RENDERED - CHAPTER SEVEN
BIRTHDAY


My fingers traced the outline of one of the many unicorn stickers that now adorned my flask and tried to smooth down the corner of one that refused to stay flat. The sticker was stubborn and refused to stick to the slick metal surface despite all my efforts. I narrowed my eyes at the offending sticker – a gallant, white stallion with pink and blue highlights in his flowing, holographic finish mane – and decided to name him Steve. Steve was clearly a trouble maker. After a few more moments of this, I gave up and tucked the flask back into my purse. Well, Alice's purse that I'd borrowed for the night. It was unseasonably warm and humid for September in Washington and even I'd had to admit it was too warm for a jacket. I needed some sort of bag to hold the items I'd usually cram into my coat pockets and Alice wouldn't let me show up with my school bag.

The party – my party – raged around me as people danced, drank, and escaped the blandness of reality for a few hours, but my mind was distracted. I adjusted the straps on my dress and pulled at the hem, trying to make it longer without much success. I'd originally planned to wear a tank top and jeans, but Alice had insisted that I wear her new floral silk slip dress. She said the sensuous fabric and delicate cut would make me look curvy and feminine, enhancing all my girlish charms, but I thought it emphasized how unwomanly and childish my body was. At least my hair looked good. I'd twisted it into a messy bun and let various tendrils escape to soften the look.

"Why aren't you dancing?" Jasper asked, coming to lean against the wall beside me. He was breathing heavy and his face was dewy from the humidity and heat of bodies crushed together on the dance floor. "You love this song."

"Yeah, I do," I said. I hadn't paid any attention to the music. It was just a constant drone in the background that my thoughts had to battle with to be heard.

He scrubbed a hand through his tousled hair and scanned the room. "Who are you looking for?"

"No one." I said aloud. Edward, I thought to myself. I don't know why I'd hoped to see him. Emmett and his buddy, Garrett, were watching the door and they wouldn't let in a complete stranger to my party. Not when my friends had scraped together the cash to actually rent out the Warehouse for the night.

"Whatever," Jasper said, chuckling as he pushed off from the wall. He turned to face me and backed his way toward the danced floor. "You scan the room looking hopeful and then end up looking depressed when you don't find it. If you want to keep it to yourself, go ahead, but don't let Alice find out."

I nodded and waved him away. He rejoined crush of bodies without another glance and I took his advice seriously. Alice would want to know what I was waiting for and wouldn't accept any half-assed lies. I joined the crowd and danced until I forgot everything but the rhythm, until my effort beaded on my skin and stuck tendrils of hair to my face.

At some point, I opened my eyes and took in my surroundings. Faces surrounded me that I didn't know and disembodied hands pushed closer and caressed things I'd rather keep to myself. I pushed through limbs and torsos, forcing my way toward the exit and the air it offered. The mystery of the unknown people crashing my party became clear when I discovered that both Emmett and Garrett had begged off their duties and left the door unattended, but I no longer cared. I just needed to get outside.

The gravel lot outside the Warehouse was speckled with puddles from a recently ceased downpour and the scent of damp earth lingered heavy in the cool air. I was pleased with my decision to wear my favourite moto boots instead of the strappy sandals Alice had suggested. With a sigh of relief, I leaned my back against the chilled cement of the wall and welcomed the way it soothed the burning in my veins.

"Hey, Arizona," a low voice called from the darkness. "I was hoping you'd come out here."

I felt my lips give way to a smile despite my attempts to remain calm and unaffected, and I stepped cautiously into the dark, squinting to see Edward in the shadows. It was nearly impossible to find him, dressed completely in black like he was, but his metallic piercings gave him away with traitorous glints of reflected light.

I hadn't seen him since Wednesday when we'd escaped to his house and he'd thanked me for not asking him about the rumors. It was a clever move on his part because now I couldn't ask him without looking meddlesome and contradictory. I'd been hoping for a kiss, but all I'd gotten was a glimpse into what nearly kissing him might look like before he pulled away leaving me so unsatisfied. He'd ushered me out of his house soon afterward, reminding me that I was supposed to be at home, sick, and should probably go there in case someone came to check up on me.

He hadn't shown up at school Thursday or Friday. The effect was no less than adding gasoline to the fire as the rumors surrounding Edward raged through the halls like an inferno. My stomach was twisted into knots, churning at the horrible things people were saying about him. Guilt sat heavily in my gut because I couldn't completely push the whispered horrors from my mind, a small voice constantly nagging at me, 'what if it's true'?

But here and now – here where he was flesh and blood before me, the steady sound of his breath gentle in the silent night – here I couldn't believe that he would be capable of any of the scandals plaguing him.

I allowed Edward to take my hand and pull me around to the darkest corner of the building, far from prying eyes. It should have occurred to me that I was potentially putting myself in danger, but in all honest truth I was excited to go somewhere dark and private with Edward.

When he finally stopped, I expected him to drop my hand, but instead he kept our fingers intertwined. With his free hand, he reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone. Within seconds, a small blue light flared.

"There you are," he said, a hint of a smile on his lips. I giggled at his flashlight app, and pushed it away.

"Someone will see," I warned.

He rolled his eyes and tucked the phone back into his pocket. "Sorry."

"What are you doing here?" I asked, wincing as I realized how rude I sounded. "I mean, outside. You could have come inside."

"Or not at all," Edward said, his voice completely even and devoid of tell tale emotion.

"I didn't mean that. It's just," I hesitated as I tried to find the right words. "You haven't been at school for the past few days. You don't know what they're saying about you."

"I know exactly what they're saying about me," Edward said. His words seemed to have a poison-tipped edge to them but it could have just been my imagination. "Rosalie still goes to school and she hears everything. She doesn't tell me but I heard her talking to Carlisle and Esme about it."

There was a beat of silence.

"My parents," Edward clarified. "Really, I'm not surprised. Nobody has said anything here I haven't heard at any other school I've been to. It just travelled a lot faster. Life in a bubble."

"Small town," I said, my voice glum. "Maybe you should have stayed in the cities where you're more anonymous."

"No one involved in a murder trial is anonymous," Edward pointed out. He tried to keep his tone light but his voice hitched on the word 'murder' like it pained him to choke it out.

I kept silent waiting for an explanation.

"It's not like they say," Edward clarified. "Listen, I don't want to get into it now. Just know that I would never, ever, hurt you, Bella. I wouldn't even hurt those assholes who are spreading all this shit about me."

I felt my world fall out of focus for a minute before racing back, crystal clear. His words rang with truth and a faint plea to believe him. In response I tightened my grip on his hand. I wouldn't abandon him, even if I had to pretend I didn't know him during the day. I couldn't get the notion that Edward was innocent out of my head.

"Okay."

Edward exhaled heavily, like he'd been holding his breath this whole time. Maybe he had.

A gust of wind rushed through and I shivered, aware of how much the temperature had dropped at night. My dance heated skin was left chilled and exposed to the cool night and I shivered. Edward must have picked up my shiver from a tremble that raced through me to my hand because he began to lead us back to where the cars were parked.

"Did you drive here?"

"No," I said, shaking my head. "I came with Alice in Jasper's car."

"Want to get out of here? Or do you have a curfew or something?"

I debated my next words with care. "I was supposed to sleep over at Alice's so I'm not expected to be home tonight."

There were several meanings that could be gleaned from my words. It was clear when Edward realized what I was really saying. His steady steps toward his car hesitated for an instant before he continued forward infinitesimally faster than he'd been walking before.

We climbed into his car and I texted Alice to let her know I'd gotten a ride and would see her later tomorrow, sending a silent prayer that she would be too drunk and swept up in Jasper to be too inquisitive into my whereabouts or call my house in the morning before I got home.

I looked to Edward expectantly and noticed his adam's apple bob as he swallowed hard.

"My house?" He asked.

"Won't your parents mind?"

He checked the clock on the dash when he started the car and shrugged. "They'll be asleep. They don't mind what I do at home anyway, as long as there isn't anything illegal happening. They're just happy I'm doing it in the safety of the house than out on the streets."

"Oh, the benefits of being a delinquent," I joked, my nerves at making a remark about his past eased as he laughed in earnest. I couldn't help but laugh with him, his smile so bewitching and his laugh infectious.

"They are few and far between," he admitted, "so I'll take the ones I've got."

We drove in silence to his house, but it was companionable rather than awkward. A nervous excitement buzzed through the car, an electric current powered by the hopes, desires, and fears that ran between us like a live wire. I wasn't sure what I wanted from this, but I knew that I wanted to be near Edward.

I could see his house was mostly dark as we emerged from his long drive into the secluded property. A single light was on, shining out over the lush foliage of the encroaching forest.

"Rosalie," Edward said. There was a breathless quality to his voice that sent a thrill through me. It's like we were running, racing for something just out of reach.

I kept my eyes on the lit window as we walked to the front door, but I didn't see any sign that Rosalie was looking out.

Edward held the door open for me and we let ourselves in, careful not to make a noise in the darkened entryway. I had to force myself not to tiptoe and followed Edward up the stairs and into his room. My relief at dodging Rosalie's awareness from the window was immediately crushed when we bumped into her at the top of the stairs.

Even in red flannel pyjamas, no makeup, and her cornsilk hair tied back in a messy ponytail, she was stunning. She raised a delicately arched eyebrow at Edward and stood in the center of the hall, her arms folded across her chest. She looked highly amused as I realized I was gaping at her and forced myself to close my mouth.

"Who's your friend, Edward?" She asked, smiling politely. I didn't trust that smile. It was predatory. I couldn't tell if her shark's grin was hungry for Edward or me.

"This is Bella," he said. His voice was cautious and I had the feeling they were both weighing the situation. "Bella, my sister, Rosalie."

"We've met," Rosalie said, her grin widening. "Briefly. You're one of Emmy's little friends."

"Emmy?" I said, holding back a laugh.

She either didn't hear me or chose to ignore me as she zeroed in on her brother. "Be careful, Edward. Things are already bad at school." Her eyes flicked briefly to me and then back to him. "You don't want to fuck things up at home too."

"I won't," Edward answered her, his voice solemn.

Rosalie shook her head and turned to walk down the hall toward what I was assuming was her bedroom muttering something about giving Esme a heart attack.

Edward said nothing and I followed him into his room, but the urgency was gone. Rosalie's presence and warning had done the trick and sobered us to the reality our raging hormones had decided to overlook. With the change in circumstances from earlier in the week, the feeling of Edward' room had shifted.

The lush black sofa on one end of the room look like an invitation to sultry touches and heated kisses, and the bed on the other end... The bed was a lit match held to a stack of dynamite.

I kicked off my boots and sat down on the couch, deciding heat was preferable to dynamite. I could see the situation work itself out in Edward's mind as his eyes flickered between the couch and the bed.

"I don't bite," I said, patting the couch beside me.

The look on his face was dangerous as he sat down. It was the look of a parched man lost in the desert who had stumbled upon an oasis and he wanted nothing more than a cool drink, as though his life depended on it.

We moved together, knowing instinctively what to do, meeting bodies and mouths, and pulses. His lips were gentle at first, placing delicate explorative kisses along my cheeks and my jaws, but their hunger couldn't be denied as his lips met with mine.

Fingers tangled in hair, tilted chins, grazed the scandalous bits of skin that peeked tantalizing from beneath t-shirts and rising hemlines. Our tongues touched, tasting the eagerness and need that we felt equally.

My head had been crystal clear all night, I hadn't touched a drop from my flask, but my world felt fogged now as I lost myself to Edward's touch. Need burned through my veins, striking hotter as he surged forward, pushing me gently back onto the couch and pulsing stronger with each motion of his body against mine as we struggled for the maddening friction we both craved.

I pulled away only long enough to look into his eyes. His pupils were large, making his eyes nearly black with desire and want, his lids heavy and hooded as he focused his gaze on my lips. I knew mine were as irresistibly bee-stung and bruised as his and in that moment, being apart became unbearable.

I wrapped my arms around his neck and pulled him back to me.

We spoke only in gasps, and moans, and murmurs of pleasure as we kissed and touched and explored. I don't know how we kept our heads enough to keep our underwear on, our retreats as we reached our barriers less resolved each time, but we remained somewhat clothed, if not decent.

At some point we ended up tangled in the soft, warm flannel of his sheets. My fingers had been dancing around the elastic of his boxers but he pulled my hands up, placing them flat against his chest so I could feel how his heart pounded in the cage of his chest like a frightened bird. Mine raced along with his and my breath was as laboured and uneven as his.

I smiled at his peaceful gaze as we struggled and lost the battle as sleep gathered hold of our exhausted bodies.

The last thing I remembered before falling deep into the oblivion of dreams was Edward's gentle sigh that sounded a lot like 'happy birthday, Bella'.


A/N: Thanks for reading.