Summary: "You've always been the one," I murmur, and the truth of those words settles in my chest, heavy and featherlight at the same time. She pulls back to look at me, and I can see it in her face: she wishes she could say the same, but we both know that there were years in there where it just wasn't true.
Acknowledgement: I'm running out of ways to say how awesome HollettLA is, but I'm working on a list. It starts with "able to beta from 30,000 feet" and is up to "vodka makes for hysterical margin notes." xo
Author's Note: Thanks to everyone who spread the word about Mully The Traveling Cat. He is safely home. xo
It's happening. Holy fucking shit, it's happening.
Well, I mean, not right now. But tonight. Tonight, it's happening. I will finally, finally know what it's like to come inside something that isn't a hand or a mouth.
Wait. That sounds bad. Let me back up. I offer this disclaimer: coming inside Bella's hand is light-years better than coming in my own. Coming inside her mouth is – well, not to employ hyperbole, but it's a pretty fucking spiritual experience. It's warm and wet and…and now I'm hard and Bella won't be here for another three hours. But I'm hard and it occurs to me that maybe whacking off before she gets here might not be a bad idea. I mean, I fucking hate Mike Newton – hate him – but I can't imagine that he was a two-pump chump, and the absolute last thing I want happening tonight is for Bella, even fleetingly, to compare me to that asshole. That would be…not good.
So…yeah, that's what I'll do. A little pre-game warm-up.
Approximately thirty-seven seconds. That was…shameful. Jacking off ahead of time was definitely a good idea. Jesus, thirty-seven seconds wouldn't even have gotten me inside her. I may be a rookie at this, but even I know that thirty seconds isn't an adequate amount of foreplay. You'd think semi-regular hand jobs and relatively frequent blow jobs would have built up at least a minimal amount of staying power, but you'd be wrong. The second I imagined feeling around my dick what I've been feeling around my fingers for the past two months, I blew my load without even enough time to pull back on the reins.
I wash my hands in the sink and dry them on the plaid hand towel hanging nearby just as Rosalie bangs on the door. "Stop jerking off in the bathroom, Foward," she calls, still banging. "A girl is using it this week, too."
"I wasn't—I'm not—" As I let go of the towel, I knock over the soap dispenser, and I can hear her laughing through the door. In an attempt to prove my point – my lie – I throw the door open as I right the mercifully unbroken soap canister. "I wasn't doing that," I snap, and Rose's lips twitch.
I glare at her as I storm past, and she reels backward with a muttered "What the—" as I cross the hall to my bedroom and slam the door before flopping down on my unmade bed. I'm grateful, at least, that my mother washed my sheets last night; I should probably attempt to make the bed before Bella shows up, too. Because in two hours and forty-five minutes, she'll be here. In my bedroom. In my bed. It won't be a first, but what we're doing…that will be. Well, at least for me. For us. If not for her.
"Edward?" This time, the knock is timid, as is the voice. That she's calling me by my name and not "Foward" – an unfortunate result of her surprise visit to the drugstore on a day when I was working – is a clear sign that she feels badly. "Edward, can I come in?"
"Whatever," I mutter, rolling so that my chin is propped on my mattress, facing away from the door. I hear the sound of it opening and Rose's bare feet slapping on the hardwood floor.
"What's with you?" she asks, and the mattress dips as she sits on the edge of it, down by my shins.
"Nothing," I mutter, voice half-muffled by my comforter.
"Bullshit," she says. As irritating as she can be, I sometimes miss my sister's directness. I don't say anything, and I hear her sigh. "I'm sorry I was teasing you. I know you weren't…doing that."
Still a terrible liar, I don't turn to face her, certain that my expression would give me away. "It doesn't matter," I say, staring at the picture of Bella pinned to the corkboard above my desk on the opposite side of the room.
"Seriously, what's with you? Did something happen with Bella?"
"No," I say aloud. "Nothing. I'm fine."
She doesn't say anything, resorting instead to pinching the skin of my calf. Hard. "OW!" I yell, half-rolling and pulling my leg up to rub at the injured skin. "Fucking hell, Rose. What was that for?"
"I'm leaving in an hour, so this is your last chance at advice from your big sister. If it's girl-stuff, I'm particularly well-equipped to help you out. So spill it, little brother."
I roll onto my back, staring at the ceiling. "It's nothing."
"Liar," she mutters, rearranging herself so that she's lying beside me. "Holy shit," she says on a laugh, gazing upward. "You still have glow-in-the-dark stars on your ceiling?"
"They're not just glow-in-the-dark stars," I defend. "That's actually a glow-in-the-dark replica of the autumn sky with all of the constellations visible in the Northern Hemisphere."
"Okay, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you do realize that that makes it more geeky, not less, right?"
"Shut up," I mutter, even as I'm picking out Cygnus among the barely-visible yellow dots against the white paint.
"So what is it, kid?"
Rosalie hasn't called me "kid" in years, and it makes something in me want to confide in her, even if I don't know how in the hell a seventeen-year-old guy says "I'm afraid I'll suck in bed" to his older sister. I'm still staring at the ceiling.
Cygnus: the swan.
I remember the first time I had Bella in my bed at night, when Mom was on a date with Dr. Cullen, and she noticed the adhesive stars after we'd both collapsed, breathless, atop my comforter, summer heat and the heat we made together plastering damp hair to our necks and foreheads. "Whoa," she'd breathed, and when I realized what she was looking at, I felt suddenly more exposed than I had minutes earlier when she had my dick in her hand. "Edward, your ceiling…that's really cool." She'd asked me to point out all of the constellations, and then she chose her favorites. Cygnus. Pegasus. Delphinus.
The swan, the flying horse, the dolphin.
"Come on," Rosalie coaxes me now. "You can talk to me."
"I don't—" I scrub my hands over my face.
"Okay. Let me guess. Is it about sex?" I roll my head to look at her, surprise clear in my features, and she laughs. "Don't look so surprised. How many things are there that you would be so embarrassed about discussing with me?" Her eyes narrow. "Bella's not pregnant, is she?"
"Jesus, no," I say immediately, the memory of the pharmacy staff room just over three months ago sliding through my mind briefly before I shake my head. "No. Definitely not."
"Okay. And you don't…have something, right? Like…a disease or something?"
"Okay. Good. So what is it?"
I don't realize I'm chewing on the inside of my lower lip at first, and I can see suddenly how Bella winds up with raw skin sometimes. "We haven't…yet. We're…going to. Tonight. And I'm just…I haven't. Before. Ever. But she has. And I'm just…I'm freaked out about…sucking at it."
"You probably will."
"Well, thanks a lot, Rose. That helps a ton."
She laughs, and I kind of want to strangle her. "Relax, Edward. You might. She might. You're a seventeen-year-old virgin. Most seventeen-year-old virgins do suck at sex. In fact, most seventeen-year-old non-virgins suck at sex, too. It's something that takes practice, and it also takes learning what your partner likes and what you like and how to make both of those things line up so that it doesn't suck for either one of you. And seventeen-year-olds aren't in the habit of openly discussing what they like and don't, so sometimes it's even more complicated than it needs to be."
"Well, terrific," I mutter, and now I'm glaring at the stars above us.
"Listen, don't put so much pressure on yourself. You love Bella. She loves you. Tonight isn't about the sex itself. It's about what it means to both of you. Just…focus on that."
"Rose, that's really sweet and all, but it's sort of girly bullshit, too. Can you actually give me something concrete that will help me?"
"Well, you've done stuff with Bella before, right?"
My mind passes over the "stuff" I have, in fact, done with Bella, and a small smile tugs at my mouth. "Yeah."
"Okay. So you know some of the stuff she likes."
"Yeah." Do I ever.
"Good. Do that first."
"You probably won't make her come once you're inside her, no matter how many times you spank the monkey beforehand." She smirks at me, and I feel fire steal across my face. "So make her come first. It's considerate, it literally shows that you're putting her pleasure ahead of your own, and then when you blow your load after ten seconds, she won't care."
"Fucking hell, Rose."
She pats my forearm. "I'm going to interpret that as a 'Thank you,'" she says, then sighs. When she speaks again, her voice is uncharacteristically somber. "These are the times it must really suck not to have a dad around, huh?"
I shrug. "I don't know. Do guys normally talk to their dads about that stuff?"
"Hell if I know," she says. "I didn't talk to Mom about everything, but I at least knew she was there if I wanted to." She pauses. "You know, I'm sure you wouldn't want to, but Mom is pretty cool about sex stuff, and I'm sure she assumes you and Bella are doing it, anyway. She'd probably be okay with talking about it, if you ever wanted to."
My sister laughs. "I didn't think so." We lie side by side for a few minutes, staring up at my make-believe September sky. "I know I'm far away, but my phone works," she says softly. "You can always call me. And…I know you've only met him once, but Emmett's a really good guy. I'm sure he would be happy to talk anytime you wanted a guy's perspective."
I turn this over for a few minutes. As much as I value my friendship with Jasper, he's even less experienced than I am. The only other male with any sort of regular role in my life is Dr. Cullen, and talking to a doctor about the mechanics of sex – particularly a doctor who is likely engaging in said mechanics with my mother, of all people – is a bizarrely off-putting concept. "Thanks," I say lamely. The likelihood that I'll ever call the guy who's engaging in the mechanics with my sister is also low, but it's nice of Rosalie to offer.
"And keep in mind that Bella doesn't have her mom around, either. So it's not like she has anyone to go to for advice. So maybe…that can be another thing that makes you guys close? Like, if you have to talk to each other about it, maybe it'll actually wind up being a good thing?"
My sister's always been book-smart and street-smart while I was book-smart but life-naïve, but that might be the smartest thing I've ever heard her say. "Thanks, Rose," I say, and she pats my arm again.
"So this is the part of the program where I remind you to wrap it up."
"Got it covered," I say, and Rose laughs as I add, "So to speak." That's one thing that has made working in a pharmacy come in handy, at least. Two, if we count the whole "bringing Bella back into my life" thing, which we probably should.
"Good." She sits up and pokes my shin. "And, you know…practice makes perfect. So even if it sucks tonight…keep at it."
This time, I'm the one who laughs. "Noted."
"So this is why you're not coming to the airport with us, huh?" I blush and find that I have no plausible denial, so I rub my hands over my face and groan theatrically. Rose laughs. "Don't worry, I'm not insulted. I'm just glad it's not one of those stupid Dungeons & Demons marathons, or something."
"Dungeons & Dragons," I mutter, and she ruffles my hair. I hate it when she does that shit, but just this once, I let her.
"Right. Well, have fun putting your dragon in her dungeon," she says in a singsong voice as she rises from the bed. "See you at Thanksgiving."
I'd never tell her, but I sort of miss my bitchy sister when she's not around. "Hey, Rose?" She half-turns, manicured nails gripping the edge of my bedroom door. "Thanks," I say, and she grins.
Okay, this is the part where I come across as a sissy. Bella was ready at the end of summer. When she came into the pharmacy at the tail end of June and turned my world upside down in the best possible way, I was honest with her: there was part of me that – despite her apology and her claim that she was done with Mike and those mean, cliquey girls – feared that come September, she'd be back on their side of the cafeteria, and I'd once again be kicked to the curb. And I knew that it would hurt.
Having kissed Bella, touched Bella, tasted Bella, I knew that it would hurt like a bitch, perhaps even worse than it hurt the first time. But if I slept with Bella, gave her that part of me and then she walked away afterward? That would do worse than hurt. So I stalled. Hedged. Played hard-to-get.
In short, I became the chick.
I'm not proud of it, but self-preservation is perhaps the one skill that the geeks, the nerds, the losers hone in high school far better than the more popular, less tortured kids. We learn how to survive. We learn how to assess possible threats, how to take measures to avoid confrontations, how brace for the impact of a blow before it lands. As time wore on, as Bella told me she loved me, wanted me, that punch seemed less and less likely to come.
And still, I waited. I braced myself.
I didn't tell Bella, but I was waiting for school to start. I was waiting to see if, on September 4th, she would let me pick her up in my shitty green Volvo station wagon and drive her to school. If she'd step out of the passenger seat of that craptastic car and not duck her head in embarrassment. If she'd walk into the cafeteria and spot me at my table in the back corner and take a seat beside me, regardless of what the Mikes and the Laurens at the table smack-dab in the center of the room might think or say.
I was testing her, and that might make me a bastard, but sometimes self-preservation has that unavoidable, if unfortunate, effect. I couldn't risk it. I couldn't risk losing it to her, and then losing her altogether. There are risks that are manageable, and risks that can destroy a person, and that would definitely fall into the category of the latter.
And, as time wore on, as kisses turned to touches and touches turned into a whole new type of kisses, Bella seemed to catch on. When she was in just her panties in my bed the last weekend in July and I was down to boxers and she wrapped her hand around me and breathed, "Do you want to?" and I didn't. On a late-August night, when we were both naked in the cargo area of my wagon and I was right there and I hesitated and she kissed my cheek and said, "It's okay" before pulling back and sliding down my body.
I think she got it, knew what I was waiting for, because she never pushed.
And then came September 4th.
And Bella let me pick her up in my shitty station wagon, and when we pulled into the Forks High School parking lot, she let me open her door and help her out and then planted a kiss on my mouth in front of everyone.
And when I walked into the cafeteria fifth period, I didn't have to wonder if she'd choose to sit with me because she was already there at my table, waiting with Jasper.
And in the hallway, she held my hand and kissed me and waited by my locker and let me carry her books. Not only did she not seem to care what Mike or Jessica or Lauren said, she didn't even seem to notice. All she seemed to notice was me. And the last shred of hesitation, the last tiny weight holding me down, the last thin thread of insecurity – they all just disappeared. I told her that my mother was taking Rosalie to the airport in Seattle on the last Friday in September and would be gone overnight, and she said her father was working the overnight shift that night, and I knew that we were here.
And now, of course, I'm scared shitless that it's going to suck.
"Okay, hon," my mother says, attempting to flatten my hair. "I'll be back tomorrow afternoon. I left a dish of baked mac and cheese in the fridge for dinner; it just needs to be reheated. Twenty minutes on 400 degrees, and don't forget to switch the oven off afterward."
"Okay," I reply, hoisting Rose's ridiculously heavy wheeled suitcase into the back of Dr. Cullen's Mercedes SUV. What the hell did she pack for a four-day visit, for crying out loud?
"I have my cell phone if you need me, and Carlisle has his, so call us if you need anything, okay?"
"Okay," I say again, shoving my hands deep into the pockets of my jeans in what I know will be a futile attempt to ward off any potential touchy-feely displays of affection. Utterly undeterred, Rose presses a kiss to my cheek and ruffles my hair – damn her – and smiles knowingly at me. "See ya, little brother." Dr. Cullen nods at me and claps me on the shoulder before opening both passenger-side doors – front and back – for my mother and sister and then rounding the car to slide in behind the wheel.
"Is Bella coming over?" my mom asks as Rosalie disappears into the backseat, and I burrow my hands farther into my pockets.
"Yeah. I mean…probably. Yeah." I can't look at her. I'm a bad liar in general, but my mother may as well be a CIA interrogator, for all the success I've ever had trying to keep a secret from her. She gently grabs my chin and tilts my head up so that I'm forced to meet her eye and gives me a long look but says nothing. I gaze back at her, trying not to squirm, silently pleading with her not to say something that's going to make me want to die. "Tell her I said hello," she says finally, and I nod in relief.
Sure, Mom. I'll tell her. Right after I lose my virginity to her on the sheets you bought me from L.L. Bean. I'll definitely follow that up with, "My mom says hi."
She mirrors my nod and gives me another mom-look before turning and sliding into the passenger seat of Dr. Cullen's car.
Great. I'm pretty sure my mother knows I'm going to have sex with my girlfriend under her roof tonight.
I've been doing research. Because I'm a nerd, and that's what we do. I stole one of Rosalie's issues of Cosmopolitan that she bought on the plane ride from New York. I watched a couple of Sex and the City reruns, but they were syndicated and I think a lot of the stuff that would have been especially helpful was edited out. I Googled…stuff.
And I'm still as clueless as I was before.
I don't know where Bella's G-spot is, or if it's really a thing, or if I have any chance in hell of finding it. She seems to like what we've done together so far, but there's never been a moment where she's reacted like I hit a magic button inside of her or anything. I don't know if I'm supposed to let her pick the position, or if I'm supposed to pick it, or if that's something you decide on ahead of time, like, "Hey, Bella, shall we go with missionary or doggy-style today?" I don't know if I put the condom on as soon as I'm hard, or if I wait until I'm actually about to push inside her; I don't know if girls like to put it on, or if that's definitely in my job description. I don't know if we're supposed to be under the covers or on top of them; I don't know if I get rid of the condom right away, or if that will ruin the post-sex snuggling that girls are supposed to appreciate. I don't know if I should go all caveman and just drag her up to my room and throw her on the bed the minute she gets here, or if I should have the mac and cheese in the oven and a nice dinner table set up so that she feels romanced, or whatever. Do I brush my teeth right before she gets here, or is that too obvious? Should I shower before, or will I want to shower after? Will she want to shower with me after, and how does that work? Can you wear a condom in the shower, or will it slip off? Would she even want to do it twice in one night, and if she does, will I be able to?
In short, I don't know shit.
And Bella will be here in two hours.
I make my way up to my bedroom and start with the obvious: I should make my bed. Or…wait, should I make my bed? Will that just make it more complicated to get under the covers later if, in fact, she wants to get under the covers? No. I should definitely make my bed, if only because otherwise it looks like I couldn't be bothered, and that just seems…rude.
Okay. So. Make the bed.
I straighten the pillows and drag the crumpled sheet up from the foot of the bed, folding it back like I've seen my mom do and then tucking the sides beneath the mattress. I pull the comforter up and over the pillows and then smooth my hand over the top of it.
Otherwise, my room is neater than usual, thanks to my mother's insistence on a top-to-bottom house cleaning before Rosalie arrived. As if she hadn't grown up just down the hall from my disaster of a bedroom, but whatever. There are no wrappers or empty soda bottles on the floor, the few pieces of laundry are actually in the hamper in my closet, and my school books are all in my backpack on my desk chair. All in all, pretty impressive. I open the drawer to my nightstand and am immediately struck by another question to which I have no answer: do I open the condom box now, so that I don't have to stop what we're doing to mess with it? Or will that look shady somehow, if it's already opened? No, I should definitely open it.
I rip the box open carefully and peek inside; it hadn't occurred to me that they would come with instructions. Unfortunately, they're printed on the inside of the box itself, and in order to read them, I have to actually tear the box apart. I hesitate only briefly before doing so and unfolding it, feeling an embarrassed flush work through my neck and face even though I'm in the complete solitude of my own bedroom. I scan the directions and the diagrams – not only is there a picture of how to put it on, but there's an actual picture of the girl-parts as it's about to go in – and I feel an all-too-familiar stirring in my shorts.
Well, maybe this is a sign I should take care of things again beforehand. Can't be too prepared, right? Right.
A full minute. It took a full minute this time, and that's certainly a step up from thirty-seven seconds. I wouldn't go so far as to pretend I'm Don Juan, but given the arc of things, it seems like I'm guaranteed at least a minute and a half once I'm inside Bella, and maybe that's long enough to at least not want to shrivel up and die from embarrassment. That's almost respectable, right? I mean, I'm not expecting an hour-long session of porn-worthy screwing, but it'd be nice for her to at least think, "That was pleasant," when all is said and done. And besides, ninety seconds can feel like a long time. Have you ever tried to hold your breath for ninety seconds? Do a handstand? Plank?
Okay, yeah, this might not be the best. I'm already trying to justify my apparent lack of staying power, and Bella's not even here yet.
I'm such a loser.
As if to emphasize that rather obvious point, my cell phone rings, blaring the Star Wars theme at me from the back pocket of my jeans. When I retrieve it, Jasper's name and number and goofy-ass face are grinning up at me.
"Hey, Jasper," I say in greeting.
"Hey. Wanna come over? I just got Grand Theft Auto III."
"Thanks, man. I, uh, can't, though. Bella's coming over in a bit."
"You can bring her," Jasper says. "She's not a half-bad gamer, for a chick."
"Um. Thanks. We, uh, kind of have plans, though. Maybe tomorrow?"
If the sex isn't so awesome that we're still having it.
"Plans?" he echoes, and I pull absently at a loose thread on the hem of my t-shirt. "Like, going to a movie plans or gettin' freaky in the Volvo plans?"
"Listen, man, I think you need to strike the phrase 'getting freaky' from your arsenal of euphemisms."
"That's a non-answer," he says.
"We're just…hanging out."
"Yeah, hangin' out without your clothes on, I'll bet." I try to remember if I was ever this unabashedly horny before Bella came into my life and I started having semi-regular orgasms, but I can't seem to remember anything before her clearly. Still, I take pity on my best friend; I've made it a point not to leave him hanging since I got together with Bella, and in turn he's been very cool when I say I can't hang out because I'm doing stuff with her. "Wait a sec," he says, bringing me back to the conversation. "Isn't your mom in Seattle tonight?"
"Bow-chicka-bow-WOW," he half-sings, and I roll my eyes even as I laugh.
"Shut up, man."
"Seriously, is tonight the night? Horizontal mambo? Bumpin' uglies? Buryin' the bone?"
"Seriously," I mimic, "we need to upgrade your inner thesaurus. No wonder you're single."
"I'm single because I'm a very discriminatin' individual with very particular tastes," he counters with his trademark drawl accented for emphasis, and I laugh.
"So if Alice Brandon came banging on your door wanting you to dip your pen in her ink, you'd turn her away?"
"'Dip my pen in her ink,' huh? I'm addin' that to the list." He doesn't confirm or deny, but he doesn't have to; ever since Alice became the only one of Bella's former friends who still makes an effort to talk to her, Jasper has been harboring a pretty serious crush. Unfortunately, he's not exactly her type.
"Okay, well, if you kids wanna come up for air or ice cream or somethin' after you're done doin' the four-legged frolic, gimme a call."
He laughs. "Later, Romeo."
Half an hour.
Bella will be here in thirty minutes, and in probably thirty-two minutes, I won't be a virgin anymore.
She has to wait until Charlie leaves for his shift, and then she's coming over. Just as I'm preheating the oven – I think I should at least pretend that I'm not hoping she'll want to go straight to bed, even if it means we have to reheat the mac and cheese when we're done – I hear the faint sound of my ringtone once again. Casting about for my phone, I finally spy it on top of the microwave and I grab it to see Bella's name and number on the screen. A brief pang of panic shoots through me – Oh, God, she's not coming – before I flip it open and force my voice to something in the neighborhood of neutral.
"Hey," she replies, but says nothing else, and I frown unseeingly at the refrigerator door.
"Yeah!" she replies quickly. "Yeah, I just, um. I was thinking…do you think you could come here?"
My frown deepens. "To pick you up?"
"No, I mean…do you think you could…come over? Could we…do it here?"
Bella's lavender comforter and sheets that smell like her honey-almond milk shampoo.
Bella's pale skin against those sheets.
"Of course we can," I say immediately, but then uncertainty makes an appearance. "Your, uh, Dad's definitely gone, though, right?"
She laughs, and the knot in my chest loosens. "He's definitely gone," she confirms. "He's actually transporting a suspect to the Port Angeles police station tonight, so he won't even be back at the Forks station until the early hours of the morning."
"Okay," I say, letting loose a breath, and light laugher once again dances through the phone line.
"My dad really freaks you out, doesn't he?"
"Well, remember when I said I'd gladly go up against Mike but that I'd hate to end up in traction?"
"Well, your dad's like Mike, but bigger and armed."
She laughs. "Get over here, Edward."
"I'm on my way."
I turn off the oven and head back upstairs to my room, where I toss a clean pair of boxers, change of clothes, toothbrush, and a strip of the condoms on the bed. Dumping all of my books out of my backpack, I stash my overnight stuff inside it and glance around the room for anything else I might need. I sort of wish I could take my September sky with me, but it occurs to me that the occasion on which I lose my virginity is one on which I probably shouldn't feel the need for a security blanket.
I slip in behind the wheel of my car, reverse out of the driveway, and head for Bella's. The sun is just dipping behind the line where earth meets sky, casting the heavens in shades of bright pink and dusty purple, and there's a line of bright orange just above the horizon. It looks, as I drive, like the world ahead of me is on fire.
"Hi," I say from her doorstep, and God, she's so fucking pretty. Jeans and bare feet and a faded t-shirt that says "Dodgeball Champion" and I'm so glad that she didn't dress up because honestly, it never occurred to me to do so.
She smiles that soft smile that I'd never seen until after I kissed her, but which has become my favorite smile I've ever seen. "Hi." Her voice is soft – everything about her is soft – and I can't believe I'm here. "Um. Sorry to switch it up on you like this, but I sort of had a thought."
"Okay." I follow Bella into the foyer of her house, where she holds out a hand to take my backpack. I shift my weight. "I, um. There are…things in here? That we might need?"
Another smile, so soft. "Oh. Right." She turns, and I follow her through the foyer and into the living room.
The first time Bella invited me over, I was nervous. I expected a bigger house, a nicer house, something that made the small, cottage-style home she'd lived in beside me look ramshackle and sad. I was pleasantly surprised when I showed up and the house was essentially the same size as the one next door to me, except that it was in better condition and had a bigger backyard. Almost everything in it was the same – same couches, same kitchen table – and Bella later confided in me that the only things her dad changed were the things her mother had picked out, which made a lot of sense. I hadn't realized it before, but I was worried that the new house would feel less Bella, less Charlie, and I was pleased beyond belief to find that I'd been wrong. To find that I felt like I belonged there.
She leads me through the living room and past the stairs – guess we're not getting right down to business – and toward the sliding glass door that leads out to her back deck. Peeking quickly over her shoulder at me – God, she's so sexy – she flips the latch-lock on the door and slides it open, leading the way out onto the back deck. I slide the door closed behind me and follow her to where she's standing by the deck railing. I glance at her profile before looking out at the yard; when I do, my breath catches in my throat.
Because there, beneath the oak tree from which I've now hung upside down more times than I can count with a red-cheeked, crazy-haired girl dangling right beside me, is a blanket. A couple of pillows. And wrapped around our favorite branch, looking for all the world like a row of stars, is a strand of battery-powered fairy lights. I feel something suspiciously girly and emotional welling up in my throat, and I clear it before I can bring myself to tear my eyes from the setup and look at Bella. She's peering at me closely, watching my reaction, and when my eyes meet hers, a small smile curls her mouth. "Okay?" she asks softly, then starts chewing on the inside of her lower lip, and it hits me: she's nervous, too.
"Better than okay," I reply, my own voice rough, and I clear my throat. I look back at the blanket, and Bella's small hand finds mine.
"Seemed…appropriate," she murmurs, and I nod.
"Definitely. It's…" A host of adjectives fly through my mind – beautiful, breathtaking, perfect – but they're all too stupid to say aloud, especially through the knot in my throat. "Awesome," I finish finally, and she beams.
"Okay," she says, and a heavy exhale falls from her lips. "Okay," she says again, quieter this time, and I squeeze her fingers between mine. Keeping hold of my hand, she leads me down the deck steps and across the grass; as we approach, I can see that the blanket is actually two – a top and a bottom – and I realize she's recreated her bed out here, beneath our tree, and God, I love this girl. There's also a small basket of food and two bottles of water, and when I peek over at her, she's already looking at me, gauging my reaction. "I, um. Wasn't sure if you'd have eaten already."
I shake my head. "I was going to heat up baked mac," I say. "But I didn't know if you want to eat…uh…before or…after." Jesus, why is this so awkward? This is a sure thing; it's not like we don't know exactly what tonight is. Or is it just me? Am I the only one who feels awkward? Because that…seems entirely possible.
A nervous laugh falls into the space between us, and the confirmation is there. Nope. Not just me. Okay, then.
"Are you hungry?" she asks, and I shake my head. "Okay," she says, sounding mildly relieved. "Me neither." But we're still standing on the edge of the blanket, fairy lights twinkling down from above us, and okay, someone should write a manual for this shit, because there are a whole hell of a lot of steps between "Hi" and rolling around naked together, and I don't have a fucking clue how to navigate them. Now is a prime example: how do I get us from standing upright to lying down without looking like all I want is to get her naked? I can't very well just drag her down beside me and…oh. She's kicking off her shoes. Okay. Yeah. That seems like a good place to start.
I step on the back of my right shoe with my left toe and kick it off before doing the same in reverse; as I shuck my socks, Bella tiptoes across the makeshift pallet to settle in front of one of the pillows. Looking up at me, she pats the space beside her, and once I'm settled, I notice a small plastic bag beside the food basket with what looks like a hand towel in it. "What's that?" I ask, pointing, and she glances over before flushing.
"A, um, damp towel. For…you know. Clean-up."
"Oh," I say, wishing I hadn't asked. But the fact that she thought of that drives home the same point that hasn't been far from my mind all day: she's done this before, and you haven't.
"Are you nervous?" she asks, reaching out and tangling our fingers together atop her purple comforter.
"Sort of," I admit, looking down at her hand to avoid her beautiful Bella-eyes.
"Sucking," I say simply, and she laughs. I remember Rosalie's advice, that being honest with Bella might be the best thing, and I make a mental note to thank her somewhere down the road.
"Can I tell you a secret?"
"You can't suck at it. I love you too much not to love whatever we do together, so there's no possible way that it can suck." I look up, and with the hand not holding mine, she's fiddling with the hem of her t-shirt. "But if it helps, I'm nervous, too."
I feel my eyebrows hitch. "Why?"
"Because this is your first time. That's…a lot of pressure for me, you know."
Honestly, I hadn't thought about that. Still, I think she's missing a pretty key point. "Listen, Bella, let me tell you something: this is pretty much guaranteed to be awesome for me. That's sort of…a given."
She giggles. "Well, in a sense, I guess."
"No, seriously. There is no way I'm not going to be psyched about this. You're the one who…"
Probably won't come.
Has definitely had better.
I can't think of anything I'm willing to say out loud, but this girl I love, who's known me since I had my milk teeth, hears what I don't say and puts a gentle hand on my jaw. "I wish it was my first time, too." She sounds really, really sad, and the last thing I want her to be tonight is sad. Unsatisfied will be bad enough.
"Hey," I say gently, and she peers up at me, regret a torrent in those brown eyes I'd recognize anywhere. "Okay, listen. I'm not going to lie: there's a huge part of me that would be pumped if you'd never slept with Mike. But if you hadn't, you wouldn't have been in the pharmacy that night, and I might not be here, with you, now. And I don't know if it was worth it for you, but that makes it more than worth it for me." Suddenly those eyes are filled with tears, and I'm backtracking. "Okay, shit. I don't know what I said, but I'm sorry. I didn't mean it. I mean, I did, but I didn't. Just…don't listen to me. I'm a seventeen-year-old virgin who's spent most of the day picturing you naked, so my brain has been deprived of its normal blood flow." She giggles through her tears, and relief edges out the panic when I realize that they're girly-happy-emotional tears, not girly-sad-hurt tears. "And I'm glad I don't have to hurt you," I add, reaching up and gently pulling her hand from my face, lacing our fingers back together. "I may not be able to…make it good, but I'm really glad it won't have to be…like that."
"It will be good," she says softly, and then suddenly she's up on her knees, kissing me. I'm glad we didn't eat anything, because the lip gloss or lip balm or whatever she's wearing tastes sort of like cherries and faintly like the Popsicles she's so fond of, and it grounds me in a way I've been grasping for all day. "I love you," she murmurs, and I say it back before she smiles and pulls her t-shirt over her head.
Okay, I mean, I've seen Bella's tits quite a few times now, but it's never not awesome when a girl whips off her top in front of you. She reaches out and pinches the hem of my t-shirt between her thumb and forefinger, and I take her cue to drag it up and off, and I'll never understand the way Bella looks at me when I'm shirtless. I'm skinny and pale and gangly and basically have the body of a computer nerd from one of the rainiest places in the continental U.S., and yet she looks at me like I have the body of…well, her football-player ex. But I can't worry about it too much because Bella's boobs are almost visible through the thin white cotton of her bra, and I'm trying desperately not to enjoy it so much that this party is over before it starts. And I know that there are about a million different kinds of bras with colors and lace and padding and shit, but there's something about Bella's little scraps of white cotton that make me feel like I did that night when I hammered a Chipwich and two bottles of Dr. Pepper in about twenty minutes: like my spine is humming and something in my head or chest might explode. She's watching me watch her, a small, wry smile tugging at her mouth, and she rises onto her knees again and curls two fingers into the waistband of my jeans. "C'mere," she murmurs and slides the button free. "Okay?" she asks, peering up at me, and I can only nod as she slides the zipper down and pushes the waistband off my hips so that denim pools around my knees. "Sit," she whispers, and I do as instructed, letting her drag my jeans the rest of the way off my legs. As she tosses my pants into the grass, she stands and undoes the button and zipper of her own jeans; when she moves to slide them off her hips, I reach up and grab the waistband, gently drawing them down her legs. When they reach her ankles, she places a hand on my shoulder as I help her step out of them and toss them over to land atop mine. I look up at her, and she's in the foreground with our make-believe galaxy twinkling above her, the silhouette of solid oak branches disappearing into a steadily darkening sky, and she's beautiful beyond measure. And I don't care what happens next, if I last thirty seconds or all night long, I will never, never, for as long as I live, forget this girl in this moment.
And then she takes off her bra, and all I can see is Bella. Bare-chested, bare-stomached, bare-shouldered Bella, standing beneath a September sky in a scrap of white cotton, gazing down at me like I'm worth it. Off her cue, I reach up and slide her white cotton panties down her legs and off her ankles, and she lowers herself to her knees to help me out of my boxers.
I can feel the cool twilight air on every inch of my skin, and I'm so hard that thirty-seven seconds might be a pipe dream. We drag her lavender comforter up and over us, and we're naked in this tiny cocoon that's warm with the body heat we're throwing off. Bella nudges closer, and I can feel the silk-slide of her soft skin against every inch of me, and I've never felt so much of her as I can right now. "Are you sure?" she breathes, and a rough half-laugh bubbles up in my throat.
"Isn't that supposed to be the guy's line?" But it isn't an answer either way, and Bella is a smart girl.
She tilts her head and kisses me, draping her leg over my hips, and she's right there – right there – but I don't have a condom on yet and I don't know how I'd get inside her from this angle and – oh, she's touching me. Whisper-soft strokes up and down, and I push into her hand once, twice before arching my hips away, desperately close to coming already. "Wait," I almost-gasp, and her hand slides to my hip. "Wait," I say again, even though she stopped the first time, and I try to slow my hammering heart, my pounding pulse, my gasping breaths. I swallow, and I can taste her kisses on my tongue, and I feel like I'm drowning in her. Her smell, her taste, her feel, her voice. Bella.
"Hey," she murmurs, and I realize that I've had my eyes closed for a while, my forehead pressed to hers, so I pull back to meet her gaze. Her kiss-pink lips curl into a small smile, and she drags a ghost of a touch up my side and back down to my hip.
"Sorry," I whisper under her concerned gaze and her purple blanket and her makeshift swirl of stars.
"Too much?" she whispers, and I drop my gaze to her mouth as I nod.
"Okay." She cranes her neck to kiss me, gentle and sweet, before pulling back. "Want to get one?"
I'm opening my mouth to say, "One what?" when my brain starts working again, and I remember the strip of condoms in the front zipper of my backpack. "Yeah," I breathe, kissing her once more before rolling away, onto my other side and reaching for my bag. The blankets shift and suddenly Bella is pressed up against my back, her hands roaming all over my chest and her tiny chin pressing into my shoulder as she watches my hands. She presses tiny kisses to my shoulder blade as I rip one of the foil packets off and search for the spot to open it; as I tear the wrapper and pull it out, her chin returns to my shoulder, and I realize that she's going to watch me put it on. Willing my hands not to shake, I sheathe myself and turn; she returns to her pillow, sliding back down and smiling up at me.
I've seen Bella naked a number of times now, but I've never seen her on her back beneath me, bare and legs spread and waiting, and I feel as though I'm melting into a puddle of want and need and love and desperation as I lower myself into the cradle of her hips. My hands are pressing into the blanket on either side of her head, and I'm just about to move one down to guide myself when I feel her hand wrap around me and – oh, God – she's pulling me to the heart of her.
Then I'm pushing in, and she's warm and soft and wet and perfect and hot and beautiful and everything and…oh, shit. "Bella," I gasp out as my body tenses, hips flush against hers, and she runs her hands over my spine, and I pull and push and feel like she's touching me everywhere.
"It's okay," she breathes, and I'm coming, and nothing else matters.
Bella sits up and reaches up to the edge of the blanket, retrieving the damp hand towel from the bag on the grass, and as she pulls it out and hands it to me, I'm struck by the most embarrassing of realizations: the washcloth is still warm. It didn't even have time to get cold, which I should be thankful for, since I'm using it to clean the most sensitive part of me, but I'm too ashamed to feel anything but humiliated. I didn't last thirty-seven seconds at all; I barely lasted seven. "I'm sorry," I say as I sit up, too mortified to meet her eye, balling the cloth up when I'm done with it and dropping it into the grass. "Jesus, Bella, I'm sorry."
"Hey," she says, voice sharp, and I look up. "Don't."
"But that was—"
"Perfect," she cuts me off, scooting into my side and pressing kisses all over my face. "That was perfect." She pulls away, insecurity pulling her beautiful face into a frown. "Was it…okay for you, though?"
I bark out a sardonic laugh. "Seriously? I lasted all of…what, five seconds? I think it's clear it was more than okay for me."
"It was more than okay for me, too," she whispers, burying her face in the curve of my neck, pressing a soft, open-mouthed kiss to the dip of my clavicle.
"Don't, Edward. Please. Don't ruin it." I open my mouth to argue – that I already ruined it, that it was a disaster, that I promise it'll be better next time – but I'm afraid of doing exactly what she just said, so I close it again. "I love you so much," she says into my skin, and a small shiver works its way up my spine.
"God, I love you, too," I whisper, closing my eyes to the feel of her kiss.
"Thank you," she breathes, and my eyes open, gazing unseeingly at the back of her house.
"For…doing that with me. For letting me be the one."
"You've always been the one," I murmur, and the truth of those words settles in my chest, heavy and featherlight at the same time. She pulls back to look at me, and I can see it in her face: she wishes she could say the same, but we both know that there were years in there where it just wasn't true.
"You'll always be the one," she replies softly, and in an instant I learn what she's inadvertently teaching me: that a promise of a future is such a better gift that a history of a past. I wrap my arm around her waist, my fingertips finding her bare hip, and pull her even tighter into my side. We lie back against the pillows, gazing up at Bella's tiny galaxy, and while my heart was pounding just moments ago, now it beats slow and steady but full to bursting.
"That sort of looks like Reticulum," I say, pointing to a small trapezoidal cluster of light-stars near the point where the branch meets the trunk of the tree.
"Really?" she asks, squinting to where I'm indicating.
"Yeah. See the sort of diamond-like shape?"
I nod against her soft pillow. "But it's best visible in the January sky."
"Hm." We're quiet for a few minutes, me trying to see if there are any other constellation-like patterns in Bella's string of stars and Bella thinking the God-knows-what that girls think about after truly mediocre virginity-losing sex. "You know, if I put the winter sky on my bedroom ceiling, then we could see whatever constellation we wanted to whenever we wanted it."
There are so many unspoken implications in that sentence that I can't pick my favorite: that she likes my geektastic bedroom décor, that there are endless nights in each other's beds stretching out ahead of us. That she's willing to be the half of the sky I can't see, the winter stars to my summer. I want to say a million things that a seventeen-year-old high school senior has no business saying – Marry me, Don't ever leave me, Be mine forever – but I manage to hold my tongue. I can understand, suddenly, how a guy might blurt out an "I love you" in the immediate aftermath of good sex. "That'd be cool," I say instead, and Bella presses herself tighter against my side.
"What's your favorite?" she asks, tracing indistinct patterns on the bare skin of my stomach that could be a whole new map of constellations in its own right.
"In the summer sky?" I ask, and I feel her shrug against my ribs.
"Aquila," I say immediately.
"Isn't that one that you have on your ceiling?"
She scrunches up her adorable, barely-freckled nose. "The eagle?"
I'm impressed that she remembers. "Yeah."
I blow out a breath, knowing that despite being naked, I'm about to bare another piece of me, and not just my considerable geekiness. "Come here," I say, nudging her to sitting and wrapping us both in her purple comforter; we stand and shuffle-walk to the edge of the blanket so that we can see the canopy of stars twinkling down at us from the just-about-dark sky. It's barely visible this early, but it's there. I point, and she follows my finger before nodding. "Aquila actually contains two major novae – what the ancients called 'new stars,'" I say. "But really, a nova isn't a new star at all. It's actually a really old one that suddenly becomes bright again." Through the warm skin of her back, I can feel her heart thumping faintly, and I have no doubt she can feel mine thrumming against her spine. "It's like it regains the brilliance of its youth."
She's quiet for a few minutes, staring up at the starry firmament, and I can just see the tips of her dark eyelashes, the slope of her nose. "That's my new favorite," she whispers finally, turning and wrapping her arms around my waist inside our warm cocoon. I bring my hand not holding the blanket closed up the line of her spine, dragging my fingernails gently across the soft planes of her skin.
"It's mine, too," I murmur, staring at the constellation and all of the comparatively dull stars around it.
Suddenly, Bella tilts her head back and props her chin on my chest. "You didn't tell me that story when I asked about the stars on your ceiling," she says, brown eyes glowing soft in the moonlight.
"No," I say, still peering at the heavens, and glow-in-the-dark plastic is a pretty sad substitute.
"I'm not going anywhere, Edward." Her voice is so, so soft, and when I look at her, she looks hopeful and wistful and earnest.
"I know," I say, and I do. I finally, wholly, do.
I feel her skin pebble beneath my fingertips as the faintest of shivers tremble through her small frame, and I press a kiss to the top of her head. "Getting cold?"
"A little, but I really don't want to go in."
I know what she means, but there's a definite bite in the air and my toes are starting to get cold. And I've been imagining sleeping – actually sleeping – with her for weeks. Curling my body around hers, breathing in the soft-sweet smell of her hair all night, seeing what she looks like in the morning: if her hair gets even crazier and if she gets pillow-creases in her cheeks. Plus, I'm starting to get hungry. "What's in the picnic basket?"
And, despite everything, now she blushes. "Strawberries and Ritz crackers." I crack up and she nudges me with her elbow. "Shut up. I told you this was sort of a last-minute idea; I had to raid the fridge, and unless you wanted half a salami or a jar of mustard, strawberries were as good as it was going to get."
I'm still chuckling. "And the crackers?"
She shrugs. "The only thing in the pantry that wasn't already open and therefore possibly stale." I'm still laughing as I press a kiss to her mouth.
Once we're back in our clothes, I unwind the string of lights from the tree branch and drop them into the basket. Bella grabs it and I shrug into my backpack before bundling up the pillows and blankets in my arms. "I can help with that, you know," she says, laughing as I nearly trip over one of the corners of her purple comforter that's dragging on the ground.
"Just…don't let me trip up the stairs," I say, voice muffled by her bedclothes.
She leads me across the yard, up the stairs, and into the house, and I carry her bedding upstairs and into her room, dumping it all in a heap atop her mattress. "Yeah, um, I should probably remake my bed," she says from behind me. "Charlie would probably wonder why all my blankets were off, otherwise."
"Okay," I say, helping her put her bed to rights, and just as she's smoothing over her quilt, I reflexively glance up at her ceiling. There, directly above her pillows, is a single star. Not a glow-in-the-dark one, but one of those little silver metallic star stickers that teachers used to put on our worksheets back in elementary school. "What's that?" I ask, and when she follows my gaze, she blushes.
"Just…a placeholder." She's still smoothing her bedding, even though all of the wrinkles are gone.
Finally, she straightens. "If I put the winter sky up there, that's where I want Polaris."
Bella's not much for astronomy outside of our ruminations over my bedroom décor, and I can feel the surprise in my expression when I look at her. "Why Polaris?"
"It's a navigational star," she says softly. "And it never goes away. Summer, winter, it's always there." I nod as I glance back up, thinking that, if I somehow get to keep Bella forever, I'll tattoo that star right in the middle of my chest, right over my heart, so that she always knows where she belongs. I'm still staring up at that tiny flash of silver when she rounds the bed and presses a kiss to my throat.
This time, I do what I'm supposed to: I kiss her everywhere, touch her everywhere, feather-soft and vise-tight, until she's splintering and shattering and curling up into me, gasping and loose-limbed and breathless. And when I slide into her, it's still warm and wet and hot and everything else it was before, and it's still-new and not-new at the same time, and I last just long enough to feel at least a little bit redeemed before I pour everything I am, everything I have, into her. And it's perfect and awesome and beautiful and every other adjective I wouldn't necessarily say aloud.
As embarrassing as it was, as hair-trigger as it was, nothing will ever compare to that first time, those seven seconds beneath a September sky and a canopy of oak branches and Bella's handful of stars that she strung up just for me.