A/N: Hi, everyone! I promised myself I wouldn't begin publishing this until I had wrapped up My Guy, but then the world started started going nuts. I'm still on track to finish MG on schedule, so don't worry.

Enjoy!


Charlie's cruiser wheezed as it climbed up an unusually steep hill, atop which sat the Weber house. She and Jessica had been talking about her thirteenth birthday party for weeks, enough so that I was actually hyped for it, which was a weird feeling. It sounded more grown up than the other parties I'd been to before; I was assured that there were no "activities" planned like when we were six, no pinatas or magicians or anything dumb like that. I was promised scary movies, a giant bounce house, and watching Jake kick everyone's butt at Dance Dance Revolution (his words, not mine.) He always kicked mine, which wasn't surprising since I had all the grace and coordination of a blind giraffe with vertigo, but I also knew that he always went easy on me.

The car came to a stop in front of their house, where our entire class was already assembled and running amok between the house and the yard.

"Alright you two," Dad said, twisting himself around to look at us in the back seat. "You both behave yourselves, you hear me? Be nice, make sure you thank Mrs. Weber before you leave, and don't break anything."

We both nodded, but Jake was trying to stifle a smirk. Legend has it that at the last birthday party Jake went to, a boys-only affair, someone had instigated a nerf gun war that ended abruptly when he crashed the Newton's four-wheeler into the fence during an attempted drive-by. I couldn't really articulate it at the time, but I had the sneaking suspicion that I was doubling as his minder that afternoon.

"Good," he grunted. "Bella, Ms. Sarah is going to pick you both up, and then I'll come get you when I get off work, okay?"

"Is she staying for dinner?" asked Jake.

"Yep, that's what your mother told me."

"Fricken' sweet!"

"Watch it, kid," Dad warned. He was so weird about "language" back then. "Alright, go on. Have fun."

He shooed us out, and no sooner had the side door slammed shut than he flicked switch on his dashboard, blasting the lights and sirens on the car in front of my entire seventh grade class.

"See you little criminals later!" he shouted through the open window, enjoying a big belly laugh as he drove away. Jacob unsurprisingly found it just as funny as Dad did. I, on the other hand, was a new shade of pink and ready to bury myself alive, and the party hadn't even started yet. I groaned, but I didn't dare look to see how many of them were staring at me.

"C'mon, Bells. Let's go in."

"Are they laughing at me?"

"No, they're laughing at your dad, 'cause it was hilarious."

I wasn't budging. Ever since Lauren became friends with Tanya, nasty whispering about the other girls had become increasingly common, and I wanted to avoid being a target at all costs. He sighed, exasperated, but trying to be patient with me. I felt so lame. Jake was way too cool to be hanging out with me all the time. All the guys loved him, the king of the castle at Forks Middle.

"Look, nobody's laughing at you, and if they do, I'll punch 'em, okay?" He gave me a reassuring smile, and I could feel the heat in my cheeks starting to die down. I took a deep breath.

"...Okay."

"Cool. Now let's go find Angela and get some chips."

I didn't know how good I had it then. Even when we were little kids, he always stuck with me, though I liked to joke that I was the one stuck with him. Our friendship wasn't hard like it was with the girls. It was effortless. Sure, we bickered sometimes, and we once had a fight so bad that I wouldn't speak to him for two whole days, but deep down, I never had any doubts. He was there when we were barely old enough to string sentences together, and he would be there at the end of the world. No question.

Mrs. Weber greeted us warmly and took our gifts into the living room by the cake. Jake was polite as always, but it all went out the window when the cookies and pizza bagels appeared, and I watched in mild horror as the boys descended on the trays like a plague unto Egypt.

"Bella, you're here!" called Angela in her sing-songy voice with Jessica in tow.

"We just got here. Did I miss anything?"

"Mhmm," Jessica said, nodding enthusiastically. Her eyes kept darting over to the boys, who had just broken into hysterics over Mike's Kool-Aid Man belch. "Angela's gonna-"

"-Shhh!" Angela clapped her hand over Jess's mouth and grabbed me around the wrist. "Let's go to my room for a sec."

Looking behind me, I found Jake engrossed in what sounded like a dick-wagging contest about Halo. He was with his people. I should leave him be. I followed them down the hall and into her room, and she locked the door securely behind her, the Jesse McCartney poster on it sliding further out of place from the sudden force. Angela was giggling and bouncing on the bed like a Mexican jumping bean.

"She's gonna tell Eric she likes him," Jessica said in a loud whisper.

"What?" The whole concept was completely foreign to me. Telling a boy you liked him was serious business, not to mention being possibly the most embarrassing thing on the planet. I'd rather swim with piranhas.

"Yeah! I've liked him since forever."

"I told her she had to do something before Lauren stole him, so she's going to confess her love. You've got to get ready, Ang."

I sat down on the edge of her bed and watched them smear on a little too much cherry lip gloss and spritz each other with tiny bottles of perfume. I felt like Jane Goodall, trying to figure out the particulars of this bizarre feminine ritual playing out in front of me. I should have paid more attention when Renee tried to teach me these things. Angela skipped over to me and nearly blinded me with a spray to the face.

"What was that for?" I complained, coughing and trying to wave the vapors away.

"Don't you want to look good for James?"

I was a deer in the headlights. I could have killed Jessica.

"I'm sorry Bella," she whined. "I only told her to see if she would share her stuff with you too."

"I won't tell anyone, I promise."

I'd been betrayed, my deepest, darkest secret revealed. Yes, I had a crush on James, the bad boy of the class, or whatever the equivalent of a bad boy is when you're thirteen. Blonde hair, amber eyes, cool and broody. I have a type, I guess. I was determined to take this one to the grave. However, there was something about Angela's gung-ho attitude that made me feel like it wasn't such an outlandish idea. Maybe they could make me cute, and then he would look at me. The logic was water-tight.

"Okay," I replied hesitantly. "Just nothing crazy."

"Don't worry. Jess is an expert."

When I looked in the mirror again, there were pink vanilla-cupcake scented sparkles on my lips and my eyelashes were sticking together from the drugstore mascara Angela had swiped from her older sister. The overall effect was good. Actually, it was almost kind of...pretty? Surely I would be able to talk to him now without stuttering like a dumb-dumb. All dolled up, we rejoined our classmates in the den, who were about ten minutes into The Grudge. Jacob slid down off the couch and onto the carpet beside me, peering curiously at me from the edges of his vision.

"What?" I whispered. He squinted in confusion.

"Your face looks different." He sniffed the air. "You smell different, too"

My heart dropped into my stomach. Oh no. I must have looked ridiculous.

"Different-bad?"

"No, just different-different."

"It's perfume," I whispered back, averting my eyes. "Angie lent it to me."

He looked at me like I had three heads.

"But you're not into that stuff. Why would you-"

"-It's just a girl thing, okay?"

I felt bad for snapping at him. I could talk to Jake about anything, but not this kind of thing. The idea of even mentioning boys to him felt extremely weird, almost wrong. Until this point, he was the only guy in my life, platonic or otherwise. He enjoyed a special status as Guy Whomst Can Be Trusted, but he was still a guy, after all, and this was forbidden knowledge. He didn't need to hear about all this silly, squishy, girly stuff. I was embarrassed to even feel it in the first place. I wanted to be in love and be loved back, but boy did I bet on the wrong horse.

"Jeez, so-rry."

He returned his attention to the movie and didn't bring it up again. In fact, he didn't look at me again either. The boys were more concerned with making dumb jokes and picking on Eric for flinching at the jumpscares. It wasn't too bad, though that didn't stop the periodic shrieks from half of the girls. Perhaps the reason I wasn't joining them was because my mind was wandering off, and more often I found myself staring at the back of James's head.

What should I do? Should I do anything? Maybe I should sit next to him later so he'll notice me. Would that be weird?

We rarely talked, except when we were sorted into groups in English, and it was hardly a lively conversation, so I felt like it would have been weird of me to start. The hamsters turning the wheels inside my head were getting worn out, and so was I. My thought process was mercifully interrupted by Eric ducking in front of the screen on his way out of the room, blissfully unaware of the scheme that was about to unfold under Angela's watchful eye. I could already hear her and her accomplice whispering excitedly to each other. I felt a tap on my shoulder.

"This is it! She's gonna do it!" whispered Jessica.

"O-oh wow," I stammered back as Ang rose to her feet. "Good luck."

She wasn't wasting any time. I found it pretty ballsy, but I admired her initiative. I only hoped it would turn out alright, or the festivities were going to take a sharp turn for the worse. If it hadn't, the party would have ended very differently for me as well.

It wasn't long before she slunk back in, pink and grinning at Jess and I like a cheshire cat, and planted herself along the back wall. Eric soon followed her in, not looking too different from her, and sat down on the floor beside her. We stole glances at her for the rest of the movie, as if we could piece the story together ourselves just by looking at them, and after a while, I noticed that their fingers were shyly linked together. I couldn't believe that it was that easy. She left the room for five minutes, and when she came back, she had a boyfriend. Boom. Just like that. She was already pretty and smart, so was this the final straw? Was the power of sandalwood and glitter so great that it could bend men to our will? It couldn't be that crazy if it was getting results. For the first time, I was seriously entertaining the idea I could make a boy like me back, or that a boy could like me in the first place.

With the end of the movie came a dangerous lull; Chatter, kids going in and out, sodas tipping over on the floor and mountains of chips emptying into too few stomachs. There was no direction, no plan as to what would come next. It was only a matter of time before-

"Hey, let's do truth-or-dare!"

There was always one kid, usually a complete idiot or some scheming agent of chaos, who suggested truth-or-dare, and it frequently went awry. "Truth" was a trap with a propensity for ending in tears, fights, awkward "relationship" drama, or some combination thereof. "Dare" might end the same, but more likely would result in something getting broken. Even at that age, I knew it was a gamble. That didn't stop me from joining the circle.

Jake was rooked into participating by Embry, who sat a few kids down from me and proceeded to egg everyone on. Jacob still wasn't paying much attention to me, but every now and again, I thought I caught him looking from the corner of his eyes. It was an odd thing for him to do. He had no problems looking at me normally, and frequently did, but it wasn't weird because it was Jacob. Who would have thought that I would ever wonder why a boy wasn't staring at me? He must have been sore from earlier, but we'd make up tonight.

Dare. Truth. Dare. Dare. Mike had never kissed a girl, shock of shocks. Jessica had to prank call her dad. Tanya had a boyfriend that she met at summer camp. It was a whole lot of softball questions that generated no controversy, so I had high hopes. It wound around the group until it was finally Jake's turn, and then the question. He was definitely looking at me now, and doing a bad job hiding it. Lauren must have seen something that I didn't, because a huge smirk broke out across her face.

"I think Jake wants to do 'truth'," she sang in that poisonous drawl.

He paused. His breathing was growing subtly heavier, but then he seemed to snap out of it, breaking away to look at Lauren again to announce his choice in a firm, low voice:

"Dare."

"Hmmm," she pondered. Suddenly, a wicked smile crossed her lips. "I dare you to spend five minutes in the closet with Tanya." A chorus of scandalized "Oooh"s rippled through the group, and he huffed in resignation.

"Fine."

Tanya proceeded without another care in the world. Jake, not feeling encouraged by the chants of "Do it!" coming from his peers, hesitated before standing and awkwardly following her into the storage closet. It was very possible that she and Lauren were conspiring to do this from the beginning, which was the exact brand of petty middle school crap they were known for. What confused me was Jake's reaction. We were on roughly the same page when it came to our opinions on Tanya but she was easily the prettiest girl in our class, so how bad could five minutes in a closet be?

Five minutes was a lot longer than I remembered, like sitting in time-out back in kindergarten. I was feeling fidgety, and was relieved when Mike finally called the time and let them out. She looked notably sour as Jacob practically power-walked away from her and back to his spot. The look she gave Lauren was all anyone needed to know. I was admittedly a bit puzzled by this. Guys wanted to kiss girls any chance they got, right? What was his deal? Maybe she wasn't his type, not that I had any idea what his type was. Come to think of it, I couldn't remember him liking anyone. I'd read that girls mature faster, and Jake was already younger than me, so maybe he just wasn't interested in that kind of thing yet.

I was starting to get cold feet. There were two kids before me, so maybe if I ducked out for some pretzels and a coke, they would just skip over me. It was worth a shot. Jacob's eyes were on me as I climbed to my feet, closing the door behind me. I padded down to the kitchen to find a smorgasbord of flavored chips and room-temperature snacks. I nibbled lazily on a few tortilla chips, grazing a bit before deciding that the coast ought to be clear by now. I tiptoed up to the door, pausing to listen and make sure that they had already moved past me.

"Okay James: Truth or dare?"

"Truth," came his muffled voice through the door. I froze, struck with intrigue. I didn't understand how he could be so nonchalant about this.

"Do you like somebody?"

Predictable to the point of cliche, but it was a standby for a reason. The second the words came out, my heart began beating through my chest. I had zero expectations, but I also couldn't help but entertain the teensy possibility that I would hear my name. My imagination was a cruel mistress.

"Yes," he replied, cool and dispassionate as always. But the girls were not going to take that as a complete answer.

"Okay, who?" asked Jessica

She was going to keep fishing. I knew her intentions were altruistic, and I appreciated it in hindsight, but that would only get us so far.

"Tanya?"

"Nope."

"Lucy? Angela? Lauren?"

"Nope nope nope," he replied, popping his p's.

"What about Bella?"

I was ready to jump off the jagged cliffs of First Beach and let the sea take me, and I hadn't even heard the answer. I changed my mind; I didn't want to know anymore.

"Ugh, no way. She's so...weird."

That was it. Pack it in, guys. has stopped working. It was like a punch to the gut, and the newly formed lump in my throat seemed to pop like a water balloon, sending water streaming out of my eyes through a stifled wail. I sure as hell couldn't go back in there now. There was no other choice but to bail. I ran back to Angela's room, stumbling as I passed by her oblivious father watching basketball on the couch. Slamming the door shut proved to be the final straw for Jesse, who slid down onto the floor beside me, his photoshopped smile feeling like cruel mockery of a maiden's pain.

So it was true, then. I was just as unlikable as I thought, too reserved and plain to catch a boy's attention, and to add insult to injury, now I was weird. That day had been a never-ending conga line of humiliation, and I was determined to hibernate on this rug until it was all over. It's not like anyone would notice I was gone. Then came a gentle knock on the door.

"Bells? You in there?"

Jake cracked the door open and stuck his head inside, only to be greeted by a silly girl ugly-crying while various liquids, some glittery and others distinctly less so, ran down her soon as it registered, he quickly knelt down next to me, craning his neck around to look at my dumb face.

"Hey," he said softly. "What's the matter?"

I squeezed my eyes shut and shook my head. Forget telling him about James. It was ten times worse now and just as embarrassing.

"C'mon, Bells. What's wrong?" I sniffed.

"Mmm-mm."

He glanced at the door from over his shoulder, where laughing and loud voices had taken over again. The thought of having to leave the room at any point and face my classmates, especially looking like this, rendered me petrified.

"Do you wanna go home?"

I felt ever lamer than I did before. Great; now I was weird and a total crybaby. Regardless, my overwhelming sense of dread convinced me to nod my head.

"Okay," he said. "I'll go call Mom to pick us up. I'll be right back." He couldn't have made it halfway down the hall before Jess and Angela came bursting in, their faces etched with remorse.

"Oh my gosh, Bella! I'm so sorry!" Jessica's voice was rising in pitch with every word. "I didn't think- I was trying to-"

"This was so stupid!" My voice cracked through a shuddering exhale, and I wiped the lip gloss off with the back of my sleeve. "I'm an idiot!"

"No, you're not," said Angela. "James is a total jerk. You're way better off without him."

Somehow, I didn't find that very comforting. She offered me a half empty box of tissues from her nightstand, which I gratefully accepted. They sat with me through my pathetic sniffling, but made themselves scarce when Jacob came back to collect me.

Jake's mother picked us up in her truck and remained as off-topic as possible for the entire trip back to the reservation. As much as I loved Billy, I was glad that he was on a fishing trip with Harry and not here, watching me dunk the corner of my grilled cheese into the soup over and over again until the bread disintegrated. Sarah always had a keen eye for this kind of thing, and somehow, she always knew what to do. Raising a double-dose of teenage girls probably had a lot to do with it. After making my favorite dinner, she made up a bed for me on the couch and discreetly let my dad know I was staying over.

Jacob, on the other hand, was still completely perplexed by the ordeal, following me around like a lost puppy until she declared it was lights-out. I couldn't sleep. Every awful thought I had was creeping back into my consciousness, summoning more tears. I really wanted to avoid an encore and just sleep off this terrible day, but it wasn't going to happen. I managed to keep it quiet this time, except for the occasional hiccup. The squeak of a door hinge carried down the hall, and Jake, a shadow except for the nightlight in the corner, tiptoed in.

"Psst! You awake?"

"Yeah."

I sat up and dabbed my eyes with the corner of the blanket. Careful to avoid the notoriously squeaky parts of the oak floors, he snuck across the room and sat next to me. I drew my legs in and hugged them to my chest. In a ribbon of moonlight that crossed his face, I could see his brows knitted together trying to study my face. Despite the odd timing, I couldn't help but notice how pretty his eyes were, like two shards of onyx glimmering in the darkness.

"What happened?"

"I don't wanna talk about it," I mumbled. He sighed heavily.

"Please? It feels like everyone else knows but me." I didn't answer. "Come on, Bells. We tell each other everything."

"This is different."

"How?"

"It just is."

He frowned, but said no more. An unbidden tear managed to escape down the tip of my nose. After a long stretch of quiet, my curiosity got the better of me again, and I opened my mouth.

"Do you think I'm weird?

He paused, and then a look of recognition swept across his face.

"Oh, honey," he said. He wrapped his arm around my shoulder and pulled me in close. It was like having a warm blanket wrapped around me, fresh from the dryer. I know this must have been a confusing sight for other people, but I didn't care. No matter what was going on, I always felt safe there.

"Don't listen to him. He says stupid crap like that all the time 'cause he thinks it makes him sound cool."

I couldn't restrain myself anymore. My voice wobbled as my eyes began to flood yet again.

"What's wrong with me?"

"Nothing's wrong with you, Bells."

"Then why don't boys like me?"

"I like you," he murmured.

"No, I mean like me - like me." He laid his head back onto the couch.

"It'll happen, alright? Don't worry about it."

"How do you know?" I asked. I knew he was trying to make me feel better, but in my condition, it felt more like I was being bullshitted.

"I just do." I wasn't convinced.

"I'm gonna turn into a crazy cat lady," I muttered. "And then I'll die alone and nobody will know, and then my cats will eat my eyeballs." He gave an exasperated sigh.

"That's just a myth. And besides, you're being crazy. You're not gonna die alone."

"You don't know that."

"Yeah, I do! What, do I not count as 'somebody'?"

My mouth snapped shut, and I looked away. I had a bad habit of taking Jacob for granted. It was hard not to when I had seen him almost every day for ten years. He felt like a permanent fixture in my life, and to suggest otherwise was to be like one of those pedantic assholes who ask how you "know" the sun will rise in the morning. I just did. I had complete faith that no matter what came to pass, he would be in my life. If only I ever learned from my mistakes.

"I didn't mean it like that," I murmured. "I just meant that I want to have a family when I grow up, and now I'm scared I never will."

"I promise you will."

"You can't promise that." I rolled my eyes. "Unless you're psychic now or something."

'Fine," he huffed. He rotated to look me square in the face. "How about this: If we're both still alone by the time we turn thirty, we'll get married."

I blinked while I tried to process his proposal, but the more I thought about it, the more it grew on me. Getting to live together sounded awesome, like one big sleepover every night without anyone making us go to sleep. We could get a big house like I always wanted and a bunch of dogs like he always wanted. Rebecca and Rachel would actually be my big sisters, and Billy and Sarah would be my parents too. The Blacks and the Swans would be a real family. I loved Jacob, of course, though in what way and to what extent wasn't clear to me at the time. I didn't give that much consideration. The important part was that he and I would always be together.

"You promise?" I held out my little finger.

His cautious expression gave way to the goofy grin I knew and loved, and with a low chuckle, he linked his pinky with mine.

"Promise."


A/N: God, if this fic doesn't age me, I don't know what will.

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