Fanfiction based on Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight Series Warning: Rated MA for Mature Adult.

The Best Man
By BrattyVamp

Summary: Next-door neighbors home from college, reunited for two weeks of their summer break. Childhood memories and adult hijinks abound. Will a friendly competition strengthen childhood bonds? Or will it help to forge a new relationship between adults?


1. Chapter 1

I dropped my bag on the end of my bed, and lugged my suitcase to rest near my closet door. With my hands on my hips, I turned a slow circle and inspected the room around me. A fine layer of dust covered my desk and bookshelf. Everything seemed to have been left untouched in my absence. "Thanks for tidying up, Charlie," I mentally complained. Though, I wasn't really surprised that my room was in that condition. My father was the Chief of Police, here in the tiny town of Forks, WA. The population was small, but the job kept him busy. He really wasn't home all that often. He liked to watch baseball on the couch in the evenings when he could, and his days off were, more often than not, spent at his favorite local fishing spots. I couldn't imagine that schedule had changed much since I went away to college. I bent to strip the comforter and sheets from my bed, but stopped when my eyes landed on the simple white house beyond my bedroom window. I knelt on the bed with a smile on my face, and touched the frayed red piece of yarn that was still tied in a knot to the thumb-tack stuck in my window sill. At one time, that piece of yarn was much longer, and connected two tin cans. It was a super-secret messaging system that ran between my window, and the one facing mine on the house next door. The string broke, and the cans were eventually replaced by cell phones. But I always kept that little piece stuck on the tack, to remind me of those times. Jasper. I grinned widely and jumped from the bed, concentrating on the task I had begun. I carried my bed linens downstairs and put them in the washing-machine with a hefty shot of detergent. They smelled musty and stale. I needed to clean the room before I slept in it. Jasper- or Jazz, as I had nicknamed him- was the reason I was back home in my old house. He begged me to spend two weeks of summer break with him. I grinned widely as I picked up a towel and some cleaning supplies and carried them up the stairs. Jazz and I had been best friends since we were five years old. Up until then, I lived with my mother in Phoenix. That was the year that my Mother re-married Phil, a minor-league baseball player. She decided to travel with him, while he pursued his big-league dreams. I was shipped to live with my father in Forks. Charlie, God love him, seemed totally clueless about how to care for a child. He did wellenough. I never lacked for love or his total over-protection. But he had over four years to get

used to living the life of a bachelor. I learned very early to fend for myself. And of course, I was lucky enough to have had the help of the Whitlock's who lived right next door. Larry and Joy Whitlock were good friends of my fathers. They owned the local diner and favorite hang-out for Fork's teens. They had two sons already, but added me to their fold immediately. Their youngest child was Jasper. He had unruly, wavy blonde hair, dark blue eyes, big front teeth, freckles, and glasses that always seemed in danger of sliding down his thin nose. He was six months older than I, and never tired of imparting his aged wisdom and 'the oldest is the boss' rule. We quickly became inseparable. He called me Izzy... I called him Jazz... and together we planned adventures and dreamed of taking over the world. And then there was Edward. Edward was Jasper's older brother. He was almost four years older, to be exact. And he didn't share the Whitlock's last name. Oh- he was their son alright. Loved and adored every bit as much as Jasper. But he had been adopted into their family about a year before I came to Forks. He was, the prettiest boy I had ever seen. Unlike Jasper's blonde waves, Edward had thick, straight, bronze-colored hair that stood up in a wild mess that always seemed to dare his mother's hands to just try to tame it. Impossibly long, dark lashes curtained his jade-green eyes that somehow always managed to light with a smile a second or two before his mouth caught on to the notion. He was always tall for his age... and kind... and sweet... Edward Cullen was my very first crush. I shook my head to chase away the memory. My smile dimmed, but refused to be put away. It felt good to be home. When my room was clean and my bags were unpacked, I went downstairs and threw together a quick and easy dinner for Charlie. I had just taken the chicken out of the oven when his cruiser pulled into the drive. I took off the oven-mitts and walked to meet him at the front door. "Isabella!" My dad wrapped his arms around me and picked me up off the floor. He could hug like no other. "Ugh... badge... making a permanent... impression..." I grunted. Charlie laughed and lowered me back to my feet. "It's good to see you," he smiled. "It's good to be home, Dad."

During my sophomore year of high school, Phil landed a job coaching a baseball team at the University of Florida, in Gainesville. I began spending my school breaks with my mother, attempting to forge a relationship there that had sadly lacked while I had lived with my father. And after graduation, I moved to Gainesville to attend college. Phil's employment got me a discount in tuition that was impossible to pass up. Now, it was Charlie who saw me during breaks. I grinned widely and held his hand as I walked with him toward the kitchen. Over dinner we talked about my past semester, my plans to graduate in another year, and the local town happenings. I was actually very tired from traveling, and cleaning, and managed to yawn rudely throughout our meal. Charlie smiled and waved-off my apologies. When dinner was finished, Charlie made himself comfortable on the couch with his remote in hand. I kissed him affectionately on the forehead and excused myself for bed. After a quick shower, I flopped face-down onto my freshly-laundered comforter, closed my eyes, and fell asleep. I blinked my eyes, initially confused about my whereabouts. It only took me a moment to remember that I was back in my old bedroom in Forks. But it was obviously still the middle of the night and something had brought me out of a very good dream. I glanced with bleary eyes toward the angry red numbers on my bedside alarm clock. Two a.m. I winced at the ungodly hour and closed my eyes to go back to sleep. Then I heard the noise again. The pinging sound repeated at my window. I rolled to my knees with a wide smile on my face, and knelt on the foot of my bed to unlatch the lock. The window lifted in its frame with a groan. It hadn't been used in a while. I was sure that would change. A shadowy form stood below me in the grass with his arm bent up. He'd obviously been ready to launch something else at my window when he saw me there. "You better be quiet, or you'll wake the Chief!" I whispered loudly. "Don't you know, my Daddy has a gun?" "Then get your skinny ass down here, Izzy... before I have to climb up there and get you!" I left the window open, but sprung from the bed with a laugh and ran down the stairs quietly. Throwing my front door open, I ran across the porch and around to the side of the house where I jumped up on Jasper's back and wrapped my arms and legs around him. "Why didn't you climb down?" Jasper laughed while he grabbed my knees at his sides. "Afraid you're so old and out of shape that you can't do it anymore?" I giggled and kissed him loudly on the cheek from behind. "No! But I'm still half-asleep and I would have probably fallen out of the tree if I tried. I didn't want to provide a literal injury to the term 'summer break.'"

We were about to do very naughty things before you woke me up so rudely from my dream!" "Still a smart-ass. We remained best friends. brushing my sleep-mussed hair away from my face. "It's not like you are any comparison to Johnny Depp! Who. he had to push the trendy frames of his glasses back up into proper place. "Let me look at ya." I smiled.. since his growth-spurt in ninth grade. "I'm confused. We met in St." ." "You make it sound like we haven't seen each other in years. Nice to know some things never change." I scolded. I grinned goofily up at him." Jasper's bright smile lit up the darkness.. "Nah. and he dropped his arm to grab my hand as we made our way toward the old tree house in his back yard. Late nights at muddy-river bars on the waterfront rounded out our week nicely. text messaging. Because of our efforts. I moved to sit in the swing beside him. "Beautiful. looking up at it. Jasper and I made a point of traveling to spend time together whenever we could." "The tree house is the reason?" I asked. is quite upset. just as we always had been. "How's Alice?" I asked." "Hey!" I punched him lightly in the stomach and he jumped away. He threw his arm around my shoulder and we turned toward the back yard. Louis just last Spring Break. our relationship never suffered." Jasper said. and frequent phone calls. She and I had hit it off immediately. and learned how to skydive at a local facility. to spend this time with me here." he said. His adorable girlfriend had joined us on our skydiving adventure. The swings below it hung in a decrepit state. I agreed with his sentiment.Jasper dropped my legs and I slid down his back until my bare feet were in the cool grass below us. I will inform you. "We planned most of our greatest adventures in this old tree house. "That's actually why I wanted you to come home. email. Jasper was tall." he wrinkled his nose. He had to bend quite a bit to do so. "Just as ugly as ever. Jasper and I communicated through letters. and tentatively tested the strength of the ropes while he continued speaking. Jasper rested his body on a swing. But getting together with Jasper always reminded me just how much I had missed him while we were apart. He turned almost immediately and threw his arms around me for a hug. Since going away to college. When he stood. "It's always too long. He towered over my meager five foot two inches. It was hard to believe the old structure above still stood.

Jasper had his head lowered to watch the ground as he pushed his toes into the dirt. The moonlight shone on his golden-blonde hair and turned the tips silver. Jasper looked up at me, took a deep breath, and straightened his glasses nervously before smiling. "I've asked Alice to marry me, Izzy." The look on his face was open, and happy. Yet he seemed, almost hesitant. It was like he was worried about having my approval. "Oh... Jazz..." The tears ran, unhindered down my cheeks. Jasper pulled a folded handkerchief from his pocket and handed it to me. Leave it to Jasper, to actually have something as old-fashioned and sweet as a hanky to offer. He gave me a moment to compose myself. "Well? What do you think?" he breathed. I smiled over at him and returned his handkerchief. "I think it's wonderful," I replied truthfully. "I'm so... so...happy for you." Jasper held out his arms, and I left my swing to sit across his outstretched legs. I wrapped my arms around his neck and hugged him tightly while he used his feet to twist us back and forth. "I love her so much." "I know!" I sniffed and smiled up at him. "She's perfect for you. Really she is!" Jasper had met Alice in one of his music courses. He wanted to be a music teacher. Alice had always dreamed of opening a school for the arts. They fell almost instantly in love, and it was a match made in heaven. "She wants at least a year engagement," Jasper said, looking past me into the darkened tree-line ahead of him. "We'll get married after we graduate... at the end of next summer." "Are you scared?" I whispered. "Shitless," he nodded solemnly. Then his smile cut across his serious expression and he patted my back so that I would stand. He rose after me, and we both moved toward the tree house steps. Old planks hung by rusty nails hammered into the tree. Jasper broke a piece of the rotting wood with his hand and frowned. "I'm going to come out here tomorrow morning, and see what I can do about fixing these," he said. "I'll bet we could still sit up there, if we had a way to get up." "I'll help," I smiled. "But you never did tell me what the tree house has to do with anything."

"I figured it would be the perfect place to plan my next great adventure." "I live for adventure," I recited from memory. It was once painted in bright red on the inside of the tree house door. "I was hoping you'd say that," Jasper grinned.

2. Good Music

First thing in the morning, Jasper and I went down to the Fork's diner for breakfast. Jasper's father, Larry, sat in a corner booth sharing conversation with a couple of hikers. He excused himself quickly when we came in and walked over to us. "Isabella!" Larry hugged me warmly and I smiled into his soft button-down shirt. It smelled like coffee and eggs. "It's been too long honey. How have you been?" "Great," I smiled, pulling out of his warm embrace. "And after two weeks, you're going to be sick of me all over again." "Never," he laughed, shaking his head. "It's going to be great to have everyone home." "Is Waylon in yet?" Jasper asked, cutting him off. "Nope. His shift starts in about thirty minutes. I've been covering the grill. There is some sausage and eggs in the steam table I can get for you..." "We'll get it ourselves Larry," I replied, grabbing Jasper by the hand. "You go back to your own breakfast." Jasper and I walked behind the counter while Larry resumed his space in the corner booth. This diner was as familiar to me as my own home. I ate a majority of my childhood meals under this comfortable roof, and I earned extra money after school and on weekends during my teen years, working the cash register and waiting tables. "Here. Let's get you fed," I murmured, scooping a heaping pile of sunny yellow eggs onto Jasper's plate. He busied himself piling sausage links next to my offering. "You get some too," he ordered. "We are going to have a busy day." I did as I was told. With a much smaller portion of eggs, and a biscuit that I grabbed from the sideboard, I followed him out to eat our breakfast on two of the shiny red stools that sat in front of the counter.

"So, what's the plan?" I asked, twisting my seat from side to side. Jasper was scrolling through a message on his phone with his eyebrows drawn. He looked up and tucked the phone into his pocket before speaking. "Well, we have all day now. So... I think maybe we could head on down to First Beach and get a run in?" I nodded and took a bite of my meal. I was glad that Jasper continued running. We had taken up the exercise together in high school. Living in Florida taught me the importance of owning a tight beach-body. Bikini tops and shorts weren't nearly as forgiving as the bulky Washington clothing I hid under when I lived at home. With effort, I was able to be firm in the right places, and soft where I should be. I wasn't overly-muscular, but I was toned. And I worked hard at it. If Jasper was still running, I would have an excuse to keep up an exercise regime while on vacation. "Sounds great," I smiled. "Then what?" "Then we'll swing by that home improvement place on the way back into town, and pick up some things to fix up our tree house." "You were serious about that?" I asked, with my eyebrows raised. "Definitely," Jasper nodded. "I'll expect at least one camp-out up there before our break is over. Promise me." "Okay," I laughed. "I promise." With our feet slapping against the hard-packed sand, I inhaled deep gulps of the salty air and smiled. The beaches in Florida were beautiful- but nothing could compare to the quiet dignity of the Northwest seaside. The world around us was ensconced in grey. It wasn't a dreary or depressing half-shade of color. It was clean and peaceful and refreshing. I could hear the quiet hum of music that escaped Jasper's ear buds as he listened to his MP3 player while he ran beside me. I wondered what he might be listening to. He always turned me onto the coolest new music. I smiled. Music was always Jazz's thing. While his older brother was athletic and in all sorts of social after-school clubs, Jazz preferred to stay home with his music. He had a talent that I had never run across in another person. It seemed he could play damn near any instrument that he put his hands on. He spent a great deal of time, through our teen years, writing and composing, and playing music. He never dreamed of being a rock star or some brilliant song-writer. He did it because he loved it. And I was his biggest fan. That's not to say that he didn't have many friends. His musical ability didn't turn him into some emo-recluse. Jazz's naturally goofy disposition and wide smile actually made him quite popular

at school. Instead of being stuck in a particular status-group or clique... he was friends with everybody. But nobody knew him like I did. The faint strains of his music floated in the air between us, and I smiled while my mind slipped away to another day on this very same beach. "Come on Jazz! Just play something I know!" I whined, laying back on the blanket. "I will not insult my guitar by playing the Backstreet Boys. It's shit, and you know it." "Hey. Watch your mouth, or I'll tell Mom you're cussing!" Edward stood up from where he sat on the sand next to us, and moodily dusted off the back of his pants. I watched as he walked down toward the water. Jasper continued trying to pick out the chords of a Green Day song. Edward got his driver's license that year, and was grumpy because his parents forced him to drive the two of us to the beach. Jasper loved strumming his guitar on the sand, while I adored hiking to nearby tidal pools. "Fine. While you figure out whatever it is that you are doing," I wiggled my fingers towards his guitar, "I'm going for a walk." "Want company?" "Nah. You play. I'll be back soon." I trudged toward the tree line with Jazz singing softly behind me. "I hope you had the time of your life..." I hiked through the surrounding forest only a short distance before I crossed back out to another rocky beach. I followed a tidal river as the low-tide pulled the water back to its home. Along its edges, the tidal pools I sought beckoned me to lean in for a closer look. I leaned precariously over a jutting rock, digging the toes of my shoes into the stone below me like roots to hold me stable. The bright colored anemone waved me in to take a closer look. I stretched my body toward them. At the same time I felt my feet slip, I was also aware of the strong arms that wrapped around my waist and kept me from falling headfirst into the natural aquarium below me. "Whoa there Isabella," I heard Edward's voice and felt his breath against the back of my neck. He had wrapped himself around me, and tugged me to a safer standing position. "Charlie is going to kill me if I bring you back hurt again."

"Come on." I laid there quietly. stop me and steal my breath..." I whined. "Let's get back to Jasper. and my talent for being totally accident-prone. "I'm not. I moved to sit on one side of him. It's not like you can help being a klutz. "Got time for one more?" Jasper asked Edward. It was one I recognized." I quietly followed Edward as he led the way through the woods. As Jazz began playing the song. I laid back and looked up at the heavy grey sky with my arms folded behind my head. His older brother nodded and stared at the sea in front of us. Jasper sat on the blanket. strumming his guitar and humming to himself just as he had been when I left. I was certain I would always recall the sound of Edward's voice in the ocean wind."Don't make fun of me. I smiled." Jazz scolded. The two boys I loved most in the world were creating a magic around us. When the song was over. that color them wonderful." Edward said softly. He wisely didn't comment when I stumbled a few times. skinny legs." I muttered. And then with a sound I did not recognize. "You don't know good music. and Edward sat on the other." he tilted his head back toward the forest... I was sensitive about my embarrassing lack of grace. stumble around like a baby giraffe or something. And in the sky above... a warm tenor voice started to sing along to the quiet strumming. I looked over at Jasper and we grinned at one another.. He probably knew I was mad at him for calling me a giraffe. "There are a few new songs that are good. I saw the exact color that dappled the edges of Jasper's stormy blue eyes. "Can you play that Edwin McCain song?" Jazz nodded and spent a couple minutes figuring out the chords and notes of the song Edward suggested. You have those long. It's getting late. "The strands in your eyes. "Who knew you could sing?" .. Edward dropped his arms and stepped back." I rolled my eyes." "Whatever. You just kind of. not wanting to interrupt so perfect a moment. He turned his teasing voice to his brother. "Nothing old.

looking suddenly self-conscious. In the large warehouse-style home improvement store. tossing me a clean t-shirt from a bag on the back seat. when he finally joined me in the check-out line." . and I went in search for paint and other items that would bring life to the old tree-house. Lost in his music. "Your car already smells like ass and Cheetos. "Okay. Remember him from high school?" "Vaguely. I'm going to meet up with them tonight for a couple beers. Let's go." I reached out and tapped Jasper's arm. He smiled over at me." I frowned. "It's late and I'm tired of babysitting. But the tree-house gets work first." he grumbled. getting his attention when it was time to turn back the direction we had come. I laughed." Jasper offered. that should be fun." Jasper pursed his lips together in his best version of a no-nonsense face. he almost missed the outcropping of rocks that we used as a mile marker. Let's get you two back home so I can go hang out with my friends." "Fresh-Pine ass and Cheetos. "Yeah. "Yep." the older boy said then. "Did you get the nails?" I asked. Right. He went in search of two-by-fours to use for steps. "He said that there are actually a few guys around this summer that we might remember." I nodded. flicking the green felt air freshener that hung from his rearview mirror with the back of his middle finger. He stabbed a stick into the rocks between his bent knees." "Well."You're the musical one in the family. We both laughed while it spun on its kelly-green string. tipping the edge of his guitar toward Edward." Jasper said. "I could teach you to play." Edward shrugged and looked down. "Another day. trying to imagine the face that went with the somewhat familiar-sounding name. "You're going to get my car all sweaty and gross!" "What's the difference?" I asked while pulling his big shirt over my head to cover my tank top. Jasper and I split up. "And guess who I ran into? Tyler Crowley. "Here." he tossed a bag up from his hand and caught it again. and we kept our running pace back down the beach to the parking area where he had left his car.

A few rotten places needed to be replaced. With a few tentative steps. I left it faded and painted the rest of the words until the new version clearly stated "Live for the next adventure. I tested my weight on the boards and then gave Jasper the signal that it was safe for him to join me. okay?" . "You're going to make me fall.. I couldn't wait to see the place all lit up." "I love it. They would twinkle like fireflies in the dark. I need to shower and go meet the guys. I don't recall you slapping my ass like that when we were twelve!" "That's because your ass was bony back then. The original "I" was faded to near invisibility. and we hooked them to a power chord that ran to the house. We can run again in the morning. the general structure stayed in very good shape." I suggested teasingly. We worked together to string some tiny lights around the perimeter of the ceiling.. loudly slapping my bottom with the palm of his hand. looking down at the floor. Jasper repaired the soft places in the floor while I repainted our credo on the door. At Jasper's direction." Jasper ordered.It didn't take long for Jasper to rip the old steps from the tree and replace them with new." "I need more room than this when I'm getting busy. but when I finished." Jasper hugged me from behind. But other than that. It's a nice. "Are we done for the night?" "I think so. romantic getaway. we both grinned. I climbed up to the structure ahead of him. and it would have bruised my hand!" I rolled my eyes and pulled myself up to the platform that served to hold our tree house. I had to add an arrow and some extra text. Izzy. "You know. "Get a move on. "Ow!" I yelled. "I do too!" I smiled." "See you tomorrow?" "Absolutely. "Oh! Ew!" I laughed and shoved his shoulders away while he grinned my favorite goofy smile in my direction and straightened his glasses. I won't be home too late." he laughed. "You could always bring Alice here for your honeymoon. sturdy wood and nails.

I couldn't tell if his car was parked there unless I walked around to look. I actually watched five or six episodes. but hopefully they would make enough noise to wake him. I squeezed my eyes shut and fought for the small gasps of air that were the only salvation I could . With Charlie off the couch. And then I started to struggle to get my arms and legs loose from the heavy weight that was on top of me that held pinned me to the ground. sleeping-off a beer buzz. Major League baseball had improved vastly since I came of legal drinking age. but it wheezed out with a weak cough. It was directly across from my own. The figure completely blocked the street light from my line of vision. Feeling devious. I drank a couple beers with Charlie and watched the Mariners game on television to make him happy. I quickly twisted my hair into my hand and pushed it behind my head while drawing the hood of my jacket up around my face. waiting for the black and white antics of Jackie Gleason to lure me to sleep. trying to halt my efforts to get free. I nudged his shoulder until he woke and sleepily made his way upstairs. When he began snoring during the post-game highlights show. When I slipped quietly through my front door. He woke me up last night. They had the reverse effect. but was suddenly shoved very forcefully off my feet. I flopped down on the still-warm cushions and flipped through the stations until I found a marathon of The Honeymooners. I laid there for a moment immobile. I squinted into the gloom beyond the porch and let my eyes adjust to the darkness. I grunted in my efforts. I had done this countless times before. leaving a shadowy monster lurched over me. Payback was in order. My feet made sucking noises as they pulled away from the mud while I walked. If anything.perfect to toss at Jasper's window. I pulled on my tennis shoes and grabbed my black hoodie jacket from its peg by the door. They wouldn't be heavy enough to break the glass. Harsh fingers pressed themselves into my shoulders." I said goodbye and ducked through the door of the new and improved aboveground hideout. I might have screamed. He said he wouldn't be out late. Instead. wet and thick in the air. I was more keyed up. And it was after midnight. and the milky light from the corner street lamp weakly illuminated the white siding of his house just enough for me to make out the dark rectangular frame. I dropped my head to scan over the sodden grass below me. It helped to stave off the chilly mist. I tried to suck in a deep gulp of air. I decided to take my chances and assume he was up there in his room. Then I stepped into the yard and made my way silently around to the side of the house. but the man's knees were clenched around my midsection. The Whitlock's drive-way was on the opposite side of their house.. but my back slammed so hard into the ground that my breath was knocked out of me. Jasper's window was easy to locate. I crept closer to the house. "Not so fast. I knew I would find small rocks near the foundation of their home." a deep voice snarled from the dark body above me. Stunned.."See you then. A heavy fog had settled in. I wondered if Jasper was home from his night out with the boys.

It was the same day that I listened to him play piano and decided that I wanted to start calling him Jazz. He had made it to the front corner of the house when I finally felt I could push my voice through my trembling lips. Finally able to breathe. healing breaths. He pulled his hands away from my chest immediately and the weight was lifted from me as he sprang off my body. well he called me Isabella just like everyone else. but they were the only two people who ever called me a name other than my given one. And he froze the instant that he realized that his hands were not shoving against the hard chest of a male like he assumed. "Trying to break into a house right next-door to the town's Chief of Police!" I froze the instant I thought I recognized his voice. he gripped the front of my jacket tightly and hauled me to my feet before he started to pull me toward the Whitlock's front porch. his identity was confirmed with his next incredulous-sounding word. The faint light from the corner was enough to turn the edges of his messy hair bronze. My throat burned with a need to get more air. Juice I don't know what it was about the boys next door. Never in my life had I ever considered the possibility of being attacked. in my own yard! The man's hands pressed my shoulders hard into the wet ground. in Forks. And Edward. and the stress of the whole situation. I didn't want to see anyone.. More importantly.. and the wet. "You must be the dumbest damn criminal in Washington. Small white dots danced behind my eyelids. The tiny breaths I was able to steal were not enough. I started thrashing my body harder to shake him off.. Edward Cullen. "What the fuck?" I indignantly gasped. and I could feel the coldness of the rain-soaked grass seeping into my clothing. It was a cool day in April. I didn't want anyone to see me... His hands loosened their positions on my shoulders.. And even if my guess had been just that. His hand still twisted into the zippered front of my jacket.count on to keep me from passing out. "Whoa! Not a guy!" He shouted. 3.. but were still unrelenting in their search for a new angle to hold me down. I was shaking hard from the cold. "Bella?" Only one person in the world ever called me Bella. His feet stopped and he turned back toward me. My already ." the voice rasped. but I couldn't see his face. I let my feet slide behind him and took deep.. and I sat on my sagging back porch steps trying to hide from the world. Jasper started calling me Izzy when we were six years old. For a while. Still.

" I sniffed. I tentatively grimaced a short. They hurt. And I looked like a weirdo. "No way. "Not until you tell me what's wrong." I told him. let me see. "Ah. "There now. "Isabella?" I heard his clear voice calling across the yard and groaned. Then he nodded.delicate thirteen-year old self-esteem had taken its hardest hit yet." he said. What happened this time?" Edward chuckled softly. "Braces aren't so bad. "I got my braces. and I raised my face a little higher. toothy grin and hoped I didn't blind him with the glare of my new tin smile." he said softly. And so I sat on my porch and folded my arms around my drawn knees. I knew you could do it. Those braces aren't so bad at all.. but only briefly." I peeked up above my arm and saw him looking at me with a caring smile on his soft. full lips. "Go away. And . than my constant clumsiness provided." He sat quietly beside me while I sniffled and tried to inconspicuously wipe my nose on my shirt. I hated them. trying my best to bury my face into my shirt sleeves so that no one would see how terrible I looked." Edward finally said. "Hey." I said through a painful grimace." "No. And they were horrible." "I don't want you to look at me. "Fall down and scratch your nose? Got a black eye?" "Worse.I'd say you are over-reacting terribly. I had braces and I was covered in snot." "Oh! I forgot about that. I had just gotten my braces." I moaned. "Let me see. His clear green eyes encouraged me. "Bella. with a muffled voice. His eyes darted to my mouth. Great. When the cool air touched my lips. even. Oh God. Why are you crying?" Words I knew I shouldn't say bounced around in my mind when I felt him lower his lanky frame to sit beside me on the step.. girl. "Come on.more so. Anyone but him. I really couldn't handle seeing Edward right now.

. "Hell.." I grumbled. And your smile will dazzle all the boys. "I've had worse." I explained. I will." I shook my head." Edward vowed then.. staring into the grass at the bottom of the steps. "But you jumping me. I felt the complete opposite of beautiful." "Thanks for bringing up my inadequacies. honey! I'm so sorry! I had no idea. There was only one boy I ever really wished I could dazzle.. I lowered my chin back onto my arms and tried not to stare at him.. "Is that you?" "Yeah." "I said I was sorry. never let anyone make you feel like you're not. "I lived in New York City for four years." "I was just trying to get some rocks to throw at your brother's window. trying to straighten my jacket around my hips since he had so graciously decided to stop pulling me around by the drawstrings." I sighed." Edward chuckled. in a couple of years that teeny little gap between your teeth will be right as rain.." He smiled and nudged me with his shoulder..." "Think nothing of it.." "Bella?" He asked incredulously.just think." I said. "It's me." "Sorry about that. I got kind of used to not trusting shadowy figures lurking in the darkness. "I didn't know I was about to get tackled." I grumbled. was hardly my fault.. "Didn't you know? 'Bella' means beautiful." "You're forgiven. I had to admit. "Why did you call me that?" I asked. Edward." he continued to explain his behavior. And you should never.." "I'll bet you have. "Well." I said. I looked like a complete mess. Jasper didn't say a thing about you being home! I didn't expect. "What? Bella?" "No one calls me that." "Oh my God. while standing in front of him wetly covered in grass and mud. Are you hurt?" "Nothing but my pride... "You always were so accident prone.

. "I've been home since then. He put his arms around her and I slumped back to rest heavily on my calves. to meet his parents over Christmas break. And then he moved further to the side. now?" . I remembered the last night I ever saw Edward Cullen. I was so excited to see him. and Charlie didn't think to question my haggard appearance. and I couldn't wait to smile at him and show him how much I had changed while he was gone." I continued. Jasper's bedroom window was dark. And then. The smile slid from my face when I saw him turn from the window. I wish I could see if his eyes still sparkled when his voice got all warm and soft like that." Edward said warmly." "I guess so. I saw him smile widely and raise his hand to wave in my direction." Edward nodded. and Jazz told me that Edward was coming home for a few days over his Christmas break. in Florida. even though it was from an angle. "You must be wrong. and I saw a girl move to place a bag beside his on the foot of the bed." I said quietly." I whispered. I claimed to have the flu. and I saw that someone was in the room with him. He went back to the party without me. Edward walked into his old bedroom and tossed a bag on the foot of his bed. It wasn't easy to fake. My braces were off. And every one of my childish romantic dreams were destroyed. By the time the New Year started. I felt and looked ill. and I laid curled in my bed. "I guess we just missed each other. "How long has it been?" "Seven years. and he turned his head toward the window. My red face and puffy eyes were enough to convince him that I was sick. but I sat up high on my knees when I saw the window next to his light with a bright yellow glow. Charlie came to check on me. I picked out a very pretty skirt and a bright red Christmas sweater that fit me well and made me feel very grown up. I put my hand on the cold glass window beside my face and smiled back. I can't believe you're home too. I sat with my knees at the foot of the bed. even though his features were blurred by the distance between us. But then his head turned. I was sixteen years old. Edward had brought a girl home with him. bringing myself back to the present. Something caught his eye. crying over a broken heart." "But you haven't seen me. I wish I could see his face. I could see him. "I started spending school breaks with my Mom. "What are you doing home." he shook his head."I just. I was able to pretend illness for Edward's entire visit. not wanting to go over for the Whitlock's Christmas party until I knew that Edward was there. Joy sent left-overs to the house. his mouth moving as he spoke. Edward and his girlfriend went back to school and I was able to say I was finally over my silly little girl crush..

Sorry about tackling you. He wanted to let him know about his engagement." He probably asked Edward to come home for the same reason that he asked me.." I said over my shoulder. I got up and showered quickly. I was terribly self-conscious about my ruined clothing and generally sloppy appearance." I replied.. "I'm sure we've made enough noise to chase away any real threats in the area." "Neighborhood safety patrol comes first." "He did?" It was news to me." "Consider yourself a hero then. Even though I knew he couldn't see me any better than I could see him." "I wonder what he has up his sleeve.. Jasper asked me to come spend a couple weeks with him. "Oh. I twisted my hair back into a ponytail and then straddled a chair across from him at the table. at least until the fog burned away. "He didn't mention it..."Well. "It's really very late. But I'll let Jazz be the one to tell you. "Meeting Jazz down at the diner for some breakfast before a run on the beach. facing each other. Welcome home." "Yeah. "I think I have a pretty good idea. "Where are you off to this morning?" Charlie asked over his cup of coffee." Edward said wryly. "We could make some coffee." The morning sun put up a losing fight while it tried to force its way through the dense fog that still shrouded Forks. I smiled in the darkness. My luggage is still on the porch. Okay.. "I haven't even been in the house yet. Because I knew the weather would be cold and damp. maybe catch up?" "No." Edward said. I dressed in a heavy sweatshirt and pants for my morning run.. "Did you. my plane was delayed for the fog. He chuckled a little and I turned to go. I should get back over to the house. . "Sleep sweet Bella. He was already dressed in his uniform." "Need a lift?" my father asked." I shook my head." "Good night Edward.. want to come in?" Edward asked." We both stood there in the darkness.

"I'm sorry Bella. "Hey there. I worried that he might have had to wait for me." a warm voice said in front of me. which always made people laugh for some stupid reason. I'll get my own drink!" I skipped behind the counter and slid open the door to the deep cooler that I knew housed an assortment of bottled juices. I was automatically supposed to enjoy it. Edward sat on the stool in front of me. I actually thought it was pretty cool to ride around with him in his cruiser. "Want some breakfast this morning?" "Just some wheat toast.. but I was intent on my task." He stood and finished the last of his coffee before putting his mug in the sink and turning toward the door. Isabella. I heard the faint jingling of the bells on the door that indicated that someone had come in. Which meant. I always wanted him to flash the lights and turn on the siren. kiddo." he said through twitching lips. surprised me." Charlie waved and drove away to work. I stepped into the diner and glanced around. "Thanks. "See you tonight. Gritting my teeth. I wasn't a fan of orange juice. and I began to pull it free from its icy confines."Do I get to play with the buttons?" I teased with wide eyes. I would probably have to dig a bit to find something else. Cheery orange bottles of orange juice were nestled in the ice right on top. and flipped a switch that made the siren burst forward in one loud peal of noise before I opened the car door. is all." I groaned. I leaned the top part of my body into the cooler and stretched my arm out as far as it would go. trying not to smile. "Come on." The cook. Nothing like announcing my arrival in grand style. I guess since I lived in Florida. Until I was about ten years old. Charlie grinned when we pulled up in front of the diner. Isabella. "Cranberry is at the bottom. My fingers had finally a smooth glass container.. I stood with a start and cracked the back of my head loudly on the countertop above me. Jasper wasn't there yet. You just. please. . I pushed up the sleeve of my sweatshirt and plunged my hand into the ice. Waylon greeted me by waving a short steel spatula over the service bar that was cut in the wall between the kitchen and the dining room. "Ouch! Shit!" My hand flew up to rub the spot where I was sure to get a lump. I frowned. We'd had an earlier start the day before." "You didn't." I shook the water from my juice bottle in his direction out of spite before placing it against the tender spot under my ponytail. "I didn't mean to scare you.

I wrinkled my nose and smiled.. Edward nodded over his breakfast. The bronze color played on the edges when he moved his head." I shook my head." Edward grinned. strong.. his forearms that rested on the counter were thicker." I snickered. and I stood there stunned for a moment. "I guess he went out with some guys last night and tied one on. nursing a hang-over. I tried not to stare at the way his mouth moved while he chewed. Waylon came around the corner then and placed my toast in front of me. shall we?" Edward's eyes flashed up at me from under his lashes. and I slid the cooler door shut before walking around the counter to sit on the stool beside him. "Thanks Waylon. "So.. And from the looks of things. I realized then that since the last time we had seen each other.. Since he wasn't up to it. Good to see you too. So technically." "He's a light-weight. but still messy. Edward had made the transition from boy to man. along with a heaping plate of breakfast foods in front of Edward. you've caused two injuries in one day." "Let's not try for three. what are you doing here?" "Jasper said that he promised to drive you out to the beach to jog. His hair was darker. And to say that he had become more handsome with age would be an understatement." "If you are referring to my three cracked ribs. Son. where's Jazz?" I asked..." Edward lifted his fork and took a bite of his hash browns. "So.. "Juice?" He took an orange juice that I offered.. His shoulders were more broad. "Are you ok?" His eyes still held the same warm concern.. he had done so quite nicely. It was the first time I had really seen him since our unfortunate encounter the night before. "Good to see you.. "I'm fine. that incident happened after midnight."That's two injuries I've caused in as many days.." .. I thought I would take you. I nibbled my toast and twisted the lid off my cranberry juice. "He's at home." Waylon smiled.

"Nice car. Edward was practically our taxi-service while he still lived at home. "More afraid of seeing you cry like a girl when I leave your ass in the dust.. The years had changed us both. "I replaced her with an Eclipse. It stuck. He nodded. "Afraid you won't be able to keep up?" My eyes narrowed of their own accord. after a Beatles song. Sexy. "She died a few years ago. I'm sure you have better things to do while you are on vacation." We both smiled and he turned his eyes back to the road. Good old Edward. to be able to tell if he was teasing.. A red one?" "Black. I really didn't know Edward well enough anymore." "What's the matter Bella?" Edward smirked and took a drink of his juice. "I named her Lucy. ." I frowned down at the crust of bread on my plate. "It's alright for now. I leaned my head back and let the wind whip the short pieces of hair that had escaped my ponytail around my face. The fog was losing its battle. "Let's go then. "It's a rental. But everything felt exactly the same.. I looked at his profile for a moment. "You really don't have to." I smirked." Edward grabbed both of our plates and carried them back to the kitchen. Always the gentleman." I complimented while he got behind the wheel. Jasper named Edward's car Eleanor."Oh. I mean. "I figured Jasper would approve. being forced to babysit again. But the challenging tone of his voice made me grit my teeth." he shrugged." "Oooh." "In the sky with diamonds?" I supplied. Edward opened my car door for me as I slipped inside.." he lowered his brows and glanced over at me. thinking of how strange it was to be sitting beside him like this. while I fetched two bottles of water for the trip. The sun was breaking through. And truthfully." "Do you still drive Eleanor?" I remembered that he left for school driving that old blue car that he loved so much." Edward shook his head. With the window rolled down.

I quickly pulled my MP3 player from my pocket." Edward said over the top of the car." I wasn't sure if it was his tone. bending at the waist to press my face toward my knee. the fog had lifted. because I was in cross-country and track in high school. "It doesn't really surprise me. "You two kids were always copying everything I did." I bit back the retort I felt bubbling up at his off-handed insult.. "We started running long after you were gone to college." I said. He was staring straight ahead while doing shallow lunges. getting ready for a run. And surprisingly. Heat By the time we made it to First Beach. "Should be fine. And I was too clumsy to ever try out for organized team activities.4." Jasper never got into sports the way that Edward had. "Well. I was sure on my feet while they were moving fast. and I dropped my eyes to my feet. His t-shirt fit nicely over the solid planes of his chest. Do you know the place?" ." I suggested. Warm sunlight peeked through the clouds. for starters. The back of my thigh protested slightly. that you and Jasper took up jogging. I stood by the passenger side of the car while Edward remained at the driver's. and bathed patches of the sand with its creamy yellow light. it annoyed me even more. We both stretched our arms and legs. "I usually run two miles. I wished I had thought to wear a lighter shirt under my own frumpy sweat suit. "We run down to Banger's Rocks before we turn. I hope that's okay with you. Suddenly.." Edward nodded. "Why is that?" I asked. "I haven't jogged in a while." Edward explained. and started thumbing through music folders.. his reference to Jasper and I being "kids" or his smug attitude that pricked a tiny bit of annoyance in me. "And neither of us joined the track team. Edward shrugged as if my declaration was of no importance. I watched as Edward pulled his sweatshirt over his head and dropped it on the seat of the car. Jogging seemed a good fit for us both.. While I couldn't put my finger on the reason. remembering my run the morning before.

side by side. My mouth popped open at his determination. He didn't slow. when our path came across a large piece of driftwood. I smiled. His jaw was set. No. His mouth was pressed together tightly. He pulled into the lead. "How do you know Banger's Rocks?" Edward had his eyebrows raised in surprise.. many a young couple stole away to let the rocks block them from view while they enjoyed any number of illicit acts behind them. faster. Surprised? I grinned smugly and kept jogging. it was in my way. so had I. From where I jogged. we both picked up our pace. but tried not to stare at his strong profile or the muscular forearms that were held up against his sides... So I skirted the obstacle and ended up several paces behind Edward when I got back to the original course. He caught up quickly and matched his strides to mine. and he caught up." I shook the child's voice away. My head was lowered and I watched the grey sand and pebbles fly under my feet. I'd never had sex behind Banger's Rocks. I let a dance track that played in my ears set my jogging pace. His eyebrows lowered and his lips pressed together in a frown. But then. It felt really good to be running alongside Edward. As our feet hit the sand in a shared rhythm. I quickened my pace and stepped ahead of him on our path. Edward frowned when he saw that it was in his way. Edward's eyebrows rose when he saw me catch up to him from the corner of his eye. But it wouldn't hurt to make him wonder about that! Together we ran.. But then he pushed his feet into the sand and ran straight at it. and his face held the familiar expression that he always wore when he didn't approve of something that Jasper and I were up to. We took turns then. I looked over at Edward and caught him stealing a glance at me. Maybe he thought I should be slowing by now. I just shrugged and inserted my ear buds before I started jogging down the beach. come on! Slow down! Wait for me.. We were finally equals. and he was working just as hard as I was. During beach parties.. Both of us ran at a dead sprint toward his car.Banger's Rocks got their name ages ago.. I didn't need anyone to coddle me anymore. My teeth clenched and my feet slapped hard on the sand. Edward was by my side again in an instant. My lungs protested and my legs were . As soon as his feet hit the sand again. We both turned when we got to Banger's Rocks. hurdling over the obstacle and staying a straight course. I deliberately positioned myself beside him in a way that guaranteed that the upcoming driftwood would not cause me to lose time again.. I heard the plaintive whine of the little girl in my mind. He probably didn't like the fact that I evaded his question. Feeling sure of myself. He had changed a lot since going away to college. The dynamic changed. Edward matched his motion to the cadence my feet tapped into the sand. however. I pumped my arms and made my legs work harder. it was on. For once I wasn't chasing behind him. I stepped up the pace. I glanced over at Edward from time to time. "Edward. and I caught up. Edward only ran behind me for a couple of moments. and without speaking. Interesting.

"Thanks. I really didn't care. His messy hair flopped damply across his forehead while he took deep breaths. Edward's surliness was beginning to get on my nerves. My whole body buzzed with an endorphin rush. "Next time we should run three miles. for once." Maybe a compliment would help to lighten his disposition. sounding out of breath. I felt positively giddy. Had the fact that I managed to keep up with him really upset him so much? I decided to try again. to lighten the tension I felt between us. He had to act like a jack-ass. I almost barreled into Charlie who was dressed in his uniform and obviously on his way out the door to go to work. I reached into the passenger side of the car and retrieved our bottles of water." he grumbled from behind me. I put my hands on my knees and leaned forward. "You're fast. We didn't speak for the rest of ride home." I replied. He didn't return my pleasant look." Edward said stonily. I wasn't a little girl anymore. But somehow I pushed myself to stay neck-in-neck with Edward. . "Two is hardly a work-out. "Sure. I noticed he stood much like I was." I hoped he would have complimented me in kind. After driving a couple of miles in silence. Instead he scowled and took a long drink of water before moving to get into the car without a word. I turned my head toward the window so he wouldn't see my satisfied smirk. next time you should use legs weights like I do." he said.beginning to feel numb. I thought you said you were out of practice. I propped my leg up on the dashboard of his car noisily. Then he glared beyond the windshield again with his knuckles turning white on the steering wheel. "Bye. I frowned and joined him. I handed one to Edward before twisting the cap off my own. trying to catch my breath. "Yeah. In my hurry. But no." His eyes left the road to see the blue weight that was strapped around my ankle. and pulled up the elastic at the bottom of my pants to expose my calf. His attitude was not deserving of my attempts at friendliness. It felt good to be able to match up to Edward. I jumped from the car immediately and hurried toward my own front door. We reached the car together. Maybe he might have noted that it was nice that I could keep up." I smiled over at him. "If two miles is too easy for you." I offered. I don't know if he heard me. When Edward pulled into the drive of the Whitlock's house. "Good run.

turning in the hall. "Izzy? Where are you?" "Sitting in a book store in Port Angeles." he laughed. Do you know The Bloated Toad. A few hours later. I certainly wasn't in a hurry to sign-up for more alone-time with him. It's not like I had anyone else to hang out with. "Proceed."Hey. I might end up needing some new reading material to keep me occupied.. recalling the small tavern he was talking about. just north of town?" I thought about the direction he mentioned. Dad?" I asked. "Will you be in Port Angeles a while?" "I could be. "Oh! Hey." he grinned. . I figured if Jasper planned many more nights out with friends from high school. I sat at a small table thumbing through a worn travel book and sipping a strong coffee." Charlie stepped aside with a smile. I placed my book down on the table when I heard Wild Cherry blaring from my purse. and it's all yours. 'Play that Funky Music' was Jasper's ringtone. I could use a few supplies to provide a creative outlet while home." I muttered. Why?" "Edward and I are driving that way. Charlie pulled a key off his keychain and tossed it to my waiting hands. How's your hangover?" "Gone and I'm getting ready to give myself a head start on the next one. Seriously. and brushes were safely stowed in my father's truck. "Where's the fire?" "I'm sweating like a pig and need a shower. My new block of paper. "Can I borrow your truck today? I was thinking of heading to Port Angeles to get some art supplies. I thought of my morning run with Edward and rolled my eyes. tubes of water color paints. where did he get off? He was fun to chat with at the diner and on the ride to First Beach." "Promise to paint something for me.. I stopped to visit a quaint store that sold used books. And I didn't have room in my luggage to pack paper and watercolors. But then he was obviously pissy just because I kept up with him in a race. Not wanting to go home yet. Slow down there Isabella!" "Sorry Dad. I need to talk to you. I smiled while I answered my cell phone. An afternoon away from town sounded good.. A good book would make for better company.." I explained as an alternate emergency.

Maybe Jasper's presence would help to remove that large stick that Edward had crammed up his ass earlier in the day. I heard you kicked his ass in a foot-race."Yeah. I know the place. He dropped his hand from my arm and nodded. not meeting his gaze. I wasn't being a very good sport." I frowned. I. Jazz kissed me on the cheek quickly before excusing himself right away to use the bathroom. after our run." "Can you meet us there in about an hour?" Jasper asked." "I'll buy dinner too. My eyes turned with surprise in his direction before moving back to Edward." The two men rose from the bar stools on either side of me." "Buy me dinner too and I'll consider it. Let's get a table. "This isn't going to work. I turned my head to look at Jasper once more. "I was horrible to you this morning." he teased his brother. but a warm grip on my wrist halted my nervous movements." Jasper said with a laugh as he sat on the other side of me. His green eyes held remorse and he offered me a soft. I'll see you in about an hour. I twisted my hands together on the bar before deciding to place them in my lap." I told him. "Great. tentative smile.." Edward nodded with a grin. I'll be there. "And I'll make that beer a pitcher." We said our goodbyes and I dropped my phone back into my purse with a sigh.. Edward awkwardly walked over to sit on the stool beside me. "I'll buy you a beer. . My wish apparently came true. "Though getting me to spend time with your brother this evening will take more than one beer. "Hi. I really did have a nice time jogging with you. "Bella? I owe you an apology. and allowed me to lead the way to a corner booth. "An apology?" I asked. I was already seated bar-side at the tavern when Jasper and Edward walked in." Jasper agreed." I mumbled." The sincerity in Edward's smooth voice caused me to raise my eyes to his. Edward sat across the table from Jasper and I. "I would have paid to see that." I finally said. Will you meet us?" "Yeah. "I feel like I'm watching tennis." "Yeah. "She was fast.

"Sounds good. "I told him I was engaged. and he asked me what Charlie thought of us getting married so young!" I laughed too and shook my head." I turned my face to look at Edward across the table. "Chauvinistic much?" "Mild. Jasper turned toward me and indicated that I should order." . "It was an honest mistake. huh?" I asked. "I told Edward that I'm getting married.. Edward folded his hands on the table and listened intently. today. hot." I mumbled. "Down boy!" I laughed and slapped him on the top of his head." I huffed. "What?" I asked." Jasper nodded. I turned slightly so I could better see his face. But you should get used to the fact that I run with the big dogs!" Jasper did his best Rottweiler impersonation by barking loudly twice before baring his teeth and sinking them playfully into my shoulder.Feeling much better after Edward's apology. "Really Edward. Edward just looked up and frowned in my direction.. "This is actually why I wanted to talk with you both. When the waitress came by our table." Jasper smiled. feeling my earlier irritation creep up again. I sent him a small smile to let him know that I accepted his sentiment. "I thought girls were supposed to eat things like salad with extra sprouts and drink fruity cocktails?" "Jeez Edward. Edward just looked at us both with an expression that was so comically exasperated that we both had to laugh at him. He actually looked a little embarrassed. or three-alarm?" The waitress ignored Edward and I and asked about our order. that I had proposed to you!" Jasper laughed loudly. I was still bristling from Edward's comment. "Cool. Jasper leaned back in the booth but threw one arm over the back of the seat behind me. at first. "He thought. "A pitcher of beer and some hot-wings?" I asked." Jasper told her. "I don't know what frou-frou poodle-type girls you are used to hanging out with at Harvard." Edward muttered. "It's not that funny. "Three-alarm.

. I looked over at Edward and saw him shooting me a dark look. The hot-wings arrived and I picked up one of the spicy pieces of chicken and bit into it angrily. He looked as confused as I felt. "Edward? You are my brother. you promised. We promised each other when we were kids." Edward argued. I wasn't willing to admit that the wings were too hot. it burned. "Silly promises made between children aren't as important as family. and took a large bite while scowling. But Jasper and I always planned to be in each other's weddings. surprised that flames didn't actually escape my throat while I talked. "When we were seven. "My engagement is what has called you both here. "They aren't so bad. Those are like Satan's balls.. I am not eating that!" Jasper took a drink of beer and looked between Edward and me with an amused expression. "And Izzy? You are my best friend. My mouth was on fire. The hot sauce stung my lips immediately and I picked up my beer to soothe my mouth. "is that I have no idea which of you should be my Best Man. Jasper drank a few large gulps of beer and placed his glass back on the table."Anyway.." Jasper poured three glasses of beer from the pitcher that the waitress placed on the table. But I raised my eyebrow when I noticed the tell-tale sheen of sweat on his upper lip." I smiled at him." Jasper said quietly. "Irrelevant. And I knew him way better than his brother did. He actually looked a little nervous. "I'm your brother." I reminded Jasper. I couldn't even taste the chicken. God." Edward restated." Edward and I both looked at him. . waiting for him to explain. "The problem I'm having. So I stared right at Edward and took a deliberately slow bite. Jasper picked up a bite of food." Edward and I both sat back in our seats. They were related. Then we both opened our mouths to speak at the same time." Edward nodded solemnly. "You didn't even know his fiancée's name!" I returned his dirty look across the table. Edward finished his wing quickly and reached for another.. Jasper turned his troubled blue eyes in my direction." Edward folded his arms across his chest. I could understand his aggravation. "Holy Hell." I managed to say. Edward chose a wing too. but dropped it after the first taste.

." "I wouldn't expect you to. Jasper watched us both a minute longer before he put his palms flat on the table and tipped his head back. In reality. His smile was as wide as ever.. I pretended to be only mildly interested in the beer I sipped. We both leaned back in our seats again and turned our attention to Jasper. "I will win. Yet. to compete for the title?" Edward raised his eyebrows sharply.. I wondered if he noticed that I only ate one." he said. "I won't take it easy on you." he shook his head and chuckled. The . Jasper laced his fingers together and flipped his hands to press his palms toward Edward until his knuckles popped loudly. I wished I could jump inside the entire glass to cool off. His eyes drilled into mine. he still raised his napkin toward his forehead." Edward said slowly.. Sticky Stars "Tell us about the damn competition." I narrowed my eyes. And Izzy? I've never met anyone more stubborn than you are. "I knew this was going to be a good idea." I replied just as smugly. "What are you talking about?" I asked. "Since I couldn't figure out who should be my Best Man."I've had hotter.. "Afraid of getting your ass kicked by a girl. His laughter rang loud and true across the tavern. "This is going to be fun." Edward muttered. 5. "We'll see." "So?" Edward growled and finally placed his food on a napkin." he said snidely." Edward murmured. "Edward is the most competitive person I know. I pursed my lips together and glared at the man sitting across from me." "You want us. "So last night I got an idea." Jasper smiled. "What's the matter Cullen?" I asked. Edward leaned toward me over the table. I've decided that a little friendly competition might be in order.. again?" "This isn't a run on the beach.

" I looked over at Edward and back to Jasper. one night out. Well. Edward turned his frown in my direction and I picked up my beer and pretended that I didn't see him... that is what you are going to do. "What about the 'epic adventure'?" Edward asked. and present it to me. "Exactly how drunk were you when you came up with this asinine plan?" "Three sheets to the wind....merriment in his eyes made me have to struggle to hide a responsive grin." "Great." he shook his head. the dipshits you went drinking with get to determine who would make the better Best Man?" "Pretty much.. And." Jasper nodded. And we'll do that culminating activity during the actual Bachelor Party weekend next summer... I'll choose the winner.. you should know something. "That part of the competition will just be deliberated on by me. I watched Jasper intently.. eager for his response. And you will be judged not only by your own planning abilities. it was my turn to snort. We'll go out and do the things that you have planned. "But I still think it sounds like a wicked good time!" "So we plan these. activities. So.. And I'll have my judges determine the winner from each round!" "Your judges?" I asked. And since planning the bachelor party is one of the responsibilities of the Best Man. to be held next Memorial Day weekend. Three days of partying. "I want a bachelor party extravaganza." "I'm not sure I understand. "But before you start thinking of ways to sabotage each other's plans. He looked like he was up to something. You come up with the coolest bachelor party event you can think of. but Edward? You could still win the round just by being the life of the party." . Charming." I said. Jasper grinned over at me and continued.. "Ah.. big bro. we won't be able to try those ahead of time." Jasper smiled." Edward snorted and rolled his eyes. but also by how much fun you are to hang around. and one epic adventure. "Then we all go out and actually do them. I should be able to win the competition on personality alone.. "Over the next ten days. "The guys I went out with last night have kindly offered to hang out with us and act as judges for the competition. You will be expected to participate in every event.. He wasn't exactly Mr. Bella might have a great idea for something to do." This time.. you will each be asked to plan one day time event.

The three of us went our separate ways after lunch. Yes." I ordered. "What? A penis?" I asked. I was still thinking about my afternoon meeting with Jazz and Edward while I brushed my teeth and prepared for bed. and I reached over and slapped him across the back until his coughing subsided. "Oh yeah. "I have no idea how I would explain size eleven foot prints on the wall above my bed. so as not to wake Charlie. "I have no problem hanging out with the guys."Sounds like a piece of cake. Maybe some punch? Isn't that the kind of party girls are used to throwing together?" Edward was taunting me." Jasper grinned and rolled so that he could sit up with his feet on the floor. "What are you doing here?" I asked Jazz as I closed the door behind me." "You don't have what it takes. I actually have a brain that I don't have to shake after I pee. "Get your feet off my wall. My feet stumbled in a moment of surprise when I saw the long and lanky figure of my best friend. "Cake." Jasper started to choke on his beer." I smiled. I purposely didn't call Jazz later in the day. He looked totally at ease laying with his head near the foot of my bed. I walked into my bedroom." . "So I take it. Hope you don't mind. remember?" I sneered." Edward folded his arms across his chest and leaned back again." I nodded solemnly. Whatever. draped across my bed. "Big dogs. Count me in. And finger sandwiches." "Charlie would think you were getting your kink on. Reaching above my head to twist my hair into a messy top-knot. "Fine. "I needed to talk to you Izzy. The three of us finished our beers in silence while the un-finished hot wings tried their best to burn a hole in the center of the table." Jasper smiled with his hands cradling the back of his head." Edward curled his lip. His legs stretched in a straight angle that let his feet rest flat on the wall above my headboard. "I came up the tree. so that he and his brother could spend some time reconnecting. you're in?" Jasper smiled at me. "I don't need one.

" I folded my arms over my chest and tipped my head to the side while I looked at him. "I know you are the ballsiest girl I've ever known."Not at all." The underwear belonged to my ex-boyfriend." Jasper rested his arms across his legs and folded his hands in the space between his knees." It was a wonder that Pete and I managed to keep our relationship going for the year that we did. and that maybe you two would come to some understanding. We were as mismatched as a couple could be." "So that you wouldn't have to make a choice that might hurt one of us. of course. Sorority life would never be for me.. I never had a desire to be one of the popular kids in high school." I argued." Jazz commented while he looked down my body. "Good to know. That hadn't changed when I moved on to college. "Nice underwear. Jasper spent more time making fun of his name. I was sure he would have cut the thing down immediately. than trying to get to know him. "I asked you and Edward here.. Charlie knew that the tree served as a ladder for Jasper and I.. He was a fraternity boy who wanted me to pledge to his sister sorority. I pulled at the hem of my boxers and shrugged. And I was flattered when he asked me out. "Sentimental attachment to his shorts? Or what he kept in them?" Jasper took off his glasses and rubbed the lenses with the bottom of his t-shirt before putting them back in place. I kicked at his leg playfully and moved to sit on the chair by my desk.. "I wanted to make sure that you aren't mad at me. "Exactly. "So I know you didn't climb the tree to talk about my pajamas... but you aren't actually growing a pair down there." I shook my head and glanced toward the open window. because I honestly had no idea which of you I should ask to stand up with me. referring to my sleep attire of a tank top and men's boxer shorts. He met Pete once." Jasper nodded in approval. "So. and didn't really like him. and nice." he breathed. for these two weeks. Still he was handsome.. And I hoped that the three of us could hang out together. If he ever caught any other boys trying to enter my room that way. "Strictly comfort... It just didn't take too long to figure out that we made better friends than lovers. "Is there something you aren't telling me?" He continued to tease. are you?" He was.. the competition?" ." I finished. "They were the only thing belonging to Pete that I wasn't willing to part with. I liked to march to my own beat. I already had a personality of my own. "No sentimental attachment whatsoever. Jasper was well aware of my past relationship and our break-up last fall.

" "We were goofy kids." "That's because Edward has turned into an uptight jerk." I nodded." I murmured." Jasper rubbed the back of his neck and looked sheepish. and moved down the bed so that he could crawl back out through the window. First he moved away to New York." "Shit! What's he doing?" . Then these past three years he's been in law school. It's probably stupid." Jasper pulled my shoulder closer to him. "Yes you did. "Yes." I replied softly.. I'll try. He."I just got that idea while I was out with the guys. that it was important to him." I grumbled. ya know? Cut him a little slack." I frowned." "It's very stupid. He slid his body to lay on the bed again. "I think I was ten.. I could tell by the tone of Jasper's voice..." I giggled. Edward already has his planned out.and you have to come up with your day-time bachelor party activity. I'm looking forward to having my brother back. he's just been out of the game for a while." Jasper looked up and smiled at my words. All work and no play." Jasper ordered. we could still come up here to make wishes. But I remembered it too. "I still remember that you wished you could marry Edward. With my head resting on his outstretched arm. He shifted his arm out from under my head then. "I don't know. we both stared at the tiny glow-in-thedark star stickers that were scattered on my ceiling. "Really? You think so? Because Edward thinks I'm being a complete idiot. "I haven't really spent any quality time with Edward in so long.. We thought it was cool that when it was too cloudy to see the stars outside. "He's the same guy Bella. and I got up to lay down beside him. "Will you try?" Jasper asked quietly.. "Do you remember when we put those up there?" Jasper pointed at the faded-yellow constellations. If we help him to have some fun. Law school is serious business. we've barely been in touch.." "Yeah. "Come here. "See you tomorrow? Maybe we could watch a movie or something? Oh." "I did not!" I gasped." "I guess.. "But it will also be fun. maybe he'll loosen up a little.

and I pulled my paintbrush in straight lines mimicking the growth of trees for my background. I stepped back and looked at the shades. looking at the billowy silver clouds that huddled together to plan rain over the evergreen tree line. Lines in place. I laid flat on my back and considered the colors that danced above me. biting my lip. I looked at him."He didn't tell me. Turning my head. It had been ages since I had actually picked up a brush and paints. my fingers itched to reproduce the scene above. and felt my shoulder muscles loosen. Classes and projects pushed other art endeavors aside as hobbies that I had little time for. wondering how long he had been standing there. knowing that I would need to let it dry before I added the more detailed. Brown and sap green was added to the mix. The white paper peeked through to form the hanging clouds." Edward said pleasantly. While the damp grass below cushioned me. and a Vintage New York Dolls t-shirt. I buttoned one of Charlie's old flannel shirts around my chest to serve as a paint smock. Charlie had requested that I paint him a picture. "Hi. closer trees to the composition. I felt inspired. After a short while. He smiled and stepped down the stairs. At noon the next day. I stood back up and moved to the easel where my watercolor block waited for me to sketch the general outline of what I wanted to paint. I had a day-time activity for a bunch of guys to plan. I stuck the pencil between my teeth and bit gently into the soft wood while I squeezed my paints into the wells of my palette. A quick wash with a wide brush in clear water readied my paper for the old sienna and aqua marine that blended to provide light and darkness for my sky on paper. It covered me to mid-thigh and was perfect for battling cobwebs and spiders while I crawled around in the attic space searching for my old easel and covered-palette. See ya Izzy. I pulled my window shut and moved to the desk to turn on my laptop. It was then than I heard a gentle cough from a short distance away. When I saw his tall figure cut across the grass between our houses. With old and new art supplies in tow." "Night Jazz. My creative impulses at school had shifted to more technologically precise works with computer graphics. The view from our backyard seemed as nice a place to begin. I saw Edward watching me intently from his back porch next door." Jasper shrugged. crossing the lawn between us quickly with his long strides. I went out to the backyard to set up. Smiling. dressed in a pair of old jeans with tears across both knees." I said. "I didn't want to interrupt. as any. I stretched my arms over my head happily." I called over. . and I smiled when I saw my mind's vision take shape before me. "You can both let me know your ideas tomorrow.

" "Oh. "Not entirely the same thing. the sign clearly said "Keep out. "Where's Jazz?" I asked. Now he seemed happy.." he smiled. Did Jazz tell you?" "I guessed. "Trust me. that Edward was being so nice. I took in the back of his messy hair. My cheeks actually felt a little warm." "I know." He turned and started back the way he had come. "You used to do that when you were a little girl too. Edward stood on his porch waiting for me. "Come with me. "Upstairs. He said we are watching a movie later. Am I correct?" "Graphic art. You'd stare at whatever you were drawing or painting like you wanted to memorize it first. "The sky never looks the same anywhere else.. "Where are we going?" I asked. I looked at the rectangular metal sign that was still tacked into the wood. And it will allow me to work pretty much anywhere I'd like when I graduate. It confused me. I looked down at the grass so he wouldn't catch me staring." he smiled. I hesitated in the hallway."How long have you been out here?" I asked. but I pushed that away. The compliments were surprising." I looked up to find nothing but honesty in his eyes." I shrugged. and his broad shoulders. In bright red and white. But it lets me put my creativity to good use." My feet stopped when we reached the space in front of Edward's bedroom door. It surprised me that he remembered any of my childhood habits. Edward had been in a foul mood the last time I had been around him." I shrugged." I answered. and so I hurried to join him. "I always knew you'd go into art." he said. stepping in front of the easel. "This is nice. I'd like to show you something. "He drove into town to get some DVD's. as it does here. when he held the backdoor open for me to enter. careful to get the paint pulled away from the heel before I pinched the sable bristles back to a point and laid it flat to dry in the tray beside my palette. "You always were so talented. I didn't quite know what to make of it." It was a reminder of the red juice I had spilled across his pristine white ." Edward replied. I rinsed my brush in my water jar. "Since you were laying in the grass." Edward remarked. "You are an art major. When he turned to face me." he smiled. looking around. and relaxed. putting his hand on my elbow and steering me up the stairs in front of him.

"Are you sure I can come in?" "If you promise not to destroy my report on Abraham Lincoln. "I still don't see why you have to go to prom. sketching his profile on the tablet of paper in front of me. He was the same old Edward that I had known most of my life. and definitely more handsome. in his bedroom. it was hard not to feel a little flustered by the fact that I was actually sitting beside him. Edward sat in the picture window.home-work pages that inspired him to hang that sign when he was fifteen years old. Then. But he was older. "You look very debonair. It was nice." Edward smiled. Sure. before handing it to me. and he grinned gratefully at his mother. I stiffened when he sat beside me. "Nice monkey-suit. Jasper played piano in the corner of the room. Edward walked over to the book case and scanned the spines of the books there. She smoothed her hands down Edward's lapels. and started flipping through the pages of the yearbook in his hands. And I had loved him from afar for so many years." he pointed to his bed." Jasper announced. letting my pencil glide on the paper to shade his cheekbones and his chin. I thought the butterflies that beat inside my chest would be enough to lift me off the floor. He moved to sit in the window then. reaching one hand upward." Jasper continued to rib Edward from his place on the piano bench. "Senior year. of Edward. waiting for his friends to arrive in the limo they rented for prom night. "Who wants to do all that stupid dancing anyway?" "My girlfriend does. I laid with my stomach on the living room floor.. I was only fourteen years old. Edward actually made a joke." Joy smiled. I think this one time will be okay. but was completely jealous of the girl that would be wearing the corsage he held encased in a clear plastic box. Edward tugged the bottom of his jacket and frowned. "Have a seat. I had never seen him look more mature or handsome. I tried to act casual as I went to sit on the edge of the blue and green plaid comforter." Edward said quietly. When he had walked down the stairs dressed in his tuxedo. he brought back a dark blue yearbook. It was a sketch that I had drawn. "Ah! Here it is. and looked up to see his older brother. I shifted to find more comfort in my place on the floor. . "Dancing is for sissies. watching for his ride." Edward teased.. and unfolded it. He pulled a faded piece of paper from where it was tucked between pages of his book. I smiled and followed him into his bedroom. Edward's nearness was a little unsettling." Jasper wrinkled his nose." he smiled.

" Joy interjected. from side to side.. "Isabella!" Joy ignored her younger son and spoke to me. Edward laughed lightly. "Not so bad. I moved closer to Edward. He pulled my other hand to rest on his shoulder before he pressed his fingers into my hip." He reached his long. My pencil scratched across the surface of my sketch pad a few more minutes before a shiny pair of black shoes came into my line of sight. Bella. I'm never going to prom. "Me neither. He walked back over to me." I finally joined the conversation. He smiled encouragingly. He released me with a quick smile and put my feet back on the ground before moving to pick up the corsage he had left by the window.." Her words faded away as she moved toward the kitchen to check on dinner." he said quietly." "Well. "Dance with me. He moved us gently. Then. The blaring of a horn outside caused Edward's steps to falter. "Edward is a lovely dancer. My pencil dropped to the floor and my cheeks turned pink. Girls appreciate a man who can dance well. "Girls should look forward to their proms! We get to dress up like princesses and be danced around the room." "What?" I croaked out. is it?" Edward's breath tickled the top of my head. and my heart skipped a beat when he tucked the tiny white flowers behind my ear. soft fingers down toward me. and wrapped his hand around my own. I looked up to see Edward smiling above me. it was to see him shutting the door as he left. It was perfect. Maybe it will be easier. as if he had a second-thought. "I don't know how to dance anyway. I'll show you. and I tentatively placed my hand in his." Jasper shook his head but continued playing quiet music. I closed my eyes as his hand lingered near my cheek for a moment. I shrugged. Jasper played quietly while I stared straight ahead at Edward's white shirt. "Here. and then.. Once I was standing in front of him. .."Nonsense. "Thanks for the dance. I stepped up onto his toes." Like a dream. we were dancing. he opened the plastic case and pinched a little sprig of baby's breath from the arrangement. Edward pursed his lips with a look of concentration. if you stand on my feet. Come on. and I concentrated on staying on top of his feet so that I wouldn't trip us both. "Bella?" he looked down. "It's easy." I spoke towards the floor. I closed my eyes and smiled. When I opened my eyes again.

Edward. "I have a lot of your pictures. But it was the same look that he used to get the last cookie from the jar." Edward continued to speak in that smooth." I nodded. It was new and happy discovery to realize that Edward had remembered our childhood friendship with fondness as well.. I felt stupid for thinking that he was being nice for altruistic reasons. "Bella. "I am not going to just hand this over to you. "I was trying to save you a little embarrassment. "You just want me to give up. I recognized the drawing as one I must have done when I was about five or six years old. you know." "Yes.. "We've been friends for so long. be reasonable." he smiled and took the paper from my hands." I replied sarcastically. And this time." he said over his shoulder.."I sketched this picture of you before your senior prom. distracting voice. and then returned to sit beside me. Edward placed it between the pages of his book again. It was the same look he used to get out of being in trouble with his mother. "Forget it. You'll have to win it." I said in wonder." I shook my head stubbornly. I was shocked that he had kept my drawing." "Always the gentleman. The same look Edward used to get the waitresses at the diner to let him leave early because he had a date. and let you be the Best Man!" I accused. He returned his yearbook to his shelf. and stood. Jazz took that moment to peek his head around Edward's bedroom door. "Bella." Edward stood. I might have felt dizzy from the force of it. he was trying to use it on me. "I had no idea. "I thought I heard voices in here. come to some sort of agreement concerning this whole Best Man thing?" Edward lowered his chin and looked up at me through his long. . The look was lethal." His head turned to look between Edward and myself." I murmured. Edward appeared to be tense once again. that we should be able to . given all we've been through together. I'm his brother. I had drawn a pink heart above the tallest figure's head. If I hadn't seen that look so many times in the past. It was the look that Edward used when he wanted something. Pointing to a piece of notebook paper that was stuck to his corkboard above his desk." Edward said softly. and even then. "Don't you think.. dark lashes. "I know.. and I all held hands under a sunny sky. Crayon smiles graced our faces. fair and square." "I will. The stick-figures of Jasper.. he smiled over at me.

" I sighed. Then I ran through the yard toward the Whitlock's. I wouldn't have had much more time to paint anyway. And my jeans were covered in mud. I laid on my hip in his front yard. I couldn't keep up with him. Lucky I went back out to my easel and snapped the lid off my palette. "If you want. I tapped a heavy drop of sap green paint into my water jar." Jasper said. It was hard to tell what he really thought. Jasper opened the door with a laugh. Maybe Edward just needed to be stirred up a little. so I left it down and pulled it under the hood of my raincoat. I plunged my brush into the water then. feeling the rain reach everywhere my bright yellow coat did not. I picked up some paint on my brush and laid the soft bristles against my paper. Kneeling in front of it. His face was guarded. Of course. I smiled at the difference in the jar. And so I dried my brush carefully and packed up my supplies before taking them indoors." 6. Jasper smiled over at his brother for backing-up the invitation. I slipped. By the time I showered and returned downstairs. How was it that Edward could be so sweet one moment." Edward said while he crammed his hands into his front pockets. a soaking rain was coming down outside."I got a couple of movies. While I thought. "I'll be back over in about an hour. introducing darker trees to the foreground. "Alright. I watched the almost-black color lose traces of itself in a spiraling trail as the water began to tear it apart. "Maybe we could order a pizza and watch?" "I need to pack up my paints.. . I wasn't relaxed enough to finish my painting. and stirred the paint away from the fine sable hairs until the water became a uniform light green color." "Of course we want you to. My hair was already wet.. The dark against the light was a good representation of my current musings." I mumbled. and so totally irritating in the next? Light and dark. "Will you come over after?" Jasper waved the movies in his hand to entice me with their flashy titles.

" I muttered." I slopped up the front steps and stood dripping water in their entryway. "Go on up and find something." "Thanks. . "My own clumsiness. Which actually made it all the more hilarious to hear Alice tell someone to fuck-off. dry. Holding my muddy clothes away from my body. It was soft. and comfortable. You can wear something of mine. My hands are full." Edward made a show of turning his body to the side to avoid my mess while he made his way downstairs. I made my way to the laundry room behind the kitchen and tossed my things into the washing machine.. Halfway up the stairs. I looked like a drowned rat. But at least I was warm. Alice was not to be trifled with. For all of her sweetness and charm.. "Alice! How are you?" I genuinely loved Jasper's fiancé.. "I've got to go change my clothes!" "Get in here."Izzy? What in the hell am I going to do with you?" Jasper called out above the noise of the driving rain." Jasper turned me toward the stairs. I continued up to Jasper's bedroom where I found a too-large sweatshirt and a pair of flannel pajama pants. Yes. "Talk to Alice for a minute. "Yeah Ali. I tightened the drawstring to hold the pants around my hips. Jasper stood in front of the open refrigerator door. very feminine package. "Bring those down when you're done." He looked up at me. "It's part of the joy of being me. and a significant portion of the legs had to be rolled up so I could walk without tripping on them. Izzy's right here." I reached to take the phone from its cradle against Jasper's neck. I shook my head and stood. "Who tackled you this time?" Edward smirked." I shrugged. She was a bad-ass wrapped in a tiny. holding his phone between his ear and his shoulder. I looked ridiculous. "Hello?" "Isabella! Hi!" Alice had a voice like a bell.. His eyes moved from the top of my wet hair to my sodden tennis shoes. and clear and had a musical quality to it that could make a person easily imagine her doing voice-overs for a Disney Princess. and we'll throw them in the wash. Jasper was over a foot taller than I was. I met with Edward who was on his way down.

"Good. "But you know I'll do my best. sounding somewhat muffled. He waved one in my direction and I wrinkled my nose." I told him..." she said nicely.I am not playing favorites when I say this."Stuck working. I took up residence in the corner of the couch and grabbed my drink from the table where Jasper had placed it. putting a DVD in the player. Jasper told me about the Best Man competition.." Edward frowned from his seat. and he procured a bottle of water to join the beer and snack food that he was juggling in his arms. "Oh. But I'll be coming to Forks soon for Edward's graduation party. Edward slumped comfortably with one long leg draped over the side of the recliner. believe me. get him to lighten up. . We can hang out then." "Me too." I smiled. and smiled before turning toward the living room. I've got to get back to work. "Alice said you could call her before bed.. if he wants." I smiled and watched as Jasper pulled a couple of beers from the refrigerator." "I'm sorry that you have to work. You give 'em hell." "Oh yeah?" "Yes. But that being said. Jasper was really beating himself up over trying to make the decision. I'll see you later!" "Bye Alice. Jasper stood." "Ah! Great." "I can always count on you.. I'm trying to cram in a turkey sandwich while my douche bag of a boss is allowing me a thirtyminute lunch break." "I won't go down without a fight. Jasper shook his head at my word choice. Tell Jasper he can call me before bed. Now." I promised.. "Great. I can't wait to see you. My goal was to stir things around. "Are you keeping my guy in line?" Alice asked. I didn't want him to feel excluded. Thanks. "Sorry for eating in your ear. and strolled into the living room. "Barely." she replied. I won't try to influence him in either way. And Isabella." I pushed the button to end our call. I mouthed the word 'water' to the way. don't let those guys push you around honey.

His feet dangled over the edge toward Edward who took in our position with a raised eyebrow." Jasper grinned up at me.." Edward turned his face toward the television. I bounced his head up with my legs once before smiling down at him.. You two are just the same around each other. "If Jasper loves her. meanie-head!" I stuck my tongue out at Jasper who laid on the floor between the couch and the coffee table laughing. In the next instant. We both knew that Jasper was talking about the competition. "I swear to God. Jasper lifted himself to sit where he had been dumped to the floor." "She's softer to lay on now. "Sometimes I just look at you two. "I do not want a belly-dancer or a donkey at my bachelor party. "Just for the record. "She's really one of the coolest people I've ever met. she must be extraordinary." Jasper announced." I shrugged." I said to him.. I looked up to see that Edward had grabbed his ankles and turned him off my lap. and rested his elbows on his bent knees. "Oomph!" he grunted."You'll love Alice. and see you like you are still ten years old. . you two never change! Now you just call each other harsher names than 'meanie. Edward shook his head and sat back down. as you were then. There goes my idea for a nighttime event. we watched the first half of an old Tom Hanks movie in which his friends threw him a Bachelor Party. Jasper rolled unceremoniously off my lap onto the floor.head. relaxing a little." Edward said." Edward frowned with a playful look in his eyes. "Don't call Bella a hooker." Edward dead-panned from his seat in the recliner. Maybe Edward was still hoping that I would concede the title to him. and no illegal drugs!" I added. Jasper and I both laughed loudly." Jasper turned with a grin and came to lay across the couch with his head on my lap. "No hookers. "Nothing." "Damn.'" "Yeah." "I don't doubt it." "She is. "What?" Jasper asked.. "So. "No hookers? That leaves you out!" Jasper laughed and twisted while I bent forward and started pinching his side. "I'm ready. With laughter and random comments. are you guys ready to get this thing started tomorrow?" I looked over at Edward who was also looking over at me.

"Well?" I asked. "I think so." I nodded. realizing that I didn't even know who Jasper had chosen to be the judges and fellow partiers. It would be a testosteroneriddle morning of running around while shooting at each other. Edward was a sneaky player. "So. "Who else is playing?" I frowned. "A cooler of beer and Street Ball at the park at the end of the street. but I couldn't call any of them personal friends." I shook my head. and Mike Newton." "Can your friends be impartial?" Edward asked with a serious voice. every single one of them had been on the Forks Baseball team. Not only did he use the fact that Jasper and he used to always play one-on-one. Then one of them probably already hates me. "Please Edward. I had researched and found a large compound nearby that rented out everything we would need for an epic paintball battle in the woods.." "Paintball. I turned my attention to Edward to see what he had come up with.. "Great. which only made matters worse. If I recalled correctly." "I love basketball!" Jasper was practically bouncing and I bit back a groan. "A day-time activity. The names were familiar."Me too. It was true." I spoke up. To the best of my knowledge. "My plan is more basic." Edward said.. Tyler Crowley.." Edward took a long drink of his beer. "Eric Yorkie.. But you always turned him down. He obviously considered this new development to be to his advantage." Edward smirked while I groaned. My five-foot two frame would hardly be more than a hindrance when playing basketball with men who towered over me. The 'judges' for our competition probably revered him. Edward still held some record for most stolen bases in a single season from his time spent playing baseball for Forks. . I hardly knew them. "I think that Mike asked you out a few times. "That will be fun!" Jasper smiled widely. and I could tell he was trying not to smile." he said.. "That's not entirely true." Jasper smiled. but he also chose an activity that there was no way I'd be good at. "They are all guys we graduated with." Jasper added. what do you guys have planned for the first event?" Jasper asked.

"Thanks guys.. Can we keep the competition where it belongs. and I could feel it.. "Edward?" I smiled softly. clearly joking around." Jasper said from his seat on the floor.. and paint balls the next day. and the other on the following day. But the tension had crept into the room around us again. "Yes. "I really do want this to be fun. "Okay. I'd like that Bella." "Edward can go first.. trying to keep my voice sounding optimistic.. Izzy has luck on her side!" Jasper laughed. and then raised his eyes to me with surprise. For Jasper. Jasper laughed. He turned his head to look at my hand. I mean. Sound good?" "Fine. and reached out my hand to touch his forearm." I offered." Edward nodded and shrugged as if it held little importance.." I channeled my inner-smart ass and smirked over at him with my eyebrows raised. "But you might not find that so easy when you start battling it out. "I made Mom bring her to every one of my games that season. He frowned and looked down at the floor.." I rubbed his palms together. My best friend was always so sensitive to the moods of people around him. He knew exactly what he was doing when he chose Street ball for his activity. "Do you remember that?" Jasper chuckled.'" . "Like I said. But I'd like for things to stay pleasant when we are not.. I moved to the end of the couch closest to Edward.. "We'll shoot hoops tomorrow.yet not have landed in the hospital.. "Ladies first."Ok. "You called her your 'lucky rabbit's foot. "I figured that if she could be so horrifically clumsy." Edward pretended to twirl a fake moustache. and try to relax and just have a good time while we are all home?" The look in Edward's eyes softened. "I'm a master of strategy." Jasper continued. I hit him in the head with a throw pillow. I'm not going to take it easy on you while we are competing. "We'll do one of your activities tomorrow. Jasper undoubtedly felt it too. It was going to be brutal." "You insisted that she was your good luck charm. "Ah! But don't forget. she must be the luckiest person I ever knew. So who goes first?" Jasper asked." Edward shook his head. and he placed a warm hand on top of mine. grinning." Edward nodded and laughed with his brother. I slid my hand from under Edward's and sat back against the couch cushion.. okay." He smiled." he warned..

After the initial red-faced freak-out.' I felt the soft touch of a warm finger trace the dark script. He had the Chinese character for 'music' inked largely on his right shoulder. Charlie was able to ignore it easily. It sat high on the side of my body. I laid motionless. I knew what he was looking at." he said softly. But mine was small.. "Trying to get her luck to rub off on me!" Jasper rasped." "I guess so. "What are you doing?" Edward asked loudly. grabbing my shirt with one hand and my hip with the other to hold me still. Edward stood and walked over to the couch. I shivered a little. During my freshman year in college. "What are you doing?" Edward asked while I squealed. In tiny cursive letters was the word 'luck. I knew exactly what he was doing." I shrugged." Jasper and I had gone together to get our tattoos during Spring Break. Edward was looking at me strangely. Jasper was busy tugging the sweatshirt I was wearing up my body." I joined in. It looked great on him. "Look!" Jasper cried victoriously. "What did Charlie say when he found out?" Edward asked. Jasper then dove on top of me and began moving his body against mine in a sawing motion. "Now there's proof!" Jasper jumped up from the floor and threw me down on the couch. as long as you got your butt into the van and came to my game!" Edward finished. and much more obscure. . "He hated it. but I struggled to keep him from lifting my shirt and exposing too much of me. rolling me to my hip. "Bella really did have luck on her side. just under my ribs. I knew it must have been Edward. "Because I thought that rabbit's feet for good luck charms were gross and cruel. I got a tattoo. "That's really kind of pretty.."But then I cried. It had dried in a tangled mess. Since I could account for the placement of both of Jasper's hands. "But he was glad that I didn't get one that matched Jazz's tattoo." Jasper smiled. "You guys were state champions that year. Tugging my shirt back into place. I laughed and turned to push him onto the floor again." "So I told you that you could be my 'four-leaf clover'. and I self-consciously raised my hands to smooth my hair. and closed my eyes tightly." Edward grinned. I was sure I looked like some wild-woman. I sat up.

He knew me so well. How in the hell was I going to pull this off? I went straight to my room and pulled my shades. She'll be working on her game-plan." "Hell.. It was time to get serious. What did I have to my advantage? What did I have to offer. And power.. I stared at the exposed skin. and Jasper didn't need to look across the yard to see me planning as he assumed I would be. Damn that Edward for being so devious. sweaty.." "Noon. Well." Jasper grinned. I would have to play basketball with a bunch of tall. While living in Florida didn't give me a deep-tropical tan." "No problem. Critically. she won't be resting.. will you?" I asked. got a big basketball game tomorrow. And I was glad that pilates conditioned my profile to be slender and firm." "That's right... I smiled.."So. See you then. If I remembered correctly. beer-drinking men. maybe Eric Yorkie wasn't as tall. Luck was on my side. I did manage to maintain a light-golden skin tone that was healthy and pretty when compared to the pasty-white complexions that Forks provided. But still.. In fewer hours than I was comfortable with.. I paced back and forth a few times before stopping in front of my full-length mirror. . "I don't think so. and tried to imagine myself through Edward's eyes. Ugh. "Do we have time for another movie?" I glanced at my watch and bit my lip." Jasper said. I grinned. if I know Izzy. "I'll give you these back tomorrow.. every one of them was at least six-foot tall and athletic. Edward wasn't treated to an embarrassing amount of pudge at my waistline. I looked like a little girl. I frowned at my reflection and tried to think.. "Throw my clothes in the dryer. Their advantages? Height." I mimicked his voice snidely under my breath. dressed in Jasper's loose clothing.. I tugged my lip between my teeth and stared hard ahead of me." I shook my head. You know. that they did not? I turned to the side and pulled Jasper's sweatshirt up my body so that I could see my tiny tattoo. My body looked pretty damn good." Edward said. "You'll need your rest. "Noon. "I have some things to do tonight. hey." Edward called as I walked out the door. it would be very hard for me to keep up with them and manage not to be a drag while playing a sport not designed for a person of my height and stature.

my nerves gave way to immediate irritation. "I thought we were playing basketball today?" "Just goofing around.and hopefully. And while mascara and lip gloss could hardly be considered a cosmetic-overload.It was then that inspiration struck. I just had to prove that I was fun to be around. Bounce Just before noon. it was more than I would usually wear while playing a sport. Men might train to get ready for a sporting event. Edward was smart in his planning. "What's up with the baseball?" I grumbled. 7. The not-so-subtle reminder of his small-town glory days on the local baseball team made me grit my teeth. Grabbing Charlie's truck keys. I picked up my purse and headed out the door. Edward and Jazz stood in the grass next to the faded concrete square. A quick glance in the mirror almost made me want to slap myself and call the whole thing off. The men would be using their physical attributes to do well today. I gave myself this last minute pep-talk. Men liked basketball. And while in the almost reverent position. our judges pulled into the gravel parking space next to the basketball court before I could suggest that Edward 'pass the time' by shoving his baseball glove right up his. When I jogged up to the basketball court.. But they also liked women. throwing a baseball back and forth.. And beer. I could only guess that Edward had somehow ascertained that our judges were baseball players too.. The look in his eyes clearly stated that he understood I was on to him. I didn't have to win the game. I had speed on my side. Unfortunately." Edward shrugged and smiled over at me. Why couldn't I do the same? I had carefully curled my hair before pulling it back into a high ponytail. I sat on the edge of my bed and bent at the waist to tighten the laces of my tennis shoes. a healthy dose of distraction to offer. Almost. "Isabella?" . Not me. passing the time. and he was amused. The artificial curls added to my own waves to give it a little more bounce. I had a whole arsenal of weapons at my disposal. and then turned from my room before I could change my mind. The men would be relying on their height and brawn to play this game. I said a quick prayer to any deity within hearing distance to help me not trip over my own feet while trying to play basketball with the guys. My entire game plan would be blown if I ended up knocking them down like a stack of dominoes on the playground asphalt.. I just needed to do a little shopping.

The surprised tone of one of the men that exited the car made me spin on my heels. Eric Yorkie. His face was familiar, though his tone was friendlier than I ever remembered him being in high school. "Eric? Hi. Nice to see you guys." I waved at the other two men who walked a half-step behind their friend. I recognized Mike immediately. He smiled awkwardly. The taller, dark-haired man caught my attention and I looked at him quizzically. "Tyler." He gave me his name while leaning forward to offer his hand. I shook it. "Tyler Crowley?" I asked. Hello Gorgeous! Tyler's sky-blue eyes sparkled from under a curtain of side-swept long, black bangs. "Tyler was in my band class," Jasper explained. "Drummer?" "Acne... buzz-cut?" Tyler went on to describe himself with a self-deprecating laugh. "I'm sorry. I guess you've changed a lot." I smiled up at him. Oh boy, had he ever. Edward cleared his throat loudly behind us, and Jasper began making introductions. Just as I thought, all three men noticed the baseball that Edward held in his hand like a worm on a hook, and launched into a conversation about their time playing for the high school team. I walked over to the cooler and popped open a beer. I needed something to steady my nerves and get my head in the game. "Bella?" I turned my head to see Edward motioning me back over to the group. I took another deep drink and put my bottle down on the bench before plastering a grin to my face and skipping back over to the men. "We are going to play three-to-three, half-court," Jasper said. "You and Edward can be the captains. Why don't you pick someone for your team first?" "I choose Jazz," I said quickly. Jasper grinned and moved to stand next to me. He was not the most athletic on the asphalt, but he was the tallest man out there. "Mike," Edward pointed. Mike was captain of the basketball team in high school. I could have guessed that Edward would choose him. "Tyler." I tried not to smile too widely while I said his name. He was also at least six foot tall, and the way he looked at me made me want to blush. "Ok Eric, you round it out," Edward said pleasantly. Eric wasn't as tall as the other men, but he still towered over me. At least the teams were divided somewhat fairly. I turned to walk toward the bench, but stopped when Edward called over to me. "Shirts or skins?"

"Excuse me?" I turned and put my hands on my hips. I wasn't sure if I heard him correctly. Edward twisted a devastatingly mischievous smile in my direction. "Shirts... or skins?" He repeated the question slowly, and I frowned over at him. He was already trying to point out my differences on the court. "Shirts," I flipped my ponytail and pretended that he wasn't getting me flustered. I jogged over to Tyler and Jazz, who were removing their jackets and getting ready to play. "Don't let him psyche you out," Jazz encouraged me. "He's trying to mess with your head." I gritted my teeth before donning a careless expression. Turning to send Edward a look that would let him know that his little games weren't working, I stopped and had to force my mouth to close. Edward, Mike, and Eric were peeling their shirts up over their heads. My gaze locked on Edward's long, taught obliques that stretched down to his narrow waist while his arms were over his head. He dropped his shirt to the ground while chatting with Mike and Eric. I swallowed hard while he pulled his shorts away from his flat stomach and tightened the drawstring. Damn. Edward certainly hadn't been built like that in high school. My momentary distraction caused me to turn with a stronger resolve. I quickly removed my running pants and discarded my own zippered jacket. Jazz snickered and took a drink when he saw my clothing. Tyler eyed me appreciatively with a soft smile in place. I looked up under my lashes and smiled at him. "I sure hope I don't slow you boys down too much." "It's just a game, right?" Tyler said sweetly. "Let's just have fun with it." I smiled again to show him I appreciated his attitude, and then moved to join the other men on the court. I tried to pretend not to notice the attention my clothing was garnering from Mike and Eric. My shorts were small and pink. And my white-tank could hardly be considered more than a sports bra. Edward turned mid-drink, saw me, and beer loudly sprayed from his mouth in his surprise. I controlled my expression to look innocent. "What in the hell is that?" Edward wiped his chin with the hand that still held his beer, and pointed an accusing finger at my chest. "They're called boobs, Edward," Jazz grinned. "And she started to get them when she was fifteen. Nice, huh?" I smirked to see Eric and Mike nodding at each other. I could hear Tyler laughing lightly next to Jazz. Edward scowled. "I wasn't talking about her... uh... um..." Edward's hands waved in front of me like he was trying to erase the image from his sight. I grinned and looked down to see what he was staring at.

A quick trip to the craft store had allowed me to purchase bright pink, sparkly, iron-on letters. The words "Best Man" were proudly stretched across the thin cotton on my chest. I gave the words a sneaky little bounce by clasping my hands low in front of me and pulling my arms towards one another. "I thought it was cute..." I pretended to pout. All three judges hurried to reassure me that I was right. I tried not to smile at Edward's fierce look of disapproval. "Are you ready to play?" He asked through gritted teeth. "Are you?" I asked softly. He looked into my eyes and contemplated me in silence for a moment. I could see a look of determination there that matched my own. Good. We understood each other. I did my best to keep my mind focused on the game, and not on Edward's abs as we all started playing. After a short while, it wasn't an issue. I had to work hard to play basketball with the guys. Amazingly enough, I was actually able to help my team instead of hinder it. I was small and fast. Jazz and Tyler passed me the ball often, so that I could sneak it into the fray and pass it to them when they got closer to the hoop. It was a strategy that served us well, and kept us neck and neck with Edward's team in points. We were all sweating, and cussing, and laughing. I had to hand it to Edward. The basketball game was lots of fun. "Last point wins," Mike called out, spinning the nubby-orange ball on the end of his pointerfinger. He looked smug from having made the last shot to tie things up for Edward's team. "Get the ball down the key," Jazz said, forming a huddle with Tyler and me. "Ty and I will set ourselves up for a shot. All you have to do it get the ball to one of us." "I can do that," I nodded. Tyler grinned at me. It was the move we had employed throughout the game so far, with much success. Tyler stood on the grass and tossed the ball in to me. I began dribbling the ball in, staying low to the ground. I hesitated when I saw that Mike was covering Tyler completely, and Edward and Eric were both covering Jazz. I feigned left, then right, spinning on my heels and trying to lure someone away from their blocking so that I would have an opening to pass. I caught Tyler's eye then, and saw him tilt his chin upward... his eyes flashing toward the basketball net. "Shoot the ball," he mouthed over Mike's shoulder. I licked my lips and stepped a little closer. If I missed the shot, one of Edward's team mates would likely get the rebound, putting them in position to win. My eyes shot over to Jasper. He was twisting and trying to move away from the cover of Edward and Eric. Biting my lip, I took another step and moved my arms into position to shoot the ball. My arms were over my head, and my toes had just left the ground in my jump, when a blur of a figure tore across my line of sight. Edward had noticed that I was going to take the shot, and had

leapt up and over me to block my efforts. Both of our bodies crashed in mid-air. I twisted under the impact, and fell hard on the ground, scraping my knee into the rough surface below me. "Ow.... Shit!" I yelled out. Immediately I turned to sit on my bottom while I surveyed the damage to my knee. Small black rocks were stuck into a large scratch, and blood was already pooling to the surface. The game had stopped completely, and the sun was blocked by the large shapes of the men who stood in a circle around where I sat. I felt embarrassed tears spring to my eyes that had nothing to do with the blood that was starting to trickle down my calve. I picked the rocks from my skin, and watched as blood twisted down my leg. It was what I had feared. Now I looked weak in front of the guys. "Bella? Honey... I'm so sorry. Here, let me help you up." Edward had his hands toward me. I frowned and stood without his assistance. I tried to keep my voice from wavering, but failed. "I'm fine. You guys... should finish without me. I'm just going to go down to the house to get cleaned up." "Would you like a ride?" Eric offered to drive me, and I smiled. "I live two houses down. I can make it. Thanks." I started to hobble off the basketball court with as much dignity as I could muster. I could hear the men quietly talking behind me. "Bella? Wait up!" Edward was calling my name, but I ignored him. "Come on Bella. At least let me apologize!" "Piss off, Cullen," I growled over my shoulder. "Bella... I'm sorry!" I felt tears sting my eyes. I was embarrassed more than I was hurt. His following me and calling out apologies was probably just to make himself look good to the men judging us. Once in my house, I gingerly made my way up the stairs to the bathroom. I could hear that he was still following me. "Go away!" I hissed. "No. Let me see." I turned to face him once I got into the bathroom. Edward still stood there, gloriously disheveled, sweaty, and half naked. Suddenly the small room seemed impossibly smaller. "It's bleeding." I glared. It wasn't a mortal injury, but I hoped to at least make him feel bad for it. My stony gaze lost its effect, however, when my eyes seemed unable to look away from his bare

" I whispered." I pouted. ambulance chasers.. you sat up on the sink. "I'm barely out of law school.. but then hissed instead when I felt the sting of the antiseptic spray that Edward applied to my torn skin." I folded my arms across my chest and muttered under my breath about stupid. "Yeah. "You told me I was your hero. Edward was running water over a washcloth in the sink. "You weren't listening. I know." Edward said with a husky voice. and I had fallen down while roller-skating on the sidewalk in front of our homes. trying to ignore the fact that his head was bowed close enough for me to reach out and push my fingers through that messy hair of his. "Shit. "Rude names for lawyers. and helped me up. "You don't have to manhandle me. pushy." I grumbled." Edward glanced up with a soft smile on his face before looking back down at my knee.. I was crying like a baby when he helped me to sit on the edge of the sink. I think I remember where everything is. and I'm already getting called dirty-lawyer names. "Bella? Sit!" Edward put his hands on my hips and turned me while pushing me down to sit exactly as he directed." "I'm sure you'd use them if you could. "Let me help you." . he hid it well. "Now just stay still. If he noticed where my attention had shifted.chest. I mean. "Sit on the edge of the tub." "I was smaller then. I didn't have to bend over so far to clean you up." I turned my head and studied the wall. "I don't know any others. and bandaged my knee." Edward chuckled while wiping the blood away from my leg. cleaning the area.." "You've done enough. Edward turned with a smirk on his lips and his hands full of first-aid supplies." I confessed.. the last time you and I were in this situation." he instructed. "You know." Edward rebutted. I opened my mouth to point out how silly I was as a girl.. I flinched a little when I felt him press the warm cloth to my knee. He dropped the items on the floor next to my shoes while he lowered himself to his knees in front of me. Edward saw the accident. I was ten years old.

"I'm fine Jazz. I felt his hands smoothing a bandage over my knee. I could only swallow hard and mentally curse my body for over-reacting to such an innocent gesture. "You cheated. Despite the physical changes we had both undergone since seeing each other last."Sorry. He pulled it over his head and moved into the hall while Jasper moved into the bathroom with me. . "Don't bet your cute little fanny. My skin burned where he touched it." I grinned. "What's the damage?" Jasper's loud voice from the hall caused us both to startle guiltily. And just as he had when I was ten years old. What was wrong with my voice? Edward raised his hand and traced the strap of my tank top on my shoulder with the back of his fingers." Edward dismissed the injury and took his t-shirt from Jasper's hands.. you should both know that the guys decided that Bella wins the point for this round... His eyes glinted darkly in the bathroom light. "There. "They all thought Edward was too rough with you. My fingers dug painfully into the side of the tub when Edward pursed his lips and blew his breath across the pooled disinfectant to cool my skin as it dried. "Ridiculous. "You're just afraid that I'm going to win this thing. In a second. Edward was treating me the same as he always had.." he muttered. Edward moved his face closer to my leg. all done. There was no reason for my heart to be pounding so rapidly in my chest. looking up at me. "Hell no. "Does Izzy need stitches?" Edward stood and opened the door quickly. looking for affirmation. "Are you okay?" His worried eyes met mine." I breathed." he spoke. "It's a small battle wound." I said smugly. His face was so close." "Well." Edward murmured." Jasper put his hand on my knee. "You were playing dirty too." "Woo-hoo!" I squealed and threw my fists up over my head while Edward scowled. And you know it." Our eyes warred. Neither of us was willing to back down." he growled before turning to go. It's barely a scratch.

Ready. You have fun." I smiled. "I'm trying to tap into my reserved super-powers. . and I wouldn't be at a disadvantage. Don't be too rough with the boys." Jazz grinned and complimented my simple blue t-shirt with the Wonder Woman emblem emblazoned across the front." I reminded him. "Maybe we can round up another game before I leave. I was a little worried about how hard Edward might fight to catch up.. First Aid "I wish I was going with you. "Which reminds me." Charlie left me to finish my glass of milk in the kitchen." He tried to look stern. grinning widely." I nodded and acknowledged his request. "Sure. "Sure you do." "You'll need them. I thought the three of us could go get some dinner tonight? Some place civilized. The first point of the competition had been awarded to me." Jasper reminded us anyway. "Nice shirt." he shrugged. to counter the brutality that's bound to go down today. The small grin that tugged at the corner of his mouth let me know that he was being playful. Though." "Sounds nice. while pulling his favorite fishing hat down over his head.. He must have met Jazz and Edward at the door." "Sounds good Isabella. because I looked up to find my neighbors sauntering in to fill up the small space around me. I just shrugged and flipped my ponytail over my shoulder. He palmed his keys and looked at me." Edward nodded. "No more of that. I expected him to wag a disapproving finger in my face in a moment. Got me." Charlie said. "And don't think I didn't notice you using it to your advantage today. "You already have plans with your friends. but it was a pale imitation of Edward's scowl. "Thanks. We could go into the next activity fresh."I have a cute little fanny?" I asked Jasper. 8." I laughed. Swan?" Jasper said. "Fine. Just to keep things light. "No hostilities off the field. Aim." Edward said smugly.

I gave Edward the directions to the facility that I had found on the internet. I had never actually played paintball before." I shrugged. and then stared out the window at the morning fog that danced around the base of the trees that we passed next to the highway. "Speaking of job." Jasper started to sing as I walked to join them." Edward sat beside Jasper on the edge of a picnic table and nudged him with his arm sympathetically." I muttered. "She's bringing sexy back. I should have thought my idea over more carefully." Jasper teased in an Elmer Fudd voice. When we got there. They laughed when Skinny John directed me to the children's supplies to choose mine. He grinned and delivered a fake punch to my shoulder while we walked out the door to wait for the other men. Truthfully. As a matter of fact." I grimaced. Jasper only had to rearrange the private music lessons he gave in order to come home for two weeks. In fact. the owner. Alice wasn't able to take the time off work to join him.. We knew he missed . My curves were completely covered. I zippered a bulky padded suit over my clothes and shuddered when I considered how different I looked today compared to yesterday." Skinny John told us. "Don't quit your day job. He shared one of his welcoming grins with me when I gave him my name.. The idea of running combat-style through four acres of wooded area while trying not to get taken out of the game by five very enthusiastic men made my palms sweat." Jasper frowned. "I should give Alice a call. I was a little nervous. "Very funny guys. "We're hunting Bellas. with my large goggles in place."You ready?" "Ready as I'll ever be. "Be vewwy. I could have passed for a teenage boy. While Charlie had taught me the basics of shooting a gun at a firing range when I was younger. I had reserved a two-hour game and equipment for six of us to play. Jasper and Edward quickly donned padded coveralls from the shelves that lined the wall inside the equipment shack. vewwy qwiet. Skinny John turned out to be anything but.." Edward added with a wink in the rear-view mirror. I was pretty sure that his forearm alone was bigger than my waist. "I feel like Bugs Bunny during rabbit season." I said quietly while we got into Edward's car. But he had a wide open smile and an easy attitude that came with owning a business he obviously loved. I jumped from the back seat and went to meet Skinny John.. "Let's get you all suited up while we wait for your friends to get here.

. and they made his hair stick up in wild directions. "I don't want you to become complacent. you can buy my dessert tonight. We had four acres. if you really feel that bad about it." "Like basketball. "Give her pink. Not fast enough.. "Nope. "As long as you boys don't mind running around looking as if you'd been hosed down by Pepto Bismol!" The men laughed at my threat and I pushed my goggles into place before covering my head with the protective face mask. We were asked to choose our colors before we filled the hoppers with the round paint capsules. and Edward slid down the wooded surface until the gap between us was gone. His safety goggles were pushed up high on his forehead. we were to remove ourselves from the playing area and wait at the shed for the other casualties to arrive." "Loser today buys dessert. My strategy was simple. have you played paintball before?" Edward asked. similar to a wasp bite. Eric. I startled and then ran. once again wondering at the wisdom of my plan.her. As soon as I heard the air horn behind me. sectioned off by neon-orange plastic fencing." I laughed. He walked away." I sighed." Tyler smirked over at me. "I was just looking for a daytime activity that didn't put me at a complete disadvantage. I had barely made it to the trees when I felt the sharp sting. Skinny John helped us all to find our starting places. Mike and Tyler greeted us outside before going into the shed to get suited for the sport. punching numbers into his phone. Skinny John showed us how to use the air-charged paintball guns. he obviously remembered my girlie-attire from the basketball court. "So. "Sorry again. and try to find a hiding spot while the other men took themselves out of the game." Edward was looking at his knees. At least the color of my paintballs helped me to retain a small portion of my femininity. I was sweating a little in my coveralls." I reassured him. "But of course." "I'm fine. Even dressed like a boy. about yesterday. "I don't mind pink. indicating that we should start running into the trees at the sound of his air horn. I wanted to get deep into the trees as quickly as I could. . and if we received three-shots. Jasper moved back over to join us when the other three players arrived. Ugh. on the left side of my butt." "Fine." Edward wrinkled his nose and looked over at me with a challenge in his eyes." I shrugged. I turned to see Jasper's bright blue mark splattered against the back of my pants. I couldn't help but blush a little bit. The same alert would sound when it was time to come back to the shed at the end of our game.

I hoped they would shoot each other and be forced to drop out of the game. It didn't matter to me if none of them wore my pink mark. I ran deep into the wooded area. I tried to control my breathing and I slid my head closer to the edge of the bushes. only stopping when I saw the orange fencing ahead of me. "Think you two could end this without bloodshed today?" Mike asked.. Following the line and staying behind trees. "You shouldn't have given me such an easy target!" I heard his laughter fade as he ran in a different direction. If I could hear his breathing. I could hear his breathing." I wished I could see his face. I might still be considered . Forrest Gump? You shot me in the ass!" I was screeching over my shoulder as I continued to run. My butt was on fire and I wanted to make sure I didn't get hit again. I wasn't even sure I remembered how to use the gun as Skinny John had instructed. Every now and again I heard someone yell out a taunt or an obscenity. I wanted to be able to get a better idea of where he stood. He wasn't moving. leaving the forest floor slippery and dangerous for me to try to navigate. I crawled headfirst into a clump of bushes to try to hide myself. "I'm sure we'll manage. But I knew that he hadn't gone. I pressed myself as low to the ground as I could. "Jasper and Tyler took each other out." "Who else is left?" I heard Edward speaking. His voice stayed steady. Even through my coveralls. If I could wait him out until the air horn sounded. that hit had made my eyes water. I just wanted to be the last person standing.. I'm heading back to the shed. A new plan sprang to mind. Dropping to my knees instead.. I froze. I didn't know how many hits he had taken."Ow! Damn it Jasper! What is this. "That's my last hit. His voice sounded breathy from his run and attack. But if he had more than one. For the most part. we could both exit the game tied as winners. I couldn't even see his feet. That just leaves you and Isabella." I heard Mike cuss and laugh." "Ah. "Fuck you Cullen. I was thankful for the tree canopy that provided some cover. not even caring about the wet bracken below me.. I slid along and almost landed on my sore backside when I heard rumbling voices and running footsteps nearing. I hoped someone was giving him chase. I didn't really feel the need to shoot anyone. I got Eric. he might be able to hear mine. I listened for the sound of the large men running through the woods. I was sure to get a bruise. they weren't near enough for me to hear them. But thick drops of water still bounced through the pine needles and leaves. I could tell he was moving away by the sound of his voice. I really shouldn't have been surprised when it started to rain. He deserved to be popped by one of those paintballs too." Edward assured him.

I wasn't literally afraid of eyes lowered. how the tides had changed. It really was only a matter of time before he would see me too. He sounded playfully menacing at most...victorious. In slow-motion like some Rambo movie.. and let's just finish this game now? One on one. No way was I going to be beat by my silly one-sided attraction to Edward Cullen. "Be-lla?" Edward's voice was soft. "I know you're here." .still in slow-motion. I bit my lip and lowered my gun in front of me. His knees were slightly bent. You and me. The yell died on my lips when." I grimaced and tried to make myself smaller under the cover of the bushes. My arm muscles strained against the gun's recoil. I rolled up to my knee. yelling while I pressed the trigger of my air gun. I clutched my gun to my chest and threw myself sideways out of my hiding space. and his goggles were pushed back up into his messy hair. His face mask was pulled back around his neck. "Be-lla?" He continued to use a low and coaxing voice. I'm sorry!" I said again. Aggravated by my response to his low voice. slipping on the wet leaves and struggling to keep up with him as he stomped his way toward the rest of our group at the shed.. I tried to snake my way back under the cover of the bushes. and I could see that Edward had actually moved very close to where I was hiding. His gun fell to the wet ferns. his hands cupped his crotch.. "I swear. He looked absolutely livid. I scrunched up my face. With a surge of newfound determination. none could match the gruesome image of the bright pink paint that spattered in three distinct splotches against the front of Edward Cullen's pants. and the man fell to his knees on the wet forest floor. I looked up and barely registered the shock in Edward's eyes beneath his goggles. Obviously.. I only knew the general direction in which he stood." Edward continued to taunt. The air horn sounded before Edward was able to pick himself up off the ground. but my foot hit a twig and it snapped ominously below me. But I saw a flash of color through the foliage in front of me. I knew he would have heard that. "Edward. Are you afraid?" His voice had dropped and it sent chills right down my spine. Oh. Just come on out.. Why don't you come on out. "I know you are nearby. and he turned back and forth on his heels as though he were searching the area for my hiding place.. "Come on Bella. Shit. But damn if he didn't have a way of making my body turn to mush sometimes. His face was twisted and his jaw was clenched. I sucked in a breath and held it. While Rambo movies were filled with blood and gore. And still I let loose a wild-growling scream like some warrior princess in battle. I would not be able to hide. I didn't mean it.

"It will help." he bit back." Eric frowned. "Un-necessary violence. The men stood from the picnic tables as we approached and when their eyes easily saw my mistake. I followed him outside. Don't worry about it.." Jasper suggested." I moaned. Alright?" I nodded. "You should ice 'em down man. "Edward wins." I licked my lips and looked over at Edward. "In light of . I followed Edward indoors and quickly un-zippered my own coveralls before laying them on the counter with my goggles and headcover.. . recent injuries.." Jasper said. Edward took a deep breath and sent me a little smile. he tried to hide it. "You don't shoot a guy in the nads!" "I swear it was an accident. Jasper noticed my expression in the rear-view mirror and put his hand along the back of Edward's seat when he turned to look at me." "I really am sorry.." Edward grunted a little when he lowered the ice bag to his lap...." I sniffed. wringing my hands in front of me. getting in the back seat quietly. The other men stood and folded their arms across their chests. "Bella? Honestly." "Fine. I didn't do it on purpose. You don't have to beat yourself up so much." Mike said cooly." Edward nodded slightly and I was hit by a wave of guilt again.. The others had already removed their jumpsuits and returned their equipment. Edward lowered himself into the passenger side seat gingerly." I conceded the game. I knew that my hits to his pelvis must have hurt. "I propose that we don't start our next round of the competition for at least two days. I knew it looked like I was trying to retaliate for the foul on the basketball court. Swan. I bit my lip and struggled not to cry. Edward turned his head and saw the tears that threatened to squeeze from my eyes. I'm okay. His features softened. I felt horrible about the situation. I hung my head and walked to the car. and he still wasn't speaking to me. Just the one shot I had received on the rear felt achy and sore. and soon joined me in the car. And I had leveled three paintballs at his nether regions at close range. and I was trying to make amends. He's fine." I nodded. I looked over to see Skinny John shaking his head while handing Edward a bag of ice. My cheeks burned to think of the reason that he needed it. If he was walking awkwardly. uh. Jasper had taken the keys from Edward and offered to drive."Save it. "Edward wins this one. "Party foul. "I honestly didn't mean to. Jasper and Edward said their goodbyes. shocked silence surrounded us. "Hey Izzy. I couldn't help it.

pushing back the foil-lined paper around his taco with his teeth before taking a bite. I'm hungry. I figured that if you won yesterday based on a sympathy vote. "But.." I pointed out." "No problem. "Well you know I could eat now and still be hungry later." Edward pointed toward his lap. I might as well wring-out the same mercy today. "I'm not really hungry. "That sign says they have fish tacos!" Jasper grinned. "If you want some food. I'd be happy to get it for you. Edward and I both looked over at him curiously. I couldn't blame him for working it to his advantage.. "You guys don't know what you are missing. I might have let on to be in a little more pain than I really am. I'll be right back!" Jasper slammed the car door behind him while he went to go order a couple of fish tacos from the ramshackle food stand. "They are serving food from the back of a camper trailer. I couldn't really be mad at him. . unbuckling his seat belt." I wondered for a moment. "Why would you do that?" I wiped at my eyes. When Jasper pulled over on the side of the road at a small food stand. "I don't want to spoil my appetite for dinner."Two of those shots hit my legs anyway. I shook my head.." I stared at Jasper while he stood waiting for his food." Jasper chuckled beside me and put the car in reverse. The hit he had taken probably did hurt a whole lot worse than my silly scraped knee." I folded my arms across my chest and stared out the side window. "The best food comes from stands like these.." Jasper munched happily while he continued to drive down the road. "You had me really scared!" "Well. Who else wants one?" "I'm sitting on ice." I offered. thanks.. if they still wanted to go out for dinner at all." Edward said.. He sauntered back to the car.

thanks for coming over to . I had really been looking forward to going out. "I don't want to spoil my appetite either. "There's been. 9.. You do not want to go up there." Edward's warm grip around my arm stopped me as I moved past him. a complication." I nodded and frowned. "Fish Tacos. Needing a definite change from my androgynous morning ensemble. She lost. and I heard forgiveness in his tone.. "Food poisoning. It sucked that Jasper was sick. I had chosen to wear a cute tank-top and summer skirt for my evening out."Bella's right. I smiled from the backseat. we think. "What kind of complication?" I asked. I stopped short." He shook his head. "The entire upper level of the house is pretty much quarantined for nastiness. Bella and Edward sitting in a tree I fastened the small silver hoop at the back of my ear and then surveyed my image in the mirror." "Gotcha. A light cardigan finished the look just as I heard a knock from downstairs.." Edward began.." Edward said soberly. "Hey Edward. He wore a nice bright blue button-up shirt and black jeans. "Coming!" I pushed my hair behind my ear and hurried down the stairs as safely as my strappy heeled sandals would allow. under the weather.. With a sigh I dropped my arms to my sides." "Oh no! I should go see if he needs anyth. Everything was going to be alright. I would think he looked damn-near perfect. Believe me. "Isabella!" Charlie called out. Where's Jazz?" I asked. raising my eyebrow. so she has to buy me dessert. "Well. Charlie chuckled and walked back into the living room.. When I rounded the corner toward the door. If it weren't for his uncomfortable looking expression.." He was back to teasing me." Edward shrugged. Jasper is feeling. Edward stood shifting his weight from foot to foot awkwardly. "Not tonight..

"Well." I swallowed hard.tell me. "What is this?" Edward asked after a minute. I was surprised." I reached for the door handle and Edward remained with his feet planted on the hardwood floor.. "After shooting you like I did. Edward held the door for me." "Never heard of them... in the dusky-evening light felt strange and a little uncomfortably intimate. Edward shook his head again. I bit my lip to keep my next thoughts from tumbling out." I called over my shoulder. I thought he would deliver the news and go. because he shoved his hands into his pockets and turned to leave. I didn't want to fight with Edward tonight." he said.. He must have misunderstood my hesitation as me turning down his offer then. "I hope this is alright?" Edward pulled into the parking lot outside the town's one and only nice restaurant. "You don't know Kings of Leon?" I looked over at him in surprise. "If you are sure you still want to. I'd like to go." "You owe me dessert. Edward didn't even know the kind of music that Jasper liked to listen to. if one could consider dark wood paneling and stuffed animal heads on the wall as being high-end.." I hurried to stop him. and felt my shoulders relax downward while the edges of my mouth curled up. and I led the way out toward his car. Dad." Edward shook his head but continued to stare forward while he drove. I'd still like to go out to dinner.. Well." Edward smirked then. I reached for his stereo buttons. and stopped when I heard a familiar song. "He turned me onto a CD of theirs. "I'll be home later. I think I should pretty much pay for dinner entirely..well over a year ago. I pressed my finger against the small black button to search through radio stations. Something about being inside the confined area of Edward's car..." "I won't argue with that. To alleviate the odd tension I felt. Unless.. He's fairly obsessed with their music. I leaned back in my seat then. It was tiny details like these that made me feel more certain than ever that I deserved to be Jasper's Best Man.." Edward replied quietly." I filled him in. I restrained myself from rudely pointing out his ignorance. "Not at all. . "I mean.." Edward grinned. you'd rather not. "They are Jazz's favorite band right now. "Do you mind?" I asked. "No.

I hid my smile behind my napkin until I was able to better control my laughter." "The difference between twenty-five and twenty-one is a lot smaller than the difference between eighteen and fourteen."The Lodge?" I laughed... He pushed my chair in under me like a gentleman which only made my internal musings more humorous. "Sure. Edward nodded and asked for two glasses of the house red before chuckling into his menu again." I said while rolling my eyes.." he answered. Edward laughed pleasantly." I replied seriously. "Forgive me. I was too hungry to wait much longer. "I'm just not used to thinking of you as being old enough to drink. "This was the nicest place in town. He sat and leaned over the table toward me to better hear my words. As we were led to a small table that was lit with a flickering candle in a red jar.. Be still my girlish-heart." I giggled again and Edward laughed warmly." Edward said quietly." he chuckled. "You were the cutest boy I could think of. "You know." "Really?" Edward's eye brows shot up and he leaned back in his seat with a surprised smile on his face. Edward hurried around the car to open my door for me. "And since I skipped lunch today. "Wine?" I suggested." he smiled over the edge of his menu. "I didn't know how far out you wanted to drive for food. I hadn't been in The Lodge since Charlie treated me to dinner right after my high school graduation. "What's so funny?" Edward asked. I giggled a little under my breath. for dinner. Because I'm not jailbait anymore. "It's funny to me now." "This is fine. .. Edward." "You are not that much older than me. The waitress came by for a drink order. "I'll try hard not to blow the fantasy for you. and Edward shook his head and looked down at his menu.. Present company included. this would have pretty much been considered a dream date." I assured him.. at the Lodge. to actually be sitting with Edward Cullen.. "If I were still sixteen. I smiled down at my menu. "Why are you laughing now?" I asked." I shrugged. "How would I have come into play?" Edward asked." I whispered as though I were letting him in on a big secret." I teased. "Four years isn't really that big a difference.

" I muttered.." His attempt at humor was appreciated. We got into a wicked fight and we didn't talk to each other for two weeks. "Jazz was right... "Charlie finally allowed me to start dating." he agreed.. which I wasn't. But you couldn't muster up enough pity to let him take you out on a date in high school. It's pretty gross." Edward's eyes took on a hard edge that let me know we were on the ...." I mumbled. was over a boy that I dated?" "Was Jasper jealous?" Edward asked with a look of intense interest. I argued with him and told him that he had to let me make my own decisions. "You have no idea how hard it was to date in high school!" I huffed. Luckily (he explained) he had found Mike before Mike found him. I gave him exactly what he was looking for. I have a nasty quartersized bruise. I dropped my eyes. "Did you know that the first real fight Jazz and I ever had."That you are not.." Edward passed me the basket of bread and I took a breadstick. He continued to fill me in on the antics of the other men as they had taken each other out of the game. purple with yellow in the center." "What happened?" Edward asked. "Sure.. "No. you know.." Edward teased. When the topic strayed to the morning trip to the paintball field.. Conversation between Edward and me was surprisingly easy." "Surprisingly... So I didn't exit the game entirely unscathed either.. "I really do hope that you are okay.. Jasper took care of!" "It's a good thing I didn't stay right next door." "I'll be fine. right in the middle of my butt cheek. And I really liked this guy. Edward actually had two shots across his back and only needed one more before he would have been out as well." I shook my head. But Jazz insisted he was all wrong for me.. "You would have had three men chasing all your beaus away!" "Very funny. that does make me feel marginally better. We continued laughing through most of our meal... "If it helps to know.. "I went to prom with the guy. "I'm pretty sure I'll still be able to father children someday. it was almost impossible to get around Charlie. Pity him now." I snorted." Edward laughed.. "Even if I was interested in Mike. "Poor Mike. And the ones that my father didn't scare away." Edward laughed. Jasper shot me in the butt with one of those things.

" I smiled..." Edward said quietly. his dinner finished." "That sounds familiar. "I dated a guy named Pete.. Ya know?" Edward reached across the table and put his hand on top of mine." Edward nodded. "No!" Edward laughed. "We all learn from our mistakes right?" Jazz was the one that held me while I cried. Pete was handsome and popular. I'm sorry Bella. Edward sputtered a bit on the sip of wine he was taking. Edward pulled his hand back to rest on his lap beneath the table edge." I shook my head." I nodded. you and Pete just. right after I moved to Florida. "Just one. "Then a couple of weeks after prom I caught him making out with one of the cheerleaders in the hallway by the boy's locker rooms." I shrugged. after the whole rotten experience here in Forks. "What about you?" his statement inspired me to ask. "Hopefully that experience didn't ruin you for our gender entirely!" "Are you asking me if I'm a lesbian?" I asked with wide eyes. and I was completely flattered that he liked me.same page. put his glass down and wiped his mouth before smiling over at me.. We both knew it wasn't going to go anywhere else. "I was merely going to ask you if you had any relationships after him!" "Oh!" I laughed lightly at my own mistake. I mean. "It was an amiable agreement. "Not you Bella." "Don't be. But I was new.. "We still talk once in a while. "I'm buying." "What happened with Pete?" Edward rested his chin in his palm." I reminded Edward." I smiled. and I didn't have any friends there.. And he missed his big piano recital after he punched my ex-boyfriend and broke his hand in the process. for about a year. "I really should have known right from the beginning.. broke up?" Edward asked." "I figured that out with time. "So. .. Edward opened his mouth but we were interrupted by the waitress asking if either of us would like dessert. He nodded.. No harsh feelings. I kind of wondered if there was something wrong with me. "The idiot in high school is the one that had the problem.." "God. "We just weren't right for each other.

"You know. we were up there sleeping one night. And it really was kind of your fault.. and I let Edward lead me out to the car once more. He was just waiting for me to finish my story. "You forget that I walked in on you two kissing!" "Ugh. I closed my eyes and recalled with perfect clarity how my attention had been held captive by the groping teenagers on the Whitlock's back porch.."Do you mind if we take it to go?" Edward asked. Don't remind me. "Yes." Edward raised his shoulder." I rolled my eyes in the darkened interior of his car. "I peeked out the window of the club house. I made him do it.. So you know how Jasper and I used to have sleep-overs up in the tree house?" I asked. "Okay. I ordered a piece of white chocolate strawberry cheesecake. "Don't pretend!" Edward reprimanded. "I am surprised that you and Jasper never made it official." Edward had a half-smile on his face that was a bit distracting. and I saw you and Mary Beth Stratford making out like crazy on your back porch!" Edward's mouth popped open with a surprised expression. I paid our tab. Their ragged breathing . my fault?" Edward pulled into the space in front of his house and shut off the engine before turning his body to give me his full attention.." "My fault?" Edward laughed. "I have an idea.. "You know. in any way.. How exactly was you making out with my little brother." "Go on." I huffed. which prompted me to ask "What?" in a high-pitched voice." "Oh God.. purely experimental. I have to hear this.." "Made what official?" I asked curiously. "I think we both told you about a million times that Jasper and I never liked each other like that!" Edward shot a disbelieving look over in my direction." Edward began once we were in the car. "That was." "Sure." "Well. I was glad for the relative darkness that would hide any tell-tale blushing. and Edward ordered the triple-chocolate cake. "Oh yes. would end up together. The waitress returned with our desserts wrapped and placed in a bag with plastic utensils. "I just always assumed you two." I nodded. The porch light had illuminated them completely. And I heard a noise that woke me up.

"How old were you?" "Fourteen. "I remember that night." "You shouldn't have been watching. "Where are we going?" "You mentioned the tree house. We compared notes and kept it very scientific. And you spied on us?" Edward laughed low.did you?" "Ew!" I shoved Edward's shoulder and opened the car door to step outside. It only happened that once. I'll be giving you an up close look at my paintball battle wound!" ." Edward replied." he nodded up toward the steps while I removed my shoes." I nodded. fairly sexual situation I had ever stumbled upon. I know." Edward breathed. "Yes." Edward stopped at the base of the tree with our bag of sweets in his hand. "But after that I became convinced that Jasper and I should practice." "You two didn't ever practice anything else. If I climb up first. "Oh. So I'd be ready!" "And I happened to catch you two 'practicing'?" Edward asked. It was fairly late." Edward whispered. "I'm wearing a skirt. "It was the first. "It was right before you went away to New York. "I couldn't help it.. and we didn't want to call attention to ourselves outside. "Forget it. "Follow me.." I giggled." I shook my head." Edward shrugged. I felt like such a deviant.carried through the quiet night air to my tender young ears." Edward tried to frown but his eyes were bright.." I smiled. "Ladies first. "Mary Beth let me feel her up!" "I know!" I giggled.. Just in case anyone ever wanted to kiss me like that. You know. Bella. "I just wanted to get some fresh air. But now that seems as good a place as any to enjoy our dessert." "We were just kissing. "Shit. And Edward's cheeks had been such a lovely and flushed shade of red that I couldn't bring myself to look away.

"Not at all.. I didn't come out of my youth with emotional scars and a rap sheet. So you see. "My mother was only seventeen when she had me." Edward began to explain. "Why do you have a different last name?" I asked." I laughed quietly. I turned with my mouth open in surprise." "They did. "It's not like you and I have ever sat down and discussed my adoption." Edward sighed. she left." "I never thought to ask. It inspired me to take a small bite of the cheesecake that I had balanced on my lap. And then when my mother turned eighteen." "What are you asking?" Edward looked at me and stuck his plastic utensil into the rich-looking chocolate cake in front of him." I bit my lip. "You know." Edward pulled the brown cake from the fork with his teeth and chewed it a moment before swallowing." Edward put a piece of the chocolate cake on his fork and held it . "Pretty." Edward mentioned.. I was very fortunate.." "What happened then?" I encouraged him to continue. If not for your last names being different. I would completely forget that you were adopted. My grandmother helped her through my first year. "She died of cancer. "I guess I just never wanted to forget where I came from. Edward moved around me to take to the steps first.. "Joy and Larry were the very first foster-family that took me in. moving to sit beside him on the wooden floor. "She wasn't ready for a child."Show me yours and I'll show you mine. I took our desserts out of the bag and handed Edward one of the forks. My grandmother became my legal guardian and she raised me until I was eight. I crawled up into the door way and reached for the extension cord to flip the switch and turn the tiny twinkle lights on around us. "If you don't mind me asking." he shook his head." I continued while I climbed the tree behind him. She was a child herself. "Why is that?" I asked. that I'm asking you this?" I worried out loud.. His eyes twinkled at his obvious joke. I was always loved." "Is it weird. I didn't have some messed-up childhood. And it wasn't long before they offered to adopt me." Edward whispered. "You are horrible. "I mean. "You are so much like your brother sometimes. I know Joy and Larry must have asked you if you wanted to change it.." "Me too." Edward said from above me. looking at the lights. only to see Edward with a wide and playful smile across his face. Edward looked at me thoughtfully for a moment and then took another bite of his cake.

" "He's always been that way. I always wanted to succeed and be the best at everything. no. "You blame your childhood for your competitiveness?" I asked." I concluded. He looked into my eyes while he took the creamy treat from the end of the fork. Licking his lips. affect the moods of people around him? It's like he makes you happy just by being near?" "Yes. I didn't want to ever forget my beginnings." "Of course not. I stayed a Cullen. "Did you ever look for your mother?" "She's in the house sleeping. social groups. wouldn't have stolen anything that he wanted." Edward continued. I pulled a piece of my cheese cake onto my fork and offered it to Edward much as he had offered his cake to me before. But my Grandmother was a really wonderful woman.." Edward shrugged." "Aside from my horrible competitive drive. "I think a lot of kids end up really messed up for going through similar things. "What?" I asked. .." I said quietly. So. "I never felt the need to look for my biological mother." "You are an awesome brother. because you never seemed to be that way around Jazz." "You are lucky.." I sighed." "It's mutual. one of the greatest people I've ever known. "He never treated me like an interloper in his house.. He accepted me as his brother right away." I shook my head. "Without a doubt. I guess it was my way of trying to make Joy and Larry proud.forward for me.." "I can't believe I never knew that. "Jasper is. even college and law school." I mumbled. I always pushed myself very hard." Edward said then. "Larry and Joy offered me their name." "I think maybe I never noticed.. I was in clubs. You know how he can. savoring the bitter dark chocolate against my tongue.. "I never felt that anything was missing from my life.. I leaned in and pulled it into my mouth." Edward chuckled... Hell... he closed his eyes and savored the taste for a moment." Edward tilted his head toward the white house beyond the tree house window. "And I would have been proud to have been a Whitlock. "The happiness sort of jumps off of him and glomps on to anyone that is close." Edward nodded.. I think I'm fairly well-balanced. "You see. I would have never tried to take attention from him." Edward lowered his eyebrows... sports. I wanted to make sure they never regretted bringing me into their home. "He still thinks the world of you. Then he looked over at me with a mischievous grin.." Edward huffed. "You didn't compete with him for anything.

." "It passed. still laughing at his fishing attire. Jasper had borrowed one of Larry's floppy-fishing hats and a giant pair of wading boots. "I'm empty. Their voices were a couple of octaves lower than they had been when they were children. I'm going home and going to bed." Jasper chuckled.." Jazz sang out. "Good night boys." Jasper muttered a good night around a mouthful of my cheese cake. Our fathers were both standing side by side further down the bank. 10. I need to fill 'er up. A Whole New Can of Worms I followed Jasper along the river's edge. Izzy has an admirer. While I opted to roll up my jeans and shove my ponytail through the back of a baseball cap. I'm glad that you are okay. reaching for my cheese cake."My dessert is so much better!" Edward dug back into his chocolate cake while I laughed. their laughter felt the same in my heart. Jasper climbed into the tree house and sat between us." I leaned forward on my knees and kissed Jasper on the cheek.. .." "How can you want to eat now?" Edward laughed while Jasper wrinkled his nose at my dessert but continued to eat it. The sound made me feel carefree and happy.. "I thought you were sick. I shook my head at his silly logic. Good night Bella. "So." I laughed at his silly joke and then looked with surprise as a blonde head raised itself above the floor boards at the door. "Really Edward? Seriously?" I giggled. I could hear the boys talking in the tree house." "Yeah. I carried my heels in my hands while I ran through the damp grass to my own back door.. but surprisingly.. "Our dessert has to be a competition for you too?" "I can't help it. "What are you doing?" I asked. Edward? Thanks for the night out. It was fun.. "No pun intended. "Well. it was. The chocolate sin explosion here in my take-out box thoroughly kicks the sugaryass of that wimpy piece of cheese cake you've got over there. and I carefully made my way down the tree house steps. "Thanks for going with me." Jasper said." he smiled.

Jasper dodged away from my push with a laugh." "Going places?" I sat in the rocks at the edge of the water and started poking a long stick into the muddy bank in front of me. "Like what?" "Like. That hardly covered it. trying to concentrate on my footing. You could do worse." Jasper said." Jasper shook his head. he wanted to know if you have a boyfriend. You should snap him up before the video hits and he becomes a mega-star!" I laughed and looked down. He probably could have rocked the runways in Milan. "Tyler. Stuff like that. "Edward would have a stroke if he thought you were trying to influence the competition that way. Extra traffic in the area kept Charlie busy. "He was asking me all sorts of questions about you while we were waiting for you and Edward to come in off the paintball field." Jasper continued. "They are gonna get huge.." Jazz stopped and turned to look at me with a grin in place. "His band. "Crawl?" "Should I have heard of them?" I asked. Jasper lowered himself to sit to my left." . Tyler's band recorded a song that was picked up for the soundtrack. I told him you were single." he said. "Well. But that you would never date a drummer. "Maybe not yet.. but not conducive to helping me keep my balance. He's going places too." I gasped and shoved my shoulder into his arm. "Some movie filmed up here for the better part of last year." "I remember Dad mentioned that." "What did you tell him?" "I told him no. "Tyler is a good-looking guy. The rocks below my feet were tiny." I admitted. okay?" Jasper played with a hook on the edge of his hat. "Do me a favor? Wait until the competition is over if you two decide to start something up." "Really?" I couldn't help the warm rush that came to my cheeks. They are nothing but trouble!" "You did not." I shrugged. I didn't. "Tyler's a pretty cool guy."Huh?" I asked. "No.

working on a project that required showing her complete plans for the School of the Arts that she hopes to one day open. And I took her pen. She does that when she's thinking.." "Tell me. I still had a year left of school in Florida. I doubted much could come of encouraging Tyler while I was home. we were in my apartment. His profile was set with a dreamy smile of his own. as soon as you want one. "What's wrong Izzy?" "Nothing's wrong.'Alice? One of these days I'm gonna make you marry me. while watching the puffy white clouds move lazily against their lazuline background.." I shrugged. I moved to lay beside her on the floor. I was guessing that she was lost in thoughts of interior design. "I guess not all of us are lucky enough to meet our 'Alice'. "Alice was on her stomach across my floor. "I looked over.' She was busy planning how to get funding for scholarships that would allow under-privileged children the ability to attend the school. She said that paint samples and fabrics were 'exterior' and not 'interior." Jasper began." "Wow.. Alice was obviously Jasper's soul mate. studying." I nodded.. "I said . you'll meet your 'Alice. Anyway. "Well. and she was doodling in the margins of her paper." "And?" "She laughed at me." I repeated.." I heard him chuckle beside me. I sighed. I turned to look at Jasper." I smiled." My breath caught in my throat. "It wasn't planned. But it wouldn't hurt to flirt and have a little fun." "Aww.'" Jazz promised." I breathed with a smile. And I'll put a real ring on this finger.. "I know." "Go on."I promise. I longed for that same type of connection.. "You might be disappointed. Paint color? Furniture? You know she has a unique style. I looked for the images of the story he told in the clouds above me. I wondered what she was concentrating so hard on. "He's out there waiting for you." I laughed lightly at his continuation of my phrasing." I suggested. "Tell me how you proposed. She didn't say a thing when I grabbed her left hand and drew a little band all the way around her ring finger.. I mimicked his posture and did the same.'" . I just watched him smile up at the sky while he finished his story. When Jasper tipped his head to study the sky.

" I muttered. My heart was light. I squealed and tried to dodge his attack." I groaned. A new round of laughter flew from his generous mouth when we both realized at the same time that the muddy bank of the Sol Duc River was holding my tennis shoe captive. "You like my luck to rub off on you. "Well. arguing with the mire until it finally saw reason and returned my footwear. Remember?" I took my muddy hand and deliberately wiped a long." "Shut it. "Stop it. I stood up then and reached to grab the stick I had left on the ground. only the edges of the denim were dark with water." Jasper snorted."What did she say?" I whispered with tears in my eyes. "Peachy. "She rolled over to face me. Still holding one of his arms for balance. my balance shifted and I began to slide down toward the water. "There is nothing remotely funny about this. share my luck today!" "You are gonna pay for that. And she said 'What are you doing next summer?'" Jasper and I both laughed. Jasper looked at me with a dumbfounded expression before tipping his head back and laughing. I stood with one foot on the rocky bank... "You make me proud. as was my right hand and the sodden tennis shoe I held in my fingers. He held my body upright while I pulled my leg out of the murky sludge it was trapped in. dark trail of mud down the center of his t-shirt." "You too. "I try. "Jazz!" I yelled and threw my arms out to grab his outstretched hand. When I leaned forward. Having had the foresight to roll up my jeans." Jasper said. Swan!" Jasper stomped into the water with his large rubber boots and grabbed two handfuls of the sticky muck. I reached down and stuck my hand into the slimy mud. will you?" Jasper finally raised his lanky frame off the ground and wrapped his hands around my forearms." Jasper shook his head. "Could get covered in mud on a mostly-rocky river bank. But my left foot was completely covered with mud." I joked. but it was too late. "Only you." I hissed. but still . and the other firmly buried up past my ankle in mud. "Then you wouldn't be in this mess." I told him. "Should have worn waders. "Better now?" Jasper chuckled and helped pull me up to the drier ground. Pull me out.

"What's Edward doing today?" I asked during a station break." I nodded. "So.. "What's a bachelor party without exotic dancers?" "You hired Jasper a stripper?" I asked incredulously.ended up with mud on my shirt." "Any idea what he has planned for tonight?" Edward's night-time activity was on our schedule for the evening ahead... later.." Larry yelled down the bank. "You're scaring all the fish with that god-awful noise!" "Sorry!" Jasper and I called back in unison.. We are all going. "Well. "But there is a. "Where were you off to?" Jasper asked.. And we wouldn't have to search far to get our answers. while closing the truck door behind him. He stepped close to me and tugged the brim of my baseball hat down over my eyes." "It would be nice to know ahead of time.. there you are Bella! Just when I get to missing that little girl next door. But I suspect that he digs around in his books when he has some free time anyway. "Damn it. "No. Gentleman's Club." Jasper shrugged. on the other side of Port Angeles. arms. Using my shoe as a weapon. I made him promise to wait a couple weeks and take a break before he started to study for the Bar... I managed to streak Jasper with a fair amount of mud as well. Edward kept his eyes on me while he answered.. you show up all covered in mud!" "Whatever. "My guess is that he's got his face stuck in a book. and across one cheek. And we laughed and sang along to a cacophony of 80's music we found broadcasted locally. You kids get on outta here and head back home. "I went to the diner for lunch. We re-programmed all of Larry's pre-set radio stations on the way home. He'd share a ride home with Charlie. just to be brats." I rolled my eyes with a huff. We laughed again and turned to make our way back up to Larry's truck." Edward replied." . Edward was just getting out of his car when we pulled into the Whitlock's drive.. what are your plans for the night?" Jasper turned toward his brother." Edward shook his head. I bet he'll tell us when we get home. "I don't know. "No clue... looking at both of us with an amused expression.

It had tiny white flowers on it. My night time event includes beer pong and darts. feigning innocence." "Ah. "You make me so mad!" "It's fun to piss you off. "And you are just put out because your curvy little figure won't be so unique where we are going!" "Argh!" I threw my hands out to the side. Jasper and I sat in his kitchen. "But you won't break me. at a local bar."Hell yeah!" Jasper did a happy little jump in his giant boots and pumped his fist up in the air. "You only chose to go to a strip club to make me uncomfortable!" "Could it be that I really just thought it was something Jasper might like to do?" he asked." I ground out. So we're even. I'll have a fist full of dollars and a cigar between my teeth. he also loves naked women. Be ready to leave at eight." "Good. dripping water on the floor while we took a break from running through the backyard sprinkler and ate cherry popsicles.. I rubbed my tongue against the inside of my lip. "I'm getting a shower! Catch you two kids later!" Jasper left me standing there." I shook my head in defeat. squinting unhappily up toward his older brother. Jasper had a red stain down his chin." I snarled. . "Well. My fingers and my mouth were sticky with the taste of summer. "Fine." Edward smiled. "No. "Because if you gave it any real thought. It's going to take more than nipple-tassles and g-strings to get me to back down. I don't see where being a 'gentleman' has anything to do with cramming dollar bills into a g-string to get tits in your face!" My hands were on my hips and I wanted to kick him in the shins. Cullen. "The Slapping Beaver is a strip joint." I was eleven years old." "You are rude!" I frowned and felt the dried mud on my cheek pull at the skin." Edward nodded appreciatively. Playing up the fact that Jasper loves to throw darts. Cullen. "Don't change the subject.. and felt the small scratches that the soft-wood of the popsicle stick left behind. "You're cute when your face is all covered with mud. The humor in his eyes forced a smile from me in return. and was wearing my brand-new purple bikini." Edward laughed. you would have come up with something like I did. and I thought it was the prettiest swimsuit in the store. Play the game the way you want...

I had seen enough on television to know that a wolf-whistle was usually delivered by a man towards a pretty woman. Jasper jogged up beside me and threw his arm over my shoulder." one of the boys said behind me." I heard Edward warn." Edward called over.his fingers curled like talons. But I was definitely the only girl around. I felt a blush heat my face. As soon as I did. She's just a kid.. "Oh man. I turned to face them. young man." "Try it and see what happens. "I vant to suck your blood!" He stood with his arms extended. None of them stopped the game to acknowledge me. frowning. ass-wipe!" I smiled as I recognized that voice.. "Don't let Mom hear you cussing. throwing a Frisbee back and forth with a couple of his friends."You look like a vampire." I heard Edward's scolding voice even as I was turning to flee to the safety of my own house. "Your brother has a smart mouth.. Whitlock!" "Anytime dear." I laughed at him. "Her boobs are bigger than your IQ. I slid a little in the wet grass when I heard a low wolf-whistle behind me. She was already scrubbing at Jasper's face with the wetted corner of a dishtowel." Jasper said." "I'll meet you out there." "Okay! Thanks for the treat. I wasn't sure which of the older boys had whistled. I went out the back door but stopped on the top step when I saw Edward in the backyard. . Ed! I thought that was your brother in a bathing suit for a minute!" "She's built like a hockey-stick!" The other boy laughed. I couldn't tell who the voice belonged to." Jasper's mom replied. "He needs to be careful. Mrs. "They shouldn't make bikinis in baby-sizes. a skinny dark-haired boy held the Frisbee to his side and started laughing. "I'm going to wash my face. "Cut it out guys." the nasty boy complained. so I skipped lightly down the steps and started to make my way to the sprinkler Charlie had set up for Jazz and I in my own yard. Edward stood there. She apparently thought she would have a better chance at removing the stain than Jasper would. or I'll shut it for him. "You need to get cleaned up. "Not so fast.. as we tossed our garbage into the kitchen trash can." Jasper's mom stopped him.. Tears filled my eyes and I tried to get away from their mean comments.

I noticed that Edward's eyes scanned my appearance as I walked toward his car. The two brothers were leaning against the driver's side. yeah. and resumed his position as driver." Edward muttered while moving around the van." "Yeah. talking while waiting for me." No sooner had Jasper explained." Jasper complimented while ducking his head and climbing into the van. "Care to ride up front. than a large blue van pulled up in front of the Whitlock's house. I reached down to pull on my pump. Tyler jumped from behind the wheel and opened the sliding back door to reveal two bench seats. "Nice. "They're ass-wipes. "Nah." I laughed and wiped a tear from my cheek. "Especially with the way you look tonight. While I wouldn't be as voluptuous as the silicon-enhanced dancers we would be spending time with that evening."Don't listen to them." I muttered. with me?" Tyler asked quietly." I agreed. Tyler closed the door behind me. Tonight.. but I figured it would be classy enough when paired with skinny jeans to prohibit me being mistaken for an employee. Jasper was fond of his new favorite curse-word and it always made me giggle when he used it. I tried to ignore him while I stepped up and into the back. I moved to join him. "Red is supposed to be a power-color. They're ass-wipes. He can sit up front." Jasper said once we got inside my house. "Tyler offered to be the designated driver tonight. It was time to meet the boys. then stood and smoothed my hand down the front of my shirt. Is it not?" "Cullen. It's big enough for all of us to ride together. I took a deep breath and checked my watch. with Mike and Eric in the back." Tyler complimented me. I could be wearing baby-duck yellow and I'd still kick your ass in this competition." Jasper put his hand out to stop me. . My red button-up blouse was probably a little too dressy for a strip club. "Yeah." I replied. Jazz laughed heartily and I reached for the door handle to get in the back seat.. I'm just one of the guys!" "That's going to be tricky to remember. "This is Edward's night out. "Drawing strength from your clothing choices again?" Edward asked smugly. He's got a van that he usually hauls band-equipment around in. the years had been generous in supplying me curves that I could now be proud of. "We aren't taking Edward's car. I smiled at his sweet suggestion.

I ended up pressed inside a close circle of the men that I had accompanied. and I tried to calm my nerves as I listened to the crunching of our steps in the gravel leading us closer to the building. To be honest. and a pole that went from ceiling to floor." I shrugged and walked beside him. From movies and music videos. While there was a small. 11. where to?" Tyler aimed his question to the man in the passenger seat." I nodded in jest. Edward directed him to just east of Port Angeles. I listened to the men around me psyche themselves up for a night of drinking and scantily clad women. while glancing around the parking lot full of cars. I just knew that if I let my own discomfort bring down the mood of the people around me. "Bring on the T and A.. around the circumference of each stage. Since the Great Paintball Incident of '09. Edward would win. Each stage had a private dancer on it.. I could see that pulsing red lights bounced around the room in time to electronic music that filled the air. 'The Slapping Beaver' was displayed proudly above an innocuous looking single-story building with darkened windows. "Sure. "Oh yeah. "Should be fun!" Mike agreed. rectangular stage near the back wall. "Got your money ready.. "You ready?" Edward asked. I couldn't afford to lose a point tonight. our score was tied. I followed Jasper outside and stood with my feet in the gravel. staring up at the blinking neon sign. and the two men flanked Jasper as they began walking toward the entrance. I tried to peek around the large bodies around me. for paying customers to sit and enjoy the show up-close. "Looks like it's packed tonight.. to take in my surroundings. I had no idea what to expect. Swan?" Jasper asked."So. I felt like I needed the prep. The Slapping Beaver When Tyler opened the van door for us. I had expected a large. or what I was about to get myself into. rubbing my shoulders like I was a boxer about to step into a ring. And from the looks of one man ." Eric said. most of the action seemed to be taking place on and around several small round stages that were set up in various locations around the large room. For the rest of the drive. central stage with dancing girls doing choreographed numbers. Tyler fell into step at my other side. Chairs were placed on the floor." Mike and Eric laughed loudly from the seat behind me. The hallway leading in from the door was narrow.

" he whispered over." the bottled-red head purred. She pouted prettily and mussed the top of his hair with her red-laquered finger tips. He wasn't being gross or sleazy. I certainly would have started to suspect on my own. "Is this table okay?" Tyler asked. I smiled when Tyler held a chair out for me. All of the men moved to sit without argument. Tyler grinned at me when I tagged his drink to the order. "Don't be. He was already sitting and not looking my direction at all. and her long legs encased in garter-belt and stockings. I didn't mind Tyler sitting close. I awkwardly sat down in the chair that Tyler offered." I shook my head and grinned. I tried to ignore their curious stares. to prove I wasn't bothered in the slightest by her attire." The leggy waitress swung her hips while she walked over and sat across Jasper's lap. "Sorry. since it was closest to me. Tyler's nearness might help to dispel some of the attention I seemed to be garnering from various men sitting at nearby tables. But he didn't look it. I was thankful that he had stopped at a rectangular-table that was set back and away from the small round stages.. "I'll buy the first round." she said. When I looked up. The waitress dimpled over at me while I ordered two pitchers of beer and a coke. I wasn't sure I'd be able to pretend composure if I had to sit close to the actual dancers. And he was definitely gorgeous." I offered. My guess was that not many women were typically seen fully-dressed inside these walls. "Oh pooh. Tyler lowered himself into the seat beside me.. "It's fine." Jasper answered for me. it looked like the customers were treated to a whole lot of attention for the tips they provided. I was just going to have to remember my promise to Jasper and not let things get out of hand while Edward and I were still locked in our competition.who sat while a dancer ground her hips in his face. "I'm not getting married until next summer. I smirked as the men at my table tried to pretend not to ogle the ample cleavage that poured from the top of her bustier. "It's always the cute ones that are stolen from us in their prime!" . "Let me guess. In the meanwhile. and moved himself up so that the side of his thigh touched mine beneath the table. A pretty waitress wearing tiny lingerie strode up to us in her ridiculously tall heels. "More like 'practice' for a Bachelor Party." Jasper explained. It wouldn't be fair to anyone. If Jasper hadn't already warned me that Tyler might be interested. with his fingers wrapped around the top of a chair that he had pulled out as well. "Bachelor party?" Her heavily made-up eyes scanned the table of men in front of her. I saw that Edward still stood. and shot a smile across the table toward Edward.

and looked concerned. "And I don't want to go alone. "I really don't know why they are staring." I muttered near Jasper's arm. "What's wrong?" Jazz asked. After realizing again that I was being stared at by more than one curious set of eyes." I took his outstretched hand gratefully and left Tyler and Edward at the table behind us." Eric suggested. she's very limber. "I'm gonna tell everyone that I'm the one getting married. "Come on.Jasper grinned like a kid in a candy store and adjusted his glasses when she stood up and sashayed off to get our drink order." "You're the prettiest girl in this bar.." Mike laughed. g-strings didn't offer a lot of coverage when a woman was laying on her back while holding her legs in a spread-eagle position in the air." "Come on. . she is. "I'll go powder my nose with ya. I tucked my hair behind my ear and leaned in so as not to be over-heard." Jasper crossed his arms over his chest and leaned his back against the wall near the women's bathroom door. I looked back down. I watched for a moment as they placed some money on the edge of the circle in front of them. okay?" "Okay. hitting Mike in the shoulder. "It's a little ." Edward chuckled and leaned back in his chair. "Yes. Keep up the good work." I continued. "I don't like being stared at. He leaned over the table. "Now hurry up in there. Tyler reached out and poured me a beer from one of the pitchers that just arrived at our table." I smiled. "It's not like they don't have naked women everywhere to occupy their attention. if it's gonna get me attention like that. I took a drink quickly and glanced around. "Let's go throw down some cash. "Well. Tyler and Edward followed my lead and leaned in as well. The other men joined along.." I muttered." Jasper said warmly.unnerving.." I pointed out. The dancer there was quick to treat them to a view that surprised me. "I need to use the restroom." The two men stood and walked to a couple of available seats near a small stage. "And I'm proud of you for keeping your shit together tonight.." Jasper chuckled. Needless to say." Jasper grinned and stood.

He seemed to think better of the action though. Though I knew it wasn't my place to feel so possessive. "They just go from table to table. Edward clapped his hand on Jasper's shoulder and leaned in to talk to him a minute before they both stood to walk toward stage seats. blonde dancer was standing next to Edward. The blonde had moved away to another table before we got back to ours. I had managed to miss the five drinks that had been added to our table while I was away." he smiled. A college-drinking game. I looked to see what had him so serious looking. Tyler reached and traced his finger across the top of my hand that was resting on my leg. I had to fight down the way I felt about her touching him. it took a few tries before I had the angle just right. Sure enough. they certainly did not let on. If Mike and Eric noticed our brief awkward exchange. and hurried back out to Jasper. I kept myself busy by lining up one of the empty glasses and trying to bounce my quarter into it. I couldn't help the blush that pulled up and into my cheeks. and brought his hands back up to the table." Edward smiled. "What's wrong?" I asked. It bothered me. staring at our table with a frown on his face. I was able to bounce the quarter off the table and into the glass in front of me. "To my little brother!" We all cheered and raised our glasses together before drinking to Jasper. more than it should have. I was at a loss as to what to do with my own hands then. "I just hope he's not up to no-good.. "You're a little far from the action." Tyler informed them. Holding the quarter on edge between my thumb and middle finger. The waitress came by and flirted enough for Mike and Eric to buy the next round of beer and shots. Her hand was on his shoulder..I used the facilities quickly. "Don't you want to go over there with the other guys?" "I think I have the best seat in the house. trying to see who wants private dances." Tyler surprised me by speaking near my ear. to see my guys sitting there getting attention from a stripper. "Edward bought shots." Tyler informed me. He was standing. I swallowed the tangy liquid and placed the glass back on the table." I smiled as I sat in the seat beside Tyler once more. "What else do you study in Florida?" . "Besides playing 'Quarters'. I reached for the change that the waitress had left on our table. "I see you had company." Jasper shook his head. and started to spin a quarter on its side across the hard black surface. I never did find out what Edward was up to. It didn't make a lot of sense to me that Jasper looked upset though." I looked over at Tyler to distract myself from whatever Jasper and Edward were doing. I nodded and grinned as Mike and Eric came back to our table. right here. and they were talking. I saw that a very tall. "Purple Hooters.

We were heard by the right people." Tyler pointed at me.. . "I think it's just luck. "It was Isabella's idea.. "Hmmm?" I asked." Tyler explained. His bright blue eyes looked curious and kind. it became very easy to forget our location. When the quarter bounced off the rim of the glass and rolled over toward Mike. at the right time." I said." I grinned. I dropped the quarter into it.. and the men started to move the pitchers and cups out of our way so that we could play. sometime?" "I'd be happy to. I stood and let the dancer pull me by the hand until we were a short distance from the table." she said with a smile. laughing and forcing each other to drink when the quarter successfully landed in the glass. "I'll." I complimented him. "You're going to be a very busy man!" Tyler shrugged and put his palm out toward me. Congratulations." I pushed my hair behind my shoulder and smiled over at him. Jasper and Edward moved in to join our game." Tyler said. "I haven't played 'Quarters' in ages.. all the same."Graphic design." "Thanks. "What's going on?" Edward asked as he and Jasper made their way back over to us. "We're playing 'Quarters'. and he turned his attention to trying to bounce it into the glass as well. I turned and looked over my shoulder at the guys. will you take a look at our designs. "I should show you some of the designs that we've been considering for our CD cover.." "It's thrilling. "You could give me your opinion. For a while. I turned away from the game. We were all having too much fun playing our silly game. hoping one of them say something to stop me. The game had halted and they all watched me curiously. be right back?" I posed it as a question. I was feeling tipsy from all of the alcohol consumed. sugar. Eric moved his chair closer to the table." "Oh! That's right. We bounced the coin off the table. I lost count of the number of pitchers and shots that were brought to the table. "Come with me. He didn't move away. he stopped it by slapping his palm against the table. "So.." Mike grinned. When I felt a tap on my shoulder. Jasper looked as confused as I felt. "Jazz told me that your band was really doing well. She had been talking to Edward earlier." Tyler actually blushed. I recognized the Amazonian blonde dancer behind me.

She bent. trying to pretend not to be bothered by the attention we received just for having walked to the chair together." I sighed. I bit my lip and allowed hands to smooth up and down her sides. The flashing red lights surely hid my raging red face. she did the splits. "So you see.. and the show began. believe me." I tried to explain. "I'm.."I'm sorry... Jasper's words from earlier made their way through my alcohol-hindered brain." The dancer let her head fall back and laughed a deep-throaty sound. I pretended to be totally interested in the gyrating motions of the woman in front of me. you know. She smiled encouragingly and . I refused to look at my table. "Listen." "One of your admirer's has bought you a private-dance. I'd give him a show for his money! More than one of us was capable of fighting dirty.." The dancer took my hands and put them on her hips while she straddled my lap and continued to shake and shimmy and grind above me. the more disgruntled I became...." "Fine.. she twisted." she grinned and blinked her false eyelashes at me. I'm really sorry. But I think you have a point to make.. "You can do better than that. "Why don't you just sit back... the dancer pushed me to sit in the chair. I don't. Then the music started. So instead. I even managed to stay still and not bolt from my chair when the woman did a front walk-over that ended with her ankles on my shoulders. "I don't really know what's going on. like girls. and let me handle everything? Men eat this shit up." "I was paid three-hundred dollars to give you a dance honey. not really into this kind of thing. "Oh honey." the dancer started to pull me forward again. And even if you did play for the 'girl's team'..' I finally stopped her from dragging me any further. The more I thought about it. I sat there and concentrated on not being mortified by the whooping and cheering I could hear from the darkened area in front of us. I knew that if I saw Edward's smug face. "A lap-dance is really not-necessary. I was glad that my back was to our table so that they could not see my face. I threw my shoulders back. he was going to be sorely disappointed. The dancer led me to a chair that was placed in a cleared portion near the small stages. I know! We can spot 'em a mile away.. and tossed my hair behind me." I shook my head. "We usually don't allow touching. If Edward had paid this woman three-hundred dollars to try to make me uncomfortable. I closed my eyes and groaned.." the woman breathed near my ear. I'd be willing to bet that table full of hotties that you've been sitting with all night would be enough to make you love men again!" I chuckled and shook my head. I wouldn't be able to hide my anger. This must have been the 'no-good' that Edward had been up to..

"Just for a couple of minutes! The guys at your table would flip!" I was shaking my head while she pulled me forward.nodded. Messy-hair at your table looks like he's about to explode. and placed her overly-glossed cherry-red lips right against mine. I absolutely knew I wouldn't remove any of my clothing. "I'll bet I'll make tons of tips tonight. I slapped my hand across her bottom before I pulled her down onto my lap again with the naughtiest looking grin I could muster.. "Yeah well. That mental image alone spurred me on." I couldn't help the laugh that burst from me. I pushed the girl by the hips and turned her in front of me. while Edward carried me toward the exit. I heard Edward's determined steps below us. I felt the night air and knew we were outside. "Mr. whatsoever. I closed my eyes and tried to concentrate on not getting sick. I couldn't bring myself to touch her anywhere less appropriate. He would be totally pissed that his plan was backfiring. "I should ask the same of you!" Edward snarled. I forced myself not to rub her lip gloss away.. thanks to you. "That was hot. But a small part of my mind considered that it might be fun to take one small spin around that pole. But when the song ended. pissed-off was an understatement." she grinned.. Bella!" he complimented sarcastically.. leaned in. The girl spread her legs over mine and whipped her hair around while I trailed my fingers up and down the outside of her thighs. But instead of falling to the floor. My foot had no sooner reached the first step than I felt myself being spun around by a strong pair of hands on my waist. Playfully. it was interesting. . The dance did nothing for me. I could imagine Edward's face. "You should come up on my stage with me!" The dancer pulled me by the hand toward the steps. I was thrown unceremoniously over the shoulder of one seething Edward Cullen. I heard general boos and grumbling from deep voices around us." she giggled. "What in the hell do you think you are doing?" I asked angrily. And I knew that she was a professional who was just doing her job. It was only then that I dared to open my eyes. "Keep it up." I replied vaguely." she whispered again. she still stood up in front of me. Too much alcohol and my own lack of general coordination caused me to pitch forward. If the flash glimpse I had gotten of his face before I was upside down and dangling over his back was any indication. rubbing at my tender stomach. "Quite a show you put on there. His shoulder was pressed into my stomach and the ugly pattern of the carpet on the floor blurred by at an alarming rate. And I felt him lower me to the ground when we got to the van. pretending to grind even closer to me while she talked.

.. and I suddenly and irrationally felt the need to close the gap between us." "I thought that you.." I continued.. "I wouldn't have had to sit through that at all if you hadn't paid that woman to give me a lap-dance!" "Wait.." I huffed... I don't know how any of us would have been able to get you out of that mess!" "I was not going to take my clothes off!" I was shouting now." "Your little stunt nearly caused a riot... because Alice made him promise that he wouldn't get that close to any of the dancers." Edward argued. "And as for my little stunt. She went to all the tables. haul me out of there. "If I had let you start taking your clothes off.. The friction through my thin dress-shirt felt like silken heat up and down my arms.." I felt tears in my eyes and cursed myself for my inability to stay calm around him. But I didn't. You have to believe that. I closed my eyes and leaned just the top part of my body forward."You had no right to grab me. "Was it really so important to you to try to embarrass me like that?" "Bella? What in the world are you talking about?" "She said that she was paid three-hundred dollars to give me a lap-dance!" "And you think that I paid her?" Edward's eyebrows arched up in his surprise. "And I'm sure whoever it was.. you didn't.." I muttered. "That means someone else in there paid for that dance. "I'm sorry for yelling at you. "Bella. she came to our table and asked if we wanted private-dances. "Jasper and I saw you talking to her." "Bella.. "You heard me... I felt his hands move to lightly stroke up and down my arms in a soothing motion.?" "If I was going to get someone a lap-dance." "So... In a second." Edward murmured quietly.. it would have been Jasper. I wouldn't deliberately try to humiliate you. until my forehead rested in the center of his chest." ." Edward moved closer to me and raised his hands slowly to push my hair past my shoulders. and. thought it was worth every penny.... What?" Edward paused with his hands in his hair.

I was still sleepy as I stood on the sidewalk between our houses.. And the longer I stared. "Very effective... He was still looking at me strangely." His words caused me to catch my breath. I pretended not to hear them. He slid the back door open and Mike and Eric climbed inside. I dozed off a bit. and Tyler was driving us home."I don't want to go back in there. while unlocking the van. intense. "Are we going anywhere else?" Tyler asked.. Edward's hands stopped their movement. I tipped my head to look at him. From what I was able to ascertain.. Jasper kept his arm around me. and confused at best. cuddled against Jasper. I pulled my feet up onto the seat beside me." he said quietly. Yet neither of us said a word.. "I think we should call it a night. . In a minute. "Pay-back by sexual-frustration. we were tucked away inside the dark recesses. The men all laughed and talked about the evening. He laughed when he stepped next to me and threw his arm over my shoulder." I shuddered. "Shut up Jazz. I was pulled against his side tightly and Jazz looked down at me with an adoring smile. went through with it because I thought I was getting even with you." Edward said." I muttered. and I appreciated it. "Umm. I wished that Edward's face was as easy for me to read as Jasper's. I felt slightly drunk. Both he and Mike turned to look at Tyler who shook his head a little to the side to move his bangs away from his eyes. I might have even added a little to his. I only saw my own questioning gaze reflected back at me. I woke when he nudged me to tell me it was time to get out of the van. I think I've figured out a new career for you. And by the way Mike teased Eric behind us. "If the college thing doesn't work out.. "I only. Certainly he couldn't have meant the comment in the way it sounded. Jasper turned me away from him and held my hand to help me up into the van. I stared into the deep green depths of is eyes and tried to pick out truths. and nestled into Jasper's side. and reluctantly tore my eyes from his.. Perhaps he was worried about my emotional state. my slide to the bottom of public humiliation didn't take anything away from the festivities.." Eric shuffled his feet and crammed his hands into his jeans pockets." Jasper shouted from three cars away as they moved closer to us. but tightened around my arms instead. the more I was convinced I might drown under the weight of the moment.. We looked at each other in silence. Edward released my arms and stepped away as Jasper and the other men started to cross the parking lot toward us. you know. There was no reason for more than one of us to have to be embarrassed." Edward chuckled deeply. I missed the heat of his hands immediately. He looked.

"He meant playing 'Quarters!'" Tyler hurried to reassure. "Isabella?" he asked with a smile from the kitchen doorway."We had a little trouble with the judging tonight. We had fun with both of you." ." "Thanks. "Tomorrow night is the tie-breaker. and toast on his plate before Charlie made his way down stairs. "It was awesome of you to start up the game at the table. I hadn't really meant to start a game. I felt my face heat instantly and Tyler's voice cut in right away." "But Isabella was totally the entertainment for the night. It was a good plan for a night out. I felt guilty for not having spent very much time with him so far. I looked over at him." Mike stepped in. and went our separate ways. "Anyway. bacon." Tyler took over the explanation that Eric might have been meaning to begin. Me too. "Fine with me. 12. He needed to be spoiled a little. Right?" Edward and I both laughed lightly. But we all did have fun when we played it.." I shrugged. "I missed you. I woke bright and chipper." Edward nodded. And you managed not to hurt each other in any way. I had time to put eggs. Ambush Despite the somewhat late night out. "We decided that tonight ends in a tie. "Someone else can drive tomorrow night. so I hurried downstairs to make him breakfast before his day at work. "What's the occasion?" "I felt bad that we've not spent time together. so that ought to count for something.. We all bid each other goodnight." Mike added. Charlie was still in the shower." I replied." I mumbled. Orange juice?" "Please. "We all had a great time going to the club. and he seemed fine with the decision. while home on my vacation." Tyler suggested as he moved to get back in his van." "Yeah.

One hit my shoulder and managed to send its icy contents down the front of my body as well. "My treat. "How late do you work?" I asked. I pressed the trigger on the spray-handle and watched as the sudsy water dripped down to the ground below the truck. Two more waterballoons crashed beside me.He sat while I poured the sunny orange liquid in his glass. looking for cover. I tried to keep clear of the splash-back though. Looks like it's going to be a scorcher!" A 'scorcher' in Forks." "You are really too good to me. I stopped him. Moe told he he's got beer-pong set up in the back room now." "So I can get it all muddy again. "We are going over to Moe's." Charlie laughed. . It wasn't nearly warm enough for the icy water that came from our garden hose." "Thanks honey. I cursed loudly and ran around the bed of the truck. "It will be sparkly and pretty for your next trip out to the river. You work too hard. You know Jasper loves darts." I offered. Instantly the freezing cold water drenched the back of my shirt and my shorts. And some fun new set-up on his darts.' I said. "So what are your big plans for tonight?" Charlie asked while eating. but enjoyed simple coffee instead. I danced and sang quietly to myself when I put the bucket of soapy water next to the driver's side front-tire and made my way around the hood with a large sponge. Maybe until around ten?" "You should come by and have a couple beers with us. I flinched when a bright blue object whizzed past my ear and broke with a splash against the windshield of my father's truck." Charlie shook his head." I told him. "Leave them Dad. "I'm going to wash your truck for you too. Washington turned out to be a very sunny eighty-two degrees. With my ear buds in place. "I don't know. "Keeping it local. I dropped the sponge back in the bucket and made a circuit around the truck with the hose. Satisfied that I loosened some of the grime. So engrossed in my task and with the music in my ears. I pulled up my own plate. but wasn't able to react fast enough to avoid the water-balloon that broke across the center of my back. It was warm enough for me to wear a small faded t-shirt and shorts when I went outside to hose down Charlie's truck. while picking up our dishes. I recognized the broken plastic immediately for what it was." "I've never beat him. I might do that!" Charlie grinned and patted my hand before standing to put his dishes in the sink." Charlie smiled. "You picked a good day for it.

trying to see where my attacker was aiming from. Come on. "So help me God. I glanced down at the bucket of water by my feet. I slowly lifted my head to peek over the hood of the truck.When I made it to the safety of the driver's side. "Fine. Jasper and Edward both laughed. The evidence of blonde as well as bronze colored hair that stuck up above the railing of the house next door. All three of us were completely soaked. It was easy for Jasper to pry it out of my grip. I squinted my eyes and turned my face away from the arctic blast while Edward laughed and held me tight. I opened the door and quickly tossed my ipod onto the seat. "You just need to get out in the sun and warm up a little." "You won't catch a cold. "Happy now?" My teeth chattered." Edward smirked as he stepped closer. Then I closed the door again and peered through the glass. let me know that I was out-numbered. I reached and tossed the entire bucket of water right at the center of his chest. "Fine! Fine! You win!" I yelled. The cold water from the trigger handle dripped down my hands and arms and made my fingers numb. "Quit throwing the balloons! I'm un-armed!" A heavy balloon lobbed from their porch. "It's not warm enough to get wet!" "Don't be a baby. as both men yelled and I hurried around the hood of the truck to retrieve my hose from where it lay on the ground. you boys are going to pay!" I warned loudly." I stayed where I was. Edward slung one arm to cross over my shoulders. "I dropped the hose!" I yelled out loudly. and crashed on the hood of the truck next to my head. Mom has towels on the line out back." Jasper sighed. I pressed the handle and was thoroughly soaking Jasper when Edward moved up behind me and wrapped his arms around my waist." Jazz made a face." "We were just having fun. One more balloon glanced off the top of the truck and broke near my feet. He was getting just as wet as I was. I struggled and kicked as Jasper fought the water and came closer. "I'll probably catch my death of pneumonia." . Their hands were empty. with the other firmly wrapped around my waist while Jasper turned the hose on me. "Very funny. and saw both men walking down their steps to come over. "It's plenty warm enough. Close enough to be a victim to my plan for justification. I threw my soapy sponge right at Jasper and before Edward could spin away. but didn't seem to mind. "Admit defeat." he chuckled near my ear. It was a flurry of movement then. we're out of balloons!" Jasper called over. Jasper stopped spraying me immediately and stood with a giant happy grin on his face. My hair strung wetly down my back and water dripped from my clothing while Edward released me to stand on my own.

His hair was made dark by water. and Charlie wasn't convinced that it was safe for us to hike alone." Jasper ensured me. "We have to hurry to get back before Charlie gets home. I swallowed hard and tore my eyes away from his physique only to see that he had opened his eyes and was watching me. My cheeks flamed to realize that he had caught me checking him out. And yet. "We'll get back in plenty of time. Some hikers had seen some large wolves in the area. As awareness surfaced." Jasper called out from somewhere ahead of me." "Oh really?" I took a moment to really look at Edward as he laid there with his eyes closed.. he hadn't even said a word." I argued. "Bella?" I turned my head toward Edward. In fact. He just grinned and laid his towel in a sunny patch on the lawn before lowering himself onto his stomach on top of it. I mean. He put his towel on the ground too. "You'll warm up in no time. My crush on him had ended years ago. I must be desperate for a little male attention if I could let my imagination get away from me so easily..I shivered and squished in my wet tennis shoes as I followed them both to their back yard. Edward's expression was unreadable. and brushed wetly against the side of his neck. any girl would notice." I muttered. "I know. He just quietly looked at me in that disconcerting way of his. so I did the same and lowered myself to lay between them. I was so easily made aware of this strange pull he had over me. It was ridiculous. I turned my face away and looked the opposite direction. The sun kissed the tip of his nose and brightened the edges of his hair while it curled toward the warmth and tried to dry. It was all his idea. It was crazy and foolish for me to be so distracted by Edward after all of this time. "Jasper. "Penny for your thoughts?" Jasper asked from beside me. He had taken off his glasses and they were resting in the grass between us. "Th-thanks. "Blame Jasper. wait up!" I hissed at the boy that laughed and ran much too fast through the undergrowth. My eyes traveled down to take in the way his thin t-shirt molded to the contoured muscles of his back and narrow hips. "Remember that time I fell in the creek?" I asked. I found a short-cut!" . His cheek was pressed against his towel and his face was turned in my direction. We were both told to stay out of the woods. His lashes lay gold-tipped against his rosy cheek. I could only attribute it to the fact that he was disarmingly good-looking. I couldn't keep up his pace. Edward handed me a towel first.when I closed my eyes I could feel the weight of his fathomless stare almost as though he had touched me. And yet.

I stopped when I found Jasper. "It was Jazz's idea. "Come on.. I don't think it's broken. but it was very cold. The water wasn't high. "You are going to have to get my Dad. "I'll be right back!" Jasper called." he told me." I mumbled." I tried not to cry. and Jasper jumped up on top of it to walk across." "O-okay. I landed hard on the rock bottom below. but I knew I needed to get out of the cold water." "It took both of us to get you up the side of that creek bank. "Your lips are blue." Jasper smiled at the memory. I was almost completely out of the water. We were close enough to home. . "We need to get you out of here so you can warm up. It was almost as bad as being yelled at by my father. "What in the hell have you got yourself into?" Edward asked. "I'm not chicken!" I grumbled. When Jasper arrived with Edward. as he cautiously made his way down the steep bank beside me. "Izzy! Are you alright?" Jasper was instantly alarmed. It formed a bridge over the bubbling water below. Facing his wrath was more upsetting than the dull ache of my ankle.. "Well. and my ankle twisted painfully below me. I pulled myself up the green tree-trunk and gingerly began to step across. He was standing at the end of a mossy-tree that had fallen above a creek bank. It wouldn't take that much longer to walk to where the water was shallow enough to wade across. I bit my lip and tried not to cry. His blonde hair disappeared from sight. "I'm not so sure." I wailed. I couldn't stand on my leg. and I tried to scoot myself toward the creek edge. "We can save time if we cut across here. Of course." Edward chuckled as he made it to me." my teeth chattered. I winced when he tenderly touched my ankle. I made it no further than half-way before I lost footing and slipped off the side. The icy cold water swirled around my chest." Edward breathed near my face. "The worst ones always are. And I knew I couldn't stand on my own. and sitting on the hard rocks next to the creek. chicken!" Jasper called out.

But something could be said about the good time that could be had in a familiar little small-town bar." "Sorry." "Well. But I'm going in to call Alice before I grab a shower. I don't know about you two." Edward didn't meet my eyes again." Tyler smirked. "Hey guys. The other men must have been inside. "Shut up!" I yelled and reached behind to slap at him. "I'll rinse off the truck before I head in.. The same boy. "Don't mention it. adding to the conversation. right here in Forks. I have to wait for my turn to shower anyway." I told him. I turned and looked over at him." "Thanks.. "You get to sit in front with me. Clubbing in a city could be fun. Tyler's blue van was already parked at the curb when I went outside. I was looking forward to it. . But Tyler lazily leaned on the side of the vehicle and smiled as I walked up. and I climbed in. My sports-jersey style t-shirt was maybe a little too snug. "I think I liked always coming to your rescue.. You could jump the bar to jockey your own beer. He opened it for me. all grown up. "I need to go in too. I grinned and let him lead me to the passenger side door. I smiled at his cute expression. "I should probably rinse the truck off first." he said." I whispered.." I added.. and you could be free to let loose and get a little silly. "I thought someone else was going to be the designated driver tonight?" "Someone else can drive home." Edward rolled to sit up and pushed his hair away from his face. sitting up." Edward murmured."And Edward carried me the rest of the way home on his back." he pushed his hair to the side. The very same back that I had just been admiring. "You were freezing. He smiled with his eyes closed.. tonight.. Edward smiled and I turned myself back in the seat to face forward while Tyler drove us the short distance to the bar at the edge of town.. "I felt like I was carrying a block of ice." Jasper informed us. I got up and walked to the house. "Don't worry about it Bella. It was perfect for a very casual night of fun and games at Moe's bar." I said." I smiled toward the back. But as I pulled on my old converse high-tops and flipped my hair over my shoulder. I had to admit that I liked the 'cute tom-boy' effect. "Who's up for a little fun?" "I wonder if Moe put a pole in the back?" Jasper asked smartly." "You go ahead.

I hurried to lean over the bar and kissed the old proprietor loudly on the cheek." I shook my head. "We're going to play beer pong. The few locals that chose to line the bar also knew our parents. "I need to ask you something." Moe told me. just like you asked for. and had no issue with what they referred to as "young folks livening the place up" for the evening. "Got that beer pong table set up in the back. "Thanks." "Good. "It's a nasty habit. "Okay. "Nope." I turned to go back to the bar when Tyler stopped me with a hand on my forearm."Moe! We're here!" I yelled out as soon as we all entered the small establishment." I moved until I matched his pose against the side of the building. "Jazz? Where's Tyler?" "I think he stayed outside to have a smoke. "Why?" "Because I want to win." I told him. and I looked up to see why he stopped me. holding the glowing red tip of his cigarette up for me to see." We all turned to go to the back room when I noticed one of us was missing. and he promised that we could essentially have the run of the place." Jasper told me. myself.. "Does this bother you?" he asked." he shrugged. "Be right back!" I jogged to the door and stepped back outside to find Tyler leaning with his back to the building. Moe and my father had been friends more years than I could remember. His hand was still around my arm. "Isabella?" He tossed his cigarette to the ground and stomped it under his heel. "I need to know who to pick for my team." "Yeah?" He released his grip on my arm to push his bangs aside." I giggled. I had talked my plans over with him. . He took a slow drag from his cigarette and turned his face toward me with a smile. "But I'm not a smoker." I smiled. Moe." he smiled.. Missy. "Are you any good?" "Not bad.

. Just in case.... "Come to my party. and you are a judge.. If I wasn't careful.." Tyler moved his hand up to brush his fingers down my cheek. Just a backyard barbeque. "I was wondering if you'd like to come. "Good." "I would like to come to your party." he shrugged." I said... Warning bells went off in my head.. that's fine. I stepped around him into the bar.. you know.. "Yes. wanted to get together with some friends before we go to LA to do some recording. and moved quickly to the back room to play beer pong." "And?" I smiled for him to continue. You know. "Oh. Tyler turned his body to face Edward squarely."I'm having a party at my place at the end of the week.. but not enough to make me want to move away. I felt somehow guilty under Edward's steady gaze. sounds nice. I won't invite anyone else. "Tell you what. I was just coming to find you. moving to stand directly in front of me. I felt like I was in the middle of some odd stand-off. with this whole competition thing. he would end up kissing me. And while the idea was appealing." Tyler said with a husky voice. His smile was instant and I felt the need to elaborate... "That. I think we're ready.. "Tyler." Edward explained. "But I don't think it's a good idea to come as your date. walking toward the door.. ." I smiled. and I felt the smile leave my face in a moment of indecision... "The guys from my band sort of . I. as my date?" His words surprised me a little... I stepped back from Tyler's touch just as the front door opened. "Is everyone ready to play?" I asked." I was unsettled by his closeness.. And I'll save you a seat by the fire." "If you don't want to. actually. Though I had done nothing wrong. You know. Edward stood looking at both of us silently for a moment. I had made a promise to Jasper.." I interrupted. and I promised Jazz.." "Thanks." "I'm not a judge after tonight." Tyler said quietly..

It was a good thing the jukebox music of choice was eighties hair-bands. I didn't need him thinking that I was trying to influence the judging that way. Only a few locals infiltrated the back room of Moe's place while we played beer pong. Some Prefer Lemon Edward won the coin toss and called Tyler to his side first. I had to concentrate very hard to hit the cups. Edward was sending Tyler some dirty looks. and not pay so much attention to the darkly handsome guy that leaned on the table at the opposite end. He reached up and put his large hands on my hips." "Thank you.' I laughed while Jasper stole the show." Jasper warned quietly by my ear. he lowered me carefully to the bar room floor. I almost pouted a little at the reprimand. I knew Edward picked Eric to be on his team because he was guaranteed to stay sober as our designated driver for the evening. But he was right. With my hands against his shoulders. After an embarrassing defeat. he would blow the hair out of his eyes and send me a rakish grin each time. When he turned to sandwich me I between him and Mike. I don't want any fighting tonight. and obscenities that poured out of the area while we tossed the tiny white ball back and forth toward the stacked cups and drank heartily." "A promise is a promise. I chose Jasper and Mike finished my team. "Hey Cullen!" I shouted with a grin. I was having a damn good time. . "I'll be good. When he bent forward to make his own shots. "Edward is on to you." Edward laughed with me. "Alright." Jazz pushed his glasses up his nose and ruffled my hair before walking away. "Down girl. He continued to flirt lightly with me throughout the game. Jasper. and tried hard not to fall off the bar while I danced beside him. Enough is enough.13. thus ending any question about which team he might play for. Mike and I had to climb up on the bar to dance to Def Leppard's 'Pour Some Sugar on Me. their efforts were like something off of Saturday Night Live. But I didn't even care about strategy. Tyler's attention across the table was welcome. I laughed and tried to remain standing while they bounced me between them. My voice brought Edward's eyes away from Tyler and across the table to me. "You're on!" he called back. laughter. "Yeah?" "Losers this round have to dance on the bar!" His smile pulled wide across his lips. Most were curious about the loud shouts." I shook his hand off my shoulder.

" Edward smirked and teased me. Jasper was awesome at darts.. "I talked to Moe about the darts. He hit him in the leg with a shake of his head. "Honey. he just looked goofy. "Where's Tyler?" Mike asked. Then. and Jasper laughed and jumped down to join us. "Unless you boys are afraid?" "Hell." "It's like Dare Darts!" Jasper was almost slurring and I cracked up at his enthusiasm." Jasper laughed. everyone was comfortably buzzed.. in order to get your points. you have to take one of the white slips of paper out of that fish-bowl on the bar. but in his half-drunken state. no.. "Be nice!" Edward turned and went to the bar to talk to Moe then. Everyone was relaxed. I'm in. hoping he'd have some explanation for Edward's surliness. And so far." Edward said moodily. grumbling under his breath about how musicians were not to be trusted. Let's play darts while you are still sober enough to see the board!" I grinned. everything was going according to plan." Jasper shrugged. Mike and Eric both agreed and Edward had already moved to press the buttons on the electronic dart board that would start our game. "The board is rigged with sensors." Edward began to explain. He was only telling the truth." I looked at the men around me. "I have a feeling Jazz would be a better stripper than I would!" Edward playfully frowned up at his brother who was still shaking his ass on the bar. It's pretty easy. I could drink another twelve-pack and still dominate this game. I chose this night out because I knew for a fact he would have a good time. I laughed too. "Bring it on.. I laughed and shoved him away from me. "We musicians shouldn't be trusted!" He gave me his best lecherous grin. and everyone was having fun. "Okay. If you hit a spot and make the red light up there go off. . I looked up at Jasper. Edward walked over to the group when Tyler rejoined us."Too bad they didn't have a pole for you to twirl around. "Hey." I hit Edward lightly in the arm." Tyler smiled and stepped over to my side. "I want to play darts!" "Outside improving the whiteness of his smile with another cigarette. you have to do whatever that paper says. "He's right.

and was forced to eat five pickled eggs from a large container behind the bar. he still threw darts better than the rest of us. "Arms up. "It says I'm supposed to wear my shirt on my head for the rest of the game!" I wailed. He read over my shoulder and laughed. . Edward shrugged like it didn't matter.. "I can fix this. thanks to his recent trip to the fish-bowl.. will ya?" Moe handed Jasper an orange-handled pair of shears. There was no way I could get my points. I was getting incredibly frustrated. siding up to me." Edward called out. "Rules are rules.." Edward finally smirked. I probably would have hurled." Jasper instructed." His smug attitude irritated me. Every time I managed to get ahead. So far we had been throwing evenly. But it was Edward and I that seemed to be neck-in-neck for the second place position. I wasn't sure if I trusted Jasper in his drunken state holding a pair of scissors so close to me... "Give it up." Jasper muttered. even through my buzz. "Why not?" I asked. "Hey Moe? Hook me up with a pair of scissors. Even after he was the first to set off the red light. He was pleasantly drunk and was wearing a pink feather boa. I groaned when I read the paper. "It's not fair!" I complained. Mike's alcohol consumption made him a truly. with his eyebrows raised.It was clear from the beginning that Jasper would win easily. "Rules are rules!" Eric mimicked Edward's earlier statement and got punched in the arm by Mike for his outburst. he would catch up and hit the points needed to take the lead in front of me. Oh hell. It only made me want to beat him more. Edward smirked and Tyler grinned widely. terrible contender. "Wanna bet?" I asked smugly. "Whichever of you two knuckle-heads comes in third. "What?" Jasper asked.. "You aren't going to beat me. Tyler and Eric held their own." Moe called out. has to stay behind tonight and help me clean up this mess!" "You're on!" I nodded. "Tell you what. my next throw hit a sensor that sent me right up to the fish-bowl. "Are you suggesting a side-wager?" Edward asked. It was obvious Jasper would win the game. But I could probably take Edward for second-place. Of course.

I got my points. Somehow Eric managed to never set off the red light sensor. smiled. All in all. and grabbed one tight in my grasp." I pretended a confidence I did not feel. I swallowed hard and let the dart fly. "Better make it count. Jasper continued to win." Jasper encouraged me. and my entire abdomen was bare. "Step back and see how it's done. We were treated to an image we'd all be happy to forget when Mike Newton had to go outside and press his bare-butt against the bar room window to show us his 'canned ham. carefully snipping the bottom six inches of material from my shirt. swirled the paper strips around under my finger tips. Jasper smirked and moved in a circle around me. he reached up and tied the jagged piece of material around my head like a headband."Be careful. unless you do the dare. "Any problems?" His suddenly fierce countenance as he faced the other men was enough to dissuade any arguments. When he held the long strip of cotton in his hands." Edward shoved his finger toward the glass container on the counter. "This is your last shot." Jasper winked. I needed to take the lead now." I whimpered. I shivered and stepped back to glare at him for trying to distract me. and the path seemed to elongate like I was marching down death row as I carried myself toward the paper that would determine my fate in the game. Edward's cocky smirk pulled the side of his mouth up while he watched me. "What does it say?" Tyler asked. We continued to do silly dares from the jar. I stepped to the line and concentrated on the board. "I'd say that's close enough. and the guys patted my shoulders roughly. I reached into the jar. We all stopped and stared then. and walked over to join the play once again. . When Edward moved to lean next to Jasper at the table beside us." Edward had moved close to whisper near my ear. Our score was tied. It took a moment before I realized that the red light above the board was blinking. and Edward and I continued to battle for second place. We continued to drink. My feet felt sluggish beneath me. Celebratory cheers rose around me.' Tyler had to sing 'What's New Pussycat' while standing on his head in the corner. Bullseye! My mouth opened wide in my surprise and I threw my arms over my head yelling in victory as soon as I saw my dart buried in the center red spot on the board. Bullseye. "You don't get the points. "You can do it." he smiled. it was a great game. or he could very easily win. but was able to look up with a smile. I read the words with dread in my heart.

"They can both do the body-shots." Edward smirked.." I dared him." "Put your money where your mouth is. Sure enough. I smiled at him with as much saucy confidence as I could muster. I took his cocky look as a dare and stepped forward to kick his legs apart on the floor. moving to stand in front of me." "Don't make me call your bluff Bella. No problem! I could handle that dare with ease! The other men seemed to realize it the same time that I did. We all turned incredulously toward the sound of his happy proclamation. "I'm creative when pressed into a corner." I laughed. I forced my mind to not consider how hard his chest felt under my hands. Break out the tequila." "Bring the tequila."Tequila body-shot. I would chicken out. "I am willing to bet I've spent more time at Frat parties than Mr. Eric stood up with a grin. I couldn't remember the last time I had seen him look so determined. "Rules again?" I asked over my shoulder. Then. The loser stays behind to help me clean tonight. I cringed.. And don't spill your drink. If I gave it too much thought." Moe shrugged." He repeated the conditions of our bet. his dart had landed in the centertarget as well. I moved to stand directly . This game is mine. no hands. Cullen!" I stormed over to the board. Edward and I both laughed a little while Moe placed the garnish beside our shots. They were congratulating me again when Edward stepped to the line and threw his last shot. "Lemon." he said to the side while looking into my eyes. "Well? Now what?" Jasper asked. "You first. "Let them both do the dare. Harvard here. "Lemon or lime?" he asked us." I smiled. "Bullseye!" He yelled. And you guys can all choose who the winner is. But then I straightened my shoulders and tossed my hair behind me. "I got a bullseye too!" "Bullshit. and a salt shaker. "Once you get the shot set up. You need to drink the whole thing for it to count." Edward said with a deep voice. Moe lined up two tall shot glasses of tequila. and put my hands against his chest to direct him until he sat on the barstool behind his legs." we replied in unison." "Simple. "The game isn't over until the final points are tallied. Edward just looked at me with one eyebrow raised.

"Bring it. and salt. But when I do. Then I looked into his eyes before twisting his hair into my hand and tugging his head sharply to the left. When I reached the end of the salt. I pulled my mouth up his neck." Edward straightened himself on the stool and looked me directly in the eye. "You can't be so sure of yourself." he smiled and closed his eyes. He looked so comfortable that I started to feel more pissed than nervous." I warned him." "What?" My voice sounded as incredulous as I felt. . "You haven't even had a shot yet!" "Nope. I picked up the salt shaker. and I rubbed the lemon against the side of his neck. Edward held the liquor to my lips... "No problem." Jasper clapped beside me. He smiled when I did it. Mmmm. citrus. "Hold this. and tipped my head back until the tequila fell into my mouth.. He didn't say a word. Edward jumped a little at the initial contact. "Not so fast. He just watched as I reached past his arm for a slice of lemon. and shook the tiny glass container until the white granules rained down and stuck to the lemon juice on Edward's neck. Then I swallowed hard and pulled my head back down to drop the glass with a dull thud to the floor." He stood and adjusted the neck of his shirt.. Fifty points for the bullseye and the body shot. This was Edward that I was having these decidedly impure thoughts about. "Bravo. I leaned forward and touched my tongue to the bottom of the salt trail on his neck.. placing the lemon between his fingers. which made me smile. I blamed the alcohol when suddenly my hormones kicked into over-drive and all I wanted was to bite him and suck his warm skin into my mouth. I shook my head. Edward smiled while he held the lemon to my mouth. and I bit into it eagerly to chase away the harsh flavor of the tequila. With the flat of my tongue pressed against his skin. He really thought I didn't have the nerve! Working with my aggravation to strengthen my resolve and alcohol in my bloodstream to provide bravery.." I placed my hands on my hips and gave him a dirty look." he murmured. He wasn't as sure as he pretended to be. and the indefinable taste of the man in front of me. I gritted my teeth and concentrated on the end goal. I win. "Last chance to back out. I could see him fighting back that damn smirk of his. I grinned and put the lemon rind on the napkin on the bar before beginning to step away from Edward's legs. while pressing my shot glass into his free hand.between his thighs. I put my mouth around the shot glass... "I win." I ordered.

"Oh yes I can Bella," Edward smiled. "The rules distinctly stated 'no hands.' You used my hands to hold your lemon and your liquor. You are clearly in violation of the rules!" My mouth popped open and I turned to look at the guys. They were shrugging and nodding in confirmation to Edward's statement. "Damn dirty lawyer!" I huffed. "I'd like to know how in the hell a person does a body shot without having someone hold the shot glass!" "Someone holds it," Edward said lowly. He put his hands on my shoulders and turned my back to the bar. "Don't say I didn't warn you," he whispered near my ear. I was struck speechless when Edward dropped to his knees in front of me. "What are you doing?" I asked. Then I breathed "Oh..." Edward already had his lemon wedge in hand, and was meticulously dragging it across the skin of my abdomen. I had to stop myself from trembling when I felt a drop of juice slide down my stomach toward the waistband of my jeans. Edward didn't look up from his work. He simply brought that gorgeous head of his closer toward me as he reached to the bar for the salt shaker. "Lean back," he commanded. My body automatically moved to accommodate him, and I pressed my arms back against the stool behind me. The salt tickled across my skin until it stuck to the wet lemon juice. Edward placed the shaker back on the bar and stood with the shot glass in hand. "You asked for this," he whispered with something a bit dark and dangerous glinting in his eyes. Edward quickly bent one long finger into the collar of my shirt and tugged it down until the deep V-shape he created exposed an obscene amount of cleavage and the center of my red bra. His face had taken on a clinical look of professionalism when he firmly wedged the shot glass between my breasts. Shocked by the coolness of the glass as well as his actions, I opened my mouth to protest. Edward didn't give me time to say a word. He shoved the edge of the lemon into my mouth. "Bite it," he ordered through gritted teeth. I complied and pressed my teeth into the bitter skin of the fruit. Edward didn't waste time. Back on his knees, he gripped my hips in his hands roughly and pressed his face to my stomach. I felt sure he could feel my stomach muscles clench when his tongue licked away the long line of salt that he placed there. My eyes actually rolled back a little, and I hoped to God no one else noticed. His fingers gripped me even more tightly as he rose far enough to reach the shot glass with his mouth. I stared at the top of his head while he pulled the shot glass away from my chest with his teeth. He drained the glass and dropped it to the floor immediately. Then Edward reached forward and bit into the lemon, tearing it away from my mouth with only the barest hint of his lips on mine. He stood and raised his hands over his head, to the cheers of the four men who stood behind him.

"Nice work, Cullen," Mike clapped him on the back. "Harvard boys can party too," Eric laughed, giving him props. I stood, with my chest heaving, trying to gain control of my respiratory system. Edward turned and grinned at me with a bright yellow smile before he pulled the fruit away from his teeth. The sting of the citrus and salt had made his lips shiny and dark. I stared a little longer than I should have. "Fine," I said, while trying not to sound as dazed as I felt. "You win." I escaped to the ladies room under the pretense of having to wash Edward's 'gross spit' off my stomach. As soon as the door was closed behind me, I rested heavily against it and cupped my face in my hands. What in the hell was wrong with me? I moved to the sink and tried to straighten my hair, frowning at my furiously red cheeks. Turning the water on as cold as it could go, I splashed the refreshing liquid on my face and mentally berated myself for letting my impulses get the better of me. Edward was beautiful. There was no denying that. And the body shot had been... sexy as hell. But he only did it to win a game. He hadn't meant anything by his actions. After a few minutes I had sufficiently cooled down enough to step back into the bar and pretend that all was well. Thank God, I had reinforcement. I didn't have to face any teasing or knowing glances from Edward. When I returned to the bar, I saw that Charlie had indeed decided to join us for a few beers. My father laughed while Moe filled him in on our evening. I was grateful when he only mentioned that Edward and I tied for second place, and didn't elaborate on that particular part of the game. I joined him at the bar and tried to avoid Edward's eyes completely. Tyler made it easier by sitting on the stool beside me. Between Tyler and my father, I was able to push my own awkward feelings aside more easily. After a while, the jukebox started to play a power-ballad. Charlie put his drink down and grinned over at me. "I'm in the mood to dance with a pretty girl. Isabella? Are you up for it?" "Sure," I grinned. I let my father lead me out to the tiny dance floor that was nestled into the corner of the room by the rainbow-hued jukebox. "Have you been keeping these boys in line?" Charlie asked nicely. "It hasn't been bad," I shook my head. "They're all good guys." "Good thing," he nodded. "I'd hate to have to call down the thunder..." I laughed and I stepped close to my Dad so that I could rest my head on his shoulder.

"I lost a bet and I have to stay late to help Moe clean up," I mentioned. "I'll stay and help," Charlie smiled. "I can push a broom and we can get out of here faster." "Thanks Dad," I smiled up at him and yawned. "I'm glad you decided to come," I told him honestly. "And not just because you are going to help me clean." Charlie laughed at my sleepiness. "Don't mention it honey. I'm just happy you're home." "Me too, Dad," I sighed and closed my eyes. "Me too." "Maybe you and I can hang out tomorrow. Do something fun." "You got it," I nodded. "We can talk about it later. I think someone wants to cut in." I opened my eyes and let Charlie turn me out of his arms. I expected to see Jazz, or even Tyler offering to dance in his place. My steps faltered a little when I saw it was Edward. "Charlie," Edward nodded with a very serious expression. My stupid heart began that overreacting thing again. I stared down at the floor between us. Edward stepped up to me and filled that void quickly, taking my hand in his. "Bella?" Edward asked. Not wanting to make a big deal out of nothing, I tried to smile again and not tense up as he pulled me closer to dance. Dancing with Edward wasn't the same as dancing with my father, and I had to mentally remind myself to keep my distance when his hand pressed hotly into the bare skin at the small of my back. "I don't want you to be mad at me," Edward said quietly. "What would I have to be upset about?" I blinked, genuinely surprised. He had won our game, fair and square. I certainly wasn't going to hold a grudge. It wasn't his fault that my body went into some sexually-charged hyper-drive just because of an innocent party game. "You've been avoiding me," Edward pointed out. Apparently I hadn't done as good a job hiding my discomfort as I thought. "I didn't mean to treat you disrespectfully," Edward muttered. His voice was husky. His apology helped me to see how ridiculous I was behaving. "We've had a lot to drink," I smiled. "I promise. It wasn't that bad!" "We have had a lot to drink," Edward allowed. He opened his mouth as if he wanted to say something else, but his attention was taken over my shoulder. "I think the guys are ready to leave. I just... didn't want to go until I was sure everything was okay between us." I squeezed his hand a little and smiled up at him.

"You warned me," I said quietly. Edward's eyes burned into mine, and I wanted to cringe at the breathy quality my voice had taken because of it. "All is fair in love and war?" Edward's voice had dropped deceptively low, and I felt a shiver move down my spine. He looked at me as though he were waiting for my agreement, or a confirmation of some sort. I didn't even know how to reply. It was clearly another warning. He reminded me that we were, indeed, still in a competition. I swallowed hard and licked my bottom lip nervously. I felt Edward's fingers tighten against my back, and instead of instinctively stepping away from the threat in his eyes, I helplessly moved closer. "Eduardo!" Mike called out. Edward cringed at the sound, and we both stepped away from each other quickly. "We're leaving. Let's go!" "I have cleaning to do," I mumbled, trying to shake off the strange spell he seemed to have cast over me. "Charlie will give me a ride home later." "Yeah... well... okay then. Good night, Bella," Edward said while turning away from me. I watched the strong lines of his retreating form as he crossed the room to meet with the other men. Eric led the way for his inebriated passengers to follow him out to the van, and I waved good night from the doorway. Tyler offered to stay to help until Mike called him "Romeo" and pulled him in a sloppy headlock into the waiting vehicle. Jasper and Edward made their way to the van with their arms thrown over each other's shoulders. Even though I had no idea what our judges had decided about their scoring for the competition, the sight of the two brothers enjoying their time together made the evening feel like a complete success.

14. While Others Prefer Lemonade

Completely sober by the time Charlie and I arrived back at the house, I wished my father a good night and sleepily trudged into my room. I yelped a little out loud and hit the door with my back when I realized that I was not alone. Jazz was stretched out on his stomach across my bed, looking for all intents and purposes, as though he had passed out with his face buried in one of my pillows. Once my heartbeat resumed its normal pace, I kicked off my shoes and walked to join him. I was too tired to even bother undressing. "'Bout time," Jazz muttered when I climbed up onto the bed beside him. He rolled and pulled me into his side immediately. "I thought you were asleep," I said quietly, shifting my shoulders so that I could lay on my back with his arm as a pillow.

"They all unanimously agreed that tonight's event ended in a tie again." he muttered.. "It comes right down to me having to make the decision anyway. I'm not." "And what did he say?" . "I told him it was stupid for you two to have to keep planning the last part of this. cleaning that place up. The decision should have been yours to make in the first place." "I'd like to have seen that." "What did Edward say about that?" I whispered. "He's fine with it. "Took you long enough to get home. but didn't begin to explain his presence in my room." Jasper remarked on my tardiness." Jazz shrugged his shoulder under my head. He was actually in a really good mood. Based on whatever you two come up with for the last event.. that I had a really good time." Jasper didn't argue against my reprimand. "I wanted to let you know." I smiled." "I do not!" I slapped at his side and he chuckled a little. "Yeah. and Tyler left me stranded. He didn't even bitch about their decision." "I actually suggested that to Edward." Jasper complained. "Charlie and I had our work cut out for us. "Mike. "You don't seem too upset about it either. "Well." I laughed lightly. "He must have been drunk or something." Jasper said harshly.. that's the point." I grinned up at the ceiling before yawning loudly. Some jokers had a party at Moe's bar." "That means.." Jasper's voice had dropped. "You can just end this thing now. Eric."I was.." he admitted. He just thanked them all for a fun night and whistled his way up to bed. and I picked up from his tone that his mood had shifted. Right?" "I guess. His body tensed beside me.." Jasper whispered." "Tonight was a lot of fun. "Is something wrong?" I asked quietly. Izz. answering without words. earlier. You walk like an elephant." "That's good." "That they were useless as judges. "I mean.

apparently. Thankfully. "I'm not sleeping in a cloud of ass. It wasn't fair." I nodded.. Jasper. and that he had a feeling you would want to see it through to the end. "What time is it?" . Sleeping Beauty. He laughed sleepily beside me and I was accosted by another wave of stink. then. "Ugh!" I rolled out of the bed and started to move toward the door. He wasn't obnoxious or pushy about it. With Jasper breathing heavily beside me. I relaxed on my bed and let my mind wander back over the events of the evening. "Blame the pickled eggs and beer. "Oh God." I hissed. something confusing." Charlie chuckled from the chair in front of me. "God.." I groaned and threw my arm over my eyes." I groaned. I coughed and covered my nose. Edward was right. and the way I felt when we danced. I laid there and stared at the glow-in-the-dark stars on my ceiling. and I fell asleep as soon as I got settled in to the worn and comfortable cushions below me.. And that serious expression changed to something different. "Where are you going?" Jazz whispered."He said that you and he are a lot alike. In the hallway. the confusing memories from the night stayed at bay. He didn't either." Jasper laughed. and birds sounding the devil's chorus outside the window. I frowned for a totally different reason when a nasty stench made itself known in the small confines of my room. and I really liked him. I woke with an evil swath of sunlight torturing my eyes." "Well. I didn't want to quit. There it is. I smoothed my hair away from my eyes and scrunched my face up while I pushed against the nasty taste on the roof of my mouth with my tongue. "Good morning. Tyler had asked me out. I smiled in the darkness as I remembered. when I allowed my mind to recall that damned body shot.. Yeah. But then an image of Edward's frowning face when he found us outside talking took over the memory. and more specifically from the area right next to me. the warm-fuzzy feeling provided by Tyler's invitation was stomped out like a cigarette under his heel when I allowed myself to revisit my reaction to Edward. I procured a pillow and a blanket from the closet and trudged downstairs to make a bed on the couch.

either. "I promised Billy I'd help do some work on his roof." he chuckled. "But we'll bring some diet coke for you. or had medical problems. Joy!" I waved over to Jazz and Edward's mother. "Going down to the diner to do inventory. And I'd really love to pitch in. I've over extended myself this morning. white mailbox and went to help her with the last items on her porch. I could hear him pulling his boots on. "Good morning." I teased. Then we're going to have a fish fry. "As long as there is no drinking involved!" "I can't promise that I won't knock back a few. I left the junk-mail where it rested in our faded. placing the box beside the others that were nestled in the small space of her trunk." "That would be wonderful Isabella." . emergencies." "Thanks. She was loading the trunk of her car with boxes and returned my greeting with a large smile." Joy grinned. Most donations helped locally with those who faced financial hardships." When Charlie left for work the following morning. It had been a chore that I enjoyed when I was younger. "Want some company?" I asked. I promised to help out down at the Senior Center today too."Almost noon. "Then I'm running these things and whatever we come up with at the diner down to First Baptist. "I could use the help." Billy Black had been one of my father's close friends for as long as I could remember. "What are you doing today?" I asked. "Heading out to the reservation." Charlie said." Joy smiled. and I peeked from under my arm to watch him lace the old worn leather up around his ankles. I jogged outside to check the mail. "Can I help?" I asked." I nodded. "Charlie's truck has more room than your trunk. "What are you doing today?" Charlie wasn't wearing his uniform. I practically grew up with his children. today. "You sure you don't want to hang out with your friends?" "I'd actually really like to spend some time with the old man. The rooms added on to the back of the First Baptist church served as a sort of storage area where donated food and clothing were sorted and packaged to be distributed to the needy." my father replied. Charlie's face lit-up. Joy and Larry always donated extra restaurant and food supplies once a month to the local food pantry. But he wasn't dressed in his casual fishing clothes.

"Hi!" I kissed Larry and on the cheek and offered him a sunny smile that faltered on my face when his oldest son walked around the supply shelf holding a clipboard." I nodded determinedly. "Good morning Isabella. He looked at me just the same as he always did. I said hello to the familiar faces inside. I was a little surprised when Edward moved to get into the passenger seat beside me. Want to pull around back?" I nodded and went to move the truck to the space near the back door of the diner. "The boxes by the door are all ready. I tucked a stray piece of hair back into my ponytail and shrugged." Larry smiled over at me." Joy smiled. . When they were loaded. Larry slapped the side of the truck and thanked me again before going inside. "You're coming along?" I asked stupidly. She helped me transfer her boxes to the back of Charlie's truck. Nervously. It wasn't a beauty pageant. I felt self-conscious for a moment. I chastised myself immediately and pulled my shoulders back. Edward grinned and rolled down the window."Let me take care of this." I explained. "I'll pick up the rest at the diner. I helped with the smaller. standing there in my cut-off shorts. and white tank-top with a large flannel shirt partially buttoned over it. honey. His eyes traveled down to my beat up converse sneakers and back up to my eyes. It's not like I needed to be dressed nicely. "We could use the help. "Think I'm going to make you and the ladies down at the church unload all of these boxes by yourselves?" I felt really silly and shook my ponytail behind me before carefully backing out of the small drive-way and turning out onto the main road. While Larry and Edward loaded the heaviest boxes. I was doing community service. "Bella? What are you doing here?" Edward asked pleasantly. Once there. "I told your Mom I would help take the donation over to First Baptist today. I grabbed Charlie's keys from the peg inside the door." he nodded. or be wearing make-up just because Edward was around. The day was already getting warm. Edward and Larry lowered their heads over the clipboard and papers that held their monthly inventory. and you won't have to worry about a thing. and straightened my ponytail before jumping behind the wheel to head down to the diner." "Thanks. more manageable ones. His intention was obvious. and grabbed a bottle of water from the cooler behind the counter before walking through the kitchen and moving toward the back room. and pulled a few more boxes together. changed a few more columns of numbers around. It was stupid for me to worry about my appearance.

" Edward smiled. I hadn't realized that my features had slipped into a more solemn expression to match my thoughts. But I felt like a third wheel around Billy's son." "Now that kid used to follow you around like a puppy." I began. "I imagine there are a lot of things you don't know about me. "It was nice to spend the day with my Dad. "He drove down to Seattle last night to see Alice. "Why the frown?" Edward turned in the seat to face me.." I mentioned to make small talk." Edward laughed.." "I didn't know that." Edward nodded. I would have invited you out to the reservation." "What do you mean?" Edward sat. .. "He and Leah make a really cute couple. "Jacob and Leah." Edward said."So." Edward nodded. that's good." I giggled. "He didn't leave until around eight last night. we did." "That sounds like fun." I shrugged. Sometimes I feel like I've just been doing something wrong.. it's been a while since I've done this job.." I smiled. Bella. I think so. "I used to help your Mom with this all the time. Do you remember the Blacks?" "Yeah. "If I had known you were home alone last night." I looked at him from the corner of my eye." I shrugged.. Jacob was home and he had his fiancée.. "What is Jazz doing today?" I asked. "I used to help too. Leah. "Oh." "Well." We rode in silence for a few more minutes. "I don't know. I felt awkward for even mentioning my silly insecurities. feeling somber as I turned off the engine. there.. curiously watching me. "I thought I might have to chase him off once or twice!" "Jacob was harmless. "It was okay." I sighed and pulled into the space behind the church." "They had a fish fry last night after all the men worked on Billy's roof." "Longer for me then. "I thought you two might have spent some time together yesterday.Jazz and Alice.

I had to tie my flannel shirt around my waist and I was thankful that my hair was tied back.. curled hair. looking over his shoulder. her soft shoes padding lightly on the linoleum and her blue flowered skirt swishing with her movement. Together we worked to unload the truck. "Do you need help? Or do you remember how we do things around here?" "I remember. thankful that he added himself to the group of the hopeless and aimless..never finding that same sort of. It made me feel better. With that task complete. Ya know? And I wonder why the rest of us seem to have to stumble around aimlessly.. "Us girls are quilting for the troops. "What a nice surprise.. Lord." he smiled. sealed them. On my trips to help out here before. and labeled them for delivery." I smiled. It was hot work in the sun. "We'll take care of everything. "Come by and say hello to us. "Clarie?" I stood smiling at the kind older woman that I hadn't seen in years. We then re-packed care-boxes with the donated items available on the storage shelves.." "Good. Alright?" "We promise." she smiled. I was fairly sure it had to be some sort of sin to be staring at Edward's ass in a church. sometimes I see couples with this weird. ." she said.. I greedily stared at his back. before closing my eyes. I helped by jumping into the truck bed and shoving them closer to the tailgate for Edward to reach more easily. I looked over at him.. Seriousness pushed aside. Edward stood with his back to me. cosmic connection." I shook my head. I couldn't really put my thoughts into words."I mean." she smiled and fluttered her hand over her white. I shut the tailgate with a bang and went into the slightly cooler temperature of the storage room. Clarie stepped ahead of us. "Hey. "We're young and there is too much fun to be had!" Edward laughed and opened his door as well. I sometimes helped with the lists that the ladies from the church provided." Edward offered. Who wants to get married right now anyway?" I wrinkled my nose and reached for the door handle. I pulled down the tailgate and we both started carrying boxes to the small room behind the church. "Aw. leaning over the counter and reading some papers that were left there. I tried not to stare when his own perspiration started to make his shirt cling to his straining arms and chest. Papers itemized things that were needed for certain individuals or families.. When the boxes got too heavy to carry. "Are you in a hurry to get back? Or can we stay a while and put some of this together?" I moved to stand beside him and saw what he was looking at. "Edward! Isabella!" The white haired woman who opened the door for us gave us a smile that pressed her soft wrinkled face into cheery lines under her bright blue eyes. "Maybe we just aren't looking in the right place. before you leave." Edward smiled. moving to pat us both on the back. Edward gave me a truly distracting and cheerful grin and allowed me to step into the room ahead of him. good. he presented a distracting image.

but a small smile pulled at the corner of his mouth. that explains it. and see the world." I rounded on him with a frown in place and my hands on my hips.. getting re-accustomed to their storage system and packing the items on our lists into the boxes. I miss this place. "I was young.. When he caught me watching him once. And I spent my whole life living in small Northwestern towns." "Ah. I checked off each item as I placed it in the box.. "Let's do this." Edward nodded and looked around. "Of course I do. "I like being home. I wanted to go out. I tried not to stare at the expanse of his stomach that showed when his shirt pulled up." I turned away from him and moved back to my list. too. and spoke around the shelves between us. "What?" he asked.. So I did." I said then. "What about you?" Edward lowered his arm with a can in hand and contemplated me." I said. He tossed the tin between his palms while he looked into my eyes. I knew I could afford to go to school in Florida on my own." Edward handed me my own packing sheet. It was nice and comfortable working alongside Edward." Edward nodded. His eyes went back down to his list and he checked a few items off before moving past me to reach something on a high shelf. And New York seemed like a great adventure. Edward didn't step back." I smiled and shook my head." "If that is your way of calling me 'small town'. Why wouldn't I?" His arm rested across his box while he waited for my reasoning. then?" I asked." Edward explained." "You're right. "It feels good to help the community. That's pretty far removed from good old Forks. "I couldn't let Charlie spend his retirement money on my schooling.. raising his eyebrow. "I didn't really want to leave. I stole glances at him occasionally. "It's nice to see you so relaxed." "Do you still consider this home.. you can't get much further away from Forks than that. "You seemed hell bent to get as far away from here as possible. he smirked.. Together we moved around the small space. "You still fit in here. "Now." Edward moved up beside me again. "New York? I mean. . I busied myself by searching for another item on my list." I shrugged."I don't have anything else to do." "And now?" I asked. and we retrieved boxes from below the counter.. "You went to Florida. Edward dropped a can into his box and then turned to look at me with exasperation.

waiting for me. and I was completely crushed against his chest. His arms hesitated to release me right away. He was unintentionally making me think all of the wrong things and have all of the wrong reactions. and I moved a little too hastily as I stood on my tiptoes on the top of the step-ladder. My heart was surely beating hard enough for him to feel it through the thin t-shirt I wore." I had a feeling he wasn't only talking about the lemonade. ." I licked my lips and moved away. reaching above my head for the medical supply. "My hero?" I offered in a small voice as a joke. "Thanks. "Almost."Why does 'small town' have to be an insult?" Edward reached a hand out and lightly pulled the hem of the flannel shirt that was tied around my waist. "Uh. husky sound. "Almost. After I labeled my offering for distribution. Edward was doing that thing again. inches from my own. I needed some space to clear my head. I expected to feel pain after landing on the floor. Edward had me a bit distracted. "Easy there." Yeah. He gave me a smile while I took the drink from his hand. I could see the box of gauze pads that I needed to complete my list... I opened my frightened eyes to see Edward's face. on the top shelf. Bella. Edward finally stepped away and went to retrieve the offered drinks." I said over my shoulder. Edward tossed back his head and laughed while he lowered me to the floor. "Almost done here?" Edward's voice had lowered to a quiet. "Are you kids done in here?" Clarie smiled from the door with two glasses of lemonade in her hands." Edward nodded and began to tape his box closed." Edward murmured. "I've missed this small town. I knew that he was trying to make sure I was steady on my feet so that I wouldn't fall again. I wasn't really articulate in the moment. My arms were around his shoulders. His hand dropped and the edge of my shirt tickled the skin on my leg when it drifted back to place. I squeezed my eyes shut and didn't even have time to squeal when I felt the ladder tilt under my feet. "I just have one more thing on my list. Unfortunately. I took a couple minutes to compose myself while I put the gauze in my box and taped it closed. I turned and found Edward leaning against the wall. I felt jittery when I moved away and pushed the step-ladder over near the shelves." I swallowed hard and stepped backward. "Anytime. but instead felt the breath knocked out of me as I was caught in a vice grip hold in Edward's warm arms." I smiled.

It was a familiar and welcome sight. and we chatted while sharing smiles and memories of days past. I could tell that he was ready to say our goodbyes. You'll love her. and then walked in silence back out to my father's truck. Edward and I were greeted pleasantly. Deft and calloused fingertips pushed shiny silver needles in and out of the patches that would someday make a blanket to be gifted to a member of our armed services.." "Is he on his way home?" I asked. "You should go. "Oh yeah?" "While I was putting our glasses away. "He's staying over one more night." I nodded.." I almost drove off the road. I know that I'll meet Alice during my graduation party. "He wants me to drive to Seattle. Alice is tons of fun. Cheesey Breezy Edward excused himself to place our glasses in the church kitchen. we walked into the quiet church hallway and followed the sound of chattering voices until we found the women that were working around the large quilting frame." Edward said.. But they seem to think it will be nicer to get to know one another without me having to divide my attention between guests." "They're right. 15. Edward shook his head. There was something magical about how the different and aged pieces were being assembled together to create something new and beautiful. When he returned to the room. We finished our drinks and shared the comfort of a remembered history." Edward continued. but managed to straighten the steering wheel." I smiled. Once inside the cab.With glasses in hand.. only to be replaced by that warm glow you always feel when you find your way back home." "Come with me. We bid the ladies a good day. Smiles and light voices lilted above the care-worn fabric that was stretched across the homemade wooden structure. Any of our previous awkwardness dissipated." "That's nice. "I mean. I started the vehicle and turned to take us home. . "Jasper called a little while ago.

"Yeah. "Flattery will get you everywhere... and began to pack an over-night bag. "I mean it. He shouldn't have been so friendly and fun to spend time with all morning." Edward repeated. I grinned at his enthusiasm." I muttered. It was Edward's fault. heck. I feel sweaty and gross.. "I'll go with you. "I need a shower. And... really. As I tossed a summer dress into my bag. we agreed to meet back up in an hour. that you make 'sweaty and gross' look good?" he asked.. The familiarity of the old and welcome chore. "Has anyone ever told you.. "You are absurd. Come to Seattle with me. I had already started to feel that excited buzz.. I turned to look at him with wide eyes. I hummed happily and wondered if Edward would like it. changed clothes. and I shifted in my seat. Cullen. you said it yourself. the warmth of the summer sun and the tartness of the lemonade." "I just wanted to buy a little insurance. At our houses.." I sighed." I laughed. Save me from sharing such an unfortunate situation!" I looked over at Edward and he actually batted his eyelashes in such a completely comedic way that I couldn't help but giggle. anticipation.." he laughed. "It would certainly make the drive more interesting. I quickly took a shower. "Will you come?" I stared at the road ahead for a moment while I contemplated his offer. I knew I wouldn't refuse him." "Wonderful!" Edward rocked back in his seat and happily hit the side of his fist on his thigh. and saw the playful look on his face." I told him. she'd want to go out and I would need something less casual to wear than the almost-four hour car ride would call for."Damn dog. "But you can ease up. pretending to look for the road hazard that caused my reaction in the rear view mirror. He turned to look at me. Sometime during my rush to get ready. He switched our roles and was playing a caricature of a damsel in distress. Being the third wheel is awkward." I chided. It was pointless. Knowing Alice. make sure you wouldn't change your mind..every sweet smile Edward shared with me had somehow . I already agreed to go with you. My hands hesitated for a moment and my fingers clenched on the soft cotton when I realized the path my thoughts had begun to travel down. I was a mess from lifting boxes. almost as though I were preparing for a date..

It was going to be a great day for a road trip. "You don't have to. He turned and dropped a pair of dark sunglasses over his eyes. With a new and determined swing to my step. I admired his worn jeans and soft-looking v-neck t-shirt from a distance as he tossed his bag into the back seat. I put my own bag next to his and then moved around to the passenger side of his car and got in. If I worried at all about running out of things to talk about on the drive. and Edward's pleasant company. "You ready?" He asked." he said. "I am surprised that you are actually taking a day off when you could be sneaking off to study for the Bar. I wished I could see beyond the dark frames of his glasses. I made a mental note to myself to be careful." Edward shook his head. "You brought your study material!" I laughed. I pulled the heavy binder to my lap and buckled up again. I called Charlie down at the station." I finally interrupted the joking." "Still what?" I asked. "Still. "Yep. It was the only explanation I had for feeling giddy about getting to spend even more time with Edward today. He cocked his head to the side. I needn't have. "I have to take a refresher course this fall. the windows were down. to tell him where I would be. Edward's eyebrows lowered." "I haven't been studying that much. A little fun and flirting never hurt anyone." Edward glanced over at me and I laughed. I could enjoy my evening. Oh boy. was I ever. . I decided to stop over-analyzing things and just enjoy myself with the disarmingly attractive man who held the car door open with a crooked smile on his face." "So you have plenty of time. and then slung my bag over my shoulder with only minutes to spare. "Want me to quiz you?" I asked. The testing isn't even until January.triggered a nostalgia that carried me back to my younger years. I needed to keep things in the proper perspective. My own sunglasses were in place. and the music was turned up.." I smiled.. "Jasper told me. Edward was engaging and funny while he shared stories from school and asked me to elaborate on some of my own. I just had to be sure that I recognized it all for what it was. motioning toward the back seat. I turned and saw a thick binder shoved half-way under his over-night bag. "I knew you wouldn't be able to resist!" I unbuckled my seat belt just so that I could turn and push the top half of my body between the seats." I pursed my lips. Edward was walking out his front door at the same time. "Speaking of school.

"I won't even tell Jasper!" Edward smiled widely then and I flipped the binder open to the first printed page. "I thought I explained earlier. "Actually. Before I could ask him to elaborate."I don't mind. "You aren't the only one. huh?" Edward shrugged. I'd like to stay here in Washington.. Edward frowned and twisted his hands on the steering wheel. that I'm coming home.. "Top to bottom." I flicked the pages on my lap. left to right. His lips twitched a little and I could swear I saw his face grow slightly pink.." I looked up from the paper on my lap and laughed loudly." I finally explained my pause and tapped the words on the page. I laughed again." I bit my lip and stared out the window in front of me. a group of words together is called a sentence. "Maybe not Forks." he said quietly. staring at the words." "Forks?" I asked. He grinned." I said. Well." Edward said seriously. I had to force myself to look away from the delicate color there underneath the stubble on his cheek and neck. What I saw at the top surprised me. yeah. His voice was calm and very serious." Edward glanced over to me and then back to the road." I shook my head.. "You said you missed home.." he shook his head." I smiled sincerely. and I hesitated for a moment. surprised.. "Oh. he shook his head again and continued.. "You did not just quote Tommy Boy!" "Chris Farley was a genius. "I didn't know that you were studying for the Washington State Bar Exam. "I spent so much time getting through . "But close. I didn't know that you were moving back. "How is it that a guy who can learn and memorize all of this." Edward joked about my silence." I admitted. "can also quote Chris Farley movies?" " I guess I'm kind of strange. I think it makes you kind of perfect." "I'm. I've given it a lot of thought.. "It's called reading. "Why?" "I guess I figured you would end up being some big-city lawyer on the East Coast.

I couldn't be bothered to care.. "I admire you for knowing what you want. "We've got better things to do!" For the next hour. After stopping for gas and drinks. I'd like my children to have a yard. Edward took off his sunglasses and tucked them into his visor before rubbing his fingers across his brow bone. but I don't know about that now.. But I don't need to be rich and work in some corporate high-rise. I can help people with my career. I lost count of how many flashcards I prompted him from. Edward allowed me to bring the study guide back into the front seat. we traded quotes and our favorite parts of skits by the late and great comic. And for that matter. I couldn't help but smile back. but I turned to stare out the window so that my emotions wouldn't be so clearly seen on my face.." "Since your traveling buddy is getting married." I said quietly. At one time I planned to travel a while after college. I was incredibly impressed that the same man I had just laughed non-stop with could also describe in great detail his understanding of the substantive law and could answer hundreds of questions concerning the rules of professional responsibility and ethics. I smiled. Edward.who knows? I can work from almost anywhere. Edward listened intently and explained the notes he had meticulously typed out. I just know it.. And neighbors next door to play with." Edward smiled over at me." he turned and smiled at me with his final statement." "And what about you. As we neared the ferry that would take us to the city. Every laugh. "Throw the study guide in the back. from a Saturday Night Live skit. and be happy with more important things. every casual touch drew me right back under his school. "I want to provide a comfortable home. I buried myself in studies and lost touch with friends and family. But somehow. "You'll have it all. Bella? What do you want?" Edward asked. "Maybe I'll just end up living in a van.. I don't want to continue on that route with my career." I don't know why his words made me feel like crying. "Who knows?" I asked again with a wry grin. and I knew it.... I turned back toward him and smiled then.. "I just want to be happy. down by the river!" Edward threw back his head and laughed when he realized that I was quoting Chris Farley again. every smile. "As far as work goes. His sense of humor and his intelligence made for a lethally sexy combination. huh?" Edward moved his arm over to nudge my shoulder. I should have known that Edward would excel in anything he set his mind to. . I don't want to work eighty hours a week and never see my family." I shrugged. with grass in it.. I was falling into dangerous territory with my thoughts.

"When we aren't fighting. Alice ignored his formality stood up on tiptoes to pull him down for an eager hug. Jasper grinned and pulled me inside. Edward. "Ali? This is my brother." Jasper announced. Yet despite a beauty that should have been intimidating. "Yes. "Screw the handshakes. hitting him in the shoulder. she had an aura that seemed to put people naturally at ease around her. "I hope you don't mind. "Too bad we're so damn good at fighting." Edward smiled politely. even though I knew he was teasing. "And thank you. . "You know something?" Edward grinned over at me. We both got out of the car. "Jasper didn't tell me that you were coming too!" "He didn't know. I brought a date. Unless you were on her bad side."Enough for the day?" I asked. Edward handed me a folded set of directions he had printed from the internet. Jasper opened the door quickly when Edward rang the bell. I think we make a pretty good team." "Very nice to meet you. "Edward just asked me to keep him company on the drive." I tucked the last set of cards back into his carefully organized binder and placed it in the back seat once again. and I navigated until he pulled up into the designated parking area beside Alice's apartment building." "Excellent idea man. "Isabella!" Alice exclaimed.. you really couldn't help but fall in love with Alice. "Ali? Izzy is here too!" I heard Alice squeal from inside the apartment as Jasper ushered us in." Edward greeted her nicely and pushed his hand forward." It was my turn to blush. I was wrapped in a tight hug before I could even put my bag down. Wide violet eyes fringed with dark lashes looked bright upon her porcelain pale skin framed by dark hair. Before long. huh?" I laughed. I blushed when he used the word." I laughed and extracted myself from her embrace. this is my Alice. I laughed too. We're going to be related soon.. She almost reminded me of a hand painted china-doll." Edward smiled and moved to the side. please." "No problem. stretching our bodies before Edward grabbed both of our bags and led the way up the stairs to Alice's apartment. Alice was a perfect match for Jasper in every way. Edward." she giggled. I could see Edward's shoulders relax immediately. and in a flurry of greetings he almost didn't see me standing behind his brother's much larger frame.

" I breathed." I shook my head. "I agree!" She smiled and left me to freshen up in her bathroom." I shrugged." Alice giggled. but we'll figure it out. I washed my face." "Thanks. "Oh sure.. to grow up next to those two. "Starving. Alice must have changed clothes while I was in the shower." "Ugh. and Jazz moved to put his arms around Alice's waist." "Hmm. You can use the bathroom in my room. It was always one-sided." "We want to go out for dinner. and maybe not. "And you came as his date?" Alice asked." Alice waved her hand." "Maybe. "Come on Isabella." Alice's eyes narrowed and she tapped a delicate fingertip to her small chin. "I'm glad you are here. I was glad that she had chosen to wear a casual dress as well. I was the last to arrive in the living . combed out my wind-blown hair and reapplied a little make-up before donning the pretty summer dress I had packed. But believe me." I let Alice pull me by the hand until she shut her bedroom door behind us. "But I'm willing to drop it. No. "He was joking around with Jasper. "Are you sure about that Isabella? I mean.." Edward replied.. "You were the luckiest girl in Forks. We've never been more than friends. it's only because I had a huge crush on him when I was a little girl... Are you guys hungry?" Jazz asked. "No. "I hope it's okay that I tagged along?" I asked. for now. We might be a little cramped for space. so that I didn't feel over-dressed. But why didn't you ever tell me that his brother was so good-looking?" "I never thought about it. I usually get pretty accurate hunches about things like this.." Alice pointed down the hall for Edward. "Main bathroom is first door on the right.." I rolled my eyes and smiled so she wouldn't take offense." A small dimple played near Alice's mouth..Edward smiled widely over at Jasper. "Hello? I know Jasper can't be expected to spill details like this. "If you are picking up on anything.

and Jasper and I mostly made faces at one another and tossed things across the small table to amuse ourselves while Alice made good on her promise to get to know Edward. I blushed at his attentiveness and had to remind myself that he really was just saving me from a fiery accident. "Stop fidgeting.. I thought we should go to a little fondue place that Alice has been wanting to try." "Promise me anything dipped in chocolate and I'm up for it. "You look lovely. Ever inquisitive. His fingers were warm and reassuring around mine. too. Alice's tiny frame fit her very tiny little car. "Ew. and faded jeans.. He walked across the room while Alice and Jasper continued to talk quietly." Jasper joked. "Neutral dining it is. button up shirt. I was.. Eventually we all were able to laugh and join together to share some of our history with the girl who was about to enter our unofficial family circle. But I was a bit worried that my appreciation was a little too .. Edward and I were fairly cramped together in the back. and so Jasper folded his long legs into the passenger side seat... I didn't mind. and Edward's eyes noticed the movement. we could help each other out and just enjoy the evening. Alice tore down the city streets at a terrifying pace that made me glad my view was partially hindered. Edward laughed and moved to offer me his arm. I sort of wanted to smack him when Edward noticed his brother's glance and dropped my fingers. "You look great. He asked me along to make sure that he didn't feel like the third wheel. and when he kindly brushed my hair to rest behind my shoulder when it fell too close to the fondue burner. when he ordered for me. "I'll keep that in mind later. "Hey." In his jacket. And the advantage to her driving like a mad-woman was that we actually arrived to the waterfront eatery in record time. You know. and took my hand." Alice and felt a little self-conscious. It seemed to me. perhaps.. He looked out for me like that. guilty of being a little too impressed by Edward's charm. My hand fluttered nervously near my collar bone." I agreed." "Thank you. We didn't have to wait long to be seated. because fondue originated in Switzerland and all." I whispered and looked down. Alice turned her questions to our shared childhood stories. He raised his eyebrow in a silent question and I smiled and placed my hand in the crook of his elbow. I didn't like the role myself. and sat close enough for our legs to touch beneath the tiny table. Edward certainly did meet Alice's assessment of being one of the best-looking guys in Seattle." Edward scolded." Jasper said. When he held out my chair." I wrinkled my nose. She insisted on driving. "Since you two seem to be working under some truce or something for the moment. looking curiously between the two of us and down at the way Edward was still holding my hand... it was easy to pretend that we were on an actual date..

Alice seemed to be paying attention to moments like that too. "I. He pulled Alice across his lap and stole the kiss he had worked so deviously hard for. I reached my fork forward too and smiled at the two of them as they jostled each other back and forth. his eyes would find mine. "If a woman drops her bread in the pot. "Let's go.. huh?" he asked. Intent to plant a kiss on his cheek..." Jasper growled playfully and bumped Alice's shoulder. but mine was empty as well... because Jasper kept giving me curious smiles and I had a feeling I might be in for some hard-core teasing from him later. Our breath mingled and I felt light-headed. and we carefully speared breads and meats onto the long forks provided.obvious on my face. uh. Or maybe it was the look in Edward's eyes that made me feel . He must have exhaled in surprise as well. I was having such a pleasant time that I would take whatever ribbing I received for it. My mouth hung open for a minute before I dared to look over at Edward. and the surprise I saw in his expression was surely a mirror of my own when I felt the thrilling shock that passed between us during that innocent contact. she has to favor the men at the table with a kiss!" "Since when did you become an expert on Swiss tra. un-blinking.. I swallowed hard. It was too simple to sit back. I gasped at the foreign sensation. "What is he doing?" I asked.. "It's Swiss tradition." I was cut off when Jasper knocked Alice's arm hard and both of our forks tangled." Edward teased. Alice scolded Jasper good-naturedly as he bumped her arm while she was trying to dip a bite into the creamy sauce. I was surprised when a large clatter behind our table caused Edward's head to turn further toward me in reflex. "When in Switzerland. He watched Jasper and Alice for a moment before his eyes darted to mine.." I stuttered. His quick movement resulted in my lips hotly pressing against the corner of his soft mouth. A mixture of cheeses bubbled and simmered in the communal pot on our table. and lose myself while listening to Edward's warm voice as he spoke to Jazz and his fiancée. Our eyes were wide open. Swan. Edward sat beside me with a small grin on his face.. "Will you stop?"' she giggled. "Pucker up!" His playful expression knocked my worry away and I laughed and rose slightly out of my chair to lean forward. "Come here.. Edward just laughed lightly and shrugged." Jasper ordered with a self-satisfied chuckle. and he would favor me with a little smile. From time to time. I didn't care. only partially paying attention to the bread I dipped. She giggled and pulled her fork back empty.

Their preoccupation over Swiss tradition had allowed our entire embarrassing situation to go un-noticed. tearing my eyes away from his to clear my head. The waiter behind us muttered under his breath while he cleaned up the dropped serving-dishes and suddenly the entire situation seemed too silly not to laugh. and we both moved to stand with our forearms pressed to the guard rail beside us. we were all uncomfortably full. When the strains of music from an outdoor café carried over to us. "It's been a lot of fun. I caught Edward looking at me from the corner of his eye. Flustered." "Yes. I contemplated the danger of harboring such thoughts while I listened to the lull of the quiet voices ahead of us and the soothing sounds of the nearby bay. Edward and I reached for our drinks at the same time. When I did. "Nothing. I irrationally wished that Edward would take my hand again." Edward said warmly. and Edward and I strolled along the sidewalk behind him and Alice. Jasper suggested a walk. and I twisted my body away from its force. A particularly strong wind blew against us. Edward set his glass back on the table and laughed as well. The couple in front of us held hands and talked quietly while we followed in silence. Edward. I could feel the heat of his palms pressed firmly against the sides of my thighs. Jasper and Alice stepped together to dance in the shadowy walkway. "Let's order some dessert!" After dinner. I threw my arms down to trap it against my body. "That shade of blue looks beautiful on you." Edward remarked. ever chivalrous. I dropped back into my seat. "I'm glad you asked me. "I'm glad that you decided to join me. A giggle escaped my lips before I could stop myself. Edward grinned at me. . I blinked and blushed furiously. and looked at us quizzically over the table. My breath caught and he casually looked out toward the darkened water again. "What's so funny?" Jasper asked. "What?" I asked." Edward shook his head and looked remarkably more stable than I felt. Alice and Jasper finally decided they would come up for air. His head turned and he seemed to be studying me across the small space between us. and took deep swallows of the flavored iced-tea we had ordered. I stared at the water I could hear more than see. It wasn't even a real kiss.dizzy and warm. With the errant material under his hands. It was ridiculous." I told him. perplexed by his attention. obviously had the same idea." he agreed. and let the breeze blow my hair behind me. But every nerve in my body seemed to suddenly stretch and pull toward him for more of that wonderful feeling. as he had in the apartment earlier. looking straight ahead as well. my skirt blew around my legs. I turned my head and watched the breeze play with the ends of his soft hair.

but only to raise a sure hand to carefully slide the dainty strap back into place on my shoulder." "Thanks. I was helpless against wishing it could be so. . and you boys can bunk out here on the fold-out bed. "We don't want to intrude. "I really don't have permission to use my roommate's room while she's away." I whispered.. Alice and Jasper bid us goodnight and disappeared behind the door down the hall.." Alice said with a wide grin. His eyes glinted darkly in front of me. and so I appreciated when Edward took off his jacket and pulled it around my body to let me borrow some of his warmth while we walked. for not nearly long enough. For a moment before I pulled away."Sorry. I wouldn't complain about an early bedtime.. "Thanks. I snuggled into Edward's side and soaked it up while I could. just maybe. Alice shuffled her feet and looked nervously around her tiny apartment. I'll be fine on the floor. After they delivered our blankets and pillows." Jasper looked absolutely crestfallen to be losing a night with Alice. he was as aware of me as I was of him." Alice explained. We walked the short distance to the car. Bella can have the couch. My skin tingled where he touched me. I shivered a little in the dropping temperature. And a whispering little voice in the back of my head suggested that maybe. Jasper looked positively chipper. His eyes were focused on the way the strap of my dress had slid down my arm during my efforts to keep from being totally exposed by the strengthening bay breeze. I was left to imagine the emotions I could not read. Edward actually seemed almost reluctant to release me when we got back to the apartment. "I think we might get some rain. "You two can share your room." he told Alice." Edward murmured. It was pretty late. While I knew that I shouldn't. But it felt really good to take the comfort and attention that he offered. Yes. My imagination was running away from me." Jasper said as he and Alice moved over to us. I sat there in the darkness. He released my skirt. "The wind is picking up. and the long drive earlier in the day had taken its toll on me. and I wished for just a little more light so that I could have a better idea what he was thinking. "So I guess that Isabella could sleep with me. He was merely being a gentleman. Are you ready to head back to the apartment?" "I think so." I muttered. He didn't reply. and as usual. If you have a sleeping bag or an extra blanket. I had butterflies in my stomach just from the possibility that his mouth might be close to me again. I could have sworn I felt him inhale deeply with his nose pressed to the top of my hair.. "I'm beat. breathing in his scent and trying not to over-react to his nearness. And I tried really hard not to read too much into his behavior when he put his arm over the back seat of Alice's car and nestled me into his side during the drive home. Edward stepped up to the plate for his little brother." Jasper made a show of yawning loudly as soon as we got in the door.

"No. I hurried to brush my teeth. "It's kind of awesome to see them together.. I made my way on silent bare feet back out to the living room. And she's perfect for Jasper." Edward said quietly. wouldn't we all like to have something so wonderful? Sure.. and tie my hair back before slipping into my comfortable tank top and boxer shorts. I removed his jacket and placed it across the arm of the sofa before leaving the room. He carried his clothes in his arms and wore a tshirt and boxer shorts that were very similar to my own... Edward shrugged and continued laying his bedding out on the floor. . The city lights that filtered through the window edged Edward's profile with a silvery glow." I whispered. And what I wore was hardly wasn't like I knew we would be sharing a room for sleeping. There was no way that this strange awareness was one-sided. I tried to pretend nonchalance as he dropped his items into his overnight bag and moved to lay on the floor. I raised up and reached behind me to flick the switch on the lamp." "That makes sense. I was the one to stare.. His deep voice whispering through the darkness was doing strange things to me. I rested my cheek on my pillow and watched him until he turned to face me in the dark." I whispered. or how it happened. "Do you ever get jealous? At all?" he asked. "All yours. When Edward returned." I smiled. I noticed when I did. wash my face. I guess I am envious for what they've found in each other."I'll just. but it was there like a tangible thing in the room between us." I said. But I am more happy for them. But it was like a third person in the room that we both seemed hell-bent to ignore. She's smart and she's pretty. "Can you reach the light?" he asked." "Do you ever." "Yes?" I breathed." I said easily.. I wasn't sure what to contribute it to. what?" I urged. get dressed for bed. "Sure. "I mean. I giggled quietly at his question. that Edward was watching me just as closely as I had been watching him." "I know. Edward nodded and averted his gaze while I climbed under the blankets and settled onto the couch. "Do I ever." he whispered. than jealous. "Sometimes I think.. But hey. I wasn't sure when." Edward stopped mid-sentence.. "Alice is amazing. "You were right. I blushed a little bit about the idea of Edward seeing me in my ex-boyfriend's underwear.

"You knew him in high school but didn't even remember seeing him. and nothing more. at all. I felt like I was drowning in disappointment." My hopes plummeted at the shift in conversation." Edward said distinctly. and rubbed my weary hand across my face. they wouldn't call it a 'crush'.. in asking you out when he saw you again. and my heart betrayed me... Yet he wasted no time. "Consider Tyler. Yet one day of working beside him. Sometimes. I silently willed him to speak the words that I had been waiting forever to hear." My breath caught painfully in my chest as his quiet words hung in the air between us. it's where you least expect it. I batted at the irritating sensation . and you never really knew it. I remembered the lesson I had learned all of those years ago. Maybe it was in front of your face all along. I closed my eyes and let my heart absorb what he seemed to be telling me. When I looked over at him again."I think that maybe we look so hard for that one perfect thing. that we look further than we need to. one almost-kiss. The pain felt exactly the same.. I squeezed my eyes shut more tightly. for instance.." I said in a strangled sounding voice. one evening of sweet looks and friendly touches. I opened myself back up to those girlish fantasies and the possibilities that he might care for me as more than a friend.. I could see his jaw tense while he pressed his lips together before he spoke." Edward said. "We should get some sleep then. "Are you referring to anyone in particular?" I asked. If it didn't hurt so much. 16. Tyler? He had been speaking about Tyler? "He asked me to be his date. And while I cursed my fickle heart in the darkness and tried not to cry on my borrowed pillow. Hit and Run Something was tickling my nose. he had shifted to his back and was staring at the ceiling once more with his arms bent and his hands hidden beneath his pillow.. that I would never again be hurt because of my silly. "It will be a long drive home and another long evening once we get there. The tickling returned almost immediately." he said with a deep voice. for his party tomorrow night. unreciprocated feelings for Edward Cullen." His voice had a hard edge to it that unfurled a painful ache in my chest. There was no other sound but the beating of my heart in my ears. and I stared at the dark curve of his back in front of me. "I don't know... As close to a declaration as I could have ever imagined from Edward. Edward rolled to his other side. laughing and talking.. He offered me friendship. I promised myself when I was sixteen years old.

but I wasn't up for discussing the reason for my peculiar mood with him just yet. with a long piece of my hair held between his thumb and forefinger. "Since when did you ever wake up in such a pissy mood. The tickling device and perpetrator of said crime was identified and I was ready to punch him if he did it again. If my feelings were bruised and if my heart was tender. Now I was left feeling emotionally exposed and raw." I growled. Jasper laughed louder now..once more. and silently went about helping me to fold the blanket that I had slept beneath.. Jasper must have noticed the death-look on my face. "He's in the kitchen with Ali. The more I thought about it. She's talking his ear off and trying to sweeten his disposition with some of her blueberry muffins and coffee. But I refused to see Edward as totally innocent in helping me to feel that way. and I tossed my pillow onto the top. The mention of his brother made me cringe. mostly because I tossed and turned all night. My throat was dry and my head hurt. Maybe I clutched his actions a little too tightly to my chest and pretended that there was real sentiment behind them with a little too much ease. I had been the one to think that a little harmless flirting would never hurt a soul. "Well.. he was at least partly to blame. certain I was awake." "Coffee sounds good. Jasper stood when I did. for getting my hopes up over the least-little things." I nodded. Just yesterday. His behavior had been confusing to say the least. thinking of the man that slept on the floor across the room from me." Jazz continued to sound sullen. the more convinced I was that I had not imagined things. "Knock it the fuck off." I argued and rolled to my back to stretch my arms over my head. "Do you want breakfast?" Jazz asked. Slowly I curled my body up toward a sitting position and looked around the room. He looked concerned. and dropped my hair with a frown. I played and replayed my day with Edward in my mind. But as dawn crept closer to the skyline. Izzy?" "Since I didn't get more than two hours of sleep last night. I opened my eyes with a squint against the sunlight coming through the window. . He placed it on the stack in the chair.. "Where is he?" I croaked. And maybe Edward felt the same. it was accompanied by a soft chuckle in front of me. Edward's sleeping items were folded neatly on the chair in the corner. and saw Jasper sitting on the floor in front of my face. Edward had sent me mixed-signals and was at least partially responsible for opening those doors on the emotions that I had hoped would have stayed securely closeted away. I had slept like shit. When the whisper-soft annoyance returned again. I had blamed myself for seeing signals where there were none. your mood matches Edward's then. At first.

I mean. I was merely more resolved than ever to put my feelings for him in their proper place.. you two seemed to be getting along really well. I felt much better..." The warm brown liquid in my mouth tasted bitter on my tongue. forcing brightness in my voice. Tyler was the type of person that I should be opening my heart up to. He didn't play games. Edward had suggested last night that I consider Tyler. I was completely thankful. He nodded and I grabbed my bag before trudging down the hall to Alice's room." I said. You..." Edward mentioned in lieu of greeting.. and prepare to face the day with a stronger sense of self-preservation. and genuinely interested in me. "Morning everyone. and handsome. By the time I had shampooed.. I really wasn't in the mood to see Edward just yet.. Now it was up to me. he had hurt me. I just nodded while he walked from the room. and Edward. Alice merely stepped across the small linoleum floor and turned so that we stood side by side." Alice nodded and seemed content to drop the subject. "Good morning!" Alice watched me. "We always get along well. I made a point not to look in the kitchen as I passed. Intentional or not."Maybe a shower first?" I asked. last night..... resting against her kitchen counter. I didn't have to guess what he was thinking or feeling. and repeated. I combed through my wet hair and left it down my back to dry. rinsed." Jasper whispered. I hoped to wash the lingering bitterness away in a hot shower. After carrying my things into the living room. I giggled a little into the lip of my mug and Alice landed a playful elbow to his ribs. . Edward was right. "I thought." I said distinctly. "Told you he woke up with a bear up his ass. I planned to take his advice.she pretty much rocked like that. He made his interest in me known. Tyler was kind. "So.... I planned to keep an open mind when I went to his party. I needed time to steel myself and shake off the dissatisfied and unhappy feelings his careless playing with my emotions had caused." I offered to end her speculation. No. I wasn't angry with Edward. "It's what we do. and I swallowed it back with a healthy dose of self-derision. to decide what I wanted to do with that.. I finally made my way to the kitchen.?" "Didn't sleep well. Jazz rubbed the spot and left the room to follow his brother." "Ah. "I'd like to leave as soon as you're ready. seeing far more than I wanted her to. Yeah. Not out of spite. But she placed a mug of coffee in my hand without commentary. per se. We are friends. The water did wonders to help clear my mind. Well.

I have things to do. I moved to do the same. Soon the blur of green beyond the glass morphed into peaceful grayish-blue ripples. and ran with carelessly bare feet down the stretch of beach in my mind. I should only be a couple of hours behind you. "Sorry. soft classical music filtered from the dash and side speakers to replace the silence that sat like a third passenger between our seats. Are you really trying to say that burying your nose in a book will be more fun than spending some time with your brother? We don't have much time left!" "No. and threw rocks. sounding relieved that Edward had a change of heart about attending the party. Edward hunched his shoulders forward and rubbed a hand over his eyes. I watched as Edward's long fingers touched the buttons on the car stereo. Come on man. I drifted away to visit three familiar children who laughed. Before long.. I straightened in my seat. and love never hurt." Jasper explained as we entered the room. Our trip home began nothing like our drive yesterday.. twisting my slightly sore neck to the left so that I could see the man that still sat behind the wheel. like I said." "Well.Tossing the last bit of coffee down the drain... I tried not to speculate about the reason he wanted to skip out on our plans. He turned his head when he heard my voice and looked at me for a moment before offering a slight smile. "You told me you would lay off of that for a couple weeks. I rinsed my cup and took a muffin for the road.and then I'll drive home too.. "I'm sorry. Edward thanked her again for her hospitality.. "I don't really know if I'll be going to the party. I'm just pretty tired. . Take a nap... "I was just telling Edward to go home and nap. the quiet had become oppressive. Alice and I joined the men in the living room. I hugged Alice tightly.. The sound of the symphony that filled the car turned into the reassuring crash of waves against the shore." Edward reached to grab his over-night bag." "Like what? Study?" Jasper frowned. I slumped sideways and let my temple press against the window beside me." "About that. Even the sun hid behind the clouds to avoid the awkward tension that surrounded us. Then we can all go to Tyler's party together tonight." Edward shook his head. reminding her that I would see her in less than a week for Edward's graduation party." I whispered. By the time we left Seattle and were on a stretch of highway that would lead us back home. Easy conversation was noticeably absent. of course not. Looking around. And before I knew it. No. where learning came through play. I saw that Edward had pulled into a gas station. I groggily blinked my eyes open when the gentle hum of the engine under my ear silenced. the apartment door was closed behind us and Edward and I were walking silently to his car. laughter held no cynicism.. I didn't mean to fall asleep. "I'm going to stay until Ali has to leave for work. old man!" Jasper laughed.

" "Oh!" I frowned when I looked more closely at his red eyes and disheveled appearance. Edward had returned and handed me a paper cup of coffee. "I just needed to stop for some more coffee before I drive us both off the road.." He rubbed his hand against the back of his neck and looked a little uncomfortable. wincing at the temperature of the fluid before placing it in the cup holder on his side of the console. Would you like me to drive? Wait a minute." Edward stretched his shoulders.I've had a little sleep now. Would you like one?" "Sure. "Did I talk in my sleep again?" I asked with my voice muffled by my palms. I felt the heat rise in my cheeks but tried to diffuse the situation immediately. He was staring straight ahead.. took a sip of my coffee.. "I've been told." Edward sighed tiredly. The music was turned low. Without another word." I muttered... I pulled my hands away from my face and snuck a look at Edward from the side of my eye." I smiled. "You were asleep for about two hours." "I am?" I wrinkled my forehead in confusion before a suspicion caused me to cover my face with my hands.. Edward moved to get out of the car." "What?" I asked. ropey tendrils. My hair had dried in long. I caught it all back in a messy twist and wiped the sleep from the corner of my eyes." Edward said. "I should have been trying to help you stay awake."That's okay. "I really am sorry that I fell asleep. how long was I asleep?" I was still trying to wake up and was not making much sense. "It's a habit for you?" Edward asked." I began. and I lowered the visor to utilize the small mirror on the underside. "I couldn't make out much of it. By the time I finished. So I cleared my throat. "Edward took a long drink of his. I'll be fine once I get a cup of coffee.. "To be honest. but his lips seemed to be curled up at the side with a small grin. "And no. "Well." "Don't worry about it Bella.. But. "You did say my name a couple of times. you are pretty entertaining while you sleep. He looked like I felt. he turned us out of the parking lot and back out toward the highway. and I felt obligated to make an attempt to stay awake. . I hoped I hadn't said anything too humiliating. I thanked him with a smile before tearing back the perforated triangle on the plastic lid to release the steam. and shifted in my seat to better look at Edward.

." Edward just nodded in understanding." Edward nodded. without thinking about the competition." Edward scoffed with a grin." I nodded. in regard to the plans I had made..." Edward said. and Jasper is going to be back in Seattle for school." I smiled when I considered the truth of that statement. "It wouldn't feel right if you weren't there. "My plans for the Epic Adventure are awesome. "Why the hurry to get back?" Edward asked after clearing his throat. noticeably relieved. "Bella. But the playful edge was gone from his voice and he sounded very serious." I admitted. "I'm waiting for a phone call to confirm mine." "I leave in a week. "You'll have to make sure I have your phone number.. And I know you are moving back to the area and all. there is probably something you should know about the plans I've made. The smile dropped from Edward's face.. You two really should enjoy every minute you have together.." Edward said. "Ah. "You and Jasper and I were all running down the beach. "I don't want to know about it ahead of time. thank you.. But you are going to be busy studying for the Bar." . "I decided to stay a couple extra days when I found out your parents are throwing you a graduation party. "No way."I dreamt we were kids again. Cullen.." I laughed." "You mean I might need help while I'm performing my Best Man duties this year. "I promised I would be home to watch the house. You are going down. huh?" Edward smiled." "Well." I held my palm up toward him to stop his words.. I smiled too. "Are you taking summer classes?" "Renee and Phil are going to take a vacation before the next semester starts." "You too. I don't even want to think about it tonight. but I continued." I said.." "Nope. "You and Jazz don't get to spend enough time together. I'd like us all to be able to have fun at this party. "I'm glad that you decided to go to the party tonight." I said." "We used to have fun." I smiled and reached over to shove his shoulder playfully.. "You'll be leaving to go back to Florida soon. I might need help while I'm performing all of my Best Man duties this year." I stared through the windshield and reminded myself not to place too much importance in his simple statement.. "I mean. while you still can.

"Well you be careful up there kiddo. but I had paired it with a light summer sweater and tennies to make it casual." I shrugged."Fine. He took my hand and led me out to the car. I knew my short denim skirt wasn't exactly appropriate for a cool Washington evening. Charlie eyed me speculatively from the couch. "Looking good." I told him with a grin. And. but wisely didn't comment. Edward was still grumbling. They'll take care of you then. since we were once again talking with each other.. I reminded Edward to get a nap. I ran lightly down my stairs. Without the competition hanging over our heads. let's face it. He grinned at me over his . When planning to meet up with a good-looking guy at a party. 'cute' kicks 'practical's' ass any day of the week. "Tyler's house.. Tyler had made his intentions quite clear. I was free to have fun and explore where this new interest might take me." "I'm going with Edward and Jazz. A couple of jack-asses almost got hauled in the last time he threw one of those shin-digs. Charlie noticed." My grin faltered when Edward stepped out and closed the door behind him. shower. opening the door for me before he got in the passenger side seat." Edward sighed. They can get a little rowdy. A part of me was desperately curious to know what he had come up with. But I didn't want to start second-guessing my own plans. "Where are you off to?" My father asked. Izz. "Ah. At our houses. "Thanks. I'll see you in the morning. I jogged across the space between our two houses and Jasper opened the door before I had a chance to ring the doorbell. That gave me plenty of time to rest. With a few minutes to spare. "But I warn you. He's having a backyard barbeque. Dad!" I kissed him on the forehead and then walked quickly out the front door." I offered." Jasper scoffed." Jasper smiled. I self-consciously tugged at the hem of my skirt to make it look longer than it was. but I could barely hear him. get dressed. Have a good time. "Aren't you going to be cold?" "She'll be fine." "Night. Still. and promised I would be ready to leave by seven o'clock. The second half of our journey went by quickly. and get in the proper mind-set for a fun night out. "The Crowley's place?" Charlie rubbed his chin. You too. I won't lose. His eyes traveled down my legs and he frowned. Jasper turned the volume of the stereo up to drown out his voice." "We'll see.

" I nodded and smiled up at him. It was good to know that at least one of my friends was looking forward to a fun evening. standing in that area. "I have a few people I'd like you to meet.shoulder. I let him lead me away. "Hi. and the three of us followed the sounds around the side of the house. But it was hardly my main concern at the moment. Tyler was truly an attentive date." I smiled. I spotted Tyler immediately. Tyler's house was situated at the end of a long drive. I smiled up at him. I found that despite his tattoos and multiple face-piercings. "Come on. bent to stoke the large fire that blazed in the fire-pit in the center of the patio. The look on his face seemed to be asking permission." Tyler coaxed. Isabella." he pointed again to his right." "Sounds great. He straightened his tall frame and brushed his hands off on the front of his pants before his eyes turned to find where we stood. and he grinned before playfully tugging my arm and running me through the grass to meet his band mates. he stepped into host-mode and motioned behind his shoulder with his thumb. stopping to stand in front of us. We had to travel about a mile off the main road into a deep wooded area before his house came into view. We have a pretty full bar set up for mixed drinks on that table right over there. chatting loudly with drinks in hand. I turned my attention back to the smiling man who walked beside me. I wasn't really in the mood to worry about his sullen attitude. "Awesome! I'm so glad you guys could come!" Tyler closed the gap between us with a fast stride. "Hi." Jasper grinned. Finally breaking eye-contact. I knew they wouldn't have any trouble mingling and finding company. A large smile broke across his face when his eyes met mine. I hoped he would loosen up and enjoy himself. greeting all three of us while looking directly at me. Clusters of people already dotted the yard. I recognized a couple of familiar faces from high school." "Okay. "The keg is on ice up on the porch if you want beer. I saw that Jasper was already pulling Edward toward the make-shift bar. and I smiled back. he was actually a very . in an effort to encourage his attention. With a glance over my shoulder. I really wasn't surprised when Tyler dropped his hand and caught mine in his warm grip. Voices and music filtered through the air from behind his home. The somewhat scary-looking bass player from his band worked at the grill. Edward nodded and looked around. Tyler stepped to my side and placed his hand against the small of my back before leaning down to speak closer to my ear. "And we are going to fire up the grill for dinner in just a little while." he returned. His thumb passed softly over the side of my hand.

I felt truly bad that we hadn't gotten to know each other earlier. Edward was scowling at me over the top of his cup. but returned quickly with two bottles of water. During our conversation. When I inquired about the piece of the tattoo on his neck that I could see above his collar. Tyler tapped the top of our bottles together in a sort of 'cheers' and took a long drink. Tyler lowered his hand and started tracing a small circle on my exposed knee. I blushed. Jasper was smiling and laughing with a couple people who loosely formed a circle there on the grass. "Whatever you're having is fine. he grinned and explained that it was a tribal design that represented something to do with their first album. I shifted my eyes and saw that Jazz and Edward were standing on the other side of the fire." I nodded and twisted the cap. Tyler turned his head to follow my gaze. Tyler grinned at me over his shoulder before pulling his shirt back on. that boy was built fine.quiet sort of guy. ." I smiled. Tyler smiled and wiped his mouth on the back of his hand. It was easy to laugh as we recalled certain teachers that we both shared in high school." "Water is great. "You said whatever I was having. a few feet away. my eyes travelled back over to see Edward and Jasper talking with their heads bowed toward one another over by the bar. I raised my eyebrows in question before he caught me watching him and turned his head toward a pretty brunette that was standing to his left talking to him. knowing I had been caught looking less than attentive. I raised my eyebrow in question. "Who's to say that I've found anyone that I'd like to let try?" I smiled over at him. "Why is it that some girl hasn't snapped you up?" I asked quickly. I pretended to watch the fire as I glanced at the three men from the corner of my eye. I inwardly gave myself a high-five and traced the pattern with my finger. I watched his throat constrict as he swallowed and thought again about how ridiculously handsome he was. things got a little out of hand when a couple of guys had too much to drink and started acting like assholes. He pulled it up and over his head to show me the large design that was inked in heavy black lines between his shoulder blades." Tyler laughed. giving him my attention once more. Tyler and I sat in a couple of chairs by the fire while we talked and ate our dinner. I thought it would be smart to keep a clear head tonight. I turned away from the sight and took the plate of food that Tyler offered me. "Can I get you a drink?" Tyler asked politely. All of the members of the band had a similar design to commemorate their first bout of success in the music business. But Tyler shrugged off my apologies as unnecessary. He stood and walked over to where Jazz and Edward stood. "At my last party. Tyler chatted with them both for a bit. Good Lord. I was rewarded as he reached behind him to grab the back of his shirt. in case I need to diffuse anything like that again. When I asked Tyler about the location of his.

" Tyler whispered.. Tyler put his hands on my hips. "You know what I mean. not minding that his simple percussion no longer accompanied them. I shivered when I felt Tyler's warm breath on the side of my neck."Same question." I turned my head to follow his gaze." I shook my head. Tyler grinned at me and lightly slapped a rhythm on the bucket with his hands. He shook his head at me in apology. Tyler moved the bucket from between his knees and grabbed my hand. Songs that I guessed were on their new album were played in an acoustic set that brought hearty applause from the guests. "Edward and Jazz slip into big-brother-mode whenever I'm interested in a guy. My breath caught a little at the feel of his warm finger tip on my skin." he asked softly. and saw Edward. Those eyes were very studiously staring at my mouth. "You smell really fucking good. let's do a few!" We were interrupted by the voice of who I recognized as the lead singer of Tyler's band. I looked at him in confusion until he pulled my arm and tossed his chin up to indicate that I should stand. He leaned forward and inhaled deeply beneath my ear. The fire played on his raven hair and lit his sky blue eyes with dancing sparks.. The chairs around the fire were filled with his band members and a few guests who were lucky enough to have grabbed the seats fast enough. trying to let him know that I wasn't opposed to the idea. and then got up only to return with a five gallon bucket that he flipped and placed between his feet. Other people closed the circle as the sound of acoustic guitar filled the air. back at ya. "I'd really like to kiss you right now. I had been waiting to see if he'd make the first move. are you? Interested in a guy?" . I pulled my bottom lip between my teeth. After three songs. Tyler laughed and let his hand lay against my leg. I nodded a bit. "I would. "You want to know why some girl hasn't snapped me up?" I asked. and his eyes watched the action eagerly." "Whenever you're interested in a guy. "Ignore him. I stood and smoothed my short skirt out with my free hand. The rest of the band played on. I smiled and leaned back into the warm circle of his arms. I licked my lips and looked over at him. "But I feel like we are in a goddamned fish-bowl. once again. I smiled and turned my head to look at him. Our faces were really close. and I decided that wasn't entirely a bad thing." he argued with a low voice." Tyler grinned and kissed the soft material on my shoulder instead. My father probably even put them up to keeping an eye on me tonight.. My heart sped up and I'm sure my cheeks turned pink. being flip. "Tyler." Tyler said plainly.. staring and frowning darkly. "And. turning me in front of him and pulled me down to sit on the edge of the chair between his legs. huh?" Tyler grinned at me...

Edward told me to consider Tyler. and I cringed. "Tyler?" I asked." I smiled. "No. . either. Maybe he thought he had to make up for lost time in the over-protective department. I doubted anything that Edward had to say to me was all that important. not removing my eyes from Edward's face. further into the shadows provided by the trees. He looked angry and I took a step forward to meet him. We hadn't made it far from the yard before Tyler threw his arm over my shoulder and pulled me into his side. Tyler looked confused until I offered my hand. I shook my head. Especially after he had been more than clear." Edward stormed into sight then. "Can I help you?" I asked. "I haven't decided that yet. Bell?" He asked. I pushed aside the tiny voice in the back of my head that reminded me that I might be interested in the wrong one. standing with a sudden determination." I shrugged and laughed."I'm trying to figure that out. "Can it wait?" I hissed in a loud whisper. I could hear the frustration in my own voice. This was the equivalent of him chasing a boy off my porch. "Come with me. He practically glared at Tyler over my shoulder and straightened his frame. last night. "Yeah. He laughed too. I pointedly ignored Edward while I led Tyler toward the darkened tree line. Tyler grinned and kept moving toward me. He should be able to guess that it wasn't exactly an opportune time." The wicked smile that pulled across Tyler's face would have made any girl's knees go weak. and we both knew it. when he suggested that I should explore my options. I turned out from under his arm and started walking backwards. "Bella?" Edward's voice was rough as he called my name loudly. Damn it. It's important. "Let's take a walk and get out of the fish-bowl for a little while. I frowned and turned toward the sound of our approaching visitor." I said. "I need to talk to you. Tyler huffed in annoyance and rolled his eyes before putting his hands in his pockets. I intended to do just that. "How far are we going?" he asked with the firelight fading in the distance." Edward said stubbornly. "It's Isabella." Edward clenched his jaw and I watched his fists tighten at his sides. I narrowed my eyes at him. We both stopped and I groaned when I heard loud footsteps following our path. It was completely irrational for him to be behaving so poorly. His words held a double-meaning that I could not ignore. completely pissed off that he would ruin my time with Tyler.

"Yes" I retorted stubbornly. But when Edward dropped my wrists and pushed his hands into my hair. all bets were off. My hands clutched at his shirt and I pulled him closer.. "What in the hell is wrong with you?" I asked angrily. deciding I had gone far enough for my voice not to carry across to the ears of the partygoers." Tyler agreed.. "Would you mind if Edward and I had a few words? We can continue. Tyler and I actually went to school together. Finally. Edward was actually kissing me. And I'm pretty sure that even Charlie has acknowledged the fact that I am an adult!" "If you want me to treat you like an adult. I rounded and faced him. our date. completely surprised and unsure what to do. In case you've forgotten. damn it! Maybe I like to be kissed! Did you ever think of that? And not because of some traditional obligation dictated by melted cheese!" Edward's fingers wrapped around my wrists strongly as I reminded him of our painfully embarrassing moment that occurred only the night before. Edward. angling my head to press his mouth more fully against mine." "How in the hell do you know that I wasn't the one trying to take advantage of HIM? Huh?" My voice rose and I moved forward. done anything out here. Before I knew what he was doing.. he tugged me and I stumbled into his chest.. I turned and stormed off a few feet into the deeper growth of the forest. I was breathing heavily and had to tip my head up to look at his face.. He could have taken advantage of you. when I've finished. The immediate spark of awareness that surged between us caused me to stand stock still for a moment. putting both hands on Edward's chest to give him a solid shove backward. He sounded almost menacing. He groaned against my lips then. I didn't miss that his shoulder nearly knocked into Edward when he walked past to leave us alone in the woods. My mind didn't need to make decisions." "That's fine. Instead of me pushing him backward."Tyler?" I asked again. "You are not my father.. It's not like we just met!" "You don't know him well enough! He could have led you away and. "I'm a woman." he snarled.... Not trusting myself immediately.. I heard Edward following me. "Fine... My body acted on its own. and no one would be around to help. Edward bent his head and pressed his lips to mine. you should act like one! It's reckless and irresponsible for you to wander away from a party with a guy you barely even know!" "Good Lord! Thanks for the tips on 'Stranger Danger' Sergeant Cullen. and I opened my mouth.. "So you wanted to be kissed?" Edward's voice had dropped dangerously low.. anxious to swallow the sound. .

His lips were soft." His words sounded agonized. churning and swirling.. His hands had left my hair and were torturously moving up and down my hips. made me know he was burning just the same as I. I shuddered when I felt evidence of his arousal pressed firmly against my stomach. and melting my bones and muscle until all that was left was a quivering mess of need.. Me. It all felt.. Tell me to stop. Everything about the moment was perfect. and yet I felt completely intoxicated.. I couldn't misinterpret the way his body pressed urgently against mine. His chest heaved. But his eyes.." I whispered urgently. Seeing him kiss Mary Beth on his back porch had in no way prepared me for the heat that scorched me from the crown of my head to the tips of my toes.. He sucked my bottom lip between his teeth and bit lightly before pulling a breath away. and I couldn't get enough of him. His cheeks and lips were as dark as I knew they would be. My fingers moved to his chest where I began to use all of my strength to push him off of me. And I pushed my face forward to search for his lips again. but demanding. and deepened our kiss. Edward used his tongue to tease my mouth open.Kissing Edward was more than I could wrap my mind around. just as surely as I did. very right." he moaned.. Finally he wanted me just as much as I wanted him. Until the words he muttered against my skin brought me back to reality.. you wouldn't be saying that. I felt myself moving backward.. he stepped away quickly. It took a moment for Edward to realize my intentions. I was dizzy with want when I pushed my hands up into the back of his hair and pulled him toward me again. so very. It was a heady and powerful feeling to know that he had that reaction to me. I bit my lip when his mouth pulled away from mine and slid down a scorching path on my neck. But when he did. It wasn't guess work. "God damn it Bella. How could he think such an amazing moment between us was wrong? That what we were doing was a mistake? I had been foolishly celebrating my childhood romantic fantasies being fulfilled . It was everything I ever dreamed of.. The way his fingers pressed into me. "Slap me. "This is wrong. I needed more of him. I hadn't had a single drop of alcohol. I reveled in finally having absolute proof that he felt this unexplainable connection between us. and clutched his shoulders instinctively to stop my fall. I couldn't speak. This time. I knew it when I felt the rough tree bark scratching through the thin sweater on my back. He tasted like spiced rum and limes. Push me away. were clouded with guilt. and yet nothing as I imagined it would be." "I don't want you to stop. He groaned but gave in to me. His hair was standing in wild directions designed by my passionate grip. "This is so wrong." His words were as effective as being doused with a glass of ice water. But then I realized that he was moving me. His mouth sucked and nipped at my neck while he fought a battle with himself and whispered harshly against me." Edward said throatily. "If you knew half of the things going on in my mind right now. Edward pushed his whole body against me then. firm and unyielding. and my head swam.

He opened the passenger side door of his blue van for me. I slapped him. I licked my lips and looked around with wide eyes." . not wanting to risk seeing Edward again before I left. Let me just run in and get my keys. but he stood motionless. Edward didn't say a word as I shoved my way around him. I slapped him as hard as I could. And he didn't want me a very adult way. Then. I met Jasper's gaze first. He looked alarmed when he took in my appearance. again. Tyler turned to look at me then. His head snapped to the side. He frowned and turned his eyes to the tree line behind me instead.. I finally chanced a look over to Tyler." I walked around the side of the house. 17. and favored me with an understanding smile. and I climbed into the seat wordlessly. "I wondered. After we bumped our way down the rocky drive and pulled onto the main road. His features were illuminated in a white glow from the dashboard lights. "Sure. "I'm really sorry. Tyler jogged down his front steps with his keys jingling in his hand. "Sorry." I mumbled. "I'm guessing that you and Edward aren't getting along.. giving me no indication as to what he might be thinking about my strange request to leave the party. stopping his feet from moving to me and sending him the message that I was not in the mood to talk about it. The conversation stalled when I stepped up. and I took a deep breath and walked over to join them. and Edward was the same as he had always been. but I shook my head frantically." I muttered. He didn't want me then. but nodded easily. I finally saw Tyler talking with a group of friends closer to the house. My palm stung and my heart hurt. searching for the man I had sent away minutes before when Edward came looking for me. and I smiled apologetically up at Tyler. and left him standing there with his own remorse to keep him company. if you might be able to give me a ride home?" Tyler frowned down at me with a worried expression on his face. He looked straight ahead as he drove. because he was the one that suggested it.. Long OverDue I was still breathing heavily when I stomped my way out of the wooded area behind Tyler's house and entered the warm circle of light provided by the fire-pit in the center of the cleared yard..

Someone like you. That part of it isn't for me. And whether he wanted to be or not.. "I'm leaving.."You could say that." Tyler said softly... I knew. have a. was sitting here in this van declaring that he wanted me to be a part of his life? I shook my head to try to make sense of my jumbled emotions.. But I didn't feel comforted. again. Things are going to get pretty busy." I admitted. volatile relationship." I couldn't stop apologizing.." he hinted... How caught up people get in the glamour and everything. He just looked at me for a moment in the semi-darkness... We leave in two days for LA. and stared down at the way his fingers wrapped around my own. "I'm sorry I made you leave your party. at least a part of him was attracted to me in the same way. He pulled our hands up between us and lowered his head to brush a soft kiss across the back of my knuckles. Neither of us would be able to deny it anymore. to keep me grounded." My throat suddenly felt tight. to remind me of what's important. Tyler reached over and offered his hand." Tyler smiled at my compliment and looked at our joined hands once more before he spoke again. It was meant as a comforting gesture. "I think we were all impressed that you haven't killed each other by now. Tyler pulled up in front of my house. I just know it. He seemed almost to be talking out loud. My confusion had hit an all-time high tonight when Edward had finally allowed whatever it was between us to break-free.. and turned off the engine." I grinned. without a shadow of a doubt that I was inexplicably still tied to Edward. Isabella. You're going to be great." I muttered. I was just more annoyed that Edward had managed to ruin my evening.. Does that make sense?" "You seem like you've got a pretty good grip on reality." "He makes me very angry. "The guys wanted to have this party as a send-off. and have a good time. "I need real people in my life.. I turned a sad smile up in his direction. And now Tyler.. this sweet man. I'll only be here another week." Tyler laughed lightly. he didn't drop my hand immediately." "Yeah." he smiled.. "I think you're going to be fine!" "Reality. Tyler squeezed my hand in response." I nodded. to himself. But I don't want to lose myself in the craziness. He might have regretted it.. When he shifted in his seat. "It's fairly obvious that you two. and I probably won't be back for several months.. "That's why I'm so glad I met you.. I want to make good music." . but it was there. "I've already gotten a taste for how fake it can all be. "You'll have fun though. Tyler took a deep breath and then his features hardened to a more serious expression. "There was only one person there that I really cared to see anyway. I'm not like that. I took it easily.

and his thumb carefully brushing the bottom of my breast. and beautiful too.. Even with his warm palm wrapped around the side of my ribs. teasing my mouth with his tongue and meeting my desperation with an eagerness I appreciated. and we fit together wonderfully. Eager to chase my confusion away. He groaned and angled his head.. and I directed him to come nearer. It wasn't fair. You're funny. and see what could come of this.. I pushed my hands into his hair then. I let my fingers cup the side of his head." Tyler shrugged. behind his ear. Tyler got the idea immediately. He exhaled and smelled like cinnamon. Edward did not. trying to crawl into him to escape the persistent force that felt like invisible hands pulling me away. And suddenly I released my seat belt and surprised him by turning to sit sideways on his lap between his chest and the steering wheel. "But I'll be gone too. Tyler wanted me. Nice. that Tyler would kiss me.. I contemplated the texture of his hair under my hand. He took my desperate gaze as an invitation. Tyler's kiss was deliberate and slow. One moved up to tangle in the hair at the back of my neck. "You are one of the coolest chicks I've ever met. and suddenly I just wanted to cry. With my eyes shut tight. I was comparing him to Edward. to light in my chest at his words. He . I tasted his lips and pushed myself closer. I looked deeply into Tyler's eyes and tried my hardest to find the connection that I needed to loosen the binds that Edward had on me. He smiled and looked at me. waiting for a spark of.. under his hair.' I wasn't sure what I needed. I didn't want 'nice. I stiffened when I realized where my thoughts had taken me... His mouth warmly covered mine.. I wanted him to. and smart." I searched his face. It felt familiar and nice. I sighed when his soft lips finally met mine. Isabella. Tyler noticed when I stopped responding. We were both breathing heavily as our lips and tongues moved together and I concentrated on how the new aggression made me feel. and tugged his face back to mine." He turned his eyes to me then. His lips caressed mine in a way that wasn't awkward or strange. his kiss didn't bring the spark of electricity that I had felt when I was with Edward... tough as hell. anything.. The other moved purposefully around my hip and under the front of my sweater. I think it's unfortunate that we had to meet again when we were both under time constraints. Tyler's hands left my back. I think I might have growled in frustration.. Nice? Tyler pulled back when I sighed again. Hope? Possibility? Excitement? My eyebrows dropped when I realized that I was still so tangled up in knots over Edward that I couldn't even fairly consider what it was that Tyler was suggesting. It saddened me to know that my feelings for another man were blocking my chance for happiness with this one. His hands pressed into my back and brought me tightly against his chest. But 'nice' wasn't going to cut it. and leaned toward me. Quickly I pulled my hand from his grasp and ran it lightly up the side of his neck."I know. But I'd like to keep in touch. I could tell then. I'll likely be traveling for the better part of the next year. But I think it's worth trying.

and washed my face before tumbling into bed. It seemed very clear to me that I had always somehow compared the men I was with to him. Surely. and let his head fall back onto the head-rest behind him. trying to bring me back to the moment. "Isabella?" Tyler finally asked with a deep voice." I shook my head. "Yes?" "Will you do me a favor?" "I. only a weary resignation. providing the sound of another goodbye and failed attempt to find something that might make me forget about my feelings for Edward. I trudged upstairs like a robot. sad smile from where he sat." he muttered under his breath." He gave me a soft.. I felt I owed him something for his kindness. it was easier for me to try to get along normally with someone else." I whispered. He closed his eyes with a groan.. Cullen. I twisted my hands together in front of me. "I'm so sorry. and looked at him sadly. when Edward was across the country. I pulled myself from his lap and sat in my own seat once more. I smiled my thanks to Tyler and stepped out of his van. The door closed heavily behind me. that we could be friends. And every one of the small group had been found lacking. I was suspicious. I placed both of my hands on his chest. if nothing else. Shocked that he saw through me so easily. His only fault was one that he could never over-come. "Just in case Edward doesn't pull his head out of his ass and realize what a lucky bastard he is. suddenly. undressed. I turned and looked at him again." We sat in silence for a minute. There was no harsh judgment in his eyes.. I pulled my pillow over my head and yelled my frustration into the soft fibers. but didn't have the heart to pretend that I didn't know what he was talking about. feeling wretched for the lie. For him. Please. But with him near." I offered." I nodded. "Keep my number. He left his head tilted back." "Okay. . Would I ever run out of apologies for this boy? "Does he even know?" Tyler asked. "No. He was an amazing person. I hoped someday if Tyler and I crossed paths again. My thoughts continued to plague me.broke our kiss and looked at me for a minute before kissing me softly once more. it was impossible. "Fucking. but turned his face and opened his eyes to look at me. I felt miserable. Tyler searched my face then until he apparently found what he was looking for.. that maybe Edward was the real reason that none of my attempts at relationships had ever worked out.can try. "It's not like that. He wasn't Edward Cullen.

I woke in the morning feeling empty inside. I hope you don't mind. I accepted his hand up. He didn't technically need me to tag along with him. My earbuds had loosened during my tumble. and landed on my ass in the sand. "This is wrong. "I had to run like hell to catch up to you. . and I could finally hear him. Jasper strolled beside me." I shrugged.For the second night in a row. I was completely taken off guard at the feel of a hand gripping my shoulder from behind. "Running from demons this morning?" "You could say that. and he told me you were down here. "I wasn't sure." Jasper stood." "You know I don't. But it was a nice diversion from my worries. I had things to do with my Dad yesterday. desperate for my dream to not end the way reality told the tale. Izzy." I lied." "My music was loud. I opted to walk instead. and brushed the coarse sand from the back of my track pants.. "I've been yelling your name." I agreed wryly. I writhed on my sheets. out-of-breath and looking down at me with apology." "I didn't want to wake you. I turned as I fell. So wrapped up in my own world of thought and motion. And somewhere in that slumber. I tossed and turned because of Edward Cullen." I turned a small smile up in his direction and he nodded and returned the gesture.. flinging my arms to the side to ward of my attacker. I worried myself to sleep. I could feel him. The harder my heels dug into the sand. Eventually. With my music turned up so loudly that I couldn't hear the surf beside me. I forced my feet to carry me swiftly down the sandy beach. Instead of picking up a jogging pace." I mumbled. But my imagination couldn't create a happy ending for me. and twisted my leg beneath me in the process." Jasper shook his head." I heard him echo through the sleeping recesses of my mind." "I haven't. I didn't mean to scare you. the more my muscles burned. I saw Charlie on his way to work. I screamed in fear. I fretted that I might never be able to find a man that I could allow myself to be happy with. the easier it was to force myself to concentrate on something beside the turmoil of emotions that had caused me to get yet another lousy night of sleep. You've been avoiding me. "Why didn't you tell me you were coming for a run? I would have joined you. and found my ankle to be a little sore. "Shit. I could taste him. I tested weight on my turned leg. "Well. I found myself pressed against a tree with Edward's lips melded to mine once more.

" "No. And he felt like shit about it. will you fill me in on your side of things?" "Yes. He thought he was protecting you from being taken advantage of. I mean. you should have seen the way he was beating himself up. I was curious to find out what was said.." I moaned. Let's just say. "He did?" "Yep." My feet tripped me up a bit and I stopped to look up at Jasper.. himself." I nodded. out of it.. "He told me that he kissed you." I frowned. That was it!" . "I asked him what happened." "I can imagine.." "Huh?" I asked."So.." I muttered. walking once more. and that he deserved it. I could still hear the self-derision in his voice. he kissed me. He told me that he kissed you. "He makes it sound like he attacked me. Izzy.. I kissed him back. I am not sure I've ever seen him so pissed.. "Right after you left with Tyler. And then he..." "I don't understand... wanna tell me what the hell happened at the party between you and Edward?" Jasper finally asked. And he was completely enraged when he found out that you had left with Tyler.. the night got pretty interesting after you left. he was just. Edward came out of the woods looking all fucked up. He was mad at himself." "What happened?" I asked curiously.. "What did Edward say happened?" I hedged. Jasper sighed beside me. "If I tell you. "He said that you hit him.. I was actually a little shocked that Edward had disclosed anything to Jasper about what had happened between us. Jazz." "He was pretty mad at me. I huffed and rolled my eyes before turning them to stare at the sand in front of us. "Aside from a rather obvious handprint across his face.." "Christ.. was the one that did the very thing he was trying to keep you protected from.

he didn't want to kiss me.. I'm sure that there was a whole lot of 'wrong' swimming around in his head. "Izzy.." I groaned with my fingers splayed out in front of me.. But it might not be as bad as what you think.. it was stupid for him to say that shit out loud.. Sure... We walked for a few minutes down the beach in silence. Truth time. "I hit him because. don't you think he might be a little freaked out about that? I mean.. and Jasper leaned the back of his legs against the front of my dad's truck.." I whispered." I whispered.. as sort of a kid sister. "Think about it. he told me it was wrong! Do you have any idea how that made me feel?" "Ouch.. ...." I admitted. You can't make someone do something they don't want to do!" "He actually told me it felt wrong." Jasper implored. If you are somehow moving into some other category in his mind. "But I thought you moved past all that in high school." "I've never thought of him as a brother.. "I wanted it." "I thought so too.. "To everyone but Edward.. "Do you really think I never noticed the way you looked at him?" "Was I that obvious?" I asked. "All of his life he's thought of you. why did you hit him?" Jasper asked." We were back at our vehicles." Jasper laughed lightly.. It hurt to know that he didn't. I dropped my head and gnawed my bottom lip. "What kind of best friend would I be if I didn't know that already?" Jasper put his arm around my shoulder and pulled me into his side. it's because he wants to... The hole in my chest burned around the edges while I said the words out loud. I think I can understand a little how he feels. I'm sure he didn't mean it the way it sounded. I've wanted it for so long.." Jasper sucked air through his front teeth and frowned. he probably feels like some creepy pervert for kissing you. "I tried. "While he was kissing me." "I don't know how else to take it."Then." I shook my head stubbornly.." "Izz? I can guarantee you that if a guy ever kisses you. He folded his arms over his chest and stared out at the beach. Not to mention the whole 'trying to protect you' thing.

" I mumbled. I think he might have certain feelings for me." Jasper said. "You don't know what's in his head right now.. I could count on you to always take care of each other and keep each other happy even when I'm not around. "Strangely enough." Jasper looked firm in his opinion. then apologized to everyone and drove his drunk-ass home. "I'm on your side here. I looked up at him to try to figure out what he meant." ." Jasper smirked. he made plans to spend the day with our father.. don't let him keep hiding. Maybe when that's over and done with. "Hiding... I think he's just trying to lay low. Apparently we employed the same methods of avoidance.. But he certainly doesn't want to have them." Jasper shook his head. I mean." "Change his mind.. It would be awesome."I can't lie and say that I'm not shocked.." I said. "Nothing happened. if you don't try. "So. "I think you're wrong.." he told me." Jasper argued.. He offered to go with Dad to Port Angeles for something. I licked my lips and kicked the gravel under my toe. I grabbed Edward and told him that Tyler was right.. How perfect could that be for me? Two of the people I love most in the world.." I frowned." "I'm not sure." "I don't know how. "You guys are telling me your final plans for the competition tomorrow." "Where is he today?" I asked." I said sternly. When Tyler came back. "Edward decided to slam back a few drinks.." "Oh no." Jasper shook his head and left the sentence hanging. if you really care for him. Edward was half-drunk and decided to take his foul mood out on him... I had done the same thing the day before.. Help him. Edward will be in a better frame of mind to consider the possibilities." "You're getting ahead of yourself." "Oh. And I certainly didn't imagine that Edward would.. "I didn't see that you still had feelings like that. Edward shoved him." I had nothing better to offer. Jasper smiled... Tyler told him he was a moron for not knowing what a good thing he could have. "Edward made some shitty comment to Tyler." I re-routed the conversation. "You won't know. "You said the party got interesting. "He's obviously trying to figure out his feelings right now.

"Just promise me. without that confirmation. that you'll let him know how you feel. He's a lawyer for Pete's sake.. 18. He left for college and my words were left unspoken." I took a deep breath and looked into Jasper's encouraging gaze... And though it might hurt in the end.. Give him the chance to know what he'd be missing. I could still remember with perfect detail the last time I considered letting Edward know how I felt about him. As it stood.. And then I had to deal with the whole 'nerves' issue as well. we had successfully avoided each other for two days. Now. but it wasn't enough to chase away my doubts.. I might continue to hang on to all of the stupid 'whatif's' that were prohibiting me from being happy with someone else. he really is a moron. I wasn't sure I'd ever have the ability to completely move on unless I knew for a fact that we would never be more than friends. "But you don't know either. I couldn't deny him. or cut them loose and set me free. before you leave. I would never know if that could turn into more. I don't. "Then. unless I was willing to take a chance and try. However. Edward obviously felt at least some level of attraction for me. There was a very good chance that he would turn me away. it needed to be done. "I promise. When I was a young girl. my feelings for Edward could never amount to more than secret fantasy and fairytales. . Tell him. at least. But I hesitated. And you won't know until you just ask him. He would take the knowledge and use it to tighten the ties between us."You're right. Present him with the facts and let him figure this shit out.. afraid of facing the same disappointment that had stung me time and time again.. I wouldn't lie to myself any longer." I whispered. I just wasn't quite sure when I would take that plunge. But deep down. I promised Jasper I would talk to Edward sometime before I returned back to Florida." Jazz said decidedly. I was finally in the position to act on the desires of my heart." "What if he decides he doesn't want me?" I asked quietly. My promise to Jasper felt bitter on the back of my tongue. I didn't want to lie to Edward either. Still. Crossing the Finish Line We drove home in the separate vehicles that we arrived in. I owed it to myself to be honest for once. I tried to borrow the optimism I saw there. I would have to tell Edward how I felt. I wasn't nearly as brave as Jazz gave me credit for.. Edward might not return my feelings. That gave me very little time to work with.. One way or the other." Jasper grabbed my hand and held it between his. I knew he was right.

" Edward teased. New York. smiling because I understood what he had been asking. I walked toward his car.. and removed his hand from his pocket. I looked up and saw the sad smile on his face while he looked over at his brother. Edward knew that Jasper and I loved having bedroom windows that faced one another. "Never eat a Jumbo hot dog with extra chili before riding the Tilt-o-Whirl?" Jasper asked.. and stood side by side with my best friend. "Don't worry. "I've got the best room anyway." Jasper said. still staring over at where I stood.. "It's going to be really weird with you gone." I began. I watched him throw his weight back and twist at the waist to toss the heavy rectangular piece of luggage into the trunk of Edward's car. when I'm away.. "Do you remember our number one rule of the night?" Edward asked." Jasper said. Jasper would never give up that bedroom." Edward stood with one hand in his front pocket and pulled his free fingers through the messy locks on top of his head while he contemplated me for a second. He was the one that had helped us tie the old tin cans with a length of red yarn to string between our window sills as our earliest form of house-to-house secret-communication. I twisted the hem of my shirt under nervous fingers and frowned. Edward laughed. But there would never be a piece of red yarn long enough to connect us to Edward's destination. Edward sobered and looked at me." Jasper scoffed. "You're probably right. He had learned that particular lesson the hard way. I shook my head." he allowed..Jasper lugged the last of Edward's suitcases down the front steps. "Yeah right. "It won't be the same. "If one of us should get separated from our group." Edward said softly. I stood with my thin canvas shoes getting soaked through by the morning grass at the curb." Jasper said while Edward reached to slam the trunk door down over his stowed items. walking beside his brother.. as though he were reading my mind. Edward turned his eyes to me then. "Do you remember last summer. I wished it could be so simple. dipping his head and favoring us both with a warm smile. "Don't go trying to steal my room. "Yeah. I'll stay in touch. . motioning me to move closer. when we all went to the County Fair?" Edward asked.

I pulled back my shoulders and put my game face on. I was due to stand in the Whitlock's living room and present my final competition idea to Jasper for his consideration. I knew that Jasper was losing his ability to remain 'tough. I turned and picked up the poster board that leaned against my dresser." I said quietly. Ed. Butterflies danced in my stomach as I made my way down the stairs with my art under my arm. I turned and left the two of them to a private moment alone. In a few minutes. but knew I wasn't brave enough. I had spent the morning working on my visual aid." "We will. pulling us in to a three-way sort of hug there on the sidewalk between our houses. So I choked on them instead. As Edward got into his car." Edward nodded as he finished his original thought. Once Edward and I showed him our ideas for the 'Epic Adventure' to take place next summer over Memorial Day Weekend. they were joined by their parents. I wasn't sure if I was supposed to actually dress as though I were giving a business presentation or anything. I watched as Jasper raised his glasses and passed his hand over his eyes to rub away the tears I knew he didn't really want anyone to see. Edward kept a hand on his shoulder and ducked his head down to speak to him. we would be together in the small and intimate setting of the neighbor's living room. I wasn't sure if I was more nervous about actually presenting my last idea in this battle. I tugged my faded jeans up over my hips and pulled a faded old Forks High School Phys."The other two stick together. tshirt over my head. I forcefully pressed my palm against the mesh wires in front of me until I felt the sting of their pattern rising on my skin.' I also knew that if he broke down. I also knew they wouldn't make a difference." "Please stay." I wanted to say the words. Edward. hidden under the cover of my porch with the darkness of my house serving as a mournful backdrop behind me. The words that I had really wanted to say swirled like the motion of the leaves kicked up by Edward's back tires and drifted silently to rest on the street. Soon. The tears came freely down my cheeks. I would too. Edward reached forward then and threw an arm over each of our shoulders. I turned and looked at them both through the dirty screen of my front door. "Goodbye. Once my sad feet dragged me to my house. I hoped Jasper would like it too. "I'm counting on you two. I pressed my cheek to the soft tshirt at Edward's side and bit my lip to keep the words that I wanted to say from bubbling out. In a few minutes. Far enough away to no longer hear their conversation. I reluctantly pulled myself from the warmth of Edward's embrace. or about seeing Edward again. Joy practically had to be pulled away from the embrace that she bestowed upon her oldest son. I hadn't seen him since the night of Tyler's party. Larry took Edward's maturely offered hand and shook it before pulling him into a bear-hug anyway. to stick together now. Jasper would decide which of us would be his Best Man in the wedding. Jasper nodded and stared hard at the ground. When I heard Jasper sniff loudly." "I love you. Take care of each other while I'm away." I whispered. It was cute and it made me smile. I stood. No matter what. Jasper ducked his head. . "Don't go.

I just wanted it to be over with. Just maybe something we could lean outside near the street so that the guests know where to turn in for parking?" "Sure. If that's alright?" "Perfect. She smiled widely. "Take it easy on Jasper." my father warned." Joy smiled. Isabella." "Thanks. "Have fun. Jasper smiled. "You've always been so creative." I nodded. Every step took me closer to the end of the competition. "We're getting old in here. He had leaned against my doorframe earlier. sitting in the wing-backed chair. . "He doesn't want to hurt either of you. Thanks." "Can I take a peek at your poster before I go?" Joy asked nicely. I could see Edward from the corner of my eye. Did you need anything before I went?" "No.. "Izz?" I heard Jasper call out." I greeted them generally. I could do that. "It makes me wonder. "I'll work on it in the morning and bring it by in the afternoon.. do you think you could help me make a sign for Edward's party tomorrow night? It doesn't have to be anything fancy. I shrugged and turned the board to show her my colorful drawing. "So. "Come on in." I smiled. Charlie knew about this final part of the competition. I rested my poster against the back of the couch and ignored him. dear!" Jasper's mother closed the door behind her. "It's time."Heading over already?" My father asked. and I stood in the entry way. Come on in!" I took a deep breath and walked into the well lit room. I wanted to relax and just get this over with." "I know." I grinned. watching me put the finishing touches on my drawing." Jasper rubbed his palms together and looked between Edward and me... I was just going out to play cards down at the Stanley's. Looking his direction might only make me tense. "The boys are already in the other room." I mumbled. "Hey guys. I stepped out into the night air and closed the door softly behind me. I took a deep breath and began." Joy complimented. "It's adorable. taking a deep breath before turning to meet Jasper and Edward in the other room." Joy smiled and held the door open wide while I pulled my poster board through under my arm.

I didn't want to see what Edward had come up with before I showed Jasper my idea. Their cartoon images wore goggles and huge. Edward sat with a leather-bound folder on his lap.'" . I had painted the words 'Fall all over again. he glanced up to where I stood. and took the poster from my hands. "He actually got a job with a firm that represents a lot of different bands..." I nodded and wiped my now empty hands on the front of my jeans. His eyes shifted away so quickly that I wasn't sure if I had imagined it. Since I was standing by my poster board already. Our reservation is pending." I reached down and grabbed my poster." he cleared his throat.' "I found a place just outside of Seattle. His hands were pressed against the smooth black surface and he stared downward. His fingers gripped the folder in front of him. learning from their trainers. Jasper moved to lean the poster against the fireplace mantel. Above their heads.." Edward stated. Louis." He cleared his throat again and I leaned forward and placed my palms on the back of the couch. It was a perfect caricature of Jasper and Alice holding hands while skydiving. It was different in that it included the rest of the wedding party. "It's fine.. And then we can all sky-dive together!" I smiled as I watched Jasper's reaction.." Edward frowned. But I guessed that by the end of two-days. The entire wedding party can spend a day at the facility. Alice is gonna go crazy for it!" "It's yours. "Edward?" I finally turned my head to look at him. "But he works with a band called 'Kings of Leon. His entire demeanor was serious and solemn.uh... silly smiles. My major strength in the competition was in how well I knew my best friend. Edward still hadn't raised his head to meet my eyes. artists.. when we all learned to sky-dive. I just stayed where I was and addressed Jasper from behind the sofa. "I don't know if you know them.. I also didn't want to drag this out any longer than necessary. "I... taking the cue that it was his turn. "I have a friend who graduated last year. And it was sentimental. you'd probably be pretty eager to spend a little time with Alice again! So my plans are actually something that the entire wedding party can enjoy together. "I know that you technically wanted a threeday Bachelor-Party event."Do you mind if I just go first?" I asked. I remembered how much you and Alice loved our trip to St. I blinked and looked away from him quickly. turning it to show the colorful picture I had created. He was behaving as if he were nervous. "Aww." Jasper shrugged. You have to let me keep it. I knew first hand. Izzy! This is cute as hell. I was proud of my idea. how much Alice and Jasper had enjoyed their first experience with the activity." Edward allowed. Cherubs and hearts decorated the puffy white clouds that they fell through. "I don't mind. Finally. You kept saying how much you'd like to do it again. Edward stood from his chair then.. He moved forward with a wide grin on his face. "My idea might be a little unconventional.." I began..

.. Edward suddenly looked very nervous again.. "I'm out. Edward used information I had given him and worked it to his ultimate advantage.. hard." I glanced at the folder in his hands and back up to his face. It was an expression I was growing accustomed to seeing on him. His eyes were clouded with guilt. And Edward knew it was Jazz's favorite band! He knew it because I had been the one to tell him. Jasper had the folder held open on his upturned palms. His mouth was pressed in a tight. "Edward is your Best Man." Edward remained facing Jasper as he spoke.. I looked between him and Edward quickly. And I didn't know if I wanted to cry or march across the room and kick him in the balls. "Jazz?" I asked.. A couple harsh.. I felt my jaw go slack as I listened to the amazing plans that Edward had used his connections to secure. and saw that Edward was watching me. "I'm out. Was he worried that I would call him out for being a cheat? That I would leap over the sofa and pummel his opportunistic ass? That I would scream and call him names that he probably deserved? "Jazz. A once in a lifetime sort of event..My mouth popped open in surprise. "I don't want you to have to feel bad for letting me down. and tried to get control of my feelings. I shook my head to stop him.... And frankly. A cold. clearly confused. with a small smile and a shrug. Jasper's expression turned from confusion to excitement as Edward mentioned the name of his favorite band. hotel accommodations. the night that we had gone to the Lodge for dinner! "It turns out that the band is actually performing at a music festival in Chicago next Memorial Day weekend." Jasper stammered." "What?" Jasper asked. I licked my lips. "Bella. It's the way it should be. you'd be an idiot for passing up a trip like that. "Edward's plans are wonderful. Then I looked up." I said. emptiness squeezed between my ribs and choked out the warmth where my heart should be.." Jasper was hopping up and down like a kid in line to see the Easter Bunny. ragged breaths tore through my lips." "I don't." I added. "In this folder you will find airline arrangements. I knew he must have felt the ice in the glare that I was sending his way. and looked positively high as he scanned the documents within. and flinched. It was completely under-handed.. I.. . yeah?" Jazz raised his chin and finally looked over at where I stood." Edward finally spoke to me. and I blinked angry tears away..." I said calmly while looking in Edward's eyes. I couldn't believe how calm I sounded. "Jazz?" My voice came out as a squeak. I blinked back a new set of tears and hoped I could get out of there before my righteous anger reared its ugly head. "Huh? Wha. where you and your Bachelor Party will be the personal guests of the Kings of Leon. Absolutely perfect for you. thin line. Edward heard me. details for the limo that will pick you up at the airport. as well as tickets and all-access backstage passes to the music festival. But I had to clear my voice and speak louder to get Jasper's attention.

I decided the closest I could come to escape for the time being. And unfortunately. My door slammed behind me and Charlie called my name from the living room. and I let it carry the tension in my shoulders down in soapy rivulets toward the drain. harsh growl of frustration." I tried to laugh. "And I hate to compete and run."I'm okay. I promised Jasper that Edward and I would have a talk before I left for Florida.. since I was finally alone." I said loudly as I made my way up the stairs. in a last burst of spiteful thinking. I had been the unwilling passenger on a roller-coaster of emotions lately. I just turned and made my way to the door with my obvious and pathetic lie hanging in the air behind me.. I clamped my palm over my mouth to stifle it. I looked stressed. and was rewarded when my rapidly shifting emotions brought tears to my eyes instead.. Wiping my face with my fingers. That thought alone made me smile once more." I lied. I gave myself a good. I let the hot water run with enough heat to sting my skin and turn it pink. "But I promised my Dad I'd be home in time to catch the end of the game with him. I needed a vacation away from my vacation. Thinking of Edward made me feel tense again. I wasn't sure how many more ups and downs I could take before something snapped. At this point. Edward wanted to win badly enough to compromise his normally high standards of fair behavior.. would be in a nice hot shower." I couldn't look at him again. In my room. "Isabella?" "Edward is the Best Man. I sighed and turned the water off before stepping from the shower and wrapping a large blue towel . Maybe it would help me unwind. Yes. I hurried home before I could turn and say something I might regret. With my hair tied up on top of my head. And no. I don't want to talk about it. Scars add character.. It was a sarcastic smile. my emotions had been in a whirlwind over the last few days. I just needed to left alone to calm down and try to relax. I tugged my shoes off and threw them across the room. But I really needed to be alone.. I could feel it coming. I could count on the distance to help me put things in proper perspective and act as a bandage for my new scars. hard look in the mirror. Then. Frankly. I briefly considered skipping Edward's party. And when I caught the image of myself in my full length-mirror. I didn't mind losing the competition. I wasn't even sure if there was a game on television. I might be left destroyed in its wake. I was afraid that when it hit. So. It was an honest-to-goodness temper tantrum. I had to freeze mid-stomp. It felt wonderful. I'll see you guys tomorrow. Two days later. I sniffled and let a few fall. I would be on a flight back to Florida. I was just pissed that Edward had sunk so low to win. the hot water was waning. Tomorrow I would go to Edward's graduation party with my father. I would be. He could have it. I didn't make Jazz choose. I couldn't promise that he'd enjoy anything that I wanted to say to him. right? For Edward's party. but it relaxed the severity of my expression for a moment. I bunched up my fists and jumped up and down while I let out a loud. right? Still. Like a wave picking up strength and speed as it moved toward the shore. But that would seem petty and make me look like a poor loser. A giggle escaped my lips at my own ridiculous behavior.

.. But as it always did. I've seen Jasper climb your tree about a million times. Shit.. "Bella.." "I don't want to hear it.. I don't want to fight with you. I barely gave him more than a glance before turning toward my dresser to find my pajamas. "And I deserve to be called a prick. "Get out!" "Bella.... Please. My mood matched the erratic locks.. please." I snapped. pulling my hands holding my clothing up to my chest." "Get out before I push your ass out my window. . His shoulders slumped forward and he took in a deep breath. "Okay. and speaking over my shoulder.. I felt the stiff frame of my shoulders slump tiredly. I saw the familiar image of a hand on my window pane. "Bella. Or anything else you want to call me. His hair stood up in messy clumps as if he had been pulling on it in frustration." Edward stood just inside my window.. And I know I promised that I would talk to him. His hands were pressed tightly into his front pockets. it was easier to keep Edward at arms'-length while wearing punching gloves. Edward had.. I'm sorry." "Big difference.. "What in the hell do you think you were doing. too. But you really shouldn't be here right now unless you are prepared to hear me call your brother a complete prick.. I deserved that... I. I honestly just wanted to come over and apologize. Bella." I huffed." I turned then and gasped.. I was completely incensed that Edward had invaded my personal space when I was so upset with his earlier behavior. I'm so sick of fighting with you!" Edward pulled a hand from his jeans and demonstrated how his hair had gotten in its wild state by pushing his hand through it angrily..around my body. but I just don't. I made my way back into my room." My body rocked back until I was able to lightly lean against my dresser behind me.. twisted and untamed. Or you'd have Charlie tell me that you were sleeping or something. "I came over to apologize. On bare and silent feet. coming through my window like that?" "I figured you wouldn't answer your door." Edward said quietly.. Angry words were held behind my teeth and started to dissolve on my tongue when I took in Edward's defeated posture. I wanted to hold on to my anger. "I swear I'm not upset with you. "Jasper is actually welcome in my room!" Edward's face looked pained for a moment before he dropped his chin and stared at the floor." I began." I growled. I've treated you deplorably. As soon as I entered. So. "You!" I snarled and pointed a finger toward the window behind him. Jasper hadn't come through my window. I thought I'd give it a try. So sorry. a long jeans-clad leg bent over the ledge to find purchase on the floor beneath my window. "Look Jazz. my forgiving nature moved in and started controlling my emotions.

" Edward shook his head. "I mean." Edward said darkly and looked down again." "That's pretty much the running theme between you and I lately. Which is why. "But that's for another time." I tilted my head and wondered at his cryptic statement before he raised his eyes to mine again. or excited." "You're his best friend." "That was pretty low.. right now. "The only thing I had going for me is the fact that I know him so well. "You have no idea. or something. I couldn't. But I did feel bad for not giving you credit for my initial idea... You kinda did. I just wish I didn't feel so taken advantage of. It kills me... how horrible I've felt. He's got us both. I bit my lip and thought for a minute." I whispered." "I sucked the fun right out of it. The competition was supposed to be fun. The corner of his mouth drew up in a small. it was a great idea." I muttered..." I said quietly. he wouldn't have felt like he needed to decide between us. and he looked surprised that I was willing to allow him time to speak." I shook my head. "Yeah. "Thank you. "No.. "Can you forgive me?" Edward asked with a husky voice. Bella." .. I can't stand the thought of hurting you." My mouth fell open in surprise. and I felt nearly scorched by the heat in his stare. apologetic smile. I know it doesn't make it right. "I can't seem to do anything right by you. And it's absolutely perfect for Jasper... wanting to be sure that my reply would be honest. If I hadn't given him a guilt trip about a promise we made a million years ago. and his facial features finally relaxed into a soft smile. I didn't want to win. "But tonight... "Yes. "But you are his brother.. I told Jasper that I want you to be the Best Man at his wedding. "I tried to tell you about my final plans. "And you do know him better than I do." Edward replied.." "You're his brother. I'm out. "Should I make a list?" He asked." Edward finally said. Suddenly I was all too aware that I stood there. Edward's head jerked up." I teased in return. "I meant what I told Jazz earlier. He should never have to choose between us. It didn't feel right to win." Edward scoffed with a little laugh."What are you sorry for?" I asked quietly." Edward looked deeply into my eyes. But when I should have felt happy. dressed only in a terry-cloth towel that was tied under my arms.. Edward let out the breath he had been holding.

" He looked as nervous as I felt. you had to run and cover up all the goodies!" "Shut up... Then I patted my face roughly with a towel. I see how it is. But I had to know. Both men turned to look at me when I stepped back in to join them and quietly shut the door behind me.. But fate had stepped in.. I felt like I had been granted a stay of execution. dressed in my pajamas. trying to soothe my terribly dry throat." I mumbled. Edward watched me. for once and for all. I was close enough to drown in the swirling depths of Edward's green eyes." I licked my lips.. "Oh. leaving the wall next to my window. I took a step toward him. us. "There's so much. "Hey guys." Jasper interrupted sheepishly. But somehow. He could build me up. I had been so close to telling Edward everything that I felt.. Slow steps brought us closer to one another in the center of my small room... and I was held captive under the weight of his stare.. I opened my mouth to speak. This time... should get dressed.. everything that had been on my mind. I was afraid. I clutched the soft cotton of my pajamas in my fingers in front of my stomach to keep my hands from trembling and took a deep breath. The strange pull between us seemed to radiate from the center of his chest and beckon me forward. Delayed nerves were making themselves known. I felt my cheeks turn pink and refused to meet Edward's eyes to see if he noticed. so afraid to let my walls down again. Edward might smash the walls completely and leave me standing in the ruins." Edward nodded solemnly. "I. but I locked my knees and struggled to remain standing. or he could tear me down.. Quickly I turned and fled the room... In the bathroom. finally. "Can we talk?" Jasper asked. I knew I would never be able to move on or move forward until I willingly gave him the power and let him decide what to do with it." I laughed and slapped at his arm. Edward and Jasper stood together in the center of my room. I took a shaky breath in the sudden moment of reprieve and stepped backward." "I know.. but was silenced by a bang and a loud grunt from my window." I said.. need to talk.I immediately wondered if he wasn't only speaking about the competition now." Jazz teased.. and seemed to be trying to read my expression. and went back to my room. Edward sighed and turned away from me too. my trembling hands went under the cool water stream in the sink and I splashed my face furiously to calm down. Words tumbled around in my head.. "About what happened the other night. I cupped the cool water in my hands and drank deeply from my palms. talking quietly. as well. "You didn't mind standing there half-naked with my brother in your room. Edward matched my movement. About. . "We. "About. Edward and I both turned our heads from the sound and saw Jasper climbing through the small space while rubbing the spot on his head that he had just bumped against the window frame. Clearly we were meant to speak at a different time.... But as soon as I got here. trying to put themselves in proper order to be spoken.

"All it did was make you two fight! You're even doing it now!" Edward shook his head. "I called her after Edward left the house. . and so I turned my attention to him. pointing back and forth between the three of us.." I promised. "We've already discussed this. "But not really Edward. and he looked at me. None of us spoke. Then he placed the fingers from each of his hands high on our chests and pushed us lightly until we stepped back together and sat on the edge of my bed. And she agrees... You two are important to me. as long as you are both at my side... Or the fact that Edward was actually sitting on my bed.. I'm not fighting anymore. Jasper looked very serious. But you get the idea. "I don't want either of you. "I'm done. you are my brother.." He turned then to pace back and forth across the small strip of floor between my bed and my dresser." Jasper cringed and looked at me. you . Stopping. And Izz? You're my best friend." Jasper said quietly.. any more than I did. I told you.. "Until I screwed it up." "See?" Jasper interrupted.. so sit." I insisted.Izzy." Jasper announced suddenly. It's going to be the happiest day of my life. He grabbed me by the shoulders and swung me around until I stood side-by-side with Edward.. "Edward.." I shook my head and looked at him. Jasper. I tried to ignore the feeling of Edward's thigh pressed into the side of my own." "Wait. Alice knows about this?" I asked." "I'm not fighting either."I need to talk to both of you. "I told her what I was thinking." Jasper continued. And I really don't care who in the hell plans my bachelor party. "I was a jerk. Alice wants to negotiate a different title for you. or who hands me the ring. I got the whole idea for the last event from Bella. and I don't want to choose between you. I looked over at Edward then.. I don't care who stands to my immediate left. His sudden declaration caused Edward and I stare at him in shock. "This competition was a shit idea. She deserves the credit for it. "Well." "It was fun." "I don't want either of you.. "You didn't.. " I looked over at Edward again." Edward started." Jasper instructed.. "I honestly thought that with both of your personalities. "I want both of you. It was clear that he didn't understand how things had just shifted. He was watching me. I don't want a Best Man. You're my Best Men. it would just be a really fun way to spend two weeks together." Edward added. waiting for my reaction." Jasper explained. he turned to us once more. I'm getting married.

" I laughed." I finally said quietly.. I stood and watched as Edward threw his leg over the ledge and contorted his body through the small space as well.. "I think we should." "Good night. getting things set up here.. let you two get back to whatever it is that you two were. when he pulled his head back through my window a moment later. . But do you think. And sometime. When my window was dark and empty once more. Edward. "I'll be awfully busy studying for the Bar.. Tomorrow night I would go to Edward's graduation party. I'll follow you out. talking about. "Perfect!" Jasper turned and dropped down to sit beside me on the bed.. however. "I should. Sighing. Jasper kissed me on the cheek and lowered himself to the tree branch outside my window. I'll see you tomorrow. "I love you guys. uh. that maybe you and I could continue our conversation tomorrow night? During the party?" My heart pounded painfully. "Yes?" I asked. I was surprised.getting things ready.. over-due talk." "So what do you think?" Jasper asked..... I was thoroughly smashed between the two large and warm bodies on either side of me. picking people up from the airport. He returned it. Edward stood too. "Could you stay in touch this year and plan this stuff together? Do you actually think you could work as a team instead of fighting?" "I'd.." "Great!" Edward's wide smile was the first I had seen on his face in days." Jasper said then while dropping his arm and standing quickly.. Edward and I would be having a long.. "Good night. "I'd like that too. "Yes. still looking at Edward. like that. I'm sure Bella would like to get some sleep. I cocked my head and looked at him.." he said. He threw his arm around me. "That's okay... uh. Bella. "Bella?" Edward asked.. for this evening at least. "I know tomorrow during the day I'll be busy helping Mom and Dad. If I made these plans. I turned my light off and flopped face first on my bed.. But I knew our moment had passed us by." I felt a small twinge of disappointment that Edward seemed so eager to leave. His eyes glowed warmly.. I knew I wouldn't be able to back out of it." I shrugged with a small smile. I moved forward and pulled it closed. You know that?" "We love you too."I'm going to be busy with my last year of school." I replied. reaching for Edward's far shoulder." I admitted.

" I shrugged. And for the time being. "I slept well. "I heard he's single. I knew that Joy and Larry would probably try to rent a room at the Sportsman's Club. "I was kinda thinking of asking the Chief of Police to be my date. I felt remarkably refreshed and eager to start the day.. Tonight. "Joy and Larry wanted to rent out a nice place. and very handsome!" Charlie tipped his head back and laughed loudly. . if worrying about the imminent conversation would provide me with another poor night's sleep. Got a few boxes of table settings in the back of my truck for Joy." "I bet. I couldn't even find it in myself to feel worried about the possible outcome. I quickly poured and drank a small glass of milk." my father noted as I joined him in the kitchen. Sunlight poured through the downstairs windows. "Should be a pretty fancy shin-dig. Signs and Wines I bounced lightly around the house the next morning with my ponytail swishing breezily behind me.... But you know Edward. I could imagine Edward stubbornly refusing for them to make such a big deal of things. Tonight was Edward's graduation party. 19." I smiled.I wondered. You'll love it. Want to join me?" "I'd love to. than nervous about what that end might entail. I knew that one way or the other." Charlie said. or even some space at The Lodge.. things between us would not be the same. But exhaustion quickly over-took me and I fell easily into a deep and dreamless slumber. So they've really worked to transform the diner into something special for tonight. I rinsed out my cup and followed my father out to his truck. He turned the ignition and grinned over at me. He might have been expecting me to bring Tyler. "You look cheerful this morning." I smiled. He didn't want them wasting a bunch of money... "I'm heading down to the diner. Edward and I would talk. briefly. I felt more relieved to see an end in sight. at his request." I smiled.. who was currently on his way to LA. bathing the rooms in cheerful optimism that my attitude was forced to match. "Are you bringing a date tonight?" my father asked.

But I did want to make it look nice. "You've outdone yourself. Joy came from the back room wiping her hands on a white towel that she had slung over her shoulder. "I just want something to direct the guests toward parking." "Thanks Isabella. Joy nodded. I laid the board in the grass in my yard and worked over it. Considering the color scheme I saw inside the diner. With the sun warm on my back. They're out back in the shed." Joy grinned. and I have a few hours to get down to the fishing hole before I need to come home to get cleaned up. I'll send them over with Isabella when she brings the sign." I shook my head. "I'll throw something together as soon as I get home. As I concentrated on the color." I agreed. and I knew the place would look magical after dusk." I smiled and looked around. And Charlie? Didn't you tell Larry you had a couple outdoor extension cords we could borrow?" "Sure did. was cleared and swept clean to provide a small dance area." Joy smiled." "It won't be a problem. I made haste to my father's shed out back and retrieved a large piece of plywood. Joy said that the sign didn't need to be elaborate."You promise me a beer." "It's a deal. "Wow. alright. Charlie was right. But don't go expecting me to wear a tie." she waved. "Come out back." "Thanks. I used dark green to make a thinner line against the edge of the blue. I glanced at my watch. The booths were missing and small round tables were dressed in pretty linen tablecloths throughout the room. I smiled again and waved over my shoulder as Charlie pulled me back out to his truck. "Do you think you'll have time to work on that sign for me?" Joy asked. and I'll promise you a dance. The long front counter had been covered to look like a bar. It was already almost noon. "You've always been so good to me.. I helped my father carry in one of the boxes that were stowed in the back of his truck. looking tired but happy. Once that paint was almost dry. My father dropped me off at the curb outside the house. I hardly recognized the place. Charlie and I placed our boxes on the bar and followed her through the kitchen. Paper lanterns and small lights hung from the trees." I grinned. typically only used for delivery and docking purposes." "Alright. At the diner.. "You have a sign to paint. and I'll bring it over to your place this afternoon. Then." Charlie complimented. and hurried away to enjoy a few hours of warm sunshine and fishing. I used navy blue paint to create a wide blue border around the edge of the sign. I couldn't help but . I stapled white poster board to cover the rough brown surface. The back patio area.

and I walked into the house to get a drink. Larry probably had met up with Joy at the diner. The plywood I had retrieved earlier had leaned behind the lawnmower against the side wall. I had to let the paint dry in between adding new colors so that I wouldn't smudge the borders. "How about Jazz? Or Edward?"' . dirty. I was proud of myself as I pulled the thing up the Whitlock's front steps and rang the door bell. Gold sandals showed perfectly pedicured toes and when I raised my eyes. I made my way inward. Gorgeous and sophisticated. I finally located the two long cords in a box pressed behind a giant bag of mulch. I knew Edward said he had a busy morning planned. My face heated as I happily worked at my task and imagined everything that I wanted to say to him. At first. I rubbed my hand across my cheek and brushed my hair out of my eyes. "He's in town. I scrunched my forehead and tried to recall the list of people that Jasper had mentioned might be coming to town for the party. I frowned when I opened the shed once more. there was no answer. So. But eventually I was able to add crisp lettering to the center of the sign. I shoved around greasy old lawn tools and dust covered boxes and jars filled with various hardware items. I felt incredibly self-conscious about how horrible I looked. I realized that I still needed to get back out to the shed to look for the extension cords that Charlie had promised Joy. I left it there to dry in the sun. I reached to smooth my hair that had mostly fallen from my ponytail while the door swung open. Sighing. at the most. I stumbled out of the shed like a warrior returning from it to the color of Edward's eyes. I was greeted by the image of a beautiful woman in a green satin shirt and white linen pants. The lemonade cooled me considerably. It looked great." the princess said with a bored voice. By the time I finished. But as I turned to go. It was awkward to pick up the large board and lug it across the yard. I was hot and very thirsty. She couldn't have been older than thirty. and was easy to locate. Perhaps she was a relative from out of town? I didn't recognize her from any of our past family gatherings. but I managed to do so without leaving dirty finger prints on the painted surface. "Is Larry here?" I asked. I wondered if Larry might have gone to join Joy down at the diner already. and still paint-smeared. I finally heard a shuffling from behind the door. I wiped my hands on the front of my grimy shorts. I could tell by looking around that the extension cords would not be so easy to find. So I cleaned up my lunch mess and headed back out doors. I finally took in her smoothly styled white-blonde hair. I was right. gross. and that took longer than I imagined it might. I took time to make a quick sandwich and ate it while standing at the counter. The painting had taken up the early part of the afternoon already. Sweaty. With the extension cords thrown to lay over my shoulder.

. My own hand had remained stubbornly behind my back as my shock at her words slowed my ability to function. He stopped to stand behind the tall blonde." "Oh. mortified by my own rudeness and stunned reaction. "Bella.. Right?" I was taken aback by her suddenly friendly attitude... If you wouldn't mind telling them that I came by?" I leaned the sign against the railing and dropped the cords beside it as I turned to go. "Yes.. . I turned and saw that she had opened the screen door with a tentative smile in place. "If we've met. He moved into view then." the blonde smiled. "You're. An hour or a heart-beat later I snapped out of it and licked my lips. "We haven't met.." "Oh no. That's me. Maybe the initial chill I felt at her greeting was because she was unsure about who she was speaking to. I've just heard a lot about you. I stared at it in horror as her movements came in slow-motion and her words echoed in my head. "Wait. Edward's girlfriend... The woman looked curious. That snapping point I was worried about? Yeah. Her pristine appearance couldn't be compromised by shed grime. showing her the blue and green paint layered beneath black grease and dirt as an explanation for my not taking her hand in mine." the girl called out behind me. I told Joy I would bring by this sign and these extension cords. She was even prettier without the mesh layer between us. I honestly don't remember. Edward's girlfriend.. "I'm sorry... Still." I looked down at the dirty offering I pulled from my shoulder and instinctively knew I shouldn't try to hand them over to the woman in front of me. "Well. this might have been it. Edward's girl.. "Sorry.. I. I think they said that he went to Seattle to bring back his girlfriend? And Edward's in the shower.." Edward breathed. Edward's girlfriend.. "I'll just leave these things out on the porch." I trapped my fingertips under the hard edge of my back pockets and then turned to look at her. and maybe even slightly amused.. I'm Patricia. I held my hand up in a limp apology. it felt odd that she knew me but I didn't know her. My chest rose and fell heavily as I tried to control the emotions that felt as though they might over-whelm me at any moment.. Isabella. pushing his wet hair away from his face nervously." I shook my head." She put her elegantly polished and manicured hand forward as if to shake mine.." I blinked."Jazz? Oh! Jasper." "Patricia? Who's at the door?" My head snapped up and my eyes flew beyond Patricia's shoulder as Edward's voice came from the inner recesses of the house...

I sort of wanted to jump on top of her and rip her shiny blonde hair out by the roots." Her hand wrapped protectively over his forearm as she spoke.." I offered with a shaky voice. or laugh. I backed up quickly while I spoke.. Patricia. He had said 'other friends. Bella? This is.... I was not in the mood to talk to anyone. "we promised we would meet them for lunch after I got settled in here. A half a bottle of wine later.. "She's just as you described her. I was at a complete loss."The little girl from next-door. Her message came through loud and clear. I turned to flee before I had a complete break-down over this new turn of events. . until I saw the upside-down face of Alice. Quick work with a corkscrew left the bottle open. "Speaking of.. um. From the corner of my eye.. Not Pat." I was staring at the porch under my feet and imagining her actually flying in on a broom as he spoke.. Still.. Laughter won the coin toss and I stalked through the lower level of my house chuckling darkly at my own stupidity.. But the person assaulting my front door with a barrage of knocks walked in anyway... she had introduced herself as his girlfriend. She wanted me to know that while his other friends were staying in town at the local Inn. I saw the sign I had painted. I turned a slow circle.. The words. Had he described me so horribly that my current hellish-appearance would make me recognizable to her? "Oh.. A bottle or wine had my name written all over it. I located my weapon for getting even.. Edward being unavailable made perfect sense. "Go away!" I finally yelled. I didn't know if I wanted to scream. I would have known her anywhere. "Patricia. this is Isabella.. "It was very nice to meet you.. surprised me by flying in for the party with a couple of my other friends from school. I laid upside down on my couch. I moved my eyes from the television and slowly scanned them up the legs in front of me. 'Congratulations Edward' were turned sideways.. I also tried my damndest to ignore the knocking at my front door. or cry. We were just introducing ourselves. to prevent myself from doing just that. and the large arrow seemed to be pointing at the beautiful couple behind me while I ran to the safety of my own house. Once in my living room. In the kitchen. My feet rested on the wall and my head hung backwards over the seat cushions while I tried to watch an episode of 'Leave it to Beaver' from this new and interesting angle. He hadn't shortened her name as he had mine.' Maybe it was his way of letting me know that their relationship wasn't serious? He called her Patricia. My gaze quickly bounced back up to meet his. She." Liar! My brain screamed.. she was a guest right here in the Whitlock's house. I didn't even bother getting a glass." I winced." Patricia murmured. right?" Patricia asked him while grinning over her shoulder. "Well. not Patty or Trish or Tricia." Edward looked between us quickly.

we have work to do. I trudged back into my bedroom wrapped in a towel. cringing at the way my dirty. I rolled until I could sit upright and held my head in my hands while the blood rushed back to the rest of my body.She frowned while she looked down at me. and sat heavily on the edge of my bed." I whispered. "So. Alice winced. I don't get a good vibe from her. "Maybe a little buzzed. "Hell no. "Upstairs." "Good. I couldn't even remember having bought the thing." . She didn't look happy with me. "How drunk are you?" "I'm not." I shook my head. I wanted to ask her why she seemed so familiar in a house that she had never been in before." I muttered. "Yeah. I had to stifle a gasp. Ten minutes later. I went into the bathroom with no further argument and turned on the water for the shower that I desperately needed." she huffed." I let the little dictator drag me to the kitchen where she got us each a bottle of water from the refrigerator. "She's cold. She pushed at my back while I led the way up the stairs." Alice continued. But I will dig through your closet while you are getting yourself less funky in a shower. I had blue paint smeared across my jaw and a rather large smudge of engine grease on the side of my nose. Definitely not drunk. My hair was a wild mess. I groaned and let my head fall forward. "Get up. "If you are quite done marinating in merlot. It was great to know that I looked my best when I met Edward's girlfriend. Whoever said that a frown is an upside-down smile lied. But that was just Alice for you. I undressed and stepped under the stinging spray of the shower. Let's get you some water anyway. And I'll find something that will make you look fantastic at this party tonight. I shrugged and went with it. She held out her hand and I took it. It was still a frown. I take it you met Miss Goldilocks. Cursing under my breath." Alice said with the top half of her body buried in my closet. You need a shower badly. "I don't like her." "Thanks. Alice emerged holding a black strapless dress with a flouncy skirt and tossed it on the bed beside me." Alice insisted." Alice ordered. When my eyes caught my own reflection in the mirror. paint-smeared fingers looked against her pale skin. "Don't tell me you brought your emergency Barbie kit and you plan to do my hair and make-up for me?" I asked over my shoulder. I am missing a gene for that kind of thing.

... The stakes were too high. "It's not like they were up there doing the nasty! She's sleeping in Jasper's room!" "What?" I asked. "But that's just it." What did that mean? It seemed odd that a grown man would have his girlfriend sleeping down the hall. he could have her. "Like. And I was going to try my hardest to make sure that could still happen." Alice said excitedly.. they weren't as close as she would have had me believe? Alice saw the small spark of hope in my eyes the second I felt it in my heart. You'll feel better when you even the playing field.. "You get yourself dressed... Unless. Whitlock' this.. But I had already bowed out of one competition this week.." Alice encouraged me when she saw my devious smile. your girlfriend is a living doll!' She's trying way too hard. I just wanted to look my best to help me summon the confidence and the courage that I would need." I definitely didn't want to imagine Edward and her together that way. Patricia has her things in his room!" "Hmm. Alice nodded. right after Jasper and I got here and she introduced herself. that's how. "She's stuck up. Edward looked pissed." she added with a wry smile." "Ew. "Jasper is actually driving me back home tonight. "You could cut the tension with a knife over there!" "How. She's like Eddie Haskell with tits!" I laughed at her rant. It's sickening. But if Edward wasn't totally sure about this woman. only because I had just been watching that character on the television right before Alice showed up." Alice offered. That bit of news certainly did surprise me... Whitlock' that. I have to work tomorrow anyway. "You should see her over there." Alice said conspiratorially. I could hardly fault her taste in men. and 'Mr.. "And you should see Edward.. But Edward had kissed me. I stood to grab the undergarment from her hands. He wanted to talk to me." I set out to dry and curl my hair." I argued lightly. I wasn't going to give up so easily this time.. then maybe he wasn't as 'unavailable' as I thought. 'Mrs. Patricia might be here. 'Gee Jasper.. determined. . "Good girl. "I do not want to hear about it. And they went upstairs for a really long time. Alice held up a black strapless bra in front of her chest and frowned while looking down. "Though nowhere near as nice as yours." I cringed. "Really freaking weird.. If he wanted Patricia."She seemed pleasant enough." Alice said while digging through my top dresser drawer. I hated the idea of setting myself up for another round of heartache. about us at his party. does he act around her?" I asked quietly.

I pulled a lacy pair of black thong underwear under my flirty skirt and smiled as I decided against wearing anything else beneath it. Charlie opened my truck door for me. but I felt his hand when he warmly laid it on top of my own between us on the seat. and I walked under his arm to meet family and friends that had come together to help congratulate Edward on his graduation from law school. "You look beautiful. you only have to deal with me for a couple more days. Try as I might. I assumed) graced the pretty tables nicely. remaining true with my earlier choice of drink. Small candles flickered and provided soft light." Charlie didn't say a word.. I smiled and straightened his collar before the two of us went out to his truck. and sporadic bursts of laughter greeted us as we followed the arrow on the sign I painted to park at the side of the diner. how much he liked that idea too. I couldn't help the warmth that flooded me under his appreciative gaze." I said. I told her I'd see her at the diner. With strappy heels and simple jewelry. honey. and then stepped into my own party dress.Sometime after I finished my hair and started applying careful make-up. The table-settings that my father had brought over this morning (recycled from the last Policeman's Ball fundraiser. and I blushed and raised my glass slightly in reply. . kiddo. Alice excused herself to go next door to get dressed. He tilted his head and raised his eye brows in a complimenting gesture. "Lately. A crooked smile pulled at his lips as his eyes traveled down my body slowly. We were standing next to the bar chatting with the old high school coach when I finally caught a glimpse of Edward. I wasn't in the mood to hide my reaction to him.. The strapless bra Alice had chosen gave me ample cleavage above the straight-cut line of the top of my dress. Tonight would be about truths. and back up to my face." he sighed. I laughed and spun a quick circle to let my skirt twist around my knees. The zipper up the side cinched my curves in nicely. "Any thoughts about where you might end up after you graduate next year?" "Nothing definite. I couldn't keep my eyes from scanning the crowd for the guest of honor. I've been thinking about how nice it might be to come back home. The room was transformed completely. I let Charlie lead me to the bar and ordered a glass of red wine. The quiet buzz of conversation. and his eyes caught mine immediately." I said as drove to the diner.. "So." he grinned. He didn't seem to be in the diner when we arrived. I felt ready to take on anything the night had to offer. Charlie frowned. The squeeze of his fingers probably told me more comfortably than his words could. "You know I wish it was longer.. I went downstairs and received a low wolf-whistle from my father. quiet music. I turned my face to look at the darkened tree line at the side of the road. He was walking in from the back patio door.

. without even looking. And his new wife.. clearly following him indoors. She wore a light blue pants suit and her hair was pulled tightly back into a very straight and severe ponytail. Edward had brought a small group of people with him. Maybe they weren't so perfectly matched after all. Angular and bony. and exactly like the type of a woman who would be held at the arm of a successful lawyer. Emmett. I tensed when I heard the voices behind me. She was tall and very thin. "Don't look now. She might be immaculately pressed. Bella?" I turned to face Edward and the three people that stood beside a model. I was shorter. They made a very friendly contrast to the cold-looking woman who clung to Edward's arm. Her husband had dimples to die for. when I saw Patricia walk up behind Edward.. I tossed my curled hair over my shoulder and used those curves to my advantage when I threw a sway to my hips and crossed the room to meet Jasper and Alice who had just walked through the door. Except his tie and his shirt were loosened.. Rosalie was even more attractive with the ready smile she sent forth. frost-bite warning. which made me smile.. I straightened my shoulders where I stood. "Blame your fiancée. a warm hand clamped over my shoulder and I stopped in my tracks. "I am going to go check in with my date. Patricia nearly glared at me. but curvy. I smirked when I saw that Edward definitely noticed. But he looked comfortable and happy." I said sweetly. which made me smile. if you'll excuse me. "Jasper? Alice. She encouraged me. I pressed my lips together and tried my best to not get freezer-burn from standing too close to Patricia. And she looked gorgeous standing beside Edward. I could feel his eyes on my back when I stood in front of his brother." Jasper complimented me and raised a hand to pull one of my springy curls. I was toned. And the blonde that held his hand might have graced a swimsuit calendar." As I moved to step around Patricia. "Izzy? You look dangerous. Rosalie. The man beside Edward was built like a football player." Jasper grinned and wrapped his arms around Alice who giggled. who wore dark pants and a white button-up dress shirt with a black tie. They made a stunning pair. She looked like an ice princess." Alice muttered then. Professional and perfect." "Only one of the many reasons that I love her. What was with all of the blonde's lately? "This is my old roommate. It was easy to ignore her for the other two. Jasper and Alice apparently agreed with my assessment and greeted the couple nicely as well." I reached forward to shake hands with Edward's friends. ." "Nice to meet you. and sized up the woman with the territorial grip on Edward. and had an athletic build.. That pointy-tipped claw of hers was on his arm again and I took a deep swallow of wine to steel myself. "Um.The smile dropped from my features however. I could tell by the tingling sensation on my skin who the hand belonged to.

Jasper came over to us join us then and spoke to my father. low voice near my ear. giggling." Alice whispered.. Perfect Patricia. I prayed my blush wouldn't betray me and I shrugged nonchalantly. He didn't even glance up. You know he's the jealous type. "I hope he doesn't mind me stealing a dance later?" Edward asked.. It was time we needed to share before another school year would separate us. then moved farther into the diner to rejoin my father. I smiled. We enjoyed our meal and smiled and laughed. Perfect Princess Patricia. out the back door with Jasper and Alice. "Because I love you." I shrugged. "You'll have to check with him. "Turns out the term 'date' can be pretty subjective. Chief? Shall we go cut a rug with these beautiful ladies?" "Nah. I stabbed my dessert a bit roughly and Charlie calmed me with fingers on my wrist. I raised my hands to rest on her crossed wrists below my chin." he said around a mouthful of pie. "Edward keeps looking over here and I'm not the only one who has noticed!" Her voice was sing-song and it made me smile. Jasper and Alice. I'll be at the bar!" My father waved us off. I turned and raised my eyebrows before shooting a glance at Patricia who was watching us with avid interest. And I was mostly able to ignore the table at the head of the room where I knew Edward was sitting with his parents. Charlie actually made for a wonderful dinner date." Edward said in a rough. and I ran. "Why are you so good to me?" I laughed while turning my face up and to the side to look at her. "What do you think. ."I didn't know you brought a date. You're gonna be my sister someday!" She kissed me playfully on the end of the nose and we both laughed." Edward laughed lightly at my comment and stepped back." I stepped around the group that had convened by the doorway and winked over at Alice. "She's all wrong for him. And Patricia. you kids have fun. "News from enemy camp. I placed my fork at the side of my plate when Alice came up behind me and threw her arms around my shoulders in a hug. "I came with Charlie. My father was more observant than I ever gave him credit for. you know.

Patricia smiled proudly at his side like a politician's wife. as soon as Edward touched me. I grinned an acceptance and laughed at his eighties-dance-moves until a slow song filtered from the speakers. Rosalie excused herself and rolled her eyes a little as Patricia drug her off the dance floor. and making small talk. accepting congratulations. was Patricia." I said quietly. I could have sworn Edward sighed with me at the initial contact. and rapidly tore through his music collection deeming what music was and was not worthy of being played. I snorted and turned my head away when I had a ridiculous image of the little kid from 'The Christmas Story' getting his tongue stuck to a frozen pole. cold and hard. and I stood there smiling like a fool. Jasper hurried to stand next to the hired DJ. She seemed so rigid compared to his other friends. laughing and tossing dance songs into the mix that made Jasper grumble and complain. But when Patricia clicked up on angry heels and asked Rosalie if they could talk. "Shall we?" he asked." His eyes burned into mine. we did. and soon the patio was hopping. But even he had to admit that sometimes song integrity had to be ignored when people wanted to shake their ass on a dance floor. He dutifully traveled between guests." a familiar voice spoke over my shoulder. however. Every now and then I allowed myself to search for Edward in the crowd. bowing his head. Edward moved from behind me and nudged Emmett playfully with his elbow. I got the opportunity. . The one I couldn't understand. However. "You're lucky I'm married. Spies Like Us Twilight. the nerves were gone and I was home. though I felt jittery even considering the concept.20. Emmett shrugged and moved forward to dance with me instead. I could understand why Emmett and Edward had become such good friends and roommates." Emmett grumbled teasingly at Edward then winked at me before he exited the dance floor too. Alice had apparently taken an immediate liking to Rosalie. Alice and I moved to join him. They were very easy to laugh and get along with. "Bella promised me a dance. Most of the younger crowd made their way outdoors after dinner. And shake it. and I started to worry that I might not ever get my chance to speak with Edward. I danced and had a great time with my friends. While I waited for spring thaw. "The party is awesome. I nodded and moved forward. The evening was growing late. She somehow reminded me of an ice sculpture. who brought Emmett to dance in our circle of friends. And then we were moving. "Step aside. I slid my hand to Edward's shoulder and felt him relax as our free hands came together. The sun had sunk beyond the horizon and the darkening skies were the perfect backdrop for the bright colored lanterns and small lights that flickered and shone above the designated dance area. Edward quirked an eyebrow in my direction and held out his arms.

She looked like a store mannequin stuck on spin cycle. Emmett threw his arm over Edward's shoulder and forced him to join our loud group while we danced to the upbeat music." "Thank you. Realizing what I let slip.. laughing and dancing and loving life. spicy cologne he wore. Emmett and Rosalie jumped back into the fray.. Jasper kicked out his arms and legs. And my best friend? He was having the time of his life. "I had hoped we would get a chance to talk. His tie was pulled askew and his hair was damp on his forehead." I said. "There are so many guests that I needed to speak with. trying to remain gracious. My heart felt light and happy. Our bodies moved together instinctually. It was one of those times when everything slowed down so that your mind could take a hundred photographs in an effort to remember this exact moment. My feet stilled when his did. friends. Edward stomped around and jumped. I turned to see my father smiling warmly. and turned around to shake his ass at us. Edward.. laughing and making up crazy dance-moves with his brother and his ex-roommate. "Edward's loss. And Edward wasn't allowed to escape. I sighed.. Edward stared down into my soul." I murmured. I inhaled deeply. "Family. "I know you've been occupied all night. I stifled a giggle when I saw Patricia try her best to loosen up and be a part of the group. . Then he looked up quickly and I felt his entire frame stiffen.. but his words were clearly loud enough for Patricia and Edward to hear. Alice. Jasper." he whispered. I took a deep breath and blinked before moving my eyes back down to his jacket. And I felt obligated. looking up at him. It was almost perfect. but felt as he pulled me closer into his chest. and I put my hands up over my head. Bella." I said. I pulled my hand from his warm grip and stepped away reluctantly." "I understand."I can't believe everyone came together like this." "I'd still like that.. "Everyone here loves you. At least she was trying. My father excused himself when the music picked up. I danced with my father and refused to look at the handsome couple swaying near us. watching him have so much fun. taking in the warm. I felt bad for laughing at her.. Alice and Rosalie clapped their hands and bounced to the music. Still. "Edward?" The voice behind me made me groan internally." Edward sounded slightly awed." Edward said. There was a definite chill in the air behind me. I didn't look up at him. You deserve this party. I actually felt graceful in his arms." I shook my head and tilted my chin to look up at him.. I only backed away three steps when strong hands on my waist stopped my movements. "I'll let you get back to your date. we're all proud of you. He spun me in front of him while I laughed. "Patricia?" he responded." Charlie grinned at me.

"I rode here with my Dad. I stopped at Jasper's car before meeting my Dad at his truck. Some punk kids broke into one of the stores uptown. "That's my brother. "I'm sorry honey. and saw that he and Patricia were sharing some intense looking conversation while sitting at a secluded table. "It's a wonder she can walk at all. with that pole up her ass. He looked a little annoyed himself." I told her." "Don't worry about it. I decided not to interrupt. and shot us all an apologetic glance before letting her lead him from the dance floor.." "Oh!" I turned to look at the people I stood with. The guys are a little short-handed tonight. swim-suit model snorted." We all turned to say good night to Emmett and Rosalie. Edward's head shot up and he looked over at us. blonde. and then back to his brother before he smiled slightly and nodded. But Rosalie let her glorious mane fall behind her while she tipped her chin up and laughed. He looked mildly annoyed. "Yo! Eddie!" Jasper yelled across the dance floor. My mouth popped open in surprise that Alice would criticize her while standing right next to Patricia's friends. It's a long drive back to Seattle.. yeah?" Edward's eyes darted over to mine quickly. I glanced over toward Edward. and I truly hoped I would have a chance to see them again in the future. You remember what we talked about. Edward grinned and shook his head before turning his attention back to Patricia. "I really do love you. and seemed like genuinely good people. "I'm leaving. Patricia grabbed Edward's arm again and pleaded to find a quiet place to sit. "What's up?" I asked." she whined. and we all stood in a loose group..Finally. Jasper had no such qualms.. "Isabella?" I turned at the sound of my father's voice." Alice hugged me. "Please. "Jasper and I are going to take off too. . Then she snorted." Alice hissed with a pout. I wrapped Alice in a quick hug. Some of the magic seemed to leave with him. however. Edward? These shoes are killing me. so they just called me in to help them out. I guess I'm going to have to leave early too. the lawyer! Woo-hoo!" Jasper yelled and threw his fists up over his head proudly pumping the air while he walked through the crowd. Yes. We all laughed then while she covered her mouth and tried to hide another burst of loud laughter. The beautiful. They were both a lot of fun.

And strapless. I was scared. Edward might have been at his party with Patricia.. My left foot felt wonderful pressed flat against the cool hardwood floor. and brightened the area to match my mood. I turned on the downstairs lights as I walked through the empty house."We'll talk soon and pick out a dress for the wedding. "I'm thinking something black to match the tuxedos.." he grinned.. He hugged me close and kissed the top of my head before I turned away and walked over to my father's truck. A sketch pad and a few colored pencils. but I still managed to have a great time. Tomorrow night. With my hand wrapped around the soft leather. I placed my drink on my dresser and moved to hold onto my bed post while I bent to remove my heels..a stack of comics. Over-all. me. This box didn't store sweaters. stretching and relaxing the muscles there before I dropped to my knees to retrieve the wayward shoe." I shook my head and smiled. sweetie. my eyes landed on a prize tucked away under my bed as well." Alice smiled." Jasper said. you. you look hot tonight!" I laughed while she got into the car and moved around to speak to Jasper. "No! Of course not. I flexed my feet for a moment.." "No problem. Thanks Dad. flinching when I kicked it a little too hard and it slid under my bed.. We'll sleep up in the tree-house before you have to go back to Florida.. As I slid it out from beneath my bed." I smiled. "You aren't upset that we're leaving early. are you Isabella?" Charlie asked. Once in my room. I tossed my shoe to the side and smiled while I grabbed the long sweater box that rested near the wall at the far side of my bed. I turned and sat on the floor beside it.. My arch rejoiced in the change of position and I quickly removed my other shoe." "That sounds really perfect. because baby. With one finger.some grape soda and a bag of Cheetos. "I had a really great time tonight. I drew a long line in the dust on the top of the paisley print box. He threw his arm over my shoulder and held me comfortably next to his side. I would be able to keep my promise to Jasper and return to school with less baggage. I hadn't opened it in years. I counted the night as a huge success. a couple of sleeping bags. But it would feel good to get everything off my chest." I sighed. I knew that he did want to spend time with me before I left for Florida.. "I'll be back early tomorrow. I grabbed a bottle of water and took a long drink as I walked upstairs. And then I slowly opened it... Memories from my childhood and young adolescence laid undisturbed in the box in front of me. My father dropped me off at the curb and waited until I was safely inside our house before he drove away to work. I gently touched the dried baby's breath that I always kept in a little heart-shaped glass case that Charlie . "Don't think I forgot that you promised me a sleepover.. And though our 'talk' had been postponed.. "Only two days left. the invitation to my senior prom.a guitar pick. and suddenly couldn't wait to re-visit the contents..

and I followed him into Edward's bedroom. I smiled as I lifted the rusty tin can that was tucked into the corner of the box." Jasper whined. "There's nothing here. Unused county fair ride tickets. Jasper and I laid on our backs in the tree house. He can't make anything. . I turned to see only his legs sticking out from beneath Edward's bed. well. I giggled with my hand over my mouth and moved over near Edward's desk." I offered. "This stuff is boring. rolling to mimic his position on the floor. Jasper and I would need those for our sleep-over in the tree house. "I suggest we plan a reconnaissance mission... Go go go!" Jasper whispered. a clay ashtray that Jasper made for me in eighth-grade art class.. The coast was clear. The worn covers made me giggle when they offered up a funny memory of one of my and Jasper's comic book capers. "You take the bookshelf. I'll search his dresser. He closed Edward's dresser drawer and moved across the room while I tentatively peeked under pencils and notebooks. "Are you up for an adventure?" Jasper turned his head and grinned with mischief twinkling in his eyes. "Batman just uses that stuff in his belt." I shook my head and sat up. "Come on. well. a program from my first real art show. Jasper hummed some music from a spy movie while we listened for his mother in the kitchen before running upstairs as quietly as we could." "I don't get my allowance until Friday. "Well. Edward had already warned us to stay out of his room. I didn't like making him mad at us." I hedged.gave me for my birthday. "Chicken? We'll be in and out and he'll never know we were in there!" "Fine. "Search the drawers!" Jasper suggested. arguing once again over the supreme awesomeness of Batman versus Spiderman in our favorite comics.." Jasper huffed and closed his magazine before rolling over to his stomach." "Whatever.. My eyes scanned the books on his shelf and I cautiously moved papers and books around on the surface of his desk. Under it all. I carefully lifted the thin magazines from under my other treasures and laid them to the side." I whispered... We need something new. We should infiltrate Edward's bedroom and get some of his comics!" "I don't know. He was wiggling his hips and trying to back out. what have we here?" Jasper called out with a muffled voice.. Spiderman was my favorite. On stealthy feet we ran through the yard. "Spiderman actually produces the web that allows him to fly!" I argued. The red broken string still dangled from one end. Its matching piece could be found still wrapped tightly around the nail in my window sill. were several comic books.

and Jasper ducked and jumped up on the bed. If I did it tonight. Jasper started flipping through the pages. I ducked and crawled to the door. That was when the door of the bedroom opened.. His mouth popped open when he saw the open magazine on the floor in front of us. I could surprise Jasper by getting all of our sleep-over items in the tree house before he returned from Seattle. "No way. and we both looked with wide eyes at the various images inside." Jasper shifted his glasses with one hand and continued to look on. "Oh. "How many times have I told you to stay out of my room?" He swung his backpack toward his desk angrily. I could hear Jasper yelling for his mom as he and Edward wrestled behind me. I placed the lid back on the box and slid it back into its place under my bed before standing with the comics in hand. Occasionally he had to turn the book sideways so that we could see the entire picture presented. wanting to see what he held that captured his interest. "Abort mission! Abort mission!" Jasper yelled. At least now I could understand the mystery of the 'guy stuff'.. The weather was perfect. And my best friend was holding it in his hands like he had found the Holy Grail. A bare-chested girl grinned from the cover of a dirty magazine. Jasper dropped the magazine and cursed. Edward stood with one hand on his doorknob.. "If you do. he would . "Think you'll ever get boobs like that?" Jasper asked with wonder. "Yeah. His cheeks reddened immediately and he started yelling. We were completely engrossed in the glossy pages covered with nude girls. trying to avoid Edward's angrily reaching arms. clearly amazed. "What is Edward doing with that kind of magazine?" I asked.. No rain was in the forecast for once. "You know. His cheeks were pink and I decided not to ask for more information regarding this particular mystery." Jasper whispered. I snickered when I thought of that dirty magazine.. I moved to sit beside him.. boobs. A thought occurred to me. My. and I smiled.. staring down at us in confusion. will you let me see them?" I reached over and hit him hard in the arm." I whispered. and sat with his back against his brother's bed. I was nearly mortified but unable to look away..."Did you find comics?" I asked. "I found something better!" Jasper turned when he could.. God!" I whispered. standing as soon as I got to the hall and running as fast as I could to get home. guy stuff.

I watched as Edward stiffened and moved his hands to her wrists. "It doesn't get much more quiet than that. "The house is empty. "You shouldn't have come. I cringed as Patricia moved closer and wrapped her arms around Edward's waist from behind." Edward said cooly. I turned for my bedroom door. but stopped when the door behind him opened and Patricia moved outside to join him on the porch. Edward laughed lightly and turned his back to lean against the wall." Edward added. "Edward? What are you doing out here?" she asked. I piled everything up and then made three separate trips across the darkened yard and up into the tree house to carry everything and stash it away for Jasper to find later. I spun and raised my head above the edge of the window to check out what caused the commotion. and know how much I was looking forward to our last adventure of the summer. I was rolling the sleeping bags out across the wood floor when the unexpected noise and light caused me to jump.. I clamped my lips together then. "It wasn't exactly your typical kind of party. Charlie actually had grape soda and Cheetos in the kitchen.. She pressed her cheek to his back and his head slumped forward slightly.. It was on my final trip to the tree house that I was stopped by the sound of a door shutting loudly. I would probably puke. and alert of him of my presence. and groaned silently. It was like a replay of me watching Edward making out with Mary Beth Stratford on his back porch all of those years ago. Edward stood on the back porch.. loosening her hold before turning in front of her. listening in on their conversation. but I couldn't bring myself to look away. collecting nostalgic items to place with the necessary things like flashlights and sleeping bags in our tree house. fine. I didn't bother changing out of my dress. I swear that if I had to watch him grope Patricia. I felt like a sick voyeur. With a grin. The comic books and Battleship joined the pile." she pointed out." "It was. The Whitlock's back porch light suddenly illuminated the small room I occupied through the cutout window in the side of the tree-house." Patricia hesitated... "I." Edward replied. "I can't imagine you'd be impressed with our small-town restaurant when you are used to dining in more elegant surroundings for events as simple as Sunday brunch. I opened my mouth to call out to him." she murmured. By some strange miracle. "The party was lovely." ." "The fresh air. was looking for a little peace and quiet. But there was no way in hell I was going to put my feet back in my shoes. pushing his fingers through his hair. I moved around the house.see my efforts when he returned in the morning.

But if I had known you were coming. "I can make it work. finally raising his chin. I saw Edward's shoulders slump and cursed in my mind.. cut through the still of the night." Patricia rushed with her words.. Her voice. Patricia moved to stand in front of Edward and reached her hands forward again." Patricia said quietly. It was nice of you to join Emmett and Rosalie. "It doesn't work that way Patricia. Her hands slid up his chest and cupped his chin. My life is here.. "I didn't give up what we wanted. He raised a hand to her shoulder in a comforting gesture. I watched as she moved closer to him. "You don't know what you're saying." "I can change what I want. I can learn to love it here. It was low. I wanted to see what was so important about this place that you would give up everything that we wanted... . gripping his hips.." "I was hurt that you didn't invite me. The title isn't yours to throw around. seductive. "I gave up what you wanted. "I meant what we said Patricia. Edward turned his face to the side slightly. so soon after we had broken up.My heart started beating rapidly and I wondered if I heard his words right. though quiet. "Don't you remember how good we were? We could have that again. He deliberately pushed her back and held her at arm's length. and closed his eyes with a loud exhale. "We've been broken up for over three months." Edward stated." he argued. I knew he wouldn't be able to resist being a gentleman if she appeared upset.. throaty." "Why didn't you correct me?" Patricia asked then. Do you remember the last time we made love?" Faster than I could blink. "I didn't think you'd be comfortable." Edward replied quickly. I was right." Like a sick masochist.. I never wanted to work for your father's firm in New York. "I wanted to see where you lived. "You know why I did. He didn't raise his head to look at her. I would like to remain friends." she said quietly. "You could have refuted me at any time. if this is really where you want to be!" "I don't want you to learnto love anything." Her voice was bitter sounding and Edward lowered his hand." Edward shook his head." she said softly.. "I want you back. Edward caught her hands and turned his head toward her..." "I didn't want to embarrass you.." "Is that why you introduced yourself to everyone as my girlfriend?" Edward asked. I held my own breath when Patricia touched his throat with her mouth.

You controlled everything about us. My heart clenched tightly in my chest. "It was New Year's Eve." "Maybe in the past. And I remember it so well because I practically had to schedule an appointment with you any time I wanted to have sex!" "That's not true!" Patricia's voice rose sharply to match his. "I know I don't want this." Patricia whined.. "Yes." Edward insisted."I remember exactly the last time we were together.. pacing back and forth before stopping... My back was pressed to the wall and I was breathing heavily.." "I think." "I don't know. I counted in my head. and blinked in the darkness when the light was extinguished. fun.. "Regardless of what I want now. you will find that you don't want me either.. "You didn't look at her like a sister when you could hardly tear your eyes away from her all night!" Patricia's accusing tone caused Edward to snort loudly. scheduled.. either!" Edward tugged his hair and moved around her with angry strides. "You don't know what you're talking about. Isn't it? That girl from next door. So." Patricia said pointedly..." Patricia sneered my name. slowly. Something unexpected! Don't you want passion in your life?" "I don't understand where all of this is coming from. Then with a hard edge to her voice." he said quietly. My heart was still beating rapidly in my chest. "Good idea. "This is about her. You can't tell me that you were happy like that! I sure as hell wasn't. "Bella has always been like a sister to me. "Something spontaneous maybe? Something ." Edward began again after a moment." Edward scoffed." Patricia said. "I don't know what you want.. I listened to their retreating footsteps on the porch. Everything was dictated by you." he said harshly. she spoke again. Isabella!" "Bella?" Edward asked. "It's sadly true. I snorted out loud at her last comment too. and organized. Bella. I don't want us. The conversation went silent and I turned and hurriedly dropped to sit on my bottom with my head hidden under the window-ledge. I'm ready to go to bed. His tone even made me flinch in his abruptness. . afraid of being caught listening in. instead of answering him. "Everything about us was so planned.. I couldn't breathe!" "What do you want?" Patricia asked. You want her!" "Don't be ridiculous. Unfortunately. And I think if you are honest with yourself." Edward insisted. "It's that girl.

. His legs were drawn up too. and he rested his elbows across his bent knees. He looked amused. Edward climbed into the tree house." I answered. lowering my chin to my arms. I was suddenly very aware that my knees felt weak. So I thought I would surprise him by bringing everything up." "You didn't hear anything I would keep as a secret. With my heels on the floor. calming breaths and turned to sit on one of the rolled-out sleeping bags. thought. I was nervous as hell... I could see Edward then." Edward answered. Everything Changes This wasn't exactly the time or the place where I imagined that Edward and I would have this conversation. Now that the moment had come. "Yes. so I relaxed. "In case anyone decides to look for me.. standing on the first step to come up." I nodded in understanding and we sat in silence for a moment." ." "I.. "Jasper and I are going to spend the night up here tomorrow night. I pulled my skirt down to cover my knees and wrapped my arms around my legs in an effort to control my shaking limbs. but stopped when I saw the small smile on his mouth. And as I turned a circle in the small confines of the tree house. sort of got stuck up here when you came outside.. you were spying on me again?" Edward asked. and then lowered himself to sit beside me.trying to determine if enough time had passed for me to escape.. you might as well go right back up." It wasn't a question. That you and Patricia. before I have to leave. "I'm sorry. and the already small space seemed impossibly smaller. "As much as I'm enjoying the view." Edward shrugged. 21.. He looked around for a moment.. "No! I wasn't!" I quickly shook my head and looked at him in fear that he had misunderstood my motives. I. "So." I heard the deep voice speaking from below me on the tree... I slowly crept to the tree house door and turned to lower myself down the steps. I sighed and made my way back up into the tree house. you know.. I froze with my foot on the step and grabbed the hem of my dress to pull it more closely against my body. I wasn't prepared at all. After a few minutes.. "I'd rather not announce where I can be found. "Should I turn on the lights?" I asked quietly. I really should have let you both know I was here." "You heard our entire conversation.. Knowing I had been caught. I didn't want to interrupt. I took several deep. "It's no big deal.

." "Jasper knew that you needed this vacation.I actually felt alive again. "I've had a great time with you too. or think.." I defended my assumption.." "She." "The competition is behind us." "I'm sorry... "She's a city girl. She's spoiled and she's used to a certain lifestyle that does not interest me. And not like some programmed robot." Edward muttered. He pulled his hand up over his face and pushed his hair back in a tired gesture. He turned his cheek to look at me.. Spending time with my friends. or just relax in ages." Edward laughed bitterly. But Edward shifted his legs and then started speaking again.. .." "I'm so glad. "She was hoping she could be again.." I whispered again.. My breath caught and I swallowed hard. dancing." I waved off his apology. "A lot of that.. pretty seriously. She always expected that I would graduate and then move back to New York to work in corporate law at her father's firm."Were still in a relationship?" Edward asked.. He dropped his chin and watched his hands as he played with the tips of his fingers between his knees. just didn't want the same things." Edward agreed with a sigh. and working my ass off to finish school with honors.. has had to do with you. her schedules! I haven't been able to move. laughing. "I really did. "I don't remember when I've had so much fun. but they can't just adjust their whole personality. going out... "Patricia and I met when I started at Harvard. "A person might be able to change where they live. I can't tell you how sorry I am for. I didn't want anything like that. treating you as I have.. And my God. We. Between my relationship with Patricia." Edward argued....." I grinned. We dated.. drinking..." I offered." I said and nodded with certainty. something that you would like to talk about?" I really didn't expect that he would take me up on the offer..... We finally broke it off this spring. "Well? She did tell me that she was your girlfriend. I'm afraid I'm just going to break. "Is it.. "Sure. When I'm not acting like an asshole. I'm so tightly coiled.. sounded like she was willing to make that adjustment for you. "I'm so sorry Bella. I feel like a spring.." Edward said quietly. "But you already heard that part." I replied. Things started falling apart for us last winter. everything has been so planned out.

. "You." The intensity of his gaze made me feel self-conscious and I twisted the hem of my dress in my fingers and looked away." "Really?" he asked. I always hoped.."I was talking about Tyler's party. "I really am. Edward. "I can't forgive you unless I know exactly what it is that you are apologizing for." "I thought I creeped you out...." I said quietly.." I finally told him. He looked up at me again. practically my whole life! I was upset because when I finally got my wish. It was always different with you.I wanted you to kiss me! I've wanted you to kiss me. He turned and looked into my eyes.." I tore my eyes from his and looked down at the floor. But I needed to let him know how I felt. I just hope you can forgive me. someday. My cheeks were hot." Edward said then. Not at all.." "I hate to break it to you Edward.." "I'm sorry for that.. I deserved to be slapped!" "I wasn't upset that you kissed me.." Edward admitted quietly." I nodded. "And it didn't feel wrong to me Edward. . I kissed you. inexcusably.. trying to read my face." I pointed out.. And then." I insisted while I shook my head. And I'm sorry if I offended you. The turn in conversation could only take me in one direction. "I can't forgive you. "I was horrible to you. weren't upset that I kissed you?" "I kissed you back. You.." nervous tension caused me to giggle a little. "but I've never thought of you as a brother." "What I said?" Edward looked confused. "Not like I care about Jasper.. "God. But I was always too young for you to see me in any way other than as the little girl next door. "We're practically family. "I took advantage of you Bella. Still. taking in my confession with a confused look on his face. An urgency was written on his features that made me pause. My heart started to pound painfully in my chest again and I bit my lip. I watched as pain pulled across his features and clouded his eyes. "I acted. I basically molested you. slapped me. and I knew I was blushing. I shouldn't have slapped you. you told me it was wrong!" Edward stared at me... "I've cared about you for as long as I can remember. But what you said. So I turned my face and looked at him again. hurt me.." "What do you mean?" Edward asked. I kept my eyes on his so he could see the truth in my words.

Edward turned my face back toward his with a finger under my chin. I threw back my head and laughed. he told me I'd figure it out. Edward frowned thoughtfully and turned his head to stare straight ahead.... then?" Edward nearly whispered. "I decided it was time to take a chance." He was looking at me again. The smile didn't leave my face.. "Have you?" "You can't plan the adventure. "Jasper told me today to 'live for the next adventure. studying me in the dark." "You're not. just don't want to disrespect you. "You just have to be willing to grab it and go for it when you see it. I couldn't help it." "Is that what all of this is about.. I'm just not afraid to take chances." he shook his head. and quiet." My breathing sped up at the truth of my words." Edward said softly. don't know what you want.. pointing back and forth between the two of us with a small motion of his hand near his knee. partly because of you!" I shook my head at the seemingly obvious answer to my amusement. When he didn't . "I didn't mean to hurt you. Bella. "I don't regret kissing you.." "I'll forgive you for screwing up a perfectly wonderful moment. "I. "Have you figured out what your next adventure will be?" "No. with hope in my heart. you can forget about it. "How could I not have known?" His voice was low.." I laughed then. "Oh." Edward said softly. Finally I took a deep breath and became quiet again. My eyes widened and he sat there.." "And have you?" I asked. and to know my own mind." I whispered back." I joked and pulled my face from his hand. I leaned forward and brushed my lips against his. I looked up into his eyes again." "How can you be so brave?" Edward asked with wonder in his voice...' I wasn't sure what he meant.. I. trying to figure out the humor of the situation. I get it now. "I'm not brave." I said. I am the woman I am today. I don't want to be a regret to you. And before I could lose the bravery he claimed I had. His eyebrows rose when he read in the words that I had painted on the back of the door. silly." I said lightly. Edward looked on. "Life is too short. "Yes. "Edward? How could I ever feel disrespected by you? You are one of the people who taught me to respect myself! You always encouraged me to be strong. Before the opportunity passes you by! That's the key. "But if you are trying to apologize for kissing me.

holding the door open. But I could have a clear mind.." "Don't.. In his hesitation.. right?" Edward asked." I shook my head. I tried not to. I might know you well enough to treat you with familiarity. "I don't want you to misunderstand. I don't want to hurt you Bella. And I'm so sorry that you'll probably wait until I'm gone before you figure that out." I said all that I needed to say to Edward. You deserve better than that. I'm going to break loose. what is it?" I asked. Concern and sincerity were there. I. "You just need to learn how to let go and take chances." "Then. I made my way carefully down the steps and then walked on silent feet through the wet grass that covered our joined yards. "What are you. But you aren't that little girl in my mind anymore. I wasn't sure if he pulled. Every window was open. "I'm so afraid. I placed my hand on his cheek and smiled. Slowly. or if my feet propelled me forward of their own accord.. At least I had told Edward how I felt. when we came together this way. I had the answers I sought.. "Bella. This was the reaction I had hoped to get when I pressed my lips against his in the tree house. looking up at him.... He was begging me to understand with his eyes. and our mouths met in a frenzied kiss. I opened the door to my kitchen and stepped inside. I didn't feel sad at the way our conversation ended." I bit my bottom lip while I looked at his face. "I said I felt like a spring.. I felt a crushing disappointment fill my body. And I felt really bad about it. I opened my eyes and sat back down." I reminded him. It was as if every cell of my body . You are leaving to go back to Florida in two days. It's not like we just met. But somehow our bodies connected. His hands dug blindly into my hair. Edward had followed me because he wanted this too. I could move on. I whirled to see Edward standing in my doorway. relieved. "It's not that I don't find you attractive. "There's nothing casual about this. I lowered my hand from his face and turned to leave the tree house.. This is what I was waiting for. God help me. mixed with selfdoubt. I felt." Edward pled.?" He stormed me then. It took only a second to realize that I didn't hear the screen door slam behind me.. Edward took two fast steps and reached for me. hard. But I refuse to treat you casually. He was terribly easy to read. knowing that I did all that I could.respond immediately. I was instantly on fire. The 'what-ifs' were officially out there. It was a shame that he couldn't let go of whatever it was that was holding him back. once he decided to let me in. Every light in the house was still on.. And as before when he kissed me at Tyler's party.

It was okay to want me." I muttered harshly. I dared Edward to take a chance. I tasted it on his lips and I felt it in his hands. Not hesitant. And I needed to touch him as well. His fingers burned down my arms to my hips. I lowered my mouth to his chest and started kissing and biting every bit of skin I could reach in front of me. Edward attacked my mouth and I moaned against the new onslaught of his kisses. His eyes were wild. Not harsh. and I rubbed myself against him.. "Damn it. "God. It was very evident in the way that his mouth took from mine. what he wanted. My back arched away from the wall. lifting the material of my dress as he went. Encouraged by the reaction he seemed to have to my words. enjoying the feel of it.." I moaned. where he held me tightly against him. I brought down the walls that held him back. He spun us then. I wanted this just as much as he did. Bella. I was delirious with need. It was okay to touch me.. I desperately tugged Edward's hips until he granted my wish and pressed his body fully against mine.urged me forward to him. and looked at me. My knees almost buckled beneath me when I felt his fingers on the skin just above my knees. "More. His hands were perfect against me. "Don't think. But I wouldn't have it. was me. I prompted him. We both groaned when his hands moved up my torso and he palmed my breasts through the thin fabric of my dress. I needed his hands everywhere.. His entire frame stiffened for a moment as my permission registered in his mind." I ordered. And he kissed me with a new determination." Edward groaned against my lips. "I think. So I smirked and slowly pulled my fingernails down his chest with a little more pressure. at how the hard planes of his chest and abdomen matched so flawlessly to the soften swells of my own. pressing my flesh into his eager hands." Edward was trying to say something. I never wanted to forget the way he looked in that moment.. I thrust my hands into the open front of his shirt and drug my fingernails lightly from his shoulders to his waist. "Then take me. yes. and I found myself pinned against the wall next to the door. He pulled his head back. With the last button undone." Edward hissed. He might have been trying to judge my reaction. It was as if he was made to hold me. Edward pulled his fingers up my legs.. I pushed my hands into his hair and tugged his head down until I could kiss him again. . I think. My breath caught at the sound of the harsh word on his lips. "Say it again. My body fit against his perfectly. at least for now.. "Fuck. You make me want you. He didn't." I gasped. I marveled then. Curled like claws. My fingers flew to the buttons of his shirt while Edward lowered his head to kiss and suck at the skin on my neck and shoulders.. His diabolical fingers moved closer and I threw my head back." I whispered.

"Bass. He swallowed hard and pressed his lips to mine while his hand moved to touch me exactly where I needed him to. I moaned and locked my legs around him tightly." And with my final plea. protection. He was giving me one last chance to stop him... I lowered my own hands to start tearing at the button and zipper of his pants. I reached my hands to grasp both sides of his face urgently. and my shoulders were pressed into the wall behind me." he groaned again. and silky in my hand.. It had been a very long time since I had been with anyone like this. I gripped Edward's shoulders with my hands when he reached below to lift me against him. I touched him as much as the restricted space would allow. I wrapped my arms around his head and kissed his ear. Bella. Please Edward. most devastating smile I had ever seen. "Fuck. "I can't wait... To stop what we had begun. And it was better than I could have ever imagined. I could feel his fingers near the lace edge of my panties and I couldn't recall wanting anything more in my life.. Still there. I stepped out of them eagerly and kicked them across the floor while I mimicked his movements and tugged to get his pants down. I held on tight with my legs and pushed my arms against the wall behind me." he was still trying to be responsible while we hovered at the point of no return. and I tilted his face to meet my eyes. And when I could. next to the door. My legs locked around his waist. I moaned and rocked myself into his hand. pulling them down my legs. ." Edward groaned. My efforts sent a plaque of one of Charlie's stuffed fish flying off the wall to crash loudly against the floor next to us. "Do you want this?" Edward asked roughly against my shoulder.. and smooth.I couldn't find it in myself to be embarrassed or feel awkward. I loved hearing him lose control." I emphasized.. please. searching for some kind of leverage or something to grasp on to. Then Edward's lips pulled up in the silliest. doing these things to me. But any immediate discomfort was soon overshadowed by the amazing feelings that Edward provided while moving in and against me. he pulled my hips hard against him and thrust up into me. Hot. He bit at my lips with fervor and moved his hands to twist into the waistband of my panties. "We should. I threw my head back at the shock of the initial intrusion. Edward and I both stilled for a moment.... "I'm protected. I smiled against the side of his damp hair. Fuck. "I want you. But I knew what he was doing." I whispered.. I pushed my hand down the skin of his abdomen until I could touch him like he was touching me. While Edward kissed me and stroked me beneath my dress. The answering sound from the back of his throat made me feel anxious to hear more. This was Edward. I swallowed his apology under another kiss and tilted my hips to accommodate him. I was rewarded with more of those delicious and guttural noises from the back of his throat.

Edward stepped away. We both laughed then.. His movements were strong and they shifted the table underneath me as I cried out and thrashed my head from side to side. but then pulled his mouth away from mine." he whispered with a ragged voice. I. Instead. With one last.. And while my own orgasm completely washed over me. And I wasn't sure if it was from what we had just done." I lowered my head and my hair fell in front of me. I will fucking kill you. "If you stop. I felt every muscle in my body contract in preparation for the explosion to come. "Bella. and he drifted his hands from my face." I threatened against his mouth. and pulled my dress down to cover my legs." "Shh. He looked at me. and to my hips.. His eyes were closed. And the sounds. hard surface of the kitchen table. Edward complied for a moment. and his jaw was taut. But the laughter reminded us of the position we were still in. I stared the vacant space in front of me. . Our arms were wrapped around each other. Edward lowered me to the cool. and pulled him down to kiss me. When his fingers moved to touch me where our bodies joined... "Edward.. or from what I knew we were about to do."Bass. too much. down my chest. God.. My arms were shaking badly. I could see his sweat dampened chest through the parting of his shirt. and I gripped Edward by the collar of his shirt and tugged his face close to mine. the sounds that he made were enough to send me into a full-out frenzy.. "So beautiful. His fingers retraced the path his mouth created. I was suffering from a riot of emotions and I couldn't begin to sort through it all so soon." he smiled. loud groan I could feel him find his own release. I held on tight to the edge of the table then. and had used his arms to sweep aside the items that usually rested there. Seeing Edward this way was almost more than I could bear.. Our pounding hearts and hard breaths filled the silence in the room. I laid back with my legs still locked around his waist. He could feel me contracting around him. Too. he kissed me and his fingers dug almost painfully into the back of my thighs when he spun us away from the wall. The lines of his strong neck tensed and strained as he tilted his head back. It was too much." He knew.Edward. he reached down and pulled my arms up toward him. He didn't stop. I threw my arms around his shoulders while he groaned and thrust hard against me. We stayed there like that. almost reverently. I held on tight while he carried me a few steps across the kitchen. when his fingers dug into my hips and he began to pull me against him.. but I heard the loud crash of more items hitting the floor. and listened as Edward adjusted his own clothing. I couldn't help the wild sounds that escaped me in response. My eyes were closed. His lips lingered on my shoulders and the top of my chest before he rose to fully stand before me...

"I don't want to hate you. Edward closed the door silently and disappeared into the inky darkness beyond my back porch. I needed time to figure out how I felt. I might have blushed. "Tomorrow. The hanging fixture on the back was twisted and would need to be repaired. I heard my door open and I finally looked up. "I don't regret it Bella. Other than that small scrap of lace I held in my hand.. napkin holder. "Why?" his voice sounded pained. familiar sheets. He stood in my doorway again. I pulled the table to its original space on the floor. I was worried. and I was going back to Florida in two days. Somehow I managed to put on my comfortable t-shirt and boxer shorts. to me." I swallowed hard. Edward. if I hadn't felt so confused and numb by the evening's events. I remained fully dressed. Won't you look at me?" "I can't. ." The sincerity in his eyes eased the sting of the worry that had threatened to drown me.that I was in love with Edward. and lowered myself from the table-top to pick up the items that had been left out of place in our wake. "Because. "Tomorrow. With the promise and understanding that we would talk about everything the following day. "I won't ever regret it. It had been desperation that led us to having sex where we had. But I was certain. Our arms touched. more than anything." I shook my head." He kissed the side of my head and stood without another word before walking to my kitchen door. and salt and pepper shakers to their central location. The bass on the floor wouldn't be replaced so easily. imagining that my father enjoys having breakfast at this table. but I couldn't look at him.." Edward said quietly. "If I see that same regret in your eyes. I was scared. I quickly bent to retrieve my panties from the floor. watching me intently.. I swear some part of me will hate you for it. I was confused. as if in a trance. But the connection between us was every bit as powerful. Slowly. He moved to rest back on the edge of the table beside me. We had both simply been holding back too much. I wondered if I should feel that the magnitude of what Edward and I had done was any less because of the way we had come together."We need to talk about this. I twisted my hair into a knot on my head." I said quietly with my head down. and laid down beneath my cool. I licked my lips. I surveyed the damage around me. and in the manner in which we did." I whispered. "Bella? Please." Edward said quietly and still a bit breathlessly.." I promised. for too long. and returned the flowers. I felt hope rise in my chest as he gave me a small smile. I was in love with Edward. I made my way up the stairs.

My head screamed that I hadn't heard him correctly. A horrible.... "There was an accident? Who. I was groggy as I was pulled from sleep by the warm hand that shook my shoulder. My legs flew beneath me. muffling his last words. The curtains were not drawn. "We were first on the scene. Then a suspicion came to mind when memories from earlier in the evening flashed behind my eyes. "Dad. The grass was slick and cold beneath my feet and breath tore painfully from between my lips.. "What?" Charlie wasn't talking about Edward. was my personal business. Charlie moved from where he sat beside me on my bed..?" "Jasper and Alice honey.. squeezing my heart until I felt I couldn't breathe.. I threw back my covers and ran for the door. Something must have been awfully important for him to wake me up just barely after one in the morning. They're gone. I needed to get to him to prove that it was all a nightmare.. and with whom.. No one survived. The back door had been open. who... There was nowhere for those kids to go.. Edward and I. the semi crossed the middle lane." Charlie's face was in his hands. I missed the beginning of what he was trying to say.. but I might have to remind my father that what I did. I needed to see him.. There was nothing we could do. "Isabella? Isabella." "Charlie?" An icy cold dread started wrapping itself through my chest. The bass I knocked off the wall. wait. I. "I'm sorry Bella. "Dad?" I asked sleepily. had someone seen something? Heard something? Was Charlie in my room because he somehow found out what had occurred between Edward and me? I sat up in bed and pulled my blankets protectively around my chest..And we would talk tomorrow. horrible nightmare. An accident. They're gone... So sorry. I watched as he clasped his hands between his knees and avoided my eyes. Jasper was asleep in his room... and went to sit in the chair in the corner of my room." "Wait. .. carrying me down the stairs and out the door into the night. My eyes went to my bedside clock and back to where he sat. In the dim light from the moon coming through my window. In the kitchen. In my consternation. He was talking about work." I shook my sleep-clouded head." My words cut off when I realized that he was already speaking... Granted." I rubbed my eyes and pushed my hair away from my face. we hadn't given much thought to our privacy at the time. My eyes latched onto the darkened window pane at the side of the house beside mine.

I'm here. and I groaned while I rolled to reach for our home-made phone. my hand shot out. and solid. my fingers consistently came up empty. My finger twisted. The connecting string was long since destroyed by time and elements.. My heart picked up pace.. My eyes felt swollen and wouldn't open enough for me to see clearly. the more frantic my movements became. And the voice. My fingers spread. "I'm here. The bedroom facing me in the house next door remained dark.. Suddenly furious at the sight of the broken string. "WHERE IS HE?" I screamed.. I'm here.. With a rapid movement. the voice had been one from my imagination. and I knew. My blankets were pulled up over my head. The tip of my finger turned purple as circulation was cut off. I turned and saw Edward's face close to mine. 22. I reached blindly for the can." But as I felt along the wall. The steel bands around me were unrelenting as I clawed the air and screamed toward the darkened window..I crashed into something hard. My throat burned. With my eyes nearly closed." I groaned. I tugged and pulled at what was left of it. I forced my eyes further open and froze when I saw the twisted and broken piece of red yarn tied to the nail in front of me. I gasped but struggled to push my body forward.. Jazz was gone. But it wasn't the one I hoped to hear. Edward shook his head and a tear burned from his bright green eye down his face. The longer I searched... "Bella. The curtains were drawn. Hey! Can you hear me? Pick up the can!" The tin can tied to the string at my window rattled loudly against the wall as my best friend tugged the other side to wake me. "JAZZ!" My scream tore from my throat feeling bloody and raw. "I'm here. Nothing moved in the world beyond the glass." I repeated. Still I sawed the . I crawled on instinct to the foot of my bed and reached for the string to answer his call. and my breathing became shallow. "Where is he?" I whispered. feeling along the wall beneath my window ledge. "JAZZ!" I screamed again. The arms around me tightened as I fell into blackness. wrapping the broken string tightly around my first knuckle.. Edward opened his mouth but no sound came out. He held me tightly to his chest while I momentarily stopped kicking and struggling. Memories "Izzy? Pick up the can! Jazz calling Izzy. I sat back on my legs and let my eyes move beyond my window.." I heard a gravelly voice near my ear. "Izzy? Are you there?" "I'm here.. Grey pressed in from the sky but didn't even offer rain to distract from the stillness outdoors.

With a strangled cry finally escaping my throat." I laid with my cheek on my pillow. I'll make it better.. I slid the string off my finger and slapped my hand loudly on the glass in front of me. and my hand was left bloody and damaged. Even when I was stubborn and stupid.aged fibers back and forth. but no less angry. determined to destroy the reminder it provided. "I was so sure. Jasper spun his desk chair backwards and straddled it while I pulled his warm cotton sweatshirt over my head. only wanted one thing. Tonight. Giving up. Jasper had been right. Jasper tossed me his large crimson sweatshirt. Then my best friend.. "You were too good for him." Jasper hissed through his teeth. Jasper lowered his hand and started to rub soothing circles on my back.. "Isabella? Open up honey.. "You were right. I scooted my body back on his bed and rested my back against the wall. "What's going on?" Jasper asked quietly. I nodded and wiped my eyes with the cuffs of his shirt. And. I saw him kissing Angela Weber by the locker rooms. He folded his arms over the back of his chair and frowned. The string was torn. the one I hadn't spoken to in two weeks.... trying to force it to release its enduring grip on the old nail that pierced the wood and held tight. I needed to apologize. You can count on me.." Jasper said softly. smearing small streaks of red on the glass with each blow. you know? After prom?" I groaned and put my face back on my knees. and I clenched my hands into the material of the sleeves." I whispered. I heard my father's words." I cried and pressed my face into my knees. It was pointless. The blood was a vivid hue against its grey backdrop.. and again. put his arm around my shoulders and pulled me into his side. "He was all wrong for me. Crimson. . trying to get the courage to go talk to the one person that I knew could make me feel better. Jasper would always be around to make things better. I could count on him.. but held true." And I knew in my heart. I barely noticed the burning sting that came from the cut I inflicted on my finger. "Did you. My clothes were soaked through.. all along." I said through chattering teeth. in the rain. It hung past my fingers. It shook under the hit.. He.broken. "It's okay Izzy." "Son of a bitch. that he meant what he said. I had sat on my own porch... but couldn't muster the strength to move. searching for additional comfort. even when we fought. With my knees pulled up to my chest. my eyes dry and wide-open. I sniffed and tried to blink back the tears.. I waited to see him after practice.. I felt the mattress give beside me. "Th-thank you. I slapped at the window again. I grunted and pulled the yarn.

but kept concentrating on his task. I sprawled out on my stomach across the picnic blanket. and shoved half of it into his mouth while he plopped down to sit beside me. She needs to eat something. Soon.. "You better not let him see you up there again. "Oooh. "Your mom packed us all this food. Jasper grinned up at me and pushed his glasses up his nose. Smith will kick your butt though. . "Come get a sandwich." I amended. he had carved our initials. the curiosity got the best of me. Jasper squatted down in front of the tree." "I will in a minute." my father said with a rough sounding voice.. Using his knife. "You love me. I don't know." Jasper said.. unwrapped it.S. popping grapes into my mouth and watching Jasper over the edge of my book. I kicked aside a few browned apples and sat beside him. come out at all?" It was a woman's voice that I didn't recognize." I muttered. "Sometimes I wonder why." I rolled my eyes.. "Maybe to use the bathroom? Hell. "It's been two days. yeah.. I turned my eyes back to my book and tried to read for a while." I called him over." "Yeah.. "Jasper Whitlock!" I cautioned when I saw what he was doing." I teased. He had pulled his wiry body up into the boughs of Old Man Smith's apple tree and was dropping juicy red fruit down from the highest branches. She'll be mad if you don't eat. and walked over to see what project was occupying his attention. "No. But I smiled at his back when he stood again and loped off to the tree. "Ew.. gross. J.W. I stood then. Jasper muttered something under his breath. Then his flipped his knife closed and sat back on his rear in the dirt. "And she won't be mad when I bring all of these apples home to make a pie!" "Mr." Food." Jasper dropped out of the tree and shoved his stolen fruit into our discarded picnic bag. Jasper pulled his pocket-knife from his jeans and smiled wickedly over his shoulder before pressed the small blade into the trunk of the tree in front of him..." He groaned. and I tossed my paperback aside with a sigh." Jasper smiled widely and showed the half-masticated sandwich that was shoved into his cheeks."Has she. He grabbed a sandwich with one hand. you are asking for trouble.. & I. "Nothing like leaving evidence at the scene of the crime." I shook my head.

"Florida isn't that far.. "I won't be far. But maybe." I commented. I showered because I knew I should. "Eat.. It was supposed to be a place to drop-off airline passengers... He didn't say a word. "None of this will look the same. I blinked and looked up at him. someone will come by this tree and see our initials. and my father stepped aside when I shuffled beside her to the bathroom. "Enough. and I breathed deeply. Then I wrapped myself in the large terry-cloth bathrobe that she had placed on the back of the door for me. But I couldn't help it. I sunk down to my pillow once more.. Clarie pushed a bowl of warm broth in my hands. Let's get you a shower. frowning at the drops of blood that marred the chipped white paint of my window sill. "Come on sweetheart. trying not to cry over his tender gesture." Jasper said quietly. maybe even after we're long gone." she encouraged. "But I thought only boyfriends and girlfriends did stuff like this. Charlie stood at my window." The mysterious voice from the hall came with a familiar face. smiling at the sentimentality." Jasper said. "We're best friends." he added quietly." Clarie said. too weak to summon my voice again. I was being emotional. Charlie stood and placed my brush on the top of my dresser.. The whispered word held no strength. Now I was moving all the way to ." I said through cracked lips. "I'll just take this to the kitchen. Clarie from the church smiled kindly at me." I sniffed. I sat wearily on the edge of my bed. My father moved to sit beside me then. I wouldn't be able to stop the sobs that were clenched and locked away in my chest."Someday." I contemplated his idea for a moment. He and I stood on the yellow painted line at the curb beside his car.. My spoon rested heavy in my bowl. but I knew if I opened my mouth. for so long. when my father unlocked my bedroom door.. So I swallowed the tasteless liquid. When I returned to my room. during school breaks when I visited my mother in Phoenix. When he moved to shut the door behind him." Clarie's gentle hands urged me to sit up in bed. Still he risked the citation as well as the ire of other drivers when he parked the car illegally and moved to stand beside me. "We've never been so far apart. Isabella. while she took the half-empty bowl from my lap." I nodded. But both stopped their ministrations. everything will be different. And they will know that we were here. Jasper and I had only been separated for small periods of time before now. I wanted to apologize for the worry I saw etched on his forehead. He would be ticketed if he didn't move his car soon. "That's even better. he knew that I wanted to spend time alone with Jazz before I left for school. "I'll be downstairs if you need anything honey. and I knew it. but I closed my eyes when I felt him tentatively pulling a brush through my wet hair. Despite Charlie's offer to drive me to the airport." Jasper insisted.

. somber guests moved forward to place single roses on the tops of the closed caskets. and listened as the Pastor of the church said inspirational words while standing at the front of two open graves. I stood there..." He put reached to put my hand over his heart. unable to move. "You'll be too far away. "As long as you remember that. indicating the space that he claimed I occupied." I stood beneath the large black umbrella that my father held over our heads.. "It doesn't matter how many miles are between us. Alice's family had graciously agreed to let their daughter be buried beside Jasper. My low heels sank into the mud on the ground and my head felt too heavy to lift. One by one.. the words wouldn't have been enough. I couldn't remember the words he spoke.. And we can send email. My cheek pressed against the soft flannel shirt he wore. he looked up then. unable to cry. Combined guests shared their grief in quiet sobs and broken breaths while we said earthly goodbyes to two people who were stolen. I gasped and the peach-colored ." Jasper shook his head with a small smile." "What am I going to do without you?" I moaned and wrapped my arms tightly around my best friend. Larry stood at her other side. The pain we shared spiraled across the space between us and met and tangled. "It's not too late for me to register for classes at the community college!" "And you'd be missing out on the adventure of a lifetime.." he promised." I said quickly.. I raised my head when the Pastor became silent. and the rain water mingled with the tears on his face while he kept his head bowed low.. "We're best friends.. I swallowed hard. "I can change my plans. every school break. much too early. The tenuous grip I had on my emotions wavered. Jasper put his finger under my chin and raised my face to look at him. "We'll talk on the phone.. My eyes moved up." he smiled.Florida to go to college.. Edward stood strong and tall.. text messages. So I closed my ears to them. I felt my body begin to shake with the exerted force of my efforts to hold on and not break down. Izzy. and I looked upon Jasper's family. forever. holding his Mother's arm. but I was sure they must have been appropriate. You're in here." I argued. from the lives of those gathered nearby.. "I'd never forgive myself for letting you pass up this opportunity. I stood there.." "It won't be the same. No distance is too far. And as if he felt my gaze. Edward's hair was wet. and I closed my heart." "We'll see each other. Tortured green eyes met mine. holding an umbrella over her head. all the time. I also knew that no matter how long he had known Jasper. sensing the weight of his grief from where I stood. and his hand brushed through the back of my hair. I'll never be too far away. Both men obviously lent her strength while shouldering their own pain. Water drops chased each other in a line across the edge of the nylon material before they combined and fell tumbling to the ground by our feet.... gripping my father's hand.

" I whispered.. and large. Dad.. ran unhindered down my cheeks. You can stay.. Besides my father.. "I didn't want her to worry. He had disheveled blonde hair. "Let's go. The swish-swish-swish of the windshield wipers chased away the rain outside while the tears.. The weight of that realization slammed into me hard. "Thank you.. "I live next door. patches on the knees of his pants.. and I dropped my face into my hands. uh. ... but that was no kind of life for a little girl." I said miserably. Especially now." Charlie said after clearing his throat. She got married. "I know you are probably in a hurry to leave... You always have a place with me. My mother told me to bring these cookies over." "Thanks. dark-framed glasses perched on his freckly nose. "What are the cookies for?" I asked. And she loved me. I looked at the little boy who stood at the bottom of my steps with a basket in his hands. I would leave as soon as I was able to get a return flight scheduled. that's me." "I'll reschedule. The blades of the windshield wipers worked noisily to slap away the rain while my father drove us home in his truck." My father's hushed whisper caused me to break away from Edward's agonized stare.rose I held in my numb fingers fell to the ground below me. I guess that's you. "Why are you crying?" A boisterous voice called out to me. Everything was purple. But I missed my mother." My throat tightened harshly. I stared stonily out the window. and I bit my lip. as long as you'd like." "Listen. He was right though. and I raised my head. And she was traveling. You. She said the Chief's kid was moving in. crying into my upturned palms. "Who are you?" I asked. sniffing. But I want you to know that. My father had carried all of my things upstairs to my newly decorated bedroom. there was nothing for me here. Isabella. you don't have to rush off. "I'm Jasper. I turned and leaned heavily into his side as I let him lead me away." he grinned.or so she had said. A rivulet of muddy water swirled around the delicate petals and stained their edges. finally." "Yeah. Wiping my eyes." Charlie said. He thought it would be perfect for a five-year old girl. "I called your mother.. Purple. missed your flight. I frowned and scooted my body to the side when he bounded up the steps and sat beside me. I sat on my front porch steps.

" the boy shrugged."For you." he replied. "How old are you?" he asked quickly. I was. I felt much better already. I watched as he skipped back down to the yard. "You haven't tried my mom's cookies. "So you don't like cookies?" he asked. "I'm five. able to get out of bed and at least pretend to function somewhat normally. "Isabella. 23." he grinned. Then he nodded and stood." he grinned. With a happy wave. Cookies make people feel better when they're sad. His bright voice and light attitude seemed to be slowly thinning the clouds above my head. I ate. he lifted the edge of the cloth that covered his basket. "See ya later. I nibbled the edge. much to the relief of my father. He was right." I argued and shook my pigtails from side to side." I yelled over. I showered." I answered. He looked at me for a second." he smiled back up. Me too. I guess." I shrugged. and sighed as the still-warm chocolate melted against my lips. as if sizing me up. "As a friend. he slipped inside his house. With dirty fingers. teasing me with the scent of the chocolate chip cookies beneath. I sat on my porch. I rescheduled my .. "What do you like then? Comics? Video games? Do you like adventures?" "I guess. Healing The next two days went by in slow-motion. "Yeah." he argued back. "You should try one. "Great. "I'll do. leaving the basket sitting beside me on the porch. as what?" I called down.. I looked at him and didn't move to accept his offering." "Nothing could make me feel better. and quietly took a cookie from the basket he left. I guess you'll do. Isabella. "What's your name?" he yelled as he reached his front porch." He scratched a hand through his untidy hair and turned to walk away. "Even though you're a girl.

" I said.. in a basket by their front door. Down at First Beach. I needed to deal with my own grief first. A light knock on my door brought me out of my fantasy. the Whitlock's are getting everyone together. Dad. people paid their respects to the family next door. The fading light through my window made their muted green surfaces more noticeable against the white paint." He spoke quietly as though he were afraid that his words might break me. "They're right.flight home. "He would like that. The closest I had come was baking chocolate chip cookies. you know." It helped to imagine Jasper with me.. And yes. Cars came and left. I walked silently in a void of confusion. and Charlie walked over to sit in the chair near the window. "Isabella? Can I have a word?" "Sure. I sat up. I was selfish." I said tiredly.. I laid beside him. Yes. The truth was." he whispered. Together. Constants no longer matched their definition. and I turned my head to the side when my father entered my bedroom.. "Can I go with you?" . I stood and walked back upstairs to my room. He slid aside with a grin. As horrible as it was.. I sat on my knees.. whispered away like vapor through my fingers.. "Move over. I hated myself for not being able to go over and offer my comfort. and rested my head on his shoulder.. we looked at the glow-in-the-dark stars on my ceiling. and it seemed that things as automatic as breathing took real effort.. liked family and friends to get together one last time. And while I forced small smiles to comfort my father. looking over the back of Charlie's recliner out my front window. I nodded and bit my lip. a reality in which my best friend was gone. My entire body was weighted down... With a sigh.. "I wish you were still here. I left them covered. and tucked his hands under his head. They think that Jasper would have. I struggled to come to terms with the new reality that I had to face. Beliefs I once held as true. I just didn't have it in me. "You know.." "I know that you haven't felt up to being around people in a few days." Charlie began. "Make a wish. I was weak.." I said. I had a feeling that Joy would understand the message. I hadn't gone to them. each lift of my lips was a lie. as I looked at the tall man lying across my bed. A memorial of sorts.

I knew the ocean wind would be chilly. pieces of conversation and quiet laughter were carried to us on the ocean breeze. "No. "No tears tonight." she shook her head when I opened my mouth and she heard me begin to stammer. crying.." he would have said. she stood. When her eyes met mine. the way he would have liked us to. My comfortable jeans and high-top sneakers finished my ensemble. there was an unmistakable light of determination behind her blue eyes.. "You ready?" he asked. excused herself. Yet. It was fitting that everyone would gather there for him. I had imagined Jasper by my side enough in the past few days to hear his voice clearly in my head." I nodded. I pulled a blue cable-knit sweater over my t-shirt. "I was really hoping you would." I promised.. "You knew Jasper better than anyone. and appeared tired and worn. I had no idea what I would say to her. Evening was fast approaching. I brushed my hair quickly. I was glad to see that he had dressed informally as well. pulling the sleeves down over my palms. And I knew it was the truth. He stepped forward with a grin too much like Jasper's. Charlie was dressed in a flannel shirt and his favorite fleece-lined vest. Faced with the show of her strength." . His wife raised her head from a conversation she was having. and drew me to his chest in a warm embrace. I curled my fingers into the cuffs of my sweater. My heart beat painfully when I looked at the woman who had actually lost more than I did. "Isabella!" Larry was the first to see us approach. "Can you be ready within the hour?" "Sure. I took a deep breath and set my shoulders. and silently looked at my face for a moment before nodding in affirmation. and folded my arms across my chest while we walked. He always loved going to the beach. Charlie matched my pace. My father parked along the side of the road. Enough was enough. and he exhaled loudly before offering me a sad smile. "Get out of this bed." "Where else would I be?" I asked lightly. offering silent support.. Larry held my shoulders while he stepped away. "I'm glad you came. and walked over." She took a deep breath and smiled at me. before I kick your butt. and tucked the side behind my ear before going down the stairs to meet my father. "Joy?" he called. She had aged in a few days. As we walked down the shadowed beach. My father gave me an encouraging smile before he moved to exit the room.A clear wave of relief washed over my father. He wouldn't have wanted us sitting around tonight. We're going to honor him. "Yes." he admitted. behind an already long line of cars.

first hand. Yet. like that young girl. Family members I knew from holidays and vacations. friends from high school I recognized and new people I'd yet to meet. I looked around at everyone that had joined.." I whispered to him. while he watched the fire. wrapping my arms around his shoulders. and his breath caught a little. Instead." my father said gruffly against my shoulder. that I couldn't see it. .. Isabella. tipping his can in my direction in a silent toast. And when he had composed himself again. all while battling the images of the accident that likely would haunt him. Charlie's warm arms encircled me then. I smiled and popped the top. He had known Jasper. "I love you. I stood and sat across his legs. at best." I told him. And I had been so blinded by my own pain. He saw.. drinking with him in acknowledgment of his gift.. The large fire on the beach provided warmth and plenty of light. I had been dreading a night of awkward 'I'm sorrys' and polite condolences. His head turned toward me when he heard the endearment I hadn't used since I was a child. People milled around the beach. a warm hand passed me a cold beer. I heard the tremor in her voice. "Thanks for the cookies. I was suddenly struck with an uncomfortable truth. My father dutifully sat beside me. She squeezed my hip with her hand.I nodded and moved to put my arm around her small shoulders. I smiled honestly when I pulled away from him. all of his young life. and understood the real effort she was putting forth. and placed fold-up chairs in the circumference around the fire. I stood and went back to my chair. "Thank you. I hadn't seen him since we had arrived. In so many ways. "So. He shouldered my pain." she whispered near my cheek before she kissed me. we walked side by side to the bon fire.. I frowned down at my own can. where's Edward?" Charlie asked. the damage that semi had done. The closed caskets at the funeral home were a pretty good indication that Charlie had been privy to nightmarish images that I didn't even want to imagine. masking his own emotions to provide strength for others. And then. I looked up to see Mike Newton. It was exhausting. But as I took in the far-off look in his eyes. I cringed when I considered it." I said quietly. as he took another drink of his beer. Charlie had been among the first on the scene of the accident. and offered whatever comfort he could to his friends. He squeezed me tightly to his chest. For everything. he sat stoically sipping his beer and staring into the fire. I could barely fathom how much he had been hurt. Joy had been like a mother to me. "I love you. "I love you Daddy. and with our arms thrown around each other. to talk and smile and sit among the living after I had spent the last few days curled up with the dead. He quickly brushed his hand under his eyes to clear away the tell-tale moisture there. He probably knew that my grip on my emotions was sketchy. He had known Joy and Larry before Jasper was even born. No one looked at me with the pity I feared to see. and it was the first time I'd been able to do that in days..

" Joy said. even before I saw him. Our eyes met. laughing and giggling just as hard as he could. offering their own examples of how knowing Jasper had made their lives a little bit better." Voices called out around the blaze. and he ran after the waves.. "Jasper used to help me study calculus. so much. "I remember the first time we brought Jasper here. So.. "He was almost two. "We stripped him down to his diaper. he turned and ran back. until he was close enough for . From that point on. everyone took turns sharing fond memories. When I glanced up again." "So he took it off and ran around for the rest of the day.." "I was Alice's roommate." a voice said from somewhere behind me. and I looked up to see his familiar form sunk to one knee in the sand while he quietly spoke with his father. having over-heard Charlie's question." Joy laughed at the conclusion of her story..." "He always came by to shovel my driveway after my husband passed away." Larry offered." Larry shook his head. but rang through the night air and successfully halted the conversations of those near the fire. We all turned our attention to Jasper's mother as she smiled and twisted her hands between her knees... naked." a husky voice spoke out. to the beach. My eyes turned toward the petite red-head sitting beside the fire. "His diaper was so full of sand and salt water that it must have weighed five pounds! He couldn't even run. "Jasper played piano at my sister's wedding. trying not to get wet when the waves chased him back!" "He kept falling in the water anyway. His shock of messy hair borrowed colors from the fire." a quiet voice added to the tribute. "Jasper introduced me to one of the nicest girls I've ever known. There was a distinct change in the air around me. and everyone joined in laughter."He had to go back to the house for something. I took a deep breath and returned the gesture. And he wanted to chase the waves so badly. and I bit my lip and looked away. it was so heavy. Her voice was soft. We all watched the shadowy form approach from further up the beach. I knew when Edward joined the group. I saw that he had turned to look in my direction.. He smiled as he recalled the memory she spoke of. Then." Larry pulled her jacket up to drape over her shoulders and then dropped his arm supportively around her waist. "Wasn't the last time Whitlock ran around naked on this beach!" A loud voice called out from beyond the immediate light of the fire. and Edward stared a moment before pulling the side of his mouth up in a slow and small smile.. "She loved him so much..

Tyler returned and stood to join Mike and Eric where they sat." Edward's fingers roughly began finding the chords to the old Green Day song that Jasper had loved so much when we were young. Jasper played his guitar. can't. I heard his voice crack. "What about you.. and looked over.. I swallowed hard. I knew that it was difficult for him to share this . I remembered the warm tones he sang with when he was barely sixteen years old.. a fork stuck in the road.. Though made deeper and fuller with age... And Jasper taught himself to play this song. tell us one of your stories.." a velvet voice answered for me. "I might have one. I'm not very good. He cleared his throat and laughed shakily.. Edward had returned and sat on the sand. I pulled my head up quickly.. "Another turning point. "I have one for you. "I. And I listened. I got here as soon as I could. there's too much." I muttered. Edward was rescuing me again. He plucked at the strings on the guitar while we all quietly watched. looking over his shoulder at me." Edward said. as Edward walked over to speak quietly with Tyler. He cradled Jasper's old guitar across his legs. "Pick a memory. "I'm sorry." someone suggested. "But he and Bella and I came down here one day when we were kids. Edward strummed the guitar and sang the simple lyrics to us all. with his hands pushed into his pockets. "Jasper was the musical one in our family. I put my head down. Anxiety flooded through me. together. a few feet to my left. He tried to teach me later. But I was wholly unprepared to try to explain what he had meant to me. But after the first chorus.. Soon.the light to reflect on his shiny raven hair. I didn't see Edward." Edward said softly.. and Edward sang along." Edward's voice was hushed as he began singing the words to the familiar tune. My heart lurched.. I remembered the day Edward was sharing with everyone. Bella. I didn't want to be put on the spot.. I turned wide eyes in his direction.. "You two spent a lot of time on this beach. feeling like the luckiest girl on earth for being allowed to sit next to them. The two men turned and walked a short distance away. I watched then." My cheeks flamed and I dug my fingers sharply into my jeans. Isabella?" Eric called over." I nodded lightly to accept his apology and softly smiled to show my appreciation. to listen to other people list the small ways that Jasper had enriched their lives. Tyler strode up in a black leather jacket. He smiled at me over the fire. It was one thing.

and he looked at me with surprise when he heard me lending him strength with my tuneless voice." I said quietly. everyone around the fire joined us. and I knew it. I nodded and shivered when he pulled his arms away. much like music.. and that he was essentially doing it for me. "I hope you had the time of your life.. Then slowly. His fingers held tight to the sweater at my wrists. beautifully.. He rested his cheek against the side of my head. I felt him move behind me. He didn't say a word. We just took silent comfort from each other." The moment was so sentimental.. It was a musical tribute for the man who. And then his arms wrapped around mine. So I let myself sink into the comfortable leather seat of Edward's car. my fatigue. But he reached down and took my hand in his. "He'll know. He turned onto the main road and his long fingers flipped the switch on the console to force heat from the vents. simply hummed along. In a minute he was beside me." Edward whispered. which of us was holding the other up." I offered with barely-louder than a whispered voice. "I'm tired." "I'll take you. and still frames in your mind. I wasn't sure then. I shivered and wrapped my arms around my chest. But suddenly. and he pulled me back against him. I knew he was there. The surf was loud in my ears and drowned out the noises from the crowd further up the beach. that I felt I might be crushed beneath the weight of it. I was a lousy singer. We didn't speak. Those who knew the words sang them. "I want to go home. had woven himself into each of our souls and brought beauty to our world. so close that his chest touched my back.. I'm not sure how long we stood there like that. I didn't have the strength left in my legs to stand any longer. imperfectly and improvised. I could feel that Edward had joined me on this darkened strip of beach. So I took a deep breath and started the second verse for him. Edward's head came up. My bones became heavy and my body sagged.moment.. I had begun to shiver strongly. The crashing waves hid his footfall from me. A combination of the cold. "Thank you. "I should let my Dad know that I'm leaving." Edward argued. . and breathed heavily into my hair. He smiled and joined back in. while staring out at the water. I held my eyes closed and relished the feeling of his chest rising and falling behind me." I said. like before..." I finally said. and the reality of the situation shook my body in near tremors.. But I locked my knees until they shook and let him lean into me. I patted my father's hand so he wouldn't worry. I sunk into his warmth and tipped by head back when I felt him lower his face.. and I stood to silently make my way toward the water. "So take the photographs. I held tight as he avoided the fire and lead us up a darkened path to his car. Those who didn't.

One at a time.. he removed my tennis shoes. was standing in front of me in the barest of clothing.. shaking. down my arms. He repeated the process with my t-shirt. My hands were pressed tightly between my clenched thighs as I tried to get warm.. Edward pulled the soft blue material up and over my head. He placed the items on the sink and then took my shoulders in his hands tenderly. He slowly ran his fingers across my shoulders. I closed my eyes when he lowered himself to the floor. "I needed time. He was hurting too. especially since I was now standing in front of Edward in no more than my underwear. and Edward frowned at me for a minute." I shook my head and curled in on myself. My stomach pulled in tightly when I felt his fingers on the button on my pants. With my eyes trained on his. The car ride home seemed to only take a minute. And I hadn't been there to help him. until he returned. My hands were shaking too badly to be effective. My breath hiccupped painfully between my trembling lips and my muscles were tight and aching from my hunched position. but I still felt cold. Without argument. I let him shift my body back toward him and turn me. I held on to the cold white basin. His touch was meant to soothe and reassure. Edward led me upstairs.." he whispered across my midsection. my trembling hands reached forward and rested at his waist. with concern on his face. It was replaced with understanding as soon as my fingers began pulling at the bottom of the sweatshirt he wore. I relaxed and melted in front of him. I gripped the edge of the sink to help me stand. we reached and slid our underwear down our legs. Edward had my robe and a couple large fluffy towels in his arms. "Shhh. I opened my eyes and saw the questioning look on Edward's face. too. c-c-couldn't. but did not remove his deep green gaze from my stare. and let him pull my jeans from my body. and across my collar bones. So Edward helped me. I was sorry for a lot of things.. Edward took a deep breath through his nose." Maybe I was going in to shock. "I. I raised my arms."I'm s-s-sorry." I apologized through my chattering teeth. But mostly because I hadn't gone to him after I found out about Jasper. I relaxed on instinct. . And then his hands were at the waist of my sweater. My tremors had lessened. And then Edward took my house key from beneath the eave on the porch and opened the door for me. Together. In the next second. I reached one hand behind me and unclasped my bra." he said. "I'll be right back." Edward insisted.. His warm hands found my shoulders as he stood again. "We need to get you warmed up. we undressed him until he too. I shifted my shoulders forward and let the lacy material slide down my arms. I didn't even stop to question him when he hurried to open the bathroom door and twisted the knobs on the shower to turn on hot water. He looked at me then. I struggled to follow. Together.

"Edward." I sighed his name against his soft lips. I gripped the towel around his waist with tight fists. Edward straightened in my grasp. and moved out of the enclosed space to wrap one of the towels around my body. And then he stepped forward to stand directly in front of me.. My shivers had all but subsided entirely. I pressed myself tightly against Edward with my cheek against his heart. and followed me to my room with a towel slung low around his hips." "I don't want to be alone. No sooner had I finished. His tongue pressed warm and teasingly against my own. and shared the water with him. Our breathing became heavy. Our mouths met and opened for each other. He searched my eyes also. But there was desperation and a hunger in the way he held me. and I inwardly chided myself.." I shook my head. Edward's shoulders fell as he exhaled in obvious relief. It felt natural to be with him this way. And I let the shower hide the tears that I knew we both allowed to escape. He groaned and his lashes dropped heavily before he pulled me fully against him. and immediately sighed when it stung and heated my skin. and tipped my head back. and I wasn't anxious to let the cold water inspire their return..I felt no trace of embarrassment when Edward turned and opened the shower door for me to enter ahead of him. It seemed a little silly to feel self-conscious after all that we had been through together. um.. and turned me under his hands to face away from him. He tilted his face up under the shower head." he breathed. "I. I turned in the center of my room and looked at him then. desire and pain. I held him tighter so he could let go. "I. urgency and exhaustion. He was careful.. His arms and chest begin to shake then too. Edward stepped into the small space and closed the door behind us... He smiled sweetly at me then. His head was bent low. swirling gold and green. I watched as he came closer to me. I felt the unmistakable cooling of the water temperature. Edward imitated my movements. I stepped under the hot water. and I felt him kiss the skin of my shoulder tenderly. to let the water cleanse his face and push his hair back.. I turned off the water quickly.. It only took a few seconds before I realized what he was doing. ... Chest to chest. I gave in to the relaxing ministrations of his fingers as he began shampooing my hair." Edward looked nervous and pulled his hand up through his wet hair. and started pulling him with me as I walked backward to my bed. I tilted my head back under the water and let the fragrant suds travel down my body to the drain near my feet. My cheeks felt warm. At the urge of his hands. Edward's hands carefully cupped my face.. our eyes were wide open. I turned when he moved forward. I released my grip from around his waist. we wrapped our arms around each other and stood under the warming spray.. In a few minutes. and concentrated on holding him together as he was holding me. And when he was finished. "I don't want to be alone either. And when our mouths finally met. his eyes burning and smoldering.

This time was different. and getting to know each other in a way we never had before. Warmth began to build in my chest and radiated outward.. Edward pulled the pain from me with every pass of his lips. My hands tangled in the back of his hair while he administered the same attention with his mouth.mesmerizing finger stroked the skin between my breasts before tracing up and over my soft curves to circle one of my nipples. Edward put his hands on my hips and moved us both quickly to a satisfying location in the center of my small bed.... And then I felt the mattress behind my legs and fell back into it.. And I understood. "Edward.. "I want to know you this way. I trailed my fingers down his sides and pressed them into the firm skin at his waist. I repeated the process he had begun.. My breath was literally stolen by the beauty of the man beside me.. he pulled his mouth from mine and looked down into my eyes. I felt my control slip and moaned with pleasure. His hands made short work of my towel. As soon as my head hit my pillow. but he moved over me. That one. My finger tips. Every part of my body that he touched. soft kisses and touches of his tongue on my chin and down my neck. And he was looking at me. I pulled him up to me then. And I let my hands slide down his skin. and sharing.. This time was about comfort.. comforting him with my touch and my tongue." I breathed. My lips parted on a sigh when his eyes followed his finger. painting over the lonely shades that consumed me with bright and beautiful reds and golds. wanting to share the healing warmth that he had created. He touched the center of my chin next. He skimmed his nose across my chest while he blazed a path of kisses to my other breast.. Tears slid from beneath my lashes and burned paths toward my ears as his touch acted as brush strokes. like he felt the same. His hand stilled. And at that exact moment things noticeably changed. I struggled to control my body and lay still when he raised one long finger and traced the edge of my lips.. Around the edges of my mouth. he followed with his lips.Edward followed when I led. Over his wide shoulders and under his arms. I kissed down the center of his chest.. He pressed his mouth hotly against the skin on the center of my chest before dragging his mouth sideways to capture my nipple between his teeth.. the back of my knees.. Edward paused. Edward's eyes flashed up to mine again then. and flung it wetly across the room. But when my nose pressed into the . and kissed his lips in appreciation that words could never express. soft. his hands explored and his lips followed. "Perfect. and drew a straight line down my throat to my chest. With a little tug and pull from his lips. please. With his weight supported on one arm beside me. But he wasn't nearly finished.. tracing the exact path he had just drawn with the tip of his tongue." he whispered against me. The last time we came together we had acted on urgency and were completely driven by lust.." he explained. My fingers in his hair brought him with me.... His own covering fell away after a few insistent tugs of my frantic fingers.

One more grind of his hips caused me to gasp and arch against him. open mouthed kisses along my jaw line. I sat up with my sheet tucked around my chest. He turned his cheek to rest on my thundering chest. our bodies began to move with more urgency. hoping that he could feel how much he meant to me. Deeply and powerfully he connected us beyond our physical position. how important this moment was. and I pulled my fingers through his damp hair. coming together faster. and our raspy breaths heated the air between us. I welcomed his full weight as we struggled to catch our breath. our eyes met and held each other's when he shifted his hips and brought our bodies together. Edward reached to grab my hands. A million unspoken words were shared between us then. He kissed me deeply and passionately. Once. Twisting. but did not look away.twice before he tensed and came undone. And with no more preamble. and my tongue teased at the ridge of his bellybutton. and twisted our fingers together.. Edward held me tight while he threw himself into me.taut skin of his stomach. Our hearts beat heavily between us. I felt the pressure building inside me as we moved together. pushing and pulling. I felt my muscles loosen and my bones settle in to proper alignment with a series of small pops in my knuckles and joints. Slowly and fluidly he began to move against me. Faith I woke the next morning and stretched my arms lazily up from under the covers and over my head.. When I lifted my hips against him and pressed my feet into the back of his legs. We didn't speak. And like when we first kissed. Edward's fingers pressed into my cheeks and brought my face down to look at him then. 24.. We shared each other's pleasure. We shared each other's pain. Palm to palm.. rhythmically searching for the soulconnecting release we both needed. My muscles contracted strongly and he released my hands to wrap his fingers around my waist. he opened his mouth. I fell asleep still holding him tightly. We held each other. I bit my lip. And sometime after. I dug my fingers into his back and closed my eyes.. he placed our hands beside my head and thrust his hips against mine. Edward pulled me almost forcefully back up to his mouth. I tightened my fingers in his grip and matched his movements with my own. Shaking slightly. he rolled above me and settled his body between my thighs.. Of their own volition. Edward breathed heavily into my mouth and pulled my bottom lip with his teeth. I watched his bottom lip tremble before he finally tore his eyes from mine and lowered his head to press small. I threw my head back in pleasure as the weight of his chest pressed me into my mattress and he attacked my throat with his mouth. Edward slumped on top of me. My .

and brought the rest of the pancakes to the table while he sat beside me. I got dressed and combed my hair." Charlie finally spoke from behind his paper. "Last night turned out to be a really nice evening. A few minutes later. mostly stunned. I drank my milk. "Yes. I took the breakfast with a confused frown and turned to sit at the table. with a newspaper held in his hands." my father finished.naked skin and the two towels on my bedroom floor were proof that my time with Edward last night had not been some random and beautiful dream. I hurried down the stairs to greet my father and have breakfast. and ignored my relative awkwardness. "Good morning Dad. I certainly didn't expect to see Edward making breakfast." I nodded." Edward said. I quickly jumped from the bed and picked up the discarded towels on my way to the bathroom. Both men looked up at me at the same time. Edward stood in front of the stove. My cheeks were pink as I cut a small piece from my own plate and brought it to my mouth. My father sat at the table. Edward." I stammered. I did not expect to see both men standing in my kitchen. licking the sticky sweet syrup from his lips before I turned my eyes away. flipping pancakes while wearing the same clothing he had worn the night before. Edward took the bottle from my fingers and repeated the process. With a smile. "Nice of Edward to give you a ride home. Without a word. he took two pancakes from the top and placed them on a new plate that he handed to me. evidence that he had already eaten. After a fast shower. Bella. Charlie's plate was pushed aside." Edward tipped his head toward a stack of pancakes on a plate by the stove. He seemed perfectly comfortable with his domestic duty." my father greeted me." Edward offered quietly." "I'm sure he'd like that. I picked it up and moved to put it in the sink. The faint smell of breakfast food cooking alerted me that Charlie was home and awake. "Isabella.. . He took a sip from a mug of coffee while he read.. Edward moved the pan from the burner he used. turned the dial on the stove. I watched him take a few more bites. "I was just telling Edward that I might see if his Dad wanted to go down to the river for a few hours this morning. His eyes darted right back to his paper. feeling thankful when it pushed the offending piece of pancake on its way. I choked and Edward hurried to pour me a glass of milk from the pitcher on the table. I poured syrup over the lightly-browned circles on my plate. "These are ready. My feet skidded to a stop beneath me when I turned the corner to enter the kitchen. "Good morning. He cut into the warm food and brought a large sticky bite to his lips while I still sat. if you're hungry. I shot Edward a questioning glance as soon as my father was behind me.

Even last night. "I'll probably head on out pretty early." "Okay. had been wrapped in protective silence.. signaling Edward's exit." A severe frown pulled his lips below his moustache. Then you and my father don't have to hurry home." Edward said quickly.. if you don't mind. as perfect as it was. My shoulders dropped and I sighed unhappily. And promise you'll come back and see me. "Sorry. "I can drive Bella to the airport. "You take care of yourself. and Edward dropped his fork noisily against the side of his plate. He stood and made motion to remove my plate along with his. "Dad. We don't really have to discuss this. "I have a few things I need to take care of. It hadn't escaped my attention that Edward had not looked at me since my father mentioned my return trip to Florida. "You don't mind. "That is. just as soon as you can. "I guess we should leave around two?" "Hmm.. I flinched as the screen door hit its frame loudly." I mumbled.." I breathed." "You're a grown-up. to take you out to the airport?" Charlie lowered his paper to look at me." "I can take her. But. I nodded to indicate that I was finished eating.." I answered my father." "Thanks." Charlie smiled."What time do I need to get back.. "You know how I feel." Edward said's not like we won't get to see each other again. But I'll be ready by two. It's never easy seeing you go. "I should go. Isabella. "And I love Edward like he's my own son. I turned my head to look at him..." "That sounds real nice." my father commented softly." . my flight leaves at three forty-five. Maybe he was shocked by news of my immediate departure. My own breakfast sat before me. "Um. And it wasn't like we had taken the time to sit down and talk about anything in the last several days. It doesn't give me much time.. picking up the errant utensil. Do you." Charlie changed the subject." he mumbled." Edward looked over at my father and pushed his plate away.. I stared at it miserably. But he already knew that I had originally planned to leave days earlier.. Edward stared down at his food with a frown pulling at his lips. I better get going then. and he took both of our plates to scrape the uneaten food in the garbage before placing the dishes in the sink. virtually untouched. I. Isabella?" "No." I whispered. Keep yourself safe.

You are always welcome here." I admitted. "You keep thinking of what you want to do when school is done. I wasn't here for you. I ran water into the sink and made a quick chore of cleaning the dishes. Before I knew it. Thanks. "Isabella? Edward isn't here.." "I wish I had your strength. I watched out the window as he strolled across the lawn to the house next door. there is no reason for you to feel badly. eating a popsicle." I said quietly. but then stopped and let my eyes travel around the room. with a warm smile on her face. "Isabella." . Joy came to the door immediately. I saw that Joy had lowered herself into a kitchen chair." "But I do.. my feet had carried me to the Whitlock's back porch." Joy opened the door and stood aside for me to enter. honey." "I will. "Do you have a minute?" "Of course." "I came to see you. He pulled himself away. Everyone grieves in their own way." I hurried.. When I opened my eyes. and shut the door behind him. "You know that this place is your home. I saw Jasper at the kitchen table. I closed my eyes and sucked in a harsh breath. I took the steps that carried me to the center of the kitchen. He sat on the edge of the counter and twirled the long ivory phone cord in his fingers while he talked to a friend." I nodded. "I knew that you were hurting too." Charlie said with a wink while he pulled his fishing hat down on his head by the door. "I don't understand where it comes from. now.. And then I wiped my hands on a dishtowel and frowned toward the white house beyond my window. I knocked on the faded door frame. brushing off the urge we both had to hold on too tightly. "I feel terrible for not coming to see you sooner. I'm so very sorry." Charlie turned with a sad smile." Joy smiled. After a few minutes. Larry emerged with him and they both jumped into my father's truck and pulled away. while his mother washed his face. I think he went down to the beach for a run. Dad. I pulled out the chair opposite her." "You're here for me. and sat too. But. I shut down. "You've always been so wonderful to me."I promise. for too long. I stood quickly and gave my father a hard hug." I admitted with a rush. He stood near the sink. She reached forward and put her hands on top of mine.

. I think the best thing any of us can do to honor his memory." I whispered. I walked deeper into the yard toward the tree house..Joy leaned back and brushed a piece of hair away from her forehead with the flat of her hand. as I wrapped my heart around her words." The scent of warm apples. I can't imagine a better angel to have on my side. Jazz munched on Cheetos and wiped the orange dust from his fingers onto his sleeping bag.. I knew that it was harder for her than she wanted to admit.. Jasper and I never did get to have one-last sleep over as we had planned. later. and laugh. Smith brought over a whole bag of apples.. "It comes from faith. I'll need your help cooking for all of these men!" With a kiss and a hug. But I remembered another time we had slept together under this roof. Love." Joy added.. Hand over hand. Live as he would have. is to truly live. Mr.. was a wonderful. I turned to go. "We all will. I have faith that I'll see him again someday. A spark of hope flared inside me again. I climbed up into the small wooden room suspended in the tree. "I." I stared at her blankly and she continued.. She blinked in surprise at the sudden turn in conversation. Joy sighed and smiled widely. I yawned loudly and shifted my back against the hard floor of the tree house. and loving man.. I laid back against the hard. "You better. step by step. "Faith.. And he wouldn't want us to do that either." Joy's voice cracked.. I was just getting ready to peel apples and bake a pie.. "Why don't we peel enough to bake two? I can take one over for your father. "Thank you." "Want some help?" I asked. I was tired. "What were you doing before I came over?" I asked quickly. and cinnamon floated heavy in the air through the Whitlock's open kitchen window when I finally said my goodbye to Joy at the back door. With a sigh." My breath caught in my throat at the conviction stamped on her face and laced through her voice. "I'll be home for Thanksgiving. And then she smiled tiredly. and wondered who might have removed the simple sleepover items." I promised. I wrinkled my forehead. "My son. But on a last minute whim. It had . strong.. The objects that I had carried up on the evening of Edward's party were gone and the tree house was empty. But Jasper didn't waste his time on this planet being sad. baked sugar. But it would take time. rough wood floor. "I'll miss him every day. And between now and then." Joy said.

and the silliness of all of the wedding plans. and you can be my Best Man." "The Best Man can only be on the men's side.. Then we laid back and nestled into our sleeping bags. "I was just thinking.. "We can break the rules if we want. "Pinky-swear?" Jasper stuck his hand out.. you can stay up as late as you want and you can go to work and stuff instead of going to school. and I quickly wrapped my pinky around his. The sound of the crickets outside acted as a lullaby. "Probably.. you might have to talk with Edward about that. "If you want me to be your Best Man at your wedding. I just wanted to go to sleep.. The women stand on the women's side. "Do you think you'll ever get married?" I asked Jasper.." Jasper grinned. "Most people do when they get old. I was still thinking of the movie we had watched." I grinned. we would break the rules together. I scrunched up my face and stuck my tongue out.taken longer than usual for us to get settled in for the night.. too. "After you get married. "You can wear a tuxedo. We had stayed up late on the Whitlock's floor. I say that you could be my Best Man!" "Well then." Jasper teased. That's the rule." I admitted... watching a comedy on the television with Jasper's parents before making our way outdoors for our sleep-over." "So?" I asked. "You can be in my wedding." "Okay." I told him. "Izzy?" Jasper whispered.. what if he wants me to be on the men's side?" ." Jasper scoffed at my lack of ceremonial knowledge. "Hmmm?" I mumbled. I barely heard him. I mean. I was so close." "About what?" I asked. you can be my Best Man.." "You just want a big white dress." "It looks like fun. and I comfortably relaxed toward sleep.. We shook our hands up and down and solemnly vowed that someday. "The men stand on the men's side. "Since we're gonna break the rules anyway." Jasper shrugged and threw the bag of snack-food into the corner away from him.

I prepared Charlie an easy dinner to eat when he returned from fishing.. to get away.. I slung my carry-on strap over my shoulder and followed him. "I promise..everyone here. His black sunglasses hid his eyes from me. I sat up and wrapped my arms around my bent knees. I was already drifting to dream." I replied. "Ready as I'll ever be." I whispered to the empty room. I jumped back when I opened the door and was surprised by Edward standing with one upraised hand. But." I offered.. "Ready to go?" he asked. I would be happy to finish the summer in Forks. I threw my bag into the back seat while Edward stowed my suitcase in his trunk.. He stood wearing a white v-neck t-shirt and a pair of jeans. ready to knock. but the crooked grin on his mouth caused me to smile in return. I nodded and looked at the bright sunshine that filtered through the trees we drove past. I grinned at the memory that had just come to me and stared at the painted letters on the back of the tree house door.. I love Washington. Live for the Next Adventure.." I said. Jazz. "It was nice of you to offer to bring me to the airport." I grinned and made my way out of the tree house.. And then it was time to go.. To talk. "It will be good for you. "I mean. and wrapped it before placing it in the refrigerator. Edward nodded and bent to pick up my large suitcase. Rocking back and forth on my bottom." Edward finally said.. I'm kind of looking forward to some time away. "Nice day for flying.. And then we both got into the car and began the drive to the airport. breaking the silence between us with a polite conversation-starter." Edward agreed softly. and so I bustled around upstairs tidying my room and making sure that my bathroom essentials were stored away in my suitcase. And I love. "Okay. "Are you looking forward to being back in Florida?" "Not really. I only had about an hour to get ready to leave. My clothing was already packed.I didn't even have time to contemplate what he meant." . if I hadn't promised Renee that I would be back. A quick note written and left on the table gave him microwave instructions for his meal. it would be a good chance for us to have a little more time alone. "I thought. closing the door softly behind me. To collect my bearings and figure out how to feel like myself again." Edward tapped his fingers on the top of the steering wheel and frowned while he nodded and stared straight ahead. I will.... as well as a promise to talk soon.

I bit my lip and watched him. "I'll miss you. And I refused to let the words remain unsaid now. "Well. If I had to say goodbye to Edward. waiting for him to say something to indicate what was on his mind. "Don't. he remained oddly quiet. I could take the feeling of this moment away with me. Confused at his lack of voice. and cherish it always. he seemed hesitant while he pulled his sunglasses away from his face and concentrated on bending the arms over each other before dropping them to rest between us. He navigated through the traffic near the airfield while remaining pensive and silent. Instead." Edward frowned and stared down at the sidewalk. and Edward pressed his forehead to mine." . And I knew he cared for me too.. Edward moved quickly then. leaving so many things trapped inside my heart that I wanted to say. Ironically. I kicked my toe against the yellow paint on the sidewalk and stuck my thumb underneath the strap on my shoulder. But before my fingers dropped away. Edward couldn't have known that. It seemed that he wasn't going to say anything. I knew we were running out of time. The parting words were the same that I would have shared with Jasper.. if given the chance to speak with him just one last time.. this is it." I said with false brightness.. I opened my car door and got out. if you are around. "I've got to go. I love you. "Don't leave me. A loud car horn broke us apart. breathing hard. The expression on his face was torn and conflicted." I whispered.. I was stopped by a strong grip that held me in place." I whispered near his ear before I turned. His refusal to speak was making this harder for me than I wanted. I closed my eyes and considered promises made. I moaned quietly against him and squeezed my eyes to keep the tears at bay. "I guess I'll see you at Thanksgiving. it was the same location that Jasper had left the car to idle when I traveled away to school for the first time. I sighed when he pulled up to the faded yellow curb in front of the passenger drop-off area." Edward finally spoke in a hushed voice. getting my suitcase from the trunk of the car while I got my bag from the back seat. and pushed his free hand into the back of my hair before tipping my face up and pressing his lips to mine. I hated the thought of turning away from him. I glanced over at him. But he tugged me to him then. Then I moved forward and stood on tiptoes to press my lips to Edward's cheek while my hand rested on his arm. And while other cars pulled up at the curb behind him. But though he claimed he wanted time to speak with me. I let Edward know that I loved him. My hand trailed down his arm as I moved to leave. I wanted it to be this way. when the opportunity presented itself for me to finally tell Edward about the place reserved for only him in my heart.. I turned when I felt Edward wrap his hand around my wrist.

I bit my lip and tried to get him to meet my eyes. "Give us a minute!" Edward growled back." A sob caught in my throat and my carry-on landed loudly on the ground by my feet when I ran the few steps necessary to bridge the gap between us.." Edward said strongly. "This isn't the county fair.. "Keep you here for me. "What do you need to tell me?" "HEY! No parking!" Someone shouted. that I'm doing it differently now. spinning us both and kissing me soundly. If you are looking for a way to hang on to your brother.. "I need to tell you. and lifted me against his chest.." Edward bit out.." Edward repeated." I warned. And.. A car horn made me flinch and Edward cursed under his breath.. and I turned to face him. "When one of us gets separated from the group. hearing the hope in my voice. "I don't care about the car. I grinned. But.. Don't make me say goodbye to you both. "I'll be home for the holidays.." Edward dropped his head and his shoulders hunched forward.My heart clenched harshly when I heard his pained plea. Edward threw his arms around my waist. "Edward?" I encouraged him... "You need to move your car. I can't. My feet stopped beneath me." he interrupted with a sudden exhale. "We don't have to say goodbye. I've just learned recently." "I can't say goodbye to you both. I always have. Pain lashed through me at the memory. I reached and pushed my fingers through the back of his hair. can't keep him here for you. Don't. the other two stick together. "You aren't obligated. "I love you Bella. "Keep you here for me.I... Bella. "Come with me. ready to leave. I'm sorry." he smiled." Edward whispered. "I'm sorry." I choked out. silly and breathless and overflowing with the re-found faith that had somehow been lost along the way.." "What?" I asked.. I can't... He ignored the building traffic behind him and moved closer to where I stood. No matter what. I understood his pain and anxiety then.. With a sigh... Edward?" He looked up and I saw the uncertainty in his eyes. But my feet hesitated while he pulled me back toward the curb. Tears ran unchecked down my cheeks. back to the car. "Please." I told him." I dropped my hand heavily and moved toward the airport doors. . we can stay in touch.. I just can't.. and his thumbs brushed them away when he finally placed me back on my feet.

and touched his cheek." Edward shrugged."I can't. She postponed her vacation." I shook my head then. but I wasn't sure. I wasn't sure you loved me Bella. "I love you." "But.. I would follow you anywhere. Thankfully. "I promised Renee." I said simply. "I didn't. Edward smiled widely and pressed his lips to mine for another quick kiss. until I convinced you that we should be together. waiting for me. surprised.. My feet followed this time. as he pulled into a parking garage across the street designated for travelers." Edward insisted. Edward chuckled and pulled my hand. Edward checked behind us.. I just knew I would follow you if I had to. I already packed. my forgotten luggage sat a few feet away.. Edward chuckled... I had another year of college to look forward to in Florida." "Just come with me so I can park the car. We stood near the yellow curb once more. At least now I had faith that Edward and I would be doing that together. "I'm going with you..." Edward confessed." "What?" I literally felt dizzy from the rapid turn of events.. packed?" I asked breathlessly. I hoped. You can't plan the next adventure. before he started walking quickly back toward the doors where I had left my own luggage. and pulled away from the curb with a grin on his face. I need to get back. You just have to be willing to grab it and go for it when you see it. and Edward would be studying for the Bar exam in Washington state. My head was spinning with the new revelation that Edward actually loved me and wanted me with him. I got out of the car and watched as Edward pulled another suitcase from his trunk. And we needed time to grow. "You. . We needed time to grieve. He turned then and grabbed my hand. "But a very smart person I know once told me that the key to living for the next adventure is not letting opportunities pass you by. I wasn't sure where the future might lead us. how did you know?" I stubbornly stopped and turned to look at him.. It felt good to finally be able to say it out loud..." I reached up a hand to him then. I watched. and I let him lead me until I was sitting in his car once more. "I got a ticket on your flight earlier. "I'm going with you. And yes.

I glanced once more at Edward who sat with a wide smile on his face." I said. Still I sat. Edward stood and drew lines in the wet sand with a stick." Edward said when the song finished. I smiled when Edward picked up the tune Jasper was playing." Jasper told me. "Yeah. Jasper's thin fingers brushed up and down the strings. finding the chords he sought for the song he was teaching himself to play. When his hands hesitated. and sang along with his accompaniment. "You can go with him." "I wonder if they have any kids?" Jasper asked. Edward tossed his stick into the ocean and trudged up the beach to join us. "It's getting late." I grinned and shook my head. so we could stay longer. "Do I have time for one more. "Ask your Mom. It was always hard to see the end of such a great day. Dad?" Jasper turned his green eyes up to look at his father. and I inwardly considered how beautiful he was. ~*~ The End . Our new neighbors moved in today. The sinking sun indicated that the best part of the afternoon warmth was already behind us. "We should go soon. and I want to stop by with some cookies. I looked up. Epilogue The salty sea air and crashing surf relaxed me as it always did. "I won't be mad. "You should be so lucky. My eyes looked fondly at the faded initials 'J. reluctant to stop the quiet strum of the guitar beside me. His gaze was fixed on Edward's tall figure. He had always been very musical." I sighed." Edward smiled. I reached to ruffle his wayward hair. He sat heavily on the blanket at Jasper's opposite side. The wind pulled at his hair. One more. His pants were rolled up to his calves while the icy water brushed his heels. and we twisted our fingers together on the blanket behind Jasper while he played one more song. closer to the water. Edward looked over to where I sat. He nodded and smiled before tipping his chin down and resuming his quiet strumming. "I'd rather listen to you play. if you want to. "One more?" Jasper asked." I bit my lip and nodded. He already knew what my answer would be. His hand inched towards mine.W' that were burnt into the neck of the guitar. I wished it was a little warmer.25. "But then we really do need to go. Soon enough." Edward said.

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