"Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty."
~ Mother Teresa.


Ragweeds.
Chapter One : A Life Before
For those of you who asked, the preface is a climax in
Ragweeds. This is the start of it all. Shows the drastic difference between their lives.


THIS STORY IS RATED M & CLASSIFIED ANGST FOR A REASON. IT IS AN ADULT STORY WITH ADULT SITUATIONS.
MINORS &/OR PEOPLE WITH THE FAINT OF HEART, PLEASE DO NOT READ THIS STORY & THEN GET MAD ABOUT WHAT HAS BEEN WRITTEN. YOU'VE BEEN WARNED.

Special Shout-Out's:

-- To my faithful Readers/Reviewers.... I am overwhelmed by your response. You are beautifully encouraging. You make me want to do more and more and more. Thank you!
-- To my lovey, my beta, Caryn (Jazz Girl)... You amaze me honey. You're sick and exhausted, yet you still make time to listen to my plots, help out with lines, and anything else I ask. You are never taken for granted. (& Thanks for giving me some funny remarks, bbgirl! You know I love your wordage just as much as you love my brain.)
--To Aura (Rebecca's Mom) for taking the time to help me find locations for these characters. I love you. Happy Birthday, again.
-- To "Dandy", who didn't sign in so I could have the opportunity to respond in private, and wrote this response, "Dandy 2009-10-24 . chapter 1 It seemed really really melodramatic. I half expected them to run into the ocean to commit suicide. You should let the work speak for itself instead of begging for reviews all the time."-- ...Well, hell. What fun would it be if they pulled a Romeo & Juliet? That would defeat the purpose of a PREFACE, would it not? Chapter 1: Preface. They died. The end. No, in all honesty, I understand where you are coming from, but I have to respectfully mention that this is my story, and if I want to ask for reviews, that is my right. I believe all writer's want to be rewarded for their work, and what a better way than with a review that least recognizes the effort? So... I wish you the best and hope that you will find another story/writer who is less melodramatic. Hopefully they'll have a routine of writing that better fits your needs. Take care.
Disclaimer: I own nothing that is Twilight or Stephenie Meyer related. But I busted my ass to write this. Do not take what is not yours.


"I think I know what's on your mind. A couple words, a great divide.
Waiting in the wings, a small respite...
Crowding up the foreground from behind.
Even though you're the only one I see, it's the last catastrophe.
Place your bets on chance and apathy."
~ Grizzly Bear, "Slow Life"


Chapter One : A Life Before

BellaPOV

I smiled and looked up to the unaffected crystal blue sky, which spun in a slow circle before my eyes. The smell of spring air swirled around me in a clear fog, enlightening my senses, awakening me slowly. April was the best month out of the year, in my opinion, with the rain showers slowly drifting away and the flowers beginning to break through. The scent in the air was a silent reminder that something better was a step closer every time you walked outside.

Every day was a fresh start, a new beginning, a reminder that I, once again, could start over, live a different life for twenty-four hours, and be whoever I wanted. A poet, an analyst, a teacher, a writer, a scientist, even an award-winning actress like my mother. The possibilities were endless. Every minute, a new adventure could make itself known. That was the best part about being young.

I lived for this smell.

"Bella," my friend Janey giggled as she gripped the bar tighter, "you'd better hold onto something or you're going to fly off! I'm barely hanging on myself."

"Nah." I stretched my arms above my head and threw caution to the wind. "If I fly off, it's because I'm supposed to. Never affect God's plans, Janey." There was a hint of sarcasm in my voice, dying to escape. I wasn't sure if I believed in heaven and the possibility of a God. I didn't doubt it necessarily, but I wasn't religious. My mom taught me that there were too many laws in religion that contradicted themselves. So instead, we classified ourselves as spiritual. That way the non-believers could respect us enough to not call us freaks, and her fans wouldn't feel like she was shoving her beliefs down their throats. It was an equal balance.

"You're crazy!" she screamed, sitting on her butt as the thing twirled faster, out of control. "Eric! Slow down!"

"Hang on!" Eric screamed wildly, while his Nike sneakers dug into the dirt with every push of his toes. This was his way of practicing for his next track meet. Or, at least, that's what we'd say as an excuse if anyone caught us. We were all sixteen, which meant we were way too old to be sneaking off to the elementary playground after hours. Most of our peers were out playing chicken with the oncoming traffic and getting drunk at parties on Friday nights. But not us.

We were desperate to hold on to any part of our childhood we had left.

The merry-go-round spun entirely too fast at that point, dragging Eric instead of allowing him to push it. It made me squeal with laughter, watching his facial expressions change from horror to calm, then back to horror as he ran around the small circle, trying to keep up. "Eric! You're going to die. Why don't you just hop on and let it do it's own thing for a while?"

"Can't, Bella!" he panted, almost tripping over his own feet, "it's going too fast now! If I let go, it's going to chop off my head. That thing has sharp edges. Look at it!"

"It's your own stupidity," I sighed, shivering slightly when the fresh breeze slipped across my stomach, where my shirt wouldn't cover with my arms behind my head. "We tried to warn you before you even began."

"Shut up, Bella."

I closed my eyes and inhaled slowly, blocking everyone out. Even though I couldn't see anything, my body moved along the fast circle, reminding me that I was still spinning. Faster, faster, faster, faster... Over, over, over, over... Around, around, around, around... It gave me a high, knowing I could easily be injured. Maybe this was how stunt men felt about danger. Maybe this was why they thrived on it.

"I think I'm going to throw up," Janey moaned shortly, breaking into my daydream. I heard her crawling toward me, beneath the long bars. I winced slightly, praying she didn't release her stomach's contents on me. She wobbled and gasped, sliding around like a marble in one of those pinball machines.

Extending a free hand, I shielded my eyes from the hot sun with the other and smiled over at her freckled face and grey eyes. "You okay, Janey-boo?"

She shook her head and gulped loudly, shutting her eyes tight.

"Eric, better stop us," I warned, squeezing my friend's hand in reassurance. "Janey's gonna throw up again."

"Janey!" Eric hissed, his voice a wheeze of exhaustion at that point. He held his breath and jumped, forcing his heels to dig into the dirt and slow us down. The merry-go-round whined in resistance but Eric won the fight soon enough, grinding us to a sudden stop. Janey crawled recklessly off of the metal sheets, over by the swing set, and threw up the remnants of the orange sherbert she had eaten an hour ago.

I sighed as Eric dropped down beside me, noticing his chest heaving. "She always does this," he hissed. "I don't know why she even gets on anymore. She can't handle it."

"She wants to run with the big cats," Tyler joked, dropping to an Indian-style position beside us. I had forgotten he was there with us. He was always quiet. Tyler tilted his head, watching Janey fall back onto her heels as she wiped her mouth with her arm. "You okay, Janes?" he called over to her.

"Oh, just fine," she exhaled, shuddering. "I hate puking."

"At least it was orange sherbert and not something chunky... like chili."

"Eww," I groaned, slugging him on his left thigh as Janey lurched over again, obviously not liking his clarification anymore than the rest of us. "That's disgusting, Tyler."

"Hey, it's true. I've thrown up chili before. Not a fun activity, especially when it comes out of your nose."

"Blech," I groaned, climbing off the merry-go-round. I stumbled around dizzily and grasped the high end of the teeter-totter, taking deep breaths.

"Bella, wait!" Eric called, running over to me. He grinned, sat on the side that was in the dirt, and gripped the bars. Eric balanced the worn-in wooden board in the middle and waited for me to climb on, which I eventually did once I caught my breath. "God, we haven't been on this thing in weeks!"

I beamed, moved closer to the handle bar, and adjusted my body to sit more comfortably. Wooden boards were never comfortable to straddle, that's for certain. I didn't understand how guys could do it at all. How did their balls not get squished? Did they do the 'tuck' thing I frighteningly heard Eric and Tyler discuss once after P.E. last semester? How does someone tuck in their balls, though? Were they just left hanging -- literally?

"Just don't do that one thing you used to do," I glared at him, gripping tighter. "You know, the thing where you bump-"

"Like this?" he asked with a jerk of his body, which flung me momentarily in the air.

I landed with a hard clunk on the wood and sneered bitterly at him. "Quit!"

Eric threw his head back in laughter at my expense, "Oh Bella. You're so easy."

"She is her mother's daughter," Tyler teased, lightly slugging my arm, payback for earlier, I'm sure. He was rewarded with an eyeful of hatred. Stupid jerk.

"Stop being so serious all the time, Bella," Eric chuckled. His slick black hair blew in the slight breeze we created from bouncing up and down on this thing. "Relax. Lighten up."

"I am lightened," I smiled back at his cheesy grin. Eric was funny. I could never be mad at him for long. "My homework is complete, we're going car shopping this weekend, and Mom's making enchilada supremes."

"Mmm, am I invited?"

"Ugh, Bella," Janey moaned on the park bench as she rubbed her stomach, "please. Can we not talk about food anymore today?"

I bit my lip and focused, trying to knock Eric off the teeter-totter. Over and over, but it never worked. He was the skinniest male friend I had, which was why teeter-tottering was so easy with him. However, he had a grip on him that no one could surpass. I once told him he'd make a good quarterback. He simply laughed and told me football was for muscle-bound queers who felt they had something to prove. Track showed real strength.

Although my mother was wildly popular, my friends never treated me as anything less or more than their equal, which was perfect. I loved them for it.

After Eric and I stopped fooling around and trying to kill each other, we settled into a steady rhythm, taking turns being on the low and the high ends of the board. I loved the teeter-totter. I loved how one person went down, and the other person went up. Someone was always supported. I loved how it resembled the case of someone falling, and the other being there to catch you. Back then, I never realized it could also resemble being on opposite sides of the spectrum, the highs and lows of life.

I was the kind of girl who always tried to see both the good and the bad in the world. My mom told me that I should not set my standards too high, but never lower them beneath me either. I tried to go with the flow, but I prepare myself for anything that could come my way. Always cautious, but always eager. That was my motto.

...I was naive. Wet behind the ears. A baby.

I didn't know much of the world, no matter how hard I tried to convince myself otherwise. And I never expected that this day on the playground, from the merry-go-round spinning out of control and welcoming danger, to the teeter-totter with the up and down, cause and effect, was simply a warm-up for everything to come in my life.

Everything I was once protected from.


EdwardPOV

I held my breath and threw my arms up and over my shoulders, then slammed the axe down to slice the large chunk of wood in half. Wincing, I tossed the pieces into the pile, and rolled my shoulders back and forth. I'd thrown my back out two days before doing this, so managing it for much longer would be painfully difficult for me. Especially between this and the swim meet coming up. But if I didn't do it, there'd be no heat in the house. No heat meant I wouldn't be able to cook. And I couldn't go hungry again. I was nauseated enough as it was.

Everyone around town knew the situation in my house. The cops showing up here was a normal weekly activity, the way movie-night would be for some of the more fortunate families. At sixteen, I felt more like the parent, and my parents were the children. The only time my father lifted his arms was to pour more beer into his throat or hit my mother when I wasn't around, and the only time he lowered them was when he had to take a piss. And my mother... well... let's just say that I didn't want to think about the damage she'd do if she caught the chance to hold an axe these days.

To say that I've grown up in a broken home would be the understatement of the century. For as long as I could remember, my father had been on "disability". In other words, he'd been sucessful at scamming the government with fraudulent accusations and claims about the breakdown of his nervous system, which somehow allowed him to do nothing besides beat my mother and I down, drink large quantities of alcohol, and pass out on rare occasion.

For the majority of my life, my mother would let him do and say whatever he wanted to us. But about a year ago, she began to stick up for herself, whenever I couldn't be there to take the hits. That pissed my father off. He became wary, making sure not to get too drunk. That way, she would never have an advantage over him. So he would aim for comfortably drunk, which meant drunk enough to make himself go numb for a few hours, but sober enough to be down our throats again if need be. He blamed us for all his problems. It was an endless circle.

I didn't have friends. The only person I talked to was my swim coach, Mr. Harvey. Other than that, while I was at school I remained polite to all my classmates but I mostly stuck to myself. I'm sure my peers had an idea pf what my life might have been like whenever they saw my ripped jeans and torn shirts being worn on rotation. But I didn't want them to look down on me for my misfortunes. I had to deal with that enough with all the people living near my home. My GPA was decent, but the only reason I stayed in school was because of the pool. In there, I could be myself. All I had to do was jump in the water, and then I could soar to a different place, to the opposite end of the spectrum. I could vanish for a few minutes, turn around, and then vanish somewhere else.

Mr. Harvey was acutely aware that my folks had no idea of my swim meets. He was kind to me, understood my situation for what it was and for what I wouldn't say. He had no trouble staying after practice to give me extra one-on-one time when I seemed distracted, and as a pay off, I'd clean the pool for him every Saturday morning before my parents awoke. I didn't want any favors from anyone. What I received, I gained because I earned.

Caught up in my own world as I chopped, I hadn't realized my name had been called. "Edward," my mother growled in a huff as she stormed over to me in her fuzzy worn boots and dingy, off-white robe, "your father says you're making too much racket out here. Can you please tone it down?"

I threw the axe down onto another chunk of wood and my mother gasped, covering her chest. I'd startled her. I looked up at her apologetically and gave her an understanding nod. "Sorry. It won't be much longer, we only need a few more blocks to last us the night."

"Why can't you just microwave something, and use what wood we have for heat? Do the rest tomorrow?"

"There's nothing really to microwave. And there's only a chunk of wood left in there. It won't last but two hours, on a low flame."

She crossed her arms over her chest and looked nervously at the front door, then back at me as she lowered her voice. "I'd appreciate if you could find an alternative, Edward. He's... calmer today. Why should we stir him up?"

Discreetly rolling my eyes, I pulled the gloves from my hands, and shook my head in annoyance. "He's not calm, Mom," I sighed, carrying a handful of wood over to be bundled. "He stole your Vicodin. I watched him take them an hour ago."

"What?"

"Yep." It's almost like he bashes you over the head just so he can steal the pain medication after the prescription gets filled, I thought to myself.

"Well," she cleared her throat, "either way. Just... get inside and eat a bologna sandwich tonight, will ya?"

I stared down to the yellow, faded grass in front of my torn brown boot and nodded slowly. "Sure thing."

"Thank you," she said, reaching out for me. My mother never hugged me anymore. She never touched me, never pat me on the back, never told me she loved me. I looked up at her in shock and she pulled her hand back like she touched an electric fence. Then she turned and stormed away without a second glance. I was surprised she could remember how to say thank you these days.

After I loaded the fire wood into the black oven and closed the hatch, I dusted off my stained jeans and made my way into the kitchen, ignoring my father sitting lazily in the recliner with a beer at hand and a fresh one between his legs. He muttered something incoherently about how much of a loser I was, which was typical. My mother stood on the opposite side of the kitchen with her arms crossed, next to where the washer and dryer sat for all to see.

I washed my hands before I touched the refrigerator handle, an unfortunate lesson I learned a couple years back. Although I was the only one who made an effort to clean and keep things straightened, I couldn't get it dirty myself. That came with serious consequences. The only items in there were an open case of beer with three remaining, a knocked over bottle of mustard, an open package of colby cheese, and a molding head of lettuce in the broken crisper drawer. I closed it and swung open the cabinet above the fridge. "There's no bologna in there."

"I'll try and get you some money tomorrow so you can go grocery shopping after school," she whispered almost inaudibly. She didn't take her eyes off of my father, who glared numbly at the muted television. He always kept it muted. He wanted to be aware of everything around him. He claimed he could read lips.

"We're broke," my father scoffed, sloshing his Miller High Life and proving my point that he was paying attention to us, not the television. "I don't get my next check until Friday. You'll have to suffer."

I walked over to my mom and took a deep breath. I felt nervous. "Mom," I whispered, shoving my hands in my pockets. "I think you should reconsider allowing me to take that job at the supermarket. We can always use the extra cash around here. Maybe I could get a discount on groceries? It would help."

"You know you can't," she scoffed, finally turning her attention up to me. "Who would chop the firewood and do your chores if you were gone?"

"Maybe I can work nights only and get them done between school and work?"

"Now's just not the right time, Edward," she exhaled insistently. "Please stop asking me. ...Go grab your laundry and get it done quick, so your father can take a shower-"

"A hot one this time," my father scoffed, shaking his head. He wouldn't glance in our direction. "I'm sick of the water running out before I get in there."

I rounded my shoulders, glaring at the side of his head. "Yes sir," I sneered before walking down the crooked narrow hall toward my room. I wished that my father hadn't taken the door off the hinges the night after my mother tried to hide from him in there. I wanted nothing more than to close my door and have some privacy, if only for a few seconds. I couldn't remember the last time I felt secure in my room, let alone my house.

My laundry was done and chores were inspected. I settled on top of the single bed I'd had since I was six and pulled out my journal. It was the only bit of myself I had left and I held onto it with my last breath. I kept a secure padlock on it so I knew I could be myself when I wrote. I could express my real thoughts, my goals, my concerns, all without fear. I didn't have to sugar coat anything, didn't have to bite my tongue. I wrote about the good, the bad, and the ugly things I noticed throughout my day. The only positive that came from the lifestyle I was forced to lead was, when it got bad, you sought out for the good in life...

Whether it be the last brown leaf falling from a tree during the beginning of winter, making its ultimate sacrifice to allow time to pass fluidly, or simply the way the sky lit up with a rainbow of colors during every morning's beginning. The little things that most people overlooked were the ones I treasured the most. They were the simple things, the things that would always be there, things that would do whatever it took to keep the world moving.

In a nutshell, they were me and I was them.

I knew what it felt like to be taken advantage of, to be forgotten about, and I didn't want to do that with anyone, or anything.

I had raised myself better than that.


BellaPOV

"Mom!" I shouted, laughing as I skidded through the large entry way, my sneakers leaving black marks across the sand-colored marble tile. "Mom, mom!"

"In the kitchen, darling," her beautiful voice rang, over the peaceful melodies of Billie Holiday.

I caught a whiff of the enchiladas she was making and my stomach growled happily in response. I ran through the double doors and found her in a white dress, high heels, and a tiny apron, humming over a bowl of tomatoes she was slicing. "Mmmm, Mom, it smells so good in here!"

My mom looked up and laughed, walking over to me and wiping something off the side of my face. "Isabella, what do you have on your face? Is this... dirt?"

"I fell coming home."

She glanced down at my dirty clothes and grass-stained jeans that had a fresh tear at the knee. "Darling, I may as well wrap you in bubble wrap and call it a day."

"Or we can just call the hospital and tell them I want my suite redecorated?"

"Or that," she chimed with a wink, before waltzing back toward her food preparations. "Dinner will be ready in an half an hour. Why don't you run upstairs and shower? Take Jax with you."

"I gave Jax a bath last week."

"Honey, go smell that dog. He needs another one. You wanted him, he's your responsibility."

I couldn't help but smile. "Fine," I growled playfully, fake-stomping toward the doors, "but you better make my tacos with extra sour cream for this!"

"Don't I always?" she asked in her sing-song voice.

I ran through the large dormador, into the living suite, and scooped up our sixth month old, brown and white boxer puppy. We named him Jax after I begged my mom to rescue him, when I visited her on one of her film sets in Jacksonville, Florida. He definitely has an east coast vibe to him, which was why he loves the indoors a hell of a lot more than the outdoors here in Seattle. But he's a big, happy furball. "Come on, buddy," I groaned as I carried him up the steps, though he was capable of walking himself. I liked to baby him. Besides, he babied me when I was sick last week, so I owed him.

Jax and I took a fast shower because, for once, he actually cooperated with me. I let him out to splash water all over the bathroom walls while I finished up in private, and then I redressed and gave him a towel dry before we raced each other down the steps toward the grand foyer.

"Whoa whoa whoa, slow down," my mom laughed, her delicate fingers wrapped around a crystal glass filled with red wine. Her favorite. "You made it just in time for the sizzle."

The sizzle was my favorite part. My mom and I always ate dinner outside on the patio in front of the fire place, seated on red cushioned imported wicker furniture. She lifted the lids and the individual burners sizzled the chicken and beef, decorating my ears. Nothing beat my mom's home-cooking.

Mom filled my crystal glass with fruit punch Kool-Aid and we made a toast before we ate. We discussed how our days went in detail, and I laughed as she tried to explain to me how her new assistant, Margie, messed up her costume choices for the upcoming red carpet event. And, she gasped in horror when I told her about the one time Eric successfully knocked me off the teeter-totter, and how Janey threw up again.

"And then, of course Eric had to make fun of her all day about it," I laughed, shaking my head. "He never goes easy on Janey."

"That's because he likes her."

I rolled my eyes. "Everyone likes Janey, Mom. Even when she throws up, the guys hang around her."

"And what are you telling me, dear Isabella? That no man fancies you?"

I rolled my eyes. "None that I care to acknowledge."

"That's my girl," she winked. "Let no man put asunder."

I loved when she said that quote. I didn't know where it came from. She'd never explained. But it made me smile when she said it. She always seemed so strong, so brave. So proud. Shoulders up, chin high. Walk in a straight line, but bounce on it when you want. She had a way of twisting things around to make me laugh. She made the dark seem invisible.

She didn't date much these days. Mom never needed a man. On the rare occasion that she was lonely, one would come by and they'd lock themselves in her room, but he never stayed the night. She said that a man staying the night gave him the power. She couldn't allow that to happen.

She never told me much about my own father. Whenever I would grow a wild hair and get curious, I'd ask her about him. All she would say was that his name was Charles, and that his only worth was a donation. Nothing more. But I was okay with that. Sure, I was curious about having a father, what one would be like. But I had a lot of parent in my mother, though her schedule kept her busy. She always made me feel special, no matter what. She'd tell me how I brightened her moonless sky, how I was her meteor.

She was my best friend.

After dinner was over, we set the plates on the table in front of us and lounged back in the chairs, gazing up at the stars in the midnight sky.

"This is the life," I sighed contently, patting the top of Jax's head.

My mother hummed and closed her eyes, the wine from the bottom of her wine glass warming her tummy well. "So they say."

My mom smiled as she climbed in bed beside me. "Come on Jax," she giggled drunkenly, patting the side of the bed. Jax hopped up and did a circle on my mattress before he plopped down over our feet. I smiled as my mom kissed my forehead, pulling her fingers through my long, chestnut hair.

"Mom?"

"Yes baby?" she whispered, the smell of lavender and freesia from her white dress wrapping me in comfort.

"I'm thinking about taking another art class this fall… Maybe an advanced one. Would that be alright?"

"Of course," she replied. "Why would you even have to ask? You know I love your work."

"I know, but your scheduled to be shooting 'In Rome' in September, and I don't want to be held down here, and uanble to visit you-"

"Darling, darling," she chuckled, shaking her head. "You are an artist. It's what you do. Never, ever let anything get in the way of what makes you happy. A dream is only a dream if you don't have the guts to live it. And you, my young angel, have the guts. You can make it... I know your art is going to be displayed in the greatest of museums, sold for millions one day. A stupid film schedule should not get in the way of the first steps to living that dream."

I smiled and shook my head, nuzzling into her chest. "I want you to be there. Or to be there for you."

"I simply want you to be happy, baby."

"I am happy."

She sighed and pulled away, rolling onto her back. She stared up at the ceiling for a moment, before whispering, "you could be happier."

I rolled my eyes. "Mom, I'm sixteen. I'm stuck in a world of transition. Like it or not, I don't have to find every world's happiness right now. There's room for exploring."

"Who says you shouldn't have it all?"

"Who says I deserve it all?"

She sighed and stroked her fingers down my pale arm before frowning at me. "I do."

My heart clenched.

We stayed remained for the longest time.

I felt myself dozing off, and knew she'd be leaving to go in her room soon, so I gave her a hug, "I have it all. Everything I want. I don't need anything else but you and Jax."

"I just... I don't want you to be so naive, Isabella. The world is dark. I want you to appreciate it for what it is, and know which paths to walk down, no matter where life takes you. I want you to be brave."

"I can be brave."

She kissed me on the cheek and tucked me in. "Sure you can. You're your mother's daughter, after all."

I nodded, closing my eyes for the last time that night. "Always."


EdwardPOV

I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and held it for a moment before I let it out slowly. I couldn't hear anything. It made me smile. I enjoyed the deep silence more than I ever enjoyed constant noise.

I wasn't one who craved attention or the spotlight. I didn't feed off of gossip and rumors. My only goal was to stay out of the way as much possible. I was what some people considered, a simple person. I had nothing. I tried not to require much, and I never asked for anything I couldn't find myself. Give me a soft melody, a swimming pool, and my journal, and I'd be set for life.

Some people might say that I'd hardened. But I feel that I'd simply found a way to protect myself. My silence became my armor. There wasn't much I trusted, but that didn't mean that I wouldn't fight for what I believed in, or what I stood for.

The hollow cement walls glimmered with both warm and icy tones, streaming across every surface. Crimson blue waves scattered and rippled below my feet and stretched across the room, a welcoming invitation. There was nothing more peaceful to me. No better transition than standing atop the high-dive and being on top of one world, knowing I was about to enter another. This was my sanctuary. My peace of mind. My home.

I jumped up and arched forward, soaring through the air..

The luke-warm water graced the tips of my fingers, moving quickly over my hands. It flowed up my shoulders, over my head, around my waist, and between my legs, to the very ends of my toes. As soon as I was surrounded by it, I made my way to the shallow end of the pool. I took my time getting there. I wanted to make it last. Over and over, around and around, my arms and legs fluttered. The breast stroke was my favorite motion, but I could do all of them well.

As soon as the wall came into view, I did a quick somersault beneath the surface and pushed off. My body twisted until I was on my stomach again and I swam back in the opposite direction. I hadn't come up for air yet.

The average person, according to Mr. Harvey, could hold their breath anywhere between forty-five seconds to two minutes, depending. Rescue swimmers can usually last around five minutes. The world record was set by David Blaine, at seventeen minutes and four-point-four seconds, on The Oprah Winfrey Show. But after five minutes, brain synapses begin shutting down, and the human body's risk for passing out, brain damage, and death increases tenfold. With as much practice as I'd allowed myself, I had figured out a way to slow my heart while under water, thus using less oxygen. After a year and a half in this pool, swimming multiple times a week, I could hold my breath and swim lengths for seven to eight minutes. I'd learned that it is easier to hold your breath in colder water because our bodies natural instinct is to conserve oxygen, much like dolphins or whales. However, cold water increases the risk for muscle spasms, and once they start, most tend to panic.

I had never tried to see how long I could hold my breath while I was steady and unmoving. I was afraid the temptation to stay under and never resurface would swallow me.

I swam forty-six laps before I allowed myself any break. By the time I met the deep end, my lungs felt on fire. I took a few deep breaths and pushed the goggles to the top of my head, wincing as I lifted my arm. I had really pushed my shoulders to the limit chopping wood. I started to panic, worrying about how well I'd do with the meet coming up. I didn't want to fail. I'd have no way out of this town if I couldn't find a sponsor. Not that I wanted to make the Olympics. My head wasn't that far in the clouds. But when I turned eighteen, there'd be no stopping me, no matter what circumstances I endured.

A loud splash behind my back startled me, and I spun with a gasp. There, floating upside down and open, the worn out leather binding swaying in the ripples of the pool, was my journal. My eyes scoured the room and steadied on a dark figure on the left side. I made an attempt to reach out and grab it.

"Don't you fucking move."

My arm froze over the water, extended, my hand hovering above the book. I stared at my father cautiously, wondering to myself how in the hell he found me, and more importantly, my journal. I kept it duck-taped to the bottom of my mattress, between that and the springs, that way if the bed was torn up, no one would see it. So how did he?

"Edward Anthony Cullen, I didn't know you had it in you." He never called me by my name, and it frightened me to hear him say it. I was always 'boy' to him.

"In me to what?" I panted, my lungs still burning from my swim. Now they tightened with the anxiety of the situation as well.

He scoffed, "I didn't think you had it in you to deceive me."

I didn't know what to say to that, so I reached for my book. My father twisted before I could blink, and a handful of goggles that were sitting in a box on a lonely bench behind him suddenly went flying at my head, a few smacking me in the face before they crashed hard into the water. "I told you not to fucking touch it!" His scream sliced through the eerie silence.

My hand shook as my palm lingered a centimeter above it. I noticed one of the pages hanging from the spine, the red ink bleeding into the blue water. Smearing. Erasing itself.

"Tell me," my father shouted, his voice ricocheting off the walls, "how... a dumbass loser like you... snuck out of my house... into this school... climbed in the pool, and waded around here like a little pussy mermaid? Hmm?"

I took a deep breath, hesitating. My left eye hurt and I noticed a few drops of blood fall into the water. The goggles had cut me.

"Now!" he hissed.

"I'm... on the swim team here at school," I confessed, not peeling my eyes from him. I didn't dare. He always demanded I man up when he interrogated me. The consequences if I did not were severe. Last time I had ended up in the hospital with a black eye, my right arm broken, and three bruised ribs, while my father mocked me from the waiting room. He told all the nurses how stupid I was, made up a story about me trying to skateboard at night. I had never touched a skateboard in my life.

His voice went mocking again, "You're on the swim team. How did you manage that?"

"I tried out two years ago."

"Yes..." he swayed a little, "...I do believe I read that somewhere."

I swallowed. How much of my journal did he read?

"I also believe that I read somewhere... where... you believe karma is going to come back around and ... do me in the way I deserve." He paused, tempting me to turn away. I didn't. "Is that true, boy? Do you feel that way about your own father?" I didn't answer him. He scoffed, stepping closer to the water, "Let me tell you what I think you don't deserve. You don't deserve to have my name. My first or my last. You... utterly disgust me. Look at you. You're worthless. You think you're worth that piece of shit journal? This piece of shit pool? Do you think anybody really gives a god damn if you submerge yourself in water and don't come back up?" He scoffed again. "Go ahead, boy. Do it. Do us all a favor."

My journal began to sink. I could tell when it started to succumb to the additional weight of the water. I stared at it out of the corner of my eye. It was all going to be destroyed. The thought sickened me.

"In fact... I think that if you did, you may even get a smile out of me."

I stared blankly at him. My fingers twitched.

"Possibly even a chuckle."

With a deep breath, my hand crashed into the water and grabbed the remains of the binding, and I pulled it to my chest.

Many things happened at once.

He must have known I was going to react because, clothed and all, he jumped into the pool. I stiffened, staring shell-shocked as he made his way to me. I thought about bailing, figuring I could swim faster than him if I tried. I figured I had the upper hand with him being intoxicated. But as soon as I saw the red in his eyes, the anger on his face, I knew there was no place for me to go. He'd catch up with me sooner or later anyway. He always did.

I gasped when his hand flew to my neck and I immediately tried to pull it away from me. He cursed loudly and growled his frustration. His left foot swung out behind my legs, interrupting my treading, and I slipped beneath the surface. His other hand held me firmly in place and, with my eyes open, I saw his face above the water. The view of his skin below the surface looked harsh with the mixture of red ink from my journal and blood from my cut eye. I kept telling myself not to panic, I knew I could really destroy my body if I did. But still, fear settled over me like a wet blanket. He was going to kill me.

I knew it had to have been minutes now. He was much stronger than me. His hand squeezed tighter and he pushed me down toward the bottom. I tried to pry his fingers off, but he wouldn't budge. My body flailed in the water, as his face and the bright lights from the high celings above swirled around me in a haze of blue and red. More minutes passed.

For the briefest of seconds, I thought about allowing him to do it. End it all. Put me out of my misery. Do what he's always wanted to do. It was bound to happen anyway. But then I thought of my mother. There was no way in hell she'd be able to defend herself if I was out of the picture. He'd kill her, too. It was only a matter of time.

I could hear him shout something, but I heard it as a snarl through the water. I kicked hard and my head managed to break the surface. "I should leave you here!" he shouted, choking me again. "You wanna write this shit about me. You want to tell yourself that I'm going to get what I deserve?! Let me give you what you deserve, you worthless bastard! You're nothing!"

Wincing at the pain engulfing my lungs and throat, I somehow managed to lift my right foot and kick him as hard as I could. He buckled forward in pain and yelled louder. Pushing from the surface with a loud gasp, I coughed up the water he made me choke on, and without thinking, punched him square in the nose. He released me.

My body turned and more panic set in. If he caught me, there was no second chance. I would be dead.

"You little bitch!"

I swam as fast as I could to the opposite side of pool, climbed up the ladder, and made my way to the locker room. Gasping, I rounded the corners, ripped a towel off the shelf, grabbed my jeans from the bench, and left everything else where it was. I ran through the echoing, empty halls of the school, shivering at the cold air, as my father screamed his threats from the locker room. He wasn't far behind me.

As soon as I cleared the front door, I made it to the side of the building and stopped to throw my jeans over my swim trunks. I kept my eyes locked on the corner, waiting for him to come out of the doors. He didn't.

Precious minutes passed. I needed to get out of there.

Mustering up the courage, I fought a battle with my lungs and ran up the large hill, down the sidewalk, three blocks away, and made a sharp turn to the right. The dead end street came before I knew it, and tripping only a few times, I clawed my way through the dirt, scraping my hands and bare feet on logs and debris from the woods. I had no idea where my father was. I didn't dare look behind me, for fear that he'd somehow caught up.

Struggling and wheezing, I made it to the gravel road and sprinted all the way to our blue house in the shadows. The street light above our mailbox was busted, and I had never been more thankful for that, even when a few pieces of shattered glass hit my feet. The sound of my father's truck roared behind me, and I knew it wouldn't be long before he caught me.

I crossed the front steps and barged into the house. My mother walked out of her bedroom in her red robe and, despite her questions, I grabbed hold of her and pushed her until we both reached my room. "Edward, what is going on?!"

"I hit him," I shouted, running around the bed to grab the only extra pair of tennis shoes I had. The soles were scraped off. "He found me in the pool, and he tried to drown me, and I hit him. He's going to be here any minute!"

"What do you mean-"

Her voice cut off when the front door was kicked in, and I reached over and covered her mouth with my hand. We both ducked down on the back side of the bed. "Shhh," I whispered, trembling. Her eyes mirrored the fear in my own.

"WHERE ARE YOU!" my father shouted angrily, punching walls as he stalked down the hall. The house was tiny. He knew I'd come back for my mom. He knew I was there.

My mom's fingers wrapped around my arm and she whimpered in fear as his feet came into view. There was a tiny wooden window behind me, leading into the dilapidated garage. I knew we'd never make it out in time. Besides, my father kept a padlock on the doors for that very reason.

We've tried everything at least once.

He inhaled slowly and a creak broke the silence. He'd made it into my room. My mother moved closer and we ducked as low as we could, watching the shadow linger then slowly move across the wall. He was moving. Coming around. He was going to see us.

Tensing, I turned our bodies so that my mother was behind me. I saw my father's flannel shirt before I saw his face.

"Well, well," he chuckled as I stood up, pulling my mother up behind me. She trembled, whimpering, her face pushing into my back. "There you are."

Shivering, I kept my hands behind me, held my mom, and whispered, "I-I'm sorry."

My father tilted his head, "You're sorry? The boy is sorry..."

He stepped closer, backing us up into my nightstand. "Tell me, sorry for what? For deceiving me?" He moved closer. "For... saying all those things about me?" Stepped again. "Or... is it that you're sorry for punching me, your father, in the face?"

"Edward," my mother cried, desperate.

"I'm sorry, please. Don't hurt her. She has nothing to do with this."

He sneered. "You brought her into this. Should've left her in the room, where she was."

I tensed.

"But you went and fucked it all up, didn't you?"

I took a short breath and held it again.

"Didn't you?!" he shouted, his face a mere inch from mine.

Trembling, I whispered, "Yes."

The briefest of seconds passed, and I watched him rock back and raise his fist.

I heard the sound of a bitter crunch and a loud pop, but nothing else.

All I saw was a room painted black.


----AUTHOR'S NOTES----

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