With love, from me to you. I was going to wait until tomorrow to post, but that's ridiculous.


She said, "I hate you" and slid from between the wall and me. As she walked away, I noticed the giant sweater she was wearing over tiny shorts. Her thighs were long and her calves were muscled. Her pace was quick and her ponytail swished back and forth.

I watched her walk across almost the entire field. It was almost a year since I'd met her. Not quite a year until graduation. I was completely stuck in place. Life is good, I reminded myself. Life is good. Blue sky, ivy creds, paid internship. I didn't need a girlfriend. A girlfriend would just get in the way.

I sprinted after her when she turned the corner down by the grad dorms.

She didn't stop when I caught up to her. She didn't look at me either.

I kept pace, trying to figure out what to say. "I've been thinking about our situation," I said out of breath. "I think we should sleep together. I think it will do us both some good."

"That's a lot of thinking."

"I think it would clear the air between us.

She kept walking. "I thought you wanted me to wait for the big romance with Mr. Perfect."

"No. Not Mr. Perfect."

"Why are you doing this? I get it, okay? Ignore me if I'm like some charity case to you. I'm fine."

"I'm not fine."

That stopped her.

"Why do you think you're a charity case?"

"Can we not talk about this?"

Here was the crossroad. I wanted her. That was easy. God I wanted her. And if I went all in, that was it. I would love her. That was hard.

"This is not charity. I'm completely distracted by you. On a number of levels."

"You think I'm distracting?"

"You know I do."

"What am I distracting you from, Edward?"

I knew where she was going with this. "I'm not saying you're an impediment — but this thing between us is getting in the way of —" I stopped myself before I said it.

"Getting in the way of what?"

"Of everything."

"Edward," she sighed like I was completely clueless.

"What I mean to say is that it's getting in the way of us."

"Us?" she asked. Her face was the picture of incredulity. "My not having sex with you is getting in the way of us."

"Yes. It's in the way of whatever it is we're supposed to be. I think we need to sleep together, then move forward or move on."

"What are you talking about?"

"Isn't that what you said from the start? You wanted to get over the idea of sex so you could focus."

She looked at me, and I knew her crazy-ass logic had hit home.

"Move forward or move on?"

I paused before nodding. "Yes."

"We should have sex so we can get past having sex?"


She laughed. "This isn't very romantic, you know."

"It is actually. I just chased you down across an entire field." I tucked a strand of her dark hair behind her ear. "I'll carry you back to my room if you'd like."

She grinned. "When?"


"I have class"

"Skip it."

"I can't."

"This afternoon."

"We'll go to your room… and then... that's it?" She shook her head. "No. That's too weird."

"Go out with me then."


"I'm on duty at six."

"My last class is over at one."

"I'll pick you up then."

We drove to a farmstand a few miles off campus. It had an apple orchard, and a petting zoo. She was wearing a flowered sundress and a sweater, but it turned into one of those fucked up fall days when it was hotter than it should have been. Halfway there she took her sweater off. The straps were tiny, and it was cut low enough for me to see the swell between her breasts, and that she didn't have a bra on. Her tits bounced every time she moved. I couldn't stop looking at her.

"What are you smirking at?"

"The first time I saw you, I thought you were a boy."


"In that picture of you skiing."

She frowned. "A cute boy, I hope."

"I didn't look that hard." But I was looking hard now. Her window was down and the breeze blew her hair. I didn't know where any of this was going, but right now was basically perfect.

I took her hand and lead her to the shack that sold feed pellets for the animals. Everyone else in line had a little kid in tow. There was a big sign posted on the side of the building with all of the rules. She read the whole thing very seriously. There were peacocks roaming around outside of the pens. She leaned into me when I paid so she could look in at the guy at the register. She smiled at him.

"Do you have to be so pleasant to everyone?" I whispered in her ear.

"Do you have to be so unpleasant?" she whispered back.

He looked at her, then tried not to smile to himself while he was counting my change.

"Apparently I do," I said and stuck my wallet in my back pocket.

Her head came up a little further than I'd remembered.

"Did you grow?"

She beamed. "An inch and a half. Can you believe it? I'm as tall as Rosie now."

"You're not tall."

"I am. I'm huge." She stood up on her tiptoes to emphasize her point. She was solid and her eyes were daring, a perfect mix of innocent and dangerous.

She wanted to see the goats and a few little ones ran to the fence when she poured some pellets into her hand. I stood behind her. Her dress skimmed the back of her thighs. A small grey goat stuck its head partly through the wire, and its pink tongue licked at the feed on her palm. "That tickles," she laughed, but a big one ran up and rammed the baby in the side and knocked it out of the way, then grabbed the cup out of Bella's other hand. She backed up into me in shock. I put my hands around her waist and pulled her back, one hand across her stomach, one slung across her chest. She didn't try to step away. Her heart was pounding.

"That was so mean!" she said.

Go slow, I told myself. "C'mon, I'll buy you another cup."

We moved to the horses. She let a dark mare lick off the flat of her palm while she ran her other hand down its nose. She gave the rest of the food to a grizzly-looking sheep with matted wool. It bleated at her.

"You're very welcome," she said and grinned.

"You even flirt with farm animals," I observed.

"What are you you talking about?"

We washed our hands at a sink that worked with a pedal. There weren't any napkins, so she wiped her hands on my jeans and was very thorough about it.

"Ice cream?"

I bought us each a cone, and we sat at a weathered old picnic table and swatted away bees. She licked hers, and I tried to keep the conversation on the straight and narrow.

"You like your roommate?"

"She's sweet."

Sweet was the last thing she seemed.

"You're friends?"

"I think so. We're supposed to go to a party tonight."



"No. I mean good."


"Yeah. Good. Fine. Great. Just — you know?" She, of course, misinterpreted me entirely.

"What? Make good choices?"

I laughed. "Yeah. Make good choices."

She groaned. "God, Edward."

"I didn't mean it like that."

She raised an eyebrow at me. "How did you mean it, then?"

What I was thinking was that today was just going to be today, which was amazing, but it wasn't going to be tonight. I was only theoretically suggesting we should have sex immediately, though, of course, if she had agreed, I can't say I wouldn't have meant it literally.

"You have this idea in your head that I'm like the sex police, or something."

"I wonder why that might be?"

"You give me credit for more self-control than I actually have."

It was so fucking hot that a drip of her ice cream fell on her thigh. We both looked at it and each other. My first thought was to lean over and lick it away. Instead, I wiped at it with my thumb and stuck it into my mouth before she could get it with her napkin. I pretended nothing out of the ordinary had happened. A bee buzzed near her skirt, and she closed legs together and batted at it. When it hovered near the hem, she stood up quickly on the bench to stop it from flying up her dress.

From this vantage point I could practically see up her dress. Her legs were lean and long. I swiped my cone against the back of her knee. She gasped.

"Oh, sorry," I said and licked the smear off of her, then again with a little suck to make sure I got it all.

I looked up at her. The sun cast a golden halo behind her head. I took another swipe a little higher up and closer to her ass.

She looked down at me, "You're going to make me all sticky."

"That's the idea," I said and sucked it off the back of her thigh.

Her mouth was slightly open and her eyes were dark.

"Ready to go?"

She nodded and the faintest blush spread across her freckled cheeks. I stood and gave her my hand to help her from the bench. She basically shinnied down my body.

We walked to the field where I'd parked. She leaned against the car, licking the rest of her ice cream. There were maybe a few millimeters of space between us, and energy pinged across every surface of our bodies. Her eyes were round and expectant.

"I had a nice afternoon," she said.

"Me too."

She licked the corners of her mouth. I zeroed in on her tongue and ran my hand against her left arm. She inhaled.

My dick had long gone from the first sweet tug of wanting to full-blown hard on and there wasn't a damn thing I could do about it. Slow, I reminded myself. Slow.

The day was losing light. There was finally a chill in the air, but there was still heat around her. She tugged her sweater back on. She smelled like the bag of apples in her arms. I leaned in and paused. She smiled before I kissed her. She tasted so good.

"I'm sorry about this summer," I said, against her lips.

"Me too," she said against mine.

"I was a dick."

"No. I get it."

"I don't think you do."

She pursed her lips.

"It's just not… it's where we are."

"Because I'm a freshman."

"Because I'm almost done."

She smiled. "Not because you feel sorry for me?"

"The only person I feel sorry for is myself."

She pulled me in, and I pressed. We were parked in a field. There were families all over the place, and I was practically humping her against my car.

"Let's go."

We didn't say much on the way back. Bella put her feet on my dashboard. Her legs were beautiful. Her skirt blew up when she rolled her window down. She surfed the wind outside with her hand.

I reached over and ran my palm up to her knee and back. Her muscles were toned and her skin was soft.

She turned her head to me and gave me a lazy smile. "I took ballet because Rosie wanted to be a ballerina. She dropped out because it's not easy. I kept with it because I'm strong."

"You're so fucking beautiful."

She closed her eyes and sighed. I slid my hand to the inside of her thigh, and she tilted her hips. I moved my hand close to her center and drew circles at the very top of her leg. Her breath caught at the top of her chest, and she turned her head to look at me. I mostly kept my eyes on the road. She opened her legs wider, and I moved my hand up and the inside of the opening at her panties. We were getting nearer to campus, and I couldn't do more than tease her at this point. My fingers grew more slick with each mile I drove. I was pretty good driving lefty, but had to shift.

"Don't kill us," she breathed, her eyes still closed.

"I won't."

She smiled to herself.

Her fingers wound into her own hair, and she pushed back against the headrest. I loved the look on her face; the shape of her mouth as I rubbed. As we got closer to school, I pulled away. "This isn't going to work."

Her face flushed in frustration and embarrassment. She put her legs down. "Oh. Sorry."

"Sorry for what?" I laughed. "We're not done, yet."

My stuff was spread all over my bed. She sat down and her skirt floated up to her thighs. I leaned toward her and forced her back on her elbows. My fingers drifted from her calves to her knees. Her arms wrapped around my neck and her fingers dug into my hair. There was a breeze from the window, the scratch of cotton over the swell of her tits, the little buttons up the front of her dress.

"It's four o'clock," I whispered.

"I like four o'clock."

I strained against her, and she lifted her hips to meet me. My thumbs stroked lightly against the side of her face.

"We only have two hours," she said.

"I can work with that."

I kissed her while time ticked past. The light in the room grew dim. The sounds outside changed, people heading to dinner and anticipating the night.

She unbuttoned the top of her dress and my hand cupped her breast. Her nipple was tight and hard. I flicked it with my tongue and ran a finger down the front of her pussy, barely brushing her, then back up again. The fabric was wet. Her breath was heavy. I could only imagine how frustrated she was. I moved back up and kissed her mouth, then sat back on my knees, and looked at her. She was sleepy and wanting. Her hair was spread across my pillow like a stain.

"Trust me?"

The tips of her fingers were in her mouth. She nodded her head. I slid my fingers under the side of her panties. "I'm going to take these off."

She nodded and I dragged them across her ass and down her legs, then rested my palms on her inside thighs and pushed her open. The muscles in her thighs tensed.

"You're so beautiful."

"You don't have to say that."

"I do. I love looking at you."

She let out a little noise when I leaned down and kissed between her legs. She was swollen and warm. I licked between her and sucked lightly where I knew it would feel good. She was tender against my tongue. I pulled back. "This okay?"

Her arms were crossed over her eyes. "Uh huh."


"Uh huh."

"Do you want me to stop?"

"Unh unh."

"Don't hide your eyes."

She slowly uncovered her face. One hand went into her own hair, the other reached out to my jaw. I kissed the palm of her hand. She wound her fingers in my hair. I traced my fingers up and down her to spread her wetness, then slowly slid a finger inside. Her eyes never left mine. It felt sweet and dirty and fucking perfect.

She clutched at my hair as I slipped out and slowly. When she said my name, I moved up her body so our heads were next to each other. I slipped back into her. She whispered words in my mouth I couldn't understand; I only felt her lips and tongue. We were in perfect synch. Everything I did, she followed along. When I pulled my shirt off, her dress wound up on the floor. I felt her skin against mine. She pushed me away so she could see. Her tits were round and soft. Just right for my hands and tilted up for me to suck. Her nipples poked into my palms when I kissed her neck. She ran her hand against my dick.

"Is this what you were missing?"

She lifted her head slightly and peeked at me. She nodded.

"From anyone, just to get it out of your system?"

She shook her head, then whispered "No."

My body was a giant hard on; hers was a heartbeat. I could draw this out all night, pleased at how furious I could make her. The more desperately her hips moved toward me, the slower I went. I curled my fingers inside of her and her entire body jerked.


"You like that?"

"Yes," she panted.

I pushed in and pulled out a few more times, imagining how the sweet suck of her body would feel if I was inside of her. I could tell she was almost there and picked up speed until her breathing got shallow. When she tried to push herself down on my fingers, I moved down and sucked, teasing her with the edge of orgasm. She moaned and her voice made me even harder, but this wasn't about me. Our tongues twisted around each other and I caught all of her moans in my mouth, so that anyone in the hall would be none the wiser, and when she exploded on my hand, I slipped my fingers inside of her so she could ride them on the way down.

When she finally calmed down, she climbed on top of me. "I want you."

"Are you sure?"

She nodded and unbuckled my belt and fly. I helped her pull my jeans off and propped myself up on my elbows, so I could watch. She focused on my dick, then looked up and raised her brows. I cocked an eyebrow back at her. She stroked me shyly a few times then stopped and gave me a worried look. She dipped her head down and licked my head, then gave it a good suck. My balls drew up and grew firm, but she was being too gentle. I lifted up into her hand and against her mouth. She smiled and licked my entire length. Her hand followed. Her mouth was hot. Her hand was soft. Her tits bounced as she jerked me.

I wanted to fuck her brains out, this wasn't supposed to be about me, but I needed to come. She moved up and down. She was going too slow, and my mind was gone. I groaned in frustration. "God, Bella. Please. A little faster."

Her grip tightened and she stopped.

"I can't… You have to…"

She looked up at me. Her eyes were dark. "I want to feel you inside of me."

I glanced at the clock, but couldn't focus. She was naked and her hand was on my dick. I was going to die if I didn't get inside of her, but had enough presence of mind to get a condom out of my bedside table. She watched when I slipped it on, then gasped when I flipped her on to her back. She spread her legs wide and opened her hips to take me in. I eased in as slowly as I could. She was warm and tight around me. Her eyes closed, but her mouth opened. She felt so warm and snug, and the sounds she was making didn't sound too uncomfortable. I shifted back and forth. Her arms folded across my neck, and whispered my name into my throat. Her legs wrapped across my waist and she tilted up. I pushed in as far as I could. She made a little noise, and I checked to see if she was okay, but her eyes were full of want and not pain. I stopped, but my thighs shook.

"Go," she said. "I want you." And with that, I lost control, pounding away as hard and fast as I could. I teetered on the edge for only a few thrusts before I was gone, falling down and down and down into her. I was dead. I was gone.

When my breathing finally caught back up. The air was moist around us. Every caution I'd tried for was shot to hell, but at least I was sober. It started too late and was over too soon. I didn't know if she was certain, but even if I hadn't been before, I was now. This was the kind of sex you took to war with you. The girl you dreamed about when you were in the trenches. And fuck it, the reason this was all true was that I had expectations, even if she didn't. I was on top, and we were laced into each other. She had the ghost of dimples, and her lips were soft and lush. I looked at the tendons in her neck and kissed.

I brushed the curls away from her face, my thumb traced her jaw. "I could stay like this forever."

She caught my arm and laughed. "Can I try your watch on?"

It wasn't the response I expected, but I unbuckled it and slipped it over her left hand.

She shook her wrist in front of her and whispered, "Whoa. Heavy."

It was a magical transformation. The huge silver thing against her tiny wrist. The metal against her skin. Our bodies entwined. Her legs between mine. Our stomachs touching. Her tits against my chest. I'd never given a girl a piece of jewelry before, but I understood how it worked now. That goddamn watch meant she was mine, and I never wanted it back again.

She waved her arm, exaggerating it's weight, then let her arm fall around my neck, pretending it was too much to hold up. She snuggled in. I pulled her ass toward me and shifted my dick against her pussy, then turned us sideways, so I didn't suffocate her. She snuggled into my shoulder and my hands roamed over her body, up, down, back, and forth. The world was perfect.

I woke up to banging on the door. It felt like I was yanked to life. The room was dark blue and hot. Bella's head was sweaty against my chest, my arms around her back, her hair twisted in my hands. She smelled like sex and apples. My dick was sticky and hard. She moaned into my chest and shifted her hips up onto me. I wanted her instantly and pulled her tight.

The door banged again.

I lifted my head of the pillow and yelled, "What!?"

"I'm locked out." Riley's voice was muffled but recognizable.

I grabbed my phone. It was 6:37pm. Bella made a sleepy noise.

"Shhh," I whispered and kissed her eye. "I'll be right back."

"What's happening?" she groaned into my neck.

"Just give me two seconds."

I threw on my pants then cracked the door open and squinted into the bright light of the hallway.


He looked sheepish as hell. "Sorry.

"This had better be the last time," I said, and went back in to get my master key. Bella turned on my bedside light and practically blinded me.

I looked at her with one eye closed, and the other squinted. "What are you doing?"

"So you can see."

For some inconceivable reason, Riley pushed the door open and stuck his head into my room. His eyes bugged out of their sockets. I looked at Bella. She was sitting in in my bed. Her cheeks were flushed and her mouth was swollen. Her hair was a mile high and my sheets were tucked under her bare shoulders. Books and apples were all over the floor.

"Hi," she said to him. Her voice was gravelly.

"Hi," he answered awkwardly. "I'm sorry. I didn't... realize... I thought you were on duty." He looked at me like I might help him out.

"I am. We're just studying."

"Be right back," I said to her and she gave me a little wave, and I walked him to his room, though I didn't have a shirt on and my feet were bare.

"Your uh… study partner is in my freshman focus class." He waggled his eyebrows at me. I ignored him and unlocked his door. I pushed it open, but before he stepped inside, he said. "She's hot."

"She's not my study partner."

"That's what I figured," he said dejectedly, then shut it behind him.

Back at my room, Bella was dressed, her arms tight across her chest. Sam and Billy were standing next to her with vivacious grins on their fucking smiley-ass faces. My quilt was pulled over the bed.

All three of them looked at me. I pulled a t-shirt out of my drawer and put it on. I know she was just being chill, but I was suspect of the other two. I knew how their minds worked.

"Is your room on fire?"

They looked at each other.

"Someone dead in the bathroom?"

They shrugged.

"Then get the fuck out of my room."

They elbowed each other, snorting and snickering on their way out the door.

Bella blushed, but her eyes were bright. She moved around me slightly, her back to the door. She tried to take a step backwards.

I caught her in my arms. "Where do you think you're going?"

"You're on duty."


"And I have a paper to write.

"Write it here."

"Don't you have to work?

"Until midnight."

So then she was back in my bed, lying on my pillows, paying absolutely no attention to me while she typed on my laptop.

A little after eleven. I closed my door. The lock clicked ominously.

"You're done?"

"So done. Move over."

"What if someone needs you?"

"It'll be at their own peril."

"You just jinxed yourself."

"Probably. Move over."

She raised the covers and I crawled in and pulled her close.

On a regular basis, the word "Fucking" appeared as the answer on the "Where Am I?" board on my door, until I threatened to plant drugs in anyone's room who wrote it again. I cursed her father for sticking Bella on the restricted floor, and we ultimately made a lot of use of the back seat of my car, but since it wasn't her first time, I felt no guilt at all. She was mine and everyone knew it. There was school. I did great. Better than ever. But Bella? She did staggeringly well. I wasn't even sure there was a word for the response she got from her teachers.

As the months — the glorious months — of Bella Swan ticked by, I grew increasingly distracted by the fact that I had to leave in a few months. Yes, there was the summer. A hundred summers. And yes, there would be time to drive back and forth, but it was — as I'd known from the beginning — a dangerous time for each of us. The new things she discovered, I had already seen, and her complaints seemed childish. I had some nerve-wracking moments waiting to hear about the internship, but her eyes were clear as I tried to explain my fear. The pressure I was starting to feel was still a long way off for her. I loved her within the confines of the campus — but there was my own discovery and my own life which wasn't waiting. I loved her, but she didn't know what that meant, and this thing felt big with her, scary big. I think I knew how she thought she felt about me, but it didn't fit into the shape of what was in my immediate future, and I didn't trust her to know.

She shocked me when she transferred to a college in London at the beginning of the second semester, I told myself it wasn't a real break up. I told myself it was life and life was good. I got through to graduation because I told myself she wasn't gone; she was just tucked away in a foreign city, living her life, away from me because she couldn't stand the thought of being where I wasn't. Not for always, but for now. Walking around campus, knowing she wasn't anywhere near, I thought I understood. I told myself it was only for a few years, but it was for a few years more than that.

The last time I saw Michael Swan, he was standing head and shoulders taller than everyone in the middle of a group of girls, yelling orders to the bartender like he was on the floor of the stock exchange. It was his birthday.

He was as good-looking as Rose, but he could be as serious as his father in a pinch. He could be whacked out like his mother, which was sometimes endearing and sometimes not. Every once in a while he'd shock me by being completely logical and ballsy, but it was his grin that killed me. The fact that he knew what he was talking about and knew he knew what he was talking about, even when he was kidding around. I didn't think about it for obvious reasons.

We wouldn't have kept in touch except for the fact that he was good about keeping contact. Not too regularly — which would have made it easy to ignore him — but just enough. He'd graduated in the spring. His father, or his mother, hard to say which, got him an internship with a brokerage on Wall Street. And now that he was in my town, I felt a little responsible, which was stupid. It was obvious he had no lack of companionship, but I found it hard to walk away from him. Not as hard as walking away from his sister, of course — though maybe this was all wrapped up in that too. I didn't like to dwell on that either.

When all was said and done, it ended the way I'd predicted. I needed to leave, and she didn't want to wait. We broke up in pieces. First, not at all. Then all at once. I spent a lot of time trying to assign fault, or at least trying not to be guilty. The first few times she came home from London, she called and we hooked up. Explosively. Each time. But the aftermath became too painful. I finally told myself I could see her, but not touch her. I saw her one more time after that and realized I couldn't see her and not touch her, and we were done. I was angry for a while before reconciling myself to our age. Those few friends that I kept in touch with from school had long stopped discussing it with me, and I kept my friendship with Michael a secret for fear of its obviousness. I defended that too, to myself, though I had to admit I was proud of him. He was a good man, the kind of guy you could call to carry heavy shit up stairs, though he was an indiscriminate flirt. That reminded me of his sister too.

"How do you guys know each other?" one of the girls with him asked. She was close, warm and had that accent I'd noticed a certain kind of woman took on. Vaguely elite but unplaceable, equal parts aggressive and flirtatious. Good school, sounded east coast, but maybe not. Probably an up and comer, and likely another intern by the dress she was wearing. Tight, but not inappropriately. She was at least a few years older than Bella the last time I'd seen her, which was a long time ago.

I'd seen her in pictures, though, and knew what she was doing, courtesy of her brother. He'd sneak her in casually, but never mention it. Last I heard she was in Italy. I wanted to ask how she was doing, but even so simple a question seemed to tip my hand. He'd stopped asking questions a long time ago. I didn't know whether it was out of kindness to me or protection of her. Maybe both.

"I'm Tia," she said and we shook hands. She held on a second longer than necessary.

Michael slung an arm around my shoulders. He wasn't quite my height but pretty close.

"Edward is the brother I never had," he said, with good humor. "We had some good times growing up."

The look in her eyes was predatory.

"I'm gonna head out," I told him.

"My boy didn't used to be such an old man," he said.

"Early morning."

"You just got here."

"You grew up together?" Tia asked.

"He dated my sisters."

"Sisters, plural?" She asked, clearly surprised.

"Well…," I said, letting her know there was more to it than that.

Michael put his arm around her shoulder in a friendly gesture, and his watch flashed at me.

I remembered my hand on her tiny wrist. She pulled away for a moment, before her hand was against my chest, her fist around my watch.

"Take it."

"I don't want it."

"Take it!"

I shook my head.

"Then I'm going to drop it."

"Go ahead. I don't want it."

She stuck her hand my back pocket, then stormed off.

I pulled it out without looking at it. It burned like fire in my palm.

At first I couldn't bear to wear it. Now I couldn't not.

Michael was still talking. "Yes. Sisters. With an s. First he dated Rosie and then he dated the other one," he paused and his eyes were sympathetic. "We don't like to say her name."

I looked at him. When did he get so wise?

The girl was looking at both of us now with some degree of concern.

"But in the end, I'm the one he's stuck with."

I toasted him with the last of my whiskey, "It's been my privilege, Malice."

"That's low."

"Malice?" she asked.

"You will live to regret this, Edward," he said and smiled.

I got home before midnight, because after midnight didn't really hold a lot of interest anymore. I'd just turned thirty in the spring, and while I'd achieved everything I imagined I would have by this point, plus a little more, I'd thought it would feel like something. With every promotion, every bonus, every notch on my bedpost - it simply wasn't enough.

I poured myself another drink and loosened my tie. I folded my jacket over the back of the chair at my desk and looked at myself in the mirror. I took inventory.

Decent bank balance, owned my apartment, parents still healthy. Nobody wanted to kill me, that I knew of. No outstanding arrest warrants. Not even a parking ticket. It was a very clean and orderly life.

I undressed in the same order I always did. Pulled the knot in my tie out and pulled my shirt out of my pants. I unbuttoned it and threw it in the hamper. Sat on the edge of my bed and took my shoes off, and placed them next to each other. I dragged my t-shirt over my head, then stood and unbuckled my pants and stripped out of my boxers. I looked in the mirror again, drink in hand.

I kept my hair shorter these days. I had to shave more often than I liked. And there were angles in my face that hadn't been there before. I worked out because I had to, and thought I looked okay. My dick hung low, and I gave it a tug. Still in working order. I wondered if I should have stuck around for a few more drinks and taken someone home. The thought made me instantly ill. The idea of hitting on a friend of Michael's, or anyone in his vicinity, wasn't about Michael at all. In any case, sex was available, if I wanted it. That hadn't changed. I knew I should feel lucky, but I didn't. Now there were rules, not a lot, but a few unbreakable ones.

There hadn't always been. For a fraction of a second my mind tried to recapture an image of Bella Swan and I shut it down, but it was a scab that had to be picked. I'd get an image of her, my hand behind her head as we fell into the pillows on my bed. The way her hair smelled, the way her body felt wrapped in my arms. Her cold cheeks on the chair lift, that first winter. Only winter, I reminded myself. Her frosted breath. What it felt like to push into her. The freckles on her chest. The day she left and the look in her eyes. It always came back to that. She left, I reminded myself. It had been her decision. Although she only left first.

Behind me my clothes were in an orderly pile, shoes neatly placed on the floor next to my bed. Not an old man yet, not by any means, but I could see where it was heading. I stood up, swallowed the rest of my drink and went to bed.

Just before Thanksgiving, I got a call from Michael inviting me out for drinks after work. It had only been two months since I'd seen him last. I really wasn't up for it.

"C'mon. It's our anniversary!"

"Whose anniversary?"

"Ours! I can't believe you don't remember. Ten years."

I laughed at the fact that my longest relationship with the Swans had been with Michael.

The bar he'd picked turned out to be a very nice restaurant in a hotel uptown. I checked my coat and umbrella, then waited by the giant flower arrangement in the center of the room. Dark, tasteful, subdued. The kind of place to take clients for lunch or a date for dinner. Maybe there was a girl he was trying to impress. A couple came in and were led to the back. Definitely a girl, I thought.

He showed up a few minutes later and I checked my watch. Exactly on time. The only reason he seemed late was because I was always early. I laughed at myself, but it wasn't funny. I watched from the lobby as he climbed out of a cab. He leaned over to the driver, they shook hands and exchanged a few words before he headed inside. He smiled when he saw me, and before I knew it our handshake had turned into a hug.

He leaned in to the hostess who smiled and nodded. He turned to me, eyes bright. His blonde hair was longish in front, and his blazer fit him perfectly. "They're already here, the lushes. Let's grab a drink first." He steered me toward the entrance to the bar.

"First what? Who's everyone?" These fucking Swans and their plans.

"Just some old cronies of mine. C'mon.

Whatever. I'd have a drink and make some excuse. He was so fucking affable, I felt bad for not putting out more of an effort.

"You'll like them, they're strange, but once you get used to them they're alright.

Which was amusing until I saw Renee Swan sitting at the bar with a big glass of white wine at her lips.

"Mom!" he said enthusiastically when we were still a few feet away. She turned and smiled at her son. She didn't quite place me at first, until she did. Her eyes grew round.

I looked at Michael. "You must be fucking kidding me," I growled at him, while smiling in delight at his mother.

"Get over yourself," he whispered, then "Here I am! Your favorite child!"

By the time I made it over to her, she'd recovered and gave me a warm smile and stuck out her hand. I took it and kissed her cheek.

"Edward," she said. She meant it as a greeting, but there was a degree of caution, too. "It's so good to see you. Michael didn't mention you'd be here."

"Yeah, it was a... surprise. I hope you don't mind."

"Of course not," she said and took a long sip of her drink. She put it back on the bar.

A second later Charlie showed up from the direction of the men's room. He touched his buckle. It had been years since I'd last seen him and his mustache had a lot of grey in it. He did a double take when he saw me. "Holy shit," he said, smiling. We shook hands.

"Mr. Swan."

"Charlie, please."

Michael said, "How great is this?" and pulled his father into a hug.

The hostess showed up and asked if everyone from our party had arrived.

"Yes!" Michael said enthusiastically.

"Actually, no," his mother said. "We're waiting for two more."

"I made the reservation for four," Michael said.

"You said you were bringing a date," his mother said.

"I did and here he is!" he laughed. "It's our tenth anniversary."

Charlie Swan looked at us both and snorted.

"Your sister's joining us."

Michael frowned. "I thought she couldn't travel? Bad news, again?" He turned to me. "Rose is on bed rest. Pregnant."

"Oh," I said. "Oh. Yeah." Nodding, like I knew what I was talking about.

"Not that sister," his mother said in a low voice and finished her glass.

"Would you care for another chardonnay?" the bartender asked.

"Please," she said.

"Make mine a double," said Charlie.

Michael looked at me and grinned.

Bella Swan entered the room, searching for her family. She was just as beautiful as the last time I'd seen her, and probably a little bit more. Her hair was longer, and she seemed a little thinner. The angles in her face disappeared when she spotted her father and the largest smile I'd ever seen appeared on her face. She looked behind her and grabbed for the hand of the guy bringing up the rear, then made a beeline for us. I turned toward the bar and composed my face into a pleasant but bland mask.

"Charlie!" she said, and I turned as they hugged. She had a skirt on and a pair of heels. I shouldn't have noticed, but her ass looked amazing. The guy stood next to me waiting to be introduced.

Bella released her father and turned to greet the rest of her family.

She stopped short when she saw me. "Oh."

"Hi," I said.

"Hi," she repeated.

I didn't know whether to hug her or not, and we both just stood there.

Her mother stood from her seat to break the awkwardness. She shook the guy's hand vigorously. "I'm Renee, Bella's mother, and this is my husband, Charlie."

"Nice to meet you. Peter," he said introducing himself., "Sir," he said to Charlie and shook his hand, then turned to me and shook mine quickly.

They shook and Charlie gave him a short nod, then gave me a quick sidelong glance. I couldn't tell if he wanted to share his opinion on Bella's date's handshake, or if he wanted to make sure I wasn't going to make any trouble. I kept my mask of indifference in place.

"My brother Michael," she said and her eyebrows rose in silent question. His rose back at her in exactly the same way.

"Nice to meet you. Pete."

If Michael Swan wasn't the most pleasant asshole I'd ever met, I didn't know who was. I wanted to kill him.

She finally turned back to me. "And this is Edward," she said smoothly. "A friend of the family."

"Edward is your brother's date," her mother said, making meaningful eye contact with her. "It's their anniversary." She took a slug of wine.

Bella looked at her brother and cocked an eyebrow.

Peter shook my hand in an "I'm totally open minded" kind of way.

"Nice to meet you."

The hostess appear. "All set?"

Renee nodded.

"I was just here for a quick drink," I said. "Very nice to see — "

"You're not staying?" Bella and her father asked at the same time. For a fraction of a second, it looked like maybe she wanted me to.

"Of course he's staying," Michael said, then turned to his mother. "Tell him he has to stay."

Renee smiled, "You're staying."

My own mother's words came to me: when in doubt, be a gentleman. Bella's date looked at me.

"I'd love to."

Dinner went as well as could reasonably be expected. I sat with Renee on my right and Michael on my left. Bella sat directly across from me in between her father and her date. She glanced at me every now and then. We made stupid small talk, food came and went. The glasses on the table glimmered in the candlelight. The silverware shone. There was a steady hum from the rest of the room. Michael was his usual amusing self. Still it was awkward. Bella looked at me once in a while, and our eyes would catch. I held on, but she looked away. I didn't know what the deal with this Peter guy was, but he didn't look like much of a contender to me, so I decided to play dirty.

The benefit of having known these people for a little while was that I had insider information. It was old, but it was all I had. I asked how Emmett was doing. I talked to her father about the Red Sox. I asked about his work, and listened to his long explanation of some case about asset forfeiture that was going to the appellate court, and spent most of the conversation wondering what "moral turpitude" meant and whether Michael Swan was the guiltiest bastard I'd ever met. I told her mother a little bit about my job, and for good measure, I had a short conversation about investing with her father. Bella didn't say much, and I got tired of ignoring her.

"Are you still in London?"

"I just moved back."


"About a month ago."

"Where are you living?"

"In the Village."

"You should have called me."

She breathed in and her nostrils flared. "Are you really going to do this here?" she whispered.

"Do what?"

"Bella," her mother warned.

"What?" she said and looked at her, then back at me.

"I can't ask about your life?"

"Edward, if you want to know the reason I didn't call you when I got back, or the last few times I've been home, or when I was gone, it's because you told me not to, remember?"

"No. I remember that I told you not to call me unless you were serious."

Her father looked at me, then at his daughter. "You know, maybe there's a better time and place to have this conversation."

Michael put his arms out and rested them on the backs of Renee and Peter's chairs.

She leaned toward me from across the table. "I was always serious, but you never wanted me to be."

Michael turned to Bella's date and as an aside said, "She is pretty serious. It's a little tiresome."

Renee looked at him and said, "Stop."

I leaned forward toward Bella. "You were a teenager."

"And you were a sanctimonious son of a bitch."

Michael laughed and his mother backhanded him in the chest.

Peter said, "Bella, maybe we should —"

Bella said, "Excuse me, I'm going to the bathroom."

We all sat there looking at each other for a second, until I put my napkin on the table and pushed back. "Excuse me," I said and followed her.

She was in there a long time and just when I was thinking I should go in after her, she came out. She was furious and beautiful and I loved her as much as I always had. She tried to walk past me, but I grabbed her arm and pulled her in.

"Did you love me?"

"You know I did."

"But you never said it."

"And you said it too much."

"Too much? What the fuck, Bella?"

"How could you have loved me if I was so easy to leave?"

"You left me."

"Because I couldn't be there when you were gone."

"Are you serious with that guy?"

"He's just a friend."

"Renee said you were with him."

"Because that's what I told her to shut her up. She doesn't care what I do, as long as I have some stupid guy hanging around. But I only want..." She stopped.

"What do you want?"

"Edward, since that first day in the kitchen I only wanted one thing."

I laughed, because I thought I'd understood what that one thing was, but sobered up with her next words.

"I miss you so much, all the time."

"Do you want a boyfriend?"

"Are you offering?"

"Yeah, I'm offering. I'll beg if you want."

She grinned.

"You want me to beg?"

She nodded, but not for long because I held her head steady when I kissed her.

She pulled away. Her eyelids were heavy. I wasn't sure what Charlie Swan was going to make of this, but fuck it. I led her back, ready to take on whatever flak was coming our way, except when we got to the table only Michael was there, looking like a smug bastard, all smiles and assurance. My chest tightened for how well he'd turned out.

"Where are mom and dad?" Bella asked.

"I sent them back to their room."

"You did not," she said, aghast.

"Dad had to pee, and mom wouldn't let him use the bathroom down here, in case it was occupied."

"Oh my god."

"It was kind of obvious, Belly."

"What did you do with Peter?

"We're going to meet in an hour for drinks. He seems like a nice guy. We're hooking up with some friends of mine."

Suddenly I understood what Charlie had meant all of those years ago. They were lunatics, but they were mine, and I wanted back in, so I put my watch back on her wrist, until I could replace it with something proper.

A/N: I had to tell this story to myself a lot of times to figure out their lives. Apparently prom is a very confrontational subject for me. Like serious, soul-searching stuff. Weird. HappyMelt really deserves a medal for having to go through it with me a hundred times. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Love, love, love. xxx