The "Ho Hey" Contest

Story Title: A Bus to Chinatown

Pen name: sparklevamp

Pairing: Edward/Bella

Word Count: 29027

A/N: This is supposed to be based off of Ho Hey, but really it ended up being based off the whole Lumineers album. Also, I have a few subtle Pitch Perfect references in here because I just can.


For as long as I can remember, Bella Swan and I had been pen pals. Well, when I say "as long as I can remember," I really mean since second grade. But it might as well be since I can remember, because after I got that first letter back from her one cold October day, she started taking root in every moment of my life.

It wasn't right away that I knew she'd be the most important person I'd ever know, because like I said, we started writing each other in second grade. What seven-year-old knows anything about soul mates, right? But I always knew she'd be something special. And just like most relationships starting at a young age, the first emotion she inflicted in me was irritation.

~1~

Mrs. Biers had us all take permission slips home the previous Friday so we could get the go ahead on sending letters to pen pals all over the country. For a dumb reason I didn't know, the teacher had us pick a town or city on the pen pal list and then write a letter and she picks who it'll be sent to, not us, so I didn't even know my pen pal's name. I knew mom would let me though because she's a writer, and would totally want me to "broaden my perspective" or whatever. I think she wants me to start a family business/tradition of writers. She's weird.

So I marched my little butt in to the class room, clad in a stupid sweater with pumpkins on it, and wrote my first letter to the kid who'd been assigned to me. He lived in New York.

Dear Pal,

My name is Edward Cullen and I'm 7 years old. I live in a town called Forks, Washington. It's kinda small and really rainy but it's okay. There is a lot of nice people here. Are you nice? I don't know if you're a boy or a girl but I kind of hope you're a boy because I am one too. I don't know if me and a girl would have a lot to talk about because I like Transformers and baseball and Hot Wheels. If you are a girl, do you like Barbie's?

My little sister Alice likes Barbie's. She's 5. She started Kindergarden this year. I have more homework than her but not a lot. My mom is a writer for kid's books and she made me wear a really dumb sweater today. It's big and orange and ugly and I wanna throw it off but then I'd be really cold. Does it get really really cold in New York? I wanna go there some day and see the Statue of Liberty and the Vampire State Building. Hahahaha! I call it that sometimes.

My hand is kind of hurting but I wanna say one more thing is that my favorite color is blue so I wanna know what color is your favorite and also your name. It's dumb they didn't tell me your name first before writing this. It makes no sense.

Sincerely,

Edward

Then I sealed it all up and gave it to the teacher to send. I told my mom that night that I wrote the letter about the ugly sweater she dressed me in and she got all tight lippy. She's funny.

When I went to bed, I couldn't really sleep because I was super excited for my letter to reach my pen pal. I stared up at my glow in the dark star stickers on the high ceiling and imagined what they might write back to me and what I'd reply with. Imagination Me was writing about the stickers, and how they turn to blurry green smudges whenever I fall asleep, before I did just that.

My letter didn't come until the next Friday. Well, the class's letters, but I didn't care about their letters obviously. Only mine.

I violently ripped the envelope open and tore out the letter. Before reading any of it, I skipped to the bottom to see my pen pal's name. And holy crab.

It was a girl.

Dear Edward,

It's weird that they didn't tell you my name. I didn't know yours until I got your letter with your name on it, so I guess I'm lucky that I get to know what I should write about. And sorry to disappoint you, but I am in fact a girl. My name is Isabella Marie Swan, Bella for short, and I am seven years old too. My birthday is on September 13th, and no I do not like Barbie's. I like Strawberry Shortcake though, and Rainbow Bright. I do like Power Rangers though. The Blue one is my favorite.

And I was thinking ummm.

Speaking of blue, my favorite color is green. Or purple. Sometimes yellow. It changes a lot, but I don't like red that much. My mother made me wear a red sweater today, because yes it does get incredibly cold up here. I think I'd rather have your orange pumpkin one. It's cold in pretty much everywhere up north I'm sure. I live in Queens, which is a part of New York, but I'm sure you knew that since you received my letter with the return address.

I didn't know that actually.

I walked to school today and writing our letters is the first thing we've done in class, so my socks are still all cold and wet in my boots from the snow. We had a snow day last week and I made a snow-woman and named it Lucy. I know that's an old name, but it's because my mom and I like to watch I Love Lucy reruns on her days off and that show is really really funny. Have you ever seen that show? You should. You'll laugh so hard. It's a classic.

What does a classic mean?!

I went last year to the stature of liberty with my dad. We went up to the very top where the crown is and we could see all over everywhere. It was scary, but it was fun. I haven't been to the Empire State Building though. My mom says it's full of "corporate busy bodies with no sense of the beauty in the simple things in life." I'm not all the way sure what she means by that, but maybe that they're all so high up in that building that they don't see all the great and beautiful things on the ground. Like lights or trees or Sam's Hot Dog Stand on the corner of 4th street. Or the bird clock my grandma left to us. My mom and I love that clock. It hangs up in our kitchen and tweets a new bird tweet every hour. Have you ever heard what a Chestnut-shouldered Petronia sounds like?

My face went all confused-looking. A what?!

Well I guess my letter is kind of long now, but I hope that's okay because I just really like to write. When you said your mom's a writer, I got excited because that's what I want to be when I grow up. My favorite books are Junie B. Jones. They are hilarious! What books does your mom write? And what do you want to do when you grow up?

Love,

Bella Swan

My jaw had dropped from the very beginning of the letter. This girl is seven?! She writes – but I mean – she – what the heck?! She doesn't write like she's seven, she writes like a grown up! And – and – she made me feel all stupid in the head. I couldn't remember most of my letter to her, but I was sure it sounded way less… sophisticationated than hers. Hers was long and cool and smart and made sense, and mine probably made me look like a butt head.

And I was so mad that I hadn't even seen this girl and she was making my cheeks burn with second grade rage. I hated blushing. Only girls do that.

I planned to send her the longest, smartest, coolest, most sopisticationated letter ever written. It would be way better than hers because I wouldn't say dumb girl things about bird clocks and I Love Lucy. But most of all, I wanted to make her mad and embarrassed like I was. I planned to send her a letter about how much I looove the color red, and how super stupid Strawberry Shortcake is, and how the Blue Power Ranger is a total wuss, and that Chestnut-shouldered Petronias are the ugliest birds in the world (even though I'd never seen one), and that when I grow up I'll be the president and she'll end up writing those Dear Abby columns my Grammy loves so much.

I grabbed my pencil and slammed it down on a piece of blank paper, breaking the tip. I stared at the splintered wood and grainy flat top of the lead hiding inside and thought yo, you need to chill. My cousin Jasper who's a teenager says that to me sometimes. Gulping in a big breath, I looked around, sure that my anger could be felt by everyone in the class, but they were all happily writing their dumb letters to people that don't write back thinking they're better than you.

Then I stopped. Write back thinking they're better than you. I wanted to hit myself after thinking that. That wasn't what she was doing. She's never even met me, so why would she think she's better than me? If my mom was here and I told her that, she'd be so angry at me. She'd say how rude that is just because this girl writes better than me and to give her a chance, and to see if I could try to write better this time.

I read her letter again, running my hand over the bumps where her pencil scratched too hard. And reading it again, I found that she had very pretty writing. Just this letter back to me felt like reading a fairytale story. And I really wanted to reply back to her, but not with that mean letter I had written in my head a minute ago. That would hurt her feelings, and I didn't want that. Girls are sensitive. Though something told me that she would write back with something equally as snippy.

And the longer I thought, the longer I couldn't think of what to write. Before I knew it, Mrs. Biers was asking us for our letters, and I still had my face smooshed into my fist trying to think of something to write about that wouldn't make me look moronish.

I didn't pass up my letter. I waited until the end of class and walked up to her desk.

"Um, Mrs. Biers? I gotta' tell you something." She looked up at me. "I didn't hand in my letter. I… can't think of anything to write."

She opened her mouth to say something, but then my mouth got all word barfy and I said, "I can't think of anything to write because her letter is so good! It looks like a grown up wrote it or something! I don't wanna send her a letter that'll make her think I'm not smart like her! Why'd you have to pick someone so smart for me to write to, huh?"

Mrs. Biers looked shocked for a second, before she opened her mouth again. "Well, I've never met her, Edward, so I didn't know how well or not she writes. I can't switch your pen pals, though, if that's what you're going to ask me."

Ugh, adults! They just don't get it! "No, Mrs. Biers! I wanna know how to write better! I wanna send her a good letter, and not a dumb one like the last one I sent! Here, read it!" I shoved Bella's letter in her face and shook it. "It's really good."

She didn't even get half way through before she agreed with me. "It is very good, Edward. So you didn't write your letter, and need help with it?" Duh, I just said that! She glanced at the clock, then back at me. "Well, I can't really help you, hon. It's time for you to go home, and I don't want your mom to worry if you're not out there. I guess… You can go home and work on it, and give it to me tomorrow when class starts."

I pouted at her not helping me, but then I realized something.

"Hey! I can ask my mom to help me! She's good at writing!" I smiled brightly at her.

She returned the smile and smoothed the hairs sticking up on the back of my head as she stood from her chair. "Yeah! But make sure you write it, not her. You can ask her for help, but I'm sure Isabella will appreciate what you have to say in your own way than how well you write."

"Bella," I quickly corrected her before running out the door and down the now empty hallway.

I couldn't wait to get home and finish the letter. For the first time ever, I was excited to have homework.

And then the world came crashing down on my little body when my mother refused to help me.

"But didn't you see how good she writes? I want mine to be as good as hers and she even said she was excited when I told her you're a writer too and she's probably gonna' wanna' read your stuff so cooooome oooooon, Moooom!" Cue the pout.

"No, Edward." She shook her head and gave me the mom face. "I can't write this for you. An author must learn through trial and error what his writing style is." Ugh, Mom. I don't have time for your writer's logic right now.

"No, Mom! I don't want you to write it for me, I just want you to help me! It's just that... I don't want her to think I'm a dummy."

Mom didn't talk for a second, and then she crouched down next to my chair to look me in the eye. She smoothed my hair like Mrs. Biers did. A lot of people do that for some reason. "Baby, she won't think you're a dummy. She'll think you're kind and sweet just like I do."

"Yeah, but what do I write about?"

"Write about yourself; that's what she did. That's what you're supposed to do when you write to pen pals, so you can get to know each other. Write about me or Dad or your favorite animal or our trip to the Grand Canyon. Just write."

She got up then and kissed my head. I slumped up to my room.

I laid there in my bed, pencil and her letter limp in my hand. And I thought about what my mom said. Just write.

I repeated it in my head and said it out loud. Just write. Just write. Just write. And I thought about how that word started to sound silly and meaningless the more I thought it, and I wondered what just write even means. Who even started words anyway? Who just one day started saying stuff and naming things and decided this means that and that means this? And I thought about how every word has a different meaning in the dictionary and all those definitions have more words in them with more meanings and how nothing ever ends and everything is connected like a big spider web or a family tree. And then I stopped thinking that because it made my brain feel buzzy.

Staring up at my ceiling, I noticed the glow in the dark star stickers. I remembered thinking a few days ago about how I'd get my pal's letter and I'd write a great letter about glowing stickers. I guess I could start with that. I read some parts of her letter again and realized she kinda replied to me sentence by sentence. I should probably do that.

I started making note of the things I could talk to her about: Power Rangers, birthdays, parts of New York, Mom's books, what I wanna be when I grow up, bird clocks and Chestnut-shouldered Petronias, and I Love Lucy. I'd never seen that show, and now that she'd mentioned it, I kinda wanted to.

I grabbed a paper from my back pack and scooted up to the top of the bed. The pencil tip touched paper, and I just wrote. Carefully.

Dear Bella,

It's nice to know your name now. Even though I was surprised to find out you're a girl, I think we're going to be good pen pal friends. My birthday is June 20th, so I'm 3 months older than you, but that's okay. I think Strawberry Shortcake is way cooler than Barbie's and Power Rangers are awesome. I also really like the Blue one, but I like the Black one best.

I kind of like red. It's not so bad, especially during Christmas. I have a red sleigh that I ride down my driveway every year because our driveway is really long and hilly and gets super snowy during winter. Since I live in a small town, we don't have different names of parts of town like you do, but maybe they do in Seattle. I have never heard of Queens before. Is it nice there?

I have never named a snowman or snow-woman before, but maybe I'll do it next time. And I have not seen I Love Lucy before, but maybe I will later. What does a classic mean? Does that mean it is really good? I heard my mom say that once about her favorite movie. Does it mean the same like classical music?

I'm writing this letter in my room on my bed. It has blue sheets with race cars on them. My bed is kind of big for me but that's okay because I roll around in my sleep a lot. One time I rolled all the way to the end of the bed and fell off. My favorite part of my room is my glow in the dark star stickers. Stars are my favorite. I like to go to sleep on my back because I can see the stars, and it's not just a little but a LOT of stars. We used about 7 packages of them from Walmart. I don't know what a Chestnut-shouldered Petronia is, but that bird clock sounds really cool and special to you, so I could say that my stars are like that to me because they feel like magic when I go to sleep and they smudge away like green paint.

I really like your letter, by the way. You have a very nice what my mom would call "writing style." You write so good that I didn't know how to write back because I didn't wanna sound dumb. I asked my mom and teacher to read it and help me but they didn't really. I don't know why I am writing this but I just wanted to tell you that I think you are gonna be a very good writer when you grow up. I don't know what I wanna be yet.

I have read a Junie B. Jones book before. It was the one where she goes to a mean kid's birthday and it was really funny. The person who draws the pictures is really good. My mom's name is Esme Cullen and she writes those books about kids and dragons called Barren's Adventures. Have you read any of them? I don't read a lot of books, but I have read this new one called Captain Underpants. It is so funny!

So I am gonna go now, but I wanted to know what is your favorite animal? Mine is turtles. I have one named Shelley. She's a baby turtle and fits right into my hand. Do you have any pets too?

Sincerely,

Edward

After I wrote my name, I sighed real big like I was holding my breath. I looked over at the clock and saw that it had been two hours I was writing that letter. That made sense though because writing is hard. Especially when you're trying to make it good. My letter was covered in those little eraser thingies that come off after erasing, so I blew them off and read my two page letter again, making sure it didn't sound weird or have bad spelled words, then I sealed it up in an envelope and wrote our addresses on it.

Right before I was about to lick it closed, I thought of something. I got up and walked through the house looking for Mom. She was in the kitchen reading a book while some food was cooking. Sometimes she did this and forgot about the food and it burned, but everything looked all clear this time.

"Mom?" She looked up slowly, still stuck in her book. "Do you like I Love Lucy?"

That night, we checked the TV guide and watched it. I didn't know it would be black and white, but it was pretty funny. Sometimes people would laugh and I wouldn't know why, but maybe it was just a grown up joke. I liked Lucy, but her loud friend was kind of annoying. It was really funny when she'd make a face and say silly things and I got why Bella liked this show so much.

My mom must really like this show because she laughed even more than me and that made me smile.

Before I went to bed, I pulled the letter back out.

P.S. I just watched I Love Lucy with my mom, the one where she gets a racehorse. It really was funny! Especially when we saw all the cereal in her kitchen and when the horse sat on the couch. I liked it a lot. I think I understand what a "classic" is now.

I sealed it up and went to sleep, smiling up at my stars.

~0~

I sat in the scratchy second class seat as the plane touched down on the ground, my legs bouncing up and down anxiously. It was snowing, unsurprisingly, and covered all of the JFK area in a white sheet. I've never been a stranger to the effects snow, but there was something enchanting about New York in winter time.

The plane crept slowly along the tarmac and I tried occupying myself with the last remaining pages of the book I bought at Sea-Tac. It wasn't all too great, but I'd finished Bella's book yesterday, and I needed something to keep me from dying of boredom since the inflight film was that terrible movie about the talking guinea pigs. But now the book couldn't hold my attention in the slightest. Every cell in my body buzzed with knowing Bella waited in the downstairs for me.

When the plane finally connected to the jet bridge and the seat belt sign blinked off, I was about ready to spring out of my seat. I shook my head. Jesus, dude, chill ya fuckin' balls.

The old lady sitting next to me got up shakily, trying to reach her bag at the top compartment. I helped her get it down just as I'd put it up for her earlier, and she thanked me again with a toothy smile. I followed her down the walkway, trying to dodge elbows and jutting shoulders as other passengers uncovered their luggage from up top. The plane was rather small for such a long flight, but it was boarded to full capacity. For someone who'd never been in an airplane before, that was very frightening.

The pretty blond flight attendant waved goodbye to me. I hoped it was out of friendliness and not because she was giving me special attention, though I doubted it. I waved back and stepped through the plane door, carefully watching my step. I didn't like that tiny space between the door and the bridge. It made my imagination run awry and I thought about the bridge collapsing and making me fall to my death. The one thing freakier than being thousands of miles above ground in an enclosed aircraft was stepping over a small gap only a few feet above ground. Or was that just me?

The bridge shook with the harsh wind, blowing through the cracks in the temporary walls and making me shiver. When the gate came into view, my heart raced. I had this fantasy where I'd walk out and see her standing there waiting for me, her eyes shining and folded hands tucked under her smile, and I'd drop my bags and run to her. But I knew that she wouldn't be there at the gate since that's not allowed, so I'd just have to settle for that movie moment when the main character comes down the escalator and sees that person they've traveled miles for at baggage claim.

I was mostly stuck behind the old lady the whole time, not having the heart to push around her and through the crowds, and that added with the intense mob gathered at the escalators made it feel like I'd never get that moment I wanted.

Finally, I broke through, and though I was mashed against a large lumber jack-type man with a big ginger beard, I still felt light while watching the next floor slowly rise up to me.

I looked out around the area, the smile splitting my face almost too expectant.

I didn't see her.

Okay, so I wouldn't get that moment I wanted, but once I found her I'd definitely get that drop-bags-and-run-to-her instant.

Then I was on the ground floor and the luggage was going around and around on the carousel and tumbling down from that mysterious hatch in the ceiling and rolling on two wheels and four and mashed on carts with even more luggage and people were milling around and running and pacing and none of them were Bella.

Suddenly, a bird call sounded from behind me and my expectant smile returned, because I knew that sound.

I turned around. She was crouching next to the escalator I'd come off of with a huge, excited grin spread across her beautiful face. She looked just how she always did – T-shirt and jeans, chunky black boots, brown hair tumbling out of her signature messy bun – but now I had the full view. Now I could appreciate her appearance fully and completely.

"I hid to surprise you," she called out. "Are you surprised?"

I laughed. "Very. I had it all mapped out how I'd find you down here, and you've foiled my plans once again, Bella Swan."

At the sound of her name, she stretched out of her crouch, eyes shining. Her smile was endearingly contagious and I was just about to carry out my airport fantasy when she ran towards me instead.

I dropped my bags and she jumped into my arms, her laughter echoing in my ears. We spun around and I ended up accidentally kicking my bag away, but I didn't care. I was here with her.

"I missed you," she mumbled, arms still locked around my neck and face hidden in my shoulder. Her chest was against mine and I could feel her breathing so close to me.

I kissed her hair. "I missed you." We both knew we weren't talking about just the last time we talked or seen each other's faces. We missed each other our whole lives.

~2~

While most of my classmates stopped writing to their pen pals, Bella and I continued our letters. Some people kept up with their pals, but eventually they stopped writing letters and stopped getting them and their second grade pen pals faded into the abyss of minds that were slowly preparing themselves for adolescence.

I didn't wanna' ever give up writing to Bella, though. Every time I got a letter from her, my heart raced and I smiled my biggest smiles. Writing my own letters to her were almost as fun as getting them, because it felt good to share myself with her.

I kept all her letters to me in a shoe box under my bed. Some times when I couldn't sleep at night, I'd take one out and read it again and smile, because a person I'd never met was becoming my best friend.

In third grade we started sending each other presents for Christmas and birthdays. I sent her a pair of Strawberry Shortcake mittens, she sent me a wind up jet plane. I sent her one of my mom's books, she sent me a stuffed Chestnut-shouldered Petronia, which is really just a sparrow with a yellow throat. She said she found it at the New York Zoo gift shop. It sits on my bed all the time now.

One day during the summer before my fifth grade year, she sent me a really special letter.

I used to rip open her letters really fast out of excitement, but eventually I started opening them carefully because I wanted to keep them nice to put away. I told her this once in a letter and she sent me a letter opener that looks like a sword for Christmas that year. I used it only on her letters, and as I sliced that envelope open, I saw a smaller paper accompanying her letter. I pulled it out, seeing the writing on the back first.

"I thought you might want to know my face. Can I see yours?"

I turned it over.

A girl with long, messy brown hair sat in a white rocking chair on a faded porch. Her smile was missing a front tooth and it was so big that her eyes were all squinty. She had soft looking eyelashes and her shallowly dimpled cheeks were puffed with happiness, glowing with a blush. She was probably the prettiest, cutest girl I'd ever seen.

In her hands was a stuffed bird that matched mine.

I didn't realize I was smiling until my face started hurting. I laid the picture on my bed and smoothed her letter out next to it.

Dear Edward,

I'm over at my grandpa's house for the Fourth of July weekend. His house is near the bay so he took me there to watch the fireworks last night. The firework shows in New York are like nothing you've ever seen! They're huge! It's so much better than setting off your own.

About halfway through the show, he told me a story about my grandma. He said that he was a soldier on leave and him and his army buddies had just come off the boat when the fireworks over the river started. He ran with his friends through the park and under the small sidewalk trees to get closer to the show, and when he looked up, he could see millions of lights bursting in the sky through the leaves like a colorful heaven opening up. He said it was one of the most beautiful things he'd ever seen.

When they got to the edge of the shore across from where they were being set off, they all got separated by the huge crowd. He was calling for his friend Gerald when he ran into someone. He apologized quickly when he saw the pretty woman he'd almost knocked over. She said it was fine and looked back up at the fireworks. Grandpa said that he would have kept looking for Gerald, but something stopped him. He knew this girl somehow, and he said that the way the big orange explosions sparkled in her eyes made his heart ache. He recognized her from the picture he'd gotten from his pen pal. He received a letter one day saying she signed up for a program to send letters to overseas soldiers and he went along with it because his only other family was his brother who was on the army with him and he'd always wanted the freedom of writing to a stranger. In one of her later letters she'd sent her picture. That was the last one he'd gotten before heading back to America.

He said he looked at her a little longer and soon she realized that he was staring at her.

I honestly forgot I was reading her retelling of her Grandpa's story. It felt like a story she had come up with and written herself.

She turned back to him and looked at him funny. Grandpa said she probably thought he was some kind of creeper, so he stuck his hand into his shirt pocket and pulled out her picture. It was of her sitting in a rocking chair on her front porch. He asked her if this was her and her eyes widened. Then he stuck out his hand and introduced himself as her pen pal.

Grandpa got really quiet then and looked up at a big blue firework that was shaped like a spaceship. I noticed he was crying a little, but he was smiling too. He said that was how he met my grandma.

His story kinda reminded me of you and me. And I thought, what if one day we're in each other's hometowns or in the same city randomly or on vacation in the same place and I passed right by you without knowing it? Wouldn't that be tragic?

I thought about that, mapped it out in the wide imagination she had evoked in me, and felt a twist in my gut. That would be horrible.

So today I asked Grandpa of he'd take a picture of me in the porch chair that Grandma's picture was taken in. He asked why and I told him that if I ever met Edward like he met Grandma, I'd want him to know it was me. He smiled and picked up his Polaroid camera and I went out to the chair.

Right before he took the picture I asked him to wait and ran into the house to get my stuffed bird. I didn't tell you before that I have one as well, sorry, but when I got one for you, I really wanted one for myself too. It makes me feel connected to you knowing we own the same thing. Is that weird? I like it though.

So I gave you my picture. Would you give me yours? Because if one day both our families go to the Grand Canyon for vacation and I see a boy standing at the guard rail looking down, and I go up to him and start talking about how beautiful the canyon looks at sunset and that it's amazing that it was all carved out just by a river, and he talks to me and I end up liking him a lot, but then leave without finding out his name and wondering if I'll ever see him again, I want to know that it was you.

Love,

Bella

After finishing her letter, I stared blankly at the page for a second, then looked over at her picture again. She really was pretty.

I got out a sheet of paper and wrote an equally long letter to her, saying how I liked our matching birds and that her Grandma must have been very beautiful and that we'd probably never meet at the Grand Canyon since my family has already been there, but we'd definitely meet at Niagara Falls. And we would totally know who the other was because I slipped in a picture of me sitting in a rocking chair at Cracker Barrel. I wrote on the back saying Do you think rocking chair pictures should be our tradition?

~0~

It's easy to find my suit case on the conveyer belt because it's one of the four remaining. We stood there so long holding each other that baggage claim had pretty much cleared out. Luckily, I'd kicked my bag not too far and it'd gotten trampled only a little bit. There wasn't much in it anyway; just some snacks and the book and a few dollars and my iPod, which was still intact and thankfully not stolen.

I was hauling my luggage to the floor when she grabbed the bag from my shoulder. I turned to stop her and say I got it, but she held a hand out to stop me and smiled. She wrapped the drawstrings around her shoulder and hooked her other arm through mine. I smiled back and she led me out the sliding glass doors.

Catching a cab in New York is really hard by the way, and I'm too stupid to remember that and call a cab in advance. I was afraid Bella would have to whistle and stick her leg out when one pulled up near us.

"I called a cab before you got here," she said before helping me put my suit case in the trunk. She needed to stop before my manly pride wore thin.

Bella gave the driver directions to her apartment once we were in the warm space of the cab. She shivered, saying how she didn't bring a coat because it wasn't snowing when she left and figured she wouldn't be outside for too long anyway. I laughed and shook my head, knowing that was something she'd do. Once we got going, she turned to me and that excited smile still hadn't left her face. Neither had mine, and we probably looked like psychos smiling at each other like that. But she was no more than a foot from me and I didn't care about anything but that.

That foot was too much and I scooted closer, our arms lined side by side. Her arm was cold from the freezing air outside and the hairs stood up on goose bumps. She hummed with the warm contact and crooked her elbow in mine again, but it wasn't enough. I slid my hand into hers. It felt amazing, and I thought how each nerve in my hand must be going into sensory intoxication with the way it tingled.

The way our hands fit perfectly together, and how she looked at me with this intense expression while snowflakes melted in her hair, and how I've never had this feeling before when looking into someone's eyes, made the hand holding feel far too intimate than I consciously knew it to be. It was all her.

She bumped her forehead into my cheek and snuggled closer, curling into me like a cat. I laid my head down on hers and watched the cars outside push and pull each other through traffic. The snow made the grungy yellow cabs look strangely pretty. The white puffs would fall in uncoordinated swerves, barely missing the cab or sizzling out on the overheated hood or sticking to the glowing sign on top. I tried to ignore the nasty slush on the side of the road. New York was new and beautiful to me right now, and I wanted it to stay that way for a while.

I looked down at the girl who made me think these new, open eyed thoughts. She was playing with the leather chord around my neck. She must have felt my gaze on her, because she smiled and slipped a cold finger beneath my shirt collar, rubbing the skin there. I shivered, partly from the cold of her touch and partly from her touch alone.

She looked up at me, smile lazy and eyes hooded and finger still in my shirt. Her hand curled around it and then all fingers were in my shirt, pulling the collar down a little. I took a deep breath.

I really, really wanted to kiss her.

This was our first official meeting, but I knew if I kissed her now she wouldn't stop me. And really, kissing her would feel fantastic anywhere under any circumstances, but I didn't want our first kiss to be in a taxi. That's not classy.

So instead, I dropped my head next to hers and kissed the corner of her jaw. She shuddered, and I pulled away, farther than I'd been before, and returned her lazy smile.

It was quiet for a moment before she suddenly perked up and pulled from my arms. She leaned up near the driver.

"This is my jam!" she said loudly. "Can you turn it up?"

He turned a knob on the decrepit radio console higher and she started singing along. It was a kind of folky, guitar-and-tambourine tune. I'd heard it multiple times before, but mostly because of her.

"Doesn't a jam usually require some sort of dance beat?" I teased her.

"Hey," she chastised. "No knocking my jam." She slapped my chest lightly and continued to quietly sing. I mumbled along eventually, which made her smile. I gave her a look that said yeah, yeah, whatever and her face turned smug.

Eventually, I put my arm around her and she sunk into my arms. It was a thirty to forty minute drive to her apartment in Chinatown, so we filled the time with looking out at the passing people and making up stories for them.

"He lost his beloved dog to heart cancer when he was twelve and decided to become a vet." She pointed to a man with a black trench coat covered in pet hair.

A woman in workout clothes carrying a gym bag over her shoulder rushed past him. "She left her unfaithful husband to be with her personal trainer."

Bella laughed loudly. "I'm sorry, that shouldn't be funny. Um, that guy had a dragon as an imaginary friend when he was little and named it Sporfor. He's planning on naming his first child the same."

My head snapped back when I laughed and hit the backboard. "Oh my God, haha! Okay okay, uh, she's having trouble getting her boyfriend to get off his lazy ass and commit."

"She's secretly in love with her brother's girlfriend."

"He has a church pants complex."

"She has a shrine to Boyz II Men in her pantry."

"They are a part of an underground cult that sells sexually tantalizing underwear for profit."

"Her deepest fantasy includes Seth MacFarlane and an egg beater."

We were in Chinatown by now and I pointed to a tall girl with glasses. Before I could make up something about her, Bella jumped up.

"That's Angela!" The taxi pulled up next to the building Angela was closing the door to and she turned around. "I can't wait for you to meet her."

She got out yelling for Angela to come here while I got my suit case out. I paid the cab driver and he drove away, leaving me to the girls.

Bella had told me a lot about Angela. They were best friends in high school, and continued that friendship onto college as roommates. She was very pretty, with slim features of a slightly Asian descent. She had the kind of face that made people know she was kind hearted.

She stuck her hand out and I shook it. "It's so nice to finally meet you!" She said.

I looked at Bella. "Yeah." It was just a dumb little word, but I put so much emphasis in it when I looked at her and... Yeah.

Angela's eyes shifted between us. She had that little side smirk people get when they're trying not to smile. "Well, I was just leaving to meet Ben, and Rose is helping Emmett set up, so... apartment's empty." She raised her eyebrows once and skipped off mischievously. Bella's face turned pink. "Have fun, see you tonight!"

I touched the warm color on her face with the back of my finger. Maybe that was weird, but I'd imagined it a bunch of times. I wanted to know what it really felt like. She flicked her eyes up to mine and kissed my knuckles.

"Come on." She grabbed my hand from her face and led me up the steps.

Her apartment was just on the cusp of Chinatown, so it was pretty low key. The architecture and decor was still beatifically Chinese, though. The bamboo frames and watercolor paintings fascinated me. Luckily, there was none of those rice paper doors. I'd probably break that shit in two seconds.

She unlocked her door and jammed her shoulder against it.

"Sorry, door is kinda stuck. I need to sand paper it or something. It gets like this in the winter." She shrugged and led me in.

It wasn't big, as most apartments for college students are, but it was cozy and well lived in. The kitchen door was just a few steps from the entrance on the right wall, and ahead there was a living room with a worn, L-shaped blue couch and a mahogany coffee table. An expensive looking stereo system sat opposite them. Bella went to it and pressed a button.

"I hope you don't mind Florence. Oh wait, of course you don't, because then we'd have a problem." She gave me a look of mock discipline. I laughed.

"Of course not. Where should I put this?" I gestured to my suit case and she showed me down the hall on the right of the living room.

"This hall has my room, the hall closet, and the bathroom, and Angela and Rose's rooms are in the other hallway behind the living room. You'll be sleeping in my room, obviously." She turned around in the doorway with her hands braced on the jams, blocking my entry. She leaned toward me. "Not that you're opposed, correct?" She gave me a devilish smile and twirled back.

I gulped.

And I don't know how I didn't notice this before, maybe because I didn't have her face to distract me, but her wide neck T-shirt had slipped past her shoulder and the tight black bra strap valleyed in the softness of her freckled skin. The blue hazy light glowing through the shades lit her up like some ethereal being, and I longed to make the lines of light on her skin meld into mine.

I left the suit case by the door and walked up behind her.

"You can set your suit case over there. I'm not sure I have any drawers available, I didn't have time to clear any space, but I'm sure I can –" Her voice cut off with a gasp when I kissed the valley. My hands were on her hips and she covered them with hers. I kissed down her shoulder, then back up to her neck. She curled her shoulders forward, making her collar bones more prominent, those sexy ass collar bones, and emitted a little sound.

My hands traveled to the front of her gray shirt. It was thick for a T-shirt, and I slipped my finger under the hem. She gasped again and brought a hand up to stroke my face when I kissed that spot I'd gotten earlier in the cab. Hesitantly, I licked the spot.

She wrenched away and whirled around, hitting me sharply with her hair. She grabbed my shirt roughly, almost angrily.

"You are driving me crazy!" she shouted.

I didn't know what was going on, and was about to say sorry, when she crushed my lips to hers.

Say my name, and every color illuminates.

I leaned into her, and she tried to pull me closer by my shirt, but it was kind of hurting the back of my neck. I released her grip and brought her hands around my neck, effectively bringing us chest to chest. Mine went to the small of her back, and she arched into me. Her back was heated under the thick fabric, and my touch made her moan.

I'd only ever heard this sound from her through the tinny static of a cell phone, but this was so much better. The way her whole frame vibrated with the sound and sent shock waves through mine, being able to feel it in my veins like some sort of sweet, lusty poison. Being able to reply back with my own enthusiastic sounds.

She licked my lip like a preparation before biting it. Oh God.

"I've been waiting years to do that," she whispered into me. Her leg was slowly rising up mine. If I let go of her, she'd fall. I knew she could feel me through our clothes, and I thought that maybe we should stop. Did she want to stop? Her words had brought me back down from that high place only she could bring me to and made me wonder if our first time should immediately follow our first kiss. Was there some kind of unwritten rule about that? Maybe I should ask her.

"Bella... Do you... Want to keep going? Or did you wanna stop? Because I forgot my etiquette book on these situations, so it's entirely up to you."

She kept breathing deeply for a moment, catching up from our kiss, and her leg slowly dropped back to the floor. My forehead was to hers and I opened my eyes to find hers still closed. That scrunch between her brows told me she was thinking.

"Uh... Uuuuuh... I think... Yeah. Yeah, let's stop." Her eyes opened, but she didn't pull away. She'd hooked her fingers around my collar again. Her eyelids were still hooded and her eyes still confused, so I cupped her face and gave her one last sweet kiss before pulling away.

She smiled gratefully and swayed a little.

"So that's what I've been missing all these years? Because damn Edward, I might need a cigarette."

~3~

"So then this kid named Roman got up, and when he was walking to the front, he tripped and I yelled the empire has fallen!"

It took me a moment to get it, but then I busted up laughing. "Oh! Hahaha! That isn't even that funny and I almost fell off my bed!"

She giggled. "It's not, I know! But at the time it was hilarious! You know, since we're learning about it and stuff. I felt really bad about it afterwards. I said sorry to him, but he said it was okay. I still felt terrible though."

I frowned. "Hey, it's okay. He said it was fine, right?"

"Well yeah, but it wasn't fine to me, even if it was really funny. I said I'd make it up to him by taking him to the Valentine's dance."

I froze.

Over the last few years, I'd figured something out. I really, really like Bella, and maybe not entirely in a friendship kinda way. She was my best friend, of course, but I didn't treat her like most of my friends. Not like Mike or Samuel or Leah. I definitely didn't treat Bella the way I treated Leah, even though she's a girl too. I figured maybe it's because they're different people, or I've known Bella longer, or that I've never actually met her. Then one day I saw my dad kissing my mom in the kitchen, and it was kinda gross, until I went upstairs to see all the pictures on my wall that Bella sent me. There was this one picture of her that was really nice. It was a close up of her in a pink, flowery dress with a big green park around her. She had a huge smile and I could count every one of her freckles. Her lips were poufy, even while being stretched into a smile, and they looked super soft. I thought about my parents kissing, and wondered what it'd be like to kiss Bella. I figured that wasn't what friends usually think about, but I couldn't shake the thought.

And now I was getting jealous that some weirdo named Roman gets to take Bella to a dance. Though, really, I had no right to be jealous.

I must have been quiet for a while, because her calling of my name over the phone brought me back.

"Oh, that's nice of you. Yeah, we get a Valentine's dance too. It's this Friday. I'm going with a friend."

Would that make her jealous too? Did she even think of me the way I thought of her? Would she care?

She was quiet too, then said, "Oh cool. Ours is this Friday too. So uh, what's her name?"

"Oh uh, it's um, Leah. I'm going with Leah... She asked me."

"Oh. Cool."

"Yeah. Cool..."

I didn't like this, it was too awkward. I could usually tell Bella everything, things even my family or Jasper or my friends didn't know about. So why did this have to be so dang hard? How come feelings suck?

And I wasn't gonna lie, I liked Leah. She's nice and an eighth grader, which is kinda cool. When I first met her, I was a little intimidated, because I'm in seventh grade and skinny and pale, and she's tall and bronze and a year older. I honestly didn't know why she asked me to go to the dance with her. I didn't even know she liked me enough for that.

I tried to salvage the situation, but I think I just made it worse. "Yeah, I think she likes me, but I don't really like her. She's cool and all, and pretty I guess, but I don't know. Maybe she's not my type? If I even have one..."

I shouldn't be allowed the ability to speak.

"Of course she likes you, Edward," she said a little sadly.

I didn't really have an answer for that.

At that moment, my mother called me for dinner.

"Hey, my mom just called me for dinner, so I gotta' go. Call you Sunday, 'kay? And I'll write you a letter about the dance."

"'Kay, I have to go to bed anyway. Bye," she said quickly, then hung up. I put the phone back on the receiver gently as if it were a bomb. I felt like crap.

And then I went to be a jerk and thought she had no right to be sad when I'm not sad over her going to her dance with Roman. Or, I guess I was a little sad. And peeved.

Ugh, I wish she wouldn't make me feel these weird things.

That night at dinner, I asked if I could get a plane ticket to see Bella for my birthday. I hadn't told Bella I was planning on asking them, so that she wouldn't get her hopes up in case they said no. We were always talking about seeing each other. I'd been putting it off, afraid of their answer, but now I felt really bad about making her sad and all I could think about was seeing her in person and hugging her to make her feel better.

When I asked them, they both gave me the concerned parent look, then they looked at each other as if saying You deal with him, no YOU deal with him.

Finally, my dad turned to me. "We'll think about it, son. It may not be in the budget, okay?"

I nodded and looked back down at my plate, but couldn't really eat anymore. Everyone knows that when a parent says we'll think about it, it's as good as a no.

The next day I tried to tell Leah I didn't wanna go anymore. It wasn't because of Bella, not completely. She was still going to her dance with Roman. It was that I didn't really like her enough to go to a dance with her. Isn't that what girlfriends and boyfriends do? Or was I just reading into it too much?

But then I saw her smiley face, and she told me how she'd just bought the perfect dress for Friday, and how she was so excited, and all I could think was Damn, I can't get out of it now and I hope she doesn't wear heels.

Friday snuck up on me. I didn't want it to. I'd only talked to Bella on Wednesday, and I was still feeling pretty bad. But when I saw Leah at the dance, I tried to smile for her so she wouldn't think I was a terrible date.

Really, the dance was a lot of fun. I remember on the permission slip, it said "no obscene dancing" and I had no idea what that meant, but there was none of that. It was mostly just everyone jumping and spinning and waving their arms and singing along to the songs. Mike came with some girl named Cheryl and Samuel came with a girl names Jessica. I felt kinda bad for Sam, because Jessica kept looking at Mike like she wanted to be with him. I don't think he noticed, or if he did, he didn't care.

But then the worst possible thing happened.

Right when I had accepted that maybe this night would be fun, and all the worrying wasn't worth it, the music changed.

No, please, not this song, I thought as a creepy voice whispered "I can be your hero."

Literally all the girls in the gym squealed and then sighed dreamily. They grabbed their respective dates and vultured them into a slow dance. Leah tapped my shoulder, smiling expectantly, as I watched the wallflowers back up even closer to the plaster walls. I wished I could join them.

I planted my hands on Leah's waste like they taught us in P.E. and she put hers on my shoulder. She was singing softly to the song and looking at me funny. I hope it wasn't because I smelled from dancing or riding my bike here. My bike was really cool by the way. I had found it on the side of the road, fixed it, and tricked it out. I was real proud of it.

Leah moved closer. I was glad she didn't wear heels since she was already two inches taller than me without them.

Since she was so close, I had to look at her. Her eyes were kinda pretty, really dark brown. They looked nice in the red and purple twinkle lights that hung on the wall.

Okay, she was like really close. Was she –?

"Edward?"

"Yeah?" I replied, breathless. It was kind of hot in there. Why was it so hot?

"Can... I kiss you?"

Um uh jeez oh RED ALERT. What do I say?!

"Uh, sure."

Why did you say that?! Close your mouth, you idiot! You look like a fish!

She leaned in closer and closed her eyes. I did too, because I guess that was what I was supposed to do. Then I felt her lips. They were a little soft and smooshy, but not bad. They were salty from the pretzels at the snack bar, and she did this thing where she kissed real firm and then pulled back and did it again. I did it back. It felt good.

When we separated, we were both smiling really big. Then she wrapped her arms around my neck and laid her head on my shoulder.

I wondered if Bella had her first kiss that night. I guess I wouldn't have minded.

I didn't see her that summer for my birthday.

By the next year, Leah was my girlfriend.

~0~

I didn't really have a lot to unpack since I'd be keeping my clothes in the suit case, and there wasn't much point to unpacking since all my other stuff would ship to my new apartment in a week. I put my toothbrush and shampoo and shit in the bathroom, and was rummaging around looking for clothes to wear tonight, when something hit my back.

"Ow! What the f—" Bella was standing in the doorway holding two foam dart guns, smiling wickedly.

She snickered at the look on my face. "Come on, it's not like I actually hurt you. Wanna play?" She shook one of the guns at me alluringly.

"Why do I get the small one?"

"Because this one is mine."

"But I'm the guest, so I should get first pick."

"Yes, but my house my rules."

"It's an apartment." I leaned on the door jam and smirked at her. "And it's a big gun. Wouldn't want your feminine arms to wimp out in the middle of foam dart warfare."

She shot me in the stomach.

"Oof!" Bella laughed and dropped the smaller one at my feet, then scampered off.

I picked up the gun and ran after her. She hid herself next to the fridge and popped out, running and shooting at the same time. I shot her ass.

"Hey! Watch the goodies!"

I laughed and ran back down her hallway to hide in the hall closet. There was a lot of shit in there. Old coats and rain boots and a vacuum and something that might be a collection of voodoo dolls.

"Edwaaard? Where aaare yooou?" Bella whisper sang on her way down the hall. Her shadow passed under the doorway and I silently snickered at my thought of Bella being a killer in a horror movie.

The shadow stopped and the door. I barely got a breath in before it opened with bullets blazing. We shot at each other within two feet, which was totally unsafe and hurt like a bitch. She had a pillow as a shield, which I told her wasn't fair. But then she ran out of darts.

"Shit!" She looked up at me with wide eyes.

I raised my gun, smiling evilly.

"Don't you fucking dare... Ah!" She ran towards the living room, me on hot pursuit. She reached the couch and held up another pillow as protection. I tore them away and grabbed her shirt, pulling her close and touching the nozzle of the gun to her middle.

"Surrender."

"Never!"

"Gimme all your booty!"

"We're playing with guns, not pirate swords you dork."

"Surrender or I'll be forced to use this thing."

"You don't have the guts."

"I could always make you."

"Ha! I scoff at you, sir!"

She was laughing until I leaned closer, and her mood abruptly shifted. Her eyes made a hot trail down and back up my face, causing my hair to stand on end.

She blushed. I caught my breath. She was so beautiful.

I slowly lowered the gun to the coffee table, keeping our eyes locked the whole time. Her hands were still paused in the air from when I pulled away and they grabbed me back eagerly.

I'd never really thought about it, but the best feeling in the world might be when you're with a very special person and you're so close that you can feel the other breathing and see her heart beat, and you know you're about to kiss her, but there's that moment of hesitation. That moment where everything, the room and the air and the atmosphere, feels suspended and it pressures on your thought process. But then finally, finally, you get to kiss her, and it feels like the sweetest sort of reprieve imaginable.

This was different than our kiss earlier. It's not that either one was better than the other, just that this one seemed more... serious. The first one was in a category of amazing on all kinds of levels, but this kiss felt like a little more. I didn't know what it was.

I wrapped my lips around hers, tasting the last remnants of a glass of grape juice. Her hands roved a circuit across and down and back on my stomach, working me up to no end. Her hands ended on my hips, fingers braided through the belt loops. She tugged me towards the couch.

I sat down with her following onto my lap. I was face to face with her breasts, and I don't think it was fair for her to purposely stick them in my face. The fabric covering them taunted me. Her shirt had slid to let the barest hint of her green bra peek over, and I leaned over to kiss the pink skin above it. She gasped and ran her fingers through my hair, tugging, scratching, oh.

I kissed my way up, pausing to lick the beginning of the dip in her cleavage. She shivered. Are collar bones supposed to taste this good? Mmm.

Each kiss on her jaw bordered being a nip. I didn't even realize she'd begun to lift my shirt up until we heard the door knob rattling.

"Helloooo! Please don't be naked!"

Bella groaned and fell off me, slumping onto the couch with her arm thrown over her face. I needed to cover my situation before the person belonging to the voice came in. I looked around frantically, but all the pillows were on the other side of the couch end, and I was being pinned down by a pair of Bella feet. I pulled them over it. She smirked at me.

I gave her a look as if to say it's your fault, you know. She just smiled wider.

Then, a statuesque blond entered. She had to have been almost as tall as me with heels on, and she walked with a wide gait and an air of confidence like she was hot and she knew it, even if it was just to the living room.

"Ah, oh my gosh, you're here!" she squealed and ran towards us. "I have been dying to meet you. When Bella told us you'd be moving here, I think I almost got more excited than her. Okay, maybe not, but hi!"

I laughed. "Hi. Rosalie, right? Nice to finally meet you." I held my hand out.

She shook, her huge smile never wilting. "You too."

"Alright, Rosalie. If you're done fangirling over Edward now, come help me pick out something good to wear tonight. And no, I am not wearing a fucking dress like last year. It's gonna be like twenty-something degrees outside tonight." Bella got up from the couch to drag Rosalie away and I snickered.

"Says Little Miss 'But it wasn't snowing when I left!'" I did a girly voice to make fun of her.

She turned around and stuck her lip out.

"Don't stick that lip out too far or I'll grab it."

She wiggled her eyebrows at me before disappearing down her hallway.

~4~

I slammed the front door closed and barreled through the foyer. Mom must have heard my teen rage and stopped me at the foot if the stairs.

"Hey, how was school?" She asked me this every day when I got home and I usually answered with a smile and an Okay or Boring or Same old. But today, the quirk in her face made the double meaning in the question obvious: What happened?

I watched her for a second, not sure what to say. I didn't really feel like telling this particular problem to my mother.

"Fine," I said curtly, then walked upstairs. I tried real hard to close the door quietly this time.

I slumped on my bed face first, sighing. It felt weird, because I wasn't heart broken, but I was angry like you'd expect me to be. I guess I saw it coming though.

My cell phone began ringing. It was probably Bella, and I debated answering it or not. Mom had finally given in two years ago and got me a cell phone. It was a shitty Nokia. I was still happy to have one though. Bella and I used to have a set time when we'd call each other, but now that we had cell phones we'd just call or text whenever. I didn't really like texting though. I couldn't remember all the dumb abbreviations, and writing a whole sentence took too long.

I knew that if I answered, she'd definitely know something was wrong. I wasn't sure if I wanted to tell her either.

I answered it anyway.

"Hey, dude!"

"Hey, dudette." I tried to contribute to our usual greeting joke, but I apparently didn't do a good job.

There was a pause, and then she said, "Tell me."

I groaned. "But it's so bad."

"Tell me."

"Can't you tell me something good first before I completely ruin the conversation?"

"I went to the moon today and set up a new colony, now tell me."

"Fine." I sighed. "… Leah cheated on me."

"That skank whore."

I laughed. "Yeah, well I kinda expected it. We've been really distant lately."

"Yeah, I could tell. You don't really talk about her anymore. What happened?" I was right to get this off my chest to Bella. She could always make me feel better.

"It's just been really difficult to talk to her, ya know? She's really focused on college right now, wanting to graduate early and all, but then she started going to basketball games, which was weird since she's never liked sports before. And one time I went with her, and she barely talked or looked at me the whole time. I figured it out later that she was staring at this guy on the team named Jake, because she was talking to him in the hall really close. And... She was looking at him how she used to look at me I guess. I don't know, but that was like two weeks ago, and then today I went to her house and her mom let me in, and I went to her room and he was there." Bella gasped. "They were making out on her bed. His shirt was off. Her mom obviously didn't know."

There was a deafening silence. I could hear her breathing. "That really kinda sucks, Edward."

I laughed humorlessly. "Yeah, it kinda does."

"Are you sad?"

"Not really. I'm just mad. That she didn't think to tell me she wanted to end it. That she cheated on me instead."

"Are you going to talk to her about it tomorrow?"

"Yeah, but I don't really mind. I don't feel anything, you know? Maybe it was there before, but... not anymore." I sounded like such a girl, but I knew that Bella wouldn't judge me. We had almost no secrets. Well...

"You know, she used to be really jealous of you. I never told you that, did I? She found our letters under my bed."

She laughed. "No way! Jealous of me? Ha! Are they still in the shoebox?"

"No, they've graduated to an expandable. Too many letters for an eight year old's shoebox. They're categorized by year. Are you proud of me?"

I could almost hear her smile. "Why yes I am. Congrats on your sudden organization." She giggled, then sighed. The shift back of the conversation was tangible. "Well they can have each other. And you need a cheer up."

"Oh yeah? What should I do, go out and find the nearest dandy looking babe?"

"Ew. Don't ever say that again. No Edward, I do not suggest you whoring yourself, though I think you'd do a dandy job." I laughed. "I think I have an idea though."

"Really? Please, do share."

"Well... Okay, don't make fun of me. I was shelving at the library, and I came across this book that interested me. It was a, um, let's say it was a... sexualreferencebook. And I only stopped to look at it because, really, I don't know shit about that. Charlie stays clear of any sort of awkward stuff like that with me, and mom's version of 'the talk' was really just to make sure the guy wraps it up." I choked on laughter. That sounded so Renee. "So I checked it out and read it and I came across something I was intrigued about and I kinda actually wanted to try it, but I don't know any other guys I'd like to or let try with me because honestly you know I'm shy and what if I saw them at school and it becomes awkward and I-"

"Bella, breath. What is it?"

"Phone sex," she blurted. "I wanna do that. And... I was hoping you'd try it with me."

I was literally stunned.

And then I laughed.

"What was that you said about being shy, Miss Swan?"

She laughed too. "Yeah well, you asked. So...?"

"Uh, sure. I guess I'll try... I've never..."

"Me either of course. But I looked more into it, and it's mostly just describing stuff. Like what you're wearing and doing. It's basically like playing pretend for grownups." I snickered at her. My girl, researching phone sex. "Except we get to come."

Okay, all humor gone.

I cleared my throat. "Okay, um, since you know more of what you're doing, you first."

There was a ruffling sound. "Sorry, wanted to lock my door," she said in embarrassment. That sounded like a good idea and I did too, then laid back down.

She took a deep breath. I really hoped this wouldn't end up awkward. "What are you wearing?"

I looked down. "Jeans and my Green Day T-shirt. And the leather necklace you sent me. What are you wearing?"

"Nothing."

Oh.

"It's really cold in here, and the vent is right above me. It's blowing on my breasts."

Shit.

"My nipples are so hard."

"Fuck."

"What about you? Are you hard?"

"Um, I'm definitely getting there."

"Imagine me leaning over you. I run my hand down your neck, playing with your necklace, and down your chest. You rise to my touch." I did with my own hand what she described. "My fingers reach the hem of your jeans. I stop for a moment, making sure your eyes are on mine, before unzipping them."

The image of Bella's beautiful, bare body and her touching me seared through my mind I wanted to try too.

"You pull my pants off and crawl back up to me. I take my shirt off and you settle between my legs. I flip us over and I'm on top. I take your hands and push them to the top of the pillow. I slide my hands down your arms, and you squirm when I reach that ticklish spot on your shoulder blade." She made a noise that I really liked then. "My hands travel down your sides to your hips. I run my fingertips between the two hip bones, the skin there is so soft. I push into you with two fingers, rubbing back and forth. You're gasping. You're wet." Hey yeah, this isn't so hard.

She picked it back up. "I like how you're touching me. There's a fire in your eyes when I reach back to your hair and tug. I want you to kiss me. You do. You kiss my lips, my jaw, my throat. My tit. It feels so good, Edward. Your tongue feels so good."

I grunt her name. "I want to fuck you."

"I want you to fuck me."

"I lean up and kiss you again. You spread your legs wide. I rub the skin on your shoulder softly. Can I be inside you?"

"Yes. The air is cold on me. I want your warmth in me."

It wouldn't take long now. "I push inside you. You're so tight."

"You're so thick. You kiss me again. I like your kisses."

"I— I'm almost there, baby. Are you close?"

"I—"

For the first time since ever knowing Bella Swan, she was at a loss for many words. She had never sounded so beautiful.

I listened to her breathing with me. At that moment, I wished noting more than to be able to see her flushed, satisfied face, her droopy eyes and lazy smile.

Finally, I broke the silence. "Bella?"

"Yeah?" she said quietly.

"Maybe I'm just biased, but I think your writing abilities may bring you big bucks in the adult phone entertainment business."

She snorted. "I don't know whether to be flattered or to wanna hit you."

~0~

The girls were taking a long time to get ready. The whining about what to wear had stopped filtering through the walls a while ago, but now the apartment was pungent with the smell of powders and singed hair.

We were heading to a bar Rosalie's boyfriend managed. It was downtown near where the fireworks would be held. While I waited for them, I looked around some more. I'd seen most of it through the screen of a computer on Skype, but really being here felt surreal. And I don't mean being in the apartment, I mean being where Bella is.

Rosalie came out first, wearing a tight, short red dress and spike heels that she could probably use for weapons if a drunk asshole got the wrong idea. I hoped she had a coat.

Bella turned off her light and walked out then. She wore skinny jeans and a blue frilly shirt thing and a leather jacket and converse. I think most of the wait was for Rose, because Bella was mostly au naturel besides some black stuff on her eyes. She smiled at me and took my hand.

"You look beautiful," I said to her.

"Thanks!" Rosalie chirped. "Come on, let's go, we're gonna be late!" She rushed us out the door like she hadn't been the one to take up most of the time.

We took the subway over. The streets were already beginning to pack with excited New Yorkers and tourists. Midnight would be a madhouse.

Rosalie zipped around people, trying to get past the bustling crowd. Bella and I could barely keep up with her. She abruptly stopped in front of a heavy wooden door with intricate glass paneling and opened it for us, waving her hand towards the inside like a butler. Good evening, sir.

The interior was dimly lit, but warmly decorated in cherry tinted wood. Rosalie made a beeline for the bar, trying to get the attention of the bartender. He leaned on the bar in front of her, appraising her dress in a far more than friendly way.

Bella snickered. "You'd think she hadn't seen him in days rather than hours at the way she ran over to him. That's her boyfriend, Emmett. He's a sweetie. He gives me free Cheetos when no one's looking."

We walked over to them, Bella introducing us. Emmett was a big guy. His bicep might have been as thick as my thigh. His handshake was firm and very strong, but his smile and childish eyes were gentle. He offered me my favorite beer without asking what it was. Yeah, he was cool with me.

We hung out there for a while and Bella introduced me to some other people she knew. There was this guy named Seth who could take a shot, roll the glass across his lips to empty it, and have it fall in the other hand, and some girl named Bree who regaled tales to me about turning her boyfriend Diego into a demon hamster. I tried to stay away from her. Angela and Ben soon showed up, and Angela challenged Seth to who could drink more. But as the hours drew later, most of the fun patrons had trickled out into the streets to join the celebrating crowds, and the only people left in the bar were me, Bella, Rosalie and Emmett, Angela and Ben, and the hipsters.

Those fucking hipsters.

They were every-fucking-where.

They're like the scum of the night, skulking in the back of crowds, waiting for the right moment to rise up and take siege with their slowly growing numbers and their fedoras.

They high jacked the juke box and played a bunch of shit I didn't know, but Bella seemed to. Sometimes she'd bob her head to the music and mouth the words, and sometimes she'd make this really disgusted face like someone had crapped on her grandmother's priceless person rug.

And then they started to dance.

Rosalie read my mind. "This place got lame. Let's get outta here."

"Aw babe, come on. Don't disrespect the bar. It's not her fault." Emmett lovingly rubbed the mahogany wood and pouted at her.

Rosalie wasn't deterred. She flipped around, lashing her curls at him and clicking to the door. She turned back to us with the door open, raising her eyebrows expectantly at our slower pace.

Before we could get close enough to the door, the song changed to the familiar tune Bella had branded into my head for the last year.

She gasped. "Oh my gosh! Wait, Rose, wait! This is my jam! My jam, Rose! Come on, Edward, let's dance."

This wasn't really a dancing song, and I'm sure the hipsters agreed as they were all just bobbing their heads coolly, but Bella somehow found a dancing rhythm to it by throwing her arms up at certain moments and bouncing off bent knees.

I kind of just stood there, bobbing like a hipster.

She wasn't satisfied with that. She grabbed my hands and held them in the air. The completely adorable face she was making caused me to smile and I started moving with her. I sang with her, pointing at her or me when the song allowed, and soon the hipsters started getting into it. But those fucking followers didn't get much of a chance because the song then ended.

Bella hugged me tight and walked back to where Rosalie was still standing, looking impatient but trying not to smile. Angela couldn't hide her grin though.

We left the bar, and Rosalie called back to Emmett, "See you at midnight, baby!"

As we walked, Bella tucked under my arm, I gave her a look, then glanced to Rosalie when she passed us with a smug smile.

I didn't even get to my question before she laughed and explained. "Rose and Em are like that. He comes after her and she plays with him, making him come after her even more. It would be pathetic if they weren't so in love." She laughed again. "I think she gets some high off of it. But they're happy."

I looked back up at Rose's strutting form ahead of us, then up to the sky. "I'm happy."

She hugged me. "I'm happy too."

She was staring up at me with this incredible expression, so I kissed her. It was quick, but meaningful, and her smile brightened significantly. I hoped I could always do that.

Rosalie suddenly stopped at a park bench and sat down. "Whoo! My feet are a-killin me!"

"Well that's because you wore death heels," I said, sitting beside her. Bella sat one my other side, her feet propped in my lap. "What were you planning to do with those? Obviously walking isn't it."

"I wore them because they make my legs look good and make Emmett crazy. He's supposed to be working until one, but he'll probably lock up early. In fact..." She raised a finger in the air and looked up like she was counting. Then she pointed from the way we came and sure enough, Emmett came barreling through the crowd.

He picked Rosalie up and sat with her on his lap. "You are an evil, evil woman. I love you."

"Tell me something I don't know."

I looked over at Bella to see we had matching grins. The park light cast a hazy orange light on one side of her face and the moon a clear white on the other. I touched her cheek softly. She did the same. She smelled so good...

"Hey, if you two are done having your creepy Avatar 'I See You' moment, I'd like to head down to the water now."

I dropped my hand and glared at Emmett.

Rosalie groaned. "Would you please get over that movie!"

"What? It was amazing! You know, Rose, you saw it with me! It was cinematically immaculate!"

"Alright." Bella stood up. "When Emmett starts using words with more than three syllables, we better do what he asks. Come on." She tugged me up and started back towards the water. "Before he starts speaking in Na'vi."

I looked at my watch. We waited too long in the park and there was less than a minute left. Everyone else felt the shift in the atmosphere like water coming to a boil. We began speed walking, then running, then flying through the streets.

The countdown began.

Suddenly, a booming interrupted in the half second of silence between millions of people screaming One! and another year shouting zero.

We neared the water, and as I looked up, I felt like I was transported to another time where a young soldier met the love of his life. Lights exploded through the leafless tree branches, turning spectacles in the sky like I'd never seen. I could understand why Bella had lived here all her life and could never get tired of the New York fireworks, and I knew the only difference between that soldier and I was that I already had the girl I loved with me.

I looked down at Bella's flushed face and smiling pink lips, and realized that we'd missed our New Year's countdown kiss. I pulled her into the cheering crowd. I kissed her hard, harder than any of our kisses today, and she kissed back in matching force. When I pulled away, our breathing shallow and eyes still heavy with lust, I could see the dancing lights swivel in her dark eyes, and God if she didn't look so beautiful.

"Bella, you probably already know this, but I love you."

She nodded, still dazed. "Yeah, I think I figured that out a long time ago. And I love you too. So much."

I kissed her again.

My grandma always said that the way you start out the year signifies how the rest of the year will go. If that was anything to go buy, I wouldn't mind spending a year this way.

~5~

Senior year was exciting and flew by. I was set to head to University of Washington. My dad drilled it in my head that I should try out college life before making any huge life decisions, but all I really wanted to do was work with my hands. I wanted to make and sell furniture and repair stuff and help people out. I kind of wanted to start my own furniture business, but my advanced shop class and the odd jobs I did around town wouldn't fully prepare me for that of course. I was heading to college to work towards my business degree, and interning at a nearby antique furniture manufacture.

One if the best things about senior year was right before school started.

I was sitting in my room, writing a letter to Bella. Our letters had dwindled in the last few years sadly due to us preferring to speak to each other on the phone. I loved her letters, but I loved her voice more. We still sent them though, with a bunch of pictures tucked in each envelope. She sent one that summer of her and her family at the Grand Canyon. It was of her with elbows out and thumbs up, wearing sunglasses and a silly grin in front of the gaping golden hole. The back said We finally made it here! There's no Edwards in sight, but maybe next time. I wonder what Niagara Falls is like this time of year? I sent her back a picture of me with matching thumbs up holding a Google images print out of Niagara Falls in summer. Like this maybe? Pack your bags, sweet cheeks!

I was finishing up the most current one with a story about Alice's obvious crush on our cousin Jasper at her sixteenth birthday party, which was simultaneously gross and hilarious, when someone knocked on my door.

"Come in." I hid the letter under my leg in case it was Alice.

It was my mom. She came in with a weird smile on her face and her hands behind her back.

"I have a surprise for you Edward," she sang.

I sat up and moved the letter to my bedside table so not to crumple it then turned back to my mother. She was almost jumping up and down with excitement, making me anxious to know what it was.

"Okay, you ready?"

"Yes."

She pulled one arm around and dumped a round thing in my lap.

"Uh, thanks."

"Don't you know what it is?!"

I looked more closely at it. It was a camera lens inside a round pod attached to a hook and a cord.

"It's a... Camera?"

"Yes! Sort of. It goes with your other surprise..."

She unveiled her other arm, handing me a brand new laptop.

I got up on my knees excitedly. "Holy sh-! Wow, mom, thanks!" Then I stopped. "Wait, can... Can we afford this?"

We'd been having money troubles lately, what with Dad getting laid off and mom's books not selling well. Dad got a small, part time job as a technical writer, but it wasn't enough for our usual expenses, even without any indulgences or my impending college expenses. My parents were thrifty and had a lot saved up, but they didn't want to have to dip into their life savings. I was just lucky they'd set up a college fund for me a long time ago.

She shushed me. "This is a senior year present, saying thanks for not being a bratty teenager and for making it this far. Now, just take the damn thing and open it up."

It was already on when I opened the lid, the screen lighting up. Mom leaned over me and plugged in the camera thing and situated it on top of the screen. She clicked on a little blue icon in the corner.

Skype opened up. Most of my friends were going crazy for it right now, and Bella and I had shared many whining conversations about how awesome it'd be to both have it.

Wait.

Did... Was she...?

I turned to Mom, my heart racing, but she'd disappeared. I was about to get up and race back down the hall to find her, when the computer starting binging. I whipped my head back to the screen.

Video Call from: Bella Swan

I freaked. Like freaked freaked. Oh shit oh shit oh shit. She... And I... We were gonna...!

"Okay, dude," I said to myself, trying to reason around the loud thrumming in my chest. "Just answer it. Everybody be cool, it's just a normal day."

I clicked answer.

Nothing happened for a second, and then a pixelly box popped up showing her form sitting at a desk top. The pixels slowly defined and her beautiful smiling face came into view.

I put a fist to my mouth, gasping. I looked to my door to see if Mom was watching, but no. It was just Bella and I. She had a teary eyed smile gracing her face, and she touched the screen where my face shown in her own screen. I did the same with her.

"Hi, Edward."

I choked. "Hi, Bella."

Tears spilled over her smiling cheeks, and it was sad that her eyes looked their brightest and so beautiful when filled with tears.

"So, uh, you don't seem surprised to see me. Conspiring against me, huh?" I chastised, but there was no anger behind it at all. I wiped my own tears away.

"Yeah," she laughed. "It was your mom's idea."

"I love my mom."

"Me too. She called me last week, telling me what she was planning. She said the idea had just popped in her head one day and I went along with it. She mailed me a camera too and I helped her set up Skype. I'm using my mom's old laptop. It's a piece of shit, but I'm enduring it because you know my love of grand romantic gestures. And because I wanted to see your face." She shrugged, smirking.

"You're smirking."

"So I am."

"And I get to see it."

"That you do."

I put my face in my hands, the smile on my face never wavering. I dropped them and tilted my head towards her, looking at her through my eyelashes. "You know, since I have this now, I'm never gonna leave you alone."

"Stalker. I can block you, ya know."

"You wouldn't dare. You'd miss me too much."

She looks like she was about to make another witty remark, but then she just half smiled and whispered, "Yeah."

She got up with the laptop. "Wanna see my room?" It was just as it was in all the pictures she sent me, blue walls and purple sheets and a white book shelf covered in stickers and overflowing with books. A collage of pictures similar to mine was collected on the wall where a white ledge window over looked the city.

She walked over to the collage. "These two are my favorite pictures." She pointed to one and I squinted at them. It was the Christmas of my third grade year. I knew this because that was the year we'd begun sending presents to each other, and the toy jet plane she'd first sent me still swung on a wire in my room. In the first picture, little me was opening the box hurriedly, a mixture of surprise and joy on his face. The second was of little me cuddling with the jet plane in the middle of a wrapping paper sea, sleeping. Okay, that one was a little embarrassing. My mom had made me send that one. So of course it ended up being Bella's favorite.

I got up to show her my room too, and then my favorite picture of her. It was that one of her in Central Park with the sun shining through her hair.

"That one is your favorite? Hmmm."

I sat back down in the bed and gave her a look. "What?"

"Nothing, I just figured the picture I sent you of my vag would be your favorite."

I choked.

"Agh— I, uh– I never got any picture like that." All blood had rushed from my face.

"Really? That wasn't you I sent it to…? Shit."

"What?!"

She looked really serious for a moment, before loud laughter erupted from her mouth, making her rock forward. "Hahaha! No, of course not! Why the hell would I do that? Oh my God, your face!" She fell sideways on her bed, her legs kicking with her gasping breaths.

I huffed for a little longer, but her hiccupping giggles had me laughing too, and pretty soon my sides hurt. She was leaning towards the camera and clutching her midsection, her pose mirroring mine. Her red face was covered in wisps of hair falling from her messy side bun and lit with a lazy smile. I wished I could reach in and touch her face, tuck the strands back in, hold her.

She got a wondering look in her eyes. "You're the best friend anybody could ever have."

"You are. But thanks for finally figuring it out."

"You're welcome, ass." She giggled softly, then touched the screen again. "Is it weird that I wish I could reach through here and be there with you?"

"No."

That look in her eyes...

Suddenly, my door slammed open and the moment was shattered. Alice came barreling in.

"Alice is here, Bella. Better put your clothes back on."

"Oh, okay."

Alice stopped in her tracks, her blue eyes wide.

I laughed. "I'm kidding, Al."

She scrunched her nose. "Gross." Then her face relaxed into a small smile. "Can I talk to Bella?"

"Hmm, I don't know, Al. I guess it's up to Bella. I don't know if she'd want to talk to a dweeb like you."

"Shut up, Edward, and move over." She didn't give me a chance to, jumping on the bed and scooting into my spot while giving me a mouthful of spiky black hair.

"Pllffft, Alice! You could have just moved the computer!"

But she didn't hear me. She was telling Bella a story she'd heard from her friends and telling her how pretty she looked. Bella blushed at this.

I sat behind Al and watched my girls talk. Every few seconds, Bella would look back at me, her smile from Alice's stories always brightening a little more when she did. I never stopped watching her.

I knew then that I loved her, and did for a long time previous. It didn't feel like the overpowering, crushing love that you'd expect. It was the kind of love that you feel when you look at your best friend and get a squeezing feeling in your chest over her, and want to kiss her and hold her when she cries and hold her just because you want to and make a ridiculous trip to Niagara Falls because it's an inside joke and deserves to be carried out.

Loving Bella felt like that. I hoped one day I could show her.

~0~

I followed Bella up the narrow steps to her apartment. It was one in the morning, so we were trying to be quiet for any sleeping patrons, but I don't think we were doing a very good job. I couldn't keep my hands off her, which was distracting her from making a safe path up the steps. We kept stumbling and giggling and causing a ruckus.

When we finally reached her door, she pulled out a key and I wrapped my arms around her waist. My hands traveled a similar path as they had earlier.

She sucked in a breath, her grip tightening on the keys, making them rattle. "If you keep doing that, we'll never get inside."

I kissed the spot on the back of her neck, then licked it. She shuddered. "Okay, but I hope you know I plan to fully use the empty apartment to our advantage."

She quickly opened the door and pulled me in, barely having any time to remove the key in the lock before I slammed it shut with my foot.

I pushed her up against the wall, her hands raking through my hair and my mouth all over hers. My hands traveled south, reaching her ass. I pulled her against the line of my body and she moaned and rubbed against me. I answered back with my own sounds of pleasure.

She pulled back then. I loved the way she looked right now with red cheeks and puffy lips and bedroom eyes. "Edward... I need— I need—"

She didn't have to say anything else. I locked the door and had her lead me down the hall. I couldn't not touch her on the way there. Her hair, her shoulder, her arms, her full hips, her small waist. We dumped our coats and shoes in the hallway and at her doorway, she turned around and tugged me by my shirt into the room. Then she took it off me.

She ran her hands up and down my torso, and hell if it didn't get me even more aroused. She leaned up to my ear, purposely rubbing her breasts on my chest. "I've wanted to touch you this way for so long."

I pulled her shirt off and lay her on the bed. "How long?" I asked, and leaned down to on suck the skin swelling over her bra.

Her hands went to my hair again and she arced into me. "Since sophomore year in high school. Since that first time we..."

I kissed my way up to her mouth and whispered on her lips. "Me too."

"Is that weird?" she whispered back.

I kissed her deeply, then said, "Never."

I unhooked her bra and pulled it away, amazed at the exposed flesh that allowed me to fall into the abyss. What a beautiful creature, this woman.

She brought a hand up to my cheek, caressing it softly. I met her hooded brown eyes, lit with warmth and want and love.

"It's because it's you," she whispered.

We stared at each other in the moon illuminated darkness, and I thought, maybe I wouldn't be slipping into the abyss by myself.

I took the hand that was on my cheek and kissed it slowly; the palm, the wrist, each fingertip. I curled her fingers into a fist and put it to my mouth, looking at her like this was the last and first moment of my life.

"It's because it's us. It's because I love you. I love you so much."

She nodded, mouthing the word love, and then smiled. She kissed me.

Her hands ran down my back, pausing to massage the dips above my backside. It felt good. Then she pulled off my boxers, kicking them away with her feet.

I pulled away, my fingers making a hot trail from her neck over her breasts and pert nipples, down the soft, snowy field of her stomach, and stopping at the green silk panties she adorned. She whimpered at the loss of contact and I looked back up at her while playing with the edge of her underwear. Her chest heaved, and the wanting look on her face as she watched me grew more intense. Her hips bucked up, begging. I pulled them off.

I kissed and licked and nipped my way back up to her, only pausing at certain checkpoints I knew would drive her crazy: under her knee, her right hip bone over the small black star tattoo, each tit, the loose skin where her chest met her arm, her belly button, the underside of her breasts, the dip in her throat. The crevice between her thigh and her center.

A deep sound resonated from within her. "Have I mentioned that you drive me crazy?"

I chuckled. "I just know what you like."

"You know what I'd like? I'd like the best sex of my life, and I'd like it now please."

I positioned myself over her, and she wrapped her legs around me eagerly, desperately rubbing the length of me against her.

I groaned into her mouth and her arms wrapped securely across my shoulders, trying to find purchase on my skin as I pushed into her, not bothering to stop for a condom. I knew she was on the pill. I knew everything about her.

She gasped against my mouth, her eyebrows screwing up to match the height of her pleasured sounds. In this close space, I could notice things I hadn't seen on her before. Like how one eyebrow was infinitesimally lower than the other, and her right eye had slightly more eyelashes than the left, and on her upper lip in the left corner was a small freckle. Being in this state, everything felt heightened and clearer, and being able to see her like this only made me appreciate her more.

In my perusal of her, I hadn't noticed she'd opened her eyes. She scratched my back and arced and squeezed, but her eyes stayed on mine. I leaned down to rest our parted lips together, and breathed in her scent, tasted it, and breathed mine back out, mingling with hers. Even in the middle of sex, this felt like the most sensual act I'd ever done.

"Edward. I'm close," she breathed into me.

"Me too," I grunted. I reached between us, rubbing her clit the way she told me how she liked it.

She whimpered, the strength of her fingers in my back intensifying.

And when we came undone together, our sounds twisting in the air with the essence of love and lust and belonging, a last, lone firework set off in the distance. We watched it, our breath rapid but slowing, until the last of it faded from the sky.

"Beautiful," she said, but she turned back to me as she said it and touched my face, making me know she didn't mean the firework.

I touched her face back. "You are."

~6~

As great as the beginning of senior year had been, the end of it was a big mess. I didn't notice it at first, but Bella had slowly started pulling away from me. I wasn't sure if it was just me she distanced herself from, but feeling like I was losing her was too much too bear.

But I was too cowardly to call her out on it.

We literally talked about everything. Hell, she knew my email password, which she had passed on to my mom to set up Skype. That had confused me back when we first used it, but she told me she'd been the one to tell my mom, and then I freaked and changed my password. Because my mom would definitely be nosy and snoop through my email.

And since we talked about everything, I decided to let her take her time to come around and tell me. And if she didn't want to, that was fine. It would hurt a little, but I wasn't going to ask her what was going on in fear that she'd pull away even more.

It was the Sunday of my high school graduation. I sat in the front row, happy that my last name was higher alphabetically. When I grabbed my diploma and shook the principles hand, the feeling of accomplishment at finally finishing the pit hole that is high school enveloped me. I smiled big at where my parents sat, seeing them grin with pride.

It took another good thirty or forty minutes to get through the line of kids. We were just lucky Forks High didn't have a very large graduating class, or else we'd be there for hours. The valedictorian Eric Yorkie gave his stuttering speech about branching off into new worlds and keeping old friends close and yahda yahda, and everyone clapped politely for him. Then the principle congratulated the class as a whole and there was that classic moment where we all scream and throw our ugly yellow hats in the air.

Mike and Jessica came up to me and we all patted each other's backs and my shop class buddies all clapped me on the shoulder, then my mother hugged me tight and ushered me outside to the car. We were heading to Port Angeles to celebrate.

I pulled out my phone to check the time when the screen lit up with an incoming call.

My brows furrowed and I answered it. "Hello? Bella?"

She hadn't talked to me in days. Not since Wednesday, and even then the conversation was stilted and awkward. I had hated it.

"Hey Edward."

I stiffened. Sadly, I knew that hollow lilt in her voice all too well.

"Bella, what's wrong?"

She breathed in deeply and began to say something. Then her voice broke off into sobs.

I turned around and gave my mom a wild look and held up a finger saying just a minute. She looked back, her eyebrows tensed and her frown worried. I pointed to an empty corner of the parking lot near the tree and she nodded.

"Bella, sweetheart, tell me what happened?"

Her voice shuddered and was high pitched with grief. "I've been so unfair to you, Edward! I'm so sorry!"

"Bella, it's okay."

"No it's not! I... I didn't mean to. I've been—I – it's to everyone. I haven't talked to anyone barely in weeks, and you— I'm— Argh!" She growled in frustration and the sound of a thump came through the phone. A fist on a hard surface?

"Hey, it's alright. Calm down. Take a deep breath."

She did so, and was quiet for a second before saying softly, "I know you've noticed it, and you've been too gracious to me—"

"No, really, whatever it is, it's—"

"No! Let me finish!" she shouted. I jumped. She'd never yelled at me before unless it was playful. "I'm sorry. Just... There's so much I have to tell you. Let me finish, please."

I nodded, then remembered she couldn't see me. "Okay."

"A month and a half ago, Grandpa had a heart attack. The bad part was he was alone, but Sparky was barking so much that the neighbors came over to see what was going on. We don't know how long he was down, but he got to the hospital in time. I was in school when it happened and left with my mom. When we got there, he didn't look like Grandpa. He looked like an old sick guy who hadn't just been rock climbing with me the day before. But he smiled and cracked a joke and it was fine for a little bit. We were kinda scared, but the doctor came in to tell us the prognosis and how to prevent future attacks. We brought him home to our house. He complained that he would be fine by himself, but we wouldn't let him."

Her voice got all choked up, and she whimpered, and I knew what was coming next. I didn't want to hear it, but it was like when you're watching a movie and the camera is in the main character's view point, and you see that truck coming up to his car but he doesn't, and you yell to watch out and he never does, and then the inevitable crash happens.

"He was fine for a while, back to his normal self, but he seemed different. It was like he was afraid there wasn't much time to do the things he wanted to do, and he rushed himself around to do them. He insisted on walking everywhere, saying it's good for his heart, but it may have been too much. One day I came home from school and he was in the living room with mom and she was yelling at him because he'd been gone so long without telling her or Dad where he went and that now he's gone and gotten a cold. He just waved her off, saying everything was fine." She sighed. "But then he got worse."

"The, um." She cleared her throat. "His cold turned into pneumonia the next week, and that was kind of when I started getting scared to talk to anyone. I couldn't... think about anything but Grandpa, and I visited him all the time, and I was trying to keep... to make him happy and not think about certain things – we were ignoring it the whole time, but I think we all knew he wasn't going to make it through – and I must not have been doing a good job because soon it was him who was comforting me. I kept it all to myself and didn't tell you because, I don't know, maybe I was scared that if I said it out loud it would happen? But I wish that I did tell you now. It was too much to handle by myself; and it hurt so much to keep inside me, but I just couldn't talk about it. I was so scared to put it into words and make it come true, and probably the only people I ever talked to was Grandpa and his and doctors. He just kept getting worse and it was so scary, Edward. He didn't look like himself.

"You and me, we have no secrets. You probably know me more than I do, as stupid as that sounds! But keeping all this from you for so long, it was hell. I didn't feel like me. I felt like some sad girl who didn't know what she was doing anymore, and you're the brightest part of my day! You just exude brightness! But for the first time ever, it was too much for me. I didn't want you to make me smile when I was so depressed. It was miserable. You know that next to you, Grandpa is the closest person I have in my life. Just thinking about losing him, I—!" She was crying again.

I couldn't stay quiet any longer; it physically hurt. But I was at a loss for words. I was in that awkward situation where you are on the outside of someone else's grief, and you just love this person so much that you want to take all of their pain away into yourself, but have no idea how to. She was thousands of miles away, and we were only connected through the line of a cell phone. I couldn't take her in my arms and dry her tears and share her burden with touch. All I had were my words. So why, in the moments where words are needed the most, do they escape me?

I swallowed. "Bella."

All I did was say her name, and she sobbed harder. "I'm so sorry, Edward! God, how I've missed you. I wish I'd never distanced myself. This, I needed this. I didn't know I did; it feels great to dump this out, but extremely shitty at the same time."

She sniffed, and then went on. "I guess you know what happened. Gramps got worse. He passed away a couple days ago."

There was a stone in my chest. Bella talked about her grandfather all the time, and hearing that the kind hearted old man I looked up to so much wasn't happily roaming the streets of New York anymore made me wilt with dread. I'd never met the man of course, but I felt the pain of his loss, and of Bella's loss.

"Today was the funeral. I skipped graduation yesterday. I'll get my diploma at the office or something, I guess." She wasn't crying anymore, not that I could hear, but her voice was tight and quiet. "We're at the reception. My dad told everyone that the party isn't a time to grieve over his death, it's to celebrate his life. Then everyone started telling stories about him, and I felt so angry at his relatives he hadn't seen in years. They just think that because they're family by blood they don't have to visit every once in a while, but as soon as someone dies they're allowed to care about him? What the fuck even is that? They don't deserve to mourn him! They're selfish!"

"Bella, they lost him too."

"But they weren't there, Edward! They weren't there to see him die!" She gasped and choked out her words. "They weren't there for him at all when he was sick, let alone when he was on his death bed. I was! I... I watched him and held his hand when he was dying. I watched him, and he smiled at me and closed his eyes and I thought maybe he was about to crack a joke or something, and then his heart monitor flat lined. And I looked back and forth between him and it, and it was probably like less than a minute, but it was the scariest and longest moment in my life. And the nurses and doctors rushed in and pulled me out and it was so fucking quiet in the hallway. And all I could do for hours was stare at the wall and think about how I was the last person he ever saw before dying. And then I felt terrible for being happy that I was."

I didn't realize that during her story I'd sat down next to a mossy tree trunk and had roughly dug my fingers into the dirt. I pulled my hand out and stared at it. A tear fell through the ugly brown mess.

"I left the reception and I'm talking to you in a hall closet. It's dark in here, I don't know where the light switch is. But I like it. Talking to you in the dark has always been my favorite. You feel closer."

I sighed. "I know, for me too... Bella, I'm so sorry."

She laughed, but it was the kind of laugh that you know is just to make the other person feel better. My heart squeezed. "Everyone is sorry. And sad. I'm sorry too, but mostly for not speaking to you, and I guess for ruining your graduation."

"You remembered."

"Of course I did. I remember everything. Which is why I hesitated on calling you. I didn't wanna' ruin your day with my shit. But I couldn't keep it in any longer."

"No, it's okay. I'm glad you called. I missed you too. I wanted to know what was making you so sad all the time. Thank you for telling me."

"Of course. You're my best friend."

"You are."

Is it possible to hear a smile through the phone? I think I could.

"Okay, well I better get back to the reception. Maybe now I can actually stand to be in the same room as Aunt Bram." She made a disgusted sound and I laughed. She hated Aunt Bram. That bitch had a voice that could crack plastic, it was so annoying.

"Yeah, I gotta' go too. My parents and I are going to lunch."

"For your graduation?"

"Yeah."

"Congratulations again. That shit is all behind us. Fucking finally, right?"

"Oh God, I know."

"I'll talk to you later, Edward. Love ya."

I smiled. "Bye Bella. Love ya too." That was our usual parting, and I didn't really know if she meant the sentiment the way I meant it, but I loved when she said it anyway.

~0~

Light pierced through the plastic blinds, casting long lines all across Bella's room. A couple reached her back where she lay on my chest. I ran a finger down each, and then perpendicular to them, imagining my finger burning a crisscross pattern on her skin.

Her arms tightened around me and her toes curled against my calf. "That tickles," she said, somewhere between a dreary mumble and a lazy laugh. I kept it up, hoping to hear it again.

She laughed more of that gorgeous sound, so I started outright tickling her. She squirmed on top of me, and my fingers only ceased when she used her lips against mine to stop me.

I moaned and pressed up, immediately ready for her.

She replied with a moan and repeated my ministrations, so I was surprised when she stopped my hand from traveling lower.

She pulled back reluctantly, glancing from the bedside clock to me with an apologetic expression. "Sorry, but I know you have to go soon. You're going to be late."

I barely heard her; my attention was elsewhere. On her long neck, the redness of her full lips, the way her hair tumbled around us messily like a cage, hair that was the product of what we did last night. What we did multiple times, actually.

I reached out and touched it. It was just as soft as it had been the night prior.

"Edward?"

I moved my hand to her face. "Yeah…? What. No, stay."

I pulled her close and rolled over, smooshing her to the mattress.

"Edward!" she giggled, the sound muffled by my chest.

"Staaaaay."

"You gotta gooooo."

"Nooooo."

She huffed and was quiet for a second, then she turned to me with a wicked gleam in her eye. I cocked an eyebrow at her.

She leaned up and kissed me fervently, relentlessly. I was under her power as she pushed my chest up and over and straddled my hips.

She had the most delicious, sexy look in her eyes.

And then she jumped off the bed and ran to the hall bathroom with her robe.

"You wench! You will rue the day!" I called after her, and her laugh could be heard through the door. I smiled.

I don't think I've ever been this happy in my life.

I was in the middle of pulling on a pair of boxers when I realized the time. Shit, I was gonna be late. I scratched my head, wondering how long it'd take Bella to shower before I could use it. I couldn't show up smelling like a sex fest.

I looked at the door, then back at the clock, then at my clothes. I guess I could just...

I dropped the boxers and headed towards the bathroom stark naked. Thank God Rose and Angela said they'd be gone. I don't think our friendships were at that level yet.

I pulled the door open, and Jesus Bella takes some hot ass showers. The whole room was steamed.

"You gonna leave any hot water for the rest of the building or what?"

She squealed, and the sound of bar soap hitting the shower floor echoed through the bathroom. "Um..."

I laughed. "Move over. And turn the heat down. You're skin's going to turn red."

I opened the shower door to Bella's surprised, blushing face.

"Well, more red than it already is." I smirked.

She stared at me for a second, then turned the nozzle down and stepped aside.

She shivered. "It's too cold."

"For someone who's lived in New York their entire life, you sure have a weird sense of what's cold and what's not."

"Only when it comes to showers," she grumbled.

I wrapped my arms around her. "Better?"

She smiled, leaning her head on my shoulder.

I reached down for the soap and scrubbed her clean, then her me. It could have easily become sexual, but I just felt the need to take care of her in that moment, and I suppose she felt that way too. Besides, I'd be late. And if we got into it now, there's no fucking way I'd be able to leave.

We stepped out and dried, and I kissed her after fluffing her hair through a towel. She beamed at me through the tangled mess. I loved that smile.

I made breakfast (well, I made scrambled eggs and bacon) and waited for her at the breakfast bar between the kitchen and living room. I loved these things. I'd always insisted on eating at the one at my mom's house when I was little. The tall bar chair made me feel like a giant back then. I hoped to build one as soon as the new shop got set up.

I looked around the living room while I ate. The blue couch was the prominent piece, and rather eye catching. In a bad way. It was comfy, but really ugly. You could tell just by looking at it that it had memories.

What really intrigued me though was the mahogany coffee table. Next to the stereo system, it had to be the most expensive thing in the apartment. I got up for a closer look.

It looked so familiar. It looked like...

I peered under the table and was met with a gold painted letter carving.

E. C. Furniture

"You found me out, I see."

I jumped up quickly like I'd been caught doing something I shouldn't. She was leaning her hip on the hallway entrance with her arms folded like a scolding parent, but the shy smirk on her face made her posture seem less intimidating. Her usual messy side bun and I Love Lucy shirt I sent her two Christmases ago helped as well. I tried to hide my silly grin.

I looked back at the coffee table I'd made a couple years back. I remembered thinking how it would look great in an elegant waiting room or in the front room of a model home. I hadn't noticed it the other times I perused the room, but the table was far too fancy for the apartment. Its showiness was subdued by the hulking blue couch, but a good look at it showed it didn't belong. Really nothing in the room went together, but I kind of liked that.

"I bought that under Rosalie's name. I knew that if I bought it myself, you'd see the sending address and the order info and whatnot, and I wanted it to be a surprise for when you finally came to see me. That look on your face is priceless." She shook her head and walked up to me, putting her hands on my face. Mine involuntarily went to her hips.

She kissed me, and I was about to really get into it when she pulled back.

She wrinkled her nose up. "Your mouth tastes like bacon. Gross. Go brush your teeth, then pack up and get going." She took a step back and slapped my ass in the direction of the hall.

On my way out, I stopped, then reached into the front pocket of my case. Bella watched me curiously from where she sat eating her breakfast. I pulled out a square of sandpaper and shoved her door open roughly.

"What are you doing? I mean, why do you have that?" I felt her walk up behind me as I began sanding the stuck part of her door frame. She watched the muscles and tendons in my arm stand out appreciatively.

"Well, I had already shipped all of the stuff from the old shop, but I found a sheet of sandpaper crammed under the front desk when I was cleaning out the drawers, and there was no point in wasting it, so I cut it up and stuck it in my suit case."

"They let you bring sandpaper on airplanes? There's no rule about that?"

"Apparently not."

I tested the door a couple times, and when it opened and closed smoothly, I smiled down at her. She kissed me in thanks.

Before descending the stairs, she called to me. I turned with one foot on the next step.

"When I come over to your new apartment later, I have a surprise for you okay?"

"Is it a sexy surprise?"

She laughed. "No, but I think you'll like it." Her eyes were bright with excitement, but she had an anxiousness about her that had nothing to do with coming to my apartment.

I grinned to ease her a bit. "Okay. I'll see you later. I love you."

She hid her face behind her newly sanded door way, but I could still see the lifting of her cheeks and the blush. I must have looked kinda dumb coming out into the streets and walking all the way to the bus stop with my huge smile, but I didn't really care.

I needed to meet up with the guy I was buying my new shop from. It was a nice, open studio in the Lower East Side. I already had most of the things needed for owning the studio, like the keys and security codes and stuff, but he wanted a real meeting before the final signing off for the place. The guy had used it as his photo studio, but then he went crazy and was sent to rehab. He didn't sound crazy when I talked to him on the phone about buying his studio; maybe a bit loopy with his speech, but not enough to be sent to rehab. And then he asked me if my pet donkey dick knew how to change the batteries in a smoke alarm.

The studio had big windows in the front, and was sandwiched between a book store/coffee shop and a law firm. I thought about how Bella would love that book store. She could go to write or read, and then come visit me at the shop to keep me company. And now I have to stop thinking about this because fantasies about having sex with her on whatever piece of furniture I'd be making are manifesting in my mind.

I opened the glass front door to find Mr. Daisy standing at the back arch widow with his hands to his head making moose antlers at people passing by. He insisted on me calling him Mr. Daisy, even though I knew his real name. He started honking like a moose then at the passersby and I decided it was time to make my presence known.

I cleared my throat and he whirled around. He smiled at me under the brown handlebar mustache he was trying to grow and honked a greeting. He walked up and bent over, offering to buck hand antlers.

"Um, no thanks."

He honked in protest, but stood up and dropped his hands.

"So, you have the papers I can sign right?" He nodded and clambered to a desk off to the left. A thick set of papers for me to read and sign sat next to a disposable ball pen.

He sidled really close to me. "I'm really into moose right now. Want to see the pictures I took of some?" He offered up an expensive looking camera strapped to his neck. I noticed he would randomly touch it like he was afraid it wasn't there anymore.

"No thank you."

He flicked through his moose photo gallery anyway. "Aren't they adorable?!"

I tried not to be rude and sat down to look through the papers, and Mr. Daisy went back to honking at people.

Eventually he started taking pictures. He would take pictures of the dumbest things: the office door hinge, a dust bunny, the corner of a torn tablecloth, the ceiling, the floorboards, me signing papers, the feet of the metal stools, his hand on the window.

I wondered why any of this stuff had significance to him, so I asked him.

"Hey Mr. Daisy, why are you taking pictures of a bunch of stuff?"

He looked up suddenly from his camera screen to me. It seemed he forgot I was here and was looking at only a reflection of me in the room. "I can't forget." His face was surprised and slightly sad and pleading. "No no, I can't forget. Important. Favorite things. Memories."

His eyes moved slowly across the whole room, solemn and watery. I got it then that he would really miss his studio, and he was taking pictures so he'd never forget it. I bet he really loved it here.

I watched him a little longer, then asked "What's your favorite about that door hinge?"

His face lit up and he walked to the office door. His hand lingered lovingly in the door and his eyes traveled to another time. "My daughter always had to stay in the office when she was little. She would get bored and color all over the other side of the door. I didn't mind, I love her drawings. The door is gone, but the hinges are the same. Look, there is still some marker on them. Can you see?"

I couldn't, but I said I did. He was locked in the perks of nostalgia and I didn't want to ruin it for him.

"Why the stools?"

"I will miss their sound. When I pull back a stool, I am about to work on my photos."

"What about me signing papers?" I gestured down to the signed stack.

He walked around the desk and looked down at them. "Looks like me when I bought it first." He stared at them blankly for a second, then snatched up his side of the deal papers.

I picked up mine and faced him, not really sure how to leave properly. I was suddenly feeling bad about buying what seemed like this guy's second home.

He held out a hand and I shook it, then he suddenly pulled me close for a hug. It felt kind of weird because I didn't really know this guy, and his camera was jamming into my stomach, but I humored him. When he pulled back, there were tears in his mustache.

"I ate my twin in the womb."

"Cool... Take care, Mr. Daisy."

"You too, Ed Wart."

I left through the front and him through the back, making moose hands at me in parting. I did it back and laughed.

Waiting at the bus stop, I looked over the papers again. Not because I might have missed something, but because now the papers signified that I owned the studio. And I could officially move the shop into it whenever I want. And it would be great because I could do what I love and be with who I love.

And it's just so great.

I took the bus to Chinatown, sitting on the right window seat in the middle of the bus. I always liked the middle of the bus because you can see where you're going just as equally as where you've been. I always thought that was important, to have a look ahead but to appreciate where you've been before, physically and metaphorically. It's wonderful to watch the city form from modern night life to a bright red, pulsating turmoil of Chinese culture. You can literally see when it starts happening. My favorite part about Chinatown was the paper lanterns. They were so delicate and perfectly made, but shown with the intention of having everyone look at them. I think I'll buy one and put it in my apartment.

I rested my forehead on the window and thought how different the animated life outside looked compared to the cold, fluorescent light in the bus. Besides the bus driver and I, there were five other people on here. An old man in a suit sat at the front behind the driver, nervously tapping his cane. I smiled, wondering if he was a business man or going to meet a certain someone or just felt like looking snazzy for a night. There was a young couple in the back, making out like their lives depended on it. The girl looked at the guy like he was the only person in the world, but he didn't look at her that way. A girl about the age of twelve sat across the aisle from me, her head against the window in a similar pose as mine. I wondered what she was thinking. And the last person was a middle aged woman with chin length, wavy auburn hair. It reminded me of my grandma's when she used to color it. She was watching intently out the front window when she jumped to her feet, trying to reach the driver.

I love the middle of the bus because you can see where you're going just as equally as where you've been. Except when it turns corners.

There was a loud symphony of car horns and then the bus jerked forward on the brake. A thump vibrated through the whole metal frame. That split second of silence that always happens right after a terrible accident was deafening. And then everyone came to life and rushed around like rushing around would do anything.

I got up to see what happened. We must have hit someone.

I passed the middle aged woman as she trampled down the steps muttering oh dear, oh dear over and over. The front window was grimy and in need of a wash, but I could see perfectly who lay on the street surrounded by strewn papers. My fist tightened around the legal documents that didn't feel new anymore.

I jumped down the stairs and shoved people out of my way. "If you're all just going to stand there, I hope you called a fucking ambulance! Bella!"

I fell down to her side, turning her head around. There was no blood, but her body was limp and her breathing shallow. I pulled her close to me, and somehow the sound of tears hitting paper pushed through the roaring in my ears. I looked down.

Faded black letters melted into the page. The one next to it was in pencil and another in green pen. The papers varied from old and slightly torn to new and still white.

All of them except one started the same way: Dear Bella.

~7~

The door dinged and the loud clomp of familiar boots echoed through the shop. I looked up from some blueprints to Garrett's smiling, bearded face.

"Edward! How's it going, buddy?"

"Great, Garrett, it's good to see you." I hugged him and he looked down at the antique-style wardrobe I was designing for a client. He balanced his elbow on the other arm across his body and stroked his beard. He was obviously appraising it with an open mind, not wanting to hurt my feelings.

"Come one, Garrett, just tell me what's wrong with it."

He blew out a breath. "The style on the top header is distracting from the curls around the handle and corners. I don't know who it's for, but if you were going for antique, it's as antique as Marie Antoinette."

"Ew."

"Yeah."

"I'm glad you brought it up though; I was in need of a second opinion. It's for an older woman, so that's why it's shorter and wider than classic armoire designs, but I knew I over did it with the top embellishment. Maybe if I just..."

I scrubbed out part of the plan and drew a slightly different, subtler pattern, shaping the top board around the new design.

Garrett nodded appreciatively and clapped me on the back. "Perfect. You've got the magic touch, young Edward."

I laughed. "Shut up, old man. But thanks. A graduated pupil can always learn something new from their old sensei."

Garrett had been my mentor I interned with during college. We'd hit it off quickly, and pretty soon I was working part time there. He liked my ideas and taught me certain ways in handling raw materials for furniture making. I was best with wood, but iron was the most fun to work with. He helped me set up my own business and online store. I'd reached a pretty good stream of buyers for a newbie. It wasn't anything big, but the products were quality work and that kept the buyers coming. And I didn't just make furniture; I did a side job of fixing stuff. Not like a repairman, but to fix broken things and make them better. I'd always been good with my hands. There were still college funds to pay off and college to actually go to and rent for the shop and rent for the apartment above it and living expenses and a bunch of stuff, but I got by. And I did it by doing what I love.

He scoffed. "What the fuck is this, Karate Kid? Wax on, wax off, young grasshopper."

I laughed, because I watched that just last night. Bella and I had gotten into the habit of watching the same movies on our laptops while Skype is going. And sometimes it would get interrupted by Skype sex. Which was fine by me.

"That line isn't even from Karate Kid. Whatcha over here for? You need something, or did you just miss my presence?" I sent him a cheeky smile, and he pretended to smack me in the face.

"Well honestly, I'm bored. The arm chair I'm working on isn't holding my attention and Katey won't play with me."

I typed a work report email to a business man who'd ordered a special rocking chair for Mother's Day. "Fifty-plus year old men shouldn't use the word 'play.'"

"Not the play I was talking about."

I grimaced. "Okay, well bye now."

"No!" he laughed, and then kept whining about his wife.

The chat button pinged onto the screen.

Bella: workin hard or hardly workin?

I laughed. Jeez, what a terrible line.

Edward: I was working, until Garrett came in. Now he's yammering on about his wife's lack of a sex drive.

Bella: dude gross.

Edward: tell me about it.

Bella: Garrett is such a horn dog.

Edward: a Class A one track mind

Bella: a labidosaurus.

Edward: LOL a what?! Hahaha!

Bella: he is just so horny all the time that he has become a large, screeching dinosaur searching for sex.

Edward: I thought a labidosaurus was an actual dinosaur though...?

Bella: yeah but that's obviously what everyone thinks it is at first.

"What are you doing?" Garrett had noticed me not listening to him and stood behind me.

"Chatting with Bella. We're talking about you in front of your back."

"What? Oh, hey! That's not funny!"

Edward: he says that's not funny.

Bella: it totally is.

Garrett sputtered and went red, then laughed. "Okay, it's kinda true. I'm an old pervert, there's no way around it."

I sent Bella a message saying I had to get back to work and I'd talk to her later, then walked over to the rocking chair I was almost done with. It just needed a couple more coats of varnish.

I was so consumed in my work, I hadn't noticed how unusually quiet Garrett was being. I looked over my shoulder to see him watching the floor. His graying brow was furrowed, deep in thought.

"What's on your mind?" I asked, facing my work again and noticing the light had faded when the rain clouds rolled in. I walked over to the light switch.

"You really love that girl, right?"

My head snapped back to look at him, hand frozen on the light switch. I stood surprised for a second, blinking at him. "Uh, yes."

"So... What are you doing here, kid?"

I just stared at him.

"What do you mean?" I asked slowly.

He sighed, like I was a petulant child who just couldn't get it. "What I mean is, if you love her, why aren't you there with her? You're always talking about wanting to go see her, and when you're not saying it, it's on your face. Stop wanting and just do."

"You know as well as I do that it's not that easy. I have the shop and school, and not near enough money for a plane ticket." I finally flipped the light switch and returned to the rocking chair, but stared at it like it wasn't even there. "It's just not that easy."

He sighed again and pulled up a metal chair, sitting on it backwards. He rested his head on his folded arms and gave me a pity look that I hated. "How's Jane? I know you two... You know."

"Jesus, I don't wanna talk about her."

"Hey, I wouldn't be bringing it up if she weren't my second cousin or third niece or something. I could honestly care less about that annoying brat. She has walked in on me and Katey far too many times, the little cock blocker." His mustache screwed up in disgust.

"Hey, what's the girl version of a cock block?"

"I don't know... Fold hold?"

"Cunt bunt?"

"You're trying to distract me; it's not gonna work. I'm not that old yet. I know Jane likes you, and you took her home drunk. It's nice to know you're not living like a monk, but how would it make you feel if Bella did the same thing?"

"You mean if Bella took Jane home drunk? I don't think she rolls that way."

"Shut up, you know what I mean."

I looked at the floor and thought about it. And it's not like I've never thought about it before, I just don't think about it a lot. Me and her are what we are, and if she chooses to date guys or sleep with them or whatever, that's fine. I know she'll tell me, and I'll tell her about any girls I'm with. That's just how we are, we're open about everything, because we're each other's best friend. Yes I love her, but I'm not going to wait around for her like a lovesick teenager. But if there's ever a chance that comes where we can be more than that, I'll gladly grasp on to it, because even though she's miles away and can be with whoever she wants, there's still no one I want more than her.

"She can be with whoever she wants." I realized I had been staring at the floor for a long time and looked up into his drooping blue eyes. "If I go just to visit, I'm going to want to stay. And as much as I want to see her, leaving her at the end of the week wouldn't be worth it. Because I know, I just know, that if I go see her, it'll start something for us. And then the distance between us will become too much and something will happen and our friendship will get fucked up. Even if I have some super self-control since I haven't already gone running to her like I want to every damn day, I know I won't be able to stand being apart from her after I finally have her. It's just not that easy. God, how I wish it was. But I want to be with her completely, not in some shitty, long distance, through-a-video-camera relationship. You know what I'm getting at right?" He nodded. "I want to... I want to move there. But I can't do that until I establish myself. I'm a poor as shit college student, and I only have this place because you helped me out. I won't burden her that way." I shook my head. "I guess I want to finish school first. And I like where we are now."

Garrett looked at me for a moment longer, then clapped me on the back. He had a real serious face, like he was about to say something incredibly important and wise that I would carry with me for the rest of my life. Instead, he spoke per his usual jackass self. "Well why didn't you say that in the first place?"

I tipped his chair over.

Garrett left an hour later and I closed the shop after finishing the rocking chair. The shop and the Laundromat next to it were under a set of apartments. When I was still living in the college dorms, Garrett's cousin and his new wife were getting ready to move out to a new house in the suburbs. His cousin, Max, was good friends with the man who owned the relocating retail shop they lived above, and helped Garrett and I set up my own shop. I was just starting out, and really had only sold a few measly things online, but they encouraged me to. I wasn't sold at first, because it all seemed very fucking expensive, but two years later I was so glad I took the chance.

I had to lock the shop doors and walk around to the back of the building to get to the apartment entrance. The stairs were cracked and I wondered when the last time the single stairway light bulb was changed. I was concerned that I'd come home one day and it would just burn out.

I unlocked my door and stepped inside, feeling along the wall for the light switch. My apartment was small and adequate, half of it built over my shop and the other over the Laundromat. There was always at least one random washing machine going at all parts of the night, but I didn't mind. The sound was like home, and it made my apartment smell like soap.

I grabbed a snack from the kitchen and my laptop from the coffee table (which was the first thing I ever crafted, thank you very much, and it showed).

Really I should've been working on my paper for school, but it could wait a couple hours. She was already waiting for me when I opened Skype.

"Hey!"

I smiled at her in her night clothes. Messy side bun, still damp from a shower, and those tiny blue shorts and low cut tee with a graphic of her favorite band. Jeez, this woman. I suddenly remembered my and Garrett's conversation that afternoon. Those ideals felt foreign to me now. She always did have that ability to make my control wane.

"Ho."

"Don't fucking mock me."

"Ah, and we start the night out strong. This will be fun."

"I only sent you that song because I thought you'd enjoy it. It doesn't give you open season rights to make fun of me. I can't help it if it's my jam." She crossed her arms indignantly.

"It came out literally two days ago."

"There is no time frame for what is or is not my jam! Fuck, I still jam to Good Vibrations."

I laughed, because I've been witness to her Good Vibrations Jam Dance too many times to count. I waved my arms in the air the way she does during the song. "On the rhythm and rhyme that's designed to make your behind move to what I'm inclined to, pure Hip Hop, no sell out, if you ain't in it to win it then get the hell out!"

She sat on her bed and stared blankly at me while I tried to control my laughter. "I am going to kill you. I am going to push my arms through the Internet and your screen to strangle you with my bare hands."

"I can think of better things to do to me with your bare hands."

She gave me her blank look again, then tapped animatedly on her keyboard. A link popped up. It was a picture of a whale saying "I came out of the ocean because you need to stop."

"I saw this today and immediately thought of you."

I literally couldn't breathe. It was just a dumb picture, but my sides were hurting from laughter. "Okay! Just... Ha! I picked last night's, so just pick a movie to watch, already!"

She tried to hold back her smile, but it escaped with her giggle. "Alright, ummm... I'm feeling musically tonight. Did you download Across the Universe like I told you to?"

"Shit, no."

"I hate you."

"Do not. But I have that other Beatles movie. The one about the guys in a cooking club with broken hearts."

She palmed her face. "I think you mean Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Edward, you have failed me." She looked towards the ceiling as if she didn't know what to do with me. "I love that one, but I wanted some sexy Jim Sturgess crooning in my ear. I guess Zac Efron will have to do. We're watching Hairspray."

"Uuuuggh, Bellaaa. We watched that last weeeek."

"Nuh uh! It was like a month ago. Your perception of time is massively impaired. This is your punishment."

"But Bellaaaa!"

"I swear to God, Edward, I am one step away from forcing you to watch High School Musical. Take the Golden Globe nominated Hairspray and like it."

"If you wanna watch a musical, why can't we watch that one with the half-naked prison women?"

"If that's the only thing you took away from Chicago, then you really do deserve to be punished. Like, incarcerated. You are not fully grasping the point of our movications!"

I laughed at her stupid term for our sharing of each other's favorite movies twice a week.

"Fine fine fine. Just know that you are the only woman I will endure John Travolta in drag for." She looked pleased with this.

I begrudgingly plugged in the USB stick filled with Bella's favorite musicals and pulled up motherfucking Hairspray.

"Oh! Edward! I have something to tell you first!" She was waving her hands excitedly in the air.

"What?" I smirked at her enthusiastic squirming.

"I got a publish date for my book!"

My eyes widened. "Wow! Bella, that's incredible!" Bella worked as a small column journalist, but had been working towards getting a book published for the last year. She wouldn't tell me much about it, saying that she wanted me to get the full impact of the story when it finally got published, but that it was about a man with a severe facial disability who lived in the streets of New York and had a knack for listening to conversations he'd be better off not hearing. One day, he makes the mistake of overhearing one and taking matters into his own hands to try to save a young woman he'd met only once before. She said it was basically like The Hunchback of Notre Dame meets A Clockwork Orange, which didn't make any sense to me at all.

"Yeah, it'll be out next January. I'm so excited! I'll send you an early copy in December, though. Maybe that'll top last year's gift." She giggled, and I glanced over at the silly present on my bedside table. It was a plush turtle with a hard shell that projected stars on the ceiling. I secretly loved it. She named it Shelly.

"My publisher asked me today if I'd be into writing a sequel. I said I'd have to think about it, but I already have a pretty good idea for one. I'd like to add in some new characters, and maybe change the ending of the first to a cliff hanger. It'd be cool to be known as the author that ends every book with a cliff hanger, but then I'd probably hate myself. Ha! Gosh, Edward, it's all such a rush." Her cheeks glowed pink as she ruffled her hands through her hair.

I smiled fondly at her. "You can do it. You're an amazing writer and you know it. But... I have a question about the sequel."

"Well I haven't decided anything yet, but what?" She blinked curiously.

I smirked. "Will I be in it?"

~0~

I paced in the waiting room of the hospital. I was too restless to sit down, too nervous to keep my phone steady in my hand as I texted Angela thank you. I called her on the way to the hospital to tell her what's happening, and then to mutter profanities in her ear as I realized that the moving truck would be coming within the hour. She offered for her, Ben, and Emmett to take care of it. In any other situation, I would have declined the offer, but I was grateful. I'd rather have all my shit stolen than be away from Bella right now.

The door pushed open, and I turned around anxiously. It wasn't a doctor though, it was Angela. She hugged me tightly. When she pulled back, she gave me a look that made me tired.

"How is she, do you know?"

I shook my head. "They're running tests I guess I don't know."

"When do you think they'll let us see her? I hope she's okay. No bleeding, right? No broken bones? I need to call her parents." Angela seemed to be the type to worry out loud. She asked the same questions and voiced the same worries repeatedly, and I didn't stop her because maybe she coped this way, until I gave her my keys and she left.

I sat down and dropped my head in my hands. Even though her speaking the same worries I have unnerved me, after I was alone for a full minute, I wished she hadn't left. Being alone to my thoughts, I freaked myself out more than necessary. I couldn't imagine what they might come out to tell me was wrong with her because it hurt too much to think that far ahead, to make it real in my mind. But I had this depressing feeling like I knew exactly what they were going to come out and say, even if I couldn't think it. Scenarios flitted through my mind rapidly, never making tangible thoughts, racing to the tempo of my bouncing legs.

I guess I was just really, really worried.

In these situations, you always wanted someone to blame. I could blame the bus driver for not seeing her, or me for having an apartment across from one of the busiest intersections in Chinatown, or her for running into oncoming traffic to catch a fly away letter. That's what happened, actually. The woman who was at the front of the bus, the one who saw Bella before the impact, told me she was chasing after a loose letter that had escaped the large, messy stack she held. But of course I didn't blame her, or myself. Or even the bus driver. He was probably afraid we'd sue him or something, but I wasn't out for revenge against him for hitting the woman I love with his giant metal occupation. It was only a terrible accident. Just a really terrible accident.

The door opened.

~8~

Bella's face screwed up as she watched me eat. "How can you even eat that? It's disgusting."

"I like it. It's simple and delicious." I held up my ketchup sandwich, then took a huge bite of it.

"I might puke."

"Says the girl who dips her pizza crust in Coke."

"You said you tried it and it tasted good!" Her shoulders slumped with utter disbelief.

"I said I tried it, I never said if I liked it."

"You're the worst. Did you get my present yet?"

"No." I frowned. "I can't wait to read it though. I've been amping myself up for it the whole year. It's literally all I've thought about. I can't concentrate, I'm so excited."

She laughed. "You should be! You will be so amazed out of your pants."

"Oh! Speaking of pants and being out of them, you'll never guess what happened. So today – you know how I was visiting my parents? – so today I got there kinda late and I was looking around for Alice and mom said she went upstairs, and so I go to her room and, oh my God, the vision is seared into my mind." I dropped my head and shook it.

"What! What is it!"

I peeked at her, playing it up a little, and shook my head one more time. "I went in and little Ali is making out with some guy's hand down her pants."

"Oh God! That must have been embarrassing for you! And her!" She laughed, rocking back on her pillows. The pixelly screen tried to hide her smile to no avail. "Well, she's not a little kid anymore, so I guess you can't do anything about it."

"Except that it was Jasper."

She gasped. "No!"

"Yes!"

"How scandalous! The scandal of scandals!"

"We totally saw it coming."

"We did." She nodded seriously.

"They didn't, I guess. Jasper pulled his hand back so fast I thought maybe her vagina was on fire."

"Edward, what the fuck."

"No, I'm for real! She was so mad, she threw her old cord phone at me. The Hello Kitty one. That bitch hurt." I rubbed the welt at my hairline and Bella peered at it with concern and slight amusement.

"Did you tell your mom? She must have suspected too. Hell, I don't live there and it was obvious."

"I don't know if she knows, but it won't be long." I shuddered. "I am forever scarred, Bella. I may need trauma therapy."

She laughed. "Angela is gonna be a psychologist, she can give you a free session," she joked.

I looked at her closely. "Maybe she can."

She noticed my change in demeanor and got quiet. She would always be shifting around her bed when we talked, and now she lay on her stomach with her face towards the screen. I could see down her shirt, but that's not important.

"Bella, I gotta' tell you something. Um, I didn't get you a Christmas present."

Relief flooded her face, and I knew what she was thinking. Is that all? That's not so bad. She could always tell the difference between my various serious faces. This must have been my Important News serious face, as she called it.

"Edward, that's totally okay. I didn't really get you a present either; I'm forced to send those books out for an audience preview." She waved her hand as if to dismiss me from my anxious mood.

"Hey, no downgrading my present." I smirked at her, then returned back to Seriousward. "But I more gotta' tell you why I didn't buy you anything, or anybody else for that matter."

She lowered her head, signifying I should go on.

I took a deep breath. "I... am coming to New York."

Her jaw dropped, then she smiled that smile that, given the chance, could be the brightest thing you've ever seen. "You're coming to New York? To visit me? You're coming to New York to visit me?" Her excited voice rose a few octaves.

"No, not visit..."

She blinked and her chest expanded with air. Her hand snaked up to cover her heart, as if trying to keep it caged in. "Edward," she whispered.

"I'm moving there."

I waited for her reaction, wary. When tears spilled over her eyes and her other hand covered her mouth, I didn't really know what to do. The smile that slowly grew on her face assured me, but the tears wouldn't stop flowing. They halted my tongue from forming words.

She reached her hand forward to touch the screen, so I did it back. I love her eyes when she cries. Then she suddenly snapped her head up, a look of alarm on her face.

"Wait, what about your shop? You're not leaving it, right? You can't, Edward, it's your whole life."

Over the last year, my business had picked up significantly well, especially after a couple furniture expos and trade shows in the summer attracted a tight knit cult of wannabe hipsters. They just loved my recreations of antique style furniture, the posers. Whatever. They were paying customers.

I smiled softly at her. "I'm getting a new place to set up there. I'll still be selling mostly online, so it doesn't really matter where I have the shop set up. All that matters is who I'm with." She had that look in her eye I've always loved. "I'm tired of trying to stay away from you, Bella."

~0~

This wasn't the ideal way I'd imagined meeting Bella's parents for the first time. I probably would have been nervous if it weren't for the circumstance we were in. I didn't really have any room in my body for any other emotions besides worry and anguish.

They came barreling through the doors demanding to see her. Charlie still had that mustache he'd begun sporting a few years ago and Renee was just as beautiful as always, even with lines of distress crowding her usually cheerful face. The nurse led them into another room and I solemnly watched the door swing closed. They wouldn't let me see her because of some bullshit rule about only immediate family or whatever. Assholes.

They were in there a long time. After a couple hours – I didn't know how many really; keeping time didn't seem important to me anymore – Charlie came out. He looked worn out. He sighed, like he was both relieved to be out of that room and like he wanted to go back in. After rubbing his eyes roughly, he finally caught sight of me. He starred at me for a second in unrecognition, then familiarity flashed across his face.

He sat next to me, and like an old friend, patted me on the back. I knew Charlie wasn't sentimental, and I hated myself for letting the sobs break through with his simple gesture.

He sat with me for a while, not saying anything. I was grateful. Words had never escaped me as severely as they did in that moment, and I was as close to content as I could be to not have to say anything to fill the silence. Words have always been Bella's thing, not mine.

Eventually he left to get cheap hospital coffee. I covered my ears to block out the sound of absence.

~9~

She said we were on an adventure. I loved how she could play pretend like a little kid and still be gorgeously sexy to me.

"I can't breathe under here," I whispered and pushed the comforter up to let some cool air in. I didn't know why we were whispering, but I guess the darkness does that to you.

"Too bad," she giggled. The phone glowed brightly on my pillow and burned my face. She called because she said she wanted to share secrets, but I think she was just trying to be cute.

"I got your book today. It's incredible, Bella."

"Oh! What part are you on?" she chirped.

"Um, he just met Mary Anne and the blind guy accidentally threw bird seed on him."

She giggled. "I like that part."

"I really like Mac. He's a funny guy."

"Yeah, he's a rye little fucker."

"Is that how you'll describe him in book interviews? Because you are so gonna be a famous author."

"Pssh, shush silly boy." The sound of her shifting around uncomfortably came through the phone. "Okay fine, take the blanket off. It's too damn hot."

I laughed and did so. She huffed. "That sucks, I was so cozy at first. And then suddenly, heat stroke. Boo."

The sound of music filtered through the speaker without her blanket as a buffer. I recognized the song and rolled my eyes. "You're listening to it again?"

"Hey! Don't judge! I know you like it too." She sang along and yeah I kinda did. But I didn't tell her so because I love teasing her.

"Why do you like that song so much anyway?" I was honestly curious. She had it on all the time. "What is it that appeals to you?"

Her voice grew soft. "Because it sounds like magic."

~0~

They finally let me in to see her the next day. I hadn't slept at all. I hadn't seen my apartment in the flesh yet. I sat in the waiting room and used it up with all my waiting and ran a rut through the linoleum. I almost broke the coffee machine in the cafeteria and spilled creamer everywhere. I had no money so I had to take another fucking bus to motherfucking Chinatown. I sat at the front this time on the very edge. It wasn't the same driver of course, but I still watched the road. The driver kept looking at me shiftily in his rear view mirror. He probably thought I was on meth or something.

I had an idea.

I grabbed what I needed from her apartment. Rose let me in. I felt rude ignoring her consoling murmurs, but I had tunnel vision. I knew where she kept them. I was in and out.

It took another fifteen and a half minutes to get back to her.

The halls were empty, and I thought bitterly of how it made the scene I imagined in my head more dramatic. This felt like a terrible Lifetime movie, except it was real life and that sucked.

Her assigned nurse was in her room checking her vitals when I walked in. She was the one who told me Bella's condition. I think she pitied me. She kept giving me these looks like she was afraid that at any moment I might snap. For once, I didn't care. She'd be right.

She eyed my contraband and stole out of the door.

I pulled the plastic chair from the corner of the room to her bedside. It screeched across the floor, adding more scuff marks to the ones already there like a tired race track. I wondered how many other people had been in this room in my position.

I set Bella's boom box on the floor and gripped the CD in my case. The cover was lightly scratched from repeated use and I was surprised that it made me smile. I looked up at her comatose form. Her hair was pulled away from her face, still unwashed from her fall to the ground. I picked out a miniscule piece of rubble knotted in the strands.

The scariest part about comas is that there's no way to control it. It is completely up to the person in the coma on whether they come out of it or not. It's so frustrating being on the outside of everything, watching the lifeless life form lie still in her bed, that you want nothing more than to just get in her head and make sure the real her is still rattling around in there. Loving someone is the best and worst thing imaginable, because shit happens in life and you can't get around it sometimes. I wish I could just shake her or yell at her or hug her or kiss her into submission, and tell her to stop being so damn stubborn. Because everything is shit right now without her.

I plugged in the boom box and popped in the CD. It started at number eleven where she left off listening to it last. The soft notes and a lilting voice burned its way around the room as I took her cold hand in mine.

"I've been reading a lot about comas," I told her. "I know people say Wikipedia is unreliable but I think it's the shit. It said talking to people in comas can regulate brain nerves or something and make them come out sooner. I didn't talk that much the first time I came in here, I know, but that's because… Yeah, I don't really have a reason. I guess I was just… Yeah." I sighed and squeezed her hand. In my head, I imagined her squeezing back. She didn't. "Yeah, but then I saw another article about how hearing loved ones while in a coma causes pain, so I'm not sure which to believe. I'm kind of going off movies I've seen where this kinda stuff happens, ya know? 'Cause they're not sure when you're gonna come outta' this, and that's really scary, and I just really want you here with me because you're the only one who can make it go away. And there are so many things we haven't gotten to do yet, like go to the Statue of Liberty like you promised, or go to the ocean, or watch your dumb musicals together, or visit this book store that I think you'd really like, or visit Niagara Falls. And I just love you so fucking much. I… I brought your favorite CD to listen to. I hope you can hear it. I rushed to your apartment to get it. I had this crazy idea… I thought maybe, with it being so familiar and stuff, you'd hear it and come back to me. I guess now I'm thinking that's kind of stupid, because I know you're not just gonna pop right out of it, but at the time it made sense. And I – Ugh, I can't stand this song."

The song playing was really slow and depressing. Bella said she liked it because of its sadness, but I couldn't deal with that right now. I slammed the next key a couple times like it would get me away from that song faster.

The sound of a tambourine and guitar tried it's best to cheer up the atmosphere, and I smiled shortly at the memory of Bella dancing to it at Emmett's bar. And nodding along to it in the taxi. And whispering the lyrics through a phone line. I traced each finger of her left hand with my own, then began tapping the beat on the back of her hand. This might have been the first time I ever actually listened to the words. Paying attention to every shout and swoon of a melody felt of dire importance in that moment. I realized then why Bella really loved that song.

I didn't notice when I started singing along, but I saw my tears mingling with the freckle on her wrist. The tear trailed down her hand and dropped between her fingers onto the bed, creating a dark blemish on the otherwise perfect hospital sheet.

I was thinking how this song might forever be ruined for me when her finger twitched.

I jumped back like I'd been slapped. The plastic chair tumbled to the floor and I flinched with the sound, somehow staring at her face and hand at the same time.

I fell back to her side and gripped her hand. "Bella? Can you hear me, sweetheart? If you can hear me, squeeze my hand. Come on, Bella!"

I waited.

Nothing.

Hope lost its hold on me as fast as it had come.

The song ended and I pressed the backwards button. Maybe if I… Maybe…

I looked at her face and pulled on everything I had as I tried to unsuccessfully sing along again. I messed up the words and stuttered, but I got through the whole song again. Still nothing.

I picked the chair back up and slumped into it, pressing pause angrily. Why didn't it work this time? I watched her face for a long while, trying to figure out how to get back that moment. I knew I should probably tell a nurse or something, but I was selfish and uneasy. I just needed reassurance that it wasn't my imagination. I needed to feel her.

I pressed play. One more time.

This time I didn't get close to her face. I stayed a respective distance away, the only sign of our involvement with each other shown in our clasped hands. I sang low and deep, not even caring what I sounded like because I knew I sang like shit, looking only at her. And it was the weirdest thing. Sharing this intimate moment with her that she may or may not be aware of, it was like she was the only person in the room. I was disconnected from my body, only serving as a transport. I was the middle man, pulling any and all love that anybody had ever felt for this woman and pouring it into her, filling her up. I was weightless, meaningless, and substantial.

Her pressure on my hand brought me back to earth.

A/N: This is the longest thing I've ever written in my fic life, and it was origiannly supposed to be Humor/Romance. I don't really know what happened. I hope you enjoyed reading!