I was eight years old the first time Charlie took me to La Push.
The day was no different than any other day. There was no significant world event, or holiday, or monumental crisis of any sort. It was just a regular Saturday in June.
But that little Saturday in June is the most significant day of my entire life. Significant in ways that swell outside of the world we live in; making common meetings and common friendships small and unimportant.
Because on that day… I met the person who gave me a reason to live.
And I didn't know it then, but I also met the person who gave me a reason to die.
I dragged my sandaled feet, keeping my head focused on the tiny grains entering and exiting the cracks of my toes. My pace was painfully slow, but that was the kind of child I was. Never rash or impulsive, I liked to feel out my surroundings and do things at my own pace.
My mother Renee always complained that I was an adult in a child's body. She was the epitome of careless irrationality, and had given birth to a child who agonized over the threat of petty theft at school, and sniffed freshly purchased milk cartons.
Charlie, my dad, was more like me. He was cautious and careful and kept to himself most of the time. He had a few fishing buddies and old friends from the La Push reservation, but never ventured to have a life past the confines of his small town. He was the Chief of police in the tiny town of Forks Washington. And Forks Washington was where he was born, and likely where he would die, and he was perfectly fine with that.
As we walked closer to the water, Charlie turned to look at me. "You need friends Bella, you can't just stare at me all summer long," he said.
I looked to him, wanting very badly to be brave, but knowing even at eight years old that if anyone would understand my hesitation, it would be Charlie. "But what if they don't like me?" I asked.
With a warm smile, he crouched to my level and grabbed me in his arms, pulling me from my feet. "Now what kind of goofball wouldn't like you kiddo?"
Even then I was acutely aware that all parents think their own children are perfect and not doomed for social failure. But behind Charlie's eyes, I could see he might have been the exception. Charlie was afraid for me in that aspect. Being lonely was something he was all too familiar with. My mother left him when I was a baby and took me with her. He knew loneliness, and he knew failure, and he knew that even his beloved little girl who he wanted to protect and care for above all things, might know it someday as well.
Or maybe already did…
"Ok, I'm ready now," I said as I stroked my father's worried cheek. He smiled for me. I wasn't ready, but I figured that even if I was destined for a life alone like Charlie, I could at least try to change my fate.
I didn't have any friends in Phoenix, the sprawling hot city where my mother ran after the divorce. But I never tried either. That day in June, I decided to try…
"You sure?" Charlie asked with hesitation in his eyes.
"Really really sure?"
Charlie nodded and his smile grew wide. "Well then hold on tight!" He began to run, holding me under his right arm like a football. I was facing forward, slowly beginning to panic as the waves and the children neared closer and closer.
"Put me down daddy!" I cried as the excitement of reaching the edge brought a thrilling smile to my face.
I kicked off my sandals as Charlie's long legs broke through the waves. I could feel the wet salty water splash onto my shins and soak through the tiny pink ruffles of my bathing suit. "Daddy, it's cold!" I yelped as the tips of my toes found the sloshing current.
My father and I splashed and played for all of twenty seconds. And then, life as I knew it was officially over.
"Dunk her! Dunk her!" A raspy voice screamed from the periphery.
And there he was
He was not at all what I was expecting. All of the other children were tanned and had jet black hair. This boy had bronzy blonde hair, bleached from the sun. He had sparkling green eyes and a spattering of freckles all along his nose and cheeks. His skin was as white as mine, but kissed beautifully by the summer sun.
I was only eight, but somewhere deep down I knew then what I know now. The boy in the water was the most beautiful creature my eyes would ever see. A creature so special, so extraordinary, I would willingly die for him.
"Dunk her!" He screamed again as a crooked devious smile played on his lips.
I continued to stare in awe, barely hearing his teasing words, as I felt the arms that were cradling me drop, and my body submerge into the freezing salty water. It swirled around me and over me as I tried to get my bearings. The sting of the salt filled my nose as I attempted to determine which way was up. But before I even had time to panic, Charlie's arms dipped into the water and pulled me out just as quickly as he dropped me in.
My eyes stung and my nose burned and I gagged as I tried to take my first breath. My hair was matted across my face and my first reaction was to cry and kick and yell at my father for being such a typical father and dropping me…
But then I heard the laughter of the boy…It was a sort of raspy giggle, yet musical and sweet. I swept the hair from my eyes to see his face, and he was laughing and smiling at me.
"Again daddy, again!" I cried, caring about nothing but making the beautiful boy in the water laugh.
Charlie looked at me quizzically, and then shrugged as he hurled my flailing body out into the surf.
I was prepared for the fall this time and landed face up, my back making a smacking noise as I landed.
Immediately, I looked for the boy.
His brilliant green eyes were alight as he watched me swim back.
He turned to Charlie. "Do me next! Do me next!" He cried.
Charlie laughed. "Sure you can handle it Edward?" He asked as he gripped his hands around the boy's lean white arms.
"Throw me as far as you can!" Edward squealed as Charlie lifted him high into the air.
My father leaned back and heaved Edward out into the surf and sent him soaring into the breaking waves.
As he swam back, I couldn't take my eyes off of the silly crooked grin on his face. I was mesmerized totally and completely by this stranger.
He swam directly to me, never breaking our stare. My skin was covered in goose flesh and I was shivering from the cold, but feeling warmer and happier than I had ever remembered.
"You're Bella right?" He towered over me even then. I distinctly remember the warm smell of his sunscreen, mixed with the sharp smell of the ocean.
I turned my face away shyly, as this was the first time I had ever spoken to a boy that I actually considered a boy. Jacob Black, the young son of my father's friend from the Quileute reservation Billy didn't count.
"Yeah," I whispered as I let my little fingers stroke the waves in front of me.
"I'm Edward Masen," he said as his hands joined mine in the playful dance with the waves.
I kept my head down, but saw the reflection of his face in the water. "Hi Edward," I whispered.
The reflection moved, and Edward swam to face me. He crouched low so he was looking up, cocking his head at me with a curious smile. I couldn't help but look.
"How old are you?" He asked.
"Eight," I answered timidly.
"I'm nine, my birthday was last week," he replied.
"Happy Birthday," I said.
There was a pause in the conversation and it's funny how fast a girl can become completely self doubting and insecure. In that moment all I could think about was how I must look. I was eight, but totally concerned that my bathing suit was too babyish and my tangled hair looked ugly, and the fact that my dad carried me down made me seem like a dork.
Every fiber of my being wanted this boy to think I was cool.
"Ya know Jacob Black?" Edward asked, breaking the awkward pause.
"Um, sort of. He's kind of a baby though," I answered. Jake was only six. To a nine year old he must have been a baby right?
"He's not a baby, he can swim and ride a bike better than anyone I know," Edward answered back.
That day I learned, as I did many times over, that Edward never cared about being cool.
"Oh. Sorry," I apologized.
Edward started in a fit of giggles and I couldn't help but look at him.
"What?" I asked with a timid smile.
"You just got all red," he laughed.
My icy hand went to my face, it was on fire. "Oh," I whispered.
Edward's giggle faded slightly and he swam a bit closer. "I get nervous meeting new people too," he said. "My family and I moved here from Chicago last year."
I later learned Edward's father was big Ed Masen, the owner of a chain of banks that was expanding rapidly up the west coast called EAM Bank. They were the wealthiest people in all of Forks, or anywhere near Forks, but Edward never seemed affected by it. He was always the most accepting down to earth person I knew.
"Yeah, and I got real nervous about making friends."
I couldn't imagine Edward ever having trouble with anything, especially making friends. And as the years passed, and as we grew older, I learned he never really did. But I did, with an array of different things, and somehow he always made me feel like he struggled too. Why he did that? I don't really know.
"I get nervous too," I said.
"Well I'll be your friend, if you want?"
I looked at him then, and smiled. His eyes looked like sea glass in the late afternoon sun, and the message behind them almost brought tears to my eyes. There was sincerity there, vulnerable and genuine. He was, in his own childlike way, offering me his friendship; offering me his loyalty.
"I think you are the nicest and prettiest girl I know."
That day I made my very first friend. That day I made my very best friend. That day, I met my very reason for everything…even my own death.