A/N: I wrote this little o/s for Fandom Fights Tsumanis. My sincere apologies to the residents of Cass, WV. You did nothing wrong to deserve the Twilight treatment. I love that little town to death, quirky secret radio towers and all.

I was pretending to read my book. I was trying real hard to read my book. I had a test on the first ten chapters of this book next Tuesday. Books like this one pissed me off, though. It was like someone over in Charleston decided that because this book took place in the south once upon a time, it should be especially meaningful to me, or something. But I never knew anyone that carted a stinking corpse across the countryside like they did in 'As I Lay Dying'.

I could try to blame my inability to concentrate on the school board's curriculum, but that wouldn't be entirely truthful. There was something else that had me distracted, something that kept my eyes on the grease-splattered Coca-Cola clock on the wall, instead of the pages in front of me.

Here's the thing: it was almost five-thirty.

There was just a half hour left until my after-school shift ended. Yeah, no, that wasn't really what had me distracted, either.

It was five-nineteen, to be exact.

Coach Crager stopped by every day after practice to pick up a burger and fries before heading home. While there was something of a running bet going about whether his polyester shorts would match the rings on his tube socks, I was not counting down the minutes to see that unfortunate sight. They should have outlawed that particular combo back in the nineteen-seventies.

Now it was five-twenty.

I checked my reflection on the side of the soft-drink dispenser. My brown hair hung in a limp ponytail, my Qwik-Mart smock hung shapelessly on my shoulders. I didn't know what exactly I was looking for. I looked just the same as I always did every other day: plain.

On the plus side, that zit on my right cheek was finally going away. That's about all I could say in the positive.

I jumped when the front door of the little convenience store slammed against the wall. I tried a practiced smile for the soft drink dispenser and then spun around to grace my next customer with it. I could feel the smile turn to a scowl almost instantly.

"What's up, Bella Bean?"

Emmett McCarty hitched up his baggy jeans and hopped onto the cluttered countertop. Jasper Whitlock was carting a big old cooler, but still managed a confident grin and a wink. "Hey, Bean," he said with a nod, letting the cooler drop onto the floor.

I sighed. I hadn't been waiting for these two jokers either.

"Get your saggy ass off the countertop, Emmett," I said, trying to wipe him away with my dust rag. Unfortunately, he took this as an invitation to wiggle his backside even closer to me.

"You think Rose wants you showing off your bum to other girls, McCarty?" I asked.

I happened to know Emmett and Rose had been doing it in the tool shed out behind her parents' house every night for the past two weeks. Emmett seemed to reconsider his actions after that and thankfully hopped off the countertop. All I needed was the owner, Mr. Newton, walking in here to find some kid sitting up in my face with a big red cooler blocking the floor in front of the counter. He'd fire my ass for sure. I had a pretty good idea that Mr. Newton didn't like me half as much as his son, Mike did.

"My ass isn't taken, Bella Bean," Jasper offered, sliding directly into my line of vision, which was a bit difficult given the big cooler he deposited on the floor. Jasper never quit. He'd flirted with me every day since I was fourteen and grew a pair of boobs. Alice swears she's going to marry him some day, but I don't see it as a remote possibility, unless I offered myself as part of the wedding package. That wasn't likely.

"You know, you two, I'm trying to work here."

"Like staring at the Coca-Cola machine counts as work these days," Emmett laughed.

"I have work!" I protested.

"Well, it is about time for Crager to show up, but you could make the coach's order in your sleep, Bean," Jasper offered. "Hell, I could, too. Cheeseburger and fries, right? We're not gonna bother you, or him by being here."

I glanced at the clock nervously. Coach Crager was the least of my worries. Emmett noticed where I was looking and his eyes suddenly turned very knowing and a little evil. Rose wouldn't tell, would she? She promised not to tell.

"I think I have an idea about Bean's work," Emmett said with a sly grin.

She told him. I was so going to kill Rose when I got the chance. Just because she let Emmett put his penis inside her, it didn't change the meaning of the word 'secret'.

"Bean's been working… working on getting this g-"

"So what's in the cooler, Jasper?" I broke in a little too urgently… a little too brightly, maybe. I looked Jasper in the eyes and smiled wide. He took the bait.

"Ramps," he said with a smile, leaning on his elbows so he could get closer to me. "We finally cleared out the spot up behind our tack house that mama's been on me about. She'd never let me hear the end of it if I let the season pass."

"I didn't know there were any ramps left out there," I replied, happy to keep the conversation out of Emmett's hands. He obviously knew a little too much about what happened at five-thirty.

"You're looking at the last of 'em, Bean," Jasper said as he kicked open the top of the cooler, revealing the limp greens inside.

I couldn't help but thinking it was good riddance that the ramps were gone for the season. I hated the local greens that so many people around Pocahontas County went ape-shit over.

"If those are the last of the ramps, maybe they'll go fast, then, and you can get the selling part over with," I suggested to Jasper as I peeked inconspicuously at the clock.

Four minutes until five-thirty. Four minutes!

"Well, Bean, that's where we hoped you might come in," Emmett said, sliding in closer too, all but completely obscuring my view of the front door.

"What?" I asked, distracted as I checked my smock for any stray grease splatters, and my nails for any ground beef residue.

"Well," Emmett started in with a smile, "We've got some veggies to sell and you've got a store. And maybe you've got a secret that you don't want me telling. Sounds like a bargain in the making."

I laughed with false confidence. Rose was a dead woman.

"I'm serious Bean," Emmett said. I could see by the way Jasper wouldn't look at me for once in his life, that this wasn't his idea. Not by a long shot. I almost felt bad for him.

"Em, everyone and their cousin knows you take your ramps out to I-80 and sit in the back of your pick-up and wait until they're sold. People don't get their ramps at Qwik-Marts. Even if they did, it's not my decision," I argued.

"Newton would be fine with it if you asked," Emmett insisted. He was talking about Mike Newton, and while that might have been the case, I was not being put in charge of Jasper's ramps.

"This is ridiculous," I said with a feeble pound of my fist on the countertop. "Now, I need you two take this big cooler up and out of here."

"Aw, please, Bean?" Emmett asked fluttering his eyelids and trying for a winning smile. "I'll let you see my ass crack again."

"That's one way to make sure I say no," I laughed.

"You know that no one can say no to my crack," Emmett laughed as he spun around, his hands at his button fly.

"Em, come on! Not in here!"

But Emmett bent over and his jeans went down, and I covered my eyes with my hands.

"I've blinded her with my beauty," Emmett laughed. "She doesn't think she can handle it. Pry her fingers loose, Jasper. My pretty ass is going to get her to cave."

I felt Jasper's long, rough fingers close over my hands. His fingertips brushed lightly against my cheeks. His hands were hot. I couldn't remember if he'd ever really touched me intentionally like this, not in all this three years of flirting. I sensed that he'd crossed some line of his own making, right there in the Qwik-Mart, and it made me suddenly nervous.

"Jasper, you don't -" I began to reason, but just then the bell hanging from the front door jangled. It could have been coach Crager.

Emmett immediately stopped laughing. Jasper didn't move his hands, and it seemed like he was suddenly holding his breath too. No one said a word. It couldn't have been the coach, because they would have all been saying hi and whatnot by now.

It had to be five-thirty. There was only one person it could have been, then, and chances were that Emmett was wiggling his bare ass while Jasper was holding my hands… in front of my own goddamned eyes.

I felt my cheeks warming, and the heat quickly traveled to the tips of my ears and down to my chest, until I was burning with anger and embarrassment. I'd planned on looking pretty today, not like a clown.

All of the sudden, I felt Emmett's breath on my neck. Jasper startled me by making a low growling-like noise. "That's the boy?" Emmett whispered. "That's the one that Rose says you -"

"Rose says that Bean, what?" Jasper asked, a little too loud for my taste.

"Stop it!" I commanded, and I pushed away at the hands and at boys. "Stop it, both of you!"

"Is there a problem?" came a deep voice from somewhere right in front of all of us.

My breath caught in my throat. Finally, Jasper managed to drop his hands from my eyes, and there standing behind my two friends, there he was.


I was right.


It was him.

The boy came in here every evening for some fancy root beer that I've never seen anybody, but him, buy.

He was tall and he had this jaw that was always covered with scratchy-looking light-brown scruff. His eyes were big and green and he had these long lashes. I didn't know I liked lashes on boys, but this guy, he was still so much of a man even with those long graceful arcs framing his eyes.


I named him Red because he always had on this baseball cap with a big "R" on it. And I'd admit it; I didn't know a thing about baseball, but I'd looked that cap up on-line. It stood for the Boston Red Sox. So I called him Red. It kind of matched the hints of red in his dark blonde hair.

Boston, by the way, was the twenty-second largest city in the country. I'd looked that up too. It seemed highly unlikely that some boy from Boston just materialized in Cass, West Virginia, though, but there he was, in the flesh. And I liked the idea of his flesh.

He'd obviously been working, and his… flesh was dirty. It shouldn't have had such an impact on me. Most of the men that came into the Qwik-Mart had been working. But on this guy, it was different. It was like his sweat was cologne, or some sort of scent that could draw me in and trap me - like citruline to a mosquito. His sweat was my citruline. How embarrassing.

I snapped myself out of my reverie, though, because Red was looking between Jasper and Emmett, trying to figure out what needed getting done.

Shit. The two boys were annoying, but they were no threat either.

"A problem?" Emmett laughed back at Red. "Really? Between us here? Just that my ass is too much for her to handle."

Jasper folded his arms across his chest. "Rose says what about this guy?" he growled again, looking Red over from head to toe. I took the opportunity to do the same. Red was wearing the same thing he always did for his five-thirty purchases; a beat-up pare of old jeans that hung on his hips and a white wife beater. I retreated behind the counter a little after my body shuddered at the sight of him. Rose had tried to explain it to me – how Emmett made her feel. I wondered if this feeling I had now was something like it. I figured it must have been.

Red's eyes flitted over to me real quick - so quick that I might have just been imagining it, and then he focused back on Emmett and Jasper, like he was thinking of something kind of nice. When he finally turned back towards me again, his eyes were somehow softer.

"Rose?" he asked.

Emmett and Jasper both laughed out loud at that.

"Bean wishes she was Rose," Emmett laughed. "Every night she lays in bed dreaming about her best friend's tool shed. You know, wishing she was getting nailed by -"

Sincere looks of deadly anger from both Jasper and Red managed to silence Emmett, though.

"Shut the hell up, Emmett," I added, just to let the boys know I could handle myself. "You're not funny to anyone but yourself."

Red turned to look at me again. I focused on him and tried pretending my two friends were nowhere in sight.

"I'm Bella, not Rose," I offered. Truer words had never been spoken. Anyone that had seen Rose Hale would understand.

"Nice to meet you, Bella-Not-Rose," Red replied. His teeth were really white, and really straight, by the way.

He placed that fancy root beer on the counter - the same thing he came for every day at five-thirty for the past ten days I've been working. Instead of ringing him up, though, I looked at him kind of expectantly. He knew my name, now. Wasn't it time I knew his?

"Oh," Red muttered, and he pulled a dollar fifty-seven out of his back pocket. He had exact change and he left it for me on the counter, instead of placing it in my hand. That was different. Every other day I'd felt his hand against mine. Every other day I'd gotten chills from that brief little touch. I could only blame the current lack of touching on the two boys glaring at Red like they were hoping to shoot daggers from their eyes.

I glanced at Red's hand, resting on the countertop. His nails seemed a little too, I don't know, even, or something. They were properly battered and dirty, but it looked like he put some effort into them, all the same. I wondered where he worked to get them all dirty like that, and I wondered why he'd showed up in town here all of the sudden. I wondered kind of constantly, but aside from Rose, I hadn't had the courage to ask anyone else about him.

Rose and I didn't figure out much about him, between the two of us. Red wasn't in school. With fifty-seven kids at Cass High, that much was obvious. He walked to the Qwik-Mart every day, so we figured he had to live or work really close by. The only thing close to there, though, was a string of houses up Dirty Road and the new bridge over the river that led up to the old, abandoned logging houses. Those had been empty, though, since the logging company left sometime back before I was born.

"Did you get to the part about the incestuous necrophilia?" Red asked out of nowhere. His voice brought me immediately back to the present, and left me extremely confused.

"Wha- ?" I managed.

He smiled a little and I noticed that it was off to the side, as crooked as the old chestnut tree in my front yard.

"The part with-, well, um, never mind." Red shook his head, like he was arguing with himself. "What Addie Bundren's son does with that coffin's none of my business," he said in a soft voice, looking properly embarrassed.

"What in the hell are you talking about?" Emmett asked, taking a step in Red's general direction.

"I don't think you should be talking to Bean that way," Jasper added, getting up close and personal. "About incest? Are you some kind of sicko?"

"Jasper, come on!" I pleaded. "He was talking about this book." I looked down at 'As I Lay Dying' with new eyes. Was there really necrophilia in there? I guessed I hadn't gotten to that part yet.

"Sorry," Red mumbled to Emmett and Jasper, but he didn't back down. He gave the two of them that same crooked smile he gave me earlier. I was a little disappointed that he'd share that smile, but proud too. I was certain Red would fight if it came to that. Not that I wanted to see Emmett and Jasper beat up, but I honestly wouldn't have minded seeing Red doing the beating.

"That was inappropriate. Sometimes…" Red said as he glanced over his shoulder at me. "Well, sometimes I don't say the right things. I didn't mean to…" but Red couldn't seem to finish, and I sighed, wondering what he hadn't meant to do, exactly.

With another quick flash of his eyes, Red grabbed his root beer from the counter and walked out really quick – too quick for me to get a decent look at his backside, mind you.

"That was bizarre," Jasper offered shaking his head.

"Really, Bean?" Emmett asked, elbows on the countertop. "That one?"

I shrugged. Killing Rose wasn't a good enough punishment. She'd sworn not to tell.

"That one, what?" Jasper asked.

"That's the only boy that our little Bean has ever had a crush on," Emmett said, playfully punching my chin. I shoved his hand away and tried to look dangerous as I scowled at his big, smiling face.

"The guy that just bought Cass?" Jasper asked.

"What?" Emmett and I both asked in unison.

"Well, not Cass, exactly, but the old logging part of town. They're planning on fixing it up and then renting those old homes out," Jasper informed Emmett and I.

"To who?" I asked, bewildered.

"People on vacation, I guess," Jasper offered with a shrug and maybe a tiny hint of malice.

"Vacation here?" Emmett asked. He chuckled and shook his head. "Well, that kid is definitely crazy. And that's besides his talk about incest and kinky sex with Bella Bean, here."

"Kinky sex?" I asked. "Really?" Had I missed something, entirely?

"It was sex talk, right?" Emmett asked. "That -philia thing he said? I just figured it was sex stuff because of the look on your face, Bean."

"When mama told me that someone came in and bought up all that old property…" Jasper continued, ignoring Emmett's exploration of necrophilia, "Turning our lives into some kind of, I don't know… Disney-ride for the wealthy. That guy… I don't like him."

I couldn't help but think that Jasper had another reason not to like Red, and it had nothing to do with Disney and everything to do with my flushed face and sweaty palms.

"Do you know his name?" I blurted out. Jasper actually scowled at me for the first time, ever, I think.

"Carlisle Cullen," he growled then spat, like his mouth didn't like being associated with such filth.

"Carlisle Cullen?" Emmett laughed again. "This just gets better and better. Bean's got a crush on a guy named Carlisle. Carlisle and Bella Bean, sitting in a tree, K-I-"

"What are you? Fucking five?" I asked Emmett, and I tried with all my might to push his elbows off the counter.

"-S-S-I-N-G," he sang, but had the good sense to cut the taunt off early.

"You know what I think, Emmett?" Jasper asked.

Emmett looked between Jasper and me, but seemed to think better of whatever he was planning on saying. I was pleased with Emmett's decision for once, because we both knew that Jasper thought he was in love with me, and that really didn't need saying at the moment.

"I think we should welcome Carlisle Cullen to Cass," Jasper continued. "Maybe tonight. Maybe we could head across the river and, I don't know, help with renovations on some of those old logging houses."

"I don't know, Jazz," Emmett said, shaking his head, checking the clock for himself this time.

"Shit, Emmett, take a night off from the tool shed, man. It's not like Rose is going anywhere. When was the last time we tore some shit up?"

I didn't get to hear when that last time was, though, because the coach walked into the Qwik-Mart and the two boys in front of me shut the hell up about raising hell across the river.

"Hey, Bella," Coach Hager said with a polite nod. His shorts were a deep shade of maroon and his tube socks had golden rings. I think that meant that Tyler won the bet. "Could I get -"

"Coming right up, Coach," I interrupted. I'd heard his same order about eighty-seven times.

I couldn't help but notice the furtive nods and gestures that Emmett and Jasper exchanged as I threw the beef patty and bun onto the griddle. It took less than ten seconds before it looked like things were decided between the two of them.

"Later, Bella Bean!" Emmett shouted.

"See ya," Jasper said with a sad wave.

"But, Em!" I called. "Jasper, wait!" The boys either didn't hear me over the sizzle of the beef, or they just plain ignored me. That was highly unusual for Jasper.

It wasn't until I handed the coach his hamburger and fries that I noticed they'd left their red cooler full of ramps behind.

"Christ," I muttered, shaking my head.

"Excuse me?" the coach asked, rooting around in his overly tight shorts and coming up with a pile of crumpled and warm bills. "Something wrong, Bella?"

I sighed, trying to sort my way through my feelings, while I sorted through the crumpled bills in my hands. As frustrated as I was that Emmett and Jasper abandoned their vegetables and went to cause trouble for Red, I also knew Jasper's mom was counting on the money for those ramps, and that he'd never hear the end of it if he didn't get anything for them.

"How do you feel about ramps, Coach?" I asked. It was twenty minutes to six. I decided that I might as well sell as many as possible before closing. Then I was going to kick Jasper and Emmett's asses clear across Cass.


Each night Mike Newton made a point of coming to help me lock up. He said it was to keep me safe in the dark, but we'd all run around this town after dark since we figured out how to toddle. When I'd pointed that little fact out to Mike, he'd kind of hinted that I couldn't be trusted with the responsibility of his father's store. I'd let it drop after that. Like Emmett suggested earlier, I had a pretty good idea why Mike plastered himself to my side each night at closing. But did he really think he had a snowball's chance in hell after suggesting to my face that I was dimwitted and untrustworthy? Please.

This evening I rushed through closing duties so fast that Mike had to trot around after me like a miniature pony to keep up.

"Are you angry, or something, Isabella?" he asked while I checked on the back door lock.

I was angry, but it had nothing whatsoever to do with Mike Newton. Anger had been blooming in me like a night lily ever since my friends slipped out of the Qwik-Mart while I was waiting on the coach. I mean, this guy, this super-attractive, handsome guy that has weird opinions about 'As I Lay Dying', shows up new in town, and smiles at me, and sometimes touches my hand, and those two had to go mess with him? It wasn't right on principle - and my opinion certainly had nothing to do with the tingle I got every time Red touched me.

"Isabella?" Mike asked again. I'd completely forgotten to answer him.

"Just in a rush, Mike," I snapped as I turned down the lights and switched off the 'Open' sign.

"Homework?" he asked, nodding towards the book in my hand.

I shrugged as I stepped out into the cool, early spring air. I started to pull on my hoodie, but then thought better of layering it over my Qwik-Mart smock. As I started to unbutton the smock, Mike froze with his hand poised in mid air and his eyes locked on my chest. The keys that he was holding clanked in the damp breeze.

"Jesus, Mike. It's not like I'm naked under this," I said as I shrugged off the ugly, polyester thing and threaded my arms through my hoodie as quick as possible. It was still chilly this time of year, and I didn't want Mike Newton, of all people, knowing exactly how chilly I felt.

It took Mike a good couple seconds to recover, and just like every other night for the past eleven months, he had to struggle with the old sticky lock in the front door.

"You got this, Mike?" I asked. I tried not to tap my foot impatiently.

"I get it every night, don't I?" he asked. He was grinning confidently, trying to look proficient. It didn't exactly fool me as he subtly struggled with the deadbolt.

"Just about every night," I answered. I didn't mention the times he nearly gave up, only to let me secure the little store. "So you're alright then if I take off?"

"Yeah, of course, Isabella," he replied with pretend swagger that didn't match the frantic way he was jiggling the key in the lock. "Don't let this old door keep you from you're homework."

"Awesome, Mike! See you tomorrow!" I called as I hightailed it out of the empty parking lot as fast as possible without breaking into an all out run. If Mike saw me take off in the wrong direction, he didn't comment. I just hoped he kept that information to himself. One word to his father about me crossing the river would undoubtedly result in a call to my house, and more trouble than I'd faced in a while.

Normally, I think, when a guy liked you he'd try not to get you in trouble with your dad. But normally he wouldn't call you dim, either. I guess Mike wasn't too smart when it came to this liking business.

Thinking back over my interactions with Red, I guessed that neither was I.

I mean, it took me ten workdays just to get his name. Carlisle. And I didn't even manage to get that information from his lips. His lips… I let myself get lost in the rushing sound of the river as I crossed the Route 66 Bridge; and if I was being truthful, lost in thoughts of Red's lips too. His lips were real red, and his bottom lip was on the plump side, and he had this little scar off to the side of his top lip. It looked like a chicken pox scar, maybe, but I couldn't be sure about that unless I got a closer look.

A closer look? At Red's lips? I must have been crazy. Or insanely hopeful.

Or just insane.

I came to a stop after I crossed the bridge. One good look around me after I crossed to the other side of the river confirmed that insanity idea straight away. I stood right across from the monstrous old company store. If that thing was still in business, it would put the Qwik-Mart out of its misery faster than Mike could lock its doors.

Back in the day, that was the only store that was allowed here. Cass was a company town, and people lived in all these dozens of white clapboard company houses, worked in the company mill, and shopped at the company store. These days, the store was an eerie, boarded-up wreck of a building.

The rest of the old logging town wasn't much better. I scanned the maze of identical, white, falling down homes. This side of the river used to be the upscale part of Cass, but not anymore. The white houses were half boarded up and half collapsed, and on the whole, kind of frightening.

From time to time, kids came over there to drink and smoke and do whatever else. I smoked my first and only joint in a burnt-out train car down the river a little. Rose lost her virginity to Royce in a big old house up the hill a ways that was supposed to belong to the company doctor once. Vandals started fire to the old mill three times in the past eight years. And there I was, walking into all of this alone, just as dark was coming on, without a clue about where I should start looking, or who exactly I was looking to find.

Was I really here to find Jasper and Emmett, to put a stop to their plans? As I took in row after row of falling down houses I couldn't imagine what more damage they could do, really. Or maybe I chose not to imagine it. There was that time they attacked Lewiston High's gym with spray paint and boulders. I think they both just got off probation for that stunt.

I decided to take the high road and I set off slowly making my way through the dark, silent homes. I certainly couldn't see any signs of civilization. If Red was staying here, he was keeping a low profile.

I peered into the broken windows of each of the empty homes and a chill went down my spine. When we were kids we all told stories about how this old town was haunted: either by the old mayor, or by some worker that died in the mill, or by a little boy that was hit by one of the lumber trains after he wandered onto the tracks. Once I got older I realized that anything strange I might have seen or heard over here was just kids making trouble.

Kids like Emmett and Jasper.

I stopped and scanned the houses on either side of me. I shivered and got the distinct impression that I should turn around and walk straight back where I'd come from. Really, it was no business of mine if Jasper and Emmett were up to no good.

I usually listened to my senses, which was important up here in the mountains. Bears and wildcats didn't usually announce themselves when you wandered near. Storms came out of nowhere. Self-preservation was a matter of life or death, and I'd honed my senses over the years.

So, I turned around, thinking that, at the very least, I'd see Red tomorrow evening. But that's when I heard the muffled clanking. The sound echoed off the limestone cliffs and empty homes - steady, hollow, like a low metallic heartbeat. It drew me in even as I was sure I should be walking away. I ignored my instincts and walked further into the little village.

Small birds skittered through the dead leaves on either side of the path. A rabbit hopped through the dark purple dead nettle near the ruined train tracks. The sky grew a deeper shade of blue with each step I took, and the North Star shimmered into view. I'd heard you didn't see the stars when you lived in cities (like Boston). As much as I wanted to get the hell out of Cass sometimes, I couldn't imagine living without stars. The sky would look dead. What would be the point of night, really?

The way the clanking was echoing around the little town, it was a little difficult at first to find the source of the noise. Eventually I zeroed in on one of the homes farthest back from the main road. The house was exactly the same as all of the other company houses: wooden, white, and two-storied, with a front porch and a falling down picket fence around the little, weedy yard.

On closer inspection, though, it wasn't exactly the same. The windows looked new and the back door hung straight, on two new hinges. Also, there might have been a dim glow coming from the second floor.

I took a deep breath and stepped across the threshold. The sodden floorboards creaked under my weight. The clanking stopped. So did I. It was colder inside, and a thick curtain of dust hung over everything. But there were signs of footsteps through the dusty floorboards, as plain as day, even though it was quickly becoming night.

The clanking began again, maybe a little faster, and louder, and harder. It was clear that Emmett and Jasper were trying real hard to break a pipe or radiator or something, and my anger flared again. I followed the tracks through the dark house and began sprinting as they led me up the stairs. I'd actually sold ramps for those two. After this stunt, they'd be lucky if I didn't dump the rest of them all in the river when I got to work tomorrow.

"Emmett McCarty!" I shouted as I mounted the stairs. "Jasper Whitlock! Don't you two have anything better to do than to than to -"

An enormous crash and then a big splash and a loud string of cuss words stopped my tirade and froze me in my tracks.

"Shit! Fucking goddamned piece of fucking shit! Fuck!"

That wasn't Emmett or Jasper. But that was water trickling into the hallway and it sounded like it was splashing against…


Well, it certainly sounded like water was splashing against… Red. Or Carlisle.

At that point, wild horses couldn't have dragged me away, really. I rushed down the hall, splashing through the growing stream. I held my breath as I peeked into the little bathroom at the far end of the hall to see Red's, well, his soaking wet backside. He was bent double trying to turn a rusty old water valve in the wrong direction, getting soaked to the skin in the process.

It took a few seconds before I had a vision of my mom looking down from heaven, warning me about catching flies in my mouth. I had to consciously work to keep it closed. You'd think I never saw a wet boy before.

I turned off thoughts of my mom after that, though. I didn't want to hear what she might say about approaching a strange, wet boy in an abandoned building on the wrong side of Cass.

"Uh, Carlisle?" I asked. My voice came out so small that I was sure he wouldn't have heard it over the gush of the water. But he did. He looked up like he'd been shocked, which he probably had been. I had no business there.

Red smiled right away, though, that chestnut-tree smile. "Bella-Not-Rose?"

I shivered. I worked on looking at his face, not his wet chest.

"You need help?" I asked, taking a tentative step forward.

"No!" He stood up and held out his hand, warning me off. "It's kind of wet in here."

"Yeah, no shit," I laughed. "But I think you're turning that valve the wrong way."

Red laughed and shook his head, which made water from his hair trickle over his face, wetting his lashes. Those lashes. He bent over again, I avoided looking at his ass again, and the water slowed to a stop in seconds.

"Thanks, Bella-Not-Rose," he said with a warm grin as he raked his wet hair out of his face and stood up straight again.

"No problem… Carlisle."

Carlisle sputtered, and as he laughed his tank stuck to his chest and his flat tummy and his wet, heavy jeans slid a little lower on his hips.

"Carlisle?" he asked and broke into another round of laughter.

"I thought it was a strange name too," I offered hesitantly.

"Strange," he chuckled. "Fucking priceless. Carlisle's my father." He took one long stride across the tiny bathroom. It was all it took for him to be right in front of me, nearly right on top of me, no counter between us this time. He held out his hand. "I'm Edward Cullen."

"Oh," I sighed and my cheeks began to immediately heat up. I tried speaking, but my mouth hung open again. I forced it closed, again.

"Are you looking for my dad?" he asked as his big hand closed around my fingers.

"No, I was, uh, looking for… you," I gulped.

"Me?" Edward Cullen looked sincerely surprised. He kept up the handshake. I was fine with not letting him go. But the not-so-distant sound of wood splintering made us both jump, and we broke the handshake.

"Goaddamned idiots," I muttered. Edward ducked out the window to peer into the night.

"Idiots?" he asked.

There was another crash and I grabbed for Edward's elbow. We needed to stop Jasper and Emmett before they could do too much real damage.

"Come on, quick," I said, pulling him through the door.


"You heard the wood, right?" I asked.

"Yeah, but -"

"But nothing. I'm not letting those two tear down a house or something."

"Those two? Who are those two?"

I winced, not pleased to implicate my friends, but, well, I was holding this boy's elbow, and he wasn't protesting, and he was wet from head to toe, and it made me want to do things for him. Nice things: like making sure the houses that his dad bought didn't get wrecked by two local idiots.

"The two guys you saw me talking to at the Qwik-Mart," I admitted. "They had plans to kind of get in the way of your operation tonight, I think."

"Really?" he asked as we walked down the steps and through the dark and empty house.

"Really," I sighed. "Is it true you bought up these houses?"

"Well, my dad bought them."

"All of them? For vacation homes? In Cass?" I asked, full of wonder.

"It's been his dream since I was a kid. He loves it here. Your friends… do they make a habit of coming over here and screwing with the houses?" We'd just reached the front porch, and we both scanned the row upon row of homes looking for a sign about where we should head.

"Maybe screwing in the houses," I mumbled, embarrassed at my own joke. "But, um, no. I don't think so. Why?"

"No reason," he quickly replied. The breeze had picked up and the air had cooled considerably. Edward shivered and I dropped hold of his elbow.

"Excuse me, Bella-Not-Rose," he said, as he pulled his wet wife beater over his head. "I'm kind of fucking drenched."

"I don't mind," I mumbled.

Don't look. Don't look. Don't look.

Washboard abs.

Don't look. Don't look. Don't look.

Broad, hairless chest.

I looked. He noticed. My cheeks were never going to return to their normal color, I was sure.

There was another loud crash, coupled by the sound of glass shattering, and we both hurried to the row of houses just ahead of us. Edward grabbed my hand. I didn't protest.

"What's with your friends?" he asked as we jumped over a big rut in the road, and he kind of helped me get my balance. I didn't need the help, but I didn't mind his hand on my hip like that, either. He was just being a gentleman. My dad would approve.


Maybe he didn't need to hold me as long as he did. His eyes caught mine and somehow they seemed to hold onto the light that was clinging to the horizon. I'd had dreams about those eyes… and those hands. And now I was sure that dreams about his naked chest would be inevitable.

"Edward," I murmured without meaning to.

His fingers brushed softly against my hip. "Yeah?" he asked.

"Uh," I had no reply. Nothing. My cheeks continued to burn until it felt like the stray rays of evening sun were setting them on fire. "You want my sweatshirt?" I asked, nodding towards his bare chest.

'Nice work there, Bean,' I thought to myself sarcastically. 'Way to get him to cover up.' I shook my head a little at my own idiocy.

"No, it's chilly. You keep it. Anyway, I don't think your sweatshirt would fit."

"It might be tight," I admitted. I don't know why, but the words felt dirty as they were leaving my mouth. I was graced with that crooked smile again, though.

"What about that, though?" Edward asked, nodding to the dirty Qwik-Mart smock I was holding in my hand.

"This?" I asked, holding it up in between the two of us. "Mine?"

"I'd just borrow it," he clarified with a little chuckle.

My Qwik-Mart smock? His naked chest?

"Yes. Please. Borrow it."

Edward laughed. He let go of my hand so he could thread his arms through the sleeves. He let it hang open. I sighed, and then I coughed to cover up the sigh.

There was another crash from down the road.

"Your friends?" he asked as we both regained our focus and hightailed it towards the sound of destruction.

"My idiots, more like it," I said.

"Why're they here?" he asked.

"Because Jasper…" but I couldn't think of exactly the right words to explain it. Not without giving away Jasper's crush, and my conflicting crush, and Rose's inability to keep a secret.

"Because I'm not from around here?" he guessed.

"Something like that," I hedged.

"Well, I haven't caught them yet," he said as we huffed up the little rise towards the house on top of the hill where the noise had come from.


"They're over here almost every night," he said. His jaw tensed and his hands balled into fists as his eyes started scouting out the houses in front of us.

"I don't think so," I argued, thinking about Emmett and Rose and the tool shed.

"Well, I do. This shit happens too often. My dad let me come down to start working on this place ahead of time, but at this rate, it's only going to look worse by the time he gets here with my mom."

Suddenly, I wasn't so sure about any of this. I might have had a weird urge to see Edward in a fight earlier, but Emmett and Jasper would give him a serious run for his money if they were confronted. And they weren't here every night. Not Emmett, anyway. Jasper wouldn't come over here to make trouble on his own… would he?

There was another crash from the house we were walking towards, and then the slam of a door, then the sound of footsteps crunching through fallen leaves and underbrush. Girlish giggles whispered through the wind.

"We fucking lost them," Edward growled, avoiding the house altogether and running for the forest.

"I don't know, Edward," I called as I raced after him. "Emmett and Jasper don't laugh like girls." I stopped at the edge of the woods, though, instead of running in after him. I was more than likely to fall on my face if I tried to race over roots and branches then to catch Emmett and Jasper.

"Well, it sounds like they do to me," Edward replied, picking his way back to me. "Let's check out the damage. I'm no tracker. If they're in there, they're as good as gone."

The door of the big house was hanging open. On closer inspection, the lock had been busted. Glass from the back window was shattered on the kitchen tiles. The faucet was running. Edward strode across the room and turned it off. The look on his face seemed to have an immediate effect on my heart. He looked so alone and defeated.

I suddenly hated my friends for this senseless destruction. I hated them for making me look bad, hell, for making the whole town look bad.

"There was wood breaking," I said absently.

"Yeah," he agreed. And even though he'd only muttered one word, hell, one syllable, it was the saddest sound I'd heard in a while. We wandered through the little home. You could see the effort Edward had put into this one. There were clean floors, fresh paint, new windows. The rest of the first floor was unharmed, so Edward led the way up the stairs.

"Christ," he muttered as he stepped onto the landing. He ran his hand through his damp hair and tugged at it. I wanted to tug at it, too, but then I caught up to Edward and saw for myself what he was looking at. A gaping hole had been hacked through the wall, leading from the hallway into one of the bedrooms.

"Jesus," I muttered.

"I just fucking patched that up."

"Yeah?" I asked as I took in the splintered wood and the chunks of drywall. The air was still thick with dust from all of the destruction.

"There were three small bedrooms," he explained. "I turned one into a master suite by knocking down a wall and closing over the doorway. It was right here. Your friends really know how to piss a guy off."

"Sorry," I offered.

"You didn't do it."

"I didn't."


I couldn't think of anything else to say, but I took hold of his hand.

"Thanks for coming," he said. "For trying to warn me." His thumb moved back and forth a little over my palm. "At least I know I'm not crazy, or that it's not ghosts," he laughed bitterly.

"Ghosts?" I asked.

"The guy that sold the land to my dad, he warned us about all the ghosts."

"Really?" I asked. I couldn't help shivering, but everyone knew that old Mr. Shay was as crazy as a loon. "You believed that?" I asked.

"I believe in this shit," he said nodding towards the mess in the hallway.

Edward kind of crumpled onto the top step, and he held his head in his free hand.

"I'll talk to them, Edward. I kind of can't believe this, but if it was Emmett and Jasper… I don't know, I'll talk to their parents, get them to fix this."

Part of me couldn't believe what I'd just promised. If I went to the Whitlocks and the McCarty's, Emmett and Jasper were going to hate me, for sure.

"Why?" Edward asked.

"Why what?"

"Why are you here?" he asked. He was still holding my hand.

"I don't know," I lied settling on the step next to him.

"I don't know either," he added, searching my eyes for something. His voice changed a little, becoming lower, rougher, kind of. He licked his lips. I glanced between them and his chest. "But I'm glad you are," he added.

"Otherwise the water would still be pouring into that other house," I laughed nervously.

"I'd have figured it out. Righty-tighty, right?"

"Yeah, I guess."

"You live around here, Bella-Not-Rose?"

"Like I'd travel great distances to work at the Qwik-Mart?" I chuckled.

Edward shrugged. "I traveled about a thousand miles to work here."

That got right to the heart of what stumped me about him. "Why?" I asked.

Edward shrugged and shook his head, and I immediately felt bad for asking. "College didn't work out, I guess," he said, staring at his work boots. They were big boots. Rose always said big feet meant big –

"Are you in college?" Edward asked.

"Me?" I laughed. "Junior in high school." I immediately wanted to kick myself. You were supposed to lie, right?

"Oh," he said, his eyes still on the ground. My heart plummeted.

"But I'm one of the oldest in my class," I offered desperately, embarrassing myself to death. That's right, I wasn't just seventeen, I was seventeen and a half.

"Junior?" he asked.

"Junior," I confirmed. "College?" I asked back.

He shook his head.

"Didn't get in?" I wondered out loud.

"Got in," he said with a shrug. "Dad suggested some R & R."

"Where'd you get in?"

"Har-blurr," it sounded like he mumbled.

"Har-blurr?" I asked. "Harvard!"

Edward shrugged again.

"You got into Harvard?"

"I attended Harvard, but that doesn't mean crap. I'm here now."

I glanced up at the destroyed wall. "R and R? Rest and relaxation?" I asked.

"Dad said it would do me some good."

"Is it?" I asked doubtfully, surveying the damage again.

I didn't expect to feel Edward touch my face, so I jumped a little when his fingertips brushed at my cheekbone, and my head snapped reflexively in his direction. With that motion my lips brushed against his, and I didn't know if it was what he'd intended, but I didn't much care. His lips. Finally. They were hard, chapped maybe, dry. But they were his lips and they made me burn.

He kissed me hard, like I'd never been kissed before. Ever. Like he was struggling with air and life, or something. And just as suddenly, he pulled away. "Being here; it's doing some good right now," he whispered, in that same low, rough voice. It registered in all sorts of places on my body, places that voices had never touched.

"That's good," I mumbled and I tried my luck at another kiss. This time his lips parted; this time it was like he was taking his time, tasting me; this time I pushed my lips against his and my fingers found his bare chest. I couldn't help groaning a little and I was almost embarrassed about that, but Edward found my hip again, and his hand slid down my thigh and over my knee, and all thoughts of humiliation flew out the window, or through that big hole that Emmett and Jasper just hacked in the wall.

The sound of glass shattering somewhere outside made us both jump, and sadly Edward broke our kiss, leaving me panting, leaving my hand on his chest. We both glanced at it, like it was evidence, like I'd been caught with my hand in the cookie jar; only what I got was so much better than cookies.

"Your friends?" he asked, wrapping his fingers around mine and standing to his feet.

"They're not so bad, really." Although, with another glance at the hole in Edward's wall, I wasn't entirely convinced.

"I beg to differ," Edward objected, taking the stairs two at a time and pulling me after him.

"Where'd the sound come from?" I asked as I struggled to keep up.

"The last row, down by the river."

One glance made it evident that the homes down there in that last row have fared the worst. I imagine that it was a combination of years of flooding and years of kids from the other side of town. The homes closest to the river provided a place to hang out without people having to go too deep into the maze that was Old Cass. The homes back here, where we were now, were just… spooky.

I shivered again and stumbled over a root, and Edward wrapped his arm around my waist.

"Cold?" he asked.

"Stupid," I replied.

"Stupid people can't make it to page two-twelve of 'As I Lay Dying'."

"Page two-twelve?" I asked. Was he serious? Was I on page two-twelve? Even I didn't know.

"I'm observant," Edward replied with a sheepish smile. His eyes seemed to purposefully look off towards the forest.

"Harvard?" I chuckled and elbowed him in the ribs.

"Junior," he laughed back.

"I used to call you Red," I blurted out.

"After the color of your cheeks?" he asked. Completely embarrassed, I tried valiantly to hide my burning face behind my free hand.

"No, after your cap," I clarified. "Red Sox."

"I like your cheeks," he admitted, ignoring all talk of his hat and trying to turn my face towards his. I went ahead and let him, and when I gazed up at those big green eyes, closer to gray now that it was dark, I felt my heart doing funny things in my chest.

"I like your eyes," I mumbled and I could feel the warmth on my cheeks spreading down my neck.

"You blush all over, huh?" he wondered out loud. Edward's eyes probed near the neckline of my zipped-up hoodie, but he seemed to catch himself and he looked away.

"I don't know," I answered. But my voice was drowned out by the sound of more shattering glass coming from somewhere inside the house just below us.

"Wait here," Edward ordered, dropping my hand and taking off towards the house.

"No, I'm coming too, Edward!"

"This is the last night they're going to cross the river and fuck with me," he growled, more to himself than to me.

"This is the first night they've fucked with you!"

"Emmett and Jasper?" he asked me as he took a quick look over his shoulder. "That's their names?"

More glass shattered. I could easily see it raining down from one of the bedroom windows.

"Those fuckers," Edward roared, making me actually a little nervous for my two friends, idiots or not. "I'm going to fucking kill them!"

Edward barreled through the back door, way ahead of me, and I didn't know what to do. I didn't know who to call out to: Edward, Emmett, Jasper, or The Ghostbusters for heaven's sake. About three things, though, I was absolutely positive. First, if this was all Emmett and Jasper's work, they'd gone way too far. Second, I didn't want to see anyone fight. And third, I really wanted to kiss Edward again.

Footsteps echoed from inside the house, more glass exploded, and I almost thought I heard that weird chuckling again. I decided to run around to the front of the house, thinking I could head them all off before their chase took to the streets, thinking maybe I could talk some sense into all those boys. But I was just in time to see Edward throw open the front door and look frantically in either direction. The swing on the front porch was shimmying and shaking. The air was damp, but still.

"Did you see them?" Edward huffed, trying to catch his breath. I noticed that all the front windows were broken and shards of glass were littering the porch.

"No," I admitted with a mix of relief and annoyance.

"Fuck," he breathed, wiping sweat from his brow.

"It's like this every night?" I asked, walking gingerly up the steps, avoiding the biggest pieces of glass.

"No, tonight's worse."

I wondered if it was worse because there were two idiots at work tonight instead of just one.

"Where could they have gone?" Edward wondered as he looked across the green slope that led to the water. There was nothing there except what was left of long abandoned train tracks and the grass and the Greebrier River.

Thinking things through a little, I decided that there was only one place Emmett and Jasper could have run to from here.

"Come on, Harvard," I commanded, holding out my hand to Edward.

"Where to, Junior?" he asked. I might have imagined it, but I thought his mood lifted as he laced his fingers with mine.

"A hiding place," I answered. My mood might have lifted too.

Okay, it definitely did.

For a little while we walked with awkward steps over the disintegrating railroad ties. I don't know about Edward, but I took the time to appreciate the feel of his hand holding mine. I'd gotten little sneak peeks of what this might be like each day at the Qwik-Mart, but this was so much better than I could have imagined. He was warm and solid and comforting and his touch had this way of making me breathe deeper and smile almost constantly.

"What's that up there, Junior?" Edward finally asked. I got the impression that he didn't like breaking the silence.

I gaze at the dark, square-ish spot near a steep rise in the bank.

"An old train car," I replied. I was surprised by the evident fear in my voice.

"Fire?" he asked.

"Yeah. It's kind of a charred, melted wreck. I figure it's the only place they could have hidden so fast like that."

"Alright, then," Edward said as he quickened his pace with renewed vigor.

"You're not going to hurt them, are you?" I asked.

"You think I could?" Edward chuckled.

"Well, I don't know, really."

Edward laughed outright and held my hand a little tighter. "At least you're honest."

I laughed too, but my spirits plummeted when I spotted the train car we were approaching. I'd only been there once, getting high with Alice. I know they said you couldn't have a bad trip on pot, and if that was the truth, I never wanted to experiment with anything that could make me have a real one.

I'd been paranoid, and I saw things, I think, and then at the end we got really confused and for a few minutes that felt like forever we thought we were trapped inside.

"What's the matter?" Edward asked.

"I hate that place," I said, nodding towards the abandoned train car. "And Emmett and Jasper know it." Emmett had teased me mercilessly for over a month about my bad pot trip.

"They don't sound like the greatest friends," Edward said, glancing between me and the hulking train wreck.

"They're just kids," I said dismissively.

"And you're not?" he asked.

"Touché," I laughed.

"How old are you, Junior?" Edward asked.

I bit my lip. "Seventeen?" It came out as a question. I resisted the urge to add the extra half-year.

Edward sighed and looked relieved. "Okay."

"What about you, Harvard?" I mean, he went to Harvard, he could be, I don't know –

"Nineteen," Edward answered. He gave me a funny look and added, "And a half."

I laughed out loud; his smile lit his face. It was like he'd read my thoughts.

"You look good in that Qwik-Mart vest, you know," I confessed. "If you ever want a new job, I've got an in with the owner's son. He might make you button it, though."

"The kid probably has a crush on you."

I didn't know what to say to that, because Edward was probably right.

"Who wouldn't have a crush on you?" Edward asked, stopping in front of the train car, taking my other hand. That was another question I didn't know how to answer. His eyes bore into mine. I could see the reflection of the river and the moonlight in his eyes. And me. I saw myself in there, too.

"You come every day," I said.

Edward smiled shyly. "I do."

"For root beer?" I asked.

"That first time, yeah. After that, I came for you."

I got my wish. We kissed again. Edward held the back of my head in his hand and pulled me close so that our bodies were flush, so that his warmth bled under my skin. His lips were soft at first and his fingers knotted in my hair. And then his fingers slipped from my waist to places no one had ever touched before.

There was a crash inside the train car. Edward and I jumped apart.

"Jasper Whitlock, this is enough! What would your mom say if she knew what you were doing tonight?" I was livid. A crush was a crush, but you didn't go around destroying property and luring your friend to the scene of her most recent nightmares.

Edward nodded in my direction. He took my hand again and we climbed onto the platform at the back of the car. There was a panel knocked out of the bottom of the door that we could climb through, but that suddenly seemed like a stupid idea. With the blacked out windows, it was really dark inside, and Emmett and Jasper must have been expecting a fight by now.

"Please, guys, come on out," I begged. "I promise Edward's not going to hurt you."

Edward seemed visibly disappointed by my promise, until I leaned forward and pecked his cheek. He held me there long enough for a proper kiss on the lips, but I pulled away remembering the angry crash from just a minute ago.

"What now?" Edward asked. We could both hear something like scratching inside the car.

"I don't want to go in there."

"I'll go," he volunteered.

"They're probably waiting for that. Those assholes!" I yelled into the little opening. "Don't go, Edward."

"You said yourself that I might be able to take them," Edward argued with a smile.

"I don't want anybody taking anybody, though."

"What then, Bella?"

"Wait them out," I offered, kicking at the rusted metal, wishing it was a double kick to the nuts of the idiots inside the car.

"Wait them out?" he asked. "What about, I don't know, do you have a curfew or something?"

Shit. I did. And I hadn't told my dad that I was going to be late. I hadn't planned on this, whatever this was, taking as long as it had. And one of the quirks of living in Cass was that there was no cell phone coverage. The government had declared the area a radio-free zone over twenty-five years ago so they could operate an arsenal of high-powered telescopes in the mountains. All that meant was that there was no popping a little phone out of my pocket and calling my dad like any other kid might have.

"No curfew," I lied.

"Are you sure?" Edward asked.

"I'll make Jasper and Em explain it to him," I laughed, giving the train car another kick. "If you don't hurt them, my dad sure will."

Edward and I smiled when we heard a little scuffle inside the car.

"We wait?" he asked, going for my hand.

I jumped down off the platform, though, and took a seat in the soft, weedy grass facing the train. It didn't take Edward long to settle by my side, his knees bent, his strong arms resting on them. "How long do you think they'll draw this out?" Edward asked. His finger skimmed over my arm tentatively.

Personally, I had a good feeling they'd stay in there until either we fell asleep or they did, but I wasn't sure that was the right answer.

"It doesn't matter. This, what they've been doing here, it's unconscionable, Edward. I say we wait, however long it takes."

"It could be a long wait," he warned as he brushed a loose strand of my hair behind my ear.

"I think I can handle it." My knee brushed against his. He pressed back. I didn't know what to say, because I felt kind of warm and fuzzy all over, charged like the air before lightening strikes.

"Would you tell me about yourself, Junior?" Edward asked. "While we wait."

"Nothing to tell." Three words were about all I could get out.

Edward leaned closer and I could feel in fine detail every point where we were touching: knees, thighs, hips, shoulders, not to mention that his arm was around my waist.

"Please, Junior. One thing about you," he murmured.

"I wait to see you every day," I admitted.

"Me too."

I think maybe I could have died kissing Edward right there, and I would have died happy. His tongue was so soft, his hands moved at the same pace his lips did, and they were soft and sure, and when they ran over my breasts that first time I almost wanted to jump out of my skin, or at least my clothes. I was about to unzip my hoodie for myself when I dimly remembered that we'd trapped Emmett and Jasper in a train car only a few feet in front of us.

Edward remembered, though, or I think he did. Because his hands went up and underneath, instead. And the feel of his strong hands over my breasts sent lightening through my core and between my legs, and I felt my nipples getting hard, even though I was warm. I made little noises, my hips moved, all without thinking, all kind of forgetting I was doing anything, but never forgetting Edward.

My hands roamed his chest, then his back, and then I rested them on the waistband of his still damp jeans, a little frightened. I'd never been like this with a boy before. But as his hands pinched and played with my nipples, as his teeth nipped at my bottom lip, I gave it a try. I brushed his crotch with my hand.

His low hum vibrated against my lips and he pressed back against my hand just a little. So I tried again, and I got the same result, kind of, only this time his fingers pinched me hard, so hard that it hurt as much as it felt… so… good.

So I felt him, through his jeans, and I didn't know what the hell I was doing, and Edward didn't seem to care, he just kissed me harder, and climbed over me until I was on my back, until somehow my hoodie was unzipped, until my tank was pushed up and my bra was pulled down and the cool air kissed my nipples and so did he.


I said his name without thinking, and he kissed and licked and sucked and bit.

"Oh my god."

I said that without thinking too.

I was pretty sure I'd figured out what was his shaft by that point, and I stroked it, up and down and around, repeating over and over, faster - until I shifted my hips up almost by accident. In that one little motion his erection kind of touched me. Right there. That's when I realized I could go hands free, and I think, so did he. Edward pushed himself against me, and even through two pair of jeans it made me hiss, it made me see the sunlight even with my eyes closed and in the dark, it was crazy and shocking and better, so much better than me in my bed with my fingers.

His lips found mine again, and I was glad, because I was making little noises again. His chest rubbed against my breasts, and his penis kept hitting between my legs over and over. My hand was in his hair, pressing his face against mine, and my other hand: down his back, over his ass, under his waistband.

Edward's hand mirrored mine, like I gave permission when I touched his bare ass, and I think maybe I did. The button of my jeans was quickly unbuttoned. My fly was easily unzipped, and I cried out even though he was kissing me as I felt the first fingers besides my own push their way down my panties, traveling back and forth between my slit, tracing a path up and finding it.

My hips bucked enough to possibly throw Edward off me, and I could have sworn I felt his crooked smile against my lips as we kept kissing.

He did the same thing with his fingers again and again and I was sure I was melting, because my insides turned to water. It felt-

"So good," I mumbled against his lips. "So good, Edward."

And a finger found a way up and in.

"Oh my god," I mumbled moving my hips, feeling his finger inside.

"So warm," he murmured back.

He was right. I was covered in sweat, head to foot, and I was burning from the inside out. There was a roaring in my ears, and all I could think was that if his finger, his lips, his body pressed up against mine could make me feel this good, I couldn't possibly imagine a penis added to the equation. I'd combust, right? For the first time ever, though, I thought I'd like to give it a try.

Almost like he was answering my question, Edward nailed my body to the ground with his next thrust and he pumped his finger deeper inside, curling it a little. An electric jolt went right through me. He did it again, and the feeling grew, and his lips, his hands, his goddamned finger didn't stop, and suddenly the button of his jeans was undone, and I felt it, and I went for it with my hands, and Edward was mumbling too, something I couldn't make out, but his voice traveled over me and added to the sensations that were running all along my skin.

"So fucking hot," I heard through a crackling haze.

And it was hot. Too hot, like burning up hot, and I opened my eyes and saw flames.

I didn't see hot flames of desire, or something stupid like that, but real flames.


"Bella," he moaned, pushing his finger deeper inside me.

"No! Edward!" I yelled and scrambled and tried to push him off me. "Edward!"

It only took about a second for Edward to register that my pussy wasn't that hot, and he got to his knees and turned around, and we both sat there for probably a moment too long, looking at the flames consuming the abandoned train car.

"What happened?" he asked, a little dazed, his hair a wreck, the tip of his penis poking out of his undone jeans.

I resisted the urge to say something sarcastic about the heat of our passion, but it made me laugh a little anyway. I think I might have been a little high from all that making out.

Edward turned back to me. His eyes looked green and orange due to the fire. He kissed me very gently on the lips and his hands deftly righted my bra and tank. "We should get out of here," he said, going for my hand.

Pieces weren't fitting together, though. Something was off. Then something went off. A piece of the train popped in the flames, sending a glowing ember shooting into the air in our direction.

Polyester is flammable. Or at least that Qwik-Mart smock of mine that Edward was still half wearing was. It lit up on Edward's back like it had been dipped in kerosene. We both helped to tear it from his body, and then we stomped it out on the ground until it was just the little pieces of dead nettle that were warm and smoldering beneath our feet.

"Like I was saying," Edward murmured, taking my hand. "Let's get you out of here."

More embers had begun to rain around us. But I was forgetting something. His hand? His lips? His eyes? The way his erection felt pressed up against me? No, that was all I could remember. Wasn't there something else?

Emmett and Jasper.

Holy hell.

I broke free from Edward's grasp and ran screaming for the fiery train.

"Emmett! Jasper! Emmett! Oh my God! Jasper!"

Before I could get to the train, though, Edward's arms locked around me and held me tight.

"Let me go! My friends are in there!"

"Bella, no, you'll be killed. You can't go."

I kicked and struggled and tried to dig my heels in as he drug me backwards through the grass, which was now lit in shades of green and orange just like his eyes.

"I can't let them burn alive!"

"Maybe they got out, Bella. We kind of stopped watching. They probably did this, too."

That idea took the wind out of me and I stumbled along as Edward pulled me farther from the flames. They lit the train on fire. They let me think they were burning. They almost set Edward on fire.

I could hear a siren across the river, and I could see flashing lights coming down Dirty Road. And there were people making their way across the bridge, lots of them, well, lots if you considered that we were in Cass.

Alice came running first, leading the rest of the town towards Edward and I. She was somehow always first on the scene when things went wrong, ever since we were kids. And I could have been wrong, but it looked like Jasper was right behind her. I guess he hadn't run too far when she bumped into him.

Besides that, though, I couldn't keep track of all the faces through the smoke. I was just aware of Edward's arms supporting me, and the way he was guiding me to safety, and the smoke that choked and burned at my throat and made my eyes tear.

Before long, I felt Alice's skinny arms wrap around me. I opened my eyes to see Jasper hanging back from the three of us, smiling awkwardly. I just shook my head at him, disgusted beyond belief. Someone came by and wrapped me in a blanket, which was odd, since Edward was the one with the bare chest.

A fire truck sped past us and came to a screeching halt just adjacent to the burning train. They began spraying water on the ground and trees and houses in the immediate vicinity, but it looked like they were determined to finally let the awful thing burn to rubble.

Right after they began with their hoses, I froze in place.

"Bella?" Edward asked. "Bella, what's wrong?"

Edward had no reason to think that anything was off when the police cruiser came to a quick stop just off to the side of the road. He had no reason to get scared when the police chief stepped out and slammed the car door closed.

Of course, Alice didn't need to ask what had me so distracted. I mentally tried to rehearse how it was all Jasper and Emmett's fault, even though I knew what my dad would say to that.

"Just remember that he can't be angry forever, Bella," Alice advised, squeezing my hand.

"No, I'm going to make sure he kicks Jasper's ass," I spat.

"Jasper?" Alice asked, looking over her shoulder.

"That's Jasper?" Edward asked, taking a menacing step in Jasper's direction.

"In the car, Isabella!"

My dad's angry voice stopped us all in our tracks. He stomped toward us from where he parked the cruiser. His eyes weren't on me, though, they were on Edward: shirtless, jeans still somewhat undone, his arm around my waist.

"But, daddy -"

"No buts, Isabella! This side of the river? With a boy? Starting a fire? In. The. Car!"

"Starting a fire? I didn't do this, daddy! Jasper and Emmett did! They busted up half this old town tonight."

That's when I noticed Emmett in the crowd, his arms wrapped securely around Rose, watching the fire like it was fireworks, or something.

"Bella, Jasper was with me tonight," Alice said quietly, touching my elbow.

"With you?" I asked.

"He was… sad," she explained, blushing a little.

"He was angry. He was going with Emmett to -"

"Emmett got called to the tool shed, after all," Jasper told us with a little smirk. "Something needed nailing."

"But if it wasn't you and Emmett, then who the hell -" I began to ask.

"Isabella Marie Swan, if you don't get you ass in the car right this second, I swear, you're not too old for a whipping."

"Edward?" I asked, turning in his arms.

"You heard your dad, Bella."

"But what about tonight? If it wasn't -"

"Ghosts?" he chuckled. I shivered again in his arms.

"I don't like you over here all alone, though," I added.

"Then come find me again tomorrow."

Edward's eyes were warm, his arms were strong, and I had to work very hard not to lay my head against his chest. I was sure my dad wouldn't like that one bit. With that thought, I glanced nervously at my dad.

"Or come back as soon as your father lets you," Edward murmured. Until then, there's always more root beer for me to buy at the Qwik-Mart, right?"

"Bella!" my dad hollered.

I wasn't sure what had happened across the river tonight, but there was no mistaking what I'd gotten out of it: the boy holding me in his arms. I made my dad wait just long enough for me to get in one more kiss.

an o/s for now...