Chapter 17: Set You Free

Nobody was aware of someone like I was aware of Edward.

I was sitting at my desk in school, thinking of Edward. I was working the bar, thinking of Edward. I was at practice with Kate kicking our ass and Brady's hands around my waist as he jumped, jumped me and lifted me high, thinking of Edward. I was with Riley, thinking of Edward. I was think, think, thinking of Edward. Even when I slept, even when I knew I shouldn't.

Especially then.

Which was always.

I thought of his eyes and his smile, his laughter and his words. At first. Hi. Hi. Bella, Bella. His breath and his lips and his hands brushing my thighs as he pushed me on that tyre-swing and that frayed knot, the one above and the one in my stomach. His pinkie, his lips… on mine.

"Bellaaaa," Alice was snapping her fingers in my face, "Where you at?"

"Right here," I lied. My head was far away, never-land which wasn't quite so never anymore.

She huffed, "This about your secret fella?"

She was jibing and poking fun and unwittingly making me feel like shit on the bottom of a shoe. This fella was no secret. He'd been in my family for years and I was making him a secret.

My eyes flashed to Riley, chatting with Jasper by the porch pillars with brown beer bottles in hand. He saw me looking and smiled at me easy, that boyish and charming way he did.

Things would be easier if he wasn't so good to me.

We were at Riley's house, chilling after school. We'd come right after practice. The boys had stayed to watch even though that wasn't usually allowed, but Kate was off sick and Irina had taken over, much to Alice's chagrin, and she hadn't put up a fight when the boys had sat in the stands. They'd watched us attentively, hooting and cat-calling when we flashed our bloomers after a series of twists and turns and kicks. My eyes would flash to Riley's and I'd look away quickly, embarrassed.

Because I wished they were somebody else's eyes. Because those eyes made my heart pound like crazy. These eyes, Riley's, didn't even cause a stir. Not even once.

And then when practice finished, I'd coerced Alice and Jasper to come back to Riley's with me. He'd seemed miffed at my insistence, but I pretended not to notice. I knew what would happen if he took me there alone and I couldn't do that. Not now, not after…

He jerked his chin at me, telling me to come to him. I flitted my eyes from Alice and back to him and held my drink up to him. It was just water and ice and it clinked against the side of the cup. It wasn't exactly summer weather, but I liked chewing ice chunks. Alice thought it was serial-killer behaviour and pulled a face every time I chomped down.

He turned back to Jasper and I turned back to Alice.

"There is no secret fella."

"Your mouth tells me something, but your eyes say something different," She said all jokey, but it didn't seem like she was joking.

"Well, you're wrong. I've decided to stay with Riley," I said, a wavery false-conviction to my voice because I had no idea where this was coming from and it wasn't true, but I was making it. Pretending to at least.

She quirked her eyebrow, "Really?"

I nodded, feeling the pitter-patter of my heart against my ribs with more lies feeding its heavy beat, "Yeah, I don't know what I was thinking."

She hummed, taking a slurp of her drink. She smelled of cigarettes and weed, but her eyes were sure and perceptive on my face, "Well, okay I guess. If that's what you really want."

"It is."

"Well, alrighty then," and then, "Hey, these are pretty," and her fingers ran over my earrings. The ones Edward got me.

She stepped back and I touched them, too, feeling the swirls and indentations of diamanté's beneath my fingertips.

"Thanks. They're off my mom." She hadn't asked, but the lies came easy now.

Riley saddled up behind me, planting kisses on the side of my throat, arms slipping around my waist, "Hey, beautiful, wanna get out of here?" I assumed that meant his bedroom.

Alice was staring. I shook my head, looking at the floor and he tugged on my hips to spin me to face him, his hands lingering, "I actually need to get home. I've got a bunch of papers to write."

"Already?" He said, squeezing me like he was trying to convince me otherwise.

Alice's phone rang and she went down the porch steps to the perfectly pruned garden to answer. Riley's house was nice, on the upper side of town with the cliché white picket fence and the levelled grass and the mailbox with The Biers painted intricately along the side. His mom was boozy-perfect and his dad was always on business trips, but they were always nice to me; their only child's strait-laced smiley-polite girlfriend.

"Yeah," I said, stepping away, spinning to face him, "Miss Birdy's a bitch. Sorry."

And there I went thinking about Edward again.

We don't say that.

"Maybe another time," I tacked on.

He frowned, rubbing circles into my hips with his thumbs, "Well, okay. Need a ride?"

I shook my head, kissing his cheek quickly, hoping that would be enough, "Nah, Dad's picking me up. You stay, have fun."

"I can't without you here, baby," He pouted, drawing me back in.

My stomach rolled. And then he kissed me. I pushed his shoulders back and he smiled like I was playing hard-to-get.

He sighed, relenting, "Call me later?"

"I will," I said, even though I knew I wouldn't.

"Do you have to go?" Alice pouted when I rounded on her. Jasper had gone to refill their drinks.

"Yeah, papers."

She knew I was lying, but she didn't say. I wondered what was going through her head as her heavy-high eyes rimmed in black flitted over my face.

"Right, wanna hang this weekend? Leah said she feels a little better today. Maybe we could go to the beach."

Yeah, there was some sort of flu going around. Leah hadn't been in school for two days and Kate hadn't been in for three.

"The beach?" I laughed, "Alice, it's mid-January."

She shrugged, "That's never stopped us before."

"True, I'll see. I've got—"

"Papers," She said.


I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do.

The situation was fucked-up to say the least. I knew what I should be doing, what I decidedly should not be doing, but that was long out of the window now. I just didn't know where that left me.

I'd never expected him to be the one to initiate things, never thought there were things to be initiated, at least not on his part. But here we were.

Two weeks later.

No accidentally-on-purpose bump-ins or completely-on-purpose phone-calls or messages. Nada, zilch. I was completely in the lurch and it was driving me crazy.

I wondered if he'd told Vickie. I hadn't seen her either. But I knew he hadn't. I had this feeling. If he couldn't tell her he was helping me with gardening last summer, there was no way he'd tell her he'd given me kisses reserved for her.

I hoped he wasn't still kissing her. The thought turned my stomach, but I wasn't naive enough to believe that. I was just his girlfriend's kid-cousin who he just so happened to kiss, again and again. Pinky-holding and too-cool milkshakes, cream-fights and cool-nights, tyre-swings and madly-fluttering tummy's. Heart-shaped sunglasses and dainty earrings, moonlight and sunshine, tinsel and broken life-lines, and lies, lies, lies…

And the thought that maybe, just maybe, he might like me, too.

I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do, but I knew what I wanted to do.

It was a misty Saturday morning. The air was brisk and so were my steps as I made my way over to Black's, the garage Billy Black owned on the other side of town. It was overpriced and seedy, but I wasn't going there to get a non-existent car fixed-up. I was going there to see Rose. Or so I kept telling myself.

She'd been working there for nearing two weeks now and I figured she'd be settled enough to allow for company. I hadn't seen her in as long, but we'd spoken on the phone and she seemed to have a love-hate relationship with the place. They'd put her on reception, handling calls and sorting files and receipts. Apparently, Billy Black wasn't the most organised of folk and it reflected in the disorganised chaos that was his back-office and his disparaging treatment of Rose.

"He hates me. Like, seriously, hates me. Always grumbling and hissing things at me," She'd said on the phone.

"Hissing?" I'd laughed.

"Yes, hissing. Him and Mrs Cope would get on like a house on fire, you know, those cats and all."

I'd laughed at this, much to her chagrin, but she'd laughed along with me in the end.

Edward was apparently the one who'd offered her the job without passing it by Billy and he hadn't been reciprocal to the idea. Edward must've been pretty darn convincing Rose had said. But then I already knew that.

"Apparently, Edward said he couldn't handle the disorder any more, and the guys agreed with him. Yes, guys. Just guys. Can you believe that? What sort of misogynistic bullshit is that…"

And then she'd proceeded to go off on a rant that rivalled even Alice's and then back on topic, "…Anyway, they —Edward, whatever— had enough and he asked me, and Billy about threw a hissy-fit when he found out, but Edward stood his ground and —well, you know the rest. But you should see the place, Bells. I feel like I haven't even left this dump for the last two weeks and that's why I haven't called around. Sorry."

And that had been last night, so instead of waiting for her to find time, I'd taken it into my own hands and was making the perilous trek over.

I nibbled on a breakfast bar as I walked and dumped the wrapper in Mrs Cope's trashcan as I passed her little pink bungalow. The curtains fluttered and there were three cats in the window, mewling and watching as I walked, so I quickened my pace.

Hissing indeed.

"You have no idea how happy I am to see you," Rose said as she scooted around her desk to hug me.

I held up the paper bag with the rolled top and waggled it and she made this sound and snatched it, peeling back the creased, greasy paper to reveal the treats I had inside.

She clenched the bag-top in her hand and held it to her stomach, "You didn't."

I smirked and she squealed and set it on her desk, strewn with papers and an old computer —the ancient box-back kind, grey-yellow more than white.

She pulled out a cheese-straw and took a bite with her back teeth, groaning and sitting back at her desk, "I owe you big time."

"Uh, yeah," I said, gesturing to my face and wind-whipped hair, "I walked all the way here. You're lucky I stopped off at all."

She tittered and then groaned when she took another bite, making me laugh. "Mom and Dad got me my first car when I was sixteen," She said around a mouthful.

"Tell me about it. They must hate me or something," I joked, pouting.

"They're just protective of you, B. Besides, you know I crashed that thing within three months of having it. They're probably just taking precautions."

"Well, I'm not you," I blanched, "and how am I ever going to learn if they don't trust me enough to let me? Dad won't even let me near his truck."

Rose guffawed, "Dad wouldn't let you near that thing even if his life depended on it."

"Gee, thanks."

"I'll put in a good word for you," She winked, digging into another and I rolled my eyes, thanking her before taking a moment to look around.

The room was small and cluttered, and there was a window with flimsy, broken blinds looking out onto the garage floor next to the door I'd come through. I pulled a few slats apart, peering through. There was a red car hoisted slightly off the ground on a yellow jack-stand and another behind it lifted right in the air, and shelves and shelves of paint pots and oils and canisters and god-knows what else covering three walls, floor to ceiling. There was a break in the shelves with a door in the gap.

It smelled musty and like gasoline and everything seemed to be covered in a thick, black grease. There were men, but no Edward that I could see of.

"You looking for someone?" Rose asked, digging into another cheesy treat.

I shook my head, looking back at her. She was frowning at the flakes of pastry strewn across her lap, "Just seeing where you work."

"Want a tour?" She joked around a bite, but when I took her up on the offer she went along with it.

"I'm bringing the cheese straws with me though."

I laughed as she dusted the flakes onto the floor, mumbling about cleaning up, but then she went right back to eating and making a mess all over again.

It was bustling and noisy in the main part of the shop. A greasy radio was playing The Carpenters from a stool in the corner and someone was whistling along with it. There was a dirty workbench propped up in the corner with a bendy-lamp and a register perched on top. There was nothing orderly about the place, but I suppose that's why they had Rose around. A woman's touch and all.

She pointed to the door in the back, "That's the break-room. And there's another room back there for parts and non-runners."


She looked at me like I was dumb, "Yeah, you know, cars that won't run?"

"Oh. Why keep them then?"

She shrugged and continued with the tour, "Like I said, it's the parts room."

A few men smiled at me all flirty and Rose waved them off, dragging me to another corner. It was pretty big for such a small town, with separate garages leading off from that one, although slightly smaller.

"Are you happy?"

She smiled, "Yes. I owe Edward big time. Hey, watch it—"

Rose dragged me out of the way before I could trip over a long set of legs hanging out from beneath a beat-up Ford.

I steadied myself on Rose's arm and she offered an apology to the guy as he rolled out from underneath on a creeper. For a moment I thought they were Edwards legs, but then a familiar head rolled out. The sleeves of his navy coveralls rolled up to his elbows, no tattoos, no Edward.

"Oh… hey, Bella, right?"

"Uh, yeah, I—" I looked from his blonde hair to his dirty face. I recognised him, from Edward's birthday party last year, but I couldn't place a name to the face, "Sorry, I forgot your name."

His face fell a little like he was expecting me to remember, "Peter."

"Right, sorry…" I trailed off, seeing a familiar head of dark hair coming from the break-room Rose had pointed out. I felt my heart-rate spike and couldn't help the giddy-scared feeling bubbling up as he walked out, but then that feeling dissipated just as quickly because I recognised the shocking red hair of the person he was tugging along behind him.

"Don't apologise, girl. It's been a while," Peter said and I imagined the flirtatious smile he had going on, but I didn't look. I couldn't tear my eyes away from him, them, Edward and Vickie.

He hadn't seen me, they both hadn't. He was tugging her along and she was trailing along behind, smiling, happy, whilst my stomach twisted and my throat closed up.

"You guys know each other?" Rose was saying. She was looking from Peter to me. And that's when Edward's eyes flickered up, landing on Rose first and then me beside her. To Peter, back to me.

"We met at Ed's birthday bash last year," Peter said, smiling at me. I looked at the floor, the oily footprints ingrained there.

"Hey, little sis," Vickie said, smiling at me sweetly. She was clinging to Edward's arm. I looked from her red nails to his face, wondering what he saw when he stared back at me.


"You come to see Rose in her office?" She said, grinning at Rose like it was the best place.

Rose huffed, "Some office."

Vickie laughed, oblivious to the tension suffocating the place. Or maybe that was just me.

"It's an upgrade," She said and I frowned, not liking the way she said it, like Dad's bar —our bar—was substandard, "We miss you there."

"Yeah, I miss you guys, too," Rose said, an underlying hint of annoyance lining her tone. I looked at her. Maybe she'd picked up on the dig, too.

"What ya got there?" Vickie said, peering forward to look at Rose's hand rustling in the bag. I looked over Vickie's head, at Edward staring right on back, expressionless.

"How you been doing, Bella?" Peter asked, peeling his gloves off.

"Get your grubby hands off my food," Rose was saying to Vickie, smacking her hand away and delving back in to grab another.

"What are they?" Vickie asked.

"Good, thanks." I blushed, tucking my hair behind my ear.

"Back to school, right?" Edward asked, but it was malicious, a warning to Peter, an offhanded dig at me. He lifted that pierced brow at me and I wanted to cry, die and punch him… kiss him.

Rose took a bite, groaning, "Bella brought them for me."

"Cheese straws," I said, "They're cheese straws."

I was so dumb.

Edward's lips twitched.

"Ooh, we're headed out for lunch now. Where did you get them, Bella? They smell divine."

"The diner over on Beechfield."

She turned to Edward, "Can we go get some, Eddie? Pleaseee?"

His jaw rolled, his eyes moving from me down to her, "Sure, babe."

And there it was.

It was two days after that before I gave in to Edward's incessant calls and messages. They kept rolling in and, after pining for it for so long, it was just a matter of time before I gave in. Inevitable, just like that fall.

We need to talk.

Let me explain.

I didn't mean for this to happen.

Two days.

"Bella, hi," He said when I finally answered after the umpteenth call. It sounded like he was surprised I'd actually answered and now that I had, he didn't know what he wanted to say.

I breathed and listened to him do the same. It was cathartic somehow.


I pursed my lips to stop the words that wanted to come out and pressed my cheek to my knees. My heart was pounding and I felt sick, fraught with guilt. But, above all that, masking it just a little, was this sick giddiness that I couldn't repress. Giving up never felt so good.

He sighed, "I'm not sorry."

We don't say that.

I smiled and came undone, thinking of those same words he'd said out the back of his house, but I didn't let him know that right away. Instead, I closed my eyes and relished in the sound of his voice.

"I didn't mean for this to happen, but I'm not sorry, okay? Bella?" There was movement on the other end of the line, rustling and then the familiar flick of a lighter, "Remember? Bella? Are you even there? Fuck…"

"We don't say that."

He waited a beat before speaking and I could hear the smile in his voice when he did, "Exactly."

"I'm not either," Breathy and light, when the situation was anything but. Tears stung the back of my eyes.

"What?" He laughed, letting out this breath.

"I'm not sorry, too."

His laugh was nervous, like he was relieved. Well, that made the two of us.

"I want to see you. Can I see you?" He rushed out.

I mulled it over for all of three seconds, "Yes."

It didn't take long for him to pull up outside my house, windows rolled down despite the less than stellar weather. His head was dipped down as he looked up at my bedroom window from the driver's seat.

I was ready, but I took my time puffing my hair and slipping my shoes on, waiting at the door a second before slipping out; the epitome of blasé but silly-smiling on the inside.

"We can't go to your house," I said, slipping my seatbelt on, looking at him expectantly.

He frowned, but nodded, flashing me a playful smile, "Okay. No sleepovers."

The thought made my cheeks redden. He seemed lighter than ever before and I couldn't help but wonder if that was because of me.

"My mom took the kids to the park," I explained. The park was too close to his place. I didn't want to get caught before we could even start. If that's what we were doing. What were we doing?

"I see," He said, eyes flickering from me to the road, like he couldn't believe I was actually here, "How about the diner?"

That meant he didn't plan on kissing me again. And maybe I shouldn't be thinking about that or wanting it at all, but I always did and I was.

"The lake?" I suggested, feeling small.

The cheesy smile I was rewarded with made me feel ten-foot tall, "The lake it is."

Two days and a lifetime of regret. But who was counting?

Red dust floated up as we pulled into the lot across from the lake. We sat for a moment, waiting for the disturbed sand to settle. Edward let the car idle and I spied the keyring I'd gotten him for Christmas dangling from the keys. He had a Black Keys CD playing and he'd been strumming his fingers along the wheel the entire ride over, whether in excitement or nervousness I didn't know. Maybe a little of both.

Because this thing, whatever it was, was exciting, no matter how wrong it was.

There were three men sporting a rod each, left to dangle over the water as they sat on camper chairs with tinnies of Estrella Damm in hand and cooler boxes by their feet. Edward jerked his chin at them as we walked past and they grinned and nodded their heads, their eyes flittering between the two of us. One looked familiar, but I couldn't place from where. Russet skin and scraggly grey hair to his shoulders, deep-set dark eyes and a pot beer-belly. He was staring, they all were, and I wondered what we looked like to them. A couple? Family? Or was it plain to see that we were sneaking around?

We didn't speak as we passed them and Edward's hands were stuffed in his pockets as he snuck auspicious glances at me.

"What?" I asked, looking over my shoulder. The three men were laughing and talking again, oblivious to us once again. And it was that easy, this normal thing. Nobody wondered about us, nobody judged us. Because they didn't know. How could they? I don't know why I felt like it was written all over my face. But I guess that was just the guilt talking.

"I just— I didn't think you'd give me the time of day," He said, looking at me like he thought I was going to run.

"I'm here aren't I?"

"Yeah, but at the garage the other day…" He scratched behind his ear, "I thought I'd ruined it. I was such a dick."

"Yes, you were," I said, nodding my head a little, "But what else were you supposed to do? Kiss me?" I asked and pursed my lips. The words had just slipped right out, making this real. He swallowed, looking from my lips to the foxtail grass sprawling out the edge of the water to his left, "Sorry, I shouldn't have said that."

"Don't say that, remember?" He smiled, but it was tinged with something that I'd felt all along, the thing written all over my face.

"Right. Not sorry."

"And, no, I couldn't do… that… but I didn't have to be so cold with you. You don't deserve that. This is on me."

And he looked like he believed it.

"Edward, don't. Don't blame yourself. I wanted you to kiss me. I've wanted you to kiss me for a while," I bit my lip, surprised that I was admitting to it, "I kissed you back, remember?"

He hummed, lips all twisted like he was fighting a grin, "I remember."

And he looked like he did. Damn.

"But I didn't mean for this to happen," He grimaced, resignation settling in.

"I know," I said simply, "you've said that already."

He looked at me hard.

"And… me either," I added as an afterthought. I felt my cheeks bloom despite the sharp whip of wind that came from the water.

"So, what now?" I asked. He seemed to have lost the ability to speak and I couldn't stop.

He halted, rounding on me. He toed a patch of grass with his shoe. His lips moved but the wind ate up his words, so I said, "What?"

"I'm not sorry, I told you," He shouted, but the whistle of the wind had ebbed away and I heard him loud and clear.

Air got caught in my throat and I choked it down, eyes flickering from his parted lips to his wide eyes, "Me either," I repeated.

He pressed his lips together and smirked, eyes trailing over me, "Yeah?"

I nodded, smashing my lips together to stop the giddy smile from giving me away, "Yes. I'm not sorry that I want you."

I'm not sorry for everything that means. I'm not sorry for the pain it's going to cause. I'm not sorry for the lies we'll have to tell. Not sorry, not sorry, sorry…

He groaned, "You can't— I mean, this is a bad idea."

"I know that, too."

"You don't care? Vic…"

"No, no, it's not like that… for me…"

He frowned, mulling it over for a second. His eyes widened, "You think? Shit, you think I'm doing this to hurt her on purpose?"

I shook my head, "I don't know. I just— I've never…"

His hands were moving through his hair and he looked at war with himself, like he was trying to fight down everything he was feeling. I guess he was, "Bella, it's the same for me. I've never done anything like this, never thought I would, until…"


He didn't say it, but I knew and the thought made me stupid-elated.

"Same here. I mean, I've never wanted to."

Those men started up a raucous, laughing and shouting as one of their lines started tugging with a catch.

"Come on," Edward said and he held his hand out to me like it was the most normal thing in the world. Well, it fit like a glove so it must've been. His hand squeezed once and so did my heart.

We walked hand-in-hand down the waterfront and I tucked my chin into my jacket, hiding my smile, liking how my hand fit in his. Edward was stony-silent and solemn beside me, eyebrows furrowed and looking like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders. He was hurting whilst I was internally rejoicing, but that feeling quickly evaporated.

"We're gonna hurt her," He didn't have to specify. He was the voice of reason now it seemed.

The only thing that undermined the voice of reason was emotion and there was plenty of emotion here. I'd felt it in his stares and his words and his touches and his lips and his hand in mine, and it was all in me, too, bubbling up.

"I know," I said quietly, even though my thoughts were loud and angry.

"You don't care?" He said, glancing at me like he couldn't bear to look for too long. He was flip-flopping between nervous-excitement at the prospect of us and plummeting when the reality of that caught up with him. He was intense and I didn't know if I could handle that, yet here I was.

"Of course I do! But I can't help how I feel… about you."

He shook his head, dropping my hand, "This is wrong. So wrong."

He tugged on his hair, arms raised above his head, stalking back and forth like a caged animal and I was caging him. I was caging him, but he'd caged me long before.


He stopped, looking over at me, and dropped his arms, his guard and I was there, in front of him. I tucked my hair behind my ears and I had his attention, all of it. And I liked that feeling.

He touched my earlobes, a gentle brush, over those earrings he got me.

"I love that you wear these," He said lowly.

"Always," I breathed, "I always wear them, never take them out."


I shook my head a little, light-headed, agreeing blindly, blind, and I thought maybe he was going to kiss me. But he pressed his lips against my forehead, long and scorching. And then he touched my cheek, like a child and I felt just like one. Searing and soaring.

But that was enough, for now.

Take it slow, easy. When it was anything but.

"You said 'at first,'" I pressed.

"I did," He said simply. His lips twitched, like he wasn't sure whether he was allowed to smile, to be happy. I wasn't either.


"You grew up, Milkshake Girl."

I smiled, I let myself feel it and I revelled in it, that feeling he instilled.

He smiled, smirked, half-hearted and wishy-washy and taking me all in, like he was letting himself feel it, too. Well, I didn't know what there was to look at, me in my pea-coat and my jeans and my sneakers.

"What?" I tittered, squirming with his scrutiny, even though it made me feel powerful and wonderful and like the prettiest girl there ever was.

He started walking again, clasping our hands together.


"Just me?"

"There's no just about it," He said, looking at me with this look in his eyes I couldn't describe. It stole my breath away.


He exhaled, shrugged, "But nothing anymore. I'm lost. You've got me spun, girl, and I can't ignore it anymore."

"I can't either," I said, looking from him to the water. I remembered summer-sun and yellow bikinis and cookouts and families and how maybe I, we, were going to ruin that now, "I mean, I don't want to."

"You're stronger than me."

I stopped, threw some leaves at him that I'd collected. He scowled, that smiley scowl, and shook leaves from his hair.

"I've had practice."

His smile went, his scowl stayed. He'd caught a leaf I'd thrown and was fiddling with it, "How long?"

"Since christmas."

He frowned, looking at me, looking some more, and I saw the moment when it dawned on him, "Shit. Shit."

I felt the blush come on, looked down, carried on walking. And he was behind me then, following, my shadow.

"I had no idea."

"I know."

"You should've said," He said, touching my arm. I liked the thought of him chasing me, which was crazy-stupid and all sorts of messed-up, but it made me tingle all over and all through.

"What would I have said?" I asked. He hummed, touched my hair. I shivered and looked at him over my shoulder, "I was fourteen. I had Riley, almost, you had Vickie…"

My eyes flickered to his.

We still had them.

I cleared my throat, "I was a kid and you didn't like me that way then, obviously… You would've laughed if I'd told you I liked you and I would've died of embarrassment."

"I wouldn't have laughed," He said, contradicting himself by laughing.

"Maybe not, but Vickie would've. And then she'd tease me, but she'd probably be pissed. And rightly so."

"You would've told her?"

"No, too embarrassing. Wouldn't you?"

He pursed his lips, mulling it over, "I don't know. Guess we never will."

There was a stony silence then, the rolling of a rock he kicked. He bent down, picking it up, rolling it between his hands.

And that's about when it all came crashing down on me, this weight, lifted with his words, thrown back on with mine.

This had the potential to ruin everything.

But there was no going back now.

"I didn't know," He said. He threw his arm back, pitching the rock clear across the water. It danced across, skimming, once, twice, three, four times before sinking to the bottom, leaving ripples and waves behind. I could never do that. Dad tried to teach me when I was younger, but I could never get the hang of it. Two mediocre splashes were as far as I got before the inevitable glug as it got swallowed up by the water.

"You didn't know to look," I said, "Why would you?"

He had his hand over his eyes as he looked out over the lake, sheltering them from the sun peeking out from behind the grey-white clouds. He pushed his hair off of his forehead, dropping his hand.

"I shouldn't have… looked now," His eyes were wild and intense and I could see this all dawning on him, the repercussions. He was looking at me, but I was looking at his stomach, or his black hoodie rather. I couldn't handle the accusation in his eyes, even though it wasn't even aimed at me. Maybe it hurt more that it wasn't, maybe I wanted some blame.

"I'm glad you did. Look," I clarified, lifting my eyes a little to see his reaction. He was serious, oh-so serious, but he had this small lazy grin like he couldn't help himself. It made my heart flutter.

"Maybe I am, too."

He smiled, I smiled. That's how it worked.

We did another lap of the lake, getting a feel for what this could be and what it could never be. He didn't even know when he'd started liking me like that, it just came creeping up on him he'd said.

"The first time I met you," I'd told him again, "that Christmas, like I said. But I guess it was more of a school-girl crush back then."

"Back then?" He'd asked, grinning, "What is it now?"

Well, I'd been lost for words. I didn't know what to say, I didn't know how to comprehend how I felt and put it into words.

"I don't know," I'd squeaked, embarrassed at the turn the conversation had taken, "Just… more."


"Yeah, more. It's different now, more… intense?"



"Good, I'm glad. It'd be a damn shame if you only had a school-girl crush on me now, school-girl."

I'd nudged my shoulder with his with a 'hey!' and a giggle and it felt completely normal. I don't know why that shocked me so much. Nothing had changed, but everything had.

"Edward?" I asked on the way back to the car. He was helping me navigate a puddle that had overspilled from the lake into the grass.

He hummed, eyes still on my feet.

"What exactly is this then?"

"You got it?" He asked about the little leap I had to make. It was muddy and slippery, but he had my hand strong and steady in his.

I nodded and made the jump, sliding a little, but he held me upright against him.

He bit the inside of his cheek, looking down at me, "It's whatever we make it."

There were no declarations of love like in my silly, fanciful dreams, no passionate embrace or locking of lips. There was nothing but a 'yes, okay' and a nod of the head, the small starting of a smile that was mirrored back. And that was okay. For now.

A/N- Corona has no place in this fic, unless it's the beer and then… bring it on. If there's one thing all of this is good for though, it's finding time to write some more. I hope this distracts you from the craziness going on out there. Your reviews last chapter were the sweetest of sweet, they make me stupid-happy in these sad times. We're currently in lockdown in the UK and so all I've done is work from home and read ff. How have you been coping with it all?

Chapter title inspired by song of the same name by The Black Keys. I kinda think it's perfect for this hmm.

Stay safe, guys. Seriously. Love to you all.