On Wednesday, Edward called to ask for my address and remind me to be ready at six.
“Sounds good,” I said. “What exactly are we doing?”
He was sweet if not exactly helpful.
Saturday afternoon I took a long shower. So long, in fact, the stained-glass window in my bathroom fogged up and my water ran cold.
I wrapped my hair up in a towel and puttered into my bedroom. After spending half an hour staring blankly into my closet, I called for reinforcement.
Twenty-five minutes later, Emmett arrived holding a case of beer.
Rose popped out from behind Emmett. “You said to come help you. I brought some options.” She gestured toward a garment bag she was holding.
“Don’t worry about Em,” she said, ushering me upstairs.
“Bella, relax,” Emmett called after us. “I’m just going to watch the game and wait for Rose. No big deal.”
Once inside my bedroom, I slammed the door and turned to Rose.
“I’m sorry, but he insisted. He hasn’t seen me in four days, so he got all pouty when I told him I was coming over here. I couldn’t come up with a good enough reason for him to stay home.”
I rolled my eyes, sighing.
“He’s not going to care how old Edward is. He probably won’t even notice. And once I put the fear of Rose-inflicted abstinence into him, you can be damned sure he won’t tell Jasper or Alice.”
I threw myself onto my bed. “I don’t know why I’m so freaked out about this.”
“Um, because it matters?” Rose sat beside me. “When was the last time you went out on a date?”
“January.” I sighed. “I met this guy at Swanky Bubbles, and we–”
“I’m not talking about sex; I mean an evening out as a precursor to a possible relationship. A real date. When was the last time you had one?”
“Oh. I take it things didn’t go well?”
“Not really. I mean, the first date was fine. It’s the year-long relationship it led to that turned was complete shit.”
“Don’t hold that against Edward. I mean, let’s be real here. You’re nervous because of a bad experience from five years ago. Five years ago, Edward’s balls hadn’t dropped yet.”
I couldn’t help but laugh.
“It’s going to be fine. And even if it is a complete disaster, don’t you think it’s about time you dropped the I-can-play-their-game-better-than-they-can bravado and let a guy give you more than his cock?” She glanced at her watch. “Fuck, look at the time. We only have half an hour, and your hair is still wet. Where do you keep your blow dryer?”
Just like that, Rose took control. The next time I looked in the mirror, my hair was arranged in in soft waves and my make-up understated but seductive.
“Now, would you help me decide what to wear?”
“This.” She held up her garment bag and took out a black silk jersey wrap dress. It was sleeveless, with a very low back and an even deeper neckline.
“I can’t wear that,” I wailed. “It’s sex on a hanger.”
“It will kill the boy.”
“It won’t kill him. It will just bring him a little closer to god.”
“How do you even wear a bra with that?”
“You don’t.” She giggled. “Better hope you don’t get cold, or you’ll be driving with high beams.”
She was evil and crude, but hilarious.
I stepped into the dress and looked at my reflection in the mirror. It was gorgeous—it hugged my body in all the right places, then fell to right above my knees.
“I don’t even want to think about how short this must be on you.”
Ignoring me, she selected a pair of black high-heeled strappy sandals from my closet. I had just stepped into them when we heard Emmett yelling from the next room.
“Woo hoo, yeah baby, bring it home.”
“And here I thought Pat Burrell was the world’s slowest outfielder.”
I wondered how long Edward had been waiting.
“What were you worried about?” Rose whispered with a smile.
She opened the door and went out into the hallway. When she saw I was frozen in place, she pulled me in front of her and nudged me into the room with the boys.
Edward stood when he saw me. His hair was somewhat tamed, and slightly darker from product. He was wearing a white button down shirt with black dress pants. The top two buttons of his shirt were open. The third button was saying, “Bella, come play.”
“I’m sorry we kept you waiting,” Rose said. “You know how we girls get.” She stepped around me and held out her hand. “I’m Rose, by the way. I see you’ve met my boyfriend, Emmett.”
“It’s very nice to meet you,” Edward said, shaking her hand.
“Well, we should get going now. Bella, we’ll see ourselves out.”
“Great meeting you, Edward. Maybe we can catch a game sometime.” He shook Edward’s hand and gave me a quick kiss on the cheek before following Rose downstairs.
We heard the front door close, but neither of us moved.
“Um, am I over-dressed? Rose was on wardrobe detail. I can go change–”
“Please don’t change. Don’t change a thing.”
I couldn’t help the smile that formed on my lips.
He gestured toward the stairs. “After you.”
After I grabbed my clutch and a green pashmina, we stepped onto my porch. Holding my hand, Edward led me to the passenger side of a silver Volvo hard-top convertible. I settled myself into the leather seat, and he took his place behind the wheel.
“Are you going to tell me where we’re going?”
“No,” he said, laughing.
“Whose car is this? Wait, do you even have a driver’s license?”
“It’s my car. And yes, I am operating it legally.”
“That’s right; I keep forgetting. You had a birthday.” I giggled as I spoke. “You’re a big boy now.”
He put his hand on my knee and smiled. “You have no idea.”
I stopped giggling. Then he moved his hand to gearshift, and I found myself wishing he’d gotten an automatic.
Once in Center City, Edward stopped in front of the Bellevue. After giving his keys to the valet, he came to me and offered his assistance getting out of the car, continuing to hold my hand as we walked toward Broad Street.
“I thought we’d start off with dinner. Have you ever been to Bliss?”
“Actually, no. Sounds wonderful.”
We went inside the restaurant and he told the hostess we were here for our reservation. The dining room was chic and modern, and we were seated immediately.
“May I see a wine list?” Edward asked our server.
I waited until the waiter was out of earshot before whispering, “You haven’t had that many birthdays.”
He rolled his eyes at me.
“The lady would like a glass of your house chardonnay, and I’ll have a club soda, please.” The waiter left, and Edward turned to me. “That was what you were drinking at the Art Museum. I hope it’s okay.”
“It’s fine, thank you.” I changed the subject. “All this secrecy was over dinner?”
“Hardly. This is just the warm-up.”
We settled into playful conversation. Dinner went very quickly, and before I knew it, we were headed south down Broad Street. We stopped when we reached the Academy of Music.
“You mentioned you liked Rachmaninoff. When I saw the program for this evening, I had to get you to come with me.”
“Is this another good surprise?”
“Oh, this goes beyond good.”
He smiled and led me up the steps to the balcony. An usher directed us to a private box and drew the curtains, blocking out the aisle behind us. Edward moved the two velvet chairs closer together and then gestured for me to have a seat. After handing me a program, he took his place at my side. It was my favorite piano concerto. Soon the orchestra started playing, and I lost myself in the music.
Neither of us spoke as we drove home, but the silence wasn’t awkward. This changed when Edward pulled into my driveway and shut off the car’s engine. I knew what I wanted, and given his age and gender, I was fairly sure he wanted it, too.
“Would you like to come inside?” I asked, fumbling with my keys in my lap.
He answered immediately. “Yes.”
As soon as we stepped inside my living room, I slipped off my shoes and placed my bag and wrap on the piano bench. Edward lingered behind in the doorway.
“Is everything okay?”
“Would you like to come upstairs?”
“Very much so.”
“This isn’t a big deal,” I said, leading him up the steps. “You’ve been here before.”
“I assure you, I haven’t.”
When I realized he wasn’t talking about the second floor of my house, I knew I needed to break the tension.
“Let me give you a tour.” I gestured to the first door at the top of the stairs. “The sitting room you’ve seen. That’s where I spend most of my time. Next we have the bathroom. I’m told the tub predates the house. And here you probably thought recycling was a recent thing. Then there’s the third floor, which is uninhabitable and quite frankly, scares me. I’m hoping if I ignore it, it will go away.”
He laughed nervously. “That never actually works.”
“It did with my second step-father.”
Realizing he wouldn’t enter my bedroom on his own, I stepped over the threshold and pulled him along. Because he was inexperienced, I decided to jump-start things. I took a few steps away from him, making sure he had a decent view of what I was doing. Very slowly, I untied the knot holding my dress together and let it fall to floor. He gasped when he realized I now stood before him in nothing but a thong. His gaze moved up and down my body. As his eyes lingered on my breasts and my hips, his blush intensified.
I walked toward him and wrapped my arms around his waist. How had I not noticed he was shaking?
“Bella…” His voice trembled.
I cupped his face in my hands. “Shhh. Tell me what you want.”
“It’s all yours.”
He put his arms around my waist, his hands hot against my skin. After taking a step back, he traced his fingers around my stomach to my belly button , then slid the backs of his hands up my chest. My breathing deepened with anticipation as his knuckles brushed against me. Blushing, he cupped my breasts, running his trembling thumbs back and forth across my nipples.
All patience gone, I pulled his shirt from the waistband of his pants and started unbuttoning it, working from the bottom up.
I took a step back. “Did you want to do this for me?”
“That’s not it.”
Wait. Had I misunderstand his intentions?
Holy mother of fuck. I just stripped down to my thong in front of a minor. I was naked. I was humiliated. And I needed to get him the hell out of my bedroom before I started to cry.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
So opened the floodgates.
“I’m fine,” I lied, wiping under my eyes.
He unbuttoned the rest of his shirt and shrugged out of it. Reaching around me, he pulled my arms through its sleeves and closed across my chest.
“We need to talk.” He sat on my bed and pulled me beside him.
“We so do not need to talk. And for the record—because the sooner you learn this, the better off you’ll be and I know they won’t teach you this at Princeton—’We need to talk’ is the worst phrase in the English language. No good ever comes from ‘we need to talk.’ ‘We need to talk’ is fail.”
“Fine, then. We don’t need to talk. I’ll talk; You listen. You think I don’t want you, which is insane. Believe me—I want you. I’ve wanted you for longer than you can even imagine. I’ve been obsessed with you since the first time I saw you. You’re all I think about. I’ve obsessed about your breasts; I’ve wondered how you look between your thighs and what it would feel to lie between them. I may not have known you, but I wanted you.
“God…” He shook his head and ran a hand through his hair. “How I’ve wanted you. Then I saw you at the Art Museum in February, and I was elated. I could finally talk to you, though I was sure you’d tell me to piss off. I approached you thinking your rejection would cure my obsession—I never expected to feel connected with you, or for you to like me. So yes, Bella, I do want you. I want to do things to you I can’t even bring myself to say out loud. But now that I know you, I just…can’t. Not like this. Not on a first date. You’re worth more than this. And I want to give you everything.
“Come here.” He lay back onto my bad and pulled me against his chest. His arms were both comfortable and comforting, and soon my tears stopped on their own.
“What are you sorry about? I’m the one who just admitted I stalked you.”
“Our night was perfect until I ruined it.”
“You did no such thing.”
“I should have kept my dress on.”
“Bella, how old are you?”
“The things you haven’t managed to learn in twenty-four years!” He shook his head in mock disgust. “All right, teacher, allow me to school you. It’s impossible to ruin a guy’s night by showing him your breasts. Breasts only make things better. I doubt there’s anything in the world that can’t be fixed by boobies in general, and yours are particularly stunning. In fact, going forward I may ask to see them when I get stressed.”
I had to laugh; he said boobies.
“I’m not kidding, you know.” He sat me up and turned me to face him. “Now that I think about it, I’m incredibly stressed. May I see your breasts?”
I nodded, still laughing. Ever so slowly, he opened his shirt and exposed my breasts. As he studied them, I got my first decent look at his chest. He hadn’t been exaggerating when he said he spent a few hours each day lifting weights. As sad as it made me that he’d found it necessary to do so, I couldn’t help but appreciate the results. His shoulders were broad, his chest defined. He wasn’t ripped to the point it was ridiculous; he was perfect.
My eyes returned to his face. His blush reminded me that despite his intellectual sophistication, this was new to him. I pressed my palm against his cheek, hoping to reassure him. Ever so slowly, he lowered his face to meet me.
Our first kiss was sweet, gentle, and way too brief. He brushed his mouth against my mouth, and his lips puckered around my mine. Then he pulled away, and I whimpered.
It was all the encouragement he needed. His hands went behind my head, pulling me into him. My lips parted, and his tongue explored the inside of my mouth. As much as I wanted to press myself against him, to wrap my legs around him, to feel him between my thighs, I stayed rooted in place. This was something he should lead. After gasping into my mouth, he retreated, pausing to taste my lower lip before bowing toward my chest.
“So perfect.” He punctuated each of his words with a kiss on my nipples. He held his shirt closed and pressed his lips against my forehead. “I should get going.”
“I don’t want you to go.”
I took his shirt off and handed it back to him. “You’ll need this.”
He looked at my breasts again as put his shirt on and buttoned it up. “You’re not making this easy for me.”
I mourned his the loss of his shirtlessness by pouting as I walked over my dresser and pulled an oversized t-shirt from my top drawer. “I’ll walk you out.”
Neither of us spoke as we moved downstairs into my living room. We reached my front door and stopped in front of it, staring at each other awkwardly. Edward ran his hand through his hair; I stood on one foot with my arms folded, rubbing my ankle with my heel.
Finally, he spoke. “I need to see you again.”
My body relaxed. “Okay.”
“Are you free tomorrow for dinner?”
“Great.” He gave me a quick kiss on my lips before stepping out onto my porch. “I’ll pick you up at three. My parents will be so excited to meet you.”
I watched his car pull away, all the while praying I’d misheard him.