Disclaimer: S. Myer owns all, but what I wouldn't give for a Jasper of my very own-sigh.

A/N- Things really pick up this chapter. Only a few more to go after this! My apologies for the very long delay, thank you for all the thoughtful messages, for sticking with me and caring so much about the boys.

Happy birthday, Dannie!

This chapter is unbeta'd, all mistakes, grammatical and otherwise, are mine.

More author's notes at the end.

Now Jasper's pov


If on a winter's night I didn't have him in my life…


Sighing, I flopped onto my bed.

Twenty minutes until Edward was due home from practice. Longest fucking twenty minutes of my life.

My muscles were sore and swollen in protest of the amount of running I'd been forcing on them for the past three weeks. Not only did I have my track practices and meets, but the extra running I'd been doing in preparation for the race.

The race.

My heart skipped at the words. For months, I'd been pushing my body far beyond its limits, and I feared when I needed it to pull through for me, for us, it would fail. My mother claimed there was no way I wouldn't finish, that my heart wouldn't allow me to not complete the distance, but I'd seen marathons, and people with bigger hearts and more determination than me dropped out because their bodies couldn't handle it. What if that happened to me? What if I let down those who had donated? Worse, what if I let down Edward?

The fear of failure had been growing inside me more and more as the day of the race loomed closer, and while Edward proved to be a wonderful, sexy distraction, he wasn't with me twenty-four/seven, and it was during the times I was alone that my mind began to crowd with thoughts of doubt. Glancing at the clock, I sighed again. There was still fifteen minutes to go.

Riley had given Edward a ride again because of my track meet in Rainier. Other than to gain points for the school, I wasn't even sure why I had bothered going to the last two meets. For the entire season, I'd run my ass off for the school only to find out it didn't matter. I wasn't going to be able to attend the qualifying meet.

It was the same day as the race for Edward.

There was no choice between them, my mind was made up before I'd even asked myself the question. For four years I'd been running track to get to a state meet and win a championship. Four years of running in the cold winter, the damp spring, and hot summer, devoted to the distance and bettering my time, and after all that work I was only one race away from going to States. But now something else stood in my way, something far more important than winning a state title.

Glancing at my phone again, I groaned when I saw only a few more minutes had passed. Since when did time slow so much when we were apart? Since I'd asked him to marry me it seemed we were together almost every minute, and those we weren't might as well have stilled completely. Making sure my door was closed, I leaned over the edge of my bed, fishing blindly for the fur I knew was there. Pulling the Teddy bear out, I dusted off his coat and then took the bag that was hanging from his neck. Opening the drawstring, I pulled out the matching black velvet boxes. Smiling, I cracked one open, my breath leaving me in a gasp as it did every time I looked at them. Mine was slightly bigger than his, but other than that, they were identical; smooth, polished silver with "Maybe I'm Amazed" engraved inside them arcing around the curve of the band. Biting my lip, I ran a finger around the top of the ring, circling it several times, my heart pounding more each time.

It'd been almost a month since I'd had proposed, almost a month since he'd made me the happiest person in the world with one little word.


It still rang in my ear, the way he said it, the tone, the love, the commitment attached to it. I reminded him almost daily that he'd agreed to marry me, and he always shook his head and mumbled, 'what was I thinking?', and then we would laugh. While it had been a fantastic month since that day in the meadow, it hadn't all been easy.

A week to the day from my proposal, Edward once again faced the darkness I thought we'd conquered. That day I realized there was no beating the mysterious force that beckoned my boy to its clutches, there was only keeping it at bay and preparing for those bad days when it would rear high and once again try to steal Edward from me.

Little did the darkness know, I wasn't giving Edward up.

I never would. He was mine.

The morning after he'd gotten pierced, I'd woken up sprawled over him like usual. While I'd fallen asleep with my head on his shoulder, during the night I had moved and when I opened my eyes, my mouth was dangerously close to his nipple. Edward's hand was weaved in my hair and my arm was slung over his middle as I darted my tongue out for a quick experimental lick before lifting my head. He looked beautiful in the dull morning light. His eyes were still half-closed, his hair was literally sticking up every direction, and his lips were parted in a lazy smile just for me. The bruise on his arm hadn't changed overnight, if anything it was darker. He claimed it didn't hurt, but was worried his mom might see it and stop him from playing basketball.

Minutes later, I was regretfully climbing out of bed to get dressed for work. Edward watched every move I made, his eyes openly roaming over my body. Before I left, I sat on the bed, letting my own eyes feast on his newly adorned chest, resisting the strong urge to touch him. Then after a kiss and promise to call at lunch, I left my tired boy alone his bed hoping he'd fall back to sleep and ease some of the dark circles under his eyes.

As soon as I backed out of his driveway, I called him and talked to him all the way to the construction site. So much for letting him sleep.

Work was work. My dad was remodeling a kitchen and adding a sunroom to it. I spent most of the morning helping him frame the sunroom. The weather was cooperating and we worked hard as he asked questions about track and school and graduation. The subject eventually turned to Edward.

"How's he doing?" he asked absently as he held the two-by-four I was nailing into place.

"Pretty good."


"It's going good. He fell over during the game yesterday though, he's worried his mom might not let him play anymore," I answered.

Normally I kept the topic of Edward to short answers, or even lies, but I figured a little information wasn't going to hurt. In the back of my mind, I justified it by telling myself graduation was coming, and we'd be telling our parents about our relationship shortly after anyway.

"Did he get hurt?"

"Just a bruise on his arm." I aimed the nail gun and pressed the trigger, filling the air with a loud snap.

"I think they'll be fine. They're just on edge after what happened, can't blame them for that," he reasoned in typical dad manner.

I pressed the gun to the next marked spot. "Guess not, but they need to let him go soon."

I understood their worry, I had it myself, but I wouldn't let it get in the way of Edward doing something he wanted or needed or loved.

"Do you two have any big plans this summer before you leave for college?" he asked innocently.

Yes, we're getting married.

"No," I shrugged, keeping my eyes on the wood, "not really. Probably just hang out, swim in his pool, maybe camping, shi-stuff like that. "

"Pick up chicks?" he teased, wiggling his brows.

"Girls, Dad," I corrected with a roll of my eyes, "and no, probably not much of that."


"Too bad, you should have some fun before you're stuck studying all the time."

Oh, I was going to have fun, just not with a girl.

Shaking my head at him, he smiled and changed the subject to things I was going to need to buy over the summer for school. Whenever either of us was quiet, my mind went to Edward and our talk the night before.

Riley was gay.

I'd suspected he was, but it wasn't until I asked Edward that I knew for sure. He told me how Riley had come out to him, how comfortable Riley seemed with who he was, then Edward got quiet when he told me about Riley's ex-boyfriend. As soon as Edward had said ex, I knew the reason, but I asked why anyway, pushing him when he remained silent. Finally, he took a deep breath and told me how Riley's ex-boyfriend had left him because of Riley's paralysis. Edward thought I was going to do the same thing. In his heart, he knew it wouldn't happen, but his rational mind insisted on asking questions and planting doubt. With a kiss I reminded him I wasn't going to do that, I wasn't going to leave him.

I reminded him I was all in.

The sun was high in the sky by the time my father and I broke for lunch. As promised, I went to the truck and pulled out my phone to call Edward. Learning against the door, I pressed his number.

"Hey, love."

"Babe, I'm thinking of skipping lunch and driving to your place for a quickie," I suggested only half-jokingly.

"You were, huh? Not sure you have time for that, but…"

My cock twitched and he hadn't even suggested anything yet. "But what?"

"There is the cab of the truck and speakerphone."


I glanced at my dad. He was inhaling a sandwich as he looked over some blueprints laid out on the hood of his work truck parked a few yards away in the driveway. Swallowing, I wondered if I could get in the cab and have phone sex with Edward without my dad noticing.

"Jesus, babe, don't tempt me," I growled and Edward moaned softly. "Stop that. I can't work with a boner."

"You've done it before."

"And it was painful. I'm working with a nail gun, babe. Can't be accidently nailing something…"

Edward's laughter filled my ear. "No, we can't have that. Don't damage the goods."

I chuckled with him, and then heard a distinct voice in the background. There was no doubt who it belonged to.

"No, no, there is no why. Nothing more will I teach you today."

The boy who always complained about it, said he didn't understand it, who rolled his eyes when I wanted mentioned it, was watching Star Wars.

"Babe, do I hear Yoda?"

"It's just an ad," he lied poorly. He was already busted and he knew it.

"You miss me and you're watching Star Wars."

"You caught me."

For reasons I couldn't understand, it was one of the sweetest things he'd ever done. There was something warming about knowing he was watching it feel closer to me. "I miss you too."

"Call me when you get home?"

"Always. Be safe, baby," I mumbled.

"See you soon, love."

Putting my phone back in my pocket, I went over to my dad and eyed his second sandwich. He pushed it to me in invitation and I took it.

"Everything okay with Edward?" he asked without looking up from his papers.

Thankful for the food in my mouth, I could only nod. I would never figure out how parents just knew shit like that. Must be an extra sensory thing they developed when their kids are born. Whatever allowed them that talent was slightly unnerving and I swallowed the food around the lump that had formed in my throat. I kept telling myself it was a good guess, who else would I be calling. It was simply process of elimination.

We tossed the trash from lunch in his truck, adding to the week's previous lunches, and returned to the sunroom. The day continued to heat up and my father and I continued to work until two of the walls were up and framed. Even though I was holding a conversation with my father, my mind remained on Edward, what he was doing, if he'd talked to his parents, what he was wearing…

Wiping the beaded sweat off my forehead, I ran a hand through my hair and offered to get waters from the cooler for us. Focused on his work, my father nodded his thanks and I jogged around the side of the house, reaching for my phone as I did so. Just as I reached my dad's truck, Edward picked up.

"I took a break to grab a water and call you. Didn't think you'd mind," I teased, almost sighing knowing he was on the other end, or at least I thought so. When he didn't answer with a quick reply as I expected, I stilled and listened closely. Perhaps he hadn't answered after all. "Edward, you there?"

Then I heard it. An anguished, frightened sob.

Immediately, I was sprinting back around the house, speaking into the phone as I ran. "Shit, I'm on the way, babe. I'll be right there."

"Don't," I heard him say faintly.

Reaching my dad, I angled the mouth piece of the phone down to talk to him. "I need to go."

His brows drew together and his face fell. "What's wrong, are you okay?"

"It's not me," I answered quietly.

He glanced at the phone and nodded before murmuring, "Go to him."

Giving him an apologetic and grateful half smile, I turned and bolted for my truck, my keys already out by the time I was getting into the cab. I knew Edward was still there from the occasional deep breaths he took as he tried to calm himself. One scenario after another raced through my mind, images of him hurt, bleeding, splayed on the floor alone and cold to the memories of him sitting in front of his window staring out to the backyard.

"Are you home?"

A broken sob was his response.

I pushed the gas pedal to the floor, my truck lurching forward as the huge engine kicked in and I began to speed down the road, driving one handed while my other held my phone, my lifeline to Edward, to my ear.

"Jesus, babe, I'm coming, please hold on," I told him, hoping he could hear me.

Maybe it was growing up with a nurse for a mother, maybe it was instinct, but I began asking him questions to access the situation before I got there. The more I knew, the better prepared I could be. If he was injured, then I would hang up and call 911. Technically, I was about twenty minutes from his house but at the speed I was going, it would be less than ten. "I'm about ten minutes away. Are you alone?"

A weak cry.

"Are you hurt?"

"No," he choked out and I sighed.

"Babe, I'm on the way, I'm on Calawah Way, I'll be right there. Everything's going to be okay." Coming to a stop sign, I barely glanced both ways before cruising through and then speeding up once again. "Hang in there, babe, I'm almost there."

Whipping the wheel around, I took a sharp turn onto Edward's street and then floored the pedal again. He was still on the phone, his sounds somewhere between gasping sobs and soft whimpers. I wanted to ask more questions, get more information, but I knew he was past the point of being able to answer me. I saw his house ahead and pushed the truck faster. Pulling to the curb, I slammed on the brakes and shifted into park. Telling him I'd be right in, I jumped out of the truck, barely remembering to close the door before sprinting to his house. I took the steps all in one leap and then barged through the door.

The house appeared empty, or at least quiet, and I scanned the living room and kitchen for signs of Edward but found none. Running down the hallway to his room, I skidded to stop outside his door and took a deep breath to prepare me for what I might find inside. Finding what courage I needed, I opened his door.

He was in his chair, his back to me as he faced the corner of his room and appeared to be uninjured. His strong shoulders were slumped and his beautiful head hung low. There was an air of inconsolable grief mixed with defeat around him, hovering around his legs and clenching his heart, twisting it into something dark. Walking around to the front of him, I wrapped my arms around his shoulders as I dropped to my knees. Resting his head on my shoulder, he relaxed into me while I rubbed a hand up and down his back and toyed with his hair at the nape of his neck.

"Love you, babe, love you," I kept repeating into his ear as I nuzzled his head with mine.

The time I complained about stopping when we were apart finally stopped for us together. I don't know how long it was before he finally had the strength to lift his head. He tried to sit upright, but I wouldn't let him go that far away.

"You okay?"

The second his eyes glanced over my shoulder, I knew exactly why he was upset. It had returned. The mysterious force that had followed him around for so long was back, and wanted him. While I then knew why he was scared, I didn't know what had caused the darkness's return.

"Yeah," he lied.

I didn't want to, but I loosened my hold and sat back, putting my hands on his lap to cover his. He told me about the talk with his dad, about his upcoming checkup and basketball. The hurt was written on his face, etched into each line and soaking each tear that rolled down his cheeks. Edward knew what the checkup meant, he knew as well as I did that his chances of hearing anything beyond being allowed to do more PT was unlikely. The fragile hope Edward clung to daily was in risk of being permanently crushed. I squeezed his hands and asked if there was anything else.

Keeping his eyes on our hands, he nodded. "He got me controls for my mom's car."


"Yeah, so I can drive it."

My first reaction was to smile, Edward was going to have some independence back, something he desperately needed in his life, but when I didn't see the same excitement on his face, I knew there was more. "What happened?"

"I don't know. I just looked inside and saw the controls and panicked at the thought of driving again. I mean, I know I can't rely on you forever, but I can't…I can't drive yet."

I wanted to tell him he would never have to drive again if he didn't want to, I would be there, but we both knew that in a few months that would no longer be true.

"You don't have to. I'm here."

His eyes snapped up to mine. "But I want to, Jasper, I just can't."

I could see the battle being waged in his mind, his needed to independence versus his fear of sitting behind a wheel again. Maybe, just maybe…

Reaching up, I cupped his cheek and smiled. "Want to try it with me?"

"What about your work?"

"Do you want to try?" I asked, ignoring his question.

After a few seconds of consideration, he nodded silently as he backed his chair up and turned it around. He followed me out of his room and down the hall to the front door. While he coasted down the ramp, I followed him closely. At the bottom, I passed him and went to his mother's car, opening the driver's door. Edward stopped next to me and looked up, admitting he didn't know how to take his chair apart to get it inside the car. Pulling out my phone, I opened up a video I'd bookmarked. It was one of many I'd watched to learn about Edward's mobility. Kneeling next to him, we watched the video, a young guy showing how he moved from chair to car, got his chair inside and then got it back out again. When it ended, I looked at Edward.

"Want to try?"

Sucking in a gulp of air, he nodded. I moved to give him room and watched as he lined up the chair and transferred to the driver's seat. Glancing up to the house, I saw his father watching us from the living room window. At that distance I couldn't see his expression, but I could see the worry in his stance. Returning my attention to Edward, I thought he was ok, but a few seconds later I saw the panic flash over his face as he closed his eyes. His upper body tensed, his hands fisted on his thighs, and he began to shake. Pushing the chair away, I crouched beside him and took his hand in mine, working to unclench it.

"Babe, you're shaking. Are you okay?" I whispered. His only response was to shake even harder. "Edward, are you okay?"

His head whipped back and forth and screwed his eyes shut as he mouthed, "Scared."

Shifting my weight, I let go of his hand. "Let's get you out."

"No," he said firmly, but my arms were already under his legs and behind his back. Standing, I pulled him from the car and headed for the house. He didn't need the chair then, he needed to be held, comforted, not sitting alone in the chair. Not caring if his father was still watching, I dropped my head to Edward's.

"I got you, baby," I murmured into his hair.

He trembled in my arms, his head on my shoulder and his eyes closed as he held onto me tightly. Pushing the door open, I was relieved to find the living room empty and headed down the hall to his room where I placed him on the bed. Sitting next to him, I stroked his hair, held his hand and tried to wipe the tears from his cheek as fast as they fell. His eyes finally opened and went directly to mine.

"I wanted to do it. It's been six…months…why can't I do…it?" he stammered through shaky, shallow breaths.

"Ssshh, baby. Just breathe for me."

His body was wracked by powerful shudders as he fought for control over the fear that had overwhelmed him. I don't think I'd ever seen him so frightened before. His reaction the car, to being behind the wheel again was more violent and darker than I expected. Not that I had thought it would be easy for him, but I hadn't expected a full breakdown. Just when I thought he was coming back to me, I would lose him again, his body succumbing to the force and he cried and shook and whimpered. It was as if he was reliving the accident over and over again. Looking over my shoulder at the corner, I snarled.

He was mine.

I needed to bring him back to me. I needed his attention on me.

Leaning forward, I kissed him. It was the only thing I could think of remind him of me, of us. As I pulled away, he calmed, not completely, but enough to give me faith he was coming out of it. I decided then, I was going to watch over him all night. Every God damn second of it if I needed to.

"I'm spending the night," I told him and his eyes drifted open with effort.

"You can't. It's a school night."

It was a weak argument. Like a school night would stop me. After tell him again I was staying, I stood up, promising to be right back. Walking down the hallway, I glanced in the kitchen for Dr. Cullen.

"Is he okay?" he asked from the living room. Entering, I saw him sitting at his desk.

"Yeah, I think so."

Actually, I wasn't sure. Maybe it was something I needed to tell his dad, maybe Edward needed more help than I was capable of. But maybe he just needed…me.

"The car didn't go well, did it?" he asked with guilt. Looking down at the floor, I shook my head. "I pushed him today, I thought he would want it, but he's not ready."

Lifting my eyes, I saw him with his glasses off and his thumb and forefinger pinching the bridge of his nose. With a sigh, he released it and met my gaze.

Taking a deep breath, I spoke. "I know we've got school tomorrow, but I'd like to spend the night. I think…" I lifted my chin higher, "I think he needs m-the company."

Tilting his head, he eyed me. He looked different without his glasses on, not that he wore them all the time, but I'd gotten used to seeing him relaxed at home, often reading with them perched on his nose. I tried not to shift my weight or bite my lip, but I ended up doing both. I wasn't asking for much, but it was something we'd never done. Just when I thought he was going to say no, he nodded.

"I agree."

Relieved, I exhaled and turned to go get the wheelchair I'd left outside when he spoke again.


Stopping with my back to him, I waited.

"Take care of my son," he requested in a soft voice.

Swallowing, I closed my eyes. Images of Edward and I in bed holding each other, leaning on each other, crying and laughing together weaved with ones of us reciting vows and making love and sleeping together clouded my mind in the split second of time I hesitated.

Without looking back, I answered quietly, "Always."

It was one word. One word that could possibly expose so much.

One word I meant more than any other.

Before he could reply, I continued out the front door. Leaping down the steps, I jogged to Mrs. Cullen's car, closed her door and grabbed the chair. Using the ramp, I pushed it into the house and down the hall to Edward's room. Edward was in the same position I'd left him in, his body still trembling slightly as his hands fisted the bedspread. Leaving the chair near the bed, I took off my sneakers and jeans. Leaving them in a pile on the floor, I changed into the sweatpants I'd taken off that morning and crawled into bed.

"What are you doing?" He sounded exhausted.

"I told you." Turning, I propped myself up like him and then spread my legs. It wasn't a usual position for us, but I wanted to be wrapped around him, I wanted to show the darkness who it was battling and I wasn't going to let him go without a fight. "C'mere."

There was no arguing from Edward as he dragged himself to me, falling clumsily against me. I tucked him between my legs and pulled his back to my chest until he completely rested on me. His head was on my shoulder as I took his hands in mine and placed them on his abs. We were quiet as Edward fought the demons plaguing him, and I knew his was winning when his body eventually calmed and relaxed in my embrace.

"You don't have to drive, Edward. Not now, not ever," I assured him.

"I want to."

"Then maybe it's just too soon. Just give it some more time," I tried to reason.

"It's been almost six months," he sighed in frustration.

"So? Is there a time limit on recovery?" When he didn't reply, I nudged his head with my nose, my lips near his forehead. "It won't win. I won't let it win. You're mine," I vowed before kissing him.

For the rest of the night, I sang one song after the other in a quiet voice for his ears only. Occasionally, I rocked us side to side or squeezed him tightly. When his body went slack, I knew he was asleep, finally seeking peace from his turmoil. For as long as I could keep my eyes open, I kept my promise and watched over my boy, not letting anyone…or anything, near him.

"He's mine," I mumbled sleepily as night gradually changed to day and my eyes were too heavy to keep open any longer.

The ring in my hand yanked me from my thoughts, and with a final glace at my door, I slipped the ring from its box and slid it down the ring finger of my left hand. The silver contrasted my tanned skin as it sat on my finger like it was always supposed to be there. Taking the rings out and putting mine on was becoming a nightly ritual. I don't know if was trying to reassure myself it was really going to happen or just checking to be sure it still fit.

As I twisted it around my finger, feeling the smoothness against my skin, I thought of Edward. Not like I ever thought of anything else but him.

Edward still hadn't driven. After that day, we tried a few more times and it got slightly easier for him, he even started the care twice, but he hadn't been able to do anything further. We would work on it all summer, and I hoped by the time I left him for school he might be able to drive.

It was a few days after one of those attempts I was leaving track practice and got a phone call. Opening the door to the truck, I climbed in and hit answer.


"Jasper, it's Dr. Cullen."

My heart skipped about five beats before he continued. Quickly, I wondered what he wanted, was Edward hurt? Did he know about us?

"Are you coming over today?" he asked cryptically.

"Yeah," I choked out.

"Good. I spoke to Edward about James today and I think he could use a friend tonight," he said quietly.


"The man that struck him. James plea bargained his case and Edward isn't happy about it," he explained.

"I'm on my way."

"I'll see you soon then," he said before hanging up.

Putting my phone on the seat, I shifted into drive and left for Edward's.

Dr. Cullen was at his desk in the living room and turned in his chair as I entered. He gave me a nod, which I returned before heading down to Edward's room.

He was where I expected him to be, in his chair facing the window. Walking up behind him, I wrapped my arms around his shoulders and kissed his hair.

"Hey, baby. How are you doing?"

"He's getting away with it, Jasper. He put me in this chair for the rest of my life and he's getting away with it. Some jail and a fine. That's all he got for taking my life away from me," he ranted weakly.

Straightening, I walked around him, standing in front of him and forcing him to look at me and not the window. Once he did, I took his hand into mine and kneeled.

"I know, babe," I murmured.

He didn't need to hear anything else. There was no reasoning or bitching, only his need to feel angry and frustrated and sad at the unjust robbing of his life. Laying my head on his lap, I sighed when his fingers tangled in my hair. He repeated the motion over and over, letting it soothe us both.

"You okay?" I asked him.

"Yeah," he murmured, holding my hair tighter, keeping me to him.

Closing my eyes, I gave him what strength I had left.

Twisting the ring, I thought about the past month. It had been full of more than just trying to get Edward to drive and my running. In fact, we'd both been incredibly busy, making us relish in our time together even more.

A few days after finding out about James, Edward had his first piano lesson with a girl named Claire. She was a freshman who had only been playing a few months. Then there was Nate, who had been playing for a few years but had only been taught by his mom, and there was Tony, who played the guitar really well but wanted to learn how to play the piano so he could start a band, and finally Jenna who had been playing almost as long as Edward but wasn't nearly as talented.

Edward had spent hours brushing up his playing while I lay on the couch, my feet crossed on the arm as I pretended to read a graphic novel or do homework. My eyes never stayed true to the book though, they often wandered to Edward sitting on the bench. I studied the way his eyes followed his long fingers as they gracefully skimmed the keys. "Imagine" filled the air as he swayed side to side with the melody, his lips moving as he sang the song to himself, letting himself imagine he was the man he yearned to be again. The song books sat closed on the top of the piano, Edward no longer needed them for himself but he would use them for his students. Under the piano, his still feet rested, unable to use the pedals like they had in the past. I didn't notice a change in the music, but to Edward's trained ear, the lack of pedals was frustrating.

Other than when he was sleeping or had just had a ghostgasm, he looked the most at peace when he was playing music. It was as if it was an extension of him, not just the piano itself, but the notes he played. They seemed to envelope him in their sound, happy or sad, and carried him with them for the length of the song until it was time to return him. Sometimes I thought he forgot I was there, but then in the middle of a song the music would change to "Eye of the Tiger" or "Closer to You" and a smile would appear on his face.

"Any requests?" he asked as he paused and looked at me.

Pretending to be frustrated with his interruption, I lowered my book and smiled. "Play naked?"

"Don't know that one," he teased and rolled his eyes, returning to his task at hand. No longer pretending to read, I openly admired the most beautiful person in the world.

"I'm going to make you play for me every night when we live together."

"Bring it on," he chuckled and winked at me.

"Oh, I will," I promised with a laugh. He shook his head and fell back in his music, letting it once again carry him away.

When Edward wasn't practicing or giving a lesson, he was doing physical therapy. Having not yet been giving the all clear to use the braces or parallel bars, Edward did them behind his parents' back. He scheduled Emmett's visits for when his parents were both out, and I was occasionally lucky enough to be there. Each time Edward stood, no matter how brief or how many of us were holding him up, it took my breath away.

The pride and determination beamed from him as he grunted through each step, struggling to remain upright. He'd gone from seven steps the first time to doing ten at once. It wasn't without help, Emmett still stood behind him pushing Edward's feet along the floor, but Edward was gaining the strength to swing his hips forward by using his abdomen muscles. Since Edward had come out to Emmett, their relationship had changed. Edward didn't hesitate to touch me or be flirtatious, and Emmett teased both of us mercilessly, especially about Edward's piercings. Edward said Emmett was the big brother he never wanted. In the end, their respect for each other grew, as did a trusting friendship. Emmett was a wealth of resource for Edward regarding his condition and physical therapy and he always answered Edward's questions honestly and openly, never judging.

I continued to learn from Emmett. He taught me about the effects of PT on the body, and how to take care of Edward specifically. Then there was the massaging. After the first massage lesson, Emmett had showed me a few more times, going into muscle groups and what each one did.

"These will eventually shrink in size," Emmett said as he kneaded Edward's right calf. "I'm surprised they're not smaller yet."

Edward was face down on his bed, a small towel covering his ass as he laid his head on his folded arms. From his heavy breaths, I knew he was almost asleep.

"They have," I sighed. I hadn't told Edward I'd noticed, it wasn't something he needed to know. When I saw Emmett looking at me, I explained. "They were really big from basketball."

Emmett watched my technique with a skilled eye. I massaged Edward from the knee down, even his foot, and worked my way back up his leg.

"When he works with the braces, he's going to have added stress on his hips," Emmett explained, "from the motion of swinging them, as well as his oblique muscles. "

When I reached the towel, I slid it off, knowing Edward was wearing his briefs like he had every other time I'd helped Emmett. I moved my hands along his glutes and lower back, pressing and forming the warm, pliable flesh before moving up his back. In his light sleep, Edward moaned.

I glanced up at Emmett to find him watching me with an arched brow. "Should I leave you two alone?"

Heat bloomed over my cheeks and I shook my head. Emmett continued to guide me until the rubdown was complete. He tossed me a towel to wipe off my hands.

"I think you're good to take over from here."

"What do you mean?" I asked, handing him his towel.

"You can do his massages from now on. If you can, daily shoulder and upper arms, but more importantly all over on days he uses the braces or does any other strenuous activity…." He paused and broke into a big grin, "well, not that, that would probably relax him just fine."

My blush deepened.

Emmett picked up his bag and put the oil and towel into it. "I don't need to know everywhere you massage," he chuckled as he zipped his bag. "How's everything going with you? The race and stuff."

"Okay," I answered, not really sure Emmett wanted to hear the issues in my life.

"Ready for graduation?"

"Yeah, I guess," I shrugged.

"You guess?"

"It only means it's that much closer to being away from him," I said quietly.

Emmett slung his bag over his shoulder. "Hang in there, Whitlock, you've got all summer." I nodded and he walked to the door. "See you next week. Thanks for the help."

"Thanks, Emmett, see ya."

He closed the door behind him and looked down at my sleeping boy, his pale skin glistening with the oil we used on him. Using the towel, I wiped off the excess oil and then slid my arms under him to turn him so his head was on his pillow. After a kiss to his forehead, I grabbed my backpack and pulled out a few books. Homework hadn't been a priority for me since Edward's accident, but I had only a few more weeks left and then I wouldn't have to worry about it anymore. I was tempted to say fuck it and not do any, but I couldn't risk my grades dropping and giving OSU a reason to revoke my scholarship.

Lying next to Edward, I opened my history book and began the assigned reading. The room was silent except for the rain hitting the windows and the soft sounds coming from my boy. Jotting down notes as I read, I worked my way through the chapter, rewarding myself with a kiss to Edward's hand laying right next me. It was all I could do to look at my work and not Edward's chest, the silver barbells practically screaming for attention.

"Focus, Whitlock," I muttered to myself.

No matter how hard I tried, my eyes drifted to Edward's pierced nipples. There was only a week left before I was allowed to play with them. Edward had been very good about keeping me at arm's length, though he had given in once and let me flick them, but no tongue. They had healed nicely and no longer caused him any pain when he moved. So far, he'd been careful and his parents hadn't found out, but I figured it was only a matter of time until they knew.

"Hey," he murmured when he opened his eyes and caught me staring. "Doing homework?"

"Trying to," I laughed, "You keep distracting me."

"I was asleep," he scoffed.

"Doesn't matter." I leaned over and kissed him, whispering my love before pulling back.

"Few more weeks," he promised with a coy smile.

It had become my mantra. A few more weeks until I could touch him, a few more weeks until the race, a few more weeks until graduation, a few more weeks until we would be out as a couple.

It was the long few more weeks of my life.

From that day on, I continued to massage Edward just as Emmett had recommended, making sure he was thoroughly rubbed down after his physical therapy. I admit, on more than one occasion, I received my own rub down from Edward shortly after his. It wasn't easy running my hands over his hot, slick skin without getting horny. Afterwards, we would usually end up on his bed, smiling in my postcoital haze as I gazed at him and wondered how I got so lucky.

When I wasn't spending time with Edward, I was running or trying to get money for the race.

Though I wasn't alone in my efforts, my father had gathered some donations from his crew and even a few of his clients. Bella had continued to do a weekly bake sale during lunch and donate what money she raised, and my mother had arranged a meeting with me and the board of directors of Forks General Hospital.

She'd come home from work one morning, surprising me when I closed the fridge door to find her standing there in her scrubs and a sly smile.

"Guess what?" she asked excitedly.

"It's way too early for guessing," I grumbled, opening the carton of OJ and downing what was left of it.

"I got you a meeting with the board of directors for the hospital," she said.

Putting carton down, I ran the back of my arm over my mouth. "The what?"

"The board of directors, they run the hospital."

"Why would I want to meet with them?" I asked, confused.

Placing her bag on the counter, she leaned against it. "Because they are the ones who can approve a donation to your race. You meet with them, present your cause, and they give you a decision."

"What do you mean 'present'?" I choked.

"Give them a short presentation, tell them why you're asking for the money, stuff like that," she said with a shrug, making it sound so easy.

"I…I can't do that," I stuttered.

"Of course you can," she laughed. "It'll be easy."

"When is it?"

"Day after tomorrow at five. You're the last thing on their agenda."

She seemed pleased with herself, so whatever she'd done must have been difficult, and I knew I should have appreciated it, and I did, I was just also really fucking nervous. Public speaking wasn't my thing.

After a kiss on my cheek, she bounded upstairs for bed and I picked up my backpack and left for Edward's. The entire ride there, I wondered if I could get out of the meeting. I had no idea how to do a presentation or talk to a bunch of old men in suits. Maybe it just wasn't worth it. Then I remembered I was still many thousands shy of my goal, and Edward needed every penny he could get. Meeting with the board of directors scared me, but for Edward, trying was the least I could do.

Pulling into his driveway, I turned off the truck and watched as he rolled down the ramp, his hair still wet from his morning shower. Getting out, I closed my door and walked around the truck.

"Hey, love," he greeted, playfully bumping into me with his chair.

"Hey, baby, sleep well?"

He rolled his eyes. "Like you don't know. You were snoring in my ear all night," he laughed.

"Sorry," I mumbled as I lifted him into the truck. He slid over to the middle while I put the chair in the back. As soon as I was inside, he put his hand on my thigh.

"What's wrong?"

Not that I was one to hide my emotions, I pretty much wore them on my sleeve, but I didn't expect him to have picked up on it quite so fast. Then again, he was my boy.

Squeezing my thigh, he silently repeated his question.

Leaning my head against the seat, I closed my eyes. "My mother got me a meeting with the board of directors at her hospital. I need to do a presentation for them to see if they'll donate to the race." His hand loosened my thigh but he began to run it up and down my jeans. "I don't know how to do that," I sighed and opened my eyes.

"Love, you don't have to," he said soothingly. "It's not a big deal."

"But it is," I argued. "It's for you and you're a big deal. I need to do it, I just don't know how. I'm no good at that kind of shit."

"No good? Then how the hell have you managed to raise eight thousand dollars so far?" he challenged.

"My good looks?"

He exhaled a breath, and without looking toward his house first, leaned over and kissed me, gently pressing his lips to mine all too briefly before he pulled away.

"I will help you," he offered. "Come over tonight, we will put it together and practice."

"Yeah?" I grinned at him.


"Thanks, babe."

Turning the key in the ignition, I started the truck and backed out. School went as usual except every time I looked over at Edward I found him scribbling furiously into a notebook, occasionally stopping to tap his pencil against his lips before writing more. After school, we said goodbye at the lockers and I went to practice while Edward went home. I ran eight miles before calling it a day and driving over to Edward's.

I found him on his bed with his laptop on his thighs. Sitting open next to him was the notebook he'd been writing in all day. He looked up from the monitor when I walked in, his eyes immediately brightening.

"Hey, love," he said as I closed the door and kicked off my sneakers.

"Hey, babe," I sighed, walking around the other side of his bed and crawling on.

Kneeling next to him, I leaned over and kissed him, pushing his head back against the headboard with a thud as I ran my tongue along the seam of his lips before he opened and I plunged inside. With one sweep of his tongue over mine, my worries about the meeting began to fade away. His hand left the keyboard and wound into my hair, pausing at the ends every time before tugging on it again to draw me closer. Our bodies were parted by the notebook and laptop, but somehow he made my entire body tremble with desire. He didn't even care that I hadn't showered or changed after practice and probably smelled like a locker room, all he cared about was that I was there. Moaning into the kiss, I edged closer until my knees were against his hip and I flattened my palm on the other side of him to avoid putting it where I really wanted to go…his chest. He sighed in contentment when I moved my lips from his mouth to his jaw, tilting his head back further to lick the stubble.

"Been waiting all day to do this," I murmured against him.

"I've been waiting all day for you to do it," he chuckled. "But before we get too carried away, I want to show you something."

"Later," I mumbled, nipping his Adam's apple. There was an insistent hand on my chest, gently pushing me back.

"Making out later, show you this now," he said.

Frustrated, I groaned and sat back with a raised brow of impatience. The sooner he showed me, the sooner we could get back to the good stuff. "Fine, what is it?"

Edward motioned for me to turn around and look at his computer. There was a PowerPoint document open, and I scanned the page he was working on quickly.

Positive benefits include:

Hospital shows it cares about its patients and employees on a personal level

Community support for hospital will increase, including larger donations

Tax breaks

Clicking on the pad, I moved to the next page.

As a young member of this community, I want to show my peers that it is possible for one person to make a difference in a community and its residents. The Cullen family has continuously supported various fundraising events in the schools and town and its time we gave something back. Dr. Cullen is a long time staff member, giving this hospital his skill, time, and energy, often keeping him from his family. Forks General now has a chance to give back to one of their employees in a way that can benefit them both. It's in the best interest of the hospital to support this cause, the community, and the future of its patients.

I unfolded my legs and picked up the notebook so I could move right next to Edward. Feeling his warmth seep into my side and stretching my legs along his, I clicked on the next page and skimmed it. It was statistics on his injury, including the costs involved over the years of care. When I finally took my eyes from the monitor to look at Edward, he had his bottom lip between his teeth.

"It's for your presentation," he began.


Before I could argue with him, he interrupted. "You're there for me, it's the least I can do."

"The least? You did it all," I said with some awe. Looking down at the notebook I was holding and saw some of the facts and notes he'd written down at school. "You've been working on this all day?"

He shrugged. "Not all day, just here and there."

"Thank you, babe."

"You think it's good enough?" he asked worriedly, his eyes returning to the laptop.

"Are you kidding? It's fucking amazing," I told him before kissing him.

"You can use my laptop, just bring it there and either read from it or connect it to a screen."

"I'll use a screen. I want them to see it, more of an impact."

"Do you want to practice?"

"Babe, your parents are home," I teased him with a wiggle of my eyebrows and earning a roll of his eyes.

"Not with the dildo, dork. The presentation, do you want to practice on me."

"Oh," I frowned, "not nearly as much fun, but yeah, I should."

I hopped off the bed and Edward turned the laptop so I could see it, and then I spent the next hour practicing the presentation. We laughed when I screwed up and Edward offered suggestions when I got stuck. He guided me through it, and at the end of the hour, I had it memorized almost word for word. Smiling, he closed the laptop and called me over for a long kiss. When he pulled away, he crinkled his nose and looked at my tee shirt and shorts.

"You're going to shower, right? Wear something a little nicer?"

"Fuck off." I slapped his hand away. "What do you mean nicer?"

"I mean you should dress nicely. They will take you more seriously," he explained.

"No jeans?"

He shook his head.

"Tee shirt?"

More shaking.

"A suit?"

He nodded.

"I need to wear a suit," I stated more than asked.

"I know you have one, you wore it to the track banquet last year."

Bringing my eyes to his, I asked, "Do you honestly think I can do this? Get them to give me five thousand dollars?"

"I know you can. Will they hand over five k? I don't know, but I doubt you will walk out of their empty handed," he assured me.

I sat on the edge of the bed next to him. "I wish you could go with me."

"Me too, but you don't need me, Jas. You'll do fine."

We kissed for a few minutes before he pushed me away with a flicker in his eyes. "Homework time."

Groaning, I agreed and we muddled through the small amount of homework we had. When we were done, he granted me the make out session he'd promised, even stroking me through my shorts until I came in them. After changing into a pair of his sweatpants, we joined his parents and Alice for a late dinner and then watched some TV before I finally climbed off his bed, kissed him goodnight, and left. I was barely out of the driveway before I was calling him. He kept me company all night, after singing him to sleep, I let his heavy breaths lull me into my own sleep.

I skipped practice the next day so I could get ready for the meeting at the hospital. I dropped Edward off at his house and went home, rehearsing my speech while I showered. After I dried off and ran a towel over my hair, I dressed in the suit I'd pulled out of my closet. My stomach was in knots, churning even though I hadn't eaten all day. No matter how many deep breaths I took or how many times I told myself I could do it, I still felt nervous. Convinced I looked as professional as I could, I put on my dress shoes and bounded down the stairs. I had an hour before I was due at the hospital, but wanted to swing by Edward's first.

Walking into the kitchen to get a soda, I found my father staring the open fridge. He looked me up and down before asking, "Meeting today?"

"Yeah, in an hour," I answered, reaching around him for a can of Coke.


"A little," I half lied as I turned to leave.

"Good luck," he said.

"Thanks," I called out over my shoulder as I walked toward the front door.

Minutes later I was parked in Edward's driveway. Inside, I ignored Alice's obvious stare of curiosity and went to Edward's room. He was on his bed, his head bobbing to the Beatles as his eyes glanced back and forth from his physics book to a notebook he was writing in. Looking up, he gave me a long, appreciative once over.

"Wow, love, you're breathtaking," he whispered.

I spun for him so he could get the full effect, chuckling when he whistled at my backside. "You approve?"

"More than approve. I think you should wear this on our wedding day," he suggested. "Hell, every day."

"Yeah?" I looked down at myself, not seeing anything special.

"Yeah," he agreed. "Come here." I crossed the two steps separating us and sat on the edge of his bed. Reaching up, he took some unruly waves and pushed them behind my ear. "Much better."

I exhaled a breath leaned into his touch.

"You can do this," he assured me. "Don't doubt it, love."

My racing heart slowed the more he spoke, calming under his guidance and touch. I kissed him, lingering sweeps of my lips over his, barely tasting him before sitting back. He smiled, his perfect lush lips curling up to reveal his white teeth.

"You should go, don't want to be late."

I nodded and stood, grabbing his laptop off his desk. One more kiss and an 'I love you' later and I was walking out to the truck. During the short drive to the hospital, I listened to "Maybe I'm Amazed" on repeat until I was pulling into the parking lot.

Following my mother's directions, I went to the fifth floor and found the office of the meeting. Outside the door, I took a deep breath and closed my eyes, willing Edward to be next to me.

You can do this. Don't doubt it, love.

Raising my hand, I knocked and waited for the 'come in'. Opening the door, I saw ten older men, some in suits and some in scrubs, sitting around a large rectangular table.

"Mr. Whitlock, welcome," a man sitting at the end said.

Putting on a smile, I thanked him and entered.

Lying on my bed staring at the ring on my finger, I thought about that day, how anxious I'd been, how once I began, I'd calmed and went through the presentation flawlessly, never once stumbling over their questions. After thirty minutes, I walked out with a guaranteed donation of five thousand dollars, as well as future donations should I run the race on a yearly basis. They agreed on the good public relations that supporting their community, employees, and patients would create.

Their check put my total up to thirteen thousand, and while I appreciated their large donation, the most surprising donation I received was definitely from Forks High School. Not only did teachers I'd never had stop me in the hallway and stuff twenty dollar bills into my hand, but a few days before I'd gotten the biggest surprise donation of all.

I had met Edward in the hall after his music class and walked next to him toward the cafeteria.

"Ya know," I said as I followed him through the doorway, "I will miss bitching at the lunch ladies every day."

"I don't think they will miss you," he chuckled. I gasped, feigning hurt before laughing.

We headed for the lunch line where I grabbed a tray and slid it along the railing. When I lifted my head from the food to the woman behind the counter, I noticed a sly smile on her face.

"Are you counting down the days until I'm gone?" I asked her and she laughed.

"We will all miss your smiling face, Mr. Whitlock," she teased.

"I would have smiled a lot more if this line had ever gotten straightened out," I grumbled and Edward sighed. He was used to my ranting, hell, they were all used to it. Picking up an apple, I held it to Edward and he nodded. I put it on the tray. "Ham or turkey?"

"Turkey," he replied, pushing the chair right behind me.

After a few glares and comments muttered under my breath, I reached the end of the line and handed the woman at the register my card. She swiped it through the machine and handed it back to me. Just as I went to walk away, she reached for my arm.

"For you," she said, holding out a white envelope with 'good luck' scrawled on it, "from all of us."

I glanced down at the envelope and back to at her, then down the row at them all to find them grinning at me. I had no idea how they knew about the race or how much was in the envelope, but it didn't matter.

"Thanks," I choked out quietly. For once, they had silenced me.

"Good luck in the race," one of them said and they all began to clap. I heard Edward thanking them as I carried the tray toward the table, the enveloped stuffed into my pocket.

At the table, I sat down and waited for Edward to move the chair to the table before taking his food from the tray and putting it in front of him. Bella sat down a few seconds later, Newton following close behind.

"Are you going to open it?" Edward asked me.

"Open what?" Bella piped in.

"The lunch ladies gave Jasper an envelope," Edward answered, then looked at me. "Open it."

Shifting, I took it out of my back pocket and tore the flap open to find loose cash inside. Edward craned his neck to see what it is. I flipped through the money, feeling guiltier with each bill I counted. Folding it back up, I put it back in my pocket.

"How much?" Newton asked.

I looked at Edward, telling him silently before I spoke. "Three hundred dollars."

"That's great," Bella exclaimed.

"Guess they like your bitching," Edward said with a smile, "Whitlock charm and all."

He didn't know it, but I rested my foot against his.

It was that three hundred dollars along with the donation from Ronaldo's that made me realize what I was doing might just make a difference, and not to just Edward, but to others as well. Maybe the town was becoming more aware of its members, of accessibility for them all to everywhere. If just one person changed their way of thinking, it was all worth it.

The weight of the silver on my hand brought me back to the present, the minutes slowly ticking by until Edward returned from practice. Even just the small movement sent an ache through my body. I'd been sore before the track meet, and regretted the timing of my training. The miles I'd been running daily had increased, and only two weeks before I'd completed ten miles for the first time.

It was a Sunday morning and I'd woken up in the best place possible, Edward's arms. I stretched and gave him a lengthy good morning kiss before getting dressed in some shorts and a tee shirt. After Edward's basketball game the day before, we measured out a ten mile route through town starting at his house.

"If I'm not back in two hours, send your dad along the route," I said to Edward and I tied my sneakers.

He laughed, stopping when he realized I was serious. "You'll be fine."

"Hope so."

Standing, I looked down at his half naked body, remembering just how hot it had been to come on his chest the night before, and how I'd gotten hard again when he let me lick it off even though it hadn't been three weeks yet. Giving him a quick kiss, I headed out.

It was still early, the sounds of families coming to life were around as I started down his street. Setting an easy pace, I listened the music in my ears and let my mind drift. I ran the route, looking for the mile markers I'd made note of the day before. With each one I passed, I got a little more confident I might be able to make the distance. I hit eight miles, the furthest distance I'd gone until then. My breathing was even but my pace lagged slightly as I hit nine miles.

When I turned the final corner, I heard a basketball bouncing. My body instinctively sped up knowing he was so close. Edward was in the driveway shooting when I reached his yard and slowed to a walk. Spinning the chair around, he grinned at me.

"You lived."

"I'm never running that far again," I panted, "unless there's a zombie apocalypse."

Edward laughed. "If zombies invade, we're driving, not running."

"Or we could join them in a 'Thriller' dance," I suggested, turning my head toward him.

"There is always that option, assuming they are Jackson fans. Breakfast?"

"You know the way to my heart."

"It's no secret that it's always been through your stomach."

My running and Edward's basketball dominated our lives. Edward's team continued to do well, having lost only one of their games. The more they played together, the better they got, learning each other's capabilities. The team trusted Edward, he led them as much as Riley did. There was admiration in each of their eyes as Edward directed them through plays and close games, his knowledge and love for the game showed in everything he did on the court. While I'd missed some practices, I'd been to every game along with his parents.

I remembered his practice the Tuesday after he'd gotten pierced. As usual, I was on the bleachers, my eyes undecided between physics and Edward. I tried to keep them on the book in front of me but when Sam said it was time to scrimmage, I couldn't help but look up.

"Riley, Collin, Paul, Edward, skins. Quill, Leah, Jared and Brady, shirts," Sam announced, dividing up the team.

My eyes shot to Edward and found him already looking at me, the color drained from his face. Sighing, Edward sat up straight and reached for the hem of his practice jersey. He dropped it on top of his bag on the sidelines, and took a deep breath before spinning his chair around to his teammates. Only two people seemed to notice, and they were the two I expected.

Leah's eyes widened a bit, remaining on Edward longer than usual before she turned away. Then there was Riley. Edward purposely didn't look in Riley's direction, but Riley most definitely looked in Edward's. I'd watched Riley a little closer since finding out for certain he was gay, but saw no change between them, Riley was still Edward's go to guy on the team, they still talked and laughed. Riley stared at Edward as he rolled to the middle of the court. As soon as Edward neared him, Riley pushed over to him, tapping into his chair to get Edward's attention.

Reluctantly, Edward looked up. Riley grinned, his eyes dropped to Edward's adored chest before he leaned toward him and spoke. I was too far away to hear what was said, but Edward looked toward me before smiling and giving a slight nod. When Riley sat up straight, he was laughing and playfully pushed Edward's chair.

The scrimmage began and any hope of me doing homework went down the drain. For the next half an hour, my eyes never once left Edward. My cock was throbbing in my jeans, and I bounded down the bleachers when practice was over. While waiting for Edward, I rested against the doorway. Riley winked at me as he cruised by on his way out.

Inside the truck, I climbed onto Edward's lap. With my hands tunneling through his hair, I asked him what Riley had said to him.

Even in the dark cab, I could see his blush. "He asked if you liked them."

"Mmm" I purred, "and what did you say?"

"I said you were counting the hours until you could touch them, and he laughed and said 'I'll bet he is.'"

"Hours? I'm counting the seconds," I corrected him with a chuckle. "But until then, I will have to settle for you touching m—" He cut me off with his mouth on mine and I moaned into the kiss.

I was completely lost in my thoughts when my phone rang and quickly yanked me back. Picking it up, I smiled.

"Hey, baby," I sighed, relieved he was home safe.

"Hey, love," he greeted, sounding just as relieved. "Missed you."

"You too. How was practice?" I held the phone to my shoulder with my chin and twisted the ring around my finger.

"Not bad. I told them I wouldn't be at the game on Saturday."

"Was Sam mad?"

"Nope, thought it was really great and wished you luck," he answered.

"Was Riley mad?"

"Nah. He said the team isn't very good, they might still have a shot at winning."

"Did he behave on the ride?" I teased.

"Perfect gentlemen. Mostly talked about the other team, what Brady needs to work on as my substitute point guard. How was your meet?"


"Did you win?" he asked as if he didn't already know.

"Yeah, both races."



"Are you looking at the rings again?"

I stopped spinning the ring. "How do you always know?"

"Because you do it every night and your voice gets all wishful," he admitted.

"I can't wait, Edward. I want to marry you tomorrow," I confessed breathlessly.

His laugh filled my ears and my heart. "Me too, but not sure that's a good enough reason to skip school. Besides, graduation is only a little more than a week away."

"I can't believe it's finally here." I slipped the ring off my finger and put it back in the box, returning them both to the bag before leaning over my bed and putting Teddy, now dubbed the ring guardian, under my bed.

"Me either. A few finals next week and we're done with Forks High," he sighed. "I need to do my routine, want to come?"

"Like you need to ask?" I said as rolled to my back again.

We spent the rest of the night like we did every other one. Edward went through his nightly routine while I filled him in about the track meet and asked questions about basketball. There was a slight attempt at doing homework but we quickly decided that phone sex was more important. He never even mentioned my cock, all he had to do was talk about how I could play with his nipples in a few days and I was a crying out his name.

After I cleaned up, I sang him to sleep, the lyrics gradually fading away as I fell asleep with my boy's breath in my ears.


"Do you have everything you need?" he asked as I set my bag down in his room.

"Yep, think so," I replied sounding more confident than I felt. My shirt clung to me in the mid June heat and I tugged it over my head and dropped it on the floor. Edward raised a brow.

"What? It's fucking hot," I complained. "You need a fan or something."

"Love, it's going to be fine."

"Of course it's fine," I snapped, "just fucking hot."

He sighed and patted his thigh. Accepting the invitation, I climbed onto his lap, hanging my legs over the armrest of the chair and leaning against his solid chest. Long fingers parted my sweaty waves, separating them again and again. The gesture was soothing and the muscles I was unknowingly tensing relaxed under his touch. His other hand moved to my thigh, his thumb brushing over the skin below my shorts. Edward's magic touch took affect and I sank into him, closing my eyes and enjoying in being there with him.

"You're going to do fine tomorrow," he reassured me.

The second I'd walked into the room, he'd known what was wrong.

"What if I don't? What if I can't finish?"

The race, the one I'd been training months for, running my ass off and getting donations, was the next day. In little more than twelve hours I was going to be in a crowd of runners waiting for the starter's gun to go off. Not wanting to wear myself out, I'd skipped track and had gone home to pack for Edward's. I was spending the night at his place and driving to the race in the morning.

"Love," he nuzzled my forehead with his lips, "you will finish. You're strong and you've trained for this. You're ready."

Realistically, I knew he was right, I wouldn't let myself fail. I'd already run ten miles, another three wasn't going to make much difference.

"Will Coach be mad you skipped practice today?"

Lulled into comfort, I shook my head. "He doesn't care. Last practice anyway," I mumbled before I could stop myself. He stiffened instantly.

"Last practice? Why is it the last practice, Jas? The qualifying meet is next week," he interrogated.

Biting my lip, I lifted my head and found him glaring at me. He knew something was up, he just wasn't sure what. "I love you?" I said with a chuckle trying to get him to laugh. It didn't work.

"Jas?" he growled.

"The qualifying meet is tomorrow," I confessed quietly.


I nodded.

"You're missing the meet to run in the race." It wasn't a question, he already knew the answer. "Love, you can't, you need to do the meet."

"No," I disagreed, "I'm running the marathon. I raised the money, I've trained for it, now it's time to finish what I started."

"But the meet…"

"Edward, it's no big deal." I wasn't lying, it wasn't a big deal, not in comparison to what I was doing. Before the accident, the state meet was what I strived for, but all that had changed the night Edward was hurt.

"It's your last chance to beat the guy from La Push."

"I've beaten him all year, Edward."

"You've wanted to be the state champion since you moved here," he countered with a different approach.

I shrugged. "Dreams change."

The rims of his green eyes brightened with moisture as he stared at me with a look caught somewhere between anger and love. The emotions stirred around him as he shifted between them, settling on guilt until it darkened his mossy eyes and one tear rolled down his cheek. Reaching up, I wiped it away.

"Don't," I pleaded softly.

"You're giving up your dream for me, just like you were going to for college," he whispered brokenly.

"I'm not giving up my dream, Edward, just doing something different. Instead of being state champion, I can say I ran thirteen miles and raised fifteen thousand dollars. That's more of an accomplishment than a trophy sitting on my shelf."

He took a few shaky breaths, but his eyes never left mine. I refused to let him turn to away, I wanted him to see the truth in my soul.

"Are you sure?"

Putting my temple to his, I murmured, "Positive."

He gave me a smile before pressing his lips to mine in a salty, wet kiss. His palm was flat on my back, pushing me closer to him to deepen the kiss.

"You are hot," he said as he pulled away.

"Mmm, so are you," I whispered.

"No, I mean you're skin, it's hot," he commented. "You're nervous."

"It's hot out," I denied.

His eyes glanced over my shoulder out the window. "You could go for a swim. The pool guys came yesterday, it's uncovered."

"Tempting," I said, looking around to the pool. The cover was off and the weak rays from the setting sun sparkled off the smooth surface. "But not unless you go with me."

"I can't swim," he snorted.

I turned to him, "You can with me."

"Jas…" He tried to put up a fight but I was already digging through his drawers for his swimsuit. When I held it up, he shook his head.

"C'mon, please?" I begged.

"I can't."

"You can." Standing, I tossed his suit to him. "Get changed."

Leaving no room for argument, I folded my arms across my chest and waited until he transferred to his bed to change. He complained the entire time, but he took off his sweatpants and put on his swimming trunks. After he moved back to the chair, he spun around and pushed down the hallway. Dashing into the bathroom, I grabbed two towels and then followed him through the kitchen to the sliding glass door where Edward opened it and rolled out onto the patio. Closing the door behind me, I passed him and walked to the edge of the pool the steps in the shallow end. Stopping next to me, he looked at the pool. It had been the place he'd stared at for weeks on end following his accident. The memories created in the pool had haunted him, ones he thought never again possible.

I was going to show him different.

I saw his resolve to be out there weakening, and before he could stop me, I bent over and scooped him up. In my arms, he leaned against me and didn't fight me as I walked down the steps and into the pool. The water was cold and refreshing on my tired legs.

"What are you doing?" he murmured with a sigh.

"Swimming, what does it look like?"

I continued until the water reached Edward's feet. Trying to figure out the best position, I stopped and looked around. Spotting a Styrofoam noodle floating near the side, I headed that way. The water rose around Edward's legs but he never once doubted me. When I reached the noodle, I lowered us into the water, replacing my arm under Edward's knees with the noodle. Once it was supporting his lower half, I shifted him until his back was against my chest and I moved my arms to his back. The water immediately soaked the tee shirt he'd left on.

"It's cold," he said with a shiver.

"I can warm you up," I suggested into his ear as his head rested heavily on my shoulder.

"How?" he challenged daringly.

The sun had just lowered over the tree line, the last rays glimmered in his green eyes. Keeping one arm under his back, I wrapped the other around his chest. He was buoyant, light with the noodle's support and easing the strain of his weight off my body. His knees and the tops of his feet were out of the water, but his calves, thighs, and hips were all under it. Spreading his arms, he let them rest on the glassy surface.

"Remember our first kiss?" I asked him softly, "right over there." He glanced to the side of the pool where I'd risked our friendship in the hopes of something more. The risk had paid off. "I was so scared and so sure at the same time. I was more afraid of not knowing how to kiss than I was of you rejecting me."

"Because you knew I wanted it."

"Yeah, I think deep down I knew you did." Slowly, I walked us around the deep end of the pool, gently swaying us back and forth and letting his body float on the water.

"We've done a lot more than kiss in here," he reminded me.

Instantly I recalled the many hand jobs given under water, along with a few wet humps.

"Mmm, we have."

It was quiet except for a few early heat bugs, the water lapping around us as we moved, and a few distant sounds from the house. Edward was relaxed, but I knew inside he was still worried about me, about what he felt I was giving up for him.

Maybe I'm amazed at the way you love me all the time
Maybe I'm afraid of the way I love you
Maybe I'm amazed at the way you pulled me out of time
And hung me on a line
Maybe I'm amazed at the way I really need you

His eyes closed and his head turned toward me. Between verses, I kissed him. Graduation was only a week away, it no longer mattered if we were caught. Edward moaned into the kiss, lifting one of his wet arms to curl around my neck as his tongue tentatively entered my mouth. It wasn't that he was unsure I wanted it there, it was the part of him holding back. For as much as I didn't worry about someone walking out and discovering us, Edward did. After so long of hiding our emotions, touches, and looks, it was going to take some time before he could openly touch me in front of family and friends.

Our tongues met and tangled, and I shuddered.

It was as if we'd come full circle. Two summers before we'd shared our first kiss in the dark of a sunset, and there we were doing it again. So much had happened, our lives had gone from friends to lovers in the span of one that fateful night, and two years later we were engaged.

In little over a month, Edward was going to be my husband.

My body began to react to his kiss, a racing heart, muffled moans, and twitching cock. When his hand fisted my hair, I knew he was feeling it too.

Tearing his mouth from mine, he looked at my swollen lips and smiled. "I thought we were out here to cool off."

I laughed and he turned to face forward again. Continuing around the pool, we swam together until night had completely fallen. When Edward trembled, I headed for the shallow end. Pulling the noddle out, I picked him up and walked up the few steps to the cement where the chair waited. I set him in it, then reached for a towel off the lounger and handed it to him. He dried off his arms and then rubbed the towel in his hair. Kneeling in front of him, I patted his legs dry, even the bottoms of his feet. I looked up to find him staring at me.

"What?" I asked, shaking my own wet hair from my face.

"Thank you," he whispered.

"Just drying your legs, no need to thank me."

He shook his head. "That's not what I mean. Thank you for…for everything, Jasper. For tomorrow, for yesterday, today…for kissing me two years ago."

Reaching up, I cupped his cheek. "Every second has been my pleasure."

I wanted nothing more than to kiss him, to show him how much I meant what I said, instead, I stood up and motioned for the door.

Half an hour later, we were both dry and on his bed, dressed in nothing but pajama pants. Edward was propped up against his headboard while I straddled on his thighs, trying desperately to focus on his face and not his chest.

"Seriously, the fucking hottest thing I've ever seen," I mumbled, my eyes gazing over his torso.


Unable to answer, I nodded and forced my eyes up to his. "Ya know, Sunday will be three weeks."

Starting at the light hair above the drawstring of his pants, I dragged a finger up the dip in the middle of his abs, circling his right nipple widely before doing a figure eight around them.

"And since that's only two nights away, do you think I could touch them?"

Glancing down at my finger, he nodded, and then stared as my finger gradually closed the width of the circle until it was outlining the edge of his nipple. Watching him, I slid my finger back and forth over the barbell. It only took that light touch for his back to arch off the pillows as his body pleaded for more. Taking the ends of the barbell between my fingers, I gave it a light tug. He cried out, his eyes screwing shut as he hissed. Biting my lip so hard I thought it might bleed, I let him relax before I did it again.

"Fuck," he groaned. His hands, which had been clenching the blanket, moved to my shoulders where his fingers dug into my flesh.

"Feel good, baby?" I asked, my fingers never ceasing.

"You have no fucking idea," he moaned before a breathless, "More."

Continuing to twist and lightly tug on the barbell, I brought my other hand to his hair, running through the thick locks before fisting it. Pulling his head back, I leaned toward him and licked up his neck to his ear, taking it between my teeth and nipping. A quiet stream of obscenities fell from him as he took short breaths. My hips began to rock back and forth over his flaccid cock while my own grew with each sound he released.

"You make me so hard," I told him. "You're so fucking hot."

There was a sharp intake of breath and then I felt a hand on my hip briefly before it was at my waist, yanking on my pajamas. Lifting myself to my knees, I kept my attention on his ear as I licked the shell of it while he pulled my pants down over my ass and freed my erection. His fingers wrapped around me and he gave me a long stroke.

"Jesus," I breathed, "feels so good." I lightly scratched my fingers over his scalp and moaned in his ear.

"Take my pants off," he murmured.

Not waiting for him to change his mind, I released his hair and sat up. It was rare that Edward asked to be naked with me. He was still embarrassed about his dick, still worried it wouldn't get hard. Moving down his legs, I hooked my fingers into the elastic of his pants. Placing his hands next to him, he pressed his shoulders into the pillows and lifted himself long enough for me to slide his pants down to his thighs. Easing them off, I tossed them aside and took my own off the rest of the way. Crawling back to him, I sat on his hips, capturing his cock under my ass, smiling when it twitched.

Returning my hand to his nipple, I erotically circled my hips on him. He held my dick loosely, barely pumping me, but it was enough to send my heart pounding. Every time I tweaked his nipple, his movement on my cock would stop, as if he couldn't handle both at once. I wanted get lost in his eyes like I usually did, but right then it was his pecs that demanded my attention.

"Can I lick them?" I whispered.

"Fuck yes," he moaned, lifting his upper body and offering himself to me. Bending over, I circled his nipple with the tip of my tongue before flicking it over the barbell. "Oh fuck…."

Encouraged, I latched onto it, sucking and licking, using my tongue, lips and teeth. Edward's ceased stroking me and his head thrashed from side to side. Taking the opportunity of his condition, I put my fingers on his other nipple, lavishing it with the same attention. Edward hissed, his back arching toward me. I could see his body flexing under me, the ab muscles tightening, his forearms tensing, the veins in his neck straining as he fought for control. His cock grew, gradually lengthening until he was completely hard. It would only take a shift of my hips and he'd be pressing to enter me.

The timbre of his sounds grew and I glanced at the door. If he kept it up, someone was sure to hear him. While I was all for coming out, I didn't want it to happen by his one of his parents walking in and finding me straddling their son, but of us naked and hard.

I could talk myself out of quite a bit but even I wouldn't be able to explain that.

Releasing his nipple, I moved my lips to ear again. "Sshh, babe, they'll hear us."

I hated doing it, I wanted nothing more than to hear him groan in pleasure, but it was too risky. He nodded in response, and then moaned long and loud. He was writhing under me, and if I hadn't been sitting on him, he would have fallen off the bed.

"Please touch me," he begged.

There was nothing I wouldn't do for him, and I certainly wasn't going to deny him my touch. "You want me touch you?"


"You want me to suck your nipples?"

I quickly kissed down his neck until my mouth was taking one of his nipples again. His long fingers tangled into my hair, keeping me fused to him. Aching for relief, my cock hovered above his abs and I began to rock my hips back and forth, gliding my ass over his length. Soon I was gritting my teeth to stop myself from being louder than he was. Lifting my head, I looked at him through my lashes, his closed eyes and parted lips and flushed cheeks.

Fuck, he was beautiful.

"You're hard, babe."

His eyes opened and he looked down his body to where his cock was poking between my legs. I shuddered and my hips automatically starting moving in earnest, rubbing over his captured cock. At the same time, I moved my mouth to his other nipple, teasing it briefly before devouring it, concentrating on the coveted piercing. One hand remained his hair while the other relentlessly twisted the barbell. I feasted on his chest, using his reaction sounds to judge if he liked something more than something else. When his back rose off the pillows and his hand tightened in my hair, I knew he was close.

With the exception of the occasional involuntary twitch of his cock, his hips remained completely still. Keeping both my hands on his nipples, I returned my lips to neck, taking his tender skin between my lips and sucking enough to leave a small mark before continuing to his ear.

"Feel so fuckin' good under me, so hard against my ass," I murmured to him.

"I think I'm gonna come," he whimpered, his eyes closing as it hit him.

His upper body rose toward me and he released soft grunts as the waves of his climax crashed over him. It was more powerful than any other time, his body's reaction more intense. The blunt ends of his nails pressed into my shoulders and between my legs his cock pulsed. It was weak, but I felt it. Not getting my hopes up, I opened my eyes and looked down his chest, not surprised when I saw his dry abs. There was some precum dripping from the slit, but no cum on his body.

I rode out the remains of his orgasm, keeping him there until he finally fell back onto his pillows, his breaths heavy, but slowing. His eyelids fluttered opened and he smiled. Kissing him, I renewed my movements, reaching down with my own hand to stroke myself. Having seen the force of his orgasm in his face and body and sounds quickly brought me to my own. It was only a few long drags later that I was burying my head in the crook of his neck to muffle my cries as I came on him. My body shook and trembled and I clutched at him. Edward whispered in my ear, I heard him say how hot I was and how much he loved me until I finally fell on top of him. His hands were dancing lightly over my back and I shivered in the aftermath of my climax, but found the strength to lift my head.

"How was it?" I asked him tentatively. I wasn't sure if he would be disappointed he hadn't ejaculated, and even quickly debated on letting him think my cum was partially his.

He smiled lazily, his eyes drowsy. "Really good. Stronger than before."

"Yeah? Just wait until we make love," I said with a wink. His laughter shook us both. "We should clean up."

He agreed with a sigh and after one more kiss, I sat up and climbed off him. Grabbing a towel, I wiped myself and then Edward while he watched me with sleepy eyes. Finding the pajamas I'd take off earlier, I put them on and tossed the towel aside. Taking Edward's pants from the end of the bed, I helped him put them on and then climbed next to him, curling into his warm body. Putting my head on his chest, I laid an arm over his middle and entwined my legs with his.

"Still nervous?" he asked tiredly.

"For some reason, not as much," I chuckled.

"Good," he laughed. Turning his head, he kissed my forehead. "Sleep, love."

"Mm, sounds good. Alarm?"

"It's set," he yawned, tightening his arm around me.

Before I could begin to sing, my eyes closed and sleep took me.


It seemed there were people everywhere, mostly runners, but their families and friends too. The sun was out, but it was still a cool morning, one good for running. Lifting my arms above my head, I clasped my hands and twisted side to side. I'd already stretched a few times, I was doing it more out of nervousness than the actual need to be any looser than I was.

Having woken up wrapped in Edward's far earlier than I had intended, I found my mind already working, going over the route in my head, the pace I wanted to keep over the distance I was going to run.

When I finally opened my eyes, I found Edward watching me. I was warm and secure and I didn't want to leave him. Staring at me, he gave me a half smile and enraptured me with the way his lips curled up and the sunlight caught the greens in his eyes. Lifting his hand from the bed, he pushed my hair off my face.

"You can do it," he murmured.

It was a phrase I'd said to him many times before games or when he needed extra confidence. For months I'd stood behind him, whispering encouragement in his ear and pushing him to try. It was his turn now, he was giving the strength I doubted I had. I wanted to thank him and tell him I loved him, but I didn't move or speak. He knew it all already anyway, he always did.

"I should get going," I finally announced, making no movement. Looking down his chest, I asked, "Will you be there?"

More than anything I wanted him there, but not if it would bother him to see all those people doing what he could no longer do.

"Every step of the way," he replied and grabbed my iPhone from the nightstand.

The playlist.

Kissing him, I got off the bed and got dressed. My stomach churned, my head throbbed and my hands wouldn't stay out of my hair. Picking up my bag, I kissed Edward one last time.

"I'll see you there," he promised.

"Be safe, baby."

"See you soon, love."

That had only been a few hours before, and now I was ready to run the race.

"Ready?" my mother asked from behind me.

Turning, I gave her a nervous smile and nodded. It was a lie, and as a mother, she knew that. But as my mother, she let it pass and handed me a Gatorade.

"Don't drink too much," she warned.

I downed it all and handed it back to her, ignoring her raised brow. "How much time?"

"About ten minutes," she answered, glancing at her watch. "I saw Esme and Carlisle over there."

"Edward with them?" I asked, looking in the direction she motioned.


My dad appeared at her side and I shook my head at his tee shirt, black with huge white letters.

Team Whitlock

Then my mother unzipped her sweatshirt and showed me her matching one.

"Really? And you guys call yourselves adults?"

My dad shrugged. "Not on the weekends."

"I'm going to go find Edward, he will be less embarrassing," I chuckled.

They each gave me a quick hug and said they would meet me at the finish line. As soon as they released me, I was walking toward the patch of grass where the Cullens were. I spotted Edward's hair and picked up my pace, breaking into a jog. He looked up and saw me, a wide grin on his face. Dressed in jeans and his basketball sweatshirt, he looked as gorgeous as ever. Stopping in front of him, I glanced around for his parents.

"They went to get water," he said without prompting. "You ready?" Biting my lip, I nodded. His eyes squinted in the sun and he didn't look around before mouthing, "I love you."

"Love you too," I mouthed back.

Just as I was about to break the rules and brush my fingers along his gloved hand, Dr. Cullen appeared with Mrs. Cullen by his side, both in matching tee shirts.

"Not you guys too," I groaned.

Mrs. Cullen beamed and pointed to Edward. "Blame him, it was his idea."

Turning my attention to Edward, I watched as he pulled off his sweatshirt and revealed a red tee shirt with the Team Whitlock in black letters. His eyes glimmered mischievously and I didn't know if should kiss him or hit him. I settled for a smile and a roll of my eyes.

"There's one for you too," Esme said, handing me a tee shirt. It was red like Edward's and I unfolded it and held it up.

Team Cullen.

Without hesitating, I pulled off my tee shirt and proudly replaced it with my new one.

"Thanks," I smiled and Edward winked.

The announcer came over the loudspeaker, directing all runners to the starting line.

It was time.

One last look to Edward, a silent 'I love you' exchanged before he said, "Good luck. See you at the finish line."

"Hope so," I mumbled.

Dr. and Mrs. Cullen wished me luck and I gave them a wave as I made my way to the line. As nervous as I was, my heart was oddly calm. It wasn't pounding or racing, it was steady, as if my body knew it could do it. It was my mind that doubted me. I was surrounded by people, mostly twenty-something men and women dressed in everything from old tee shirts and shorts to high-tech running gear. I held my earbuds in my hand, my iPhone was strapped to my upper arm with my music ready to go.

A few days before, I'd gone to Edward's after practice and flopped on his bed in a heap of sweaty exhaustion. Edward was at his desk with the laptop open.

"Hey, love," he greeted without turning around. "What's your pace?"

"Excuse me?" I didn't even bother to lift my head from my folded arms to look at him.

"You per mile pace."

"A bit under six when I run only a mile, but when the longer I run, the slower I go. Probably between seven and eight. Why?"

"No reason," he mumbled. "Can I have your phone?" Not even bothering to ask why, I pulled it from my pocket and held it out to him. He snagged it and connected it to his computer.

"What are you doing?"

"A surprise playlist for you, but you can't listen until the race."

"Why not," I whined.

"Because it's a surprise."

I heard more clicking, but nothing more until fingers were brushing my hair of my face. "Love?" he whispered softly.

Forcing my eyes open, I lifted my head. "Finished?"

"Yeah, about an hour ago," he chuckled.

"Oh, sorry," I yawned. Leaning forward, he kissed my head.

"Want to sleep more?"

"Only if you join me."

He moved to the bed, dragging his legs behind him as he shifted onto the pillow, his arm extended in an invitation I readily accepted. Turning around, I stretched out against him, my head in the crook of his arm. It was only seconds before I was asleep again.

"Ready, set…."

The gun's crack pierced the air, yanking me back to present as all the runners surged forward as one. Stuffing my headphones in, I tapped Edward's playlist he'd made for me and "Eye of the Tiger" began blasting in my ears. I might have been in a sea of people, but I couldn't hear anything but the music. There was some bumping and apologetic looks as we all worked our way over the starting line and began to spread out on the first part of the course.

Everything else faded away except for the music and my breaths. My body did has it had been trained to do and settled into a relaxed, even pace. Staring at the horizon, I waited until the runners were further apart before dropping my gaze to the pavement. I watched my feet hit it, eating it up stride for stride, each one bringing me closer to the finish line.

Thirteen miles away.

As it always did when I ran, my mind drifted and let my body take over. I thought about Edward, about the man he'd become, how much he'd changed and yet remained the same. The challenges he'd faced in six months had almost broken him, beaten him into a dark corner, but somehow he always fought his way back into the light. It was a strength and determination I'd never seen in anyone before and as much as I knew he wanted to give up many times, he never did. The Edward before the accident was kind and caring and loving, but he was sheltered and focused on basketball. The new Edward learned the harsh realities of the world, what the tragic events of one night could do to someone and their loved ones. He was no longer sheltered, and his focus had shifted to one of literally surviving one day at a time.

If anyone knew how fragile life was, it was Edward. He'd come so close to losing his own, and in a way he had lost it, that he appreciated the smaller things more than ever. There were days he was fucking pissed at the world, at the chair and his life in it, and who could blame him? But bookending those bad days were ones of laughter, a sound for a while I thought I might not hear again, and love shared between us. Edward had gone from being ashamed of his new body to showing off his torso with pride and accepting his thinning legs with less hate.

Edward had become the man I wanted to be.

There were people lining the streets, some holding up signs of support, others just clapping and cheering on all the runners. At the first intersection, there were wooden barricades and policeman directing traffic. The runners had broken off into groups from the elite runners to the casual ones. I saw teams, groups all dressed in same colored tee shirts for whatever cause they were raising money. I couldn't stop the smile at the thought of my very own team tee shirt.

Team Cullen

Damn right I was team Cullen.

I hit the three mile mark and glanced down at my watch to check my time. My pace was still even and I was on target with the time I'd allowed myself. Relaxing even more into the run, I barely felt my sneakered feet slapping the road as my arms swung lightly. I returned to my thoughts, which were always of him.

Sometimes I felt foolish when I thought about our lives. I didn't know other teenage boys that couldn't wait to get married or were devastated by the thought of being apart at college. I thought maybe I was wrong, different, but then I would look at Edward and realize it didn't matter if I was. He was mine. I had doubts about myself, my ability to be what he needed, to succeed in college, to live up to expectations, but while I doubted myself daily, I never once doubted Edward. I quickly found myself imagining our wedding, everything from what we were would wear to vows to our wedding night. Once school was out, we would have more time to plan it just how we wanted it.

Race volunteers directed the runners along the route with bright orange markers and signs. The music in my ears continued through the playlist Edward had made for me, each song meaning more than the last.

At seven miles, I checked my time again, relived to find I was slightly ahead of schedule. Still feeling strong, I kept the same pace. There was a slight burn in my calves, but nothing I hadn't run through before. When I passed a manned water station, I reached for a cup of water and drank it, tossing the cup onto the ground when I was done. I had no idea how many runners were in front or behind me, but I wasn't running to beat them.

I was running for fifteen thousand dollars.

I was running for my boy.

It was nine miles before I began to feel the strain. The constant soreness from training returned with a vengeance to my legs and the bounce in my stride began to fade. To make up for my tired legs, I used my arms to help propel me forward. My breaths were deepening but still even. Pushing the pain aside, I concentrated on green eyes, bedhead hair, a gleaming smile, and found myself running slightly faster. Paul serenaded in my ear, telling me to let it be, words I'd spoken to Edward many times. They were words to live by. My mother often said, 'worry only about what you can control', and she was right. So much of our lives was out of our hands, left to fate, or God, or something else just as powerful, and while I would give anything to go back and change the past, it was beyond my control no matter how many nights I lay awake praying for it.

Edward was paralyzed, and would be for life.

It wasn't the burden as he saw it as, it was simply a different way a life, a challenge we would meet and overcome together. Using ramps, catheters, or special cars made no difference in how we lived our lives. But I wasn't the one in the chair, I wasn't the one unable to stand to shower or brush my teeth, I wasn't the one lying still while my boyfriend was naked on me. I wasn't the one who wasn't experiencing orgasms in the same way or not feeling his lips around my cock.

It wasn't fair of me to pretend to understand what Edward had gone through, I could never know completely. Only those like Riley, whose promising lives were cut short, could sympathize fully with Edward. I'd be lying if I didn't admit to wondering if Edward would be better off with someone like Riley, someone who understood the things I couldn't. I knew Edward and I were meant for each other, but it didn't ease the pangs when those doubts clouded my judgment.

I hit ten miles and checked my time, finding out I'd added almost an extra minute to my previous mile. My breaths were growing slightly shallow, but still strong. It was the pain in my legs that increased, traveling from the back of my calves to the front of my thighs. Sweat rolled down my face and gathered along the collar of the tee shirt while my curls clung to my damp skin. There was a swell of pride in me as I pass the ten mile mark, having officially run the furthest I had ever had. "Imagine" began to play and I found myself imagining right along with it.

I imagined Edward on our wedding night making love under a starry sky. I imagined college without Edward, I imagined our first Christmas as his husband, and I imagined roaming the campus together after he transferred. Finally, I imagined coming home to him every night, cooking dinner, watching TV and going to bed. It was a simple life.

It was a perfect life.

Eleven miles and I was breathing heavily. My entire body was beginning to tire. I no longer saw any of the individual faces on the side of the road, but I saw arms waving and hands clapping. At the next water station I reached for another cup of water, gulping it down.

Two miles.

Less than fifteen minutes and I would see Edward.

The next mile was hard, my feet began to hurt and my lungs were stinging. I wasn't counting the miles anymore but the steps. A few runners passed me, and I passed a lot more. I saw several walking, a few sitting down, and one limping.

When I hit twelve miles I was ready to stop. Just as I forced my mind away from the soreness coursing through my muscles, I caught a glimpse of a sign someone was holding up.


Blinking a few times, I looked again and saw Eric holding the sign. Then I realized he wasn't alone. Angela was on one side of him and Bella was on the other, both jumping up and down as I neared. Then I spotted Newton and a few track teammates, then some kids from my history and physics classes. My English teacher waved and yelled something. Next to Mrs. Goddard were three of our lunch ladies, holding another sign with my name and food all drawn all over it. They were all dressed in Team Whitlock tee shirts.

A warmth spread through me. I'd expected support from our families, but never beyond that, and certainly not from my teachers, classmates, and lunch ladies. The more I looked, the more I saw, the road was lined with kids and teachers from school.

Less than half a mile.

The song changed and "Maybe I'm Amazed" began to play.

I thought back to Edward making the playlist, to his questions about how long it would take me to run. He'd timed it so our song would be the last one I would hear. I was amazed, I was amazed by him and all he was. The finish line was within sight, about a quarter of a mile away. I found myself looking for the red tee shirt, but with the crowds standing it was hard to see him.

Just as the last verse began, I pushed myself and went into my final kick. As tired and sore as I was, I ran even faster. Then I saw Edward. He'd pushed out from behind the crowd a few yards passed the finish line. Keeping his eyes on me, he willed me to him.

Paul sang to me and I ran to my boy.

Taking the earbuds from my ear, I suddenly heard all the cheering for the runners and it gave me a rush. I crossed the finish line, glancing at the huge digital clock to record my time. Immediately, I slowed to a walk and put my hands on my head. Not stopping, I walked directly to Edward.

He looked up at me, a proud smile on his face. Without a word, I crouched in front of him and put my hands on his thighs. Not caring who was around, I rested my forehead on his knees and sucked in gulps of air. A gloved hand moved briefly through my hair. I was sore and exhausted, but I was done. I'd run thirteen miles and raised fifteen thousand dollars for my fiancé.

"I'm never running that far again," I gasped through breaths and heard Edward laugh.

The aches and burn I would feel for days were all for him, and he was worth every fucking second of it. Lifting my head, I gazed at him, his forest eyes and messy hair and full lips.

He was my boy.

And we were all in.


Thanks for reading~

Three more chapters, then the epilogue.

Thank you to C and S for everything and more.

A friend and I have started a blog called Touchstone's Scales. It's about our journey to lose weight and get healthy. We are doing daily updates including our struggles and accomplishments, tips, reviews, and even a contest with a story written by me as the prize. We'd love for you to join us and spread the word! touchstonescales DOT blog DOT com/2012/07/06/if-on-a-winters-night-we-decided-to-diet/#respond