The Practicum

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

Summary: "The imagination…" I lick my lips. "But more often than not, it pales in comparison to the real thing."

Acknowledgement: So much thanks to HollettLA, who reads these silly little stories even though she has a super-busy real life, and who validates my existence by saying things like, "When you make the leap to books with pages…" Thanks, lady. For all of it. xo

Chapter Nine

In the first thirty minutes of dinner at my dad's on Sunday night, it becomes clear that the faint stain on Edward's cheeks is going to be present for the duration; evidently, he's having a hard time forgetting that my former police chief father busted him grinding against me on my sofa a mere twenty-something hours prior.

"Princeton, huh?" my dad asks as he chews.

"Yes, sir."

Charlie nods as if considering this, as if there's anything to be gleaned from the fact that Edward was smart enough to graduate from an Ivy League school and a good enough athlete to warrant a scholarship to play there. "Bella was going to teach college before I went and got myself flattened on the highway."

Edward's quick look at me is affectionate, and he takes a sip of his water. "My father wanted me to be a doctor," he says. "I was going to go pre-med, but fortunately I realized pretty early on that teaching was my passion."

Another nod from my dad, and a beat of silence before he shifts in his chair. "Listen, Edward, you seem like a nice enough guy. And the whole threatening-dad routine isn't really my schtick; after all, you do know I'm adept at handling firearms, correct?"

Edward swallows. "Yes, sir."

"Right. So I don't really feel the need to bluster and pound my chest and threaten your life if you hurt my kid."

"Dad—" I attempt, but Edward cuts me off.

"Understood, sir."

Charlie nods. "I will say this, though." Here, he sets his fork down and rests his hand around the base of his can of beer, though he doesn't lift it to his lips. "Bella's a caretaker. Always has been. Even before she actually had to take care of me, she was taking care of me. Know what I mean?"

"Yes, sir."

"Okay. Well, then, I'm sure you can understand that the only thing I really want for her is someone to take care of her for a change."

"Dad," I say again, but they both ignore me and Charlie continues.

"I want her to be happy and safe and all those other things, of course, but I want someone who's going to take care of her." Now, he looks at me. "As much as she'll let you, anyway." His focus returns to Edward. "We clear on that?"

"Sir, I'd love to take care of your daughter. However she'll let me."

Charlie nods, apparently appeased. "Well, all right then." He forks a bite of steak, but before he can lift it to his mouth, his eyes narrow and he lowers the utensil as he considers Edward. "Unless…" He purses his lips. "You're not a Yankees fan, are you?"

Edward makes a face. "No, sir. Chicago Cubs."

Charlie's face relaxes and he nods. "Good man."

"Well, I think that went well," Edward exhales as he stands by the driver's side door to his SUV.

"It did," I agree, crossing my arms over my chest. Now that the sun's gone, the spring air is cool.

"You sound surprised," he says, cupping my biceps in his palms and rubbing his hands up and down my arms to coax warmth into them.

"I've, uh, never brought a boyfriend home before. I was a little nervous about how that was going to go."

"Really? Never?" I shrug, and he smiles as his hands keep moving. "So…another first."

I laugh as I nod. "Another first."

"Nice." His eyes leave my face to glance at my father's house before returning to me, and one side of his mouth hitches in a half-smile. "I really want to make out with you right now, but I think getting busted by your dad once in a weekend is more than enough for me."

"Agreed," I say, even as my inner hornball is pouting. "Though I don't think a semi-chaste goodnight kiss would be inappropriate."

"Semi-chaste?" he asks, his hands sliding from my biceps to my shoulder blades.

I shrug. "We can improvise." I barely catch a glimpse of his smile before his lips are on mine, soft and gentle. All too soon he pulls back, and his eyes are as soft as his kisses as he gazes down at me. "Good night, Bella."

"Good night," I reply, and he presses his lips to my forehead before he climbs into his truck and drives off.

Monday morning, I step into my classroom to find a caramel-coated apple sitting on my desk. Stepping closer, I see a rectangle of lined yellow paper folded beneath it; when I unfold it, I see Edward's handwriting staring back up at me.

Apples are classic for teachers, but I know how you feel about health food. Consider this the best of both worlds. –E

I don't see him at all on Monday, save my frequent glances through my classroom window after school, and when I step into his office on Tuesday for our weekly planning session, he grins up at me before his smile falters slightly. "I'm sort of sad," he says by way of hello, and I frown as I cross his small office.


"This is our last planning period. The last week of Sex Ed."

I chuckle. "You might be the first educator who has ever been sad to reach the end of this part of the curriculum."

He smiles. "I guess I have a newfound fondness for this part of the curriculum now."

"I'm not entirely averse to it either," I admit, and he grins as I settle on the lumpy couch, which I most decidedly will not miss.

"Pregnancy and contraception," Edward says, and I nod.

"Probably the one thing they all think they know and the one thing they really know the least about," I say. "It's amazing how many misconceptions exist and how often they can land girls in trouble. Well, girls and boys." My mind dances to Charlie; I imagine him as a twenty-year-old police cadet, suddenly staring down the barrel of fatherhood. I realize belatedly that I've been silent a beat too long, and at Edward's curious gaze, I shrug. "My mother was practically a teen mom," I admit, looking away and picking at the corner of my planning book. "She met my dad when she was just out of school, and she got pregnant less than a year later. My dad was already at the police academy, so they waited until after I was born to get married." A piece of the plastic cover comes away in my hand. "The marriage didn't even last as long as the pregnancy."

When I peek up at him, Edward looks sad, and I force myself to smile. "I always wondered what would have happened if they hadn't gotten pregnant so soon. Maybe they would have gotten married eventually and been really happy together." A memory of Renee assaults me, her auburn hair blowing in the wind slipping through the open car window, desert sand stretching out behind her like a burnt sienna ocean. "I mean, maybe not. My mom is sort of a restless spirit. But…maybe." Then my mind returns to Charlie, who never dated, never brought a woman home, never did anything besides police work and fatherhood and just…being Charlie.

"Bella." When I pull myself from my reverie to look at Edward's face, his expression is quietly fierce. "Don't ever say that again."

Chastened, I retrace my words, looking for my misstep. "What?"

"Anything about a scenario that would preclude your existence." He reaches out and lays his hand atop mine. "There aren't enough Bella Swans in the world, and I won't listen to you suggest there should be one less." I have no idea what to do with his sudden vehemence, his quiet ferocity, the fire in his eyes. I want to kiss him but I'm hyperaware of his open office door and our roles as teachers, so I merely nod. His fingers tighten around mine for a brief moment before he lets go, but he doesn't lean back or otherwise move away from me. "That said, I think the world could probably do without Mike Newton as a teenage father," he allows, and a gurgle of relieved laughter escapes my throat.

"Oh, can you even imagine?"

Edward mock-shudders, but his eyes are still serious as they consider my face. "I, for one, am endlessly grateful that your parents were apparently not paying enough attention during their Sex Ed lectures," he says softly.

I smile. "Well, clearly, I agree with you."

Seemingly pacified that my momentary wave of melancholy has passed, Edward smiles and leans back in his chair. "Well, we already covered the condom demo." One eyebrow lifts. "So to speak."

"Yeah. I think we just recap and then move on to reiterating other birth control methods before launching into the actual fertilization/conception/gestation cycle."

"Sounds good." His long fingers flip the pages of the teacher's text. "So you never lived with your mom?"

Surprised, I shake my head. "Summers," I say. "We'd go on road trips and stuff. But she moved a lot, so it made sense for me to stay with my dad. He was more…stable." I feel a flash of guilt for implying that my mother is somehow not stable, but I don't contradict the unspoken inference.

"So who did you talk to about…" He waves a hand at the open book. "This stuff?"

"Coach Clapp," I say simply, and I can't even keep a straight face when his wide eyes land on my face. At my giggle, his eyes narrow.

"Granted, I never met the man, but from what I understand, he wouldn't have been the average teenage girl's first choice."

I shake my head. "That's an understatement." I nod toward the book. "I read that." I rack my brain for other memories of birds and bees discussions from my formative years, only to realize that there are none to be found. "I guess that was it. The Washington State health curriculum was it for me."

"Jesus," Edward breathes, more to himself than to me. "No pressure there."

"Well, that was before everyone had the Internet," I say. "I doubt we're disclosing as much new information as we would have been a decade ago."

He looks relieved. "Excellent point." A smirk. "Thank God for Google."

I laugh. "And Nerve." Off his frown, I feel my eyebrows lift. "Don't tell me you don't know Nerve."

"I don't," he admits.

"Oh, Edward." I shake my head in mock disappointment. "I would put good money on the fact that Nerve is an oft-visited website these days on the computers at that boarding school you went to."

"I suspect much has changed about the boarding school I went to in the age of the Internet," he allows.

"Fewer nudie magazines tucked away beneath the mattresses?" I tease, and as if he's remembering, his cheeks go pink.

"Probably," he allows with a mischievous gleam in his eye. "Though I suspect there will always be a market for those."

I can't resist the bait. "Bought any new ones recently?" The pink is a shade darker, and I tamp down on the gleeful smile that wants to break free. "Reeeeeeeally."

He shakes his head. "I haven't," he contends, but the flush doesn't fade. "I honestly haven't looked at one of those in a while."

"Oh." Now I'm confused at his blush, and as if he can feel my frowning consideration of him, he peeks up at me, the fringe of his lashes obscuring his eyes slightly.

"Imagination is a powerful thing," is all he says before his eyes dart away again, and it takes me a beat to clue in to his insinuation. The sudden realization of what he's implying hits me with the subtlety of a dodge ball to the face.

"Oh!" I say before I can stop myself, and he scratches the back of his neck. He looks nearly as awkward as I've ever seen him, his knee bouncing and his face afire as his eyes dart around his tiny office. "Oh," I say again.

"Sorry," he says, still not looking at me, and I reach out to still his jumping knee with my hand.

"Don't be," I tell him. "You're right." Confused eyes meet mine and I offer him a conspiratorial half-smile. "The imagination…" I lick my lips. "But more often than not, it pales in comparison to the real thing."

I just adore what a little provocation does to this man's eyes.

On the way home from Port Angeles on Wednesday night, Angela turns the radio off and glances over at me before refocusing on the road. "Okay. So while I have you here without Jess and Jasper." I know where this is going, but because I get a kick out of Angela's need to at least give the appearance of propriety, I merely turn to face her in silent expectation. As well as I know her she knows me, so she rolls her eyes. "How's it going with Edward?"

The smile on my face is involuntary, and she matches it. "It's going well," I say, toying absently with the cardboard collar around my cup. "Really well," I add, and she grins at the highway.

"He seems very sweet."

"He is." I want to tell her about second base and ex-girlfriends and diner breakfasts, but I don't know where to start, and there's something about the honesty and simplicity of dating Edward that I don't want to compromise by analyzing it with someone else, even if that someone else is as easygoing as Angela.

"I'm glad." Her complete refusal to push for details, however, makes me want to tell her. "I meant it when I said we were taking it slow," I say haltingly, and she nods at the windshield.

"That's good," she says. "Getting to know each other."


"So…what are you getting to know?"

"That he's a really good kisser," I say with the barely-disguised glee of a fifteen-year-old, and my friend's smile widens.


"You said it."

Content to leave it at that, Angela nods as she changes lanes. "Well, I'm really happy for you, Bella. He seems like a great guy."

"He is," I agree, and conversation turns to His Girl Friday.

Hours later, just as I bury myself beneath the patchwork quilt on my bed and crack a dog-eared paperback, I hear the buzz of my vibrating phone from my nightstand. Retrieving it, I see a text from Edward.

Are you awake?

I smile. Yes. Reading.

The phone rings a beat later, and when I answer, he asks, "Anything good?"

"Langston Hughes."

"For class or for fun?"

"For fun," I admit. "Book nerd, remember?"

"Let the rain kiss you, Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops, Let the rain sing you a lullaby," he recites, and my book falls closed as my mouth falls open. There is no way my inner voice will do any of the poems justice after hearing one of my favorites murmured in dulcet tones through the phone while I'm buried beneath bed sheets.

"Okay, that's not fair."

His low chuckle rumbles through the phone. "What's not?"

"I feel like I should be able to spout back some sports stats or something that will blow your little jock mind, but I'm not that kind of girl."

"Well, in the interest of full disclosure, I did a paper on Hughes for a class in college," he admits. "Luck of the draw: if you'd been reading any other poet, I'd likely have been shit out of luck. With the obvious exception of Shel Silverstein."

"See, you evidently think that makes you less attractive to me when, in reality, it has the completely opposite effect."

"Terrific." He pauses, and I prop my pillows a little higher. "Are you in bed?" he asks, and his voice is at once softer and rougher.

"Yeah," I say, and I think I hear him swallow.

"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have called you so late." My mind flashes to our first phone conversation.

"I'm glad you did."

"I was going to drag you out, but not if you're already in bed."

"Drag me out where?" I ask. There are many things Forks lacks, and a nightlife not involving margaritas is one of them.

"Tonight's the Lyrids."

"The what?"

"The Lyrids," he repeats. "Meteor shower."

"Oh." I pause. "I've never seen a meteor shower."


"No." He hums, but timid Edward is apparently in the building, and I can almost hear his reticence to ask me out when he knows I'm already in bed. "I'd love to," I say to his unspoken question, and I hear him exhale.


I laugh. "Really." I want to see him almost as much as I want to study cosmic debris, though I opt to keep this admission to myself.

"I can be at your house in about ten minutes," he says, and I'm already kicking off the covers.


"Bundle up," he says before hanging up. "It's kind of cold tonight."

I kick off my flannel pajama pants and pull on jeans but opt to leave on my long-sleeved thermal shirt, adding my Forks Police Department hoodie and pulling on a wool hat before heading downstairs. When headlight beams illuminate my kitchen eight minutes later, I pull open the door and grab the now-full thermos from my countertop. Descending my porch stairs, I look up to see Edward standing beside the open passenger door.

"Hey," he says softly, and I smile up at him.

"Hey," I return, holding up my trusty thermos. "I hope you like hot chocolate."

"Love it," he replies, hands in his pockets. "I hope this is okay."

"This is perfect," I say, climbing into the passenger seat. He hesitates momentarily before leaning into the car and placing a chaste kiss to my lips before retreating and slamming the door gently. Rounding the car and slipping into the driver's seat, he gives me a sideways glance; even in the dim glow of the overhead dome light, I can see the familiar flush.

"That okay?"

I smile as I rest my palm over his hand on the gearshift between us. "So much more than okay."

He grins. "Okay." I feel his hand tense beneath mine as he shifts the car into gear, but when we don't pull away from the curb I glance at his profile to find him frowning. "I'm, uh…actually not sure where to go. We need somewhere with very little light noise." Oddly enough, for a town with fewer than 1,000 people, there are a surprising number of amber-glowing streetlights dotting the winding roads around town, and where the lines of lights break, the canopy of trees is heavy and less than ideal for stargazing. Most open spaces – with the exception of the Forks High School soccer field – are parking lots cast in the same yellow sodium glow. And there's no way I'm making out with the soccer coach in the middle of the field, after hours or not. The last thing I need is for one of my dad's former deputies to bust me with Edward's hand up my shirt.

"Have you been to La Push Beach?" I ask, and he shakes his head. "It's a bit of a drive, but it's probably ideal for something like this."

Edward nods. "Beach it is." He pulls away from the curb as I fasten my seatbelt, and as he drives, I watch his face glow and dim as we pass under the streetlights. When we pull into the deserted parking lot overlooking La Push Beach a short time later, Edward parks in a space overlooking the inky black ocean. His headlights shine out into the empty darkness with nothing to illuminate, simply fading into the void of dark night as the engine idles. "This okay?"

"Perfect," I reply. He cuts the engine and we both climb out of the car; Edward goes to the tailgate and retrieves an armful of blankets, bundling them and tucking them under one arm and reaching for my hand with the other. The air is nowhere near as cold as winter, but the wind kicking up off the water is chilly enough that I'm glad he told me to dress warmly. The heat of his palm warms my left hand as the thermos of cocoa warms my right, and the way he keeps glancing over at me as we navigate uneven ground warms me from the inside. We clamber down the slope to where the earth meets the gravelly sand and draw to a halt as he peers at me through the darkness.

"How about here?"

"Perfect," I say again, and he spreads the camping blanket out at the foot of the small hill and drops the smaller quilt in a heap on top of it before kicking off his sneakers and stepping onto the blanket in his socks. I follow his lead and sit cross-legged on the makeshift palette, standing the thermos at the edge of the blanket. The gradual incline makes it tip, and I prop my discarded shoes against it to keep it upright. Glancing upward, I note that this was actually a good suggestion: the stars twinkle down at me, the moon bright white against the black velvet sky.

"The peak activity is supposed to be between midnight and one thirty," he says as he lowers himself beside me, reclining to follow my gaze up to the night sky.

"What time is it?" I ask, and he glances at his watch.

"Eleven forty-five." He returns his eyes to the heavens. "But we'll probably see a few before it really gets going."

"I hope those clouds don't obscure it," I say, pointing to where silhouettes outlined in silver loom in the distance. I don't know enough about weather patterns to know which direction they're likely floating. We watch the sky in silence for a few minutes, my eyes scanning the firmament for movement, for streaking brilliance. "Why do people wish on shooting stars?" I wonder idly, still scanning the darkness.

"Because they're rare?" Edward guesses. "People wish on all sorts of rare things."

I pull my eyes from the sky to peek at his profile. "Hmm."

"Know what's funny, though?"

"What?" I ask, returning my focus to star-hunting.

"The fact that we call them 'shooting' stars."

I frown into the darkness. "Why is that funny?"

"Because they're not shooting, they're falling. Shooting stars are actually falling into the Earth's atmosphere, and they become visible when they burn up. So we're actually making a wish on something that's being incinerated."

"That's…kind of sad," I say, feeling silly for being melancholy about the deterioration of a chunk of space debris.

"Beautiful, though," he murmurs. "That people give those doomed dust particles such significance. Placing their dreams onto something destined to burn up in the heavens."

"Sort of like Santa."


"Like how little kids send letters up the chimney," I explain, not sure if I'm making sense or not but feeling somehow safe in the darkness. "All of their little-kid wishes getting sent up on a plume of smoke."

"Yeah," he says softly, his hand finding mine on the blanket between us, his fingers linking with mine. Then, after a beat, "If you could pick something to wish on, what would it be?"

"What do you mean?"

"Like, if you had to give something wish-granting power, what would it be?"

I love this question. "Hmmmmm," I hem as I think and gaze at the sky. Perhaps it's a side effect of where we are, but my mind floats to my childhood, and running around the craggy shoreline with Rachel Black while our dads sat on the sand with a cooler between them, watching us with one eye while they talked baseball and fly fishing. "Whole seashells." I turn my face to find Edward gazing at me intently. "You don't usually find a whole shell; there's usually at least a piece of it missing. Finding a whole seashell always sort of felt like a jackpot when I was a kid."

"That's a good one," he agrees.

"What about you?"

"You know how, when there's heavy cloud cover, rays of sunlight break through and you can see them like a spotlight beam?"


"I always thought that was deserving of a wish."

"I like that," I say softly.

"I like you," he murmurs in response, squeezing my fingers gently, his eyes shining in the darkness.

"I like you, too," I whisper, and when I see him lick his lips I forget all about the cool spring breeze as heat, instant and buzzing, surges through me. He rolls to his side and I mirror him so that we're facing each other on the blanket, parentheses closed around what's between us. The hand not holding mine curls around my hip, and I inch closer to him.

His lips purse, and his fingers tighten faintly against my hipbone as he scoots toward me. "Hi," he murmurs with his smiling mouth.

"Hi," I reply in a whisper, my mouth curving upward to mirror his.

"Know what else would be good for a wish?"


"First kisses."

I smile. "True. But after the first time I kissed you, all I would have wished for was a second."

His smile vanishes, replaced by intensity as his eyes drop to my mouth. "Yeah," he agrees. "And a third."

"I'd wish to lose count," I breathe.

"I can help you with that," he says, voice rough.

"Please do."

His lips are warm, and he tastes like sugary gum as his mouth moves gently over mine. I shiver against him, and he mistakes it for a chill as he pulls back, a slight frown warring with the arousal in his eyes. "Are you cold?"

"No," I say, even as he drags the quilt up and over us.

"Do you want to leave?"

"Hell no."

A smirk, and he's kissing me again, the thick blanket over us making a cocoon around us that heats in degrees as our kisses grow more fervent. His teeth nip at my lower lip and I gasp into his mouth as his mouth makes a mess of me. I can feel the hand that was on my hip sliding up and down my side, grazing the side of my breast with each pass, and I whimper as my desperation for his touch mounts with every kiss.

He tears his mouth from mine, pressing open-mouthed kisses up the side of my neck. "I swear I didn't bring you here for this," he mumbles into my skin, and I tilt my head to give him better access.

"I wouldn't care if you did," I say, winding my hand into his hair and pulling the short strands gently, tearing a low rumble from his throat. His mouth is back on mine and finally his hand slides in, cupping my breast through the bulky cotton layers of my clothing. Almost immediately it leaves and slides up beneath them, his cool fingertips slipping beneath my thermal to pluck at my pebbled nipple as I gasp into his mouth. I trail my hand down from the back of his head to his hip, pulling his body flush with mine and moaning softly when I feel his groin come into contact with mine.

We pick up where we left off on my couch, Edward hitching his hips against mine and gently caressing my breasts beneath the cotton of my shirt. All too soon his hand leaves me, but almost instantly I feel it at the waistband of my jeans. True to form, he hesitates, and I hitch my hips against his in encouragement, delighting in the almost pained gasp that falls from his lips. His fingers find the button of my jeans and slip it free; suddenly I realize that in my haste to get dressed, I neglected to trade out my purple cotton briefs for sexier underwear. Edward, for his part, doesn't seem put off in the slightest by my decidedly utilitarian undergarments as his long fingers drag the zipper of my fly down. The pads of his index and middle fingers press against damp cotton, and my back arches as our mouths part. "Is this okay?" he breathes into the tender skin of my neck, and I open my eyes. I find his cheeks with my hands and force his gaze to mine.

"Hey," I pant, and he waits patiently, eyes sparkling and lips kiss-swollen. "Everything's okay. If something's not, I'll tell you, but you don't have to ask. Okay?"

His shoulders relax as if I've just freed him, and he nods. "Okay."

Those fingers trace up the front of my briefs and still momentarily at the elastic, his warm palm pressed flush to the skin beneath my belly button, an unspoken pause to give me the chance to decline. I don't, and the tips of his fingers slip beneath the elastic and farther down until they come to rest on wet flesh, slipping against where I'm aching for him. He gazes intently at my face, and the question that doesn't pass his lips is in his eyes. I tilt my hips in encouragement and reach out to curl my hand around his neck, pulling his head back down to me.

"Tell me how you like it," he breathes against my hair, and his words ignite me further.

"Slow," I gasp. "Gentle." His touch is a ghost against my skin, feather-light but just strong enough to tease.

"Good?" he asks, flicking my earlobe with his tongue, and I pant out a yes as I reach unseeingly for his jeans. When his own pants are in a similar state to my own, I can feel his erection through cotton and I pull back from his kiss to glance down between us. In the dark cocoon of blankets, I can just make out the tent he's created of his green and blue plaid boxers, and I run my palm over the cotton-covered length of him. His fingers still against me as he groans, and I do it again once, twice more before sliding my hand up and into the waistband and back down to meet his bare length. "Oh," he whimpers and bucks against me once before he resumes the gentle passes of his fingertips.

I stroke him slowly before pulling the tender skin of his throat gently between my teeth. "Show me how you like it," I breathe, and his hand instantly leaves me to slide into his boxers and wrap around my own, and around him. I feel my own wetness on his fingers, and that little intimacy makes my heart trip in my chest. He guides my movements, slow and gentle with a slight twist for a few passes until I have it, then returns his fingers to me.

We work each other, kissing and moaning, the wet sounds of kisses and heated flesh uncharacteristically loud in the quiet darkness against the backdrop of the ocean, and when he pulls away again, I gaze up into his bright eyes in question until I feel his fingertips slide down, leaving the small nub of flesh and settling against my opening. His pause, my unspoken permission, and suddenly his fingers are sliding into me. Slowly, slowly, and I slow the pace of my hand to match his.

"Oh," I gasp, his fingers probing as his palm settles against my wet skin.

"How…" He trails off, still pushing his fingers slowly in and out, and I lift my hips into his hand.

"Just like that," I encourage him, and his mouth covers mine again, his tongue sliding against mine in time with the advance and retreat of his fingers. I spread my legs more, giving him access, the fact that we're in public and the hardly clandestine spot we've chosen combining to make me feel wanton and carefree.

"More," I beg, and I don't know what more, exactly, I want, but Edward takes it to mean more of everything: he adds another finger, increases the pace, increases the pressure of his palm against my clit, and almost immediately, I can feel my peak fast approaching. "Edward," I gasp, my hips bucking up to meet his hand, and he pulls back to watch my face as I splinter beneath him, my eyes squeezing shut, my mouth falling open in a silent scream. I shudder and clench and shatter, my body rippling around the fingers still buried deep inside me, against the palm cupping the most intimate part of me in an almost possessive hold. He remains still as I gasp and slowly come back to myself, realizing that in my own orgasm I'd stopped moving my hand; he bucks against me, thrusting into my tightened grip, and I relax my fingers slightly as I resume stroking him.

"Bella," he pants, his hips rising and falling in time with my touch. "Bella, I'm going to…" He trails off, the implication enough, and I don't know whether he wants me to stop or not so I keep touching him, a quicker rhythm with the twist he showed me, and then he's tensing and shuddering and spurting, his release warm and wet against my wrist and my palm, a rough cry falling from his lips as he comes. "Oh," he groans as he quakes, the tail end of his orgasm leaving him boneless as he collapses against the blanket, trembling and gasping. "Bella," he murmurs again, and his feverish kisses are now languid and loose-lipped, his tongue flicking against my own rubbery lips, his warm breaths puffing into my mouth as we both come back to ourselves. My hand is still in his boxers and his is still in my underwear; I relocate my palm to his hip and he does the same, and we stay wrapped around each other beneath the thick quilt as our breathing slows. My heart thuds heavily in my chest. "We, uh," he says when he catches his breath, and follows it with a short chuckle. "We…made a mess."

"Yeah," I agree with a small giggle, feeling the truth of his words in the damp cotton between my legs. Well worth it. I feel slightly sorry about the certainly more uncomfortable situation he's got going on.

I glance upward, but the sky has clouded over, and there is only the odd star visible through the clouds, the outlines of which glow silver in the moonlight. "Oh, no," I say softly, and Edward rears back as if I've shoved him away.

"What?" he asks, concern thick in his voice, and I feel immediately guilty.

"No, no." I nod toward the sky, where silver-silhouetted clouds obscure the stars. He follows my gaze, but relief is evident on his face as he shrugs. "I'm sorry we didn't see any stars," I say, pressing a soft kiss to the point of his chin.

"Speak for yourself," he murmurs, catching my lips with his.

A/N: Thanks, as always, for reading. Chapter 10 preview:

"I'm going to do that thing you've never done, and God knows you've waited long enough for it."