffed. "I can't."

I dropped his hand like a hot potato. "You can't?" I asked, as the term "public dumping" was muttered amongst our classmates.

"Certainly not," Edward said. "How could I possibly relate to a character that claims to love two separate women in the span of twenty pages?"

Mr. Berty leaned against his desk and crossed his arms. "Some say Romeo's feelings for Rosaline were infatuation, not love."

"Undoubtedly, it was," Edward said. "I argue that what he felt for Juliet was also the better side of infatuation."

"And you base this argument on…?"

"The love I have fills the entire capacity of my heart, and so claimed Romeo of Rosaline. I'm not so fickle that another woman could distract me from it." Edward gave me one of his sizzling stares. "I have no doubt the play would have ended very differently had Bella Swan crossed Romeo's path. He would have dismissed Juliet as quickly as he dismissed Rosaline, for there is no one fairer or more beautiful in this world or any other."

I bit my lip and tried not to look too pleased as several envious glares shot my direction. One girl dressed as Tonya Harding looked like she wanted to take me out with her ice skates.

The strum of an electric guitar jolted the class from its Edward-induced haze, me included. Holy macaroni was the intercom loud. We'd set the volume as high as possible to maximize irritation, but hadn't predicted our school's antiquated intercom system could produce quite this much noise.

Deafness aside, I gave an internal howl that our prank was actually working, and tried to pretend I was as confused as the other students. Edward didn't have the same problem, what with trying to identify the song by the opening chords and being unable to. It wasn't a song overly familiar to our generation.

My excitement nearly boiled over when the lyrics started, loud and clear over the intercom.

"I am woman, hear me roar
In numbers too big to ignore
And I know too much to go back and pretend…
"

Edward sat back and shook his head, amused. " 'I Am Woman?' Really?"

A glance around the room—everyone chatting in groups, pointing to the speakers or covering their ears—made me feel safe enough to say, "He called me a little girl."

"Well, this is quite the reckoning."

My smile grew as I pictured Principal Benson scrambling to turn off the intercom.

"If I have to, I can do anything
I am strong (strong)
I am invincible (invincible)
I am woman."

They were probably unplugging the switchboard and realizing our song was running on its own input right about now. I was, as the song said, invincible.

"Check it out," I said, nodding to Emmett. "Helen Reddy empowered an entire generation with this song and now she's empowering Al Capone." He had his eyes closed and was bobbing his head along with the catchy, twangy tune.

"I have to hand it to you, Bella. You still manage to surprise me four years later. I had money on something Britney Spears."

"I wanted to make a statement."

"And I come back even stronger
Not a novice any longer
'cause you've deepened the conviction in my soul…
"

"You achieved your mission, I believe."

I held my finger to my lips, so I could enjoy the last chorus of the song, never having felt so bold or so high. Helen was singing directly into my spirit, making me believe I could do anything I put my mind to. The murmurs of the class came into focus as the music faded to a close, a little bit of confusion, a little bit of laughter, and a lot a bit of applause. Emmett was aching to get out of his seat to take a bow, but the success of our plan and our futures hinged on anonymity.

"Very funny, seniors. Well done," Mr. Berty said, clapping his hands with the rest of the class. "Now, back to Rom—" He was drowned out by the electric guitar.

Silly Mr. Berty. As if we were done.

Phase Two of Emmett's brilliant plan had been to put the song on repeat, so it could play over and over and over and over again. It would only stop when we were released from school, as said the school's website after I had hacked in to leave our demands. Little girls with quick fingers could do a lot of damage.

"Testing. Testing. TESTING!" Ms. Cope's voice broke over the intercom, shouting to be heard over Helen's voice. Phase Three: Dual Intercom Access, so that we'd actually be able to hear when we were released from school. Challenging though it had been, there was nothing Edward and I couldn't achieve when we put our minds together. "Students and faculty, please stay where you are and under control as we figure out this glitch in our intercom system. Things will return to normal shortly."

Things wouldn't.

Twenty minutes into the prank, the students were betting on how long it would take the administration to stop it. Two hours into the prank, we'd blown them all away. Because educating was impossible, the teachers had been pulled from the classrooms to search the school for my input (not that they had a clue what they were looking for or had a shot in hell at finding it), and the students had been granted an extra long siesta in the cafeteria. It was only a matter of time before the administration gave in completely. The whole school knew it.

Due to how large the cafeteria was, the chords of "I Am Woman" were hollow, the volume spread thin, giving a few hundred hyper teens the floor for conversation and speculation. Edward, Emmett, and I were having a blast deflecting suspicion onto some of our more annoying classmates.

"It just seems like the kind of thing Mike would do," Edward was telling Angela for the fifth time, when there was a tap on my shoulder.

I twisted around to find Chief Swan looming over the table. They'd called the cops? This was officially going down in Forks history. "Hey, Dad!"

"Good. I finally found the right Marilyn. Can I have a word?"

"Sure," I said perkily. This pretending-to-be-innocent thing was too easy; I just had to act like all the other students who were as excited as I was. "How awesome is this senior prank?" I asked, once we were in a quieter corner of the cafeteria. There was a speaker above us but it was high enough that we could still hear each other.

"Well, let's see. All of the teachers are frantically searching the school for God-knows-what, Mr. Benson is beside himself, and the cops had to be called. We're talking public disturbance, destruction of public property, and thousands of wasted taxpayer dollars." He rearranged his glower into a smirk. "On a scale of one to ten, I'd give it an eight."

"Eight? Only an eight?"

"I'll boost it to a ten when the student body gets dismissed from school, which I'd say is about fifteen minutes away."

"Do you have that on authority?"

Charlie pointed up and almost immediately a voice came over the intercom, fighting Helen Reddy to be heard. "Students and faculty of Forks High, this is Principal Benson and I have a message to the person or persons responsible for this exploit. This is a severe, unlawful offense. There is a laundry list of crimes you will be charged with when—not if, when—you are caught. On top of that, you will not walk at graduation or be allowed to attend prom. If you come forward with the information necessary to return the intercom to its original state, you will be granted a reprieve. This offer will not be extended again. You have fifteen minutes to comply. Come forward now and stop disturbing this environment of learning."

"That is the sound of desperation."

"He sounds frazzled," I concurred.

"Truth is these senior pranks are hardly ever traced back to their originators unless they are stupid enough to brag about it to other students or, worse, actually come forward." He was giving me the hard-eye.

"I don't think these pranksters would be that stupid," I assured him. "I haven't heard so much as a rumor about who it could be."

"Good. Of course, I wouldn't expect anything less from these masterminds. Not only did they hack into the intercom system, they managed to move the entire thing over to a separate electrical source so that if we cut the power, the only thing that doesn't work is the principal's switchboard. For my own curiosity, I would be interested to know how that was achieved."

"I couldn't tell you." Even if I'd wanted to, that was all Edward.

He nodded. "I only hope they didn't leave any fingerprints."

"I'm sure they didn't," I said, trying not to smile too much. "Someone that clever probably knows how to cover a trail."

"Yep. She probably has a remarkable father who taught her how to be a smart criminal."

"Why do you assume it's a she?"

He again pointed up. "I am woman, hear me roar…"

I hadn't fully thought that one through. "It could be a guy trying to throw you off his scent."

"Your mother used to sing this song to you when you were a baby."

"Did she?"

"Yep." He rocked on his heels once. "It was a good choice for today."

"Thank you." He quirked an eyebrow. "And I say that on behalf of the entire female student body."

He chortled through his mustache. "Okay, I better get back to the search party. Do me one favor? Tell Emmett to cool it."

He nodded behind me to where Emmett was standing on a table, leading a crowd of sophomore boys in a rousing chorus.

"I'm sorry, Dad. I think we both know Emmett isn't capable of cooling it."

"What about your boyfriend? Can he be talked down?"

I whipped back around. Emmett was helping Edward onto the table. "Oh, my God," I laughed as Edward started swaying with the music. "Can we just let him be? I haven't seen him this happy since…" How long had it been? "Since the proposal."

"Ah," Charlie agreed.

"Let's just sit back and enjoy this. We have Al Capone and Hugh Hefner, and—look!—there goes Richard Nixon, dancing on a table to 'I Am Woman.' It doesn't get stranger than this."

The boys were rocking out. Emmett passed Edward the "microphone" (a water bottle), and he chanted, "If I had to, I can do anything. I am strong."

The entire cafeteria sang backup. "Strong!"

"I am invincible."

"Invincible!"

"I am womaaa-aa-an."

He was delectable. I only wished I had the guts to get up there with him.

"I'll see you Sunday, Marilyn," Charlie said.

Was he still here? "Wait. Don't you mean tonight?"

"I think you have a sleepover planned with Angela."

"I do?"

"Tell me one thing before I go. If we switch off the entire school's power supply, will that stop it?"

"Don't you think these alleged 'masterminds' would have thought of that?"

"That's my girl."

. . .

Afternoon.

"Are we going to Mrs. Evans' house?" I asked Edward as we zoomed past Port Angeles. He had herded me into the Volvo for some kind of surprise as soon as we'd been released from school.

"Nope," he said mysteriously. "Do you think we met Emmett's expectations?"

"Are you kidding me? Met and surpassed." I readjusted my feet on the dashboard and let my hand surf the rushing air. We hadn't been able to stop talking about the prank all afternoon. "I gotta say, after all that work, I think he was even more impressed that you got up on the table with him."

He gave me a mega-watt smile. "You saw that?"

"I think the whole school saw that."

"It's part of my new life philosophy. From now on, I'm going to ask myself, 'Will I regret not doing this tomorrow?' If the answer is yes, then I'm going to do it."

"What brought this on?"

"Grandma. Death has a way of reminding us that the time we have is not infinite and should not be wasted. You have to get busy living or get busy dying."

"I think that's an excellent way to live your life," I said, running my fingers through my hair as the sunshine-warmed wind whipped it about. This was bliss.

"Oh, my God!" I sprung up and pulled my feet off the dashboard. "I completely forgot to ask you this morning if you got your Dartmouth acceptance letter."

His smiled died and every cell in my body went cold. Our college acceptance letters—the ones that mattered—had been rolling in since the first of April. Yale, Princeton, and Cornell had accepted me and not Edward, and both Harvard and Stanford only wanted him. Though Columbia, Brown, and Penn had accepted us both, my heart had been set on Dartmouth ever since my letter came two days ago. For the first time, I had felt real enthusiasm in uprooting our lives for college, not just for Edward's Ivy League dream, but for me. I wanted this. B had done a happy-dance in my head.

In the spirit of better communication, I had disclosed my desire to Edward, and since Dartmouth had been Mrs. Evans' first choice for us, it was Edward's first choice, too. If the first line of Edward's letter read "Congratulations," we were headed to New Hampshire.

Better communication could suck it. Judging by the expression on Edward's face, we'd totally jinxed Dartmouth.

"I didn't want to put a damper on the day."

"It's okay," I said automatically, trying to drown my disappointment. "It's not your fault the admission people at Dartmouth are goobers."

"They must be to let us both in."

"To let us both…"

His smile resurfaced. "April Fools."

I gaped at him for a long moment before snarling, "You got in?"

"I got in."

"That was mean!" I said, smacking his arm as hard as I could.

"Hey, hey. I'm driving here!"

"I saw my whole future flash before my eyes." I needed to get me a better future.

"I couldn't resist. I'm a prankster now." It was hard to stay mad when he was so jolly. "Aren't you thrilled? We're going to New Hampshire!"

"We're maybe going. Pull another prank. I dare you."

His grin only grew wider. "What I want more than anything in the world right now, is to take your face between my hands and taste your lips."

I shifted in my seat to hide my blush. "Focus on the road, buddy."

"Buddy? This is bad. Fortunately, I have just the thing to make it up to you. Check it out." He pointed to a place above the tree line, where the roof of Mrs. Evans' mansion poked out.

"I thought you said we weren't going to your grandma's house."

"We aren't."

"Ooo-kay," I said as we turned onto the road that led directly to her mansion. A minute later, we were sitting in front of it and I was thoroughly confused. "I thought you said we weren't going to your grandma's house."

"This isn't my grandmother's house anymore." He winked and exited the Volvo.

Before he could make his way around to open the door for me, I joined him in front of the vehicle. The ivy-covered mansion was even more beautiful in spring. "I thought coming back here would be harder for you."

"This isn't the first time I've been back."

"Oh?"

"For the appraisal, home inspection, and such."

It was a shame the Cullens had decided to sell. I'd only been here twice and I already missed the property. "I'm surprised your parents didn't handle all that stuff."

"They were here, too. It's important to have both parties present, especially in these familial mortgage deals, to make sure everything is fair."

"Familial mortgage deals? Is your aunt trying to buy it?"

Edward ignored my question, visibly enjoying himself. "The place has really got it all. Room to stretch out, a gorgeous view, vaulted ceilings, eight bedrooms, five baths. Sure, there's a fix-up here or there."

"Who in the family is buying this house?"

"Usually it would be the seller's responsibility to repair those, but considering we'll be getting it for a steal if we decide to buy, it hardly seems fair to press my parents on too many of the amenities."

I stared at him.

He smiled. "If you want it, this house is yours."

"Come again?"

"If you want it, I will buy you this house."

A hysterical cackle tumbled from my lips. "Y-you can't do that. You're only seventeen."

"Bella," Edward said, catching my face in his hands. His stare penetrated mine. "If you want it, I will buy you this house."

"April fools?"

He shook his head.

I will buy you this house. I will buy you this house. I will buy you this house. The words flew through my head several more times until I finally got it. If I wanted it, Edward was going to buy me a home—the home. He wasn't kidding around.

"Okay, I believe you." He released my face and I took to pacing, shockingly clearheaded. "Do you want it?"

"I don't want my opinion to sway you one way or another. If you want to live in this house, I will buy it."

"Are you crazy? This is a huge decision that you've thrust on me out of nowhere!" Ah, there was the hysteria. I took a breath. "You're always going on about teamwork this, teamwork that. Unless I'm living in this house alone, I'm not going to make this decision without knowing where you stand."

He sighed. "All I will say is that if I was opposed to living here, I wouldn't be making the offer."

I leaned against the hood of the Volvo and considered the future. Edward and I could easily fill this home with love. There was charm in every stone and plenty of room for adventure. "Do we have to make a decision today?"

"It doesn't have to be today, but it'd help keep the tension down at the will reading this weekend if my parents could say what they intend to do with the estate."

A breeze ruffled the ivy-leaves. This is your house, they whispered. I turned away. "The truth is, I knew I wanted this house the moment I saw it."

"As did I."

"But," I cut off Edward's gusto, "it feels a little wrong."

"Why? Because it was my grandmother's?"

"No. If anything, I feel like this is the kind of house that should be handed down through the generations. I would be honored to live here."

"Then what's the problem?"

How to put it into the words… "We're seventeen years old and I feel like we're being handed the world on a platter. We should be eating Ramen noodles, not buying mansions."

"You are coming into money. It's one of the great flaws in the Edward-package. You're going to have to get over it."

"What a burden."

"If we buy this house, we won't be purchasing a townhouse in New Hampshire," he said, swinging our hands back and forth. "We will be 'slumming it' in an apartment for four years. Does that ease your conscience?"

"Actually, it does a little." I looked down at our hands and then up to his luminous face. "You really want this, don't you?"

"I want whatever you want."

"But you want this." His eyes said it all. I was inclined to give in just to satiate that eagerness. "What would our finances look like if we decided to buy?"

"I don't want that stuff to affect your decision. If you want this house, we can make it work."

"Aside from the fact that I'm absolutely not going to make an uninformed decision about something that will change the rest of our lives, anything you tell me is only going to help your case."

His gaze turned calculating as he tossed my request around. "Come with me," he said, pulling me toward the house. "I'll explain while I give you the official tour."

Very clever, that boy was, pairing his vision for the house with the middling details of finances. It was all too easy to get swept up in his enthusiasm.

His parents would finance the loan, and we'd move to a more vintage style of decorating. He'd put his inheritance from Grandma Evans toward a down payment, and we'd keep all of her furniture until we were ready to purchase our own. MyT-Spot made enough monthly to cover about seventy-five percent of the minimum payment, and during Christmas we'd wrap the stairwell banisters with garland and lights. He would get a job in New Hampshire to cover the rest of the payment, and we'd convert one of the eight bedrooms into a Harry-Potter-themed study.

"I'm not sure about that."

"You haven't heard my idea for the conjoined bathroom yet. Think Hagrid's Hut. Little fake pumpkins everywhere and a picture of Buckbeak."

"Hardy har har," I said, as we climbed to the second floor landing. The house was exactly the same as the last time I'd visited, sans the auction items and Mrs. Evans' welcoming smile. I supposed the smile would become my duty if we purchased.

Or Edward's, B inserted.

"I don't like the idea of you having a job, at least not until you know how demanding the workload at Dartmouth is going to be."

Edward waved me off. "It'll be fine. You know school has always come easy to me."

"We're going to Dartmouth, not Forks High. You're going to have your hands full studying."

"Dartmouth's only four years. This house is the rest of our lives." He paused outside the master bedroom, the room in which Mrs. Evans had given me her wedding dress. "I know it'll be hard work, but I also know it'll be worth it. This is going to be our bedroom."

He swung the door open and my heart nearly stopped at the complete transformation. A huge four-poster bed was the centerpiece, a sheer white canopy draped artistically above a beige comforter set with brown and robin egg blue highlights. Leaves, like the ones he'd once filled a forest floor with except for their ripe greenness, were scattered over the blanket, and above the fireplace hung the portrait he'd painted of us that day in the forest.

As if in a trance, I moved to step inside the room, but Edward stopped me with a hand to the doorpost. "Where do you think you're going?"

"I want to see it up close."

He shook his head. "Not unless I get to carry you over the threshold."

An indignant half-laugh made its way up my throat. "You're not serious. No, of course you are. Have at it, then."

Edward smiled roguishly and swept me off my feet. It was almost bridal, what with the silky fabric of my Marilyn dress fluttering around us. I felt light and extraordinarily happy as he walked me through the door and steadily placed me inside. He'd put a lot of thought into our room, even putting a matching cushion at the foot of the bed for Willow. I never wanted to leave.

After flicking a switch to turn on the fireplace, Edward shrugged off his suit jacket and loosened his tie. I watched him as he rolled up the sleeves of his dress shirt. "What?" he asked, pausing midway up his left arm.

"Nothing." The French doors invited me to peer out onto the balcony. "You just look at home here already."

"Already?" he asked, smiling crookedly. "Meaning, I look at home here, as we begin our journey into home-ownership?"

"You look at home here, before we've even come to a decision about home-ownership."

"What is there to decide, Bella? We could have this house."

A thick, forest-themed wreath framed the French doors. I touched a twig. "You put a lot of thought into this."

"Indeed." Edward hopped onto the bed and said seductively, "Care to join me, Miss Swan? It's very comfortable."

"Is it now?" I sauntered over to him and held out my hand so he could draw me to him. A covered tray, two wineglasses, and a cooling bottle of sparkling cider were tucked away on a corner table. "What's that?"

"Refreshments for later."

"Later?"

"Yes. For after this." He pulled me into a deep kiss, the kind that made butterflies rupture all over my body, even after four and a half years. Today, he tasted of caramel and senior pranks and bliss. His hand trailed down my arm, leaving bewitched goosebumps in its wake. The kiss intensified, blowing thoughts of mortgages and homework to the place where I kept all of our future prospects locked up tight.

With a twirl, I was under him, parting my legs so he could fit seamlessly between. It had been months since we'd experienced this kind of intimacy, and I'd forgotten how awake it could make me feel.

"There are no interruptions today," Edward said against my lips. "I want you to just lay back and enjoy the ride."

"Enjoy the ride?" I giggled.

He pulled back slightly. "Too much? It sounded sexy in my head."

"It was totally sexy." My hands rose above my head and gripped the pillow, hopefully giving him the best vantage point of my cleavage. "Ride away."

He momentarily cocked his head to the side with the most delicious grin, before diving in with aplomb. The thinner material of my dress made the sensations come faster and greater than I'd experienced before, and soon my lips were too occupied with trying to catch a breath to kiss Edward. He moved down to my neck. I had to touch him, to feel the power in his arms, the rippling of his back. I couldn't hear anything but the creak of the bed and the string of yeses tumbling out without thought or filter. It was too much and not enough.

I heard a grunt and my eyes flew open. How dare they close in the first place? His face was pure ecstasy, glorious and uninhibited, the embodiment of his new life philosophy. My heart was blazing. Or maybe that was the growing tension in my abdomen. It was all the same right now. Another thrust, and my toes curled. One more, and my mouth popped open to embarrassing proportions.

It was at that unfortunate moment, as I turned my head to conceal my reaction, that I caught sight of the refreshment tray and something clicked into place: the leaves, the fireplace, the bed… He's about to pop your cherry.

"Wait, wait, wait. Oh, God," I moaned as a wave of something awesome rolled over my entire body. Forget it. It's not worth missing this. "Wait. Please, Edward. Wait. I have a question."

My request held no conviction, but he complied like any man of honor would, rolling off me and landing on the pillows with a dramatic thud. A second to catch my breath was all that I allotted before I asked, "What is this?"

"Some refer to it as dry humping."

"But what is this?"

His gaze ran the entire length of my body before he said, "It's anything you want it to be."

"Anything?"

"I reiterate, anything."

"As in…" a shudder ran from my head to my toes, "sex?"

His breath tickled my skin with a chuckle. "As in."

I shot up, stumbling out of the bed. My whole body thrummed, from anticipation or anger, I didn't know.

Edward situated his hands behind his head. "Problem, dear?"

Anger. It was definitely anger. "You're trying to seduce me so I'll agree to buy this house," I accused. "You prostitute!"

"Don't be silly. I thought you'd agree to purchase the house upon arrival, but you're being obstinate and stubborn as usual. Everything was arranged ahead of time. Willow's with my parents and Charlie's happily pretending you're at Angela's. I was going to take you up here and suggest we christen our new home, but I'll happily settle for taking advantage of an empty house if you wish to remain, as previously stated, obstinate and stubborn."

He was being so cavalier it only served to mystify me further. "What about your virtue and marriage and your perfect fantasy?"

Edward swiveled out of the bed and strolled over, parking behind me. "It doesn't matter anymore," he whispered in my ear.

"But—"

"It really doesn't. Looking back, I don't think it ever did."

I stood there, completely stumped. One minute he was offering to buy me a house, the next he was willing to give in on the sex thing. World on a platter didn't begin to cover it. "Where is this coming from?"

"Does it matter?"

"Would it matter to you if I changed my mind about getting married at the drop of a hat and didn't explain why?"

"Not particularly. I'd just assume you'd come to your senses."

"Have you ever heard the term 'thin ice'?"

"Fine. I'll explain, given that it's nearly impossible to maintain an erection under ice-cold water," he said, pressing into my backside. If he was serious, this wasn't going to be a very long discussion. "Although, I have to say, I'm surprised you're surprised. Have you forgotten our vows so soon?"

To love, cherish, and fuck. Of course, I hadn't. "I didn't realize they would change your feelings on sex. I thought maybe, maybe, you'd reconsider once we were living together. Otherwise, I thought you'd still want to wait."

"I'm done waiting for the stuff I want, and Bella," he swept my hair over my right shoulder and placed a kiss just above my collarbone, "every single night since the day I met you, I've ached to be inside you. I'm not scared to embrace that anymore."

"You were scared? Of what?"

"Being one hundred percent vulnerable. Your father's shotgun. Not knowing how to pleasure you. An assortment of complications, if you will." My cheeks flooded with heat. They weren't the only parts blushing. "What about you? Are you scared?"

I felt Edward fiddling with the zipper of my dress. "Nervous. But not scared," I said as he tugged it down.

He skimmed my now bare lower back with his fingertips. "Then what are we waiting for? We're desperately in love, have this big, empty house to ourselves and the weekend to figure out what the hell we're doing."

I let out a breath and tried to grasp the magnitude of this moment. We were just two people in a house on a small piece of land off the edge of America, but this felt like the most important thing in the world. This felt like life.

"Look at me." He turned me around and lifted my chin. "I know you've wanted this for a long time, but we don't have to do it today. I have no expectations, only a willing heart, mind, and body."

"April fools?"

"Not a chance."

I reached back and unclasped the halter of my dress to let it pool at my feet, ready for where the night would take us.

. . .

Night.

The moonlight streamed through the French doors, dimly illuminating Edward next to me. It reminded me of when I had snuck into his room and watched him sleep, only now I was allowed to trace the lines of his body. He hadn't wanted to fall asleep, but especially after that last round, he was spent. He'd kept his eyes trained on mine as long as he could before they reluctantly fluttered close.

I couldn't feel more awake. Sex was everything and nothing like I had expected. Certain aspects of it had unquestionably been romanticized over the years, but the parts that stuck out were all the wonderful ones: his fingers, the light sheen of sweat we'd built up, the moment he'd entered me. His back. I held my fingers up and observed them against the flames from the fireplace, recalling the way they ran along Edward's back in pace with his thrusts.

"Perfect," I found myself whispering. It was also clumsy, often awkward, and a few times painful. It was Swirl and me—imperfectly perfect.

From where I was lying, the French doors provided a threshold to the night sky, almost like a portrait. It was overcast, but the full moon was strangely bright, throwing a navy blue hue over the veil of clouds. A wide ring circled the moon, like a halo, and for the briefest of moments I thought of Mrs. Evans watching over us. I bit my lip to repress a laugh, remembering how the idea had repulsed Edward when we spoke of it last month. Wherever she was, whatever she was doing, I knew she was proud of him and how he was honoring her legacy by living his life to the fullest. I hoped I was making her proud, too.

Rotating my body so as not to disturb Edward, I slipped from under the sheets and planted my feet on the cool, hardwood floor. After a look back to ensure he was still sleeping comfortably, I tiptoed over to the French doors and made my way to the stone balcony.

The spring air was nippy (pun intended) but not unbearably so. After Helen Reddy all morning and what had at least seemed like a noisy afternoon, the quiet out here was arresting. If only I knew how to read what time it was by the moon. With Round Three having lasted through sunset, it couldn't have been later than seven or eight.

Edward's o-face burst into my mind, and I couldn't help my giggle. God, it felt amazing to not be a virgin anymore. More specifically, it felt amazing for Edward to have my virginity. I highly doubted I'd be all glowy if it had been with anyone other than him. I was even glad we'd waited until this time and place. Perfect days didn't come around often. More than ever, I couldn't imagine our life together without this house.

The balcony stretched about fifteen feet, and to the right was a small, white, metallic table set. I dragged one of the chairs over to the center of the balcony and sat down on the icy metal, giving my bare skin a second to adjust before leaning back and propping my feet up on the stone ridge. My legs were spread wide enough to give the trees a peepshow. Hopefully the breeze would find its way between them to ease the prickle of discomfort I'd been ignoring since Round One.

I sat there for a while, reflecting on today's events. When recalling an exceptionally provocative moment, I imagined a cigarette and sucked air through my fingers. If only it was cold enough to see my breath. Then again, I was outside and stark naked, so maybe not.

"What a day," I murmured. How bizarre that I had woken up this morning without a clue that today was the day my entire life had been leading up to. I brought my legs down from the ridge and sat up, hating the nature of my thoughts. It sounded so… "Pathetic."

Of course it is, B said. You just asserted that seventeen years of life experience has led you to sex. Fond though I am, sex does not a life make.

I hadn't meant sex, per se. I'd meant Edward. He was the culmination of my life experiences.

Is he?

"Stop ruining this for me!" I slapped a hand over my mouth and peeked through the French doors to see that Edward hadn't moved. He was a heavy sleeper—adorable. I officially didn't want to think about my feelings anymore; I wanted to nakedly sit here in my post-coital glow like a normal girl.

No, you want to answer the question. Is Edward all that you are?

Yes. Thinking of all my big achievements—MyT-Spot, my SAT score, my Ivy League acceptance letters—it had all been for him.

Was it?

"Why do you keep second-guessing me?"

The real question: Why do you keep second-guessing yourself?

Oh! Oh, it hurt. I put my head in my hands and leaned over. I was onto something, but what? Think about it. I was thinking, I just didn't know about what anymore. Everything in my brain was so all over the place, I couldn't remember what had brought this on. Hell, I couldn't remember what "this" was.

What are you trying to resolve? Start from the beginning.

My head popped up. "Oh, my God," I groaned. "B is me."

Since she had first appeared, I had considered her as something separate, something other, because it was easier than taking ownership of all the things I felt but didn't want to feel, all the things I thought but I didn't want to think. I'd forgotten she wasn't a separate entity. B was me. Duh.

The time had come, right here on this balcony, to face reality. B was a part of me, which meant part of me wanted the things she wanted, and didn't want the things she didn't want. It was time to stop talking to myself and to start listening.

"I can do this." Why had I gone to such ridiculous lengths to avoid my thoughts and feelings? What was I so scared of? I stood and took to pacing, hoping it would loosen up my body. It was as if every muscle—nay, every cell—knew I was on the cusp of some big self-discovery.

Why is B, who is me, afraid of getting married?

The answer had presented itself on the night of the proposal, I just hadn't liked it very much: marriage would squash my potential.

The difference between the proposal and right now was that I had accepted over the last month that I did have potential. There was a whole other person locked up inside here that I'd never recognized—a brilliant, creative person. My panic had been a manifestation of her screaming to get out. The senior prank had released her.

I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, I was capable of amazing things, especially when I had Edward to bounce off of. How could marrying him ruin that? Wouldn't being with him magnify my potential?

Yes, B answered.

I stopped in my tracks. "Yes? As in, yes?" I couldn't believe she'd give in, just like that.

Yes.

Well, okay then. Maybe she wasn't such a B after all. I searched the rest my mind for any signs of resistance. There weren't any. I was confused. Did I just decide I wanted to get married?

"It can't be that easy," I muttered, rubbing my temple. There had to be something else, some underlying cause for this whole mess. A few minutes later, still nothing was forthcoming.

I sagged against the balcony ridge, taking my brain off the issue at hand and using it to instead admire the house—my house—and the question hit me out of nowhere: What do you want to do with your life?

Marry Edward.

I cringed at the instinctual response. Marriage was great, but there was so much more out there, and I had the potential to access it. My problem had never been that I didn't want to get married; it was that I had never looked past it. What did I want to do with my life?

My sense of direction was pitiful to the point of ridiculousness, where Edward had always seemed to know what he wanted. Some people were just lucky that way, I supposed. He had been right the night of the proposal when he realized I had worked myself into his dreams instead of having dreams of my own. He wanted a website, so I became a programmer. He wanted Ivy League, so I worked my way into the 99+ percentile. He wanted this house… Who was I kidding? I wanted this house. My point: His dreams had become my dreams, but did I have any that could become his?

Staring up into the moon's brightness, I imagined the next five, fifteen, and fifty years of my life and really wondered what I wanted them to look like. A smile tugged at my lips as it all came into focus.

I wanted to be the Bella that Edward saw every time he looked at me. I wanted to go to Dartmouth and kick ass. I wanted to learn everything there was to know about the Internet and computers, and I wanted to use that knowledge to make the world a better place. I wanted to marry Edward as a confident, successful woman. I wanted people to whisper behind their hands as we passed them by, how we were brilliant and enthusiastic and so Goddamn different.

It became too much. Finally, finally, I was able to answer the other question that irked me so.

We were different because, without even realizing it, we pushed each other to be our best selves. He would have never stepped out of his bubble without me and I would have never seen the backend of a website without him. I was the key to unlocking his confidence and he was the key to unlocking my talent. I had always known it on some level, but this felt so much more profound. We were going to change the world. I could feel it in my bones.

There was only one thing I knew would clip our wings, and it was going to hurt like a mother to let go.

I turned to the house. It was breathtakingly beautiful in the glow of night, but wasn't anything you were about to say goodbye to perfect in the loss of it?

"I'm sorry, but it's not going to work out," I said, hugging the pain. "I love you, but I can't be the woman I want to be if I have you to pay off when we're just starting out."

I paused to give the house a moment to plea for my change of heart.

"It's completely understandable that you'd want Edward and me to stay, especially with the afternoon we just showed you. But no offense, I'd rather see Edward for the next four years than see you every day for the rest of my life."

There. I had been epiphanized, and I had done it all bare-ass naked. The urge to do something crazy reemerged with a vengeance, but this time it was voiceless and didn't carry with it the suffocating panic. It wanted to be liberated.

I ran my hand along the stone ridge. It was thick and wide—ideal for stupid. I dropped the metal chair right in front of it and used it to wobble my way onto the ledge.

If you have to, fall backwards.

"I'm not going to fall," I said confidently, steadying myself. Two stories up and I felt like I was on top of the world.

Now what?

I opened my mouth. "I am woman. Hear me roar. In numbers too great to ignore…"

By the time the chorus hit, it couldn't even be considered singing. It didn't matter. There was no one but the trees and the moon and the wind and, possibly, some satellite guys. I wanted to shout my deliverance. "Whoa, yes, I am wise, but it's wisdom born of pain. Yes, I paid a price, but look how much I've gained. If I have to, I can do anything." My arms spread to the world and my hips moved to the imaginary music. "I am strong. I am invincible. I am wooo-ooo-maaa-aa-an!"

My dramatic conclusion was met with applause. I grinned over my shoulder to Edward standing in the doorway, also naked and greatly affected by my performance. "Are you finished or did you have another selection prepared?" he asked.

"For that," I nodded to Little Edward, "I could be finished."

"Would you like me to help you down?"

"Absolutely," I said. "You're my key."

"That's one way to put it."

"This round," I jumped into his arms, "I want to be on top."

"You will find I have no objection to that whatsoever."

I am Bella. Hear me roar.