EPOV 1995 – That was the year the Rockets swept the Magic in the Finals. Suck my Olajawon, Shaq!

...

"What the hell?" Alice squints and rolls down her window.

You can see her house from a mile away. It looks like a Hallmark card exploded. Red and pink paper hearts are everywhere. Taped to the windows and door. Tied to the bushes and trees. Staked in the grass along the concrete path. And there's Jasper, camped out on the porch.

We got home from Arizona late and crashed at Dad's. Alice called Jasper as soon as she woke up this morning. No one answered. Obviously, he had shit to do.

"What the hell is he doing?" Alice screeches and I pull into her driveway.

She's beaming, her blue eyes glitter and gloss. Jasper stands as she bolts from my car. I turn off the engine and stay where I am because I really have no place in the love story.

Alice jumps into his arms and he's whispering in her ear and then she's kissing him.

I'm so fucking jealous.

"We're getting married!" she shouts at me.

I guess I should go congratulate them. That'd be the polite thing to do, right? I step out of the car, push my sunglasses up and put on my sincere face.

"Jesus Jasper. Did you cut all these out by hand?" I pull a staked heart from the grass.

"Naw, man, I used the die cut at Esme's school. Told them I was planning a heart attack for my girl. Man, those chicks ate that up. You should jump on that train, brother."

"He's back with Bella," Alice says. I start to refute but I don't want to. It's not a lie. We're not not back together.

"Happy endings all around then, huh?" Jasper says. I breathe a thousand daggers in my side. Fucking Shakespearean kind of shit.

"Yeah, well, congratulations." I stake the heart back into the ground and turn to leave. Alice runs inside to call her mom, but Jasper isn't going to let me get away that easy.

"She forgave you. Just like that," he says.

"Like there was any doubt," I smirk because it's easier to be a cocky asshole.

"Sometimes you need doubt. To find out what you're really made of." God dammit, I hate it when he goes all Obi Wan on me.

"Yeah, okay. We'll see what you're made of when Bridezilla makes her appearance." I can hear Alice screaming. She must be on the phone with Rose now.

"I'm glad things worked out with Bella," he says and it's genuine. I'm hollow hearing the half-truth.

But things will work out. They have to.

I retake the MCAT in September and I tear that test up. My grades have been kick ass . I might actually be able to pull this off.

Don't call it a comeback, though. I'm not delusional. I know he's the only reason I have an interview.

Yeah, my dad pulled some strings. He is the puppet master.

A brand.

An expectation.

A bias.

Actually, I don't know what these people really think of my father. I mean, I'm pretty sure he's the biggest douche on the planet. It's highly probable one of these dicks does too.

I'm at my interview and they're all staring at me. They don't give a shit about me. They don't think I deserve to be here.

I don't deserve to be here.

I look like I do. I'm wearing my suit. My shoes are shiny. The triangle at my throat is perfection, fucking symmetry.

They heehaw a for a few minutes. Same old shit. Wide grins. Carefree chuckles. Fake as their fucking bleached teeth.

They want to ask me some questions and this is the part I'm ready for. What do you like to do in your free time? Pump up my athletic skills. If you could invite one person to dinner, dead or alive, who would it be? Easy. Michael Jordan. Perseverance, endurance and a badass jumper. He's in it to win it. Just like I am. Bam, I got this shit.

And then "What would you do if you couldn't be a doctor?"

I know the answer right away.

"The marina," I blurt out.

"Pardon?"

I look up and notice the lady in front of me for the first time. Her hair's short, a white blond bob, sprayed perfectly into place. Just like Bella's mom.

"I said, I'd run a marina." I clear my throat as they absorb.

The lady's penciled eyebrows arch high.

"A marina? Do you sail?" She asks.

"Something like that," I mutter. No use in explaining. They won't get it.

She doesn't look impressed.

"Huh," she clears her throat and eyes the team of inquisitors. One of them, a guy this time, scribbles a few notes on his paper. Possible seaman, it probably says. This makes me want to laugh, but I kill the urge.

"What area do you see yourself focusing on?" His hair and beard are exactly the same color. I bet he dyes them, one of those box kits I always see infomercials for. Gray Be Gone, or some shit.

"Genetic disease." I want to rip my tie off. They're waiting for more. I don't have anything else to give.

"Okay, one final question. In your own words, why should you be admitted to our program?"

"I shouldn't," I say in an instant.

"I'm sorry?"

"I said, I shouldn't. My GPA is average, I failed Biology, and my test scores are a take two. That paper says I'm a terrible candidate. But it also says that I'm dedicated. I've sacrificed everything to make this my top priority. I won't let you down, sir."

Cue Oscar music. I'd like to thank the academy.

"Well, it was very nice to meet you, Mr. Cullen. Thank you for your interest in our program." The dude shakes my hand and I'm ushered out of the room and it's done.

The next month seems like the longest month in history. I call Bella a couple times and she seems genuinely happy to hear from me. Everything seems to be falling into place. Like when you flip a rogue puzzle piece over and over and suddenly, it fits.

So when I get that letter it's like the class bully just pushed my puzzle off the desk. I watch my future fall to the floor in connected clumps.

Thank you for your interest. We regret to inform you. We are unable to offer. Classy clichéd alternatives for what they really want to say.

We don't want you.

I have to start all over.

The thought of it literally makes me want to throw up. In fact, I puke. Sure, it's after a pint of vodka and three or seven beers. But I can't live this year again.

I don't want to hear from my dad. I know what he's going to say. I told you so. You should have listened to me. Now what are you going to do?

Fuck, what am I going to do?

I spend a couple of days in an intoxicated stupor before I feel like talking to anyone. Alice is the first to call. Of course, it's to tell me that Rose is pregnant and moving back home and oh my God, isn't life grand? Everything is so fucking perfect and I want to put my head through a wall.

"Are you okay?" she asks when enthusiasm eludes me. There's no use in lying to her, she'll see right through it.

"I've been better."

"What happened? Did you fight with Bella?" she asks. I sigh.

"No, Bella's fine."

"Are you going to break up with her? Because if you break up with her after all the shit you put her through, I'm going to kick your ass."

"Alice, stop. It's school stuff, okay? Besides, I can't really break up with someone I'm not technically dating."

"You know what I mean," she says.

I let it drop. I don't tell her. Because then my dad will find out. I can't handle that confrontation yet. The wound is too fresh, still gaping. He'd have me bleeding out in seconds.

It doesn't take him long to find me, though. A week at the most. He stops by my apartment on his way home from the school. I despise the fact that because he pays the rent, he thinks he's allowed to just barge in.

He doesn't say a word. I think he's waiting for me to say something, confide in him, like we're friends.

"Well," he says and I shrug.

"Well what?" I mutter and he shakes his head.

"How did it go?" He asks and I'm pretty sure he knows.

"I don't know, Dad. You probably know more than I do."

He sighs and his face tells me I'm right.

"Your official review indicated that your interview seemed distant, unsociable. Dr. Peters asked about your interests and you skirted the question." He's calm. Matter-of-fact.

"What? That was a misunderstanding." I push my hair out of my face and scratch my chin. I haven't shaved in a week.

"Well, what are you going to do?"

"Fuck, dad. I don't know, I was thinking about the NBA. You know, going pro." I'm being a sarcastic asshole, but I don't give a shit. How can he expect me to plan the rest of my life in a couple days? It's not that easy.

Especially when what I really want, I can't have.

"You should have had a back-up plan. You should have prepared for this. I mean, we all saw it coming." Boom. There it is. He knew I'd fail.

"You're right. Now I've wasted years. Years of my life gone, sucked up by the great black hole of expectation and it's all your fault. Why didn't you tell her no? When she wrote the trust? Why did you go along with this? Did she have you by the balls, or what? Or maybe she was the one with the balls."

Silence. He watches me, and I notice how old he looks. His eyes are wrinkled and creased. His hair sandy gray now. He just looks so worn. Used up. He's given the university the best of what he is. And what's in front of me is what's left over for his family.

"Your mother could have talked me into anything. I could never say no to her. Not because I'm a coward. Not because I'm weak. But because it would please her. Don't you forget that, son. When you're off in your dream world, with your river girl and your delusions of resentment and bitterness. Don't forget that love includes sacrifice. It's not always about getting what you want. Sometimes it's about providing what they need."

Without another word, he storms out of my apartment. The door swings shut behind him and I'm pissed. I wasn't done fighting with him. I want to say more, blame him, blame her. Curse them both for fucking me up royally. But I won't call him. I'd rather tattoo an asshole on my forehead.

So I call Bella instead.

Her voice hits me like a mallet. I taste sherbet, the mixture of sour and sweet flooding my mouth and I almost choke on my saliva. That's when I realize I'm crying.

I've failed her again. Again! Why would she even want me? I'm a complete fuck up. A reject. I should leave her alone, let her move on with her life.

But I don't. Instead, I cling to her, a parachute softening my fall. I call her every day. Sometimes late at night, when I can't sleep, when anxiety swells in my chest.

She always answers. No matter what time it is, she's always there. She babbles about the new Radiohead album or the launch ramp. She's trying to distract me. It's making me crave her more. It's not enough, these generic conversations or my depressed as shit ranting. I need to see her. I need to touch her. I just need to be where she is.

Rose and Emmett move in with my dad and I'm not speaking to him. I'm sure it's no skin off his back. Probably even expected.

Emmett and Jasper come over to make sure I'm still alive and I treat them like shit. They don't complain, though. The soon to be dad and the soon to be groom. They just leave to go plan their perfect lives.

Finally, finally, my birthday passes and we head to the river. Alice is on her mobile phone most of the drive, fighting with her wedding coordinator about tulle and place settings or some shit. I feel like my head's going to cave in.

I count the miles until I get to her. I know I'll feel better as soon as I stand beside her heated skin.

"Oh my God, Rose has to pee again. Can you pull off at the next rest stop?" Alice says from the back seat. Jasper's snoring in the seat beside me.

I look in my rearview mirror. Sure enough, my dad's signal's on and he's waving out the window.

"Sure," I mutter and scratch my beard. We get out of the car, and stretch our legs. Throw away trash. There's like a hundred Laffy Taffy wrappers littering the back seat.

"Goddamn stupid phone!" Alice shouts. She's looking for a signal. I don't bother telling her she won't find one out here.

"I hate weddings," she says as she plops down in the grass. Jasper moseys from the car, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes and buttoning his pants. He has to sleep with his pants unbuttoned. Says he can't properly relax with his gut all constricted.

"I don't know what to do about a pastor. Or priest. Or an officiant. Whatever they're called. Five hundred dollars for this dude to come give a little speech and hand out some rings. We're not even religious!"

"Get married in Vegas. I can drive through," I joke.

"Oh my God, we should," she says and her face is dead serious. She turns to Jasper. "We should do it. Just like Emmett and Rose. No hassles, no guest lists or squabbling over flowers. Let's just do it!"

Jasper's calm as he considers.

"Can we call my parents first?" he asks and Alice throws her arms around his legs, bringing him to the ground.

"Of course! Oh my God, we're getting married!" Suddenly, Alice gasps and stops her celebrating.

"We should do it at the marina."

"Or on the river."

"On the cliffs. In Australia."

It's been decided. Alice runs off to tell her mom and sister. Jasper scratches his head and exhales.

"Wow. That's a special lady you got there," I joke and he watches her jumping up and down at my dad's Mercedes.

"I know," he says fondly and my chest, it hurts. Four hundred more miles. We'll be at the marina by dusk.

Alice is in planning mode after that. She calls a few friends, Mike, and Jasper's parents, and they're all going to fly in on the third. She decides on the Fourth of July and I'm bitter. That's our date, mine and Bella's.

I start ignoring my dad's blinker and I'm a good hour ahead of them when we pull into the marina. Bella's already at my dad's unit.

I always forget how beautiful she is. I know she's pretty but when I'm away from her for so long, her image really just becomes a feeling.

Then, when I see her again for the first time, it's always the same. Bees in my stomach, like fucking Winnie the Pooh. Remind me never, ever to say that out loud.

"There she is." Alice is practically squealing in the back seat and she's out of the car as soon as I park.

"We're getting married!" Alice yells and throws her arms around Bella. Bella looks surprised but concern quickly clouds her features when her eyes meet mine.

I wait while Alice fills Bella in on Operation Elvis Wedding and then it's my turn to say hello. She smells like sunblock. Just like always. Her arms are tight around me and I can feel her clutching my t-shirt.

"Come on," she says, she pulls my wrist. "You need sugar."

She drops my hand and we walk to the store.

Bella stumbles and I reach out to catch her. She's laughing at herself and it makes me want to hold her. Forever. Her skin is hot, burns into mine but I can't let her go.

By the look on her face, she knows it.

I slide my hand up her arm and across her back. My fingers press into the back of her neck and then she's drooling and I can't help but laugh. Her big brown doe eyes are crossed and I want to kiss her.

Instead, I tug on her ponytail and this time she seeks the connection. Her fingers wind around mine and there it is, a tingle of electricity prickling over my skin.

Leah's in the store and she stares me down while Bella grabs our ice cream. We sit on the swings and it's hot and I'm sweating but my push-up is cold and sweet and tastes like 1983.

"Ice cream really does make everything seem better. For like two whole minutes, things are perfect," I say and Bella grins, a little smudge of chocolate in the corner of her mouth.

Then those words float into my brain. Upon completion of doctorate degree. Here I am, next to my touchstone and yet, all I can think about is that damn trust. What nerve. What kind of people would dangle a huge expensive carrot like that? And what kind of dumbass would fall for it?

"Alright, why the sighs?" she says. I didn't even know that was out loud.

"You know why," I snap.

"Well, do you want to talk about it?"

"Not really." And I don't. I really don't. But I just can't keep my mouth shut. "I've completely fucked myself over. You realize this, don't you? I can't apply again, I'm too humiliated. What if I get rejected again? I mean, if I wasn't good enough for them now, why would I be good enough next year?"

I know it's not her fault, but the release is cathartic. Like when the earth shifts and relieves pressure. Once the tremor starts, it's damn near impossible to stop.

"There's nothing you can do? You can't like, go down there and plead your case?" Shit, that's laughable.

"What should I say? I'm an idiot and got shit scores on the MCAT? My GPA is crap and I failed a class that my dad wrote the textbook for? Please, put your patient's lives in my very incapable hands," I spit.

"Can you retake the test? Maybe if you get a better score, you'll have a better chance at getting in next year? Or you can try to get in somewhere else, somewhere not so competitive?" She says and it's like a slap in the face. What does she mean by that?

"I already took the test twice. I took extra classes last year to try to boost my GPA but it didn't help. I sucked at my interview too. They said I lack communication skills. I mean, I am great at communicating. God, Bella, you just don't get it!" That's it. I've gone too far. I can hear her rebuttal before the words pass her lips.

"I know, why don't you just go throw yourself in front of a train then you big fucking baby? Shit, Edward, if I didn't know any better, I might think you didn't really want to get into medical school with the way you're making excuses. And I'm not the one who rejected you, okay? So stop insulting me!" Her eyes scorch and her mouth is tight.

"I know," I say immediately. "I'm sorry. I'm just a complete fuck up. I can't do anything right."

"Look, maybe this happened for a reason. Maybe you needed this to happen so you can go on to do something that you really love."

"There is no other option, Bella. I have to become a doctor. You don't know what I'd be walking away from if I fail at this," I say quietly and her eyes narrow. Shit, she's onto me.

"Tell me. What would you be giving up? Money? Social status? A perfect little spot on your daddy's pedestal? I don't understand, Edward."

"I don't expect you too." I'm being evasive and she's pissed.

"Why? Am I too stupid to understand, or something?" I just want to tell her about the trust, but that would lead to a far heavier conversation. I don't know if I could take another rejection right now.

"That's not what I meant," I groan.

"Look, if I let you touch my boob, will it make you feel better?"

My head snaps up. Did that really just come out of her mouth?

"It depends. Over or under your bra?" Color floods her cheeks. And her neck. And her chest. And now I'm staring at her tits.

"Silly boy, you know I'm not wearing a bra," she says and I slide my knee between her tan thighs. Damn, she smells good.

"Yep, I can see that," I whisper and I'm anticipating the taste of her.

"I'd kiss you right now, but you have a woodland creature stuck to your face."

Oh fuck, I should have seen that coming. She's cracking up, cackling at her own joke, and she can hardly breathe.

And seeing her so pleased just makes me soar.

"Jesus, you're like a wooly mammoth," Bella mutters as a comb slides against my scalp. She snips, scraps of hair sticking to my shoulders, my swim trunks, my mouth.

"Could you try not to drop that shit in my face? It's in my mouth," I say and she yanks, pain jolting through my scalp. "Ow!"

"Could you try to hold still?" she asks sweetly and now her boobs are in my face. Shit, she's really close too, practically straddling my lap. A bead of sweat slides down between her tits and I want to lick it. I want to lick her sweat.

"You sure you know what you're doing?" I ask warily.

"I've been cutting Dad and Emmett's hair since I was twelve," she says.

"Are you cutting my hair like your dad's?" I ask frantically and she rolls her eyes.

"Just relax. Stop being a baby."

I fiddle with the ties of her shorts, my fingers grazing the skin right above her waistband. Damn, these shorts are short. I could probably stick my fingers right up them.

"Look up," she says. She's concentrating, her eyebrows pinched together, unfazed by my attempts to distract her. Like she doesn't feel my hands on her. Like she doesn't feel anything. I don't like it.

My hands slide to grip her hips, and she's stone-faced. I wonder how much she's going to let me get away with.

I keep moving my hands up her sides and still, she doesn't crack. I'm slowly creeping up her shirt. She's going to let me feel her up.

"I'm going to cut your ear off if you don't stop touching me like that," she says and I grin.

"Well, stop shoving your boobs in my face," I say and she's exasperated. Speechless and beet red.

"You're such an ass," she finally says. "You know, it's not wise to trouble the one holding scissors to your neck."

"Touché, Miss Swan, touché." I spit a scrap of hair from my mouth, and rub my nose but it just makes it worse. "Dammit!"

"Stop touching your face." She combs through my hair now and I close my eyes. She keeps messing with it, pulling and twisting, and then she sighs. "I guess it's done."

"Don't sound so sure of yourself or anything," I say sarcastically. I stand up and brush the hair from my chest and shoulders and she's staring at me.

"What?" I ask and then tentatively touch my hair. It feels okay, still a little long but not so shabby.

She moves close. Her hand touches my face, her thumb smoothing across my bare cheek and then across my lip and my heart feels like it's going to burst out of my chest.

"There you are," she says. Her eyes are confident and calm and for the first time all year, there's sincerity in my smile.

The night before the wedding, Alice, Rose and Bella stay out on the cove in the houseboat. We take Jasper into town to have a beer at this crappy bar. The place is a shithole, but they have pool and darts so we keep ourselves occupied.

Jasper's shitfaced and Emmett's hustling at the pool table. He's picking them off, one by one. He's already won two hundred, at least.

"You guys need anything from the bar?" This dude asks us and Emmett throws an arm over his shoulder.

"You good?" Emmett asks and Jasper's signaling for another but I'm motioning to cut him off. Alice specifically ordered me not to let Jasper get too drunk. On a scale of one to puking in the bushes, Jasper's one drink away from singing "Stand by Your Man" on karaoke. He's starting to get handsy.

"How's your sis, man?" the dude asks and now I'm interested. "I haven't seen her in here in a while."

The fact that Bella would be in here at all has got my fingers twitching. Why the hell would Bella be in a place like this? Unless she was with someone. A guy?

As I'm trying to sort this shit out, that motherfucker Jacob and his crew of grease monkey miscreants saunter in. He sees us and smirks, like a fucking smart ass and it hits me. Not just a guy. This fucking guy.

This is the bar. Where he picked her off her barstool, drunk and dejected. This is where I led her. This fucking guy.

My head starts to spin and I know I'm not drunk but I've got tunnel vision. I need some air.

Jasper sways and he's taken a turn towards declarations of man love, so I grab his arm and pull him outside. Emmett's still shooting the shit with bartender guy, but he sees us leaving and cuts the conversation short.

The outside air isn't helping much. I try to inhale but it sticks to my lungs, and I rush to my car. I blast the A.C. and Jasper's laughing in the backseat.

"Dude, your car smells like cheese whiz," he laughs like it's the most hilarious thing on the planet.

"It's traveling stench, probably from you," I mutter. Fuck, I'm sweating. I wipe my nose, my forehead, my lip. Emmett opens the front door and slides into the seat.

"He okay?" he says and motions to the back and I nod. "You okay?"

I look over at him and shrug. It should have been me. At this bar. With Bella. It should have been me, the first to love her. The first to show her.

It might never be me.

The thought is consuming as I drive back to the marina, as I help Jasper into his bed, as I try to fall asleep. The mulligan. I promised her a redo. I'm anxious to make good on my promise.

The next day I'm just following orders, dropping shit off at the cove, setting up chairs and tables. I'm trying to find Bella in all the bustle, but she's helping Alice get ready. And she's got a job to do. She's photographing this thing.

When I finally do get to see her, she's radiant. She glows, her skin warm against her purple dress.

She gives me a kiss on the cheek before heading up to the cliff. Our cliff.

I'm left with my family. Esme's already crying, and my dad keeps pinching his nose, like he's got allergies or something. He clears his throat. I'm sure he expected Alice to ask him to walk her down the "aisle." I'm sure he thought he deserved the honor, seeing as how he's supported her financially all these years.

But Alice wouldn't be so trite. "Jasper's my choice," she had said. "No one's giving me away. I want to walk freely into my future.

She's so fucking whimsical.

He acted like it was no big deal, like this decision was of the utmost ideal. But I'm well acquainted with that look on his face. Disappointment.

Alice hugs her mother and sister and they're all crying. She kisses my dad on the cheek and then her crystal blue eyes are glimmering before me. Shiny, tearful eyes.

"Thank you," she whispers and hugs me tight. There's a golf ball in my throat. I'm a sap, just like the rest of them.

The ceremony only takes minutes and then we're sitting around folding tables, drinking beer and eating hot dogs. Bella's hand's on my leg, and she keeps playfully pulling the hair on my leg with her toes. I draw patterns onto her bare shoulder, occasionally squeezing the back of her neck or digging my fingers into the side of her waist. I can't seem to keep my hands to myself. She doesn't seem to mind.

It's fucking great. It's so fucking perfect. But I can't stop thinking about that rejection letter. We have chosen not to accept you...

I'm not good enough. Not good enough for medical school, not good enough for my father.

Not good enough for her.

God, she's beautiful.

I should tell her.

I look over at her and she's laughing at some shit Emmett said. Her lips are wide and her eyes squinty. Half moons. She notices I'm staring and she purses her lips.

"What are you staring at, weirdo?" she asks and I pull her chair closer. I put my mouth just to her ear, my fingers pushing away wisps of her hair and I whisper.

"You're breathtaking."

I hear her inhale, a shaky raspy gasp and I smile against the skin of her neck.

"Really? Do I take your breath away…" she sings quietly and I groan. Leave it to her to "Pop Culture" this moment.

The party winds down and soon there's just four of us. I'm buzzed, and Bella and Alice are giggling. Jasper's smoking a cigar, blowing rings into the sticky air.

"It's fucking hot, I'm going swimming." Alice jumps up and strips. Jasper follows her, snuffing out his cigar in the sand and kicking off his shorts. They're splashing each other and groping and before I'm scarred for life, my eyes turn to Bella. I could go for a swim.

A naked swim.

With naked Bella.

I stand and drop my shorts and she's checking out my package. I feel like a king under her scrutiny because her eyes are smoldering.

"Come on, Bella, get naked. Everyone's doing," I say and her hands move to the zipper of her dress. Her fingers won't work so I offer mine. The zipper slides down her back and her dress is gone. My hands roam, her waist, her hips. I kiss her shoulder and then her neck and despite the heat, goosebumps scatter across her skin.

"Last one to the water is a rotten egg," I whisper and I run. She's hot on my heels and then she pushes me into the water. She swims away, her eyes reflecting the large moon with a deviant flicker. I grab for her foot. I actually catch her and now she's shocked. She kicks and screams but she's laughing too, so I pull her close. Where I need her. Where she belongs.

"I got you," I say.

"I let you," she retorts. Of course she did. Bella doesn't do anything she doesn't want to.

"Do I get to touch your boobs now?" I challenge. Her thighs slide against mine, every inch of our skin connects.

"Maybe. You did shave," she says and taps my face.

"Well, I didn't want you to get rabies from any woodland creatures or anything," I joke.

"Yeah, because I do not look pretty frothing at the mouth."

"You look pretty always," I counter. "You always look the same but different, you know? Every year, I expect you to change and every year it's always you."

I place my lips to hers. I mean to be gentle, but once I taste her I can't get enough. Everything hits me at once. Longing, want, jealousy. I'm so pissed Alice stole our cliff. This is our place. We should have claimed it first.

"I don't know what to do with my life, Bella," I choke. "I just feel so hopeless. I've disappointed everyone, I've let them all down. I've let you down and I'm so sorry."

"Edward, stop it!" She shouts, her hands hold my face. "Stop beating yourself up over this. I'm sure it happens to a lot of people. You said it yourself, only two hundred out of four thousand applicants get accepted? That means like, ninety-five percent of the people that apply don't get in. Ninety-five percent. That's a lot of people that are sitting in your shoes right now."

"It wasn't supposed to happen to me. I had a plan, Bella and now it's all shot to shit." I want to cry. I'm going to fucking blubber like a baby.

"Then you make a new plan," she says and I can't look at her anymore. I hold her instead. My head's on her shoulder, my tears disguised by the water dripping from my hair.

Her fingers push mine out of the way on her back. With a pinch and a flick, the bra is gone and it's just skin against skin.

I search her face and she kisses me. Deep, pulling kisses that force my hands up over her chest. Her legs wrap around my waist and everything's buzzing.

We're going to do this. We're really going to fucking do this.

Grinding, and kissing, and groping and fuck, I want her.

Too fast, too fast, too fast!

This isn't right.

But how could this be wrong? Things that are wrong don't feel so good.

No. We should be safer.

"Wait," I stop.

"No, I'm done waiting. We're doing this," she says and her insistence makes my heart huge.

"I don't have anything," I say.

"It's okay, I'm on the pill," she says. Oh, thank God. Those words should be embroidered on a pillow. "Wait. You don't have an STD, do you?"

"No, I do not have an STD," I say. I can't tell if she's kidding.

"Well, shit, how am I supposed to know? You do have a torrid past," she laughs. Yeah, she's not kidding.

"Bella, I've only had sex like five times," I defend. "Hardly torrid."

"Have you been tested?" she asks.

"Actually, yes, I have. When Magic Johnson said he had HIV, I went and got tested. I haven't had sex since." Then I ask, just because I know it'll irritate her. "Have you been tested?"

The look on her face is priceless. "I've only had sex once and they test you for everything when you start birth control."

"Well, shit, how am I supposed to know?" I mock her.

"Well, now you do," she smiles and I'm thinking she's still wearing too many clothes.

"Yep and so do you and now we can enjoy being together and not have to worry." Panties, gone.

"That sounds nice, the enjoying part," she breathes and my hands can't stop touching her. Like a fucking thirteen year old. I know I'm muttering nonsense. I've never been this hungry for anything before.

I slip my hand between her thighs and she pushes her tongue into my mouth and then my fingers are inside her. She whimpers into my mouth and my dick twitches. She pushes my underwear down with her feet and I'm hard against her. Her hands are all over me, pulling and pumping. I want to keep this moment forever.

I don't deserve it.

Are you sure? I want to ask. There's no going back. This will change us forever, you know.

My fingers tangle in her hair and her eyes are glued to mine. And I get it. This is her mulligan, her do over.

She doesn't hesitate and then we're connected, electrified, and I can't stop looking at her. The curve of her neck. The lines where the sun has kissed her skin.

Her head falls back and I know I'm holding her too tight. She bites her lip and I bury my head in her shoulder. She's rolling her hips, and breathing into my skin. I try to hold back, holy fuck I try because I don't want this to be over.

The sight of her, small whimpers tossed from parted lips, lashes fluttering on rosy cheeks, her heaving chest rising in and out of the water, it's too much. I come inside her, panting and shuddering and disappointed. I've taken more than my share. I should have taken care of her first. I'm such a selfish prick.

But instead of irritation, she's showering me with kisses.

"I'm sorry," I can barely get the words out. "You didn't..."

"No, but I did enjoy it," she says, smiling, her hands in my hair.

"Well, most women don't, you know, climax from intercourse alone," I defend and she laughs. She's fucking laughing at me. "Well, it's true! Most women need some clitoral stimulation in order to orgasm. Vaginal orgasm is very rare."

"Okay, Doogie Howser," she teases and I can't believe she laughed at me. "Oh come on, it's okay."

"It usually lasts longer, but I just haven't had sex in a long time," I try to explain but now I just feel pathetic.

"Well, we could practice all summer, if you want," she murmurs against my lips. I give in, and let her kiss me.

"How the hell are we going to get out of here?" I say and she purses her lips. Our underthings are at the bottom of the river.

"You go first," she says and I shake my head. "Come on, please?"

I roll my eyes and we disentangle. I wade to the shore and walk out of the water.

"Wow, look at those tan lines. Nice ass!" She shouts. I roll my eyes and put on my shorts. I grab her dress. I dangle it over the water and she's glaring at me.

"Don't you dare," she growls and I smile.

"What? I was just bringing it over to you. So you wouldn't have to walk so far." I say and she swims over, staying low in the water the whole time.

"Thank you," she says and I'm still holding it up high. "Can I have it?"

"Sure," I grin.

"Edward, give me my dress," she demands and I hold it even higher.

"It's right here, just take it," I try to stay matter-of-fact.

"Fine!" She's fierce, her head high as she stands. The sight of her bare figure, beads of water slipping over her skin and glistening in the moonlight, leaves me shell-shocked. She's changed, no longer the skinny, knobby-kneed girl I once new. She's curves and lines and rises from the river like a fucking goddess or something.

She presses her wet body against my chest and my arms instantly drop so I can touch her. Just as I'm about to slip my hands over her ass, she snatches the dress from my hand.

"That was almost too easy. You could have at least put up a fight."

...

I've had sex with Bella four times since the wedding. Once on the beach, once in the boat and twice in her bedroom. All four times have been rushed, the hurried hands of two horny individuals. It's hot, so incredibly hot, but I want it to be more. I want to give her more.

So when I sneak into her room and she lifts her sheets for me, I don't go in for the kill right away. We're making out, and there's a lot of groping going on, but I won't let her take off my trunks. I can tell she's getting frustrated.

"Everything okay?" she asks me and I nod, unsure about how to go about this. It's not like we haven't talked about it. Bella's got a filthy mouth.

But asking her if I can lick her pussy seems a little pornographic. I guess I still see her as naive. Even though, I know she isn't. I've seen those Cosmos she reads.

Oh shit, I should just do it. If she wants me to stop, she'll let me know.

I don't mean to be arrogant, but once I start, I'm pretty sure she won't want me to stop. I've been complimented on my oral fixation before.

She kisses me again and her hand has breached the waistband of my shorts. She grabs my dick and it takes all my strength to stop her.

"Wait," I whisper and I reach around her to turn on her radio. "I want to try something. Is that okay?"

"Yes." She's barely audible. I push her thin t-shirt up and I bring my mouth to her chest. I slip down her body, lick the lines of her stomach and she's breathing heavily, her hands running through my hair as I continue exploring her shape. Her thighs rub together beneath me and I push my knee between them, my nose nudging the waistband of her undies and she gasps.

"Stop!" she whispers and I look up at her. "You can't do that."

"Why?" I ask her, perplexed. Disappointed. I can smell her and now I'm craving the taste.

"Because..." she trails off. She doesn't have a good excuse. "I don't know. It's embarrassing!"

"What?" I didn't expect this. I mean, I've seen her pee in the bushes. I've seen her fall flat on her ass. This is nothing to be embarrassed about.

"I didn't shave today. And what if it grosses you out? What if I smell?"

"You do smell, and it's driving me crazy," I say and she kicks at me.

"Knock it off." She thinks I'm poking fun at her.

"I'm serious, Bella. Trust me, there's nothing gross about it. It's a total turn-on," I say as I kiss her belly again. "Please?"

I rub between her legs and she's gasping again.

"Okay," she breathes and I slip her panties down her legs. She obviously doesn't read the articles on maintaining pubic hair. It's like a jungle down there.

She rises up on her elbows, a scowl on her face. "Are you laughing?"

"It's just...your...business. It kind of looks like a woodland creature." I can hardly say the words and then she's smacking at my head, a mixture of laughter and scoffing. I grab her wrists, mid swing and hold her to the bed. She's pouting so I kiss her nose.

"You're a complete asshole," she says and I grin.

"I know." I kiss her neck. "Let me apologize."

She's completely still below me as I rub between her legs again, this time my fingers slipping against her warm, wet skin. I push them inside her and I kiss her thighs and they're quivering.

I move my mouth closer and closer before lightly dragging my tongue against the sweet, silky flesh. I hear her gasp and her legs press against my cheeks. She moans into her pillow, writhing against my mouth. I hold her hips in place as her hand comes up to massage her breast. I take my time, focusing on the cues from her body. I can feel her clenching around my fingers and I flick my tongue furiously. Her thighs tighten around my ears. She pulls my hair and jolt up off the bed and I struggle to hold her to my mouth.

"Oh my God," she whispers. "I mean, that was...violent."

I laugh and then she's crawling on top of me. I guess I'm forgiven.

I'm lying in her bed, watching the tattoo on her back rise and fall as she sleeps. I haven't really thought about school. I haven't really thought about anything. I could stay here. I could work here at the marina, a big huge, fuck you to my dad and my mom and their stupid shitty trust fund.

I don't know if Bella really wants that.

I know Bella wants the status quo. And in that status quo, I leave at the end of the summer. I admit, I'm afraid to challenge it.

If she wanted more, she'd let me know.

So what is this? A summer fling? It has to be more. Before this, I'd never even had sex with the same person twice. I'd never had the chance to learn the likes and dislikes, the wants, the desires, what works, what doesn't. I've had sex before, but I've never had this before.

In fact, this is the longest relationship I've ever had.

This scares the shit out of me. This is the most I can have. The closest thing I'll ever be to love and it's just for the fucking summer.

The night before we leave, I wait on the docks for Bella's dad to go to bed so I can climb in her window undetected. After all this, I'm still going back to Seattle tomorrow. She's still going to let me. I'm no closer to her now than I was when I was twelve.

I walk to the store to get a rainbow sherbet push-up. Leah hands me my change and she's chewing a piece of gum.

"What's your problem?" she asks. Concern. This is a rarity.

"I have to leave tomorrow," I mutter.

"Edward, how old are you?" I hate it when people ask questions they know the answers to. "Just humor me, I have a point."

"Twenty-five," I say. For some reason, I think her point is to make me look like an idiot.

"And you can vote, and drink, and drive a car, and pay taxes, like most adults in this country, right?"

"Yeah," I answer warily. Yep, a complete idiot.

"Then why are you still letting others tell you what to do? You're a big boy. You don't have to do anything you don't want to."

"It's not that easy. There are consequences..." I start to defend.

"No shit there are consequences. You should be thinking about which consequences you can you live with. And the ones you can't live without." She flips the sign on the front door and ushers me out so she can close the store.

I sit on the swings and Leah's pearls of wisdom are clogging up my brain. It's muggy as hell and smells like a storm. I'm irritated I have to drive home in bad weather.

So just stay here. My sub-conscious is gnawing at me. He makes a good point.

I try to imagine our life at the river. Maybe her dad would let us stay in one of the units. We could run the marina and we'd have two kids, two little river rats. And Bella could take photographs of them and -

I could be happy with that.

But Bella wouldn't. She already has too many obligations weighing her down. I won't anchor her further. It has to be her decision.

It's clear then. I have to go home so I can come back with the means to offer Bella a choice. Because it's not always about getting what you want. Sometimes it's about providing what they need.

That night, I don't sleep. We don't speak much, just spend the night loving each other. I tell her I have to go back to Seattle and she's indifferent.

"It's okay," she says. "No obligations, no expectations."

I know it's stupid, but this pisses me off. Ask me to stay, I want to scream at her but it's a selfish request. I'd have to say no, not yet. So I just keep drawing on her back until she snuggles into me and then she's out.

I sneak out to get her birthday present from my car. Esme gave me the idea for the books. She bought this photography book for the coffee table in the sitting room. She needed me to pick it up for her at the book store and I found myself leafing through it for at least two hours.

In the morning, Bella wakes with a jolt. She's panicked but then calms when she sees me.

"I thought you were gone," she says.

"Not yet." I grip the books, like parting with them will actually cause me pain. "They're photography books. This guy, Ansel Adams, he took pictures of things in nature, like you do. Mostly in California, Yosemite National Park. But I thought these might be interesting to you. You shouldn't give up on your photography. I saw Alice's pictures. They're amazing."

I offer them to her and I wish she'd look at me.

"I didn't even develop those. She took them to Safeway in Boulder City and had them printed," she rationalizes as the books change hands. It kills me she can't see how gifted she is.

"I know. But it's like you see something right before it happens and you never miss it. You never miss those important moments and most people do. Most people get, like, right before or right after. I don't know how but you just always know right when to push that button." I try to explain but she's mesmerized by her books.

I kiss her forehead and I climb out her window. Back to my unit, back to Seattle and school. Back to trust funds and failure and lowered expectations.

Back to waiting.

...

A/N:

Once again, thank you to lightstardusting, htothem/h32mh32m and miztrezboo/badjujuboo for their prereading efforts. Also, no Beta, so beware :)

Team Summerward, you are AMAZINGNESS. Thank you for the opportunity to explore Edward's head a bit. It was a challenge, but so fulfilling.

Thank you, dear, dear readers. For reading. For sweet notes. I'd like to buy you all a Coke, I've had the time of my life, you know, all that jazz. You're special, special people.