Summary: Bella is content to follow her father's spiritual teachings until a green-eyed boy with blind faith opens her eyes to true love.
This story placed 3rd in the Judges Vote and 1st in the Public Vote in the Cherry Exchange Contest. Thank you!
The faithful parishioners of Forks Community Chapel were growing restless. Sunlight – a rarity in our dreary little town – was streaming through the stained glass windows. The sunbeams, combined with the fact that it was after twelve o'clock and stomachs were growling, were causing even the most devout of my father's flock to squirm impatiently in their pews.
Unfortunately for them, my father was right in the middle of a religious rant, and that rant was geared at me and the rest of the teenage sinners sitting in the second row.
"Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul," my father bellowed passionately from the pulpit, holding his Bible high in the air. A chorus of amens could be heard from the older members while the mortified teenagers slumped further down into their seats under the weight of my father's steely gaze.
"Is that a commandment?" Alice whispered in my ear. "Because if it is, I am so screwed."
"Not a commandment," I mumbled.
It was 1 Peter 2:11. I knew the specific chapter and verse because my father had been reciting it day and night for the past week.
As the daughter of a pastor, I was expected to act a certain way…dress a certain way…be a certain way…and for the past seventeen years of my life, I have played that role gladly. I adored my father, and the very last thing I would ever want to do was disappoint him. I was a straight-A kid, wore my skirts a decent length, taught Sunday School to the nursery kids, and said my prayers each night. I wasn't the perfect daughter, of course, but compared other girls my age, I was a saint.
I heard a bored yawn and glanced to the beautiful blonde sitting to my right. Rosalie, one of my best friends, was rolling her eyes as my father continued condemning today's youth. Her boyfriend, Emmett McCarty, seemed totally unaffected by my dad's sermon as I watched his hand slowly creep up her exposed thigh.
Suddenly, my father's fist pounded the podium, and I stifled a giggle as Emmett quickly jerked his hand away and stuffed it in his pocket.
"Busted," Alice whispered with her tinkling laugh.
I glanced at the rest of the teens lining our pew, and Mike Newton had the nerve to wink at me. I narrowed my eyes at him, and his face paled before quickly looking back toward my father.
I hated him. It was Newton's fault that we were being subjected to my father's wrath.
For reasons completely unfathomable to me, Mike showed up on my doorstep last week. Just walked right up to it, knocked on the door, and asked my father if he could take me to the movies. My father didn't give me the chance to say no (which I totally would have) before slamming the door in Mike's face. Mike's request had suddenly alerted my dad to the fact that I was indeed a teenage girl, and that night began the first of our many "spiritual" meetings concerning the opposite sex. I was completely horrified, but his message was loud and clear.
Premarital sex is a sin.
My dad could have saved his sermons because sex was the truly the very last thing on my mind. There wasn't a guy at Forks High School that I was even remotely interested in. My friends, on the other hand, were some of the biggest fornicators (my father's favorite word) in town, and I lived vicariously through them.
Maybe they needed this lecture.
Me? Not so much.
"I am going to kick Mike Newton's scrawny ass," Emmett mumbled quietly, causing our entire row – except for Newton – to explode with laughter.
My father glared at us, and we instantly hushed.
Finally, the organist began playing a song, and Alice handed me a hymnal, prompting me to quickly flip through the pages.
"Where's Jasper?" I asked. They were usually joined at the hip, and despite the fact that church could be torture, Jazz never missed an opportunity to be with Alice.
"Oh, he's here. He's sitting in the back row with his cousin, Edward. He just moved here from Chicago."
"Willingly?" I crinkled my nose.
Forks was cold and rainy and boring. Why would anyone want to move here?
Alice nodded thoughtfully. "Jasper said that his cousin needed to move some place quiet and calm."
"Well, he certainly picked the perfect place."
Just then, my father's eyes found mine, and he motioned me toward the altar.
"Oh, I forgot you were singing!" Alice squealed excitedly.
"So did I."
I sighed and handed her the hymnal before climbing out of the pew. At least once a month, my father requested that I sing in church. I really didn't mind because I loved to sing, and I especially loved to sing praise music. Reverend Swan was traditional in his biblical teachings, but he was more than willing to compromise when it came to music. To cater to both the older and younger members, our services always had a mix of traditional hymns and contemporary worship music.
Mrs. Cope, the piano player, smiled brightly at me as I took the microphone out of the stand and switched it on. My father introduced me, which was ridiculous considering a majority of the people in this room had known me since the day I was born, but he felt it was important to introduce me to any visitors we might have. I hated being the center of attention, and performing always made me a little nervous, but as I looked down into the smiling faces of my church family, I felt nothing but serenity.
That tranquility was shattered when I saw him. He was the only unfamiliar face in the sanctuary, and he was sitting right next to Jasper. He had wild bronze hair and the most handsome face I'd ever seen. Jazz waved at me, and I blinked rapidly as Mrs. Cope replayed the opening bars of "Breathe" – something I was having a little trouble doing now that I'd gotten a glimpse of Jasper's cousin.
My father quietly cleared his throat, and I forced myself to focus on anything besides the beautiful boy sitting in the back row as I began to sing.
She had the voice of an angel.
I closed my eyes, letting the melodic tone of her sweet voice wash over me. I tried to imagine the face of a girl with a voice like that. Was she blonde? No, definitely a brunette, and her hair was probably long and beautiful.
The past hour of the reverend's sermon had nearly put me to sleep, but I had to admit he was good. By the time he was finished, I was feeling guilty for my own lustful teenage desires.
Apparently not too guilty if you're now lusting after his daughter.
"Isabella?" I whispered to Jasper as the song came to an end.
"Just Bella," Jasper replied quietly.
Bella. Her name was just as beautiful as her voice.
"She's Alice's best friend. I could introduce you…"
He could introduce me. Did I want to be introduced?
"Jazz, I don't know."
At times, being my friend came with its own set of disadvantages, and I wasn't sure I was ready for the possible rejection.
"She's a sweet girl," Jasper whispered. "Kind of quiet and shy…like you. Actually, now that I think about it, you two have a lot in common."
My spirits lifted. "We do?"
"She loves music, obviously," Jasper said. "She likes to read. Makes good grades. She's religious, but she's also one of the most opened-minded people I've ever met. She doesn't judge, and she's nice to absolutely everybody." Jasper laughed then. "Well, except for Mike Newton, but that's his own fault."
I was just about to ask why when the reverend asked us to bow our heads. After a quick prayer, he wished us a good week, and I could hear the shuffling of feet as the parishioners made their way down the aisle. Jasper grabbed my elbow as he led me away from the pew and toward the exit. Suddenly, he stopped, and I heard him introduce me to Reverend Swan.
"I enjoyed your sermon, sir," I said, extending my hand. I didn't think I should mention that I enjoyed his daughter's singing a lot more than his preaching.
"It's always nice to welcome new folks to Forks," Reverend Swan replied. He shook my hand firmly. "Welcome to our church, son."
"Thank you." I smiled, and Jasper tugged my arm and led me out the door.
I felt the warmth of the sun on my face, and I couldn't help but smile. "I thought you said that the sun never shines in this town."
"It's a damn miracle," Jasper mumbled, and I heard someone gasp behind us.
"You should probably watch your language…at least, until we get to the car."
"Yeah, yeah," Jasper replied with a mumble before grabbing my arm. "Come on. I want to introduce you to my girl. And to Emmett and Rosalie…and to Bella, of course."
I stopped in my tracks. "Look, Jasper, I don't know…"
I felt Jasper move closer to me. "Alice is my girlfriend, so you'll obviously be meeting her at some point. Alice and Bella are best friends, and you're starting school tomorrow, so it's inevitable."
"I know, it's just—"
"I know. I get it. But I'm telling you that you have nothing to worry about."
You'd think after all this time that I would have lost the anxiety that comes with meeting new people, but I knew that even a brief encounter was sometimes enough to convince the other person that they couldn't deal with my limitations in life. I was nervous enough about moving to a new town and starting a new school midway through my senior year, but now Jasper was dragging me to church and introducing me to his best friends. What if they didn't accept me? What if they couldn't?
Jasper must have read my mind.
"She won't care, Edward. None of them will."
I prayed he was right.
Jasper and his hot cousin were walking our way, and I was pretty sure I was having a panic attack.
"Bella Swan, are you blushing?"
I tossed my bag into the cab of my truck and slammed the door before glaring at Alice.
"I blush easily, you know this."
"Yes, but you're blushing over a boy! Listen, before they make their way over here, there's probably something you should know about Edward."
"He has a girlfriend, doesn't he?" I groaned softly. "Of course he does. He's completely gorgeous with his chiseled jaw and his—"
"No, no," Alice interrupted my rant. "Not a girlfriend. Jazz says he's pretty shy, actually, which is kind of understandable considering he's—"
She never had the chance to finish because, suddenly, Jasper and Edward were standing right in front of us. Jasper immediately leaned down to kiss Alice on the cheek while I found myself face-to-face with his handsome cousin. His smile melted my heart and he had the deepest, greenest eyes I'd ever seen.
Unfortunately, he wasn't looking at me. He seemed to be looking over my shoulder, and I couldn't hide my agitation as I quickly looked behind me to see what – or who – had caught his attention.
"Your song was beautiful," Edward murmured softly. I glanced back at him, and he extended his hand toward me. "It's very nice to meet you, Bella."
I searched his eyes – those wide emerald eyes that pierced my soul – and that's when I understood. His eyes weren't focused on someone else.
They weren't focused on anything at all.
Edward was blind.
Startled, I glanced at Jasper who was smiling softly in my direction. He nodded, and I wasn't sure if he was nodding in confirmation or nodding in an attempt to encourage me. Anxiously, I took a deep breath and raised my hand to meet his. Instant warmth flooded my veins as he laced his fingers with mine – as if holding hands was the most natural thing in the world to be doing with someone you'd met only seconds before.
"It's very nice to meet you, too. I'm Bella."
He smiled, and I was struck once again with just how very beautiful he was.
"I'm Edward," he murmured quietly.
We lowered our hands, but they remained joined as Alice and Jasper made plans for the afternoon. I was pretty sure I heard our names mentioned, but I couldn't be sure. The only thing I could focus on was the feel of his hand in mine and how his fingers were gently brushing across my knuckles.
Sadly, the spell was broken when Emmett and Rosalie joined us. Rose's perfectly sculpted eyebrow arched in surprise when she saw our joined hands.
"Aren't you going to introduce us?" Rosalie grinned.
I wanted to slap her, but that would have required the use of my hand, and I just couldn't bring myself to let go. Jasper made the introductions, and it was quickly decided that we'd all go to Alice's house for lunch.
"I should tell my dad," I said regretfully. Speaking with my father would force me to walk away.
Edward seemed to sense this, and his grip tightened around my fingers.
"I'll go with you," he surprised me by saying.
"That…probably wouldn't be a good idea," I said softly, and his face flickered with some sort of emotion that I couldn't name.
"Of course it wouldn't."
Crap! Had I hurt his feelings?
"I think what Bella means is that her dad is a little…overprotective," Alice offered helpfully. I nodded, but then I remembered that my nodding wasn't helpful at all.
"Exactly," I said. "My dad's a little overbearing, as you could probably tell from that sermon."
Edward laughed. "I have to admit…when Jasper invited me to church, I wasn't expecting a lecture on sex."
"It's a common theme lately," Emmett mumbled. "That damn Mike Newton…"
Of course, the pianist chose that moment to walk by us, and she narrowed her eyes at Emmett before dragging her husband to their car.
"We should probably get out of here before Old Lady Cope has your church membership revoked." Rosalie grinned at him before turning to us. "We'll meet you guys at Alice's?"
"You're coming, aren't you?" Edward asked me.
"Of course she's coming!" Alice squealed excitedly. "Jasper, you and Edward head over to my house. I will go sweet talk the preacher. We'll meet you there in about half an hour."
If anyone could sweet talk my father, it was Alice. My father liked to say that she was "a spirited little thing," but I knew that was just a nice of saying that she was little and loud. Despite her boundless energy, my father adored her.
"Let go, Bella," Alice whispered.
I blinked. "What?"
"Let go," Alice repeated. She shot a pointed glance at our still joined hands.
My face flushed, and for a second, I was thankful that Edward couldn't see it. With a regretful sigh, I loosened my fingers from his grasp. He sighed, too, and I couldn't help but smile.
"We'll meet you there!" Alice yelled at the boys as she grabbed me by the arm and ushered me back toward the church. "Oh my God, he wants you! He wants you so badly…"
"Shhhh," I begged her as we made our way back inside the sanctuary. Thankfully, the place was nearly empty.
"Don't tell me to hush!" Alice protested as we made our way toward the altar. My father was still there talking to the choir director. "That boy wants you, Bella, and you want him!"
"Do I need to remind you that we are standing in my father's church? Do you want the roof to cave in? He was just preaching about lustful teenage thoughts!"
"And now you're having them?" Alice literally jumped for joy.
"The hand holding was adorable! Wasn't that the craziest thing? Like your hand was just molded to his the instant you touched!"
I sighed loudly.
"If you don't calm down we're never going to convince my father to let me go. He'll know something's up!"
Alice's smile was blinding as she practically dragged me toward the pulpit.
"Let me handle your father."
"Ah, there you two are," my dad said, smiling at us. "You sounded beautiful today, sweetheart. Why don't I take my two favorite girls out to lunch?"
"That sounds wonderful!" Alice squealed appropriately. "Doesn't that sound wonderful, Bella?"
Was she insane?
Alice saved me. "But Jasper's cousin just moved here from Chicago, and I wanted to welcome him to town by having a small party at the house. Nothing fancy, just a few friends and some pizza. I thought it'd give him the chance to meet some people before his first day in a new school. You know how it can be to be the new kid in town. We want to make Edward feel welcome."
My father's eyes were brimming with pride. "You're such a good girl, Alice."
I resisted the urge to roll my eyes.
"Of course my parents will be there," Alice quickly assured him.
My dad smiled at both of us. "Well, I think that sounds fine. Just don't be out too late, Bella. You have school tomorrow."
"She won't be!" Alice shrieked, and I offered my father a weary smile as she grabbed me by the arm and hustled me out into the parking lot before he could ask any more questions.
"Impressive," I smirked as we climbed into my truck.
"Aren't I always?" Alice grinned as she pulled down the sun visor and checked her make-up in the mirror.
"Will your parents really be there?" I asked as I pulled out onto the highway. Not that Alice's parents weren't great, but it would be nice if it was just the six of us.
She giggled. "Nope! My parents are in Seattle for the weekend. They might be home by midnight."
I felt a momentary rush of guilt as I realized that we'd just lied to my father, but I also knew that we really were just a few friends getting together for pizza. It wasn't as if Emmett was going to bring a keg.
At least, I hoped he wasn't bringing a keg…
"Don't be ridiculous." Alice laughed when I mentioned this. "You know Rosalie prefers wine."
Alice smiled brightly as she re-applied her lip gloss. "Relax. There's a very handsome guy waiting for you back at my house."
I sighed softly. "He is handsome, isn't he?"
"Very much so."
I wanted to ask her a million questions about Edward, but the one that most interested me was the one that seemed the most personal.
Had Edward been blind his whole life?
I couldn't imagine it. What would it be like to live in eternal darkness? How did he get from place to place? And that's when I understood…
"That's why he moved from Chicago," I realized. "The city was just too big for him to navigate."
Alice nodded as she played with her phone. "That's part of it, but that isn't the only reason."
She didn't elaborate and I didn't ask. I understood that some stories weren't meant to be shared. If Edward wanted me to know, he'd tell me himself.
Alice suddenly erupted into a fit of giggles.
"What's so funny?"
"I just got a text from Jazz." Alice grinned as she typed furiously on her phone. "Apparently, you are all that Edward has talked about since they left church."
I couldn't keep the smile off my face as I turned down Alice's long driveway.
"No offense, but how the hell would you know?" Jasper asked. I could hear the grin in his voice.
"Because I know."
I continued pacing what I assumed to be the living room. I was grateful that Alice seemed to be a neat freak. I was pacing pretty erratically and I'd yet to run into anything.
"She's brunette, isn't she?"
"How did you know that?"
"And it's long…"
"Bella has long brown hair, yeah," Jasper said. "How did you…"
"Just a feeling. What about her eyes?"
"They're brown, too."
"What shade of brown?"
"There are shades of brown?" Jasper asked.
"Of course!" I explained. "There's milk chocolate brown…and dark coffee brown…there's auburn..."
"Her eyes are…the milk chocolate shade, I guess," Jasper said hesitantly. "You know, now that I think about it, she really does have pretty eyes."
"I wish I could see them."
I had come to terms with my blindness a long time ago, but still…there were times when I'd try to imagine something that I'd never seen during the first twelve years of my life before losing my sight. It was difficult to visualize something of which you had no prior knowledge.
"Sit down," Jasper said as he grabbed my arm and pulled me onto the soft couch. "You're making me a nervous wreck."
My ears perked as I suddenly heard the sound of a vehicle tire crunching on the graveled driveway.
Jasper laughed. "Do you have superhuman hearing or something?"
"Nah, my other senses are just heightened."
A few minutes later, I heard Bella's voice as she made her way into the house. My hands began to tremble as I struggled to control my breathing. How was it possible that a girl I'd met for five minutes could make me this nuts?
"Dude, you're going to hyperventilate," Jasper whispered. "She's here because she wants to be here. You have nothing to worry about."
Jasper clapped me on the shoulder. "Really. Now calm your ass down."
Suddenly, the aroma of fresh strawberries assaulted my senses and I felt someone sit down beside of me.
"Hi," Bella whispered anxiously.
Bella smells like strawberries. Why hadn't I noticed that before?
"Em and Rose are bringing pizza," Alice chirped happily. "Jazz, could you help me set things up in the kitchen?"
"Sure," Jasper replied casually, but I wasn't an idiot. This was a complete set-up. Interestingly enough, I didn't mind at all.
"We'll be right back," Alice promised, and I heard their quiet footsteps as they left the living room.
"Well that was subtle." Bella giggled.
"No kidding." I grinned as I turned my body toward the sound of her voice. "So your dad was cool with this?"
"My dad was slightly manipulated. I'm never sure if he really believes Alice's lies or if he just chooses not to question her."
"Why did she have to lie?"
"She didn't have to," Bella replied. "It was…preventative, I guess. My father would never have agreed to this if he'd known that Alice's parents were out of town."
"Ah, so she told him that they were here."
"Yeah. He didn't ask, but he would have eventually. That's just how he is."
"He's protective. I can completely understand that."
"Really?" Bella asked. "Because I can't. I've never given him a reason not to trust me, and now he's subjecting me to sex talks and preaching to me and my friends from the pulpit…" Her tender voice trailed off in embarrassment. "I'm sorry. I don't mean to disrespect my father. He's really a good man."
"I'm sure he is."
"I blame Mike Newton for all of this," Bella spat adorably.
I grinned. "I've heard his name mentioned quite a bit today. What did he do?"
Bella laughed, but it wasn't a happy one.
"The idiot asked me out on a date."
"Oh," I whispered, and I felt my stomach lurch.
Surely Jasper wouldn't let me humiliate myself if she already had a boyfriend, would he?
"I would never, ever in a million years…" Bella replied, and my spirits lifted. "But since then, it's like my dad has finally realized that I'm a teenage girl, so I'm being subjected to nightly Bible studies focused on abstinence, and now the topic is drifting into his sermons on Sunday mornings. It's so completely embarrassing."
Jasper had said that Bella was shy, but it didn't seem that way. She was talking animatedly, and I was hanging onto every word. She told me about Forks High School and some of the teachers there. I mentioned that I already had my schedule, and I was excited to learn that we had Biology together. As time went on, our conversation drifted into more personal topics, and I learned that her mother had died when Bella was just five.
"I lost my parents when I was twelve," I said.
It was a crazy thing to have in common, but it was nice to know someone who might understand.
"Who did you live with in Chicago?"
"Aunt Carmen," I said with a smile. I missed that woman so much. She'd taken care of me for the past five years.
"She's your mom's sister?
"And Jasper's mom is your aunt, as well?"
"Yeah." I grinned.
Bella giggled. "Sorry, I'm just trying to follow the family tree."
I laughed. "It's okay. My mom's name was Elizabeth, and she was the oldest of the three Masen daughters. Aunt Esme is the middle child, and Aunt Carmen is the baby."
"I love your Aunt Esme and Uncle Carlisle," Bella said softly. "They're very sweet people."
"They are," I agreed.
Just then, Jasper came back into the living room to let us know that Rose and Emmett had arrived with the pizza.
"We should probably go eat."
Honestly, I would have preferred to starve if it meant that we could continue our conversation, but I knew that would be impolite. With a sigh, I rose to my feet, and suddenly, I felt her soft hand slip into mine.
"I won't let you fall," Bella promised with a whisper.
I nodded gratefully, but as she led me into the kitchen, I knew deep in my soul that it was too late.
I'd already fallen.
The month that followed was the happiest and most confusing of my life. It was the happiest for one very obvious reason, and that reason was sitting next to me, holding my hand under the lab table in Biology. Unfortunately, that very same reason was the root of my massive confusion.
For the first time in my life, I was a hormonal teenage girl.
Mr. Banner rolled an old television and VCR into the classroom, and my body began to tingle when I realized that I was going to spend the next hour in the dark with Edward Cullen.
My body was tingling a lot lately. It was becoming quite a problem.
The lights were lowered, and Edward scooted his chair closer to mine. It wasn't like he could watch the movie anyway. With a contented sigh, I closed my eyes as his fingers drifted slowly through my hair. He really loved to play with my hair, and he really loved my strawberry shampoo.
"You're so beautiful," Edward whispered as his nose nuzzled my hair.
This was a game we loved to play.
"How do you know?"
"Because it's you."
His response was always the same, but my heart still melted each and every time he said it.
"I could have a huge wart on the end of my nose," I teased.
"Wouldn't matter," Edward replied as he always did. His breath tickled the shell of my ear, and I shivered. "I'd still think you were beautiful, and I'd still be dying to kiss you right now."
He had no idea how much I wanted him to kiss me.
"Why don't you?" I murmured over the sound of the movie. I didn't even glance at the screen. Nothing on that video could be more exciting than this.
"Because a first kiss should be perfect," Edward whispered as his hands ghosted along my back. "What if I mess it up? It'll ruin everything."
Edward had never been kissed, and neither had I, because I refused to count Tyler Crowley's kiss-and-run when we were six years old. We were hunting Easter eggs at church, and he'd just leaned right over and kissed my cheek before snatching a prize egg from my basket.
To this day, I hadn't forgiven him.
"We should practice," I whispered, leaning close and nuzzling my nose with his. His mouth parted, and my eyes flickered to his perfectly-shaped lips. Those lips had been haunting my dreams for weeks.
"You can't practice a first kiss," Edward murmured roughly. His breaths were coming out in quiet pants. "You only get one chance for a first kiss, and I want ours to be perfect."
"It will be."
"How do you know?"
"The same way you know I'm beautiful." I smiled and stroked his cheek with the tip of my fingers. "Because it's you."
He sighed softly.
"You win," Edward whispered nervously, but his beautiful green eyes were glowing with excitement.
I smiled triumphantly.
Our church was on a narrow country road that led straight to a nature preserve. It was one of my favorite places in the spring because it was always brimming with wildflowers. It was peaceful and secluded, and it was the perfect place to practice.
"It's quiet here," Edward said as we settled down on the grass. "It smells like honeysuckle and strawberry."
"I don't think there are any strawberries here," I teased.
I took his hand as I laid back against the grass, pulling him down next to me. Our faces were close, and I couldn't resist staring at the perfect lines of his face. It made me sad, knowing he couldn't see me…knowing that he couldn't look into my eyes and see how much I loved him.
I loved him.
It was a simple truth that hadn't dawned on me in some great epiphany. It had been a gradual realization over the past few weeks. Edward was the sweetest boy I'd ever met. He was gentle and kind and – to my great amazement – loved going to church with me. Even though our relationship had shifted my father's sermons into overdrive, Edward had managed to charm my dad my promising to always respect me. While this was music to my father's ears, it wasn't such great news for me.
I was really, really wanting to be disrespected.
In a month's time, I'd gone from a sweet girl whose head had never been clouded with an impure thought to a sexually-charged, hormonal teenager who was dying for her boyfriend to feel her up. What was probably worse was the fact that I didn't feel the need to ask forgiveness. Wasn't physical love between a man and woman part of God's plan?
Edward's quiet voice interrupted my mental anxiety attack.
"What are you thinking?"
"I'm thinking there's something I'd like to tell you."
Edward smiled. "There's something I'd like to tell you, too."
Suddenly, he turned onto his side and brought his hand to my face. Slowly, his fingertips gently traced the contours of my face. I closed my eyes as his fingers brushed across my eyebrows, down along the bridge of my nose, and tenderly along the outline of my lips.
"What are you doing? I whispered.
"Looking at you," Edward murmured softly. "Just stay very still."
He continued his exploration of my face, and I struggled to control my body's reaction to his touch. His fingers were feather-light against my skin as he traced the column of my throat. My eyes remained closed, but I felt the heat of his body as he leaned closer, and ever so slowly, he pressed a soft kiss to my throat.
I moaned softly.
His lips made a path along my jaw line, gliding up to the hollow of my ear. He kissed the skin there, and with that softest of kisses, I felt desire bloom. My body was absolutely on fire, and he'd yet to kiss my lips.
"I love you," Edward whispered against my ear.
I gasped softly as he wrapped his arm around my waist, pulling my body closer to his. Our legs became a tangled web before I hitched my leg around his hip, pulling him closer.
"I love you, too," I murmured gently. "I love you so much."
Hesitantly, I brushed my lips against his. It was just a brief touch, but it was enough to drive us both wild. Edward dipped his head again, this time pressing his lips a little harder against mine. He pulled away, and in my lust-filled haze, I decided that practice time was over. I grabbed the back of his neck, and Edward groaned as I hungrily crashed my mouth to his.
I'd always heard that first kisses could be awkward, and truthfully, our limited experience should have ensured that this first kiss would be a little odd, but we were apparently very fast learners because it was no time at all before our tongues had invaded each other's mouths.
I had no idea how long we lay in that field as we kissed and whispered and kissed some more. It was only when the sky began to darken and soft rain began to fall that Edward whispered that we should get home.
Practice session number one was a definite success.
Each day that followed always ended with the two of us back in the meadow, practicing our kisses and exploring each other's bodies. We talked a little, too, and it was a few weeks later when Edward shared his most personal pain with me.
Edward's parents had died in a house fire when he was twelve years old, and the doctors believed the trauma was what caused his blindness.
I held him as he described his fear upon hearing the ringing of the smoke alarm, and I cradled him to my chest as he remembered the heat of the flames and the fireman's name who rescued him from his downstairs bedroom. I kissed his tear-stained cheeks when he recalled the moment that his Aunt Carmen told him that his parents were gone.
And I cried in his arms when he described the total darkness that enveloped him the next morning.
"We can't take our lives for granted," Edward murmured against my hair. "It's so wild and unpredictable. I mean, look at us. Until last month, I was living thousands of miles away from you, and now…"
"And now…" I whispered through my tears.
"And now," Edward said gently against my lips. "If you live to be a hundred, I hope I live to be a hundred minus one day, so I never have to live without you."
As if I wasn't already completely in love with him, he had to go quote Winnie-the-Pooh to me.
Emotion bubbled inside of me as I became aware of some very important facts.
Falling in love with Edward had been the most effortless thing I'd ever done. Our connection and attraction and been immediate and intense. It would be impossible for me to ever love another man as much as I loved Edward Cullen, and it wasn't difficult at all for me to envision my future with him.
"Will you always love me just as much as you do today?"
He smiled. "No."
His eyes were bright as he pulled me into his lap.
"Each and every day I fall a little more in love with you," Edward whispered sincerely. "When we're old and gray, you'll still be the love of my life."
"You can see that?" My voice was shaking with emotion.
"I see lots of things."
"What do you see?"
"I see us graduating high school," Edward said softly. "I see us going to college together. I see me kneeling on one knee and proposing. I see you jumping into my arms when you say yes. I see your father pronouncing us husband and wife, and I see our babies."
A tear trickled down my cheek. "You can really see all of that?"
"If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing."
Edward gently brushed his fingertips along my wet cheeks as he recited 1 Corinthians to me.
"I was nothing before I found you. I love you, Bella Swan. I may be blind, but when it comes to our future, my vision is crystal clear."
It was the promise I needed to hear. No, weren't married yet, and in many eyes, what I wanted was probably very, very wrong. But I was in love, and I knew with every fiber of my being that he loved me just as much.
That knowledge – and that love – gave me courage, and I slid my hand between us and began to unbutton his shirt. His body trembled as my fingers drifted across his chest, and as they dipped lower, I felt his stomach muscles tighten beneath my touch. By the time my fingers drifted along the zipper of his pants, he was panting.
"Bella…" Edward groaned softly.
"I want this," I whispered gently against his lips. "I want you."
Having actual proof that I made him as crazy as he made me sent my hormones spiraling out of control, prompting me to do something I never thought I'd have the nerve to do.
I slid my hand along the front of his pants.
"Oh God," Edward moaned loudly as he buried his face in my neck.
I had no idea what I was doing, but the sounds he was making convinced me that I was doing something right. I increased the pressure of my hand, and he groaned my name before pushing me back and laying me against the grass.
"Are you sure?"
"I am so sure," I murmured.
I brought his hand to my lips and kissed it softly before guiding him down to my blouse. His fingers flexed as he gently brushed against my breast, and I pulled his hand closer, prompting him to apply more pressure. The moan that escaped my lips surprised me, but it made Edward ravenous. Quickly, he unbuttoned my blouse, allowing his fingers the chance to touch my bare flesh for the very first time.
"You're so soft," he murmured against my lips. "So beautiful."
"Please…" I whimpered incoherently.
Suddenly, I was grateful for the blanket that I'd laid on the grass, because within moments, our bodies were bare and Edward was hovering above me.
"I don't want to hurt you," Edward whispered.
Truthfully, he might. Didn't every girl's first time hurt just a little? But I didn't want to give him any incentive to stop, so I kept my mouth shut.
"If I do, you have to tell me to stop," Edward murmured.
"Good. Now, will you help me find my jeans?"
This surprised me. "Your jeans?"
"There's a condom in my wallet," Edward replied softly.
Without changing positions, I reached for his jeans and took his wallet out of the pocket. I helped him tear the foil package and I watched in fascination as he leaned back and rolled it on.
"Pretty impressive for a boy who can't see," I teased. "I didn't even think about protection. Thank you, Edward."
"I promised your father that I would respect you," Edward whispered softly as he hovered above me once again. "If I'm going to steal his daughter's virtue, the least I can do is protect her."
The sentiment touched my heart.
"We'll go slow," he whispered. "I love you so much, Bella."
"I love you, too," I replied as I kissed him softly. "Don't be afraid. We belong together."
"I know we do, baby. I know we do."
Edward kissed me tenderly as he nestled himself between my legs. I shifted my hips just a little, and suddenly, our bodies were aligned.
After finally catching our breath, Edward wrapped us in the blanket and held me close against his body.
"You're so beautiful."
"How do you know?"
"Because it's you," he murmured tenderly. "It will always be you, Bella."
I had spent my life conforming to my father's teachings, and while I respected his beliefs, I couldn't be ashamed for not honoring them. I was in love with a man who cherished me. It suddenly made sense as to why I'd never wanted another boy. My perfect man was out there. It had just taken him seventeen years to find me.
Life wouldn't be easy for us, but I also knew that every couple had troubles to face, and Edward's blindness was just our cross to bear. I would gladly be our eyes as we moved through this world together because I knew that his blind faith in us, and in our love, would keep us strong.