I once read somewhere that each person on average will encounter three loves in their lifetime.
Your first love is the idealistic love. The love you read about in fairy tales and watching Disney movies. The sweep-you-off-your-feet kind of love. The kind of love that feels so real, so raw during that first encounter, but will leave you one day questioning if that love was truly authentic, or if it only seemed pure at the time because it was a first time experience. A love filled with nostalgia and longing when one later reflects on it. The kind of love that's worth the heartache, even if it's the most naive, gullible of the three types of love.
Your second love is the hard love. The love you learn lessons from. The love that almost kills you once it ends. The one that guts you. Bleeds you out and leaves you hanging in the wind.
And the third love? The third love is the one we never see coming. The kind of love that sneaks up on you, blindfolds you, kidnaps you and keeps you tucked away. The kind of love that is the most likely to last longer than the first two because you're older, wiser, and you've learned all those hard lessons that needed to be learned.
For some of us, if we're lucky, that first love … that first, unadulterated, heart-stopping, life-altering love, also becomes our third. A do-over. A second chance at something pure and good.
The first time I saw Edward Cullen was on the corner of President and Union, a corner of four roads the locals commonly referred to as the square. President and Union was the unofficial starting point of the square. The area most crowded. Kids from the surrounding small towns met up to hang out, hook up, smoke, drink, or just whatever. It was the place where all the action began in Forks, Tennessee, the quiet, Smoky Mountain town where I grew up.
Country life moved at a different pace, especially back then compared to now. Our lives were listless. Slow and long with intervals of nothing in between. The tourists could only amuse us for so long, and the nearby theme parks were too expensive for most poor mountain folk to enjoy.
Compared to everyone else in high school, I wasn't considered poor. Naive, impressionable, easy to please? Yes. But poor? No. Which was the only reason I fell easily into the popular crowd. Mama married into money. As her only child, I was considered rich by association alone. My brand new convertible navigating down the curvy mountain roads told the tale.
Popularity came with a price. And the price I paid was jealousy. There was never one moment in my youth that I didn't wonder if my friends hung out with me for my company, or if they hung out with me for clout. The big house, the new car, the posh pool, the practically abandoned property since my mother spent most of her time off on some sort of adventure on her own. A stepfather always working to provide for his bought and paid for instafamily. Everyone wanted a piece of that pie. Trust didn't come easily.
The night I met Edward Cullen I wasn't driving my pretty convertible around town. I sat on the passenger side with my best friend Alice taking the lead, letting her chauffeur me around the way she sometimes did. We let the top down, and I kicked off my shoes. Let my feet prop up and over the passenger door. We cranked the music up. The best music. The music of our youth. The night was young and we had a tank of gas. Our future seemed like an endless, insurmountable thing. Something intangible and not worth worrying about for once.
Alice slowed the closer we crept to the corner of the square. Kids were already lined up bumper to bumper. The businesses flanking the streets had long shut down for the day. Security cameras weren't much of a thing back then. The police turned a blind eye on the weekends. They let the kids have their fun, unless in instance of property damage or reports of vandalism. Besides, we didn't typically damage property. Most kids were careful to only damage each other.
"Oh, my God. It's Jasper Hale." Alice brought her strawberry wine cooler to her mouth. The skin between her thighs matched the color, the cooler having chilled the skin her barely-there cutoffs didn't cover. The pink liquid shook in the glass from the bass pouring from my car speakers and from her nervous hand.
"Who's Jasper Hale?" I craned my neck, following her steady gaze. Some shaggy haired blond stood on the fringes of a growing crowd of guys. A bunch of pickup trucks sat parked in the lot. A handful of girls dangled from the tailgates, sneaking sips of their own alcohol of choice.
"Lives in Port. Plays ball for the Stallions. Baseball, not football. God, he's so fine."
"You know him, know him? Like, you've met him and he knows your name?" Finishing off my drink, I shoved it under the seat. Glass bumped against glass, my collection growing.
"Yeah, I know him. He hangs out with the Rusoe Boys."
The Rusoe boys were a group of guys who lived in a little community called Rusoe Valley, named after some descendant with the surname. Alice's parents divorced, and her mom lived in the community. With her dad having primary custody, Alice visited her mom in Rusoe Valley every other weekend for the past several years. The guys grew up near there, and thought of her like a kid sister, taking her mudding and swimming and stuff. I'd hung out with them a few times. Totally wild. Completely uninhibited. Pure fun. They'd never live past thirty.
Alice slowed and pulled off to the side of the crowd. A few people shot us curious glances, including Jasper. His eyes flitted between Alice and myself, assessing. Alice wasn't lying. The boy was fine. All blond hair, blue eyes, and tan skin. Irritation pricked the back of my neck. Girl code told me not to even try. She'd unofficially called him first.
"Little Mary Alice," he said in greeting, but he was looking mostly at me when he said it. He threw an arm around Alice, and gave her a squeeze. "You still trying to keep up with the Rusoe Boys?"
Alice could hardly control her grin. "More like they're having a hard time keeping up with me."
Finally she had all his attention. He gave her a full grin. "That I don't doubt. Who's your friend?"
Alice's smile faltered. Jasper didn't notice. But I noticed. I always noticed. "This is Bella."
"Hey," he said, pointing his thumb at his chest. "Jasper Hale."
I responded by cracking open another wine cooler and tipping it his way. He stared at me, and I avoided his gaze, not only because Alice unofficially claimed him, but also because whenever a girl ignored a guy it gets to him. Chipped off a piece of his already fragile ego. And although most guys acted confident, they always secretly questioned their ego.
While pretending to ignore Jasper, I leaned against the car and allowed my gaze to lazily graze the crowd until a startling set of emerald green eyes met mine. One corner of his mouth quirked a bit in response to my stare.
"And this is Edward Cullen. You know Edward?" Jasper asked Alice. "He's a shitty shortstop but I don't hold it against him … too much."
Edward gave Jasper a condensing smile over the lip of his beer. His smile was nice and white, pretty pink lips, and skin too pale to belong to a baseball player, but the cut athletic body befitting to one. He wore a dirty white baseball hat, a gray, threadbare Stallions shirt, and faded soft blue jeans. Rips and tiny holes in the butter-soft looking fabric told the tale of too much wear and tear. Nothing trendy about the slow destruction of his jeans. They were worn from use, not bought for style. Thick strands of Auburn-colored hair stuck out below the bill of his cap. Taking my prolonged stare as an invitation, he pushed off the truck he leaned against and joined me against my car.
"Hey," he said.
"Hey." I smiled down at my wine cooler, peeling off the label. This time I didn't look away to bait. I looked away from shyness, blowing my own damn mind.
"Your friend's got a nice ride."
I forced the smile that followed. "Yeah, she does, doesn't she."
"Spoiled rich girl, huh?"
Is that what people thought of me? Of course it was.
"Hey, I'm just talking." He kind of nudged me with his elbow. "Filling the space? You know? Nothing against having money. Guess I'm a little jealous."
"Because you want a pretty purple convertible, too?" I teased.
His eyes lit up. They were really pretty. Like shamrocks. "I'm more of a pickup guy myself, but I guess I'll take what I can get since I'm currently bumming rides from friends."
The shadows from the streetlights cut planes against his face. I studied him in the near dark. He wasn't classically cute like his friend. He was all sharp angles. Eyes shaped like almonds. Long jaw, a nose broken a time or two. I wanted to know the story behind his nose. The story behind his everything.
"You smell nice," he said suddenly, staring back at me. "Like dessert."
"It's the wine cooler."
He looked down at my hands as if he just now noticed them occupied with my drink.
I nodded. "You smell nice too." And he did. Like citrus and cedar wood. Fresh. Clean. Crisp. I bet the scent was embedded in his shirt. I had an overwhelming urge to ask him for it.
A couple squealing girls made us cringe. Edward laughed at the way I jumped. He nudged me again until our arms were flush against each other. It felt nice meeting someone new. Not just another guy from school who I'd known since birth. Edward equaled adventure. Adventure in a small town was hard to come by.
"Kinda loud out here. Want to go somewhere quiet?" I asked. Sometimes I felt like the guy in these situations. Aggressive. A mustache-twirling menace trying to sway the sweet and innocent to run away with me. My mother's child.
"Uh, yeah." He seemed surprised. Thrown off his game. "But I'm riding with Jas. Wha—"
"Alice won't mind if we leave for a while. She knows I'll come back for her. Besides, they look pretty cozy." I opened the driver's door and sank in against the soft leather. Alice met my eyes and gave a slight smirk, knowing. Looking up at Edward I said, "You coming?"
Edward hesitated, looking back at Jasper. They made a connection. Jasper nodded tugging Allie against him using the belt loops from her shorts. Alice grinned up at him, but he looked at me. Something warm, wicked, and dangerous flipped inside my belly. Turning back to Edward, I willed the sensation away.
"Guess we're good to go?"
"Yeah, lemme grab a couple beers. You mind waiting?"
Shaking my head, I turned the engine and waited. Soft R&B filtered through the speakers. Edward spoke to Jasper before dipping into the cooler in the back of a black pickup truck. When he leaned over, his shirt rode up a little, revealing a sliver of well-toned skin. A little thrill shot through me at the sight. This guy was hot, seemed nice, wanted to spend time with me.
I wasn't pretty like Alice. Not as skinny or bubbly. I often felt awkward and tended to say the wrong thing. I was stubborn and argumentative. Selfish and destructive. Always yearning for attention, as pathetic as it sounded. An only child left alone too much.
Edward climbed in, his citrus and cedar scent invading my space, three beers dangling from the plastic loops that once held a sixer. "Where we headed?"
Edward's eyes widened and I laughed. The sand pit was notoriously known for parking.
"Just to talk," I further explained.
"Okay." He grinned, and I liked it. That crooked grin of his. And I liked that he looked more nervous than excited when I mentioned the sandpit. Cute. I went to reach for a beer, but he pulled away. "No drinking and driving."
"Okay, Dad," I cracked.
Edward leaned back against his seat, his head lulling to the side, watching as I pulled out of the lot. "My dad wouldn't care if you drank and drove. My dad doesn't care about anyone but himself."
"Ah, so you're also an offspring of the Deadbeat Dad's Club? I'm a card-carrying member myself. Welcome." Heavy convo for a first … whatever, but I didn't feel weird or uncomfortable talking about it for once. "Mine split when I was born. Haven't seen him a day in my life."
"My parents never married." Edward sipped his beer. "They got knocked up in high school. Didn't get along too well. They're both remarried now."
"You got siblings?"
"A stepbrother who hates me," he replied. "And two half brothers, two half sisters from my mom's marriage to my stepdad."
Technically an only child. Like me. "Feels weird being different, huh?"
"Your step-brother hates you?"
"Huh?" He'd become lost in his own self-destructive thoughts. I knew exactly how that felt.
"You said your step-brother hates you. Why?"
Edward finished off his beer, chucked his empty can at a stop sign where I paused. "Stepmother dearest fills his head with bullshit." He didn't elaborate. I knew better than to ask. "Hate to break it to ya, but I'm pretty sure this little clown car will get stuck in the sand pits."
"Nah, we're good." He didn't need to know how many times I'd been told that.
He still stared at me. "Hey, I know a place even better. You ever heard of Duke's Quarry?"
I shook my head.
"It's about a thirty minute drive west of here. I think you'd like it."
"Okay?" He grinned that crooked grin again. "That easy, huh?"
I made a left hand turn in the direction he pointed. "Sometimes the easy way is the best way."
Edward wasn't wrong about the quarry. As I pulled close to the shore and stared at the clear pond surrounded by mountainous slabs of quartz I fell in love. The quiet echo of our doors shutting behind us reverberated in the natural amphitheater. A few large boulders rested about a foot past the water's edge. We both hopped on one, sat side by side, and shared a beer.
"How come I've never heard of this place?"
"Local secret." He chuckled. "Don't tell any of your fellow Spartans. You know we are mortal enemies."
"I couldn't care less about sports." I laughed at his exaggerated gasp. "Right? It's almost sacrilegious, really. Being southern and caring nothing about football. Or any sports in general."
"You mean you've never played any sports? Not even t-ball as a kid?"
"Nah, why you look so shocked?"
"You have nice legs," he blurted, hanging his head immediately and chuckling. "What I meant is, you have strong looking legs. I assumed you got them from playing sports."
Shoulder checking him, I said, "You checking out my legs, Cullen?"
"They're nice legs," he repeated, blush still intact. It was adorable really. And I didn't normally do adorable.
"I hike a lot," I said. "And camp. Love camping. Jasper said you play ball together?"
"Since kindergarten. He wasn't lying though. I'm a shitty shortstop." He shrugged like it couldn't be avoided.
"I'm a shitty person in general. You've been warned."
"I doubt that."
Sucking in a deep breath, I tilted my head back to look at the moon. "Don't."
The rock we sat on was so huge and flat I could lie back on it and gaze at the moon. Edward joined me. The two of us stared at the inky black sky, the stars, and the glowing quartz around us. Crickets sang in the distance. Something large and predatory stirred in the brush above the quarry. A black bear maybe. Whatever it was, it disappeared quicker than it appeared. A breeze stirred, swirling Edward's scent around.
"Summer's almost gone," I murmured, closing my eyes. "Next year I'll start college."
"Where you planning on going?"
I smiled in the darkness. "Anywhere far away from here. What about you?"
"Army," he answered immediately. "Like my stepdad. Always been my dream."
"A dangerous dream."
Edward shrugged. I didn't see it, but felt it. The rise and fall of his shoulder. "I need the stability." His voice turned bitter. Clipped. Like someone told him he needed stability and he'd begrudgingly agreed. His finger brushed against the back of my hand. "Hey, you wanna go for a swim?"
My eyes fluttered open, and my heart sped up in time. "What? I don't have a suit."
"Who said anything about a suit?"
Edward stood, reached over his shoulder, and peeled off his shirt from the back. Every taut muscle caught my eye as he tugged the shirt over his head. I leaned up on my elbows, my eyebrows practically in my hairline. He kicked off his shoes, rolled off his socks. He flicked the button on those soft jeans and down they went until he stood tall and bold on the rock, looking down at me, a dark silhouette of sinewy muscle in the moonlight.
"You chicken?" He taunted, and chuckled his way into the water. Ankle deep. Knee deep. Waist deep. Then diving down until I became the only person living and breathing in the quarry.
I picked up his shirt. After taking a long sniff of his smell through my nose, I kicked off my sandals, and inched my clothes off too. Plain underwear. White cotton. Hadn't planned on doing anything or anyone that night. But he liked it, if his darkened eyes appearing out of nowhere was any indication. Using the back of his hand, he wiped droplets of water from his face. He kept himself hunkered down in the water as I entered. I knew what he was hiding. He'd show me later, but not tonight. No sense in giving him what he wanted right away.
I wanted to keep this one for awhile, so I'd dangle myself in front of him as long as I could stand it. If my history was any indication, I wouldn't be dangling for long.
"You hang out at the square a lot?" He asked as I waded closer.
"Just about every weekend. Not like there's shit else to do around here." Tipping my head back, I wet it in the warm, clear waters. The water, although fresh, had a salty softness to it, like a liquid blanket. "You? Never seen y'all there before."
"Jas hangs out more than me. I work most weekends. Some evenings too."
"Yeah? Where do you work?" I only knew a handful of kids who held actual jobs. I was kinda impressed.
"My dad's store. Ever heard of Cullen's Grocery?"
"Oh, my God. Yes! That's right near my grandparents house near Clay Cove. I haven't been in that store since I was a kid. They still sell old fashioned candy, hand scooped ice cream, and stuff?"
"Yup. Tourists eat it up." He grinned. "Literally. They love the nostalgia and the food."
"So you're Carlisle's kid." Squinting at him, I envisioned him older. "Yeah, I totally see it. You're a hottie just like your dad."
Edward's eye roll sent me into a fit of giggles. Every girl in town had a crush on Carlisle Cullen.
"Cullen. Can't believe I didn't put it together before. So your mom must be from Port and that's where you live."
"When she lets me in the door." He shrugged and smiled, but both were forced.
"Hmm … there's a story there," I teased, but he didn't elaborate. Instead, he splashed me with a little water, laughing when I squealed and retaliated.
"What about your dad?" He asked once the water war quietly dispelled.
"Not much to tell. Like I said, split when I was a kid. Haven't seen him since." I left out the part about him dying. Being dead. And the guilt that weighed heavily from it. Being my fault and all.
"Seems like there's a story there, too."
"Maybe one day I'll tell it."
He smiled softly. "Maybe. What about your mom?"
"Oh, no. The dad stuff is heavy enough. Let's not do the mom thing."
"Aw, come on. Hey, I'll even start. My mom's a dental hygienist."
"My mom's a kept woman."
Edward snorted, but his laughter died away when he noticed I wasn't joining in on the fun. "Seriously? That's goals."
The tone of his voice suggested he wasn't kidding. Ah, so he longed to freeload. Can't say I blamed him. Most folks did. "Yeah, I guess. Though marrying men twice my age for the sole purpose of avoiding work doesn't sound fun to me, but to each his own."
Shrugging, Edward sucked in a breath and dunked himself underwater, emerging after a few seconds. Droplets of water dripped from his thick hair, black underneath the moonlight. He gently shook them away, then raked his fingers through his hair.
"Hey," he said, voice soft. "I shouldn't have pushed you to talk about your mother. Let's talk about something else."
"Anything. As long as I hear your voice, I don't care what you say."
Quirking an eyebrow, I asked, "You like the sound of my voice?"
"Yeah." He smiled. "I do."
Edward submerged himself lower into the water, until only his eyes reflected about the rippling dark surface. There was something about those eyes. Something different from all the other teenage boys. Something honest and earnest. Something that told me I could trust him with my secrets. Trust him with my friendship. Trust him with anything.
"You're one of the good ones, aren't you, Edward Cullen?"
Those deep green eyes brightened. His cheeks stretched with an underwater smile.
"Yeah, I am."
I swam closer, grinning as his smirk disintegrated into the water then resurfaced. Placing my hands on each side of his face, I kissed him. Kissed him as soft as his eyes and as pure as his heart.
I kissed the boy I'd fall in love with.
The one who'd lie to me.
The one who'd break my heart.
There wasn't anything pure about Edward Cullen.
Nothing pure except his lies.
This completed short story consists of approximately 19k total words. I've broken it down into chapters. Betad by Jonesn. This was my entry for the Babies at the Border Compilation last year. Lizzie Paige made a beautiful banner for the story. You can see it on my FB fanfiction account.