Age of Edward Contest

Title: In the Still of the Night

Your pen name: Sophia Anne

Type of Edward: 50s Edward

If you would like to see all the stories that are a part of this contest visit: The Age of Edward C2 Community:

http://www(DOT)fanfiction(DOT)net/community/The_Age_of_Edward_Contest/70125/

***

She'd only met her father twice before, the thought occurred to her as she sat stiffly on the seat of his Studebaker while the wheels ate up the miles to Forks.

Her new home.

Home. Mother. Gone. Gone. Gone. The thoughts tumbled almost formless in time with the swipe of the windshield wipers. She felt the rising bubble of panic in her throat again, the one that had been threatening to burst since she'd seen the officer's car parked in front of the small apartment where she'd lived with her mother.

Lived. Past tense.

The officer's hat in hand as he'd moved his lips, saying things in a rush it seemed. Accident. Driver crossed the line. Head-on collision.

"We're almost there," her father said. "Just a few minutes now."

It had been a relief, to find that this stranger, her father, Charlie Swan, was so like her. Quiet. Not prone to idle conversation. She'd seen the grief in his eyes when he arrived in Phoenix, exhausted, the strain of driving for hours evident. But he'd kept it inside as he'd handled thing methodically. Quickly. A small memorial service. Arrangements to transport the body to Forks for burial. Packing her things, cleaning out the apartment. A lifetime disposed of in only a few short days.

Neither of them had cried though, their grieving a mirror of silence and control. She'd felt as though she were underwater since that day, everything buffered and cushioned and not quite real whenever she opened her eyes. Like this was a nightmare and any minute now she would wake up.

A sign appeared on the side of the road.

Welcome to Forks, Washington.

Home of the Forks Spartans.

1939, 1940, 1957 Baseball Conference Champions.

Population 1,457.

Now 1,458, she realized as her father pulled into the driveway of a small white house.

***|

August in Washington was not like August in Phoenix, she thought, as the clouds opened forth and shed tears while she stood silent and dry-eyed at her father's side and watched as the casket was lowered into the muddy ground. There were people here, friends of her father she supposed, but everything had shrunk to the two of them, him standing beside her, holding her elbow gently, as Renee Swan was laid to rest.

Renee Swan.

Not Renee Higginbotham.

She'd thought her parents were divorced. She'd thought a lot of things about her mother that she was no longer sure about.

"Chief Swan, we're so sorry for your loss. And this is your daughter?"

"Yes, my daughter, Bella."

"We're so sorry for your loss."

If she could have felt anything, she might have laughed at the number of times she heard that phrase. So sorry for your loss. People who didn't even know her were so sorry that her mother had died.

But not really. The Methodist Women's Auxiliary had prepared a reception and she stood beside her father, next to the table piled with casseroles and cakes that made her stomach roll just to look at them, for as long as she could stand it. Her face was strained from the attempt to smile politely at each meaningless introduction and her hand sore from the handshakes.

She seized a small break in the line to excuse herself, desperate for a minute alone as she slipped inside the bathroom stall of the ladies' room off the Methodist Church reception hall, leaning against the door as she drew a shaky breath.

But the women at the mirror who entered after her, smoothing on lipstick and checking their reflections, were far from quiet.

"Maureen, can you believe he brought her back here to be buried? After what that woman did to him?"

"Well, at least it looks as though that little girl really is his, Ellen. She's the spitting image of him, with that dark hair. Though the way that Renee was catting around town before she ran off, you couldn't be sure."

"Poor man, having to deal with a teenage girl after all these years living alone. He won't have a clue what to do, especially is she's as wild as her mother."

She clenched her fists and waited until the door closed behind the two voices before she slowly exited the bathroom stall and stared in the mirror. Her mother had been beautiful, delicate features topped by an upturned nose that crinkled when she smiled, wide blue eyes and honey colored hair. When she was small, Bella had spent hours sitting beside her when she'd get ready for her dates, holding a tube of lipstick and pretending to paint her lips as her mother carefully brushed her hair and added earrings to complete her ensemble. Their twin reflections had always startled her, her mother so fair and princess-like next to her, pale and dark. Her father's daughter.

She reached out and touched the girl in the mirror, fingers cool against the glass, then returned to her father's side.

"So sorry for your loss."

***

The sound of rain was supposed to be soothing. But it left her edgy, the near constant placid pattering on the roof above her head foreign. She missed the sounds of traffic and even the noises of the neighbors in the next apartment who were constantly in a row and calling the police on each other before noisily making up. Forks was almost too quiet. Except for the rain.

The hands on the small clock at her bedside glowed luminescent as they pointed to twelve and two. Two a.m. She stared at the ceiling, willing elusive sleep to come. It rarely did.

Her mother's tombstone had been erected, her father had told her at breakfast that morning. She'd nodded in response, then asked what he'd like for dinner before handing him his lunch. He'd taken it with a tired but grateful smile.

They didn't talk about her mother. They didn't talk about much of anything. She'd occupied herself the last few weeks with cleaning a house that had seen only cursory attention for years, stopping now and then to stare at the many pictures of her mother, young and carefree, arms around a man in uniform she realized with a start was her father. She'd found no other pictures, except for one of her, gap-toothed and smiling shyly at the camera from one of her elementary class photos.

The hours would pass, and the day wind down, marked by the return of her father, who would nod appreciation to her for the home-cooked meal when he came home from work, then grab a beer and retreat to the living room to turn on the radio and listen to the game when his beloved Braves were playing.

But today was different. Today they'd put her tombstone in place.

Bella rolled back over in her bed and stared out the window again, watching as the rain slowed and then stopped. A small glimmer of moonlight crept through the hazy clouds, illuminating the branches of the tree beside her window. She lay still and watched the hands of the clock tick forward again before throwing back the covers.

She quickly dressed, raising the window to her room quietly and carefully sliding her leg over the windowsill. Holding her breath, she shimmied over to the tree limb and cautiously inched her way down to the trunk before climbing to the ground.

The Methodist Church was three blocks away, and she could see the steeple in the distance, reflecting the brief moment of moonlight. She wrapped her arms around herself, suddenly wishing she'd brought a sweater as she moved towards the spire.

The streets were quiet and deserted as she approached the dark wrought iron fence that marked the edges of the cemetery. The gate was partially opened and she took it as a sign, pushing against the metal quietly as she slipped through and walked towards the back corner.

The headstone was there as her father had promised, settled above the freshly dug grave. She knelt in front of it in the still fresh dirt made loamy by the rain without a care for the stains on her jeans. The granite was smooth, cool, impenetrable save for the chiseled letters marring the surface.

Renee Higginbotham Swan

Beloved Wife and Mother

1921 – 1958

She reached out her hand, suddenly aware of how her fingers trembled as she traced the letters.

The bubble of panic inside welled up again, and for the first time since the day that officer stood before her, nervously twisting his hat in his hands, she wanted to cry, to scream, to rage against this rock that made the past few weeks suddenly, irrevocably real. Her mother was gone. Forever.

The first sob choked out of her throat like the sound of a wounded animal, and the hot rush of tears welled up and spilled onto her cheeks. She laid her head against the stone, wrapping her arms around it as she cried for the mother she knew and the one she didn't.

She wasn't sure how much time passed as she knelt there, gasping for breath until the wave of grief receded and the tears slowed. She swiped at the wetness on her cheeks, sniffling, when a hand appeared by her side and proffered a clean white handkerchief.

"Use this."

She fell back on her heels, startled, staring up at the person beside her. He was tall, almost lanky, wearing faded jeans with a few holes thrust over heavy black boots, and a white t-shirt hidden beneath a black leather jacket. His hair was wild, and his face shadowed as he loomed above her. Something about him made her shiver and think she would have looked away if she'd seen him on the street.

He thrust the handkerchief at her again, and she took it, the worn fabric soft against her cheek as she dried her tears.

"I thought I was alone," she mumbled, suddenly ashamed to be found here like this, wallowing in her despair.

"Not many people come here at three in the morning," he replied quietly. He reached in his pocket, pulling out a pack of cigarettes and tapping one out into his waiting fingers before flicking the wheel of his lighter. The flame illuminated his face for a moment and she was struck by the square of his jawline and set of his cheekbones obscured by a slight scruff. He was younger than she'd first thought, not quite a man, but not a boy either.

She shifted awkwardly, her legs cramped beneath her as she tried to rise from the wet ground, suddenly reluctant to touch the gravestone again. She was surprised when he bent, grasping her elbow and helping her to her feet.

"Thank you," she managed. She twisted the handkerchief awkwardly.

"You're Chief Swan's daughter?" he asked, exhaling a stream of smoke.

She nodded. "Bella Swan," she offered, holding out her hand.

He took it after a moment's hesitation, a slight shake. She tilted her head, waiting for him to release it. "And you are?"

"Edward." He didn't elaborate, and didn't let go, leading her to the edge of the cemetery and a small stone bench that sat beneath an arbor of twisting vines. "This is a good spot to sit, when you visit. The leaves keep most of the rain off."

She sat beside him and he released her hand, leaving her feeling oddly bereft by the loss. "And do you . . . visit often?"

He stared out into the darkness, and flicked the ash from the end of his cigarette before nodding. "Sometimes."

She waited, wondering who he was mourning, who he'd lost that brought him to this place, but he remained quiet. The silence lengthened comfortably and she found herself grateful that he didn't ask questions or offer platitudes, just provided companionship in her vigil.

The sky began to lighten and she knew her father would be awake soon. She broke the silence, her throat dry and scratchy from tears and disuse. "I have to go now, but thank you," she said, gesturing with the handkerchief.

He gave her a small smile, the first she'd seen, and rose as well, striding off through the graveyard and hurtling over the low fence.

***

She made breakfast for her father that morning, then sank into her bed when he left the house, sleeping deeply and without dreams for the first time in weeks. She awoke to find that the respite from the rainfall had ended, and a storm had settled in for the evening, the rain pounding angrily against the panes. She watched with longing out the window that night, but stayed in her room, flipping idly through the pages of a book. Visiting her mother's grave in the dead of night was foolish, she knew, but the peace and tranquility she'd found there the night before called to her.

She dressed carefully the next day in a light blue shirtwaist dress, her long hair neatly pulled back into a ponytail. She tied a ribbon around the small bouquet of wildflowers she'd picked from along the fence behind the house, and set off for the cemetery.

The roads were full of midday traffic, and she felt self-conscious as she trudged along the street, clutching the now wilting posies as she balanced an umbrella in her other hand. The church steeple, which had seemed so glowing and white in the moonlight, looked dingy and dull in the gray drizzle that was falling.

The gate was closed, and she eased it open, jumping at the squeak before she edged her way into the cemetery and her mother's grave. She stopped in front of the granite monolith, laying the flowers carefully down as she reached in her pocket to clutch at the handkerchief she'd washed the night before.

"Isabella Swan? Is that you, dear little lamb?"

The sound of the minister's wife yodeling her name from the porch of the manse startled Bella and she jumped, turning towards her.

"It is you, you must come in and have a cup of tea with me."

The following half hour was excruciating. Bella smiled politely, and bit her lip until she'd thought it would bleed as she tried to deflect the queries about how she, the poor little lamb, was holding up. How her father, the dear sweet man, was doing. How Bella would simply adore the youth group that met on Sunday evenings and should begin attending immediately now that she'd settled in. Fine girls and boys, all of excellent moral character, the minister's wife assured her. Bella felt the insinuation that perhaps she was not of an excellent moral character hang in the air, and she hastily gulped the last drop of tea and excused herself to return home.

She decided not to visit during the day again.

***

But the next night found her sleepless as the hands of the clock neared twelve and two. The rain was falling, but she slipped quickly into her faded worn jeans and a pair of canvas shoes with sturdy soles in preparation for her climb. Within minutes she was on the ground, tugging her rain slicker more closely around her as she turned in the direction of the spire.

The gate was half opened again, and she found herself glancing around when she entered, but saw no one. She moved towards her mother's grave, sinking slowly to her knees in front of it.

The shock was less this time, although the cold letters remained the same. She laid her hand against the stone, letting the cool seep into her skin and bones as she closed her eyes and silently told her mother about everything that had happened while she was gone, just as she had when she was younger.

She must have sat there for some time, the rain washing away the tears that slipped down her cheeks, when the sound of footsteps made her rock back onto her heels, feeling exhausted but at peace for the moment.

A hand appeared beside her, a clean handkerchief proffered again, and and she reached for it, recognizing the sleeve of the black leather.

"Thank you," she whispered hoarsely as she dried her tears, boneless and exhausted from the torrent of emotion.

She realized he was still standing beside her and she glanced up, catching the nervous flicker of his eyes away from her as he fumbled in his pockets for his cigarettes. She raised a hand to him, and saw his surprise before he helped her to her feet.

She stood beside him, fumbling in her pocket and produced the scrap of cloth he'd given her the first night, neatly washed and ironed. "I'm afraid you won't have any left to give me if I keep taking them all."

He shrugged and pressed it back towards her. "I have more. And my mother used to tell me that I should never let a pretty girl cry."

She blushed a little, almost laughing for the first time in weeks at his teasing. She looked like a puppy someone pulled out of the river, she knew, her hair matted from the misting rain, the dark circles still present under her eyes from the insomnia she couldn't shake.

He folded the handkerchief back into her hand, then turned back towards the shelter, leading her. She followed.

They sat together again, but Bella felt the need to fill the silence this time. Once was a coincidence, but twice – there was a reason he came here.

"Edward?"

He was leaned into the opposite corner of the arbor, idly flipping the steel of his lighter between his fingers. "Hmmm?" he replied.

"Is she . . . is your mother . . . here?" She stumbled over the words, suddenly realizing the intrusiveness. "I'm sorry, that was rude. You don't have to tell me."

He sat silently for a few more minutes and she curled around herself, wishing she'd never spoken, when he began to speak.

"She's buried in Chicago."

"Ohh," Bella breathed out, the air she hadn't realized she'd been holding rushing from her lungs. "Then you know what it's like," she murmured.

He nodded and flicked the lighter once more before meeting her eyes. "I know."

***

Her routine shifted after that night, as the waning days of August slipped away. She grew proficient at climbing down the tree, even in the rain. She found a few flowers each night, carefully depositing them on her mother's grave as she knelt before it, one hand on the gravestone while she closed her eyes tightly and told her mother about her day.

At some point, he would come, take her hand, and they would sit together under the arbor. Some nights they passed hours passed in companionable silence. She would sit with her arms curled around her legs, watching the rain fall around them while he smoked another cigarette.

Other nights they talked. She learned more about him as time passed. His mother had died when he was twelve. He'd been in a group home for boys until he was fifteen, when his mother's distant cousin had found him. She and her husband had adopted him and they had moved to Forks last year. He'd laughed darkly when he'd explained that they'd wanted a fresh start.

He didn't talk about his father.

She didn't ask.

After the third night they met, he began walking her home, despite her insistence that she was fine. He teased her about her awkward climbing skills when he'd realized her entry and exit point to the house, waiting at the foot of the tree as she carefully threaded her way through the branches to the window she always left cracked. He never left until she was safely inside.

***

The calendar from the Forks General Store that hung in the kitchen indicated that Saturday was the first of September, and Bella realized with a start that she'd been in Forks for more than a month.

She flipped the last of the pancakes into the stack she'd been making and carried the plate over to the kitchen table, sitting down across from her father.

He forked a couple from the stack onto his plate and inhaled the fragrance.

"These are good, Bella. You're a real good cook."

She ducked her head, hiding her smile. "Thanks."

She added a few pancakes to her own plate and settled in, prepared for the rest of the meal to be in silence when her father surprised her by clearing his throat.

"I believe that school starts back this Monday. I went by and registered your name this week."

She clutched the knife in her hand tighter. She'd never disliked school, but she'd always hated the many first days created by her mother's frequent moves. And here . . . here would be so much worse.

"You're probably going to need a few things for school, so I thought we'd drive into Port Angeles today."

She lifted her head in surprise. "Really?"

He nodded.

***

Shopping with her mother had been an adventure – a game of hunting to find the prettiest garments at the cheapest prices to fit their meager budget. Her mother would laugh at her selections and pull the pale blue shirt from her hands and replace it with a bright red one, or add a pile of petticoats that made her skirts so wide she could barely sit down.

She stared at herself in the fitting room of the Bon Marche story in a simple navy blue shirtwaist and knew her mother would have shook her head and returned with something in a peppermint stripe or a bright dotted cotton. She clutched at the handkerchief in her pocket that she always kept with her now, and the thought of what Edward might think of her in a pretty dress flitted across her mind, before she shook the foolishness of the thought away.

When she emerged from the dressing room, her father straightened awkwardly from his position by the a rack of skirts. "All done? Did you get some warm things?" He held up a cashmere cardigan in a turquoise color that made her think of the ocean in California. "The sales lady said you might like this one, so I went ahead and got it for you."

The tight ache inside her eased just a little as she tried not to cry at how perfect it was. "It's beautiful. Thank you, Dad."

***

Her hands trembled as she brushed her hair in front of the mirror the following Monday, before carefully sweeping it up into a high ponytail. Her face was pale, with two high spots of color on her cheeks as she stared at her reflection, suddenly afraid of having to be around so many new people. Even after being in Forks for weeks, the only two people she truly knew were her father and Edward.

Edward. She wondered if she would see him today. He never talked about school, but she knew he was her age and she assumed he would be in her classes. She brightened a little at the thought of knowing at least one person.

Her mother's lipstick sat on the dresser before her, and she picked up the tube, twisting the cap to expose the deep red color. Fire and Ice. Her favorite shade. On impulse, Bella leaned forward, pursuing her lips in the bow she'd watched her mother make so many times before and carefully lined her lips, puckering them together to distribute the color.

She looked . . . older, she thought as she regarded the results. Not quite herself. She reached for a tissue to wipe the bold color away, then stopped. She needed whatever help she could get today. She picked up the pretty blue cardigan her father had given her and wrapped it around her shoulders, heading for the school.

Forks was not large, but the high school was on the opposite side of town, several blocks walk. By the time she arrived, dozens of students were milling about, greeting each other loudly and chatting about their summers. She clutched her notebook tighter, carefully weaving through the crowd to the main office to find her schedule.

"Hello? I'm Bella Swan. My father registered me on Friday." She stood in front of the front desk, feeling foolish to be speaking the the back of the harried secretary who finally turned to her.

"Swan, yes, right of course. Here you go, dear. You're in Mrs. Jenkins' homeroom, three doors down the hall. And this is Jessica, she'll be your guide today."

Bella smiled shyly at the dark-haired girl who seized her arm and immediately began to lead her down the hall.

"I'm Jessica Stanley. We've all heard so much about you, and have been dying to meet you. Mrs. Stinson said you might be joining us at the Methodist youth group soon. That would be so great. Of course we're all so sorry about your mother. Gosh, I can't even imagine what that must be like, losing your mother. But you're here now, and I know we're going to be great friends. Maybe you'll want to come out for Student Council? We're always looking for new people to help organize the pep rallies and dances. It's so much fun. Or maybe yearbook? I'm one of the editors this year."

Bella was certain before they ever reached the door to homeroom that she and Jessica would not be great friends.

Her morning classes passed without incident, aside from the stares and whispers she could sense around her. She tried to ignore them, to smile and feign occupation in her notebook to appear busy. Jessica inevitably popped up between each class to guide her around, and at noon, steered her to the small cafeteria. Bella carried her carton of milk and apple to the table filled with girls and sat as directed by Jessica.

"Everyone, this is Bella. Bella, this is Lauren, Mary, Carolyn, and Ida."

She smiled at them all, determined to make an effort. "Hello."

Jessica chattered on, full of facts about everyone around them, and Bella nodded politely, wishing she could somehow escape without appearing rude. She was wiping the drops of condensation on her carton of milk with rapt absorption when Jessica's voice broke through her reverie.

"Wow, Edward Cullen's looking at you, Bella."

Her head shot up and she turned in the direction Jessica was staring to see him lounged at a table across the room, his seat tilted back precariously on two legs. He looked much as he did each night, still wearing his jeans, boots, and jacket. In the bright lights of the cafeteria she could see that his hair was redder than she'd realized, and his eyes a brighter green as he stared at her, his expression almost angry. She started to smile at him, her hand lifting to wave when he abruptly got up from his chair, letting it topple behind him with a crash, and stalked from the cafeteria.

Her stomach sank as she watched him go, confused.

"Do you know him or something?" Jessica asked.

Bella shrugged and shook her head. "Not really."

Lauren looked up from her compact as she inspected the powder she'd just added to her nose. "You don't want to. That boy's nothing but trouble."

Mary rolled her eyes. "You just say that because you couldn't get him to kiss you at the Fourth of July picnic, Lauren."

Lauren shut the compact with a snap. "Please. Like I'd let him kiss me. I heard he got caught playing back seat bingo with some tramp from Port Angeles. And he's always in trouble. Not worth it. Now James – I might be willing to pucker up for him. Don't look now, ladies, but there are boys headed our way."

She turned, all smiles, as a flock of guys all sharing the plumage of a Forks High letter jacket strolled up and arranged themselves around the table.

"Well, well, what do we have here – the prettiest girls in Forks all in one place," one of them announced, chucking Lauren under the chin. "You're going to be at the game to cheer for us next Friday, aren't you babe?" He had light hair cut in a flat top, and pale blue eyes. Dressed in chinos and a letter jacket, he looked like a cover for Life magazine of the perfect high school boy, but something in the way his eyes raked over her made Bella uneasy.

Lauren simpered and tossed her hair. "If you're good we might. You do have to give us something to cheer for, James."

"Oh, you don't have to worry about that, sweetheart. We'll be plenty good." He pulled the extra chair out from the table next to Bella and turned it around backwards, gracefully dropping into it. "Now, who is this new little chickadee that's gracing our scene?"

Jessica, as always, was eager to make the introductions.

"This is Bella. She's Chief Swan's daughter and-"

James cut off the litany Jessica was about to launch into. "Oh, yes, Bella Swan. I've heard about you." He leaned closer and whispered against her ear. "Love that red lipstick, doll. You'll have to wear it just for me sometime." He caressed her lower lip with his thumb as she recoiled from him and he laughed at her reaction. Giving her a slow wink, he shot up from his seat. "Ladies – as always the pleasure is ours." And the pack of boys prowled on.

"Wow, Bella, what was that?" Jessica asked breathlessly as Lauren shot her daggers.

Bella shook her head and stayed silent, feeling slightly sick. "I don't know."

"Guess you're some kind of guy magnet, huh, Bella?" Lauren snipped. Bella ignored her, stumbling to her feet and mumbling something about the restroom. As she walked away, she could hear Lauren's voice carry across the cafeteria. "My mother said the apple doesn't fall from the tree. Must be true in her case. You know about her mother, right?"

***

She'd thought about what happened at lunch for the rest of the day. She'd scrubbed the lipstick off her mouth in the restroom, leaving her lips feeling bruised, but the sick feeling remained in her stomach. She excused herself for bed early that night, carefully setting her alarm for two in the morning. She tossed and turned, knowing that she'd be exhausted the next day, but sleep would not come. At two, she was dressed and slipping over the windowsill.

She found the gate closed when she arrived, and the arbor empty, no cigarette end burning bright to betray his presence. She sat on her mother's grave in a familiar ritual now, resting her head against the stone as she told her mother about her day, pouring out what had happened, the too friendly smiles and overt glances that had followed her everywhere. In Phoenix and in all the other towns they'd moved too, she'd been mostly anonymous, just another girl who faded into the background. She didn't like everyone knowing her, everyone knowing more about her than she did herself.

She waited alone in the corner of the arbor until dawn was about to break. His look in the cafeteria had almost been the worst part of the day, that almost angry glance before he'd stormed out. Of all the people at Forks High, he was the one she'd thought wouldn't judge her.

But he didn't come to the cemetery that night.

It remained the same for the next three weeks. She caught glimpses of Edward now and then, he even shared a biology class with her, though he was absent nearly more often than present, but it was as though he was actively avoiding here. She gathered her courage near the end of the first week and tried to approach him, standing with a group of other boys near the smoking area in front of the school, but he'd seen her and split, leaving her feeling foolish as the others stared at her. James had been there, holding court and he'd given her that same sly wink and blown her a kiss, causing her to flee in the other direction.

She kept to herself at school after the first day, spending lunch in the library, sitting quietly in each class. Jessica popped up from time to time, still bent on fulfilling her obligations as welcoming committee chair, and she found herself dragged to various club meetings and even to the Methodist youth night. Her father seemed happy with her involvement and so she continued to attend.

She still visited the cemetery most nights for a few minutes to talk with her mother, but Edward never came back. Despite knowing more people than at any point since she'd arrived in Forks, she felt more alone than ever.

***

Lauren bounced into Mrs. Jenkins's classroom, where the yearbook staff met after school to work on layouts, on the first Friday afternoon in October. "Jessica, James, Mike and Tyler said they'd take us to Port Angeles to the movies tonight. C'mon, let's go."

Jessica was on her feet in an instant, her curls bouncing. "Really, what are we going to see?"

Lauren rolled her eyes. "Does it really matter?"

Jessica shrugged. "I guess not. But I wanted to see Vertigo again."

Bella carefully completed trimming the edges of the title she was cutting out to paste in the corner of one sheet that proclaimed Fall Fun, then laid down her scissors, ready to edge out of the room and make her escape. She was almost to the door when James and Mike swaggered in.

"There you are," James exclaimed. Bella stepped to the side to clear his path to Lauren, when he caught her arm instead. "Are you coming tonight?" He stepped closer, his eyes raking down her and leaned in so that only she could hear him. "You should come, you know. I'll make sure you have a great time."

There was nothing precisely wrong with what he'd said, but his cool eyes made her step back. "I'm sorry, I have to get home."

He scowled, and closed the distance between them again. "Now, now, Bella, why are you playing hard to get? I heard your mother wasn't so coy."

The color drained from her face, and she pulled away from him as abruptly as if he had slapped her, stumbling into Mike before running out of the room. She could hear the giggles and guffaws behind her, and she tried to stop her hands from trembling as she ran from the school and into the pouring rain.

She hesitated for a second, realizing her coat and umbrella were still back in the classroom, but didn't dare face the crowd inside again, so she put her head down and began walking the several blocks towards home. Within a few minutes she was drenched through, her hair plastered to her forehead and shoes and skirt sodden. She felt the tears threaten to spill forward, and willed herself to keep going, one foot in front of the other. A car pulled up beside her and sounded the horn and she jumped slightly, afraid that James had pursued her.

She glanced to the side to find an older model black Desoto cruising beside her. She leaned down and stopped in shock as she realized that Edward was behind the wheel of the car. He pulled to a stop and came around to the sidewalk.

"Get in the car."

She glared at him, the anger at James and her mother and the gossipy citizens of Forks and him for ignoring her all rising to the surface, and shook her head with determination.

"No." She tried to walk around him, but he stepped with her, blocking her path again.

"Bella, you're going to drown out here. Get in the car."

"So are you, if you stay out here." She crossed her arms. "And why should I listen to you?"

He sighed, then picked her up and tossed her over his shoulder while he opened the door, sitting her in the seat despite her yelp of protest. He was back in the car before she could react, cranking the engine.

"How dare you?" she demanded.

"Why are you out in this weather?" he shot back.

"Why do you even care?" she asked, suddenly aware of the transparency of her white shirt as his eyes drifted lower for a split second, before he lunged forward to turn the heater on. She crossed her arms over her chest and stared straight ahead. "You ignore me at school. You haven't talked to me in weeks. I thought . . . I thought we were friends."

He signaled the turn for her street and pulled carefully into her empty driveway, putting the car in park.

"It's not that simple, Bella. You . . . shouldn't be seen with a guy like me. It might give people the wrong ideas."

She closed her eyes and leaned her head back, suddenly, intensely exhausted. "You mean the idea that because my mother ran off and left my father, and possibly ran around behind his back while he was gone, that I'm the kind of girl who's cheap and easy?"

He exhaled sharply. "Bella, that's not-"

She cut him off. "I've heard enough to know what people think of me, and my mother, Edward. Being around you isn't going to change that."

He gave a low laugh. "Bella, do you know what they say about me?"

She colored a bit, remembering Lauren's remarks about back seat bingo and how he was trouble.

"My father's in prison. He has been since I was ten. And if the Cullens hadn't adopted me, I would have probably ended up in juvie."

She rolled her head to the side, staring at his profile. "Edward, I didn't know. I'm sorry."

He turned towards her and met her eyes. "I just didn't want people to talk about you, because of me. I'm not one of the good guys, Bella."

She reached out covered his hand that lay on the seat between them. "Why don't you let me decide that?" She felt his hand curve around her fingers and gave a small sigh, feeling a sense of contentment seep through her. "I've missed you," she admitted.

His fingers tightened, his thumb brushing across her palm. "Really?"

She smiled and peeked up at him through her eyelashes. "Uh-huh. Who else is going to give me an unlimited supply of handkerchiefs?"

He laughed, free and easy and the tightness in her stomach that had been lingering for weeks began to ease away.

"So, friends?" he asked.

Friends. It was what she wanted, but over the past few weeks, she'd realized a small tiny part of her wished that perhaps there could be something more.

She nodded. "Friends." Her hand paused on the door handle. "Will I see you tonight?"

"I'll be there."

***

The rain slowed to a stop after midnight and she found herself keyed up and unable to sleep. She felt foolish, laying out a nicer shirt than the old flannel button-ups of her father's she'd taken to wearing at night as the weather had grown colder, spending extra time brushing her hair and carefully tying a ribbon around her ponytail.

She blushed at herself in the mirror. Edward was offering comfort and friendship and someone who could understand her grief. He wasn't her future boyfriend and she needed to remember that and not confuse things. He probably had other girlfriends already, like the one in Port Angeles, girls that didn't sit in graveyards and talk to their mother's tombstones in the middle of the night, girls that were pretty and knew how to laugh and flirt and kiss a boy.

She was none of those things. But he was still coming to see her tonight.

She climbed down the tree without thought, heading towards the cemetery quickly. She shivered as she walked, realizing that she'd forgotten her sweater in her haste, and the temperature had dropped since the rain stopped. But she was almost there, and could see him standing by the gate, so she hurried onward.

There was a smile on his face as she approached and it gave wings to her feet as he took her hand and pushed the gate half open, stopping just before it squeaked. They walked among the graves together, her hand still in his, and he pulled a handkerchief out with a flourish and handed it to her as they stopped before her mother's grave.

"I'll be over there," he gestured towards the arbor. She watched as he walked away, unable to keep the smile off her face at the realization of how well he knew her.

She knelt in front of the gravestone, her fingers tracing the now familiar grooves and let her internal conversation begin.

She told her mother about her day, about James and how humiliated she'd felt, and about Edward rescuing her from the rain. James's comment brought the rumors back to her mind and she turned them over in her head. For days now she'd wanted to ask more about things that she couldn't even quite bring herself to articulate in her mind. Why her mother had left her father. Whether the rumors were true that she'd run around behind his back.

She has lived with Charlie Swan long enough now to know that he was a kind man and well-intentioned, though silent and closed-off, the total opposite of her mother. She wondered if they'd just been too different, night and day, totally incompatible. The one time she'd asked her mother last summer about why things ended with her father, her mother had simply smiled and told her that her father was the sort of man any woman would be lucky to marry, except for the kind of woman who hated to be pinned down.

Bella glanced towards the arbor, where Edward sat, relaxed and calm as he stared up at the stars that for once were visible. Was she her father's daughter, doomed to love the things that didn't love back? Or her mother's, too restless to love at all?

A chill swept through her and she stood up, wrapping her arms around herself as she moved towards him.

He patted the seat beside him, closer than her usual perch and she sat down. "Good talk?" he asked.

She nodded, and rubbed at her arms. He slid his jacket off his shoulders when he noticed her shiver and pulled it around her. "Your lips are turning blue," he said. "Why didn't you tell me you were freezing?"

She shrugged, snuggling into the jacket and surreptitiously sniffing at the leather than smelled like him. "I forgot my jacket – but you shouldn't have to be cold too," she replied.

He snorted. "I'm not like some desert cactus from Phoenix, that starts to freeze at a little cold snap. You should stand on the shores of Lake Michigan when the winds are coming in. Now that's cold."

She scowled at him but snuggled deeper into the jacket before leaning back, letting the calm of the night surround her.

They sat in comfortable silence for a few minutes, until he reached into the jacket pocket, fishing out his lighter and beginning to play with it. She watched him pop the top and spin the flint a few times, brushing his fingers near the flame.

"Sure you're not cold?" she teased. "We could always share, you know."

She almost bit her tongue when she realized what she'd said but he froze, turning slowly to look at her. "You don't mind?"

She shook her head, and he slid closer, the heat of his thigh and arm burning into her as he loosened the jacket from around her shoulders. He slid his arm around her shoulders, and she leaned against him, trying not to sigh with the way it felt to be this close as he draped the jacket across them.

"Okay?" he asked, his voice hesitant.

She nodded against him. "Even warmer."

She could feel the slight rumble of his chest against her face as he laughed, and she closed her eyes, soaking up the delight of feeling someone else's touch for a moment. It had been so long since someone had even given her a simple hug, and she felt like an attention starved kitten as she rested against him.

"Bella, what happened this afternoon?" he asked.

She sighed and closed her eyes. "I just . . . I'm still adjusting to everything. Someone said something to me and I probably overreacted."

He let out a frustrated breath. "Was it Lauren? She can be a bitch."

She chuckled a little. "She's not your biggest fan either."

"Oh really? What did she say about me?" He sounded apprehensive.

Bella sat up so she could look at him. "I think she was just upset that you're so stingy with your kisses."

He rolled his eyes. "I'd like to think I'm a little more discerning as to who I pucker up with than Lauren. That girl's lips have been on half the school."

"And yours haven't?" she asked before she could stop herself.

He tilted his head, his face shadowed by the leaves above them so that she couldn't quite make out his expression as his voice lowered. "No, Bella. When I kiss someone, it means something."

She could feel her heart beating faster, as though it would pound out of her chest as he held her gaze. Finally he spoke. "And how about you?"

"Me?" she asked, surprised at how breathless she sounded.

"Does it mean something when you kiss someone?"

She ducked her head. "I, I don't know."

He tilted her chin back up. "Why?"

She could feel the blush rising in her cheeks. "I've never kissed anyone before." She ducked her head back down, curling back against him so he couldn't see her embarrassment as she tried to change the subject. "Lauren wasn't the problem today. It was James."

She felt his arms tighten around her. "What did he do?"

She gave a little shrug of her shoulders. "He . . . I think he likes to tease me. He usually just jokes about wanting to go out, but the way he does it . . . I don't know. And he made a comment about my mother today. It hurt."

"What did he say?"

"He told me I should stop playing hard to get and be more like her."

"That bastard." Edward's hand stroked her hair. "Bella, you need to stay away from him."

"I try to – he just seems to pop up sometimes." She felt a yawn starting and tried to stop it, but she was so comfortable, warm from his body heat and relaxed by the hair stroking.

Edward laughed. "You're tired. I should get you home."

She shook her head. "I'm fine." Another yawn escaped her and he helped her to her feet, arranging his jacket around her despite her protests.

They walked together, his hand clasping hers as they covered the few blocks to her home. Like old times, he walked her to the base of the tree. She turned to hand him back his jacket and stopped, captivated by the look on his face.

He reached up and touched the ribbon she'd tied in her hair. "You look beautiful in blue."

"I do?"

He nodded, his fingers trailing down the length of her ponytail. "The first day of school, when I saw you there in the cafeteria, I almost didn't recognize you. Your hair all curled, in that blue sweater, with your bright lipstick. I was afraid, you sitting there with those girls, you wouldn't want to be around a guy like me."

She shook her head. "You were wrong, Edward. I looked for you every night. I missed you . . . so much." Her voice choked a little, and she felt stupid, but there was a light in his eyes and she didn't want him to stop touching her, to leave her alone again.

He leaned closer, his lips almost touching hers, and whispered, "I missed you, too, Bella." And then he kissed her, soft and delicate. It felt like something bloomed inside of her, unfurling along her veins. Her hands found him, the soft cotton of his shirt under her fingertips as she leaned closer, wanting more. He complied, his own hands sliding beneath the warmth of the jacket to pull her flush against him, his lips teasing at hers softly, gentle brushes until she sighed against him. She gasped as he nibbled on her lower lip, the soft scrape of his teeth and soothing of his lower lip making her whimper and pull him closer. She wasn't sure how long they stood there, wrapped in each other, lips exploring and caressing until she was dizzy from want of air and even dizzier from want of him when he started to pull away.

When he finally lifted his head, his eyes were serious as he searched her face in the near light of dawn and was rewarded by her smile.

"I know now," she murmured.

"Know what?" he asked.

"When I kiss someone," she replied, leaning up to place one final kiss on his lips. "It does mean something."

***

She spent the first few weeks of October in a haze, hugging the secret of Edward to her. She wanted to tell the world, the stuck-up Laurens and ditzy Jessicas and leering Jameses that Edward Cullen wanted her, and their opinions were less than worthless. She wanted to tell her father about the beautiful boy who'd helped her grieve and held her hand like she was something delicate and breakable and made her laugh.

But they were both afraid. Edward still worried that she'd be judged by being with him, and she feared the same. She'd never met the Cullens, Edward's adopted parents, but she knew that his mother was highly regarded in town and suspected that Edward choosing to date the daughter of the woman most seemed to regard as the town whore would not be well received.

And her father . . . probably wouldn't be happy about her dating anyone.

But the giddiness that bubbled through her now, like the bubbles in a vanilla fountain coke refused to recede. She smiled to herself as she painstakingly laid out the pictures from the previous week's Senior bonfire at the afterschool yearbook meeting, lost in daydreams over the two hours they'd spent tangled in the backseat of his car yesterday afternoon. She knew that she should slow things down, but when his hands touched her, her whole body went up in flames and she craved more, even when he'd pull away.

"Well, well, someone looks like the cat that ate the canary. What are you smiling about, Bella?" Lauren asked, plunking down in the seat between Bella and Jessica.

She shrugged, refusing to let Lauren spoil her mood. "These pictures turned out well," she replied. "Look, here's a good one of you, Lauren." She shoved the picture of Lauren posed with her pom-poms next to James towards the other girl, thinking she'd be pleased. She was surprised when the other girl stormed away.

"Wow, way to frost her, Bella," Jessica murmured. "That was mean."

"What are you talking about, Jessica?"

"She and James had been going steady the last few weeks and she thought he was going to ask her out to the Fall Formal, but he still hasn't and it's next weekend." Jessica lowered her voice. "She thinks it's because, well, because she won't go all the way."

"Oh," Bella blushed, looking away.

Jessica shrugged. "She thinks he's going to ask someone else that will. Anyway, I have to head home. Do you need a ride?"

Bella shook her head. "No, I'm just going to finish this page. I'll put everything up."

The room was quiet as the other students cleared out and she hummed to herself as she carefully cropped and straightened the last picture to fit on the page, adding a touch of paste to keep it in place. Satisfied, she packed away the additional pages and stacked them neatly in the cabinet reserved for the yearbook staff.

Picking up her jacket and books, she headed for the door, turning to flick off the light switch just as the door opened. She smiled. He'd told her he'd come and pick her up this afternoon.

"Edward," she breathed as she turned, her smile dropping away as she realized who was behind her.

"Bella Swan. I knew that you were a naughty girl," James smiled at her, coldly. "You should know better. Girls like you shouldn't be slumming with trash like him."

She gripped her books in front of her like a shield. "He's not trash."

"Oh, defending him too?" James mocked. "Must be true love. Like your mother, when she ran off when your daddy's deputy all those years ago. Slut."

She sucked in a breath and moved to the side, trying to find a path to the door. He moved with ease, keeping her blocked as he moved her back towards the table she'd been working at. "Now, Bella, don't be shy. Why don't you share with me some of what you've been giving up to Eddie. I know he's not the kind of guy to wait to pry apart those pretty white thighs. Bet he's got you all loosened up for me, doesn't he?"

She was trembling now as he closed the gap between her, avoiding the chair she shoved at him with a nimble grace. She ducked behind the table, hurling her history book towards him. He batted it away, then cursed and stumbled as her math book clipped his shoulder. She took off at a run, praying she wouldn't stumble, and crashed into Edward's arms as the door to the room suddenly opened.

He caught her, his arms supporting her immediately as he surveyed the room of overturned chairs and James advancing towards them. He pushed Bella behind him. "Run. Go home, now." She hesitated for a half-second and he pushed her again. "Go! You can't be here."

She skidded into the hallway, looking for someone, anyone. Then she heard the sound of flesh meeting solid flesh. She glanced back through the half-open door to see Edward slamming his fist into James's stomach, and knew that finding a teacher now would just put Edward in harm.

She walked outside, trembling, and saw his car in the parking lot. She walked over to it and slumped against the steel of the door, waiting. When he finally emerged, she could see the streaks of blood on his hands, and a bruise starting to form under his eye. She opened her arms and he walked into them, holding her close as he let out a sob, running his battered hands over her.

"Are you alright?"

She nodded, her own hands inspecting, touching his damaged face. "He didn't touch me. I threw my math book at him."

"That's my girl," he said, pulling her close again. "I saw you in there, and I thought my heart would stop."

"Is he . . ." she trailed off, apprehensive.

Edward shook his head. "He's not going to be pretty tomorrow, but he'll live. He won't bother you again though."

She let out a shaky breath. "We need to get you cleaned up. Come home with me."

He tried to pull away. "Bella, your dad-"

"Has to work the night shift this week. He's at the station, Edward, he won't be home until morning. Please."

***

His hands had taken the worst of it, she thought, cut from colliding with James's teeth probably. She sat him at the edge of her bed, uncapping the peroxide and dabbing a ball of cotton before kneeling in front of him to carefully clean the cuts there. He hissed slightly and she held his fingers to her lips to blow across them gently.

"That helps," he murmured, holding the wrapped ice she'd given him against his eye.

"It's supposed to," she said. She uncapped a bottle of aspirin and shook two into his free hand, directing him to swallow them with the glass of water she'd brought in. As he drank, she noticed the tear in his shirt for the first time, and the smear of blood there. "Edward, what happened here?"

He glanced down and grimaced. "I hit the edge of the table, I think."

She reached up and began slowly unbuttoning his shirt, trying to keep her fingers from trembling. She'd slipped her fingers beneath the cotton of his t-shirt before, tracing the muscles of his stomach and the soft trail of hair that led downward, but she'd never seen him without his shirt before. She wondered a little if something was wrong with her, that her heart was fluttering at the prospect under these circumstances.

He swallowed hard as her fingers parted the fabric, gently tracing down his chest to the abrasion along his rib cage. She swept her fingers over the area and he flinched away as she uncapped the peroxide again.

"That burns," he whined, leaning back. She advanced anyway until she was leaning over him, his body now sprawled across her bed that seemed too small to contain him. She took her time cleaning the area before leaning close to blow cool air on him again.

"Bella," he whispered her name, and she found herself tumbling to lie beside him on the bed. He tossed the ice to the floor and rolled to face her, his hands tracing over her again, running though her hair, down the arch of her neck and the curve of her shoulder before he clutched her to him, chanting her name over and over.

"Don't want to lose you," he nuzzled into her hair. "He was right, you shouldn't be with trash like me, but I need you. Don't leave me."

She entwined her arms around him, holding him to her as they rocked slowly together. She felt his breathing slow and dared to murmur into the quiet. "I need you too, Edward. I love you." She drifted off to sleep beside him.

***

It was dark when she woke up, jolted awake by the feel of a warm body beside her. Things rushed back with a vengeance, James, the fight, and Edward coming home with her. She glanced at the clock and saw that it was two in the morning and panicked. What if the Cullens were worried about where Edward was? What if they called her father?

She gently nudged him. "Edward? Do you need to go home? Will they be worried?"

He shook his head, nuzzling against her neck. "It'll be okay. It won't be the first time I stayed out late." She could feel his mouth curled in a smile against her skin. "It's never this much fun, though."

She hummed an approval as his lips teased the tender skin of her neck, a place he'd discovered made her more than a little crazy. "Never, huh?"

"Never," he confirmed. She slid her fingers into his hair, pulling him up for a kiss. She could hear the rain outside, the pattering for once making her feel safe and content as she ran her bare foot along his leg, urging his legs to tangle with hers among the skirt that had inched higher in their sleep. His hand found her calf and slid up it, teasing the curve of her knee. She slid her hand down and urged him higher.

He stopped and sat up, his eyes dark and full of desire, and she knew she didn't want to wait any longer. She mirrored him, sitting up as she slowly and deliberately unbuttoned the row of small pearl buttons that ran down her shirtwaist dress. She peeled back the bodice and he groaned, his fingers joining hers as he slipped the lace strap of her bra from one shoulder, then the other, his lips following the small straps as they fell. Within minutes they had striped away the layers of fabric between them and she slipped beneath the covers, momentarily shy of her pale skin and small breasts even in the darkness of the room.

He slid in beside her, and the shock of his warm skin wrapped around her everywhere lit her body, inflaming her. She kissed him, feeling the hardness against her belly swell and the wetness between her own legs grow. He'd touched her there once before, his fingers tracing the edge of her panties and causing her to buck and moan shamelessly against his hand, and she felt his finger exploring in the same way now, small delicate brushes that made her gasp his name.

He continued to explore her, his lips traveling from her neck to the tip of her breast, his tongue circling the bud into a tight peak that sent sparks to her core. She felt one finger slip inside her, carefully testing, then another, and her hips seemed to move of their own accord as he stroked her until her body shattered around him. He kissed her repeatedly as she came down, showering her eyelids, her cheeks, her nose, and lips with small brushes until she laughed. She ran her hand down his hip and to the hard flesh between his legs, tentatively stroking him, not quite sure what to do but fascinated by the feel of him, soft skin over steel that could make him quiver and beg for her touch.

"Make love to me, Edward," she whispered.

"Are you sure?" he asked.

She nodded, and kissed his cheek. "Make it mean something."

He rolled away, grabbing his jeans and pulling a small worn package from his wallet that he ripped open and slid onto himself before he positioned himself between her legs. "It will hurt a little at first," he whispered, cradling her close. "I'll go slow. I'll make it better."

She nodded, and braced herself as he slid inside slowly, his fingers stroking her and distracting her from the discomfort as she felt the waves of pleasure mount. The pain receded as he began to move and though it didn't last long, she clutched him close and cried out his name as he found his own release.

Afterwards, when they'd cleaned up and slipped back under the sheets together, bodies languid and spent, she tucked her head beneath his and breathed him in. As the still of the night closed around then, Bella realized that although she would always love and miss her mother, she was truly her father's daughter, doomed to love with her whole heart.