Entry for "The Cherry Exchange 2010"

Title: Seeds to Shed
Penname: PortiaKhalo
Rating: M
Word Count: 11,823
Summary: It took an act of spirit and two lowly seeds to get her man. This is the story of a farmer's faith and a preacher's daughter.

I was so glad tomorrow was Sunday.

When you're walking around, thinking inappropriate things about a cucumber grown by a man as old as dirt? It's time for a little God-talk.

I'd never missed a Sunday. Firstly, it would've disappointed my father, Charlie, who'd found his calling as a pastor after being injured in the line of duty as the local sheriff. Secondly, I loved it. I adored that there was a day, wholly set aside, for renewing my spirit and listening to what life had to bring to me.

After a Saturday spent at the Farmers' Market, I needed the refocusing effect of the sanctuary doors more than ever.

My oblivious sin-master didn't know the effects he had on my soul. He ran the cherry stand, my supreme temptation, for a local family orchard simply entitled "Cullen".

I slipped behind the bread lady's make-shift shop, pretending to assault her cinnamon rolls, so that I could watch him.

He plucked a cherry by the stem, from the bowl on his old, barn-wood table. Pulling off its lifeline, he eyed the fruit sadly. It seemed to me, that he was like a father, cutting the cord for his newborn, knowing that from that moment on there was nothing left to protect them from the world.

Smoothing the silky flesh with the pad of his thumb, he put the cherry in his mouth, rolling it around in his cheeks before puncturing it with his teeth.

FInally, when he'd worked through the guilt of eating what he'd grown, he would bite into the orb. If I spied closely enough, I could tell the moment the darkly sweet juice filled his mouth.

It was the slowest process imaginable in the best of ways. By the time the small cherry seed made its way into the bowl at his feet it was spotless. Ready for the cosmos' karma to remake it into a tree once more.

I hadn't bought cherries from him since my very first trip to the Farmers' Market almost a year ago. My mouth felt ashamed just watching him work around the seed. My tongue could never do those things with pure thoughts.

The fruit was tainted with lust, and I was so grateful for my clean broomstick skirt, waiting to sweep the altar at church tomorrow.

From the fresh market, I went to the grocery store, straight to the baking aisle. I climbed up on the lowest shelf and reached to the very top, grasping for my one secret treat that I allowed myself on Saturdays.

A can of blue cherries, all sloshed in syrup, met my palm, then sat idly in my basket all the way to the check out lane. They were the furthest from the truth and reminded me of the things I just shouldn't have.

Mainly, the cherry man.

I had found a place in the world when Charlie found God. Before, I was just Bella; brown-haired and book-wormed. But now, now I was The Pastor's Daughter. There was a power there: the ability to bring people together simply by inviting them in the name of a higher power. God hummed through me, all the time, and I felt buoyed by the overwhelming sense of home that being in the church brought to me.

But sometimes I missed the mousy girl I was before. She'd had her own thoughts, and a handful of friends that loved her because she carried around both an antique copy of Jane Eyre and a much disheveled paperback of Brave New World.

She was still there, under my heart. She spoke most loudly on Saturdays, quoting children's books and pulling her way up the rungs of my ribs.

"Camilla Cream loved lima beans, but she never ever ate them…"

I had a purpose now, even if some of myself had been lost to it. There was a still-warm stack of flyers for an upcoming youth event in my shoulder bag, and today I was going to talk to that seed collecting cherry farmer.

I was confident, with my ink speckled papers to protect me, strolling under the makeshift archway that welcomed people to the market. Before I'd left, I'd made myself a mental dot-to-dot of the stands I felt comfortable leaving flyers with.

The bread lady was first, of course. She had the best view. After buying a dozen cinnamon rolls to set out with the coffee in the narthex the next day, I moved onto the old farmer. His tomatoes really were the sweetest, even if they were ugly little lumpers.

With polite nods, and plenty of cash to reassure every one of my true intent, I finally walked up to The Cherry Man's table. His eyes met mine with a bright smile, pulled crooked from the fruit he was stripping inside his mouth.

"Hi. I was wondering if I was going to be left out of your paper maze today." He said teasingly.

I blushed, and looked down at the copies in my arm, pleading with the words I'd typed there to give me strength. Clearing my throat, I glanced up to see the back of his bed-head, turned completely around as he dug through an ice chest behind him.

"I… This is just a flyer about a few new classes we're holding at my Dad's church. Can I leave one with you?" I asked the nape of his neck.

He slowly swiveled back to face me, a drippy cherry Coke in his left hand. He reached for the flyer and took it with an appreciative nod, and some of the dread in my tummy melted enough to make my knees wobble. My mind wandered, for a split second, imagining cherry syrup dripping down a polar ice cap in my knee, when I heard paper rustling.

He laughed, then raised his eyebrows to ask without a sound, if I was watching. With quick hands, he folded my flyer, origami style, into a fortune teller. I hadn't seen one of those since middle school.

I fought not to smile, seeing as how he'd completely missed the point of what I'd given him, but it was no use.

"Thank you. I needed a coaster." He said.

"It's Bella." I blurted out. He needed to know my name for the thanks to mean a thing.

"Well, thank you, Bella, then." He twisted the cap off his drink and took a long, long swallow of the dirty-ruby-hued liquid.

"You're welcome, but you didn't even look at it." I admitted, slightly hurt that all my planning had been for nothing.

"I will and I may. You never know. I'm Edward." He stuck out his still damp hand and shook mine firmly.

"Was that supposed to be, like, a joke? Turning a church event into a fortune teller?" I asked, pointing to the Cherry Coke leaving its circular tattoo on my paper.

"No." He shook his head. "It's probably kind of like your flyers. You put them out there, to draw people in, hoping that once they have a true taste of what you offer, they'll be converted permanently." He smiled.

"Do you want to buy some cherries, Bella?"

My cheeks flamed and I shook my head right back at him.

"No, thank you." I said quietly.

"Well, maybe next week then. I'll see you on Saturday." He said.

I was panting through the grocery store, dizzy with my own rebellion. The baking aisle was three rows up and I was stalking my way down through the soda-pop jungle.

With a sweaty palm I reached out for my treasure; a six pack of Cherry Coke. I wouldn't even wait for them to get cold. As soon as I'd paid for them I ran to my truck and locked the doors.

I thought about little fishes swimming in and out of the plastic circles that held my drinks and made a pledge to cut them into pieces when I got home. I twisted off the cap of the first bottle on the left, and drank until my nose burned with bubbles. A giant hiccup escaped my mouth and I threw my head back, laughing at my own silliness. It was just a coke, and I was never going to buy his cherries.

I drank two more of the sparkly fruit drinks that afternoon while I finished my chores.

As hard as I tried to separate the drink from the man I couldn't. I'd bought them because he'd had one, right there in front of me.

Oh, Sunday. I thought. Come faster. This is not good. I'm the preacher's daughter!

It was shame that clouded the image of his face in my mind as the last of my sheep jumped the fence behind my eyelids that night.


I was forty-five minutes early for church the next morning and followed Charlie around like a puppy-dog, begging for good deeds to fetch.

I set up the coffee and donuts, reapplied the sticky-tack to the back of the kids' art work in the hall of the Sunday School building, and even pulled a few weeds from around the cross in the garden.

My eyes opened and closed maniacally during the worship service as I tried desperately, every trick I could think of, to make the words both sung and said aloud sink in.

But, everything felt tainted. I couldn't focus, and my face was hot with my own disappointment.

When my father moved in front of the altar I was even more crushed. In all my distraction yesterday I'd somehow forgotten that today was a communion Sunday.

When, at long last, it was my turn to make my forgiveness pilgrimage, I sighed a deep breath. With eyes closed, and lifelong familiarity, I folded my legs against the altar cushion and bowed my head.

"What are you trying to tell me, Lord? What is all of this about?" I prayed.

My heart began to slow and my father's worlds broke through the barrier I'd created in my heart.

"It is right, and a good and joyful thing,

always and everywhere to give thanks to you,

Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

You formed us in your image and breathed into us the breath of life."

I searched my memory for the image that was my trigger for a hypnotic, energizing kind of homage. The first disciples, eating and drinking with a real, living God, then determining the fate of millions by never forgetting to do it again. I was carrying on a tradition that began in the presence of Christ.

This is church. I said inside my head. I have a purpose.

I chewed my bread slowly, washing it down with the tiny cup of grape juice I'd taken from the tray.

When I finally raised my eyelashes, fully, I found my father's eyes smiling at me. I smiled back, feeling centered and at home, even if my answers hadn't been heard.

It wasn't until I walked out of the sanctuary that my old, brown, Me-mouse started to claw behind my heart. My hands had a sudden need for my trusty Huxley book that slept haphazardly in my closet where my backpack rested.

"Communion is not Soma, brain." I scolded myself.

But the thought pulled at a loose thread in my mind. What if falling out of step was part of the dance I needed to learn? Maybe my distraction was that still, small voice, pulling me out of my hymnified stupor and into my own body.

The possibility that listening to myself could be hearing God carried me home, safely, and slightly dazed. I could be the descant.

What is the likelihood that the grocery store would be out of both my blue cherries and cherry coke? I wanted to waltz up to whichever blue-haired old lady had beat me to the baking section and spray my bottle of store brand, cherry soda all over her face.

To add to my search, I felt like a contestant on Carmen San Diego when I reached the fresh market. Either Edward was hiding from me or he wasn't selling today.

I stalked around the side of the breads, all but pulling out imaginary binoculars. Just as I felt the heat of the baker's stink-eye, a young lady sat down at Edward's table.

I knew instantly that she must have been his sister. It was something about the set of her jaw and her shockingly rebellious hair. Hers was dark, but he was still in her genes.

The "Hallelujah Chorus" trumpeted in my ears as my heart realized what all of this meant. There was a way around my problem. I didn't have to buy cherries from Edward in all his soda guzzling, mind bending glory. I could buy a couple of pounds from his sister and no one would ever know the difference.

I was all clouded, cotton candy light as I walked to the Cullen Orchard stand.

"Hi!" I said cheerfully. "I'd like two pounds of cherries please."

The young women stretched a slow smirk across her red mouth and nodded her head.

"Alright. That'll be six dollars, please."

I handed her my cash, gave a small curtsey when she relinquished the bag, and skipped back to my truck.

That was easier than I'd ever expected it to be, and now there was no need for a grocery store trip.

When I got home, I sneaky-snuck the bag of produce upstairs to my room, stealthily avoiding the slumbering bear of my father on the couch.

Sitting cross legged on my bed, I pulled one, single fruit out by its stem and pressed it softly between my thumb and pointer fingers. Firm and full of a dark, sweet scent, I bit into the double-bumped bottom of the thing.

Cherries really do pop. I giggled to myself, feeling immediately bashful for such an adolescent thought.

I rubbed the exposed flesh over my lips, leaning toward my mirror, across my bed, to see the color trail it left behind.

My brabeum was great. I was Liz Taylor's Cleopatra, Eve with her apple, only for a moment, before I wiped my lips across my sleeve.

I pushed the whole thing into my mouth and bit through the taste-bud-tickling meat of it until my teeth hit the seed. Edward's laugh echoed through me and I rolled the cherry around, branding all the soft insides of my mouth with it.

I heard Charlie cough loudly downstairs, and spit the seed out and kicked it under my bed swiftly.

I bundled the rest of the cherries back into their plastic bag and quietly slipped down the stairs to the kitchen, where I crammed them into the freezer.

"Bella! Is that you?" Charlie called.

"Yeah Dad, I was… just getting a snack! I'm going to read in my room."

I ran back up the stairs and fell face first into my bed, covering my overheated head with my arms, and breathing in my own breaths until fresh oxygen was absolutely necessary.

One cherry was all I needed to know that one was enough; for now.

At bedtime that evening, though, I remembered where I'd shoved them: right on top of Charlie's nightly ice cream. So while he was indisposed with his new Sports Illustrated, I stole back my contraband from the frosty fridge, and toted it upstairs in my backpack.

Something was tickling my forehead. In my half sleep I brushed it away, registering only that it wasn't alive and therefore not an immediate threat. When I rolled over, something else poked my cheek.

"Ouch." I grumbled, feeling around stupidly for my own face. When I finally got there with both hands, I unglued my eyes to peer at what was harming my dream-state.

It was a cherry stem.

There were no coherent thoughts as I sat up in bed and stared at the mess I'd made. As soon as I was upright, a small nest of stems tumbled down the front of my shirt. The shirt itself was done for, all splotched and mottled with the darkest crimson.

The weight of what I'd done sucker-punched me down into my pillow again, where my fingers began the tedious process of freeing a dozen tiny sticks form my long, tangled hair.

"Oh, my sheets!" I wailed as I pulled them over my head to hide from my sins. They were stained and still damp with cherry juice.

Slowly, like I was approaching someone in a fragile mental state, I made my way to my mirror. My mouth stood out like a wound, a streak of red slicing up the white of my left cheek. Even my forehead had been splattered where I'd rested my drippy fingers against it in sleep.

I was an abomination, and a cold shower was the only thing I knew to dampen the volcanic heat pushing out through my cheeks. I had easily mangled half the bag of fresh, half-frozen cherries Edward's sister sold to me.

As soon as I'd scrubbed myself raw, I pushed the rest to the very back of the freezer with the funky fish and the leftover soup no one would ever finish. Lesson learned: Edward's cherries were unhealthy for me, regardless of who sold them, or their actual sugar content, or antioxidant healing abilities.

Never again, I thought, even as I felt an escaped stem take purchase in the waistband of the hose I'd stretched up and all around my legs, futilely recreating my Sunday best.

I lived for hymns. When my head got too dark, they shone like tiny, microscopic flashlight beams, that when doubled and tripled and repeated enough, could let some light in.

Charlie must have sensed some dark, because he let me choose the hymns that week. It was a special obligation, like Gospel reading or choir singing.

I studied the text, and read through Charlie's sermon for him like I did every once in a while, then pulled out the hymnal he'd given me when he was ordained.

It always flopped open to the same page: John Wesley's Rules for Singing. I read through each of them, repeating the lines prayerfully to myself, centering my mind, readying my heart to hear the music the congregation would fill with voices tomorrow.

"…see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve of here, and reward when he cometh in the clouds of heaven."

After each number in the list though, my eyes would travel back up to number two:

"Sing lustily, and with a good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of it being heard, then when you sing the songs of Satan."

It was him, staring out at me from behind his coke bottle.

I flipped quickly to my most constant song of prayer. It would sooth me now, and work the same way when it lead into a prayer tomorrow.

"Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.

Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.

Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me.

Spirit it of the living God, fall afresh on me."

I could feel distraction tugging on the corners of my mind, and so chose two of my other favorite hymns quickly. Singing through each verse to ascertain the word's relation to Charlie's message, I was quite pleased with myself.

It wasn't until my mind began to sing an alternative verse for "The Gift of Love" that I groaned out loud and slammed my hymnal shut.

"Oh love is handsome, and love is fine,

And loves a jewel when it is new.

But love grows old, and waxes cold,

And fades away like morning dew."

I gave up, wandering into the kitchen to drink my last cherry coke.

At market the week following my fumbled hymns, I tried to avoid him. I was just too down deep into my former self, and didn't know that I could ever marry my two halves to make a whole, mousy-brown, Bella-for-God, with a cherry on top.

I'd felt, when I'd awoken that morning, that the fireplace screen in front of my heart had been badly burnt in the night. The flames had gone untended for so long that when I looked out through it's hazy filter, I felt exposed and ashen.

Why did I always preface every conversation with something related to that Almighty man? If you could even call him that, If he was a man, or any sort of being capable of the love I knew existed, wouldn't he want me to be who I was created to be?

But I couldn't run from Edward. While God rubbed my soul's belly, Edward patted that cherry of my heart and it felt so good.

He called out to me and I shuffled towards him, unable to ignore my heart.

"Bella! My sister said you bought some cherries last week!" He grinned excitedly, like I'd won a race or made an 'A' in astrophysics.

"Yeah, I did!" I smiled, his happiness contagious, and calming the Charlie's-girl that lived in my guts.

"But I don't know how to pit them." I said quickly. I had to cover my tracks, even if the birds had already eaten them. They were a too-bright camera flash behind my eyelids, and he couldn't see that picture.

He pulled out a knife from a roll of cutlery on the table and showed me expertly, with silent acceptance of my little white lie, popping the seed in his mouth to suck the last of the flesh off before adding it to his bowl.

"What are you going to make?" He asked when I'd been quiet too long.

"I don't know. I've never cooked with real cherries before. I…like the blue ones." I admitted. It wasn't the real hidden treasure, but it would do for now.

"The blue ones! Cherries come in many colors, Bella, but blue is not natural." He shuddered comically and my smile leaked into my eyes.

"Bring me your favorite blue cherried recipe next Saturday, and I'll tell you how to make it into a piece of non-fiction." He said, and I left feeling lighter in the wrong place, but more comfortable with the mesh of people inside me.

I tried, once I was home again, all jiggety jig, to pit the cherries I'd banished to the back of the freezer.

I just couldn't give them but a few minutes to thaw, needing the memory of his hands turning the blade loop-de-loop in the top of the cherry fresh in my mind when I copied him at home.

The fruit had gone all slushy though, and my knife slashed and pierced the small berry bubbles instead of minutely extracting the seeds.

I did my best to wrangle the small, nested centers from the demolished cherries, but my fingers turned frost-bitten before I could finish.

Charlie walked into the kitchen while I moped through the last half dozen.

"Bella! What in the world are you doing?" He laughed. "If a congregation member knocked on the door right now, they'd think we'd murdered someone in the kitchen!" He pointed to the puddle of red dripping off the counter.

He was just ribbing me, but I was embarrassed that I'd made such a mess in the first place.

"I'm sorry, Dad. They're just cherries. I didn't thaw them properly and they kind of melted everywhere when I pitted them." I had tears welling behind my eyes.

My father didn't realize it, but my defeat was complete, heart and soul.

"Just clean it up, kid." He said shaking his head, humming "Nothing But the Blood of Jesus" alternately with the theme from "Psycho".

I forced out a shaky chortle, and left the room the get the mop, the bleach, and a fresh sponge. My father's humor patched my wound well enough that my tears only pricked and never fell.

There were certain things that only worked in the house of God: My beloved communion, my soul-singing-song.

Apparently, the cherries only worked when Edward was maneuvering them, knife, to mouth, to bowl. Maybe that was his spiritual ritual, like the Bread of Life I savored, but straight from the mouth of Mother Earth.

It was a shameful thing that I did to those mostly innocent, blue cherries. I surrounded them with the most ridiculous amount of Cool Whip after nestling them into a Twinkie. It was a bad science fiction movie on a plate.

After that I plunked a candle right into the middle. Today was my birthday. That it had fallen on a Saturday was more than coincidence, when coupled with Edward's request from the week before.

It felt right, bringing him a treat on my birthday. He didn't even know yet and it was already the best present I'd ever gotten. He was pushing me, whether he knew it or not, and shoving my internal camel through the needle's scope in my eye.

I pulled the strange, sky tinted cakelette from behind my back and plopped on his table as soon as I arrived.

"You have got to be kidding me!" He said, holding his stomach like the laughter there might split him in two.

"Is that a Twinkie under all that glop?" He asked, poking a tentative finger into the chemical coated cake.

"Of course it is!" I said, gleefully. "I didn't want to disappoint you with anything homemade." I replied, twisting just a little where I stood, the happiness spinning out of my center like a lazy sprinkler.

"Wait. Why is there a candle in the top?" He asked, his eyes flying to mine to see what part of the joke he'd missed.

"Today's my birthday." I said, scrunching my nose.

"Oh it is, is it? And why didn't you tell me this last week?" He said, crossing his arms over his chest.

"I forgot?" I replied, giggling at myself. "I don't usually celebrate much anyway. It's just me and my Dad." I shrugged my shoulders, and stole a swipe of whipped cream off my backwards birthday cake.

"Well, at least there's this." He said, and pulled a purple lighter from his back pocket, flicking it rapidly and touching it to my puny candle.

"Happy Birthday, Bella Swan."

"Thank you, Edward."

"So, are you old enough to vote yet?" He asked, shielding his eyes from the sun.

"Only just." I put my hand to my forehead in salute, a mirror image to his.

"Good to know." He nodded thoughtfully.

"I have something for you." A Ball jar, still cloudy from its soak in the canner, materialized on the table.

"They're cherry preserves, just for you. No seeds, no pitting, et cetera, et cetera." He made a flourish with his hands and pushed the glass toward me.

"No seeds, huh?" I asked again.

"No seeds, I took them all out myself…" He said.

With his mouth or his knife? I wondered, glancing at the almost empty bowl at his feet.

"You know what? Go ask Siobhan for a loaf of her honey wheat bread." He pointed in the vicinity of the bread lady's stand.

"I didn't even know her name before you said it right now!" I exclaimed, panicking at the walls of my box being torn down too quickly.

"It's all right. Tell her it's for Esme she'll smile so big you can't see her eyes anymore." He shooed me off again.

I glared at him over my shoulder, but he was right all along. Siobhan, the bread lady, thrust the loaf into my arms and bosom squished me into a kiss for the mystery woman.

I marched back to Edward with bread in hand, passing it to him like a ticking bomb.

"She said to be sure you kissed Esme for her?" My voice betrayed my sinking heart.

He popped the seal on the still-warm jam and gave me a kind smile.

"My Mom and Siobhan have been friends for decades, but she rarely makes it here to sell on the weekends."

The same knife that operated on the cherries came out again, newly clean and slicing thick hunks of sweet grainy bread.

I cleared my throat as the jealous fog parted in my mind.

"And many more." Edward sang, with awkward jazz hands.

I laughed and look a bite of the sweet spread and crusty bread.

"Mmm. Thank you!" I put my hand in front of my lips to finish chewing.

He grabbed a reasonably large bite of the sweet I'd brought him and gagged it down, winking one eye and choking on the in-your-face sweetness if it.

"Cheers." He bumped his plate to my crust and licked the cream from his fingers.

"Cheers! Please tell Siobhan thank you for me as well." I'd go myself, but I wanted my cheeks slobber-free.

"Oh, you've made her day already, Bella. Don't worry about it."

I was about to go when he pushed up from his chair and tugged my sleeve.

"Hey. I have a better present than that for you." He goaded, pointing at my bread.

"And what's that?" I asked.

A shy little boy ran across the grass-green of his eyes and he said, "Would you let me take you to lunch next week after you're done shopping?"

I nearly dropped my bread. The mouse beneath my breast knocked against my chest and I remembered, in a eureka-lightbulb moment, that Charlie wanted me to ask around the market for sponsors for the Fall Festival in October.

Edward waiting patiently, eating his wares while I worked myself out.

"Yes." I finally said, loudly so I jumped at the sureness of my voice.

"Okay then. I'll see you here, right now." He pointed to his watch. "Except next week."

He held out his hand for mine and shook it as if we'd made a business deal, until his fingers swept my wrist to feel my stampeding pulse.

"Have a good day, Birthday Girl."

"I will. I have." I squeezed his hand and drove with no recollection of my whereabouts to the grocery parking lot.

I wanted to recreate my birthday cake I'd given Edward, and actually enjoy it myself.

They were out again. Just as I was about to stomp off and find an employee to complain about their lax stocking of my Saturday reward, I saw that they'd moved my goods to a different spot further up the aisle.

All of the canned fruit and pie fillings had been organized into some kind of spring-loaded, can dispenser arrangement. Cautiously, I tugged at the first can in a long line of relative blue ones, and half a dozen cherry packed cylinders flew out at me.

"Dangit!" I hopped on one foot.

One can had landed on my right big toe. I tried my best to just take one and push the rest back in, but no matter how hard I pushed, it was just too full. Slowly, I slid the top half of the front can out again, slyly twisting it away from its friends. There was a metallic rumble from behind it and the same six cans flopped forward onto the floor.

Two more rounds of the fight persisted, and eventually the springy contraption won. I begrudedly carted six dented cans of cherries to the check out lane. Charlie and I were going to have a Twinkie-filled bonanza with this many blue cherries to go through.

I fell into a strange sleep on the couch that afternoon when I should've been vacuuming. I was at the store again, and even my unconscious mind groaned at my unimaginative dream.

But Edward was with me.

We walked together to the hallway of canned fruits and I annoyingly explained how the employees had stocked the dispenser too full and the blue cherries exploded out like a thudding rocket. I showed him, huffing and poofing my hair out of my eyes as I bent over to pick up the cans for the sixth time that day.

"You just don't need this much, Bella." He said simply, with a shrug.

"You have to leave room for something else." He pulled six ripe cherries from his pocket and painstakingly arranged one in each can compartment that was now empty.

"Where do you think the blue ones come from to begin with? 'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.' Right?" My unconscious Edward asked.

"The seed was planted in you before you were born. You have to tend to it properly." He pointed to my stomach, which grumbled loud enough to shake loose my dream tree and wake me up.

Once I was reoriented, I looked at my watch. Charlie would be up soon, and he was taking me to the diner we'd celebrated my birthday dinner at since I could eat table food. I had a favor to ask him anyway, and double dessert, both out and at home, seemed to be the way to get what I needed.

The sound of sputtering canned whipped topping finally woke him up. I'd made an atrociously good-looking trifle from my Twinkies, whipped cream, and overpopulated cherries.

"What's this?" He said. "I thought I was buying you cake tonight." My Dad was already drooling like a Pavlovian puppy.

"Oh, you are! There was just a good deal on cherries today and I thought we could have this as a midnight snack tonight instead of ice cream." I explained, arranging the last proverbial cherry on top.

"You're one smart chicken, Miss Bella. Let me change my pants and we can go get you birthdayed up!" He left and I wrapped my tower of terribleness in Saran wrap for later.

Once the staff that'd known me since birth finished their rendition of "Happy Birthday", I asked Charlie about next week's plans.

"Dad?" I aked as a forkful of chocolate limboed under his mustache.

"I've been invited to lunch with some of the farmers from the local market. They've read through the flyers I passed out, remember?" I passed him a napkin.

"Well, there are three different farms interested in sponsoring the Fall Festival." I took a big bite of my own cake before I could say too much.

"Who are these people, Bella? Do you know them well enough to go eat with them?" He was still a cop under his stole.

"Yes. They're the people I buy our produce and bread from every week, and I'd drive myself so I could leave as soon as I need to." My toes crossed and curled inside my shoes.

Charlie thought about it for two more bites of cake before he agreed.

"Well, you are eighteen now, and I trust you to make good decisions for yourself and the church." He said.

"Thank you, Dad. For this and dinner and everything else. It's been a great birthday."

"I'm so glad, Sugar." He squeezed my hand across the table and gave me a wink.

It wasn't even eleven o' clock when I heard the fridge open and a spoon clink against my trifle bowl.

We met at the barn door table. Marcus, the old veggie farmer with the fabulous tomatoes, and Siobhan had both agreed whole-heartedly to help with the church's harvest celebration.

Alice was covering for her brother, and just he and I were going to a restaurant that bought the Cullen's produce every week for lunch.

Locawhere's was a locavore flavored spot owned by Leah Clearwater, and when we stepped in my mouth began to water.

"Is that… pie?" I asked, covering my lips with my fingers so I didn't make a mess of myself.

"Yep. Leah makes the best cherry pie." Edward's eyes lit up.

We each ordered a piece and my head fell against my seat-back. The smell of cooking cherries was intoxicating.

I opened my eyes when I heard footsteps, and realized that Leah herself had come to greet Edward, and bring him a drink.

"I just mixed it up this morning, but I knew you'd want a glass while you were here." She said.

I eyed the liquid, filled with a dozen cherry buoys, warily.

"It's a sangria." Edward explained. "A fruited wine. Leah buys our tartest cherries once a month to make a batch."

He took a small sip and smiled to himself as he swirled it around in his mouth.

I stared unabashedly as he dipped his fingers into his glass and rescued a cherry half from a life in the drunk tank. He chewed it up like a kid eats the first jelly bean from their Easter basket.

"Do you want a drink?" He asked, with an evil grin.

"Are you kidding? My father would already kill me if he knew I was sitting with you in a diner instead of meeting with the local farmers' about "Harvesting our love for the Lord." I complained.

"Oh, But my cup runneth over, Bella!" He chuckled at his own joke and let his fingers go for another cherry dive.

"You think you're so clever with your churchy puns, don't you?" I asked, only half miffed.

The other half was enraptured and enthralled past the point of no return. I had passed go, thank you very much, and this show was worth much more than two hundred dollars.

"No, you are the clever one, fair Bella. You are here after all." He gestured for me to take a bite of the pie. It was a remarkably good distraction technique.

" And tell your father The Cherry Man is in. I'll be wherever I must to be close to you." He added.

I was my pie turned inside out. Red heat blistered my cheeks and I methodically unfolded my napkin before hiding my face behind it so I could smile as big as I wanted to without actually looking at Edward.

"Wait a minute. Are you legal, Mr. Big Stuff?" I asked from the safety of my paper mask.

"Yes, as of June twentieth, I certainly am." He said proudly.

I huffed out a breath I'd been holding and my shield puffed up like a lazy balloon. He belly laughed at me before the tense silence returned.

"I think," He said, when my eyes peeked over the flimsy paper.

"…that if it's not in the cup it doesn't count as a sin."

"What?" I asked, absent mindedly blotting the napkin on my lips, remembering the way the cherry stained them.

"Can I kiss you, Bella?" The napkin fell to the floor and my eyes were all his.

"Here?" I asked dumbly.

He stood casually and walked toward me, sliding into my half of the booth. Once he was seated, he reached across our small table, pulling his glass to where we sat side by side.

He laid his open right palm on the table and I put my left flat against his. We were a flounder; a sideways prayer. I had to remember to breathe.

Taking an easy swallow of the wine again he leaned his face so near to mine and said against my lips, "No, here."

The kiss was close and meltingly warm. His lips surrounded mine tenderly, and I could taste the semi-sweet cherry on my tongue before it ever left my mouth. He backed away, just enough for our mouths to be free, and gently bumped his forehead against mine.

"Taste." He said, in a shaky whisper, and I darted out my tongue to lap my bottom lip.

I kissed him the second time. Pushing my lips to his, a silent, small, smack of a thank you. Our praying hands he pressed to my chest, the back my hand to my heart. It beat so furiously I knew he could feel it through to his palm.

"Can I show you something?" He asked.

"Yeah. Are we leaving?" I mumbled.

"Come on, I'll drive. We're just going to the farm, and Alice and my mom are there so don't worry." He said, sniffing my hair once before standing quickly.

He offered his hand and hauled me up from the table, wrapping his arm tightly around my waist so that my flesh bent in submission over my hipbone.

"I'll drive." He said again, when we reached my truck. My tummy grumbled nervously and I shook my head.

"You've been drinking." I said with my head down. How had I ever gotten myself into this situation?

"It was only a few sips Bella, not even half the glass. Your mouth distracted me." He said, pulling my lips back to his again, for the third time now. I wondered if I'd still be able to count kisses tomorrow.

"Let's just… sit in the truck for a while then, okay? That way we can finish the pie Leah boxed up for us, and if I have to kiss you, no one will be watching. Although I hope you blush just as much without an audience."

My skin didn't need any further encouragement, and I glared at him as my temperature rose and my cheeks buzzed with full capillaries. He let me in, pulling my seatbelt around my body for me so he could sneak a kiss from my cheek.

I gave myself a quick pep talk as he walked around my truck. I'd always hated the way my back bumper would snag my jeans if I walked to close, but I was praying it jumped out and got Edward, just to slow him down for a few seconds.

I heard a muffled curse form the back of the truck and giggled to myself.

You're still you in there, right? And we're going to church tomorrow, and we can be young and have a pretty damn pure heart at the same time.

One more deep breath coursed through my lungs before he opened the drivers' door and slid into the seat.

"Your…" He started. We finished together. "Bumper snagged my pants." We said simultaneously.

"I heard you." I said, wagging my naughty boy finger at him.

He crossed himself and tried not to crack a smirk, but it didn't work.

"Pie?" He asked, after clearing his throat of the laugh that was caught there.

"Yes, please." I said.

He reached down by my legs and pulled up the handles of the to-go carton we'd brought with us.

"The good news is there's definitely pie in here." He said, his head mostly concealed in the bag.

"The bad news…" He popped out like a chipmunk looking for lost nuts. "… is that there's only one piece."

I made a sad, pouty face at him. That pie was really delicious.

"You can have it." I said. "Or you can bring it to your Mom. I know my Dad would love if I randomly brought cherry pie home for him."

"Bella, you crazy girl, we're going to share it! Leah put two forks and a decanter of wine for my Mom. She won't miss the pie, I promise."

I skeptically took a fork from his hand and he opened the box. It was my triangle of pastry inside, with just two bites missing. He took a big, heaping forkful and man-handled it into his mouth, moaning and groping in the bag for napkins.

"It really does taste better when you eat it outside of the restaurant, manners aren't nearly as important." He said, trapping the last of the cherry filling off of his face in his napkin.

He extended the pie box my way, resting it, and the back of his hand, chastely on my thigh. I took a moderately small bite, and tried to be less vocal than he was when it touched my tongue, but it was almost impossible.

"What does she put in the filling to make it taste so good?" I asked in bafflement.

He looked at me, all heart broken, and I realized what I'd said.

"Your cherries." I said apologetically.

He nodded. "Cullen cherries and sugar, that's it."

"Did you ever even try one of the cherries you bought from Alice?" He asked sorrowfully.

"Yes." I nodded my head emphatically. I didn't want to make him sad. Neither though, did I want to admit to how many fruits I'd consumed, or in what manner.

"I ate so many they stained my mouth and my fingers." I said, grinning.

"Good girl." He soothed, stealing a small bite from the box on my knee with his other hand.

I took another tiny portion in turn and we both stared at the last bite sitting in the container.

"You." I said, pushing the box off my knee.

"No, of course not. You have it. I eat these all the time." He sat the box gently in my lap, and turned toward me fully in my truck, his arm creeping behind me as he did.

I pulled the bite atop my fork up to my mouth slowly, watching him from the corner of my eye. As soon as I closed my lips and released my fork, Edward grabbed my utensil holding wrist and pulled me to him.

"Let me have some. I changed my mind." His voice was deep, and serious.

The arm that sat behind my head, grasped the back of my neck, and as I swallowed the last bite of cherry confection, Edward's tongue came to play in my mouth. I hummed into my lips, licking his bottom one as he sat back to breath.

I counted to five in my mind as I unlatched my seatbelt, to be sure I was making a realistic decision. Positive that I could handle being unharnessed, I climbed into his lap, facing him, with my right foot trying desperately to find a foot-hole between the seat and the door.

"Please let me touch you, Bella. I promise to keep my hands to myself, and just let you do what you want to do, if you need me to."

"No." I said, wanting so badly to just crawl inside him so I could get closer.

"Just be gentle with me." I confessed. Looking hard into his eyes to make sure he understood what it was I wasn't saying.

He nodded his head and rubbed his thumbs over my cheek bones. My eyes fluttered shut and his lips found mine, and I could still taste the cherries.

I pushed his hair back from his face and touched the skin under his eyelids. Shoving his head gently to one side I kissed his neck. The smell of him, there, in that crook of skin, was much stronger than anywhere else, and I wanted to live there. I kissed with open lips, to taste him, and ran suckling love bites up to his ear and back down to his shoulder.

Slowly, like I might break, or want to be broken, his hands moved down my back. I could feel each scrape of finger tip on my skin as he rubbed small circles into my back. When his hands reach the bowed gap in the back of my jeans he stopped, trailing just one finger back and forth on the exposed skin there between my shirt and pants.

I scooted closer to him then, and pulled his mouth back to mine, biting his bottom lip lightly, and pulling it into my mouth. I nodded my head against his and he scooped up my backside, filling his hands with the flesh there. I felt him, underneath me too, an on-site anatomy lesson I'd never learned that made my heart race and my legs quiver.

I moved with the hardness I felt against the seam in my jeans, and Edward kneaded my rear reverently. I'd never felt so much in my own skin before. There was dampness building between my legs, and I rocked myself against him harder, tucking my feet under his knees, raising up to pant in his ear.

"I don't know how to do this. But please don't stop yet. I promise to stop you when I'm ready and I swear I'm not trying to prove anything. I'm still me in here." I said rapidly into his ear.

His hands squeezed down to the outsides of my thighs and sat me down purposefully on top of him. My words must have freed something he was holding back, because when he began to move under me, nibbling my jawline as he did, I was overwhelmed with hot, wet, warmth.

"Oh, God!" I blurted out. Now was not a good time to start taking the Lord's name in vain and I immediately regretted it. I was relieved, however, that it was only the words I regretted, and not my actions.

"Shhh…" He cooed into my ear, still unable to keep still under me.

"Thank you." I said to his lips, kissing them again, greedily.

"It was good pie then, huh?" He said, jokingly, rubbing his hands softly over my whole body.

"Good Pie." I nodded.

'Let's go." He said. "I think everything but you has worn off by now."

I blushed again as I snuck a peak at his lap where I'd just been seated. His jeans were standing at attention, and I had no idea how to help him.

"I'm sorry." I said sheepishly.

He huffed at me, like I was being ridiculous.

"Please, don't ever apologize for trusting yourself with something. I feel honored."

He took my hand across the two seats and we headed in the direction I assumed was his family's farm.

"So this is it." Motioning to the small building before us, he took my arm and helped me down from the passengers seat. It was awkward to climb from the opposite side of the vehicle.

"Is this… where you live?" I asked, confused by the small, yet pristine nature of the tiny house in front of me.

"No, I live in the big house with my parents and siblings still. This is just my shed." He was so proud, and I did my best not to laugh at the way his chest puffed out.

"You brought me to a shed, huh?" It had to be something important or he wouldn't have driven me here. He was just that kind of person.

"Since you are you, I wanted to show… you." He shook his head at his own redundancy.

"This is where I come to pray, or meditate, or escape my family, or whatever it is my mind needs. I wanted to share it with you." He gave me the same look I'd given him in the truck. There was more to what he said that what he said.

"I'm here, aren't I?" I said, taking his fingers and twisting mine around them.

"And we're not just here to talk church dirty-work, are we?" He studied my face.

"No. That's done. If I feel the need to throw out any God-words for good measure, I'll warn you before hand." My body gravitated to his and our thighs brushed in between a step.

"Good. Because I don't want to know your church, Bella. I want to know who you are." He stopped at the door and turned to face away from the threshold.

"Come here, please." I stepped toward him and he linked the fingers on each hand around both my wrists and stretch my arms until they encircled his neck.

"Thank you for coming today, and letting me touch you, and looking at me like that." He whispered in my ear.

"Like how?" I asked his pulse where it beat a rhythm on my lips.

"Like I'm worthy." He breathed, kissing my forehead.

"We're all worthy, Edward. I'm just a little mouse of a girl and even that is plenty for… I didn't warn you, so I'll shush." My lips were a hard line, and I brushed them back and forth on his full, pouty ones until mine quieted and responded in full.

"I'll be a witness to this mouse's undoing. You are not a mouse in there. You are glory, and allelujah, and Bella. You are miraculous." Between kisses his words piled high in my heart.

His hands moved under my hair to my ears, tugging them slightly, helping me to hear the undertones and overt messages ponding in our chests. Rubbing my earlobes like a lucky rabbit's foot, I kissed teeth as he smiled wide.

"I want to teach you something. Alice always swore I would need to know these things, and she was right." He said.

He unlocked the door and we entered the small space. There was room for a plush chair, a wooden workbench, and a bookshelf. A bowl identical to the seed collecting one sat atop his case.

Picking up the vessel that I could see was full of cherries, he settled me into his lap in the same position as we had been in the truck. The chair was exponentially more comfortable though.

With the kind of skills that only could've come from the repeated replacement of a little sister's Barbie shoes, Edward tied the stems on two plump cherries together. Unfolding my palm, he placed the duet there, and I held it as a ring bearer would while he made a twin set.

"Just let me…" He tucked my hair behind each of my ears.

"Okay, now one side." He hung the cherries over the shell of my left ear.

"And the other one." I could hear them as they swung slightly and thumped my lobe.

I smirked up at him and swayed back and forth, loving the weight of the fruit on each side of my head. Lady Justice, was I, fair, and balanced, and foxy in the best kind of way.

"You wear them beautifully. It's the best use of our cherries yet." He beamed.

"You're silly, but I adore them, thank you." Kisses of praise flowed from my mouth to his and my hands kneaded the muscles that formed the front of his chest until he exhaled his sweet breath on my collarbones.

He left a trail of amens there, and rubbed his blessings into my ribcage.

"Please, can I touch you again?" He whimpered into my left ear before biting one cherry clean of the stem.

"Yes." If this was his place of prayer, then this liturgy was responsive. He lead, and I accepted with electric, soaring desire.

His hands cupped my breasts with his calloused fingers, my skin longing to feel his particular grate of dexterous sandpaper directly on my pebbling peaks.

As if he'd heard my plea, he began the slow, zenlike, and maddening process of undoing the twelve buttons that harnessed my shirt.

"Will you still be you without this on?" He asked me.

I nodded my head and rubbed my hands down to his shirt tail, pushing it up so I could feel his skin on my mine too.

"Yours too. Please." I said, and as he pulled his shirt over his head, I slipped my arms from mine, slithering sleeves to the floor.

I touched him as he'd touched me, pressing my hands all around his chest, before following the path of soft hair to his belly button. His head fell back on the chair and I lay myself against him , torso to torso, with only a slip of lingerie separating us. With both hands I pulled his face to mine.

"Stay with me." I told him.

"There's only you, Bella. I waited for months for you to bring me that flyer, and here you are, in all your glory. There's only ever been you. Please understand." He was desperate and downright all together.

I pulled him forward from the chair, a glutton for his naked back, and he enveloped me in warm arms. I hummed and shivered as his fingers played with the my hair, tickling the base of my spine. As they wandered higher, I let go of him, causing him to flop back against the cushion once more.

"That would have been a good time for a warning." He chuckled.

"Yes, but it had nothing to do with church." I reminded him, raising one eyebrow.

I slowly unhooked the three latches on my bra and let it drop silently into his waiting hands. We freed my arms together and then he brought me flush to his flesh once again. He was hard beneath me, and the same heat that had overcome me in the truck was there again and building to something I still hadn't scaled.

"I think I need more, still. Please." I said to him.

He questioned me with his eyes as his hands squeezed down to my hipbones.

"I'm sure." I reassured him.

His hands on my shoulders pressed me back until my hands were perched behind me on his knees. He slid his index finger into the waistband of my jeans and I whimpered through the wave that crashed there, below my tummy. With caring hands he undid the button and dragged down my zipper, revealing my green, dove covered undies.

The effort it took to keep myself wholly present in each moment was ungodly. The headiness of what was happening could've easily pushed the deeper meanings aside, but I wouldn't let it. I breathed in deep through my nose, blowing out a stuttering, ooh-filled sound.

His fingers trickled touches in and all around my cottony doves, never diving underneath until I caught his hand.

"I trust you." I admitted. "I trust you to take this as far as it's supposed to go. Okay?" He swallowed and nodded, still pressing his fingers into my mound gently.

"I need to take the jeans off, I think." I said. He moved his hands and I stood before him on woefully shaky legs.

He offered his hands and I held on to them tight as I shimmied my pants down my thighs and stepped out of them when they pooled at my feet.

He surprised me by standing up as well. He hovered over me, his green eyes reverently meeting mine.

With no warning, he picked me up under my arms, and my legs wrapped around him automatically. We moved backwards to the wooden work bench, and he sat me down there. It was smooth and warm like ancient driftwood. Stepping back, he assessed me from the crown of my head to the seams of my socks.

My cheeks bloomed a roses are red poem just for him, and he moved further away from me until he sat down in the chair again.

"Give me a minute." He said. "I want to do this right."

I watched as he pulled cherry after cherry from the bowl at his side, tying smalls loops of stem around each one until they were a fruited prayer chain. The final loop completed the circle and he stalked toward me with his creation, placing it around my neck when he reached me.

His mouth attacked mine, and I moaned, relieved that he'd come back to me so willingly. My socked feet were cradled in his hands as he lifted my legs, pushing them back into my body. Bending my knees, he put the sole of each foot firmly on the soft, wooden table, opening my center to him, stretching my doves' wingspan until they seemed to soar around my pelvis.

His hands were on my most tender space again then, and I licked his tongue in my mouth to move him on. Fingers snuck under green elastic and my hips convulsed with untapped need.

"Please. Please, please, with cherries on top." I begged.

It was an unfair phrase to use against him, but when his finger pushed inside me I was blinded from my injustice. He moved that single digit in and out of my deepest opening with mind-numbing slowness, until I started to move in harmony with him. Another finger pushed in with the first and the sunburning heat that enveloped me from the waist down shrunk, until it vibrated only where he touched me.

I bucked against his hand, grabbing his shoulders as he anchored his other hand in my backside to keep me still. Speeding over a black diamond mountain top and tumbling back down again, the furious pace of Edward's fingers wrung a long wail of pleasure from my entire being.

When it stopped, finally, I opened my eyes and looked at my guide on this journey I'd begun. I realized then, that if I wanted to keep him with me, that I'd have to lead too.

We shared lazy kisses, and he carried me back to the chair and sat me in it, resting on his knees in front of me.

"Had you ever?" He asked quietly.

I shook my head. "Have you ever?" I asked back.

"You don't have to worry about that Bella. When I said there was only you, I meant it." He rushed his words and blushed like I had when he'd watched me across the room.

"Let me touch you, Edward. Show me, and let me make you feel this." I grabbed at the skin above my heart, leaving angry red marks in my wake.

He grasped my thighs, scooting me forward to the edge of the chair. With Edward raised up on his knees, my hands easily slid button from hole four times over until the Kelly green of his boxers peaked through the v-shaped opening there.

"See? We match underneath already." I said, and he smiled at me.

He moved his hands above his head, grabbing fistfuls of his own hair. By letting me have my way with him, he'd released me to touch him like I needed to.

I pushed his jeans, and the last barrier between my hands and him, down to his knees, then righted myself again. His erection was so eager to be touched, and now, knowing that feeling, I was amazed that he'd waited so patiently for me to ask permission.

I touched him lightly from top to bottom and he hissed above me. I caressed his cheek, so he'd open his droopy eyes.

"Your hands are so soft." He said.

With all ten fingers, I wrapped his length tentatively and he lurched forward, his face landing in my chest. Nuzzling my cherry jewelry, he turned his mouth to my sternum and nibbled the fruit dangling there.

"Do you want me to stop?" I asked, brushing my hands through his wild hair.

"No, I just needed a snack to give me strength." He grinned crookedly up at me and dove back to my neck. Sucking an entire cherry, and a proportional chuck of skin, into his mouth, he laved them both with his tongue before releasing me to bite the fruit from the stem again.

With my lei of love just barely intact, he sat up straight again, putting my hands back on him the way he desired. When I'd learned the route of this intimate touch, he let go, leaving my fingers to finish what we'd started.

"You can go faster." He told me, his arms gradually moving back up over his head.

He watched, unabashedly, all flushed and flustered like I'd been and I quickened my hands. I only slowed when the tip of his hardness seeped from the top, and I pushed my thumb into the valley there, gathering what he'd given me and causing him to groan.

He licked his lips and spoke in a thirsty voice. "More, please, I'm almost there."

My actions became more intentional, increasing the pressure here and lessening my grip there. His arms dropped to the arms of the chair and he slurped a cherry from my chest into his mouth, disrupting all the others in turn as he came apart in my hands.

"Oh Lord!" He moaned into my neck, and the creamy fluid I'd drawn from his cock dribbled down between my fingers.

With his warm fingers that knew the curves of my body inside and out, he lazily plucked the single cherry sitting behind the shell of my left ear, pushing it past my lips and into my mouth.

I chewed it slowly, relishing the cool burst of juice in my mouth after simmering inside for so long.

"Give me your seed, Bella." He said when I finished.

I didn't understand until the small center clinked against the back of my teeth nervously. I pushed it to the end of my tongue and Edward cupped my face in his hand, sucking my top lip into his mouth before licking the seed away and swallowing it down.

"Do we have enough limbs to make a tree?" He asked, rubbing and squeezing his way down my arms, pinning my hands at my sides.

As Edward kissed the outside of my right ear, sucking the second to last jewel of my edible earrings into his mouth, my fingers flapped like trapped birds.

"Open your mouth and close your eyes." He said, in a sardonic, singsong kind of way that made me clench my hands into fists, and my toes curl against the abandoned stems on the shed's floor.

I did as I was told, and Edward placed the seed he cleaned with his teeth on the end of my tongue.

"Swallow it." He said, and as soon as I did he released my hands, which flew around his neck to drag his lips back to mine, grateful for their freedom of flight.

With very little assistance I fell to the floor, toppling Edward backwards, and landing above him, lashes to lashes.

I wrapped myself around him, a shameless tree-hugger, and he bundled me into his arms.

"I'll be the vine if you'll be my branches." He crooned.

I worshiped his lips with kisses as soon as the last 's' escaped them and a hymn snuck into consciousness. I sang it into his ear:

"I am my beloved's and he his mine. His banner over me in love."

He kissed my jaw and sat us both back up.

"I'll have to be back home soon." It was too soon, and my heart was heavy.

"I have church tomorrow and I'm supposed to read the liturgy." I confessed, touching every inch of his face in case I didn't see it again for a week.

God was telling me to pull back. He didn't prepare me for what came out of Edward's mouth though.

"Where is it?" He asked.

"What time? Let me be there to hear you, please." Pleading, he gathered my hair into a low ponytail behind me and tugged my neck to his mouth for a lapping kiss against my throat.

"11:00 AM, tomorrow morning, at St. Mary's United Methodist Church." I said hurriedly.

"Okay. I'll be there, front row, I promise." He smacked a kiss on my lips.

"Go before you get in trouble!"

I bent to get my bag and felt a swat against my rear. I giggled and grabbed my backside. It stung, and that reminder of his hands on my body lasted all the way until I was under Charlie's roof again.

Edward was waiting on the bench beneath the cross when my truck rumbled into the church parking lot the next morning.

"It's Matthew 17:20, right?" He asked, fishing for something in the slash pocket of his slacks.

"Yep. It's just a short one." I said.

He pulled my arm and I sat down next to him, laying my head on his shoulder. It was a benign touch, acceptable here at church and still meaningful to us. He reached his arm around me and dropped what felt like a small stone in the pocket of my shirt-dress.

"Break a leg." He whispered, and we stood to walk inside.

It was a cherry seed he'd placed in the square pouch of my dress.

"Nothing is impossible." I said, and made my way up through the pews to the seats behind the pulpit.

Edward sat three rows back, where I could see him easily from where I was hidden.

When it came time for the Gospel reading I stood on the step my father always left for me when I read. In a language I'd long since memorized, I introduced the scripture and waited until the rustle of pages slowed to begin the liturgy.

"He replied, 'Because you have so little faith.'"

I swept my eyes up to the congregation, then kept reading in the dramatically humble way the Bible should be read.

"'I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.'"

"This is the Word of the Lord." I announced to everyone present, and a hundred voices responded with, "Thanks be to God."

When I looked back at Edward again, he was holding his fingers up like he was pinching something. My inner-altar-girl was horrified, and tried to convince me he was pretending to squish Charlie's head, but I knew that wasn't right.

I took my seat off to the side, next to my Dad, and chanced another glance at my guest in the congregation. He showed me the same shape between his index finger and thumb, but this time he patted his pocket with the other hand.

Our seeds. I smiled a secret smile and slipped my hand in my pocket to feel the weight of the gift he'd left there this morning.

If ours were the size of twenty clustered mustard seeds, and planted inside us, our faith in each other was insurmountable by anything but spirit.

Charlie stood up to start his sermon as the anthem ended. Today's message was obviously about faith, but not just our faith in the trinity of beings we were there to worship.

My father wanted his sheep to know that Our Father gave us an inner conviction to prove he was worth our trust. This dual faith was further supported by the loyalty we all had to each other, as members of the house of God and Christ's hands on earth.

I heard Edward fake a cough from where he sat in the third row, and had to cover my giggle with a fibbed choke of my own.

It was happening. The preacher's daughter and the cherry man's girl were both present in me. I could be my whole self: the old brown mouse and the disciple. I just needed the rest of my heart to be sitting a pew in front of me.

"Nothing is impossible for you." I mouthed, just to me.

A/N: Thank you for reading! All quoted scriptures, liturgy, and hymns can be found online through a simple google search and are parts of a traditional United Methodist worship service. Camilla Cream is the main character in David Shannon's A Bad Case of Stripes.

This story is full to overflowing with Yellowglue's glitter o' guidance. Pinkie links and eternal gratitude, love. You make me a better writer.