This is a repost of a story I wrote for the Black Balloon challenge.

Mr Fucking Life Stealer

Disclaimer: All characters are the property of Stephenie Meyer

This place has a reputation, and at the first breath of summer its reputation starts to become justified. The air is full of promise and that promise is sex. As much fucking sex as you could possibly want, or manage, or dream of. Pussy is everywhere - well, pussy and cock I should say, although I am not in the least interested in the cock. I am the cock.

I'm twenty and I've been coming here for three summers now, and I mean exactly that: I've been coming.

Every new summer brings a fresh wave of guys and girls who are sixteen or seventeen, and the crowds of people who've been here before return for what is surely the highlight of their year. There are even people coming here for vacation in their sixties, still hooking up for some geriatric romping. Everybody smiles, and everybody is happy. You cannot come to the Promenade and not get laid, no matter what you look like, or how shy you are, or how much of a dickhead or a bitch or an asshole you are.

I fucking love it.

There are three of us: me, Emmett and Jasper, and we always arrive at the beginning of the season, since you might as well get in early so you can take your pick right from the start. We have good bar jobs and we share an apartment. We also have arrangements as to who can have privacy and when, and we have secret knocks and all sorts. It's all worked out to the nth degree to allow us the maximum amount of pussy each. No-one cockblocks anyone else, no-one moves on a girl someone else wants, and no-one walks in on one of us in the middle of important business.

We spend the long, hot nights working, getting drunk, getting high and getting laid. We sleep until noon, and we fill in the days looking - looking at girls, that is.

The Promenade is nice and wide, with a sea wall on one side and a strip of shops and cafes and bars and clubs on the other. It's picture-postcard pretty - in fact, I send picture postcards home and tell everyone what a lovely time I'm having.

My father asked me once if I ever met any nice girls here. Well, shit, Dad, what do you think? All the girls here are nice: the girls who come screaming; the girls who swallow; the girls who turn over for you; the girls who will squeeze their tits together with your cock in between them. Those are the girls I meet here, and they're exactly the girls I want to meet here. And yes, they're all nice. But, Dad, don't get your hopes up - I'm not bringing any of them home.

And one Saturday morning, my team are lazing about leaning on the seawall watching the ever-changing view, and along come three cuties. I can tell they're straight off the bus, they look so fresh. Well, a couple of them look fresh, one has a couple of years on her friends.

All three of them are licking ice-creams and the blonde one, the older-looking one - God, she's giving hers head! The other two are just licking innocently, but surely they're all up for it.

Emmett drawls the worst pick-up line I've ever heard, and the blonde gives him an appraising look and smirks at him, tossing her hair around. She obviously knows how things work around here already.

And so it starts.

Three of them and three of us - so easy. Typically, Emmett goes for the blonde who's movie-star gorgeous, but a lot of girls on the Promenade are movie-star gorgeous. She's mouthy; so are a lot of girls. A point of difference is that straightaway she's a bit of an outright bitch, and he fucking laps it up.

Jasper likes the little quirky one, who says kooky things and puts her head on one side like a bird when she speaks, and she actually jumps up and down when she's excited.

That leaves the other one for me. She's quieter and she's good-looking in an understated way. She's cool I guess, and she'll do for a night or two. We're all happy enough with the arrangement. We tell them to meet us at the bar where we work, and they agree they'll come along.

But then it turns out the girls want to take things slow. They're not sluts. They don't open their legs for a guy on the day that they meet him, or get down on their knees. No problem. Plenty of girls will, and we'll warm this lot up slowly. Fuck, we've got the whole summer. Eight fucking glorious weeks, and if little Bella takes a couple of weeks to crack I don't care, because there are other lovelies to occupy me in the meantime.

Bella's not the prettiest girl here - not by a long shot. She doesn't have the nicest tits, or the best ass, or the sexiest body. She's smart, but I've met smarter. She and I talk over the next few days, and the talking's an enjoyable prelude to what we both know will happen. I'm perfectly relaxed about how it's playing out - I've got my job, I've got Jas and Em, and there's a fucking parade of beauty and flesh around me all day and night. Life is pretty damn good, here on the Promenade.

I've asked Bella what she's into, because you know, we chat when we see each other. She's just finished school and she wants to do some sort of volunteering shit before she goes on to college. Something like saving the tigers in Sumatra, or helping Vietnamese people establish organic farming programs, or helping build houses in Costa Rica. She hasn't decided what yet, and she's using her time here to consider all the options and make her mind up.

Another thing she tells me - there's a film festival at the Promenade. Some people like to say the only reason they come here is for the culture. Bella tells me on her first day that she's here to see the films. Oh, sure, yeah, I go see some of 'em too, I tell her. Yeah, I love checking out new directors. Yeah, and there's always some awesome documentaries with great cinematography.

After a few days, I realize that Bella is actually the real deal. She is really going to see fucking films. Every day she sees films. Her friends, Rose and Alice shop and lounge around on the beach and do whatever girly shit they do, and Bella is working her butt off in a cafe, and whenever she has two hours free she goes to a cinema.

The three of them come into our bar most nights around nine. Rose doesn't flirt with Emmett - oh no. She doesn't need to. That girl drips sex and honey and Emmett wants to tap that so bad he can't stop his tongue from hanging out whenever she's around, but she just gives him bored and amused looks, and other guys fawn all over her while he can't even get the chance to talk to her because he's working. Alice skips about and dances by herself out on the floor, swaying her little hips around, and she's got a fan club too. She gives Jasper lovely smiles, and he gives her lovely smiles back, and things seem like they'll go somewhere with those two. I can't for the life of me tell anything with Rose, but she never seems to leave with anyone other than her two girls, and that's all that's keeping Emmett sane. And Bella? She sits at the bar, sipping her soda and tells me about the movie she saw that afternoon. She never utters a flirtatious word to me or anyone else, even when losers are pathetically trying to come on to her. It's as though she was born without a flirting gene.

I realize it's going to take more than a few days to crack my pretty Beauty, because I'm starting to suspect pretty Beauty doesn't want to be cracked. She appears to be the one person in this whole fucking town who isn't here for you-know-what. And of course, that makes me fucking keen. I cannot believe such a person exists, but there she is night after night in front of me, all trusting eyes and innocence, talking about editing and screenplays and conservation and sustainability and the Developing World.


Yes-fucking-way. After a week, I'm sure. At first I thought maybe she just wasn't interested in me, but I've been watching her, and she's not interested in anyone.

Pretty Beauty is a nun.

Of course, you'd think I'd look elsewhere, realizing that Sister Bella is simply not going to give it up to me. But no, she gets prettier and more desirable by the day, and I stop noticing anyone else. Chick in tiny cut-off jeans with half a pert ass hanging out, swaying in front of me on the Promenade? No thanks. Girl bending over to order a drink, wearing a push-up bra and sticking her tits right up my nose? Sorry, didn't see you there. A phone number written on my arm by some eager sweet, little hottie fluttering her eyelashes and pouting? Not interested. I wash my arm without even reading it.

Bella has a seven-thirty a.m. start at the cafe where she serves breakfast for people who've been up all night and who stagger in wearing their sunglasses. For the last couple of years I have often been up all night, either in my room or in some girl's room and while I may have been awake at seven-thirty, and I may even have been eating, it wasn't food and I wasn't in a cafe.

This year, though, I'm not doing that shit, and I do find myself at a cafe at the crack of dawn - Bella's cafe. I gulp down home fries and scrambled eggs while talking to her about the late screening I went to. Because that's how I spend my nights now - I finish at one a.m. and so I go to see films, I drink too much, I wander around, and eventually I find myself drinking coffee in her cafe, discussing movies. Then I go home and sleep the day away.

Emmett thinks I've lost my cojones and tells me often. His motto is 'Take what you want', which is laughable because he hasn't managed to get anywhere near Rose.

Eventually, though, he bangs her. Or I should say she bangs him. It's our night off and we're all sitting around watching the sunset. Bella is having the first alcoholic drink I've ever seen her with. Emmett is talking absolute shit and Rosalie simply stands up, uses her thumb and the first knuckle of her forefinger to grab him by the earlobe, and she drags him away as he yelps. I don't see him again until the next night. He is speechless, and Rosalie is at the bar smirking. How he got her by being a giant-sized fucking idiot I'll never know. She is sucking at a cocktail and licking along the straw and Em looks like he's going to jizz in his pants.

Meanwhile, Jas and little Alice are conducting a rather more old-fashioned courtship. He's not a total oaf like Emmett is, and he takes her out and they have actual conversations. This isn't like last year, or the year before. We never took anyone out, and we definitely didn't get involved with anyone for more than a night or two. This year, Emmett is acting like that cartoon skunk that falls in love with a cat, and if he's not asleep he's daydreaming about Rose. She probably features nightly in his dirty dreams, too. Jas is being all romantic and gentlemanly, and has revealed a sensitive side I suspected was always there, but he kept hidden for two summers. And me? I'm turning down pussy left, right and centre, wishing and hoping that pretty Beauty will miraculously turn away from her life of contemplation and abstinence, and decide she wants to get laid already. By me.

Then one night Bella's at the bar and she says she's not working in the morning, and she stays longer than she normally would. She even has a beer. When I get the chance I'm talking to her in between fighting fucking stupid girls off, which she doesn't even seem to notice. She's still there when I finish, and I'm wondering why.

I ask if she'd like to go for a walk, because I know this town like the back of my hand now, and I could find my way around blindfolded.

She's into it, and off we go. We do a bit of window-shopping, and we stroll past the fountain and some statues, and a mosaic that someone stuck in a wall somewhere. Then we wander to the beach where a guy does sand-sculpture every day as a busking activity and people give him money. He's making an enormous turtle with a castle on its back, all spires and turrets, and the turtle is breaking out of waves, and there are dolphins leaping out beside it. Bella wants to stand there for ages, so we do. It is kind of intricate and beautiful and I can see why she's captivated.

Then we walk some more, and there's a gently rising hill that the road curves up, and at the top there's a park with views out over the bayside town and over the sea.

We find a seat and sit, watching the lights below, and we chat about nothing much and I take Bella's hand and she lets me, but she doesn't really respond, she doesn't squeeze or anything, or put her fingers through mine or stroke my palm. It's very neutral hand-holding, and I'm not surprised even if I had been nursing a wild hope that she agreed to come walking with me tonight because we'd reached a turning point, but no. I can tell we haven't. She just doesn't think of me in that way at all. It hasn't actually happened to me before as normally girls only pay me attention because they're after one thing. That's okay - so am I. Normally I'm pretty damn quick to give it to them, and then we all move on. Pretty Beauty must actually like my personality, which is a first for me, as far as I know.

It's getting really late, and she says she's tired and I think we'd better head back, but she's saying how nice it is, wanting to stay a little longer and she suggests that we lie down on the bench. I have a jacket with me that I don't need to wear because the night is so warm, so I fold it up, and we both lie down, me behind her, and our heads on the jacket pillow. It's so fucking comfortable, it's fucking beautiful, we're close and my chest is against her back. I try not to think about the fact my cock is right there against her ass, the front of my thighs pressing to the backs of hers. I slip my arm across her waist because there's nowhere else for it to go, and she sighs sweetly, and I'm mentally reciting, "Don't get a woody. Don't get a woody," and I'm fucking tense at first, but she feels soft and relaxed, and eventually I relax too. I relax a little too fucking much, we both do, because next thing I know it's daylight and some fucking kid is standing there staring at us saying, "Are you hobos?"

Hobos my fucking ass. Bella tells him sweetly as anything that we're the King and Queen of the Park. She half turns and smiles at me, her luscious backside sticking into me and I get a fucking woody all right. I scramble to sit up, nearly knocking her off the seat and then I have to grab her, and I grope her breast unintentionally and I curse at myself loudly and she just laughs at me. It's as though she has no sexual awareness whatsoever. I don't get it. It's fucking obvious everybody in this goddamn place is getting off one way or another with one or more people all the fucking time, and if she even notices she gives no indication. The pheromones are so thick you can see them, and didn't she just feel the enormous erection in the front of my pants? Wouldn't she grin, or blush or frown or something? No, not my virtuous Bella - she has no reaction at all.

I walk her back to the place she stays at with the other girls where they share one room between them. My team and I have talked about their set up a couple of times, but Emmett and I couldn't handle the imagery. Jas didn't say whether he could or not, but we let the topic drop pretty fucking quickly. I tell her goodbye, and see you later and I head for the boys' den to partake in my daily ritual.

Every day I abuse myself soundly in the shower. Pretty Beauty is off-limits for me because it's so clear she's not interested. I'm not going to touch her, and I'm not going to touch any other girls either because nobody has any appeal. I get in the shower in the mornings and pull on my cock so hard I wouldn't be surprised if I fucking yanked it all the way off. The hot water washes away all my wicked, desirous thoughts and the things I can't show her or tell her. Having plenty of horny sex with willing and enthusiastic girls was my raison d'etre there for a while, or so it seemed, but persuading someone who isn't asking for it is not on my agenda, and unless pretty Beauty comes to me, pulling her clothes off and begging, I'm not going to do a thing. And any attempts at seduction, no matter how subtle, are coercive and I won't do it. Girls have always come after me, it's never been the other way around, so it's back to the hand for the foreseeable future and when I get out of this crazy fucking town I can get over her and get back to having a sex life.

When I return to my apartment it's eight o'clock in the fucking morning, and there are sounds coming from Em's room. The bastard. He's in there with Rose and they're going for broke and they're obviously just as suited in bed as they are out of bed. They make a strange couple, but the two of them together are just so right. She's a fucking ice queen, snarky and smart and even if he likes to appear as though he's just a big lump, underneath the exterior he's fucking smart too. There is no way this is just a holiday fuck for the two of them. I reckon it's going to turn into a life sentence.

And then, for God's sake, there are sounds coming from Jasper's room too. I recognize Alice's high voice, not that she's speaking, she's mewling like a little wild animal, and Jas is growling. The fucking bunch of bastards, all of them. No sex for me, and they're all screwing like bunnies. Maybe I'll just shut my eyes tonight and pick one of those girls who keep turning up at the bar night after night, and I'll bring her home with me, and I'll get some. I feel so lonely in the midst of all this - the girl I want doesn't even feel the least attraction towards me and every day I say goodbye to her and come home to my empty bed, and this is not the way this vacation should be turning out. Maybe if I got laid I would cheer the fuck up.

But then Bella turns up at the bar in the night, and holy shit - what the fuck has happened to her mouth? It's the same color as usual, but deeper. It's shiny and moist and looks like somebody's been sucking on it for half an hour. It takes me a stunned moment to realize that she's wearing lipstick, and another to realize I have never, ever seen her in makeup. Her eyes are bigger and darker too - she is wearing eyeshadow, and she smiles hesitantly at me and parks herself at the bar, and drinks three beers in succession. Alice and Rose are with her, and they're all whispering and looking all around the place, and smirking and giggling. I don't know what's going on, and suddenly I'm as nervous as hell. Has pretty Beauty finally decided she wants some action? Who the fucking hell has she got her eye on? If she talks to anyone I'm going to hit him.

I start to get jumpy and angry - there are guys coming to the bar to order, and Bella is so fucking lovely without the makeup but she kind of looks sexier now, and dumb fucks are grinning at her and trying to buy her drinks, and I'm so disconcerted I'm dropping things and breaking glasses.

Jas notices, with that newly manifested sensitivity of his, and he tries to help me calm down. He knows I really like Bella. I kind of haven't said how much, but I haven't had sex in weeks and I keep talking about her and I'm seeing her nearly every day so it's not hard to guess what's going on in my head. Em notices too, because he's nowhere the knucklehead people assume he is just because he's so big, and he assures me he'll help evict anyone who tries to dance with Bella, or even talk to her. He makes one or two cryptic remarks about having heard from Rose that yes, Bella has actually mentioned liking someone. At this I'm practically in a frenzy and I want to punch a wall, but instead I drop yet another glass.

At closing time, I have to stay back the latest as I went and got promoted to fucking manager, so it's my job to balance the till and lock up. My fucking friends and the girls leave, and I make the rounds and do all the shit I have to do after they've gone, after they've left for some club. Bella has never gone to a fucking club, I know she hasn't because she's told me she's not into that scene, so why she wants to go now I have no idea.

I finally get out of there and debate whether or not to go to the club as well, or to go somewhere else and meet some other Pretty who will want what I have to offer, and not treat me like a neuter. I don't want to watch Bella dancing with some idiot jerk she may or may not like, and I certainly don't want to have to watch her leaving with someone. But then, if I don't go and she does attempt to leave with someone I won't have had the chance to check him out, follow him to the toilets and hobble him.

Minutes later, I'm in a heaving cavern of strobes and pounding beats with people jostling everywhere, and hips and asses bumping into me, and it's all fucking there for the taking. There are girls I've screwed before the last couple of years, there are girls who've propositioned me in the bar and I'm getting offers I wouldn't have refused in the past, but I take no notice. I need to find my gang and I need to find my pretty Beauty.

They're in another room, with different pounding music, and Rose and Em are performing a tongue-swap and Jas and Alice are entwined and how could they leave Bella to sit on her own like that? Predators are circling, everyone can tell at a glance that she's fresh meat, there are a bunch of bastards hovering over her and the only reason none of them have gotten to her yet is that they're all warning each other off with their eyes. I cut through them all and take her hand and pull her up to dance.

She comes with me, and it's hot in there and getting more crowded by the second. We start with a perfectly respectable distance between us, but we get pressed closer as more people come in, and I put my arms up so that people can't knock her and she moves in and keeps dancing. Her pelvis knocks into me and I step back because I'm already hard, but then someone walks into her and she stumbles against me again and she can't possibly miss what's going on in my pants. Seconds later, she's bumping some more. Was that deliberate? Fucking can't have been. Not pretty Beauty.

She does it again. I look down and search her face and she's taken a deep breath - I see her do it, and she bites her lip and looks back up at me. She is perfectly serious, she knows exactly what she's doing, and as she stares at me her hips move again. What the fuck?

I frown because I'm so thrown and confused, and she frowns because she must be confused too. I take her back to the table and we sit together and she's looking away and looking upset. She's got that lip in her teeth again and won't turn back to me. We can't even talk in there because it's all so fucking loud and I put my hand on her shoulder until she looks back and I lean in, my mouth right on her ear, and ask if she wants to go somewhere quieter. She nods and stands up, and Rose and Alice both grin like fucking conspirators and I feel like I'm being played and I have no idea what they've cooked up, or why. After weeks, has Bella suddenly realized that I'm male? Has she suddenly developed sexual urges? What is going on?

We go out to the entrance and I have no plans to take her anywhere, so I sit down on the steps and she sits down too and I ask her if everything's okay. I haven't had a thing to drink and I know she's had at least three beers and there were empty shot glasses on the table we just left, so she's quite possibly had something else as well, something with a much higher alcohol content than beer, and I don't know what state she's in. I'm in a state of high fucking anxiety, but I'm trying to hold it together and be calm.

She leans against me and starts mumbling so quietly I can't even hear her and I tilt my head to her and she lifts her face, and without any warning her lips are on mine. Tequila, she's had tequila. Fuck. What a mind-blowing taste, my pretty Beauty and mescaline. Her hands move to my hair, which sticks up like a crazy fucking mess, and she weaves her fingers in it, tugging lightly. I give myself about two seconds of long-awaited fucking bliss before I stop her, pushing her very gently by the shoulders and saying no. She looks like she's going to burst into tears, and I feel like I am, too, but she's half drunk. This sudden turnabout doesn't make any sense, and I'll fuck her drunk, sure, I'll fuck her every which fucking way, but only if I've already fucked her sober and I know that she definitely wants it. I couldn't bear it if she was to wake up in the cold clear light of the next day and regret it.

She apologizes now, she says she thought I liked her and she'd made a mistake, and I have to tell her that I do like her, there's no mistake, it's just that the timing is wrong. I tell her that she shouldn't get drunk and throw herself at someone. She mumbles that she ought to leave but says that she doesn't want to go home because the girls are never there any more. That's certainly true because they're at my fucking apartment every night, fucking my boys senseless, so I tell her I'll go with her back to her place and then she asks if I'll stay. I must be an utter moron because I assure her that I will. She starts to worry that I might be mad at her, and shit, I'm not, I'm so fucking relieved, and elated, and I'm already thinking ahead to the morning. She'll be sober. I'll be right fucking there, in her apartment, and I'll find out for sure what's happening then, I'll be alone with pretty Beauty and if she tries to kiss me again, she's done for.

So off we go. This is a small town, it's only three or four blocks to her apartment, and I hold her hand as we walk. She's steady on her feet so she's not too far gone, and we talk a little and she's not slurring, so I'm wondering if I was too hasty in turning her down. Then she suggests a film which is ludicrous since its nearly three a.m. and there are no fucking showings at this time of night. I gently tease her that even for a film obsessive such as herself expecting a three a.m. screening is unrealistic and she gets playful and argumentative with me. She puts her arm through mine and even pokes her pretty pink tongue out, so it's a damn good fucking walk. Back at her apartment she wants to keep talking and she offers me beer and says she's not having any more, so I have one and we're on the sofa with our feet up on the coffee table and she's relaxed and I'm sort of relaxed and three-thirty rolls round and she says it's time for bed.

There's only one bedroom, with one bed in it, and she explains the three of them take turns sleeping two to a bed and one on the sofa. This doesn't bear too much thinking about so I just nod and say I'll stay where I am in the living room and she can have the bed all to herself and sleep in comfort, and then she goes a bit shy and awkward and asks if I'll share with her. Christ, Beauty, you can't do this to me! For a start, I go commando so I can't take my fucking jeans off, and sleeping in jeans is uncomfortable. For another thing, she has no idea of the hard-on I'll have if she's in a bed with me, not to mention the fact that I won't be able to keep my hands off her.

But she tugs me into the room with her and I decide it's all perfectly harmless, and if I can't control myself there's something sadly wrong with me. I give myself a stern mental lecture about not taking advantage, and while she's in the bathroom I'm sitting on the end of the bed thinking I should jack off as fast as possible once I get into the bathroom, and then the hard-on situation won't be as bad.

She comes out damp and flushed in a t-shirt and pajama pants looking the perfect vision of fuckable, and I go in and wash up and borrow her toothbrush. I jack off all right, the fastest I've ever done it, and clean up after myself and go back to her. She's already in the bed and she's turned the overhead light off so there's only lamplight.

I peel my t-shirt off and lie down next to her and she says I'll get cold and I should get under the sheets. So then I'm under the sheets and she sighs sweetly and snuggles in and I want to ask her what's changed, and why has she become like this with me? What's going on in that head of hers? but she's asleep almost immediately, so I lie there staring at the ceiling, gritting my teeth, because she's so close and soft and warm and I want her so badly. Her arm strays across me and her body curves in to my side. She even lifts her fucking leg and puts it over my thigh and my cock swells and hardens and I'm awake half the fucking night, listening to her little sounds, quiet breaths and the occasional whimper as she dreams. Her legs move in her sleep and the one over me presses and actually feels like it's gripping me and her hand is on my naked chest. I want to ease myself out of her grasp, because it's torturous that she's doing that stuff to me and she doesn't even know it. At the same time I want to clasp her right back, but I know I can't.

In the morning, of fucking course, when I wake up I'm wrapped all over her, we're both on our sides facing one another and my hand is holding her ass and Christ Almighty, my shameless and very erect cock is pressing right into her belly. My eyes flicker open with shock to find she's already looking at me.

I stammer and try to move but her arm is around me and she holds me right where I am. Then I mutter that I need the bathroom and she lets me go. Taking a piss eases my erection somewhat, although it doesn't completely disappear. I get back in bed next to her and she climbs over me to go to the bathroom too, and then she's back and not quite where we were before, both to my disappointment and relief, and then I ask if she remembers what happened last night.

Oh, yes, she does - perfectly, it turns out. She did have three beers and a shot of tequila, but she wasn't off her face. I play with her hair a little bit, which I've been wanting to do for ages and I tell her that I thought she wasn't interested in me. Her face is still as she tries to compose her answer, and then she shrugs and says that she hadn't been to start with. She thought I was a player but Rose and Alice had told her that I hadn't brought anyone back to the boys' apartment since the two of them had been spending time round there, and she'd never seen me paying any attention to anyone at the bar and she'd decided maybe I was Mr Nice Guy and that she wasn't going to just assume the worst because I'm so good-looking. Girls always think I'm good-looking, but I'm fucking glad to hear pretty Beauty say it because I'd thought she found me fucking invisible. As for the player comment, well fuck, I can only hope she doesn't start listening to any gossip because she'll find out exactly how much of a player I've been over the past couple of summers. I'm beginning to wonder if the women's restrooms are freshly painted every year because I've been told there are poems about the prowess of my cock and messages with my cell number included, plastered all over the damn Promenade.

Then she says that I was so sweet and nice the night we were at the park and we slept on the bench and she knew then that I wasn't a jerk because I didn't make a move on her, and that's when she decided she could trust me.

I'm screwed, really. I don't know whether to tell her I was a man-whore until the day I met her and even for a few days after that, or whether it would be best not to mention it. And I don't know whether to admit the only reason I didn't make a move on her was because I didn't want to scare her off and stop her seeing me altogether. And I don't know whether I should confess that I thought she might be asexual.

So there we are; me and the girl I've been wanting for weeks, the girl who has inexplicably made me ignore other girls, the girl who hasn't given me a fucking thing when there's been pussy on offer all around me. I don't fucking know why, but she's the one I could just look at and talk to and be with until Kingdom Come. I thought she wasn't the prettiest girl in town and she's not, but she's the most beautiful. I thought she wasn't the most intelligent, but she's the cleverest. I thought she wasn't the hottest, but she's the fucking coolest. And I thought she was inviolable, but she has taken me to bed.

We start out slow. Fucking slow. A kiss that's barely contact, a whisper of our lips against one another's but then she increases the pressure, her mouth already open and her tongue already seeking, gently. So fucking gently. Her kiss undoes me, completely. I turn to jelly, except for the part of me that's turned to stone. Her mouth is persuasive and insistent and she opens it wider and takes me in, sucking at me, wanting my tongue, swirling hers around me and even using her teeth. I am over her, and she holds my face, then moves her hands to my hair, and her lips are soft and unbelievable.

Before I start to moan into her mouth like a fucking helpless idiot, I turn her face and lick along her jawbone, and I ask her where she learned to kiss like that. She doesn't answer, and I raise my head, the question still in my eyes. Her eyelids flutter down and her lashes brush her cheek before she whispers back to me that she has never kissed anyone before.

I bring my mouth back to hers for more deliciousness, brain several seconds behind, and then what she has just told me registers. She has never been kissed. Christ. She fucking knows how to kiss me. I'm dizzy with it. But then I think, does that mean she's never been touched either? Jesus Christ! She's a virgin?

She nods and goes for my mouth again, but what she has just said has changed things completely. I haven't had sex with a virgin before. All the girls I've been with have known exactly what they were doing, and of course, I'm careful and I've never hurt anyone to my knowledge. I know I've got a big cock because every girl I've ever been with has told me, but that kind of goes with the territory when you're over six feet tall. If we keep going at the rate we're going, I'm going to be hurting Bella in a matter of minutes.

She knows that something has changed with my mood. She is anxious and asks if I want to stop, and the truth is, I do. Well, not altogether, I just want to change what I had thought would be this morning's outcome. She's annoyed with this though, as she thinks I'm babying her. God, she's hot when she gets mad. I'm still not exactly sure what is going on between us. Did she choose me to take her virginity, is that what's happening? Did she decide to rid herself of it last night, and when that didn't eventuate, she wanted the job done this morning?

I've never obsessed so much about sex as I am right now at this second, or at least, not since I started actually having it. I kiss her some more, on her neck and throat, all the while gathering my thoughts, then try to start a discussion. She doesn't want to talk about it, and she's frustrated. Not as fucking frustrated as I am, I'm pretty sure. I point out that her room mates could come back at any time, and we don't want to be interrupted and she snaps back at me that I wasn't worrying about that before I found out about her virginity. Then I say I don't have any condoms and she says she's been on the pill for years to regulate her periods. Sweet baby, we can't just go at it like this! Now that I know it will be her first time I want to be tender and gentle and loving and make it good for her. I tell her I think we should wait until we know for sure we've got privacy, and a good few hours to ourselves, and Christ, I want to buy her fucking champagne and expensive chocolates and I want to thread fucking garlands of flowers through her hair. I want it to be the most amazing and special thing that's ever happened to her. I don't tell her all that, of course, just that I think we should wait.

She pouts and she's bothered but I kiss the fucking pout right off her mouth and she starts sucking my tongue again, and I'm struggling, but I stick to it and promise next week, when our days off synchronize and she doesn't have to get up at six-thirty after I've finished work at two.

As it happens the girls don't turn up, and I know exactly why - it's because they've got their legs wrapped around my best boys, but Bella and I cuddle and talk, and we both sleep some more and there's a lot of laughing and a lot of long, long looks and then just as her hand is snaking to my belt and I'm letting her because I figure, hell we might as well get a head start on next week, the door opens heralding the arrival of Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Those two pervy whores sing out for Bella and come straight into the bedroom, eyebrows hitting the roof and making ooh and aah sounds that are more irritating than fucking chipmunks on speed.

Bella tells them we were just getting up and they're probably wondering why I'm still half-dressed, and I probably shouldn't get up in front of them with the rampant appendage as evident as it is, although they've seen cocks before, and probably within the last half hour. I get up anyway, that haughty Rose gives me a very cool, measuring look with one raised eyebrow, and Alice ignores my state of arousal. I want Beauty to myself for the rest of the day but they're grabbing her and I've lost for now, with my balls not just blue but fucking cobalt. I've got work this evening, I start at five, and Bella says she'll come by later.

I get the fucking Spanish Inquisition from Emmett as soon as he claps eyes on me, but I don't answer anything. By this he knows that I did not score last night. He fucking snorts at me when I tell him to mind his own business, and Jas actually looks sort of understanding and somehow I make it to nine, when the girls arrive at the bar. I want to take Bella out the back and bend her over the hood of the nearest car but I restrain myself, and she sits her gorgeous ass on a stool and orders a slammer with a beer to follow. I get her drinks but my hands fucking shake when she asks if she can come back to my place with me when I finish. She has to get up so early I can't see how it could be a good idea, but I suggest she leaves at her usual time and goes with Jas and Em and tries to sleep before I get there.

And for a week we get a routine going. It fucking kills me. I go in to her cafe at three in the afternoon and wait for her to finish, we go back to my apartment and make out like tomorrow's never coming, then I go to work, she comes in for an hour and I take a break, and we make out some more, and then I stagger home just after two a.m. and she's already in my bed. We are both shattered. But fuck, it's fucking glorious.

It took her about five minutes to learn how to make me come. It took me five days with her - five days! I did everything that's worked for me with girls in the past, but she was nervous and shy and hadn't had a man touch her before and we were both starting to get upset, which only made it all worse. And then I didn't want her to do it for me since I wasn't reciprocating, and she took that badly and we both stopped even trying for a day but neither of us could stand it, and then one day it just happened, my fingers and hers working together, and she bit my chest so fucking hard she drew blood and marked me for life. Right above my heart. She's fucking marked me for life there anyway.

And during all this, we're still talking, always talking. She's going to go away, somewhere, and save the fucking world, and then she's going to come back and go to film school and make art. I'm already at college, studying engineering, and we argue and agree and laugh in between all the kissing and fondling and I realize I am in love. We start to talk about seeing each other after this vacation, about how we can be together. I never want to be away from her, but she has this volunteering ambition thing, and then she'll be back and we'll work something out, fuck knows what.

In the midst of all this love and future planning, our everyday lives carry on. Her manageress at the cafe, Sue, tells me daily she wishes she was ten years younger, and asks how I feel about cougars. She's about fucking sixty, so even if she was thirty years younger she'd still be older than me, but I flirt right back. She says if I ever want a grown woman and not a girl to come a-knocking on her door. Any time. I get fed in there for free. And then, at my job at the bar, all the staff love pretty Beauty, and she's drinking for free, not that she has much.

And then after the horniest week imaginable, it's finally Monday, and we go to her place. The girls have been told not to even think about coming round, and I've got sushi and chocolate-covered strawberries and fucking pink champagne and scented candles and I'm all set up for the whole romantic thing. I'm just about damn ready to propose. I take her clothes off slowly, and I lick her out to start with so that she's relaxed, and dripping wet with my saliva. She makes me come too, so that I can last longer than ten seconds, and then we're good to go - me initiating my beautiful, adored girlfriend into the sweet mystery of love.

I'm taking it slow, mindful of her comfort, and pretty Beauty just tells me to hurry up already because the sooner the first time is over the sooner we can get on to the second time, and then the third. Christ - she thinks I'm superman. She's urging me with her hands, grabbing my ass, and of course she's the tightest fucking thing I've ever been inside. She winces and screws her face up and I know it hurts and I stop, fuck knows how, but she pushes at me with her hips and says according to the literature a certain amount of movement has to take place, and we end up fucking laughing as I break her. Well, I'm not laughing for long, I'm fucking coming like a maniac and gasping and totally losing my shit and afterwards I collapse until she pushes me off. She rolls with me and lies on top of me and says it wasn't so bad. She feeds me strawberries and smiles at me and licks the chocolate right out of my mouth.

And I guess it can't have been too bad because she wants to go again. I tell her Jesus, Bella, don't you need an ice pack or something? I would have thought she'd be too sore, but she says she's doing okay for someone who's just been rent in half, and this time she lets me go slow.

Again, it takes days before she can climax. She gets her period in the middle of it all, and doesn't want to fuck, although we play with each other. Once we start up fucking again she's still not coming, no matter what I try. Then one day she's lying flat on her front and I'm on top of her and inside her, and she tells me she wants to try something and she wants me not to move. So I don't move and she reaches down beneath herself with her hand and starts touching herself and Jesus, it's a turn on. I can't help pushing in and she tells me to stop. Then she keeps going and she's thrusting away from me and not towards, and the feeling is all so intense and so strange, her ass pressing up to my stomach and then down into the mattress. I worry about my weight on her but then I can't worry about anything because I can feel changes taking place inside her. She gets wetter, and her cunt starts to balloon a little, while feeling tighter at the entrance. Her movements get more urgent, her breathing changes and then I feel a series of contractions around my cock and she whimpers and sighs. She doesn't scream the place down, or say my name, but it's still the fucking sexiest thing that has ever happened to me, buried deep in her, unmoving, while she has an earthquake around me. I can feel fucking everything, every quiver, every muscle she holds me with, every internal undulation. I just fall apart - she has shown me how she gets herself off and she has come around me. I'm trying to tell her how much I love her when she twists her head and kisses me messily because from this angle we can't reach each other's mouths very well, and I'm incoherent, shooting into her.

And we're inseparable, as much as we can be. We are the fucking love affair of the century. There is a poem I vaguely remember from school that says "and none alive shall live to see the match of you and me" and that's us - me and Bella.

There are three weeks left of the summer and all that can keep us apart is work, and when we're not working we're together, and most of our time together is spent fucking, or making love, I should say. Once she asks me if sex feels the same with everyone, and I'm almost speechless trying to put together a reply to adequately convey that it doesn't, not at all. I want to explain that that it's all good and that's why people do it, but fuck, when you've found what we've found, no-one else matters. She says but don't all girls feel the same inside? No, no NO! Jesus wept. They're all different, as I imagine all cocks are different. Bella is like silken sandpaper and she's hotter than Hades. She's slippery while she's tight around me and the fit of us together is indescribable and perfect and the rhythm we find when we push into each other is the rhythm of fucking life. Angels would weep if they knew what they were missing sitting up there being all non-corporeal on their clouds playing fucking harps instead of feeling like this!

But the summer ends, and Bella has decided to go to India to work in an orphanage for disabled children. She is earnest and sincere and trembling with crying when she tells me, but she's going. There is a short training course, then she'll be gone for three months and have a two week break, then another three months, with two weeks at home, then the last three months. I can't fucking stand the thought of it.

Em and Rose, and Jas and Alice are going to be living in different cities, but they can fly to each other for weekends, and they're freaking about how much they'll have to be apart until they all finish their studies. At least they'll be on the same fucking continent! I yell at Em when his self-pity gets too much for me. Yes, yes, he'll miss his diva and Jas will miss his pixie, but for God's sake - they will only be apart a matter of fucking days at a time, weeks at the most. Bella is going to be away from me for months.

I fucking sulk and sulk and Bella mopes and we have to say goodbye to each other, and this first separation will be six months once she fits in going home to see her Dad in Washington and her Mom in Florida. It's so totally fucked. She won't even have regular internet access where she'll be, and the phones will be dodgy. No fucking skype, no webcam - fucking Jas and Emmett have got it sweet. My girl's going to be almost incommunicado.

And then I have to go home and study and hand in assignments and try and to act as though things are okay, and to keep up my grades when all the time I just want my pretty Beauty. She writes letters every two or three days and sometimes they're delayed and I don't hear from her for a couple of weeks, and sometimes they turn up in a bundle together. Then after a while she writes something every day but only posts it once a week. I stare at the few photos I have and I contemplate getting her face tattooed onto my fucking arm so that I can see her whenever I want to. I am in fucking agony.

At first her letters are chatty, full of surprise about where she is, and very informative. One day out of the blue she says she misses my cock, and then her letters get heated. There's still a lot of news - she's having trouble with the administration; there's too much red tape; there's not enough funding to get the orphanage half the stuff they need; she's falling in love with the kids; she's depressed and angry that these sorts of children can't find families when they're all so giving and so deserving of love. Then there'll be long paragraphs detailing just exactly what she thinks about when she dreams of me, and what she does to herself in lieu of my being with her. These are outright porn. She says I can't write back along similar lines because all the staff read the letters from home, so I can put in romantic stuff and get a bit sexy but not too explicit. The raging smut is disappointingly one-sided and I have to write back polite, affectionate things to her when really I just want to talk about my cock and her cunt and how they belong together.

And god, my cock gets a morning workout in the shower, sometimes more than one. Fuck, most days I fucking work it out in the evenings as well.

It's the longest six months since time-recording began.

Then finally she's got her two week break, and she's not even going to see her parents, pretty Beauty is coming straight to me. I get a cab to the airport because I plan to kiss her all the way home, and I can't do that if I'm driving. The kissing gets so out of control that the cab driver threatens to make us get out. He doesn't fucking understand what a six month dry spell is like when you're in love, and your girlfriend is the best fuck in the whole world.

We don't even leave my bedroom for the first three days, except to have sex in the shower and in the kitchen. I've arranged a meet-up with Jas and Alice and Em and Rose, who are all still going strong, just as strong as me and Bella. We get to a restaurant and Bella's trying to give me a fucking handjob under the table, and I'm trying to give her one and the others all know exactly what's going on but nobody gives a shit because they're all as horny as fuck, too. Then we go out dancing and Bella's idea of dancing is sitting on my lap and grinding on me in a dark corner with her tongue down my throat until we both just think 'fuck it', and she slips her panties off under her skirt, and unzips me and we do it. Then she turns around and faces the other way and we do it again.

During the day I've got quite a bit going on with lectures and tutorials and site visits, and research, and Bella goes to the movies, or rents dvds at home. By the time I get home to see her she's fired up, talking about screenplays and special effects and all sorts, or she wants to talk about India and how the West continues to screwover the Developing World. I fucking love it when she's passionate like this - I tell her that the West screws itself too with its tiered societies and unchecked appetite for profit and the talk flies back and forth between us until one of us stops the other's mouth and we make love right where we are, on the furniture or against the wall or on the floor or in my car.

I tell her I'm in love with her to the point of madness and she tells me she feels exactly the same way. We're always going to be together, it's obvious to both of us, and to everyone who knows us.

The two weeks goes by faster than two weeks in real time should move. Far sooner than any caring universe could possibly allow, Bella and I are parted again. I feel like I know every blade of grass and leaf where she's living, I know every person she's met there, every name, every idiosyncrasy, I know every piece of wood or fabric in her village, and I fucking hate all of it. I just want her home. I understand her need to go, kind of, and I understand that she's helping, kind of, but I tell her it's just a fucking bandaid, and she can't change the world. She says one person can change the world, she points to Ghandi. She says ideas can change the world and cites Marx. I fucking want her to stay home and argue with me but she goes.

And I'm pissed off but I go back to my shitty, dreary, frustrating, without-Bella existence. I almost want to fucking drop out and go after her, but I know that this is something she wants to do herself, it's defining for her and it's important on a lot of levels. Determined idealist. I love it about her, and I'm going to love it even more when she's back near me being an art idealist in college for three years, stuck put in one city, and we'll be living together. Yes we will, I'll transfer anywhere I have to.

Then, a month into her trip, a crack appears.

You know the sort of crack - a fine line appears in a wall in your house, and it's so tiny things could be stable and your house could still stand for a hundred years. Or it could stand until the next stiff wind, which could make the crack open wide enough for the wind to whistle through and knock your house down around your fucking ears. Or even worse, it could be the kind of rift that opens at your feet as if a new tectonic plate boundary is forming, and the earth beneath you is going to split into a bottomless fucking chasm that goes all the way to hell, with you falling right there endlessly into it.

I get a letter in a different mood. I know the first fucking second that a bloom of rot has appeared, a decay that could destroy the love our hearts nestle in, the certainty of our future together. I don't know the actual second to be honest, but I know when I read the words. She mentions someone new who has come to the village. Another American volunteer. A man. All she does is mention him but it's there in her handwriting, her loopy scrawl with its wayward dots and slight upturn. She calls a week later, and it's in her voice. She doesn't even know yet, but it's coming down the wire, dark poison running, ice pouring into me, chilling my heart. She's interested in him. She doesn't say it outright but I can tell. I don't see how she fucking could be - she is all I could ever want and I've even forgotten there could be any other potential partners for me on the planet. I would have thought she would feel that way about me too, but she talks animatedly about how perceptive he is, and how well-intentioned and how this, and that and she has no idea how she sounds. She lowers her voice and says husky things about stroking herself and touching her nipples but I am already in shock that she can mention another man's name with such a frisson in her tone, and my cock doesn't stand straight up, begging as usual, it stays limp and dormant. Later, I don't even try and coax it, I have no will to.

The letters still come, and she'll be home soon. I'm feeling sick. I've told myself it's all imagined, I've talked to Jas and Em and they've said Bella loves me like fucking crazy and no fucking perceptive man could lure her away. This time she's spending one day each with her parents, and then she'll be with me. Jas points out she's choosing to spend the majority of her time back in this country at my apartment, in my bed. She wouldn't do that if she'd fallen for somebody else he says. Em tells me to grow my fucking balls back.

I go to the airport and my pretty Beauty is as beautiful as a Botticelli. She throws herself at me and holds me and we lick into each other's mouths hungrily. I take her home and love her and her hair falls around us both as it always has, cocooning us from the horrible world that takes her so far away from me. My girl has returned, my love, my love I whisper to her, and then I see a fucking stupid thing on her wrist, a band of woven string and she tells me it's a friendship bracelet, from one of the other workers. I don't even need to ask. I know it's him. She has cut me and she knows it, but she doesn't know how. My jealousy forces a wedge between us because I won't name it, and she doesn't know what's wrong. I have never not told her something. She's tired and we leave it, and make love again when she wakes up, and it's different, not as wild and passionate and intense as we usually are. She seems quieter, and I'm withdrawn. I just can't shake the feeling of doom even with her in my arms, her beneath me and enclosing me, her panting my name as her walls spasm around me and my come is spurting into that warm fucking depth my heart disappeared into last summer.

I tell her I don't want her to go back, and then all the bullshit starts.

We argue, we really argue, and there's an awful edge to it that I can't soften. We've never spoken to each like this before. She says I don't understand what she's doing; she says in the colder weather over there there's an increased risk of preventable disease and she'll be needed. She says she has to go back; the people are poor and they suffer and she can make a difference. They have high infant mortality and low life expectancy. I say if she wants to make a difference why doesn't she look around her and see what's going on here? She doesn't have to get on a fucking plane. What about poverty and suffering right here in America? What about the susceptibility to preventable disease here? What about the life expectancy and infant mortality rates of minority groups in our very city? I tell her she's caught up in the romanticism of being a fucking savior, flying in like an angel. She denies the angel complex and she's livid. I'm livid too, but I'm also fucking desperate. I know nothing has happened with this man, I know she hasn't even understood yet that she feels some indefinable pull towards him, but I know it and it eats at me.

The arguing doesn't help. It makes her stubborn, and she uses it to confirm to herself that I don't understand. I say what about your films, and your art? She doesn't talk about art any more, she talks about documentaries and realism and political statements. She's still planning on coming back next year for film school, but I don't want her to leave me in the interim. I can't let her go.

I have to, though. Short of handcuffing her to the bed, there's nothing I can do. I try humor and affection, but a rift has appeared. I try love, love and more love. I try fucking pleading.

A week later we're back at the airport and we haven't made love for days and when she kisses me it's the saddest kiss I've ever had. I didn't even know kisses could be sad. I didn't know they could hurt.

Em and Jas have to admit now that something's wrong, although they try to downplay the severity of it. They say she's PMSing or it's just a girl thing, and that she'll be all right. They've quizzed Rosie and Alice, and they say there's nothing to report there, but fuck, I don't know. They can't convince me - I know it in my heart.

And all too soon the crash I've been waiting for comes. Bella calls and says she hates to tell me over the phone, she knows she should wait until we're face to face, but she wants to do it because she can't bear to have me thinking we're still together when we can't be. That's how she says it. She's crying great jagged sobs, and I can hear how fucking upset she is to do this, and she says she'll always love me, and she doesn't know what to do, but there's someone else. As if I didn't already fucking know. I knew before she did, for fuck's sake! I knew when we were in bed and joined and looking each other right in the eye, I knew that the beyond-this-world connection we had just wasn't there anymore. That feeling that the universe began and ended inside her, where she held me deep and safe and where nothing from outside could touch the two of us - that feeling had changed because something outside had touched us. I tell her if it's sex that she wants, then okay, it's okay if she has sex with him as long as she comes home to me. It's not okay, I want to throw up, I'm telling my girlfriend to have sex with another man, it's all kinds of fucked up, but then she makes it all worse. She says it's not about sex.

I am shredded and wrecked. I don't know what there is left of me. I don't know if there's anything to salvage. I stop eating, I stop thinking, I stop studying and working, and Jas and Em are trying to hold me together, but they can't. There's no glue for the broken pieces of me. Their girlfriends turn up and try to help too, and they're very concerned because they can't quite believe Bella could turn like this. They saw us, they knew us, they felt the nothing-shall-tear-us-asunder strength of what we had, and they're stunned and sorry.

It's a month before Bella is due to come back, and in the meantime she stays in touch. I fantasize that I'm going to break this fucking guy's head when I meet him. I'm going to smash his face. What sort of a fucking asshole moves in on another guy's girl? He is a fucking marriage-wrecker, and a home-wrecker, and a fucking family-wrecker, because I had every intention of marrying pretty Beauty, setting up home and making a family with her. It was a life-long commitment for me. The thought of someone touching her, holding her, loving her sends me out of my mind.

And then I know she's back and I'm really not functioning too well. I have to talk to her, because maybe there's a chance she will change her mind. Maybe she was distressed and lonely because we were separated for too long and she just needed someone? I'm not going to take it well, but if that's what it is I'd still have her back, fuck, of course I would.

She calls, and hearing her voice melts me and I try and sound okay, but I'm not. I say I want to see her and she says she wants to see me too, but she says the words I've been dreading. She tells me she loves him. She loves me, and she'll always love me, but there's something different with him and she can't explain it, it's just there and she knows what she has to do. What she has to do is be with him. She wants her and me to be friends.

Friends! Friends don't fucking do that to one another!

And summer's coming, and previous summers I was young and dumb and full of come, but now I've been through a wringer and come out defeated and hopeless.

She wants to go back to the Promenade for the film festival, and Jas and Emmett and their girls, who are still all loved up and coupled up and sexed up want to go too, and Bella asks if I've got my job there again, and if I'll meet her there.

I'll be there because the income from my job helps fund my studying. I can't refuse to see her, because I couldn't bear it. On my first day I go to the cafe she used to work at, and the manageress calls me stud and says she's turning twenty-one next birthday and asks me to light her candle. Then she gets a look at my face and knows something is very, very wrong. I can't drink the coffee she brings me, and I start to cry when she gives me a hug. She's maternal now, and she says she sorry to see her boy so upset.

And then I wander down to the seafront, to the parade of girlapalooza I used to find so exciting. It's everywhere, all shapes, all sizes, all colors, something for everyone. Tantalizing, teasing, enticing and promising, and I couldn't care less. I've got my head half down, hands stuffed in pockets, feet barely lifting off the sidewalk, and there are plenty of hellos being directed at me but I'm immune to all of it. I just don't fucking care. I find a seat and slouch on it, elbows on knees, staring vacantly out at the water. I'm early, fuck knows why, and I'll just sit here and chew on the inside of my cheek until Bella comes. I haven't seen her for so long it hurts. I tell myself what went wrong was because of the distance. We couldn't handle being apart. Once she sees me again, things will be as they were. She'll want me.

We've spoken a couple of times since she got back to the US. She's called, and she's been quiet and I've been choked up, and trying to talk, to be reassuring, to say everything's going to be all right. I dream about holding her in my arms once she's back, and she'll move in with me, or I'll move in with her, and we'll put this thing behind us and it won't matter. When I say all this to her she goes quiet, but I persevere. Nothing matters except for her and me being together again.

I sit there lost and drowning in my own thoughts and after a while I happen to look up. Not far from me is a group of six people and they're instantly recognizable. Well, five of them are. There's Emmett, the incredible hunk. There's slinky, curvy, blonde Rosalie, hanging on to Emmett's arm. There's skinny Jasper with his dreadful hair, and next to him the tiny little package of human dynamite that is Alice.

And there, long hair streaming, skinny legs encased in tight jeans, sneakers on, is pretty Beauty, the ghost who haunts me. She doesn't know I'm here. I can examine her from this distance,and I notice right away that she is a little thinner, a little sharper, even more in herself than she appeared to me last year. Her face is upturned and she is smiling shyly. And she is with a man.

I can see they're not lovers. She was all over me when she was with me, she couldn't keep her hands to herself and neither could I, but she's not touching this man. I know it's him, though. And I know he's in love with her just by the way he holds his fucking head. It's written in every line of him, and as the sound of my breaking heart cracks like thunder in my ears I know at least she is leaving me for someone who loves her.

He looks up, and he can't possibly know who I am, but he nods in my direction and Bella turns to look over at me. How could she have brought him to our place? And why are my fucking friends grinning goofily as if they fucking like him? He's an ass. He's taken my girl, he's ingratiating himself with my friends, and he wants to steal my fucking life.

Bella runs up and throws herself on me. It's unbearable. Her arms are around my neck, her lips are at my cheek and my eyes close. I'm wishing, fucking wishing until it hurts that she is hugging me like this because she wants me. But she draws back, lower lip trembling, eyes brimming with tears, and I know that she is hugging me like this because she doesn't want me.

The others are standing back to give us time together, and she sniffs and mumbles and she tells me she's sorry and my hopes turn to lead as I understand that this is it. This is it. She says I'm her best friend, and that's the nail in the coffin. I don't want to be her best friend. I will be, fuck, there's no way I'm going to tell her no, because if things don't work out with Mr Fucking-Life-Stealer she'll need me. What can I say? She's being selfish, wanting to hang on to me when she won't be what I want. She expects me to just stand around and take the fact that the man she'll give herself to isn't me. Selfish, naive pretty Beauty. Or maybe she's not that naive because she knows that I love her so much I'll be anything she wants. And I'll fucking be around. He'll make a fucking mistake, and I'll be there. Or she'll change her mind - she's done it before, let's face it - and I'll be there. For her.

She pulls herself away from me eventually and I can only fucking pray that this won't be the last time we touch. Up she stands, tugging my hand, wanting me to go and say hi to everyone. She even wants me to say hi to him. Rubbing fucking salt in my open wounds.

I approach them, and Jas and Em are tight-lipped and wary as they clasp my shoulder and greet me. They know this is the hardest thing I've ever done. Rose and Alice give me quick embraces, and quick kisses, and then they stand back, maybe worrying that I'll explode. I just fucking might.

The fuckwit guy holds his hand out, as if I'm going to take it. He's tall, though not as tall as me, and his stupid red hair sticks out even more crazily than mine does. He knows something about who I am because he looks at me with pity.

"Jake," pretty Beauty says to me as she touches my hand before turning back to him, "This is Edward."





Somewhere on the floor in my bedroom is a book of the poetry of Robert Graves. I haven't seen either of them for months, the book or the floor, although I assume with quiet confidence that they are both still there. I can't remember the name of the poem I've quoted, sorry about that, I just remember it's RG.

And now to my beta, sweetp. I could quote poetry about her all night long. I fear yellowglue, vanpirenz and myself will have to either come to some amicable arrangement regarding sweetp, or come to blows. She has my respect, admiration and gratitude.

And she is pretty Beautiful herself.