Chapter 19

I couldn't sleep once I returned home, my body fatigued but my mind unable to stop moving. Guilt for leaving, panic at his request for me to meet his family in Italy, all compounded into weariness. Being Friday, I know I'm setting myself up for exhaustion considering my long night ahead.

I wonder what he'll be thinking when he wakes to an empty bed, how long until he notices the lack of heat lying beside him. Just as staying was once new but now expected, the novelty of me leaving is going to have some repercussions. Whether it's the source of a fight or will be quietly accepted remains to be seen.

Part of me wants nothing more than to say yes. My heart thrills at the notion of agreeing to everything a trip like that implies, throwing all of my caution to the wind. Images of hand holding while strolling through the vineyards his family owns, feeding each other cheese and grapes while lounging on a hillside, all play out like a movie in my head. Making love under an Italian moon would definitely be a highlight in my life.

The other part of me says I'd only be setting myself up for failure. My heart clenches and breaks at the thought of that kind of failure, the kind I don't know that I'd recover from this time. I've never felt so emotionally attached to someone like this before, and could easily see myself unable to apply the brakes before getting hurt. And meeting this family he loves so much? A family I could get attached to? The fear rips through me, followed quickly by my own self-loathing.

I replay the doubts I've been having over in my head. The reality is I've had the end of a longer, committed relationship blindside me. I've really only known Manchu for less than half of the time of that relationship, which calls for even less certainty than I thought I had with Jake.

I'm a logical person; I realize that not everything has to end in ambivalence or heartache. My flaw lies in my long-standing belief that I will end up alone. It's a comfortable, albeit flimsy, protective cover guarding against it from happening at the mercy of someone else.

But humans as a whole are not always able to take these flaws we discover about ourselves and change them.

I decide that today is the day I'm going to learn how to make coffee, and set about opening the box Emmett gave me as a house-warming gift. I don't seem to have any filters so I contemplate using paper towels until there's a sharp knock on my door.

I still, paper towel roll in hand, and consider pretending I'm not home.

Blowing my bangs from my eyes and quickly deciding I'm an immature idiot, I walk to the door to find Manchu in all of his Friday suit glory, holding two coffees, one of which he holds out towards me.


"Hey." He stands waiting for me to invite him in, and hands me my cup as he walks past me into the living room.

"Mimi mentioned you hadn't made it in, I figured you were in need of your fix." His expression is blank, I can't read him, and so I focus on the hint of a mustache that's beginning to grow on his face as a divergence tactic.

Realizing I can't stare at his facial hair all day, I turn to walk to the kitchen, Manchu close behind. "Yes, well I thought it was time I put this to use, Emmett gave me this coffee maker when I moved in so…" I trail off and run my hand across the top of the machine for something to do.

"You left." He pulls a stool out and sits, taking a sip of his drink.

I look at him and cross my arms, nodding. "Are you angry?"

"I'm not angry at all." I try to determine if he's telling the truth, but his face is still quite cold and impersonal.


"Did you think I would be? Is that why you didn't come into the coffee shop?"

If I'm having trouble admitting to myself I'm a coward, I'm certainly not going to admit it to him. "I told you, I needed to use-"

"Yes, the coffee maker." He pauses and narrows his eyes. "I guess this is a coincidence, this sudden need to use appliances."

"Coincidence?" I question.

"Yes. I suppose your sudden interest in home-brewed coffee has nothing to do with the fact that you're avoiding me and a question I asked last night."

My answer to his accusation is immediate. "You told me not to answer, to think about it."

"And I meant it. It's a big question. I guess I didn't expect you to run off at the mere thought." He lowers his voice, which had been steadily rising, and strokes his hand over his new mustache. "Well, I'm glad to see that you've finally decided to start making yourself permanent. Here, at least." He says, nodding toward the empty coffee maker box with a sneer.

I look at him sharply, not appreciative of his sudden tone. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

"You think just because you're the only one with a degree in human behavior that I don't understand what's going on?"

"I guess you need to explain it to me." My voice is sharp, tense.

Manchu gets up and points around the room, at the few boxes left in the kitchen. "You have obvious issues with tying yourself down. You've opened up a bit about it, but these boxes say more than you ever could."

"No, they don't. They're just boxes. I'm lazy." I look at the items in question that surround us, angry that he's quite possibly hit a nerve.

"Lazy. Is that how you describe your reluctance towards trying to have a relationship? I thought things were moving along nicely." He puts his cup down and crosses his arms across his chest. "It's time to discuss this, Izzy."

"You've never even brought this up as a discussion, it's not like I'm avoiding a conversation about it! This is the first time it's come up!" I point out, mad that this man is trying to psychoanalyze me.

He seems ready for a fight, his body straightening to stand tall in an offensive move. "Tell me, Izzy, the first boyfriend, the one that dumped you after you slept with him. He made you feel like he didn't want you, correct?"

"Whatever, Edward. Don't make this about me. You're the one changing this arrangement with a trip to meet your family! Across continents!"

"But it is about you, Isabella. All of it." He waves his arm around, gesturing at nothing in particular. "Boyfriend two never really had a chance, right? I mean, you both knew he'd dump you for someone that fit in with what he wanted, so neither of you labored seriously at making it work. Same for the next two."

"You don't know anything. Don't try to pick apart what's gone wrong in my relationships."

"The last one, boyfriend five. You say you gave him your heart, but he rejected you. But did you really, Izzy? Did he really pull the rug out from under you?"

"Just shut up."

His eyes soften and he comes back to where I'm standing rigid. His hand moves to touch me but my flinching away causes him to rest it on the island. I remain quiet, passing my latte back and forth between my hands on the counter, making a shuffling noise with the cardboard.

"All of these losers left you feeling unwanted, and believing that it was you that was flawed. They've made you scared to even believe you could have something great, that maybe one day, you'll find the right one."

My hackles rise, the fact that the Italy question has morphed into a relationship conversation, a dissection of my history, burns through me. "I don't know what you want from me, Edward. I told you from the beginning that I was not interested in having a serious relationship. I'm not sure why you think you'd be the exception to the rule. There's nothing to discuss." As I say it, I cringe internally at how blunt that came out.

His voice takes on a husky but menacing quality. "Sexually, we're on fire. No one fucks like us. When we're together physically, it's like nothing I've ever experienced before."

He moves closer, the anger and frustration emanating off of him. "You can't deny what's happening between us, Half Pint, as much as you may want to." His breath makes me shiver, the feeling of closeness that's been growing between us plays over me, while the panic that seems to go hand in hand with the euphoria transforms me into one, deep, ball of fear.

"I could give you so much more. I could give you everything."

Promises uttered to me before, plans of lives spent together in this house being smashed flit through my head. Memories of Jake calling to tell me he didn't want me after all unfairly dance before my eyes.

My skin prickles under my cotton shirt, the back of my neck growing damp. I can't do it; I can't put myself in a position like that again. One of hurt and rejection. The rejection this time would be different. I'd know I was losing the greatest thing that would ever happen to me. I can't let myself be tricked into falling deeper, only to find I can't recover.

There'd be no going back after I gave my heart to Manchu.

I open my mouth to say something, but nothing comes out. I try again, but words fail me and I feel the air between us growing strained. I will myself to tell him my fears, my doubts, hoping he'd understand. Praying he'd give me a chance to explain.

He waits, a few minutes turn into several, before he pulls away from me and grabs his cup. Taking a step towards the door, he turns back to face me, his eyes brooding, their green fire from before doused by what I can only describe as acceptance.

"We started in a particular way, you and I." His voice drawls slowly, like molasses ebbing across a countertop. "You want to go back to that? Done. Only sex, Izzy."

I feel the sting behind my eyes but it's not enough to make me tell him to stop.

"Until I get bored."

He leaves me there in my kitchen, amidst the unpacked boxes and the failure that they represent, feeling like he just ripped a part of me out.

I've been holding my phone in my hand for two days, wanting to call Manchu but unable to face what could possibly be an unwanted phone call on his part.

I could've handled it better. I could've explained that he'd hit a nerve with the boxes and ex-boyfriends, but without time to think things through on my own, I couldn't make heads or tails out of our discussion about my issues. I couldn't just start to hash them out with him right then and there.

Everything he said is true. I'm scared. I'm scared to be hurt again and to be discarded. His telling me he could give me 'more' didn't mean I could just jump in with both feet. I've been burned, and I'm cautious. He didn't give me a chance to breathe or think.

Perhaps the mistake I made was thinking that I was capable of having a sexual relationship without feelings, but when I decided to jump into this, my intention was to at least find out if my relationships went sour because of sex or because of me. Now I knew.

It was me.

He deserves better than a girl that's afraid to try to make anything work. A girl so afraid of being hurt that she unconsciously keeps her house boxed up because deep down inside, that last rejection hurt more than she admits. Not hurt by the person involved, but hurt by being spurned when she'd really thought she'd finally tried her hardest.

The fact that he was able to turn things between us to what they had been from the start so quickly, so definitively, reinforces my thoughts that maybe I was right to not try.

It's possible anger made him seem so aloof. You can't just go from 'hey, we're sex buddies' to 'hey, I want you to come to Italy to meet my family' without any feeling involved, could you?

As bad and tense as those ten minutes were, what would I have done if he'd made some sort of formal declaration? That would've made it a thousand times worse.

I consider pouring myself a huge drink; the headache I'm working on grows bigger with each thought I have. Perhaps self-medication is in order. Lord knows self-analysis is never an easy thing.

I continue beating myself up while I pour some vodka into a shaker, his words about my ex-boyfriends certainly struck a nerve. I didn't need to have a degree in sociology to see truth in his observances.

Subconsciously, I guess what I was really doing was preventing myself from trying something real again. I'm my own obstacle, and probably always have been.

The mistake I made the other morning was that I should've said something, anything rather than let him leave.

How do you tell a man that has turned your world upside down and made you understand that sex isn't about the where or the what but the who, that you're afraid to let him in because he may hurt you?

I begin talking out loud to an empty room.

'Hey, Manchu, the closeness we've achieved during sex has really blown my mind, but I'm going to forgo the opportunity to explore that further in case you decide to leave me.'

I pick up the metal tumbler and shake the hell out of its contents.

'And what you said about my ex-boyfriends struck a nerve but I don't care to explore that any further either to see if maybe I should do something about it. Mainly because I am afraid to confirm that I am, in fact, the issue.'

I laugh out loud, my attempt at self-discovery progressively verging into self-loathing.

'Oh and to make matters worse, I've fallen completely and hopelessly in love with you.'

I inhale sharply, my hand flying to my mouth to muffle a gasp.

I put the shaker down haphazardly, completely missing the counter, and feel the liquid slosh over my bare foot.

The phone starts beeping on the island, signaling a text, and I allow the distraction to stop me from delving into what I just alarmingly admitted to myself from pin balling around my brain.

Seeing the message is from Manchu, my heart quickens.

I put the phone face down, not wanting to read.

I pick the phone up but don't highlight the text, avoiding the inevitable.

Finally, I decide to get it over with and press the text icon.

Meet me on Music Row, outside of the Bluebird, 8:30

Standing outside the famed venue at eight-thirty sharp, I pinch the bottom of my skirt between my fingers nervously, wondering what this is about. If he's going to tell me he's done, he could've just texted it. It's what I deserve.

I feel him approach before I see him, the air changing around me and charging with electricity. His hands land on my waist from behind, and he pulls me against him quickly before guiding us to walk, still holding my hips and following directly behind.

Three storefronts down, he pushes me into a tiny alleyway and spins me so that my back is against the cool brick. I barely have time to voice my surprise before his mouth is on mine, rough and greedy. His hands are everywhere, touching my breasts before sliding down to drag over my hips; his fingers pressing and dancing in a million places at once, the feel of tiny sparks landing on my body in a random pattern.

My mouth matches his need, my tongue pushing it's way in to tangle and wrestle. My hands grabbing his shoulders and head, the ferociousness of his touch mirrored in mine.

I feel relieved to be with him and desperate to have him, hurried, like I can't touch enough of him before he vanishes. His body seems as frantic as mine, pressing me into the wall, as the brick scratches the backs of my arms.

His mouth breaks away and trails itself over my cheek, kissing his way to my ear.

"Look towards the street, Izzy."

I look to where he's directed me, his mouth sucking on my neck when I turn, only to find people walking past the opening of the alley, laughing, talking, going about their business while I'm being violated in the best possible way not five feet from them.

"You're about to get fucked in the busiest intersection in Nashville."

My eyes close and my head hits the wall, his words sending a rush through my entire body straight to my aching pussy.

His hands start moving to my thighs as his mouth continues its assault on my neck. I feel the nip of his teeth and he growls low, his muffled panting against me spurring on my own staccato breathing.

I can't grab him tightly enough, my hands flying over his bare biceps, trying to hold onto something, anything, trying to keep myself planted on Earth.

My panties are ripped from me, the force jerking my back off the wall until his body slams me back, his mouth latching onto mine and taking my breath away. I feel his fingers at my opening, twirling in the wetness, the hotness, and he moans into me.

My frenzied eagerness makes my hands fly to his pants, unbuttoning and clawing their way inside, anxious for the present wrapped within. His hips buck into me at the feel of my hand on him, and I start to stroke.

Peals of laughter from the street egg me on, making me feel dirty and wonton, and I stroke harder.

"Fuck, tell me what you want, Izzy." The hand not on my pussy is clutching my hair in the back, making a barrier between the cement wall and me.

"Fuck me."

"Where!" He demands.

"Here, in this alley, oh god, yeah." His fingers push into me forcefully, twisting and pumping, fucking me like I've pleaded. "Your cock, I want your cock."

My grasp on him tightens and I feel his shaft jerk at my touch. His hand leaves my pussy and hitches my leg up to his hip, before returning and pulling my own hand away from him. I feel him stroke himself between us, and then he fills me, swiftly and completely.

He stops moving, his body pressed tightly to mine, and turns his head to the side, to capture my mouth with his once more in a searing kiss. He starts rocking into me, his cock sliding in and out in delicious fashion.

The hand on the back of my head tightens on my hair and turns it, so that his forehead is pressed against my cheek watching himself fuck me as I watch the street. My eyes practically roll back in my head at the feeling of him taking me and of the sight of people walking by. Once or twice, someone glances into the alley, but I don't know if they see us. I find I don't care.

"Oh god, you're so tight around me, so fucking good." He grunts as his pounding increases, his hand ghosting over where we're joined, feeling us.

A man on the sidewalk pauses at the sound of Manchu's guttural sounds, and squints into the darkness.

"Oh god, he sees us." I say, and my pussy clenches around him, making him grind into me.

"Do you like that?" He asks, his mouth lifting from my neck, where he'd resumed his attack. I feel his fingers start to rub my clit, and I lift my other leg, knowing his body is pressed hard enough against me, pinning me to the wall so I won't slide to the ground.

His hand leaves my head and holds my leg behind my knee, helping it to stay in place while his thrusting increases.

"I want to feel." I say as I'm still looking out of the mouth of the alley with hooded eyes, and slide my hand down to where his is, so we're both feeling his cock slide in and out. The curious man has walked on, not alerting anyone to our antics, so people just keep passing by.

The depravity of the act, the darkness of the alley, the noise from the street and from our furious fucking overwhelms me and I come sharply, with zero warning. My hips are trying to slam against him, trying to sustain the intense waves when with a string of profanity, Manchu's hips pin mine to the wall and he comes and empties himself into me, his body shaking from the strain and effort.

With our chests still heaving, he pulls his body from mine and lowers my quivering legs to the concrete. He pulls my skirt down before moving to button himself, and kisses my bruised mouth tenderly.

"Are you ok?" He asks, his hand moving to smooth the hair on the back of my head where he had been pulling. The stroking lulls me, a warm feeling spreading throughout my body at his care.

"Yeah, better than." I smile at him, until my eyes go wide and I look back towards the alley. My fear of being seen is obvious to him, and his hands pull my head to him, pressing my face into his chest.

"It's all good, Izzy." I feel him place a kiss on my hair and step away, grabbing my hand and starting to walk towards the street. He pokes his head out quickly and pulls me behind him, walking casually like we weren't just fucking in an alley. I keep my head down, shielding people with my hair so I don't have to look up.

When asked, I direct him to where I parked, and he asks for my keys, opening the door and handing them back to me as I get in.

I roll down the window to talk, but all he says is "I'll see you soon", before giving me a half smile and walking back towards where we came.

I sit a minute, still on an orgasm high, until despair creeps in. The realization that he only called me Izzy during the whole thing.

Not Bella, and nary a beautiful Italian phrase spilled from his perfect lips.

Tears spring to my eyes, the loss of his warmth towards me cutting like a sharp blade. I've picked an awful time to come to my senses.

I'm in love with him. Spectacularly and without question.

And I'm utterly freaked the fuck out about the epic way I'm letting this fail, but feel hopeless against it.

I do nothing. I let the failure fester and bleed.

On Monday night, Manchu fucks me from behind while I'm spread out on the hood of his black BMW, in a deserted movie theater parking lot.

On Wednesday, we fuck in the restroom of the coffee shop, where he promptly leaves afterwards without getting his drink.

On Thursday, I fuck him on the chaise lounge located in the far corner of my small backyard, reverse cowgirl.

On Saturday, Manchu calls to tell me he's done.

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