Entry #28 - AH

Truly Anonymous Twilight O/S PP Contest

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Title: Dirty Laundry

Category: Drama—Romance

Picture Prompt Number: 40

Pairing: Edward & Bella

Rating: M

Word Count (minus A/N and Header): 9989

Summary: At her age, Bella shouldn't have this of kind dirty laundry. Friends at school would treat her worse than a kiddie-porn producer if they found out. So what happens when a handsome NASCAR driver stumbles upon her most feared secret?

Warnings and Disclaimer: Sexual content and a little language. Twilight owned by me—not.

Dirty Laundry

At the formal party inside the Newtons' mansion, my father disappeared behind a door with the host to be charmed. Poor Mr. Newton. Dad hadn't been voted Mayor of our small city a few hours inland from San Francisco because he was eager about development plans. He was popular because of his tough stance on cleaning out trouble.

He had the same stance at home.

"Bella, hi! Where've you been?"

I spun to the voice as guilty as Sylvester the cat with Tweety Bird in his mouth—I thought they'd all left. "Heeey, Irina." In her sparkling gold dress, painted on to below her knees, the queen-bee of my Catholic school personified her favorite saying: Your boyfriend wants me. Sick of their shallowness, I'd been avoiding her and my other friends the past few hours.

She lowered her vision to my black pumps and back up. "You're very... Audrey Hepburn tonight."

I looked down at the red gathered skirt to my knees, patting my hands over the fitted velvet waist. "You think?" I smiled. In this dress I felt like my new friend, Rosalie.

"Mm..." She inspected me again. "A fine example of why you shouldn't have ditched shopping with the girls and me."

My eye twitched. "Nice. I just... forgot when that was."

"Oh, god." She rolled her pretty eyes and giggled. "You're always forgetting something. Well, at least you're not in your Alice in Wonderland tights you don whenever you're out of uniform." She always gave hints I should conform to her taste in fashion.

"Sorry to run," I said, "but I've gotta go to the bathroom."

"I'll come with!"

Brother.

In the bathroom mirror, she touched up her raspberry lipstick. "There's a guy about twenty working tonight who'll be racing in the NASCAR Nationwide Series."

Yawn. "Oh."

She sucked in her cheeks to try a sexy pout. "I'm staying back to learn who he is and give him my number." A perfect blonde eyebrow quirked at me. "Maybe more if he's exceptionally lucky."

See? Shallow. "My condolences."

"Seriously, what's with you today, Bella? Cramps?"

She was used to me nodding along, wearing my invisibility cloak. "Just... tired." Of her.

While inspecting her side profile in the mirror, she passed me her wound-up lipstick. "Here, you're so washed-out, I can tell you're on the rag."

The lipstick and I looked at each other. It would be so easy. Just a temporary slick of color to avoid explaining how my father forbade make-up until his daughters turned eighteen. To avoid her opinion on that.

Red-lipped and back in the ballroom, I lost the Golden Wonder among the thinning crowd and searched for a tissue in my purse before my father could discover me.

"Canapé?" a tall, male waiter asked, hovering a tray of savory treats under my nose. I'd already questioned a waiter what they each were, so I plucked the last spinach and feta puff—heaven in pastry.

"Thank you." My eyes darted around for Dad. Before my teeth could sink through the flaky tartlet, he swung into the room, smiling with Mr. Newton.

"No worries," the waiter said. "You know we—"

"Excuse me." I slipped behind guests to hide, but Dad had already spotted me. Within the minute I was ushered around a corner, his angry grip on my upper arm. Through his teeth, he seethed at me to clean my face.

"What's going on up here?" He jabbed his index finger hard into my temple. "Think, Isabella, think." And he strode back to the remaining guests, all charisma. I rubbed the sore spot he'd poked. I hated when he did that. Thank goodness the party was over, because I felt like a stupid little girl playing dress-up.

If Irina found me now, I'd probably be a fool and cry on her shoulder.

At dusk, my family was two steps inside the front door of our white, Spanish-style house when Dad turned on me, stopping me in the three-story foyer.

Who did I think I was? Did I think I knew better than him? Was I so desperate for boys that I wanted to look easy? "Well?" he asked.

My faultless, fifteen-year-old sister Alice watched with big, excited eyes, and Mom sighed in disappointment.

I couldn't talk with the hard, swelling lump in my throat, so I answered with a shrug.

"That's just what I'd expect from you, Isabella." He puffed out a breath. "I give you a credit card and provide a house other children can only dream about. Do I really ask that much in return? Isn't it enough that I've relented over your wearing ridiculous stockings?"

Knowing he'd grown up in a rundown trailer park, his biggest desire always having been for respect from the most respectable, didn't help the growing ache in my throat... or my heart.

Mom gave me a sympathetic look. "If it were a night-time party, Bella, a bit of lipstick might've been all right, but you should've asked first."

Dad balked at her. "Excuse me? Would you like to consult me before you go blurting out new rules, Renee?"

"New rules?" Mom clicked her tongue. "She's seventeen now. A bit of make-up isn't the end of the world."

"Oh!" He threw his hands up. "Now it's make-up in general, is it? You'd like to raise our children by yourself would you? But let me tell you this," he pointed his finger in her direction, "so long as she lives under my roof, she won't be wearing make-up like a whore. Period."

Mom palmed her forehead and turned away. "That's right, what do I know? I'm only their mother." She'd be desperate for a night-cap now. A few.

Alice squinted at me. "Good one, Bella."

"Shut up, loser."

Dad swung his glare from Mom retreating, to me. "Loser? Could you imagine your sister doing something like this?"

No, I couldn't. Alice was sports-loving, top grades and "can I get you anything, Dad?" I, on the other hand, was sports-impaired, forgetful and "sorry I wet the bed again."

Nights, my body would disregard how desperately I longed to be normal and how degrading it was to have a younger sister think I was disgusting for something she'd grown out of at age three.

I'd skipped every school camp, every sleepover, because a teenager dreaming through the urge to use the bathroom would be shunned with the repugnance reserved for kiddie porn producers.

However, pushed by the desperation of freedom, I'd stayed overnight at Rosalie's the first time a month ago. The terror of wetting her bed—with her next to me—had been so severe that I'd woken for the bathroom every night since.

One more month, and I'd finally be allowed to drive. Incentive, Dad called his two-month's-dry rule. Added mortification, I called it.

sss

Following the lipstick fiasco, I paced my bedroom, confronted everywhere I looked that Dad wasn't the bad-guy. The black-and-white striped wallpaper I'd insisted on that Mom hated. My treasured nineteenth-century rifle above my bed he'd given me for my birthday because I liked the Old West and steampunk. The antique headboard I'd begged him for...

If he wasn't the bad guy, then I was. Again.

I needed to speak with Rose. She'd understand. She went to a public high school, but we'd met before summer when she delivered our grand piano with her father who'd gushed over Mayor Swan.

"You're welcome to stay here the night," she told me over the phone. "I dunno when Mom'll be back, but she won't care." Ann was divorced and easy-going like Rosalie, telling stories of her wild youth in the 80s.

I called a cab and then climbed down the apple tree outside my window in my Audrey Hepburn dress and a grin.

sss

In her little beige apartment, Rosalie cheered me up after my story by putting one of my favorite movies into her DVD player, Young Guns II. Next I insisted we watch her favorite, Dirty Dancing.

The credits rolled and car doors slammed outside. Rose investigated out the window in her panties, tank top and fabulous figure, and I joined her.

"Whoa," I said. "Do you know that lady with... the man down her throat?"

"That's my mother. And she's picked up another..." Rose gave me an unsure look "...one-night stand."

My eyes ballooned, watching the groping and the French kissing. That was Anne? She was still wild. And a mother.

"Come on!" Rose tugged my hand. "We do not want to be here when she gets in, believe me."

I raced with her into to her tiny bedroom wallpapered with a thousand fashion magazine pages—all pink. She rattled open a drawer of her worn dresser and flung out one of the generous-skirted dresses she'd sewn herself.

"We can sleep at my place," I said. "How good are you at climbing trees?"

"No idea." She spun her back to me so I'd zip her up. "We'll go to my boyfriend's. He's finally back from San Fran, so he was begging me to come over anyway."

"Why didn't you?"

"You needed me more. Let's get outta here."

sss

After midnight Rose raced up the stairs from her boyfriend's dank basement and left me to get cozy on a bare mattress, jealous the guy I'd just met had the only blanket down here. He flicked off the light without a word. Chivalry was as dead as the radiator in this old, rickety house. I folded myself into a ball, tucking my legs into the velvet skirt of my dress. So much for summer. I shivered, muscles tight and trembling.

By now Rose was upstairs in her boyfriend's nice, warm bed, doing who knew what with her nice, warm boyfriend. No, I knew what. As far as she was concerned right now, nothing but he existed.

I touched my nose. Frozen.

"You cold?" a deep voice asked. The guy... What was his name? Edmund...? Elwood?

My teeth clattered. "V-v-very."

"Wanna share the blanket?"

"K-k-k -k-kay."

By the light of the DVD player's screen, his shadowy form heaved off the sofa and shuffled closer to me on the other side of the basement. He stretched out beside me, against me, blissfully warm. He spread the blanket over us, heavy and woollen. I welcomed the bite of stale cigarettes and mothballs. The smell of warmth.

His foot bumped mine. "Holy shit, you're ice!"

"I n-n-n-know."

"Here." He rolled and draped his warm arm and jean-covered leg over me. His voice got soft. "Better?"

I gulped. This was a guy I'd seen in a corner store a week ago. A guy so handsome I'd stared into my purse to hide my dreamy eyes and drool. And now his palm was relaxed around my bare upper arm.

"Uh-huh," I answered, too many octaves over normal. When Rose had introduced us, his intense gaze had made me so jittery I'd still had to glance away—missing his name.

His eyes... Dark lashes fringing pale green ponds... Eyes as piercing as they were pretty... A lame chuckle bubbled out of me. "What was your name again?"

"Edward."

"Ah. Hi. I'm Bella, if you forgot."

"You seventeen, like Rose?"

"Yes. Um, how old are you?"

"Twenty."

"Oh." I was in bed with a man. "D-do you live nearby?"

"'Bout twenty minutes."

"Oh. Why are you sleeping here?"

"Got home from work and my brothers were fighting again."

"They don't get along?"

"Not since it's been their time to share the biggest bedroom."

"Oh, I could never share with my sister."

"Yeah?" His hand moved a fraction on my arm. "Why's that?"

My mouth dried up, my mind blanking out. "Dunno."

He said nothing more, and the only question I could think of was if he had pets. I wanted a bunny to name Bruno, but it didn't seem the right topic for the moment. Pretty hard to think when you haven't even held hands with a guy and the best one was on you. I'd just go to sleep, and we could meet properly tomorrow.

But I could not fall asleep under his delicious weight, his warm breaths ghosting over my collar bone.

His nose moved up and bumped my neck. "You smell like vanilla ice cream." Now his voice was warm too. So close. It did funny things between my legs. I slowed my breaths to fool him.

He nuzzled my neck and let out a low moan that vibrated through my bones. I popped my eyes out at the ceiling. What was he doing? Maybe he was being polite because his nose was right there against my vanilla body-wash. His moan could've been from exhaustion. After all, Rose had sat on him and bounced him awake at midnight.

I continued with the snooze-farce.

When he lifted his arm from me I thought I'd finally be able to sleep—if his leg had been next—but a light fingertip dripped onto the base of my throat. My eyes searched the infinite blackness of the ceiling for answers of what he'd do next. I already knew what I should do next. A good girl would push the stranger's hand away. But too many feelings were flashing through me to move.

His touch glided down ever so slowly, in a lazy zigzag. The hardest thing I'd ever done was not give away that I was on the verge of hyperventilating, because it seemed like he was going to touch me where no one had. His finger glided farther... farther... He traced the skin edging the modest scoop of my neckline... then over the fabric... and smoothed over the swell of my breast! I mentally gasped. My eyes rolled back. He gradually swirled around it. Again and again, tickling in the best possible way. Tingles zapped from his touch down to Panty Central. And then he found my pebbled tip and thumbed it, pinched it a little and massaged over my dress. I nearly passed out from the heightening pleasure and thrill and fear.

"Why're you pretending to be asleep?" he whispered, hot in my ear. "I can tell you like this. I can hear your thundering heartbeats."

I clamped my eyes shut, slowed my breathing.

He scoffed. "Bet you'll wake up if I touch you... down here." And his hand brushed along my belly toward...!

I recoiled and flipped onto my side, my back to him. Hopefully he'd think I'd rolled over in my sleep. The heavy blanket whipped away from me as he heaved his warm body off the mattress. Cold air stabbed my bare legs and arms while his feet smacked the concrete floor to the couch.

He was horrible! What kind of guy would be such a bastard to a freezing girl?

A tiny part of me insisted I suffer and shiver in silence, not to upset the moody guy with the blanket and the eyes any further. But the rest of me was furious. I was sick of playing the Invisible Girl. I pushed off the mattress and mentally cracked my knuckles.

I flicked the light on in basement's purple bathroom so he could get a good look at the glare I'd practiced on my sister.

"Hey." I kicked the old couch, and he took his time rolling to face me, his finger-length hair electrocuted. In the firing line of those eyes, I swallowed. The roots of my hair started sweating. "I'm sharing this blanket whether you like it or not." I did the glare thing.

He showed me his glare—that stomped all over mine. "Used to getting what you want, aren't you, princess?"

"You know nothing." I lifted the blanket and tried to act tough, like the cowboys in Young Guns. "Scoot over."

He rotated to face the wall, leaving just enough space for me on the couch. We slept back to back, the bathroom light blazing.

sss

I woke alone in the basement and wondered how that Edward guy got off the couch without disturbing me. And, thank god, I was dry.

I crept up the stairs. "Hellooo?"

"Bella, in here," Rose called.

I poked my head into the cluttered, mustard-yellow kitchen.

Rose, her boyfriend Emmett—who I'd met last night—Edward, and a wrinkled woman, with black hair in curlers, watched me come in.

"Hi." I waved.

Edward stared at me blank-faced. I'd hoped he'd left.

Emmett introduced me as "the Mayor's daughter" to his mother in the rollers.

She eyed me up and down, relaxing at the kitchen table. "What a beautiful dress," she said, smooth as gravel in a dryer. Smoker's voice. She lit up and squinted through the puff of smoke.

"Thanks." I swished the red skirt. "It's like Rosalie's dresses, right? I wore it to a party last night."

"The one at the Newtons' mansion?" Emmett asked.

"Yeah, but it was boring." Didn't want them to feel bad about not being invited.

"Isn't that where you were working, Edward?" Emmett asked.

"Yep."

He'd been there? He must've worked in the kitchen because if I'd seen him I would've drooled all over myself. Before his personality had tainted his looks.

sss

Emmett drove us home in his beefy truck, the three of us in the front. Half way home, Rose turned to me, misinterpreting my silent lip-chewing that was all about replaying Edward's harsh reaction, wishing he were friendly. "Scared of Daddy Dearest?" she asked.

"Yeah." Now.

Emmett jolted the truck with a gear change. "You warm enough downstairs last night?"

"Yes, thanks. Edward let me share his blanket." Ugh. I hated having to say his name so nicely.

"Edward let you...? Ha!" He roared with laughter, hitting the steering wheel.

I mouthed "what?" to Rose.

She adjusted my fallen, twisted bra strap. "While you were using the bathroom, I whispered to him to break the ice by showing you the cupboard with the blankets. He must like you."

My eyes grew out of my skull. "What!" He would've let me freeze!

sss

After scaling up the apple tree, I climbed through my window and changed into one of my long, white nighties. In the hallway from my room, I did a convincing yawn. Strange that Saturday morning didn't smell like bacon and eggs. And that it sounded like the Night Before Christmas.

"Mom?" I called, jogging down the staircase.

Quiet.

Weird.

In our shiny cream kitchen, a Post-it on the refrigerator had Bella written in large print at the top. Dad's handwriting.

We've gone to visit ghost towns but assumed, since you prefer to do things your own way, you wouldn't want to be a part of this family and go with us.

I'd been the one begging to be taken to ghost towns for years. They must've snuck out early so I'd wake to this dreadful surprise and never wear lipstick again.

At least I had the rare treat of the house to myself.

Hours later I was in the pool when Rose called my cell, excited about me and her boyfriend's best friend possibly falling for each other. I waisted no time in telling her about him taking the blanket because I hadn't let him touch more than my boob. "I mean, would other guys get that mean and weird because a girl they'd just met didn't want to make out?"

She hummed a disappointed sigh. "I suppose his groupies might've gotten to his ego. Maybe that's why he won't even let Emmett drive his old spansy-pants Ford."

I didn't care to know what she meant.

That week we spent every other day together—Emmett wanted "alone time" with her. We swam in my pool, watched DVDs and cruised to the lake in her old, yellow Beetle she shared with Anne. But Rose thought exploring ghost towns would be creepy.

Friday night, Rose had a special date night with Emmett before he was to head back to San Francisco with his band. Dad came into my room at eight with a hug for me, saying how proud he was that I'd made such a nice friend. My parents assumed Rose lived with her respectable, blue-collar father, and that his new, posh wife was Rosalie's mother—a spiteful woman who actually loathed Rose.

Anne had the Beetle the next night, so Rose and I got a taxi to a house party of a guy she knew from school. She handed cash to the driver, the last of the money she'd earned working for her father. The rest of her funds had gone toward the liquid happy we'd gone halves in that were weighing down her backpack.

We climbed out of the cab, the music from the party pulsating toward us down the end of the street, and ducked under a bush to sit in the darkness together, beneath its branches.

"Did he get the mango ones this time?" I asked. Tonight was going to be so fun.

She unzipped her backpack and lifted out the first of two six-packs of Smirnoff Ice. "Yep!" Her nerdy neighbor always got us drinks. He was putty for Rose.

sss

Three bottles buzzed in my head. Vodka and mango fizz, floating my brain in sweet effervescence.

"I wish Em could come," Rose said, passing me another bottle. "He's hilarious at parties, an' you haven' seen that side of him yet."

"Yeah, but it's exciting his band's so popular."

Rose murmured her agreement as she guzzled her fifth bottle in one go. "Ahhh!" Burrrrrrrp. "I jus' hope I can trust him, 'cause I haven't given him the good stuff yet."

I couldn't blink. "You haven't...? But I thought..."

"He's satisfied. Just not pussy-satisfied. I'm 'fraid of it hurting, yah know?"

"Yeah." Rose was a virgin. I'd assumed she'd been doing it for years.

But if Emmett wasn't coming to the party, then neither would that weird, hot Edward guy. Tonight would be good.

I had to stop after one more bottle or my brain would've floated away, but Rose sucked down four more in almost the same time. I didn't know how she got up and walked. I didn't know how I was walking. We both leaned into the other and just moved our legs. The party got closer and louder, so we were doing really good.

"We're doing reaaaaally good!" I said, and a patrol car eased around the corner at the other end of the street. "Ah!" I yanked Rose aside, and we tumbled onto crunchy grass. "They'll take me to m' dad!" I patted myself down. "What am I wearing?" Stripy tights, denim mini-skirt and a frilly, black top Rose had never worn because she thought the neckline was too low. I shook her shoulders. "He can't see me wi' cleavage!"

She collapsed back, cackling her head off. "Or wasted!"

"Oh, boy! Or wi' dark eye make-up!"

Another two patrol cars pulled up outside the house, and people started running. Why? Their dad wasn't the Mayor. Idiots.

"We gotta get you outta here, Bella. Stay low."

We crawled to a garden of weeds to hide, and then made it to the next street, all on our knees, in the shadows.

I pouted. "My poor tights." Holed.

Rose wriggled her cell from down the top of her pink dress. "We gotta call a cab. Ugh! No reception. You?"

From my denim skirt pocket, I inched out my cell but realized my credit card was missing. "Oh, no. You're gonna get mad. I left m' credit card in m' bag at your place." So stupid. I was always forgetting something.

"S'kay." That's all she said about it. No disgusted sighs or name-calling like my parents, no bitching or eye-rolling like my so-called friends.

I loved Rose. "I love youuu." I leaned my head against her.

She smooched my cheek. "I luv ooo too. Let's go. I know a frien' lives round 'ere." She hooked her arm with mine, and we heaved ourselves to our feet.

"Rose? How come you always hang wi' me an' no other girls?"

Our high heels clanked on the road, echoing. "Em's ex-girlfriend's the mos' popular girl at m' school, an' he broke up wi' her for me few months 'go. M' friends turned on me to suck-up to her. Least I got m' man."

"An' me."

She clasped her arm around my waist and kissed me with a smacking sound. "An' you, m' pretty."

sss

We'd been staggering through dark, suburban streets for nights and nights—actually, half an hour—lost, when Rose pointed to a sad, old bungalow. "That's it!"

"Ohhhh, gooood," I said. "My feet're so sore."

"Same."

Instead of knocking on the front door, Rose dragged me to a side window. She rapped like Tinkerbell on the glass, but when no one responded, she banged her fist. Curtains flung back, and Edward's furious face glowered out at us.

I spun to her, my expression screaming, "Him?"

She did an agitated dance, flopping her hands around. "Come on, aren't-cha feet sore?"

No Plan B. And this was my fault, damnit. "Fine."

Edward skidded his window open, his burned-tangelo hair like Einstein's. "What?"

Rose stood with her hip popped to one side, her hand on it. "Don' talk to Rosie like that. Rosie's had drinkies with her BB, and we need to sleep someplace till my Mom's sobering up to drive."

"Why?"

"Fuckin'... The party round there was raided, an' we 'scaped." Her thumb poked behind her, to me. "Her father'll kill her badly if he finds ou'."

He huffed and backed up from the window. "Climb in, but be quiet."

I couldn't believe I was accepting a favor from this pig.

Rose and I hurtled through his window together, landing on the floor. In our effort to stand we wrestled with each other, fumbling and laughing in whispers.

Edward's eyes popped when he saw me up close and on my feet. "You?"

I played shocked, gasping with my fingertips to my mouth, my lashes batting. "And you, sir."

He tried his hardest to look unimpressed. "Should've known with those legs."

"Thank you." I did a little backwards kick, and his lips twitched. Ha!

"Come on, kids," Rose whined, dumping herself onto his bed. "Mamma's tired. Don' fight."

"One of you can share my bed. One takes the couch." He pointed to a shiny, one-and-a-half seater in his small room that was dimly lit from the streetlight. Comfy.

"I share wi' you," Rose said, knowing I wouldn't want to. She kicked off her heels and lay on his double-sized bed with her feet beside the only pillow.

He reached down and tossed a blanket onto the couch. What would you know? Progress. A pillow would've been nice.

I hooked my knees over the armrest to fit then adjusted the blanket. One week after the last sleeping fiasco, and I was into another. Okay, so tonight wasn't so cold, but my skull hurt where it pressed on the hard vinyl. I sighed. A pillow hit my face. I looked about but saw no movement. Rose?

"Thank you," I said.

Silence.

"S'all right." Not Rose. Definitely not Rose.

Having a pillow was much more comfortable, and it smelled... like cinnamon and orange-peel and handsome man. I sucked it deep into my lungs. I was so drunk!

"Don't, Rose," Edward said.

My mind whirled, wondering what she did to him.

After a stretch of silence, he said it a second time. Growled. And after awhile, a repeat.

"Why?" Rose said. "T's funnyyy."

"I swear to god, kick me in the head again, and I'm telling Dad you're here."

I stifled my giggle in my hand. Sure enough, in a few beats, he lurched out of bed.

"Oopsieee," Rose said.

I panicked and leapt up, blocking his bedroom door and swaying a tad. "What happens if you tell your dad? Will he call mine?"

"Maybe. He knows Anne, but he probably won't want personal trouble with the new ball-busting Mayor."

"Well, don' tell your dad who I am! Please."

"He already knows."

My brow creased. "How?" Police I expected would know me; an everyday blue-collar man, not so much.

A long exhale. "We were in a diner a month ago and saw you in the Time-Machine shop with Rose. You crossed the street wearing a... big dress and bought a Coke from the soda machine outside our window."

I remembered that. Rose had talked me into buying then wearing a replica-50s dress, but I'd refused to remove my stripy tights. I'd kept laughing, swishing the fluffy skirt because it made her look at my legs and crack up.

"And I later asked Rose about you in front of Dad," he said.

Rose rolled over and groaned. "No pickles on mmm... p'easssse."

"Ugh. How much did she drink?" he asked, so I told him. "I'm telling Dad she's here, so we can put her in the living room and get some sleep. I'll keep you a secret."

I didn't know if I could trust him, but what other choice did I have?

"Hide in my closet," he said and left.

His father soon mumbled something to Edward in his room, and I froze behind the closet door. Silence—even from Rose. I waited. Listened... And Edward flung the door open.

I jumped. "Oh! Um, thank you. You don' know how mad my dad woul' be at me. 'Specially after I wore lipstick at the party las' week."

"What?"

"Well, it was red, and he thought I looked like a hooker."

"What a dick."

I stepped out of his closet. "No, he's jus' strict on a couple things." Dad really didn't ask that much of me. "I mean, he provides lotsa blankets. Oh! And cool, antique rifles." Okay, so one rifle, but I wanted Edward to wonder if it worked and think twice about having been a nasty weirdo to me.

His studied me, blank-faced. With fear?

"Yes?" I asked.

"You have the bed." He plonked onto the rock-couch. "I'll have the pillow."

I stood stunned. "Seriously?"

"Consider it an apology for me being an asshole last weekend."

I crawled onto his mattress and snuggled in. So soft. "Thanks."

"Goodnight, Bella." It had been a week, but he remembered my name. Now I felt almost guilty for mentioning my rifle.

A dozen tosses and turns later, I had insomnia. "Are you asleep?" I whispered.

"Mm-hm."

"Um, well, I was thinking, since you're apologizing... Have you got spare pajamas?"

"Say what?"

"This top's got ruffles that are all scratchy, and I can't get cozy... Please?"

He tapped on his desk lamp and tossed me a blue flannel pair. With the blanket draped over his head, he sat on the couch while I stripped off and changed into his P.J. top. It was big, like a nightie, so I didn't bother with the pants. "Okay," I said, tying my hair into a high ponytail while I stood in front of him. "All done."

He examined me from my eyebrows to the toes of my tights. And swallowed so hard his Adam's apple flexed all the way up and down his throat. He didn't share blankets or pajamas.

I climbed onto his bed and sat cross-legged, the P.J. top drooping to cover my crotch. "Have you got a deck of cards, too? I'm really awake, and the streetlight's bright enough to play solitaire."

He smiled, shaking his head, and got a pack of cards from his desk drawer. I'd made him smile. "What're we playing?" he asked.

Now I smiled. "Ummmm, Crazy Eights?"

He agreed with a nod and shuffled the cards, glancing down to frown at my scratched up knees.

"Oh, yeah. We crawled for a long time, but it doesn't hurt much."

"Hang on." He strode out of the room and returned, carrying a little box of first aid. Neither of us said anything while he perched on the edge of his bed and tenderly wiped my knees clean of blood and dirt with antiseptic-soaked cotton balls. The sting was worth it for the attention. His caring gesture was more intoxicating than any alcohol I'd consumed. He stuck Band-Aids over the grazes, and I was sorry he'd finished already.

"Okay..." He set the supplies on the desk next to his bed and crawled onto his mattress, folding his legs like a pretzel and re-shuffling the cards.

"Thank you," I whispered.

"Yeah."

Awkward silence. The vision of him all snugly and relaxed in his red P.J. pants and an old Mickey Mouse T-shirt stirred my belly. "Soooo," I said, "what kind of work were you doing at that party last week?"

"Waitering."

"You're a waiter? I didn't see you."

"I know."

"How?"

"You asked me what every canapé was, but you never looked up."

"That was you?" My cheeks bloomed with heat. I'd only asked so I could hide from Jessica when she'd come near. I'd been so busy peeking at her under Edward's arm to be aware of whose arm I was peeking under.

His vision stayed on his hands as he dealt the cards.

"I'm sorry," I said. "I wasn't being rude, I..." How to explain?

"No worries. I'm invisible to most people who are somebody."

"You think I'm a somebody?"

No answer.

"Well, I'm not somebody just 'cause my dad is. My friends from school are..." I pulled a face "...so I was playing Mission Impossible to avoid them."

He gathered his cards. Serious. He didn't care.

"So that's why you kept the blankets a secret." I nodded to myself. "You thought I was a bitchy snob."

"Yeah, I thought that, but only after you ignored me so many times."

"Wha...? I only ignored you once. And that was by accident."

"In order..." "He held one finger up and counted. "That first time. Then when you had your red lipstick on, and I talked to you, but you turned away. Then when Rose introduced us, and you looked anywhere but at me. Then when I told you my brothers had to share a room, and you snubbed my next question, figuring I was too poor. And then after I felt you up." Five fingers. A hand.

That did sound bad. I swallowed and traced my fingernail over a black line on my tights. "In Emmett's basement... I couldn't keep talking 'cause my mind was too focused on how our bodies were touching, not 'cause I thought you were poor. And, before that, I was just nervous to look at you, that's all."

"Why would you be?"

"'Cause you're gorgeou —Omigod." I hid my face in my hands. I just told him he was gorgeous!

It took a while for him to respond, his voice soft. "Well, to make us even, I couldn't stop thinking about you after I first saw you in town. There's a reason I asked Rose about you."

"Why?" I'd looked and behaved like a goofball.

"You acted like you didn't give a shit what anyone thought, which is so different to the girls I know. You were just having fun, in your own world, laughing and stuff. You looked... beautiful."

Oh, wow. Beautiful. I chewed on my lip, thinking of how to respond. "So Rose says you've got a fancy Ford that Emmett's not allowed to drive."

He gave a little smile and shook his head. "It's my old track car I converted legal for the road, and I gotta keep it perfect till I find a buyer."

I chuckled. "I have no idea what a track car is."

The air lightened as he told me he'd raced go-karts since he was six and bought an ex-race car with his savings and his father's help at sixteen. At eighteen he'd upgraded to his Ford Fusion. "I've set just about every record you can set in that late model stock car, but that's as far as I could go on my own. Now that I finally got a sponsor, I got a new Ford Taurus, so I can sell the Fusion and race in the NASCAR Nationwide Series."

"NASCAR? My sister and my dad watch that."

He arched one eyebrow, a tiny smirk twitching. "You don't watch it?"

"No, and she only watches to be my father's pet. Uh, it must be exciting for you, though." Edward must've been the guy Irina had gushed about.

He chuckled. "Yeah, it is. I'm gonna be somebody soon. But not soon enough. Our last house wasn't much, but it was better than this shitbox we're renting. Dad sold it to get the Fusion, so I owe him big time."

My mind scrambled, trying to imagine that much support from a parent. "It must be amazing to have your father believe in you that much. I haven't got a clue how to drive because my dad won't even let me learn till..." Shit!

"Until what?"

"Until..." I shrugged, thinking fast, panicking. "Basically, till I'm not naughty for two months straight."

His pale green eyes roamed mine, unsettling me. "Guess you're not the spoiled princess I thought you were at the Newtons' party, then."

I shrugged. I was pretty spoiled. "So you're a waiter and a racing car driver?"

"When I'm home I help my dad with his catering company." He made a face. "Payback until I buy him a house."

"Oh." I sniggered and thought of the other thing Rose had told me. "And do you really have your own groupies?"

"Uhhh, just phoney chicks that spread their..." he coughed into his hands "...toast with jelly. How'd you and Rose get so close?"

"Jelly?"

He glanced down, his lips puckering to one side. He didn't want to divulge that, so I played along and told him about Rose and our chance meeting and how I wished I could go to her school after summer. He asked me all about my Catholic school, my friends there, and if we had nuns as teachers.

And we were back to the awkward silence.

He flicked the corner of a card. "If I ask you something, will you tell me the truth?"

"Depends."

He lifted his eyes. "I'm just trying to work you out, but... do you tease guys on purpose?"

"I... Why would you think...?"

"Wearing that red dress and letting me feel you up. And now... wearing my pajamas."

"No..." I blushed. "No one had ever touched my... chest, and it was... too nice to stop you. What does my red dress have to do with it? Or your pajamas for that matter—it's swimming on me! Unless... did you peek at me undressing?" I hit his shoulder. "You pig!"

"Ugh! Settle down. No, I didn't peek. You must know what it does to a guy when a girl he likes wears their clothes. Especially... bed-wear."

Bewildered, I slowly shook my head. "I've never done anything with a guy, so how am I supposed to know how they interpret things?" Spit got stuck in my throat, so I had to swallow. He'd admitted to still liking me. Could I trust him after I'd been so rude? If he didn't believe it had been unintentional...

He studied his cards in silence, and I focused on mine to pretend I didn't notice how thick the atmosphere was getting. After all this time we hadn't even begun to play the game.

He wet his lips. They shone. Soft-looking. "You've never been kissed?"

Minutes seemed to tick by. "No." A whisper.

His eyes met mine, and our stare held. Stuck in midair. Intense. Too much.

I slapped down a card. "Your go."

We played cards in complete quiet, stealing glances at each other. Someone must've won because the cards all disappeared. And something was wrong with the streetlight, because electricity was humming into the room, making my pulse race.

"How drunk are you right now?" he asked.

"I'm not. Why? Do you want me to drink with you?" Yes, I was playing dumb. I had an idea why he'd asked, but I could've been wrong. I didn't know if I wanted to be wrong.

"No. Because..." He brushed the cards aside and moved forward to kneel, resting his knees against mine.

I blinked. I gulped. He was too close for comfort. Or almost close enough. I hadn't decided. His eyes were right in front of me. Thick and pretty lashes. Soft green irises rimmed around huge black pupils. Like black holes in space, drawing all my resistance and rationality into them, leaving only want and excitement.

The tip of his nose touched the tip of mine. "Because, I'm going to kiss you." His whispered words puffed over my lips. I sucked in air, my heart thumping so hard it vibrated my whole chest like a boom box. "Come here, Bella." Snaking his arm around my back, he encouraged me to kneel up on his bed with him.

Within my compliance lay the declaration that I wanted him to kiss me, rendering me defenceless, wide open for rejection. I wished I were drunk so I could relax.

Ever so slowly, he slid his nose over one side of mine, then up and down to the other side. His eyes slid closed, and I waited for his breath against my skin to turn into so much more, my nerves on fire for him to follow through and not laugh at me that he was only joking, that he'd lied about liking me.

His lips skimmed across mine, back and forth, the sweetest thing, melting my bones. We stuck a little, so I licked, getting his lips too. He moaned, the rumble thundering down to my toes.

"Sorry," I whispered. "Nervous."

"S'kay." He looked at me and nudged my nose. "Close your eyes. Lemme try it."

Behind the darkness of my lids, I waited with blood pounding under my skin. The tip of his tongue dipped into one corner of my closed lips and gradually slicked through, all the way to the other side, his lips skimming my flesh, soft and slippery and moist.

The sensation was so delicious, a little whimper escaped my throat. "You're..." I gripped his strong shoulders in case I was suddenly so overcome with delight I'd faint. "I'm not being a tease, but I'm not... going all the way."

"I know." He put more pressure into his next kiss. Then his teeth caught my lower lip, and he sucked, scattering sparks over my skin.

"Mmm." Remembering how nice his hand had been last week, I held his wrist and moved his grip from my waist up to my breast. He squeezed while moving in to nuzzle my neck. I was so sensitive to his touch that I think I had a tiny orgasm. "Uhhh."

He let a slow breath out against my skin. "You're not wearing a bra."

Oh. No wonder I was more sensitive. No wonder it felt more risqué and erotic.

He massaged me and rolled the sharp nerves at the tip, sending waves of tingles zinging down below. My fingertips dug into his firm flesh as I whined a tiny noise of pleasure.

"Do you want me to stop?" He sounded husky. Warm. Sexy.

"No. Lie down with me?" I fisted his shirt and pulled. "And kiss me... more?" More of his tongue. I wanted his weight on me again, too.

His hand dropped away.

He backed up and climbed off the bed.

My shocked eyes darted up to him. "You... you don't have to stop."

He cleared his throat. "Yes, I do."

"Uh..." I blinked, trying to keep up. Then my heart stopped. "So this is revenge?"

"Revenge isn't giving you my bed or getting blue balls."

Oh, boy.

What felt like hours passed after he'd clicked off his lamp, and all I could do was lie and listen to him breathe from his couch, replay his touches, his kisses, hoping he'd get too uncomfortable and come back to his bed. To me.

"Bella?"

Yes! Yes! "Mm?"

"I wanna take you somewhere tomorrow."

I had to answer like I wasn't grinning so hard my cheeks hurt. "Where?"

"I heard Rose tell Emmett you wanna see a ghost town."

"I do! A lot."

A chuckle. "All right. You can drive my car there."

"It's not nice to mock a girl who can't drive."

"I'm gonna teach you."

Holy cow! "But... What car do you have that someone other than you can drive?"

"I'll pick you up at noon. Mondale Street, right?"

"Yes." I beamed at the dark ceiling. He already knew where I lived. And he was going to teach me to drive.

We talked for a long time about ghost towns and our favorite movies, and I fought sleep with all my willpower, so I could keep hearing his voice.

sss

I woke with my thigh itching where it pressed on the mattress. I rolled over only to lie in a cold spot. Oh, no. Not again. And then I remembered where I was and horror dazed me into an out of body experience.

Once the shock wore off, I sprang out of Edward's bed and implored the wet circle in the center to disappear. This had to be a nightmare! He didn't have plastic protection on his mattress!

I'd managed to keep my humiliation a secret my whole life. Why now! Revolting. I was revolting. And soon he'd know it.

Edward was still asleep, curled into a ball on the tiny, hard couch. He'd been a gentleman, giving me his double bed. A sad smile pulled at my lips. Lips he'd kissed. Lips he'd never want to even see again.

His urine-soaked sheets were filling his room with sour stink, and my stomach rolled for what I was making him breathe. On his desk sat a pad and a cup of pens. I wrote the only thing I could, small, humiliated print. I'm so sorry, Edward. He'd never know how much.

Hoping it would help, I silently stripped his bed and bundled the wet sheets, sneaking one last look at Edward. Right now he didn't know I was disgusting. When he saw me next, it would be with utter repugnance.

Next to his room, I found a bathroom with a washing machine, so I stuffed the linens into it with his P.J. shirt, and dumped my tights and underpants in the bin. I tied off the plastic liner and scrubbed my hands with soap. Thank god I had a clean skirt and top to wear—even if I was going commando.

I jogged through the tatty kitchen toward the living room with the straps of Rosalie's and my shoes hooked over my pinkie finger. Rose was spread like a starfish on a plush cream sofa.

I shook her. Hard. "Rose!" I whispered. "Rose! Get up now, or I'm leaving without you!"

"Wha...?" She rubbed her eyes open.

On our trek a few streets over, where her mother was to pick us up, I gnawed on my lip so hard it swelled, tasting metallic.

"What's going on, Bella?" Rose and her headache ambled beside me, looking worried. But I didn't want her to know what I'd done. "Bella, you're freaking me the fuck out. Did he... Were you raped?"

"No!" Oh, god, I had to tell her, didn't I? I choked on a sob, thinking of our lost friendship, or, at the very least, her lost respect.

Rose's face turned panicked. She stopped and squeezed the blood out of my hand.

Nothing would be the same between us now. I drew a sharp breath of courage and told her all the dirty laundry in my life. "At least now you don't think Edwar—"

The hug she tackled me with burst my emotional banks, and I crumbled into tears, clutching her, relieved she wasn't rejecting me or even keeping her distance.

She sighed out a gust of air. "God, that's a relief! Have you seen doctors?"

"Yes." I relayed how they'd discovered I slept so heavily that I couldn't feel the warning tickles from my bladder. "They had lots of suggestions and gave me an alarm that wakes me up—mid-stream." I hiccupped a breath. "I'm so ashamed."

"Hey, everyone's ashamed of something." She paused, sandwiching her lips between her teeth. "I'm... I'm not really afraid of sex hurting. I'm scared of liking it so much I become my mom. I spend my lunch breaks at school sewing sweet dresses so people see me in them and assume I'm sweet and not... You know?"

I constricted her in my arms like they were anacondas. "You are sweet!"

sss

I showered in Rosalie's 1970s bathroom and changed into clean stripy tights, a short red skirt and a white tank top. I almost passed for human once my wet, dark strands were up in a ponytail. Too bad I didn't feel human. All I could think of was what Edward's reaction would be to finding his bed soiled by me. Would he throw up?

At eleven thirty I waved goodbye to Rose in her yellow Beetle and slid my key into the front door. Alice was taking the last step at the bottom of the stairs. "Oh, you're in for it," she said.

Brother! "Why?"

"Daaaad!" she yelled. "Dad! Bella's back!"

"Ugh." I closed the front door. "Shut up, you loser."

Mom and Dad floated around the corner together without their legs moving. The stuff of nightmares. His face was red, his lips pursed. It was very bad when he couldn't even form words.

I itched my neck to hide my anxious swallow.

"Your father just called Rosalie's house because your cell's dead," Mom said, hands on hips. "Only he used the number on Rosalie's father's business card, not the number you gave us. Imagine our surprise when her father told us Rosalie doesn't live with him and his new wife—the upstanding, church going woman you knew we thought was Rosalie's mother!"

It could've been worse. They could've found out about last night.

She tapped her foot. Was I supposed to say something now?

"Well?" Mom shouted. "What do you have to say? Your friend's actual mother, who went back to her maiden name, has a reputation for picking up men in bars! So what kind of a girl is Rosalie really?"

How dare they! "She's the kind of girl I want to know for the rest of my life! I've never had a better friend. And the lovely Mrs. Hale hates Rose, so she can't live with her father." Breathe!

Dad used his quiet, controlled voice, the one that usually made me tremble. "You are never to see that Rosalie Hale girl again. Am I understood?"

"Yes, sir. I understand." I straightened, hid my trembling. "But I'm old enough to choose my friends, and I'm not giving her up for anything. Kick me out if you want."

Alice gasped at my audacity. I was mentally doing the same thing. I couldn't believe this was me.

"You're not giving her up?" Dad asked. "Ha! Well what if she gave you up? Huh? What if she knew why you can't drive? How much of a friend would she be then?"

"Yeah," Alice said.

"Quiet, Alice." Mom flew an irritated look at Dad, her face bunched up. "No need to go that far, Charlie. That's just plain nastiness."

But all I could do was smile.

"Really Isabella?" He pulled out his cell phone. "Let's see how long that defiant smirk lasts when I call your friend. I have her number now."

"Charlie, don't!" Mom said.

"Stay out of it, Renee."

Alice suddenly looked worried, shooting concerned glances between Dad and me. "Dad, don't really do it."

He kept tapping his screen.

"Bella," Mom said, "go pack some bags. You and I are going to a motel." We all stopped and gawked at her. "This is the final straw, Charlie Swan. A new low. They're my children, too, and I'll protect them from that level of viciousness."

Instead of going with the "I love you, I'll do whatever you want" card, Dad stayed in true form with, "What would people think?"

"Right now," Mom said, "the only person's thoughts I care about are Bella's."

She chose me. She cared that much!

Dad stormed through the house, yelling that no one appreciated him after all he did for us, but Mom kept her chin high and gestured to the stairs for me to get packing.

From my closet I bundled clothes and shoes into my two replica-antique suitcases. I tried to focus on how happy I was to have Mom and Rosalie on my side but tears welled as my thoughts flashed to Edward.

Opening my bedroom door, I heard Alice below in the foyer, sniffling. "Can't I come too, Mom?" Sniff. "Dad's got Mr. Newton coming over this afternoon, which means I'll be left by myself."

"No, you need time apart so you can think about things. Like how I always wished for a sister, and you're throwing yours away."

"But Bella's not normal."

Mom told her off, but Alice was right. I wasn't normal.

By the time I carried my cases to the bottom of the stairs, the foyer was empty, the front door open. Mom was out front, packing her suitcases into the trunk of her Jeep Cherokee. Seemed a lot for just a few days.

When I stepped onto the lawn, she told me to put my bags on the backseat, so I heaved my bags in before rounding the car to help her understand me. "My school friends are so obnoxious and shallow that they nauseate me, Mom. Rose knows everything about me, everything, and she loves me anyway. She's real and genuine and sweet, and she doesn't care that I'm not normal."

Mom clicked her tongue. "Oh, Bella, who is normal?"

"Hello? Alice?" My nose was rubbed in that every day.

She hummed a sigh and lowered her voice. "Alice doesn't play the good daughter to your father because she feels normal. That little girl wears herself out trying to prove herself worthy. And is Rosalie's life normal?" She kissed my forehead. "I should've stood up to your father years ago—this stupidity about you not being allowed to drive—but I'm a coward. I hate conflict. See? I'm not normal either."

"I know," I said. "You closet-drink and think I can't tell."

Her eyes widened. "How...? I just tipple to calm my nerves."

I hugged her. "Maybe none of us are normal, Mom. I'm sorry I fooled you about where Rose lives, but I was so, so desperate for freedom."

She rubbed my back. "I know the feeling. Oh, gosh, do I know the feeling. I wish we'd talked more like this when..."

Our attention drew to thunder rumbling down our driveway from a mean-looking car that had colorful advertisements all over. Edward? The blood drained out of me.

Dad and Alice scurried outside. "Whoa!" she said, holding Mom's laptop under her arm and wiping a tear. "Whose track car?" Maybe she did like NASCAR stuff.

It parked behind the Jeep, and the driver's door swung wide. Edward levered out. Edward was here. On my front lawn. Edward was looking at me. Like smoke, he strode toward me. Sexy damn smoke in dark jeans and a stretchy white T-shirt, sunlight spinning his hair to gold.

I fisted the hem of my short skirt with uncertainty, my heart karate-kicking my chest. "W-what're you doing here?"

His expression was stoic, unreadable. "You look cute."

"Umm... what...?"

"Nothing's changed." He kissed my stunned cheek while squeezing one side of my waist. "You'd been drinking," he whispered beside my ear. He straightened and shrugged like it was no big deal. "You're not getting out of your driving lesson that easily."

My jaw fell open as I gazed up at him in wonder. He liked me nevertheless. I had Rose and him, and he didn't know last night stemmed from a long-term problem.

"Mom and Dad?" I faced them. "This is Edward Cullen. He's twenty, and he's a racing car driver. He'd like to take me to a ghost town and teach me to drive today."

"What?" the three members of my family said in unison. My parents were clueless that I was giving them this opportunity to say yes. Hopefully I could be as fearless as I wished to be, and go on this date whether they refused to let me or not.

Alice's eyes were all over Edward. Up, down, and very impressed.

"Twenty!" Dad said. "Racing car driver? The answer's no. What's going on in your head, Bella?"

Edward whispered, "Asshole," to himself, but I was sure he wanted me to hear. I avoided my father's scowl and slipped my hand into Edward's to draw strength from him.

Mom hadn't answered. She was busy studying Edward, her vision flickering between us and down to our joined hands... to his thumb stroking my skin. "I'll let you go if—"

"Renee," Dad said through his teeth. "I've already said no."

"Charlie... Let me have the freedom to say my piece for once." She used my word, and I was proud of her.

But Dad shot his attention to me. "Are you willing to go against my word, Isabella?"

Anxiety prickled my scalp. "Yes, sir." Gulp. Head high. "It's just a date."

His jaw rotated forward. "Just a date. Heh." He was seething. Quiet. Steam wafting up from his collar. "What it is, is a slap across my face. I'll remember that next time you want something, Bella." He turned his back, went inside and slammed the door so hard the house shook.

We all took a few moments to finally blink.

"L-like I was saying, Bella," Mom was rattled but stayed strong, "you can go so long you're both sensible and don't speed. Edward, I'm sure you know who Bella's father is and the consequences if you're not careful with our girl."

Edward did a serious nod. "Yes, ma'am."

I found my voice. "Thanks, Mom."

"Don't make me regret it."

I shook my head. "I won't." I snatched my black purse from Mom's back seat and caught my bewildered sister's gaze. "Bye, Alice."

She gave me a small, unsure wave that I returned with a hint of a smile. It was... different.

Edward opened his car door for me, and I slid onto the black leather seat. In a second he was next to me, revving his engine. "Let's get outta here before your dad comes back with your shotgun."

I chuckled to cover the wound Dad had gouged into my chest with his disbelieve in me, and Edward turned the car around before rumbling up our driveway.

"We swap places once we hit city limits," he said, veering onto my street.

"Isn't this the race car you're trying to sell? I'm okay if we don't go through with the driving thing. I'm happy enough about a ghost town."

He changed gears and glanced at me. "Just don't crash."

Nerves about crashing tickled my belly, and I snorted. "If you're lucky."

"I just broke you out of Alcatraz. I think I'm already pretty lucky today."

I smiled. "Me too." So lucky today. "You know... I've never stood up to my father like that before."

With his vision on the road, Edward reached for me. His fingers circled the skin on the back of my neck, reminding me of how tender he'd been while fixing my scraped knees. "You okay?"

I buzzed down my window and warm summer air gusted over my face. It felt like freedom. Like I'd done the right thing, even if it hurt right now. "I am okay. Thanks."

Okay because Mom was right in saying no one's normal. Having issues and secrets is normal for everyone, which mademe normal. Just like Rose and Mom and even Alice. Maybe even Irina.

Who'd have wet herself if she could've seen me now.

FIN

Thanks for reading! I hope this story helps what many teens suffer from become a little less taboo. :-)