Hi! This was my contribution to the Fandom For Twifan G compilation.

Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight


The Girl in the Blue Dress

It's when the pieces in your life don't fit, when they're swollen, bent up, misshapen, cracked, that you know something has to change. I think everyone feels this at some point, maybe several points—like the points of a star, at the edge of a moment just before you take a turn. But not everyone takes a turn by packing a suitcase and moving across the country the way I did.

"Put this on. We're going out." A flick of her head tosses her blond hair over her shoulder as she tosses what looks like a piece of fabric at me. It's tiny and black and I don't know how she ever fit into it.

"Is this yours?" I hold the thing up, draping it off my thumb.

"No, it's Emmett's. What do you think? Put it on."

"I'm not wearing this... belt, or whatever it is." I throw it back at her and then throw myself back on her unmade bed.

"It's a skirt."

"I don't feel like going out again. Not again."

"We're going out." She clamps what she calls a skirt back on the hanger. "If you're going to run away, you're going to do it properly. Pick something else out."

Is that what I'm doing? Running away? I didn't think of it like that when I transferred my plane ticket, but now that I'm here—and considering the reason for my alternate destination—maybe running away is exactly what I'm doing.

Running away from Jake.

But I won't think of him. Whatever reason brought me to New York, to wallow and think of him is not one of them. I nudge past my sister in her little room, her butt sticking out as she's bent over her vanity mirror applying blush to her cheeks, and I start rifling through her closet. She complains about my bumping her, says I'm lucky it wasn't mascara she was applying; she'd have poked her eye out.

"Don't you have anything that isn't black?" I push more dresses out of the way. Black silk, black lace, black and white chevron stripes. I stretch at that one. Is that spandex material? No, thank you.

She stands up straight. Even without heels she's six inches taller than me, and with heels, forget it, I have to crane my neck to look at her. And she loves her heels. She's always seemed to love her height, too, even when most of her boyfriends were shorter than her. But not Emmett. He's the first boyfriend I've met who's actually a whole head taller than her.

So she's my big sister in more than just age: six inches taller, five years older.

"What's wrong with black?" She pulls another little black number out and holds it up to me.

"Nothing. I just want something to bring out my eyes." I widen my eyes at her.

She laughs at my joke. I have brown eyes, we both do. Our similarities stop at our eyes, though—well, and maybe our laugh. My mom once told me that I laugh like Rosalie. I took it as a compliment. But while she has blond hair, mine is brown, and while I might be able to borrow a dress, I'd never be able to borrow her size nine shoes. I'd look like a child playing dress up—might as well drape myself in layers of fake pearls.

We share a father, but have different mothers. And growing up, we only saw each other a few weeks out of the year when she would come to visit us in Forks. She would help decorate our fake Christmas tree while she talked about her real one back home and how it smelled. Late at night, hearing the rustling of paper, I snuck to the top of the stairs and leaned over the edge of the railing, the flashing of the tree lights blinking colors at me as I tried to eavesdrop. I couldn't see them because they were in the kitchen, but I knew Rose was down there helping my mom wrap my presents. I thought maybe they were presents from Santa, because I thought maybe Santa wasn't real. I went back to bed with a tired smile on my face, realizing that Rose was Santa. I was okay with that. The rest of the year she lived with her mom in Arizona. If I end up staying here in New York all summer as planned, it'll be the longest stretch of time Rose and I have ever spent with each other at once.

"How about this one?" She holds up a dress that actually has color. It's light blue, almost aqua, and while it's short, it will completely cover my ass.

I take it from her and slip it on. It's slightly big on me because while Rose is as thin as a rail, she has sky-high legs. But that's okay. I prefer the dress a little bit looser and a little bit longer anyway. I start lifting my hair into a ponytail. Rose pulls at my wrists. "Wear it down."

My hair tumbles over my shoulders and down my back as I let go. "But it's a mess."

"I like it like that." She ruffles a hand through my hair making it messier. "Hot. Steamy."

I look in the mirror, smoothing it down. "I'm not going for steamy." I run her brush through my hair. "Not tonight."

"You don't even know, Bella. You can't help that."

I turn to her.

"You are my sister, aren't you?" She kisses my cheek. "Come on. Let's have a glass of wine before we go." Taking my hand, she pulls me into the kitchen.

The apartment is small but not miniscule. There's only one bedroom, though, so I've been nooked—designated a little corner area of the living room with a twin bed and a room divider. I'm across from the bathroom, too close for my comfort. On the nights my sister sleeps at Emmett's, I take her bed.

After a glass of wine, we wave over a taxi and head to this bar where Rose and her friends are regulars.

The bar is up a few flights of stairs. Low-lit brass chandeliers hang over tables, and the walls are the color of blood—except for the wall of tinted windows on one side which seem to darken the room more. The floor, bar, and tables are all a deep walnut wood, and any doors are black.

I've met most of the people here, but there are always more to meet. This group Rose hangs out with, they're from all over the country—moved here for different reasons, away from family, so they've formed a family of their own. A very tight-knit group that welcomed me so easily I fell in love—not with any individual but just the familial feeling. I guess I needed that.

I've been standing at the edge of the bar now for over fifteen minutes, refusing to go anywhere else. I just can't do it.

The problem is, I'm missing my underwear, and not necessarily by choice. I started the night secure in my little lace panties, and now they're gone. I cross my legs.

When we first arrived, Alice had come over to me for a hug as soon as she spotted me. She's one of the few people who are shorter than I am, but she has strong arms and hugs tight. I tried to breathe.

"Hey," I said. She hugged tighter and I coughed.

"I told you to be ready for that." She backed up, chiding me with a finger.

"Nobody can be ready for that." I tugged on her furry fox hat. It had perky ears and plastic eyes. "What are you wearing?"

She slipped it off, weaving her fingers through black wisps, reshaping her hair. "Cute, right? Jasper gave it to me tonight. Bought it off some street-vendor."

Someone slapped a kiss on my cheek. "Bella," Emmett said. "We've got a plan to help your sister out."

I tilted my head way up at him. If he were to spread those big, buff arms of his straight out, I probably could have walked right under them, even in my heels. "Help her with what?"

"Money."

"She needs money?"

"Last I heard, no more job, no more money. Am I wrong? Money fallin' from the sky these days, Sweets?"

She lost her job? This was news to me. It would've been nice to have known this before I arrived to sponge off her. She told me she took some vacation days to hang out with me. The liar.

Jasper reached between us to hand me a drink, a vodka gimlet. After only five days, he already knew what I liked. I thanked him, lifting it to my lips.

"So, you're in on this, too?"

"A dance contest," he said, throwing an arm around Alice, and a kiss to her temple. "All the girls will get up on the bar and dance."

I looked at the bar, hoping they didn't expect me to dance. Wasn't going to happen, no way. I'd have to drink way too much just to attempt it, and then I'd probably fall off the bar and crack my neck. I reached back to rub my neck; it throbbed at the thought.

"I'll collect the money," Emmett said.

Alice slipped her arm between mine. "Guys'll pay to see this."

"Everyone in the bar casts a vote." Jasper pulled a bunch of torn paper squares out of his pocket. "Winner gets the money."

"And Rosalie will win," Alice said.

"How do you know?" I asked.

"Even if she doesn't get the most votes, she wins."

As I took a sip of my drink, I glanced around the place. I wasn't even really looking, just taking a minute to let everything they were saying sink in as the cool liquid sunk down my throat. But I spotted this guy at the far end of the bar near the window. Tall. Dark hair that kind of curled loosely at the top. He was handing out drinks at his table, plunking them down in front of people, and he had this smile on his face, and there was something about him. I couldn't pull my eyes away. I started to wonder if he was an actor. This was New York and Rose once told me she'd met John Cusack in this bar, said she turned him down when he asked her to go to a party with him. I told her she was crazy for turning him down and she agreed. But she doesn't sleep with actors. She's not that kind of girl, she told me.

That guy, though, he turned to look in my direction and he had these eyes that even from here, even without seeing their color, they could pierce me. They narrowed just slightly, and like pensive and just... smoking, and those lips that seconds ago were smiling. I wanted to know what color his eyes were. I was either in total denial or a half-wit because I didn't even think for half a second that he was looking at me. But then he smiled. And definitely at me. And he raised his glass.

I averted my eyes fast. Didn't even return the smile. And that I regretted. Why couldn't I have at least returned the smile? I wanted a do-over right then so I could at least smile and not look like some ogling idiot. I spoke to distract myself, and maybe to show that guy I was distracted all along, never saw him. Nope. Never.

"So, it's rigged? Why not just have the girls dance and give Rose the money?"

"We don't want her to know it's rigged," Emmet said. "She might not dance."

Now, in the span of eight minutes I had two secrets to keep from my sister. One: I knew she had lost her job but didn't tell me. And two: the contest is rigged. I was pretty sure she'd dance either way, but I didn't say it. If they wanted this to be a contest, so be it.

Emmett was already shoving a hat in people's faces asking for money.

"You dancin', Sister?" Rose bumped my hip with hers. She had to bend her knees to do it.

Glass to my mouth, it hit my teeth and I shook my head.

"Didn't think so. I need your underwear, then." She plucked at the strap of my dress.

"What?" I asked with a mouthful of liquid. I swallowed. It seemed like there was more lime in this one than usual. Or maybe the taste seemed less strong because this was my second drink. Whatever, it was good. I took another gulp.

"I'm not wearing underwear and I gotta dance on the bar. I need some. Come on, be a sister."

I slammed my empty glass down on the bar and pulled her hand, leading her to the bathroom. "Man, you have got to start wearing underwear!"

I bursted through the bathroom door. Some girls were snorting bumps off their fisted hands. I tried not to notice, or show that I noticed.

This was something you definitely did not see in Forks.

Even at college in Washington, I didn't see much of that. They were much more discreet about it there, at least going into a stall for it.

"You know I hate pantylines of any sort, and this dress? You can see them no matter what. The strap over the hip, and in front. I don't like that."

It was a really tight dress, the material thin. I could sort of see her point.

I closed myself into a stall and pulled down my panties—relieved I'd changed into new ones before we left—and stepped out of them, trying to balance myself and not get them caught up on the heel of my shoe.

I shook my head at Rose as I exited the stall, handed over the panties, and she went in. "Don't want them back 'til they're washed," I said.

And now, here I am, standing at the edge of the bar as the girls select their music with the bartender, and possibly the cutest guy in New York keeps looking over in my direction while I'm hyper aware of the fact that I'm in a short dress without any underwear. And his eyes, from way over there, I can feel them on me. I chance a glance. Those eyes. Those lips. Eyes are usually more my thing, everything they say without saying a word. But those lips, they say things, too, without even moving. But they do move. I see them part and his eyes squint. I take another drink. What is this now? Four? Five?

I'm on vacation, I think. It's fine.

Music starts up, and this girl I know as Lauren climbs up onto the bar.

"No shoes," Mike the bartender says. She shakes them to the floor and starts dancing slow and strange, kind of bouncy, which seems hard to do, a slow but bouncy dance, but she does it. I think she's trying to shake her ass or her boobs, or maybe both. Her arms wave in opposite time, and she leans into the movement, swaying. She smiles like she's been joking around the whole time, covers her face, clears her throat, fluffs up her amber hair and climbs down.

Alice dances next with her fox hat on, and then they try to get Heidi to dance, but she won't because she works here, so someone else goes, and last is my sister. She's this tall, gorgeous thing up there, and she really is a good dancer, though barely moving. She turns around, her hands climbing up her body, and she raises them high above her head, and one comes down, touching a finger to her lip, and I don't think any guys in here are breathing. She's the winner. I know this before the votes are cast. There was no need for rigging.

Everyone claps, some people shout, some whistle, some ask for more.

Jasper collects the votes and I tell Rose she won as she throws back a shot.

"Votes aren't counted yet," she says, dropping her empty glass to the bar.

"No need for counting."

I order another drink.

Jasper has a strange smile on his face as he leans toward me. "You got a vote."

"Shut up. I did not."

"Yeah. Someone voted for the girl in the blue dress who didn't dance." He gestures at me up and down. "That's you."

"You're such a liar!" I push at his shoulder, then catch him aiming a glance over my head like someone's there.

And someone is there. I feel it.

"I was waiting for you to dance." The voice, deep and close, comes from behind me, and it's his voice, the guy with the eyes. Even if I've never heard him speak, I know it's his, and something runs up my spine that feels like fingers, but all that has touched me is a voice. If I turn around, he'll be right there. "You didn't dance."

I turn and I now know the color of his eyes, green and liquidy and deep-set, and right here. My stomach somersaults and I can't look away. I'm caught. As long as he's looking, I'm looking back.

"No," I try to say.

He smiles and I sink down to the bar stool. But then, remembering my missing panties, I'm on my feet again.

"Why didn't you?"

"Too shy." I tug at the hem of my dress. Can he tell I'm not wearing panties? Does he know?

He leans in closer, lips to my ear. Those lips. Too much of my hair is in the way for me to really feel his lips, and the barrier makes his breath seem hotter than it probably is. My hand covers my heart in an attempt to calm it down. "I voted for you anyway." Goosebumps race up my arms.

"What?" I look over at Jasper.

"Told ya." He nods at me and takes a drink.

"I totally thought he was lying!" I say to the stranger, this guy.

"It's true." He laughs, a little nervous, rubbing the side of his face. "I voted for the beautiful girl in the blue dress."

"You mean the girl in the blue dress."

He squints at me, turning his head a little.

Jasper hands me the square of paper, and there it is, the word beautiful.

I fold the paper up until it's teeny-tiny and I can't fold anymore, and I look down embarrassed because this guy, he's still looking at me.

He slips the note—his vote—from my fingers, introducing himself as Edward and offers out a hand. I shake it; it's warm and smooth.

"I'm Bella."

"Are you - I mean, is your boyfriend here?" He gives my hand a small tug like he's trying to pull the answer out of me.

I shake my head.

"Because he's somewhere else, or...?" He drops my hand.

"I..." Do I have a boyfriend? Jake. I didn't break up with him. I told him I was leaving, that I needed time away. But I never said it was over. I didn't know then. I remember the email I received two days ago, more apologies, more begging me to come back, come home. I know I'm not going back to him. But he doesn't know this yet. Is this fair? Is it fair?

I look at this Edward and he looks so good, and it isn't fair to Jake, no matter what. "I don't know."

"Let me-"

My drink is delivered, and Edward with the green eyes and the voice and the questions I can't answer picks it up and hands it to me. He turns the little red straw around so that it's facing me. I bring it to my mouth.

"Let me try a different question. Will you have dinner with me?" He leans forward, resting his hand on the bar beside me. I glance at his forearm, flexing, and my gaze sweeps up to his bicep pushing against his shirt sleeve.

My heart picks up all over again. I pull down at my dress, take a sip of my drink, and I know I want to say yes.

"I'm..." I let go of my dress, my fingers finding the center of my forehead, my nails digging into my skin, my eyes close. "My life is complicated right now."

He stands up straight, backing away from me a bit. "How about you tell me about your complicated life over dinner?" He says this like it's the easiest thing, like he's asked me what the weather's like outside. "Or you can hear about my complicated life. Or we can talk about how good the wine is at Le Vigne." His smile is small, persuasive.

I take a deep breath and try to give him some truth. "I'm kind of in a relationship. I mean, I'm on my way out, but the door isn't closed yet, you know?"

"Okay, so should I cross voting for the beautiful girl who didn't dance off my list of ways to pick up a chick in a bar?" He laughs but then his face falls serious again. "I wasn't supposed to be here tonight. I was supposed to be at a bar two buildings over, but they've been shut down. So my buddies and I ended up here." He points to the floor. "And it's a slow place, isn't it? Not a big crowd, so they wanted to take off. But I saw you." He gestures to me. "And I talked them into one drink. Well, then the dancing started so we all decided to stay, right?"

I nod as if I'm confirming this, as if I know.

"And you don't dance." He shakes his head.

I nod again.

"And you're very intriguing. So all of this adds up to something."

"What?"

"I don't think I should walk away from you just because your closing door is left a little open." He wrinkles up his nose like something stinks. It's so cute. I almost feel my hand reaching for his nose.

I want to tell him not to walk away, but all I do is stare and wait for what he says next.

"Look, we can go to dinner, we'll have some wine and we'll talk. That's it. What do you say? If you say no, I go. See those guys over there?" He points to his table over by the window where three guys are sitting looking unhappy, impatient. "They're ready to go."

"Okay."

"'Okay, get outta here,' or, 'Okay, pick me up at seven tomorrow night?'" His eyes squint with his grin. Why am I wondering what his grin would feel like against my lips?

I laugh, maybe a little too hard, maybe because the liquor is swirling around in my head making me swirly, maybe because this guy I don't want to give up on me isn't. "You're good at this."

"I'm not playing a game here. I want to take you out, and if it's two strangers just talking and becoming, you know, non-strangers, then that's what it is."

"Okay." I nod at him, confirming this decision with myself. "Pick me up at seven." I give him my sister's address and he enters it into his phone.

"Goodnight, Bella," he says, and I sort of wave and then after he walks away I say, "Goodnight, Edward."

.

Choosing what to wear on a non-date dinner should not be this difficult. It shouldn't take half an hour and three try-ons to decide not to wear jeans. I have all my clothes spilled all over my sister's bed in a tornado of color. I refuse to wear anything of hers.

I decide that a dress is probably best, so I pick up one of the only ones I brought along with me. It's kind of casual, sleeveless, patterned with a strange design in coppers and rusts, cream and brown. It's comfortable and cool, not too casual, not trying too hard, and I think perfect for a hot night like tonight. I pull it on, ask Rose to zip it up and there's a keyhole cut-out back there and she ties that for me, too. Before she yells at me for making a mess of her bed, I start putting my clothes away in this small chest of drawers she lent me—hardly bigger than a nightstand. But I didn't bring much with me anyway, so a little bit of stuffing does the trick and the drawers close.

I brush my hair out smooth and slip a headband in. Rose guides me by my shoulder blades to her vanity seat, sits me down, pulls the headband off my head, tosses it against the wall, rubs some coconut oil stuff between her hands and then works it through the ends of my hair.

As she's concentrating on my hair, I look at her through the mirror. "Why didn't you tell me you lost your job?"

She finds my eyes through the reflection, pauses for a beat, and then shrugs. "It's not that big a deal. I got a severance check, and I'll find another job."

She gives the ends of my hair a few more passes with the brush.

"Better," she says. "You're beautiful."

I add some lip color and then I'm ready, sitting on the sofa, flipping through the channels, waiting. I called Jacob earlier, trying to close that door. Over the phone wasn't the ideal way to go about it, but it was better than questioning myself and feeling guilty all night.

"I'm not coming home," I said, my voice quaking, some fault in my heart shifting at the finality of what I was saying.

"Never? You're moving away?"

"I don't know yet, but I'm not going back home. I mean, don't wait for me, Jake. Let me go."

He hung up on me.

But that door's closed, my star shifting.

.

Edward's standing at the open door in jeans and a button down shirt, his curls gelled into waves at the top of his head.

"You look-" we both start at the same time.

"Okay," I say.

"I look okay?"

"I mean, no." I cover my eyes for just a second. "More than okay. You look... really good."

"You look really good, too," he says. "Really, really good."

"All right, kids, you're both gorgeous," Rosalie says. "Now that that's been established..." she gestures to the door, in a not-so-subtle suggestion that we leave.

"Be good to her," she tells Edward, before giving me a kiss on the cheek as if she's my mom. Or maybe she's just my loving, protective sister. I kiss her back.

Edward places a hand on my back as we walk through the sticky late-night humidity to the restaurant. "It's around the corner," he says, pointing. I watch his finger.

In the restaurant, he reaches an arm over the candle for my glass, pours my wine first and then his. And then he asks me about Jake. What went wrong, is what he asked.

Of course I've heard never to talk about other guys or past guys or exes on dates, but this is a non-date, and he's asked, and it feels good to just talk about it.

And he listens, looking into my eyes, sometimes nodding.

Jake and I were together for five years, all through college. We started living together last year.

I tell Edward about the way Jake started going out with his friends all the time, leaving me at home, and returning high. I tell him about the final straw before I left.

"We were planning a trip to Colorado to visit his dad."

Edward nods and sips his wine.

It was the weekend before we were supposed to fly. He was going out with his friends, yet again.

"Don't go," I told him, like I usually did.

He laughed, like he usually did. It wasn't the kind of laugh that made fun of me, it was the nervous kind, like he didn't know what to say because whatever he said, it wasn't going to be what I wanted to hear. Still, his laugh told me enough. He was going. But this last time I took it further.

"I'm serious, don't go." I put my hand on his arm like that could keep him there, like he was made of helium and all it took to lock him to the ground was my hand. "Please. Stay home tonight."

"I already have plans, Bella. They're expecting me."

But I had expectations, too.

I started begging him to stay, tears and everything. I yelled after him as he walked out the door, and when that door swung closed, that was it. I got on the phone and talked to my sister and told her I wanted to leave Jacob. She told me to come to New York. That night when Jacob came home, I announced I was leaving, I needed time away, to think, and that I wasn't going to Colorado with him. It was after three AM when he stopped asking why and got into bed with me, lay on his side and started crying.

"Don't go," he said. "I'm sorry," he said. "I'll stay home more," he said. He dropped his head to my shoulder.

"It's too late for that." I was crying, too. While the decision was made, it wasn't an easy one to stick to. I wavered over it a few times, thought about actually staying, but I knew I couldn't. If he made things right, started treating me right, it would just start all over again in a couple of weeks. We'd been there before. It was a cycle that would never stop.

I'd been pushed to the point of my star.

I had to go.

In the morning I took off in my car for my dad's house and Jake stood there watching me go, wiping his eyes.

It seemed like I needed to turn on the windshield wipers, but they were just tears I was looking through as I drove.

"And here I am," I say to Edward.

He doesn't say anything about Jake, not bad or good. "I get why you had a hard time deciding about tonight."

I push some pasta around on my plate, no longer hungry. I make little designs in it, watch how the noodles bend and curve by the push of my fork. I've felt like these noodles before—bending and curving to somebody else's whim.

"I'm glad you came."

"Me, too." I smile.

As we pass building after building on our way back to Rose's apartment, Edward says he doesn't want the night to end yet. "Do you want to do something else?"

I think about what we can do. I'm not feeling into crowds. There are people on the streets, always someone, but the night is quiet. "It sounds nice to just grab a bottle of wine and sit in the park on a bench. Drink and look at the stars."

He laughs and I stop walking. "What?"

"We can't do that here; we'll get arrested."

"Oh, really?" I feel a little taken aback by my own naïveté. I guess something that's easy to get away with in Forks is not so easy here in New York. And there's something that strikes me about the way Edward, tall and confident, funny and cocky, wants to abide by the law. I like it. It explains so much about him without him having to tell me. Tall and confident, funny and cocky... I can add honest to the list.

"I have wine at my place, and we can sit out on my balcony. No bench. But I have chairs, fresh air and stars." He looks my way.

"You have stars?"

"My very own."

Again, I pause in my step. "I can't - I can't sleep with you tonight."

"I wasn't thinking of that." He runs his fingers through his hair and looks away. "I mean, yeah, I thought about it, but I know it isn't going to happen. I wasn't expecting it to happen. You just wanted wine and I have some." His hand falls from his hair back to his side and his eyes make contact with mine. I agree to go to his place.

Fingers to my elbow, his touch tunnels through my bones, racing all the way up to the top of my neck, as he guides me toward a cab. He opens the cab door for me, following me in. Sliding into my seat, scooting over for Edward, I wonder just how far I have to scoot. I don't move all the way to the other seat, and he moves farther over than he probably normally would, so we're sitting arm to arm.

It occurs to me, on the ride to his place, that all the while I was telling him about Jake, the first time I've spoken of him since I arrived in New York, I didn't cry. Didn't even feel like crying. I made the right decision closing that door. Even if Jake hung up on me. It isn't like I could have flown back to tell him in person. It was all I could do. It was right.

.

Edward lives on the upper East side. His building is beautiful and huge, a creamy color that, with the lights shining on it, looks like marble, but when I get closer, I see it's stone. His isn't a walk-up like Rose's. We take an elevator until it chimes and stops at eighteen.

I can see the reflection of my shoes in his wood floor. There are steps that go down to the living room and we walk through it. More steps go down to the kitchen. We don't go in there.

I want to know what he does for a living. How does he afford this place?

"Two of the guys from last night?" he says. "Ben and Eric. Live here, too." He motions to two closed doors.

There are no sounds coming from anyone but Edward and me. I know we're alone.

I look around. Everything is so clean, remarkably clean. I can't believe a group of guys live here. I voice this.

Grabbing a bottle of wine from behind a black bar, he answers. "I might've made them help me clean up."

I eye him, my head tilting. A partial smile seems to sneak its way onto his lips.

He pours two glasses full. "No, I didn't plan this." He offers a glass to me. "I mean, maybe I sort of hoped. So, yeah, I guess I planned this."

Taking the glass, I laugh at his nervous explanation. I bring the glass to my lips and he leads me to his room, which has a step up into it. And from here we slip out to the balcony, sit on the chairs, and check out the sky.

"No stars," I say.

He leans a little closer to me. "Not without that." He points at a thick telescope in a corner.

We move over to it. He looks through first, positions it, and then motions for me to have a look. "Do You see those three in a cluster?" he asks.

"Yeah."

"Those are mine."

"Must be nice to have stars of your own." I look up at him. "How ever do you afford them?"

"I work in advertising."

I think about that, how he works in advertising, probably making really good money and still shares an apartment with two other guys. New York is a crazy-expensive place to live.

Back in our chairs, sipping wine, I tell him that I teach kindergarten. I'll have to find a job here, even if it ends up just a summer job, even if it isn't teaching. Will I be living in a living room nook? I suppose I'm willing to, for now.

"You're a teacher?" He leans forward, forearm resting on his knees, his hands folding, fingers twining, and then untwining. I watch them and nod. "A teacher," he says and leans back, hands linking behind his head. The sleeves of his shirt fall back and I watch his trim biceps flex. They look smooth and like I want to run my hands along them. Other urges can't be stopped, they build from there, like slipping my fingers into his wavy hair. "That's sexy." He raises his eyebrows and looks down at me.

It makes me laugh. Teaching has to be the most unsexy job around. I get paint stains on my hands, I wipe noses, I help tie dirty shoe laces, I scrub dried glue off tables. I don't tell him any of this. Let him think it's sexy.

The night is still warm, and out here the air is fresh. It smells like nothing. Or it smells like the wine I'm sipping as I bring the glass to my lips again. Woodsy and sweet, like a fruit tree if you sniffed along the branch, up to the leaf, up to the ripening fruit—just like that, in that order. Like the air outside, the wine's warm going down, coating, settling inside me, making me giddy, so happy to be here looking over at Edward, talking with him, knowing him like this—like we're the only two people under the stars. I don't realize I'm smiling at him until he smiles back. I look at his grinning lips, reddened by wine and my fingers sweep along my own.

"You're not listening to me." He's shaking his head but still smiling.

"What makes you say that?"

"The way you're looking at me. You're thinking about something. What is it?"

On a blink, I avert my eyes.

"What is it?" He nudges my wrist.

I meet his gaze. "I think about your eyes a lot."

His grin pulls wider.

"And your lips."

"I like that. I like your thoughts." He takes my wine glass, setting it next to his on the small table beside him. And then the fingers that used to hold the stem of my glass are in his hand. He's looking at me and my breath catches, my heart banging at my chest as if it wants out. "What else? What else are you thinking? Right now?" His fingers trace up and down along mine. And every touch from him makes its way into my stomach.

Despite the wine, I'm still a little shy to say exactly what I'm thinking. A deep breath is followed by a quiet voice. "I meant what I said about not sleeping together, but I..." I glance at his mouth and then meet his eyes. "I really want to know what your lips feel like."

He smiles for a little while longer, but as his eyes deepen into mine, his smile fades. He turns in his seat and I turn in mine. Our knees touch. His fingers brush over my hair around the side of my head, and he moves in closer, guiding my head toward him so that we meet halfway. Lips graze my cheekbone and follow it down.

"How do they feel?" His voice is quiet and deep in a way I haven't heard yet, in a way that makes my stomach tighten up and my toes tense. His lips slip to the corner of mine, and I'm the one who turns, pressing into him, wanting more, melting against him, and he catches me in his arms, holding me as our kiss grows.

He breaks the kiss and leans back in his chair. I lean back in mine. And we're both smiling at each other.

"It's late," he says.

"Oh." I sit up straight, start to stand. "I should-"

"Stay." He puts his hand on top of mine and I relax back in my chair. "I want you to stay tonight."

I want to stay, too, but I don't know if I should, if it's a good idea. What are ideas anyway? The kiss, the lips, the tongue, the fingers, Edward, those are the only ideas that make sense right now.

"Will you stay?" He stands up and reaches for my hand. "I promise I won't-" the corner of his mouth twitches into a smile "-pressure you into anything."

I take his hand.

He lends me a T-shirt, stark white and cool and so soft when I pull it on. It smells like Downy and I kind of love that he uses fabric softener. I want to learn more about what he uses, more about him. I look at myself in his clear, unsmudged bathroom mirror, fixing my hair a little, and then rinse my mouth with some toothpaste.

I come out of his bathroom to find him climbing into bed, and I find something else about him that I kind of love. He's also wearing a T-shirt, and blue and white striped boxers. I cover my smile with my knuckles.

"What?"

"You're cute." I sit on the bed, crossing my legs under me.

"Cute?" Grinning, he moves next to me, mirroring my position, our knees meeting again.

His fingers fold over mine in my lap and he leans forward, the knuckles of his other hand grazing my leg. I close my eyes. Our mouths meet.

His lips feel so good on mine, the way they move and pull and sometimes just brush. They slip down to my neck. "You smell good," he whispers.

"It's Tahitian gardenia," I say, remembering Rose's handmade body wash. I thought it smelled like clay when I squeezed it into my palm. For just a second I think Edward might be playing me. Just trying to flatter me. Just saying what he thinks I want to hear.

"Smells like coconut," he says, lips full of my skin, and I realize it's my hair he's smelling, the coconut oil that Rose used to add shine, and my mind calms down into nothing but Edward and his lips and his touch. His mouth finds its way back to mine, and I welcome it.

He leans his weight against me, pressing me down to the bed. His forearms rest on either side of my shoulders and my hand glides up his bicep, finally feeling it, up under his shirt sleeve, and back down. As his tongue seeks mine, he nudges his hips between my legs and pushes against me, only boxers and panties between us. And then he does it again, and his kiss deepens. His hand sweeps up my side, stopping at my breast, but he doesn't try to feel my breast. Fingers fall back down my side, over my hips, down my thigh, and then up the inside of my thigh, but he doesn't try to reach between my legs or for my panties. He continues to kiss me from my lips down to my throat and back up to my lips, and his hips are between my legs again, and feeling him there against me, I bend my legs, and he accepts the invitation, pushing himself up, and up again. My hands make their way along his back, underneath his shirt, muscles tensing, and I'm breathing heavy—we both are. Heavy breathing is all the noise we make. There are no other noises, no moans or groans. We're holding back, stifling them, but the heaving breaths, they can't hide; they have to be released.

Little by little we slow down, the rocking comes to a stop and he stares down at me, his face kind of damp, flushed with sweat. I wonder if mine is, too.

He rolls to his side, tucking me in close. "That's enough." The words come out in a stream of breath, like cigarette smoke. "Enough."

"Before it's too much," I say.

"Exactly."

My ear is to his chest and each word he says is magnified. He reaches around and pushes my hair from my forehead over and over.

"You're golden," he says quiet into my hair and his arms enclose me.

I can't help the few tears that slip past and I move my hand to the side of my face between my tears and his chest so he can't feel them wet his shirt.

I want to tell him not to let go, but I know how clingy and scary that will sound so I say nothing. I just lie their soaking in his words, in him. And it doesn't matter that I didn't ask him to keep holding on, because he does. He doesn't let go.

His heartbeat rumbles through me, each beat a vibration. He's so real, right here, holding me, and technically we've just met, but it feels right. The rise and fall of his chest, the random pressing of his lips against my head, it weakens my strength, pushing me into sleep. His words, the best I've heard: You're golden.

In the morning he flags down a taxi and takes the ride home with me. He kisses me in the cab, slipping something into my hand, a piece of paper.

I thank him for dinner; he thanks me for staying with him, for trusting him.

I'm tempted to thank him for his honesty, for showing me he is someone I can trust, but I figure maybe I should expect that of people. People should be expected to be honest, and whether or not they decide to be is up to them. People don't need to be thanked for their honesty, what they get in return for being honest to someone is that person's trust. And trust is a huge gift. It's much more than a thank you.

I take his face in my hand and kiss him hard and heavy on the lips. He's kind of panting when I exit the cab. And, well, so am I.

"Until next time, Bella," he says.

Inside the apartment, small, messy, faded-floored, I sigh against the door thinking back over the night. I open up the slip of paper in my hand.

The beautiful girl in the blue dress who didn't dance, it reads. And underneath, Edward's phone number.

I hold the note to my chest and close my eyes.

I took a plane, flew across the country, knew what I was leaving and where I was heading, but didn't really know what I might find. And here, my back to the door, note in my hand, Edward's voice in my head, I've found myself on a new arm of my star. I think I'll hang on for a while—take a swing.

"Hey, Sister!" Rose bounds out of her bedroom and over to me, taking my hand. "Good night, I take it?" She guides me to the couch, sits beside me, toying with the ends of my hair, and with a smile in her eyes, she asks me to tell her all about Edward.

I tell her everything, and then I wrap my arms around her and against her shoulder, I say, "You're not wearing underwear, are you?"

She lays a light smack on the side of my head and says, "Shut up, I am too." And then she squeezes me tight. "I love you."

Maybe it isn't always that you're running away from something, I think. Maybe, sometimes, it's that you're running toward something else.

Something better.


A/N: Thank you for reading! :)