My father and I were halfway down the Atlantic City Expressway before our conversation became serious. On the one hand, I had to admire his patience. We’d been in the car thirty-two minutes before he mentioned Bella. Still, I had the distinct impression he saved this conversation for our drive, no doubt taking advantage of my complete inability to escape.
“I must say, I’m pleasantly surprised you’re coming with me.”
“Why is that?” I said as I fumbled with my iPod.
“Well, you have been spending an awful lot of time at Bella’s.”
“Bros before hos, my man,” I joked.
“Indeed. Seriously though, I do understand how consuming the early stages of a relationship can be. The fact this is the first time you’re experiencing it just makes it that much more intense.”
“Dad, I’m fairly certain I’m in love with Bella. This isn’t something I anticipate happening more than once.”
He laughed at me. “Don’t be naïve, Edward. It takes a lot more than love to make a relationship last. I would argue that love matters far less than communication, commitment and compassion.”
“If you ever tire of surgery, I think you have a future in designing motivational posters. All you need is a cheesy picture of a silhouetted couple walking on a beach at sunset. You could call it The Three Cs. Mom could market it to marriage therapists everywhere.”
“It may sound like a cliché, but that doesn’t make it any less true.”
I turned and stared at my father, and thought about his statement. His eyes remained focused on the road. “You and Mom have the perfect marriage.”
“We have a solid, happy marriage, yes. I’m not sure such a thing as a perfect marriage exists. Besides, I wasn’t talking about your mother. I never told you this, because it wasn’t really relevant, but I was engaged once before I met your mother.”
“You’re kidding, right?” I looked at him in disbelief.
“Why have you never mentioned this to me?”
“Well, as your father, it wasn’t something you needed to know. As your friend, I’m telling you about it so that you can learn from some of my mistakes.”
I turned to face the road and leaned back into my seat. “Huh. You used the word mistakes, which typically implies regret. But if that relationship had panned out for you…”
“I should preface this by saying that I love your mother with an intensity that I can’t begin to articulate. I could never regret anything that happened to me, good or bad, that brought me to her. That’s not to say that I don’t regret conducting myself less than admirably before I knew her.”
“So, Mom wasn’t lying when she’d said you were a manwhore.”
My father started laughing hysterically. “She said that? That’s hilarious.”
“Is it true?”
“Not entirely, though I can see where she would have gotten that impression. Anyway, that has nothing to do with my failed first engagement. My senior year of college, I proposed to the girlfriend I’d had for most of college. She accepted, but broke the engagement off soon after graduation. She said I was holding her back from doing the things she felt she needed to do in order to feel fulfilled. She rattled off a list of goals she’d had, apparently, as far back as she could remember, and explained how I was not willing to accommodate them.”
“No, but in all fairness to me I didn’t know they existed until that conversation. See? Communication is key. Honestly, her breaking our engagement was the best thing that could have happened. I learned from it, and it was the reason I was single when I met your mother.”
We spent the next four minutes in silence as I thought about what he’d said.
“How does this make you a manwhore?”
“It doesn’t, but I did play the field a bit before I met her.”
“How old were you when you first…you know?”
He laughed. “When I first what? Had sex?”
“Sixteen. Now don’t go taking that as permission to start sticking it in Bella every chance you get. If you’re not able to talk about it, you’re not ready to do it.”
“So, you weren’t in love with the girl?”
“The girl to whom you lost your virginity.”
He looked over at me quizzically before turning his eyes back to the road. “Are you asking me as your father or your best friend?”
“As my friend.”
“In the words of Woody Allen, ‘Sex without love is an empty experience, but as empty experiences go, it’s one of the best.’ That’s not to say that sex isn’t even better when there are feelings behind it, just that not everyone finds this mandatory. Why? Are you feeling pressured?”
“Not exactly. I mean, Bella is older, so the expectation of intimacy is there even if I don’t acknowledge it. I also get the distinct impression she isn’t used to waiting this long. To say that I’m feeling pressured would almost imply that I don’t want to be with her that way, and I do. I just…I’m afraid I won’t be any good at it. If I don’t perform well, and she’s not emotionally invested in the relationship, what guarantee do I have that I will hear from her again?”
“There are no guarantees in relationships, even when the other party does love you. As your father, I’m telling you that you are not emotionally ready to enter into a sexual relationship with Bella if you are legitimately concerned that she will break things off with you if you don’t perform well.”
“And as my friend?”
He laughed. “I’d tell you that if you want her and she’s willing, then you should take what she’s offering and run with it.”
I sighed; I should have seen that one coming. “Are you sure you’re my biological father? I look nothing like you, and personality wise…”
“I’m kidding, Edward,” he interrupted me. “Besides, you’re far more like me than you realize. Think about this for a moment. How long did it take you to fall in love with Bella?”
“Four seconds, give or take.”
He smiled. “We’re so similar, it’s not even funny. You know, despite what other people, including your mother, claim that kind of instantaneous romantic love can survive long term. It just has to be accompanied by communication, compassion and commitment.”
“Yes, the three Cs. Heh. You could even say the three coms, since they all start with c o m. Wait, that sounds like come.” My cheeks warmed with realization of what I’d just said and I buried my face in my hands.
“You said it,” my father teased.
Desperate to change the subject, I mentioned an email I’d received that morning from Bella’s friend Emmett, inviting me to the Phillies’ game on Saturday.
“That’s great, Edward. So how do you know this guy?”
“He’s one of Bella’s friends. I met him when I picked her up for our first date. He’s doing a grad program at Penn, and his girlfriend is an attorney. He seems like a decent guy.”
“Well, you love baseball. If you think you’d like him, you should go.”
I sighed. “What if Bella put him up to it?”
“Do you think she did?”
“I’m not sure. The timing is suspect.”
“Even if she did, it doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, no one does anything they don’t want to do. Even if Bella asked him to include you, he still wouldn’t have done so unless the idea appealed to him. Do you think you’ll go?”
As much as I enjoyed spending the next sixteen hours with my dad, I was anxious to get back to Bella. We drove home early the next morning, and as we pulled into the driveway, I decided to put my plan to take care of Bella’s lawn into motion.
“May I borrow your truck?” I asked.
“Sure, but why?”
“I want to buy Bella a lawn mower. I’m fairly sure she doesn’t have one. I know she wouldn’t be okay with me spending money on her, so I was thinking I would keep it here and play it off like I brought over one of ours to use.”
“Why don’t you just bring over one of ours?”
“We don’t have one.”
“Oh. Huh. I guess you’re right. Do you even know how to work a lawn mower?”
“No,” I admitted. “Do you?”
He shook his head. “No, but I can’t imagine it’s very hard. Want me to go with you to help you pick one out?”
“If you’re sure you don’t mind.”
“Not at all.”
Twenty minutes later, we stood inside the local hardware store looking at mowers. My dad was instantly drawn to a ride on model.
“I don’t think that’s necessary,” I told him.
“Probably not, but it looks like fun.” He moved down the aisle to the mowers that are self-propelled. “This seems interesting.”
“Overkill. She lives in a twin. Both her front and back lawns could fit inside our kitchen.”
“I thought you wanted to impress her. Bigger is always better,” he joked.
I stared down at the floor, blushing. Only my father would find a way to publicly embarrass me by turning a simple shopping excursion into a sex talk. I walked to the other end of the aisle, and settled on a simple gas powered push mower.
“I think this will do just fine.”
Forty-seven minutes later, I began to mow Bella’s lawn. Her grass was so tall that I actually had to go over her lawn several times, gradually lowering the height of the blades. I was incredibly grateful to the clerk at the hardware store for explaining the functions of the mower. I think I would have been mortified if Bella looked out the window and saw me fumbling over a user’s manual.
After my fourth trip around her yard, I noticed my shirt was sticking to me. I peeled it off and went back to mowing, anxious to ring her doorbell and show her how her yard looked. I finished mowing and walked to her front porch, where I found her standing there waiting for me. Her pale pink tank top was see-through and her shorts barely covered her ass. Mowing the lawn was so worth it.
“Good morning.” I took all three of her front steps in one stride and pulled her into my arms.
“Did you just mow my lawn?”
“No, Bella. You had a visit from the landscaping fairy. Of course I mowed your lawn.”
“How did you know I didn’t have a lawn mower?”
“Because if you had, you would have mowed it yourself by now.”
“Thank you.” She tightened her arms around me and I felt her nipples against my chest through the thin fabric of her shirt.
Oh, yes. This was definitely worth it.
“I know how you can thank me.”
I put my hands in her hair and pressed my lips against hers. My tongue slid into her mouth, which tasted like coffee.
She gently nibbled my lower lip before whispering into the side of my face. “Is there any other way you’d like to be thanked?”
I had a raging hard on and wanted to be alone with her. “You can let me inside out of this heat.”
“What makes you think it will be any less hot in there?” As she spoke her last word, she pressed her pelvis against my erection.
“Because your air conditioners are running,” I answered dumbly. I then realized she wasn’t referencing the temperature inside her house. “Oh. Um…Bella, you’re being naughty, aren’t you?”
“Do you want me to be?” She punctuated her question by squeezing my ass through my jeans.
I blushed, and she sensed my discomfort.
“Let’s get you cleaned up.” She led me inside. “I haven’t showered yet, but you need one a lot more than I do. Let me get you a towel and you can go first.”
“Or we could shower together.” My cock made the suggestion before I could mentally censor it.
Bella looked shocked, though not at all offended. “Are you sure you’re comfortable with that?”
“I wouldn’t have suggested it if I weren’t.” Preparing for rejection, I started to back-pedal. “But if it’s not something you want to do, I’d be happy if you’d just let me see your boobies for a few minutes.”
She looked extremely annoyed with me.
“What? Mowing a two hundred square foot lawn is a lot of work.”
“I would show you my boobs even if you hadn’t mowed my lawn,” she snapped.
I didn’t want her to think I only helped her because I was hoping for sexual favors. “And I would have mowed your lawn, anyway.”
She discarded her tank top, and I followed her into the bathroom. She pulled off her shorts and stepped into the tub, quickly closing the shower curtain behind her.
The quick glimpse I’d gotten of her ass made my cock twitch. The fact that this had been my idea made me no less nervous about seeing it come to fruition. If I stopped to think about what I was doing, I knew I would pussy out. I stripped out of my jeans and boxers and joined her.
She smiled at me, and locked eyes with mine. I knew she wanted me to look at her body, but I still couldn’t bring myself to lower my gaze. It seemed so ungentlemanly to gawk. My moral debate lasted three minutes and eleven seconds. I took a deep breath and allowed my eyes to roam over her naked body.
Her breasts, though exponentially more appealing while wet, did not intimidate me at all. Her pubis, however, was an entirely different story. Her lack of hair left her outer lips completely exposed. It simultaneously thrilled and terrified me.
“Are you always so…bare?” I asked finally.
“Only in the summer.”
Did she have more sex in warmer weather?
“Why just in the summer?”
“Edward, it is called a bikini wax.”
“Oh. That makes sense, I guess.” God, I could be a dumbass. “So, what do you do the rest of the year?”
“I have a landing strip.”
I gulped. That sounded kind of nice.
“May I look at you, Edward?”
“I think I’d rather you didn’t.”
I was irrationally nervous. I’d looked around the locker room enough to know I was decently endowed among my peers. Still, Bella was used to men. I wondered if there was any anatomical difference between a guy my age and one her age, specifically, if my cock would grow while I was in college. I was so lost in my own thoughts, she actually startled me when she spoke.
“If you’re not ready for me to see you, that’s one thing. And that’s okay. Really. I can wait. But if you’re just concerned that I won’t like what I see, I would ask that you trust me. Do you trust me, Edward?”
I trusted her implicitly, even though I knew I shouldn’t.
“Are you ready for me to look at you?”
“Yes,” I whispered, staring over her shoulder. “Is it…” I paused before continuing. “Is it okay?”
“Edward, look at me.”
I clenched my eyes shut before bringing them back to meet hers.
“It’s perfect. You’re perfect.”
My cock wins!
I knew I was packing heat.
“May I wash your hair?” she asked. “You’ll have to get on your knees for me to be able to reach.”
I’d been on my knees before Bella since the first moment I saw her. She just didn’t know this.
“I don’t want you to ever doubt yourself. Not with me. Not ever.”
The feeling of her massaging my scalp as she washed my hair was beyond description. She nudged me gently when it was time for me to rinse and I stood under the shower head as she quickly washed her own hair.
I studied the glistening skin at the juncture of her thighs. It was just flesh, just like anywhere else on her body. Everything between her outer lips was still a wet, pink mystery.
I wouldn’t even know what to do with it.
“That looks complicated,” I said finally.
“What, washing long hair? You get used to it.”
“No, that.” I angled my head down towards her crotch.
She laughed and gave me a peck on the lips. “You get used to that, too.”
We got out of the tub and I pulled on my boxers. She’d put on a new tank top and shorts, and we settled into both her bed and easy conversation.
“So, Emmett invited me to the Phillies’ game Saturday.”
“That should be a lot of fun. You’ll probably be in his father’s seats. They’re right behind home plate.”
She seemed almost a little too enthusiastic.
“I wasn’t sure if I should go.”
“I wanted to determine the origin of the invitation.”
“You mean you want to know if I asked Emmett to include you? I didn’t.”
My shock must have registered.
“Does that surprise you?” she asked.
“No, but I was starting to second guess myself. I mean, it seemed like Emmett and I hit it off, but guys my age usually don’t include me.”
“That may be true, but Emmett’s seven years older than you. So, will you go?”
“Yes. Do you mind if I borrow your laptop? I should send him an email and tell him we’re on.”
“Of course you may. It’s on the dining room table. Why don’t you bring it up here? I’m not ready to let you out of bed yet.”
I ran downstairs and found Bella’s laptop. I was excited to both reply to Emmett and to get back to holding Bella. The second I returned to her bed, she closed her eyes and rested her face against my chest. I opened her computer to find her browser displaying a site headlined What You Should Know About IUDs.
She opened her eyes and I gestured to the laptop.
“Something I’m getting. It’s not a big deal. You can close the tab.”
My eyes scanned the page.
An inter-uterine device (IUD) is a small object inserted through the cervix into the uterus to prevent pregnancy.
I gulped. “Birth control?”
My eyes went back to the website. There was a drawing of a t-shaped thing with points on the ends of it.
“Wait, you’re going to have that stuck up there?” I asked in disbelief.
“Will it hurt?”
“Probably a little.”
“Are you’re doing this for me?”
“Yes. When the time comes I don’t want you to worry.”
I read the rest of the page. “Bella, are you sure? There’s a lot that can go wrong with this. It seems kind of invasive. Some people have crazy side effects and it still doesn’t protect against STDs.”
“Is that something you’re worried about?”
It actually hadn’t occurred to me until just now. “Should I be?”
“In general? Yes, it’s something that any responsible, sexually active person should worry about.”
“I wasn’t asking generally. My parents are doctors, I’ve been getting the safe sex talk since before I could walk. Specifically, as it pertains to us, is this something I should be worried about?”
Please be clean. Please, God, please let her be clean.
“If you’re asking if I have any STDs, to my knowledge the answer is no. However, it’s been over a year since I was tested for HIV so I had the lab work done again last week. I’ll find out the results on Monday.”
“So you’re fine then.” I exhaled in relief.
“We can’t assume that.”
Sure, we could.
“Bella, how many sexual partners can one person have in a year?”
She looked panicked. I heard my dad’s voice in my head warning me not to ask questions for which I was not prepared to hear the answer.
“It only takes one.”
I didn’t care how many people she’d fucked. None of them mattered to her, therefore I saw no reason for them to matter to me. It did, however, bother me she didn’t think I could handle this discussion.
And she would be right. I can’t handle this discussion.
If you’re not able to talk about it, you’re not ready to do it.
I took a deep breath and chose my words carefully.
“True, but there’s more to this than that. Bella, the number of people you’ve slept with changes nothing. You’re older than me, I knew you were going to have more experience. That doesn’t bother me. The fact that you won’t tell me does bother me. It tells me you either don’t trust me or you don’t think I can handle your answer, and you were so convinced of this that you thought you needed to do all of this on your own.”
“It’s my body, Edward.”
“I know, but I still want to come with you on Monday.”
As uncomfortable as the idea made me, I couldn’t imagine my father letting my mother go through something like that alone.
“To my gynecologist? Edward, we’ve been dating less than a week. What’s next? Tomorrow are you going to run to Target and buy me tampons?”
“I’d go right now if you needed them.”
Please, please, God, let her never need them.
“Look, I don’t need to be in the exam room with you. I’d actually prefer if I weren’t. But if you’re nervous about your test results, then you shouldn’t be there alone. Is that okay?”
“Yes,” she said hesitantly.
“Can I ask you something? You don’t have to answer.”
“You really did all this for me?”
“You know I’ll wear condoms, right? I fully expected that when the time comes I would. You don’t have to do this for me.”
“I know. Besides, condoms as birth control are not infallible.”
Unless my dad was just trying to scare me shitless, I knew for a fact they had an eleven percent failure rate. Not to mention that if the guys I’d overheard at school knew what they were talking about, it also felt like shit to wear one.
“I just wish you felt you could talk to me. There’s nothing you could say that would change how I feel about you.”
“I’m starting to believe that.” She absentmindedly ran her fingers across my chest. “I ran into your mother at the mall yesterday. Apparently, Alice is her personal shopper.”
The fact we had mutual acquaintances made everything feel more right; if only she could see this.
“Anyway,” she continued, “She officially invited me to spend Fourth of July at the beach with your family, and I accepted.”
I pulled her against me and buried my face in her hair. “Thank you. You won’t regret this; I promise.” I hoped she realized I wasn’t just talking about the long weekend. “I should get going. I told my dad I’d have the truck back before lunch.”
I pulled on my jeans, and she followed me downstairs.
“Thank you…for being you.”
Her simple acknowledgment made it all worthwhile.
“You’re welcome, Bella. You’re always welcome.”