The Practicum

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

Summary: Being bent over by boys who are considerably taller than you can be tricky.

Acknowledgement: HollettLA betas on vacation. For this and so many other reasons, I'm running out of ways to say how fabulous she is. (xo)


Chapter 14

In the weeks that follow, lingering frosty days melt once and for all into spring, yellow-green life appearing on branches and bulbs peeking tentatively up from below ground as the sun makes more frequent appearances. In the first week of May, Edward gets a mild sunburn, and the ever-present pink that graces his cheeks for nearly a week thereafter does funny things to my insides. And my libido.

We have more overnights, and I learn more and more about the man who was once little more than "the fuckhot PE teacher." He likes to cuddle. He likes his shower just this side of too hot. He likes me on top.

I learn other, less intimate things: that he misses his parents, despite his claims that they're not particularly close. That he's allergic to kiwi. That his brother is, in fact, single, but that he's more Jasper's type than Angela's. I file all of these details away, amassing a catalog of the little and not-so-little elements of his personality and his life, and I'm hard-pressed to find anything I don't like. Each thing I learn only serves to make me like him more, even if his propensity to turn pink remains one of my favorites.

When I dart from beneath the overhang of the garage in which my junker of a truck is awaiting its service and slide into the passenger seat of his car at end of that first week in May, he's grinning at me from behind the wheel, the sleeves of his sky blue dress shirt already rolled up to just beneath his elbows. His slacks are navy, and not for the first time I wish that I were still spending a couple of hours a week in a classroom with him. The car smells like a newly familiar mix of toothpaste and shampoo and men's deodorant, and something about knowing what this man smells like first thing in the morning is a new level of intimacy I've never really known.

"Thanks for doing this," I say, situating my school bag between my feet.

"Are you kidding? Getting to see you first thing in the morning on a weekday? Bonus."

My lips twitch and his eyes fall to them immediately; I give him a knowing smile. "Hi," I say softly, leaning over the center console, and he grins back.

"Hi," he murmurs, pressing a gentle kiss to my closed mouth.

It isn't until I pull back that I notice the small cluster of seemingly mismatched flowers that sit in a thin vase in the cup holder. Two of the blooms catch my eye immediately: a sprig of lilacs and a small sunflower. The third, however, gives me pause, and I reach out a fingertip to gently touch one of its pink-white petals.

"It's a stargazer lily," he says, and at his words, my mind briefly flits to twinkling stars and crashing ocean waves before coming back to the present moment.

"Thank you," I say, still fingering the silk-soft bloom. "What's the occasion?"

He shrugs. "Does there have to be one?"

"No," I admit with a smile, fastening my seat belt. "They're beautiful."

"Fitting, then," he says, smiling at me before putting the car in gear.

"Sorry about last night," I say. "Are the guys disappointed?" Despite the undeniable potential of his talented but young soccer team, the Forks Spartans lost in the opening round of the regional tournament, thanks in no small part to the fact that their first-round game was against the defending state champions.

"Yeah," he says as he pulls back onto the main road that leads to the school. "But I reminded them how young we are, and how much talent we have coming back next year."

As ever, the subtle reassurance that he'll be here next year makes my stomach flip. The brief moments I spent imagining him taking his flushed cheeks and soft smiles and leaving me behind were surprisingly painful.

"The margarita troupe meeting tonight?" he asks, merging into traffic.

"Yep. You in?"

"Definitely. Want me to take you to pick up your truck after school, and we can drop it off at your house and take mine to dinner?"

I smile. "Thanks, but I promised Jess I'd go with her to Port Angeles for pedicures."

He arches a teasing eyebrow at the road. "Wow. The first week above fifty degrees and you're prepping for flip-flops. You girls don't waste time, do you?"

I laugh. "Jess has very high fashion standards," I say, then add the truth. "And she enjoys an hour of gossip-filled pampering. I'm sure your ears will be burning."

Making my words as literal as they can be, the tips of his ears turn pink.

When we park in the school lot, it doesn't occur to me until I'm sliding out of the passenger seat and pulling my bag onto my shoulder, Edward appearing to close my door for me as other teachers and students pull into parking spaces nearby and exit their cars, what this looks like. Edward glances around us, undoubtedly arriving at a similar realization before he gives me a reassuring smile and places a steadying hand at the small of my back. We walk into the building together, both aware of the curious eyes watching us as we go. A kiss on the soccer field on a Friday night is one thing; showing up to work together on a Friday morning is something else entirely, and we've both just rather publicly, albeit inadvertently, given a rather telling glimpse into what this really is.

We step inside the building, and my racing mind is immediately quieted by the feel of Edward's lips at my hairline. "Have a good day," he says softly, and grins knowingly down at me before adding, "dear."

"You too," I say, smirking back up at him, "hon."

He opens his mouth to say something else, but it snaps shut and his cheeks are faintly pink as he steps back. "See you later."

"Yeah," I say in reply, reverting back to feeling seventeen and newly in love instead of old and married. "See you."

He heads down the hall in the direction of the gym, and like any seventeen-year-old girl would, I watch him as he goes.

"If I were twenty years younger," I hear from somewhere to my left, and when I seek out the source of the voice, I spot Shelly Cope standing with her bulging canvas tote bag hanging from her shoulder and her travel mug clutched in her free hand. She gives me a knowingly conspiratorial smile, and I can't hold back my answering one. The old biddy is nearly as shameless as Jess; in fact, I can absolutely see Jessica filling Mrs. Cope's role as the brazen sexagenarian flirt-slash-busybody of the Forks High School hallways in about thirty years' time. "But of course," she adds, hitching an eyebrow as the corners of her fuchsia-painted lips twitch. "I can see that I'm not quite his type." I fall into step beside her as we make our way through the steadily filling hallway, unsure as to what constitutes an appropriate response, and she chuckles. "He seems like a very nice young man, dear."

"He is," I say, grateful for the relatively innocuous turn in conversation.

She draws to a halt outside the main office and winks as she reaches for the door handle. "Have a nice day, Ms. Swan."

"Thanks, Mrs. Cope. You, too."

I finish the journey to my classroom, and once I've placed Edward's flowers on a discreet corner windowsill and retrieved the cardboard box holding copies of the next novel on our syllabus from the back of the room and lugged it to the front, the warning bell rings and my first period English students begin filing into the room.

"This book sucked," Emmett says in greeting as he drops the well-thumbed paperback and his binder to the surface of his desk and collapses into his chair.

"Pick an adjective, Emmett," I remind him, and he rolls his eyes.

"This book was…" He squints at the blank chalkboard behind me. "Confusing," he finishes, and there are murmurs of assent from the few students who are already in their seats.

"What was confusing about it?" I ask as more students file in and find their desks.

"The names," Emmett groans, flipping idly through the epic, which looks amusingly small in his large hands. "Like, I couldn't keep the characters straight. Antinoos? Alcinoos? Is this dude trying to confuse us?"

I laugh. "No," I assure him, even though I remember having similar gripes about Greek mythology when I was in school.

"Arete? Argos?" He drops the book back atop his binder in disgusted defeat. "There are too many A names."

"Well, that one's slightly easier: Arete was Alcinoos' wife, and Argos was a dog."

Emmett stares at me, incredulous, before slumping back into his seat and glaring at the book in front of him. "That book sucked," he says again.

"It totally did," Alice agrees as she lowers herself to the desk in front of him. "It was so confusing. I could not keep everyone straight."

"That's what I said," Emmett replies as the final students settle into their desks.

"Okay," I say to the class at large. "I have two votes for 'confusing.' What did everyone else think of The Odyssey?"

"Confusing is good," Rosalie offers. "Some of the vocabulary lost me."

I nod. "That's okay. Did you make a list?"

Rose nods, and a few of the other kids do the same. "Great. Okay, so beyond the vocabulary and the names?"

"I sort of liked it," James says, the voluntary participation rather out of character, and I nod in encouragement.

"Why?"

He's chewing on his lip as he flips through the book, and I can see a few pieces of torn notebook paper serving as placeholders between the pages. "I don't know," he says, but continues thumbing pages. "I liked the obstacles. Like, how he overcomes them and stuff." He peeks up at me, silently pleading to be released from the hook, and I nod.

"Great," I say, and his relief is evident. "That's the whole point, after all: the journey. And not just Odysseus' journey home after the Trojan War; one of the themes of The Odyssey is the development of Telemachos from a dependent boy into a responsible, independent adult." I glance around the room. "A precipice on which you guys are all standing right now, which makes this story particularly relevant." I grab my own book from the desk behind me. "He's trying to figure out who he is, and what he's going to do with his life, particularly given the absence of his father, which is another aspect of the story to which many students can relate." I purposely don't look at James, or at any of the other students I know to live in single-parent households. "Why don't we start there?"

As the kids take the ball and run with it, dissecting the various challenges presented to Odysseus' son and how he battles them, I attempt to gently draw parallels between his growth and the similar, yet considerably less linear, growth of Odysseus himself, and how his maturation is more of a spiritual development and enrichment of wisdom that will make him a better man and king.

By the time we get around to actually talking about the man Odysseus is when he returns to Ithaca, there are only a few minutes left before the bell rings, and as I ask the kids to pass their books forward, I gaze around the room. "So…final thoughts?"

After a brief beat of silence, Rosalie raises her hand. "I guess…it's like, it sucks that it took him that many years to get to where he's supposed to be, and it sucks that he had to go through all of that stuff to get home, but it's like…by the time he does get home, everything he went through and the lessons he learned make him able to be who he's supposed to be."

I grin. "Rose, I think you nailed it."

She beams, and I return the smile as the bell rings. "Okay, guys, good job today. Grab a copy of The Great Gatsby off the box on my desk as you leave, please. Chapter One reading due Monday; have a good weekend." I collect the final copies of The Odyssey and return to my desk, fishing out the few surplus copies of the Fitzgerald classic before dumping the returned Homer volumes in their place. I watch Emmett and Rosalie – the last two students to leave – as they exit the room, his index finger hooked into the back pocket of her jeans, a teasingly warning smile on her lips as she peeks at him over her shoulder.

I've been teaching Homer for years, and despite repeat readings, repeat teachings, for the first time I feel a kinship with the Greek king: I may be a little bit late in blooming, but I like to think that the wait – and the journey along the way – are helping me to appreciate it. And I'm pretty certain, as I glance over at the small bunch of flowers on the windowsill, that it was worth it.


"I can't believe you still have your prom dress," I say to Jessica, leaning forward against the pull of my seat belt to peer at my toenails, which are painted a mildly alarming shade of red. The occasions on which I wear sandals are few and far between, but Jess always declares the first pedicure of the season to be something of an event, and I invariably find myself sporting some shade she deems "spring-appropriate" and I deem entirely out of character.

"My mother is a slave to nostalgia," she says. "She tends to think that preserving the artifacts preserves the memories." She snorts as the light ahead turns yellow and she decelerates. "Like I need purple taffeta to preserve the memory of sixty-second Sam."

"Sixty seconds, huh?" I vaguely recall the dark and brooding but undeniably handsome former classmate who escorted Jessica to our senior prom. "That's disappointing."

"Needlessly tragic," Jess agrees as the light turns green again. "Still, I suppose it would be patently unfair for a man that good-looking to be lacking any flaws at all."

"And, to be fair, he was a teenager," I add. "Maybe he outgrew the hair trigger?"

Jess laughs. "We can only hope. Otherwise there's sure to be a trail of disappointed women in his wake."

"No doubt," I agree.

"Still, probably for the best," she sighs. "I was sore enough in the aftermath of that. He may have been quick, but he's certainly not small."

"Hm," I say, gazing through the fading twilight at the passing Forks storefronts. "I honestly don't know which is preferable, your first time or mine."

"Yeah, definite toss-up," she agrees. "Having to ask 'Is it in?' when you're a virgin is really, really sad."

"Thankfully he was too caught up in the moment to feel insulted," I remember as my college sort-of-boyfriend's face floats though my memory.

"Poor bastard," Jess says.

"Indeed."

"I'd say we have both more than upgraded," she declares as she pulls onto the street on which Jess's mother has lived since we were schoolchildren.

"You've got that right," I agree, familiar warmth seeping through me at thoughts of Edward. I check my phone to see if he's responded to my text about our quick detour to Jessica's mom's house to retrieve her old prom dress for the Cinderella Project collection drive tomorrow, but the screen is blank. A glance at the dashboard clock tells me he's probably already en route to the restaurant.

I'm considering my toes once more as the car slows, and when Jess speaks again, it takes me a moment to follow her gaze. "Whose car is that?" she wonders aloud as she pulls into her driveway behind a red sedan, and the confusion in her voice is matched by the immediate creasing of my brow.

"My dad's."

She glances over at me, a mirroring frown on her face. "That's Charlie's car?"

Having no further information to offer, I shrug, and we both get out of the car and climb her porch steps. Jess pushes the unlocked door open and steps inside; I follow and immediately pick up on the muffled tone of my father's familiar voice coming from somewhere at the back of the house.

"Mom?" Jess calls, her voice hesitant. There are sounds of movement, and Mrs. Stanley appears in the doorway that leads to the kitchen. She's opening her mouth to greet her daughter when she catches sight of me, and her eyes widen.

"Bella! Hello, dear." The scrape of chair legs echoes from the hidden room behind her, and she glances back at Jess, who still looks mildly suspicious. "Jessica, is everything all right?"

"Great," Jess says with a small shrug. "I just came to pick up that old dress for the donation project."

"Oh, right!" Mrs. Stanley says, folding her hands together in front of her. "Right, I had forgotten you were going to pick that up. I haven't moved it, so it should still be in the back of your closet."

Jess nods, and an awkward silence follows as the two Stanley women gaze expectantly at each other; finally, Jess breaks it. "Mom?"

"Hm?"

"Why is Chief Swan's car outside?"

There's a cough from the kitchen, and nearly immediately my father appears in the doorway behind Mrs. Stanley, looking sheepish. "Hi, Jessica," he says before his eyes flick to me. "Hey, Bells."

"Dad," I say in greeting, trying valiantly to fight the wry smile that is begging to be set free.

Charlie's expression, in this moment, looks almost exactly like Edward's did when my father barged into my living room, minus the ravaged hair and – I assume – the tented pants. Regardless of how curious I may be, I patently refuse to even entertain the idea of…that. Still, his cheeks are slightly flushed and his eyes can't hold mine and his moustache is twitching slightly, as if he's searching for words. It's then that I notice that my father's wardrobe is as noticeably out-of-character as my tarty toes: he's wearing what appear to be new (and therefore hole-free and freshly pressed) blue jeans in a shade darker than his signature Levi's, and an espresso-colored, long-sleeved button-down shirt. My eyebrows jump, but I know that complimenting my father's attire will only upgrade him from mildly embarrassed to mortified, and I haven't forgotten the hasty retreat he beat from my living room, nor the relatively unobtrusive questions he asked Edward during our "get-to-know-you" dinner. I figure I owe him one.

Jessica's mother is wearing a floral-print dress, and I'm suddenly so delighted for Charlie that I can't stop myself from gripping Jess's elbow and all but dragging her up the stairs. "Okay, well, we're just grabbing the dress and we're out. Bye, Dad! Bye, Mrs. Stanley!"

They watch us go, matching blushes on their faces, and once Jess has grabbed the taffeta explosion from the closet of her childhood bedroom, we beat a hasty retreat, yelling another goodbye over our shoulders as Jess chucks the dress in the trunk and we once again hit the road. It isn't until we're at the stop sign at the top of her street that we burst into giggles.

"Dude, we may have just cockblocked our parents," Jess laughs as she looks both ways, and I erupt into full-blown cackles.

"Oh my God," I laugh, pressing the pads of my fingers to the corner of my eyes. "Please don't say 'cockblocked' when you're talking about my father."

"Seriously, though," she says, and we crack up again, laughing as we pull back out onto the main drag. As our laughter subsides, the truth of the moment hits me.

"Wow," I say as I gaze unseeingly through the windshield, the memory of Charlie in a crisp dress shirt lodged firmly in mind's eye.

"Yeah," Jess agrees. "You didn't know?"

"Are you kidding?" I ask. "I had no idea. I'm pretty sure the last date Charlie had was with my mother." I'm instantly saddened by my own words but am nearly immediately cheered by the new developments. "Wow," I say again.

"Yeah," she repeats, and we drive in silence for a few moments. "I feel like I should say something along the lines of, 'If your dad hurts my mom,' but really I just sort of hope they rock each other's little worlds."

"Ugh, Jess. Again: that's my father you're not-so-subtly making innuendos about."

"Oh, please. The perma-grin that's been stretching your face to nearly unrecognizable proportions is a dead giveaway that you're getting decently laid on a pretty regular basis; you don't want the same happiness for our parental units?"

"Of course I do," I say immediately. "That doesn't mean I want to know about it. Or speculate about it." I glance sideways at her. "Unless picturing your mother donning lingerie is really something you want in your brain."

"Ew," she says immediately. "Okay, point taken." We drive in companionable silence for a few moments before she laughs again and I toss her an expectant look, in response to which she shrugs. "I was just wondering if we should steal a couple of informational pamphlets from your boyfriend's office and slip them into their mailboxes. Lord knows they're both more than a little out of practice."

"Gross, Jess. They've both been married and had kids. I'm sure things…work the same way."

She laughs again. "How long do you think we should wait before totally freaking them out by calling each other 'sister'?"

I echo her laugh. "Until the second date, at least."

"Good call."

By the time we're settled into a six-seater booth at Tacqueria, Jess and I have just regaled our margaritamigos with the play-by-play of our rather spectacular parental date-crash when the waitress appears at the end of the table to take our drink orders.

"We'll take two pitchers of frozen margaritas and six salted glasses," Jess says, shooting warning glances around the table. "Handle it, pretty boys. Your washboard abs can deal with one night of frozen, slushy goodness; Bella and I have just been clobbered with the likelihood that our parents might round first base tonight, and we thank you for your solidarity."

Mark, Jasper, and Edward share glances but smartly opt to remain silent as Jess and Angela place orders for our usual appetizers and the waitress disappears to fill them. Our drinks appear a few moments later, and by the time the nibbles are on the table before us, Edward has recounted highlights from last night's disappointing loss and accepted a blend of condolences and congratulations on a successful season.

"Okay, so I have a poll I'd like to put to the committee," Jasper says, his voice mockingly official, and Jess snorts into her drink.

"Dork," she murmurs.

"Poll?" Mark asks, looking mildly confused at the rather Survivor-like turn the evening has taken, and Jess pats his chest in silent reassurance.

"What's up?" Angela asks, scooping a dollop of sour cream onto the edge of her plate and dipping the point of her quesadilla into it.

"I've been thinking about that bullying incident in the gym after the pep rally," Jasper begins, and the teasing melts from Jess's face as we all give him our full attention. Evidently recognizing the change in atmosphere, Jasper rolls his eyes good-naturedly but continues. "I was, uh, thinking about asking the administration for approval to start a tolerance club at school. Ideally it'd be like a chapter of a gay-straight alliance, but I'm pretty sure that calling it that would be the best way to ensure that no one joins. And ditto for having the words 'gay,' 'lesbian,' 'bisexual,' or 'transgender' in the club name." He dunks a chip into the salsa, purposely casual. "But I think if I just start it under the umbrella of a group about tolerance and compassion – and nonviolence – there's more of a chance that kids will join it and not feel like it's just a support group for gay students."

"I think it's a great idea," I say immediately, James's sad face at the forefront of my mind and the memory of Jasper's quiet support right on its heels.

"Me too," Angela pipes up, and the other three make varying noises of agreement.

Jasper nods his thanks. "That's not all, though," he says. "I need your opinion."

"Okay," Ang says, and Jasper seems to be choosing his words carefully.

"Does it look self-serving for me to be the adviser for such a group? I mean, it's no secret among the faculty that I'm gay, and it's probably becoming less and less of a secret among the students. I don't want it to seem like it has anything to do with an…agenda of mine." He winces slightly at the words and their implication, and I'm saddened by the knowledge that he's right: it's not a particularly large leap to imagine that a less tolerant student – or even a less open-minded parent – might make such an insinuation. "I want this group to exist, and I want it to be a good thing, and I don't want to impede that in any way. And I certainly don't want to detract from its purpose simply by virtue of being the driving force behind it."

I throw a warning glance at Jessica, but it's a testament to her ability to appreciate the gravity of the topic that she lets the opening for a smart remark slide by unacknowledged.

"I'll do it with you," Edward says immediately, and five sets of eyes fly to him.

"Sorry?" Jasper says, and Edward glances at me briefly before shrugging. "I'll co-advise with you, if you want. And maybe we can get one female adviser so that we have a variety of…perspectives."

Jasper opens and closes his mouth. "Seriously?"

Edward shrugs again, seeming to realize suddenly that we're all essentially gaping at him. "Yeah," he says, flushing slightly. "I mean…why not? I think people know I'm straight—" at this, he flicks a glance in my direction before continuing "—and maybe I can even explain what it's about to some of my guys and get them to join." He trails off, looking around at the rest of us before focusing on Jasper. "I think it's a really good idea. I'd like to help." I remember instantly the immediacy with which he jumped to James's defense, and a familiar bubble of pride rises in my chest.

I'm opening my mouth to volunteer when Jessica pipes up. "Me, too."

If possible, the eyes that focus on her are even more surprised than the ones that found Edward. "What?" I ask, and Jess glances over at me before shrugging.

"Why not?"

"That'd be really great, Jess," Jasper says before I can think of a response, and it strikes me as I turn it over in my brain that her openness would likely be ideal for kids who want to confide in someone without fear of being judged. Provided, of course, that she can refrain from making inappropriate innuendos, which has always been her greatest challenge, but the set in her jaw as she nods solemnly in response to Jasper's gratitude tells me that she'll be just fine.

I raise my half-full glass. "To…whatever you're calling your group."

My friends mimic my toast, and I've never felt prouder of the people in my life than I do in this moment.

"Okay. Thanks," Jasper says, looking mildly relieved. Then, as if to forcibly change the subject, he glances around the table. "So. Parental cockblocks—" at this, he points to me and Jess "—tragic postseason performance—" a finger at Edward "—what's new with you?" he asks, settling on Angela.

She shrugs and peeks around Edward at me. "Remember the flyer for the 'Talking Trash' exhibit we saw on the bulletin board at the film house?" she asks, stirring her margarita with her straw.

"Yeah," I say, snagging a tortilla chip from the nearest basket. The poster was nearly as grim-looking as the exhibit sounded: amateur artists making sculptures and "masterpieces" from garbage.

"Well, I went last night."

"How was it?" Jasper asks, topping up his margarita glass as well as Edward's and mine.

"Awful," she replies immediately. "Really, truly awful. I'm an art educator, and I know there's always value to be found in all forms of creative expression, but…it was garbage. Literally and figuratively. I can't believe the gallery actually agreed to host the exhibit. It was terrible."

"Wow," I say. "Um, sorry?"

She shakes her head. "It's fine. I mean, I had low expectations going in, which was probably prescient."

"Probably," I agree. "Still, it sucks that you drove all that way for a total bust."

Angela's suspiciously quiet, and Jasper's eyes light up. "Aha! Here it is."

Jess frowns. "What? Here what is?"

Jasper grins. "The punch line.

Angela throws a chip at him, but a small smile curls the corners of her mouth. "Yeah. I was standing in front of a sculpture of an egg carton that someone painted like a keyboard – kid you not – muttering about it, and suddenly there's a voice from behind me agreeing with me."

"A voice, huh?" Jess asks, her boy-radar clearly pinging.

"Yeah. One of the art critics for The Peninsula Palette." She takes a purposely casual sip of her drink. "We walked through the rest of the exhibit together, and then he asked me to get coffee with him."

Jessica's squeal very nearly breaks the sound barrier, and Mark winces as he sticks a fingertip into the ear closest to her. "Ouch," he breathes, but Jess ignores him.

"Is he hot?" she demands, and as she grills Angela for information, I sneak a look at Edward, who is smiling indulgently. When he catches me looking, his warm hand settles atop my knee beneath the table and his smile turns private. I scoot ever-so-slightly closer to him until my side is pressed flush to his and refocus on the conversation at hand.

Two hours later, I'm drunk. I haven't been drunk in ages – buzzed, yes, tipsy, to be sure, but flat-out hammered? It's been a while. Edward is also plastered, even more so than I am, and is currently dragging his fingertips up and down my bare thigh, drifting dangerously close to the hem of my skirt with each pass. Jessica, who despite her proclamation of "margaritas all around" stopped after a glass and a half, glances knowingly at me in her rearview mirror and I squirm slightly as Edward's fingers trail up and down again. She returns her gaze to the road and turns on the stereo before angling the mirror in a direction that gives her a view not of my flushed face or the headlights of the truck behind us, but of the car ceiling.

"I can't wait to get you home," Edward breathes into my ear, fingers finally sliding beneath my skirt and the pad of his index finger tracing the elastic hem of my underwear, teasing the crease where my thigh meets my hip. I swallow a gasp, and he continues to trace the line of fabric beneath my skirt as the alcohol in my blood is joined by a heavy dose of arousal. He's leaning in to kiss me when Jess's car lurches over the bump at the foot of his driveway, and his fingers slide unintentionally over the damp cotton covering me.

"Okay, we're here, and not a moment too soon," Jessica announces, voice thick with unreleased laughter. "Get your horny asses out of my car, please."

I very nearly fall from her backseat, and Edward stumbles out behind me just as I hear the whir of the driver's side window as it slides open. "Hang on!" Edward spins and does something that makes him look ridiculously like he's standing at attention despite the slight wobble as he rights himself. A second later, he's pelted in the face with a strip of three condoms. "I'd hate for you to be relegated to just the tip," Jess says with a lascivious leer as the window slides back up, and even in the darkness I can see the flush staining his cheeks as he turns to me, his face an adorable blend of intoxication, indignation, and bewilderment.

With a grin, I grab the hand not clutching the charity rubbers and pull him up his front porch. Uncharacteristic curses and a steady stream of horny dialogue are falling from Edward's liquor-loosened lips as he attempts to unlock his door, his front pressed to my back, the point of his chin pressing into my shoulder, the hand not fumbling with the key wrapped around my waist. I can feel the corner of the foil packet digging into the skin between my jeans and my top.

"See?" I tease, leaning heavily back into him as he struggles to put the key in the lock. "Another reason not to bother locking your door." My booze-addled brain attempts to make the witty connection I know is there. "We're being lock-cocked!"

"What?" he asks absently, still messing with the key.

"No, wait. Lock-blocked! No." I lick my lips, which feel suspiciously rubbery. "Lock-cock-blocked." I frown. "My brain is tired. Jess would have nailed that one." I giggle. "Nailed."

He snickers in semi-acknowledgement but finally manages to slide the key home and turns it jerkily before pushing the door open and pushing me inside ahead of him, slamming the door behind us. "Finally," he mutters, kicking off his shoes as I attempt to do the same but trip and fall into him, nearly knocking us both to the floor.

"Sorry," I warble, finally losing my sandals.

"Red," he babbles, staring at my feet.

"What?"

"Your toes. They're red." I frown until I follow his gaze.

"Oh! Yeah! My pedicure." I wiggle my feet against the springy brown carpet in his living room.

"They're sexy," he says, his voice slightly wondrous, and I giggle again. Point for Jess.

When he looks up at me, his eyes hold a heat I'm coming to know all too well, and I half-turn to press my body completely against his. "Sexy, huh?"

"Really sexy," he murmurs, his eyes heavy-lidded. We gaze drunkenly at each other for a few beats before his mouth is on mine, hungry and greedy and hot. I feel the solid wood of the door against my back and the taut muscle of him against my front, and I fist my hands in his hair as he kisses me breathless. Suddenly I feel his hands at the hem of my shirt, pulling it up and over my head without permission; almost instantly, nimble fingers undo the clasp of my bra and slide it down my arms, and I'm standing inside his front door completely topless. Once my brain catches up, I reach for his shirt and he pulls it off by the neckline, dropping it to the floor and pressing his naked chest against mine. I hiss as my bare back comes in contact with the cold wood of his door, and he mutters an apology into my mouth as he kisses me, his hands cupping my breasts and thumbs grazing my nipples before he wraps his arms around my waist and pulls me toward him. Walking me backward, his hands slide beneath the waistband of my skirt and begin pushing it off my hips; just as it occurs to me to worry about tripping, I feel something solid against the backs of my thighs, and before I identify it, he hoists me onto the back of the sofa, dragging my skirt the rest of the way off my legs. Before I can return the favor, he's undoing and shucking his jeans, the obvious tent in his red boxers making me delirious with want. As he dumps his pants onto the couch behind me, I remember Jess's parting gift.

"Wait," I mumble, breaking his kiss to turn and reach for the discarded pants. As I do, I feel him press against my ass; when I bend to fish the strip of condoms from his discarded pocket, he groans. His hands are on my hips and instead of turning back around, I tear one of the condoms from the others and glance at him over my shoulder, holding the foil square up. He doesn't hesitate to pluck it from my fingers, and I press my palms into the back of his couch as I hear him rip the foil and see his boxers pool on the floor. Gentle fingers slide my underwear down my legs, and I spread my feet just as he guides himself to me and pushes in.

Being bent over by boys who are considerably taller than you can be tricky. With each thrust, Edward is launching me up to the tips of my toes; if not for the solidity of the couch in front of me, I'd have toppled over by now. As it is, my hamstrings are screaming and my calves are trembling and my hipbones are ramming against the wooden bar at the top of his sofa with every drive of his hips.

"You look so hot bent over my couch," he murmurs, leaving me no time to respond before ramming into me again. I gasp as my feet come off the floor and I tip precariously forward, grabbing blindly for a hold on his furniture before his hands tighten on my waist. "Shit," he mutters. "Sorry." His thrusts let up only slightly, and I reach back to put a hand on his hip.

"Hang on," I beg breathlessly, and he pauses but doesn't slip from my body. I straighten and press my back to his chest, and he takes a step back; when my body does free him, I sink to the floor, propping myself on my hands and knees, and his eyes flash as he drops to his knees behind me.

"Oh, God," he says, once again taking hold of my hips. "Really? Like this?"

I flash briefly back to our first night together before the sensation of his tip at my entrance brings me screaming back to the present moment. "Yes," I breathe, arching my back as I feel him push back in. He's been behind me before, but never quite like this; never on the floor, never with me on my hands and knees. He groans softly as he slides back in, and he uses the grip he has on my hips to pull me forcefully back into each of his thrusts. He sets a rhythm, and once we're moving together again, I reach back and wrap a hand around his wrist, dragging it up to cup my breast, which is swaying with each of his movements. He groans and picks up the pace, and even the mounting sting of rug burn on my kneecaps isn't enough to penetrate the fog of drunken arousal as he pushes us both higher and higher.


When I wake up in the morning to white-yellow sunlight streaming through Edward's bedroom window, he is nowhere to be found. I squint in the direction of his nightstand, noting from his alarm clock that it's only just past eight o'clock. I peek over the side of the bed in search of my clothes before remembering that every last stitch I was wearing last night is currently in Edward's living room. Confident enough in my body but unwilling to traipse through his house naked in broad daylight when I'm unsure of his whereabouts, I slip from the bed and cross the room to his dresser, drawing out a pair of clean boxer shorts and the soccer t-shirt of which I now claim partial custody. As I step into the hallway, the house is quiet, but the telltale aroma of coffee greets me as I draw nearer to the kitchen, and when I peek around the doorframe, I spot him sitting at the small table, peering through the window with a steaming mug in his hand.

"Morning," I say, and his head snaps toward me.

"Hi," he says hesitantly, cheeks suddenly aflame.

"Sleep well?" I ask as he rises to retrieve a mug for me, and as he fills it, I lower myself to the chair beside the one he's just vacated.

"Um, yeah. Thanks." He doesn't ask me in turn, and I frown slightly at how uncharacteristic that is; Edward's boarding school manners are deeply ingrained, and it makes me wonder where his mind is, though I have my suspicions. I don't have to wonder for long.

"Bella, about last night…" he begins, setting the mug down on the table in front of me.

"I knew you were freaking out," I interrupt him, an undeniable note of triumph in my voice. "Don't. Last night was hot. Awesome. Perfect."

"But—"

"I liked it."

His cheeks darken as he returns to his chair. "I wasn't…particularly gentle."

"You don't always have to be gentle." I can tell by the movements of his mouth that he's chewing on the inside of his lower lip. "Why is this bothering you?"

"I just…" He frowns as he gazes at his coffee, tracing the handle of his mug with his thumb. "I feel like I was…a little reckless."

"Edward?"

"Yeah."

"I'm not Emily."

The eyes that meet mine are surprised, and I shrug. "I'm not her. Things that would bother her – understandably – don't bother me. And if something did bother me, I'd tell you in the moment, okay? You'd know immediately. You never have to worry about me not being comfortable with something and not telling you right away."

He seems at least partly mollified by this, some of the tension leaving his broad shoulders. "Okay," he says, but there's still something churning behind his eyes. I stay silent, giving him the chance to find the words. "I…Bella, I…really like…doing all of that stuff with you. The different stuff." For once, I ignore the blush and concentrate on the words. "I like that you want to do different things with me, and I like feeling like you're enjoying them as much as I am. But I like more than just that stuff. I like you."

He's losing me, but I reach out a hand and close it around his. "I like you, too. And all the…stuff."

He nods, and I can see he's not finished. "I just…" He licks his lips and glances sidelong at me before releasing my hand to grab the seat of his chair and angle it toward me; he resituates us so that his knees are splayed and mine are between them. Once he's resettled, he laces our fingers together again. "Okay. This is going to come out all mangled, just so you know."

I smile. "Okay. Fire away."

"Okay." He blows out a breath and stares at our joined hands, his thumb tracing circles on my palm. "Bella, I know that 'making love' is considered pretty archaic terminology. I know there are plenty of other euphemisms and expressions and that some of them would be more appropriate than others for…last night." He winces slightly but soldiers on. "But even when it's…like that…to me, it's still making love, because that's how I feel about you." He scratches his nose as his gaze stays on our hands. "Yeah, I'm not saying this right."

"Yes, you are," I say, my voice barely more than breath.

Seeming bolstered by my reassurance, he finally looks up, anxious green eyes considering me intently. "I always want you to know how I feel about you, but probably most especially when we're together like that. I always want you to feel loved, because you are, and the only reason last night made me a little, uh, uncertain was because we haven't really…said those things yet, but I want to be sure that even when it's like that, you know that it's still love to me."

Text comprehension: the process of extracting or constructing meaning from words.

I'm pretty sure that somewhere in that jumble of words, Edward just told me he loves me.

"It's love to me, too," I tell him, and the residual tension bleeds from his body, which relaxes against the back of his chair even as his eyes brighten.

"Yeah?"

"Yeah," I murmur, scooting forward to the edge of my chair. He takes my cue and comes forward to meet me, lips equal parts hungry and gentle against mine.

"I love you," he breathes into my open, panting mouth.

"I love you, too," I say into his lips, and his mouth closes around mine again, softly, before he pulls back to grin down into my face. I crane my neck up to kiss his chin, his jaw before cupping a hand around the back of his neck and pulling his ear to my mouth and gently biting the earlobe, which earns me a groan. "Now take me back to bed and show me again."