Quoting Frost

As for the woods' excitement over you

That sends light rustle rushes to their leaves,

Charge that to upstart inexperience.

from Directive

Robert Frost

(September 1999 – High school - Junior year)

I was fairly certain that there was drool on the edge of my mouth. It had to be disgusting. Beer and smoke and whomever laced drool. I would've found it disgusting.

Apparently, she did not.

Which made me, somehow, find her find her even more disgusting.

Which was really unfair of me. It wasn't like she was repellent. She was hot, passably so, or I wouldn't have bothered with her – wouldn't have gone there – the few times that I had.

Conflicted. It was the sort of thing I was noticing more.

I mean, that sounded like whining, and I didn't want to whine – I knew I was one lucky son of a bitch compared to a lot of guys – but, was that there all there was? I was closing in on eighteen, and I had the impression that I may have already done all the good stuff.

The orange morning sun warmed my face and I could feel my memory coming back to me.

"Good Morning, Edward," she cooed and wedged herself underneath my arm, making satisfied sounds, as if she believed putting my arm around herself made it mean the same thing as if I had done it voluntarily. She was fantastically annoying but she did know when to keep her mouth shut and she could be cool. Sometimes.

At that moment, her nuzzling had awoken me and I could not wrap my head around the situation. Why am I here?

"Jessica." I rolled and looked for my pants. I found them tangled in the scratchy, pink ruffles of the bedspread that had ended up on the floor.

Sunrise. Pink taffeta. Jessica.

Not good.

"I gotta go." I slid on my jeans and was fully dressed, since I'd never bothered taking off my shirt.

She pouted. "Daddy won't be back until Monday." If I turned around, I knew she'd be batting her eyelashes or doing something she read somewhere that she thinks is sexy. "We can stay here…" I heard her pat the mattress I'd vacated, "all day."

"Um…yeah. Bye." I was already out the door.

Maybe it wasn't right of me to generalize, but there are distinct types of people. Jessica was one of those types who wanted to experience everything for themselves and charged ahead to get what they wanted. She was exactly the type of girl that I could have fun with, but only for so long. She was the type of girl that made sense to hang out with when you wanted pretty much the same thing. Then there were other types of people who tried new experiences cautiously, who looked before they leaped. My friend, Jasper, was that kind of guy. He was always concerned about long-term effects or hurting someone's feelings; I called him Oprah for a solid month our freshman year. Then, there were those rare people who seemed to have looked at what the world had to offer and decided that they were going to only stick their toe in. Because I was more the look-after-I-leap kind of guy, I didn't spend much time with toe-dippers. My childhood friend, Tanya, probably qualified. She was the only person my age who I knew of that was waiting – and I mean waiting, since she hadn't even kissed anyone – for the one.

When I got to the house, the garage and driveway were cluttered with bulging lawn and leaf bags. Emmett heaved one into the back of Jasper's truck and the sound of empty aluminum cans reverberated as it contacted with the bottom of the truck bed.

"Nice of you to turn up, bro," Emmett winged another in. The look he shot me told that this little project had been going on for awhile already.

I wanted nothing more than a shower, for many reasons, but Emmett so rarely let anything dampen his mood, I knew a shit storm of epic proportions must've gone down after I'd left last night.

I shrugged my shoulders, not sure what to say, and started tossing the remaining bottles and cups into bags. A hallow thud and clanging drew my attention to the interior door of the garage, where Jasper emerged from the house. He was wearing yellow plastic gloves and carrying a crate full of cleaners.

"Your dad is pissed off." He tossed the crate into a shelf with a thud. "I never knew ol' Carlisle could lose it like that."

"Seriously?" I stopped mid-toss.

Emmett rushed up and spun me around by the shoulder. "Seriously," he huffed and went back trash detail. "Yeah, and thanks for inviting everyone out here and then leaving, you tool. I think dad could've handled another party, no biggie, but they tore up the garden and some stupid bitches dragged Esme's stuff all over the place."

Oh shit.

Dad had finally convinced Esme to start leaving some things here, after months of dating, and that garden was something he'd made a big show of giving to her. It was like she owned that garden.

"Fuck." Just fuck.

"Yeah, he was so pissed, he scared me into cleaning – and I'm not even his kid." Jasper threw the yellow gloves in the trash can.

"Ahem." Dad appeared in garage. He patted Jasper on the shoulder in an approving way and then came to stand near Emmett and myself. He had his hands on hips and I swear that I could hear someone whistling the theme to The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

"Things are going to change around here boys." He looked past Emmett's shoulder to the garden, or what was left of it. The landscaping bill was going to be astronomical.

As if he knew what I was thinking, Dad pulled two pairs of heavy duty gardening gloves from his back pocket and shoved them at Emmett and myself. "Get busy."

Three hours later, Emmett and I were still crawling around the garden straightening stepping stones and pruning broken limbs. I didn't think anyone from school would believe it if they saw it. Dad sat in an Adirondack chair on the upper deck nursing a mug of coffee. I really doubted if what we were accomplishing in the garden was anything close a sufficient repair job.

Dad rose from the chair and looked down at us. "Get cleaned up, fix yourself sandwiches, and meet me in my study. You have twenty minutes."

The specifics of the conversation in his study that night are lost to me. I know that it involved a lot of yelling about "too lenient" and "no respect" and "too much time on your hands for young men." It then moved to a lot of not-quite-yelling back about "but we have good grades" and "how were we supposed to know this would happen." It ended with my dad - in full father mode – announcing that we were going to get part time jobs.

"In a week or so, when you've brought that garden back to better-than-before glory, you're going to start working after school. Don't drag your feet. It will be done before Peter's family visits next month." Dad spoke loudly and without hesitation over our groans of protest. "So, start looking for jobs."

In truth, I didn't protest much; I'd felt things were getting more out of control. But, it was routine. I mean, how do you say to your friends, or someone like Jasper, who felt more like family, that you'd like to blow off a party? There's nothing else to do around here and I wasn't about to suggest we stay in and play Scrabble.

What I really wanted to object to was how I knew that Dad's friend's visit mean I would end up dragging around his daughter, Tanya, the whole time. When we were little, Tanya had played alongside Emmett and me. She was like a cool little sister that we didn't see often enough to get sick of. Then, a couple years ago, she showed up with boobs and a weird attitude. Emmett had gotten his permit back then and we took her out with us. I thought she'd have a good time, but I caught her dumping out her beer when she thought I wasn't looking. The next time she went out with us, one of the older guys convinced her to walk away from the bonfire with him. It only took me a few minutes to realize she was gone and find them. After that, she clung to me all night. She hadn't stopped clinging ever since.

Within a few days after Dad cracked down, Emmett had signed on at a local auto repair shop. He'd never seemed to be into cars before, but then he started talking about this blonde chick, Rose, that worked there and it all made sense.

Emmett took that job only because he wanted to be around that girl.

Emmett is an idiot.

As if seeing Rose at work every day wasn't enough, he talked me into coming with him to a football game so he could hang out with her there, too. For the life of me, I couldn't see what the big fucking deal was with her. Sure, she was hot, but she was abrasive and crass. She'd make a great dude. If she ever started to seem mildly attractive to me, all she had to do was open her pie hole and bring me right back to almost hating her.

We'd been sitting on the bleachers for at least half an hour before Rose bothered to show up with her entourage. Rose was a platinum blonde and tall, statuesque, so she was naturally the first one you'd see in a crowd. Only when she got nearer to us did I notice her two friends. One was that really tiny chick, Alice, who Jasper had mentioned a few times.

I was about to turn and give Jasper some shit about it when I saw her, the other girl. I'd never seen her before.

And I couldn't look away.

Rose didn't bother to introduce anyone, of course, but Jasper busted out some residual southern charm and found out her name: Bella.

She sat on the bleacher in front of me. It was windy, and the wind blew her long, brown hair away from her face. I kept trying to look elsewhere, but she'd turn around every so often and that's when I'd realize I'd been staring. The winds left her entire face and down past the curve of her neck exposed. She looked like porcelain; I was afraid she'd break.

So pure. I imagined she smelled like green apples. I could tell nothing from the wind.

When I left, I moved in close – I told myself I needed to, to be heard – she wasn't the kind of person you shout at across the distance or roaring wind.

"I'll see you later, Bella." Let that be true. I'll make it true.

I was wrong. She didn't just smell like apples. She smelled like an unimaginable combination of flowers.

Then I left the stadium to go transplant lilies into the Koi pond before dark. I felt little bit gay just thinking it. I worked in the garden for hours that night. Emmett got back at one point, saw me out in the pitch black yard, shook his head and went inside. Sometime later, the Koi pond was done. Purple flowers lined the lower walkway. A series of wisteria bushes went in by the pergola. Not sure when I learned what a pergola even was. When I ran out of things do, I started digging a huge hole in the ground. I tried to tell myself it was for a fire pit and that I was the best kid ever for doing an extra project to make up for my, admittedly, lame performance as a son lately.

But I knew better.

I was avoiding going inside. Because, when I went inside I would take a shower; and I would think of her in the shower. And I really didn't want to do that to her. Well, I did want to do that – and all the things that I would think of that I could do to her, with her – and I sorta hated myself for it.

I mean, what does that say about me? I meet a nice, sweet, beautiful – yes, beautiful – girl, who I want to do crazy shit for, like to protect her from the world, the very wind itself, but I also want to jerk-off picturing her doing all the same activities I do with some of the females that throw themselves at me.

Thatf went beyond conflicted right over into seriously screwed up in the head.

"Son," Dad called to me from the open garage. "I think it's best if you come in now."

I nodded and went inside. Once in my room, I noticed a missed call from Jasper when took my phone out of my pocket to strip down to shower.

"Hey, man, I saw you called." I put him on speaker while tugged off my shirt.

"Took you long enough. What the hell have you been doing?"

"Don't ask. What's up?" I tossed my socks into the hamper and began tugging on my shirt.

"She works at the diner."

That stops me. The shirt was twisted up around my head and arms. "Who?"

"Oh, come on," Jasper said. He blew out a short breath. "Bella. You might recall her. She's the girl you were staring at for two hours today."

"Oh, her," I said, trying to sound like I barely recalled. "Okay. So?"

"Edward, please. This is me. I know you," Jasper said. "Feel like eating some pie?" He laughed as he said the last few words.

"Um, no. Thanks. Later." I hung up and took the fastest shower ever, not trusting myself. Every time I blinked, I saw her smooth skin and wide eyes. I even took the shower head down and sprayed my dick rather than risk grabbing myself.

On day three after I met Bella, it became clear to me why I'd never see her before. She'd moved here this year and we had no classes together. Zero. None. I don't even know how that kind of bullshit happens when there are only a few hundred kids at our school total; there should be some overlap. When I began looking for her, I saw her several times throughout the day. She seemed to try to blend in and she walked with her head down.

She always carried books, the kind we were assigned but I never read, like Austin and Bronte. The only time I saw her face was at lunch. I swear, sometimes it seemed like she was looking for me then, too.

By the evening of day five after I met Bella, I found myself sitting in my Volvo outside an establishment which had never before been graced with my presence. I know that sounds vain, but seriously, the diner was surely the origin of the term Greasy Spoon. I felt my arteries clogging merely from the fumes wafting across the parking lot. I couldn't judge Bella for working there though; the choices for jobs in our little burg were limited.

Actually, by working at the diner, it seemed she worked at the best and worst place to eat in town. There were no other restaurants. I thought I'd take her to Port Angeles for our first date, maybe to that little Italian place. After that, I could ask Dad where he took Esme. What the… what is wrong with me? She hasn't even spoken to me and I'm planning out dates. But, I felt like I knew her, from watching her. She was kind and good. Other girls vied for attention and talked smack on their closest friends. Bella held the door for people and apologized every time she bumped into anyone. She smiled the sweetest closed-lip smiles at me when we'd see each other. I really did want to take her on a date. I had never wanted to hassle with taking anyone out before.

A man exited the diner carrying out a brown bag with a dark ring of grease saturating its bottom. That did it; I could not bring myself to eat there. As he moved away from the diner I saw a sign in the window I'd not noticed earlier.


Emmett is a genius.

Dad was surprised when I told him I'd gotten on at the diner. I almost think he was ready to forget about the whole thing even if I never got a job. It turned out nicely in that I was always going to be in the back, so nobody from school could come in and give me crap about the gig. The manager there, James, was a massive asshole who still showed up at parties to hit on freshman girls until they learned better. We put up with him because he could buy and he had other connections.

Okay, so a part of me acknowledged that getting a particular job only to get to know a girl was borderline obsessive. Another part of me, a bigger part, expected that I'd built her up in my head to be something different, more, than reality; if I spent time with her, her faults would show. For all I truly knew, underneath it all, she was as vapid and faulted as everyone else. But, she had begun to overtake my thoughts and I either needed to try and be with her or become desensitized to her.

My first night, I threw on the same plain white t-shirt they required everyone to wear. I clocked in and pretended to have difficulty tying the apron strings around my waist on the way to the sink so that I didn't flat out ogle Bella when I saw her in the backroom.

"Hey, Bella," I said, and immediately felt my stomach dip when I saw all the goddamn dishes piled up around the sink. Were there any clean ones left? There couldn't be any dishes left for the customers in the dining room; maybe they were eating right off the table without plates. "Are there always so many?"

I continued to stand there staring at the sinks. I knew Bella was behind me. I'd told myself that I wanted to get to know her, that I only wanted to find out if she was worth all the obsessing I'd been doing. That was bull. I already knew her well enough to know that I was completely out of my depth when it came to her. I was working so maybe she could get to know me, beyond what people said about me.

"Do you think I should just start in on them? Should I wait for James to show me around?" I reached out and forced myself to lift a plate smeared with ketchup and other unnamed residue. I could feel the bile rising in my throat. She's not talking. Fuck! I am touching a plate that god-knows-who ate off of and she has already heard enough bad shit about me that she isn't even willing to speak to me.

Thoughts of cutting my losses and bolting out the back door began forming in my mind. These thoughts were immediately stampeded by internal questions about what I could do to be with her instead, since this wasn't working out as planned. Then, suddenly, I saw her small hand reach up and grab the sprayer that was attached to the nearby sink. She's giving me a silent demonstration. Wow, she is beyond shy. She sprayed off a plate and reached across me to place it on the other sink. Her soft arm rubbed across my t-shirt and pushed against my abdomen as she stretched. Electricity surge through me. The smell of flowers hit me and I was about to lean in to her hair when she turned slightly toward me with a questioning look on her face. At first, I feared she'd noticed me trying to sniff her, but then I realized she was wondering if I even understood how to wash a dish. She must really think I am an over-privileged fucktard.

"Hi." From mere inches below my face, Bella looked up at me through her thick lashes. If I leaned in, I could kiss her. I wanted to so badly, but she'd probably run for the door.

At the sound of her voice my breath caught, then I did a good job of trying to pass it off as a friendly laugh. The girl has said a single syllable to me and I'm ready to French her. Wow. Overzealous much?

"Hi, Bella." I took the sprayer from her hand and she blushed as my fingers closed over hers on its handle. I could've watched the color fill her ivory cheeks all night, but she scurried off to the dining room without another word.

Bella came to the back repeatedly throughout the shift. I'd be up to my armpits in soapy water and she'd come grab an item, say "Hi" to me, and hurry out. I knew she was running around like crazy trying to get everything done, and I'm sure her service was more than sufficient for this dive, but I still overheard James giving her grief about not getting all her orders out fast enough. I made sure to smile reassuringly at her whenever she came back.

Shortly before close, the final stack of plates was clean and I'd turned to put it away when I thought I heard a small sound that made me stop dead. I held my breath, so I could hear it again, if I'd ever really heard it in the first place.


My arms were Jell-o for a moment and I feared I'd juggle around and drop the stack of soggy dishes. Bella walked around the corner with her eyes closed and her arms bent behind her, stretching slightly from side to side, and her t-shirt pulled tightly across her boobs. She let out another small sound. "Ahmm."

It was too much. Her head was thrown back , her eyes were closed, her breasts were pushing against her shirt, and she was moaning. Fucking moaning. Here I was trying to be all respectful and think clean thoughts and get to know her and treat her better than other girls, treat her how I simply knew she deserved to be treated, but I suddenly knew without a doubt, the exact mental image that was going to pop into my head every time I tried to take a godforsaken shower. Every time I closed my eyes. Hell, I realized I'd probably picture her like that and lying under me most of my waking hours. If that image invaded my dreams, I was going to be changing my sheets every single morning.

When I realized I'd been holding my breath, I sucked up all the oxygen in the room in a single gasp.

Her eyes flew open. "Hi," she said. "I didn't mean to scare you."

I shook my head to clear away the image and began to put the dishes away. "You didn't. Um, I mean… shit… no big deal." I forced myself to focus on the stack of plates.

In my peripheral vision, I could see Bella surveying to room. "Where are you at with this? I mean, you want me to finish these so you can get the floors?" She grabbed a mug and started washing.

"Sure. You don't have to, though." I turned to face her. She was standing at the sink. I wanted to smack myself for thinking it would be great if she got her shirt as wet as mine was. I was dripping. Her eyes took me in and I thought, maybe, she was checking me out. I felt a smile pull across my face at the thought.

"That's okay. Nothing better to do," she said and then turned to wash the dishes.

"Nothing better than this? Wow. That is sad." I could feel the grin on my face. She checked me out.

Things went well the rest of the night until that James a-hole started giving me crap about being slow. It was a flunky job and he was actually cutting me down about it in front of her. I bit my tongue since I didn't think it would help me convince this girl that I was a decent guy if I ripped our manager's spine out and showed it to him.

Bella draped the towels over the sink and spoke up after James saying some B.S. about being here until breakfast. "Oh, James, this is nothing. Remember my first close? We were here forever."

I may screw up many things in my life, and I might not be right about way more stuff than I care to admit, but I was completely and utterly right about her. She was good. She was quiet and shy and hardly spoke to anyone, but she managed to speak up and defend me without being asked and without offending anyone else. This is what I'd come to work here for; this was a moment of clarity. I knew that it wasn't some sick virgin-whore thing that I was developing. I was drawn to her and it was about her. She was special.

I wanted to be worthy of her.

A few minutes later, we'd finished the closing work and I noticed James letting Bella out the front into the dark parking lot. It'd never occurred to me that she would be, and apparently had been since she'd started there, going out by herself at night. I rushed up to make sure she got to her car safely.

"Doesn't that guy walk you out at night?" I spat out as James's car pulled away.

"Um, no," she said. "But that's okay. Nothing's gonna happen."

"What's not gonna happen is you walking out at night by yourself anymore. That lazy S.O.B. How long does it take to make sure you get to your car safely?" I grasped the back of her arm. My fingers hummed where I touched her but I made myself focus only on getting her to her truck. I mean, what would she think of me if I pounced on her the first time we were alone? When she was safely in her truck, I leaned on the metal of the door frame to keep myself from kissing her cheek. She said goodbye, mentioned that she'd me tomorrow night, and then she waited to pull away until I reached my own car.

The diner was insane the next night. I was insane, too, since I was washing gross ass dishes and Bella wasn't even on the schedule. The other server, Angela, was nice enough, but she was no Bella. I considered telling James only to schedule me on nights with Bella and threatening to turn him in to the authorities for all his "help" with our parties if he said anything.

Suddenly, I knew she'd come in. I didn't even have to turn around. "Hey, Bella. Do you work now? I thought maybe you weren't coming."


Well, that didn't exactly answer my question, but it was a start.

I turned to face her and leaned back against the sink. I knew I must've looked disgusting; I was covered in dirty dishwater and sweating. She still didn't answer, so I tried again. "So?"

"Oh, I, um… I'm here to ask off for next Saturday."

That was not what I expected. A possible reason behind her request occurred to me and I felt a wave of what must have been jealousy hit me, though I'd never felt it before. "Saturday? You got a date?" I bent my elbows back and dug my fingers into the metal of the sink.

Bella didn't seem to grasp the gravity of the situation. She snickered. "No, I have a party to go to."

I was shocked. It felt like that J. Geils song Centerfold;here she was, my innocent angel, seemingly admitting to doing things that I'd never pictured her doing. I felt one of my hands slip off the sink. Before I knew I was moving, I stood so close to her that I'd be able to count her individual eyelashes if I'd tried. I couldn't imagine her that way, and, surely, I would have seen her out before. I hadn't let myself get that wasted in a very long time.

"But, Bella, have I seen…you don't… party… do you?" I managed to croak out.

"It's only movies and such. Might get a sugar high."

I felt an odd mixture of relief and disappointment. For the first time I truly contemplated how different our worlds were. "Didn't think so. Of course not."

"Yeah, not exactly your kind of fun." She was trying to make light of it, but I couldn't think of anything beyond how she was an exception to everything about me.

That moment was the only uncomfortable one I spent with her. We worked together most nights and I could see my little sub-plan to discover that she was nothing special was failing in a big way. Sure, most of what she said to me was "hi" throughout the night before she would let down her guard enough to finally say much, but the point was she was getting comfortable with me. By the time I walked her out most nights, she was easily discussing school or whatever topic came up. I looked forward to these moments, when she would mention little things about herself, her family, growing up in Phoenix.

I knew from looking ahead on the schedule that Saturday night Bella would be working and I wasn't. It was lunchtime Thursday, but all I could think about as I watched for her across the lunchroom was how she was going to be walking out into that parking lot – alone. I knew she'd done it for weeks before, but that didn't really matter once I was aware of it.

"You wanna knock it off?" Jasper steadied the lunch table with his hand and I realized I'd been absentmindedly kicking it in frustration. "What's up with you?" He followed my gaze over to where Bella sat facing Alice at their usual lunch table. He laughed and shook his head. "Why don't you ask her to come out? You could pick her up after work."

"Nah. I don't know." I leaned back in my chair until the front legs were off the floor.

"What's not to know, man? Just ask her to hang out and tell her you'll pick her up. She'll be thrilled."

"Who?" Emmett smacked his tray down on the table. He must've figured it out because he let out a sigh and began rubbing the back of his neck. "You two are killing me. Since when do you guys not have any balls around chicks? And these are tame chicks."

Did he say "you two" just now? I looked at Jasper and then back to Bella's table, where she sat with that tiny girl, Alice.

Whoa. "What the hell? When were you going to tell me?" The feet of my chair slammed down on the floor. Jasper shrugged his shoulders.

It was perfect. We'd be matched sets. Well, that was if that girl actually liked Jasper. I glanced over to the girls' table and sure as shit, that little pixie was trying to sneak sideways glances at my best friend. Sweet.

Later that night, opportunity came knocking on the door. Hell, it was banging on the door. Alice was at the diner and, apparently, waiting around for Bella's shift to end. I texted Jasper and told him to get there, pronto. Twenty minutes later, Angela told me Jasper was in the lot waiting for me as she went out the door at the end of her shift. By the end of my shift, Jasper was nowhere in sight and I walked Bella and a dejected looking Alice out after close.

I called Jasper but he didn't answer. I drove out to our gathering spot in the woods but I had to park way out and hike in since my Volvo would scrape bottom. I shoved my hands in my pockets and trudged toward the fire. Jasper's truck was backed-in near the burning pile. The tailgate was down and Jasper was sitting on it with another person. As I got in closer, I saw it was Angela. When the hell did that happen? Better yet, why did that happen?

I walked up beside him and grabbed a bottle from one of the nearby coolers. "Thanks for the ride." I said sarcastically.

"Hey, therrrrrrre," he said. "Have yoush met my new friend, Angie-la?" Clearly, I would not be getting any answers tonight.

I looked at Angela. She gave me a small smile of acknowledgement, then sniffed the contents of the cup she was holding and winced. Jasper noticed her reaction and reached over to grab a bottle of Hard Lemonade from a different cooler. "Dat's okay, Angie baby, try thish one out." Then he threw an arm around her and rubbed her upper her quickly.

Okay, buddy. If you say so. While it didn't really matter to me who he liked, I had thought the idea of Jasper and Alice seemed ideal. Then I convinced myself that Bella got along with Angela just fine, so this was still a good situation.

I was wrong.

That first night ended with Angela puking everywhere and Jasper more drunk than I had seen him since we first discovered Goldschlager. Well, I thought it ended there, but they both showed up in Jasper's truck in my driveway the next afternoon. I'm guessing Angela must've told her dad, Pastor Weber – wow Jas, what are you thinking? - that she'd stayed with a friend since she was still in her work clothes.

That night, we all piled into Emmett's Jeep. Looking back, I wish I'd thought to drive myself, but at the time, I didn't want to risk my car back out there and it had been a pain to make the additional trip out to retrieve Jasper's truck the night before. I guessed they hit it off, because Jasper brought Angela along again. It was a Saturday and the first night that Bella was working and I wasn't since I'd started at the diner. When we headed out, Emmett agreed to run by the diner before close. I had told him I needed to pick up my schedule. I don't think he bought it, but he didn't say anything. The way I had it figured, I could show up at close and ask Bella to come along. Though Angela wasn't as close to her as Alice was, I thought Angela being there would help put her at ease.

Well, you know what they say about the best laid plans? Yeah, they went awry. Or, a rye – barley and rye. Man, I don't know what Jasper got ahold of before we picked them up, but they were beyond trashed. I wanted to kick his ass. I wanted give him coffee on an I.V. drip. It was insane, I'd seen him wasted before, but never for a solid 24-hour period and never, never taking along someone else – a pretty innocent someone else in this case - for the ride. I mean, Angela Fucking Weber? I couldn't wait for him to explain the appeal to me.

It didn't look like that was going to happen anytime soon; they'd disappeared off into the woods. Everyone was paired off, except for me, and I before I knew it, I'd created an impressive pile of empty cans all on my own. That had not been the plan. Initially, I'd thought maybe I'd borrow the Jeep and drive in to the diner, but even my fuzzy brain had to admit that I shouldn't be driving at that point. I kept hounding Emmett until he agreed keep his promise to go back in to the diner.

"Alright everybody, load up! Edward wants to pretend he needs to get his schedule!" Emmett swung himself up into the Jeep. I knew he'd give me no end of shit about this later, but he was a great brother.

I really did have the two best friends any guy could ask for; I was lucky enough that one was my actual brother and the other one was close enough that he felt like a brother. Even though Jasper probably had no idea that I'd been mad at him, I began to feel badly about being mad at him anyway. I turned around in the Jeep to tell him the kind of mushy crap you can only get away with saying when you've been drinking. At first, I couldn't see him because there were a few too many random tag-alongs in the Jeep, but then I saw him sitting in the farthest seat. His head was thrown back and, even though we were flying down the backroads doing about 80, Angela was kneeling on the floorboards with her curly brown hair covering his lap.

Holy crap.

"Jasper! What the fuck!" I swung my arm back trying to make contact with his knee to get his attention. His head lolled up from the seat and then fell back again. My efforts had drawn Emmett's attention to what was going on in the backseat. He slow down considerably and angled his head so his booming voice carried back.

"Don't let her fall out, you dumbass!"

In response, Jasper shoved his fingers in Angela's hair and held on. Good god.

Well, despite the fact that I'd had too much to drink, I'd still been considering asking Bella to tag along tonight. But, there was no way I was going to let her see this shit go down. We'd done some crazy stuff before, we'd all stumbled across one another when we were with girls, but none of us had ever just whipped it out and gone to town like that. I mean, I knew I was no prince, but this was… disrespectful. It was one thing to get your kicks with the Jessicas of the world since they were in it for the same thing; it was different depending on the type person someone was. I sorta hoped this Angela girl, who's always seemed so reserved, was too blitzed to remember doing it later.

The diner was already closed by the time we got there, but Bella's truck was still in the lot. I knocked hard on the window so she'd hear me if she was clear in the backroom. The assholes in the Jeep were making an impossible amount of noise and I was getting pissed. It wasn't like it was taking very long and my whole plan of inviting Bella along that night was shot because of the craziness going on. I thought I heard her inside the diner and soon she came out the door. She might've spoken, but Emmett was laying on the horn.

She looked so sweet and I realized in that moment that I didn't only want to see her, I had actually missed her. That might sound like a strange distinction to make, but it boiled down to me realizing that it went beyond me enjoying being around Bella; I needed to be around Bella.

I was going to make some changes. If anyone had told me a few weeks ago that I was going to quit partying I would've laughed in their face. Laughed, and then handed them a cold one.

More than anything in the world, I wanted to, had to, see her eyes then. I placed my hands on her shoulders and turned her to face me. Shit, she was so beautiful.

"Hey, Bella," I said. "There you are. I'm here to walk you to your car… erhm, truck. Yeah… walk you to your truck." Smooth, man. How romantic.

Apparently, Jasper came to enough to form words. "Come on, man! Hurry the fuck up." Emmett hit the horn again and I finally caught on that he was trying to get us out of there before Bella saw Angela in her current state.

Bella stumbled as we headed toward her truck, but I caught her. "Whoa, Lady Bella. You safe to drive?"

At least, I thought I caught her. Suddenly, her hands held mine and I felt steady for the first time. "Edward, wait." She let go and began looking for her keys.

"Um, thanks Edward. You really didn't have to," she said, and slid into her seat once the door creaked open.

"Yeah, I did. Lazy fucker just let you out, alone, into a parking lot with a vehicle full of drunk bastards waiting right there." I had to fight all my instincts not crawl in the truck with her. I wanted to curl up with her, bury my face in her hair, and never let go. The constant honking and yelling behind me made it impossible to ignore the fact that I was too drunk to trust myself around her. She deserved better. She deserved a good guy, and I could be one, which started with me stepping up and making sure my temporarily stupid best friend did not become a permanently stupid one.

"Edward, are you going to be okay? I mean, I can take you home if you want." Don't tempt me.

I was going to leave, I had to. I could be that guy, the guy she deserved. I just needed to clean up some messes first. I thought I was doing a good job controlling myself, but suddenly I found myself half-hugging her with my face buried in her sweet hair. I breathed her in as her words sunk in; she'd offered to take me home, to take care of me, when all I wanted to do was take care of her.

"That's more than most would." I shook my head to clear it. "I'm fine. Now, get going. Nothing but trouble out this time of night." I returned to the Jeep to get that trouble as far away from her as possible.

The following week flew by. Jasper had spent all day Sunday on our couch. I dragged him to school Monday, but he stayed out most other days. The time I spent at work with Bella was the best part, and that is saying a lot considering it also included things like straining fryers and fishing a dead cat out of the grease trap outside. Gag. On Saturday night, the night Bella had asked off to go to a birthday party, I was surprised when she showed up at the diner.

"I thought you had a birthday party tonight," I said, and kept mopping, trying not to let on how excited I was to see her.

"It was postponed. And it was not really a birthday party." Bella twisted a lock of her hair, which was, for once, not pulled back into a ponytail.

That surprised me. "'Not really?' How can someone have a 'not really' birthday party?"

She seemed nervous again, which I hated since things had been really easy between us for a while by then. "Well, I mean, it was only a party. Not an occasion," she said. "I don't think the host even knows that my birthday is Monday."

Birthday? Before I could say anything more, James interrupted us. "Bella? Didn't you ask for tonight off?"

"Yeah, my plans fell through." She looked embarrassed. "I thought I'd see if everything was under control, I mean, since Angela and I both have off."

"We got it," James said. I hoped he dumped that chili he was carrying down his front. She could've been working. With me. As it was, I wasn't going to spend any time with her for days, not until after her birthday.

Her birthday.

I had an idea.

I stopped mopping and motioned for her to come to me. It had to be her choice to come to me. I wanted to rush up on her, but I was afraid she'd run like a startled bunny. She stepped closer, slowly, until I could reach out and touch her if I wanted.

God, how I wanted.

"I don't work again until Tuesday." I heard myself speak.

She looked confused, maybe even scared, and I felt badly since I knew I was probably making her that way.

"Shh." I tucked a lock of hair behind her ear and spoke as softly as I could to her. "Come here. I won't see you in time to give you a birthday kiss."

She didn't say anything. She didn't even move. Is she saying it's okay? Can I kiss her? God, I want to kiss her so much. I've pictured it so many times – never in the backroom with a mop between us – but here was an opportunity. I wanted to take her out, to take care of her, to laugh with her like we'd begun to do, but this just feels so right.

"Bella?" Please let me know this okay. Do something, some small sign to say you want to kiss me, too.

She blinked several times and moved her lips fractionally toward mine. Close enough.

I ran my hands along the smooth skin of her cheeks until they reached her hair, where I allowed them to twist gently into the silky waves. She was so much shorter than me. I bent over and used my thumb to lightly encourage her to angle up to me. I didn't know if she'd ever done anything like this before. I doubted it. I really hoped she hadn't. I wanted to be slow with her.

I wanted to, but like I was tumbling down a mountain, I couldn't stop my lips from falling onto hers.

Right. This felt so right.

A kiss. Our first kiss. It would be enough to touch my lips to hers and back away.

I could brush my lips across hers and back away.

God, she's so soft.

So, a few brushes over her lips were allowed - I could pass over her lips a few more times and back away.

I'd already kissed her longer than I'd intended, and I tried to gather up the fragments of my will so I could break our connection. But then, I heard a small sound, a tiny version of one of those sexy moans I'd been fantasizing about for weeks. The pieces of will I'd been trying to stitch together scattered like glitter in the wind and I pressed us together. I tasted her upper lip and then drew her lower into my mouth, a full taste of her. Her shoulders relaxed and she sighed.

I was lost.

I wanted to be slow, a portion of my brain told me this was something to save for another night, but that obviously wasn't the part of my brain that controlled motor movement. My tongue snuck into her mouth and I felt the smooth edges of her parted teeth open more before I made contact with her tongue. I began to slightly curse myself for my greed. Then, Bella did want she always did, and amazed me: I felt her tongue curl around my own and draw me deeper into her mouth. Christ. I no longer cared if this was her first kiss or not, it was the best physical experience of my life and I was determined I was going to do everything I could to help her feel that way, too. Our tongues ran together several times until I felt her small frame begin to shake in my arms. This sensation finally registered in the rational part of me and I feared that I had allowed myself to go too far. As much as I wanted to keep doing this, never stop doing this, I needed to save more for another time. I wanted her to know that this was something special to me.

We had time.

"Happy Birthday, Bella."

(6 days later)

Go loving by at twilight…

The present Is too much for the senses,

Too crowding, too confusing—

Too present to imagine.

from Carpe Diem

Robert Frost

How had things gotten so fucked up?

Dad's friend was visiting, so I was babysitting Tanya all weekend. She'd been cool the last couple times they'd been down so I didn't complain, but mostly because my dreams of progressing with Bella this weekend were already put on hold. I'd mentally reserved today as the day I'd, hopefully, be taking Bella on a date, but instead of asking her out when we worked together the other day, I'd had to call in. Not because I had been sick; because Jasper had been.

And not sick in the kind of take-two-and-call-me-in-the-morning-and-don't-forget-to-drink-lots-of-fluids-sick way. Jasper was sick because he'd already taken way more than two and been on strictly liquid diet. Jasper's parents were always gone on trips, so it was nothing for him to skip school – I suppose that's why it took me so long to catch on. He was gone and Angela kept missing work. The whole week was a blur. Instead of meeting up with me at work, Jasper only came out to get more "packages" from James. Jasper parents were on yet another Alaskan cruise, so he threw a little impromptu get-together mid-week that left their house resembling downtown Beirut. One night, Dad found Jasper passed out in that damn Koi pond. I really thought Dad insisting Jasper stay with us for a few days would rein him in, but it didn't. Later, I found Jasper and Angela going at it on the sofa in my room. I don't even know how he snuck her in the house.

That was the only fight I'd ever really had with Jasper.

"Dude, you are going to hate yourself for this." I pulled him out onto the deck, hoping the night air would affect him and give Angela time in my shower.

Jasper leaned against the rail but said nothing. I nudged him. He was going to talk to me.

"What the hell is going on? Have you noticed my room? It smells like a kennel in there." I'd never seen anything like it. I don't even want to recall everything that I saw and smelled in there, but was going to get new carpet. "I'm going need to burn that sofa."

"Why do you give a fuck?" He finally shoved me back and I stumbled back into a deck chair.

"Hey!" I caught myself and grabbed onto his shoulders.

He shook free and glared at me. "What's the big deal? Just a lil celebration while the parents are gone." He shook his head. "You'd be right in with me any other time."

"You are out of control Jas. Take a break for a few days. You'll see it, too."

He shook his head at me again like I was the idiot. "You are whipped – and you're not even getting any pussy out of the deal." He started laughing at me and I clenched my fists. Through sheer force of will, I marched back into my room to calm down. Angela had disappeared but she what she'd left on the bathroom floor made me run back on the porch when I would've thought nothing could make me face Jasper again so soon.

I shoved the wadded up towel I'd found into his chest. "You're one sick son a bitch."

Jasper drew back as if he meant to punch me until he looked down and saw the blood-stained towel. His eyes grew wide, but when he opened his mouth he ended up whirling to vomit over the rail.

"Yeah. That's what I thought." I went back in and headed to the living room to sleep. He could stay in my room; it already smelled like animal.

In the past few weeks a different guy had come in and taken my friend away. Jasper was actually a pretty sensitive guy and I knew all this was going to really upset him once he came down and started processing it. I didn't recognize him. Hell, I don't know if he even knew his own name at that point. Thank god Dad was working most nights or he would've had him admitted for treatment. Jasper didn't need the kind of trouble his folks would give him; they would never think that they might be even partially to blame.

With all the stress and sleep deprivation, I was barely going through the motions at school and work. Poor Bella, I knew it seemed like I was sending her mixed signals, but I didn't know what else to do. I was exhausted and, though this wasn't really about me, I didn't want her to think this situation was typical. I didn't want her to see what was going on with Angela and think that was what I expected of her.

It looked like things were finally going to blow over, but then I noticed Jasper trying to buy another bag of stuff off James one night and I let James know, as politely as possible, that if he ever sold to Jasper again he would wind up saving a fortune due to never having the need to buy condoms again during his lifetime. Emmett and I thought we'd confiscated everything, but then Jasper got himself so baked I had to shower him myself. There is nothing like showering another dude to convince you that you have no interest in being a doctor.

Things were improving, but then, on Friday, when I went to head in to my early shift, my Volvo was gone. My fucking car. Gone.

At first, I blamed Emmett for trying to pull a lame joke. But, he seemed surprised I was still around and said he'd seen Jas walking out to it earlier and thought I must be giving him a ride. I tried calling Jasper, but no answer. I had another car, a fully restored '69 Camaro, but I really didn't want take it to the diner and stink up the interior. So, I borrowed Emmett's Jeep and started toward work. I tried his phone again and this time he answered, but his words were so slurred I almost wished he hadn't. He said some nonsensical shit about meeting up at a party later. I called Emmett and he took my poor Camaro out to find him. I was going to call in to work but Emmett called me a few minutes later and said he'd found them - I shouldn't have been shocked that Angela was with him - and was going to keep them at our spot in the woods rather than risk anyone in town seeing them while they were so trashed.

So, instead of looking forward to finally taking Bella out for Italian after my shift, Bella was covering Angela's shift and I was carrying garbage and a pickle bucket outside while facing at a long night of entertaining Tanya with a round of Sober Up Jasper.

After walking Bella and her friend Alice out after work, I drove back to the house blasting the radio. Tanya was already outside on the porch swing waiting for me when I got there. She was wearing a pink sweater with pink pearls and looked more like she was going to a country club than the out in the country. She looks really pretty. The horny bastards were going to descend on her. For once, I hope she sticks near me tonight because I already have my hands full.

"Hello, Edward." She gave me the oddest look when she saw my water-logged outfit.

"Hi Tanya. You like nice," I said as climbed the porch steps. "I'm just gonna shower real quick."

"I'll be right here," she said, then resumed swinging. "Waiting."

The ride out was quiet, more quiet than usual. I was so tired that proposing a game of Scrabble had begun to sound like a viable option. Tanya began to fill in the lulls. She'd played Maria in The Sound of Music at a community theater last month. She was really into some new show called C.S.I. and I teased her about her crush on that guy with the curly hair from 'NSync. "So, are you saving yourself for him? That Justin guy?"

She laughed quietly and then straightened her sweater. "No, not him."

"Not special enough for you, huh? I am right?" I messed with the radio controls as I parked Emmett's Jeep near the fire.

I cut the engine or I would never have heard her whisper. "You are."

I found Emmett and returned his keys to him. He hopped up to kiss the Jeep's roll bar. "What? You think you're the only one?'

There were quite a few people there already. Jasper and Angela were huddled together on the wheel well of his truck. I was about go over to them when Tanya magically produced a plastic cup full of Emmett's famous Black Broth for each of us. He hadn't mixed a batch of that in a while and I considered talking to him about it until I noticed Rose hanging off of him.

"Cheers." Tanya laughed as we clinked cups.

It was quiet for a while. Jasper and Angela seemed to be subdued, no one had tried to grope Tanya, and Rose had only annoyed the ever loving crap outta me once. She shared her opinion that "perhaps letting Jasper be surrounded by chemicals all night" might have been "about the dumbest idea ever" and I informed her that his folks still weren't back, so at least "with him here, we could keep an eye on him better" and that she was a "condescending bitch" – but I didn't manage to say that last part very loudly. I busied myself wondering what Jasper and Emmett saw in their current girlfriends until I heard Tanya yelling.

"Get. Off. Me!" Tanya stomped toward me and I could see a guy pressing his palm against his cheek.

Then, everything seemed to happen at once. Jasper disappeared, Tanya threw herself around me, and I spilled half my drink all over us. We tracked down Jasper as he and Angela were about to throw back blue pills. I knocked them out of his hand and they went flying everywhere. Most went all over the ground, but I scooped up the bottle and tossed it into the fire.

That's when I saw them. Her. Bella. She was by the fire. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. I looked over at Emmett, who was standing in the bed of a pick-up. He'd apparently seen her, too, and he had opted for laughing.

What should've been a great chance was utter shit. Not certain if they had taken any pills, and not wanting to explain about Tanya, I herded the four of us through the darkness toward where I'd seen my Volvo. Irritated, I gulped down the last of my drink and left.

We headed for Jasper's house, since Dad had company and would not appreciate experiencing whatever ill effects those pills produced.

I said we headed to Jasper's house, because I don't remember getting there. The next thing I knew, the sun was pouring in through Jasper's parents' bedroom window across where I was sprawled out in their bed. Jasper was sitting quietly in the chair across the room.

"Edward? You okay now?" He leaned forward with his elbows on his knees. He was sober and, while I will say I was pleased to see that, he was mood was also sober. In truth, it was like an invisible black rain cloud was pouring down on him.

"Yeah, I think so." I sat up a little and was surprised to feel cool air when the blanket fell away from my bare chest. "What… what happened?"

He moved over and came to sit on the edge of the bed. Borrowing a page out of my book for nervous habits, he ran his fingers threw his hair.

"I think it's safe to say that some of those pills landed in your drink."

Oh. Oh.

"Is everyone okay?" I realized I had been running my fingers through my hair, too. "Where's Tanya?"

Jasper blew a long, slow breath out. "She's… fine."

He and reached around to grab the corner of the sheet covering the empty half of the bed. He never quit looking in my face, like he was gauging my reaction. It was unnerving, especially since I had concluded I had no pants on either. He dropped the blanket before it reached me, exposing only the area next to me. His eyes darted down to the spot and back up.

The whole world was in slow motion. I closed my eyes in a long blink and turned toward the empty space beside me. When I open them, it was like a camera flash, except all I was seeing were dark red spots.

Jasper sighed sadly. "Looks like we're both sick sons of bitches."


"Good Morning, Babe." Tanya appeared in the doorway. "I was beginning to think you were never coming back to me."

(Spring 2001 – High School - Junior Year)

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

from The Road Not Taken

Robert Frost

I'd already been contemplating quitting the diner when I overheard Rose and Alice teasing Bella about finding her soulmate or some shit. Bella and I had never discussed if either of us were dating, and I really didn't want Tanya to come up, so it was like getting hit with a bat in my gut to hear that Bella was meant for somebody else. I don't know what I had been thinking - I guess I hadn't been thinking, really. Bella was amazing and it wasn't as if she could go into an emotional stasis awaiting the miracle that I was holding out for. I hoped Tanya would find someone else. I was trying to do the right thing. Tanya had liked me forever. I had always known she was saving herself. I couldn't just do what I'd done and walk away.

I hadn't even given Bella any reason to think that there was anything to hold out for.

Hell, I wasn't sure if she even thought of me as more than a friend who happened to have given her a really inappropriate birthday kiss once upon a time. Who does that? I mean, I'd practically stolen that kiss from her. I walked away from that little revelation knowing that I had to get away from her to get over her.

(December 2005 – During College)

I haven't seen Bella in over four years.

Realistically, I shouldn't even have been thinking of her anymore.

Truthfully, I wasn't thinking about her any less.

After the episode with Tanya, the incident that ended up pushing us into a weird purgatory of togetherness, much to our parents' excitement, I had foolishly hoped I could keep Bella at arm's length while I figured out a gentle way to get Tanya to move on. It didn't work, even when I told Tanya it wasn't fair to her to commit so early in life and that she'd regret it if she didn't have a full college experience. God, I was an asshole.

Hindsight being what it is, it'd become obvious that I'd been a giant idiot. I shouldn't have kept Dad in the dark about how bad things had been with Jasper. I'd fumbled around and made it worse – for everyone - by trying to help. I should've realized that nobody what but me cared if I partied; I should've stopped going out as soon as I realized I wanted to quit. I shouldn't have dragged Tanya out into that environment. I shouldn't have thought I was any better at controlling myself than the next guy.

I shouldn't have thought I had time with Bella.

By the end of our junior year in high school I had to quit the diner. It'd been a form of torture to be there nearly every night with Bella. Everything about her was amazing. Even angry at a broken tomato slicer, she was adorable. I didn't go to prom, so I didn't have to see her with anyone else. For my part, I'd had to endure prom twice at Tanya's school.

I had made my bed, literally, with Tanya. I needed to see that through. I cared about her; she had been in my life for, well, pretty much my whole life. I convinced myself that though there might not be the sparks that I had with Bella, and if Tanya really couldn't find anyone besides me that she was interested in during college, then I guess there were worse things that could happen. Yeah, right.

I kept busy at school; too busy to think. The accelerated program I was on shaved off more than a year from the standard college path by a blanket permission to take more than 21 hours each semester. On top of that, and even though they had nothing to do with my degree, I'd audited enough English Lit courses to have a second minor. Somehow, I felt if I read them like Bella always had, I'd keep some sort of connection with her. Jasper never asked why I had the sudden interest. He just saw the ever-growing pile of books and came home one day with a huge volume of the collected works of Jane Austin. "She likes this," he'd said and tossed it beside me.

For break, I drove back from college with Jasper rather than fly. I would have time to myself while he slept. Starless night sky stretched out before me. It quickly became clear that time alone with my thoughts was to be avoided at all costs. I tried to listen to the radio, but that damned Hoobastank song, The Reason, was always playing. The irony wasn't lost on me; trying to be a better person so I could deserve Bella, but I wasn't perfect and, as a result, I ended doing the honorable thing by being with someone else.

The driveway was packed with vehicles and it looked like we were the last to arrive. I barely recognized the place anymore. Dad's house had always been pretty nice, especially considering that it had been inhabited by single guys, but ever since Dad had married Esme a few years ago, it was like a showroom. Tonight, all of upper Washington was in danger from a blackout due to the number of holiday lights that filled the trees in the yard and garden. Inside, Emmett stood on a ladder obeying Esme's directions on stringing more lights around the Christmas tree.

"Guys!" Emmett jumped down and gave us bear hugs.

"Hey Em," Jasper said and walked to Esme. Wordlessly, she gave him a warmer hug than I knew she'd give anyone else. It'd always been that way with them, like she knew he didn't have the best parents and she was happy to step in.

"Man, I am glad to see you. If Esme makes me hang one more twinkly light I swear I'm gonna turn into an elf," Emmet said, but it was obvious he didn't really mind.

"Boys, there are snacks in the kitchen and I really would like to get everything done tonight. Peter called and said they'd be here in the morning," Esme said, then left to find my dad.

Jasper turned to me. "Did you know that they were coming down?"

I just shook my head. She'd surprised me by visiting me last week. I'd intentionally not told Tanya I was coming back this break because, well, I needed a break. We talked on the phone every few days. They were like business calls. Did you do that paper? Yes. Have you picked a grad school? Yes. Seeing anyone else? Of course not.

Oh, well. It was looking more and more like I was going to have strap on a pair and end whatever it was that I had with Tanya or we'd end up spending all holidays together. Maybe it was a good thing she was going to be here. I could rip it off like a Band-Aid. From the outside, it might seem like I was an even bigger jerk for acting like a very lame boyfriend for years after I first slept with her – and we'd rarely done that since - but I never imagined that if I was the most inattentive boyfriend ever she'd wait for years.

Emmett scooped up the remaining lights and shoved them deep into the branches on the tree's wall side.


We laughed at him. Jasper grabbed his bag and started up the stairs. As he reached the bottom step, he turned around as if he'd realized something.

"Hey, Emmett. Where's Rose?"

Emmett's face dropped and he suddenly got very interested in tightening loose bulbs.

"Oh, man, are you two okay?" I still wasn't a fan of Rose, but she'd grown on me and I knew Emmett would be broken without her.

"What?" Emmett looked up quickly. "Oh, yeah, she's… not here." His eyes shot over to me and he looked back at the lights quickly.

Jasper came down off the steps. Jasper was an intuitive fucker, but even I could tell Emmett was hiding something. "Emmett?" Jasper said.

"Fine!" Emmett shoved his hands in his pockets. "She's at a wedding shower."

Then he said the three little words I never wanted to hear.

"Bella's wedding shower."

Well, Merry Fucking Christmas.

(November 2007 – post college graduation)

The pharmacy was as packed as I'd ever seen it. I'd been working there for months, but the crowd was so thick it seemed everyone in town had an upper respiratory infection.

With that many people sick, if I'd been in Vegas I'd have laid good money down that Bella would come get meds, too. In the past, I'd seen her pick up stuff for poison ivy, random antibiotics, and birth control. The birth control was the first script I ever filled for her and, come to think of it, she'd never had it filled again. Which was fine by me. Damn, that'd bugged me. Even though I'd known she was married it was like holding a physical manifestation of it right in my hand. I knew moving back here after getting my license meant I'd run into her from time to time, but I hadn't realized how the experience would tie my intestines into knots every single time, even after all this time. Regardless, she never did turn up that day.

As busy as I was, I knew that meant Dad and Jasper were flooded at the hospital, too. I considered calling Esme and beg her to keep Emmett locked out of the kitchen or there would be no food left by the time we all got there.

Most people look forward to Thanksgiving, but since Esme became part of the family, my favorite (non)holiday had become Thanksgiving Eve. Every year she made the most amazing lasagna. I was going to strangle Emmett if he ate it before I got there.

I needn't have worried. Esme didn't make lasagna, Tanya did. I wasn't expecting her there. It didn't matter to me that all of my family and hers were sitting at the dining table, all I could do was look at that damn lasagna. I'd made due for so long, I was going to snap. I wanted to throw it, plate and all, into the fireplace. It was adequate, but it wasn't the same.

And I was tired of adequate.

"Tanya, we need to talk."

No doubt, that night our families tried to remain dignified (except for Rose, who couldn't hit dignified if it were painted on the side of a barn) as they chewed mediocre lasagna while Tanya and I had the loudest break-up in modern history. The passion that we lacked in our relationship deigned to appear at the very end. There were shouts from both sides about "having wasted my fucking life" and she said I "never gave a shit anyway" and my best defense was to demand "couldn't you tell? Anyone could tell." I was certain she was going to out me to my family for the degenerate I was; I could see the fire building up in her eyes. I didn't care anymore. But, as quickly as it had flared, her ire was ash.

"Oh, god. This can't be it," she cried and wrapped her arms around me. "I'll do anything. We can live here. I won't pressure you to move up north anymore. I'll find work here."

I felt guilty.

Maybe a better man would've looked at that guilt and realized that he completely deserved to feel guilty about taking - stealing - a lifelong friend's virginity and barely trying to be a boyfriend to her while hoping against hope that another guy would come along and sweep her off her feet. Maybe a better man would've realized a long time ago how dumb that was. Hell, a better man would've grasped that Tanya was a beautiful, intelligent, and apparently patient woman and thanked a random deity for her attentions.

As it was, I was not a better man. Guilt no longer held power over me.

Silently, I hugged Tanya goodbye. Though I was holding her, I felt like I was embracing freedom.

(February 12, 2008)

"How long ago?" I was practically vibrating as I paced.

Emmett looked toward Rose as if she needed to grant permission for him to speak. She waved an arm dismissively.

"Couple months ago," he said.

I didn't know whether to be mad or excited. Bella was divorced. Divorced! That type of news shouldn't be considered happy, but I couldn't help it.

"Edward, I won't let you hurt her. It's not high school anymore." Rose crossed her arms and I could tell this was as close to encouragement as I was going to get from her.

"Thanks!" I practically yelled and then surprised even myself by scooping her up and hugging her quickly before running out the door.

I hadn't needed to run, since I ended up calling her. After driving around aimlessly trying think up a way to "happen" to see Bella, I found myself sitting on a rusty merry-go-round and phoning her out-of-the-blue. We talked for hours, until my fingers were so cold I nearly dropped the phone. I went to my house, a place I'd had build outside of town near Dad's, and called again. We talked about everything. College. Jobs. She said stayed here for her dad, she was even going to be his "date" for Valentine's Day so he wouldn't be alone. We talked about goofy things, like my obsession with Esme's lasagna. I'd had to explain that since she couldn't understand why my favorite holiday wasn't even a real one. We'd talked into the night, until we fell asleep with the phones to our ears.

I picked her up the next night. I'd hoped to take her to Port Angeles, to the same restaurant I'd planned on over a decade ago, but snow was predicted so we met at my house. Since we missed out on Italian, Bella offered to make her own lasagna the next time we got together, having felt a challenge due to my praise of Esme's. The weather soured hours sooner than forecast, but we hadn't noticed until it was too late to risk going out before crews salted the roads.

"Bella, please stay. You don't have to leave."

She nodded and went to find something to sleep in.

"I'm so sorry Edward," she said when she returned a few minutes later wearing a rolled up pair of my boxers and a t-shirt. She looked out at the rapidly drifting snow. "I don't mean to inconvenience you."

"Nonsense." I began making the sofa into my bed for the night. Bella saw what I was doing and shook her head.

"I'm not kicking you out of your own bed."

"Well, I'm not making you sleep on the sofa."

Bella worried her bottom lip and peeked over my shoulder at the hall that led to my bedroom.

I was still staring at that lip when I held my hand out and she placed hers within it.

We walked silently back to my bedroom.

Wordlessly, we crawled under the covers on opposite sides of the bed. I turned so my back was to her.

Soft flakes continued to filter across the window. Palest lavender moonlight flooded through the gauze curtain and filled the room.

"Bella, I'm just going to lie here and face this way… away."

I forced myself to hold still. If I moved at all I would go to her.

I ached.

I don't know how long I was frozen there, it might've been an hour, or it might've been only a moment. I could not tell from the coolness of the air between us how near her body was to mine. I focused on the uneven rhythm of her breaths.

I knew she was still awake, too. Just talk to her. It doesn't need to be like this. Maybe I could touch her… no. No, I can't touch her. It's too much.

Is she awake because she's nervous? Does she want me, too? We were talking so easily before, but words would not come to the room. Talk to her! You can fall asleep talking. Like on the phone, but better.

She's right here. How long have you waited for this? To be alone with her? So long. So long.

I considered asking if she cared if I moved. I could at least look at her if I moved. Why did I say I'd face away? Because I'm trying not to scare her, that's why. I'm trying to be good. I'm trying to deserve her. I only want to try…

Her hand made contact with my side, brushing across my ribs and down until it stayed over my heart. I forgot how to breathe.

In one motion I laced the fingers of my hand with hers and rolled to face her.


It came out as a whisper; my lungs had no air left.

Her mahogany hair was fanned out around her face and spilled across the pillows. The light from the window made the ivory of her skin luminous in the winter midnight.

Our hands remained entwined and she leaned in to kiss the corners of my eyes, then my mouth. Her lashes grazed against my lips.

I turned, our lips met.

And I fell.

I let myself fall from the rungs I'd been trying to climb for as long as I could remember. Her lips moved and mixed with my own; smooth skin in simple movements.

Exploring and remembering at the same time. Simple and intricate in a dance of opposites.

Is that her tongue? Already? Yes, yes it is.

There were so many things I wanted to say, but instead, my free had was already pulling at the edges of my shirt. God, I need to feel her. She leaned in against my chest and ran her smooth cheek along my bare skin. She was humming, almost purring. My arms closed around her. Before I realized it, I'd finished pulling her shirt over her head.

So perfect. She was even more perfect than I'd imagined – and god help me, I'd let myself imagine. Her eyes were open and bored into mine; I hoped she read there how I felt about her. She was the entirety of all I'd ever wanted. We kissed again and I took the weight of one breast in the palm of my hand. Perfect.

She began to kiss a trail away from my lips until her mouth had touched along the line of my jaw and reached to where all I could hear were her tiny gasps below my ear. There, she drew the corner of my jaw into her mouth and sucked. Christ.

I couldn't move fast enough. I began pulling on the band of my pajama bottoms until they were below my hips and then, with a dexterity that I had not previously known I possessed, I worked them off the rest of the way with own legs while I grabbed the boxers away from her hips.

I was about to move over the top of her, but I stilled myself and tried to judge the situation. She's still kissing me. This must be okay.

I shifted our hold and began to taste everywhere I could reach.I ran my hands along her arms and sides, I held onto her hips and kissed her collarbone, then her breasts, then lingered over her heart. Her hands were in my hair and she let out soft moans. I moved a hand from her hips to between her thighs and her moans were no longer soft. Slick. I touched her more and she pressed against me. God, I can't wait. I can't wait anymore.

She continued to kiss along my neck and face as I slipped my hands underneath her. I placed my weight on my forearms and felt the curves of her shoulders and back rest against my palms. Her legs bent up and she pressed the heels of each foot into the curve behind my knees.

I began to make my way inside her. Her back arched, causing the contours of her breasts to mold against me. She wrapped her small arms all the way around my ribs, encircling me, holding me. I'd often imagined many things about what it would feel like to be with Bella in this way, but nothing had prepared me for the concept that swept over me as we moved together: Home.

My face was in her hair and I inhaled its familiar florals as I sunk until I believed I'd reached the end of her. She held me tighter during my slow withdrawal, then shocked me as she made a small change in the incline of her hips that let me slip in further, completely, leaving our junctures flush.

Once I was there, I didn't want to leave. Instead of long in and out thrusts, I held her as tightly as I dared and ground against her, staying mostly in, never parting. I would not trade being surrounded by her for the night air. The thrumming in my veins accelerated every time she rose against me and increased our friction. We continued and I arched so I could reach to kiss her more. Her eyes were closed and her parted lips allowed small mutterings free. "Ed…ward… Ehhd…wuh…d-ah…god, oh…god."

She clenched around me, her core becoming even hotter, even wetter around me. The thrill of her release unhinged me and felt myself begin to slam into her again and again until she tightened again and shouted as I came.

Came home. The space we shared, the place that only we would know.

(February 14, 2008)

Bella and I disentangled ourselves in the morning and found that the road crews had been out early. As I held her at the door before we both had to leave for work, I had to keep reminding myself that it was just a single day until we'd be together again. Only one day. I don't want to let go.

But I did. I followed her until she was safely home and then I backtracked to work.

Hours later, when I was almost to my house after my shift, Tanya called . "Hey."

"Hi, Tanya. How's it going?"

"Oh, um, fine. It's fine."

I pulled into my driveway and cut the engine.

"That's good," I said. I wasn't about to open up a topic of discussion with her today.

"So, um, Edward, what are you doing right now?"

"I'm about to head over to Dad's for dinner." I took the porch steps two at a time.

"Well, um, Edward, we need to talk."

"Wow, Tanya, tonight's not a good night for me. Can it wait?"

"Um, not really. I…" her voice drifted off. It was so unlike her, even the few times we'd spoken since our break-up, she was always so sure of herself. "You know…we have unfinished business, you might say." She laughed a nervous, mirthless laugh.

I turned the key in my front door and stepped in. At least, I thought it was my front door. It was not how I'd left it this morning. I would never have left my house like this. There were dozens of lit off-white candles covering every flat surface in the living room. I looked at my key dumbly and contemplated the likelihood that it had inexplicably opened someone else's door.

In the corner of the room I saw Tanya round the corner slowly. She was wearing a loose dress and an unfathomable expression.

"Unlike me, this won't wait forever" she said, carrying a single candle.

She placed her other hand on the front of her dress and ran it over the bump that appeared between her hip bones.

"Edward. Marry me."

(24 hours later)

I could barely function. God, am I exhausted. I hadn't slept. I hadn't really processed everything that had changed in the past day. I welcomed the monotony at work – it allowed me to shut down mentally. Whenever I'd found a moment to think, Tanya had called and wanted me to reassure her that I would take care of her, of them both.

I needed an escape. I'd be an even bigger ass than I'd ever been before if I didn't step up now. I can't really escape, can I? No, I couldn't. It would've been best if I could have taken time and figured out if there was any possible way to fix this. But, I didn't have time. Bella was silently sitting in my car; she'd met me tonight with every expectation of continuing from the amazing place we'd left off yesterday. Hell, was it just yesterday? Instead of beginning, I was ending it.

"I don't have any reason to break things off with you. I know this must seem crazy. I mean…"

Oh my god, this is the worst… hardest fucking thing I have ever done. How do people do this? Do people really break things off with other people every day and still function? Well, no, of course people don't do this every day. Only the truly monstrous foul their lives up so spectacularly that they have to push away the best thing that ever happened to them, the person they've been in… oh…no…

I touched the cold metal of my keys and considered swallowing them to help dislodge the lump in my throat.

"We get along great. I always knew we would."

Is my heart still beating? I feel numb. No, not numb. I am in pain. There is actual, physical pain with each syllable. I wish I were numb.

I forced myself to keep talking. The portion of me, my soul, I'd reserved for Bella so long ago began to beg for air.

She wasn't talking.

Oh, god, Bella, please talk me out of this. I am dumb enough, selfish enough, to be with you instead, to do the right thing for once, but not the honorable thing. Just let me know that you don't believe me. Let me know that you can see something is going on with me and that you're not buying it. That you would still want me even though something is going on.

"But Tanya just keeps calling. She keeps calling and, I mean…"

Shit, why am I saying that? How can I tell her this? How can I tell her that even though I wanted to be with her - that I truly had always been hers - I couldn't be?

"… my family set us up such a long time ago… everyone expects us to work out…"

Wow, I don't even believe myself right now. That is the lamest excuse ever.

She's going to think I've used her – stolen from her - tricked her into giving herself to me. She's going think it was only a rebound. It wasn't – I am bound – to Bella.

I can't lie to her; I have to say some version of the truth. I can't say it out loud right now. I physically can't. I haven't said it aloud at all yet. I can barely breathe; my damned throat is so tight. I need to find words… what were Tanya's words when she told me?

"so, … it seems like 'we have unfinished business.'"

"Yeah." Bella turned to look out the window. Her face reflected back at me in the glass there, a hundred shades of green and shadow created by the dashboard lights. She looked like she was trying to decide what to say.

I waited. I had waited for over a decade to be with her, I could certainly wait until she finished telling me off. Come on Bella, say something. Anything. Tell me that you don't understand, because even I don't understand and I'm the one doing it. Tell me that you hate me. Tell me it meant nothing to you. Tell me it meant everything to you. God, couldn't you tell how much… did you know it was the only time I've actually made love? Tell me you felt it. Tell me it was that for you, too. Tell me you made love, too. Give me some reason to be weak.

Tell me you hate me, too.

Tell me you love me…


Oh, God. I do love you. I am leaving you and I love you.

Please Bella, I want to do the wrong thing. Tell me it's okay. Tell me. Tell me!

But her words never came.

I saw my hand reach up to tuck a lock of hair behind her ear, but she shifted toward the window even more, not allowing me to touch her.

Good girl. I don't deserve you.


Love at the lips was touch

As sweet as I could bear;

And once that seemed too much;

I lived on air.

From "Earthward"

Robert Frost

She came into the store earlier today.

I don't know how it happens, but when she passes by the aisles in front of the counter, I feel a pull to look up.

I don't know why she comes in so seldomly; maybe she shops online or stocks up at a big box store.

I don't know when it will get easier to not be with her.

I don't know… anything.

I look at the prescription order in front of me and will myself to focus on its minutia. "Do not operate heavy machinery." "Take on a full stomach." "Avoid direct sunlight."

The printer spits out labels and instructions. I measure the correct number of capsules and pour them.

She sat on the bleacher in front of me. It was windy, and the wind blew her long hair away her face. The wind left her entire face down past the curve of her neck exposed. She looked like porcelain; I was afraid she'd break.

I imagined she smelled like green apples. I could tell nothing from the wind.

When I left, I moved in close – I told myself I needed to, to be heard.

I was wrong. She didn't smell like apples. She smelled like an unimaginable combination of flowers.

The bottle slides into a bag and I pick up another script.

Edward, are you going to be okay? I mean, I can take you home if you want.

Amoxicillin. "Any unused portion of reconstituted suspension must be discarded after 14 days."

Snow and midnight. I'm on my side, forcing myself to face away from her. Then, her warm hand – finally! – on me. The first time she ever started anything. The first time she ever let me know it wasn't me pushing.

The only time, because, of course, in the end, I did push her.

I took everything she offered, as if I'd learned nothing.

Everything she offered and then some. I took everything, because I am a taker.

I could take from her until there would be nothing left.

I knew I could, I would, because I'd done it all before; I was still paying the price for my thefts.

Is there anything more to do? Finding nothing, I hang up my lab coat and nod once in goodbye to the assistants.