""Eternity begins and ends with the ocean's tides."
~ Unknown


Ragweeds.
Chapter Six : Currents & Tides.
As the demons inside The Volturi Center start to circle, Edward and Bella discover a fragile new trust....
(Pictures of kids + more have been added to profile)


Special Shout-Out's:
-- To my faithful readers/reviewers/twilighters/facebookers/lexiconers.... Over a thousand reviews all ready!! WOW!! Keep it up!! You all truly keep me motivated. I'm sorry the chapter wasn't posted last night, was caught up in lackage of internet drama. Damn computer conspiracies! And guess what! Ragweeds has been nominated for the 2009 Twilight Awards, as is TEF! It still needs 3 more votes to be considered as an "official nominee". There's info in the profile, be sure to read the first page of the link for all the details. Thank you so much to whomever nominates(ed) my stories. Be sure to vote for your favorites!!!
-- To my beta Caryn (Jazz Girl)... Thank you for providing a shoulder, a voice, an ear, and any other appendage I might need. (Haha, that sounds funny.) My day isn't complete without your presence, and your input. I don't know how I do anything without you!
-- Special shout-out to one of my besties, Aura (Rebecca's Mom) for your constant help with finding pictures for this story. You know how to pick apart my brain, and I love you endlessly for it, as well as the time & effort you put into this. I owe you the moon! (Tell Estela I say hello and to write me back when she can, haha!)
Disclaimer: I own nothing that is Twilight or Stephenie Meyer related. (But I busted my ass to write this story. Do not take what is not yours.)



" All the consequences...
I have lost control.
Love has left.
All the things you've done, I adore you.
All the things you gave me, I adore...
And now I hear the sound... of a new song.
Now I hear the sound...."
~ Robin Foster, "Goodnight & God Bless"


Chapter Six : Currents & Tides

EdwardPOV

I chewed the skin around my thumb nail and stared at my psych book. The words flowed across the pages, lines of text turning to streams, a churning, swollen river. I couldn't focus. My eyes, still tired and growing weak, didn't want to cooperate with me. "I'm thinking about shaving my head," I said with a sigh, turning to my right. "What do you think?"

Angela slid the black-rimmed glasses down her nose and dropped the side of her face into her palm, before turning back to me. "Me too."

"No," I said dryly. "I'm serious."

"Why would you want to shave your head, Edward?"

"I'm sick of the nicknames. Alec is driving me nuts with that shit."

"I'm sure your roots are copper, too."

"Then I'll shave it completely. No hair at all."

Angela let out a tired groan and was hushed by the kids who were actually trying to do their work. "Then they'll just call you baldy," she whispered hastily. "So it's really pointless to do it."

My legs bounced beneath the graffitied wooden table where we sat, as if they had been soaked in caffeine until it absorbed through the bone. It'd been over a week since I'd been in the basement, which was my escape. Over a week since I had someone besides Angela to talk to... or not to talk to, for that matter. Other than the few times we'd pass in the halls and exchange shy smiles or cautious expressions, I hadn't seen Bella around. She wouldn't show up in the study class we had together. She took her lunch out of the cafeteria. I didn't know where she went or what was on her mind, but I constantly wondered about it. I was tempted to follow her one day, see what she was up to, but then she'd probably think that I was a stalker.

But I couldn't get the girl off my mind. And for that, maybe I was a stalker. Who the fuck knows.

I needed an escape. I was starting to lose my mind. I dropped my head on my arms and closed my eyes, imagining the sound of waves crashing, or the smell of a fresh pool, glowing blue and waiting for me. That's what I needed. That's what would make me better. Sitting for hours at my old high school in Forks, beside a shimmering heaven. I could swim in silence, like a fish in an aquarium. The water carried me. It embraced me. It washed away my pain and nurtured my happiness. And now, it was gone. Like ink smeared on torn journal entries, my serenity vanished as if it had never been there in the first place.

School was school. Kids were kids. Counselors were counselors. And hours passed endlessly.

By the end of the week, my entire body had become a tangle of taut wires, exhaustion, anger, and longing. I felt my brain throb, my chest clench. My mother's letters came more frequently, but were more depressing.

What should I think about life? the last one read. Should I praise it for allowing me the power I needed light years before, or curse it into damnation for allowing him to rip apart our bones for so long? Where is the justice? Where is the pat of hands upon my back? News travels fast here at the hospital. People inquire about you, ask how you're handling your own demons, and I tell them you're my son and you're doing fine. Do you hear me, Edward? You ARE my son. I didn't have the courage to define you as that back then, or the strength to tell you that I loved you when your eyes begged me to. I was too far gone, like a magician's last trick, vanished into the smoke. I was ashamed of what I'd allowed. Every bruise, every break you carried, was for me, and I didn't want that, but I was too weak to pull him from you. But guess what, my beautiful son. I found that strength, when I needed it most. And he'll never hurt you again. So I guess, for that, I found my justice after all. Now, I'm just waiting for the pat.

My mother. The weakest link turned iron man.

~*~

The following evening brought more clouds. I hadn't realized I'd been looking aimlessly for Bella until I found her. She sat on an empty basketball court, in the sprinkling rain, with what appeared to be a worn sketchbook in her lap. She drew, I thought to myself. I hadn't known that about her. I didn't know anything. But, still, somehow, I felt left out.

Ignoring the fact that I was supposed to be in a therapy meeting, I threw the black hood of my sweatshirt over my head and jogged over to her. Cold drops of water fell, washing the dirt off the grass and making it new again. The air from my lungs clouded in front of my face the way steam did from a train. "Hey. You okay?"

She cleared her throat and curled the sketchbook into her chest, hiding whatever she was working on from me. "H-how are you?"

"The same," I answered simply. "What are you doing out here in the rain? I thought you didn't like water."

There was a cut on her lip. A fresh one. She nodded solemnly, gazing down at the darkening pavement beneath her. "I don't. But I needed to get out of there."

I glanced around the empty yard, noticed a few kids staring back at us from the glass inside the building, then plopped down in front of her. I'd rather catch Pneumonia with this girl than be inside and miserable, or worse, in confinement for hitting those who scarred her. "What are you working on there?"

"A drawing of my mom."

I hesitated, not wanting to push to hard. "May I see it?" I asked softly.

Her eyes bounced quickly to mine, probably not expecting my blunt request, or the fact that I'd invited myself to sit with her without permission. Without a single word, she turned the sketchbook around and ducked her head, ashamed of her work. My chest throbbed as I stared at the symmetric charcoal lines, the ebb and flow of the beginning resemblance to beautiful, pale fingers. "Why only her hands?"

The honey behind Bella's lashes filled with a watery glaze, but she blinked it away. She shrugged the pain off as easily as she could. "It's the last thing I saw of her," she replied gently. "I'm trying to keep it in my memory, but no matter how many times I've drawn it, it's never right." Bella flipped the pages angrily, brief glimpses of sketch after sketch of flawless hands, folded, posed artistically, holding coffee cups, cigarettes, half-glasses of wine, or clutching another set of hands similar to their own. Each piece of art was made to be hung on a wall somewhere, for all the world to see. Not trapped in binding and cardboard.

"What are you talking about?" I furrowed my brows. "They look amazing."

Bella snapped the sketchbook closed and shoved the charcoal stems in her pocket. "No. They don't." The shell had hardened around her, and I frowned in regret. I didn't know what to do, or how to apologize and make her feel better. I wasn't sure if she wanted me to leave, but she didn't ask, and I didn't want to.

I pulled the hood further down my forehead, and watched the rain splatter around us, getting heavier. I said the only thing that came to mind. "...It's good to see you, Bella."

She looked up at the same time I did and our eyes met. "Yeah," she said, the corner of her lips threatening to curl upward. "You too."

~*~

The next day, I did not want to get out of bed. I lay there for hours, pulled the covers over my head, and prayed for my brain to stop working. By the time two o'clock came around, I didn't have a choice, and forced myself to shower. My entire body felt like a metal slab. Heavy, stiff, and uncooperative.

"Edward," Miss Johnson greeted me as I strolled into the kitchen, "we've been looking everywhere for you!"

"We?"

Her hand found my back, and she turned me around to walk in her direction. "Come on. I have someone I want you to meet." Miss Johnson led me into her office, closed the door behind us, and motioned for me to take the only available seat in the tiny space. "Edward Cullen, I'd like you to meet Renee Anderson."

A tall, skinny lady with strong features and shoulder-length brown hair rose from her chair, clumsily pushed her portfolio to the seat, and extended her hand. "Hello Edward. It's so nice to meet you."

"Renee is going to be taking over your case, Edward," Miss Johnson explained with a smile.

I studied the woman before me, noting all her innocence and willing-to-please expression. "Nice to meet you, too."

~*~

Renee took me to Burger King. It felt good to get out. She ordered herself an iced coffee and large fry, and the largest combo meal available for me. We sat in the corner by the window so we could have some privacy. She spoke with volume and used her hands to emphasize her words. Her eyes never lost any excitement. She laughed whenever the sarcasm rang in my voice, though I didn't talk much. She told me a few jokes of her own, some which would not be considered age-appropriate, which was awesome. She reminded me more of someone my age than her own. I wondered how old she was.

"You're quite shy, aren't you?" she asked, tossing me a third ketchup packet.

I shrugged with a slight smile. "You could say that."

Renee was very intuitive. Dingy, but clever. Around most people, I was shy. At The Volt, my anger got the best from me, and the majority of the time I opened my mouth, it was to yell at Alec. But any time I was away from there, when all the pressure lifted off my shoulders, I became the quiet guy who was well-mannered and polite. I had even been called a gentleman by some people. It all flooded back. And, it further convinced me that The Volturi Center had a demon inside of it. You could only breathe when you escape.

Once we finished eating, I cleared the table. Renee pulled out her briefcase and a pack of Marlboro's. "Mind if I smoke?"

"Go ahead."

She held out one for me and raised her eyebrow. She was much cooler than any of my other caseworkers. I grinned and took it. "This is a nasty habit," I said as I lit hers, then mine. She didn't comment on my lighter or ask me to hand it over. "I never smoked until I was put in that place."

"Yeah," she said, adjusting the sunglasses on her head as she picked up another stack of papers. She wasn't the most organized. I liked that. "It says in here that you enjoy swimming. I find it hard to believe you've accomplished all these school records with a nicotine habit."

"It eliminates stress," I blew the smoke away from her face. "I'll stop when I get out."

She grinned and pulled out a manila folder. "Well, the good news is, you won't become addicted."

"Why's that?"

Renee's smile grew wide as she slid some papers toward me. "Because Billy Black would love for you to come and live with him. You've been placed, Edward."


BellaPOV

"Hey beautiful Bella."

Squinting my eyes, I turned to my left, and found Demetri taking a seat beside me on the couch. "Please don't call me that."

"I was only trying to cheer you up. Put a smile on that pale face of yours."

I sighed.

"So," he grinned. "What's up?"

"I have a headache."

"I'm sorry to hear that. How have you been lately?"

"You know," I sighed heavily, clutching the pillow that lay on my lap, "for just one day, I really wish I didn't have to hear or answer that question."

He looked taken back. "Forgive me for being concerned."

"No, it's not that. It's not you. I just... That's all everyone does. The therapists, the counselors, the nurse, the lunch lady in the kitchen, the woman at the front desk, my caseworker, the janitor... It's annoying."

"Bella, I'm with you. I'm not a caseworker or anyone else around here. But I haven't seen you around lately and I thought I'd visit with you for a while. If you want me to go, just say it."

"Thanks," I replied shortly, shaking my head. Demetri was sweet. I knew I shouldn't push the few people away who actually made an attempt to get to know me. That didn't mean I was in the mood for company. But I didn't have the heart to tell him to leave, either.

"What are you thinking about so heavily over there?"

"About Tylenol."

"Is your headache that bad?"

I gave a nod.

Demetri took my hand and pulled me off the couch, faster than I could blink. "Come on. I'll help you out with that."

"No, it's ok-"

"Oh come on. Don't be a baby. I won't hurt you or eat you or anything... unless-"

"Don't even say it," I cut him off. He gave a narcissistic smirk and continued pulling me down the hall, carefully avoiding the front desk monitors, and into the bedroom he slept in.

"Wow." I looked around, noticing this room was much nicer than all of the rest, with only one other bed besides his. "How did you get this?"

"I'm privileged," he said, using his fingers to emphasize the word. He chuckled and removed a book bag from beneath his bed, shaking his head. "It's great, hmm?"

"Yeah. I'd give anything for something like this. Must be nice to have privacy..."

"Oh, it is." Demetri pulled out a clear baggie stuffed in a tiny compartment in the bag, opened my palm, and shoved four white pills inside. "There. That should get you through for a few days. Only take one for now though."

My fingers began to tremble as I stared at the tablets. "Wh-what are these?"

"It'll get rid of your headache much faster than Tylenol will, trust me."

"B-but what are th-these?"

"They're Vicod-"

Before he finished the word, a wailing scream escaped my throat, raw and vivid. I threw my hand in the air, flinging the pills across the hardwood floor. They crashed to the ground like puzzle pieces. I hadn't realized how I had reacted until I noticed Demetri on the floor in front of me, with his hand over my mouth in a failed attempt muffle my screams. I had backed all the way into the very bottom of his closet, and curled up into a fetal position.

Flashes of my mom's lifeless body hit me hard and fast, the empty bottle on the ground, the pills scattered across the white carpet of her bedroom. Over and over, the scene played out. She's dead, she's dead, she's dead...

"Bella, you have to calm down!" he said, his eyes frantically searching the room. The baggie had been thrown to the floor. The remaining pills were scattered in plain sight. "Bella! Please!"

"She's dead!" I heard my voice shouting, as he tried to cover my mouth again. "She's dead, she's dead, she's dead!"

My mother's laughter floated through my mind, her beautiful teeth and red lips and gorgeous eyes. Then, my mind flashed to her lifeless body, her eyes wide, drained and lifeless. Then she was reaching out to me, pushing me on the swing set. Then, her pale hand dangled off of the stretcher.

I couldn't get a grip on what was going on. Flash, flash, flash. Her eyes, her voice, her body. Flash, flash, flash. Alive, lifeless, alive. Over and over, she spun around in my head, made me spin around.

"She's dead! Oh my God, she's dead!" I cried, my tears pouring from my lashes and across his fingers as he tried harder to silence me. "Mom! No! Mommy! Nooooooo!! No, no, please MOM! MOM!!"

Demetri struggled to hold my body as the flashes moved quicker and quicker, like a film set to fast-forward at maximum speed. I heard my voice bouncing around the walls, felt my knuckles grow white from the strain of me squeezing something in my hands. In the fog-like state, I watched as three sets of feet scrambled into Demetri's room. I tried to understand what they were shouting, but heard nothing over my own strangled screams. They dropped to their knees in front of me, and the lady from the front desk, a nurse, and my therapist's hands all reached out to me. But I cowered deeper into the closet, until I was sat on top of a crate of shoes.

Suddenly, the room around me went completely white and got very quiet. I was no longer there with them. In the middle of the fog, I noticed that a lady facing away from me, in heels, dark jeans, a jacket, and scarf, with her long hair blowing to one side. It was cold in the middle of all the white snow. I ran as fast as I could, desperate to get to her. "MOM!" I cried, trying to catch my breath. "Mommy! Turn around! I'm here, Mom. Mom!"

"Help us!" Someone shouted, echoing and distant. "Get a nurse!"

I couldn't focus on them, didn't dare lose her. I couldn't see her face, but I knew that was my mom. I'd know her shape anywhere. Her smell. Her presence. I had to get closer, had to touch her again. The snow weighed me down. I screamed her name as loud as possible, until the distance between us closed. I watched as her feet, then her hips, then her chest, then her face turned to look at me. When I finally reached her, I extended my hands, desperate to hug her close to me. Her beautiful brown eyes, eyes that had been filled with so much life, suddenly went pitch black. Her ivory face tinted to a disturbing shade of blue. Then, her glossy lips opened, and became parched.

My mom dropped into the snow. She was unmoving. I wanted to scream.

It wasn't snow on which she lay now. It was a mountain of white Vicodin pills.

And I was standing over her lifeless body, once again, unable to reach her in time.

"MOM!" I screamed as loud as I could, praying to rewind time. I stared at her body, cold and empty, and dropped to my knees in front of her. My hands shook. I sobbed her name, touched her chapped lips with my trembling, cold fingers. She was so beautiful. Always beautiful. "Mommy," I whispered, choking on the pain in my throat. "Please wake up..."

"No, don't! Get away! Carl, get him!"

"Just give me a moment."

"No-"

"Just, give me a damn minute!"

I lay my face onto my mom's chest, used my hands to shove as many pills away from her body as I could. They kept floating back, tried to cover her. They were going to overtake her again. I couldn't allow it. I pushed more away.

"...Bella..."

"Mommy, please stay with me," I sobbed as I pushed the hair from her ears. I placed my lips next to them, wiped the desperation and wetness from my own lashes. "...Please stay."

"...Bella, can you hear me?" It was not my mom's voice, which I wanted so desperately to hear. But, it was another familiar voice, full of comfort.

"Edward, this isn't going to work. She's having P.T.S.D! She thinks she's somewhere else! You are not a doc-"

"Just shut the hell up!" the echoing voice hissed, somewhere in the distance of all the white that surrounded my mother and I. "You don't know what she's going through! I do!"

I stared at the pink rose flush, still across her cheeks. It happened again, and I was too late. It was so fresh, so real. All over, the pain pulled me down. "...Mommy..."

"...Bella..." his angelic voice said again, getting a little louder now. "I want you to listen to my voice. Are you with your mom right now?"

"She's dead," I whimpered as the tremors shook through me. "I saw her. I tried to make it in time, but I didn't. I still couldn't get to her."

"Bella, listen to me. I need you to hear my-"

"Give her the shot, Carl! We need to sedate her so she can stabilize-"

"Wait!" he barked, as a sudden warmth touched my shivering hands. "Fucking wait!"

He let out a heavy sigh, and his voice was calm again. Soothing, even. "Can you feel my hands, Bella?"

I nodded and stared down at my mom's face, which was beginning to blur. "Don't go," I whispered. "Please-"

More warmth surrounded me. The smell of Demetri's closet came flooding back, and the white surrounding my mother and I began to fade quickly.

"Bella, I'm right here with you. You're not alone, do you hear me?"

I whispered my mom's name, until she vanished from my sight. Then I sat in the blackness and felt the heaviness of being empty settle back over me.

"Stay with me, Bella. I know how you're feeling, where you are right now. I know you feel nothing."

I sniffled, wiping my nose. The angel was right. I saw only black now. The numbing sensation covered my body. I welcomed it all. She was gone. I didn't want to be here. Anywhere.

"Please know you're not alone," he whispered thickly, as a quick poke entered my right arm.

The angel sobbed and brushed the hair from my face, whispering to me as the darkness grew heavier. "You're not alone, Bella. I'm here... I'm here." I wanted to reach out and comfort him. Angels shouldn't cry. But, I couldn't. The dark pulled at me.

~*~

I had been to Heaven. At least, something like it. I didn't know what Heaven looked like, but I had been inside of it, with her. I touched her mouth. She kissed my fingers. She whispered to me that I wasn't alone, that she loved me still. And then she had vanished into the clouds.

When I came to, I inhaled the familiar smell of plastic, bleach, and leather. I knew exactly where I was, and it wasn't with my mom. I had been cut up far too many times to get that nasty smell out of my head. My home away from home... not that I had a home. The nurse's station.

The popcorn ceiling welcomed me. I blinked up at it, trying to remember what had happened to put me back there. Did I fall? Did Sheena's friends jump me again? Why couldn't I remember much?

"Welcome back."

The low, hoarse voice to my left startled me. I let out a gasp and clutched my chest, jerking my eyes left to get a good look at him. My eyes struggled to focus. It took a moment for the white to fade, for his features to set into view. He adjusted the worn collar of his plaid shirt and leaned in, folding his hands together. His mouth parted and he blinked in thought, contemplating his words. The only thing I hoped was that he didn't ask me how I was. And, as if he could read minds, he didn't. "Did you sleep well?"

I laid my head back against the paper covered pillow and rubbed my eyes. "How long have I been like this?"

"A few hours."

"Wh-what happened?" My voice was rough, scratchy. But I couldn't remember if it was from lack of use or overuse.

"You..." Edward paused and scratched the back of his head, once again choosing his words. I wished he wouldn't do that. It made me feel like he was walking on egg shells. Like everyone else. "Bella, maybe we should discuss what put you here after you're able to gather your bearings."

I nodded, still tired, and closed my eyes, wishing I didn't feel so stiff and that he wouldn't avoid my questions. "Why are you here?"

He exhaled slowly. When he didn't reply, I turned to look at him again. Silence filled the passing minutes. We studied each other's unreadable expressions. Finally, he answered. "...I don't know."

"Wh-what do you mean, you don't know?"

He massaged his face and shook his head, staring down at the ground. His brows furrowed. The muscles in his neck tightened, as did his knuckles when he clenched his hands into fists. "I just got back. I walked in the front door, and.... I heard you. All the way down the hall, around the corner, I heard you, and... I don't know."

"Stop saying you don't know," I snapped, wincing at the sharp pain in my head. I rubbed it away. "Just tell me what happened."

Edward closed his eyes and growled in frustration. Then he was on his feet. He began pacing around the room, in front of the tiny bed where I lay. "I heard you. You were screaming. At first, I thought that maybe Demetri was doing something…wrong." He seemed to hesitate over the last word, like he meant something else. "I knew his room was down there. So I ran, because I wanted to make sure you were okay. I don't know why. I mean, it wasn't my business. But I couldn't let him hurt you, you know? Hell. I don't even know. I mean, you had to be hurting. People don't scream like that, unless they're hurt, or scared, or both. I know that type of scream. I've heard it all my life. But then you called for your mother, and I-"

Edward paused and stared at me, his trembling hands patting his chest. "...I'd been there before. I didn't have anyone, when the realization came, and I knew how scary it was. I didn't want you to go through that! I mean. Fuck! I don't know, maybe I shouldn't have bothered, but... I couldn't... I had to..."

He inhaled and stepped closer, leaning over the foot of my bed. His emerald eyes stared into mine, searching for something. "I had to make sure that you were safe. Don't ask me why. I just... Bella, I had to know."

Blinking, I nodded back at him, unable to respond.

Edward took a minute before he pushed off the bed and began to pace again. His fingers tugged at his hair. "Fuck!" he cursed, looking up at the ceiling. "I'm sorry. I probably shouldn't have interfered. Like I said, it wasn't my business, but I-"

"No, it's okay." I shook my head, trying to catch my breath. He was the one walking in circles, but I felt my lungs tightening, the dizziness coming. "It's okay," I said again. "I'm... I'm glad you did." I closed my eyes and braced my head, trying to slow it all down. "Would you please stop pacing like that?!" Boots squeaked across the tile floors. When I opened my eyes, he was still, staring back at me. I exhaled and dropped my hands. "Thank you."

Edward inhaled slowly and nodded his head.

"No Edward," I replied, studying his eyes. "Really. Thank you."

The buzzing from the light above us grew louder in the echoing silence. Edward walked over to me and took his seat beside the bed again. "You should rest more," he sighed, leaning back against the leather. "I'll be here when you wake up."

I figured I should tell him he didn't have to. He probably had somewhere else he'd rather be; not supervising the nutjob. But I didn't want to be alone. And, more than that, I didn't want him to go. So I closed my eyes and did as he said. I had a feeling there wasn't a point in arguing with him.

The Volturi Center was quiet for once. Occasionally, I'd hear people passing, the squeaks from their shoes or murmuring of their voices. I listened as the nurse came in and checked on me a few times, putting a cold wash cloth on my forehead. But the last thing I remember was when they told him to go to his bed, that he didn't need to be there. I grew anxious, knowing that the cold would return once he left. It always did when I was alone. I wanted to open my eyes and beg them, but they were too heavy. I couldn't voice my request.

"I'm not leaving until she orders me away," he said simply.

Those few words gave such simple reassurance. I sighed in contentment and finally allowed the exhaustion to take me.


EdwardPOV

I didn't sleep. Again.

I refused to be unavailable to Bella, just in case she needed me. I stayed with her through the night and didn't expect anything in return, other than the relief that she could rest. Her innocent smile and shy thank you was more than a reward to me this morning. In such little time, the effect this girl had on me was huge.

"Knock, knock!" Renee pulled me out of my thoughts, tapping her knuckles on the frame of the room I shared. "How are you doing?"

I gave a slow shrug, blinking my tired eyes. My voice was still hoarse and barely audible. "Fine."

"You don't sound fine."

"No, I'm fine," I insisted, sitting on my bunk bed. I had the bottom bunk. Lucky for me, I didn't get a pisser above my bed. Darren, across the hall, had that privilege. "What's up?"

"You have a gift." She handed me a large box, wrapped in artistic, handmade paper, which looked rather expensive. I furrowed my brows, giving her a cautious look. Renee simply smiled at me. "From your soon-to-be foster dad. Sort of a pre-welcome home gift." My arms felt like lead as I ripped the package open. Renee pulled out her keys and helped me cut the tape sealing the lid. Then I removed the contents and tried to figure out exactly what they were and why I would need them. Renee giggled and patted my back. "They're the start of a... very large present."

"Gloves, kneepads, and a helmet?"

"A... very large present with wheels," she clarified with a large grin.

I looked over at her and shook my head. "I don't understand."

Renee's hands lifted in front of her, turning invisible handles. "Vroom, vroom?"

I almost fell off the mattress once the realization of what this all meant had settled in. Why his boys couldn't make it to meet me. The race. "A-Are you kidding me?"

"Nope."

"He purchased a dirt bike for me?!"

"Yep."

I stood up and stared at the intricate green and black designs on them. "No, no, he can't do that. It's too much, I couldn't acce-"

"Relax, okay? Some parents like to buy gifts for children. It's nothing unusual. Don't look at is as a bribe or anything. He wouldn't want you to get the wrong idea. He isn't trying to buy you. This is just his way of saying, welcome to his family, and he hopes that it will work out."

I stared at them for the longest time. It was surreal. "No one's ever given me anything like this, Renee... Not even like the gloves and helmet."

"What do you mean?"

"Everything I own is hand-me-downs. Worn out." I tapped the toe of my dirty boot against the floor.

Renee curled her arm over my shoulders and pulled me into her side, a motherly type of embrace I wasn't used to. "Well... maybe this is a sign that things aren't going back the way they were. You deserve better, Edward. So... stick with me, and trust where I guide you. It's okay to let him give you a fresh start. You'll see."

~*~

The day lengthened. In the prolonged twilight, I finished my chores, hung my clothes, turned my mother's letter into the outbox at the front desk, and moved into the rec room where all the other kids were.

I glanced up in time to find Bella entering from the opposite direction. Her face had more color in it than ever before. It may seem selfish, but I felt a little proud, believing that maybe I had something to do with that. It would have been nice if someone had put some color in my face, back when I was in her place. Unfortunately, then, I was a battered ship without a sail. Sometimes, I still felt lost at sea.

Her eyes met mine. The warmth flooded through me, and I gave her a tender smile.

"Copperhead, you wanna join Heidi and me for a game of pool?"

I glared over at Alec, who seemed to be hanging all over a new arrival. Poor girl. "I'd rather drink bleach," I sneered at him. Alec continued babbling on and on as Bella came toward me. I pretended he spoke a foreign language, and that I couldn't understand a word from his lips.

"Hey," Bella's voice whispered, timid again. Her eyes were cast to the floor. "We meet again," she giggled softly. Instinctively, my hand shot out before me, and I lifted her chin with my finger. Her lips parted when our eyes rejoined.

"We can only meet if you look at me," I replied sincerely.

Bella licked her lips, then scraped her teeth across the bottom one. She began to speak but decided against it. Her eyes flitted as she finally met mine. "...I, um... I w-wanted to say th-"

"Don't," I shook my head. "Don't worry about that. I just want you to feel good."

Bella's head dropped but I lifted it back up, forcing her to look at me. "Edward," she sighed. "...I don't know if I'll ever feel good again. I don't know how to."

"Sure you do."

"No," she frowned. "I don't think I do."

"Well," I thought for a second, replaying everything I knew about her. It wasn't much to go on. "You... like to draw, don't you? Doesn't that make you smile?"

She shrugged. "I guess."

"Then you should do that. Whatever it takes."

Her arms crossed over her chest, but not in a protective way. Her honey eyes narrowed as she stared up into mine. And, for some reason, all I could think about was our height difference. It was quite cute. "Can I draw you?"

I didn't expect that response. "Uhhh, what?"

"Can I draw you?" she asked again, speaking each word slower. Like I was dumb. I chuckled under my breath. "What, like a nude model?" A rose colored flush crossed her ivory cheeks, and her fist lifted to conceal it. Too late Bella. I all ready saw it.

"Y-you don't have to be," she stammered, blushing deeper now. "I didn't say anything about nudity."

"I was fucking with you, Bella." I cocked an eyebrow at her interesting assumption.

Her eyes steadied on mine, and her lips parted. She was definitely adorable. "Oh. Okay. Well, um, so, is that a yes?"

I shrugged my shoulders, "Sure. Show me what you got."

Bella gathered her supplies and met me in my secret spot, in the corner of the basement by the broken screen door. She moved the crates around and sat me directly across from her, a few feet covering the distance. I made my posture stiff, tall, and unmoving. Bella slouched over her tablet, and gave me an annoying glare. "You don't have to sit like that."

"Like what?"

"Like you're wearing a back brace."

"Maybe I want you to draw me in one."

"Edward," she groaned, becoming more feisty. I decided I liked that side of her. "Are you going to be like this all night?"

"Well, why don't you come over here and position me how you want me?"

Her face filled with more rose color, and I couldn't help but chuckle. How deep did this girl's mind go? When she rose to her feet, her sketchpad crashed to the floor, and the pages splattered everywhere. She was clumsy when she picked it all back up, and I figured that I liked that about her, too. I held my breath and tried not to laugh. She sighed and threw her hands on her hips. "Why are you being so... difficult?"

"Maybe I enjoy getting a rise out of you?"

"I think you should find another hobby."

"I'm liking this one."

"I don't want to be your hobby," she insisted as she slapped her hands on my shoulder and moved me around. That sensational, crazy current flew threw my body, making me sit taller in the seat. Bella gasped and clutched my shirt, staring down at me. "S-sorry," she said, though she had nothing to apologize for. This wasn't the type of jolt that you received from static. It was... lasting. I tried to shrug it off, but words failed me. She cleared her throat and began again. When I wouldn't budge, she shook me around a bit.

"God, would you loosen up?!" she growled, forcing me to laugh. "I don't think you're funny at all."

"Whatever," I chuckled. "I'm wonderful. Admit it."

"No."

I reached my hand up and tapped her left cheek, and noticed her fighting away a smile. "Oh come on," I insisted, grinning up at her. "You know you want to."

She smacked my hand away and pushed it toward my lap. "Don't touch the artist."

I stayed quiet as she positioned me. I couldn't help but think that it was how I sat last night, when I watched her sleep, with my elbows on my knees, my hands folded, and me leaning toward her. I wondered if she knew that's how I'd spent the night. The thought silenced me. It seemed easy for this girl to make me lose my words.

Bella fell into a deep concentration while she worked, and I did my best to remain still and be good. But after a long while, it became boring sitting so still. Not that I didn't find comfort in the way she concentrated, or how her lips parted when she got to a specific part, or how her lashes fluttered slowly mid-stroke. But I had to make this a little more interesting. I was dying to see her smile. Plus I had a cramp or two in my neck.

First I stuck out my tongue. That didn't work. Then I began to flick it around and cross my eyes. She still wouldn't budge. Inspecting the floor, I picked up two clothes pins and stuck them on my ears, making sure not to snap the skin. She huffed and dropped the tablet. "Would you stop?"

"Smile."

"No! I'm trying to draw you!"

"I'm not stopping you."

"Edward."

"Bella."

She pursed her lips, and her stare became a little more ferocious. She reminded me of a lioness, right before it bit off its preys' head. But I still found her cute. "Can you at least remove the clothes thingies?"

"Did you just ask me to remove my clothes?" I teased.

"Clothes pins," she quickly corrected, flushing again.

I had to laugh. "If you smile."

She forced one out, closed-lipped and tight. I shook my head. "Not good enough. I wanna see some teeth." Exhaling in an annoyed fashion, she bared a full set, her eyes bulging wide. I laughed so hard, I almost fell off the crate. "That's better," I replied. "Was that so tough?"

"Yes. Now will you please focus?"

I kept on my best behavior until the very end, when she finally dropped her pencil. By that point, I was too stiff to make an effort. I needed oil to un-rust my bones. "Ohhh," I groaned, stretching my limbs, "God, it hurts sitting in one spot for so long. I think my ass is going to have permanent markings from the holes in that crate."

She sighed, walked behind me, and held out her artwork for me to see. "You're being a baby."

I pulled the sketchbook from her hands and was surprised when her fingers found my neck. They trembled as she kneaded the sore muscles. I could tell she was unnerved by her timid ministrations, and so was I. But we tried not to make that point obvious.

The familiar warming current came between us. And between that and the amazing artistry that was Bella's sketch, I'd become completely content. I didn't expect what I saw, not even when I witnessed the drawing's of her mom's hands. This was better than any mirror. Bella's eyes captured me in ways that my own couldn't. She highlighted the specks of gold in my eyes. She caught the crimson in my bronzed hair, enhanced the texture of my lips, pinpointed the line of my jaw... This wasn't how I saw myself at all. This was how she saw me. And I didn't feel worthy. For the first time in my entire life, I felt my cheeks warm into a blush, and I looked down to conceal it.

"What?" She quickly walked around me, mistaking my silent reaction for the worst. "Is it bad? Do you hate it? Oh God, give it back."

I clutched the sketch in my fingers and shook my head, gathering myself together. I had no idea how, but I was overwhelmed, utterly swept up in her mind. Her talent floored me. The girl had a gift. "This is the most amazing thing I've ever seen in my life Bella," I explained softly. "...Thank you for this."

She dropped to her knees in front of me, fiddled with her thumbs, and bit her lip, "A-are you sure? I can re-do it. I mean, it's not per-"

"No, it is," I reassured her quickly, meeting her eyes once again. "It is perfect, Bella. I... never thought anyone would see me this way, even for one second."

Bella ran her fingers through her hair, never breaking eye-contact with me. "This is the way people see you, Edward... At least, I do. In fact, it doesn't do it justice, but I mean, I don't think I'll ever make it right." She fiddled with her fingers again, still uncomfortable. "I mean, like you said, we don't know each other but... I can tell you're nice. I feel I know who you are, even though it's impossible. I see the things that others may not, and I feel blessed to." She dropped her eyes and covered her face, shaking her head wildly. "I'm scaring you, aren't I? I'm not making any sense-"

I cut her off carefully, lifting her chin back up. "Why don't you tell me what you mean?"

She sighed and tilted her head, studying me once more. "You calm me, Edward. And it's scary how easy that calm comes. I don't know you. I don't know your favorite color, or food, or song. I have no idea what you want to be. I don't know how you spent your last Christmas, and I don't know if you wear boxers or briefs -- not that I should be thinking about that -- but, ugh. When everything gets thrown around and the sky begins to flip... sometimes, I can feel you in the building, and knowing that you're here, that you're the only person I believe won't hurt me, ...that's all it takes for me to find gravity again. I know I'm probably freaking you out, and you think I'm some stalkerish freak and I swear I'm not, bu-"

"I know exactly what you mean."

She stopped speaking and pulled back a few inches. I didn't look away.

"I know what you mean, Bella," I repeated. "I cannot explain it any better than you can, but... there's something... strange... going on. I've become dependent on the comfort you bring by walking down the same hall as I do, even if you've walked it hours before. Simply knowing someone in here isn't out for blood or glory, knowing that I have someone to share my secret place with, and trusting that you won't tell anyone... I... I think you're a great person, and I don't want to see this place swallow you up. I want you to feel safe. And, I'm not sure if you want me to, but, if you do, then I'll do my part to make sure that happens."

Her eyes became puzzled. "What do you mean?"

I sighed and folded my fingers together, fighting the urge to touch her. "This place is hell. Yes, it's a roof over your head. But it's a bottomless pit, too. I've seen the worst come out of people, and it will damage you more than the streets. Look... I want to be your friend. I've never really had any, aside from Angela, but I do want that. And... I may not be able to take you away from here, but I'll do whatever I can to save you from the darkness. I promise."

She exhaled slowly and looked to the ground. Her frame trembled. "Edward, this is crazy... We don't know anything about each other. I could be some psycho who's come down to the basement with you just so I could hack you into pieces."

"Well, as long as the pieces turn out as amazing as that artwork there, I won't care," I grinned. "Hey. Look at me."

Her tongue swept over her lips before she did as I asked.

I gave a gentle smile. "I'll take my chances with you. I want us to learn how to trust, and with time, I'd love it if you would let me in. I want you to be able to come to me if you need someone."

Her honey eyes turned warm and inviting. Mine reflected that feeling. "...I'll let you in," she eventually whispered. "...I will."

I glanced back at the sketch, stroked my fingers across the pencil lines. Bella looked at me differently than the others. I wasn't an outcast to her, some poor guy who was washed out and deserted. In this drawing, Bella didn't put any of my scars, bruises, or broken memories. This was the person I wanted to be.

It held all the reassurance I needed.


BellaPOV

The rain was endless. Much worse than the other side of Seattle, where my home was. I felt as if I were walking on quicksand every time I stepped out into the yard. My shoes could never stay clean. I didn't try to wash them anymore. We had to place pots and jugs in the corners of the building to catch the leaks. We took turns emptying them in the yard.

Demetri wouldn't speak to me. Once I figured out the details of what happened, I tried to approach him, to make my apology. He looked at me like I would fall to pieces if he so much as exhaled. He got into serious trouble for having the pills. The private bedroom and all of his privileges were taken, all because of me and my mental breakdown. I didn't blame him for being angry. I was angry at myself.

Meetings and counseling sessions continued. It didn't matter if I said two words or vented twenty pages worth of anger. I got the same response. "Good. We're progressing." What did that mean, anyway? Progressing toward what? They never said. Their mysteries and their secrets mixed together in that stuffy room.

Whenever the storm let up a little, I spent my days beneath the wooden canopy on the west side of the building, drawing. I stared into the rain, listened to the murmuring voices, imagined I was some place warm, like the desert. I'd take a month of sand and dry heat.

I thought about my mom. I thought about Tom. And, more recently, my thoughts kept turning back to Edward. In the days since we discussed how we felt about things, it had been better. The pain and pressure inside of my chest remained, but it wasn't as heavy, especially when I got to speak to Edward. I tried to remain rational about him. I was growing fond of him, but most likely because he was being nice to me. He made an attempt to know me. He related to me. And he helped me when I was down. But I couldn't allow myself any attachment to him.

Rosalie, my caseworker, came to visit me. She explained that she had a few homes in mind, said I'd make a good fit for them. She asked me if I was interested in meeting them. It was the most awkward, uncomfortable conversation, and an even harder decision. I felt like I'd be barging in on people's already-built lives, if I moved in with them. Why would anyone want me?

I sighed and glanced out into the murky yard. The browns and greys bled together, and when there was no color, I felt more alone. I twirled my hair around my index finger, thinking more about my mom. The memories were all I had left. I tried to keep them as strong, as clear, as possible.

Edward's friend Angela came to find me after a few hours. She told me that he was looking for me. "But he'll figure it out," she said with a mischievous smile. "He's a big boy."

"So what's the deal with you and him?" I asked, making my voice as nonchalant as possible. It was the first full sentence I had ever spoken to her. No. I wasn't obvious at all.

"Me and Edward?"

"Yeah."

"He's like my brother. Why do you ask?"

I shrugged and looked away, down at my book. "No reason, really. I was only curious."

"Edward is the only guy who defends me in this place. He's intellectual, and intelligent, and well-mannered. He learned it all himself, no help from his parents on that end. stupid jerks. I'm really going to miss him though. I've gotten used to the kid being around."

My heart fell into my lap. I dropped my bookmark and glanced over at her, unable to close my mouth. "Wait, what?"

Angela frowned. "Yeah. Didn't he tell you?"

"T-tell me what?"

"He was placed. He's leaving in two days. Some artistic type in Port Angeles."

I felt at loss for breath as my eyes left her face and roamed to the inked, cut up wood of the picnic table. "He's…he's leaving?"

"Mmhmm. It'll be good for him. He's so much better than this place, better than any of us."

My chest clenched harder. "But... he promised..." I whispered, blinking away the tears. Why was I even crying? I didn't know him. He had no connection to me. I shouldn't be crying.

"What did he promise?"

I quickly wiped my face and straightened myself out. I was being ridiculous. My hands closed the book, and I shoved it in my bag. "It's nothing," I answered, before I stood up. "It doesn't matter. I have to go."

The clouds were too thick to see the lightning coming. I made my way inside, shuddering as I passed through the halls, and prepared myself for the blow as I headed toward Edward's room. I didn't have long before they separated us to our opposite sides.

What I saw when I entered the room put the stamp on my sealed fate. He was packing. There was a trash bag on the bed, and more stuff in torn small boxes by his feet. My breath hitched, and Edward turned fast at the sound of it. "Bella," he said, dropping a shirt on the bed. "W-what are you doing here?"

"So it's true. You are leaving."

He frowned, shoving his hands in his pockets, and walked over to me. My trembling body was caught in the doorway, unable to move. "I was going to tell you tonight," he said softy. "I... didn't know how."

"How hard can it be? 'Bella, I'm leaving'. There, that wasn't so tough."

"It is hard. I didn't-" Edward growled, tugging at his hair. "I didn't expect to make a friend here."

"Well I'm sorry to be such an inconvenience. How long have you known about this?"

His eyes narrowed into mine, and I could see the regret on his face. "A while," he said hoarsely.

I scoffed and stared at the ground, my fingers tugging at the knit fabric around my wrists. There was nothing I could do. "Well, um... I'm gonna go. Have fun with your new life. Good luck."

Edward's hand caught my elbow, and he stilled me when I tried to turn and walk away. "No, wait, Bella. Please. Don't leave."

"Just forget about the promise you made, Edward, really. I get it. You were just trying to be nice. Have a little sympathy for the stupid, clumsy, stuttering albino girl who lost her actress mother and her home, and now has to dwell umu-"

"Jesus, Bella, is that what you think of me?" he snapped, pulling me toward him. I glared up at him. He refused to look away. "If that's honestly the way you look at me, Bella, then this..." He turned and pulled the drawing I did of him off of the dresser and pushed it toward my face. "Then this isn't how you see me at all. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe you do see me how they do."

"I don't know what to think!" I jerked my arm away from his grasp, crossing it over my chest. I felt the familiar need to physically hold myself together. "And it doesn't even matter, anyway. You're leaving! You're going away. We're not going to see each other. So it was nice hanging out those few times, and thanks for letting me draw you. But it's really not a big deal. I get it. You have to go."

"I'm not leaving for another two days."

"What's two days gonna do?" I snipped at him. "Nothing."

"Two days is two more days I get to spend here, that I get to learn about you!" he shouted back. Our voices echoed down the hall, and caught the attention of a few loitering kids. "I don't know how to explain it, but I'd rather take two days for what it's worth, and spend my time with you, than to know inside that it was a waste of an opportunity. I'd never get those two days back if I didn't take advantage of it."

"It doesn't matter Edward!" I sobbed, and swiped the tears from my eyes immediately. I felt so foolish. "It doesn't matter, because two days means an opportunity to you, but it means more hurt for me. I looked at you like you could be a friend here. Someone I could turn to, just like you wanted to be. And two more days would be more pain from the inevitable. You're going to leave. We cannot change tha-"

"Please," he cut me off, his voice low and soft again. He looked so miserable. Not angry anymore. "Please, Bella. I didn't tell you because I was trying to avoid this. In such a short amount of time, you've become something important in my life. For whatever reason, I cannot figure out. I haven't had time to, or the opportunity to do so, though I want it bad. I knew it'd be hard to say goodbye. And, it may be selfish, but forgive me for not wanting to jump right into that type of pain again. I've had enough of it. All my life has been nothing but endless measures of heartache, and I found the tiniest bit of relief whenever I was around you. I wanted to help you, to save you from the demons that haunt me and everyone else in this place. Not give you more of them."

I buried my face in my hands. My body was beginning to crack under the pressure. The pain tightened, threatened to crush my ribs. Just like the day I lost my mom.

"Bella," he whispered, his hand finding my arm. The warmth flooded through me, and I almost embraced it. I wanted to. But, instead, I shrugged his hand off. He put it back again, stepping closer to me. "Please Bella. Don't pull away from me. I don't have anyone else here, either."

"It doesn't matter if you won't be back."

Edward sighed, again stepping closer. There was still a wide gap between us, but it wasn't uncomfortable.

We both had our walls up, regardless.

We ignored the kids around us, making kissing noises and annoying comments.

"Please," he begged again.

I wiped my face and looked up at him, blinking away the tears. "I'm not strong enough to become your friend, then lose you in the end, Edward. I've lost everyone else. All my friends back at home. My family. My mom. Tom. Everyone. And, I want you to go. I want you to have the opportunity because I know you deserve it. Angela was right, you know? You deserve better, are better, than any of us here, and you need to understand that. I know it, and I don't even know you." I sighed, clearing my throat. "But I cannot let myself care about anyone who won't stick around. It hurts too much and I don't have the energy."

"Edward, just fuck the retarded girl real well and send her packing. Prove to her that she's unwanted. Even her own mother couldn't stick around and deal with that mess."

Before I could react, Edward released me and turned sharply to his left. He sprinted toward Aaron, pulled him off the wall he'd been leaning against, threw him to the ground, and began punching him. I rushed over and tried to pull Edward back, to make him stop before they were caught. Then Sheena rushed between us, in order to block my path to her boyfriend, and raised her fist. By the time we were broken up, there was blood in the hallway, gashes on the four of our faces, scuffmarks on the ground, and various marks along the walls.

We were all sent to get cleaned up in separate rooms, and then to individual counselors. After the thirty minute lecture, we were sent to bed. At just nine o'clock at night. Like ten year olds.

How tragic.

Ten minutes after my door was closed, there was tapping along the window at the foot of my bed. I made sure there was no one in the hall before I rushed over to it. I turned the handle, almost clunking Edward's head with the glass. "What are you doing here?" I hissed at him. "We're already in trouble. Don't make it worse!"

"Come with me."

"Come with you where?! It's the middle of the night!"

"And?"

"And it's still drizzling! And cold! And we can get busted!"

"So what?" he argued, reaching for me with his hands. The window opened out from the bottom.

"How am I supposed to get through there?"

Edward scoffed, "If my ass can fit through it, yours can too. Come on, hurry up."

"I'm not going anywhere with you."

"Bella, please don't make me scale this wall and drag you out myself."

"That's kidnapping."

"Then come willingly."

I glared down at him, knowing I shouldn't do it. We could get caught. He could lose his placement. And it would hurt even more when he left.

He batted his lashes up at me. The fog from the cold air showed every time he exhaled. "Please Bella," he extended his hand up. "Please, come."

I bit my lip. Don't do this Bella, I tried to reason with myself. It's going to hurt.

Ignoring common sense, I slipped on my shoes, stuffed a pillow under my covers to make it look like I was curled under the covers. Hopefully, it would be enough to keep us from being discovered when the night staff did their rounds. I swung my legs over the edge of the crank-style window.

"Fine," I whispered into the cold. I felt myself slipping from the sill the moment I looked into his deep emerald eyes. "Catch me."


EdwardPOV

Thunder rolled above our heads, loud and demanding. It claimed the sky. Its power was everlasting.

With Bella's tiny hand in mine, I led her the fifteen blocks from the bus stop, seeking the white gates of my serenity. She never asked where we were going. Not when we escaped after bed check. Not when ran across the yard and risked being caught. Not while we waited at the bus stop. Not when we boarded the bus. Not even during the eighty minutes it took to get us there.

Sure, we talked about other things. But nothing of importance. She never showed fear, and I enjoyed that about her. There was a silent trust between us. An understanding.

"Okay," I said once we approached the gate. I took a swift glance at my watch. Eleven thirty. We had plenty of time. "I'm going to lift you over."

She squinted her eyes and peered through the opening, trying to see what she could in the dark. "Are we at the ocean? Is that what I hear?"

"Yes. Well, sort of. It's the Sound…Puget Sound. It leads to the ocean."

Her nerves finally showed. She began to pace frantically. "Don't worry," I tried to reassure as I pulled her gently back toward me. "I'm going to grab your hips. Put your foot here.... and this one here, okay? No where else. Then stay where you are, and I'll climb up beside you, and help you over and down."

"I think I should warn you, I am accident prone."

"It'll be alright."

Bella felt weightless in my hands as I lifted her up. Her tiny fingers clung to the metal, grasped where they could. She almost slipped, but I caught her without a problem. "Got me?" she asked nervously, panting into the foggy air.

"I've got you."

Keeping one hand on her back, I pulled myself up and flung my leg over, followed by the other. Then I slid my hands to her ribs and pulled her across, making sure she landed on the balls of her feet.

"Wow," she exhaled, squinting toward the darkened shore again. "What beach are we at?"

I took her hand and pulled her down the paved hill, across the rocky shore, all the way to the edge of the chilly surf. The intense lighting crashed overhead, creating sparks of orange and yellow. She moved an inch closer to me. "We're in Port Angeles, near Whiskey Creek Beach," I answered, happy to be exactly where I was. I took a glance at her pale complexion in what little light we had. She appeared so tiny and fragile. With that I let out a sigh, once I realized we were no longer on a heated bus. "I wish you would have worn a jacket Bella."

"I'm sorry. I didn't have time to grab one during my spontaneous jail break."

I slipped mine from my shoulders and wrapped it around hers. Then, I un-tucked her long hair from the collar.

Bella looked up at me, a little surprised, pulling the flannel tight around her. "Thank you."

"Do you want to step closer?"

"No." She stiffened her posture. "I'm fine where I'm at."

"It's only heat lightning. You won't be struck. Plus, it's too cold to stick our feet in right now."

"I have more worries than that."

"Bella," I studied her, carefully moving a few loose strands of hair from her lashes. "Why are you so afraid of the water?"

She shook her head and swallowed hard. The waves roared at us, singing their presence, and Bella took a few steps back. "I don't want to drown," she murmured quietly.

"You think I'd let you drown?"

She shrugged. "People drown all the time. Even the good swimmers can vanish. Plus, it's dark and cold and stormy, and no one knows where we are. There's a million things going against the idea of being close to the water."

I frowned and kicked the sand with my toe, hating myself for coming here when I knew she was afraid. "I'm sorry," I explained with a bitter frown. "I guess I didn't think when I brought you here. I only wanted to show you a part of me, so that you could get to know me better. I wanted you to enjoy it, maybe even see it differently. I hoped you would realize that you didn't have to be afraid."

The thunder grew more furious. It cursed me for my idiotic mistake. I didn't blame it.

Bella sighed. "I really appreciate you doing this," she clarified with a tender smile. "For bringing me here. Really. It... felt good to be free and rebellious for once. To not have to be told what to do or how to act or what to say or how to feel... It, this..." she exhaled and cleared her throat, shifting from foot to foot," ...you.., and, um, the risk of getting caught... It's all worth it."

"I agree."

She smiled up at the sky.

As the night moved on, the surf crept closer. We moved to a safe distance and took a seat beside each other, arms wrapped our legs. We weren't too far from a flickering lamp post that hung above the dock to our left. I turned and stole a brief glance at the mysterious girl who sat beside me. She shivered again.

"Are you still cold?"

As Bella's lip quivered, she gave a fast nod. "Yeah," she murmured as she unconsciously leaned toward the crook of my arm. "But I'm more n-nervous than c-cold."

My heart raced at the proximity of our bodies, and the selfish part of me said it wasn't enough. I licked my lips, feeling the warmth of her body heat against my ribs. I couldn't help but submit to the temptation of touching her. It pulled at me with every passing second. But, I also wanted her to be comfortable. "Bella?"

"Yeah?"

"Um... Would you mind if I put my arm around you? I don't like you shivering like that."

She shook her head, giving a tiny smile and her permission. But she wouldn't look at me. The adorable pink color I could barely see in the night, but had built into my memory, flushed across her ivory skin. She covered her face quickly, even though it was dark. She knew I was looking at her.

"Why are you nervous?" I whispered as my eyes lingered helplessly on the side of her face. Her skin was milk. Flawless and ivory with a special hint of rose across her cheeks. It was then, in that moment, that I really took a second to appreciate her for being there, for sharing this moment with me. No one else would, not that I'd bring anyone else here, or desire to. In the glowing moonlight, Bella had become the most beautiful person I would ever lay eyes on.

Without thought, my fingers caressed her side, delicate and slow. I clutched the fabric that covered her skin. The wind blew hard, and she inched closer after another glimmer of lightning and roll of thunder. Then, to my relief, she cast her eyes upon mine. "Because this is new?" she finally replied. I grinned back at her, as the urge to caress the skin of her bottom lip took hold. "It's new for me as well."

Bella's honey-caramel eyes closed slowly. She let out a heavy sigh, the corners of her lips casting down. "I'm glad you've found a home, Edward. Really. And I feel selfish for even bringing this up, but I can't help it. It sucks that you're leaving the center. It would have been great to have had the chance to get to know you."

My heart tugged at her words, and the reality that came with them. I understood what she meant, how she felt. I was there too. "But I'm here now," I offered simply, not having any other answer to give. The ache in my chest grew sharper.

"It wouldn't make sense though, to develop a friendship, only for you to vanish in two days," she argued. "It wouldn't be healthy. We have enough to deal with and... it'd make everything more complicated." She began to move away, but, selfishly, I pulled gently her back to me. I didn't want her to be more than an inch from my side.

And I couldn't figure out why, in such little time, I felt the way I did.

Bella exhaled in defeat, running her fingers through her hair a few times. I could tell she had become sad and frustrated. I was getting there myself, but I quickly shrugged the feelings off, reminding myself of the reason I had brought her here. So that we could stop thinking.

"Do you...do you think we could just enjoy the night and not worry about whatever is coming?" I suggested. "See, um, I read this book once that mentioned that the most perfect night a person could share was with a perfect stranger and few words. Granted, you're not necessarily a stranger to me anymore. But perfect isn't too far fetched in my opinion, and I really enjoy your company. ...What do you say?"

She stared out into the ocean, the moonlight's reflection sparkling in her eyes. "Okay, Edward."

~*~

We sat there for the longest time, my arm wrapped around her tiny body, and allowed the storm and waves do most of the talking for us.

I wanted to learn so much about her. Everything that was a favorite of hers. I wanted to know how she grew up. Who her best friend was. If she slept with a night light. I wanted to know what made her laugh, how she looked when she first woke up, what her most memorable Christmas was...

The longer I sat there, the more I wanted to uncover the mystery surrounding her. I wondered if she only listened to a specific genre of music. I wondered if she participated in school plays. if she enjoyed sports, what kind of toothpaste she used. I thought about why she was so afraid of drowning, and how her mother could have been feeling on that day that she took her own life and left Bella alone in this world. The list grew longer and more detailed.

But most of all, I just wondered what was on her mind.

"What?" Bella said eventually, pulling me from my thoughts. A tiny smile lifted her eyes. "Why are you looking at me like that?"

"I was... just wondering what you were thinking about."

"Right now?"

"Yes."

"I was..." she hesitated, exhaling slowly, "...thinking…about my mom."

"What about her?"

"All sorts of things. If her soul is somewhere. If she can see me, or hear me. If she... thinks about me at all..."

"I'm sure she can, and she does. She'd be crazy not to."

Bella's head dropped, and she fiddled with the sleeves to my jacket, pulling them over her fingers. "She'd be crazy to do a lot of things..." She closed her eyes and inhaled the salty midnight breeze from the ocean. "If you could be any place in the world right now, where would you be?"

"Besides here?"

"Yeah."

"Uhm... the pool at my old school, I guess," I answered simply. "How about you?"

Bella licked her lips, keeping her eyes closed. "In my mom's arms," she whispered. She wrapped her arms around her chest, hugged her frame tight. "I'd give anything to smell her right now," she continued solemnly. "Every night, around this time, she'd... come into my room, crawl in bed with me. She'd pull me into her arms, wrap them all the way around me, and bury her face in my hair. Sometimes she'd hum me a song, and others she'd tell me how her day had gone... and then she'd whisper as I drifted to sleep, 'I love you and wrap you in stars....'."

Bella's tears overflowed and she gasped, before swiping her pain away. "I can't sleep there. At Volturi. I know it probably sounds juvenile but... I'm so used to being held. And hugged. And touched. My mom, she... sh-she was very affectionate, always touched me and reminded me she loved me, and I don't get that here, from anyone. There's no touching. There's no hugging. I can't smell her anymore, or talk to her, or feel her. I look in the mirror, or look down at my uncovered hands, and I see a resemblance to her, but not the full image. And then I hate myself for not measuring up to her. I just... I miss her so much."

She gasped, rubbing the outside of her throat with her pale fingers. "Edward, I'd give anything I ever owned to have her hold me and rock me to sleep. For just a few hours... Just so I wouldn't... have nightmares about her, or see her as anything but my beautiful mom who loved me. I just... I wish she could be here and hold me."

Without so much as a single thought, I turned to my right, carefully lifted Bella in my arms, and pulled her tense, quivering body into my lap. She stayed there, locked tight and sobbing, clutching her gloves and my jacket. "I'm so sorry," she cried, as she kept her head tucked down, "I just hate this. I hate all of it! I want her back! I want her back now, damn it!"

"I know you do," I whispered into her hair. I didn't know if it was the cold breeze swirling around us, or the thunder that still rolled above, but every ounce of pain she was feeling seemed to surge right through me as I held her. I didn't have anyone as close to me as she was with her mom, and I didn't know whether to be thankful for that or not. Would it be harder to lose someone that actually loved you? Did I have it easier, without my mom hugging me and telling me those things? I wasn't so sure anymore.

"I just want her to hold me," Bella whimpered desperately. Her voice was hoarse, her throat raw. I frowned and squeezed her tight. "I feel so alone. I'm so tired all the time. I miss her so much. I don't have anyone now. I have no one to tuck my hair behind my ears, or tell me they love me... or wrap me in stars..." She buried her face into her folded knees, even as she leaned deeper into my chest. "I just want to sleep," she whispered. "That's all I want."

I pressed my nose into her hair, smelled the strawberries and cinnamon, and caressed her carefully. "I'll hold you, Bella," I whispered into her ear.

She trembled, shaking her head, and wiped her eyes again, "No. I ca-can't ask you to do that."

"I want to." She shook her head again, but I stopped her. "Bella, really. I want to. I may not have lost someone who cares for me the way you did, but I know what you're going through. Please. Please let me help you. Because it physically hurts me to see you in this much pain... I... I mean, my chest, everything... Let me soothe you. It's more than a want, really," I tried to explain as my body clenched tighter. "I have to do this."

Hands shaking, she finally lifted her head from her knees and turned her eyes to look at me. She seemed exhausted, worn-out. She didn't want to think anymore, about anything. I knew that with a single glance. "Let me help you," I whispered again. "Let me be here for you."

Swallowing hard, she nodded as slowly as possible. Her eyes were still very cautious, questioning her decision. "It might hurt to let you, Edward. It might... hurt if I realize you're not her and she's never coming back. It might hurt if..." She swallowed again, trying to fully form her thoughts. "It might hurt when you let go," she finished, her voice cracking.

I shook my head, brushing the hair behind her ears. "Then I won't."

Sighing heavily, she closed her eyes and moved off of my lap into the sand to my right side. She grasped my hands in her tiny, cold ones, wrapping them around her waist. Then she lay down on her left side with me behind her, my chest pressed tightly to her back. "I'm so tired, Edward," she whimpered.

"Shhh. I have you," I whispered close to her ear. "Just rest now."

Keeping my right arm over her so I could hold her against me and protect her from any pain she'd been dealt, I moved my left beneath her head as a pillow. I didn't want her to get sand on her face. My body shook as the current between us intensified, but I didn't falter, didn't release her for one second. I wouldn't allow myself to think about anything, and made sure she didn't either.

After all, this wasn't about us or whatever was developing between us. This was about her, and what she needed. That's what mattered the most to me.

I didn't care about myself, or how cold it was. I kept her body as close to mine as possible, and prayed the heat between us and my jacket covering her would be enough to keep her warm. Bella needed that security. She needed the comfort, the feeling that someone in the universe wanted her safe and sound, just like her mother used to. She needed someone to remind her that life wasn't over, if only for one night. That way she could rest without worry. I never wanted anything more in my life than to be that person for her.

Her sobs diminished as time slipped by. The lightning slowed, but the thunder roared on and the sea crashed continually in the distance. I inhaled her scent again, holding her to me tightly, reassuringly. I kept my eye on my watch so I could make sure we left in time to make it back before getting caught.

Bella sniffled a while longer before she finally fell asleep. And once I knew she'd drifted into a safer place, to a more peaceful world with her mother's hand in hers, I kissed the back of her neck where her hair lay, like her mother used to. I couldn't say the exact same words her mother did, even if I would mean them one day. But even in her slumber, I felt she needed to hear something, some words of comfort. So I whispered as soft as possible, "I'll hold you while the world falls away ...pretty girl."


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

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