The Practicum

Rating: M. Because why else do we do this?

Summary: "I just never would have guessed that our modest little English teacher had such a kinky side."

Acknowledgement: Thanks, as always, to HollettLA, who agrees with my assessment of the color pink and whose general awesomeness is in no way affected by her lack of an "ucking F key." xo


Chapter 12

"I really do have to get going," Edward says for the third time, but the way he wraps his arms around my torso contradicts his words, and I scoot backward slightly to feel the warmth of his bare chest against my back. Waking up pressed against him is nearly as thrilling as what happened last night.

Okay, that's a lie. But it's pretty awesome.

"Yeah," I agree, also for the third time, and he chuckles into my hair.

"I have a few errands to run before tonight," he adds, voice muffled, and my eyes pop open. I had forgotten about tonight.

"Aw, hell."

He shifts, and suddenly he's peeking at my face from behind my shoulder, eyebrows arched. "'Aw, hell'?" he echoes, and I roll to my back so that he can see my face.

"I have to find something to wear."

He shrugs. "Wear whatever you want."

"Oh, sure. You'll show up looking like you do, and I'll trip in looking like a hobo."

"Looking like I do?"

"You know," I say, waving at his general person. "The PE teacher who looks like sex on a cracker even in sweatpants." This man had his tongue – not to mention other parts of him – inside my body this side of eight hours ago, and yet at my simple words, he blushes. "And I can't dance," I continue, "so the least I can do is make an attempt to upgrade from my bargain rack teacher-wardrobe."

"Well, believe me when I tell you no one will be expecting us to spend hours tripping the light fantastic." He grins. "As I understand it, our duties are more along the lines of 'don't let anyone spike the punch and make sure the kids to keep it PG-13.' And besides," he adds, leaning in to press a light kiss to the tip of my nose, "I'm quite fond of your teacher-wardrobe." He pulls away, his flush darkening, and I frown.

"What?"

"Huh?"

"You're blushing. More than you were a minute ago." I poke the middle of his chest with a teasing finger. "What were you just thinking about, Mr. Cullen?"

He licks his lips, and though cheeks flush even darker, his eyes meet mine. "I was thinking about how, all week long, I'd been imagining pushing your bargain-rack teacher's skirt up like I did last night."

I swallow and lick my lips. "Okay. If you really have errands to run, you should probably leave now, otherwise you're not getting out of this bed."

A rough chuckle escapes him. "As tempting as that is, next time I find myself in your bed, I should probably be, uh, better prepared." He's gazing down at me, and I see a brief flicker of regret behind his eyes. "I'm sorry about that."

"Don't," I say, cupping the back of his neck in my palm. "That was perfect. And fine. And something I wanted as much as you did."

"Still…" He trails off, finally shaking his head. "Believe me when I tell you I'll be ready next time."

"Next time, huh?"

Blush. "Yes." He licks his lips. "Thank you again for dinner."

I give him the sauciest smile I can manage knowing I'm sporting bed hair and last night's mascara. "Thank you for dessert."

He swallows. "I'll, uh, pick you up at seven? The dance is from eight until midnight."

"Okay." I run a fingertip down the side of his neck. "Are we on clean-up duty?"

"No."

"So we're done at midnight?" My fingertip traces his collarbone.

"We are."

"How about you come over afterward?"

His eyes flash. "For coffee?"

"Are you really going to want coffee at midnight?"

"It is a little late for caffeine," he agrees, shivering slightly as my fingertip circles his nipple.

"So maybe you just come over to stay?"

"Perfect." He finds the hollow of my throat with his lips, and just as I think maybe he'll stick around for coffee – metaphorical or otherwise – he pulls back and presses a gentle kiss to the tip of my nose. "See you at seven."


"I can't wear pink."

Jess looks me over before returning her focus to the rack. "With your skin tone and coloring? Why not?"

"Because I am, for all intents and purposes, a grown woman going to a school dance. If I wear pink, I achieve an entirely new level of pathetic."

"I think you're reading too much into it," she says.

"Whatever. Nobody over the age of six looks good in pink, anyway."

"Come on. Pretty in Pink. It's a given," she argues, but mercifully flips past the cotton candy-esque cocktail dress.

"Yeah, how come no one ever points out the irony that Molly Ringwald actually looks god awful in pink?"

"You know, for someone who has a date with a pretty hot guy tonight, you're surprisingly cranky."

"Sorry. I hate shopping. And I'm tired."

"Oh?" She waggles her eyebrows and pauses in her perusal of the sale rack.

I roll my eyes. "Find me something that doesn't make me look frumpy, slutty, or like I'm channeling fifteen-year-old Bella, and I'll give you the details you so desperately desire."

"Deal," she says, her hands flying over hangers at twice their previous speed. "Can't go wrong with a little black dress," she says a beat later, pulling a short, strapless, sequined number from the rack.

"Unless said 'little black dress' looks like it belongs on stage."

"What's wrong with it?" she demands, holding the hanger up and cocking her head to one side as she studies the garment.

"It's a little…sparkly."

She huffs a sigh. "Okay. Tell me exactly what you have in mind."

"Demure, but sexy."

"Those two things seem contradictory to me," she mutters, but resumes her mission, flipping through hangers with the focus of a sniper rifle. "How do you feel about red?"

"Not favorable."

"Hmm." More flipping. "Ah!" She holds up a navy blue dress and I consider it.

"Better," I say, encouraged by the lack of sequins. "But can we find something not strapless?"

"How come?"

"Because firstly, I don't have enough boobs to wear a strapless dress and not spend the entire night hiking it back up my torso, and secondly, it's a little more skin than I'm comfortable showing around adolescent boys."

At this, Jess wrinkles her nose. "Oh, yeah. I forgot about them." A few more flips and she pulls out a plum-colored dress. It has a fitted bodice with a lace overlay covering the shoulders, and an open scoop back that looks like it would dip to about the middle of my back; a small line of covered buttons runs down the seam. It nips in at the waist to create an hourglass shape, and there is a pair of tiny bows at the front waist, slightly left of center.

"Oh," I say, nodding. "I like that."

"You look good in purple, too," Jess says, holding the hanger up to my shoulders and considering it. "You should definitely try this one on." She rummages through the rack to find my size and leads me to the dressing room. "You should wear your hair up, though," she says as she hands me the dress and plops down on the cushioned ottoman outside the curtained stall. "The back is sexy."

Once inside the small vestibule, I shimmy into the dress and manage to get it zipped without Jessica's intervention. I take stock of my reflection: the line of the dress is classic and hugs my body in all the right places, and it has the added benefit of making me appear to have more in the boob-department than I do. It's classic, and vaguely Hepburn-esque, and it makes me feel almost like I'm going to a dinner party in one of the movies Angela, Edward, and I are so fond of. I half-turn and check out the back: the scoop is low enough to be sexy, but not so low as to be inappropriate for the environment. I emerge into the outer area of the changing room and move so that I'm standing in front of the three-way mirror beside where Jessica sits.

"You have great shoulder blades," Jess says appreciatively, and I blush and frown.

"I didn't know it was possible to have 'great shoulder blades,'" I say.

"Well it is, and you do." She gives me one more head-to-toe pass and nods. "I think that's a winner."

"I think you're right," I say, glancing at my reflection once more in the three-way mirror before disappearing back into the changing room and slipping back out of the dress.

"Okay," Jess's voice comes from beyond the curtain. "Accessories?"

I chew my lip as I return the dress to its hanger. "Shit. What color shoes go with a purple dress?"

"Do you have nude pumps?"

"No," I say, stepping back into my jeans.

"We'll get some. And I actually have a clutch purse that would almost match that color perfectly; you're welcome to it."

"Awesome. Thanks." I pull my t-shirt back over my head and loop my purse over my shoulder before grabbing my new dress and sliding the curtain aside.

Jess beams up at me. "So we're done?"

"I think we are."

"Great," she says, catapulting herself to standing and following me toward the register. "Now, tell me about the fuck-hot piece of man-meat and his…man-meat."

I shush her as we approach the checkout, and I dig my wallet from my bag. By the time we're seated at the small café next door to the dress boutique, Jess's patience has evidently run out. "Quit stalling," she says as she bites into the slab of coffee cake in front of her.

"It's…Jess, it's amazing. Honestly."

"So the sex is good," she says as she chews.

"I mean…yeah. Well. Yeah."

She frowns before swallowing. "Tell me the sex is good, Bella. It'll be a tragedy worthy of your syllabus otherwise."

"Well, we've sort of only…kind of done it."

"Okay, has teaching Sex Ed to a bunch of teenagers rubbed off on you guys? What the hell does 'we've-sort-of-only-kind-of-done-it' mean?"

"It means…he's…been inside me. But not…the whole time."

"Is that code for 'he pulled out'?"

"Yes," I say, relieved I didn't have to say it but embarrassed to hear it out loud all the same.

"Why?"

"We, uh, didn't have any condoms."

"Seriously. It's like you're seventeen."

"He makes me feel like I'm seventeen," I say before I can check myself, and her disbelief softens.

"Aw. That's actually sweet."

"Shut up."

"Really, though. How did it get to that point and you didn't have a condom?"

"We were…doing other stuff. At my house."

"And you don't have condoms at your house?"

"No."

She shakes her head. "And he doesn't carry them in his wallet?"

"Apparently not."

"Oh, Bella. I want to help you at the same time that I find your bumbling amusing and sort of precious."

"I'm doing fine," I say. More than fine, I want to add, but I have a feeling my face is already broadcasting that fact.

"Hello? It's 2013. Pick up a box of Trojans on your way home, okay?"

"I'm leaving that to him."

"Why?"

"I told him I was going to let him dictate how fast this goes. When he's ready and he has condoms on him, we'll use them."

Jess snorts into her coffee. "Seems like he was ready whether he had one handy or not."

"Maybe," I allow. "But…" I trail off.

"But what?"

"Never mind."

"Oh, hell no. Not when your face looks like that. What were you going to say?"

"It's just…it was…it was kind of hot." Jess sits back in her chair, staring at me with her mouth open. After a few beats of uncharacteristic silence, I feel myself start to fidget under her scrutiny. "What?"

She shakes her head. "Nothing." A small smile crawls across her face. "I just never would have guessed that our modest little English teacher had such a kinky side."

I remember the rush of power – not to mention arousal – I felt at Edward's inability to rein in his desire. Can I…just…the tip? "You and me both," I tell her, taking a sip of my tea.


There's a knock at the front door, and I finish putting the back on my earring as I cross my small living room and pull the unlocked door open. "Still not locking it, huh?" he asks with a smile, and I quirk an eyebrow.

"Believe me when I tell you it will be locked tonight." His eyes darken in the setting sunlight as they trail me from head to toe. "Wow, Bella, you look beautiful."

I smooth my hands over the front of my dress. "Thank you. And ditto."

One of his eyebrows hitches as a corner of his mouth curls upward in a teasing smile. "I look beautiful?"

I nod. "Incredibly." He grins, and I gesture behind me. "I just need to change purses and I'll be all set." I step aside to give him room to step inside, but he stays where he is. I frown. "Everything okay?"

"Yeah," he says, and the trademark blush makes its first appearance of the evening. "I'm just…being awkward."

"Why?"

His hands burrow deeper in his pockets, his shoulders hunch, and he rocks forward on his toes slightly. "I, um…" He trails off, bottom teeth scraping his top lip, one hand emerging from his pocket to cup the back of his neck.

"Edward, what is it?" I take a step forward so that I'm half inside and half out, suddenly nervous. "What's wrong?"

"Oh, God, nothing's wrong," he assures me quickly, shaking his head. "I just…" He blows out a frustrated breath. "I'm so bad at this. I told you. At dating."

"Why?" I ask gently. "I think we're doing okay."

"We are," he agrees instantly. "We are. I just..."

"Edward, just tell me what's wrong."

"I brought a bag," he blurts, immediately flushing darker, and I frown.

"What?"

"A bag. An, um, overnight type of bag." His hands are back in his suit pockets. "I didn't want to seem presumptuous and knock on your door with luggage, but I also didn't want to leave you at some point this evening to run out to my car to get the bag." He looks so vulnerable, and I realize laughing at him is so not what he needs right now, but I'm helpless to stop the smile that stretches my mouth.

"You're adorable."

"I'm sorry?"

I step out onto my welcome mat and curl a hand around the back of his neck, bringing his mouth to mine. When I pull back, I smile up at him. "Hi."

His shoulders drop and he exhales. "Hi."

"Go get your bag. I'm almost ready."

He nods and nearly jumps down my porch stairs; I return to the kitchen and transfer my cell phone, license, credit card, cash, and lip gloss to the small clutch purse I borrowed from Jess. I hear a muffled thud from the direction of the door as I loop the strap of the purse over my shoulder; when I step back into the living room, Edward is standing on the mat inside my door with a small Nike duffel at his feet and a single, short-stemmed white rosebud in his hand.

"I figured a corsage might be a bit much, but I wanted to bring you something." He frowns. "As it turns out, lilacs are not good flowers to give, and sunflowers are enormous so I didn't really know what you would do with one, and I asked the lady at the florist and she said that white roses are timeless and would complement whatever you were wearing." His frown deepens. "And I cut the stem so that there weren't any thorns on it, but now I have no idea what you're going to do with it, because it seems silly to expect you to stand around holding a flower all night. I mean, maybe you have a vase?"

I step into his space and pluck the bloom from his fingers, smiling softly up at him. "It's beautiful. Thank you." He exhales and gives me a small smile. "Yeah, can you tell I never really took a girl to a dance before?"

"No," I lie, reaching up and fastening the rosebud into my knot of hair with the help of one of the numerous bobby pins I used to secure my DIY-do. "They don't have dances at boarding school?"

"They do," he says, his eyes unexpectedly soft as he stares at the flower in my hair. "But nobody really brought dates unless they had girlfriends. Our school used to invite a nearby girls' school to attend, but I never actually went with a date."

"I didn't realize this was going to be another first," I tell him as I gesture toward the door. I catch a glimpse of his smile as he turns and opens the door, stepping aside to let me walk out ahead of him.


The gymnasium where Edward spends most of his days is nearly as dressed up as the students milling about: balloons and streamers are adhered to every available surface and glittering silver cardboard stars and moons are affixed to the walls that usually hold motivational posters and championship banners. A massive black sign with the dance theme – "A Night to Remember" – hand-painted in silver stretches over the doors, and there is a long table set up near the back wall with a massive bowl of punch, a tower of cups, and bottles of water. A photographer is lurking in the far corner of the room with a gray backdrop tacked to the wall, and the deejay is just inside the door, the beat pulsing from his massive speakers assaulting people the moment they step through the doors.

"Evidently no one thought to inform the dance committee that 'A Night to Remember' is the title of the definitive resource of the sinking of the Titanic," Edward murmurs as we arrive and make our way to the table at the back of the room, and my answering laugh is swallowed by the pounding music.

Nearly an hour in, Edward and I are standing together near the refreshments table, watching the general population of Forks High School mill about the gym in small clusters, dancing and chatting and whipping out phones to snap pictures. I feel momentarily sorry for the photographer, who already looks bored.

"Hey, Coach. Ms. Swan."

"Hi, Emmett," Edward says.

"Punch?" I ask, gesturing toward the vat of red juice before me, atop which slices of orange float amid the ice cubes like lifeboats in a sea of glaciers. Emmett gives it a dubious look.

"No, thanks," he says, and I can't blame him. It does look rather suspect, spiked or not.

"Okay." He doesn't move along, though, and he keeps opening his mouth as if to say something before snapping it shut again.

"Emmett?" Edward prods. "Was there something you needed?"

"I, um, actually…had a question." He pulls at his tie and shifts his feet as he glances at his classmates hopping and dancing in clusters on the dance floor.

"Yes?" I ask, and he glances between Edward and me.

"It's about the, uh, health unit."

"Okay," Edward says easily.

Emmett scans the space around us once more before lowering his voice. "Like, how effective is pulling out?" he asks, and without my permission, my eyes fly to Edward, who is already looking rather lobster-like.

"Uh, I'm sorry?"

Emmett, to his credit, looks a little embarrassed as well, but judging from the intent way Rosalie's gazing at him from across the room, it's a timely question. "You know. Pulling out before you…uh…'ejaculate.'" He frowns slightly at the clinical word before continuing. "How effective is that as a birth control method? I think I, um, missed that part of class." I vaguely remember that he was snoozing on his desk during that particular lesson but realize that pointing that out now would be relatively futile.

For the first time since we started the sexual health curriculum, Edward looks like a deer caught in headlights, and when he takes a step away from me and situates himself behind the punch bowl, I frown in confusion until I see him shift slightly and realize that he's hard. He's purposely not looking at me, and I will my cheeks not to flush.

"Not always effective enough," I tell Emmett quickly, hoping he isn't surprised by Edward's lack of response or rather obvious discomfort. "Four out of every one hundred instances of withdrawal result in pregnancy, and some research exists that there can be enough sperm in pre-ejaculate to cause pregnancy." As I tick off the familiar statistics, I feel a tiny little seed of panic begin to take root in my brain. Shit. We were so stupid. Thankfully, given the timing, the likelihood that I'd get pregnant even if Edward did come inside me is pretty miniscule. "Does that help?" I ask softly, and I can feel Edward's eyes on me as Emmett nods. I glance over at him, and he still looks like a sinner in a confessional. "Anything to add, Mr. Cullen?"

He visibly swallows and turns to Emmett. "Is this an…immediate concern?" he asks, his expression open, and Emmett's sporting a very Edward-esque flush.

"I just…" He glances over his shoulder to where Rose and Alice are cheek-to-cheek and smiling, the latter holding up her phone to snap a picture. "Rosalie…wants to. With me. And I wasn't expecting it. We've been…waiting. But she told me she wants it to be tonight, wants it to be special, and I'm…not prepared." He shifts his weight. "The only place open in town is the convenience store." He gives me a pointed look, and I sigh. At Edward's confusion, I tell him, "Emmett's aunt is the night cashier." Small-town living strikes again. Edward considers this for a moment before nodding and clapping a hand on Emmett's shoulder.

"Come on," he says to Emmett, then, to me, "Be right back."

I nod and return my focus to ensuring that no "extra" ingredients get added to the punch bowl. "Hi, Ms. Swan," Rosalie and Alice say in near-unison a few moments later, and I smile. I'm not supposed to have favorites, but I always do, and this year, Rosalie and Alice are two of them.

"Hi, girls."

"Ms. Swan, I love your dress," Alice says, her eyes running up and down me as she nods. "Is that vintage?"

"Uh, vintage-inspired, I think." I shrug. "Honestly, I'm not much for fashion."

"Well, you look totally awesome," she says before glancing toward the gym doors through which Edward disappeared with Emmett. "And you and Mr. Cullen are totally cute together."

I'm thankful for the "ambience lighting" in the gym, as I'm pretty sure my cheeks are pinking. "Um. Thank you, Alice."

"I told you," Rosalie says, giving Alice a knowing smirk. "I totally told you."

Alice nods, her voice dropping slightly. "Was it, like, totally awkward talking about all of that sex stuff with him?"

"Uh, no," I say, absently wondering if I was ever this straightforward with my own teachers until I remember Coach Clapp. Definitely not. I'm working on elaborating when Alice leans in slightly.

"Ms. Swan, did you know that? About Mr. Whitlock?"

I consider the implications of the truth before deciding they're probably harmless. "I did."

She shakes her head. "I had no idea. Like, none."

No kidding. "Well, you know, teachers try to keep their personal business…private."

"Yeah. Except Mr. Cullen," Rosalie says, leaning in a la Alice. "That was totally sweet how he kissed you after the game last week. Everybody was watching."

"Yeah," I say. "I know." I give them a conspiratorial smile. "My dad comes to those games."

"Ohmigod, I'd be so embarrassed if my dad caught me making out."

"Alice, they were hardly making out," Rose argues. "But yeah, God, talk about embarrassing." If this were Jess, I'd confide that it wasn't nearly as embarrassing as having my dad walk in on us dry-humping on my sofa. Suddenly, Ben Cheney is standing behind the girls and smiling at me over their heads.

"Hey, Ms. Swan."

"Hi, Ben."

He nods and then fiddles with the knot of his tie. "Um, Alice? Did you want to dance?"

"Oh! Sure!" She hands her phone to Rose. "Bye, Ms. Swan!"

"Bye, Alice," I say to her retreating back, and Rosalie and I watch in amusement as she begins jumping and shaking beside Ben, who looks mildly alarmed but makes a valiant attempt to follow her unique rhythm. Rose lifts Alice's phone and snaps a few photos.

"So she's not too heartbroken by Mr. Whitlock's disclosure, then?"

Rosalie glances over at me. "Yeah, I sort of thought you knew after the math slip-up," she says. "She was, like, freaking out that you would figure it out and say something."

"I didn't," I tell her. "Say anything."

"I know. You're awesome. We trust you."

Her simple declaration is almost better than three favorable teacher reviews, and I fiddle with the clasp of my clutch. "Thank you, Rosalie. That's very sweet."

"I mean it. All of the students like you. And Mr. Cullen. That's one of the reasons everyone thinks you guys are so cute together. Plus, you're both hot." She shrugs. "You'd have really cute babies."

I clear my throat. "Well, speaking of that…Rosalie, Emmett mentioned something about…tonight. I hope you don't think I'm overstepping my bounds, but since we talked about this before, I just wanted to…be sure. That you're sure."

"I'm sure." She turns to face me, and her eyes are nearly the same color as her ice-blue dress. "Ms. Swan, I had a first time and it sucked. It was awful. But I kind of feel like this is my second chance at a first time, and…I want it to be with Emmett. And I want it to be tonight. He's just…he's really sweet. And I love him." She shrugs. "What else matters?"

I sigh, thinking about second chances at first times with sweet boys. "Not a lot," I admit. "Just…the necessary precautions." She laughs and I smile, tapping my temple. "Sorry. Teacher-hat. Can't take it off."

She shakes her head. "Thanks, Ms. Swan. Really."

"You're welcome, Rose."

"Thanks, Coach," I hear Emmett say from behind me, and I turn to see Edward give him a nod. Emmett moves beside Rose to drape an arm over her shoulder and guide her back to the dance floor. Edward comes to a halt beside me, and we watch as Alice and Rosalie squeal and dance and laugh as Ben and Emmett stand nearby, sort of dancing and sort of just watching the girls do their thing. In fact, that seems to be the case on the dance floor as a whole.

"Okay, confession," Edward murmurs as we stand side by side, scanning the crowd.

"Yeah?"

"I just gave Emmett my condoms."

My head snaps to the side to stare at his profile. "What?"

"I took him back to my office to get some out of my desk, and evidently the students of Forks are taking our teaching to heart, because the little hornballs cleared me out." He sighs. "I couldn't exactly tell him he was out of luck, so I gave him the three I had in my wallet."

"All three?" I stage whisper, and he shrugs.

"They're teenagers," he says by way of explanation. "Things…regenerate quickly."

"That was awfully generous of you," I murmur, opting not to wonder aloud why he had three condoms for an overnight stay if teenagers are the only ones who "regenerate quickly." Instead, I silently count my blessings. "Well, my aunt doesn't work at the convenience store," I say, hooking the top of my index finger onto the edge of his pocket. He grins down at me, running his palm over the back of my hand before unhooking my finger and interlacing our hands behind the blockade of the enormous punch bowl.

"I have more at home," he says, voice low. "It's just going to involve a detour."

"Fine by me," I reply, and his eyes flash as the deejay downgrades from a hip-hop dance song to Eric Clapton.

He smiles. "Wanna dance?"

I grin. "I thought we weren't expected to dance," I reply, even as I'm setting my clutch beside the upside down tower of plastic cups.

"We're not," he says, stepping into my space. "But it's kind of driving me crazy, being this close to you and not touching you." He settles his hands on my hips, and I loop mine around his neck as we sway back and forth. "I thought you said you couldn't dance."

"Seventh grade-style swaying without moving our feet is pretty safe territory," I tell him, and he is silent for a few sways before one hand leaves my waist to snake behind his neck. He captures one of my hands and brings it down between us, resting my palm over his heart and cupping his hand over it to hold it to his chest. His other hand leaves my hip and slides to the small of my back, pulling me infinitesimally closer but leaving just enough space between us to keep it respectable.

"Have I at least upgraded us to ninth grade status yet?"

"I think you launched us right to grandparent status," I tell him, tilting my head toward the dance floor, where Emmett has his tongue down Rosalie's throat and Ben has his arms wrapped around Alice from behind. "Seems to me that ninth grade status is more like a dry-humping-to-music style of movement."

"Tough to dry-hump to Clapton," Edward says.

"Indeed," I agree. "What are the odds that these kids have even heard this song before?"

"'Wonderful Tonight'?" he wonders aloud. "I don't know, isn't this one of those songs that's timeless and everyone knows it? Like 'Born in the U.S.A.'?"

I catch movement out of the corner of my eye and spot Mike Newton filling a cup with the punch ladle and Jake standing beside him holding his own empty cup. "Hey, Mike?"

"Hi, Ms. Swan."

"Quick question. Can you sing 'Born in the U.S.A.'?"

He frowns. "The Miley Cyrus song?"

I give Edward a pointed look as Jake says, "Dude, that's 'Party in the U.S.A.'"

"Oh, that's depressing," Edward mutters. "Are we really old? We're barely even thirty."

"I'm not quite thirty, thank you very much," I tease, then shrug. "Age is a frame of mind." I wave one hand in a vague gesture toward the deejay stand. "Musical selections, however, are the quickest way to date yourself."

"Evidently." He pulls me slightly closer. "I still maintain, though, that this is a classic."

"I like it," I admit, and the smile he gives me is a soft one.

"I like you," he murmurs.

"Awwwwwwwwwww," comes the exaggerated, mocking call from both Jake and Mike, who are peering at us over the rims of their plastic cups, and Edward flicks a glance at both of them.

"Season's not over, boys. Want to keep each other company on a timed three-mile?" The boys turn and disappear to the other side of the gym, and Edward grins down at me.

"What will you do when you can't threaten them with grueling training?"

He shrugs. "There's always manual labor. The basketball court needs waxing."

I laugh, but when I look back up into his face, he's studying me intently. "Everything okay?" I ask.

He nods. "Yeah. I just…I really do. I like you a lot."

I'm powerless against the goofy grin that stretches my face, and I'd swear the heartbeat thrumming beneath my hand is moving at a slightly faster clip that it was moments ago. "I like you a lot, too." He matches my grin and I feel his fingers dancing over the small of my back, as if he's restraining himself from pulling me closer. "So, is your first dance with a date turning out to be everything you had hoped?"

"Better," he says, and when he leans in to murmur in my ear, I can feel the vibration of his words against my palm, the puffs of his breath against my neck. "Unlike when I was seventeen, I get to take the girl home at the end of the night."