"Edward has a girlfriend."

"Would you shut the fuck up already?"

"See? He doesn't even try to deny it."

Jasper grins at Alice mischievously. Teasing Edward has become his new favorite past time. He's been doing it ever since they arrived at bar thirty minutes ago. She scolds her boyfriend, telling him to ease up a little. It's been a long time since Alice has seen her brother so carefree. She welcomes the shift from his usual brooding, even if the cause is a major source of confusion for the rest of them.

Edward's argument is weak. "I do not have a girlfriend," he says.

"He spent the night at her apartment three times last week," Jasper says to Alice. "And again last night."

"So? How does that translate into having a girlfriend?"

Jasper looks between Edward and the redhead sitting a few tables away. She had approached theirs earlier, but Edward quickly told her he wasn't looking to meet anyone. "Prove me wrong."

Edward takes a second glance at the woman. Their eyes meet and she offers him a slight smile. Under usual circumstances it wouldn't take Jasper to convince him to pursue a pretty girl. In the not so distant past he'd taken a different one home every weekend, but that all seemed foreign to him now. He couldn't do that to Bella.

"That wouldn't prove I have a girlfriend. It would prove I'm an asshole," he says.

His sister scoffs. Jasper reminds him of the obvious. "Dude, you are an asshole."

"You're probably right." Edward rubs the back of his neck. "Bella will be here any minute though."

"Your girlfriend," Jasper says.

"My friend."

"Whatever, man." He throws his hands in the air. "It all seems way too complicated for me."

"It's not complicated at all," Edward argues. "That's the entire point."

He throws back the rest of his drink in hopes that it will somehow shift the conversation away from his relationship or lack thereof. Edward tries not to focus on the way his best friend's fingers slide playfully across his little sister's midriff or the open mouth kisses Jasper presses against Alice's collarbone. No matter how confusing Edward's own relationship status is, the fact that Alice is Jasper's girlfriend is glaringly obvious. Edward isn't yet accustomed to seeing his best friend and sister as a couple, and it's doubtful he ever will be.

Bella appears at that moment, falling into Edward's lap in the same way Alice sits on Jasper's. She throws her arms around Edward's neck and gives him a quick kiss to say hello. Since their dinner at Meyers two weeks ago, the two have grown very comfortable with various forms of PDA. Bella has also grown more comfortable with Jasper. She's seen him twice since their awkward first encounter at the boys' apartment, the details of which were mostly omitted to Alice.

"No way," Bella says after exchanging hellos. Edward mentioned Jasper having a girlfriend but hadn't specified who. "You guys are dating?"

"Unfortunately," Edward mutters.

His comment doesn't deter Alice. The opposition she receives from Edward concerning her relationship is minor compared to what she hears elsewhere. Jasper isn't good enough. He doesn't have an education, and he's definitely too old for her eighteen years. No one accepts their relationship, despite all of Jasper's desperate attempts to seek her family's approval.

Edward is different. Alice knows his dismay has little to do with who she's dating and more to do with the fact that she is. Edward has always been protective over his little sister, but deep down she knows he supports them. If he didn't, then they wouldn't be sitting together at a bar. He wouldn't accompany her to every single one of Jasper's shows or constantly make excuses to their parents as to her whereabouts.

Despite the seven year age gap, Alice has always been close to her brother. The fact that she has chosen to date someone exactly like him reflects that. It's also very telling of why her father disapproves so much.

"Edward is pissed because I have a girlfriend and he doesn't," Jasper says.

"I'm pissed because you can't find someone your own goddamn age to date."

"Age is just a number."

"She's eighteen," Edward explains to Bella. "Technically not even old enough to be in this bar. We're lucky she didn't get ID'd."

Bella jokes, "By who? The bar? Or your friend?"

Edward frowns. Jasper grins. "Hey, I know exactly how old she is."

"Only because I spent the night at your house the night she was born!"

Alice has finally had enough. "Can you guys please stop talking about me as if I'm not even here? Clearly my maturity level is higher than both of yours combined, therefore I think I'm old enough to decide who I date. Right, Bella?"

"Absolutely," she agrees. Edward tightens his grip on her waist. He's torn between being thankful for the extra support or scolding her for encouraging his sister.

A waitress stops by their table, interrupting, and Edward orders a few more drinks. Having grown very knowledgeable of Bella's likes and dislikes over the past few weeks, he doesn't hesitate before ordering for her and putting the drinks on his own tab. Bella has finally gotten past her urge to argue with Edward every time he pays. No matter what she says or does, she never wins. She's learned that it's easier to let certain things go and thanks him with the rolling of her eyes and a chaste kiss on his cheek.

"It's about time you show up," Alice says to Bella. "Where have you been all night?"

"I had to work late." She turns to Edward. "My boss is such a douche."

Edward isn't about to argue with that. Bella used to like her boss, but he's grown increasingly needy over the past few weeks. She's doing more and more work, and at the same time Jacob is doing considerably less. Her annoyance is only compounded by the fact that she'd suddenly rather spend all of her evenings with Edward. While working late used to be an option, lately it's been more of a necessity.

"Are you still working on the benefit?" Alice asks. The boys exchange a glance.

Bella doesn't notice. "Wow, I can't believe you remember that." She remembers having mentioned it to Alice the first time they met, but that had been weeks ago. "Yes, I am, and I'm so sick of it. It's only three weeks away and we still have so many last minute details to cover."

"That sucks. Do you at least know what you're wearing?"

"Ugh, no. I haven't even had a chance to look. Why? Do you want to help me pick something out?"

"Seriously?" Alice asks. "Do you want me to?"

Bella looks to Edward before responding in case he has any objections. She isn't sure if hanging out with Alice oversteps some sort of invisible boundary, but judging from the attentive look on his face he doesn't seem to mind. Edward understands Bella's need for female company; he'd love to see Bella in a sexy dress but isn't exactly interested in helping her pick one out. "Sure. I could use someone else's opinion."

A look of excitement flashes across Alice's face. She claps her hands together. "Oh my gosh, this is going to be so much fun."

Jasper and Edward laugh. "For one of you, at least," Edward jokes, and Bella begins to wonder what she's gotten herself into.

A bouncer approaches their table. "How's everybody doing? Can I please see some IDs?"

The four of them exchange a glance. "Shit," Alice mutters under her breath after a few seconds of digging through her purse. "I must have left mine in my car."

It takes everything in Bella's power not to smirk at the blatant lie as she hands her own ID over to be inspected. Edward and Jasper do the same. "You three are good to go." The bouncer sets his sights on their underage friend. "You, on the other hand, need to leave the premises immediately."

"Seriously?" Jasper steps up to defend his girlfriend. "She's not even drinking."

"I don't make the rules, buddy."

"But you can choose whether or not to enforce them," he argues.

Alice tries to defuse the situation. "It's fine."

He looks down at her. "It's not fine. Bella just got here."

"I need to get home anyway," Alice says. "Curfew and all."

The bouncer raises his eyebrows. Jasper sighs. "Fine. Are you guys coming?" he asks.

Edward glares at him for putting them on the spot. Hanging out at his parents house all night isn't exactly how he had intended on spending his evening, nor is he ready for the onslaught of questions that will indefinitely arise. Jasper knows this. He flashes Edward an arrogant smirk, and Bella knows there's something left unsaid. Edward is forced to extend the invitation to her, knowing if he doesn't, it'll likely make her even more suspicious. "Do you want to?"

Bella hesitates. A lot of lines she's okay with crossing: public displays of affection, sleepovers, paying for meals. But the possibility of meeting Edward's mom absolutely terrifies her, both because of the impression she might make and what it would mean for Edward and Bella's relationship.

"Maybe some other time," she suggests, causing Edward to breathe a sigh of relief. She assumes that he, too, is not willing or ready to take that step. They depart the bar, and the two couples go their separate ways, with Alice scolding Jasper the entire way home.

"You should really stop smoking," Bella says to Edward as they walk the short distance between the station and her apartment. She's never approached the topic with him before, but lately it's become more and more of an annoyance.

He brings the cigarette to his lips for a long drag before tossing it aside. "Or maybe you could start."

"No thanks." She rolls her eyes. "I'd rather not die of lung cancer. It'd kind of be nice if you didn't either."

"Kind of nice?" He laughs. "Thanks, babe."

She slaps him on the shoulder. "I'm being serious!"

They enter Bella's apartment building and start up the stairs. "Bella, my dad had lung cancer," Edward says.

"And?"

"He never smoked a day in his life."

"So? That makes it even worse. You're genetically predisposed."

"We're all going to die anyway. Might as well enjoy ourselves while we're at it," he says. She looks at him with irritation and reaches for her keys.

"There are better ways to enjoy life."

"Right. Like always working late for your douche bag boss and fucking a guy you initially assumed to be homeless."

They walk into Bella's apartment. Edward locks the door behind them as she throws her keys onto the counter. She turns to face him. "But not really."

The two wrap their arms around each other and Edward presses his lips to hers, their previous impasse forgotten. The kiss is lengthy and passionate with neither willing to pull away first. Coming home with Bella after a long day is just what Edward needs to feel relaxed and at ease. Chicago isn't so lonely when she's around, but when hands begin to wander, the forefront of their relationship is brought back into the spotlight.

This is about sex. It's not a meaningful relationship, though sometimes Edward wishes it were.

"You're so nice to my sister," Edward says when he and Bella are finally in bed. "I love that about you."

Bella breaks away from the trail of kisses she's placing along his jawline. "I can't believe you're talking about your sister right now."

"Sorry," he apologizes. After their kiss in the kitchen, Bella and Edward had broken into a long forgotten bottle of vodka in her freezer. She begins to wonder if doing so was a mistake as Edward continues, "It's just that I worry about her, you know?"

Bella sighs quietly, unsure of why Edward is choosing now of all times for a heart-to-heart conversation. Their clothes lay discarded on Bella's bedroom floor, the bottle of vodka half-empty. She rolls onto her side and he does the same. "Do you want to talk about it?" she asks.

Edward is suddenly very serious. "Bella, I have to tell you something."

"Now?"

"My dad..." he hesitates, losing his courage. Edward's conscious is heavy, but the vodka isn't enough to make the words flow. Bella sees the conflict in his eyes. She doesn't need him to finish the sentence for her to know the obvious: Edward's dad didn't make it.

"Shh," she says, placing her finger over his lips. "It's okay. You don't have to say it."

Edward is ready to object. He wants to continue with his confession, but when Bella brings her lips to his all thoughts are pushed aside. He gets lost in the way she tastes and how his skin tingles as hands begin to wander. She pushes Edward onto his back and continues along the trail she'd started before his odd interruption.

His eyes close. The anticipation builds with every brush of her lips against his skin. Each time she drifts a little lower, from his neck to his chest, chest to stomach, and then farther. Bella looks up at him daringly before swiping her tongue along the tip of his member. She takes him into her mouth.

"Oh, fuck."

The contact causes Edward's entire body to shudder. He steadies his nerves by grabbing Bella by the hair and gripping it tightly. She takes him deeper with every bob of her head, and after a while Edward loses all self-control and begins to thrust. Having gotten his fair share of blow jobs over the past few years, he's no stranger to the way it feels. Edward would be hard pressed to complain about any girl who is willing to let him fuck her mouth, but Bella takes pleasure to another level.

It only figures that someone so good at giving head would ruin it by refusing to swallow.

"Baby, stop."

It takes every ounce of his willpower in order to force the words out. And to push her head away when she doesn't immediately comply. She'd specified that she wouldn't swallow, but did that mean she didn't want him to come in her mouth? He isn't sure. But it doesn't matter, because as much as the idea of doing either excites him, he isn't ready for it to end.

Bella's expression is questioning; she wonders if she's done something wrong.

Edward sees her insecurity and puts it to rest. His hands move to her hair again, but this time he gently tucks it behind her ear. "You're fucking amazing. You know that right?"

Edward rolls over and reaches into Bella's nightstand, the contents of which he's become very familiar with over the past two weeks. He grabs the last condom from it's spot next to her vibrator, taking note that while an entire box has been depleted, she likely hasn't had a reason to use her toy at all. Edward briefly ponders all of the ways they could work it into their nightly routine, but most of his ideas push the limits of what's acceptable in their still new non-relationship.

Bella lies on her back and waits as Edward slides the rubber onto his shaft, realizing for the first time that she would feel one hundred percent safe if he opted to skip the extra protection. She takes her birth control religiously and trusts him when he says he's clean. It's only a formality for her at this point, and something she's going along with to make Edward feel more comfortable. She doubts he's willing to take the risk, having made it very clear that he never goes bare.

Edward is grateful for the condom, but only because he's grateful for the extra time it gives him to calm down. He knows that had he gone straight from Bella's mouth to her pussy, and bare, he would have shot his load almost immediately. As much as Edward would love to do that—in her mouth, pussy, or elsewhere—it isn't his intention to come before she does.

And when she does come, it's nothing short of earth-shattering and everything she needs to be eternally content with the man sharing her bed; the one who is quickly becoming more than just a fuck-buddy, but also her closest friend.