My mother was nothing if not efficient. Less than forty-eight hours after having blood drawn, I was given a clean bill of sexual health. Though this came as no surprise to me, I knew Bella was anxiously awaiting my test results. I called her the second I got them.
“Go to class.”
It was an unorthodox greeting, but very Bella. I wondered how many times in any given day she said those three words.
“I’m about to go in now. I just wanted to touch base with you about our date later–”
“Canceling on me already?”
“Not on your life. I just wanted to let you know I’ll be over to pick you up at one, and that you should pack an overnight bag.”
“Have you gotten your test results?”
“What were they?” She spoke so quickly, her words blended into one.
“Clean. I told you they would be.”
Even over the phone, her nervousness was palpable. I just wasn’t sure of its cause—concern over my test results, or the realization that now we had them, there was nothing preventing us from moving forward.
“Just so you know, I have no expectations outside of spending time alone with you,” I explained, hoping to reassure her. “Look, I really have to go now. They’re getting ready to start. I love you, and I’ll see you in a bit.”
Whatever had been her concern on the phone was no longer an issue when I picked her up after class, and when I turned onto the Atlantic City Expressway, she seemed almost giddy.
“Are you taking me where I think you’re taking me?” she asked.
“If you’re thinking the shore house, then you would be correct. I wanted privacy, and it seemed fitting. Besides, I miss it down there.”
“Well, it’s April. You probably haven’t been to the beach since October.”
“Actually, not since the Labor Day before last. I didn’t come down here at all last summer; I traveled instead.”
“All summer?” she asked.
“What did you do on your eighteenth birthday?”
“I spent it at the Louvre.”
“How very cerebral of you,” she teased. “Most Americans in that situation would have gone drinking.”
“I might have hit a bar or two with my dad after the museum closed. You know how he was; he wouldn’t take no for an answer.”
“This has to be hard for you. I mean, this is also the first time you’ve been to your parents’ beach house since…”
She didn’t finish her sentence, but it didn’t matter. I knew what she was going to say.
“You can say it, you know. It’s not as if avoiding the words will make them any less true.”
“I don’t want to be insensitive.”
“Even pragmatism requires a level of insensitivity. I’d never ask you to tiptoe around reality, and the reality is that losing my dad changed everything.”
“I can only imagine.”
Actually, she couldn’t—because I hadn’t told her. I steered the car onto the shoulder and pulled the parking brake. If Bella was at all confused by this, she didn’t verbalize it. Fearful that I’d lose my nerve if I looked at her, I kept my eyes straight ahead.
“Have you ever wondered why my grandparents never drive themselves anywhere?”
“I assumed it was because Kitty is drunk all the time, and Jack has bad eyes or something.”
“Interesting. Do you know that in my entire life, I never thought about it? It’s always been that way, so it never stood out to me as odd.”
“Is it all that odd, though? I mean, lots of people who grow up in cities prefer not to drive.”
“It’s odd because Jack and Kitty’s drivers are actually bodyguards. Apparently, when a person is that wealthy, it’s not safe to go anywhere alone. I’m not sure if you realized that you were the first friend I ever had outside of my immediate family. I had no basis for comparison, so I never realized how warped my perception of normalcy was. I knew I was different, and I was so hung up on feeling like a freak because of my intellect that it didn’t occur to me that my entire family was different as well.
“In hindsight, the signs were all there. I knew we had money in the sense that it wasn’t something we worried about. So when my dad’s lawyer pulled me aside after the funeral and told me not to feel rushed, that I could meet with him whenever I wanted, I had no idea what he was talking about.
“And then there was you. I was starting to feel like the balance of power was finally righting itself, that we were equals in our relationship. And then I remembered your reaction to my trust fund, and how important financial autonomy is to you. This throws everything off again.”
“I’m trying really hard to follow what you’re saying, because it’s obvious you’re upset, but you’ve lost me.”
“My dad told me once that if I flunked out of school, he wouldn’t let Jack donate a building to get me readmitted. It didn’t occur to me for a second he was serious, that Jack has that kind of money. It all flows downhill, you know? Lava, shit, capital. Thanks to primogeniture, a large chunk of it went to my dad when he came of age. Now that he’s gone, it’s passed to me.”
Realization dawned on her face. “You inherited money from your father?”
“And I take it we’re talking about a lot of money. Like, the kind that gets you your own docent at the Art Museum.”
She stared straight ahead, nodding. When she looked at me three seconds later, her brow furrowed. “Why didn’t it go to your mother?”
“She doesn’t want it.”
“I can’t say that I blame her; I wouldn’t want it, either.”
“You wouldn’t want my money. But would you want me?”
“I’ll always want you. Everyone has emotional baggage. Your apparent guilt—that’s what we’re talking about here, right?”
“Your guilt over your inheritance is no different than my abandonment issues. It’s only a problem if it compounds interest at the same rate as your money. But just so we’re on the same page, if I ever come home from work to discover you’ve replaced my car or remodeled my kitchen, I’m going to be more than a little upset with you.”
“I would never presume–”
“Then the money changes nothing.”
Finally able to relax, I disengaged the parking brake and merged back onto the Expressway. She must have been as uncomfortable as I was because she immediately changed the topic of conversation.
“Tell me about Europe. Was it just you and your father?”
“For most of the trip, it was. My mom met us in Paris and…well…a friend of mine was in London with us.”
There was nothing accusatory in her tone. “Kate?”
She placed her hand on top of mine on the gearshift. “Don’t let that stop you from telling me about it. I don’t want you to censor your experiences because they include your ex-girlfriend. I’m fully aware that I have no right to be upset about anything you did while we were apart; I never expected you to wait for me.”
“It just doesn’t seem fair to you.”
“Why don’t you let me decide that?”
My reticence was valid; I didn’t doubt that Bella would give me anything she thought I needed, regardless of how doing so made her feel. It was all part of her atonement for Thanksgiving.
“At least tell me about the Louvre,” she said finally. “What did you think of the Mona Lisa?”
“Honestly? I was a bit underwhelmed.”
“Sizeism in art is so unlike you.”
“It’s not because it’s small—my favorite piece in the Art Museum is also a portrait and happens to be half the size of La Joconde. It just didn’t speak to me.”
“Would it have spoken to you if she were topless?”
Just like that, we were us again.
“Probably not. Besides, there’s only one person I want to see topless.”
The sun was bright, and it may have just made her face warm and therefore pink. In my reality, though, I like to think that Bella blushed.
When we arrived at the shore house, I parked in the garage and carried our bags inside. Bella lingered in the hallway that led to our bedroom, scraping the skin around her thumbnail with her index finger while staring straight ahead. Though I’d never seen her do this, it made sense given her other nervous habits. In the absence of a wine glass to twirl or a person close enough to touch, she’d be willing to distract herself using any means available. Seeing her like this—walls down and making no effort to conceal her fears—was such a contrast to the first time I brought her here. Then I saw her as a larger-than-life sex goddess determined to seduce me. Perhaps if I hadn’t been so obsessed with the idea of being inside her, I might have noticed how uncomfortable she was inside herself.
There was only one way I could think of to reassure her.
“Come for a walk with me?” I asked, taking her hand.
I led her out back, and we walked along the beach. I stopped when we reached the place where I first declared my love, where she in turn trusted me enough to let me inside her—not her mouth or her vagina, both of which she’d offered me countless times before, but her battle-weary psyche. I turned and looked at her, hoping our location would do more to convince her of my intentions than my mere words ever could. I loved her, and I accepted her. Nothing she could say or do would change that.
She threw her arms around me and shivered as I held her body against mine. I scooped up her legs and carried her inside the house, placing her on her feet beside the bed I’d to come think of as ours.
“You’re trembling,” I said. “Are you still cold?”
“No, just a bit nervous.”
She sat on the edge of the bed, and stared into her lap.
“Don’t be,” I said, sitting beside her. “It’s just me.”
She closed her eyes and sighed. “Exactly. I guess I finally understand how terrified you must have been our first night together. I always thought it was because you were inexperienced, but that was oversimplifying it. When you love someone that much, the last thing you want to do is disappoint him.”
“We don’t have to do this if you’re not ready–”
“Oh, believe me, I’m ready. I just…”
I rubbed her shoulders, hoping to reassure her. “What? You can tell me.”
“It’s been a long time since I’ve done this. Eighteen months, to be exact. We’ve had six months of foreplay masquerading as friendship, and I’m terrified that having sex with me will be anticlimactic for you.”
“You’re worried that reality can’t live up to the fantasy?”
“That’s part of it. This is the longest I’ve gone without sex since losing my virginity. What if it’s one of those things that if you don’t use it, you lose it?”
After everything we’ve been through, could she really have performance anxiety?
“If I remember correctly, it had been five months since you’d had sex the first time we were intimate.”
“You weren’t nervous then.”
“That was different. You were inexperienced enough that it didn’t matter. That’s no longer the case. You’ve now had me, and I’m sure there were others…” She looked at me as if she wanted me to complete her sentence on her behalf.
“Are you asking me about my sex life during our separation?”
“Yes,” she admitted. “If you don’t mind telling me, that is.”
“No, I don’t mind. It’s only fair, considering how I hounded you about yours. I haven’t brought it up because I thought you didn’t want to know. And even if you do want to know, that doesn’t mean it will be easy to hear. I remember all too well how I felt when you answered a very similar question; I instantly regretted asking.”
“Of course you did. I’m sure it sucks to find out your girlfriend is an epic slut.”
“You know that’s not what I mean. Though it was hardly a revelation, it was hard for me to hear you’d been with other people. It meant that I could never be to you what you were to me. You’d done everything there was to do with both genders. I thought I would never be able to satisfy you. I was too inexperienced to view your past in the proper perspective. How could I? You were my first crush, my first kiss, my first love, my first non-masturbatory orgasm.”
“Have I been your only?”
“My only love?” I didn’t have to think about my answer. “Yes.”
“No, the only source of your non-masturbatory orgasms.”
“Oh. No,” I said finally. “My relationship with Kate did involve physical intimacy.”
“I’d assumed it had when you said she was in London with you,” she said, looking away from me.
“Talk to me, Bella.”
She sighed. “I never thought you would remain celibate. Part of me even hoped you wouldn’t. I neither expected nor wanted you to pine for me.”
“But I did pine away for you. I thought of you constantly, even while in a committed relationship with someone else. Months later, I still feel like a complete asshole for it.” I tucked a piece of hair behind her ear. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. It just stings a bit.”
“I know.” I reached over and squeezed her hand. “It’s okay if you don’t want to hear the rest.”
“No, please tell me.”
“Kate and I were together for seven months, and I really wanted it to work. We were in the same place in life, lived in the same building, came from the same background, and had all the same goals. She’s honest and genuine, and was the best friend I could have ever asked for at a time in my life when I desperately needed one. I’ll always love her for everything she did for me, but I was never in love with her. I couldn’t be, no matter how much I wished otherwise. She’s amazing, but she’s not you.”
“Were you already dating her when I saw you at David’s bris?”
“No. Actually, that was what compelled me to try to move on. Do you remember what you did that afternoon?”
“Yes,” she said, rolling her eyes. “I humiliated myself.”
“That’s how you remember it?”
She nodded. “I wanted to reopen communication with you so badly. Needless to say, I failed.”
“Whoa.” I shook my head, trying to process her words. “That puts a whole new spin on things. No, I was talking about when you asked if we could start over. You then held out your hand and said, ‘I’m Bella.’ It was as if our entire relationship meant nothing to you. Meanwhile, you stood in front of me wearing the very outfit I’d peeled off you during what was quite possibly the greatest moment of my life. I assumed you were sending me a message, and I let go of any hope I’d had that you would change your mind.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean–”
I pressed a finger to her lips. “You don’t have to apologize. We’re past that.”
I leaned back onto the bed and pulled her against my chest.
“Well, this conversation is a mood killer,” she muttered.
“I know,” I admitted, stroking her hair. “I’m glad to have it behind us. I was worried about how you’d take it.”
“Why?” She sat up and looked at me. “Like I said on the drive up here, you were under no obligation to me at the time.”
“I’m completely aware of that, but remember that night at the diner? You flipped out at the mere suggestion I’d dated other women.”
“I know. It was a momentary lapse for which I am extremely sorry.” She ran a hand through her hair and sighed. “So you had sex with Kate.”
“Were there others?”
Her eyes shifted, and she wrinkled her brow. “You’re kidding.”
“I wouldn’t joke about this. If you’re asking for the number of sexual partners I’ve had, it would be two including you. You seem surprised.”
It was quite an understatement; she actually looked as if she was in shock.
“I am surprised. All this time, I’ve been picturing you with a harem of skanks.”
I couldn’t contain my laughter.
“What’s so funny?” she asked. “It was obvious when I visited how many of the girls up there want you.”
“That doesn’t mean I’d want to take them up on it. You should know me well enough by now to realize that I’m not the kind of person who can have sex with no feelings involved. I’d never just hook up with someone because she was hot and willing.”
“Isn’t that what college is about? Random, drunken sexual encounters with people you pretend not to know while sober?”
I tickled her under her arms. “Maybe it was for you. I can see your list of school supplies right now—pens, notebooks, condoms, knee pads–”
“Hey.” She smacked me away, laughing. “Everyone needs to experiment sexually at some point in their lives.”
“Oh, I’m all about experimenting sexually.” I cupped her breasts before resting one of my hands between her legs. “There are so many things I want to do to you.”
“Really, now? And what would they be?”
I kissed her neck before whispering in her ear. “I want to touch you, taste you, bury myself in you.” I sucked her earlobe into my mouth. “I want to see the face you make when you come. You close your eyes and suck the right corner of your lower lip into your mouth.”
“I do that?”
“Each and every time. I want to hear you gasp and moan, and know that every sound you make is for me.” I dragged my lips down the side of her neck. “I want to suck on your fingers, your nipples, your clit, and then kiss you with your taste still on my lips.”
I stroked her over her pants as I traced her lower lip with my tongue. “I want to penetrate you in every way possible, to finally make you belong to me in the way that I’ve always belonged to you.”
Her breathing deepened, and when she let out a quiet moan, I knew I needed to stop. I’d given her a lot of information to process in the past few hours, and for the first time ever, there was no doubt in my mind that this wasn’t just sex to her—that she was willing to offer her body to me only as a physical manifestation of an emotional commitment.
“But only if you’re ready,” I added. “And if you’re sure.”
The next thing I knew, she was astride me, pressing her hips into my erection. Even through our clothing, it felt amazing to have her this close. I closed my eyes and focused on her warmth, her scent, and the weight of her body on mine.
She leaned forward and her hands went to work on the buttons of my shirt. “Oh, I’m ready.”
When I opened my eyes and was greeted by the sight of her bare breasts, I lost any chance I had of going slowly. I flipped us over so I was on top of her and kissed her. As we discarded what was left of our clothing, my tongue never left the inside of her mouth. Her hand found my cock, squeezing it as she rubbed the head with her thumb. I pinched her nipple before replacing my hand with my lips. She let go of my penis and put her arms around my neck, but left me poised to enter her with the slightest thrust of my hips. With her nipple in my mouth, I let out a small laugh. As if I’d even entertain the notion of entering her before making her come.
I rolled onto my side and continued to suck and nip at her breast before pressing two fingers inside her.
“So wet,” I whispered, rubbing my thumb across her clitoris. “And so hot.”
Her hips rocked against my hand, and her moans became louder.
“Edward, I’m…oh…I’m going to come.”
The sounds she was making increased in pitch, and then she closed her eyes and sucked the right half of her lower lip into her mouth, alleviating any doubt that I’d brought her to orgasm. Her body relaxed completely, except for a single part of her, which continued to squeeze and release my fingers in rhythmic pulses. It was beautiful.
She was beautiful.
When she opened her eyes to find me smiling at her, she appeared almost confused.
“What?” she asked.
“You made the face.”
She wrapped her arms around my neck and kissed me. Keeping my mouth on hers, I knelt between her legs and positioned myself between her lips. Though I wanted nothing more than to push inside her, I didn’t want to rush it. I’d waited 745,854 minutes for this moment. I could spare a minute or two to do something I’d always wanted to do to Bella, but had never before felt comfortable enough.
I teased her.
The fact she was drenched made sliding over her flesh easy. I rubbed her slit with my cock, tracing circles on her clit then angling down, pressing forward just enough so that her secretions would coat my head, but not enough to enter her.
There was something I needed to tell her first. I broke our kiss, but the look in her eyes made me lose my words. Lust and arousal were there, but they were nothing new. More notable was the presence of trust and acceptance.
I no longer questioned her ability to love and be happy, nor did I doubt that she loved me and that I could make her happy. When she spoke, it was as if she knew exactly what I’d been thinking.
“I love you,” she whispered. “Then and now.”
“Always?” I asked.
“I love you, too.”
I held her face in my hands as I slowly pressed into her. Her eyes widened and she gasped, and though I was tempted to lose myself in the feeling of her textured walls against me as I parted them, I couldn’t bring myself to take my focus away from her eyes.
Once I was fully inside her, I stilled completely. The sooner I began to move, the sooner I’d come and I wanted this to last as long as possible. When Bella blinked, I realized what made this different from every other time we’d made love—her eyes were open.
She no longer felt compelled to hide who she was and what she was feeling, nor did she believe I’d use her need for love and physical affection in order to manipulate her. Though she’d opened her legs to me countless times, she’d never before opened her eyes. She saw who I was and trusted me—in spite of the naïve boy I’d been and the angry man I’d been lately, instead putting her faith in the partner she knew I could become with patience and healing. She knew that I loved her, needed her, wanted her, but that I wasn’t perfect—that despite the pedestal on which she’d placed me initially, her eyes were open to my flaws.
And now those eyes were wet.
“You’re crying.” I brushed her cheek with my thumb. “Why are you crying?”
She averted her gaze and smiled. “I think I just lost my virginity.”
My last shred of restraint evaporated, and I shifted my hips. She gasped, and I could no longer control the urge to move. I withdrew in a long, slow stroke then entered her again with a load moan. I tried to take my time so it would be as good for her as it was for me, but the sight of her watching me added an emotional component that intensified the physical. It wasn’t until I began to twitch inside her that I closed my eyes and collapsed onto her chest, calling Bella’s name as if it was a prayer and she my only hope for salvation.
When it came down to it, I knew that she was.