Breathing in the scent of old vomit and mildew I rolled over on the foul excuse for a bed, intending to snuggle up next to the warm body beside me. Instead, I found the other side of the bed had long since gone cold. I opened my eyes to search out the person who was supposed to have been beside me, the person who was always beside me when I woke up.

My eyes quickly swept across the room, taking in the scene of urban decay surrounding me. The bits and shards of broken glass scattered across the once linoleum covered concrete floor, glass that had once functioned as barriers against the sounds and elements of the world beyond the windows they'd formed once upon a time. The rotted and fallen wooden beams that had once provided structural support were now only useful for forming small and carefully contained fires for warmth within the building on frigidly cold nights when the bitter air blew right through the glassless window frames. The rusted metal foundation beams showing through gaping holes in the ceiling where the tiles had decayed and fallen, shattering upon the floor. And finally, the massive amounts of trash strewn about the direful landscape, most of which had been left behind by transients much like myself.

I could see the all the signs of life that had once passed through where I lay, but could find not a single sign of the one thing I was looking for, the one person I wished to see.

I'm alone. Jasper never leaves me alone when I'm asleep.

I quickly grabbed the tattered blanket that had been tangled around my feet and wrapped it tightly around myself before scrambling into the corner, cowering against the wall and fearing the worst.

When I brought my hands up to rub the sleep out of my eyes, I felt the wetness of the tears I'd shed during the night on my cheeks. The nightmares I suffered at night had become such a common occurrence over the years that I'd become accustomed to them and rarely remembered them anymore when I awoke. Well...most of them at least. Where at one time they had all caused me to wake with tears in my eyes and screams of terror trapped within my throat...there was only one left that would cause me to wake in such a state.

It wasn't the one where he cornered me in the bathroom, or the one where he woke me in the middle of the night as he stumbled up the stairs a little too drunk and way too pissed off, nor was it even the one where he damns the day I was born before pushing me down a flight of stairs. While all of those were terrifying and felt just as real as the day I'd experienced them firsthand, they couldn't even come close to the only one that continued to haunt me...the one where I actually feared he'd finally kill me.

The peace and serenity one can find in the forest just simply cannot be found when darkness takes over and casts chillingly eerie shadows between the trees, turning your one pursuant into thousands as you race past them. It makes your heart race and threaten to explode from your chest as you try to fight the temptation to look behind you and keep going — only to be caught and scream as the person who terrifies you the most in life grins menacingly at you and his sharp blows turn your screams of fright to bloodcurdling wails of pain.

"Bella? Bella, what's wrong?" Jasper called out as he came running in from across the building. I didn't realize that I'd been crying so hysterically until he had me wrapped up in his arms trying to calm me down. "Darlin' it's okay. Shhh, I'm right here. I didn't go anywhere," he reassured, tucking my head under his chin as he rocked us back and forth.

All it took was his soothing voice and gentle touch to make the demons that plagued me retreat back into the shadows of my unconscious.

"Jas, where were you?" I asked once I had calmed down enough to speak.

"I went to take a piss. I didn't mean for you to wake up alone darlin'," he answered, his voice laced with remorse. "Bad dreams again?"

"Yeah," I replied softly. Jasper knew full well all that my dreams entailed. He'd told me time and time again that he wouldn't let anything happen to me, yet morning after morning he was left trying to pick up the pieces after the nightmares had done their damage.

"I'm sorry doll face. I wish I could make them go away," he sighed, squeezing me tight before slowly letting go.

My eyes followed him as he stood up and walked over to one of the rusted broken down beams where his duffle bag was hidden. After tugging his ratty sweatshirt over his head, he grabbed something from inside his bag and tossed it towards me. I uncurled my hands from inside the blanket to grab what turned out to be a cold pack of pop tarts.

"It's not the breakfast of champions, but it's all I've got. Make sure you eat all of it, you're too thin as it is," he said sternly when I didn't immediately make a move to open the package.

"I'm going to go out for a bit," Jasper announced once he saw I had taken a bite. "You should be safe here, just stay in this part of the building. I don't want you wandering off because some of the flooring in this place isn't so great anymore, and I don't wanna have to worry bout you hurting yourself."

"Okay," I grumbled, unhappy to be left there all alone for who knows how long but knowing there was no point in fighting him on it.

"It's nothing your pretty little face needs to worry about," he scolded when he saw the disgruntled frown etched across my face. "You stay here, eat, and keep safe. I'll be back before you know it," he said leaving a reassuring kiss on my forehead before walking out the door.

Jasper had always made a point to shield me from the bitter reality of our lives, never wanting me to have to worry about what exactly he had to do in order to provide for our meager existence. He never came back with much, but it was always enough to get us from one day to the next. Out of respect I never badgered him as to what exactly he'd done while he was out, knowing that there were only so many odd jobs a person could come across before having to resort to more illicit activities. Jasper was a good man, but like any other person in our situation would, he did what he had to do in order to keep us sheltered, fed, and safe from harm. As much as I hated to be left alone during those times, I understood his need to keep me safe from the ugliness of our world.

I laid out the remainder of my pop tart across the unfolded tin foil packaging and proceeded to pick at it, only forcing myself to take bites because Jasper had asked me to.

I never knew what to expect when Jasper would return. Some days he came back with a pocket full of small bills while others he had a random selection of bagged snacks or maybe even some canned goods we could pry open with the Swiss army knife he kept in his bag. It wasn't often we actually had a warm meal, and as much as it disgusted me to admit, I was eternally grateful when those days did come around.

I never wanted him to have to swindle, cheat, and steal in order for us to survive. In fact I hated that Jasper got dealt the crappy hand that he did, but I knew that he'd do it all a thousand times over again because he did it for me.

"It's my job to make sure you're fed. Once upon a time you did it for me. Now it's my turn to return the favor."

He was right. I had done it for him.

Eight years ago we were just two little kids looking out for each other.

It was the first warm day of the spring, and the teachers were letting us eat lunch outside at the picnic tables. I sat down with my lunch box and pulled out my cheese sandwich and favorite book.

As I was flipping through the pages, a boy with blonde hair that I didn't recognize from my class sat down across from me. He didn't say anything so I kept reading. Once I finished my sandwich, I reached into my lunchbox for my snack cake only to find the boy looking at it. His eyebrows were wrinkled together, and his mouth was curved into a frown. I unfolded the wrapper to take a bite but noticed his eyes were still zoned in on the treat in my hand. I tucked it back in the wrapper and held it out to him.

"Here. I don't want it," I said wrinkling my nose. I did want it, but I think he wanted it more. He smiled and took it from me wordlessly.

The next day after my mom finished packing my lunch I snuck into the kitchen to grab a second snack cake just in case. That day at lunch we didn't get to sit outside, but when I walked into the lunch room, I saw the boy sitting by himself at a table near the back. I sat down across from him, just like he had done the day before. He looked up when I started pulling my things out but quickly looked back down at the table when he noticed my eyes on him. I pulled out the extra treat and slid it across the table to him.

"Thanks," he mumbled, barely looking up at me. I smiled in return.

We continued on like this for a couple of weeks. I would always take an extra snack from the cabinet from home when no one was looking to give to him. He'd thank me, and I'd smile. I think he brought his own lunch maybe twice the entire time. On those days he gave me some of his soda.

The first day he actually talked to me was the day he gave himself the title of my protector.

"What's this for?" he asked when I handed him half of my sandwich instead of the usual Twinkie or swirly cake.

"My mom said no more sweets. She says I've been eating too much sugar lately," I explained giggling quietly.

"You can share my sandwich and apple though…I like sharing with you," I admitted with a small voice.

"I like sharing with you too. I'm Jasper," he said smiling as he moved to sit next to me.

"I'm Bella," I replied smiling wide. "Want to be friends?"

Before he got the chance to reply, Thomas Duncan walked by and knocked his tray over, spilling his juice all over my dress and book.

"Look what you made me do, stupid!" he yelled at me. Thomas was the class bully. He was actually a year younger than me, but he weighed more than most of the kids in my class and was always taking things from people and calling them names.

"I'm sorry," I whispered, hoping he wouldn't pull my hair like he'd done to Angie the week before. She had been sent home early because she couldn't stop crying.

"Don't say sorry," Jasper interjected as he attempted to help me dry my stuff. "It's his fault. If he wasn't so big he'd fit through the aisle without bumping into everything."

"Oh, look, Isabella has a boyfriend. I bet she kisses him and everything," Thomas teased making kissy lips at me.

"I do not!" I exclaimed, my cheeks turning red.

"Leave her alone," Jasper warned looking at Thomas. The boy just stood there grinning all toothy with his chubby dimpled cheeks.

"Or what? You'll give me your girl germs from your girlfriend?"

"Grow up. Girls don't have germs. Go away!" Jasper yelled, standing up from the table. Thomas realized how much taller Jasper was than him so instead of fighting back he just stuck his tongue out before walking away.

"Are you okay?" he asked, sitting back down beside me looking at my purple stained dress.

"Yeah…hey do you really believe that girls don't have germs?" I asked, hopeful because most of the boys Thomas' age said that we did.

"I know you don't. You're too nice to have germs," he said smiling at me. "And you're my best friend."

We'd been best friends ever since. When my mother found out how close we were she started letting Jasper come over to my house every day after school until his mom go off work.

"Jasper sweetie, did she say what time she got off work tonight?" my mom asked peeking her head in my room. It was getting late, and Jasper's mom hadn't came to get him yet.

"She didn't say Mrs. Swan. She wasn't home this morning when I caught the bus to school."

"That's okay sweetie. You can just stay here tonight, but I want you two in bed by eight o'clock. Okay, Isabella?" my mom warned before leaving the room.

Jasper's mom was hardly ever home, but he made me promise not to say anything to my parents. She had to work two jobs to pay the bills since Jasper's dad left them when he was a baby. I was sad that Jasper's mom was always gone, but I liked that he got to spend a lot of time at my house with me.

By age twelve Jasper was spending nearly every night at my house because his mother had been staying out later and later. She'd even started getting drunk when she was at home. As hard as that had been on him, I was still grateful that we got to spend so much time together. He was my best friend, my other half.

"Bella, why do you let him talk to you like that?" Jasper asked as we walked through the front door.

That day at school Tyler had asked me to be his girlfriend, but I'd told him no. When I was in gym class I'd found out that Tyler had started spreading rumors about me, and then on the bus ride home one of the boys repeated what Tyler had said about me. Jasper had heard and almost got us kicked off the bus.

"I don't care what Tyler thinks about me," I shrugged, throwing my book bag down on the bed.

"I know you don't, but I do. You're my best friend. I don't want anyone saying nasty things about my little sister," he said pulling me into a hug.

"Sister?" I asked, beaming with pride that he thought so fondly of me.

"Of course Bella. You're the most important person in my life. You are my family."

The following day Tyler went home with a black eye.

We continued to spend every day together - him looking out for me, and me sharing my extra pillow at night. Everything was perfect…until my thirteenth birthday.

I was sitting out front after school with Jasper waiting for my mom to come pick us up. She was going to take us out for a special birthday treat.

I stared at the clock hanging just above the front doors to the school. Three o'clock She was forty five minutes late.

"Happy Birthday Bella," Jasper said, for the one hundredth time that day. I leaned my head over on his shoulder and kept watching the streets, waiting for my mom's blue van to pull in.

I glanced up at the clock for the thousandth time. Four o'clock. She'd promised that she'd be there.

"Maybe we should just walk home. It's not that far," Jasper suggested while rubbing my arm, trying to keep me from getting upset.

Five o'clock. Maybe she forgot my gift at home. Maybe she forgot about me.

Five thirty. "Bells?" my dad called as he walked up the front steps of the school.

That was the worst day of my life. My mother had been on her way to pick us up when she was hit by a drunk driver. She was pronounced dead on the scene.

I didn't cry when he told me. I didn't cry at the funeral. I didn't cry at all. Nothing felt real. I hadn't been able to wrap my head around the fact that she was really gone.

"Bella get down here!"

I walked down the stairs to find him sitting at the kitchen table holding a beer. Shortly after my mom's funeral my father had started drinking.

"Bella I don't want that little bastard child coming over here anymore," he slurred, his glassy eyes glaring at me.

"Jasper? But Dad, he's my best friend," I complained, not understanding why he was trying to take Jasper away from me.

"Well, I don't want him here anymore. Now go upstairs and tell him to leave. You're not to see him ever again," he ordered, stumbling over to the fridge to grab another beer.

"But Dad, you can't do this," I argued as tears began to form in my eyes.

"I am your father, and you will listen to me. Go up there and tell him to get the hell out of my house," he bellowed before slamming the door of the fridge. "Now!"

I ran upstairs to Jasper, and for the first time since my mom died, I cried. I cried for myself. I cried for my mother. But mainly, I cried for my best friend. I knew how horrible things were for him at home with his mom - that's why he had been staying with my family so much. We'd been the closest thing he had to comfort and happiness.

Little did I know that when he left, he'd be taking the comfort and happiness along with him.

From that day on, Charlie continued to become more and more strict with me, adding on additional rules as each day passed. He would scream at me for little things — not washing my plate after dinner, leaving my shoes in the doorway, or hanging my coat on the chair instead of in the closest. Mom had never yelled at me over such small things. Instead she would've just reminded me to pick up after myself.

It turns out that had been just the beginning of his anger towards me.

"If it wasn't for you, she'd still be here! It's your fault, you ungrateful little brat!"

I knew it was my fault. If I hadn't insisted we do something special for my birthday, she wouldn't have been on her way to the school to pick me up, and she wouldn't have gotten hit by that drunk driver. If it wasn't for me, she would still be here. He had every right to blame me.

"Get your ass in there and clean that shit up," he demanded, pointing towards the kitchen. Over the past few weeks my daily chore list had continue to grow. I was now responsible for all of the household chores. Cooking, cleaning…it was the least I could do.

That night I missed a spot.

That night I got my first bruise from my father.

Things continued in that fashion for the next two years. Charlie's anger toward me never diminished, and his temper only got worse. The extent of his abuse continued to escalate from a stray bruise here or there, to the point where I was unable to distinguish the true coloring of my skin beneath the meticulously selected clothing I had used to conceal the marks. If there was a patch of skin that wasn't an angry red or purple, it was a sickening shade of yellow-green as the mark that had previously been there began to fade.

I never told anyone about Charlie, and no one ever asked about the influx in bruises littering my body. In fact, I'm not sure anyone other than Jasper ever even noticed. He'd gotten a glimpse of a few of the bruises when I'd been forced to wear shorts in gym class or if my t-shirts weren't hanging just right on my arms. When he'd ask, I would blame it on my clumsy nature, but even Jasper knew I wasn't that handicapped.

It wasn't until I was fifteen years old that I slipped in my carefully concealed façade when Jasper learned his suspicions had been right all along.

I had just snuck out the window like I had been doing for years, but that time I'd forgotten to check in the mirror for any damage to my face. Usually when Charlie beat me he'd deliberately aim for my back, stomach, or legs, but that night he'd lost control. That night I'd left the house with a bloody nose and a black eye.

"Bella, don't you fucking lie to me. I can't believe you've been covering for him for this long," he yelled gripping his hair as he paced around in the dark outside my house. "I will kill that son of a bitch. I will kill him, and he won't be able to lay a hand on you ever again."

"It's okay Jasper…really," I pleaded with a soft voice hoping to calm him.

"No, Bella! It's not fucking okay. You're coming with me."

It was that night, after enduring two and a half years of verbal and physical abuse from the man I used to call my father, that I finally ran away. Jasper had taken me home with him, and the only time I ever stepped foot back in my childhood home was to pack as much of my stuff as I could fit into a duffle bag while Charlie was out of the house.

Jasper's mom didn't care…that or she was too lit to even notice I had moved in. Charlie never came looking for me either. I don't think he ever really cared what happened to me after he'd lost Renee and then his job. He had been the Chief of police before his alcoholism took over his life.

Life continued without any further major incidents until August the following year, just three days before the start of our senior year. We'd come home to find a note from his mother that basically just said 'I'm out, see ya'. I guess she figured Jasper was close enough to his eighteenth birthday that it wouldn't be a problem for her to up and bail on her son — as if the day one turns eighteen is the day they can magically take care of themselves.

Within a week Jasper had secured himself a job at the local fast food joint, working any shift that was offered whether it interfered with school or not.

"I can get a job as a waitress at the diner in town, Jasper. They're hiring," I suggested, wanting to help take some of the strain off his shoulders. "You're already missing too much school."

"No, Bella. You need to focus on school. That's what's most important. It's my job to take care of you. Just let me do this."

Jasper's part time job was enough to keep us from starving, but coming up with enough money to pay the bills along with the rent was another issue entirely. By the time Jasper turned eighteen in October, he'd dropped out of school completely in order to pick up a second job. In a town the size of Forks and with no means of transportation to look elsewhere, he was forced to make due with part time minimum wage jobs.

Jasper was making enough money to at least keep our electricity, gas, and water from being disconnected, but the rent had proven to be a problem. He had started off giving the landlord excuses as to why the rent payment was late until we could scrape together enough money, but as time went on, we resorted to simply evading him at all costs. By December we were three months behind, and the landlord had slapped a bright yellow eviction notice on our front door, demanding we have our stuff cleaned out by the time the new year rolled in.

That's when I was finally forced to drop out of school. I knew Jasper felt guilty and blamed himself for the lifestyle we lived,. But the truth was, if it weren't for Jasper, I'd still be stuck living beneath Charlie's roof.

I'd choose a rat infested warehouse any day over nightly beatings from my father.

"Hey darlin' I'm back," Jasper called, bringing me back from my trip down memory lane.

"Hey, whatcha got there?" I asked, pointing to the plastic grocery bag he was carrying. He opened it up to show me a bag of chips, a box of pop-tarts, a couple bottles of water, and a box of crackers. When I reached for one of the drinks I realized that he had a second bag hidden behind his back.

"This is for you," he said smiling, handing me a fast food bag. "I figured you might be hungry."

"Don't you want any?" I asked, one hand holding out the container of fries in his direction while my other was shoving a fistful of greasy goodness into my mouth.

"That is all for you Bella. I already ate," he answered chuckling while patting his stomach. I grinned with my pudgy food filled cheeks and garbled my words of thanks .

I proceeded to gorge myself on the rest of the french fries and a cheeseburger while Jasper sat down next to me and started pulling out a wad of cash out from inside his sock. I glanced up in question, but the look on his face was begging me not to ask how'd he gotten it. After putting his latest scavenger finds into his duffle bag, he tossed it behind the rusty beam. He settled in beside me and started rubbing my back as I ate.

"Hey Jas," I called looking over my shoulder at him.

"Hmm?" he answered as he absentmindedly twirled a strand of my hair through his fingertips, lost in thought.

"I love you."

He smiled up at me. "I love you too, doll face."