Boys on Boards Contest

Title: Townies and Tourists

Characters: Edward/Bella

Disclaimer: All characters and their original likeness belong to & her Twiverse. This work of fanfiction is mine and any similarities to other stories are simply coincidental. Because we all love the beach and surfer boys.

Word Count: 9552

Summary: It was supposed to be a summer to relax on the beach & figure out her future. Bella never thought she'd fall in love and complicate everything. 99.99% fluff

"You're too self-sacrificing," my father told me. "We both know you could have gone to any school you wanted, but you stayed in Washington to be close to me."

"Dad, you know I like it there, and I'm glad I stayed close."

"You don't have a job yet. All I'm asking is that you think about it. You don't have to stay there just because Jessica asked you to get an apartment with her." His expression belied sincerity, and his eyes were so hopeful. "It's great here. Spend the summer and see what you think."

"Okay, I'll think about it."

Our conversation ended, and he left me on the porch alone, watching the waves roll in off the Atlantic, the sun slowly making its descent.

Despite being on this beach house covered island in North Carolina for my senior year spring break, I still found it hard to believe my dad had actually left his lifelong home of Forks, Washington to move out here. He had been offered early retirement from the Forks Police Department, but he hadn't accepted until his sister Tabitha's husband died suddenly of a heart attack. Charlie hadn't hesitated to leave the only home he'd ever known, packing up his life and transplanting himself all the way across the country to help her.

It had surprised me quite a bit; though I'd met my Aunt Tabitha a few times when I was younger, I'd never had a relationship with her, and I never thought my dad had either. He was always hurt that she'd chosen her husband over their dying parents. I don't remember my grandparents at all because when my mom left Washington with me, he had stayed behind to care for them instead of chasing after Renee. When my mom remarried while I was in high school, I went back to live with him, and he had welcomed me without question or hesitation. He called me self-sacrificing, but I wondered if he ever realized from whom I'd inherited that trait.

Now that I was so close to graduation, he wanted me to consider making the move east as well. He reasoned that all my remaining family was now out there and that since I'd yet to find a job, it would be worth a shot. After so many years, it would be wonderful to be within driving distance of my mom and her husband Phil in Florida, but it was still so much to consider. I'd grown accustomed to the West Coast way of life – even the near constant rain and milder summers. True, it had taken me time, but there were a lot of things I liked.

As a compromise, Charlie suggested I at least spend the summer with him and get a feel for the area. I was still so unsure, but as I watched the waves tumble and the sea birds swoop, I had to admit the idea of a summer holiday on the beach was tempting.

.

Seven weeks later, I found myself back on the same seafront porch, overlooking a bright morning on the beach. My dad had kept on with his request, though it wasn't much of a stretch to convince me. I still had no idea what my plans were once summer ended, but I needed to make up my mind soon. Jessica needed to know whether to take the lease on the one or two bedroom apartment, and I would be in major need of a job as well. For the time being, however, I was happy to enjoy being a recent college graduate with my whole life ahead of me…and a nice place to try and figure it all out for a couple months.

I was sipping a hot cup of coffee, thankful for the edge it took off the sea breeze. The day would soon be quite warm, climbing up into the nineties, but the wind could really cool things off when the sun wasn't at its peak. My aunt's amaretto creamer wasn't my favorite, but beggars can't be choosers when it comes to that first cup of the day. I made a mental note to walk down to the convenience store and get something different later that day.

"I don't know how you can stand that sticky sweet stuff," I heard as the sliding glass door opened and my father's heavy footsteps echoed on the porch.

"And I don't know how you can stand the bitterness of black coffee," I quipped back. "Morning." I smiled as he bent down and kissed the top of my head, returning my greeting.

He settled into the chair beside me and gazed out at the glow of dawn on the water. I glanced over at him, still growing accustomed to seeing my father not only so relaxed but also in such casual clothes. There had only been a few times growing up that I'd seen my father in shorts. Now, khaki shorts and swim trunks were the norm. He had even expanded his wardrobe to include more colors than black, white, navy, and varying shades of brown. He was such a different person; I rather liked seeing him so relaxed and happy.

We sipped our coffee in relative silence, slowly letting the peaceful start of the day seep into us and only commentating when we saw the occasional dolphin break the surface or a pelican dive headfirst into the water.

"Care to join me?" he asked, rising from his seat. From what he'd told me, Charlie had taken to morning strolls on the beach. He said it cleared his mind and kept his old body in shape.

We took our coffee mugs inside, placing them in the sink, and left our shoes on the porch. We walked in the wet sand, letting the surf lick at our feet. Sometimes we talked and other moments were quiet as we just observed and enjoyed. We passed a woman walking with an excited toddler, probably a vacationer enjoying the beach, and there were a couple other people Charlie seemed to recognize, saying hello as we went by. The sun was at our backs, and we continued until we were tired of going in that direction, then we turned and made our way back, measuring our progress by the pier in the distance. It was amazing how centered I felt by something so simple as a slow paced walked on the beach.

By the time we returned, Aunt Tabitha was buzzing around, and everyone was ready for breakfast. Tabby headed to the beachfront restaurant she had run with her husband prior to his death, telling us she needed to get the payroll done and meet with her assistant manager about hiring a couple new servers. My dad settled into his recliner with the morning paper, and I decided to get out one of my books. I was rereading one of my favorite series, and I had that wonderful, anxious feeling in my stomach I always did when I was really wrapped up in a story. I had made it through the first book during my cross continental flight, and I was looking forward to enjoying the next in the series. Barefoot, in shorts and a tank top with my sunglasses on, I settled onto the porch with my book.

Aunt Tabby had an amazing home. It was far too big for just her and her husband, and they'd never had any children. The house was technically a duplex style, and from what she'd told me, the people next door used all three floors. On her side, the bottom floor was a separate home with two bedrooms. She had the entirety of the second and third floors, which included five bedrooms (three of which had en suite bathrooms and private porches), a game room, an open family room, and an enormous modern kitchen. I loved the big porch off the living and kitchen area on the third floor because the breeze came through perfectly in the shady space. It was still hot outside, but it wasn't unpleasant to sit out there most of the day.

As I read, the beach played a steady background chorus, and I was lost in the story for a long while. Eventually, the sound of beach goers filtered in, and with all the laughter of children, my eyes were drawn out toward the sand. It looked like some sort of Surf Camp because several young adults were spread out with small groups of kids, all donning those cover up shirts I'd seen surfers wearing. I had no idea what they were called, but they were always accompanied by a guy or girl with a surfboard. I smiled lightly at the scene, then turned my attention back to my book.

My days became a comfortable routine; I walked with Charlie every morning, enjoyed the indulgence of no responsibility by reading most of the day, and helped keep up the house.

Watching Surf Camp also became part of my routine.

It was difficult not to be distracted by the activity taking place right in front of our house. People-watching was always a great pastime, but there was one particular group that seemed to stand out from all the others. The four kids in that group, probably somewhere between nine and twelve years old, were always laughing. I could see their smiles from my perch on the third floor, and their joy was infectious. It quickly became obvious why they were having so much fun: their instructor. He was tall and animated, his hands and arms in constant motion as he gestured and taught. I watched him demonstrate techniques in the sand, standing back while the kids practiced lying on their boards and popping up as they would need to out on the water. He clearly joked and maintained good spirits with encouragement and humor; it was obvious that his methods were effective because his class seemed to make the most progress. Or maybe I was just paying attention to them more than any of the others.

It was difficult not to romanticize the perceived personality of that guy. In addition to being great with the children he worked with, he was hot. Well, I couldn't see his face clearly, but the rest of him was easy on the eyes in that stereotypical beach guy sort of way. He often went without the surf shirt thing the kids wore, revealing a slim, athletic body. I had been friends with guys from the swim team in college, so I recognized the shape of this guy's form. Every inch of him seemed toned – at least from a distance – and he was, of course, tanned to golden perfection. As if that wasn't enough, he had a mess of brownish-red hair that suited him perfectly, and he always seemed to be smiling. What really amazed me was that he never wore sunglasses, no matter how blindingly sunny it was outside. I had to assume that was a skill developed over years on the beach; I could hardly stand the brightness on the shaded porch.

The weekend came, and Charlie and I went for our morning walk. More people were out earlier, which he said was pretty normal. I noticed quite a number of surfers out on the morning waves – both men and women.

"Why don't you actually go on down to the beach today? You might meet some kids your age and get a little color on your skin."

"Hey!" I protested, scowling in good humor. "I'm not that pale."

He just laughed at me affectionately. "Oh, sweetheart, you're white as a seashell."

"Well, I don't like going in the water. Looking at the ocean is nice enough for me."

"Okay, I understand," Charlie said with a sigh, "but the vacation feeling is going to wear off eventually. You should meet some people; do something other than read and clean the house."

"I'm fine, really," I insisted, but he seemed skeptical.

He backed off after that, and once we made our way back to the stairs and boardwalk that led to our house, he went up to get his paper and enjoy his routine that I never bugged him about.

Sighing to myself, I sat at the top of the steps and watched the surfers. They looked so fearless out there, paddling so far. I could only imagine how deep the water was where they were, and they all seemed to sense which swells were worth getting up on their board for and which to pass up. Though most of them seemed to take the occasional spill, each wore a contented look, smiling often.

I closed my eyes, tipping my head back and letting the morning sun warm my face. I was just about to head up to the house for another cup of coffee and some breakfast when I heard a loud holler and looked back toward the water. Someone was running into the ocean with a board and a huge grin. It was the instructor guy, and though he wasn't really close to me, I could still see how good looking he really was. He moved through the water with grace and ease, and his comfort and skill outshined all his friends. I watched him for probably ten minutes until another guy came out of the water and made eye contact with me. He smiled, and I immediately felt embarrassed having been caught staring at them. I was sure people watched them all the time, but still . . . .

I immediately stood and rushed up the boardwalk, stopping under the stairs to the third floor to wash the sand from my feet before escaping into the house. Aunt Tabitha was around for the day, and she chatted about the restaurant while I packed a beach blanket, a drink, and a book into a small bag.

"Why don't you use my e-reader?" she asked. "Lord knows I don't have any time for reading these days, and it would be much less for you to lug around than all those books of yours."

"Oh, thanks, but there's just something about books that I love. I'm the same way when I write. Sometimes it's easier and faster to do it on my computer, but there are times I want to feel a pen in my hand as the ideas come out," I explained as she smiled and nodded.

"Have you done any writing yet this summer?"

"No," I said, shaking my head. "I've been enjoying this series too much, but I go through my phases. I'm sure an idea will come and bite me, and I won't be able to read anything else until I get it out."

"So creative," she said, disappearing into her bedroom.

After thoroughly spraying myself with the highest SPF sunscreen I could find, I made my way down to the sand. I was wearing a purple bikini with thin, bright green pinstripes on it, and I felt ridiculous. And exposed. I only had one bathing suit prior to this trip, which happened to be a four year old tankini that my friend Jessica had thrown away before she dragged me to Target to buy no less than three new suits. Try as she might to convince me that mix-and-match bikinis were totally acceptable on the beach, I refused, and we eventually left with a few choices that showed off far more than I liked, even though she still told me I was a prude. I wasn't uncomfortable with my body, but I'd never really spent a lot of time in a bikini.

Thankfully, the day was a little overcast, and it didn't feel like a million degrees in the sun. I walked down to the water a few times to wet my feet, but mostly I stayed on my blanket with my book. I had to admit that it was nice to be out in the sun, though I'd probably have a sunburn no matter how much sunscreen I used. I was just thinking about heading back to the house when a shadow covered me. Rolling from my stomach to my side, I saw a guy with long, blond hair smiling down at me.

"Glad to see you came back," he said with a flirtatious smile.

I sat up fully and realized he was the one who had smiled at me earlier. "Oh, hi."

"Can I sit?"

Taken aback a little by his forwardness, I scooted over and let him take a seat beside me. He didn't seem pushy . . . more like some old, familiar friend who was making himself at home.

"I'm Jasper," he explained, still grinning. "Don't believe anything you hear about me."

"Okay, I won't." I laughed nervously. "I'm Bella."

"Cool, cool. You new here or vacationing?"

"Both maybe?"

He quirked an eyebrow, his damp hair falling into his face as he tipped his head to see me more clearly. "How's that?"

"I came out to visit my dad for the summer. He wants me to stay, but I don't know yet. All my friends are back in Seattle."

"I've never been to Seattle, but I'd venture a guess that it's more fun here," he said, and I wondered if that smile ever left his face. God, he was charming without even trying. No surprise with as forward as he had been.

We spoke for a few minutes, not really about much of anything, but he was nice, and I realized that my dad may have been right about me needing to meet people. It would be good to know some people around here, even just for the summer. It didn't hurt that I started with a really good looking, really nice, really flirtatious guy.

"Well, Beach Babe Bella, I need to head out, but I hope I'll be seeing you around some more."

"Yeah, you too," I found myself saying, smiling all the while. "I guess you know where to find me."

"That I do." He smiled again, then ran down the beach toward the pier.

.

Some days I ventured down to the sand and others were spent on the porch reading. I talked to a few of my friends back home who all expressed their extreme jealousy of my summer but asked when I'd be back in the city. Charlie took me out to a few different local sights: an aquarium, a sea turtle rescue center, a small state park with great running and biking trails, and even to play putt-putt. Even though I knew we only went to the sports complex so he could drive a bucket a balls – a hobby he had only just taken up since moving here – he indulged me with one of my favorite childhood games. Things were going well, but he was right that I felt a little restless at times.

A week after meeting Jasper, I was up on the porch doing my usual when I heard footsteps on our boardwalk. Looking down, I saw him making his way toward the house, and I shouted a hello down to him.

"Can I come up?"

"Sure," I answered, setting my book aside and waiting for him.

He was already smiling when he reached the third floor porch. "Looking lovely as always."

"As much of a Lothario as I remember," I fired back.

"I'll take that as a compliment."

"I'm sure you will," I said with a grin.

"Do you have any plans tonight?" he asked without preamble.

I shook my head. "Not really. Just hanging around here and probably watching a movie."

"Then come out with me. A bunch of my friends are going to play pool and hang out. Nothing fancy; I just thought you might like to meet some people."

I bit my lip but didn't realize how much my expression gave away until I realized Jasper was staring at me with a concerned expression.

"Trying to figure out a way to let me down easily?" he asked.

"No, it's not that. I just . . ." I drifted off, trying to find the right words to explain myself.

"Not your type? You have a boyfriend back home? You like girls? You're not that kind of girl? You've recently have your heart broken?"

I couldn't help but chuckle a little.

"No, it's not like that. You just caught me off guard. You're very forward, yet I feel comfortable around you."

"Too comfortable? Friend comfortable?"

"Yeah, maybe." I nodded.

"It's cool. A man can't win every pretty girl's heart, but you can't blame me for trying, huh?" he said, smiling yet again.

"I'm glad I didn't permanently damage your ego."

He shrugged. "I'm a little disappointed, but you should still come. My friends and I, we're good people. Sometimes a little crazy, but never lacking in fun."

"If you insist, I'll come," I told him.

"Excellent," he smiled. "I'll pick you up here around nine?"

"Sounds good."

With that, he was off toward the water again, and I made my way inside to let Charlie know about my plans.

As soon as Jasper and I walked into the little bar where all his friends were already surrounding a pool table, I knew they thought we were on a date. Not that he wasn't very attractive, but that thing just wasn't there. He was completely laid back about it, though, smiling and introducing me as his friend. They were a nice group of people, and I went through the typical "where are you from and what brings you here" conversations with most of them. I had a couple beers with Jasper before he wandered off. I made my way toward the bar to get another drink, and when the bartender came up I realized it was him. The hottie from Surf Camp. He was even better looking up close, and I was glad it was relatively dark because I could feel my face heat. Jasper may not have given me that swirling, excited feeling in my stomach, but this guy did, and I didn't even know his name.

"Hey there," he greeted me. "What can I get you?"

"Blue Moon?" I said, not sure why I was saying it like a question.

"Sounds good. You want it on Jasper's tab?"

"No," I shook my head, taking out some cash. "I've got it."

"Can't say I've ever seen Jasper let one of his dates pay for her own drinks," he said, frowning slightly.

"It's not a date," I said quickly. Too quickly, I'm sure. "We're just friends."

Wow, that didn't sound obvious or anything.

"His loss then," the bartending surfer said, placing my beer down before me. Again, I felt like I was on fire. Were all the guys around here enormous flirts?

"Umm, I'm Bella, by the way," I told him, and our conversation began. Between him serving drinks to others and keeping the bar wiped down, I learned that his name was Edward. I didn't have to admit that I had been secretly stalking him from my porch because he told me about teaching surfing lessons and went on to explain that he actually owned this bar, which caused me to choke a little. He explained that he'd lived here most of his life and the bar had belonged to his grandfather. He and his brother had accepted an advance on their inheritance by taking the place over, and though they had a few bartenders, they each worked a few shifts a week to keep the overhead low.

I was a little dumbfounded. I couldn't imagine being twenty-four years old and owning a business like that.

As the crowd thinned out, I realized two things. The first was that I was completely and utterly smitten with Edward. My little crush-from-afar had been affirmed by how fondly he spoke of his Surf Camp kids, though I didn't admit I knew he was an instructor. It was a little unreal how great this guy was and how easily our conversation flowed. He didn't feel like someone I had just met, though he did make me a little anxious . . . in the best way possible. The second thing I noticed was that Jasper was nowhere to be seen. When I asked Edward if he knew where Jasper had gone, he looked a little guilty.

"He text me a little while ago and asked if I could give you a ride home."

"Oh," I muttered, embarrassed to have been left behind. "That's okay. I can call my dad or a cab. Are there cabs around here?"

"Yeah, there are a few cabs, but that's totally unnecessary," Edward said. "As long as you don't mind sticking around while I close up, I'd be more than happy to."

Then, he smiled at me. A smile that nearly stopped my heart. A smile that said, "I like you. Don't turn me down."

How could I have?

Even though Edward insisted that I relax while he restocked the coolers with beer and took out the garbage, I couldn't just sit there and watch him work, so I grabbed a rag and wiped down the tables and chairs around the bar. After that, I brushed down the pool table and swept the floor.

"I think I need to tip you out now," he teased as we walked out to his car.

"Don't think I didn't notice that you took my ten dollar bill and put a five and five ones back down. No tip out necessary."

"I guess we're even then." He grinned a sideways, heart-melting smile at me, and I had to look away. God, he was sexy.

He followed my directions back to my aunt's house, and when he pulled up, a knowing look lit his eyes.

"You're the book girl." Caught off guard, I didn't say anything. "I've seen you up here, practically every day."

"Umm, yeah, that would be me," I said quietly.

"Come down tomorrow," he insisted. "I'll be out with most of those guys you met tonight."

I nodded and agreed to do that, and his smile in return was brilliant. Before I got out of the car, his expression became serious.

"I'm really glad I met you tonight. I'll see you in the morning."

I managed to hold myself together until I got inside, but once I was there, the biggest, stupidest, most ridiculous smile was plastered on my face and remained there until I fell asleep.

.

If I had a diary, I would have written pages about how much I liked Edward already. He was perfect. He was sweet. He made me feel like a love struck teenager all over again. No, I'd never felt this wrapped up in a guy before. I'd dated a handful through school, but I had never been with someone who made me so giddy and excited.

"What's gotten into you?" Aunt Tabitha asked me as I hummed and swayed, scooping coffee grounds into the filter.

"I'm just in a good mood," I said, obviously not fooling her.

"You went out with that boy last night," she replied, one eyebrow raised at me.

"And he is just a friend . . . but there may have been another guy."

She giggled, sounding much more like one of my friends than my fifty-something aunt. "Tell me about him!"

Because I absolutely could not resist, I gushed. I told her about seeing him teaching Surf Camp and how funny and sweet he was with the kids. I went on about how tan and sexy he was on his board. Then, I filled her in on our conversations at the bar and how well we had gotten along.

"Which bikini are you going to wear?" she asked suddenly.

"I hadn't really thought about it. The purple one, probably."

"No, no. Do the pretty blue."

"I hate that one," I said flatly. "It has sequins on it."

"Just a few!" she protested. They're barely noticeable, and I saw you try it on the other day. It's such a pretty color, especially now that you're getting a bit of a tan building."

Thankfully, my dad came up to the kitchen and ended the bikini talk, and after a cup of coffee each, he and I set off on our morning walk. As we made our way back, I heard my name shouted from down the beach.

"Who's that?" Charlie asked.

"Looks like Riley. I met him last night."

"Oh yeah?"

"Nothing like that," I said, correcting his train of thought. "There were lots of nice people – guys and girls – and if anything develops with anyone, I will let you know."

He just nodded, a knowing expression telling me he would back off and play dumb. He headed up to the house, leaving me to continue walking down toward the crowd of surfers. I talked to Riley for a couple minutes before Jasper came out, shaking his wet hair on me.

"Sorry for ditching you last night. From what I hear, you made it home all right." As always, he was smiling, but this one was less flirtatious and more mischievous.

"Yeah, I was fine, but remind me not to count on you for a ride anymore." I punched his arm lightly, and he wrapped his around me, soaking my T-shirt and making me push him away.

Edward appeared, pulling his shirt thingy off and tossing it on top of his board.

"Hi," he said, giving me a look that made my knees a little weak.

We sat side-by-side talking and watching the waves together. I learned that his surfing shirt was called a rash guard, which made more sense than any of the names I'd created for it, and when it started to warm up, he came to the house with me so I could get changed and pack up a cooler with some drinks for us. My aunt emerged, and as they chatted they realized that Edward's parents knew her, as they owned one of the beachfront motels nearby. I changed into the blue bathing suit, much to my aunt's delight, and we went back to the sand. By that time, people were starting to filter out of the beach houses and hotels, and the crowds grew. Edward's friends came and went throughout the day, but we stayed almost the entire time. I ran up to the house a few times, but when he asked me to go into the water with him I declined.

That was when I had to admit that although I could swim, I'd never had a lot of practice with it and wasn't the strongest swimmer. That being said, the ocean and the thought of rip tides and rough waves didn't instill me with much confidence in my skills. Edward was disappointed, but he asked me if he could help. Apparently, there was a pool at his parents' motel that we could use, and he was insistent that he could help me overcome my fears.

With Edward's persistence, I found myself completely wrapped up in him. Nearly every day after Surf Camp or his own surfing with his friends, he drove us to the motel where I treaded water for what felt like hours, learned and practiced different strokes, and listened to his instructions of what to do in different water related emergencies. I had jokingly asked if he was a lifeguard too, which was when I learned that yes, he was indeed certified. The guy was completely unreal.

We did more than that together, though. There were nights that I hung out at the bar with him, and I got to meet his older brother Emmett. I got to know his friends better, and if they were all hanging out, I usually was too. Edward touched me constantly, and I couldn't say I minded. Sometimes it was a guiding hand while we were in the pool. Other times, his fingers splayed over the small of my back while we walked into the bar or someone's house. Then one night, he held my hand while he drove me home. My stomach flip-flopped, but I weaved my fingers between his and squeezed. We walked on the beach in the moonlight that night, and for the longest time we sat at the top of the steps, his arm around me, and my head tucked against him comfortably.

The next day, I let him drag me into the ocean. We started shallow, walking through the light surf until my nervousness subsided and I could feel that the waves were relatively calm that day. The water was surprisingly warm, and it felt so good to let it push against my body. I trusted Edward so much, and when he sensed that I was getting anxious, he would touch me, reminding me I was safe. He showed me how to float, letting the soft waves bob us up and down, and it was such a freeing, relaxing feeling. I had my toes poking out of the water, laughing about how bright the pink polish looked in the sun, when Edward's eyes widened. A larger wave crashed over my head, pushing me down into the water, and the force of it rolled me until the side of my leg scraped painfully against the sand. Suddenly, strong hands gripped me and pulled me to the surface. I was wrapped up in Edward, his arms holding me firmly as I coughed and pushed my hair out of my face.

"It's all right. I've got you," he cooed gently, his hand rubbing up and down my back. "You okay?" he asked, looking down at me.

We were only in about four and a half feet of water, but I felt shaken. Pulling back slightly, I looked to make sure there weren't any more surprises coming before I dunked myself underwater to slick my hair back. I pushed the water out of my eyes and wiped my nose, slightly embarrassed but overall relieved he was there. Edward's expression was tense, and I felt awful for making him worry about me; something came over me then, and I found myself back in his arms, my scantily clad body pressed into his bare torso. He must have sensed my change in mood because he leaned down to meet me, and our lips pressed together in a soft, salty kiss. Slowly and tentatively, my lips parted, and his followed suit. As our tongues met, I heard him whimper almost inaudibly, and I was right there with everything he was feeling. There was nothing hesitant or unsure on either side. He lifted me gently, and I allowed my legs to dangle in the water while he held us face to face, kissing for another minute.

"Want to get out?" he asked when our lips broke apart. I nodded and allowed him to take my hand as we walked back toward my blanket. Once there, he noticed the angry red scratch on my thigh. It stung, but I was fine.

"Thank you," I told him, lying on the blanket and allowing him to pull me into a cuddle. It was too hot to stay that way for long, but it was comforting nonetheless. He kissed me again before we both sat up and had a drink.

.

I was tangled up in Edward completely after that. We had already been spending so much time together, but it all felt so much more intense and heated once we crossed that line with our kiss. Oh, the kissing was so good. There were times the kissing turned to groping and shirts being discarded, but something always seemed to interrupt. Time together became more strained when my dad and I found Aunt Tabitha crying one day. She was overwhelmed with the restaurant and the heavy summer traffic. Her husband used to handle all the management while she controlled the financial aspects, but since he died, she had been trying to do it all herself. It had finally gotten to a point where she couldn't take it any longer. Charlie and I sat down with her and hashed out a plan for her to hire someone experienced to fill the position. In the meantime, we would help wherever we could. I didn't mind playing hostess, and though my dad had zero experience with the business world, he had been Chief of Police for quite some time and understood how to manage employees. Edward was disappointed that I was less accessible than I had been initially, but he was very understanding.

Though my new responsibilities played their own part in keeping my relationship with Edward from progressing much farther, I knew that I was hesitant as well. My aunt had been talking about a connection she had with someone who ran a local magazine. I'd seen a few of these regional publications in the grocery store, and they seemed pretty widely read by both locals and tourists. Tabby wanted me to meet this woman and talk about a potential job opportunity, but I was so caught up in everything else that it always got pushed to the wayside. The summer was progressing quickly, and in addition to Charlie and Aunt Tabitha wanting to know if I planned to move permanently, I also had Jessica emailing me regularly, asking when I was coming back. She had sent me a few job websites and links that she or our friends had had success with, but I felt too overwhelmed to take action one way or the other.

The truth was, I loved it in North Carolina. Everything felt like an endless vacation, even when I was working, and my relationship with Edward had completely swept me off my feet. It was like I was waiting for the ball to drop and everything to turn sour. I honestly had no reason to feel that way, but I did. I overthought it all, and the less I tried to focus on it, the more it bothered me. When I asked myself what I wanted, it always came back around to one simple answer: Edward. But I couldn't base a life altering, cross country move on the way I felt about a guy I had known for a matter of weeks. If I uprooted my life and things didn't work, all I would have were my dad and my aunt. All my friends were his friends. All my hobbies and social life were built around him. It made me nervous and scared and confused. It made me absolutely terrified of having sex with him because once we went there, I would have to admit to myself that I had fallen in love with him faster than I ever dreamed possible.

Another busy week passed, and I had barely seen Edward at all. The nights I was working for Tabby clashed with his responsibilities at the bar, and though I missed him so much, I was fighting myself over the huge decision I had to make. Despite being tired after working at the restaurant until eleven o'clock one night, I finally gave into Edward's pleas for me to come spend the night with him. I craved his companionship, his kiss, his everything. After a shower and changing into my pajamas, I went to the kitchen to scribble a note for my dad, surprised that he was still up watching a Mariners game that was on late due to the time difference.

I explained nervously that Edward was on his way to pick me up, and I found myself asking Charlie for his permission. His brow creased for a moment, but he just shook his head at me.

"Honey, you're an adult. You'll always be my little girl, and I might not like the idea of you spending the night with your boyfriend, but you don't need my permission anymore. Just call if you need anything."

I gave him a hug and walked to the front door just as Edward pulled into the driveway.

The air around us felt charged immediately, and Edward leaned over the arm rest to kiss me.

"I'm glad you said yes," he told me. "I miss you."

"Me too," I replied honestly.

There was no delay when we got to his house. I had been there before, and we'd even napped in his bed, but this would be our first sleep over. He kissed me softly at first, following me as I sat on his bed and crawled back, and he was quickly over me, the weight of his body a welcome pressure. Our pace increased, and my hands seemed to move everywhere – up and down his back, in his hair, cupping his face. I could feel how hard he was as his body pressed against mine, creating the most amazing friction, and I grappled with his shirt until he paused and ripped it over his head. I felt frenzied with his warm skin so accessible to my touch, and his back arched when my fingernails raked over his body lightly.

His lips teased their way down my neck and across my clavicle, sucking my skin enough to make me worry that he'd leave a mark, but he didn't stop there. He tugged down on my tank top and freed one of my breasts, rubbing it teasingly until his mouth descended on my nipple. He circled it quickly with his tongue, and then his teeth clamped around it. The bite wasn't hard, but it seemed to send a lightning bolt of need straight between my legs. My hips pushed up against him, and he slid off me, letting his hand find its way to what I desperately wanted.

I needed the relief that only he could give me, but when I met his eyes again, the fear overwhelmed me like a tidal wave. I could see by the look on his face that if we moved any farther now, things wouldn't stop. We'd go there tonight, and I would be done for.

I couldn't. My entire body ached with need for him, but my heart was putting up a barricade against this.

"Stop," I told him, nearly crying.

"What? What's wrong?" He had frozen and was staring down at me, panicked.

I rolled away from him, even though it was the last place I wanted to be. "I'm not ready. I can't."

"Bella . . . . Baby, we don't have to have sex tonight."

"If you touch me . . . if we go any farther, I won't be able to stop. I know I won't."

He sighed in obvious frustration, and his hand left my hip. I felt awful and confused, but I just couldn't do it.

"I need to go take a shower."

I didn't cry while he was gone, but I felt like I was going to the whole time. When he came out of the bathroom, I was under the covers, facing away from him still. He came behind me and wrapped his body around mine; any animosity seemed to be gone. His skin was cool and slightly damp, and he seemed to only be wearing boxers. He brushed my hair off my neck and kissed me there. It wasn't meant to elevate things again, and it felt like acceptance.

"I'm sorry," I whispered, but he merely shushed me and held me as we fell asleep.

In the morning, we seemed to wake at the same time. My eyes opened slowly, and I found myself tucked into Edward's shoulder with an arm and a leg thrown over him.

"Mornin', Beautiful."

"Hi," I said, smiling. "You going surfing?"

"Mmm hmm."

"Can I come watch?"

"Of course you can," he answered, kissing my forehead. "Hey, Emmett's having a party tonight. You wanna go?"

"Sure," I agreed. "Just let me know what time. As far as I know, Tabby doesn't need me today."

He drove us back to my house, and I changed my clothes and poured myself a cup of coffee before walking down to the sand and taking a seat. Edward waved to me from way out on his board, then hopped to his feet and rode in on a wave with the same style and grace he always seemed to possess. He was so damn perfect, and from the way things had gone, far more accepting of my rejection than I probably deserved.

I spent my day looking at the regional publication my aunt had been encouraging me toward and perusing job listings in Seattle. The most that came up for me right out of college was some peanuts job as a copy editor. Yes, plenty of people started that way, but it wasn't ideal. Otherwise, my choices seemed to be some unpaid internships or back to school for my Masters. My prospects weren't especially promising, which made staying at the beach even more appealing, but I was still so apprehensive about it.

I managed to make it through my day, and when evening came, Edward took me out to dinner before we headed to his brother's. By then, I knew enough people that I was comfortable on my own, and I ended up beside Jasper on the couch. He was clearly drunk, and quite amusing I might add, but his lack of filter was in full force.

"Beach Babe Bella, you know I love you, but you stole my wingman," he told me, smiling dumbly all the while.

"Wingman, huh?" I replied, not especially fond of that particular term where my boyfriend was involved.

"You know it. Put the Whitlock and Cullen charm together, and we're a force to be reckoned with," he said proudly, laughing a little.

"Oh, I think you do just fine on your own," I teased. "And I'm sure there will be a girl that will come along and tame you."

He guffawed at my suggestion and started to jabber about something else when I looked across the room and noticed Edward talking to a tall blonde girl I'd never met. She had the longest legs I'd ever seen in an extremely short pair of shorts, and her obscenely large chest was hanging out of her low cut shirt.

"Jasper," I said, interrupting whatever he'd been babbling about. "Who's that girl?"

"What girl?" he asked, throwing his arm around my shoulder.

"Over there. With Edward."

"Chesty McBoob?" he said, laughing. I wasn't quite as amused. "Irene? Irina? They used to date or something."

My stomach dropped. As if all my insecurities weren't enough, it finally hit me that this had been Edward's home all this life. He had a past here. He had ex-girlfriends here. Beautiful, voluptuous girlfriends who seemed to still be interested in him.

"Did you drive here?" I asked suddenly, and he nodded. "Can I take your car? You can't drive home anyway, and I'm not feeling so good."

"You're gonna have to get my keys outta my pocket," he slurred, "cuz I can't move."

I stared at him blankly. "For real? Which pocket?"

I had just put my hand on Jasper's thigh tentatively, patting around for his keys while trying not to accidentally pat anything else, when he threw both arms around me.

"I love you, Beach Bella! You're so great!"

Jasper probably didn't realize it, but he had dragged me halfway into his lap, and I half struggled, half laughed as I tried to get away from him. Somewhere along the way, I managed to wrestle his keys out of his pocket and pry myself from his grasp. Smiling at his drunken shenanigans, I stood and smoothed out my dress . . . just in time to look up and see Edward scowling.

Edward stormed over and looked at me with hard eyes and a clenched jaw. "Can we talk? Outside?"

I glared right back at him, upset that he was making such a scene. I handed Jasper his keys back and followed Edward out toward his car.

"Get in."

"What?"

"Get in," he demanded, and even though his tone was making me mad, I did it anyway. Inside the car, he turned and looked at me.

"How's your ex-girlfriend doing?" I asked and immediately wished I could take it back.

"Excuse me?" he snapped. "First of all, I dated that girl six year ago, and second, I wasn't the one hanging all over someone else in the middle of a crowded party!"

"I wasn't hanging all over anyone!" I fired back. "Jasper is my friend, and in case you didn't notice, he's totally wasted tonight. I would assume that as your former 'wingman' you probably know that he's an affectionate drunk."

"Don't act like you know everything about me and my friends, Bella. God, this is why I stay away from summer girls. This is all such a perfect example of . . . . You know what? Never mind. Let me take you home."

It was too late, though. I was already opening the door and scrambling out of the car.

"Bella! Get back in the car!"

"No!" I yelled, not looking back at him. "I'd rather walk!"

A stone slipped into the sandal, but I kept moving, trying to shake it out. I'd only made it about twenty yards before I felt Edward's hand wrap around my arm and pull me back.

"Just get in the car. I'll drive you." His tone was fractionally calmer, but I could tell the tension hadn't dissolved.

I whirled around on him, feeling like I might spit fire at any moment. Instead, unwelcome tears poured down my face.

"You think of me as a summer girl. A fling. That is the reason I've been so out of sorts lately. That is the reason I stopped last night. I just graduated from college, and I've been trying to figure out what I'm going to do next, and as if that wasn't complicated enough, I met you and it's turned everything upside down! My dad wants me to move out here permanently, but I don't want to do it for the wrong reasons. I don't want to pick up and transplant myself here just because I'm falling in love with you. If it didn't work out, you'd still have your normal life, and I'd have nothing."

I couldn't look at him, but he pulled my face up despite my resistance.

"Don't you get it? I'm scared, too. I've never felt this way for someone; it's never come this easily. When I'm with you, everything just seems to make sense. I don't think about other girls, even though they're all over the place around here. I don't worry that I'm ditching my friends too often. I want as much time with you as possible, and I don't know what that means. You could be gone in a few weeks, and I'll still be here, trying to figure out where to go with a Bella-shaped hole in my life. There would be no 'going back to normal' after you."

With his confession, my tears came even harder, but he pulled me against him and held me tightly. My arms found their way around his waist, and I squeezed, needing to have him close.

"I love you, Bella. I don't want anyone else, and I don't want you to go back to Seattle."

"I love you, too," I choked out, moving my arms around his neck and clinging to him. "Can we go home?"

"Sure," he answered. "I'll take you back to Tabitha's. Come on."

"No. Your house. Please."

He guided us back to his car, opening my door and letting me settle in before closing it behind me. We rode there in silence, holding hands the whole time.

When we got to his bedroom, there was no question this time. I pulled my dress over my head and let him unclasp my bra and push my panties down my legs. His clothes came off just as easily, and we stood there kissing and holding each other naked for several minutes before we moved to the bed. I straddled his legs and leaned over him, letting him touch me anywhere he wanted, and we kissed so much, repeating our feelings many times. We had fallen so quickly, but maybe that was the way it was supposed to be for us. It didn't matter, though, because what we had was ours, not anyone else's, and it was exactly where I wanted to be. I touched Edward and tasted him, and he did the same to me until we were both hot and damp with sweat.

"I want you so much," he whispered to me, and I told him he could have me any way he wanted. His hand slip up my side and rested above my breast . . . over my heart. "This," he told me, is where I want to be, always."

"You already are."

When our bodies fit together and he was a part of me, I held him still, focusing on how full he made both my body and my heart. He let me hold him as long as he could stand, then he begged me for more, and I gave myself over to him.

Though my experiences weren't extensive, I knew it had never been like this, and it never could be with anyone else. Edward was different. We were different together, and that was what made it special. He knew just how to move his hips or position my leg to drive me toward sharp breaths and cries of pleasure, but it was so much more than just the physical high. It was the reason I had been so afraid to take this step; it was the manifestation of all my feelings and the deep bond we shared, and I never wanted to be without it again. This was it for me; I was certain.

In the morning, after more love, we talked. A lot. We discussed my future, our future, and how I was going to make my big move. We told Charlie I was staying later that day, and his smile was one of the greatest things I'd ever seen. I called Jessica later on and told her to take the one bedroom apartment. Then, Edward and I started making plans to go out to Seattle.

When the time came, we flew out together and sold all my furniture and my old truck on CraigsList. We packed boxes and put them into a small U-Haul van, and we set off on a road trip through some of the most boring places in the United States. We made the most of it, though, stopping in national parks and camping out . . . making love under the stars . . . teasing one another about needing to shower when we hadn't stopped in a hotel in a few days. When he drove, I read him bits and pieces of stories I'd written, and while I took the wheel, he became my own personal audiobook. It was a grueling drive, and we irritated each other at certain points, but I never doubted my decision to make the move.

We made it home eventually, of course, and our friends celebrated our return with us.

"There's still good weather for another few weeks. I guarantee I could have you up on a board by the end of September," Edward insisted one morning as we had coffee with Charlie and Tabitha.

My dad laughed so hard that it actually startled Edward, and I couldn't help but join in.

"What? I'm a great teacher, and I'm experienced."

"No, trust me," I insisted. "Anything that requires athletic ability will inevitably land me in the emergency room."

"It's true. You obviously have a lot to learn about my daughter," Charlie said in agreement.

It turned out we were all wrong. Edward did eventually get my clumsy butt up on a board, but it took him another two summers of instruction and practice.

The day after I rode my first wave successfully, Edward asked me to come down to the beach during Surf Camp. Instead of finding the class in the middle of a session, I saw Edward's four students lined up, each of them holding their board upright.

"What's going on?" I asked.

Edward smiled at me and so did the kids. "My class wants to show you something, but you have to close your eyes."

"Okay," I agreed.

"No peeking!" one of them yelled.

"All right, open up!" Edward called a few moments later, and there on the boards in vertical letters were the words:

WILL
YOU
MARRY
ME?

Next to the last student, Edward was down on his knees, holding his hand out toward me.

"Will you?"

It was absolutely silly, romantic, and perfect. Three summers prior, Edward's antics with his surfing students had caught my attention, and I couldn't think of a better place or time for us to take this next step. As he kissed me and slid his ring onto my finger, I heard a burst of applause and cat calls behind me. Turning, there were all our friends and family up on Aunt Tabitha's porch, watching and hooting happily.

"Now let's surf!" Edward yelled, and everyone took to the water with another chorus of cheers.