Fanfiction Based On Characters From Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight Series Rated M for Mature

A Little Crazy
By tby789 & LolaShoes

Summary: Edward is the new, mysterious tenant across the street. Bella has spent her whole life here. Can he convince her that life isn't a place, but what you keep with you?

~*~
Chapter One
June 3rd He moved in quietly in the middle of the night. A large truck sat at the dark curb and three men shuffled boxes and a few pieces of furniture inside. I watched from my living room, awake as usual. The truck pulled away with a deep shudder and the street fell silent again. ~*~

June 4th Parents ushered their kids into cars, and husbands kissed wives goodbye at the doorway. I sat on my stoop watching the house across the street. Dusty blue paint curled at the window sills, and the grass had overgrown since the previous tenants – a young, scruffy couple – had moved away. The house had been silent since the last box was unloaded, and the door shut behind whispers of thanks. I waited to see him again, wondering if he was the one who stayed, or if he was one of the two who left in the truck. The house was never rented for long. Three months, six months. Once it had been rented for almost a year. The neighborhood had grown tired of the revolving door of tenants and had learned to ignore the quiet house. Kids passed it over at Halloween, neighbors borrowed sugar two doors down instead, and Fourth of July parades never lingered in that yard. But I always noticed the house. I noticed the transient tenants. The neighborhood's general disregard to the permanence of the house made me feel protective, defensive. I felt the house deserved better. I always made a pie for new tenants, in hopes it would convey to them that it mattered to me they were here, that someone cared about the house. ~*~ June 7th The asphalt was melting in the heat and the air was distorted close to the ground. I parked and began unloading my groceries when I noticed him deep in his driveway, washing a car I had never seen before. It was a late 80's Volvo station wagon: rust colored and dusty. He was beautiful and shirtless, his arms covered in blues, reds, and yellows. His hair was damp from sweat and his shorts were drenched with water from the bucket on the ground. I let my eyes linger on his arms, on the stories they told above the rippling muscles of his forearms and the taut lines of his biceps. His back was bare but for words in black along his lower spine. He stood and stretched, turning to crack his back. Our eyes met and lingered. "Hi," his lips said in a smile. "Um," I mumbled, before turning and walking into the house with my bags. ~*~ June 8th His pie had crust latticed over apricots, blueberries, and scattered purple plums. Colorful and beautiful. I hoped he wouldn't notice, and I hoped he would. I carried it over, hopping barefoot over the hot street, balancing the pie. I reached the door and knocked once on the familiar wood.

Footsteps slapped along the hardwood and his auburn hair appeared in the row of windows before his eyes peeked over and then disappeared. Moments of silence passed and I feared he could hear my heart beating. I also feared he had walked away. The knob turned and he appeared in front of me. Clean but scruffy, beautiful but unfortunately clothed. His ears were stretched with small black bands, his eyebrow was decorated with a small ring, and he had a silver vertical labret in his lower lip. "Hi," I smiled. "I brought you a pie." His eyes broke from my gaze abruptly and looked down at my hands. "For me?" he asked, grinning. I nodded, looking at the blue and red ink spanning his neck. "It's what I do whenever someone moves into this house." His face registered this, and what looked like disappointment and excitement mixed over his features. His lips pressed together in recognition that other lips had tasted pies that I made just for them. His eyes shone when he guessed that I had only ever blended color like this for him. "I went a little crazy with yours," I confirmed, nodding to the pie. I bounced on my toes on the hot porch. He took the pie and lifted the corner of his lip as he smiled. "I like a little crazy." I laughed and turned to leave, waving at him quickly. "Bye colorful neighbor guy." "Bye a-little-crazy neighbor girl," he murmured. I felt his gaze on me the entire way back across the street. ~*~ June 9th His light was on when I woke at 2am, hot and unable to find comfort in the big house. I sat on my porch swing, sipping water, imagining him eating my pie in the middle of the night. ~*~ I climbed out of bed and pulled a t-shirt over my head, padding to the door to fetch the paper. On top of the Times was a small piece of white paper, folded in fourths. I bent over to retrieve it and smiled. A drawing of a stick figure, smiling and holding its belly, was scribbled on the paper. I laughed, walking back inside. The rest of the day my thoughts lingered on the man across the street as I worked in my office. The slightest sound from outside would send me needlessly into the kitchen to peer out the window. From there, if I bent ever so slightly, I had the perfect view of his little blue house. My eyes scanned the yard in search of the sound, ready to be disappointed again, when movement near the fence caught my eye.

I felt inexplicably comfortable and known.He walked around the tall oak in front. I had prepared two pans and was in the process of crossing the street to place one on his porch. Before I could second-guess my actions. and was greeted by his smile and wave when I lifted my gaze back to his. I looked down momentarily. My breath caught as I noticed that he was once again shirtless. I quickly returned his wave and turned back to the house. I glanced up then. pausing with a smile as the lawn mower started across the street. The paper displayed a simple sketch of two stick figures eating together. The grass was now short and covered in a criss-cross pattern. quickly scurrying back to my house. gorgeous and grinning. I put the dish down and turned. I bent to retrieve it and laughed out loud. a tool box in hand and stopped at one of the smaller front windows. balancing the hot pan in my arms. My clean dish held another folded piece of white stationary. I was surprised by the noticeable difference in the old blue house. The sound of bare feet padding to the door spiked my nerves and I took a stumbling step backwards as the door flung open and he stood before me. I sighed and looked at the clock. ~*~ I wasn't quite sure what I was getting into. I secured the foil over the glass dish and stepped out into the waning sun. trying to make out the colored markings that began along his ribs and disappeared below the waistband of his shorts. and yet in the few minutes we had spent together. "Come on in. completely unaware of my wide-eyed spying. He was so different than anyone I'd ever known before. blushing. saved from the twisted mass of overgrown weeds caught my eye as I passed. I stepped out onto the porch to retrieve the paper. An hour later I had a piping hot pan of lasagna in my oven mit-covered hands. My jaw dropped. once again surprised to find something there waiting for me. my hand moving to cover my mouth as the sound echoed in the quiet morning. Gone were the waist high weeds that spiraled around the weathered mailbox and the long overgrown lawn that I used to watch sway in the breeze from the window seat in my bedroom. The flower beds were now bare but weedless and the once desolate looking windows were liberated from their broken blinds. A lone purple flower. already planning our dinner. The next morning. I watched as he bent down and focused on his task. The muscles of his back flexed and twisted as he finally forced the old window open. a little-crazy neighbor girl. meeting his wide smile from the front window. How was it possible that I had spent an entire day thinking of a man I didn't even know? I opened the refrigerator and began mechanically removing items to make dinner. The air was thick and cooler now. My eyes were drawn down his torso as he moved to the next window. unusual and truly beautiful. Strong. ripe with the smell of freshly cut grass and family barbeques." He made a . proudly streak-free and framed by the freshly-sanded blue paint. My body moved without any voluntary action from my brain. My knock on the door sounded louder than usual even though my arm felt weak with anticipation. Silence greeted me as I hopped up the warm sidewalk. and it occured to me what I was doing. It struck me how that defiant little flower seemed to belong. The sound of children playing bounced off the hot pavement. Without realizing it. Reluctantly pushing away from the counter.

"Wow. but he didn't sound American. I hope it's not too loud for the neighbors. "is a nagado-daiko. Some were covered in hide. "These are both taiko." I handed the bag to him and wandered into the dining room. Most of the floor was covered with drums. "Yep. you can find them almost anywhere now. others in fibers." I laughed nervously. I never know the rules." he ran his hand over the longer of the two. and most of them I haven't seen in over three years. thinking." "You've been to Africa?" I asked. "And I am an Edward. "That one is a Djembe." I smiled. waving me inside. letting my fingers run over the different shapes of wood. He had started to unpack and the house looked like mayhem. If I had to guess. a small coffee table. Japan?" I smiled.. returning my smile and pursing his lips slightly. strings." I walked to a pair of large drums shaped almost like wine barrels. let me get that. not sure why I was so surprised." he said. I didn't mean to open the door so suddenly after your knock." I bit my lip and groaned inwardly at the obvious observation. "Well. They're used in all sorts of music. The other one is a sanchou shime-daiko. a couch in the living room. "Yes. "Give a girl at least the customary ten seconds. A colorful. He didn't have an obvious accent. Scores and scores of drums. He came back from the kitchen and watched me pick up a goblet-shaped drum and run my fingers over the stitching. reaching for the bag of food I carried. "What are these?" He swallowed and followed me. and metal. Japan." I murmured. swallowing a large sip and begging my body to relax. "You have a lot of drums." he laughed. and then shivered into the present moment. "From the United States?" I asked." he said. shaking his head." His eyes were relaxed and familiar and I found it hard to break my gaze from his. I have missed these. running his hand over the taut drum head.. either. and a few crates of books. I would say he had been lots of places. but man. "Oh damn! Are you okay? Did I scare you?" "No." He looked wistfully at a line of tall narrow drums against a wall in what used to be the dining room. "Exactly. He nodded into his own wine glass. neighbor Edward. "This is where I always mess up." "Let me guess. all smooth edges and soft vowels. gourds. and keys. "Well. Some had bells. This one.broad sweeping gesture with his hand before he noticed that I had stumbled. His words almost had a faint lilt." "See?" He grinned. . There was little furniture. "Where is it from?" I put the drum down next to its twin and took the glass. He scratched the back of his head. "Here. "I do. But I got these in Africa. walking towards me and offering me a glass of wine." I looked around and lost track of what I was going to say in response.

He took our plates and walked to the living room putting the food on the coffee table. The first story Edward ever told me was of his trip to Ghana when he was twenty and traveling with an African music ensemble from college. This would appear to be a win-win partnership." His vague answers didn't beg more questions. but I am useless in the kitchen." I looked over my shoulder at him." "And drumming all over the world. "Is this okay? I don't really have much furniture. interrupting my hunt for utensils." "Hm. almost choking on a sip of wine. You can't have obtained that many drums without getting a few stories in the process. I could probably burn water. "Do I get to hear your name? I'm happy to keep calling you a-little-crazy neighbor girl if you like. "Story. I had planned a no-cook meal of chicken salad sandwiches and cucumber salad. but when I thought about them. easy laughter. they didn't seem to give me much information. "Should I get dinner ready?" He froze and my heart flipped uncomfortably. "You can tell me a story. not bothering to research clothing customs in the region. relieved. putting the food on paper plates I had packed. "Bella. I take it. our dinners began." He nodded. We finished our three-walled circuit and I looked at the door to the kitchen. "I'd love to make you dinner in theory. Quietly." he murmured. that's true. Having no idea what kind of kitchen equipment I could expect. "I suppose I would."Hm. "Story?" He scratched his cheek absently and my eyes were drawn to his labret below his full lip. and laughed. relieved. "If you could do that. "I try." I nodded. wincing. blushing. talking about his drums." I laughed. He leaned forward and gave me a playfully stern look." I grinned. I'm sorry I haven't really unpacked much kitchen stuff yet. comfortably. his host . "It would indeed." he shrugged. I am a Bella. sometimes raised here. "Born abroad. you'd be a scientific genius. Is there anything I can do to help?" "There isn't much to do. I invited you over and didn't even think to cook for you. his quiet. chuckling. When he arrived with his suitcase full of shorts." I laughed. He'd gone shopping with his best friend for some light-weight clothing. He seemed to be thrilled that I was so interested and I couldn't get enough of his voice. I suppose." ~*~ We made our way around the dining room. and with our eyes on each other nearly constantly." He nodded. flopping down across from him and looking at him expectantly. Had I misunderstood his drawing? "Oh my God. And with that. and his infectious enthusiasm." I went into the kitchen and began unloading the food. though." he sighed." "It's fine." I assured him. either. He watched me looking at him and smiled. He sat down on the floor and looked up at me. Crazy Neighbor Girl. "I love to cook and rarely get to do it anymore.

~*~ June 13th "So how do you fill your days." I finished my sandwich and leaned back on the heels of my hands." I felt his hand gently grip my arm as I grabbed my bag. even if I came back when I was fifty. My body suddenly felt leaden. "Have you been back?" "Not to Ghana. "If you like. "I do. thinking. "Seven?" "Seven. scooping up the last bit of gazpacho with a chunk of bread. but charged by the way he was looking at me. you'll probably be pretty wiped." He looked past me. defensively." . drums in their laps as they taught Edward how to play the instruments of the region. exactly like this. The people who live here are always so nice and no one notices the tenants because they aren't in the PTA or coaching the kids' teams. looking away." "You are?" I said. Bella?" he asked. "Thanks for dinner." I nodded. I could bring dinner tomorrow." "Me too. "I'm going to start painting the house. I have a busy day tomorrow. far away for a moment." I grinned at that." he laughed. I started to stand." he said. You're welcome over any night. putting the leftovers in his fridge even though he protested." I looked out the kitchen window." He laughed. "You really love this house. "It's really for the house's sake that I'm leaving you food. I felt calmed by the wine. "That suited me just fine. well in that case." I laughed and nodded. I was bringing nothing but shorts. I mean.family teased him that he would be shunned from the mens' table and should sit with the boys. I told my host Father that next time. He eyed me carefully. I can't refuse. "Besides feeding hungry men that is. winking. "I imagine you've picked up a lot of great music there.. and then his eyes met mine." "I'd love that." he groaned. but I could tell he wanted me to explain. "I think this house needs a guardian like you." "Ah.. I know how attached you two are to each other." I said. "But I've been back to Africa several times. "It's a great house. "I should probably get home. as if I was having one of those moments that I would remember for the rest of my life." I insisted. letting his hand slowly drop from my arm." It wasn't a question. pouring us both some more wine." he murmured. Bella. easily picturing him sitting on a stoop with some boys. excited. "I sat with the boys and learned more drumming from them in four hours than anyone else learned in the entire trip. "You're going to need food when you're painting tomorrow. shaking his head.

If there is a humanitarian crisis in Thailand. "You're a doctor?" I gaped. "What?" I asked." "Why do you do that? I asked. I go where I'm needed. His smile broadened." Aware of my stunned silence. "Okay. I couldn't keep from smiling. motioning to his drums. "In this town. After the Wenchuan earthquake in China I went to China for several months. He nodded. I go to Thailand. I go to Africa. a hint of a smirk pulling at the corner of his lips. "I'll answer any question. "I write. realizing how incredibly ordinary that sounded." I said. his gaze meeting mine. drawing the word out and attempting to keep the slight tremor from my voice." I swirled my spoon in my soup and shrugged. a little-crazy neighbor girl?" he teased. he regarded me for a moment before running a hand through his hair.. "And I'm a doctor. three years." he stated simply. lowering his chin to meet my eyes." I began.wouldn't you need to be in one place?" "Well." He paused.I smiled." His eyebrows rose. "I travel a lot. placing his napkin on the table before leaning back on his hands. "What do you do?" "I help people. Across the street. his fingers reaching out to brush a stray piece of hair from my eyes. "You just have to ask. "How long have you lived here?" he asked. "Sometimes. he leaned forward again. And whenever I can. Because there is more work there for me than I can possible handle. "I work. propping his arms on his knees. "Do you do anything in particular?" Sitting back. "How is that possible? I mean. confusion evident in my expression. and I never feel finished. his arms folded on the table. watching him through narrowed eyes.." I felt my pulse quicken at his proximity and took a deep breath to steady myself. . "Do what?" "Never really answer anything?" He leaned towards me. confused by his expression. appearing to wait for me to speak. as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. "Do you do anything in particular. I shook my head distractedly. my whole life." he started." he said softly. I garden…I watch cooking shows. his soft eyes full of genuine interest. resting my spoon across my plate. He wiped his mouth. "By playing the drums?" I asked.

?" He leaned in towards me." "Spicy. you grew apart. putting a plate in front of him. "But watch out: I put habaneros in the simmering sauce. looking at the ceiling. I suppose. leaning over to inhale deeply. First love isn't always best love. I've never ventured beyond it." I shrugged and sat down across from him on the floor." "I never get to cook like this anymore." His head shot up and our eyes met. He grinned and then pursed his lips as he watched me. He winced at me and smiled. lush trees and thick vines. From what I'd seen. Not shapes or drawings from a book." he said with a silly accent and grinned. We weren't a good fit. He liked predictable sex." I watched him ."That's just.." he said. "I guess I never thought about it that way." he trailed off and shrugged. were just not right for each other after all or. "My boyfriend and I bought the house together. remembering. Scenes of mountains and rivers. "Have you ever had a roommate?" he asked. To me. running his hand through his hair and leaning his elbow on the low table. my world has consisted of what I've known . "He moved out a few months ago. "We met in college. I put my glass down and smiled back. but his memories." "Maybe you just haven't found what you want to keep with you. "I'm not.this town. "He liked going to the bar and playing darts every Friday. I…" he looked around the house as if to understand why I would be here and not at home.. "You're spoiling me. "I'm sorry." I laughed. They told a story. stabbing a bite with a fork and avoiding my eyes. "Oh." "But is your life a place? Or is your life made up of the few important things you can carry with you?" I sat back. "Not at all." I mumbled. his tattoos were all that way. "Yes. resting against a box behind me.." I explained into my wine glass. what.. I considered this as my eyes followed the vivid blue ink that wound up his forearm and disappeared under the sleeve of his t-shirt." I said. my home. draping my napkin on my lap." I smiled." "How did you know?" "We were together for eight years.. "My life is here. hard for me to comprehend. I smiled. "I don't know. I miss it. Don't you ever get the urge to just leave? To see new things?" His voice didn't carry judgment." I offered him a small one-shouldered shrug and bit my lip. he was simply curious. or. "So. A river perhaps. I met his eyes again." ~*~ June 16th "Pulled pork.

swallowing quickly in order to answer." I shrugged and took another sip of wine. I like what I do. maintaining eye contact. "It's hard to build relationships because I move often. "There is constancy in your life. Bella. "You're committed to your lifestyle. "What? Even in college?" "Well. even though sometimes it's lonely. "It's the particular habit that matters. "I love habit." he whispered." He winced a little and took a bite of his dinner. "You're beautiful. nodding towards our dinner. with me. And now that I travel so much." "Exactly. I didn't. I saw his arm twitch." he smiled. my voice sounded like it was coming from behind me." He shrugged. It's also hard to open myself up over and over again. and when I did. Bella. His eyes were slow to relax. My aversion is about geography. "He liked getting take-out every Wednesday and listening to the same Tom Petty album in the car on every road trip. so I need to move around. Did I want to know this? "What about you and… girlfriends?" "Never really had one. "I've never said that to anyone before. You started with blueberries and apricots. He dragged his tongue ring along his upper lip unconsciously." he teased.. almost apologetically." I pointed out." He leaned forward.carefully as I buried this important admission in my list. daring him to react. "Thank you. reaching for his glass. at least not what I think you mean." Our gazes remained locked for the longest silence we had ever shared. He stared at his glass and his eyes shot up to meet mine.. Bella. We were quiet for a moment." It took me several seconds before I could respond. but not much more. not romance. I've been with women." He smiled. A flash of desire was immediately replaced with a warm smile. "Being averse to constancy is not the same as being averse to commitment." "Ah yes. "What about me what?" His voice was gentle and my heart pounded." I giggled. I dated. I was unable to look away. . indicating our new routine. watched him relax into the familiar moment here. taking a long sip of wine." he shrugged. I also love to incorporate something new into routine. and worked up to habaneros. laughing. "You don't seem to be averse to habit. Unfortunately I'm averse to constancy. "What about you?" I asked quietly. "In college I was focused on school and music." I nodded. I watched him chew. It gets exhausting. watched him enjoy the dinner I had made us." He nodded. at least. no one has really made me want to stay put. "You are a positive daredevil of habit.

daring me to admit to the layer that continually thickened with each of our nights together. I wanted to let the tension out of the space between us. this inexplicable draw." and chuckled. The green ones ." One tattoo on his shoulder was of a small tree bearing yellow fruit. "I don't want to. "What are they called? They're so colorful." he sighed. He seemed to be taking everything in stride so easily.I finally managed to break his gaze and sat forward. "What made you choose your tattoos. watching my mouth. The tattoo on the inside of his forearm was a man's face. your piercings?" I asked quietly. but I was terrified to know whether it meant something different to him. He bit his lip. "God." he laughed. "The tomatoes are from my garden. He lifted his arm and inspected it. He licked his lips slowly." he mumbled into a bite." I laughed a little." We stared at each other for a moment before I put my glass down and fidgeted with my napkin." He mouthed the words "Banana Legs. "Wow. "I love every home I have. wrinkled. His desire to see me every night was a simple fact to him. I blinked to clear my head. I felt like I needed decoration. I watched him eat and he looked up at me and smiled before leaning to take another bite. no matter how long I'm there. running his hands through his hair. they have to have some crazy fruit names like Wild Woman and Big Bird. "So is the basil. I love your cooking. The yellow ones are Banana Legs. I wondered if he knew he did that. I didn't know how I could feel this way for someone I had only just met. that got heavy. It's not about disliking my skin. trying to make it sound like I was kidding. "What?" he smiled but his eyes simmered with something heavy and warm. I felt a twist of anxiety and excitement mingling in my chest." I smiled. "The purple ones are Cherokee. . He loved our time together as he loved this dinner: something to be enjoyed while he had it in front of him. "Are you watching me eat?" I felt him toying with me. I let my eyes drop to my hands and I laughed. it's about loving it." "The tomatoes are amazing. ~*~ June 17th The next night I made a pasta salad with fresh mozzarella and heirloom tomatoes. I wondered how many women he left behind who felt like I did. "You're going to break my heart.my favorites . grabbing my wine glass and smiling. uncomplicated." I laughed and nodded. He always hummed and closed his eyes when he chewed something that tasted good. He looked up at me again and saw me watching his lips. shaking his head as if it made perfect sense. but it sounded forced. old. I like keeping some of it with me. I wanted a bare admission that we both felt this pull. and patient.are Green Zebra.

" I swallowed." My hand stilled on the cutting board. I wanted him to know me. ducking my head and gathering the dishes." He opened his eyes and looked at me. and when he did it sounded sleepy and relaxed. I watched his face relax under my touch and slowly moved my hand away. are best completely undecorated. "My grandfather. to really see me in a way no one had. "I didn't mean to startle you. his eyes meeting mine briefly as he closed the cupboard door. . I think it suits me. Warmth spread from my fingertips and radiated down my arm. letting him feel the metal there."Who is that?" He whispered. "You didn't. I wanted to crawl into his lap and press my lips to that pulse. a small crack in our fault line had been carved. "Bella?" his voice was hoarse. The heat from his palms filtered through the thin cotton of my skirt and my eyes closed as his thumbs drew small circles on my lower back. easing me over slightly to reach two glasses from the overhead cabinet. His thumb swept back and forth over the side of my breast. his eyes closing. his hand still molded in a curve. He dropped the napkin. I reached up and stroked the ring on his eyebrow. He exhaled as if he had been waiting for something for a long time and had finally found it. I imagined I saw his pulse racing below a tattoo of a mountain across his neck. He hissed in a breath. nearer than I expected. The tension between us was laid bare and I ached to touch him again. "Let me get these. the tomatoes momentarily forgotten." I felt the heat behind his words. He stared at it before meeting my gaze. "I just needed to reach something. letting his hand spread over my breast and pressing his palm against my piercing. resisting the urge to run my fingers down his face and down his neck to his bare shoulder. watching his face freeze in an expression of need. "You." he said softly." Without realizing what I was doing. I pulled his hand away and gently replaced it with the paper napkin. I mean…I just wasn't paying attention. Perhaps because I knew he would leave and it felt safe. I held my hand over his. he leaned into my hand. ~*~ June 21st "What are you making?" His voice. My heart hammered like one of his drums underneath his hands and I held my breath. "And that?" It was a long moment before he spoke. the meaning of more than just tattoos or piercings. or perhaps because I knew I was falling in love with him. "I'm sorry." I said instead. running his finger over it. on the other hand. "Same thing. pressing his index and middle fingers against my nipple. He smiled a cute half smile. his hands coming to rest on my hips. His eyes moved down my neck to my shoulder and back up. caused me to jump slightly. I took the napkin from his hand and pulled his fingers to me. Instead of flinching or moving away. My stomach always fluttered at that smile. certain he was able to hear it." His hands lingered on my hips a moment longer.

hypnotized by the way his Adam's apple moved and the muscles flexed along his throat. sweet thing. watching as he pulled out a plate for each of us. "It's just the smart thing to do after visiting third world countries. the rough texture of his unshaven face abrasive against my skin. his voice low and the sound reverberated through his chest.. He stepped in front of me and stilled my hand. full of too many things I couldn't keep together. willing whatever it was to stay put between us and not keep melting into another layer of tension. I wasn't pushing. turning my head to see him. enjoying the coarse texture against my skin. I felt his lips move to my hair. . "No.Still standing closer than necessary. "Why do you come back?" I asked. Hesitation was rare for him and it made me nervous that he had something to say that he was anxious to bring up. and my eyes fluttered closed." "Blood?" I stopped moving and then nodded awkwardly when I understood." I nodded. The persistent beep of the kitchen timer filled the air. "I don't know. slicing some limes. that simple chaste gesture more intimate than any heated kiss I'd ever experienced. "What's going on with us. Too unobtrusive and too calm. My breath caught as he pressed into me. and pressed the softest kiss there. I was a tornado inside. "Okay. I get it. "How long do you stay?" "I come back here to rest. "Salad?" His scent drifted to me." I answered. he peered over my shoulder. the movement bringing my mouth to his jaw." He leaned forward and waited until I looked at him. smiling sadly and tucking a strand of hair behind my ear. see my dentist. "Bella?" he questioned. He was so close. "Thai chicken salad with peanuts and lime. Bella?" His voice was unobtrusive and calm. get my blood tested." I mumbled. I leaned into him slightly." he murmured. I felt like everything I knew was being uprooted and thrown. My nose brushed his jaw. my body now trapped between his and the counter. I brushed my lips from side to side." I could feel him watching me cook and several times I knew he started to speak but then stopped. "Nothing. my lips mere inches from his neck. "Oh. I hear you.. pulling me from my haze. He exhaled deeply and pushed away from the counter. I tilted my chin towards him. my body feeling the loss instantly. "Okay. "What is 'oh'?" His face told me I misunderstood but until his voice explained." he urged quietly. see my family." I sighed. My eyes gave it all away. He swallowed and I was unable to look away. I could feel him watching me as I diced the tomatoes.

I was embarrassed for not putting it together."So. have you done all those things?" I asked in a mumble.. I feel like it doesn't occur to you to help me get to know you. "Almost everything about this is a first for me. out the window behind me. "Dentist.. "Oh." I dropped the knife and turned to him.that wherever he went there was a Bella. "It doesn't. Mostly this trip I wanted to come here and work on the house. I trusted him to guide me until he was gone. I feel something and I don't know what to do with it." "Why would I know that?" He shrugged and his hand dropped and slapped against his thigh softly. my time with Edward coming to a close. I believed ." he insisted. in a way." He stared at me and then looked away. I'm not perfect. fixed the windows.. pulling my chin up with his index finger. family.a departure." he said simply. "I mean." I realized immediately that all the signs were obvious and that everything he had done since he'd been back showed that he was more than just a passing tenant. pushing the tomatoes into a bowl.." I ran my hands into my hair and tied it up in a loose bun on my head... as you have surely noticed. do this. I've neglected it way too long. "But you tell me it's nothing and so I figure it's just me misreading everything. you saw me working on it. I don't know how to. confused. Dentist and blood are done. "I figured you knew I owned the house. and then. I had believed that since he was well-traveled and educated and always seemed so comfortable in his own skin that he would know how to do this. blood. assuming that he came up against this often: starting to get close to someone and then having to leave. "What are you talking about?" He stared at me and then understanding softened his eyes. did some work inside. ultimately. "What on earth do you mean by that?" he said gently. "What things?" he asked. yeah. So I figured you would know it was mine. "No. "You haven't done this before?" I whispered. I painted it. and tension. knowing my question would unfortunately show me the hourglass flipping." I realized that I had thought that. "Oh. You offer nothing voluntarily." ~*~ July 13th . and frustrated that I had to ask him everything. But Bella... and dinners." I said quietly. He pulled at his eyebrow ring absently. "I have to ask you everything.despite what he'd told me . "I don't know how to let someone like you in the way I want. looking at his feet against the kitchen tile. "Why don't you want me to know you?" I said." he waved at the space between us. Family is in Australia this time. that nothing personal was ever offered.

robotically forming the falafel into balls." "You're not?" I could feel his body moving in a one-shouldered shrug behind me. He pressed his lips to my neck and I felt the cool air between us as he stepped away just as I began to lean back into him. testing to see how much of me he could encase. His hand was the last part of his body to leave me as it lost contact with my hip. although he didn't move to get up. it felt too casual. I couldn't see him in the reflection."I'm going to China." he said quietly. I was scared he would come back. watching us in the window. "Why?" I looked up and out the kitchen window. Instead I sounded anxious and shaken. he had stepped to the side so I couldn't see his face. Without words to explain. I could hear the question in his voice." It wasn't even a whisper. I felt tiny in his hands." His voice was barely audible. "I'm going because it's what I do. Bella. I had no more strength if he touched me again. "Don't start this. I was scared he wouldn't come back. letting his lips rest against the curve of my ear. "I know. I heal. I hated the tight curl of resentment than pulled at my stomach. He was leaving to go help others. "Edward?" I didn't hear him but suddenly he was there behind me before I could turn around. . I was scared to be apart. He wanted me to stay. He wasn't leaving me. He stepped closer and pushed my hair to the side. "Soon. I travel." he murmured. He was silent. "I'll get the dishes. "Do you want me to say 'because I'm scared?' or 'I'm not that guy?' Is that why you think I'm leaving?" "Honestly? It's what I expect to hear." He placed his hands over my back. I let the most selfish words out: "You can be a doctor anywhere. splaying his fingers across my ribs as far as he could. I was sure he would break all of me. "Okay." I admitted. "I'm scared." I whispered. but different. I'm surprised the sound made it to my ears. It was not at all the reaction I was having and it made me feel even more defeated. I finished cooking dinner and we ate in silence for the first time. "When?" I tried to keep my voice light and interested. Please?" I heard the pleading in my voice and almost welcomed it. staring at our plates and pushing our food around. My heart froze in my chest but somehow my hands continued to move." His voice was neither defensive nor apologetic.

and beautiful." he whispered." I nodded. his hands planted next to my head. "Good night. Probably no one else on the block heard the music over the crickets and cracking wind. I made it delicate and hearty and colorful. anything he did I would notice. I cooked the next day. Maybe the sound was like the house itself ."Okay. golden. something that had to be attended to actively to be seen or heard. and every night after that. "Yes." ~*~ July 14-15th I didn't see him the next night. I spent the night in my room. I didn't need him to knock. scruffy and distraught. and various Spanish cheeses. He was a magnet to me. I layered phyllo dough over kale. and the next night. not eating. the lilting rhythm of his speech. I had always belonged to him and had never known it. but he looked up at me and leaned forward. I felt him on the porch." "You make me want to leave with you. his fingers. I cooked for us. something that would bring us together with comfort and spice." He was disappointed. but not surprised. letting his lips hover in front of mine. squash. but it made my chest hurt. I made it something we would both want. His gaze lingered on mine for a moment before his eyes dropped to watch both of his hands move to anchor my wrists to the door with his thumb and index finger. opening it and letting in the humid night air. I felt my brow furrow. mere millimeters . felt my eyes sting with tears. Bella. "You make me wonder what is most important. novelty and familiarity. I was so naked for him. I dropped my dishtowel and went to the door. I didn't want to cover the sound with music or television or even my hands over my ears. conscious need to imagine that he would be in that house tonight. but I was nothing if not constant. maybe out of habit but more out of a naked. overwhelmed by what I wanted from him and terrified that he was going to give it to me. finally. and he knew it. even when he was being inconstant elsewhere. I broke my own heart: "Good night. and trying not to think about him. the smell of him. I knew he wouldn't get to eat it if I didn't take it to him. his eyes begging. The soft drumming that blew across the street distracted me all night.only noticed and appreciated by me. running a hand down my bare arm. He stood on the doorstep. I wondered idly if I would cook for him every night of forever. steaming. He pressed me against the closet door. made me remember his stories. not sitting on the floor. I felt like there was no floor underneath my feet. He had a small bandage on his wrist and I started to ask if he was okay. It only made sense that the house was his. The door rumbled with the movement of feet up the front steps. the dry wind. "You make me want to stay here." I admitted. It came out of the oven bubbling hot. "Are you scared that I'm not that guy?" he asked." He moved towards me and I took a step back.

searching and silently pleading with him to take more. he pulled away from my lips. His mouth was warm and welcoming and I felt the breath leave his lungs in surprise. wiping my tears with each of his thumbs. his smell wrapping around me. Without a word I pushed him away slightly and began walking backwards. He slid his hands up along my ribs. "Just like this? The way I am?" "Do you want me to?" I asked quietly. stopping at my waist. I've never been so lonely as I was last night. He bridged the short distance and pressed a single soft kiss to my lips. Hard muscle flexed beneath my fingers. and his hands threaded into my hair." he nodded. moaning softly as his callused fingers grazed the soft skin of my stomach. spreading my legs with his knee and leaning into me. His breath caught as I reached the waist band of his jeans. He was warm and smooth under my fingertips as I traced the sculpted muscles running along his torso. "You never have to ask that. and pulled it up and over my head. leading him down the hall towards my bedroom. needy. My mouth was becoming more urgent." He kissed me again. pulling back to look at me. He was gentle and tender and my heart tore with the knowledge that this could be the only time we were together. My hands trembled as I brought them from my sides.from touching my skin. I moaned softly as I felt his lips fully against mine. tasting me for the first time. His lips never left my skin. "Bella?" he whispered. "Do you think you can love me?" His voice was strained. his hazel eyes searching mine. A ragged breath escaped his mouth as he looked at me. his thumbs brushing in feather light strokes along my skin. letting them linger as he moved them down my body. his fingertips brushing along my neck. He felt like home against my skin. longer this time." he said into my hair. my lips brushing along the cotton of his t-shirt. They were warm and calloused. I let my nails drag softly along his hard stomach. but still chaste. the moist air fanning across my lips. "I would never have asked you to leave. across my collar bones and down between my breasts. his fingertips massaging my scalp as he deepened his kiss." His words sent a thrill throughout my entire body and I closed the small space between us. he pulled his hands from my hair. teasing. His hands cradled my face. the thin material of my tank top gathering under his fingertips. "Can I see you?" I whispered. feeling the muscles contract and release under my touch. I melted into the door as his tongue slipped between my lips. He raised his hands and pressed them against my cheeks. As if sensing my need. "Very much. unsure as I placed them against his chest. slipping under the hem of his shirt. watching his eyes. waiting for my permission. I nodded. . "Can I see you?" he asked. his teeth dragging along the column of my throat. and his touch felt achingly familiar. "I never once asked you to leave. Sliding my hands down his chest. his taste.

learning and memorizing. I know." I found myself wanting to move my hand. My head fell back and I moaned. and he seemed to be content just with this level of contact. I have no words. gently sucking. I led him towards the bed. He held my leg up around his waist with his free hand and balanced us as I ground against him. "Does. "Your sounds. "I need to see you. never verbose. bit his lips. "A little. his hand was at first hesitant and then ravenous." I ran my hand down his stomach and lower. hooking his barbell and pulling gently. We stared at my fingers around him. our kisses slowing to languid. my eyes feasting on the beautiful colors and pictures painted into his flesh. He was always so patient with me. "Hurt?" he whispered. learning the planes of each others bodies. pulling my fingers to his lips.. tentative touch. feeling his lips move over my chest and to my shoulders. this level of stimulation. Bella." he breathed. His fingers moved between my legs." he admitted quietly. always honest. feeling him twitch beneath my first. pulling down the remaining clothing between us. finding a rhythm on my skin. crying out in my almost immediate orgasm. "Bella. It was a frenzied moment. this hurt?" I wrapped my fingers around him loosely and squeezed. Our foreheads touched as we looked down at my fingers feathering his shape and tracing the piercing through his frenum. His hands began to work my yoga pants down my hips. I clawed at his back. spreading me.. letting out a quiet laugh through his nose. He removed my bra and bent to take one nipple into his mouth before moving to the other. "I know. My hands moved to the waistband of his jeans." Our hands became impatient. It was almost as if my release calmed us both and allowed us to slow down. "Did it hurt?" I asked in a whisper. his hands running back up my arms and over to the soft lace of my bra. pumping his fingers inside me and stroking my clit in fast. He laughed quietly. ghosting my fingertip over the horizontal bar. My hands threaded into his hair as I watched him. and hungrily touching everything. his kisses becoming almost desperate in their hunger. our hands exploring.. his gaze meeting mine as he caught and lifted the silver ring with his tongue..." I traced my fingertips along each image.. His mouth covered mine. finally seeing what I had fantasized about every night since I met him. "God. trying to memorize them. never pushing. "Not at all. .. He shook his head slightly. "You were so wet." he breathed. his movements more measured as he lowered my leg and rubbed my hip gently. unbuttoning them slowly. "You're so beautiful." I smiled and he kissed me then.. light strokes. but not sure what to do." I whispered.I freed him of his shirt. letting his hands run from my shoulder and down to my hand.

." He stepped forward and I stepped backwards until the back of my knees hit the edge of the bed. I felt bolstered by his reaction and gripped him tighter. on my neck. communicating everything he needed to in that single. He stepped between my legs. I sat in front of him. not hours. He twitched in my hands and his fingers gripped me. I could be honest in what I needed. and back up again. My thumb reached his tip and I flicked it gently over the top. "I'm so. " he trailed off. Lust spiked beneath my sternum and ran down my abdomen. my eyes level with his stomach. I kissed him.." he whispered. He sighed against my lips and I watched his eyes roll closed. sensitive. His were heavy and dark and his breathing was choppy. Without needing further explanation he grunted quietly. tight laugh.. He shifted my grip up slightly before squeezing his hand around my fingers. "That's just. . "I want it on my skin.. pulling his bottom lip into my mouth and letting out a whimper around it.." I repeated the action and felt his hand loosen and then release mine.. "Show me?" I breathed. spreading the moisture around before stroking down again.I pulled my head up and our eyes met." I breathed at the same time he did." he murmured. his skin covering the piercing quickly in the downward movement. "You feel so good in my hand. His lips moved with mine almost as if we had been kissing like this for years. pulling his foreskin over his piercing in the process. "I want. "God. of his foreskin slipping easily over the head of his cock. Bella?" "My chest. was the most delicious sensation I could imagine. I felt a surge of confidence. smooth movement. covering the head of his cock. and his words came out in a tight moan. he shifted our hands down.. letting his teeth run over my bottom lip. "You don't have to be tentative." I whispered... increasing my pace.. "Fuck. overwhelmed sound. The feeling of his piercing under the base of my thumb as my hand moved down and up. "Oh God." I whispered." I leaned forward and licked a bead of precum from the tip of his cock and sat up again to watch. needing to see what I did to him. He moaned and his head fell back. His eyes dropped to the space between us and I rested my forehead against his again as his hand moved to cover mine." he hissed in a trembling breath. Does this feel good?" He let out a short. His Adam's apple bobbed as he swallowed heavily. bracing his hands on my shoulder as we both watched my hand glide over him. "It just makes me." That finally did him in. He moaned my name and his entire body froze before I saw and felt him coming on my chest. and I took a step closer to him to feel my chest brushing against his. my arm moving between us. "Where. pulling me towards him and kissing me roughly. His hands moved up to cup my face. With a slow. tightening my grip. for the first time I was certain with a lover that I could ask for what I wanted. "You.

" I froze. Bella." I said." That was finally too much for me. "How long?" He was completely still against me for a long moment." His tone was casual but it was still a sharp reminder that he was leaving "Edward?" I asked quietly and he hummed in response. feeling my throat close. remembering the jealousy that had ripped through me when he mentioned his regular blood work. "I want to be the only one that matters. "I've been tested. pressing my face into his chest. rubbing my thumb over his piercing. "At least six months. kissing my hair." He looked at me and kissed me. I wanted him to know what he meant to me before he left. I felt like I needed to explain.He stood still in front of me. pulling him over me. "A truth from my most recent home. brushing the hair from my face and looking down at me. "Tomorrow. rubbing the gauze on his wrist." I whimpered. They needed someone who could come right away. "Stay with me. his head bent and resting on top of mine. I had it in my paperwork that I could be a last-minute resource if need be. please. His voice shook. Bella.. "Please. clutching his back with my nails. stroking his arm he used to prop his body above me." he said. "We wasted a day and I didn't even know!" Edward held me and whispered softly as I sobbed against him. disappearing for a moment before returning with some wet tissue from the bathroom to clean me up. still looking down at him in my hand. "When?" I felt him swallow heavily against my forehead. "I've only been with one person. "What is this?" I asked. long and slow. feeling his body relax." He moved fluidly." I reached down and took him in my hand. "Why didn't you come over last night?" My voice broke." I held him in my hand. "Do you have protection?" "I'm still on the pill. "God. "That was true until recently. kissing my head and stepping back. We crawled into the bed. He buried his face in my hair and I wrapped my arms around his torso. biting my lip.." he murmured. this is nice." "Me too. pulling a sheet over our bodies and letting our limbs tangle with the familiarity of years together. pulling his foreskin over his head ." I whispered." I whispered. "Jesus." he smiled and I laughed quietly. "God. "Of course.

I reached in my bedside table for my pad of paper and a pen. " " Oh God. "I love you." "I'm. "Oh God.. We both moaned." he breathed.. moving his arm to my waist and pulling me closer. He moved in and out of me in the shortest of increments. his hand on my breast. the sounds of our climax spreading only as far as the space between us. He pulled my hand up next to my shoulder and held it there. I dropped the paper on the floor and rolled to him. kissing him goodbye over and over... I could only let myself think about how his skin felt against mine. but his body woke next to me. It was the last thing I asked him." I whispered. "Will you come back to me?" "Of course. "Please. "Fuck. Bella. his arm bent at my waist. For hours I couldn't sleep. our words giving way to soft breaths and quiet moans. The gauze was gone. I pulled my legs up along his sides. how he looked at me over the coffee table.Oh God. my knees at the side of his chest. "Already. so much..." he whispered..and taut again. "Bella?" His voice was thick with sleep. "I know. I lowered myself onto him and made love to him.. .I'm. The bandage no doubt came loose at some point in our lovemaking. but I begged him to try." I whispered. He fell asleep almost as soon as he gave his body permission. He stirred. and rolled his arm slightly." he choked. his head curled against my chest." He covered my mouth with his. our mouths coming together in the same slow rhythm as his movements in me.. preferring instead to stay as deep and connected as he could while he was here. trying to copy the characters. ~*~ July 16th He was reluctant to sleep." he whispered. resting his forehead against mine as he moved over me. somewhere buried in my bed. I stared at the bare skin of his wrist where I had seen the bandage earlier. and I could see the edge of asian characters underneath the protective sheer covering.. letting him slip deeper. I rubbed him along my slick skin before pressing down and letting him push inside me. He pulled me on top of him.

" she whispered. It was made up of sweet kisses and strained voices. when I was thinking about how he felt moving inside me. absently sweeping my hands across my wet face. I crossed the room and flung open my closet. She knew nothing ever sounded strange when she said it to me. I knew when she said she loved me. I had no appetite for this food.~*~ It wasn't a long. ~*~ July 17th We descended into the haze of Lanzhou and I had been sitting for so long that my legs were coiled and tight. ?????? I'm destined to be hers. She knew I wanted to be everything for her. I woke up with a jerk. that she had always had to do it herself. moving over me in the dark room. My suitcase looked ridiculous: too new. "Oh god. never really used. tasting me. I feared I wouldn't be able to exercise for many days. that I would wait a hundred years for her to figure out how to say what she needed to say. trapped in the small economy seat. and I wasn't sure I even found the right characters until the translation popped up on screen. that it was the first time she really meant it. Her moans were just for me. ~*~ Chapter Two July 16th Bella was touching me. And then she was above me. It was the middle of the night. because she'd told me. drawn out goodbye. that no one had ever made her come. I hadn't drawn them entirely right. certainly not until . wanting to see me come on her skin. I knew. I found the paper and searched online dictionaries for the characters I'd seen. My hand reached for the handle and pulled. I watched him climb into the cab and two hours later the same movers that brought him to me came to carefully pack up his drums and take them to storage again. and I remembered the tattoo. Her soft hands were running up my arms as I moved on top of her. I stood and watched the entire time. slapping the bottom of my tray table and nearly knocking over the lunch the flight attendant had just placed in front of me. I knew instinctively that she'd never made that sound for anyone before.

tense limbs. A quick glance at the inventory of each box and my stomach plummeted. most of them presently untreated. that I wasn't the only one who wondered if these efforts weren't already too late. but choked with pollution caused by rapidly expanding industry and decades of unregulated waste disposal. Traffic slowed our progress and the late summer air was thick and hot. only that my friend and colleague Tommy would be there and that people would be sick and in pain. and who now had nowhere else to go. In recent years. from the life I'd unintentionally grown so attached to. I found that I was able to imagine her everywhere. everything about the experience should have been. I didn't know what to expect when I arrived. given that.everything had been unloaded and my presence in the village had been accepted. Each step away from the plane felt like one more step away from her. or even associated with my general routine of traveling to treat illness. I would have answered that it would be truly surreal to have her here. I was there to give comfort. Lanzhou was large and sprawling. her endlessly accepting dark eyes. There were people everywhere. indulgent breath of filtered airplane air and after squeezing my eyes shut to burn the image of her into my mind. foreign surroundings — was my life. that perhaps given enough time to prepare. as I looked around the air just outside the airport. This was not a standard field trip for me. I was not there to treat disease or save lives. I felt burdened by how many bags and boxes I had to transport. crowded airports. I was there to treat only symptoms. It was hot and the air was suffocating. of unearthing the history of early ceramic drums and finding a true and deep passion for the origin of Asian percussion. With a final. It is a city with a vast history — common for most of China's larger cities — but to me Lanzhou had never been a city of politics. I stood up to prepare myself for what I had ahead of me. suddenly desperate for a tether to a more optimistic world: I've arrived safely. Nothing about the experience was familiar. the government made an effort to curb the generation of pollution. I turned on my phone to send Bella a short text. but I knew if I did that. she could have. from what I gathered from the assignment letter. . and finding a taxi that was large enough for my parcels seemed to take hours. I had been to Lanzhou twice before. not hope. to the comfort of her soft wet lips. but I felt certain. I struggled to calm my fidgeting. activism. Every trace of her seemed to have back-filled my memories in such a way that even my trips before I met her were somehow colored differently. with a crushing realization. I fetched my own baggage and walked to the customs office to retrieve the boxes of medical supplies that were sent here for me. I wouldn't be able to resist asking the driver to take me back to the airport. had anyone asked. How could it be strange that she was not with me? The realization shook me. There are no green zebras here. I wanted to close my eyes and think of her. Would she have? The drive to the village would add another couple of hours to my trip and once I was tucked into a van. What's for dinner? The chaos around me while I waited for a taxi was a stark contrast to the calm of my life with Bella. when I opened them. The healthy youth had long since fled the small farming community. and yet. the city population wasn't my concern. This routine — bustling travel. Although she'd never really been anywhere. the farmers who had taken pride in their land their entire lives. In any case. It never would have occurred to me to ask her to come with me but I found. It was a city of discovery. Suddenly it seemed almost impossible that I had known Bella for such a short time. What remained were the older generation. a small village outside of the city — one of the hundreds of "cancer villages" — where almost every inhabitant was struggling with various malignancies. My concern was ChenghuaCun. was what I knew.

"Are we at the same hotel?" Tommy laughed as he fell into step with me and nodded his head to a small home at the end of the long row. presumably.." he said. there had been years when the river failed to reach the sea at all." he said. I tried to imagine her at my sink. from being washed in local water. I gave in and closed my eyes. now he was thin and worn. stepping back and sweeping his hands in a grand gesture. Her legs would go on forever beneath her shorts. adjusting the weight of the box of supplies in his arms. I had no cell service out here. its beautiful color altered by sewage. grinning as I used the familiar nickname. Dr. the Mother River.. "How're they hanging?" "Neglected. Her foot would be tucked against one leg as she scratched her calf absently with her toe.. "Welcome to ChenghuaCun. I looked around as we drove on barely passable roads and felt the crushing weight of helplessness. and always fleeting. he was barely keeping enough energy for himself. and many others." I said. grabbing a box and beginning the process of carrying my baggage to the small group of buildings in the distance. No longer the round-faced and grinning med student I knew years ago.. "You need a drink?" "Yes. Her hair would be in a high messy ponytail. "That one's yours. was dying. "Hey Little Zhong. Only through music had I ever found any semblance of intimacy.. I focused on the passing landscape.Before being able to reveal myself bit by bit with someone every night.. I was immediately glad that I was here for him. just outside the city limits. The river had sustained this region. but the pollution was most apparent here.." he smirked.Before dinners on the floor together. swallowing my desire to reverse our route. Clearly. for centuries. having seen the dust cloud of the van approaching for miles. on the road diverging from the familiar route to Xianghuajian village where the Lanzhou hand drum originated and where I found comfort in the community but no intimacy other than through music. I glanced at the embroidered pocket. returning my hug and patting my back with surprising vigor. and when she looked at me. .. The Yellow River." I laughed. ~*~ Tommy stood. crowded with dams that should never have been erected.. He seemed to almost deflate with relief. Now. He wore a lab coat that was yellowed from wear and.. Dark circles shadowed his eyes. The houses were barely habitable but the accommodations were better than other I'd had in the field. This dwindling was apparent everywhere. her eyes would turn up into a smile that was just for me. A large pothole on the road roused me from my daydream.Instead. and I imagined he often stayed awake solely with the help of caffeine and will power. Zhao. and I realized hadn't heard back from Bella. I looked at my phone. snapping the tops off of beans fresh from her garden.. ???. . . it trickled almost lifelessly. waiting at the small mouth of the village.Before Bella.. . Although its path used to stretch thousands of miles. in the past decade. I stepped from the van as it stopped and climbed out to embrace my old friend. My old friend looked exhausted. stained with pollution.

Once we had carried all of the supplies to a small building that seemed to be serving as his medical headquarters. and now it was my only connection to her. but I knew we needed time together before that. and a few other symptomatics. knowing she wouldn't see it for weeks and suddenly not caring. The toilets were grouped outside." he breathed. straightforward. morphine." he said. Tom? Are we just giving comfort?" He nodded again. looking resigned. I wandered to my temporary residence to change and unload my luggage. He didn't hope to cure anyone. I think they just see this village as a lost cause. I smiled at each dark window and the invisible faces beyond. I handed him a bottle of Talisker and his eyebrows shot up. that I didn't need to bother to keep my phone charged. I needed her here with me. "You need to head back to the states and recover? I can cover it for a few months. looking around his place. and a chest for food storage. "How'd you get this here?" "I'm a sneaky bastard. I realized my action was futile. Existence here was simple. either." I nodded. and until the last decade or so. This was a fairly simple medical assignment. I texted her again. "I don't know. pouring a couple of fingers into a glass for each of us as I sat at the table. ChenghuaCun is low on the list. It was surrounded by . because almost everyone left here is over forty." When Tommy nodded into his glass. Even if it was just a symbolic act. I pulled my phone from my pocket and stared at it." He carried it to his small table and grabbed a couple of aluminum cups before turning and staring at the label. "All I have is Zofran. for him to debrief me on the situation." I smiled. no plumbing. I just can't treat everyone and also do those support activities at the same time." "No. but I was unable to stop the compulsion. There was no running water. "When did you get here?" "February. I walked to Tommy's home several houses down from mine and felt the eyes of the village's inhabitants watching me from inside their homes. and sometimes it requires long day trips. The home was neat and well kept. I knew without having to ask that it had been recently vacated because of a death. hoping to communicate that I was here to help them. and no electricity in the small grouping of homes. In the back yard between our homes was a newer stone building. if sparsely furnished. I'm trying to get samples of local water to help the Lanzhou environmental council. "What is the goal here. some pots and pans. "Nice. willing the bars to appear in the corner. "Dude. He had clearly been here awhile. "When are you leaving?" He shook his head and shrugged." We grew quiet as we sipped our scotch and gazed out his back window to the lush earth sloping down to the river. Tommy told me that there was a dinner to welcome me later that night. but are still not able to take everyone here. They've set up a heavy ion cancer center for the area." I said quietly. down the hill. taking the cup from him and watching as he sat down across from me. Never before had I even pulled my phone out of my bag once I arrived in the field. if not completely depressing. man. had required little help from the outside world. a bathroom area that housed a wash-basin and small tarnished mirror on the wall. "I am totally fucking drained." he said." "They didn't send me any Ara-C or Daunorubicin. and a small kitchen area with a camp-sized stove. I realized he probably hadn't requested any chemotherapeutics to be sent with me. I was burned out when I called Steve and asked for you. presumably for bathing. "I just needed help. not meeting my eyes. I unpacked my small manual generator and placed it on the table. There were three rooms: a larger main living area with a bed and small table with two chairs.

"Yeah?" he asked. I wanted to conjure strength for my friend. My stomach remained knotted. rubbing my eyebrow ring absently. "You?" It was a polite question and he expected the answer to be 'no'. To imagine the residents were getting food shipped in only for the last couple of months sent a chill across my arms. "Yeah. Tommy shook his head as he finished the last of his scotch in a single gulp. People lived.?" I moved my head lower and then rubbed my face roughly in both hands.for this. although posted as urgent. I'd always given my energy and time without hesitation. I had made love to Bella less than two days ago and still felt the burn of her touch on my chest. looking past the stone building to the withering crops beyond.. "Not eating so much. His request. I looked back at him and took in the circles under his eyes." I mumbled.. I changed the subject. I had." I nodded. Looking down at the table. "Is it serious. The return question hung in the air and I felt it several seconds before he mumbled. I rubbed my hand across my mouth and then leaned my forehead into my palm. wiping his lip with a finger and reaching for the bottle. amazed. and I could feel him sitting straighter in his chair. I ran my finger along the scarred wood as I considered this. "Are you seeing anyone back home?" Tommy was a famous serial monogamist. I was suddenly gripped with a nearly overwhelming sense of loneliness. He had been doing everything here by himself and simply couldn't do it alone anymore and knew I would be sent immediately.. but looking around at the desolation and utter hopelessness surrounding me. of longing. leaning forward in his chair slightly. knowing that the life I'd chosen was what I was put on this earth to do. was relatively straightforward. "Nope. The world hadn't changed. The food had to be horrifically toxic. I thought. I tried to swallow my resentment at the realization that I had come halfway across the world because Tommy was burnt out. I knew without question that what we did as an organization was important. "Edward?" . as I would have done readily and without hesitation before my life had changed so dramatically. He also couldn't find it in himself to leave a helpless situation. and villages just like this recovered because of our efforts. He matters." he said. "You left her to come here. Only for about eight weeks have we been able to have the food trucked in from Lanzhou." he croaked. I felt more grief than hope. wondering why I'd chosen that topic as the distraction." I sat quietly. even if it was clearly affecting him. "There's not so much to eat from here. of everything I left. that we saved lives and made a difference. "I need to get laid. the prominence of his cheekbones.. ". thinking of her. What the fuck was I doing here? "Really?" he whispered. He needs me. his expression one of dismay. Before that we had vouchers but no way of getting it easily. I realized I'd have to keep an eye on his drinking." His voice held an unmistakable color of apology. His face was flushed already and he didn't seem to care. I could feel the weight of his realization as it sunk in." I observed quietly.hungry and wild vines and looked like a small oasis.

bursting from behind everything. I could see all of this in her blush. She was not ill. I looked up at her face. her lips were smooth and wet from what I would come to know as her continual and unconscious habit of licking them. This vision before me was for me. It always took the locals several days before they were comfortable with me. feeling my entire body lean towards her. There were twenty-seven people left in the village that. knowing it was all I could manage. at least not yet. "Yeah. She looked slightly wild. The pie. or perhaps that I was tattooed and pierced. they let me into their homes and their hearts without pretense or expectation. yes. ~*~ July 17th . bouncing lightly on bare feet. A sharp spike of desire and longing. Once the residents got over their initial hesitation. to scarlet and amazed. but also the transition of her cheeks from pink and excited. another five were sick but still . She thrust a dish at me — a pie. I knew what she felt in that instant because her expression perfectly mirrored my emotions. Regardless of my background or appearance. the heaviness of his jowls. disbelieving. used to be home to over seventy adults and many children. Though many still didn't understand that they could not eat their crops or drink local water — even if boiled — they offered me everything and anything they had when I came to visit. Her hair was pulled away from her face. I had never been rejected or even mildly disliked. unless I was in the field. The reason could have been that I was white. Her eyes crinkled into beautiful crescents when she smiled. most beautiful thing I had ever seen. without attachment." I said again. but it also disguised the passage of time. they moved on. or that I simply fell outside of their cultural norm. Thrill.August 15th I had never really fit in anywhere.I looked up to find him still watching me. Her toes curled up to protect the soles from the hot porch. The youngest resident was twenty-five. a woman caring for her sick father. in her eyes. nodding. She licked her lips again and smiled. only five years ago. in her restrained smile. I thought she was the sweetest. Of the residents who remained. Our lives beyond this didn't stop when we worked. ~*~ June 8th She stood before me. This life in the field generally brought gratification beyond description. seventeen were clearly dying. I took in the new lines in his face. leaking deep purple juice and with yellow fruit peeking through the lattice. without milestones. "For me?" I asked. waiting for an answer. Wonder.

and because of the distance to Lanzhou. livestock herds were faring worse than were their caretakers. knew what to do with the money. "Jiang Sao. "Wo xian zai da sao yi xia. to keep local water from my everyday activities. What worried me most was my ability to keep local produce from my diet. Invariably. Exposure was inevitable. using the more familiar name she insisted we use. not from their own supplies. "Jian qi lai. indefinitely. reaching to gather my bottles from the table. That was to say.able to care for their loved ones. Beyond even the relative insurmountable distance to the city and the availability of safe food. Protein in their diet was scarce. she caught my arm and pulled it to her with two strong hands. staring at my anthem. my entire world was built of routine. Her husband was sick but refused most pampering and virtually every treatment except the occasional dose of morphine." You don't have to clean. It was almost impossible to be here and avoid contact with contaminated water. but few of them." I'll clean now. I would have the same conversation multiple times each day. Instead of engaging in continued attempts to get him to agree to her hovering. every day. I would text Bella some short note before repeating the visiting circuit to ensure that each individual was drinking water from the correct bottles and eating food from the bins we provided. "Ah Lin. ~*~ August 16th Bella once questioned my commitment to constancy but it would probably surprise her that. Without pomp or pretense she entered my home as I sat. and caring for Tommy and me. and I stood. and the remaining five were still untouched by disease. even with all available precautions." I started before she hissed and shook her head. I would greet each family and provide the needed care and treatment. organizing doses of morphine at my small table. Her hands remained cracked and thick." she motioned for me to stand up. My own care and comfort became the concern of a small woman in her fifties.000 yuan for housing and sustenance subsidy annually. I knew it was only a matter of time before I fell sick with an acute illness. she doted on us. if any. Every morning. all food had still been acquired from local crops or trade with nearby villages with livestock. until recently. Jiang Lin. cooking for us and insisting on cleaning our homes. Those who remained received 4. In a blur of movement. knowing the same skepticism and concern would greet me the next day. Most healthy residents had left in the past few years when the government had encouraged the tiny population of ChenghuaCun to move to the city and seek out factory work while the river pollution was addressed. in the field. "Ni bu yong da sao. The homes had remained dilapidated and leaning. though she understood earlier than most that her farming efforts were futile. resistant to change. There were different flora here. in my broken Mandarin. and also living by a horribly polluted water source." I corrected. different things my system was not used to dealing with. it was clear that the residents were reluctant to believe that the crops and herds they raised with their own hands were poisoning them. I'm destined to be hers . The population of farmers was therefore weak. forever tattooed on my wrist. the generation of nonexistent gossip. She now survived on the provided rations. She quieted me with a shake of her head and a sweeping gesture.

It's been so hot. her back to me as she sliced a bowl of brightly colored vegetables. The thought of her here both stirred me and caused my chest to ache. "Yes. unable to keep from smiling as I waited for her practiced answer.I winced. running her fingers over the characters." I whispered. I pushed off the counter and moved toward her. her ponytail swinging softly as she shook her head from side to side." My heart seized. having been only able to gaze at those words when I was alone and allowed myself to be vulnerable in the dark of night. I couldn't not watch. Clearing my throat. "Wo hua ta de hua xiang gei ni. into the room." she began. even with her accent. I wanted to say. I thought we'd both like something cool. I will draw her for you. My eyes darted to the cupboard above her. "Come. We had developed a routine of sorts. "Bella. She repeated the name softly. ~*~ June 17th We stood in comfortable silence in my kitchen. My eyes were drawn instantly to the graceful curve of her neck." You love her. "Ta shi shei?" she asked quietly. she would cook and I would watch. the name brought Bella here." . The sound of her name filled the room with light. Instead. but I didn't want her light polluted by the land. I leaned against the counter opposite her. knowing how my life must look to someone as grounded as her. "I'm almost done actually. "No. I simply said. "Sounds perfect." she smiled at me. Then I would eat and she would watch. "Ni ai ta. my eyes moving along her glossy hair. I couldn't keep my eyes away. to the way her hips shifted slightly with each move of the knife. From the moment I saw her. Somehow. "Is there anything I can do to help?" I paused. Ah Lin looked up at me. and yet." She dropped my arm gently and cupped my chin in her hand. pulling me down closer to her face. We both stared at my arm. the curve of her shoulders beneath the thin straps of her top." She scooped the colorful pieces onto the blade and deposited them in a blue ceramic bowl. I knew these feelings I had could never be returned.

moved in tandem across her sweet face. "What?" I asked. Watching my mouth. shaking my head as she winked and turned back to her crazy vegetables." Laughing. I love your cooking. I looked up at her laughter. old and forgotten as it had been. her feet tucked beneath her as she waited. I looked up to see her watching me. so open and so real." I sighed. my hand lingering before reluctantly pulling away." I smiled. I was drawn to her in a way I'd never known. they have to have some crazy fruit names like Wild Woman and Big Bird. So that's what she'd been doing outside all afternoon. I wasn't sure." She licked her bottom lip unknowingly and pressed her palm against her other cheek. whether from the sun or the unrelenting June heat.Turning. The tension that always surrounded us seemed to continually thicken. What was she doing here with me? I wondered. a devious glint in her eye. She was so unlike anyone I had ever met. My gaze followed the movement of my hand. She shook her head. We sat later around my scarred coffee table. "The tomatoes are amazing. my smile widening as I reached up again and brushed a piece of hair from her warm forehead. "I must have gotten too much sun today. Her cheeks were flushed slightly. I met her eyes. pausing to examine it before popping it into my mouth. "What are they called? They're so colorful. she reached behind me. bright and curious and warm brown. She had made us pasta salad tonight." She smiled widely. my thumb moving to her face to absently brush along her pink skin. The green ones — my favorites — are Green Zebra. "You're teasing me. loud and happy. The yellow ones are Banana Legs. "The purple ones are Cherokee. her expression bashful. in every sense of the word. I'd never met anyone like her. Neighbor Girl. I placed a hand on her forearm to stop her. "The tomatoes are from my garden. "Are you watching me eat?" She blushed and I wondered if she would admit it. as if every emotion that passed through her mind." I laughed. "God. "You're pink." I said. my eyes falling closed as I chewed. as if the air changed into something vibrant and alive when she was near." I speared a particularly bright yellow one. offering me a warm smile as she retrieved a large spoon from the drawer to my right." She chewed her bottom lip before looking up at me again. A longing stirred from deep within me. She should have someone in that little yellow house that watched her cook dinner and helped her in her garden. . I wanted her to. completely mesmerized by the softness under my finger. Despite knowing she shouldn't. "No. welcoming me as if she'd always known I would be here. It was more than just our bodies. "Is it too warm in here?" I asked. "It suits you. I savored each bite a little more knowing it had come from her." I mumbled. So is the basil. "And I think I like it. admit to this thing that seemed to be pulsing between us. She loved my house. licking the vinaigrette from my lips. loving that she would chose things like this to fill her time and her garden. I shook my head." Her eyes fell briefly. I felt her. the pride in her voice evident. it was bright and colorful and delicious.

" I began. One morning I had awoken." I couldn't help but watch her in the same hungry way that she'd watched me. I had made my way out of the tent and been faced with a small bird perched on one of the smooth stones that encircled the extinguished fire. shyness and finally a look that spoke of determination. yet being on my own seemed different. to understand what she was feeling. She pressed me to her more firmly and I felt it. and watching the way her perfect breast fit in my grasp. on the other hand. her gaze moving along my exposed arms. unable to keep the literal meaning of my words from forming in my mind. her nipple between my fingers.Her eyes fell to her hands and she laughed. are best completely undecorated. . "No matter how long I'm there. Her hand was warm and soft I leaned into her touch. still chilled from the cool savannah nights and sore from a particularly long night of sleeping on a threadbare cot. smiling softly at the way her eyes moved across my face. My breath caught and I hissed at the realization. of a ring pierced through the hardened tip. The colorful bird held the most important memories I carried of my time in Kenya. I was lost in a way I'd never known." I remembered my first tattoo. I'd smiled. "What made you choose your tattoos. "My grandfather. examining the pieces of my life that covered my skin. open arms. My hand followed hers. it would be there. "I love every home I've had. "Who is that?" she asked. at the way she took me in and seemed to accept the differences between us. "You. She would be so beautiful: naked soft skin. I opened my eyes as she motioned to the piercing just below my lip. It had been my first official tour. My Swahili was still rough and I'd felt like an outsider to some extent. your piercings?" she asked. my eyes closing from the sheer weight of having her know me this way. "And that?" she asked. in a way I'd never wanted with anyone before her. Each morning." I answered. shaking her head briefly before looking at me again. I'd struggled more than I'd expected to those first days. and welcoming. A strange expression moved across her features: uncertainty. my first time on my own. the distinct feel of metal. I'd traveled with my parents as a child. This was the piece I'd chosen to take with me when my time there was up. placing it against her breast. "Same thing." She shifted. I think it suits me. a small reminder of the color and beauty that existed in this brown and dusty place. I was torn between looking into her eyes. her voice and tentative touch along my forearm bringing me back to my small living room. and sweetness. her hand moving to my face to lightly stroke the metal ring that pierced my eyebrow. I like keeping some of it with me. She took the napkin from my hand and pulled my palm to her. I felt like I needed decoration. a small bird with yellow and red feathers painted along the left side of my torso. it's about loving it. It's not about disliking my skin.

I remembered how she licked her lips and looked up at . the pink of her sunburned cheeks deepening as she gathered our plates and made her way to the kitchen. placing the paper napkin in my empty palm. not knowing that she held her breath every single one of the thirty first bites she witnessed and how she exhaled slowly when she saw with her own eyes how much I loved her cooking. or feel how she squeezed me when I made her laugh while I loved her. The picture was beautiful but it didn't capture how she'd watch me take my first bite of dinner. I pulled out my useless phone and texted her: You are so beautiful. when I was beneath her and she was making love to me. that she already didn't know how to go a day without being with me. This drawing gave me a piece of her to gaze at and to remember. my world and what I thought I knew having tilted off its axis in that single moment. her heart pounding beneath my touch as my thumb moved back and forth. my chest heaving and my mind in chaos. wondering if perhaps we weren't so different after all. and when she handed me the paper. pretending not to look. When I came. I felt like I was suffocating. "Let me get these. asking me to come on her breasts. staring. Too quickly she pulled my hand away. my voice full of confusion and wanting. unexpected and overwhelming. relishing in this hidden piece of herself that she was sharing with me. I felt the agony of longing so intense it made me nauseous. or how her voice sounded the first time she climaxed with me inside her. underneath me. I had never had a chance to hear her laugh in bed. The picture didn't capture how her neck felt under my lips. It fell to the floor. and I came into her then with a low groan. I hadn't seen her face in weeks. or how her laugh sounded in the kitchen but was always quieter and deeper from across our makeshift table in the living room. Ah Lin smiled at me knowingly as she drew in meticulous and breathtaking detail. my hand unwilling to forget the shape and perfectness of her. her blush. I watched her go. and in some ways it was the missing pieces that hurt the most. I played these images of Bella in my head over and over later that night. It rocked me. I spent what felt like hours describing her eyes. yes." she said quietly. looking at the picture in my hands. It didn't capture how she felt under my fingers. She whispered later. I imagined her watching. when I was alone and fighting the consuming loneliness after yet another evening without her. She didn't meet my eyes. I closed my eyes and took my erection in my hand. gesturing when I had to. ~*~ August 16th With painstaking slowness I described Bella in my limited Mandarin. and the long slope of her neck. But so much was missing. above me. I calmed myself as much as I could and thanked her profusely before taking the picture out back and leaning against the stone shower. "Bella?" I asked. In my bed.Her breath was heavy. remembering how her fingers felt under mine as I showed her how to touch me.

" "I'm tired all the time. Bella curled up against me as her entire body relaxed. I watched him." I looked up at him. His life could possibly be saved. but it wasn't enough. even if I was alone. "Part of that is the cancer." He huffed softly. not moving to clean herself. the cancer sent into remission. "Is the pain better?" He hesitated and then nodded once. The front door opened and closed quietly behind me. He shrugged. feeling sorry for this man who had once been so strong. "Lei de gan jue bei tong hao shou?" Is the fatigue preferable to the pain? He didn't answer. he was unmoving. In the cool damp darkness of his home. instead almost seeming to feel more beautiful with my orgasm on her skin. I didn't want to lose this connection with her. but like the others that remained in the village. waving weakly to Ah Lin as I passed her on the path." I told him quietly. I could only do so much here and had told him as much. ~*~ August 22nd It felt like it took me forever to make my morning house calls. I grabbed my morning doses and left. His health had improved somewhat with the changes in his diet." he said. but I couldn't find anything that my body wanted. This thought haunted me continually for the next six days until I fell ill and continued into my delirium. Bella's voice asking me to put my mouth on her. I knew that more could be done to help him if he would consent to being moved to the treatment center in the city. moving slowly so he could stop me if he wanted. stilling the nausea I had been fighting all morning. hungry for my kiss. underneath me. I want to make sure I have the right dose. I didn't want to leave the house without eating. but it still took me so long to find the words. Pushing the thoughts aside. "I don't like what the medicine makes me feel. "Wo ren he de shi qing dou be neng zuo. It will make you tired. "And part of that is the morphine. wanting to be honest. "Tell me what you mean. I inhaled deeply. frustrated. . several times in fact. I grasped at the images: Bella tugging on my hair. I took it as a yes and smoothed an alcohol wipe over his arm. This last fantasy shook me because I realized I had spent thirty evenings with Bella and had never tasted her. I felt cold in the sweltering heat. ChangMing's arm was tiny and wrinkled in my grasp.me. "How do you feel?" I could hear the improvement in my Mandarin. I didn't want to be done. thousands of miles away." I can't do anything anymore. I felt my cock soften in my hand and struggled to keep her voice in my ear. Bella's hair tangled underneath her.

and utterly beautiful. "Ah Lin told me you were weaving. My body was fighting an infection." Ah Lin whispered. I felt terrible. leaning to give ChangMing the shot. it was what it represented — care and nurturing. you're sweating like crazy. laying our dinner ingredients out before her. "I'm not so weak that I can't drink on my own. "You have a fever." Tommy told me as he walked in and stared at me with concern etched on his forehead. nothing more. Ah Lin tilted my head up and poured bottled water into my mouth. Edward. Small hands gripped my arms and an arm slid around my waist. how much her simple kindness meant to me. I was struck in that moment how beautiful she was. You're like a drunken sailor." I said. feeling frantic for several long seconds. "Bella. her face open and welcoming and honest. you've cooked dinner for me twenty nights in a row. ~*~ Chapter Three July 2nd I watched as she unloaded the canvas bag she carried. understanding. He put his hand on my arm. it continually stretched and retracted. the ."Zhao yi sheng. taking it from her. trying to track any and every exposure I might have had in the past month. Please. "Ni jiu hui. ni hao. "That's not necessary. and sweet." She turned her head to glance at me. how simple." I managed a laugh. like water suspended. noticing the way she paused briefly before setting a bunch of deep purple grapes on the counter." I didn't say anything but felt a spike of panic when I realized he was right. "Dude. I needed water." ChangMing called weakly to Tommy behind me." I was sweating. let me pay you for it. Really. I coughed a bit. willing her to understand how much I wanted to do this. My hand was steady. but not without effort. I looked up at him. "Let me pay for these. Go. "Go lay down." I pleaded with my eyes." I collapsed on my bed and stared at the ceiling as it rippled above me. She placed a rough hand on my cheek. assessing. Feeding me was more than just sustaining the physical part of my being. You are. I had a fever. The path to my place felt like an illusion." I mumbled. I nodded absently and stumbled from ChangMing's home. "Come. "I'm good." You will be.

By the time she returned. They thanked me with food and meals from their own land and tables. it's right out here. In the villages I traveled to I helped those that couldn't help themselves. I felt the heat of her even through the late afternoon sun. I love seeing your flowery girl bowls in my dishwasher. motioning to a forgotten charcoal grill that sat just off the landing. What did I give to Bella? What did she receive from our time together? "Cooking for two is easier than cooking for one. Her hip was close to mine. The women in the fields took care of me. She nodded and I watched her retreating form move to the door and disappear from my view. I was used to caring and being cared for in return. "Can you clean out all the spider webs and I'll run across the street for some briquettes?" "Yes. peering into the cobweb filled base. happy to have something to do. don't you?" "A grill? Yeah. I accepted it with gratitude. I enjoyed the ease with which she moved around my home. "You have a grill. the conversation was over. "You bring anymore stuff over and we might as well put a toothbrush for you in the bathroom. "It's not much. I met her at the bottom of the stairs. the grill was cleaned and waiting. wine in hand. and . I smiled as I listened to the screen door open and close. "I have sort of taken over your kitchen lately." she mumbled.sharing of ones self. tanned legs. Her hands paused and she turned to me. her lips turned with slight worry. I gave of myself willingly and they accepted it. My eyes lingered on her long. shrugging and rubbing the back of my neck. "It's perfect. tilting her chin upward. another canvas bag in hand. and together we made quick work of starting the fire. "Sorry." She smacked my arm and laughed. We sat together on the rough wooden steps. "I was teasing you. She moved around me with ease." She brushed passed me and lifted the lid carefully. returning to her task of sorting and unwrapping." I lead her through my small kitchen to the back porch." I answered. haven't I?" "Bella. her expression clear of all but the simple smile I had grown so attached to. eagerly taking the brought items from her arms." she answered simply." I said. tucking a wayward strand of hair behind her ear. ma'am." I said. "I miss having someone to cook for." And with that. folding her bag neatly and moving it to the opposite counter. This was different." Her eyes moved around the small yard as if looking for something. a small way to help." She smiled and broke eye contact as her cheeks reddened. sure. The tuna steaks she'd brought for dinner were marinating in the refrigerator. "I don't really use it.

" she remarked." She laughed softly and I waited. they were like flames. But we weren't great. "It's been nice actually. "But I can manage certain things on my own. I'd never really noticed them before. a fire that licked and crackled just below what she let the world see. "You've really done a lot here. "Mowing the lawn. "You care. She returned moments later carrying a large platter filled with tuna steaks and sliced vegetables." she began with a shake of her head. "I'll get the fish. and my eyes widened at the realization of what she was saying. wanting to ask but knowing it wasn't necessary. moving a small pebble across the cracked cement with the toe of her shoe. removed and soft. "The last occupants really let it go.we watched the coals turn from black to grey to almost white. I wondered what other things she missed." I took in the tone of her voice." she began." she nodded. "I miss these things. to find enjoyment with a person but not feel like you belonged to each other." It was my turn to nod." she said suddenly. "It would be nice to have companionship…" she trailed off before licking her lips and arching an eyebrow. She nodded and took another sip of wine." She nodded in agreement and continued to take in the bare space." The blush faded and she took a long draw from her glass. the small things. People weren't books left open for the world to read. trying to see it the way she would. but I saw it. keeping my eyes trained on my wine glass. "Just about there. standing and retreating into the house. "Jake and I were… good. and each one fit." She turned to me with a pleased smile on her face. getting something heavy off the shelf…" she smiled and I nudged her slightly to continue with the almost caressing sound of her voice. "Neighbor Girl. I couldn't help but feel almost inadequate as I considered the differences between my imagined idea of her yard and my own. It shows. Her lips curved into a devious smile before she turned away. I felt my respect for her grow as I considered the time and effort it must take for a woman living on her own to maintain. There was so much to this sweet girl. I suddenly understood the thousands of metaphors about fire. intrigued with the way her cheeks suddenly flamed. That's the only way I can explain it." I said." "I've cleaned up. "So do I." I turned to her and smiled. understanding what she meant. . her eyes moving from the smoldering briquettes to my pathetic yard. "I really enjoy our dinners. The sun glinted off the crystal stem of her glass and the red and gold highlights in her hair." I said. "It's the silly things I miss. "You mean cooking for someone?" "Sure.

You're nothing like you seem on the outside. her eyes moving along my arms and shoulders and across my neck." I answered. The food cooked quickly and we found ourselves once again sitting across from each other at my battered coffee table. by the way. "What do you mean?" "On the outside. "I had more to begin with. my eyes closing at the way the delicate fish melted in my mouth.. I have fewer now. thinking back to that hidden piece of herself she'd shown me. So in answer. a knowing smile lifting the corners of her pink lips. less. the rich smell of smoke and sesame evoking memories of so many dinners past — dinners that were less intimate. "How many piercings?" "Six. unsurprised to look up and find her watching me. She'd asked why I didn't want her to know me." I answered with a smile. My hand burned to reach out and touch the smooth skin." I smiled widely then. unable to look away from her silent appraisal of my body. everything. Her eyes lifted to me almost in surprise.The fish hissed and sizzled as she placed it along the heated metal rack.. I nodded in silent understanding. I took a large bite. Moving slightly. I dipped my head to take another bite in an attempt to hide my smile. chewing as she mulled over my response. so lost in my own routine it had never occurred to me that she would want to know me in that way. less grounded. as if she'd been so lost in her thoughts she'd forgotten the question she'd asked." she chided. Her tongue reached out to lick a drop of sauce from the end of her chopstick. taking a long drink of my wine." She put a snow pea in her mouth." ." "Six. I hummed to myself as I chewed. "How many tattoos do you have?" she asked." I said pointedly. I had to look away. more to herself than as a response to me. I added to them until they melted into one another. I finished chewing as I contemplated my answer. "Neither are you." she said softly. "That's not very forthcoming. "I know. "This is delicious. I didn't want to think of them tonight. reminding me of a previous conversation. she stretched her leg out along the edge of the table. they just cover more of my skin. "You're not like you seem. I'd been stunned. "A lot. her eyes shifting as if trying to account for the piercings she could see — and the one she couldn't. She held my gaze. her bare foot coming to rest against my outer thigh. Her voice was quiet." I met her eyes across the table.

. "Don't move so much. Where was the urgency I expected? "He needed me here.~*~ August 23rd Calloused hands and humidity. I didn't know how many cycles of light and dark moved through the room and over me. Water spilled across my neck." ……. pleading behind closed eyes.. "You need more than water." ……. but more comfortable against my skin.. "I'm going to China." I explained quietly." "Drink now." "Shh.. Why do you always have to be so busy?" Warm broth followed.. . "Don't want.. You're such a busy man.. it's the few you need. "It's not just the masses that matter. ".Neighbor Girl.." "Sleep now." ……." Water was poured carefully down my throat. "You make me want to stay here..." ……. ". Xiao huo tou. my chest.. My hands shook so much." "I don't know how to let someone like you in the way I want.I love seeing your flowery girl bowls.banana legs." The words were spoken in English and they sounded like they came from my own mouth. The sun came and went. explaining to the air why I was thousands of miles away from my Bella." I said. I struggled to sit. A constant hum of complete silence. to hold the bottle with my hands. This village was so quiet." Ah Lin's voice calmed me. "Quiet. leaving a relieving swath of darkness and cool air when it departed." I slept most of the time.. ". Nighttime was harder inside my head. Keep your strength.

"...not like you seem..." ……. August 25th I heard voices outside for the first time in days and I woke up, damp and disoriented. The room shifted and swam until I closed my eyes. "Come in, a little crazy neighbor girl," I said, laughing messily at my private joke. Tommy's voice and Ah Lin's and then a quiet gasp and some shuffling back through the door and outside. Everything became too quiet for me to hear. I fell back asleep. ~*~ Footsteps entered the room and I didn't bother to open my eyes. The air was heavy and soothing. I heard shuffling and the clanking sound of a pot on the small stove. A hand lifted my head and I drank. The broth in my delirium tasted like Bella to me; in my fantasy I tasted the signature of her cooking. Hands on my face, again, but softer now and I wondered how long my stubble must be to cut through the texture of sweet Ah Lin's abused fingertips. "I'm scruffy," I mumbled. "You are perfect," Bella whispered in my dream. ~*~ August 26th The sunlight bleached everything in the room and I pressed the heel of my hands against my eyes, bringing back the easy darkness for a moment. The house was quiet. I was alone. I inhaled deeply and opened my eyes, waiting for the room to spin. It didn't. I sat up, slowly. The house was tidy, and I swallowed heavily at the familiar smell of her somehow still in my head. The vivid dreams were turning to vapor too quickly, but somehow her smell stayed with me. I shifted so that I sat at the edge of the bed and leaned my head into my hands. The stillness and quiet of the room was pierced with a shriek from outside and I jumped up before bending over against the table to steady myself. The sound wasn't Ah Lin. Images rushed through my head: soft brown eyes, smooth fingers, a broth that tasted like home to me. Hushed whispers and promises during the night. Bella?

I stumbled outside to the shower and my legs nearly buckled under me as I stood frozen, watching her bend to pick up a tin of soap. I blinked hard and staggered slightly from the forced movement, but she was still there. I turned and stared back at the main house and tried to remember the contents of the table next to the bed I had occupied for days. There had been nothing there that would make me hallucinate, nothing there to indicate I had been suffering anything other than delirium from fever. I turned back to the doorway of the small bathroom outside. She was still there, her back still facing me. Her hand dragged a soapy cloth down her side and suds ran from her naked back, down her hip to her thigh and curled around her knee. "No," I whispered, not believing what I saw, and terrified that my instinct to believe that it was all in my head was the right one. "Holy shit!" she yelped, whipping around and covering her breasts instinctively. She gaped at me and I felt my chest heaving violently. I gripped the side of the door. "Edward?" she whispered, dropping her arms. "Baby, are you okay?" She looked behind me almost as if she expected to see Ah Lin following me with a cup of broth and some herbs. I nodded, numb. She was so beautiful. She was here. She was still mine. She lowered her arms and held them out to me, beckoning. My heart was restored when she did this and my tears began falling, propelled by the wracking sobs of my chest. She was naked, but I was completely bare for her. "Shh, sweetie. Come here," she said, nodding and curling her hand to me. "I can't believe you're up." I couldn't move. Not because I didn't want to go to her — I wanted nothing more than to feel her skin, to smell her hair, to just fucking kiss her with abandon and tell her I loved her — but because I was afraid if I moved she would disappear. "What..." I started, shaking my head slightly and wiping my face. "How." She licked her lips and, given my hesitation and delay, seemed to wonder whether she should cover herself. She reached for a towel slung over the side of the small stall. "Don't," I said, too loudly, and my voice cracked on the single syllable. It was hoarse from misuse but I rasped, "God, Bella, don't." I felt as though I may lose my mind if she covered herself, if I lost any part of her in front of me now. She dropped her hand and smiled. Her eyes crinkled and I moved towards her then, completely unable to stop myself. I practically fell against her but she was close enough to the wall that my momentum simply pressed her against the stone of the small shower. I heard her sob and her arms flew around my shoulders. I completely lost it then, heaving in my relief and gripping her as tightly as I could. She held me. Her hands. Her voice. Her smell. It was all real.

The water seeped through my clothes and made me shiver but I ushered every ounce of strength I had to keep her from letting go of me. She was here. She didn't disappear. "I found you," she whispered, running her hands over my shoulders. ~*~ Her hands smoothed over my back until I stilled. I was several inches taller than her but she held me firmly, slowly shifting how we stood until I leaned against the stone. "You should lay down." I shook my head. "I can't leave you." "I'm almost done," she whispered. "Do you want a bath too? Can you stand for a few minutes?" I nodded. Her fingers slipped gently under my shirt and then tugged, urging me with an expectant lift of her eyebrows to raise my arms as she pulled the shirt over my head. She untied my pants and pulled them down my hips. Her eyes never left mine. "Are you cold?" I nodded. "Here," she said, bringing a cloth to my chest. "The water was really hot. It's probably okay now." She took a cup and poured some down my chest, looking at my face to make sure I was okay. Another cup went down my back. She carefully tilted my chin up and poured a cup over my head and through my hair. And just like this, with soft familiar fingers that had fed me so many nights, Bella bathed me. On her tiptoes she washed my hair, and on her knees she washed my legs. Her hair was wet and smoothed back and away from her face. I had forgotten how far down her back it reached. Her neck was so much longer than my memory told me. Long and smooth, tensing as she reached behind my thighs. Her ears were small and unpierced. I had never studied them before. Her lips were fuller, slightly chapped. I imagined her biting them continually as she watched me come in and out of my fever. Her collarbones seemed sharper — had she lost weight? Her hands were exactly how I remembered them, but her shoulders were stronger. Only now when I realized how much I had missed in describing her, did I truly believe she was here. My imagination could not have come up with her exactly like this in front of me. "I love you." My voice broke and the last word stuck in my throat.

the significance of what it meant was not lost on me. She stood and wrapped her arms around my neck. The ever-present ache dulled as I held her in my dream. With trembling hands I brushed a piece of tangled hair from her forehead. I felt her skin. her softness. down her ribs. Sighing against my mouth. "Bella. I kissed her warm cheeks. wincing as a wave of dizziness and fatigue swiftly flooded through me. her eyelashes fluttering along my cheeks. I remembered her body. ~*~ My eyes opened up to darkness. Fated to love him My thumb traced the newly inked skin. I lifted my head to peer down. the face I'd seen so many times as I'd looked at Ah Lin's drawing. along her wrist and in Chinese characters were words so much like my own. she rolled me onto my back. My hands moved under her arms and to her shoulders. Something warm pressed against me and I pulled it closer. over her shoulder. Dark ink caught my eye and I shifted her arm to see. the way the sun had danced along her wet skin. shaking my head before opening them again." I murmured her name through dry lips. She moved beneath me. ……. I sighed and felt the emptiness inside me fill. holding her to me as I kissed her. and my limbs trembled as I tried to support my weight. Dark hair nestled against my neck. like Bella. closing my eyes as I pressed my lips to the words. my eyes opening as something stirred against me. I remembered waking to a surprised cry from the shower. Her bare leg brushed against mine before moving to rest along my hip. Her fingers twitched and I lifted them to my mouth. She had marked herself — I was what she wanted to keep with her. my body stirred." she said into my mouth. She shifted in her sleep and with easy familiarity. Even in my weakened state. It was so much more beautiful than I remembered. kissing her palm. how the familiar sound had pulled me forward like a cord inside my chest. There. I closed my eyes tightly. My eyes moved over her face. flashes of my fragmented dreams fogged my vision of the room. My arms shook as I lifted my hand to ghost along her body. I was tired and weak. pressed her cheek against my chest. I kissed her wrist again. . her nose and finally her mouth. and how certain I'd been that she couldn't be real. My hands tangled in silk that smelled like home.She looked up at me and her face crumpled at the words. "You should be resting.

A sense of urgency overtook us as she sat up. her fingers brushing along my length. how her thighs tightened against me and her skin pebbled beneath my trembling fingertips. She fit so perfectly. my body. only having the strength to relish the movement of her hips or lightly brush along her stomach and breasts. "Your heart is racing. like a tie between us." She looked down as if suddenly shy and I lifted her chin. "It made me feel closer to you somehow. if she regretted marking herself this way. I watched where our bodies connected. She fell against my chest with a contented sigh. feeling whole for the first time since we'd been apart. wondering about the story behind it. "I love you. I watched as she moved over me. Moaning softly." she laughed and the sound was so beautiful. "A little. her legs on either side of my hips. silently watching me. Her eyes moved across my face before her lips pressed to mine." she murmured against my jaw. "That feels so good. her naked body molding to mine as it had in each of my fantasies. My eyes never left hers as she positioned herself and took me inside."You're sick. her thumb tracing the underside of my piercing. so perfect in every way. I moaned at the way she felt in my hands and at the way her scent enveloped me. holding her to me. "Please. seeing the hesitation in her expression. She was so vibrant and full of life. I smiled at the way it vibrated through me." I breathed heavily. cupping her bare curves in my palms. watching as her hands became reacquainted with my body. such a stark contrast to the unending fatigue I felt. I felt every breath. I brushed a piece of hair over her shoulder. She shifted and I lifted my head to find her propped on my chest. I watched her hair fall around us as she leaned over me for a kiss. A tangible piece of what mattered. and I felt myself harden between our bodies as her tongue tangled with mine. I watched the way the metal through her nipple glinted in the moonlight and the way she tensed and sighed my name as she brought us both to orgasm. "Did it hurt?" I asked. practically shaking with the need to feel her. Her touch was so familiar and I was overcome with longing. She opened her mouth to me. every sweep of her hand." I said softly. Her hands slipped down my chest to grip me. to her arm." My hands moved to her hips. I shook as I came inside of her. and the way she would close her eyes for only a second before looking down at me again. "I'm fine. then lower. helpless to look away." . how it felt like we disappeared from the world. I relished in the sounds she made. I kept my eyes on hers as my thumb traced her tattoo. She fit so perfectly against me. I brushed the back of my fingers across her jaw and down her neck." I said. My eyes devoured her. She bit her lower lip as she considered. the only words that filled my head. She smiled as I brought it to my mouth and kissed it gently. and how her breasts moved above me. My hands moved to her hair and I closed my eyes. My arms lay heavily at my sides.

and I insisted on checking in on the village. quietly and unhurried. sweet girl." I stared at her for a long moment. moving comfortably around each other." She continued to work but her movements slowed. I realized there was a world of books and . chopping vegetables from the safe-food ice chest. I wondered if maybe she had been worried about my reaction. "I'm relieved. let me go. The afternoon sun lit up the dark space and we slipped into an easy routine when we got up a while later. "Come back to me. relishing the familiar comfort we shared so immediately upon our reunion. "Let me see you. I curled up behind her and held her to me. "I don't even really want to leave you now. urging me to stay still. relishing the sounds she gave me. after kissing me. "Relieved? Tell me what you mean. I looked back down at the vial in my hand to make sure I labeled it correctly before putting it on the table and looking up at her. Bella's small arms held me in bed. we made love again. I watched her between prepping each vial. She smiled widely. Her voice had been slightly shaky. Bella. not entirely sure how to react to this. I sat at the table organizing doses and Bella tinkered in the tiny kitchen. But the silence started to feel heavy. I hated that I couldn't see her face as she sorted out her answer."It's beautiful. Bella rarely went so long without speaking." Her hand reached up and tucked her hair behind her ear." I said simply. For at least half an hour we worked quietly. simply listening to the sounds of the other's task. "It won't take me long." When I returned. some determination or deep-seated responsibility because she nodded once and. "I'm relieved that you were happy to see me." ~*~ Chapter Four August 27th My strength returned slowly throughout the morning. "It is. rocking forward and back. Hearing her say this from my small cot in this house in China pulled a smile from me and I nodded. "Move your hair. I looked up at her just as she inhaled to speak." She must have seen something in my eyes. letting a curtain of hair fall between us." I murmured. I just need to check in." She shook her head slightly." she said. She glanced at me briefly and then smiled down at the carrots she was chopping.

"I couldn't find my space here. though. And I'm not sure how to do my life differently. "I can see what you mean. stirring them and then walking to the table. watching me eat. She came to me and I was glad for it. I was falling apart without you. I realized we were saying this for the first time without touching. She loved me. I suppose you would have no way of knowing that. I'm used to traveling when I'm needed. "It was kind of a big leap of faith coming here." "No. "Eat. let alone said them out loud. It was all so new. "I mean. "I've never thought the words 'I love you' to a woman." Her blush was beautiful and warm." "Different how?" Her face looked warm and tight with desire." She shook her head at her own words." I said and her eyebrows furrowed a little. "I'm completely restored." I said slowly. I'm just glad that you were being honest that night. But in that moment. I'm used to being more transient." The only other thing that made sense came out of my mouth: "I love you." she whispered. hoping the meaning would come out if I just kept speaking. I hope you never doubted my feelings for you." she said. and although they didn't sound awkward or at all forced. I loved her. "I love you. "I don't know that side of you at all. I realized she needed more from me. too. They were freckled with dark sesame seeds and even in their simplicity they were beautiful and vibrant. examining it." she said. I almost felt like I was stumbling to translate my thoughts into the language of loving reassurance and possession. The words themselves were so new to me. I wondered if she felt that. She reached for one and then held it between her fingers." I stared down at my hands for a moment before the scraping sound of the bowl cut into my thoughts and the bowl pressed against my fingers." "You left." "I'm in love with you. chewing while I considered articulating everything in my mind. But everything is different now. I swallowed heavily and watched her lips as she smiled. but this is always where my own reality misaligned with the conventional wisdom because I had never understood the value of empty words. oil. trying not to stare at her tongue on her skin. I truly do." She nodded and put the carrots in a bowl. seeing you is the only thing that could keep me together. "Bella. "I hope you know it was never my intention to leave things unclear. "It doesn't usually take much for me to feel . not understanding. too. clearly not meaning to sound harsh. and soy towards me. I shook my head slightly. I picked up a carrot and slipped it into my mouth. and that you weren't only caught up in the moment. full of meaning and honesty.talk shows that would make everything so much more complex than this." She watched a drop of sauce roll from her fingertip down the side of her hand and then licked it as she looked up at me. everything stopped buzzing in my ears and it was just Bella and I at a table. When she sat across from me. though. she needed the words. She pushed a bowl of carrots in vinegar." "I know.

laughing self-consciously. "You spoke with my dad?" "I did. "I told him how you had to leave so abruptly and I didn't think I could let six months pass without seeing you. some building up of courage she required. running my finger over her lip. He called me back. I." My chest grew tight. "But this time it felt weird to not have you here." "But I didn't have a passport." she said. I used some of my connections at Newsweek." I laughed at her guilty expression and took her hand. I hadn't seen her in a month.settled somewhere for however long I'm there.. I wished so much I could have seen his face when he heard from her. missing the sight of her doing that enough that I needed to feel it underneath my fingertips. I took in the faint lines of exhaustion that circled her eyes. "So. stunned.. I couldn't imagine what this had done to my father. "So that took a few weeks. Her face relaxed somewhat when I did this and I smiled. It occurred to me that I had no idea what her journey had been. they looked up his office number in the states and I left him a message that I knew his son and needed to find him. how it would have brought him so much relief to know that I was learning how to love. I admitted to him that we fell in love. "Will you tell me what you did while we were apart? Why you decided to come to me?" I asked.." "I called your parents. I also knew from the way her voice broke that Carlisle would never in a million years question what she said." she admitted staring at her hands. She was so tenacious when I had been floundering.. "How did you find them?" "You'd told me your father's name once. "Spill. because all I knew was that you were going to China." She smiled proudly when she said this and I could just imagine how my parents would fall for Bella." I stared at her. realizing how much she had been through to get here. "I would have loved that. Tell me how you became a sleuth. And in that time I had to find you." I rubbed my face and took another carrot. "I wanted to come right away." She smiled and chewed her lip. "I wish I'd asked you to come with me. "I hear China is a big place. I wondered if there was some hesitation on her part. uh." "It is. "Oh. Carlisle knew how little expectation I had that I would ever find what I had with Bella." I smirked at her." She knotted her fingers when she said this and I realized that the last month had been just as hard for her. kissing it. I never thought of that." she laughed." Her determination floored me and humbled me." I took off my glasses and rubbed my eyes. I just accepted her presence. "What on earth did you tell him?" This I had to hear. I reached across the table and touched her mouth. "I told him how we met." I could touch her face for hours. "And he called Health Relief for you?" .

" she mumbled. kissing up and down her skin with increasing need." My mind reeled with what she was telling me and I focused my efforts. The sheets beneath her smelled like both of us and the love we had made before bed. her ankles. ever. ~*~ It was such a humid night it almost felt like we were sleeping in a pool of water in the cot.?" "I'm lost in you. I wanted to relish the sight of her. she tasted exactly how I imagined: soft. I felt her arch into me. Bella tossed restlessly. from the fiery stars and half moon. finally sucking her into my mouth. I breathed her name.. pulling her closer to me over the table." ?? ~*~ . wet and somehow… familiar...." I reached for her face again. unmarked skin. wanting her to always want this from me. I never wanted her to sleep clothed with me. I needed to feel her mouth. She was nude. when she had taken me in again and loved me with quiet urgency. "No one ever. I kissed her heels. She woke up slowly. "I've wanted this for so long. "You did so much to get here." she murmured. "That day.. her calves. I had insisted on it when we went to bed together that night. I was completely lost. "Really. I wanted her to only wear her words for me. the smell of her." She nodded against my kiss." "Really?" she breathed. giving in to it.. We both had to stand somewhat but I didn't care. smiling because I understood. her legs looked opalescent and smooth. "Never?" "It's.. crawling down to the foot of the cot to gaze up at her. I needed this so much.She nodded. humming and touching my hands on her thighs. but gently. even as exhausted as she was. but when I ran my tongue along her." she whispered. "I don't. more aware and I was tired of sleeping. The taste of her." I reassured her. I spread her thighs with my hands. next to me." Her legs jerked when I slid a finger inside her and she registered what I was doing. In the light from outside. she was unable to get comfortable. I felt stronger.. I kissed her thighs and touched her clean. "Oh. "So I'm relieved you're happy to see me. "Do you.

telling her how she made me feel. "I like thinking about what you did when... I took myself in my hand. "What is it you want to see?" She bit back a moan." I saw her blush and knew this new experience pressed back against and challenged her daring mood. running a finger up her stomach and circling the nipple she ignored. relishing the woman who emerged when we were alone at night. "Why?" I asked. "So good. growling a bit. "You thought about that a lot?" I waited until she opened her eyes to nod." "Will you let me see?" She pulled her lip into her mouth and chewed it." I watched her for a long moment. . but she stilled me with a hand on my hip. pulling back my foreskin and tugging her nipple ring with my other hand. I expected her to pull me over her. "You enjoy that. "And when you savored it." "Yeah. "I love this side of you. "…when you thought of me. "How did you do it when you were without me?" She tilted her head on the pillow and ran a hand up my thigh as I straddled her legs spread below me. "I give you a lot to look at." I smiled down at her." Her eyes grew almost black when she said this. she shook with her need for more. "I didn't know you'd never been touched like that." she blushed and I smiled down at her. "I want to see you." I whispered. I swallowed at the darkness of her stare. what were you thinking about?" "Tasting you. She ran her hand up her side and pinched her nipple softly. I began to move my hand and her eyes grew hooded." She stared at my hand." I admitted quietly. She closed her eyes and breathed." She looked up at my eyes and I saw the relief there. waiting. "I like visual stimulation." "I do." Her eyes moved down my chest and to my hips.Her orgasm was wild and writhing and when I looked at her below me as I crawled up her body. "Did you savor it?" "A couple of times I did. "I like that. to want me inside her as much as I wanted it." She growled and ran a hand up my arm.

Just like your innocent honesty. She smiled when she saw me lean over into the beam of sun in her face. speckling her legs with shadows and the undulating movement of the leaves in the wind. "Do you like it?" I flicked it lightly with my index finger and she gasped. She was lying in the grass. moving faster. The hill behind the house sloped softly toward the riverbank. ~*~ September 4th I returned from my morning of rounds. straining to hold on."That was part of the fantasy." . lowering her hand from where it had shielded her eyes. I closed my eyes and arched my neck." She looked up at me and licked her lips. scrubbed my hands in the water basin. The way her fingers desperately clawed at the sheets when I came was the most erotic thing I had ever seen. "Really?" I nodded again." she breathed. I stood for a moment.." "Why?" She loved the vision of me like this and I found I loved nothing more than her whispered directions. in search of Bella." I admitted. The long row of houses was punctuated every ten yards or so by a stone shower. Only since Bella had arrived had I let my surroundings in more." she said. The river was polluted but much of the land was paradoxically green and lush. "I like how it looks. "It's so amazing here. "I don't know. "Where do you want me to come?" My voice was tight and she gasped. watching her take it all in and I tried to see what she was seeing in our world here. struggling to prolong it. "You kept that just for me.. "I like how it feels even more. gazing up at the sky." she murmured. actually. a well. I thought. "My hip. A stand of trees shaded Bella's lower body. "I just want it there." "Yes. and walked to the field behind the house." I looked down her body and realized how my release would move down her hip and between her legs. "The piercing. or a small bench. your willingness to be daring and ask me for what you want. She was quiet and I met her gaze. "I can't get over how different everything is." Just like this side of you." I hissed.

" She turned towards me. It's hard to tell them that it's not enough to wash or boil the food. Gave medication – mostly pain meds at this point.I moved to lie down next to her and she took my hand. Sometimes we deal with parasitic infections. "Okay.. "I do sometimes focus on infectious disease. her familiar life. why are you only giving pain medication? I guess I figured these types of things – your trips. I kissed her flushed cheek." I realized there was really more to her question and added. kissing my nose. Providing care for places just like this. even thousands of miles from her home." she murmured. "Don't they know not to eat the food from the field?" I nodded and shrugged. "I mean it." I murmured." I whispered. I kissed her fingers again." "Do you come here a lot?" "I've never been here for work. and I could hear her smile in the sound. "What did you do today?" she asked." "Is this job how you met Tommy?" . "So. brow furrowed. inhaling and kissing her skin. I brought her fingers to my lips. Sometimes we go to a disaster area and do acute triage. her hand clenched and unclenched mine. Getting to the places that don't have resources. "But our goal is very rarely to contain outbreaks." she whispered. Sometimes we help a local population learn how to treat their water and food to prevent infection. "We never really talked about our jobs before. It's very hard for them to understand that their land is poisoned." She looked back up at the sky and I could see her mind working. "Like the movie. I mean – dealt more with outbreaks and. Her brown eyes grew darker in her thoughts. "Ask. that what they are growing is toxic from within." "I love hearing you talk about it. What we do is more out-reach. That is usually left to the larger government agencies." I nodded and leaned to kiss her. well. Outbreak. looking at me and laughing a little at what she perceived to be her naiveté. "I missed you. like… " She closed her eyes. The HRI people here are nationals." She smiled and rolled to kiss me." "I know." She winced. "They do. "Anything. they just go back to habit. Visited each home.. "I usually go to Africa or Haiti." I admitted. her garden. But this village is many generations old. I'll go back after lunch and make sure everyone is still eating and drinking from the right sources. let's see. Health Relief International does non-profit work. She looked so comfortable here. "The usual. trying to remember something. That's a very painful reality for the people who have lived off this land and chosen to stay here. She hummed in response. If I don't make sure they're eating from the safe food. China doesn't usually bring in many foreign aid workers.

" "Do you give them chemo?" I shook my head. I don't go away for as long. I think we figure it out as we go. that this was care giving and not lifesaving. When I opened my eyes. Never. There will always be patients that I lose. and no one who is sick here is going to make it." I looked over at her.I shook my head." "So. I leaned to kiss her and it lingered deliciously. and I fit this in around all of it. He's always known that I could come at a moment's notice and he's taken too much on by himself. I just mind suffering. He worked at Mass General for a while but ended up coming back to China and through my connections he started coordinating HRI efforts here. "No. And I don't mind death." "What's different about this assignment?" "It's more than just being away from you. everyone has… cancer?" she asked tentatively. My answer was swift because I had spent so much time thinking about this in the past weeks. losing myself in her. "I require more notice. Even though I don't often work in China. . "We met in medical school. squeezing her hand and smiling wryly." Her eyes were bottomless and tears pricked in the corners." "I know. I don't feel like I'm making a difference here because no one will get better. we travel together sometimes. she was looking intently at me. Many of them refuse symptomatic treatment. how my reference to being available at a moment's notice triggered this conversation. "I could never do six months away from you. although I know that's part of it. Even one was hard. saw the pain and concern on her face." She sucked in a breath and looked at me with an expression I couldn't decipher. "Someone has to. I came here this time because Tommy needed help. She ran her hand down my face and cupped my cheek. Her face registered what this meant. "You seem sad here sometimes." "I like that. This village is close to where he grew up and it has been largely left for dead. "That's so depressing. "How do we do this?" I knew exactly what she meant." she whispered. "Mostly leukemia. We make our life together. I closed my eyes. I tried to calm her. Are you often sad in the field?" I shook my head. as well. I feel alive when I'm working. escaping everything else for just a few moments. "Why do you do it?" I looked at her." She considered this. He was burned out. but here the pollution reaches everything. I nodded.

I can handle it. in a sense. I saw her fear that I would not return to her. "Shhh. "You're so strong. too…" I shook my head. The roads were rough and slowed our progress. I tightened my grip on her hand. I just don't want you here. feeling like that statement could make me laugh for a long time given how incongruous it was with my current self-image." I said again. I want to be with you. So. "I don't feel very strong. I smiled at her quiet and complete understanding of me. You're too young. of us. "Bella. you don't want me here?" "I don't like the idea of you being exposed to any of this. You're too important." ~*~ September 10th I made love to Bella for the last time the morning of her flight. Everything about her was so tender. it's more than just cancer." she whispered and her face fell slightly. unable to continue. I pushed up onto my knees to lean over her more. but not exposed to this land." "It's very sad." I said against her warm cheeks. So much." I shook my head. "I just want to be with you. this…toxic area. to support you however I can. I don't want to be here either. "I want you. finally deciding on simple." Her eyes narrowed. "Bella." I ran my hand over the soft smooth skin near the crook of her elbow. The sun came up as I moved over her. my body pressing deeply into hers. "Oh. wanting her to look at me. I wanted her to know that it would be okay. As the sound of pavement under the tires replaced the sound of dirt. She drew in a shaky breath and nodded. that our time together wasn't ending. and I found myself wishing they were worse. "That isn't just what I mean." I laughed. but I don't want you here."What?" I asked. but there is something so liberating about just facing the stark reality. "What do you mean. that I would return to her. Exposed to what is happening. Seeing you doing something to help is… a relief. She was so strong and brave to have crossed the world to find me. yes. ~*~ I held her hand in mine as we made the long trip into the city. She meant it to be wary. I feel very selfish all of a sudden. but it came off as adorable." "How so?" I considered how to answer. Her eyes opened slowly and the love I felt for her nearly crushed me. I wasn't nearly as strong on the inside as I . Women from this village became infertile. and yet as she lay in my arms. I held her face in my hands as I kissed away her tears. Her eyes were closed tightly and I whispered her name. this water.

breathing in her scent and trying to memorize the way her body folded itself into mine." "I love you so much." she said quietly. swiping at her eyes before smiling. That word pulled at something inside me as I watched the way the wind moved her dark hair around her face." She turned to me with red eyes. I felt myself wanting to turn the Jeep around and take her back with me. those still clinging to the hope that their home could be saved. I had a responsibility to the people of the village. I pulled her to me. in that place. "I'm coming home in a month. As if sensing the war going on inside me. "Please be careful. There was much to do and I knew a month would never be enough time. I would stay and see ChangMing taken to the treatment center. "What are they called?" I asked. Five years would probably never be enough. Home. But as I looked at her. She looked down at our joined hands and squeezed. Tommy and I would do what we could to help the ones who chose to remain. Wherever I was. the boxed pieces of my past. I was home. I would have to learn to balance my need to be with her and the unending work to be found in the world. her eyes on the passing green hills. only a place I kept my drums. she spoke. a canvas duffel that was slung over my shoulder. Her head was turned slightly." I said. She'd only brought one piece of luggage. "The Big Moon make great Jack-O-Lanterns. "I promise. I smiled at how easily she took me home. "I planted three kinds of pumpkins this year. my thoughts on the decision I had made in the night. My lips moved along her throat as her pulse beat wildly beneath my lips. and together. I wanted to remember her voice. Home had always been such a broad term used to describe my life at the moment. I knew I had also found what I had to keep with me. "Green-Striped Cushaw. Buckskin. the silly names of the things that grew in her garden." she said.seemed. needing her to see the truth behind my words." I kissed the back of her hand and turned back to the road." She gripped me more tightly and her voice broke on the words. "I love you." . at the words etched into our skin. I'd never felt like I had an actual home before. I held her eyes. Halloween was two months away. "They can get really heavy though. and with each mile that passed. and Big Moon. We stopped in front of a grouping of chairs encircling the boarding area. "Okay. The airport was crowded and I held on to her tightly as we walked silently to her gate. her thumb brushing mine as she nodded." I knew what she was saying. Though I longed to follow Bella as she boarded her plane today. I'll need help carrying them into the house to carve." I whispered against her skin. what she was asking of me. She was asking if I would be there.

Bella. I wonder? [7/24/08 08:10:43 PM] It is strange to see the sun set and not be sitting with you." "I know. I nodded and placed her bag over her shoulder. One month. She sniffed and placed a single kiss on my chest. I realized she must have just received them. 32 Messages Sent I watched in shock as I skimmed through a months worth of unsent texts. I want you to know I've never said that before. "I miss you already. [8/11/08 05:16:22 PM] I see you everywhere. not wanting to let her go. It is a stark contrast to your vivid fruit. My stomach turned and my chest ached as she moved farther and farther away." Her voice was muffled against my shirt.I held her until they announced her flight. baby. My phone buzzed in my pocket. Reluctantly. [8/04/08 07:12:33 PM] Are you still cooking for two? [8/07/08 03:45:21 PM] I'm not sure what I'm doing here. too. [7/17/08 02:25:04 PM] I've arrived safely. taking her face in my hands and pulling her mouth to mine. Lifting her head. There are no green zebras here. her eyes on the phone in her hand." With one last kiss she pulled away from me and walked slowly down the jet way. [7/31/08 11:58:00 PM] I miss your hands and what they did to me. [8/21/08 01:56:23 AM] I know you'll never get these but it's all I have. I watched her leave. too. [7/27/08 03:27:32 PM] I love you Bella. Do you see me. I pulled my eyes from her. to stop her." I said. [8/10/08 03:52:09 PM] I think about you all the time. [8/03/08 04:52:09 AM] I dream of tasting you. Even through the thin cotton I felt the heat of her lips. What's for dinner? [7/20/08 11:16:36 AM] Thinking of you as I tuck into lunch. "I love you. [8/09/08 10:23:11 AM] I love you. too? [8/12/08 02:24:18 AM] I'm so lonely. I looked up to see her stopped on the jet way. What are you doing. [8/03/08 01:20:38 PM] Struggling every day to understand why I left you to come here. "I have to go. our eyes meeting across the crowded expanse. surprised by the sound I hadn't heard in weeks. [8/15/08 08:24:21 PM] Please tell me you're missing me. she turned to me. to reach out and keep her here. [8/01/08 10:14:32 AM] How is the garden? All around me are wasted crops. . My fingers burned to touch her again. [8/16/08 10:16:42 AM] You're so beautiful [8/19/08 03:21:01 AM] I'm desperate without you.

~*~ The End ~*~ A Little Crazy Outtake Future Outtake EPOV She stood with her back to me as she peeled carrots into the sink. causing me to stumble back slightly. I sighed. My eyes followed her arm as she reached for her wine glass. Her cheeks flushed and she smiled before returning her attention to her vegetables. "Edward. shared space." Hearing something in my tone. I closed my eyes. feeling a new joy of contentment and grounding as I listened to her humming softly." "With you." I said over and over again. became just another sound filling our easy. her lips as she placed them against the rim. her lips." I said. She smiled and it was like the sun breaking through the clouds.Her look of understanding took my breath away. kissing her lips again. her throat as she swallowed. her legs gripping my waist. Her arms held me tightly. Running toward me. The days were much cooler now and the occasional rustle of naked tree limbs moving in the wind joined the backdrop of our world." I promised. kissing her face." "One month. We shared a moment of knowing silence. The sky had grown dark hours ago and I watched her sweet face reflected back to me in the window above the sink. "It's perfect. "You'll come back to me in one month. "I love you. . She was suddenly everywhere. her body crashed into mine with a force I hadn't expected. so thankful to just be here with her." she sobbed. she looked up and met my eyes in the glass. her hair. "You'll be home. "Is soup okay?" she asked without looking up.

" she said. and thick white flakes started to accumulate in the driveway outside. She exhaled a shaky breath."It's chicken noodle. My eyes continued to follow her as she puttered around my small kitchen. This thought was so foreign to me." he mumbled absently. "Need help?" I asked. ~*~ BPOV We stood in silence for a moment as he gazed out at the snow collecting on the driveway. so simple. rubbing my index finger with his before letting go. "I mean. His long fingers brushed against my arm as he reached for the bottle opener. I pushed myself from the counter and retrieved the blue bowl from the fridge. making a mental note to shovel her driveway when the storm let up. "No. "Can you get the roast chicken out from last night?" Nodding. my fingers starving to touch. unable to deny it. We could choose something really bad so we can spend the entire time making out?" ." she said. and yet I couldn't wait to experience the normalcy of all the small things I had never expected to share. She laughed as she continued working. I relished the feel of his words slipping around us with easy familiarity. no more tinkering outside." I answered. Since coming home. She added the carrots to the steaming pot on the stove and began chopping celery. biting my lip. to see her bashful smile and see her cheeks turn a soft pink. My eyes moved across the street to her yard. looking back over her shoulder. Will you come play for me all day?" "We could spend all day in a movie theater." she said quietly. calm." she began. "Okay. attempting to memorize every move and every sound I'd missed while away. sweet girl. "What are you going to do in this snow storm?" I asked and he growled slightly. I grinned. holding his scent in my head as long as I could. I ran the back of my finger along her cheek and her eyes fell closed." "You always watch me. my eyes had been ravenous to look at her. "I'll probably watch you. the knife pausing in her hands. "There's a movie on tonight. her reaction exactly what I'd hoped. soothing. I had missed the smell of his soap on his skin. placing a kiss against her temple. and I made my way over to the window. moving to the fridge to grab a beer. placing the last of the carrots on the cutting board. I grinned at her. "I have to find the box with all my long pants. smirking knowingly at me. I held my breath. resuming my spot behind her. brushing my lips against her hair once more. He took my wine glass to refill it and handed it back to me. I placed it next to her and leaned over. It was like his accent: subtle. "Watch it with me?" I wanted to tease her. The snow had begun falling.

His hands pulled me forward to the edge of the marble and he settled between my legs. It was the way he'd said my name when he'd come home from China and taken me on the floor just inside my front door."Some of us still have to work. meeting his eyes in our reflection in the window again." "I'd say I regret putting myself in this position. gazing at me." he murmured between sips. smiling a little. I'll take you whenever I can get you. "I've been so bad about deadlines the last couple of weeks. He didn't say anything in response." It was the tone that told me how much he loved being home with me. but I don't." His hands bunched up the sides of my shirt and he ran his fingers over my stomach. "No. "Please." He chuckled behind me and took a sip of his beer. His hands moved to rest on my hips and he pressed me into the counter." "Yeah?" I grinned at him. "Yes. simply saying." I immediately recognized his tone." He gripped one hip and gently pulled. "You smell so good. softly. . His lips pressed against my hair. "We could go upstairs. exhaling the stress threatening to envelop me and letting his presence soothe me." I pulled him closer by the hem of his shirt." "My fault?" "Absolutely. picking me up and putting me down in front of him." I nodded and grinned at him before looking back down at the celery I was chopping. His expression remained intense and hungry." "I thought you said you were hungry." I shook my head. "I haven't been working for months solid." he said." I laughed down at the cutting board and felt him step behind me. but I'm not. just reached a hand up to sweep my hair to the side before he dragged his lips down my neck and bit lightly at the juncture of my neck and shoulder." I laughed. "You feel good." The words came out exhaled through a smile. I slid my fingers under his shirt and squealed when he reached behind me and shoved the contents on the cutting board off of the counter into the sink next to us. "I suppose I can afford to support yours for awhile. I don't deserve a break. "Want something else instead?" I whispered. "I like it here. pushing the other with the heel of his hand until I was facing him. It was the voice that woke me up in the middle of the night most nights. "Bella. "I'd say I'm sorry. "You were pretty patient about my job.

taking my top lip and gently sucking as I let my tongue slide along the underside of his. practiced angling of his. "I'm. our movements remained slow and measured. never pressured. hoped to improve them. "Fuck. "Bella. Somehow he had gotten to know me even better during the months when he was halfway around the world. a shaky. when I felt him trapped between us. just leaned to kiss me. loving the feel of him so close to me. His hands slid up my sides and to my face. God.. tilting my head slightly. Our kisses no longer felt languorous and paced. learned from them. I rocked into him." I whispered. His lips met mine again." he groaned. "More. We were paradoxically too impatient to even take off our clothes. His movements transitioned then to smooth rocking and circling." I begged and I wasn't sure where the sound came from because it just felt like the word swirled and whipped behind my eyelids. "Oh. He watched me. "You gonna come?" I nodded. He tasted like oranges and beer and his warm lips. He watched my expression as he rocked against me now meaningfully — almost experimentally — and I cried out. gripping him to me. The understanding of that wracked me and I clawed at his back knowing he replayed every intimate moment we'd ever shared while he was away from me.He didn't answer. I knew it was also an utterance that made him wild. toying with the cool metal penetrating him there. and even through our pajamas our bodies met with the knowing rhythm that seemed to define us: easy. and hunger. and it was at once desperate. He had meant to tease me when he'd said it. it was him finding everything he needed here.. pulling me closer. tasting me at a different angle. He'd relished them. He knew me so well. Our movements became coordinated: familiar circling of my hips. Soft reclaiming kisses turned hungrier and louder. Even though his fingers trembled slightly. grinding into me. sliding with me. always. His eyes darkened with satisfaction at my response and suddenly his hands were on my backside. "Yeah?" he asked. and I realized the shift in his energy was about what I'd said — 'Oh God' — and how he told me the night before that I always said that when I was close to climax. slow. he was relishing it all now. His labret dragged across my bottom lip and his moans filled my mouth. practically fucking me on the counter. giving me the focus I needed. teeth bumped and tongues tasted chins. The gesture communicated absorption. There were no other sounds in the room except the soft wet sounds of our mouths together and the rough rustling of our bodies creating friction through our clothing. tormented and ecstatic. His hands held me steady as he rocked against me slowly. He devoured me and I him. He loved me like this. and completely liberating to take him so hungrily just because I could. teasing and tormenting. urgent and hard. motivated him to do whatever he could to get me there. desperate sound. softly. hooking my ankles around him and coiling the fingers of one hand in his hair. and my legs were around his hips. He ground into me. possession." It was guttural and relieved. and searching. moans mingled with humid breaths." He became frenzied. He reached down and shifted his erection in his pants before holding my face again and kissing me. His mouth turned softer. but from the way his posture had changed. more devoted and less urgent... .

trying to find the words. feeling my nipple harden from my orgasm. teasing me through my pajama bottoms. I moaned and our eyes locked as her fingers formed to the shape of me.with knowing accuracy." I whispered again." ~*~ EPOV She was beautiful when she came. pressing her mouth to mine. lingering kiss against my throat. "I love you. her breaths heavy and warm against my shirt. afraid I might fall over from the look in her eyes alone.. She was wanton and frenzied and never ashamed. and she hummed into my neck. "Oh. she pressed her lips to the tip before circling it with her tongue." she said simply. and I raised my head to peer down at her. her hair tangled from my fingers. reaching up to press his hand around my breast.." he hissed. identical to every memory I'd replayed in my mind and yet so much more. completely lost in the way she'd come apart in my arms. Bella. "Bella.. I fell to pieces. pushing me slightly. That she had come from just the feeling of my clothed body against hers was one of the sexiest things I'd ever seen." I trailed off. "Yes. She had moved to her knees in front of me. I kissed her hair and held her to me." I groaned. you feel. She grinned up at me and pulled my head to hers. climaxing from the feel of him moving against me. My hands dug into her hair and I widened my stance. weaving a little when her feet met the floor. "Edward. "Yeah. Her cheeks were flushed. "Jesus." I said.. Her eyes met mine and turned mischievous. I watched as she arched against me.. knowing I would give her anything. I shivered as she placed a soft. "You okay?" I smiled. Leaning in.. her hand continuing to move over me. I felt her palms against my chest." she said softly. until my breath stuttered and I gasped into his kiss. My head fell back as slipped off my shirt and kissed down my chest and along my stomach. She lifted her chin and smiled softly at me. her eyes wide as she slipped the elastic waistband of my pants down my hips. quietly and with the fingers of my other hand wrapped in and stretching his shirt. "Bella. she pulled her mouth back slightly and sucked on my piercing. "Mm-hmm. My words caught as she took me in her hand and slowly slid my foreskin back. my lips. unable to look away. my spontaneous need for her. I took a step back and watched her slide from the counter. . her nipples growing hard beneath my fingertips. Holding my gaze. Her grip loosened on my shirt. tugging it slightly between her lips." Her hand moved slowly down my body to palm me through my pants. She was soft and yielding to my hands. Her forehead fell against my shoulder.

the tightness and urgent need sweeping past me as the pulsing of my orgasm filled my entire body." I like it when you play with that. Her lips squeezed me. I looked down at her and she was grinning up at me. The reality of seeing her derive pleasure from giving me pleasure brought me to the edge. so close." I murmured into her hair. My back arched and I heard my involuntary low moan continue as she held still over me and let my climax wash through me: slowly. It took several moments before I could open my eyes. "Taking you right here. encouraging me to move. "It's good. moving my fingers to lightly trace her lips. As her eyes rolled closed. She chuckled against me and kissed my lips once before reaching for my beer and taking a long swig. she hummed softly. telling me it was okay to come in her.. Her hands moved to the backs of my thighs. "Thought of this so many times. heavy and warm. Her hair was soft beneath my fingers. pushing her hair back from her face. unable to stop from rocking my hips forward. wanted to absorb the feeling of her mouth around me. Her eyes fell closed at my words and she moaned around me.." She looked up at me then and I shook in a quick jerk from the sight of her mouth wrapped around me. "Oh. it feels really good.. "Damn. I wanted to relish the sight of her here. With weak arms I pulled her to me. deliciously." I whispered. flicking her tongue against the bar. and the vibrations spread along my length and into my abdomen. "So close. but even letting the images wash over me was too much. kissing her temple. I felt my chest heaving and my breathing became rough and ragged to my own ears. Bella. "Fuck. felt her lips press a kiss to my tip. never in a hurry. "You alive?" I nodded. She kept pace. "Bella. and her mouth was warm and hungry for me." I hissed. so sensitive from the way we had moved together against the counter. smiling and dazed. felt the strain in my neck muscles as my body prepared to let go..She spread her lips around the tip and took me in.seeing you like this. She took me a bit deeper." I said again and I heard the tension in my voice. never rushing." I was already so close. . and felt her hands grab onto mine to help her up." I whispered. she stroked me in time with the movements of her mouth over my head. I came. Wrapping her hand around my shaft. her tongue pressed against my piercing. With a groan. fuck. but I felt her mouth slide away from me." I mumbled." I murmured.

"My arms aren't working. I have dinner to cook." ~*~ ." I mumbled." "Perfect. "Sit down and tell me a story." she said. stepping out of my pajamas."I'm going to remain pants-less. threading her fingers in my hair and kissing the corner of my mouth.