DISCLAIMER: While this story is in the AU Twilight universe I created for Edward and Bella's stories Under The Willows and Waves of Hope, this story will primarily feature two original charactersthey're familiar to you already, don't worry. The Twilight characters you'll recognize from the first two stories will be around and feature heavily in places, but this is NOT an Edward x Bella story. I just want to be upfront about that because I know I'll probably get a bunch of 'this isn't E x B' guest reviews. So, yeah.

Welcome back! I'm so excited to be sharing this with you. If you haven't read Under The Willows and Waves of Hope, I would absolutely suggest that you do before reading this. It won't make much sense at all without the backstory. I am also making a promise (that you can hold me to) that I WILL write Sullivan's story and Rosalie's story. Sullivan's will come first. I'll share more on that as and when I can, but keep your eyes peeled for hints of what he's been up to.

I'd like to thank each and every one of you for all your love and support thus far, and I hope you'll stick around for this story despite the step back Edward and Bella have taken. I also need to thank my wonderful team because they're the bomb and I couldn't do this without them.

- The incredibly patient and kind annaharding has been with me since the beginning of my fanfic writing journey and I'm blessed to say she's a much-loved real-life friend as well as my beta.
- Everyone's favorite, most talented tease, maplestyle, joined me as a pre-reader when I was writing Waves and I fear (HOPE!) I'll never get rid of her now ;)
- And the fantastic, talented new writer and my fellow Brit friend in a sea of lovely Americans, hotteaforme, jumped aboard for this story as a second pre-reader.

Both maplestyle and hotteaforme have new stories posting right now, so run along and check them out once you're done here! Leave them some love.

Okay. On with the story.


He doesn't know what she does, what she's been keeping secret for years. She'd follow this clueless boy anywhere.

~ oOo ~

Caught In A Riptide

Chapter One

Arlo

Just after my feet hit the trellis, I hear the clunky whoosh of a window sliding open, a heavy sigh laced with confusion. Seconds later, I glance up and flash a grin at the raised eyebrows and narrowed eyes peering down at me.

"What are you doing here?"

"I came to pick you up for the party, duh."

Reaching the window, my sneakers wedged between strips of white-painted wood twisted with green vines, I grip the ledge with one hand and motion for her to step back with the other. "Scusi."

With a roll of her eyes, Lakely shifts away from the window, flopping on her bed as my feet land on the carpet with a soft thump. "Hey, what're you doin'? You need to get changed."

"No, I don't," she says slowly, as if I'm deranged. "I'm not going. Pajamas are just fine for lounging at home in my own bedroom. Which you're not supposed to be in, by the way. Dad would lose his mind."

"He won't know if you get yourself out of your granny pjs and sneak out with me…" I point out, waggling my brows. She doesn't seem swayed, so it's time to roll out the big guns.

Plonking down on the bed beside her, I pull out the best weapon I have in my arsenal.

"Arlo…" Lakely whines, screwing her eyes shut and turning onto her back, but I grin, knowing I've got the win. I can tell. "No fair with the puppy dog eyes. You know they're lethal."

It's possible I've been told that by most of the women in my life, yeah.

"I may have heard that a time or two," I admit smugly, snatching her girly magazine and tapping her on the head with it. "Now get dressed, we're picking Char and the boys up in a bit."

"You're insufferable."

"You love me that way," I remind her, sticking my tongue out for good measure as she groans and heads for her closet while I flip through Seventeen. "Best Jeans For Your Body..." Lifting my eyes over the edge of the page, I cock my head at Lakely as she steps out of her closet, buttoning up her favorite, worn denim shorts. "What's this all about?" I ask, waving the trash in the air. "Why are you reading this crap?"

"To learn how to dress to look good…" she trails off like I'm supposed to know what the hell she's going on about.

I frown, eyeing the piece of crap magazine as she disappears again to change out of her Pusheen pajama shirt.

Is this why girls are so high-strung about compliments and shit? 'Cause, boy, if this is the junk they fill their heads with then it's no surprise.

When she steps back out fastening a bracelet around her wrist, a flowery, frilly top over her shorts, I grin. "See? You don't need this garbage. You look beautiful when you just dress like yourself."

I'm sure she rolls her eyes at me but I don't get a chance to see because I have to dive under the bed with her stuffed animals and the suitcase she brought when our families went camping last year. Thank God for the creaky top step.

A split second after I slide my feet under the bed, the door swings open in front of me. I can see a pair of pink leggings and purple-painted toes, so I know it's Lakely's mom Jane before she speaks.

"Oh! You look pretty, sweetie. Are you going out?"

"Uh, well I, umm…"

Shit, Lakely. I drop my forehead into the carpet, shaking my head and muffling my laughter with my fist. The girl is a truly terrible liar.

"Charlotte invited me over for a sleepover, I was going to ask!"

Jane laughs, stepping further into the room. "That's fine, sweetie. Do you need a ride over there?"

"No, I'm good. I'll walk. Thanks, though."

"Okay. Shall I call her mom and see if there's anything I can send over with you?"

"No!"

Scrunching up my face, I mouth "Fix it, fix it," breathing a mental sigh of relief when Lakely adds that she already asked and Charlotte's mom said not to worry. Thankfully, Jane and Charlotte's mom don't really get on, so I can't see Jane checking up on her story.

"All right, well have a great time. Call me in the morning if you need a ride home, okay?"

"'Kay. Thanks, Mom."

I stay in my spot until the top step creaks, then I roll out. Lakely is standing right there so she immediately spots the stuffed kitten I'm holding in front of my face. "You're such a goof," she snorts, snatching it out of my hands and tossing it onto the bed.

Grinning, I hop up off the floor. "That's Cuddles, right? I remember you carryin' that thing around in kindergarten."

"Yes, that's Cuddles, and don't call her 'that thing.'" Swiping her oversized purse off her dresser and stuffing a bunch of crap in it, she finally turns to me with a sigh. "All right, if we're gonna go we need to go now before I change my mind. And we're going out the window because if she asks me any more questions I'm gonna crack."

Now she's agreed to go I'm definitely not risking her changing her mind or Jane busting us, so before either of those can happen I grab her purse and swing it across my chest so I can have my hands free for climbing down the trellis.

Bless Jane's gardening obsession for this damn trellis, I think with a grin as I climb down to the ground. Lakely follows me down, but true to form, she slips near the bottom and I have to catch her clumsy ass before she can hit the deck.

Smirking as I grip her hips to turn her and lower her to the grass, I'm not surprised to find her cheeks bright red. The girl blushes at the drop of a damn hat. "You good?"

Clutching my shoulders, she huffs and rolls her eyes, tugging her purse over my head. "I'm good. Come on, hustle."

~ oOo ~

Even with me picking up the crew, we show up late and have to park the Jeep way down the street. Grumpy after waiting for Demetri and Liam, Lakely and I climb out of the front while the guys and Charlotte pile out of the backseat. Hitting the sidewalk, we join the other clusters of people making their way toward the thumping bass at the end of the street, stars like daisies in a field of navy and thick, heavy air wrapping around me like a blanket. I'm glad I second-guessed my cargo pants and opted for shorts instead; I'd be sweating my balls off otherwise.

Mike Newton has the biggest house on the block and throws the biggest parties to match. Nobody misses a party at Mike's, not even Lakely, although she really only puts up with this shit because she's the sensible one and likes to take care of us. Tossing an arm around her shoulders, tucking her into my side as we amble up to Mike's front yard, I wave at a few of our classmates and call out to Jake when I spot him helping Quil do a kegstand. I wasn't sure he'd be here.

"Don't drop him!" I yell, cupping my hand around my mouth so my voice travels, shaking my head when Jake looks around to find me in the dark and ends up losing his grip on Quil.

Quil spits the tap out and sputters a curse, spraying beer all over the grass as Jake lowers him to the ground.

"You made it!"

Lakely shrugs my arm off as Jake jogs over and pulls me in for the elaborate handshake we created in sixth grade. I eye her over his shoulder, still not really getting what she has against him, but she's never really warmed to him. After Jake's folks moved their family out to Jacksonville in eighth grade, I kinda thought absence might make her grow fonder and all that, but no dice, I guess.

"I'm gonna go…" she trails off, pointing toward the house, and Charlotte rushes to catch up with her as she beelines for the porch. The music gets louder for a second when they open the door, then dulls when it slams shut.

"Dude, how've you been? We weren't sure you'd make it," Jake goes on, oblivious.

"Wouldn't miss it," I tell him, distracted and hoping Lakely will come around eventually. We've only got a year and a half before we're heading off to college and I was hoping our fifth grade plan would still stand and we'd rent an apartment together.

Slapping him on the shoulder, I decide to worry about that another day. "I'm good, though. How's Jacksonville?"

"It's whatever. C'mon, let's go get you guys a drink."

"Hell yeah, that's what I'm talking about!" Demetri crows, and he's the reason we're late.

Pre-drinking, y'all. It's a fool's game, especially for a lightweight like him.

As expected, Mike's house is loud as hell and full of my classmates. His parents are old money and it shows, but the gaps where no-doubt priceless antiques usually hang or sit are obvious. I guess he's learned his lesson after a couple of the football guys used a Ming vase as a ball last year.

Someone's hooked the sound system up to the intercom so it booms out from all directions and makes it almost impossible to hear anything anybody says unless they're literally yelling it in my ear.

After a while, I'm done. I pull Jake's ear to my mouth to tell him I'm grabbing a beer and heading outside.

He nods but I can tell he's distracted by some girl I don't recognize giving him googly eyes from across the room. Leaving him to it, I wade through the crowd, pausing to return high-fives and hugs.

At home, I'm the sort-of middle child—sandwiched between my twin big brothers and younger sextuplet brothers and sister. I'm a little fish in a big pond full of eight others.

But here, among my classmates, I'm Arlo Cullen, captain of the soccer team and star striker.

A big fish.

Ever since I stepped in for Alec Russo after he was dropped from the team right at the start of last season, I've found my niche. Coach Clapp saw potential in me and I proved my worth when I led the Dolphins to the state championships. Last season wasn't ours and we took second, but we're thirsty. Next year will be our year. I'll go out with a bang and graduate with a championship title to my name.

Finley finished high school with two championships in the bag. He always talks about how his junior and senior year were the highlight of his life so far, the cherry on the top his full ride with a football scholarship. That's my future, too, followed by the Gator green shirt I'm dying to call mine. I'm itching for the season to start and it's only April, still seven months to go.

"Cullen!"

I see Demetri saying my name, I don't hear it. His face is pressed against the kitchen window as he motions for me to come outside. Pointing to the keg in the corner and the stack of stereotypical red cups on the counter, I hold up two fingers to tell him I'll be out in two before hustling to get a beer.

I deliberately only fill my cup halfway. We'll all be walking home later and I'll run through this side of town instead of along the beach in the morning so I can pick up the Jeep, but I still want to have my wits about me. I brought Charlotte and Lakely here so they're my responsibility, something I remind myself of when I get outside and spot Lakely looking cosy over by the pool with Tyler Crowley.

Jerking my chin at them, I drop into a chair on the porch and catch Liam's eye. "What's she doin' with him?"

Liam glances over, shrugging. "I dunno. Hey, did you see Alec? He's gonna hook us up."

Scrunching my face up, I shake my head. "You know I don't do that shit, Lee. You shouldn't either. Coach will kick you off the team if you keep it up."

Grinning and rocking back on his hair, Liam tsks. "Naw, not if he don't find out." His eyes catch something over my shoulder and his smile widens. "Yo, Alec!"

I turn my head just enough to see Alec making his way outside, his usual harem around him, only…

She's new.

Alec Russo's twin sister, Renata, is usually hanging all over one of his doped up buddies. Not tonight. She has her arm wrapped around a new chick instead. I raise my eyebrows, eyes sliding over a too-big black tee and fishnets. I can't help but smile at the chunky Doc Martens on her feet, and when my gaze roams lazily back up to her face, she's smiling, too.

"Come sit," Liam says, pulling his feet down from a chair to free it up. Alec drops into it and they don't stall. It only takes a few minutes before Liam's handing over half his wages from working part-time at the grocery store, Alec trading it for a little plastic baggie.

Rolling my eyes, I drink my beer and keep my mouth shut. I don't need to know what's in that bag or guess where Alec gets it from. It's no secret that his older brother hooks him up whenever he comes back from college. It's also no secret that his drug habit is the reason Alec was unceremoniously dropped from the Dolphins last year.

Which is why, when the chick Renata's hanging onto disentangles herself to perch on the arm of my chair and ask if she can share my beer, he's glaring hard across the table. I don't like him, he don't like me. That's just the way it is.

Tipping my head back, I take in smoky eyes and a pouty red smirk. "I don't know. I don't usually share my drink with girls I don't know, even pretty ones."

She laughs, husky and warm over the music spilling out through the patio doors, and I feel a bunch of eyes shifting to us, to her. "Well, aren't you a gent?"

I shrug, bobbing my head side to side. "I try."

"Would it change your mind if I told you my name?" she wonders, ignoring Renata when she strokes her hair and asks if she'll go with her to the bathroom.

I pretend to think about it, glancing at my boys. Liam is chasing whatever he just bought with a mouthful of beer and Demetri is too busy talking to Charlotte to care what I'm doing. "I guess it might, yeah."

Her mouth curves into a big smile, teeth flashing white in the porch lights as she tosses her flame-red hair over her shoulder. "Vicky James."

One of my eyebrows arches. "As in Hunter James' sister?"

Her smile widens, something mischievous about it. "Don't tell me you've heard about me already?"

Sliding my beer out of her reach, I lean back in my chair. If being part of Alec's gang hadn't made her off-limits already, knowing who her brother is does.

Disappointment dims her amusement before I can say a word.

"Hmm, pity," she hums, trailing her nails lightly over my forearm. My pulse speeds up. A shiver races up my spine. The look in her playfully narrowed eyes tells me she sees it, too. As Alec gets up from the table, following the call of more idiots wanting to line his pockets, she stands to follow him, but not before blowing me a kiss. "See you around, Cullen."

It takes me a full minute after I've watched her disappear into the house to realize that she knew who I was without me telling her, and another to remember that Lakely was over by the pool with Crowley before I got distracted, but now she's not.

Shaking off my little encounter with the sister of Bay Highs arguably most notorious alumni, I look around the yard and frown when I can't see Lakely or Crowley.

"Char, where'd Lakely go?"

Pulling her attention away from whatever Demetri's showing her on his cell, Charlotte frowns, too. "She was over there a second ago. Maybe she went inside to get a drink."

"I'll go find her."

I'm restless, my heart still racing, so I leave my beer on the table and scan the people spilling out into the back yard. There are shadows over by the pool house, but they're too tall to be my short-ass best friend.

"You seen Lakely?" I ask Lakely's bio lab partner when I bump into her on my way inside. She shakes her head 'no', smile too wide, laughter too loud.

"Not since Ty got hold of her," she adds, my blood heating up.

Fucking Crowley. He's a total douchebag working his way through every girl in our grade. I don't want him anywhere near Lakely.

In the short amount of time I've been outside, more people have arrived. It's almost impossible to move through the house without having to squeeze through tiny gaps, tap people on their shoulders so they'll move out of the way. Even with my height advantage, I can't spot Lakely's soft brown curls in the grinding mass of students. My eyes briefly dance over the stairs, but no. Lakely wouldn't.

Spotting Jake over by the peer pong table, I make my way over and yell in his ear. "You see Lakely?"

He takes his shot before nodding, distracted by the congratulatory backslaps he gets for landing his shot. "She went upstairs with that dude you hate."

For the love…

I don't even make it upstairs before I find them, Lakely at the top of the stairs, Tyler at the bottom. He looks pissed, but she shakes her head when I cock mine, so I let him pass with just a shoulder check. Taking the stairs two at a time, I mouth "Are you okay?", relieved when she nods and smiles a genuine Lakely smile.

"I'm good. Wanna get out of here?"

~ oOo ~

"You're crazy."

I snort, looking at the star-spangled sheet stretched over the inky black canvas above. Swinging my legs over the edge of the roof, I turn my head and open my mouth wide.

Calling me a brat, but still smiling, she scoops a loaded spoonful of triple choc chip ice cream from the tub in her hands and feeds it to me.

"S'good," I murmur around the too-cold treat, huffing a breath to help speed the melting process along. It's hot out, the air sticky, my loose hair clinging to my neck. I prefer having my hair up but sometimes it gives me headaches. The best remedy is Mom's hand in my hair, her nails scratching my scalp until the pressure recedes, but when Mom isn't available…

"Lakely…"

"Hmm?" she hums around the spoon, smirk spreading over her face when she glances at me and sees the puppy dog eyes already in play. "Come here."

Pulling my legs up, I tip over and rest my head on her leg, my eyes sliding shut as her fingers start working their magic in my hair.

"What shampoo do you use?" she whispers after a minute or five.

My eyes pop open. "Huh?"

"Your hair," she smiles, using her free hand to feed me some more ice cream. "It's super soft. I'm jealous."

Shrugging, I savor the melting Ben & Jerrys, letting it sit on my tongue until it's liquid. "Ask Mom. I can't remember the name."

"'Kay."

From here, I can see all the way across the yard and over the dunes to the sea. With my cheek on Lakely's thigh, I can watch the waves shift and rush up the sand only to whoosh away again. It makes me dizzy; that and the beers I drank at the party.

"Whoa, tiger," Lakely laughs when I sit up suddenly, a little too wobbly to feel comfortable lying down. "You okay?"

"Yeah," I breathe, leaning against her, ugly thoughts popping into my head. "Did Crowley do anything?"

I don't need to be looking at her face to know Lakely rolls her eyes at me. I can hear it. Years of friendship do that. "No, Arlo. We were just talking. It's just Tyler."

My stomach unknots; I didn't even realize it was knotted in the first place. Didn't know I was that worried about just Tyler and her being off, alone with him, without me there to watch out for her.

"You sure? You'd tell me, right?"

Her laugh fans out over the yard, soft and amused, maybe a little confused, too. "What's gotten into you tonight?"

Lifting my head from her shoulder, I offer her a grin. "It's you and me against the world, remember?"

"Of course."

She has butterscotch eyes.

They look like the caramel candies Nana keeps in her purse because she likes to crunch them when Papa makes her mad. He can't stand the sound of her biting them, complains that they're for sucking not for chewing.

"You have ice cream on your nose," I tell her, watching her nose scrunch a little as she goes cross-eyed trying to see it. Chuckling, I lift the neckline of the hoodie I swiped from my closet for her on the way out here. Tugging it over her smile, I wipe away the smudge of chocolate and grin. "Your eyes are pretty. They look like my Nana's candy."

A giggle bursts out of her. "All right, time for bed. You're talking all kinds of crazy."

Shoving me back through my open window, Lakely tells me she'll be right back. I'm in bed when she returns, ice cream swapped for a big bottle of water from the refrigerator. I lift up the sheet for her to crawl under.

"One sec," she whispers, ducking back out into the hall with her purse. My eyes are shut when she lifts the sheet and slips underneath, but I turn over and watch her tuck her hands under her head to smile at me in the darkness. "Night, Arlo."