Entry for the "Cherry Exchange 2010"

Title: Chocolate Kisses and Robinhood's Barn: A Coming of Age Story
Penname: xsecretxkeeperx
Rating: M/NC-17
Word Count: 13,570
Summary: Edward Cullen does not take risks. It's not in his nature to drive cross-country on a spur of the moment invitation or make love to a girl after being with her merely a week. And yet, that's exactly what he does. Because Bella Swan is worth it.

A/N: Thanks to the lovely people who helped beta this little ditty and got my butt in gear. You know who you are. *wink* To the rest, I hope you love my little Socially AwkWard and Sweet-Loving Bella as much as I do.

Chocolate Kisses and Robinhood's Barn:
A Coming of Age Story

The room was bare, my various belongings and personal touches safely packed away in boxes. It was strange seeing it so empty. When Emmett had left for college, most of his furniture and posters had stayed behind, his dorm not having enough room to accommodate. I had opted for my own apartment instead of group living, and my parents had agreed that it might be best.

My parents had long since given up trying to force me into making friends. It never worked out well. Other children were mean and could sense fear, though my fear usually took on physical form in shortened breaths and tense muscles, generating yet an easier target on the playground. There were only a handful of people I could consider friends, and even then, we weren't very close.

"Edward, sweetie, would you mind running to the store? Your father got granulated sugar when I specifically told him I needed brown." Mom flicked an impatient hand through the air. "I swear, I don't know how he can remember a scalpel from a clamp—everything else is the hardest math equation in the world, but brain surgery is like reciting the ABCs."

I smiled and took the offered bill. "Anything else or just the sugar?"

"You're a life saver, you know that?" Mom gave me a kiss on the cheek and a small smile. "Just the sugar."

The store was fairly empty upon my arrival, a mere two cars in the lot and the register area devoid of life. I was surprised when I turned the corner to the baking aisle and saw a girl climbing the shelf. My composure only wavered for a moment, and then I trekked forward.

I tried to ignore the girl, but she was having difficulty reaching some high-up item. My mother had raised me to be a gentleman. Despite my embarrassment at talking to the opposite sex, I knew I needed to offer a helping hand.

"I can get it for you," I mumbled.

The girl twisted her head to look at me, and as I glanced up, I realized I knew her. She was one of the very few I liked calling my friend and my lab partner for the last two years of high school—the perfectly unattainable Bella Swan. "You have great timing, Edward. I was about to try for another shelf, and we both know how that would turn out."

I laughed lightly and handed Bella her cake mix. Everyone knew about the girl with the affinity for hospital emergency rooms, myself more than most, as my father had gotten me a volunteer spot there.

"So, school's out, huh?" Bella wrapped her arms loosely around her purchase and looked up at me through her lashes. "What are the big plans for summer?"

Oh, no. She was going to think I was completely inept at being normal. I thought briefly about lying, but lying was not my forte. "I, erm, school, actually. There's a summer program starting in three weeks that I got into. I'm going into medicine, so a head start will be nice."

"Really?" she asked, her eyebrows pulling together doubtfully.

I knew it. I just knew she would think I was a loser. I really liked Bella, and now she finally understood what a big nerd I was. It wasn't as though I kept my social status a secret, but who in their right mind signs up for more school just after graduation? Even Eric Yorkie was taking the summer for himself, and he was geekier than I was.

"You're not going to Georgetown, are you?"

"Erm, yeah," I said slowly.

Bella's eyes lit up. "No way, so am I! And I'm also doing the Summer Science Program for Underclassmen."


It was my turn to be confused. Bella Swan was beautiful, funny (unintentionally so, most times), kind, and had a good many friends—I knew she was smart on top of it all, but to choose academia over fun on the beach? I made a decision right then and there: If the universe so allowed, I would marry this girl someday. Of course, I had come to this decision before, but this time I really meant it.

"Oh, hey!" she said excitedly. "Do you want to carpool? I was going to fly, but if you're driving we can make an adventure out of it."

Drive… to Washington DC… with the girl I just discovered was the most amazing creature on the face of the planet. Days trapped in a confined space, trying to think up appropriate conversation. What if she got sick of me? Or worse, what if I got sick of her? We weren't at a stage in our friendship where we could spend large quantities of time together in cramped quarters. What if one of us got cranky and snapped at the other? What if we ended up resenting each other?

"Or, you know, I could just see you there," she said uncertainly.

I cringed at my inability to work through my problems like any normal human being and tried to salvage the situation. "No, that's— I mean, yeah, a road trip might be fun. I'll have to ask my parents, though."

"Okay, if you're sure," Bella murmured. "We don't have to."

"I want to," I assured her. When her smile came back I let out a sigh of relief. "I'll call you. Or, erm…"

Bella must have realized my dilemma and pulled out her phone. "What's your number? I'll call you so you have mine."

My smile refused to diminish the whole drive home. I was living high on the fact that I, Edward Cullen, had just successfully asked a beautiful girl for her number. The analytical part of me wanted to point out that I hadn't actually asked and that the intention behind it was not romantic, but my heart for once in my life refused to take a back seat to my mind.

"Someone sure had a good time at the grocery store." I looked up from my place in the entry hall to see Mom smirking at me. "A girl?"

"Oh, well, erm…" I could feel my ears turning red along with my cheeks. "Yeah, I ran into Bella."

Mom laughed. "I figured as much. So, what did you two talk about?"

"She's going to Georgetown. The same program I'm in and everything." I leaned against the table and remembered our encounter. "She's so awesome, Mom. And she gave me her number! She wants to drive up together, and I was thinking I could take the Volvo. I know it's not technically mine, but I'm the only one that drives it and…"

I held my breath when I realized my mother was no longer smiling. After an excruciating few seconds she said, "I don't know, Edward. DC is a long ways away. I don't know if you're ready for that kind of trip by yourself."

"But I wouldn't be by myself. I'd have Bella."

Mom chuckled. "That's really not comforting, dear. How is a clumsy teenage girl supposed to take care of my baby if something happens?"

"Well," I said in all seriousness, "if we get robbed, Bella can trip into the guy with the gun and make him hit his head."

Though Mom did not always find my sense of humor funny, she usually at least attempted to smile. Today, she didn't. "Honey, what about your anxiety? You're not very good with… well, people."

Her lack of faith bothered me. Yes, the thought of being in a car with another person for an extended period of time had scared me, but I had worked through it quickly enough. Weren't parents supposed to push their children to be better? Traveling with Bella would help me with my social problems.

"I want to go," I said defensively.


"Mom, please, let me do this."

She must had heard the desperation in my voice because she sighed and smiled sadly. "I'll talk it over with your father."

"Really?" I asked, my prior giddiness edging its way back.

"We'll have to discuss it, but if it's something you're interested in trying… I guess we can see how it goes."

I kissed her on the cheek and practically skipped to my bedroom. Even if the answer ended up being no, I couldn't contain my joy that it had been a yes from Bella and, even better, a yes from me.

The sleek black device was taunting me, reminding me of the possibilities, both great and terrible. On one hand, Bella would be pleased that my parents reluctantly gave me the go ahead for a cross-country adventure. On the other, she would have realized the rashness of her actions and regretted making plans with a freak like myself. In the end, the only thing allowing my fingers to press the talk button was the thought of Bella feeling the same rejection I sat in fear of.

"I was wondering when you were going to call," she answered with no other greeting; it was as though we were already close friends. My heart fluttered. "Hello?"

"Oh, sorry. Hi. It's Edward," I said.

Bella laughed. "Yeah, I know. Your ring tone kind of gave you away."

She had a special ring tone for me? I grinned and sat back in my chair, a little more confident than I had been at the beginning of this conversation. "I talked to my parents. I can go if you'd still like."

"Really?" she said brightly. "I've been planning like crazy for the past two days. I was so afraid you would tell me you couldn't go. But I was thinking—if it's okay with you, of course—that we could drop down to Arizona to see my mom? We could take the one-oh-one through Oregon and California, maybe see Los Angeles, drive through Arizona, which is absolutely beautiful, and see the Grand Canyon. I haven't seen it since I was eight and if you haven't seen it, you really should. Then we can—"

I laughed into the phone, barely able to contain myself. "Sorry," Bella said sheepishly. "I'm just excited is all."

"No, it's okay. I like that you're excited," I said, smiling. "But, er…" I was nervous about voicing this next question. "My mom told me to ask you about finances."

"Oh, I'm not trying to freeload, I promise!" Bella hurried to say. "I got a scholarship, so all the money I saved up is mine to spend. I have enough, I think."

"That's not what I meant," I mumbled. "My parents are very wealthy, and they offered to pay."

"Edward," she sighed, "I'm not interested in your family's money. I'm interested in spending time with you."

I blushed and hid my smile in my hand. "Okay," I said simply. I would tell her later that Mom was itching to book rooms in only the best hotels.

We spent the next four days detailing our route to college. It was completely roundabout, but we filled an entire two weeks, down to the minute, with pit stops and adventures.

I loved talking with Bella. Her enthusiasm was contagious, and she actually seemed to get my sense of humor. The way I felt when I heard her laugh or say my name was unlike anything I had ever experienced.

Bella had rolled her eyes at her father's insistence to sit me down and have a chat, but I understood and went through it like a man. That's not to say I wasn't scared shitless. Chief Swan had a gun and I would be alone with his daughter in hotel rooms for the next two weeks. He was sufficiently terrifying.

My mother landed on the opposite end of the interrogatory spectrum and frustrated me to no end. Dad did his job, giving me the rundown on safety precautions and, erm, "safety" precautions, but Mom was a chaotic ball of energy with constant questions and demands. She was at her worst as Departure Day approached.

"You have your credit card?" Mom asked as I loaded my duffle bag into the Volvo. "And your I.D.?"

"Yes, Mom," I said in exaggerated politeness. "I have clothes, food, water, my inhaler, my refill prescriptions, my wallet—which has my I.D. and credit card in it along with a hundred dollars in cash in case I can't use my card. There are ten dollars worth of quarters in the ash tray in case I need change for whatever reason, and all of the stuff I need for the car is in the compartment under the trunk."

"And do you know how to check the oil? What about—"

"Dad showed me all that stuff when I got my driver's license and again when you guys said I could go. Relax, Mom. My cell phone is right here. If I need anything, I'll call you."

"Oh, no!" she said sternly. "You will call me twice a day, Mister. Once you've started your day and before you go to bed. No excuses."

I laughed and gave my panicking mother a hug. "I promise, every day."

"And you have your charger?" she asked. I groaned. "I'm sorry, Edward. I'm just being thorough."

"My charger is in my laptop case. The car charger is in the cup holder."

"Your mother is only worried, Edward," Dad said, exiting the house. "Give her a break."

"Fine," I sighed dramatically. I grinned at Mom and said, "Anymore lists? We've got twenty minutes till I have to pick up Bella."

After a long, tearful goodbye, I pulled away from the house, my excitement marred by a sudden sense of loss. I hadn't expected it to hit me so hard, but as my parents faded away into the background, I realized I was on my own now.

It was odd how comfortable I felt listening to Bella talk. Most people seemed to either be fishing for certain responses or rambling senselessly about themselves. Bella talked a little about herself, but she talked a lot more about the world around her. Occasionally, I would supply something to the conversation, but her voice was too lovely to interrupt for long.

After four and a half hours, we arrived at our first stop—the Portland Saturday Market. Bella had gone with her mother as a child, before they'd moved to Arizona, and I had agreed that it was the perfect place to start our journey.

"I've never been to Oregon," I said as we stretched next to the car.

"We're right next door," Bella said, laughing. "How have you never been here?"

I shrugged. "Canada is up, and I've flown everywhere else. I'm excited to show you San Francisco."

"Me, too, but it's my turn first." Bella grinned. "Come on, it's time for tattoos."

"Tattoos?" I repeated weakly.

Bella wrapped her hand around mine and dragged me through the various artisans and food booths. I might have marveled at how my skin tingled where she touched it, were it not for the fact that needles scared the ever-loving crap out of me. Not to mention tattoos were permanent. I was only seventeen years old. Right now, I liked World of Warcraft and Battlestar Galactica. In ten years, I might hate those things. Well, okay, that was unlikely, but the precedent was still valid.

"Bella, I— I don't think— maybe we should think about—" I stopped speaking when we finally reached the tattoo stand. Henna, that is.

Bella beamed up at me. "My treat. Pick any design you want."

I felt like an idiot. Henna tattoos were only permanent until the dead skin washed away—three weeks, tops. "Erm, I like that one," I said, pointing to Chinese symbol for "Journey."

"Ooh, that's a good one. We'll get this," Bella said to the girl manning the booth.

I was surprised that Bella wanted the same tattoo as me. She got hers on the shoulder, though, and I opted to receive mine on the left forearm. It was more convenient than having to keep my shirt off for the rest of the day.

We next hit the food tents, as we had only eaten snack foods since breakfast. I found it amusing when Bella abandoned her corndog for a heaping bag of kettle corn. She had an incredible sweet tooth, proven also by the three empty boxes of milk duds in the car.

"Look, he's doing caricatures!" Bella said through a mouthful of popped corn. "Can we? Please?" She was just like a little kid, and there was not a chance in hell I could deny her. I chuckled and nodded my head, pulling out my wallet just in time for Bella to protest. "No way, this is my city, Pal. You get San Francisco."

I contemplated my options. The gentleman in me found it extremely difficult to let Bella pay for every expense we came across. So far, the only thing Bella hadn't paid for were the souvenirs I'd bought for my family. But if I allowed her to spend her money on me here, I could undoubtedly spend an obscene amount of money on her in California without cause for argument.

"Okay," I said, smiling.

Bella narrowed her eyes suspiciously, but didn't say anything about my giving in so easily. The artist found it comical that Bella kept glancing at me through our sitting, and I had to agree. I smiled the entire fifteen minutes. When we were allowed to see it, however, I blushed like a tween at a Justin Bieber concert.

Bella laughed and looked up to me, biting her lip. "Well, Sweetheart, I think it looks great."

"Uh huh," I said stupidly. In the drawing, Bella and I were wrapped in a lover's embrace, little hearts near our heads adding the final touch.

Bella took my hand, and led me away to find out what else the market had to offer.

At around four o'clock on the one-oh-one to California, I started to feel my eyes grow heavy. Bella had told me to wake her at two so we could switch, but I liked listening to her sleep. She said the oddest things while she dreamt. My favorite so far was her warning to me about staying away from the pickle jar salesman.

I pulled over to the side of the road and blinked. "Bella," I said softly, trying not to startle her. "Bella, wake up." She sighed, but otherwise remained dormant. I took to rubbing her arm and eventually she came around with the most innocent expression on her face.

"My turn?" she asked. I nodded, and when she looked at the clock, she scowled. "Edward, I told you to wake me up! You've been driving for ten hours!"

"I was fine," I reassured her. I should have been alarmed by her anger, but for some reason I could only smile.

"It doesn't matter if you think you're fine. You need to stick to the plan," she said adamantly.

"Okay, I apologize." I was sorry for upsetting her, even if I was having a rather strange reaction to her scolding me. "Next time, I'll give you the wheel."

"Good," she said with a solid nod of her head.

We switched sides and I was asleep before she even pulled onto the highway.

"Are you fucking kidding me?" I heard Bella yell in the distance. I was trying to get to her, but I couldn't find her. "I'm right here, you idiot!" A loud blaring noise startled me awake, and I peered up at Bella's red, irate face as she honked the horn. "This car is not invisible! Fucking California drivers," she muttered.

I glanced out the window and recognized the hilled, one-wayed streets of San Francisco. I wasn't exactly sure where we were in relation to our hotel, but we seemed to be in the right area.

"Want me to drive?" I asked just as Bella beat on the horn again.

She jolted at the sudden sound of my voice and then laughed. "Jeez. No, we're almost there anyway. Thanks, though." A green Range Rover flew past the window and squeezed in front of the Volvo. "Do I have a sign that says cut me off, A—?" she glanced askance in my direction and quickly amended her colorful name to, "jerk."

"It's too late," I said lightly. "I've been awake for a few minutes and I think fuck is a bit worse than asshole."

Bella blushed. "I don't think I've ever been awed by someone saying the F-word before. It's kind of weird."

"I'm awe-inspiring?" I asked with a grin.

"Well, yeah," said Bella, rolling her eyes. "In the two years I've known you, I haven't heard you say anything worse than darn."

"I usually only curse around my brother and father. It's not gentlemanly to employ foul language in the company of a lady."

"So, I'm not a lady now?" Bella scoffed, trying to sound offended. The smile at the corner of her mouth gave her away.

"On the contrary. I was only repeating your words to show I'd caught you. I would never use my own if I could help it. My mother raised me better than that."

At the mention of Mom, I glanced at the clock and figured nine o'clock was late enough to call. She answered with the same enthusiastic, "Edward!" as she had yesterday. "Oh, baby, I miss you so much."

"I've been gone a little over twenty-four hours, Mom. That's not enough time to miss anyone."

"You'll understand when you have children," she said. I'd heard it a million times before and it still frustrated me. "Where are you now?"

"We just got into San Francisco. Shoot!" I said suddenly, turning to Bella. "I missed the Golden Gate. How did you like it?"

Bella smiled over at me. "It was pretty cool. Maybe we can go back and see it before we head down to L.A."

"Well, it sounds like you two are having fun," Mom said, "I won't keep you. Just promise me you're being safe."

My mind was immediately sent back to the talk I'd had with my father about sex. I had assured him that Bella and I were only friends, but he felt it was his responsibility to embarrass me as much as possible before I left. It took me a minute to realize my mother was talking about the road as opposed to nighttime activities, and I mumbled a, "yes," and a, "goodbye," before ending the call. Bella gave my blush a questioning look, but thankfully left it alone.

After we settled into our hotel and took a few minutes to recuperate, I took Bella by trolley to Pier 39. Our first stop upon arriving was, of course, a store that sold candy. Bella had run out of sweets at the Oregon border and was in dire need of gummy worms.

Watching Bella's fascination in the many odd shops on the pier was inspiring—her attention to the unique hairpiece in the Irish store inspired me to spend fifty dollars. The way her face lit up at the fudge shop inspired me to buy several pounds of chocolate. And her beautiful laugh in the hat shop inspired an hour's worth of funny voices and a tremendous amount of pictures (I tried to buy her a hat as well, but she put her foot down).

By the time we reached the end of the pier, it was lunch time, so I bought a couple of San Francisco's famous sourdough clam chowder bread bowls and took Bella to watch the sea lions.

"Oh, wow, there's so many!" she said, grabbing my hand and running to the railing. She started to climb up a rung to get a better look, and I put my hands on either side of her—just in case. It wasn't until she glanced over her shoulder at me with a small, playful smile that I realized how close to each other we actually were. I could feel the heat of Bella's body radiating through my clothes. I thought of wrapping my arms around her and immediately backed away.

"We should, erm, eat… you know, before our food gets cold," I mumbled.

Bella took another long look out over the hundreds of sea lions, and then came and joined me on a nearby bench. "I was thinking," she said. "I don't think our deal is very fair."

"Our deal?" I asked, confused.

"Yeah, our cities. I got a few ours in Portland and you get two whole days here in San Francisco."

"You're getting two days in Phoenix," I tried with my most charming smile. Bella didn't fall for it.

"Which matches your two days in Colorado," she said, narrowing her eyes. "I think you planned this. You knew I wouldn't be able to argue with you here if you let me buy everything up in Oregon, and so far you've spent close to a hundred bucks."

I pressed my lips together to keep from admitting that I had actually spent closer to a hundred-fifty bucks and let Bella continue her argument—which she said herself she wasn't able to do, but I didn't dare correct her. Besides, I found it kind of adorable that she was trying to talk me out of spoiling her. I didn't have much—or, well, any—experience with women, but I was pretty sure it was supposed to be the other way around.

"So, since L.A. is neutral, I think it should count as my city," she concluded.

I smiled and shook my head. "Nope."

"You can't just say no! You have to have a reason!"

"Because I like to buy things, and if you make Los Angeles yours, I won't get to."

"That's not a very good reason," she scoffed.

"Reason or not, you need my approval and I'm not signing off on anything that allows you more expenses."

Bella narrowed her eyes at me, but again I noted that it didn't bother me. Perhaps I knew she wasn't truly angry with me, and that's why my overactive mind did not betray me.

Eventually, we finished our bowls and moved away from the sea lions. Bella insisted on dessert, and we got a bucket of mini donuts to share. It was a scientific wonder Bella could remain so thin with the diet she kept. Not that I was complaining. Honestly, I was captivated by the way she ate, the way her tongue would peek out and lick some stray remnant of food or how she didn't seem to care what other people thought. She ate with confidence, as weird as that sounds.

We finished our day with the rest of the Warf and by revisiting the Golden Gate Bridge, and then took a taxi back to the hotel. Bella was smiling blissfully with her head resting against the back of the seat, and then turned to stare wonderingly at me. "Thank you," she said.

"What did I do?"

"You came with me." She rested her palm face up between us and looked at me expectantly. I swallowed and placed my hand atop hers. My heart sped when she squeezed. "I've never been on an adventure before, and it's kind of awesome that I get to share it with you."

I grinned lopsidedly, lowering my eyes to our clasped hands. "I think you're awesome, too," I said softly.

"What was it like growing up with a brother?" Bella asked as we walked the paths of the Japanese Tea Garden. We had taken to a game of Twenty Questions earlier this morning, though it had progressed well into the sixties by now.

"Painful," I said, remembering the many wrestling matches, "and fun. He's my best friend. It was a little lonely when he started middle school. I was always used to having him around, but then we were in separate schools for four years, and he had friends to hang out with. It felt like he just didn't have time for me anymore."

"I can't imagine Emmett not wanting to be around you. You were all he would talk about at Betsy's."

"I forgot that you know him," I said.

The summer after Bella had moved to Forks, she got a job at one of the two daycares in town. Emmett had worked there before he left for college and had reclaimed his position when he came back for summer break. He would tease me often about his days with my love interest. I never actually admitted anything then, but he could tell by the way my head would perk up as he started talking about work and that my cheeks turned red when he mentioned Bella.

"He's sort of awesome," she said.

"Yeah," I said, smiling, "He's a really great guy. Your turn: What was it like growing up as an only child?"

"It was okay. I never really wanted a sibling, but I didn't not want one either, if that makes sense. I was a quiet, content child." I gave Bella an odd look. She was a bit shy around the edges, but she wasn't quiet. Then she said, "Do you think they have any Japanese sweets here?" and I concluded that her sugar intake had severely altered her disposition.

"Maybe," I laughed. "We'll turn back at the bridge."

"Okay, who was your first girlfriend?"

"Erm, well, I, er," I stumbled. "I've actually never, erm, had a girlfriend."

"That's hard to believe," Bella said, though I could tell she didn't think I was lying. "What about a first kiss?"

"That's two questions," I murmured, praying in vain that she would drop it.

"I've never had a boyfriend, either."

She looked up at me, waiting for my answer, and I crumbled. "I've never kissed a girl."

Bella smiled, seemingly pleased by this fact. "I also have never kissed a girl," she said. I rolled my eyes and she laughed. "I've never, er, I've never had a real kiss before."

All the sudden, Bella was gazing up at me through her eyelashes, and it looked like she wanted me to change that. I really wanted to change that. But if I was wrong and I tried to kiss her, it would completely ruin the trip. We were only three days in. I couldn't possibly spend another eleven in that kind of suffocating awkwardness.

Before I could pull my senses together enough to comment or even move, Bella bit her lip and looked down from my eyes to my mouth. I wasn't imaging this. I couldn't be. When she looked back into my eyes, I saw hope and a little fear. I leaned down, scared to death that she was going to reject me. God, I was moving at the pace of a snail. Thankfully, Bella met me halfway, and when her lips touched mine, angels sang and the heavens shined their glorious light upon the world.

Her lips were sweet, like all the Skittles and M&M's she loved so much. And they were soft like I'd imagined they would be. They gave when my own pressed forward. The kiss lasted a few seconds and I kissed her again, unable to stop myself. Bella sighed contentedly, and I felt all the tension in my shoulders stream directly to my stomach. I had never had butterflies so strong as right now. It was as though my entire body was buzzing with Bella's proximity. My heart felt like it would beat right out of my chest.

"Wow," Bella said, flattening her feet to the ground. She had apparently been on her toes. "That was…"

"Uh huh," I said. I didn't have the brain capacity at the moment for coherent speech.

Bella smiled. "Come on, I think I remember you promising sweets."

She took my hand and dragged me happily along behind her.

After tea and lunch—or in Bella's case, dessert—we spent some time at the beach, freezing our noses off and anything else that dared go uncovered. We stopped for coffee and sandwiches before heading back to the hotel, but nothing calmed Bella's shivering.

"Man, I'm chilled to the bone!" she said as the door closed behind us. She dove under the covers, still dressed in her layers, and curled into a ball. "How did it get cold so fast?"

"Would you like me to start you a bath?" I asked.

She shook her head and yawned as she mumbled, "Too tired."

I chuckled and got ready for bed, eventually climbing under my own duvet. Unfortunately, I wasn't so sleepy. I listened to Bella tossing and turning, trying to find a comfortable, warm position, while my mind wandered.

I had always found Bella attractive. Not only was she one of the prettiest girls I knew, but I enjoyed her company, which was rare with my anxiety. Still, I had never given a second thought to my crush on her because it had seemed impossible that she would go for a guy like me. I had refocused my energy on maintaining my GPA and let my feelings lay unresolved.

Over the last few days, I'd become drawn to her. More and more, I found myself unable to look away, or itching to touch any part of her. Then, after the kiss, we held hands. She let me wrap my arms around her as the sun sank into the horizon. She got colder and colder as the chilling ocean air whipped her hair about her face, but she refused to leave. She'd said she didn't want to give me up just yet.

I had to admit, I was scared of how quickly I was becoming attached. I had noticed the beginnings before we'd even left, but now, on the road to wherever we wished and without school or parents to keep me busy, all I could think about was holding her, kissing her… and more. I tried not to think about that, but let's be honest—I was a teenage boy, after all.

"Bella, just get in the bath," I said after ten minutes of rustling sheets.

"I just have to wait for my body heat to warm the blankets."

"My bed is already warm," I offered. "Do you want to switch?"

"That's a fantastic idea!" Bella threw up the sheets and climbed under mine before I could move, snuggling into my side. "Your body heat is much better than mine, anyway," she murmured.

Oh, dear God. Bella was clinging to my torso, pressing her feet into my legs, and burying her nose into my chest, and all I could do was picture her naked. Apparently, she wasn't getting warm fast enough for her liking, because she was doing the same thing to me as she was minutes ago to her blankets. Only, the blankets couldn't get a hard-on.

I groaned when Bella's arm brushed my erection and she immediately started apologizing, thinking she had hurt me in some way.

"Stop," I ground out. "It's okay, I'm okay."

"I just don't why I'm still cold," she whined. I had to smile. Even complaining, she was cute.

"Because you're wearing three shirts and pants and socks," I informed her. "You're body isn't collecting the heat as well as it could be if, say, you're arms were huddled next to the skin of your stomach."

"Oh," she said quietly. A moment later, she was rustling again, and I was about to just drop her in the bath myself before I realized there was a purpose behind her movements.

"You're taking off your clothes!" I said, panicked. "Why are you taking off your clothes?"

"To get warm. I thought that's what you said to do."

"Me?" I squeaked. Did I say that? I didn't say that. At least, that's not what I meant to say. "I didn't— I mean, yeah— But you shouldn't— W-we—"

"Edward! Calm down," Bella said. "I'm sorry, okay. If it makes you uncomfortable, I'll just… take a shower, I guess."

"No, no, it's not—"

What the hell was I supposed to say? My comfort was not the issue here. I was sure I would be plenty comfortable, touching her, fantasizing about her, enjoying her smooth skin against my fingers as I dreamt. It was her comfort that worried me. I had never slept with anyone before. My body was sure to do more than just warm her, and if she removed her clothes, there was no telling what could happen.

When I looked into her eyes, my heart broke. I hadn't meant my anxiety to make her sad, but that's exactly what it had done. She thought I didn't want to be near her.

"Bella, when—" I took a deep breath, eyed my inhaler guardedly, and then started again. "I don't want you to go. It's just hard to control myself when I'm sleeping. I like you, okay? I really like you, and unfortunately, my physiology prevents me from hiding that."

Bella scrunched her face in confusion and I stared at her imploringly. When her eyes widened, I knew she understood. I didn't, however, need to see her peek down at my crotch. My ears went hot and I knew my entire face was lit up like a Christmas tree.

When she hadn't spoken for several seconds, I risked a glance at her face and found her smiling to herself. That was odd, I thought. I had just admitted to being a depraved midnight groper. She should have been running for the hills.

"You like me?" she asked shyly, biting her lip. I nodded and her smile grew. "I like you, too."

"Yeah?" I said, smiling. She giggled lightly and crawled out of bed. "Where are you going?"

"I'm going to change into my pajamas. They're thinner, so I should get your body heat just fine."

"Right, okay," I said, taking a deep breath in preparation.

I spent the entire night with Bella in my arms, and though I didn't get much sleep, I wouldn't have given it up for the world.

I had the incurable urge to lock Bella in a room and observe her. I was pretty sure she could live purely on sugar-based substances. I was also pretty sure she would die without them. Or maybe the sugar was some sort of suppressant for an evil temptress deep within. A Jekyll and Hyde complex. I had seen Bella become agitated without her sugary fix. Perhaps if she went long enough without sweets she would throw me down on the bed and ravage my body until I offered up my soul for her consumption.

I shook my head and chuckled at myself. I really needed to stop thinking about sex with Bella. Especially in her mother's house. I had met Renee Dwyer last night for barely a few minutes. It was one in the morning, and both Bella and I were exhausted, so we headed to our respective rooms and promptly passed out.

All night I had dreamt of Bella and her sugar. Her attraction to all things sweet was something I had never seen before. I wasn't sure she had had anything that could qualify for real food since we left San Francisco. The Santa Monica Pier in SoCal sold cotton candy—that was Bella's main stead while we were there—and the road to Phoenix was paved with candy bars.

The light streaming through the window was yellow and hot. It had to be later in the morning. I rushed through brushing my teeth and did a quick once-over in the mirror to make sure I didn't look too haggard. When I got downstairs, Bella was sitting at the breakfast bar eating bacon and eggs. I gave her a questioning look and her eyes widened as she glanced at her mother's turned back and then shook her head at me.

I smirked. Apparently sugar was not a regular occurrence for Bella, after all. It was a treat. A treat that perhaps her parents did not approve of.

"Oh! Edward, you're awake!" said Renee as she turned around. "There's some eggs and bacon on the stove, if you're hungry, or cereal in the cupboard. Everything is organic."

"Mom is religious about organic foods," Bella said pointedly.

"Right, of course," I said, grinning. "It's much healthier than all that junk they sell at, you know, boardwalks and stuff. Can you believe the preservatives and chemicals in those things? It's a heart attack waiting to happen."

"Don't I know it!" Renee gestured with her hands dramatically. "You'd never catch me dead eating that cancer they disguise as food. Bella indulges occasionally, to my horror, but what can you do? As long as she doesn't go overboard, I'm perfectly happy giving her dietary freedom."

Bella smiled tensely at her mother. "You're going to be late." Renee glanced at the clock, squeaked, and then kissed Bella on the cheek before running out of the house. Bella turned to me and glared. "Have fun with that, did you?"

I shrugged, still beaming that I had found out another morsel of information on Bella, and headed up to my room to change for the day.

I wasn't sure how we had gotten back to Southern California. One minute we had been in the indoor amusement park in Phoenix, waiting for our turn at laser tag, and the next Bella was downing a wad of cotton candy on the sunny Santa Monica Pier. She seemed oblivious to my presence. I tried talking, but there was no response. My arms waving frantically in front of her face did nothing. I was invisible.

I leaned in to kiss her, half thinking this would be another failed attempt at garnering her attention. I should have been so lucky. Instead of ignoring me, Bella jerked backwards in disgust.

Suddenly, she was gone. I turned in all directions, the hot sun beating on my neck and shoulders. People passed by, chatting happily with their companions. Could no one see my distress?

I ran down the pier, keeping my eyes sharp. What if someone had grabbed her? What if she had fallen off the pier? Did Bella know how to swim? My chest was becoming tight, and I was finding it hard to breathe. My asthma was kicking in because of the mix of physical exertion and fear. I patted my pocket, but my inhaler wasn't there.

I saw Bella standing near a ticket booth, holding my inhaler like a dirty napkin. I tried to run to her, but my feet were glued to the wood. I begged her with my eyes to come to me, to give me my inhaler and give me sanity in the form of a kiss. All I wanted to do was kiss her. And breathe. Kiss her and breathe. That's it. But Bella shook her head sadly, as if disappointed in me. What had I done wrong?

I woke, gasping for breath, and reached blindly for my inhaler. After two hasty puffs, I relaxed my shoulders, still slightly winded but having much better airflow. The residual panic from my dream was making it hard to think straight. The thought of losing Bella was disquieting. Before I knew what I was doing, my feet were padding down the hall to Bella's room.

I knocked softly on the door before entering and calling out Bella's name. The room was dead silent until I heard Bella answer me and turn on the light. She looked both surprised and happy to see me.

"I couldn't sleep," I said pathetically.

"Me either." She scooted over and threw back the blankets, and I smiled as I crawled into bed next to her. "Did you have fun today?"

"Mm, yeah. The Laser Blast was my favorite."

"I don't know. I kind of liked the parking lot," she said, her fingers tracing the logo on my t-shirt.

My ears burned as I remembered the impromptu make-out session next to my car. I had insulted the giant purple anteater she had won in a game of balloon darts, and she wouldn't let me off the hook until we had kissed and made up. And by we I mean the anteater and I, though I wasn't complaining about the aftermath. The kiss in San Francisco had been amazing, but making out with Bella, even in as unromantic a setting as a parking lot, had been extraordinary.

"I definitely liked that part," I said.

My eyes dropped to her lips and I licked my own before leaning forward. Her lips were minty instead of sweet, but I didn't altogether care. She still tasted like Bella. In a rare moment of courage, I let my tongue slip between her lips, and my heavy breaths produced a kind of hitched whimper when it touched hers. My hand, which had been resting idly on Bella's hip, squeezed and trailed up her waist, lifting her pajama top as it went.

The skin on skin contact combined with the sensuality of our kiss made me lose complete control of my good judgment. I rolled on top of Bella, balancing on my knees and one elbow, while the urgency of my kisses increased. Bella's thigh slid up between my legs as she moaned, and I pushed forward without thinking. My own hand was nothing compared to the friction Bella created. Unfortunately, my brain caught up with my hormones, and became immobile as I realized what I had just done.

Bella's hands were massaging my back, and she was peppering my neck with sweet kisses. "Are you okay?" she asked quietly. I swallowed and shook my head. "Do you want to stop?" Now, that was a loaded question. My body was screaming Hell no! while my mind was pleading yeses. I could answer with neither. "We can just sleep or talk."

"D-do, erm, did you want to— to stop?" I stuttered.

"No," Bella whispered shyly. "But I don't want to make you uncomfortable, either."

I released an unbelieving laugh and shifted to look Bella in the eyes. "I think that's supposed to be my line."

"I'm okay with you being the girl in this relationship," Bella teased. I pinched her side and she squealed before remembering we were in her mom's house. "Don't do that!"

"I like that you're ticklish. It makes it easier to get retribution when you deal out emasculating jabs."

"You're a sadist," she said, pouting.

I laughed. "If you say so." I gave her a quick kiss and settled beside her. "I'm, er, sorry I freaked out on you."

"You don't have to apologize. I'm new to this, too."

"Yeah, but you're not the one who over-thinks every little thing to the point of having an asthma attack," I grumbled.

"When did you have an asthma attack?"

Damn it all. Half the time, I was a stammering mess around Bella, and the other half, I couldn't shut up to save my life. "Erm, I didn't really. I just woke up from a bad dream, and I needed my inhaler."

"Oh." Bella went back to tracing the design on my shirt. "What was it about?"

"I couldn't find you," I said. "I've had that dream a few times actually. It's like, you just disappear, and no matter how hard I look, I can't find you. Or I do and…"

"And?" she asked gently.

"And you didn't want me to find you."

"Well, that's not a very accurate depiction of me." Bella's mouth was upturned slightly, not quite a smile but definitely not a frown. "You're kind of stuck. I like you too much to let you go."

"I keep forgetting," I said, smiling sheepishly down at her.

"I wish I had told you sooner. We maybe could have gone to prom together or something." My brow pulled together in confusion, and Bella's not-quite-smile became real. "I've liked you for two years, Edward."

"No, you haven't," I said immediately. That couldn't be right. "Why didn't you ever say anything?"

"Because you didn't give me the time of day," she said, amused. I stared at her for a moment as though she had suddenly sprouted a brand new head and it was talking to me in Spanish. "Why is it so hard for you to believe that I've liked you for so long?"

"It doesn't make sense."

"Yes, it does." Bella ran her hand through my hair. If I weren't so distracted by the conversation, I might have rolled my eyes into the back of my head and purred. "The first day in Biology, I tripped over someone's stool, and you were the only person to help me pick up my things. Then you made some straight-faced crack about stool gnomes because you knew I was embarrassed. You're a really great guy, Edward, and let's face it, you're kind of gorgeous."

"Now you're just making things up," I muttered.

"You don't see yourself clearly at all, do you?" she said, laughing. She grabbed my hand and dragged me out of bed to the bathroom down the hall, turning me to face the mirror. "Your first point is that you're tall, which is pretty much every girl's fantasy. But that's not really why you're hot. Have you seen your hair?" I gave Bella a withering look, which she ignored. "It's red, which is intriguing, but it's also got this dark, brownish quality, which brings out your eyes.

"And can we talk about your eyes? I have never seen eyes so green before. They are my favorite eyes, hands down." My teeth gnawed at the inside of my cheek as she continued. "Your jaw is just— How can I explain this? You're not soft. You're all hard and angular and manly. And you're strong. You're not all scrawny, which is what you usually get with brainy types."

"I'm not that strong," I protested weakly.

"Maybe not compared to your behemoth brother, but you're strong enough to make a girl feel safe, and that's what's important." I smiled a little at this description and Bella grinned up at me. "You're amazing, Edward. You make me laugh, and you make me think. You make me feel like I matter, even when I feel insignificant. You're super smart, and compassionate, and so sure about certain things, and I love that about you. The good looks are just an added bonus."

I didn't understand it. All my life I had looked down upon myself, and yet with Bella I felt like I was on top of the world, invincible. How could one person change my perception so drastically?

I kissed Bella goodnight outside her door and left for my own room. I dreamt of soft touches and sweet nothings and all the small things with Bella I wanted so badly. And this time, she didn't disappear.

Exhaustion. Pure and utter exhaustion.

It was four in the morning and my fantasies revolved around a fluffy white bed. A fluffy white bed with fluffy white pillows and warm fluffy white blankets in a land where noise did not exist and waking up was optional. Bella could be there if she wanted, but sleep was my only goal.

We had spent day six of our journey lazing around with Renee. The woman was a kick. The next day, Renee and Phil joined us on a trip to the Grand Canyon, and then Bella and I headed on to Colorado Springs. I had driven while Bella napped, but she was still tired when she took over—I refused to fall asleep and leave her on a dark empty road with only her drowsy thoughts for company.

"Are we almost—" she yawned, "—there?"

"Yeah. Maybe ten minutes." I blinked my eyes and shook my head, trying to wake myself up. "You okay or do you want me to drive?"

"I'm good. Just talk to me."

"What do you want to know?"

"Why isn't Emmett home for the summer?" she asked.

I laughed and Bella looked at me strangely. "He's coaching a summer hockey camp."

"Like, ice hockey?" I nodded and she laughed, too. "That has got to be one of the biggest oxymorons I've ever heard."

"It's through the college. I guess most of his team is doing it. They set Emmett up in an apartment for the summer, until the dorms open up again."

"Are you sure there's room for us?" she asked and bit her lip.

"Positive. Emmett was rooming with three guys, but one of them had to bail on the program. He thinks you're taking the extra bedroom and that I'll take the couch."

"He thinks?" Bella chuckled. "And what do you think is actually going to happen?"

"I'm you're warm body, remember? I get bed privileges."

I gave Bella the directions she needed as we neared Emmett's and switched into autopilot as soon as the engine cut out. The bed had blue sheets instead of white, but I wasn't picky. I didn't even blush as I fell into bed in my boxers. I did blush, however, when Emmett found us the next morning.

"Holy shit!" he yelled. He whooped and hollered and laughed while Bella and I blearily looked up from our cocoon. "My baby brother is getting some!"

A tall, blonde-haired man peeked his head through the door. "Leave him to it, then, you dumb oaf," he said in a clear Texas accent.

Emmett, of course, ignored this and bounced at the foot of the bed. "So," he said, adopting a feminine cadence, "how long has this been going on?"

Bella groaned and covered her face with the blanket. I was now beyond annoyed. "Get out!"

"No can do, little brother. I need the deets. It's not every day a boy becomes a man."

"You are so dead," I growled. "And for your information, there's nothing to tell." Emmett rolled his eyes. "There isn't! We were tired. We crashed. That's it."

"So, you're the only one that's naked under there? That's a little creepy, dude," he said dryly.

I had every intention of fighting back. I really did. But Emmett's comment brought to light the fact that I was not the only person to strip my jeans before sleep. Bella's bare legs were tangled with my own, and I was left gaping like a fish as Emmett chuckled.

"That's what I thought," he goaded. "Matching tattoos, spooning in the nude… you're not a very good liar."

"Out!" I yelled, throwing a pillow. I missed, but Emmett finally got the point.

"Right, right, I'll let you two get decent. No quickies, though. I want to give you your birthday present."

I threw another pillow as the door closed, and then collapsed and flung my arm over my eyes. Bella's body shook next to mine, her voice coming out in snorts and short guffaws, and it wasn't long before I was laughing along with her. I rolled into her and buried my head in her shoulder, holding her to me tightly.

"Uh-uh, Mister. Emmett said no quickies." I groaned and Bella laughed. "Besides, you're in trouble."

I lifted my head. "I am?"

"Your birthday is coming up?"

"I, erm— Well, it's not really—" I grimaced and tried to look as apologetic as possible. "It was yesterday."

"What?" Bella scowled. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"It's not that big a deal," I mumbled.

Bella climbed out of bed and tugged on her jeans, tossing glares over her shoulder. I was confused as to why she was so mad. It wasn't as if I was hiding it on purpose. It just never came up. What was I supposed to say? "Oh, by the way, it's my birthday and you should all worship the ground I walk on?"

I think not.

I got dressed quickly and followed Bella out of the bedroom. She was all smiles as she caught up with Emmett, but her eyes narrowed ever so slightly whenever she glanced in my direction. This was different from the previous times I had found adorable. She was truly angry with me today, and it scared me. I didn't want her to be angry.

Emmett sat me on the couch and tossed me a wrapped box. It was small and lightweight. Even if I were trying to guess, I wasn't sure I could have. As it were, I was mortified when I discovered what the red wrapping paper hid.

"I thought you'd want a little practice before the real thing. I was little late, huh?"

Emmett grinned down at me while his roommate doubled over. Bella stood wide-eyed on the other side of the room. I dropped the blow-up doll like a hot coal and glowered at my brother before making my way to the bedroom, where I promptly slammed the door.

This was a disaster. Bella was already angry with me, and now she was never going to speak to me again. I pulled at my hair and choked on my tears. So much for my dignity.

There was a knock at the door, and Emmett's worried face showed behind it. "Hey, man, I'm sorry. I didn't think you would freak out, okay? It was just a joke."

"She hates me," I said hoarsely. "Why did you do that? She probably thinks— that— that I—"

"That you have a pervy brother, dude. Bella's cool. What's really going on?"

I shook my head and rubbed at my face. "I don't know what the hell I'm doing. She's the most amazing girl I've ever met. Why is she with me? I'm… nothing. I mean, I'm completely lost when it comes to girls. I want to," I blushed and mumbled, "you know, do stuff, and I think she wants to, too, but what if I do it wrong? She's going to laugh at me."

Emmett chuckled. "Man, you've got it bad."

"I like her. Like, a lot. God, I hate this. She makes me crazy! She makes me feel like I can do anything, and at the same time I feel completely inept. What the hell is that?"

"That, my dear brother, is love."

I frowned. "Don't be ridiculous."

"I'm not. Maybe you're not there yet, but you're well on your way."

I dropped heavily onto the bed. "She's going to kill me."

Emmett laughed loudly. "Yeah, it can feel like that sometimes." Emmett sighed and looked at me speculatively. "You got condoms?"

"Not you, too!" I groaned.

"Relax!" Emmett rolled his eyes and pushed my head. "I was only going to say that I have some in my upper drawer. You should take a few, just in case." He got up to leave, but paused at the door. "Don't think about it too much, Edward. Bella likes you, and when you guys are ready, just let it happen."

I sighed as the door shut behind him. It sounded so simple when he said it.

Emmett played tour guide to Bella and me, and even though it was "my city," Bella claimed it as her birthday present to me. I didn't necessarily like it, but it neutralized her ire over my secrecy and, in turn, calmed my nerves greatly. Emmett even did his part by keeping his innuendos to himself. I gave him a grateful smile, and he shrugged good-naturedly.

I wanted to spend more time with him, but he and Jasper (as I learned his roommate's name to be) had a team thing at a bar—no one under twenty-one admitted. Bella then proceeded to own my ass in Scrabble.

"I think you cheat," I said as Bella happily recorded her triple word score.

She grinned impishly and looked up through her eyelashes. "Prove it."

Before she had a chance to think, I leapt over the coffee table and grabbed her around the waist, sending us both sprawled out on the floor. Bella laughed breathlessly and hit me in the chest. I rolled so I was propped on my elbow and looked down at her.

"And what exactly did that do?" she asked.

"That destroyed the board. Game over," I said proudly.

Bella lifted her head to see the ruins of our game and snorted incredulously. "You cheater!"

"Takes one to know one," I shot back.

Bella giggled and I relished in the sound. She bit her lip, looking up at me, and I kissed her sweetly. At least, it started out that way. After one kiss, I wanted another. And another. And pretty soon, the kisses were longer and slower and deeper, and my hand was up Bella's shirt, caressing her stomach and waist and anywhere I could reach. My hand was just below Bella's bra when we broke away, breathing heavily.

She stared into my eyes and I swallowed. I knew she was waiting for me to move further, giving me permission even, and my brother's voice rang out in my head. Just let it happen.

I covered her breast with my hand and felt like I was going to explode. It was soft, and pliable, and, God, I loved touching her boobs. I shifted my thumb to the side, and Bella gasped. When I looked up from my hand, Bella's eyes held something I hadn't seen there before. And it went straight to my groin.

I brushed over her nipple again and Bella's breathing started getting faster. After a few more strokes, her body was moving and she was making these fantastic little noises. "Edward, please," she murmured.

"Show me what to do," I whispered.

Bella smiled shyly up at me and I could see her swallow nervously. She looked down, and I followed her gaze as she unhooked the button of her jeans and slid them off her hips. Her underwear had the M&M's logo on them and I had to laugh. Bella grinned, and I kissed her. This girl was amazing.

I continued kissing her when her hand took mine and trailed it down her body, even though my mind was racing. I cupped her over her underwear, and she breathed sharply into my mouth. I liked it, so I stroked her one more time and received my reward.

"Take them off," Bella said, lifting her hips.

Holy hell. I did as she said, struggling a bit with only one hand, and then stared down at what was no longer covered. I did the same motion as before and felt my middle finger slide between her lips. Bella whimpered and thrust her hips to meet me. I wasn't sure how "wet" was supposed to feel, but she sure as hell wasn't dry.

Bella placed her hand on mine and guided it upward. "Right here," she said, circling my finger around her clit.

I tried to read her body signs as to what was good, but it was hard. Did her eyebrows scrunching mean she didn't like it? Or did her fist clenching mean she didn't like it? I found out the fist clenching was good when she cried out, "yes!" and squeezed my leg.

I wasn't certain if we were going any further than this tonight, but I knew there was somewhere I needed to explore if I was ever going to have sex with Bella. I found it easily, and slipped my finger inside. Bella moaned lowly and rocked her hips. I tried to keep up and use my thumb to continue attention to her clit, but it wasn't working. Damn, I was really bad at this.

Apparently Bella could feel me getting frustrated, and she rested her hand on my cheek. "Hey," she said, panting slightly. "It feels really good." I gave her a weak smile and she returned it. "I'll help, and you can kiss me while I come," she said, blushing through her brazed words.

I scooted closer, though we were already touching, and felt Bella's hand join mine. I wasn't sure how she was supposed to help at first, but I let her take care of the clit part while I continued to thrust into her. Our kisses were almost sloppy, but Bella seemed too far gone to care. When her moans came out short and staccato, I increased my speed and watched her come undone. I had never seen anything like it.

Eventually, her body relaxed, and Bella grinned lazily. "That was awesome."

I laughed and kissed her shoulder. "I'm glad you liked it."

She sighed deeply and sat up, removed her jeans and underwear completely, and then stood, offering me her hand. "Come to bed with me?" she asked softly.

I smiled and let her lead me to the bedroom. I couldn't help admiring the view of her naked behind as we went.

She turned to me after opening the door and kissed me soundly. "Do you have protection?"

"I, erm— yeah. But we don't have to, if… you know," I stammered.

"Do you want to?" she asked. She bit her lip again and all I could do was nod. "Good. So do I."

I kissed her quickly and ran into Emmett's room. Top drawer, he'd said. I found them right away and grabbed an entire line in my haste to get back. Bella laughed at the six condoms I held up, and I blushed before tearing one off.

I kissed her as I shakily unbuttoned the fly of my jeans but stopped when Bella started laughing. "We skipped the shirts."

I smiled and traced her cheek with my thumb. She was so freaking beautiful. I watched her remove the rest of her clothes, and resumed fumbling with mine. Finally, I was down to my boxers, and Bella was naked under the blankets. I dropped them, and Bella kept her eyes trained on my face. I was glad she didn't look. I wasn't sure if I could handle all that yet.

I climbed into bed and rested some of my weight on Bella, kissing her lightly. "Are you sure you want to do this? You can't go back."

Bella smiled. "Why would I want to go back?"

"Because, I might, erm— What if it's not… er, good?"

"I know it's not going to be, like, spectacular or anything," she mumbled, blushing. "It's our first time." She seemed to stare into my eyes forever before saying, "I want it to be with you."

I nodded and leaned back to roll on the condom. When all was situated, I aligned myself with Bella and pushed forward. And it was incredible, and I was going to die, and I was going to come so freaking hard. But when I heard Bella cry a tiny bit, I felt my breaths getting short, and not in the good way.

"Bella, are you okay?" I asked. She didn't answer, and I panicked. I began to pull out. I couldn't do this. I couldn't hurt her.

"Stop," she said firmly, and it took everything I had to obey. "Edward, calm down. I'm okay, I promise. Breathe, baby. I'm okay." I felt like such a fool. Bella was in pain, and I was freaking out. Damn it! "Edward, breathe. You need to breathe."

I nodded and tried to count as I exhaled. It was difficult to say the least. My anxiety had not ebbed, and I was halfway inside Bella. The situation was all kinds of awkward.

"I'm sorry," I muttered.

Bella chuckled. "There's nothing to apologize for, Edward. I like you just the way you are, asthma attacks and all."

I wanted to lean back and look at her, but if I did, I would either slip out of her or thrust deeper. "Do you want to still…?"

"Yes," she whispered.

I sighed deeply, if still a little erratically from my recent attack, and pushed into Bella. She grimaced, but I tried to ignore the feeling I got from seeing her in pain. After a minute, Bella licked her lips and gave me a watery smile. "I'm good now."

"Okay," I said softly.

I pulled back and in again, and it felt better than anything I had ever felt in my life. I kissed Bella as I thrust, wanting to be connected to her in all ways. I didn't even feel my orgasm coming on before I jerked and gasped at the force of it.

"Fuck," I cried.

I used my remaining strength to shift off of Bella, and then collapsed. It took me a while to realize that Bella was giggling madly beside me, and I lifted my head to scowl down at her. "You're not giving me much confidence," I teased.

"I thought you don't swear in front of ladies?" she said coyly.

I chuckled and caved back into the pillows. "I said if I could help it. You can hardly hold me accountable when I'm insensible."

"I made you insensible?"

I grinned. "Oh yeah."

I woke the next morning feeling blissfully disoriented. My sleep was dreamless, and I had a beautiful, naked girl lying in my arms all night.

I kissed Bella's neck, and she hummed. "You're hired."

"Am I?"

"Mm hmm, I need a new alarm clock. You're much better than beeping." I laughed and gathered Bella into my body. I wasn't ready to get up yet. "What are we doing today?"

"Pike's Peak. We'll drive up, see the view, pack a lunch. Then we have to hit the road."

"I don't want to leave," Bella whined. "The car doesn't have a bed, and if there's no bed, I can't snuggle with you."

"Rise and shine, sleepy heads! You're wasting the day away!" Emmett sang as he burst through the door.

I yanked the blanket up to Bella's neck and glared at my brother. "Do you mind?"

"Not at all," he responded cheerfully. I snarled, and Emmett raised his hands in surrender, backing out through the door. "So touchy. I'm gone, all right? But remember, no quickies!"

I groaned while Bella snickered. "You know, I think we might have time for that quickie, after all," she said with a raised eyebrow.

I looked at her carefully to see if she was joking and grinned. Emmett didn't see us for another twenty minutes.

The view was magnificent. Of course, I wasn't really looking at the city, as opposed to the beautiful girl in front of me. The way Bella looked at the world with so much awe made my heart sing. I had been up to Pike's Peak a few times since Emmett got accepted to Colorado Springs College, but it had never seemed so amazing as right now.

Everything seemed brighter, almost magical. It wasn't just what I saw, but what I felt as well. I felt calmer and excited all at once. I was perfectly content, yet there was so much I wanted to know and experience. And through it all, I wanted Bella by my side.

"I thought you said love was ridiculous?" Emmett said from beside me.

I shook my head and shot him a wry smile. I had been scared and confused when I said that. I wasn't sure what had change since then—besides the obvious—but my loving Bella wasn't a question anymore.

"Thanks," I said softly.

Emmett raised an eyebrow. "For what?"

"Everything. Just being there. It helped."

"I'll always be there for you, little brother." Emmett gave me a rough pat on the back. "Let's dig into this basket. I'm starved."

I chuckled and sat down to a lunch of sandwiches and potato salad with my brother and Bella. We laughed and talked and reminisced for hours, and when it was time to go, I felt a familiar tug in the pit of my stomach. I'd seen Emmett only a handful of times over the past two years, but it was different watching him leave than taking that step myself. My world was changing, and though I knew it was for the better, I still felt a little lost.

Bella held my hand as we pulled away from Emmett's apartment, and I knew she was offering her support. I was grateful. As excited as I was to be moving on in our trip across the country, a large part of me wanted to grant Bella's earlier request and just stay in Colorado Springs. As it was, that would have saved us a lot of trouble.

Somewhere in Oklahoma, the car started making the occasional sputtering noise. Not too much later, we were dead on the side of the highway. It took hours for a tow truck, days for repairs, and by the time Bella and I got back on the road, our trip had been wasted and we were thoroughly worn out. The only plus was the practice we'd been able to have at reading each other's pleasure; apparently the scrunching eyebrows was not quite as good as clenching fists, but still on the awesome side of life.

We made it to Georgetown a few days early, and Bella and I decided to get our responsibilities taken care of sooner rather than later. While I unpacked my new apartment, Bella checked into her dorm. I didn't like being apart from her, but the separation was necessary. Finally, two insufferable days later, Bella was free to spend her Saturday with me.

"Hey!" she cried, jumping into my arms. I laughed at her enthusiasm. "I've missed you so much."

"I know what you mean," I said, pulling away and sweeping a lock of hair away from her eyes. We took our time greeting each other properly, before we set out on the date I'd planned.

I took Bella to Capital Hill and we saw the White House and the Washington Memorial. The history was enchanting, but something was wrong. Bella seemed distracted and I noticed her distancing herself a few times, as if she didn't want me to touch her. I tried not to overanalyze, but my brain was not one to behave itself.

She smiled at me often, and her eyes held so much emotion, but her physical aloofness was really starting to worry me. When we started driving toward the park I'd picked out for our twilight picnic, a few blocks away from my apartment, Bella seemed to grow agitated. She only relaxed when we passed the parking garage and I told her where we were going.

"This is really wonderful, Edward," she said warmly. I shrugged and hid my smile by turning away. "I mean it. This is movie-worthy. A nighttime picnic with cream puffs, peanut butter Dibs, and chocolate covered strawberries? You are my own personal hero right now."

"You deserve it," I said honestly.

Bella smiled widely and met my lips. It was slow and sensual and completely breathtaking. I leaned her back on the blanket and deepened the kiss, and she responded in kind. I hadn't planned on making love to Bella under the stars—we were in a public place, after all—but as she kissed me more intensely, my hands moved to the button of her jeans, determined to feel her skin against mine.

"Edward, no!" said Bella, breaking the kiss.

I froze immediately, the panic I heard sending my mind into overdrive. I had been stupid to think she would want me after all of the signs she'd given me, but why was she so afraid? Had she thought I was going to push the issue? Had she already asked me to stop and I just hadn't heard her? What if she wasn't interested anymore and wanted to break up with me?

Or perhaps someone had come upon us. I thought being caught would definitely be better than the previous options, but then I remembered what a stranger in a deserted park could mean for two would-be lovers. My head was spinning with all the negative and I felt my chest tighten.

"Hey, Edward, it's okay," Bella said soothingly. She had obviously noticed my rising anxiety attack. "I just… can't tonight. Not a big deal."

"You're not breaking up with me?" I asked desperately.

Bella laughed, bemused. "Why on earth would you think a thing like that? Edward, you're one of the best things that has ever happened to me."

"I thought— When we woke up— and then—" I stumbled over my words as I tried to control my breathing.

"Do you need your inhaler?" she asked, her smile fading into a concerned frown. She reached around the blanket, but I stopped her by putting my hand over hers.

"No," I said slowly. "I'm okay now. Just give me a sec."

Bella waited patiently for me to regain my composure, and after about a minute, I was able to smile at her. "Good now?" she asked. I nodded and she sighed. "I'm sorry."

"Why are you apologizing?" I asked, aghast. "It's perfectly okay if you don't want to have sex. I just wish you had told me. I was going nuts thinking I was losing you."

"It's not that I don't want to," Bella said, and even in the dim moonlight, I could see her telltale blush. "I literally can't."

"Is something wrong? Do you need to go to the doctor?"

Bella groaned in frustration and flopped back on the blanket. "You're really going to make me say it, aren't you?" I furrowed my brow in confusion and Bella's lips thinned as she pressed her mouth closed. Finally, she said, "I'm on my period, Edward."

"Oh," I said dumbly. Then I chuckled. A period. How simple. Yet, it hadn't even occurred to me. "Okay."

Bella looked at me strangely. "Why aren't you a bumbling mess?"

I smiled. "Should I be?"

"Charlie always is."

"A woman's menstrual cycle is a miracle of life, Bella. It's a beautiful, wondrous thing."

Bella turned up her nose. "It's gross, Edward."

"I suppose it's that, too," I said, laughing. "But I've been buying tampons for my mom since I was twelve. My dad's a doctor and that's what I want to be. How would it look if I was disgusted by natural bodily occurrences?"

Bella shook her head. "You're amazing, you know that?" She smoothed my hair away from my face with the tips of her fingers, and I couldn't help the urge to lean down and kiss her.

"I'm not half as amazing as you," I said, brushing my lips against hers.

I loved kissing her. It didn't matter if we were hurried and sloppy or languid and attentive, every kiss made my skin vibrate and my heart beat faster. And right now, with no need to go further and no reason to stop, I felt as though I could spend the rest of my life with Bella at my side. The world was ours to make with it whatever we wished.

"Is it too soon?" Bella asked between kisses.

"Too soon?" I repeated.

Bella pulled back and ran her fingers through my hair, staring up at me with an adoration that could have crippled the strongest of men. She traced the lines of my face—my cheekbones, my nose, my jaw line—and swallowed before meeting my eyes. "Is it too soon to tell you I love you?"

My smile was unstoppable and a bit painful, to be honest. Bella loved me. There was no question in my mind that she didn't know exactly what she was saying or that she didn't mean it completely. She loved me. And I loved her.

"I saw a movie once about this scientist," I said in response to her question. She wore the most adorable look of perplexity, and I laughed, leaning down to kiss her before continuing. "He was doing this whole elaborate experiment about sex. What felt good, what didn't feel good, what people liked in their partners, how many partners they had… It was really kind of disturbing.

"Up until the very end, I hated this movie. I thought it was terrible, with no sense of emotion or morals. He even cheated on his wife with a man because he said sex didn't mean anything. He said it was only physical."

"Well, that's stupid," Bella scoffed.

"I agree, and the movie was really starting to tick me off. I didn't understand why anyone would want to make such a heartless document of human emotion. But then at the end, when everything is falling apart, one of the scientist's students asked the question that had been eating away at me through the whole film."

"What was that?" Bella asked.

"What about love?" I said. "Why did the scientist never think to include love in his research?" I smiled down at Bella and grazed my knuckles across her cheek. "He said, 'Love can not be measured.'"

Bella smiled and I let my thumb trail across her bottom lip. "I can't explain why I feel this way," I said, "or how I feel this way after such a short time, but I know I've never loved anyone more than I love you right now. Love can't be measured or explained. It just is."

Bella shook her head, breathing out a short laugh. Her eyes were amused and bright. "You could have just said no," she said.

I grinned. "No, then, I don't think it's too soon."

I kissed her once more, and then drove her to my apartment, where we spent most of the next four years.

A/N: Thanks for reading! For those who don't know, the phrase "Around Robinhood's Barn" is Midwestern for "took the long way around." I thought it was a cute way to incorporate the road trip into the title.

I will not be extending this story, as much as I'd like to. This Edward and Bella have said all they will, and I'm not in the business of forcing a plot where there is none. But thank you to everyone who asked. It really did my heart good to know you liked it that much. Until next time . . .