Rating: M. Because why else do we do this?
Summary: "Is this you advising me to sow some wild oats, or something?"
Acknowledgement: To HollettLA, who started as a beta and quickly became a "fandom friend" and then, not too long thereafter, became simply a friend. (And she's really good with the commas, too.) xo
Two months after the first time, Edward still hasn't lost the look of wonder he gets whenever I'm straddling him. "Love me," he breathes as I continue to press my damp flesh to his hard, teasing him and watching his abdominal and pectoral and bicep and tricep muscles clench as he grips the slats of his headboard.
"I do," I reply, still making no move to take his body into mine.
His expression is a tortured blend of soft affection and hard need, and he arcs up against me, his knuckles white and forearms tense as they abide by my instructions not to let go. "Please, Bella," he whispers, eyes moving between my breasts and my face as I tease him. I cock an eyebrow in mock question, and he finally disregards my semi-serious order to leave his hands where I put them as he curls one of them around the back of my neck and pulls my mouth to his. "Love me," he begs, voice nothing but breath.
"I do," I say again as I slide him home.
The bench is hard beneath my back, each individual slat pressing into my spine and hips, but my head is comfortably pillowed in Edward's lap, and the way his fingertips trail absently along the bare skin of my forearm is enough to raise my flesh into pebbles despite the warm temperature. I tent my book across my chest and let my eyes fall closed, listening to the sounds of wind shifting leaves and birds chattering in the distance.
"I don't blame you," comes the amused voice from above me after a few minutes, and I crack my eyes to peer into his face, though his focus stays on his own reading material. His eyes are nearly the same green as the tree that shades us from the bright spring sun, and I watch them as they track lines of text.
The corner of his mouth twitches. "Virginia Woolf puts me to sleep, too."
"Well it's not quite—" I trail off, craning my neck to catch the title of his book "—The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork, but it's engrossing enough."
He loses the battle with his smile and finally tears his gaze away from the page. "Yeah, this is pretty dry," he admits, closing the book and resting it on the bench beside his hip. I feel the hand that was holding his book play idly with my hair.
"What time is it?"
"Almost eleven-fifteen," he says, and I nod against his thighs, gazing absently down my body to where my feet are crossed at the ankles and propped against the arm of the bench, purple toenails beaming back up at me. Ever since Edward's drunken admiration of my bold pedicure a month ago, I've made it more of a habit to wear dark colors; judging by the few covert glances he's tossed at my feet, he appreciates the gesture. "We should probably get a move on," he adds after a few beats of silence, and I nod again despite my reluctance to move.
"Probably," I agree, noting with satisfaction that he doesn't actually urge me to get up. I let my eyes fall closed again, basking in the simple pleasures of the moment: the chirp of late spring, the tenderness of him, the realized dream of lying beneath a tree on a warm day reading with a cute boy. "I don't want to move, though," I admit, and he chuckles.
"I know the feeling." His voice is ever-so-subtly suggestive, and I recall him echoing a similar sentiment a few hours earlier as I all but dragged him from twisted bed sheets to meet Jess and Mark for breakfast at the diner. I smile but offer no verbal response, opting instead to soak up the rest of these moments in silent peace. He continues stroking my hair, his other hand now draped across the back of the bench. He's so endlessly affectionate, so warm, and I wonder how I could have ever thought him cold or reserved or, as Jasper put it, uptight.
To my eternal delight, he still blushes, though less easily – usually when I catch him off-guard, when something remotely suggestive is said outside of the bedroom, when his brain goes naughty places in the presence of someone else. But his discomfort has melted away entirely; his propensity to blush now, I'm learning, is a by-product of chivalry, not unease. He's the rare breed of gentleman that not only opens doors and helps me into my coat, but does half-rises when I approach or leave the dinner table and always makes me walk on the inside of him whenever we find ourselves near a road. It's an entirely new specimen of man for me, and while it's taken some time to get used to, I finally understand the appeal of dating a gentleman – even if I do still sometimes have to get him a little tipsy to get him to surrender the reins to his baser instincts.
"The ceremony actually starts at noon?" he murmurs.
"Do we need to worry about finding seats?"
"No. Ours are reserved."
"Okay." He seems as reluctant as I am to move, the hand not playing with my hair coming down from the back of the bench to rest on my stomach. "Bella?" he asks after a few minutes of silence.
"I'd like you to meet my family."
At his words, my eyes pop open and I abandon my blissful repose to lurch upright, staring at him agog. "What?"
"My mother and father want me to visit them in Chicago at some point this summer, and I'd like to take you with me. To, uh, meet them."
It seems only fair, given his rather unceremonious and certainly unannounced meeting of my father, but the mere idea of meeting his parents – whom, for some reason, I have spent months imagining as cold fish of the highest order – fills me with insecurity. Edward, from the evidence I've amassed, seems to scream purebred blue blood. I, on the other hand, am the daughter of a cop from Podunk, Nowhereville. My indecision is evidently a banner on my face, because Edward's once-tender expression pulls into a frown. "You don't have to," he says gently, though disappointment is thick in his voice. "I understand." But I can see that he doesn't, and that he's taking a very deliberate emotional step back to reassess.
I reach out to snag his hand. "No, I'd like to," I say, but he's looking at me doubtfully. "I just…the idea of meeting your parents intimidates me," I admit, and his disappointment gives way to confusion.
I shrug. "I just…think we come from very different backgrounds."
He seems to be turning this over in his mind. "I suppose we do," he says carefully. "I'm still not sure why that would be intimidating."
"I would just…really want them to like me," I hedge, leaving off the second part: and I'm terrified that they won't.
"I love you," he says, and the ease with which the words fall from his lips still thrills me despite the fact that he tells me every day. "So they'll love you." His expression hardens infinitesimally. "And it wouldn't matter if they didn't."
I opt to leave that alone. "You don't think it's…a little soon?"
"No," he says simply, and I'm bolstered by his utter lack of equivocation even as unease continues to roll in my stomach.
"Okay," I say, though I can't eradicate the hesitation from my voice.
"Do you think it's too soon?" he asks, trepidation back in his face, and the effort he expends trying to sound casual is obvious. I give his question the consideration it deserves, and he watches my face as if he can read the thoughts in my features. Breaking our gaze, he reaches out a single fingertip and absently traces a circle around the bone of my kneecap. I'm watching his face, and I see him lick his lips as his eyes track the path of his finger before looking back up into my face. "Is this the real deal for you?" he asks when I don't answer. His voice is gentle, far more relaxed than the words themselves.
"Yes," I say immediately. That answer, at least, is one with which I have no need to hesitate.
His shoulders drop slightly. "Do you remember how, the first time we kissed, you said we'd take it slow so that by the time we got to the sex part, we'd know if we were better off as friends?"
"Yeah," I say, amazed that he remembers my words almost verbatim.
"Well, it was a great idea. Because by the time we got to the sex part, I already knew I was in love with you." I already knew I was in love with him, too; I acknowledge this with a nod. After a few beats of silence, he reaches up to snag my fingertips from where I have my hands knotted together in my lap. "What's your hesitation?" he asks, focusing on my hands.
"I guess, I just…we did a lot of stuff that was new for you."
"I guess I just wondered if you were at all curious about…new things with other people."
To my surprise, he laughs out loud. "Is this you advising me to sow some wild oats, or something?"
"I don't know," I hedge, even though that was exactly what I was getting at despite my complete lack of desire for him to actually do it.
"I don't need to shop around," Edward says, laughter melting from his voice. "I'm on reserve."
"On reserve?" I ask, frowning up at him.
He shrugs. "You know, like somebody puts something on hold until they're ready to come back and pick it up." He glances up at me, and he's sporting his first flush of the day. "I'm reserved. Taken. Off the market."
There's being exclusive, and then there's this: unspoken acknowledgement that this is it. More than exclusive, more than dating. This is the road to more, and I didn't realize we were both on it until this moment.
"Okay, then," I say, angling my body to face him. "Then this is me, picking you up." I squeeze his fingers. "I'd love to meet your family."
His grin is nearly as bright as the spring sunshine, and I didn't realize how much tension was lingering in his frame until he releases it. "You know what happens after you pick something up?" he asks, curling his free hand around the back of my neck.
"You take it home."
I laugh, kissing him once more before pulling back and patting his thigh. "Rain check," I say, rising from the bench. "Graduation, remember?"
He mock-groans as he stands, and I stash our books in my oversized bag as we make our way across the grass toward the entrance of the so-called "park" and onto the sidewalk; true to form, Edward quickly steps around me so that he's the one walking closer to the road.
"I love you in this dress," he says, fingers brushing the thin fabric of the floral-printed garment I wore on our first date before they snag mine in the space between us.
He nods. "When I picked you up for that date, it was the first time you looked…different."
I frown. "Sweaty and gross in ratty workout clothes across a diner table wasn't different?"
He chuckles. "No, it was. I guess I meant…softer." His thumb is rubbing against my palm as he watches the sidewalk in front of us. "You sort of intimidated me at first. You seemed so…self-assured. In the classroom, in Forks, among your colleagues, everywhere. I was still so…new. Figuring things out."
"Really?" I'm very nearly struck dumb. I don't think anyone, ever, has painted me with quite the same strokes, and to hear Edward – beautiful, talented, brilliant Edward – do it makes me feel validated in a way that has nothing to do with our romance. I know that my friends and my father and maybe even some of my colleagues like me well enough and possibly even respect me as a teacher, but I don't believe anyone's ever said as much to me point-blank like Edward just did. Then again, the people in my life have known me for years – in some cases, all twenty-nine of them – and when does anyone ever tell a person he's known forever about his first impressions?
"Really," he says, giving me a sideways glance, and I can tell he's amused by my reaction.
"Wow," I reply stupidly. "Well, for what it's worth, you completely put me back on my heels, too."
His eyebrows leap in genuine surprise. "What?"
I feel blood warming my neck as I recall just how affected I was by him in the beginning: the extra attention I paid to my wardrobe, the classes I spent staring at him when I was supposed to be "co-teaching," the after-school hours that were more focused on watching him coach than making lesson plans. "You're just so…good-looking. I mean, before I ever even spoke to you, Jasper and Angela and Jessica spent an entire margarita night talking about how none of them would kick you out of bed." I feel only slightly guilty for the immediate fire that steals across his face. "And I didn't disagree with them. And you're a really good teacher, and a really good guy. And then, of course, was the little matter of psyching myself up to talk about penises and vaginas and all that stuff with you in front of a bunch of teenagers." A low chuckle rumbles in his chest. "And while we're talking wardrobe, Edward, it's patently unfair how mouthwatering you look in a dress shirt." Reflexively, he glances down at his canary yellow dress shirt, the sleeves of which are – as always – rolled to the elbows. "I'm selfishly glad that you're a PE teacher, because if you worked in an office or something, I'd be sorely tempted to sign on as your secretary just to keep the ladies at bay."
"What, I'm not as mouthwatering in warm-ups?" He's teasing me, but I sigh.
"Actually, sadly, you are." At my confession, he stops us and grabs me by the hips to make me face him; a slightly devilish smirk is dancing at the edges of his mouth as he leans in and breathes against my ear.
"I'm too much of a gentleman to tell you what the sight of you in those close-fitting little teacher's skirts and heels did – does – to me," he murmurs, and that's another thing I've learned about Edward: the boy knows how to tease. Just as he's leaning back to observe the effect of his words, we both jump at the sudden blast of a car horn and turn to look toward the road, where Jess is braking as she approaches the school parking lot, Jasper in the passenger seat. Both of my friends – our friends – are wearing shit-eating grins as they pass, and I roll my eyes as Edward laughs and we resume walking.
"Still fantasize about pushing my skirts up then, Mr. Cullen?"
"Every damn day, Ms. Swan," he replies, and I could tell him about a few of my own fantasies – ducking beneath his desk and pulling his track pants down around his ankles; straddling him on the craptastic sofa in his office; dry-humping him in the backseat of his car – but we're approaching where Jasper and Jess are waiting beside her car, and while I enjoy seeing him blush, I'm not about to confess quite that much in front of these two.
"Hey," we greet Jasper, and Jess just grins.
"Thank God it's summer," she says, eyes pinging between Edward and me. "You guys have three months to get it out of your systems before you have to act like mature, non-horny adults again." Her grin morphs into a smirk. "And about eight months before you have to teach the Sex Ed curriculum again."
My eyes fly to Edward, who looks as surprised as I feel. Despite how this started, and how thoroughly we've been practicing the sex part of things for the past few months, the idea of talking to a bunch of kids about erections with Edward when I've seen, felt, tasted his takes me aback. Edward clears his throat. He appears to be thinking similar thoughts, if the stain on his cheeks is anything to go by.
"Uh, should we…" He flails a hand in the direction of the building, and we make our way toward the doors.
"I still remember the night we were all talking about it," Jess muses, characteristically unwilling to let it go. "Bella assured us that she was teaching the curriculum, not engaging in a demonstration." She leers at me. "Care to revise that statement?"
"Yes," I reply, a champion at playing Jess's game after years of practice. "I am now thoroughly engaging in demonstrations on a fairly regular basis, including twice last night and once this morning."
Edward sounds vaguely like he might be choking on something, and Jasper gives him a whack between the shoulder blades as we cross the parking lot. "You get used to it," I hear him say as Jess nods at me in approval.
"Nice," she says, and – as I knew she would – lets the subject drop.
Alice and Rosalie are handing out programs at the doors to the gym, and they both beam up at me and Edward with the kind of enthusiasm that only looks appropriate on teenage girls, but are blessedly unable to gush about how "totally cute together" we are, given the ever-growing line of parents and guests behind us. We wind our way toward the front of the gym, to the rows of folding chairs designated as "faculty-staff seating," and spot Angela with a row of open chairs alongside her. I settle beside her with Edward next to me and Jess and Jasper on the other side of him. Flipping through the graduation program, I sigh as some of the names jump out at me.
"The longer I teach, it seems the more kids I knew as toddlers walk across that stage," I muse and Angela laughs. "I can only imagine. I freak out enough when kids I remember as freshmen are graduating."
I point to Rachel Black's name. "Babysat her," I say and Angela grins.
"You said it."
I feel the crisp cotton of Edward's sleeve against the backs of my shoulders as he rests his arm along the backrest of my chair; as Principal Taylor steps to the mic to begin the program, I lean into his side.
The valedictorian's speech is the typical amalgamation of nostalgia and anticipation, peppered with platitudes about the graduates standing on the precipice of the Rest Of Their Lives, and just as she launches into the importance of Remembering Where They Came From, I feel Edward's fingers gently dragging along the skin of my bicep, just beneath the sleeve of my dress. I peek up at him and he's smiling gently down at me.
When the ceremony is over, Jess, Jasper, Angela, and I compare plans for the post-ceremony graduation party circuit; while I don't teach any senior English classes, a number of students I had as freshmen and sophomores have invited me to their celebrations. Despite his status as a first-year teacher with only one class of senior PE students, Edward got more than a few invites of his own, so we make plans with the other three to hit as many of them as we can together before parting ways.
We make appearances at each shindig – some small, mostly-family get-togethers, others enormous reunion-style outdoor bashes – before Edward and I end up at La Push Beach for the joint celebration for Rachel and Leah Clearwater. Billy raises a hand in greeting as we pick our way across the sand and I return the gesture; he points toward a barrel that experience tells me is full of ice and bottles of beer. I nod and he grins, returning to his conversation with Sam Uley.
"There's your dad," Edward says, and I follow his gaze to where Charlie is standing near the edge of the fire talking with Harry Clearwater, his hand resting at the small of Mrs. Stanley's back. I smile to myself as I lead the way over to him, taking a minor detour to eyeball the table of food and assemble a small paper plate with cubes of cheese, crackers, a handful of chips, and a generous scoop of something that looks like buffalo chicken dip. Edward, true to form, gathers a handful of celery, carrot, and cucumber sticks, cherry tomatoes, and a small dollop of vegetable dip.
"You eat like a rabbit," I tease him for the umpteenth time, and he snorts as he grabs a bottle of water from the cooler at the foot of the table.
"This is energy food," he retorts, and I turn to lead us the rest of the way to where Charlie is standing. "That," he continues, pointing to my sampling of artery-blockers, "is junk."
"Delicious junk," I edit, and he concedes that point with a laugh and a nod. En route to where my father lingers, Edward and I cross paths with Rachel, whose dark eyes dance with reflected light from the fire. She looks happy and ecstatic and alive with the unique sense of possibility reserved for those on the precipice of a new journey, and she beams up at us in welcome.
"Congratulations, Rachel," I say, giving her a hug and stepping back to let Edward congratulate her as well.
"Thanks," she says, pushing her dark hair back off her face. "And thanks for coming."
"Of course," I reply as Edward's hand comes up to rest on the small of my back. "So, UCLA in the fall, huh?"
She nods, a small smile of anticipation on her face. "Yeah. I'm really excited. Dad is freaking out about the LA part of it, but I figure I have three months to get him to chill out."
I laugh, remembering Charlie's anxiety about my being at Berkeley – an anxiety that in no way lessened over the four-year span of my education. "Good luck with that," I say. "Dads aren't so good at the chilling out."
She echoes my laugh. "Tell me about it."
"Do you know what you want to study?" Edward asks, his hand making slow, absent circles on my spine.
"I think…education," she says. "I'm thinking about teaching."
"You'd be great at it," I tell her honestly. I've watched Rachel with her younger siblings for years, and her seemingly endless patience – even when she was a kid herself, and then a preteen – has always amazed me. I've often wondered how much of that is a result of having lost her mother at such a young age and how much of it is simply Rachel.
"Thanks," she replies, shrugging. "We'll see. I might change my mind when I get there, but I've always liked the idea of teaching."
"High school?" I ask, and she shakes her head immediately.
"God, no," she laughs. "I don't even like teenagers now, and I am one. I don't think I could ever go back to high school now that I'm free of it for good."
I tamp down the knowing smile that tries to curl my mouth; Rachel's words could have been mine not that many years ago. "Well, you never know," I say vaguely.
"I guess not," she allows. "But seriously, if I wind up teaching high school anything, I'd like you to please make sure I haven't been body-snatched."
I laugh again. "Deal."
She nods, and is just opening her mouth to say something more when Leah appears at her side and loops her arm through Rachel's. "The parentals want to do cake," she informs her, then grins at me and Edward. "Thanks for coming," she says, and we both nod in response. As Rachel gives us a half-wave and I watch them bounce across the sand toward the table of food, they remind me somewhat of Alice and Rosalie, and I'm struck, not for the first time, by the cyclical nature of high school. Freshmen come and seniors leave, and yet somehow the feeling of the place never really changes. For all intents and purposes, I could be standing at one of my classmate's graduation parties more than a decade ago, the only difference being the abundance of camera phones in the vicinity. And while Rachel is a brilliant young woman who could certainly wind up teaching college as a professor, it wouldn't surprise me any more if she became a colleague of mine somewhere down the road. As I've learned, it's funny how different a place can feel when you experience it from a new vantage point. It's also funny how, the closer you get to wanting to settle, the more appeal "home" has.
"Where'd you go?" Edward murmurs, crunching on a carrot stick as he slips his hand back around my hip, and I shake my head.
"High school graduation flashbacks," I say, and he chuckles.
"Ah. Yeah, I can imagine." He watches as a knot of people forms around the food table and the guests of honor. "I would have loved to see you as a high school kid."
I groan. "Oh God, no you wouldn't have. I was awkward and ungainly and a complete misfit."
"Well, I was a gangly geek who was afraid of girls," he counters.
I laugh as I hear the Billy's muffled voice; while I can't quite pick out the words, it's clear that he's making his proud-papa speech. "So you're saying that we might have been a pretty decent match even as teenagers?"
"Yes," he says simply.
"Too bad you didn't grow up in Forks, then," I reply. "We could have done the whole 'dry-humping-in-the-backseat' thing a decade ago."
"I didn't have a car in high school," he replies.
"I had my truck," I counter, and he laughs.
"Oh, yes. The flatbed could have been trouble." His tone is light, and I'm mildly surprised by the thin thread of regret that winds its way into my brain that I didn't get to cross off more true firsts with him. When he glances down at me again, the direction of my thoughts must be evident on my face because his brow creases slightly. "You okay?"
I nod. "Yeah. My mind was just wandering."
"Anywhere fun?" He releases my hip and plucks a cucumber from his plate, munching it as we watch the semicircle of people around the graduates.
"Not really," I say. "Just picturing what it would have been like if you had been here back then."
If he hears the minor chord of regret, he opts to deflect it instead of dissecting it. "But then I would never have learned all of those masturbatory euphemisms," he says.
"That would have been unfortunate," I agree, sliding a chip through the pile of dip on my plate. "I mean, what would my life be without 'mangling the midget'?" I peek up at him, delighted to see the familiar pink stealing across his cheeks.
"Yeah, it probably wasn't the smartest move on my part to include that one on the list before you'd actually had a chance to confirm that 'midget' is an…inaccurate representation." There's something about the discrepancy between mischievous, mildly-perverted Edward and proper, boarding-school Edward that still intrigues me. I'm opening my mouth to reply when he continues. "You know, it occurs to me that you keep mentioning the backseat thing." He glances down at me, eyes dancing. "Is there a story there that you haven't told me?"
I'm grateful for the darkness, which hides the sudden flush of my face. "No," I say honestly. "It was just…something I said early on that stuck."
"Did you ever…do that? In high school?"
I shake my head. "No. I've actually never done that. In a car."
"Really," he says, dragging out the vowels as he pops a cherry tomato into his mouth. "So there's something we need to cross off your list, then." It's not a question, and I can see the wheels in his mind turning as the cluster of people across the sand breaks into applause.
"Maybe there is," I concede, purposely not looking at him, because I know that if I do, I'm going to want to beat a hasty retreat from this party and cross it off right the hell now.
"Interesting," he says as the applause dies down, and we stand in companionable silence for a few minutes before he leans away from me and drops his now-empty plate into a nearby barrel doubling as a garbage can. After taking mine from me and discarding of it as well, he reaches into the pocket of his slacks. A beat later, his hand reappears. "Here," he says, handing me a small box that looks like a jewelry gift box.
"A car," he deadpans, and I roll my eyes even as an involuntary smile pulls at my mouth. I pull the lid off the box, and inside is what appears to be a house key. When I peek up at him, he's studying me intently. "I lock my doors," he says, as if by way of explanation, and I laugh.
"Well, I rarely show up at your house without you in tow," I say, even as the significance of the gesture makes me feel all girly and sappy. "But thank you." I rise to my toes to kiss his mouth, but he pulls back.
"Nope. Not quite what I meant."
I frown. "This isn't your house key?"
"Okay. I'm lost."
"I'd like it to be our house key."
He breaks my gaze to look at the sand, which he's drawing into a small ridge between his feet and then stepping on before gathering it back up again. "I, uh, meant what I said earlier. I'm off the market. If you are too, I'd like you to move in with me." He glances at me before returning his focus to the ground. "I mean, it doesn't have to be immediately. Whenever you're ready. Or if you're not, that's fine, too. You can keep the key anyway, since I do lock my doors." He's rambling, and even in the flickering firelight, I can tell he's blushing. "You can just, uh…keep it." He's looking everywhere but at me, and I can see by the color of his cheeks and the twitch at his temple that he has already convinced himself of my answer before I've given it.
"Yeah." He still doesn't look at me, dropping his gaze once again to the sand between his feet.
"I'm going to want full-fat ice cream in the freezer at all times. None of this sorbet or nonfat frozen yogurt crap."
His surprised eyes fly to my face, and his jaw stops twitching as his mouth falls slightly open. "Really?"
I nod. "Really. I can get pretty cranky if I don't have it at my immediate disposal."
He grabs my hand and tugs it gently so that I'm pressed up against his torso; his hands knot together at the small of my back. "Don't tease me," he says, his eyes darting between my eyes and my mouth.
"I thought you liked it when I tease you," I reply, even as my desire to do so is rapidly waning.
"I like you teasing my body," he says, eyes flickering with something that has nothing to do with the fire roaring behind me. "My heart's a little bit of a different story." His words are so exposed, so defenseless that any residual teasing I had in me is extinguished.
I reach up to place a hand on his chest, just to the left of his row of buttons. "I'm not teasing you," I say. "About the ice cream or about my answer."
"So that's…yes?" he clarifies, smile barely concealed.
"That's yes," I confirm, beaming up at him.
He swoops down to kiss me, hard and soft, possessive and passive, and when he pulls away, he rests his forehead against mine. "Thank you," he breathes into the small gap between us, and I lace my fingers together behind his neck.
"Thank you for asking me."
He's grinning as he pulls away, and I return the smile before turning and leaning back against his chest; his arms band around my waist as we gaze into the flames that leap up toward the inky sky, occasional sparks jumping as kindling fractures in the flames.
"I have to say, I'm a big fan of this beach," Edward murmurs against my ear, and I shiver in response as my eyes go skyward and I remember cool air and warm blanket cocoons.
"Me too," I murmur, leaning back into him.
"If your father weren't a stone's throw away, I'd be sorely tempted to recreate a particular scene out of From Here to Eternity."
I chuckle against him. "Yeah, this is the Pacific Northwest, not Newport Beach. I don't know a single man who wants to bare his…parts to those frigid waters."
"Hm. Fair point. Someday I guess I'll just have to take you to some tropical beach, then." Unbidden, my mind flashes to the most likely occasion that would warrant taking a week away from our lives and frolicking together on a white-sand beach somewhere exotic. "I wouldn't say no to that," I breathe, immediately anxious that my true meaning is apparent in the tone of my voice.
Edward's arms tighten around my frame. "Good to know," he murmurs in my ear and presses a featherlight kiss to the curve of my neck. A throat clears behind us, and I crane my neck to find Charlie and Mrs. Stanley – whom I'm not yet comfortable calling Barbara, despite her insistence – standing just behind Edward. I bite back a laugh at the way Charlie's hand drops from her lower back as I register his presence, and I give them a small wave.
We make small talk for a few minutes – the ceremony, the speeches, the fact that Rachel Black is off to college, how fast the time goes. "It doesn't seem like all that long ago it was your graduation, Bells," Charlie says in a rare show of nostalgia.
"Maybe for you," I say on a chuckle. "For me, it feels like a lifetime."
Charlie glances off to one side, where Billy is beside Rachel, his face a mosaic of pride and bittersweet joy. "He'll miss her," he says somewhat absently, and I'm treated to a brief flash of memory: Charlie, the night after my own graduation, standing in my bedroom doorway with a trio of movies he'd rented from the local video store, all recently released chick-flicks he had no interest in seeing. I recall now what I didn't lend much thought to at the time: that he'd spent more of the evening watching me than the movie we selected. A sharp stab of affection for my gruff father hits my chest.
"She might wind up back here," I say, lacing my fingers through Edward's where they still rest against my stomach. "You never know."
Charlie nods, facing me once again, and I smile at the familiar expression on his face: hope, doubt, guilt, relief. As if he can read between the lines of conversation we're not really having, Edward squeezes my fingers between his own. "Life has a funny way of putting us where we're meant to be," he offers, and in the corner of my vision, I see Mrs. Stanley's fingers brush gently against Charlie's where their hands hang beside each other between them.
"Isn't that the truth?" she muses, and Charlie glances at her, the familiar expression of jumbled emotions shoved aside by one I haven't seen him bestow upon a woman since I was a toddler: adoration.
"Okay," I say, "well, we're pretty beat from all of this party-hopping, so I think we're going to head out."
Charlie nods. "I don't think we'll be far behind you. Just want to say goodbye to Harry before we go."
I step out of Edward's embrace and press a kiss to my dad's cheek. "See you later," I say, and I don't bother fighting the smile that creeps onto my face when his hand snakes back up to Mrs. Stanley's back as Edward says goodbye.
He leads me to his car and after closing the passenger door beside me, half-jogs around to the driver's side, sliding inside and turning the key in the ignition. Once we're out of the lot and on the road, he finds my hand with his, running a thumb over my knuckles.
"You survived your first Forks graduation ceremony," I muse, letting my head fall back to rest against my seat.
He chuckles. "I did," he agrees, his profile softly lit by the moon as the car noses its way along the tree-lined road toward Forks.
"And your first year at Forks," I add, and he nods again, then frowns.
"Well, technically, half a year. I have yet to experience the fall semester," he reminds me.
"Ah, yes. Homecoming and Halloween and the Fall Festival and the Snow Ball…there is much to teach you, still."
"I look forward to it," he muses, and I chuckle as we fall silent, dark silhouetted scenery sliding by. When we pull back onto the main drag in Forks, I peek at his face, intermittently lit by streetlights, and the spark I always feel when I look at him settles into a warm burn low in my abdomen. I return my focus to my window and frown.
"Where are we going?" I ask when the turn-off for his house passes by.
"Quick detour," he says, flicking his eyes to me before refocusing on the road; a few minutes later, he pulls into the driver's ed parking lot of Forks High School and turns off his headlights before killing the ignition and unbuckling his seat belt. When he angles his body toward me, his eyes are sparkling. "Bella?"
He watches my mouth form the question before his eyes lift to mine and a grin stretches his faintly pink face. "Get in the backseat."
A/N: Well, that's it for blushing Sex Ed-Ward. Thanks for coming along for the ride; I hope it lived up to its promise of "fluff and porn and naked Edward." I'm working on something new; hope to see you then. In the meantime, I wrote a one-shot called "The Hot Seat," which can be found on my author profile. xo
Also, The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork is actually a really good read if you're involved in athletics, management, or any endeavor that involves working with other people. In case you were wondering. ;)