I looked over Kate’s shoulder and saw Bella standing in front of the sink. Unlike Kate, she didn’t seem upset.
“Is everything okay in there?”
Bella picked up her bag and joined us at the door. “Why wouldn’t it be?”
I looked over at Kate before returning my focus to Bella. I could think of several reasons why the two of them being alone together would be a recipe for disaster, not the least of which was Bella’s insecurity.
“You were in there a really long time,” I said.
“Just some girl talk,” Kate explained.
“You don’t do girl talk,” I said to Kate before turning to Bella. “And neither do you.”
Bella wrinkled her forehead. “I do girl talk. You just wouldn’t know this, because you’re not a girl.”
I looked over at Kate, who let out an exaggerated sigh. “I’m wearing heels. This makes me more than capable of doing the girly girl thing, even if I typically choose not to.” She turned to Bella and muttered under her breath, “He’s just bitter because not only am I better at math than he is, I can outdrink him.”
Bella laughed. “You make it sound as if that’s difficult—the drinking, not the math. That part is fairly impressive.”
“True,” Kate conceded.
The fact they were behaving like old friends wasn’t surprising in and of itself. There was nothing Bella admired more than strong, intelligent women, and Kate certainly possessed both of those qualities in abundance. What I couldn’t understand was why Kate’s eyes were red if she and Bella had been getting along so well. Furthermore, why did either of them linger in the bathroom? What could they possibly have been talking about except me?
That must have been why Kate was crying—they had been talking about me.
“Now if you’ll both excuse me, I should find my date.” Kate nodded at me before leaving.
There were so many things I wanted to know about what had just transpired between the woman with whom I’d failed to fall in love and the woman I’d failed at loving, but those questions could wait until after I addressed a more pressing issue.
“Are you okay?” I asked, squeezing Bella’s hand.
“I’m fine. She introduced herself, and we talked. Despite feeling ambushed at first, I’m glad she sought me out. When we were apart, I’d often wondered what kind of girls were keeping you company, and Kate isn’t what I expected.”
“Because she isn’t a vapid skank.”
“Something like that. Would you believe I actually like her? She’s smart and feisty–”
“I don’t need you to catalog my ex-girlfriend’s attributes.” I could see where Bella was going with this, and I knew no good would come from it.
Bella ignored my interruption. “Most of all, she’s worthy of you.”
I didn’t have to be a mind reader to know exactly what Bella was thinking—she’d measured herself against Kate unfavorably.
“I’m not going to deny that Kate is amazing.” I kissed her neck then added in a whisper, “But she’s not you.”
“I wasn’t about to fly into a jealous rage.”
“I know. I also know that couldn’t have been easy for you; I just know how I’d feel if our roles were reversed.”
“That’s the weird thing. I’m no less secure in our relationship now than I was an hour ago. If anything, I’m more confident. Meeting Kate was good for me. She is, in many ways, perfect. Yet you couldn’t fall for her because you loved me. That speaks volumes.” She straightened my bowtie. “You tied this yourself, didn’t you?”
She licked her lips, and all I wanted was to be alone with her so I could remind her the only way I knew how that as far as I was concerned, there was only her for me. I grabbed her ass and pulled her against me.
“Want to get out of here?” I asked.
Her ensuing smile made my cock twitch. “I thought you’d never ask.”
I’d say we walked back to Blair, but that’s not entirely accurate. Bella would have run if I’d let her.
“Patience,” I teased. “You know, I enjoy this part, too.”
“You consider anticipation to be foreplay?”
“Yes, but that wasn’t what I meant. It means so much to me just to walk around campus with you and hold your hand. I want to savor this feeling—the knowledge that anyone who sees us will know that you’re mine—just as much as I want to savor having you in my bed later.”
“Then we don’t have to rush. I was just concerned about when your roommate would be back. I wasn’t sure how much time we had.”
“Don’t worry,” I said, squeezing her hand. “We have all night.”
“How did you manage that?”
“Tyler is getting a double single for the rest of the year. He was more than happy to accommodate me for one night. Besides, his girlfriend and her roommate have a hot tub in their common area.”
“A hot tub. You know, the portable kind. They have it set up in their room. When Public Safety does code checks, they throw a blanket over it and some pillows and make it look like one of those stupid circular beds.”
“And campus security never thought it at all odd that someone brought a round bed to their college dormitory?”
“This is Princeton,” I explained, shrugging. “People have brought menservants. A little superfluous furniture would hardly register on the radar.”
“Damn. When I moved to campus, I brought a laptop, a flip ‘n’ fuck, and a set of extra-long twin sheets. I can honestly say setting up a Jacuzzi in my room never once occurred to me.”
“I’m not surprised; you lack the sense of entitlement that runs rampant here.” My focus shifted to the first part of her statement. “What the hell is a flip ‘n’ fuck?”
“You know, those chairs you unfold and can sleep on, except no one ever uses them for sleeping.”
“Interesting.” I tried to picture the piece of furniture in question, but couldn’t. Then again, I didn’t try all that hard. Three minutes later, we were alone in my dorm room, and I had no use for mental imagery. The vision before me was stimulating enough.
What I couldn’t understand was why Bella was so distracted. As I took off my jacket and cufflinks, she avoided looking at me. I sat on the edge of my desk and rolled up my sleeves, trying to figure out what could have caused the change in her demeanor. Suspecting that her earlier insistence that Kate didn’t intimidate her was all bravado, I asked if she was okay.
She jumped, as if my question startled her. “Why wouldn’t I be okay?”
“Tonight hasn’t exactly gone as planned.”
“You mean because of Kate?”
“I’ve already told you; Kate didn’t upset me.”
“Your intonation implies that I have.”
“Why didn’t you tell me she would be there? I specifically asked you–”
“You didn’t ask me. I agree that I should have told you she’d be here, that I fucked that up, but don’t you dare accuse me of dishonesty. You know I’ve never lied to you.”
“I asked you if I would know anyone there besides you.”
I threw open my arms in frustration. “You don’t know Kate.”
“I do now.” She avoided making eye contact with me as she stepped out of her shoes. “For the record, I would have been able to tell she was still in love with you even if she hadn’t told me herself.”
“It isn’t like that.”
“Maybe not for you.” She sighed. “I just wish you’d talk to me. When we first met, you were so open and trusting. I know I destroyed that; I know it doesn’t rebuild overnight, but if I haven’t earned it back by now, I’m not sure I ever will.” She knelt on the floor between my knees, resting her hands on my thighs. “Trust me.”
“Then tell me.”
“Tell you what?”
“Everything you’ve gone out of your way to keep from me, starting with Thanksgiving.”
“Why?” I covered her hands with my own. “Why does it matter?”
“I need to own it, Edward. And whether you’re willing to admit it or not, you need me to own it as well.”
“What I need is for both of us to focus on the future.”
“I’d love nothing more, except I know all too well how abandonment festers and the fears to which it leads. I want to take responsibility for the consequences of my actions, but I can’t if I have no idea what they are.”
“The therapy rhetoric is cute, but unnecessary. I don’t want to rehash it, because I’ve forgiven you. What you need is to forgive yourself.”
“How? That’s like waltzing into confession and telling your priest, ‘Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned, but I don’t have a fucking clue what I’ve done wrong.’ How is he supposed to suggest your penance?”
“He’d start with a sincere act of contrition for saying the word ‘fuck’ in a church.”
She rose to her feet, groaning. “God, you’re worse than I was.”
“I just don’t like to talk about it.” Memories of the weeks after Thanksgiving flashed through my mind, and I involuntarily shook my head, hoping to make them go away. “I don’t even like to think about it. Do you really want to know?”
She nodded, and I sighed. Her arms were folded across her chest and her toe was tapping against the hemline of her dress, which was now dragging on the floor since she’d removed her heels. Thirty-eight seconds later, I realized she was prepared to stand there like that indefinitely until I let her in. When I started to speak, it felt almost like my voice was coming from a stranger.
“Once I accepted that you were gone from my life, I shut down. I can’t elaborate beyond that, because I don’t remember much outside of feeling trapped in an endless void. I drank and smoke more than I should have, and I didn’t do much else. When I came back to campus after Christmas, I started seeing a counselor at my parents’ insistence, but you knew that.”
She shook her head. “No, I didn’t.”
“Huh. I thought I’d told you that. Anyway, I wasn’t being self-destructive; I was just desperate to feel something, to have a reason to care what happened to me. I was in limbo like that until I saw you at David’s bris.” I sank into my desk chair, and she knelt between my knees, resting her head against my leg. I stroked her hair, but avoided looking at her face, fearful I’d lose my nerve.
“Anyway, the bris was when I gave up on ever hearing from you again, and I met Kate shortly after that. She understood what I was feeling—or more accurately, what I wasn’t feeling—and how to respond to it. Becoming involved romantically was the next logical step, and at first, we both resisted, even though with the exception of sexual intimacy, we behaved as if we were dating. I felt like half a person, but it didn’t matter to her, because she felt the same way. Alone, we crumbled, but together, we somehow managed to live. And I found myself wanting to be in love with her, wanting to give it a decent chance, but not wanting to ruin what we already had—which in all honesty was the only thing that made me able to function. One day she said to me that if we didn’t work as a couple, she wasn’t going to just vanish on me…that she was my friend first, and nothing would change that. Her declaration of platonic devotion shifted our dynamic, and we just sort of fell into being a couple.
“I’m not going to claim I didn’t love her, that I didn’t enjoy my time with her, that I didn’t need her or that there was no deep connection between us. I would never cheapen her that way. I guess I could say that I was sated, but not fulfilled. There was never any passion, nor was hers the face I saw when I closed my eyes each night. Even as I touched her, I thought of you.”
“Why did you think I couldn’t handle knowing this?”
“Because I used her. Sure, I could justify it any number of ways, not the least of which is that in the beginning, she was using me, too. That doesn’t change my behavior, nor does it negate my shame.”
“Kate said your friends were very worried about you.”
“If I had a friend who looked and acted the way I did back then, I’d worry about him, too.” I put my hands on her shoulders and sighed. “Look at me, Bella.”
The wetness below her eyes only reinforced my opposition to full disclosure.
“I haven’t told you this because I know how your mind works. You’ll blame yourself for everything—not only what you did to me, but what I did to her. I wanted to spare you–”
“Don’t. Once upon a time, I made decisions that I thought were for your own good without consulting you. Look where that got us.”
“Here.” I lifted her off her knees and pulled her onto my lap. “Don’t you see? It got us here.”
The kiss I placed on her mouth was meant to quickly illustrate my point; when she parted her lips and pulled on my shirt, soon the only point on which I could focus was the blunt one on the head of my now-erect cock. Still cradling her in my arms, I stood up and carefully placed her on her feet in front of me. My tongue traced the inside of her mouth as my hands found the zipper on the side of her dress.
“Raise your arms above your head.”
She followed my instruction without question, keeping her eyes on me as I slowly lowered her zipper. Her gown fell to the floor, and Bella held onto me as she stepped out of it, breaking contact only long enough to drape it over the back of my chair before turning back to face me. Her smile may have been demure, but what she’d been wearing under her dress was anything but.
“What is this?” I asked, brushing my knuckles along the black lace covering her breasts.
“I didn’t know stuff like this existed outside of porn.”
“Do you like it?”
“Yes.” I took a step back so I could have a better view. There was only one way she could possibly look hotter. “Let your hair down.”
She pulled each pin from her hair slowly, placing them on top of my dresser. Once her hair was freed, she brushed it with her fingers, causing it fall onto her shoulders.
I couldn’t wait any longer. I grabbed the end of my bowtie and tugged it from my collar before popping the studs from my shirt and shrugging out of it.
“I think I just came.”
“You have to be kidding.” I kicked off my shoes and socks and went to work on my pants.
“I’m not. Do you have any idea how hot what you just did with your tie is?”
“Not nearly as hot as this.” With her back against my chest, I pressed her against the wall. She pushed against it with her hands, rubbing her ass against my cock. With great effort, I unclasped her bustier.
My hands cupped her breasts, pinching and twisting her nipples before one of my hands trailed down her stomach and pushed her thong over her hips. Her legs were too far apart for me to remove it completely, but it was just as well. Bella leaning against the wall, ass sticking out behind her and underwear down around her thighs, was the hottest thing I’d ever seen. I knelt behind her and fingered her as I trailed kisses across her lower back. Pressing my cheek against one of hers, I increased the speed of my hand, focusing on the noises she was making. I needed her orgasm the way I needed air, but knew the angle was all wrong.
“This needs to go,” I said, hooking the thumb of my free hand under her thong.
She shifted onto one leg and lifted the other. When her thong fell to the floor around her weight-bearing ankle, she returned to her original position; this time with an even wider stance than before. I plunged three fingers into her vagina while rubbing her clitoris with my other hand. It didn’t take long for her to give me what I craved beyond words.
When her body relaxed against the wall, I stood up, hugging her back against my chest as I kissed her neck.
“I love you,” she whispered. “Let’s do this.”
I could barely contain my enthusiasm. “Where is that bottle you mentioned?”
“In my evening bag.”
I turned her around to face me. “You brought it to the formal with you?”
“In case you wanted to…you know…between courses.”
“God, I love you.”
I got the bottle from her purse, and when I turned around, Bella was leaning across my desk with her ass in the air.
“So, what are you waiting for?” she asked.
I didn’t want to rush it; it was all too significant. It wasn’t about fetishes or my fascination with her backside—it was about her giving herself to me in a way in which she’d never given herself to another human being. Taking her in the ass was just a metaphor—a hard-on inducing, fantasy-worthy, fantastically kinky metaphor. Her days of holding out on me were over. Wanting to express my gratitude, I fell to my knees and kissed her—trailing my tongue over both where my fingers had just been and where I knew they were about to go—before rising to my feet and making the necessary preparations.
I spread her cheeks and pressed a lubed finger inside her bottom. Despite the fact this was not new to us, I felt compelled to ask for a status report. The last thing I wanted was to hurt her.
“Is this okay?”
“If anything hurts, tell me and I’ll stop.”
She looked over her shoulder and nodded at me, before resting her elbows against the desk. “I’m ready.”
I eased my finger out of her and began to stroke her clitoris and I slowly pushed the head of my cock into her asshole. The sensation was unlike anything I’d ever imagined…tighter, of course, but I’d expected that. If vaginal intercourse felt like parting walls, the anal equivalent was more like a stretching a cuff. The musculature was different; therefore, everything was different. Paradise was tiny, pink and puckered, and though she loosened considerably the farther I pressed in, her sphincter never relaxed its grip as I moved forward and it dragged up my cock toward my balls.
“Ugh,” she groaned beneath me.
I wanted her to know how amazing she felt to me, but was incapable of saying anything other than how tight she was. I shifted my hips back, and the wide ring of muscle that guarded her opening slid along my shaft to my head, continuing to grip me as tightly as it had the first moment I entered her.
The emotional thrill I got from knowing she’d given this to me and me alone intensified the physical one, and I knew I wouldn’t last long.
The sound of my name on her lips pushed me over the edge.
“Oh, Bella. God, I’m going to come.”
“How close are you?”
I lasted just long enough to pull out. For some reason, I wanted to ejaculate on her ass, not inside of it. The intensity of my orgasm took every remaining bit of strength I had, and I found myself collapsing on top of her.
“Thank you,” I whispered before kissing her neck.
“Can I get cleaned up? I feel kind of gross.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, appalled that I hadn’t thought of her. “I’ll walk you to the bathroom.”
“Actually, I have baby wipes in my bag. That’s fine for now. Excuse me.” She went to her bag and without looking up, opened the box of wipes and threw one at me.
She was upset; I just couldn’t figure out why. I cleaned my penis, and a streak of pink on the wipe provided the answer.
“I hurt you, didn’t I?”
I wanted this night to be a celebration of how far we’d come. Instead, I’d made her bleed. As bad as I’d felt after making Kate bleed, it paled in comparison to what I felt at this moment. That night, it was an unavoidable rite of passage. This was different; Bella’s pain should never have happened.
“I’m sorry. You should have told me; I would have stopped.”
She shrugged. “It was important to you.”
“Not more important than your feelings. When did it start to hurt?”
“Um, pretty much from the very beginning.”
“And you let me keep going?” I couldn’t control the anger in my voice. “What the hell were you thinking?”
“Just that I didn’t want to disappoint you, and I have so much that I need to make up to you–”
“What was it? Some sort of sick act of contrition for hurting me? You hurt me, so I hurt you back and now we’re even? Is that what you were thinking?”
“Bella, this needs to stop. You can’t take it back. And you know what? I don’t want you to. There—I said it. Now can we please move on?”
“How can you mean that? You spent months walking around in a drunken haze, alienated your parents, wound up in therapy–”
“Yes, I did. Did, Bella. Past tense.” I waved my arms in frustration. “This is exactly why I didn’t want you to know. I expected you to feel like shit and launch headfirst into your trademark self-deprecation, but I never thought you would use anal sex to flagellate yourself. Yes, those months were awful for me, but I would go through that time again in a heartbeat because we both needed them to grow the fuck up.”
I knelt on the floor beside her. “Look at me, Bella.”
Her eyes met mine, and I knew why she’d kept them averted—she was crying. As much as I wanted to be strong, I just couldn’t. Seeing her in pain caused me pain, and the next thing I knew, my face was wet as well.
“I want you.” My voice broke as I held her hands, from a combination of emotion and the inherent difficulty in speaking while sobbing. It took great effort to produce intelligible sound, but eventually, I was able. “I love you.”
She fell into me, and I hugged as tightly as I could without hurting her. When there were no tears left to cry, I picked her up and sat in my desk chair, cradling her in my lap.
“What do you want to know?” I asked.
“Why didn’t you tell me Kate would be here?”
“It honestly didn’t occur to me that it mattered, that you would want advanced warning. My relationship with her was so different from what I have with you. I was never in love with her; therefore, in my mind, she was never your competition.” I sighed. “I’m sorry. I had no idea that she would seek you out.”
“Why didn’t you tell me you two were still friends?”
“I did tell you that—both at the diner in September and again after our first date. I guess I didn’t think you’d need status updates.”
“Are you still in therapy?”
“Yes. Well, not exactly. I had stopped, but since Dad died and I keep finding out things about my family I never knew, I think it would be wise for me to go back.”
She nodded, but said nothing.
“Will you answer something for me now? And be honest, because I already feel like complete and utter shit, so there’s no need to try to spare my feelings.”
“How much did I hurt you earlier?”
“A lot. I was just about to tell you to stop, but then you said you were coming, and I figured if you were that close, I might as well let you finish. I can’t believe some women are into that. Rose was talking like it was the greatest thing ever.”
I snorted. “Therein lies the problem.”
“Rose is hardly most women as far as those things are concerned.”
She wrinkled her forehead. “How would you know?”
“I walked in on her giving Emmett a blow job roughly eight hours after David was born.”
“No way! In the hospital room?”
“Wow,” she said, shaking her head. “The things we don’t know about our friends.”
“More like the things we wish we could forget.” I hugged her tightly. “I’m sorry I hurt you.”
“It’s okay; I know it wasn’t intentional.”
“I’m not just talking about the anal fail.”
She closed her eyes and nodded. “I know.”
She wrapped her arms around my neck and pulled my mouth to hers. When her tongue found mine, my cock stood up and took notice. One of these days, I was going to have to teach it some manners. Thankfully, Bella wasn’t offended.
“Make love to me,” she whispered.
“I don’t think I could live with myself if I hurt you again.”
“You won’t; I won’t let you.”
I had no choice but to trust her.