Disclaimer: Twilight and its characters belong to Stephenie Meyer. Any similarities to the original characters or themes from the books or media franchise are used here for entertainment purposes only.

Rated for serious (not really) adult content and language.

WARNING: This story will contain drama. This could be, but may not pertain to, the drama surrounding a couple entering a relationship with a twenty-two year age gap and how those around them will react to this news. Please consider this before continuing.

A/N: A lot of you were hating on Sue pretty hard last chapter—and I get it. I do. BUT, you have to imagine she was probably a little shocked given she just walked in on her boyfriend's best friend with his hands up Bella's skirt. Hopefully this chapter will help you like her a little more. I'd always intended for her to come across that way, because who wouldn't react strongly to that? Well, she's about to have a little conversation with Bella and Edward in this one . . . let's see where it goes, shall we?


Chapter 8 | Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

I'm not going to lie. I'm pretty proud of myself for my little striptease before locking my bedroom door. Was it inappropriate? Absolutely, but I just couldn't help myself. After what happened last night—being caught groping and dry-humping each other on my dad's washing machine—I figured maybe he'd like a little spank-bank material to help us get through today.

Hmm . . . maybe I should send him a picture of my tits.

When I hear the shower start up, I figure I'm too late for that idea, so I decide to save it for another time. I'm sure it'll come in handy later on.

Digging through my bag, I pull out a pair of dark skinny jeans and a deep red V-neck sweater and toss them on my bed while I fish out some underwear and a bra. I decide on the lacy red set, even though they'll go unappreciated . . . unless I send Edward that cleavage shot I was just thinking about. Yeah, I'm totally going to do that. He'll probably need to get right back in the shower afterward, but I'm sure he'll be all right with that.

After putting my bra and panties on, I grab my phone and take said picture. I've never been the girl who sends racy photos to a guy for fear he'll show them off to his buddies, but something tells me that won't be a problem with Edward.

I shudder having even entertained that thought for a millisecond.

I'm practically bouncing with excitement, my smile stretching so wide it makes my cheeks hurt, as I attach the picture to a text and send it with the message: Don't you wish you could open your present?

I know I probably shouldn't be doing this—really, I do—but I'm starting to think that playing it 100% safe is just going to get us in trouble again. There's far too much sexual tension between us when we pretend like nothing's going on, and when it explodes, it's just too intense to walk away from. No, I'm thinking this might be better.

I put my phone on my bed and then pull on my jeans and sweater. The jeans are slim-fitted to my lower body, accentuating my ass and thighs, and my sweater shows off my curves while boasting a modest V-neckline that won't risk flashing the girls. I'd say I look pretty damn hot, but not hot enough to risk Edward losing all self-control.

At least, I hope not—which feels foreign and weird, because I've become a fan of him losing self-control . . . sexually speaking, of course.

I push my phone into my back pocket and sit on my bed, grabbing my knee-high brown leather boots from the floor and pulling them on. They slouch a little around my calves, and they have a lower heel, which will allow me to remain comfortable throughout the day.

I'm just pulling the second one on when there's a knock at the door, so I get up to unlock it, and when I open it, I'm surprised to see Sue standing there with two cups of tea and a small smile.

"Can I come in?" she asks softly.

I step out of the way and hold out my arm, granting her access."Of course," I reply.

She sits on the edge of my bed and offers me one of the cups. "A peace offering," she says. "I came to apologize. For last night. Honestly, I was up half the night trying to wrap my head around everything, and I realized just how wrong I'd been to say those things. I think the surprise of finding the two of you like that just threw me."

My eyes widen with shock, and I stare at her, feeling somewhat bewildered by her apology. "An apology's not necessary. You were absolutely right to—"

"No," she interrupts. "I wasn't. I had no right to give you a timeframe on when you should tell your father or to have behaved the way I did. I'm not your mother, Bella."

"But you're a mother," I remind her. "So I get it. You saw . . ." I pause, not wanting to voice what she'd witnessed in case my father comes traipsing up the stairs at the worst possible moment—wouldn't that be just my luck? "You saw something happening, and you reacted."

Sue sighs, and I sit next to her on my bed. "You're being far more forgiving than I thought you'd be."

I laugh lightly. "I can admit when I've messed up, Sue. What you saw last night . . . well, as I'd said then, it wasn't supposed to happen. I was upset about what my dad had said, and we both just . . ." I stop talking, because I'm on the verge of crossing a line. If I give her too much information, I'm asking her to keep even more from my dad. "I needed reassurance."

Sue eyes me carefully, one dark eyebrow rising inquiringly. "Reassurance? So this . . . what's going on is . . .?"

"Serious?" I conclude and then nod. "Yeah. It's, uh, it's getting there." Pausing, I look at the steam rising off my tea. "I know he's not going to be thrilled—Dad, I mean—but you can't help who you fall in love with, you know?"

"Love?" Sue repeats, forcing my eyes to snap to hers.

"Shit," I squeak. "I didn't mean . . ." My heart beats rapidly, and my palms begin to sweat around my teacup. I can't believe I'd just said that when I haven't even told Edward. I've got one hell of a big mouth.

"I didn't realize," she says softly, drawing my focus back to her and away from my bumbling. "And you're right. Your father isn't going to accept this right away. This is a very complicated web you've spun, Bella."

"I know."

"But if you truly feel as you say you do, who's to tell you that you shouldn't pursue it?" There's a beat of silence as I stare at her, and just as I'm about to say something, the bathroom door opens and Edward steps out, freshly showered, shaven, and his hair a damp, tousled mess.

What was I saying again?

"Edward, can you spare a moment?" Sue asks.

Edward eyes her almost suspiciously, looking downstairs as though he's about to be Punk'd or something.

"Seth's got Charlie occupied with the new game system he got this morning. He's not going to be up here for some time," Sue explains, and Edward nods, stepping into the room but staying by the door, playing it safe. "I want to apologize to you, as well."

Leaning against the doorframe with his arms crossed casually in front of him, Edward looks at me, eyebrows arching slightly, and I shrug.

"As I was telling Bella, I'm sorry for how I reacted when I found the two of you. I should never have given you an allotted amount of time before you had to come clean to Charlie. I was just taken a little by surprise is all."

"It's understandable," Edward replies, accepting her apology. "We do plan to tell him, and we really never meant for anything to happen last night."

"I know that," Sue says, standing up and heading for the door. "I meant what I said about keeping this to myself, but I won't lie for you. If he suspects something and asks . . ."

"Then tell him," I interject, gaining a nod from Edward. We can't ask her to lie to my dad; that would be pushing it. "We were going to tell him after the New Year, anyway. You won't have to keep this from him much longer."

Sue steps past Edward and out into the hallway before stopping and turning to us both. "Do me a favour, though?" We both nod in unison, and she continues. "Tell him before he finds out the way I did. I don't doubt that he'll be upset when you tell him, but I think he'd be more apt to listen than he would be if he found out by accident."

"That's always been the plan," I assure her quietly. "Thank you."

Edward turns to follow Sue out of my room when she stops him. "Take a few minutes. Behave, but take a bit of time together. I'll keep him downstairs."

We both stare after her, stunned, and then Edward enters the room further, closing the door most of the way and holding his hand out for me. Smiling, I set my teacup down on the bedside table and take his hand, letting him pull me off the bed and into his arms.

"Behave, remember?"

"Me?!" he says, sounding somewhat appalled. "Care explaining this?" He removes one arm from around my waist and reaches into his pocket, pulls out his cell phone, and turns it to me; I have to cover my mouth to keep my laugh from carrying through the house.

"Don't tell me you didn't like it," I finally say, standing up on the tips of my toes and kissing him lightly.

"Oh, I more than liked it," he assures me, putting the phone away and pulling me closer. "It just reminded me that we have another couple of days before I'll get to unwrap my present." As if to drive the point home, his right hand moves up my body until his index finger tugs at the neckline of my sweater so he can glimpse what's underneath. "So the picture is from today," he murmurs, his finger teasing the edge of my lace bra.

I sigh as a wave of goosebumps prickle up all over my body, and then I quickly come to my senses, pressing my hands to his chest and pushing him away. "Behave," I repeat, my voice low and trembling.

"Fine," he says, opening my door all the way. "I'll behave. For now." He lowers his voice and steps out into the hall. "But when we get back to the city"—his eyes grow intense as they burn into mine, and I shudder—"all bets are off."

Edward slips out of my room, leaving me stunned as I stare after him, and just before his head disappears from sight through the stair banister, he winks. That cheeky bastard.

I shake off the quiver of desire that rushes through me, and steel my resolve before following him. I find everyone in the kitchen as Dad continues to work on breakfast while Seth shows him his new Nintendo DS. While they're busy, I decide to start prepping the turkey for dinner tonight, and by the time I've got it in the oven, it's time for us to sit down and eat.

Like every year before this one, Christmas brunch is a feast of bacon, eggs, pancakes, French toast, and, to balance it all out, a fruit salad. Everyone is always so damn full after eating, but that's not necessarily a bad thing; this way we're all satiated until dinner, and we're less likely to snack and ruin our appetites before the turkey is ready.

Over breakfast, I learn that Sue and the kids will be staying over—not sure how I feel about this given my room is across from my dad's and I remember all too well about his not-so-secret stash of condoms in his nightstand, but I smile because they're happy, and I'm happy for them.

Plus, I've got music on my iPhone as well as my ear buds. I'm ready to drown out . . . that.

The sleeping arrangements have been decided, and while I'd secretly hoped that Dad would suggest I camp out on the living room floor—possibly right next to the couch where Edward would be sleeping soundly—I already knew that wouldn't happen. Instead, Leah will join me in my room (I hope she brought her iPod and ear buds, too) and Seth will sleep in the living room.

After everyone has finished eating, I offer to clean up. There's not much for leftovers since Seth seems to be going through some kind of teenage growth spurt—that, or he actually does have a hollow leg like Sue says.

I put all of the dishes into the sink and fill it with hot, soapy water while I wipe down the counters. Once they're clean and I start to wash the dishes, a familiar body brushes against my right side, dishtowel in-hand.

"Your dad suggested I come help," Edward explains, grabbing the first plate from my hand, our fingers brushing and lingering a fraction of a second longer than should be normal. I'm sure no one would even notice if they were here . . . well, with the exception of Sue, of course.

I don't know about Edward, but I'm still feeling all warm and tingly from earlier in my room, because every time he casts his stormy green eyes my way, my knees threaten to give out and my heart races. And let's not forget how every brush of his fingers against mine when he takes the dishes from me one at a time renders me momentarily breathless and unable to form a coherent thought.

It's becoming more and more obvious that we probably shouldn't be left alone together in this house—not ever—because I'm about three seconds away from pushing him up against the fridge and ripping his clothes off.

Thankfully for the both of us, Edward seems to have far more restraint than I do, and we finish the task at hand without slipping up again.

With the kitchen clean, Edward and I return to the living room where everyone else waits patiently—okay, so Seth and Leah, being teenagers, aren't nearly as patient as Dad and Sue, who look awfully comfortable together on the recliner. Seth and Leah are sitting near the tree, their fingers practically twitching to start handing out gifts, which leaves the couch available for Edward and me.

Well, if we're going to be forced to sit in the same vicinity, who am I to complain?

When given the go-ahead, Seth and Leah tear through the stack of presents under the tree, handing them out to each of us and then sitting with their own stack of gifts. Now, most families tear through their gifts all at once, but it's tradition in the Swan home to have one person go at a time. It's only fair, and this way everyone gets thanked properly and no one runs the risk of insulting the thought behind the gift.

Going from youngest to oldest, we spend the next hour and a bit opening presents. Seth gets a couple of games for his new Nintendo and a fishing pole and lures—one guess as to whom that's from. Leah, being seventeen, receives clothes, clothes, and more clothes. She's more than happy with this, which, being a girl, I totally get.

Sue and the kids bought me a new iPod—Dad must have told them I dropped my last one in a puddle just outside my apartment a few months back, which is why I have been using my phone. Yup, I've got butterfingers. I've come to accept these little flaws with a semblance of humility. When I open the gift from Dad, I'm more than a little surprised that he hasn't gotten me my usual Visa gift card. Instead, he's splurged and gotten me a new MacBook.

"Dad," I say, looking wide-eyed between him and my extravagant gift. "This is awesome. Thanks."

Dad shrugs like it's no big deal—when in truth, I know it is. "Well, you said your other laptop was crapping out," he explains. "Figured I'd do a little research and get you a new one. You need it for school and all, so it was more than practical."

Edward leans over, still keeping a safe distance between us, and taps my arm. "When he says he 'did a little research,' what he really means is he called me and asked for my opinion."

I laugh, because I really should have suspected this; my dad is the biggest technophobe on the planet. "Well, thank you for steering him toward the Apple store, then."

My last gift is from Edward: a gift card. Now, I know Edward, and I know how he feels about giving gift cards as gifts. "They're too impersonal," he always says. So, when I open this, I figure he's only trying to keep everyone from suspecting anything.

"I know it's not much," he says of the hundred-dollar gift card, "but I figured you could maybe go shopping for clothes or books or . . . whatever you're into these days."

The left side of my mouth twitches up into a smirk, because there's only one thing I'm really into, and I already know I'll be spending my money on something that will make us both extremely happy.

Victoria's Secret, here I come.

I notice a little piece of paper poking out from the sleeve and pull it out. It's the activation receipt, and scrawled on the top is a little note from Edward that reads: Your real present is back in Seattle. Upon reading this, my jaw threatens to fall open, but I control the urge, biting down on my lower lip for a second.

"It's great," I tell him. "Thank you. I think I know exactly what I'm going to buy with it."

Edward looks pleased with himself, but I'm not sure if it's because of the gift card, or because I know he saw me read his little note. Probably both.

Sue's next in line to open her gifts, and she's more than a little ecstatic to receive the high-end mixer she'd wanted from Dad and me, and Edward gets her a new juicer since her old one is apparently on its last leg.

Dad's up next, opening the envelope from Edward. Inside is a brochure and information about a week-long fishing expedition this spring. Dad's eyes light up like . . . well, like a kid on Christmas morning, suffice it to say. Sue gets Dad all new fishing gear, and I give him a new cell phone because he absolutely needs to get with the times. He assures me he loves it, but I can tell he's a little frightened by the newness of the technology. I'll get him hooked on apps soon enough, though. He doesn't stand a chance.

When Edward's up to open his gifts, I'm reminded for the first time in a while that he's actually a few months older than my dad. Other people might find this fact disturbing, but not me; I'd already made peace with our age difference. This is just one more inconsequential (to me) thing I'd neglected to remember, is all.

Because I'd also wanted to keep from putting more than the "average" amount of thought into my public gift for Edward, I'd decided to stick to a Blu Ray box set of the Star Wars movies. Sure, he has them on DVD, but he just got a new high-def flat screen a couple months ago and Dad and Sue went together and bought him a new Blu Ray player, so I figured I'd upgrade them for him. Naturally, he loves it all.

Now that presents are done, I get up and head to the kitchen to check on the turkey. Dinner isn't for another five hours, but I want to be sure the turkey's on track. When I return to the living room, Dad's playing with his new phone while Edward explains a few things about it, Leah's texting someone, probably telling them about everything she got, and Seth is playing his DS while Sue reads the manual for her new mixer. I decide to join them all, and I open the box to my new laptop. It's a thing of beauty, and I immediately power it up.

A couple hours go by when there's a knock at the door, surprising me a little until Dad explains that he invited Alice and Jasper back for dinner tonight. They join us in the living room, and Alice cozies up beside me to check out my new computer.

"How was the rest of your night?" she asks quietly, and I smile at her concern. Alice was sweet to apologize for bringing up my secret boyfriend and unleashing my father's disapproval.

"Pretty good," I reply.

"Well, I'm here if you ever want to talk about . . . you know, girl things."

Smiling, I rest my head on her shoulder. Her offer is sweet, but something tells me she won't really welcome a girl-talk session about my choice of beau. Might be a little too squicky, even for Alice. "Thanks, Alice. I'll keep that in mind."

Later in the afternoon, I head back to the kitchen to start the vegetables and potatoes for dinner. It's late enough in the day that I don't feel guilty pouring myself a glass of wine before I get started washing and peeling the vegetables. I've just started chopping the carrots after putting the potatoes on the stove when Edward walks in.

"Your dad sent me in for beer," he says, explaining himself as though I might mind the pleasant interruption.

Smiling, I set down the knife and wipe my hands on a dishtowel. I step away from the counter, peering out toward the living room to be sure we're alone before I address him. I still keep my distance as I lean back against the counter I was working on and he remains by the fridge. It's obvious we still don't trust ourselves to be too close to one another, but the way his eyes roam the entire length of my body hungrily—lingering on my chest and probably imagining what he knows I'm wearing underneath—tells me what he'd like to be doing right now. And, to be honest, I would like nothing more than that, too.

I shake the image of him sweeping the countertop clear and throwing me onto it from my mind and smile brightly. "You know, for a man who has a problem with me seeing an older man," I say, keeping my voice low, "he sure has a habit of throwing us together."

Edward chuckles, cracking one of the beer bottles open and taking a drink. "Huh. You've got a point." He takes a look around the kitchen before focusing on me again. "You need a hand in here?" he offers.

I shake my head, smiling appreciatively. "Thanks, but I think I've got it covered."

Suddenly, Edward's eyes lift above my head, and I turn around to see Jasper entering the kitchen. Nodding courteously, he smiles at us both. "Bella. Edward."

"Well," Edward says, his green eyes dancing nervously from Jasper to me as he picks up the beer bottles again, "if you don't need a hand in here, I should take these to the living room."

"Of course," I tell him, turning back to my vegetable chopping. "Thanks for offering to help."

Edward walks past Jasper, who remains in the entryway, leaning against the wall with his arms crossed and his eyes curious. I try not to focus on his presence, but I can feel his eyes on me. My anxiety begins to spike as I'm reminded that this is how he looked at me last night when my dating life was the centre of attention, but I try to keep it from my face as I look up at Jasper.

"Hey." I know it's super lame, but I'm not sure what else to say.

He smiles again, and there's something about it that worries me a little. Okay, not a little; it worries me a lot. "How are things going, Bella? It feels like forever since we've talked."

"Uh, good," I reply. "School's been keeping me pretty busy."

"And you're enjoying school?"

I smile, finally feeling at ease again, like I was misreading Jasper's body language a minute ago. I guess ever since Sue caught me with my legs around Edward and his hands up my dress, I've been pretty quick to assume we're more than a little transparent. "I am. I mean, there are a few classes that are pretty snooze-inducing, but I manage."

Jasper steps into the kitchen and sits across from me at the island while I continue chopping. There's a moment of silence between us, and the vibes that suddenly thicken the air in the room make my hands tremble slightly. Does he know? I guess it wouldn't surprise me if he picked up on something between Edward and me; he's always been pretty aware—even more so than Alice, sometimes.

Should I bring it up? What if he doesn't know? Then I'm just ratting myself out and putting him in the same precarious situation as Sue.

Every second that passes has my anxiety rising, and I find it hard to focus on the task of preparing dinner. I don't think it would be the end of the world if Jasper and Alice knew; I bet we'd feel a little better to be able to tell someone, but is now the best time?

I set the knife down again and raise my eyes to find Jasper looking at me; I can feel that he knows something. I don't want to lie to him, but I also don't want to admit to something he may or may not have figured out. So, taking a steady breath, I begin to say, "Jasper—"

He doesn't give me the opportunity to say . . . well, whatever it is I was going to say before he speaks up. "You don't have to say anything, Bella." He keeps his voice low and serious. "You seem happy, and you don't have to explain your relationship to me—or to anyone, for that matter. You feel what you feel, and outside opinions shouldn't factor into that." There's another dramatic pause, and I can tell he's not quite done. "But you should consider talking to your dad about it. It's obvious this bothers him, but I think it bothers him because you've kept it hidden. I know it doesn't make much sense, but by keeping this from him, I think you've validated his feelings of unease."

I don't realize I've been holding my breath until my lungs begin to burn.

"I plan to tell him," I manage to squeak out. "In the New Year. We're going to sit down and talk to him."

Jasper laughs lightly, pushing his curly blond hair back. "I'm not trying to tell you what to do, Bella. But I could sense the tension before everything came to a head last night. You and your dad have always been close, and I don't want to see you jeopardize that."

Seeming content with how the conversation has gone, Jasper stands up and starts back toward the living room. I'm left there, playing his conversation over and over in my head for a minute and totally understanding what he meant about my secrecy validating my dad's concerns. I'm glad that the holidays are almost over, and then Edward and I can sit down with my dad and tell him everything. Sure, there's going to be backlash, but we'll be ready to handle everything rationally by then, I think,

I pick up the knife and am just about to begin slicing the carrots again when something from our conversation registers for the first time: While he'd brought up our relationship, Jasper never mentioned Edward by name once. Does this mean he still has no idea? The looks he was giving the two of us earlier, as well as last night, would indicate he knows, but why wouldn't he say anything? Maybe he only suspects, and by not gaining confirmation, it makes everything easier to deny should he be questioned.

Yeah, let's go with that. Totally plausible.

My brain starts to hurt, and I pick up my wine, downing it in hopes it'll help. After pouring myself another glass, I finally buckle down and finish the vegetable prep so they'll be done on time.

Once dinner is ready, I put the call out for help with carving the turkey while I finish getting the table set and dishing up the side dishes. Dad volunteers Edward, which I find hilarious again.

I mean, really. If only he knew . . .

Edward and I work side-by-side in the kitchen, doing what probably looks like a well-choreographed dance as we move around each other to get dinner on the table. True, we've been stuck in the kitchen together many times before, but it never occurred to me just how in-tune we've always been with one another until now.

Dinner is amazing—and that's not me being biased about my own cooking. It's not just the food, but the company that makes it wonderful. All through dinner, I glance over at Jasper to see if I can pick up on whether or not he knows as much as I suspect he does. I want to ask him, but at the same time, I don't want to out our relationship if he has no idea.

I hate that I can't focus on anything else, and if I keep staring, people are going to probably start thinking I have a crush on him.

As if my current situation isn't complicated enough.

After dinner, Dad and Sue offer to clean up, and Sue enlists Seth and Leah to help. Naturally, they grumble and complain, but they're soon reminded how much Edward and I did to prepare the meal today.

Game. Set. Match. Parents: one. Whiney teenagers: zero.

Alice and Jasper tell us all that they have to head back to the city since they have plans with Jasper's family early tomorrow morning, so after saying goodbye and seeing them to the door, Edward and I head to the living room and sit a safe distance from each other on the couch. The only sounds filling the room are the crackle of the fire and the soft notes of Christmas carols from the stereo, and I sigh peacefully as I let the warmth of the fire and wine envelop me. I can hear the constant clatter of dishes and laughter from the kitchen, so knowing we're safe for now, I reach across the couch and lace my fingers through Edward's.

He responds with a smile, glancing toward the kitchen before lifting my hand to his lips and kissing it softly. "Merry Christmas, Bella," he whispers, letting our hands fall, still connected, to the couch, his thumb gliding over the back of my hand in a way that sends goosebumps prickling up my arm and spreading all over my body.

"Merry Christmas, Edward."

Smiling, I rest my head against the back of the couch and stare longingly into Edward's green eyes. We'd gotten through the day without slipping up. I'd say that's a small victory and we've earned the two minutes of hand-holding before we hear Leah and Seth crash through the house and into the living room, forcing us to pull apart.


A/N2: Well, they've made it through another day. What did you all think? I can't wait to hear!

We'll be headed back to Seattle soon, giving these two some apparently much-needed time alone before they talk to Charlie.

Until next time!

xoxo