The "Ho Hey" Contest

Story Title: Next to Me

Pen name: fortheloveofdaisies

Pairing: Edward/Bella

Rating: M.

Word Count: 25,264. Give or take.

Summary: Self-proclaimed cat lady Bella meets crappy songwriter Edward in a musty bar, and they hit it off right away. Literally. "Let's go stop your grandpa bassist from marrying my drunk roommate." Attempted fluff & humor ensue through a night full of crappy bands, awkward rambles, bad jokes, and a four-letter word.

Chapter One

It's during the last set when I see her.

I watch her for a while. Huddled in the back corner, chatting with a girlfriend, holding a beer close to that pretty little mouth. She sticks out like a sore thumb in this place riddled with drunk slurs, short skirts, and cheap dye jobs.

I only notice a few things from afar. Like the way she purses her lips when she nods. How she talks with her hands. The way she currently darts her eyes from her talkative friend to me.

Wait, me?

Oh shit.

I fuck up for a minute on the third progression of "Blood and Bones," earning a panicked scowl from Emmett, but I gulp and play it cool, settling into the song again easily. It's a shitty song, anyway.

From a shitty band. My shitty band, in fact. Well, I guess it isn't all completely my doing. It's a four-man effort, really. James is a shit singer, Jasper's shit on bass, Emmett's shit on drums, and I'm shit on guitar. Plus an extra side of shit songwriting. Shitsandwich supreme.

I'm probably hungry.

I keep my eyes on the neck of my Strat instead of on the pair of distracting big browns in the crowd until we're finally done, James belting out roller-coaster notes like he's Christina fucking Aguilera before Emmett slams on the drums once, twice, and a third time, signaling our big finish. The small crowd goes wild, of course, but I'm willing to bet it's the alcohol's doing entirely.

I'm unplugged and backstage before James even begins his routine expression of "heartfelt gratitude" to all the La Push fans out in the audience, spoon-feeding each one of them mountains of duplicated sugar-coated shit. After every show, he recites the same shameless endorsing and plastic thanks and it makes me nauseous. The guy's his own fucking publicist, first and foremost. Greedy bastard.

Jake's is a tiny bar, so "backstage" is really just a few scattered chairs and tables with mirrors spread out through a thin hallway that leads to the main arena where the audience waits on either side. Jasper spots me as I grab my extra shirt and jacket from one of the tables, changing out of my sweaty clothes and into fresh ones. Two hours of shitty guitar-playing and back-up screeching takes a lot out of you.

"Dude, what the hell was that about?" he asks just as I finish pulling on my jacket. I grab a water bottle from the table and unscrew the cap.

"What was what?" I ask, taking a gulp.

"What was—" he scoffs, shaking his head. "You fucked up, Edward. Blood and Bones, third progression? Ring any bells, retard?"

I sigh, screwing the water bottle closed. Goddamn Jasper and his anal retentiveness. His whole life is a stroke waiting to happen, I swear. He's coiled tighter than a nun in a whorehouse and is indefinitely stressed for the smallest of reasons. I don't even know if he sleeps, he gets so stressed. Guy needs to get laid, like yesteryear.

Hah. I'm one to talk.

"Uh, yeah. Sorry about that—" I nod, but he interrupts my apology.

"I mean, fuck man, we're not gonna get to open in Lolla if that shit keeps happening. Quit being distracted and get your head in the game."

Who is he, Troy Bolton?

Don't ask how I know that reference.

"Won't happen again, sir," I promise, bending my arm to give him a fake salute.

"Smartass," I hear him mutter before I leave backstage and head to the main arena, where James has proceeded to sign some chick's cleavage. He winks as he finishes, popping the cap back on her Sharpie with a smirk on his face before some bulky-looking dude approaches the two of them, cracking his knuckles and giving James a death glare.

I can already tell it's gonna be a shitty night.

Chapter Two

The audience has cleared for the most part, just clunks of guys and small gaggles of girls drinking and talking here and there. A few people come up to me on my journey to the bathroom to praise La Push and I want to laugh in their faces and ask just when their music taste took a dive for the abominable. I nod and say thanks, instead.

Of course there's the occasional groupie-looking lady that "stumbles" in my path—high heels, short skirt, mountains of eye make-up and hair spray—but I learned a while ago that fucking with a fan is bad news. Unless you're a dick-directed playboy who eats broken hearts for breakfast like Emmett, which is where I send each of them. Guy owes me, big time.

The bathroom's empty, thank God, and I take a much-needed piss in peace. After washing my hands and drying them off, I take a few seconds to stare at myself in the greasy mirror, making a mental note of what my mother would say if she could see me now.

Christ, Edward, when was the last time you shaved, just look at those cheekshave you been eating, don't forget to shower, you really should get out in the sun more, you'd better be wearing your contacts, young man, or else.

Thinking of her imaginary thoughts gets me smiling long enough to leave the bathroom semi-happy, and I swing the door open with newfound heartiness.


And my smile melts.

"Oh, shit!"

"What the hell's your problem?!"

"Oh, shit," I repeat, staring at the girl whose drink I just spilled all over due to my overzealous door-swinging. "I'm so sorry. I didn't mean—"

"I just bought this shirt, you moron," she groans, head bent as she stares at the damage I've done. "Thanks so much," she huffs.

"Shit, I'm so—I'm—it was an accident, I just—"

"Ugh just forget it," she groans, looking up from inspecting her beer-soaked cleavage and I wanna slam my face a million times into the wall because holy fuck I just hit hot back corner girl with a swinging bathroom door.

I can see her so much clearer up close. She's really pretty. And fresh-faced. And wide-eyed. And pissed as balls.

"Watch where the fuck you swing that thing," she points to the door. She tears her angry gaze away from me to examine her wet blouse again, this deep blue, slightly low-cut thing and don't you fucking stare at her tits, Cullen, so help you God

"I knew I should've stayed home tonight," she mutters to herself, slowly stumbling to the women's restroom. "And to think I'm missing SVU for this shit—"

She's leaving. "Uh." Still leaving. "Wait!" I yell before thinking.

She pauses and turns her head to me, squinting angrily as she stops just outside the bathroom door. "What."

It's not a question.

"Let me—let me…buy you a drink."

Her barked laugh is equal parts astonished and offended.

"What?" I wince. "Are you kidding? Listen, pal—"

I quickly stammer out an excuse. "A—a new drink, I mean. Since I stupidly spilled yours all over that beautiful ensemble." A bit thick, Edward. "I'm only offering in a gesture to do the right thing. It's only fair. I mean, I owe you one."

Honestly, I don't know what's come over me. It's not like I make a habit out of buying random girls drinks everywhere I go. Then again, I don't usually go around swinging bathroom doors into their faces, spilling their drinks all over the place, either. I just know that I don't want this to be the last impression I make on hot back corner girl.

She's cute as hell, but there's something else about her I can't really place, like I know her from somewhere or something.

I see it in her eyes when she opens her mouth, that she's about to protest, eyebrows stitched together, a tight scowl across her lips, and I wouldn't blame her. But something stops her. She inhales instead of speaking, closing her mouth to swallow. Her eyes rove up and down my body slowly and I tell myself maybe she'll find the unquestionably raging blush on my face endearing. Cute, even.

At last, she groans, a sweet sound of surrender. "I am going to regret this, I just know it," she mumbles to herself along with a few muted words I can't make out. I think I hear the word "flannel" and "stubble" and "change." At last, she faces me. "Fine," she huffs. "Let me dry off first. I'll…meet you at the bar." And then she enters the women's restroom in a flurry of wet fabric to clean up.

Chapter Three

"You owe me fifty bucks."

Whipping my head around and rising from my stool, I see hot back corner girl staring at me, a tired expression etched across her pretty face. Her cleavage is dry (not gonna lie, kind of a bummer), and the rest of her looks relatively beer-free, save for a few amorphous dark blobs here and there.

"Hi," I smile.

She takes a seat on the stool next to me wordlessly, leaving me standing alone.

"Did you hear me?"

"Um." I clear my throat as I sit back on the stool next to her, "What?"

Her eyes bore into mine, all business, and I make a mental note never to challenge this girl to a staring contest. "You owe me fifty bucks," she repeats.

"Oh," I nod understandingly, then pause. "Wait, what? Why?"

"I told you, I just bought this shirt."

"From the…expensive shirt store?"

Her eyebrow rises in amusement, lips pulling upwards in a small smile, and I can tell she's suppressing a laugh. "Wow, that's some great material ya got there…" her forehead scrunches as she trails off.

"Oh." I thrust my hand out in her direction. "Edward. Cullen."

She nods, taking my hand and shaking it, "Hi, Edward Cullen. I'm Bella. Swan. The girl you owe fifty bucks. And a beer," she nods to the bartender who sets down a Blue Moon in front of me.

"Oh, uh…" I shoot a look at hot back corner girl, Bella.

"Corona, please," she tells him. He nods, grunting.

Once he leaves, a silence sets in; the kind you usually use to check your phone during, and I clear my throat, willing the weird vibe to leave. Something about this Bella girl seems to tug at the recesses of my brain, even though I'm fairly certain I've never seen her before. I'd remember.

"So…" I clear my throat, "Fifty bucks, huh?" I eye her top and no, I don't stare at her cleavage. That much.

She raises a brow at my inspection.

"Does it iron itself or something?" I ask, because seriously, I've bought cheaper sound systems. And yeah, they broke down later, but that's not the point.

"Oh, yeah, totally," she raises her eyebrows. "Washes and dries itself, too."


"It's enchanted, you see," Bella nods, not missing a beat.

"Of course."

"Mhmm. Turns scruffy jerks into beer-spilling klutzes. Highly effective," she clicks her tongue.

I groan at her jab, shaking my head. "Okay, you have to know that that was a huge accident I truly am sorry for."

"At least you didn't puke on my shoes or something," she shrugs. "My drunk of a friend once barfed all over my boots at her cousin's wedding, and I smelled like puke for hours. She's here, somewhere…" Bella trails off, scanning the crowd.

"Wonderful. Well, give me a heads up when you see her, will ya?" I chuckle. "Don't really feel like smelling like barf all night. I mean, all you smell like is beer, so…" I shrug, hoping she'll focus on the bright side that I'm deliberating shining in her eyes.

"Yeah, yeah. I guess it's not entirely your fault. You just got mixed in with the blouse's magical properties," she sighs.

"Well, that would imply that it worked on me because I'm a jerk. Which I'm not." Not really, anyway.

"I dunno…" she purses her lips. "The shirt tells no lie."

I laugh, nodding. "And to think, all this time, I've doubted Miss J.'s wisdom about the power of fashion," I muse.

"One must never doubt the queen of fashionistas," Bella adds before turning to me with an incredulous expression. "So. You like ANTM, huh?"

Shit. I knew disclosing that information would fare badly. Why the hell was I mentioning a gay man to this super cute girl I'm trying to woo, anyway? "Uh…Pfsh yeah. Of course. I watch it all the time with my sister." Bella stares at me skeptically for a few seconds until I can't take her lie-detector stare and cave, sighing. "Alright, I don't have a sister. I'm an only child, actually."

"So you're a grown man who watches America's Next Top Model all by your lonesome? That's kind of sad, actually."

I nod, feigning a glum expression. "Yeah, tell me about it. Especially the bikini modeling portion. Super sad. I've cried on multiple occasions."

She laughs at that, and I realize I like the sound. A lot.

Chapter Four

"So, Bella. Where do you go?" I ask, hoping to come off casual.

Her eyes let me know she is absolutely certain of what I'm up to, but she smiles and answers anyway. "I go to UNLV."

My eyes widen. "No shit."

"Yes shit," she nods.

"Cool. Very cool," I nod back, because I'm a fan of the nod. I tell myself that cool people still use the word "cool."

She shrugs. "Yeah, I guess so. What about you?"

I open my mouth to answer, but she cuts me off.

"Wait, wait, lemme guess," she blurts out, eyeing me for a moment. "Probably an Ivy-League place with clean tables and actual food in the cafeteria. You're on the lacrosse team or some other sport that's equally questionably useful, like water polo or something. And you have a teammate named Chad who's male model material and sexually confused. Right?" Her eyes smile, and I think it's the most I've ever heard her speak at once. I like her voice.

I chuckle, shaking my head. "Um, no, actually. I don't go to school."

"Oh." She seems genuinely shocked. "Well, what do you do?"

"Um…" I gesture to the bar, to the crowds of people in front of the stage.

"Wait," she says, eyeing me. "You…You were in the band."

I nod. "Yep."

"La Push's guitarist, right?"

"That's the one."

"No wonder you looked so familiar," she says softly, more to herself than me.

It's silent for a beat as her drink comes, and I wonder if she's star-struck. If she's one of those girls who get freaky with band members every chance they get, like Emmett's groupie-ladies. Like hell I'd send her to him, though.

After taking a swig, she turns to me. "No offense, but you guys suck."

I snort. So much for getting freaky.


I bring my beer to my lips, chuckling. "Always nice to meet a fan."

"My roommate—the drunken friend who puked on me at her cousin's wedding—has a boner for your bassist, though. That's why she dragged me to this shitstand in the first place."

"Puke boots, yes. She has a boner?"

She shrugs, "Lady wood, to be specific."

"Ah, well…Jasper, yeah. He's a…peculiar fellow."

"Really," she asks.

"Yeah, I mean…poor guy's stressed out 24/7. He dresses like a grandpa and I swear I saw a gray hair on him the other day. I'd take him over Emmett any day, though. The drummer? He's the mindless panty-dropper, the babe-magnet. And James is the diva slash douche-bag. President of his own fan club, basically," I nod, happy with my analysis as I sip my beer.

Bella hums, considering this. "What a smorgasbord of mediocre talent," she jokes, making me laugh again. "And what about you?"

"What are you?"

Blinking, I open my mouth hesitantly. "I..." am speechless. No one's really asked me about myself before; as separate from the band, as an actual individual. "…am the band's shitty song-writer," I chuckle, shrugging. "And semi-talented guitarist."

"Don't forget crier of ANTM and klutz extraordinaire," she clucks her tongue, tipping her beer in my direction.

"Ah, yes. My most shining of attributes."

"So, no sexually-confused Chad?" She looks almost genuinely upset at this revelation.

"Nope. Sorry. I don't even think I know a Chad."

She sighs, taking another swig at her Corona. "What a shame. You'd look absolutely fantastic dangling over some maybe-gay model-looking Ivy League student's arm." She sighs again, and I wonder whether I should take that as a compliment or not.


She grins, "You're welcome."

Chapter Five

"You aren't serious right now."

"Dead serious. Like lying-in my-coffin-eaten-by-worms dead serious."

"You've had too many beers, Swan. The alcohol, it's obscured your music taste."

"I'll have you know I can hold my drink just fine," Bella counters, gulping down another hearty swig of beer before squeezing the wedge of lime in her mouth. Her face scrunches up in a really cute way, cheeks rosy, hair fanned out in a glorious mess and I wonder when exactly during our discussion I started being a tampon-sporting sap for this woman.

We've only been talking for an hour or so, but the vibe between is comfortable and easy, like she's been my friend for months. She's lived in Vegas for three years, loves to paint although she's shit at it, and is a huge believer in caffeine. She's smart and quick and a little scatterbrained and may or may not know more about me than my own band mates of two years.

"What, may I ask, is so damn mind-boggling about me thinking Aerosmith is better than KISS?" she asks once again.

I pull at my hair, shaking my head frantically. "Madness! Absolute lunacy. KISS is the ultimate American rock band! How could you—there's no comparis—"

"Steven Tyler is a fucking genius, Edward, don't you deny that."

"Gene Simmons…" I begin, but sigh, shaking my head. There's really no point in arguing with her, as I've learned very quickly. I still keep at it, though, even if the girl's like a goat. With shiny brown hair, a quick tongue, and a body I can't stop sneaking glances at.

I'm not into bestiality, I swear.

"Never mind," I say finally, earning a smug-ass smirk from Bella as she whoops out, "Cullen: zero, Swan: one!" I can just see her victory dancing in her head.

"Okay," I gulp, slamming my second beer down on the counter before running a hand over my jaw. "Just to get things straight, I'm not gonna be, like, beaten to a pulp by some roid-ridden macho man because I'm buying you a drink, right?"

Bella stares blankly at me, pursing her lips. A moment passes, and then she widens her eyes. "Oh, sorry, this is my 'I'm-gonna-pretend-I-know-where-you're-going-with-this' face."

"It's very pretty," I deadpan, to which she fake-curtsies. "You don't have a boyfriend or anything," I continue, clarifying. "Right?"

"Oh." Her neck stiffens a little, as if she got shocked by static. "Well…No." Yes! "But wait," she holds a hand up, glaring at me suddenly. "Roid-ridden macho man?" she repeats. "Is that the kind of guy you see me dating? Thanks, Cullen. Fantastic overview."

"Hey," I bump elbows with her. "You're the one who pegged me as a sexually-confused Ivy League model's arm candy," I counter.

She takes a gulp of her Corona and then scoffs, "You say that like it's a bad thing."

"What, that you view me, a dude who's straight as an arrow, as a homosexual decoration? No, yeah, definitely within my top five aspirations in life, right after drowning in a vat of acid."

She giggles a little at that. I fucking hate it when girls giggle. They're always nervous and high-pitched and usually accompanied with a hair twirl or two. But not Bella's. It's…soft. And sweet.

Dr. Dog starts playing overhead and I can see her beer-induced blush in the shitty bar light and I wanna hear her talk again.

"So. What is your type? I mean, obviously not roid-ridden macho men," I shake my head vigorously, feigning disgust.

She purses her lips instead of answering and tilts her head. "Guess."

Chapter Six

Shoulda seen that coming. "Hmm. Well, you said you like art. Painters?"

Bella fake-gags and shudders. "Are you kidding?" she sips her beer again. "Those guys are always so damn morose and sensitive. I dated a painter freshman year named Seth or something, and he was always either crying or cursing. Or both. Mostly both," she nods, rolling her eyes. "Oh god, this one time we were at a sushi restaurant and he told me he was convinced that his salmon roll was the perfect artistic representation of the human soul. He took out his sketchbook to start some rough outlines, right at the table. Dumped him on the spot." She nods once, licks her lips, and polishes off the rest of her drink.

"Jesus Christ," I blink.

Bella shrugs, tilting her head from side to side. "A little on the hairy side, has a limited wardrobe, but sure, his type's cool. I mean, I hear he's quite the miracle worker," she grins.

It takes me a second to get on the same page, and then I'm laughing harder than I should. "Oh, my God," I wheeze.

She's laughing, too—probably more than I am—at her own joke. Such a huge corn-ball, I think, and okay yeah, it's insanely cute.

"Okay, okay," I say as we settle down. Wiping my eyes, I take another stab. "How about…science guys?"

She frowns, "Too complicated."

"Hippie dudes?"

"Too simple."

"The hot guitarist," I grin, raising my eyebrows. My chest may be puffed. A little.

She smiles, but shakes her head. "I actually have a rule to never date musicians."

My mouth falls open. "Bella, how could you?" I gape.

She shrugs, unapologetic. "All that touring shit and long-distance connection is too hard for me. They're always away, and even when they're around, their thoughts are so distracted with the next hit single to write. Plus they all have this undying love for Kurt Cobain. Like okay, I get that the dude was fantastic, but can we move on from Nevermind please?" Sighing, she shakes her head. "Musicians are just so…messy."

"Mm. We're also super into being generalized and put down for our stereotypes. It's just the greatest," I smile.

She hits my chest with her hand, rolling her eyes. "Oh, come on. You can't honestly say you think it would've worked out between you and me, anyway," she scoffs, shaking her head like she and I together is the most ridiculous notion since the return of mom-jeans.

"Uhh why not?" I raise a brow. "Oh wait, that's right. I'm way too involved with building my Kurt Cobain shrine and talented songwriting career to pay attention, right?"

"I was thinking more along the lines of a 'You hit me in the face with a bathroom door and made me spill beer all over my brand new blouse,' reason," she deadpans. "I mean can you imagine telling that lame fucking how-we-met story to our kids?" she makes a face.

"No relationship starts out perfectly," I shrug, trying not to grin. Then what she said hits me. "Wait a minute. Kids?"

"Of course," she says like it's the most obvious thing in the world. Kids: the answer to the universe.

"Isn't this something we should discuss first?" I ask. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I realize I am debating over the hypothetical offspring of me and a strange girl I met an hour ago. It doesn't even feel all that weird. Maybe because she doesn't seem all that weird. Not in a bad way, anyway.

"What's to discuss? I come from a long line of healthy, fertile women, Edward. Don't tell me you're scared of a few children."

"Pfsh, children, shmildren," I wave my hand. "I ain't scared of no bottle-suckers. If anything, they should be scared of me," and yes, I pretty much wish to withdraw that creepy-ass statement as soon as it tumbles out of my mouth.

Bella quirks a brow at me, expression amused and hopeless. "The future father of my children, ladies and gentlemen," she announces to no one.

I clear my throat, "And what do you have against Kurt Cobain, anyway? He was the headliner of an iconic rock band, Bella."

Instead of debating me like usual, she smirks. "You have a Cobain boner, don't you?"

"A what now?"

"A Cobain boner!" At my blank stare, she explains. "You want to resurrect him so you can hump his sexy grunge-singing ass in some dark alley."

"Okay one, that's a poor location choice for ass-humping. I mean, come on, a bum could be watching and you wouldn't even know. Gross. Secondly…I totally have a Cobain boner. A proud one, too."

Her smile is the biggest I've seen so far, making her eyes crinkle at the edges. "First off, don't knock alley ass-humping 'till you've tried it. Secondly…" her smile softens, along with her eyes. "You're probably the strangest guy who's ever spilled his drink on me, Edward Cullen."

My scoff is abrupt and really unattractive. "Says the girl who told me things wouldn't work out between us by mentioning our imaginary future children," I counter.

"Well, maybe I'm just hoping you could change my mind," she says, shrugging and looking casual.

I nod, reaching for my beer. "That makes the two of us."

Chapter Seven

After, we return to me listing off guy types and her pretty much rejecting every. Single. One of them.

"Uh…Med students."

"Too intense. Plus they soak their fucking souls in all that anti-bacterial shit."

"Oh my God I know right! I detest that smell. It's like their skin is made of rubber gloves," I shudder.

She hits my shoulder, nodding wildly. "Thank you! Finally, someone who gets it. Everyone's always like, 'oh Bella, that's just the smell of clean.' Uhh no, they're a bunch of over-paid rubber glove hoarders," she narrows her eyes. "Did you know that doctors are actually paid more if their patients are sick? What the hell's that about, right?" she asks, eyes wide and sort of crazed. "The American health system is downright corrupt."

"Whoa." I raise a brow, patting her hand in an attempt to calm her down. "Someone's a Michael Moore fan."

"The man speaks the truth," she insists with a shrug, and a light seemingly goes off in her head as she starts to smile. "Ah. The film buff. Now, those guys are fun."

My eyes brighten, and it may or may not have to do with the fact that I have an overflowing DVD collection back at my place. "Well, well, well, looks like we have a winner!" I state, using my best TV-host voice.

But her smile falls and she sighs. "Nah. I mean, they're loads of fun—movie marathons, film debates, endless supplies of popcorn—but none of them last. In the end, a girl gets tired of hearing The Breakfast Club soundtrack on repeat."

I gasp. "I'm going to pretend that I did not just hear that."

"You go do that," she laughs.

I sigh, at a loss. "Well, Christ. Guess there's just not a single type out there good enough for the Bella Swan."

She shrugs, "I just don't have a type. I'm pretty much destined to live a life where my only constant companions are cats." Her lips purse and her head nods and her eyebrows rise. She almost looks bored.

"Well, that's bullshit."

"Why is that?" she scoffs.


"Oh, yes, fantastic reason, why on Earth didn't I think of that before?" she asks, raising her hands to the ceiling.

I roll my eyes. "You're just…you know," I gesture to her face and body, at her sitting on the stool with her fingers drumming her empty beer bottle idly, her confused eyes quizzically staring back at me. "I mean—Just because you have a few ex-boyfriends and have an insanely long list of requirements to meet doesn't mean you'll never find…you know. Love."

"Ha. Love, shmove," Bella chuckles bitterly.

I pause, staring at her. "Ohhh," I nod. "Okay. Now I get it."

She clears her throat, irritated and confused. "Get what, exactly?"

"Some fucker cheated on you with your best friend or something, right?"

"What? No," she replies, eyebrow raised.


"Only child like you," she sings.

"Are you from a long line of happily divorced ancestors?"

"No marriage is perfect," she shrugs. Well there ya have it, folks.

I sip on my beer for a moment, signaling to the bartender for another before facing her again. "You do know that not every marriage turns out the same, right? Bad relationship skills aren't genetic. I mean, take a look at me," I grin, trying to lighten up the serious turn our conversation took.

She smiles a little. I didn't realize we were facing each other, knees almost touching, until she leans into me even closer. "Did your dad pick up closed off cat ladies at musty bars, too?"

"As a matter of fact…no. He met my mom at the hospital."

"She was a nurse?"

"Patient," I correct.

"Of course," she nods. "And Dr. Dad cured whatever sickness she had and they dated and got hitched and had you and now live happily ever after together in some mansion on the hill." She says it all in an overly sweet tone, like she's narrating a children's story, but I detect the bite beneath her voice. I've heard it before.

I crack a grin. "Hah. Close, but no cigar."

"Oh, sorry, they live in a beach house in Hawaii instead, right? Mansions are such a hassle," she sighs, faking annoyance.

I laugh, scratching my jaw. "Well, uh. Dad lives in a red-brick house in Detroit. It's no mansion, but he gets by. And, uh. Mom lives in this cozy little coffin in the ground." I clear my throat while the bartender brings another beer, and shrug. "You were close, though."

Chapter Eight

Bella stares at me for a second, wide-eyed and speechless, the latter something I've never really experienced with her.

"Dude," she says finally, gulping. "I didn't…I mean, the joking and shit, I'm really sor—"

"Please," I cut her off, raising a hand in the air. "Do not say you're sorry."

She bites her lip, eyes downcast, the portrait of contriteness. "Well I mean, it's just that…if I offended you or anything, I apolo—"

"Swan, really," I lower my head so my eyes can met hers. "Don't. You might just make me revoke your fifty dollars."

"Pfsh, you wish," she cracks a small grin at the mention of my payment, meeting my eyes. "You will pay for the damage done to my charmed blouse if it's the last decent thing you do, Cullen," she declares. A few bangs are in her eyes and her right knee is barely touching my left one and I feel her smile more than I see it.

This is the first of many moments I realize how I really, really do not want to say anything even resembling a goodbye to Bella Swan.

And, like many other pleasant moments, this one is interrupted by the boisterous, rumbling, booming voice of Emmett McCarty.

"Yo, Eddie boy!" he hollers.

My teeth grit instantly as I sigh, lifting my head from its crouch near Bella's. I shoot a glance to the right, where Emmett's fighting his way through the sea of drunk dancers to make his way over, and take a gulp of my Stella. "I'm really sorry," I tell Bella, quickly.

Her eyebrows knit together. "For what?"

"For this," I sigh as Emmett finally comes into view, stumbling to my right and Bella's left.

"Yo, Ed, we gotta go like asap—" he starts, before catching sight of Bella. Immediately, his demeanor changes, and I cringe. "Well, hellooo there…" he raises an eyebrow, grinning devilishly and leaning entirely too close to her retreating figure.

"Heh. Wanna, uh, reign in your dog here, Ed?" she mutters, shooting me a glance.

"One, don't call me Ed. Two, I would if I could, but I learned long ago that this beast is incapable of any reigning. Or intelligence." I watch, horrified, as Emmett waggles his eyebrows repeatedly at Bella, throwing an occasional pec-flex that is much too visible through his practically sprayed-on T-shirt.

"C'mon, baby, I don't bite. Unless you like that," he winks.

"You should get him neutered," she tells me, watching with disgust.

Emmett stops his mating call then, shrinking away from Bella and using both his hands to create a shield around his junk. "A tasteless hottie," he shakes his head. "What a shame."

"I really like you," I tell Bella, genuinely impressed with her ability to stop him from hitting on her that quickly.

"Get in line," she says, waving her hand casually, but I can see the slight flush of her cheeks at my declaration.

"Do you guys know each other?" Emmett interrupts, eyes shooting back and forth between Bella and me.

"Oh, yeah," Bella jokes, nodding and mock-punching my shoulder. "We're besties."

I cringe. "Besties? Do you also say 'totes' instead of totally and 'awes' in place of awesome?" and more importantly, do you really view me as a mere best friend because I don't know if I could stand that.

"C'mon, Grandpa, get with the times," she replies, bumping her knee with mine. "All the cool kids shorten their vocabulary to monosyllabic slang."

"Pretty sure starting a sentence with 'all the cool kids' rescinds any holding status of being said cool kid," I nod.

"How would you know? You're not a cool kid," she counters lamely.

"Alright," Emmett disrupts, cutting between us. "Sorry to break up this cool kid-fest, but we gotta go."

"What?" I turn to him, "Why?"

"It's Jasper," he sucks in a deep breath. "He had a few shots of tequila a while ago, and…"

"Oh, God. Tequila?" I gulp, remembering the last time Jasper consumed the devil liquid. James had to pick him up downtown in the middle of a strip club where Jasper wasn't receiving entertainment so much as providing it. Unsolicited.

Emmett nods, probably replaying the same memory I was. "Yep. Fucker got himself really screwed this time."

"Jasper?" Bella suddenly voices. "The bassist? Thought you said that guy was like a medicated grandfather."

"He usually is," Emmett and I say simultaneously.

"Anyway," Emmett continues, "I guess he drank like the whole fucking bottle or something because the last I heard of him, he ran off with some chick."

"So?" I shrug. That kind of thing happens a lot with my band members. Like every week.

Emmett clears his throat before inhaling deeply. "To a chapel."

Chapter Nine

"Wait, what? What do you mean, a chapel?"

"I mean, plastic church bells, legal witnesses, getting-married-by-Elvis, The Dixie Cups' hit song chapel," Emmett elucidates. "Our boy's on his way to getting hitched. Tonight."

"Wow. I feel like I should buy a gift," muses Bella, her eyes sorry and teasing at the same time.

I gulp. "Holy shit." Scrubbing my face in irritation, I point a finger at Emmett. "And just where the fuck were you when the happy couple was planning on making the biggest mistake of their adult lives?"

His eyebrows suddenly start waggling again like fucking dog tails as he licks his lips. "So there was this sweet blonde, right? Tall, curvy, Jesus Christ, Eddie, she was a masterpiece. And I have her on my lap, right? So we start kissing and she puts her hand on my—"

"For the love of God, this is like an extra tasteless audio recording of Fifty Shades of Grey," Bella interrupts, eyes screwed shut in disgust. "Make him stop," she tells me.

"Basically, you were getting handsy while Jasper made life-ruining plans. Great," I nod.

Emmett clears his throat, shrugging. "Yeah, so we gotta skedaddle. Apparently the closest chapel is on 7th, which is only fifteen minutes from here. For all we know, our poor buddy could be in the process of becoming Mr. Jasper Brandon this very moment."

Bella, who's been sipping some of my beer (without even asking me) all this time, suddenly snaps her head in Emmett's direction. "What? I thought his last name was Shitlock or something."

"Whitlock," Emmett corrects her. "But, seeing as the last name of the chick he went off with is Brandon, it could go either way. I mean, you know, equality in marriages and all that —"

"What, exactly," Bella sighs, eyes closed, "is the name of the chick he went off with?"

"Uh…Like Amanda or Ally or—"

Bella sighs, "Alice?"

"Yeah!" Emmett moves in to give her a high-five, but is shot down as she stares straight at me, lips pursed.

"What? Who's…" I pause, putting two and two together. This is getting ridiculous. "That's puke-boots?"

"Puke-boots," Bella nods, burying her head in her hands, elbows on the bar counter.

"Wait, I'm lost. What's going on?" asks Emmett.

"Our stupid-ass bassist is about to marry her drunk-ass friend, aka Puke Boots."

"Alice," Bella corrects in a moan from between her hands.

"That's your friend?" Emmett asks, incredulous.

"And ride," she adds.

"Holy shit. She pukes boots?" he shakes his head, eyes widening. "Wait, she eats boots!"

I fight the ever-increasing urge to hit him and stand from my stool instead, throwing a few fives on the table. "She puked on Bella's shoes at her cousin's wedding—she doesn't fucking eat boots, moron," I clarify in a murmur before gently shaking Bella's arm. Reluctantly, she puts her hands down and faces me with a weary, amused expression.

"Your cousin got married?" Emmett asks her from behind me, laughing. "Congratulations!"

I like to think that the following moment is a silent agreement between Bella and me to pretty much ignore Emmett McCarty's dim-witted existence forever. It's either that, or we just stare at each other for a long time. Whichever works, really.

"So, uh. Fun night, huh?" I chuckle softly, smiling at her feebly.

Bella puffs her cheeks with air and lets it out slowly in one big whoosh as her shoulders relax. "Definitely interesting," she mutters. "Okay," she gulps, rising from her stool so all three of us are standing. She nods, facing Emmett. "Where did you say the closest chapel was?"

"7th street," he repeats. "Like, twenty minutes from here. They left almost half an hour ago."

"Oh, my God," she says between teeth, sighing. "I never thought I'd say this sentence in my life, but. Let's go stop your grandpa bassist from marrying my drunk roommate."

Chapter Ten

"So, what's the deal with Brown Eyes?"

I rub my hands together, shove them between my pits, and curse the dessert's winter weather. "Huh?" I ask, turning to Emmett.

He nods his head towards the bar, where Bella's still inside using the restroom. She said she needed to visit the porcelain throne before leaving so she could minimize any pit stops on the way to halting this supremely catastrophic event. Her words, not mine. Emmett and I are out in the February cold, waiting.

"Oh, uh. What about her?"

"You gonna tap that, or?"

I fight a sigh, inhaling deeply instead. Of course Emmett would go straight to the question of fucking. That's all the horny bastard ever cares about. "She's cool, Emmett," I say in place of an answer, because while I would definitely not be averse to "tapping that," I would also like more. I think.

"Pfsh nah, man, she's not cool—more like hot. What-whaaaat?" he shrieks, raising his arm for a high five.

I shake my head. "No, dude."

Frowning, he stashes his hand back in his pocket.

"She's a little weird," he mumbles finally. "Like, you-weird."

I grin. "I know. She's awesome," I tell him. Of course, she's kinda more than just awesome, but hell if I'm gonna waste time explaining that to Emmett.

"Good luck mounting that Great Wall of China," she mutters.

"Okay, what?"

"The girl's walls are higher than a prison's. That much is obvious."

"Whatever, Dr. Phil," I shake my head. "She's funny. And smart. And—"

"Cool," he and I say at the same time, his tone mocking.

"The point is," I continue, "I'm not gonna force her to open up if she doesn't want to. I mean, come on. Who wants that, right?" Plus, who says I want her to open up, anyway?

Yeah, keep telling yourself that.

Emmett's about to answer when he glances at something behind me.

"Okay, okay, sorry I took forever, but the line was insanely long and I had to threaten someone with my pepper spray," Bella sighs behind us.

Whipping around, I see her buttoning a red coat up to her chin, the buttons mismatched.

I smile, walking over to her as Emmett begins calling someone on his phone. "I was beginning to doubt you'd actually come out," I say when I reach her.

"What, and miss witnessing one of my best friends make possibly the greatest mistake of her adult life? Not a chance," she scoffs. "Plus, I don't really have a ride, so…you're kinda stuck with me."

I raise my eyebrows. "You know, Bella, there's this great new thing called Public Transportation. It just came out, like, really recently. You should get on that, man, it's crazy."

She smiles, feigning excitement. "God, what will they think of next? Machines that heat up your food? Tiny electronic connection devices? It's madness!" she cries, trying not to laugh.

I smile back, then bump my shoulder against hers. "But seriously, though. You don't have to come along."

She jerks her head back, examining me. "Are you uninviting me, Cullen?"

"What? No. No. Just, you know, I don't want you to feel like you're…stuck. With us. Me. Here." And now I sound like a stuttering robot. Great.

"Is the Cullen-bot malfunctioning?" Bella smirks, and I wonder how it's possible for two people who just met a couple of hours ago to virtually be thinking the same thing.

Laughing, I shake my head. "I just don't want you to feel obligated to hang out with us." I pause as she raises an eyebrow. "Okay, me," I correct. "Because, I'm gonna be honest, I sort of like talking to you."

"Gee, thanks," she replies, sarcastically sweet. "Are you gonna tell me I'm sorta kinda maybe almost decent-looking next?"

I poke her side once, smiling at her squirmy reaction. "You know what I mean. You're pretty cool, Swan."

She shrugs. "So I've heard. And…you're not so bad yourself, Cullen. I mean, for a clumsy stranger who watches America's Next Top Model by himself."

"Don't forget the crying," I add.

"I would never."

I crack a smile, leaning close. "So I mean, consider this your final warning. If I suddenly develop an attachment to you through the night and you can't get rid of me, you can trace it back to this moment, when that really hot, shitty guitarist with the sexy stubble told you he sort of liked talking to you."

"Are you trying to scare me away?" she asks, stepping closer to me. "Because I'm not gonna lie, your use of grammar is pretty terrifying."

I take a step closer to her as well. "I am taking that as your tacit agreement to stick with us for the night, upcoming attachments or not."

She's closer to me now, the closest she's ever been, with her head just under my chin, those big browns staring up at me. "Consider this my agreement. Besides, there's still something I want from you that I haven't gotten yet," she says softly, her hands coming up to grip either side of my coat. "And I'm determined to get it."

"Oh, yeah?" I murmur, and Jesus, she smells good this close. Like vanilla and beer and girl. I want to breathe it all in with one deep inhale, but I'm pretty sure that instead of seeming romantic, I'd probably come off looking like the Thin Man from Charlie's Angels.

"Yeah," she continues, leaning in. Stepping on her tip-toes, her mouth is at mine, our lips almost touching and I can't even find it in me to question if we're moving too fast for a couple of weirdos who met two hours ago.

"My enchanted blouse will be avenged," she whispers against my mouth, instantly killing the mood.

I'm laughing immediately, backing away from her and her smug-looking face. "Fuck, you just had to, didn't you?" I ask between snickers, and I'm not even mad. Yeah, she got me worked up, but it was hilarious. Also probably way too soon for a first kiss.

"I don't know what you're talking about," Bella answers innocently, smiling like an angel.

"You little…" I growl, but am interrupted my Emmett approaching.

"So," he sighs, putting his phone back in his pocket, "The next taxi will be here in five minutes." He pauses, nodding towards Bella, who's standing next to me. "She staying?"

Bella glances at me the same time I look at her, and we frown at each other, shrugging.

"I guess," I tell Emmett.

"If I have to," she sighs, faking disinterest.

"Alright, then." Emmett claps once, nodding. "Operation Stop Whitlock Wedding is a go."

Chapter Eleven

"You know you missed your big chance, right?"

"Hmm?" Bella asks distractedly, turning her head away from the cab window to face me.

After a brief outline of our plan for stopping Jasper and Alice (both Bella and I refuse to refer to this mission as "Operation Stop Whitlock Wedding," much to Emmett's dismay), the cab came and Emmett called shotgun, which was fine by me. Bella and I each have a window seat in the back of the taxi, on our way to The Little White Wedding Chapel, where we'll hopefully find a drunk Alice and a drunker Jasper safely unmarried.

"Back when we were talking outside the bar. When you almost kissed me."

"I did no such thing," she denies, but she's wearing a smile that says not only does she know what I'm talking about; she's proud of it.

"Right, placing your mouth directly in front of someone else's until your lips are almost touching is completely standard conversational technique," I nod.

Bella shrugs. "Maybe I'm just a friendly person."

"You barely spoke two words when I first met you," I point out.

"That might have had something to do with the beer you dumped on my boobs," she laughs.

"Did someone say boobs?" Emmett's head swivels from the front seat, eyebrows waggling. Bella shakes her head at the same time I blurt out a, "No," and with a suspicious scowl, he goes back to texting.

"Okay," I continue in a low whisper, "are you gonna hold the beer-on-boobs thing over my head forever, 'cause that would sort of be a bummer to the future Cullen offspring, don't you think? Blackmail is not smiled upon in parenting."

Bella pauses, chewing on a fingernail. "Mmm…I mean, not forever. I think I'll definitely have let it go by our sixth child. I mean, you'll have found a way to make it up to me by then. I hope."

"Six?" I sputter. "Are we raising a clan?"

"I told you, Edward," she shrugs. "We Swans are a fertile breed."

She jokes, but my mind is still replaying her words from earlier. A way to make it up to her.

A soft nudge on my shoulder shakes me out of my reverie. "Hello? Earth to Edward? You do realize I do this thing called joking sometimes, right?"

My eyes snap to hers, and I gulp out a chuckle. "Joking? What's that?" I smile.

She grins back, but doesn't answer. Instead, she scoots closer to me so her left leg is pressed up against my right, and leans her head on my shoulder. It's starting to get like a Paul Anka song up in here.

"I'm sleepy," she tells me through a yawn.

I chuckle, cocking my head a little so I can see her face. She looks back up at me, blinking tiredly. "It must be all that non almost-kissing you did. I hear it takes a lot out of you."

"Hah. Of course you wouldn't know firsthand," she murmurs.


"Oh, look at you, with your hair and your eyes and your skin," she waves a hand dismissively.

"Congratulations, you've just described most mammals."

She nudges her side against mine, "C'mon. Lead guitarist slash songwriter in a shitty band? I bet the girls come running all the time, eh, Cullen? I bet you're drowning in all that pu—"

"Okay, let me stop you right there before you completely ruin this blossoming friendship by quoting Drake," I say, placing a hand on her knee to still her words. She doesn't protest, letting my hand linger.

"I don't…have a girlfriend, Bella, if that's what you're getting at." I can't believe she'd think I have prior commitments. The way I've been acting around her all night? It's like we're practically married.

With six hypothetical kids. So far, anyway.

She blinks up at me sleepily, "No, I know it's way uncool to use the term 'girlfriend.' Fuck-buddies, booty-call, fwb's—"

"What? No, stop," I shake my head, laughing. "Oh my God, no. That's Emmett's thing, not mine," I shudder.

Bella raises a skeptical eyebrow at me, pursing her lips. "Really."

Is this what she was hinting at back in the bar, the whole no-dating-musicians rule? Sighing, I turn my head to the front seat. "Emmett."

He turns his body around so he faces us. "What up?"

"Do I get it on with groupies?"

He snorts, then laughs, then slaps his knee, then snorts again. He's still laughing when he starts to speak. "I think the real question is, do you get it on with anyone? Except yourself, that is," he grins, and I'm about to tell him to shut the hell up when he continues. "To which the answer is a firm and probably indefinite: fuck no. Eddie-boy here's the saint of the band. It's like he doesn't even like women," he shrugs, then turns back around to give us privacy.

"And there you have it," I tell Bella.

"Hmm." She's quiet for a moment, probably debating whether to believe the opinion of a guy who flexed his man-boobs at her no more than an hour ago. "I guess you don't really seem like the player type…" she tilts her head, examining my face.

I nod, "Agreed."

"It's probably a good thing, too. I get down with the players like nobody's business," she states, sniffing and burrowing her head against my shoulder again.

I clear my throat, "Um what now?"

Bella yawns, shrugging. "I have a thing for players, especially musically-talented ones. I can't keep it in my pants around 'em."

"But—your rule. You never date musicians."

"Ah, but dating and fucking are completely different."

Well. She has a point.

"So I mean, good thing you aren't, in fact, a player. Or musically-talented," she adds, and I can hear the smile in her voice. "I'd probably be ravaging you by now."

"Whatever," I scoff. "It's all good. I'll win you over some other way."

"Okay cool but this time, can it involve less liquids spilled on me?"

I grin, "I can't guarantee that you definitely won't get wet in the process—" and she cuts me off.

"Okay, I set myself up for that one." She sighs while I chuckle. "Okay, goodnight, whatever, I'm taking a nap. Wake me when we get there," she murmurs, sighing against my shoulder.

"Yeah, you go take your nap, you…nap-taker you."

But she's already sleeping soundly, dead weight against my side. I can feel the warmth of her body ignite against mine, and I relish in her beer-and-vanilla-scented hair. She's so warm. And soft. I tell myself that I'm just going to rest my eyes for a minute, but before I know it, my head is tilted against hers and I'm falling asleep.

Chapter Twelve

I wake with a jolt. My head lurches forward, waking me up instantly, and I realize the cab stopped.

"Well, look at you two lovebirds all comfy and cozy," Emmett's voice declares teasingly from the front seat.

"What time is it?" I croak, a yawn escaping from my lips.

"Time for you two to get hitched. I mean, really, Eddie? She sleeps on you and instead of copping a feel you up and doze off, too? That's marriage material, my friend."

Shaking my head, I finally will my eyes to open and see Emmett exit the cab and shut the door. I check my watch and see it's 11:37. The driver's outside having a smoke and I'm flattened against the window on the left side, completely squished by Bella's sleeping body on the right. Her head has moved from resting on my shoulder to my chest, and my hands have wound their way around her waist. I gulp.

"Hey," I whisper, shaking my shoulder so her head rocks a little. "Bella, hey."

"Mmm," she moans in protest, digging her head deeper in my chest. It feels really good.

"Um." I shake my shoulder again, harder this time. "Bella. Wake up. It's the father of your children speaking."

"No blackmail after the sixth," she mumbles in my flannel.

I grin, knowing she's awake, just unwilling. "We're here."

Sighing, she furrows her brow, and after a moment, she opens her eyes and is blinking up at me. "Hi."

"Hey there."

Still disoriented, she glances around herself, noticing our position. "Oh, shit," she tells my chest.

"Pretty sure I drooled all over your fancy flannel," she bites her lip. My body shakes with laughter, and she darts her eyes to mine. "It's not funny. I ruined it."

"Dude. I've had this for like, three years. It's hardly fancy flannel."

"Are you sure? Pretty sure I've seen the exact same flannel in this week's Lumberjack's Finest."

Chuckling, I shake my head. "Even if I did get this shitty shirt from there, it's really no big deal."

"Oh wow. You must really like me," she raises her eyebrows and uhh no shit?

I shrug. "Maybe. Or maybe this is just a move to get in your pants."

Bella looks around, at my hands still at her waist and her body still crouched over mine. "I don't wanna burst your bubble or anything, Edward, but uh. Spoiler alert: we already slept together."

"This is true," I nod.

"And, to tell you the truth…you weren't all that great," she confesses with a shrug. "In fact, you were pretty bad," she inhales.

"What?" I scoff. "I'll have you know that I am absolutely fantastic in…backseat cab car."

Bella shakes her head, inhaling. "Sorry, man. Your technique was off, you snored a lot, and you smelled like beer."

"We just came from a bar," I reply in my defense.

"Drinking before sleeping together? That might have had something to do with your poor performance," she shrugs.

Before I can offer a response, a hard knock sounds on my window. We both jump, turning to see Emmett beckon with his head and hands to get the hell out of the cab. Right. We actually have a mission to accomplish.

"We're not done talking about this," I tell Bella as we stumble out of the car, the dry cold of the dessert making us shiver.

"Whatever you say," she says, shrugging.

"I can always prove to you just how great I am in the sack—back…seat of a cab," I correct.

"I'm not sure if I want a repeat performance."

"Okay, guys," Emmett calls us to attention, clapping his hands. Dude's a fan of the clap. Hah. I crack myself up. "We're just gonna go in, check if Jasper and Alice are in there, and move on to the next chapel. Got it?"

We nod. Simple enough.

Walking to the entrance of the chapel, I experience a moment of surging courage and reach my hand out to hold Bella's. She turns to me, surprised, but smiling, our fingers threading together as we continue walking.

"Feeling handsy, eh?" she nudges my shoulder with hers.

I shrug. "Well, considering how we did already sleep together, I figure I've earned some hand-holding points." Honestly, I just feel like being linked to her suddenly.

She nods, grinning. "You figure correctly, sir."

We reach the doors then, and it's like all three of us take a simultaneous breath of hope, thinking the same thing: please God don't let those two drunk dumbasses be legally bound together forever thank you amen.

Emmett opens the door and steps inside, me and Bella following behind.

It's white. Everything is white. And plastic. Like an artificial glare to our eyes.

"Such a variety of color," Bella mumbles, staring at the white-washed walls.

"Can I help you?" a gruff voice asks from the right.

An elderly woman sits behind a counter with a pin on her uniform, reading "The Little White Wedding Chapel: for those who just can't wait!" Or make rational decisions, I think.

We walk over to her and she folds her hands atop the desk, eyeing Bella and my clasped hands. "We take walk-ins," she nods.

"Huh?" Bella asks, then follows old lady's gaze to our hands. "Oh, no, we're not—"

"We're looking for a couple who may have stopped by in a fit of drunken affection," explains Emmett. "We're trying to stop them from making the biggest mistake of their adult lives."

The old lady—I look for a nametag and see the name Shelley Cope—grunts. "Name?"

"Jasper Whitlock," I offer.

Shelley opens a manila folder and scans it. Finally, she shakes her head and I curse.

"Try Alice Brandon," Bella adds.

"Alice Brandon?" Shelley asks, pausing before raising her head to glare at Bella.

"Yes?" she squeaks. I don't think I've ever heard her squeak before.

Old lady narrows her eyes. "You mean that devil fairy with the short skirt and glitter around her eyes?"

"That would be her," Bella nods slowly.

Shelley gives us each the evil eye slowly before talking. "Yeah, she came in. Tall blonde draped on her arm, Southern drawl, tweed jacket."

"Jasper's Southern?" Bella whispers to me.

"Only when he drinks," I whisper back.

She nods, then pauses. "Also, he wears tweed?"

I'm about to respond when Emmett speaks, voice pleading. "Did they get hitched? Married? The old ball-and-chain? Lifetime of servitude?"

Shelley blinks at him, pausing, and each of our heads incline towards her.

"No," she says finally, and the breath of relief we each sigh is big enough to create a small tornado in the lobby. "But they did make an awful mess out of the waiting room," Shelley sniffs, shaking her head. "That fairy demon—"

"Alice," Bella interjects.

Shelley grunts, "Yeah, whatever—she threatened to choke one of the legal witnesses in the waiting room if she didn't have a set of freshly-cut lilacs in her hand to walk down the aisle with. We kicked 'em out," she nods, her face just screaming good riddance.

"Yep, that's Alice," Bella nods.

"Thank you…Miss Cope. Did they mention where they last went?" I ask her.

Shelley shakes her head, firm and short. "No. Now, y'all better get going. Unless you wanna get hitched, you're wasting my time."

Chapter Thirteen

"Shit. Shit, shit, shit." Emmett kicks the pavement of The Little White Wedding Chapel's parking lot, cursing the ground.

I scrub my hands over my face in impatience. "Where the hell could they have gone?"

Bella, who's been on her cell phone, walks back to Emmett and me, flipping it shut. I vaguely notice how outdated her phone must be if it still flips closed. "I've tried calling Alice a million times, but she won't answer. Probably on vibrate," she mutters, shaking her head. Her forehead is creased, her bottom lip pulled by her teeth, and she starts tapping her foot in a panic.

I rise from my seat on the cold sidewalk, walking to her trembling figure a few feet away. "We're gonna find them," I tell her, trying to ease her nerves.

"But what if we don't?" she asks, voice high. Her eyes blink quickly, looking at me and then abruptly away.

"We will."

"Okay, whatever, Mr. Glass Half Full."

I shrug, smiling and nudging her elbow with mine. "I've heard worse nicknames."

Still, she worries her lip.

"Alright, come on, think about it. Even if we don't find them, they drank at the bar two and a half hours ago. At least some of the alcohol has got to have rubbed off by now."

"You don't know Alice," she counters.

"And you don't know Jasper. Once he sobers up, he'll go into full grandpa freakout mode and return Alice safely back to you. There's not a chance in hell he'll go through with a ridiculous chapel wedding. He wears tweed, for Christ's sake."

Bella sighs, nodding. "Yeah, what's that about?"

I shake my head. "Boy watches one episode of Dr. Who and suddenly he's a professor from the fifties," I shrug.

She smiles a little, and I tell myself it's normal to be this happy just because she's happy. Totes normal.

"Okay," Bella nods suddenly, looking up at me. "Confession time. I was seriously this close to going apeshit right now, and you talked me off the freakout ledge. Thank you. Seriously. Like, for realsies."

I raise my eyebrows. "An honest-to-God for realsjes thank you?" I touch my chest. "Wow—Bella, I'm touched."

She grins, stepping up on her toes, and quick as lightning, places a small kiss on my cheek. "I can get sort of carried away with my thoughts sometimes," she shrugs, not meeting my eyes.

"You don't say," I reply, but most of my mind is focusing on how soft and warm her lips felt on my face. I wanna kiss her. Badly.

"Shocking, right?"

I nod dumbly, staring at her lips.

"'Sup, fuckers!" someone suddenly shouts from behind, the voice oddly familiar. Placing it, I groan as Bella squints at something behind me, and brace myself before turning around.

"James," I nod at his leather jacket-clad figure sauntering towards us. "Of course."

"'Bout time you came," Emmett says, walking to him and giving him a fist-bump.

The both of them make their way to Bella and me and I can't help but feel protective of her with James hanging around. The guy's made of slime. Cleavage-signing, self-advertising, shitty-singing slime.

"'Sup?" James nods at Bella, sporting his you-might-know-me-from-my-wildly-unsuccessful-band smile.

"Um. Hi," she responds curtly.

"So," Emmett starts, "I called James here so we can split up. You know, double efforts or whatever. We're gonna search every chapel within a twenty-mile radius, and you guys go visit any places you think Jasper or Alice would meet at to hook up or something."

I nod, mildly surprised at Emmett's assertiveness and fairly sensible planning. Who knew?

"Later, dude. And dudette," James smiles, sporting a pair of finger-guns before hopping into a cab with Emmett. They drive off, leaving me and Bella all alone.

"Did he seriously just use finger-guns? Sans irony?" she asks.

"The lead singer of La Push, ladies and gents."

She shakes her head as we walk to the curb and I try hailing down a cab. "You know, I can't even tell if I like you because you're you, or because you're you among a sea of…not-yous. I mean, compared to the rest of the band…You're definitely top pick."

I smile, "Nothing like a lack of choices to realize just how valuable someone is, eh?"

A taxi pulls over and Bella nods. "Now you're getting it,' she laughs before entering. I follow after her and it isn't until we're both seated in the backseat, the cab still, that we realize we have no idea where to go.

"Where to?" the cabbie asks.

I shoot a glance at Bella. "Uh…"

She opens her mouth, but says nothing for a few seconds. Then, shrugging, she blurts out, "The Bellagio."

Chapter Fourteen

The cabbie nods and peels away from the corner as I gaze blankly at Bella.

"What?" she asks, clueless.

"The Bellagio? I thought we were supposed to be searching for our drunk friends, not hooking up in some expensive hotel room," I tease.

"Alright, cool your jets, Speedy Gonzalez," she rolls her eyes. "There's a spot in The Bellagio that Alice frequents. It's her favorite place in the whole city."

"Oh." Makes sense. "Okay. Yeah, cool. Good thinking."

She shrugs, "Plus if they end up not being there, I could always just jump you in the elevator or something."

"Okay, but we have a perfectly semi-spacious cab backseat right here. It's just as good a spot as the elevator for jumping me," I pat the leather seat.

She snickers. "Nice try, Cullen, but my last experience in the backseat of a cab was…disappointing to say the least. Did you know you snore?"

"I did," I reply, nodding. "Did you know you drool?"
She sighs, an embarrassed smile pulling at her lips. "Okay, got me there. But it could've been worse. I could've had REM sleep behavior disorder. Like when someone starts kicking and screaming in the middle of the night," she explains.

"You do have a point," I nod. "This is a thanks in advanced for not thrashing your limbs about or punching me in the face while you're asleep."

She smiles. "Are you saying I'm allowed to punch you while I'm awake? And what makes you think you're gonna be sleeping within kicking-distance of me anytime soon, anyway?"

I laugh, scooting closer to her, seatbelts be damned. "Firstly, I would very much appreciate if you could refrain from doing any damage to the money-maker," I say, fanning my face.

"Ahh yes, I can see that. Between your face and your body, your face is definitely the more profitable," she nods, giving me a once-over.

"And," I continue, chuckling, "You're gonna have to face sleeping with me again, Bella. It's sort of necessary for the existence of our future children."

"Mmm you do have a point there," she murmurs, staring at my lips all of a sudden.

I lean in closer, noticing the way her breathing changes. "I'm trying really hard not to make a joke about another point I have."

"Oh, God," she groans, "Of course I like a guy who makes penis jokes. Of course," she sighs, shaking her head.

I smile at her flushed cheeks, giving myself an internal high-five at her admission. "If it makes you feel any better, I really dig this chick who drooled on my flannel shirt earlier. She's kind of a spaz."

"I bet she makes up for it with super funny, witty jokes, though," she nods.

"Eh," I tilt my head from side to side. "They're so-so, I guess."

Bella hits my chest then, scoffing. "Jerk."

I laugh at her fake-wounded expression and this time, I keep her hand against my chest, holding it with my own. It's quiet as I hold her hand in mine, bringing our threaded fingers down to rest on her thigh.

"So," she starts, and I look away from our hands to her eyes, which are wide and dark and seemingly fucking endless as she stares at me. "I know you said I missed my chance back outside the bar, but…now would be a great time to make your move. Just putting it out there."

"My move?" I ask a little breathlessly, because our sides are pressed together and the heat of her leg is warming mine and it feels divine.

And now I'm thinking in rhyme.

Shit, that rhymed, too.

"Yeah, you know," she continues, staring at my mouth. "Every guy's got an ultimate move that will undoubtedly make their romantic interest fall head over heels, resulting in major love-making. Come on, Edward, you have to have a move."

I clear my throat, "Psh, don't be ridiculous. Of course I have a move, Bella."

She nods, waiting, her smile quiet and sweet and a little teasing.

"Maybe my move is that…I don't have a move," I offer, trying to look as smooth as possible. It's kind of a moot point, though. Once you pass admitting to crying to America's Next Top Model by yourself, the concept of smoothness is pretty much unattainable.

It seems to work, anyway, because Bella leans in closer until her lips hover mine. "That was…really lame," she whispers, a smile in her voice, making me chuckle breathlessly. "But I'm gonna pretend it was original and sexy so we can just skip the talking part and get to the good stuff."

"Good stuff meaning kissing?"

"Yes," she meets my eyes, so close and wide, "good stuff meaning kissing."

"Awesome," I nod, and then suddenly I'm pushing my mouth against hers. She gasps a little, surprised, our mouths still at first and then she's pushing back, our lips moving together in a frenzy. I press the back of her body into the window and she brings her hands up to my head, weaving fingers through my hair. It makes me kiss her harder, bringing a hand down to her waist where I can feel her shirt rising up, the skin of her hip so fucking soft as I pull her closer to me. Her hands pull harder at my hair, eliciting a low groan from me as I break free for a second to catch my breath before latching on again.

She's all warm skin and smooth lips and delicious little noises as our heads bob in an effort to get closer, lips and teeth grazing each other again and again. When I feel her tongue against mine, my pants become significantly tighter.

"Here," a voice says suddenly, and our bodies jerk slightly as the cab comes to a stop.

Bella pulls apart with a frustrated grunt, her lips making a wet sound as they leave mine. "What?" she pants.

"Bellagio," the driver announces, and I suddenly remember that Bella and I aren't the two only people in the world.

My face is still close enough to kiss her, but I pull away, running a hand through my hair and glancing at the driver, who gives me a knowing look. I clear my throat, fishing my wallet out of my pocket.

"Ahem. Right. The Bellagio. Thank you, good sir," I tell the cabbie, giving him a twenty and a ten.

I face Bella, smiling at the mess of her shirt and the flush in her cheeks and her ripened lips.

"What?" she asks, staring at me.

"You look like you just got attacked."

"Me?" she scoffs. "You should look at your hair. It looks like you got electrocuted," she snickers, reaching up to attempt smoothing it down.

I fight the urge to close my eyes or lean into her touch, instead grinning at her. "I wonder whose fault that is."

"Whatever," she rolls her eyes, opening the door to the cab.

We get out of the car, Bella stumbling to balance on the sidewalk as the cab screeches away.

"You okay?" I ask, eyeing her legs.

"Um, yep." She clears her throat. "Fine. Just, you know, weak knees."

I nod as we start walking to the Bellagio entrance. "It was probably my unmatched kissing skills. I should've warned you before."

Her cheeks redden as she smiles. "Okay yeah, you're…not a heinous kisser, sure," she allows, shaking her head.

"Oh, wow, please. Don't let me get a big head with that shower of compliments."

She rolls her eyes, sighing. "Okay, you're like, a pretty good kisser. Even borderline tolerable," she nods.

"Is this what happens when I kiss you?" I ask, lowering my head to meet her eyes. "You start giving out genuine compliments? 'Cause if that's the case, I guess I'll take one for the team and start doing it more frequently," I shrug. "You know, if I have to."

"Aw geez, just for me? Thanks, Edward."

"Anytime," I answer with a smile, holding the door open to The Bellagio before we both step in.

Chapter Fifteen

"So…" I start as Bella leads me across the lobby, weaving in between crowds of people. We make it to the elevators and she ushers me inside after pressing UP. "Is this the part where you jump me?"

"If memory serves correct, I let you jump me in the backseat of that cab."

"If memory serves correct, you jumped me back."

"If memory serves correct," she starts, pausing to squint. "Okay that phrase is annoying, now."

"Yeah," I agree. "It's like when you say a random word over and over again and it loses its meaning."

"Anyway," she raises her hands. "Yes, I jumped you back in the cab because yes, you are quite a good kisser and yes, this is one of those very rare times when I am being serious, so."

I feel like a seventeen-year-old sex-crazed virgin as I push her against the wall, because once I hear her declare I'm a good kisser I need to kiss her again.

"You work fast," she pants between our lips, her hands reaching up to grab at my hair again. I groan, moving my lips from her mouth to her neck, and I hear her breath hitch when I start sucking lightly at the skin there. She tastes like salted caramel and her throat is the softest part of her body I've sucked on. So far.

"Ed—Edward," she stutters breathlessly, bringing her hands to my jaw so she can lift my head to her level.

I gulp. "Yeah?"

Her eyes are hooded and her chest is heaving as she slides her hands from my jaw to my shoulders. "I just wanted to let you know, I really like kissing you." Her smile is bashful and sexy at the same time, and I wanna kiss her again already.

Instead, I cough up a laugh. "You interrupted me kissing you…to let me know that you really like kissing me?"

She opens her mouth, pondering for a moment. "Uh. Yeah," she pants. "Yeah, I guess so. Is that weird?"

"Immensely," I nod, smiling as she releases her hold on my shoulders. The urgency of our previous frantic activities melts into this warm sort of calm as I stand close to her, our chests almost touching. "But I get it."

"You would," she laughs, smiling up at me. "You're a weirdo like that."

"You mean I'm a weirdo like you," I correct, and she rolls her eyes but denies nothing. "At least we can be weirdos together," I shrug.

Bella gapes. "You did not just quote a teen movie."

"What?" I ask as she's laughing, shaking her head. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"You practically recited Emma Watson's lines perfectly."

"Pfsh whatever, you know you still wanna kiss me. Besides, she says psychos, not weirdos."

She raises an eyebrow, face bright. "So you do know the movie."

"I…Shit." She's got me there.

Laughing, Bella stands on her tiptoes to place a chaste kiss on my lips. "How I can still be attracted to you after hearing you quote Perks of Being a Wallflower is beyond me."

"Uhh maybe because it's a cinematic masterpiece?"

"I really hope you're joking," she replies as the tell-tale ding of the elevator signals that we've reached our floor.

That's when I actually take time to see which floor she pressed, and my mouth falls open. Bella walks out of the elevator casually, and I follow behind, entering a dark hallway.

"Why are we on the highest floor?" I hiss, catching up to her.

She glances at me. "Why are you whispering?" she hisses back.

"Because," I whisper.

"And there's that reason again."

"Just why are we—" I hiss before changing my voice to normal. "Why are we on the top floor?"

"Know any other ways to get to the roof?"

I gulp. "The roof?"

Instead of answering, she takes a left at the end of the silent hallway, where we're met with a window and a dead end.

"Well, guess there's no way to get to the roof after all, we should probably try another place, let's go," I say in a rush, grabbing her hand and pulling her back.

She scoffs, resisting my pull, coming to a stop. "Relax, Speedy Eggbert."

"You know a lot of fictionally speedy characters," I point out.

Rolling her eyes, Bella pulls something small and thin and black from her hair. A bobby pin.


She grins, raising her eyebrows, and strolls to the dead-end again. To the right of the window is a door. A locked door. The kind of locked door that has a sign in very red, bold, large lettering.

"What are you doing?" I ask as Bella bends her bobby pin backwards.

"Do you see a key card laying around anywhere?" she whispers, jamming the bobby pin in the lock of the door.

"Oh my God. Bella, what—"

"Come on, Edward, live a little."

"Live. Yes, I'd like to live. You know where I won't live? In jail. Which is where they'll put us if they catch us!" I hiss.

"Well go on and stand watch so they won't, then," she tells me, nodding her head to the opening of the hallway.

"I'm telling them you forced me," I whisper-groan before tentatively walking over to stand watch.

"Right on, Squealer," she murmurs, a smile in her voice.

After a few seconds, I hear a handle click, and turn around to see Bella swing the door to the roof open, smug grin wider than the Cheshire cat.

My eyebrows rise, truly impressed. "Of course I'm head over heels for a nefarious felon," I say, walking over to her.

"Watching a few YouTube videos hardly makes me a felon. Although I can be quite nefarious," she waggles her eyebrows before leading the way through the door.

"Don't I know it," I mutter after her, following.

She leads me through a series of stairs, the expected put-down about how hard I'm panting leading to the expected joke about other activities that make me pant, and by the time we reach the roof, we're both trying to catch our breath.

"Demon stairs," she breathes, resting her head against the cool glass of another door. This one leads straight out to the roof and has no lock.

"If they're not out there, I call for a ten minute break," I pant.

"Agreed," she nods before turning the handle and swinging the door open.

We step out onto the roof, the flat surface shaped like a square. The pitch black sky hovers over like an umbrella, the air so cold and dry, I have to cough.

"Great," Bella mumbles next to me, sighing. "They're not here."

I scan the area in front of us, then turn around where I'm met again with flat surface. No one. "Shit." When I turn back around to face Bella, I see her standing at the edge a few yards away. The roof's border meets her waist as she bends down, inspecting the city.

Cautiously, I approach her, gulping at all the city lights surrounding us. I give a low whistle, gaining her attention.

"Outstanding, isn't it," she murmurs, watching the muted city from our vantage point.

I nod, but my pulse is still faster than comfortable. "It's beautiful. So quiet. I can see why Alice loves this spot."

Bella glances at me, "Are you okay?"

"What? Yeah sure of course why wouldn't I be, what?"

She narrows her eyes at me. "Did you take some meth or something while I went to the bathroom?"

"That was like three and a half hours ago, dude, the effects probably would've stopped by now."

"We're awfully familiarized with the timed consequences of illegal drugs, are we?"

"I'm fine," I nod.

Bella inspects my face for a second, hushed hum of cars driving under us the only sound as I refuse to meet her eyes. At last, she speaks. "You're scared of heights, aren't you?"

"Pfsh what?" I cough, jerking my head back. "No. What? Pfsh. Okay, yes."

Her smile spreads wider as she takes a step towards me. "And you still came up here with me?"

I scoff, trying not to focus on how I can't see the tops of any other buildings from this high up. "What, like I'd let you have all the jail-punishing fun?"

"And you say you have no moves."

"This isn't so much a move as it is an unwillingness to let you be alone."

"Well, move or non-move," she shrugs, "it's working."

"Yeah?" I ask, taking a step towards her.


We're about to kiss again when a low noise interrupts us, gurgled and distraught. I pause, our faces inches apart, and point at Bella's stomach.

"It's coming from inside the house," I whisper.

"Okay yeah that definitely sounded like something out of Alien," she says, staring down at her mid-section. Nodding, she grabs my hand and pulls me towards the door leading to the demon stairs. "Let's eat."

Chapter Sixteen

The only reasonably-priced 24-hour dining establishment nearby is Denny's, which is where we find ourselves at 1:27 in the morning, sitting across from each other in a plastic booth, holding sticky menus. After a few seconds, though, Bella already knows what she wants.

"Okay regardless of it being nighttime, I'm totally ordering pancakes. And eggs. And bacon."

I shrug, folding my menu on top of Bella's on the table. "It's about 1:30 in the morning anyway, so when you think about it, that is totally suitable food for this time. Technically."

"Thank you," she nods. "God. Has it really just been four and a half hours since you swung that bathroom door in my face?" she muses.

"Holy shit," I blink. "Yeah. Guess so." It sounds so strange to say that out loud. I've known Bella Swan for four hours and we've already made out twice, discussed our hypothetical children, and broken into a hotel rooftop.

"Why does it feel like I've known you—"

"Please don't say 'all my life' or I may have to strangle you with this questionably stained napkin."

I snort, rubbing my eyes. "I was gonna say 'way longer,' but I appreciate you taking the matter of corny phrases so seriously."

"Anytime," she smiles. "And what can I say? Time flies when you're with me."

"Wouldn't that mean I'd feel like I've known you for a shorter time, not longer?" I squint.

She shrugs. "Whichever makes me sound more interesting."

"You? More interesting?" I scoff. "I don't think that's possible."

She opens her mouth to say something, but the waitress comes, cutting her off. Bella orders a platter of breakfast foods and coffee, and I get the same. After the waitress leaves, I feel her foot tap against my shoe.

I look up, but her eyes are averted.

"So," she says, playing with a sugar packet. "Since all I really know about you is your penchant for America's Next Top Model, snoring, and kissing in confined spaces, what do you say to a game of Twenty Questions?"

"Hmm," I stroke my chin dramatically, pondering. "You're not satisfied with the basics?"

"Well, seeing as you are the father of my hypothetical children, I should probably get more of an in-depth inspection," she nods.

"By a game of Twenty Questions."

"Well gee," she scoffs, "I left my handy lie detector test at home, so yeah."

Resting my arms on the table, I nod. "Sure."

"Alright. One for each, and we take turns."

"I know how to play Twenty Questions, Bella, I've had my fair share of eighth grade social functions."

"Glad to hear it. Alright, so…" she claps her hands once. "How old were you when you lost your virginity?"

I cough, rubbing the back of my neck. "Well, you're diving right in, aren't you?"

"I don't waste time," she shrugs.

"Alright. I was a freshman in college. She was an old girlfriend who visited for the weekend, and…you didn't ask for the story, so I'm moving on," I laugh nervously. "Uh. What's up with your phone?"

"Excuse me?"

"The year is 2013 and your phone flips open and closed. There's gotta be a story behind that."

Bella looks at me incredulously for a moment before sighing loudly. "Fine. I really didn't wanna have to disclose this information, but…" she leans towards me and I do the same. Her voice drops to a whisper. "The government actually pays me to use outdated accessories—scrunchies, Walkman, flip phones—to get them back in style. Just the other day I was assigned to wear a pager. It's the endless consumer trap, man," she shakes her head, sighing.

"I knew it," I nod. "You did have that paid-by-the-government vibe. And I can totally see you rocking a scrunchie."

"You do know how to compliment a girl, Cullen," she smiles, leaning back.

"I try," I shrug. "Okay but really. Your phone."

"Uh. My mom gave it to me before she left, and…this is taking a surprisingly serious turn," she laughs, playing with the ends of her hair. "Um. So she left my dad about five years ago. I don't know, it's probably stupid, but carrying that shitty phone around makes me feel like she's still around. Or something. I don't know. Anyway."

I rest my hand atop hers lightly, squeezing her fingers once. "It's not stupid. Trust me."

Her smile is small but crucial as she nods. "Thanks. So how often do you jerk off?" she asks just as the waitress comes with our order.

I'm pretty sure my face is on fire as the old lady sets down our meals and drinks, telling us to enjoy our food. When she walks away, I can't help but laugh. "Jesus Christ," I run a hand through my mess of hair nervously, glancing at Bella. "Why are all your questions about sex?"

"Why are all your questions not?"

The rest of the game goes something like that. The questions we spew out vary from random to meaningful to appropriate to plain old stupid.

"When did you know you wanted to be a musician?"

"What do you want to do with your life?"

"Are you lactose intolerant?"

"Foo Fighters or Coldplay?"

"Favorite cookie?"

"Do you watch a lot of porn?"

"Best day of your life?"

"Worst injury you've ever had?"

"How did your mom die?"

My fork-full of pancakes stops midway to my mouth at that question, and Bella curses.

"Sorry. Fuck. It just came out. You don't have to—"

"Cancer," I answer quickly. "We caught it late. My dad took it the hardest, I think. Keeps thinking he should've been able to miraculously save her. It's been four years." I don't have much an appetite after that, but I nibble on some hash browns to keep the mood going.

Bella's quiet while I continue eating, and then I see a piece of bacon slowly make its way to my plate.


"Shh. The bacon medal is the most valuable of awards. Take it with graceful silence, Edward," she whispers, a small, sad smile playing on her lips. "Thanks. For, you know. Sharing," she adds in a mumble.

"Thank you for sharing. I love bacon more than pretty much anything," I nod, smiling back. "Okay," I take a bite, chewing. "So why are you so closed off?"

"What? I just mentioned my top four porn sites like five minutes ago."

"You know what I mean. All that cat lady shit. Do you seriously not believe in, you know. The L word?"

"What, Lasagna?" she whispers. "God, no."

I grin, but press on.

"I dunno," she murmurs softly, staring at her coffee. "The concept of love is just…really confusing to me. Like. I don't want to be put before someone just because they love me, or have to put someone before myself. I don't want there to be any sacrifices. That doesn't sound right."

I hum, nodding. "No, yeah, I understand. But I guess I just never thought of love like that. I always thought of it as like a…side-by-side thing. You know? Not really putting someone in front or yourself behind, but just…standing next to each other, as equals. Working together, I guess." I shrug, playing with my scrambled eggs.


I look up at Bella, who's watching me with these dark eyes, her cheeks pink. "Uh."

"That was…incredibly insightful, Edward. Seriously. I…You…Yeah," she nods, laughing.

"Articulate," I tease.

"Oh, shut up, you fancy word-user, you. No but really. You've given me…a lot to think about."

"Uh-oh. You gonna be okay with that?" I ask, feigning worry as I gesture to her head.
"And you ask why I'm so closed off," she sniffs, shaking her head.

"Would it be weird if I said I was glad you enjoyed it?"

"A little?"

"Ah. Okay then. Most definitely not glad you enjoyed it," I chuckle.

"I think that was weirder," she replies, sipping her coffee. She coughs abruptly, though, slamming the cup down and ignoring my question of whether or not she's alright. "I call a time-out," she says, eyes looking past me.

"Why? Because I'm actually starting to get to know you?" I raise my eyebrows.

She meets my eyes for a moment before staring at something behind me. "No. Because Jasper and Alice just walked in."

Chapter Seventeen

Surprisingly, Jasper is still a little drunk. Not completely, but definitely a little. He's still coherent. Sort of.

"You just don't get it," he says, words slightly slurred. "Alice, man. She's…the one for me. The. One."

"Jasper…" I start, then shiver as a gust of wind blows towards us. We're sitting outside on the curb while the girls talk inside, Bella and I doing our jobs as wedding-preventers separately. You know, divide and conquer. I'm starting to regret requesting to talk out in the cold, though, seeing as I'm pretty sure my balls are about to freeze.

"I know what you're thinking," he shakes his head. "How could I possibly know that I want to spend my life with a girl I just met less than six hours ago. Right?"

"It's crossed my mind, yes," I nod.

"Well I can't explain it," he replies. "I can't explain how perfectly she relates to me. How she is the complete yin to my yang and how I've never felt so understood in my life." His voice trembles with passion or anger, I don't know, but it shakes something within me, deep and tight. I shrug it off.

"Look, Jasper. I can't tell you what to do or anything, but just think about it for a second. Marriage? I'm not saying to break it off with Alice, but…why not take it easy? Slow down."

"I've slowed down all my life!" he roars, the dramatics definitely up there. I fight the urge to tell him there's no camera around and watch in amusement instead. "For once," he continues, slurring. "I feel free enough to do something unexpected. Something with her. And why should I wait? Why is now not the perfect time?"

"Because," I counter calmly, "You haven't even spent twenty-four hours with the girl."

"The girl," he huffs, "happens to be the love of my life. I mean, Jesus, have you ever felt like that, Edward?"

"Like what," I sigh, checking my watch. 2:23. I need a drink.

"Like you related to someone who is simultaneously a question and an answer? Like you could finish their sentences but want every moment to pick their brain?"

The shaking is there again, deep in my gut. Bella's face pops up in my mind and I clear my throat, shaking my head. "Well…"

"It's like the sky is smiling down at you and the planets align and she is your home and you two belong together. No one gets me the way she does," Jasper continues, sighing. "No one. I wanna spend everything I have on her. I wanna know everything there is about her. I wanna play her every one of my shitty songs."

And all at once, I get it. It clicks. It makes sense, everything he's said.

"You know what I mean?" he asks, eyes hopeful.

I don't have an answer at that moment, instead watching as Alice and Bella walk out of the restaurant and towards us. Bella offers me a smile and I wave back. And then, "I think I do."

"Oh," Jasper sighs. I glance at him and see that his eyes trained on Alice, who's beaming back at him. "There she is. There's my girl. She's something, isn't she?"

I watch as the girls walk closer to us and Bella trips on her shoelace, almost falling face-first into the ground. She recovers, though, nodding to herself. Her lips tug upwards and although it's dark out, I bet she's blushing. "Yeah," I answer Jasper again, and tell myself to quit answering his questions centered around his girl with answers pertaining to mine.


My feet are moving on their own, like I can't wait to be close to her again, and I realize I need to tell her something before I do anything else in my life ever.

Wow, Jasper's dramatics really rubbed off on me.

Bella's smile is bright when I meet them, and she pokes my shoulder. "Hey."

"Hi. I need to speak to you."

"Oh. Okay. Just…" she glances at Alice, and the two share a look before Alice nods and walks over to Jasper.

Once we're alone, Bella chuckles. "Okay they could totally run for it again while we're talking so I don't know how much time we have—"

"I like you," I blurt out, then immediately shut my eyes, realizing how stupid that sounded.

She smiles, though. "Is that why you flirted with me at the bar? And mauled me in the cab slash elevator? And risked going to jail as I broke into that demon staircase? And put your acrophobia aside to come up to the roof with me? And—"

"Bella," I laugh, clutching her shoulders. "Just. I need to get this out, to make sure that you know. I mean, we joke around a lot—"

"No," she gasps, and I give her a look, to which she replies with, "Okay point taken, proceed."

"Thank you," I smile. "I just…You're probably the weirdest, funniest, smartest girl I've ever met. And I think we click, you and I. We go together."

Her face is completely serious as she asks, "Like rama lama lama ke dingadedinga dong?"

I sigh. "You just had to."

"Grease is one of my favorites, Edward. When the chance comes up for me to reference it, I do."

"This is my point," I laugh. "We're just…really good together. Don't you think?"

"I can see myself doing this for a while, yeah," she grins. "With you, I mean."

"Thanks for the clarification."

She smiles, stepping closer.

And I want to tell her that I think she belongs with me. That I've never felt more in place than when we're together. That I belong with her because Jasper was right; she feels like home.

But I just met her five and a half hours ago and all that would sound so fucking insane, so I pour it into a kiss instead.

She grabs at my hair and I grab at her waist and our lips move frantically together, and I taste all of her. Her teeth and tongue and raw abandon. When I pull away, she smiles, eyes still closed, and I give her one more quick kiss.

"Anyway, yeah just wanted to say that," I nod.

"Oh, yeah. Ditto," she chuckles.


Bella and I jump at the sound of Jasper clearing his throat next to us, eyebrows disappearing into his hairline.

"Well, well, well," he smiles, staring at us.

"Um, hi," the blushing girl next to me says, extending her hand. "I'm Bella."

"Hi, Bella, I'm Jasper," he says, shaking her hand.

"And I'm Alice!"

I laugh at the pixie's contagious energy, and her eyes fixate on the top of my head. "You're so right, Bella, his hair is to die for," she suddenly murmurs.

"What?" I laugh, turning to a very panicked-looking Bella on my left.

"Alice," she hisses.

"You are Edward, right?" Alice asks, stepping forward.

"Uh…" I trail off, throwing a quizzical glance at Jasper. Dude just shrugs.

"The one with the sexy sleepy voice and magic tongue?"

My smile is as immediate as Bella's response.

"Okay!" she claps, her voice higher than I've ever heard. "Alice! Time to go. Jasper, pleasure to have met you, might wanna buy a muzzle for that chatterbox there," she laughs nervously, borderline panicked, ushering the two successfully unwed lovebirds towards a stalling cab on the corner. I follow behind, sporting a grin that would put The Joker's to shame.

"Take them to 925 Jackson Drive," Bella tells the driver, and I'm guessing that's her and Alice's apartment.

"Be safe, you two," I call out.

"Steer clear of any chapels," Bella adds as the cab peels away from the corner.

"So," I start, pulling her towards me, my arms wrapped around her waist. I love the way she doesn't resist, the way she fits into my mold like she was made to be there. "Magic tongue, huh?"

She groans, burying her head in my shoulder. "You're holding that over my head for years to come, aren't you?" she replies, voice muffled.

I try to ignore the way my heart clenches in both nervousness and anticipation at the mention of years to come with her and answer instead, smiling. "You know the rules. No blackmail after the sixth child."

Chapter Eighteen

"Uh-huh. Yeah, I remember," I nod as Emmett prattles on the other line. "Okay. Yes, I'm listening," I say, watching Bella with all my attention.

She's talking on the phone with Alice a few yards away from me, the both of us still in front of Denny's. She smiles and nods, rolls her eyes and fixes her hair and shoots me a grin, mouthing the word, Hi.

I fake shock and look behind me, then turn back to her. Me? I mouth.

She shakes her head, No, pointing to something behind me.

Turning around, I see an old bum pushing a shopping cart with a crazed look in his eye, like he thinks the whole world is out to get his plastic bag full of recyclables. He narrows one eye at me, and I turn away, quickly, shooting a glance at Bella.

She's laughing. Hard.

Shut up, I mouth, unable to stop smiling.

"Edward? Hello? Stop fucking around with Bella and listen," Emmett huffs on the other line.

I clear my throat, my attention back to this phone call. "Yeah no, I'm here, what?"

"James says there's a party down in Riverside, you know where I got busted for hiding naked in the bushes?"

I close my eyes, willing the memory to go away. "Yes, dude, I remember. I live in Riverside, if you can't recall. You were naked in my bushes."

"Okay, don't say that sentence out loud."

"Anyway," I sigh, "I'll go see if Bella wants to come. Most likely, we'll be there."

"I'm telling ya man. Get hitched."

"Whatever," I answer before hanging up.

I walk over to Bella, who's still fake-waving at Crazy Bum, acting surprised when I come to stand in front of her.

"Mhmm. Yeah. Alright," she says in the phone, eyes on me. "Be safe, Alice," are her last words before hanging up.

"What were you two talking about?"

She scoffs, "None of your business."

"Salt'N'Pepa. I'm a fan," I smile.

"It just seems like I can't do nothing," she replies conversationally, "without somebody buggin."

I shrug. "I mean, I used to think that it was me…but now, I see it wasn't," I reply, face serious.

She throws her head back in laughter, and I grin, wondering why it feels so damned good to be the reason she laughs. "So," she clears her throat, eyeing my phone. "What'd Emmett want?"

"Apparently, there's a party down in Riverside, and—"

"Will there be drinks?" she interrupts with a smile.

"Probably," I shrug.

"Then we're going."

She grabs my hand, pulling me towards the curb as she starts hailing a cab.

"Don't I get a say in this?" I scoff, just to bug her.

"You lost your say in getting a say the second you chose Coldplay over Foo Fighters," she snorts as a taxi slows down near our spot.

"God, this is like the Aerosmith/KISS debacle all over again," I sigh, opening the door before she climbs in. I follow in after her, reciting the address of the party before the cabbie speeds off and we settle into our seats.

"So hey," she starts, nudging my chest with her elbow.

"Is for horses," I reply.

Bella closes her eyes, sighing. "I am pretending you didn't use that heinous joke and moving on."

"Deal," I nod.
She shakes her head, mutters something that sounds an awful lot like "magic tongue," and faces me. "How'd it go with Jasper?"

"Well, he isn't getting hitched anytime soon, so…pretty well, I think." I bump shoulders with her. "You?"

She purses her lips, pausing. "Alice…is a passionate person. The girl cried over a Kim Kardashian wedding, for God's sake," she chuckles. "She's…sensitive. So I was expecting this tornado of fervor, but she was like, disturbingly calm. Certain. She kept mentioning how much she cared for Jasper, this dude she knew for like, four hours before deciding to spend the rest of her life with, albeit under the massive influence of alcohol," Bella shakes her head, staring at the mat under her feet. "But she kept telling me that I didn't understand. How I could never fathom investing so much for some dude in a bar who made her feel like she finally belonged somewhere. And I don't know, I mean, after a while of listening to her," she shrugs, "it started sounding…really familiar."

I nod, staring at her profile. "I know."

"Yeah?" she asks, eyes flickering to me.


Yeah, yeah, a million fucking times yeah. I know exactly what she means. But words are too messy and the night is still fresh and we have a party to attend, so the heavy conversation ends there. The rest of the cab ride is spent playing slide and making bets on how many California license plates we'll spot by the time we reach our destination. Bella wins. Go figure.

Chapter Nineteen

"Oh God I think I just saw some guy walking around with headphones around his neck," Bella whispers after we walk through the door. "Headphones," she repeats. "The kind DJs use. Around his neck."

"Was there music coming out of them?"

"Yes," she hisses. "Just…why? Why do that? If you wanted to listen to music, you would put them on your ears, not around your fucking neck. Why?"

"It's an ugly world, Swan," I shake my head before some girl bumps into me, spilling beer on my sleeve.

"Oops!" she giggles, loud and forced. "Sorry about that," she snorts before stumbling away.

"Still glad I didn't get a say in coming here earlier?" I mutter, trying to shake my sleeve dry.

"Oh, come on. It's not that bad," Bella half-smiles as we enter the kitchen. Buckets upon buckets are filled with PBR, and some dude wearing a backwards cap starts singing his drunken rendition of Stairway to Heaven. "Okay, we're leaving."

I nod, pressing my arm against the small of her back to usher her out of hipster hell when we run into Emmett in the hallway.

"Ah! There's the happy couple," he booms, grinning.

"This party sucks balls," Bella states.

"It's not the only thing that sucks balls," he counters, guffawing.

Bella and I exchange a look.

"Girls. The joke is girls. They, too, suck balls," he explains.

"Got it," I reply.

"I'm a little drunk," he continues.

"You don't say," Bella raises her eyebrows.

"Hey! You guys should come to the basement! It's a real riot down there. Tons of beer, tons of babes, tons of tons! Come on!" He grabs my arm before I can protest, the man's grip like an iron vice as he drags me away. Before disappearing into the black hole basement, I clutch Bella's jacket, because if I'm going down, she's going down with me.

I'm not even going to make that joke.

After leading us through the house and then descending a set of suspiciously creaky stairs, we're met with a spacious room. There are a bunch of people chatting on couches, a stereo system, and a few cases of Stella.

"Real beer!" Bella cheers, running over to the case. I follow. Because that's what I do now. Follow Bella. I don't even know if it bothers me anymore.

"God bless Emmett," I say, grabbing a bottle. I glance around, searching for the man in question. "Wherever he is."

"Ahh," she sighs after taking a drink. "Sure hits the spot."

"That's not the only thing that can hit the spot," I wink, wanting to stab myself in the shins immediately afterwards.

"You're approaching Emmett territory, Edward. That's a dangerous place. Flee."

"Point taken," I clear my throat.

"That's not the only point that'll be taken," she blurts out, squeezing her eyes shut instantly. She groans, "I can't believe I just said that. It's Emmett, that contagiously corny horny bastard."

"Or maybe it's your burning sexual passion for me finally coming forth," I offer, grinning.

Bella opens her mouth to say something, but is distracted by something behind me. That happens a lot.

"Oh, my God, Twister!"

"Huh?" I whip around after she maneuvers herself around and behind, and see her crouching down to retrieve the game Twister from under a cabinet.

"Let's play!" she says, rattling the box.

"No one else is," I mention.

"That's the point. I don't have to worry about some catty bitch getting handsy with you."

"So you'd worry," I grin. "About another girl."
"Of course," she scoffs. "That's hardly fair. I should at least warn her first."


"Come on, you can get back at me when I inevitably lose," she says, opening the box and unfolding the mat.

"I haven't played this since I was seventeen," I chuckle, watching her set everything up.

"I swear I'll go easy," she smiles, her eyes promising everything but.

And that's how, fifteen minutes later, I find myself on top of Bella Swan's panting, sweaty body.

"Shit. I can't…reach…the spinner," she grunts, right arm twisted abnormally in an attempt to grasp the square board.

"Forfeit?" I pant, my face directly in front of hers. My leg is bent across hers, my arm beneath her back, my neck about to cramp.

She sighs, biting her lip. After a second, she stares up at me, defeat in her eyes. "Fine. But just because my foot's about to cramp."

"Deal." I collapse on top of her then, and we laugh and shove and tease and I'm trying really hard not to grope her in public on top of a Twister mat.

We end up sitting on one of the couches after putting the game away, drinking real beer and talking about The Antlers.

"I think I listened to Hospice for two weeks straight when it first came out," Bella tells me, tipping back her beer.

"It's a fantastic album," I bring my bottle to my lips. "Tragic. Beautiful. I don't know, it's like obscure without being pretentious."

She nods in agreement. "Pete Silberman's voice is genius."

"How did you like Burst Apart?"

She purses her lips, tilting her head. "It was…not Hospice. That's how I liked it."

"Perfectly put," I laugh, clinking my beer with hers.

She tells me more about her favorite bands, which turns into a discussion about her love of music in the first place. Her parents sang to her all the time when she was little, she tells me. They played music constantly, and it was the only thing that bonded them. She can't listen to a tune without thinking of her childhood, and she both hates and loves that.

I realize about halfway through the conversation that it's not really a conversation at all. She's telling me this and that of her, opening up, Great Wall of China slowly shrinking as I stand by, silent. I like watching her. Listening to her stutter and ramble, an eye-roll here, a nervous laugh there. I don't want anything to interrupt her.

So of course, something does.

"Temp tattoos! Temp tattoos!" some guy starts shouting nearby, catching Bella's attention. I turn my head to see a dude with stringy hair and a The Smiths shirt walk around the room with a basket full of small squares of paper, various people taking a few.

"Ooh," Bella coos. "Temporary tattoos. Just uncool enough to be ironic," she nods, rising from her seat.

"What are you doing?" I ask, getting up with her.

"Being hipster," she snorts, walking shakily towards Smiths guy.

"What if they're poisonous?" I whisper as we approach him.

"They're not poisonous, Edward. Besides, they're only temporary. Stop being such a coward and cave into peer pressure," she commands.

We reach him and I smile awkwardly, Bella beaming as she closes her eyes and shoves her hand in the basket. After a second, her hand emerges with a small white square, but she refuses to look at it.

She nods at me. "Now you."

"She said, 'Now you'," Smiths guy repeats.

"Thanks," I smile tightly at him, giving Bella a look saying, I really don't want to do this.

"Come on, Edward, be ironically uncool with me."

I sigh, shaking my head, because I can't really say no to that. Without looking, I grab a stupid white square and Bella grins, satisfied.

"Happy?" I ask as Smiths guy continues with his procession around the room, leaving us be.

"Ecstatic," she answers. "Okay, on the count of three, we look at our temp tats."

"Not if you continue calling them that," I snicker.

"I was cursed with hip lingo, Edward, deal with it."

"Hip?" I repeat, borderline guffawing. "Are you a mom from the eighties?"

"Shut up," she retorts.

"Okay, okay," I chuckle. "On the count of three."

"Three!" she yells, flipping over her little white square. It's a picture of a robin, simple and vivid. I think it suits her.

"Aw, sweet," she gasps, then nudges me. "What'd you get, what'd you get?"

"Alright, hold your horses." I flip mine over and blink, needing to look at it once, twice, three times before very hesitantly showing it to Bella.

She full-out chortles, clutching at her sides, and I just roll my eyes as she laughs again and again. Finally, she musters enough breath to utter two words.

"A unicorn?"

Chapter Twenty

"We have to put them on. Now," Bella sighs after a full five minutes of pure hysterical laughter.

"What? No."

"Why not? They're awesome," she says, staring at her robin tattoo adoringly.

"Pfsh, easy for you to say. You won't have a picture of a pink mythical creature on your skin."

"First off, they're temporary. Secondly, unicorns are fucking awesome. Thirdly, they're temporary. Come on."

"Bella, I'm not branding myself with a sparkly unicorn."

"Temporary branding," she corrects. "No one's gonna see it, anyway. Except me, of course."

"I don't know…"

"Come on. I'll do you and you'll do me."

The corner of my mouth pulls up. "You'll do me, you say?"

"Oh, God, you know what I mean," she groans, but smiles, shoving me playfully.

"You said it, not me."

"Stop trying to distract me."

"The thought of doing me distracts you, eh?" I raise an eyebrow.

"Edward. Tattoo. Now."

"You're not gonna give up until I cave, are you?"

"I take Eagle Eye Cherry lyrics very seriously," she nods solemnly.

I laugh, because she starts humming Don't Give Up , because I have a temporary unicorn tattoo, because I'm a little drunk and am about to brand myself with said tattoo. I sigh, groan, and finally nod. "Fine."

"That's the spirit," she smiles, grabbing my hand and dragging me up the basement stairs.

"Where are we going?" I ask as we pass through the house. She leads the way all the way up the second floor. "And how do you know where to go?"

"The bathroom, and because it's almost always located upstairs."

"Were you an architect in another life?" I joke, entering the second floor hallway.

"A girl can dream," she replies with a smile.

We go through one locked door and two unlocked bedrooms before finally reaching the bathroom at the far end of the hall. Bella pulls me in, slamming the door and locking it behind her.

"Alright. Let's do this," she nods excitedly, grabbing her robin tattoo from her pocket. "You first."

"Me? Why?"

"Because you're most likely to chicken out and the faster you get it over with, the less likely it is that you'll actually back out."

"I hate that you're so sensible."

"One of us has to be," she grins. "So. Where do you want Ol' Sparkly?"

I take a moment to think about it and shrug, going with a generic spot. "Right here," I point to my right shoulder.

"Okay," she nods. "Take off your shirt."

"Eager for me to strip, are we?" I laugh, but start unbuttoning my flannel. I don't miss the way she doesn't reply and I don't miss the way she gulps and I definitely don't miss the way her eyes follow the actions of my fingers. I take the long-sleeve off, throwing it on the sink counter. "Alright. Do me," I grin, holding out my ridiculous tattoo.

Her laugh is a little breathless as she takes it and her legs are a little shaky as she walks over to the sink to wet a washcloth and back.

"Alright. Here we go. I'm about to temporarily brand you. Ready?"

"Just do it, doc," I tell her, half-teasing, half-serious.

She laughs, peeling the thin plastic sheet from the small white square, and places my unicorn face-down on my shoulder. Reaching for the wet washcloth on the counter, she presses it against my shoulder, mouthing sixty seconds that pass by. After a full minute, she lifts both the cloth and the white square from my arm. She blows on it a little, and I see her face break out in a smile.

"What? I can't see, how is it?" I mumble, trying to peek at my shoulder.

"See for yourself," she nods, leading me to the mirror.

And there it is. Pink and small and glittery and not that bad. "You should open your own shop," I tell her, elbowing her side.

"Hah. No, thanks."

"Alright," I turn to her. "My turn to do you," I smile. She hands me the robin and I purse my lips. "Where do you want this sucker?"

Bella chews on her lip for a second before reaching down and unbuttoning her pants.


"Relax, Gulpy Gulperson, I just want it barely above my hipbone," she chuckles, but the sound is tight. She shimmies a little, dragging her jeans down about two inches, and I see the top lining of her Pac-Man underwear. Jesus Christ. How is that even hotter than a lacy thong?

I nod. "Of course. Yes. I can do that."

"Good," she laughs.

Bending down so my head is at level with her stomach, I glance up to see her gazing down at me. It's quiet for a moment, and then she clears her throat.
"I'm ready."

I nod in response, peeling back the plastic of her tattoo just like she did with mine. I do everything the way she did it, from the washcloth to the sixty seconds to lifting the white square from her skin and revealing her fresh fake tattoo. My fingers find themselves clutching her waist to steady her as I incline my head towards her hip, blowing gently on the little robin just above the waistband of her underwear. And then it hits me.

My face is about two inches from her panties and my hands are on her bare waist and when I look up at Bella, her eyes are hooded and heavy and the darkest I've seen them.

The energy changes almost instantly.

I'm standing immediately, my hand still on her waist as she lunges herself towards me, our mouths crashing together. I walk her backwards until her back hits the door and she moans, grabbing at the back of my neck to pull me closer. Her fingers weave through my hair, pulling slightly, and I grunt into her mouth, savoring the taste of her, the feel of her, the fucking sounds of her. I'm suddenly aware of a weight around my waist and realize Bella lifted her legs and wrapped them around my torso. I dig her into the wall a little harder and fucking Christ, that feels good.

Her mouth moves to my jaw, sucking on my neck, and I groan. "Oh, my God."

"Yeah," she pants back, arms secured around my neck, my hands moving to her ass. She grinds herself against me, hot friction and wet lips and I latch my mouth on her jaw line.

"I can't believe I'm making out with a guy who has a unicorn tattoo," she murmurs, grabbing harder at my hair.

I laugh-groan into her neck. "Unicorns are aphrodisiacs, didn't you know?" I grunt, pushing her tighter against the wall.

She gasps, and I know she can feel me. "I do now," she manages weakly.

She feels heavenly around me and in front of me, tugging at me and pushing against me, all hot breath and hotter skin. Our movements speed up, and I'm driving her there, her mouth perpetually open as her legs tighten around me, higher and higher and—

"Yo!" A hard knock sounds behind Bella's head. "Yo I need to take a piss!" Three more hard knocks and Bella groans, unraveling her legs from my waist.

"Jesus Christ," I sigh, eyes closed.

"Not gonna lie, I'm really pissed right now," she mutters, adjusting her pants a little.

"Tell me about it," I reply, needing to adjust my pants entirely. I walk over to the counter, pull on my flannel, and watch as Bella fixes her hair. I grins at her, and she sticks her tongue out at me, and I ruffle her newly-fixed hair and she pinches my ass.

"Ow!" I yelp before she swings the bathroom door open.

"All yours," she sighs to the guy waiting, stepping outside. I follow her into the hall, grab her hand, and pull her towards me for a kiss, because I can.

Chapter Twenty-One

"You guys look like you fucked in the closet," is the first thing Emmett says when we reach downstairs.

"We didn't fuck," I tell him, trying not to drown my tone in disappointment.

"And it wasn't the closet," Bella adds.

"Get married," he scoffs, shaking his head.

"Yeah, right. Like I could ever handle the Swan Storm. This girl is on fire."

"And this guy quotes Alicia Keys," Bella fake-gags.

I shake my head at her. "Don't diss Alicia, Bella. Girl's got game."

"Word," Emmett attempts a fist-bump with me to which I decline thoroughly. "Whatever," he mutters before leaving us in the living room, probably on a quest to find someone to release him from his unfinished fist-bump prison.

"I can't believe you hang around with someone who uses the term word seriously," Bella shakes her head.

"Excuse me, but your friend was about to marry a guy she knew for three hours tonight."

"Yeah, I remember. The guy was your shitty bassist," she chuckles.

"Ah." I shake my head. "Didn't think that one through."


We both turn around at the sound of her name, and I feel Bella stiffen next to me as a blonde guy with a goatee steps forward. He has a weird look in his blue eyes, like he could probably drown a puppy and shrug it off, and his jaw keeps clenching.

He takes a step forward and nods towards me. "Who's this?"

"Mike…" Bella starts.

I laugh a little. "Um, actually, it's Edward," I say, extending my hand, but Goatee Guy looks at it like a roach that needs to be stepped on. I jam my hand in my pocket, fighting the urge to whistle. So much for introductions.

"Mike, what are you doing here?" Bella starts again, voice soft. It's almost foreign.

Goatee Guy—Mike, rather—shrugs, smiling icily. "Just stopping by to say hi to a few friends. How long has it been, Bells? Two years? Three?"

"Something like that," she says flatly.

Something about this dude is off. His gaze is shifty, fingers twitching. Is he on something?

"Aren't you going to introduce me?" Mike asks, eyebrows raised.

Bella sighs, gesturing towards me. "Mike, This is Edward. We just met," she tells him, and while that's true, I'm shocked by how casually the words roll of her tongue. We just met. Like acquaintances at a luncheon.

Need I remind her that I had her legs around my waist just ten minutes ago?

"Ahh," Mike nods, glancing at me. "Well, I'm Mike Newton."

"Hiya," I wave lamely.

"Y'all just met. That means you're gonna fuck later, right?" he spits.

Bella flinches at his tone, and I take a step forward, holding her hand. Mike catches the link, sneering at me.

"Uh, look, I don't think you wanna cause any trouble here tonight, so maybe you should get going, man."

Mike chuckles low, and steps closer. "Maybe I do wanna cause trouble…man."

Raising my brows, I give Bella a look like, Is this guy serious? and she rolls her eyes, Unfortunately.

"Uh-huh," I cough out a laugh, rubbing at the back of my neck. "Well listen, I mean—"

"Don't tell me what to do," Mike interrupts, face twisted in anger.

The hell? "What? It's just an expression, dude—"

"This is just an expression!" he yells furiously.

"What the f—" is all I get out before he takes a swing at my face, clenched fist slamming against my left cheek.

"Fucking hell, Mike!" Bella shouts, and I think she shoves him or kicks him or something, because I can hear him moaning in pain like a girl. Or maybe that's me. Probably me.

I've stumbled backwards a little, hitting the wall with a grunt. My hand comes to my cheek and I hiss, and I tell myself that it didn't hurt all that bad. And it didn't. Not really. I mean, it was shocking more than anything. Dude's like a ninja. On crack.

"Shit, Edward, let me see." Bella's hand is suddenly at my back, her voice at my ear.

I don't realize my eyes are closed until I open them and see those big browns stare at me in utter concern, her lip between her teeth as she brings a hand to caress my face softly.

I inhale sharply, wincing, and she immediately retreats, her eyes apologetic.

"That guy's a fucking psycho," I mutter, glancing around. He's nowhere to be found. "Where'd he run off to, anyway?"

She rubs at her neck, sighing. "Fucker left after I kicked him in the nuts. Coward."

"You did that for me?" I ask, unable to resist grinning.

"I did that for stopping the furthering of the Newton line."

"A public service."

Bella nods next to me, forehead scrunched in worry as she stares at my face. "I'm sorry."


She shakes her head. "Mike's an ex of mine. He's…troubled, to say the least. I mean, for one, he listens to The Pussycat Dolls. Secondly, he just punched you in the face after you did absolutely nothing but be a kind gentleman to him. He needs to go jump off a cliff or something. I'm sorry," she sighs.

I raise an eyebrow. "Are you serious?" I laugh, immediately wincing in pain afterwards. I shake off the pain, continuing. "This isn't anywhere close to your fault. I mean. How were you supposed to know your psycho ex-boyfriend would come here tonight and punch the father of your future children?"

She rolls her eyes and hits my arm lightly.

"Assaulting the injured, Bella? Really?" I joke, but she widens her eyes nervously.

"Fuck, did I hurt you?"

"Oh my God," I chuckle, shaking my head. "This doesn't even hurt," I gesture to my face. "That much."

"Right," she nods before smiling abruptly. "Hey. You took a hit for me."
"Uh, technically, your psycho ex was just throwing punches around like free candy and I happened to stand in the way—"

"Edward. You're seriously missing the chance to appear being my knight in shining armor right now? And here I thought you wanted to get laid…"

"I took a hit for you, Bella," I blurt out, interrupting. "It was nothing less than a chivalrous act of courage."

She grins, stepping closer and inspecting the left side of my face, when someone suddenly screams.

"Holy shit! Cops!" a voice yells somewhere in the house, throwing the entire party into complete disarray.

"Shit," I mumble as Bella grabs my hand, dragging me through the running crowds in the dining room. She leads me through the kitchen and out the back door where we stumble off of the patio, a police siren dangerously close.

"What the hell are we running for?" I pant as we run out of the driveway and into the street. "We're of age."

"Someone brought crystal," she gulps, looking around frantically.

"What? How do you know?"

"Because I'm an observant person who pays attention to my surroundings," she answers breathlessly. "Plus I overheard some chick talking about it."

We stop running when we're a good two blocks from the party-raid, pausing to rest by someone's front lawn. And by rest I mean pant excessively.

"Okay, where to now?" Bella muses breathlessly, pursing her lips.

"My place is just down the street. Literally," I say, moving to grab her hand.

"Wait. Your place?"

"Yes. My place. Where I live. You know, that thing where you're not dead."

"Too much," she comments, deadpan.

"Yeah, thought so too. Anyway, come on," I say, tugging at her hand.

"Why don't you go to your place and I catch a cab?"

"Why?" I scoff.

"You could be a closet pedophile. Or a rapist. Or an ax murderer, for all I know. Or any other murderer, really. Isn't it weird how we categorize murderers in society, as if the method matters?" she rambles.

"What are you doing?" I ask outright.

"What do you mean?"

"You're being weird. Why are you avoiding coming with me? I swear, I'm not a rapist or a murderer."

"Hmm. That sounds exactly like what a murdering rapist would say."

I sigh, "Would a murdering rapist take a hit from your ex-boyfriend for you?"

"Uhh it would only be a genius tactic to get me to trust you!" she exclaims.

"Okay seriously?" I laugh, holding my hands up in surrender. "I am the perfect gentlemen. You know that," I grin.

"I'm not sure…"

"Bella." My forehead furrows a little. "Come on. What's going on?"

She opens her mouth, but stammers a few times before finally saying something coherent. "I just…you know. I'm giving you options. You don't have to take me back to your place," she shrugs.

Ahh. Now I get it. "I don't have to get stuffed crust pizza, either."


"But I do anyway, because I love it."

She cracks a smile. "Are you saying you love m—"

I kiss her, firm on the mouth, and pull away to clutch her shoulders. "Bella. You're not being a burden. I am voluntarily offering to take you back to my place because I enjoy your company and your mouth. And I hope you say yes, because I won't go home without you."

She smiles, biting her lower lip. "Oh, dear. I fear you may have a concussion. You just quoted Maroon 5 whilst sober."
"I take that as a yes?" I ask, weaving her fingers through mine.

She squeezes my hand once, shrugging. "What else is there to do at this hour but go home with that shitty guitarist from the bar?"

I laugh, "That's the spirit. Now come on."

Chapter Twenty-Two

"So, just to warn you: it's a mess."

"Yeah, yeah," she waves her hand casually as I struggle with my keys in the lock. "Pretty sure the last thing I'm gonna be thinking about is your home décor while you make sweet, sweet love to me."

My keys fall out of my hands. Bella snickers as I pick them up.

"Aha, yeah. Right," I clear my throat, finally getting the damn door to unlock. I swing it open, and gesture with a flourish. "Welcome to Casa Cullen."

"Don't do that," she laughs.

"Very well," I nod, leading her into the dark of my apartment.

I flick on the light switch, closing the door behind me, and Bella oohs and ahhs sarcastically. I think. It's hard to tell sometimes.

"I love your book collection," she comments, pointing to my bookshelf with exactly three paperbacks on it.

"What can I say, I'm a scholar," I shrug.

"And so humble."

"Beer?" I ask with a laugh, heading to the kitchen.

"Duh," she calls from the living room.

I grab two Blue Moons and come back out to find her absolutely nowhere in sight.

Shit. I glance around once more, then look behind the couch and bookshelf, but she isn't anywhere.

"Fuck," I mutter, my mind going to the worst possibilities. Was she freaked? Did she leave? Was it really too soon to invite her to my place? Did I just screw things up with that fascinating, infuriating girl? Will I stop asking myself questions?

"Bella?" I call out, voice echoing through the empty place.

And then I hear it.

"She's not here," she calls back, a smile in her sweet voice.

Squinting, I make my way through the only hallway and open the bathroom door. Not here.

That leaves my room. I tell myself I'm not nervous when I turn the handle and swing the door open. That seeing her smiling and perched on my bed doesn't make something twist deep in my gut, like I never knew I wanted her there until she was. She looks at home.

"There you are," she exclaims, like she's been waiting for me for hours.

"You're in my room," I state, because I'm still trying to compute that.

"Is that what this dungeon of clothes is?" she asks, glancing around.

"Ha ha," I say, handing her a beer and taking a seat next to her on my bed.

"Nice comeback," she laughs, taking a sip.

"Nice insult."

"Mean," she gasps, poking my side. I squirm, laughing when she laughs at me, because her eyes squint at the corners and her cheeks turn red and she looks really, really happy. We sit there for a bit, sipping beers and being quiet.

"So," I start with a chuckle, running a hand through my hair.

"So," she repeats, nodding.

"So…" I repeat, trailing off. Smooth, Edward. Super smooth.

"Are you…nervous?" Bella asks incredulously, laughing a little.

"What? No. Me? Never. Are you kidding? C'mon."

"That was entirely too many question-and-answers in one sentence."

"Technically, they're not sentences if they're not complete. More like phrases. Or fragments," I allow, shrugging.

"Nothing like a little grammatically correct lecturing to get a girl in the mood," she nods, bringing her beer to her lips.

"Oh, you like that, huh?" I murmur, scooting closer to her on my bed. I watch her breathing deepen, her eyes trained on mine as I lean in closer. My mouth meets her ear, and I whisper two words.

"Prepositional phrases."

"Oh," she fake-moans, "God, that's hot."

"Transitive pronouns," I add in a murmur.

"More," she whimpers, only to burst out laughing a second later.

I pull back slightly, laughing with her. "You're into some freaky shit, Swan."

"I've got a passion for grammar," she shrugs, meeting my eyes.

I grin back at her, and suddenly her eyes soften and she inhales.

"So. Confession time," I say softly, enraptured with the way she licks her lips.

"Oh, God. You are a serial killer, aren't you?"


"Married with three children."

"I'm 24, Bella, not 38."

"You could have one of those really youthful faces and look 24, but really, you're this sick pervert in the city cheating on his wife who stays in the suburbs, nursing a newborn."

"You're surprisingly detailed with hypothetical situations," I murmur.

"It's a gift."


"Right. Confession."

"I'm going to kiss you again," I tell her, and her gaze goes straight to my lips.

"Is that really a confession?"

"Well, saying 'warning' before I plant one on you isn't nearly as mysterious as 'confession,'" I tell her, taking her beer out of her hands and putting it on my desk next to mine.

She giggles softly, "Ah, but it is more fitting."

"Shutting you up now," I murmur, leaning in before our mouths connect again.

"Mmm," she sighs, the sound content and warm. I feel her hands slide up my shoulders before landing at the back of my neck, her fingers playing with my collar. I deepen the kiss, pushing my lips farther apart, opening everything to her. I want to consume her, I realize. Everything she has to offer, I want to take. And I want her to take everything from me. I want to give her everything.

The realization simultaneously scares the fuck out of and fills me with this swelling sense of calm. I want her. All of her.

"Off," she grunts, pulling back as her hands go to the front of my shirt. I can't help but smile a little at her impatient yet nimble fingers that unbutton my flannel before peeling it off my shoulders and throwing it across the room.

We connect again and I feel her hands running down my shoulders, across my chest, and then under the hem of my undershirt. Her fingers skim across my bare abdomen and I groan into her mouth, grabbing the back of her neck so we can get closer. It isn't enough, though. I have a feeling it never will be.

"Your turn," I gasp as we pull apart, tugging at the bottom of her blouse.

"Goodbye magic shirt," she murmurs, pulling it off to reveal a thin black tank top underneath, molding to her body.

I don't realize I lick my lips until her eyes are on them, her breathing shallow.

"C'mere," I murmur, pulling her to me. She scoots towards me until she's practically sitting on my lap, her legs bent at my sides as she straddles me.

I thumb the thin straps of her tank top as she leans forward and wraps her arms around my neck. Her skin is so warm, I think, my hands roving up and down her arms. She shivers, and my eyes fly to her.

"You cold?" I ask, voice rough.

She looks straight at me and shakes her head. "Not even a little."

"Good," I nod, tightening my grip around her waist. "Hypothermia is not a joke."



"Shut up."

I nod before capturing her lips with mine again, our chests pushed together. I can feel her, Christ, I can feel her even through her bra and tank top. She whimpers into my mouth, pulling at my hair a little harder, and without thinking, I'm grabbing her ass, grinding against her shamelessly.

"Fuck," I pant, my lips at her collarbone.

"I know," she moans tightly, guiding my head to hers again.

We kiss once, twice, three more times before I'm shaking, needing to feel her skin on mine. She feels the same, pulling the hem of my undershirt impatiently. I fling it off at the same time she peels off her tank top and I'm shirtless and her bra is black lace and my mouth goes where my mouth wants to go and she moans, gripping my hair harder than ever before.

"Is this…Do you want—" But I don't finish because Bella starts rubbing herself against me in a way that makes me speechless.

I can't think of anything other than how she sounds and feels and tastes, God, the taste of her. Her chest rises and falls quickly and I place open-mouthed kisses at the tops of her breasts, growing hard when she moans.

"Oh, my God," she pants.

"Do—your bra, do you wanna—um, take," I ramble before her arms bend backward and she unclasps the plastic thing, sliding the straps off her shoulders until her bra falls between us. She flings it across the room, my eyes on hers the whole time.

Finally, I allow myself to look. And look. And look some more. I can't stop looking. Because she is so beautiful, bare and pale in the dark, squirming on my lap, a lip between her teeth.

"You're gorgeous," I whisper before kissing her.

Her answer is to take my hands and place them where she wants them, atop each mound, and I'm pretty sure I'm ripping a hole through my jeans as she kisses me deeper. My hands move on their own, feeling the soft weight of her, everything warm and silky smooth. When she starts to whimper, I put my thumbs where she tells me to and her legs tighten around me and my hips dig into hers and I break apart, panting.

"What?" she huffs, frustrated. Her hair's a mess, her make-up's smudged, and she's topless. She's never looked so beautiful.

"You just—Bella, you feel so good, I don't think…" I take a deep breath, gulping. "I'm not going to want to stop."

"I don't want you to stop."

I lick my lips, feeling her fingernails scratch my scalp. "Are you sure?"

She nods, slowly moving her hand to touch the bulge in my jeans, and I suck in a breath. "Positive."

Chapter Twenty-Three

The energy shifts after that. It's still driven and needy and raw, but it's not rushed. There's this constant hunger between us, but it doesn't feel hasty.

I rise, keeping her legs around my waist, and then turn around, lying her on my bed. I see it in her eyes as I crouch over her, my finger unbuttoning her jeans, that she wants this just as badly as I do. And not for right now. Not for tonight.

This is not temporary, I tell her skin, kissing this and that of her, tasting every inch of her sweet, salty skin. She squirms, impatient, kicking her jeans off.

"You, too," she says breathlessly, nodding to my pants.

"Yes, dear," I smile, peeling the fabric off my legs. And then we're both shirtless and pantsless, a mere two layers of fabric separating our skin.

"Come over here," she whispers.

Slowly, I crawl over her, running my hands down her legs, my mouth at her thigh, her hands in my hair. I nibble at her hipbone, planting a small kiss on the little robin placed there no more than two hours ago, and make my way up her torso and then to her chest. My hands act on their own, grabbing at the flesh, and I relish in the quick breath Bella inhales. It tells me she's just as affected by me as I am by her. She's coming undone and is undoing me, and I love every minute of it.

My mouth latches onto her neck and she reaches between us to grab me through my boxers. I can't help but groan, curse, and shift, pushing myself deeper into her sweet friction. Her hand is so damn soft and warm fisted around me, moving faster and faster, twisting and pulling until I push her fingers away.

"What," she pants, "What's the matter?"

"Not like that," I shake my head, planting a kiss on her throat. "I want to be inside you." The words are out before I realize and her eyes soften as she nods.

"Do you have…" I begin.

"I'm on the pill," she replies, kissing my jaw.

"I…I don't have anything," I gulp. "If you're worried. Which you should be. I mean. Not about me, but—"

She shuts me up with a kiss and her soft, warm hand around me and I grunt, thrusting a little. "I trust you. I don't…have anything, either."

I nod.

And then she's sliding her little Pac-Man panties off, down her legs and feet until she's completely naked in front of me. I lick myself at the sight of her. From her tousled hair to her heavy-lidded eyes to her heaving chest down to where she's warm and ready for me.

"One for one," she says, nudging me with her knee.

Right. I shove my boxers down to my thighs and drag them off my legs, throwing them on the floor. Bella's staring at me. All of me. Her breathing is stuttered and her mouth is so round and red, begging to be kissed, her eyes roving down my body.

She scoots down on the bed and I rise my body to meet hers, our heads bumping when we both reach in for a kiss. We laugh because it's funny, and she's shy and naked and I'm nervous and eager because I want to last for her, I really do. But the way she looks and feels and smells and sounds tells me I won't last a minute.

My thumb strokes her cheek as she widens her legs and I settle in between them. She reaches down to grab the base of me and we share this moment, this look, before I'm inside. It says: this is not the last time. It says: I want all of this with you for more than tonight. It says: I know we're practically strangers, but we're really, really not.

And then I'm sliding inside and her mouth falls open and I shut it with mine and her tongue is so hot and thick against mine as I edge myself deeper and deeper. She takes all of me, every single inch, and I let out a deep groan.

"It's never been…I can't—"

She shushes me, nodding and kissing me deeply. "I know," she murmurs, and the way her thighs shake and her mouth twists tells me that yes, she does. She knows this isn't just a one-night stand or a fuck-buddy system or a crazy night with a crazy stranger. This is more than our bodies giving and taking, more than base instinct.

I kiss her again and sigh as I watch her face when I move out a little and then in again.

Her eyes close and she starts whimpering, and then everything falls into place.

I buck my hips, moving at different speeds, watching her the whole time. Her reactions to when I put my mouth there, when I shift a little here, when I put my fingers on that spot.

Her legs tighten around my waist and she digs her fingernails into my shoulder, making me moan roughly because it hurts so good. My lips are attached to her nipple and her other hand pulls at my hair, making me move faster, needing to be deeper and when she gets unbelievably wetter I can't, I just can't. She feels too goddamned good, so round and soft and tight, so fucking tight.

"Bella…" I start, gulping. "I…I'm not," I rasp, and she nods, understanding, forehead creased in pleasure, bucking her hips wildly in time with mine.

"Edward," she whines. "Close."

And I can do this. I can do this. I will do this. My eyes narrow in concentration and I pour all my focus onto her; my hand reaches for her knee, pulling her leg even wider as I thrust deeper into her and she gasps, hard, my name on her lips. I put my hand on that spot again, the other hand pulling her leg so her body slides closer to me and her knee is bent around my shoulder, so fucking tight as I drive into her harder, grunting, sucking on her, and—

"Fuck!" she cries before the sound of my name fills the air two, three, four times and then she's clenching around me, a hot, wet vice, and I come apart at the seams, groaning her name.

I collapse on top of her, careful not to crush her with my weight, and her arms and legs wrap themselves around me, like she wants to stay draped around me as long as I can. Like she never wants to let me go.

Chapter Twenty-Four

It's the kind of sleep you don't realize even happening until you wake up.

My eyes squint against the harsh sunlight glaring in my room, a low moan of protest rumbling in my chest before I yawn, stretching.

And then I sit up faster than lightning, last night's memories spilling in my head.

I glance to my left and find the bed devoid of Bella, her vanilla-beer scent faint on my pillows and blankets. I blink, looking around the room again, like maybe she'll appear if I glance around enough times. But she doesn't. She's gone.

Something hard and heavy settles onto my chest, and I gulp before rubbing at my eyes, feeling like complete shit.

"Your bathroom has a lot of mold," Bella suddenly says, walking into my room draped in my flannel from last night.

I gape at her, the way she ties her hair with a rubber band in my doorway, the hem of my shirt meeting the middle of her thighs, how her hair looks so much brighter than I remembered. Then I realize.

"So this is how you look in the daylight," I muse softly, voice still rough from morning.

She smiles a little, bending a foot inward so part of her weight is on her ankle, and blows her bangs out of her face. "Yeah. Sexy vixen lady from last night is gone and out emerges boring pasty morning Bella," she chuckles, coming to sit on the edge of the bed.

"That's not true," I frown, pulling the blankets around my waist so I can sit upright against my headboard. "You weren't really much of a sexy vixen," I correct.

"Is that why you ravaged me?" she asks, head tilted.

"Okay, okay. Fair enough," I smile. "Don't act like you didn't enjoy it, though," I narrow my eyes at her.

"Eh," she puts a hand up, gesturing a "so-so" signal while shrugging.

"Really?" I ask, the corner of my mouth pulling up. "Oh," I mock-moan, "Edward, don't stop!" I cry, exaggeratedly sexual.

Bella gapes at me for a second before lunging at me on the bed, her fist hitting me square in the chest. She gets tangled up in the blankets while trying to wrestle with me, and I clutch at her sides, tickling her.

"Okay!" she says, breathless. "Okay, okay, you were really awesome in the sack for a dude with a unicorn tattoo, okay I admit it!" she squeals, and I can't help but laugh with her, my fingers halting their assault on her torso.

She sighs, facing me, lying on her side. Our poses match and my arm reaches across us to trace her hipbone. "Eh. You weren't so bad, either."

"Oh, please," she rolls her eyes with a scoff. "You know you so love me now," she smiles with pride.

"I don't know…I mean, for one, you drool. A lot."

"You snore," she counters.

"Snoring doesn't result in clothes being ruined," I point to my flannel she's wearing, trying not to focus on how strangely hot that looks.

"Yeah, but snoring can lead to deafness. Do you want me to be deaf, Edward? Our kids will have to learn sign language."

"They'll be bilingual, then. Do you know how much more likely it is to be hired by a company when you know a second language?"

"Fine, whatever, make me deaf with your snoring. That way I won't have to listen to your shitty band," she grins.

I shake my head, sighing. "You do know how to wound a man, Swan."

"And you said I wasn't much of a vixen," she sniffs.

"Anyway," I laugh, grabbing her hand to play with her fingers.

"Yes, Mr. Handsy?"

I make a face. "I highly resent that nickname."

"It was the first thing that popped in my head okay? Take it easy on me, I haven't even had my cup of coffee yet."

"Alright, alright, I'll let it slide." She nods and smiles in thanks before I continue. "I was wondering…if you wanted to hang out."

Her eyebrows raise and an amused light dances in her eyes. "Hang out, huh? When?"

I shrug, "Oh you know…whenever you're free."

She pauses.

"And," I add, "also when you're not free, either. Just, you know, anytime. Well, all the time, really."

She's fighting a smile, I can tell by the way she clears her throat and bites her lip. "All the time…hmm. I don't know. Now that we've rescued our friends from potentially ruining their lives by marrying each other, what would we even do?"

"I can think of something," I nod.

"Are you sure?" she asks, faking worry as she nods towards my head.

"Do you want me to tickle you again?" I ask, moving closer.

"No," she laughs.

"So…what do you say? Come on, you know you wanna spend indefinite amounts of time drooling all over my belongings, Bella. I saw you eyeing my pillowcase."

She throws her head back and laughs, loud and clear. "Will there be kissing?" she asks, settling down.

"If I feel like it," I shrug.

"And sex?"

"Occasionally, yes," I purse my lips.

"And what of Twister-playing?"

"Yes," I nod. "There will definitely be Twister-playing."

"And the applying of temporary tattoos?"

I smile, "Yes, Bella, there will be the applying of temporary tattoos, as well. Convinced?"

"Fine, I guess I can be your indefinite hangout partner," she says finally, smiling a little. "I mean, we did illegally break into a roof entrance and discuss the bilingual abilities of our future children. I'm in too deep to pull out, now."

"Yeah," I nod. "Me, too."

I can't help but grin at her, how much more real and clear she looks in the shining daylight while she rolls her eyes in my bed, smiling and poking my side. She's so close, I can see all the little freckles splashed across her nose, the split ends of her hair, the chapped skin of her lips. And I know that we still have a long way to go. That we feel close now but will grow closer later, that I'll discover things about her I might not like, that she is far from perfect. But the way she feels next to me right now, like she belongs here more than anywhere else, is.