Entry # 69 - AH

Truly Anonymous Twilight O/S PP Contest
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Title: Starter Trouble
Picture Prompt Number: 28
Pairing: Edward/ Bella
Rating: R for language
Genre: Humor/ Fluff
Word Count (minus A/N and Header): 6222

Summary (250 characters or less, including spaces and punctuation):

She thinks he hates her. He loves to drive her crazy. When his car's ignition dies and leaves them stranded, it might be just what they need to start something else-something special.

Warnings and Disclaimer: Twilight is the property of Stephanie Meyer. No copyright infringement is intended.

"This is your fault." He knew it wasn't, but he loved to rile her up.

She stopped short and turned to glare at him.

"How the hell is it my fault?"

"I don't know, but I'm sure it is. I'll think of the reason soon." He smiled his obnoxious, know-it-all smug little smile, the one that made her want to punch him in his pretty face-or maybe his balls.

"This is totally your fault, and you know it. If it weren't for you and your freakish need to re-run every damn trial, we would have been done on time, and we'd be in the van with everyone else."

"You dropped the culture. It took time to make a new one." He fought to keep his voice neutral. She was so cute when she was annoyed.

"I dropped the extra one that we didn't even need. This is your fault."

"Aw, poor wittle Baby Bewwy, what's in the van that you're gonna miss so much?"

She narrowed her eyes but remained silent. She hated that nickname, and he was well aware of it. Reacting would just spur him on. Instead, she shifted her bag to her other shoulder and resumed walking. He kept up easily. She cursed his long legs.

"Where are you going, Baby Belly? My car is right here."

She stopped short and turned to see him standing next to a shiny silver sedan. She groaned.

"Of course you drive a Volvo."

"What's that supposed to mean? This is a nice car."

"I mean it's no surprise that you, the most pretentious man on earth, would drive the most pretentious car made in Pretentionland."

"Actually, I think they're made in Sweden." He raised his eyebrows and tried to look innocent. He failed.

She gave him what she desperately hoped was a withering look and not a constipation face. "Are you going to open the trunk?"

Without a word, he pushed a button on his key fob, and the trunk popped open with a soft click. She hesitated before tossing down her duffle.

"Are you sure this is okay? It won't puke up commoner luggage or anything?"

He rolled his eyes and dropped his own luggage in. "I'll give her some Pepto when we get gas."

She placed her bag as far away from his as possible and strode around the car, muttering about angering the lab partner gods.

"What's up your ass, Swan? You're even more misanthropic than usual today." His expression suddenly changed to one of pity. "Is it that time of the month, Baby Belly? Do you need a hug?"

"Get in the damn car, Cullen. The sooner we go, the faster I can get away from you." She pulled the car door open and flung herself in the seat. She refused to acknowledge, even to herself, how comfortable the soft leather was.

"If I didn't know better, Belly, I'd think you dropped that culture on purpose so we'd have to ride down together."

She rolled her eyes and looked pointedly out the window as he slid into the seat beside her.

"Seatbelt, Sweetcheeks. Wouldn't want to risk injury in case of an accident."

"Aw, Edward, I never knew you cared."

"Surprising, isn't it, how difficult it is to get blood off a dashboard? I'd hate to risk it."

She reached over and buckled her seatbelt, then slowly and deliberately removed her flip-flops and put her feet up on his pristine, precious dashboard. It was her turn to look innocent, and she was better at it than he was.

"Careful there, Eddie. Grinding your teeth like that can cause all kinds of dental problems."

His only reply was a deep breath through his nose and a tiny grunt as he turned to look behind him and reversed out of the parking space.

****s/t****

"Cullen? You think you can find a place to stop?" She hated to ask him for anything, but the situation in her bladder had passed critical a few miles prior.

He did not reply. She began to squirm.

"Cullen?"

No response, not even a blink.

She reached over and pressed pause on the iPod he'd plugged into the car's sound system.

"Edward? Please?"

He moved his head microscopically in her direction, just long enough to glare menacingly at her bare feet desecrating his car.

"Fine," she huffed, and moved her feet down to the floorboard. "Now, can we stop?"

"Apologize."

He wondered briefly if she could actually see her brain when she rolled her eyes back that far.

Her voice was slightly less robotic than Siri's and far more sarcastic. "I'm sorry I put my feet on your dashboard, Edward."

"No, to the car."

"I'm sorry, what?"

"It's not me you hurt, it's her." The inside of his cheek was going to be permanently damaged from his efforts to keep from laughing, but it was worth it to watch her face turn that shade of purple.

"What's her name?"

He looked at her in surprise "What?"

"The car. Does it-she-have a name?"

Damn, he thought. She'd called his bluff, and he scrambled to cover before she realized it.

"Jessica." As soon as he said it, he wanted to pluck the word from the air. He closed his eyes in frustration.

She smirked. "I see."

Her hand reached out and delicately patted the leather of the dash. "Jessica, despite the logical impossibility of your feelings being hurt since you are an inanimate object and don't have any, I apologize sincerely for using you as a footrest. Please forgive my indiscretion."

He didn't speak, but he pulled over at the next gas station they encountered. He managed to wait to laugh until after she'd sprinted from the car into the building. He followed at a calmer pace.

Upon his return, he nearly dropped his Bugles and the slushie he'd brought her as half peace offering, half reason to make fun of her when her tongue turned colors. Her feet were again firmly planted on the dashboard.

"Swan..."

"Cullen, before you say anything, you should know that Jessica and I had a talk while you were in the potty." Her palm rested against the surface of the dash and she patted it softly. "She told me she loves my feet, that they enable her to fulfill her life's purpose of making people happy, and that she forgives you for your overreaction and poor treatment of your guest." Her expression was all teeth and dimples and pure torment, and it made his stomach twist and his heart ache.

****s/t****

"Hiiiiii, Edward! Glad to see you finally made it. I thought we'd be stuck here all weekend without you!"

Bella snorted at the look of horror on Edward's face when Jessica bounced over to them as they arrived, her breasts spilling over the top of the obvious push-up bikini top she wore. She immediately latched on to Edward, throwing her arms around his neck despite his complete lack of response.

"Hey Jess. Looking good today. Did you do something new to your hair?"

At Bella's words, a look of annoyance flashed across Jessica's features before she managed to paste her smile back on. She reached up and ran a hand across her hair, which in the salty humid air had gone from its usual frizzy curls to something more resembling a triangular haystack. She tried to smooth it down, but it bounced back even bigger than before. Bella fought to control the shout of laughter she felt rising in her throat.

"Bella!" Her voice was so saccharine it caused cancer in several small animals nearby. "I didn't realize you'd be here, too! What a ... delightful ... surprise!"

Bella wanted to ask the other girl if it hurt to smile like that, but instead, she replied in a matching tone, "I couldn't miss it, Jess; after all, it's a course requirement. Besides, who would ever want to miss the chance to sleep on a bunk bed in a room full of people?"

"Oh, aren't you too funny! I love it here, and as for the beds, well, they are nice and cozy..." She trailed off and pressed her body closer to Edward's, nullifying the attempts he'd been making to extricate himself from her embrace.

"Hey, Jess, have you ever ridden in Edward's car?"

"Not yet, but he's promised to take me for a ride, haven't you, Eddiekins?" The revolted look on Edward's face thrilled Bella to the tips of her contrary toes.

"Really? I'm surprised, particularly since it's named after-"

"Bags!" Edward's sudden exclamation shocked Jessica into releasing her spider monkey grip around his neck. "We should get our bags and get inside since we're late, Bella."

"I'm sure we'll be fine if you want to tell Jess here about how much you love her name, Eddiekins." Bella's raised her eyebrows and grinned with glee at Edward's horrified face as Jessica began to bounce up and down, straining the containment protocols of her bikini top.

"Oh, Eddiekins! You really love my name? That's so sweet!" Jessica's arms reinstated their lock around Edward's neck as he stood helplessly.

"I'll give you guys some privacy. Edward, can you grab my bag out of the trunk when you come in? Thanks!"

Bella breezed past them and was almost to the door of the research station when she heard Edward reply, "No problem, Baby Belly."

"Oh my God! Bella's pregnant?" The shrill of Jessica's voice sent a shiver through Bella, and she began to plot Edward's death as she pushed open the screen door.

****s/t****

"Jacob, I told you, we got held up … dropped a culture … do a new one … how long that takes."

Bella was barely audible over the sound of the waves crashing and the babble of voices around him, and Edward strained to hear the conversation happening on the porch. He detected the low rumble of Jacob's reply but couldn't make out the words.

"Don't be silly … ride, that's all."

Rumble rumble rumble. Edward closed his eyes and silently cursed whoever kept yammering next to him.

"What exactly ... implying ..."

"Ridiculous ... barely even friends ..." Edward's stomach clenched at those words.

This time, the rumbling continued on longer than usual. He held his breath and listened desperately.

"Whatever, Jacob. Go sleep it off." Her voice rapidly gained clarity, and he tried to appear as if he was engaged in conversation when she burst through the screen door and looked around at the group gathered there.

"Night, all." Her glance moved over Edward, but she didn't meet his eyes. "See you in the morning." He saw her brush her hand quickly under her right eye as she walked away, and he had a sudden urge to drop one Jacob Black off the end of the longest pier he could find.

****s/t****

In the brilliant moonlight, he saw her silhouette slip past his bunk and out of the room, and then he heard the squeak of the screen door. He made himself count to one thousand and recite the periodic table before he followed.

"Whatcha doin'?" He dropped down onto the end of the dock next to her, and she jumped and shrieked.

"Holy crap, Edward, you scared me to death! Don't do that!" She punched him on the arm, and she was surprised when he actually flinched.

"Wow, Bella, you're a lot stronger than you look. Of course, you look like a twelve-year-old, so that's not saying much..."

"Shut up."

They sat and listened to the water slosh beneath them for a while. He took a deep breath, relishing the smell of the salt, and the wood, and the girl beside him before he broke the silence.

"So ... couldn't sleep?"

"Nah. Alice and Jasper aren't as quiet as they think they are. I have to admire his stamina though."

Edward chuckled humorlessly. "You should try sharing a room with him."

"Oh, I forgot about that." She turned to look at him. "Are they like that all the time? How do you ever get any sleep?"

"It's not so bad now. When they first started dating though-" He shook his head, "-there was one of Alice's damn hair-scrunchie-things on our doorknob pretty much every time I needed to get in the room. After I missed a paper deadline because I couldn't get to my computer, I just started ignoring the scrunchie and walking in. They got more considerate pretty quickly after that."

Bella giggled and wrinkled her nose. "Ew. I'm glad I have a single."

"How'd you manage that? I thought there was some kind of grad student housing crisis."

"I had a roommate, but one morning a few weeks into the semester, I woke up, and she had packed up all her stuff. She said she was getting married. She'd already paid her half for the year, so I am blissfully alone."

"She got married?"

"Yep, on a random Tuesday afternoon. I think she was pregnant, unlike me. Thanks for starting that rumor, by the way."

He scrunched up his face. "Yeah, sorry about that. I didn't think about how she would take it. I told her it was just a joke."

"Meh, I probably deserved it." She laughed, a deep chortle that Edward fervently hoped to hear every day for the rest of his life. "She's probably off somewhere practicing signing her new name right now." She pretended to write on a piece of paper in her lap and spoke in a shrill voice. "Jessica Cullen. Jessica Stanley hyphen Cullen. Jessie C. Jessica Eugenia Stanley Cullen. Sigh!" She smiled dreamily and fluttered her eyelashes in a disturbingly accurate imitation of Jessica's simpering. Edward fought to contain his amusement and nausea at the thought.

"Eugenia? Is that really her middle name?"

She shrugged. "I don't have any idea. It suits her though, don't you think? Next, she'll be picking out your kids' names. How do you feel about Ashli Nicole Cullen? Ashli spelled with an i at the end, of course."

Edward laughed and shook his head. "You're terrible."

"I'm serious. You'd better start saving up now-the anti-frizz conditioner expense for her kids will be prohibitive. Oooh! How about Graydon Ryder Cullen? I bet she'd like that one, I'll suggest it to her tomorrow."

"You'll do no such thing."

"Watch me." Her smirk was pure devilment.

"I'll tell her you're pregnant after all, and that's why you're thinking of baby names."

"Shit. Don't do that. You win." Suddenly Bella's face fell. "I really hope she doesn't say anything to Jacob."

Edward was quiet for a moment. "Everything okay?"

"Yup. Great. Couldn't be better." She smiled at him, a smile that showed all her teeth but never reached her eyes. He sensed it would be a bad idea to push, so he smiled back.

"Just checking."

She picked at a loose bit of board. "He doesn't like you very much, you know."

"Dammit, and I was planning to ask him to the Tri Delt formal next weekend!" Edward threw his hands in the air. "Now what will I do? I already bought a dress and everything!"

"You're an idiot." She studied him for a moment, and then looked away. "We should go back. Six a.m. is going to be brutal. Think the Energizer bunnies have worn themselves out yet?"

"Hopefully they haven't caught a second wind." Edward shuddered.

"Too late. I think they were on round two when I left. What are the chances of a third?"

"With those two? I'd say we've got a fifty-fifty chance." He stood and offered her his hand. She looked at him in surprise before she took it and raised herself from the dock. He marveled at the feel of her skin against his until she let go and brushed off the seat of her shorts.

"Whose group are you in tomorrow?" he asked as they began the slow stroll back to the research station.

"Banner. Salt marsh water quality. You?"

"Dr. Molina. We're measuring diatoms in open water."

"Fun."

Edward shrugged. "It's interesting. Besides, I'm hoping he'll agree to be my thesis advisor, so hours trapped on a boat might be a good thing. Gives us time to talk."

She pulled open the screen door and cringed as it creaked. "You coming?"

"I think I'll stay out here a bit longer. Look at the sky." He smiled at her and something in her heart fluttered at the emotion she saw in his eyes. She smiled back.

"Thanks." Her voice was just above a whisper. She slipped into the building, and he gripped the railing of the porch and silently prayed to the stars that burned above.

****s/t****

Six a.m. was indeed brutal, and beyond a glimpse of her in blue board shorts and a sweatshirt at breakfast, he didn't see her all day. By the time his group returned, the others were gathered on the porch, grilling freshly caught crabs and laughing. Bella sat on Jacob's lap, his arm around her waist and his eyes burning holes in any other man who spoke to her. Edward avoided looking at the two of them and sat down next to Jasper with a beer.

Jasper bumped his shoulder. "How were the diatoms?"

"Photosynthesizing. Were you in the salt marsh group?"

"Yup." Jasper took a swig of his beer.

"How was the water quality?"

"Piss poor." He chuckled. "Literally piss poor. Nitrogen levels were off the charts. Banner was furious."

"That sucks, man." Edward picked at the label of his beer in contemplation. "How was your group?"

Jasper took another pull before he grinned crookedly at Edward. "Why don't you ask what you really want to know?"

"What do you mean?"

"I'm not blind, dude. I know you like her."

Edward sighed. "So how about you answer the question I really want to ask, if you're so smart?"

He laughed and finished his beer before answering. "She seemed okay. Quieter than normal, I guess. He-man over there never let her out of his sight, so I didn't get much of a chance to talk to her."

"I hate that guy."

"I know you do." Jasper rose and clapped Edward on the back. "Want another one?"

"Sure." As Jasper walked away, Edward caught sight of Jessica bouncing up the path from the water, carrying more crab traps. "On second thought, I think I'll take a walk."

Jasper glanced back over his shoulder to see what Edward was looking at and laughed. "Better make it a run."

****s/t****

On Sunday morning, he was standing in the sand next to the station enjoying the heat of the sun on his face when he heard her voice.

"Hey, Cullen?" The words were barely above a whisper.

"Yeah?"

"Do you think-um, I mean-"

He turned to face her, concerned. Something must be really wrong for her to be fumbling around like this. The sight of her swollen eyes and red nose served as confirmation.

"Spit it out, Baby Belly. What do you need?'

Her mouth quirked at his teasing tone and the obnoxious nickname. He was relieved to see her rise to his bait. She stood up straighter before answering.

"Well, Eddiekins, I was wondering if you were planning on making me ride back with you?" Her words were brash, but he could see the pleading in her eyes.

"Of course I am. It was your fault I had to drive out here; you have to keep me company on the way back."

"You sure? I bet Jessica would be happy to take a ride."

His voice dropped. "Bite your tongue, woman." She giggled, and his heart soared to see the happiness return to her face.

****s/t****

He watched the van pull away, Jacob glowering from the back window. Despite the risk of getting his face pummeled at some point in the near future, Edward couldn't resist the urge to grin at him in return.

She emerged from the door of the station and locked it behind her. "Found it," she said, holding a black cord above her head.

"We were here for less than two days. How did you manage to lose your phone charger?"

"It's a gift." She shrugged and then opened the passenger door. "You coming?"

He nodded and got in his seat. He put in the key in the ignition, put on his seat belt, and started the car.

At least, that was the plan. When he turned the key, nothing happened except an ominous clicking sound.

He tried it again and was met with more clicking.

"Shit." He dropped his head onto the steering wheel.

"What's wrong?"

"It won't start. Shit, shit, shit."

He reached below the dash and pulled a lever, then opened his door and climbed out of the car. Bella followed and watched as he opened the hood.

They stood there together for a long moment before she asked, "Do you even know what you are looking for?"

He chuckled and rubbed a hand down his face. "Not really. This is what you're supposed to do, right? Car breaks down, you look under the hood."

"Sure, if you actually know what you're doing. Otherwise you're just standing here looking like an idiot."

He turned and glared at her. "Can you do any better?"

"On this car, no. Newer cars are all computerized, and I wouldn't dare try to fix it. Besides, I'm guessing you don't have any tools."

His eyes widened. "Wait, are you saying you actually know how to fix a car?"

"Calm down, Eddiekins." She laughed at his shocked expression. "I'm not a mechanic or anything, but I spent all of high school driving an ancient pickup that broke down about once a week. I didn't want to spend all my money on repairs, so I learned how to do some stuff." She pushed him to the side and peered at the workings of the car. "I don't see any loose wires, and your belts all look intact-it's not out of gas, is it?"

"No, I filled up the day before we left."

She brought her hands up to shoulder height and shrugged. "I'm out. I didn't take Mechanics of Pretention—I think that's a physics class." She was delighted when the corners of his mouth quirked upwards at her joke. "What do you want to do?"

"I'll call Dr. Molina." He pulled out his phone and began to scroll through numbers. "They can come back and get you."

"What about you?"

"I can't just leave my car. It's Sunday, and this is a small town. Everything will be closed. I'll just hang out here and see about getting it fixed tomorrow."

"I can stay too." She glanced at him shyly. "I mean ... if you want."

He raised his eyebrows at her. "Are you sure? I'm certain they'd come back, and I'll be fine on my own."

"I'm sure." He thought he felt his heart stop at the sight of her blush.

He tapped the screen of his phone. "Doctor Molina? It's Edward. My car won't start ... yeah, we're both fine, but I'm thinking everything will be closed since it's Sunday ... that's what I figured ... is it okay if we just stay at the station until I get it fixed? Yeah, that would help ... thanks ... yep, will do ... bye."

He looked at Bella. "He said its fine for us to stay here, and there are some bikes in the storage shed we can use to ride into town if we want to get food or anything. Sound good?"

"Sounds great." Her smile was the most glorious thing he'd ever seen in his entire existence.

"What now?" He couldn't stop the grin that broke across his face just looking at her.

"Can I use your laptop? I'm fine with missing class tomorrow, but I have an abstract I need to email to Dr. McCarty before I forget."

"Sure. Let's go back inside."

****s/t****

"So what was all that about this morning?"

"All what about?" She wouldn't meet his eyes. "It was nothing."

He sighed. "Bella, our whole department now thinks I'm an ass because I made such a big deal about you riding back with me. I think I deserve to know why I sacrificed my good name."

She snorted. "As if you had one."

"Bella..."

"I just didn't want to ride back in the van with Jacob, that's all."

"Because..."

"Because I didn't."

"You didn't want to ride back with your boyfriend badly enough that you came and asked me for a favor? There is clearly more to this story. Out with it, or I am calling you Baby Belly everywhere you go from now on."

"You suck."

"You wish." He laughed, and she groaned.

"Gross, Edward."

"Talk, Bella."

"I told him I needed some space. He didn't respond well."

"Bella, are you seriously going to make me stand out here and pry the story out of you sentence by sentence? If that's the case, I'm going to need to put on some more sunscreen."

She shook her head and dropped onto one of the benches that lined the perimeter of the deck. "Fine, whatever," she huffed. "I'll tell you, Mr. Nosypants. He and I have been friends forever, and he was always a great guy. Ever since we started dating, though, he's been acting strangely-questioning me about stupid things, getting upset if I went places without him, criticizing my clothes, stuff like that."

"Wait," Edward interrupted. "He criticized your clothes?"

"Not all the time, but yeah. Sometimes he didn't like what I wore, and he'd ask me to change. Like, if he thought something was too short or tight or whatever. It wasn't really a big deal."

Edward disagreed, but he kept his opinion to himself. "What else happened?" he asked instead.

"The last couple of weeks it got worse. He's been acting like a royal pain in the ass, actually. He was furious that I rode out here with you instead of in the van, like I planned to be late or something. He said ... he made some unfounded accusations."

"You two looked pretty cozy last night. " Edward observed.

She laughed, a short, humorless bark. "Yeah, well, after you left, Jessica made some crack about me being pregnant."

"Dammit," Edward groaned.

Her laugh sounded a little more genuine this time. "It didn't go over well. He totally lost his shit; pulled me down to the beach and started yelling at me."

"Why?" Edward was puzzled by Jacob's erratic behavior. "I mean, I get that a pregnancy right now probably wouldn't be ideal, but why would he get mad at you about it? It's as much his responsibility as it is yours."

Bella blushed scarlet and twisted her face uncomfortably. "That's why he was mad-he thought it was true, and if it was, there's no way it could be his."

Understanding crashed over Edward like a wave on the beach below them. "Oh. So he thought you were-"

"Yeah."

"And you two aren't-"

She blushed even darker and shook her head.

Edward began an internal fist pump so enthusiastic he feared he might injure something in his brain.

"And then you told him you needed some space."

"No–I told him he needed to calm down before I would talk to him about it. He stormed off, and I figured he'd chill out and everything would be fine."

"But it wasn't?"

"Nope."

Edward waited for her to continue.

And waited.

And waited.

She rolled her eyes. "Fine. He woke me up this morning just before dawn and told me he'd been up all night thinking about it, and he had decided he wanted us to get married."

"Wait, he … he said what?"

She chuckled. "That was pretty much my reaction too. I asked him if he'd gone crazy, actually. He was not amused."

"What exactly was his reasoning?"

"I don't know, he didn't really explain–he got a little huffy when I laughed in his face."

"You laughed at him?" In that moment, it was all Edward could do to resist declaring his love for her.

"I shouldn't have, really." She shook her head at the memory. "He was serious, and I think I hurt his feelings, but it was all so ludicrous! We had a fight because he was being a jealous ass, and his solution is to propose? Who does that?"

"Jacob, apparently." He quirked one eyebrow at her, and she burst out in laughter. She laughed until tears poured from her eyes. By the time she stopped, he could tell that the tension weighing on her all morning had lifted.

"So, then you told him you needed some space?"

She stood and stretched. He tried not to ogle the sliver of skin that emerged below the hem of her shirt. She grimaced. "That might have been a bit of a euphemism."

"A euphemism for…"

"I told him he needed help, and that until he got some, we were done."

Edward's heart sank, but he tried to sound nonchalant. "So, do you think you'll get back together?"

She considered for a moment. "Honestly? No." She moved toward the door. "I'm thirsty. You want anything?"

"Nope, I'm good." He watched as she disappeared into the building. He didn't realize she'd re-emerged until her voice stopped him cold.

"Edward? What on Earth–are you dancing?"

****s/t****

"What are we watching?" She emerged from the kitchen carrying the two bags of chips they'd acquired during their bike ride into town, along with two beers.

"There's not much here." He was seated in front of the small television in the lounge of the station, sorting through a box of DVDs. "Planet Earth, some episodes of Nova, Life …"

"British or American version?" Bella plopped down onto the sofa as she spoke.

"How can you tell?"

"Look to see who narrated it, Oprah or David Attenborough."

Edward flipped the case over and examined it closely. "Attenborough."

"Awesome. Alright if we watch that one?"

He extracted the first DVD and placed it in the tray. "Not an Oprah fan?"

"She's okay," Bella replied, "but David Attenborough's voice … swoon."

He settled himself next to her and looked at her out of the corner of his eye. "A fan of the accent, are we?"

"Who isn't?" She pulled open the bag of Cheetos and offered it to him.

Halfway through their second episode, Edward noticed Bella pulling in on herself and shivering.

"Cold?"

"No." A shiver ran through her, belying her answer.

He laughed. "I told you it was too cold to go swimming this afternoon."

"Shut up. I'm fine."

He looked at her for a moment, then stood and crossed into the bunkroom. He returned momentarily, carrying a blanket. She looked at it as if it was Christmas morning, and he was Santa Claus.

He settled back down on the sofa and draped the blanket over himself, then resumed watching the program, studiously ignoring her. He watched surreptitiously as she inched closer and closer to him, then spoke when her hand touched the edge of the blanket.

"Was there something you wanted, Swan?"

She sighed and withdrew her hand. "No, I'm fine."

"Because if you want something, you should just ask."

She appeared to be arguing with herself, then finally asked, "Can I share the blanket?"

"Are you admitting I was right?"

"No, I'm asking to share the blanket. Sharing is caring, Eddiekins."

"Who says I care? Maybe I want you to freeze, Baby Belly."

She glared at him for a moment, then grabbed the edge of the blanket and pulled it over her body, nestling against his side as she did so. He fought to keep his breathing slow and even.

The heat of his body and the rhythm of his breaths conspired to make her drowsy. Her body was just relaxing into a light doze when she felt his fingertips skim along the skin of her forearm. Up … down. Up … down. She shivered slightly and snuggled closer to his warmth.

His fingertips continued their gentle stroking as her eyes drifted shut. She was barely aware when they continued down her arm to trace circles on the inside of her palm, and when his fingers tenderly wove through hers, she smiled to herself and succumbed to sleep.

****s/t****

"It's not going to be ready until tomorrow." Edward gracefully lowered himself onto her beach blanket.

"What?" Bella pulled an ear bud out and turned to face him.

"They have to replace the starter, and there's some part they need that won't arrive until tomorrow. I'm so sorry."

"I'm not." She shrugged. "Free beach vacation, and our professors can't yell at us for missing class since we're technically stranded because of something they made us do. Where's the bad?"

"So, you'll be okay missing another day of class?"

"Yep." She looked over at him, holding her hand up to shade her eyes. "Will you? I mean, if you want to try to take a bus or something, I can stay here and drive your car back tomorrow."

He adjusted his body so that he blocked the sun for her. "No, I'm fine. I have a seminar, but I emailed my professor, and he said I could make it up."

"That's good. Wanna share?" she asked, offering up the ear bud she'd removed.

He moved closer to comfortably insert the bud in his ear. His shoulder rested against hers as they sat together. He was acutely aware of the moment their contact shifted from touching to leaning. He took the risk of lying back on the blanket, and it paid off when she followed him down and rested her head against his shoulder. He nuzzled into her hair, memorizing the scent of her shampoo and exulting in the feel of the soft strands against his cheek.

He wondered if he had gone too far when she abruptly pulled away. She reached into the bag that lay next to her and retrieved a book, then returned to his side. He released the breath he'd been holding and extended his arm behind her, making it more comfortable for her to rest against his side.

****s/t****

"I think you're burned." He gingerly touched the skin on her arm and watched it turn white, then slowly flush in the fading sunlight.

"You too." She pressed a fingertip to the end of his nose. He wrinkled it in response. "That's gonna hurt."

"It already does," he replied in a voice just above a whisper. She was standing so close. He feared breaking the spell that surrounded them if he spoke too loudly.

"I'm sorry," she whispered back. She gazed up at him, then slowly, so slowly he wondered if he was dreaming, she rose up on her toes and brushed her lips where her fingers just were.

He slid both hands up her arms and over her shoulders until they cradled the sides of her neck. "Bella," he whispered into her forehead, "is this too soon?"

Her arms snaked around his waist, and her little hands found the skin at the small of his back. "Probably."

****s/t****

"What are you going to tell Jacob?"

She shifted against him in the tiny bunk, and he felt her sigh at his question. He skimmed his hand over the fabric that covered her back in a comforting gesture, and then tucked his fingers just under the hem of her shirt and stroked slowly. Now that he was allowed to touch her skin, he couldn't seem to stop.

"I don't know. What are you going to tell Jessica?"

"Jessica and I never actually dated outside her imagination."

"She's still going to be disappointed."

"She'll get over it."

Bella reached over and softly scratched his chin. "Scruffy boy." She tilted her head to kiss his jaw.

"Is he going to punch me?"

She propped herself up on one elbow and looked down at him. "Maybe. Are you scared?"

He raised his hand and traced the lines of her face with his index finger; eyebrows, cheekbones, nose, lips.

"Terrified," he replied.

She suspected he wasn't talking about Jacob anymore.

****s/t****

Bella watched from the window as the shiny sedan pulled into the driveway. Their bags were packed, the linens washed, leftover food packed up or thrown away. Everything was ready to go, except her heart.

He entered and took in her dejected expression. He sat down, pulled her onto his lap, and gathered her in his arms.

"What's the matter, Baby Bell?"

The subtle change in her nickname sent warmth through her. She leaned against him and inhaled the scent of the sea air that mixed with his laundry detergent in the fabric of his t-shirt.

"I don't want to leave."

He smiled against her hair. "Did you pack your sunscreen?"

"Yeah, why?"

"Pull it out. I think we have time for one more nap on the beach."

The sound of crashing waves filled his ears. The sun warmed his skin. The sand was soft beneath the blanket where he lay. He closed his eyes, but he did not sleep. There was no need; all of his dreams had come true and lay snuggled against his side.