The whole fucking high school was pink and red.

I get it, it's almost Valentine's Day and there's some big dance or something, but does every hallway in the school need to be swagged in pink crepe paper streamers? Does every locker need to be festooned in red construction paper hearts? Apparently so, according to the Valentine's Day Dance Committee.

Mike Newton, up to his usual douchey high jinks between classes, ripped down a bunch of streamers in the hall outside of Biology just as I was walking by, which is how I came to be flailing my arms wildly like I'd just walked into a cobweb of pink crepe just as Bella passed me on her way into the class with a soft "Hi, Edward."

She was moving so fast that by the time I'd ripped the streamers free she was gone. Casting one last murderous glare at Newton over my shoulder, I followed Bella into class. She was already sitting at our lab table, her books in a perfect square in front of her, her fingers twisting her pen. Bella was really organized with her books; it was one of the many things I liked about her.

"Hey," I mumbled as I slid onto my lab stool with a little too much lateral momentum and almost fell off the other side.

Great, Cullen. Real smooth.

Okay, so I'll confess that I have this thing for Bella and it makes me act like a complete geek around her. Well, more of a geek. Because I'm pretty much a geek to start with. Up until now I've been okay with that. After all, geeks are smart. I'm smart. And I like being smart. But only recently, since I've developed this thing for Bella Swan, have I come to realize that being a geek is going to effectively keep me from ever getting the girl. Because girls like Bella Swan just don't ever go for guys like Edward Cullen.

A few things about Bella Swan: She's really pretty. She's also smart. I noticed that right away about her. Okay, maybe I noticed that she was pretty first, because you'd have to actually converse with someone to determine if they're smart and you can tell if someone is pretty just by looking at them. And since I looked at Bella before I spoke to her, it's safe to assume I noticed how pretty she was first. Whatever. She's smart. And pretty.

She's also popular. At a school as small as Forks High, that's not such a big deal. It's not like there are enough pretty, popular people so that they can insulate themselves from the rest of the student body and only talk to each other. They have to deal with the rest of us. But Bella's cool about that. You never get the sense from Bella that she thinks talking to uncool kids is beneath her. She's big-hearted that way.

She also dated the King of the Douches, Mike Newton, up until about three weeks ago. I have to admit, that she chose to connect herself with a paramecium like Newton made me question her sanity just a little. But she seemed pissed at him more often than not, so I figured it was just a matter of time until she came to her senses and dumped him.

Not that it would make any difference to me. Just because she wasn't dating Newton anymore didn't mean I had a chance in hell. Because while Bella Swan is pretty– all long, dark hair and big, dark eyes, and nice and smart and well-liked— I'm…well, I'm smart.

When I was thirteen, I shot up eight inches in a year, topping out at 6'2" while most of my classmates were still the size of ten year olds. Initially I was really excited about this shocking physical development. I was going to be huge! Unfortunately the rest of my hormonal development took another three years to kick in, so for a very long time I was a lot like a moose, looking like I was put together from spare parts of other, mismatched boys.

I had a manly Adam's apple, but I sported it on a scrawny little pencil neck. I had a really square jaw, and I read somewhere that women like strong, masculine jaws on men. But the rest of my face was really thin and bony, so the strong jawline and sharp cheekbones just helped emphasize my skull-like appearance. And yes, I was 6'2" but my chest was so underdeveloped that it was essentially concave. My arms and legs had all the length required by frame over six feet tall, but absolutely none of the muscle development, so I looked like a spider. And let's not even get into my hair. I have all these cowlicks, so it's really unmanageable. It goes whichever way it wants to go, no matter how much I brush, no matter what kind of styling products I employ. I tried wearing it shorter, like the other guys for a while, but that just made me look like a hedgehog, so I let it grow and go wild and I tried my best to ignore the dark red riot happening on top of my head all the time. My sister, Rose, told me I have sex hair but I pointed out to her that it's only sex hair if women want to have sex with what's underneath it, otherwise it's just a mess. And did I mention I wear glasses? I do. I tried contacts as a freshman but I had an allergy, so black, plastic-framed glasses it is for me. Thank God I got my braces off last year or I'd be one huge walking geek stereotype.

My sister's boyfriend, Emmett, got tired of beating up guys who picked on me, so last year he started dragging me to the gym with him. I hated it, but the gym, coupled with a very late maturation meant my overly lanky frame finally filled out last year. No more moose, which was good. My face filled out, too, so no more skull-head. To my eyes I hadn't turned out half-bad, but here's the thing: If you start out as a geek as a freshman and you stay one until the end of your junior year, that's pretty much the template for your high school existence. I will be the same overly-tall Ichabod Crane everybody knew freshman year for as long as they know me, no matter what I've turned into now.

Mostly I'm okay with that. I don't have a lot of friends, but I have some. And I have plenty of time to spend on my studies which means I'm going to Stanford in the fall while Mike Newton has to put up with Olympia Community College. Suck it, asshole.

Yeah, sure, I haven't actually ever been with a girl. I had this sort-of kiss thing sophomore year with this girl, Angela from AV club. It was at the after –school clubs party while we waited in line for the bathroom. She just sort of jumped at me, her mouth barely brushing mine, before she pulled away and wandered off without even looking me in the eye. She never mentioned it again and neither did I, so I'm not sure it even counts. I'm pretty sure it doesn't.

But I'm going to major in computer science at Stanford, and even Bill Gates managed to get a girl eventually, so I figure all things in good time. For now, though, that means I sit next to my lab partner, Bella Swan, every day and we talk and she makes little jokes and I laugh and nurse this huge hopeless crush I have on her and hate my life.

Considering how I felt about her it would be easy for her to take ruthless advantage of me. If she asked to copy notes because she skipped class, or asked me to do the hard parts of the labs, or asked if she could copy off my tests, I know I'd totally say yes. I like to think I have more pride than that, but who am I kidding? She owns me. But Bella never asks me for any of that stuff. She holds her own in the labs and does really well on the tests, which just makes me like her more.

She was really pretty flawless, which is why the news of her breakup with Newton the Douche came as such a shock. I already mentioned that she seemed sort of perpetually irritated by him so I figured eventually she'd figure out how much better she was than him and dump his sorry ass. But that's not how it went down. Three weeks ago I got to school on a Monday morning and immediately heard the momentous news from Eric Yorkie. Bella broke up with Newton alright, but only after walking in on him making out with Jessica Stanley at Tyler Crowley's party on Saturday.

I was so stunned that I made Eric repeat himself twice. That colossal moron actually cheated on her. On Bella Swan, one of the prettiest girls at our school. The prettiest, if I'm the one judging. And with that overly made up, vulgar, stupid Jessica. I felt like getting online to make sure there wasn't a massive solar flare occuring that might explain such ludicrous, irrational behavior on Newton's part. But Eric swore it was true and it was corroborated when I saw Bella in class later that day. She was upset, hiding behind her hair. I asked her tentatively if she wanted to talk about it, then I panicked that she might say yes, because as socially awkward as I am in general, talking to the girl I adore about her stupid ex- boyfriend would require verbal accuity that I'm sure I don't posses.

But Bella just sniffed loudly and shook her head. Then she peeked up at me, her eyes all glassy from crying and she actually smiled at me and said, "Thanks, Edward."

Seeing her cry made me feel awful and I spent the next 24 hours wondering if I could in any way pull off kicking Newton's ass. The answer was always a resounding 'no,' but it didn't matter because by the next day in Bio Bella had moved passed the crying stage and onto anger. Her head was up and her shoulders were back, her jaw set in concentration. Again, I felt the need to reach out to her so I asked again if she wanted to talk about it. She surprised the hell out of me by launching into a monologue about it, her voice almost shrill.

"Jessica Stanley? Really? It would have been bad enough with anyone, but her? God, it's so insulting! Just who does he think he is? He's not that good-looking, and honestly my neighbor's dog is smarter. I don't know what I was even thinking in the first place. He seemed nice at first but he's not. He's a jerk and kind of a bully. It figures. I was about to break up with him anyway. I'm just pissed he had the chance to pull that shit first."

She stopped and drew a deep breath. So did I, even though I hadn't said anything. I was going to say that I could personally confirm that Newton wasn't kind of a bully, he was absolutely a bully, but the last thing she said caught my attention.

"You were going to break up with him?"

She ducked her head and looked at her hands, "Well, yeah." She still didn't look back up at me, she just concentrated on squaring off her books again. "I sort of…well…" she kept re-squaring her books though even I thought they looked perfectly square. "I kind of have this…thing for someone else."

Oh.

"Oh…you do, huh?"

She nodded, nudging her books another eighth of an inch. My brain spun as I tried to think who she could be talking about. Who had I seen her talking to? Who did she spend a lot of time with? I made a mental catalogue of every unattached male in the school and cross- referenced it with all of Bella's current known social contacts, but I couldn't come up with anyone. But even if I could, it's not like it mattered. She had Newton's successor all lined up and that was all I needed to know.

Mr. Banner picked that moment to clear his throat and start the class so I couldn't talk to Bella any more about this mystery guy she had a thing for. Not that I wanted to hear any more. Because I really didn't.

Three weeks went by and Bella didn't mention Newton's name again. She didn't mention anyone else's either, which had me kind of puzzled. I kept waiting to hear the gossip make the rounds about Bella and her new guy but it didn't happen. What was the holdup? Surely he wanted her, too. I mean, who wouldn't want Bella Swan?

It was just an ordinary Wednesday. There was the embarrassing crepe streamer incident just before class but otherwise everything was normal. Banner announced the lab for the day, blood typing, which my dad showed me how to do at the hospital, so it was all pretty familiar to me already. There was a little rustle next to me and Bella slid a scrap of paper towards me.

"I hate blood! It makes me light-headed!"

I smiled and leaned forward to write back.

"Just take deep breaths and you'll be fine."

"But it's the smell that freaks me out!"

"Bella, you can't smell blood."

"Says you. I can. And it makes me woozy."

I turned my head then to smirk at her and she stuck her tongue out at me, chuckling silently. I had to turn away to keep from laughing out loud at her. Who the hell uses words like "woozy"? She pulled the paper back, scribbled something and then slid it across to me.

"Will you catch me if I faint?"

I looked at her again, not smiling anymore. She was looking back, eyes wide, biting her lip. Mr. Banner reached in between us with a box of clean glass slides and I exhaled hard.

I distracted myself from the memory of Bella looking at me like that while biting her lip and the effect it had on my body by focusing on the lab and making sure everything was set up properly. Bella just sat on her stool and frayed the corner of her notebook. When I had it all ready I looked back at her.

"You wanna go first?"

"Sticking or being stuck?"

"Sticking. You know, so if you pass out when I do you, I won't miss out on my half of the lab."

She chuckled and slapped my arm lightly. "Shut up, Edward, and give me the pokey thing."

I laughed with her, relieved that the weirdness from a minute ago was passed, even if I still had no idea what the weirdness was exactly. "The lancet, and here it is. Be careful."

Bella took the lancet and took a deep breath, eyeing the point.

"Give me your hand."

I held it out to her and her left hand wrapped around the back of mine. I think that was the first time I ever touched Bella. Well, she touched me. We touched. Whatever. She furrowed her eyebrows together and poised the lancet over my finger.

"Just do it," I urged.

"Shut up! You're freaking me out!"

She inhaled again and squeezed the trigger.

"See?' I said encouragingly. "I'm totally fine."

She smiled back at me and we went through the rest of the steps to finish my testing. O Positive. I knew this already.

"Okay, your turn."

Bella held out her hand to me. It was shaking a little.

"Bella, calm down. Talk about something. It will distract you."

She paused for a second while I prepped the lancet.

"The real bummer about the Mike situation is the dance," she started in a rush, apropos of nothing, "I already bought my dress and the tickets." She scoffed slightly. "He asked me to front him for the tickets. Shoulda known, huh?"

"Well," I began slowly, keeping my eyes on her finger as I swabbed it with alcohol, avoiding looking at her face. I was still distracted by the feel of her hand clutched in mine. "You get invited everywhere, Bella. I'm sure you'll find a place to wear the dress." It was kind of weird that she was bringing up Mike now. She hadn't mentioned his name since her rant three weeks ago right after their breakup. But the dance was right around the corner, that must be what was bugging her.

"Yeah, but I bought it especially for Valentine's Day. It's a bummer, that's all."

"I'm sorry," I mumbled.

"Wouldyougowithme?" Bella spit out in a huff, just as I squeezed the trigger and the lancet pricked her finger. My eyes shot up to her face as she jerked back. "Ow, fuck!"

I was still looking at her in shock, holding her hand and her now-bleeding finger.

"Edward! Blood!"

"Fuck, right." I snapped my head back and grabbed the micropipette so I could collect the sample.

"Sorry. Is that weird?" she asked, her voice flustered, "It's just that I have the tickets already and everything. It just seems like a waste and so I thought—"

"I'll go," I said quickly.

"You will?"

"Yeah. I mean, you already bought the tickets—"

"Right."

"So…Saturday, right? What time?"

"Seven thirty. Should I come by around—"

"I can pick you up."

She blinked at me. Was I really sitting here discussing picking Bella up so I could take her to the dance? It was just as friends, but still, I couldn't believe this was happening.

"You have a car?" she asked.

"Yeah. I mean, I ride in with my sister every day because there aren't enough parking spots in the lot and it's environmentally wasteful to drive two cars to the same place. But I have a car. I can pick you up. What time?"

"Um, seven fifteen?"

I nodded tightly.

"Do you need my address?"

I was finally able to crack a smile. "Bella, your dad is Chief of Police. Everybody knows where you live."

She chuckled nervously. "Right."

"You didn't faint."

"No, I didn't. I guess you did a good job of distracting me."

"I think you did all of the distracting, Bella."

She smiled, but looked down at the table. The bell rang, saving me from coming up with anything else to say, which was good because my brain was in fucking overdrive. I was taking Bella to the Valentine's Dance in three days. Fuck.

At 7:14 on Saturday, I parked my car right behind Chief Swan's police cruiser in Bella's driveway. I clutched the steering wheel and willed myself to breathe, because right now, it just wasn't happening. My heart was racing and my insides were twisting. I knew we were just going as friends but it didn't matter. I wanted to do this right, to not make a fool of myself, to be cool and entertaining and just…normal. I could pull that off for one night, right? Right?

On the surface I seemed to have everything in hand. Rose picked out my suit, so while it was simple and dark, I could rest asssured that I was appropriately dressed. She'd even picked out a corsage for me and helped me with my hair. In fact when I broke down and told Rose about Bella asking me to the dance she squealed in a way I had never heard in my life and couldn't do enough to help me get ready. But Rose wasn't here now and I was on my own for the rest of the night. The thought made me nauseous.

I got out of the car before I could sit there and work myself any further into a cold sweat and turned to walk up to her door, but just then Bella stepped out onto the porch.

She looked…oh, Jesus. Now I couldn't breathe again, but for another reason entirely. Her dress was really pale pink, some kind of soft sheer material in layers. She looked really good in the blue one she wore to the homecoming dance (I knew because I was there taking pictures for the yearbook), but this one looked so much better. There were no straps or sleeves or anything, her chest and shoulders and arms were completely bare, and the swishy little skirt stopped just above her knees. It was 37 degrees outside tonight, so I was sure she was freezing, but I secretly hoped she wouldn't bring a coat because I hated to cover up any part of her in that dress. Her hair was all curly and loose, with some of the front part pulled back. I couldn't believe that a girl so pretty was wilingly about to spend the whole evening with me, no matter what the circumstances.

I took a few more steps towards her, swallowing thickly. Bella hurried forward and came down the stairs to meet me at the edge of the porch.

"H-hey," I choked.

She exhaled fast, "Hey."

"You look…um, really nice." We were friends. Was it okay for me to tell her she looked nice? Girls liked to hear that kind of stuff, right? Hell if I know.

The door slammed behind Bella and Chief Swan was standing there at the top of the steps, arms crossed menacingly. Bella spun around to face him.

"What, Dad?"

"I wanna meet your date, Bells," he grumbled, waving a hand at me. Then he actually took a good look at me. "Oh. It's just you, Edward. Well, that's fine, then. Have fun, kids."

Just Edward. Yes, sir, Bella is beyond safe with me. Because what girl would want to get into that kind of trouble with me?

"I…um, I brought you this." I thrust the clear plastic box holding her corsage in her direction. She looked down at it curiously. Oh, shit. I'm supposed to put it on her or something, right? I fished the thing out of its little case, thanking God I didn't have to worry about whether or not it was right because Rose had great taste so I was sure it was perfect. I hesitated for a panicked moment as I wondered if I was supposed to pin it to her dress or if it went on her wrist. Bella saved me by thrusting her hand in my direction.

We negotiated the corsage weirdness and I turned a little towards the car. "Are you ready?"

Bella smiled and nodded. I walked next to her to the car, hands stuffed in my pockets, feeling my back becoming soaked with cold sweat. Bella let herself in before I could do it, so I crossed and got in.

We didn't speak all the way to the dance. I knew I should be making conversation, but no matter how hard I tried, nothing came out. I started to panic at my inability to say anything at all. How on earth would I fill a whole night with her? Sure we talked in Biology, but clearly this was entirely different and I was a total failure at it. And we had hours to go in each other's company. Although at this rate I wouldn't blame her if she ditched me as soon as we got there to go hang with some people who could actually control their vocal chords.

I wasn't sure how I accomplished the rest of it, the drive, parking, entering the gym, but the next thing I knew, we were standing side by side, just inside the door. Had I managed to say anything to her yet? Her tense face made me think probably not.

"Bellaaa!" a flash of silver streaked past me and Bella was enveloped in squealing girl.

Alice.

Bella might be well-liked by everyone, popular in her way, but she wasn't really part of the Mike Newton Kings and Queens of the School gang. That was evidenced by her best friend, Alice Brandon. That girl was a freak. She was tiny and she dyed her hair this intense black color and cut it funny and she wore the strangest clothes. The thing she had on tonight was a barely-there mini dress with rows and rows of silver fringe. Alice dressed weird and acted weird, but the weirdest thing about her was the odd, knowing way she looked at me whenever she saw me, like she knew something secret about me. It was creepy. And she was doing it now.

"Hey, Edward."

"Ah…" I tried to say her name, but my throat closed up and my voice cracked, making me sound like a twelve year old boy. I felt my face flush in embarrassment. "Alice," I finally whispered in greeting.

"Hey, B," Alice's boyfriend, Jasper, mumbled with a broad, lazy grin as he wrapped his arms around Alice's waist. This guy…he transferred into our school last year after his parents moved here from Texas. He was part charming cowboy, part annoying hipster. He was too cool to even hang with anyone at this school except Alice and Bella. He irritated the crap out of me with his big toothy grin and his ridiculous shaggy blond hair, but at the same time I envied how effortless all of this seemed to be for him. Jasper looked over at me and nodded his head slightly. "Edward."

I only nodded my head a tiny bit in return because I was sure my voice would crack in some embarrassing way if I tried to speak again. I thought once we got to the dance and we weren't just one-on-one this might get easier, but it was worse. Because suddenly I felt the eyes of the whole school zero in on me standing next to Bella Swan. I swear you could almost hear the collective whispered question, "What is she doing here with him?" And right now, as my forehead beaded with sweat and my stomach churned with anxiety, I was wondering the exact same thing.

Alice leaned in to whisper in Bella's ear. Bella looked back at her and nodded slightly, her expression grim and determined. No doubt she'd realized the colossal mistake she'd made in asking me here and she knew there was nothing to be done now but suck it up and tough it out. Alice looked at me again with that creepy expression, smiling slightly.

"We should probably go back in," she murmured.

"See ya, Edward!" she trilled before she let Jasper pull her away to the dance floor.

"So…" Bella began, her voice low, "do you…um, want to dance?"

I felt like an utter failure. Wasn't I supposed to be asking her that? What the hell was wrong with me? But I figured apologizing for my utter lameness would only make it worse, so I just nodded wordlessly. She stood there expectantly, arms hanging at her side as she gazed at me. Oh! Right! I was supposed to take her hand or something.

I held out my hand to her and Bella finally smiled before placing hers in mine. Just the feel of her warm little fingers sliding across my clammy palm made my heart rate skyrocket. I didn't know how I was going to handle actually dancing with her.

We made our way to the dance floor. I kept my eyes averted from all the curious gazes directed at us. When Bella reached an open spot, she stopped and turned to face me. Here it was. I had to touch her. It wasn't like I didn't want to, because I really, really did. But there were just so many possibilities for failure. She might feel how sweaty my palms were. I might step on her toes. I might get a hard-on. If that happened, I really would die, right here in the Forks High gym.

Steeling myself, I reached out and put my hands lightly on Bella's hips. She rested hers on my shoulders. And just like that we were dancing. Well, it was really stiff and awkward. We were barely moving at all, just sort of swaying a little, but to the casual outside observer, I was dancing with Bella Swan.

"Hey, Edward?"

"Y-yeah?"

"Thanks for coming with me tonight."

"No problem." I couldn't sound like more of a dick. I was supposed to say something about how much I wanted to be there, how happy I was to be with her, but words like that just weren't possible right now.

I finally chanced a look at her. She was so beautiful. The shifting lights from the dance floor moved across her skin and her dark hair cascaded down over her bare shoulders. She was looking up at me, eyes wide and dark, face apprehensive. As I looked at her, she inhaled slowly and took a decided step closer to me. Oh, Jesus, we were touching. Like, our bodies were touching. Her chest was brushing my chest, her arms were laying on my arms. My throat closed up and I felt like I couldn't breathe and my heart pounded its way out of my chest. And that thing I was worried about earlier? My crotch began to tighten and yeah, it was totally going to happen.

I panicked.

"Um, I need to use the restroom. Be right back."

And I ran.

I made it to the men's room and nearly collapsed against the sink, clutching the cool porcelain in my hands, dragging in deep breaths and trying to get myself back under control. Little Eddie decided to stand down, probably as mortified as I was about what I'd just done.

Jesus, did I just run away from Bella on the dance floor? I am such an utter failure. My heart was still pounding and it was still really hard to breathe. Was it possible to actually have a heart attack from girl-induced panic? What a pathetic way to go.

The restroom door swung open and I groaned internally at who I might have to face in my current condition.

"Holy shit man, what's wrong with you?" Oh, no. The accent, that stupid twangy drawl. Jasper.

I looked up at the mirror and he was behind me, looking back at me in the mirror, arms crossed. He was looking thoroughly exasperated.

"I'm, um…not feeling well…"

"Bullshit."

"Excuse me?"

"Bullshit. You're freaking out."

"Okay, fine," I sneered at him "I'm freaking out. Now finish laughing your ass off at me and get the hell out of here, please."

Jasper exhaled heavily and muttered to himself under his breath, "Who knew it would be so hard for her to get this doofus to kiss her?"

I had no idea what he was rambling about, because there was no way he was talking about Bella, but I couldn't really spare him much thought as I was still having a hard time breathing and that was starting to worry me.

"Jesus, dude," Jasper said, "You're having a fucking panic attack." Jasper fished in the front pocket of his dark denim designer jeans that were way too tight and came up with a little silver box. "Here. Take this."

I looked at the little white pill he was offering on his outstretched palm.

"What the hell is that?"

"Just a fucking Xanax." I started to shake my head in refusal. I didn't do drugs of any kind. I'd never even had a drink. And I certainly wasn't going to accept random narcotics from Jasper Whitlock, of all people. "Dude, you need to relax! This will just take the edge off. So you can, you know, talk to your date. And maybe dance with her."

His sarcasm coupled with his mention of Bella, who was still out there alone at the dance pissed me off and before I even really thought about it, I snatched the damned pill off his hand and threw it down my throat.

"Good," he said with a satisfied nod. "Now, dude," he began, and I really wished he'd quit calling me dude, "You just need to chill the fuck out. She asked you to come tonight, right? Right?"

I reluctantly nodded and raked my hands through my hair, destroying any attempt at a hair style I'd had in place at the start of the night.

"That's because she likes you, for reasons I can't begin to comprehend."

"Sure, we're friends," I mumbled, my voice working better now. I wasn't sure if it was the pill kicking in or if I was just coming off my ledge.

"Dude, not like that. She asked you to the dance."

I shook my head, "No, you're wrong about that. She likes somebody else. She told me so herself."

He rolled his eyes. "Dude, whatever. You're here with her, so what's the problem?"

I took a deep breath, not really wanting to confess my insecurities to him but not feeling like I had a choice. "She's just...she's...and I'm just...Look at her. And look at me. That's the problem."

Jasper fixed me with a critical stare, "Don't take this the wrong way, dude, because I am really not into you that way, but I gotta say, you have all the raw materials. How you put it together might be lacking, but you can work on that. The suit's good, but loosen your tie."

I did as he instructed.

"Good. Now unbutton the top of your shirt."

I did that, too.

"Alright, at least you don't look like an insurance salesman now. Can you do anything about that hair?"

I self-conciously raked my hands through it again and shook my head as I pushed my glasses back up on my nose. Jasper just shrugged.

"Whatever. I'm sure she digs it. So now you're going to stop freaking out, because there's no reason to. You're going to take a deep breath and go back out there and dance with Bella. And do you know why?"

I shook my head, starting to feel my heart rate slow. This was good. I could manage this.

"Because if Bella's night gets ruined, she'll be unhappy. And if she's unhappy, Alice is unhappy. And if Alice is unhappy…"

"Yeah, yeah, yeah. I get it. I'm good."

"Really?" he raised his eyebrows in question. But I wasn't lying. I felt okay. Calm. Now I couldn't believe I freaked out like that. "Okay then, let's go."

I followed Jasper back out of the bathroom and across the floor to where Alice and Bella were standing close together, whispering urgently. Bella looked on the verge of tears and I felt absolutely miserable. Some fucking Valentine's Day I was giving her. But I could fix that. I felt in control of myself now, able to speak and dance and do whatever it took to show her a good time.

She spun around to face me as soon as we approached.

"Are you okay, Edward?" her voice was so concerned.

"Yeah, I'm fine now. You want to dance?" See? Look how easy that was. She beamed at me and I offered her my hand and she took it without hesitation. Jasper was my fucking hero. Whatever that thing was he gave me was brilliant. As I led Bella back to the dance floor, I felt mellow and fluid, completely at ease.

This time when she turned to face me, I put one hand on her waist and kept her other hand folded in mine and pulled her in close. She was almost pressed up against me, her chest barely brushing mine whenever she inhaled.

"Sorry about that earlier," I murmured.

She turned her face up to me. "It's fine. I'm glad you're okay."

She leaned in just a little and she was pressed against me. I tightened my grip on her hand. "I'm fine. Better than fine," I was practically whispering, but that was okay because Bella's face was now somehow really close to mine.

"That's good," she breathed. Her eyes were glistening in the lights from the disco ball. Her lips were parted slightly, they looked so soft and pink. She still had her face turned up towards mine, she was still leaning in to me. Jasper's words in the bathroom came back to me. She asked me because she liked me. Could that possibly be true? I had a hard time believing it, but I tightened my grip on her waist a little, just to see what she'd do. She exhaled, low and slow, and pressed in closer against me.

Oh, Jesus. I wanted to kiss her. It felt like I should be kissing her. She looked like she wanted me to kiss her. I couldn't believe this was happening. My head felt almost disconnected from the rest of me. I felt light, euphoric. I could do this. I could kiss Bella. I leaned my face down and she leaned up. She wanted me to. Our lips were just an inch apart and the anticipation sent a thrill through my whole body. I felt tingles shoot up the back of my neck. The lights from the dance floor flashed in my periphery, and then they took over, whiting out everything. I couldn't feel my hands, or my lips. The lips that had been about to kiss Bella. I heard her scream. "Edward!" And then everything went black.

"Edward?"

Bella's voice cut through the fog in my brain and I groaned. My head hurt. I reached a hard up to feel it and I winced.

I felt Bella's fingers close around my wrist, pulling my hand away from my head.

"Yeah, you bumped your head when you fell."

"I fell?" I muttered, my voice sounding like gravel. I cracked an eye open. It was dark.

"Well, you passed out."

"Is he okay?" That was Alice.

"Dude." Guess who?

"What the hell did you give him, Jasper?" Bella hissed over her shoulder.

Jasper held his hands up in front of himself. "Just a Xanax. Dude, haven't you ever had a Xanax before?"

I shook my head.

"Oh. Maybe I should have given you a half of one at first."

Bella rolled her eyes.

"Where are we?" I asked. It was too dark wherever we were for me to quite get my bearings.

"Behind the gym," Bella said. "Alice and Jasper were dancing right next to us when you faint...when you passed out. Jasper got you out here."

"Yeah, dude, if the chaperones had seen that shit, they'd have called an ambulance and then you'd spend the whole night in the ER. And I don't exactly have a scrip for that Xanax."

Bella leaned in, peering into my face carefully. "Do you need to go to the ER, Edward? Are you okay?"

I groaned and buried my face in my hands. This was just not happening to me. I was about to kiss her, the girl I've been dreaming about for months, and I fucking fainted. I couldn't believe she was even still here. She should have run screaming from the disaster that is Edward Cullen by now.

"Edward?"

"I'm fine. Just…"

Bella cleared her throat and turned to talk to Alice and Jasper. "Could you guys give us a second?"

"Oh, sure! " Alice said, jumping up from where she'd been crouched next to Bella. "Come on, Jazz. Let's give them a little privacy." And there went freaky Alice with her freaky knowing look again.

Alice skipped away, pulling Jasper after her back into the gym. I was sitting on the top step of a set of three, I could see now. The back door of the gym was to my right. Bella was crouched on the bottom step facing me, practically touching my knees.

"Why'd you take the Xanax, Edward?" she asked softly.

I cleared my throat. "I was sort of having a panic attack."

"About what?"

How was I supposed to answer that? I was freaking out at the very thought of touching you? Spending a whole night with you excites me while scaring me so badly that I can't breathe? Well, I reasoned, the damage was done. After tonight she'd probably never speak to me again so I might as well tell her everything. If I was going to hell, then I was doing it thoroughly.

"Spending the night with you. Dancing with you. I was really nervous."

"I'm the one who asked you, Edward. Why are you nervous?"

"You asked me as a friend, Bella, and I get that. I don't want to make you feel uncomfortable or anything, but I...I like you. As more than a friend. I know you like somebody else and you couldn't get him to ask you or whatever, so it's cool. You don't need to feel bad, it's just my thing to..."

"It's you."

"What?"

"The guy I like. It's you."

I just sat there in the dark and stared at her. I still felt all flushed with embarrassment at my confession, so I hardly registered that her hands were resting on my knees and that she was leaning in towards me. And I really wasn't registering her words, because did she just say...

"It's me?"

"Yeah. You."

And then Bella leaned forward and closed the gap between us, pressing her lips to mine. Shock had me frozen in place. This was all too surreal. The dark, the gym, Bella's lips on mine…

She pulled back slowly and opened her eyes to look at me. I looked back.

"Was that okay?" she whispered.

And then my brain and my body finally got on the same page at the same time and I did what I'd been dreaming about doing for months. I reached out and took Bella's face in my hands and I kissed her.

The first one could hardly be called a kiss. Yes, her lips had touched mine, but that was all. But this...this was a kiss. Her lips were just as soft as they looked. I moved my lips over hers, caressing her mouth with mine and her lips opened under me as she sighed. And then we were really kissing, our lips moving and nudging and nipping, my tongue slipping in to touch hers, her tongue pushing back into my mouth. She shifted closer, pushing her body between my knees as her hands slid up into my hair. I let go of her face so I could wrap my arms around her waist. I pulled her and she came, pressing her whole body up against me. I was surrounded. Everything I touched, all I could smell, all I could taste was Bella and I never wanted it to stop.

"Bella..." I was sighing her name against her mouth as we moved against each other, sounding like some desperate fool, but I didn't care. Besides when I said her name Bella moaned and twisted her hands in my hair a little, which felt really fucking good.

Finally we had to break apart just to breathe, which we did, both of us gasping for air, foreheads pressed together, not letting go of each other.

"Wow," Bella whispered.

"Yeah...wow." I reached one hand up to stroke her cheek with my fingertips. Her skin felt just as silky as I always imagined it would.

"That was..."

"Yeah."

I tipped my face forward again to kiss her. Now that I'd started I wasn't sure if I could ever stop. Her hands slipped down to my shoulders and I felt a tremor go through her whole body. Fuck. It was still freezing outside and she was in nothing but her little pink dress. And I had no idea how long she'd been out here with me before I came to. I started to feel embarrassed about that all over again but I made myself stop. Bella kissed me after I fainted like a girl in front of her, so she must not care.

"Come on, you're freezing. Let's go in."

She didn't argue so I knew she must have been really cold. We both straightened up off the cold steps and I put my arm around her waist. She leaned into my side and that's how we re-entered the gym, arms around each other, oblivious to anyone outside the little bubble of the two of us.

At some point in the evening, Jasper had spiked the punch…hard. The dance had devolved into complete mayhem by the time we returned. I scarcely noticed. I just led Bella back to the dance floor and wrapped my arms around her and held her close, swaying with absolutely no regard to the music, stopping to kiss now and then.

In the weeks that followed, the "Drunken Valentine's Dance" was widely discussed, but I rarely had anything to offer. If someone asked me if I'd seen the trio of sophomore girls who stood on a table and did a dirty striptease, I had to say no. If they asked Bella if she saw Jessica Stanley get so wasted that she threw up all over the front of Mike Newton, she just smiled and shrugged. If they wondered if we saw Ms. Hansen, the Phys Ed teaching assistant, making out with Tyler Crowley under the stands, Bella and I just said no. Everyone wanted to know where we'd been. How had we missed all the good stuff? Bella and I just looked at each other and smiled. Who needs the good stuff when you found the very best?