Disclaimer: These characters aren't mine.
Coming clean with my parents went swimmingly. They were surprisingly supportive of my sudden lack of direction, almost as if they didn't quite see it as such. A local hospital hired me to do menial work in their OR. I jumped at the chance to rub up against people who were doing something that seemed to require conviction, hoping that I might find a spare ounce or two lying around.
A few weeks into my new job, I was leaving a concert with my best friend and her new husband. We'd run into a group we knew and, of course, he was with them. After getting singed by our last meeting, I steered clear. I didn't need to spend another week reeking like the smoky remains of a bonfire that burned large and hot on the beach for but an evening to learn my lesson. I was due for a proper burn from him if I persisted in this madness, more painful that just being seduced and ignored one beautiful drunken night.
How we ended up nightswimming with his group was beyond me; I'd arrived with just my two friends. And such certainty.
There were a dozen or so of us in the water and I was diligent about using them as human shields, parrying every time he moved between the few small groups of conversation. The Gulf might as well have been an inkwell, and he surprised me by surfacing not a foot away. We hadn't even said a greeting.
He nodded at my retreating, now-former, best friend and her hubby. "They said to tell you they'd be right back. I promised to ward off predators."
"That includes you?"
I could see his teeth in the scant light. "I won't bite too hard. You're okay with nibbling, if I remember right."
It felt like a dare and I couldn't back down even though I should have. I dipped beneath the water—slowly, as if I were descending into a vat of honey—and grazed his stomach with my teeth. I surfaced only enough to get my nose above the surface to take a breath. I sat like a gator, with only my head from the nostrils up above the water.
His hands wrapped around my ribs possessively. As if I could belong to anyone else. It had been long enough since the last time he kissed me that the snapping static was still there. We lingered in the kiss, not speaking. Not acknowledging the world beyond our warm bubble of seawater. He eased his mouth from mine by degrees, putting some scant space between our faces. Below the waterline, out of sight, no such separation existed.
With the water to help support me, he lifted me to float on my back. I laughed softly, nervously, wondering what he was about. I felt like a child learning to swim.
He skimmed me across the water; I closed my eyes. The water ran across my stomach in rivulets and caressed my periphery in lapping waves. I sighed, reveling in the sweet feeling.
A warmer lapping began in the center of my chest and I slowed to a halt, floating idly. He'd turned me into a floating smorgasbord. Having nothing to feed on myself, I felt conspicuous. I'd never had someone want to be allowed to consider me so unabashedly. I bit my lip anxiously.
He finally put his mouth just above mine and whispered, "I thought you were okay with nibbling. I won't bite hard; you can relax."
I realized that my limbs resembled wooden paddles more than jellyfish tentacles. "Promise?"
"That, I can promise."
Okay, so there were things he couldn't promise. No surprise there. With his admission clearing the air, I did relax.
The taunting resumed at my hairline. When my mother kissed my forehead my eyes didn't roll back in my head. But when he did I wondered if I would duck away from the next familial affection aimed above my eyes.
He murmured and hummed, the sound trickling from his lips telling me about everything and nothing at all. His words were song lyrics or comments on our company this evening at first. Between them and the audible sway of the seawater, the potentially-awkward quiet was filled with the sounds of my dreams. I wanted so much to tell him—he deserved to know that I dreamt of his baritone reading to me and laughing softly as we played at nothing important. I didn't mention it, because talking about things that mattered was strictly off-limits. That the rule was unspoken didn't make it any less real.
"What did your parents say when you told them about school?" He found a safe subject first, the safe subject.
"They seemed almost glad that I wanted to take a year off. My dad felt like I was making myself into the square peg…or is the hole square? Whatever the case, he thought I'd been on the same path for so long that I was just sticking with it out of habit and not because I really wanted it anymore."
"Any progress on that front? The 'what you really want' front?"
I watched him drag the nail-side of his fingers up both my thighs and thought of a few answers to that question. "Not exactly. I do like being in an OR but it's barely been two weeks."
"That's really great. I can see you doing that…it makes sense."
His fingers reached my underwear—dark and opaque bikinis, thankfully—and I wanted to turn his question on him. Lacking the courage to ask outright and the finesse to hint deftly, I let that sleeping dog lie.
Still playing with the string of my bikini, he rotated me so that my hipbone touched the center of his chest and lowered his face to the string. With his incisors, he moved the strap south an inch or two and amused himself by lapping at the strip of skin uncovered. The point of the dark scrap of fabric wasn't to protect my hipbone. He never violated what it was protecting; he did everything but.
In what amounted to a mockery of my modesty, he used his mouth to return the strap to its original position.
"I think you're evil."
He grinned at me. "I don't think that's a recent conclusion."
"No. Just recently reinforced."
Nodding to the shore, he asked, "Emmett and Rose are walking back towards us. Do you want to go in?"
"Yeah. Me either. I don't want you getting away from me just yet."
He pulled us into deeper water. Standing flat-footed, the subtle swells crested above his shoulders and dipped to his belly, taking me with them. I took the opportunity to lock my legs around his waist at one trough.
"You're playing with fire, missy."
His flattened hands slid up my stomach, pushing my wet tank as they traveled. It was over my head in a matter of seconds. Water and warm air washed back and forth deliciously.
"I don't even know where to start." A single finger trailed from my navel to the hollow of my throat, lazy and considering as it meandered. Did I get a vote on its destination? I had opinions. Strong opinions.
Jasper gathered me to his chest, sinking down in the warm water with me. "You're shivering, Bella."
I hadn't noticed. I hadn't been aware of anything but what he was doing. "I'm not even cold."
"Just to be on the safe side, let's get you in."
"No. Really. No reason to leave." Rather than chance a retort, I kissed him speechless. It was effective.
I could hear my friends approaching and I wanted to put up a "Do Not Disturb" sign. Instead, I ducked under the water and put my shirt back on.
"I'm so sleepy, B. You ready to go?" Rose was clearly giving Jasper the opportunity to stake a claim if he so desired.
I paused just a beat—long enough for the helium-filled possibility of him offering me a ride to float up up and away—before agreeing to ride home with them. Rose and Em walked ahead, hopefully unaware of what hadn't just transpired.
I ducked under and scrubbed the mortification from my face before I resurfaced. By the time I sucked in a breath, hope—deaf, blind and mute—had resumed control and was all that colored my thoughts.
Confidently, I kissed him—a weapon of a kiss, the hungry sort of taking meant to be remembered with a sting rather than a sigh.
When I pulled away, I got only a few paces between us before he pulled me back. "You…you really shouldn't have done that."
"I wanted to."
Something about my admission sobered him up, his lust-drunk gaze lightening into one less threatening. "Let's get you home."
Seriously? What about being wanted could be a turn-off?
Rose waited until I was relatively sober to ask.
"What the hell was going on out there with you and Jasper? You know Mike will shit a brick when he finds out."
"Um, nothing was going on so there will be no need for brick shitting, not that he doesn't deserve some ass trauma."
She scrunched her perfect little nose in genuine disgust. "Ewwww."
"I grossed myself out. Sorry."
My comment hadn't thrown her off course. She was like a sister to me and I knew better than to think it would. "Your gloriously naked breasts shimmering in the moonlight was nothing?"
I covered my face with my hands. "Oh, God. No."
"I distracted Emmett. He never saw them."
"Thank you so much."
"It was as much for my own benefit as yours. He'd never want to play with these again if he'd seen yours." She bounced her girls in the palms of her hands, in case I was uncertain which "these" she meant. I giggled, my buzz not entirely erased yet.
"My shirt was only off for like half a minute."
"Oh. Okay then. If that's all." She glared at me and then rolled her eyes. "I think the events leading up to the nudity are the big deal, darling."
"The usual: some kissing, not much talking. Not a big deal."
"Fine. Play it this way. But he's gonna break your heart and I'm gonna be forced to kick his ass."
"It's not like that. He's not pretending that we're a thing. He's not leading me on."
"Oh, please. He knows you've liked him for like ever. Just cashing in on that to make out with you once is wrong. If it happens a second time, I'm going to have words with him."
Technically, "again" wouldn't be the second time….
"I'm laying down the law now because he's going with us to the Island for Labor Day."
I wanted to do a victory dance, but I carried my bluff. "I might have to work that day."
"No you don't. Don't lie to me." It was a date.
A/N: In my opinion, it's not the size of the vessel-er, chapter-but the motion in the ocean. I hope you are down with the motion. The chapter title is a nod to REM. I have a feeling this Bella would've listened to it. Ahem.
As always, my undying love to the sexiest comma ninja the world has ever known, Clem. Also, Denver Popcorn smacked me around a little too.
Let me know what you think, darlings.
Nightswimming deserves a quiet night, deserves a quiet night
Nightswimming deserves a quiet night
The photograph on the dashboard, taken years ago,
Turned around backwards so the windshield shows
Every streetlight reveals the picture in reverse
Still, it's so much clearer
I forgot my shirt at the water's edge
The moon is low tonight
Nightswimming deserves a quiet night
I'm not sure all these people understand
It's not like years ago,
The fear of getting caught,
Of recklessness and water
They cannot see me naked
These things, they go away,
Replaced by everyday
Nightswimming, remembering that night
September's coming soon
I'm pining for the moon
And what if there were two
Side by side in orbit
Around the fairest sun?
That bright, tight forever drum
Could not describe nightswimming
You, I thought I knew you
You, I cannot judge
You, I thought you knew me,
This one laughing quietly underneath my breath
The photograph reflects,
Every streetlight a reminder