“Are you sure you didn’t just need a designated driver?”
Emmett and I had been at Citizens Bank Park for fifty-eight minutes, and I still had no idea why he’d invited me.
He picked up his two lagers from the beer stand and looked at me confusedly before handing one of them to me.
“It takes a lot more than this to get me drunk. Besides, when I get trashed I like to take the Subway. It gives me time to sober up before facing Rose.”
“Does Rose not approve of you drinking?” I asked when we’d finally made our way back to our seats.
“It’s not exactly like that,” he explained. “She’s not puritanical, if that’s what you mean. But take today, for example. She’d love to be at the game right now with us, but she’s working. If I come home shit-faced after she spent all day pouring over legal briefs, she’d be mildly resentful. I wouldn’t blame her. It would be kind of a shit move on my part. Though she did choose her own career path, she is more or less supporting me right now. I try to be as respectful of her as possible.”
I looked at him dumbfounded. “You’re okay with that?”
“With Rose supporting you financially?”
“She prefers it to the alternative. My teaching stipend is almost nothing. I would never ask her to live in a war zone because it was easier on my ego. Besides, she is always going to make more money. Attorneys earn more than history professors.”
The dynamics of their relationship fascinated me.
“Huh,” I muttered inarticulately. “You don’t find that makes you feel…”
Emmett laughed. “Emasculated? No. Believe me, I never forget I’m a man when I’m around Rose.”
My cheeks heated up in embarrassment. “I didn’t mean it like that. I was talking more about feeling like a child. I suppose trivialized is a better word for it than emasculated.”
Emmett looked at me briefly before turning his gaze back to the game. “So, Bella treats you like a child.”
It was partially a question but mostly a statement, and I wasn’t sure how to respond to it. I looked down at my untouched lager and took a sip.
Emmett took my silence as confirmation. “If it makes you feel any better, a lot of that is just how Bella is. She’s a high school teacher, and she definitely has all of the mannerisms down. Half of what she says to me comes off as if she’s giving a lecture. Condescension is her preferred method of communication. It can be infuriating as fuck, but she doesn’t mean it to be insulting. The good thing is that she doesn’t flip out if you call her on it. You can tell her she’s being a narrow-minded shrew and nine times out of ten, she’ll laugh and buy you a tequila shot.”
“Why would Bella trivialize you?”
“She thinks I’m a dumb jock.”
I didn’t know much about Emmett, but I did know that he went to Penn. I was shocked that Bella would make assumptions about his intellect based on first impressions.
“Do they even have dumb jocks in the Ivy League?”
Please, God. Let there be no dumb jocks at Princeton.
“As far as I know, they have them everywhere, but that’s not the point.”
Shit. I took a little comfort in the idea that they would almost certainly be in the minority.
Emmett continued speaking. “Bella and Alice both tend to view things superficially. Take me, for example. I played football as an undergrad until I was injured during my junior year. I still watch a lot of sports, usually while drinking a lot of beer. Therefore, as far as they are concerned, I’ve lost far too many brain cells to have anything meaningful to contribute.”
I didn’t want to think of Bella as being that shallow, but then again, I didn’t really know her all that well.
“I think that would infuriate me.”
“No, it’s kind of amusing. I see it as a challenge.”
“To prove they’re wrong?”
Emmett laughed. “Hell, no. I like to see if I can exceed their expectations by being the stereotype. It’s funny as hell, because they both flip out if someone dares to judge them. Even more hilarious is that the irony of this completely escapes them.”
“I don’t know that I’d call Bella judgmental. She just seems a bit…dismissive of my intentions. I get the sense she thinks this is a summer fling for me. It’s not.”
“She probably thinks you’re trying to manipulate her. I’d try not to take that personally. Bella doesn’t have a whole lot of experience with people meaning what they say and saying what they mean.”
Though his words were encouraging, I still felt as though I were somehow betraying Bella by discussing my insecurities with Emmett. I changed the subject.
“So, how did you meet Rose?”
He smiled broadly. “At Happy Hour. She was on the other end of the bar from me. I knew I’d never be able to work my way through the sea of men in suits standing around her, so I sent a drink over to her. When the bartender told her it was from me, she looked over, nodded, and began furiously typing on her Blackberry. She didn’t smile or wave, or do anything that would indicate she was interested. I thought that would be the end of it. Five minutes later, she was standing behind me, asking if I wanted to go someplace quieter.”
I looked at him confusedly.
“What?” he asked.
“Huh.” I looked at Emmett in disbelief. “I always thought that was code for let’s go have sex.”
He laughed and took another swig of his beer.
“It is,” he said, winking at me.
The heat of my cheeks intensified and I realized I was incredibly out of my element. It then occurred to me that socially, I had no idea what my element was. How did guys talk to each other?
I hated that I was so transparent. I took a swig of beer and sighed.
Emmett kept his eyes on the field as he spoke. “This isn’t an audition. I’m not reporting back to Rose and Bella when I get home.”
That was bit of a relief. “Can I ask you question?”
I took a deep breath. “If you didn’t need a designated driver and this isn’t a reconnaissance mission, why did you invite me out today?”
“You seemed like an interesting guy, and you kind of remind me of my older brother. He was a lot like you when he was your age. Advanced, for lack of a better word. He graduated from Brandeis when he was twenty. When we were in high school, it wasn’t easy for him to make friends. Of course, that changed when he got to college.”
I stared intently at the field in front of me and pretended to focus on the game. Thirty-six seconds later, Emmett spoke.
“Look, Edward, I don’t think of you as a charity case, if that’s what you’re thinking. I’d be lying though if I pretended that I was not aware of the unique social challenges that people such as yourself encounter.”
“Is it that obvious I have no friends?” I asked bitterly.
“Yes, but I’m a bit more observant than most, and I know what things were like for my brother.”
“You’re not pissed at me, are you?” Emmett asked.
I should have been pissed.
I hated the idea that Emmett took pity on me, and hated the idea that my loneliness was palpable. Despite that, I found myself feeling grateful. He was loud and funny, and so far I was having a pretty good time. I had a strange feeling that Emmett and I were going to get along well.
“No. Though in all honesty, I kind of want to be.”
Emmett laughed and smacked me on the back.
“So, do you have any other siblings besides your older brother?” I asked.
“No, it’s just the two of us. He lives in Boston though, so we don’t see much of him. You?”
“I’m an only child. My parents had a baby before me, but he died from SIDs when he was six weeks old. It’s kind of strange for me to think of how things would have been had he lived…you know, if we would have been close, if I wouldn’t have felt so isolated, if he would have been like me.”
Seven seconds later, Ryan Howard hit a home run and we leapt to our feet, cheering. After the noise of the crowd subsided and we could hear each other again, I turned to Emmett.
“Thanks for inviting me. Not only are the seats amazing, but the company isn’t half bad, either.”
He laughed. “My dad has season tickets but rarely comes to games. We should make this a regular thing.”
“I’d like that.”
Three hours and twenty-four minutes of male bonding later, I stood on Bella’s porch and rang her doorbell. She pulled me inside, and closed the door quickly behind me before pressing her mouth against mine.
“I wasn’t expecting to see you today,” she purred between kisses.
“The game let out sooner than I thought. I have some time before my parents are expecting me home.”
“In that case, would you like to come upstairs?”
Her smile was pure sex, and extremely hard to resist.
I nodded slowly, and she took my hand and led me up the steps to her bedroom. She pushed me gently so I was sitting on the edge of her bed and stood between my legs, running her hands through my hair. Her eyes rolled over my body before finally settling on my crotch.
“Looks like someone is very happy to see me.”
My face felt as if it were on fire. I was mortified that she could tell that I was hard.
“Why are you blushing?” She looked down at me and cupped my face in her hands.
“Isn’t it obvious?” I lowered my eyes to my lap briefly before once again meeting her gaze. “I’m here less than two minutes and I pitch a tent. I don’t want you to think this was a booty call.”
She laughed. “I don’t mind if it is, you know.” She leaned into me and took my earlobe between her lips, grazing it lightly with her teeth. “If that’s what you want, you’re welcome to it.”
Her tongue pressed into my ear and the sensation made me dizzy. I pressed my hands into the bed beside my thighs to steady myself as her tongue moved down my neck. She fisted the hem of my shirt and lifted it up to the middle of my chest.
“Can we lose this?” she asked.
I hesitantly raised my arms above my head and she pulled off my shirt, quickly following it with her own. She pushed me down onto the bed so that I was lying on my back and straddled my hips. My denim-clad cock pressed into the junction of her thighs, and I grunted involuntarily at the sensation.
She found the button of my jeans and popped it open.
“Bella, no.” I captured both of her hands in mine and pulled her into my chest.
She sighed and rested her head against my shoulder. “I thought that’s what you wanted.”
“I do,” I assured her. “But I’d also like it to mean something.”
“Because it’s your first time?”
“Because it’s our first time,” I clarified.
“I love that sex means so much to you. As corny as it sounds, it almost makes me feel special.”
“My virginity makes you feel special? That’s completely absurd.”
“No, not the fact that you’re a virgin, though now that I think about it, I suppose your lack of experience does guarantee that you’ll remember me for the rest of your life.”
She had no idea how much I cared for her.
I rolled over to my side so I could see her face. “Even if we never go any farther than this, I’ll still remember you for the rest of my life.”
“Edward, if we never go any farther than this, I’ll remember you forever as the guy who made me so sexually frustrated that my clit shriveled up and fell off.”
I laughed. “Patience is a virtue.”
“I’ve never claimed to be virtuous.”
She trailed a finger down my chest. I caught it and pressed it against my lips.
“We’re also waiting because I want it to mean something to you,” I whispered.
As I stared into her eyes, I remembered what Emmett said about Bella. I realized that she probably thought I was manipulating her by withholding sex. I wondered how many times she’d been hurt by people she loved, people who claimed to love her in return. If only there were a scientific way of quantifying emotional pain. It would be so much easier for me to figure out how to balance the equation. I wanted to be optimistic, though ultimately I knew it would be futile.
Even if I somehow managed to pull it off, the laws of mathematics dictated I’d still be left with zero.