Tropic of Virgo Chapter 1: Nocturnal Prelude Bella: 1:00am, and the suburbs of P hoenix were still scorching hot

, with that shimmering mirage that floats off the surface of everything in the distance, and I was determined to soak it in, one last night before I left for good. Mom and Phil sensibly went to bed hours ago; the house was silent. I tiptoed through the dark rooms, carrying my tumbler full of iced tea and my battered old laptop to the back patio. I set both down on th e umbrella table, next to my little pet cactus. A dry wind ruffled my hair and w andered off, listless and bored, looking for more interesting prey to tease with its breeze. The heat settled back in, joining the night noises of distant traff ic. I felt exposed, raw, and in a dangerous mood, but I had no outlet for the fr ustration that raked under my skin. Perhaps that was part of why I was leaving t omorrow; not just to spend the last two years of high school with my father, but for the fresh start it might let me have. I needed more than this solitary chas te existence I had boxed myself into; I was tired of being the shy one, without friends to laugh with, my days filled with watching but never participating. At night, I ached for touch, for hands on my skin that were rougher than my own, an d a mouth against mine. I wanted to experience more than I even knew how to drea m about. Dreams. They had gotten more explicit lately, even painfully so. Someti mes, like tonight, I knew they were coming, and avoided sleep altogether. How co uld my subconscious pull me into such crazed images of flesh and skin and thirst ? These pathetic lips had never even been kissed; how could I want what I'd neve r had so badly? I traced the drops of moisture that slid down the glass, but onl y sipped. Renee always mixed the tea too sweet and too strong, and I could not s wallow the huge gulps that I wanted, until the ice melted enough to dilute it. I caught the cool drops on my fingertips and touched my neck, and let the water r un down into my cleavage. I wanted to be someone else, someone bold: someone who didn't reek of inexperience and need, someone who could look at a boy without b lushing, or who relished attention and didn't run from the spotlight. I wanted t o be graceful and flirty, not stumbling and shy; somebody who could speak sexy w ords aloud, rather than hide her longings in awkward written phrases. Sighing, I crossed my sticky legs lotus style, and flipped open the laptop. Edward: 2:00 a m, and rain splashed down on Forks, beating a soothing white noise against my wi ndow. It only muffled the noise of the party raging downstairs, but every little bit helped. I was exhausted, slightly drunk, and wide awake. I was always like this when we had a good rehearsal; like an athletic workout, one was left tired and exhilarated. Emmett and Rose would drink after, Jasper and Alice would get h igh. I did either, or both, but usually preferred a more intimate release.

Breaking Dawn's jam sessions were legendary events at school, and while our audi ence came for the music, they always stayed for the party afterward. Tonight, ho wever, I just needed to hide for a few minutes. My ill-chosen flesh of the month was hunting me down like a vulture on roadkill, and I hadn't yet figured out a way to extract my dick from her jaws without getting my eyes gouged out. A phras e from a song tugged at my skull; I wanted to get the lyric written down before it was washed away with the tequila. I fired up my laptop and queued up the blog site queued up the blog site I liked, a no-frills networking site with good mus ic streaming capabilities; I used the site to store rough drafts with the settin g set on private, rather than saving them on my harddrive, since I lost an entir e album to Tanya's temper tantrum when she'd broken it off with me in June. The homepage scrolled in, and I poured another shot as it was loading, bumping the m ouse in the process to the "this random user has your taste in music" prompt. I don't usually look at other people's stuff, and don't invite them to look at min e, but the page belonging to Ordinary_Girl wasn't filled with fluffy bunny carto ons or anything else ridiculous, just the flags stating that she was, in fact, f emale, and 17 years old. There was one entry, titled "Lemonade". I clicked. This desert heat draws sweat from my skin, to pool between my breasts Like condensat ion on cool ripe fruit, The moist stain on my shirt a secret mention to another warming Lower Your lips to me and lick the hot circumference of my flesh Squeeze the desperate juice And kiss me after, that I may taste my lemon on your tongue . I grinned in the dark, and toasted the screen with the shot. Ordinary_Girl wro te kinky poetry, and I liked it. On a whim, I typed a reply, letting the liquor talk though me. Acrylic fingernails drummed my door, and a familiar whine called my name; the door opened without my response, and Jessica slithered in. I sighe d, not surprised that she had found me, and closed the screen. "Edward, aren't y ou going to join the fun? It's the last weekend before school starts! Junior yea r! I'm so excited!" I didn't speak to her, I didn't need to. I just looked at he r, and waited; I honestly didn't care if she stayed or left. I won either way. A fter fidgeting for a few seconds, she peeled off her shirt and walked over to me , straddled my lap and rubbed her tits on my chest. They weren't bad; still a li ttle too firm, but the sliver scars under each had faded. Her skin was cool and soft, pampered with powder. I mouthed her rubbery nipples until they stood tall, and she made a few nice noises. I wondered briefly what kind of touch would mak e her sweat, and tried to imagine her skin slick and salty.

"Edward, aren't you going to kiss me first?" Her whine was a buzz-kill on its ow n, even without the artificial flavored lip gloss, but I kissed her anyway, beca use she was unbuttoning my jeans, and it was the least I could do. I had to help her so she wouldn't damage the manicure. She slid to her knees, and I leaned ba ck in the chair, letting her get to work. What Jessica didn't have in skills she made up for with sheer determination, and she sucked my cock with the enthusias m and gusto of a toilet plunger. I closed my eyes and toyed with her hair, until it became too much. My balls were beginning to tighten, but I was worried that she was going to leave me with blood blisters; I pulled her up, and reversed our positions. Hands on her thighs, I pushed her open, and licked her wet spot with a flat tongue. She smelled like baby powder and tasted like artificial flowers, and I was afraid I was going to lose my erection because I suddenly felt like I was fucking a plastic doll; there was no girl smell, no sweat, no passion. I wa nted to taste lemons. I turned, with a longing glance at my laptop, and was insp ired by the bottle sitting next to it. I grabbed Jessica's right hand and pulled it to her crotch. "Edward, aren't you going to«" I put my finger to her lips to s ilence her. I grabbed the bottle of tequila and swigged a mouthful without swall owing. She was making little quick circles with her finger tips in an interestin g manner. You can learn a lot about a girl by watching her finger herself; if sh e likes a light touch with a single finger high up, if she likes to shove three fingers deep« Jessica was having difficulty because her new nails were getting in the way. I swallowed my laughter and almost choked on the liquor. I leaned over and kissed her mouth, dribbling a little between her lips. The alcohol dissolved the lip gloss, and I was able to kiss her, tongue and mouth and teeth, pulling away when the suction once again became frightening. I took another swig and app lied the same treatment lower, washing away the taste of feminine hygiene produc ts until she smelled human again, and worked my tongue into her folds while she squirmed. I slid two fingers in, and pumped in time to the bass overload from th e speakers downstairs, and pulled away to look at her face. Her eyes were clampe d shut, and for a second, she could have been beautiful. I love the expression o n a girl's face as she gets close to climax; no cosmetics could ever imitate tha t glow; all girls, even Jessica, become goddesses in that moment. I leaned in, w orshipping the skin of her perfect plastic boobs until she came. She whimpered, one tight mewling convulsion, and then was finished. I wondered what it would ta ke to really make her scream, to have her whole body flush red, and her hips jer k uncontrollably. I stood, still holding the neck of the bottle in my fist, and let her latch onto my

cock with her lips again. Her mouth was making nice wet noises, and her jaws mus t have been getting tired, because the suction eased off to something with an ea sy rhythm that would get me there quickly, a pleasant tug and release. I was get ting close, and she pulled back, and started her usual fake moan. "Come on my ti ts, baby, I love it when you come on my tits." I rolled my eyes, took another sw ig of the Mexican whiskey and grabbed my cock with the other fist. I had no prob lem with her not wanting to swallow, but the pretend porn star routine was irrit ating. I tuned her out, trying to find an image that would trigger a release. I was frustrated, and the words of the sexy poem filled my head; I understood what lonely skin meant. Squeeze the desperate juice, indeed. A few quick strokes and I shot on Jessica's chest, but it didn't bring relief. I got her a towel and he lped her clean up, gave her a kiss and patted her ass out the door. "Coming down later?" she giggled at me. I shrugged, and watched her dash down the hall, prob ably to give her little clique a report of the seven minutes of activity. I wond ered if she realized that I'd never even spoken aloud. The sheets were cool, pri stine and smooth, and didn't satisfy, either. After tossing on the bed for a few minutes, I gave up on sleep, got up and stood in the bay window that walled my room on two sides. My skin and my gut were still aching for something, unable to come to terms with the rain, the brief encounter with Jessica, or the party dow nstairs. I wanted heat. I wanted passion, something more than these alcohol fogg ed doldrums and monotonous sex routines. I was still semi-erect, frustration war ring with exhaustion. I flipped open my laptop and began to type. Bella: A beep from the computer woke me, and I fought to control my panting. A variant of the usual dream, hands in my hair and breath on my skin; the same faceless stranger, but the whispered words were new. I had dozed off on one of the lounge chairs o n the patio; the plastic canvas cushions left woven welts on my skin. Had the ba ttery run down? I refreshed the screen. A message alert popped up. I followed th e link. Your words wet my mouth, delightful and tart. ±Debussy_88 I felt my face f lush, even though I was alone. I don't usually write such pulpy stuff; I'd just wanted to get the words out of my system; but no one had ever commented on my wr iting before. I clicked on the account name. The profile was listed as male, 17 years old. There was one posting from last night, untitled.

Shock my skin with truth and nails And honest participation Tell me what you fee l Shove my soul with teeth and hands Spark me with anticipation Give me somethin g real Suck my breath with fire and flesh Brand me with your satisfaction Show m e how to feel Show me I can feel Kind of a disjointed phrasing, I thought. It wo uld go well to music, though, a heavy grind, rough lyric guitar and frustrated v ocals, Chris Cornell style. I closed the laptop, and went inside. I could catch a few hours of sleep before I had to finish packing. Sleep didn't come. I twiste d in the sheets, wanting friction on my skin, hands and nails and teeth and lips , and most of all, the melody to the anonymous words. Finally I gave up, and jer ked my sweaty shirt off over my head. I closed my eyes, feeling the fingertip of a nameless stranger, circling a nipple until it stood up tight, and then swelle d, puffy and tender. Hand sliding to cup my breasts, squeezing, short blunt nail s lightly scraping over skin to shiver all the way down my thighs. Shock my skin . Yeah. I was wet through the thin cotton of my pajamas, and pressed hard with t he heel of my hand. I bucked my hips and tried not to moan. My phone alarm sound ed. I took a deep breath, shoving the need back down into its hiding place, and tapped the little screen to silence it. I stretched and headed for the shower. I washed my hair, and the sweat off my skin, and shaved my legs. The heat and ste am filled the room until I felt drugged and heavy, and the ache began again. The hot water cascaded across my torso, pressure pulsing at my breasts and stomach. I inhaled big gulps of the wet air, and realized I was almost panting. Suck my breath with fire and flesh. Definitely. My hands palmed down to the flesh I'd ju st washed, seeking a release that would ward off the embarrassing throbbing in m y lower belly, at least for a little while, and worked into the folds with stiff ened fingers.

Then the water pressure dropped to nil and the shower dribbled a pathetic cold t rickle on my toes. I whimpered, and pulled my hands away. Mom never checked to s ee if I was bathing before she turned on her own. At least my hair was rinsed th is time. I got dressed, packed the few things I'd left out, and opened up the la ptop. I followed the links to the poem he'd written and typed a quick reply, and then closed it up and packed it into my carryon. Time to catch a plane. Chapter 2: First Listen Edward: You pull me, unseen, your words music on my skin . ±Ordinary_Girl I smiled at my screen, feeling slightly foolish. I liked that I w as able to affect someone, without the bias and foreknowledge of my wealth, look s and reputation. Ordinary_Girl had no idea what I drove, or how well I fucked, or the amount of money my father made. She was just attracted to my words. I cli cked on her name to go to her page. She'd added a status flag: IN TRANSIT., and a song, "The Child is Gone", an old bluesy Fiona Apple tune I'd heard a few time s but never really listened to; classy and perfect with the evening light stream ing through my bedroom windows. She'd added another entry: For my Mother. I will fly out of this dry sun To the dark lush place of my birth Shadowed and green, Dark and naïve. I leave the light to set her free, To be reborn in a damp forest W aiting for an awakening Like hers. I stared at the screen for a few minutes. "Da rk lush place of my birth" certainly had a ring to it; I had a strange mental im age of a sexy older woman with a moss covered mound instead of pubic hair. I loo ked out the window at the damp forest here, with its green shadows in the settin g sun and wondered where the not-so-ordinary_ girl was going. In the comment box , I typed: These dusk woods lay dormant, waiting for a ray of you.

"Hey, Edward." My twin sister bounced into my room, brandishing a bottle of cham pagne. "Shall we toast to a new year?" "I'm not exactly looking forward to it, A lice." "All the more reason, then!" I sighed, took the bottle away from her, and expertly uncorked the bubbly stuff, with just a whisper of release. I filled ou r two glasses, and we toasted. I downed mine in a huge swallow and belched rudel y. Alice wrinkled her nose at me. "We need something stronger. And preferably le ss fizzy," I complained. "Darling brother of mine, what you need is a girlfriend ." "What the fuck do I need a girlfriend for?" "Because you're lonely." I rubbed my hand through my hair. "Why do all the happy people feel like they have to fi x the ones who aren't?" I asked without thinking, the frustration in my voice gr inding. She stared back at me, letting my own words echo in the room. "I have al l the girls I need, thanks," I said, my voice sour. "You think? Jessica Stanley? Ewww, Edward." "Be nice, Alice. She just got new boobs and wanted to show them off. She needed to be appreciated, and I appreciated her. I got blown, she got b ragging rights. No harm, no foul." "That's sex, twin, not love." I sighed. "It w ould make things too complicated, and I don't want any distractions right now." It was my usual excuse. "It's not an issue for Jazz and me, or Em and Rose." "Bu t you're involved, Alice! You sing back-up and dance, and play, and«" "I sing a de scant soprano only dogs can hear and occasionally shake my ass with a tambourine ." She also played rhythm guitar and was starting to experiment with a harmonica , but she had awful timing, though none of us said it out loud. "You're our mana ger and we couldn't exist without you and you know it."

"Don't you forget it, either." We finished the fizzy stuff in silence. She gathe red up the foil and the glasses, but at the doorway she turned back and grinned at me. "So tomorrow, you'll fall in love at first sight with a gorgeous sexy alt o who makes your blood sing." "At Forks High? Bitch, please." "I hope she turns your world upside down." She left. Waiting for an awakening. I was definitely wa iting for something, and it had to happen fast. The band had been growing stale since June, the life sucked out of us with the loss of the album, and we all kne w it. Emmett played hella drums, Jasper was our heartbeat on bass, Rosalie a mea n lyric guitar, and I sang on keyboards, but we were missing a spark. Dad was fa irly adamant about not letting us sign with a label until we all finished high s chool. We'd had a few offers and invites, but we all shied away. Deep down, we a ll wanted to complete our sound before we let some producer tear it apart again in the interest of marketing, but we weren't going to last six more months, much less two years, without some sort of breakthrough to our sound. I fired up the computer and dragged my fingers over the keys, pressing lines of random letters, moving my fingers to Fur Elise, as if it were my piano. Bella: Rain misted the window of my bedroom, but I pulled open the sheer curtains to take in the view o f my new antique truck. It wasn't a mirage in the fog; Charlie, my dad, had boug ht me the most wonderful tank of a vehicle, full of nicks, scrapes and personali ty, and I still couldn't believe it was mine. He'd turned to stone when I hugged him, but his face had blushed as red as mine. I deliberated what to wear to sch ool, and then lost my nerve and decided on old comfort over new style. Skinny je ans stuffed into Chuck Taylor High-tops, my favorite White Stripes concert tee a nd a shapeless hoodie to hide in. A little mascara and a few strokes with a hair brush, and I was ready to go. Charlie and I munched our cereal in silence, then he muttered "good luck" and left. We're good that way; no mush. The trip to scho ol was short, but I took it slowly, still unsure of the behemoth truck's sightli nes and afraid to hit anyone, but I drive better than I walk, and got to school safely. I pulled my truck into the loneliest parking spot available, made it to the office without tripping, and successfully navigated my way to my first class .

The staring was bearable, the World Lit class less so. I'd had the same textbook last year as a sophomore in Arizona. At least there was a good required book li st; a lot of stuff I hadn't read before. The hour dragged to a close, and the be ll finally rang. "Isabella Swan, right?" A bland looking blond boy in a Seahawks sweatshirt stood before me. "Just Bella." "Well, 'Just Bella,' I'm Newton. Mike Newton." I tried not to giggle as I shook his hand. Bond, James Bond, he wasn't . I secretly wiped the dampness off my hand on my jeans. "Can I walk you to your next class?" I nodded, appreciating the help and the small talk on the way, eve n though the only things he talked about were his own accomplishments. As we wal ked into the chemistry lab, we were immediately accosted by a girl with an impre ssive amount of pink eye shadow and a very expensive manicure. "Hi Mike, who's t his? I'm Jessica." She stepped in front of the boy to face me, and rocked on her heels. "Swan. Bella Swan," I deadpanned. They both seemed confused. A little bl ack haired nymph of a girl standing behind them caught my gaze and rolled her ey es at the two of them, then winked. She wore a little black slip dress, black an d blue striped stockings, a short little powder blue denim jacket and turquoise ballet flats. If I were to write about her, I would give her wings, in some stra nge Yeats esoteric rhyme. I smiled back, wishing I had the panache to carry off style like that. I sat down at an empty table, hoping she might sit next to me, but she slid into the seat next to a good-looking blond boy with curls, who only had eyes for her. Jessica quickly introduced me to Angela, a tall girl with coo l funky glasses and instructed her to sit with me. She then sat at the next tabl e and patted a seat for Mike. Angela snorted and shook her head. "Could she be m ore obvious?" she asked. "Well, he does seem rather oblivious." "Not his fault, really. She's been so hung up on Edward Cullen, Mike might not yet understand th at she has moved on to fresh territory." "Who's Edward Cullen?" I asked.

"You'll see." He tone was loaded, and she smirked at me. "He's Alice's twin brot her." She nodded her head towards the pixie girl. I tried to imagine a male vers ion of her and couldn't get past the striped stockings. "Who is she with?" "That 's Jasper Hale. They live together. They're like step-brother and sister; but th ey started dating before Dr. Cullen met his mom." "Wow." "Yeah, I guess it's not fair to make your daughter dump her boyfriend just because you want to marry hi s mother," she whispered, grinning. "One big happy family, huh?" "The older ones are dating now, too. It's kind of the big Forks romance story, but everyone lov es Dr Cullen and his wife. They're pretty high profile here." I wondered what hi gh profile meant in a town with less than five thousand people. "Alice seems fun ," I offered cautiously. "Well, they mostly keep to themselves, though they thro w great parties. Except Edward. He has groupies. With great regularity," she smi rked. "Groupies?" "Yeah. They're a band. Ever hear of Breaking Dawn?" The teache r called us to attention. Once again, the Phoenix public school system was far b eyond Forks. I wondered if I could test out of my first two classes and take the mornings off. My mind wandered again. Breaking Dawn. I had heard of them. They often got mentioned in the new indie music watch lists; part of the next generat ion of the Seattle sound. I'd heard a webcast that featured a demo; I remembered that they had great instrumentals and vocals, with a solid lyric rock style wit h some obvious Led Zeppelin influence. I'd look them up when I could get to my l aptop. When the class ended, Angela turned to me again. "What's your schedule? I 'll get you to your next class, so Jessica won't claw your eyes out when Mike of fers." "Thanks. I've got free study period next, and then Chorus." "You sing? Wh at part?"

"Anything, really. I guess I'm a mezzo, but I usually sing alto because harmony is more fun." "No solos?" "No, never. At least not sober!" A shudder ran through me at the thought, and then I sighed, because I wished that I had the guts. "I can face a crowd as long as I am in another one." "Safety in numbers?" I nodded. "Do you sing?" "Nope, I'm in band." "Lemme guess. Flute?" All pretty girls play ed flute. "Nope, Sax." I grinned at her. Her coolness factor went up several not ches. She grinned back, knowing it. "I've free study next too. You're allowed to go to the cafeteria, the library, or if you are in band or chorus, you can go t o the music wing. I'll show you." I followed her out. The eyes in the hallways f ollowed me; I followed my feet, mostly. The music wing was actually another buil ding; Angela pointed out the library as well. The band and chorus rooms were spa cious, and she told me to check out the auditorium while she signed up for a pra ctice room. I wandered in the direction she pointed, and found myself emerging f rom backstage to face six hundred vacant seats. The stage was lit by a single gh ost light, the 25 watt bulb naked on the pole. I stepped quietly to center stage , listening to my footsteps echo in the space, and decided to test the acoustics . I raised my hands over my head, allowing one spine popping stretch, and then c rooned one of my favorite old Peggy Lee tunes, low and sultry, the way I can whe n I am alone: You had plenty of money in nineteen twenty-two, You let other wome n make a fool of you. Why don't you do right, like some other men do. Get out of here, give me some money, too. I held the final note, letting it drift in the e mpty space. Then I heard a feminine whisper and a low negative reply from the ba lcony seats, and realized I wasn't alone. My stomach fell to the soles of my hig h-tops and I stumbled off the stage before the mortifying red flush even made it to my ears. I fled back the way Angela and I came and ran to the library. The m isting rain on my face cooled some of my distress; I was pleased that no-one saw my scramble down the pavement. My breathing had calmed down by the time I walke d through the double doors. I found a corner in the back of the non-fiction stac ks with a plug for my laptop and pulled my hood over my head, hiding my face. I just need to be left alone. Or I needed to be held

and rocked by someone who gave a damn, preferably with a face and a voice, rathe r than the mysterious stranger who tortured me in my sleep. I checked my e-mail. There was a note from Renee, the usual good-luck-love-mom stuff, and a comment alert from my blog site. These dusk woods lay dormant, waiting for a ray of you. -Debussy_88 I snorted, and bit my lip to keep from smiling. Another faceless vo iceless stranger, but I was somehow comforted, all the same. I followed the link to his page. Again an untitled post: Lililggjkjghgaggoi« Screw this longing for m ore To my boredom This search for a perfect fit, Why do I have to wait? My finge rs are jazzing on keys, My tongue is licking a groove, Where is the final note T hat resolves me? This puzzle needs a last piece of precious flesh, So I may be w ithout holes And rest easy. aerhagkhlsaahf« How long must I wait? I had to grin ag ain, recognizing my own feelings in his words, and also the habit of typing gobb ledy-gook on the keys when frustrated. I typed a reply, then typed up the Chemis try assignment from the last class, and wandered through the school library, loo king for anything that might catch my interest. When the bell rang, I headed for chorus. "Where did you go, third period?" Angela asked, catching me in line at lunch. "I couldn't find you!" "I had to find the bathroom, and then I got lost. I wound up at the library." I lied. We sat down with Jessica and Mike, and I was introduced to Ben, Lauren, Tyler and a few others. "Who are they?" I nodded tow ards a couple walking in the door. They were gorgeous, and both extremely tall. He was broad shouldered with dark hair, and had to be at least 6'7", and she, a haughty blond, wore spike heels and was only a few inches shorter. Alice and her boyfriend from my Chemistry class followed them. She gave me a little wave. "Ro salie Hale and Emmet Cullen," answered Jessica.

"And there's Edward," said Lauren, sighing. A beautiful boy lurched through the door, hands in his pockets, casual, but his eyes roved the sea of students, look ing for someone. He looked nothing like Alice. He was over six feet tall, had to usled bronze hair and dark brows over a chiseled face, and eyes so green I could see the color from across the room; my breath caught in my throat when his gaze slid past me, then snapped back to my face. I felt exposed, naked, and I droppe d my eyes, reddening to my ears. "Whatever," Jessica said bitterly. Lauren laugh ed. "What, you think he'd change his rules for you?" "Rules?" I asked. "Edward d oesn't date, doesn't take you to prom, or buy you flowers, so all that fucking h im gets you is screwed. However, it is rumored to be a very nice process, if tha t's all you want. Jessica blew him a few times, and then thought they were engag ed." "Shut up, Lauren. All I wanted was a ride to school." Jessica looked like s he was about to cry. "Yeah, and that's girlfriend status. You know better." I tr ied to change the subject. "So are they all Breaking Dawn? I've heard one demo t une, they aren't bad." Jessica recovered. "They're really good live, actually. T hey do some phenomenal covers." "Little Ol' Forks has quite the musician base, a ctually. In fact, we should go see the Quileute Wolves this weekend, at La Push. You'd like them, Bella," said Angela. "Yeah, if you like crossover country mixe d with Inuit tribal! But it doesn't matter what they sound like, because Jacob B lack is so very, very, hot," said Lauren. "Jacob Black? From the Res? I know him ," I said. "He's the one Charlie bought my truck from. We used to play together when we were little!" "Then you will have to introduce me, Bella, because that's another musician I intend to have," declared Lauren. I caught Angela's eye. She mouthed, "Groupies." I was still giggling when the bell rang. Angela walked wit h me to biology.

Edward: I left lunch a minute early, to sit alone in for a few seconds before my Biology class started, hoping to settle my nerves. I was so ready to explode my skin was crawling. Alice and I had free study third period and so we'd slipped off to the balcony of the music auditorium to nip at the flask of bourbon I'd hi dden in my backpack, starting the year with a token toast to cliché teenaged rebel lion. When the backstage door opened, we'd slid to the floor in the aisle, out o f sight so we wouldn't be caught, and we weren't. Instead, we were treated to a concert, sung to an empty room. Her voice had cut my heart to ribbons, then past ed it back together with honey. We'd sat there, frozen, Alice with a death grip on my arm, eyes wide, as the refrain melted through the empty space. She was Amy Winehouse with her clothes on, Norah Jones with her clothes off, Stevie Nicks a t sixteen; whispery silk and melted sugar, broken, young, and just perfect. Twin whispered something inane about finding my soul mate, and I told her to fuck of f out of habit, but in truth my heart was pounding in my chest. We heard a gasp, and then footsteps running away; all I managed to see was an oversized navy hoo die and long chestnut hair, as her petite form disappeared backstage. We scrambl ed to chase after her, but by the time we made it down to floor level, she was l ong gone. I skipped my next class, not even knowing what it was, and hid in a pr actice room, pounding out blues melodies on the crappy upright piano until my he art settled into a normal rhythm. At lunch, I scanned the room, looking for the right colored hair paired with a dark-blue shirt. They only possible match was t he new girl everyone was babbling about, but she blushed and dropped her eyes wh en I'd stared, and there was no way someone that self-effacing could have sponta neously sung liquid sex like that. The bell rang, and the classroom started to f ill with students. To have something to do with my tense fists, I checked my e-m ail on my iPhone. There was a comment alert: Fast letters and hard phrases, I am a distant mirror, frustration a deep constant. - Ordinary_Girl I smiled, and my nerves seemed to ebb. For some reason, I was enjoying this exchange of words. M y mental image of her was beginning to take shape; a plain face with light brown hair and a nice smile. Maybe even on the plump side; average, ordinary on the o utside, hiding her sensual nature. I wondered how she thought of me. I tilted th e device and touched a reply. The words triggered a song to tumble around in my head, and it occurred to me that I was arranging for the mystery girl's voice, a nd I could hear her speaking, a breathy alto, ultra feminine and warm with resid ual laughter, and imagining it made my heart beat faster, and I realized with ho rror that it was real, she was here, chestnut brown hair and navy hoodie and tha t incredibly sensuous voice telling the teacher, "I'm Bella Swan," and she was s o beautiful and

simple and genuine I wanted to cry, or ravage her mouth with mine, or beg her to sing for no-one but me. Instead I just sat there, gripping the table, not knowi ng what to do or what to say. The irony of it infuriated me. My name was synonym ous with money and style, my reputation with the ladies famous. I was the lead s inger in a rock band, and I'd lost my nerve for a shy little girl who wasn't eve n wearing lipstick. She approached my desk, tripping slightly, and I recoiled. H er wide eyes were clear brown, and I wanted to drown in their sweetness and warm th, but then she frowned a little, and the blush from the lunchroom returned wit h full force. She looked down, and sat next to me, and I remembered to breathe. How could she be both the sultry torch singer and this? How could this awkward s lip of a girl affect me this way? She wore slim jeans and a baggy shirt that hid every possible curve, no make-up except for that stuff that goes on the eyelash es, which was redundant, because they were so ridiculously long they looked fake , and chapped lips that probably got that way because she bit them nervously, an d oh, God, she was biting her lip, pink flesh caught in white teeth. The air rat tled into my lungs, ragged and painful, and she glanced up at my face again, and then away, confused at my stare. She toyed with the neckline of her hood, and t hen shook her hair to let it fall in a curtain, shielding her face from mine. Fu ck. Her hair smelled divine, like strawberries and girl, and it took all my powe r to keep my hands fisted at my sides and not shove it away from her face, so th at I could see the gorgeous color that stained her cheekbones. I was so turned o n that I was almost panting, and I hoped the buttons wouldn't pop off my jeans, my erection was straining that hard. I jerked my head forward, embarrassed that I was staring. I sat there like that, the whole class, turning over scenarios wh ere I seduced her, where she sang to me, where I said hello. When the bell rang, I jumped and ran. Alice was right. She'd turned my world upside down. Chapter 3: Opening Lines Bella: The second I got home and up to my room I flung my backpack into my old rocking chair, threw myself onto my bed and simply bawle d. I wanted my mother, I wanted sunlight, I wanted courage, I wanted grace, and most of all, I wanted to know what the hell Edward Cullen's problem was. Biology was a fiasco. I'd worn deodorant, but he looked at me with such disgust that I was worried that I'd done that stinky nervous sweat thing when I'd been caught b elting it out in the

music hall. Then he proceeded to stare straight ahead like he wanted to be somew here else and was embarrassed to be seen with me. I snuffed up my tears, and sli d off the bed to stand in front of the mirror. Shapeless jeans, unlaced Chuck Ta ylors, boring hair. Any curves I had were covered up by the baggy sweatshirt. To be fair, I wouldn't want to be seen with me, either. Okay, I told my botchy fac ed reflection, no more sulking. I tore through my clothes, trying to come up wit h an outfit for the next day, feeling like I was back in seventh grade, when eve rything had to match and was picked out the day before. Unfortunately, I didn't have much. Vintage band shirts, a few tees with snarky phrases and jeans. I didn 't bring a lot of clothing with me from Arizona, figuring I would have to buy wa rmer clothes when I got here. I needed help. When I am alone, I have all the cou rage in the world. I ran downstairs, found a phone book, and dialed. -Please don 't let him pick up, please don't let him pick up, please don't"Cullen Residence, this is Esme." -Thank you, thank you, thank you. "Hi, is Alice there?" I asked. A murmured affirmative, some background shuffling, and, "This is Alice!" She ha d a high pitched voice that rang with laughter; she sounded like Tinkerbell with a northwest lilt. "Hi, Alice. This is Bella, the new girl. I'm in your Chemistr y class, second period." She giggled. "Swan, Bella Swan, right? What's up?" I to ok a deep breath. "I know this may come across as strange, but I don't know anyo ne yet, and I need some help. Where do you buy clothes around here?" I had to ho ld my phone away from my ear at the squealing on the other end. My instincts wer e good. We had a great conversation, where my entire clothing inventory was disc ussed, my navy blue hoodie forbidden, an outfit for tomorrow commanded, and a sh opping trip scheduled. I spoke very little. I laid out the clothes she'd ordered me to wear tomorrow, knowing full well I'd chicken out and wear my shapeless us uals. "Oh," she said, as we were making I-have-to-go noises, "'It's going to rai n tomorrow, so wear your hair up."

"That's o.k," I laughed, and crooned the line from the Garbage tune, "I'm only h appy when it rains, I'm only happy when it's complicated«" She gasped on the other end of the connection. "Bye, Alice, and thank you so much." I hung up, amused a nd irritated. How could someone so nice have such a bastard for a twin brother? I started a jar of pasta sauce simmering on the stove, finished the last two pag es of my World Lit reading assignment and then fired up the laptop. There was an alert: - I held a spark in my fingertips and it was snatched away by the wind; perhaps you are holding it safe for me. ±Debussy_88 Spark. Yeah. I was sparked. I was still pissed. Being mad was better than being afraid, though. I vented it al l into words. Edward: I drove from school, alone, taking the opposite direction from my family, driving for the sheer release of speed, finding a winding road t hrough some dark patch of trees, trying to get my head on straight. Jasper had p icked up on my mood and dragged Alice off to ride in the Jeep with Emmett and Ro salie. I wanted a cigarette. I wanted a drink. I wanted Bella Swan. I'd never wa nted to fuck someone so badly in my life. And I couldn't do it. Even more than h er body, I needed her voice. That raspy sweet syrup was the counterpart to mine, soft where I was hard, octaves starting where mine ended. I could hear her in h armony with Rose, notes melting into a guitar solo and then rising above to take the melody. I was already writing lyrics, just because I wanted to hear her for m certain words. She was the spark that we needed. And though I usually left wom en pleased, Tanya being the exception, they always left me, and quickly. There w as no way I was going to jeopardize the future of the band by getting Bella in m y bed, just to have her leave when I couldn't give her the attention she wanted, or do the boyfriend things girls all seemed to expect after they had taken thei r clothes off a few times. My bed. Not the floor of my room, not the back seat o f my car, not the bathroom of a club. My bed, with white sheets and down pillows , her hair all everywhere, smelling like fabulous, and Fuck. I drove home. Alice was on the house phone in the kitchen when I got home, talking to someone about clothes, and I slunk past to my room. I threw my bag and coat on my bed, locked the door and crashed my hands onto my piano, not even sitting down, a variant o n a dark Mussorgsky piece, violent,

classic, and unsatisfying. I paced my room like an adolescent tiger, pissed and petulant, and fired up the computer, looking for more distractions. Thank you, O rdinary_Girl. She'd changed her status to POISONOUS, and her profile song was Su permassive Black Hole, by Muse. I'd heard it before, it was in a soundtrack to s ome vampire chick flick Alice and Rosalie dragged us to. I cranked the speakers. Up yours. You may take your judging eyes and jerk them off Me and my fashion di sguise Hate is in the heart of the beholder, and I Fear only my flaws Not yours. Jealous pink girls assume their positions With angry pretty boys who don't care , And I don't either, For my melody is as clandestine As yours. I will walk, my face forward, and you may stare Through these pubescent hallowed halls, For I co uld be the whirlwind Through your hormone homeroom Bringing fresh oxygen My reac tion only contempt For yours. Her words were angry, disjointed and raw, but I li ked the passion of them. I typed a reply: First day new girl blues, with salt an d venom; you write peppery phrase. I sat at my desk, letting the song and her wo rds roll over me, the phrase 'clandestine melody' tugging at me. My email alert blipped. -I am only mild chili, I need new music, a new image, a new false sense of worth; who I am is not working, not enough spicy hot to my own taste. ±Ordinar y_Girl She was on-line. I wanted to wave at the screen. I whispered, "Hi!" aloud , feeling stupid. I thought through some of the music that had swirled in my hea d recently. I typed back: New music? Amanda Ghost: Infernos «delicate, strong, sen sual, a little blue; like your words. Be who you are when you write. I waited, c ueing up the song, wondering if she would find it online; I breathed deep, reali zing this strange connection had calmed me, again.

-Thank you. Lovely tune, lovely words. It's easy to be myself when I am alone. D id you find your spark? ±Ordinary_Girl -A full blown flame, too hot to touch. -So invite her to warm you. -Ordinary_Girl -If you dare a pretty boy to smile. -Go w rite something. ±Ordinary_Girl I had to laugh. She'd dismissed me. As the song fad ed, I realized someone was pounding on my locked door. Alice stormed in, so exci ted she was hopping from one foot to the other. "Edward, I've been knocking for 30 minutes! I found her! Your mystery singer is«" "Bella Swan? Yeah. She's in Bann er's class with me. I recognized her voice." I was casual. "Did you talk to her? " "She called me. I didn't realize who she was until she sang." "She sang to you ? On the phone? " I was incredulous. "Just a refrain of a song. She's cool. I'm taking her clothes shopping!" I fumed. I hadn't even figured out how to say "hi" to her, and she's already making play-dates and singing to my sister. "Who is c ool?" asked Jasper from the doorway, arms juggling his bass, a bottle of bourbon and a stack of shot glasses, and a pair of maracas. "No one," I said, glaring a t Alice. "Edward's dream girl!" I took the glasses and the bottle. "Are we start ing early this evening, Jazz?" "It's called an aperitif, you uncultured bastard. " "What are we drinking to, gentlemen?"Alice always liked to have a reason. She poured three generous shots. "I say we drink to Jasper's epic taste in whiskey. What is this stuff, dude? This is beyond smooth."

"Elijah Craig, seventeen year single barrel batch. Appreciate it, bitch. Now I'v e wanted to do this for a long time, so don't fucking say a single sarcastic wor d until we've tried it. Hook up me up." He handed me the bass, and I plugged it into the amp and gave it back. He gave Alice the maracas. "What are we doing?" " Fever." "The Superpitcher version?" Alice bounced. Jasper thumbed the base rhyth m chords, and Alice shook the maracas and snapped her fingers through an intro. I let it run twice, and then breathed in the first line, easy and classic. "You never know how much I love you, you never know how much I care-" I gave it my be st Jim Morrison, with touches of Marilyn Manson, lazy and sexy with a rough edge ; Jazz was playing all rubberband reverb, his bass could have been an acoustic u pright, it was that mellow, and twin was scatting in the back vocals with high w hispers, eerie and strange, and it was perfect. Emmett and Rosalie poked their h eads through the door. Still singing, I poured 5 more shots, and passed them aro und. Rosalie took Alice's and Jasper's to them, holding them to their lips so th ey could continue to play. Then she took Emmett's hand and started to sway in so me sort of dirty grind in his arms. Alice moved behind Jazz , and danced against him, wriggling with her arms outstretched. They looked like one of those Hindi dancing god statues with the extra limbs. Dad twirled Esme into my room, some sl ick effortless cheesy ballroom move, and gave me the thumbs up, pointing at my s tep-mother's ass. I rolled my eyes at him, and she smacked his hands, gliding pa st him to pour two more shots. They drank newlywed style, arms entwined, and the n gathered up the glasses and took the bottle. They waved, and spun into the hal l, still snapping with Alice. I sang on, always odd man out. Bella: He had his h ands in my hair, no force, no pull, there, just there, close, moving gently, and then there was more, warm pressure in my belly, and his lips feathered my cheek , and moving, hot breath whispers that I can't hear, and at my gasp I woke up, w ith 29 minutes before the start of my first class. I ground my teeth in frustrat ion, brushed them while the shower was heating up, scrubbed my skin, lathered, r insed, skipped the repeat, toweled dry, twisted the mess of hair up on my head w ith a silver clip, slicked on some eyeliner and mascara ±top lids only, Alice's di rective, threw on the sassy black baseball tee with grey sleeves and my skinnies t jeans, stuffed my feet into my Chucks ±against Alice's orders, ran downstairs to grab a granola bar, ran back upstairs to put on

deodorant, back down to my truck, and it was raining, dammit, no time to go back again for a coat or umbrella because it takes exactly nine minutes to get to sc hool and I cannot, cannot speed because I am the Chief of Police's daughter, and got there with one minute to spare. I pulled into the lot, parked in the back a gain, wondering if Debussy_88 had written, hating that I would have to wait unti l free study period to check, and climbed out into the rain. "Bella!" Alice wave d. I turned and waved back; she was standing by a silver sports car, under a hug e black umbrella held by Jasper. The beautiful giants were macking next to them in a Jeep, fogging up the windshield with sucky-face. Edward was climbing out of the Volvo, an umbrella in his hand. Our eyes clashed like they did yesterday in the cafeteria. I jerked my eyes away, and dashed towards the school, wishing I' d gone back for a coat, praying the whole time that I wouldn't fall in a puddle, and made it inside, mostly dry. No time to go to my locker, I lugged my backpac k and my laptop case to first period, but I was pleased, because my wet shoes di dn't squeak much. I had barely enough time to make it to my locker and back to C hemistry, where Newton-MikeNewton stared at me like I was an alien, mouth open, and then he read my shirt and turned purple. Jessica shot me eye-daggers, and th en decided to have a sense of humor. Angela smirked and Alice looked delighted; Jasper was pleased because she was. Third period I went back to my corner in the library, and tried to breathe. I was exhausted, I needed a cup of coffee and I was jittery from all the attention I was getting today. Much more than yesterday , I seemed to be the shiny new toy. I logged on to the blogsite. He'd written. T here was a title this time: Feverish. I watch them twisting all around me, I giv e them what they think they want to hear, When thunder rolls in and lightning st rikes hard I tell them there is nothing to fear. My thoughts runs cold in daytim e Whiskey heats up the night, My heart beats loud when I hear her voice Singing baby wont you do me right. I watch her every movement, I measure every spin and turn The look she gives me sets my brain on fire, Damn, what a lovely way to bur n. I commented: Lyric shiver and chills, hot cheeks, take two pills and call me in the morning. I wrote a note to my mother and finished my Chemistry homework, grinning the whole time.

Chorus was a sheep pen with a bad piano, but it killed time until lunch, where I got a cup of coffee and a carton of milk and mixed them, because all they had f or cream were those icky packets of powder, and an apple. I felt eyes on me the whole lunch period; I wondered if my paranoia was getting the better of me. I wa nted to go sit with Alice, but she was sitting with her family and I wasn't read y to deal with her brother. Angela made room for me, and I nibbled my apple and let the lukewarm caffeine mixture rejuvenate me. Then Jessica leaned over and sa id, "Um, don't look, but Edward Cullen is staring at you. A lot." I stiffened in my seat. "Probably not at me, Jessica, I don't think I'm his type." "Yeah, I gu ess not," she said, coating her lips with frosty pink gloss. Bitch. Taylor came up to talk to us, read my shirt and dropped his books, and jerked his eyes up to my face. "BROWN!" he shouted, and the whole table collapsed into giggles. When I finally recovered, I felt the familiar stare from across the room, and I looke d up to meet Edward's gaze again. This time he looked away. When the bell rang I walked to Biology with deliberate footsteps, forcing myself to be calm. He wasn 't there yet, and I sat down and doodled on a notebook so I'd have something to do with my hands, but then he was beside me. He grabbed his chair and spun it ba ckward, straddling the seat with his chest leaning on the back. He folded his ar ms over the top and looked at me. I turned my head towards him, determined not t o let his dislike bother me. His mouth moved slowly in a delicious crooked halfsmile, dangerous boy, prince charming, exquisite. -Do not blush, do not blush, m y brain screamed. I blushed. "Hello," he said. "I'm Edward Cullen. I'm sorry I d idn't introduce myself yesterday." Oh, hell. His voice. Baritone like velvet bla nkets and satin sheets, bronze sex hair and soft flannel, and everything I wante d to touch, to rub the more delicate portions of my skin over, that's what he so unded like. I took a deep breath, trying to keep my own vocal cords firm. "I kno w." I said, giving myself points for not squawking, but low marks for intelligen t conversation.

"You're Bella Swan." "I know." I turned to face him. His eyes were dark jade, an d fabulous, and I felt like I was drowning. He met my eyes again, and then his l ips parted a little, and all I could do was stare at his mouth. His lips were da rk red against his pale skin, and somehow very mobile, always tense and slightly moving, like he was on the verge of whispering, and when he sucked his bottom l ip, I forgot to breathe and bit my own to keep from saying something stupid, or leaning in and licking his mouth. He dropped his gaze, and then slowly raised hi s eyes up, and I felt completely stripped, his heavy stare flaying the clothes o ff my body where they lingered, legs, hips, thighs, waist, ribs, breasts, and th en his eyes widened and his jaw dropped, and he gasped. He turned away, laughing . His shoulders shook, and he pinched the bridge of his nose, and there was this huge beautiful grin on his face that was such a change from yesterday that I co uldn't help laughing back. Mr. Banner passed out the lab, and we worked in silen ce, but smiling the whole time, which was okay, because if he had spoken to me I would have melted on the floor. At the end of class he turned to me again, look ed in my eyes, and then leaned down to whisper in my ear. His breath was hot on my cheek, like the phantom lover in my dreams, and my body clenched in response to each word. "Coffee liqueur. "Nutmeg. "Maple syrup. "Melted Chocolate." He pul led away, and nodded pointedly at the tiny letters printed across my shirt: What color are my eyes? Then he was gone. Chapter 4: Phenomena Edward: I was still laughing when I met up with Emmet in Sp anish class. "Man, are you drunk? Share!" "I'm not, but I've a flask of Jasper's bourbon from last night, if you are that desperate."

"Nah, Rose would have to drive and I hate it when she moves the mirrors in the J eep. So what's got you all Suzy Sunshine?" "Have you seen the new girl, today?" I asked him, trying not to laugh aloud. "No, but I hear she's wearing a t-shirt that says 'look at my tits.'" "Señor Cullen, y el Señor Cullen, por favor?" "Si, Señor a Goff?" we said together, and so class began. I had a suspicion that if Bella S wan had any idea how much attention she was attracting today, she never would ha ve left her house. From the second she dashed through the parking lot before I c ould offer her my umbrella, she'd brought the storm inside with her. Her hair wa s a wet hot mess, piled on her head like she'd just gotten out of a shower, tend rils and strands hanging down to curl around her face and neck, tight jeans and that shirt that clung to the curves that were too lush for her slender frame. Au drey Hepburn eyes, and the saucy phrase on her shirt, that she could wear such a thing and still manage to blush like that; it made something twist inside, unde r my ribs. I pulled out my iPhone under the desk and surreptitiously checked my e-mail. -Shiver and chills, hot cheeks, take two pills and call me in the mornin g. ±Ordinary_Girl. I answered: Did you make your pretty boy smile? And don't call me Hot Cheeks! I put the phone away before Mrs. Goff caught me with it, and trie d to keep my mind from wandering back to Biology class. I'd been determined to t alk to Bella, to make up for yesterday, but the confused look she threw me this morning made my stomach turn to stone, and I didn't know how to approach her wit hout sounding like a pathetic asshole. ±Hey, wanna come over and audition for my b and? I dunno if my step-sister will be nice to you, my step-brother is a bohemia n stoner with a bad temper and my older brother is a gorilla, but my twin sister is fun and she'll have you covered in glitter before you can say 'fuck me, Edwa rd, please?', and do come because I've imprinted on your voice and Emmett kicked my chair and mouthed "What the fuck?" "Podría repetir que, por favor?" I asked, b ut the teacher had moved on to another student, flashing me a look of amused ann oyance. Emmett was laughing. "Dude! Your face! You look like you're beating off or something!" he whispered. "Fuck you. How would you know?"

"That shit is universal. Are you lusting after the chick in the t-shirt?" The tshirt. Jesus. I couldn't figure out what happened in the cafeteria, or why Bella hadn't punched Tyler for looking at her chest that way, hell, I'd wanted to pun ch him, or why everyone was laughing so hard. Then she caught me staring and her smile faded and I hated it and looked away, embarrassed I'd been such a bastard yesterday. So I went into Biology with Ordinary_Girl's 'invite her to warm you' advice in my head. She'd glared at me, an angry kitten with its fur standing on end, adorable, her faced pinked pretty, and I had to smile. When she spoke, her rich voice ice cream cool, I felt like an idiot; of course she knew her own nam e, and then I looked down, away from her face to her body, and I was totally fuc ked. She was thinner than I prefer, but her hips were full, and her breasts were glorious, full and high, the shape of her nipples barely outlined under the clo th, and then the words between them, what color are my eyes? I'd lost it. There was no way I was going to be able to keep my hands off this girl. I couldn't hel p but laugh, at myself and the irony of it, and then she was laughing with me, s exy and beautiful and just fun. We finished the assignment, the air between us a live, making me burn. I've never made a move on a girl before. I've never had to . Acting purely on instinct, I leaned in to her ear and whispered the inane thin gs I'd been thinking about all through class, sweet things the color of her eyes , realizing too late that I sounded like a gay Starbucks barista, but her face f lushed, and the smell of her skin made my mouth water andEmmett slapped me in th e back of the head. "Dude!" he said again, giggling like a giant chimp, "you've got it bad!" He was right, just thinking about her put me at half-mast. I'd walk ed around for the past two days feeling thick and swollen in both my head and gr oin. The bell rang. I dumped my books in my locker, waited for Emmett and walked out towards my car. The rain had stopped, but there was still a strong wind cha sing the storm. Bella was leaning against the back of her truck, talking to Alic e about shopping plans. Emmett walked straight up to them and deliberately squin ted at Bella's chest. His mouth made a perfect circle like an ape baring his tee th, and then he fell over laughing. Rosalie kicked at him until he calmed down, but when he stood up, he looked at my face and busted out all over again. Bella looked at me coolly, her eyebrows quirked for an explanation. Sometimes I hate m y brother. "Get up, asshole!" I said, embarrassed. "Get in the car, Alice, we're leaving now." Emmett and Rosalie got in the Jeep, and I hit the electronic keys to unlock the Volvo. Alice stuck her tongue out at me and said goodbye to Bella . I'd just walked past the red truck when I heard the squeal of wet brakes. Alic e screamed.

Slow motion peripherals: vehicle skidding fast, oncoming odd angle aimed atNot h er. I lunged at her, my arms around her torso, and spun away, stumbling backward s. Metal shrieked viciously against metal, a sickening crunch of steel, and the front of Tyler Crowley's van crumpled against Bella's truck, the impact exactly where she'd been standing three seconds before. A torn piece of her t-shirt was trapped between her truck and the van. She felt so little in my arms, and so sti ll. "Bella, are you okay?" I didn't recognize my own voice as I said her name. S he nodded, perfectly calm. "I'm fine, thank you," and then, "I could have died." I didn't want to let her go. She was so delicate, and warm. "Edward, Tyler's hu rt, there's blood on the windshield!" "I'll call my dad." I reached for my cell. "I should call mine." Alice ran up, Jasper behind, already on the phone to Dad. Em and Rose followed. I told them to help Tyler; Alice shooed me away to look a t Bella's torn shirt. Bystanders were starting to swarm to the scene. Her backpa ck had spilled onto the pavement: textbooks, a battered copy of Wuthering Height s, a coin purse, a green pen, a pink pill compact, an iPod shuffle, an old cell. I gathered up her things before the throng of people trampled them. Her ancient laptop seemed intact, but her cell phone was cracked. "Edward!" Alice called, h er voice urgent. Bella's face was grey, and she'd broken out into a cold sweat. Her eyelids were fluttering. I shoved past the people who were standing there st aring stupidly at her, and caught her up against me as she passed out. "Her phon e is in there," I told Alice, nodding to the backpack. "Call her father." I pull ed her limp form up in my arms, cradling her against my chest and stepped back t o lean against the battered tailgate. "Chief Swan, this is Alice Cullen. There's been an accident. No, sir. Bella wasn't injured, but her truck was, and it's ki nd of scary, and she's fainted. No. Yes, sir, there are a lot of people around. Another boy was injured, so we called my dad, he's the resident ER surgeon at, y es sir, I'm Carlisle's daughter. My brother Edward has got her. Oh. Yes. Okay, I will." She hung up and turned to the crowd of faculty and students.

"You all need to go away! You are all standing too close. The EMT's are going to be here any minute and they have to get through." Nobody moved. "Emmett! A litt le help?" Em pulled away from the group that was milling around Tyler, jumped in to the back of Bella's dented truck and bellowed, "EVERYBODY MOVE OUT!" The peop le scattered. I love my brother. Sirens rang in the distance, and Bella stirred against my chest. By the time the EMTs arrived, she was awake and struggling to stand. I set her down on a gurney, and Alice handed her the backpack. "I'm reall y fine," she whispered. "I'm sorry about your t-shirt." "I don't care." "I liked it," I teased. A hint of pink warmed her pallor, and my stress eased considerab ly. She reached out with a finger to touch the back of my hand, and a flicker of electricity sparked between us. She looked up, startled, and then behind me. "T here's my dad." Alice bounced up to us, chattering at Charlie Swan. He was my he ight, and heavily built, with a Tom Selleck moustache. His daughter had his colo ring. I moved away to let him through. "Dad, could you tell them I'm fine?" "You 're going, Bella. I want you to get checked out." The paramedics loaded Bella an d Tyler into the ambulance and left. The chief turned to me. "Are you Edward?" " Yes, sir. Here are her keys."

He stared at them, a small silver pile of metal in his hand, with the tiny plast ic swan on the chain, and then back at the vehicles, to the piece of Bella's shi rt fluttering in the breeze. "Thank you, son." Bella: "Dad, it's already 8:00, a nd I still have homework. I'm going to head upstarts." "You're going to have to conquer this, Bells." "I know." I finished my World Lit reading, and checked my e-mail. I'd talked to mom in the hospital, but she'd sent four emails since. The re was another message: -Did you make your pretty boy smile? And don't call me H ot Cheeks! -Debussy_88 -Better. I made him laugh. Are you warm, or did she torch your psyche? I wondered what he looked like. Maybe he was African American with a shaved head, or a heavyset Asian guy with long hair, or a skinny redhead with freckles. I didn't want to think about it; it was better that he be faceless. A few seconds later he responded. I grinned. I liked knowing he was on-line when I was; it made him feel more real. -I am lightly singed, and toasty warm. ±Debussy _88 -That's good for marshmallows, too. -Go write something. ±Debussy_88 He'd writ ten. Unfinished: She held my laughter in her eyes, Unsheathed kitten claws Pierc ing sweetly; I fell. I held her life in my rough arms She is not mine to cherish , but when I let her go, she fell. I replied: Fever now a cat scratch infection? Sounds like you need to hold to that tighter. My phone rang.

"Hi Bella, how are you?" asked Tinkerbell, "Are we still going shopping tomorrow ? Is there anywhere else you need to go? Can we pick you up on the way to school , so we can leave straight from there?" Did this girl ever breathe? "Hi, I'm fin e, I'd love to, I need a new cell phone, what time should I be ready?" She laugh ed. "Alice, I don't even know how to begin to thank you; all of you. Especially Edward." There was a pause. "Do you want to talk to him? "No, I should tell him in person." "Are you sure? He was really worried about you. He kept pumping Dad for info, and telling me to call." Her voice was muffled. I was kind of glad my cell phone got cracked; it was a good excuse to replace it. "Tell him I'm fine. I just don't do well with crowds. Just a plain old anxiety attack." Ugh. A bad o ne too; at least I fainted rather than throwing up everywhere. "I thought you we re in some sort of delayed reaction shock." "Nope, at least not from the acciden t; having the attention of the entire Forks High student body is much scarier th an a near death experience." It was easy to joke about when it wasn't happening. There was a pause. "Bella, do you have stage fright?" Her voice was strange aga in. "You could say that. More like stage allergy, I get so nervous. When I was l ittle, my mother tried to get me to take ballet, and I got sick before every rec ital." "But aren't you in chorus?" "Yeah. And the night of any concert I will be certain to get a mysterious stomach ailment. Before I sang at commencement last year I broke out in hives the night before, and had to sneak two vodka shots un der the bleachers in order to even get on the risers." More silence. In the back ground I could hear a rhythmic thumping.

"What's that?" "Just my brother," she said softly. "Emmett. He plays drums, righ t? In the band? I should thank him, too. Tyler said he was really funny, yelling at everybody to leave. I wish I'd seen that." "Why do you take chorus if you do n't like to sing?" "I love to sing. I'll sing anything, even opera, just not in front of people." "Opera?" She sounded dazed. "Sure. There isn't a whole lot out there that's fun for a mezzo, but Bizet is great." "Carmen?" "Pres des remparts de Seville, chez mon ami, Lilas Pastia!" I warbled, " J'irai danser la seguedil le et boire su manzanilla, j'irai chez mon ami Lillas Pastia!" I felt giddy, off kilter, wanting to prove something, but not even knowing what. Another pause, a nd then she started laughing at me. There was a loud crashing noise, and then Al ice said, "I'd better go. See you tomorrow!" I puttered around my room, singing more of the aria, irritated that I'd felt the need to show off like a nerd. I ru mmaged through my books, looking for something to get lost in. I was going to ha ve a long night; I could tell by the wind in the air, by the stress in my muscle s, and the hot static on my skin. Shocking, like the way our skin connected earl ier today, and warm, the way his arms were, keeping me safe and secure. I didn't want to think about it. I didn't want to think about what he'd whispered in my ear, earlier, or the smell of his breath, spicy and sweet, like his delicious wo rds. I burrowed under the purple comforter, not comforted at all. Go away, Edwar d, get off my skin. But the hands and the whispers wouldn't leave, and I tossed in my sheets, fighting the heat on my face, on my chest and lower. I palmed my b reasts in the dark, trying to stop the swelling that made them ache, but the tip s tightened under my hands, needing more pressure, ribbons of current spiraling downwards. I gave in to the shadows, and rolled on my back, drawing my knees up for access, to increase the tension and relieve it.

His hot mouth was at my temple, moving with silent secrets, and my hands were hi s, pinching, rolling, then sliding off my breasts to rub circles on my lower bel ly, pressing, and then beyond, past the night shirt tangled above my thighs. We found the moist flesh together, my ghost lover and I, wet hot folds with both ha nds, fingers stiff, one hand working fast on top, high and outside, the other in tandem, lower and slick, two fingers deep. Slippery and warm, the rhythm was al ready there, heartbeat and breath and want. It didn't take long for the wave to crash over me, blood and lust cresting through my belly and thighs, drawing a wo rdless moan from my lips as I came. Tonight I didn't search for his face in my r elease; I knew what color his eyes would be. Edward: I lay in the dark, fuming, waiting for dawn. Stage fright. No fucking way. I hate my life. I should have le ft when I realized Alice had her on speakerphone. We've never had secrets. Twin always knew what I was going to do next, and I could practically read her mind. I gave Jasper and her as much privacy as I could, but we always knew exactly whe re the other was, we've never lied to each other, and we listened to each other' s calls. I should have left. But the way Bella had said my name; I wanted to hea r that over and over. The back of my head still hurt where I'd started beating i t against the wall when she joked about her fear of crowds. Then she'd sung Carm en. The sexiest piece of classical music ever written, trilling over a fucking i Phone, effortless and pure. Alice, the sympathy in her eyes at odds with her lau ghter- I had to leave, stumbling out and slamming her door. And now I couldn't s leep. My computer beeped, loud in the dark quiet house. I'd forgotten to turn it off, or maybe I'd left it on, hoping that Ordinary_Girl would write, distractin g me. She had; her status was now WAXING GIBBOUS, and there was a new song; I Bu rn for You, by Sting. Nice choice. I've always wanted to cover that song. The en try was untitled. The moon has nothing on me No night light feels my skin Peaks and hollows bare To the dark And my hands Whisper to the mouth That waits for hi gh tide

And wet release For a moment I see stars. I chuckled, bleakly. My partner in wor d crimes was just as tense, then. I wrote back: -Working solitary magic? It's th at kind of night here, too. I gave up and gave in. If she did, I would, too. I t urned on the shower, and stared at myself in the mirror as it heated. I looked a wful; dark circles under my eyes and tight mouth and red lines of frustration be tween my brows. Steam fogged over my haggard face in the glass and I got under t he water. She had been so delicate when I held her, and I didn't want to be phys ically aware of her when she was so fragile, her voice tiny and beautiful, whisp ering, "I'm fine," but now I knew that the top of her head came up to my cheek, and how narrow her shoulders were, and what it felt to have the weight of her bo dy against me. I grabbed my aching cock in both hands, water a rough lubricant, but I hurt so badly that I didn't bother finding something slick. I held tight t o the skin that stretched over iron and pumped, gritting my teeth, thinking of t he smell of her hair when I whispered in her ear, how close my lips were to her skin. I came quickly, foaming over my fists, as the scalding water washed away m y frustration. For a moment, I saw stars. Chapter 5: Visuals Bella: The silver Volvo glided up to the house while I was st ill in my bathrobe, trying to do something useful with my hair. Edward and Jaspe r stayed in the car, but Alice bounced up to the house carrying two fancy coffee s. Charlie let her in. She chattered, charming him silly, and he sent her upstai rs. She was wearing another slip dress, a multi-layered chiffon thing with patte rned leggings, looking like a sunshine sylph with charcoal hair and hazel eyes. In less than four minutes, she managed to style my hair off my face to fall in w aves down my back, give me a lesson on the proper application of mascara, test m y mattress for the ratio of bounce height to ceiling, pick out clothes for me to wear, and over-share Jasper's proclivity towards corsets. "On you? Or for himse lf?" I teased, throwing on the black jeans and distressed royal blue shirt she h anded me. Then I laughed. "This shirt still has the tags on it; I don't think I' ve ever worn it." "I can see why. Hold still." She picked up a pair of nail scis sors and cut off the tags, as well as two inches of fabric out of the neckline, and slashed the lower third of the sleeves to ribbons. She

spun me around to look in the mirror. "Honestly, Bella, you have the body of a m ud-flap chick, and no clue what to do with it." I stuck my tongue out at her, bu t the shirt did lay better on my torso; it was soft and clingy in all the right places. I wondered if Charlie would let me out of the house in it. I reached for the hoodie in self-defense and she put the coffee cup into my outstretched fing ers, instead. I sipped obediently. "What kind is this? It's really good." She ga ve me an odd smile. "It's a 'misto', mostly steamed milk with a shot of espresso . C'mon, get your shoes; let's go!" I grabbed my chucks, and she frowned. "Alice , I'm meeting you half way. Three quarters, even. But I don't do heels and I don 't do lipstick. I'll wind up with red smears on my teeth and my ass in the emerg ency room." It was her turn to stick out her tongue, and then we left. Edward he ld the door of the Volvo for us; he was wearing blue jeans and a black long slee ved tshirt , slim and lanky but with definition. Alice slid onto Jasper in the b ack seat, but before I got in, I turned to him and said, "Thank you. For yesterd ay. I'm lucky to be«" "Don't mention it." His words were terse. I looked at his fa ce, confused. His lips were pressed in a hard line; he looked as tired as I felt . I got in the car, and he closed the door. Angry Edward was back; I tried not t o think about the boy who laughed in Biology class and whispered into my hair as my heart had pounded in my chest in the parking lot after school. Alice chatted about the stores we would go to, and Jasper tickled her; I sipped my coffee. Ye sterday's rain had washed the pervasive green tarnish off the town. This sun was not the pounding heat of my former desert, but something lighter, more delicate . I sang under my breath to the song on the car stereo, "32" Flavors by Ani DiFr anco, one of my favorites, easy and lovely on this pretty morning. Edward threw me a sidelong glance, and turned down the radio. Embarrassed, I stopped singing and fiddled with my paper cup. He glared at me, and I turned away to look out th e side window. He was driving faster than I'm used to, and I hoped we wouldn't g et pulled over. My right foot pressed hard on the floor, needing a brake pedal. I wasn't used to sports cars, and the refined suspension and steering made the r ide seem even faster. "Bella," Jasper's light voice had a trace of southern draw l, "My mom tells me that she and your mother were friends in high school. Her na me was Esme Platt, then."

I laughed, relaxing a little. "That's your mom? Renee has talked about her! She called her Esmeralda, and they used to be hellions together. She's the one who g ave my mom her first joi-" I stopped, blushing. Jasper laughed. "Has she changed ?" "No, not really," I grinned. "Well, neither has Mom." "Jasper, she's the daug hter of the Chief of Police!" Edward cautioned. And he would bust you six ways o f ugly if he caught you driving like this with me your the car, I thought, even if you saved my life and now have gorgeous hero status. "She's also Renee Higgin botham's daughter, dude; chill out," Jasper countered. Edward sped expertly arou nd a corner, and my stomach spun the other direction. We had about two more minu tes to go before we reached the school, and I was going to need new discs on my imaginary brakes. We shot past the diner, passed an ambulance on the way to the hospital and whipped into the parking lot of Forks High. Edward pulled up next t o Emmett's Jeep, and I was out of the car before he'd even put it in park. Every one piled out of the cars and stared at me. "Jesus, Edward! Do you fuck like you drive?" I was dizzy and angry and too exhausted to maintain my composure. "I do n't know," he drawled, his eyes intense on mine, "How do I drive?" "Hard and smo oth, but too fast to enjoy the ride," I spat out. His jaw dropped. Emmett fell o ver, laughing. I stomped off to first period. Second period was hellish; Tyler C rowley decided he was my best friend and tried to carry my books for me to my cl ass; Mike Newton stared at my chest so hard he tripped over a desk. Jessica smil ed brightly at me while drumming her eight pound fingernails on her stack of boo ks. Her eyes were dead as asphalt. Lauren stalked up to me after class. "Don't f orget that the Quileute Wolves are playing next weekend, Isabella. You'll need t o be there." "Right, so I can set you up with Jacob Black?" I was beyond being p rudent. "He's fifteen! Isn't that illegal?" "Are you going to have Daddy arrest me?" She gave me a nasty wink, blew a kiss and spun away on her heels. Jessica f ollowed, deliberately elbowing me as she passed.

"What's going on?" I asked Angela. "I feel like I've stepped into an episode of the Twilight Zone." "Let's just say your ride this morning did not go unnoticed. " "Only because of Alice!" I protested. "That's not who you sat by," she said wi th a smirk. "So are you going to La Push next Friday? They really are worth expe riencing once; it's a good party." I hesitated. "Look. Life is a whole lot easie r around here if you just give her what she wants." Angela's face twisted for a moment. "I've known her for years, she's one of my best friends, but she can get really mean." Her eyes slid to Ben Cheney, and away. "Okay. Fine. I'll go. But I'm not going to be an accessory to statutory rape." I mumbled. Angela grinned, relieved. "I'm going to head over to the library." I turned down the hall and sm acked into something extremely solid. My books went flying. "Dammit, Bella," the extremely solid thing snapped. "Could you at least watch where you walk?" Edwar d: She ran into me so hard I was afraid she'd hurt her neck. I grabbed her hips to steady her before she fell, and her hands curled into my shirt as she found h er balance. This was different from yesterday, when she was so fragile; today sh e was strong and fired up and squirmy, and soft in all the nice places. I crouch ed down with her to pick up her books, in part to hide the instant arousal I got at the impact of her body crashing against mine. "Why did you bother pulling me away from the van if you hate me this much?" "You think I regret saving your li fe?" I growled. I'd spent the last three days with her boiling in my bloodstream , and she thought I hated her? "What else am I supposed to think?" Her voice was a whisper, sulky and childish, and it still managed to cut me. "You don't know anything!" She didn't know how my heart had stopped beating when I saw the van c oming, and again when she'd fainted, or how it pounded in my chest when she touc hed my hand or how dwarfed that all felt in comparison to her father's quiet dev otion to her. I stood, automatically extending a hand to help her. She started t o reach her hand up to mine, then snatched it back and scrambled up on her own, and strode down the hall.

I ran my hands through my hair in frustration. How had I managed to screw things up like this? I hadn't intended to be a dick this morning, but she'd come out o f the house in that tight ripped up shirt, her eyes all dark and sultry and tire d, looking like she'd been mauled all night in some extremely enjoyable fashion, and it sucked the breath out of me. Then she sang in the car, a barely audible harmony to the song, and I turned the radio down so that I could hear her, and s he stopped. And she obviously had issues with my driving. She was amazing this m orning, flustered and pissed, spitting venom and just hot. I waited for Alice in our usual hideout in the balcony of the auditorium, contemplating the silver pl ated half-pint flask of bourbon in my backpack. Dad had given it to me for my si xteenth birthday, but he wouldn't be that pleased to see it in school. While not exactly encouraging us to drink, he was adamant about parents letting their tee nagers learn their limits and reactions to alcohol while still living at home. B eing an ER surgeon gave one a unique perspective, I guessed; he once said over h alf his injury related trauma cases involved booze. Last year, when we were all busted at a party that got out of control, our punishment was to volunteer to wo rk a weekend night shift in the emergency room in Port Angeles. We now keep the parties at home and we don't bring up motorcycle riding anymore, either. A small hand with glittery silver nails reached over my shoulder and ganked the flask. "Go easy, or I'll make Jasper drive us all to Port Angeles." "There's not enough here to even get me drunk. And I didn't realize I was going with." I hadn't pla nned on playing chauffeur; on the other hand"Are you going to let her out of you r sight in that shirt?" Alice echoed my thought. "Did you do that on purpose?" S he didn't answer. "That wasn't right, twin. She's not a paper doll for you to dr ess up, and she doesn't like attention!" "She asked me to dress her up, and mayb e if she got used to a little attention, she wouldn't be so scared of it." I loo ked at my sister in shock. She eyeballed me and nipped at the flask. I took it f rom her and downed half of it. "You're evil," I said. "No, I just want a friend, and she's fabulous. I can see why you're in love with her." "I'm not in love wi th her!" She just smiled at me.

"We need her voice in the band, that's all." She waited. "Okay. I want to fuck h er brains out." She waited. "That's all, Alice. She has a unique voice and a ste llar ass." She waited. "What?" I was beginning to get angry. "How did you feel w hen you when you saw Tyler's van coming at her?" I closed my eyes, trying not to picture it; it still turned my stomach. "I didn't want her to die. I would have felt that way about anyone." "So you would have been okay with Mike Newton catc hing her when she fainted?" No. "How did you know what kind of coffee she would like?" she asked. I ground my teeth. She crossed her arms and glared back at me. "You've already broken one of your famous rules by giving her a ride this morni ng. You should have seen the bitch brigade work her over in second period." "I d on't have rules, Alice. I just let everyone believe their own assumptions," I si ghed. "How bad were they?" That certainly explained some of her irritation earli er. "Why do you care?" she taunted. "You're wrong, Alice." "Look, Edward. She ca me to me, okay? Not because of the band, or to try to get into your pants. She c alled me because she liked me, and she's genuine and smart and fun. I've never h ad a friend like that before, and I don't care if she never sings another note a loud. So don't fuck it up for me just because you can't deal with the fact that you might actually care for someone for once in your self-centered life!" I star ed at her. She spread out her chemistry homework, ignoring me completely.

I put the flask away and checked my email, and pulled up the blog site on my iPh one. Ordinary_Girl had a new poem, untitled. I am caught adrift in a sea of my o wn undoing in this foreign place, Overwhelmed and pulled under, by the sullen sa vior hero the tailor bird genie the hurt jazz player my solitary father perfect in their clever clichés I am awed by their defined identity, While I search for a title of my own making. Calmed, I sat in the empty space, listening to my sister 's pencil scratch against paper, lost in thought. Bella: Alice grabbed me by a b elt loop as I was leaving the lunch line. "Come sit with us." I contemplated sit ting with Jessica and Lauren, and decided Edward was the lesser of the three evi ls, and definitely easier on the eyes. I sat next to her and Jasper, and Edward sat across from us with Emmett and Rosalie. He was quiet through lunch; I felt h im watching me but he didn't join in the conversation, which mainly focused on t he recreational merits of spray-on cheese. When the bell rang, he took my empty tray up with his. I mumbled a thanks, and gathered my books for Biology. He walk ed next to me, altering his pace to match mine. "Truce?" he said. He spoke quick ly. "For my sister's sake. If we have to spend the rest of the day in the car to gether, I'd like to at least be civil." I nodded. "One condition." He looked at me with raised eyebrows, a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. "Don't driv e so fast." He rolled his eyes. "If you got pulled over while I was in the car, it would be very awkward for my father." His face cleared of all teasing, and he nodded, and said, "Deal." Then the devilish smile came back full force. "Bella? " He leaned in so close, his messy hair caught in mine. "I promise you'll enjoy the ride."

When I remembered how to walk, I sat down next to him. He didn't speak to me at all during class, but I caught him staring at me twice, with a smirk on his face . He kept his promise and drove at an enjoyable speed, at least until we left my father's jurisdiction. Alice and I finished our chemistry homework and Jazz pul led out a tiny mandolin and plucked the strings softly; he was quite good. I rec ognized "St Agnes and the Burning Train," but most of the tunes were new to me. I felt relaxed, for the first time in ages, like I belonged there, in that car f ull of school books and music and friends and the beautiful boy. I caught Edward glancing at me, a peculiar look on his face. "What?" I mouthed, not wanting to interrupt Jasper's music. His mouth moved, a tiny moment, like he was about to s peak, and then stopped. He licked his upper lip, and pressed his lips together. I was staring, and my face grew hot. Was he doing this on purpose? I so aware of him, of every moue his mouth made. He shook his head slightly and refocused on the road. His face was still, but the smallest dimple tugged at his cheek, like he was hiding a smile. I wanted to ask him what he was thinking, but I was afrai d to ruin the moment and the easy companionship. Port Angeles was an adorable to wn with quaint shops and a few fashionable boutiques catering to the commuters a nd tourists who took the ferry to Victoria. Shopping with Alice was a fashion sh ow in the eye of a hurricane; within an hour I had four soft sweaters that I lov ed, two skirts I was unlikely to wear, a turquoise leather jacket, two pairs of boots, and a blue dress I would never put on again, but in the mirror outside th e changing booth, I caught Edward looking at my legs, so I bought it. The best f ind was a yarn supply store, where we found thick soft hand-knit thigh-hi socks, so long that they would go up as far as they could and still scrunch at the ank les. Alice and I decided they were better than pajamas and bought all they had; no two pair were the same. Jasper stole an orange and black one out of Alice's b ag and wore it around his neck like a scarf. They all demanded that I get an iPh one, declaring my laptop too slow and my iPod shuffle too small, and it didn't t ake much arm twisting to convince me. We ate pizza on the pier, watching the sai lboats, and Alice flirted with the seagulls, tossing them the crusts. She manage d to get several lined up behind her like marching penguins, and then the one in front pecked the ribbon from her shoe and she tripped and sat down hard. Jasper flapped his striped sock-scarf at the bird until it flew away, and then scooped Alice up in his arms and carried her off to a lingerie shop. She squawked as mu ch as the gull, but she wasn't struggling very hard. My cheeks hurt from laughin g. "Are they always like this?" Edward nodded.

"They look so happy." I said, still grinning. "So do you." His voice was husky a nd quiet, and my heart lurched in my chest when he tucked a stray lock of hair b ehind my ear. I smiled up at him, and his eyes widened, and changed color, darke r, deeper green, and I felt like I was drowning. I looked away, so that I could catch my breath. He gestured to a music store, where I bought an iTunes card and he bought an earbud splitter and blank sheet music. Alice and Jasper met us, an d we headed back to Forks. They both fell asleep in the backseat, a tangle of de nim and chiffon. I played with the new phone on the way home. Edward suggested a few free apps; I downloaded a gong that crashed and vibrated when you touched t he picture, just because I liked it. I figured out how to send e-mail, and wrote a quick note to my mom, and there was a response to my poem that I'd written in third period. You are the extraordinary girl, named by your secrets and words. ±D ebussy_88. I smiled, the words icing on this glorious cake of a day. I could eve n get to my blogsite on the phone; it wasn't that difficult to log in on the tou ch screen. He'd had written. I don't like seeing pain In the eyes of innocence B ut my blood is hungry. I can't breathe in the tenderness When my lust is overthr own, But if it's offered to me and she's more than willing, I would take it free ly While the morning's coming, But her back is to me And my hands are empty. Whi le her eyes are closing I'm growing lonely. I stared at the words. The tiny lett ers on the screen didn't do it justice, and I wanted to hear the poet's voice, s aying them with the intended inflection. For the first time, I resented the anon ymity of the internet. "Who are you writing to?" Edward asked, his voice soft un der the car stereo. I hoped he wouldn't notice my red face in the dark car. "Noone. A friend." I took a deep breath, trying to dispel the hold of the poem.

He nodded, and stared out the windshield. He said nothing more on the way back h ome, his hands tight on the steering wheel, and his face pale. Chapter 6: Dazed and Invited Edward: I wanted to jerk the iPhone from her hands and throw it out the window. I'd had a great day. In the cafeteria, listening to her laugh with my family, and teasing her before class, and even just sitting n ext to her in the car; she was fun. She'd been impressed with Jasper on the mand olin, and though she didn't know it, some of what he played were pieces I had wr itten. Best of all, she looked happy. She'd caught me staring, and whispered a q uestion, and I didn't have the courage to tell her how beautiful she looked, and then I saw that she was staring at my mouth, and it was hot and wonderful and I had to focus on the road or I was going to kill us all. Was she as aware of me as I was of her? I didn't know how to read her; I was used to girls who gave me coy looks or their panties; I took what was offered and never had to reach for i t. When we got to town, Jazz and I left the girls to go to the sporting goods st ore where they sold darts; I bought flights, and on a whim, a new set of lightwe ight steel tips. Jasper looked at me and grinned. "Those are chick darts, bro." "I know." We walked back to the store where the girls were trying on dresses, an d watched them spin in front of the angled mirror. "She's having fun," Jasper sa id in a low voice. "Yeah, she is." I grinned. Bella was in a little blue hoodie dress that showed a lot of thigh. They were very nice thighs. Very, very nice. " I didn't realize she was lonely." "She needed a friend, that's all." "If she get s hurt because you've fucked this up, I'll break your fingers," he said, pleasan tly. "Jasper, I've known her three days. And I don't hurt girls." "I was talking about Alice."

I stared at him. He smiled at me, but the warning was there. "And don't give me any of that 'only three days' crap, either," he continued, "your dick is a compa ss needle and that girl is magnetic north." "Boys, let's get food! Bella's stoma ch sounds like it has demons in it!" "Thanks, Alice!" she groaned, and I grinned . Even her sarcasm was cute. Jasper folded his arms and shot me an I-told-you-so look, and I flipped him off. Bella bought the blue dress, and then we pushed he r into buying an iPhone. Alice and Jasper said they wanted to get pizza and eat down by the docks, but I knew better. There's a girly underwear store near there , and Jazz doesn't miss a chance to buy her all that lacy junk. We walked toward s the harbor where vendors sold food, the girls distracted by some sort of knitt ing store, and we laughed about anything and nothing. Then twin got attacked by a seagull, and sure enough, it's an excuse for him to carry her off to buy her n ew panties. Horny motherfucker. Bella and I laughed. I looked at her to see if s he wanted to go in with them, but she blushed a fascinating shade of pink and sh ook her head. "Are they always like this?" She sounded wistful. I nodded. I didn 't trust myself to speak when I was around her. She was so confusing and wonderf ul; sass and sarcasm one second, sweet and subtle the next, and god, she was bea utiful. The evening sun turned her hair russet, and her skin pale peaches. "They look so happy." A few strands of hair slipped from her clip and fell into her f ace. "So do you." My voice tangled in my throat. I curled the lock of hair round my finger and brushed it behind her ear, careful not to touch her skin. She tur ned her face up to look at me and smiled, and I was lost, drowning in that momen t, just aware of her body, her smell, the way the sun turned her eyes to tigerse ye jewels. She looked away, and I recovered, nodding toward a music store. Jaspe r and Alice met us, all giggly, arms loaded with pastel colored bags and we fina lly headed back to Forks. They promptly fell asleep in the back, and Bella toyed with her new phone. I talked her through the initial set up, but she figured mo st of it out on her own. I wanted to pull over, so I could watch her face, and t he apps she found. She downloaded free silly things like dice that rolled when y ou shook it, and wind chimes, but paid for the most recommended chess program. S he set up her email and wrote to her mother, and smiled broadly at something she was reading.

We were ten minutes away from her house, and I didn't want the evening to end. I was contemplating detours when I heard her gasp softly. She was cradling the ph one in her hands, and I couldn't see the screen, but it lit her face like a cand le. She had the most exquisite expression on her face, awed and tender, like som eone had just said something extremely intimate. Pay attention to the road, I re minded myself, not the pretty girl with the soft mouth. At the next straight str etch, I looked again. Now she looked wistful and distant, and started to type. H er finger moving over the screen caused the light to flicker on her face. Her li ps were parted, and her breathing was quick and shallow, chest moving up andThe road, idiot. "Who are you writing to?" I tried to keep my voice casual. Her face flushed bright red. I could almost feel the heat coming off her, even several f eet away. "No-one. A friend." She spoke quickly, defensively, and took a deep br eath, exhaling on a long drawn out sigh. I nodded. Of course. She had someone. S ome guy back in Phoenix, probably. Someone who could change her face with words, who could make her think things that caused her eyes to shine. Someone she sigh ed over, someone she blushed for. And it wasn't me. I drove in the dark, envisio ning her new phone smashed into little silicone pieces all over the road. The ir ony of this whole situation was getting unbearable. She was the perfect girl, an d completely unavailable. Fucking epic voice, one that I would lay down my balls for, just to be back-up, like some Paramore or Evanescence chick band; oh, but wait, she's got major stage fright, and won't actually sing in front of anyone, especially me. She was smart, matching me answer for answer in class and she was confident of what she knew. She was funny and passionate and clever, slinging o ut some snappy crude phrase just when you wouldn't expect it, and she wasn't afr aid to get mad, or smile at nothing but a pretty harbor full of sailboats. She w as genuine and honest, and she belonged to someone else. She had body that was j ust plain luscious; I wanted sink my hands into her breasts and press the pads o f my fingers onto their roundness the way that you test fruit to see if it's rip e, but I couldn't

use her that way; she wasn't a toy to be played with until she got fed up with m y lack of attention, she was my sister's new best friend, and seeing Alice final ly happy and laughing with someone to talk to was more important than my selfish need to bury my face in her hair, her neck, her thighs, or to throw her on my b ed and wear her out until she said my na"Edward!" "What?" I almost shouted. "You just passed my house." I slammed on the brakes and squealed out a two point tur n in the road, leaving plenty of tire behind to mark my error. Alice and Jazz wo ke upand shook off the sleep as I pulled in Bella's driveway behind Chief Swan's cruiser. We helped her carry her shopping bags in the house and up to her bedro om. The space was small, but a large dormer window would let in a lot of light i n the daytime. Her bed was covered in a dark purple comforter. I tried not to th ink about her lying on it, those gorgeous legs bare in that blue dress. I droppe d the bags on the bed, and looked around the room. A few kid drawings on a corkb oard, an old worn stuffed bear, and a rocking chair, but there was nothing perso nal except a photo on a dresser of a woman in her thirties with light brown hair and unmistakable delicate features, standing in front of a man in a baseball un iform. There were no heart-shaped frames with pictures of a boy, no thin gold ch ains with a cheap locket. Bella hugged Alice, wound Jasper's sock tighter on his neck, and smiled up at me. Alice dashed down the stairs to talk to Charlie, dra gging Jasper. I followed, reluctantly. "Edward, thank you." I turned in the door way. "Thanks for driving," she continued, "and for the truce; for not being angr y with me. I had a really good time." "See you tomorrow," I managed. She walked us out, and stood in the doorway until we were gone. We were quiet on the ride b ack home, and I mulled over her words, and that she actually thanked me for not being a prick. I guessed I deserved that. In my room, I played Bach exercises an d Elton John tunes, and tried to write notes for the song that was tumbling in m y head, but everything came out too bittersweet and brittle.

I didn't realize how long I'd been sitting at the piano until Esme closed my doo r, silencing me from the rest of the house. I was exhausted but still restless; I checked my email. You would strip me of my songs, and leave me naked with lyri cs like this; clothe me again in the melody. ±Ordinary_Girl Her status was: AT HOM E. The sun sculpts him in bronze, Hard as metal, but warm with laughter. I saw m yself reflected in green, with envy of all before, and all after this moment, I would rather go untouched, smiling, than know I am not wanted. So I am still mar ble, cold, unkissed, as the sun goes down. I typed: Rejection is not worth the d eath of passion, is it? Yet we are both still. I am less alone, with you. I slid into cool sheets to sleep like stone. Bella: Thursday and Friday passed without incident or angst, Edward kept his truce and Alice and I made plans for the wee kend. My dream lover held me at night, his hands intimate but not explicit, and I slept peacefully in his arms. On Friday morning I opened the door to see Edwar d's Volvo in the driveway behind my father's cruiser, and Tyler Crowley blocking him from the street in his mother's sedan. "Hey, Bella, do you need a ride? You r truck is still in the shop, right?" He was loud enough to wake the neighbors s ix doors down. My father stepped onto the porch. "I have a ride, thank you, Tyle r." I said. "Well, are you going to the dance tonight?" he shouted. "I'll take y ou." "I have plans, sorry." "Can't you change them?" Was it possible to whine an d shout at the same time?

"I believe she turned you down, Mr. Crowley. Move along." Thank you, Chief Swan. He walked me to the silver car, and Edward got out to greet us. Charlie opened the door for me, and patted the top of the car. Alice and Jasper were giggling i n the back seat. Edward looked annoyed. Tyler was the first. In first period a b oy whose name I didn't even know asked me to the dance, and after chemistry, Mik e Newton cornered me at my locker. "Jessica asked me to take her to the dance, b ut I wanted to ask you first. " "Did you tell her that?" "I just told her I woul d think about it. So, what do you think?" "Mike, I have plans. And she really li kes you. You should tell her yes." Jessica stalked up, and gripped my elbow tigh tly, sinking her nails in deep. "Hi, Mike!" "Jess, we were just talking about yo u!" She let go of me, surprised. I closed my locker and turned away, nearly slam ming into Edward, like I had the other day. He was scowling, but instead of snap ping at me, he reached out and rubbed my elbow, soothing the spot where she had sunk her claws. The sweater was soft against my skin, and I wished we were alone , and that I wasn't wearing it, or anything else, either. He stared at me a mome nt, not talking, than left. I went to my usual corner in the library, shaken as always, by his attention. Debussy_88 still hadn't written. I hadn't either. His response to my last poem was eating at me. It bothered me that someone could see into me so well, without even knowing me. I tried to type, but nothing came out with any cadence or intelligence, and I scrapped it all and packed up my laptop . A kid named Connor asked me to the dance before Chorus, and again as I was wal king to the cafeteria, in case I changed my mind. As I stood in the lunch line, Eric Yorkie accosted me, demanding if I really had plans or if I was just tellin g people that because I was holding out for him. I held my temper long enough to be civil, but when I sat down with Alice and her family, I exploded. "What the hell?" I slammed my tray on the table. "This is out of control! Did someone put a sign on my back that says 'I do anal'?" Emmett choked and blew soda out of his nose. Alice collapsed in giggles while Jasper shook with silent laughter. Even Rosalie smiled.

Edward blushed. Vivid red slapped across his cheekbones, while his pupils dilate d to black. He stared at me, his mouth forming silent words, and then he bit his lower lip. He shoved his tray forward and his seat backward, and stormed out of the lunch room. "And what the hell is his problem, anyway!" I all but yelled, t o which I received another round of laughter. He didn't come back, so I took his biology books with me to class. He was sitting at our table, toying with his iP hone. The collar of his shirt was damp, and his hair was wet around his face. I wanted to touch it, to tousle the wet strands with my fingers and feel the shape of his head with my palms. I set his books down in front of him. He didn't look at me. Ben Cheney walked up. He was a nice kid, short but cute. I smiled at him . Edward stiffened in his seat. "She's not going to the dance," he said. Ben and I stared at him. "She's spending the night with me." Edward explained. I looked at him in horror. "At my house," he corrected, and his teeth clicked together. "With my sister," he continued, from clenched jaws. Then he started to giggle. H e folded his arms and put his head down on the desk, snorting with laughter. Ben looked at him, warily. "I wanted to ask Bella if Angela was going to the dance. " I turned my back on the madman next to me. "She said she was. You should ask h er." He looked away, and shook his head. "Is she going with anyone?" he asked, n ot meeting my eyes. "I don't think so; she's on the set up committee and has to be there early." Relief flicked across his face, and I thought for a second. "Be n, they could probably use some help with the decorating."

He looked at me, surprised, then smiled and went to his seat. I turned back to E dward. His head was still on his folded arms, but he was looking up at me, sidew ays, still grinning. "Are you insane?" I asked. "Probably. But I'm tired of tryi ng to stay away from you." My lungs did something strange with the air that was in them, and I didn't know if I should be thrilled or confused or upset. Heat fl ooded my face. "So don't," I whispered. "I have to," he whispered back, green ey es intense and dark with secrets. My heart fell into my lap, and I shook my hair to make a curtain between us, to hide. Class began, and I shook off the emotion s that were tearing through my chest, and pretended everything was normal. The C ullen house was an artful stack of wood and glass, Frank Lloyd Wright style, but huge, with wide open spaces and levels and mezzanines that tumbled together at perfect angles. It was filled with books and orchids and eclectic art from every culture and time period, and I all I could think of was my mother. She would lo ve this house; it was a grander version of our own house in Phoenix, done with t en times the budget. I was immediately comfortable when I walked in the door. We dropped our bags in Alice's room. Her room was done in white art deco, set up t o be more of a design studio than a bedroom. She had a large table with a grid o n it, and several dress mannequins with fabric draped on them, a sewing machine and a drafting desk. The walls were covered with water-color fashion sketches. J asper's room was attached, with a door between, hotel suite style. His space was a Marrakesh market of color and textures, curtains sectioning spaces with low t ables and cushions on the floor. Alice asked me if I'd like to smoke with them, and I declined for the moment, not wanting to get sleepy. "I'll just explore, if that's o.k." They obviously had an after school routine that I had no wish to i nterrupt. Besides, she'd been teasing him all day with flashes of pink lace she had purchased on Wednesday, and I hated for Jasper to be in pain on my account. Alice nodded, giggling, and twined herself around him; I laughed and left quickl y. He was already unbuttoning her shirt. Emmett was downstairs, playing a video game on a huge flat screen. "Where's Alice?" he asked, thumbing a button to paus e it.

"She's, ah, with Jasper." I grinned. "Oh, well, I'd give them half an hour, at l east." He snickered. "There's beer, if you want one. Or does the Chief's daughte r not drink?" "No, thank you," I said, "but yes, I do." I just didn't like beer, especially the local brand that Charlie preferred. "Do you want a tour?" Edward spoke from behind me, sounding irritated. "No, I'll just wander." He shrugged. "Suit yourself." I explored the house, procrastinating, missing my mother more w ith every room I walked into, but finally decided to bite the proverbial bullet, and turned back the way I came. Edward was in the kitchen, rummaging in the ref rigerator. I did not look at his ass, which was wrapped nicely in classic Levi's , muscled and firm behind narrow hips. He turned, and I blushed, embarrassed to have been caught. He frowned, and I spoke before I could lose my nerve. "What do es Rose drink?" "What?" He asked, his face going blank. I felt like an idiot. I stepped backwards, and bit my lip, age old habit screaming to retreat. An expres sion flickered across his face that I didn't understand, and then he stepped for ward slowly, his eyes on my mouth. He reached a hand to my face and rubbed his t humb over my bottom lip, tugging it from my teeth. I gasped at the electricity o f his touch, and I wanted to rub my face against his hand like a cat, but he bli nked like he hurt somewhere and stepped away. "Alice says Rosalie's room is very cool, and I'd like to see it, but I don't want to walk in empty handed," I said in a rush, "I'd like to get to know her, but she scares me a little." He finall y smiled then, lopsided and warm. "C'mon. I'll get you her favorite. I'll make y ou one, too." He put his hand on the small of my back and guided me to the dinin g room. I was so aware of him touching me that my self-consciousness disappeared , lost in the sensation of the minute pressure of his fingers on my spine. For t he few seconds that we were connected, I felt confident and graceful. I was also very aware of the warmth spreading through my lower belly. Then he let me go to move behind the mini wet bar to mix the two drinks, something with sweet whiske y and apple schnapps in large shot glasses.

"What do you drink?" I asked curious. He was at ease behind the bar. "Whatever J asper hands me, usually," he grinned, "Whiskey of some kind. I'll drink a pina c olada if it's made fresh, not from a mix." I didn't want to leave yet, but he pu shed the glasses towards me. "Upstairs, on the left." I took them, and sipped th e fuller one, to keep it from sloshing when I went up the stairs. Edward watched me taste it, and smiled at my reaction. "That's really good. Thank you." He ran his hand through his hair, and I turned before I started staring at him again. I wandered up the stairs, looking for Rose. Her room had the least amount of win dows, and the most mirrors. The decor was more baroque than gothic, with gold le af and red velvet everywhere. I handed her the drink in greeting, and she held i t out for a mute toast. She downed her shot, and I sipped mine. I felt like I wa s being tested by her silence. I wasn't sure that she had ever even spoken to me . Even now, she sat cross legged on her bed and watched me. I turned to look at her. She quirked an elegant eyebrow and picked up a red electric guitar. I grinn ed back, recognizing a challenge, and sunk to the floor, sitting sprawled out on the sheepskin rug at her feet. It was an act of polite submission, and she nodd ed, accepting the gesture like a queen. Then she thumbed two unmistakable openin g notes and let them whine. Oh, no. Rosalie, you BITCH. I tossed the drink down my throat, breathing through the alcohol fire. It was the only warm up I would g et. The next two notes were a higher echo of the first. She smirked, daring me. I gave her a black look and took a deep breath. She threw me the last intro note , and let it warble. I sang: "Been dazed and confused for so long it's not true, wanted a woman, never bargained for you«" I gave the lyrics my best reedy wail, s urreal and feminine, finding pain and letting it arc through the words. Rose's e yes widened in surprise. "Lots of people talk and few of them know, soul of a wo man was created below«"

We screamed the next chords together, my voice cascading over her strings, and t hen I floated into her solo. She played her refrain and nodded my cue. I took th e next verse, with a sinister whisper; the starkness of just my voice and her gu itar, without the familiar drums or bass made it our own. We weren't trying to s ound like anyone else, just a broken throat and a tortured guitar. Rosalie heard it, too, because her tone shifted, sadder, lighter, somehow more female. I caug ht her eyes, and took a deep breath. She understood, and followed me into the ne xt verse, skipping the instrumental refrain so we wouldn't lose momentum. Then s he led me into the duet. She trilled the note. I wordlessly mimicked it. Again. She modulated, bringing it closer to my vocal rasp; I crooned, barely moving my lips, sweetening it to her chord. Again, harder, with an echo. There was a gasp behind us. I started to cringe, but Rose caught my eyes fiercely, and wouldn't l et me look away. She let it wail, and I did too, crying out my ridiculous fear u ntil it became my own to control, blending with her, to just a moan in my throat , held and drifting. I let it fade. She skipped the drum solo again and went str aight to the thrash refrain, and I sang into it, fitting into her chords, but ne ver taking it away from her, back-up vocal harmony. Her hands moved so fast they were blurry. Then she gave me the last chorus, and I led the duet this time, ca lling the first note, mouth open wide. She followed, pushing me slightly. I met her pace, impatient guitar stroking my voice, until we were one thing. I held th e last note, and so did she, then she grinned, and I nodded and she crashed the closing chords on my scream. I sat there, panting. "Holy Mother of God," whisper ed Jasper. "That was sex!" screamed Alice. "I feel left out," said Emmett. Rosal ie looked over at Edward and said, "She'll do." Chapter 7: Invited and Confused

Edward: She did not just say that. She did not. Just say. That. Alice informed m e we would be picking Bella up on the way to school, because they were planning a sleep-over, and wanted to go straight home from school, rather than stopping a t Charlie's on the way home. I refused to think about her sleeping in my house, three rooms down from mine, and just nodded my head, defeated to the frustration that was my life. When that idiot Crowley blocked me into Bella's driveway, I w as annoyed. When he offered to take her to the dance, I was irritated. When he d idn't take no for an answer and apologize, I saw red. I opened the door, but Chi ef Swan shook his head at me behind Bella, and dismissed Tyler. I drove us to sc hool in a bad mood, but the girls were so silly it was difficult to stay that wa y, until after second period, when I saw that Newton had body trapped Bella at h er locker, and Jessica had her talons in her arm. Bella looked miserable, and I hated them for it. I reached out to massage the spot where Jessica had gripped h er, knowing too well the pain those claws could cause. The sweater was unbelieva bly soft beneath my finger tips, sliding over her skin. She'd bought it Wednesda y, I vaguely remembered. At lunch, Eric Yorkie made a fool of himself in the lun ch line, and Bella's discomfort would have been comical if I wasn't so pissed. I n that fuzzy white sweater she looked like a bewildered angel, innocent of the e ffect she had on any heterosexual male in the room. She walked over to us, eyes flashing, cheeks cherub pink in agitation, and then she saidThat. All the forbid den images of her, flesh and fantasy, secret and reality, screamed in discord an d desire at her perfect mouth spitting something so deliciously filthy. Heat exp loded from my groin straight through my body to the roots of my hair. I fled. In the men's bathroom, I splashed my face with cold water until my skin hurt, and finally admitted to myself that my life had capsized. This kitten of a woman-gir l had managed to fling my entire world into absolute chaos. I considered ditchin g Biology, but it would just have prolonged the agony, so I left the men's room to sit in Banner's empty classroom, in order to calm down. I instinctively reach ed for my iPhone, seeking the distant psyche that seemed to mirror my own, givin g me sanity in

companionship. Ordinary_Girl hadn't written, but I hadn't either. I didn't know how to respond to the intimacy of her words about my poem, and I was too high st rung to write lyrics that didn't sound like cock-blocked whining. The classroom filled. Delicate arms wrapped in a soft white sweater dropped my books on the ta ble with a pointed thud; I hadn't even realized I'd forgotten them. When Ben Che ney walked up to our lab desk, I locked my jaws in frustration. I really didn't think I could take any more outside interest in Bella today; I was having enough problems handling my own. "She's not going to the dance," I said, before he cou ld speak. Bella and Ben looked at me like I was psychotic. I realized I was soun ding like I was a possessive dork, and hastened to explain. "She's spending the night with me." Bella's jaw dropped, and her face turned red as my words echoed back to me. "At my house," and I snapped my mouth shut before it could say 'not in my bed', because my voice would give away exactly what I wanted. "With my sis ter." I said, between my teeth, because that made everything okay, if it was all about Alice, and equally explained my madness. A small giggle escaped, and I ga ve in to the laughter, putting my head down in my arms, letting at least this re lease wash through me. Ben had to have thought I had lost my mind, which was a c orrect assumption, and started talking about Angela. This fueled my hysteria. I had made an ass of myself, and probably embarrassed Bella for nothing. I took se veral deep breaths, and turned my head to look up at Bella, waiting for Ben to g o away. She scowled down at me, pissed-off tarnished-halo angel-girl, and asked me if I was insane. I couldn't stop smiling. "Probably. But I'm tired of trying to stay away from you." I realized that she would have no clue what I was talkin g about, or any idea how crazy she made me. Her face moved with unexplained emot ions that I desperately wanted to decode. "So don't," she whispered. Something s mall and pathetic in my chest whimpered at her quiet words, and the admission th at she was interested in me, too. "I have to," I whispered back, damning Alice f or her sleepover and myself because there was no way I could ignore this girl , and if I didn't I would screw things up for the band yet again.

The fire in her eyes flattened to dull brown. She shook her hair to fall in a cu rtain between us, and like on that first day, and I had the same urge to shove m y hands in it and pull it back to see her face. Sanity returned as she shut me o ut, and I cleared my head enough to get through the rest of the school day. Ever yone loves our house; Esme is genius. But Bella moved from room to room looking wistful and sad, and I wanted to go yell at Alice for leaving her here while she made afternoon delight with Jasper, and I wanted to go get him, because he knew what to do to fix people, the right thing say to break the tension. Bella moved out of my sight, and I chose not to stalk her and went to the kitchen. She like d apples, and vegetarian pizza, and then I took a deep breath because if I was g oing to obsess this much in the first thirty minutes of her being in my house it was going to be a very long night. I felt her eyes on me. I turned around, and she blushed, as always, and I tried not to grind my teeth. Why was she so ill at ease around me? "What does Rose drink?" she asked. "What?" I replied. The girl made me totally stupid. She bit her bottom lip and stepped backwards at my ruden ess. I groaned, silently, and slowly stepped forward. I reached my hand up and g ently pulled her lip from her teeth with the pad of my thumb. Again, the spark f lared at the skin contact. Her breathing hitched, and I closed my eyes for a sec ond, and stepped back, before I lost my composure and ground my face into hers. "Alice says Rosalie's room is very cool, and I'd like to see it, but I don't wan t to walk in empty handed," she said, "I'd like to get to know her, but she scar es me a little." I couldn't help but grin at her. "C'mon. I'll get you her favor ite. I'll make you one, too." I used the excuse of showing her to the dining roo m to place my hand on the small of her back; she could step away if she was unco mfortable. If anything she leaned in to me, and I guided her, entranced by the w ay her spine and back muscles moved against my palm. We were so connected, I cou ld have been leading her in a waltz. I let her go and stepped behind the wet bar , thankful for the counter that covered me from the waist down. I mixed one of R osalie's favorites, an apple shot. She would know I made it, that I was asking h er to be nice to this girl. "What do you drink?" She asked. "What ever Jasper ha nds me, usually," I laughed, "Whiskey of some kind. I'll drink a pina colada if it's made fresh, not from a mix." Gah. Pina Colada? Chick much, Edward? I didn't want her to leave, but she looked a little uncomfortable, so I pushed the glass es toward her.

"Upstairs, on the left." She took them, and sipped at the fuller of the two shot glasses, looking at me through her mink lashes. Her little pink tongue flashed over her lips, and she said, "That's really good. Thank you." Did she have any i dea how seductive she was? I ran my hands through my hair in frustration. She le ft, and I watched her go, feeling like I was throwing her to the lions. I put th e bottles away, and was heading towards the living room to find Emmett when I he ard Rose's guitar on the opening notes of Led Zeppelin's Dazed and Confused. Was she showing off for Bella? I wondered what she was up to; that's not a song you can do effectively alone. But she wasn't solo. Bella's voice twisted the first words into shattered candy. My heart slammed against my ribs and Em stared at me in shock. She cried the chord to the guitar refrain, sorrow and sugar, Tori Amo s style. Then Rose eased back, and she whispered the next line, a tortured Regin a Spektor, painful and sweet, and I had to stop defining her by other people, be cause she was completely herself, and no-one could compare. Alice spun into the room, grinning like a mad dervish in some pink corset thing and jeans, and tore up the stairs. Jasper raced after, buttoning his pants. We followed. Bella sat o n the floor at Rosalie's feet, her back to us. She was crying the duet, where th e guitar leads the voice until they blend into one sound, and I moved forward so that I could see her face, but Jasper grabbed my shirt to hold me still, and I gasped in protest. She heard me, and her body stiffened and her voice cracked, b ut Rosalie leaned forward, holding her with her eyes, and pushed her with anothe r chord, and Bella responded, finding her voice again, and her body relaxed into it, and let the guitar lead the solo. Her voice was incredible, terror and hone y and hot and just Bella, and I was in the same room, wrapped and bound by it, a nd I burned. I tried to reconcile this voice with the one that sang the aria on Alice's phone and vamped blues in the school music hall, and the possibilities o f what a throat like that could do were overwhelming. I wanted to hear everythin g, every song I knew come out of her mouth. She was leading the last duet, now, pushing the guitar, and there was more energy and life in Rose's playing than I had heard in months. They finished on a scream, and she just sat there, on the r ug, breathing hard. The others spoke behind me, and I could see the panic start to set into Bella, the way her shoulders started to rise, and Jasper shoved me h ard in her direction.

Bella: I sat there, panting, hands fisted in Rosalie's sheepskin rug, and knew t hat people were there, looking at me, and I felt my shoulders tighten to my ears , and my spine contract, but then Edward stumbled forward and fell to his knees next to me. "Bella," he whispered, "turn around." His eyes were on fire. Just in side the doorway, Alice was bouncing off her tiptoes, while a shirtless Jasper w as holding her back. Emmett was leaning back against the wall with his arms cros sed over his chest. They all were grinning at me. I smiled back, tentative, then triumphant. Edward stood, and offered me his hand. I took it, and when that fri sson of shock coursed through, he squeezed my hand in reflex and he dragged me t o my feet. With long strides he pulled me out the door and down the hall. When I faltered, he drew up short and pressed me against the wall, holding my fist and wrist in his large hand, leaning the length of his arm against mine, pinning me . I was breathing hard, laughing, feeling like I could fly. "You have to tell me what you are thinking." His voice was ragged. I looked up at him. He was incred ible, alive, no sarcasm or veiled irritation, just Edward, excited and happy, an d intense. His hair was a lion's mane mess, and his eyes were burning into mine. I stared up at him, feeling fierce, adrenaline coursing through my muscles, unw illing to be a passive participant in this exchange. I pushed at him, forcing hi m backward, until it was my hand pinning his arm and body up against the wall, t rapping him with my eyes and my smile. "Emeralds." "Moss Agate." "Malachite." "D ark Jade." I whispered the names of the jewels that haunted my sleep all this we ek. He inhaled, green eyes wide and incredulous, and chuckled low in his throat. His eyes jittered away from mine and he was staring at my mouth, and I tightene d my grip on his arm, but he was pushing me backward again, still focused on my lips. "Edward?" called a feminine voice down the hall. "Fuck," he groaned, softl y.

A shiver skittered up my spine, from his voice, from the frustration, from the w ord, and he saw it, and his mouth twisted into that half smile, eyelids half low ered. He stepped away, but didn't let go of my hand. He closed his eyes, and too k a deep breath. "Esme," he called, pulling me into the living room, "this is-" "Renee«?" she gasped. "Isabella Swan," He finished. I like the way he says my name , I thought vaguely, as the woman stepped forward. She was dressed in a stylish top and a gypsy skirt, and smelled like incense and roses, and there was somethi ng so right about her that I felt like I'd known her all my life. "Of course," s he laughed. "There is no-one else you could be." Then she looked at Edward, and our hands, and laughed again. He let go and stepped away. "This is my step-mothe r, Esme Cullen." She reached out and held my chin, examining my face with the bi ggest smile I had ever seen, and then she pulled me into a hug, and I wasn't unc omfortable, because it was like I was meeting family. "I'll be right back." I ra n to where I'd left my stuff in the foyer, and grabbed my phone. "Mom? There's s omeone here you should talk to." The nostalgia-fest began, and lasted until my i Phone battery died. Edward: "Dude," Jasper sighed, staring at the keypad with a confused look in his bloodshot eyes, "You've gotta set this. I've screwed it up twice and third time calls the cops." I elbowed him out of the way and punched i n the alarm code. "Next week, I win," he said. "Unless I'm breathing." I could s till beat Jazz at darts tripping balls and him the designated bored fucker; he j ust gave me a better game. "I'll duct tape your eyes shut." "That might work." " Think they're done giggling?"

"God, I hope so." He stumbled off to bed. I started making last rounds of the ho use, turning lights off as I went. The library was lit by several reading lamps; Bella was at a wall of books, running her fingertips across the spines. She wor e way-over-the-knee socks and a plaid flannel night shirt, looking like some LL Bean wet dream. "Hey. Can't sleep?" She turned, startled, and shook her head. Sh e looked tired, but edgy. I waited for her to speak, but she didn't. "Funny, abo ut Esme and your mom. It explains you, though." She cocked her head. "Conservati ve, shy cop's kid one second, outrageous hellion next." "You are accusing me of being schizophrenic?" "I deserve that," I offered. She just looked at me. "Bella , are you high?" "Not any more. I'm just not ready to sleep, yet." I stuck my fi sts in my pockets. "You want to watch a movie or something?" She nodded. I gestu red to the living room, and we browsed the household collection. "You pick," she said. I pulled out three I thought she might like, and she closed her eyes and pointed randomly at Romeo and Juliet. She curled up in the corner of the couch, pulling the quilt from the back onto her legs. I took the opposite corner and pu lled the other end of the blanket over my own feet. She watched the movie, and I watched her. She was exhausted; she yawned, and it got to me, and I clamped my teeth shut to stop my own, but she saw me and grinned, and I gave in and yawned hard. I wanted to be like this forever, sleepy and easy, not having to fill the air with meaningless crap because you were uncomfortable with silence. "Come her e," I whispered, raising my arm out, hoping I hadn't screwed things up by asking , but unable to have her so far away anymore.

She hesitated, and crawled from out of the blanket to lie on top of it against m y chest, her back to me. I pulled the rest of the blanket up around to cover her . Her head was tucked into my shoulder, my arm was around her and her hair was e verywhere, and it was perfect. The outside world slipped away, and there was jus t me and this girl, her light weight pushing against me. I didn't even pretend t o watch the damned movie, I just listened to her breathe, and felt her ribcage m ove under my arm, trying not to be aware of her breasts, because this was too go od to wreck with lust. Our skin was not touching without a barrier of fabric, an d I was still aware of that crazy electric chemistry we had; my heart was beatin g hard, but not fast. Her spine relaxed to curve against me in the blankets, and I realized she was asleep. Holding her sleeping was completely different than h olding her after she had fainted, on Tuesday. Then she'd had no choice, but now, she'd given me her absolute trust, freely, even after I'd been an impossible di ck all week, and I felt like I was king of the world. This spitfire girl was let ting me see her at her most vulnerable; I only wished I could see her face. As i f she'd heard my thoughts, she turned towards me, tangled in the blanket, squirm ing to fit her body to the length of mine. One slender hand crept out to rest ag ainst my chest, and the delicate weight of it was the only thing that kept my he art inside my chest. She was beautiful. Her face was still, lips slightly parted , and the dark lashes were so long they almost swept her cheekbones. Her closed eyes were trembling slightly, the smallest movement under the lids, and I wonder ed what she was dreaming about, why she was afraid to sleep when she looked so p eaceful and languid and sensual. Her fingers on my chest tightened, a small reac tion to what was going on behind her eyes, and her legs shifted in the covers. I wondered if it was a nightmare, and pulled her a little closer, debating waking her. In response her breathing changed, and she arched towards me. Her mouth wa s moving, lips tensing in tiny whispers of dream words orThis was no nightmare. Her hips were moving, wrapped in the blanket, a minute rhythmic thrust ghosting the erotic dream she was having. My heart started pounding so hard I thought it would burst, and I could actually see it, pushing at her hand on my chest with e ach beat, and then she dug her fingers into me, grasping at my shirt. I was pant ing, shallow breaths that matched hers; this was the most incredibly sexy thing I had seen in my life, and it was wrong, and it was glorious. "Bella." I whisper ed. Wake up. Don't wake up. She arched her back again, a slow voluptuous writhe against me. I fought every muscle in my body to hold still, to not grab her up t o me and thrust my erection against her for real, because

she was asleep, and you just can't do that to someone, but her hips were rocking in little motions that echoed what was behind her eyes, and I wanted to be ther e, to see what she was seeing, to be who she was feeling. Her face was inches fr om mine, breath hot on my face and neck. She moaned softly, and my entire body h ardened with that noise. "Bella!" If I really wanted her to wake up I wouldn't h ave whispered, would I? Her lips were flushed dark red, and the tell-tale pink b lush was starting to flood her face, and it was so real and honest I was unable to make myself stop watching her. But she was close, and if she was going to com e in my arms like this, leaving me behind, she wasn't going to fucking sleep thr ough it. She ground deeper against me, her neck bent back and"Bella!" Her eyes s napped open as she crested, chocolate eyes dilating to ebony, owning mine, then losing focus as another wave visibly tore through her. She opened her lips in a low groan, and I almost cried with my body's need to kiss her, to swallow that s ound in my own mouth, but my conscience won and I didn't move an inch, while her hips rolled against me through the blanket. She smiled, dazed eyes still locked with mine, and she sighed, and then she refocused, fully awake, and pale shock stripped her face of the delicate flush of her release. She stiffened and looked at me in horror. I jerked away from her. "I didn't touch you," I said, quickly, "I would never do that." Shame and self-loathing washed over me, because I did take advantage of her; I fucking watched her at her most intimate while she was sleeping and unaware, like some sick voyeur. She stood up quickly, unsteady on h er feet, still panting, furious blush back on her face full force. "Yeah," she w hispered, "I know." Her voice was bitter and ashamed and defeated, and she turne d and ran towards Alice's room. "Bella," I gripped my hair in my fists in frustr ation and whispered into the empty room, "it was beautiful." I should have shake n her to wake her up, to make her stop, but she was so damned gorgeous and genui ne and exciting, I couldn't do it; I just watched. I rolled into the blankets th at smelled like her, tortured and throbbing, and replayed every second of her dr eam in my head until I fell asleep and she took me with her. Chapter 8: Melodic I've missed your words, though I've had none of my own. ±Ordina ry_Girl Yours are distant sanity. There is nothing but chaos here. ±Debussy_88 Spa rks flying? ±Ordinary_Girl Wildfire and ashes, I'm afraid. What music is in you, n ow? ±Debussy_88

Billie's Stormy Weather. What is your song? -Ordinary_Girl She stole all of mine , I think. Yours is a good one, but raises a blue flag. ±Debussy_88 So write new o nes of your own. ±Ordinary_Girl I will if you do. ±Debussy_88 The words have been al l wrong; too many stimuli, no time to process. ±Ordinary_Girl So just describe; th e language will give focus. ±Debussy_88 Did you let her go again? Did she fall? ±Ord inary Girl She flew wild. I don't know how to make her mine. ±Debussy_88 So tame h er gently, and let her choose. -Ordinary_Girl Is your pretty boy still laughing? ±Debussy_88 Sometimes. He doesn't want to want me. ±Ordinary_Girl Don't retreat. Ad dict him to the laughter. ±Debussy_88 Go away. I have words to write. ±Ordinary_Girl I'll show you mine if you show me yours. ±Debussy_88 Bella: The worst part about being betrayed by your own imaginary lover is that he doesn't send you flowers a fterwards. Ever since my body started changing and I'd discovered that some part s felt nicer than others, he flickered in and out of my dreams, with ghost whisp ers and phantom fingers and fickle lips; and after only six days in Forks he'd d ecided he had a chiseled face and bronze hair that I still hadn't gotten to touc h, that voice and those eyes. God, those eyes; I could still see them, locked wi th mine, dilated to the darkest emerald, and then drifting out of focus. Bastard didn't even offer me an imaginary cigarette, afterwards. I'd cried myself to sl eep in Alice's bed, glad she normally spent the night in Jasper's room. I didn't know which was worse: that Edward watched me have the biggest orgasm of my none xistent sexual history, or that he'd confirmed my suspicions that he didn't want anything to do with giving me another one. At dawn I woke up, laughing hysteric ally at the situation. I found my iPhone and pathetically sent a virtual plea fo r help.

Debussy_88's immediate reply broke through my self-indulgent pity party; he seem ed to be having as rough a time as I. Our conversation soothed me, and after wri ting out my frustration and amusement, I fell back asleep until noon. He'd writt en while I slept: High Drifting in another world Her eyes flashing wide Just to pull me deep Lust for this flying high And my silent scream To her taking leave Bends to hold her close And hear her parting cry Dazed in my open arms With a fe ral moan She steals my soul And leaves me flying high. I wrote back: Your chaos orders up some fiery phrases. She sparks hot! I grinned, suddenly in a good mood , pleased he had written, excited that the words were so visceral. I pulled on a pair of jeans and a hoodie, and piled my hair on my head, twisting it up into a sleepy mess with a little paintbrush from Alice's easel. I padded downstairs to the kitchen. "Good morning, ." "It's Carlisle, Bella. Good afternoon. There's s till a little coffee left." He nodded to a pot that looked like it had been warm ing for a while. I cut it half with milk from fridge. "Everyone else is downstai rs. You should join them." Esme handed me a plate of French toast that was keepi ng warm in the oven, and I wolfed it down, slathering it in maple syrup. A door off the kitchen opened to stairs going down to a carpet and eggshell foam covere d basement, complete with a sound booth. Alice had shown it off last evening; we 'd even played around with the recording equipment. I stood in the entryway, try ing to gather my courage before facing Edward. Jasper was laughing. "Dude. You s ound like a constipated Neil Diamond. You have to grind. This has to be sung by a man on his second pack of cigarettes before noon. Start again." "Fuck you. Wha t's my motivation?" Edward sounded tired. "I don't think she's awake yet." Emmet t said. "Boys! Can we do this?"

Rosalie opened with an acoustic melody I almost recognized, but couldn't quite p lace, and then Edward sang, "In a lonely room, Hank Williams sings a lovesick bl ues, winter's walking up the avenue«" and I had to reach a hand up to grip the pad ded walls, because my knees really did go weak. The velvet voice had enough sand and grit and blues that my heart twisted and my throat clogged with tears. It w as the same rough voice that groaned in protest at Esme's interruption yesterday , and that woke me with my name as I climaxed last night, all spun around the wo rds of Alabama 3's Too Sick to Pray. I sat down on the floor before I spilled my coffee, or passed out from lack of oxygen, or took my clothes off, because I ju st wanted to be naked, so that I could absorb that sound through every inch of m y skin. And then piano keys and a harmonica joined in, and I had to see; still s itting on the floor, I peeked around the doorway. The first person I noticed was Jasper, wearing red one-piece long underwear, complete with a button butt flap, and a leather cowboy hat, still managing to look hot, hugging an upright bass l ike it was a woman. Alice was dancing around him in cut-off jean shorts, mismatc hed thighhighs and little rave-girl dragonfly wings safety pinned to the back of her tee-shirt, playing a really good harmonica. Edward was behind the piano, an d I couldn't see his face but I wasn't going to move to look. Emmett rapped in o n the spoken word verse, his voice similar to his brother, slightly deeper and m ore coarse, and then Edward took over the refrain, and I closed my eyes, lost an d spinning, until Rose closed the last note. "Holy fucking crow," I whispered in to the silence. Alice squeaked and bounced some sort of pixie good morning. Rose nodded. Edward stood, nudged the piano bench to sit perpendicular to the keyboa rd, and then walked past, without acknowledging me. I felt a tug on my head, and looked up to see the paintbrush flying across the carpet, and Edward's back sli pping into the sound booth. My hair fell around my face. I blushed, of course, a s the rest of them laughed. "Is that from Last Train to Mashville?" I asked. "Yo u know it?" Emmett was pleased. "It's the only A3 album I haven't downloaded yet , and I will remedy that within the hour." A small red light over the window to the booth started blinking. "We're on." Edward's voice crackled from a small spe aker by the light. He walked out of the booth and into the studio, pausing to re ach a hand down to me, without actually looking at me. I set my coffee against t he wall, and slipped my fingers into his, the slight static shock at our touch a lways a surprise. He pulled me up and closed the carpeted door, and

we walked to the piano, where he gently pushed me towards the end of the oblong bench. I sat down, straddling the seat with my back to the piano, not knowing wh at he wanted, still unable to look at him to risk a guess, not even knowing what I wanted, except that I wanted to be near him always, hearing that voice. He sa t down at the other end. Rose started the song again. Edward leaned back, and fi t his spine to mine. I jumped at the intimacy of it, but instinctively pushed to wards his heat, and then he sang. The vibrations ran up my vertebrae, over my sh oulders, and echoed through my chest as if I was a radio tuned to his body. I fe lt his breathing, his pacing, how he held his breath on certain notes and pushed through on others. When he leaned forward to play, I arched back, keeping the c ontact, feeling the muscles in his shoulders flex as he worked over the piano ke ys. I closed my eyes, lost again, enveloped, not just in the sound, but physical ly feeling the music through him. I let my head drop back, turning the side of m y face to the back of his neck, and he leaned into me, bending his head to mine. His hair was unbearably soft against my cheek. When he sang the next line, his voice slid through the bones in my skull, driving out all thought except that th is was Edward, and he was giving this to me, body and soul, and I wanted to cry with the intensity of it. When the song ended, no-one moved or made a sound. Slo wly, Edward reached a hand up behind him to touch my hair, and then moved away, walking to the recording booth. The red light stopped blinking. Emmett crashed a crazy explosion on the drums, and Jasper yelled some exultant rebel yell. Alice screamed. They were right to be excited, even if the recording was only half as true to the live performance. For a young band to play blues, everything has to be raw. Adults have the right to sing world weary ache, but new musicians have to draw from the shock, the inexperience of the pain, and this song had it, even down to Alice's wistful harmonica. Edward's voice was haunted, confused and per fect. I swallowed against my own innocent blues, retrieved my coffee, and went b ack upstairs, without speaking. I was in love with him. And he said he would nev er touch me. Edward: The relief I'd felt when I saw her shadow cross the doorway of the studio was tangible. I was so afraid she would run from me, from us, fro m Alice. I'd woken at dawn, wrapped in the blanket on the couch, messy and stuck to my jeans. I went upstairs to shower, and decided to leave a note to Ordinary _Girl, but she'd written first, and recently.

Our conversation had its usual instant calming effect, and her distant perspecti ve made sense. I kept forgetting that Bella had been here a grand total of six d ays, and they had to have been fairly stressful. If we were going to get her inv olved in Breaking Dawn, she would need to get used to us and my crazy family. Th e more immediate problem was that I had witnessed Bella having a wet dream, and she was going to be uncomfortable as hell around me. I tried to put myself into her shoes. Or panties. Or whatever. I'd heard of guys who liked to wear their gi rl's silky things, but obviously my kink was more voyeuristic than hands on, and apparently, I am one of those perverts who like to watch. Because that was the most intense and erotic thing I'd ever seen; I kept thinking about that languid smile after she came, the way she wasn't surprised to see me, before she woke up and was surprised to see me. That image was as burned into my brain as the firs t time I'd heard her sing, and I doubted I was going to have less than a semi ha rd-on for a month. What would my family tell me to do? Dad would lecture me abou t the dangers of Priapism, and hand me outdated porn and some lube. Esme would t ell me to approach the situation with gentle humor and perhaps offer a joint. Em mett would slap me on the back in congratulations, and mock-hump my leg like a p ogo stick. Rose would strike a sour triad on the guitar to express her amused di sgust with my inability to communicate properly. Jasper would offer sage advice pertaining to existentialism, the Kama Sutra and vanilla frosting. Alice would m ail order Bella a care-package of phallic buzzy toys and never speak to me again . My family was going to be no help. Ordinary_Girl said to tame her gently. I fe ll asleep, thinking of different ways to make Bella feel comfortable with me aga in, the easy way she'd stretched alongside me to watch the movie, and how good i t felt with the weight of her body spooning against mine. I woke in the late mor ning, ravenous and full of words. I typed in the phrases, and checked her accoun t. She'd written while I slept: Billie and Me: Billie sings to the rain, and I s ing like a child, hesitant,

braving his pleasure, blindly searching for mine, dreaming of finding his hands in the wet Stormy Weather. Billie croons for the sun, and I beg for the shine of his eyes, brighter than any ray of light that could kiss my skin or his hot han ds that touch my Summertime. I wrote: Lady slings the blues, tongue in cheeky gr oove. Esme had coffee going and she and I made French toast breakfast for everyb ody who trickled in, breakfast our usual bonding routine for the past year. She shooed us off to the basement, saying she'd send Bella down when she woke up. Sa turday afternoons were dedicated to the band. We rehearsed, we roughed in demo m aterial, we worked through anything and everything we'd played with independentl y over the week. Jasper had been pushing at us to cover a few Alabama 3 pieces, their light-hearted bohemian blues suited to our style, and Emmett picked up the spoken words this week, so we practiced a bit. But I wasn't focused, and after repeated screw-ups, even Alice was losing patience with me. When I saw Bella's s hadow on the carpet, and the faint reflection of her in the glass from the mixin g booth, the relief that shot through me was excruciating. I felt like a junkie finally getting a fix, and the intensity frightened me. When Jazz got on me abou t roughening my tone, it didn't take much to put my obsession into my voice. "Ju st because I burnt my bible, baby, it don't mean I'm too sick to pray«" I finally got it right though, and we nailed it. My heart soared at her quiet oath from th e floor. Not only did she like the song, she knew it; I just needed to make her a part of it, with scaring her off. I didn't think she would sing with us yet, b ut if I could just get her in the room while we played, it was a step forward. I nudged the bench, and walked past her, cocky and high from performance energy. She didn't look up, so I snagged the paintbrush from her hair, feeling like a li ttle schoolboy picking on the girl he liked on the playground, just to get her a ttention. I rearranged the recording levels in the booth, a little confused at t he settings; Alice must have been playing with them last night. I went back in, and reached out to Bella without looking at her. If she didn't take the offer, I wouldn't push, but she took my hand. Alice smirked. I ignored her.

Bella still wouldn't make eye contact, and even sat on the piano bench backwards , but she was close, and I leaned back just to feel her warmth, and she understo od, and fit into me, and it was beyond heaven. I had twice the resonance and cou ld feel her energy as well as mine, and she tipped her head back into my neck, h er hair all soft and tangled and everywhere. She was moving slightly, rocking wi th the rhythm of the bass and the guitar, and it reminded me so much of how her hips moved last night. I wanted to groan, but just fed it into the lyrics. My vo ice was twisted with my want, and the irony of it all, that she was perfect, and I couldn't have her. And as much as Bella was behind me, so was everyone else; Rose and Jazz found the exact levels to hold up the words without drowning me, A lice was phenomenal, her little toy harmonica a tiny high sad wail that rose abo ve the ceiling to deepen my voice, and Emmett rolled the spoken lines, silver to ngue all dirt and gravel. They were all giving me this, everything they had, and I gave it back, because they were all I had. It was the best thing we'd done, a nd we all knew it, even while it was happening, and it was because of her. When the last note closed, I reached back to touch Bella's hair, and then stood, ripp ing my body away from her, and strode to the booth, feeling I'd left half of me back on that bench, but afraid I'd turn around and assault her if I didn't get u p and move. I shut down the levels, and took several deep breaths. When I came b ack out, she was gone. I turned to go find her, but Jasper grabbed my wrist. "Le t her go, man. This is a lot to take in all at once." I nodded. Tame her gently. "Well, let's hear it!" yelled Emmett. It was not as good as some, but better th an a whole lot of what was on the radio. I burned several CD's while Alice fille d out the paperwork in even block printing. Alice took them up to Carlisle and E sme to sign, and we sealed it all in a big manila envelope addressed to the Olym pic Delta Blues Festival. "We're lying, aren't we?" whispered Alice. I nodded. T he application rules to the festival were clear: everyone who participated in th e demo had to sign the release forms in the entry papers to the festival. There were only five forms in that envelope; and even though she hadn't made a sound, there was no way we could have made that recording without Bella. Chapter 9: Type Set

Bella: I spent Sunday unpacking the last of my things from Phoenix and importing my music into my iPhone. Charlie was fishing with Billy Black; I had the house to myself. After spending Friday night and most of Saturday with Alice and her f amily, the quiet of my empty home should have been more enjoyable, but I found m yself missing the eccentric warmth of the Cullen house. Esme was very much like my mother, carefree and young spirited, while her handsome husband was easy natu red and philosophical. Emmett was hilarious and refreshingly blunt. Rose was a s ardonic enigma; she spent a lot of time and effort on her looks, but dismissed a nyone who judged her by them. Jasper was incredibly easy to be around, just a lo ok or a phrase from his direction could set a mood or have a whole room in hyste rics. Alice was marvelous. She didn't talk about herself much, but spun through the evening laughing about clothes and colors and fabric, design and style, and music. She adored Jasper, and was uninhibitedly sexual around him without being coy. She doted on her brothers, especially Edward. They often spoke without word s, the way that twins sometimes do, and her pride in his musical talent was char ming. Her own abilities were not small. She had some solid stock guitar chops th at she varied skillfully, although she tended to anticipate too early. After Edw ard took Jasper out to give us some girl time, we'd smoked a little and snuck do wn to the basement so she could show off the studio; we even giggled our way thr ough a White Stripes tune. She was a bit nervous; I think she was used to the gu ys running the mixing boards, but we figured it out on our own. I felt a little strange listening to it; I'd never really heard my own voice on a recording beyo nd a voicemail message before. She burned me a copy, though I wasn't sure I want ed to hear it. Alice said it was great, but I sounded childish and melancholy to my own ears; of course, Alice critiqued herself fairly harshly, when I thought her playing was wonderful. She'd picked deliberate simple chords, but kept it pl ayful. It wouldn't have mattered if we'd sounded like ass; we had fun and laughe d like banshees the whole evening. I envied her harmonica. She denied her singin g capabilities, joking that her best skills were on kazoo, but the rest of the b and had forbidden her to play one after an embarrassing butchering of Strawberry Fields Forever at a recent family reunion. I was surprised when she told me tha t Saturday afternoon was the first time she'd ever played more than just a few b lue notes in accompaniment. We rarely talked about Edward. His name came up in p assing or when mentioned with the band or the family, but Alice seemed like she was waiting for me to initiate a conversation, and I was too confused to know wh at to say. He'd said that he was tired of trying to stay away from me, but he ha d to. However, I was pretty sure he'd wanted to kiss me after I sang with Rosali e, and I'd wanted him to. After my embarrassing display on the sofa he said that he would never touch me. He hadn't even needed to say it; the look of disgust o n his face was enough to explain his feelings. All yesterday, I didn't look at h im, so I wouldn't have to see that expression on his face, but then he pulled me onto that piano bench and into the music and himself, and I was lost.

I was his, whether he wanted me or not. Jerk. Beautiful boy-man jerk with silky soft hair all mussed up and sexy that I had yet to run my fingers through, thoug h I had felt it on my cheek and tickling my ear when I sat with him while he san g. I was angry, mad at myself for spending so much time and energy on someone wh o couldn't seem to make up his mind as to whether he wanted to have nothing to d o with me or to kiss me. I flipped open my laptop, resenting the fact that the o nly person who could help me make sense of anything was a nameless, faceless, vo iceless ghost, arranging words on a distant keyboard. He'd written: After five y ears: She hold pots of chrysanthemums, Wearing a flowered silk dress Whispering secrets of friendships, With laughter and songs. She plants them by your name, S carlet and orange, yellow and pink While I watch, quiet On the grass at your fee t. Five years to the day You charged me with her smile And then closed your eyes . I grew tall, while she grew pretty, But she wore her black dresses, Bringing b ouquets of cut flowers And always stood silent One hand in mine. After five year s of white roses, She plants you a rainbow And I finally have hope I've done rig ht by your charge. I stared at the screen, feeling small and petty, that I would whine about wanting a boy I barely knew, when he would share something so profo und. I wrote: I would send you soft words, but I cannot whisper. A minute later, he'd written back: Why do you bring me so much solace? ±Debussy _88 For the same reason I'll sleep easier, now, tonight.

Will you write tomorrow? ±Debussy_88 Yes. Edward: If I timed it right, I would bum p into Bella as she was leaving her second period chemistry class, though 'smash into her and send her things flying all over the hallway' was a better descript ion. Again, I helped her pick up her books, and reached out a hand to help her u p. This time she took it. I was beginning to anticipate that odd static shock th at happened when our skin made contact, but the sensation did not diminish. I fe lt as if I could be blindfolded in a crowd, and I still would be able to find he r by touch. I pulled her up, but she kept her head tilted down. "Bella," I asked , exasperated, "are you ever going to look at me again?" "No," she said. Her eye s were fixed on her shoes, but at least her reddened face was smiling, partially hidden by her hair. It was slightly damp, from a shower or the rain, and smelle d marvelous. I laughed. "You can't avoid me forever." "Watch me," she challenged , belligerent and blushing. "I did." Her face crumpled and I swore under my brea th, mad at myself for teasing her too much. She pulled her hand from mine and tu rned away. As she left, a CD in a sleeve fell from the books in her arms. I pick ed it up; it was the same brand we record on, labeled B+A: ICCN in Alice's artis tic script. That explained why the mixer levels had been adjusted this weekend, but I wondered why Alice hadn't mentioned it. After a few seconds of hesitation, I texted Alice to sign me in on the free study roster, and took the CD to my ca r. I felt like I was doing something furtive; reading a diary or looking at some one's private text messages on a stolen phone. I slipped it in the player. A few light guitar notes, deliberate but playful, led into Bella's voice, loose and w hispery, on the White Stripes' In the Cold Cold Night. I closed my eyes and let the simple song fill the car, soft and eerie and drifting, laid back and fuck-al l fun and sexy. I could see the lazy smile on her face as she shaped the words. The treble was slightly skewed in the mix; she almost sounded too young, but it was perfect for the lyrics: You make me feel a little older, like a full grown w oman might« Then I realized that her voice was not the focus of the song; her sing ing was more of a harmony to Alice's guitar. I'd recognize twin's playing anywhe re, but I'd never heard her play so well. She

had a very light touch and difficulties with timing; not good traits for rhythm guitar, but Bella was letting her lead, and Alice owned it. It was incredible. I wish I had been there to see them play it. I played it again, watching the rain sluice down the Volvo's windshield, and then put the disc back into its envelop e, and went to find Alice in the balcony of the music hall. She was working on c hemistry homework, books and lab notes strewn across the seats. I sat down close and watched her, waiting. She finally looked up, and I handed her the disc. She looked uncomfortable. "Bella dropped it in the hallway," I said. "And you liste ned to it in the car," she deduced. "Your hair is wet." I nodded. "Were you two high?" I asked. She nodded, not looking at me. "Why? We don't even go downstairs when we're drunk or stoned! We do not record anything we can't do straight, Ali ce. You know that!" "It wasn't on purpose, Edward. I was showing off the house, and then she wanted to see the booth, and I'd been practicing that song for week s, and she knew it, so I recorded it just so she could hear it. I erased it from the hard drive." "But you burned a copy." "Yeah," she whispered, "I wanted you to hear how good we were." I nodded. She looked up at me, hazel eyes wide, wet a nd brimming. "Edward. That was the first take. We played that cold." Fuck me. I stared at her. "Yeah," she whispered. "Can you do it sober?" I demanded. "I don' t know," she whimpered.

I sighed, and sat down next to her. "So, what happened to no secrets between us, Alice?" She stiffened in her seat and shot me a hard look. "Don't even go there , twin. Not without explaining why you've been checking your e-mail every hour o n the hour for the past week." I looked away. I wasn't ready to talk about Ordin ary_Girl, yet, or maybe I just wasn't ready to share. "I'm on a porn forum. Pant y of the day club," I improvised. It sounded sour in my mouth, like I was cheape ning things somehow, and I didn't like it. "Asshole." She knew I was lying, but let it go, and went back to her chemistry homework. I checked my e-mail. She'd w ritten: He twists me In separate directions, Plying me with intimacy But denying his touch. He spins me In opposition, And in his absence I am stranded. Alone I unravel Frayed at the ends Dreaming of him Unstrung in the dark. I replied: Sou nds like your boy doesn't know what he wants. He's too pretty to be mine. I need a new obsession, this one hurts too much. Got any music? I need to shake this b lue mood.±Ordinary_Girl Sad Sad City, by Ghostland Observatory. Indy techno, obnox ious enough to disrupt any mood. She wrote back after a few minutes: Yes, deligh tfully inappropriate for the library. Thank you. ± Ordinary_Girl Have you asked th e Pretty Boy what he wants? Does your Spark know you burn? ±Ordinary_Girl You have saucy words and make me laugh. I smile at you and your untamed flame. ±Ordinary_G irl.

The bell rang. Alice hugged me before she left for class. We were always a littl e clingy after we went to visit Mom. Someday we would probably have to talk abou t it, but she had come so far this year, noone wanted to press. She'd left the d isc behind on an armrest. I assumed she'd done it on purpose. Bella was relaxed and smiling at lunch, but she still wouldn't look across the table at me. I was beginning to wonder if she wasn't playing some kind of head game. I know she was aware of me, the way she paused to listen as I was speaking, or how her body gr avitated towards mine. I reached out at swiped the cap from her lemonade bottle and spun it like a top. When it wobbled towards her, she grabbed it and sent it spinning back, but she didn't look up. The conversation moved fluidly from the m erits of smooth peanut butter versus crunchy to feminine anatomical euphemisms i n rap music. "Missy Elliot shaves her 'cha-cha,' " Emmett said thoughtfully. "Wh y do we have to have nicknames, at all?" asked Alice. "I like the way Obie Trice says 'penis'." Emmett scowled at her. "Dude," reasoned Jasper, "Penis is a natu ral body part. Like 'bone'." We all laughed. "Well, Alice, when trying to write lyrics, 'vagina' doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, so to speak," I said, enjo ying Bella's blush. I would get her to look me in the eyes before lunch was over , I decided. "I prefer the phrase 'nether regions'. It has both mystery and dign ity, and the perfect amount of filth." said Jasper. "Oooh," said Alice. "I think calling it 'a flower' is nice," said Emmett, eyes glossed to the image in his m ind. "You know, pink and the petals spread open, and the center's all, um«" He dre w an explicit picture in the air with his fingertip and poked it repeatedly. "Cu nt," said Rosalie, smacking Emmett on the back of his head. He sat up straight a nd gave her a long dark look. I was laughing so hard my stomach cramped. "I like 'puss'," said Bella. I jerked my head in her direction so quickly my neck hurt. She was smiling at the tabletop.

"Not 'pussy'?" Alice asked her. "No, just 'puss'. It's actually Swedish for kiss ." She lifted her hand to touch her bottom lip with a finger, and I was instantl y rock solid. I stared at her, gripping the table, ready to vault over our lunch trays and maul her, when she slowly lifted her head, and raised her lashes to m eet my eyes. I felt the electricity without our even touching. I jerked my head down, and fixed my eyes on the lemonade cap. I grabbed it up in my fist, and lef t the table, with long fast strides. "Why does he keep doing that?" I heard Bell a complain. My family's laughter followed me through the double doors. I waited for her in the Biology classroom. She sat down and ignored me, pulling open her notebook, and doodled with a green pen. I spun the cap on the table, and she sna gged it before it reached the edge of the table, and twirled it back, without ma king eye contact. Class started and Mr. Banner called Mike Newton up to the fron t to describe his findings from the previous lab assignment. Bella watched him w ith a peculiar look on her face. Did she like him? He was the blond dumb jock ty pe that girls seemed to like; did she wish she hadn't made plans this past weeke nd? Someone else was called up, and Bella started fiddling with our lab assignme nt, shuffling the papers. Her fingertips left damp marks on them. By the time Be n was called, Bella was quite pale. She shook her hair down to cover her face. I touched her elbow, concerned, and she shot me a desperate look, eyes wide and b lack. When Mr. Banner called her name, she picked up the papers and scraped her chair back; we both winced at the noise. She walked unsteadily up to the front o f the classroom, her shoulders around her ears, and spread the papers out on the big lab table. She looked up, eyes darting over the twenty people, and stumbled lightly over her own feet. Newton snickered. Bella's face turned grey and her l ips went white, and I'd never wanted to punch another kid in the face so badly i n my life. I stood. "Mr. Banner, I don't think Bella feelsHer eyelids fluttered. The teacher caught her as she sagged, but I was there a second later. I slid my arms under her knees and shoulders and took her from him. She was limp and soft and light, and my heart was pounding as I pulled her close to my chest. "Syncop e from acute anxiety," I told him, pulling out some of dad's medical jargon, "I' ll take her to the nurse."

Banner nodded. I kicked Newton's chair as I walked by. "Bring our books," I snar led at him. "I can carry her," he said. "Shut up." I pulled her tighter to my ch est and walked down the hall. Bella: The world was askew, but I'd been here befo re; it smelled familiar, spice and soap and masculine skin. I was folded into wa rmth, knees and shoulders supported by steel sinew arms. I uncurled a hand and t ouched his chest. "I can walk," I said. I wasn't sure that I wanted to. My voice sounded weird and breathy. He bent his head to mine. "Shh. Do you want me to ge t you out of gym or not?" he asked. I immediately went limp. I felt the laughter echo lightly in his chest, where the side of my face was pressed against his bo dy. He kicked open the nurse's office door and set me on the paper covered table , and spoke to her for a moment. Mike Newton bent down and started patting my ch eek with a sweaty palm, and I sat up too quickly, reeling. Edward moved to suppo rt my shoulders until I found my balance, and encouraged Mike to leave. He didn' t take the hint, and put his hand on my knee. I saw Edward's fingers clench. I p ulled away from his hand again and batted my eyelashes, feeling ridiculous. "Mik e, would you be a darling and tell Mr. Banner I'm fine? And thank you for bringi ng my books." He left, looking pleased. "'Darling'?" Edward glared at me in disg ust. "You shouldn't encourage him, Bella." "Hey, it worked." My voice was starti ng to sound like mine again. He scowled. After the nurse signed some paperwork a nd shined a light in my eyes, Edward walked me out to the parking lot, with his arm around my waist. I wondered how many eyes were watching us, and it didn't bo ther me in the least. I moved toward my truck, but he pulled me to his car. "I'l l have Alice drive your truck home; she can get your books, too." The rain made me shiver, and he took off his jacket and put it over my shoulders. I loved his coat. It was a classic vintage motorcycle jacket, complete with zippers and belt , but the leather of was the darkest green. Alice told me she had found it in Ge rmany and paid almost as much as she had for her plane ticket. It smelled like h im.

We pulled away from the school. The only noise in the car was the sound of the w ipers slapping at the rain, and the hiss of the tires as we ran through puddles. He drove up to my house and turned in the driveway and shut off the engine. I d idn't really want to get out, but I couldn't read his mood. I hesitantly reached for the door handle, but he hit the master lock. He turned to me, and slowly op ened the front of the jacket. He smoothed my hair out of the way, gently tugging a strand that had caught in the zipper. I tried to breathe properly and failed. He peeled the lapels away from my chest, and I shivered when my nipples tighten ed under the thin sweater. I heard him inhale sharply through his nose, and his jaw tightened. I blushed in embarrassment. He reached into the breast pocket of the coat and pulled out the disc Alice had burned for me; I must have dropped it when I spilled my books in the hall. I cringed, and tried to take it back, but he grabbed my hand and held it, and put the CD in the car stereo. He watched me from half lidded eyes, with the crookedy smile I had become addicted to. I looke d out the windshield at the rain, jittery from the tension in car, wondering wha t he was thinking, and oddly fascinated by the way my voice and Alice's guitar f illed the air. It was like looking into a mirror after a make-over; I knew it wa s me, but it was hard to recognize myself. He was stroking the back of my hand w ith his thumb, and I was so aware of his touch that I wanted to squirm in my sea t. "You could get signed to any label you wanted with this," he said, voice pitc hed low, under the music. I shook my head at him. "We were just goofing around." "I know. Alice told me." He pulled his hand from mine, and looked straight ahea d. "Bella, I have to destroy the disc." His voice was harsh. "We don't record wh en we're fucked up." A puzzle piece clicked into place, explaining why Alice was so nervous in the recording booth. "That's cool," I said. "I think we set the t reble levels too high, anyway." The tension left his body abruptly, and he laugh ed. "You could do it again?" "Sure, if Alice is up to it. It was fun." He grinne d, and looked at me out of the corner of his eyes. "I wish I could have been the re." I hunched into his jacket, and shook my head. "I don't think I should smoke around you." He tilted his head sideways, and looked at me, green eyes as velve t-soft as his voice, "Why not?"

"You're dangerous," I whispered, unable to keep the longing out of my voice. He inhaled audibly, and the tension in the car became so thick I could almost see t he air shimmer between us. He lifted his hand to my face and stroked his thumb d own my cheekbone. My skin burned under his touch. "You should go in, Bella," he whispered, "before I do something I'll regret later." "Would you really regret i t?" I breathed. "No." His eyes were hot as fire. I slipped out of his jacket, an d he released the lock; I ran up the walkway to the house. The rain did nothing to cool my skin. Chapter 10: Bloody Hale Edward: I was not going to molest Charlie Swan's daughte r in his own driveway. I sure as hell wanted to, though, and Bella wanted me. I knew it, now; I was as sure of it as I was my own name, and my need to pound int o her until she cried it aloud. The way she said that one sentence, her voice al l husky and sweet, it was the same tone as her moan the other night. "'You're da ngerous.'" Did she have any idea what that did to a guy? That admission of femin ine vulnerability, the acknowledgement that I had the power to conquer her, and that she trusted me enough to want it; I'd never felt so feral or masculine in m y life. I loved women. All of them. As a concept, as individuals, and in the fle sh. I cherished the awkward girls that craved notice and shared their pretty lit tle smiles and pretty little breasts. I loved the heavy ladies with pillowy thig hs and soft skin who made a guy feel welcomed home. I dug the psycho-bitches wit h their crazy dyed hair that threw you in a mental whirlwind and fucked like car nivores. I adored the nerdy babes that considered chess foreplay and wore scanda lous lingerie under their unfashionable clothing. I loved to see what made them tick, what made them drop their pretenses and just feel. There was no greater eg o trip than discovering the exact trigger that brought a genuine visceral respon se, whether it was a song they closed their eyes to, a compliment that brought a n honest smile, the right touch on sensitive nerves. The other half of the human race was an elegant puzzle that I wanted to solve, one delicate piece of flesh at a time, and now the most intriguing mystery was Bella Swan. She had taken ove r my every thought, every reason for breathing, every note I played.

She was the dangerous one. I lifted my hand to her face, and dragged the pad of my thumb along her cheekbone, her skin soft hot silk. When her lips parted I dro pped my hand, before I pressed my finger into her mouth to feel the texture of h er moist tongue and little hard teeth. I was in the driveway of the Chief of Pol ice, in a car with fogging windows, and his daughter locked inside. The man carr ied a gun. "You should go in, Bella," I whispered, "before I do something I'll r egret later." Or before I get shot. Secrets flashed across her features; I would have paid gold to know them. I saw disappointment, confusion, and then somethin g sweet and intense: curiosity. "Would you really regret it?" she breathed, ragg ed and soft. Her eyes were burning, dark flames and warm midnight. "No." She wri ggled her shoulders and my jacket slid from her body. I released the locks and s he was gone. I drove back to school, arriving just as the final class was lettin g out. I asked Alice to drive Bella's truck home. Jasper moved to go with her, b ut I stopped him from joining her. "Ride with me. I need you to hear something." We followed Alice out of the parking lot. Her eyes caught mine in the rearview mirror so much I worried she would wreck Bella's rust bucket of a vehicle. She k new what I was about to do, and I felt only a little guilty about it. If she wan ted to keep secrets from us, she had to accept the consequences. I slid the CD i n the stereo. At Jasper's expression, I did feel badly. Alice should have been t here to see his awe and pride. When it was over, he played it again, like I had. "Alice says this was a raw take. No run-throughs." "Fuck! Who do we send this t o? Atlantic? Righteous Babe? Island?" "We can't. They were high." He sighed, sho ok his head and hit eject, and flung the CD onto the dash. I saw Alice wince. "T hat's the best shit I've heard her play." Something akin to jealousy tinged his words. "Bella thinks they could do it again."

"Alice says she has stage fright. Is that what I picked up on when she sang with Rose?" "Yeah. She tried to give an oral report today and crashed." "Fuck. We're not a studio band, dude." "Maybe dad can give her something to combat anxiety." I mused. "How is that any different than weed or booze?" "Well, it would be leg al, if it were prescribed, for starters." Breaking Dawn was definitely not a str aight edge band; we enjoyed a private lifestyle that was by no means innocent. C arlisle and Esme let us get away with it at home because we never performed in p ublic when we were messed up, nor did we record that way. A demo while under the influence was the worst kind of false advertizing; like an athlete on performan ce enhancers at tryouts. "I don't know, man. When he tried that shit with Alice, she was a zombie. Couldn't play for shit. Didn't even want to dance." "I know." "You're going to have to do it au natural, then. Use those famous womanizing sk ills to get in her head." "Jasper, I don't have skills. I just sit back and let it happen. Besides, didn't you tell me not to fuck her?" "I didn't tell you not to fuck her; I told you not to fuck it up!" I stared at him, and had to slam on the brakes before I hit Alice in Bella's truck, stopped at an intersection. He s tarted to giggle. "Is that your problem? Is that why you've been such a prick?" "Is it that obvious?" I muttered. "Every Y chromosome in your body points at her like a dowsing rod! It's obscene, man. You've lost your savoir faire." "Fuck yo u. This isn't funny." "Bro, have you ever not gotten the girl?" "No. I just don' t keep them. "

He stared at me as I drove, making me squirm. "If music be the food of love, pla y on«" he said, with a dirty smile. "What the fuck I that supposed to mean?" I ask ed, refusing to look at him. "Just drive, motherfucker." I glared out the windsh ield. It wasn't like he'd had to make any major play for my sister; she'd all bu t molested him in eighth grade. Alice pulled into the Swans' driveway and took t he truck keys to the house. Bella waved from the doorway, and disappeared back i nside. I spent most of the evening in my room on my piano, picking out the melod y that was tugging at my brain, a lullaby with a wistful, sensual theme, repeati ng with increasing complexity until it reached a climax, and then finished abrup tly, almost unresolved. It left me unsatisfied, and frustrated. I would go back to it later, but I wasn't sure how to proceed with it to make it right. I turned on the computer, seeking my usual serenity. She wasn't so calm, tonight: This s olitary magic is no longer easy I need a partner in this practice Or at least an other pair of hands With fingers longer than mine. I want to walk easy With know ledge in my hips And satisfaction on my lips And experience on my skin. My dream lover is no longer enough I need lessons of flesh and bone So that I may finall y sleep easy Knowing what is to come. I chuckled. Ordinary_Girl was as frustrate d as I was. I wrote: You sound ready to lose some purity. When I woke the next m orning there was a response: Snow White had nothing on me. At least she had seve n dwarves for bedfellows. ±Ordinary_Girl I typed: And a kinky prince Charming with a necro fetish. What music are you grinding? After my shower: My Prince plays G ett Off, and at least Snowy got her kiss; even these lips are innocent. ±Ordinary_ Girl

I laughed. Then you don't read your words aloud. Your body may still have its di vinity, but your writing has carnal knowledge. Ichecked my email in the car, bef ore walking into school: My state of mind is certainly not divine, but words of release and imaginary hands in the dark are not sufficient any more. ± Ordinary_Gi rl "Why don't you just put her on alert?" Alice's voice was sour. "I do, at home ," I said, looking directly at her, "and why are you so sure it's a 'her'?" "Bec ause I know you, and you don't smile like that for boys. At least, I hope you do n't." "Fuck off, twin." She brandished her longest finger and left. I typed: So why this sudden awakening? Is the Pretty Boy charming? I made my usual detour be tween second and third period, hoping to catch Bella as she left chemistry, feel ing stupid because I didn't have a reason or an excuse, I just wanted to see her , but I was late; she was up ahead in the throng of students, so I hung back aga inst the wall of lockers, waiting for Alice. I wasn't the only one watching Bell a. A certain tall strawberry blond senior at a locker I used to visit watched he r speculatively, and the hair on the back of my neck rose in protective instinct of the brunette disappearing up the hallway. Tanya closed the metal door, and t urned towards me, but Alice dashed over, and I was able to avoid contact with th e only girl I ever regretted sticking my dick into. She had the legs of a chorus line girl, but for all I tried to get her to wrap them around me, she lay limp on her sheets when I fucked her, cold-fish and no response. I thought she was pa ssionless until I tried to break it off with her; she proved me wrong by throwin g my laptop into the path of the Special Ed. short bus on the last day of school . She eyed my sister's glare and changed course, walking past just as Jasper ent ered from the other end, laughing with Ben Cheney. "That was close," said Alice. My step-brother had had no love for Tanya either, and while I was fairly certai n he wouldn't hit a girl, Jasper wasn't altogether stable when he was angry, and though we all had poured our souls into that album, he'd spent months in the ba sement, fine tuning the tracks on each arrangement. "What do you think she wants ?" "I have no idea." We walked to the conservatory building, and took our usual positions in the balcony. I forced myself to finish my Trigonometry homework bef ore I checked my e-mail. Perspective shifts when desire is returned, perhaps. An d he smells good. ±Ordinary_Girl

I laughed out loud. Alice shot me a dirty look. I thought quickly, and covered, "Hey Alice, how do you keep your twin sister in suspense?" "I don't know, how?" she asked, rolling her eyes, but still falling for it. I turned my back on her, and didn't answer. After a few seconds she swore and flung a pencil at me. I typ ed: Scent is primal and direct. You should be so, too. Tell him what you want. S he responded immediately: It might be socially unacceptable to say, 'Hullo. Has anyone told you that you look like a fallen archangel? You seem to like me; woul d you mind taking my virginity while we listened to Leonard Cohen songs?' ±Ordinar y_Girl I tried to laugh quietly but couldn't. Alice threw another pencil. I type d on the little screen: You might want to go a little slower. Music is a good op ener, and guys always like compliments, too, though we won't admit it. Hi, you s mell like cinnamon and black pepper and boy skin, and I want to lick the back of your neck; what do you think of Beck's latest album? ±Ordinary_Girl I advised: Sl ow down, hot foot, let him know you are available without attacking. At lunch: H ey Pretty Boy, I'm not wearing panties; do you like Joss Stone? ±Ordinary_Girl I h adn't laughed this much in a long time. I responded: Keep your knickers on. Try a kiss on the cheek? At the beginning of Spanish: That's a bit forward isn't it? ±Ordinary_Girl I typed under the desk: Hot foot got cold feet? When I got home fr om school: Have you kissed your Spark? ±Ordinary_Girl I typed: Not yet. After dinn er: Why not? ±Ordinary_Girl I answered: Same reason, I imagine. Later in the eveni ng: I will if you will. ±Ordinary_Girl I typed: Gauntlet thrown, challenge accepte d. Right before I crawled into bed: I think I'm too scared. -Ordinary_Girl I typ ed back: I think you are fearless.

It bounced. I logged in, and something wet and ugly happened inside my ribcage. Ordinary_Girl's page read, "This user set to private". She'd shut me out. Bella: On Wednesday morning I woke up and decided I'd had enough of my pathetic un-kis sed self. I was too old for this. I was not going to sit around and feel sorry f or myself, today of all days. It was time to call my fairy godmother. My phone r ang before I could press the contacts icon. Alice chirped, "We're picking you up in twenty minutes." I took the fastest shower in history, wrapped my wet hair i n a towel, and grabbed a bowl of cereal while my laptop powered up. I didn't bot her getting dressed, because I knew Alice would rearrange everything I put on an yway. Mom had sent me an e-card. I logged on to my blogsite, and my stomach cram ped on my cereal as I panicked. He'd shut me out. Debussy_88's page read, "This user set to private." My throat closed on my soggy Cheerio's. Then I noticed tha t the advertisements on the site were drastically different. Of course. Today wa s my birthday. I went to my profile, altered my age back a year, and checked his profile settings. His page was accessible now. My heart started beating again, and I had to laugh at my stupidity. When I first made the account, I bumped my a ge up a year to seventeen so I could see the music sites that restricted for NC17 content, and this site separated the minors from the adults to keep the porn sites from spamming kids. He'd written: I did not expect to be so touched by tin y letters in this font or so alone at their loss.

I stared at the screen. Had he written that about me? Did he wake up and look fo r my words, to find them gone, and have the same reaction I did, this morning? W hy was this connection so important to me? I wrote: Settings glitches and my sto mach aches; I thought I'd lost a friend. Alice danced into my room wearing a lon g tunic and leggings and ridiculous spike heels with yellow ribbons all over the m. She handed me a large paper cup of coffee. "Do those shoes match the teddy se t underneath?" I teased her. "And Jazz has yellow silk boxers to match!" She han ded me clothes; tight jeans and a clingy hoodie, and I dutifully dressed while s he rearranged the furniture in my room with surprising speed and strength. Then she pulled half my hair up on my head with a black velvet ribbon and smudged som e navy eye shadow into the corner of my eyelids. I was reluctant to look in the mirror, but when I did I had to admit she'd done a good job in the two minutes s he'd been here. Edward was waiting at the car with the passenger door open. He l ooked exhausted and sad; his hair was damp, but he hadn't shaved, and he didn't say hello. His eyes searched my face, and I wanted to reach up and kiss him, but in comfort rather than desire. Alice sipped into the back and wiggled under Jas per's seat belt. I got in, and he closed the door. His shoulders were tight and his left hand was hard on the steering wheel, in his right he gripped his iPhone . I touched his fist in concern, and he trapped my fingers in his own. His gaze flicked to my face, and he smiled, but it didn't reach his eyes. At the stopligh t by the diner, he pulled away from my hand and worked his thumb over the screen of his phone. The familiar sound of an e-mail alert chimed, and the stiffness l eft his body as he read the screen. He closed his eyes briefly and exhaled with a sigh of what seemed like relief. The light turned green, and I asked, "Are you o.k.? The smile was real this time, and he said "You look nice," and then, "Hap py Birthday." He reached across me and popped open the glove box. Inside was a s mall gift clumsily wrapped in a brown paper bag tied with a darker brown ribbon. I stared at it, still glowing with the compliment. Edward grabbed it and droppe d it in my lap. I looked at it. Edward looked straight ahead and ran his hand th rough his hair. "Open it, Bella," said Alice. The curiosity in her voice told me that this was a present from Edward alone. I tugged on the ribbon that had crea ses from a previous use, and unrolled the paper. A small black leather case held three darts, their shiny paper flights tucked into an outside pocket. I looked at them, shocked.

"I can't-" "I'll teach you to play," Edward interrupted. "But, I-" "Even the mos t uncoordinated person in the world can learn to play darts, Bella." "You're not afraid I'll put your eye out?" I asked, a little irritated, now. "I'll take my chances." "Are you good?" "I hold my own," but his smile was cocky and the snort from Jasper in the back made it clear he was very good. We turned into the scho ol lot and I slipped the darts into my backpack and got out of the car. On our w ay up to the main building, I stopped and turned to Edward, placing my hand on h is chest. I rose up on my toes to press my lips to his cheek. His unshaven face was slightly prickly against my own. He turned marble still, and glared. I pulle d away, feeling the heat rise to my skin. "Thank you for the darts." I walked qu ickly up to school, wondering if I'd overstepped with the kiss, somehow. Lauren Mallory met me at the door, and her smile made me uncomfortable. She reminded me about going to La Push on Friday yet again, and in second period I asked Angela if I could ride with her. She was pleased; her parents wouldn't let her go out to the reservation alone. I asked Alice if she was going. "That's not really our scene, Bella." There was warning in her voice, and I wondered if she was includ ing me in that "our". "Why?" She squirmed. "Just don't eat or drink anything fro m anyone that you don't know." "Right. I won't eat the 'shroom pizza or drink th e lime punch." "Exactly. Stay away from the brownies, too." She was only half jo king. "So do they serve a six course meal? I thought it was a bunch of guys jamm ing on the beach with a bonfire!" "Just be careful."

"Alice, I'm introducing Lauren to a little boy who used to throw mud pies at me, so that she can grope him; then I'm going home. Angela has an early curfew. I'l l be fine. I'm a cop's kid, remember?" She nodded, but then her eyes refocused a bove my head and had a silent conversation with someone behind me. I spun around into Edward. He winced a little as I drove my books into his belly. "Do you do that on purpose?" I fired at him. His mouth moved in a variety of delightful dir ections before settling on the half smile that made me stupid. I stomped off to the library, frustrated at myself that I wanted him so badly, confused at his co nstant changes of mood. I found my usual corner and plugged in my laptop. I thou ght I was going to have to get a straight jacket. Your words are the only thing that make sense right now. ±Debussy_88 I didn't reply, needing a little distance. It was mutual, then, this simpatico of language and encouragement and understand ing, but it also unnerved me to a degree. I did not want to be so dependant on s uch a remote connection. Yesterday's banter followed by this morning's separatio n evoked a response that was too intimate, and I wondered why he affected me so deeply. Lunch passed quickly. We made plans for dinner at a local grill that had dartboards, and the guys talked about this coming Saturday, when they planned t o have some sort of open jam session, but really sounded like an excuse to have a party. Newton, Mike Newton was sitting on our lab table when we got to Biology . "So, Bella, do you need a ride to First Beach, on Friday?" he asked. "Actually , I have one, thank you, I'm going with Angela. Besides, aren't you going with J essica?" "That's not definite, yetHe abruptly slid off the table and fell onto h is ass on the floor, books and pencils flying. Jessica ran over to help him pick up his things. She managed to flash quite a bit of cleavage in the process, sec uring her place at his side this Friday. Edward set the other end of the table d own with a thump, and sat down without looking at me. Biology passed quickly, de spite his dark mood. Gym dragged, but I walked out unscathed. Edward drove Jaspe r, Alice and me to the Mill Creek Bar and Grill, and Emmett and Rosalie followed in the Jeep. The place was almost empty, dinner rush to come later. We ordered bar food; potato skins and nachos and cheese sticks, and it was delicious with r eal vanilla Cokes

made from the well. They had an old fashioned jukebox complete with flickering n eon lights, and we filled it with two hours worth of rock songs, everything from White Stripes to Nickelback, Proclaimers, Kid Rock and the Clash. Edward fished in the pocket of my coat, took the darts and put the flights into the flanges a t the top of the shaft for me. I thanked him, trying to keep my face still, enjo ying his attention. "Cricket is easy. You have to get three of everything before your opponent does; if they get more than three before you do, they start racki ng points. Only twenty through fifteen and bulls count. That's it." He pushed me to the line, and put his hands on my hips. "Stand like this." He nudged me a li ttle, and drew my arm up, gently forcing me to move only at my elbow. I let him, enjoying how close he was, his breath warm on my neck as he stood behind me. "T ake a few practice throws." "No, let's just play. What are we playing for, anywa y?" He looked at me, green eyes laughing, all boy-man cocky and happy. "A song. If I win, you sing. If you win, I sing." "If she wins, you kiss her!" called out Rosalie. Simultaneously we both inhaled and glared at her. I narrowed my eyes a nd looked at her, closely, wondering. She quirked an eyebrow and challenged me. Bitch. "If she wins, he kisses Emmett, too!" countered Jasper, breaking the tens ion. We all laughed, even Emmett. Apparently, Edward was really that good. I too k a deep breath, and stepped to the line. A kiss. Would his lips be soft and pli ant against mine, or hard and moving? Would he lick his own to wet them, first? A quick peck on the mouth, or teeth and lips and tongue and"Bella, are you going to throw?" he asked. I set my feet deliberately. They were very nice darts. Muc h nicer than the ones Phil let me borrow when he wasn't playing with his dart le ague. They were 17 gram tungsten barrel steel points with short shafts, and fit my

hands perfectly, unlike the clumsy things I practiced with every day for the pas t two years in Phoenix. I raised my arm, and in perfect form, threw a triple twe nty to close them, an extra single for points, and a double bull just to show of f. I turned to Edward, and stepped so close I could feel the heat of his body on mine. I reached a hand up, under his chin, and pushed his jaw closed, my finger s lingering on his rough unshaven skin. "Care to up the stakes?" I asked. Chapter 11: Ghost Stories Edward: "Care to up the stakes?" Bella's voice was low and breathy, and the finger tips pushing up under my chin were warm. My teeth c licked shut. I stood there, trying to remember how to blink, my eyes glued to th e little witch-woman in front of me, all tricksy-smile, hot and magic, inches aw ay, and wondered how many directions my head could spin in one day. My loyal fam ily got over their shock before I did. Jasper put his head down on the table and pounded it gently, Emmett fell off his chair, Alice shrieked, and Rose smiled. They all knew I was showing off, bringing Bella here on her birthday; darts is m y game. I'd wanted to impress a girl, and she fucking owned me. I wasn't even ma d, I realized. I was turned on as hell, watching her little pear-shaped ass saun ter up to the board to chalk her points and pull her darts. She had a thin frame but lush curves, and hips I wanted to dig my fingers into with both hands and p ush her backwards on a bed while kissing her senseless. She turned and caught me looking, and I smiled and shrugged, unapologetic. She held her darts out to me, but I shook my head and pulled my own from my coat pocket, and fitted the fligh ts. "Hammer heads?" She asked. I nodded and threw. Triple twenty, and two ninete ens, the socketed tips making a distinctive click as the darts sunk deep. I walk ed to the board, and when I turned around, her eyes shifted up to mine, then awa y and she blushed. She'd been checking out my ass. I walked back to the line, tr ying not to grin, trying to keep my head on straight, trying to remember my own name and who I was ten days ago, before I met this impossible girl. She threw, a little flustered. The first was a wild sixteen, and then two nineteens. She shr ugged out of her jacket, and I helped to ease the narrow sleeves off her arms. T he blue suede was warm

from her body. Alice took it from me while Bella got her darts. I threw. Triple nineteen and an eighteen; I was ahead in points, even though I'd missed a hit co mpletely. "If I win, you sing Elvis," I said. Emmett groaned, and Jasper crowed. She was already at the line when I turned from the board, and I stayed there, b latantly raking my stare up her body, noting the fit of her jeans at the crux of her thighs, moving up over her waist and to her breasts. Her nipples tightened visibly through her thin hoodie, responding to my stare, and my mouth grew dry. I was seven feet and nine regulation inches away, and she was reacting like I ha d touched her. I dragged my eyes up to her face; she licked her lips and swallow ed, and raised her arm to throw, threatening me with a tight smile. I moved out of the way. She closed her nineteens and added two eighteens. As I was about to throw, she leaned close and whispered "What song?" her breath hot on my cheek. I wanted to turn my face to hers, to kiss her then and there, but the deliberate distraction only served to make my semi-erection rock solid, not shake my aim. I threw two eighteens, and a double bull, making it a very close game. I leaned i n close, almost touching my lips to her ear. "You choose," I smirked as she shiv ered. Bella stood at the line, and took a deep breath. She corked a double bull, and closed her eighteens, but the last went completely wild. She walked to the board, chalked her score, ahead again, and then dipped her fingers in the dust a nd rubbed them, the way gymnasts dry their hands. Nice trick. She smiled, and to uched her other hand to her lower lip. "If I win, you kiss Emmett on the mouth." "Hey," protested my brother, but she wasn't really talking about him, and we al l knew it. I looked at her in disbelief and desire, suddenly burning hot. She wa sn't playing for a song, she was playing for me. I ripped my own jacket off and threw it to Alice, dazed. The game had changed, and I didn't know if I wanted to win or lose. I landed a triple seventeen, a single for points, and risked a try for a bull, missing completely. I marked my score. I was ahead by ten. I turned , intending to say something to tease her, but she was staring at me from under her lashes, and I was pinned. My pants were too tight and my shirt was sloppy an d I hadn't shaved and my hair was what my hair always was and she was looking at me like I was something to eat. I felt self-conscious and exposed and I wanted to be alone with her if she was going to look at me like that. I ran my hands th rough my hair, and saw that she was biting her bottom lip so hard it was white, and if she didn't stop she was going to draw blood, so I walked the three steps to her, and rubbed my thumb over her mouth until she let go and parted her lips. She licked me with the tip of her tongue. The electricity snapped through me, w et hot current from her mouth through my entire hand. I jerked away, breathing h ard, staring hard, straining hard. My fucking nipples were hard. Jasper and Emme tt were holding their wallets open, placing money on the table.

Bella threw three single seventeens. She was falling behind. I didn't know if I should be disappointed or elated; I was so keyed up my hair was standing up on t he back of my neck. I went to the line. "If I win, you sing your Elvis song to a n audience," I said, my voice hoarse. Her head snapped up, and she stalked back from the board and stood facing me, so close that if I inhaled hard enough, her chest would brush against mine. "You had better be there," she hissed. Was she a dmitting defeat? I didn't want this to end. "I wouldn't miss it for the world," I said. "Throw," she growled, stepping out of the way. I threw two single sixtee ns, and flubbed the last entirely. The game could go either way, now. I stared a t the board, not moving. She stepped behind me, pressing her body into my back, soft flesh and warm curves everywhere, and whispered over my shoulder, "When tha t kiss ends, one of you will be naked." I felt my entire body harden, and if she hadn't shoved me forward, I wouldn't have moved, ever. I marked the board and w ith my back still to her, asked, "Me or Emmett?" meaning "me or you?" and pulled my darts. "Me or Emmett what?" he yelled. "Your choice," she said, her voice ti ght, and she was angry, I could hear it. I couldn't look at her; I stepped past and stood behind her. This had gotten raw, out of control and I never had felt s o fucking alive and turned on by a girl, ever. She threw three sixteens, putting her ahead in points. She marked the score and pulled her darts. Her face was pa le, with bright pink splashed across her cheekbones and her breathing was uneven . I was in the same state. I could win with my next turn, if I played perfectly; but if I didn't, she would. But this wasn't about darts anymore, or even a kiss or a song, this was about desire and ego and fear. I threw a sixteen to close. Her eyes were wide and wild and her shoulders were tight, but she was smiling an d bouncing on her toes in anticipation. I threw the next, the triple fifteen tha t I needed; if I landed a center bull, I would win. I was good, and tonight I wa s on fire; it was quite possible that I could do it. I looked at Bella, her bott om lip chapped and red where she had torn at it with her teeth. Words of text sl id through my brain, stopping me cold. Tame her gently.

This was not gentle. This was a battle of wills where her losing would force her to face her greatest fear, and my losing would mean I got something I wanted as much as the prize for winning. I turned to my side, locking eyes with her. "I w on't do this," I said, and threw the dart and the game, not turning to aim at th e board, not taking my gaze from her. There was a gasp of shock from the table; I never tossed games away, ever, no matter the stakes. Bella's face darkened and fell, and she whispered, "Why not?" Then she looked at the dartboard and gasped . And laughed. I'd hit the bull square in the center. I won. Bella threw her arm s around me, squirmy and jumping and giggling, and kissed my cheek, like she had this morning. I held very still, and she pulled away to get my darts from the b oard. "Please tell me that was the best game you have ever played," she begged. I nodded, stunned. "I feel dirty," said Emmett. "I need a cigarette," said Jaspe r. "You can't even walk down a hallway without getting tangled in your own shoes ," I mumbled, my brain still not functioning properly. "I don't play darts with my feet," she replied, and walked off towards the restrooms, laughing. I was goi ng to have to tell Ordinary_Girl that the cheek kissing thing might, in fact, be too forward. If she did to her boy what Bella did to me, she might be pushing h im too hard, too fast. Lust I could handle, seduction and stares and her body sh oved up against mine, I understood that; the heat, the way my body reacted; it w as crazy intense, but at least familiar. But the tiny casual sweetness of her li ps to the side of my face, that was different. That twisted up my chest and made my skin burn; I wanted to pull her close and feel her heartbeat and let time st op, and I didn't know how to handle that. Except that I was reluctant to message Ordinary_Girl. Something had changed since last night, her disappearance provin g that our word exchange was more important than I wanted to admit, and I didn't know how to keep it light. I walked into the men's room, wondering if I would a ctually be able to piss through my erection. I knew better than to drink three c okes while hanging out in Bella's company. The girls were all

waiting together, doing that herd-peeing thing that girls do, and their voices c arried through the thin wall. "Did you throw the game?" asked Alice. Bella laugh ed. "No, he's a fantastic player. I would have, though." "Why?" asked Rose. "Wel l, I don't play Spin the Bottle, I don't do Two Minutes in the Closet, and I don 't fuck on a bet. I'd rather pass out or puke in public. A girl's gotta have her standards." Bella said, firmly. I realized that I did not know her at all. When I rejoined them at the table, Bella wrinkled her nose at me. "Elvis?" she asked . "Elvis is king." I said. The next day there was entry from Ordinary_Girl. She' d set her status to FLYING, and added the Doors' song Roadhouse Blues. This life is a tornado, And I'm flying, Three sheets and laughing, Out of my elemental Vi rtual friendship a vital lifeline I kissed his face But he didn't pull away Very far And I'm spinning. I wrote: You seem dizzy in your word storm, is he laughin g too? The next two days I spent playing twenty questions with Bella, at first i n retribution for being hustled at my own game, and then because her answers fas cinated me. Friday night I drove to First Beach. Alice caught my glance as I was leaving, and her smirk told me that she knew exactly where I was going. The cov e was thronged with about fifty people, mostly juniors and seniors from Forks Hi gh and the Reservation school. Sam, Quil, Jake and Embry made up the Q'wolves. T heir sound was odd, rockabilly pop, but mixed with Native American and sometimes Celtic overtones. They had energy and drive, and were better than I wanted to a dmit. A senior at Forks named James sometimes played with them, but tonight he w as in the crowd at the bonfire, and not on stage with the boys. I hung in the sh adows, watching.

Bella was having a good time with Angela. Her outfit was hilarious. She was wear ing a skirt that was entirely too short with over the knee socks, and that strip of bare skin between the two should have inspired indecency laws. Her t-shirt r ead: Property of Forks Police Dept. Nobody went near her. Lauren Mallory caught me lurking, and tottered up in heels that were impractical in the sand. I told h er to take them off before she injured an ankle. She asked me if there was anyth ing else I thought she should remove, and I retreated to my usual silence, so I wouldn't have to talk to her. She apparently took this as encouragement rather t han disinterest. "Edward," she said, stroking her hand up my chest, "much as tho ugh I would love for this to happen, this week is not good for me." "What the he ll are you talking about?" "I'm on my period." I laughed. "I don't remember prop ositioning you, Lauren; and if I had, that wouldn't have made the least bit of d ifference." It was her turn to look confused. "Any guy who can't deal with a lit tle bit of blood isn't man enough to have earned the right to put his dick there in the first place." She stared at me. I shrugged. "It's part of the parts, bab e. And if a guy's not willing to accept that, he doesn't deserve it. Some girls even like it better; they're more sensitive." She looked at me out of the corner of her eyes, and then slid her arms around my middle. She was warm and friendly and it was comfortable, no crazy electricity, no heroin chemistry. She was just a girl who wanted to be wanted, with nice soft parts that felt good, that a guy could get lost in, and not worry about what she was thinking, or if twin would be hurt if it ended badly, or if I would be devastated if it ended at all. In he r heels she was the right height. Her head was tucked into my shoulder, and if I closed my eyes her hair color didn't matter. Lauren pulled my ear, and fastened her lips to mine. I kissed her back, instinct taking over, but there was nothin g for me there, no interest to taste her, no curiosity about whether she liked i t rough or gentle. There was no spark. "Bella," I breathed. Lauren stiffened in my arms, and jerked away from me. I felt like an asshole. No-one deserved to be called another girl's name, even Lauren Mallory. Then she laughed and slid her a rms back around my waist.

"Hi, Bella," she sang, "look who I've got." My stomach dropped to the sand. I st ared at Bella, horrified, and vaguely tried to push Lauren's arms away from my m iddle, but she'd locked her fingers together like Chinese handcuffs. "Hi," Bella said, with a stiff smile. "Lauren, they're taking a break for a bit. Do you wan t to go meet Jacob?" She spoke to the ground. Lauren laughed. "Bella, do I look like I want to go meet anyone?" She spoke as if to a child. "No, of course not. Sorry I interrupted." Her voice was soft. She backed away, stumbling slightly, a nd moved beyond the fire and into the shadow. I untangled Lauren's hands. "Come dance with me," she said, but I shook my head, and she laughed at me, a knowing expression on her face, and joined her friends, moving gracefully with her shoes in one hand. I looked for Bella in the flickering light of the bonfire, trying to stay in the shadows. Jake Black was on a stool on the platform tuning an acou stic guitar, and then he opened with a delicate melody. Bella's unmistakable voi ce floated on angel's wings above the flames and drifted out to sea. "In the ear ly morning rain, with a dollar in my hand, and an aching in my heart, and my poc kets full of sand«" She was sitting on the floor of the makeshift wooden stage, in stocking feet, channeling the ghost of Eva Cassidy, pure and light and effortle ss, and the range was too high to show off how rich her voice really was, but it didn't matter, because her upper octaves didn't get thin, just grew achingly de licate and lovely. Her back was turned to most of the riveted crowd, and an empt y shot glass sat next to her shoes. She was facing Jacob, but her eyes flicked o ver her shoulder, like she was looking for someone. She scanned the crowd, and t he telltale tightening of her shoulders began. I pushed forward, moving to the e dge of the platform, so I could see her face. Her eyes were closed, and she hesi tated at the next verse; Jake had the sense to just play it through like a bridg e to the chorus. I dug my hands into the pockets of my jacket, wishing I knew wh at to do to put her at ease, the way Rose had. My fingers found the lemonade lid from the other day, and I gripped it tightly, and then spun it across the makes hift stage, hitting her toes. Her eyes opened, and her hand came down on the bot tle cap. She found me with her gaze, and her spine relaxed, and then she smiled into the words of the second verse. She spun the top back to me, and I caught it , and grinned at her. She was beautiful, messy hair and huge dark eyes and silly lashes.

She looked away, pink in her cheeks, and then back to me, and her voice had a ne w timbre, soft and husky, and something happened in my chest that hurt a little, and flew with her voice. My lips were moving with hers, silently forming the wo rds she was singing, hypnotized. I spun the lid, and she caught it, and somehow we were linked, one thing, like there was a chain between us, and I was an ancho r holding her steady. My heart was pounding as she closed the last verse. "«so I'd best be on my way, in the early morning rain." Jake finished the refrain, and s he gathered up her shoes and the glass, and scrambled towards me, as the crowd e rupted. He grabbed her before she could reach me, and spun her to face the noise , while I ground my teeth, furious that he was touching her, that it wasn't me o n that stage. She sketched a tentative wave, but her smile was huge as she ran b ack to me, and jumped off the stage. I caught her, a tangle of hair and arms and shoes. "I did it. I sang Elvis, to an audience," she whispered. "Yeah, you did, " I laughed, not even realizing that he'd covered that song. "You owned it." "Be lla!" Jacob Black yelled, "That was great! I'm sorry I didn't know any other son gs by Elvis. Why didn't you want to do Blue Moon?" He grabbed her glass and fill ed it from the bottle he carried, then toasted her with it, and slugged back sev eral swallows while she drank. "Cullen," he acknowledged, and even through the a lcohol, his feet took a territorial stance. "Black," I responded politely, gritt ing my teeth to keep from challenging the kid. Bella looked back and forth betwe en us. I slid my arm around her shoulders, and moved into the shadows, pulling h er with me, barely keeping her at my side, while she bounced in all different di rections, high on stage energy. Her socks were covered in sand, and she shook he r feet, but didn't put her shoes on. She stumbled, and I caught her, and held he r shoulders until she found her feet. She laughed. "Bella," I whispered, unable to keep the frustration and envy from my voice, "why do you sing with everyone e xcept me?" Her smile faded, and she looked down at the shoes and the glass in he r hands. "You never asked," she said. I gaped at her, and then I laughed, huge r ending howls that drove me to the sand, until my ribs hurt and I was gasping. Sh e was right. I'd never asked. She sat next to me, bemused, and I wiped my eyes a nd regained my composure. I gathered her up to me, sheltering her in the circle of my legs, trying not to look at the way her skirt hiked up, exposing a lot of thigh past her long socks. "Edward," she whispered, and her voice was small and broken, "why do you kiss everyone except me?"

"Because I'm afraid I won't be able to stop." I wasn't sure who had spoken the w ords; the harsh voice didn't sound like my own. "I trust you," she said, simple words that made me forget the band, my sister, my soul. "Hold still," I said, an d tilted my face to hers. She shivered. "Don't move," I breathed, my lips whispe ring over hers, a feather touch with my words, the sparks flying between us, and then I pressed a gentle kiss on her lower lip, and another, and the next was le ss careful, and she was kissing back, tiny sweet sucking kisses on my mouth, and I groaned aloud. She twisted up, leaning into me, her hands tangling into my ha ir, pulling me closer, and I was drowning in the little gasping noises she made. I parted my lips, inviting her in, and she met me, mouth and tongue and teeth, and she was grinding, her hips moving, and it was lovely and frenzied and she ta sted like peppermint and sugar and whiskey"Bella, how much have you had to drink ?" I asked, coming up for air. "Two shots," she said, "no, three." She held up t he double shot glass. I took the glass, and sniffed it. I smirked at her. "What? " she asked, "I could be slightly tipsy, but I'm fine. I'm not drunk." "You're g oing to be. Bella, you've had six ounces of pure grain alcohol. Res 'shine is ab out 190 proof," I chuckled, "It's one of the few things they make here that Dad approves of« as a disinfectant," I said. "I think I should take you home." She tex ted Angela as I led her to the car. I made the twenty minute drive in ten, and p ulled in behind Chief Swan's cruiser. The lights from the television lit the fro nt windows of the house. I scooped Bella up out of my car, kneed the door shut, and carried her up to the house. I tapped with my foot in a knock, and Charlie o pened the door. "Edward, put me down! I can walk fine." I carried Bella in the h ouse. "Chief Swan, Chief Black." I nodded to the large Native American man in th e wheelchair in the living room. "Bella? What happened? Are you hurt?" Charlie l ooked at me for an explanation. "Res' 'shine." "How much?" both men asked at onc e.

"Charlie, I sang! In front of people, too! There were hundreds of them. I didn't pass out." I set Bella down in a kitchen chair, and she slumped over the table. I grabbed a glass from the dish rack and filled it with water from the sink. "T hree large shots, maybe twenty minutes ago," I said, handing the water to Bella. She sipped it. Billy Black grimaced. "How much does she weigh?" "Drink all of i t, Bella." She obediently drank. I refilled the glass, and handed it to her. "Wh o gave it to her?" asked Charlie. "Who's the only kid in La Push who would dare? " I glared at Billy. He scowled back. I turned to the girl at the table. "Drink it all, Bella." "But I'll throw up!" she protested. "Exactly." Charlie's eyes wi dened when he understood what I was doing. The mustache twitched. "Upstairs, end of the hall," he said, turning to his friend. "Billy, it looks like we're going to a beach party." "That's not your jurisdiction, Chief Swan," the large man sa id. "No, Chief Black, it's yours," said Charlie. "We'll take Bella's truck." "Yo u'll have to move my car," I said, tossing him the keys. He hesitated, obviously reconsidering leaving his daughter alone with me. I rolled my eyes, and looked pointedly at Bella, who was already green at the edges. He nodded and left, and I slipped my arm around her waist and helped her up the stairs. Her socks tracke d sand all the way up. She made it to the bathroom just in time; I held her hair until embarrassment overcame the nausea, and she begged me to leave. I waited f or her in her room, sitting in the rocking chair in the corner. When she came ba ck, her face was wet and scrubbed of eye make-up, and she looked better, but sle epy. She stood in the middle of her room, listing to the left. "I can't sleep in these," she said, wiggling her toes. "I'll get sand in the bed." "Sit," I said. She sat on the edge of the bed. I smoothed my hands up her calf, and then slid my fingers into the tops of the socks, palms full of the soft skin above her kne e. "That tickles," she whispered. "You should do it again when I am sober."

"I will," I promised, both amused and aroused. I drew the socks down her legs, a nd dusted the sand off her toes. I pulled the purple quilt down. She climbed in, and I covered her, trying not to think, definitely not imagining getting in wit h her, lying close without a blanket between us. I kissed her forehead, and noti ced that her eyes were full of tears. "Bella, what's wrong?" "You leave me no di gnity," she whimpered. "What do you mean?" "You've seen me faint twice, watched me dream about you, and then made me throw up. What's next? Am I going to pee in the bed or something?" I laughed, startled. "Bella?" I whispered. She was aslee p. I sat in the chair and watched her, even breathing from slightly parted lips, tangled mahogany hair and slender fingers curled under her cheek. My thoughts s urged relentlessly back to what she just said: dream about you, dream about you. I was the dream lover last weekend, when she came. This silly little slip of a girl blew me away with every single thing she did, from singing to playing darts , or talking, or kissing. Especially kissing. I wanted to put my fist into the f ace of the guy who taught her to kiss like that, right after I thanked him. I si ghed in the semi-dark, nodding off in the rocking chair. Alice was right. I was in love with her. Chapter 12: Interrogation Exposition Bella: I woke up the day after my birthday blinking dreams of darts and Edward from my eyes, my ear still tingling with the memory of his lips brushing whispers against it. The previous evening had to be the best birthday party of my life, and there wasn't even cake. It was certainl y the best dart game I'd ever played.

There was a response to the words I'd written last night: You seem dizzy in your word storm, is the Boy laughing too? ±Debussy_88 I wrote back: For a moment, I fe lt as wanted as a pretty girl. Debussy_88 had added a profile song: "Witchy Red, " by Dr. John. It was a bit sultry for this sparkling morning, fresh from rain, but it worked well with his entry: Evil witch poison dart Skin and bone casted s pell Her hips in motion I drank the potion She looked at me and I fell. Magic wh ispers stab my heart, Flesh and blood voodoo doll, Her incantation, My revelatio n, One kiss and I will fall. I wondered what the weather was like in whatever hi s time zone was. I wrote back: So Spark works the mojo; why do you resist? When I came back from my shower, there was another alert: I twist in her mystery. I h ardly know myself anymore, much less anything of her. ±Debussy_88 I replied: Why d on't you ask? I packed up my things, and drove to school. When I pulled in, the silver Volvo was parked near my usual spot, and Emmett's Wrangler sat alongside. I wondered if the fancy cars felt like they were slumming, parked next to my ru sty red truck. Alice pulled my door open even before I had turned off the engine , and demanded to know if I was still going to La Push, and if I was spending th e night on Saturday, whether I liked the new Chris Cornell album, if I was hot f or her brother, and whether I'd finished my Chemistry homework. "Yes, Yes, No, M aybe, Yes," I laughed, blushing. She laughed and pulled the brown ribbon from my hair and retied it, doing some twist thing that pulled half of it up, and then pirouetted off into Jasper. Edward was leaning against my truck by the time I go t out of it. "So what other hidden talents do you have besides being fuck-all go od at darts?" he demanded. "I make good fajitas," I said, after a moment. "You?" "Me what?"

"Do you have any hidden talents you're fuck-all good at?" He smiled, and blatant ly stared at my mouth. "Yes." I forgot to breathe. "What's wrong with Chris Corn ell's latest album?" he continued, smirking at me. Damn. He'd heard Alice. "Have you heard it? It's produced by Timbaland and it's just wrong. The only redeemin g song on it is 'Two Drink Minimum', which, I have to admit could only be better if it were sung by Nina Simone." I added bitterly, "'Ordinary Girl' sucks." He dropped his keys on the ground and looked at me, blinking. "What did you say?" " Don't tell me you like that one," I groaned. "It's the worst song on the album!" "I haven't heard it," he said, retrieving his keys. He walked beside me to the door of the school, and opened it for me. He put his hand on the small of my bac k, a casual gesture that wasn't really casual at all, and leaned close to my ear . "Only maybe, Bella?" When I opened my eyes, he was gone. I was careful when wa lking out of Chemistry class this morning, and managed to keep from smashing int o Edward as he waited for his sister. "Why do you wear Chuck Taylors?" he asked. I looked down at my shoes, with their stable flat soles and supportive lace-up ankles, the best defense against my own traitorous feet. "They wear better than Vans," I shrugged. He looked perplexed, and then laughed. "Why do you wear a mot orcycle jacket when your dad won't let you ride one?" I asked. "Alice gave it to me," he said, "and chicks seem to dig it." "Kind of a cliché, isn't it?" I teased . "At least it isn't black," he said, grinning. "It suits you." "How so?"

"It's slick, sexy, and the zipper is down." He looked at his front, quickly. I s tepped close. "Made you look!" I teased. "You wear button fly jeans, Edward." Hi s eyes danced. "Now who's looking?" he asked, and pulled the ribbon out of my ha ir, making it cascade down my neck in a tousled mess. I walked to the library, g iggling, and checked my e-mail. Pretty girls have illiterate charms. Seduce him with your words. ±Debussy_88 I replied: Something is amiss: he seems to resist a k iss. I don't know why. Why don't you ask? ±Debussy_88 I laughed aloud, earning a g lare from the librarian. At lunch we helped Jasper with his psych class homework with a very serious discussion of the classic Jungian archetypes defined by wha t we thought their preferred texture of toilet paper would be, and then Edward a sked, "What's the worst case of a song being ruined by too much radio play?" "St airway to Heaven," Rosalie immediately answered. "Hotel California," said Emmett . "Moondance," said Jasper, bitterly. "Piano Man," said Alice. "Roxanne," I offe red, to murmured assent. I looked at Edward. "Blue Moon," he said. "Damn," I sai d, "that's the only Elvis song I know!" We all laughed. In biology he asked, "If you could only ever cover three performers' songs, whose would they be?" "Tori Amos, Ella Fitzgerald, and Fiona Apple. You?" I said. "That was quick," he said, and then equally fast, "Mozart, Jack White and Stevie Wonder."

The questions continued for two days; sometimes random things, like my favorite color, dessert, or sports teams, but mostly they were about music. Some answers satisfied him, some made him probe deeper. He always answered the questions he a sked if I pushed him to, but didn't let me voice any of my own. I didn't mind, r eally, because I only had one question, but not the courage to ask. Friday came quickly. Angela picked me up, and we headed out to La Push, riding in her mother 's sedan. "So. What is the deal with you and Ben?" She sighed, and nudged her gl asses up on her nose, and said, "Lauren Mallory." "Ew. Did they go out or someth ing?" "No, Ben likes me. We hung out a lot this summer." "What happened?" "She t old her mother he had scabies, and her mother told my mother at church," she sai d. "What?" "He doesn't. I mean, if he had them, I would too, right? But I can't exactly tell that to Reverend Dad, y'know? So I'm not allowed to see him anymore , and we can't even sneak around at school, because she's always right there to keep tabs on me." Her voice was even, but she blinked back tears. "The sick part is that she doesn't even want him." "Why would she do that?" "She said that her mother misunderstood her; that she was just repeating what Tanya had said about a different Ben, but it was too late. My parents went through the roof, and I'm in lockdown." "That's just wrong! What is her problem?" "She's lonely, y'know? We've been best friends since we were practically born, Jess and Lauren and me, and now Jessica is boy-crazy and dumps her for anything male within sight, and s o when I started dating Ben, she got weird and mean." First Beach was a cove wit h pale sand and windswept trees close to the shore. A rough stage built of old d ock timber was cradled by large dark stones, and electricity for the musicians w as run in on cords, hooked to generators in several dune buggies.

A huge bonfire provided heat and warmth. After the band finished the first set, I went up to say hello. Jake Black was a foot taller than me now, and he was goi ng to be a hottie when he grew up. He hugged me awkwardly, asked after my truck and my dad, and introduced me to the rest of the band. Sam was lead vocals and d rums, Embry on bass, and Quil played all the weird stuff, like bamboo flute and odd drums and whistles shaped like birds. Jake played guitar and sang back-up vo cals. "Does Renee still sing Bob Dylan songs?" he asked. "And Joni Mitchell and Gordon Lightfoot! Jake, I can't believe you remember my mom! You were what, four ?" "Yeah, clear as day. She would sing us to sleep when she baby sat me; I remem ber every song she sang. I used to pretend she was my mother too, you know?" I w as not going to introduce this little boy to Lauren Mallory. They cleared the st age for a break. I wandered around the campfire, enjoying the pretty flames of t he driftwood fire, twisting ephemeral colors flashing against the night sky, the pop and hiss of the coals underneath. I felt eyes on me, and the feather touch of electricity upon my spine, and knew Edward was here, somewhere, watching me. Angela came up next to me, and said, "I need a favor." "Let me guess. I distract Lauren, and you go, um, whale watching with Ben?" She fluttered her lashes at m e. "I think the smoke from the bonfire is getting to me and I need to lie down i n the backseat of my car," she said in a vapid falsetto. I laughed. "I'll relay the message." Ben was properly concerned for Angela's well being. I spotted Laur en's blond hair shining in the dark near some scrub pines at the tree line. She turned around as if she had heard me coming, and then sang out in her awful nasa l voice, "Hi Bella, look who I've got!" She had Edward. Her arms were locked aro und his middle in a death grip, and he was twisting like a fly caught in a spide r's legs, shoving at her ineffectually. He looked miserable. I ground my teeth t o keep from laughing. "Hi," I said, staring at the ground. "Lauren, they're taki ng a break for a bit. Do you want to go meet Jake?" There was no way she was goi ng to leave Edward Cullen for Jacob Black, and I breathed an internal sigh of re lief. The kid was safe from her clutches, and she couldn't say I hadn't tried.

"Bella, do I look like I want to go meet anyone?" she chided. "No, of course not ," I backed away, not wanting to know what they were doing together in the dark. Even if Lauren Mallory thought she was next on Edward's groupie list, he didn't want her; not the way he wanted me. I'd seen him, playing darts, his body tense and his eyes hot all over me and that half smile from hell. Now he just looked trapped and terrified, fumbling to unclasp her fingers. "Sorry I interrupted," I lied. An image of Lauren on Edward's piano bench jumped behind my eyes, and I f altered in the sand. I wished I'd won the damned dart game. I could have been ki ssing the beautiful boy instead of trying to figure out where and when I would h ave to sing a stupid Elvis song in front of people without passing out. The obvi ous occurred to me only seconds later. Three minutes after talking to Lauren, I was sitting on the stage, one shot of liquid courage in my belly and another in my hand. I can do this. I can do this. I can do this. "You know, you look just l ike her," Jake whispered wistfully, as he tuned an acoustic guitar. I smiled at him, my back to the crowd, and he opened the chords of a melody Renee used to si ng to us when we were very small. I swallowed the shot and felt it burn all the way down; it was fairly nasty stuff, and sang into the night. "In the early morn ing rain, with a dollar in my hand«" Light easy blues, covered by the King on one of the Hawaii albums, and I just let it float over the water and the sand, singi ng to the little boy who had borrowed my mother for a time because he had none o f his own. There was silence behind me, and I guessed most of the crowd had disp ersed. I felt that frisson on my skin, though, and knew Edward was close, watchi ng. I looked over my shoulder, trying to find him. Faces. Hundreds of faces. Pal e faces in the dark, with black eyes, pasted on me, waiting to jeer when I tripp ed and fell. I clamped my eyes shut, and the roaring in my ears was so loud that I lost my place in the song. I tried to make myself as small as possible and hu nched down and held my breath, wishing for the blackness that would roll over me and make me invisible, and take me away from the faces that would mock my clums iness and ineptitude.

Something hit my toe. I opened my eyes and inhaled, and my hand came down withou t me even thinking about it, gripping the cap to a lemonade bottle. My eyes snap ped to Edward's face, and his eyes were so green and intense that all the others faded into the shadows and didn't matter; I could hear Jacob's guitar again, an d he pulled me into the next verse, and I sang. I spun the cap towards the tall boy with messy hair standing at the edge of the platform, and the look was there , his eyes all intense and wanting me. No-one else mattered. My voice turned rou gh and soft, and I was singing for him now, and he knew it, his lips moving slig htly, silently mouthing the words as I sang them. The thought of singing with hi m tore through my heart and warmed it, and the heat travelled lower, through my belly and my thighs. He twirled the lid back, and now there was an invisible str ing attached to it, with a current that kept us connected, so I wasn't alone. I finished the last words, and Jake the final refrain, and I tried to get to Edwar d, who was already reaching towards me, grinning, but Jacob caught me about my w aist and made me face the crowd. There were too many eyes, but I hadn't stumbled and the applause was real, not mocking, and I soared on the cheers, but there w as only one person's praise I really wanted, and he caught me as I jumped into h is arms. I was laughing, and Jake and I toasted with another shot of his awful l iquor, but Edward was guiding me away from the stage and the fire and the crowd, and I couldn't stop dancing, glad his feet were firm where mine were not. Then he was gripping my shoulders, his face dark. "Bella, why do you sing with everyo ne but me?" And then he was laughing hard, sitting in the sand, and I was with h im, his arms and legs circling me. "Edward," I finally asked, my voice pathetic, "Why do you kiss everyone except me?" And then his mouth was finally on mine, w hispering words against my lips that made no sense, but curled down my throat as I breathed them in. His lips were warm, pulling gently at my mouth and my soul, and I clung to him, twining my fingers into his hair, and it was as soft as I t hought it would be. He parted his lips, and I followed his lead, exploring, meet ing his tongue with mine, then retreating, shy, and back to taste again. I wante d more, my whole body arching into the movements his mouth made on mine, but he pulled away. My fingertips and toes were numb, though it wasn't cold, and the wo rld was getting a little fuzzy at the edges, and by the time he got me home I wa s definitely drunk. Charlie and Billy left together, and I was sick and mad at E dward about it for some reason, but he kissed my forehead, and the world stopped spinning when I closed my eyes. Much later, a voice in the dark murmured, "Here are your keys, son."

"Thank you, sir," another whispered. "How is she?" "She'll feel rotten tomorrow. " The midnight voice was right. I woke at noon to sunlight screaming in my windo w, and a headache that would have raised the dead. A bottle of aspirin sat on my bedside table next to a glass of tepid water. I swallowed three, slept another hour, and after a shower felt human again. I kissed Edward last night, I thought to myself. When I walked back to my room, swathed in towels, Alice was sitting on my bed, taking the nail scissors to my favorite Tom Waits concert t-shirt, in a seemingly random fashion. Clothes were piled neatly on my rocking chair. She pointed at a large paper cup of hot tea. "A little bird told me you might need k id glove treatment this afternoon," she said, speaking softly. She seemed very b irdlike herself, in a tunic of made of layers of earth toned painted silk, and b lack stockings sporting multiple garter straps striping her legs, a sexy little songbird wood nymph. "I'd guess a six foot two bird of prey with green eyes and a leather jacket?" She laughed. "Okay." I said, "So you were right about not dri nking the moonshine. I should have listened." "I'm sorry. I should have explaine d better. There's more to it than that. See, the Quileute elders preserve their traditions, and some still practice alternative medicine. Dad has issues with th at; some of it is really potent stuff. He's seen Res kids who don't know what th ey are doing come in to the E.R. really messed up, and he's been outspoken enoug h about it that, well, we're really not welcome at La Push." "That explains why Edward lurked in the shadows all night." "Exactly. And, Dad doesn't even know he went last night, so..." "Hint taken." Alice ran a brush through my hair gently, and wove the brown ribbon through it in some complicated sailor's knot to tie i t all up off my neck, mussed and glamorous at the same time. "He'll just pull it out, you know," I said. She grinned at me in the mirror. "Yes, but at least now it won't hurt when he does."

"Alice! Are you pimping me out to your brother?" "If he doesn't pull his shit to gether and make a proper move, yes," she said, exasperated, then unsure, "you do n't mind, do you? Because you two are just so meant for each other, I knew it wh en we heard you on the first day of school." "That was you?" I nearly stabbed my self in the eye with the mascara wand. She giggled, "You should have seen his fa ce. And then when you were gone, and he had no idea who you were, I thought he w as going to go utterly bat-shit!" I dressed in the khaki camisole top and the bl ue jean skirt that she picked out, and the bright blue thigh high socks with the green stripes running through, and my royal blue canvas shoes. Alice tossed the cut up t-shirt over my head, and the slashes spread open in a honeycomb pattern , draping over my top and skirt like a clinging tunic. The only part left intact was the decal. "How did you do that?" "Ancient Chinese secret." "Why do you alw ays make me look disheveled and like I just woke up?" I asked, amused. "Because that is your nature, Bella," she said, rummaging through my jewelry box. "What, a mess?" "No, something wild; you're like a changeling or something untamed. To straighten your hair or to put you in conservative clothes is as artificial as J essica Stanley's boobs." "So I'm actually better as a mussed up fashion victim?" "Fashion is fleeting. Style is constant." She spun me around to face the mirror on my door, and I had to admit she knew what she was doing. In five minutes she 'd taken me from bath towel to tattered elegance, but still left me Bella, thigh high socks, hi-tops and rock concert t-shirt mixed in with glamour. "Alice, you 're kind of wonderful, you know." "Yes, I am," she kissed my cheek, "and so are you. Now, let's go. I don't want to make Edward wait any longer. If it were poss ible to pace like a caged mountain lion inside a Volvo, he'd be doing it. What h appened, last night, anyway?" I kissed your brother, last night.

"I don't know if I want to talk about it, yet. I sang, and got instantly drunk, and I'm not sure in which order," I admitted. "Edward kissed Lauren, I think." A nd me. "Ew." "How do you know Jessica has fake tits?" She didn't answer. I rolle d my eyes, feeling naïve. Edward was leaning against the car, thumbs moving over h is iPhone. He put it away as we approached, and opened the door for us. "You loo k like a mermaid," he said, and tucked a lock of hair behind my ear. I wondered if Alice left it out of the ribbon for exactly that reason, but I shivered at th e touch of his fingertips on my cheek anyway. You kissed me last night. "No beac h jokes, please." "How are you feeling?" he asked me, as we took off. "Embarrass ed, but okay, I guess." His lips moved in a smile that didn't reach his eyes, bu t I still stared at his mouth, feeling the heat rise to my face, remembering how soft his lips were, at first, and then hard, moving against mine. He saw me loo king, and licked his lips, and I sat still, resisting every urge I had to lean o ver and lick his mouth like it was candy. Will you kiss me again? "Don't be." Hi s voice was rough. "Easy for you to say; I wasn't holding your hair while you ya kked uncut moonshine." His grin was genuine, then, and I added, "thanks for gett ing me home." "Anytime." My phone chimed with an e-mail alert. It took me a mome nt to find it in my overnight bag. I smiled, wondering if I'd beaten D_88 to his kissing challenge, but silenced the ringing. Edward gripped the steering wheel. "Aren't you going to answer that?" "No, it's just e-mail," I said.

"What was that ringtone?" asked Alice. "It's familiar." "It's La Mer, by Nine In ch Nails," I said. "It's awful," said Edward. "I like the first part; it makes a good ringtone," I said, feeling defensive. He stared straight ahead the rest of the way to their house, and didn't speak. Chapter 13: Night Marish Edward: I drove, trying not to gnash my teeth. Last nig ht, after Charlie came back with my keys, I drove home, and curled up in my shee ts to sleep with the damned. My exhaustion warred with torturing thoughts of the girl, and I was stretched on a rack, aroused and savagely conflicted. One secon d I could feel her sweet kiss on my cheek, the next second her tongue in my mout h, and both were honey and salt on my soul. I dreamt of her, vivid and explicit, of her face as she climaxed, and it was me pounding into her grinding hips now, and then the soft dazed smile after, and I couldn't reconcile the two, the ange l I cherished and the vixen I wanted to ravage. The knowledge that she was makin g love to me in her own dreams only added fuel to my flames, and now I even knew how she tasted, and how her lips felt. I slid in and out of sleep, waking sweat ing and hard, only to drift back into dreams of her fingers twisting in my hair as she kissed me. I finally gave up near dawn and went for a run, losing my cohe rent thought in the morning mist and the muscle burn in my legs, just letting wo rds and phrases and lyrics bounce through my mind with the rhythm of my feet on the road. I circled back and came home before anyone else was up, took a shower, and started coffee and breakfast. Esme was at a design conference in Seattle; I cooked solo this Saturday. Jasper, Emmett and I worked on a few pieces we wante d to play later, then Alice asked me if I would take her over to Bella's to get her. I didn't even bother asking why she couldn't just drive herself. The guys s hared a glance behind my back that I didn't have to see; I flipped them off with out turning around and grabbed my coat and my keys. Twin was silent on the way t here, but I felt her eyes on me; I waited for her to ask about last night at Fir st Beach, but she didn't. I detoured through the drive-through at the coffee sho p, ordering a large hot tea. Alice questioned me with her eyebrows. "She's going to have the hangover from hell," I said. "She threw back a few shots of Q'shine in order to sing."

"Elvis?" asked Alice, grinning. "'In the Early Morning Rain'." "How was it?" "In credible," I said, as if stating the obvious, still stung that she sang with the La Push kid instead of me. Then I felt stupid and childish and admitted, "Jacob Black is going to be good, if he sticks with it." Alice looked sidelong at me, and nodded. We pulled into the driveway, and she hopped out to go do whatever it is that girls do when they get ready. I played Fur Elise twice on the steering wheel, wondering what Bella would remember about last night, and how I should ac t. -Hey, beautiful, I know you probably feel like hell, and you may not remember , but I kissed you last night when you were drunk, and I'm not really sorry beca use it was amazing, and I've done nothing but dream of you since, and please don 't hate me because I'll fall apart if you do, andGah. Emo much, Edward? I got ou t of the car before I exploded out of my skin, and sent a message to Ordinary_Gi rl, asking if she'd kissed her Pretty Boy, just as the girls walked out of the h ouse. Bella looked gorgeous, a pale sea nymph caught in a fishing net, and I cou ldn't help but touch her, using the excuse to tuck some hair behind her ear to b rush my fingers over her cheek, and her nipples visibly tightened at my touch. M y brain disintegrated to complete mush when I realized she wasn't wearing a bra under the little top and the cut up shirt. Then she said she was embarrassed, wh ile staring at my mouth, and my stomach wrenched and I wanted to scream at her " But you asked me to!" but she was talking about throwing up, not the kissing, an d I decided I needed to get a hold of myself, because this was ridiculous. Maybe I was in love with a girl I'd known only two weeks, and maybe I didn't even kno w what the word meant, but just because she kissed like sex and sugar didn't mea n I had to get stupid. Her phone rang. The ring was some synthesized bastardizat ion of La Mer, the melody plunked out with a child's toy piano, and Bella got th at faraway look on her face and that smile, like she had a secret. I was instant ly furious; at the terrible song, at some fucker in Phoenix who probably didn't even know Claude Debussy from Trent Reznor, at Bella for asking me to kiss her w hen she smiled like that for someone else. I drove home, silent, ignoring Alice' s questioning looks in the rearview mirror.

I avoided the girls most of the afternoon, and tried to arrange the words that w ere bouncing in my head as I ran this morning, but nothing made sense. When my p hone finally chimed with the email alert, I dove for it, my nerves detangling ev en before I'd read her words. Yes. Kissing pretty boys on the mouth is now my ne w favorite pastime. Did you kiss your Spark? ±Ordinary_Girl She'd gotten her first kiss. I grinned at my iPhone like a girl, and typed: Yes. I am equally obsessed , though I think she has a distant flame. Keep her burning and let her choose. ±Or dinary_Girl I stared at the screen, and the sense of the words sank in. People t rickled in the door in the early evening, casual and easy, and we set up in the great room. We weren't really that social at school, but it was good to have an audience, to try out new songs we were working on, take requests and play a few with other people who'd brought their own instruments. We had a small constant f ollowing; Lauren Mallory and Angela Webber always came, and Rosalie's friend Vic toria. They usually brought friends. Tonight we opened with Ball and Biscuit by The White Stripes to warm up, and a few Zep tunes that Rosalie insisted upon. Ja mes joined in on a few songs; he was good, but a bit of a drama queen and tried to muscle out Rosalie. I could sense her ire, so after letting him show off with a pretty good rendition of "Deja Voodoo," we played an instrumental that I wrot e in order to cut him out. Bella was always near. I loved watching her face resp ond to the songs she knew, and the ones she didn't. I could find her in the room , no matter where she stood, that strange current between us pulling at me like a lodestone; I didn't question it anymore. She watched me as I sang, and at one point I touched two fingers to my bottom lip, remembering how she sucked on it l ast night, soft pulling kisses that were sweet and demonic at the same time. The n she raised her own fingers to her lips, and I knew she was feeling me, too, an d I sat down on the piano bench before my erection became obvious to the twenty other people in the room. Jasper threw me a glance, and I could feel him laughin g at me. He whispered to Rosalie and Emmett, and they opened up and forced me in to "Into the Night," a song they all loved for the classic Santana drums and gui tar. I thought it was a big fat Chad Kroeger cliché, except that Bella was grinnin g, doing this fabulous thing where she swayed her hips while holding her feet st ill, like some sort of belly dancing mermaid, and the words made sense, watching her. Like a gift from above indeed; she looked divine, and her moving like that without a bra on was certainly heavenly to watch. She mouthed the chorus back t o me; I beckoned to her, to see if she would join us, but she shook her head, sh y, as the other people in the room looked to see what I was gesturing at.

We played the A3 song from last weekend, nowhere near as good as when we recorde d it, but it was still a crowd pleaser, and finished with a new tune I'd found b y accident earlier this week and couldn't get out of my head. Bella didn't know it; I could tell by the faint frown on her face, and the way she cocked her head to hear the words. It was light and quick and fun, and Jasper loved it because he got to play fiddle, and Em filled in the back vox with a gravelly drone. Afte r, Bella came up, eyes sparkling. "What was the last one?" "Ordinary, by Seven N ations." She laughed, delighted. "That's funny! I don't know much of their stuff ; I only have the Cure cover album." I grinned and finally gave in to temptation and pulled the ribbon out of her hair. It tumbled down in a crazy cascade of cu rls and the scent of strawberries and flowers and girl hit me like a tidal wave. She rolled her eyes, but she blushed pretty. "Is that it? Will you play more?" I shook my head. "Dad has the noon to midnight rotation this week, so we're wrap ping up early." "How often do you do this?" "Once a month or so; Halloween's pro bably next." He gaze flicked to Alice and back to me. "She mentioned that. I'd g uess Alice goes bug-shit at a costume party?" "I heard that!" twin called, "and you are absolutely correct!" "Last year she changed costumes every hour," I said . Angela, Jessica and Lauren pulled Bella off toward the bar, and I helped pack up the band. My phone chimed. How do I seduce a boy? ±Ordinary_ Girl I laughed out loud and typed: I've never tried to seduce a boy. Is this a riddle? No. ±Ordinary _Girl Get him drunk, take your lacy things off, and make him sing pretty! Isn't that a bit forward? ±Ordinary_Girl

I laughed, and went to find Bella. I had a promise to keep. Bella: We toasted, b ut just as I was about to down my shot, a broad palmed hand deftly stole my glas s from my lips. "Wait," Edward said, his lips against my face, kissing me with w ords, "I promised you something last night." "What?" "Just come with me." He too k my hand and pulled me through the hall. He was moving quickly, tense, but he w as happy, and the energy coursed through him to me where we were connected by hi s hand on the small of my back. Always there, I thought. He always pressed his h and there, at the locus of gravity of my entire body, forcing my spine straight and graceful and aligned with his movements. He took us to a small bathroom and closed the door. He set the shot glass down on the sink, and pushed me to sit on the closed commode. "Last night," he said, "you asked me to do this when you we re sober." He knelt in front of me, and bent my left leg to settle my foot on hi s thigh. He circled my ankle in his fingers, and then moved upward, fitting his palms to my calf, fingers leading higher, one hand sliding over the curve of my knee, one hand under, drifting past the edge of my socks, smoothing over the bar e skin on my thighs. I gasped, his touch on my flesh warm and shocking, and the muscles in my legs clenched all the way up to where they met. "Are you?" "Am I w hat?" he asked, not looking up, his voice low and rough. He traced circles on my skin with his thumbs, and then hooked them into the tight knit ribbing and drew them down slowly, inch by inch, revealing my knee, then my calf, scrunching my sock down to my ankle and easing it off my foot. "Sober," I whimpered, as he lig htly dragged a fingertip back and forth against the bottom of my toes. "I have n o idea. I feel drunk when I'm around you anyway," he said, grabbing my foot to k eep me from squirming. "You're ticklish." "Are you?" I asked again, touching him with a fingertip behind his ear and tracing down across his neck, trailing my s hort fingernails to the collarbones at the top of his shirt. It was his turn to gasp; he arched his neck to my touch, and then pulled away. His eyes flashed to mine, and back down to my legs, but one corner of his mouth lifted.

"No," he lied. Then he bunched my skirts in a fist and shoved them up, exposing most of my thigh, and pushed my knees open. Edward straightened my other knee, a nd gripping the top of my sock in one hand and the heel in the other, dragged it off my leg in one long slow pull, and set my foot down on the tile. I felt comp letely naked. "Soft," he said, running his palms up the back of my knee. "Cashme re," I explained. "Not the socks." The air rushed from my lungs and my empty che st moved convulsively as he placed his hands on top of my knees, and bent his he ad, brushing his lips over the tiny red welts where the socks had gripped my thi ghs. Then he stood, and chuckled, but his eyes were dark and hot, looking into m ine. He handed me my shot of blue liqueur. "Now have your drink." I took it with shaking fingers, and sipped at it, eyes still locked on his. The drink had a st range flavor, and made me think of overripe oranges. I must have made a face, be cause Edward took it from me and sampled it. He frowned. "Angela said it was a ' Blue Moon'. I couldn't resist, but I don't think I like it." "I think a Blue Moo n is supposed to be made with Curacao and lime juice; this tastes like angostura bitters." He dumped the remaining half in the sink, and reached out for my hand . "I'll make you something better." I nodded, but didn't take his hand. "Can I m eet you out there?" "Sure. I'll be at the bar. What do you like?" I like your mo uth... "I like lemony things." He nodded, took my socks and the glass, and left me to my privacy. I looked in the mirror. I can do anything when I am alone, but my face still flamed red as I jerked my skirt up and my underwear off. I stashe d the scrap of cotton in my pocket, smoothed my clothes in place, and went to fi nd him. I typed a quick note to Debussy_88: Wish me luck.

Edward was behind the little bar off the dining room, layering lemon vodka into a shot glass with a sugared rim. He was grinning, and I loved how relaxed he was , just being Edward; a little cocky, meeting my eyes a lot, aware of me. "You li ke this. Mixing drinks," I said. He nodded. "Esme lets me bartend sometimes, whe n she throws parties." "What are you drinking?" He looked at me for a second, co nsidering something, and then got a shot glass and filled it with whiskey. "What are we drinking to?" I asked. "You tell me." I stared at his mouth, thinking of last night, and earlier, when he'd kissed me from across the room, and I didn't even know I was biting my lip until he touched my mouth with his thumb, and I l icked it because it was instinctual and I couldn't help it. He jerked away and s lammed his shot without toasting. He looked at me, hard, like I was an ice sculp ture and he was lost in the Sahara, and the room could have been on fire and I w ouldn't have noticed. I took his glass and poured him another shot and clicked i t with mine. To your mouth« "To music," I said. We drank. Mine was delicious, lemo n sour candy with spice and not too syrupy, and I laughed that he knew exactly w hat I would like. "Another? "No, I don't like to get puking drunk two days in a row, thank you." He laughed and put the whiskey away. I protested, "Shouldn't it be my turn to take advantage of you?" He looked at me, and his mouth did that w onderful thing where it searched for words and settled on a smile. He put the bo ttle back on the bar. The mood was broken by the arrival of Angela, Lauren and J ames, with Ben and Tyler following behind. Edward lined five shot glasses on the bar and poured them all in a row, without lifting the bottle, showing off.

My phone buzzed, and I silenced it, and Edward set the bottle down with a loud t hump on the bar, and rubbed the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefin ger. James and Lauren both brandished their glasses for another. This time, when he poured, he sloshed the alcohol. "Fuck," he said, sitting heavily on a stool. Victoria reached around him and put the cap back on the bottle. "Someone needs to take this drunken sailor to bed," said James, looking at Edward curiously, "b efore he embarrasses himself." Lauren swept her long blond hair off her shoulder s and smiled up at the bronze haired boy, her red lipstick perfect, pouty lips f ull and not chapped or bitten. "Shall we continue where we left off last night?" she asked him. Lauren wrapped her arms around Edward's waist, and led him off t owards his room. He wasn't fighting her this time. I sat down, sulking, on a bar stool. Tyler sat next to me. He looked nauseous, and I wondered how much he'd ha d to drink. I caught Emmett's eye, and he walked Tyler outside for some air. Jam es grinned. "Never seen a black guy turn so green!" I nodded. He looked like a b ad cross between Brad Pitt and an armadillo, but he was charismatic; girls liked him. "Where's Edward?" Alice asked, taking the empty stool. Rosalie flanked my other side, leaning back on the bar. "With Lauren," I said, calmly, my insides r oiling. Alice jumped off the stool and glared at me. "Are you going to sit here, or are you going to go rescue that poor boy?" "He wasn't actually resisting," I muttered, still furious. I couldn't believe that he would flirt so outrageously with me, the socks and the drinks and the looks, and then just go off with Laur en. Jerk. Stupid hot sexy jerk, whose kisses tasted like cinnamon and boy, with silky soft hair andRose shoved me off the bar stool and pointed a finger towards his room. "Go!" said Victoria, "Before it's too late." I went. The music from h is stereo was loud, Robert Plant wailing "Nothing", drowning the click of the do or as I locked it behind me. I braced my back against the door, and let my eyes become

adjusted to the dark. There was a faint line of light from under the bathroom do or, and the residual light from the window lit the white sheets and gold comfort er on his messy bed. Edward was alone, sitting cross legged in the center, head bowed over his knees and his face resting in his hands. Weeping Buddha, I though t, vaguely, and the anger fled from my fists and my spine at the sight of the lo neliness of the pose of the man on the bed. I pulled the shredded t-shirt over m y head and dropped it on the floor, and stepped to the bed to crawl behind him, and I wrapped my arms around his torso, and curled my body to lay my cheek again st his spine. My legs were bent around him, and we sat there, absorbing the musi c and each other. After a while, he sat up, slowly, and leaned back into me, and we were rocking slightly with the music, and my hands were flat on his chest, f ingers spread so that I could feel every inch of the hard planes of his chest th rough his shirt. He drew his hands up along my legs, and the static under my ski n followed every movement of his fingers. I pressed tightly to him, and slid my hands under his shirt, and his skin was warm and smooth, and his nipples hardene d under my fingertips and my own echoed the response. I twirled my fingers in th e fine wisp of hair below his bellybutton, overwhelmed by the masculinity of it and him, suddenly shy. He was not just a beautiful boy, he was a man, and everyt hing primal and female in me was begging for him. The song faded, and the rhythm ic notes of "Closer" by Kings of Leon filled his room, moody and dramatic, but s till sexy. He felt it too, and took my hands and drew them down, pressing my pal ms against the steel flesh in his jeans, and then we were working the buttons to gether, and he was free, and in my hands. I wanted to see, but maybe this was ea sier; I explored with curious fingers, just learning the shape of him, hot silk skin sliding over marble, my face pressed between his shoulder blades, listening to his rough breathing. I found a bead of wet in the crease, and rubbed gently with my thumb, the slickness heightening the electric current of touch, and then I felt a moan resonate in his chest, and he grabbed my wrists. He moved then, s pinning around, and twisting me, so our positions were reversed and I was leanin g against his chest and he was the one with his hands under my shirt, cupping my breasts in his palms, thumbs moving in circles over the peaks, not touching the very tips until I whimpered and pushed into his fingers, and lightning shot str aight down between my legs, and I was grinding and frantic for him. His face was buried in my neck, his hot breath panting on my skin, and I reached behind me t o grip his hair, pulling him closer. His hands were at my skirt, wrenching it up , and then under, and when he found my naked wet flesh we both gasped and I rock ed my hips into his fingers and he was straining against me, our bodies working to the music, and I was suddenly close, but beyond any wanting I'd ever felt in my life, and crying out loud with it. He pulled away abruptly and pushed me back against the pillows, kneeling between my legs, fighting with his jeans for a se cond, and then one hand was in my hair, and the other was back between my thighs . He knew what I needed, and exactly how to press up high, and he pushed my knee s wide, and fit himself to me, stretching me, and it was divine, and too much, a nd his thumb

was making fast wet circles, and I was grabbing at him, and arching my hips to h is, wanting more, and he pushed in and it hurt but filled me, and he kept rubbin g and my shock eased quickly, and then I was writhing underneath him and his han d. Edward's eyes were locked with mine as I came, and he was real this time, not a dream, and the pleasure was beyond anything I'd ever felt, and I cried his na me and he whispered mine. He pinned me to the bed with his hips, and I convulsed under and around him, tender flesh grasping at slick steel, and he then he groa ned and pulled back and thrust into me while I rode through my contractions, and again, and then he collapsed, biting my shoulder as his hips snapped, his own r elease pulsing hot into me. We lay there, panting, as the song finished, and I p ushed at him, sore and raw where we were still joined. He rolled off me and onto his back, and was asleep in seconds, his jeans and boxers still in disarray. I sat up, slightly dizzy, laughing, still high on my orgasm and Edward, hyper mind at odds with the body that felt heavy and lethargic. I tugged the sheet over hi m and smoothed his hair away from his face, and kissed his cheek. He sighed, but didn't move. I grinned. He was out cold. I didn't think he'd had that much to d rink, but then again, I'd only had the one lemon shot, and I felt quite tipsy. I was also starving, and after tossing my shredded shirt back on and lowering the music volume, I left the sleeping man who'd just taken my virginity. I wondered what he'd done with my socks. Jasper's room was the fourth down the hall, and h e and Alice, Angela and Ben and Tyler were sitting on the floor. Ben and Alice w ere trying to show Angela how to play the guitar, but Alice hopped up when she s aw me, and pushed me into her room. "Where is Edward?" she asked. "He crashed. H ard," I grinned. "That good, huh?" she was bouncing. "Um, well, yeah. Oh!" I loo ked down. A small trickle of milky pink flowed down my leg. Alice blinked, then looked at my confused face, and giggled. "Bella?" she whispered, "Are you« were yo u a virgin?" I'd sort of hoped that losing my hymen would cure me of the incessa nt blushing, but that wasn't the case. My fairy godmother took action, gently sh oving me into her bathroom. She handed me two aspirin, and started a bath runnin g. I told her it was not necessary, I just really wanted something

to eat, and she came back with strawberries and some croissants and some sort of chocolate hazelnut spread stuff that was too sweet, and a half full bottle of c hampagne. "This was going to be for tomorrow, but this is much better," Alice sa id. When I protested, she said, "Look, darling, my brother took all of ten minut es to pop your cherry and then he passed out; I'm a little embarrassed, to be ho nest. The least I can do is feed you his breakfast." She balanced the plate of f ood on the edge of the tub and sat on the bathmat. I sat in the bath, amused and surprised at myself for being so uninhibited around someone, and ate with her. She told me a very funny story about how she had lost her virginity to Jasper, w hich involved black licorice gumdrops, a dump truck and a lime green corset, and we giggled like little girls. There was a knock on the door, and it opened befo re either of us could react. "Urm." said Jazz, frozen in the doorway. "Hi!" I sa id, blushing, but somehow the craziness of this evening made everything funny, e ven Alice's boyfriend stuck like a deer in my headlights. "Nice," he said, point ing at me with both hands, "very nice. But this never happened. Never." He spun on his heels and left, closing the door behind him. Alice and I giggled until ou r stomachs hurt, and finished the champagne. I crawled into the bed in her room, and slept, dreamless. I woke in the late morning, stiff but not sore, and tappe d in some words at my blogsite, wondering if D_88's had as much luck with his sp ark. It was so interesting and lovely to have a glimpse into the other side of t he battle of the sexes; I was a spy in the house of love. I remembered yesterday morning, and the thoughtfulness of the person, either Edward or Charlie, who ha d left the aspirin and the water by my bed. Alice's bottle was still in her bath room, and after I rinsed out a champagne flute and filled it with tap water, I t ook them to Edward's room. I knocked gently, and pushed the door open. "Hullo?" "Bella," Edward groaned, blinking. He looked from me to the blond head of Lauren Mallory on the pillow next to him, and back to me. "What the fuck?" I carefully set the glass and the aspirin bottle on the nearest hard surface, and walked ba ck out, pulling the door closed. Chapter 14: Complicated

Edward: The knock on the door woke me, and I inhaled the scent of Bella's hair o n my pillow. We weren't touching, but I could feel the weight of her on the bed next to me. "Hullo?" she said, from across the room. "Bella?" I said, confused. My voice was crusted with sleep. I looked at the bed and the tangle of blond hai r, and back to the girl in the doorway. "What the fuck?" Bella set a champagne g lass and bottle on the bookshelf by the door, and left. I looked at Lauren, frow ning. My first thought was, thank god it was Bella at the door and not Alice; my sister would have given me hell for this for years. My second was curiosity as to the diameter of the iron spike that had been nailed through my head. She sat up and looked at me, blinking, and shook her head to clear it, and then jumped u p, in horror. "Oh, God! What time is it?" she whispered. Then the color drained unpleasantly from her face, and she rushed to the bathroom. There's nothing like listening to the wrong girl puke the morning after. I stood up, straightening m y clothes, and I took three aspirin and drank all the water. It was not lost on me that I had left the same on Bella's bedside table the night before last. I we nt down to the hallway to use the small restroom, and noticed the dried blood on my dick. Blood on one's fuck-stick is a little daunting unless one knows the ca use, but then I remembered Lauren talking about being on her period the night be fore last. Shit. I'd screwed Lauren. Even worse: I'd screwed Lauren, bareback. I tried to remember the evening. I recalled being in this bathroom, taking Bella' s socks off. I ground my teeth as my chest tightened for all sorts of reasons I refused to think about, and sifted through the rest of the night. There wasn't m uch to work with. I'd mixed a new drink for Bella. I messaged Ordinary_Girl. Bel la licked my thumb and I drank the whiskey without toasting because she made me crazy. She poured more whiskey and we toasted. I poured shots for other people. I got pissed about something, and James made me feel like an asshole in front of Bella. Lauren with her arms around me, pushing me to my room, the drunk leading the drunk. My bedroom: dark, loud music. Doors opened and closed. An impression of hands, light and exploring, vague recollections of long hair in my face, and fighting with clothes, and slippery

wet flesh against my bare skin, and a clear image of Bella, eyes locked on mine, calling my name as she climaxed under me, a variant of the dream of the night b efore. My dick stirred to life at the thought, and I sighed. At least it was eas ier to clean when it was hard. I wiped the blood off, frustrated and furious wit h myself. Of course I'd superimposed Bella's face over the blond girl's; she was burned into my retinas. I splashed some water on my face, too, and walked back down the hall, stopping just inside the great room. Bella was on the stairs lead ing to Rosalie's bedroom, leaning against the wall, a steaming mug in her hand. She acknowledged me with a tight smile, but remained still as she watched Lauren , below. The other girl was wandering around, searching for something, unsteady on her feet. "What are you looking for?" Bella called down. Lauren turned, start led. "My purse. I have to call my parents. They're going to kill me." She sounde d close to tears. "Actually, Angela covered for you last night. I just talked to her; she's on her way." Bella walked down the stairs and stopped two up from th e bottom, making her seem taller than the other girl. "That was really nice of h er, don't you think?" Lauren froze at the obvious ice in Bella's quiet voice. "A nd?" she challenged. "And perhaps you could do something nice in return," Bella continued, "maybe like clearing up the confusion about Ben. Her parents seem to have the wrong impression of him." Lauren's back was to me, but I could see her fists clenching at her sides. "I could," she said, her tone implying that she al so could not. I felt like I was watching a chess game between the two. "Then I w ouldn't have any problem confirming that you slept in Alice's room, with me, sho uld your parents ever check up on Angela's story. Especially since we're all bei ng so nice." The threat was saccharine, but clear. Lauren nodded, once. Then she murmured a question I couldn't hear. Bella's eyes snapped to me, and back to he r, and her face relaxed. "No, but Alice has some in her bathroom, under the sink ." Lauren shuffled off, defeated.

I shoved my hands in my pockets, feeling utterly confused and completely in awe of the little brunette on the stairs. She'd just blackmailed the queen of the bi tch brigade. Bella looked at me and grinned. "There's coffee in the kitchen. It' s fresh; your dad must have made it before he left. You look like you could use some." I ran my hands through my hair, self conscious, and went to the kitchen. A small purple purse, with a monogrammed L, sat by the coffee pot. I considered it for a moment, and then furtively rifled through the little sections. I spotte d the familiar beige pill compact, and breathed a huge sigh of relief. She took the same kind that Alice did, I thought. Bella's pill case was pink; I remembere d picking it up after she'd spilled her backpack, when I pulled her away from th e van. My stomach still clenched when I thought of that. My insides were churnin g anyway, and not all of it was normal hangover nausea. I wanted Bella to be mad . I wanted her to yell or slap me and tell me I was an asshole, and act like she cared that I'd had another girl in my bed. A memory flickered through my brain of her shaking her head when I put the whiskey bottle away, saying it was her tu rn to take advantage of me, flirtatious and promising. I don't know which was wo rse; that I'd fucked that up or that she didn't seem to give a damn. I went back to my room and took a shower. I got dressed, and wanting to avoid both girls do wnstairs, I checked my blogsite. Ordinary_Girl had posted: In the stillness of t he morning after I wake relieved to be myself. I am solitary, unchanged After sp illing first blood, My heart is beating, still my own, Unbroken by the ecstasy. When I am alone I am strong, Giving only what I choose. I smiled a little; she'd gotten her pretty boy. I hoped he'd been good to her. I went downstairs, unable to procrastinate any longer. Lauren was already gone. That was probably shitty of me, too; the girl put out and I didn't even say "Thank you, have a nice day." Bella was sitting at the kitchen table. I refilled my coffee and put on my jack et. "Are you leaving?" she asked. "Yes," I said, not looking at her, "I need to see my father."

"Are you okay?" "No," I said, through clenched teeth, "not really. I just had a one night stand with someone I don't really know, and I was so fucked up I didn' t even use protection, and now I need to get tested." She made a strange noise a nd I turned to look at her. Her face was bright red, and she was biting her lip, hard. I reached out, to stop her from doing that, but she jerked her face from me. Maybe she did care; my heart started to pound. "Look, I know I'm being rude, but I've never done that before, and I'm a little freaked out about it. I'm not exactly thrilled to have to explain all that to my dad, either." "A one night s tand?" she asked, looking down into her coffee. "No, I have lots of those. I've never had sex without a condom before." Why was I telling her this? "So last nig ht was a one-time thing." "Yeah. I slept with the wrong girl, Bella," I tried to explain, my throat tangled in knots. "I didn't mean for it to happen." "You don 't want her like you want me." Her voice was almost a whisper. "Is it that obvio us?" I said, sarcasm and frustration choking the words. I'd never wanted anyone like I'd wanted her, and I'd botched it completely. Her features twisted oddly a nd smoothed into a pale still mask. "Do you think you could drop me off at home on the way to the hospital?" she asked. Her voice was even and deliberate, "it w ill only take a minute for me to grab my things." I nodded, and she left. My sto mach churned. When she came back she had ear buds in. She left a note on the cou nter for Alice, shook her head when I tried to take her bag, and walked ahead of me out the door. Halfway to her house I asked what she was listening to. "Ghost of Tom Joad." "One of Springsteen's best," I said, inanely trying to make conve rsation. "Rage Against the Machine." Ouch. So she wasn't as calm as she seemed. I didn't know if that made me feel better or worse.

I pulled into the driveway, and walked her up to the house. She still didn't let me carry her things. At the door she turned to me. "Edward?" Her voice was brit tle, but she had a strange half smile on her face. "Did you at least enjoy it?" The air rushed out of my lungs as if I'd been punched in the gut. All the blood in my body pooled instantly in my groin, as my cock flexed with the muscle memor y of the naked slick flesh grasping at me and the vision of Bella's face, dazed with ecstasy. "I'll take that as a yes," she said. She leaned up and kissed my c heek, quick and warm and before I could react to scream at her to stop with the confusing sweetness and grab her and hold her to me and bury my tongue in her mo uth, she was gone. Bella: I walked calmly up to my room and dumped my bags on th e bed. I refused to cry. I wasn't expecting chocolates or his class ring on a ch ain; he was the rockstar with a school full of girls after him, and whatever he had going on with Lauren, it was me he'd taken home from first beach, me he'd to uched in the dark. I knew exactly what I'd wanted and I took it, and by the look on Edward's face and the blatant swelling in his jeans when I'd asked, I'd done a good job at it. At least I knew what the fuss was all about. D_88 had written while I was at Alice's, but things were so tense with Edward that I knew I woul dn't be able to enjoy the calm that our e-mailed conversations usually brought. I finally pulled my iPhone out and read his message. Keeping the heart guarded, while spreading the love? ±Debussy_88 I typed: I might be the Other Woman. He didn 't like it that he liked it. Did you? ±Debussy_88 I smiled, bittersweet. My phanto m lover had nothing on the real thing. I typed: Yes, though pleasure is a messy business. What were you expecting? ±Debussy_88 I thought for a few minutes, then a nswered: I thought there would be kissing. He didn't answer for a few minutes. I went to the window, wondering if our conversation was over. Storm clouds were b rewing in the distance, and wondered if Charlie would be home soon.

My phone played D_88's tone. I don't think much of pretty boys who steal an Extr aordinary Girl's divinity without even a kiss. ± Debussy_88 I typed: I offered it freely. It's better this way; kisses might have robbed me of my soul. I can unde rstand the sentiment. In deeper than you wanted to be? ±Debussy_88 I slid my thumb s over the screen: Aren't you? Yes, though I'm afraid I may have lost her. ±Debuss y_88 I typed: He wasn't mine to lose, just to enjoy for a little while. Give me music; I need something silly to break this melancholy before it consumes me. ± De bussy_88 That I could give him: Boogie on the Beach, by the Red Elvises. You sho uld write soon. I will. ±Debussy_88 The homework pile-up took several hours to tru dge through, and Charlie came back from fishing right before the storm and took me to dinner at the diner. We ate in our usual comfortable silence, until Dad no dded to someone. "You're getting flagged, Bells. Do I know him?" James was by th e counter, waiting at the take out lane, waving at me. I waved back, and after h e got his Styrofoam box, he came over to our table. He was wearing a damp denim jacket that smelled a little, but he had an infectious smile. I introduced him t o my father, and watched in amusement while the Chief mentally scanned the juven ile rap sheets for the ugly boy's face. Finding no police sketches that matched, he reached out a hand for James to shake. Then he frowned, placing him. "You pl ay with Jake and Sam and the boys at La Push, don't you?" "Not lately, sir. I'm kind of looking for tamer scene, if you catch my drift." James knew the exact ri ght thing to say, and Officer Swan relaxed. "Actually, Bella," James continued, "I heard you sing at First Beach Friday night. I was wondering if you might want to help me with something. There's a contest I want to enter, and I need a sing er to record a demo." James turned to Charlie. "She's really good, sir."

Dad looked at me, smiled, and said, "Yeah, well, she doesn't get it from me." He stuck his moustache in his glass and sucked on some ice. "What song do you want to do?" I asked James. He sat down in the empty chair. "Well, one of the top co mpetitors for the guitar solo is a woman, and she almost always covers male play ers, so I'd like to turn the tables a little and do one by a female guitarist. D o you have any suggestions?" "Ana Popovic is good, and Amy Schugar, maybe Susan Tedeschi?" "Has to be pretty mainstream; do you know much by Melissa Etheridge?" "I know her early stuff«" I said tentatively, unsure. I didn't really want to sin g with James. I wanted to sing with Edw"Bonnie Raitt," said Charlie. I looked at him in surprise. "Bells knows Angel from Montgomery." He stuffed a fistful of f ries in his mouth. I turned red, and so did he. I didn't know that he paid atten tion to what I hummed while I was doing things around the house, but apparently he did. "Yeah, I'll do it," I said, grinning down at my veggie burger. Edward: D ad said very little, just sent me to get blood and urine tests. I was too keyed up to go home, so after my sad conversation with Ordinary_Girl, I borrowed a set of his scrubs and volunteered at the admissions desk to help with filing. The n urses were used to the Cullen crew pitching in hours, and I got a few amused inq uiries as to what trouble I was getting punished for this time. It felt good to be productive, and I would have gone insane waiting at home for dad to be done w ith work. I downloaded O_G's ridiculous Russian rock song and played it over and over on my phone, cheered by it, and kept my head down and my hands busy all da y, running errands for the nurses until dad found me, almost at the end of his s hift. "Let's talk in my office." I winced. I was hoping for an "all clear, see y ou at home, son." I followed him in and sat down in front of the desk, a patient awaiting a consult. "Edward, I had the lab run tests that would be appropriate for your situation. They all came back negative. Unfortunately, there are a few that wouldn't be conclusive or even reasonably accurate

until you already were experiencing symptoms. We'll run more in six months." He looked down at the desk. He took a deep breath. "I also ordered a blood alcohol test, and a few others, based on what you told me had happened. You had no detec table alcohol in your system." "I remember having two shots of Johnnie Walker, a nd that's it." "That would be out of your system by now. However, you did show l ow levels of a benzodiazepine." "What is that?" The hair on the back of my neck started to rise; I already knew. "Well, it's a broad family of psychoactive drug s that used to treat a variety of-" "Dad." "You probably took Rohypnol, son." he said, gently. "I don't know how or when." I thought as far back as I could. "I thought it turned bright blue; at least that's what they warn us about in health class. Oh, Shit." I remembered pretty lips puckered in distaste, little hands h olding a shot glass. He raised his eyebrows. "Is it bitter?" I whispered. "What happened, Edward?" "I think it was supposed to be for Bella," I said, feeling si ck. "She barely sipped it. I tried it. I thought it was made wrong. We dumped it in the sink." "Who gave it to her?" Dad was furious. "I don't know!" "I'm calli ng Charlie Swan." "Dad, wait." Panic was beginning to bubble in my voice, and it cracked like twelve year old's. "Edward, you invited innocent children into my house and put them in danger of a predator! You can't expect me to sit back and do nothing!" I exploded out of the chair. "You know what, Dad? That is exactly w hat I expect, because that is all you do! Nothing! You're not our father, you're our doctor!"

He stared at me, and opened his mouth to speak, but I wasn't finished. "You want to be the progressive parent and let us figure out all our limits while we are still at home? Well, we are and none of us are innocent anymore, and we're certa inly not children!" I was shaking, my nails biting into my hands, not knowing wh ere this was coming from, just lashing out. "Son-" "No, not 'Son', Dr. Cullen, I 'm your patient. Like Alice was your patient when she got her first period and y ou talked about anatomy and not how she felt scared and freaked out because she didn't want to grow up and get boobs and die of breast cancer like Mom! Or when she came to you about birth control, and all you did was put her on pills and no t talk to her about how much being in love changes you or really wanting someone makes you so stupid you can't think straight!" I wasn't even talking about Alic e anymore. "Edward?" The shock and amusement on his face made me even angrier. " So as your patient, Doctor, I would like very much for you to maintain confident iality, and not call the cops. I'll figure it out on my own, like I always do!" I stormed out, ignoring the nurses at the desk, only to be slapped in the face b y pelting cold rain. I stood in it, letting the water crash over my fury. I felt stupid, embarrassed that I'd behaved like a child having a temper tantrum. I do n't even know what set me off. Dad's threat to tell Charlie Swan, probably; the Chief would never let Bella near me again, and I felt like I was losing her alre ady. Hell, she wasn't even mine to begin with. I shivered in the thin, soaking w et scrubs. My keys were in my jeans in Dad's office. I really was an idiot. I wa lked back. Dad was still sitting at his desk, staring at my lab results. "Does i t make you hallucinate?" I asked quietly, changing into my dry clothes. "Not wit h the amounts you had; it would make you fairly susceptible to suggestion, thoug h." I nodded, and shoved my hands in my pockets. "Are you working past midnight? " I asked. "No. I'll bring the case files home. If you want to talk«" "I think I j ust need sleep. I'll start you a pot of decaf when I get home." "I'd like that." He smiled at me, the half twist an older mirror of my own.

"You're a good doctor." I muttered. "You're a good son." I left his office, wavi ng to the nurses this time and dashed through the rain to my car, and drove home to a quiet house. I started a pot of decaf for my father, and went up to my roo m. I sat in the dark, and tried to remember, but all I could think about was Bel la, this morning. The girl made me insane. She flirted with me for a week, found me in bed with someone else, used it to play some female social power move, and then asked me if I'd had a good time. I finally gave up, and put my frustration s into words, just stream of consciousness babble that felt good to release. I c limbed into the bed, ignoring the tiny bloodstain on the sheets, hating it, but hoping it might help to banish the dreams of Bella that overrode all rational th ought. It didn't. When I closed my eyes, I could still see her. If I shoved my f ace into the pillow hard enough, I could smell her. I felt like I was losing my mind. Chapter 15: Port Obvious Bella: I woke up and told my phantom lover to go to hel l. He winked at me and met me in the shower. Bastard. I dressed quickly, the sam e pleated skirt I wore Friday night and a v-neck t-shirt. I grabbed my forbidden navy hoodie, and tucked the nail scissors in the pocket, brushed my hair, slick ed on some mascara and still had time to check my e-mail. Debussy_88 had written , like he said he would, but it wasn't his usual measured rhyme: She is heroin a nd bloodlust, crazy cocaine With untethered flesh Fresh fruit, ripe, responsive, Mine with a glance, but not to touch Only to want and I want her voice, her hea rt, her mouth And she sees me wanting I am more than this consumption, can somet hing be done With this desire, this fire, this spark? Please don't go out. It wa sn't my fault. I have forgotten everything of myself before her

I cannot remember anything but her face Seeing my wanting. I wrote: You are unbo und; can you keep coherent enough to keep her? The Volvo and the Jeep were parke d at my usual spot, and before I'd even gotten out of my truck Alice was raking me over the coals for my outfit. I shut her up by holding out the scissors. She went to work, slashing the hood halfway down the center, cutting the zipper out completely, rolling the sleeves and cropping away half the length of the body. I n ninety seconds she'd turned my frumpy hoody into a little sailor-girl jacket, and piled my hair into a loose ponytail. I caught my distorted reflection in the silver car; I looked like an anime character, young and virginal. I gave Alice a dirty look and she collapsed into giggles. Edward was still in the car, cuppin g his iPhone in his palm. Alice shot him an irritated glance. "He won't talk to me," she sighed. "Jazz says I need to leave him alone." He got out of the car, a nd we walked into school. He didn't touch me, or look at me, or talk to me, and he didn't pull the ribbon from my hair. I didn't cry. James was waiting at my lo cker before first period. He hadn't shaved, and he looked like a spiny anteater with spiked teeth when he smiled hello. "Bella," he said, "I didn't really want to say this in front of your dad, but Angel from Montgomery was written by John Prine." I nodded. "Yeah. I didn't say anything either." "He was so proud and all , and I didn't want to ruin the moment by correcting him." "So you want to do so mething that was actually written by a woman?" "You mentioned that you knew Meli ssa Etheridge's old stuff; there's some good guitar there. I brought a minidisc recorder« You got lunch plans?" "Seriously!" He looked sheepish. "I sort of let th e deadline sneak up on me, and I need to get it in the mail right away. In fact, I was hoping we could run the consent forms by the police station and get your dad to sign them right after school; then I could drop by the post office today. " "Whoa, no pressure at all!" "You'll do fine, kid, you're a rockstar."

I looked at him, starting to feel uncomfortable. "Hey, no stress, really," he sa id. "Do you have free period any time today? That would give us a little more ti me to fall back on." James decided to ditch his third period class, so we could have more time if we needed to do several takes. I didn't see Edward waiting for Alice after chemistry, and got annoyed with myself when I realized I was lookin g for him. The practice room in the band hall had a badly tuned upright in it, b ut when I thumped it with the flat of my hand it made an interesting sound. "Hey , let's use that," James said. "I don't play piano." "Nah, smack it, just like t hat; keep time. Sounds cool." James set up his amp and I pulled up the lyrics on my laptop to brush up. He pulled out the mini recorder. "Don't you want a pract ice run?" I asked. "I always record; you never know what comes out raw." I shrug ged, and we began the song. I slapped the top of the upright and the strings res onated. When I patted the side, the reverb muted. It was a neat effect, and I re peated it, and then James opened up with the song. He was good; heavy on the cho ps, and very little melody, but he enjoyed himself and carried the energy well. The song suited my mood, and I was feisty and full of attitude, and let it carry through the lyrics. It was fun, though nowhere near the dynamic rush it was to sing with Rosalie, or even Alice, not that I remembered much of that. James was all over the place, and I found it difficult to either lead or follow his playin g; there was no symbiosis, just two separate musicians making music. He took the closing solo with a nice dose of drama when I fed the last line: "And the love is real as the day is long, and the night is black, as black as night." He click ed the minidisc, and we were done. We listened to it, and he seemed pleased with the quality; and it wasn't bad, considering the lack of layered mixing. I thoug ht I sounded ridiculous, a pissed off sad little girl pretending to be a tough c hick. It sounded nowhere near as good as Alice and I did on the Meg White tune. "See, first take, no rehearsal. I told you, you're a natural. I'll burn you a co py. How'd you like my end solo there, huh?" he said, fishing for compliments.

I nodded, and pasted a grin on my face, feeling guilty, like I'd done something wrong by singing with him, and the irritation fed into the desperate mood I'd ha d all day. I filled out my portion of the paperwork, bearing down hard on the pe n. "Do you want to run this by the station at lunch, and get dad to sign it?" He looked so grateful it was almost amusing. I called my father, but Charlie said he would meet me at school instead, on his lunch hour. I made my excuses to Jame s, uncomfortable in the stuffy little practice room, and headed to the library t o catch up on my homework and check my e-mail. He'd written: Is it that obvious? I am coming unhinged, losing my identity in dreams of a girl who pulls me like a moth to the moon. -Debussy_88 My chest tightened. Edward had said that yesterd ay, bitter and angry when my pathetic whisper escaped me, accusing him of not wa nting Lauren as much as me. I responded: Trust your words, even unstructured the y speak volumes. Have you shared them with her? I made a mistake that I'm not su re I can fix with words. She still smiles, but her eyes are only embers. ±Debussy_ 88 Coaxing a fire from embers takes a delicate touch; your phrases are subtle wh en you choose. You are my invisible wingman; I would carry a tiny you in my pock et like a talisman for good luck. ±Debussy_88 I will swing on your keychain and ne st in candy wrappers and lint. I met Charlie in the parking lot after chorus cla ss; he brought take-out from the diner, the same thing I got last night. We ate in the cruiser, and he signed the papers. I couldn't eat much. "What's wrong, Be lls?" I swallowed. Well Dad, I gave up my virginity to a boy who was apparently so drunk he didn't notice that it was my first time, and I'm so stupid for him t hat I didn't even think to have him use protection and now he's worried that he might have caught a disease, and I don't know how to talk to him because he said he didn't mean for it to happen and I don't understand because he looks at me l ike he's been lost at sea for a year and I'm dry land, but I knew what I was doi ng, and I got what I wanted, and I'm not going to cry because I wear big girl pa nts now. "Isabella?"

"The cruiser isn't exactly inconspicuous, Dad," I said, not entirely lying, "the re are a lot of people looking at us." He sighed. "You should probably head in a nyway. I don't want you to miss class." "Thank you for lunch." "Anytime." I foun d James near the senior lounge, talking with Rosalie's friend Victoria, and hand ed him the papers. A tall strawberry blond girl stared openly at us. "Who is tha t?" I asked. Victoria chuckled. "That's Tanya. Be careful with that; she and Edw ard have some history." "Edward's history seems to stretch back to the stone age . What's her story?" I quipped, inwardly groaning. She was tall and gorgeous, wi th legs that went on for miles. The only girl in school prettier was Lauren Mall ory. "Rosalie says she went ballistic when he broke it off," said Victoria. "Ros alie talks?" I asked. "I do," said the blond giant woman, right behind me. I jum ped out of my skin, startled by her voice, and then by Emmett's guffaw that fill ed the hallway. The bell rang, and I headed off to biology. As I was walking dow n the row of lockers in the sciences wing, my eyes were instinctively drawn to a green leather jacket. Edward was holding Lauren, who was blinking back tears. S he was even pretty when she cried, and they looked perfect together, blond maide n in distress, and him the handsome hero. I went on to class, and as I reached o ur lab desk, Edward pulled the chair out for me. I risked a look at him, trying to keep my face still. His mouth moved, searching for words, and I looked away, resenting the attraction I had for him. He sat down next to me, and the Mr. Bann er turned the lights out. Edward: Bella was in the parking lot eating lunch with Chief Swan. I sat in the lunchroom, staring out the industrial wired glass they use for schools and prisons, wondering what they were talking about, wondering what I would tell her, wondering what would happen, wondering what had happened. The two people who could shed some light were the exact last in the world I did n't want to talk to.

One of them slammed a tray in front of me with a piece of pizza and a coke. "Twi n, you have to eat something. Jasper says I'm to leave you alone, that your head is a mess right now, so I won't push, but when was the last time you had any fo od?" I tried to think back, and was pleased I could remember something. "Saturda y morning." I sipped at the coke, and tried to figure out what I would say to La uren Mallory. I ate the pizza to please my sister, though it sat in my stomach l ike gravel. Bella walked back in to school after a while. She looked like a stow away girl in a cabin-boy outfit; all she needed was a little sailor's hat and sh e'd be a walking nautical wet dream. I was going to have to tell Alice to stop d oing things to her clothes. She had no idea how sexy she was, and that made her even more vulnerable. I didn't know how I was going to keep my hands off of her in Biology; I'd avoided even looking at her today. My balls were starting to hur t from the constant pressure of the erection I always had when I was around her; the release I'd had from whatever I'd done with Lauren had only dulled the ache . The bell rang. I found Lauren at her locker. She looked at me warily. "We need to talk," I said. "About what?" "What do you remember about Saturday night?" I asked. The corners of her mouth turned down, and she looked frightened. "Nothing ," she said. "I remember walking you to your bedroom, and then having to pee. An d then I woke up on your bathroom rug, and when I tried to leave, it was startin g to get light outside, and I knew I had broken curfew, but I was so dizzy I lay down on your bed, and then Bella woke us up." I nodded, my suspicions confirmed . She'd been drugged, too. I looked at her, waiting, deliberating what to say. " Look, Edward, I know you have your stupid rules, and no one spends the night, bu t it was awful, I couldn't even walk straight." Her eyes filled with tears. "I'v e never drunk so much that I couldn't remember anything, not like that." "What d id you have to drink, anyway?" "I told you, I don't remember! The shots you pour ed. Two. And before that some nasty blue thing that Angela said would be good." She sniffed. "Why?" "I think you were drugged, and I'm trying to find out who di d it."

"Like GHB? Are you going to call the cops?" "No. I just don't want people taking advantage of girls in my house." "Well, I'm fine, so don't be all Sherlock Cull en on my account; my parents don't know that I drink, and I don't want them find ing out." "Lauren, having sex while drugged up is-" "Edward, I didn't have sex. I passed out on the nice fuzzy carpet in your bathroom, okay? And I highly doubt anyone would take out my Tampax, fuck me and then put it back, okay? Even you, Mr. I'm so laid back I screw girls on the rag. I wasn't taken advantage of, so p lease don't make a big deal of this!" She was crying, doing that thing that girl s do where they blink and wipe under their eyes so they don't ruin their makeup. "Jesus, I'm sorry. Don't cry." I hugged her, sorry for her, and relieved that I hadn't had sex with her, that I could tell Bella the whole stupid funny story, and she would laugh and be easy around me again. "We'll figure it out. And your parents won't know." "Promise?" "Yeah, I promise. And I'm sorry this happened to you. You have been there for the band at every single jam session and every sin gle gig we played, and you did not deserve this." "It's no big deal, Edward." "I t is to me." I was uneasy, though, still confused, knowing I was ignoring someth ing. A specific color of mahogany caught my eye, and I looked up to see Bella on her way to Biology. Her back was stiff and she looked away quickly, her face wh ite. Tyler Crowley crashed into us, and I disentangled myself while he picked up Lauren's books. I didn't catch up to Bella until we were both at the desk. I pu lled her chair out for her, and she sat warily, looking at me from the corner of her eyes. Her face was wooden. I tried to come up with the right thing to say t o make her laugh, to look at me with the challenge and fire in her eyes that kep t me awake at night, but she looked away. I sat down, feeling foolish, and then Mr. Banner turned the lights out. The world ceased to exist except for Bella and me in the dark. The dark room magnified the strange tension between us, and I k new she was as aware of me as I was of her. The television cast blue shadows ove r her face, and her eyes were wide, lashes impossibly long. She looked fragile, somehow, like she could shatter into tears, and I wanted to hold her and make he r strong again, firestorm and sassy laughter, and kiss the back of her neck and feel her hands in my hair, reaching back to pull me closer. I shook off the vivi d thought in my head, wondering where it came from, and failed in my attempt to pay attention to the movie.

She was looking at me, a quick glance, but then frozen when her eyes clashed wit h mine, and her lips parted. The heat rolled off her body in waves, like a mirag e. I frowned, an odd feeling of déjà vu pulling at me, and her eyes skittered away. She reached up to the ribbon in her hair, and I realized she was going to pull h er hair down, to make a curtain to hide behind. "Don't," I whispered. She lowere d her hands to the table, and blushed, but she was smiling, and it was real, and my heart began to pound. I found it hard to breathe, and I could measure the sp ace between our bodies with a hand span, and I reached up to smooth the hair tha t was standing on end on the back of my neck, and set my hand down on the table, an inch from hers. I was as keyed up as the night of the dart game, feeling lik e a ridiculous schoolboy, hoping this girl would want to hold my hand. She moved then, the back of her hand, to touch mine, her delicate wrist aligned with my b roader one. The electricity was so hot I felt like we were glowing with radiatio n, us alone, in the dark. "Bella," I whispered. Her pupils dilated to onyx in th e shadows, and a shiver ran through her body, jolting into mine through the cont act between the backs of our hands. It struck me, lightning hard, that this was not the first time I'd whispered that name in a room filled with shadows and thi s girl. It had been real, not a dream. The bell rang, ending class, echoing the epiphany sounding in my head. The teacher flicked the lights on, and Bella stood . She shot me a desperate look, stumbling over her feet a little, and hurried aw ay. I sat at the desk, trying to get my brain to function. I'd had sex with Bell a. My bed smelled of her because she'd been there. I was still missing something , something important. I staggered into the bathroom and splashed water on my fa ce, trying not to think, trying not to hope. "Hey, Cullen, check this out." Jame s walked in, ass ugly face grinning at me. I welcomed the distraction. He pulled out a minidisc player and hit a button. A broken beat, maybe someone tapping th eir foot on an upright piano echoed through the men's room, and James's rough st yle of rhythm guitar cut in with a choppy hook, and then I stopped breathing. "I got a chrome plated heart, wings on these fingers trying to tear it apart«"

And her voice was all grindy and sarcastic, rough with bravado, trying to be muc h older and failing sweetly, a broken hearted girl trying to convince us that sh e didn't care, that nothing could hurt her. "I've got angels crying from up abov e«" And it was the same voice that asked me if I'd enjoyed it, and I felt punched in the gut, because she'd been asking me if I'd enjoyed her, and I hardly rememb ered any of it at all. James clicked off the mini player and I must have lunged for it because he said, "Nah, dude, this is going to the festival; the kid's a f ucking gold mine, man. She's gonna make me a million dollars. This was the first take, can you believe that shit?" I nodded, stupidly, my heart cracking. "I'm k ind of sorry I didn't stop her from going to your room the other night," he said , grinning his big reptile smile, "if she's half as good in bed as she sings, sh e's gotta be a fucking firecracker. Am I right?" My hands were balled into fists , but he'd backed out the door before my brain could tell my hands to smash his face. I inhaled, trying to calm my stomach, but it rebelled and I punched open t he door of the stall, gagging, and heaved my lunch into the commode. "Bro, we're gonna be late, whoa, okay." Emmett left as fast as he came, pussy-assed sympath etic puker. I retched again, and then my empty stomach settled in place. I knew I shouldn't have listened to Alice. I washed my mouth out and opened the bathroo m door. Emmett walked in, Jasper behind him. "You alright?" Jazz asked. "No. I h ad part of a drink that was dosed with a rufie that was meant for Bella. My stom ach hasn't been right since." "Why would anyone want to drug Bella?" Em asked. " And who?" asked Jasper "I don't know. Shut up. Listen. Tell me what happened Sat urday night, after Lauren took me up the stairs." "I didn't see you leave, man," said Emmett. "Bella had me get Crowley out for some air, 'cause he looked like he was gonna toss his cookies. She looked really pissed off. When I came back in she was gone and Alice and Rose were doing some kind of high five dance."

Jasper stared at me. "Dude." "What?" "I didn't ever want to tell you this." "Wha t!" "I walked in on Bella in the bathtub drinking champagne with Alice." "When?" "That night." "Why the hell would she take a « Oh, fuck." The blood was Bella's. I'd hurt her and made her bleed and I didn't even know it. She was a virgin and she didn't tell me and I'd hurt her, and why did she pick me to hurt her, and sh e'd picked me. Me. "You mean you took her V-card and didn't even know it?" chast ised Emmett. "That's not your style, Bro." "I don't remember what happened!" I s creamed, "I woke up with Lauren, so I thought-" I started to giggle hysterically . "I told Bella that I had to go get tested." "That's cold!" said my big brother . "Nah, she's fine." I laughed. "She fucking blackmailed Lauren, and then asked me if I'd had a good time, can you believe that?" "Edward," said Jasper, "she's been trying not to cry all day." I stared at him, my words from yesterday tumbli ng in my brain. I slept with the wrong girl, Bella. I didn't mean for it to happ en. I turned to the door. "Stop him," murmured Jasper, and suddenly I was sittin g on the floor against the wall, with Emmett's hand heavy on my shoulder. "Ow. W hat the fuck?" I shrugged him off. I had to talk to her. "You need to clear your head before you even look at that girl," my step-brother said. "You're a mess."

I nodded. He was right, of course. I followed Emmett to Spanish class, and spent the hour torturing myself with the conversation I'd had with Bella on Sunday. I 'd hurt her and made her bleed and then told her it was a one night stand. No wo nder she'd sung with James. When class was over, I fled to my car, driving the o pposite way from home. Bella: I sat in my room, contemplating the nail scissors, wanting to destroy something. I was heartbroken with Edward and this emotional turbulence that followed in his wake; one second he was holding Lauren in his ar ms and the next we were on fire together, burning in the dark. I didn't want to be the girl on the side, the plain girl that he hid with in the shadows. My hair was still in its ponytail, brown ribbon holding it up. I gripped it in my left fist, wishing I could grab the hair of the perfect blond girl that seemed to alw ays have her arms around Edward's waist, and jerk her to the ground so hard her scalp bled. I wanted to go back to Phoenix, where it was safe. I felt like I was n't myself anymore; I was in an ocean swimming with sharks, playing a game for m y heart and my soul, and no-one had taught me the rules. I had no control over m y own psyche and it just hurt too much. My fingers found the holes in the scisso rs, andThe doorbell rang. Jasper and Alice stood on the front porch. Alice had b een crying, a Goth fairy with smudged eye make up, but she was smiling, now. "We really need to talk to you; can you come for a ride?" Chapter 16: Lost Angeles Edward: I drove toward Port Angeles, taking the scenic route along the water, pushing the speed, finding ease in the control of the car . I played no music in the stereo; no distractions, just the purr of the engine and my thoughts, lurching with every curve in the road. Twice I nearly turned ar ound and went back to find Bella, to ask if she had enjoyed it, to beg her forgi veness, to ask her what the hell had happened, but every way I formed the words in my head, I sounded like a pathetic asshole. Jasper was right; I needed to get my brain in order before I tried to talk to her.

I wanted to ask Ordinary_Girl what to do, but the whole situation was too compli cated to put into coherent thought, much less words. I pulled up to Aro's. The p arking lot was mostly empty; happy hour didn't really kick in until later, and t he place had only a few patrons so far: a few frat boys from Peninsula College c lustered at the bar, and a couple of tables of early diners. I caught Felix's ey e behind the long glossy bar top, and he waved as I passed on my way to the back room. Dad had done some miraculous emergency surgical procedure on Aro's daught er Jane, and the two men had struck up a friendship. The nightclub owner invited dad for lunch; Dad brought me back the next day, and his new friend showed off the secret treasure of Port Angeles. In the back of Aro's restaurant was a 97 ke y Bösendorfer Imperial grand piano, and I was allowed to play anytime during dayti me hours that I wanted. Today I wanted. I needed to immerse myself in something I was confident in, something I could do well, to get my head on straight before I chased down Bella and spilled my guts like an idiot. I sat on the bench, but it felt wrong, and not letting myself think why, I moved it so it was perpendicu lar to the piano. My hands strayed on their own accord, keying in the opening no tes to the Cure tune worming through my brain, but moved quickly into a Bach pie ce with the same rhythm and key, avoiding the emo song. I played Walking in Memp his, singing softly to myself as I played, one of my favorites, letting the fami liar song remind me of who was. The happy hour crowd began to filter in, and I p layed some Elton John, because they would know it. My fingers flicked back to th e song eating at me, wanting the melody, but I didn't want to think the words an d I fought it off again, digging into Rhapsody in Blue, but that was a piece bet ter done with two pianos or four hands, so I was butchering it pretty badly; the back of my neck prickled, and I rubbed it and gave up on the Gershwin. I tried to play a song by The Fray that Breaking Dawn covered, but it didn't have much l ife solo. I squirmed on the bench as my spine tingled; nothing was working. I cu rsed Robert Smith for being a moody freak; at least my hair was less fucked up t han his, but the damned song was eating me alive, and I needed to play it. I ope ned the first line, and then Bella slammed through my awareness. My fingers kept moving though my brain stopped. She was here. I felt the counterweight of her b ody on the piano bench, and smelled her, berries and cotton and girl, and I pani cked, because I was about to sing Love Song, and it was too much, and even thoug h I felt it I was afraid to tell her aloud and have her disappear but then she p ut her hand flat between my shoulder blades and sang: Whenever I'm alone with yo u, you make me feel like I am home again« And the breath I'd taken to sing left my chest in a soundless rush of relief, as she took the words from me, and my fing ers were flying like she was telling them where to go.

Her voice was bitter and angry, resenting the words, and I felt it too, the frus tration and confusion of feeling this much, and I gave it back to her on the key s, hard and discordant one phrase and tender and sweet the next, and she underst ood, and when I played the intro to the refrain she slid close behind me and wra pped her arms low around my middle, her thighs around my hips. The sense of déjà vu hit me again. We'd sat like this, somehow, before, and my body remembered it, bu t I relaxed, because I knew what it meant now, and it was confusing but also int riguing and arousing. I was suddenly nervous of the next words, and if she would sing them, and what this all meant, and then decided it was just a song, with a good melody, and it didn't matter. However far away, I will always love you, ho wever long I stay I will always love you« Her voice was soft and whispery, so I fo llowed her, light on accompaniment, letting her lead, letting the words slide do wn my spine, and my heart was beating as hard as it did when I ran, because this was the most intense thing I'd ever felt. I was playing for her, and she was si nging for me, and it was Bella and so beautiful it was surreal. She followed me on the second verse, matching timbre and tone to the piano, voice sliding betwee n my fingers on the notes, silk and air and pain, just gorgeous. She pressed her body into mine, and I could feel the light resonance through me, twisting the a ching words around my heart. I closed my eyes against the ending refrain, not wa nting it to end, and neither did she; she pressed into me, taking another breath , and so I repeated the last chorus, and followed her as she took it, drawing it out, making it last a little longer, and I echoed the final chord, feeling her gasping behind me. There was a smattering of applause, and Bella tensed. I grabb ed her hands, stood, and pulled her to her feet and into my arms. I tugged the d amned ribbon out of her hair, and I felt her laugh and shake her head. Her hair tumbled everywhere, soft on my neck, and just for a second I closed my eyes and let the sweetness of her wash over me. "I love that song," she whispered, and th at was enough for right now. "You're incredible." I kissed the top of her head. "Let's get out of here." She nodded, but didn't move. "Edward?" she asked, her v oice muffled in her hair, "How many people are in here?" "Maybe about twenty," I said, grinning, "More than Biology class." She bounced a little, and I laughed, enjoying her confidence. I took her hand and led her outside; Felix gave me a t humbs up as we passed. There were a few people in the lot, and I stopped against the side of the club.

"Did Alice bring you?" She nodded, and tried to pull her hand away. I didn't let her. "She and Jasper are having dinner up the street if you need to be alone, I can get a ride back with them." "Did he talk to you?" I watched her look at her shoes, and tried to find words to make everything right between us, tempted to drag her back inside so we could just make music and the world wouldn't matter. She nodded again. "You didn't need to get tested," she said in a small voice. "I was just so surprised yesterday that I couldn't tell you." I would have felt be tter if she'd cut my heart out and handed it to me. "Bella, will you look at me? Please?" We were interrupted by a wolf whistle and a lewd catcall. "Hey, boy." The biggest of the fraternity boys from the bar leered at us. "You gonna share s ome of that?" He hocked and spat on the ground, marking turf. I shoved Bella beh ind me, and faced the men. There were four of them. Two were smaller than me, on e was my size and obviously inebriated, but the thick one was the oldest and the most intimidating. They formed a loose semi-circle around us, and we were trapp ed against the brick wall. "Stay away from us," said Bella. "Don't be like that, sugar," slurred the youngest one. He was also the drunkest, and the least threa tening, physically. I could fight reasonably well, Jasper and Emmett had seen to that. I was light but I was fast, and being sober while they'd been drinking wa s a definite advantage, but there was no way I could take on four. I was terrifi ed for the tiny girl behind me; once they took me down, she would be their prey to abuse. Moving slowly, I reached into my jacket pocket and pressed the electro nic key to the Volvo. It chirped in the back of the lot. "Get in the car," I tol d her. The biggest one stepped in front of me, blatantly squaring off. He was tw ice my weight, and his neck was as thick as Bella's waist. He was also rocking, a little unsteady on his feet. I hoped he wasn't too drunk to feel pain; I could perhaps cause enough chaos and distraction that she could get to the car and lo ck herself in. The smallest of the four pawed at Bella's shirt, but before I cou ld react, she grabbed his hand in both of hers in a lightning fast move. There w as a disgusting pulpy popping noise, and the man

screamed, reeling backwards. He held up his hand, shaking it in pain, and his di slocated thumb flapped unnaturally. The heavy guy gaped at his shrieking friend, but then recovered and closed the distance between us. I was caught, unable to dodge without leaving Bella unprotected, and took a rough hit to my stomach. Bel la cried out my name and jumped away from us. I jabbed him in the sternum and th rew an uppercut into his jaw while he was still off balance. He fell back, but s hook it off and charged me. I sidestepped, and drove my elbow into his back, hop ing for kidneys, a dirty move, but fuck, he was huge. The skinny boy grabbed at my jacket, pulling me off his friend. I spun him around and shoved him onto the big guy on the ground. I was wired, fists tight and body loose. There was a grun t next to me, and out of the corner of my eye I could see the drunkest one hunch ed over his crotch, and then Bella planted her little fist square in his eye. He curled up into a fetal ball on the ground, a wise move. She was awesome, hellca t and she-devil, all 100 pounds of her, and she was bouncing, shaking her hand i n pain but laughing. She'd taken out two of them. The skinny one got up and I bo unced backwards, drawing him to me, and then slammed him into the wall. The othe r guy was getting up now, but he was focused on me, not Bella. He lowered his he ad, panting, and swung at me, but I twisted and danced backwards, out of reach. I stepped close, popping him in the mouth, but didn't have much force behind it, and he landed a glancing blow to my shoulder. It hurt, but not bad enough to sl ow my next swing to the side of his jaw, sharp and fast enough to make his head rock. He sat down hard. I turned to Bella, but the skinny kid tapped me on the m outh before I could jerk my head away. I drove my knuckles into his teeth with e verything I had, a guttural noise ripping from my chest with the blow, and he we nt down with a spray of blood. One to go. He was twice my size, though, and I wa sn't sure I could take him. He knew it, too, rising to his feet. He sneered at m e, and I cocked my fists, waiting. We both knew I couldn't back off, not with th e girl standing right there; no chance I was going to run with my tail between m y legs. "Don't hurt your hands," she yelled out, and I winced at the gloating lo ok in the big guy's eyes, but then she said, "they do nice things to me," and th e psychological upper hand shifted back to me full force, giving me every openin g, every obligation to walk away, because what guy would stay and fight when his girl says something hot like that? I smirked at him, and he made one least desp erate lunge that I dodged easily. I clipped his jaw in passing, but then I grabb ed Bella's hand and we raced to the car. Bella: I sat in the car, panting, high on the adrenaline rush, and stared at Edward. His hair was wild, damp with sweat , and his lips were swollen from where he'd taken a hit. I reached out to wipe a

drop of blood from his mouth, and he grabbed my wrist and pulled the palm of my hand to his face, and when I cupped his cheek in my palm, he groaned, and scrape d his teeth over the soft flesh at the base of my thumb. I gasped and he pushed me away, back into my seat and grasped at my seatbelt. I batted at his hands and he strapped his own and drove off with a squeal. I wanted him so badly I could hardly breathe. Watching him fight, lean and quick with heavy fists, and the way growled, like a fucking panther, was one of the most erotic things I'd ever exp erienced. That on top of singing with him left me wild; I could barely catch my breath. "Are you okay?" I choked out. His arm muscles were bunched hard, and he was gripping the steering wheel so tightly his knuckles were white. One was scra ped, oozing and swollen. "No! What the hell were you thinking? Why didn't you ru n?" His voice was too loud in the confines of the little car, and his eyes were fierce as he glared at me. "I fall down when I run," I said, laughing, too jacke d up to let his anger get to me. He grinned then. "You're cool as hell, you know that? Who taught you to fight?" A thrill shot through me at his casual praise. "Charlie." "How's your hand?" "It hurts. I don't care. I needed to hit something ," I said, working my hand so it wouldn't get stiff. He inhaled, and laughed, "Y eah, me too." "How's yours?" He flexed his fingers. "It'll be fine," he said, gl ancing at me with an odd smile. "Did I really do nice things to you?" "Yes," I w hispered, trying not to think about his hands on me while he was deep inside. It was a one time thing. The rush from the fight faded as I remembered all the thi ngs I needed to say to him. His smile waned and he ran his hand through his hair . "Good," he said, gripping the wheel again. We drove in silence. He had taken t he long way towards home, a route that ran along the water before it turned sout h. When we passed a sign for the little town of Twin, I remembered Alice. "You s hould call your sister," I said. "She's really upset." "Why?"

"She thinks this is all her fault; I tried to tell her that it was mine, but she keeps blaming herself." "What is your fault?" "That I date raped you." I was am azed at how flat and steady my voice sounded. "If I had known you'd been drugged , I'd never have-" "What?" He started to laugh, a dry bitter sound that ripped m e to shreds. "You think I didn't want to?" "You told me you didn't, and I ignore d that, and it was six kinds of wrong and I don't know how to tell you how sorry I am." I swallowed against the lump in my throat, and tried to continue. "What the hell are you talking about?" He was furious. "You told me that you would nev er touch me, and I guess it just seemed like things changed, so I thought-" He g lared at me. "When did I ever say that I would never touch you?" "On the couch. When I woke up." My face flamed hot in embarrassment, and I ground my teeth. I'd lain under him, he'd had his hands between my legs, and I didn't even know how to talk to him without turning red. "Jesus, Bella! I only meant that I didn't to uch you while you were sleeping! I would never take advantage of you like«" he sto pped short. "Fuck." "Yeah, exactly. Like on the beach when you stopped kissing m e because I was drunk." "That was different!" "How? Because I'm a girl? I don't like double standards, Edward!" He drove, and I was silent. "Why did you pick me ?" he whispered. "I thought you wanted me." "Half of Forks Fucking High wants yo u!" "I'm sorry!" "You're sorry! Bella, I hurt you."

"Someone had to, right?" He exhaled, almost hissing. "Who else should it have be en? Mike? Eric Yorkie? James?" I asked, pathetic and small. "Shut up!" he yelled , hitting the brakes and pulling over to the side of the road. He wrenched his d oor open and got out, and slammed it behind him. I unbuckled and reached for the door, but he was there already, grabbing my arm and hauling me out of the car. I tried to find my feet, but he had my shoulders in his hands and was pushing me off balance. "Mike Newton is pond slime, and if he touches you, I'll kill him." His face was red and savage. "Yorkie is gay, and do NOT talk about James right now." I reached for his arms with my hands to steady myself, but he shook me. "W hy me?" he repeated, something desperate haunting his face and voice. "I wanted you," I whispered, looking away, embarrassed at the tears welling up in my eyes. "Do you still?" His voice was low and rough, but he'd stopped shaking me. "Yes, " I whispered. Do not cry. I looked over at the water, trying not to blink, hopi ng my traitorous eyes would dry up. He let go with one hand and shoved it into m y hair, forcing my head up to look at him, and the tears spilled over, but then his mouth was on me, hard, forcing my lips open, and when I moaned his tongue fo und mine, tasting the salt tears. I lost my footing completely, but he held me, crushing me to his chest, kissing me until we were both gasping for air. I wrapp ed my arms around him, hands at the back of his neck, fingers in his hair, pulli ng him to me, trying to be gentle on his bruised mouth, but he was pressing back , pushing me against the car, hard against my belly, and I was grinding, dizzy w ith the wanting. A logging truck roared by, blaring the horn at our public displ ay on the side of the road. We both jumped, and broke apart. Edward groaned, but he was laughing too, and the tight tension between us had been replaced by some thing lighter, crazier, and lovely. He touched his forehead to mine, and his fea tures blurred into a watercolor of skin tones and green eyes. "Will you help me remember?" he asked. My heart was pounding. "You want me to tell you?" I squeake d. I could probably write it down in broken verse, but to say it aloud? I blushe d at the thought. He laughed, his low chuckle a cascade of velvet, and said, "I want you to show me."

A wave of desire crashed over me, pooling between my legs, and when I opened my eyes, Edward's were staring back, so dark they were almost black. The cocky half smile was there, hot and wild, and he was breathing hard. "Okay," I whispered. Chapter 17: Balancing Act Edward: "Okay," she'd whispered, her face pink, adorab le and hot. I tried to catch my breath, my heart doing crazy things in my chest. I could still taste her, sweet peppermint and salt tears, and I licked my mouth where it had been split, testing the swelling, and Bella stared. Her lips were parted and her eyes were still on my mouth, and it hurt a little to smile, but I couldn't help it, because if she kept looking at me like that I was going to th row her on the hood of my car with that damned flippy skirt above her waist. She 'd said yes. I asked a girl for something, and she said yes. I'd never even been on a date before; Bella's birthday had been the closest I'd ever been to going out with a girl, and I'd just asked for sex, and she said yes. I knew I was doin g this all backwards; you're supposed to go for ice cream and a movie and after the third time and meeting her parents you hope she'll let you in her underwear. I'd never had to do that; the girls were always there, no dinner or flowers nec essary; I rarely even had to undo my own pants. And the first time I think I mig ht want to do it right, I've messed up the one thing I do know how to do properl y. But I hadn't lost her yet, and now maybe I could fix what I'd screwed up, and I'd figure out how to keep her later. She reached her hand up to my face and pl aced the pad of her thumb on my puffy lip and gently tugged it from my mouth, an d without thinking, I licked it, the same way she'd done me, twice before. She g asped and pulled away, and I grinned, pleased to be turning the tables, showing her how it felt. Her phone chimed with a text, and after a second, mine buzzed t oo. "That would be Alice," she said. "And Jasper," I replied. "What should I tel l her?" "Tell her to take her time coming home," I said, reveling in the blush t hat crept up her face.

She pulled her phone from her pocket, and I checked mine. Jazz had messaged: Em ckd for blue curacao, none at bar or in trash. I pondered this, watching Bella s mile at her conversation with Alice. We didn't stock Curacao; I'd tended bar for enough of Esme's parties to know what we kept on hand. Someone had brought the blue alcohol, with the intent to disguise the blue dye of the drug, and taken it with them when they left. Someone had planned this; but why? I typed back: Than ks for bringing her. "Is Alice okay?" I asked Bella, even though I knew she was fine. Bella nodded, and her face was so red I'd bet the keys to the Volvo that A lice had messaged her something filthy. My phone buzzed with Jasper's tone again : Make me proud, Brother. I kissed her then, quick on the lips and then opened h er door before I lost my mind again. We drove on to Forks, and it was hard to ke ep from speeding, because her silence was killing me. I tried to think of someth ing to say to break the tension. "I'm a bit jealous that Jasper remembers seeing you naked, and I don't," I teased, hoping to make her smile, and she laughed a little, but then stopped short. "Well, you wouldn't. Remember that, I mean." I s tared at the road, irritated. "I didn't even get you out of your clothes?" "It k ind of happened too fast to worry about clothes." I ran my hand through my hair, feeling embarrassed. I was no better than Ordinary_Girl's pretty boy, taking a virgin without any finesse at all. I sighed, and drove. Outside of Forks I stopp ed at a convenience mart and bought one of those little half pints of ice cream with the flat wooden spoon attached to the lid. I pressed it into her swollen ha nd, and she smiled with relief, and held it against her scraped knuckles. "We've proper ice packs at home," I said inanely.

"I'm fine," she said, and then to prove it, opened the container and dug into th e strawberry ice cream with the spoon. She held a bite out for me, and I took it , even though it wasn't my flavor, because I couldn't say no to her, and it did feel good on my sore lip. She was only halfway through the little cardboard cart on by the time we got home, and I took it from her and dropped it in the sink as we passed through the kitchen. The place was empty; Dad was at work and Esme st ill in Seattle, and I made a mental note to thank Alice and Jasper for getting R ose and Emmett out of the house. I was rushing her, my hands on her hips pushing her ahead of me toward my bedroom, and we were both laughing, but she ducked aw ay into the hallway bathroom, and I went on to wait for her. I was nervous, boun cing in my skin; not about the sex, because I'm good at that part, but about aft er and how to say everything I wanted without scaring her off, and cursing the t iming because she would need to get back to Charlie's soon, but I wasn't going t o let this chance to fix things slip away. At least I'd bought her ice cream. Sh e came in, closed the door and leaned back against it. I walked over to her, but she shook her head and looked at her toes. I stopped, waiting. "Do you remember taking my socks off?" she asked. "Yeah," I said, "and I would have done it this time if you'd have let me." "Well, I wasn't wearing a bra then, either, or« so I« u m." Her nipples stood out clearly under the thin t-shirt she was wearing, and I swallowed as my mouth grew wet, wanting to taste them. "I remember," I said. She blushed again, and I wished I could fix some of the awkwardness of the situatio n, but it was also erotic as hell and kind of precious at the same time. "Bella, you don't have to do this," I said, touching her cheek. "I want to," she whispe red, smiling at the floor, "it was just a lot easier last time." "Well, you'd ha d a little of the stuff too. Dad says even small doses can make a person uninhib ited." "Me?" "It was in the Blue Moon shot that we poured in the sink." I watche d her face, wishing I could read her thoughts, and annoyed at myself for bringin g this up now.

"I remember asking Angela what was in it, and she said she had no idea. We thoug ht the names of the drinks were fun." She stared at me. "Why would anyone want t o drug me?" I stared back at her. The girl really had no idea how sexy she was. "Lauren got the worst of it, I think. She spent most of the night passed out on the carpet in the bathroom." "That explains the light from under the door," she said, the calm mask sliding over her features. I hated it, feeling like a bastar d for mentioning the other girl. "No one is here now. Just us," I said. She nodd ed, and took a deep breath, and the tentative smile was back. "There was music, and it was dark," she said. She turned out the lights, but the evening still cas t some light through the windows, and I was glad that I could see her face. "Whi ch song?" I asked. She looked at me, waiting, but I shook my head, recalling not hing. She went to the stereo doc with my old ipod and looked at it, then started flicking through the songs on my "Moody Bastards" playlist, but when she got to "Nothin'" I stopped her, and she smiled. "It was loud," she said, but didn't tu rn it up. "You were on the bed." I sat down cross legged on the middle of the bl anket, with my elbows on my knees, waiting, wondering how far she would take it, hoping she would let me have her again, dying to know how it felt to be inside her, and if the flicker of remembered feeling was real or just in my head. She s miled at me, and nodded. "Exactly like that." She walked over to the bed and sat down behind me, wrapping her bare legs around my jeans and her arms around my t orso. "I remember this, sort of," I said, voice pitched low so she could hear me under the music. "Earlier, at Aro's, we sat like this, and I knew we'd been lik e this before." I felt her nod. Her hands started to move, then, slow circles wi th palms flat against my chest. Her right hand was cooler than the left, from ho lding the ice cream, and it was fascinating. I leaned back into her, feeling the music, and slid my hands down the outside of her legs, and back up again, an in stinctual move, but she nodded again. Her skin was beyond smooth and unbearably soft, and I marveled again at the electricity that pulsed through us when we tou ched skin to skin. Then her hands were under my shirt, fingertips trailing over skin that felt like it had never been touched before, waiting dormant for her, a nd I shivered. She found my nipples and they hardened to stones, and she pressed into my back, and I laughed a little, overwhelmed by how good this felt, trying to hold still as she drew little circles just above the waistband of my jeans.

The music changed, and I couldn't take it anymore, and strained towards her hand s. I felt her laughter against my back, and her palms pressed eagerly against my swollen cock, and I undid the buttons and her little hands were shoving my boxe rs out of the way and cupping me, and it was fabulous. I watched her fingers sli p over the surface, feather-light and heavenly, exploring, sliding the tender sk in over my rigid shaft. I looked huge in her little hands, but I'd never been so hard in life; my cock was just drooling to get inside her, pre-come leaking eve rywhere, and then her fingertips found it and rubbed it into the tip, and I wasn 't sure what was supposed to happen next, but if I didn't move her hands away I was going to explode in her palms. I grabbed her wrists and spun around, and twi sted her into my chest so that we were reversed, and whispered in her ear, "What was next?" I was panting, fired up and unable to believe that this was real, no t a dream. "This," she said, and took my hands and slid them under her shirt, an d I felt stupid for asking, because there was nothing else more important than f inally getting my hands on her skin and she felt amazing, soft skin and firm rip e flesh that fit my hands perfectly. I traced their shape with my fingers and sq ueezed them, avoiding her nipples until she was straining against my thumbs, and when I finally worked them in tight little circles did she made a wanting mewli ng sound that fried my brain, and she started to squirm. My face was buried in h er hair and the delicate skin of her neck, and she'd reached up to my hair, pull ing me closer, or harder, or both, and she was wiggling, bouncing in my hands an d her ass shoving into my groin, and I was losing control. I couldn't wait for h er to show me what to do anymore, I just reacted to her excitement and reached u nder her skirt, and nearly came when my hands found not the cotton barrier I was expecting, but skin and silky fur and wet hot girl. We were both grinding to th e music, and my fingers were in her, playing in the folds, and she was drenched and I made stiff circles with my fingers up high in time to her hips, and she wa s crying out, and this was going too fast, but she was close, I could tell by th e arch of her spine, and the noises she made. "Bella," I whispered, not knowing what I was supposed to do, wanting to encourage her, wanting her to wait for me, wanting to be inside. She twisted then, pulling at me, and we were both frantic with it, and I was pushing her down on the bed, shoving my jeans out of the way , and her legs were around me, and I was fitting my cock to her, wetting the sha ft with our own liquid and then I was in, and she hissed, but bucked her hips to me, drawing me deep. She was soaking wet, and the slide of her tight soft flesh against my naked skin was nothing I'd ever felt before, hot and slick and wild, pulling at me. I raised up, and slid a hand between us, finding her with my thu mb and I pressed, and she rocked beneath me, her hips telling me what rhythm she needed, and her fists were in my hair, and she was writhing underneath me, so c lose, crying my name, and then she came, pressing up to me while I pressed in, h er little muscles squeezing down the length of me, and she was gorgeous. Her eye s were closed, and she was gasping, moaning my name, hair a mess everywhere, and she

was mine, coming for me, and I started to move. I couldn't hold up any more, col lapsing onto my elbows, riding her contractions, pulling back to thrust deep and lose myself in her, and I grabbed at the neck of her shirt to press my lips int o the skin at her shoulder, and saw the bruise. I froze. Shock and shame cooled my frantic movements, and I waited for her to calm before pulling away, trying t o ignore how marvelous she felt under and around me as the guilt wrapped its tig ht bands around my chest. I'd made those marks; I remembered doing it. "Edward?" she asked, confused. Bella: "Stop," he said, "Not like this. Not you." His eyes were wide, and his jaw was hard. I went still, not understanding, ice sliding d own my spine, warring with skin and muscle still humming with pleasure. "What do you mean?" I whispered, wondering what I'd done wrong. "You said I should show you what happened." He sat up, and I did too, pulling my skirt down, embarrassed . He caught my wrists in his hand, and held me still. He pulled my shirt off my shoulder, and ran a light fingertip over the marks he'd left on my shoulder the night before last, two distinct semi-circles from his teeth, purple and green un der the skin. "I remember enough, Bella." His voice was thick. "and this is not what should have happened." "What should have happened?" I asked, feeling awkwar d and inexperienced and foolish. "This." He kissed me, a soft quick touch on my mouth, and pulled away an inch, breath sweet and warm on my face. He stayed ther e, waiting, and I tentatively kissed him back, feeling ridiculous; I'd had sex w ith this man twice and I didn't have any idea how to even kiss him, but then may be I did, because when I sucked a little on his upper lip his breathing hitched and I could feel him smile. I was smiling, too, and laughing a little, as the ab surdness of the day crashed over me, but then his hands were in my hair, cradlin g my head, bending me to his mouth and he tasted me and pulled away, waiting for me to follow. I slid my hands up to his neck and wound my fingers into his hair , pulling him to me, finding my way in his mouth, still a little shy until he ge ntly sucked me in, and then I was wild, pushing at him with teeth and lips and b reath and tongue until he pulled away, panting. "And this," he said, moving his lips across my face, whispering kisses along my jaw, the edge of my ear and down my neck, as far as my shirt would allow, and then we both moved to get it off m e, and I tumbled free, and he pulled away to look at me.

He held his breath, staring, and then blinked and looked away, and I twisted my shirt in my hands, stupidly self conscious. I'd never been topless in front of a boy, except for Jasper in the tub, and that didn't count. This was different, m y skin responding as if his gaze was touching me, as his eyes flicked to mine an d back to my chest. His mouth moved, and my swollen nipples contracted and I wis hed he would say something or do something, but he just looked at me. I started to pull my shirt up to cover myself in embarrassment, but he shook his head and tore the shirt from my hands and threw it across the room. He placed his palm on the center of my chest, and pushed with the heel of his hand, the other support ing my neck, and laid me backward on the bed, like I was some fragile thing, and then continued the breathy kisses from my collarbones and lower, spiraling, tra cing topographical lines across my skin, one hand mimicking his tongue on the ot her side. Every inch of my body was on fire. My hips were rocking, and I was des perate to have that teasing mouth on my"And this," he whispered, wet lips captur ing a tip and squeezing, and I made a noise that didn't sound like me at all, as his tongue started a sucking rhythm that my body was writhing to, and I wondere d if it was possible to climax from just this. Then his mouth was on the other, pulling, tongue working warm magic and his fingers were rolling the abandoned ni pple in tandem, and I thought maybe I could and would come, but he pulled away w ith a low laugh at my whimper of disappointment, and blew across my breasts, sho cking cool air on wet skin, shivery and delicious. He pressed kisses on my belly , nipping lightly with his teeth, and undid the zipper of my skirt and pulled it down my legs, and I felt too exposed to be naked when he wasn't, so I tugged at his shirt and he jerked it off over his head, and I wished there was more light to look at him because he was beautiful, lean hard muscle and pale skin with fa int swirls of hair, flat little nipples so different from my own. I wanted to to uch him, but he knelt between my legs and kissed my knee, and higher, and higher , lips and tongue on my thighs, and then he breathed hot air across the wet fles h he'd been inside, and I raised up, but he pressed me down again. "I should hav e done this." And his mouth was on me, warm and electric, and I cried out, and h e laughed, and I felt it through him, a vibration that made me clench deep, empt y and wanting, and it was too much, too crazy, but then his tongue was suddenly soft, soothing and wet, and his lips moved higher and found all my secrets, suck ing on the bud of nerves until I couldn't take it and grabbed his hair and pulle d him off me and up, wanting him inside, needing to be filled again. He was grin ning, fighting to get his jeans off, and I helped, or maybe hindered, but he sto od at the edge of the bed and kicked his pants off and was finally naked, and Ed ward was naked. I'd never seen a man naked. Not like that.

He had really nice legs, hard and defined, with light curls that faded to smooth skin over his thighs, joining together in an inverted triangle of hip bones and taut belly and muscle and interesting skin, andI blinked, wondering how on eart h that he'd managed to fit that inside me. He laughed softly and did that thing with his thumb on my mouth so I stopped biting my lip even though I didn't even know that I was, and I sucked the tip of his thumb instead, and he groaned and p ushed me back down on the bed. "And I should have done this," he whispered, lowe ring so our bodies touched full length, and the shocking electricity flowed betw een us through every inch of skin, and I rubbed my breasts against his chest, cr aving more, the friction maddening against the sensitive surfaces. He pulled awa y, balancing on an elbow, and I protested, but his hands were between us both, p laying in my wet, coating himself with me and I wanted to do that, to touch him, but then he was on me and in me, filling me again. His hand was still between u s, playing where we were joined, and he found the little nub with his thumb, mak ing tiny fast movements that took the soreness away. When I wrapped my legs arou nd his, he started to move, slow short strokes that opened and teased me and mad e me want more. I rose to meet him, matching his pace with my own hips. His eyes were on my face, watching me, and I was lost, his alone, nameless and with no i dentity but my need for him. "And this," he growled, voice urgent and primal. Hi s lips crushed mine, and we were a closed circuit, one complete thing, and he mo ved faster, pushing the rhythm to the current snapping between us. I held on, so bbing with it, grinding beneath him, body begging him for more, my hands in his hair, on his back, desperate, and he gave it to me, thrusting deeper, growing im possibly big inside me, and I was close, and I said his name into his mouth, and then I crested over, but he was coming with me, and he gave my name back to me and drove deep, pulsing hard while I contracted around him. Pleasure rocked thro ugh my entire body from toes to fingertips, wave after wave, and I rode it while he filled me, wet and hot. He collapsed on me, heavy and sweaty, and kissed my cheek. I laughed, trying to catch my breath, euphoric and alive, even though my body had turned boneless and soft. "That's what should have happened," he mumble d into my neck, and I could tell that he was smiling. He rolled off, and found h is shirt and cleaned me up. "That's sensitive!" I squeaked, and batted his hands away. I was a bit sore, too. He laughed, and pulled me down to the bed, playing with my hair.

My heart was doing strange things in my chest, and I tried to not want this fore ver, this sexy satisfaction and easy harmony, and maybe it was just a redo of a one night stand, but it didn't matter right now. I was lying in his bed, feeling exhausted and incredible, and he was touching me so gently I could even have sl ept. A door slammed, and laughter and voices echoed through the house. Edward sw ore and I grabbed my clothes, scrambling into them; he helped me with the clasp on my bra, and I arched an eyebrow at his expertise, and he shrugged, unabashed and I grinned, and he did too. "Can I take you home?" he asked, pulling on his j eans. "Alice probably should. We're, um, studying for chemistry?" "Ah." He turne d a light on, and shoved his hands through his hair. It was hard not to stare at him, or his bare chest, or his mouth that seemed to be looking for words. A qui ck tattoo sounded on the door, and he opened it to Alice. "Better?" she asked me , looking smug. "Much, thank you," I answered, primly, and she giggled while I t ried to keep a straight face, but then she looked at my hair and groaned. Edward pulled the brown ribbon out of his pocket and handed it to her. She wrinkled he r nose at the mangled thing, but tied up my hair with it in a reasonable ponytai l. "Hey," I said, "at least I don't have fuck hair all the time." She exploded w ith laughter, and the beautiful boy turned red, but he grabbed me as I was leavi ng and whispered in my ear. "Sing with me again." Maybe he was talking about mus ic, and maybe he was talking about sex, but it didn't matter, because I was his now, and I would give him anything. "I will," I said, breathless and happy, and I kissed his cheek and followed Alice out. Edward: Midnight, and I lay in sheets that still smelled of her, and I was thankful for that, at least, because I fel t like half of me was missing, and the scent of her made her seem closer. I'd tr ied to pretend I was still the same person, teasing Alice, listening to Emmett a nd Jazz make jokes at my expense, but I wasn't.

Maybe the sex was so good because I didn't have to use protection; I'd never rea lly felt a girl before. Or maybe it was so good because she was honest and sensu al and so incredibly responsive to every touch. Maybe it was because of that cra zy electricity thing between us, and maybe it was just because she was Bella. Sh e had changed me, somehow, and the one person on earth I could talk to about it hadn't updated all evening. I finally gave up and sent her a message: I need you r help; she has scorched my flesh to ash. Her response was immediate: Does the p hoenix love the flame that consumes him? ±Ordinary_Girl Yes. Then enjoy the burn. ±O rdinary_Girl You are a word-wise minx, and make this easier to bear. You are not alone in your body heat. ±Ordinary_Girl Did the Boy make you warm? When he said m y name, I felt beautiful. ±Ordinary_Girl Will you write tomorrow? I miss your word s. Yes, if you give me music so that I may sleep. ±Ordinary_Girl All Night Thing, from Temple of the Dog. Sleep pretty, Extraordinary. May you dream of your Spark . ±Ordinary_Girl I always do. Chapter 18: Unconfessional Bella: I woke up before dawn, almost an hour early, f eeling strange in my own skin, like I was someone reborn. The world was quiet wi th the anticipation of full daylight, but now just flirting with it, a silent be ckoning. I grabbed my laptop, and crawled back under the covers to write. The wo rds tumbled out of me like they were a complete thought, phrases conceived in dr eams, and I typed them in before I lost them to the sunrise.

I turned the alarm off before it rang and jarred the lovely morning, and slipped downstairs to start the coffee. Yesterday's events played through my head like a movie, and I almost felt like they had happened to someone else. Each one I co uld understand as it happened, but combined they felt overwhelming. Singing with Edward had been amazing. I'd ignored the bartender's raised eyebrows and the pa trons at the tables, and walked to the boy at the piano, and simply stole the wo rds out from under him, because even if I was too scared to say the words aloud, I could sing them. He'd let me lead, and then supported me and spun me out, pia no notes light under my voice, then grounding me and pulling me home. Every fing er stroke on the keys bound me to him, taking my voice and making it his to play . I showered, dressed in jeans and a hoodie and grabbed a granola bar, and walke d out of the house to find Edward leaning against his car, toying with his iPhon e. "You want a ride?" I nodded, glad he couldn't hear my heart pounding in my ch est like a twelve-year old with her first crush, and then noticed the back seat was empty. "Where is Alice?" I asked stupidly. He didn't look at me as he said, "They rode with Emmett and Rose." "She always makes me look good," I said, reach ing up to touch my hair. "By shredding your clothes?" he laughed, "You look fine , Bella." I was irritated at the blush that heated my face with his casual compl iment; it made no sense for me to feel this shy around him. The boy had seen me naked less than twelve hours ago, and I was tongue tied like a star-struck fan-g irl. "Your lip looks better." He nodded, and licked it, and I wanted him to do t hat to mine. "How's your hand?" he asked. "Fine. A little stiff. You?" He stared , and his lips twitched. Then he flexed his hand and he nodded. I got in the car , and he shut the door. He drove, glancing at me from the corner of his eye occa sionally, and I realized I was staring at him, and looked out the side window. I wished there was music on the stereo.

The ride to school was almost painful with the silence, and finally I blurted ou t, "What songs are you working on right now?" as he said, "What are you doing th is weekend?" We both laughed, and the tension was broken. We talked about music, and what songs he was practicing, and about Alice and her newfound skills on th e harmonica, and the ride was over before it began. I didn't want to leave his c ar; I wished we could just turn around and drive until there was no road left, n o civilization, no world, just us. As we walked into the school building, it fel t like the entire student body was focused on us. I started to cringe a little, and when I stumbled, Edward put his hand on my lower back, and it somehow reassu red me; the strange connection grounding me and giving me balance. I glanced at him in thanks, and his fingers twisted in my shirt a bit as we went inside, but he didn't look at me. As I was stashing my stuff in my locker, there was a scuff le behind me, and a freshman smashed into my back; my fingers were pinched in th e metal door. The kid mumbled his apologies. I grinned at him in sympathy; it su cked to be an underclassman. During World Lit the glances were still on me, and I squirmed in embarrassment and irritation. The attention seemed to be worsening my usual clumsiness; I bumped into some senior girl who didn't even look back o r help me pick up my books, and took an elbow to the side on the way to Chemistr y. I was almost late; luckily the teacher was later. I slid into my usual seat n ext to Angela. She smiled at me and started to speak, but Jessica leaned across the aisle and reached out to get my attention. "So, Bella, we were wondering, wh at does it take to get a ride to school with Edward?" she said, loud enough to c arry over the entire classroom. She sunk her talons into my arm with a twist. "D id you swallow? I couldn't bring myself to do it." I stared at her in shock. Ali ce hissed, behind me, and I heard Jasper whispering to her. "Of course, with you r truck, I'm sure you must be desperate." Before I could think of anything to sa y that wouldn't get me suspended, class began. I tried to catch Angela's gaze so that I could ask her why Jessica was being so hateful, but she avoided my eyes. After the bell rang, Jessica rushed past and managed to knock into me, scatteri ng my books once again. "Oopsie!" she said, and left. I ground my teeth and pick ed up my books, envisioning snapping off her acrylic nails one by one. Lauren sl ithered up, perfect long hair perfectly straight and perfectly shiny. I'd been e xpecting her to confront me sooner or later, but I had no idea what to do or to say; I'd had the upper hand Sunday morning. I was afraid that if I lost an inch of high ground, she would retaliate against Angela and Ben.

She looked at me, and quirked a lovely perfectly plucked eyebrow. I ruined all m y chances for calm and cool by blushing at her knowing smirk. Her nasal laughter brayed across the emptying room. "Look at that face! You did sleep with him!" s he crowed. "No, Lauren," I said, smiling as pleasantly as I could, "You slept wi th him. I fucked him. I'd say of the two of us, I had the better time." She star ed at me, and I reddened even more. Then she laughed again. "Oh, please do not t ell me you are stupid enough to be in love with him!" My heart twisted, because I was that stupid. "I'm not an idiot, Lauren." I maintained my smile as I rememb ered Edward's words from Sunday morning. "It was a one-time thing," I quoted. "I am sure you are still next on the list." She blinked, the perfect smile slippin g a bit, and I gathered my books and left the classroom, careful to watch my fee t so I wouldn't fall or see Alice's face. My grace only took me through the door way, and I careened into Edward. He looked ill and I remembered the hard hit he' d taken to his stomach during the fight yesterday. "Are you okay?" I asked, hopi ng I hadn't hurt him even more. "I'm fine," he said, but his face was closed and he didn't look at me, and I knew he was lying. "Let's go," he said to Alice, an d I went to the library, embarrassed at my lack of coordination. I tripped only once, apologizing to the girl whose feet I tangled with, and hid in my corner. I was desperate to log on to my laptop, needing the sanity of Debussy_88's though ts, the reassurance that I was not playing alone in this game of hearts; he alwa ys seemed close this time of day, writing me or responding quickly when I had, b ut I forced myself to finish my chemistry homework before I checked my e-mail. E dward: Alice said nothing as we walked to the balcony in the music hall. She was furious with me for some unknown reason, and I honestly didn't care. I dropped my backpack into the seat and pulled out my little sliver flask and sucked at it , knowing there wasn't enough bourbon in it to make me stop thinking about Bella , or to make me stop hurting. Her words echoed through me.

It was a one-time thing. How could she talk so casually about what had happened last evening as if it was a quick fuck for fun? It had started out frenetic, but I'd fixed that, hadn't I? I'd fucking made love to the infuriating girl; how co uld she think it was less than what it was? I couldn't stop thinking about her; about how beautiful her breasts were, flushing pink when her cheeks did because I was staring like a twelve year old who had never seen a pair before, and about what she smelled like when I went down on her, salt and arousal and Bella and l emons. I tried not to think about her mouth, or that crazy connection we'd had w hen we kissed when I was inside her. My jeans were getting uncomfortable. She'd kissed my cheek last night, and it was a promise, not a goodbye, and I'd believe d her. I felt like a fool. I tipped back the flask, swallowing, breathing throug h the burn. "Do you think that will help?" asked Alice. I'd never heard so much acid in her voice before. "What is your problem, Twin?" "You, Edward! You've thr own her to the wolves!" "What are you talking about? She was the one who said it was a one-time thing!" Something about those words tugged in my memory; I'd sai d them, too. "What was she supposed to say?" Alice exploded at me, "Lauren humil iated her! She made fun of her for being in love with you in front of the whole class. It was brutal. You should check her arm, Jessica probably left permanent scars. Girls she doesn't even know are shoving her in the hallway, and you shoul d see how the guys look at her now, wondering what she'll do in bed that would c apture your interest." I stared at Alice, horrified. "Just because I gave her a ride to school? That's fucked up!" "You made a list of rules you expected everyo ne to follow, and then think there are no consequences when you break them?" "I didn't make any fucking rules. Everyone just assumes things," I sulked. "I'll ta ke what's offered, as long as it doesn't interfere with the band, but-" "Oh, gro w up!" "I wasn't going to pretend to feel anything when I didn't," I protested. "I didn't want anyone to get hurt!"

"Well, now you are going to have to pretend you don't feel anything, or she will get hurt!" I looked at her, not wanting to understand what she was saying. "And darling brother of mine, why did Bella say that you had slept with Lauren?" "Ja zz didn't tell you?" I mumbled, not looking at her. "He explained that I shouldn 't put contact cement on your toilet seat for taking Bella's virginity in less t han nine minutes and then passing out; you'd been drugged and didn't know she wa s a virgin, it wasn't your fault, blah, blah, blah. Actually, I was pretty torn up about it for a little while. Bella was dead against the whole toilet seat ide a," she mused, "but Jasper said nothing about Lauren." "She climbed in bed with me after Bella left." "Eww." "Yeah. I woke up thinking I'd slept with her." I ru bbed the back of my neck as I remembered what I'd said to Bella the next morning . "Oh, double eww!" "Alice, be nice. Lauren has been to every gig and jam sessio n we've played, and pimped us to all her friends; she may be a bitch, but she's our most loyal fan." "That may be true, but it doesn't mean I want her sleeping with my brother." I reached for my iPhone, and Alice looked resigned, but didn't chastise me. I'd read Ordinary_Girl's latest update in Bella's driveway, but sh e'd come out of the house before I'd had a chance to respond. The poem was untit led: I fell for an archangel with a lion's mane, but he caught me in his hands a nd I flew, with my legs wrapped around his hips and his lips wherever he wanted to take me, Never touching ground. I would soar forever, reaching for heaven wit h my fingertips, my hands in his hair, pulling his mouth to me, seeking paradise in his arms, but he is of the sky and stars And I am earthbound. I wrote: Angel s with carnal knowledge seem like a devilish temptation.

Her response came a few minutes later: I am in Purgatory, caught between my hear t and my fear of it breaking. ±Ordinary_Girl I understood that completely; I typed : I am with you, holding hands with your shadow. Then I am not so afraid. ±Ordinar y_Girl I took a deep breath, calmed by the exchange, and put the flask away, fee ling a little embarrassed for acting like a self-indulgent kid. "Alice," I asked , later, "Did she really say it?" Did she really say that she loved me? My siste r didn't have to ask me what I meant. "Not yet. But she will." The bell rang. Af ter fourth period, I hung back in the hallway, waiting to see Bella on her way t o the cafeteria. Sure enough, as a group of girls passed her, there was a scuffl e, and she wound up on the floor. I tried to scan the faces to see who had pushe d her. I wanted to go help her, but I was afraid there would be even more retali ation if I did. Two male voices behind me snickered, and one said, "Down goes Sw an." The other replied, "I'd like her down on me." I turn around to face two sen iors, jock types, each bigger than me. The blond one smiled at my face and raise d both hands. "Easy Cullen, we'll wait 'til you're done." "You'll be through her in a month, right?" said the other. I clenched my fists, but behind me Bella ga ve a cry of pain, and I turned to see her shaking her hand, and I realized someo ne had stepped on her. I was at her side instantly, gathering her books and pull ing her to her feet. "Thanks," she said, not meeting my eyes, "I'm really clumsy today." I gaped at her. Did she really not know what was going on? I looked up the hall and met Tanya's stare, and her speculative smile made the hair on the b ack of my neck stand on end. Bella walked away towards her locker, and I let her go, fighting every protective urge to follow her. I sat with my family during l unch, and tried to figure out what to do. Alice was talking with Rose, and they looked at me often, and I knew they were talking about me. "Alice," I asked, "co uld you do me a favor and ask Bella to-"

The unmistakable sound of a lunchroom tray hitting the floor echoed through the cafeteria, followed by the stunned silence that always accompanies such disaster s. Bella stood in the center of the room, her face already gray. "Emmett!" whisp ered Jasper. "Nice one, Bella!" bellowed my older brother. I stared at him in fu ry, but then he picked up his own tray and smashed it on the table in an exact r epeat of the sound her tray had made. He repeated it again, and then picked up a spoon off the table and beat down on the surface, going into some huge Stomp ro utine, slamming trays on the chairs and the floor in an elaborate orangutan trib al dance that I had to admit was pretty good, and pulled the focus of the entire room off Bella. Alice was at her side, pulling her away, while the whole room w as laughing and clapping at my brother. He jumped up on the table and took a bow , then sat down. "Thank you," Bella said, to Emmett. "I've always wanted to do t hat," he said. "Was that Jingo?" she asked, recognizing the solo, and he nodded, grinning like a baboon. Alice pulled her down to sit at the opposite end of the table than me, but I left the table to buy her another lunch. I had no idea wha t to get, so I bought pizza and an apple and lemonade, and slid the tray down to her once I sat back down. She smiled, and nibbled at the food, and I hated that she was so far away. Bella and Emmett talked drum solos the whole lunch, decidi ng that Godsmack's Batalla de los Tambores was the best percussion battle to com e out past Animal vs. Buddy Rich, and then on to an in depth discussion of his f avorite 3 Doors Down songs. "But Rose fell in love with me for my Moby Dick rout ine," Emmett boasted. "Who is Moby?" asked Bella, all innocent angel with wide e yes, and Em looked at her, disconcerted. We all laughed. When the bell rang, Ros e walked next to Bella on the way to Biology, and no one touched her. I didn't s peak to her before class, just pulled up the chair and waited for Mr. Banner to turn the lights out. Bella: I sat in the dark, confused again by Edward's distan ce, missing the easy camaraderie of lunch, where I felt his half smile on me as I joked with Emmett. I tried to focus on the movie, but Edward was too close for me to concentrate on anything but him.

His hands lay on the black slab table, pale in the dark, and I was fascinated by the masculinity of them; broad palms with heavy wrists, long fingers with blunt tips. A few wisps of bronze hair ran along the outside edge, and I wanted to tr ace my own finger along them to feel the texture. The knuckles on his right hand were scraped, and the middle one was slightly discolored. They were a musician' s hands, a fighter's hands, a lover's hands and they defined him. I reached out, furtively, across the table, and touched the bruise with my fingertip, not pres sing, just barely stroking the skin, the way he had done to my neck yesterday. I heard him inhale, and he pulled his hand away, down under the table. I jerked m y own back, fists tight in my lap, grateful for the dark that hid my red face. I shook my hair to fall between us. I almost didn't hear his whispered, "No," but I felt his hand, brushing my hair back behind my ear, and the shock of his touc h on my neck made me gasp. He dropped his hand, then, and I couldn't help but st eal a glance at him, and he was looking at me, eyes black in the dark, but still hot, and then he was looking at my lips, and they suddenly felt dry and lonely. I licked them, and his mouth moved into the crookedy smile I loved. He shifted in his chair, and reached out to lay the back of his hand on my knee, in invitat ion. I took it, slipping my hand into his, and he cupped my fist in his palm, tr acing circles on my wrist with his thumb, a distant echo of the spirals he'd mad e on my breasts last night. I swallowed and squirmed in my chair, embarrassed th at such a simple touch would make me want him so badly. We stayed that way for t he whole period, clandestine touch and surreptitious gazes, and I could tell he was as aroused as I was. When Mr. Banner turned the lights on I was almost relie ved at the break in the tension. "That was interesting," Edward said, and then h e was gone before the curious stares started. Gym class was a nightmare. I could n't have been hit more if we'd been playing dodge ball, rather than volleyball. I was beginning to get irritated. Mike Newton kept watching me, and his interest was creepy because I was afraid of Jessica's fingernails, and perfect Lauren Ma llory smirked at me every time I was hit with the ball. After school, Alice and Jasper and I waited for Edward at the Volvo, but then as the parking lot cleared , they rode with the giants in the Jeep. Edward pulled my ear-buds out and docke d my iPhone in the stereo, and Tori's Waitress filled the car, angry and wailing , and his smile was tight as finally looked at me. "Rough day, huh?" I nodded. " Want to sing about it?" he nodded towards my iPhone.

I chuckled, some of my negativity fading. "I can't make love to a piano bench th e way that Tori can." "I could help with that," said Edward, voice low and smoot h. I grinned, and the craziness of the day slid away. I felt wicked and high on the boy beside me, knowing he wanted me as much as I wanted him. Maybe I was the wrong girl, but right now it didn't matter; I felt sexy and bold and fun, and I was suddenly daring, like I could be when I was alone. I licked my lips and lea ned over and brushed my wet mouth over his ear. "Will you play with me?" I whisp ered. The tires squealed as we left the parking lot. Chapter 19: Mindless Edward: I left tire tread in the school lot in my haste to get out of there. The girl made me stupid. My ear still tingled where she had pr essed her lips to me. I drove too fast, and she didn't complain. At the stopligh t by the diner I leaned over to kiss her, and her tongue was hot in my mouth, sw eet and wet and fast, and I groaned into her mouth and pulled away. "Where are w e going?" I asked her. She smiled, secret and wicked, and said, "Well, I don't h ave a piano at my house." I laughed, and turned towards home. She was probably t oo sore for sex, whether she realized it or not, but if she wanted to ride me li ke Tori on a Steinway bench, who was I to tell her she couldn't? "I have three," I offered, "but you also don't have my entire family at your house. Alice will need to fuss over you the second we get home." The music faded out and then the opening hook to U2's "Sunday Bloody Sunday" came over the speakers. "We can chan ge it," Bella said. "It's my angry shuffle." "Leave it, it's a good song." We sa ng the words to the song, exchanging the lyrics back and forth, screaming silly on the chorus, and we were both laughing, and then something occurred to me.

"I don't think I've ever seen you get mad," I said, turning down the stereo a bi t. "I don't much, at least not at other people. I get mad at myself a lot." "So when did you make your angry playlist?" "Sunday." "Yeah, not my best day either, " I said, not looking at her, kind of relieved to be talking about the weekend, but afraid things would get awkward between us again. "Why not?" I could tell sh e was smiling from her tone, challenging me, and suddenly everything was easy; s he was here with me, and she wanted me, and maybe the way we got to this point w as all screwed up, but it was also funny as hell in retrospect. "Well," I said, "imagine waking up thinking you'd slept with Lauren Mallory rather than this hot chick you've been lusting after since the first second she sat next to you in B iology class." Seen her, smelled her, heard her; taste and touch too, all five s enses were owned by the giggling girl next to me. "You think that's funny? I had to tell my Dad!" She laughed harder. "All he said was 'well, son, would you lik e the antibiotics now, or after the test results?' And of course, within minutes the whole hospital knew I was getting tested for Chlamydia!" "You thought you'd slept with Lauren?" she gasped. "Well, yeah. I mean, she took me upstairs and I woke up with her« Jasper didn't tell you?" She shook her head and grinned, this g iant smile that I wished I could see all of, but her head was turned away, and I could only see the side of her face. The tip of her ear was red. "What?" I aske d, wondering what she was thinking that could make her feel shy. Bella was silen t, and I fidgeted in my seat, waiting for her to tell me what was on her mind. S he breathed on the passenger window, and drew a spiral with her fingertip in the fog. "So I'm not the wrong girl, then?" she said to the doodle on the glass. I had to laugh, incredulous. She really had no idea what she did to me. "No, Bella ; you are not the wrong girl." "Good," she whispered. I touched her hair, and sh e turned her face into my hand, and kissed my palm. Something had changed, and t he tension between us was different; softer and frighteningly sweet.

"I'm sorry about today," I said, pulling into the driveway. "Don't be," she said . "It's not yourfault." "You're not that clumsy, Bella," I said, taking her back pack and opening the door. "I know. I just wish I knew who they were." She stopp ed in the foyer, and looked at her shoes. "I can deal with anybody one on one, b ut when they're nameless, they become faces in a mob, waiting for me to trip and fall down." I took her hand, and pulled her to me, feeling guilty as hell. "Is that what you see when you get spooked by a crowd?" She nodded. "Sometimes. Some times it's just the staring, like I can feel the pressure of the eyes watching m e." I rubbed her back, but she tensed and pulled away. "I thought you were going to play," she said, and I pulled her down the hall to my room and closed the do or before Alice could find us. I tugged on her elbow to turn her to me, but she tensed again. "What's wrong?" She smiled at me, and whispered, "Nothing." She re ached up to wrap her arms around my neck, and pressed the length of her body int o mine. I grabbed her then, instantly aroused, and slid my hands down her back, pressing her closer. She whimpered, and it wasn't in pleasure. I pulled away fro m her, frowning, and searched her face for clues to her distress. She wouldn't m eet my gaze, and my desire fled as my suspicions congealed. I slowly reached for the toggle on the zipper of her hoodie, giving her the opportunity to move away if she wanted to, and pulled it down. She was wearing a plain white bra with no lace, but the material was thin and left nothing to the imagination. I pushed t he shirt off her shoulders, and eased it over her arms. "Edward, don't," she whi spered. I wasn't sure what she was protesting, but I could barely hear for the f ury that was roaring in my ears. She was covered in bruises. I hadn't believed A lice; not really. I saw Bella get jostled in the hallway; she was definitely get ting picked on. I knew girls could get catty sometimes, but this was awful. I wa s furious with

myself for not predicting that this would happen, and even madder for not protec ting her. I felt my fingernails digging into my palms, and she touched my fist w ith her fingertip. "Hey, I've had much worse." I touched one high on her ribs, j ust under her bra, an angry circle of purple. "What happened?" "A platinum blond e with a sharp elbow on the way to chemistry. She was short. Short hair, short s kirt." "Ashley Dowling," I whispered. "She was cute; first girl who let me feel her tits." I stroked my fingertips over another mark, this one a red scrape over her floating ribs on the other side. "Tall dark senior with long braids, pretty fierce with a Calculus book," Bella joked. I ground my teeth, hating that she w as trying to find humor in the situation. "Samantha Wells. Funny. Bi. Liked it r ough." She nodded, and looked down at her left hand. Her pinky was swollen. I li fted it to my mouth, and brushed my lips over the little finger. My chest was ti ght with self loathing and despair. "Cute Goth girl with henna tattoos and long Doc Martins." "Chelsea Afton. My first sixty-nine; nice girl." My throat was gob bed up with frustration and pain for this girl; I was tortured by each mark on h er, and the only thing I knew to do was to give them names. I moved to her side and touched the claw marks on her elbow, recognizing those. "Jessica Stanley," s he whispered, "follows Breaking Dawn, doesn't swallow." "Your friend." I said, a nd my mouth was wet with sarcasm. I laid my palm flat between her shoulder blade s, fingers splayed over the fiery red circle in the middle of them. "Curvy curly brunette in gym class. Excellent spike with a volleyball." "June Richardson. Sw eet; first girl who let me in her panties, eighth grade." I choked out. I touche d the last one, the one I'd made with my teeth, and my face burned hot with sham e. The purple marks had faded to a vicious yellow green. "Edward Cullen," she wh ispered. "My first kiss."

My brain crumpled, and the tears spilled over, angry and helpless. She'd given m e everything, and left no marks on me. I pulled her back to me, folding my arms around her shoulders, not letting her turn to face me when she tried, too embarr assed to have her see me crying like a girl. My tears fell into her hair, and I held my breath to keep from making any noise. I felt both betrayer and betrayed. I'd liked those girls. I'd made them feel good and they'd returned the pleasure , and I'd made them no promises and took nothing that wasn't offered. Why did th ey want to hurt something precious to me? Bella was so beautiful and vulnerable, and brave and perfect, and I felt ashamed for thinking about my own feelings wh en she was standing in front of me, not crying, not hitting me back for each one of the marks on her, not telling me to fuck off and die, and not leaving. Inste ad she took my hand, and pulled my arm from around her, and led me to the piano and pushed me down on the bench, and straddled the seat behind me. She stroked h er fingers through my hair, calming me, and I reached for the keys to release wh at I could form no words to explain. I played Brahms in anger, and Verdi to apol ogize, and Sarah McLachlan because I thought she would like it. The warmth of he r skin permeated through my shirt and my mood, and she felt it too, because her hold around my middle loosened, and she traced patterns on my ribs, light and ti ckly and it was impossible to feel miserable when someone touched you like that, so I played something lighter, the melody tumbling in my head last week teasing through. She pulled away for a second, and I felt her squirming behind me, but then she settled in closer and pressed tightly to my back. I could feel her soft curves and the heat of her, and I slowed my hands, finding a smooth low harmony so that I wouldn't jar her body. Her arms slipped around me again, fingers expl oring my chest, and then she undid the top button of my shirt. I stopped playing . She shook her head and shoved at me, and I laughed a little and continued, hel pless to deny her anything. Her fingers found the next button, and the next, and it was excruciating and sexy, but fun and playful, and I had a stupid grin on m y face that I was glad she couldn't see. My shirt was completely open, and she w as tracing spirals over my stomach, but when my fingers faltered she pulled her hands away, so I kept playing, letting her make the rules. She trailed her short nails over my chest, stealing my trick of circling, not touching a nipple until I was squirming for it. I was hard as steel and the buttons on my jeans were pr essing painfully, and I needed to adjust my pants, but if I stopped so would she , so I just let it add to the delicious agony, and kept playing.

She lifted my shirt at the back, and pressed into me, and I groaned at the skin contact. She'd taken her bra off at some point, and her skin was unbearably soft . She shifted, rubbing against me; I could actually feel her nipples harden and I couldn't take it anymore. I needed to see her. I stopped and she fussed, but I spun around on the bench, and we were a laughing tangle of legs and arms and sk in until she was on my lap, straddling me. Her hands were in my hair, pulling my head back, and her face was above mine, kissing me, little wet sucking kisses t hat made my brain spin, rubbing her chest on me, and squiggling in my lap, wrigg ling on my crotch until it was sensory overload and I grabbed her ass in my hand s and pulled her tight to me. "Hold still!" I growled at her, trying to remember how to breathe. She giggled, but didn't move. I shrugged out of the shirt that was hanging on my arms, and dropped it to the floor, and kissed her properly, sl owly, until we settled into a slow grind, her hands in my hair again, marvelous and hot. I kissed her cheek and bit her earlobe and tongued her neck, and I love d the noises she cried into the silence of the room, breathy whispers and female gasps and laughter, and I licked down her cleavage, and she twisted, pushing a nipple to my mouth, and I grinned at her impatience and kissed on the swollen ti p until she whimpered and pushed at me again, wanting more. I gave it to her, we t firm suction, rolling the other in my fingers so it wouldn't get jealous, and she was rocking in my lap, rubbing the heat at the crux of her thighs along the buttons of my jeans, tight to my erection. The girl had the most sensitive nippl es I'd ever had in my mouth, swollen and puffy and thrusting, and I had a feelin g she would climax if I kept sucking, so I switched sides, squeezing gently, tug ging with lips and hands, and she was falling apart over me, and I let go to kis s her as she came, grabbing her hips to help her ride it out. She folded into me , panting, and I sat there with a big dumb smile on my face, even though my ball s were ready to explode, because she was so fabulous. She pulled away from me, s ettling back on the piano bench and reached for the buttons on my jeans, and tug ged me free. She was blushing again, biting her lip, but smiling, and the fact t hat she could still be shy while holding my straining cock in both hands was fun ny and lovely and sexy as hell. She found the clear stuff that was leaking every where with her thumb, and rubbed it over the tip with a slick light touch, and t hen she brought her hand to her mouth and licked her finger, fucking tasting me, and I must have made a noise, because she started to pull away, like a little g irl getting caught doing something naughty. I grabbed her hand, not letting her retreat, and wrapped my hand around hers around me, showing her how to stroke my shaft, and I kissed her, thrusting into her mouth with my tongue, but she fough t me, pulling her face away. "I want to see," she whispered. That made me even c razier, and I shoved my hips into our hands, watching her watch me, and I'd neve r felt so huge or hard in my life, with the head of my cock flared out, painfull y tight in its skin, pre-come leaking like a faucet, and her fingers were slidin g with it, and within seconds I

was there, every muscle in my body as hard as my cock, and I tried to warn her b ut all I could do was groan her name, erupting onto her belly with a hot wet sla p, but then she moved her hand and caught the rest, and I pumped into her palm, gasping with each pulse that ripped through me. She looked me, shocked, and I st arted to laugh, some sort of post-orgasm mental release, and she did too, and th at made it even funnier, and I wanted to tell her I loved her, but she was sitti ng there, covered in bruises with a handful of spunk, red-faced and giggling, an d someone was knocking on the fucking door. "Bella," my sister called, "Your pho ne rang, and I checked it in case it was your dad, and it was so I answered it s o he wouldn't get suspicious that you were boinking my brother or dead, and I to ld him we were studying and that you were in the loo, so you'll need to call him right back so he doesn't think I was covering for you, and are you decent yet?" "Does she ever breathe?" asked Bella from my bathroom, where she was washing up . I tossed her top and bra to her and closed the door, and let Alice in. She gav e me a dirty look, and I put my shirt on, getting the buttons misaligned. "We ne ed to talk," she said. "Yes, we do," I agreed, making it clear that I disagreed entirely with whatever she was going to say. Bella came out of the bathroom, and Alice handed her the iPhone. She stepped into the hall to call her dad, and Ali ce glared at me. I glared back. "Alice, Charlie wants to meet me at the diner fo r dinner, could you take me?" Bella asked. "I can quiz you on Chemistry on the w ay." Twin nodded, and I threw her my keys. Bella touched my hand. "I didn't reco gnize a piece you played," she said, and trilled a few bars. I rubbed the back o f my neck. "One of mine," I muttered. "Oh!" she said. She kissed me. "It was lov ely," and they were gone. The house seemed too quiet and empty. Emmett wasn't pl aying video games and Rosalie's door was shut. I wandered into Jasper's room, bl inking at the haze, and dropped into a purple beanbag on the floor. He was sitti ng opposite, wearing only green ostrich skin cowboy boots with taps and a pair o f black bike shorts, picking at a viola like it was a mini upright bass.

"Hit that," he said, pointing at an orange blown-glass bong. "You're strung tigh ter than a Stradivarius." "Alice thinks I should leave Bella alone at school," I said, still frustrated. "I'm inclined to agree with the lady," Jazz said, blowi ng a smoke ring. "You didn't see how bad they hurt her!" "So what are you going to do, Edward? Hit a girl for knocking around yours? Follow her everywhere like an overbearing stalker who doesn't trust his woman to take care of herself? The second you retaliate, she'll get jumped in the chicks' locker room." I stared at him. "Look. You said she can handle herself in a fight. Trust her." "I don't kn ow if I can, Jasper. She's so«" I tried to come up with the right word; little, sw eet, vulnerable, adorable, perfect"Dude. You don't get it. She's your equal. She 's as smart as you, as cool as you, knows as much about music as you, sings bett er than you, and can even kick your ass at darts. How would you like it if she t ried to fight your battles as if she thought you were a coward?" "You're cutting my balls off, brother," I complained. "It'll take more stones to sit back and w atch than it will to go in swinging." "Don't question my manhood, bitch, not in those shoes." Bella: Alice dropped me off at the diner, and I gaped at her while she made intelligent conversation with my father about fishing, informed me tha t she would be picking me up in the morning so we could finish our chemistry hom ework, suggested the peach cobbler and mentioned that Jasper wanted me to sing w ith them this weekend, so could I stay over Friday night, and then she was gone. Charlie blinked, grinning under his moustache, and asked, "Does she ever breath e?" and I giggled, almost hysterically, because ten minutes ago I asked the same question while topless, washing Edward's goo off my hands. We ate in comfortabl e silence, our usuals, the same thing we'd had at lunch yesterday, though it see med a million years ago. I'd realized there was a target on my back at lunch tod ay; I'm clumsy on my feet, but there is nothing wrong with my hands. I didn't se e who slapped my tray from my grip, but now I knew

the names of a few the faces. There was a small part of me that was jealous of t he girls that Edward had kissed, or done more with, and I had a sneaky feeling t hat there were a lot more than those he had named, but I honestly didn't care. H e didn't look at them the way he looked at me, and I made him laugh and I wasn't the wrong girl. At home I finished my school work and then googled lyrics, lear ning the words to the songs that Edward had played today. My iPhone played Debus sy_88's alert ring, and I went to the blogsite to see what he'd written. The poe m was titled "Everything": She feels everything like I imagine and warmer Satin quick and I want to take her slow and sweet I feel always desperate for her skin deep spirals Wet silk and she needs nothing from me and gives everything. I typ ed: You twist your words lovely and strange, like distant smoke signals. You are perceptive and can read me like no other. ±Debussy_88 I was suddenly curious: Do you let anyone else see this you? No. Does your Pretty Boy see your pretty words ? -Debussy_88 No. I would feel too naked. So put some clothes on and write somet hing. ±Debussy_88 I woke to fading dreams of the green-eyed boy, and a steady dull downpour of rain at the window. I showered, threw a robe on over my bra and pan ties, and combed the snarls out of my hair, waiting for Alice to arrive. A part of me was nervous about school today, hating the staring and the whispers, but t here was another part of me that was almost anticipating it. The side of me

that could punch a drunk guy in the face, that could face down Lauren Mallory, a nd that could tease Edward Cullen, that side was ready for anything, and that si de was singing this morning, and they were dangerous songs. Alice spun into my r oom, looking like a Parisian photo, in slate blue organza and painted silk stock ings, a clear plastic slicker and red rubber boots with matching lipstick. I gri nned at her, loving her grace and style. She tore through my closet, throwing th ings out behind her like a small rodent flinging dirt while I giggled and she sw ore, finally settling on my tightest jeans and a stretchy navy turtleneck and th e riding boots I'd bought in Port Angeles. I changed, and when her chattering st opped and her face got dark, I remembered the bruises, but she didn't say anythi ng about them. She didn't say much of anything at all, just pulled my hair up in to a twist with Edward's ribbon, tucking the ends in, and handed me the mascara for another coat on my lashes. I looked in the mirror, and she quirked an eyebro w at me in the glass. I looked bitchy, in that smooth sixties French way, dark e yes and no lipstick, and she managed to make me seem exactly how I felt; like so mething wild that was being forcefully held in check. I nodded once, and she smi rked back, and we left. "Wow," said Edward, waiting on the porch with an umbrell a. Alice and I got in the car, and after we strapped in, she said, "Edward, I ta ke it all back." "Actually, I think you might be right," he replied, looking at me with a strange expression on his face. I looked at Jasper, hoping he would de code their exchange. "You look like you could kick Emmett's ass, Bella," he expl ained. "Good," I said, and turned on the stereo. There were even more stares tod ay than yesterday, but my defenses were up, and when a crowd of Goth girls slunk by, I stopped the prettiest one. "Chelsea Afton, right?" I named the girl with the boots from yesterday. "Yeah?" She covered her surprise with aggression. "Huh ," I said, feigning confusion, "Edward said you were nice." Her eyes widened, an d one of the other girls snickered at her. I walked away.

First period went slowly; I was jittery and tense, but I maintained my outward c alm. This time I was ready for the girl with braids and the Calculus book, and I grabbed it before it struck my middle. "Edward did say you liked it rough," I s aid, batting my eyelashes at her, "and I'm really flattered, but you're too much woman for me." I handed her the textbook back. Tanya, standing at her locker ac ross the hall, stared at us openmouthed. I acknowledged her with a tight smile a nd walked quickly to Chemistry. The tall redhead unnerved me a little. I slid in to my seat next to Angela. Jessica reached out to snag my arm, but I evaded her grasp, which pissed her off. "You know, there are a lot of us who have been with Edward, before you," she said, bitterly. "Well," I said, "thanks for letting hi m practice." Her foundation could not compete with that shade of purple, and she turned a strange hue of lavender. Jasper grinned at me, and Alice seemed distur bed by the failure of Jessica's cosmetics. Lauren looked completely shocked. Ang ela was facing toward the window, shielding her face with her hand, but her shou lders were shaking, and I realized she didn't want to get caught laughing at her friend. Class began, and I watched the clock hands crawl. When the bell rang I was out of my seat like a shot. I walked to the library and fired up my laptop, writing the phrases that tore out of me, word association and broken rhyme, and then I deleted it all, and started again. Chorus was a nice respite from the hal lway politics, but I was still edgy. Lunch couldn't come soon enough. I walked i nto the cafeteria, disappointed when Edward wasn't at his usual spot, but I felt a warmth up my spine and I knew he was near. I bought an apple, the only thing appetizing that did not require a tray, and walked towards the table, stopping s hort to wave at Angela. Edward slammed into me, nearly knocking me down. "Jesus, Edward, if you're going to ride my ass like that, at least kiss me first!" I sa id, my voice ringing out over the suddenly quiet cafeteria. There was dead silen ce, and the entire world stood still and looked at me. I stared at Edward in sho ck, and stopped breathing, horror sliding up my spine like an icicle. All the fi re and strength drained out of me and I wanted to disappear forever.

He stared back at me, and then smiled, the lazy cocky grin that I loved, and kis sed me, full on the mouth, in front of all the watching eyes. The whole room eru pted into cheers. I gasped, air and oxygen clearing my head, and then blushed, a nd laughed, and his hands loosened the ribbon around the chignon, and my hair fe ll down in curls, to the whistles of the crowd. "Do you always have to be my dam ned hero?" I whispered against his lips. "Yes." he laughed. Chapter 20: House Cullen Edward: I sat in boy's detention finishing a Spanish es say, annoyed with myself. Bella and I had received two days worth for our public display in the cafeteria. She was next door, in with the girls, and I could alm ost feel her through the cinderblock wall. I couldn't get enough of her, and I w as beginning to worry that I was obsessed. Was this what Jasper felt about my si ster? They seemed so easy together; this thing I had with Bella wasn't simple. I just hoped she would stay with me, that the music and the sex could make up for the awful bruises. I couldn't fault her if she decided it wasn't, but it didn't mean that I wasn't going do my damnedest to keep her wanting me. And now we wer e both stuck in detention, and I wouldn't get to spend any time with her after s chool. I wanted to play for her while she sang, and go down on her until she cam e, and make her laugh so hard that she would forget everything and everyone who hurt her. I couldn't stop thinking about last night. "My first kiss." Why did th at mean so much to me? It didn't seem right that I liked that so much; I'd had l ots of girls and it was hypocritical for me to feel so possessive, but I was. An d I didn't just want to be the first guy to kiss her, I wanted to be the only gu y to kiss her. Had she kissed James? She'd sung with him. I swallowed against th e bile that rose in my throat when I thought of them together. There is no way t hat it could have been as intimate as when she sang with me Aro's; he couldn't p lay guitar properly with her arms around him. But after? When they were high on the music and collaboration? Bella was so sensual andThe pencil in my hand broke in half, tearing a gouge through my notebook paper. I needed to calm down.

I checked to see if Mr. Varner was looking, and pulled my phone out under my des k. Ordinary_Girl had changed her status to: MUTINOUS, and her profile song was " Thank God for Jack Daniels," by the Sex Slaves. She'd written: I am the lion tam er and the snake charmer, The plain-Jane goddess and virgin-whore, I walk with t heir names in my fist and his taste on my lips And the smile that I adore. They are the oxy-morons, savage and nice, Venom and spice, bitch rich and pathos poor , And their eyes follow my back While I have what they lack I am the enemy to ab hor. I wrote: Your words are feisty and dangerous; what music do you fight to? M y phone vibrated a minute later: I am in a quiet place; even my thoughts are too loud here; how are you? ±Ordinary_Girl I typed: I am incarcerated, incinerated an d incorrigible. Those are good "I" words. I like innuendo: impale impure iron, b ut I'm feeling indecent. You? ± Ordinary_Girl I choked back my laughter and covere d it with a cough. "U"? Untamed undine, undulating undressed« Dreamy and delightfu l, Debussy! Do all boys prefer mermaids? ±Ordinary_Girl Yes. Especially musicians« t hey do sing topless. Incorrigible, indeed. Speaking of songs, are there melodies to your words? ±Ordinary_Girl They are separate still. No albums in your future? ±O rdinary_Girl Only in my past. I lost them to a girl. Was she the sea-witch to st eal your voice? ±Ordinary_Girl No, just two years of words and 21 songs; 16 were o riginal.

We got a new computer when we got the new soundboard this summer, Esme and Dad's sympathy gift; I now kept back-up disks in a safety deposit box at the bank. Bu t the songs were gone, a year's worth of work and mixing smashed under a bus. My family was crushed, too. Noone brought it up, and we'd kept playing, sticking t o covers all summer, even recording a few demos, but it was getting stale fast. We still played a few of the pieces live, but we'd not rerecorded any, and I had n't put music to words in months. A few songs had recently taken shape, a hook s liding into phrases in the back of my mind. I didn't say anything to anyone, but sometimes I'd drift back into focus to see Alice smiling. I wondered if she kne w who I was composing songs to. Probably. That's horrid! I cannot imagine how th at feels. ±Ordinary_Girl A bit like having amnesia; I miss the words to my mother; no-one ever saw them, and now I wonder that they existed at all. They did. They are in you, like she must still be. ±Ordinary_Girl Give me new music to take with me as I go? Something sweet to give to the girl. Very new: Song for Lovers, by Ellery. Enjoy! Ever, ±Ordinary_Girl Detention was dismissed, and Bella and I walke d to my car. She looked distant, and a little sad, but when I smiled at her, she smiled back. "Where to?" I asked. "Home," she said, the disappointment in her v oice telling me her house, not mine. I laughed, and she blushed. "So this weeken d," I began, trying to be casual, not letting myself wonder what bed she would s leep in, and her flush heightened, and I would have given gold to know what she was thinking. She glanced at me, waiting. I took a deep breath. "So, I'm arrangi ng a few songs for us to do this weekend, and I was wondering if you wanted to d o a couple with us. It's o.k., if you don't want to, but it might be fun and Jaz z has some things he wants to try and Alice would love it, and-" Gah! Word vomit much, Edward? "Sing with us." I blurted out. Please, save my band because you a re brilliant and a rockstar, and redeem me in my family's eyes for being a stupi d kid who left the back-up flash drive IN the laptop when the crazy bitch destro yed my life, and sleep in my bed with me because I'll go crazy if you are that c lose and I'm not touching you, and"Okay," Bella said.

Oh, and also, I'm wretchedly in love with you, and« what? She'd said yes. I had to laugh at myself, and how easy it was to be around her, and then harder at her c onfusion, but she was laughing too, and we talked about music the whole way to h er house, grinning like idiots. I pulled up to her house, behind her dad's cruis er, and walked her to her door, frustrated that I hadn't kissed her, and now I c ouldn't. At home I worked on an arrangement of Angel from Montgomery, because sh e'd mentioned that she'd wanted to sing it for her dad or something, and downloa ded the song Ordinary_Girl had recommended, and somehow the evening was gone. I went downstairs. Dad was sitting at the kitchen table, flipping through case fil es by the light of the oven range. He looked tired. "When is she due home?" I as ked. Esme had been at a design conference since Friday. "Any minute," his said, his eyes flicking to the clock and then to the door leading to the garage. I gra bbed two shot glasses and his favorite scotch from the bar in the dining room, a nd sat down at the table. I poured, and he clicked my glass. "To women," he said , and swallowed half his shot. I sipped at mine, enjoying the slow numbing burn over my lips and tongue. "To women," I agreed. "Bella's not your usual type of g irl," dad mused, looking sidelong at me. "No, she's not." "You should maybe keep her around for a while." "I'd like to." "What's stopping you?" "It's complicate d." "Love is never easy, son." He downed the rest of the drink. The word sounded strange coming from his voice, and I wanted to deny it, but I couldn't.

"You have no idea," I groaned, with a wry smile, and poured him another glass. H e handed me the bottle cap, a polite parental gesture to cut me off at the one d rink on a school night, and gave me a long look from under a lowered brow. "You don't think? Try it while raising three teenagers and holding down a medical res idency." I blinked at him, surprised, and I chuckled. For the first time I notic ed that silver hair was blending with the blond at his temples. I swallowed the rest of the scotch, thinking that I preferred Jasper's bourbon, and that I wante d it to be the weekend already, and that the walnut tabletop was almost the colo r of Bella's hair, and that I hadn't run in days, and I needed to ask Angela abo ut who made the drinks, but she was always with Bella when I saw her so I kept f orgetting, and there was no way my father could get old. I looked at his face, a nd the crows feet at the corners of his eyes that couldn't have been there when I saw him last. "Just be honest with her," he said. "You'll figure it out." I ha d been honest, brutally so, naming the girls and even describing what I'd done w ith them, keeping no pretense; half wishing she would call me a bastard and leav e or hit me or do something to punish me. Instead she'd clung to my back while I played and then let me suck on her tits until she came. And fuck, they were nic e, too, ivory and full with tiny peaks as red as her mouth and fat and so very r esponsive when IThe garage door opened with its reluctant whine. Dad's eyes grew bright, and his leg under the table bounced with energy barely held in check, l ike a boy waiting for class to end. He leaned back in his chair and flipped a fo lder open, all casual and cool, Doc Cullen up late with work, not a newlywed sta ying up anxiously for his wife to get home. I snorted and left him to greet her alone. Bella: We sat in the gymnasium, backs breaking on the hard bleachers, the familiar scent of shoes, sweat, perfume and puberty rising from the crowd of st udents like fetid steam form a simmering stew. I was sandwiched between Jessica and Angela, and both were making snide comments under their breath at the vice p rincipal and his crackling microphone. The Friday afternoon assembly before the first game of the year was falling flat, school spirits dampened by the rain tha t would probably cancel all activities. It was still better than Phys Ed Class. I was uncomfortable, itching for the weekend and the chance to relax and let dow n the defenses I'd built and maintained for the past three days. I was starting to feel brittle. Emmett was on the other side of the gym, sitting next to James and Victoria, and they were playing some sort of hand jive game with rude hand g estures while Rosalie sat behind, acting as referee. Victoria seemed to be winni ng, though Em had to have gotten points for elbowing the head of the poor kid ne xt to him.

Edward was behind me, and to my right; I knew that if I turned and looked, he wo uld be staring back. We hadn't been alone together since Tuesday night, and the time at lunch and Biology was not enough, and only served to make the tension ex cruciating. The warmth of his knee against mine under the table in the cafeteria , the way his breathing would change when I slipped my fingers under his on the microscope, my own response when I caught him looking at my mouth or my curves; these tiny nuances were permanently inked into my brain and left me gasping at m idnight, desperately wanting his hands and lips on my skin. When the bell finall y rang, Edward caught up to us as the rows filed down the bleachers. He slid his hand to the small of my back, light support while we climbed down from the rise rs, and I didn't stumble. It took me a minute to understand what he was asking A ngela. "Ben made them," she said. "They had great names! Sex on the Beach for Je ssica, Sax on the Beach for me, Blue Moon for Bella, and another for Lauren beca use we didn't know anything funny except for a Blond Haired Whore, and that was too mean." "Who suggested the Blue Moon for Bella?" he asked. "James. He said it would be funny because she wouldn't sing that song. Something he'd overheard at La Push." Edward was silent through the hallway, lost in thought, and didn't ev en speak again until we got to the car. He gave me a vague smile and plugged in his iPhone and cued up a song. I recognized it immediately. "Who is this?" asked Alice from the back. "It's Ellery!" I said, delighted. Edward's face fell a bit . "I can't believe you know them!" I was bouncing worse than Alice with the late st Vogue magazine, and the corner of his mouth rose back up. I sang along the wh ole way to the Cullen house, amazed that he actually found this song; I shouldn' t have been, they had just signed with big producer and were getting a lot of pr ess lately. Esme greeted us when we got there, and we all pitched in to make din ner. At one point, frustration got the better of Edward and he caught me around the middle as I was stirring pasta, laying a kiss on my mouth that almost made u p for the last three days without, but Esme yelled at him to leave me alone and let me cook, swatting him with a spatula, and I loved the laughter and the homin ess of their big family, and how they just enveloped me, making me one of them. "Do you do this a lot?" I asked Alice, at dinner, giggling at Emmett and Edward pinging peas at each other like children. "We try to, at least once a week." The boys helped clean up, and then they left to play pool and give us some "estroge n time", which consisted of Alice braiding chunks of my hair into some bizarre u rban tribal mess, Rose

super-gluing rhinestones to everyone's toenails, and us all learning how to play "Hello Operator" by the White Stripes, because who needs men, anyway? They came home near midnight. By that time we were lying on Rosalie's sheepskin rug, on o ur backs with our heads together. Alice and I were giggling like hyenas on crack , and Rose even occasionally snorted through her constant smile. They approached the door with wise caution. "You can't come in," shrieked Alice. "No boys allow ed!" "We're singing Erin McKeown," I explained to Emmett. He still looked confus ed. "I really doubt she'd mind," said Jasper. "It's the principal of the thing," said Alice. "You can't cover naughty little lesbian-rock songs with boys in the room." "Show some respect," agreed Rose, and launched the chords while Alice sn apped her fingers. I sang, my best devil sauce and raspy flirt voice, grinning a t the ceiling: "I want a little taste of you when I can, just a little taste wil l do«" I winked at the boys who were hovering at the doorway, and continued the tu ne. Edward's glorious green eyes widened with surprise, and his shoulders shook with laughter. Jasper started snapping his fingers with us, but Alice shook her head at him. "Oh, that is so wrong!" complained Emmett, but he didn't leave. "I want a kiss in the morning, that's all I need," I crooned sweetly, teasing throu gh the short little song. As Rose closed the last chords, I reached up to Edward , and he pulled me to my feet, laughing at me. "You're rotten," he whispered in my ear, warm breath shivering down my neck. Jasper and Alice said goodnight, and Emmett and Rose were already ignoring us, so we left. I felt awkward, but Edwar d was still chuckling as he pulled me down the stairs. He stopped at the doorway of his room and ran his hand through his hair. "I need to take a shower," he sa id. His mouth moved, like he was searching for the right words to ask me somethi ng. I waited. "Emmett dumped a Coke in my lap," he finally said. "On accident or on purpose?" "On purpose. I might have bumped his cue on the last shot."

"On accident or on purpose?" I repeated. "On purpose." He frowned. "You can't hu stle Emmett at pool, can you?" "No," I laughed. He kissed my forehead, and I wen t to Alice's room, changed into a flannel shirt she had found for me earlier and my softest longest socks, brushed my teeth and wandered back to the great room, and then went to find a book so I would have something to do with my hands. I c urled up in a leather armchair in the library, feeling much like I had two weeks ago, wide awake and trying to pretend that I wasn't waiting for the boy. I had a Jane Austen book, but I wasn't able to focus on it. The house was quiet, and I wished I had the nerve to simply walk into Edward's room the way I had last wee kend, bold and uninhibited. Now, even alone, I couldn't bolster my courage enoug h to go to him in uninvited. He had his rules, and though he'd broken several wi th me, I wasn't keen on rejection when everything had been so lovely. My phone b uzzed with the opening notes of La Mer. How do I get a girl into my bed? ±Debussy_ 88 I frowned. I thought he'd already gotten his Spark. Then I grinned, finding i t funny that he was asking me for advice, and remembered the conversation last w eek. I've never tried to get a girl in my bed. Is this a riddle? I typed. No. ±Deb ussy_88 Get her drunk and take your pants off? Much too forward. ±Debussy_88 Have you tried asking? No. -Debussy_88 Dare you. I went back to flipping through the novel. I heard some movement in the house, a door opening and closing with the l ight touch one uses at night. My phone buzzed again. Minx. ±Debussy_88 I laughed a t the little screen, but then felt his eyes and looked up to see Edward leaning in the doorway, his dark expression contradicting his casual pose.

"Does he know about me?" His voice was deep and soft, but there was a dangerous edge I'd never heard before that made my heart slam inside my ribs. His hair was wet and he had on flannel pants slung low on hips and that's all, and he was go rgeous and sexy and all I could do was bite my lip and stare at him and nod. He was the only thing I wrote about lately; it was probably obsessive and weird. "H e knows we're sleeping together?" He raised an eyebrow, voice even softer, silk and angry seduction, and I felt pinned to the chair, not understanding his black mood. I tried to form a coherent thought, but I was intimidated by the man who was stalking toward me. "Are we?" I asked, talking about beds when he was talkin g about sex. I wanted both. "Yes." He lifted me out of the chair, arms around my knees and my shoulders, and carried me out of the room. I struggled against him , but he shushed me and I gave in and held on and buried my face into his neck, breathing in his damp skin smell. He set me down in his dark room, and pulled th e covers back on his bed, not looking at me, just waiting, and I climbed in beca use there was no other place on earth I wanted to be. I scooted over, some prima l instinct delineating sides, and he lay down next to me, between me and the doo r. The tension was still tight, and I didn't understand; I wanted to touch him, to kiss him, but there was an ocean of bed between us. I felt stupid and aching and awkward, feeling time drag to a standstill, and I finally turned my head to look at him. He was staring at me, frowning, and I pushed back the covers to go, embarrassed . He moved then, quick, grabbing my wrist to keep me, and he was on me, the length of his body covering mine, his weight pushing me into the sheets . "Don't go," he whispered. So I reached up to his face, and he rubbed his cheek against my hand, and bit the soft flesh of my palm and I moaned. "Please," I wh ispered, and he knew what I was asking for better than I did, dragging my pantie s down my legs, and sliding two fingers into me, watching my face as he worked t hem, the heel of his hand pressing high, but I was already too close, and I shoo k my head, "Not without you." He laughed, then and pulled his hand away, and lic ked his fingers and smiled, and pushed them between my lips. "You taste like lem ons," he said, and I sucked them in my mouth, moving my tongue on his fingertips , and her moaned and pushed his pants down with one hand, and then he was in me, his fingers still between my lips. I was slick, and he filled me, deep, exactly where I was aching for

him. He leaned down to kiss me, his tongue in my mouth with his fingertips, and I reached up to him, craving that completeness we had, but he pulled his mouth a nd hand away. "Bella, I can't go slow«" "I don't want you to," I cried, needing hi m fast and hard, and he gave it, his hips at the perfect angle to press on the s wollen flesh outside, hands in my hair, and his mouth on mine again, and I grabb ed his hips with my legs and my fists as he thrust, working back against him to take him deeper, and he grew huge inside me as I clenched around him, and it was so damned good I wanted to scream"Now," he whispered into my mouth. My muscles tensed and my bones melted, and every nerve in my body cried his name as I came, arching under him, and he pushed deep and shot in me, pumping in time to my spa sms, wave after wave. He fell on me, boneless and limp, gasping. I kissed his fa ce, and he rolled off me and gathered me close, and sleep took us together. Chapter 21: Matters Edward: My feet hit the asphalt in a steady rhythm, and my l egs became a metronome for the song that was beginning to take shape in my head. It was something new, something brooding about watching a girl while she slept, wondering if her dreams were about me or someone else. I'd woken at dawn; the s ky was slow to brighten through the low clouds, but I'd watched Bella sleep in t he half-light, fascinated by the expressions flickering over her face. Her mouth would move with whispers, and sometimes I could hear a breathy word or two. She said her mother's name aloud once, and I wondered at the fact that she called h er parents by their given names, unless speaking directly to them. She rarely re ferred to Charlie as "Dad", when talking about him; he was "her father." I wonde red if she'd ever felt like a kid; what little she'd said made me think that she was the one to take care of her parents, not the other way around. "Phoenix," s he'd whispered once, and I had to actively push my immediate dark response aside . Of course she would miss her home and her friends; she'd been here only three weeks. I just didn't know how to stop the strange agonizing feeling I got when h er phone rang with that particular ringtone. I'd heard it in the hall last night , and walked into the library and watched her face, as she glanced at the screen . She had the softest smile and a hint of pink on her cheeks, and I felt like I was interrupting something intimate, and I hated it; I'd give anything to have h er look at me that way.

But then she said she'd told him about us, and I almost felt sorry for the basta rd. Whatever she felt for him didn't matter. She'd given herself to me, not him; I'd kissed her first, I'd taken her first, and the look in her eyes when she as ked if we were going to sleep in the same bed was for me alone. I'd stared at he r as she slept, feeling voyeuristic, a strand of her hair twirled around my fing ers. I contemplated looking through her iPhone, to see exactly what she told him , but that was wrong, and Alice would somehow know and kill me, and I would have to tell Ordinary_Girl, and even though she would understand I didn't want her t o think ill of me. "Edward," she'd said, still dreaming, her voice husky from sl eep, and all thoughts of anything dissolved in the heat that rushed through me. Her lips were parted slightly, and moving, and I touched her bottom lip with my fingertip, and then she was awake, gorgeous brown eyes sleepy and blinking. She smiled, and my heart pounded with the sweetness and the blatant desire in her ga ze. I kissed her, hoping my breath wasn't sour, and she nestled close, soft and smooth and warm, her hair an insane mess of curls and little braids, and then cl oser, until she was on top of me, hips rocking and soft wet bits pressing on my morning wood. She'd taken me inside without introductions or preamble and this t ime I was able to go slow, and I led her hand to touch us both where we were joi ned, to feel me sliding in her folds. Her fingers were curious, despite the shy blush on her face, and the duality of that was delicious. And I had to stop remi niscing about it, because sporting a huge boner while running was uncomfortable, especially in compression shorts. I picked up the pace, not quite sprinting, bu t pushing hard until my calves began to ache with heat. Rain started to fall thr ough the pine trees, a light drizzle that cooled me down, and the song in my hea d shifted, a slower beat, and I slowed to a smoother stride. A new tune slid int o my head, a minor key canon that spiraled out into the grey morning, and the wo rds of something I'd written a couple weeks ago started to fit the cadence. Jazz would like it, there was a lot of room to play with instrumental bridges betwee n the sets of phrases, and the tune was simple enough that Rosalie would have a field day with variations. I'd even like to see what Alice could do with the har monica. I toyed with it all the way home, and went straight to the basement to l ay a track down for the melody before I lost it, tapping it out on the piano; I' d find the words and give it to Jasper to play with later. I wondered if Bella w as awake; she'd fallen back asleep after she rode me this morning, snuggled onto my chest, mumbling a protest when I slid out from under her to go running. I wa s still soaked from sweat and the rain; I needed a shower before Esme and I made breakfast. I didn't want wake Bella up, but the thought of showering with her m ade me hard all over again; I'd wanted to ask last night, but I chickened out. B ut when I came up the stairs she was up, hair already wet from bathing, drinking coffee with my stepmother in the kitchen. The look that she gave me made me wan t to drag her off the stool and back to my bed again, but I took the steaming mu g Esme gave me and went to shower alone.

While I was drying off, I logged on and typed in the lines that had formed while I was watching Bella sleep, and then headed back down to help with breakfast. B ella: We tried to help Esme with our dishes, but she pointed towards the basemen t door, and Edward took my hand and pulled me down the stairs. I was jittery, wh ich was stupid, because I'd sung with him already, at the nightclub in Port Ange les. He could tell I was nervous and tugged on my hand, pulling me close for a k iss at the bottom of the steps. "Relax," he said, and I did. He sat at the piano , on the edge of the bench turned long ways, and I sat behind him because that w as how we were together. I didn't lean into his body; I wanted him to have all t he movement he needed to play, but I slid my hand up under his tee-shirt so I co uld feel him and the energy through his muscles, his spine. He played, a light r efrain to Angel from Montgomery, and I sang, simple and clear, and it was nice, but afterward Edward looked at me and frowned. I glared back. "It's not right," he said. "Yeah," I agreed, "you didn't sing with me!" "You wanted me to?" he ask ed. I nodded, and we tried again, but we were just two young voices and a pretty piano, playing a song that was too old for us; it was a ballad about age and lo st dreams, and we sounded silly. "I have an idea," he said. He ran upstairs, and a minute later came back with a handful of thumbtacks and paper clips and a tie -dyed silk scarf that could only have been Esme's. He handed me half the paper c lips and we wedged them onto the strings in arbitrary places. He took the gauzy scarf by the corners and flipped it out like a sheet across the entire inside, a nd then he stuck the metal tacks into the felts of random hammers, and closed th e lid. He played a few scales, and I was amazed; the piano now sounded like an o ld west honky-tonk saloon instrument, tinny and muffled and in bad shape, but st ill in tune. Then he strapped a wireless mic over my ear and dropped the pack in to the back of my jeans, squeezing my ass as he did so, making me jump and blush six shades of red. Alice giggled in the doorway, eating a folded over piece of French toast with her fingers. Jasper swiped at a drip of maple syrup with his t humb before it hit the floor, and licked it off. "Can I tweak levels?" he asked Edward. "Yeah, just nothing weird." Alice crawled under the piano and lay on her stomach with her feet in the air, and after the light above the door went on, E dward began.

I sang, sliding in and around the piano, matching the plunky sound and then risi ng above it. Edward joined me in the chorus, almost hesitant, a rough and muted baritone to my alto. He paused at the bridge, and from under the piano, Alice to ok the melody on her harmonica, a sweet wistful lament while he played a harmony . She was incredible, windy and light, seeming to drift with the keyboard, but a ctually leading it. I was stunned, and nearly came in late on the second verse. I answered her, drifting the way she had, and then slowly pulling back to the fo cus I had at the beginning of the song. At the second bridge, she mirrored my vo ice, dreamy blues, and this time Edward's voice was the support in the chorus wh ile mine was tentative. We closed the song with Alice trailing away the last not e. The light went off, and Jasper bolted into the room and hauled Alice out from under the piano by her bare feet, flipped her upright and stared at her. She sm iled up into his eyes, still as a statue, speaking to him in a language older th an time, and then exploded in a flurry of denim and black silk, batwing sleeves wrapped around his shoulders and legs around his waist, and he spun around, laug hing. Edward looked at me and shrugged, grinning, and we all went to the booth a nd played back the recording. It was lovely and surreal, like I knew it would be , kids dreaming of breaking out of the moulds that their parents set, afraid of going nowhere. What I didn't expect was the way that Alice sounded; away from th e mics, she sounded distant and the piano strings picked up reverb and fed it ba ck with a haunting undertone that added echoes. I hugged Edward, and a bouncing Alice and then Jasper to be fair to everyone. "Thank you so much," I said. "Char lie is going to love it." Jasper looked at me, perplexed. "You just did this for your father?" "He likes this song. I sing it while doing dishes." I smiled. "I' ll need to make some sort of cover art for a jewel case. He's not into the digit al age, yet." Edward pinched the bridge of his nose like he had a nosebleed. "I told you, man. No concept, no clue, no idea," he said, his voice pained. "C'mon, help me take this shit out of my piano. I did bad things to it." "Can we at lea st get a picture of what you did?" Jasper asked him, frowning at me. They took s ome phone snapshots and then picked out the office supplies. I turned to Alice, stung. "Jasper has some difficulty understanding musicians with only small to mo derate ego complexes." "I have an ego," I mumbled, examining the rhinestones on my toes.

"Yes, you do. And when you finally learn how to use it for more than fending off bitchy gossip girls, you'll conquer the world." "Hey. I did okay with them. The y pretty much left me alone by Friday. Now they're all taking bets to see how lo ng I can keep him." She sighed and rolled her eyes. "So, I'm guessing I have a m onth, right?" "Bella," she said, "I don't think you understand." "Less than that , huh?" Something ugly twisted in my chest. She looked at me, and her lips were moving, searching for words, and in that moment she looked very much like Edward . "Look, Alice," I said, locking down my heart and keeping my voice steady, "I h ave no groupie girl fantasies of being the one to finally win the heart of the r ockstar. He wants me right now, we're having fun, and maybe if I don't get too h eavy and read too much into this, he and I can still be friends when he moves on ." "Liar!" my heart screamed at my brain. She continued to stare at me. "And no matter what happens with your brother," I continued, "I want us to be friends." Her eyes were wide, and she was still silently moving her mouth, trying to say s omething. "What?" I asked, and then tried to joke with her, "Please, Alice? Ange la can't help me with my hair like you can, and I'd much prefer to sing with a h armonica than a sax, and Lauren is a bitch and Jessica is scarier than T-Legs!" "Who is T-Legs?" she finally spoke. "Some senior named Tanya who stares at me al l the time. Has legs so long they make her arms look short, kind of like a Tyran nosaurus," I joked. She laughed in surprise, and I giggled with her, and then ha rder at Rose who stood in the doorway with an eyebrow arched. She jerked her hea d out to the studio. "C'mon," said Alice, "Let's go play with the boys." "Okay, folks, it's my turn," called out Emmett. I sat down on the floor, opposite them, with my back to the wall. "Liar, liar, with your pants on fire!" my heart sulke d, as I looked up at the beautiful boy adjusting the microphone.

Jasper set the tones with a few grungy bass chords, and Rose picked them up, har d road blues, then Em brushed in a back rhythm on cymbals, and leaned into a boo m mic hung off a hook from the ceiling. "Baby did a bad, bad thing«" He sang all g ravel and guts, and Alice played a tiny toy harmonica, muffling it in her finger s, a distant descant accent, and the contrast between the two was funny, and I l aughed until Edward took the melody, and strange things happened to my body wher e he liked to put his fingers. "You ever love someone so much you thought your l ittle heart was gonna break in two? I didn't think so," he crooned, voice all se x and velvet and warm things, like his thighs when I rode him in bed this mornin g, and his palms on my breasts, cupping me, circling my nipples with his thumbs, holding me steady while I rocked my hips, andHe was staring at me, with his eye s wide and intense, and I felt my face flame hot. He sang the next line with the devilish half-smile that told me he knew what I was thinking about, and I looke d away, but he grabbed my hand and pulled me upright and sang to me. I laughed, and the energy coursed through us where we were touching hands, and I felt like I could have danced if I wanted. I joined in on the last refrain, adding my voic e to the climax, and he laughed with me as Jazz and Rose closed with some heavy chords. "I bet the girls love that one," I whispered to him. "Do you?" he asked, his lips brushing my ear. "Am I a girl?" "Oh, yes," he breathed, and brushed th e back of his hand down the side of my breast. "Hey!" called out Alice, "are you two gonna fuck or sing?" He stood still, staring at the nipple under my t-shirt that had hardened to his touch. "What?" I asked, embarrassed but laughing. "I'm trying to decide." Rosalie played an impatient chord, jarring the moment. He si ghed. "I guess we should sing. For now." "C'mon, already! I've been working on t his all week!" Alice was ready to explode. So was I, for other reasons. "What ar e we doing, darl'?" asked Jasper.

"Low Spark." Alice grinned evilly at their looks of horror. Edward shrugged. "I can play it, but I don't know the lyrics." "I have them," I said. I pulled out m y phone, noticing an update alert from Debussy_88, but thumbed over to my playli sts. I'd read it later, when I had a moment to myself. I pulled up the words to the classic Traffic song. "Can you sing them?" he asked. I grimaced, but nodded. "I can do Ricki Lee Jones better than Steve Winwood," I said. He made a face. " Kiki Ebsen would suit your voice better." "Who?" He seemed pleased that I hadn't heard of her, and I thought about last Wednesday and his disappointment that I knew Ellery. Was he trying to impress me? "GUYS!" "I'm out," said Rose. She deta ched the cords from the amp, and took my spot against the wall, cradling her gui tar in her lap. "I can follow," said Jazz "What do you need?" Emmett asked. Edwa rd snapped the time with his fingers, and Em picked it up with a light snare bac kbeat. Wasting no time, Alice belted out the opening jazz solo, dirty sax whine on the largest of her harps, twirling around the room, black silk shirt flaring out behind her, an iridescent blackbird singing blues. It would have seemed ridi culous, this tiny little girl making so much noise, but she was really good, and she owned it. I stumbled through the lyrics, and Rose followed on the floor, un plugged and silent, miming the chord changes. We made it most of the way through the song, but after Alice's second solo we got out of synch, and fell apart, la ughing. "Okay, so we have homework!" yelled Edward. "I need more cowbell," said Emmett. "My cheeks hurt," complained Alice. "I've heard that before," approved J asper.

We played 'Hello Operator', and they worked on an instrumental I didn't recogniz e, but loved, and rehearsed some A3 songs. When things began to wind down, and C arlisle called through the basement door to say that dinner would be ready soon, they talked about next weekend, and everyone seemed to assume that I would be t here, too. I couldn't have been happier. At dinner Carlisle mentioned that Aro h ad asked if Breaking Dawn would be interested in playing an early set the Friday after next; a band had canceled and he was looking for a replacement to fill th e slot. Alice immediately called the number her father gave her. She was very pr ofessional on the phone, asking about times and tech and sound checks, and then accepted the gig for the group. As soon as she hung up she squealed like a littl e girl, and hugged everyone in the room. "You'll come, too?" she asked me. "I wo uldn't miss it for the world!" I laughed. After dinner I packed my stuff that wa s in Alice's room, and sat on her bed, not wanting the day to be over. Early eve ning streaked strange shadows past the dressmaker's forms in her room, headless torsos that stood watch over her secret designs, keeping me company. I checked m y phone to read Debussy_88's update, wondering at Edward's ire last night. Did h e not want me to tell people about us? After our kiss in front of the whole cafe teria it was pretty well known that we were involved, and since Edward didn't da te there wasn't any point in pretending it wasn't sexual. My anonymous friend ha d written: -in progress She sleeps in the snow White of my sheets; The grace of her lash Lies long on her cheek. Is it my face she sees when a smile parts her l ipsMy hands in her hair, The touch of my kiss. Does she dream of a boy In a fara way placeHer heart in his hands His kiss on her face. I burn in her fire I'm tor tured to ash, By the pain of desire And the grace of the lash.

I sat in the half-light, trying to put my thoughts into words; finally, I typed: I wish I were a muse to inspire such words. He didn't respond, and after a minu te I slipped my iPhone into my bag and met Alice and Edward at the Volvo. He kis sed me before I got in, long and hard, and I pulled him to me. "Come back," he w hispered. "I will," I promised. Edward: We pulled up to Bella's house, and Charl ie was already back from the fishing trip. Esme had sent him a care package of d inner leftovers, and Bella let out Alice to give it to him. I walked her to the door, trying to keep from hovering over her and failing miserably. She invited m e in anyway, and we played the CD we'd burned earlier for her father. I leaned i n the doorway, watching the girls dance around the room, and Charlie sat still a s stone. After it was over, he turned down the volume and hit play again. The gi rls ran wandered off to the kitchen, and I shoved my hands in my pockets, trying to come up with something intelligent to say other than I'm having sex with you r daughter, please don't shoot me. "She's good," said Chief Swan. I nodded. "Rea lly good." "She have any idea she's that good?" "I don't think so," I said. We l istened for a few minutes, and the refrain came around, with my voice on the bac kup vocals. "That's you." "Yes, sir." "I thought she was going to sing this with James what-ever-his-name-is," he said. "They sang something else." I wasn't qui te able to keep the bitterness from my voice. The moustache turned down. "Everyo ne knows John Prine wrote 'Angel from Montgomery'." I had no clue what he was ta lking about, but nodded. "I knew he was full of crap, but I pushed her to do it anyway," he shrugged. "He doesn't have a record."

"Yet," I said. Charlie Swan's eyes snapped to mine. "Something I should know abo ut?" he asked. You should probably know that I invited your daughter to my house and someone tried to drug her, but I drank it instead, and I took her virginity , but she's the best goddamned thing that has ever happened to me, and please do n't shoot me« "Nothing I can prove." He looked at me, and I froze, intimidated by the depth of his observance. "So people will try to take advantage of her, then? " I blanched, and then realized that he was indirectly talking about James. "Yes , sir." Puzzle pieces shifted in my head, aligning for different reasons. "Can y ou keep her safe, son?" he asked. I looked at him and saw pity on his face, mixe d with distrust. He knew, I realized. He knew I was in love with his daughter. " As much as she'll let me," I said. "Yeah, well, good luck with that." He grinned . "Yeah," I smiled back, thinking of Bella's ability to draw trouble. "Edward, a re you ready to go?" Alice called from the kitchen. I turned to Charlie, not kno wing if I should shake his hand or something, and I wanted to have a second alon e with Bella, or an hour, or another week of days like today, but then her fathe r pointed to the stereo, where my voice led the last refrain. "You're not so bad yourself, kid," he said. "Thanks," I said, turning towards the kitchen with a s tupid grin on my face. Alice gave me a long look as we walked to the car, the 'w e have to talk' face, but I silently begged her to wait, to let me have this day a little longer, and she relented, pulling her tiny silver harmonica out of her pocket. She played, complex variations of children's songs, the notes trailing out the windows of the Volvo, and I took the long way home.

I worked with Rose on 'Low Spark' for a little while downstairs, not ready to go up to my empty room, but then I got an alert that Ordinary_Girl had written, so I went upstairs to the computer, thinking I might work on the lyrics I was play ing with today, after I read what she wrote. She'd changed her status to DAMNED, and her profile song was "Heart Attack and Vine", by Tom Waits. Her update was titled: Variations on God When He's Drunk. Liar, liar, with your heart on fire, Making whoopie with the devil And now your soul's on the wire, You never meant t o love him But his hands are so divine, You gave him all your secrets, And now y ou've lost your mind. See the little awkward girl Her hair is all a mess Got ado ration in her eyes That she doesn't dare confess. You never meant to need him, B ut it was only a matter of time He kissed your skin And stole your heart And now you've lost your mind. I typed: Hot rhyme and rhythm, extraordinary blues. Will you tell him? Waiting to see if she might respond, I puttered around my room, t ossing laundry in the hamper. I changed my sheets but left the case on the pillo w that Bella had used. My phone buzzed, and the computer chimed right after. Tel l him what? That his eyes are drawn onto the inside of my lids, and I see them a wake AND sleeping? That I dread bathing because I'll lose the smell of him on my skin? ±Ordinary_Girl I would want to know. I don't want him to know. It's obsessi ve and weird and it hurts. ±Ordinary_Girl What if he feels the same way? My hands shook as I typed the words. What if Bella felt the same way? The next words echo ed my thought. Have you told Spark? ±Ordinary_Girl

No. Then don't push. ±Ordinary_Girl I'm sorry. I shook my head at myself, and at h er, wherever she was. We were having a quarrel, and it was kind of funny. I stoo d, and moved to the windows that walled my room, looking out at the trees and th e night sky. What was Bella doing right now, in her tiny room with the strings o f lights and purple quilt? What was she thinking? My phone buzzed, behind me. Do you ever wish you could go back to when you didn't feel this much? ±Ordinary_Girl No. Do you? Sometimes. ±Ordinary_Girl Chapter 22: Games Bella: On Monday, my usual seat next to Angela was filled with the petite form of Ben Cheney, and though I was happy for my friends, it meant my new lab partner was Lauren Mallory. When I sat down next to her she nodded, h er perfect face frosty. "I keep my word," she said. "So do I," I said. "They loo k good together," she shrugged, and I wondered if it was sarcasm, because Angela was at least six inches taller than Ben, but I didn't want to disturb the peace , especially if I had to sit next to her the rest of the year. I smiled and nodd ed. "What did you tell her parents?" I asked. "I told the truth, actually," she admitted, her tone of voice blasé. "That I didn't start the rumor about Ben. That Tanya was the one who told me about 'a certain Ben we all knew who might have it ch mites', and she said it in order to cause drama between me and my best friend ." "Are you?" I asked, "Best friends?" Lauren gave me a hard look. "Angela and J essica and I went to daycare together since we were three years old. We've known each other all our lives; we're practically sisters. We fight and we're mean, a nd we pull stupid shit on each other, but nothing comes between us. Not boys, no t parents, not the mouthy new girl, and not psycho bitches on stilts."

"Tanyasaurus Rex?" I said. "What is her problem, anyway?" "Good one," Lauren sni ckered. "Who knows what her malfunction is? She's miserable and can't stand for anybody to be happy." "So why did you repeat what Tanya said, then?" I asked, th inking that Tanya wasn't the only one with issues. She shrugged. "They don't cal l us the Bitch Brigade for nothing." But her eyes flicked to Ben and to Mike New ton, and I wondered if the sisterhood was as close as she boasted. After class, Edward met Alice at the door, and when I walked past, I felt his light touch on my lower back, and that strange electricity through my t-shirt, but then he was gone, walking away without speaking, hands in his pockets. Something had changed between us; sleeping together in the same bed had made things more intimate, an d it was lovely, but frightening. I found myself soft at the edges, shields down , and tentative. I didn't like it. At lunch it was more of the same; we sat acro ss from each other, knees touching, sharing a coke as an excuse to touch fingert ips when we passed the bottle. We rarely spoke, just following the conversations of the others, and he when he would catch me staring, his green eyes would flas h and he would grin at my blush, and that would make it worse. We would have no time alone together this week until Friday. Charlie was working split shifts and home when school let out, and Alice had some after school project for her art c lass. Edward said it would give him a chance to practice, but we were both frust rated. I didn't even have any will to write; I felt like I had used up all the w ords that existed to describe the ache and want, and I was getting tired of whin ing about it. My daily exchange with Debussy_88 was nothing more than pleasantri es, but the connection still calmed me; he wasn't writing either. I often turned to his last poem, the words twisting in my head with their peculiar cadence. Ja sper was fired up about the gig at Aro's and was planning the set list. On Wedne sday he asked me to research harmonica songs for Alice to play with, and then ha nded me a post-it note with song titles. "Learn these." he said, and then handed out more slips of paper to the others. Edward watched me as I took the list, wr itten in a spidery scrawl on the yellow sticky paper. They were all duets. I bit my lip, feeling confused. "He's pushing me, not you." he said, voice pitched un der the noise of the cafeteria. "And Alice too, it looks like," pointing at one song with a grimace. "Why?" I asked.

"He wants me to write again," he said, looking away. Then he smiled. "Alice is a new wildcard for us. We'd gotten so used to her following, you know, because sh e has timing issues? So we never really thought to let her lead. But this improv thing with the harmonica, that's like finding the entrance to a goldmine, for J azz." "Does he write songs?" "No, but he tweaks the stuff I give him; I'll do ly rics and a hook, but he'll flesh it out, make it complete." "I'd love to hear so me, someday." I felt awkward, like I was asking for something too private, or re ading someone's diary. "Yeah, well, someday." His mood shifted, a quick fade to dark, and I recoiled, withdrawing to my side of the table. He took our trays up and then left. "You touched a nerve, there," said Jasper, but didn't elaborate. "Doesn't mean he has to be an asshole," grumbled Alice. At the start of Biology, Edward smiled apologetically, and touched my cheek with the back of his hand. T hen his eyes travelled downward, and I responded as if he was touching my skin, and my nipples hardened under my T-shirt. His eyes snapped to mine, and he grinn ed. I scowled at him, and he chuckled. "Friday," he said, and the laughter in hi s voice was warm. But by the time Friday came around I was ready to climb the wa lls. I had gotten no time alone with him, and the glances that he threw my way w ere so hot they seemed predatory. Our usual encounter between second and third p eriod had Mr. Varner clearing his throat as he passed us on the way to the smoki ng lounge, when my frustrated response to Edward's casual touch on my back had m e arching towards him. Lunch was torture, and Biology worse. Edward squinted int o the microscope and then moved back to let me see. I adjusted the eyepiece, and he leaned in, as if to look, and breathed in my ear. "I want you," he whispered , and I shuddered, and he saw it, and smirked. "Stop it," I hissed, finally snap ping. "I'm not a toy for you to tease and play with! This hurts, Edward!" His sm ile disappeared, and he moved away. He changed the slide, careful not to touch m e. "Do you think I don't feel the same?" he asked, his voice a low angry murmur under the noisy class. "Just seeing you makes me hard. Just thinking about seein g you makes me hard. And the way you smell«"

"Shut up!" I whimpered, crossing my legs under the desk, squeezing my thighs aga inst the wet ache. He glared at me, but nodded, and didn't speak to me again for the rest of class. When it was over, he was gone before the bell stopped ringin g. After school finally let out, I met Jasper and Alice at his car, and his hand holding mine on the drive home was possessive and desperate. The tension in the Volvo was ripe, and we didn't talk the whole way. He pulled up behind Emmett's Jeep, and we all trooped into the house. In the foyer, Jasper looked at us both, sternly. "My room. Now. Or else I send you to Emmett and he can strap you in bo xing gloves and let you beat the shit out of each other." He walked down the hal l. "Fuck you," Edward said, between clenched teeth, to his back. "No," I whisper ed, "Fuck me." I dropped my bags, and reached up to pull his face down to mine, my fists in his hair, tugging hard. I kissed him, pushing my tongue between his lips, forcing him open, so keyed up that I was the aggressor, attacking him, wan ting to make him feel as out of control as I felt. He moaned into my mouth, and I sucked on his tongue, and our teeth clicked and we pulled away, gasping, but h is eyes were chaotic and almost black with the wanting. He grabbed my ass and pu lled me up to him, grinding his erection into my lower belly, and I pushed back, wet and warm between my legs. "Say please," he growled, the palm of one hand at the dampness in my jeans, sliding up and down until I was writhing. "No." I gra bbed his erection through his pants and squeezed, and bit his lower lip, angry w ith him for teasing me, for having this kind of hold over my body and mind. He h auled me up against his chest and took two steps backwards, into the tiny hallwa y bathroom, and shoved the door closed. I unbuttoned his jeans, and pawed the fa brics aside until he was finally in my hands, hard and huge. He unzipped me, jer ked my jeans and panties down to my knees, and found where I was soaked for him with his clever fingers. "You are so wet," he said, breathing hard. He opened me , coating me with my own fluid, knowing how to touch me better than I did, and I twisted into his hand, wanting more. "So are you," I countered, panting, slidin g my hand from the base to the tip, milking another silky wet drop and rubbing i t in with my palm. He hissed and spun me around, bending me over the vanity sink , pressing in from behind, just the head, nudging back and forth, holding my hip s still with his hands. "Say please," he said again, staring at me in the mirror , his jaw hard.

"No," I whispered, refusing to submit, unwilling to be anything less than his eq ual in this game of lust, but my body betrayed me, and I arched my back, silentl y begging. He plunged deep, filling me, stretching me, and I clenched around him , pulling him even deeper. We were both gasping for air, and then we started to move, a slow thrust groove, and I gave back as much as he pushed, all the tensio n of the entire week driving us harder, higher, and then faster. He was watching my face in the mirror, and when it became too intense for me to even move anymo re, he took over, keeping the rhythm with deliberate strokes, and slid a hand to the top of my wet folds, pressing right where I needed. "Say it!" he whispered to me and I felt it begin, the delicious wave turning me inside out and he smile d at me, triumphant as the flush rose to my face and I fought it, not wanting to give over to it, to him. "No!" but the pleasure was too much to control and too good and I was climaxing around him, squeezing. And he pulled out, groaning, le aving me to contract empty, and I whimpered at the loss as he came, spurting thi ck and wet on my lower back. I collapsed over the sink, the muscles in my legs s haking, and after a second Edward cleaned the mess off my back. He tried to pull my pants up, but I pushed his hands away. He fixed his own, and stood, watching me adjust my clothes. His eyes were still dark. I stared at him, overwhelmed, a nd though my body wasn't screaming as loudly for him, my heart was still aching. I didn't know how to fix the tension between us. I opened the door and left, no t saying a word, upset and still frustrated. He followed, and as I was about to push Jasper's door open, he touched my arm. "Bella, wait." "What do you want, Ed ward?" "This," he whispered, and spun me around by my shoulders, but his hands w ere gentle as he cupped my face, and his kiss was tender, mouth soft and gentle on mine. There was no pressure, no desperation, and the sweetness of it washed a way the sting of the angst filled week. I slid my arms around him, sighing, and he held me close. Alice opened the door. "There's plenty of time for that later, " she said. "Get in here." We went in there.

The six of us sat on the floor in Jasper's room, incense and sage smoke coiling into the air to hang like green cirrus clouds at the ceiling. Time was playing g ames with my head, and the pauses in our silly conversations seemed long. "Okay, " said Alice, "My turn. Today's programming is brought to you by the letter V." "Vermillion," said Rosalie. She was stretched across three beanbags and Emmett's legs, a Viking sultana from some Pre-Raphaelite painting, playing with the amp down low. She pointed to her guitar, which was of that color, and picked out a l ight flamenco riff. "Vacuum!" said Jasper, sucking on Alice's neck, releasing wi th a wet pop. "Vuh!" she protested, shoving him off. "Vestigial!" She shoved her hand down the back of his jeans. He leaned forward to let her rummage down his pants, then abruptly leaned backwards, trapping her arm. He gave her a lazy grin . "Victory!" he said. She squeaked and wriggled, but he didn't move, so she held still. An evil smirk crossed her features. Her elbow moved slightly, and Jasper looked up, startled. "Vrk," he said, blinking. "Vulgar!" Edward pointed at them . "Vile," agreed Emmett. "Virginal?" I asked Jazz. He nodded, eyes wide. "Violat ed!" We fell apart, giggling, even Rose, and I loved the sound of Edward's laugh ter, and how easy it was to just finally be with him, and be allowed to touch wi thout fear of detention or judging eyes; to relax and hang out with friends and laugh. I was leaning back against his chest, cradled between his bent knees, and the warmth of his body and the scent of his breath when he kissed my temple was divine. Time passed slowly, and I closed my eyes and listened to his heartbeat. "Words that begin with the letter G," said Emmett. Edward and I were playing ti c-tac-toe in the nap of the Persian rug on the floor, brushing it smooth and dra wing the grid against the grain, and he won twice because my brain was turned to cotton yarn when he whispered in my ear "gorgeous girl."

I shivered, and he laughed. My mouth was suddenly too dry to talk properly, so I shook my head, but I couldn't help the desire and delight that washed over me. "Gestalt," said Jasper. "Gesundheit," Edward replied. "What the fuck is 'geshtaw lt'?" asked Emmett. "Are they those kosher matzo fish balls? Like the ones in th e jars that look like little brains swimming in jelly? They just have to smell h orrible." Alice shuddered. "Gefiltefish," said Rose. "'The whole is greater than the sum of the parts'," I quoted, filtering through my hazy brain to recall som ething I'd read somewhere. "Yes," said Jasper. "Bread is more than flour and yea st and eggs and whatever the hell else goes into it. The ingredients are what is in it, but what it is is bigger than that." "Us," said Emmett. "Oh!" exclaimed Alice. "The band. Breaking Dawn." "Exactly," said Jasper. "Monkey Man is our fee t. He sets the pace and moves us forward, but by himself he's just slapping stic ks on skin." "Hey. Rosalie likes my skin stick." He slapped the bongos in his la p in a rimshot. The little drums were so small in his big hands that they looked like a toy. "Ew!" said Alice. "Rose is our hands, then," said Edward, drawing s wirls on my knee with a fingertip, which normally would have tickled, but just f elt heavenly, and I could almost see the patterns he was tracing, as if he were painting pigment on my jeans. "She constructs the music, forms the notes to make the songs." "She could stand alone though, you know, go solo." protested Alice. Rose was gazing at Emmett, and her eyes were fierce as a falcon's as she shook her head. I had to look away from the intimacy of it; this ferocious woman denyi ng that she could be without him. "You're our heart, Jazz." said Alice. "Bass us ually is," he said. "Head," he pointed at Edward.

"Mouth," said the man behind me. I sensed that he was correcting Jasper. "Head," said the bass player, smiling. "You're coming around." I didn't understand thei r private conversation, and Edward didn't elaborate when I turned to him for an explanation. He laid his cheek on the top of my head, and wrapped his arms aroun d me, pulling me tight to him. My heart felt like it was going to explode in my chest. "So Ali is our eyes, right?" asked Emmett. "She sees where we are going a nd what we need to do next, from bookings to what we play when?" Jasper frowned, dissatisfied with that label. "Soul," I said, thinking out loud. "Harmonica is about soul. It does take vision, but it's instinct driven, and that's bigger tha n eyes." They all stared at me, and the smile on Alice's face was almost feral w ith the amount of teeth she exposed. I looked at each of them: the blond philoso pher with his baroque curls, baggy jeans and a pinstriped vest with my raven-hai red best friend in chartreuse pajamas on his lap, the beautiful giants sprawled across each other, and the boy-man behind me, holding me like I was precious, an d I wanted so badly to be a part of them that it hurt. "Catalyst," said Rose, lo oking at Jasper, but nodding toward me. And I grinned, because it was true. You couldn't really have a band without someone to listen. The audience, even the ea rs of one, was the missing piece needed to make music. They'd made me a little p art of them, at least for tonight, and I was so happy I was almost bouncing like Alice. "Very good, sis!" said Jazz. "Good?" asked Emmett, excited. I was now co mpletely confused; they spoke in riddles, but I didn't care. I was along for the ride. "Johnny B." agreed Alice. "Whose version?" I asked. "Peter Tosh," said Ed ward, smug, nudging me out of his lap. Emmett palmed an easy reggae rhythm on hi s bongos, and Jasper thumbed his heartbeat on the upright. Alice pulled out her harmonica, cutting in with short brassy notes. Rose clipped a capo to the neck o f her guitar, and laid in a few chops. "Deep down in Jamaica close to Mandeville , back up in the woods on top of a hill-" Edward put on a patois that was hilari ous, and Alice and I sat on the floor and swayed, singing the back-up

lines to the song. Rasta girls we were not, but it was fun and silly and delight ful, and we didn't care. In the first bridge, while Rosalie played her solo, the door cracked open, and Esme came in, fanning her hand at the smoke, and handed me a bowl of chocolate kisses. She joined us on the chorus, and then backed out the door with a wave. I peeled the foil off the chocolates, and Alice popped one in everyone's mouth, including Edward, and we all laughed when his voice got go bbed up from the candy. "Mama said, son you got to be a man, you got to be the l eader of a reggae band-" His eyes were red from the smoke, and I couldn't keep t he smile from my face. He was terribly cute, bronze hair standing on end, and I wanted to twirl it around my fingers until it made curls. He was grinning back, and we finished the song. Time passed. Edward played with my hair, taking a stra nd and tickling my ear with it. Rosalie, Jazz and Emmett kept playing, segueing into another slow Latin rhythm. We ate chocolate. I pulled the tiny paper tails with the blue writing out of the crumples of silver, and smoothed them in my fin gers, and rolled them into tight spirals. Edward was writing letters on my back, on the skin between the waistband of my jeans and my shirt hem, and I wanted hi m, but slowly this time, and with the electric kisses that left me feeling drunk . Alice startled my wayward fantasy of her brother with a strange whimper. "Twin , they look like bugs," she whined, pointing at the scrunched foil balls litteri ng the floor. We contemplated them for a minute, and then Edward stood and stomp ed on one. "Better?" he asked. She nodded, and he proceeded to kill the rest of them while we laughed. Esme called us all to dinner, and he hauled me to my feet , kissing me softly on the mouth. Edward: The girl was going to be the death of me. She fought me, tooth, tongue and nails when I needed to tame her, to take ba ck some of the control she'd stripped from me by her very existence, and then th ree minutes later, after I given up on my sanity, she melted in my arms with a s imple kiss.

I'd fucked her, plain and simple, like she asked, except that it wasn't simple, it was some screwed up battle of egos, where I even pulled out because neither o f us was willing to give in to the other. The sex hadn't fixed anything, either, so I kissed her while my brain screamed I love you, I need you, and all the oth er stupid things my brain said when I was around her, but it was what we both ne eded, because suddenly it was just us, and it was the weekend and we could be ea sy again. After dinner, when our heads were clear, we worked on the songs Jasper had assigned. I had been nervous about singing a few of the duets with Bella. C all and answer songs were easy, but two had fairly close harmonies. She was fant astic solo and as back-up, but layering voices was more difficult. I shouldn't h ave worried. The girl sang circles around me. And spirals. And clear sweet casca des of notes that wrapped around me like silk sheets and warm honey. We sang Iro n and Wine songs, and a few of the Robert Plant/Alison Krauss arrangements; and it was effortless, and if two people could sing instead of ballroom dance, we we re doing it. Her voice and mine were a perfect match, my higher range ending whe re her lows began, and no weird contrasting vibrato anywhere. We sang the songs Jasper had given us, and a few that we just liked, and the evening slipped away with the music and our laughter. The awkward tension was growing again, sweeter than before, but still gnawing at my belly. I wanted her, as always, and she wan ted me; I could tell by the way she looked at me, and how when I caught her star ing she would bite her lip, and the way her fingers lingered when we passed the sheets of paper with the lyrics, but after this afternoon's frantic encounter, I was a little unsure how to approach her. And I was desperately hoping she would sleep in my bed again. "Would you like a drink?" I finally asked. She nodded, a nd I pulled her to her feet, not letting go as I led her to the bar in the dinin g room. I poured her a double shot of lemon vodka, and myself a bourbon, and she clicked my glass with hers, and took a small taste and smiled. The house was qu iet, and neither of us spoke. I leaned across the bar top and kissed her mouth, gently tasting her, the lemony alcohol biting at my lip pleasantly. She kissed m e back, lips slightly parted, tentative and sweet. Bella pulled away, and looked up at me, dark eyes wide. She bit her lip, and then released it, obviously work ing up the courage to say something. She was adorable and hot, and I just waited , watching her. She took a deep breath, and blushed. "Please," she said.

Chapter 23: Aisle C Edward: "Please," Bella said. The simple word echoed through the room. I sucked in air, gripping the edge of the bar. How the hell did she d o that? One little word and my brain boiled over. She was asking for me, bold in tent and shy voice, and I fucking loved it, the innocence and the lust and the h onesty of her. I leaned in and kissed her mouth again, soft, almost casual, resi sting every urge in every bone that screamed to throw her up on the bar and poun d into her until she yelled my name. She responded sweetly, lips easy and yieldi ng, and I curled my hands under her hair, cupping her neck to pull her closer. I kissed her again, heavy and slow, tongue full in her mouth, thrusting, and just when I thought I might be pushing her too much, her hand slid to my hair, pulli ng me closer, and she sucked on my tongue. Fuck. I was so jacked up and hard tha t just kissing the girl was going to make me come in my jeans. A strange noise w as coming from my throat, and I pulled away from her. She protested; a little me wling cry of disappointment that made me even harder, if that were possible. I g rabbed our shot glasses in one hand and walked around the bar, and offered her m y hand. She took it, and I led the way to my room. I made short work of our clot hing, and laid her back on the bed. She was pliant in my arms, and I kissed her skin the whole way down, avoiding her mouth, because if she sucked my tongue lik e that again I would have to be in her without the niceties, and I really wanted to be nice. She'd said 'please.' Her nipples were candy I could suck for hours, but the lemon sour sweet I wanted was between her legs, slick in the pink and I licked up one side and down the other until she grabbed my hair in her hands an d held me steady, right where she wanted me, and I sucked her sensitive places a nd filled her with my fingers while she rocked her hips into my lips and tongue. She came quickly, and I felt the heat rush through the wet flesh in my mouth, a nd her contractions sucking my fingers deeper flayed my brain and my cock, and w hen she said my name the room could have been on fire and I wouldn't have cared, I needed to be in her so badly. When I pushed into her, her tight little body s ucked me deep, still tense from her orgasm, and she wrapped her arms and legs ar ound me like she wanted to crawl inside my skin. I wanted her there; bone and fl esh, heart and soul, and I thrusted, mindless to everything except how good she felt, spilling into her as she came again. Sometime in the middle of the night s he woke both of us with my name, and when I slipped my hands between her thighs she was still wet from both of us, and my cock slid in easy, knowing the way hom e.

Bella: Saturday Breaking Dawn practiced for the gig at Aro's until Edward lost h is voice and Rose complained that her fingertips were going to bleed, and even E mmett growled that Jazz was pushing them too hard. I sang with with them sometim es, but mostly they spent the time trying to get used to Alice's dynamic, and Ja sper rearranged the pacing of the songs so that she could have the freedom to im provise without messing with everyone's timing. Edward might have been the voice of the band, but Jasper was bandleader. He set the tone and the heartbeat of ea ch song, sketching the time to Em with his hands, supporting Edward under the me lody with the bass and nodding to Rosalie with cues. He was working them all, so ng after song, talking about things like muscle memory and subconscious mnemonic s, until Alice finally told him to relax, which I found extremely funny, and we all marched upstairs to help Esme with dinner. My world had become a surreal son net written by a beat poet tripping on fungus. I spent my days pretending to foc us at school, brief touches and stolen kisses between conversations of music and lyrics and harmony and sex. I whiled evenings away staring at the incessant rai n that beat down on this tiny little place of earth. I was fascinated by the rai n, and the colors it turned the world. Rain in Phoenix came in rare violent stor ms that were gone before you had time overcome the shock of their visit. Nights were spent dreaming of the boy with the green eyes and long fingers. Wednesday e vening, my homework was interrupted by NIN's La Mer, and I took a break from Che mistry to read Debussy_88's update. His profile status was JACKED, and he'd adde d the song 'Souljacker Part 1', by the Eels. It was titled: Five minutes of word s while drinking Jack Daniels with ice trying to get the nerve up to call her an d ask her for a date. I want to kiss her cliché, And make her mine, while sucking her fear away. I look at the words I write And cross them out, And begin again, Ending with a blank page Much like I do When I am with her And want to say All t he clever things To make her stay. I responded: What did she say? Ask me tomorro w. ±Debussy_88

On Thursday, Alice and Jazz rode home with Rosalie and Em, giving me a chance to lick Edward's bottom lip at the stoplight by the school. He laughed at me and t old me to put my seatbelt on, but his eyes were hot, and he slid his palm up the inside of my thigh, drawing my skirt up as he went. I laughed too and told him to pay attention to the road. The rain had turned cold and relentless, and the s treets were slick. Autumn's seasonal change in Forks was a slight shift from bri ght evergreen to a duller grey forest, with more rain. Waiting for the light by the diner, I peered through the weather to see Ben and Angela at a table in the window, eating a banana split with two spoons. I waved, but they were too involv ed with each other to notice me. Edward was staring at me, with an odd expressio n. "Look how sweet that is!" I laughed. The rain splashed down, making everythin g bright and shiny, and the pastel colors of Angela's shirt and the dessert glow ed pretty against the backdrop of the grey day. "Do you want to?" he said, watch ing the stoplight, "Get some ice cream?" "No, I'm fine. I've some at home, thank s. I meant them," I said. "They look like a Norman Rockwell painting, or a scene from a French film." He nodded. The light turned green, and we drove on. His ha nds were tight on the wheel and he glared at the road. He pulled into the drivew ay, and reached into the back seat for an umbrella, but I stopped him. "I'm okay ," I said. "No sense in both of us getting wet." He scowled at me, and then put his hands back on the wheel and stared ahead. "Thank you for the ride." He nodde d. "See you tomorrow?" He nodded again. I fidgeted, wishing he would say somethi ng, wondering what I'd done wrong. "I mean at lunch. Or Biology." I fumbled for words, embarrassed. "I wasn't expecting you to pick me up. I mean, your car is v ery nice-"

"I'll be here," he said. He released the lock on the door, and I felt dismissed. I waited to see if he would turn and kiss me. When he didn't, I got out and wal ked to the house. The rain soaked my hair, but I didn't care. The house was dark and empty. I tossed my things by the stairs, and leaned against the closed fron t door, determined not to cry. I breathed deep, trying to be mad, to blow off hi s pisstivity, to not care. Whatever he was angry about, he still wanted to see m e in the morning; he said he'd be here. A single thud sounded on the door, jarri ng my back and startling me from my self-pity. I opened the door to Edward, hair and face soaking wet and shoulders at his ears. His body was rigid and his fist s were balled at his sides. The wind drove the rain in hard sheets of grey, spra ying us both. I pulled him inside by the lapel of his jacket, and shoved the doo r closed against the weather. He leaned back against it, much the way I had a se cond ago, scowling at me. I glared back. He started to speak, but I cut him off. "Do you have a multiple personality disorder?" I shouted at him. "Because your fucking mood swings are giving me whiplash!" I was furious, and my face was hot with unloosed tears, but I'd be damned if I was going to cry in front of him. He gaped at me. I stomped off to the kitchen, jerked open the door to the freezer and pulled out a pint of strawberry ice cream, and a spoon from the drawer, and ate it straight from the tub, to cool my swollen sinuses and shrink the tears ba ck to where they belonged. Edward walked into the kitchen, and stopped short, st aring. "You're eating ice cream?" "So?" I said, defensive. "Do you want some?" " No." He turned and walked back out the front door, slamming it so hard the house shook. I threw the pint and the spoon down on the counter, and ran after him, o ut into the rain. On the last step I slipped on the slick surface, and pitched f orward into Edward's back, nearly knocking him over. He spun around and grabbed my arms, hauling me up to find my footing. The cold rain drenched us, and my tee th started chattering. "Don't go."

He glared at me, blinking water from his lashes. "Bella, what do you want?" he a ll but screamed at me. He looked furious, hair soaked and awry, angry and corner ed and ready to attack. I stared back at him, helpless with this unbearable tens ion that stretched between us. "You," I said, confessing everything, baring my h eart and hoping he wouldn't notice, and I kissed him as gently as I could, holdi ng off all the passion, trying to give him only sweetness, the way he had last w eek when nothing else was working. He stood stone still, and I kissed him again, silently begging him to stay. I ran my hands through his wet hair, slicking it back from his face, pressing my lips to his, soft, over and over. He finally hea rd what I wasn't saying, and kissed me back, his mouth warm in the bitter rain t hat splashed down on our faces. "You're freezing," he said. I nodded. "Come insi de." I tugged on his jacket. "Please. Don't drive in this." He followed me back into the house. We left our muddy shoes by the door, and I put the ice cream bac k into the fridge. "Bella, when is Charlie due home?" Edward's voice was rough. "Not 'til five, why?" I tried to be casual. "You should probably put on a dry sh irt before he does." He was staring at my chest. "I'd rather not get shot." I lo oked down. My white t-shirt and thin cotton bra had turned transparent, and my s hivering skin and cold tight nipples were blatant under the material. He reached out a fingertip and traced around a peak, then dropped to his knees in front of me and took the other in his mouth, and damn, his mouth was hot, tongue moving over the cotton, the sensation blunted by the fabric, strange and lovely, sendin g currents of pleasure straight down my body until I was clenching my thighs. He smiled at my moan, and then sucked my other nipple, persistent fingers working the one his mouth had abandoned. I pulled at him, drawing him to his feet, doing the same to him, suckling at the tiny dark tips on his chest, making him squirm , and then I moved lower, nipping at his chest and stomach through his shirt, an d then even lower, tugging at the buttons of his wet jeans, peeling away the fab ric.

I dropped to my knees, not missing his quick inhale, or the way he froze still a s a marble statue, and I grinned, liking that I was able to affect him as much a s he did me. I took him in my hands, hard marble indeed, but burning hot, and ki ssed him. "Bella!" he whispered, and I could hear the protest and the hope in hi s voice, and it made me smile and blush at the same time. I licked him, along th e entire length of the shaft, feeling the different textures of his skin with my tongue. The skin was loose at the base, and taut at the tip, and he smelled lik e soap and cotton and boy, and tasted like salt and male skin, clean and musky a nd something I couldn't define but was just Edward. When I slid my lips over and around the top, he took an audible breath in, and held it. I took him in my mou th, working my tongue on the underside, exploring the shape of him, hoping I was getting it right, and reveling in his moan when he finally exhaled. "God, Bella ," he gasped, pushing my hair away from my face, "your mouth is so warm!" I went on pure instinct, sucking him slowly into my mouth, releasing to slide back out and then doing it again, stroking all the skin I could find with my hands. He p ulled me away, almost roughly, and picked me up and sat me on the edge of the ki tchen table. After a brief wrestling match with my panties where I giggled and h e growled, he was in me, deep and hot, and I leaned back on my elbows and wrappe d my legs around his waist. He thrust heavily into me, watching my breasts bounc e inside the wet t-shirt, thumb pressing high and outside, working my hips onto him. I watched his face as he lost control, lips parted and swollen, and felt hi m grow huge inside me, filling every female inch of me and more, and it was too good, too lovely, and I cried out as my skin shivered from toes to thighs to bre asts and fingertips and nipples and lips, and I convulsed around him and he groa ned and pushed hard, and bent to kiss my mouth while he shot deep and wet inside me. He pulled out and cleaned me up with my discarded panties, and I smiled at the efficiency. We righted the salt and pepper shakers, and by the time Charlie got home, I was in a dry t-shirt, and Edward and I were sitting chastely opposit e at the kitchen table, schoolbooks out, discussing our Biology homework. After he left, I pulled out my iPhone and typed: It is tomorrow: Did you ask? There wa s no response, and as the evening wore on I began to worry. Edward: The rain fin ally stopped midday Friday, and by 7:00 the evening sun left cool crisp shadows over Port Angeles and Aro's nightclub. The inside was lit with paper lanterns fr om the ceiling and votive candles on the tables, and the air was warm enough tha t the women were taking off their coats to expose strappy dresses and low neckli nes.

We puttered around the small stage, adjusting cables, tweaking mic heights, tryi ng not to look like we were gawking at the crowd. "Where's Bella?" asked Jasper. "I don't know. She's here." I could feel her. I scanned the room. The place was packed. Dad and Esme waved from a table in the middle, and I smiled, resisting the urge to wave back like a kindergarten kid at the school recital. Aro was act ing the maitre d', chatting up the room, and Ange, Jess and Lauren sat at a tabl e for ten, slightly overdressed, like girls going out to eat before prom; the re st were probably outside smoking. Felix was talking up a brunette with nice legs , leading her to a small table against the wall, near James and Victoria. Mrs. G off was here, of all people, dressed in some sort of flowing dress thing, and I saw a table full of the ER nurses. I didn't see Charlie Swan, but I did see Bill y and Jake Black. Jane was there, assisting the hostess with menus, little girl all dolled up in a black dress; I waved to her, and she crossed her eyes and stu ck out her tongue. "Check out The Goff, man!" said Emmett. "Who knew she was an ±e sque woman?" "What's an 'esk' woman?" I asked him. "Y'know, Junoesque, Rubenesqu e. On the heavy side, but still hot." I laughed, but Alice grabbed my wrist. "Oh , no. Edward, look!" She pointed to the side of the room. "What the fuck?" said Jasper. Bella sat alone at a table, the brunette in the blue dress with the nice legs, with make-up on and her hair all up and so elegant that I hadn't recogniz ed her, reading a menu. I stared at her, trying to make sense of it, letting the pieces fall into place: her confusion with the duets last week, her distance at rehearsal last Saturday, her total lack of nerves during set up. She never had intended to sing with us. And I'd just assumed she'd wanted to. She tucked an er rant curl behind her ear, and my mind turned to vapor. She was so beautiful. In some fucked up way, I hated that she was alone; the prettiest girl in the whole room and she didn't have a date. Not that she wanted me, she wouldn't even let m e take her out for ice cream, but it still turned my insides out that she was al l alone. Then I noticed that the waiter had brought two glasses of water, and no t cleared the second place setting. She was meeting someone. I ground my teeth, wondering who.

We were supposed to go on in five minutes, and Bella wasn't going to sing with u s, and I would have to stand there like an asshole singing songs to her while sh e was on a date with someone else. I needed to calm down. I went out the back do or behind the piano to get some air. I wanted a cigarette, but I wasn't going to fuck up my voice before I went on stage, and Dad was here and would ground my a ss 'til Christmas if he caught me. My flask was at home, and I didn't sing drunk at a gig, anyway, but I could not go on right now. I hadn't told Ordinary_Girl about yesterday's awkward crash and burn, but I needed her calm words. Hoping sh e would be able to answer, I pulled out my iPhone and typed: She doesn't want me . The response was immediate: Did you ask? ±Ordinary_Girl I wrote back: She turned me down. She's waiting for someone else. Did you tell her? ±Ordinary_Girl Tell he r what? That I'm a jealous ass who can't stand the thought of her with anyone el se? That I would give up my own name to have her heart? That she's so beautiful sometimes I forget to breathe? Yes. ±Ordinary_Girl No. I guess I'm spared that emb arrassment, now. I went back inside, feeling no better, but at least a little cl earer headed. I'd get through the evening. I wouldn't look at her. I'd pretend t hat she didn't exist; I wouldn't notice the arch of her neck as she looked at he r iPhone, or how her shoulders slumped, or that she looked like she was about to cry. Had the fucker stood her up? I was furious all over again, aware of my own hypocrisy, and resenting it. She spooned some ice from her glass, and sucked on it, and the red heat quickly receded from her face; I was reminded of yesterday . She'd eaten the ice cream to keep from crying, I realized. She looked up, and then over at the stage, dark liquid eyes finally resting on me. Drawn like iron to a magnet, I walked over to her, despite Jasper's hiss. "You look nice," I sai d. "The makeup. I mean, you look fine without it. Fuck." I rubbed my neck, looki ng away. I was good with girls; I was a musician, and reasonably attractive. All I had to do

was smile and I got any girl I wanted. Just not this one; this one I had to talk to, and I had no clue how. Obviously. "Thanks?" she said, confused. "Where's yo ur date?" She glance over my shoulder and grinned at someone. I spun around. Cha rlie Swan approached us, looking uncomfortable, dressed in slacks and a shirt an d tie, and took the seat opposite Bella. I stared at him in shock and then the r elief washed over me so hard that I giggled. He shot me a dirty look. "Edward. N ice dress, Bells. I thought you were singing tonight." "So did we," I said, laug hing helplessly. "What?" she asked. I shrugged and nodded, trying to stifle my i nsanity. Alice and Jasper came up behind me. "But you never asked me!" Bella sai d. I laughed harder, all reason gone. "Shit," spat Jazz, and walked back to the stage. "Edward, really?" hissed Alice. "Bella, you've practiced with us for the past two weeks! How are we supposed to do 'Low Spark'? or 'Hello Operator'?" "Yo u should really go sing, Bells," said Charlie. "Jake and Billy came all the way in to town to see you." She looked miserable, shoulders tight, and her eyes dart ed around the room. "There are an awful lot of people here," she said, her voice broken. Charlie sighed, and she looked even more panicked. I leaned over to Ali ce. "Tell Jasper to rearrange the first set," I said. I was certain he was alrea dy, most people in the crowd were younger than we thought they would be, I squat ted down, sitting on my heels so I wasn't towering over the anxious girl at the table, and took her hand in mine. Her eyes were brimming with tears, and I hated it. "Listen," I said. "Why don't you hang out, listen for a while, see how the room feels, and if you're up for it, join us in a few." I tried to strip all my voice of hope, looking up at her with a casual smile, "No pressure, okay?" Pleas e, Bella, please, please, please.

She nodded. Jasper started in with 'Walking on the Moon' and I squeezed her hand and left her to join them on the little wooden stage that was dwarfed by the gi ant piano. After the opening song, Aro introduced us, and we launched into 'Walk ing in Memphis, and the polite crowd warmed up a bit as we moved through a few c lassics, but nothing too raucous. Then we took it up a notch with a Seven Nation s tune, and there was that small silence of doom as an audience decided whether or not it was in the mood for something they didn't know, but then Lauren Mallor y whistled and Jessica clapped, and the ice was broken. The patrons opened up an d made noise, and the little movements of picking up a glass with ice or murmuri ng to a neighbor were in time with Emmett and Jazz, and their tapping feet under the table fed an undercurrent of percussion that enveloped the room. Aro caught my glance and nodded. They were having a good time. A happy crowd bought anothe r round of drinks and stayed for dessert and came back with friends in a week or two. After a few more well known songs, Jasper named the band and announced a b reak after one more song, and we did 'Too Sick to Pray', which was unfamiliar to most of them. The room quieted a little, and I turned on all the charisma I had , rough sex blues, speaking for every man who ever wanted the girl, to every gir l who wanted to be wanted, and I had them in the palm of my hand. Bella was watc hing me with a smile and hot eyes, and she mouthed words at me, holy fucking cro w,and I knew she was thinking about the afternoon we recorded it, a month ago. I t felt like years ago and only yesterday. I finished the song, and the crowd mad e good noise. She touched her bottom lip, a secret kiss, and my heart did someth ing weird in my chest. We left the stage, all but Jazz, who played a few strains of Fever when the applause died down, as a teaser; I watched Bella from the sha dows. She was biting her lip and looking at the piano bench. Then she looked at the room full of people, and back at the stage. Charlie got up, waving at the Bl acks, obstructing my view, and when I was finally able to see through the mingli ng people, the table was empty. We mingled a little; Emmett and Rosalie went to talk to Victoria, and I said hi to the crowd from school. "Will you take request s?" Jessica yelled. "I want to hear the one you wrote about lying in the meadow, " said Lauren. "You haven't played that in forever." "Not that one," I said, mak ing an effort to keep my voice light. "Just covers, tonight."

"Edward, you are never going to make it big as a cover band! You've got to do yo ur own stuff!" She protested. "No one signs cover bands, and you can't go indie if you've got no material. Besides, your songs are really good!" Were good, bitc h. Past tense. I wanted to tell her to fuck off, but she was right, and she was actually great to have in the audience, good at psyching the crowd into enthusia sm, and I didn't want to be a shit and ruin the mood. I felt a light punch on my arm and turned to see James' fuck-ugly face grinning at me. "Why isn't your gir l singing with you, man? She's phenomenal!" The only thing that kept me from bre aking his nose was the fact that he'd acknowledged that she was mine. Even if sh e wasn't, I liked him thinking that she was. I gave him a tight smile. "She has stage fright." I took some satisfaction from the look of shock that slapped his features. His little demo wasn't worth shit if he couldn't get her in front of a n audience. I turned and went to get some air, the stage high adrenaline fading into fumes; I couldn't get her in front of an audience either. Emmett and Rose f ollowed me out. We stood outside in the back, cooling off, a few feet from the p arking lot where Bella and I fought off the drunken frat boys. I leaned against the bricks, hoping she would come find me. I'd never minded being alone before, but tonight it was hard not be aware of Alice and Jasper macking against the wal l, or Rosalie rubbing Em's shoulders. I checked my phone. I'd missed an alert: W ill you be okay? ±Ordinary_Girl Yes. No. Maybe. She ties me in knots, blows me kis ses and vanishes. How are you? I'm incoherent. I want to go to him, to be pretty at his side, and he asked me, and I'm scared. ± Ordinary_Girl What are you afraid of? Whether I fly or fail, I will never be the same person that I am now. ±Ordina ry_Girl You will always be Extraordinary. I want to be. ±Ordinary_Girl Dare you.

Felix brought us a tray full of cokes and some fancy sandwiches, and Esme came t o hug us all. Alice answered a text, and went inside, nodding to Aro who was tal king with Dad. I chatted with them and had a few bites of the food, but as the m inutes wore on my stomach got tighter and tighter. Bella wasn't going to come ou t. Jazz looked pissed, but had the sense not to talk to me. Rose ruffled my hair , which annoyed me, because it made me feel like a little kid and if she was sym pathetic enough to show it I must have looked utterly wrecked. Em punched my arm . The crowd inside got quiet and I guessed it was time to go in. I stepped away from the wall, and was struck by a light blow of simple notes on a tentative gui tar, Alice playing 'In the Cold, Cold Night', which meant that"Yes!" Jasper whis pered, and dashed inside. Bella was sitting on the end of the bench, hidden behi nd the piano, her back to the audience, shoulders swaying to Alice's melody. Her hair was down, hiding the earpiece to her mic, and she was back in jeans, the d ress now a shirt with a shredded mess tangling around her hips. She sang, shy an d lovely, grinning at Jane, who was sitting next to her. They were kicking their bare feet, little girls ignoring the world, having fun. I went up to them, but Bella wouldn't look at me. On the last line, I picked up Jane and plopped her on top of the piano, and launched into 'Rich Woman' by Robert Plant and Alison Kra use, before the audience or Bella could react. Rosalie shot me a dirty look for not warning her, but it worked pretty well, and Bella just leaned back into me a nd sang, and the audience loved her. She was a surprise and a mystery, half hidd en behind me, and they watched for her like she was endangered wildlife, exotic and vulnerable and precious. We did 'Low Spark', and she flew with it. I support ed her with backup vox on the chorus, but it was all hers, wrapping her voice ar ound the harmonica and sliding all perfectly against Rosalie. She was flirting w ith the audience the whole time, peeking over my shoulder with quick glances, ma king eye contact with everyone in the room. Alice was brilliant. Em had more ene rgy and precision than I'd ever seen, and he had figured out how to work with Tw in's anticipated timing, watching her body for clues to when she would stutter t he beat and when she would linger. We played White Stripes, and A3 and Rose did a Zep solo, and we did 'Fever', and I sprung 'Why Don't You Do Right' on Bella, but she was game, and a few others, and when we finished with Jak Paris' hard ve rsion of "The Chain', we brought the place down. She didn't fight me when I pull ed her out to wave to the crowd that adored her, and her shy smile made them lov e her more. I grabbed her and hustled her out of there before she was

overwhelmed, and dragged her out the back. She leaned against the bricks of the building, panting. I stood before her, and placed my hand on the upper curve of her left breast, feeling her heart pound under my palm. She slid fingers up my c hest, and laid both hands flat on my sternum. I gazed at her face, dark eyes ebo ny and bottomless in the distant street lamps, and I drowned in her, and everyth ing I felt. I kissed her forehead, and then her mouth, and then I pulled away, t aking a deep breath. "Bella," I finally blurted out, "Why the fuck won't you let me take you out for ice cream?" Chapter 24: Patience Bella: He was talking about ice cream. I tried to clear my head and make sense of what he was saying, but the enormity of the entire evenin g was too big. After we'd unloaded the equipment from Esme's minivan and set up by Aro's grand piano, the group did a mic check and tested the equipment. Alice fluttered around, talking with the hostess about seating and breaks between song s and sets so that the staff could check tables and clear dishes. I helped Rosal ie untangle cords and layer the wires properly so there would be no crossover fe edback. When it was close to starting time, I changed in the staff bathroom they let us use. I'd brought the blue dress with a hood that I bought when I'd gone shopping with Alice so many weeks ago; nothing at all like the junior beauty que en gowns Jessica, Angela and Lauren were wearing. I twisted my hair up on my hea d, wishing I had Alice's help; when I finally got all the pins in place I didn't look like me at all, and one curl would not stay up properly. Then I put on too much eye shadow and couldn't get it off, so I swiped at it with powder and slic ked on a lot of mascara, hoping Alice would be too busy to notice me. I tried to put on pantyhose, but I snagged them on a bitten fingernail and ran them, so I threw them in the trash and slid into the little blue flats that matched the dre ss. I wished I could wear heels without falling ass over teakettle, but it was o ut of the question. There was no way I could pull off the glamour pageant look, no matter how hard I tried. I avoided the mirror on the way out. I walked out to the parking lot, looking for Charlie's cruiser, but he wasn't there yet, so I w ent to find the table that I'd reserved for my father and me. It took Felix a mo ment to recognize me. "Wow," he said, "you clean up nice! But I thought you were with the band."

"With the band. Not in the band," I clarified. "But wasn't that you, a couple we eks ago, with Ed? On the piano." He led me to a small table on the side of the r oom with a perfect view of the stage. "You heard that?" "Most of it. I had to th row out a bunch of idiots who couldn't hold their booze politely." "Ah." I wante d to ask if the idiots were in a fraternity, but I kept my mouth shut. "You shou ld sing," he said, as he pulled my chair out for me. "You're good." I mumbled my thanks as he left, and watched my friends set up until the waiter brought water and the menu. My phone buzzed, and I grabbed my iPhone from the little purse th at didn't match my shoes. She doesn't want me. ±Debussy_88 My stomach turned over. I typed: Did you ask? He wrote back: She turned me down. She's waiting for some one else. ±Debussy_88 I felt awful for him, this intimate stranger in the ether. H e'd written such lovely words about his feelings for the girl. I could not under stand how she could be unaffected by him. I asked: Did you tell her? Tell her wh at? That I'm a jealous ass who can't stand the thought of her with anyone else? That I would give up my own name to have her heart? That she's so beautiful some times I forget to breathe? ±Debussy_88 Yes. If only he would tell her, I thought. Surely she couldn't be cold to him, if she knew. No. I guess I'm spared that emb arrassment, now. ±Debussy_88 I swallowed back tears, that he could so callus about his about his feelings, or so depreciating of his lovely words. Will you be oka y? There was no response. I almost wished I could call him on the phone, to tell him not to quit on her, that I needed him to keep trying. We'd started this awk ward journey at love together, and I was afraid that if he gave up, this thing I had with Edward would crumble too, and I wasn't ready for that, yet.

I sucked on some ice, trying to cool my face; I didn't want Charlie to catch me crying for reasons I couldn't explain. I wondered when he would get here; the ba nd was set up and ready to begin. Edward was leaning up against the piano, with his hands in his pockets, staring at me. When our eyes met, he walked towards me , feet moving awkwardly, like he didn't want to; I wondered what was wrong again . "You look nice," he said, like he was accusing me of fraud. "The make-up. I me an you look fine without it. Fuck." He looked annoyed. I wanted to go back to th e bathroom and wash the stuff off my eyes. "Thanks?" I said, hoping that covered whatever he was trying to say. Behind him, I saw Felix talking to Charlie, moti oning him to our table. "Where's your date?" asked Edward, and I didn't understa nd why he would make fun of me like that; but then Charlie saw me, and did a dou ble take, and I grinned at him as he approached us. He'd worn his one tie, done all uptight in a double Windsor, and he looked like he was ready to choke. Edwar d's face did some strange things, and then he giggled. It pissed me off a little ; I thought Dad looked nice, and it wasn't like he would ever take me out on a d ate. Charlie sat down, and muttered a greeting, and something about thinking I w ould be singing. Edward was still laughing. "So did we." "What?" I asked, comple tely floored. They'd never said anything about me singing with them. Jasper had had given me duets to learn, but Edward said Jazz was pushing him, not me; and A lice had asked if I would be there, but never mentioned me actually singing with them. She and the blond bass player came up behind Edward, both glaring at me. Edward was laughing, but his face was bleak. "But you never asked me!" I protest ed. I felt cornered. I assumed they'd known I couldn't get up on the stage; I'd probably puke all over the piano. I was just happy they'd let me be a part of th eir rehearsals. Jasper shot eye daggers at the back of Edward's head, swore, and stalked off. Alice fussed at me, big hazel eyes disappointed because she couldn 't do her two big harmonica songs, and I felt terrible for letting down my best friend, and Charlie made it worse, something about Chief Black and Jacob driving in, and I knew that the gas money it cost them must have been dreadful. I looke d around the room, wondering if I could do it. There were a lot of people. Peopl e I didn't know, and people who would think badly about the band if I messed up. An awful lot of people.

I didn't realize I'd spoken until Charlie sighed with disappointment. Edward sai d something to Alice, and then crouched down to look up at me. He took my hand, and the skin contact cut through my misery. "Listen," he said, green eyes intens e, though his face was carefully calm, "Why don't you hang out, listen for a whi le, see how the room feels, and if you're up for it, join us in a few. No pressu re, okay?" I nodded, not wanting to let go of his hand, and tried to say good lu ck or break a leg or something appropriate, but Jasper had already started, and Edward left to go stand behind the mic. They were really good. Jasper understood the crowd, and did interesting things with the mood of the songs, bass groove h ard when he wanted their attention, relaxing the undercurrent when there was ten sion. Rosalie and Edward worked together, sometimes in tandem, sometimes call an d answer; the mutual respect was obvious. And even though I should have been acc limated to Edward's voice, I still felt the heated rush in my blood when he sang . The last song of the set was the first one I'd ever heard him sing; I wanted t o be with him, touching him, my back against his, feeling it through both of us. He oozed sex and blues and lost boy desire, and I stared at him, feeling his mo uth on mine, and maybe he was flirting with every woman in the room, but his eye s always returned to mine. I wanted to be on that damned piano bench. I couldn't eat anything, just sipped at an iced tea. It was too sweet, the way that Renee made it, and I thought back to that last night in Arizona, barely over a month a go. I'd left the desert to start new, to come out of my shell and break down the walls I'd built around myself, and I was so close. All I had to do was take the hand of the beautiful boy who was reaching out to me, and I would fly. The set ended, and I went out to the parking lot and leaned up against Charlie's cruiser , needing to be alone, trying to make sense of my desperation, wishing I could b e strong enough to be who I wanted to be. I caught sight of my reflection in the curved glass: a thin face with smoky, madeup dark eyes and hair escaping its Fr ench twist; a scared little girl trying to look fancy. I reached up and pulled t he pins out of my hair, one by one, dropping them on to the asphalt, watching my hair tumble down curl by curl. My phone buzzed: Yes. No. Maybe. She ties me in knots, blows me kisses and vanishes. How are you? -Debussy_88 I didn't know how to answer that. He seemed better, less despondent. At least she was blowing him kisses. I almost typed "fine" just so I wouldn't have to make my feelings concre te, but I hadn't been anything less than honest with him yet, and I wasn't about to start.

I'm incoherent. I want to go to him, to be pretty at his side, and he asked me, and I'm scared. What are you afraid of? -Debussy_88 The only person who had ever come close to asking me that was Edward; he'd asked me what I saw, when I start ed to crash. But this wasn't about the eyes and the crowd. I'd sat with them, be en one of them; they made me nervous, but they weren't what terrified me. Whethe r I fly or fail, I will never be the same person that I am now. You will always be Extraordinary. -Debussy_88 In the reflection of the car window, with my hair big from the curls and the heavy make-up, I looked like a rock star. Maybe the o nly difference between the ordinary girls and the pretty ones was the ability to find what they needed in the in the mirror. I want to be. I knew that at some p oint I would have to take the last step to see if I could really do it. I just w asn't ready for it to be right now. I'd barely gotten settled in this new place, and this craziness with Edward was too raw, and I hadn't practiced enough, andD are you. -Debussy_88 The epiphany struck like a slap in the face: the only way I would truly fail is if I never even tried, and I might not get another chance. I gathered my courage and left the hairpins, hoping if I was fast enough my fear wouldn't catch up to me. I texted Alice: I can't go on stage in this dress. The response was immediate: Bathrm. Now. Ill bring wireless mic. I ran. The little girl who had been assisting the hostess was in the staff bathroom. She looked li ke she was about eight years old, in a black dress with a bow in the back, picki ng at a blister on her toe. "I really wanted to have heels, but I don't think I like them," she said, bypassing introductions. "So don't wear them," I offered.

Alice crashed through the door, a petite hurricane of canary silk gauze. She int roduced me to Aro's daughter Jane, grabbed my bag and clicked her tongue at the contents, handed me my jeans, strapped my mic on my ear and wedged the pack onto my front pocket, stuck a band-aid on the little girl's toe, made six spiral sla shes to my dress with the nail scissors so it twisted over my hips in a twenties style cascade, approved my eye make-up and shoved me out the door. Jane came wi th us, eyes and mouth wide open. I sat on the piano bench, with my back to the c rowd, and the little girl climbed up next to me. "I'm going to marry Edward," sh e told me. "He's a pretty good kisser," I said. "Yuck!" she said. Alice slung on her guitar, plugged in, and tested with the volume low. The audience started to settle down. "I've never seen my brother so alive, not since- not for years. Fi ve years." She spoke quickly, her light voice low. "But he's also being an idiot , and Jasper says I have to keep out of it, and leave you two alone, but it's be en really hard, because I've missed you. Now sing." She picked the opening notes to 'In a Cold, Cold Night,' and I sang to Jane, grinning at her delight, ignori ng the audience. This was just three girls enjoying music, no-one else had to be involved. The rest of the group filed in, and I was so aware of Edward my skin was screaming, but I didn't look at him, afraid I would lose my place in the son g. As we finished, he picked up Jane and sat her on top of the piano and slid in behind me on the bench, opening up one of the songs we worked on last week, and I leaned into his back. The electric current between us grounded me in some fas hion, stripped me of my jangled nerves or perhaps aligned them properly, and sin ging up there with him was as natural and easy as breathing. During the solo bri dges of 'Low Spark' I peeked over his shoulder, to see if I could spot Charlie, and he was there, sitting with the Blacks, and they were all into the song, and I'd never seen that expression on my Dad's face before. He looked smug. I saw Mr s. Goff, the crew from school, and I thought I recognized the woman from the yar n shop. James gave me a big thumbs up, and even Felix grinned at me. The set pas sed in a blur of harmony, and I only had a dash of nerves when Edward left me al one on the bench to sing Fever at the standing mic. He vamped it, singing to Jan e, which made her giggle, and to Mrs. Goff, which made the Forks crowd go nuts. We ended with Scarlett Pomers' version of 'The Chain,' a strong song with a litt le cameo for everyone, and the place exploded. Edward pulled me up to wave at th e crowd, and I felt drunk on their approval, and my father's eyes were proud, bu t there was still an awful lot of people, and then we were outside, with his han d over my heart and mine on his, and his eyes were evergreen and onyx in the dar k and he was kissing my forehead and my mouth. This was more than just lust; it was so much bigger, and

he had to know it, and to feel it too, and I was higher than I'd ever felt in my life, I'd just broken free of the shackles that held me earthbound, and I was f lying, and he was talking about ice cream. "What are you talking about?" I asked , bewildered. "Nothing. Never mind." "You want to take me out for ice cream?" "I t doesn't matter, Bella. Let it go!" He moved away, and turned his back to me, s hoving his hands in his pockets. The euphoria ebbed from my body, leaving me dra ined. I slid to the ground and leaned back against the brick of the building, wr apping my arms around my knees. "Edward?" I whispered. "Yeah," he said. "Truce?" I begged. "What?" "We have to go back in there. And I can't face them without y ou." I sounded pathetic; I was shivering, and about to cry. I felt ridiculous. I was sitting in a puddle of my own misery in a spot where I had put my fist in s omeone's face two weeks ago, I'd just conquered my biggest fear by singing in fr ont of 200 people, stone sober, and I couldn't figure out how to talk to this bo y. "Bella, I'm not mad," he said, not turning around. "I just wanted to do thing s right, and you're supposed to begin with going out for ice cream or coffee or some shit like that, but I guess we're past all that, anyway, so whatever, yeah. Truce. I'm sorry I was a dick. We should go in. I'll be nice." His voice was wo oden and strange. My heart started to pound again, and I was almost dizzy. I tri ed to think. "Edward Cullen. Were you asking me out on a date?" "Yeah," he said. "But whatever. It doesn't matter, you said no. That's cool." "But that's not fa ir! I didn't even realize what you were asking!" My stomach twisted into knots, and my teeth started to chatter. "You don't date. It's against the rules." "Fuck the rules. I've broken them all anyway." He turned back to me, peeled my hands from around my knees and pulled me to my feet. "You're freezing."

My heart felt strange, and my eyes were still full of tears. "What is wrong with me?" I asked. "Stage rush. It's the adrenaline. Come here." He pulled me close against his chest, and wrapped the lapels of his jacket around me. He was warm a nd I inhaled the wonderful smell of him, soap and cinnamon and boy-smell and lea ther, and the tears spilled over, and I was still shaking, but it was okay, now, because he was holding me. "How do you make it stop?" "You can't. You have to r ide it out." His breath was warm, too, and I wrapped my arms around him, and his hands were in my hair. "Getting drunk or high makes it easier to come down, tha t's probably why so many performers become so fucked up." "What do you do?" I as ked. "Well-" he smiled down at me, pressed me back against the wall and licked m y neck from the corner of my ear to my collarbone. I shook, but not from cold. " Ah," I said, "That's probably healthier." The crazy endorphins running through m y body suddenly aligned, surging through my bloodstream, shocking my skin awake. I pulled him to me and licked him the same as he had done me, across the heat o f his throat, tasting the slight salt on his skin, and up to his ear. He inhaled , sharp and short, and pulled my knee up, lifting me to fit against his groin an d pushing, and I squirmed, laughing, and ground against the steel in his jeans. "Fuck," he whispered. "If you were in a skirt, I'd be inside you right now." I w himpered and buried my face into his neck. The door opened, and light spilled in to the parking lot. Edward stepped away from me as Alice found us in the shadows . "Cool it, guys, before the Chief decides she can't spend the night anymore." " We were just talking, twin." "Well, it's about fucking time."

Edward looked down at me. His eyes were dark, and his mouth was searching for wo rds, and I smiled, trying to catch my breath. "I like strawberry. With chocolate sprinkles. In a waffle cone." I said, as Alice pulled me towards the door. "Yea h?" he said, head tilted sideways, crookedy smile and hot boy grin. "I like coff ee," I said over my shoulder, walking into the club. "Okay," he said, voice warm with a smile. "Oh," I poked my head back out of the doorway, "and I like you." Alice groaned and grabbed me by my hood and dragged me inside. His laughter foll owed me in. Edward: I stood there, against the brick, trying to catch my breath, laughing. The woman made me insane. I'd been in agony, trying to ask her out, w ondering how to tell her I was crazy for her, wishing I could make everything ri ght, heartsick when I thought she didn't want to, and she just said "I like you, " fixing everything. Because that was where you were really supposed to start, s imple and honest, no artifice or affectations, no big declarations or drama. And so I had this big goofy-assed grin on my face so hard my cheeks hurt, feeling l ike I was back in kindergarten, just because this maddening little girl said she liked me. The door banged open. Jasper stared at me. "Dude," he said, "did you just jizz in your pants?" "She likes me." "No shit. Help me carry the amps to th e van, you lazy-assed mother fucker." I kept away from Bella the rest of the eve ning, and she bounced around with Alice, charming Aro and laughing with her new fans. Charlie let her stay the night with twin to celebrate, and Dad had a bottl e of champagne already waiting at home. It was our biggest gig yet, and we actua lly made a healthy chunk of money. We set half aside to go into a savings accoun t for the band, and split the rest between the six of us. Bella didn't want to t ake the money, but I threatened to donate it to the Forks High prom committee, a nd she relented. We drank champagne and laughed until I couldn't take it anymore and carried Bella off to my room, and I kept her there through the night and mo st of the next day. Sunday evening my phone rang with an alert. Ordinary_Girl ha d written:

Icarus. He wraps me in velvet And gossamer kisses, Giving me wings, To soar to t he sun. I would touch his face With butterfly lips And expose my soul, Bare to h is eyes. But the three little words Are too vast and too heavy, When all I want Is to fly in his arms. I wrote: Your phrases are airborne; are you feeling extra ordinary? He grounds me so that I may fly. Do you rise from your ashes? ±Ordinary_ Girl The spark still burns; she might be mine. On Monday, we left a little early to stop at the post office to pick up the mail from our P.O. Box, and Alice cam e tearing back out, waving an oversized manila envelope. I grinned at Jasper in the rearview. We could finally talk about the festival, and plan our set. There was an unspoken rule about jinxing things while the application was out. She tor e it open, and rifled through the forms. "When's our trial?" I asked. "Looks lik e Friday at eight-thirty." "Excellent," said Jasper. "That puts us on after dinn er but before everyone is tired. How many bands?" "Forty-three." "That's more th an last time. How many get a set?" I asked. We'd placed pretty well last year, a nd gotten an early evening slot, as part of the opening act for the finals. "The re are twelve spots, starting at noon." "And the finals?" asked Jazz. "Four half -hour sets." Alice leafed through the pages. "Huh."

"What?" I asked. "Did James leave the Quileute Wolves?" "I think so, why?" "He's down separately, on Friday. I wonder who he is singing with." I pulled up outsi de of Bella's house, saying nothing, wishing I had something ugly handy to put m y fist into. "No fucking way!" Jasper was looking at me, wide-eyed in the rear-v iew, guessing the truth. "Bella made a demo with James?" Alice gasped. "Yeah." M y fingers were cramping on the steering wheel. "Oh, no! Edward, I might have don e something bad«" she whispered. "You didn't!" I turned to look at her, my stomach knotting up. She was pale, her eyes huge, staring back at me. Then she gasped, seeing into me the way only she could. "You did, too!" she accused. Bella came o ut and locked the door behind her, and I got out to open the car door. She didn' t look at me or speak as she got in. As we took off towards school, she unzipped her backpack and flung three manila envelopes on the dash. "Could someone pleas e explain what the Olympic Delta Blues Festival is?" she asked, her voice ice co ld. Chapter 25: The Goods Bella: "Could someone please explain what the Olympic Delt a Blues Festival is?" I asked, carefully keeping my voice steady. There was dead silence in the car, and then Jasper spoke like he was quoting a pamphlet for to urists. "The Blues Fest is a competition that showcases musicians in the area. I t gives local groups a chance to play a pro gig and get some notice. The top fou r bands play a concert with full tech

support, and one is sponsored for a summer tour. A ton of talent scouts and labe l reps show up, and a lot of opening acts are signed out of it." "We were in the top ten last year," Alice said, her voice pitched unusually high. I said nothin g. "They have a fish fry cook-off, too." Jasper said, helpfully. I looked at Edw ard, and waited. He drove, staring straight ahead, gripping the wheel so hard I could almost see the bones through his skin. "How many people are there?" I aske d, clutching my backpack to my chest like a pillow. "It depends on the weather," said Alice. "There's an outdoor amphitheatre, but only the first third is cover ed." "How many people?" I repeated, enunciating as clearly as I could. "There ar e fifteen hundred seats. The rest is all blankets and tail-gating, but if it rai ns only the die-hards stay," said Jasper. "A lot only stay for the food," added Alice. I waited. The silence in the car pressed in on my body, and I bit my lip to keep from screaming. "Over five thousand," said Edward, finally. His voice wa s quiet, but it echoed through the car. I took a deep breath, and picked the one thick and bulky envelope off the dash, leaving the two skinny ones there. "Coul d you drop me off at the police station, please?" Edward looked me, brows knitte d together, and nodded. Two blocks from school, he pulled into the lot, next to Charlie's car, and I was out of the Volvo before he even put it in park. Alice s aid my name, but I ignored her, not looking back as I walked up to the building. I heard them pull away as I shoved open the door. I marched into my father's of fice, and threw the envelope on his desk. He raised his eyebrows, made excuses i nto the receiver, and hung up the phone. "Shouldn't you be at school?" "How coul d you let me do this?" I yelled at him. "Do what?" he asked, picking up the yell ow packet. "The recording with James. You knew exactly what this was about, and you signed off on it!"

"You seemed to know what you were doing, Bells." "I thought I was recording a de mo, not committing to get up in front of five thousand people!" The words tore t hrough the tears in my throat, and I clenched my fists, shaking with my father's betrayal. "You did fine Friday night." "That was in front of two hundred, and I knew half of them, and I was with-" I closed my mouth. I was with Edward. I too k a deep breath. "I was with my friends. And I wasn't being judged." "Did this J ames kid lie to you?" I'd wondered that ever since I opened the envelopes; but o f the three people who had entered my name, he had been the most truthful. "No, not really." I admitted, still resentful, but calming down a little. "I mean, he glossed over some details, like the whole entire festival, but he did say it wa s for a competition. He told me they were just release papers." "They were, tech nically. You didn't read the forms yourself, before you signed them?" Charlie as ked. I shook my head and looked at my shoes, feeling tricked and stupid. "Then y ou can't blame this on me." I nodded, embarrassed that I had yelled at him. "I'm sorry." I mumbled. "You'll do fine, Bells. It's a good time, and the food is gr eat. Jake and his crew are going, too." "What?" I looked at him, my anger rising again. "I'm not actually doing this. No way!" "I think you should. You gave you r word to the guy that you would. It's not fair to him for you to back out becau se you wouldn't take the time to read what you signed your name to. If you were an adult, you could be sued for breach of contract." "I can't. You know I can't! " "Isabella, sit down." I took the chair in front of his desk and folded my arms across my chest, glowering at him. "Look. When you were six, your mother though t ballet lessons might be a good idea-"

"Yeah, we know how well that went. My first and only performance I threw up all over the first row of parents, remember?" "I was there. Back in the third row, t hank God, but, Bella, you probably don't remember Renee letting you eat almost a whole chocolate cake before we left for the recital." "What?" I let that sink i n, and my brain started to feel like jelly in my skull. "Don't you think that mi ght have had something to do with it? But ever since then, you decided you were afraid of crowds. And your mother let you believe it, because it was easier than facing her own guilt for having no parenting skills." "I remember you arguing a t the dance studio." My stomach clenched. It was the only time they'd fought in front of me. Renee had packed us up and we'd left Charlie that same weekend. Dad looked down at his desk, and fiddled with a pen. "I often wonder if some of you r anxiety issues didn't manifest out of that, too." He sighed. "Bella, your moth er didn't leave me because you didn't do well on stage that day." "I know that!" "Maybe you do now, but did you understand that when you were six years old?" My mind was scattered six ways of stupid, trying to reassemble what I knew of myse lf. Charlie looked at me and smiled under his moustache. "Listen. I saw you Frid ay night. You loved it up there, and not just because of who you were sitting wi th on that piano bench." The oblique mention of Edward cut through my inner turm oil and I blushed. Charlie gave me a long look. "Just give it some thought. Now get to school." I shouldered my backpack and left, feeling dazed, like part of m e had been reborn. Edward: We watched Bella walk into the police station. As I p ulled out, Jazz snaked a long arm out from the back seat and grabbed the envelop es off the dash. " 'Dear Ms. Swan, we regret to inform you that your entry for t he Olympic- blah, blah, blah -has been rejected due to failure to complete the n ecessary submission forms. All minors who wish to participate must have signed p arental consent ±blah, blah, blah.'" He held up a disc, labeled A+B: ICCN.

Alice snagged it from his fingers, and turned an unpleasant shade of beet. She s hoved it back in the envelope. "'Dear Ms. Swan, we regret to inform you- blah, b lah, blah ±due to failure to meet the specified deadline for all entries.'" He hel d up another disc, labeled B+E+A: Angel from Montgomery. "Look, there's a post-i t with a cute smiley face: This is very good, please try again next year." He pu t the envelopes back on the dash. "Dude, you lied about her age?" "Yeah, it was stupid. Don't ask." I sighed. "Okay. Listen, both of you," said Jasper. "You hav e the social skills of inbred amoeba! Just because you two don't have to speak t o each other to know what you are thinking doesn't mean that you don't have to t alk to the rest of us! We can't read your fucking minds!" "You told me I shouldn 't interfere!" Alice protested. "No, I told you that your idiot of a brother was the only one who had the right to tell her that he was head over hard-on in lov e with her, not to stop being her friend; you've practically ignored her since t hey started screwing." "I'm not-" Alice and I spoke on top of each other. "Yes, you are," he said to her, "When was the last time you two actually did anything girly-like without us? And you, brother, need to stop being an asshole. You have n't let yourself care about anyone or anything since your mother died, and you'r e finally alive, man. This girl has you by the short and curlies of your soul. A nd you need to tell her." "Fuck off," I said, from between clenched teeth. "I wa s trying to say that I wasn't just screwing her." "Does she know that?" Jasper w as almost shouting as we pulled into the school lot. "This isn't just about you! The band was about to go to shit, and we got some new blood that gave us a shot in the arm, and were finally clicking again, and you're going to fuck it up bec ause you won't talk to the girl." He and Alice crawled out of the back seat. "He y Jasper, you haven't asked her to join the band yet, either, have you, you self righteous fuck?" I called back to him, seething. He glared at me. I turned, squ ealing the tires and drove the two blocks back, pulling up to the station as Bel la was walking out the door. She got in before I had a chance to get out and ope n her door. I was relieved; I'd figured she'd be pissed as hell at me, and we'd have to do some big dramatic thing where I would have to follow her in the car w hile she walked on foot with me screaming apologies like a douche.

The two rejection letters slid across the dash as I turned onto the street, and she left them there. We rose in silence for the two short blocks. Her eyes were distant; I was desperate to know what she was thinking, but she wasn't acting li ke she wanted to punch me in the face, so I wasn't going to wreck the moment by saying something inane. We walked into school, side by side, but she said nothin g. She stepped neatly around me between second and third period, like I was any nameless student, her eyes unfocused, lost in her own thoughts. I reached out to touch her, but my fingers grasped at empty air. Alice and I walked to the audit orium, and found our usual corner in the balcony. She rummaged in my backpack, f ound my flask, and swallowed several times before I could snatch it from her han ds. She sat down in a seat and pulled out her chemistry book and opened it, flip ped some pages and tapped on a notebook with a pencil. I watched her, and checke d my phone. Ordinary_Girl hadn't written, and I'd been so wrapped up in Bella th is weekend that every line I started to write seemed obscene. Alice continued to stare at her book, and after several minutes I sighed, and sat down next to her . "Talk to me," I said. "I'm studying." "Not with your book upside down." She fl ung her books away and drew her knees to her chest. "I sent the cd in because I wanted to prove that I was good, too," she said. "You and Jazz and Em and Rosali e, you're all real musicians, and I'm just this hanger-on, the back-up chick who screws the bass player. And I know I shouldn't have done that to Bella, and we recorded it high, which was wrong, too, and there is no way I could manage to pl ay an entire set, but I thought maybe if we'd gotten the demo accepted as an ent ry, I could show you guys I was worth something." I stared at her, appalled. Her eyes were dull and puffy with tears. "And now I've screwed things up with my on ly friend." I sat down next to her and hugged her over the armrest. "You're not just a back-up chick, Twin, and you know it. And damn, the things you have been doing on the harmonica, lately? It's phenomenal!" She shrugged. "It was Bella."

"What do you mean?" "We were in my room, and she was looking at the dress forms and my sketches, and she said I was a designer. That it was my nature, and so I needed to design my own sound, not try to follow along with what everyone else w as doing, it would be as foreign as tracing someone else's artwork. And I know t hat sounds weird, but it made sense to me, and so I just started playing, and it came as easy as drawing." "It isn't weird." It was perfect, and also ironic. Ja sper and I had been trying for years to figure out how to unlock Alice's raw tal ent, and in one conversation Bella hands her the key. "We need her, Edward." "I know." Bella sat with us at lunch when Alice rescued her from Jessica's talons, but she ate in silence, barely following the conversation. Biology was the same way. Her distance was starting to unnerve me. I caught her staring at me, toward the end of class, her eyes intent as she assessed me. I felt guilty and awkward and looked away. After school, I took her home, and walked her to the door. She was fumbling with her keys, struggling with her books and her laptop, so I took them from her hand. When we brushed fingers, the spark snapped through our fing ers, and she looked at me, startled. I realized that this was the first time I'd touched her today. I opened the door, and she muttered a thank you. "Bella, I'm sorry." The words rushed out of me. "It was stupid and wrong. I wasn't thinking . I knew it was past the deadline, I just hoped, maybe, that they would let it s lide." "But why did you send it?" Her eyes were huge, and her teeth were tearing at her lower lip. I reached out to make her stop, but she jerked her head away from my hand. I took the keys from the doorknob and dropped them into her outstr etched palm, without touching her again. "I thought you might like to sing with us, rather than James." My voice stayed steady. Emotions flickered over her face , and then she finally nodded. "See you tomorrow?" she asked. "I'll be here," bu t it was really a question, asking if she still wanted to ride with us in the mo rning. She nodded again, and I tried to hide my relief. Her distance was impenet rable, and I didn't know what it meant. She was so damned hard to read.

I wanted to kiss her, but she was already inside. When I got home I went running , fleeing the frustration that was eating at me, letting the muscle ache punish me for my stupidity. Two days ago she'd been in arms, clinging to me like I was the only man in the world for her, and fuck, I wanted to be that man more than a nything else, and today she was as far away as the stars. The house was quiet wh en I got home. Rose and Emmett were in the dining room, looking at some kind of form. "More paper work from the festival?" I asked. Usually Alice filled that st uff out; she had the best handwriting. Emmett looked up, startled, and then slid the papers together, his movements furtive. Rose looked away. "What are you doi ng?" I demanded. "Nothing. Don't worry about it." Emmett looked guilty. I grabbe d the papers out of his hand. They were college application forms. "What the fuc k, Emmett?" "Look, Bro, it's just a back-up plan, you know? Just in case nothing happens. I'm not sayin' that it won't, but we need some options." I tossed the papers down and stalked off to my room. I took a shower, rinsing off the sweat f rom the run, and I contemplated jerking off, but the only image that filled my h ead was Bella's face as I said goodbye this afternoon. She'd looked angry and co nfused, chocolate eyes unfocused, and it inspired a pathetic need for forgivenes s rather than a desperate selfish orgasm. I dried off, and my iPhone chimed with Ordinary_Girl's update alert. There was no title: Defining ones future By an er rant piece of past Chocolate cake Seems like unjust desserts. I tapped my thumbs over the little screen: Cryptic words. I am curious.

I feel like a circus girl in a German wheel, spinning with arms outstretched, in a cage of my own making. ±Ordinary_Girl Can you escape? I think so, I'm just not sure how. ±Ordinary_Girl Ask your boy for help. I'm too dizzy for words. You write some. ±Ordinary_Girl Bella: I woke to an update alert from Debussy_88, two minute s before my alarm went off. She She is complicated as a spiderweb, as distant as the moon, and I would follow her to the stars and wait for her return. She is h ope and innocence, woman, love and time, I would go to her with open hands and b eg her to be mine. I wrote: Could I have another helping please? This longs for a second verse. When I came out of the shower, there was a response: Maybe. Let' s see what she says, first. ±Debussy_88 What is the melody? Light, easy keys and a very distant harmonica, no strings attached. ±Debussy_88 I didn't realize I was r unning so far behind until Alice blew in the door, grabbed my hairbrush out of m y hand, asked me to forgive her for entering me into the festival, texted the bo ys to go get us coffee, cut my least favorite jeans into my most favorite capris , found the mangled brown ribbon and smoothed with my rarely used curling iron, invited me to go shopping tomorrow in Port Angeles, tied up my hair in a ponytai l and hustled me out the door as the boys pulled up with a cardboard tray of hot drinks.

"Thank you so much," I told them. "We got Alice a double shot," whispered Jasper . "I love a good caffeine rush during first period!" Edward snickered, but said nothing to me. He glanced at my hair several times, and I became so self-conscio us I checked it in the visor mirror. The morning passed quickly, and I was glad; I'd forgotten to grab anything for breakfast, and the coffee jittered through m y bloodstream uncomfortably. By lunchtime I was ravenous. We sat at our usual ta ble, me with my constant pizza, apple and lemonade. Edward sat across from me, t rapping one of my feet between his ankles. I felt stiff around him, and shy, but when I tried to pull my foot away, he locked his legs tighter, not letting me g o. I wished we could go back to this weekend, where we lay naked in his bed, wra pped in sheets and the other's fingers, listening to music for hours. Emmett and Jasper were having a heated debate regarding the abilities of Jimi Hendrix, Jac k White and Jimmy Page. "Okay, guys," said Alice, "there is only one way to sett le this!" "Kill, fuck or marry," said Rosalie. "Ugh, not with guys," whined Emme tt. I looked to Edward for an explanation. He just grinned. "Kill Page, marry He ndrix, and do Jack, but only if Meg was in on it, too," said Jasper. "You'd marr y Hendrix? Why?" Alice asked him. "He'd have the best weed out of the bunch." "K ill Hendrix, fuck Jack, and marry Page," said Emmett, "but I get Meg, too." "As long as I get her first, you nasty mother fucker," said Jasper. "You don't get t o fuck the one you marry?" I asked Edward. He shook his head 'no'. "Kill Page, f uck Hendrix, marry Jack," I decided. "Why?" he asked.

"Because you know Jack can play all the other two's stuff, and 'Little Wing' is pure foreplay." His feet tightened around mine, and he gave me a long look from under his lashes. "I'll have to remember that," he murmured. "Your turn, then, S ister-Lover," said Emmet. "How about the Bitch Brigade?" He nodded to the table two rows over. "Kill Jessica, fuck Lauren, marry Angela," said Rose, immediately . "I'd watch that," said Emmett. "I'd kill Lauren, fuck Jessica, and marry Angel a," said Alice. Jasper wrinkled his nose at her. "You'd fuck Jessica?" "I bet sh e could teach me a few things, you know?" she replied. He shuddered. We all look ed at Edward. He squirmed in his seat, and looked at his tray. "Kill Jessica, fu ck Angela and marry Lauren," he said. "Really?" said Alice. He shrugged. "Lauren 's loyal, and Angela's hot in a geek-chick way." "I'd watch that," I said. "Me f ucking Angela?" he asked, brows knit. "No." "Me marrying Lauren?" he said, even more confused. "No." Everyone chuckled, and the bell rang. Edward walked with me to Biology, hand on the small of my back, and the heat from his palm radiated u p my spine. The laughter at lunch had eased some of the tension between us, thou gh whenever I glanced at him, he was always looking back. When he took me home, he parked in the driveway and walked me to the door, but stopped me before I wen t inside. He stood with his hands in his coat pockets, and I could hear the slig ht metallic clink of his keys as he toyed with them, and I wondered what he was thinking.

His eyes were emerald and fathomless in the late afternoon sun, but there was a hint of a smile teasing his mouth. "Bella, if I had asked you to sing with us at the festival, would you have said yes?" "No," I said. "If I had asked you to si ng at Aro's with us, would you have said yes?" "No," but I was a little more hes itant with my answer this time. He pulled on the end of the ribbon in my hair, r eleasing the loops of the bow, but not my ponytail. The brown grosgrain curled d own, tickling the side of my neck. "Would you go out to dinner with me?" "Yes," I said. Chapter 26: Imps Edward: Thursday evening I rang the doorbell, hoping Charlie wo uldn't answer. He did, of course, and though he didn't say anything aloud, the m oustache spoke volumes. I felt ridiculous. Alice had put some sticky gel crap in my hair that made it stiff and weird and stand up on end, and I didn't have tim e to wash it out before I came over to pick up Bella, and my pants were too new and my shirt was starchy and I don't know what the hell possessed me to wear a t ie, but I had, and I thought it was going to choke me. Then she came down the st airs and I wanted to kick myself for not bringing flowers. She was wearing a lon g khaki silk skirt and a little white sweater that clung to her body, and her ha ir was half up in a mess of curls, and she looked skittish and shy, and so prett y I had to shove my hands in my pockets to keep from reaching for her in front o f her father. "We match," she said, looking down at her skirt. An odd wistful lo ok crossed her features. I assured Charlie we wouldn't be out late, and we heade d to Port Angeles. We were quiet in the car, and I felt fidgety, wondering if th is whole thing was a good idea. She looked uncomfortable, chewing on her lip, he r fingers knotting in her lap. She finally looked at me, and then reached out to touch my hair. "You look like a lion," she whispered. I ran my fingers through the mess on my head, self consciously. She pulled away and laced her fingers tog ether again.

"You look like a lamb being led to slaughter," I said. "It's just dinner, Bella. " "I've never been on a date before," she said. "So? Neither have I." I felt def ensive. The silence was awkward and maddening. Finally I reached to her hands an d took the left in mine. The nails were freshly bitten, and I rubbed my thumb ov er them. She relaxed a little, and so did I. "Music?" she asked. I nodded, and p ulled away to hand her my iPhone. She pulled up a playlist of that started with Anjulie's 'Boom' and docked the phone in the stereo, grinning at me, and suddenl y everything was easy; me and a pretty girl going to dinner, listening to music and smiling about nothing. "You should sing this one," I told her. She made a fa ce. "I don't think I could pull it off. I don't know how to flirt properly, and this song needs it." "You're kidding, right?" She shook her head at me, so I sta rted the song over, and she sang with it, vamping it up with pursed lips and bat ted lashes, shimmying her shoulders, and I had to groan, because even when she w as being silly she was really hot. She really had no idea how seductive she was. God help us all if she ever really tried, I thought. When we got to the restaur ant, she balked for a second when I opened the door for her. I followed her in, and groaned inwardly. A tall strawberry blond stood at the hostess podium. She g ave Bella a long look from curls to shoes that made the hair on the back of my n eck fight against the gel in it. "Edward. Bella. Table for two?" "Tanya." I said between clenched teeth, trying to be civil in front of the girl beside me. "How long have you been working here?" "Two months," she replied, and then led us to a table in the back. She held a chair out for Bella, inferring that I didn't kn ow how to be polite, and then handed us the menus. "Enjoy your meal," she said, politely, but her voice had a hint of saccharine that set my teeth on edge. She walked away, heels clicking on the tile like goat's hooves. "It smells good," Be lla said, nodding toward the kitchen doors behind me.

"Esme recommended it," I said. "She loves Italian." I tried shake off the tensio n Tanya left behind. A waitress sporting a huge amount of cleavage took our drin k order, and returned quickly with our cokes. On my first sip, I noticed a telep hone number written on the napkin she'd placed under my glass. I carefully set t he drink back down, covering the ink, not looking at Bella, hoping to hell she h adn't seen it. When the server returned, I asked for water. We ordered, and just when I started to relax and Bella started to smile, a busboy slammed the kitche n door open into the back of my chair, sending the water in my hand flying acros s the table, soaking Bella. The glass hit her coke, knocking it over, flinging i ce and soda everywhere. The kid apologized profusely and helped us to move to th e next table over and cleaned up the mess, trying to put us at ease by telling u s how it always happened with this table. I was furious, finally understanding w hy Tanya had seated us in such a private spot. I gave Bella my jacket when she s hivered in her wet sweater. My hands were sticky from the coke, but I wasn't abo ut to leave her alone to go wash them. The waitress came back with our food, fre sh drinks and another numbered napkin. When I finally dared to look at Bella, sh e had her face in hands, and her shoulders were heaving. Her plate was full of r avioli swimming in a greasy mushroom sauce, not the angel hair pasta in marinara that she'd ordered. I touched her arm, mortified at how bad the evening had tur ned. It was her first date, for fuck's sake, and it had become a complete fiasco . She pulled her hands away from her face, and wiped the tears away from her eye s, and then exploded into another round of giggles. I gaped at her. She was laug hing. "Edward, let's just leave." Her eyes were dancing. "I'm afraid if we stay the ceiling will collapse on our heads." I looked up, instinctively ducking, and she laughed harder. I stood and threw some money down on the table, not caring if it was too much or too little, and grabbed her hand. We sprinted out, grinnin g, and didn't stop running until we reached the pier, panting and laughing, and when I could finally breathe, I kissed her face over and over until she was gasp ing again. I bought us hotdogs with mustard from a vendor, and we ate them on a bench, watching the ferry come in from Victoria, making up stories about the peo ple disembarking from the boat. We walked along the docks, and the wind blew Bel la's skirt around my legs when I held her close, and I wondered if I'd ever felt so happy in my life. I got her ice cream, smiling like a fool, and moaned when she kissed me, her tongue sweet and cold and unexpected in my mouth.

When we got back to her house, I walked her to the door. She slipped my jacket o ff her shoulders, and I put it on, breathing in the scent of her. I touched my t humb to her mouth, and she kissed my cheek and thanked me and slipped inside. I love you, I didn't call after her. But I would tell her. Soon. "How was dinner?" asked Alice when I got back home. "Awful!" I said, laughing. In my room I tinke red with a melody, and checked my phone before I went to bed. I'd missed an upda te alert from Ordinary_Girl. She'd changed her status to: BOUNCING, and her prof ile song was 'I Can't Get Away' by Stardeath and White Dwarfs. I reel feeling I no longer know what is real. I fear I have no words to define how fine I feel. I typed: Why does delight leave me speechless when the blue notes come so easy? B ecause it is unfamiliar and unusual. ±Ordinary_Girl. Friday evening didn't come fa st enough, and it was hard not to rush Jasper and Emmett through their final gam e of pool. I wanted to get back to the house and Bella, but when I pushed, they simply slowed down, payment in kind for me being a cocky bastard at darts, earli er. When we came home from Moe's, the house was quiet. I walked to my room, but Bella wasn't there. She wasn't in Alice's room, either, and then I saw the low l ight from the library. Of course. I went to the bar and made her a sweet and sou r lemon shot with a sugared rim, poured myself a shot of bourbon, and took them down the hall. She was asleep, stretched out on one of those reclining couch thi ngs with the French name, one hand balled under a cheek, and the other about to lose its book. I pulled the door closed behind me and locked it. I sat down next to her, and slid the novel from her hand. She woke, blinking to focus, and when her eyes found mine she smiled, and my heart slammed in my ribs at the softness of her gaze. She reached up to my face, and traced her fingers over my jaw, and I wished I'd thought to shave this morning. "Hi," I said.

She woke fully, her features sliding to a more guarded expression, and sat up, h er face a little red. "Hi," she whisperd. "Why aren't you in bed?" I asked, wish ing she hadn't moved, wanting to see more of that look in her eyes. She bit her lip. "I wasn't sure wh-" She looked away. "My bed, Bella. Always." The words sou nded strange and huge and right, and I watched her face flicker with thoughts, a nd I desperately wanted to know what she was trying to hide. She nodded, and loo ked down, breaking away from my eyes. Then she smiled, and pointed to the lemon shot. "Is that for me?" she asked. I handed her the drink. She sipped, and smile d at me again. "That's lovely," she said. "No," I said, "lovely is sleeping girl s in my flannel shirt." She was, too, hair all mussed and everywhere, ridiculous lashes heavy, and I leaned in to kiss her. Her mouth was soft against mine, and a few grains of sugar rubbed between our lips, gritty and sharp, until they mel ted into sticky syrup. She sighed when I pulled away. I took the drink from her hand and set them both on the little table next to us so they wouldn't spill, fe eling a little selfish because I wanted both her hands free to touch me. And the y were, too, fingers twisting in my hair at the back of my neck, and I couldn't get enough of that, and pulled her close again. "How many girls have slept in th is shirt?" she asked against my mouth. I grinned, kind of digging the jealousy i n her voice, and licked at her lower lip, searching for more sugar. "One," I sai d, when her fingers closed into a fist in my hair, pulling, but it was also hot as hell, and I sighed as her tongue found mine. "Good," she said, moving back. I thought briefly about telling her, and debated trying to calm down, so it would n't be about sex, but she was kissing my jaw, tiny biting kisses with the hint o f hard teeth scraping at my skin, down my neck until I was arching toward her to uch, and it was too good, and I was too far gone to ask her to stop. She was squ irming all over the place, and, and I grabbed at her waist to slow her down, but she wriggled and I grasped at lusher curves than I intended. She squeaked, and we both pulled away, laughing. Then her hands were under my t-shirt, and she dre w designs on my chest, short nails scraping lightly, and it was fuck-all fabulou s, just her touch on my skin. I closed my eyes, wondering if any woman had ever touched me like this before, this delicate exploration that left

my flesh on fire; intimacy had always been a rush to the explicit, but somehow B ella's light fingers were more arousing than any blatant petting could have been . She tugged at my shirt, pulling it up to press her tiny kisses where her finge rs had been, and I ripped it off over my head. She pushed at me until I had take n her place, leaning back on the cushions, and she was astride me, and I could f eel her heat through my jeans, but she'd found a nipple with her tongue, and I g asped like a girl. She laughed a little, and nipped at my skin, following her ti ckling fingertips lower, over my stomach until she was at the waistband of my je ans, working the buttons open. Then I was free, iron hard in her hands, the same whispering touch making my skin shiver, and it seemed wrong that I was hoping f or her mouth, but I didn't tell her not to, either, and when her lips closed ove r me I groaned at the warmth, the noise echoing in the room. Her hair was a soft tangle over my stomach, a delicious contrast to her wet mouth on the head of my cock, and then she brought her hands to curve around the shaft, and it took eve rything I had to hold still. She worked me with a slow excruciating rhythm that had me panting from her first stroke, lips and tongue and moist suction, firm ha nds in tandem and so fucking good that I was quickly close to the edge, and I mo ved to stop her, my hand to her cheek to pull her away, or at least warn her, be cause if she really wanted to I sure as hell would let her, but she just sucked harder, her mouth enveloping more with each stroke, and"Fuck, Bella," I moaned, weird noises tearing from my throat as all the nerves in my body ran a straight line to my groin. It was both heavenly and obscene, and too much and I held her head still and exploded into her mouth, mindless with pleasure. She held me capt ive as I rode each wave, and after the last spasm I gently pulled her off me. Sh e sat up, a peculiar expression on her face, and I realized she still had a mout hful. I looked for something for her to spit it out onto, and grabbed my shirt, trying not to laugh, but she reached for her lemon shot and tossed it back, wash ing me down in one large swallow. "Cheers," she said, blushing, and I laughed, p utting my hand over my mouth to keep the words from spilling out of me. I couldn 't tell her I loved her when she'd just sucked me down with a vodka chaser, but I wanted to, because she was just so fucking fun to be with. She was laughing, t oo, and I kissed her, and righted my clothes and scooped her up into my arms, ca rrying her to my bedroom, not really giving her a choice, but she didn't struggl e against me, just wrapped her arms around my neck and pressed her face into my chest, and when I laid her on my bed and kissed every inch of her skin, she didn 't fight that either. Bella: "Okay, then," Jasper asked on Monday at lunch, "if you could change lives with someone for a week, just to see how their mind works , who would you be? "Living, or dead?" asked Edward.

"Living." "Joni Mitchell," said Alice. "She's a musician and a poet and a painte r. Kind of a modern Renaissance woman, you know?" "Nice!" I complimented. "Emine m," said Emmett. "Ugh," said Alice, "really?" "He knows how to sling words like a beat poet," said Edward. "He never backs down from anything, y'know?" said Emm ett. "Like someone dumps some shit on him and he just throws it right back." "Th at's why I'd love to be Tori. She's not afraid of anything," I said. "What about you, Jazz?" "The Dalai Lama," he said. "Nice," said Edward. "Tom Morello," said Rose. "Who's that?" asked Alice. Rosalie rolled her eyes. "He's the guitarist f rom Audioslave and Rage," I explained. "Does a lot of experimental noise." "Then I claim Jack White," said Edward. "He's just as experimental. And he does whate ver he wants, and his writing is gold." "I would have figured you for a piano ma n," I said. Jasper shook his head at me. "Edward is a blues man. The instrument doesn't matter." I left lunch a little early. I had put off talking to James for as long as I could, but finally decided to get it over with. I found him at his usual spot outside the senior lounge, sitting with Victoria. They looked like a primitive fairytale; a red headed freckled beauty and her reptilian lover-beast . She waved at me. "Hey, baby, we caught your act at Aro's last week! Rose said you were hot shit, and she was right!" she said. "You were phenomenal, girl!" Ja mes crowed at me.

"I heard your demo," Victoria said, "but you are so, so, so much better live." " Yeah, about that." I began. "Did you get the orientation packet from the festiva l? You should have," He frowned, and his face would have scared small children. "I got mine last week." "I got it." I took a deep breath. There was an awkward p ause. Victoria kicked his foot. "Go on." She said. "Tell her what you told me." "Look," James said. "I feel a little shitty about rushing you to do the demo the way I did; I didn't even realize I was doing it at the time, but looking back o n it, I think I was worried you might not want to sing at the blues fest, once y ou figured out what you were getting yourself into." I stuck my hands in my pock ets and nodded, letting them see a bit of my annoyance. "I heard you at LaPush, and you were great, but I could tell you had a case of nerves, and well, I'm sor ry, kid, okay?" I nodded again, and Victoria nudged him again. "So here's what I want you to do," he continued. "You take a week and think about it; if you deci de you're too scared, or if Cullen says you can't sing with another guy, you tel l me, and I'll figure out a solo set." I stared at him, trying not to let my con fusion show. I might be too scared, but did he really think I let Edward tell me what to do? He grinned at me, craggy face twisting like an alligator with a cle ft lip. He was so ugly he was almost cute. "I'm not saying I want you to say 'no '. You were fucking born to sing, Bella-" "Jamie, leave the girl alone and let h er make her own decisions!" Victoria laughed at him. "You can't blame me for try ing!" he chuckled. I had wanted to be mad at him, but his laughter was infectiou s, and he hadn't really actually lied to me. "So Bella," said Victoria, "We hear d you had stage fright. But you were great on Friday." "I do," I said, bemused. "Usually I have to be two and a half sheets to the wind." "Ah, did you have a go od old whiskey warm up?" James asked.

"Well, no, actually," I said, blushing. "Hmm. So love conquers all fear?" he tea sed. I blushed, and they grinned at me. The bell rang, and I ran to Biology. "Wh at did James say?" asked Edward, after class. "How did you know about that?" "Yo u didn't answer my question." "He asked me to think about it," I said. "What did you say?" "That I would think about it." He nodded once, his face stiff, and wa lked off down the hall. After Gym class and the final bell, I went to my locker to get my books. I turned on my iPhone, and it rang in my hands with La Mer: Are you there? ±Debussy_88 Yes, always. Distract me, please, give me some music, I ne ed to calm down. ±Debussy_88 Tori's new one, 'Welcome to England', is smooth and g ets under the skin. Not Tori. Anything but Tori! ±Debussy_88 Maybe 'River of Decei t', by Mad Season, then? Yes. Good song. Thank you. ±Debussy_88 Are you okay? No. My right hand has two thumbs. I'm holding my lost album in my palm, all my words , my letters to my mother, my songs, all of it. I thought it was gone, but she's had it the whole time. ± Debussy_88 The ones stolen by your sea witch! Isn't that good?

It is nothing but plastic and dead circuits without the password. She guessed mi ne, and changed it. ±Debussy_88 Will she give it to you? Yes, but the price is too high. ±Debussy_88 What is the cost? Spark. ±Debussy_88 Chapter 27: Short Ended Stick Edward: I sat in my car, gripping my thumb drive i n my fist until the little metal port dug red welts in my palm. I was getting re ally fucking tired of being turned upside down all the time. The weekend had bee n great. Saturday I woke to heaven with silky brown hair and pale skin. We spent the day in the basement, and Jasper arranged a set for Alice's party, leaving n o doubt that he expected Bella to be there. Even Sunday was nice. Jazz and Emmet t and I tinkered with a few pieces we thought would work for the festival, and t he girls went shopping for decorations and costumes. And today, everything went to shit. Even the fact that Bella was actually thinking of singing with James se emed trivial, now. I'd watched her walk off toward the senior lounge. She looked determined, even a little angry. We hadn't talked much about the festival, but from her questions and the way she posed them, it was obvious he hadn't given he r much information. She'd signed the forms, though, and Charlie had given his co nsent; I wondered what the ugly bastard had said to get her to sing with him. "E asy, Twin," Alice had said, touching my shoulder. "I don't like him." I tried no t to sound like I was a pouting child. "You won't like anyone she sings with, ev er." "It's not just that." I took a deep breath. "I think he was the one who put the Rohypnol in her drink." "Why?" demanded Jasper. "He and Victoria are comple tely involved," said Alice. "I doubt that he would-" I shook my head.

"Not to get her in bed," I said, swallowing the acid in my throat. "To get her t o sing. He'd heard her at La Push, and anyone watching knew she was terrified. S he slammed a shot of res'shine on stage. So the next day, he's at our session wi th his guitar, knowing she'd be there, see?" "He's the one who told Lauren to ta ke you upstairs," Alice said slowly. "We have no proof," said Jasper, and I was grateful for his inclusion. "We should warn Bella," said Alice. "I can't. I don' t know that he did it, and she'll just think I'm being a jealous prick." "Are yo u?" Jasper asked. "Yeah, probably." The bell rang and I headed to Biology. Bella was already at our table, staring into the distance, lost in her mysterious tho ughts. I managed to keep my mouth shut through class, but asked about her conver sation with James when the bell rang. She was vague, and I was casual, even thou gh I really wanted to punch something. I had no place being angry with the situa tion; he'd made a legitimate demo and mailed in the forms properly and I hadn't. I just hated the thought of her singing with him. Mrs. Goff let us out of Spani sh early, and I headed to my locker. A familiar voice said my name; I ignored it . "I thought you didn't date," Tanya continued. "What do you want?" I was not fr iendly. "I have something you want." "No, you don't." "Not even this?" She held out her hand. In her fingers was a familiar neon green flash drive with "EAC" sc ored into the plastic. I snatched it from her. "You've had this the whole time?" I shouted. She said nothing. She just stood there, in a viciously short skirt a nd stiletto heels, staring at me. I wondered how the hell I'd managed to be attr acted to her in the first place. I slammed my locker shut so hard layers of pain t flaked off. I was halfway down the hall when I heard her voice call after me.

"Your band's name is a stupid password, by the way." I stopped and turned back, my hands gripped in fists to keep from choking her. "What did you do?" "Nothing, " she said, shrugging. "I didn't even look at the files." I stared at her, waiti ng, growing more and more furious. "You changed the password," I said. She smile d, a tight little grimace that I wanted to slap off her face. "What do you want? " "A public apology." "For what? Isn't smashing my laptop enough? You knew the a lbum was on it! I played most of it for you!" I looked down at the little storag e device in my hand, the gears in my brain spinning with the force of my anger. "You pulled this out before you threw it. Why? So you could blackmail me? That's sick, Tanya!" "So Edward Cullen hurt a little, huh." Her voice dripped with bil e. "Welcome to the real world." "It wasn't just me on this, you bitch!" I'd neve r yelled at a girl like that before, not right in her face, and it shocked me. I lowered my voice. "My entire family worked on this for a year, and they didn't do anything to you." She said nothing. "And I have no clue what the hell you wan t me to apologize for. I didn't do anything to you, either." "Halloween," she sa id. "What?" "I want to go to Alice's Halloween party. With you, as your date, in matching costumes, and I want pictures. Once they go up on Facebook, I'll give you the password." I thought of Bella, on Sunday, when I'd asked what her costum e was, and the way she shook her head with pinked cheeks, wanting to surprise me , and Alice, bouncing behind her with a wicked gleam in her eye. "No."

"Fine," she said, turning around. "Let me know if you change your mind." I sat i n my car, grinding my teeth, and turned to the only source of comfort I had. Bel la: I walked to the Volvo, in shock from my conversation with Debussy_88. Jasper quirked an eyebrow at me, but slid into the backseat and pulled Alice in on top of him. Edward was in a quiet mood as well, pocketing his phone and earbuds to drive. He held my hand, almost too tightly, not even letting go to shift, but he didn't look at me until we were at the house, standing on the doorstep. His lip s moved, searching, and finally settled on "Have a good evening." When he didn't lean in, I reached up and kissed his check, and he inhaled audibly and turned a way, walking quickly back to his car. I was confused at his distance, but my own mood was so chaotic that I probably wasn't good company anyway. I did my homewo rk, and started potatoes baking in the oven, and then I couldn't take it anymore , and pulled out my iPhone. What will you do? His response came a minute later: I don't know. ±Debussy_88 Can you talk to her? I don't know how. Every time I talk to her I get the words wrong. ±Debussy_88 Can you show her these words? No. Not n ow. ±Debussy_88 Then you've made your choice already. He didn't respond all evenin g. I went to bed early, feeling sad and strange. My sleep was tinged with blue, and my dream lover had Edward's hands and the on-line poet's words. I woke feeli ng disoriented, like my life was imploding on itself. Edward was attentive all d ay, always at the door, holding it open, carrying my tray at lunch, pulling my c hair out at our lab table, but he never touched me. My nerves were stretched tig ht, but I gave him the space he seemed to desire. I finally broke in the car on the way home, and came up with a flimsy excuse to talk. "Do you want to stay and work on the Biology lab?" I asked him, feeling pathetic.

He took my back pack from my lap, and shook his head without looking at me. "I'l l finish it tomorrow in free period." He got out of the car and opened my door f or me, while I struggled with my laptop case and more books. We walked up to the house, and he took the keys from my hand and unlocked the door, and followed me inside, dropping my backpack on the stairs. I mumbled a thanks and goodbye, but he said nothing in reply. I turned to go upstairs, not wanting to watch him lea ve, but strong hands gripped my shoulders and spun me around. His fingers slid i nto my hair, cradling my head, and his mouth was on mine, crushing my lips with an intensity that overwhelmed me, and I clung to him as he kissed me, hands on h is chest, and then in his hair, meeting his desperation with my own. His tongue was hard against mine, and one hand slid down my neck and over my breast, thumb drifting over the stiff nipple, but when I moaned he jerked away, gasping. He he ld my shoulders again, pinning my hands to my sides, and kissed my forehead, and then was out the door before I could say his name. I sat down hard on the botto m step, confused and reeling with a pain in my chest that I'd never felt before. I trudged through my homework, constantly reminding myself that I knew what I w as doing, and that this was what I wanted. The evening passed too slowly. Wednes day morning passed even more slowly, from the ominously quiet car ride to school , to the silence at the lunch table. Edward sat across from me, and like yesterd ay, he hardly touched me at all. I was intensely aware of him, and felt self con scious, sensing his gaze on me constantly. "Okay," said Jasper, smacking Emmett upside the head. The giant let go of Rosalie's thigh in a guilty reflex. "You gu ys are boring the shit out of me," Jazz continued. "Word association!" He pointe d to his sister. "Ink Blot Test," she said. "Dead butterflies." Alice wrinkled h er nose. "Windshields," said Emmett. "Spiral," said the beautiful boy across fro m me. It was my turn, and the only thing I could think of was the way he traced concentric circles on my breasts with his tongue, making every millimeter of my-

"Skin," I blurted out, blushing. "Peach Ice Cream," Jasper murmured, his face so ft as he looked at Alice. "Summer," said Rose. "Heat?" said Alice, after a momen t. "Passion!" Emmett blatantly drew his hand up Rosalie's leg again. "Love," sai d Edward, in a bored tone, shrugging and looking at the ceiling. You, my brain w hispered, and I shied away from voicing that aloud, here, like this, and quickly sought another image. I thought of Debussy_88 and his Spark, and the way he bur ned for her. "Phoenix," I said, looking down at my uneaten pizza. Silence fell h ard on the table, and the distant cafeteria noises seemed louder than normal. Ed ward stood, gathering up his books and his lunch tray with deliberate movements and left the table. "Huh." Emmett scowled at me. "I thought you were into my bro ther. Do you have a boyfriend back in Arizona?" Four pairs of eyes stared at me, and the hostility was unnerving. "No! I meant the bird. You know, the myth." Th e hard looks softened to curiosity. "I just like the imagery," I mused. "Being c onsumed by passion to nothing but spent ash, and then rising, newborn, to fall i n love with the flame, to burn again and again, and the fire, knowing that he wi ll extinguish her to coals, but she reaches for him anyway«" The eyes flicked arou nd the table, meeting each other in private conversations, and I felt my face tu rning bright red. Alice's mouth was hanging open. "Bella," said Jasper, cocking his head to the side, as if looking at an optical illusion where you see two dif ferent women in the same drawing, "do you write?" "A little. Sometimes. I'm not very good." "Have you shown any of it to my brother?" Alice looked like she was about to burst out of her skin. "No!" I said, horrified at the idea.

Rose began to laugh, a silent shaking of her shoulders, and I stared back at the m wondering what the hell was going on, but the bell rang. Edward wasn't in Biol ogy, and the Volvo was gone when school let out. Alice assured me he was fine, h e had some kind of appointment, and we all crammed into the giants' Jeep. I than ked them for giving me a ride, and walked to the house, missing even his silence . I went through the motions of homework and dinner, closing off the parts of me that hurt from the outside world. There was an alert when I checked my phone. H e'd changed his profile song to 'Everybody Knows', by Concrete Blonde. I am caug ht in a steel trap Of my own manufacture, Fractured, Tearing my own flesh With d ull teeth, Unable to escape My own choices. The voices calling my name Cut my he art to pieces One with a razor's bite The other with silk, And sweetness. I type d: Lovely words, but painful. She's slipping away from me; I'm afraid she'll cho ose the man in the distance. -Debussy_88 Does she even know she has a choice? I got ready for bed, waiting for his response. I was almost asleep when my iPhone buzzed. You are Extraordinary. I'll try. -Debussy_88 Edward: Bella said hello wh en I picked her up, and thanked me for the ride, her voice friendly and polite. I didn't scream at the wrongness of it, or shake her and ask her who the hell sh e loved in Phoenix, or mash my mouth into hers until she admitted she was only m ine. I said hello, and you're welcome, and we drove to school in silence. Alice chattered about her party, and Jasper murmured appropriate syllables when she pa used. I avoided his gaze in the rearview mirror.

I spent the first two class periods trying to pay attention, but all I could thi nk of were milk chocolate eyes dulled to flat brown. I waited outside of the sec ond period Chemistry class. Bella walked out, books clutched to her chest, and g ave me a small smile, but didn't approach me. She had built walls between us, an d I knew it was my fault, and I hated it. I told Alice I'd catch up to her. "Hey , Cheney, I have a question for you." Ben looked up at me, startled, and shoved his glasses higher on his nose. I glanced at Angela, and she took the hint, walk ing over to talk to Lauren. "Cullen." He shifted his laptop case on his shoulder . It was a state of the art high tech brand; Cheney was king nerd of the Forks H igh brain trust. "What do you know about hacking into encrypted data storage dri ves?" "Is it registered on-line?" he asked. I shook my head. "Then you're out of luck, man, sorry. And I wouldn't even do a Google search on that shit, if I wer e you. Too many watchdogs flagging that tech research right now. Best thing to d o is to send it to the company with the receipt and hope it gets back to you in a year or three." "Thanks," I said, "I figured as much." He looked at me curious ly, and I waved to Angela, hoping to stall any questions, and she came to stand by his side. She was half a head taller than he was, but it didn't seem to bothe r either of them. "You guys coming next week?" I asked, being polite. I already knew they were. They both nodded, and I headed off to the music building, jealou s of how happy and uncomplicated they seemed together. I sat down with Alice, an d pulled out my Spanish book, pretending to study while trying to figure out wha t the fuck I should do. Yesterday I'd ditched school to talk to the lawyer who h andled my mother's estate. She told me it would be almost impossible to take any legal action against Tanya. I could possibly take her to small claims court for destroying the laptop, but that was it. My family would be no help:

The good doctor would tell me I was showing the early signs of clinical adolesce nt depression and if my symptoms didn't improve in seven to ten days he could of fer a prescription that shouldn't be taken with alcohol. Esme would tell me that Bella deserved better than this, and that I shouldn't start fires that I couldn 't put out, and roll this, please, my fingers are too sticky, dear. Emmett would tell me I needed to let Mom go, that it's only words, man, and I could always w rite more. Rose would shake her head at me, tell me to grow up, stop being a sel f involved drama queen, figure it out and do something already, in five words or less. Alice would throw things at my head for even thinking of taking anyone bu t Bella to the party, and tell me exactly how long it took to make the costume s he had designed, call me an asshole and immediately rat out the whole situation to Jasper. Jasper would calculate the hours it took to make the last album, and calmly explain that we could not possibly do another before Rose and Emmett deci ded to quit the band and leave for college, while playing the banjo song from De liverance on a baroque lute, and dude, pour us a shot of that, no, the good stuf f, you plebian motherfucker. When he sobered up the next day, he would very like ly assault Tanya and wind up in jail, thereby completely destroying the future o f the band. I sighed. I was on my own. Ordinary_Girl was right. If I didn't tell her, what right did I have to even sulk about it? I watched Bella eat lunch fro m the corner of my eye, having no appetite of my own. She rarely looked at me, a nd hardly spoke at all. When she was finished I took her tray back and sat back down next to her. "Bella," I said, trying to keep my voice even, "Can I talk to you?" She looked at me, finally, and her face twisted with something I didn't re cognize, and then slipped into a cool mask that made my chest tight. I wanted to stroke her cheek with my thumb until she smiled with that unguarded softness th at she gave me in the morning, waking next to me. She gathered her books, and I led her outside, and she leaned back against the brick of the cafeteria building . I ran my hand through my hair, and tried to find the right words. "It's Hallow een, isn't it?" she asked. I searched her face, wondering what she knew already. I nodded.

"I'm sorry," she spoke quickly, the words tumbling from her lips so quickly I co uld barely understand her. "I just assumed you would want me there. But you've b een upset with me all week, and I can't figure out what I did, except for gettin g the costumes with Alice. I should have told her 'no'. I wasn't thinking." "You didn't do anything wrong! Dammit, Bella, I do want you there. I just-" I swallo wed against the rock in my throat. "I'm bringing someone else. But you should st ill come." "Alice said it was a couples party," she whispered. "It is." "Who sho uld I come with, then?" she asked her shoes. I felt punched in the gut. I hadn't even considered that she would be there with anyone but me. I couldn't think of anyone that I wouldn't want to kill for just looking at her, much less standing at her side, holding her hand or kissing her goodnight, or"Eric Yorkie." I said , coming up with the one person I knew who wouldn't even want to touch her. I sm iled at her, trying to lighten the mood. She nodded, the blank expression never slipping. "Who are you taking?" she asked, her tone light and casual. "Tanya." S he nodded again. "She's pretty." No, she's evil, and she's got me by the balls a nd if it was just about me I'd tell her to fuck off, but I can't, and I'm so sor ry, and I'm so fucking in love with you, and I want to tell you, but I'm afraid you'll disappear into thin air, and I don't know how to open my mouth without sc rewing things upI promised Ordinary_Girl I would try. I took a deep breath. "Loo k, Bella, I don't know how to say this. I've never had a girlfriend, and I-" She was still looking at her shoes, hugging her books to her chest, "Fuck." I rubbe d the back of my neck, feeling like the biggest ass-hat on earth. She looked up at me, with a slight smile. "Edward, stop. It's okay. I never expected to be you r girlfriend. I knew what I was getting into from the start," she continued. "Yo u've never been with anyone for more than a month, and I've had almost five week s with you, and even a date. I'm kind of flattered that I've held your interest this long."

What the hell was she talking about? My brain felt disconnected from my ears, an d I stared at her, feeling stupid. She looked up, but didn't meet my eyes. "But a smart girl knows when her time is up," her voice sounded distant, "and I promi se I won't make a scene." "Or bruise up the next girl you want," she added as an afterthought, eyes finally flicking to mine. I looked away, feeling a bit nause ated, still ashamed about the bruises. She'd never once brought them up since th at night. I tried to refocus on what she was saying; the words 'the next girl' s eemed to bounce against the bricks. Her knuckles were white, gripping her books, and her eyes darted everywhere, and I could see the mask slipping. "I'm tired o f pretending to be something I'm not," she whispered. "I'm not a groupie girl lo oking for a trophy fuck with the rock star. I'm in-" she whispered, but she sunk her teeth into her bottom lip, cutting off the words. But she recovered and was talking again, honey soft voice murmuring words about having a good time with m e and singing, and still being friends. "Bella, I don't want to be your friend!" I stared at her in horror. I wanted to be her boyfriend, and her lover and more things than that, things too big to think about that involved rings and forever . Did she think this past month was a casual friendship? "Oh." She paled, and cl osed her eyes for a second. "Okay. I'll stay away, then. I don't know if we can do anything about Biology, but I'll tell Alice I won't come over on the weekends anymore." She reached up and kissed my cheek, a feather light touch that still burned. "Goodbye, Edward. Take care of yourself," she whispered, and walked away , back straight and head held high. I glared after her, wondering what the fuck had just happened. She rounded the corner, and I heard a thud and the sound of b ooks hitting the ground, some cursing and a muffled apology. By the time I could get my feet to move, she was already up and moving toward the doorway of the ma in building, hair loose and flying everywhere as she struggled with her armful o f books. The bell rang for class, and I didn't move. My eyes were pulled to the ground, to the ribbon mashed into the dirt. I stared dumbly at the scrap of brow n that had become some sort of symbol of the connection between us, and finally realized what she'd been saying. I looked in the direction she had gone, my hear t screaming her name, but she'd disappeared.

Chapter 28: Truths Bella: I sat on the school nurse's paper covered table with a bandage on my elbow and an ice pack on my wrist. I normally didn't bother; my c lumsiness would have me in the office on a daily basis, but there was no way I w as going to go to Biology today. I simply could not face Edward right now, and w ith any luck, I wouldn't have to go to gym, either. At least I didn't run down t he poor little freshman in front of him. After an hour the nurse checked my eyes again and gave me a pass, and I walked the two blocks to the police station, pu tting each foot in front of the other with deliberate intent. My brain felt numb , like I was sleepwalking. It was a different kind of lack of feeling than befor e I came to Forks, I mused. In Phoenix I was naïve; now I felt empty, drained of t he ability to process. Charlie glanced at my elbow and my arm, but examined my f ace for a long time. He nodded to the little room they used as a spare office an d a holding cell, and I spread out my books. After a while he bought me a Styrof oam cup of hot tea and six packets of various sweeteners. I raised and lowered t he teabag by the little paper tag on the string, over and over in some sort of s trange auto-pilot mode. I worked through my chemistry assignment, and the number s wrote themselves on the paper. My backpack buzzed with Alice's text chime. I h esitated before looking, afraid of anything that might disrupt my apathy, but ev entually pulled out my iPhone. She'd messaged: Edward is climbing the walls like a spider monkey. Where are you? I stared at the text for a few moments, and the n felt guilty about leaving school without telling them that I wouldn't need a r ide home. I replied: I'm with Charlie. Please tell E I'm sorry I didn't tell him not to wait for me. She texted back: Are you OK? What happened? Call me! Was I okay? -I wondered. Just then my stomached growled, and I figured that if I was h ungry I must be fine, so I typed: I'm OK. I'll call you later. I stared at the l ittle screen as my thoughts churned sluggishly. I was vaguely pleased that Alice was still speaking to me. Charlie took me to eat at the diner, and then dropped me off in the driveway and headed back to work. He was working late shifts this week, and I trudged up to the empty house alone.

Propped against the door was Edward's Biology textbook. I picked it up and went inside, staring stupidly at it. A lab worksheet was tucked into the front cover, and a corresponding page was marked with a brown grosgrain ribbon. The Novocain inside my skull wore off abruptly, and I slid to the floor, sobbing first in co nfusion, then in sadness, and finally in anger. I took a shower, letting the hot water run down over my muscles, bringing my body temperature to the heat of my frustration, and I stewed in the steam. He left the book as an excuse to give me the damned ribbon. I knew this down to my furious bones. It had meant something to us both, and he was giving it back to me. I just didn't know why. I didn't w ant this, this helplessness and weird agony that twisted my nerve endings into k nots. I wanted to take action, but I had no idea what to do. When the warm water finally ran out, cooling my skin and my ire, I dried off, resolved. I called Al ice. She answered before it even rang. "Bella," she shrieked. "What the hell hap pened? Edward went completely bat-shit after lunch, and then when we couldn't fi nd you after school I thought he was going to tear the place apart, until I text ed you, but he wouldn't talk to me, and I told him that he should call you, but he said he if couldn't even talk to you in person without fucking everything up then he wasn't going to do it on the phone, and I've never seen him like this so I made him to go running before he would explode, and-" "Alice," I interrupted. "Breathe." "Sorry. I just don't understand what he's doing! Emmett said he was late for Spanish and got detention tomorrow, and he's shut down so completely th at even Jasper doesn't know what to do, and-" "Alice." "We stopped by your house and you weren't there, and he kept writing you notes and then crumpling them up , and finally he just stuck your birthday ribbon in the book, and-" "Alice!" I y elled. "He's bringing Tanya to the party." I had to hold the phone away from my ear while she screeched profanities. Apparently T-legs wasn't welcome in their h ouse, for some reason. "I'm going to kill him." Alice decreed. "And you're still going." "Yes, I am."

After the phone call I did my homework and filled out the Biology worksheet, res isting the childish temptation to do it in angry limericks about a boy who could n't make up his mind: There once was a pretty boy from Forks Who was such an inc redible dork, But it wasn't going anywhere, and whenever I tried to think badly of him I saw his face, that first night I'd sung with Rose, happy and excited, w ithout pretense, just Edward, about to kiss me before Esme had interrupted. Bast ard. Beautiful boy-man dork-bastard with amazing hands, who had shoved me behind his body to face off four drunken men, protecting me without a second thought, and bought me ice cream after to numb my bruised knucklesMy iPhone buzzed with a n update alert from Debussy_88. I stared at the phone for a long time before I p icked it up. I'd resisted reaching out to him all day. He'd changed his status t o LEFT, and his poem was titled Gone Away. I asked my doctor's witch woman what I should doShe said son, what have you done? If she's her father's child she'll never leave you If she's her mother's, then she's already gone, she's already go ne. I asked her for a spell or potion, Magic words to make her stay, She said so n, her father's child will always love you, But if she's her mother's, she's gon e far away, she's so far away. I wrote back: Blue lyrics, and sad in the mouth. Did you talk to her? I tried. It didn't go well. I can write volumes in blank ve rse and rhyme, but when I talk to her in person I lose my mind. -Debussy_88 Are you giving up? He didn't immediately respond, and I puttered around the empty ho use, and then threw my angst and fury into a massive cleaning frenzy. I dusted a nd vacuumed the living room and polished the glass on windows that hadn't been s een through for years, and then tackled the kitchen. My head

was in the freezer, trying to make sense of Charlie's handwriting on all the bag s of frozen fish fillets, when my phone rang with La Mer. No. ±Debussy_88 I eventu ally went to bed, trying to ignore the night sounds of the house that were someh ow louder because I was alone. I lay on the edge of sleep the whole night, in th at twilight suspension of unconsciousness, but still aware of the passage of tim e; I finally drifted off at near dawn. My alarm was unwelcome. I got up, showere d and dressed in a hurry, throwing on my skinniest jeans and the royal blue shir t that Alice had shredded to bits, the one I knew he liked. I piled my hair on m y head and slicked on a bit of mascara and was out the door before I lost my ner ve and changed into something that showed fewer curves. I walked into the school building before the Silver Volvo pulled into the parking lot. The eyes that fol lowed my every movement were almost as bad as the first day of school; I made it through first period, but by Chemistry I was feeling anxious and jittery. "Way to cause a stir at Forks High, hmm?" Lauren Mallory arched a perfect eyebrow at me. Ever since I had sung at Aro's with the band, she had treated me with reason able civility, but today she almost seemed friendly. "Edward Cullen got dumped!" I stared at her, trying to keep my confusion from showing. "It was kind of a mu tual thing," I murmured. "We weren't really together, anyway." She laughed, a we ird nasal braying that was a startling contrast to her elegant looks. "Don't be modest, hon! You brought him to his knees! You should have seen him, yesterday. He came charging into gym class, looking for you, pacing like some uncaged wild animal." A panther, I thought, a weird thrill running through me. He moves like a panther when he's angry; lean body with heavy shoulders and broad hands, green cat's eyes, andThe teacher started class, and I tried to focus my thoughts. Why had he come looking for me? Did he tell people I had broken up with him? I trie d to remember what Alice had spilled over the phone last night. When class ended , Lauren called out to me. "This doesn't mean you're quitting Breaking Dawn, doe s it?" Once again, I stared at her in confusion, trying to keep my face still. " Of course not," drawled Jasper from behind me. "Ed's out before she is." He wink ed at me from behind the curls, and he and Alice each slid a hand around my wais t from either side; they spun

me around and pushed me out the doorway, and I slammed straight into Edward's ch est so hard my head rocked. He grabbed my hips to steady me while I found my bre ath and my balance, and then he jerked his hands away as if burned. He glared at me. He looked awful. He hadn't shaved and his eyes were dark with shadows, and it took all I had to keep from smoothing the hair away from his face. I ducked a way toward the library before I lost my mind completely. I read my World Lit ass ignment, and wrote to my mother, and then logged onto the blogsite to write, but the words wouldn't come. At lunch I caught Alice before she sat down, and invit ed her and Rose over for girls night at my house. Then Angela grabbed my arm and pulled me away to her usual table, where I felt the pressure of curious stares the whole lunch period, though no asked me what had happened. Edward's eyes neve r seemed to leave me, and I was pierced with green daggers whenever I looked up. I couldn't focus on the conversation, but no-one seemed to expect me to say muc h. When the bell rang, I walked as slowly as I could to Biology, dreading a conf rontation. I entered the class room, and the frisson up my spine alerted me to h is presence, though our lab table was empty. Newton, Mike Newton waved to me, an d gestured to the unoccupied seat next to him. "Don't even think about it," said a rough voice behind my ear. His hot breath made me shiver, and his broad hand on the small of my back guided me to my chair, allowing for no deviation from th e direction he wanted me to go. I sat, having had no intention of sitting with M ike in the first place, and set down his textbook, pushing it across the desk. I didn't look at him, but my heart was beating hard. We worked through the lab to gether, a blood typing exercise. We set up the slides and the little worksheets, not speaking, not looking at each other, but I was aware of how tight and high his shoulders were, of every rise and fall of his chest with each breath he took , and the distance between our knees under the table. When it came time for me t o poke my finger, Edward took the little lance from me. He reached out and gentl y cradled my hand in his warm palm, and smoothed his thumb down my ring finger, stroking the blood down to the end, until it was swollen and red from the pressu re. "Close your eyes," he murmured. He held my throbbing finger tightly, and pri cked my skin. I gasped, and looked up to see him staring at me, eyes dark and li ps parted. I jerked my gaze down to our hands, and a single fat drop of blood we lled from my flesh. "Sadist," I whispered, my voice shaking. He held my hand ove r the slide, making four small dots, and then pressed the little piece of gauze on my finger, pulling my fist up over my head.

"You make that same noise," he said, voice curling down my spine. I could hear t hat his mouth was quirked with the obnoxious half-smile by the way he shaped his words, and a shiver skittered through my traitorous body. He chuckled, deep in his throat, and the tension left his shoulders. I flushed red and picked up his metal lancelet. I held out my palm for his hand, biting my lip. "Not a chance," he said, plucking the tiny weapon from my fingers. He shook his hand twice, brac ed his own ring finger with his thumb, and stabbed it with the lance in one flui d motion, and then milked his finger onto the slide. "You know, you didn't let m e finish, yesterday," he said, pitching his voice low. Panic rose in my chest, a nd I squeezed the drops of solution onto our slides. "Bella, I've a skeleton in a closet that I didn't even know existed, and I need to deal with it. I'm sorry that I didn't explain things well yesterday; I just can't talk about it yet. But you and I are definitely not over." His words were fast and urgent, under the n oise of the class. "So basically what you are saying is that you want me to sit and watch while you take care of some secret unfinished business with a gorgeous senior that you used to have a thing with? And it's okay if I go with someone e lse, as long as you think he's gay?" I wasn't really convinced that Eric was gay ; he'd asked me to the first dance of the year, but it was a moot point, anyway. "I'd rather go alone!" "That would actually be preferable," he said. He shot a dark look at Newton, who was eyeballing us with a smirk on his face. "And it's n ot that I don't want to be your friend," he continued, keeping his voice soft, " it's just that I don't think I can. I don't know how to be around you without wa nting-" he broke off, his gaze flicking to my hair, my lips, my body and away. H e swallowed. "-more." The bleak look on his face made my heart twist, and I felt tears clog up my throat. I gritted my teeth, determined not to cry in Biology c lass. "I'm not waiting for you, Edward," I said, furious with him. "When you can be honest with me, come find me." "Alright," he said, his shoulders tight again . "If that's what you want. I'll leave you alone." It wasn't what I wanted, but I was so angry and confused that I nodded once, staring straight ahead. "But you have you have something you are hiding too, Bella," he said, clenching his jaw.

"What are you talking about?" I asked, glaring at our slides. "Who do you e-mail on your phone?" he asked, voice almost a whisper. "Can I see what you write to him?" I gaped at him, and felt the crimson spread up my neck and into my face. I looked away. His half smile was a bitter twist as he stroked my hot cheek with a cool fingertip. "See?" he said, "We both have our secrets." The bell rang and I fled. Edward: I sat in detention, almost relieved to be away from Jasper's que stioning eyes and Alice's meddling. I'd avoided them last night, but I couldn't today, and I'd nearly spilled to Jazz about it twice. I had half a mind to just tell him and let him have at her, but I doubted that would get the album back, a nd I'd already lost Bella. I was so furious about the situation that I didn't ev en care what Tanya's deal was; I just wanted it over so that I could fix it. The day dragged with the autumn rain, and I pressed my fingers to my temple, search ing for a pulse to make sure I was alive. I felt like a zombie with my heart cut out and my brain turned off. I didn't dare let myself hope that it was real, th at the album was still there, that I could keep Emmett and Rosalie from leaving. I counted heartbeats to pass the time. I'd watched her all day, taking in every detail, from her hair piled on her head in artless waves cascading down her nec k to the pale blue shadows under her eyes. I was probably stalking her, but I di dn't care. I noticed little things- the way her locker stuck at the top hinge an d how she had to jerk it hard to get it open, and that the shoelaces in her Chuc ks didn't match. She'd written P88PMM on the corner of a notebook, and I wanted to tell her to be more cautious with her passwords. She had one lock of hair tha t never stayed up in the rest of it. At lunch she nibbled her apple down to the seeds but didn't eat her pizza crust and she always knew when I was looking at h er, meeting my gaze with a flat sullen glance before looking away. When Jasper a nd Alice spun her into me, her body was so warm I felt branded when I caught her hips. Something dark flickered in her eyes when she looked at me, and I wanted to shake her, to bring back the fire that had disappeared. She dodged away befor e I could speak. "I didn't do that on purpose," Jasper had said.

Alice turned her back on me. I glared at him, letting him know I'd heard his cra ck about the band. He smiled an evil grin with a lot of teeth. "Did you know tha t Bella writes?" he asked. Alice walked off with her nose in the air. My best fr iend flashed even more teeth, and said, "You're about to be torn a new one." I f ollowed behind her, the criminal being led to the gallows. When we got to the ba lcony, she slammed her books down in the seat. "Don't, Alice." "Don't 'don't' me , Twin!" She took a deep breath, preparing to go at me with barrels blazing, but something in my face stopped her, and her anger abruptly changed to pity. I loo ked away, resenting it, but she threw her arms around me and hugged me close, an d for some stupid reason it made me want to cry. "The only reason I can figure i s that you're doing it for one of us," she said, her words muffled by my shirt. "And I don't know what she's blackmailing you with, but I can't believe that you would think that any of us would want you to give up Bella." "I'll fix it, Alic e, I promise." I'd hoped to hell that I could. Bella didn't sit with us at lunch , but whenever I looked up she was staring at me, and I realized she wasn't as d istant as she seemed. I decided to try to talk to her again; I'd told Ordinary_G irl I wouldn't give up, and I'd promised Alice I'd fix it. Our conversation in B iology didn't go as well as I had wished. I couldn't help my arousal at her prox imity; the chemistry between us was loaded, and she just smelled fabulous, sweet and flowers and girl, and it was probably wrong to use the excuse of the lab to touch her, but I did it anyway. She'd called me a sadist and she was right; the noise she made was the same as when I would first penetrate her, always that ga sp at the shock of entry. I probably made a similar sound. I'd felt her shiver a t my words and it had thrilled me; at least she still wanted me physically.

But then I nearly made her cry in class, and the dead panic in her eyes when I b rought up her boyfriend back home made me wish I'd just ditched class in the fir st place. Part of me felt relieved to have it finally out in the open, but I mos tly just wished I hadn't confirmed it. I wondered if I really could stay away fr om her like she'd asked. The hour dragged on; I finished the lab write up for Bi ology, and then slid my iPhone under the desk. I messaged Ordinary_Girl: I miss your pretty words. She wrote back a minute later: I don't have any. He's trading me out for a pretty girl. ± Ordinary_Girl I stared at the screen, wanting to tear my hair with the irony of it, that she had lost too, and I wanted to slap her b oy upside the head. If he couldn't see how special she was, he didn't deserve he r. We're alone together, then. Will you be okay? He's let me have my dignity; I just don't know what to do or how to feel; I don't know the rules to this game o f hearts. ±Ordinary_Girl What if there were no rules? What would you do if you cou ld fly? I would follow him and kiss the misery from his skin, and shake him and tell him that she won't love him like I do. ±Ordinary_Girl So do it. Chase him dow n and make him laugh until he can't let you go. What do you have to lose? My san ity. ±Ordinary_Girl I don't even know what that is anymore. Give me some music to make me brave? ±Ordinary_Girl 'In for the Kill', by La Roux. Sweet and aching and feisty; like you. I drove home after detention, taking the long way, putting off the agony of having Bella at my house, her eyes dull and her voice angry with m e; but when I got there, Rose's car was gone and the house was strangely silent. I went into Jasper's room. He was playing his upright flat on his lap like a do bro. "Where did they go?" I demanded. "The ladies just left. They will be spendi ng the evening at the Swan residence," Jasper intoned, not looking at me. "Appar ently Bella doesn't feel welcome here."

"Fuck," I said, trying to massage the tension from my neck. "Yeah, you screwed t hat up real good, bro," said Emmett, from the doorway. "and Alice says you're br inging Tanya next Saturday? What the fuck, man?" "I'm wrapping up some unfinishe d business," I said, using Bella's phrase, "And Jazz, don't ask me to explain, b ecause I know you can't keep secrets from Alice, and I'm not discussing this shi t with Bella." "Dude, does Tanya even like boys?" he asked. "She certainly didn' t like me," I said. "Lock up all the computer equipment," Emmett said. "Come on, let's go to Moe's." He left to get his cue. "You're making a devil's bargain, a ren't you?" Jasper picked out the opening melody to Crossroads. "You have no ide a." I said. Moe's was busy with the usual Friday night crowd, and we ordered cok es and cheese fries and wings, and claimed a dart board as soon as one was free. We all shot a practice round, and then threw a single to see who would go first . Jasper threw to the inner ring, and Emmet threw wild. I lobbed a nice one into the outer bull, and smiled, remembering Bella's birthday, and then rubbed the b ack of my neck, not wanting to think about her, but helpless as thoughts of her crowded my brain. I stalked toward the board to retrieve our darts, and a fourth flight flashed by my head. I froze, startled and annoyed that someone would thr ow so close to my face. Then I saw the dart, stuck solid in the black bull. I kn ew those darts. Seventeen gram short shafted steel points with shiny blue flight s. I'd bought them. I stared at the cork target, hope and the girl slamming thro ugh my senses, and finally felt my heart beating in my chest again. "What are th e stakes?" I asked, pulling the darts out of the board. Jasper and Emmett were b ack at the table, sitting with the girls. Bella stood at the line, her posture a wkward and shy, but she lifted her chin and her eyes flashed with a challenge an d enough flirtation that I had to think to breathe. "A nice evening?" she offere d, and bit her bottom lip, giving lie to the casual tone of her voice. I handed Bella her dart and marveled at her, at the easy simplicity of it, no rules, just kids out having a good time. I'd fucked things up, and maybe she would wait for me to sort things out and

maybe she wouldn't, but at least she was here now, fun and fabulous, and her eye s were shining with the spark I'd been looking for all week. "You go first," I s aid. Chapter 29: Party Favors Bella: "You go first," Edward said. His shoulders were still tense, and he looked at me warily, like I was about to disappear, but his eyes were warm as he searched my face. I threw two twenties and flubbed the thir d. Not a great start. I walked to the board, chalked my score and collected the darts. "Hi," I said. He stepped to the line and threw a perfect triple twenty an d two nineteen's, a strong but polite opening. I gave him a bit of a dirty look for playing nice after he marked his score, and he shrugged with a small smile. "I'm glad you came," he replied. I took a deep breath and exhaled, trying to ign ore how much his voice and his words thrilled me. I found my center of gravity i n the small of my back, straightened my shoulders and threw. A single twenty to close, a triple nineteen and another for points; a strong play. "Alice thinks Ta nya is blackmailing you with something that would hurt your family," I said, kee ping my voice low, beneath the juke box and the crowd noise. I pulled my darts, and walked back to him. He stared at the board for a minute, and then threw a ni neteen and two eighteens, keeping up but not pulling ahead. "It's something like that." He didn't meet my eyes, but his shoulders had relaxed, and he almost see med relieved. I was flustered when I went up to the line, and it showed. I threw two eighteens to close, but the third didn't stick and bounced out of the board to fall on the floor. I grimaced and picked it up, scoring the surface of the f light with another dart so I would know which one was now dull. Alice probably h ad a nail file in her purse that I could sharpen it with, but I wasn't about to go ask her right now. "Tell me about it when it's over?" I said. He looked at me briefly, and nodded once, but one corner of his mouth quirked up.

He closed his eighteens and stuck a trip seventeen and a spare, closing the gap between us. "If you're still around." His voice was teasing and soft. I tried to ignore the way his jeans fit, slung low on his waist as he moved to the board a nd then back again, but I wasn't successful. I lobbed three separate eighteens, putting me one single point ahead; we were essentially tied. "There's no place e lse I want to be," I said. He shot a triple sixteen, and another, and flubbed an eight. He now had a solid lead. "Jasper said you didn't feel welcome in our hou se," he murmured. On my turn I tossed a triple sixteen and two fifteens, catchin g up a little. "I told Alice I thought you wanted some space," I explained, caut iously. He stepped to the line while I chalked my score, and I stepped away as h e landed a single fifteen. The others sunk low. "I don't." His voice was flat. I stuck a single fifteen, but the others were stray twos, the exact same throw he 'd just had. "Good," I said to my shoes. He reached out to me and tucked an erra nt lock of hair back, tracing a fingertip along the edge of my ear, stroking the skin awake, and moved to throw. I stood still, trying not to make a noise or hu rl myself at him and lick the back of his neck where his hair made a tiny point. He closed his fifteens. I would have to sink five bulls before he made three. " Coming to practice tomorrow?" Edward asked. I moved up and tried to focus. My ea r still tingled from where he touched me, and he was licking his lower lip and I couldn't keep my eyes on the dartboard. My first shot didn't even land in the c ork. I took a deep breath, let half out and held it, and threw two single bulls. "I was told I was required," I said, smiling. We were tied, now, but it was his turn. He stepped up with his cocksure half-smile, and I wondered if he knew wha t it did to me and my secret places. He landed two singles. He walked to the boa rd, and I watched his shoulders move beneath his shirt; I wanted to wrap my arms around him and feel them against my skin, and press my breasts to that warmth, and he turned around and caught me looking.

In two long strides he was at the line in front of me, leaning in, face inches f rom mine, looking at my mouth. "Bella," he breathed, "I'll fix this, I promise." I slipped my left hand between us, stopping his descent, and he kissed my finge rtips. When I started to pull away he grabbed my wrist and kissed my palm with p arted lips. I gasped and met his gaze, jade eyes intense, and I closed my eyes t o escape them. I angled my body around him and threw one black bull and one red. I didn't even throw the last dart; I'd won. He was still holding my other wrist . I reached up and brushed my lips over the faint dimple in his cheek. "You'd be tter," I whispered. He gathered my darts for me, took my hand and led us back to the rest of the band. Alice, Rose and I left after a bit, after they kissed the ir boys goodnight. Edward walked with me out to Rose's car, and when he leaned i n, I dodged again. "Really?" he asked me, puffing his bottom lip out in a bit of a pout. His hair was a mess and some had fallen over his frowning brows, and he was so adorable and sexy and I nearly lost my resolve. "Really. Didn't your mot her ever tell you to clean up your mess before you started another?" I asked wit hout thinking, but he just laughed, and kissed the top of my head. "No, she told me to seize every opportunity to live life to the fullest, and to brush after e very meal." He had very nice teeth. The girls and I spent the evening watching T im Burton movies and hair band concert footage, laughing at the costumes in both , lounging on piles of pillows and sleeping bags. At one point Alice looked at m e and frowned. "Is this what normal girls do?" she asked, gesturing to the livin g room, the blankets and bottles of nail polish, the junk food and the televisio n. I grinned at her. "I wouldn't know." Rosalie threw a fistful of popcorn at he r, and it stuck in her hair, the fluffy white kernels caught between the black s pikes, and I laughed so hard I choked. She hopped up and stood on tiptoes to see herself in the mirror over the mantle.

"This is a good look for me," she declared, "I think I'll keep it." She passed o ut early, curled up like a small hibernating mammal in Charlie's recliner, and I listened to Rosalie softly playing a Spanish classical piece on her guitar. 'Fa ntasy for a Gentleman', I remembered it was called, as I drifted off to sleep. I was vaguely aware of my father coming home, and him speaking to Rose, but when Alice and I woke to her buzzing phone, she was gone. "I knew she'd go. She doesn 't like being away from Em." Her phone chirped again with another text alert. "E dward wants to know what kind of syrup you want on your waffles." We left my hou se in a hurry, still wearing pajamas. When we got there, Edward hugged me and wh ispered in my ear, "I missed you last night," and I felt his chest vibrate with laughter at my groan. The band rehearsed the set they wanted to do at Alice's pa rty, and Jasper's homework for all of us had been to find songs with a Halloween theme to add to the list. Most we discarded or added to a pre/post show mix, bu t a few we kept. Edward sang a classic cover of "Spooky" that left me blushing a nd breathless and wishing I was naked, and Alice yelled at us for having musical non-sex in their sound studio. "Oh," he said. "Like this is Virgin Records? Bit ch, please." She squawked a bit, and Jasper snorted. I noticed that Rosalie wasn 't making eye contact with anyone, and Emmett was bit late with his comedic rim shot. We practiced all day and beyond, stopping only for meals. At midnight Jasp er and Emmett got into an argument while Rosalie was upstairs icing down her fin gertips, and I sat down on the floor with my back cushioned against the egg-crat e foam wall and closed my eyes. Edward tuned his piano a little; when he was sat isfied he closed the lid, and tested the keys with a pretty melody. "Claire de L une," I murmured, smiling to myself. The notes spun out, and eased into somethin g different, a canon that spiraled in a haunting lullaby. "That's new!" Jasper s aid."Does it have words?" "I'm working on it," said the boy of my dreams, his vo ice husky with overuse.

"Finally," Jazz said. He kept playing, and the tune wound around my sleepy brain , until it slowed to a stop. I woke in the morning in Edward's bed, fully clothe d. He was asleep on his couch, across the room, still with his shoes on. I got u p and kneeled on the floor by his head, and stroked the hair out of his face. He shifted in his sleep and smiled, and I mouthed the three words that had been th reatening to escape my lips for a month, and left his room before I said them al oud. "Mornin, darl," said Jasper, handing me a cup of dark caffeine. He was wear ing pajamas with trains on them and a hat with earflaps. I diluted the coffee wi th milk from the fridge, trying to clear the haze from my brain. "Did you sleep at all?" I asked him. "We worked on a new song until about three," he said. "I w ant to get it ready for the Blues Fest; they like to hear some original stuff." I nodded, and stared into my mug. "Are you going?" he asked. "I haven't decided, " I told my coffee. "It will break his heart, but he'll survive." Jazz said chee rfully. I blushed, and the blond boy chuckled at me. "What's planned for today?" I asked. "We have to work on the Festival set as soon as your boy wakes up," he said. "I'll probably take off, then." He nodded. Alice had scanned every word i n the contract to see if there was a loophole to let me sing with Breaking Dawn, but it didn't look like there was time for an appeal. They needed to rehearse w ithout me. I gathered my things and he helped me carry my bag out to my truck. " I still want to see you write down that that bit about the fire, you know," he a dmonished. "What kind of melody would you put it to?" "How does fire speak?" he asked, and waved goodbye.

I tinkered with the poem for a while, and then set it aside and finished the rea ding assignments for World Lit for the next two weeks, so the weekends would be free for Alice's party and the Festival. Late in the evening I got a message ale rt: Give me some music? I've used up all of my own. ±Debussy_88 What mood are you in? Dirty and blue, head full of the girl and wanting. ±Debussy_88 Dan Auerbach's 'I Want Some More'. Why so frustrated? A few minutes he replied: Very good song. I'm in limbo until I get my words back; I can't let her fire die to cold coals, but to fan the flames isn't fair. ±Debussy_88 Show her your own heat, and keep he r warm. Wise words. Will you write soon? I've missed your pretty phrases. ±Debussy _88 Soon. But the words didn't come that night, or the next. On Monday Alice han ded Tanya an invitation, and I watched them have a brief conversation from the o ther side of the hall. Alice walked with me on the way to Chemistry. "She's inte nding to come as a pirate," she said. "That works," I replied, trying not to sou nd bitter. "Why have a couples party, anyway?" "I want the evening to be about m usic and costumes and dancing; not about hooking up with someone. If people come together already, there tends to be less fucking in the hallway bathroom." I lo oked at her from the corner of my eye, and her jaw dropped at my red face. "You didn't!" she moaned. Edward gave me some apologetic distance that day, but he di dn't go far.

The next day, however, he caught me just before lunch, and pulled me outside, to the exact same spot we'd occupied last week. His face was red and his jaw was t ight, and my stomach turned to lead. He pushed me against the wall. "Are you try ing to get Newton killed?" he asked through his teeth. "What the hell are you ta lking about!" "That skirt is indecent!" "No, it isn't!" I almost laughed out lou d in relief, but then I was irritated. "It's longer than what Tanya is wearing!" "Then it's the socks. Whatever." "What's wrong with them?" I was wearing a deni m skirt and heather grey cable knit socks that went past my knees. Edward reache d down and stroked his thumb across the skin of my thigh above the knit ribbing. I shivered as the nerves carried the sensation higher. "Every single straight g uy in school is thinking about these three inches of skin." He was standing so c lose I could feel the heat from his body, and his mouth was close to my temple. "What would you prefer to think about?" I whispered, touching the shell of his e ar with my lips. I was furious that he would chastise me for my clothing, especi ally when he was publicly dating another girl, but I was also turned on as hell. I felt dangerous, and ready to be wicked. He inhaled sharply through his nose, and pulled away. "Anything other than Mike Newton looking at you like that!" I s hot a quick look around the quad, and then behind the cover of his body, I slid my hands up the back of my skirt, hooked my panties with my thumbs and slid them down my legs. I gathered them in my fist, triumphant that I had managed to perf orm the entire feat without falling on my ass, and stuck them in the pocket of h is jacket. "There, does that help?" He stood there, staring at me, his eyes almo st black. "Don't let Tanya find those," I said, and walked back to the cafeteria . He didn't follow. He didn't speak a word to me in Biology, just sat facing for ward, one knee bouncing under the lab table.

Towards the end of class I leaned toward him and whispered, "What are you thinki ng?" His face turned red and he bit his lower lip, but his gaze never shifted fr om the front of the classroom. The electric heat coming off his body was almost visible, like a mirage on desert sand, and I burned next to him, hoping the wetn ess between my legs wouldn't stain my skirt. The next day I wore jeans. James fo und me at the end of lunch on Thursday. He nodded to Emmett and Rose, and asked Edward if he could speak with me. Edward looked irritated, but nodded. I got up, pissed that he would even think he could give me permission to do whatever the hell I pleased. We walked to a private corner where Victoria was waiting. "So wh at do you think?" he asked, grinning like a scruffy fruit bat. "Will your boy go through the roof if you sing with me?" "He'll survive," I repeated Jasper's wor ds from Sunday, not bothering to point out that he wasn't mine at the moment. Th e ugly boy beamed with an angel's smile, and said he would sign us up for a prac tice room in the music building for every day this week and next. I wasn't entir ely sure I was comfortable with that, but when Victoria asked if I would mind if she hung out with us, I relaxed. Then James handed me a list of songs, and aske d me to choose some, and mark off what I didn't know. It was a long list. "I jus t want to keep it flexible, you know?" I nodded, and turned back to my friends. "What did you decide, Bella?" Alice asked, her voice soft. "I'm honoring the con tract I signed," I said, trying to keep my voice even. Edward glared at me. "How , Bella? You can't even speak up in class without passing out!" His voice was ha rsh. "There's going to be a thousand people at the trials, and I won't be up the re to hold your hand when you get scared." He stalked off while his family watch ed him go. We were all silent until the bell rang. Edward: I sat in Mr. Banner's room, contemplating the grid in the ceiling tile, trying to get my head on stra ight. The girl was never the same person twice, and she made me crazy. Monday sh e'd been shy and distant and the next day she'd been a sex kitten with a temper.

Fuck. I still got hard, thinking about Tuesday. She'd been so close to me, and I could measure in inches how near I was to the secretly naked girl; and I knew h ow she would feel, too, wisps of silky fur and damp hot flesh, accessible with j ust a flick of my wrist, and all I could do through the whole class was think ab out bending her over the table and sliding in, and I knew she'd be wet for me fr om the way she shifted in her seat, sitting with her thighs held closeBella walk ed into the classroom, and I pulled her chair out for her. She ignored me, set h er books down on our table and walked to the sharpener to shorten a perfectly po inted pencil. I sighed. I'd been a dick, and I deserved the snub. She sat down a nd opened her books, waiting for class to start. I tried not to stare at her, or look at the line of her jaw, defined by her clenched teeth, and the way the cor ds of muscle stood out in her neck, and lower, to the grace of her curves under the blue sweater she was wearingI jerked my eyes away as class started. Mr. Bann er invited a volunteer to present last week's blood type test and the entire cla ss findings, and Bella raised her hand. We both looked at her in surprise, but h e called on her. Without looking at me, she gathered our notes and marched to th e front of the room. She spread out the notes on the front table, took a deep br eath, and gave an oral report that held everyone's interest for almost ten minut es, detailing the test process and the merits of a sadistic lab partner, how the agglutinate actually worked, the class results versus the national average, and finished with a quip stating that 'clearly, Mr. Cullen and I are incompatible.' Then she fielded questions. Mr. Banner was amused. I was stunned. She walked ba ck to our desk, but before she sat down she fished something out of the pocket o f her jeans, and flung it at me, without looking. I caught it, instinctively. I turned the cap from the lemonade bottle over in palm, noticing the faint scratch es where we had spun it back and forth between us so many times, and looked at t he girl. Her back was rigid in her chair, and I was almost glad for the curtain of mahogany curls that hid her face. I set the lid on the table between us, and when the bell rang, she gathered her things and left it there. I picked up the c ap and put it in my pocket. I still needed her, even if she no longer needed me. After school I found her at her locker. "Bella, I'm sorry. I was an asshole." S he waited, staring up at me, mouth and chin firm. Even when she was angry with m e, I wanted to drown in her eyes. Show her your own heat, and keep her warm. Ord inary_Girl had said. "I want you to go." I said, rubbing the back of my neck. "A nd I know you'll be great. I just don't know if I can watch you with someone els e."

She looked at the floor and nodded, and then back at me, and offered a small smi le that didn't reach her eyes. "That's how I feel about Tanya." She left, headin g toward the music hall. Friday we decorated the house with purple lights and bl ack gauzy fabric in some crazy New Orleans funeral theme, and Saturday we picked up food and flowers and made 3 different kinds of punch. I finally got dressed in the costume Alice had come up with, some sort of ship-wrecked sailor in distr essed front flap pants with flare legs, and a tight t-shirt with stripes. She tr ied to get me to wear a little white hat, but I refused. Rose, dressed as Marily n in 'Some Like it Hot', let out a low whistle, and Emmett doubled over with lau ghter. He was wearing a suit and a Stetson, ala Frank Sinatra, the lucky bastard . "Yorkie's gonna love you," she said. Sometimes I hated my step-sister. I left to go pick up my date for the evening, torturing myself by driving past Bella's house on the way. Her truck was there, and her bedroom light was on. I wanted to stop, and call her name just to see her face at the window, like some fucked up Romeo love scene, but I doubted her father would appreciate that. "I don't unde rstand why I had to come," seethed Alice from the backseat. She was dressed as a Charlie Chaplin tramp, complete with bendy cane and a fake moustache. "Because I don't want to be alone with her," I replied. I wasn't sure if I was bringing A lice to protect me from Tanya, or her from me wringing her neck, but I knew that if something disgusting happened, Bella would believe Alice's version over any told by the rumor mill. We pulled up to the house, and I rang the doorbell. Tany a's mother opened the door, coughed wetly and yelled for her daughter. "Edward, aren't you the handsome sailor!" she rasped. She reached up to pinch my cheek, c igarette hanging from her diamond crusted fingers. "You've been dating Tee for w hat, five months now, and I finally get to see what you look like. She can sure pick 'em. You two'll make pretty babies, won't you?" "Mom, please!" Tanya came r unning down the stairs, dressed in some slut-chick pirate get up, and had I not hated every inch of pale red hair on her head I would have thought she looked ho t.

"What, honey?" her mother asked with a yellow smile. "Jesus, girl. He's gonna th ink you're frigid if you don't show off more tits than that." She tugged at the vinyl corset on her daughter's chest. Tanya slapped at her mother's hands, her f ace blotched with fury. I felt surreal, like I had just stepped into a primitive country with strange customs I couldn't fathom. "Let's go," she said to me, and I followed her out. Her mother patted my ass and closed the door after us. I sh uddered. "Did you have to come to the door?" Tanya asked bitterly. "That's what you do on a date, isn't it?" I opened the car door for her, and she got in. "Wha tever. You get the password after I get pictures, then I go home..." I got in, a nd we pulled away from the house. "Password?" asked Alice from the back seat. Ta nya looked at me, malicious curiosity plain on her face. "You didn't tell her?" After a few silent miles I reached into the pocket of the pants Alice had shredd ed and handed my sister the thumb drive, in explanation. "Oh, fuck!" she whisper ed. "Tanya, you are one lucky bitch." "Yeah." I agreed, nodding at Alice in the rear view. "Honey, if Jasper knew you had this, he would have ripped your face o ff." Tanya shrugged, but she wouldn't have if she had ever seen my best friend l ose control. I once watched him wrench a man's arm out of its socket for grabbin g Esme's boob. It happened at a state fair, before she and dad hooked up. Jazz h ad only been fourteen. "I didn't want to get anyone's hopes up," I told my siste r. "I don't even know if she fucked with the files." "I told you I didn't," Tany a said. "You expect me to trust you?" I asked her. She shrugged again. "And pict ures of what, exactly?" asked Alice. She was holding the derby up with a finger and spinning like it was a basketball. "And who is taking them?"

"I don't care," Tanya said. "You can take them, if you want." Charlie Chaplin's grin was angelic under the little moustache, but the glint in her eye was pure e vil. The guests were beginning to trickle in, and I was actually thankful for Ja mes's arrival, because he and Victoria took Tanya off of my hands. I busied myse lf with the music set up, rearranging wires and triple checking the mics. Bella hadn't shown up yet, and I was getting fidgety. "It hurts, doesn't it," said a v oice behind me. "The wanting, I mean." Lauren Mallory stood behind me. I didn't even pretend to not know what she was talking about; I just nodded. She shrugged . "At least now your blues are honest." She wandered off, and I stared after her . My iPhone chirped with Ordinary Girl's update alert. She'd changed her status to: WAITING, and her profile song was 'You May be Blue' by Vetiver. Her poem was titled Mer. I will meet him in sequins And a taffeta tail, Seashells and ribbon Binding my hair. I'll give him my voice And split my legs To come with sea foam On surging waves. I will be a still statue Perched on the rocks Silent and wait ing In the harbor sun. Before I could respond, Tanya found me. "Let's just get t his over with. I just want to go home." I nodded without speaking, and we found Alice in her room, showing off some designs to Angela and Victoria. She whispere d something to both of them, and they left. She posed us against a wall, prom st yle, and snapped a photo with her digital camera. The flash left a square patch behind my eyelids; after a few more clicks I was almost blind.

Alice showed her the pictures on the little screen. "Those work," Tanya said, "b ut I want one more." She stepped close to me, her breasts shoved up to my chest, and pursed her lips like a sphincter. "Make it look good, lover," she said. Her sarcasm was as disgusting as her puckered mouth. I gnashed my teeth in resentme nt and fury. Please, Bella, understand! I thought, feeling sacrilegious for even thinking her name. Tanya closed her eyes, almost as if she was in pain, or tast ing something sour. I felt a hand on my shoulder, pulling, and I stepped backwar ds to regain my balance. Rosalie moved in, quick as a cat, and planted her mouth onto Tanya's, winding her hands into the strawberry blond hair. The flash snapp ed, and the negative silhouette of the two girls kissing shimmered and faded as my eyes re-adjusted. Tanya's eyes fluttered open and she moaned. Rose grinned do wn at her, gorgeous and lethal. "Don't fuck with us," she said softly, and strok ed the other girl's face with a long finger, in a gesture that was both intimate and threatening. Sometimes I love my step-sister. Tanya recovered, shoving Rosa lie away and charging at Alice. My little sister went completely berserk, runnin g around in circles and chattering profanities at Tanya like a rabid squirrel, c lutching her camera to her chest, derby hat and tramp moustache still in place. When she regained her composure she doffed the little hat and grinned. "If there is anything missing from those files, this gets put up all over MySpace and Fac ebook. Dig it, bitch?" We all stared at her in shock. Tanya started to cry, and that quickly, the tables had turned and the whole ordeal was over. "That should have been hotter than it was," mumbled Emmett from the doorway. "What the fuck i s going on?" demanded Jasper. Alice tossed him the thumb drive and he cupped it in his hand like it was a precious jewel. "You." He turned to the crying girl, a nd the look on his face was so savage that that the hair on the back of my arms rose. She had the sense to cower. "Take me home," sobbed Tanya at me. "I'll tell you when I'm home."

I was only too happy to oblige. She walked ahead of me, tears streaming down her face, and the ambient noise of the party dulled as she moved past the cliques o f couples. I followed her out at a reasonably safe distance; she was silent most of the way home. As we got closer to her house, she dried her eyes and repaired some of her make-up in the mirror in the visor. She looked pathetic and miserab le. I sighed. "Look," I began, "I don't know what I ever did -" "It what you did n't do," she said dully. I waited, confused. "You were supposed to be the best," she continued. "and I just wanted to feel what everyone else did. But I guess I 'm just what my mother says I am." Oh. Pieces fell into place. I sighed, wanting to resolve things with her, to put some closure on this whole mess. "Tanya," I chose my words carefully as I pulled into her driveway. "Just because I didn't m ake you feel good doesn't mean that the right person won't." I put the car in pa rk and walked her to her door and followed her into the house. Her mother was vi sible from the foyer, sitting on the couch in their living room, a can of beer i n her lap. "That was a quick party," she called. "I got bored, Mom. Edward broug ht me home early." "Jesus, girl, aren't you ever going to learn to loosen up? Ho w are you supposed to keep a boy if you can't have a little fun?" Tanya's haught y face fell and her shoulders slumped in defeat. Suddenly she was just a kid lik e everyone else, trying to find ways to handle that hand fate had dealt her. I c ouldn't even hate her. I grabbed her shoulder in one hand, turning her so her ba ck was to the living room, and placed my other palm over her mouth. I leaned in and mashed my face against my hand, making a big show of mauling her hair and ba ck with the other, and once she realized what I was doing, she played along. "Wo oo!" called the voice from the couch. "You go, Tee! I didn't think you had it in you!" I pulled away, and a genuine smile flickered across the girl's face, the first I'd ever seen, and then she looked away.

"Apology accepted," she said, not meeting my eyes. I waited for her to give me t he password, and then I realized she had. I left, feeling like I was escaping th e psych ward from a fucked up low budget horror flick. As I pulled out of the dr iveway, my iPhone buzzed with a text from Alice: She's here. Chapter 30: Angles Bella: I sat in my rocking chair, holding my old bear, starin g at the dress hanging from the hook on the back of my bedroom door. Alice had f ound a vintage royal blue silk and sequin evening gown the last time we had been in Port Angeles, had insisted I buy a simple unadorned white cotton corset thin g at her favorite lingerie store, and told me to leave the rest up to her. She h ad cut the skirt off the evening gown and attached it to the bustier, which she had dyed with tea to the exact shade of my skin. The dress laced snugly over my torso and clung to my hips and thighs, until it flared below the knees, and she had added swaths of silk taffeta to cascade in a curl down my back and flow into a low train that swished when I walked. It was elegant, decadent and suggestive , and it terrified me. We had a fitting on Thursday, after I'd practiced with Ja mes, and she made me practice walking in the tight skirt, and how to sit without mashing the draped silk, and then took it away again, leaving me with my lists of lyrics to memorize. My brain had been crammed so full of words and melodies i n the last three days that I was beginning to look forward to the party, just fo r the break from James' mammoth catalogue of songs. Alice dropped off the dress this morning on the way to the florist, with a pot of glitter eye shadow and a t ube of blue mascara and some tiny seashells for my hair, with strict instruction s how to apply all of it. It had taken me half an hour with two false starts to coat my eyelids with the glamour and get them to actually match. Charlie knocked on my door. "I'm headed for work, Bells." "It's open." "Wow." One eyebrow rose up at the make-up. "Where's the tail?" "It's part of the dress." I gestured arou nd the door, and he pulled at the train a bit. "No sea-shells?" He made vague mo tions at his chest with cupped hands.

"Dad! No." I blushed bright red. "No seashells." His cheeks pinked too, and he r ubbed his nose. "You staying the night over there?" "I was planning to." "Good," he said. "I'd rather you weren't on the road tonight." He stuck his hands in hi s pockets and fiddled with his change. The silence in the room grew. "Bells, you and Edward, well-" Oh, please, not the talk. "-Dad," I tried to interrupt, but he continued. "He saved your life twice in the first two weeks you were here. I owe him my trust. But I've seen the way he looks at you-" He broke off, and I cl utched my bear tightly. Three times; he saved me three times. He rescued me from a van squishing and alcohol poisoning AND he squared off against a giant drunk rapist and three of his cronies trying to protect me, and he has another girl at the party, and if I wear that dress he's not going to be able to keep his hands off me, and I'll let him, because he hasn't kissed me for eleven days, and I wa nt him so badly I just don't care anymore"Just make sure this is really what you want before you get too deep, okay?" I nodded. "So have fun and be safe." He pu lled the door closed behind him. I was already too deep. I was in so over my hea d I might as well have a dorsal fin and a tail. I sighed, and put them on. Their driveway was already lined with cars, but Jasper came out and moved his Audi in to the garage, freeing the space where I usually parked, so that my red behemoth wouldn't block anyone trying to leave. He helped me out of my truck, and offere d me his arm. Jazz was dressed like a Mariachi assassin from a Rodriguez movie, with black jeans, a cropped jacket and a belt full of bullets. I grinned at him, remembering that he'd added 'Down in Mexico' to tonight's set. He whistled at m y dress. "That might be some of Alice's best work. In through the front door, or the garage?" he asked. "Garage, thanks." I did not want to make a grand entranc e, and was pleased I could slip in the door off the kitchen. I took small steps the way Alice had instructed when she fitted the skirt, and Jazz led me past the Cullens' cars. Edward's space was empty. "He's taking her home," he murmured.

"Did she get what she wanted?" He laughed. "Not exactly. But you have nothing to worry about, darl." He held the door, and I stepped into Alice's wonderland. Sh e and Esme had transformed the house into some midnight Bourbon street festival, with outdoor wrought iron lampposts with flicker bulbs in every corner, and str ings of purple twinkle lights swinging between black umbrellas suspended from th e ceiling. The handles were decked with violet ribbons hanging into the room lik e strings on balloons, and many had swirled candy sticks tied to the ends to cla tter like bone wind chimes. The furniture was draped with black sheets tied with bows, and urns of flowers filled the corners. The entire house was magic. I hea rd my best friend squeal from across the room. She typed something into her phon e with lightning fingers, and then she walked over to us with her feet splayed o ut and her knees jerky like the way Chaplin walked in the old films, and hugged me. "Alice, it's beautiful!" I marveled. The dining room table was covered in fi nger food and piles of chocolate coins, and the centerpiece was made of spikes o f funeral flowers and more candy sticks. Carlisle stood at the bar, dressed like an undertaker out of a Dickens' novel, filling punch cups with brightly colored liquid. I waved, and he toasted me with a plastic glass and handed it to Jessic a Stanley, a Juliet with an extremely low décolletage. I gave her a thumbs up; Mik e, her Romeo, never looked away from her cleavage. "Yes," Alice said, examining her handiwork on the dress. "The fit is perfect. He's not going to be able to ta ke his eyes off of you," she said. Jasper's pocket buzzed, and he groaned at the text. "'Apology accepted,'" He told her, rolling his eyes. She made a gagging n oise and then grinned, and reached up to kiss him, her eyes full of laughter. Af ter a second, Jasper pulled away, disconcerted, and rubbed his mouth. "I'm not s ure I've ever kissed a girl with a moustache," he told me. Alice and I giggled, and she shoved him toward the basement door. "Go on," she said. "He wouldn't hav e told you if he didn't want you to look." He unlocked the door and went down, a nd she relocked it behind him. "I was right about the blackmail," she said, lead ing me into the living room. "Tanya had our album files. We thought we'd lost th em when she destroyed his laptop. I don't know how I didn't guess what was going on, Twin can't usually hide things from me."

I frowned, feeling like I'd heard that story already, but I couldn't remember wh o told me. "What is the album called?" "Songs for Elizabeth." That was their mot her's name, I remembered, and a weird feeling of déjà vu slid over me, like I was st anding between two mirrors and my world was reflected back on itself until it an gled off into infinity. I waved to Rose, who was stoically letting Emmett blow a fan up under her pleated skirt; she had the Norma Jean thing down to the period undies, even. She nodded hello. Angela called my name, but then Alice snickered . "That was fast," she said. I felt more than heard the rumble of the garage doo r under the zydeco music, and a minute later the bronze haired boy flung the doo r open, excited and grinning, bouncing in his skin like a kid at a carnival. His eyes snapped straight to mine and time slowed, and the voices and the music fad ed, and there were only the two of us in the room. He smiled, sweet and beautifu l and honest, just Edward, and his mouth moved with half formed words and secret thoughts, and my heart started to pound so loudly I was sure he could hear it, but then he licked his lips, and I watched his mouth, because I couldn't help it , and when I found his eyes again they were dark. His gaze moved lower, followin g the line of the corset, and my skin responded to heavy stare, as if he were to uching me with his mouth. Then he was looking at the skirt, and a bemused and di stant thought flashed his features, like he was remembering the punch line of a private joke. His brows snagged together, perplexed, and then he shook his head a little as if to clear it, and smiled at me again, hot boy and fun, alive and s exy. He was dressed in a tight fraying t-shirt with nautical stripes that showed off every muscle in his chest, and vintage sailor's pants that wrapped his hips and all I wanted to do was undo each of the many buttons, one by one, while on my knees. He shot Alice a wry glance, a silent comment on our matching costumes, and I had to smile at her giggle, and the noise of the party started again. Jas per poked his head from the basement doorway, and Edward looked at him, and then back at me. I gestured at the door with my head, smiling at him, but he still h esitated. Angela called my name again, and I turned away, making the decision fo r him. "You go, too," I told Alice. "I can play hostess for a few minutes." She hugged me in thanks, and followed her brother.

"Bella, you look incredible," gushed Angela, with the confidence of a woman who knows she also looks great. She was dressed in a black satin Victorian gown, but each seam and ruffle was edged with chartreuse. Around her neck she had one of those neon green glowing necklaces that they sell to kids at the circus. Ben mat ched her, with black frock coat, top hat and monocle, and the little glowing tub es at his wrists. "Madam Curie, I presume?" I asked, grinning at her cleverness. She grinned back, and we mingled through the crowd. Esme was in the den, dresse d as a fortune teller, reading Tyler Crowley's tarot cards. He was wearing an El izabethan doublet, tall boots and a sword. Othello? I wondered. "Everyone looks so elegant," I remarked to Angela. "The jocks call Alice's Halloween parties the Zombie Prom, and they're not far off. Most of us spend more on the costumes tha n we do for any cotillion dress." "How many has she had?" "This is the fourth on e. She started in eighth grade. The first one was pretty macabre, actually. Appa rently her mother loved Halloween, so a year after she died, Alice threw her a f uneral party. It wound up being a blast. I think it was the first time they play ed as a band. Rose wasn't with them yet, and they were pretty awful. They called themselves New Moon back then, and Jasper would drop trou' and show his ass aft er every song." "I can't imagine Jasper in middle school!" "He was almost as sho rt as Alice, back then." She waved to some people across the room. Something tug ged at my brain, an echo from another conversation. "So their mom has been gone for-" "Five years. She was really nice. Alice got depressed and gothy for a long time, but she's lightened up a lot since the band started getting good." Five y ears. A strange mental image slipped into my head like the memory of a photograp h; a younger Alice in a black dress carrying white roses to a grave. Five years. "Hey, partner!" James, an Old West card shark in a velour duster for the evenin g, called out to me. I'd had enough of him in the hour after school for the past two days, so I ducked down the hall with a sketchy wave. I wanted to stash my b ag in Alice's room, but the door was locked. Then I felt the shiver in my spine, and a velvet soft voice called out behind me.

He took my bag from me, and walked further down the hall to his room, and opened the door, waiting for me to go in ahead of him. I went in, and set my purse on his desk. He closed the door behind him, and the click of the lock was loud in h is room. A strand of purple lights was strung across the ceiling of his room, to o, and an open umbrella lay over his closed piano. "You look beautiful," he whis pered, behind me. I turned around, fighting to breathe in the tight bodice. He w as leaning back against the door, and there was an ocean of space between us. "S o," he said, his voice neutral and measured, "Who's your date tonight?" "I don't have one." I thought a long time about bringing someone tonight, but it would h ave been for the wrong reasons. I had no interest in making Edward jealous; and we had enough trouble making sense of each other without playing head games. He looked so relieved I had to smile through the heat flooding my cheeks. "Would yo u be mine?" he asked me, and the double entendre reverberated through the room. "Yes," I whispered. Edward: The girl was incredible; her cheeks were pink with g orgeous color, and she was twisting her fingers together nervously, while wearin g the most scandalous dress I had ever seen in my life. This was no Disney Littl e Mermaid; she couldn't have looked more topless if she was naked. The bottom ha lf of it was so clingy you could almost see the little mound of flesh between he r legs, and every inch of her ass was defined by those spangly things. I wanted to lock her in my room and not let her out until everyone with eyes was gone. I' d tried to go listen to the album with Jazz, but after making sure that all the files were intact I had to come back up and find her. The dress was haunting me, and not just because it was so damned sexy; there was something so evocative, s o perfect about it that I didn't even have words for it, like I had seen it befo re in a dream. I crossed the room to her, because I couldn't stand being so far away anymore, and cupped her face with my palm. I tilted down, but stopped short of her lips, inviting, not breaking the rules she had set, but desperately hopi ng she would. It had been eleven fucking days and seven cockblocked hours since I had last kissed her, and my self control was starting to slip. She reached up and her mouth settled on mine with a smile and the tenderness lasted for five se conds, and then my brain exploded and I crushed her to me, trying to absorb all of her

sweetness. She met me with equal heat, tongue and teeth and the passion that alw ays left me breathless. I groaned, and thrust my hands into her hair, and hers w ere in mine, clutching and pulling me closer and her tongue was sliding under mi ne, wet and hot, and she was squirming against me, moaning, and both our cell ph ones buzzed with text messages. Alice and Jasper; they were ready to start the s et. "Fuck," I whispered. "Later," she said, making me groan. We joined the rest of the band then, and played a set, some of our usuals, and threw in a few for t he evening; Spooky was a hit, and then we did Love Potion No. 9, and Dad came ou t and danced with Esme, all slick ballroom stuff that was cheesy as hell, but La uren dragged some senior out on the floor, and then Crowley twirled his date int o them, and then the whole room was dancing. We played 'Jack, You're Dead', Alic e's pick for the evening, and she played the brass refrains on the biggest of he r harmonicas, and Rose got the giggles in the middle of the song when the Charli e Chaplin moustache got in the way and muffled the notes. We finished the set wi th 'Down in Mexico,' and I gave it my best Mick Jagger, vamping it hard, and Bel la sang the back vox. She stood still, swaying her hips while I worked the tiny stage, and I did suggestive things to her ass while she blushed, but neither of us lost the beat, until Alice smacked the back of my head. We took a break, and put the lost album on the stereo while we caught our breath. Emmett looked at me in consternation. "It's not as good as I remember!" he said. I laughed. "No, Br o. We're better than we used to be!" I kissed Bella on the mouth, grinning at he r. We would have to redo a lot of it; a few of the songs could pass as singles, but many of the songs seemed weak, and Jasper and I were already plotting ways t o mix Bella's voice into the tracks. We set up again, and took requests, and pla yed a lot of the songs we were doing at the Festival, just for practice. Bella s tepped off stage for a few, to hang with her friends, but her eyes always came b ack to mine. After the second set we put the equipment away, and toasted with a shot of Jasper's hella good bourbon, and mingled with the crowd. I chatted with Connor and hugged Lauren, didn't punch Newton and politely ogled Jessica's tits, shook Ben Cheney's hand and invited Angela to come play sax at a jam sometime. I did a shot with Victoria, ignored James, and listened to Tyler tell light bulb jokes, but all I really wanted to do was kiss Bella for the rest of the night. I finally gave up and went to find her.

She was perched on the piano bench, still as a sculpture, legs curled sidesaddle on my throne, and it reminded me of something, from my childhood, perhaps, swee t and cherished. I wanted to give her something; anything. I was desperate to ma ke an offer of myself, and have her accept. I sat down, between her and the keys and began to play, fingers light on a minor key canon, too bright for a lullaby , not fast enough for a dance, a simple melody with a complex harmony. She leane d into me and put her cheek on my shoulder blade, and I nearly stopped to hold h er close, but instead I sang: "She sleeps in the snow white of my sheets, The gr ace of her lash lies long on her cheek," And she was singing with me on the next verse, harmony sliding in and around like liquid silver and sweet syrup, and Ja sper flew into the room with his mouth open, and I gave him a dirty look for tea ching her the song without me, but she slipped her arms around my middle and was swaying with the music, breasts soft on my back and she was so warm that I miss ed the second line of the third verse, but she took it like it was hers, and it was a perfect place for call and answer so I sang: 'Her heart in his hands-' And she finished: 'His kiss on her face.' She grew still, then, and I finished the song softly, hoping she understood how much I was hers, how deep and how forever I belonged to her: 'I burn in her fire, I'm tortured to ash, by the pain of des ire, and the grace of the lash.' I resolved the melody and let the last phrase d rift, and there was some scattered applause in the room, but no one else existed except the girl behind me. Her little fingers were twisted into my shirt, and I could feel her heart beating hard and fast, through the thin fabrics between ou r skin. She raised her head lowly, and I tried to turn, but she didn't let go. S he was shaking a little, and I didn't know if it was from emotion or cold, but I wanted to hold her either way. I dropped my hands to her fists balled in my shi rt. "There're eighty-eight keys on a piano," she whispered. "Usually, yes," I sa id, wondering how much she'd had to drink. "Imperial Grands have more."

She didn't move. I finally pulled her hands from me and looked at her. She was q uite pale and a light sheen of sweat had risen on her forehead. "Are you okay?" I whispered, a little concerned. Underneath the glitter make-up her eyes were wi ld, dilated to almost black. "Yes. I'm« extraordinary," she said. Her voice was di stant and uneven. "Let's get you some air," I suggested, and she nodded. She sto od without touching me, and as we were walking to the back door, she set her han d on Lauren Mallory's arm. "Have you ever heard of Ellery?" Bella asked her. "Wh o's he?" The blond raised her eyes to mine, and I shrugged as the mermaid beside me began to giggle, almost hysterically. Bella walked through sliding doors and onto the patio where Rose was sitting with Victoria; they were playing quarters with James and a kid from my Trig class. Alice called my name, needing help wit h a bag of ice. When I came back a while later, Bella was gone. "I let her into your room," Rosalie said. By 3:00am the party was winding down. Jasper and Ben C heney were playing chess in a corner; I called winner for next game, and Ben bea t me as well, while Angela looked on with pride. I wandered off, looking for Bel la, and finally found her in my room, curled up on my couch, asleep with her pho ne still in her hand. I woke her, and she looked at me, eyes soft and wondering, and my heart beat hard, the way it always did when she looked at me like that, but then she blinked and her face closed with wariness. Her make-up was smudged and her hair was crazy and her hands were stained with glitter; she looked like a fey creature in the purple lights, timid and untamed. "Hey," I said. "That can 't be comfortable to sleep in." She shook her head, and I helped her with the la ces of her dress, and smoothed my thumb over the skin where the dress had presse d welts. Her nipples hardened under my touch, and I kissed them both, and she tu rned bright red. I grinned at her, a little baffled by her shyness. I slid my so ftest flannel shirt over her head and carried her the few steps to the bed, just because I like the primal symbolism of it, and tucked her in. She curled her fi sts under her cheek, already falling back to sleep, and I watched her, reveling in the fact that she was there, and she was mine. I

kissed her temple, and she smiled slightly, fingers reaching out in reflex. I le ft, locking the door behind me so that no-one could disturb her. The make-up sme ars on her hands bothered me. Had she been crying? It would be another two hours before everyone was gone and the place was cleaned up enough for Esme to wake u p to, and the whole time it was torture. When I was finally able to return to th e girl in my bed, I shed my costume and crawled in next to her, pulling her clos e, and she curled into me, whispering "It's you." "Yeah, it's me," I whispered b ack, smiling in the dark, but she was already asleep again. I joined her, dreami ng of mermaids singing poetry about seashells in their hair. I woke to afternoon sun in my window, alone, my dream fading as my eyes got used to the light. Ther e was a tiny starfish snagged in the fabric of the pillow where she had slept. I touched it, somehow troubled, like I was hearing only a few notes of a symphony , and left it there, hoping it would tell me its full story. Throwing on jeans a nd grabbing a leftover sandwich from a party tray, I headed downstairs. Everyone was already in the basement, though Bella had gone home. We worked on the set f or the upcoming weekend, adding three songs off the album and the one I'd been w orking on. "What are you gonna do if she wins?" Emmett asked in a break, late in the evening. "I don't know." I didn't want to think about it. "Maybe we can ope n for her," he joked. I ground my teeth, refusing to throw a temper tantrum, but desperately wanting to break something. "Fuck you," I told him. "Do you want to record a version of the new song?" asked Jasper, breaking the tension. "It's ge tting kind of late," yawned my sister. "I liked it as a duet," Jazz said. "You w ere pretty good last night, but I think you need a counter melody on the third v erse, if you trade lines like that. Rosalie? "Acoustic," she agreed. "When did y ou teach it to her?" I asked, still annoyed that he had. It was my gift to give, my words, not his. "I didn't," he said.

I frowned at him, trying to remember last weekend. I had carried Bella upstairs before we set the lyrics to the melody. How the hell had she learned those words ? Cold sweat pricked at my neck and my palms, nerves jangling through my exhaust ion. "I think I'm done for the night." I headed up to my room, and fired up my c omputer. I went to the blog site, and pulled up my page with the with the 'She s leeps' song. The entry was noted as having only one visitor. I stared at the lit tle starfish on my pillow, while my heart slammed in my chest with the force of a jack hammer. "No fucking way," I breathed into my empty room. I clicked on Ord inary_Girl's page, scrolled to the very first entry, and began to read. Chapter 31: Hunting Bella: I needed a place to sit down; I was exhausted after s inging two sets, but Alice had insisted that we mingle. I was not adept at the a rt of meaningless conversation, and was finally saved by Carlisle, who asked Ali ce to fetch a bag of ice. Most of the black draped furniture was occupied by cou ples in their matching costumes, and I was banned from sitting in cushy seats by my tyrannical fairy god-sister, for fear of crushing my "tail," so I slid behin d the piano and perched on the bench, pulling the silk train behind me. James wa ved at me from across the room, and I cringed, inwardly, but then my view of the ugly boy was blocked by the gorgeous one. Edward gazed down at me with a curiou s smile on his face, and then sat on the bench in front of me and began to play. His fingers on the keys competed with the song on the stereo for a few seconds, but then someone turned it down. He was playing the song I'd heard him tinkerin g with for the past few weeks, and tonight the variations had settled into a hau nting melody with a harmony that could spiral into infinity. I leaned into him, to take the music through his body into mine. He sang the first verse, words tha t I knew like they were my own, and on the second I joined in, countering the me lody with one of the simple variations he had played in the intro to the song. " Is it my face she sees when a smile parts her lipsMy hands in her hair, the touc h of my kiss." I slid my hands around his stomach, wishing we were alone, becaus e this was so intimate and perfect and us that I didn't want to share with anyon e else in the room. When I took a breath for

the next verse, the smell of him overwhelmed me, spice and heat and boy, and I p ressed closer, and realized I'd missed the first line. Edward sang: "Does she dr eam of a boy-" I jumped in to the second, instinctively, picturing the words on a computer screen: "In a far away place?" And then I faltered on the third, beca use I had seen these words. I sang the fourth line, as if I were reading them fr om the tiny screen on my iPhone, as I had many times. My brain screamed in shock as the optical illusion of random coincidences aligned into place like a three dimensional picture. My hands curled into the shirt of the songwriter in front o f me, as if to test his physical shape in this reality, and he finished the song so obviously influenced by the compositions of Claude Debussy. The double numbe r rolled in my head, and then his hands lifted from the piano. I stared at the b lack and white keys; not a user number, not a birth year, but another musical re ference. I hadn't realized I'd spoken aloud until he answered with something I b arely heard, no competition to the roaring in my ears. The song was about me. I was the only one to spend the night in his bed, another rule that he'd broken, e xcept for the accidental sleepover with Lauren Mallory, and he didn't look at he r the way he looked at me. He tugged at my hands as phrases tumbled in my mind, pulling me back to several weeks ago, sitting in detention, playing word games, writing to the not so distant boy about the songs he had lost, and then recommen ding a new song he give to his girl. His face was inches from mine, green eyes f ramed by heavy dark brows pulled together in consternation. "Are you okay?" he a sked. "Yes." I said, automatically. "I'mI'm Ordinary_Girl. I told you everything that was in my soul and you dared me to be brave, and called me"-extraordinary, " I finished. "Let's get you some air," he said. Air was a good idea. I took a d eep breath, and realized I was shaking.

My chemistry partner was standing by the back door, perfect blond hair coiled up with gold jewelry that matched her belly dancing costume, and I touched her arm as we passed. "Have you ever heard of Ellery?" I asked. "Who's he?" Lauren aske d, her eyes sliding above my head. I remembered the disappointment on Edward's f ace when I'd known the song, and the irony of it all made me giggle. I walked th rough the doors into the fresh night air, but he didn't follow. I took several d eep breaths, trying to clear my head. Lines of poetry and messages tangled toget her and made knots in my brain. "Honey, are you okay?" asked Victoria. "You look like you could use a drink," said James. Rose raised an eyebrow. "Can you let m e into Edward's room?" I asked her. "It's locked and I need my phone." She stood , and led me back through the house, taking a single stride for every two of my short steps. I thanked her and locked the door behind me, and grabbed my purse f rom his desk , digging for my iPhone. I pulled up the blog site, frustrated with how small the web page was on the tiny screen, and how long it seemed to take t o load. I forced myself to breathe as I pulled up Debussy_88's website, and scro lled to the early entries, and found the one I was looking for. "After Five Year s", words about a boy and a girl leaving flowers on a grave. I read it again, se eing Edward and Alice, visiting their mother, and my eyes filled with tears. The next entry was untitled; just the date, my birthday. "I did not expect to be so touched by tiny letters in this font or so alone at their loss." And I remember ed that morning, when he picked me up, looking wrecked and sad until he'd gotten an email alert. My email. Swiping at the wetness on my face, I curled up on his leather couch, and kept reading. I poured through the poems, recognizing Edward 's intensity in the words, and an occasional phrase, but the girl he wrote about seemed nothing like me, except, perhaps for the last entry. Esme's observation about my parents was unnerving. I brought up my email menu, and thumbed through our message conversations. Tell her what? That I'm a jealous ass who can't stand the thought of her with anyone else? That I would give up my own name to have h er heart? That she's so beautiful sometimes I forget to breathe?

I turned each sentence over and over in my exhausted mind, imagining them said i n the velvet baritone voice that haunted me, until I woke to his soft laughter a nd his hands on the laces of my dress and then on my skin. He kissed the tight p eaks on my chest, and slipped a shirt over my head while I held my arms up like a child, and then he lifted me out of the dress and put me in his bed where I be longed. I said nothing to him, afraid I would be incoherent if I tried to speak. It's you, I thought, over and over, sliding back into oblivion. I woke late Sun day morning, and slipped out of the arms of the man who held my heart, my soul a nd my body as we slept. I desperately regretted my need to get home and memorize lyrics, but there were only five days left to the festival, and the list of son gs to learn was long. Half of me wanted to wake him with my hands and my mouth, to fit the wet parts of my body to his and pull him deep inside, but the other s aner half knew I needed some time alone to think. I washed my face in Edward's b athroom, avoiding my blushing face in the mirror, grinning until my cheeks hurt. Does the phoenix love the flame that burns him? I'd asked. Yes. He'd replied. M y brain shied away from contemplating those words, but my heart raced with its s ecrets. I dragged on the jeans and turtleneck I had brought in my overnight bag and slipped outside. My stealthy retreat was blown when my truck belched with ba ckfire, but there was no movement from inside the house. I drove home, stopping for groceries that I knew Charlie wouldn't buy, laughing at myself in the reflec tion of the dairy cooler; I still had tiny seashells in my hair. When I got to t he house, I plowed through the last of my homework and taught myself the words t o a dozen new songs. I was beginning to get excited about the blues festival, th ough I wished I were singing with Breaking Dawn. I still felt resentful about th e whole situation, but I had no one to blame except myself. At least I was going , and Edward had made me admit that if he asked me when there was time to enter with them, I would have said no. Now I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it, that I wouldn't let myself be held back by the misconstrued fears of a sixyear-old self. So I worked my way through James' ridiculous list that had everyt hing from Tracy Chapman to Joan Baez and Neko Case, and whenever I started to ge t butterflies in my belly thinking about five thousand people, I told the little girl in the tutu to suck down a spoonful of Pepto and get over herself. Charlie came home early from fishing, and I made a huge pan of lasagna, so that we coul d eat leftovers and I would spend less time in the kitchen this week, and we ate and watched football until I couldn't hold still any longer. I called it a nigh t and headed upstairs.

I would want to know, he'd written. I wondered if he did know. I was always brav est when I was alone. I took a deep breath, and fired up my laptop. Edward: From the first entry on, I had to remind myself to breathe. Ordinary_Girl's poetry w as some pretty sexy stuff at times, but the thought that Bella may have written those words was so fucking erotic that the blood rushed to my cock so fast I was almost dizzy. The girl had so much passion shielded behind her calm façade; no wo nder electricity seemed to flow in her bloodstream. Her first Lemonade poem had grabbed my attention, and the second brought her to me, and the third was of her frustration school, but the fourth entry grabbed my balls: Peaks and hollows ba re To the dark And my hands Solitary magic, I remembered, and holy fuck if I did n't want to see her do that. Would she blush and look away and reach for me? Wou ld she close her eyes and let me watch her lose herself? Would she look at me, s traight on and challenging, until I had to join in? I kept reading, looking for clues that would ground my epiphany in reality. The next entry referred to a sul len savior hero, and the tailor bird genie; was that Alice and I? But other than the last poem that hinted at a mermaid costume, there was nothing tangible that pointed to Bella. There was an overwhelming intensity that was reflected in her words, though, and that was every inch the voice of my wild girl, from the way she sang, to her eyes snapping with fire when she called me out with a snarky co meback, and how she responded to my touch on her skin. I reached for my phone, a nd scrolled through the messages, looking for more, and almost wished I hadn't, as the phrases jumped out at me. He wasn't mine to lose, just to enjoy for a whi le. I thought there would be kissing. I don't want him to know. It's obsessive a nd weird and it hurts. He's trading me out for a pretty girl. I was the Pretty B oy. My chest tightened up in some emo response and I wished I could reach out an d comfort her against the pain I had caused her, and then I realized I had, the same way she had calmed me with her own words, and my brain was going in circles . The whole situation was fucked up, and I wanted to tear my hair out with frust ration, but then I read our last exchange:

I would follow him and kiss the misery from his skin, and shake him and tell him that she won't love him like I do. And there it was. I stared at the little scr een, my heart beating hard, and a big dumb grin on my face. The phone in my hand s chirped with an alert, and I nearly dropped it. I miss your words. ±Ordinary_Gir l I stared at the message, and the thought that this might be Bella gave them ne w meaning; did she know I knew? I couldn't stop grinning; the whole situation wa s as frustrating and delicious as the girl herself. I thought for a minute, then typed: I'm trying to find the right ones to give her; the rhymes are uneven and sound strange to my ears. Bad poetry is honest words. ±Ordinary_Girl Will you eve r give him yours? She didn't answer. I stripped and stretched out in my sheets, contemplating the little starfish on the pillow next to mine, but the phone buzz ed as I was getting drowsy. Yes. ±Ordinary_Girl Monday was torture. I hardly saw h er all day. I drove past Bella's house in the morning, hoping she'd ride with me , but her ancient truck was already gone, and I remembered that she was practici ng with the ugly bastard every day after school. My second period class lagged l ate, and she was already gone when I met Alice after their Chemistry class. Ange la, Jessica and then James interrupted our lunch, and in Biology we had a test t hat took up the whole period. I went home and sulked, frustrated that I couldn't put all my thoughts into words. After a while Emmett told me to come listen to something he'd been working on with Rosalie, a cover of Todd Snider's "Slim Chan ce", talking blues that made me laugh, especially when Alice poached in on the e nd with a dirty harmonica riff. The girls went down to help Dad and Esme make di nner, and Jazz went to add the song to the Festival playlist. "So what's got you r panties in a wad, Bro?" Em asked me. I was sitting on the floor of his room, i n the one clean patch of carpet that wasn't covered in books and cd's.

"Nothing." "Bullshit. Stop acting like you aren't having the time of your life r ight now." I glared at the resident ape. "You've got a hot girl who sings and li kes to screw, who challenges you to make some fucking effort for once in your li fe, and you're skulking around like a little bitch." "Fuck you. This shit isn't easy, y'know?" "Dude, you think being with Rose is easy? Look at her! She's fuck ing beautiful, and I want to bitch slap every single fucker who dares to lay eye s on her, but I can't, because it would be more disrespectful to even think that she couldn't handle herself! She doesn't talk, man, which is divine, but it tak es a hell of a lot of self confidence not to run after her every second of every fucking day asking her what she's thinking, or what she wants or if she still l oves me." I gaped at him. I'd never heard him string so many complete sentences together at once. "And fuck, she's so talented," he continued, "and it sucks, be cause she's really good, good enough to go solo, but no-one is going to take her seriously, because she looks like that. They'll want to strip her naked and put her in some Lita Ford get-up, and no-one will listen to how good she really is. And all I can do is stand around and be pissed off about it, and be part of her in a band, Meg White to her Jack, so at least I'll get to be close to her." He glanced above my head to the doorway, and then looked away, his ears turning red . "I'm just sayin'," he mumbled. Our step-sister stood in the doorway, her face rigid, eyes full of tears. She glanced at me. "Out." I left. After dinner I did my homework and the extra credit assignments in order to get out of school on Fr iday, and tried to grapple with the words I wanted. I finally typed them in, bad poetry, but honest. I turned my phone off completely, hiding from her response and went to bed. I stared at the ceiling for hours, and then turned the phone ba ck on. There were no messages. The next morning I didn't see her, but towards th e end of third period I remembered something Ordinary_Girl had written about bei ng in the library at this time of day. I sprinted out of the music hall, ignorin g Alice's exclamation. I spotted Bella at a table by the window, in the back of the non-fiction section, staring off into the woods.

She was incredible, beautiful woman and shy kitten, and as I watched her, her he ad tilted to the side a little, like she was shifting focus, and I was caught, m irrored in the window. She stared at me, not moving, and my eyes kept bouncing b etween the real girl and the reflection. I was pinned by her stillness, and when the bell rang, breaking the tension, I walked beside her to her class, saying n othing. At lunch she still didn't look directly at me, but when I let my hand dr ift to her knee, she laced her fingers into mine and didn't let go until we had to go to class. In Biology we worked through some lab that I couldn't even begin to concentrate on, and she worked beside me, never looking up, never meeting my eyes, but that shy quirk of a smile always in place, constantly teasing me. And then I saw it. The little letters written in the corner of her notebook, P88PMM . I reached out and spun it on the surface of the desk, so the letters were upsi de down. I stared at it in disbelief, and adrenaline surged through my veins. Be lla tried to pull the notebook from under my palm, but I pressed down. I turned my head sideways, looking at her red face, and she bit her chapped lip savagely. "Stop that," I whispered. "It'll hurt when I kiss you." She looked away, and sh ook her hair down, veiling her face. I breathed in her scent, reminded of the li ngering smell of her on my sheets, and the way her naked skin looked against the m, creamy ivory on white, her hair spilling over the pillows in contrast and the little dark triangle between her legs with its pink secrets andFuck. I stared d own at the letters again, and grinned with satisfaction. It wasn't a password. I t was a scribble of frustration, mentally reaching out for the advice of an anon ymous friend, and the final proof I needed, in her own handwriting, with no poss ibility of coincidence. WWd88d What would debussy_88 do? When had she written it ? When she'd joked with me about how to approach her Pretty Boy? I tried again t o wrap my head around the fact that I was the guy she wrote about; how could she doubt that I wanted her? I reached out and smoothed the hair away from her face , and whispered the question that had plagued me from the very start, from the f irst words I read.

"You think you're ordinary?" She turned red as fire, the gorgeous blush slapping across her cheeks and ears so hot I could feel the heat a foot away. The bell r ang, and she gathered her books with shaking hands, and stumbled out the door. S he headed the opposite way as usual, out the main door and through the parking l ot, following the tree line that edged the sports field. I followed, several pac es behind, unsure if I was stalking her or if she was leading me, not that it ma ttered either way. She turned into the woods, faltering over moss covered rock a nd decaying fallen trees. I wanted to catch up to her, and give her my hand to h elp her find her balance, but I was almost afraid she would run from me. The gir l eventually stopped at a small clearing, dropping her things at the base of a t ree, and stood still, her arms wrapped around her middle. I moved closer, slowly , letting her hear my footsteps on the forest floor, and stood behind her, waiti ng, close enough to feel the warmth of her body. The woods were shadowed with gr ey autumn mist, and our breath fogged in the cold. The world was silent as it sp un around us, except for the sound of air shuddering into my lungs. She was gasp ing, too, and I prayed she wasn't crying. Bella finally turned around, eyes huge in her pale face, meeting mine fully. I watched emotions flash across her face with the mysteries she was thinking, fighting with the mask she kept carefully i n place. My hand moved on its own, fingertips sliding down her cheek, and her de fenses fell at my touch. She looked at me with an expression of so much softness that I reeled. It was the same sweetness as her waking gaze, unguarded in the m orning, and the same tenderness that flickered in her eyes when she looked at wo rds on her phone. My words. A tentative smile tugged at her lips, and then she w as grinning huge, and I was too, and we were laughing, and I kissed her, or mayb e she was kissing me, but then we were giggling too hard for that and I pulled h er to me and held her close, panting for breath and sanity, joy and desire pound ing in my chest. "Hello, Spark," I whispered. Chapter 32: Seeking Bella: "Hello, Spark," he whispered, and I clung to him, lau ghing, feeling like we were wrapped in the living mist of some Arthurian legend, where the immaterial morphed into reality. I pressed my face tighter into his n eck, hands under the green leather jacket, palms flat on his back, overwhelmed a nd feeling like he would disappear back into vapor if I let go. I wondered how l ong he had known.

Had he known Sunday night when he asked me if I would ever show him my words? I' d been hesitant to answer, feeling trapped and exposed, like a firefly in a glas s jar, blinking in fear. He had all my words already. My naked heart was in his hands; what would he do with it once he knew it was mine? Monday had been tortur e. I hardly saw him all day. He hadn't been waiting for Alice outside the door a fter chemistry, and then at lunch Angela grabbed my arm before I got to talk to him. She grilled me on when my trial with James would be on Friday, trying to fi gure out if she and Ben could get out of last period on Friday in order to make up to the festival in time. Jessica and Lauren were already planning to ditch af ter lunch. When I finally got a chance to sit down, James interrupted with a rev ised song list, highlighting which ones he wanted to practice over the next thre e days. The ugly guitar player's concept of "keeping it loose" was to have a hug e list of songs ready to play, and to choose one after we heard what everyone el se had done, and then if we made it to finals we would pick a set of what we lik ed best. So far we had rehearsed about half of the four dozen he'd picked. I was less than thrilled with the situation, and my irritation was beginning to affec t the music. His endless lists of songs were making me feel like a human jukebox ; insert a quarter and mechanical Bella will spit out a tune. Working with Break ing Dawn was an exhilarating balancing act to bring out all the talents of each of us on every song; we worked as a unit. Vocals never trumped guitar, solos wer e evenly distributed. Singing with James was fun at times. He had a lot of enthu siasm that was catchy; he had drive that carried a song. But I was definitely vo cal accompaniment to James's guitar; a back up girl who happened to have the mel ody. I missed Jasper's ability to gauge the tone and mood of the music and his d irection on how and when to augment what was needed. Most of all I missed Edward . I felt flat, without him, like my voice had less life, and my body was just go ing through the motions. I'd resented the lunchtime interruption. James monopoli zed my time after school; he could have given me the list then. The beautiful bo y had said nothing, walking next to me as always, but then we'd had that damned Biology test that somehow I had aced, though I didn't even remember taking, beca use I was more aware of Edward's foot pressed against mine the entire period. An d I hadn't seen him after, because I'd had to go rehearse, and do a heap of home work, but he'd written that evening. He had changed his status to HERS, and he'd added a profile song- 'Pure Morning' by Placebo. His entry was untitled.

I do not wish to tame her, even gentlyI would never risk dulling the spark Of li ghtening in her eyes And though I want the words, Buried deep in her heart I wil l wait to hear her Say it, Out loud, Until it is her choice to share. I want her wild, unbound and true to herself, And I can waitFor the look in her eyes, That shines for me alone, Is enough For now. I gasped in shock, reading his words, t hat he could know me so well. He must know. Only in my writing did I ever admit how overwhelmed I felt, and how much I feared losing my identity in this maelstr om of heart and soul and psyche. But the reprieve of his understanding only serv ed to make me want to tell him even more. I tried to answer; I typed words into my phone over and over, and nothing seemed to make sense, or sound right. I'd fa llen asleep with his words bouncing in my skull, setting me free and binding me to him even closer. Bastard. Bastard poet-man with lips like heaven and cinnamon , and a secret identity that understood me better than I did myself. This mornin g I dressed haphazardly, pleated skirt and striped over the knee socks, hi top C hucks and a tight T-shirt, hoodie tied around my waist. Alice would scream at my mismatched color scheme, but Edward would like the skirt. I didn't see him betw een second and third period; Jasper teased me for lingering after Chemistry, and finally I left for the library. I sat there, trying to do the extra homework so that I could be excused on Friday, but my thoughts kept sliding to the boy with the messy bronze hair. I stared out the window, my eyes drawn to the woods behi nd the school, secret and dark and mysterious. These dusk woods lay dormant, wai ting for a ray of you. I'd read that sitting right here, my first day of school, looking at the same forest.

His face coalesced in the glass, as if I had wished hard enough and he'd appeare d, and I was afraid to turn around and discover that he wasn't there. I missed h im. I hadn't seen him since yesterday in class, I hadn't kissed him since the pa rty, I hadn't had him inside me, thrusting deep, his chest pressing against my b reasts, for weeks. The sense of him surrounded me, a light brush of a feather ac ross my skin, as if the surface of my flesh could smell him and respond. He was here, behind me, leaning against a tall stack, eyes dark as the woods behind his reflected face. The bell rang. I gathered my books and my laptop, and headed to Chorus, and he walked beside me, saying nothing. Lunch was the same, and the Bi ology lab, too, with that preternatural awareness without direct eye contact, in tense and tantalizing. I was conscious of every second, every heartbeat, yet the time rushed by. The class was almost over and I wanted it to go on so that I co uld be at least this close to him. Then his whole body stiffened, and he snaked a hand out to my notebook. When I realized what he was looking at, I tried to ta ke it, embarrassed at the stupid cliché; a doodle when I was trying to make sense of my heart and needing advice. But then he was talking about kissing me, and I longed for his mouth on mine with an intensity so deep I was shaking. I hid in m y hair, embarrassed that the outside world could see how vulnerable he could mak e me with just a simple mention of a kiss. Then he asked, "You think you're ordi nary?" Heat cracked over every inch of my skin, as he finally voiced acknowledge ment, confirming the reality of what used to be only ethereal. He knew. The bell rang, and I left, not toward gym, but out the door, because the need to be alon e with him was beyond my ability to reason. I never turned around, and I didn't look back to see if he was behind me as I walked up the hill along the forest ed ge. I felt split into two people, and my confidence was divided neatly; Bella Sw an might not know if Edward Cullen would follow her into the woods, but Ordinary _Girl was dead certain that Debussy_88 would never let his Spark out of his sigh t. But then he'd said it, naming me once again, bringing the two halves of me to gether, and pulled me close, and we were laughing, and I could have cried from t he warmth and the happiness, the raw honesty and the desire. I slid my hands up under his shirt, palms flat against his back, just to get a little closer to him , and his arms tightened around me. The forest was silent and the school seemed a thousand miles away. We were shielded from the outside world by the autumn fog and mossy trees, veiled in our own intimacy.

"How long have you known?" I asked, face pressed into his neck. He kissed my hai r, and then my temple, and then his breath was warm in my ear, making me arch ag ainst him. "Since Sunday, maybe. You?" I slipped my hand out and around, to slid e up the hard planes of his chest and curl around the back of his neck, toying w ith his hair. "The party, when we sang your song." He kissed my neck, and then w hispered light kisses over my cheek. "It's your song," he said, lips next to min e in a smile at the corner of my mouth. I turned into his kiss, pressing up to h im, and he sighed, and one hand was in my hair and the other was under my shirt at the small of my back, mirroring the way I was touching him. I parted my lips, tasting his mouth, and he pulled me closer, bending my head and deepening the k iss, and then we were one hot thing in the cold air, steamy and frantic, tongues and lips and heat. He pulled away gasping, and I kissed his jaw, the faint stub ble rough and deliciously male under my lips, and then lower, dragging my tongue across his throat to nip at his neck just above his shirt collar, and up again to breathe into his ear. "I think somehow I've always known," I whispered. He sh ivered, and slid his hand down to cup my ass and lift me up on my toes, pressing the steel in his pants into my lower belly. When I moaned he stopped, pushing m e backwards and took a deep breath. I could tell he was trying to gain some cont rol. But I wasn't going to let him. He wanted me wild, and I wanted him. I took a step backwards, and hooked a finger into the waistband of his jeans. I smiled up at him, still panting for breath, challenging, and worked the first button of his jeans open. He caught my hand before I could get the second undone. I took a few more steps backwards, carefully dragging my toes so I wouldn't stumble, an d leaned against a giant rock outcropping. "I dreamed of your voice, saying his words," I said, looking up at him from under my lashes. Edward inhaled audibly, but didn't move closer. His eyes were dark, staring at me, and his mouth was mov ing slightly.

Moving with even more grace than I had last week, I slipped both hands under the back of my skirt and pushed my panties down my thighs, letting them fall to my feet, and stepped out of them, my eyes locked with his. He wasn't breathing; the re was no telltale vapor wisping from his mouth. I hooked the scrap of white cot ton with my toe, and raised my knee high, and his eyes jerked downward. He swall owed, and I wondered how much I flashing him, and if he could tell how wet I was . I pulled them off my shoe, and tossed them to him. He caught them instinctivel y, his gaze back up on my face. "I dreamed of your hands on me, wanting me the w ay he wanted her." Desire pitched my voice low and sultry. He exhaled, hard, a g rowl tearing from his chest, and stalked forward. He leaned over me, not touchin g, his hands on the rock on either side of my head. I reached out to his jeans, and thumbed open another button, pressing the heel of my hand into the blatant s hape concealed there. He sucked on his lip, green eyes bottomless as he stared i nto mine and his right hand dropped to my breast, thumb circling the nipple, rub bing the fabric over it until I strained toward him. "What is it with you, takin g your underwear off all the time?" His voice was rough as he teased me. His han d left my breast and palmed down my belly and lower, down my thigh and up again, under my skirt. He cupped my swollen flesh in his hand, fingers sliding into th e wet. "You told me to," I panted, arching onto his fingers and tearing at his j eans, wrenching the rest of the fly open, and shoving his boxers out of the way with both hands. He was steel hard and hot, and I wrapped my hands around him an d worked the skin over his marble hard length. "Should I be jealous?" he asked, eyes dark, but the half smile tugged the corner of his mouth, taunting me. He pu shed two fingers inside me, working them deep, and added a third when I bucked m y hips in response. "Yes," I said, cupping the head of his erection in my palm, coating him with the clear liquid that leaked as I worked him. He pulled his han d away and I whimpered, but he grabbed my ass and lifted me, pushing his length against my folds, teasing the focal point of all my nerves with his shape. I wra pped my legs around his waist and my arms around his neck, and leaned back into the rock face, writhing. "I was, you know," he ground out, not coming inside, ju st holding me there. His fingertips found me from underneath, spreading me open, playing at the wet entrance where I was desperate for him. I rocked my hips, ru bbing the most sensitive part of me against his heat and hardness, tiny cries co ming from my lips. I was already losing control, close and frustrated that he co uld be so still.

"I was jealous as hell," he whispered in my ear, catching my rhythm and lifting me, working me up and down, coating himself in my liquid. "I thought you were wr iting love notes to some fucker in Phoenix." His breath was hot in my ear, and h is words made me moan, taking me higher, and I was afraid I was going to climax without him, empty and aching. "You are the phoenix," I gasped, and fought his h ands, tilting my hips at just the right angle. I slid over him, taking him deep inside me, and we both cried out as he filled me, and then he was moving, hands lifting me and then pushing back down, fingertips still toying with the wet fles h where we met. I was grinding, not wanting it to be over so quickly, but it had been too long and this was too good, delicious and illicit and wild, and I was coming, the wave of pleasure tearing through and up over me, and he rode it out, watching my face as I drowned in his eyes. He continued to thrust heavily into me, following me into the oblivion a few strokes later, pulsing deep as I clench ed around him. I dropped my head into his neck, panting, unable to move, my legs quivering. He held me, face in my hair, still erect inside me, and I clenched a round him, and he flexed, and I wondered if we could again, but then he pulled o ut, chuckling at my noise of disappointment. He set me down, still supporting me with one arm, and righted his clothes with the other. I had tissues in my backp ack, and Edward grinned at me as I cleaned up. "So who will I talk to now when I need advice about this girl I'm crazy about?" he asked. I laughed and rumpled h is hair, but I felt a fleeting sense of loss, that I was somehow losing Debussy_ 88. "Will you get in trouble for cutting class?" I asked him. He shook his head. "Emmett will cover for me. At least I hope. Dad said he would make me work a sh ift in the ER if I get another detention. You?" "I think everyone will be reliev ed if I am not there." He laughed at the sour tone in my voice, and then we sat at the base of a tree, nestled close for warmth, and talked the hour away, giggl ing about nothing and grinning at everything. When the final bell rang in the di stance, he pulled me to my feet and we walked back toward the school, but then h e stopped me before we reached the tree line. "Aren't you forgetting something?" he asked. I looked at him curiously. "Bella, I am having a hard enough time dea ling with you singing with James. I want to punch his face in every time I even think about it; and now I am about to walk you to a practice room and

leave you with him." His voice was calm, but his eyes flashed dangerously. "So d o me a favor and put your fucking underwear back on." Edward: We didn't talk abo ut the festival, and I didn't beg her not to sing with him. Victoria was waiting with James in the practice room, so I didn't linger to make sure she was safe. On one hand I was euphoric. How the hell I had managed to capture the heart of t he sexy-voiced fallen-angel poet-girl was beyond me, but she was mine; I was the Pretty Boy who didn't deserve her. On the other hand, I was in agony. James, ug ly fucker that he was, had stage presence and raw skills, and it was quite possi ble that he and Bella could win the damned summer tour, which would probably lea d to a recording contract, and then she'd be gone. I found myself reaching for m y iPhone on more than one occasion to ask Ordinary_Girl's advice and calming wor ds. When I got home I ignored my brothers and left the house to run, the wooded roads growing darker earlier as autumn cooled the air. Rob Zombie's 'Dragula' pl ayed four times on my iPod before I realized it was set to repeat, and I didn't bother changing it. The pounding of my feet and the burn through my leg muscles eased some of the soreness in my brain, and when I got home and showered I was a ble to focus on the music Jasper threw at me. I sang with a dumb-assed smile on my face, head full of the girl in the woods, and Jasper yelled at me twice for s inging blues while acting like a kid on Christmas morning. On Wednesday I grabbe d Bella before she left for the library, and pulled her with Alice and me to our balcony hide out. We made out in the seats until Twin told us to get a room, an d then we busted through the next two Biology assignments so we wouldn't have ho mework over the weekend. I held her hand under the table in lunch and Biology, a nd then walked her to the practice room, not begging her to tell James to fuck o ff. Thursday was much the same, though at lunch she and Alice huddled at the end of the table, talking about clothes. Lauren Mallory caught my arm as I returned my tray. "Angela says Bella is singing with James?" she asked. I nodded. "I was hoping it was just a rumor," she said. I waited.

"You need to get her back, Edward." I raised an eyebrow, a bit incredulous. "Shu t up." She said. "Look. Before she showed up you were a band that was pretty goo d that could maybe make it big if you got a lucky break and a good producer. The n she shows up and you're suddenly a rock star, and the music is phenomenal. So you have got to get her on stage with you at the Festival." I glared at her. "So what if she's signed up to sing with James. Break the rules. They won't throw y ou out. You might get disqualified, but so what? Do you really want to tour back woods Washington all summer? You'll get signed, Edward, even if you sound only h alf as good as you did on Halloween!" The desperation in her voice made me curio us. I tilted my head, waiting, and she looked away. "I don't know what you see i n her, but I hope to God someday someone looks at me the way you look at her. Ho pefully before I'm a whale from popping out five kids, with nothing exciting to talk about except that I followed a band back before they were famous." She real ly didn't see it. Silly little bitch had no clue. I started counting in my head, backwards from ten, and by the time I got to three, Tyler Crowley elbowed me. " You're blocking the line, Cullen!" Newton snickered, and I didn't punch him. Jes sica pulled his arm, and they wandered off. Crowley shuffled after them. Lauren sighed and joined her friends. I found Bella, and we walked to Biology. We muddl ed our way through the lab, distracting each other, trying to hold back the laug hter. The girl made me giddy just being around her, and I didn't even fucking ca re that Lauren Mallory and the rest of the world saw how stupid I was for her. W hen the bell rang, Bella snagged my jacket off my chair, put it on and left. I s tared after her, disconcerted. After Spanish I went home, and we had our last re hearsal, working quite late, and then we packed up the equipment. It was a three hour drive to Olympia, and all the performers had to be there by noon tomorrow morning. I was hefting Emmett's drums into Esme's van when my pocket buzzed with Ordinary_Girl's alert. Her entry was untitled. I would sing in your arms Strong with your heat, But you cannot hold me, And chase off my fear,

So tomorrow I will sing Wearing the leather That smells of your skin, And I'll i magine you there. I replied: It's yours. I've missed you. I'm still here. ±Ordinar y_Girl You should sleep. So should you. ±Ordinary_Girl Dream of me. I always do. ±Or dinary_Girl. Chapter 33: Call Time Bella: We all sat in the first five rows of the hard plast ic flip chairs that filled the outdoor amphitheatre while a large man dressed in a tie-dye t-shirt shuffled stacks of paper on a folding table on the stage. His 'Hello my name is:' sticker identified him as the artistic director of the fest ival. He began with a welcoming speech and then went over the rules of the festi val in ultrafine detail. I'd read them when I got my packet, twice. "Wake me whe n it's over," yawned Edward, and hunkered down in the seat. He leaned his head i nto my arm, and I stroked my fingers through his hair, idly toying with the silk y mess. He was wearing a black tee-shirt, comfortable in the Indian summer heat. I was too hot in his jacket, but there was no way in hell I was going to take i t off. Alice was leaning forward in her seat, listening so hard I thought her ea rs were quivering, jotting notes on the legal pad in her lap. Rose was next to m e with ear buds in, playing air chords to what she was listening to, working her fingers over invisible frets. Emmett was playing some sort of one handed solita ire game, flipping the cards back and forth in his huge palms, and Jasper was wr iting harmony on top one of Edward's handwritten songs, in red pen over the blac k, dots and squiggles and arrows that looked like Arabic writing on the sheet mu sic. Something the Jerry Garcia lookalike said caught my attention, but the boy sprawled over me reached up and nudged my hand, and I went back to petting his h air, running my fingers over his scalp in little circles. He smiled, a hedonist angel with closed eyes, and he moved the fingers that were caressing my knee hig her and inward, until Alice reached over and smacked the back of his hand withou t taking her eyes off her notes. "Pay attention!" she hissed. "They're about to name everybody!"

I watched as all the acts got up one by one to introduce themselves. There were three man folk groups with long enough beards to knit a sweater, cliché college gi rl punk bands in fishnets and jack boots, Gospel singing church families and a f ew soloists. The new folks got a polite reception and repeat offenders were gree ted with louder applause. When Breaking Dawn stood up Edward didn't let go of my hand; I felt the curious stares. My friends sat down to a warm welcome. "Look!" Alice pointed. "Leah is with the Q'wolves!" "She's good on rhythm guitar," murm ured Jasper, "she might be replacing James?" Siobhan and Liam sat in front of us ; a Celtic blues band whose CD I actually owned. I wondered if it would be tacky to ask for their autograph. Dead silence fell over the crowd when a group calle d the Denali Coven was named; four gorgeous girls in blue jeans and little tops trimmed with fur stood, and the crowd shifted in their seats awkwardly. "Looking good, girls!" yelled Jasper, breaking the tension. There was laughter, a few wo lf whistles, and then the girls smiled and sat down. "Cunts." Rose's voice didn' t carry past our seats. "They came in third last year," explained Alice. "They'r e kind of bitchy." "American Nomad," the director hollered, and several rows dow n and to the left James stood up. Edward nudged me, and I belatedly jumped to my feet and waved when the dirty-blond toadfaced boy said my name. I felt stupid f or forgetting the name of my own band. James and I were the only duet group so f ar that wasn't sitting together; it was the first time I'd seen him since I'd ar rived, but I hadn't exactly sought him out. "Who won last year?" I asked. "Voltu ri Guard. I heard they just signed with Geffen Records. The drummer is one of th e judges this year; he's cool," said Edward. "Eh," said Emmett, shrugging. The i ntroductions finished with a round of applause and a brief rundown of awards and prizes, and the judges introduced themselves, and then the sponsors were honore d. I was surprised to see Aro up there with them. "His club is one of the stops on the tour, and he features the winner of the cook-off on his menu, too." Jaspe r filled me in.

There was a break while the tech producers regrouped for their half of the orien tation, and when the audience stood to mingle, James and Victoria wandered over. "Got a second?" he asked, looking from Edward to me and back again. The four of us walked to an empty section, and settled in the seats, twisting awkwardly in the rigid chairs to face each other. Edward sat with his arm half around me, his hand under my hair, fingers making light designs on the back of my neck. "Look, " ugly boy began, "I don't know what's going on with you two. It's not my busine ss." "Yes, it is." Edward's voice made the threat clear, and Victoria grinned at me. "She's not a fire hydrant, guys," she joked. "I'm not poaching, man! Yeah, okay, when I heard her sing at La Push, I moved fast. Sam and Quil have gone off on this new heavy rock direction that's not my style, and the deadline for the festival was on top of me." He looked at me. "And I know I rushed you into enter ing without all the details, but I apologized for that and gave you some time to think about it." Edward squirmed in his seat. I laid my hand on his knee, and h e covered it with his own, long fingers lacing between mine. "But I need a commi tment from both of you," James continued, "that you aren't going to fuck me over here. I know this isn't what you want, and that you would rather be together; b ut I've got a career on line, and you said you would do this with me. So I need to know that you aren't going to break the rules or jump ship." Edward grew stil l, except for a brief tightening of his hand over mine. "Are you questioning her honor or mine?" he asked. I rolled my eyes at Victoria. "This is getting mediev al, guys. Lighten up!" The redhead laughed. "Music is supposed to be fun!" "Hey, " James said with a wry smile, "love makes us do crazy things." He stood, and ex tended his right hand. After a pause, Edward let my hand go and shook hands with him. Victoria stood up and wrapped her arms around James's waist. "Come on love r," she said, "do crazy things to me."

They left, and the conversation lingered after them like cigarette smoke. We sat in silence, tense, until Alice bounced up with passes and guest tickets and bot tled water. We watched the first band set up, two hippie-chicks with guitars who nicely covered Melissa Etheridge's 'Similar Features'. The second group were th ree guys and a girl, butchering 'Woodstock', and when the next all girl group dr oned through Mazzy Star's 'Fade Into You', I began to giggle. Edward frowned at me, until I reached into my back pocket and pulled out James's list. I unclipped Alice's pen from her notepad and crossed the three songs off. She tweaked the p aper out of my hands and stared at it in shock, and then snickered. Jasper took it from her and added some titles and handed it back to me: 'What I Am', by Edie Brickell, 'Mercedez Benz' by Janis Joplin and "Mad About the Frog" by Miss Pigg y. Edward grabbed the list and folded it back up. "Don't make it any worse on he r than it already is," he said, but in the next hour we crossed three more songs off and when Emmett added Salt-N-Pepa's 'Push It', and 'Fuck me Pumps' by Amy W inehouse, he began to laugh with the rest of us. I wondered how many songs would be left by the time we were to go up. We were the last act to play before the d inner break. The Quileute Wolves were up in the next set, and we all moved up cl oser to see. Jessica, Mike and Lauren had joined us, giggling about ditching sch ool, and Alice handed over guest passes. "Angela couldn't get out of sixth perio d," Jessica said, "but her last class has a sub, so she'll be here soon." "Tyler 's van is faster than it looks," Lauren said. "Tell me about it!" I said, shudde ring, and Edward's arm around my shoulders tightened. Jake and Embry took their time setting up, while the audience and the judges grew restless. Jasper checked the clock on his phone. Each act only got ten minutes on stage, and that includ ed set up. The rest came on with four minutes to spare, in scruffy jeans and tor n black tee-shirts and tribal streaks on their faces. They laid into the Dead We ather's "I Cut Like a Buffalo" with enough energy to start a fire, and we were a ll on our feet while Quil stomped around the stage, bashing on a homemade drum i n some primal dance. Leah thrashed as hard as the boys, trading lyrics with Sam and Jake did weird things to his guitar strings that made Rose wince, but it sti ll sounded cool.

They had a different sound than I'd heard at La Push six weeks ago, less country and much harder, but it was good, and refreshing after all the acoustic indie f olk dirges we'd heard for hours. The judges liked it too, the whole table bounci ng as their heads nodded with the beat. A bunch of folks climbed down into the o rchestra pit and danced, jumping with the band. The crowd had doubled now, more and more people trickling in, trying to get a preview of the acts tomorrow. Bill y Black wheeled his chair into the center aisle, and sat with his arms crossed a nd his face leaned back, suppressing a grin, looking like some Native American v ersion of the Godfather. "At last, some fucking competition!" murmured Edward in my ear. I wriggled as his breath sent shivers down my spine, and he grabbed my hips to keep me still. The song ended, and he pulled me onto his lap when we sat down. "Hey." James tapped his shoulder. "We should probably head backstage, if that's cool." We were up in less than an hour. I stood, and Edward stood too, su rprising me. He had made it clear that he didn't want to be around when I sang w ith James. At my questioning glance, he shrugged. "I'll keep you company for a w hile," he said. The backstage area was mostly a concrete and cinderblock shell, housing restrooms and dressing rooms on either side. The few groups waiting to g o on lounged against the walls, playing guitars with the amps off and drumsticks on leather practice pads. The muted sounds of an alto and a soprano in warm up scales filtered out with the wedge of light from under a maintenance closet door . Victoria was sitting on the floor with a guitar case and an amp, and a huge co il of pickup cables. She waved us over. "What did you decide to sing?" she asked . "I haven't decided yet." James said. He pulled his own list out; it had just a s many scribbles on it as mine, though I doubt he'd added Alice's suggestion of 'Rubber Ducky' as a possible alternative. Edward stiffened beside me, and I sque ezed his hand, trying to get him to relax. "Do you get a choice in this at all?" he hissed in my ear. "How are you on Kate Bush?" James called out, not turning around. I sighed. I figured this would happen. "I know the two big ones, but I'd have to brush up on lyrics. You're thinking of the French Idol version, right?"

"Can you do it?" he asked. "Can we run through it once or twice?" "Bella," breat hed Edward, "are you serious?" I closed his mouth with a hand under his chin, an d his teeth clicked. I smiled up into his eyes. "The song isn't important," I wh ispered. "I just have to sing." "But it's not even blues," he protested. His fac e was dark, and his hands were tight. "She'll make it blue. She could make it in digo, if she wanted. She's a rock star." Victoria smiled up at us and stood, bru shing concrete dust off her ass. "Now, girl, are you going to take that jacket o ff, or are you going to go on stage looking like Edward's property?" "Wear it," called out James. He was uncoiling his cables. "I think it's sexy." "I have to l eave." Edward said, through clenched teeth. I pulled him down the hall before he could attack the ugly guitar player, wishing I had something of myself to give him. I kissed his face and the hollow at his throat between his collarbones, and he pulled me close, groaning in frustration, and then pushed me away. "If I don 't go now, I'll carry you out of here." I shoved my hands in my pockets, knowing I would make it worse if I reached for him, and my fingers tangled with somethi ng. I pulled the brown ribbon out like a magician with an endless string of silk handkerchiefs, and the ghost of a smile eased the darkness from his beautiful f ace. I took his hand, and wrapped the ribbon around his wrist until there was ju st enough to tie the ends in a clumsy knot. "Go." I said, kissing the palm of hi s hand. I turned back to the others. James looked up at me, and then behind me t o Edward's retreating back. "What the fuck, man?" he exploded. "You're leaving?" Edward stopped, but didn't turn around. He nodded. All the eyes in the room tur ned towards us, and I felt my face heat up from the scene we were causing. The m uffled sounds of the next performance started, and I hoped no-one outside could hear James's shouting. "You can't do that to me! She needs you! Are you too fuck ing stupid to see that?" he yelled.

Edward turned around, his head lowered in a stance I had seen before, fists tigh t and body loose. "You don't get it, do you?" seethed James. "Even after the sho w at Aro's? She doesn't have stage fright when she's with you, idiot." "I'm not her fucking security blanket, asshole." "You son of a bitch, you promised not to sabotage this for me!" "This is your band, dude. I have my own." "Hey." Victori a broke in. "We all need to cool off here. James, go find a corner you can pract ice in. Maybe the janitor's office has an outlet you can plug your amp into?" Sh e gave him a long look, and he nodded, slowly. "Edward, decide if you are going to stay or going to leave," she continued, "but unclench your fists, because I w on't have you giving my boyfriend a black eye before he goes on stage." He took a deep breath, and nodded once. "Bella, let's go up to the slushie stand. It's h otter than hell in here, and we all could use something cold to drink." she cont inued. "You can download the lyrics onto your phone as we go. The reception will be better outside of this concrete block." I walked up to the boy in the hallwa y, and kissed his mouth. He turned and left. Edward: I walked off, her kiss stil l searing my lips with that strange electricity, wondering how far away I had to get before I wouldn't hear her voice playing against his guitar licks. Probably Korea. James had jerked me around on all kinds of levels, from asking my permis sion every time he wanted to talk to her, so I looked like an asshole whether I said 'yes' or 'no', to forcing me into some gentleman's agreement where I basica lly agreed to give her up. The mind game with the jacket pissed me off no end, w here I first wanted to zip it up to her ears so that the world knew she was mine , and then I wanted to rip it off her because he said she looked sexy. Worst of all was that I knew he was right about the stage fright. She wouldn't be afraid if I was near. It seemed pathetic to go back and ask Esme or Dad for the minivan keys just so I could sulk in the car, and Emmett's jeep blocked very little noi se. I trudged past the cars in the parking lot just in time to see Angela and Be n, Tyler, Conner and Eric pile out of the van. I walked over. "Alice has some gu est passes; I'm not sure if there are enough for you all," I said. "We'll split the difference," said Ben.

"Where's Bella?" asked Angela. "Backstage. You should go join her. She'd love to see you." She arched her brows over her funky glasses, but nodded. I turned to go, then remembered something. "Hey, Ang?" I called back, choosing my words care fully. "Remind her to only drink water. Anything else could coat her throat and mess up her voice." She nodded, and I walked on. There was some sort of arboretu m behind the amphitheatre, with paved bicycle paths and little plaques on the tr ees; tomorrow the whole place would be covered with picnic blankets and makeshif t outdoor kitchens, beer and soda coolers and food venders. I walked on to a dec orative pond at the bottom of a hill, where tundra swans had paused in their mig ration south. All but one clustered near the shore, in pairs of bobbing white, c autiously eyeing a man who stood looking into the water. I approached with equal hesitation; the damn things were vicious when provoked. "Anything biting, chief ?" I asked the man in the plaid flannel shirt. "Edward." Charlie nodded in greet ing. We stared at the birds for a while. "She goes on in a few," I said. "I shou ld head back then," he replied. He looked at me then, one eyebrow raised. I nodd ed, and shoved my hands in my pockets, even more miserable at the pity in his ey es. We both turned back to the pond, attention drawn to the solitary swan. "They mate for life," he said, a peculiar tone to his voice. He turned and walked bac k toward the music. My chest twisted as I watched him go, and I was suddenly ang ry; at him for saying cryptic things that I didn't want to understand, at the wo rld for dumping this fate on me, but really at myself because I brought my fate on myself, and at Bella for choosing to sing withNot at Bella. I wasn't angry at Bella. This wasn't about a choice to sing with James, this was a decision to co nquer the fear that was holding her back from being who she wanted to be. I woun d my fingers into the ribbon she'd tied at my wrist, spinning it around and arou nd until it warmed my skin with the friction. She was the bravest person I knew. The girl bared her heart to a stranger with erotic words and truth, and was as sexy and honest in the flesh. She'd fought next to me with her fists in the park ing lot in Port Angeles and with words against the mean girls at school; she'd f ound me at

Aro's when I didn't know she was mine to lose, and at Moe's when I thought I rea lly had lost her, and she came to a party dressed for me even though I'd brought another girl, and put her arms around me when I was wracked with guilt about ma rks on her skin and made me play piano and then play with her until nothing matt ered. Fuck. She was always there, unafraid to give herself to me when I needed h er most. And I was a coward. I turned and ran back up the hill and over the gras s, to the open auditorium. I raced down the center aisle and into the orchestra pit where the standing room section was the closest to the stage. Pushing my way up front, I fought through the crowd, until I was almost to the edge. Bella cam e out alone, in blue jeans with her hair all crazy and wild, petite form swallow ed up by my green leather jacket, eyes on her shoes as she walked to the stool a t center stage. Without looking up, she pulled the stool in front of the mic sta nd, and sat down with her back to the audience. Her spine was stiff, and I hoped she wasn't shaking, and wished I could get closer, just a few more inches, so s he could feel me and our weird chemistry and know I was there. I shoved forward, and was blocked by a heavy guy almost as tall as me. "Hey," he said, over his s houlder, "Fuck off." "Dude, she's my girlfriend," I said, and the woman next to him shoved him out of my way, grinning at me and my desperation. The audience wa s bored with waiting, and I couldn't see James on either backstage sides. I move d even closer, leaning up against the stage skirt, the floor mics hot near my fa ce, but then I felt her, and the current connecting us, and her head snapped up and she sat straighter on her stool. She snuck a peek over her shoulder, and gri maced, then made a little show of pushing a sleeve back to look at a watch that wasn't there, and sighed into the microphone. "I think it's perfectly clear I'm in the wrong band«" she warbled a capella, and the audience laughed at the Tori so ng, but then James snapped his fingers at her from stage right, and she took up the beat, snapping with one hand out stretched, and the audience followed suit, clapping. Then James strutted on, ripped up jeans and no shirt, wailing the intr o to "Running Up that Hill" on his guitar, trailing cords behind him like toilet paper on his shoe. The younger girls in the audience went nuts, of course, whil e the older ones rolled their eyes, and I wondered how they were going to pull o ff a song that was usually done with a full band, and in some versions, a small orchestra. They were doing Nolwenn Leroy's heavy guitar version, though, and it wasn't bad.

"It doesn't hurt me«" Bella's voice rang out clear and pure, despite James's blata nt attempt at upstaging her opening. I was startled that he would try to do that to her, and the audience was uncomfortable with it too. She was nervous, I coul d tell by the set of her shoulders, but her voice didn't waiver. It was actually a brilliant approach to the song, the stark shy voice against the guitar, and o nly the audience for percussion, turning the overdone dramatic song into angst f illed blues. She worked through the first part of the song, her back slowly easi ng into the music and the crowd's participation, while James paraded up and down the front of the stage, humming the background vocals on a cordless mic; but wh en he sunk to his knees with his guitar in his crotch, she turned around and fac ed the audience. "You don't want to hurt me, but see how deep the bullet lies," she addressed us, gesturing at him, while he thrashed on the floor, unaware of w hat she was doing, and suddenly we were all hers, on her side against him, laugh ing and cheering her on. She felt it, too, and gave us an embarrassed smile, alm ost apologizing for the guitar player's antics. My heart nearly exploded in my c hest, pride making me grin like a fool. She finished the verse, inviting the aud ience to do the chorus call back, flirting a little, but then James jumped up an d moved directly in front of her, blocking the audience's view. I growled in my throat and nearly jumped on the stage at the fucker's rudeness, but the big guy behind me grabbed my shirt and said, "Easy, man! Look at her!" He was laughing. Everyone was laughing. She was waving to us, like a kindergartener in a chorus c oncert trying to see around the taller kid in front of her, while singing the li ne, "And if I only could, I'd make a deal with God, and I'd get him to swap our places«" The ugly bastard played on, oblivious. Bella leaned around him a few more times, but she was too tiny to compete with him. Then she stood, and using the microphone stand for balance, she climbed onto the stool, to the audience's deli ght. "C'mon baby, C'mon darling, let me steal this moment from you now," she san g down to him, and she had, her head now at least two feet above his, singing li ke a siren, drawing us in, voice pure icicles and satin, and gorgeous, and then her eyes found mine, and she smiled at me as she sang, making me the chosen one of all us worshipping at her feet. The girl next to me elbowed me and grinned. J ames went into his solo, moving downstage and right, drawing the attention away from the brunette, and she sat down on the stool to give him his moment. He vamp ed around a bit, and I had to admit to myself that he was good, harsh and raw bu t with the excitement and abandon that comes with loving the spotlight. The crow d dug the first 30 seconds, tolerated the second, but at the third, they wanted Bella, and as they got bored, she shrugged her shoulders out of my jacket, and t he crowd went berserk, with laughter and applause. The little minx was wearing a tight black t-shirt with large white letters, saying "I'd rather be masturbatin g."

And I laughed with everyone else, but at myself and my own jealousy, because I w ould follow her anywhere, like some fuck-puppy fan-boy, just to be close to her. James took the applause as his own, and redoubled his efforts, making us laugh harder, but Bella broke into his solo and sang the refrain one last time. "... I 'd be running up that road, be running up that hill, no problems." After she fin ished the words and set the mic down on the stool, James realized she was done a nd closed the chords. He took a huge bow and then brandished his guitar to us, a nd as an afterthought, he gestured to her. The audience screamed the house down when she gave them a shy sketchy wave and a big blushing grin, and instead of le aving stage right with James, she walked straight forward to me, and I caught he r in my arms as she jumped down. "I love you," I whispered in her ear. She wound her arms around my neck, and I crushed her up to me as the crowd yelled. Chapter 34: Hidden Bella: "I love you," Edward whispered, and I soared higher, l aughing, coiling my arms around his neck and he pulled me closer, spinning aroun d so the tips of my toes dragged on the ground. "I'm flying," I said, and his ey es flashed with green and heat and lust, and my heart pounded with stage rush an d the boy. He kissed me, and I wanted to be alone with him, but I could hear Ali ce shrieking my name. He half carried and half pulled me up the aisle as the cro wd parted to let us through, and then my best friend was hugging me on one side, and then Lauren, of all people, on the other. "I suppose your mother let you bu y that shirt, Bells?" Charlie asked, his face bright red, but he was grinning at me, and I hugged him too, after pulling Edward's jacket closed. "Did you and Ja mes choreograph that?" asked Angela. "No!" I laughed. I reached for Edward's han d in the throng of people around me, grounded by the current at the touch of our fingertips. Our eyes caught over Alice's head, and he flashed the half smile th at did strange things to the sensitive parts of my body, and his earlier whisper echoed louder than any of the praises of my friends.

"Remind me not to piss you off!" joked Emmett. He thumped me on the back and I s tumbled forward into Lauren, who sat down hard in the aisle. I reached a hand ou t to pull her up, and helped her get her balance. She grinned at me, and tottere d on her heels again. "Ow!" yelped Jessica, as a spike came down onto her toes. "Lauren, will you please take those damned things off? You're going to cripple s omeone!" Lauren laughed, and handed me her drink so she could take her shoes off , and promptly fell on her ass again. I giggled at the perfect girl, who today w as making me look graceful. Edward stared down at the blond for a few seconds, a nd took the slushy from my hands. James found us then, and held up his hand for a high five. I slapped his hand awkwardly, while my group of friends backed away , as his guitar case swung from his other hand. Victoria hugged me, hook-up cabl es looped over her shoulder like a fireman's rope. "Did you get to see it?" I as ked her, biting my lip, suddenly nervous of her reaction to the performance. "On ly from backstage. But I heard it. You brought the house down, girl!" "Show me t he money!" agreed James. The festival director gave the schedule for the rest of the evening, and people started to wander off to the vendors who had set up ear ly. The smoky scent of grilling food was as alluring as a melody on Jasper's man dolin, and my stomach groaned a loud countermelody. Alice and I spotted Rose in a food line, and went to join her. Edward was talking to Carlisle; they looked s erious and I didn't want to interrupt. "What should I get him?" I asked Alice, l ooking at the hotdog menu. "You can't really mess up a hotdog," she said, and I grinned, remembering the wonderful disaster of a date. A girl behind me tapped m y shoulder. "Hey, I loved your act!" She was a bass player in one of the college blues bands; they covered a Macy Gray tune nicely, I remembered. I blushed a bi t at the praise, wondering why I could feel so silly and shy now, when ten minut es ago I was standing on a stool leading the entire amphitheatre in the chorus o f a song, eating up their attention. "Get used to it," whispered Alice.

We chatted with the girl, but my attention was scattered. I wanted to be with Ed ward. The adrenaline was wearing off and I was cold, and I craved his arms aroun d me as much as I wanted food. I looked and finally spotted him and his father t alking with mine. Charlie was frowning, and it made me a little nervous. I nudge d Alice, pointing. "It's a little soon for him to be asking for Charlie's blessi ngs, isn't it?" she teased. "Alice! He only just told me he lov-" I stopped shor t, embarrassed. "He said it?" she squealed. "He really said it? When?" "Just now ," I admitted, unable to keep from grinning like a loon. "Oh, thank God! The las t person he told was Mom just before, well, you know. I was worried that he woul d never be able to say it again." I stared at her, flabbergasted. "Hey, ladies, fancy meeting you here!" Emmett sidled up to us. "No line jumping!" Alice shoved at him, an elfin David attacking Goliath. "I already had three. Edward said to find you," he said. "Where's Jazz?" "He's over there with Sam." She pointed. The blond boy was talking with the Q'wolves drummer. I also spotted Dad up near the entrance gate, talking to a security guard and some local police officers. I gr inned. Even out of uniform, he always managed to find his own. As we finally app roached the counter of the vendor trailer, I decided to text Edward to find out what he wanted, but when I reached into the pocket of the green jacket, I found only three pennies and the lemonade lid. "Damn! Alice, I think I left my phone b ackstage. Get one for Edward with lots of mustard, okay?" I walked back down to the stage. People talked in straggling groups in the seats; I felt the weight of stares as I passed by. They were mostly curious and congratulatory glances, but I still squirmed a little in my skin. Some kind of commotion was happening up i n the seats, and I thought I heard a dog barking, but I was grateful for the dis traction as I crossed in front of the stage. The backstage area was empty, thoug h I heard a metal fire door slam at the end of the hall, and a woman's light foo tsteps approaching. The door to the little janitor's office was still propped op en by the huge desk, and James's amp sat on the table. We'd shoved the metal tab le inside and sat on it to practice, avoiding the dirty floor and the mop drain, and after messaging Edward, I'd set my phone on the metal shelf with the indust rial bottles of pink soap and rolls of brown paper towels. The desk took up most of the

little room, and it was too close to the wall and too heavy for me to shove out of the way, so I climbed over it to get to the shelf on the back wall. As I hopp ed down, the light was blocked by a form in the doorway. "Looking for this?" I c ouldn't see her face, but I recognized Victoria's voice and her perfume. She was holding up my cell phone. "Yes! Thank you for grabbing it for me!" She hauled J ames's amp off the table, and I started to climb back across. In the light of th e hallway I could see tear tracks streaking her make-up. "Victoria? Are you alr" She threw my phone, fast and hard, and it smashed against the cinderblock wall behind my head. I stared at her stupidly, then squatted down to pick up the pie ces. "Why did-" I heard the screech of metal scraping on concrete, and spun on m y heels to face the desk as it slid towards me, knocking me on my ass. With a gr unt of rage, Victoria heaved on the door, using the leverage to shove the desk a nother foot, pinning me against the wall, my legs trapped underneath. The door c licked shut, and the darkness slapped my face harder than any hand. Edward: I'd spun her around, high on her laughter. The words had been ripped from my chest w ithout reason or restraint, and she was still clinging to me, eyes wide and dark and smiling. "I'm flying," she'd said. Twin hugged her, and then Lauren, her po lished grace gone, and Charlie was muttering about her shirt, but all I could th ink of was how to get her alone. This was her moment though, and I let her revel in it, watching her skin shimmer with the excitement. She was gorgeous. She was giggling at Lauren, who was sitting on the ground, laughing, and something seem ed backwards about the blond dancer being so clumsy and the artless brunette so poised. I let go of Bella's hand as James approached us. Now was not the time fo r some fucked up confrontation, though I could feel the pressure building, threa tening to boil over. I tweaked the blue raspberry slushy out of Bella's hands, a nd searched the group of our friends for a specific face. I caught Tyler Crowley 's eyes and jerked my head toward Lauren. He looked at her, then scowled at me. "What's wrong with her? She's all over the place!" He eased her into a chair.

"Lauren," I asked, "Did you buy this, or did someone give it to you?" "Angela ga ve it to me. She said Bella should only drink water." She held a finger to her l ips. "Shh. Don't tell Victoria. They didn't want to hurt her feelings." "I'll be right back." I told Tyler. "Don't let her out of your sight." Dad and Esme were sitting towards the back, talking to Aro. Jane was with them, swinging her feet on her chair, obviously fighting boredom. "Dad, may I talk to you for a sec?" H e stood, and I motioned towards my friends. "I think Lauren may have been dosed with something." I led him back the way I came. "Son, if she is, we'll have to t alk to the authorities." "I think I know who might have done it." I said. "Can y ou test this?" Dad took the cup from me, and knelt in front of Lauren and took h er pulse, and then checked her pupils with his little keychain light. He caught my glance. "Perhaps you should talk to Charlie Swan." I nodded, suddenly underst anding the term "seeing red". The bastard had done it again. I hadn't wanted to believe it, but I'd been right to tell Angela not to let Bella drink anything bu t water. Jasper fell into step next to me. "What's up, Bro?" he asked. "James la ced a drink meant for Bella, to get her on stage." I was so furious I was shakin g. "Man, that's fucking desperate." Jasper frowned. "You should have heard him s creaming at me, right before they went on." "So, you're not just a jealous prick , then?" "Oh, I am, but at least now I have justification for breaking his hands ." I scanned the crowd again, looking for a man with short hair the same color a s Bella's. "Look, Rosalie is friends with Victoria. Do you think she would know if James messes with hard drugs?" "Actually, there's someone else who might know . I'll be right back." He ducked into the crowd.

I found Charlie Swan sitting with Billy Black, about to open a beer. I hurried o ver before he popped the top. "Sir, could I bother you a minute?" He handed Chie f Black the can, and stood. "My dad's down there." I fumbled for words, feeling like a little kid all of a sudden. I took a deep breath. "We think Lauren has be en drugged, and we'd like to know the best way to handle this quietly." Dad join ed us, and as the two men started to speak, my phone buzzed with a text from Jaz z. J was kicked out of Qwolves for dealing pills. Tell them to look in his guita r case. I swallowed, and felt almost dizzy with fury and guilt. I'd left her alo ne with the bastard. I looked for her in the crowd, but didn't see her. I could see James, though, and Bella wasn't near him. "Are you alright, son?" Dad's voic e cleared the angry fog in my brain. I handed him my cell phone, and after glanc ing at me for permission, he handed it to Charlie. Chief Swan pierced me with sp eculative eyes, and and then glanced at James and back to me. I nodded once, and almost smiled in anticipation, but dad's voice cut through our private conversa tion. "Gentlemen, Bella would be best protected if you acted through the proper channels." We both turned to him, glaring. His calm demeanor held authority, and it occurred to me that it must take some inner steel to run an emergency room. Charlie saw it too, and unclenched his fists. "And if it was your child?" he ask ed the doctor. Dad's eyes snapped to mine, and his face grew still and cold. My stomach turned over, and I looked at my shoes. Bella's father didn't miss that e xchange, either. "He'll get out of a hospital a lot faster than he'll get out of jail." Dad's voice was steady. Chief Swan left, walking quickly towards the gat e building. From his measured steps to the slight bend of his arms at the elbows and his tight spine, he was blatantly a cop, despite the lack of uniform. Time moved in strange bursts of speed, as the world spun around me on a wobbly axis. I stood, dazed, watching while dad talked to Lauren. He was asking about her par ents; they were apparently in Spain. I typed a text to my brother:

Find the girls. "Son." My phone buzzed with Emmett's response. James was walking up the aisle, drifting from group to group, fist bumping and shaking hands with other musicians. Victoria was behind him. "Edward." My dad spoke again. Emmett was moving through the crowd in the food court area, moving in a straight line t owards a tall blond. He glanced at me, holding up one finger, then two more. He' d spotted the three girls. Charlie was at the entrance kiosk, talking to three m en in uniform. One was talking on his cell phone. My phone buzzed with a text fr om Jasper. "Edward!" Dad shook my arm. "Miss Mallory has agreed to go to the loc al hospital and submit to some tests. She's apparently staying with Jessica this weekend. Could you ask her to join us?" Of course she would agree to submit, Dr . Cullen. She's taken Rohypnol. She'd walk on a tightrope across Niagara Falls n aked. Luckily she wouldn't remember it in the morning. "Take Crowley," I said. " He's in love with her." "What?" said Lauren and Tyler at the same time. James wa s shaking hands with Liam. The look on Siobhan's face was incredulous. The hideo us bastard had no idea what Bella had done, I realized. He was going to be furio us with her. Two more police officers had joined Charlie. The female had a Germa n Shepherd on a leash. "Dude, you body-check anyone with testicles that even tri es to talk to her," I told Tyler, not looking at him. The two cops with the dog started walking across the blanket seating grass. Charlie stayed behind with the security guard and the other two policemen, watching. Victoria was looking arou nd the amphitheatre, and our eyes locked. She smiled, and started to wave, but t hen dropped her hand, staring at my face. She looked back at James, and then she saw the approaching K-9 unit. She tapped James's shoulder, but he kept talking to Liam. She shoved at him to get his attention, and he turned around. She gestu red with her head to the dog. The dog was about thirty feet away, and already ag itated, straining at the leash.

James said something to Victoria, and she shook her head, but he insisted, and s he slowly stepped backwards. She shot me a one last glance, her eyes filled with hatred and fury, and slipped back into the larger crowd that was hanging near t he stage. Bella was walking in front of the stage, crossing from house right to left, head down, watching her feet. The police dog was barking, a few paces away , and James dropped the guitar case and held his hands up. The other officer mov ed behind him very quickly, saying a few words I couldn't hear, and the ugly fuc ker nodded, obviously intimidated by the huge animal. The other two officers joi ned them, snapping latex gloves on their fingers. I walked up to Charlie Swan, a nd we watched them lead James toward the cruisers. "That was quick," I said, a b it disappointed. He smiled under the moustache. "Tell Bella I'm going into town for a while." I walked down to the hotdog stand where I last saw Emmett. Alice a nd Rose were sitting with him at a picnic table. "Hey, twin, I got you a dog." M y sister slid a paper plate and some mustard packets toward me. "Eat that. Bella went to look for her phone. You aren't going to believe this, but the buzz is t hat Nomad is like this dark comedy band, and that the act was some sort of femin ist satire against the male dominated music industry, and it's already on youtub e. We should probably go load in, we're up in an hour, and I need to change clot hes. Where's Jazz?" "Right here." My step brother thumped his hand between my sh oulder blades. "James just got busted for narcotics possession! Way to take out an opposing team, Edward!" He picked up Alice, set her on his lap and crammed he r unfinished hotdog in his mouth. Alice stared at me with her mouth open. "But t hat means-" I nodded, feeling like the biggest asshole on earth. Bella was out o f the competition. Bella: Thump, thump, thump. THUMP. THUMP. THUMP. Thump, thump , thump. Twenty-three. The worst part about being trapped in a janitor's office with your legs pinned under a heavy desk and your left arm trapped behind you an d your boobs smooshed almost flat and your head unable

to turn more than a few inches was the smell. Somewhere in the tiny space was a mildewing mop, and it reeked. That, and I was hungry. And I had to pee. And I'd flipped out and screamed and shouted until I had no voice left, and now the only noise I could make was the dull thump of my right hand hitting the side of the desk, which had no resonance at all, the sound deadened by my body like a hand m uffling a bell. And Edward had said I love you, and I hadn't said it back. My ri ght hand was free, but nothing useful was in reach, and I had no leverage to pus h against the desk. It made for good thumping, though. Thump, thump, thump. THUM P. THUMP. THUMP. Thump, thump, thump. Thirty-nine. By fifty-eight my lower legs were completely numb. I deliberately tried to flex my toes in my shoes, but I fe lt nothing. My left shoulder hurt where my arm was pinned behind me, but I had e nough room to flex my hand a little, and I hadn't lost feeling yet. I gripped th e lemonade lid in my fist, and tapped it against the desk. It made a smaller but sharper noise. Tap, tap, tap. TAP. TAP. TAP. Tap, tap, tap. Ninety-four. I felt the vibrations in the floor of people walking, and then a door slammed. I teste d my voice again, but only managed a croak. Determined not to cry, I went back t o my thumping. I heard voices. An upright base was being tuned, the metal peg in the floor carrying the sound to me. It was slightly flat. The after dinner acts must be setting up, which meant Edward would be here. Please hear me, I begged. Thump, thump, thump. THUMP. THUMP. THUMP. Thump, thump, thump. One hundred and twelve. I heard voices right outside the door, but the words were muffled; a lig ht breathy soprano, and three baritones. A delicate alto and a child's descant. My heart raced, and I gripped the cap in my hand. He was here. I could feel him, the way I had when I was sitting on the stool on stage, that magnetic pull of w hatever it was that we had.

I wondered how much space was under the door. I reached into the pocket of Edwar d's jacket, and traded the cap for a penny. I flicked it, guessing where the doo r would be, but it bounced off of something on the right. I tried with another p enny, trying to compensate for the errant throw, like I was playing with darts. This time the penny made no bouncing noise. I flung another, and that went under the door too. I finally flung the bottle lid, but stopped short with a little c lick. Tears burned in my throat where I had screamed my vocal chords raw, and I went back to my thumping. Edward: "Hotdogs are gross," said a young voice at my elbow. The little girl was dressed in skinny jeans, a blue t-shirt with a few sl ices cut through it and kid's Chuck Taylors. Alice's eyes sparkled and her shoul ders shook with suppressed giggles. "Hi, Jane." I threatened her with a finger f ull of mustard. She ignored me, and climbed onto the bench beside me. "Where's B ella? Is she your girlfriend? Why did she sing with that scary boy? She said you kiss good. I think that's gross. Can I sit on the piano when you play tonight?" I blinked, and tried not to laugh. "I'm on a keyboard, not a real piano." "Oh." "Would you like to watch from backstage, with Esme?" Alice asked. Jane nodded. "Let's go ask your dad." "We should start hauling the equipment up," said Jazz. "I'll catch up to you in a minute." I waited for a few minutes, wondering what I would say to the girl. I was starting to feel edgy. Hey, beautiful, I'm sorry y ou won't be able to sing tomorrow, but your guitarist is a nasty goatfucker and tried to drug you, and I got him arrested rather than breaking his each of his f ingers because I love you and it's a poor excuse for what I did, butBella didn't show, and I walked to the van to fetch the gear. Backstage was a zoo, with band s pacing in their corners, territories marked by cables and instrument cases. We grabbed an empty spot across from a janitor's storeroom, near the stage right w ing, next to the guys from Siobhan and Liam. They were up right before us.

Esme and Jane met us there, and Alice gave the eight-year-old the task of sortin g the cords, each labeled with colored electrical tape to corresponding hook-ups . She took her job seriously, and I stayed out of her way, leaning up against th e door on the opposite side of the wall. My head was full of Bella, and I wonder ed where she was, and if she would come backstage and see us off or if she was i n the front row, or if she was mad about James and if she would ever speak to me again. "Christ, I'm anxious," Jazz said, "and I don't even know why." A penny r olled across the floor. Jane picked it up. "Heads!" she smiled. Then something c aught her eye and she reached between my shoes and picked up something else that was partially hidden under the door behind me. I held still, afraid I would ste p on her fingers. Siobhan and Liam went out and we watched from the wings. They were the real deal from Belfast, and had put out a few CD's. They did a quick an d dirty bit of "Blackleg Miner", a capella and eerie at first, and then with gre at fiddle bridge that had Jasper bouncing in his snakeskin boots, unease forgott en. The audience loved them, not to the point of dancing, but the applause was t horough. "We warmed 'em for ya, Eddie, luv," laughed Siobhan. I stepped back to my spot at the office door, and let them pass, once again wishing I could see Be lla, craving a kiss before I went on stage or just a touch, even to just see her face, to know that I hadn't screwed things up between us royally, but Jazz jerk ed his head at me, brows furrowed. It was our time. Esme and Jane stepped out of our way, and we moved quickly, working together to set up Emmett's drum kit and then plugging up Jazz, Rose and me. We were adamant about not tuning on stage, but today I really wanted to, and I could tell that Jasper did too. He caught my eye, with a look of frustration. He was not feeling the crowd; I wasn't either. We stalled, trying to get in synch. Emmett saved our asses, opening up with tal king blues. We were doing the song from the Sopranos by Alabama 3, but he pulled out the intro from the Exile on Coldharbour Lane version. Alice slid in with an easy wail underneath his words, and Rose slipped in a few blue notes with a lig ht touch. Jasper found his groove, pulling himself together, and catching the mo od of the crowd, pushed Emmett harder. He sketched time, fingers counting backwa rds, giving me my cue, and I took it, led by my family into focus. 'Woke up this morning, got yourself a gun. Mama always said you'd be the chosen one«'

By the time we got to the chorus, we had the audience, shoulders swaying, and I played in the bridge; a little keyboard and a little scratch, roughing it up at the edges, a nod to techno, and a hint of dance, but always angsty and jaded. Al ice danced, a pretty mote of bright silk on the stage, slinging notes and her sl eeves around the space. I listened to the audience as I gave it to them, reachin g for what they wanted, what current pulled at them, what music meant, and they fed it back to me, a universal need to feel, and I let them have it, raw and rea l. By the last line they were ours, and we were theirs, a thousand people dancin g to our tune, and we existed only so they could dance. 'You got to burn to shin e, You were born under a bad sign, with a blue moon in your eyes.' Jazz closed i t abruptly, no slow fades, tidy and resolved. The crowd liked that, and wanted m ore, and we were satisfied. It wasn't our best, but we would make the cut to pla y tomorrow, at least. We waved to the crowd, and I looked for Bella, but didn't see her. She wasn't backstage, either, and a cold knot of worry formed in my bel ly. The last thing I'd said to her was "I love you." Had I blown it? Would she r un from me? It hadn't seemed that way, the way she'd kissed me after I said it, but sometimes Ordinary_Girl wrote that she was overwhelmed by it all. We worked quickly to move the gear so that the next band could have the stage, dumping it all in a corner to sort and pack. Dad was there with Esme and Jane. They hugged us all, and helped us coil cable. The little girl stuck close to my side, and at one point reached for my hand. Usually she was anxious to prove her independenc e. Finally I pulled her aside. "What's got you clingy, Jane?" "That room is haun ted," she whispered, pointing at the janitor's closet. "Feel the door." I put my hand on the door, and there was a rhythmic thumping inside. I twisted at the do orknob, but it was locked. I tried not to get irritated at the little girl, but I was starting to feel desperate to find Bella. "I don't think it's a ghost," I said, "I think it's something mechanical." "It gave me this," she said, holding out her tiny hand. The metal cap to the lemonade bottle had scratches worn into it, faint spirals scoured into the enamel paint where we had spun it back and fo rth, over and over, a lifeline between us. Blood roared in my ears and my stomac h cramped into hard knots.

"Bella!" Chapter 35: Overture Bella: He was yelling my name, pounding on the door, and I was so relieved I was smiling. I felt ridiculous, wedged up like a gob of putty between rock and metal, and I was numb in several places and sore everywhere els e, and I was beginning to worry that I might pee in my pants, but I wasn't afrai d; there was an archangel on the other side of the door, and an hour ago he told me he loved me, and now he was going to rescue me from the dark and the desk, a nd the stinky mop. Finally, a noise sweeter than any song: the scrape of a key i n the lock. Then light, and his voice, just feet away, and I raised my hand. I w as so desperate to see him that I started to cry when I realized I still couldn' t turn my head enough. "Bella!" His voice was frantic. I reached toward it with my free hand, and felt him grab at the desk. "Edward, wait!" Carlisle's voice wa s similar to his, I though vaguely, but lighter, almost a tenor. "We don't know if her spine is injured." "Bella!" Edward whispered, his voice thick and wet, "A re you alright? Say something!" "Edward," I tried, but there was nothing there. Tears streamed down my face, and I swallowed, grateful for the moisture coating my vocal chords, even though it stung. I grabbed at the air again. "I'm here. I can't reach you. Say something, please!" I gave a thumbs up, instead, and patted the top of the desk, and made pushing motions. Tomorrow, I thought, I would lea rn sign language. "Dad? She wants us to move it!" "Bella," the doctor called out , "We need to know how serious your injuries are before we move the desk. Can yo u speak at all?" "I'm fine," I whispered, feeling helpless and pathetic and hyst erically happy. "She said something," said Edward. "I can't hear her!" "Everybod y be quiet!" yelled Alice.

"Could you get a mic in there?" asked Jasper. "I can fit through," said a young voice. "Jane, wait!" I felt her movements through the metal desk, and then her l ittle face popped into view. "Hi!" I whispered, grinning at her, even though my cheeks were wet from crying. "Hi, Bella, why are you whispering?" "I yelled too much. Can you tell them it's okay to move it? My back is fine. My legs are just stuck." She relayed the message, and squirmed back out. Emmett pulled the desk o ff me, and Edward was kneeling at my side instantly, easing my left arm from beh ind my back and pulling me to his chest. I giggled and sobbed into his neck, fee ling stupid, because I was fine. "I felt you," he whispered. "I couldn't stop th inking about you when I was leaning against the door. I should have known you we re in here." I sucked back my tears, trying to get a hold of myself, breathing h is scent and feeling his skin against my face. I finally calmed down, and presse d my lips to his cheek. "I love you," I whispered into his ear, unable to hold t he words back any longer. I heard his breath catch in his throat and he pulled a way to wipe my tears with his thumb, and he smiled into my eyes and kissed my mo uth, arms tight around me. "She's fine!" yelled Alice. "Ew," said Jane. Carlisle chuckled and nudged his son's foot out of his way and sat on his heels next to me, asking me soothing questions and bending my knees. Edward held me close whil e his dad took my shoes off and looked in my eyes with a little light. "So what happened?" Edward asked, massaging my shoulder. "Victoria. She smashed my phone, too." I whispered. "I probably shouldn't have made fun of James like that."

He inhaled in with a hiss. "I don't think that's it," he said, shaking his head over mine. "I think she did it to get back at me." "What? Why?" Alice offered me a bottle of water, and I grabbed it with greedy fingers. She squeezed my hand, and backed out of her father's way. Carlisle was doing something to the bottom o f my numb feet and wiggling my toes, and I felt very strange, like I was watchin g a movie of myself. Edward sighed. "I got him arrested, Bella. His guitar case was full of pills. He tried to drug you again." "When? How?" my voice was coming back, but it sounded like I had a throat full of gravel, and he winced. "He dos ed the slushy. Angela gave it to Lauren." "Was that why she was falling down?" I was confused; nothing made sense. "Yeah. I got Dad, and told Charlie, and he to ld the cops and they busted him. I guess they always have sniffer dogs at concer ts. It happened really fast. I'm sorry, Bella." "Why are you sorry?" "Well, you' re out of the contest, now." "Edward, I didn't want to win! I just wanted to see if I could do it. And if I totally couldn't, I didn't want to break out in hive s or barf all over the stage while I'm with you guys!" My voice slid in and out of a broken whisper. He stared down at me with a peculiar look on his face. I sh rugged. "I was using James just as much as he was using me." "Can we get out of here?" I rasped at Carlisle. "It smells, and I really have to p-" I stopped shor t, and gasped in shock. "Oh, my god!" "Pins and needles?" he asked. I nodded, un able to speak, though 'pins and needles' was an understatement. Fire was blazing down my limbs, and my toes felt like they were being stabbed with sharp pointed spikes. "That's a good sign," he said, smiling at my distress, and suddenly he seemed less handsome. When he started working my ankles back and forth, I decide d I didn't like him at all. Edward held me tightly as I arched in pain, and if I 'd had more control over my feet, I would have kicked the good doctor in the nos e.

A few minutes later I was able to walk to the restroom with Alice on one side an d Esme on the other, laughing maniacally at my worse than usual clumsiness. I ha d a stripe of bruises across each leg, a few inches above the knee, but that and my hoarse voice were the only proof of the whole ordeal, once I had washed the mascara off my cheeks. When I came out of the ladies', everyone was waiting for me. I hugged Jane, and Jasper handed me the bits of my iPhone. The memory card w as intact. "Can I borrow someone's phone, so I can call my father?" I asked. He probably hadn't even known I'd been stuck in a stinking janitor's storage room f or an hour, but I wanted to hear his voice. "Actually, I already did," said Carl isle. "You have his number?" I asked stupidly. Edward slid his arm around my wai st. "Dad acts as coroner, when Forks needs one." "Oh. I knew that." "Chief Swan is waiting at the police station in Olympia for James's father to arrive," Carli sle said. "I told him I'd bring you back to our hotel suite with us." "We'd plan ned that anyway," said Alice. "And could we get out of here? Our stuff is blocki ng the stage right door and the Denali girls are going on soon and I want to see what they are wearing, and it will take us at least fifteen minutes to load out , and we need to feed Bella because her stomach is growling like there are wolve s inside." One hotdog with mustard and two Tylenols later I was sitting in the a mphitheatre, a few rows above the general crowd, sprawled across Edward's lap wi th ice packs on my bruises and a blanket over us both. The air had gotten chilly and I had made him take his leather jacket back but his arms were warm. People swirled around us, discreetly staring; word had spread quickly. I didn't care. " Edward," I said, my voice still cracked and low, "Something doesn't make sense." "What would that be?" he murmured, lips brushing the sensitive skin on my ear. "James couldn't have spiked the drink. Angela never came backstage." "What?" "Sh e caught Victoria and me at the slushy stand." I said. "We traded drinks and she went to find Jessica and Lauren. That drink was never near James." He stared at me.

"It wasn't Angela," he said. "Definitely not." "That means-" "But why?" I asked. "She seemed so nice!" At least until she assaulted me, anyway. "So is Angela," he said. Whatever he was thinking, he didn't share, and after a moment, he kisse d my forehead and pulled me closer, and I forgot about everything but his warmth and his smell and the sound of his heart beating. We watched several acts, a fe w good ones that I thought would play tomorrow, a few that I hoped wouldn't, and several that seemed more country-western than blues. One chick band covered 'Br ains!' by Voltaire, and I wanted to download it to my zombie playlist immediatel y. I sighed, frustrated. "I feel naked without my phone," I muttered into his tshirt. "Hmm," he teased. "I figured we would pick you up a new one in the mornin g, but now I'm not so sure." "But how will I ask for advice about how to turn on this really hot guy I'm in love with?" I looked up at him from under lowered la shes, and licked my lips, trying to flirt. "You don't need advice." His voice an d his eyes were dark, and he shifted in his seat, grinding his hips up under my thighs. I gasped, and wriggled against the swelling in his pants. "Stop that!" h e hissed. "Do you know how much effort it is taking me to keep from mauling you in these seats?" He slid his hand under the blanket and dragged his fingertip ov er my breast and pinched the tip lightly. I arched into his hand, and whimpered; his breath caught at my response. Jasper smacked the top of Edward's head with the sheet music. "Stop it, you two," he chastised. "I feel like I'm watching a p orno." Edward flipped him the bird without looking, and gave me his crookedy smi rk, all cocky boyman and crazy sexy, and I blushed fire and still wanted to lick his face. "Denali's up next," sang out Alice.

The four girls came out in coordinated outfits, a little bit Goth and a little b it Earth goddess, and all gorgeous. They set up quickly, and then greeted the au dience. "How's it going out there?" called out a short girl with eggplant colore d hair. There was some applause. "It's nice to be invited back!" Alice snorted. "Like she didn't have to send in a demo like the rest of us?" she said, sotto vo ce. "There are some great acts tonight," said the girl, while lowering her mic, "and we promise not to have any of the competition arrested!" The joke fell flat , and a few people hissed, and looked back towards us. Jasper elbowed me, and I waved good naturedly. Some people chuckled, and the atmosphere below us turned f un again. Edward was not pleased, and his arms around me were tight. Alice was s o pissed she was silent, quivering from head to toe. "Cunts," said Rosalie. Jasp er gave me a snarky smile. "The judges don't like petty bullshit like that, and you being cool about it just made them look worse." They played 'Bombay Sapphire s', by Stevie Nicks, and they were really good. They were very refined, and the lead singer knew how to work the audience, pointing at boys and motioning them c loser and then backing away, reaching down to touch hands of the some of the gir ls in the front row. She had a rich low voice exactly suited to blues, and knew when to belt it out and when to reel it in, and she used her mic like a voice mi xer. People were on their feet, swaying to the song, and when it ended they didn 't sit down while applauding. "A standing ovation?" Alice fumed. "They aren't th at good!" "They were pretty damned good," I said. "She knows how to work a crowd ." "You're better," said Edward. I made a face, but Jasper said, "He's right. Yo u draw people in without even making specific eye contact, or breaking physical boundaries. You play with your audience. They play to their audience." "That's m arketing, not music," said Emmett, nodding at the women on the stage who were fl inging CDs into the crowd like Frisbees. They struck their equipment and left.

There were a couple more acts, and then the judges went backstage. "Now what?" I asked Jasper. "Now we wait." Edward: Alice was sitting backwards in the row of seats with her feet in the air over the back of her chair, blowing soap bubbles through a tiny wand. They drifted on random eddies of air, and spun up and out o f the concert hall. Jasper leaned forward and stuck a sheet of staff paper over my shoulder. Bella shifted against my chest, her body heavy and limp from sleep. She yawned, and held the music up. "Can we repeat the first refrain at the end? " Jazz tapped at the words to Gone Away. "It makes for a short song, but if Rose takes a solo here, and Alice spins a bit of harp to open and close, it would so und complete. Rosalie?" "I think she went for a walk," my brother said. He and E sme were playing gin rummy on a drink cooler across the aisle. "Miss Swan?" A cl oud of rainbow bubbles wafted past the festival director. He had on a large gree n sweater with a shawl collar and looked like a walking advertisement for any fl avor of Ben and Jerry's ice cream. He looked at Bella with a wary eye as she sat upright in my lap. "On behalf of the Olympic Delta Blues Festival, I would like to extend our deepest concern that you were injured on these premises, and-" "S ir, stop, please." Bella laughed. "Anyone who knows me could tell you that I am the clumsiest and most accident prone person on this planet, and I have no inten tion of holding anyone responsible." He gaped a bit. "Well, then. Is your father here? We would like to have a word with you about the situation involving your accompanist." Esme folded her cards and stood, brushing imaginary dust from her tie-dye hippy skirt. "Chief Swan is still at the station, but he left his daught er in our care," she said, putting on her best PhD of Architectural Design voice . "I'm a longtime friend of the family. May I be of assistance?" The two adults eyed each other as equals, each clearly seeing past the clothing stereotype. Bel la stood, and Esme slipped an arm around her waist, and they followed the man to ward the stage. I stood as well, grateful for the respite. Having the girl's del ectable ass in my lap was fuck-all fabulous, but after two hours my legs were st iff and my feet had lost a bit of feeling. There was no way in hell I could ment ion it, though, after what she had been through.

I stretched, and wandered up the aisle, walking up past the vendors and through the parking lot, looking for some peace and a couple of minutes to type in some words that were bouncing around in my head on my phone before I lost them. Someo ne was playing an acoustic guitar in the dark, and I moved towards it, curious. I first recognized the song, and then the player; Rosalie's delicate chords and unusual pacing on Zep's 'White Summer/ Black Mountain Side'. She was sitting on the hood of James's Mustang. I stayed in the shadows, not wanting to interrupt, and squatted down next to Emmett's jeep, absorbing the heat that still radiated off the blacktop, listening. Another figure slid from the dark and sat next to m y step-sister on the car, and it took all my willpower to hold still. Rose finis hed the song, and when the chords drifted away into the evening, Victoria asked, "Is Bella okay?" Rose nodded. "I shouldn't have done it, but I just lost it," t he redhead said, her voice flat. "None of this was her fault. It's not even Edwa rd's. I just wanted to blame someone else." Rosalie played a few easy chords, wa iting. "I'm tone deaf, you know," said Victoria, after a while. "I can't sing a note, or play anything. I can't even shake a tambourine." A questioning chord hu mmed softly. "So?" "So, when he was just playing with the Res guys, I could hand le it. But then he comes over one night, saying how he's out of the Wolves, but it's all cool, because he's found this new talent that's going to be his ticket to glory, and he's hyped up like I've never seen him, but, it's a girl. So the n ext day we're at your session, and I see her, and she's obviously into your step -brother, and I think, "Well, I can deal with it if she's attached to someone el se," you know? So I helped that along a bit when we were mixing drinks." The bre ath left my lungs hard and my knees came down on the asphalt, but Rose was playi ng a few easy notes, and it covered any noise I may have made. After a moment, V ictoria went on. "Then he made the demo. And it was pretty good. Maybe the best he's ever recorded. He certainly thought so. He played it all the time. Like con stantly. Do you know what it's like, having sex with your boyfriend while listen ing to him play guitar for another girl? It's like he's making love to her, not me." Nausea clutched at the back of my throat, and I took deep breaths of the co ol night air, trying to swallow my adrenaline back down so I could hear. "And af ter we saw how good she was at Aro's," the redhead continued, "and I realized sh e could win this whole damned thing, I started freaking out."

Rose strummed a few soothing chords, encouraging her. "Could you do it, Rosalie? Could you deal with Emmett going on tour for months, living his dream with anot her girl? And at the same time, could you ask him not to?" "I don't know," the b lond said, striking a discordant note in a minor key. "I tried. I really did. I played the whole supportive girlfriend game, at his side every step of the way. But then, at the last minute, I made a choice. I chose us, instead of him, hatin g myself the whole time. And you know, I was glad when she didn't drink it. Plea se believe that. "So when it's over, I'm relieved that it went the way it did, b ecause Jamie's so fucking happy, it's like he's walking on clouds, except there' s Dr. Cullen, standing over Lauren with her lips all stained blue, and Edward's looking at James with this 'you're fucked' look on his face." She was weeping. " And now I've lost him, and he'll get at least seven years, and it's all my fault ." Rosalie let her cry, thumbing light blue notes to the tone of her sobs, and w hen the other girl finally calmed down to hiccups, she asked her, "How will you get home?" "His dad is bringing the keys." The car creaked as my step-sister sli d off the hood. "Are you heading back?" Victoria asked. Rose nodded. "See you la ter," said Victoria, her voice dulled with crying. "No," said Rosalie. "I don't think so." She left the girl on the hood of the car, and walked toward me in the dark. She ignored me as she locked her guitar in Em's jeep, but then held out h er hand to help me up off the ground. I took it, and she linked my elbow in hers , and we walked back down to our family in silence. The band, however was not so silent when they greeted us. Emmett grabbed Rosalie and kissed her. "They poste d the finalists!" he told her. She raised both eyebrows, and he shook his head, but his face was still cracked huge with a monkey grin. "We didn't make the fina l four." Jasper was giggling. He held Alice piggy-back, and they were spinning a round in circles.

"Who did?" I asked, confused and pissed. I had heard everyone else, and was sure that we had made it this year. "Siobhan and Liam, the Q'wolves, the Denali bitc hes, and-" Twin paused. "Bella Swan, formerly of American Nomad," Jasper finishe d. The girl stood in front of me, dark eyes wide and gorgeous, full of secrets a nd me. She bit her lip, and then smiled. "I need a back-up group," she said, her voice husky and delicious. "Are you busy tomorrow?" Chapter 36: Curtain Bella: "I need a back-up group," I said. My voice was gettin g better, but I still had a harsh burr in the back of my throat. "Are you busy t omorrow?" Please say yes, please tell me I did the right thing"What happened?" h e asked. His brows were furrowed. "They're letting you stay in?" "Esme did it. S he didn't let me speak at all!" "No, Bella, you did it." Esme smiled at me, and turned to Edward. "Just before I was about to beat Emmett at a hand of gin-" "Yo u wish, lady!" "-I happened to overhear someone mention a YouTube video. So I ha d to look, and-" "The video on YouTube has had over three thousand hits in just four hours!" exploded Alice. Jasper tried to shush her, but she was bouncing lik e a kangaroo on meth. "It's all over Twitter and Facebook, too. You should see t he video! Angela ganked the journalism class's digi-cam with the bigger-than-anelephant-dick-lens, and the quality is phenomenal! We came in fifth, Edward." I watched his face as he processed that. His eyes narrowed at me, and his mouth mo ved in several directions. "So«" "Yeah," I whispered, losing my nerve and looking away from his eyes. I swallowed, trying to wet my sore throat. "If I had stepped out of the competition, Breaking Dawn would be the fourth band."

"But without you." I nodded. My face grew hot, and my eyes pricked with tears. D o not cry. "I didn't speak for you Edward," Esme spoke quietly. "It is still you r choice. But when I realized that all the internet attention gave us some lever age, I made the suggestion that she sing with you. Aro vouched for your performa nce quality. My only condition was that she could drop the American Nomad name." "So we would be called what? 'Bella Swan and Breaking Dawn'?" he asked her. "Ye s. They were willing to bend the rules the one way, but not the other," his step -mother continued. "The public intent is that they're trying to keep it fair to the other contestants, but honestly, they are desperate to have her name on the bill tomorrow. Aro says they've sold all the reserved seats, and if even a quart er of the people who left comments on line saying that they are coming actually do, they will need to double the blanket seating space." Edward stared at me, st ill not saying anything. "If you don't want to, I can still step out," I told my shoes. "They're waiting for you to decide." Please say yes, please, please, ple ase. I wanted it. I wanted to sing with him, to be a part of something huge, by his side. I raised my head, and looked straight into his eyes, and took a breath , trying to find the right thing to say, but he shook his head at me. "Shh. Not another word," he said. "I don't want to hear a sound out of your mouth until yo u are on that stage." I was so relieved I that my knees went wobbly. I stumbled, but he caught me, hands on my shoulders and then in my hair. He kissed me, long and slow and deep, and I moaned into his mouth. He pulled away, lopsided smile twisting his lips, and leaned in, hot breath on my ear, and whispered, "You're a llowed to make that noise." He turned away abruptly, and walked down toward the stage, pausing to speak to Jessica. She looked furious, and marched up the aisle with tight fists. I wondered what he'd said to piss her off, but then Jake Blac k was hugging me while Sam shook Jasper's hand, and Siobhan and Alice danced som e kind of little jig together. The girls from the Denali Coven were celebrating on the other side of the aisle down by the stage; Edward was talking to their ke yboard player, and they walked to the judges' table together. I borrowed Carlisl e's phone and called Charlie, and we made plans to eat breakfast at the hotel to morrow morning, since I would not see much of him during the day. When I went to give the phone back, Edward was talking with his father, discussing the side ef fects of giving me a steroid shot for my throat.

"All she needs is a good night's sleep and some tea with honey and lemon," Esme said firmly. "Dr. Cullen?" Mike Newton called out. He jogged down the hill, foll owed by Jessica Stanley, walking at a more dignified pace, wearing a satisfied s mile. She was shaking her right hand; two of her acrylic nails were broken, and one was missing completely, and her knuckles were bruised. Her blond boyfriend t ugged Carlisle's elbow. "Dr. Cullen, you should maybe have a look at Victoria. I think her nose is broken!" "No one drugs my best friend," Jessica said. "They s ure as hell don't do it twice." I bit my lip to keep from laughing, and turned t o Edward. "You didn't!" "Well," he shrugged. "I couldn't hit her." "You know, th is was supposed to be his day off," Esme fussed, as her husband walked up to the parking lot. Rose and Alice and I rode with Esme to the hotel in the minivan, a nd we each took a room in the suite. The boys were behind us in Emmet's jeep, bu t they turned off at an all-night superstore to get fresh batteries for the mic packs, promising us ice cream. We camped out in my room, waiting for them, spraw led on the bed and watching a movie while we brainstormed ideas for the set tomo rrow. I woke to Alice's squawking, and watched Jasper carry her off in a fireman 's hold, smacking her ass the whole way to his room on the other side of the sui te. Rose was already gone. Edward walked into the room with a steaming mug, half a lemon and a plastic bottle of honey shaped like a bear. A small black box was tucked under his arm. I smiled at him, blinking and sleepy, and thanked him for the tea. He shrugged, and I wondered at his mood. "I take care of what is mine, " he said, stroking a finger lightly down my throat. His voice was teasing, but his eyes were dark. "Are you mine?" he asked with a whisper. I could only nod, a nd he leaned in, but stopped short, brushing his lips over mine. "Then these are mine, too." He kissed me, but pulled away before I could respond. "Now, where's the memory card to your iPhone?" I stared at him, and then recognized the box. "Edward, I can't accept th-"

"Shh. Don't say anything." He scowled at me. "No, really," I whispered, "it's to o much." "Shh!" His brows were knit, and he rubbed the back of his neck. I frown ed back. "Please," he said, his jaw tense. He looked away from me. "I need your words." I pulled the little card out of my pocket and handed it to him. He took it from my fingers without looking at me and fiddled with the iPhone for a minut e. I squeezed the lemon into the tea and wrestled with the foil hymen on the bot tle of honey, and then squirted a copious amount into the mug and stirred. The s poon clanked against the ceramic, and the noise was loud in the little hotel bed room, but then the phone started to buzz with messages and missed call alerts. H e set it in my lap, and stood, closing the door as he left. I scrolled down to t he only alert that mattered, and followed the link to the blogsite. He'd written : She turned my world inside out, And now I must redefine myself. The words we s poke are my undoing, And so she has become my life. The thousand songs I'd play for her, Are still too few to voice my heart. I swallowed the tears in my throat , and typed: You are the Debussy poet and 88 keys of Pretty Boy, and I love you. I missed the calm you give me, today. You are sweetness and song, and I love yo u extraordinarily. -Debussy_88 You make me brave and give me the courage to do d aring things. You are fearless. What daring thing would you do? ±Debussy_88

After a minute I typed: I would lay on this bed, in only my skin and this puddle of honey in my bellybutton, waiting for your tongue. Edward: I practically ripp ed the door off its hinges. She was so fucking beautiful I had to fight for oxyg en, hair a mess of mahogany curls, and dark eyes so deep they defied eternity. H er breasts were gorgeous, ripe and full, nipples tight, and my mouth watered in anticipation of tasting them, but my eyes were drawn lower, to the tiny pool of honey in the center of her waist. Bella sat up as I locked the door behind me, h ands propped on the bed behind her. I watched a single fat drop of liquid slowly slide down her pale skin, riveted, as it slipped through her dark curls. She ga sped as it disappeared into the secret slit of her softest flesh. The room was i n flames, I was so hot, and I ripped my shirt off over my head, annoyed with the second it took away from my vision of the girl, and the honey dripping into her sex. "That has to be the most erotic thing I've ever seen in my life," I said, and my voice was even more ragged than hers. My cock was rock solid, straining a t the buttons of my jeans. I heard her inhale, and I dragged my eyes up to her f ace. Bella licked her lips, and they moved to form words. I shook my head at her , warning her not to talk. She closed her mouth and lowered her lashes, but her brown eyes were seductive, giving lie to her submission. She sat up straighter, and spread her legs for me. Fuck. I stared, frozen, as more amber syrup ran down her stomach and into her, coating the little rosy bud and sliding down each sid e of her folds. She eased back down, and laid her head on the pillow, and spread her legs even more, offering herself. The harsh noise in the room was my own br eathing, and I tore at the fly of my jeans to take the pressure off. I was on th e bed in two strides, kissing her mouth and each swollen nipple once, and then I dug the last of the honey from her bellybutton with my tongue. She squeaked and squirmed, but I held her down with an open hand on her chest, keeping her flat on the bed. I followed the line of the sticky sweet stuff, lapping at her skin, but stopping at the very top where the wisps of silky hair gave way to pink fles h. I pulled away, and she whimpered, and the sound of pure want made my cock eve n harder. "Shh." I shed the rest of my clothes, and kissed her mouth, and she gr abbed my hair to keep me there, her tongue wild. I let her have her way for a mo ment, but then moved down. I took one last look at her, spread for me, sweet and glistening. "This is also mine," I said, and leaned in and licked her, tongue f lat on her delicate swollen skin.

She tasted like heaven. Honey and female and salt and lemons, and I was almost l ight-headed with it. I grabbed her hips and sucked at her, delving into every fo ld, searching for every drop of sweetness and girl, while she writhed under my m outh and hands. She was burning hot and delicious, and I was so turned on I was afraid I would explode before I managed to get inside her, but I had to feel her come in my mouth, first. She was as keyed up as I was, and when I finally sucke d her clit between my lips, she grabbed my hair in her fists and rocked her hips into my mouth. I slid two fingers into the warm wet where my dick was drooling to be, and she arched up, crying my name as she came, and clenched around my ton gue and fingers. I rode it out with her, but when she finally relaxed, limp and gasping, I was on her, coating my shaft with her liquid and mine, and I pushed i nside, deep. She moaned at my entry, and it took all my self control to keep fro m just pounding into her, but I managed to stay still. I kissed her then, lips c ompleting the circuit, and I could feel the current, feeding from her lips to mi ne, through me and into her where we were joined. It was crazy good and I could have stayed like that forever, but she broke the kiss, panting for air, and rock ed her hips against me, taking me deeper, and I was lost. I drew back and thrust , enveloped and overwhelmed by the tight slick suction as she wrapped her legs a round me and squeezed internally, hips meeting mine. I set a slow pace, long dee p strokes that pushed her little body into the bed, and at first she fought me, wanting me to go faster, but then she settled into my rhythm, eyes glazing with understanding and lust. She was so fucking gorgeous. Some primal male thing in m e reveled in it, that I was giving her that look, that I was making her cheeks f lush with that dazed smile; her pleasure was my doing, and she belonged only to me. Her breasts bounced heavily against my chest to my strokes, and just when I started to worry that I was being too rough, she pulled me down, wrapping her ar ms around my back to pull me closer. Her skin was sweaty and slick and the heat of her was so fucking good it made me insane. My cock swelled inside her with ev ery thrust, until I was so hard and huge I thought I my entire body would erupt, and when she scraped her teeth over the skin on my shoulder, I moaned. "You're mine," she whispered, and the sweetness of it, that she needed me as much as I n eeded her, sent me over the edge, ecstasy gripping at my balls, my skin, my cock and my heart, and she was with me, clinging to me as it took her too, hot littl e muscles convulsing tight around me as I pumped into her endlessly. I collapsed on her, boneless and shaking, hoping I wasn't crushing her but unable to move. She stroked my damp hair, fingers making languid circles, and after a minute, I rolled off her and pulled her to me. We slept curled together, unmoving, until A lice pounded on the door, yelling that Bella was due to meet Charlie in the hote l lobby in ten minutes.

We had sound check at the amphitheatre at eleven o'clock, and I tuned the piano they had brought in. When I'd gone to the judges' table to sign us on to sing wi th Bella, I'd asked Kate from the Denali's to come with me, and we asked about t he possibility of getting a piano. They said they would try, and I suspected Aro had something to do with the Yamaha grand tucked into the corner upstage. Each of the four finalists met with the lighting designer to talk about color and spo tlights, and then we drew straws to see what order we would play in. We were goi ng last. Jasper was pleased. Then we went back to the hotel, where they let us u se a conference room in the basement to practice, and had an awkward rehearsal w ith Bella mouthing the words at us while we arranged the songs and the set. Alic e and Rosalie left to go shopping, and I took Bella back to bed, and sucked on h er nipples until she was senseless, and filled her deep while she whispered my n ame. Twice. Twin bought jeans for Bella and then shredded them down the sides to show her long socks and some more thigh above, and when I started feeling a bit feral about how fucking sexy she looked, Jasper told me to relax and get used t o it. He wore a tuxedo jacket and snakeskin boots, but Alice forbade the huge le ather cowboy with the excuse that we needed to see his face for cues. We headed out to the festival and loaded in the equipment, and listened to the other three acts from backstage. As Siobhan and Liam were finishing their last song, I step ped around to the side vom, sneaking a peek at the audience. I couldn't spot my Dad and Esme or Charlie Swan, but I did recognize a few people from various reco rd agencies in the front row. A few had shown some interest in us last year, but my father had not been comfortable with us committing to anything more than a s ummer tour or weekend shows. Every seat was full, and the blanket seating went c ompletely up the hill. I guessed at seven thousand people, and hoped to all hell that Bella could handle this crowd. Hell, I hoped I could handle this crowd. So mething caught my eye, and I began to laugh. On the conductor's riser in the orc hestra pit danced Angela, Lauren and Jessica, with their guys behind them below. And fuck me if each girl of the Bitch Brigade wasn't wearing striped thigh high socks. Bella: "Places in three minutes," the stage manager's voice crackled ove r the monitors in the green room. "Thank-you, three," Alice answered, formally. She pulled a stray lock of hair out of my eyes, blasted it with hairspray, threa tened me with lipstick until Edward took it from her hands, slipped three extra picks in Rose's back pocket, kissed Jasper and straightened his collar, clipped her smallest harmonica onto a ribbon around her neck, twirled in front of the mi rror to see how high

her dress flared out, checked the mic pack at Emmett's hip, threw on a transpare nt silk top with sleeves that trailed behind like an angel's wings as she moved, and took a deep breath. "Let's go," she said, at the call to places. Edward kis sed me, mouth tender and sweet on mine, and I clung to him, but he took my hand and led me onto the dark stage, sat me down on the piano bench, and slid in behi nd me. I refused to look to my left, instead locking my eyes on Jasper, upstage. He nodded to me. It was now or never. I took a deep breath, and leaned backward s into the broad solid shoulders of the man behind me, aligning my spine to his. As I found my strength, we became one thing and he felt it too. He leaned forwa rd, and I moved with him, keeping the contact as long as I could. A single tight light from the grid above shone down on his hands, and he began to play. His si mple notes calmed me, and I leaned my head back and closed my eyes. I felt the h eat from spotlight as it slowly dilated to include me. And then he paused, the s mallest hesitation, and I knew what he was telling me; that I had to take the le ad, and make this my own. I sang the opening line. "Listen as the wind blows, fr om across the great divide-" My voice was slightly rough at the edges, but clear and strong as I sang Sarah McLachlan's Possession; one of the songs Edward had played for me after school. The crowd knew it, and the applause was encouraging. I smiled a little, acknowledging them without looking, and kept singing to the incredible boy behind me. His hands on the keys supported me, grounding my fear and setting me free, and his touch on the notes was as delicate as his fingers o n my skin. I sang the first verse, and halfway through the chorus I felt him ten se in anticipation. A light cued low on Jasper, and on the last line he thumbed a bass note, and Emmett crashed in on cymbals. The stage lights came full up wit h a color display and a hot shine on Rose as she ripped the countermelody on her red guitar. The crowd screamed in delight. Edward shoved backwards, launching m e off the bench as Alice twirled towards me, her hand outstretched, glittering i n a follow-spot, and pulled me to center stage. She danced around me, flirting w ith the audience, showing me off as I faced them and started the next verse, and Holy fucking crow. I sang the next line, my lips and voice moving from memory al one, as I stared out at the mass of faces. There were more people in that crowd than I had ever seen in one place, and they were all looking at me.

My best friend grabbed my hand, squeezing my fingers almost painfully, but then she joined in on the song, her voice a lovely high descant that gave mine depth. She spun around me, forcing me to pay attention to her and follow her lead, eve n though she was singing harmony, and I trusted her. The audience adored her, an d I grinned with them as she twirled, sleeves floating behind her like a veil, g lowing in the footlights. We finished the verse, and then she pirouetted away to dance behind Rosalie, as the beautiful giant wailed on the guitar solo at the b ridge. I stepped back to Edward, my palm flat between his shoulder blades, catch ing my breath and finding my strength, letting Emmett and Jasper take over. Rose was having none of it though, and walked toward me as she played, challenging, not letting the focus shift off me, and I pushed back, proxy for the crowd that couldn't get close enough to flirt with her. They loved it, and I could feel the ir energy and desire for more. I faced them then, not as the shy girl I was two months ago, longing to experience life, bound silent by her own insecurities, bu t as a woman who had risked her heart to love and knew passion and pain, and cou ld put it into words and song. And so I walked with sure footsteps into the ligh t of center stage, singing the last verse, embracing their trust, and I gave it back to them with honesty and joy. I sang to the boy at the piano, sharing my so ul, and each single person amplified my voice. On the last line I grabbed the hi gh note with every inch of my lungs, and let it fly, and when I'd held it long e nough, I took it even higher, and I kept it there, soaring over the amphitheatre and into the night, carried on the wings of my friends and the man I loved. The y brought me in, spiraling down to earth with trilled notes on a slowing tempo, and Edward caught me and kissed me, spinning around, as the crowd roared with ap proval. "What's next?" I whispered, laughing. "The world," he said, and his eyes were filled with lights and love, and music, and me. Chapter 37: epilogue in review Edward: I stood in the window, nude but for the f raying brown ribbon on my wrist, because somehow 'naked' implies a purpose, and Bella was not with me. She would be, soon, and I resisted the temptation to call her, to wake her and bring her to me, feeling selfish to even think about it. T his uncontrollable obsession to have her near me at all times was never ending, and the melancholy when she wasn't was as insidious as the snow that fell on thi s grey dawn. I normally loved this time of year; January was a calm month with l ow expectations; but now when I couldn't be with the girl, it was just cold.

The reality of her still caught me off guard; honest and genuine and warm. Her l aughter, the way she teased me, how she saw me without judging me, her delight w ith the simplest things; she brought me to my knees with everything she did. I b reathed warm air on the glass, and drew a spiral in the fog, like she had in my car window that first day we had actually started talking. 'So I'm not the wrong girl, then?' she'd asked. I still wasn't sure that she understood how much she meant to me, but I enjoyed showing her, and the blush of her pleasure, both emot ional and physical, made my heart pound every time. My phone buzzed with an aler t, and I dove for it, grinning into my empty room, no longer lonely. Her entry w as titled: Work in ProgressShe waits for him in the dark, She hears him call her name, The phoenix soars to the spark, And sears her into flame. I found myself in the shade of a backwoods town, I'd been dimmed by the light of the desert sun , A bird of fire blazed, beyond my reach I didn't know how high I could burn. I wrote: Good morning, I love you, first verse and talking blues? It is now, I ado re you, yes, and I miss your sheets and the smell of your skin. ±Ordinary Girl I t hrew on jeans and a shirt, and shoved my bare toes into my shoes, while struggli ng to type: Bed and Breakfast? I'll be there in ten minutes. Hurry. ±Ordinary Girl I flew. I stopped at the post office to pick up Alice's long awaited magazine, and the coffee shop, and pulled into Bella's empty driveway, wondering what drov e a man to fish in this kind of weather. She was in the shower, and I joined her , and took her, slick skin and steam and hot whispered words and quick release, and then I drove her home to my bed and she took me, slow ride in warm down, lon g thrust and endless smooth finish, and we slept after, easy. Esme called us dow n to breakfast, her morning smile wider than usual. "It's here!" shrieked Alice, bouncing in her bunny slippers. She shoved her coffee cup at Jasper and dashed to the kitchen counter, and frantically pawed at the glossy magazine. "Where is it? Dammit! I hate this new small format! And how many ads do they need for vodk a in one magazine? Oh! Look it's Santiago!" She held up the two page spread of t he Volturi Guard drummer lounging in a popular brand of denim.

"Alice." Emmett scowled and reached for the magazine. She snapped her teeth at h is hands. "Here we go." She continued. "We're in Upcoming Events. 'This year's O lympic Delta Blues Festival summer tour, featuring the Quileute Wolves, will tra vel throughblah, blah, blah« Due to overwhelming popularity, a new venue has been added to kick off the opening event, featuring the three other finalists of the competition in November. Breaking Dawn, Siobhan and Liam, and the Denali Coven w ill join the Q'Wolves on their sendoff. 'We're excited that we could be a part o f the fun,' said Breaking Dawn's spokeswoman, Alice Cullen. The sentiment was ec hoed by Jacob Black. 'I'm really glad they will be able to make it; we go way ba ck.' The Quileute Wolves , with their earthy mix of blues, rock and tribal beats blah, blah, blah«'" She stomped a rabbited foot. "That's it? We spent two hours an swering his stupid questions for that? Aro comped him a $200 dinner for us being part of the fun?" "Page thirty-six, Alice," said Esme, grinning from the doorwa y. "Oh." She leafed through the slick paper. "Oh! Look!" The photo took up the u pper half of the page, and showed us all stacked around Aro's piano, above the c aption 'Breaking Dawn Breaks into the Scene'. Emmett stood grinning, holding dru msticks in one hand with his arm over Rosalie's shoulder; she leaned against him but faced away, staring off into the distance with a slight smile on her face. I was on the piano bench, holding Bella against my chest, with my cheek resting on her hair. Her head leaned on my shoulder, and her eyes were closed, more awar e of me than the camera. Jasper sat on the ground, arms up over his head to catc h Alice's hands, while she reached down to him, lying on her belly on the piano with her feet in the air. "We got a whole page?" breathed Jazz, incredulous. "Sh h. Listen." Alice hopped up on the kitchen counter and began to read aloud. "Aft er Breaking Dawn's triumphant introduction of the enigmatic Bella Swan to the ba nd at the Olympic Delta Blues Festival this past autumn, and last month's releas e of their self produced EP Songs for Elizabeth, the group has been laying low. 'We've got to study for midterms,' grumbles drummer and back vocalist, Emmett Cu llen. This Washington coast based band that labels itself a blues sextet is in d anger of failing

chemistry. Yes, that's right. They're in high school. But don't underestimate th em. They don't sound like kids, with their unique and sensual lyrics and defined artsy blues. Lead guitarist Rosalie Hale certainly doesn't play like one. Her r efined skills are reminiscent of Mark Knopfler's understated easy style, with Ji mmy Page's playful experimentation. Her flirtatious interaction with the other m usicians in the band drives each song with a subtle touch. Her bassist brother, Jasper, would much prefer to be arranging harmony and mixing tracks to doing his Classic Lit homework. He produced the Songs EP in his basement studio, in betwe en essays on Chaucer and Beowulf. 'I'd hate to think that either had any influen ce on the music,' he shudders. We'll take whatever archaic form of literature th at's required. Breaking Dawn's first recording is a gorgeous layered mix of sing er/songwriter Edward Cullen's keyboards and vocals over brother Emmett's talking blues and the Hales' guitar and bass. The only fault of the disc is that the ba ckground vocals of Edward's girlfriend, Bella Swan, and twin sister Alice's haun ting harmonica solos seem like an added afterthought. Swan is no simple backup v ocalist. Her vocal precision is crystal clear, with a raspy sweet edge that suit s her age without pretension, yet still has the maturity to sing soulful blues. The vocal duo shares the spotlight equally, sometimes in call and answer duets, sometimes in complex harmony, but never in competition; the simpatico between th e two is lush and emotional, exactly the way two young people in love should be. It's easy to pretend that these teenagers aren't old enough to sing about sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, but then we have to ask: how old were we ourselves when we snuck our first drink, heard new music that got under our skin, or felt that shock of young lust? Breaking Dawn brings us back to the overwhelming rawness o f growing up, and allows us to feel young again, vicariously through their songs . 'We're not angels,' says Alice with a wink, though she looks like she could sp rout wings and a halo when your back is turned. 'We're not trying to be role mod els. We just play what feels right and seems honest. And we haven't signed on wi th anyone, so we don't have anyone telling us we can't be ourselves.' For the mo ment, they remain independent, though several major labels have expressed intere st. When not doing homework, the group is laying the final tracks on their debut full length album, titled Tropic of Virgo. 'The songs were all written in the p ast four months or so,' Edward tells us. 'It's kind of a coming-of-age tale from both the guy and the girl's perspective.' The CD is due out in the spring, coin ciding with the band's joining up with the Volturi Guard's European tour for the summer. 'Paris in June!' sighs Alice. 'Amsterdam in July,' grins Jasper Hale. A nd after? 'Back to school,' they lament." None of us spoke. I watched the pressu re build in Alice's little body until she finally screamed and jumped on the cou nter to do some sort of bunny hop jig. Jasper and Emmett high and low

fived like grade school kids, Rosalie hugged everyone, and Dad popped open a bot tle of champagne. Bella flung her arms around my neck and giggled like a little girl. "So what do you want to see? Where do you want to go?" I asked her, grinni ng at her excitement. "It doesn't matter," she said, "as long as we're together. " I wrapped my arms around her. "We will be." I whispered. "Always. Forever and forever and forever."

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