Boys on Boards Contest

Title: Nothing But This

Characters: Edward and Bella

Disclaimer: SMeyer owns Twilight, lots of other people who aren't me own all the boys on boards.

Word Count: 7,105

Summary: Bella has trouble letting herself experience life. She holds back and stays cautious, scared of getting attached to those she might lose. But when she finds an intense connection with Edward, will she be able to make room for him in her heart?


It was a Tuesday.

The first day I met you.

You were sweaty, hair plastered to your forehead. I was attracted instantly, your bright smile pulling me in like an insect to light.

Intrigued, too.

You posed a mystery, piquing my curiosity with the different facets I could see on first glance.

The skateboard held beside you, the tattoo of a hand and words disappearing under your sleeve. The lack of piercing and skinny jeans, the stereotypical beanie covering most of your hair and clunky sneakers on your feet.

"Nice tat."

When you turned them on me, your eyes were as bright as your smile, their color shifted by the sun glaring down on us both.

"Nice ass."

And you grinned impossibly wider.

My eyes rolled and that was it.

I walked away – only the slightest little bit of extra rhythm in my hips – without another word.

Less than five minutes later, and I'd forgotten about you in lieu of lunch with my mom.

{+|-|+}

"Sway your assets a little extra when you move. The maître d' looks interested," my mom whispers into my ear.

While we're greeting each other with the faux cheek-kisses she's so fond of.

I refrain from telling her that this is a café – they don't have a maître d'. And the guy she thinks is 'interested' is probably some middle-aged pervert.

It's not that I don't love my mother, or get along well with her. But we're not carbon copies of each other; we clash in certain areas.

This is one of them.

Things never used to be this way with her. Not to this extent. But, she's single again for the first time in years.

And afraid.

She's scared and completely unaccustomed to dating, let alone dating in the modern world.

Which is all protective-daughter babble to explain why she's pushing all her unused dating-energy toward my love life.

"He's too old for me, Mom."

By at least twenty years.

She has a tendency to do that, pick out guys for herself and then try to throw them at me.

Unfortunately, being twisted isn't a place where we differ.

"They're called sugar daddy's, sweetie."

"I have no desire for my life's legacy to be a reverse cradle-snatcher, but thanks anyway."

She sighs and sips at her water, doing everything but full-out staring me down. This is familiar ground, after all.

I'm the first to cave – also familiar.

"I won't write him off if he comes by to talk." I have to mentally correct myself before blow leaves my lips, lest I wind up cackling or cringing and having to explain my brain.

Or, worse yet, having her actually understand that particular choice of words.

I suppress a shudder at the images that want to push their way into my head, changing my focus to asking her an easy lead-in question.

She takes the bait, of course, and we make small chitchat. Mostly, it consists of her telling me all about her life in the past month.

I don't have quite as much to tell, and nothing as interesting as catching a couple in flagrante delicto after yoga class.

The peak of my life's excitement in the month since our last lunch?

Buying a tomato plant and not killing it.

So, instead, I contemplate what it'd be like – possibly simpler, possibly more difficult (but obviously not hard) – to be a lesbian.

{+|-|+}

Everything continued as normal from then.

You were just a stranger and typical guy I'd met on the street, certainly not enough to keep my attention from the distracting busyness of life.

For about a month.

It all changed on a beach.

The irony of that was easily recognizable. Making a new friend in the same place I lost an old one. Who'd have thought that was possible?

I'd been minding my own business, strolling and sinking in the sand, soaking up sun.

But I'm only human.

And you're hot.

I couldn't help the way my eyes zeroed in on the bare chest, laid out on a towel twenty feet away.

Never gotten a straight answer about what you were doing that day, by the way.

Regardless. I was almost passing you before I noticed the tattoo, remembered you.

That's a pretty unmistakable tattoo.

A pretty unmistakable you.

{+|-|+}

"See something you like?"

I literally flinch at the voice, caught in the act of ogling.

I'd thought he was asleep, what with the dolphin towel – an exact replica, but in blue, of the one he's stretched out on – that'd been previously spread over his head.

Apparently not, though.

"Why would you say that?"

He smirks wide and blinding, naked shoulders shrugging; my insides squirm.

And not just because my answer is pathetically transparent.

"Those shorts are completely unflattering to your rump roast, by the way." He leans forward, gaining a better view of my ass. "You should burn them."

I flush.

Because he's probably right and because I can almost – almost – feel his eyes like a gentle, curious touch.

"Speaking of burning." Of course I'm avoiding the previous topic. Why wouldn't I?

"Hmm?"

He's missed my gesture at his skin. A rational person would have left it at that and headed down another path.

If I'm ever rational – which I often doubt – it's definitely not in the presence of someone so attractive and appealing.

"You should put on some sunscreen before you turn into a lobster, get skin cancer, become ugly and die."

Oh, shit.

The urge to cover my mouth with my hands is strong.

As is the one to run. Far, far away.

To his credit, it's only his eyes that keep me there. I have a feeling they could keep my anywhere, keep me doing anything he wanted.

They can keep me and have me, period.

He's watching me without blinking. I'd call it staring if he didn't look so speculative.

"Are you always this bossy with total-but-sorta-not-really strangers?"

I don't know how to answer that. "Pretty much."

I also don't know how to think before speaking.

"Honesty. Righteous, dude."

My laugh is unexpected and uninhibited.

"Ooh, beautiful smile to go with your good ass." His eyebrows flex, once. "Very nice."

The fact that he remembers me does something to my blood, my temperature, the solid ground beneath my feet.

"Wait. Good? What happened to great?"

I can't stop myself, can't control my mouth or my thoughts or the nonsense they're both spewing.

"Hm, fishing for ass-compliments. You're interesting."

Not even half as much as he is.

"I wasn't!"

"I think I called it a nice ass before, though. Not great."

"Are you saying my ass isn't great?" I turn and pretend to look, not at all sure what the hell I'm doing or why I'm...

Oh.

I'm flirting.

With him.

I'm flirting with him and enjoying myself and not being absolutely, horrendously, shamefully bad at it.

"I never said it wasn't great."

"You implied it."

"I did no such thing."

My eyes narrow, and I don't even know why. Why I'm getting playful, flirty-angry at this relative stranger, why I can't kill the smile that undermines it all.

Or why my entire body responds, reacts, races for him.

{+|-|+}

A week later, I run into you while I'm getting ice cream.

I've started to wonder if you just stalk around this area every weekend until we run into each other.

The notion causes a smile.

Further proof of the insanity you've already started in me.

You tell me my preference for vanilla sucks, and then order rainbow sherbet.

Vibrancy seems to radiate off you, tugs and yanks and lures me in.

Makes me want you even more, somehow.

After a walk down the path paralleling the beach, you ride away with my number.

And leave a nervous, rambling, grin-inducing message on my machine before I even get home.

{+|-|+}

Flirty, printed dress that shows off my shoulders and ends above my knees with a flowy, inviting skirt?

A must have.

Strappy, heeled sandals that make my legs look amazing?

Of course.

Favorite pair of shimmery earrings drawing attention to my neck?

Most definitely.

I know I look good, but I also feel good. A pleasant change.

My steps are light, bouncy and unhurried, handbag swinging carelessly.

It's becoming a beautiful night, streaks of color painted across the ocean as the sun sets.

I see Edward – not Ed or Eddie as I'd have expected, but the surprisingly formal alternative, at odds with his appearance and laid-back nature – standing on the sidewalk up ahead.

The name had slid into seamless place almost instantly, fitting him in that strange way names do.

My lips lift without effort when his eyes find mine, smile instinctive and effortless.

We don't touch as he greets me, and I notice for the first time where we are.

It looks like a shack, straight and simple. A shack with metal chairs and tables, umbrellas currently closed.

But, if anything, I've learned from him not to judge on first sight.

He sees my look and doesn't bother trying to hide the accompanying grin. "They have the best swordfish. Hands down."

"Really?" The idea of this place even serving swordfish is a surprise.

"Swear it."

"On your mother's life?"

Smile starts to slip, eyes dimming a bit. "On my aunt's."

I can't form words, can only nod my understanding as I attempt to force down my questions and the urge to touch him.

It doesn't escape my notice that I've just learned something about him. But I want more, to learn more, know more, spend any second I can find learning to know him.

The idea pokes and prods and touches on every nerve I never knew I had, scares parts of me I hadn't even realized I owned.

I'm pulled out of my mind when he gestures me in front of him, body inching somewhat closer to my back than strictly necessary.

I trust his word and so take his advice, choosing a meal with the swordfish and stepping sideways to accommodate him.

His mouth curves up again as he takes me in from his substantial height difference. "You can go pick a table, if you want."

I'm distracted by his lips, but manage to nod anyway. He nudges my shoulder and something passes between us, electrical and base and burning from my left to my right.

Before awkwardness can intrude, I break away and head toward the tables. The one I pick has a good view of the beach, sitting just a stone's throw behind the restaurant. I can't keep myself from watching the ocean pull in, pull out; simultaneously languid and rushed.

I've just started to contemplate the sensuality of waves and water when a plate appears in front of me.

"Holy shit. That smells divine!"

His smirk is smug, eyes shadowed from me. "It'll taste good, too."

"You know, this is the third time I've met you, and I don't even know what you do."

"You definitely don't waste any time." He cuts into his food, motions relaxed and neat. "I don't know what you do, either."

"I mean, are you some kind of professional skateboarder or surfer? A lifeguard? Do you teach the ways of the board to youngsters?"

"You gonna eat?"

Not really paying attention, I try a bite of my fish. And proceed to moan out loud, miming my thanks and adoration to him.

I take three more bites before I continue exactly where I left off.

"Is surfing just a hobby and you have a regular nine-to-five? Or are you some kind of rich kid that doesn't need a job? And if you don't have a job what do you do with the rest of your time?"

"Awfully relentless, aren't you?" But he's smiling, interruption and words lacking any kind of sting.

"Yes."

"And that honesty of yours. Delicious."

It's the same thing I'm thinking as he forks up another mouthful, lips unjustly inticing.

"Well?"

"I work in a clock shop."

He throws the words out there like they're nothing, like they don't make me freeze or blink far too much.

If I'd made an extensive list of what I thought his occupation could be, working in a clock store wouldn't have been anywhere on it.

"A clock shop?"

He seems amused but also curious. Even as he nods and drinks, he's looking at me over his glass.

A clock shop.

I stare at his hands, imagine them working with intricate and delicate pieces of clocks.

Imagine them working intricate and delicate parts of me.

"What do you..." I have to clear my throat, shift in my seat a bit. "Uh, do at this clock shop?"

His knowing eyes make me want to squirm, and encourage me to melt.

"I repair clocks, clean them, order and install necessary parts. My boss actually makes custom ones, so I take down orders for those occasionally."

"Wow."

"And I wear a tie." His tone is teasing, but my eyes immediately focus on his chest, conjure a picture of him in a tie.

I shove something from my plate in my mouth, an effort to prevent any drooling or babbling.

He has the capability to turn me into a complete mess.

Much without my permission or recognition.

"Tell me something about your family." His subject change is slightly abrupt, though not unwanted. Leaning an elbow on the table, I decide to shoot for candid honesty – he might as well know what he could be getting himself into.

"They're all crazy and I fear for my genes."

His laugh comes easily and freely, draws something from inside me every time. "Something personal, I meant. Details. I've always liked hearing about other people's family."

"Mine's pretty boring, though."

"Not possible."

"No, it's true!" It's my turn to laugh, and I push away the marvel at how many times he's already made me smile tonight. "My parents are divorced, both only children, I'm an only child, and both sets of grandparents died before I was even ten."

There's something in his eyes that feels like his hand, stationary on the table, is touching me. "That must have been lonely."

"Kind of. I never had any instant-friends in cousins, or old-people hugs to make me feel outlandishly loved."

"What about your parents? Do they live around here, you still get to see 'em fairly often?"

"My dad lives in Washington State, so I don't see him very much." I sip my drink, inadvertently planning my next trip to see him. "But my mom only lives a couple hours away and usually drives in every month to get together and have lunch."

"Sounds like you two have a good relationship."

"We mostly do. No more about my family, though. I call for reciprocation first."

He leans back in his chair, fakes a big sigh. "If you insist. But it might make you puke."

"Don't stall, Edward."

"My parents died in a car crash when I was a toddler, my aunt took me in, her two kids became my obnoxious and annoying siblings, and the rest of the family is a sappy Hallmark movie."

Hearing that about his parents twists at my heart, but his good-natured dogging is obvious, and I can feel the sweet seep into my smile. "And you love them ridiculously, don't you?"

"With every muscle of my body. Though hell if I really know why."

"That's the thing with family." I shuffle in my chair, can't stop my shrug. "They never make sense."

"Very true."

Silence descends as we each push the crumbs of our meal around our plates.

I'm glancing at him every few seconds, taking stock of his features, weighing the pull I feel.

He looks up with something lighting his face, finds me staring and adds something equal parts teasing and sensual to the mix as he stands up.

"Want to take a walk on the beach with me?"

"It's dark!"

He smiles, holds out a hand. "It's called a moon, Bella."

"So you want to take a walk on a dark beach, at night, with only a moon providing light?"

But I've taken his hand even as I talk, fingers curving and warming against his, steady and secure in his grip.

"Pretty much."

I get the sense he wasn't paying attention to a word I said.

Which is perfectly okay, seeing as there are tingles spreading up my arm, down my spine, across my chest. I'm consumed with the feeling of them, the feeling of his skin – of him.

"Come on."

I hadn't noticed I'd been standing, frozen in place and maybe in fear, until his gentle tug and even gentler whisper.

"Yeah. Okay."

It's more than just acquiescence to a walk.

He doesn't know it, but I do.

There are unsaid words in his responding smile, in the look he gives me, in the way he pulls me closer.

In the way he doesn't let go of my hand when we leave the restaurant's canopy.

He doesn't let go when we hit sand.

Doesn't let go as we kick off our shoes, or when we stumble in the process.

He doesn't let go when we edge toward the water, or when I squeal and run from the touch of surf.

He doesn't let go at our gasps when we're caught, ocean swirling around our ankles and calves.

He doesn't even let go when I bend and splash him.

And neither do I.

Time is measured in laughter and grins, warmth of skin and how many times I catch myself wanting him.

So it's only 'sometime later' when we collapse onto cooled sand, toes sinking and knees touching.

We don't talk this time, just sit and stargaze, listen to the waves roll in and hold hands.

{+|-|+}

It's not what I expected.

This kiss.

There are sparks and surprise, to be sure. At the same time, though, a kind of jolting, undeniable comfort.

No, it's definitely not what I expected. But it feels right, like blinking, breathing or just being does. It's instinctual and inherent, intrinsic.

It's perfect.

I don't worry about where arms go, how my lips move, what noise we may be making. My hand steals and curls into his hair, texture soft and smooth against my skin. His fingers slide against the back of my neck, palm warm and thumb on my jaw.

It all feels effortless and familiar, but nonetheless exciting.

Heat flows off us both, meeting and mingling between us until I wonder what breath and space and thinking are.

He's not kissing me as I'd have thought, casual and relaxed and easy like he is. Instead, there's something intense, determined and alluring about his movements, his will, the feeling pushing out from him and into me.

We stay in our bubble for hours or seconds or weeks, smiling as we back off a fast direction, slow naturally.

"You taste even better than you smell." He's unblinking in his confession, unashamed.

There's no hesitance as I lean even closer, press my mouth – open and unquestioning – against his neck. His shoulders are relaxed, pulse beating away his secrets beneath my lips.

"So do you."

Our laughter is mutual, fingers tangling as we unconsciously retrace our steps back toward lights and pavement, civilization.

{+|-|+}

It's surprising, how you've snuck into my life.

Not in big, demanding ways, but in small things.

Like how you called to rant about a movie last night.

Or how my coffee table is still where you moved it.

How I can't see the beach or drive by it, and not smile.

How I see a skateboard at all and double-check if it's you.

How I've moved my grandmother's old cuckoo-clock from the attic to the kitchen.

How I drink cranberry juice every morning now, hopelessly hooked after you made me try it for the first time.

I'm starting to think I'm hopelessly hooked on you, too.

That scares me.

Also makes me smile.

The feelings are impossible, so contradictory.

I'm starting to get used to the confusing mix.

Which, again, scares me.

I think you scare me.

In every kind of perfect, terrifying, exhilarating way.

{+|-|+}

It's a bright, sun-shining, chipper morning.

I just want to sleep.

"Go away," I mumble, even as I open the door.

"Good morning, my beautiful sunbeam." The words aren't said in a tone begetting an obnoxious number of exclamation points, but that's how I hear them.

Only one of my eyes is actually open, and it takes me a moment to focus it on him, take in his shorts and sandals, tank-top and trillion-kilowatt smile.

"Edward?"

"That's my name, beautiful."

"Fuck off and go away." I blink my one eye, abstain from rubbing at either of them.
"Oh: please."

"Aw, did somebody wake up on the wrong side of the bed this morning?"

It's pure instinct to slap away the hand he'd had heading to flick my nose. "Use that voice again and I swear I'll find a way to shove my coffee pot up your ass."

"Uh... Wow."

I don't respond, and he steps back from the doorjamb.

"Okay, well, since I'm afraid to walk inside there with you now, I'll just wait out here while you go get dressed."

"Dressed?" No.

"Yup."

"Why? It's Saturday."

"It's Sunday."

"Bullshit."

"It's bad policy to argue with he who is fully awake."

I have a sudden urge to shave off his mocking eyebrows.

"Please stop looking at my hair like your gaze will burn it up into bald-inducing flames."

"What?" I'm pretty sure I have no idea what he just said.

"You're scaring me today."

"Huh."

"Don't think I've ever seen you this morning-grumpy before."

"First time for everything." I give in and rub at my eyes, forcefully holding back a yawn.

"I'll give you Starbucks when you come back out here dressed and ready to go."

My eye-and-a-half narrow at his bribery. "Who says I'm even going with you... wherever it is you're going?"

"Because I haven't seen you in a week and I miss you like fuck, and you're the girly, clingy female so you must be even worse off than I am."

I pause and almost lick my lips, before remembering how fuzzy and gross my tongue is. "I'm gonna save my feminist comments and arguments for a later time."

"Wise choice."

"Shut up."

I wave halfheartedly behind me as I shuffle off toward my closet and whatever he has planned for the day.

Truth is, I have missed him. We've both been working too late this week for anything worthwhile, our only free day interrupted by my mom's menopause panic and insistence I rush to her side.

Despite his obnoxious and amusing text messages, the whole day had felt like a waste, simply because I wasn't with him.

I'm so eager to make up that lost time that I'm willing to endure sleep deprivation. Giving up a holy day of sleeping-in says a lot about what he does to me, and my feelings for him.

As I'm brushing my teeth, I realize I've also really missed his lips, his mouth.

His face.

I suppose just him in general.

When I come back out – dressed, as he requested – he's mercilessly torturing the poor fiddle-leaf fig I forgot I started to repot last night.

"Where's my Starbucks?"

"I don't have it yet."

I lock my door before turning to face him again. "So then what were you doing while I was inside?"

"Playing air-guitar with the leaves of this thing."

"Air-violin would be more appropriate."

He stands and ushers me toward the steps, entire arm soothing and snug around my waist. "What would I have used as a stick?"

"Bow."

"Let's go."

"Nice rhyme, Einstein."

"I see what you did there." But he's grinning as I duck under his arm and into the car.

{+|-|+}

"IHOP?"

"Best rabbit's feet in town, sold here."

I squint at the building. "Their apple juice sucks."

"So negative."

"So sunny."

"That's the beauty of us." He drapes a hand around my shoulder, nudges me into his side on unsteady, still-asleep feet, and kisses the top of my head. "You smell like cherries."

Silently, I reach up and tangle my fingers with his on my shoulder, first real smile breaking free.

I don't remember what I ate, who waited on us, or if our table was sticky.

But I remember how his feet played carelessly with mine, grin so genuine and tireless I had no power against mine reciprocating.

I remember how he didn't look away every time we talked, how I beat him for at least one thumb war, how he leaned across the table to kiss me with apple-juice lips – in the process coating the bottom of his shirt in syrup.

The laughter and lingering cloud of happiness follow us all the way to the beach.

He strips out of his shirt and removes his surfboard from the backseat, shifts impatiently from foot-to-foot while I leave my shoes in the front seat.

Slowing on purpose, I raise my eyebrows. "You in some kinda hurry?"

I laugh as he slams the door, grabs my hand, and guides us down toward the water at a prompt pace.

"Come on, I'm teaching you how to surf today."

My feet want to dig in instantly. "But... I'm not wearing a suit."

"It doesn't matter." Shrugging and undeterred, his smile never falters. "I doubt it'll make much difference anyhow."

I still and freeze and stop, tug against his hold on me, take a step back. "No thanks."

"What?" He halts all movement and stares, eyes penetrating and questioning and open. I've never pulled away from him before. "Why?"

"Just not in the mood today."

He continues to look at me. Not judging, just confused.

Just wondering and waiting.

I don't say anything else, don't expand or explain, and finally he sighs.

His jaw is tense and edged, his fingers fidgeting through his hair. "Alright. I'll see you back here in a few, then."

The words are clipped, tense and everything he's not.

It's almost ridiculous, how swift and relentless the mood-shift is. Where it was satisfied and steady before, now it's shadowy and stalled.

I look away before he starts his carefree battle with the water, my eyes staying firm and fixed on the sand under the pretext of 'shell-hunting'.

It's a pathetic excuse, but I can't be bothered with that fact. It satisfies the need to keep my head down – to keep me from seeing him, out on the water, gliding across it, falling in, flying under.

I wander and lose myself in that; without picking up a single shell or doing much else, I stare at my feet sinking into damp sand.

The beach isn't overly crowded, but my thoughts are so loud I almost can't hear the waves.

"You ready to go?"

Edward's abrupt presence doesn't startle me, like I'd have assumed it would.

I can't tell if it's from expecting him, on some level, or just from being so comfortable around him.

I'm not sure it matters, either way.

His hair's wet and dripping, droplets mixing with those lingering on his skin. I wish I could rewind the moments, fix what I broke so he'd be calm and casual now instead of tense and troubled.

Surfing usually relaxes him, and I think it's probably my fault that that doesn't seem to be the case today.

He stays by my side as we silently backtrack to his car. The same quiet colors us as he pulls a towel from his trunk, swishes it through his hair, across his chest and arms and legs.

I can't help but watch, can't help the way my body notices him, the way my blood picks up speed.

After wringing out the legs of his shorts, he slips on a new shirt and tucks the towel around his hips.

I miss his skin already, both the sight and touch of it.

I'm sure my shoulders have slumped, much against my will, as I start for the passenger-side door.

"Wait. Your feet."

I face him again and blink, confused and unsure. "Huh?"

Before I can comprehend or think, he's crouched down, towel from his waist in hand and nothing – smile nor frown – on his lips.

His fingers are so gentle on my ankle, lifting my foot while he slowly and carefully wipes each one clean of sand.

"Thanks," I can only barely whisper.

It's such a quiet murmur I'm not even sure he heard me until he stands and nods, making his way around the other side of the car.

I sink inside and slip my shoes on, posture stiff, ears focused on him as he shakes out the towel and stows it away somewhere.

He joins me a moment later, doesn't flip on the radio, speak or glance away from the road even once.

That's how we spend the entire trip, and I know he hates driving like that, in that kind of atmosphere.

I hate it, too. Not just in driving, but in all. In the space and distance between us.

The tension is thick and surrounding, coating all the air and making my fingers twitchy.

Fifteen minutes seems to last fifty, and I've never been happier to see my driveway. We park and before I can over-analyze things, I pivot in the open door and lean back inside. "You wanna come in?"

He doesn't say anything, but shuts off the car and climbs out, footsteps audible behind me as I lead the way.

I'm swallowing too much, twisting my keys around in my hands too much, giving myself a headache with too much thinking.

Obviously, he's been to my two-story row before – toured the inside, left his touch and his essence in every room.

There's none of that now, just awkward and heavy and everything that's unsaid, tucked away and kept silent.

"You... want something to drink?"

I turn around to look at him, just in case he still doesn't feel like talking, but wind up knocking his stomach with my elbow.

I hadn't realized he'd been this close.

"Oh! I'm s–"

The words die as he pulls me into his arms, wrapping himself around me and holding tight.

I'm surprised by his sudden action, not expecting a hug after the mood he's been in. It only takes me a second to respond, though, my arms greedily reaching around him.

I relax into his body and rest my head on his shoulder, sighing as I cling to the comfort he's offering.

It doesn't last as long as I wish it could, because I know he deserves some explanation, deserves to know why I froze on the beach and to know me.

We both sigh and lean back, simultaneously linking our hands.

He bends and kisses my neck, lips grazing my ear as he whispers, "Can I tell you something?"

There's an odd tone of uncertainty about him, and I immediately want to erase it.

"Always."

I'm given a calm smile, reassuring me.

"You don't have to tell me everything, Bella. I wouldn't want you to. Not now or like this." He motions between and around us, then seems to stall, tongue wetting his lips twice.

I don't know if I can make him continue, but I nod anyway. Because I want him to go on, want to hear him out.

Maybe I need to.

His fingers trace from my cheek to my jaw, eyes on them and not me. "But you should know that you can." He lifts his gaze to mine as he speaks. "I'll always listen."

I wouldn't say it's a sappy declaration, but it's most definitely sweet. My eyes threaten to tear up at the sweetness, at how nice and wonderful he's being.

I kiss him because I can't think, and hug him close again because I don't have words.

{+|-|+}

"My mom wants to meet you."

He looks up, so surprised at my sudden appearance I worry his eyebrows might literally disappear. "What?"

"No 'what,' just yep."

I've marched into his store and interrupted him in the middle of work. It's something I've never actually done before, despite our recent and rapid closeness.

Panic tends to make me forgetful about normal trends, not to mention makes me ridiculous.

He's wearing a tie and is half-bent over a counter with a bunch of parts strewn everywhere. It could be a clock or it could be an Xbox; I wouldn't know the difference.

What I do know is that something about this picture highlights his hands, his fingers, the crease of determination between his eyebrows, the spark of surprised delight in his eyes.

I want him so bad I almost can't keep myself standing.

His steps are remarkably soundless on the hardwood as he comes around to where I am, presumably to calm me down or acquire some kind of actual information.

"Is that an apron?"

He reaches quickly behind him to untie the strings and pulls it off, tosses it over his shoulder somewhere. "What apron?"

"It was kind of sexy."

"I'll bring it by later. Now what about your mom?"

"'What' nothing about my mom. She wants to meet you."

His brows go up once more, mouth neutral, palms smoothing up and down my arms. "Explain, please."

"We went to lunch, she ordered something with cauliflower and broccoli and commented on having taken her Beano, and I blurted out that I'm seeing someone."

"And?"

"And? And what? What else is there? She wants to meet you."

"Okay. So?"

"So? So? How come I'm the only one freaking out about this? You're the guy." I poke him in the chest, admire his tie but wish he wasn't wearing a shirt with it. "You're supposed to be all nervous and unwilling about meeting the mother."

"I'm sure it won't be as bad as you're thinking."

"She'll ask you embarrassing questions," I warn with stern eyes. "And how serious we are."

He draws me closer, keeps his face focused on mine. "Then we'll tell her the truth. About us."

"She'll love you more than me."

"Possible." He's humming in agreement with his statement as our lips touch, as the flame of frustration eases slightly.

But his hands are encircling my arms, mine are on his chest, and he's so close, so full of feeling and he smells so good – the most unusually inspiring mix of metallic and rich, clear cleanser.

It's all driving me insane just a bit, as are the undertones of what I can only identify as peach.

The flash-flood of want, so familiar now, flares up and everything gleams intense. From the involvement of tongue, to the pressure of our mouths, to the way he grabs my hair and I fist his shirt, he leans toward me and I curve into him.

I've just grabbed his tie and he's snatched my belt loop when my back bumps into something.

And I'm reminded that he's at work, his place of employment, on the job.

It's the essence of throwing a pail of ice over me, and I can't help the disappointment surging through my body.

He puts space between us by stepping behind the counter again, his smile guilty and thwarted.

With a healthy three feet of workspace separating us, we make plans to meet my mom. It takes some maneuvering, but we manage to incline ourselves across the gap for a kiss goodbye.

I walk out with several inventive new uses for his workbench plaguing my mind.

{+|-|+}

"See? That wasn't so bad."

"Your bright outlook on life is sometimes obnoxious."

He laughs and kisses me without preamble. "And your pessimistic nature is often a turn-on."

"I need popcorn."

"Would you like a movie to go with it?"

"As long as it's not porn." I link our hands once we're in the car, slouching in the seat and letting out a real breath.

It's over, done with. He's met my mom and she didn't disapprove.

If anything, she'd disown me to adopt him, and I have a feeling she'll probably be even worse about my love life now.

I specifically avoid any thoughts of what my dad's reaction might be, especially if my mom shared any of this new-found information with him.

"I never mix popcorn and porn."

"I've heard it can be a bad combination."

We're bantering uselessly, and I think he can tell by the way he lifts my hand, kisses my knuckles.

"It went fine."

"Oh, I know it did."

"Then why are you worried? I can practically feel your forehead-frown from here."

I shove his shoulder, perennially touchy on the frown-wrinkles subject. I think he's somewhat obsessed with that particular frown-line, though. Always pressing his lips to it or touching it or using his fingers to gently iron it away.

"I'm not worried. I'm just... Did she seem suspicious to you?"

He chuckles, definitely more at me than with me. "Suspicious?"

"Yeah. Like she was secretly recording or filing away all this information to share it with my dad." The idea makes a lot of sense, has merit, and I scowl out my window at the harsh thought.

"You're right. I think there was a device in the salt and pepper shakers watching us the whole time."

I turn my scowl to him. "This isn't a joke. I'm serious here!"

"Does this mean we'll be taking a trip to see your dad soon?"

{+|-|+}

I'm relaxed in my panties and your shirt; you're still in your jeans, bare torso warming me up.

We're lazy and comfortable, have done nothing beyond touching, holding and absorbing. But it feels as – if not more – intimate than anything purely physical.

You stroke all over my hair, fingers flowing through, tangling and twisting. I keep myself occupied by drawing unseen and impossible patterns and shapes on your pant leg, toe substituting as a pencil.

All my motions stop when your hand slips up and massages my scalp, gentle and easy. You're not expecting anything in return, you're just doing it because you can and because you want to.

That only makes it better.

"I was fourteen," I say suddenly. I think it's time I tell you this – it defines so much about me, after all, and it's only right that you know.

I pull myself closer to your skin, nearly burrow into the heat and safety; serenity. The memories crave to wash over me, crash like unstoppable, unrelenting waves.

So very apt.

"My closest friend and I went for some fun in the ocean." I stare at your skin in front of my eyes, the lines and indentations and muscles, but see only choppy, thieving surf. "She never came back."

Your reaction is immediate. You clutch me unthinkably closer, as if by reflex; your murmurs are so quiet in my ear, I almost can't hear them. It's the feel of your lips, though, moving against my skin, that means the most to me.

I feel like I'm suffocating, and wish I could blame it on your hold being too tight around me.

But it's not. Your grip is perfect and real, seems to be all that's keeping me here, grounded.

It's me that's drowning in my mind.

Somewhere, in this mess of truth and secrets and revelations, in tears and comfort and here, we find what's been missing – what's been keeping us from that pivotal step, that change and growth.

I can see the reflection of my discovery on your face, feel the honesty of us in my blood.

Your fingers are inside fabric, skimming my skin, silk to my senses.

There's a hint of hesitance when you reach the clasp; it's your point of no return.

We're not using words, but I hope my eyes are telling you the answers to anything you ever wanted to find.

It's slow and savory, sensory.

Almost an overload.

To give in to that overload, that rush and reward, would be so easy. But I still want more. Something more, more of you.

Everything with you has been more, it shouldn't be a surprise if now is, too.

You shed me gradually, with deliberation, lips leisurely and all over.

Soon, we're equal, open, face each other as the same.

And we smile, because there's nothing else we can do, because it's you and it's me and it's us. It may be intense and raw and real, but it's not over-thought and it's not forced.

It's not you following or me leading, or even the reverse. We meet each other in the middle, meet in a kiss that's like the first and last and everything in between, that's lasting and full of so much that we're both gasping.

Gasping for air, gasping for sense and thought, gasping for us.

Our movements aren't perfect or expertly-timed, aren't familiar or well-known, but they're ours and ours alone.

I've started to realize that's all that matters, in the long run and in the end.

Even in the moment, it's really all that matters.

Just you and me, your body and mine, us and we.

I'm not sure I've ever felt anything as good as your hands on every part of me, all of your skin awaiting my touch and my fingerprints.

There's an acceptance and eagerness surrounding us both, a willingness and want for the other person that's more than anything I've ever felt.

It's not just you that's new, it's this, it's that feeling, it's you and that feeling; a lethal combination.

When we're there – when it's both over and just begun – it's as if we never were anything but this, never were anywhere else but here.

{+|-|+}

I throw a look over my shoulder at him as I flip a pancake, routine so habitual and usual it's become almost second-nature.

He's leaning against the bar of my counter, chin in hand and pout exaggerated, home in his stance and peace in his eyes.

And I realize.

Not like a huge crashing or an explosion, suddenly dawning on me.

It's far simpler than that, nearly comical in its modesty – as if a blindfold has been removed, a cover lifted off my eyes and I can see.

See that I'm falling for him.

Already fallen.

I'd always thought any kind of moment like this would be scary, would chill me to my bones and freeze my blood.

But the reality is nowhere close to that. If anything, it's the opposite.

It's comfort and relaxation, it's true and easy breath in my lungs, thrill in my veins, heat in my mouth.

It's like nothing else.