This is an EXAMPLE entry for the 2010 Cherry Exchange. This example serves to show the ratio of lemon to story, near perfect spelling and grammar, and full detailed plot, as well as other criteria. By no means does your story need to be set in high school or around Christmas (though it could), but feel free to use this story as a reference to our rules which can be found at thecherryexchange(dot)com.

EXAMPLE Entry for "The Cherry Exchange 2010"

Title: Shh! It's a Secret
Word Count: 13,865
Edward thinks he's unworthy of his best friend's love and affection, but a game of Secret Santa proves even smart guys can be wrong.

I had just gotten my locker open to retrieve my morning supply of books when I heard a metal thud from right beside me. I glanced over to see a scowling Bella staring blankly up at the water-stained ceiling, her head set firmly against the neighboring locker, where she had placed it rather roughly.

"I'd say good morning, but I don't suppose you'd share the sentiment." She moved her scowl to look at me, but softened slightly when I gave her a sympathetic smile.

"I just don't understand why we have to do this stupid Secret Santa thing," she pouted, lifting her head from the locker and rolling her body slightly so that she was facing me. "I mean, I have the people that I want to get presents for. I don't want to buy for some Jim, Bob, or Sarah that I don't know shit about."

I just smiled and let Bella get her frustrations out. I knew her well enough to know that trying to calm her when she needed to vent was a grave mistake. I'd once tried to reason with her that the person who passed her old, decrepit truck on the highway very well could have been in a hurry to get to his pregnant wife. She didn't speak to me for the rest of the trip.

I'd known Bella my whole life, having grown up together in the small town of Forks, but it was more than just being in the same age bracket. Bella was my best friend and the most important person to me in every way a person could be. When Renee Swan, my mother's close friend, died just before Bella's third birthday, mom took her under her wing so that the little brown-haired girl with big glassy eyes didn't have to want for female attention.

Bella and I had had a connection from the start. I was almost a year younger and a whole grade below her, but we stuck together like peanut butter and jelly, and when my brain proved to be too advanced for the second grade, I was transferred into the third grade class with Bella and my brother, much to my extreme pleasure. Our parents would joke that the only reason I skipped a grade was to be with her, and I couldn't disagree that that might have been part of the reason.

I had loved Bella my whole life, but a single night our freshman year changed the definition of that love forever. There was no romance or touching out of the usual. It wasn't anything bigger than a typical Friday night, but it was everything.

We were having another of our goofy sleepovers with horror movies and marshmallows. We'd toss the fluffy lumps of sugar at each other for a while and when it got to the scary parts of the movie Bella would always curl up beside me and bury her head in my shoulder. I had always enjoyed that part, so when my heart started beating a fraction faster, I didn't think much of it.

It wasn't until she had fallen asleep and I allowed myself to study her beauty for the first time that my feelings hit me like a ton of bricks. Her long lashes that cascaded shadows along her cheeks, her unevenly proportioned lips that pouted naturally while she dreamt, her porcelain complexion that blushed a fiery red when impassioned; it was all so mesmerizing to me. This girl who I had known since birth, this girl who loved me in spite of my Star Trek obsession and overactive brain… This girl I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.

I looked in the mirror Alice had insisted I install in my locker, per the fact that had she not the time to get to her own little security box, she could use mine to check her appearance. As I peered at my reflection, I couldn't help the way my heart sunk in my chest. My eyes were the best feature I had, a vibrant green, almost the color of grass, but they were blocked by circular frames that kept me from being blind. I had a strong jaw and a sharp, straight nose, but my shoulders hunched if I was uncomfortable and I couldn't look most people in the eye.

I let my wandering gaze take in my hair and shut the locker in annoyance. Where most people could be classified in one of three color groups, I was stuck somewhere between redhead and brunette, and with the nervous habit of constantly running my hand through my bronzy locks, I was never able to keep it neat. She was an angel and I was a mess.

"Hey, what did that locker ever do to you?" Bella asked playfully, but her brows were slightly furrowed and her lips were pressed tighter than they should have been. I hated worrying her.

"Ah, nothing. I just decided I would try being on the other side of the bully line today," I teased, or tried to anyway. Bella's smile disappeared all together as she pushed herself away from the lockers, coming to stand directly in front of me.

"Has someone been messing with you?" I opened my mouth to correct her assumption, but she continued before I could speak. "You need to tell me about stuff like this, Edward. No one has a right to treat you like you're beneath them. If anything, you're a hundred times better than any of them. Who was it?"

The fierce look in Bella's eyes made me smile. It was pathetic that I needed a five foot, three inch girl to defend my scrawny behind, but I still relished in the fact that she loved to protect me.

"No one, Bella. I've been bully free since you sent James home with a black eye and an ice pack between his legs. I'm just not in the best mood today, okay?" I wrapped my arm around her shoulders and led her down the hall to her first class.

"You're not lying to me?" she asked suspiciously.

I gave her a sideways glance and then rolled my eyes, not bothering to answer. Sometimes I thought she actually enjoyed beating the snot out of the people that picked on me.

Bella groaned when we reached the door. "Can we just skip today?" she begged. "Please? We have a free day in Bio and I really don't want to deal with Crowley trying to hang out with me for an hour."

"You just want to get out of the Secret Santa drawing," I said, revealing her true reason for wanting to ditch. "Not gonna happen, Bella. Besides, you need to keep your grades up. No senioritis for you."

Bella deflated and gave me a leveled look. "Yes, father. Wouldn't want to have fun my last year of high school, now, would I?"

"You're obnoxious," I teased.

"You love it," she challenged back. I said nothing, but smiled outwardly and sighed to myself. I did love it.

It was getting close to time for the class bell to ring, so Bella entered the Bio room backwards, grimacing and crossing her eyes while she stabbed herself in the chest with a nonexistent knife. I just shook my head. I loved everything about her, even her dramatic attempt to make me feel guilty.

Sagging into my desk in the classroom across the hall, I waited patiently for class to start. I enjoyed school, but not being in any classes with Bella was hard. Half an hour later, I looked up at the clock and realized that not five minutes had passed. Today was going to be a long day. I tried to focus on my work, but I was already seven chapters ahead of the class. If I studied any harder, I would graduate before the semester was over.

With nowhere to go but down, my mind wandered to the only time I'd ever been blatantly intimate with Bella. We were twelve – me having just turned and Bella set to turn thirteen in the fall. It was the summer before junior high and we were curious about what Emmett had said concerning school dances and dating. He'd always seemed so much cooler than Bella and me.

In the privacy of the tree house in my backyard, Bella and I got used to being close to a member of the opposite sex. She'd placed her hands around my neck and mine went to her hips, which back then were straighter than mine; Bella didn't get curves until the end of the eighth grade. A soft tune was coming from the portable stereo I'd set up and the sway of our bodies was awkward and frustrating.

"This isn't working," she said in a clipped tone.

"Yeah, because you don't know how to dance," I snapped back. Her death glare shut me up.

"It's because we know each other and you're not trying hard enough."

"Trying hard enough to what?" I was at a complete loss as to what this girl was referring.

"To feel something for me." My eyes popped open and I nearly stumbled right out of the tree. She wanted me to like her? Like… like her, like her? "You know, so we know what to expect when we dance with someone we really like."

I nodded slowly, but my mind was suddenly somewhere else. Did she want to dance with someone specifically? I went over my catalogue of boys in our class, but could hardly find a suitable match. Bella was too good for all of them.

"I think we should kiss." My brain stopped working all together at that point. I'd never kissed a girl before. Would I be good at it? Bella blushed when I didn't answer, and I felt kind of bad for making her embarrassed.

Clearing my throat, I said, "Okay." When she smiled, I felt my heart jump.

I didn't really know what I was doing, but I knew that I wanted to be touching her, so I put one of my hands back on her waist and held her hand with the other. She curled her free arm around my bicep, coming to rest her fingers along the top of my shoulder blade as we moved closer.

My breath was shallow, and I swallowed reflexively before gently pressing my lips against Bella's and then pulling back slightly. Her eyes fluttered open a few seconds after mine, and her blush deepened.

"I think we should do it again." I didn't know why I'd said it really. Bella was my best friend, but kissing her felt good. I really, really wanted to do it again.

"Okay," she said with a nervous laugh.

I closed the distance once more, hesitating less this time around, and seized her lips with mine. When she moved hers, I nearly jumped. I wasn't expecting it, but I caught on quickly and moved mine with her, earning a faint hint of her bubblegum lip-gloss on my tongue. We pulled apart once more and I couldn't help but smile. I didn't know for sure, but I thought I might have been good at kissing.

"What is that?"

"What's what?"

"That hard thing in your pocket."

"Huh?" I peered down to the front of my shorts and could feel the color drain from my face before flushing deeper than I ever had before.

Looking back on that moment, it was still one of the most embarrassing things I'd had the unfortunate pleasure to live through. Bella didn't understand why I'd yelled at her to get out and leave me alone, and I couldn't have cared less, as my attention was drawn to the first erection I'd sported in the company of my best friend. I'd had many more since then, but that particular one brought on a month of silence between Bella and me and an awkward conversation with my father, the doctor.

"Mr. Cullen, would you like to answer question three?"

I looked up at Mr. Feske's inquiry and sighed. If it wasn't enough that other students picked on me, teachers were just as bad sometimes. Mr. Feske hated the fact that I was smarter than him. Glancing at the question, I gave him the correct answer and went back to my own place in the book to try and focus on something other than my memories.

With ten minutes left in class, an overly excited voice came through the intercom reminding everyone of the drawing for Secret Santa and instructing the teachers to pass around the bags with the assorted names. When it was my turn, I reached into the bag and prayed for someone I liked. Or who liked me.


I looked at the name on the card and felt like I was about to throw up. Out of every name of every student in Forks High, I just had to pull James Ogden from the stupid bag. He was the worst of all of them. Of course, he hadn't messed with me in a while, thanks to Bella's ever-present right hook, but if I knew James, and I'd known him intimately for several years, he was just biding his time to make the perfect scene.

I was still staring at the card when the bell rang and startled me. Hurrying to pack up my things, I met Bella outside of her class. Her pallor and wide, worried eyes made her look as though she'd eaten something rotten.

"Oh, come on. It can't be that bad. Who'd you get?" Bella looked up at me, her facial expression never changing, but a light blush tinting her cheeks.

"Um, uh… Lauren."


"Yeah," she said softly, looking down at the floor.

I felt awful for not letting her skip the drawing. While Bella could kick anyone who messed with me from Washington all the way to China, defending herself was another matter all together and Lauren had had it out for Bella since preschool. Why the girl couldn't get over Bella breaking the pink crayon was beyond me, but she made Bella's life a living hell because of it.

"Bella, think about what I said." Rosalie gave me an odd little smirk that I didn't know if I wanted to know the reason behind, before smiling at Bella and walking down the hall.

"So, who'd you get saddled with?" I lifted the card from my back pocket, showing the bold letters of James' name to Bella, and finally got a reaction, though it wasn't the smile I'd been hoping for. "Are you kidding me? Screw that loser. Buy him another ice pack. He'll need it for the next time he opens his mouth."

I put my arm around Bella's shoulders, pulling her toward me and chuckling. "How 'bout we try and forget about our sorrowful situations and have a 'mallow party?"

"Ooh, can we have hot chocolate?" The sparkle in her eyes made my heart beat faster. I nodded and she squealed, one of the few girly things she actually did. "You bring Esme's chocolate and the marshmallows and I'll pick up the movies. Charlie's working the late shift tonight, so we've got the house to ourselves."

I swallowed and struggled to keep my smile in place as I imagined what we could do if we were actually together. There was nothing else in the world I wanted more than to be able to hold and kiss Bella as freely as I wished. Unfortunately, life isn't fair and we were just friends. We would always be just friends.

"What's got you down, oh brother of mine?" I'd been sulking for the remainder of the day – sans my minutes with Bella – and it had finally caught up with me as Emmett came around the corner, heading in my direction.

"How on earth did we come from the same gene pool?" I said softly to myself. While Emmett was not dumb, by any means, we were opposites in every other way. Where I was awkward and shy, he was outgoing and smooth. He was also massive in the muscle department, and while we were nearly the same height, I was slight and fine-boned in comparison.

"Earth to Edward," Emmett laughed. "Jeez, you're more out of it than usual."

"Yeah, sorry, just thinking about this stupid Secret Santa business."

"Methinks thou didst not draw whom thy heart desires?" I looked over at Emmett and raised an eyebrow. "Just got out of English. Pearson's got us reading Hamlet."

"Nice." I let out a small chuckle and sighed. "I got James Ogden."

Emmett sucked in a quick breath and made a face as though he had just watched a person face plant right before his eyes. I was that metaphorical person. "I'm sorry. What's on his wish list?"

I snorted when I took out the card and read the rest of the writing I'd failed to take in when I'd received it, passing it quickly to my brother. When we were given our cards to fill out, we were told to write down three things that would help the giver find us a gift. Listed at number one on James' card was, "Mistletoe if you're a chick."

"Well, you could always buy a wig and surprise him." I punched Emmett in the shoulder and took back the card. Emmett doubled over in laughter. "Could you imagine what he'd do if you showed up on the last day with mistletoe and long hair?"

"I'd rather not take a trip to see Dad at work, thanks. Who'd you get?"

Emmett pulled out his card and furrowed his eyebrows as he stared at the name. "Some chick named Hannah Bryant?"

"She's in my AP Lit class. She's really quiet."

Emmett sighed. "Think she'll dig the cliché candles or body lotion gift?"

"Look at the card, Em." I let out a short laugh at Emmett's inability to see the obvious and took the tiny paper square from him. "She likes poetry. Get her a book of poems and a journal to write her own."

"Wow, you're good at this gift thing. I'm taking you with me when I go get something for the 'rents and Rosie."

"Right, it'll have to be this weekend. I'm going over to Bella's tonight and I have tutoring tomorrow and Friday."

"Overachiever," he coughed.

"Yeah, well, overachieving is going to get me into Stanford or UC-Berkeley, so you can take your conspicuous cough and shove it."

"Didn't you apply to Yale and Princeton and all that? Why are you only looking at the California schools?"

"Oh, um… Bella went to California on a school trip once. She says it's really cool there."

"And let me guess, Bella applied to Stanford and UC-Berkeley, too?" I narrowed my eyes and refused to answer. "When are you going to man up and tell her she owns you?"

"When I grow a set of rock hard abs and discover my long lost affinity for playing football."

Emmett rolled his eyes and picked up his backpack from where he'd set it on the ground. "She's not that shallow and you know it. Give the girl some credit." He then patted me on the back in farewell and continued out of the school to his Jeep.

"Emmett's dragging me shopping. Apparently I have good taste."

"Oh, fun." I laughed at Bella's bored tone. She hated shopping of any kind. Christmas shopping was tolerable. "He's right, though. Why do you think I always take you with me?"

"Misery loves company?" Bella picked up one of the loose marshmallows on the counter and chucked it at my head. "Such violence! And your father, an officer of the law."

"Psh, he'd forgive me. You did make him miss the game last weekend." I choked on the sticky treat I'd just put in my mouth. Bella laughed and hit me on the back. "Relax. I didn't tell him what you did."

I nodded dumbly and swallowed the remainder of my marshmallow. The chief was a cool guy, but he hated when I tried to improve the technology around his house… especially when I failed. Luckily he had no clue I was the cause of all the snow on the TV while he tried to watch his college football. As far as he knew, I hadn't been to his house since the previous Wednesday. I was perfectly okay with letting him believe that.

Once mom's famous hot chocolate was reheated and topped with two large, poofy white clouds of sugar in each of our cups, Bella and I headed for the living room with the rest of the bag and the movies she'd gotten from the rental store. I couldn't contain my laughter when the title came on the screen.

"A Walk to Remember is supposed to be a horror flick? Well, I guess I can see why some guys would think that." Bella smacked me on the shoulder and got up to mess with the DVD player.

"It's supposed to be Darkness Falls. Evil tooth fairy sounded kind of cool. Damn, I didn't check the disc before I put it in." The pout adorning Bella's lower lip had my heart melting. In a lot of ways, Bella was the sexiest creature I'd ever laid eyes on, but this softer, cuter side was my bread and butter. And she had no idea the effect she had on me. "I really wanted to watch that one, too."

"We'll get it next time. What else did you get?"

Bella snorted. "With my luck, probably Muppets in Space or something just as dumb."

"Hey, Muppets in Space is a work of genius," I said in mock indignation. Bella enjoyed teasing me relentlessly over my fondness for the quirky movie, even though I knew for a fact she liked it just as much as I did.

"Yes, thank you!" Bella cried when she opened the second case. "They really need to start checking their movies down there."

She turned the opening in my direction and I let out a short laugh. Darkness Falls was sitting there in whichever case the second movie was supposed to be.

"Looks like we're going with evil tooth fairy, after all," I smiled. Bella grinned back and took her place beside me after putting the disc in play.

Ten minutes into the plot, I decided I really liked this movie. It started with a boy's mother being slaughtered right in front of him and Bella just about crawled into my lap, trying to hide her face. By the time the credits started rolling, Bella and I had moved to lie down on the couch with her tucked snugly into my chest, a heavy quilt trapping the heat of our bodies around us.

"You up for another movie?"

"Do you have another scary one that I don't know about?"

Bella shook her head and played with the fingers of my right hand, which was happily wrapped around her waist. After a minute, she asked if we could watch A Walk to Remember.

"I don't know," I said in all seriousness. "Marring our traditional horror-fest with a chick flick may just scar me for life."

Bella playfully tapped my ribs with her elbow, not making any move to get up. "We don't have to. I just wanted to stay here for a little while longer." My heart raced at the implications of that statement and then deflated with the next. "I'm just really comfortable and I don't want you to leave."

Right. I was her comfort, her pillow and heat source. I wasn't ever going to be her want or desire, so why did I keep fooling myself into thinking I had a chance? But try as I might to distance myself in that moment, I just couldn't disappoint her. And I wanted to pretend that she wasn't just my best friend. I wanted to pretend just for tonight that she was my Bella in every way someone could belong to another person.

"We don't have to move," I whispered in her ear. Bella hummed and scooted back further, causing me to tighten my hold on her. I didn't know how long we lay like that, just existing in the same room, but eventually Bella's breathing shallowed and her body became a dead weight against mine.

"Can I have a coconut?"

"Bella?" There was no answer. "Bella," I said a bit louder but there was still no response. I sighed and chuckled a bit. Her sleep talking was one of the most entertaining things I'd ever witnessed.

"Do you love me?" I swallowed and rested my lips on Bella's shoulder to keep myself from answering aloud, for the answer was yes and I was so tempted let her know. "Mmm, coconut's not worth it."

I laughed, but then my mind started working over what she could have been dreaming about. Was I the person in her dream world? What did I ask her to do that wasn't worth getting what she wanted? I was hoping very much that my dream self hadn't asked her to kiss me.

"I can't, I love him," she whispered, almost pained. My heart broke. Oh, please don't be talking to me, I thought. And then she sighed my name.

"I don't know why I do this," I said quietly to myself. It physically hurt to be near her and know that her love for me was so much different than mine for her. I couldn't stay here anymore. "Bella, wake up. Bella."

Her eyes snapped open and blinked several times before shifting into focus and turning to look up at me. She was too beautiful, too smart and popular, too good… for me. As I stared down at her from my sitting position on the couch, I had a hard time keeping my breath even. Every part of me wanted to break down and cry and scream, but I wouldn't do that to her.

"I have to get going. It's pretty late."

"You're going to leave me after that movie? That shit was freaky." Her eyes were wide and pleading, but I didn't know what I was liable to do if I stayed. I had to get out of there.

"Charlie will be off in a few hours. I'll call you when I get home." Bella nodded, though her eyes were still begging me to stay. I hated that I was hurting her, even the smallest bit, but self-preservation was my first priority.

As soon as I got in my car, I was gone. I just drove and drove, as fast as I could until the emotions were too powerful to suppress and I had the good sense to pull over when they hit. The pain in my chest ripped through me, crippling me to the point where I was unable to keep my posture. I hunched over the steering wheel, gasping for breath and crying through dry eyes.

The pain of Bella loving someone else was worse than any pain I'd ever experienced. I had no idea that emotional heartache could leave me so physically broken. Why was love so great, anyway? Why would anyone willingly put themselves through this kind of torture? But try as I might to wish my feelings for Bella away, I realized I would rather suffer this pain a thousand times than to have never known her.

My attack began to ease, but I couldn't bring myself to pull back out on the road. I was Bella's best friend and I knew how scared she got over the movies we were both fond of. Yet, when times got too rough for me, I left her to deal with the monsters in the closet on her own. I was an idiot.

The house was fully lit when I pulled up in front and my already bruised heart took another blow. How could I have been so stupid? I ran to the door and knocked loudly, knowing it would be locked. Hearing a small yelp from inside at the sudden noise, I let Bella know that it was me to extinguish her fear. The door flew open and I immediately noticed the redness around her eyes. She'd been crying.

I pulled her into a tight hug and refused to let her go. It wasn't long before I felt her shaking in my arms, hot tears staining my shirt.

"I'm sorry. I wasn't thinking."

"I thought I did something wrong." Her voice was muffled by my shirt, but the pain lacing her words was evident.

"You? Do something wrong? Never," I said playfully, but pulled her back to show her how truly serious I was by my expression. "I just got caught up in something else and mentally checked out. I'm really sorry."

She sniffed and nodded. "Do you think you could stay tonight? Charlie called and he has to work another shift. I… I don't want to stay here alone."

"Hmmm, I don't know. Are their any marshmallows left?" A corner of Bella's mouth twitched up into a small smile and she nodded again. "All right. If you must bribe me with sugar, I guess I have no choice but to say yes."

Bella giggled and hugged me tightly before turning on her heel and heading up the stairs. "You coming?" she tossed over her shoulder when I had yet to move from the entryway.

I called my mom once I was in Bella's room to tell her that I wouldn't be home. Most parents would have been skeptical of their teenage boy staying over at a girl's house with no supervision, but my track record wasn't much to worry about. Even Charlie was negligent of the possibilities of what I could have been doing with his daughter in an empty house. It was pathetic, really.

"I'm glad you came back," Bella whispered sleepily. We were situated closely on her twin bed, with my arms wrapped around her like they had been on the couch downstairs.

"Me, too," I said softly back. She would never know how much it hurt me to be so close and so far all at once, but that was okay. All I wanted was for her to be happy, and I would give that to her by being the best friend that I could be.

When I felt her breath even out, I kissed her hair and inhaled, smelling her strawberry scented hair. She even smelled perfect.

"I love you, Bella." The words were barely audible, but Bella sighed in contentment.

"I love you, too, Edward."

I closed my eyes and smiled. So it wasn't what I wanted it to mean. I would take it, and just for tonight, I would pretend that the possibilities were limitless. Just for tonight, Bella was in my arms as my girlfriend and lover, and more that anything else, my best friend.

I had found out at one of my tutoring sessions that James was working on rebuilding a 1967 Camaro and couldn't find a specific part he needed to complete the project. I knew I could have just bought him some wrenches or something and been done with it, but I felt like this was an opportunity to open a door to peace. It wasn't like I would be spending any money on the part; my uncle restored cars for a living and was more than happy to help me out. I only hoped the extra effort would be worth it.

With my Secret Santa out of the way, I was able to focus on my family and friends while shopping around Port Angeles in the company of Emmett and Rosalie's little brother. Bella had opted out of coming with, claiming Alice wanted to take her. I tried not to dwell on the fact that this was the first year we wouldn't do our Christmas shopping together since the one time she'd gotten sick in the third grade, but I was still bummed. Emmett and Jasper didn't make it any better with their ineptness in the matter at hand.

"What about these for Rose?" Jasper asked holding up a pair of hoop earrings littered with gaudy costume jewels.

"Rosalie is more classy than outrageous. Here." I picked up a pair of simple rhinestone drop earrings and handed them to him.

"These aren't classy?" I gave the boy a 'duh' look and watched him bristle defensively. "I think they're cool looking."

"Cool as they may be, they'd clash with your sister's personality."

"You really gotta stop using words like classy and clash, Bro. People will start to think you're batting for the other team." I turned and glared at Emmett, refusing to acknowledge him with a worded reply. I was not gay. I just knew my accessories.

Damn. Okay, that thought was far too feminine for my liking.

"Relax, Edward. We all know you like your women petite and brunette. No need to get your nuts twisted."

I rounded on Emmett with wide eyes. He'd been casually dropping more and more comments about my feelings for Bella over the past few days, but I never expected him to say anything in front of someone else. That was the last straw. Grabbing my brother by the arm, I stormed out of the store to get away from Jasper's prying ears. Thankfully, the fourteen year old in question hadn't even noticed our departure, let alone Emmett's subtle clue as to where my heart resided.

"What the heck is the matter with you?" I hissed once we'd found a fairly secluded area.

"No, Edward, what's the matter with you? I don't understand why you won't just do something already. You've got this great girl hanging on your arm and yet you do nothing."

"Why is that any of your business?"

"You're my brother and I love you, that's why. I'm tired of watching you mope around when you could be happy. I swear, you're the biggest masochist I know."

"Big word, Asshole."

"I mean it, Dickweed. The chick loves you."

"As a friend," I said, nearly cutting him off.

"Maybe more."

We stared each other down for several seconds until I turned on my heel and strode away. I didn't get five steps before I turned back and opened my mouth to say something brilliant in rebuttal. Nothing came out and I growled in frustration, fisting handfuls of hair and pacing wildly. Why couldn't I ever stand up to anyone? I sighed in defeat and collapsed onto a holiday decorated bench. Emmett sat silently beside me, giving me time to think.

"I don't know how," I whispered, ashamed of the way my voice broke.

"What about a gift? You're good at that sort of thing. Buy something that can't be mistaken as friendly so you won't be able to back out of telling her. The gift'll say most of what you want to get out, anyway."

That was actually a great idea. The only problem now was the way my heart dropped into my stomach at the thought of following through. Even in my certainty that she did not love me in the same degree I did her, my dreams still hoped for something more. With Bella's resolute rejection, I would no longer be able to have even those, as my subconscious would know it was impossible.

"What if she doesn't feel the same?" I asked, dreading the answer.

"Then you know and you can move on."

Right, like I could ever move on from Bella. She was everything I could ever want and more, but if I told her and she left me, I would die. Maybe not physically, but my heart would never be the same if I didn't at least have some small part of her in my life.

"I know what you're thinking and if you really believe Bella would ditch you over unrequited love, you don't know her half as well as you think you do."

I smiled shakily at my brother. "When did you get so smart?"

"Growing up around you? Please, it had to rub off sometime."

"Yeah, well, rub off some of those muscles. I get cold in the winter."

Emmett patted me on the back with a chuckle and steered me back toward the store we'd left Jasper in. We were sure he was going crazy trying to find us. As it turned out, Jasper was still in the same spot next to the earring display, none the wiser to our disappearance. The confused 'huh?' that came from him when we told him we were back, paired with the perplexity in his expression, made Emmett and I double over in laughter. It was a much needed release after the seriousness of our conversation.

Jasper scowled and walked out of the store in a huff, Emmett following close behind, trying to apologize through his manly giggles (I was rather amused that he could make giggling sound masculine, as it was a feat I'd yet to see mastered by anyone else).

The rest of the day moved quickly. I'd found something perfect for every member in my family and I knew my friends would appreciate my effort as well. The only person left was Bella and nothing I saw really fit what I was going for. Although, I was incredibly tempted to get her a life-sized cutout of George Clooney, the only movie star to whom Bella was absurdly obsessed.

I had just about given up trying when something from a storefront window caught my eye. It was simple, elegant and possibly the most beautiful necklace I'd ever seen. It reminded me of Bella. Then I glanced at the price and cringed. The small, heart-shaped diamond pendant was way more than I could afford, but I was incapable of walking away. I knew I would regret not getting that necklace.

"How can I help you, sweetie," the sales clerk greeted with a smile.

"I'd like to purchase the Forever Diamond, please."

I ran into Emmett coming out of a scent shop a little ways down the street. Giving him a noncommittal noise when he asked of my whereabouts, I walked past him to where Jasper was staring blankly at a precariously tilted perfume display. Neither of us said anything for several minutes, but Jasper's tone when he called my name made me wary.


"Do you think… um, what does Alice like? I was going to get her a present, but I don't know what she likes."

"She likes shoes, but I doubt any of the selections in her closet are within you're price range." Jasper stopped his fidgeting with the tester bottle he'd been pushing around and furrowed his brows in what looked to be frustration and annoyance, still refusing to meet my eyes. He obviously hated asking for my help and I was being difficult in providing it.

A quick surveillance of my surroundings told me Emmett had never reentered the fume-filled shop and I let out my own sigh of frustration. This was usually his area of expertise, not mine. Someone needed to have 'the talk' with dear Jasper, but I had never done anything remotely similar before.

Straightening my back and puffing out my chest, I waited patiently for the kid to look up. Alice was like a sister to me, so it would be my responsibility to protect her. After a long minute, Jasper finally got the hint and lifted his gaze from the counter.

"You hurt her, I hurt you. Got it?" Jasper's eyes widened as floppy golden hair swished back and forth with the enthusiastic bob of his head. I felt a sort of grim satisfaction in being able to induce fear in someone, but that small statement was as far as I could go. "Her favorite scent is Fendi. They probably have it here and it's not all that that much to pay for someone you care about."

The upturned twitch at the corner of Jasper's mouth made me grin. I liked the guy and I knew Alice had a bit of a thing for him, too. I was happy to see something good happen for my cousin.

"So, are you done with your list?"

"All but one. Rose asked me to pick something up for her SS pick." Jasper handed me the card he'd gotten from his sister and my heart froze in my chest. There, written in bubbly script with bright purple ink, was the name Lauren Mallory... The name Bella had given me falsely just days before.

I had a hard time sleeping that night. Try as I might to erase the memory of Lauren's name on the card in Jasper's hand, I could not, and in turn, I could not stop the doubts, either. Bella had never lied to me about something so deliberate before, or something so seemingly unimportant. What was her motivation? Why lie?

The fog had not left my brain by the time school started the next morning. I wanted to confront her, but there was nothing I could really say that wouldn't make me sound like a complete fool. There was no rule saying she had to tell me everything just because I was her best friend. I just didn't see why she couldn't have told me the truth in this matter. What was the big deal?

I was so caught up in my thoughts as I reached my locker that it took me a moment to register the miniature white flowers taped to the handle alongside a folded note. I must have stared for several minutes before my motor functions kicked into gear and I detached the display from its resting place. I didn't recognize the handwriting, but then it didn't look much like handwriting at all. It was far too perfect to be anything but computer generated.

Skipping to the end, I noticed there was no signature. Only a bad drawing of the comedy and tragedy faces. I read the rest of the letter to see if there was any hint as to the sender.

It's the twelve days of Christmas,

But let's not be cliché.

It's time to give away my heart,

Say what I could not say.

I love you, Edward Cullen,

From the valleys to the moon.

I am faceless to you now,

But you will know me soon.

And so... until that day when all is seen,

Please read my notes and get what I mean.

With clues and hints and riddles galore,

I ask you to search, guess and explore.

Don't keep me waiting,

My geeky white knight,

I've waited a lifetime

And now I take flight

Into your arms,

Into your soul,

I'm yours if you'll have me...

Hey what rhymes with soul?

I bid you farewell after my rhyming debacle,

But leave you with something small you can tackle:

We thrive on heartache, despair and comedy, too.

Give us an arena, we'll gladly show you.

Well, that was fairly obvious. It had to do with theatre. The stage was my first guess.

"Whatcha got there?" said a deep voice from behind me.

"A note." I handed it to Emmett to read and watched his face turn from curiosity to amusement.

"I hope it's not Hannah Bryant. Otherwise, her poetry dream is a little farfetched."

I rolled my eyes at Emmett's lame joke, but agreed with him nonetheless. The poem was corny and the tempo was awful. Yet, the smile on my face was genuine. I was giddy and flattered and I almost forgot completely about Bella's deception. Until I told her about the gift, that is.

I'd run to the theatre before class started and found a small wrapped box sitting in the center of the stage. Inside had been a bronze ornament with green jewels marking the surface. It was exquisite and its magnificence made me feel as though my similar attributes were just as attractive.

Bella was slightly disinterested in what I had to say, brushing off my secret admirer in favor of topics such as Mr. Thompson's toupee. I was confused and hurt. I would never act on such a relationship - my heart belonging to her and her alone - but this was a big deal. Someone liked me. Me! Edward Cullen, geek of the century. She didn't care at all.

As the days wore on, the gifts kept coming. Every morning was a new note with the same tiny bunch of flowers. Some of the poems were better than others, but they all held that same quirky charm. I loved them. Bella continued to show little interest in what was going on in my life, and I found myself growing angry with her. Not only was she disregarding the fact that nothing like this had ever happened to me, but she was okay with it. Shouldn't she have been a little jealous?

"Don't you like it?" Bella's voice startled me, making me jump slightly as she took her seat at our usual lunch table. I hadn't realized my emotions were written on my face.

"Huh? Oh, yeah. I love it," I said in regard to the blank staff paper and faux-antique, leather folder they were wrapped in. Bella sighed in... relief? No, that couldn't have been right.

"I have to meet up with Mike for a project in English, but I'll see you later."

She left before I could say anything more. I wracked my brains for something that would cause this distance between us, a change in one of our lives, perhaps, that had created a rift, but nothing seemed relevant. Bella was pulling away from me and I didn't know why.

As it were, I did not see Bella later. She had something to do and I decided I would just go on home. Even with the high of my secret whoever, I wasn't in the mood to do much of anything without Bella. How was I supposed to admit my feelings if I never saw her anymore?

"Hi, honey. How was your day?" I gave my mom the standard answer and noticed that she seemed distracted. "I'm sorry, Edward. What did you say?"

"I asked if you were all right."

"Oh, I'm fine, sweetheart. Can I talk to you a minute, though?" I nodded and sat beside her on the couch. "Your Great Aunt Irma is really sick and your dad and I need to fly back to Chicago to visit her while there's still time."

"You mean she's dying?"

"I'm afraid so. I know we've never left you and your brother for very long before, but the hospital is no place for you to be during the holidays." I nodded my understanding, afraid to speak. I didn't really know Aunt Irma, but the thought of anyone dying at Christmas time was depressing in its own right. "I was going to ask your Aunt Charlotte and Uncle Peter if they'd let you stay with them and Alice for a few weeks, but I think you and Emmett can handle things on your own."

"Yeah, of course, Mom. Don't even worry about us. We'll be fine."

Mom ran a hand through my hair and smiled fondly at me. "You always were my sweet boy. Thank you so much, Edward."

"Don't mention it," I said, returning her smile with a crooked one of my own. Leave it to Mom to lift my sadness. She had always had a knack for making me feel better when no one else could.

It was the second to last day before winter vacation and the twelve days of my fantastical Christmas hunt were soon coming to a close. My Secret Santa (I'd discovered this tidbit through one of my poems) had given me ten amazing gifts and I was dying to find out who she was. I was also nervous and scared. As much fun as the game had been, Bella still owned me - heart, body and soul. I wasn't looking forward to breaking someone the way she was currently breaking me, but there was no other way. I wouldn't lie to the girl.

As always, placed directly next to the silver pull handle on my locker, was the baby bunch of flowers and a note. I read the note quickly, eager to find the gift attached to the poem.

Closer you come,

To my identity you race.

You have two gifts to go,

Then you will see my face.

This message will be short,

As our time draws to the end.

I want to call you lover,

But I can only call you friend.

There's so much more to say,

But I cannot find the time.

Promise me you'll guard my heart,

And now I end this rhyme.

Edward, I take this chance on a leap of faith. I love you. Don't be afraid to tell me it's not returned. I only ask you to be gentle with me. I've loved you forever and always and now I only ask for kindness.

How could I break this beautiful person's heart? It wasn't fair. Why couldn't Bella be admitting her love for me through secret text and personalized gifts? Why did I have to hurt someone?

I looked back down at the poem and realized I had nowhere to run off to. There was no clue leading me to find my eleventh gift. Well, that was strange. I opened my locker, still thinking about the lack of scavenging and promptly shut it again without taking what I needed.

It wasn't possible. It just simply couldn't be.

I opened my locker once more and, sure enough, there was the eleventh gift, unwrapped and taunting me. Every piece of information I'd come across in the last few weeks - regarding Bella, my secret someone, myself - flooded my brain and my knees nearly gave out at the sheer force of my revelation. There sitting in my locker was a two-headed penny, loosely hanging on a braided band, a symbol for the childhood memory in which Bella had called me her very own two-headed penny; she'd explained that whenever I was with her, she would never be unlucky or unhappy.

I wanted to find her. I knew she would try to stay clear, but I needed to tell her how I felt. Unfortunately, fate is cruel and a painful hand clamped down on my shoulder before I could make a break for it.

"Not so tough without your little girlfriend, are you, Cullen?" I was so not in the mood for this. "Why don't we take a walk."

"No." I pulled free of James and stared him in the eye. Before, I would have done as he'd asked and prayed for nothing too humiliating. I was through being trampled on.

"Excuse me?" James seemed amused by my refusal and moved in to reinstate his authority. Again, I pulled free, but this time I walked back to my locker.

Quickly dialing the combination and pulling up the handle, I reached inside for the heavy cube which held James' present under mistletoe wrapping paper. I set it in his hand, but didn't release my claim on it quite yet.

"I'm done, James. Find someone else to make miserable."

Then I left him there, dumbfounded, holding his needed car part. And I felt really freaking good.

I couldn't find Bella anywhere. I'd been constantly searching the halls and trying to catch her at her classes, but was having no luck at all. Finally, I spotted someone who could help.

"Alice, have you seen a pretty, brown-haired girl about yea high?"

"She's sick. Are you coming to my show tomorrow?"

"Sick?" How had she dropped off the present if she was sick?

"Edward." I looked down at a very perturbed freshman and realized my mistake immediately.

"Sorry, Al. Yeah, Emmett and I are coming. I'll ask Bella if she wants to come, too."

"Oh, she's riding home with me to get ready tomorrow. No need to ask her anything."

Alice smiled dangerously up at me. I narrowed my eyes, but there wasn't much to say to a look like that. I just needed to get out of there. Emmett ran into me on the way out of school and asked me to swing by Bella's to get her History notes. Apparently they were having a pop quiz tomorrow and he hadn't studied.

At long last, I pulled up in front of Bella's house and heaved a sigh of relief. I missed her so much and now I could have even more of her than I had before. The door was unlocked and I found the shower to be running upon entering. The joyous off-key tunes of The Beach Boys didn't really convinced me that Bella was bedridden with fever and I laughed freely at the thought of her playing hooky the few days before vacation.

Deciding to get the notes out of the way, I climbed the stairs to Bella's room and looked through her binder for what Emmett had described. After several pages, I found the notes and turned to walk back out of the room, but the corner of a blue flash card caught my attention. I smiled when I tugged it out from its hiding place, only to have my heart shattered seconds later.

In bold letters, like every other Secret Santa card, was a name surrounded by a number of different sized hearts. I dropped it as if it had burned me and walked as fast as I could to the front door, not looking back. Bella had strong feelings for the person that card belonged to, and I wasn't him.

I paced back and forth in my bedroom, occasionally stopping midstride to contemplate some new thought. With spiky blonde hair and lively blue eyes, Mike Newton was every girl's dream. He was captain of the football team, good looking with boy-next-door charm, and was really just an all-around nice guy.

I hated him.

He was a constant reminder of what Bella could have instead of me. Mike had made no effort in hiding his attraction to my best friend for the past year and Bella had even hung out with him a few times, telling me how much fun they'd had playing guitar hero or going down to the beach. Granted, there were other people involved in these excursions, but he'd still made her smile. It was stupid to be jealous that someone else could make Bella happy, but that didn't change the fact that I was.

The biggest blow came in thinking she was actually my secret admirer. I had never allowed myself to dream so freely before for fear of being crushed, but everything fit so perfectly. I didn't know how I could have been so stupid. I immediately jumped to the conclusion she was confessing her love for me that I didn't even consider the fact that it wasn't her. It all just made so much sense.

She'd lied about receiving Lauren in the drawing and went shopping without me for the first time in ten years. She would always sneak away to buy for me in trips past, but twelve gifts would hardly be easy to conceal. I had no idea that it was all just a ruse to keep me in the dark about her feelings for Forks High's All-American Boy.

But why? Why would she hide something from me like that? Had she discovered somehow my love for her and was trying to spare my feelings? No, I was careful. Well, I was usually careful. Reminding myself of one particular incident in which I'd insulted Bella and her eleventh grade boyfriend numerous times without regard for how badly she would take my asinine behavior, I could see very well why she might hide another blooming relationship.

I'd covered myself well in saying that I didn't want to lose my best friend, but the damage was done and she had obviously felt I was too immature to handle her wanting to date Mike.

She hadn't been jealous at all. It was another factor which helped me come to my previous conclusion, but now that I knew the truth, I could feel the band around my torso squeeze what little life I had left from my body. I had thought that she might be the slightest bit jealous of someone replacing her as my number one, but she was fine with it. She didn't care that our time together would come to a close with another person involved. I guessed it made sense she would want someone to keep me company while she was out with her boyfriend.

Pacing was my only salvation for half the night while my mind continued to rant, tossing and turning restlessly taking its place as my body grew too tired to support me any longer. But every time my eyes drifted shut, a loving picture of my Bella in Mike's arms would stir me back awake. By the time light started filtering through the curtains, pure exhaustion had taken me straight into unconsciousness, bypassing the little scene that haunted my surface dreams.

"Holy shit, you're still asleep?"

I cracked open an eye and twisted my neck to check the time on my alarm clock before closing my eyes once more and burrowing back into my blankets. I'd never slept past nine when I wasn't exceptionally ill, and never had I missed school by choice, but seeing as my stomach was turning and my chest was throbbing painfully, I would say my heartache qualified.

"We have to leave in an hour. You sick or somethin'?" I said nothing. I did nothing. Maybe he would just go away. "Edward, get the fuck up. It's already after four."

"No," I groaned and covered my head with the pleasantly warm comforter.

I felt Emmett's weight sink the bed as he sat on the edge and had to fight to keep in a growl of frustration. I just wanted to be left alone. Why wouldn't he just leave?

"What the hell happened to you between yesterday and today?" Shoot. I knew that tone. It was Emmett's 'big brother' tone and he wasn't going to leave me be until I talked to him. "You were all happy and now you're… well, you're worse than you."

"It's not Bella," I mumbled into the blankets. "I thought she was trying to tell me how she felt, but I was wrong. I saw her Secret Santa card when I went to look for the History notes for you. She got Mike Newton."

I heard a soft "huh?" come from my brother and sighed. "She hid it from me, Emmett. She hid it because he means something to her and she didn't want to hurt my feelings or something."

"You're being ridiculous." I turned over and sat up, looking at Emmett incredulously. "Mike has asked Bella out at least twice a month since school started and not once has she said yes."

"She obviously changed her mind."

"Or maybe you're wrong. Just don't count her out yet, okay? We have to go. Alice is expecting us to be there."

"How could I be wrong? I saw his name in her belongings with little hearts all over it."

"Just trust me, okay?" Emmett looked at his watch, exasperated. "Seriously, we're leaving in forty-five and you're driving so get your ass in the shower."

He then pulled the covers clean off my body, letting the icy December air prickle my exposed skin and chill me to the bone. With a few choice expletives, I danced my way to the bathroom and waited impatiently for the water to get warm. It wasn't that I didn't want to support Alice; I just wasn't in the mood for Christmas cheer.

Bella would be at the tree lighting and I wasn't sure how I was supposed to pretend everything was fine while my entire world was crumbling around me. Unfortunately, it didn't seem like I had a choice in the matter. I was going, end of story.

I hadn't even gotten the chance to tell Bella the truth regarding the way I felt about her. The necklace was sitting in my dresser drawer and she would never realize how much my heart ached for her to know the magnitude of my love. I'd need to return it before Christmas and find something suitable for a friend.

After finishing with my tie, I took a long look in the mirror and considered for the first time in quite a while that I didn't look half bad. The muted forest green of my shirt brought out the color in my eyes (not hidden by glasses, as I'd dusted of the contacts for tonight) and offset my hair perfectly, making the paleness of my skin an intriguing contrast. I might have even gone as far as to say I looked a little handsome.

As I stood there staring at my reflection, I thought about Emmett's words. He seemed to think there was something between Bella and me. What if he was right? If I didn't at least try, I would forever wonder what might have been. So she hadn't been my secret admirer, but what if she could give me a shot because I was Edward, her best friend? Friendship is a great place to start, after all. I'd spent the last two weeks trying to be more confident and courageous; how would it look if I gave up now?

I made up my mind and grabbed the gift before I could chicken out. I would confront Bella tonight at the ceremony and lay my heart on the line. I felt like I was going to be sick. Thankfully, Emmett held his tongue on our drive to the center of town. He must have sensed I wasn't in the right frame of mind for his jokes or lectures.

"I'm so glad you're here! I can't wait for you guys to hear my solo!"

I gave Alice a hug and a small smile as she plowed into Emmett and me with more energy that a person her size should have been able to possess. Rosalie and Jasper sauntered up a few minutes later and I noticed Jasper trying to inconspicuously wrap his pinky around Alice's, a result being the soft smile my baby cousin was wearing. It made me realize that there was one person missing from our odd little group.

"Where's Bella? I thought she was supposed to be getting ready at your house?"

"Oh, she was," Alice smirked. "But not for this. She's got a date to… night."

I looked behind me to where Alice's eyes were focused as her jovial expression fell and saw Emmett covering half of his face with a massive hand. His posture was indicative of guilt and I knew right then that he'd lied to me. He knew Bella had a date tonight and yet he continued to feed me line after line about my having a chance with her. I started back toward the car, but was stopped by the distinct sizes of both Emmett and Alice's hands.

"You're staying for my performance," she demanded at the same time my brother protested with, "You're my ride!"

I pulled out of their grasps and now stalked in the direction of the outdoor stage. I would stay out of obligation and then I would leave. I hated that I couldn't ditch them like I really wanted to; my personality wouldn't allow for it. So, from the kindergarten rendition of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas through a small segment of The Nutcracker ballet, I stood at the very edge of the crowd with my arms crossed and a scowl impairing the natural calm of my face, while the love of my life was somewhere smiling and happy with another guy.

Finally, it was time for Alice's choir to sing, accompanying the lighting of Forks' giant Christmas tree. I hummed uncomfortably as she took her place at the mic., knowing that I had behaved unfairly. I wasn't really mad at my cousin and it was wrong of me to have been so eager to leave. She didn't know my feelings toward Bella and it was hardly okay to blame her for Mike Newton's interest or my brother's lying to my face. And then, as she sang her solo, I felt my body relax, the music coursing through my soul.

It was Christmas, for Christ's sake. A time for miracles.

As the beauty of the night sunk in, I realized that I really did still have a chance. The way my heart lifted was miraculous in and of itself. I was no longer afraid to tell Bella that I loved her. In truth, I couldn't wait to get to her. I knew she was out with Newton, but I would wait as long as it took for her to make it up the front stairs to her porch.

When the show was over, I ran over to Alice and kissed her on the cheek before lugging a shocked Emmett back to my car. After the initial surprise, he found obvious amusement in my antics, letting me know through a wicked smirk and tiny little jibes. I kicked him out at his friend Alec's and headed for the Swan residence. The house was dark and both Bella's truck and the cruiser were gone from their usual resting places. Taking up a comfortable position on the steps, I tried to distract myself. It didn't work.

My mind was too focused on Bella to think about much else, so I settled for pulling out her Christmas present and rehearsing the scene. Every outcome was the same regardless of how we got there. Bella loved me, too. I didn't know where all of this hope had come from, but I was enjoying not having to doubt myself around every corner. And that's when Charlie walked around the corner from the garage without me even hearing that he had pulled up. I jumped about ten feet when I saw him and then grabbed my chest to calm my racing heart.

"You can't do that to me, Charlie." He only chuckled and asked me what he could do for me. "Oh, uh... I'm just waiting for Bella."

"I'm afraid you'll be waiting till tomorrow, son. She's spending the night at Alice's. Didn't you just see her at the tree lighting?"

I nodded my head dumbly, not really comprehending what was being said. Bella had a date that the Chief didn't know about and was pretending to be at a friend's house. Crap. CRAP! No, this couldn't be happening! I gave Charlie a lackluster farewell and left without another word.

I was too late. She wasn't only on a date with Mike Newton; she was planning to spend the night with him. How... why... I didn't understand. How could she do this to me? I was so angry in that moment. I was hurt and desperate and devastated and empty, but mostly, I was angry. I sped down the road and skidded into my driveway. Had I been fully lucid, I might have found that more than a little cool, but as it were, the red haze was blinding me.

I stormed into the house without properly parking my car and slammed the door in my haste. I didn't see the red truck in the drive or the gift on the porch with a note attached, I didn't smell the vanilla candles or the soft scent of rose pedals filling the air, and I certainly didn't notice the gentle music playing in the background to my thoughts. I was angry when I came in, but my new ignorance was due entirely to the beautiful brown haired girl looking up at me in alarm from her place next to the dining room table.

"I, uh... I made you dinner," she said shyly.

I glanced at the table and saw the lavish spread of food waiting for my arrival. There was green bean casserole, tossed green salad, some sort of pineapple and pork dish, noodles drizzled with a delicious looking sauce, butternut squash, baked potatoes, corn on the cob... the list went on and on.

"I couldn't choose," she giggled, seeing my hungry stare. Fidgeting with the sleeve of her dress, Bella shifted from foot to foot nervously. "Say something?"

"I love you," I blurted before I could stop myself. It wasn't at all what I had rehearsed, but, hell, it worked. Bella's eyes widened and a corner of her mouth lifted without her consent; I could always tell when she was trying not to smile.


"You have no idea." The walk across the floor to Bella was not quick enough, but get there I did and it was wonderful to stand so close to her and know that I wasn't imagining the tension between us. I leaned down to kiss her, but she stopped me.

"What's the matter?"

"Don't you want to hear what I have to say?" I smiled at the hopeful happiness in her eyes and nodded. "I love you, too, Edward Cullen. Forever and always."

And then I kissed her. I'd planned for it to be soft, but I couldn't help myself. She loved me. She loved me! Bella Swan loved me and there was no way I wasn't pouring every bit of passion I held for her into that one kiss. Then I laughed. Mid-kiss I burst into laughter and couldn't stop. Bella looked at me as if I was crazy and it only spurred me further.

"Do you realize how much torture I've been through the last few hours?" Looking at me quizzically, she shook her head. "I thought you were sleeping with Mike Newton."

Another fit of giggles erupted from my chest at Bella's disgusted face. I liked Mike a lot better now that I knew where Bella's heart lied.

"All right, Chuckles. I didn't cook all this for posterity. Let's eat." A second later, she asked, "Mike Newton? Really?"

"I saw his Secret Santa card in your binder. And there were hearts and you lied and I just..."



"Jessica freaked out because Mike was coming our way and she didn't have any place to put it, so I took it for her."

"I feel dumb."

"You should," she laughed. "It's always been you."

Over dinner, Bella and I shared our thoughts and feelings from the past seventeen years. I expected it to be awkward, talking to Bella about love and emotions, but it was liberating. I held nothing back; I didn't feel the need to. As it turned out, I was the late bloomer in our relationship. I had known I'd loved Bella since the age of fifteen, but she had known since grade school. It was remarkable to think of how much time I'd spent worrying. I was such a fool.

"But what about Jake? You dated him for almost six months." Bella blushed. My hand, having a life of its own, reached up to brush the rosy cheek with a gentle thumb.

"I was trying to make you jealous at first. It didn't seem to work, so I figured I'd just give it a shot. I liked him. He was funny and really nice, but he wasn't you and I couldn't pretend I didn't love you anymore."

I grinned. I would never get tired of hearing her say it. "But I did get jealous," I reminded her.

"Yeah," she snorted. "That was exactly the reaction I was going for."

"I'm so sorry I hurt you." Bella tilted her face into my palm, which had refused to leave her beautiful cheek, and looked up at me from under her lashes. "I love you so much."

I didn't have time to see her leaning forward in her chair before her lips were covering mine. This was nothing like our awkward first kiss from so many years ago. This kiss, this expression of love, was tender and slow, but deliberate and beautiful. We fit together like the pieces to a puzzle and nothing would keep me apart from my other half ever again.

Dinner was only half eaten, but I didn't care and, apparently, neither did Bella. She prodded me to sit back in my chair, coming to straddle my lap as we kissed, her hands caressing my face and chest while mine wrapped securely around her waist. A soft moan from her gentle frame broke the quiet of our languid kisses and I tightened my hold.

That's when I felt the heat from a certain part of her body brush against my erection. I pulled away to rest my head on her shoulder, letting out a strangled groan. When she did it again, on purpose this time, I lowered my hands to her hips to still her.

"Bella, I can't... I won't be able to stop if you keep doing that." My breath was labored as I tried to control my hormones. Bella's next statement diminished that control exponentially.

"What if I don't want to stop?"

I looked into her eyes and saw no hesitancy, but I had to be sure before we went any further. I kissed her softly on the lips and laid my forehead on hers, just enjoying holding her before I spoke.

"Are you sure?" She only smiled and went back to kissing me.

I knew I should have tried to be more responsible and not so eager, but she was talking about sex. I mean, it was sex... with Bella. How could I not have been excited about that? One of my hands had made its way under the skirt of Bella's dress, the skin to skin contact heightening my senses. I massaged her flesh as she rode back and forth across my arousal and before I could even think about what the tightening in my balls meant, I felt my orgasm rip down my back and through my pelvis.

"Oh, God." My head, now hiding firmly near Bella's breast, had pulled away from the kiss in a desperate attempt warn her or something, but my mouth could only deliver choppy grunts and unmanly whimpers. "I'm so sorry."

I could feel Bella trembling in my arms and was afraid to look up until I heard the tell tale signs of amusement. I knew in some strange way that she wasn't laughing at me and I allowed my body to relax slightly. I was still embarrassed, but I didn't really mind sharing my embarrassment with her. I felt light and free for the first time since childhood and laughter rocked my upper body in response to that feeling on top of the happiness I felt in being so near Bella. My life was finally complete.

Well, almost.

Bella got up from my lap and led the way upstairs to my bedroom. She had decorated it as well with rose pedals and candles, though there were no flames in here. Bella went to get a lighter, but I seized her wrist before she got too far. I didn't want to waste anymore time on the little things. There was just her and me, and life was perfect.

"Let's leave the light on." Bella bit her lip and it was the first time since our confessions that I had seen her look so self-conscious. "You are so beautiful," I whispered to calm her fears. It was the merely the truth.

With a tiny step away from me, Bella reached her hand behind her back and unzipped the dark, navy blue cocktail dress she was wearing. I was mesmerized by her movements as I undid the buttons of my shirt, struggling with a few of them. When I was finally clad in just my boxers and she in a sinful matching blue pair of undergarments, I took her delicate hand and walked her to my bed.

It felt like a dream, standing nearly naked in my room with Bella, kissing her, knowing in just a few moments, I would be making love to her. I eased her down onto the bed, taking careful measures not to put too much of my weight on her. The first to go was her bra and I was frozen in adoration as soon as the flimsy piece of fashion was removed. I'd never seen boobs in real life before. I refused to count my mother in that assessment.

My brain was trying to reason with me, telling me that this was going too fast. Before tonight, the last time I'd kissed a girl was the summer before seventh grade, but here I was, ready to go as far as Bella was willing to let me. I didn't care about logic tonight. My heart knew that this was right and I ignored my mind with pleasure.

While I had no actual experience when in came to pleasing a woman, I had great skills in paying attention. I only had to worry about applying what I knew in my mind to what was actually happening. So, in theory, I knew exactly what I was doing. In reality, I was completely lost.

First thing first, I needed a condom. My father, being the wonderful doctor that he was, was thorough in supplying both Emmett and myself with the proper contraceptives, regardless of whether there was a chance in hell we would use them... or, more specifically, whether I would use them. I reached to my bedside drawer and pulled out the unopened box.

"I'm on the pill," Bella whispered, blushing.

"Good." I opened the box and removed a foil square. "Then there will be no chance of regrets."

"I could never regret this, Edward." My heart skipped a beat and I leaned down to kiss her. She was the most amazing person I had ever met, and she loved me. I didn't even want to try and think how that was possible.

Somehow, in the midst of our intense kissing and heavy petting, we had ended up under the covers with the rest of our clothing barriers on the floor below. I knew that if Bella was wet it wouldn't hurt as badly, so I snuck a finger down to check. I didn't even really think about where I was until Bella gasped and bucked her hips into my hand. She was wet, all right. I moved my middle finger around, trying to find her clit and smiled when she gasped again, shallower this time, but just as impassioned.

Her breathing was growing heavy and ragged as I continued to apply pressure and massage, her body signals telling me where to go and what to do. I kissed her neck while moving my finger lower, finding the place I would need to know about if we were going to go any further. I debated for only a second before pushing one finger into her. The moan that escaped her lips was raw an animalistic. My hips thrust against her thigh without much thought, my cock finding minimal relief in the slide of our skin.

"Edward, I..." she didn't finish her statement. Her breath caught and her entire body tensed as her mouth made a little 'oh' in pleasure. I didn't stop moving my finger inside of her or my thumb up top, knowing from outside sources that I should let her ride out her orgasm. After several seconds of watching her fly with ecstasy and come back down to earth, she stilled my hand by placing one of hers over it.

"Holy shit." The grin plastered on my face was going nowhere anytime soon. I kissed her deeply, wrapping her in my arms as tightly as I could. I needed to be closer, always closer. "Are you ready?"

"Shouldn't I be asking you that?" I laughed. She smiled back and shook her head 'no.' I kissed her chastely once more and situated my body between her legs. The condom was no trouble - my dad having taught me how to roll it on with the used of a hot link - and it was only a few more second before I was connected in the most intimate way with the woman I loved.

I knew it would hurt her, I had expected it, but hearing her grunt of pain broke my heart in a way I didn't know was possible. I stayed as still as I could, kissing her face and trying to reassure her, but nothing I did seemed to help. She had to work through it on her own and I hated that I had done this to her (which was an odd feeling considering I was also elated I had been the one to do it). After several minutes of doing nothing but waiting, Bella opened her eyes and smiled shakily at me.

"Are you okay?"

She smiled more surely then and nodded. "I'm okay, now."

"We can stop." Oh, God, I really did not want to stop. But I wouldn't continue to hurt her if she wasn't absolutely ready.

"No, I want this. I want you."

Again, there was no hesitancy in her eyes, so as gently as I could manage, I rocked my hips away from her and then back in, pausing with great difficulty when I got there.

"Are you still okay?" I whispered.

"I'm fine, Edward. I promise."

I nodded and did the motion again. After a few strokes, Bella started to move with me and my thrusts became faster before I could consciously stop them. It wasn't long before my entire body buzzed with my second orgasm of the night. I never knew it could feel so wonderful, so... intense.

"That was-"

"Amazing," I sighed, finishing Bella's sentence. She giggled.


"And short," I added noticing that it had taken me all of three minutes to come once I was inside her.

"Yeah," she giggled harder. I tickled her sides at her agreement, rolling back and forth on my bed until we finally settled with me on my back and Bella curled into my side. "I love you."

I smiled and kissed the top of her head. "I love you, too. Merry Christmas."

"Murry Cursmas," she mumbled sleepily. It wasn't long before she drifted into a deep sleep, but I was too caught up in watching her to be tired. About a half hour after I was sure she was out, I saw her scrunch up her nose. "No."

I laughed at her petulant tone. She was so adorable when she sleep-talked.

"Yes, I want the coconut." Oh, no. I don't know why I felt nervous, but I did. "S'not worth it, George. Can't marry you, 'cause I love Edward."

And with that, I allowed the night to take me into my own dreams. I was rarely ever wrong, but I had been monumentally so about her. And I wouldn't have had it any other way.

Note: This example entry for the 2010 Cherry Exchange was provided by the amazing xsecretxkeeperx. She has a number of other wonderful stories, please check out her profile! Shh! It's a Secret! will be re-posted under her own penname Christmas Day. Thank you!