ENTRY FOR THE HIGH TIMES CONTEST

Story Name: Candy from Strangers

Rating: M

Genre: General/Romance

Pairing: Edward/Bella

Total Word Count: 10,577

Summary: "This weekend, I will kiss a boy. I will drink alcohol…I will do everything that Bella Swan never does. I might even take candy from a stranger."

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The thing about living inside of your own head? It makes you a great observer of life. For instance, I know, before we even get to Seattle, that all of the couples will be sleeping in beds together, leaving me a room to myself. It's okay, I've brought the extra cash to cover it.

I also know that Tyler will bring booze that he pilfered from his dad's bar, and that Lauren and Jess will be puking drunk, probably before the first band is off the stage. I know that Mike will break up a fight between Steve Cheney, and whoever looks at Steve's girlfriend the wrong way, and I know that my dad will call me every two hours, just to check in.

See? There's great things about living inside of your own head. The downside, though, is that you're not actually living your life. I'm eighteen years old, about to be a freshman in college, and I've never been kissed. I've never been drunk or high, I've never flirted with a boy, and I've never felt…pretty. Or wanted. This weekend though, I'm going to try to change that. This weekend I'm going to stop being Bella Swan, super nerd, and start being Isabella.

.

"Bells, you ready? The kids are here."

"Yeah, Dad! Coming."

I take the stairs as quick as I can, my overstuffed backpack bouncing against my shoulder. I'm still a little bit amazed that Charlie's letting me go, but then, in six weeks, he won't have any choice. This weekend in Seattle has been a long time coming. I only hope I don't disappoint myself. My goal is to have fun, and to do at least five things I've never done before.

"I don't know, Bells, maybe I should come with. I'm not sure this is such a good idea."

I resist the urge to whine 'Daaaaaad,' and instead look him straight in the eye.

"Dad, we're going to be fine. There's ten of us going and Ben's older brothers will be there. We're just checking out the city, and going to a concert. I'll be home tomorrow night."

Charlie looks at me, waffling.

"I have my cell phone in case anything happens."

"Okay."

"And I'm leaving for college in six weeks anyway. This is just a trip for us to get familiar with the city, and check out the campus a little more. It's really going to be okay."

At that moment, a horn blares and Mark Cheney knocks on the door.

"You ready, Bella?"

I nod and adjust my backpack.

"How's your driving record?" Charlie asks, and I want to die.

Mark squirms under Charlie's gaze and says "Clean, sir. I'm a good driver."

"See Dad? It's fine."

"Yeah, well, anything happens to her and you'll answer to me. You got that?"

"Dad!" The word comes out as a hard, sharp whisper. Could he be any more embarrassing?.

"Alright, Bells, alright." Mark turns to leave, visibly relieved. I follow, but Charlie yanks me back.

"Some extra money," he says, stuffing the bills into my hand. "And just in case." A new can of pepper spray. It reminds me that he only wants me to be safe, and happy.

I rise on tiptoes to hug him.

"Love you," I say, and walk away before I get emotional.

I load myself into Tyler's van, and Mike Newton honks from his Bronco behind us. Jess, Steve Cheney and his girlfriend Carla are riding together, leaving me, Mark Cheney, his girlfriend Katie, Tyler, Lauren, Ben and Angela in Tyler's van. My dad insisted that Mark Cheney drive, since he's the oldest.

Mark and Steve already go to school in Seattle, and were key to getting our parent's approval for this un-chaperoned trip. We were going to tour the campus and then go to the Lakeshore Luau, which is an overnight concert festival, where people can sleep out in tents and RV's, and there are vendors selling all kinds of stuff.

I have to admit, I'm excited about seeing the campus again. I could have gotten in to a better school, but, between the free tuition they were offering me and the scholarship I'd won, University of Washington ended up being too good of an offer to pass up.

It helped that a lot of my friends were going as well. Well, I don't know that they're friends, but, we eat lunch at the same table and Jess and Ang let me tag along whenever they do something. Of the two of them, I guess I'd say Angela is a friend, but there's still such a distance between us. If I have a bad day, I never think to call her, to try talking things through with her. Why would she want to be bothered with my problems?

We arrive at the motel we were staying at, and everyone split into groups. Part of me relishes the privacy of having my own room, but the other part of me remembers images from sleep-overs on television, and wondering if maybe I'm not missing out.

I guess it wouldn't be the first time. I'd ended up going to prom with Jess, because she and Mike had a big fight the week before. But, of course, they made up at the Prom, and I was left trying to explain to Eric Yorkie why I don't dance for half the night. You'd think two semesters of PE with me would have made it obvious. Eventually, though, he gave up, and it was just me and the punch, together again.

Thinking about how much of my life does not resemble a teen movie – even a bad one – strengthens my resolve. This weekend I will be different. This weekend, I will kiss a boy. I will drink alcohol. I will spend money on things I don't need, and I will do everything that Bella Swan never does. I might even take candy from a stranger.

.

After checking in, we regroup and actually go to the campus. Mark and Steve take us on a long, meandering tour, showing us buildings and short-cuts. Most of it is stuff we've seen before, but still, my heart beats a little faster when we get to the reading room. It's like a church – a church for books. I love it.

The guys show us all the best places to eat, the discount bookstore down the street, and how to work the vending machine outside of the science building for free Cokes. We still have a few hours before the gates at the concert venue open, and I want to have something to show for my weekend, so we head over to the Hub, and I buy a sweatshirt. After, the guys take us to "The Ave" for pizza. Mark and Steve buy pitchers of beer and offer me a glass.

"Bella's not much of a drinker," Ang says, turning her own cup away.

She smiles at me and my heart sinks in my chest. Ang is a good girl, like me. She's counting on me to be good with her. Even though she and Ben plan to share a bed, I know they're not going to have sex. Angela's said she wants to wait a little while longer. She's terrified of getting pregnant before getting her degree.

The others though – they're all having sex, and while I don't want any of the boys in our group, I still want to be wanted. I want…to feel what the leading ladies and the heroines all claim to feel. I want to feel sexy, to feel desired. I want to look at a boy, and feel my heart pound, like I just can't get enough breath, and I want him to look at me the same way.

I don't know if it's the so-called teen hormones that everyone warns about, but I feel ridiculous, like I'm already forty years old and haven't lived even an ounce of my life yet. I've been climbing out of my skin for the last six months, looking forward to September and the start of the school year. Looking forward to going away to college, and gaining some independence. Of being responsible only for myself.

We go back to the motel to change for the concert. The venue's not that far from the motel, so we all agree that if one of us wanted to leave, they can just catch a cab back to the room. I can already tell by looking that most of my friends are going to abandon me. I don't mind. I'm looking forward to the freedom.

I walk into the venue, and already, I'm amazed. There are people everywhere. I'm wearing a long, pale tangerine colored skirt that my mom sent me last year, with sandals and a butter colored tank top. I tied my hair up in a clip earlier. Seattle is having a freak heat wave, and at eighty-five degrees, I feel like I'm roasting. Jess doused me in sunscreen earlier, so I smell like a Pina Colada. I only hope I don't sweat. I can't imagine that would smell good.

We head to the grassy section to stake our claim. The guys are all carrying blankets, and between the eleven of us, we take up a pretty good amount of space.

The first band isn't anyone I've heard of, so I take the opportunity to wander off to the booths. People are selling everything: jewelry and clothing and music and crafts. There's a funky, knitted thing that I'm not sure what to do with, until the guy behind the booth shows me with a big glass pipe.

"It's for your water pipe," he says with a wink. I'm not sure, but I think that's something to do with pot.

"Knitted it myself," he offers, and I'm struck by an image of this boy, who has dreadlocks down to his waist and isn't much older than me, knitting. I smile and say no thanks and walk away.

There are people selling food out of coolers and backpacks, and one really smart guy is selling sunscreen, lip balm, and tents. I feel a bit like a child at the circus for the first time, trying to take everything in, excited by all of it. I wonder if this is what Woodstock was like. I wonder if Renee would know.

I buy lemonade from a vendor and wander through the crowd, looking at everyone, everything. The liquid is cold and tart on my tongue, and my eyes squint and my mouth puckers. I grin at myself. Is it just me, or does everything seem amazing today?

I notice a tall, lanky blonde guy watching me. He's wearing a top hat and too tight jeans. His shirt is open, Robert Plant style, and I think it's probably not a bad comparison. I blush under his gaze and he grins and pushes off the wall, walking toward me.

"That looks delicious," he says, and I'm not sure if he's gesturing toward me or the soda.

"Lemonade," I say, and offer my cup to him on reflex.

The gesture feels natural, but the good-girl in me is screaming to run, while the other me, the Isabella me, wants to stay right here. Wonders if he'll take a sip. Wonders if the straw will taste like him after. Wonders if I'll have the guts to find out.

He doesn't take the cup. He does introduce himself as Jasper, before telling me that this is his sixth Lakeshore Luau, and that the bands going on tonight are going to be amazing.

"Oh, I know!" I answer. "I've been a fan of Lords of Tomorrow since before they even had a deal."

"Oh yeah?"

"Yeah, I found them on YouTube one day. I had to send away for their first album."

A small girl glides over to us then. She's got short, dark hair and is wearing capris and a peasant blouse. She's wearing an anklet that jingles when she walks. She looks maybe twelve years old, until I look into her eyes. Then she's older. My age, maybe more.

"Are you making friends, Jasper?" She turns and looks me over.

He gives her a cocky grin. "This is…."

"Isabella," I say.

"Isabella." Her voice is light and sing-songy, like she's Snow White or something. "Super cute skirt. I'm Alice. Come have lunch?"

I stare at her, not quite sure what to make of her invitation. She doesn't even know me. And wasn't her boyfriend just flirting with me? Wait. Is he her boyfriend?

He leans down and kisses the side of her face, and laces his fingers through hers. She giggles and looks up at him, and yeah, he's her boyfriend.

"Uhm…"

I look at my toes. They're painted a light, sparkly green and there's a white daisy on my big toe. Jess did it for me last night, as we all got ready for the weekend.

Alice doesn't seem to notice my hesitation. She grabs my hand with her free one, and walks me through the grounds, toward their tent. It's next to a VW Bus, and from the looks of it, people are smoking inside. The windows are cloudy with white smoke.

Alice hands me a bag of chips, but I hand them back.

"I should get back to my friends," I say.

A tall girl with reddish blonde hair comes out of the van in a puff of smoke. She's so pretty, and it dawns on me that all of them are. So pretty.

"You guys want in on this?" she calls. Alice nods and rushes toward her, and Jasper grins, watching her go.

"Too bad you have to go," he says. "Alice makes great fluffernutter sandwiches." My stomach turns a little at the idea of the gooey sweet concoction.

"Here, take this." He hands me a brownie in a Ziplock baggie. "Special brownie for a special lady," he says, and winks at me again.

"Thanks," I say, cocking my head at it. "Looks good."

He nods. "Made 'em myself. You'll love it. Hey, come find us later, if you're bored."

I say thanks again, and begin to wend my way back to our blankets in the grass. When I get there, I'm alone. I look around for my friends, but don't see anyone. More people have arrived though. There's a couple on the blanket behind me. She's beautiful, blonde and sitting on the lap of one of the biggest guys I've ever seen. He smiles – all dimples – and together they fall back onto their blanket. When his hands fall to her ass, I have to look away.

Still, I'm envious. But then, it must be easy for people like that. People who are pretty.

The second band is on the stage. They're not bad, for a wanna-be ska group, but the singer is trying way too hard to be the next Gwen Stefani. I scoot down toward the edge of the blanket and slip off my sandals, setting my feet on the warm grass. Pulling the clip from my hair, I lay back and fan it out around me. The sky is gorgeous blue, with fluffy white clouds and with the sun warm on my skin, I feel relaxed, at peace.

It's then that a man walks past me. He's tall, towering over me, and has kind of golden skin and dark hair with pieces that glint red and gold in the sunlight. I want to reach up my arms and grab hold of him. Inside of me, a longing grips me, so fierce and whole, that I gasp. In my mind, I can see kissing him. I can see me, sitting on his lap, his legs between mine, and tipping my head back as he kisses up and down my neck.

This. This is what I've been waiting for.

Sitting up, I take in the crowd in front of and behind me. The guy, he's with the glamazon couple who were dry-humping on their blanket. He's laughing and I can hear his voice saying something about shame and decency in public. He looks at me, his eyes meeting mine for a second, and the blush that rises to my face burns. The big guy, he laughs, bellowing and dimpled, while the supermodel on his lap looks annoyed. And then she laughs, and is transformed by her smile from an ice queen to a fairy princess. I want to be these people, be inside of them, and laugh with them at jokes made at my expense. They all look so…easy.

My stomach growls and I want to go find food, but I don't want to leave the pretty people behind me. I turn onto my stomach and dig through my bag. I find a book and the brownie that Jasper gave me. It looks delicious, and the slice of pizza I had at noon hasn't taken the edge off my hunger.

I wonder if it's safe to eat, and then I remember my resolve: be daring. Without a second thought, I take the brownie out of the bag and eat it in four bites. Four huge, delicious, chocolately bites. My mouth is thick and gluey, and my lemonade is little more than a ring of slightly tart water at the bottom of my cup. I decide to go see if anyone's selling slushies, because cold icy sweet sounds really, really good. At five o'clock, the sun is a long way from setting, and it's still really warm.

Weaving my way through the crowds, I look for a slushie sign, or the girl who was selling lemonade. I can't find either, so I settle for a bottle of water. I am so thirsty.

The water is cold and delicious. It trails down my throat and into my stomach, leaving a cool burn in its path. Everything feels…okay. I feel relaxed and like playdough – waiting to be shaped. I feel like liquid, like melted wax, warm and gooey. I feel.

I head back toward the blankets, and find myself dance-stepping along the way. The mediocre ska band gave way to someone else, and their music is perfect for the evening: smooth and mellow and creamy-dreamy good. I giggle, thinking of the band as half-melted ice cream. I'd like to scoop them up on a spoon and melt them on my tongue, feel their music coming through my pores, living inside my heartbeat.

I get to our blankets and my friends aren't there. Looking around, I see Ty and Lauren up against a tree. Mike and Jess are walking away, hand in hand, and Mark and Katie, and Steve and Carla are sitting with a group of people I don't know. Probably friends from school, I guess.

The music changes beat to something a little more up-tempo. I stand and begin to dance. Half the crowd is dancing, and it feels amazing. It feels like we are one living organism, like we are all connected. I keep my feet planted, but sway my body, my hips. I raise my arms and let the music move through me, like I would if I was alone in my bedroom.

I'm living, and it feels amazing.

Someone grabs my hips from behind me. I turn and look and it's the guy from the next blanket over. The one who made me blush just by looking at me.

"Love this song," he shouts, and rolls my hips under his hands. I take his lead, and then his hands move up my sides, bringing my arms up around his neck. I keep them there, my fingers feeling the soft, warm skin, and the fine, sharp hairs at the nape of his neck. I'd think he must have just had it cut, but it's so messy. It doesn't even occur to me that this guy – this pretty man-boy – is a stranger. It just seems…right.

I notice his hands are back on my waist. We've been moving to the music, and I lean my back against his chest and close my eyes. I feel warm and soft and girl and good. My tank top rode up when I raised my arms, and now his thumbs are at the small of my back, rubbing back and forth, back and forth, like tiny wiper blades.

Suddenly, that image is hilarious, and I can't stop the giggle that erupts. The boy pulls away and turns me, looking at me with one eye-brow cocked.

"Sorry," I say. "Wiper blades." Giggle. "Hey, do you want to get something to eat? I'm starving. Wait, no, I'm not hungry, but…I want food. Do you think they sell nachos? Oh! Or I met a girl today, who was making fluffernutter sandwiches. I bet she'd give us one."

"Are you high?" he asks.

I laugh. I laugh so hard I fall down and pound the blanket with my hand. "High? I wish! I've never even had a beer before. I'm just…really, really happy."

He chuckles. "Uh-huh. I can see that."

He sits down next to me. "The girl with the sandwiches – short thing, dark hair, talks fast?"

"Yeah! Alice! Do you know Alice?"

"Unfortunately. She's my sister. She didn't, by chance, give you a brownie, did she?"

"Nope! But Jasper did. Do you know Jasper too? He's really nice."

"Oh, he's something alright. Let me guess – he said 'special brownie for a special lady,' right?"

I nod. I lower my voice and lean into him. He smells so good. I want to bury my nose in his chest, but then I look into his eyes, and I kind of can't move. "I think he flirted with me."

Pretty boy-man laughs. It's deep and real and I'm kind of struck stupid by his smile, but then I start laughing too, because when someone who looks like he does laughs, you laugh too. Not to would offend the gods, I'm sure of it.

His hand comes to rest on mine. I look down at them. I want to open my eyes wider, but they feel kind of sticky and squinty. "I need eye drops," I say. "And sandwiches."

"Shit. Come on," he says. "Let's get you fed."

He reaches for my hand and pulls me up. "Wait. Hold still."

He leans down, then tips my head back to the sky. Up close, in the half-light of the evening, I can see stubble along the edge of his jaw, brown and gold and red, all mixed together. His hand goes into my hair and he pulls it tight, keeping my head back. The heat of his body presses up the length of mine and I feel like I can't catch my breath.

A moment later, he squeezes drops into my eyes. The cool fluid is a welcome relief. As I squeeze my eyes shut, he releases my hair, but takes my hand.

"You're pretty," I say. "All the colors."

He smirks down at me. "Yeah? So're you."

The Bella part of me is standing off to the side, staring in slack-jawed amazement. Then she's jumping up and down, screaming that the man-boy holding my hand is probably a rapist or murderer or both. She warns me to guard my kidneys, but I can't really care about her right now. This boy's hand is warm and hard on mine, and where he leads, I will follow.

We get to where his sister and friends are. Some are smoking a joint, passing it around. I look at it, wondering if I could do that, wondering if they'll share, or if I should offer to pay. I have no idea what marijuana etiquette dictates.

Jasper sees Edward and grins. It gets wider when he sees me in tow.

"Isabella!" he calls.

"Hi!" I wave like a child. "Your brownie was really, really good. I should know, I'm an aficionado." I grin through my pronouncement and he laughs.

The man-boy – I internally face-palm - I don't even know his name – walks over to Jasper. "So this is your doing?" he asks.

Jasper shrugs. "Hey, I told her it was a special brownie."

"You jackass, look at her. She's probably jail bait."

"Am not!" I say. "I'm almost nineteen."

The boys look over at me and Jasper shrugs. "See?"

"Hey, wait," I say. There's a niggling in the back of my mind, a truth that I should know, should have known all along. "Was that a…a special brownie?"

Jasper cracks up. "What did you think, pop-tart? That it was just chocolate and flour and eggs in there?"

"Oh." I sit down on the bench of the picnic table. "Oh, fuck. My dad's a cop. Oh! I said fuck!"

I giggle a little at that, and then the pretty man-boy is crouching in front of me.

"A cop? Shit. You're not…you won't bust us, will you? Fuck. Is he here?"

I shake my head. He looks so worried, so concerned. I just want him to smile again. I lean forward.

"This is Isabella's big weekend out," I say. "I might even kiss a boy."

The pretty man-boy laughs, a low chuckle that I feel in my stomach. "Oh, Jesus, you're so baked."

"I am?"

"Oh yeah. Really fucking high."

I grin. "I like high."

Jasper chuckles. "Sounds like it. So do I," he says, and pulls out a joint and tucks it behind his ear. His hair is long and wavy, and in a minute, I can't even see the little white joint in there.

"Hey! Pretty man-boy guy!" Jasper cocks an eye at Mister Tall Dark and Grinny, and he in turn looks at me.

"Yes?"

"I don't know your name."

He smiles, and it's soft and sincere, then offers me his hand. "I'm Edward," he says. "And it looks like I'm taking care of you for the night."

I'm about to smile at him and tell him I'm a big girl, when the beautiful honey-blond girl from before tumbles out of the bus.

"Edward," she says, and throws her arms around his neck. He hugs her back, and jealousy surges inside of me. What's with all these guys being so flirty when they have girlfriends? I feel weird now, abashed, so I stand up.

"I'm gonna go find my friends now," I say. The warm, floaty feeling is disappearing fast, and I want the comfort of people I know.

A girl giggles behind me but I don't turn to look. I walk away, with my eyes on my toes again, and I'm grateful for my long hair, because it shields my face from passers-by. I feel stupid. He shined too bright for a girl like me. But I wanted him anyway.

Before I make it very far, a hand grips my wrist and pulls me back.

"Why are you leaving?"

I look up into the green eyes of the pretty man-boy – Edward – and shrug. "I don't want to intrude on your party. Your girlfriend looked…" I shrug again, not really sure what I'm trying to say.

He shakes his head. "I don't have a girlfriend. The blonde girl? Tanya? She's my cousin, and high on X. If you let her, she'll pet your hair for an hour before telling you she loves you."

"Oh," is all I say.

"Just…wait here, okay?"

I nod and he runs back to his campsite. I watch him talk to Jasper and take something from him, then Edward stuffs a blanket into a backpack and slings it over his shoulder.

"Come on," he says and takes my hand in his. We wander around the different vendors, until we find some guys selling falafel and pita. We take the food and the blanket over to a grassy area, away from the concert. There are people scattered around, but they're clearing out as the sun dips lower. Everyone wants to be inside, hearing the music.

We make sandwiches under a tree. Darkness is seeping in, turning the sky almost electric blue toward the horizon, but dark gray at the top.

"We'll be able to see a lot of stars tonight," he says, and I nod.

"How're you feeling?" he asks. I nod and smile, my shyness returning in small doses.

"You know, you're gonna have one hell of a headache when your high wears off."

No, I didn't know that. I don't even know how I got up the courage to get high in the first place. Then I remember the brownie and remember that my one brave act was totally unaware. It doesn't count, I decide. Not it, or anything else I've done today.

"I think I have aspirin," I say. I don't know why Edward is still with me. Maybe he feels responsible because his sister's boyfriend gave me the brownie. Whatever. I was too dumb to even know what it was.

"If you smoke a little more, you won't get the headache," he says.

I shrug again. I feel like the naive kid that I am, pretending to be a grown up when I'm still just a little girl.

I look up at Edward and he has a joint in his fingers.

"This okay?" He asks like he means it. Like my answer matters to him.

I nod and look down again. I slipped off my sandals and my legs are spread out in front of me, covered in the gauzy orange of my skirt. The evenings come on soft and balmy. It's not cold – it's perfect. In the distance, I can hear the crowd getting loud. I think one of the bands is either getting on or off the stage. I think about checking my phone to be sure, but I don't want to be rude.

"Will you have some?" he asks. I watch him as the fire from the match flares around his face, making him look sunburned for a moment. It lights up his eyes, those dark green eyes, and then he closes them as he inhales.

"I don't…I don't smoke." And now he knows I'm just a kid. He holds the smoke inside of him, only for a few seconds, and then he pushes it out, away from me. It makes a hazy cloud. It smells good. Kind of green and sweet, but earthy. I laugh at myself. Guess that's why they call it grass.

"Let me shotgun you?" he asks. He looks beautiful, there in the almost light from the moon. His face is half in shadow, but he looks…kind. "It won't hit you as hard as the brownie. It'll just make you feel mellow. And keep you from getting that headache."

I want to tell him I don't know how. Instead, I find myself nodding my head and saying okay. This will be my wild thing. Getting high with a total stranger. This is my moment.

He smiles, a really big, really nice smile. I watch the way his lips move, the way his chin juts out a little. "Alright," he says, and moves next to me.

He sucks in more of the smoke, and sets the joint down on top of the makeshift ashtray that he'd constructed from the foil our pita came in.

He leans over me, and puts his hand on my face. His fingers squeeze at my cheeks and I open my mouth. His mouth is an inch from mine, maybe less, and I'm going cross-eyed, trying to see everything. The smoke drifts from his mouth, and then he starts blowing it toward me. I let it fill my mouth, then try to breathe it in.

"Hold it, if you can," he says.

I try, but it burns – it burns going down and when I exhale in a cough, it burns more. I cough some more, and he rubs his hand in soothing circles across my back. I finally look up at him, and he's holding a bottle of water out to me. I take a few sips.

"Thanks." I give him a smile, but my eyes are still tearing.

He shakes his head. "Such a lightweight, Isabella. What are we going to do with you?"

I smile and shrug. I already feel lighter, warmer. I tip my head back and look up at the sky. It's layered blue and purple, and in a painting, you'd never believe it, but here, it's real. I feel Edward next to me, his shoulder against mine, and then he's leaning over me. I open my mouth because I think he's going to breathe hot smoke into it again, but he doesn't.

He kisses me.

His lips are warm and soft. He takes my bottom lip between his, and sort of tugsucks it for a second, maybe less. Then lets go and pulls back.

My heart is pounding so hard I think he must be able to see it – right there – above the neck of my tank top.

He stares at me, blinking, and I stare back.

"Do that again," I say. That other part of me is back, the one who can't believe I'm doing these things, but she's nodding her head, cheering me on.

He does. He leans back over me, and rubs his lips against mine. A second later, his tongue, hot and wet, pokes against my lower lip. I'm intrigued, so I open my mouth to touch his tongue with mine.

When I do – when they touch – he makes a kind of noise, and then his hand comes up against my shoulder and I feel him pushing me down, flat on the blanket.

Laying down with a boy. Kissing. In public. The real me is embarrassed and impressed, all at once. The other me, the girl who gets high and kisses boys, brings her hand up to the back of his neck, and holds him closer.

After what feels like an hour of his hands and mouth all over me, I notice him pushing his hips into my side. I feel the rough of his jeans through my skirt, and his zipper is digging into my hip. And when I realize it's not his zipper, I gasp and sit up.

"Sorry," he says, moving his hips away from me. "Sorry."

I shake my head. "Don't say sorry. That was…I've never done that before. Is it always like that?" My heart is beating so hard I can feel it in my throat.

Confusion laces his features. "The shotgun? The smoke? I mean, it's good weed, but yeah, you'll probably always cough some."

"Not that," I say, and look down. There's a foxtail caught in the hem of his jeans. I reach down and pluck it out, feeling the soft bristles against the grooves in my fingerprint.

"Jesus…Christ. Are you…was that your first kiss?"

Now I'm grateful for the almost moon and the twilight that we're swamped in, because I can feel my cheeks get so hot it's like a sunburn.

I nod into my lap and then I feel his fingers against my neck.

"How is that even possible?" he asks. He brushes the hair away from my neck, then trails a finger from just under my ear, down my neck, and onto my shoulder. My stomach flutters and I shiver.

"Let me…let me do it again?" he asks.

I nod, and sit up, crossing my legs underneath me. He leans in and cups my face in his hand. He kisses me again, under the pale shine of the moon. His mouth soft on mine, and I press my lips into his. I feel his thumb trace my cheek and I sigh.

When he pulls back, I sigh again. "I really like kissing you."

"You always say just what you think, don't you?"

I shrug. I don't talk a lot, but I pretty much always say what I mean. He smiles at me. He must think I'm some dorky high school girl. "So talk to me," he says. "Why Lords of Tomorrow?"

I squirm under his question. It feels really personal, like he's asking to see me naked. "I don't know. I mean, have you heard them? Their music's like…like how they're always talking about living in the now, and following your dreams. I like that."

"Yeah. So do you?"

"Do I what?"

"Live in the now? Follow your dreams?"

"I want to," I say. There's something about him, a sort of peace or ease, that makes me feel like I can tell him the truth about anything, and he'll be okay with it. Maybe it's the pot, I don't know, but I've never felt so comfortable with anyone before.

"Well, maybe that's the first step. Wanting to."

Part of me wants to crawl into his lap, and part of me wants to look away. Instead of doing either, I just look at him, and he looks at me. The crowd from the amphitheater roars, dim noise in the distance, and he grabs my hand.

"Come on. I think Lords of Tomorrow are taking the stage. You don't want to miss this."

"Okay." My response feels lame, but before I can dwell, he pulls me to my feet.

Edward throws out our falafel containers and then lights the joint one more time. He looks over at me, his eyebrows a question, and I nod in reply.

He blows the smoke into my mouth, his lips touching mine and his fingertips on my cheek. It feels so nice, I almost forget to breathe. This time, when the fire tears down my throat and back again, I'm ready. I cut off the choking cough after just a few hacks, and again, he's got a bottle of water for me.

I shake out the blanket and fold it, and he stuffs it back into his backpack. We head back to the arena, to our grassy slope.

When we get there, I look for my friends. Ang and Ben are on the blanket, but I don't know where anyone else is. As we near them, I feel Edward take my hand, lace my fingers through his. I like it.

Angela gives me a look – a single raised eyebrow. I grin at her, unable to control it. I feel amazing.

Before either of us can say anything, the music starts. I look toward the stage and yell and cheer, then get lost in the beat of the music. It's so loud that I feel like I can feel it in my blood.

I stand and then I'm dancing, and then just like before, he's behind me, dancing with me, his body pressed close to mine. I can't breathe, but it doesn't matter. My blood feels fizzy in my veins, like champagne, and all I want is for this moment to never end.

I lean my head back against his chest, reveling in the feel of him, boy and strong and tall and different from me. Hot skin and soft clothes and the fingers on his left hand are calloused. I wonder what from.

My high has worn off. I can tell by the way that I remember him kissing me, and how it's me – and not the other girl inside me – who's shocked by my behavior. It doesn't matter though. I resolve that I'm not going to chicken out of whatever comes next. I feel free – finally, free.

I'm not going back now.

Ang and Ben disappear at some point. I don't know where. Edward has his arms wrapped around my shoulders, still standing behind me. With him, I feel safe.

By the time the concert is over, people are passed out and puking, laughing and screaming, and just…being wild. I love it.

Edward and I lay on the blankets that me and my friends brought. I lay on my stomach, looking at him, and he lays on his side, looking at me. He talks to me, asks me questions about what I'm doing in Seattle, who my friends are. I start to feel embarrassed because I hate being the center of attention, but something about the way he asks, like he's really interested, makes me answer.

It's getting really late. Almost no one is left on the lawn, just a few drunks, passed out.

"Hey, where are your friends?" he asks. I look around, but I don't see anyone.

"I think they bailed." I feel…bad about that. Like someone should have looked out for me. Then I remember that I'm always the third wheel, and that I'm the one who looks out for everyone else.

"You think I can still get a taxi?" I ask.

Edward sits up and rubs the back of his neck. "Shit. No, I don't like that. I'm not just…putting you in a taxi."

I look at him, not sure what to do.

"It's okay," I say, because even though I'm a little intimidated by getting into a car with a total stranger, alone, I know that this is what grown-ups do, and I'm eighteen. It's time.

"Stay with me," he says. "Tonight. I'll get you to your hotel in the morning, but, don't go."

"No," I say. "You can't leave tomorrow. You'll miss the second half of the festival."

He smiles. "It's cool, Isabella. I come to this thing every year. It's no big deal."

We get up and he helps me shake out the blankets and fold them. We start walking back to where his friends are camped, and I can't help but worry about what's going to happen next. Is he going to want sex? Are there going to be more drugs? I don't know if I'm ready for all that. Right now I feel sleepy and good, and ready to lay down.

Edward can tell, I think, because when we hit the field where everyone's camped, he takes us over to the edge, to an empty spot, and lays out the blankets.

"Want to watch the sunrise?" he asks.

I shrug and shiver a little. The late night has turned to very early morning, and I'm a little cold. The silence settles around us, broken only by the occasional, distant laugh, or the sound of night birds singing. Without speaking, Edward hands me a sweatshirt from his backpack. I slide it on and breathe deep – fresh laundry and weed and him.

I lay back on the blankets and look up at the stars. This night has been perfect. From the moment he touched me, everything has been perfect. My nerves from earlier have abated, and I'm left feeling proud of myself, for doing what I said I'd do. For making my plan real.

Edward scoots closer to me on the blanket and laces his fingers with mine. We watch the stars for a few minutes, and then he pulls out the blanket in his backpack and covers us with it. He opens his arm and invites me to snuggle in at his side. I go, and when I lay my head down, I actually press my nose to his shirt, loving the smell of him.

He laughs. "Did you just sniff me?"

I giggle at my ridiculousness. "Yeah."

"Oh, Isabella."

"Just Bella," I say. I realize that I don't need a grown up name anymore. I am who I am, and who I am goes by Bella.

He turns so that I'm on my back, and he's laying at my side. "Bella," he says, like he's tasting the word. "That's more you."

Then he lowers his head and kisses me again. My insides light up like a pinball machine, bells ringing and making noises. He's the cutest boy I've ever seen, and he's kissing me, here under the stars, like some kind of teenage dream.

The kiss grows longer, more heated, and then his hands are under my tank top, on my stomach. I love it, his warm hands on me, and I arch into them. I forget everything I ever knew about hormones and teen pregnancy and safe sex. I only want more.

I sigh and gasp into his mouth as his hand ventures further up.

"Is this okay?" he asks into my neck. I nod and hope that's enough. It must be, because then his hand is on my breast, over my bra, and again, I arch into his touch.

I want something, I want more. I feel heavy-lidded and hot-limbed, dipped in honey and I can hardly move.

Edward moves his hands over my skin. He reaches down and I feel his fingers against my knee. It tickles, and I squirm. His mouth stops doing nice things to my neck and ear, and he looks down at me.

"Let me touch you, Bella?" The sincerity in his voice, in his eyes, it melts me. I'd do anything he asks in this moment. Anything.

I swallow and nod. I don't know what touching means to him, but I want it.

His hand starts travelling up my leg, under my skirt. I'm tense and squirmy. It tickles, but I know right where I hope his hands go.

I reach out and touch him, his chest. My fingers follow the contour of his back (he's so muscled) and then they find the end of his shirt. With more nervousness than I've ever felt, I slide my fingers under his shirt, and touch his skin.

He sucks a breath against my collarbone, but doesn't stop me.

My fingers slide against his warm skin, and I think I could touch him maybe forever. They come around, under his shirt, and I'm touching his chest. There's a little bit of hair, right at the center, course and silky under my fingertips. I wonder if touching him will feel to him like it does when he touches me, so I cup my hand over the hard little pebble on his chest and press. I rub then, feeling it under my palm, and he thrusts his hip into mine.

"That feels good," he says, so I do it some more before switching to the other side. He keeps pushing himself into me, my hips, and his hands are squeezing my ass, pulling me closer to him. It's heady, how he grabs handfuls of my skin. I feel wanton. I feel wanted.

But the way he's touching me, it just makes me want more. His hands aren't hitting the mark, not even close, so I tug at him until his hips are settled between my legs. This is so close to sex it's dangerous, but I can't quite care right now. Instead, I tilt my hips up, needing pressure where I itch. My hips start to move back and forth, rubbing, and his do too. Then he holds himself still and then moves off of me. His fingers go under my skirt, and then he's rubbing me through my panties and it feels so good.

"Does that feel good?" he asks. I nod yes, and then I moan. I try to stop it, try to keep my mouth busy with tasting his skin, but I can't. I'm making all kinds of noises and then his fingers are on my bare flesh and it's like a lightning bolt. I squirm against him, his fingers, and even though he has his tongue in my mouth, I can't pay attention to that. I can't pay attention to anything other than him, this feeling, and the feeling, low in my belly, that something amazing is going to happen.

I've had an orgasm before. I have the internet – I'm not a prude. But getting yourself off and having someone else do it? Totally different things.

When Edward's fingers set me off, I'm not aware of anything other than sensation, a desperate need fulfilled, and on the backs of my eyelids, I see stars. I feel dizzy and crashing, and that's when I notice that Edward's got his other hand over my mouth, keeping my noise quiet.

I kiss the open palm of his hand and he leans down and kisses my mouth. Then my cheeks and shoulders. He places soft kisses all over me, and by the time I'm breathing right again, I think I'm probably kind of in love with him.

He shifts to the side and I feel him, still hard, and pressed against me.

I push up and turn over, so that he's on his back. My fingers dance under his shirt again, and there's more hair, coarse and silky, just above the waistband of his jeans.

"Can I touch you?"

Edward nods at me, and I lower my face to his, plying his mouth with my kisses.

I run my hand over his hardness once, twice, until he's thrusting up at me. I loosen his belt buckle and then pop the button on his jeans. He stops breathing as I lower his zipper.

My fingers reach out, tentative, and land on something so soft and warm, I don't know what to think. It's so soft. But…hard. I touch him, feeling it jerk up toward me, and then I lay my head on his chest, pushing the blanket down, so that I can see.

The thin moonlight shines off of his skin. My fingers are drawn to the drop of moisture at his tip, I'm amazed at how it feels, silky and sliding gliding when my fingers spread it around the head.

"Don't tease," he says. He puts his hand over mine, and closes our fingers around him. He shows me how to stroke him, and after a few strokes, he takes his hand away. He pants out a breath and his fingers fist the blanket.

"Am I doing it right?"

"God, yes. Yes, Bella, yes." His voice is a harsh, low whisper in the dark. I stroke him faster, and he breathes harder. The rise and fall of his chest under my head helps me keep rhythm, and the pounding of his heart fills my ears.

Just when I think I should stop, that his heart will explode, he puts his hand over mine and grips my hip hard with his other.

"Move," he groans. "Gonna…." And then he does, all over his stomach. It's shiny and pale and I dip my finger in it, to taste. It's not bad. Salty, a little bitter, and a little sweet.

I look at him, and he's looking at me, his mouth open, still breathing hard.

"Did you just…?"

I nod.

He runs his hand through his hair, then rests his arm over his eyes. "Jesus Christ, you're killing me."

I'm not sure what he means, but I think it's good.

I smile at him and he smiles at me, then cleans himself off with the edge of one of the blankets. He arranges us so that we're as far away from that part of the blanket as possible, and then he holds me close to him. At some point, we sleep.

When I wake up, I'm stiff and sore and warm and cold.

My nose is freezing, but the rest of me is wrapped up in something so warm and heavy and good that I never want to move.

Dawn is creeping over the sky, painting it pinks and purples. In the distance, a mockingbird sings.

I lean up on one elbow and stare at the pretty man-boy from yesterday. Here, in the thin light of dawn, without the weed and night and the freedom singing in my blood, I can see him clearly. He has beautiful skin, marred only by a scruff of beard that's grown in since yesterday morning. He is not pretty and not a boy. He is a man, and he is beautiful.

I bend to kiss his Adam's apple, and his hand comes to the back of my head, petting my hair.

"If you close your eyes and fall back asleep, we can pretend it isn't morning."

His voice is thick and rough, not the honey-velvet smooth that I remember.

Now that yesterday is over, today catches up to me fast. I kiss his cheek.

"Stay," I say, pulling myself from his grip. "I have to get back to my friends, but you should stay. Sleep."

He props himself up on his elbows, then presses his palms to his eyes.

"Not alone," he says, and stands up.

We're silent as we walk past the campers and down toward the venue's parking lot. There's a taxi there, the driver sleeping, and Edward knocks on the window to wake him up. We take a silent ride back to the motel, and I fumble at the bottom of my bag for the room key. Every inch of me feels illicit.

"You want to come in? Wash up?"

He nods and goes into the bathroom. I sit down on the bed, not really sure what's supposed to happen next.

Edward comes back out of the bathroom and sits down next to me.

"I hope you don't…regret anything," he says. His cautious manner is unnerving. Does he regret anything?

"Nothing," I say. I'm pretty sure I mean it.

"I'd really like to see you again." I nod and say okay, and he writes his name and number down on the notepad from the nightstand drawer.

We stand at the door, me inside, and him outside. He leans in and hugs me, then kisses my forehead.

"Goodbye, pretty Bella."

I close the door when he turns to leave. I don't want to watch him walk away.

.

The drive home is somber. Everyone is tired and I think most of them are hung over. They drop me at my house and I say thanks, then go in to see Charlie.

As soon as I walk in, I'm glad I showered at the motel. Charlie gives me a big hug and I notice him smelling my hair.

"Have a good time?" he asks.

I smile and say yeah, but I'm really tired.

He nods, like it's what he was expecting, and I go upstairs to go back to bed.

.

Angela comes by the next day. Charlie's at work, and we go upstairs to my room.

"So?" she asks, smiling.

"It was so awesome."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. I…" I look around me and then whisper. "I got high."

"I slept with Ben."

We both squeal and laugh like the little girls we almost aren't anymore.

I tell her almost everything. I hold back parts about Edward, everything other than kissing. It feels wrong to talk about that. I'm keeping him my secret.

Angela gives me the gory details about having sex with Ben though. It hurt, but she was glad she did it. She says she's looking forward to doing it again.

"What about you?" she asks. "You going to become a loadie?"

I laugh at her. "I really doubt that. But it was fun." We spend the rest of the afternoon watching teen movies on TV and snacking on everything. At one point, Ben calls Angela, and she goes downstairs and outside to talk to him. When she comes back, she might as well have hearts for eyes. Whatever happens next, I think the two of them will stick.

That night, as I do my laundry and finish unpacking from the trip, I smile at my keepsakes. A beaded bracelet that I bought from a pretty blond girl. My UW sweatshirt. The ticket stub from the concert. I find the small, folded white paper with Edward's number on it.

What would I say if I called him? Thanks for getting me high and giving me my first kiss? Let's do it again in six weeks when I move to Seattle. Hey, maybe you can have my virginity, too.

Embarrassment floods my face, and I blush in my room, alone.

When I was with him, I felt everything I'd ever wanted. I felt pretty and I felt wanted. But now, in the sober light of a new day, I feel a little ashamed and uncertain. Did he want me? Was I just a convenient pick up? I try to understand why he gave me his number. I'm nothing – some kid barely out of high-school who'd never even kissed a boy before him.

I remember how he looked, how gorgeous he was, and I know that while he might have wanted me for the moment, I could never be his real life.

Studying the paper before me, I'm surprised to find his writing is neat, for a boy. I know it's a dead end though, so I crumple it in my palm and toss it in the trash. But then two minutes later, I pull it out. I flatten the creases and run my fingers along the script. I slide the slip of paper between the pages of my favorite book. I think if I can forget about it, about him, that one day it will be a surprise. I'll be sitting down reading, and all of a sudden – oh, Edward. I hope I remember all of it – the way he smelled and the feel of the grass, and the way the music pulsed in my veins. I hope I remember the way he made me feel – like nothing I could say was stupid. Like he wanted to hear every word.

I hope I remember.

.

Fall at UW is beautiful. The leaves all turn colors and they blend with the brick buildings to make me feel like I'm going someplace big, like Harvard. Now it's mid-October, and the leaves are falling from all the trees. I'm bracing for winter, not sure if the walk will be manageable in the rain. I have my truck here, but I don't want to pay for a parking pass if I can help it.

I'm not sure what I expected this year to be like, but so far…it's not. Even though Angela and I share an apartment, in reality, she's almost never there. She stays at Ben's house a lot, and when she doesn't, he stays with us. I'd hoped that maybe Angela and I would become better friends this year, but I don't think that's going to happen.

I don't want to admit it, but I'm lonely. Charlie wasn't great company, but he was always home for dinner, and he always said thank you. He would have noticed if I'd stayed out all night, and now no one does. I feel…precarious. Like one gust of wind could blow my house down.

It's my own fault – I know that. I think about the Lakeshore Luau, and how different I was that day. At first, yeah, it was the pot. But after? That was me. It was me kissing Edward, me touching his skin and making him laugh and making him come. I want that again, but I don't know how to have it.

When Riley, a cute boy in my Poli Sci class, asks if we can study one night, I say yes. I'm trying.

We meet at the library and we study in a carrel and he makes a few jokes and we laugh. He tells me about growing up in Wyoming, and I tell him about Arizona, and Forks. We both laugh over the name – Forks. He calls me 'Spoons' after that. Two study dates later, he asks me to the movies. I should have seen it coming, but I didn't.

Thinking it over, I tell him no. Riley's handsome and funny and sweet, but, he doesn't look at me like he can't stop, and that's what I want. When you've had someone look at you like that once, you realize you can't settle.

Angela thinks it was a mistake, and so does Ben. They say I don't have to get married to the guy, just date him. But…it sort of feels like wasting his time, and mine. I guess I'd rather be alone – and lonely – than be with someone who's just okay. Or someone who's even pretty good, but not….

Not Edward.

In my heart of hearts, I know that no one holds a candle to him. Once in a while, at night, I pull his number out of the book. I even dialed it once, but then didn't press send. He probably wouldn't even remember me. It's been too long.

.

Spring hits the campus and cherry blossoms rain like pink snow. I'm sitting under a tree, killing time between classes. It's too cold for my orange skirt and leather sandals, but I don't care. With the winter thaw, something has changed in me. Maybe I'm finally coming into my own – I'm not sure. I know that I feel alive, I feel…like I'm really inside my own skin, and not just living inside my head anymore.

I've been making an effort. I joined Ang and Ben and his brothers when they watched Seahawks games at the pizza place. Sometimes I'd even have a glass of beer. I've started taking yoga with Jess, and I've even gone to a couple of basketball games this year. It's not very interesting, but at least I get out of the house.

I look around the campus, and I feel happy, feel good. There's a warm undercurrent on the breeze, and that alone is enough to make me smile. I pull out my phone to check the time, and a voice behind me startles me.

"That's funny, I thought you must have lost that."

I turn and look and it's Edward. In an instant, my mind recalls everything about him. How he looks kissing me, how he breathes when he comes and what his laugh sounds like. How he smells.

He plucks my phone from my hands and looks through it.

"Huh. No wonder you never called. You don't have my number. You must have lost it, am I right?"

I blush so hard I can feel my pulse in my cheeks. "I'm sorry."

He grins at me - a half-grin that makes my heart pound. "I don't know if I forgive you," he says. "Maybe you should have dinner with me tonight, and we can talk about it."

I'm quiet for a moment as I absorb his words. He's asking me on a date. For the last six months, I have fantasized about him. I have replayed every moment that occurred between us, every breath and sigh and word. And now he's here, in front of me.

The girl that I am, and the woman I'm becoming join forces at that moment, and are one.

"I'd love that," I say, and feel my cheeks turn pink again.

He picks up my hand and plays with it, his long fingers tracing mine, before he finally holds it in his two big, warm hands. "Yeah? Me, too."

The smile on his face is genuine, and I'm through questioning this.

"I thought I'd never see you again," he says. His voice is soft and he's close to me. His eyes look…hurt? Something.

Pulling my hand from between his, I turn the left one over. "What's this from?" I ask, running my short nails over the calluses.

He grins at me again. "Guitar."

My heart trips a beat so fast I think he must be able to see it. Of course he can play music. He can do anything.

"Why didn't you call?" he asks. He doesn't look me in the eye, but I feel myself squirm a little anyway.

"I just…had some things to do."

"Are you ready now?"

I nod and smile at him. "Yeah, I think I finally am."