The summer I turn 16, it seems like I am exactly one day older than the day before, and everyone else around me fast-forwards a couple of years.
Even more surprising, they do it when I'm not looking.
Rosalie had begged and pleaded with me to come to Cabo.
"Four days. Four days, Bella. That's nothing. We'll tell your dad we're doing something wholesome."
"Hiking," Alice suggested. "Camping. Like with bears. He can't hate that, can he? Like, what's more wholesome than hiking?"
Rosalie wrinkled her nose. "Bears? Oh my God. And peeing in the woods? No, thanks."
"We're not actually going to go camping, Rose." Alice rolled her eyes.
"Still. No one would believe that. I don't pee outdoors."
I hated it. The conversation made my stomach feel queasy. I hated that they wanted me to lie to my dad, and I hated that I couldn't do it, and I most of all I hated them for going anyway. Alice would shoot me sympathetic looks when Rosalie spread hotel brochures and swimwear catalogs all over the cafeteria table, but I concentrated really hard on forking up bits of wilting salad and pretended not to care.
I didn't even consider asking Charlie.
I loved my dad, but he was the sheriff in a town full of the wealthy and self-entitled, and I'd been lectured on the ills of teenage drinking and drug-taking since before I really knew what it meant. Cabo for spring break? Not a snowball's chance. I spent the week off preparing to take the SATs for the first time, repainting the walls of my bedroom a pale blue, and watching baseball with Charlie. Pathetic, I know. But, except for the moments when I wondered what Alice and Rose were up to, I actually had a really good time.
The first day back at school, I know something strange has happened. Alice has abandoned her usual vintage band t-shirts and is wearing, of all things, an oversized Billabong hoodie. Rose seems to have to come to school straight from the beach, in the tiniest pair of denim cutoffs and some sort of filmy top through which you can totally see her bra. And trust me; I'm not the only one who notices. And they both have tans. Fantastic, not-at-all freckly, healthy, outdoor tans. I think about my week inside, and my pale, pale legs, and the way that bronzer always leaves me looking streaky and smelling strange.
I want to go home.
I plaster the biggest, fakest smile on my face, and squeal when I hug them. "I'm so glad you're back! Tell me everything."
And my God, do they. Every minute. Every outfit. Every drink. Every boy.
"...and then, Bella you should have seen him. He was soooooo hot..."
"...and Rose was wearing this dress that she got at the market. You should see it, like it makes her boobs totally pop..."
"...and he got carded, and the bouncer just waved Alice on through..."
"...and the DJ, what a douchebag, like all I asked was..."
"...and you simply have to try one. It's like tequila, mixed with..."
I tune it out. I smile until my cheeks ache, and all I can think about is the way the plastic cafeteria chair is sticking to the backs of my thighs, and how my shorts are just...shorts. Not tiny little denim shorts. And how there is a streak of pale blue paint on the inside of my wrist. How I don't really know what you mix tequila with. Or what it tastes like.
"...and now Alice is tooootally in love," Rose finishes triumphantly.
I look up at Alice, who is blushing and pulling the sleeves of the giant hoodie down over her hands, and sticking her tongue out at Rose. Her...wait..."Is that? Did you pierce your tongue?"
"We both did!" Rose and Alice both stick their tongues out at me, revealing bobbling little silver barbells, and then I really want to be sick. Inexplicably they turn and bump fists against each other, shrieking "Chimichanga!"
I don't want to know what this means, except, of course I do. But I don't ask. I keep thinking about the tiny little silver barbells, and doesn't that really hurt? They have holes in their tongues. And are we into piercings now? Are tattoos next? And...wait...
"You're in love?" My voice comes out weird and squeaky. And sort of accusatory.
"His name is Jaaaasperrrrr," Rosalie sing-songs, poking Alice in the ribs and making her squirm. "And he goes to Pacific. And that's totally his sweater."
Alice looks embarrassed, but really secretly pleased at the same time. And all I can think about is staying the night at her house last New Year's Eve when we wrote this elaborate oath using the calligraphy pens her aunt gave her for Christmas, swearing that we would grow old together and reclaim the word 'spinster' and never wear purple or have any cats. Because boys were sweaty and had pimples and were gross.
"I can't wait 'til you meet him, Bella," she says earnestly, squeezing my arm. "He's from Texas and he has this dreamy accent, and he taught me to surf."
Rosalie snorts a little. "You got up on the board once."
"Way more than once!" Alice protests. "Besides, that right-hand break is really tough. Everyone says so. As if you'd know. You spent the whole day with your tongue down Emmett's throat!"
Rosalie sighs and does this new thing where she twists her long, blond hair up into a bun and jams a wooden chopstick in it, and it just stays there. Like someone on a TV show, except without a hair and makeup expert hovering in the wings clutching a giant can of hairspray.
Alice nudges Rosalie's knee with hers under the table, in a way that I'm not supposed to see, and she's waggling her eyebrows, and I think Alice would be the very last person in the world that you would want to share an important secret with. If I had any. Which I don't. But Rosalie obviously does, because she's giving Alice the worst kind of bitchface and I go back to chasing a cherry tomato around the plate. My eyes feel scratchy, and it must be time for my period because nothing about this stupid conversation should be making me feel all choked up.
"Ow, Rose. Just tell her." Alice hisses, sliding away from yet another swift poke to her ribcage.
"God, Alice. It's the fucking cafeteria. What's wrong with you?" She sighs, putting her down her Diet Coke can and tugging at her bra strap. Which I realize is not a bra strap. It's her bikini. She really has come to school in her beach clothes. "Okay, so, Miss Picture-of-Subtlety over here is clearly going to explode if I don't say this, so. Okay. So, I met a guy too. His name is Emmett. He goes to school with Jasper. And we had sex."
I choose this moment to bite into the errant tomato, which decides to shoot juice down my throat. I cough and splutter and start to go red in the face.
"Bella, are you okay?" Alice claps me on the back.
"Look, it's not a big deal." Rosalie is still talking. All matter of fact, like announcing she traded her V card to some guy from Pacific in fucking Cabo of all places isn't news. And I still can't catch my breath. And she thinks I'm all choking on her big revelation and not a tomato.
"Tomato..." I gasp, waving at my throat, and swigging several noisy gulps of water from my bottle. I'm pretty sure it's the tomato. I mean Rose has always been the most...advanced. But I thought that letting Royce King put his hand up her skirt at the formal was pretty out there. This...this, I didn't expect.
"Alice?" I ask, but I don't want to look at her really. Alice needed my help to buy her first bra, because Mrs Brandon is one of those embarrassing moms who drinks in the afternoon, and Alice is the one who confessed that she threw up a little after she kissed Eric that first time because the thought of someone else's saliva in her mouth made her ill. Not Alice.
"God, no." She squirms, squeezing my knee and giving me a small smile. "No way."
I feel relieved, and I don't know why. I look back at Rose, all sun-kissed California cliché. She looks a bit torn. Like she wants me to be impressed, but also not think it's a big deal, but also kinda think it's a big deal. I don't know. I don't know how to respond or what to say.
"What was it...what's it like?" Now I sound croaky, from the coughing.
She chews a mouthful of her sandwich, and then leans in conspiratorially. "It was messy, and it hurt, and it was over really fast. The first time. After that it was a little bit awesome."
The feeling of unease in my stomach turns into something else. Some sort of ache lower down, so I must be getting my period. And Rose is just staring at me, waiting. And all I can think is that her boobs look bigger than when I saw her last - and that doesn't make any sense at all.
"Wow," I manage finally. "That's amazing. You guys sound like you had the best time." I sound fake. I sound like a TV friend. Like the bad TV friend, with the fake smile and the 'hurting on the inside' thought bubble over her head.
Alice and Rose don't notice. They bump fists again, and squeal, "Chimichanga!"
"So we're going to the beach after school, right?" I ask. I want things back the way they were a week ago, when every afternoon we'd pile into Rose's car and go and sit with our backs against the warm rocks and read gossip magazines and paint our toenails different colors and take the quizzes to find out which star was our 'perfect soul mate'.
"Of course," Alice nods, loading up the trash on her lunch tray and digging around in her backpack for her phone. She checks her texts. "Yeah, here. We're meeting the guys at four."
Rose nods, swinging her bag onto her back. "See you bitches in the car park." And then she's gone, leaving a trail of unfamiliar perfume in her wake.
Alice is tapping her feet impatiently, waiting for me to get up. We have algebra together. I don't feel like moving. My limbs feel heavy. I spent all week wishing they'd get back, and now I sort of wish they were gone again. "Who are we meeting?"
Alice is jamming a text out rapid-fire and doesn't look up from the screen. "Jazz, Em, some of their friends. There's good swell off the reef break."
She might as well be speaking Martian. Then again, the way this day has gone, I might as well be on Mars.
We park just off the Highway, slipping and clambering down what amounts to basically a goat track that only locals know about. The beach at the bottom is never that crowded, with the tourists too lazy to walk more than a few feet from ice cream or a lifeguard tower. Usually it's just us and little pockets of surfers. Actually, today it's just us and little pockets of surfers. Except this time Alice drops her bag in the sand and bounds a couple of steps and sort of launches herself at one of them. He has curly blond hair that is dripping in wet ringlets around his jaw line, and he's tall and lean, and he's kissing Alice like she's in a 1940s movie and he's leaving for war. His friends whoop and holler. And Alice gives them the finger as she slides back to the ground, grabbing him by the hand and dragging him over to us as we catch her up.
"Rosalie," he acknowledges, with a warm smile, and I have to concede Alice is right - his accent is sort of dreamy. Rose punches him on the arm with a grin and walks past him.
"Jazz, this is Bella." Alice looks like she might burst with excitement.
"Hi, Bella," Jasper says, stretching a hand out toward me. Shaking hands feels weird, like the sort of thing I do when I meet Charlie's friends. Too formal. Like, this is Alice's boyfriend, I guess. His palm feels warm and sandy, and his smile is sort of crooked. "I've heard a lot about you."
"I guess I'm just catching up," I reply, and then immediately worry if that sounds rude. I didn't mean it to be rude. It's just that all I've heard about him so far involves his skill at surfing, using a whole bunch of incomprehensible words like 'barrel' and 'cutback' and 'drop'. Alice went through a phase in eighth grade when she was obsessed with Harry Potter, and everything revolved around spells and house elves and the history of little-known wizards. This feels the same. Except, not really, because Jasper's really tall and his rash vest is hugging his chest, and this is Alice's boyfriend.
"Come drop your stuff," Jasper says, over his shoulder, his fingers lacing through Alice's as they head back to the group. Rosalie is already sitting down, between the legs of a giant guy who has his back up against the rocks and is sweeping Rose's hair out of the way and spreading suncream on her shoulders.
"Bella, Emmett. Em, this is Bella."
The giant looks up with a grin and winks at me. "Hells, Bells!" He flashes a big grin punctuated with dimples, and only my Grampa ever called me 'Bells' so I can't decide if this is annoying or not. "Pull up a towel. We have beer."
I mumble something about water being fine and spread my towel out beside them, smoothing it unnecessarily and worrying about how close is too close for the way Rose's hand is rubbing up his thigh, and how far is too far for seeming prudish and rude.
On the other side of Emmett, a gorgeous girl is lying out in a tiny white bikini that shows off her dark skin. She's wearing giant sunglasses and I can't tell if she's looking at me or not. Emmett takes pity on me. "This is Leah. She's a bitch, that's why she hasn't said hi, don't take it personal."
Leah raises her eyebrows above the giant glasses at me in what I guess is a greeting. I give her a small wave back, and she reaches in the cooler next to her to pass me a water bottle, taking the opportunity to shove an ice cube up the leg of Emmett's shorts. He yelps and almost topples Rose to the sand. Rosalie's answering stinkeye is pretty cold. No love lost there, it seems.
"Hey, fresh meat! Throw me that towel?"
There's a guy planting his surfboard in the sand a couple of feet from me. He's just come out of the water, and he's unzipping his wetsuit and shrugging out of it. His skin is dark, like Leah's but he doesn't look Hispanic. Native American, maybe. Or Hawaiian. His biceps are huge, and he has a tattoo of a circular tribal design, and his hair is dark and buzzed short and he has an earring.
I stare at him blankly. The sun is fierce as it's sinking and he's practically a silhouette. He snaps his fingers. "Habla Inglés? Pass me the towel."
Leah sighs noisily and gets to her feet, stepping over Emmett and Rose's legs to unhook the stripy towel which is snagged on the rocks behind me. She hurls it at him and it hits him in the face. "Don't be such a fucking jackass, Jake," she yells, before sinking back to the sand and turning her face to the sun like a flower. I feel hot and flustered. I didn't realize he was talking to me, and now I feel like the kid on the short bus for not responding. If he cares, Jake doesn't let on. He barely towels off as he strides up the sand, peeling down his suit and kicking it off to drop swiftly onto Leah, showering her with water. She slaps and yells at him, but he's kissing her neck and her shoulder, and her hands snake around his back and into his waistband, and I look away at the sparkling flashes of sunshine on the breaking waves, so bright they hurt my eyes.
"Where's Al?" I ask Rose quietly, as if we were surrounded by strangers. As if Emmett's fingers weren't trailing lazily along her ribcage and the edge of her bikini top and suddenly all I can think about is them naked and I need to look away, back to the water. Back to those pinpoints of dancing light.
"Out there," Rose says, gesturing distractedly at the ocean. The surfers on the break are like seals, little dark shapes bobbing and floating, and occasionally bursting into motion. I can't believe Alice can do that now. Bob, and float, and wait, and then swoop and stand and be this perfect movement for these few seconds before being swallowed whole by the chaos and confusion of the tumbling wave.
I dig my book out of my bag, the gossip mags forgotten at the bottom, and immerse myself in a completely different reality. Catherine and Heathcliff and the moors could not be further from this scorching afternoon, with the sand between my toes and the bead of sweat trickling down the back of my neck, but it doesn't matter. The words transport me. If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger: I should not seem a part of it.
"What are you reading?"
I look up with a start. There's a guy standing in front of me, his wetsuit peeled back to the waist, running a towel through his wet hair so that it stands up in all directions. His chest is muscled, and smooth and I can't look away from this one droplet of water that escapes the towel and rolls down his neck and over one pec, and down past his...nipple ring.
He has a nipple ring.
I swallow, and my mouth feels like the sand around me, so I sit up and swig from the bottle of water beside me while I show him the cover, which solves two problems by answering his question without revealing me to be a tongue-tied moron.
He arches one perfect eyebrow. "Bit depressing for the beach on a day like this."
I can't stop staring at him. He's like something straight out of a fashion magazine. Strong jaw, and sparkling green eyes, and so I look down, away from those eyes, which is hopeless because the last of the water evaporating on his torso is sliding down to the trail of little hairs that start below his belly button and disappear into the wetsuit and then I'm staring at...
"It's a love story," I choke out, and I want to pinch myself, hard. To cause some sort of pain to cancel out the flip-flops going on in my stomach. "It's a classic."
He rummages in the cooler and produces two beer bottles, waggling them in my direction. I guess it's a question. My heart is pounding like crazy, and I don't want Rose to say anything, like, Bella doesn't drink, or worse, Bella's dad's a cop. But when I look at her she's busy kissing Emmett, so I nod at the boy with the green eyes and he uses one beer bottle to open the other and hands it to me and sinks to his towel beside me. The glass is cold, and wet with condensation, and I want to press it against my forehead which seems suddenly feverish.
"I'm Edward," he says, as he tips his head back to drink, and his Adam's apple bobs as he swallows.
"Bella." Edward seems like the wrong name. Too old fashioned, starchy, for this Greek god and his nipple ring.
"What is it that appeals to you?"
I look at him in fright. Surely, he can't mean...am I being that ridiculous? Can he tell that I am staring at him, and thinking about him, and the tendon that runs down the side of his neck like a tiny cord?
"About the book?" he clarifies. "It's an old copy. I'm guessing this isn't the first time you've read it."
I want to sound erudite. I don't know why. I'm usually pretending I care about movie stars I've barely heard of, and who they're cheating on each other with, desperate not to be accused of being a geek. And yet now, with this boy, I want him to think I'm smart. I mean, he's not going to think I'm beautiful, and I need something. I need him to want to keep talking to me.
I take a sip from my bottle. I haven't tasted beer since begging from Charlie's cans when I was little, and I've forgotten what it's like. Cold, refreshing in the heat, but wheaty and with a weird aftertaste. I try not to screw up my face. "I think it's something about the inevitability. How nothing can keep them apart - not her selfishness, or his evil, or even death, in the end..."
"Some love story," he scoffs, with a smile. "Heathcliff's a douchebag and Catherine's a bitch. You should aim higher."
My face feels hot and flushed. I must be bright red. I hope he thinks it's the sun, and not the beer. Or him. I'm saved from embarrassing myself further as Alice and Jasper come up the beach. Alice is fizzing with excitement about the waves and what she's learnt and what an epic surfer Jasper is. She tangles her fingers with mine, and gives me a cold, salty kiss on the cheek as she takes my beer off me and drinks from it. "I've missed you, Bella-bear." And I've missed her too, as disorienting as all this is. And she presses her cold wet nose in my ear like a dog, and I squeal in protest as she whispers, "Isn't he the cutest?" and I think she's enthusing about Jasper again until she says, "And he's really smart, Bella, same as you. You'll like him, I promise." And I giggle and push her away, because what does it matter? He's an Adonis. And he's read Brontë. Like I stand a chance.
Jake and Jasper drag driftwood and bits of dead scrub down the hill and start to build a fire. They've obviously done this before, because there are a couple of long logs to sit on. The sun is dipping, and it's one of those really fiery sunsets that bleeds up from the horizon in a thousand colors of red and orange.
"Stunning, isn't it?" Edward's voice surprises me. He's closer than I realized, offering me another beer.
"Red sky at night," I say, and immediately regret it. It's something your grandmother would say. It's stupid. I take a long pull of the beer and try not to grimace. I don't look at Edward.
"I like the ancient Egyptian mythology better," he says, and I sneak a glance in his direction. He's staring out at the ocean. His profile is perfect. "They believed that the sun was born each morning, aged across the sky during the day, and sank to the underworld each night."
"They teach you ancient history at Pacific?" I can't help the note of incredulity that creeps into my voice.
He laughs, and doesn't seem remotely offended, and if I could think of anything funny to say I would, just to hear him laugh again. He smiles with his whole face, and his eyes are so green, and now his hair is drying it's this amazing bronze color in the last of the sunlight and it's still standing up in all directions, and I just want to touch it. I sit on the fingers of my hand to make sure that I don't.
"No. I used to live in New York. I spent a lot of time at the Met."
I've never been to New York. I've never been much of anywhere, except to Phoenix to visit my mom in the days before she decided Phil and the road were more important than the daughter she left behind. I want to ask him why he moved, and how he went from hanging out in museums to surfing, and whether the piercing was before or after, but Jake has other plans.
"Cullen! McCarty! Get off your asses and stop flirting. I'm starving."
Edward pushes up off the ground, tugging a t-shirt out of the sports bag behind him, and covering up that gorgeous chest, and I swear I might be pouting. Thank God he has his back to me. I don't know what's happening to me. I'm sure it must be just that Alice and Rose both suddenly have boyfriends. I mean, it's not like I've ever stared at surfers at the beach before and wanted to ...what? I don't even know. Maybe that second beer has gone to my head.
The boys have a battered grill grate, and are poking around in the coals with sticks and pulling packs of sausages out of the coolers. Leah grunts in irritation, sitting up and pulling a cover-up over her bikini and walking towards them. "Don't even try cooking those yourselves. We'll all die of food poisoning."
"She's a piece of work, isn't she?" Rose is tugging jeans on under a towel, her cutoffs cast aside. Her lips look swollen and there's a suspicious red mark on her neck. "She's always like that. I don't know why Jake puts up with it."
"You met her in Cabo?"
"Yeah, they all drove down together. They were camping in the back of Em's van."
I try to picture this. The four guys and Leah, sleeping rough on the beach, chasing the best waves. It's too foreign; too much freedom. I think of trying to tell Charlie I was going to camp in a van. It makes me giggle.
"Are you drunk, Miss Swan?" Rosalie grins at me in mock horror. "Whatever would the Chief say?"
I drain the last of the bottle. "Not guilty, your honor."
"Bella, can you grab me a beer if you're getting one?" Edward is poking at the coals in the fire, and I refrain from saying that I'd walk across them if he wanted me to. The beer is making me stupid. It doesn't stop me from getting another bottle for myself, and one for him. He thanks me, and pats the log beside him, and when he takes the bottle from my hand our fingers touch for a second and I stop breathing. I want him to do it again, to take my whole hand in his and trace patterns on the back of it with his thumb. The idea of it makes me shiver.
"You're cold?" he asks. And I want to say no. I mean, I'm sitting in front of a fire, and there's nothing about him that makes me cold, but I can't say that out loud, and so I shrug and say, "A little." And so he gets up, and digs around in his bag and comes back with a dark grey sweater.
"I can't, you'll need it."
"I'm fine. Honestly. I don't really feel the cold."
I feel like I should protest more earnestly, but the sweater is warm and soft and when I pull it over my head I want to stay wrapped inside it because it smells amazing. Like dryer sheets, and fresh air, and something that is totally and indescribably boy, but in a good way. And Edward tugs at the hem so that my head pops out the top like a reluctant turtle, and he smoothes my hair where it's gotten mussed.
"Suits you," he says, which is ridiculous, because I'm swimming in it, it comes almost down to my knees. But I don't care. I don't care. I just want his hand on my hair again, but he turns back to tend the fire.
Alice splits hotdog buns, balanced on the lid of one of the coolers, and even without any trimmings I swear it's the best tasting thing I've ever eaten. The boys rib each other relentlessly, and even Leah seems softer in the firelight, teasing Jacob in a way that makes you realize exactly what he sees in her. And all the scratchy, resentful feelings that have been bubbling around since lunchtime seem to float up in the smoke with the sparks and disappear.
After we eat, Jasper convinces Alice that she needs to try a night surf, which seems stupid and dangerous, but Alice says there's enough moonlight and Jasper knows what he's doing, and they won't go far. Jacob says he's going back to the van to get more beer, and Leah gets up dusting sand off her ass and says she'll go with him to help. Once they disappear a way up the track, Emmett bellows after them, "GLOVES ARE IN THE GLOVE COMPARTMENT!" And it takes me a beat too long to work out what he means, or why Rose and Edward are laughing, and then I flush red to the roots of my hair and I'm so glad that's it too dark for any of them to notice.
Emmett and Rose don't even bother with an excuse. He just gets to his feet and offers her his hand and then they're walking away from the fire toward the line of dunes. I stare after them, unable to look away and face the reality that it's just me and Edward.
"I'm sorry my friends stole your friends away," I say. I figure it must be Rose and Alice's fault really. I mean, otherwise he and Jasper and Emmett would be sitting around a fire cracking jokes about Jacob behind his back.
Edward laughs, and rests his hand on my knee. "I'm not."
I have trouble swallowing. My throat feels tight, and I'm staring at his long fingers. The way his palm dwarfs my kneecap. The heat of his skin on mine. All the other places he could put his hand.
"Bella?" His voice is quiet, and sounds concerned. I realize I haven't said anything for a long minute. And yet my tongue still feels thick in my mouth and the words won't form. "I can take you home if you'd like? I'll just kick Jake and Leah out of the van." But I'm shaking my head before he even finishes the sentence, turning towards him and wanting to move closer to him but not really sure how.
Edward reaches out and gently brushes my hair away from my neck, and then he leans in and presses his lips to the skin just below my earlobe, right where my pulse is threatening to explode right out of my body. The kiss is searing hot, and paper-soft, and I suck in a breath sharply. Edward draws back, and his eyes are hooded and dark and his lips are full, and so soft and then I'm the one leaning toward him and his hands are on my hips, and he tugs me toward him and we're just so close, and I'm practically going cross-eyed concentrating on his mouth and then...
Kissing Edward is like falling, it's like drowning, it's better than all the words my eager brain is racing to come up with to describe it. He knows exactly what he's doing and I have no idea, but it's like the time Alice made us go to tango lessons and I was completely hopeless unless I was dancing with the instructor who really knew how to lead. Edward knows how to lead. He tastes a little like beer, and a little like sea salt, and his hands slide up under his sweater to rest at my waist. His thumbs trace patterns on my skin, igniting a fire inside me that makes me want to squirm against him and moan like a porn star. Or at least like I imagine a porn star would. When he breaks the kiss I feel breathless and shaky, but before I can feel embarrassed he whispers right in my ear, "You're so cute," and I feel beautiful, invincible.
I trace the piercing through his t-shirt. "Did it hurt?"
"Like hell. I'm not good with pain." He smiles ruefully, continuing to trace along the waistband of my shorts. My abdominal muscles tense beneath his touch, as if they're pulling away from him. I don't want them to pull away. I want them to stay right where they are.
"I got it done because I lost a bet. I kept it because of the way it feels right now." I flick at the ring gently through the fabric and he groans. His eyes close and his lashes are so, so long. And then he's kissing me, and his hands have slid up under my shirt and his thumbs are stroking back and forth across my nipples, and I'm the one who's groaning.
"Bella, can we..." he murmurs against my mouth, and I freeze for a second, because I don't want to spoil this perfect, perfect moment by saying I'm not ready, and that's not what I want, and just because Rose gave it up for his friend doesn't mean I'm going to..."shift a little?" And I'm nodding, and giggling, and he's pulling me down onto a towel, tangling us up together and holding me tight, and kissing me senseless.
"Is this okay?" he asks, as his fingers tug playfully at my shorts, and I feel self-conscious but so, so turned on, and I bury my face in his neck as I nod, scared to look at him. "Take this off," he says, tugging at the sweater, and I struggle up into a sitting position pulling it over my head clumsily, and putting it up on the log. He immediately pushes my t-shirt up, and traces the outline of my bikini. "So pretty," he whispers, pushing the cup down and sucking my nipple into his mouth. I gasp out loud. It feels so naughty. Out here on the beach, where anyone can see us, practically topless, with my friends a few yards away! But Edward grazes me with his teeth and the sensation is like nothing else and then there is only him. The warmth of his mouth and the hard heat of him through the thin fabric of his board shorts pressing against my hip and his hands sliding and exploring. I want to touch him, to do something to make him feel as good as I do right now, but I have absolutely no idea how. I trace the line of him through his shorts and he hisses.
"I'm sorry!" I gasp, in horror this time. But he laughs and kisses the tip of my nose, and presses my hand firmly against himself again.
"It's okay, Bella. It feels amazing." And it does. He does. His fingers are inside my shorts and my bikini bottoms, and my back arches involuntarily as his fingers stroke and slip and slide. I grasp him more firmly, and he thrusts against my hand, and kisses me hard. Those beautiful, long fingers are inside me. Inside me. Rational thought is disappearing. There's just Edward's kisses, and the unrelenting ache between my legs, and the way he whispers my name. And then I'm exploding, shuddering against him, and he lets out a cry and drags me on top of him and hugs me tight, and we're both breathing heavily and I never want him to let me go.
Edward strokes my arm and kisses my forehead. "I wasn't supposed to do that."
I lean up on one elbow and look down at him, terrified that I'll see regret on his beautiful features, but he's smiling, twisting my fingers in his and resting them on his chest. "Alice made me promise that I'd take it slow. She saw how bored I was with all the party girls in Cabo, and she kept saying I've got the perfect girl for you, Edward. But you have to treat her right, because she's my best friend in the whole world, and if you hurt her I'll be forced to break you."
I giggle, because Edward's Alice voice is silly, but the inflection is perfect, and I can just imagine her saying that. And somehow it makes it okay. That she and Rosalie went without me. That she learnt to surf, and she found herself a Jasper, and Rose became a woman, and they have a stupid in-joke I don't understand. Because when she was hundreds of miles away, she was still thinking about me, and because this is what she brought me home.
And so I kiss Edward on the forehead, and snuggle back against him, and listen to the waves as the fire burns down.
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