Disclaimer: SM's intellectual property rights are retained. Our intellect is questionable.

A/N: Twanza and I originally wrote this story as a O/S for a contest called "Fun With Your Clothes On," but we've decided to continue it because neither of us has the heart to leave Edward in his current state. ElleCC has graciously joined the team to make sure we stay on our toes, and our forever goal is to make her either swoon or laugh.


When you ask a child what he wants to be when he grows up, he never tells you that he wants to be an asshole. And yet, here I was, living the dream.

I was just back from another suck ass client meeting, and the email in front of me already indicated the changes that needed to be made for a presentation in the morning. I thought of the work that needed to get done between now and then. I could dive in now, work late, and maybe have a bit of the evening to myself. Or I could fuck off, give up the evening, probably most of the early morning, and get the work done later.

Times like these called for the creation of a personal mantra.

Please fire me.

Because the Account Director starts every email with "Greetings and Salutations," as if she's making first contact with the home planet.

Please fire me.

Because I have been here for three years and just got a raise that will result in an extra $187 per month, which I am supposed to be happy about because others are getting nothing due to "budget restrictions."

Like a lot of employees in a startup, we were working around the clock for below fair market wages hoping for a payoff down the road. The company was going through typical growing pains, but none of us were sure if all of the time and sweat invested in it would ever amount too much, but…

Please fire me.

Because a five-year-old could hack into our server, I know that the agency just hired a freelancer who charges a hundred and fifty dollars an hour. And that the senior management team has awarded themselves bonuses that are equal to more than I might make in three years.

I looked over at McCarty's cube and the stupid poster hanging on the half wall next to his desk.

Hard work often pays off after time, but laziness always pays off now.

He looked up and flipped me off in greeting. I returned the gesture and grinned.

My mind went there and I knew I was going to do it at the same time I told myself I absolutely would not.

This isn't procrastination, it's obsession.

Staring out the window, I noticed it looked like it always did. Gray. I looked at the clock on my computer screen. Two o'clock. Three hours until I could conceivably leave, make the excuse that I had an appointment and then worry that everyone would judge me for being the first to blink. So I procrastinated my obsession and picked up the phone to call Tanya at work. She chattered on, sharing gossip about people I didn't know before she reciting a litany of things I needed to do. I didn't listen. The words blurred as she moved on to what we might have for dinner.

I launched my rolling chair away from my desk and popped my head into the Group Director's cube. We were already scheduled to present the revisions from the meeting we'd just fucking come back from. He reminded me of the client meeting first thing in the morning.

In case I was unclear.

"No problem, Yorkie, just put a fucking quarter in my ear."

He looked at me, annoyed at my sarcasm. Fucking inconsistent bastard. Some days he was up for a good snarky comment, sometimes he was all fucking management. Today his sense of humor was nowhere to be found.

"I'll need a chance to see it before the meeting. When can you get it to me?"

I looked at my watch for no reason other than effect. "Well, considering it's two now and there are three concepts to revise, I'd say about four in the morning."

"Meet me for breakfast at seven?"

My entire night compressed in front of me. I pinched the bridge of my nose, fucking exhausted before I'd even begun. I told him I was running out to get coffee.

I turned and walked away just in time to hear him say, "E! Want me to call in the freelancer on this?"

I stood in front of the elevators and pressed the down button about twenty times in rapid-fire succession as if that would make the car come quicker. A girl with an armload of black foam core boards looked at me and I gave her a nod, which she returned with a grimace. I pressed the down button another few times and ran my hand through my hair. She looked down at the ground and sighed.

Why were we all so fucking desperate?

It was a rhetorical question, but if anybody could give me an answer, it was her.

I ran my hand through my hair again and pushed through the revolving door. Out on the plaza people were milling around at the café, sitting on the steps, laughing, joking.

It was fucking two in the afternoon. What did these people do for a living?

I thought of her, though, and felt excited, still kidding myself that I wasn't going to see her.

I shoved my hands into my pockets, picked up my pace and turned toward the avenue. The block was perfect in its dinginess. The blue scaffolding around the building they'd just torn down was already covered with guerrilla postings and sharpie graffiti. The deli next door looked so filthy, I couldn't conceive of eating anything out of its salad bar, yet there were ten people inside scooping up shit and whapping it into plastic containers.

A bum sat on the sidewalk, a little dog in his lap. A cardboard sign perched next to him detailed precisely how unkind fate had been to him. I gave him the change in my pocket without meeting his eyes. Further up the street the little old Filipino lady sat on the same sidewalk, knees bent toward her chest. Next to her was a plastic bag of sweet rolls. If you didn't know, you'd think she was just another panhandler, but the rolls she sold were delicious, three for five dollars. I'd had them for breakfast. I looked at her, hoping to she would smile, but she didn't make eye contact with me as I passed.

I stopped in front of the store, remembering the first time I'd gone in.

The fear.

I'd gone to get something for Tanya's birthday, something I could have gotten online but I wanted to see if I had the stones to do it. Rather than buying the same thing on Amazon, like a pussy, I'd convinced myself that my ability to buy it in person from the sex shop was part of the gift.

I'd pushed into the store. The guy at the counter looked up from his newspaper, gave me the once over and returned to the sports section of The Daily News. I caught a glimpse of myself in the video monitor on the wall behind the cash register, ducked my head down and hunched my shoulders, not knowing where to look.

It was fucking wall-to-wall porn.

I laughed at myself and ventured further into the store, browsing the aisles, looking at the DVDs, magazines, books, sex toys, lingerie, and what seemed like an entire wall of condoms.

Condoms.

It occurred to me that I felt just as perverted buying rubbers at the grocery store as I did in a fucking sex shop on Eighth Avenue. Since Tanya was too embarrassed to buy them when she went grocery shopping trip, I had to make a special trip, walking up and down the aisles pulling random shit off the shelves and chucking it into the little basket on my arm, just so I didn't have to go through the line with the solitary blue box in my hand.

Frozen pizza. Printer paper. Light bulbs. Trojan Magnums.

Every time I did it I tried not to imagine the interpretation the fucking cashier would give to the assortment of shit I'd managed to collect and line up on the conveyor belt – as if this didn't happen in the checkout line a hundred times a day.

I spotted the sign on the back wall that said "Five minutes: $35." I was an asshole for being relieved at the five minutes, rather than horrified by the expense.

I felt for my wallet, but decided not to leave a trail of receipts and reached in my front pocket for cash. I pulled out two twenties and the slot for money sucked in the bills and gave me five bucks change in silver dollars, which I would definitely mistake for quarters later. The machine spit out a ticket with a code on it. I pushed the curtain aside and saw a few rooms. Some were marked vacant, some were "in use." I thought of the sign on the bathrooms in airplanes.

Occupado.

I walked into one of the rooms, which had a bench in front of an expanse of leaded glass. Other than the security shield over the window, it looked like the fucking lobby at the agency. My mind raced and I felt my nerves center in my gut. I located the keypad above a coin slot and bill changer. I punched in the code and the metal screen rolled up. I sat in front of it, no idea what I'd see, but certain the scene would be degrading for both of us.

She was sitting on a chair in the little room and looked over at me. She was so totally over it. She stubbed out the cigarette she was smoking. I immediately decided to leave, afraid she'd dance or something humiliating for both of us, but then I felt bad that she'd feel insulted or rejected. I forced myself to stay still and just fucking man up.

She started out bored. Our eyes met, and she simply moved around the little room. She had on a halter-top and a pair of tiny cut off jeans with fishnet stockings. Her black eyeliner was smudged, artfully. Goth. Suicide Girls. Her fingernails were bitten and painted black. There was a hole in her stocking at the thigh. Her hair was wild. Naturally brown but a bit bleached like she'd been at the beach.

She was young and almost too thin, but not. Her tits were high and her waist was tiny. I could certainly get my hands around it. She didn't dance, so much as walk around, like she was in her own private space doing her thing, getting undressed. She turned around so I could see her back. The cut of her jeans was so short that I could see the cheeks of her ass peek through. She untied the bow at the back of her halter, and I saw a few freckles across her shoulder blades. She drew the fabric away from her and dropped it on the floor, but didn't turn immediately around.

Her legs were long. There was another hole in the fishnet on the inside of her calf. I dragged my eyes down and smiled at her black combat boots. They didn't look like part of a costume, they looked like they belonged to her, and I imagined her walking down the street in them. She walked around a little, and picked up the book she'd been reading. The chair in the room was facing me, but she sat down on it sideways, giving me the profile of her body. She crossed her legs and leaned back a little. I saw her profile, as she read. Her tits were perfection, tilted up at an angle that made me want to touch them. I knew exactly how they'd feel in my hands, at exactly which point her nipple would press into my palm. Her thighs were lean and long and she kicked her boot a little like she was passing the time, waiting for something, or just fidgety.

She turned toward me on the chair and I got the full on image, which thundered into my eyes. She looked up and her dark eyes focused on mine. I didn't want to, but I couldn't help but look at her tits, perfect and round and very real. I also noticed the title of the book. "Hot & Cold," by Richard Hell. I grinned excitedly because I was reading it too, and I pulled it out of my messenger bag to show it to her. She walked over to the window to show me what page she was on and pressed it to the glass. I had to walk over to her to see what she was showing me, and the action of moving toward her felt incredibly intimate. Like walking in on someone in the bathroom, and being allowed to stay.

She pointed at a paragraph for me to read.

"You realize there are certain things that you'll never do that you always thought would be part of your future, ... It's a big relief to discover what you are best-suited for, and it's a real advantage to be able then to focus. You can just jettison all this useless floundering around, attempting to do stuff that's really not in your range, and focus."

She was like the fucking oracle and I opened my book to the page I'd been rereading for days.

"When I do dig down, I'm very irritated underneath...Why can't I just write a book about taking a walk and having a cup of coffee? It kind of annoys me about myself. If I could do it differently, I would. It's not some kind of principle. It's just in my nature somehow."

The floor of her room was slightly raised from the one I was in, and she was almost my height. She smiled and put her palm against the glass wall and I covered hers with mine. She slowly squatted down to put her book on the floor, leaving it open on her page. The stretch of her arm, the absolute lock she had on the glass, and the way she lowered her body was almost like ballet. I noticed little white scars on her arms, not needle punctures, more like tiny cuts that had long since healed. And when she stood back up, as slowly as she'd gone down, I saw another thin white scar on her throat. I swallowed, feeling tender and inflamed at the same time. She pressed her other hand up against the glass. I put my hand on her breast as she flattened against the transparent wall. I imagined her heat through the chill.

She never took off more than her top, and I would have tried to stop her if she had, but I put my other hand against her chest, the hard flat surface a welcome barrier. This was more intense than feeling her skin and both of us were aroused. Our bodies moved together, pressing and touching. I ran my hand up and down her thigh and she put her forehead against the glass, and though her mouth never touched it, her breath steamed the surface between us.

I ran my hand down the glass them from her chest down to her thigh, leaving a trail of moist fingerprints that evaporated almost as soon as they appeared. She pressed herself against the glass. I put my hand where, if I could have penetrated the barrier, it would have rested firmly between her legs, following her heat, encouraging it. I remembered that glass was the liquid form of sand, and I wanted the heat of her body to turn it molten so that I could slip inside.

She put her hand where I'd pressed my dick against the wall and her other hand against herself, stroking with her palm. I wanted to watch her come, though I didn't want her to watch me come unless I was actually holding her. I felt so intensely erect. I wanted her to stop, but it became urgent. I needed her to finish.

God I needed her to come.

The whir of the motor on the fucking safety window started and time was up. The window closed. Not enough cash. Couldn't do credit. So I left fast. Back to work.

Throb.

Dick.

Fuck.

I thought of the girl leaning against the wall. She showed me my reality. I got paid to do a strip tease every fucking day of my life for assholes that stood and watched.

I had gone home that first time and bent Tanya over the back of the couch the minute I got home. She was surprised and pleased, and I felt a little better for realigning myself, but the ache didn't really go away. I caught her a little later and dragged her to bed in the midst of her favorite show. She complained, but I made her stop that shit.

Days went by. I couldn't stop thinking of the girl. Work was fantastically busy, and one afternoon I sleep walked back to the store. And I went again. Sometimes it was once a week. Sometimes it was once a day over many days. I didn't know if I was there to stare at myself or whether I was there to see her.

She always wore those adorable army boots and an array of punk shit. Over time she did things just to make me laugh; like wearing a ski hat with a fauxhawk of fringe down the center. She chewed bubble gum and pressed a Bazooka Joe comic against the glass. She showed me a graphic novel she was reading and I immediately went out and bought the same one and read it all in one sitting. Tanya was convinced I was going off the deep end, and so was I, but I'd never been so stimulated and happy.

She didn't always strip, and sometimes we just read together, hanging out like we were in her living room. And she knew how to touch herself, not simply because it was required of our transaction, but because she fucking knew how I wanted to touch her. And that's what it was. But one day, after a spectacularly bad week of presentations and criticisms, of listening to Tanya make mind-numbingly boring plans for our future, I went back to the shop, desperate to see her.

She hadn't look surprised to see me, or disappointed that I hadn't been around. I sat down on the bench. We started our usual negotiation of what it might be. She was reading and had a notebook and pencil next to her. She almost looked like she was studying. She showed me what she'd written... her handwriting a little bit crabbed, but sweet and legible.

"You're in this state, a human being crushed under a steamroller. Totally drained. It's the fatigue itself that becomes a kind of luminosity. As though you're radiating light, it's fantastic; you're like a jellyfish in the water. Instead of being here, always worrying about what's going wrong in your little brain…well by the end there's no more brain."*

I'd wanted to feel lightened, but more than interesting ideas. I leaned back against the pillows on the bench while I drank her in. I rubbed my hand over my shirt and then over the back of my neck. I grabbed my hair and a shuddering breath wracked through me. She seemed to understand and pulled off her tight white t-shirt, then leaned against the window with one arm. She put her other hand down her pants. I sat back, doing the same. I stroked myself up and down the length of my shaft through my boxers, my penis achingly erect between my thighs, hard and firm, the head swollen and pulsing. My hand slid onto my erection, working it up and down, up and down, my thighs fell apart, my hips angled up towards the stroke of my hand. I needed this. I needed to come.

I'd closed my eyes and masturbated more urgently, my thighs trembling, imagining her hands on my chest, touching, stroking... lips caressing my neck, my chest, my belly... I feel a mouth engulf my hard cock, sucking and licking greedily... I'm going to come any moment... but try to hold it back just a little longer... and looked at her because I wanted to see her when I came... but she was there too, masturbating with me... one hand on the glass, fingers sliding against it seeking an impossible grip, the other between her legs... ... needing to fuck me… and the fucking window starts to close and I jump up from the bench and shove money into the slot, not knowing how many bills I shoved into it, and grabbing a new code. The window closed all the way and I panicked, but opened again and we both look at each other shocked.

Stumbling toward the window, I'd watched her soundless gasp as I put my hand on her. I made circular movements against her pants, where I imagine she would like it... I need her to come, to not hold back... this is fucking urgent, because we both know how little time there is, and I need this for both of us. I rub up against the glass with my dick and I hope she is imagining my hand through the glass. She drifts one hand under mine, helping me to touch her, and the other runs up over her belly... up over her breasts... I follow her, almost like we're mirror images of each other, my fingertips brushing over her nipple...squeezing... caressing... she surrenders, no longer able to resist... her fingers rubbing, stroking, faster, harder, her thighs wide apart, displaying herself to me... exposed and helpless with lust... only for the briefest moment it occurs to me that she's mine... and I am gone, bumping against the glass while she places her palm against the place where my cheek is resting. The gate started to close again, and she ran to her bag and knelt on the ground trying to write her phone number backwards on the window with a lipstick. I followed her down and just as it got too low, she peeked under the gate as it closed dragging her fingers through the red smear to say goodbye.

I shook myself from the memory, my hand still gripping the door handle, and went inside. I hadn't been back for a while, too shaken by the experience – but I found myself wondering about her more and more as time passed.

I'd went through the motions with the money and the buttons, but when the window rolled up this time it was another girl. I watched, stunned, but it did nothing for me, as empty and humiliating an experience as I'd expected it to be the first time. I stayed through to the end out of politeness, but I felt dirty, which wasn't something I'd ever felt with the other girl.

I asked about her at the counter. The guy looked up from the paper and said, "I think she went back to school."

I didn't go back and things went sort of back to normal at work. I followed Tanya blindly as she led me around by the nose. I went through the motions of what everyone expected of me, versus what I wanted to do, and achieved the perfect work/life balance. Both sucked. In balance.

- o0o -

Tanya and I went to Hartford for Easter, "Insurance Capital of the World," and I'd be hearing about that a lot for the next three days. On the way to Tanya's parents, we drove through towns that got more and more rural until they became small, tasteful farms, gardens that had run amok from wealth. Llamas, an ostrich, and angora goats as pets.

Fortunately I knew there would be endless rounds of drinks. Once the first bottle of wine was opened we'd drink everything in the house until we'd sucked it dry, feeling comfort not in our companionship, but that it was fucking insured that in the morning someone would have set out a bottle of Tylenol next to the mimosas and the coffee.

Easter Mass was ten a.m. We showed up late because Tanya couldn't decide which dress to wear. I had also wasted a little time slugging back a couple of bloody Mary's, trying to convince her that we could miss mass this one time and no one would care. We slipped into very last pew, the one right in front of the crying room, where the people sat with their infants and toddlers behind a full glass window so the kids could be indoctrinated without disrupting the proceedings by behaving like...kids. The couple at the end was annoyed when they had to slide their asses down a foot so we could fit in. We nodded pleasantly, and I gripped the woman's hand and whispered an insincere "peace be with you," then turned to offer the same to a few people in the pew behind me.

My most hated part of the service now over, I immediately let my brain fog over. I leafed through the missal, played with the newsletter, looking at the advertising for the funeral home and the florist displayed prominently on the back page. I pointed it out to Tanya with disdain and she shushed me and pointed to the front as if to chastise me for not paying attention.

I looked up at the priest. Father Peter, or just "Peter" as we called him. He'd begun leading the congregation at some point when I was in high school. He was young himself and often read from The New York Times to keep our interest, drawing allusions from current events to make his point about ancient ones. He was saying something about a new offering. I caught the tail end of introductions. "I'd like to welcome Bella Swan as our new sign language interpreter. She's a teacher at the American School for the Deaf and will be with us for the rest of the semester."

Appropriately, no one in the congregation made a sound, because we were only there to say the rehearsed shit, anything that said "People" in the script. I leafed through the music book, trying to pick out the next song they'd play based on the numbers posted on the wall up by the organist.

Then we began the process of stand up, sit down, fight fight fight.

The priest said something rote. Everyone, including me, mumbled in response. I stared down at the kneeler and thought I'd try to lift it with my foot, but before I could Tanya nudged me and said, "At least look like you're paying attention." I looked over at her and gave her a polite grimace of attention. She leaned in to me and said, "I forgot money for the collection. Did you bring any cash?"

I reached into my pocket and pulled out a single dollar and a twenty. I handed her the one and she whispered, "Nice try, hand it over."

When the basket came by Tanya dropped in the big bucks and I dropped in the single and some change. Since there was nothing else I could get with it, I figured I might as well use it to save my soul.

There you go: $1.64 and some pocket lint.

I contemplated the contents of my now empty pockets, but was interrupted when I heard Peter laugh. Others around me laughed and I looked up. The girl from the sex shop was standing next to the lectern smiling in delight and signing with her hands. I stared transfixed, fairly certain she couldn't be who I thought she was, but the more I watched, the more I knew. I stood a head taller than most, and I hoped she would see me, while praying she wouldn't.

Time for communion. The priest gave the sacrament to those on the altar first, and I watched the girl take it in her mouth, not her hand.

Row after row of people stood and filed up the aisle. When it was our turn, Tanya looked at me shocked when I stood up and stepped out into the aisle. She followed behind me and I waited to let her go first. We walked slowly, and I remembered watching Tanya and her bridesmaids walk down this aisle three years ago. Step and pause. Step and pause. Afterwards, at the rehearsal dinner, I'd proceeded to get shitfaced like I'd never been shitfaced before.

When Tanya got to the front of the line, she got solemn, went through the routine, then bowed her head and made her way back to our seat. I stepped up and the priest smiled and said "Edward."

I greeted him in kind, "Peter," and my eyes skirted over to the stage where she sat.

And he responded, "Body of Christ."

"Amen."

I stepped to the side, putting the round disc of cardboard in my mouth, and blessed myself almost directly in front of her. The host was like a play piece from a board game, and it stuck to the roof of my mouth. I picked at it with my tongue and finally loosened it and swallowed. I got back to the pew and knelt next to Tanya, who had her head down. I clasped my hands in front of me and looked up at the altar.

Tanya gave me a nudge with her elbow, then a sidelong glance and said, "Holy shitballs, look at that." She leaned in conspiratorially. "Newton is going bald in the back." I looked up at the back of Mike Newton's head, which was, in fact going slightly bald. I nodded at Tanya and she sneakily whipped her cell phone out of her purse and took a picture, then texted it to someone.

I looked up at the altar again, which was settling into the last quarter of the game. Pussy willows and daffodils were arrayed all across it. I thought of the flower sale advertised in the program and suggested to Tanya that we get something for our mothers before lunch. Tanya shook her head at me, annoyed. "Don't you listen to anything I say?" she hissed. "I already told you we were going to do that."

"Right."

The mass ended and we were instructed to go in peace. When the celebrants had made their way out, we followed and walked out of the front of the church to socialize before heading over to the school for the festivities. The Newtons caught up with us almost immediately. Tanya smiled wryly at him, then gave him a hug and a kiss, before moving on to talk to his sister and mother.

Newton grabbed my arm and pointed at the school building, an ersatz modern structure they'd built in some 60s area fervor. He pointed at the building. "Dude, it's the ten o'clock titty."

I looked up. Because of the design, and the positioning of it geographically, a distinct shadow resembling a woman's breast was cast both in the morning and in the afternoon on the West and East sides of the church, respectively. We had spent a lot of time looking at the ten and two o'clock titties.

Peter broke away from the group he was with and walked over to us. He looked up at the wall we were staring at. "Ah, the ten o'clock titty."

I looked at him and grinned and he grabbed me in a hug. "Edward, it's good to see you," then turned and shook hands with Mike, and said "Newton."

Mike said, "Where's my hug?" And Peter said, "I've heard your confession, Mike. I'm giving Edward the benefit of the doubt." The priest looked at me. I smirked and shrugged my shoulders.

He walked us over to the gymnasium, and up to the refreshment table filled with pastries, coffee and colored eggs. I grabbed a cup of coffee and told Peter a little of what I'd been doing with my life. He asked me if everything was going OK, and though his words were innocent, I knew what he meant. When Tanya and I had gotten engaged, he had taken me aside during one of the pre-Cana classes and asked if I was really ready for the commitment.

I had been surprised when he'd asked, and had assured him that I was more than ready. My life was on track. I had a job offer in New York City at a great firm, my high school sweetheart was almost my wife, my parents had paid for my school loans, and Tanya's parents had lent us enough money so that we could buy a small apartment. Perfect. All expectations in place.

I plastered on my best client meeting smile and assured him that all was well. He nodded, but didn't appear at all reassured, and we both looked around the room, not having anything else to say. There were pots of hyacinth, tulips, and lilies lined up, ready to go. I saw Tanya in line at one of the tables and wandered off to look at the award case – searching for the picture of my high school basketball team. I wondered what happened to those guys. I turned around, trying not to look like I was looking for her, and noticed Tanya holding two white Easter lilies. I fucking hated the smell of those flowers, the odor almost intolerable to me.

I noticed the girl just off to my right, smiling and talking with her hands to a few people. It reminded me of how she'd been in the store, small smiles and hands. She stepped over shyly and I said "Hello," not knowing what else to say.

I felt the room getting hotter. The jacket I'd begrudgingly put on this morning threatened to suffocate me and I knew I wasn't going to be able to stop myself from touching her. Looking around, I tried to get my bearings and noticed the door to the back stage propped open with a trashcan.

"Follow me?" I whispered. With a quick glance over my shoulder I slipped out into the hall and made my way over to the door. I kicked the plastic can out of the way, but left the door cracked behind me in invitation, hoping. I leaned against the back of an old prop couch, the same one we'd used for the performance of Our Town years ago, and tried to steady my breathing. I waited anxiously to see if she would accept my invitation, though I had nothing to offer.

The room was dim, and when the door opened and she walked in it reminded me of the metal curtain going up.

Five minutes.

She approached me like she knew what I was thinking. The shyness she had shown in the hall evaporated with each step. She peeled off her sweater as she came closer, laying it over the back of the couch. When she stood a few inches away, she raised her hand. I followed her example, replaying our traditional greeting, but without barriers. I could feel her breath on my face, and smell her shampoo. The mixture of lavender and cotton completed her perfectly. That smell would haunt me, I knew.

Our hands moved at an agonizing pace and my eyes were trapped following the motion. When they met she first touched the tip of her middle finger to mine, and trailed it down to the center of my palm.

Her touch was warm and soft, and I pulled her to me. I moved both hands down her body, and as I'd known I could, I fitted both hands around her waist. I touched my forehead to hers and said her name, for the first time.

"Bella."

The two syllables left my mouth like a prayer. I felt like I was in the confessional. I couldn't leave until she'd given me her penance. Her breathing was heavy, as labored as mine. We stood for a moment exchanging the same breath. I moved both hands to her chest and felt the fullness of her tits.

Three minutes left.

I imagined the security shield going down and took liberties. I touched her between her legs, against the jersey of her dress. She was liquid hot and I finally felt my hand penetrate the glass. She stood on tiptoes against me and gave me access. I pushed the fabric between her and closed my eyes. I backed her to the wall, and she put her hands on my hips, bringing herself against my dick. I grabbed her ass and she spoke to me with her touch, as she ran her fingers up and down my back. I had to break away, there would never be time enough for us and I was desperate to do the one thing we hadn't done yet.

I grabbed her face with both of my hands and looked at her. She was so dear, more familiar to me than my own reflection. I brought my mouth to hers, and kissed her gently- afraid to push her too far, when she'd already taken me further than I had ever anticipated I could go. She opened up to me and I bit her lips to savor her, take her inside of me. She tasted like candy apple, and I wanted to bite through her mouth and crack the outer shell. Her tongue flicked out to me, hot and sweet.

One minute.

I let my mouth roam to her neck, my hands seeking out every curve I'd ached to touch. I whispered my obsession into her skin, safe in the knowledge that she couldn't hear me, but hoping she could feel the words and understand. We kissed and tongued, while we rubbed and gasped, feeling each other not for the first time but for the essential time.

Times up. I have to go.

She looked up and smiled. A dear, sweet look on her face, and I hated leaving her in the box again. I thought of all the times I'd left her - like she'd been a dream - to return to my reality. Had I ever considered what happened to her once I walked away? I'd taken for granted that she'd be there for me.

Mine.

She stepped out of my grasp and straightened her dress. On her way out the door she came to me and stood on her toes to press her lips to my temple. When she left, I was the one in the box.

I sat on the couch for a few minutes to collect myself, then walked back into the gym and stopped. Bella stood near the windows. She stood separate and apart, contemplating the crowd of people as if they were an entirely different species.

I saw Peter camped out near the refreshment table, greeting and eating. I walked up to say goodbye, but kept my eye on Bella. He noticed my glance and motioned for her to join us. She smiled nervously.

"Bella," he said formally, "I'd like you to meet my friend, Edward Cullen."

I looked at Peter and said, "I don't know sign language. Can you tell her I'm happy to meet her?"

They both smiled at me, and the priest said "Bella can hear perfectly well, but she is mute." I looked over at her and she nodded at me and touched the scar at the base of her throat. The one I'd just had my mouth on.

"Oh," I said, stunned, remembering thinking about that scar, and the others on her arms. "I didn't know."

I looked down at her arms, but the sweater covered them. Her fingernails were still short, but they were unpainted and not so very chewed.

"Edward is a writer."

I looked up at Bella, her eyes wide and listening.

"I - um - I don't write so much anymore, actually. I mean I do, I work for an advertising agency. I'm a copywriter," I said dragging the words out of my mouth, wishing I could say anything else. "I have a couple of my own things going on, but I'm busy." I thought of the pile of paper next to my bed; the great American novel ignored and abused through too much time and tweaking.

Peter said, "I lived in the City for a while. I have my real estate license. Well, had my license. Bella's from there too."

No matter how many fucking priests I met, I never could reconcile that they weren't born with black jackets and white-banded collars on. That they'd had to turn completely inside out, and renounce a lot of shit that I never could, in order to reinvent themselves.

Reinvent.

I looked at Bella, just as Tanya stepped over with two lilies under her arms. She handed them both to me and I was overpowered by their toxic aroma. I felt them chasing away Bella's scent as if trying to banish her imprint on my olfactory and wished I could stop breathing to trap it there. Tanya hugged the priest and was introduced to Bella, then proceeded to chatter on, gossiping about a few friends while she picked the pollen pods from the lilies, her fingers staining orange as she effectively emasculated the flower.

We stood around for a moment in awkward silence, before Tanya said, "Well, we're expected back by noon. It was nice to meet you, Bella. So nice to see you again, Father." Tanya stepped away to say goodbye to another group of friends and I lingered for a minute, not nearly ready to leave. Peter made the first move though.

"Better get going. You don't want to be late for lunch." I had the flowerpots and couldn't shake his hand, so he placed his hand on my arm. "Take care of yourself, Edward."

Tanya stepped behind me and said, "Ready?"

Bella signed something and Peter said, "She said it was really nice to meet you."

I looked at her and said, "The pleasure was mine, I'm sure," and touched my hand to my chest.

Bella signed again, touching her index finger to her forehead, then moving her hands to either shoulder, fingers spread. They looked like wings. "She says she has hope for you," Peter said, and gave me a look.

I put my hand over my heart and stood mute.

The priest led Bella away and I watched as the crowd enveloped them. Tanya and I headed off to the double doors of the gym and we pushed out into the sunlight and headed to the car.

"Hey 'Froggy Goes A Courtin','" she laughed. "Did you just arrive from the last century to grace us with your presence? The pleasure was mine, I'm sure? What the fuck, Edward?" She tucked her arm in mine and I ignored her as we walked to the car.


A/N: Twanza & I say "I love you" in hand speak.

*Source: Bella's journal entry is really from this amazing blog http:/nightmarebrunette (dot) tumblr (dot) com/ which is deep, dark, poetic, philosophical and so very NSFW that we might have to come up with a new term for it.