Stephenie Meyer owns all Twilight entitlements. I don't own squat.

Skater Boy and Boarder Girl 10


She said thank you.

My subconscious tries alerting me as to the meaning of Isabella's present words and actions, but it's as if I'm stuck dreaming, unable to respond or make sense of what's transpiring. My mind is still reeling over Isabella's inconsiderate ribbing of me in front of her friends. For some reason, her earlier back stabbing, which ordinarily wouldn't faze me, was especially hurtful. Even though I turn and look at Isabella, neither her uttered words nor hand placement give any indication as to why she's giving me her gratitude and do not register in my brain with the ongoing outdoor commotion. The damp air further confuses my hazy understanding and barely ripples the placid pond of my minimal thoughts as I enjoy an atypical evening outside with brief ocean gusts happily disheveling all parts of me.

My thoughts are conflicted. I am sitting here relaxing but feel a bit guilty that I'm not sweating, working my ass off in a stuffy, air-conditioned arena with an ungrateful partner, while being duly chastised by my demanding coach. I clear my digression by inhaling the pleasant saline mist, teeming with aquatic life, awakening my senses but unfortunately not my sensibility. I had just chugged the beer Leah had brought in an attempt to rapidly rid myself of it. It was flat, lifeless, and the color of diseased pee—a color I know well after having dumped patient urinals at the hospital. I even contemplated holding my nose to stomach the sun-warmed contents but decided against that "de-masculating" action and just sucked it up. Consumed far too quickly, the beer now has me foggy like our region's common stratus clouds, which surprisingly I cannot blame for my state because they are nowhere in sight this evening.

As I listen to the surf gently roll, I'm entranced by the continuous loop of white noise emanating from the peaceful waves that lap at the shore as I assess the disproportioned comic likenesses of my fellow classmates I've drawn in soft sand while waiting for the next round of celebratory end-of-school-year fireworks to be lit. I expand my lungs, holding deep breaths and practicing meditative techniques, slowly bringing back my reality.

For the moment, my mind wanders away from my troubles. It wanders from troubles of feeling angry over Irina's inconsiderateness and troubles of wondering whether my choice of new partner is such a good idea. It even starts wandering away from the troubles of worrying about the state of said new partner until I attempt to add more detail to my current sand drawing and notice my new partner is prohibiting me from doing so because her cold, shaking hand is now covering my warm gritty one.

Now in realizing that Isabella is keeping me in place, holding back my hand, I look up at her, bewildered. Sensing I'm not on board with her sentiment, she lifts her nylon-wrapped palm and scraped-up digits away from mine. She's removed her injured hand, the one bruised—now most likely like her ego—because I didn't acknowledge what she was doing. I look up again and really look at her this time—at Isabella—seeing if I missed something. I note her gaze, absorbing her adoring, venerating, and uncertain smile and move to resume adding the details to my favorite cartoon muse I didn't realize I was drawing, the ostrich I've unconsciously drawn hundreds of times when thinking of the very same girl who's sitting by my side.

The magic word is unconsciously.

Then it hits me.


She knows.

Very good, Sherlock! She knows it was you.

Waves of heat flood my body and travel to my head. I'm panicking! All of this time I've kept this and a few other well kept secrets hidden from her. I should have never had that second beer, forcing my inebriation, allowing my guard to dissipate. I didn't even realize I drew that damn little bird—the one I've always associated with Isabella—the one struggling, alone, afraid, and incapable of flight. The one unable to scramble away quickly enough to escape predatory things—things like doubt, fear, hatred, self-loathing, and trouble—the one that shut others out ignoring, ignoring the very things that could help it—help her.

I want to rid myself of the anxiety, so I move to wipe away the image in the sand. If I had the equipment, I'd blast it. If I had paint, I'd whitewash it, but moving more quickly than she probably should, Isabella stills my hand. Embarrassed and unwilling, I reluctantly cock my head and gaze upward, feeling as if I'm about to give her a knife so she can finish me off while I hand her my vulnerability. Expecting her to be laughing or ridiculing me, now that she's had time to recover from the shock, I'm slightly startled as I take in the softness of Isabella's eyes still fixed upon me. Although appearing wistful, she seems pleased, so I will my heart to resume its normal beating pattern, and fortunately, the clip clop of even trotting returns from the realm of erratic cantering as I realize Isabella won't be ripping my heart out from its cavity or stabbing it to pieces—at least not tonight, I hope. I reason she must think I actually did something right, years ago, that evening, the evening I first drew that ostrich for her. Even though she seems fine with my actions, her discovery still has me uneasy, so I deliberately avoid eye contact with Isabella and actually wish I still had more beer. Maybe she won't notice if I leave. I can slip her painkillers into her pocket and slither out of here and crash in the car until morning. That ought to give us enough time for things to blow over.

And yet you call her childish.

I need time to process what's happened. I pop the top off the can of soda I originally planned on consuming and take a sip while looking for the chips and pretzels that I brought. The empty plate is next to Leah who has been looking at me all night as if I were a steak done to perfection she couldn't wait to savor, sucking all of the juice out it—meaning out of me. In fact, in thinking about it, all of the girls gave me that look except Isabella.

You mean the please fuck me one?

From the way they were acting tonight, my guess is that I could have had any one of them, but I would never have behaved like that. My parents and grandmother raised me with much better manners than to ever take advantage of a girl in that way. I have noticed a few girls that hang around the skating arena, watching me, waiting for my autograph or possibly a date, but I don't believe in taking those liberties. There are other male competitors in my division who wouldn't hesitate to take advantage of unchaperoned trysts with groupies or even the female skaters, but I'm not one of them.

The way that my female classmates were behaving tonight reminded me why I ordinarily keep to myself. They all looked interested in spending that sort of time with me.

All of them accept Isabella.

She was the only girl who seemed disinterested and didn't try flirting. Her earlier blatant sexual display was just that—a show to push buttons and poke fun.

I think you wanted to poke her back and probably still do.

I choose to ignore my subconscious thoughts, as the pyrotechnics ensue, allowing the featured event of this night to take my mind off Isabella's handholding gesture while I absorb the display of roman candles, skyrockets, spinners, and cones. They create a unique form of popping, hissing, crackling, and whistling while the gasoline-ignited, still damp evergreen camp wood, lending its golden, molten glow gives off another. Even with all of the distraction going on around me, my mind still takes me back to that day, the day I so vividly remember . . .

I recall how ill Isabella appeared when she first came to school as she acted more quiet and withdrawn than usual. Her mom had already been gone for a while by then, but that hadn't meant Isabella had grown used to her absence. Mrs. Swan would keep Isabella out of school with even a sniffle, so to see Isabella this ill was of great concern to me. Luckily, we had a half-day with an assembly in the morning, so Isabella sat on the gymnasium floor on top of the red and blue tumbling mats in the stale, musty air with lingering odors reminiscent of the previous night's junior varsity basketball game while wedging herself into one corner of the white-painted cinderblock room. I observed that periodically, Isabella applied pressure—first to her navel area through the now-too-small-and-unironed-but-once-pressed-when-it-was-too-large navy blue and calico-printed dress she wore that her mother had meticulously sewn for her. Then, she'd apply pressure through the fabric to her right side in an attempt to combat the pain. We had to pay attention to our presenters and write things in our notebooks, so whenever I could, I would glance over, checking on her.

I watched her endure what must have been punishing surges and noted how she buckled forward in pain, coping with it by scoring indentations into her pencil as though she were a woman in labor. I caught Isabella's attention a few times and signaled with my eyes, tipping my head toward the teacher as if to ask Isabella if she needed me to get help. She quickly shook her head, almost panicking when I offered to assist. Thankfully, Angela Weber had stayed by Isabella's side the whole time, even when accompanying Isabella to the girl's room. By the time the buses came, Isabella looked feverish and miserable. I surmised that back then she didn't want to take her dad away from his important job, so she endured the rest of that shortened day at school in agony just so she wouldn't have to burden him. I figured if it was truly serious, Angela would have called her own mother to pick up Isabella instead of them both opting for the school's transportation, but I guess I figured wrong.

That night, my father ignored HIPAA regulations and called my mother, telling her he wouldn't be home because he was performing an emergency appendectomy on Isabella. Mom was making dinner and had Dad's call on speaker, so I heard everything. After the call disconnected, I had told my mother what I knew of Isabella's ordeal in school that day and begged her to take me to the hospital. Mom explained that I wouldn't be able to see Isabella because she would probably be in surgery and then in recovery for a while, not to mention I wasn't a member of her immediate family either. I told Mom it didn't matter. I still wanted to go.

Mom knew better than to argue with me. Once I made up my mind and got into one of my ardent, impetuous moods, I wouldn't take no for an answer. I wanted to do something nice and bring Isabella flowers to cheer her up. Because it was already evening, our town flower shop had closed, so my mother took me outside to her flower garden where I immediately saw what I wanted. Since I knew Isabella's favorite color was purple, I knew that the dark lavender echinacea flowers would be perfect. Mom conveyed to me that the daisy-like blooms also had special healing powers to ward off bad things, so I knew I had made an excellent choice. I could also bring along the picture I drew of the helpless bird—the one reminding me so much of my then-friend. Even though I wasn't able to, personally, see Isabella's reactions to my gifts, my dad said Isabella was quite pleased with them.

Up until the beginning of fourth grade, I had drawn hundreds of illustrations using the same image. According to my grandmother, my lines were clean and sharp—certainly not the work of a primary-grade student. Grandma also said it looked professionally penned and that I probably could have sold the image to a greeting card company. Although her words were very encouraging and kind, I brushed off her suggestion. The subject of those drawings was very personal to me and would always remain so. Isabella had been my first crush, and in many ways, I wasn't willing to dismiss that.

This secret was something I always wanted to withhold from Isabella. It was something that I wasn't necessarily embarrassed over, just something I wanted to keep close and hidden. I never wanted to allow Isabella the opportunity to gain the satisfaction of ever being able to use it as ammunition to ridicule or insult me. Maybe I had also hoped—had things been different—that she would have truly appreciated my gesture without the interference of her present needful circumstances. If she were different, and all of the damage hadn't occurred previously between us, I hoped that one day she would have agreed to be my girlfriend, but that was long ago. I'll always possess some feelings toward her, but there's been too much water rushing under our bridge, washing it out completely in order for me to consider her like that ever again.

Hell, the Army Corps of Engineers would have to build a damn dam to regulate her volatile waters for that to occur—that or Isabella would have to drastically change her ways, or she could be held under some of those waters. Near death has a way of enlightening.

I can't see that happening anytime soon, but I hope we can work on trusting one another because that has been sorely lacking between us over the years. Again, I wonder what on earth possessed me to take her on as a partner, but I reason that my good-intentioned intuitive self sees something special in her—something that doesn't quit, cave, or bend under pressure—so that is the reasoning churning in my head.

Speak of this she-devil.

With the earlier unplanned disclosure now an unpleasant memory drifting out to sea, Isabella redirects my attention back to her as I watch her hands pull the strings tightening the hood of her sweatshirt, which she now fully draws taut. I'm sure I smile goofily, partly from the effects of the beer I didn't want to drink but did so to be nice to Leah and partly because it amuses me that the always fearless, unshakeable Isabella has a soft side. She is a little girl lost—maybe a Dorothy, an Alice, or a Snow White—seeking solace, shelter, or possibly anonymity from her protective shroud. If it was orange, she'd look like Kenny from South Park except Isabella still has her hat on her head underneath, flattening the brim, distorting it against the back of her head. I'm sure her hood is most likely serving a similar purpose to that of Kenny's, keeping harm and others from getting too close, too close from seeing the real, vulnerable person, underneath, inside.

Vulnerable like you felt a few minutes ago.

I'm still thinking about the difficulties endured by the girl sitting next to me, but my mind starts wandering again, comparing her to the frightened and misled members of the animal kingdom sharing our evening. My heart goes out to the woodland animals experiencing the disturbing uncharacteristic cacophony and most likely feeling the effects of momentary displacement from their homes due to the unusual number of people invading their space. I also feel for the sea creatures who are being falsely baited into surfacing from their deep, thinking they've secured a meal from the sparks they see falling, seeking those proverbial carrots dangling from this uncommon starry night. They are mindful and gullible, yet impulsively and instinctively move from one kind of danger toward another, exhibiting behavior similar to that of Isabella's when someone baits her into unstructured risk-taking.

Soaring hisses, echoing booms and crackling pops, surround us with an occasional ratta-tat-tat making its presence known. Streaking pastel trails become the foreground on a canvas of fiery art against the backdrop of the blackened sky, exploding into flowery patterns, filling the night, cascading colors like drops, dripping from Aquarius's water pitcher as the finale ends with the grander, more unpredictable, larger fireworks.

They're unpredictable like some of the endeavors this year's new senior class will be taking on.

In the sky above, earning praise and wonder from its audience below, the display continues, mesmerizing the minds of the mixed grouping of young adults, oohing and aahing, most likely unconcerned about anything regarding their futures. As I turn to ascertain Isabella's expression, I note the joyous sight softening the ordinarily stoic but sometimes devious appearance of this hardened girl. Her lids droop lazily showing the tell-all of her difficult day but do little to still the liquid trails or shield the stains from the tears she just shed.

Seeing anyone cry tugs at me—my mother when her mother died, the children I volunteer for at the hospital when their parents can't visit, the families losing their loved ones after receiving horrible news—but knowing Isabella is sad tugs at me even more. I want to hold her and hug her now as much as I would have wanted to protect her then from the years of pain, loneliness, and darkness she must have endured. I would have wanted to protect her from the dangers of growing up without guidance or direction, too. I've always had the feeling that Isabella is a James Dean or a Harry Houdini of sorts, a free spirit, wild, and untamed. She could die before her time, and that would be a horrible travesty. For I sense in my heart, even if Isabella doesn't see it, that she is supposed to achieve spectacular things, but she'll also need to stay among the living and believe in herself before she can achieve them. She will also have to surround herself with people who care enough about her to help her realize her potential without dragging her through the mud. That's what her friends and loved ones should have done. It's what I think I can still do, that is if we still have a chance at that, at friendship.

Charlie Swan is a good father, but Isabella is a handful of a daughter. For a lesser man, she would be his worst nightmare. He's done a lot for Isabella, but it's evident from the lines on his face that he still hurts from his wife's leaving. Instead of dealing with the situation, he buries himself in work to cope with his own loss instead of spending time with his daughter who's lost something, too. Isabella has needed him all these years, but he hasn't really been there.

Seeing her in pain makes me want to clear my hands of sand just to rub away her tears, but she senses my tender intentions and abruptly declares, "I'm tired. I think I'd just like to go to the tent. I should really lie down. If you want to stay, you should. Jake's getting ready to make some mean marshmallows that are super awesome. You shouldn't miss the experience."

Unaffected by yet another attempt of watching her sticking her head into the sand, I jokingly remark, "What's another summer? I've survived this long without the joy of a Jacob-Black-cooked marshmallow . . ."

In all honesty, I think Isabella's just deflecting her emotions, not wanting anyone to see her tears, not wanting anyone privy to her pent up emotions, present company included. She sees someone trying to treat her nicely, and almost like a child raised by wolves, she can't handle the affection, the kindness, the humanity. It's sad. She resists so she won't grow close. That way, she won't get hurt if someone rejects her.

Ever the caring soul that I am, I inquire, "Seriously, are you okay? Do you need more medication? If you think you require another dose, I can call my father and ask him." I say this with almost ninety-nine percent certainty her present tears are from pain not caused by her injuries, but do so to allow her the opportunity to save face.

"No. It's okay, Edward. This . . ." she gestures to the circle of people and to the sky, "brought up some old memories, that and I'm just beat, sore, and seriously need to crash." She truly looks exhausted, physically and mentally. She has also taken a big step, admitting she is human and has feelings.

Readying to gather myself up to help Isabella, I hear the Quileute boys who have now returned into the circle, each with toasting sticks in hand. They divert their attention from a fire of one kind to that of another and are poised with sword-handling stances as they wield their branches already stuck with white globs of sugar and ready themselves to do battle against a burning enemy with the potential to not only ruin their fun but also diminish their pride.

The boys go about their business, standing around the fire, jeering and heckling, attempting to literally and comically roast each other while bragging and marveling over the challenge of toasting their perfect treats. It pays off, too. They earn praise—sweeter than the sugar they are cooking—from the girls they pass off the marshmallows to.

I figure it's a good time to rise and help Isabella stand, thinking it's probably best to get her out of here before the sugar being consumed starts affecting everyone, amping them up again, but my impaired reaction time has me hear it before I see it. Subsequently, I'm unable to do anything about it.

"Swan, heads-up!" I sense an Oh, shit! plea in the voice saying it.

It is accompanied by a soft, dull thud resulting in a splat. It smells delicious, sweet, and slightly caramelized, reminding me of my mother's Rice Krispies treats. But what a mess it's left!

Do I smell hair burning, too?

"Son of a bitch! Jake, what the fuck?" Isabella yells. She's seething.

"Sorry, Crazy Swan. I thought you were paying attention. Your reflexes are a little slow tonight", says Isabella's slightly remorseful but bemused friend.

"You asshole! I'm on crutches and painkillers! You could have at least dragged your worthless, good-for-nothing butthole over here and handed it to me!" I take that back. Seething is too calm a term for her as she picks up everything she can find and begins hurling objects consisting of beach debris—rocks, wood, sand, empty cups, and now empty cups Isabella has filled with sand—at Jake. I quickly grab the crutches near Isabella's grasp and hand them off to Rachel before Isabella decides to toss them, too, even though she has every right to chuck them.

Jake flung a jumbo, toasted marshmallow directly at Isabella. Done to perfection, the once golden brown, lumpy, puffy confection caught fire, was catapulted while still flaming, and hurled through the air like a meteor. However, now it had become a meteorite—a sticky, gummy, singeing glob, one partially oozing over Isabella's hoodie but mostly matted into Isabella's hair that was dangling on the left side of her chest.

"Sorry." Jake casually offers his proverbial white flag, displaying his "hands-up" stance, still clutching his stick.

"Sorry? I need to go all ultimate fighting on your ass, you dick! You. Me. Now! Let's throw this shit down." Isabella is trying to pull herself up from the chair but struggling to do so.

Sensing she wants to escalate this but not wanting to see her hurt herself further, I intervene before the others start chanting, "Jerry! . . . Jerry!" only too eager to embrace their possible equivalent of this Springer moment.

"Whoa! Whoa! Isabella, just leave it be. Come on. I'll help you." I'm behind the chair she is sitting in and begin to lift her up. She's a feisty little thing and practically rips herself away from my arms, which I have securely wrapped around her. Her furious disposition nearly has me constricting her into a bear hug, which is frustrating because I'm trying not to hurt her.

"No, Edward! Let me go! He's got it coming!" I find myself actually lifting her off the ground while she's kicking. She keeps trying to break away and is now painfully heeling me in my shins with her sneakers.

Damn! I hope she doesn't decide to do that on the rink while she's wearing ice skates.

"Jake's intentions were good. He didn't do it maliciously. Please, let it be. Let me help you back to the tent. I'll help you wash it out." I hold her warm, tense, contracting little body against mine until I feel her muscles begin to relax but now my muscles are constricting.

Do you really know what you are getting yourself into?

I sigh, letting out a cleansing breath. Evidently, just like my earlier, unconscious actions when I drew in the sand, my stupid brain doesn't know when to shut off because I don't believe I've agreed to this either. Getting out the marshmallow will be bad enough, but Isabella's hair—although once beautiful when properly managed—is now worse than that of a wooly, winter-coated, unkempt sheep.

There has to be a girl under there, somewhere.

When she had her hat off at the hospital earlier, I noticed her failed attempt at dreadlocks. A third of her hair looks like a bird, mouse, or rat may be living in it, or maybe all three of them combined. Who knows what she has hidden and living inside her hair?

Good luck with that. If I were you, I'd text someone first, telling of your intentions. If she has a portal in there, they might never find you. Hogwarts, anyone?

Once I get Isabella out of her firing line aimed at Jake and perched safely against a rock, I go back to the circle to grab my grandmother's chair—immediately folding up Isabella's cushion inside—and to retrieve Isabella's crutches, thanking Rachel for holding them. Jake pulls me in for a back pat and bro handshake, wishing me luck with her.

"Thanks, man. When she gets like this, there's no telling what she's capable of, hence the nickname I gave her. Injured or not, it would still be wise to keep an eye on her. Although I completely deserved it, the last time she was like this was when we camped out here and I had woken up after passing out. I was having a horrific dream thinking my balls were being crushed by a Transformer only to find Bella attempting to tie them in a knot." Jake telling me that has my mind curious over the logistics of the visual while my filled hands are urging me to cover my own male parts in protection.

Not really sure I want to know the whole story of what originally led to her given moniker, I offer gratitude for his useful anecdote, "Thanks for the heads-up, Jake. I think she's just had a very long day." As I turn away from him, I see Isabella's fire-lit scowl with full-on flared nostrils. With the look Isabella's giving me, I think I'd rather spend a week with Rob Zombie and his thousand corpses or maybe even endure a zombie apocalypse. Thinking silence is titanium here—and hopeful it will protect me—I hand off her crutches without uttering a sound. She whips them from my grasp then rights herself before taking off forcefully, swinging herself forward. She's still fuming. I can tell by how fast she is thrusting her legs over the sand. Her rage has given her new incentive.

Allowing her to keep the pace, I steer her back toward the portable restroom where my dad and I set up the tent. When she cools off enough, I'm sure she'll speak, letting me know about her displeasure of having to walk this far again, but until then, I'll just let her take her frustration out on the wooden prosthetics she's pounding on the sand with in lieu of me.

I pitched then staked our overnight housing next to the restroom so Isabella wouldn't have far to walk. My dad and I set the tent up right on the other side of a dune next to bathroom with that in mind. This area will most likely experience more disruption than any other location. I'm sure we'll awaken to the shrill squeak of the hinge, the twang of the spring, and then the bam of the door closing. Most likely, we'll hear the roll of the latching barrel, too—sounding like someone loading a shotgun shell every time a person enters or exits—but hopefully, exhaustion and fresh air will take over, freeing us from the noise and allowing us both a little sleep.

It was great that Dad was nearby. Since I had planned being here anyway, he knew I would need his help. Initially, I was going to go home first to change then take the SUV here, telling both my parents they didn't need to bother to go out of their way for me as I intended on taking a smaller tent. Although when Isabella had her mishap, I had to change my plans. She needed immediate medical attention, and although I initially cringed at the thought of getting involved in her drama, that became my priority. On a hunch, my mom had previously made dinner reservations and arranged a night at a local bed and breakfast so both of them would be close by to help me with packing up, but with Isabella's current situation, it's even better now that they chose to remain so close.

I continue to stay alongside a tiring Isabella. Her gait is slowing as she tries to navigate her way in only the starlit darkness of the new noon. As we make our way to the tent, we pass everyone else's temporary shelters. Pup, pod, dome, instant, ridge, geodesic, frame, and teepee dwellings are erected and staked as we finally reach ours. "Holy shit! That's one big ass tent. I wonder who the hell the crazy motherfucker is who erected that." Isabella voices her statement loudly, probably scaring more of those retreating woodland creatures as she finally appears to have shaken her aggravated mood.

"That crazy motherfucker would be I, Isabella." I say it somewhat cockily as I recall working feverishly to assemble the multi-room, all season, monolithic housing my family camps with while Isabella struggled earlier in the bathroom.

"What? How the hell did you get that into the shoebox? Oops, sorry, I mean your car."

"Yes, I see your comparison; the Volvo is fairly compact." I have her wait out my answer with her most likely thinking I'm once again irritated and ignoring her because of her tongue slip jibe aimed at my car, but I finally answer, slowly increasing the theatrics, drawing out my words. "I sought assistance . . . from family . . . I called my father."

"Your dad drove all the way out here?"

"Actually, both of my parents did. The tent was already packed in my father's car, so he opted to bring it over here since he and my mom were having dinner nearby. I asked him to drop it off so that you would feel more comfortable sleeping—separately—in different rooms."

"Oh." The disappointment is evident in Isabella's voice.

"What's wrong, Isabella?" I sense she is displeased by our sleeping arrangements. Maybe she wants different tents entirely.

"Nothing." She gives me her answer abruptly, shaking her head.

"Come on. Tell me what's bothering you. I can't help if you don't share with me."

Do you truly want to know?

"I just thought that since you were there for me the whole day, you'd be with me the whole night, too. I'm kinda used to you now, sort of like a Siamese twin I'm stuck with or maybe like a gangrenous leg needing to be amputated. I'm sure I'm going to get phantom pains if you aren't next to me." Unlike her previous digs, she broadcasts this one coyly.

Isabella, coy?

"Gangrenous, huh?" I have to chuckle at her comparisons. It appears as though Isabella's finally getting comfortable with me in her own unique way. She truly catches me off guard with her words. "That just may be the nicest thing you've said to me in a very long time. I promise I will be in the room right next to yours. I won't go anywhere, and I'll set my watch and my phone to check on you every hour."

"Okay, but what if I, um, need something?"

"I'll be right there. Just call for me. I'm a light sleeper." I actually think it's cute that she wants me here. Maybe she's afraid of the dark or something. Of course, I wouldn't fault her if she were. "I've made it this far without jumping off the runaway bus being driven by a deranged driver. I'm committed now even if we drive off a cliff."

"Okay . . ." I see her accept my words until she catches onto my deeper meaning. "Hey, are you calling me an out-of-control form of public transportation?"

"No, I actually see you more as the deranged driver." I give her these words, teasingly. It feels good to pick on her in this friendly way.

"Hey!" She says mock offended, thrusting her crutch at my gut as if she's pointing a finger at me.

Maybe the finger.

"You did, after all, call me festering flesh." I remind her.

"Touché. Can we call a truce on the insults tonight?" she asks apologetically.

"I think that would be nice." I offer softly.

"And for the record, I actually think of you more as a conjoined twin. I think I'll really hate our separation—not being next to you. I'm not used to being treated so nicely, and I'll miss it when you stop taking care of me . . . I guess I'll just miss you, period."

The last part she says almost inaudibly and under her breath as she has her head facing down toward the sand. She leaves me speechless—which is something I rarely am—and with water now pooling in my tear ducts, I set down the chair I'm carrying, turning my back to her. I make like I'm removing sand from my eyes from the breeze picking up, but in reality I'm clearing away the remnants of what her sweet uttering has given me and ignore that nagging sensation I keep getting in my chest whenever she offers something kind in return.

Who would have thought I'd still have a soft spot for her meek words?

"Thank you." I say it quietly but know she hears me. As my sight becomes unblurred, I turn toward her and notice how a crosswind blows over her face, moving about her hair, brushing across her cheeks—that is the strands that aren't burnt, glued, or hidden by her hat and hoodie. I've never noticed that Isabella has a radiant, pure, untouched beauty about her. Sure, she was always an adorable child and lovely little girl, but she grew up, failing to care about how she looked. She usually keeps her face covered by her hat and sunglasses or has smudges of dirt or grease over her cheeks, forehead, and chin. She's like a foul-mouthed combination of Peanuts' Pigpen and Peppermint Patty, but still I cannot help but be drawn in by her. "You've been blessed with a lovely complexion. You shouldn't be hesitant about showing it off." Under the soft fluorescent lighting of the camping lantern hung at the outside entrance, her face blossoms with the same color as that of my mom's pink flowerbed, and I seriously don't know how I'm coming up this stuff. I am referring to Isabella, after all.

Well, brown-nosing is your forte.

I unzip the tent and pull open the door flap, gesturing with my hand, allowing Isabella entrance first.

"Wow. Um, this is humongous." I note she's deviated from our prior conversation to comment on the size of the tent. I watch her eyes scan the area, taking in the already inflated air mattresses, bedding, pillows, cooler, water jugs, camp stove, a bag of dry good groceries, my duffel bag, two additional lit and hanging camp lanterns—one in each of our rooms—and her backpack I retrieved from where we first sat, already placed inside by her inflated bed.

"Have a seat." I take her cushion from inside my grandmother's chair, place it over her air mattress, and help her sit down. "Would you like a snack or something else to drink? Your mouth must be dry from the pain meds."

"Water would be good if you have some." I reach in the cooler and grab two bottles, loosening the cap on hers so she doesn't have to struggle with her wrist. "Thank you."

"You're welcome."

"Um, I don't wear make-up. I-I'm not even sure if I know how to put it on right. I kind of missed that part, growing up without a mom. I couldn't exactly ask Charlie to teach me." She snorts a little at that last remark but becomes quiet. I watch her as she picks away at herself, tugging at her sleeves and sweatshirt drawstring. She still keeps her head down, deliberately keeping her expression from me. I recognize the action as yet another coping mechanism she employs when she's uncomfortable speaking about something she's unsure of or modest about. "I mean, I watch Alice and Rose do it all the time and have touched the stuff they apply to see what it feels like, but I've never really worn it myself." She presses her fingers into the air mattress, playing a game, watching the air return to the spot she depresses when she removes the pressure. "Don't get me wrong. It's not as if I'm a lesbian or anything—not that there's anything wrong with that nor am I insinuating that all lesbians don't wear makeup because I know some do—but I have never felt that sort of need to show myself off that way." Clearly, she's having difficulty in making eye contact with me, so I just allow her to continue, uninterrupted. "I usually scope out a scene, and if I want to get laid, I just do it. I don't have to cake on war paint to stalk my prey. With that kind of hunt, it's fairly obvious when a guy is interested. Usually the situation just presents itself—if you, um, know what I mean. When a guy gets a hard-on, I just take that as a sign he's interested, and things can just jump off from there." It's as if she's testing my interest, glancing over, looking at my crotch—which in all honesty has never stopped being interested in Isabella since she flashed me today but is thankfully behaving itself, nonetheless. "As for you, I'm guessing that I must be somewhat okay-looking; otherwise, you probably wouldn't have had to leave my examining room to rub one out earlier." She looks up somewhat hesitantly and slightly embarrassed, still fidgeting, but smiling.

She's got you there.

I rein in my own embarrassment but probably still share some of Isabella's flushed facial coloring. "I'm not a dishonest person, Isabella. I will confess that your earlier burlesque routines left me with something needing attention, which I quickly took care of.

Not that quickly.

However, regarding your natural features, I wasn't implying that you should cake on cosmetics to make yourself more attractive to entice other males. Believe me; you are not lacking in that department. I was referring to you getting your hair out of your face as well as items that block your eyes so people can see those features. You have an unassuming beauty you should embrace instead of hide. With that said, it wouldn't hurt for you to try getting used to the idea of pinning your hair up or tying it back as it's cumbersome and not safe to skate with when loose. Additionally, you may want to consider using some facial adornment because you'll have to become accustomed to wearing stage make-up for performances. Forgive me if it sounded as if you needed anything to make you more attractive. That was not my intent. I was going more for giving you advice on helping you get your hair out of your face. Speaking of which, please let me try getting the marshmallow out of it before it sets further. I actually have a few gallons of warm water that sat in the SUV all afternoon. Hopefully, the water will be warm enough to get out all of the stickiness. If you're game, allow me to help you get into this chair."

"Please, let's get this over with. And Edward . . ." she turns to grasp my wrist, "thank you for doing this, all of this. I can't remember the last time someone's cared enough to help me this way. Usually, I'm all on my own."

I gather a plastic shopping bag and place it around Isabella's neck, securing it with a clothespin my mom left in the tent, careful to cover the neck brace so it won't get wet.

You could always just put the bag over her head. Honestly, I promise I won't tell anyone.

I get the shampoo and conditioner ready that Isabella told me to retrieve from her knapsack and place a plastic dishpan at her feet to capture the soapy water I'll dispose of later in the porta-potty.

I gently wet her hair, paying close attention to the gummy area. I have my work cut out for me. Her hair is a knotted, snarled, windblown, stringy mess. First, I apply her shampoo, which has a tropical fruit scent to it. The delicious smell reminds me that I should have eaten a bit more for dinner or held onto the plate of snacks devoured by Leah, as now I'm hungry again. I work the soap into a frothy lather, lightly scratching Isabella's scalp as I try easing my fingers through her tangled mess.

I pause to look downward at Isabella's face, which displays pure contentment. Her eyes drift shut as her tongue peeks through parted lips as she lets out a hum. She reminds me of a contented, pliable cat—one all furry and fat with its back wedged into the corner of a couch, being propped up with pillows, allowing its tummy to be rubbed while it closes its eyes, sticking out its tongue, and purring itself to sleep.

"Mmmm. You wash hair really well. It's like you've done this before, like you've had a lot of practice."

"Well, this is by no means the first time I've washed a girl's hair."

"Oh, yeah, I forgot; your girlfriend, right?" I sense a shift in her playfully inquisitive tone to one more serious.

"I never washed Jane's hair, but I have had my hands in others." Isabella turns and strains to look up at me, risking getting soap in her eyes to gauge my truthfulness.

"Seriously? I never would have pegged you as a player."

"No, Isabella. I'm not generally that way." I say humorously.

"Well then, spill. Tell me of your experience. Whose hair have you had your hands in?"

"Must I? There are some things in my life I do like keeping to myself." I tease.

Luckily, it wasn't your earlier jizz; otherwise, you'd probably be a horny, nervous wreck by now.

"Yes, you must. If you don't tell me, I'll be up all night, wondering about it, and trust me. If I'm up, you'll be up, too." Right now, being this close to Isabella, one part of me has definitely had a challenge staying down. This will be especially difficult if the cat in her keeps humming and purring every time I rub and scratch . . . at her scalp.

"You're quite the nosy little one, aren't you?"

"As I've said, I'm inquisitive. When something bugs me, I'm not satisfied until I know what the scoop is. Enquiring Bella wants to know . . ."

I'm done with shampooing and rinsing her mop, which in all honesty could double as one. I think she really did try dredding her hair at one time. I grab her conditioner and pour out a generous pool of it, nearly covering my entire palm. As I work the liquid in, the fragrance surrounds me. Orange Pez is what it smells like, and my mouth is watering from it as I will it to seep in. I'm certainly not ready to put this aside, so I rinse out her hair and recondition it all over again.

Oh, if it were only that easy to recondition her.

"I'm waiting." She is such an impatient thing. Christmas must have been hell at the Swan house.

"If I must." I'm a bit hesitant about telling her.

"Yes, you must!" She's such an impetuous brat. Well, here goes.

"When I volunteer at the hospital, I sometimes care for patients' hair. I have helped while in geriatrics and pediatrics, especially with chemotherapy patients who have lost some or all of it. Many of these individuals have few visitors, so I assist whenever I am needed."

"Wow! That is so not the answer I was expecting. Um . . . it's actually extremely noble and very kind of you."

"Well, when my grandmother got sick with cancer, I gave up skating for a month and stayed with her at her home to help. Fortunately, she didn't have to have chemo and was able to retain her hair, but the cancer she did have—even with the radiation treatments—left her very weak. I pitched in wherever I could before she lost her battle. She already had cervical problems, so she couldn't bend her neck well enough to wash her own hair. I learned to be very gentle when assisting her. She had a health aide to help her bathe every other day, but she also loved riding in her convertible, which I would chauffeur her around in after school. Since she insisted on having the top down, she would subsequently get all of the road dirt in her hair. I'd wash it out for her after we returned from each trip. She had long, lovely silver locks much like your brunette ones."

At least the ones not matted.

"Emily's the one with beautiful hair, Rose, too, for that matter. Mine's nothing special."

She's infuriating. "Why do you do that, Isabella?" Her hair would be truly beautiful if she adequately cared for it. I also sense that no one has paid her any compliments in a long time, maybe on her physical skills, yes, but not on her physical appearance.

"Do what?" She says, completely confused.

"Habitually self-deprecate and denigrate whenever someone speaks kindly of you." This is getting tiring.

"Well, it's true. I wish I had their hair, of course not black and blonde together, but you know what I mean. Mine's lifeless, dull, tangled, and split. Trust me. They have great hair and definitely better personalities."

With a bit of effort, Isabella could have gorgeous hair. She has no positive self-concept. What's worse is how the boys treat her, as though she's one of them. She's a girl who never learned how to be a lady.

You might be able to make her gorgeous on the outside, but that doesn't mean you can change her on the inside.

"I happen to think otherwise. Besides, if you wanted to, it wouldn't be that difficult to achieve what they have if that's what you want." Emily appears far nicer than Rose, but not to discredit Rose's influence over Isabella today, she did rally behind me as I attempted to give Isabella care. I suppose for that, Rose does possess some redemptive qualities even though she appears to, sometimes, be the root and route of Isabella's evil.

"What do you mean?"

"Do you still trust me, Isabella?"

"At the beginning of the afternoon I would have said no, but now I believe you're not out to kill me . . ."

I wish I could say the same.

"I'd like to think you have my best interest. If you don't, I guess it won't matter because my dad will only go after your ass . . ."

Visions of Chief Swan, running after me with a shotgun, flow through my head after I bring him his limp, lifeless daughter.

"You're a good guy, Edward. I guess deep down, I've probably always wanted to be like that, be like you . . ."

She pauses, undoubtedly thinking about some action in her past before replying with a new resolve.

"Yeah, I do trust you. What do you have in mind?"

I don't think any of my life experiences could ever prepare me for what I'm about to offer. Maybe her impetuousness is rubbing off—me and my damned mouth. "I want to give you a makeover."


What do you think of Edward's offer?

Is he in over his head?

What do you think Bella will say?

Separate rooms? Will they stay that way?

Thank you, Chayasara, for your wonderful fixes. I no longer feel dilapidated, but any holes in my roof—a.k.a. post beta stubbornness of me adding stuff without you checking it—are my own damned fault.

Thank you, Driving Edward/Pamela Stephenson, for your care, support, and prereading, even though I'm sorry I snuck this one by you.

I preread for both of these ladies, so please get check out Bornonhalloween's "Remastering Marcus". Follow the link on her FF profile. (We're almost there.)

Also please catch up on Ohgeefantasy's "Careless Hearts". (Again, we're almost there, too.)

Sorry this took so long to update. I was on vacation.

Thank you for reading.