A/N: Yes, you're seeing it right…this is the longest one yet. I'm not making any more excuses. I'm just plain wordy. This is three monsters in a row and for the most part y'all seem to like them…so ENJOY!

Huge thanks to Betamama and the freshly tanned Caren. I want to tearfully profess my love to you both.

Once again, this story is rated M. I promise it won't be turning into a total smutfest…but yeah, smut happens.

Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer created the characters, the story is mine. Copyright 2010: BellaMarie117

x-x-x

Sunday morning, I stirred slowly. My mind hazy and my body languid. All that registered as I awoke was the warmth that surrounded me; never before had I felt so entirely cozy. I was reluctant to wake up, to lose the feeling. Then the warmth shifted against my back and I remembered...

The Hangar Dance. Edward's house. Edward's room. Edward.

We'd made love the night before. Twice. And both times were more amazing than I could have ever imagined. I'd slept in his bed, wrapped up in his arms where I still remained, our hands clasped together and resting over my heart. In the light of day, I knew I didn't regret taking that step with him, not in the slightest, and I was determined not to have an awkward 'morning after' encounter.

He shifted again, his leg sliding between mine as he slowly regained consciousness.

"Good morning," he uttered quietly as he pressed his lips to the curve of my shoulder, his voice husky from sleep. I wanted to see him, to know what he looked like first thing in the morning. Both times I'd slept with him before—in the literal sense—on the couch at my apartment and the night of the power outage, he'd awoken before me and had already been up and about by the time I'd stirred. Turning lazily in his arms, I blinked the sleep from my eyes to study him.

His eyelids were heavy, his cheeks a little droopy and lined from the fabric of the pillow; his small smile lazy and he had the tiniest bit of drool at the corner of his mouth. He was perfection.

"Good morning," I whispered, smiling shyly and trying to forget about the fact that I was naked. It didn't matter that he'd seen every inch of me the night before, I still felt bashful being so completely bare.

He smiled contently, leaning in to lazily rub his nose against mine before he nudged my head back down on his chest, resting his cheek on my hair as his fingers trailed over my spine.

"What time is it?" I asked, on the brink of purring under the stroking of his fingertips.

I felt him shift beneath me a little, likely to glance at the alarm clock on his bedside table before he settled back into his spot, wrapping his arms just a little more snugly around me than before and sighing. "I'm pretty sure that clock is wrong. There is no way it's time to get up yet."

I chuckled, but didn't argue, content to remain in the cocoon of his arms for a little longer. I didn't fall completely back to sleep, but drifted in the limbo between sleep and awake as his fingers continued their lazy exploration. After awhile, he brought his other hand to my face, tapping my nose softly as my eyes fluttered open. "I like waking up to you," he grinned.

"It's not such a hardship opening my eyes to see you, either," I smiled back. He leaned in to kiss me and I slapped my hand over my mouth.

"Morning breath," I muttered behind my hand.

"Me, too. I think they cancel each other out," he said, tugging my hand from my mouth to brush his warm, soft lips over mine. He was anything but minty fresh, as he lazily kissed me good morning, I found that I didn't really mind his morning breath.

"Well," he groaned, stretching his arms up over his head and indulging in an enthusiastic yawn as he sat up in the bed. "I suppose we've been lazy long enough. My stomach's about to start eating itself."

With another yawn, he threw back the covers and eased out of the bed. "I'm gonna hop in the shower. You gonna join me?" he asked, smirking wryly when I blushed before leaning back down to kiss my forehead. "Just shower, Swan, I know you're probably sore."

"Maybe a little," I admitted, wincing as the slight ache in my muscles registered.

"Come on," he said, holding his hand out to me. "A hot shower'll fix you right up."

He was absolutely right. As soon as I stepped beneath the hot spray, I felt every ache begin to fade. I tried not to blush at the sight of him naked, still unused to it, especially when we weren't engaging in 'sexytimes' as the girls referred to it. He caught me looking at him and winked at me before I lifted my face to the water, the warmth not doing anything for my flushed cheeks.

"Do you have any plans for the day?" I asked him, my voice echoing in the shower stall as I wet my hair.

"Nothing big," he said, grabbing the shampoo from its slot, squirting a dollop of gel into the palm of his hand. "I'm supposed to go over to my parents for a bit and help out with some yard work. You?"

"Just relax," I sighed, looking forward to a day off. "I should probably do some laundry, maybe some grocery shopping for the week. Back at it again tomorrow."

"C'mere," he requested, nudging me out from under the spray.

"What?" I asked, blinking the water from my eyes.

"I'm gonna wash your hair, Swan, and I can't really do that if you're over here hogging all the water," he explained, holding his soapy hands out to me as he twisted us around, reversing our positions.

"I can wash my own hair, you know."

"Yeah, but you get to do it every day," he said, his fingers diving into the wet strands to work the cleansing gel into the mass of my hair. "I want to do it this time."

"Fine," I sighed, feigning struggle, though in reality it was anything but. His fingers massaging my scalp felt like heaven. He carefully worked the shampoo through the strands of my hair, thoroughly soaping every inch as he took such care to keep the suds out of my eyes.

"How are things going at the rink?" he asked as he continued to rub my head.

"Really good," I sighed, attempting to concentrate on the conversation and not the fact that I wanted to purr like a kitten. "I've got maybe half my free skate blocked in, though we'll see how much of it ends up staying around."

"Why do you say that?" he asked, removing the shower head from its latch to wash the soap from my hair, tilting my head back a little as he worked his fingers through it.

"It's a lot of trial and error," I explained. "You have to make adjustments as you go along. If you try and force a move just because it's what you originally had in mind, it'll look forced. At least, that's what I'm figuring out. I've done some choreographing before, but nothing this extensive. It's a lot of work, but I like it. A lot."

"Am I gonna get to see it sometime?" he asked, placing the shower head back in place, reaching for the bar of soap to quickly suds himself up before I could offer to do it for him.

"Hopefully a lot of people will get to see it sometime," I said coyly.

"Ha ha, Swan. You know what I mean."

"We'll see. Not until it's finished at least."

"That's not very fair. My mom gets to see it before it's done," he complained, holding the soap out to me, his bottom lip slightly thrust forward in a pout. It wasn't even a silly, teasing pout, but an honest-to-goodness sullen expression. It was pretty damn adorable.

"She's not even paying attention to what's happening on the ice half the time she's there, Edward," I explained. "She's got other things to think about. You know, I was really worried at first about having her help out, but she's been great."

"Why were you worried?" he asked curiously. I realized that I'd never mentioned my break down with Esme to him and neither had she. Esme had told me early on that she'd never betray my confidence, but I'd never imagined she wouldn't say something, knowing how close she and Edward were.

I shrugged, deciding to summarize. "I guess after what happened with my mom, I was nervous about having someone else I had a personal relationship with stepping into that same role. But with Esme, it's not the same. She didn't take on as much; the role's more split up and delegated to different people. Hopefully it's not so overwhelming to her that— Well, I just think it works better this way."

"'That' what?" he probed, taking the soap back from me when I finished and tossing it back on the rack.

"Nothing," I tried to brush it off as I stepped under the water to quickly rinse. "It just shouldn't have all been done by one person the first time around."

"Bella," he said, clearly not buying it.

"Just can't let anything go, can you?" I chuckled, then sighed at his patient expression. "Look, it's not a big deal. I already talked with your mom about it, and even Rose a little, and I'm working through it—"

"You haven't talked to me."

"It wasn't to shut you out, Edward, I promise. It's just that everything between us lately has been so good that I didn't feel like dragging either of us down by bringing drama with my mom up. Again," I explained, eager to assure him that I wasn't backtracking or trying to keep things from him.

"What drama? Did something happen?" he asked, his eyes filled with concern.

"No," I said quickly to soothe his mind. "That's the problem. I called her last week. I decided not to take any legal action against her over the money. I want to try and see if we can work things out between us. I know you're far from her biggest fan, and honestly I haven't been for quite awhile either. I guess I was just hoping that now that she's not wrapped up in my career things could change. Anyways, she didn't answer and she still hasn't returned my calls. That's why I was nervous about asking your mom to help. I may have already lost one mother to my skating. I don't know if I could survive losing two."

"Did you tell my mom that?" he asked after a minute.

"Yes."

"I hope she told you that the very idea is impossible."

"Yeah," my lips twitched in a smile. "Something like that."

"Good. Nobody here is going anywhere, Bella. You're stuck with us," he said, pulling my body to rest against his under the warm water.

"So," I said after a minute, reaching for the shampoo bottle. "If you got to wash my hair, does that mean I can wash yours?"

We shut the water off a few minutes later, after I had my fill of running the stands of his wet, bronzed hair through my fingers. He handed me a fluffy towel, taking his own to dry himself. It was a real shame, because the beads of moisture clinging to his smooth, bare skin were pretty tempting.

"Now I'm gonna smell like boy all day," I complained as I toweled off, inhaling the masculine scent that clung to my hair.

"I have to admit I'm partial to your regular scent," he smirked as he tucked his towel snugly around his waist.

"Oh really?" I asked playfully. "I'll be sure to let the manufacturers at Philosophy know you approve of their Strawberry Milkshake fragrance."

"Is that what it is?" he asked, pulling me into his arms and kissing the top of my head. "I might have to get a bottle of it to keep around for when you're not here."

"I'm not gonna lie, Edward. That's a little weird," I chuckled, sighing contently as I laid my cheek against his bare chest.

"Tell me about it. Ever since the first time we met at the airport I can't even smell a strawberry without being reminded of you," he murmured, his fingers lightly trailing up and down my upper thighs just under where the towel hit.

"Really?"

"Yeah," he said, a contemplative look crossing his face before he spoke again, seriously. "You remember how I told you we all hang out at Billy's? Well, that Tuesday I spent the entire night watching the door, just hoping you'd walk through it. I didn't know anything about you except your first name, that you were the most beautiful girl I'd ever met, and that your hair smelled intoxicatingly like strawberries. I ordered strawberry daiquiris all night, even though Emmett gave me a ton of shit over it, because they reminded me of your scent."

It might have been the sweetest thing I'd ever heard someone say to me. Which was saying a lot, considering I was dating Edward who seemed to have a quota to meet on adorable things to say to me. My own memories of that night were far from pleasant. I'd been so scared of going to meet him. Nervous that he would act differently than the sweet guy who had helped me with my bags, anxious that he either wouldn't remember me or that when he saw me again, he wouldn't like what he saw. My fear, coupled with a crappy phone call from Renee, had kept me from him that night. If fate hadn't been so kind as to throw us together again, I couldn't imagine what my life would be like. What I'd be like.

"I'm sorry I didn't come and meet you that night," I whispered, filled with regret at the thought of him sitting there, waiting for me but to no avail.

"Eh," he shrugged it off, kissing my forehead. "It all seemed to work out alright, didn't it?"

"I'd say it's a whole lot better than alright," I said with a small smile.

"You're right. It's much better," he said, lowering his lips to mine. The kiss started out softly, casually. Somewhere along the way, our embrace deepened, our hands drifting over each other's bodies and loosening the insecure knots on our towels until they fell in wet heaps to the tiled floor. His hands grasped my butt, lifting me up onto the countertop as he pressed against me, already stiff with arousal.

"Bella?" he whispered between desperate kisses.

"Hmm?" I murmured back against his lips, my hands stroking over his hips.

He dropped his hands to my wrists and broke our kiss, resting his forehead on mine as his breath panted against my face. "I think we should talk."

"Okay," I said tentatively. Talking was the last thing I'd have expected him to want at that moment.

"It's nothing bad," he assured me quickly, taking a step back but keeping his hands on my wrists, rubbing circles over my pulse. "I just don't want you to think that now that we've been together like this that sex is all that matters. I mean I want you more than I've ever wanted anyone, but I don't want to lose everything else we have just because we've slept together. It's just...sex can change things, well, not can, it does change things. And that's okay. I want to have sex with you and I want you to feel comfortable with that side of our relationship. But it's only one side, Bella. There's so much more here than just that."

"I know that, Edward. I don't want to lose the rest of what we have either," I sighed, leaning back a bit on the counter. "I don't really know what I'm doing here."

"It's fairly new territory for me as well. It's not like I've been in a ton of relationships. Even if I had, it'd be completely different. You and me, we're different. In a really good way, don't get me wrong."

"We've been doing okay so far, haven't we?" I asked shyly.

"More than okay," he confirmed.

"So, let's just keep doing what we're doing. You know, whatever happens, happens. We'll figure things out as they come. Is that alright?"

"Sounds like a plan," he grinned, scooping me up from the counter unexpectedly as I squealed.

"Edward! What are you doing?" I asked, clinging to him.

"Just going with the flow, Swan," he said, dropping me with a bounce on the mattress as I giggled before his body covered mine.

x-x-x

Two and a half hours later, Edward drove me home before heading over to his parent's house as he'd promised. My hair was in a messy knot, tangled from the lack of proper brushing. Dressed in his sweatpants and a t-shirt that was knotted at my waist, I attempted to creep down the hall to my apartment and quietly slip my key in the door. Before I could manage it, I heard the doorway across the hall spring open and I winced, knowing I'd been caught.

"Halt right there, Bella Swan!" Alice ordered. I turned around, attempting an innocent look knowing I was clearly caught red handed, my clothes from the night before stuffed into a bag dangling from my wrist.

"What exactly do you think you're doing?" Rose asked, joining her roommate in the doorway.

"Uh, unlocking my door so I can go inside?"

"No. You're trying to sneak and not very well," Alice laughed, reaching out and grabbing me by the arm to drag me into their apartment. "Get your booty over here."

"Come on guys, do we really have to do this right now?" I whined, but didn't put up much of a fight, knowing it was pointless.

"Yes," Rose said, assisting Alice in nudging me through their doorway, shutting the door behind us. "Get in here."

"Now, let's see what we have here," Alice said, her finger tapping thoughtfully against her lip as she took stock of my appearance. "Last night's clothes in a bag, boy clothes, and you smell like boy shampoo."

"Not to mention the fact that you're practically glowing," Rose added.

"Somebody got lucky last night!" Alice squealed, clapping her hands.

"So, how was it? We need details!" Rose exclaimed, ushering our trio into the living room to get a bit more comfortable on the couch.

"What kind of details?" I asked skeptically.

"Well, not anything super specific, but what happened? Was it good?" Alice asked.

"Alice, the woman's lit like a two-hundred watt light bulb, for God's sake. She's practically luminous. Do you really think she'd be looking like this if it was bad?" Rose said dryly.

"Okay, fine. So?" Alice returned her attention to me, pulling her knees up to her chest to wrap her arms around them.

"I don't really know what you're looking for here," I mumbled awkwardly.

"Bells, it's just us. You don't have to be all shy and bashful. Tell us whatever you want," Rose offered.

"I don't know," I sighed, tugging at my ponytail. "After we left, we went back to his place and at first it was awkward, like he had no idea what was going on. I kept trying to be subtle, like you said, and he just didn't get it. He was talking about getting food and watching a movie, so I must not have been doing it right."

I stopped as they gave each other a pointed look before bursting into fits of giggles.

"Oh," Alice gasped between her laughter. "Poor Edward!"

"Bella," Rose said, attempting to calm herself and explain their humor. "I don't think it's that you weren't doing it right. He was probably trying to keep his thoughts from going that direction in case he was misreading you. I mean the guy's been celibate for awhile now, he probably didn't want to get his hopes up and end up blue-balled if you really weren't ready yet."

"I guess that makes sense," I accepted, shrugging before I continued. "Well, we ended up talking about it and he finally got the picture. Then we were kissing, and he carried me up the stairs, like in Gone With the Wind." I sighed, remembering the moment, still so vivid in my mind.

"Oh, good move," Rose cooed.

"It's a classic for a reason," Alice sighed dreamily.

"And then when we got to his room, he was so worried about everything being perfect for me. Like, he wanted to put on music and light candles and stuff," I told them, already feeling slightly more comfortable talking about the subject with them as the excitement about what had happened the night before took over, blocking out my shyness.

"Aww!" they said together.

"He was just so patient with me, so, I don't know, gentle, I guess. Not like he was afraid of it, but like...it felt like he cherished me. I've never felt cherished before. By anyone."

"God, that sounds so...sweet. I swear, sweet sex is totally underrated," Rose muttered, flopping back against the arm of the couch.

"So, it was good, I take it," Alice stated, waiting for my nod of agreement. "Did you finish?"

I blushed, burrowing into my knees a bit as I pulled them up on the couch. "Not the first time. I mean, he, uh, touched me before, but not during."

"First time?" Alice squealed. "So you went more than once?"

"Yeah," I cleared my throat awkwardly, my cheeks red. "Uh, twice last night. And, er— once more this morning," I added under my breath.

"Holy shit, Bells," Rose exclaimed, punching me enthusiastically on the shoulder. "Three times? You go, girl."

"Alright," Alice announced, popping up from the couch. "This officially calls for cocktails."

"Alice, it's like one o'clock in the afternoon. On a Sunday," I reminded her.

"Bella, an occasion like this knows no time. Don't think of it as cocktails. Think of it as an initiation."

"Uh, Alice? I think Edward already took care of initiating her last night," Rose giggled, fighting me off when I jokingly smacked her arm. "Oh, Bella. What would you ever do without us?"

"You know what, Rosalie? I have no idea."

x-x-x

As May drifted into June, time seemed to pass more swiftly. Over the early weeks of summer, my life fell into a new routine. Monday through Friday I was at the rink almost all day. Until the season was over, whenever that may come for me, skating would be my full time job, and like any, that required long hours. I was regaining the strength I'd always had in my moves and building a new confidence that I'd never before possessed. In addition to my daily sessions in the gym and on the ice, Marcus had suggested taking an hour every day to work with a ballet instructor to help give my movements a little extra fluidity.

I'd taken dance classes in the past, though I'd always somewhat dreaded them. Without my skates, my feet were often clumsy. Zafrina, my instructor, was patient and encouraging. She concentrated more on my arm movements and stretching than enforcing anything too technical with my feet. Before long, I'd started to enjoy and even look forward to seeing her every day. Marcus had been right in his prediction that it would help. I already felt the difference in my practice runs.

My choreography was plugging along. I was really close to finishing my free skate, though it would likely be tweaked right up until its debut. Marcus and I had started to bat around ideas for my short program, though nothing had stuck yet. He was pushing for something with a little more fire and I didn't know if I had it in me to pull it off. Esme continued to stop by the rink to check in every day, some days lingering longer than others when she and Marcus found things to discuss. She was never overbearing, always remaining one step back as she offered suggestions but didn't push her own agenda. That was perhaps the biggest change from Renee. Esme didn't have an agenda.

As days continued to pass without a word of response from my mother, I'd begun to realize I might just have to accept the fact that she might never take that step. Our relationship might always be strained, filled with bitter memories and hurt. The best I could do was remain focused on the positives in my life and try not to linger over the regret.

Inquiries had begun to trickle in about what my plans were for the upcoming season. Renee had leaked to the press back in April that I had taken a season off but would be back and making a run for the next Olympics. Since she'd left, I hadn't made any further announcements. News had yet to get out about my staff changes and I'd pleaded with Marcus to hold off on a press release until I was feeling a little more confident in my decisions.

I had no doubt that once it got out that I'd be handling my own programs, there would be a swarm of speculation. There would be those in the community who would be supportive and optimistic, and just as many who would doubt that I could do it, who would laugh at the very idea. Plenty of skaters choreographed their own exhibition pieces, but few took on the task of creating anything they'd be judged on. By choosing to do so, I was opening myself up completely. I'd be exposed, vulnerable, displaying my own creation to the world and inviting anyone who chose to look to critique it. Until I felt more solid in what I'd be offering up, I wasn't eager to throw that meaty bone to the salivating press.

There was time yet, but I knew I couldn't keep quiet for much longer. The beginning of the competitive season was looming ever closer, and if I wanted to have a fighting chance, I'd need to start making critical decisions on what my plan of action was.

While training kept me busy, I still found time to focus on my life outside the rink. I saw Edward practically every day, though some days more than others. I'd often go over to his house in the evenings after practice was over to have dinner with him, watch TV and just catch up on our respective days. Sometimes he'd come over to my apartment if it had been a particularly grueling session and I simply didn't have the energy to make the short trek to his place.

It was rare that we spent an entire night together during the week. It might have made sense at times, given the fact that there were evenings we were together right up until we called it a night. We always hit the gym together in the morning, but sleepovers meant temptation to do a lot more in the bed than sleep, and with my rigorous training schedule, I couldn't afford less than my full eight hours.

The weekends were an entirely different story. At first I'd been nervous that leaving his place the morning after the Hangar Dance would break that new, intimate bubble we'd created. I'd worried that maybe my comfort with the new level of our relationship would be fleeting and the next time would be awkward, forced. It hadn't been the case. Sex didn't take over our relationship, but it definitely became a part of it. We didn't make a point to really talk about it, just let things run their course as they naturally progressed.

On Friday nights we almost always hung out as a group, the first to watch one of the final hockey match ups of the season. The Blackhawks had lost in the Western Conference Championships to the Detroit Red Wings, and the guys were feeling much happier after watching their rivals lose in four straight games. With the Hawks out, they were able to more objectively cheer on the final two teams in the running for the cup.

The next Friday night, we'd stayed out until two a.m. at the Drive-In movie theater; another we'd spent taking in a Twins game at the Metrodome. Afterwards, I'd always go home with Edward and that's where we'd usually remain until Sunday afternoon.

At first, it hadn't been something we'd discussed; we'd sort of just fallen into the routine. After two weeks of the same, Edward had cleared out a drawer in his dresser for me to leave a few things at his place. The sight of my blue toothbrush sitting in the holder beside his green one made me ridiculously happy.

That giddy feeling seemed to be common amongst our group of friends. As Alice and Jasper's wedding approached, everyone, especially Alice, seemed to be in high spirits. I was amazed at how calm Alice was. I'd always heard that weddings were such stressful affairs, especially in the final weeks leading up to the big day. In her case, it appeared to be the opposite.

As the days passed, Alice became more relaxed. She seemed to thrive on checking things off her task list, and recruited the rest of us to help her accomplish some of the more time consuming projects like assembling programs into paper fans and looping wire around empty mason jars that would illuminate the trees surrounding the tent at their reception. For Alice, no detail was too small to be overlooked, and as much as the rest of us jokingly grumbled about having to help with her endless do-it-yourself endeavors, we were all happy to help her achieve the day she'd dreamed of.

A week and a half before the wedding, the six of us were gathered at the girls' apartment, etching guest names into small cuts of wood with wood burning pens for their place cards. The third time I almost burned myself, Emmett tried to steal the pen away from me.

"Alright, who's bright idea was it to give this woman a device with the word 'burn' in the title?" he chuckled. I glared at him, holding tight to the pen. "Come on, Babybel, hand it over. You're gonna hurt yourself. Or someone else."

"You just worry about your own tool, Emmett and keep your mitts off mine," I insisted, gracing him with the bitchbrow until he surrendered the pen, laughing heartily as he ruffled my hair.

I looked back to my piece of wood and saw that I'd made a mistake. Again. I chucked the circular disk into the waste pile, where three others I'd messed up already sat.

"Problems?" Edward chuckled at my sigh of disgust, his eyes focused on his own disk as he steadily etched the name in elegant script.

"How can you do that? That's not even your handwriting. Boys shouldn't be able to write so pretty," I whined at the injustice of it, picking up one of his finished pieces to more closely inspect his work.

"Even chicken scratchers like me learned their cursive, Bella. Just takes patience," he smirked.

"I can be patient when I want to," I muttered, picking up a blank piece to start on the next one, taking great care to perfect each tiny letter. It took me a good four minutes to engrave the name and it didn't look nearly as elegant as Edward's, but I still smiled smugly as I showed it off to him before grabbing the next.

Conversation was light and easy amongst us as we worked through the pile, talking about plans for the upcoming weekend. Edward's birthday was on Saturday and I'd spent weeks agonizing over what to get for him. I'd finally found my gift the day before and was now eager for Saturday to come so I could give it to him.

The current plan was for all of us to join Esme and Carlisle at their place to grill out, as long as the weather held. Edward was very insistent that he just wanted something low key. Of course, low key was never quite enough to satisfy Alice. She had some sort of surprise planned that she wouldn't tell any of us about, just that we shouldn't make any other plans for that night.

I was in the middle of inscribing one of the last names on my checklist when Emmett said, "You know, squirt, you've still got a hell of a lot of packing to do in the next week."

"I know," Alice groaned, burying her face in her hands for a minute. "I haven't even started on my closet yet. It's gonna take me a month after the wedding to get out of here."

I almost dropped my etching pen and had to consciously stop my jaw from dropping in shock.

Alice was leaving.

Of course I should have anticipated her moving out; she was getting married. Married people lived together. Wives didn't live in an apartment with their girlfriends, they lived with their husbands. Why the idea of Alice moving out to go live with Jasper came as such a shock, I'm not sure, but the realization hit me like a swift punch to the gut.

My mind swam as conversation continued on around me.

"It's not like you to procrastinate, Ali," Edward said.

"Yeah, yeah, I know. I've just had other things going on and then I didn't want to pack up anything I might need. Now I'm thinking I should just bribe someone to do it all for me. Bella? Rose? I can't trust Emmett, he'd throw all my designer shoes in a garbage bag and call it good."

"I'm up for a packing party on Sunday, if you want help," Rose offered. "Bells, you in?"

"What?" I asked, shaking out of my stupor. "Oh, Sunday. Yeah, that's fine, I'll be around." I returned my attention to etching in the final letters on the half-finished disk in front of me, but not before catching the confused look on Alice's face.

I couldn't help it. It was ridiculous and selfish and completely out of line, but it hurt to think of her leaving. Would Rose leave, too? Maybe she and Emmett were planning on moving in together now that Alice would be out of the picture. Since the first night I'd spent in Minnesota, Alice and Rose had lived across the hall. It had been naive of me to not realize that time would change things and that we wouldn't always be neighbors, but it felt wrong to think about coming home without the possibility of Alice barging through my door to pester me.

"You okay?" Edward leaned in and whispered in my ear. I nodded, looking up at him with the most reassuring smile I could muster.

I finished the last three names on my list, trying to engage in the friendly banter of the group without revealing what was going on in my head. Glancing up at the clock, I noticed that it was closing in on nine-thirty and seized the excuse to escape for the night, announcing that it was time for me to get to bed if I was going to start up another full day of training the next morning.

I tried to slip out as unobtrusively as possible, sassily waving off Emmett's teasing comments about my early bedtime. Though I tried to say goodnight to Edward and encourage him to stay and hang out, he was insistent on walking me to my door.

He followed me out into the hall and waited while I unlocked my door. Opening it, I turned back to him.

"Happy? You saw me safely to my door. Now go, hang out. Have fun. Just because your girlfriend's a dork with an early bedtime doesn't mean you can't stay out and enjoy yourself," I encouraged, running my hands over his chest as his rubbed my upper arms.

"You're not a dork, Bella," he said, kissing my forehead. "Can I come in for a minute?"

"Sure," I shrugged, pushing the door open and tossing down my keys on the entry table as he closed it behind us.

"So, are you gonna tell me what's bugging you?" he asked, sitting on the steps leading into the nook.

"Nothing's bugging me," I said evasively, taking the hand he held out to me and stepping between his legs, resting my hands on his shoulders as his linked around my back. "I just need to get to bed."

"When are you going to realize that you can't hide anything from me, Bella," he sighed, reaching up to brush a tendril of hair from my face. "I can see it in your eyes. Please tell me."

"I don't really want to," I grimaced.

"Why not?" he asked, unable to keep the hurt entirely out of his voice.

"Because you'll think I'm a selfish and horrible person, okay?" I disclosed. "Which you'd be entirely correct in thinking."

"Bella, you could never be a horrible person, even if you tried," he said, tugging my hand and easing me down to sit on his knee. "You don't have it in you."

I rested my head on his shoulder and whispered, "I didn't realize Alice was moving out, okay?"

"Oh."

"Yeah, 'oh.' Stupid, right?"

"It's not stupid," he argued softly, rubbing circles with his thumb over the curve of my knee. "I'm sure it'll be a big change to not have her here. I know it took some getting used to when I moved out for college and didn't have her in the same house anymore."

"It's not like I'm upset about it. It just surprised me, that's all," I explained, lifting my head from his neck, my fingers softly playing over the back of his hand. "I don't begrudge her the fact that she's going to live with her husband and it's not a jealousy thing, it's just— It's what you said, 'a big change.' The entire time I've been here, she's been across the hall. It feels like some support beam was just yanked out from beneath me without any warning. See? Selfish. It has nothing to do with me whatsoever, and it shouldn't."

"She's not going anywhere, Bella," he said, turning his hand over to link his fingers with mine. "She's not leaving you. She's just leaving the apartment."

"I know that. I just didn't see it coming. Guess the abandonment thing's a bit of a hair-trigger right now with all the crap going on with my mom," I smiled without humor and squeezed his hand, moving to stand. He held me firmly in place, unwavering until I looked into his eyes. He told me that he could always read so much just from looking into mine and I was starting to more clearly see the sea of emotions that swam in his. Understanding, sympathy, acceptance, love.

"Bella?" he began, pausing for a moment as something in his eyes shifted and he seemed to change directions, his lips curling up in a smile. "You couldn't get rid of Alice even if you wanted to. She's like superglue. The bond is instant and permanent."

"You might not want to say that one in front of her," I giggled at the comparison. "I don't know if she'd like being compared to an industrial strength adhesive."

"So, I take it you two haven't talked about this," he stated, rubbing his hands over my thighs.

"No, and please don't say anything to her. I know she's already on to me for leaving so abruptly, but I just want to let it go. She's so happy right now and I'm really happy for her. It was simply an uncontrollable reaction," I said, completely ready to just forget the entire thing.

"I won't say anything," he promised, "but I think she'd want to talk to you about it."

"Probably," I sighed, leaning down to kiss his temple and rest there for a moment. "I really should get to bed. Not all of us can go home and nap after a morning in the gym."

"That's really a shame, Swan," he said, jostling me on his knee playfully in an effort to get me to stand, linking his arms around my back when we reached the door. "Mid-morning naps are one of life's great indulgences."

"Well, when all the craziness is over, I just might join you for one," I smiled, rubbing my nose against his in an Eskimo kiss.

"I'll save you a spot," he grinned, slanting his face to bring his lips to mine in a soft kiss. "Sweet dreams, love."

"Good night, Edward," I murmured, kissing him once more before he smiled at me and turned toward the door. I reached out and held his hand over the threshold. "And thanks."

"For what?"

"For always seeing it and for not letting it go," I murmured, gazing into his eyes, hoping he could understand how much it meant to me.

He stepped back to wrap me snugly in his arms, his lips taking mine in a passionate embrace before planting several soft kisses over my brow and against the top of my hair as he held me firmly to his chest.

"That's something that will never change," he whispered. I nodded against his chest, though it wasn't a question. He eased away and looked down at me for a minute before softly caressing my cheek and saying, "I'll see you in the morning."

I locked the door behind him, grabbing a glass of water from the tap before shutting the lights off and heading to my room to go through my nightly routine. As I scrubbed my face, I internally rolled my eyes over how I'd behaved. Like a child. Alice wasn't abandoning me by moving away; she was taking the next step in her life. She was a healthy, adult woman who knew what she wanted and was taking the steps to get there. It wasn't her responsibility to stick around the building until I was ready for her to leave.

This was the second knee-jerk reaction I'd had recently that could draw a line straight to my mother's doorstep. The more this happened, the more I realized how deep the wounds ran in my heart. I needed to learn to separate Renee from the rest of the people in my life. If she didn't want to change, that was her decision, but I couldn't compare the others around me to her. Edward, Esme, Alice. None of them were anything like her, as they'd proven time and time again. It was unfair of me to draw parallels when they were on completely separate playing fields.

Crawling in to bed, I resolved to stop by and see Alice on my lunch break the next day to tell her how excited I was for her and offer up any help I could give. I snuggled into my pillow, feeling slightly better already.

"Knock, knock," Alice called softly from my doorway. I hadn't even heard her come in, though it didn't necessarily come as a surprise. I rolled over to see her lingering in the threshold, looking a bit tentative. "You weren't sleeping already, were you?"

"No," I sighed, sitting up and scooting to lean back against the headboard, gesturing for her to join me.

She took my invitation, boosting herself up on the bed, her legs stretched out in front of her in a mime of my position. "Bella, I'm sorry I didn't say—"

"Alice, come on," I interrupted lightly. "Don't be ridiculous. You have nothing to apologize for. I'm not mad at you, not even a little bit and I'm sorry if that's how it came across. It just took me by surprise, that's all. It shouldn't have; I mean obviously married people would live together."

"I still should have said something earlier. I mean we were already engaged when you moved here and then we became such good friends so quickly," she murmured, leaning her head on my shoulder as mine came to rest on top of hers. "It's easy to forget sometimes that you haven't always been my best friend."

"I know what you mean," I sighed. "I can't even think about what life was like before all of you were in it. Lonely. I think that's why I reacted so selfishly. I can't ever go back to being lonely like that, not now that I know what life is like with hooligans like you around." We giggled together, as I nudged her with my elbow.

"You know something," she said quietly after a moment. "Rose and I spent an entire night sobbing together when I first got engaged and we figured out that we'd have to split up. It's not selfish. It's a big change. It's a good change and one I'm ready for, but as much as getting married and moving in with Jasper is a beginning, it's still an ending of sorts as well. I won't miss being single or dating or any of that other stupid stuff that people talk about missing out on when you get married, but I will miss being here with Rose, and with you."

"You will?"

"Yeah. I'll miss not being able to just walk across the hall to see if you're home, and borrowing Rose's shoes when she's not paying attention. I'll miss being able to have random girls nights at the drop of a hat, and times like this when I just need a few minutes to talk with my best friend," she sighed, sliding her arm around me. "But, then I remember that I'm only moving a few minutes away. If the lights are all on my side and I take the side streets, I can be here in less than six minutes. And if you're driving, under twelve," she teased.

"Smart ass," I snorted, jostling her head on my shoulder.

"It'll be different," she acknowledged, shifting back a little so I could see her face. The fact that her eyes were bright with unshed tears made me feel a little better about the fact that I wanted to cry. "But just because I'm getting married and moving out doesn't change our friendship. You're still the Dee to my Cher."

"And you're still the Michelle to my Romy," I returned with a watery laugh as I wrapped my arms around her, just holding on to my BFF for a moment as she held on to me. "Like I said, just had a momentary binge of selfishness," I explained, backing out of her arms and hastily brushing at the few tears that had slipped past my guard. "I'm past it. You can move, now."

"Why thank you for your gracious permission, Mistress Bella. I'll just go grab my things and get out of your hair," she burst into giggles, wiping at her own tears. "Seriously, Bells. I'm gonna miss being here with you guys. Maybe you and Rose can move into the guest room."

"Yeah, right," I chuckled. "Then Emmett would spend the night and none of us would get any sleep at all."

"That's true. There's one major perk to not having a roommate. All the loud, uninhibited sex," she sighed. "I think I'm gonna have to convince Jazz to have his way with me on the kitchen table. I've always wanted to do that but I was too skeeved out about doing it somewhere that my brother had already done it."

"Ew," I cried, my face twisted in disgust. "Emmett and Rose? Was that the same table we were just sitting at? I hope you sanitized thoroughly. Multiple times."

"Nope. I made Rose do it while I supervised from a distance. No way was I going near that thing until Emmett's ass prints were obliterated. It's just too bad that it's not as easy to bleach the memory from my brain. Of course I got payback," she said with an evil grin. "The next time we hung out at Emmett's apartment, we snuck into his game room and had sex on the futon where he plays all his X-Box and PS3 crap."

"Remind me never to get in a sex-off with you," I said as I settled back in on my pillows. "You're devious."

"Hey, I'm all for doing whatever you please in that area, just keep it out of my communal living spaces."

"I'll remember that," I chuckled on a yawn, the relief of having dealt with the situation leaving me sleepy.

"So, can I put your name on a roll of packing tape for Sunday?" she whispered, her head on the pillow next to me.

My eyes fluttered open and I smiled widely at her. "I wouldn't miss it."

x-x-x

Saturday afternoon, Edward and I stopped back at my place to grab a few things I'd need for his party before heading over to his parents' house. Esme and Carlisle had said they'd take care of everything when I'd asked how I could help out, but I'd been insistent that I wanted to do something. Esme had finally relented and let me take care of the dessert. I'd spent two hours on Friday night baking and decorating cupcakes that now sat in a frosted carrier in the back seat of Edward's car. He'd tried to look inside when he set them down, pouting when I'd smacked his curious hands away from the latch and said, "No peeking."

"But, Bella, it's my birthday," he whined, jutting his lip out pathetically.

"A fact I started acknowledging at exactly twelve o'clock last night," I rolled my eyes good-naturedly at him as we'd stood beside his car.

"True," he sighed, pulling me into his arms and smiling smugly down at me. "Best start I've ever had to a birthday. That one might have to become an annual tradition."

Blushing, I met his lips in a soft kiss, feeling the faint stirring of passion as his tongue touched mine and we indulged in a gentle embrace in the mid-afternoon sunlight. He pulled back, winking at me and assured me he'd be cashing in the rest of his birthday gift later that night before we climbed into the car to head over to his parent's house.

I wasn't really been sure what to expect from the day. For me, birthdays had always been somewhat of a non-event. The date of mine fell in mid-September and always seemed to be glossed over in the hub-bub of preparing for the upcoming competitions. My dad would always send me a card and some sort of gift; Marcus, when he joined us, would acknowledge it and usually give me some small token that could be used for my skating, like new skate guards in my favorite color. My mom didn't forget the day, but she didn't go out of her way to celebrate it either. Thus, another day of training would come and go without much fanfare.

For Edward and the Cullens, that didn't seem to be how things went. Though he'd claimed he didn't want to make it a big thing, Edward's birthday was still very much an event, one he'd eagerly wanted to start celebrating the moment the clock had ticked over to midnight the previous night as we lay snuggled between the sheets. He'd insisted that the only gift he wanted from me was one that didn't cost anything and that kept on giving all day long. I'd happily indulged him twice already.

His parents had called earlier this morning just as we were waking up, singing an off-key rendition of 'Happy Birthday' while on speakerphone, a tradition that apparently dated back to when he was a little kid. In Edward's words, 'they were terrible singers then, and they haven't improved with age.' Despite the fact that their singing could have landed them on the reject reel for American Idol, the warbly song crooning through the speaker of his phone was one of the sweetest things I'd ever heard.

He'd tried to get me to sing for him next, pouting adorably when I refused and then changing tactics when he saw I wasn't going to give in. The tickle attack progressed into the second installment of his on-going birthday gift from me and resulted in him getting his wish when I quietly sang the words to him as we lay cuddled in the afterglow.

Before Edward, I'd never considered myself overly sexual. I'd had crushes as a teenager, and of course every young woman has her fantasies, but they hadn't taken over my thoughts so completely like they did now. It was new and unexpected, but I liked it. I liked thinking about him like that, imagining what he could do to me and what we'd be like together the next time we made love.

The only thing that threw a wrench in the works was that every time my thoughts drifted that direction, my cheeks would flush an embarrassing pink color and completely give me away. I may have become more comfortable having the thoughts, but I didn't need anyone else to know just how often it seemed to happen.

Like now, as we drove down the block to his parents' house to have dinner with his entire family, was probably not the best time to be remembering the way his hair had felt between my fingers earlier that morning as my orgasm overtook me and I'd grabbed a handful of it.

"You guys are late," Alice admonished, rushing down the front sidewalk as soon as we pulled up at the curb. I quickly tried to put my mind in a 'family friendly' mode as we exited the car. "Come on, Bells, I'll help you haul this stuff back to the kitchen."

"Hey," Edward exclaimed when Alice shoved him out of the way to pull the cupcake carrier from the back seat. "Don't you have something to say to your favorite brother today?"

"Yeah, yeah," she rolled her eyes, raising up on her toes to kiss his cheek. "Happy Birthday, old man. The guys are in the back yard 'supervising' the grill. Go ask Jazz to check you for gray hairs."

"Brat," he muttered affectionately, seizing the opportunity to ruffle her hair since her hands were full and she was unable to stop him.

"You are so gonna pay for that later, Edward Anthony," she glared at him.

"I'm so scared, Mary Alice," he teased back, standing behind me, wrapping his arms around my waist and sticking his tongue out at her from over my shoulder.

"Go pester someone else, Birthday Boy. And cough up your girlfriend, she's needed with the ladies," she said, turning on her heel to flounce back up the sidewalk.

"I should probably go see how I can help," I sighed, turning in his arms when he made no move to release me.

"But it's my birthday and I want you to stay right where you are," he grinned, lowering his lips to kiss me. "You have to do what I want. It's the rules."

"Edward! You'll have plenty of time to smooch later," Alice yelled from the porch. "You can give her up for fifteen minutes."

"No, Alice, I really can't," he sighed, trailing his hand over my cheek. Alice groaned in exasperation and passed through the doorway, leaving it open behind her. "Especially not when your cheeks are blushing that delicious shade of pink and I can tell exactly what you're thinking," he said in a low voice meant only for my ears. He kissed both my cheeks and then dropped his mouth to my neck, a faint whimper escaping from my lips as his teeth grazed the tender spot where my pulse beat.

Then I remembered that we were at his parents' house, with his sister just inside the door and his mother and father somewhere nearby. I came to my senses, shoving roughly out of his arms.

"You. Are so not helping the situation," I tried to scold, though my lips were curved in a wide smile. He took a step toward me, his eyes loaded with intent.

"Nu-uh-uh, mister," I warned, holding my hand out in front of me as I moved away from him to grab my purse and his gift from the car, careful to keep him in my sights. "I'm going to go find your mother and see if she needs any help. You, go find the boys and stay out of trouble."

"Fine," he surrendered, shutting the back door of his car and clicking the locks. "It's no fun getting into trouble without you anyways."

He took the sidewalk that curved around the house to the backyard, while I went up the porch and through the front door, making my way toward the kitchen. I found Rose there mixing a salad, but no one else.

"Hey, Rose," I greeted her, setting Edward's gift with the small stack of cards and colorfully wrapped items on the table.

"Hey stranger," she returned, her lips curving up in a mischievous grin as I approached her and plucked a baby carrot from the veggie tray on the counter. "Is Edward having a good birthday so far?"

"Why are you asking me? Go ask him," I said, blushing, because as far as I was concerned, it had been a very good birthday so far and it wasn't even mine.

"You're a lot easier to fluster. It's more fun to try and blush all the dirty deets out of you."

"Yeah, it's been good," I said casually, clearing my throat. "Just slept in, had breakfast, relaxed."

"Engaged in copious sexytimes?" she offered, laughing when I gave her a painfully embarrassed look. "Oh come on, Bells, no need to be bashful. We all know that's what the boys are always looking for on their birthday, especially now that you two are actually having sex. And good sex, judging by the satisfied grin on your face."

"Rose," I muttered quietly, glancing around quickly to make sure that no one was close by and listening. She was right though. I quite literally could not stop smiling.

"Oh ease up. Esme and Alice popped down to the basement to get more beer and the boys are all outside," she assured me but still gave in and at least lowered her voice. "So, you have big plans for your man tonight?"

"I don't know," I shrugged casually. "I have no clue what Alice has in mind."

"I'm not talking about that," she said, rolling her eyes. "I'm talking about after the party, you know little private party of two action to close out the big birthday celebration."

"It's not like I have anything planned, Rose. We don't really plan that stuff, it just, I don't know, happens," I explained, glancing out the kitchen window and feeling comforted by the fact that all four men were standing in a semi-circle around the grill, drinking beer and chatting, completely oblivious to our conversation. It wasn't entirely true. I didn't have 'plans' per se, but I did have a little something hidden away in my drawer back in his bedroom. "So yeah, probably, but it's not like I have some big seduction scene all mapped out."

"Have you guys tried anything different?"

"What do you mean by 'different?'" I asked curiously.

"Like different positions and stuff."

"Um, not really," I admitted, hesitating on the details for a moment and then finally deciding that if I was going to open up to anyone about this, it might as well be Rose. She knew what she was talking about and there wasn't the awkward family thing. "He's um, he's always been on top. It's just been more comfortable that way, as I get used to it, you know? I don't know, I mean, it's always really good, so it's not like I've been complaining or anything."

"Babe, even if it's good, you've gotta branch out a little," she said, picking a cherry tomato from the salad bowl and popping it into her mouth. "It's not like sex comes in only one flavor. It's a variety pack. You've got to test them all out before you know what you like best."

"You have a point, I guess," I conceded, boosting myself up to sit on the countertop. "So, what, just when we're in the middle of it—"

"Just go with your instincts, Bella," she shrugged. "If it feels good for you, it'll definitely feel good for him. On that note, have you ever tried…you know."

"What?"

"You're really gonna make me say it," she said dryly, raising her eyebrow at me. "In the middle of Esme's kitchen, with Dr. DILF standing just out that door there."

"Like you haven't said more than enough that's inappropriate already, Rose," I batted back sarcastically. "You're really gonna play shy now?"

"Fine," she muttered as she glanced around for eavesdroppers for once. "Have you tried going down on him?"

"Going down, where? What are you talking about?" I asked, my brow scrunched in confusion.

"Blow job, Bella," Rose hissed out under her breath, rolling her eyes at my slowness.

"Oh!" I exclaimed loudly as her words registered. I snapped my hand over my mouth at the volume before lowering my voice to a whisper. "No. Why? Should I?"

"Well, it's not really something you should or shouldn't do. It's personal preference. Just saying, I've never met a guy who didn't enjoy it," she said, crossing to the fridge to pull out the salad dressing. "And with the right guy? It's actually not so bad. It's sort of a turn on to see a big strong man writhing under your touch, you know?"

"Hmm," I hummed, agreeing with her though in reality I didn't know, but I could hear Alice and Esme coming up the back stairs and I really didn't want to get caught by my boyfriend's mother talking about giving her son a blow job, no matter how close we were.

"Just something to think about," Rose giggled, winking at me just as Alice walked through the door, lugging a case of beer.

"What's to think about?" Alice asked, glancing curiously back and forth between Rose's amused face and my blushing cheeks.

"Oh, nothing. Just telling Bella about some special recipe she should try out for Edward sometime. Emmett's a big fan."

My face felt red as a fire engine and I crossed over to the fridge in an attempt to both hide and cool my cheeks. While I was slightly mortified at where the conversation had taken place, Rose certainly had given me something to think about. Just maybe not until later. When his parents and siblings weren't surrounding us.

Dinner with the Cullens was filled with laughter and good conversation, the kind that comes from a group of people who were all truly interested in each other's lives. Small talk and pleasantries had no place at the Cullen's table. There seemed to be some sort of unspoken pact that Alice and Jasper's wedding wasn't a subject for lengthy discussion, since so much of what had been going on over the past few weeks had revolved around the upcoming event. But, with the wedding only a week away, it slipped in from time to time.

There was talk about what the guys had planned for their time off, ranging from a camping trip up north to appearing at a few summer day-camps for local Pee-Wee hockey teams. There was even some talk about my training and what Esme had been helping me out with. Alice had once again mentioned the possibility of giving me a hand with my costumes; something I'd already decided to let her do, but was waiting to spring on her until after she was back from her honeymoon in the Bahamas.

Toward the end of the meal, talk shifted back to the original purpose of the celebration and stories began to flow about some of Edward's more memorable birthday moments. They talked about his fifth birthday when he'd had a Batman themed party with all the neighborhood kids and Carlisle had shown up dressed as the Caped Crusader and scared the daylights out of a little girl that had lived next door at the time. Edward razzed Alice about his ninth birthday that had taken place at a nearby public pool when she had wanted to help her mom carry the cake and dropped it with a big splat on the pavement. Apparently Alice was never allowed near a birthday cake again.

When Esme recalled his first boy-girl birthday party as a teenager, complete with games of spin the bottle and seven minutes in heaven that she was never supposed to know about, Edward had actually blushed and hidden his face against my neck, his shoulders shaking with laughter. The moment Alice mentioned digging out the photo albums, Edward had put his foot down with Emmett's whole-hearted support that it was time for cake.

As Alice and Rose gathered up the plates, Esme went to retrieve the small stack of presents, tossing me a box of candles to add to the cupcakes.

"Oh my gosh," Alice squealed when she saw them. "Those are so adorable, Bella. He's gonna love them."

"Just keep your distance, Hurricane Alice," I teased her, playfully nudging her away from the platter. "I'd like them to make it outside in one piece."

I'd found the idea a couple weeks earlier when I was searching the Internet. They were chocolate cupcakes with light blue icing, reminiscent of the blue tint that natural ice gets. On top, I'd decorated half of them with tiny hockey sticks, the others with a small black dot for a puck. They weren't anything spectacular, just something I'd hoped would make him smile.

They did exactly that. The entire group broke into song as I carried the cupcakes out, illuminated by the glowing candles. When I'd set the platter in front of him, he'd laughed and held me to his side, hugging me in his arms and kissing my forehead. The song ended and I rose on my tiptoes to kiss his cheek, whispering, 'make a wish' in his ear. He'd grinned back down at me and said, "I already got my wish this year."

After the cupcakes were consumed and the gifts unwrapped, Alice announced that the six of us were taking off. She'd rented out a nearby arcade for the evening, complete with mini-golf, laser tag, and all the classics like Skee-ball and, Edward and Emmett's favorite, the Wacky Gator game. The two of them headed straight for the machine once we were in the building and went eight rounds in a row, tag-teaming against the five plastic alligators creeping out of their hidey holes. The looks on their faces, as well as their intense goading of each other when one of them missed a whack had the rest of us in fits of giggles.

For the rest of the night, the six of us ran around the building like little kids hyped up on caffeine and sugar, rushing from one game to the next, with Alice acting as the responsible one and collecting everyone's tickets to cash in at the end of the night. We went for a round of mini-golf, though I ended up giving up by the fourth hole and just followed along, cheering the rest of them on from the sidelines and helping to tally the score. After three grueling rounds in the two-story laser tag room, Edward and I found ourselves back in the arcade, winding down the night with mini-donuts and Skee-ball while Emmett challenged Jasper to the basketball toss and Alice and Rose went to take on the Dance Dance Revolution challenge.

"So, did you have a good birthday?" I asked, lazily rolling the ball up the ramp and completely missing any of the targets.

"I don't know. I've still got…an hour and a half left," he grinned, glancing at his watch before tossing his next ball, a direct bullseye into the center hole.

"I suck at this game," I complained, throwing another blunder.

"It's all about the finesse, Swan. C'mere," he suggested, tugging me in front of him. "You're too focused on the end target. You've gotta think more about how you're going to get there. If you've got a good grip and a solid release, the bullseye will come to you." He adjusted my fingers on the small wooden sphere, helping me wind my arm back to release. The ball rolled a steady line directly into the middle circle. "See?"

"Hmm," I turned, raising my eyebrow at him sassily. "Think you're such hot stuff, do you, Skee-ball Master?"

"I am hot stuff, Swan. Sports Illustrated said so," he joked, mocking my earlier statement.

"Did they really?" I giggled, sitting on the edge of the ramp and leaning back on my hands. "I must have missed that issue."

"My mom's got it at home," he said, leaning down to kiss me, his body pressing me back on to the sloped surface. "I'll make sure you get a copy."

"You do that. I imagine it's very riveting material," I murmured between soft playful kisses as his hand slid beneath the hem of my shirt to rub against my skin.

"Dude, get a room," Emmett called out from across the arcade. "No one here wants to see you two gettin' bizzay on the Skee-ball ramp."

Edward and I laughed as he eased himself from my body to stand, reaching down to help me up while he covertly tried to adjust himself in his jeans.

With a sly grin, I glanced over his shoulder to make sure the others were focused on something other than us. Keeping his hand in mine, I tugged him down so I could whisper in his ear. "You know, you still have an hour and a half left, and I might have one more birthday present waiting for you." I slid my free hand slowly up his thigh, boldly skimming my fingers higher over the denim, feeling him harden beneath my touch.

"Fuck, Bella. You're gonna be the death of me," he muttered, fighting back a groan as his hips pressed more firmly against my hand.

"I hope not," I giggled. "If you're dead you can't get your present." Spurred on by his reaction and the knowledge of what I had in mind, I raised up on my toes to gently nip at his earlobe.

"Shit," he hissed out on a harsh breath. "Alright, I think we're ready to call it a night, how about you?"

"I'm ready to go back to your place," I clarified in a low voice, looking up at him from beneath my lashes as my fingers pressed more persistently against him. "But I don't think sleep will be on the agenda for quite awhile."

"Jesus, Bella," he groaned, hooking his index fingers through the front loops in my jeans and pulling me closer. "Did Rosalie spike your drink or something? Where did my sweet, shy girlfriend go?"

"She's still here," I chuckled, riding the thrill of the moment, seeing Edward's Adams apple bobbing visibly in his throat while he tried to contain his breathing, his warm breath panted against my face as my fingers teasingly rubbed over his length. "Just in a celebratory mood. And the birth of my amazingly sexy boyfriend is definitely something to celebrate. Thoroughly," I added, wrapping my hand around his length as well as I could through his jeans and squeezing firmly.

"Oh, God, Bella. You can't do shit like that to me right now," he groaned, his hand grabbing my wrist in a vice grip to stop me from moving even the slightest bit, his eyes closed in concentration. "I swear I'm about to just throw you down on the Skee-ball ramp, my brother and sister be damned."

"I guess we'd better get going then," I suggested, slowly releasing my hand and pressing a soft, lingering kiss to his throat. "Wouldn't want this to end up as an embarrassing anecdote for them to tell at your next birthday."

"It might be worth a lifetime of humiliation," he chuckled painfully, trying to gain control of his breathing before he opened his eyes and looked down at me, shaking his head in baffled amusement over my unexpected behavior.

He was right to be a bit surprised at my behavior, even over the past couple weeks since the first time we'd made love, I'd remained a bit shy and reserved, letting him take control of the reins. It must have seemed out of character to him that I was suddenly acting so provocatively flirtatious. I was a little surprised at my own openness, but with Edward, I felt comfortable expressing what I'd always buried so deeply beneath the surface.

With him, I wasn't embarrassed about the feelings of desire he awoke in me or the fact that I almost constantly fantasized about his lean body thrusting against mine in the throes of passion now that I had visible proof of what he looked like in that moment. Coupled with my earlier conversation with Rose, I was feeling more bold and capable of taking back the upper hand for one night. She had been right; seeing Edward nearly shaking with want was a huge turn on and completely diminished any ambivalence I might have felt at testing new ground with him.

We said a quick goodbye to our friends, Edward kissing Alice's cheek and thanking her for an 'awesome birthday present.' Before we made our way out to the parking lot, enthusiastic catcalls by Emmett following us out the door.

When we reached his car, Edward jerked me around, pressing me up firmly against the unyielding surface as he ground his pelvis against me and attacked my mouth with his. When he ran out of breath, he broke away, his breath uneven and shaky as he pressed his forehead against mine.

"If you want me to last for more than ten seconds, that is the last mention of anything even remotely sexual until we get to my room and a bed. Got it?" he demanded. I nodded in agreement, still slightly dizzy from his kiss.

I'd expected the drive to be tense and filled with anticipation, but Edward seemed to be talented at compartmentalizing and held a cheerful, lighthearted conversation with me about the events of the day, fawning again over the gift I'd gotten him.

It had taken me awhile to think of something, but I'd finally found inspiration from the sight of his collection of vintage comic books on display in the game room of his basement. After a good amount of online searching and calling in some assistance in the form of Rose, I'd been able to secure an original copy of Batman number five, the first appearance of the Batmobile, printed in nineteen-forty-one. The giddy, boyish grin that had spread across his face when he'd unwrapped it had been worth every penny and moment of anxiety I'd gone through in coming up with it.

I only hoped the other thing I'd gotten for him was received as enthusiastically. When we stepped inside his front door, Edward flipped the lock, and just like that, the casual friendliness was gone, the mounting passion picking right back up as if we'd only pressed pause for a moment. This time when he carried me up the stairs, my legs were wrapped around his waist and my lips were fastened to his jaw, his hands securely cupping my butt. Halfway up the stairs, he paused, pressing me up against the wall as he hungrily kissed me, his hands freed for a moment to roam over my body as I tore at his shirt.

"Bedroom," he muttered, pulling us back away from the wall and hitching me up a little higher on his waist. Once we reached his room, I scrambled down from his arms before he could toss me down on the bed. I had a little something in mind and would only be distracted if he laid me down. Kissing him, I helped him unsnap his jeans to pool at his feet, stopping him when he reached for the hem of my shirt.

"Just give me a minute, okay?" I pleaded, backing away from him, almost giving in to the look on his face when he pouted over the abrupt interruption. "Seriously, like twenty seconds is all I need." He groaned a bit, his fingers diving into his hair and scrubbing roughly over his face.

"If it's more than that, I'm coming after you," he warned as I bounded away, grabbing something quickly from the dresser and disappearing into the bathroom. Whipping most of my clothes off, I put on the snug t-shirt I'd found with the Bat Symbol stretched over the chest. It was a size too small and inappropriate to wear out in public, but I hoped he'd like it. The shirt stopped just at my belly button and left a wide patch of my stomach exposed above the matching boyshorts that had the same symbol splayed over my pelvis. I violently tugged the binder out of my hair, releasing it from the confines of the ponytail. Judging by my count, I had about four seconds remaining, so I bent over, shaking it out quickly, glancing once in the mirror to make sure it looked tousled instead of like a bird's nest. Pleased with the overall effect, I left my discarded clothes in a pile and opened the door.

He'd remained in place, with his head dropped in his hands, but as soon as he heard the door open, he snapped to attention, his eyes darting to me. It would have been comical the way his entire being froze, but the intensity of his gaze had me biting my lip, too busy trying not to rub my legs together to ease the ache that built there.

I leaned against the doorjamb, unsure of what to do. He was still as a statue and I didn't know if I should stay where I was or if I should go to him. I pushed at the sweep of hair that fell across my face and tugged at the bottom of my t-shirt a bit self-consciously.

"So?" I asked, unable to bear the silence any longer. The haze from his eyes cleared, his lips turning up in his signature crooked grin, with just a dash of mischief. I sighed in relief, my smile mirroring his as I crossed the room to him.

"Fuck, baby," he moaned, reaching out to take my hands, spreading our joined arms wide so he could take in my outfit before pulling me close to stand between his legs as he sat on the edge of the bed. "You're like something right out of my twelve year old wet dreams." I grinned, but he winced as he realized what had come out of his mouth, worried that he might have said something to make me uncomfortable. He pulled at his hair awkwardly before dropping his hands back on the bed behind him. "Geez, sorry, was that weird?"

"No. I kinda liked it actually," I assured him, eager to make him aware of my newfound confidence in our physical relationship. I didn't want him to worry about how I'd react to anything he chose to say to me. I wanted him to be open with his thoughts so I could feel comfortable sharing mine with him. I moved back just enough so I could bend and press a wet, open mouthed kiss to his jaw and whisper in his ear. "Do you fantasize about me, Edward?"

"Y-ye-yes," he uttered on a broken gasp and I thrilled at the feel of his pulse racing beneath my lips. I trailed the tip of my tongue over his collarbone, taking in his tensed muscles and the sight of his white knuckles where they clenched against the sheets. He seemed receptive, encouraging even of my brazen attitude and I decided to just go for it.

I leveled my face with his, kissing him once before uttering against the corner of his lips. "Do you think about me taking you in my mouth?"

He jolted back just slightly, his eyes snapping open in surprise, filling with lust as they searched mine.

"Because I want to, Edward," I whispered, keeping my eyes locked on his as I pressed a soft kiss to the side of his mouth. "I want to wrap my lips around your," I paused, hesitating just a moment over saying the word out loud, "cock."

"Oh God," he groaned deeply, dropping his head back, the veins in his neck prominent from the strain and pulsing. I decided to take that as a yes, slowly pressing my lips over his chest as I lowered myself to kneel between his legs, nudging his knees further apart with no resistance. His stomach trembled as I trailed my tongue along the edge of his boxer briefs, following the path with the tip of my finger before I hooked it inside the elastic to ease the fabric down his legs, exposing his bobbing erection.

I honestly had no idea what I was doing, but I remembered Rose's insistence that pretty much anything would feel good for him. I hoped she was right and tried to relax and just rely on what felt natural. I wrapped my fingers around him, stroking over his length a few times, deciding to start with something at least a little bit familiar to me. I glanced up to see Edward's eyes trained on me. The look in them made me feel sexy, desirable and I didn't want to look away. So, with my eyes locked on his, I reached my tongue out to wet my lips, flicking my gaze once to his cock as I wrapped my lips around the tip, then returning my eyes to watch him as I slid his length into my mouth.

"Fuck. Yes...Bella, so good," he moaned, the words spilling out between choking gasps.

I ran my fingers over his thighs, pressing the tips firmly against the hard muscles that were clenched tightly with passion. As I brought them back down, I raked my nails against him, causing a violent shiver to course through his entire body, his mouth falling open with a guttural moan.

Note to self. Nails are good.

I continued to pleasure him with my mouth, wrapping my tongue around his width as my head bobbed in his lap, releasing him when I ran short on air only to trace over him with the tip of my tongue, swirling around the head before taking him back in. It wasn't so bad, and he definitely seemed to be enjoying it.

His hips thrust slightly, almost unconsciously against me as I tried to take him deeper, pausing for a moment when I feared my gag reflex would kick in. Easing him out once again to breathe, I leaned down and pressed an open mouthed kiss at the base of his length before swallowing him once more. His breath hissed out when I didn't ease him in this time and his hands dove into my hair, catching me a little off guard, but making me cry out in pleasure as his grip tightened.

"This okay?" he grunted as his fingers massaged my scalp, gripping the strands.

"Mm," I hummed in approval, feeling him twitch inside me at the vibrations in my throat. His hands remained securely in my hair as I worked over his length with my mouth, not pushing or forcing, nor restraining, simply following the pace I set. I felt him throbbing against my tongue and wondered if he was going to last much longer.

I got my answer only a moment later when his grip on my hair released, the blood flow returning to my scalp. His hand eased me off his length before he hooked me beneath the arms and pulled me up to lie on top of him as he fell back on the bed, swiftly pulling the shirt over my head to palm my breasts.

"As fucking amazing as that feels," he muttered against my lips, his tongue passionately tangling with mine as his hands moved to travel over my spine, easing my panties down my hips as I wriggled to assist him in removing them. "I'm only going to get to come once before midnight, and I want it to be inside of you."

He dipped his hand between my legs and slid a finger inside me, our twin moans piercing the air as he found me already wet and ready for him. He hefted himself up the bed a bit more with me straddled on top of him. Throwing open the drawer in his bedside table, he dug around for a minute, retrieving the small foil packet and eagerly ripping it open with his teeth as he continued to rub his fingers over my slick center, circling tightly over my clit and hastening my own arousal as he sheathed himself with the other hand. Pulling his hand away from my center, his fingers clenched at my hips, pressing me up against him until I could feel his length sliding along my lips. My eyes fluttered closed as I savored how good he felt pressed up against me like that, the blood already pulsing through me in anticipation.

His fingers loosened their grip and his hands ran up my torso to cup my breasts. His body reared forward to take my nipple in his mouth, his breath heavy against my skin. His tongue circled the taut peak and my hips continued to ease over his, grinding steadily over his length as I whimpered at the glorious friction it provided.

"Bella?" he breathed, lifting his lips from my skin as he raised a hand to my cheek.

"Yeah," I sighed, gazing deeply into his dark green eyes, watching as he slowly leaned back until he lay flat on the bed while I remained upright above him.

"I want you like this," he whispered, his hands possessively stroking over my shoulders and down the curve of my back until they rested back on my hips. "Is that okay?"

In that moment I'd have offered him anything he asked for, but his request was not a difficult one to grant. I nodded, thrusting against him once more before he lifted me up enough to poise himself at my entrance, slowly easing inside me.

It took me a few moments, as it always did, to adjust to his size, though every time was a little easier. He was always patient, holding still, his fingers soothing me until I'd open my eyes and assure him I was ready to continue.

It was different being on top of him. Every other time we'd been together like this, he'd set the pace, and I quickly realized that it would be nearly impossible for him to do so in our current position. His hands remained at my hips and his soothing movements turned encouraging as I leaned down, resting my hands on his chest. I rocked my pelvis against him, slowly at first as I got used to the new sensations of the different position, then more eagerly as I grew accustomed to what felt good. As I took on a steadier pace, his hands left my hips to stroke over my sides, reaching up to grasp my breasts as his thrusts matched mine.

The pads of his thumbs grazed over my nipples before he returned his hands to my hips, stopping my movement and holding me firmly in place, his length fully enclosed within me. His eyes were squinted closed and his breath rough as he sat up, the motion hitting a different spot inside me that caused me to cry out in pleasure. His face was lined with mine, our torsos pressed against each other as his hands slowly began to ease my body up and down over his cock again, his lips desperately clinging to mine as the pace steadily built again, bringing my pleasure, and hopefully his, higher with it. With his arms wrapped around my body, I felt myself come apart. Three quick, uneven thrusts later, Edward followed behind, his face buried in my hair and his broken groan vibrating from his lips upon my neck.

I remained sitting there, held in place by his firm hold, motionless but for the movement of my chest as I tried to breathe and the occasional shiver that ran up my spine. His hands slowly began to trail lazily up and down my back, his fingers playing over the faint bumps of my spine. After a few minutes, he let out a long breath and kissed my neck before shifting me off him. He didn't move more than a few inches to dispose of the condom in the wastebasket beside his bed before laying back with me, our legs tangled together and our faces close.

"It's twelve-oh-one," he murmured with a satisfied grin. "Best fucking birthday ever."

x-x-x

In the week leading up to the wedding, time flew quickly. Sunday afternoon, Rose and I had spent hours helping Alice pack up her stuff from the apartment. It had been fun hearing stories about all the little knick-knacks that lined her shelves. Going through her closet had been an epic adventure. She still had clothes from a decade before that she refused to part with, insisting that some of that stuff would be coming back into style. Someday. Prom dresses, cheerleading uniforms, Jasper's old hockey jersey. Yearbooks, stuffed animals, a file of school projects, papers and report cards that Esme had passed down to her. Everything was tucked away in boxes to take to their new house. For the time being, Rosalie would be staying in their apartment on her own, though she and Emmett had started talking about moving in together once their respective leases were up.

Alice and Jasper headed up North on Tuesday afternoon to take care of some of the last-minute details and relax, with Esme and Carlisle following the next day. Emmett, Edward, Rose and I drove together, holding back until Thursday in order for Rose to get her hours in at the garage and so I wouldn't have to miss quite as much time in my training.

The nearly three hour drive to the Cullens' cabin on Bay Lake flew quickly between rousing games of I Spy and the License Plate game. Every time we approached a tunnel, Emmett demanded that everyone had to hold their breath the entire way through or we'd have bad luck and end up in a ditch.

As we drove down the bumpy lane that led to the lake, I was amazed at how different a few miles could make from the busy city to the still country. Piling out of the car, the air was fresh and clean, the surroundings quiet but for the rustling of the breeze through the surrounding trees. At least until Alice came bounding out the front door to greet us all.

I shouldn't have been surprised at the cabin, especially not after seeing their house back in the Cities, but it still amazed me. To me, a cabin brought to mind images of tiny wooden shacks that held maybe one bedroom and a tiny kitchen, but was mostly good for storing whatever it was you needed at the lake.

Well, the cabin was made of wood, but that's about all that I got correct.

I'd been a little confused at first about how and why Alice would have chosen to have her wedding here, especially when she appeared to be a city girl through and through. It's where she and Jasper had first met when the guys dragged him out with them for a long weekend after he'd first joined the team. I'd understood the sentimental value, but until I saw the place I couldn't understand why she'd pick it when there were so many beautiful venues in the Cities. The cabin was like a rustic castle in the middle of a peaceful land.

Alice led me on an excited tour, pointing out where everything for her wedding would be taking place, and regaling me with memories of coming here as a kid, as a teenager, as an adult. She pointed out a small, private patch of grass that sat just behind a grassy knoll. To anyone else it would have been unmemorable, but to Alice it was the spot where she and Jasper had shared their first kiss and where they'd be seeing each other for the first time on their wedding day. Instead of waiting until the ceremony, they'd decided to have a private moment to themselves and then get their pictures out of the way before any guests arrived so they wouldn't have to leave the party to take them after.

Walking around, I felt so at peace. The cabin itself was enormous, two stories that sat overlooking the beautiful clear blue lake. Majestic trees sprang up everywhere, though there were plenty of wide open patches of grass and flowers, one of which sat near the house and would be used for the reception. Down a steep set of wooden stairs there was a large dock that sat on the water, a pontoon boat and two jet skis sitting up on their racks on one side.

When we finished touring the grounds, she led me back around the house. The inside was elegant and warm, clearly Esme's doing. Three bedrooms upstairs, with an additional on the main level. By the time Alice and I got back from our tour, the guys had already brought all our bags in and staked out their territory. Emmett bounded noisily down the stairs, already changed into a pair of swim trunks. As he sprinted out the door, he yelled for Edward and Jasper to 'move their lazy asses.' Edward quickly came next, barely stopping to kiss me and tell me to get my suit on before he ran outside, followed close behind by Jasper who tried to knock him out of the way as they ran down the path. Within a minute, all three boys had taken off down the dock and cannonballed into the lake.

"Nothing ever changes," Esme laughed, affectionately watching her boys out the window. "You two should go get changed, have some fun. I'd recommend double knotting your suit if there're strings. Emmett can never contain himself when he sees an easy target." She laughed and patted me on the arm before heading into the kitchen while Alice and I went to dig out our swim suits.

"Alice!" I yelled down the hall when I finished digging through my bag. She popped her head through my door, already dressed in a hot pink bikini and holding her towel. "What the hell is this?" I demanded, waving the tiny scrap of blue fabric.

"Your new suit! Consider it a gift for being one of my bridesmaids."

"How did you even manage that? I didn't pack until yesterday and you were already here."

"Rose," she winked. "Just get changed, Bella, we're wasting precious lake time."

I did as she asked, grumbling the entire time and firmly knotting my towel at my chest to cover up. No way in hell was I walking all the way down to the lake in what was basically underwear. Heading down to the kitchen to meet Alice and Rose, they chuckled and shook their heads as I glared at them, tugging the towel a little tighter and nudging my sunglasses down over my eyes.

Once we got down near the water, Rose chucked her sandals and towel over the rail of the pontoon and did a slick dive off the dock. Alice was a little more tentative, dipping her toe in the water to test the temperature and climbing down the ladder to wade in, shooting pointed looks at the boys to ensure they didn't try any funny business before she was in the water. I lingered behind, hoping they'd all be distracted enough that I could lose the towel and get under the water before anyone could give me a second thought. No such luck. Every single one of them beckoned for me to join them. As I hesitated another moment, I couldn't help but realize how ridiculous it was for me to be self-conscious. I could perform in front of millions in not much more, but I couldn't comfortably drop my towel in front of five people who knew me better than anyone? Rolling my eyes, I sucked it up and tossed my towel next to Rosalie's, tugging the fabric more firmly into place over my breasts and double checking the security of the knots before stepping out on the end platform.

"So, Babybel, you gonna be a chicken shit like Ali, here and take the wimpy way in?" Emmett laughed, dunking his sister under the water now that she'd fully immersed herself.

I gave him a menacing look before backing up a few steps, then sprinting across the dock, tucking my knees as I launched myself off the dock, landing with a giant splash right in the middle of the group, soaking every single one of them.

"Woo," Emmett cheered when I rose to the surface, offering me his fist for knuckles. "You know for a tiny thing you sure can pack a punch."

Until the sun began to dip low in the sky, the six of us remained by the water. Alice did sunscreen checks every half hour to make sure no one was going to burn and when Emmett and Rose had started roughhousing on the dock, Alice had yelled at him, saying, "So help me, Emmett, if you give my maid of honor a black eye, you're paying to have every single one of my wedding pictures professionally Photo-shopped."

His response had been a hearty laugh as he'd thrown Rose from the dock into the water, before he turned to where Alice had been sunning herself. He plucked her up over his shoulder, and said, "Chill, Bridezilla," before tossing her over the side after Rose.

The jet skis came out to play and I'd actually had a blast when Edward had taken me out for my first ride. He'd even let me switch in the middle of the lake so I could sit in front and drive. I refused to go out with Emmett or Rosalie after seeing some of the stunts they tried to pull. Maniacs.

At one point, Alice and Jasper had taken off for a ride around the lake and Rose and Emmett had run back up to the house to grab some drinks and get out of the sun for a few minutes. Edward and I floated lazily together in the water, on our backs with our fingers brushing against each other in the water.

I drifted, my eyes closed as the water gently rocked me to complete relaxation. Then, out of nowhere, something pinched my butt beneath the water and I shrieked, hastily splashing as I tried to move quickly away from the spot it had happened. My eyes rapidly watched the water around me as my heart pounded, until I saw Edward beside me, his head low in the water and his eyes filled with mischief and laughter.

"You asshole," I squealed, swatting at him as he burst into laughter, with me joining him only moments later.

"I'm sorry, Bella," he said as he wrapped his arms around me, though his voice was anything but apologetic. "I just couldn't help myself."

"I thought I'd have to be on my guard around Emmett, not you," I said in mock irritation, poking my finger at his chest.

"You know, Emmett's not the only one around here who knows how to have a good time," he said, waggling his eyebrows at me as he held me up, treading water for both of us.

"I never believed he was."

"Yeah, but I think you might take a little more convincing," he grinned mischievously and began to swim us over toward the pontoon boat, grabbing the edge with his hands to ease around the motor before gently propelling us into the empty space between the metal floats that held the platform a couple feet out of the water.

Once we were in the shaded, private spot, he leaned in to kiss me, our skin wet and cool from the water, his hair dripping the occasional drop of moisture onto my cheek as our tongues met. My legs were locked around his waist. It was shallow enough for him to stand, though he had to crouch to avoid knocking his head against the floor of the boat.

His hands stroked hungrily over my breasts, bunching the wet fabric to the side, exposing me so he could more easily caress my bare skin.

"I don't think I told you yet how sexy you look in this suit," he muttered, his lips dropping to my collar bone and then lower to press against the swell of my breast. My body unconsciously leaned until I was practically floating on my back with Edward hovered above me as I arched into his touch.

Just as I began to lose all thoughts of where we were, a loud, rapid banging sound echoed around us. Edward jolted up and hit his head against the boat, swearing and rubbing his head with a scowl on his face. "Damn it, Emmett!"

"Nothin' like a good old-fashioned Shivaree, Eddie!" Emmett guffawed from the dock on the other side of the metal float. I hastily tucked myself back into my top, thankful that he couldn't have possibly seen anything, though he'd obviously deduced where we were and what we'd been up to.

"Well, save it for the newlyweds this weekend. I'm gonna have a fucking knot the size of a softball on my head," Edward shouted back as I gave him a sympathetic look and reached my fingers up to tenderly rub the spot on his head. He pouted back at me as we heard Emmett jump in and the jet ski with Alice and Jasper rapidly approaching before leaning his head down to rest it on my chest as I kissed the spot and continued to rub softly with my fingertips.

"You know, I might not mind getting hurt so much if you're always there to kiss it and make it better," he sighed, nuzzling into my breast for a moment. I laughed lightly before patting him once more and suggesting we get out of hiding before Emmett decided to play shark and come after us.

Around dinner time, Esme and Carlisle had come down to join us, carrying a cooler and grocery bag filled with chips and sandwiches. We'd all piled on the pontoon boat as Carlisle puttered us around the lake on a dinner cruise.

After a long, exhausting day of time in the sun and on the water, Edward and I had collapsed together on top of the covers in one of the upstairs bedrooms, falling straight to sleep with him cuddled against my back.

The following morning, Alice kidnapped Rose, Esme and myself for a full day of beautification at the day spa in the next town over. It was actually really nice considering we were practically in the middle of nowhere. Apparently the fishing widows needed a little something to keep them occupied.

We'd returned to the cabin just in time to get ready for rehearsal and from there on it was busy, busy, busy. After a smooth rehearsal and family dinner, Alice announced that the boys were banished from the main house for the remainder of the night. The cabin was Girls-Only-Territory until she and Jasper could see each other the next afternoon.

The guys had all grumbled about having to sleep in the guest cabin at first, but Emmett as always found the bright side and shouted out that the first one to the cabin got top bunk. He and Jasper took off down the hill, with Jasper yelling after him that it was his wedding so he should get first pick in sleeping arrangements. Edward had lingered behind to kiss me goodnight, trying to convince me to sneak out and meet him later. Alice caught on and shooed him out the door as I gave him an apologetic look and bid him good night.

The three of us, and even Esme for a short time, camped out in the living room with pillows, popcorn, Cosmopolitans and a DVD set of the entire series of Sex and the City. It only took me two episodes to get completely hooked, finding it both entertaining and educational. Esme went off to bed after giving each of us a kiss on the forehead, reminding us that it was going to be a busy day and not to have too much fun.

As the night closed on Alice's last day as a single woman, the three of us began to drift off, all jumbled together on the carpeted floor in a heap of blankets, pillows, and limbs.

"Hey guys," Alice whispered sleepily.

"Hmm?" Rose and I murmured, on the verge of unconsciousness.

"I'm getting married today!"

We chuckled and Rose told her to get to bed or she'd have bags under her eyes that no make-up artist could cover.

"I love you guys," Alice sighed as we all fell asleep. "You're the best friends a girl could ever ask for."

I couldn't have agreed with her more.

x-x-x

The next morning was a flurry of activity. Everywhere I looked, there were people milling about-setting up the reception tent in an open clearing by the treeline, unfolding white wooden chairs and lining them in neat rows down by the lake. Florists were working on the arch that would stand at the top of the alter, waiting for the reception space to get set up so they could line the tables with their elaborate arrangements.

I could just barely make out Emmett, Edward, Carlisle, and Jasper over by the reception tent, already hard at work hanging the glass mason jar lanterns from the trees, though it appeared that Emmett was more focused on distracting the others and jostling the ladders they were perched on, which resulted in a friendly tussle.

"Bella Swan, get away from the window," Alice ordered from her seat at the kitchen table where a hairstylist was hard at work curling her hair and adding the extensions she'd need for her updo. "I swear, you're the girl in the relationship, you're supposed to be the one with the will power."

"I can't help it," I giggled, taking the seat across from her and folding my legs up as I sipped my coffee. "He's just so cute."

"I guess I have to agree, seeing as we share the same genetics. Gimmie a hit of that, will you?" she requested, reaching for my mug. "I think we watched one episode too many last night."

"Oh, Alice, once your adrenaline kicks in, you won't even be thinking about being tired," Esme said from where she stood, leaning against the counter.

"Yeah, as soon as we strap you into that contraption you call a dress, you'll probably have enough energy to run a five-K," Rose chuckled.

"Can you guys believe it? It doesn't feel like this is really happening," Alice sighed dreamily. "I just know it's all going to be perfect."

Looking at her elated expression, I knew Alice wasn't talking about every detail of the day running smoothly. It didn't matter if the timeline ran behind or if the hem of her white gown got a little dirt on it, the important thing was that by the end of the day, she and Jasper would be married, surrounded by their family and friends.

The morning morphed into early afternoon and we finally got Alice laced into her dress while the photographer snapped away in the background. Esme, dressed in her mother-of-the-bride finery, placed Alice's veil carefully on her head while the two of them shared a tender moment with happy tears. I couldn't stop the slight pang of regret that my own mother likely wouldn't do the same for me when my own day came. But it didn't linger. Sadness had no place in such a beautiful moment.

Rose and I quickly zipped into our own dresses. I'd been correct in my estimation that Rose would look amazing in hers, and slipping into the smooth satin of mine, I actually felt qualified to stand next to her. The dress was far more understated, but the 'v' that dipped low in the front and mimicked on the back made me feel elegant and attractive, especially with my hair swept up in curls and exposing the line of my neck.

We helped each other with our accessories and gave a final spritz of hairspray to our updo's. Rose wrangled Alice's train while I balanced our bouquets to head outside and send the bride on her way to meet her groom. We walked with her down the path until we could barely make out Jasper waiting up ahead, then the two of us fell behind to give them their moment alone. The two of us were laughing when I felt a light graze across the tip of my nose, batting at it and turning around, I found Edward standing there, grinning down at me, looking completely dashing in his black tux, the leafy green silk of his tie and pocket square matching my dress and a small white bud already pinned to his lapel.

"Hey," I breathed, almost dropping my flowers when I forgot I was holding them and tried to reach for him. He caught them easily, handing them back to me with a sly wink. "Thanks," I whispered, blushing at my fumble and from the effect he had on me.

"Believe me, Swan. You're not the only one dazzled here," he grinned, taking my free hand and twirling me in a slow circle. "I didn't think it was possible for you to look any more beautiful," he murmured, pulling me close for a kiss. "But every time, you take my breath away."

I grinned back at him kissing him once before flirtatiously swooning in his arms. "Don't, I shall faint," I sighed in an imitation of Scarlett O'Hara.

He grinned in response, his face twisting a bit as he attempted to channel Clark Gable. "I want you to faint. This is what you were meant for," he drawled before lowering his lips to kiss me passionately once more.

"A man who can quote Gone With the Wind off the cuff like that is definitely a keeper," Rose chuckled from beside us, where she and Emmett were standing together. I flushed, easing back as I realized just how easy it was to forget everything around me but Edward. "You should take some pointers from your brother there, Big Guy."

"Nah," Emmett scoffed. "I seem to have done just fine on my own. Besides, that would just have sounded stupid coming from me. Eddie got all the smooth moves in the family."

Rose snorted, burrowing under Emmett's arm as Edward wrapped me in his. We waited for Alice and Jasper to emerge, coming back around the bend only minutes later with smiles so big on their faces that it was a wonder they didn't just split in two.

For the rest of the afternoon, the six of us wandered the area with the photographer, indulging every idea Alice could come up with for a shot she had to have. We were due back to the ceremony site at three for formals and family pictures and ended up there with a few minutes to spare, kicking back in the front row of lined chairs as Alice inspected every detail.

"I'll be right back," I announced, setting my bouquet on the seat I vacated next to Edward. "I'm gonna go grab a drink. Anyone want anything?" The others declined, and I turned to walk up the empty aisle back toward the cabin.

"Don't take too long, Bella," Alice called after me. "We're gonna do our family shots first since Jazz's side is always late. What? They are Jazz, don't even try to pretend like they're not."

I glanced back, confused. "What are you talking about Alice? I thought we already did all the wedding party pictures."

"Yeah, we did. Family pictures, Bella. Once Mom and Dad wrap up, they should be headed down here so we can get them done. Hey, if you see them up at the house, will you tell them we're ready?"

"Yeah, sure," I mumbled, turning away and hurrying up the path. Inside, I made a beeline for the stairs, bypassing the crowd of caterers who had taken over the kitchen and hurrying up to the room on the second floor where I'd slept that first night with Edward, clicking the lock behind me as emotion threatened to swamp me.

Family?

Was that what Alice thought I was?

It may have seemed like something as simple as a photograph was no big deal, but a family portrait seemed so permanent. It would be something that they looked at fifty years down the road when Alice and Jasper celebrated their golden anniversary. When they looked at it on that day, I'd be standing there with them, frozen in time. The Cullen's seemed so close-knit. Family was obviously of the utmost importance to them. I didn't think they'd ask me to be a part of that if they thought I was just a fleeting presence and would one day far in the future say, 'Oh, yeah, that was what's-her-name. Remember her?'

It didn't surprise me that they'd ask Jasper and Rose to be a part of it. Obviously, Jasper was legally joining their family, and in Rose and Emmett's case, it seemed like merely a matter of time. But I'd only known them for a few short months. Did they really see me as something permanent?

The evening before at the rehearsal dinner, I'd met The Hales, Jasper and Rosalie's parents. They were polite, strained. Their father was standoffish and didn't mingle much with anyone but his wife, and they had left immediately following dinner. Their mother had seemed so sad and it was obvious she still harbored feelings for her ex-husband, though they'd been divorced for well over a decade. Seeing how different Jazz and Rose were from the people who created them was illuminating. It was so obvious that the two of them had flourished on their own, and had finally found their true place with the Cullens. Mr. and Mrs. Hale may have made them, but the Cullens were their true family.

Could it be the same for me?

Stepping over to the window, I could see them gathered below, Rosalie fixing Alice's veil, Jasper, Emmett, and Edward all huddled together laughing, Carlisle and Esme standing to the side, their arms around each other as they looked upon their children with such pride and affection.

I wanted it to be the same for me. I wanted to belong in that picture, and I was starting to believe that I might have a place there.

I watched as the photographer wrangled the group together, placing each person precisely in position as Edward glanced around, obviously looking for me, soon joined by Alice. I moved back from the window, not wanting to be caught.

"Babybel!" I heard Emmett shout. "Get your ass in gear, girl. Chop chop!"

"Nice manners, Emmett," Esme scolded. I held my fingers up to my lips to try and contain my smile as I dashed outside to join them.

My family.

x-x-x

As soon as photos were over, Alice shooed the guys away to where they'd wait for the ceremony to begin as we went in the opposite direction to hide out in the cabin from the arriving guests. I didn't even have time to say a word to Edward before we were separated. I sighed, knowing I'd have to wait to speak to him until after the ceremony.

Before I knew it, the chairs were filled and the prelude wrapping up as Esme gave Alice one final kiss on the cheek and headed out to take her spot. Carlisle hung back with us, escorting his daughter by the arm to wait for their cue.

As the music shifted to the processional, I hugged Alice and wished her luck. Rose winked at me and teasingly advised me not to trip on the rose petals.

I watched my feet for the first half of my trek up the aisle, nervous about doing just that, before I realized that it probably looked ridiculous to the crowd of people gathered. When I looked up, my eyes immediately found Edward where he stood next to Emmett, beaming back at me. I kept my eyes on him the entire way, my feet steady and straight as I took my spot, giving him a quick wink across the altar. I noticed Rose coming to stand beside me as Alice's music kicked in and the assembly rose to their feet.

The ceremony was beautiful, the majestic trees towering behind us, offering only glimpses of the clear blue lake through the breaks in their trunks. I found myself watching people in the crowd, the families, the couples; people who had already made the commitment that Alice and Jasper were currently undertaking, some maybe more than once, some who had broken it and some who never would. I watched Esme and Carlisle as they looked on, watching their daughter say her vows with their hands joined and resting on Carlisle's knee. She rubbed his wedding band, and he reached over to touch hers with a soft smile, likely recalling the day they'd first put them on.

Jasper and Alice repeated the minister's words, the traditional vows that had been spoken by so many other couples for centuries. As they pledged to love, honor and cherish one another, my eyes met Edward's across the altar, and I was instantly entranced.

In his eyes, I could see a different wedding in a different place and a different time. There, it was I who wore a beautiful white dress and Edward who stood at the altar waiting for me. It was our hands that were joined and our voices saying those same vows. Words, that though they had been spoken by millions of others, sounded completely unique because they'd never before been spoken by us to each other. There, it was our promise and no one else's.

I realized that more than anything, that's what I wanted. I wanted to see that day in reality, not just in my mind. Maybe not soon, but someday. It didn't matter if my knee gave out or I didn't make the Olympic team. It didn't even matter if my mother and I ever spoke again. All that mattered was him. The Cullens were my family, but more than that, I wanted Edward to be my family. Mine. Forever. Just as I wanted to be his.

A thousand different memories flashed before my eyes from the first moment I saw him at the airport to seeing him again at the Xcel; our first kiss and the way he'd walked me home afterward. The way his face had lit up when, buried in a snowbank, I'd asked him on our first date. The color of his eyes the first time I felt him move inside me, the way his voice had sounded when he whispered 'I love you' to me that very first time.

My breath hitched as my vision cleared completely, as if the fog were never there.

Looking across at him, I finally saw that I was in love with him. There was no doubt, no question, no hesitation.

I loved Edward.

Tears filled my eyes as the knowledge filled me, every crack and nick that had ever scraped my heart smoothed over as I realized that he was all that mattered. As long as he loved me and I loved him, I'd never want for anything. As the first tear dropped down over my cheek, Edward's brow furrowed, a 'v' creasing his smooth forehead as he mouthed, 'You okay?'

I nodded and gave him a watery smile as my bottom lip trembled. Now that I knew, I didn't want to waste another moment without telling him. Alice and Jasper were exchanging rings, there were only a few minutes left before they'd be proclaimed husband and wife and Edward would escort me back up the aisle.

But even those few minutes were too long.

So, with my eyes locked on his, I opened my lips and mouthed the words, 'I love you.'

He froze, his eyes wide, his mouth slack. For the remaining minutes of the ceremony, that's how we stayed, our gazes unwavering, our bodies unmoving. The applause of the crowd broke our trance and I turned to see Jasper dipping Alice in an enthusiastic first kiss before they disappeared up the aisle. Emmett and Rosalie followed before Edward and I met in the center of the altar. We stared at each other for a long moment before he reached out his hand for mine and we walked back up the aisle together.

When we reached the end, we didn't join the others. Instead, Edward pulled me away, bidding me to follow him without a word. We walked just a short distance, coming upon a beautiful clearing through treeline that was scattered with wildflowers. I couldn't concentrate on the location though, I was too focused on the man in front of me. Once we were alone, out of sight and out of hearing distance from the crowd, he finally turned to me. His eyes were shining brightly and his expression intense as he pulled me close, framing my face with his warm hands, his fingers slightly shaking against my cheeks.

"Say it again," he demanded, his voice low and full of emotion. "Out loud."

I swallowed once, needing my voice to be clear and strong as I did so. "I love you, Edward." Tears fell down my cheeks to be rubbed away by his thumbs when I repeated, "I love you so much."

I didn't have a chance to say more before his lips were crushed upon mine, my head spinning delightfully as I lost myself in the embrace, in the emotion, in him. I loved this man with all my heart and I never wanted him to doubt it ever again.

He pulled his mouth away to feather kisses over my face, his arms banding around me as he held me tight. His palm rested on the back of my head, cradling me to his chest and I felt the rumble of joyous laughter start there before I heard it. He pulled me away, the grin on his face more beautiful than any sight I'd ever seen as he whispered back, "I love you, too."

x-x-x

After taking a few more moments to ourselves, we slipped back through the brush to join the merriment of the reception, congratulating our friends as Alice gave me a telling wink.

How did she always know?

Drinks flowed and dinner was served. Rosalie and Emmett each made toasts that had the guests roaring with laughter, while Carlisle's heartfelt words of love and family left everyone in tears. Alice and Jasper cut their cake, and as the sun set over the lake, they shared their first dance. As darkness fell, the trees became lit with hundreds of tiny white lights, transforming the open area into a dreamy fairyland. Through the night, stories were told and laughs were shared. Edward always remained by my side, only reluctantly leaving my grasp to dance with his mother and sister while Emmett, and then Carlisle, led me around the floor. As Edward and I shared another dance, he whispered in my ear that he had a surprise for me, leading me off the floor and away from the tent.

I lifted my brow in question at him when he stopped at the door of the cabin, but all he told me was that a bag was waiting for me upstairs and to meet him back in that same spot in five minutes. I did as he asked, chuckling a little when I found a pair of sweat pants and a hoodie as well as my worn Converse waiting for me. With only five minutes, I didn't bother taking the pins from my hair, simply changed and rushed back down the stairs to find him already waiting for me, his casual dress similar to my own.

"Where are we going?" I asked, but he only smiled and grabbed my hand, leading me away in the shadows, far from the tent and the people dancing there.

We walked together quietly down the wooden steps that led to the dock, the water lapping softly at the posts and along the shoreline. The air was crisp and cool but unstirred by even the slightest hint of breeze; the smell of sand and grass mixing with the clean night air. Crickets chirped and we could just barely make out the music from the reception up the hill, though the lights could not reach us. The moon was dim, but the stars were bright, filling the open sky with more tiny points of light than I had ever seen before.

"Wow," I whispered as he led me down the dock. "It's beautiful out here."

"Yeah, it is," he agreed, pulling me into his arms. "Especially with you here."

I grinned at him, glad that it was just light enough that I could see his face.

"I love you," he murmured. My smile grew, because this time I could answer him.

"I love you, too." I slid my hands up to cup his cheeks, rubbing over the slight stubble that had accumulated there over the course of the day. "Now that I've said it, I can't believe it took me so long to get the words out. I should have been able to see it from the start. There were so many times I should have realized that's what this was."

He held me close and I breathed him in, feeling him doing the same to me. "I don't mind that it took you a little extra time, just as long as you don't forget it."

"I could never forget, Edward," I whispered seriously though his tone was teasing, pulling back to look into his eyes. "You're everything to me. You're my forever."

We stayed there, our bodies lightly swaying together to the rhythm of the water and the faint strains of music, indulging in a quiet moment where nothing existed but him and me.

"Was this the surprise?" I asked, remembering his words when he'd pulled me away from the reception.

"Kind of," he chuckled lightly. "I knew it was going to be busy up there well into the night and I wanted you all to myself, even before all this happened."

"'All this' being?"

"You finally coming to your senses, of course," he said dryly and I laughed against his chest. I couldn't argue his words.

"So, what? We're camping out here until the party's over?"

"Not exactly," he shrugged, gesturing to the side of the wide, wooden dock where a pile of blankets and pillows sat. "Ever slept out under the stars before?"

He released me to lay out the blankets, stacking them to create a soft cushion.

"You people sure like to sleep on the ground a lot," I teased, helping him fluff the pillows. "Do you have something against mattresses?"

"Nope, but they're so restricting," he said, laying out on the blankets and opening his arms to me. "Look at that view," he murmured, gesturing toward the sky. "You can't see that from inside on a mattress."

I turned my face to his, studying the lines and planes as if I was looking upon him for the first time. "All I see is you."

His eyes remained on mine as his lips descended to take my mouth in a gentle kiss. After a few minutes, he eased me up to sit in front of him while he patiently removed each pin from my hair until it fell in waves over his hands. We came together again, our hands patient as we bared each other, unrushed as we savored the moment as if it would never end. Reality would return, but not tonight. Tonight was just for us.

He made love to my skin with his hands and his mouth until I was completely pliant beneath him, aching for him to join with me. He reached for his discarded pants and I stopped him, gently holding his wrist.

"Don't," I whispered.

"Bella, I'm just getting—"

"I know. Don't," I repeated. The moment was too precious for talk of reality, so I hoped he'd understand my plea and trust my reassurance. "You don't need it. I trust you. I love you. I want to love you without any barriers."

"Are you sure?" he asked, caressing my face.

"Take me, Edward," I responded, aligning myself beneath him. "I'm yours. Only yours."

His hands sought mine and our fingers intertwined as he gently slipped inside me and I whispered, "Always yours."

x-x-x

A/N:

Can I get a SQUEE?

I've had a few comments-so to clarify...there will be no little babies in skates coming for these two any time soon. Just because they didn't use a condom doesn't mean they didn't take precautions. It's subtle, but it is alluded to. Just to settle your minds.

To recap: Some 'morning after' action and trying to sneak past the gals, Alice moving out and some BFF time, Edward's Birthday and a BJ (tee hee), fun up at the cabin and a loverly wedding. Do I really need to mention anything else?

Review if you please and you WILL be teased!

On a different note…TTI has been nom'd for its first award! It's up for Best Bella & Edward in the Twitastic Awards. Here's the link if you're interested in checking out the other nom's, there are some great stories in there!

http:/twitasticawards(dot)webs(dot)com/vote(dot)htm (Just remove the (dot)s)

Thank you to anyone who put me up for it. I'm so glad you guys are loving Hockeyward and Skaterella!

Polyvore on the profile.