Bella and I may not have been talking, but that didn't mean that the inner-workings of things: the body, the mind—and, yeah, love—just shut down. It still went on. Still kept ticking. Something like a ticking bomb happened inside my chest when I walked into the living room to find Bella sitting on the coffee table. My heart seemed to take a break. I started to step toward her until she said one word: "Alice."
She pointed toward the kitchen. Alice was coming out with a sandwich in one hand and her other hand on her roundish belly. She waved Bella over and I watched my girlfriend step past me without looking at me, watched her hips in her jeans sway as she climbed the stairs. I tilted my head. Was she putting more swing into it than necessary?
"My mom doesn't like when people sit on the coffee table," I called up after her, my hand gripping the banister, twisting around it. I felt like an idiot after that. Even if it was true—even if when my feet were in nothing but socks my mom would tell me to get my feet off her table—sitting on that table wasn't something I'd ever stop someone else from doing. Especially not Bella. She pretended not to hear me, which was best for things all around.
A part of me ached. Most of me ached, to be honest. The ache was pushing me to storm up the stairs, pull Bella into my room and tell her what she wanted to hear. Tell her I was sorry for doing this to her. But I still wasn't sure about meeting her parents. I had to prepare myself somehow, although I had no idea how to do that. How do you teach yourself in a day or two how to say all the right things and not say all the wrong things? How could I just be myself, like Bella had told me, when most of myself should probably not be paraded out in the open in front of her parents? I was starting to sweat, one foot on the step above me and my hand holding too tight to the banister.
I looked down at my tattoo. Uncle Marcus would tell me not to be such a pussy. I could hear him saying it, emphasizing the word pussy. He'd first said it to me when I was eight and too scared to try any tricks on my skateboard.
I heard music start up in Alice's room, the door left open. It was some classical piece, an influence from Bella I was sure. It was probably Bella who put it on.
Bella plays piano. No, she doesn't just play piano, she is crazy-good at it. I heard her playing in the music room at school a few weeks after Tyler's soccer ball had tripped her. I stood right inside the door, leaning against the wall and listened. I left before she finished so she wouldn't see me. It turned out she knew I was there anyway, and gave me a hard time about spying on her.
Since she was a junior and I was a senior, we didn't have any classes together other than Gym—where I'd recently been distracted by her jumping rope. I could tell you about how her hair bounced over her shoulders, how other parts of her bounced in her tight shirt, how her legs flexed. Then I might also have to tell you about how Jared told me to wipe away my drool.
Other than Gym, we'd been hanging out during lunch, and in the hallways between classes. I knew that when I laughed it made her laugh. I knew she brought weird stuff for lunch like baguette slices and artichoke cream cheese that she spread on with a plastic knife. Because I was sitting with Bella, I also had to sit with other juniors like Alice and Jasper—this was months before he was on my shit list for knocking Alice up. Jasper pissed me off when I was talking to him about her weird lunches and he asked, "Who?" I wanted to say, "Who the hell do you think?" But then I thought it was probably better that he wasn't noticing Bella or what she brought to lunch since he was going out with my sister.
My mom would say Bella and I were dancing around each other. That's always what she called it when she caught me looking at a pretty girl. There was this girl at our cousin's wedding last year I was eyeing. "Stop dancing around her and go talk to her," my mom had said. I hadn't moved my feet, let alone danced. But Bella and I were closer to dancing. At least we were walking around each other, and play fighting, and smiling, and laughing, and trying to tell each other things with our eyes, only I couldn't understand what hers were saying most of the time.
Walking with her in the hallway, I decided I had to make a move before she called me her friend. So I went for it. I asked her out. Or I guess I didn't technically ask her. I said, "Go out with me on Friday night."
She laughed, which—even if laughing was something I understood—knocked my ego down a few notches.
Light from all the windows lit up her eyes. She narrowed them at me. "I know you were spying on me in the music room."
I figured this was her way of ignoring what I'd said, and then it hit me that I wasn't even sure if she had a boyfriend or not. I assumed she didn't, not at our school anyway. But there was, I reminded myself, a whole world outside of our school. Maybe her boyfriend wasn't even in high school. Maybe he was in college. Though that begs the question: would a taken girl let you bring her to the girls' room and touch her leg without at least mentioning her boyfriend? I didn't have answers to questions like that one.
I let it go. For the time being. "What were you playing?"
"Clair de Lune," she said, starting to walk with the crowd again. "It means moonshine. Charlie, my real dad, got me this jewelry box that played it. Underneath was a sticker that had the title of the song and its translation. I used to open the lid at night just to listen to it in the dark. It was like I could see the music. Like each note was a little speck of light-" she poked at the air with her index finger as if she was pointing out specks of light "-some brighter than others. I didn't really have any jewelry to put in it, so I put little toys in it. Little relics." She shrugged. "I wanted to learn how to play the song."
"You have jewelry now," I said, flicking at the silver charms that hung on her long chain. "Music notes. Relics."
She stopped and lifted the charms from where they hung way down the middle of her chest between her boobs. "The pendants are from Charlie, too. Treble clef and bass clef. For the piano."
"Do you always play in the music room? They let you do that?"
"Only the last couple of days. I just - I'm nervous. I've been practicing for something." She dropped her necklace. "Something important."
She started to elaborate on the "something important," but I got trapped staring at her face. I watched how her lips moved when she talked, showing the tips of her front teeth; the pattern of light freckles next to her eye; how she blinked her long eyelashes; how her eyes looked into mine when I was paying attention. I had to bring my thumb and index finger to the corners of my mouth, dragging them down to the center of my lip, and tug on it so that I could fight off the urge to kiss her.
Obviously I had to make her repeat herself.
"Listen this time," she said, and I worked at it, aiming my ear at her instead of my eyes. She told me about this piano instructor over in Port Angeles. She said you have to audition for him just to get him to teach you. And getting an appointment for an audition was hard enough because he only held auditions when he had a new spot available.
"You'd think this guy was Juilliard," I said, not knowing much more about Juilliard than that it was a prestigious music and dramatic arts school in New York.
"Not even close. But still."
"You can do it, Moonshine," I said, nudging her elbow with mine. I'd said it because I wanted her to know I was listening. But the smile on her face made the nickname come up again, and then again, until it stuck.
Right after I said "Moonshine," and she smiled, about four steps away, Ben clocked Eric in the face. I heard it, then saw it, Eric stumbling back, righting himself and going for Ben. He landed a fist, and I held Ben back before it got out of hand. "Outside," I said as he was saying, "You should've heard what he said about Angela." Across from us, Bella-Bella-was trying to hold Eric back.
I let go of Ben.
"If you hurt her..." I jutted my chin toward Bella. Eric calmed down, shrugging her off.
"What are you doing?" I asked her, my eyes as incredulous as my voice.
"What are you doing?" She was out of breath and there was a sheen across her forehead.
"You could've gotten punched. Are you insane?"
"You could have too." She folded her arms across her chest, both an eyebrow and a corner of her lip quirking.
"You are crazy."
A crowd of students and teachers had gathered. All four of us were sent to Mr. Mallory's office for questioning.
Eric and Ben were called in one at a time. Everyone else had long since been in class. That left Bella and me alone on the bench in the hall, next to the blue door. The principal's office was the only room in the school with a blue door. I've waited there many times, but I can say without a doubt that this was Bella's first time on that bench.
Even if adrenaline was still pumping through me, I did not imagine it when Bella scooted closer to me. I would've put money down that this was not my imagination. I turned my head to look at her. She was definitely already looking at me. She smiled, and then sort of nodded and looked down like she was nervous. When she looked back up at me, some of her hair had fallen over her face.
I reached up to push it around her ear and my hand stayed there against her jaw. She closed her eyes. I leaned in. She smelled like something familiar, like my last birthday cake. Like frosting. I kissed her cheek. Or, I meant to kiss her cheek, but got her a little farther back, next to her ear, and the breath she took in as my lips touched that spot—there was no way I could stop myself from going right for her open mouth, particularly her bottom lip.
She turned her body toward me and I turned mine toward her. Clutching my shirt sleeves she tugged me closer. Her hands ran down my arms and then slid back up into my hair at my neck. I pulled her in close by her waist. Right up against me. All of her. She was practically in my lap. My hands were exploring her back, up and down, around, resting at that curve right before her ass. Maybe they met her ass. I can't be sure. I was too involved in the kiss to be sure. But if I did touch her ass, she didn't push my hand away or back up or stop kissing me. I broke off, but only to plant more kisses over her face.
Her skin was heating up under my lips.
I slid my hands all the way up her body to her face. With my hands holding her cheeks, I looked down at her, her eyes still closed. Her lips, full and wide, were still parted as if waiting for me, wanting me. Wanting. I kissed her like she wanted.
When she pulled back, my hands caught her arms at her elbows. We were both looking at each other. Right in the eyes. Both breathing heavy. This was a moment when you're so out of it you might accidentally tell the person in front of you you love her. I didn't though. I kept that in. Because, well the truth was, I didn't love her, not then. But if I'd known what love felt like, I would've known I could love her, that it was a possibility.
I chuckled, nervous after thinking thoughts that involved love, and she asked, "What?" and I said, "Nothing."
We sat back against the wall, facing the window across from us, like at the same time we both remembered where we were—still in school. I put my hand on her leg. She covered my hand with hers.
I could feel her shoulder rise up and down against mine with her breathing.
"Do you smell like chocolate?"
"It's my lotion."
"I'm pretty sure that's why I kissed you." I opened my fingers to slide them up between hers.
"Hmm. Then I wonder why I kissed you."
"You couldn't resist."
"Is that a challenge?"
We still hadn't looked at each other. At least, I hadn't looked at her. I turned her way.
"Are you done trying to dodge going out with me?"
She was smiling. Her eyes shifted to mine. "I wasn't dodging you." Her eyebrows rose.
"You ignored my question."
"You didn't ask a question. You made a command."
"Why don't you switch it up and ask me out, Moonshine? Feminism and everything."
"Do you have a problem with just asking?"
"All right." I play-huffed at her, and asked under my breath, "Will you do me the honor of going out with me, Bella Swan?"
"When, Edward Cullen?"
"You know when." She was being ridiculous but I knew what she was doing. "Friday. Night. You better say yes fast because I'm really close to revoking my hell of an offer."
Before she answered, Eric exited the principal's office and told Bella it was her turn. As she opened the door to go in, she turned to me. "No restaurants."
I sort of frown-smiled at her not knowing what that meant.
That kiss on the bench wasn't the one Bella would call our first. There was another one before that. Kind of. When I told you about the time I cleaned up her knee in the bathroom, I didn't exactly tell you all of it because I was trying to avoid sappy. But since I'm way past sappy now, what does it matter? I didn't have a Band-aid to offer her the way the nurse would have, and she wasn't really bleeding anymore. So I put my fingers to my lips and I kissed them and then I put my fingertips against her knee. I know, it's not technically a kiss—I don't think so either—but Bella calls it our first kiss so I go with it. Sometimes the guy just has to go with it and it might as well be over something that's really not that big of a deal.
With Bella gone, so was the classical music. Hard rock boomed from Alice's room until our parents forced her to turn it off and come down to dinner. Alice was in some mood at the dinner table. She was banging stuff around, like her glass after she took a drink, or her fork on her plate, and even her food in her mouth, shoving it in like she was punishing herself. I was relieved when my mom started talking crazy about a few bricks she thought were missing out front.
She was convinced that someone was stealing our garden bricks one at a time. She said she first noticed a change in how they sat together a little looser a few weeks ago.
"Now there's such a gap between each brick that I'm positive there are fewer than before."
I looked over at my dad to see if he could believe this. Who would steal bricks one at a time? I mean, if you were going to steal bricks, wouldn't you just load up all at once? My dad was over there at his end of the table not reacting at all.
Alice, of all people, was the voice of reason. "Who the fuck would steal one or two bricks?"
"Alice," my mom said. "Your language."
"No, really. Were they short just a few bricks and thought they'd take them from us one at a time over the span of weeks?"
"Possibly. Who knows why anyone does anything. Maybe all it is is a prank. But I'm telling you-" she wagged her fork at Alice "-someone is taking them. I'm getting a sign before they take any more."
"A sign?" my dad said. Now he was finally seeing the insanity here.
"A sign," she said, and took a bite, and that seemed to end the conversation.
While Alice and I were doing the dishes and she was still in that pissed off mood of hers, I asked her what was up.
"Jasper's an asshole," she said, shoving a plate at me. I rinsed it.
"What did he do?" I slipped the plate into a slot in the dishwasher.
She went over to collect more dishes from the dinner table. "That's just it." She shoved another plate at me. "He doesn't do anything. I'm sick of him not being here for me and the baby. Sick of it."
I didn't think I should point out that the baby wasn't here yet to do anything for. But I guessed I knew what she meant. The crib and all that, and maybe the tummy rubbing or whatever it was soon-to-be-dads do.
"You want me to talk to him? And watch it with those plates before you break one. You might be accused of brick-thieving."
She laughed at that, which made me a little proud. I tried to come up with another joke to crack, but her humorous mood was already gone. "Don't you dare say anything to Jasper. Don't you dare. I'm handling it."
I held up my hands in a sign of surrender. "I was just asking. It wasn't a threat for fuck's sake."
Then she told me that earlier, up in her room, Bella kept asking about me. I wanted to know more, but she wasn't giving me more.
"What did she ask?"
"I don't know, just questions."
"What kind of questions?"
"You know, like how are you, what have you been doing, those sorts of things."
"Well, what did you tell her?"
"I told her you were you except quieter."
Conversations like these, when you have to keep asking question after question just to get the tiniest bit of information, piss me off.
"And what did she say, Alice? Shit."
"She said you weren't talking. Which I already know, so what else was there to say?"
Oh, I don't know. How about: You're being ridiculous; go talk to my brother who's crazy about you?
"How long is this going to go on?" I thought I'd said it quiet enough under my breath, but apparently my sister has elephant ears.
"How long's what going to go on?"
I didn't answer her.
A/N: Thank you for reading. I appreciate the time you take to review. It seems like a lot of you have the nervous laughing habit in common with Edward. :)