Venice Beach Stories

Bella Learns about Shotguns

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The first time I see him it's late in May. It's gray and gloomy at one in the afternoon, and the monochrome skies remind me of home. I pull the sleeves of my hoodie down around my fingers and watch the boys play in the skate park while I force myself to read Wharton. The breeze shoots gusts of salty air at me, and the sun finally peeks out of the clouds.

I can't pretend I'm interested in the book anymore, so I close it and tilt my face to the sky. Gulls cry and people are laughing, shouting. The ever-present hum of wheels on concrete, plus the relentless beat of the ocean create a symphony that soothes me. Venice Beach is always alive, thriving with yuppie scum and punk rock kids, barrio boys and girls who look like super models, sunning themselves on roller blades.

I sit up and watch a group of guys skating. There's a new crew that I don't think I've ever seen bunderefore: A big guy who looks like he should be on the weights and not floating two inches above ground on a board, a blond, rangy guy working a 70's stoner look that almost hides how gorgeous he is, and a tall, blonde girl who probably breaks hearts with every smile. She's lanky like the guy and I wonder if they're dating or siblings and when I lean closer to watch them, I see their eyes are cut from the same slice of blue sky. The girl's wearing short shorts and knee socks, and if she wasn't so good on her board, I'd call her a poser.

The three of them are making easy loops in one of the bowls when I hear a whoop and watch as a boy, tall, appears from around the curve and drops into their bowl. He skates past the big guy and there's high-fives between them. He's wearing a pork pie hat and a Zero shirt, and when his face tilts in my direction I'm stunned. He's beautiful. He's pretty and gorgeous, and cute, too, rocking a few days' stubble across his jaw and big scab on his left knee. The four of them roll to the bottom of the bowl, then split off, each performing for the others.

The pretty one though, he takes it further than the rest. He drops in from the top and I can see he's earned his wounds. He's looking great, body swaying in all the right places, when he comes up over the rim and handstands on the lip.

That's when things go wrong. The tail of his board catches the lip on his way down and then he's tumbling, falling, and his head sounds a hard crack when he touches down. He rolls over with the momentum of his fall, but he's out.

I drop the book and rush to the side of the basin. The blonde girl is looking between the two men, and some spectators have arrived - everyone murmuring, no one helping. I ease myself down and go to him. The blonde girl stares and I tell her to call an ambulance, and then say that the county will pay. He's bleeding all over the place, forehead, elbows, and nasty gash on his calf, and the sock at his ankle is shredded and bloody. The big guy goes to pick him up, but with head injuries, that's a bad idea. I stay him and lean over the pretty one, and touch his face with my finger tips.

His eyelashes flutter against his cheek before I'm rewarded with a shot of green, dark and vivid, like pine needles.

"Hey," I say. "You with me?"

He stares at me, puzzled, and then his eyes roll back into his head and he's gone again.

The EMT's are there fast, and the blonde girl squeezes my hand and says thank you. I sit back down on the grass and think damn. He's not a boy at all.

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I see him a lot after that. I sit on the sidelines and he skates. I walk by the café where he's having coffee. I buy butter and he's two lanes over, buying Cokes and beer. At first there's a butterfly closure on his forehead that I only see when he ditches the hat. Then it's a black scab, and then a pink line that's fading fast. He's seems fine, good balance, and I fall pretty far behind in my reading because I'm watching the skate park all the time.

One day the blonde girl comes over to me. Her hair's in a thick braid down her back and she fixes me with an even gaze.

"Come on," she says, and I just stare.

She gives me a look of real annoyance, and I realize that she could probably kick my ass. So I stand and she takes me by the hand and leads me over to the boys. The big one is double fisting corn dogs. The blond one is sipping lemonade and the pretty one is staring at me, like maybe I've got a tail and fangs.

"This is the girl who helped," she says and they all stop and stare like the pretty one. "Her name's – what's your name?"

"B-Bella," I say. I haven't stopped staring at the pretty one. His eyes remind me of home and it's comforting and piercing too.

"Bella, this is Emmett and Jasper," she says, gesturing but I'm not paying attention. "Edward."

The pretty one nods a little and then smiles, and I think I might have forgotten my own name but he says it so I can remember.

"Bella."

I think to hold out my hand to him but then my phone rings. I fumble for it, in my pocket, and it's Paul with another emergency. I wave and mouth sorry and go to pick up my stuff before heading over to his place. I don't know if he's devil or savior, but I want to both hug and hit my best friend.

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Weeks go by and I don't talk to the pretty boy. Man. Edward. Once, he looks in my direction for a long time, kind of staring. I flush under his gaze. He makes me feel pretty with his stare. Then one of his friends calls him away. I gather my books and leave while his back is turned. I don't know if I'm more afraid that he'll turn back and catch me with his stare again, or that he'll forget he was looking at me at all.

One day at the farmer's market, I decide it's silliness. I see him, a few stalls ahead and as soon as I finish paying for my flowers, I turn to catch up to him. I could ask if his head's okay. It would be weird, but at least it's something. I'm close enough to touch him, and I say his name, when someone grabs me from behind and spins me full circle round. I squeal and drop the flowers and Jacob – the owner of the arms - plants a sloppy kiss on the side of my face and calls me Bells.

I look for Edward and he's staring at me again, but he looks annoyed or disgusted or just mad. It hurts a little, the rejection, but I can understand it. There are probably too many girls like me, knocking on his door. I try to find the courage to smile at him, let him know I understand but when I look again, all I see is a shock of his funny-colored hair, and the set of his shoulders as he walks away. I sigh and turn my attention to Jacob, and he holds my hand and holds my bags and catches me up on life at home. I've been living in the California sun for four years now, and I don't ever want to leave, but that small town in Washington will always be my home.

Jacob's physical presence is comfortable and easy. We'd been close once, even lovers for six tragic weeks before I left for Los Angeles, but that was fated to fail from the start because only one of us was in love. When I moved to Los Angeles and moved in with our friend, Paul, Jacob and I swore we'd be best friends forever. But time apart and the price of phone calls left a blank space where my friend had been. It would always be easy between us, but the bond was broken, and the fact that there are things about his life that I don't know anymore hurts me, but I'm glad I wasn't selfish enough to keep him on a tether. I hug him again and he smells like sunshine and pine trees. I'm both happy and sad about this.

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The Fourth of July is my favorite holiday. I get up early and head over to Paul's house. I'd lived there for six months, but life with Paul is…eventful. And I was looking for some quiet. I found a hovel I could afford a few blocks from his place, so in a lot of ways, the good ways, it's like I never left.

I let myself in with my key and find him, sweating over a new creation in the back yard. He's very tall, with dark hair and dark eyes and dark skin. He's Native American and he looks like some kind of warrior god.

He's not though; he's an artist, working in metal sculpture – pretentious, modern shit that I can't stand – but he makes a lot of money at it, and that seems to make him happy. He has a lot of down time, so he throws parties and plays in a band with a revolving door for the bass players. He has another at his bedroom, never keeping a girl around for more than a few days at a time.

He and I tried to make a go of it, once, both of us wasted, but the kiss tasted funny and when we backed away, we were both in hysterics. Another thing I'm glad about. Paul would be easy, but wrong.

I bring him lemonade and start boiling potatoes. He pays the grocery bill and I cook the food, and today I'm making enough for the masses. I lose myself in the movements, the peeling and cutting and carving, and it makes me feel good, makes me remember home, and how I used to care for my parents. They both have new lives now, and our conversations say all the right things, but it feels like - if there was a string holding our hearts? It's been cut.

Paul comes up from behind me, his hand casual on my waist as he pokes his head over the stove.

"Macaroni salad too, right?"

I smile because I love this side of him, the one that turns into a kid when I'm tending to him. "And fruit salad in the fridge and three cakes in the oven."

He kisses my cheek and smacks my ass. "Love you, B."

"Yeah, I know." I pause a moment. "Rachel coming tonight?"

He looks down at his feet and then studies the ceiling. "Don't think so," he answers. "She, ah…." He breaks off and laughs. "Said fucking friends is a bad business. Whatever."

"You tried actually being friends?"

"I'm probably not a very good friend," he says and I turn and smack his hip with the spatula.

"Shut the fuck up. You're a great friend. You hear me?"

He nods and gives me a tickle and walks away, unconvinced. I spend the rest of the afternoon worrying him over in my mind, wishing he could see all the beautiful things that I do. His generosity and warmth. His heart, which he keeps hidden. I know that Rachel sees them too, and I wonder what she's afraid of. Maybe because Jacob's her brother? Maybe because we're all she has in L.A.? I wish I knew how to give her the right shove.

The night falls and people arrive. There are coolers filled with ice and beer, and empty bottles litter every open surface. Paul mans the barbecue and the food is consumed in minutes. As dusk approaches I slip away. They're shooting fireworks off over the pier, and I never miss the spectacle.

The boardwalk seethes with people, and I catch bits and bites of conversation that make we want to linger and eavesdrop.

"You fuckin' crazy, bitch. Makin' shit up, like I got time to fuck some girl."

"Come on, baby, talk to me!"

"Nah, I ain't tryin' to hear that shit, I told boy to step."

"…you gotta. Because the government, man, they've got fucking cameras. Cameras."

"-and don't let her get wet."

"-in the food, I think."

"-beautiful."

I breathe it all in, the oily air, the stale BO, spilled beer and popcorn. The smell of the ocean's an undercurrent, cool and salty and there's a hint of coconut in everything. The scent trips my heart a little and I wonder if I should catch a boy to take back with me tonight. Or maybe Paul's latest bass player. Paul's already said he's not going to work out, so I won't have to see him around after. But even that seems like a hassle, and I've gotten really good at pleasing myself. Besides, I can't get the pretty boy out of my head. I know it's not good for me, crushing so hard, but I keep feeding it with glimpses of him, nonetheless.

I push through the people and get right out at the edge of the pier waiting for the main event. Somewhere, someone's playing "4th of July" by X and I sing along, under my breath.

"I love this song," someone says and his voice tickles the inside of my ear. I turn and look and the pretty boy, Edward, he's there, looking back at me.

"Me too. My friend, his band's covering it tonight. You should come."

"Not my thing," he says, and then the sky explodes with color.

I look up and watch, feeling like a child again, grinning at magic from Merlin's hat. The colored sparks reflect across the water and the ocean is right underneath my feet. There's a tentative touch and I realize that Edward is right behind me, bracing his hands against the railing on either side of me. Under the smoke and ocean, I think I can smell him and he smells like leather and something a little sweet and smoky himself.

I'm getting dizzy I'm breathing so hard and then he's got his face next to mine. The grand finale is going off, explosions everywhere and he's trying to say something. I tilt my head and I hear him saying "…kind of beautiful."

I turn and smile up at him. "Isn't it? I love fireworks. Like being a kid again," I yell and he gets a funny look on his face, but I turn to look back up at the sky. As the last embers fade from the sky I hear someone yelling my name. I turn to see Riley making a line for me.

"Come on," he says. "Band's on in a few and Paul really wants you there."

I roll my eyes. "He wants to sing me that damn Clash song," I say.

Riley grins and I know I'm right. Since I started doing the shopping, Paul's assigned "Lost in the Supermarket" as my anthem, whether it makes sense to or not.

I turn and look at Edward and he's got this funny, almost wistful look on his face. "You should come," I say again and tell him the address.

Even though he shakes his head, it doesn't stop me from spending the rest of the night watching the door. He never shows up.

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It's late in August and I'm standing on Paul's front porch, balancing three bags with paper handles and a twelve of Rolling Rock. I wedge the beer between my hip and the wall and nudge open the screen door with my foot. Fucker better have my twenty bucks, I think, as I scoot into the kitchen and lay down my load.

Paul wanders in from outside, board shorts and t-shirt, barefoot, as usual. "Rolling Rock?" He asks.

"It's what they had. Pay up," I answer, holding out the palm of my hand.

He slaps it and I roll my eyes, until he coughs up the twenty he owes me for the beer and snacks. As he nears the bottom of the second bag, he pulls up three plastic bags of cookies.

"Bells," he says, and hugs me. "You're so good to me," he says. I nod and say "I know," and he laughs and scarfs down a peanut butter cookie, zipping the bag closed, then choking when he tries to shove a chocolate-chip cookie in on top of it.

"Don't worry," I say, and pat the ratty green back-pack slung over my left shoulder. "I have a secret stash, just for you."

"God, I fucking love you," he says and again I tell him I know, and head toward his bedroom to unload my burden.

His room is way at the back of the house and the door locks, so it's a haven when the night's gone on too long and I need to find some quiet. Paul almost always fucks on party nights and he never lets a girl into his bed, so the room becomes mine by default. Plus, he'd never let anything happen to me. I'm safe when he's near.

I'm sitting on his front steps, watching the guests arrive. I smile and greet the ones I know, most of Paul's band mates, their friends, and girlfriends. Some of his customers. I'm kind of holding my breath, hoping Rachel will show. Instead, a big red jeep pulls up in front of the house and blond boy and blonde girl jump out. What were their names? I fish my memory banks for them and then forget to think because someone rolls up on a black motorcycle, and I go a little stupid when he takes off his helmet and it's the pretty boy. Edward.

I pull my knees up under my chin. I want to be small so that he doesn't notice me but I want him to talk to me too. I just…want him.

He locks his helmet onto his bike, then greets the blonde and blond. The big one makes them four as he walks up from parking the jeep and they turn toward the house. I wonder how they got here, I mean, why they're here, and then I see the guitar case lashed to the blond boy's back. Of course. The new bass player.

They walk up the steps and I'm all smiles. Three wave and smile and say hey, but the last one, the one I want, lingers. He looks at the Coke I'm drinking and then sits on the steps across from me.

"You live here?" he asks and I shake my head.

"Paul," I say, thinking he must know who that is.

Edward's face twists into a half-frown, the opposite of the half-grin that I've seen him flash before.

"Paul – he – his family grew up with mine. I hang out here a lot. You don't usually come here." I twist my fingers in my lap. I didn't mean to say that, about him.

"No, we don't usually come here," he says.

We. They are all of a piece.

"Why tonight then?"

"My friend's, ah, started playing with Paul's band."

"Oh. Jasper, right? On bass?"

"Yeah.

I feel awkward and bumbling, as though words aren't things I'm comfortable with, and we just look at each other in the silence.

"How come you're not inside?" he asks.

"I've seen the band play a million times and…I'm not much of a partier." I shrug. His eyes flick to my Coke then back to me. "Not that I'm straight edge," I explain. "Just…I don't want to be all fucked up around people I don't know."

The blonde comes and hands Edward a beer and a Coke. He takes one in each hand and they have a low conversation. I feel like I'm intruding so I leave. He says, "dammit, Rose," and then I close the door behind me. I wonder if she's his. Lucky bitch.

I mix and mingle and play hostess, fetching chips and sodas and cleaning up bottles of beer. I drink one fast and it hits me hard, hard enough that when Paul takes the stage, I'm in the crowd, dancing with my arms in the air, even though I hate this song.

Paul sees me though, moving with the crowd, and plays one of my favorite songs, and soon I'm singing and shouting the lyrics back to him, and then slower, swaying, suddenly feeling, god, just so turned on. I need to get myself under control before I push a pretty boy up against a wall.

Someone stands behind me, hands light on my hips, and moves with me to the song. It feels unreal, like I'm on some kind of drug, with the music working inside of me and I relax and just let go. The stranger's hands are on my shoulders, my arms, light touches and jerky bumps, and I think that if he's not too bad and not too fucked up, I might be able to close my eyes and pretend that the stranger behind me is the someone that I want. He spins me as the song ends and I look up and can't breathe.

Edward's eyes are dark and his hair's just everywhere and we're standing there, staring. He's not touching me anymore and I want to clear the space between us. I want to rub up on him, like a cat. Around us the bodies move, beat surging hard, and I wonder what kind of fucked up he is. He's breathing hard and sweating, so I guess X, in part from the way his hands moved against my skin, like it was something he'd never felt before, something precious, and not just the skin of a girl he doesn't know.

It feels like everything around us slows to stopping, like it's just us, and we're both kind of panting. He takes a step toward me and it feels he's already touching me, the buzz I'm getting from being close. Before I can smile or even speak, Riley cuts in between us, his hand on my hip and starts pushing me into his rhythm. He looks over at the stage, at Paul, and I know that Riley's only trying to check up on me. Keep me safe. There are always a couple of sober guys keeping an eye on the girls, making sure that everyone stays safe, cooling out fights and tossing out drunks.

About three months after I moved in, some guy got out of control at one of Paul's parties. He had dishwater hair and backed me into a corner, his breath reeking of old garlic and stale beer. I knee'd him and spun, running for the safety of the crowd. Paul caught me, found me trembling, and that was the last time I ever saw that guy.

Since then, Paul kept a crew on hand to keep the crowd under control. I am sister, to them. Family. It's a feeling of safety, of protection, that I haven't felt since I'd moved away from home, and my Police Chief dad. Didn't even know I was missing it.

And tonight, I am resenting it.

I want to get around him, back to Edward, and I give Riley the look that says I'm okay, I know what I'm doing. He steps away with a nod but the pretty boy is gone. Not in the house, not in the back yard, not waiting in line for the bathroom. Just gone.

The set's almost done and I slide away. I see the big one and the blonde, and they're moving close and tight together. The big one gives me a nod, eyebrows up, and I smile and look around once more. He shrugs at me and puts his hands on the blonde girl's ass, and that answers that question.

Buzz gone, but keyed up, I decide to call it a night. I grab a bottle of water and a box of crackers, and go hide out in Paul's room, where the noise is muffled and crowd disappears.

I close the door behind me and settle in to the big round chair that's almost like a bed. I twist it so my back's to the door and click off the lights. He's covered the walls in a gauzy blue material, and he strung lights up behind it, so that the walls seem to shimmer with a dim glow. It feels like being set into the sky.

I curl up with my iPod and dig out my Kindle to skim the blogs. I've almost begun to take all this technology for granted, but I'm still incredibly thankful at how Paul's spoiled me.

I hear someone open the door and I'm about to get up and tell them to fuck off when I hear that voice and it tickles my ear. "Fucking hell," he says, and then I hear him sit down on the bed. I peek over at him, hidden by the back of the chair, and he's laying on the bed, with his boots still on the floor, pinching the bridge of his nose.

A minute later, he sits up and pulls a dark blue Otter Box out of his jacket pocket. He unlatches it and pulls out a pipe and a tiny cellophane wrapper with a couple of buds of pot in it.

I watch him pull apart the bud. It's green and pungent; I can smell it from across the room. His long fingers pull away the stem, crumbling the green into the bowl of his pipe. He hunches over the Otter Box in his lap, intent on his project, letting me stare. A chunk of hair flops over his left eye and he blows it away, then sticks his tongue out of the corner of his mouth. I don't think he knows I'm there.

His fingers press the green crumbles into the bowl, and he fumbles for his lighter. Soon, he'll look up and see me. I spin around in the chair and hear him gasp and then swear.

I stop the spin and look at him.

"Fuck! Sorry – I didn't know anyone was in here." He lays the packed pipe inside the box and closes the lid, latching the side.

"You don't have to go," I say, and spin around again. If I keep staring, he'll leave.

"Your boyfriend looked ready to kick my ass earlier."

"Not my boyfriend. Not by a mile."

"No? The other one, then? The singer?"

I laugh at the idea of me and Paul. "God, no. I don't-" I cut myself off, and then decide fuck it. How often am I going to get a shot like this? "I'm not seeing anyone," I say to the fingers in my lap.

"Yeah?" he asks.

I look up at him and he's smiling, just – smiling at me, full and broad and oh my god, even his teeth are sexy. I imagine them on my skin, how they would scrape and feel my heart start to pound again.

"Yeah," I say. "It's cool if you stay."

"Okay," he says. "Want a hit?" He's popped open the box and is proffering the bowl.

I shake my head, hair bouncing over my shoulders.

"You don't smoke?"

I shake my head again. I feel like a mute but he's stealing my words every time he speaks.

"Ever tried it?"

"Twice," I say. "I didn't like it. I felt…out of control."

"How so?" He sets the pipe back in the box and leaves it on the bed next to him. He folds one leg under the other and leans over, turning toward me.

I shrug. Part of me wants to panic at talking to him, but the way he moves makes me feel fluid. Like he's created a circuit between us and everything flows easy. "I just laughed a lot and then ate a bunch of cookies. I didn't like it."

He shifts again, sitting Indian style on the bed, facing me. "How long ago? Were you drinking?"

"Uhm." I bite my lip. Are we really discussing this? "About a year ago. The first time it didn't do anything and then the next time I just laughed a lot."

"Were you drinking?"

"Yeah. It was a party. Here," I add, feeling like I needed to explain everything at once. "It seemed like a good idea at the time, you know? Like it would take the edge off. All those people," I say, thinking again of how uncomfortable it is, being inside of the crowd.

"Yeah," he says. "All those people." He looks down at his hands, laces his fingers together. "You shouldn't smoke and drink," he says, and the easy circuit is gone. I feel like a bug under his gaze.

"But-" I stop myself from saying more.

He tilts his head and raises an eyebrow in question.

"I kind of figured you for being on X earlier." I flush and look down at my hands, feeling like I've revealed too much and made an ass of myself.

He shifts on the bed and picks up the box. "I don't do that shit," he says. "I only do this to slow down my head. Sometimes it goes so fast." He frowns at the box and then peeks up at me.

"You don't mind?"

I close my eyes and shake my head again. "Go for it. Everyone else I know does."

He lights the fire and drags in a breath through the small pipe. He holds the smoke in his lungs, eyes closed, for what feels like minutes. He jerks in a short breath, then shoots the smoke out in a big puff. He lays back on the bed, legs still folded beneath him. His body is strangely fluid for a boy. There are no awkward, gangly limbs, just smooth movement that makes me hungry.

I stare until I see the gleam of his eyes, peeking out at me from beneath lowered lashes. He crooks his finger. "C'mere."

I find my feet and stand, then hover next to the bed. He pats the bedspread near his knee. Black Hole Sun filters up from under the door, the band done and the iPod cranked up on the living room stereo.

"He always play this shit?" Edward asks, closing his eyes again and stretching his arms up over his head.

I nod, then realize he can't see me. "I'll – hang on a sec." I walk out through the throngs of people and knock the volume down a quarter inch. No one notices. I swing by the kitchen, pulling a couple of bottled Cokes and a PBR out from the back of fridge. Two minutes later I'm back at the closed door. I knock softly, roll my eyes at myself, and then open the door.

Edward's in the same position he was in before, except now there's a thin strip of skin showing between the bottom of his shirt and the low-slung waist of his jeans. I set the Coke and the PBR on the nightstand, then pull my iPod out of my back pocket. I settle it into the dock on top of Paul's stereo and thumb the dial until I find "Mexicali Blues." As the first strains drift through the speaker I chance a peek over my shoulder.

He's smirking at me. "I'm not that kind of stoner."

I thumb the dial again, settling on my favorite playlist. The first licks of "Magic Man" fill the air around us and I turn around. "My room," I say. "My music."

He nods. "It's good."

I'm pleased by his approval, and blush when I realize that for the next two months, every time I get myself off to this song I'll be thinking of him smirking at me.

Still, I walk over, pick up a Coke and reach across him for the lighter that's still in the little blue box. I use the bottom end of the lighter for leverage against the cap, and crack the top off the bottle of Coke. Edward sits up, staring at me.

"You want?" I ask, and gesture toward his Coke. He nods and I do the same for his, then reach over him again to put the lighter back.

"Thought you might want a beer," I shrug. Then pull away to sit back down in the chair. He reaches out and catches my wrist.

"I like talking to you," he says.

I look down at my Coke and then at the beer on the stand. I want to be mellow. My heart's beating too fast.

He sees my look as he picks up the blue box. "I could shotgun you. It's not as strong that way."

I look at him and the beer again and shake my head. "I don't…really like beer."

He laughs, low and soft, and even though he's laughing at me, I want him to do it again. He pokes the pipe my way again. "Shotgun this," he says.

I look at him, confused. I don't know what that means.

He reaches out and grabs me around my waist, pulling me down on the bed. I put my hands out, on his shoulders, to stop myself from falling. When I'm down, I shift away, so that we're not touching.

He takes a toothpick from the box and pokes at the half-smoked bowl. "I'm going to take a hit, and then I'm going to breathe it into your mouth. You want?"

I stare at his mouth and try to swallow and instead nod, sip my Coke, then set it on the nightstand next to his. I hear the spark of the lighter and I'm watching his Adam's apple as he inhales. He sets the pipe down in the box and then grabs my shoulders, pulling me close. He presses on my chest, just above my breasts and I exhale and then he's there, his mouth so close that our lips are almost touching. He presses his thumb against my bottom lip, and I open and he tilts his head, like a kiss. The smoke leaks out, languid and it's drifting up over his face but all I can see are his lips bright red, and then I remember and I puff out my mouth to suck it all in and our lips brush and his hand is still on my face and then it's in my hair and the world quiets into nothing but his hot breath against my lips and my heart pounding, pounding, pounding.

My breath whooshes out of me and my throat is on fire, burning up my esophagus and I'm coughing and choking and Edward is rubbing his hand up and down my back. My eyes are watering and my forehead is pressed against his shoulder as I try to suck in a clean breath. Instead I get him: laundry and soap and a musky-sweet boy smell that I've never smelled before.

I pull away and he hands me my Coke. I drink it slow, my lungs still uneasy in my chest. The soda burns my raw throat, but the sugar soothes and in a minute I'm wiping my eyes, trying not to notice how my nipples are pushing out at him through my bra and t-shirt. I lean past him to set the Coke down and when I finally meet his eyes they're dark, burning.

Floyd's "Learning to Fly" comes on and I can't even hear myself breathe. Edward leans over me, his eyes on my mouth. I start to lean back, to give him room and then he's up on folded knees, a hand against my back, pulling my body to his. It feels like falling, the way his hand guides me back against the mattress and then he's on top of me but sort of hovering, not really touching me, except our folded knees.

"They were better with Waters," he says, and tips his head back toward the wall, the music.

"Yeah."

"Tongue tied and twisted, just an earth bound misfit, I." He sings the words in a husky tenor that sends a chill across my body.

He moves his hand out from under my back and braces himself up on it. His other hand drifts across my waist and he keeps looking at my mouth and then my eyes and then my mouth, like he's asking me for something, and his hand is hot, hot through my shirt. I push up on my elbows and push my mouth up against his. It's clumsy and too hard and we both pull away. My face grows hot and I turn it to the side, eyes closed. My body feels warm and soft all over, and I'd escape but that seems like a lot of effort, so I just keep my eyes closed instead.

"Don't," he says. His face is close to my ear and I can feel his breath against my skin. I turn my head, just a little, and my cheek is pressed against his, scratchy and hot. I rub, and the sensation makes me dizzy. He pants against my ear and then his lips are against my cheek and then they're on my mouth, just pressing and rubbing. I open my eyes and he's staring down at me, his thumb rubbing back and forth against my waist.

I want - I want so much more than this, this soft kissing and throb in my body. Slow this time, I press up and he eases away. Slow, he rocks back on his heels and I'm up on my knees. He watches me move until I climb onto his lap, and then I'm pressed full against him and he's got his hands at my waist, setting me steady as we kiss, once, twice, thrice. On the fourth kiss I open my mouth and he does too and there's a single, tender, tentative touch before his tongue is in my mouth and mine is in his, my hands balled into fists in his hair, and he's got me tight, pulled so tight against him, and no one can breathe but it's not like breathing matters anyway.

We pull apart and I swallow, my tongue thick in my mouth and he's – god, he's beautiful, just pale skin and dark hair and eyes that are all pupil in the blue light all around us. He strokes a finger across my cheekbone and then comes in for another kiss, and this time I'm pressing him back, my hand cradling his head until we hit the wall and he's pushed up against it and I'm pushed up against him. His fingers are on my hips and then they fall down my skirt until they're on the backs of my thighs and he's squeezing, his tongue hot and urgent in my mouth.

I press my breasts up against his chest because they're fucking aching, everything is aching and he sucks in a breath and then he puts a hand over my t-shirt, over my bra and just touches his palm to the tip of my breast. His tongue goes still in my mouth, and I make a kind of breathy grunt and that wakes him up because then he's all action – his mouth is sucking and pulling at mine and his hand is pushing and squeezing and his other hand is on the small of my back, keeping me close. I reach down and pull up my skirt because it's biting at my thighs and I can't get close enough to him this way and when I settle back down he's there, hot and hard through his jeans and I rub myself against him and this time he makes the breathy grunt.

"Fuck," he gasps against my neck. "Fucking wanted you. So long." He's sucking at the hollow of my neck, his fingers teasing my nipples through my shirt and then his hand is up under my shirt, moving slow against my skin, but moving up, nonetheless. I pull away and we both look down, and I want to see more so I pull off my shirt and he just stares at me, his hand on me.

He traces his finger along the edge of my bra, and then pushes his palm against my breast, cupping it and watching how it bulges. He lets out a long slow sigh and then bends his head. I feel his breath and I gasp, and then his tongue is on me again, hot and licking soft and this time there's no hesitation as he reaches behind me. I don't even feel a tug but he's sliding the straps down my arms and the music is reverberating up through the walls making tiny, soft rattles and then his mouth is on me. I hold still as long as I can but then I need him, need more and I'm grinding myself against him and his hips are rising to meet mine, and it's a second or less before he's pushing me back down and then he's laying on top of me, not so careful this time, pushing himself against me as he licks and sucks my breasts.

I'm so hot, spinning with him, and he's asking does it feel good. I let out a soft whine because Jesus fuck does it feel good. I take his hand and put it between my legs because as good as his tongue feels on my skin the only thing I can think about is getting his hands where I need them. He groans against my chest and then he's rubbing but still sucking and I just feel laid out and bare, writhing against him like I've never been with a boy before.

"There?" he says as his hand in my underwear makes me tremble.

"Yeah," I say, a whisper. "Yeah."

"Yeah?" He's leaning up on his elbow now, looking down on me and he knows what he's doing with his fingers on me and inside me.

"Yeah," I say. "Yeah, yeah, yeah," and then I'm lost just chanting it, mindless because I'm close, god I am so fucking close and it feels fucking amazing, someone else doing it and doing it right. He's looking down at me and he's got this half grin, like he's so excited, and I can't stop moving my hips but I try, and I'm fucking shaking and he grins wider and says yeah all long and drawn out and then I'm there and it's just – oh, fuck – it's just everything and I am nothing, obliterated by the feeling and I don't know how long I was gone, but when I come back to myself he's kissing soft along my neck and cheek and he's whispering words that I can't hear, but that make me feel warm, and shivery.

He catches my eyes in his and I want to say something, say thank you, and I open my mouth but before I can speak, he does.

"You're so fucking beautiful," he says, and then slips his fingers, still wet from being inside of me into my mouth and I suck, and then he's pushing his tongue in my mouth and we both lick them clean.

I feel mellow and loose, but licking his fingers reminds me of licking other things. He pulls his fingers away and it's just our mouths, and god, he's so keyed up, rocking against my thigh, fingers buried in my hair, squeezing my ass.

I lean up and then turn him over and straddle his thighs. It strikes me that I still have my underwear on and my nipples get hard all over again because that's the hardest I've ever come, and he did it around my panties.

He puts his hands on my breasts but I brush them away, then pull on his shirt. I watch his abs flex as he arches up to take it off, and then as he flops back down. His face looks… like he wants and he's afraid to ask. I lean over and take one of his nipples in my teeth, giving it a soft squeeze. His hips buck up at me and I swirl my tongue around it, then press my tongue flat and firm against it. It's tiny and hard, and I can't quite get my mouth around it like I'd like. He enjoys it though, his hands fly to my hair and I can hear his heart hammering against his chest. I reach down and stroke him through his jeans, and he makes a noise in the back of his throat.

I look down at his body under mine, and it's smooth and hard and I want to put my fingers, my mouth, on all of it. Instead I move up and lick his neck. His fingers tighten in my hair and I keep touching him through his jeans. I move up, licking, sucking, biting, until I'm back at his mouth and he kisses me hard, clutching my head to his face, desperation in the way he tongue-fucks my mouth.

I pull away and shift my hips and rock against him.

"I want to feel you," he says. He brings his hands up to my breasts and covers them with his palms. I lean into them because already, I'm aching again. "I want to be inside you." He looks ashamed for asking.

I lower my head to his. "I want to taste you."

He moans low and his fingers tighten on my skin. I lick down his chest and settle back against his shins. He strains up at me as my fingers pull against his button fly and then he's there – no boxers, no briefs, just him, hard and pale against a dark nest of curls. I stroke him with my finger and god, his skin is so hot. I shift again, until I'm breathing against his cock and then it flexes up, trying to reach me.

"Eager?" I ask, looking up at him and god, the look on his face, just so desperate, so full of wanting me that I drop the tease and pull his pants down his legs before lying on my stomach, my own legs folded up against the head board.

I lean down and take him in my mouth, and already the tip is wet and I lick up the salty fluid and hold him by the base and take him in as far as I can. Which isn't as far as either of us wants, but still he cries out for god and I smile around his cock, and he throbs in my mouth and in my hand. I reach lower and stroke his balls, and set a slow and even pace with my mouth. Already I can feel him swelling under my fingers, so I release him and then move my mouth to suck on his balls, soft and gentle, pulling them away, putting off his climax. I want him inside me too.

Edward is moaning, writhing on the bed. "Shit," he says. Then fuck and shit and damn oh fuck oh fuck, fuck. I love it, love making him babble with only my mouth and my hands. It makes me feel good to make him feel good. I can feel the ache again between my legs and I know I have to go slow, or it'll be done too fast.

His hands hover above my head and I look up to see him alternating between staring down at me, then tossing his head back, just to feel. I reach up and place his hand on my head, and he whimpers and then applies gentle pressure, guiding my rhythm. I feel him getting close again, and he's panting, legs bicycling against the bed, trying to hold his hips still. I slow again and his hand immediately backs off, no longer pushing me into what he wants. I slow and then stop, just tonguing the head of his cock, playing with his frenulum, and he's not as frantic either, as I take long, slow licks up his shaft.

I climb off him and pull off my skirt and then I'm there, standing there, in just my panties. My hair is over my shoulders and it's not quite long enough to cover the tips of my breasts, and I feel bare again, and like a kid, nervous.

He swings his legs over the side of the bed and pulls me into his embrace. He holds me there, ridiculous cock throbbing between us, but his hand is stroking my back. "We can stop," he says, his voice choked and low.

I pull back. "I want to feel you," I say, and he kisses my lips and smiles.

The air quiets and then fills with soft, warbling notes.

"No Quarter?" he asks and I nod.

"Yeah."

"Tool?" he asks, and I say yes, and thank god, because Robert Plant's voice turns me on and I'm turned on enough, just being so close to finally being with him.

Edward pulls me back onto the bed with him and lies on top of me again. He goes slow, I don't know how, working me up until I'm needy again, until I'm grinding my crotch into his thigh, fingers in fists in his hair. He sits up and sits back and I can't stop staring at his cock until he slips his fingers into my panties and then pulls them away. I slide my legs through the holes and he looks at the print on my underwear with a cocked eyebrow.

"Lucky Charms?" he says, half of his mouth pulling up into a smile.

I blush and shrug, and then realize that he's still looking at me and that I'm spread open. I move to close my legs and he shakes his head and then reaches out to touch me. His fingers are slick on my skin and I flex my hips until his finger is inside me. He watches me fucking his hand, and then he takes his cock in his other hand and starts stroking himself. It's hot, so fucking hot, and I reach down to rub my clit, because he's distracted and not doing it right.

He hisses as my fingers circle the tender flesh and then his finger are on top of mine, then under mine and he's asking me to show him, to help him do it right and together we stroke me and I'm hot, panting, the fingers of my other hand digging in to my thigh and then he guides my finger with his own and it's inside me and we're both fucking me and I feel dirty, hot and delicious and I can understand why they want in there so bad. It's so warm and slick-wet and it feels good, just soft, and his hand is moving faster on his cock and I whine because I don't want him to finish like this. I push his hand away from me and scoot closer, and then reach up to take his cock in my hand. He shivers at my touch and then reaches behind him. He's got the condom on before I can blink, and then he's rubbing the head of his cock against me and it slides up against my clit and I moan because, oh my god, it feels amazing.

Edward leans down over me, and then he's pushing into me. I want him to just do it, just slam inside of me and start fucking because god, I'm so ready, but he doesn't; he's slow and he keeps his eyes on mine until my heart pounds. He's breathing hard through his mouth and just filling me up until I'm pinned by him, his eyes and his body, like he's taken me over, subsumed me.

He holds his breath and then breathes out. "Are you okay?" he asks, and it's tender enough that I want to cry because it has never, ever been like this. I nod and reach up, running my palm against the stubble at his jaw. I pull him down for a kiss and I hope he can hear what I'm saying. He rocks a little, and I realize he's all the way inside me and it feels amazing. His tongue is doing twisty things against mine and his body is invading mine with perfect fullness. I arch down to meet his thrust and he groans into my mouth. Then he eases back and watches himself slide in and out of me. He's transfixed, making little grunting noises with each thrust and so I prop myself up onto my elbows because I want to see too and oh, Jesus, that feels-

I'm lost because I have never felt that before and I look up at him, mouth open, trying to tell him but nothing comes. His eyes flick to mine.

"Don't stop," I say. "Don't – oh, god."

"So good," he says. "So…fuck…good."

I don't think I can come this way but it feels so good, better than anything, ever, and then he reaches up and strokes his thumb across my clit, and now I think I can come.

"Softer," I say and he eases his thrusts. "No." I'm whining. "Your thumb, soft-oh. Yeah, just-ohhhhh."

I dig my heels into the backs of his thighs, trying to pull him in deeper and he adjusts his angle and then he is deeper, and then he's going harder and I'm bucking against him because it's too much, so good and he's not looking at his cock anymore, his eyes are on mine until I lean my head back, my eyes closed. He leans down over me and then he's got his hands under my ass, guiding me and I'm pulling and scratching, I need him deeper, need more and he shifts just a little and it's there, I'm there, over the edge, shuddering, drowning, lost until I'm found in his smile.

"Yeah?" he says, grinning at me, his hips still.

"Oh yeah." I thrust up once, then twice.

Edward buries his head in my neck then, focusing on his own pleasure. He's close and babbling again, a stream of profanity and pleas, my name taking up every fourth or fifth word and I talk back, coaxing him, saying yes yes yes please yes, god, yes until he's moaning loud and then not at all, collapsed on top of me, his breath harsh in my ear.

He comes up kissing my collar bone, and then my neck, and then my jaw, until his lips find mine with soft, gentle swipes. He reaches between us and starts to pull out and I feel myself contract around him. He sucks in a breath and I giggle, and that pushes him the rest of the way out. He collapses on top of me and we're giggling and then laughing, his fingers on my bare skin, and his laugh gets lost in my hair.

It's beautiful and I feel beautiful, like nothing could ever erase this perfection, even if I never see him again, even if this is all there is.

He says, "I feel like I should take you home, but-" and then his fingers tighten against my hip. I want to say yes so that I can be on the back of his bike, my thighs around his, one last time, but I shake my head.

"I usually just stay here."

"Oh," he says, and he looks a little sad.

I'm naked in his arms and feel color light up my face. I look down to where our chests are stuck together and say "you could stay. This is kind of my room, I mean, the door locks. No one comes in."

He nuzzles my neck and kisses my cheek. "Yeah?" The look on his face is eager, and I try to remember that just a couple of hours ago I couldn't work up the nerve to talk to this man, and now he's in my bed and I know what he sounds like when he comes.

I shiver and he rolls us until we're under the covers. Paul's bed reeks of stale boy, so I snuggle closer to Edward and breathe him in. He does the same, breathing in my hair and we both catch each other and laugh.

"The bed is kind of awful," I say.

"Yeah, but kind of perfect." Within minutes, we're asleep.

I wake up once near dawn. The pale light illuminates the square of window behind the gauzy blue blanket that covers it. I sigh and clutch his arm closer to me, pressing myself back against him. He's awake too, and soon he's inside me, pressing into me from behind as we stay spooned. I don't think I'll come but it feels good, just being this close to him. He reaches over though and starts stroking between my legs and I don't come hard but soft, easy, wrapped up in his arms. He comes with a heavy sigh, then slips out and I resent the thin piece of latex between us that makes him leave me so soon. I don't dwell on it though, I'm asleep again, fast, and the next time I wake up, it's alone, with Paul knocking at the door.

"Bells, come on. I need clean shorts."

I get up and see that at some point I've put on Edward's white undershirt. I don't remember doing it.

I throw on my skirt and unlock the door. Paul doesn't even look at me, just brushes past on his way to the dresser.

"Whoa," he says, and I turn to look.

"Someone got l-u-c-k-y," he says, then laughs. "Who's E?"

I can't see what he's looking at so he pulls me over to the mirror.

There are words and numbers and I can't read it backwards, so I spin the shirt around and look.

Bella,

I had to leave and didn't want to wake you. You're beautiful.

Call me when you get up. I'll keep my cell on.

E

I grin at the numbers beneath his initial.

"Ugh!" I hear Paul groan in the back ground. "You fucked in my bed? Bella!"

I giggle and snatch my iPod off the dresser. "You needed to wash the sheets anyway. They reek."

I look at the shirt again, then frown. "God, what if he just thinks I'm a huge slut? What if he just gave me his number so he can get laid again?"

Paul starts to laugh, then sees that I'm serious. "Bells, come on. If he thought that, why would he leave you his number?"

"Uh, duh. To get laid again."

"No. You don't give the fuck chick your number. You get her number and then booty call. You also don't tell the fuck chick she's beautiful, and you sure as fuck don't leave her with a piece of your clothing, that she can wash and try to give back to you as an excuse to see you again."

I stare at him, mouth open. "Do guys really think like that?"

"Fuck yes. The clean getaway is essential to a successful one night stand. Leave no number, leave no clothes. Welcome to Guyville."

"You realize that I am probably your only redeeming quality right now, right?" I arch my eyebrow at him and he laughs.

I make to duck out, but Paul clothes-lines me around the waist and spins me around to look at him.

"You're smart," he says, tapping my head. "Be safe?" and he lays a hand over my heart. I smile and nod at him.

Paul pulls back and winks. "The guy looked stupid happy when he was leaving here this morning. You gonna call him or make him wait?"

I grin and dig my cell phone out of my purse. I can't wait to make this call.


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A/N

FarDareisMai2 and Krismom worked their beta magic on this story. They gave me words and commas and em-dashes, some of which I ignored. Please know that any errors contained herein are mine, and mine alone. FDM and Kris are amazing, amazing writers. If you're not reading their work, why?

Dedicated to HeBelongstoMe, who gave me encouragement, a pre-read, and some pretty good advice. Thank you.

I will write 2-3 more stories for these Venice Beach kids. An Edward story, a Paul/Rachel story and perhaps one other. So while I believe this piece stands alone, eventually I think there may be more to say. If you'd like to read it, please consider putting this on alert?

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Musical References:

X – 4th of July

The Clash – Lost in the Supermarket

Soundgarden – Black Hole Sun

The Grateful Dead – Mexicali Blues

Heart – Magic Man

Pink Floyd – Learning to Fly

No Quarter – Tool (The original is by Led Zeppelin. I find both versions to be kind of sultry and erotic, and this fic was written with that song on a continual loop.)