Cullen’s recent panty trick might have implied he was back to trying to weasel his way between my legs, but that didn’t mean he could give me what I wanted while he was there. On the other hand—specifically, my right one—my middle and index fingers were a sure thing. Then again, there were lots of very smart women who’d had no-strings-attached sex with him. Either he’d been able to get them off, or there were several very disappointed women walking around Philadelphia. I thought of the women in our anatomy lab; the fact the majority of them appeared to be miserable most of the time wasn’t exactly encouraging.

Leaning closer to me, he spoke directly into my ear. “Just tell me.”

“I want to come.” I put my arms around his waist, hooked my thumbs into the waistband of his jeans, and pressed my hips against his.

The sound he made was a cross between and gasp and a moan, and though I wasn’t sure how to classify it, I knew it was real, that it came from a place inside him where genuine emotion managed to trump victory’s fleeting euphoria. It also meant his guard was down. I wondered if maybe he was telling the truth—that at least for the moment, he wasn’t playing me. Then his arms tightened around me and his fingers threaded themselves into my hair at the base of my neck, and I wasn’t sure if I cared anymore.

“You don’t need me for that,” he whispered, grinding himself against me.

“I don’t need you, period. I just want you.”

He angled my head back slightly, and his eyes met his mine. Though I couldn’t identify the emotion I saw in them, its intensity made me uncomfortable enough that I averted my gaze.

“Look at me,” he said. He cupped my face and ran his calloused thumbs across my cheeks. “I both need you and want you. I don’t think you’ll ever understand how much.”

He kissed me, and though it wasn’t our first kiss, it might as well have been. It wasn’t a power play or a seduction attempt, nor was it solely about competition and lust—not that the latter wasn’t present. His mouth met mine with impassioned roughness, and somehow he managed to repeat without words the same sentiment he’d just spoken.

It almost compelled me to believe him—and that was why there was something I needed to make clear to him. His lips trailed to my neck, affording me the ability to speak.

“I know you’re having a bad time right now–”

He straightened his back and replaced his mouth with his hands. Looking into my eyes, he stroked my neck and shoulders before brushing his knuckles down my chest.

“Believe me,” he said. “This is helping.”

Then he pinched my nipples through my slip, and I didn’t doubt it was helping me, too—far more than I cared to admit. Gasping, I tried not to let my body overwhelm my mind.

“I think that may be the problem.”

His eyes met mine, but his hands stayed on my breasts. “I don’t understand.”

“The last time you had sex…” I stopped when I remembered I was talking to Cullen. “Wait, are you even sure when that was? I mean, it must be hard to keep track–”

He rolled his eyes. “I remember it, Esme.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m a fairly intelligent person, and I haven’t done anything that would cause me to lose brain cells.”

“No, I mean, why did you have sex that night? Not that you have to do it at night…” I stammered like an idiot.

“Because I needed to get off.” His hands moved to my ass and pulled me into him. “When I asked you what you wanted, you said you wanted to come…” He rocked his hips from side to side, dragging his denim-clad erection across the front of my body. “I can make you come, Esme.”

I was ready to explode. Then he let go and stepped away from me. I thought he’d changed his mind, until he took me by the hand and led me into my room, stopping only after the backs of his legs hit the bed. He sat down and spread his knees, pulling me until I stood between them. His hands went under my slip, and his calloused fingers slowly felt their way up my legs.

I’d never been more turned on, and I was starting to panic.

“I don’t think I can do this.”

Immediately, he pulled my slip down to cover my legs and rested his hands on the bed beside him.

“Okay,” he said.

“I thought I could. I mean, I want to.” I ran my hands through my hair, groaning. “God, how I want to. It’s just I’ve never done this before–”

“Wait, you’re a virgin?” He looked appalled.

I snorted. “God, no. Though the sex I’ve had has been largely forgettable, I have had sex. Lots of it, in fact.”

“Okay.” He narrowed his eyes, then shook his head. “I’m sorry, but I’m confused–”

“I know I threw myself at you on our second date, and that probably gave you certain ideas about who I am, but that wasn’t me. My asexual roller-rink get-up the night before wasn’t me either. Both nights, I was just trying to make you feel as off-balance as you do me. I’m neither easy nor hard to get. I’m just normal. I’m twenty-two years old, and while I am sexually experienced, I’ve never done this.

“What are you talking about?”

If I told him I’d never had casual sex, he’d just feed me some line about how this wasn’t casual for him. Then tomorrow at lab, he’d scope out some fresh anatomy, and I’d end up spending life in prison for castrating him with school-issued surgical tools. Besides, I knew it wasn’t that simple.

“How many times have you been in love?” I asked.

“Twice.”

“How many sexual partners have you had?” I regretted the question the second it came out of my mouth. “Wait, don’t answer that. I don’t think I want to know, but I’m guessing if you told me, it would be a number greater than two.”

“Yes.”

“Yeah,” I said, sighing. “The number for me is the same.”

“You’ve been in love two times?”

“That’s not what I’m talking about. I meant that I’ve only ever had sex when I thought I was in love. I’ve never done it just because I was horny and someone offered, or as a means of giving comfort…”

“Oh.” He sighed, nodding his head.

“I’m sorry for leading you on.”

“You haven’t.”

“No, I have. I invited you to spend the night with me, then paraded around in front of you in lingerie. There’s a certain connotation to that sort of behavior, you know?”

“I took off my shirt.”

Shrugging, he leaned back onto my bed and braced himself with his elbows, but I remained frozen in place. Under the circumstances, I should have removed myself from my position between his legs, but I couldn’t—I liked being there too much, even if I knew I wasn’t ready to welcome him between mine. My hypocrisy didn’t escape me.

“You’d take it all off it I’d let you.”

“Probably,” he admitted, smiling.

“That’s why I’m sorry.”

“Esme, I’m not going to pretend I’ve always behaved admirably. There are lots of things I’ve done I’m not exactly proud of, but this…” He gestured between us.”…isn’t one of them. I’ve never pressured someone into sex, nor have I ever made a woman feel guilty for declining my advances. I respect that this isn’t something you feel comfortable doing. If you want me to go home, I will.”

“Is that what you want?”

“No,” he said, shaking his head.

“Because of your brother?”

“Because I’d rather be with you. The fact that staying here prevents me from witnessing Wes’s self-destruction is just a bonus.”

“Is it that bad?”

“Only because there’s no accountability. He can get into as much trouble as he wants—my parents will not only make excuses for him, they’ll make the whole thing go away. Wes knows this, so he has no reason to pull himself together.”

“They can’t be that over-indulgent,” I said. “After all, you turned out okay.”

“I’m not an addict. Though I did my share of experimenting, I’ve always had an interest in medicine. When I was his age, I’d smoke an occasional bowl, but I never dabbled in the hard stuff. I couldn’t; I knew what it could do to a person’s body.” He closed his eyes and sighed. “Anyway, I deal with Wes all the time; I’m used to it. He’s not worth a moment of your discomfort, and shouldn’t factor into whether or not you allow me to spend the night. Make the decision based on what you want; don’t worry about anything else.”

What I wanted embarrassed the shit out of me, but since I was getting used to feeling like a douchebag around Cullen, I put it out there anyway.

“I want to give you a hug. Is that okay?”

When he didn’t say anything, I slid onto the beside him and wrapped my arms around his neck.

“Thank you,” he said.

“I haven’t done anything.”

“You’ve done more than you know.”

Cullen didn’t sleep in his apartment that night—or any night of the next several weeks. Maggie was thrilled to curl up in his king-sized water bed and watch MTV each night, even if she did make him buy a new set of sheets and unwrap them in front of her, just to be safe. She claimed it was only fair—especially considering the likelihood that Cullen’s bedding had seen more bodily fluids than a porn set and an anatomy lab combined. Meanwhile, the sheets on her bed were pristine.

Of course, Maggie assumed Cullen was crashing in her room. Though she knew how close I’d come to having sex with him, she also knew I couldn’t bring myself to go through with it. As far as she was concerned, he was staying with me for academic purposes only. Specifically, so we could study anatomy together without distractions. It didn’t occur to her that I was paying special attention to his. Though I’d yet to see him naked, I still considered myself an expert on his body. After all, each night I pressed myself up against it and went to sleep in his arms.






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  1. on 20 Jan 2011 at 8:02 amSea4Me

    This is sweet, but is it the end?

    [Reply]

    Colleen reply:

    No. I’ve just been kind of bad about updating.

    [Reply]


  2. on 23 Jan 2011 at 3:57 pmKate (katydid13(

    This is wonderful! How did I miss this for days? I came to re-read and here was this wonderful update.

    I love the story you are weaving. I keep wondering about Wes though since I don’t think he’s mentioned in Counterpoint or Art After 5. Not that main point of course, but I wonder.

    I love you paint Carlisle and Esme coming together as a couple.

    [Reply]


  3. on 19 Feb 2011 at 12:52 amLeigh

    I just wanted to let you know that after this whole AA5 experience, you have officially ruined canon Carlisle for me. And I’m pretty sure I love you for it.

    [Reply]