My pre-reader is the wonderful KiyaRaven, who is not only hotter than words can describe, but her brain is also tasty smart. Smart like cookies.

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SM owns stuff. Who knew, right?

Chapter 20: The Chart of Fail


"Em, let me see that sketch again – we've done something wrong."

I hold my hand out to him while standing on the deck, surveying the back yard. We've definitely done something wrong. Mom's sketch for where she wants all the tables probably makes total sense to her. It just doesn't make any sense to us. She clearly puts way too much stock in our ability to comprehend these sort of things. We have three tables still standing around, but no place to actually put them.

Mom must've overestimated the size of her garden.

"Maybe there's too much space in between the tables? If we squished them together a bit more, I bet we could fit in those other three."

"But if we squish them, we won't be able to fit in all the chairs. And the bar needs to go in over there, so we can't use that space either. The band goes there, the dancefloor is there and this patch in front of the porch is for mingling."

We stare at each other, then look down at the sketch. We study it for a good thirty seconds, but no solutions pop into our minds. I even turn it upside down, but it doesn't help.

Emmett eventually starts pointing at the paper. "Maybe if we put a table here, and then the other two down here? It's not exactly like Mom wants it, but maybe she won't notice."

I shake my head before he's even finished talking. "No, we can't do that. It's not symmetrical, and Mom's head will explode if it's not symmetrical."

He throws his hands up. "Then what the fuck are we supposed to do? The tables don't fit!"

"How are you doing, guys?" Rosalie says from behind us, suddenly emerging from the house. Bella follows her, both of them carrying bags labelled 'Ribbons, 4th July.'


Rose takes one long look at the garden before peering down at the sketch. She gasps.

"Oh, no."

I'm glad she fully realises the gravity of this situation. Bella comes to stand beside me, angling the paper towards her so she can see.

"What's wrong?"

I wave my hand at the remaining tables. "We've done something wrong, but we don't know what. Those tables don't fit in anywhere."

"Can't you just—"

"The bar goes there."

"Oh. But how ab—"

"Mingling area."

"What if you push—"

"The chairs won't fit."

Bella frowns in heavy concentration. "Huh."


She stares at it for a few more seconds. "How many chairs per table?"


"Well, why don't you just put six people at each table instead of five? It would totally fit, and then you'd only need one more table, and you could put that right there," she says, pointing.

She smiles to herself, seeming pleased with her solution. She looks up at us, only to be met with three horrified faces. The smile slowly fades.


"But... Mom's seating chart." Emmett sounds like Bella just suggested we set Dad's Aston Martin on fire.

"You can't mess with her seating chart," I say.

She looks back and forth between us. She looks so confused, poor thing.

"Are you-... really?"

We continue to stare. Her mouth drops open.

"You can't be serious."

"Oh, we're very serious. No one changes Mom's seating chart. She spends weeks on that thing."


"Oh no, no. No 'but's. Mom's seating chart is law. It is not to be altered, unless she alters it."

"So... what are you going to do about the tables?"

"Who the fuck knows?" Emmett says, ever so eloquent.

"Can't you just go ask her?" Bella thumbs over her shoulder, toward the house.

This is a solution we should've been able to figure out ourselves. The fact that we didn't sort of embarrasses me. Maybe it was just our subconscious fear of evoking Mom's wrath that kept us from thinking of it first.


"NOT IT!" my brother and I immediately yell. We turn to face each other. Clearly we both had the same idea – our mother can be a scary woman. "NOT IT! NOT IT TO INFINITY! INFINITY! NOT IT! FUCK YOU, MAN!

A stunned silence settles over the girls. Or well, stunned from Bella, resigned from Rosalie.

"Does that... happen a lot?" Bella murmurs quietly to Rose after a moment.

"Just about every time they see each other," she replies.

"Rock, paper, scissors?" Emmett says to me, ignoring the girls.

"No way. We always pick the same one. We'd keep the game going forever."

"Uhm, Edward?" Bella interrupts before Em can contribute some other idea. She gives me a careful, but meaningful look. "Maybe you should go ask her. Because... I mean, didn't you have that other-... thing? That- that thing you wanted to talk to her about?"


But darn it, she's right. Something as important as table-placement would definitely get me Mom's full attention, and then I could trap her somewhere and make her listen to me about the way she's treating Bella. It would be hard for her to blow me off if I had more than one legit reason for wanting to talk.

Suddenly, I feel nervous. I've never really confronted my Mom like this before. What if I mess up?

"Oh. Oh. Right, right. Of course. Yeah, I'll- I'll go. It's alright, Em, I'll do it. You guys keep thinking about how we're going to do this," I say, waving my hands at the tables. "I'll be right back."

Bella wears a small, slightly worried frown as she looks at me. I try to smile reassuringly. I don't want her to be worried. She doesn't need to know that my mother sort of scares me.

I give Bella's arm a quick squeeze before walking back into the house in search of my mother.

I find her in the kitchen, supervising the caterers.

"Hey, Mom – I need to talk to you."

She sighs heavily, giving me a disapproving look. "Edward, honey, I told you: I'm very busy right now."

"Yeah, but this will only take a second."

"Have you finished putting out the tables?" she says, ignoring me. "You need to finish them, or we won't be able to start decorating them and putting out the seat placements, and if all of that isn't finished by the time the guests arrive, I am going to be humiliated. You don't want that to happen, do you, sweetie?"

Well, sort of.

I shake my head, both at myself and her statement. "No, of course not, but that's actu—"

"If you've finished, you can start putting the chairs out. Remember, five at each table, and then tell Rosalie and Isabella to start decorating them."

"Mom, can you please stop calling her Isabella?" I say, frustration bleeding through my voice. "It's Bella, okay? Just call her Bella."

Mom blinks up at me, taken aback by my verbal detour. "Her name is Isabella, isn't it?"

I groan a little. "Yes, but that's not the point. Would you ju—"

I notice the caterers unobtrusively staring at us. Or I guess they were only going for being unobtrusive; since I can clearly see them taking too much of an interest in our conversation, I'd say they've failed.

With a glare in their direction, I turn back to her.

"Look, Mom, we need to talk. In private. Can we go to your office?"

"Edward, honey," she says, closing her eyes as she exhales noisily and massages her temple. "I told you, I don't have time right now. It'll have to wait."

"It can't wait. It's to do with the tables."

She frowns at me, clearly puzzled. "Then why on earth would we need to talk in my office? Why can't you just tell me here?"

"Goddammit, Mom." God, this woman is infuriating. I clench my jaw, trying not to lose it. "Fine. Look, I need to see the seating chart."


"Jesus, I just need to see it, alright?"

A hard glint comes into her eyes. "Alright. No need to take that tone with me, Edward. I raised you better than that."

She pauses as if she expects me to agree. I blink.

Her lips tighten slightly, but she brushes past me and says, "I guess I can spare the time. The seating chart's in my office."

She then proceeds to lead me to it, beckoning me to follow her. Into her office. The very place she seconds ago refused to enter.

I very nearly pick up a tomato from the counter and throw it at her.

When we get to her office, I make sure to close and lock the door behind us. She looks up at the unmistakable click.

"There's no need to lock the door, sweetie. The seating chart isn't a secret."

I roll my eyes, but don't say anything. I promised Bella I'd lock my Mom in a closet if I had to - I figure her office works just as well. At least it's roomier.

"Okay, here we are," she says, standing in front of an easel, the huge chart resting against it. It's very fancy and very detailed, with each little table decorated with five little squares to represent each chair.

It also looks nothing like the sketch she'd given Emmett.

I groan and come closer, looking to see where the two differ so we can correct the mistakes outside.

"What did you want to see about it, honey?"

"Well, we were having a bit of a problem making all the tables fit, so we—"

I cut off abruptly.

What the...

I squint, hoping against hope that I'm not seeing what I think I'm seeing.

No. No, she wouldn't. She wouldn't do that...

But she did.

Emmett and Rosalie have, as always, been placed together at a table on the left side of the garden. Mom and Dad will be sitting at the top, closest to the house. My name is labelled at their table, along with one of Mom's friends and her daughter, Charlotte, as always.

Bella will be sitting at the bottom-right table, as far away from the rest of us as possible. The fucking kids' table is closer than she is.

She put us at different tables.

She fucking put us at different tables.

It's so predictable I never actually thought it would happen.

Anger builds in me, making my breathing harsh and my skin hot. Blood pounds up my veins, burning the shells of my ears and the tops of my cheeks. My hands clench into fists. I can't stop staring at Bella's name, separated from mine. The only other names I recognise at her table are Jessica Stanley, who was my prom date in high school, and Mike Newton, who'd punched me in the face when he got drunk at said prom, screaming something about being in love with Jessica and how dare I try to take her from him, which had been awkward.

Mom knew all of this, of course. I doubt it was a coincidence that she put those two at Bella's table.

I cannot fucking believe her.

"What's wrong?" she asks, looking back and forth between me and the chart.

I turn and glare at her. "What's wrong? What's wrong?" Incredulity colours my voice. I point at Bella's name. "That's what's fucking wrong."

I think that was the first time I've ever sworn at my mother. By the shock I see on her face, she must've noticed it, too.

"Why aren't Bella and I sitting together?" I ask through clenched teeth.

Mom looks so taken aback by my anger. I don't understand why, though. It's just not possible that she thought I'd be completely fine with this. She must've realised that I'd have one or two objections.

Or maybe she's just surprised someone's actually calling her out. Mom doesn't get contradicted. Ever.

Well, that's about to fucking change, isn't it?

"Edward, honey, lower your voice, and I'll explai—"

"Explain? You'll 'explain'? Sure, go ahead, explain to me why my girlfriend isn't sitting next to me!"

Her gaze turns hard and cold, like ice. She's done with being surprised.

"This has nothing to do with Isabella. You always sit at our table."

I stare at her, stunned and angry. "That's your excuse?" I think I'm developing a twitch in my face. "That I always sit there? And what, you didn't think that me bringing my girlfriend home to meet the family might be a reason to change shit around? I can't believe you!"

She sets her jaw defensively, straightening her back as she fixes me with a glare.

"You will calm down, right now. Don't raise your voice against me - what if someone hears you? I don't understand why you're making such a big deal about this. I had to put her there because it was the only available spot. I thought she might like to sit with people her own age."

"She might want to sit with her boyfriend! You know, the only person she actually knows here." In a detached sort of way, I notice that my voice is getting very loud. "And you could've put her and me at a table together, just like Em and Rose are sitting together. Hell, just like all the god damn couples are sitting together! I don't have to sit with you and Dad anymore, because I actually brought someone with me, for once! Someone I assumed I'd be sitting next to!"

I take a step closer to her, when all I really want to do is pace around the room to work off some of my anger. Her posture falters for just a second; I know my reactions are taking her by surprise. She recovers quickly though, standing her ground.

My voice drops. I sound almost eerily calm, even though I feel nothing like it. Something is pulsing behind my eyes, pounding in my ears, racing down my nerves like screams. I guess this is what having a backbone feels like.

"Do you really think I don't know what you're doing? What you're trying to say? I know you don't like Bella. We all know that! You're so fucking obvious, in everything you do. The way you talk to her, the things you say, how you look at her!"

I sneer, almost shaking with barely-restrained anger now. "You can't keep treating her like this. You're going to stop. She hasn't done a fucking thing to you. Do you have any idea how hurt she was last night?"

I don't pause to hear her answer – I don't even care if she has one. The fury over her actions just builds and builds, never stopping, never slowing. It races away from me, uncontrollable. I don't give a shit. I want it out of control. I need it out of control. I want this fire in me to burn, to fuel me as I finally stand up to her. After twenty years of her selfish bullshit, I need this.

"Do you have any idea how horrible it is to have to tell your girlfriend that your mother won't like her? I had to warn her about you. Warn her!" I yell. "She's been completely prepared for you to be this-… this- irrational woman, and you still managed to be even worse than what we were expecting!"

Mom stares at me. Her face is drained of blood. She looks so shocked, like she honestly thought she was getting away with all of this.

"And now you go and pull this bullshit, as if you haven't insulted her enough! What the hell kind of fucking ridiculous statement is this?" I say, pointing at the chart. "Did you really think we'd just agree, just say 'Okay!' and go sit at different tables? Are you out of your mind?"

"No, it's not like tha—"

"The hell it isn't! Just admit it, Mom. For once in your life, cut the passive-aggressive bullshit, and just say it! You don't like Bella. You haven't even given her a chance. For fuck's sake, you haven't even tried! You've just decided that you don't fucking like her, and you have no idea who she even is!"

A flash of colour returns to her face, and something hard settles in her eyes.

"It's not that I don't like her." Her nostrils flare as she studies my face. "I just don't understand why you do."

My stomach drops out in disbelief.

"You could do so much better, Edward. You deserve so much better. You're going to realise soon that she's just a distraction, I know that, but I had actually hoped you would've come to your senses already."

I literally feel dizzy and lightheaded – that's how furious I am. My voice becomes strained and low, sounding almost like a growl.

"You will not... speak about her like that. Don't you dare say that I can do better. What the hell do you know, anyway? You know nothing about her, because you've just decided you're not going to."

"I don't have to know her to see that she's not what you need."

"She's exactly what I need! I love her. She means everything to me. I don't fucking want or need anyone else."

She rolls her eyes. Violent fury burns up my spine and now I am shaking with anger. I'm trembling, I might even be seeing a little bit red. I have never been this furious in my entire life.

"Oh please!" she says, spitting the words out at me. "You don't love her, Edward. You just think you do! She's part of your little Seattle-adventure, where you've gone to 'find yourself'!"

Her voice is sharp like a knife. I know that tone. It's one she's always used when she wants to cut someone down, to keep them in their place. She's never directed it at me, but only because I've never stood up to her until now.

It's not working on me. It's only making me feel stronger. She's losing control over me. Her attempt to gain it back only feeds the fury.

"But very soon, you'll realise that you don't belong there, and that you definitely don't belong with her. You'll see that this is where you should be" – she indicates the house around her – "and you'll come home. You'll find a nice girl who's just right for you, and you'll settle down and build a family and a future. Right now, you're only testing your limits. It's typical rebellion, but it will pass, Edward. And when it does, you'll understand where I'm coming from."

She finishes her little speech, staring hard into my eyes, telling me that arguing with her is pointless. That's where she's wrong. I am so terrifyingly livid that I honestly can't even speak. Insufficient noises escape my throat while my hands are longing to grab the stupid fucking seating chart and smash her entire office with it.

"How— dare you," I press out between clenched teeth. I must like completely insane, because Mom actually takes a tiny step back. She doesn't look that confident anymore. Good.

"You fucking think you know me, and it's so blindingly obvious that you don't. I hate it here. I can't stand this town or this house. You think I'd come back here? Are you fucking insane? Seattle isn't some adventure." I spit the word back at her, full of resentment. "It's my life, and whether you like it or not, Bella is a part of that life. A fucking important part of that life! So if you think I'm going to let you continue treating her like shit on the bottom of your shoe, you're sadly fucking mistaken."

I point a finger at her. "From now on, you're going to show Bella the respect she deserves. You're not going to make snide remarks, you're not going to imply anything negative about her, and you're sure as hell not going to insult her, because as much as you're my mother and I love you, if you make me choose between you, I'm going to choose her."

She gasps, and I realise that I should feel bad about the things tumbling from my mouth, but I'm just too angry. I'll deal with the guilt later. "You say all these things like you're looking out for me, like you're trying to do what's best for me. But if you really cared about me, you'd be happy I'd found Bella. You'd be happy we were in love and together. But you only really care about yourself, and the way others perceive you! And I guess having a son running around in Seattle wasn't part of your plan. You want me here, so I can work for dad and be another trophy for you to show off. And for some insane reason, you think Bella is stopping that from happening."

I shake my head, feeling my face twisted into a disgusted grimace. "You should be ashamed of yourself!"

She gasps again, putting a hand against her heart. I've had enough of this now. I need to get away from her before I do something I'll actually regret.

"You'll fix this," I say through gritted teeth, pointing at the chart. "You'll put me and Bella together at a table, far away from you. If you don't, you can take your fancy party and all your precious guests and shove them up your ass. I'll be out of this house within seconds, and I'll be taking Bella with me. Your choice, mother."

I turn away from her, stalking toward the door. Wrenching it open, I don't pause to see what kind of effect my words had on her. I feel like ripping things to shreds. I want to smash furniture, I want to punch someone in the face. I want to scream and shout and get all of this anger out of my body, because my skin is crawling with it and I can't fucking stand it. It was fuelling me before, but it's too much now, too strong.

I need to get away from this house. I cannot fucking be here right now.

Mindlessly, I grab the keys to mine and Emmett's rental car. My only focus is to get away, until I find somewhere where I can be alone. Preferably, that somewhere will be a heavily wooded area with lots of rocks and stones that I can throw around.

And then I remember Bella. I stop. Turning my head towards the backyard, I can see her through the open doorway. She stands close to Emmett and with her arms wrapped around herself. She doesn't look entirely comfortable, like she's not sure how to act around him and Rose.

I can't just leave her here with a bunch of people who are still relative strangers.

I'd prefer to be alone right now, but if I bring her with me, she might be able to help me calm down. And to be honest, I need that more than anything right now.

I hurry down the hallway. She must hear me, or see me moving towards her, because she turns. A smile lights up her face, but only for a fraction of a second; it almost immediately turns into a worried and confused frown.


"We have to leave," I say, interrupting her as I storm over to her. Emmett and Rose both turn to look at me, shocked by the dark tone of my voice.

"What's wrong?" Rose says, stepping towards me. I just shake my head, grabbing Bella by the arm.

"I talked to Mom. It-... it didn't go well." Directing myself only to Bella, my voice turns low and slightly desperate. "I need to get out of here."

She nods her head jerkily; maybe she sees something in my expression, because even though she still looks confused, she twines our fingers together and follows me when I pull.

"Wait, wait, hold up!" Emmett says, reaching out to stop me. "What's going on? What didn't go well?"

I take a deep breath, fighting to not snap at my brother. He doesn't deserve my anger.

"Mom fucked up the seating chart. Go ask her for the new version. We'll be back later."

With that, I grip Bella's hand tighter and turn to leave without another word.

She almost has to run to keep up with me as we make our way to the car. I've barely slammed my door shut before she turns to me, worried.

"I take it things didn't go well?"

I jam the keys into the ignition.


In my frustration, it takes a few turns before I can get the car running. Unfortunately, its unwillingness to cooperate only makes me feel more pissed off. My mood isn't helped by Mom appearing on the front step just as I start reversing down the driveway.

She says something to me, looking distressed. Thank god I can't hear her.

Bella looks back and forth between us, bracing herself when I swing the car around. The tires screech loudly as I speed down the road and away from the house.

Just putting some distance between myself and my mother is helping, but I'm still bunched tight, still absolutely furious and shaking with the need to work off this tension.

I take a sharp turn around a corner, making Bella inhale sharply in surprise. She settles herself a little tighter into her seat before turning to me.

"Edward? Edward, please slow down. You're sort of scaring me." She puts a hand on my arm, squeezing gently. Without thinking, I ease up on the gas.

"Sorry. I'm sorry, I just need to- I can't-... I had to get out." I spare her a quick glance; her eyes are concerned. She's worried about me. "I'm so sorry. I promise I'll explain."

She nods slowly, but doesn't take her eyes off my face.

We don't speak as I make random turns, just following the roads without any real intent. After about fifteen minutes, I find a small rest-stop on the side of the woods. There are only a couple of picnic tables here, and an information sign about the area – it's perfect.

I swing in, park the car, and turn off the engine. The immediate silence presses in on us. My body is still crawling with anger, tension, and frustration, picking at my muscles and telling me to act on my impulses.

My impulse just happens to be uprooting a large tree and swinging it around in the forest.

I get out of the car, trying to not slam the door too harshly as I walk away. I don't hear Bella following me. I place both hands at the back of my head, making my way over to one of the tables. The irrationally strong anger I feel burns in my stomach, constantly building up and up.

I wish I could calm down. I wish I could take a deep breath and let everything my mom said just slip down my back and off my mind. But I can't. The more I try not to think about it, the more I do. The more I think about it, the stronger the anger becomes. The stronger it becomes, the harder it gets trying not to think about it. It's a vicious circle.

Without really thinking, I kick the table in front of me, hard. It feels good. I kick it again, harder. That feels even better, even though it really kinda hurts.

'You could do so much better... she's not what you need... little Seattle-adventure... just a distraction... '

I grunt as I kick it again, forcing all of my frustration into the action. The satisfying thunk and the way the wood trembles brings out an almost carnal pleasure.

And pain. Lots of pain.

Jesus fucking Christ, OW, shit, shit, shit!


I almost want to ignore her, but my foot is killing me. Besides, this is making me feel a little ridiculous, although slightly calmer.

It's surprising how efficient this is. I wonder if they do this sort of thing in anger management classes. Or they probably just learn how to breathe through their anger, count to ten and that sort of thing.


With a sigh, I let my head fall back, but I don't turn around. I'm still angry. I need to breathe.

"What the hell was that?" Bella says, coming to stand in front of me. Her tone is much lighter and more amused than her words suggest.

"Just... working off some steam. You know."

"Yeah, sure. You just dragged me with you in the car without explaining anything, and now we're standing on the side of the road and you're kicking a picnic table. Makes perfect sense."

She lets out a small laugh and puts her hands on my arms. Her face softens, and she looks at me, eyes filled with concern.

"Can you please tell me what's going on? What happened? You were only gone for a few minutes."

I take a deep breath, feeling the last vestige of my anger slowly seeping out of me. Reaching for her hand, I pull her with me over to the table and once we're seated, I tell her everything.

By the time I've finished talking about the seating chart, Mom's belief that I could do better than Bella, and her insane delusion that moving to Seattle was some sort of rebellion on my part, Bella is the one pacing back and forth, anger clear in her every movement.

She's also crying. Over my mother... again.

With impatient swipes, she knuckles the tears off her cheek. She notices my expression as she sniffles, and she waves her hand at me.

"I'm crying because I'm mad. I cry over everything. Don't worry about it."

"I don't want you to be mad. Or crying."

"I know. Too bad your mom's such a terrible person." She pauses and looks at me with slightly wary eyes. "Sorry, was tha—"

"No. No, don't worry about it. I know what you mean. I'm not exactly feeling very kind towards her either, right now."

Bella stops pacing and comes to stand in front of me. She puts a hand on my cheek, rubbing her thumb along my skin. "I can't believe she said all those things to you. I can't believe she did that."

"Me neither," I say, sighing. I reach for her, settling my hands on her hips.

"Your mom sucks," she says, matter-of-factly. I laugh at her tone, nodding my head.

"Yeah, pretty much. I just... It's not just all the stuff she said about you. All that was bad enough, but then she just… she managed to make it even worse. She thinks those things about you because she's convinced I'm someone I'm not." I look up at Bella and see sympathy and understanding in her eyes. I suddenly feel so tired, and sad. I want her sympathy. "Isn't your mom supposed to know who you are?"

Her face twists, and she looks sad now, too. She puts both palms against my face, stepping closer. My hands slide down to the back of her thighs. "Yeah. Yeah, she is," she whispers, stroking the hair just above my ear.

"She thinks I'm rebelling, like a fucking teenager." I laugh again, but without humour this time. "I never thought that could actually insult me, but it does."

"Of course it does." She shakes her head slowly. "No one wants their reasons for doing things to be misunderstood like that. Especially not by their own mom."

I sigh and look down, focusing on a rock between her feet. "She thinks I'm coming back here. She honestly thinks I belong here, as if I want this kind of life. Boring social stuff, people expecting things from me, having the biggest house with the best garden..." I shake my head. "I was miserable when we moved here. I actually thought she might've noticed. Clearly her new social life was more important than me."

She strokes my hair slowly. "I'm sorry."

I squeeze her thighs softly. "I know." With a small groan, I wrap my arms around her, pulling her towards me. Her hands settle at the nape of my neck as I rest my head against her stomach.

"I'm sorry I just dragged you out here like this. I was just so... so..."


"Furious. I needed to get away from there."

"I get it. You don't have to apologise, you know. I'm just glad you didn't leave me there."

"I almost did. Not on purpose, but... I was just very focused on getting the hell away from Mom; I almost forgot you were there."

"Thanks," she says jokingly, laughing.

"You know what I mean."

"I do." She strokes the back of my head slowly for a few moments. It feels good. "Did it help? Kicking the table?"

I sigh. "Yeah. It was pretty awesome."

"I almost thought you were going to start punching trees or something."

"That would've hurt."

"Probably. Good thing you didn't do it. What would your mom's guests think if you walked around with bloody knuckles?"

"That I was taking my rebellious ways with me from Seattle."

Her hands pause at the back of my neck, and she makes a sad sound. "I hate her for saying that to you. Stupid cow."

I burst out laughing, tightening my grip around her. I knew it was a good decision to bring her with me. I feel better already. "God, I love you. And I'm glad I didn't leave you at the house. I'd be much more pathetic sitting here without you."

"You're not pathetic."

"I am a little bit. I mean, I attacked a picnic table."

She's quiet for a few seconds, before humming. "Yeah, that's true."

I snort against her stomach, but we fall into an easy silence after that. Her fingers start combing through my hair again. A single car drives past us on the road, but other than that, we're completely alone.

After a few minutes, she speaks again. Her voice is soft and quiet.

"Do you want to leave early? Go back to Seattle, I mean. Maybe we can transfer our tickets or something."

God, that is so tempting. To just leave, just not spend any more time with Mom, in that house, in this town. But then I think of Em, and Rose, and Dad – people I've actually been looking forward to seeing. We're leaving early Sunday morning anyway – tomorrow's not going to make such a huge difference. I can avoid Mom if I have to. And if I'm lucky, she might've actually listened to me. She might change. I could at least stay and see if my words had any effect.

"No. No, I don't want to leave. It's just one more day, really. I'll suck it up."

"If you're sure..."

"I am."


I pause for a moment. "Unless you want to go? I think you've had a worse time here than I have."

She chuckles. "No, I'm fine. Emmett promised he'd teach me how to play basketball, 'like a man.' I can't miss that."

I nod. "If you're sure."

"I am," she says. I can hear the smile in her voice.

Her hands slide down along my shoulders and down my back. "How long do you want to stay out here?"

"I don't know. What time is it?"

"Like 11 AM or something."

"Oh. We've got plenty of time. The guests aren't coming for another six hours. So we have like four hours before we should head back to get ready, right?"

"Right. Hmm."

Her hands repeat their circuit, slower this time. It's almost suggestive. The muscles in my stomach tightening instinctively.

"You know... if you want to work off some more of that steam, I think I know something we could do."

Her voice is definitely suggestive.

"Oh yeah?"

"Yeah. Have you ever fooled around in the back of a car before?"

I raise my head to look at her. Her expression is deceptively innocent. My heart beats a little harder. I feel it mostly in my pants. "Not a rental car."

Her lips twitch. "What a coincidence. Neither have I."


"Mm, very."

We stare at each other for a few seconds.

"I think I saw a dirt road leading into the forest about half a mile back," she says.

I slap her ass and get to my feet. "Let's go."