This story was originally written for MsKathy's Twifans for Haiti project. Huge thanks to her and manyafandom for putting the compilation together, as well as to all of you who donated or otherwise contributed. I am never more proud of this fandom than I am when it pulls itself together to do something good.
Thanks to antiaol for beta-ing and to bmango for the pre-read.
Stephanie Meyers owns the rights to Twilight. I own to right to decline any and all invitations to play dodgeball.
The bell rang, signaling that it was time to head to the last class of the day. On a Friday.
I should have been overjoyed.
Picking up my things and swinging my hair out of the way, I shuffled toward the gym as slowly as my feet would carry me, half considering ditching but wincing when I remembered how well that had gone over the last time I'd tried it. My dad had gone the whole "I'm just disappointed in you" route and grounded me for a week.
Not that it mattered, really. It wasn't like I left the house all that much anyway.
But the whole disappointment thing had kind of stung.
The big double doors loomed ahead of me, and if it was possible, I started dragging my feet even more, everything in me cringing. But I walked through them anyway.
Ducking into the locker room, I retreated back to the dimly lit corner I always went to, smiling shyly at the other girls with underdeveloped chests and mortified expressions who were drawn to the same row of lockers where we were least likely to be seen.
It was the usual ritual. There were few things I excelled at in gym class, but one of them was the patented face-the-wall-and-change-without-ever-actually-revealing-an-inch-of-skin maneuver. I had the ratty grey gym t-shirt halfway up my shoulders before my top ever left my neck, and the shirt was long enough that it covered everything else as I scrambled out of my jeans and into the awful, terrible, no-good shorts that showed way too much leg.
With one last sigh, I tied up my long hair and started the awkward shuffle toward the gym proper, knowing I could only delay the inevitable for so long.
I cringed again as the sound of bouncing balls echoed all around me, mixing with carefree laughter and the squeak of sneakers in the cavernous space. I deposited myself on the bleachers with my knees tucked up tightly to my chest, trying to stay invisible for as long as I could. Even I couldn't help but notice the contrast between my own self-conscious twitching and blushing, my eyes glued to the floor, and the flirty preening of the pretty girls. Raising my gaze just a little, I eyed Rosalie Hale and her crew, perfect blonde hair in flowing curls, developed bodies and a confidence that could never be me.
Especially not on a Friday.
With a big whooping shout, the door at the other end of the gym opened and the boys started streaming in, the mating ritual of Forks High officially begun. It would have been a fascinating exercise really, watching how we all self-selected, dweebs like me hanging back and trying to hide while the quarterbacks and cheerleaders circled around each other, seeking out more and more outrageous ways to demonstrate their inimitable coolness.
It would have been fascinating, that was, if I hadn't had to be a part of it.
Again, I watched in envious and disdainful fascination as Rosalie's boyfriend, Emmett McCarty, started to put on a show for her, dribbling one-handed and making motions for her to follow. Blowing a loose strand of hair out of my eyes, I felt the blush rising on my face, the ragged, gnawed-down edges of my nails fidgeting with the uneven grain of the wood seats as I wondered what it would be like to be one of them for a day. To be so confident and happy and care-free.
To have a boyfriend.
The blush on my cheeks had just about reached an inferno when Rosalie turned, catching my wide eyes with her blue ones, making all the color drain from my face at once to have been caught staring. Fidgeting nervously, I struggled to look at absolutely anything except the scene before me.
Graffiti on the bleachers.
Long, pale fingers in tousled red hair.
My heart stopped for just a moment as my searching gaze suddenly froze, taking in the gangly boy on the other side of the bleachers, his posture almost as closed as mine. I started to breathe again as I watched him tug at his hair nervously, his other hand adjusting his glasses and tapping restlessly on his knees, then on the bleachers, and finally moving back to push his glasses up his nose once more. I watched in distraction as his vivid green eyes flickered around the gym much like mine had, darting repeatedly to the floor, never settling on anything for more than a moment.
Unlike my gaze. Which had probably been completely, raptly devoted to studying the side of his face for what could have been the entire class period, for all I knew.
It actually hurt sometimes to look at Edward Masen. There was a tightly coiling pang in my chest and in other parts of my body that I didn't understand yet. He was new to the school, a mid-year transfer, and I'd been hopelessly focused on him ever since he'd arrived. Ever since he'd sat down next to me in biology, a shy crooked smile and then never another word uttered between us beyond polite hellos and goodbyes. Ever since he'd reached across the table with thin and tentative fingers to pull the microscope in closer and accidentally brushed up against my own hand, a sweet smell of boy and pencil shavings and soap.
He had stuttered his way through his first few days, saying hello to anyone who spoke to him but never going beyond that. Like me, he'd curled into books and schoolwork, his ever-present red pencil scratching constantly at whatever sheet of paper he happened to have in front of him. I cringed every time anyone said anything to him, watching him sit alone, reading, at lunch, as embarrassment would creep over him and he'd bury his adorable nose even further into his book.
I cringed for him now. Because Edward never looked more embarrassed or uncomfortable than he did in gym class.
I was finally torn from my blatant ogling when Mrs. Cullen blew her whistle, calling us all to the center of the gym. As usual, I hesitated, just wishing I could crawl into a hole and die, but she spotted me, calling me out specifically as I finally uncurled my legs and started down toward the gym floor.
"C'mon, Swan!" she yelled, looking at me with a sigh of exasperation. "Let's move, ladies."
At the same time, I heard a deeper, bellowing voice, as the male gym teacher started trying to corral his reluctant charges to the floor as well. "Whitlock! Masen! Quit lollygagging and get your butts down here!"
I almost stumbled over my own feet when I heard Coach Newton yelling Edward's last name, whipping my head around to watch as he unfurled himself, all six-plus glorious feet of him, all while still awkwardly keeping his head down. My attention was quickly returned to the perilous task at hand, though - namely walking - as I felt myself start to trip, just barely catching myself before I face-planted under the basketball hoop.
In front of me, I heard Rosalie Hale snickering, and my blush grew. "Looks like somebody's a little distracted," she muttered to one of her sycophants, acting like I wasn't close enough to hear.
"Oh God," her friend giggled. "Think about the poor little mute, four-eyed babies."
My hands were curled up in fists, and if I'd ever been going to punch one of those witches, it would have been then.
Fortunately - or unfortunately - I was distracted by Mrs. Cullen calling us all to attention again, holding up the worst instrument of torture known to my little sixteen-year-old heart.
I kept silently cursing, keeping my head down as she and Coach Newton reminded us all of the rules and indicated the two halves of the gym we would be playing on. Finally, the true moment of mortification came, as they chose Rosalie and Emmett as team captains. And then they chose us.
Name after name was called, and I shrunk a little more with each one, my hands wrapping unconsciously around my waist as I tried to be as small and unnoticeable as possible. Which was pretty easy since I always felt insignificant.
Please don't let me be last. Please don't let me be last.
As the number dwindled, my stomach sank just a little more, knowing I'd already been put in my proper place at the very bottom of the pecking order. There was nothing worse than having the popular kids fight over who got stuck with you.
I hazarded a quick peek up to see how things were evolving, and I startled to realize that it was just me and Edward left on the floor. He was a full five or ten feet away from me, and my heart ached again to see him staring at the floor, looking for all the world like he wished he could sink into it.
In front of us, Emmett was sighing disgustedly as his eyes twitched back and forth from Edward's scrawny frame to my own.
"Ugh, I'll take Bella, I guess," he huffed, pointing at me dismissively before turning back to his cronies with a sneer.
I wasn't last.
But Edward was.
Summoning my courage, I took one quick look over at him, watching his shoulders fall even further. He looked over at me too, then, and I smiled at him as reassuringly as I could, shrugging and flipping my hand, trying to silently imply that none of this mattered. Because in the end it didn't.
But it sure seemed like it did sometimes.
My heart actually stopped in my chest again when Edward shocked me by actually smiling back, shaking his head in a bittersweet motion, reflecting that same mortification and forced indifference that I felt. And he was so beautiful it hurt again to look at him.
Shaking it off, I turned and stumbled over to the half of the gym where my team was set up, positioning myself in the middle-back of the crowd. As the other kids started fighting over who would get to throw out the first few balls, I ducked my head and silently prayed that things would go the way they usually did and that I would be hit quickly and get to spend as much of the period as possible sitting on the bleachers being "out."
The whistle blew and balls started to fly. I unconsciously flinched away from a few of them, forgetting that, even though I was scared of the ball, I wanted to be hit so I didn't have to play this stupid game anymore. A particularly nasty shot flew right past my head then, making a loud, terrifying thud against the wall behind me and I actually jumped, an embarrassing squeal erupting out of my mouth. I looked up to see another one of Rosalie's mean girls flashing me a menacing grin, her eyes sparkling.
"Swan! Get the ball!" I heard then, Mrs. Cullen yelling at me to actually do something, and I looked around miserably, knowing full well that the real mortification only came when I actually had to try to throw one of these things. True enough, a lone orange dodgeball had rolled over to the corner I was hiding in, and there was no one else around to grab it.
With my heart thudding erratically, I bent down to grab it, feeling the rubbery surface flex slightly in my hands as I squeezed it, sweat already forming on my palms. Approaching the big blue line that divided the two sides of the gym, I glanced around, looking for a target and trying to measure up exactly how pathetic it would be when I inevitably either missed or lobbed such a softball that a five-year-old could have caught it.
The rest of the class seemed to be thoroughly engrossed with this barbaric game, laughing and whooping and sending balls whizzing back and forth. The bench full of people who had gotten "out" was still mostly empty, just a few lonely kids with blushes as bright as my own hovering on the very edges of the uncomfortable bleacher seats.
And then my eyes alit on the one other person in the whole gym playing the same game I was, hovering in a corner and looking for all the world like the ball was actually a bullet.
I caught Edward's eye as a plan flashed in my mind, my hand pulling back with the ball in it as I turned to face him. His face contorted into an expression of absolute dread and resignation as his whole body folded even tighter into itself, if that was possible, his gangly height reduced down until he looked like nothing more than a scared kid.
Which he probably was.
A scared kid that had a dodgeball being aimed at him.
I dropped my hand just a little and smiled, trying for all I could to show that I had no bad intentions, and then I carefully, softly tossed the ball his way, missing him by at least a foot, but at least it was on purpose this time.
His eyes widened when it dawned on him that maybe I wasn't going to persecute him, his eyes darting to the ball and then back to me.
And then he grinned.
Pumping those adorably skinny legs, he crossed over to the spot where the ball had wedged itself up under the bleachers, retrieving it and then flashing me another wide and amused smile. I steadied myself, hoping he was willing to play the same game I was but half waiting for him to belt me. True to form, his pitch was just as pathetic as mine, if not more so, the ball bouncing before it even got within a foot of me and then dribbling safely past my feet as I ran to grab it.
Grinning like idiots, completely oblivious to the rest of the game, Edward and I settled into our own game of who-can-suck-the-most, sticking to our own little three-foot wide lane at the very edge of the room. I threw a pathetically soft pitch at him and he lobbed it back with just as little interest. As we played, I watched the grin on his face getting wider and wider, his body unfolding just a little bit as he started to get more comfortable. Hell, if I didn't know any better, I might have actually thought that we were having fun.
And then I stopped mid-throw. Because I realized that that was exactly what was going on. I was having fun. In gym class. With Edward Masen.
With that realization, I smiled even wider, so hard I thought my face might break as I threw the worst two-handed girly-throw imaginable somewhere about three feet to the left of his shoulder.
The smile that spread over his face in answer to mine was completely devastating. So sweet and open and perfect that my insides were ready to crawl right out of my body, I wanted so badly to be next to him, to reach out and touch his face and kiss him. And if anything, the fluttering in my heart just grew warmer and faster, realizing that I had been the one to put that smile on his face in the first place. Me. Bella Swan. I had made Edward Masen smile.
And it was precisely because I was watching him with such rapt attention, staring at him with so much longing, that I got to see what happened next with perfect clarity. Almost like it was in slow motion.
The ball came out of nowhere, it seemed, and it was nothing like the softballs Edward and I had been lobbing at each other. It was hard and mean and furiously fast, and I felt my smile evaporating, a look of pure horror taking over my face as someone on my side of the floor called Edward's name.
Still smiling, Edward turned. And that's how he happened to be facing exactly the wrong direction to take the dodgeball square in the face.
All of a sudden, my little perfect game was replaced by a scream, by Edward clutching his eye and shattered pieces of his glasses flying, glass and plastic and metal. And, oh god, there was blood.
Before I even knew what I was doing, I was shrieking, running straight past the line, for once not even caring that it was against the the rules or that I was betraying my pathetic little girly crush.
I was completely deaf to the sound of the whistle blowing in the background or the snickers or even the mumbles of concern. All there was in that moment was Edward, sinking to the floor, still holding his hand tightly across the side of his face and tears welling up in his one eye that I could see, even as he was obviously trying to hold them back.
"Oh my God, Edward," I cried, kneeling in front of him, my heart breaking as he shoved his other hand out in front of himself protectively, batting me away when all I wanted to do was to touch him.
"Out of the way," a gruff voice beside me said, and I looked over to find Mrs. Cullen kneeling right beside me, her elbow shoving me over to the side as she started trying to calm Edward down.
"You need to let me see your eye, Edward," she said patiently, but even I could tell that her voice was tense. Oh god, what if one of his lenses had broken? What if it was his eye that was bleeding? I blanched and winced, half-turning away as I gagged because I didn't know if I could handle a sight like that.
So slowly, still cringing, Edward moved his hand down and my head swam a little. His glasses were completely destroyed, hanging off of the one side of his head. The whole side of his face was covered with a big red welt that already looked like it was starting to bruise, and there was a nasty cut on the side of his nose that was bleeding. I tried to ignore the blood, focusing as best I could on the fact that his eye was fine and that he would be OK, and I found myself breathing a heavy sigh of relief.
Edward winced again as Mrs. Cullen started prodding at the spot where his glasses had been shoved into his face, touching the area tentatively while frowning. His eyes were trained steadily on the floor, but every now and then they would flicker up to Mrs. Cullen's face, and then around to the crowd that had started gathering around us, and finally at me. I tried to smile at him when our eyes connected, but it probably looked like more of a grimace because I was still kind of overwhelmed by the blood and beyond pissed that someone had taken a cheap shot at him. And if I had to admit it, I was pretty damn annoyed that the first meaningful interaction I had ever had with him had been so rudely interrupted, too.
In his eyes I saw all kinds of emotions. Fear. Pain. Embarrassment. And something else. Only I couldn't quite figure out what it was.
Apparently satisfied that Edward was going to be OK, Mrs. Cullen pulled the ever present towel from the pocket of her track pants and squeezed it into his hand, urging him to press it to the cut that was still bleeding, if less furiously now.
"Do you think you'll be OK to make it to the nurse's office, Edward?" she asked, and he nodded stiffly, his gaze settling back to the ground.
"Only, um," he said quietly, and I wasn't the only one shocked to actually hear his voice, Mrs. Cullen's eyes widening beside me. "M-m-my … my glasses." With that, he pulled the useless piece of his shattered frames from behind his ear. The glasses had cracked in half completely, one lens completely shattered, and while the other one was still intact, the frame had broken such that the lens wouldn't stay in place.
Spying the other half of his broken frames on the floor a few feet away, I scrambled over to retrieve them. It was only as I was walking back over to hand it to him that I realized exactly how large the crowd around us had grown. Pretty much everybody from both gym classes had assembled in a loose semi-circle, some of them still snorting and pointing at the poor nerd with the broken glasses, even as others were looking on with obvious concern.
And at the middle of it all was a very anxious, very guilty-looking Emmett McCarty.
Shooting daggers at Emmett, I knelt back down next to Edward's side, whispering his name and holding out what was left of the other half of his glasses. He turned toward me quickly, squinting up at me quizzically before a flicker of recognition passed across his face, as if he was just realizing exactly what the thing I was holding out toward him was. Looking utterly mortified, he ducked his head and reached out his hand to take the useless piece of plastic and metal from me.
Mrs. Cullen cursed lightly under her breath and then said, "You can't see a damn thing, can you, Edward?"
He shook his head, blushing furiously, and she sighed.
"Bella?" she asked, and I whipped around so fast it almost made me woozy.
"Take Edward to the nurse's office, will you?"
"S-sure," I agreed. Tentatively, I held out my hand, wrapping it around his wrist. He took it gratefully and used me to help drag himself up.
When he finally stood at his full height, just inches away from me, I was completely awe-struck all over again, my mouth suddenly dry and all thoughts about the nurse's office replaced by thoughts about what it might be like to stand this close to him face to face. You know, minus the towel and the blood and his being blind as a bat. Because even with all of that, he was so achingly beautiful, his smell of boy and pencil shavings and soap, mixed with just a little bit of sweat, swimming around me, completely intoxicating.
"B-B-Bella?" he asked quietly, and I came to, cursing myself for being an idiot as I put my other hand on his shoulder, secretly reveling at the contact, and beginning to guide him toward the exit.
"All right, people, nothing to see here. Back to your teams," Coach Newton bellowed, and the crowd slowly started to disburse. The coach narrowed his eyes for a second then, and I was worried he was going to make even more trouble for us, until he fixed on something over my shoulder. "Except you, McCarty. You. My office. Now!"
I watched Emmett pale, an argument starting to rise on his lips, but the look of fury on the coach's face must have been something to behold, because his mouth shut itself suddenly, his shoulders slumping as he slunk back toward the locker rooms.
I couldn't keep the smile off my face to see the big shot brought down low, smugly satisfied that one of his stupid pranks might finally result in some sort of an actual consequence for once.
"C'mon," I urged Edward, grinning and feeling bad about it because he was obviously still shocked and in pain.
I held the gym door open for him, still keeping one hand on his elbow, and I would have been hard pressed to tell you if it was more because I didn't want him to trip or because I just couldn't bear the thought of not touching him anymore. I'd had my hands on his warm skin for a whole minute and half and already I felt like a junkie, hooked on the feel of him, all sinew and boy, and living in terror of the moment when I would have to take my hands off of him and he wouldn't let me touch him anymore.
Gulping, I started to move us down the hall, jumping a little at the loud sound of the gym door slamming closed behind us and then at the relative silence of the dim hallway after so much time spent in the din of bouncing balls and laughter. Edward shuffled along beside me, and every now and then I hazarded a glance at him, frowning to see his expression, all shy and guarded again and clearly uncomfortable with everything that had happened in the last few minutes.
And what I wouldn't have given in that instant to rewind life just a little bit. To go back to that perfect moment when he'd looked so happy. Happy playing not-quite-dodgeball with me. I shook my head to realize that if I never got to see Edward that free and open and smiling again, I would now forever have this beautiful memory of him, and that it would be associated with dodgeball of all the unholy things. My least favorite sport ever. And now the focus of my favorite fantasy.
As I was shaking my head, chuckling darkly to myself at the irony of the situation, Edward seemed to get even more tense beside me, his face screwing up uncomfortably until he finally opened his mouth to speak.
"You - you d-don't have to - to walk with me, if you don't want to," he said quietly. "I mean, if you - if y-you don't want to be seen with me or something."
I laughed, and then instantly felt bad all over again as he winced. How could he possibly think I didn't want to be seen with him when I was screaming inside my head about how happy I was just to get to be near him for a few minutes?
"I don't mind," I said, squeezing his arm reassuringly and feeling that pang in my chest again when he twitched at the contact, pulling back slightly. I sighed, and even I could hear the dejection in my voice. "But if you don't want me here, I can go. Though I'd like to at least get you to the nurse's office first so I can be sure you're OK."
"N-no," he said, a little more loudly that I would have expected and I startled. "Er, no, I mean I want you. W-want you to help. At least t-to the nurse's office." Just the tiniest hint of a shy smile tilted up the corners of his mouth and a little something in me glowed. "I mean, it'd be k-k-k-kind of embarrassing to walk into a w-wall or something. Mrs. C-Cul - Mrs. C-C-Cull - Mrs. C was right. I can't see anything."
"That would suck," I agreed, my heart floating, and there was just the tiniest little part of me that was fixated on the fact that, even though he'd instantly corrected himself, he had slipped and said he wanted me.
If only, I thought dreamily.
We were half way to the office when I felt compelled to speak again, wanting to hear his voice just a little more and wondering if I would ever have the chance to hear it again. Not really having anything more to make small talk about, I returned to the one obvious topic of conversation. Namely his face.
"Are you alright?" I asked quietly, not wanting to be awkward but just wanting to talk to him.
He nodded and my heart sunk, right up until his beautiful if stuttering voice started again. "It's m-m-mostly my p-pride. G-god that was embarrassing." He shivered.
"You have nothing to be embarrassed about," I insisted. "That asshole Emmett McCarty is the one who should be mortified. That was a terrible thing he did, taking a cheap shot at you like that."
Edward just shrugged, something so sad and hopeless about him. "I've had w-worse," he admitted, and if anything my fury just grew hotter.
"Assholes," I swore, and to my delight and surprise Edward laughed.
"Yeah, they k-kind of are," he agreed, grinning openly for the first time since he'd taken a dodgeball to the face.
God, he was adorable. Even if he was covered in blood.
And the moment felt so comfortable, so almost like our little game back in the gym, except with touching and talking in addition to all the adorable little smiles, that I reached out and took a chance. Letting go of his arm, I let my hand drift down over his skin, across his wrist, everything tingling in me and my heart in my throat, until I reached his hand and so tentatively moved to interlace my fingers with his long ones.
Still holding the towel to his face, Edward looked down in surprise and I tensed, ready to pull back when he inevitably told me he wasn't actually comfortable with my touching him, silently cursing myself for being so bold and ruining such a perfect little moment. But he didn't pull away. Rather, after a moment's pause, my heart raced to feel his warm hand squeezing mine.
And I could have died right then, right there, and I would have died happy.
I was holding Edward Masen's hand. Forget that it was because he was blind and all but incapacitated. All that mattered in that moment was the warm feel of his hand around mine.
Grinning like a total fool I squeezed his hand back, willing my lungs to breathe, and for this feeling to never end.
It did end, of course, the rest of the walk to the nurse's office taking practically no time at all. My heart sank as I knocked and opened the door, ushering Edward in and trying to prepare myself to let go of him.
"Ms. Brandon?" I called, hearing the uncertainty and dread in my own voice, and then the little crack at the end when I felt the gentle squeeze of Edward's hand around my palm.
The nurse ducked her head out from behind the curtain, an annoyed look lingering on her face for just a moment until she saw the blood all over Edward's shirt and the towel pressed tightly to his face.
"What the hell happened?" she asked in a concerned voice, tearing Edward away from me and sitting him down on the cot near the door. I stood there, stunned and numb, clenching my hand compulsively and flexing my fingers, bereft without Edward's touch. In a beautiful, musical, shaky, stuttering voice, Edward started to explain, and I filled in the details when he seemed to get overwhelmed.
Ms. Brandon turned an annoyed eye at me. She and I were well acquainted with each other, considering my clumsiness landed me here anywhere from once a week to twice in one day on one particularly bad occasion. "You can get back to class, Bella," she said pointedly and I blanched. The only thing worse than not being able to hold Edward's hand anymore was having to go back to gym … and to dodgeball. I actually shuddered at the thought.
"I'm supposed to stay here," I lied, willing my voice to remain even but flinching when I heard it crack a little at the end.
"I sincerely doubt - "
"It's t-true," a small voice answered and both Ms. Brandon and I stared at Edward agape, me because he was backing me up in my lie and her because she was probably so shocked that he had interrupted her.
Fortunately, he probably couldn't see our twin expressions of shock, and he kept going, explaining, "My g-glasses broke and I need B-Bella to help me get back to c-c-class."
Ms. Brandon's mouth drew up into a hard line, casting one backward glance at me before sighing and shrugging.
"I'll be right back," she muttered, moving to the back of the room. As she was rifling through some drawers, Edward moved the towel away from his face again, the cut still looking pretty nasty, but no longer bleeding. And then he winked.
I actually did a double-take, but didn't have time to react any further because Ms. Brandon was back, armed with a bottle of alcohol and some swabs and bandages.
I turned my back, shifting my weight uncomfortably as Ms. Brandon started to clean Edward up, the combination of bloody swabs and my nervousness over my lie combining to make me nauseated all over again. She finally finished with a little clucking noise of her tongue. "I don't think you'll need stitches. But I'm not going to lie, Edward. You're going to have one heck of a shiner tomorrow."
"Yeah, but just imagine what the other guy must look like," I joked weakly, turning back to face them. I was beyond relieved to see that underneath all the gore, Edward actually looked more or less fine. The bandage over his nose was admittedly silly and the whole side of his face was swollen and starting to turn an angry black-ish blue. But still. Fine.
Then he turned his eyes on me. And good god but he was so much more than fine.
Between the way he held the towel and the way the blood had been caked over half of his face, I hadn't really had a chance to appreciate the sheer stunning brightness of his eyes until just then. Without his glasses, they were even clearer and greener, and I wanted to drown in them and kiss his eyelashes whenever he hid his eyes from me for long enough to blink.
Ms. Brandon scurried away again, coming back with an ice pack and a fresh, clean towel this time, dropping both into Edward's hand and urging him to press the cold material to his swollen face. He flinched as he made contact, brushing his hair out of of his face the way I wanted to, and there was that panging in my chest again. The panging that just seemed to get worse the more time I spent with him, especially now that we were actually talking.
After he had let me hold his hand.
And it hurt physically to think that by Monday that all might be gone again, our status returned to that of just silent lab partners, social rejects joined only by proximity. Not friendship. And definitely not something more than friendship, I thought, another sinking feeling settling firmly in my stomach.
Oblivious to all of this turmoil, Ms. Brandon glanced up at the clock and did a quick calculation. "There's about … a half hour left of class. Stay here and keep this on your face for twenty and then Bella can take you back to get changed up and ready to head home. Ice it again every couple of hours for the rest of the night, and if it the swelling doesn't go down, see if your mom will take you to a doctor's office tomorrow, OK?"
As one, we both let out a shaky sigh of relief, knowing we wouldn't have to go back to dodgeball after all. For his part, Edward nodded silently, pressing the cold pack to his face and leaning back into the wall, drawing up his long pale legs to sit cross-legged on the cot.
Ms. Brandon shot one more glance up at the clock before moving her eyes from Edward's face to mine and back again appraisingly. "I have a meeting I need to go to now. I trust I can leave the two of you here for a few minutes unsupervised."
My eyes widened, but I agreed, and Edward even went so far as the throw up the Scout's honor sign, making me chuckle slightly because it was just too funny to imagine him shorter and younger and wearing a Boy Scout uniform. Ms. Brandon grimaced slightly before standing, grabbing some papers from her desk and exiting.
The door closed with a weird sort of finality and it was all I could do not to start hyperventilating, realizing that I was alone in a room with Edward Masen, my hand still tingling slightly from the memory of his palm and his fingers. An awkward silence settled over us then, Edward leaning back against the wall while I stood there still, fiddling with the hem of my shorts and wondering if I should sit, and if so where. There weren't exactly a whole lot of options. Basically the cot where Edward was sitting or at Ms. Brandon's desk, and neither of them really felt like places I should just plop myself down on with some kind of permission or something.
Fortunately, Edward brought me out of my indecision, his warm voice sounding out quietly, everything about him more relaxed now that it was just the two of us. Which did nothing to explain the fact that I just seemed to be getting more tense.
"You c-can sit if you want, Bella," he said, and a tingle ran down my spine when he motioned with his free hand at the spot by his side. Sensing my hesitation, he continued, looking up at me with one beautiful, green eye, "I won't bite. I p-promise."
Struggling to breathe, I murmured, "OK," and settled myself gingerly on the cot beside him, mirroring his position with my back to the wall and my legs crossed in front of me. I was careful to leave a little space between us so as not to seem too desperate, but our knees still brushed as I shifted, making my heart race, especially when he did nothing to pull back or break contact with me.
"Thanks for covering for me," I said quietly once I was settled. "About not having to go back to gym."
"Ugh. I w-wouldn't wish that on anyone," he replied, smiling and making a face.
"Well, still. It was nice of you."
"Thanks for staying." He shrugged, and our eyes met, and the room was too warm and there wasn't enough air in the world for me to fill my lungs when he was looking at me.
"So how blind are you?" I choked out.
He chuckled and handed me the one lens he was still gripping along with the broken mess of his mangled frames. I took it from him as he set the rest of the pile of metal and plastic on the cot beside him. All I had to do was hold the lens up in front of my eyes for a moment, and I started to get an instant headache, the whole world swimming uncomfortably as things blurred.
"Jesus," I swore. "You really would have walked into a wall if left to your own devices, wouldn't you have?"
I reached over him slightly, feeling the warmth of his body and gulping to know I was probably much too close, my lungs drowning in the yummy smell of boy that surrounded him, placing the lens in the pile with the rest of the broken pieces of his glasses.
Feeling uncomfortable and too comfortable all at the same time, I straightened up again, and decided to tease him just a little. "So if I was making goofy faces at you right now, would you know? Like can you even see my face?"
He squinted a little and laughed, unfurling his legs and shifting to face me more. "I might be able to tell, I g-guess. But you're kind of mostly just a p-p- ... a p- ... a pretty peach blur."
Edward Masen thought I was pretty.
I gulped hard, feeling just a little claustrophobic as Edward started to turn a furious shade of red, his eyes trained down. He started to shift away from me uncomfortably again, but through no conscious thought of my own, I reached up a hand to stop him, settling it breathlessly on the solid warmth of his shoulder, feeling bone and light muscle and Edward through the thin material of his shirt. Feeling a blush of my own rising up on my cheeks, I looked him full on in the eyes and breathed, terrified, "I think you're pretty, too."
It was physically impossible for anything to be more awkward than that moment was right then, my hand still paused unthinkingly on his shoulder and both of us breathing shallowly, our eyes caught in a stare that neither of us could find the will to break. His expression was that same mix of fear and pain and embarrassment and … longing? Was that even possible?
Summoning all of my bravery, I finally broke the stare, realizing he hadn't pushed me away or done anything to stop me from touching him, and I started to walk my hand up the steady slope of his neck, gasping when I felt warm skin and the tiny bit of peach fuzz stubble on his jaw. His eyes widened as my fingers moved, and I sensed my own expression mirroring his, my heart thudding so loudly in my chest I couldn't help but wonder if he couldn't hear it. If he knew exactly what my being this close to him was doing to me.
Swallowing hard, I reached up with my other hand and wrapped it around his, pulling the towel and the cold pack away from his face so that I could see him clearly.
And he was still so beautiful and my chest still hurt and I couldn't breathe, I was so close.
"Bella," he whispered without stuttering, and our eyes met again.
Shaking, I asked, "Is this OK?"
He nodded, his eyes closing as my fingertips ghosted over the swollen side of his face, feeling the skin, so cool from the ice pack beneath my exploring hand. I traced so delicately over the whole side of his face, the thin line of his cheekbone and the ridge of bone around his eye, lingering long on the downy hair of his eyebrow. His skin was soft and warm and cold and it took all the strength in my body not to lean in closer just to smell him and kiss his eyelashes and snuggle into the crook between his neck and his chin.
My hand finally settled in the fine wisps of reddish brown hair that framed his face, pushing them softly from his forehead and rubbing lightly at his scalp, still slightly damp with sweat. I felt my heart swell when he all but purred, leaning into my touch and making every bone in my body melt.
His eyes opened gently, something so soft and reverent in his gaze. I watched in slow motion as his hand reached up to settle itself over mine, intertwining our fingers again as he pulled it from his hair. I didn't have time to try to sort out whether I was elated to be holding his hand or disappointed not to be touching his hair anymore. Because all of a sudden he was stunning me even further into mute, shocked silence as our clasped hands bridged the distance to my own face. Still holding my hand in his, he let the tips of his fingers brush ever so softly over the side of my cheek, cupping it as I pulled my fingers from his to settle my hand over the top of his, pressing his warm palm into my skin.
"Y-you don't mind?" he breathed and I shook my head fiercely, holding him to my skin and drowning in the contact. I let my hand fall away as he moved his fingers up and through my hair, tucking it behind my ear before settling his hand on my neck just above my raging pulse.
I let my eyes skim over his face, reading the hesitation and the pleasure there, taking in the way his chest moved up and down in a series of too-fast, fluttery breaths.
It was with a sense of pure loss in my throat when his hand finally fell away from my skin, settling in his lap where he began to play with his fingers awkwardly.
"Did I do something wrong?" I breathed, wondering if everything I had done had been wrong. Touching him. Talking to him. Wanting him. So much.
"N-no," he whispered back, dropping his eyes to his hand. "J-just … you just should know that I- I- I l-like you, B-Bella," he stuttered, flickering his gaze up to meet mine for the tiniest fraction of a second again before burying it.
I breathed out in relief, desperate to touch him again and starting to believe in the little shred of hope that maybe he meant that the same way I did. I fought every impulse screaming in my mind for me to reach out and cup his cheek again and make him look at me as I admitted, "I like you, too, Edward."
"N-no, Bella, I- I- I like you like you."
I was so dizzy the room was spinning as I breathed, "I like you like you, too."
His eyes finally shot up to mine, an utterly shocked and stunned expression taking over his face as his jaw dropped.
"Y- you do?"
I nodded numbly, wanting to scramble into his lap and terrified by everything my body was telling me that I didn't understand. Terrified because he was glancing at my lips as well as my eyes now and I'd never kissed a boy before and I didn't know what to do.
Somehow in the midst of our not-quite declarations, our bodies had reoriented themselves around each other, both of us leaning in and still not quite touching, the hairs on his legs tickling my knees and there so much warmth and I couldn't breathe.
His fingertips brushed against my cheek again then, and there was something about his touch that instantly relaxed me.
"I want - I'd like - I'd really like to k-kiss you," he whispered shakily, those beautiful green eyes moving rapidly between my mouth and my eyes and his hand.
With my eyes I begged him to, my whole body giving in to the need to touch him, his scent permeating every molecule of the air.
Slowly, so slowly, he leaned forward, still asking permission with his eyes right up until the moment they closed.
It was the sweetest, softest of kisses, just the warm brushing of lips on lips. His mouth was warm and full, his breath sort of iron-y and sweet, laced with just a hint of something like apple and spice. I let my own hand drift up to his hair again, feeling the soft locks slipping between my fingers, pulling him in closer as he sighed, relaxing into the kiss and letting his mouth move over mine, our lips parting. He tasted like Edward and boy and there was nothing - and I mean nothing - in the whole sum of my sixteen years that had ever felt as amazing as kissing Edward Masen.
The kiss only lasted for a couple of minutes, but the whole world shifted. When we pulled apart, it was just to rest our foreheads against each other, the stupidest smiles imaginable spreading across both our faces.
"Was that OK?" Edward whispered.
I nodded eagerly, kind of embarrassed. "I thought so. Though … would you think I was pathetic if I told you it was my first kiss?"
His whole body melted in relief. "N-no. It was mine, too. And it was, um, it was really n-nice. I'd kind of, um - I'd like to do it again?"
I smiled even wider if that was possible, my hand drifting to his neck to pull him closer.
Which of course was exactly the cue needed for Ms. Brandon to come charging back in.
It took exactly half a second for Edward and I to jump about three feet apart, each hovering on opposite ends of the cot. I giggled to look over and find that we had taken up the same position, sitting cross-legged again, his hand pressing the ice pack to his face and a huge blush covering from his hairline to the place where his neck disappeared into his shirt. He shifted uncomfortably, looking over at me and grinning sheepishly, and I blushed to realize he was holding his other arm over his lap in a really funny way. My eyes grew wider as I realized what the problem was, something uncomfortable roiling in the bottom of my belly. And I liked it.
I had absolutely no time to dwell on that, though, because Ms. Brandon was eyeing the both of us like she knew exactly what we had been up to in her absence.
"OK, kiddies, back to class with you both," she said gruffly, and I was shocked to look up at the clock and see that there were only about five minutes left until the last bell.
We both scrambled to our feet, idiotic grins plastered firmly in place as we moved to the door. There was an awkward dance there for a second as we each waited for the other to go first, Edward finally won, stuttering out that it was his job to hold doors. As soon as we got out into the hallway again, he took my hand, and I was positively floating the entire way back to the gym.
In an act of completely uncharacteristic boldness, he stopped and turned just before we got to the gym, yanking my arm until I faced him and backing me up to the wall. I could feel the heat radiating off of him as he stepped in close and leaned down, pressing his lips so softly to mine before pulling back to look in my eyes, our hands still entwined.
"D-does this make me y-y-your boyfriend?" he asked quietly and my whole body glowed.
"I'd like that." I grinned.
I placed my hand on his good cheek again and stared at him, so happy I could scarcely believe how the period had started. "And here I thought you never talked to me because you didn't like me," I breathed, blushing.
He shook his head, our noses touching. "I, um, I j-just got nervous around you."
"Well, don't be anymore." I smiled, squeezing his hand and he smiled, too.
"N-not likely," he said, shaking his head, and it was just so adorable. "Though, I don't think I'll ever be quite as nervous about p-p-playing dodgeball again."
He pulled me off the wall then, and, hands still entwined, we pushed through the doors to the gym, smiling like idiots. And it was the first time I ever walked into the gym without a single shred of doubt or dread.
A/N: Soooo … I'm gonna go ahead and hit that little "Complete" button, but I have a sneaky suspicion I'll be coming back to these two someday. So if you'd like to read about some other … firsts of theirs, it miiiight be worth your while to put the story on alert.
Thanks for reading. Reviews make me almost as happy as doctor's notes that would get me out of gym class did when I was sixteen.