"A thing is mighty big when time and distance cannot shrink it."
~ Zora Neale Hurston

** A/N: I am aware that some/most/all of you did not receive an email update with the chapter. I'm not sure what is going on with it...


Ragweeds.
Chapter Seven : Webbing A Friendship.
Life is unpredictable, as Edward & Bella learn firsthand when distance gives a different perspective on things.
NOTE: 3 quick announcements at the bottom of the chapter.


Special Shout-Out's:
-- To my faithful readers/reviewers/twilighters/facebookers/lexiconers.... I realize how much I suck, posting this so late. Please know that things are going to come up, but that I think of my stories every day. I can no longer guarantee that every Monday, there will be an update. But I thank you immensely for being so faithful & patient with me, and for returning to read more when they come up. (10 shy of 300 reviews for the last chapter alone. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!)
-- To my beta Caryn (Jazz Girl)... thanks for your patience with me, and for all of your help during the writer's block. ILYRRRRRRFH. ;)
-- To Aura (Rebecca's Mom), whom has become my picture and detail "go to" girl. I fucking love you & am eternally in your debt and you're not allowed to argue w/me on that! So there. :)
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.)



" I feel the beating of your heart. I see the shadows of your face.
Just know that wherever you are... Yeah, I miss you.
And I wish you were here.
I miss the years that were erased. I miss the way the sunshine would light up your face.
I miss all the little things... I never thought that they'd mean everything to me.
Yeah, I miss you. And I wish you were here.
So far away from where you are. These miles have torn us world's apart.
And I miss you ... Yeah, I miss you... And I wish you were here."
~ Lifehouse, "From Where You Are"


Chapter Seven : Webbing A Friendship

EdwardPOV

I lay the side of my forehead against the cool glass and watched rays of the sun diminish into night across the dirty windshield. Five interstates. We took five separate interstates to reach my new home. The only time I spoke was on the 104, and after that, I clutched my brand new notebook in my lap and tried to sleep away the miles of endless road.

Port Angeles, the tilted sign surrounded by trees read. I was obviously familiar with the beach, but not on this side of town. It was much nicer here. The yards became less cluttered, the outside furniture was more scarce. We wound around hills and caves, crossed a rickety bridge, drove over a steep hill, and took a long, gravel road leading to a large, two-story house. As soon as Renee turned off the ignition and silenced her rickety car, I could hear the faint sound of dirt bikes in the distance.

I stood unmoving as I stared up at the brilliant architecture, the meticulous rustic woodwork, the long vertical windows, the lush forest surrounding in one direction and the surf off in the near distance. From the outside looking in, I could see the exposed beams of the roof and along the walls. There were lights all around the property, shining the browns into golden tones in the night. It looked like something out of a luxury homes magazine. Not what most would consider a foster home.

None of this made any sense.

"Well," Renee exhaled as she opened the door before I got a chance to, "what do you think?"

"I... am not sure what to say." I watched a hawk sore over us and land in a tall tree. This wasn't real. I had to be dreaming.

People like me did not belong in places like this.

The jagged, hand-crafted front door opened and Billy Black wheeled himself out, followed by a dark man with a blazing smile and long dreads. "Edward," Billy chuckled before displaying a proud grin, "welcome! I'm so happy you're here! How was the drive, Renee?"

"It wasn't bad," Renee said, opening her truck and reaching to help me with my things. But I gathered them before she could touch anything. I knew she was only trying to help, but it was mine, all I had. I didn't like anyone touching my stuff. She ignored it and carried on. "A bit of traffic on the 104, but that allowed Edward and I to have a conversation, so you're not going to hear any complaints on my end."

"Ahh, well that's good." The man wheeled Billy down the beautiful stone sidewalk and to the left, where we were parked. "Edward, this is Laurent, my caretaker. He comes on Mondays, Wednesdays, and sometimes Fridays to help me out around the house. Laurent, I'd like you to meet Edward Cullen."

Laurent extended his hand, and I shook it quickly. "Nice to meet you," I said, my voice sounding a little rough.

"Pleasure, sir."

I lifted my eyebrow and pulled my hand back swiftly. Sir?

"Renee, come on in, you must be tired! You're welcome to hang out for the night, or we can put on a pot of coffee while Edward gets settled and discuss anything necessary."

"Coffee would be great, Billy. Thank you."

Entering the Black household could only be described as leaving a shack and entering a palace. The floor plan was open, wide enough for Billy's chair to get around easily. Everything was wooden; the floors, the walls and the ceilings. Everything had a different texture, a slightly different tone, but somehow it all blended together seamlessly. I felt overwhelmed and out of place the minute I walked in the door, and hung back while everyone made their way through the giant living room toward the kitchen, which overlooked a creek in three directions.

"Edward?" Renee called for me. She looked back and noticed I wasn't following. "Everything alright?"

I cleared my throat but couldn't respond, so I nodded quickly.

Laurent grinned and made sure not to attempt to grab my bags. I could tell he was experienced with foster kids, and somehow, that was slightly comforting. "Come on sir, I'll show you to your room. It's upstairs here, to the left. You can take the elevator here if you'd like."

"That's okay, stairs are fine," I replied, following him up. "And my name is Edward. Not sir."

"Very well, Edward."

My stomach twisted in more knots as I made my way back into the kitchen an hour later. I thought about not coming back down at all, but knew it'd be inconsiderate if I didn't. Billy's smile widened, as did Renee's, as I inched closer to the counter nearest to me and furthest from them. No one made an extra effort to bring me into the conversation like they did at The Volt, and I was thankful for that. I didn't want to discuss anything. It was awkward enough being in someone else's house.

"Edward, this home is yours," Billy explained as he slid the sugar bowl over to Renee. "Anything you want to eat, drink, or use, you go for it. You don't have to ask for permission for anything here. There's an extra car in the garage, which you and my two boys will share. But it seems to work well for them. I have an old truck, which I highly doubt you'd want to drive, but it's also there if you need it."

He continued telling me what I needed to know about life in the Black household. "There's a list on the fridge, make sure to write down anything you may need or want, personal or otherwise. School starts up for you in two weeks, which will give you plenty of time to settle in. There are four bedrooms counting yours, and four bathrooms, though one of those is only a half-bath. The property extends eleven acres in all directions, including the coast. Living room is to your left. Towels are next to your shower, in the cabinet on the right. You will only have to share that shower with one of the boys. And there is an endless supply of movies, instruments, and video games for you to waste your brain cells on."

He grinned and took a breath. "Jacob and Jasper will be back shortly. They're all diddly-dobbling with the toys. The only thing I ask is that you pitch in around here when needed, keep the car full of gas at all times, and you don't do any high jumps on the dirt bikes or four -wheelers until you're more experienced. Trust me, we've all learned that lesson. Oh, and speaking of which, whenever you have time, there's a gift for you waiting in the garage. It's down the south hall, far end door."

I shoved my hands in my pockets and backed away slowly. "Thank you, uh, sir."

"No sir. You can call me Billy if you'd like."

I didn't bother to go look in the garage yet. The only thing I wanted was to go into the room they designated as my own, and pray that I didn't fuck anything up.

Somehow, I already knew I would.


BellaPOV

I curled into myself on the far end of the couch, threw my shirt over my knees, adjusted the gloves around my hands, and sighed. I had nothing to do. Again.

Rosalie would arrive shortly to talk to me, said she needed to ask me a few questions, but until then, there really wasn't anyone to speak with. Demetri would glance at me more, whenever he walked by. I tried to say things with my eyes, apologize still. He was one of the few nice people here besides Edward and Angela, and I had let him down. I had turned into a freak, right in front of his eyes, and probably scared the living shit out of him.

I couldn't understand why I was the way I was. Not to long ago, I wasn't this person at all. I was happy once, I believed. Happy, and obviously delusional. I should have seen the signs. Shouldn't have gotten angry or turned away from my mom's tears. Maybe then I could have saved her. And myself.

Edward's friend Angela waved nonchalantly from the pool table, so I forced a grim smile in her direction. I wasn't sure if I resented her for being so cheerful, or if I resented myself for not being able to be the same. Bella, just because things become hard, doesn't mean you should give up, my counselor had said during our last session. You're still here. You're still breathing. You have a roof over your head and warm food in your stomach. That's a start to regaining your life. And that's what we want. For you to go on, for you to live the life you were meant to live. It's never too late to start. I hope you grasp that.

What didn't they get? My life revolved around my mom. She was my reason. To take her away from me, so suddenly... I cannot live the life I once knew. That life is over. I died in that room with her. I dissolved in her arms, right along with her fading heartbeat.

Watching the other kids laughing and playing games, I sat in silence and waited for things that wouldn't happen. For my mother to come back. For Tom to call. To hear from one of my friends back home. For Rosalie to work some miracle and get me out of here.

I tried not to think about him. The boy who possessed my every breath. The one who stole the last string of my sanity when he held me and then abruptly left. It hurt too much to think about his footsteps fading while I stayed behind, scars open and bleeding on the floor. I knew why he had to go. If he stayed, he'd never heal, and I wanted that for him. I didn't want to ruin his life. I wished I could see him, once more, and tell him I was proud of him for being strong. For trying. For leaving.

The first few days after he left were almost worse than when I first lost my mom. Sometimes, I woke up swearing I heard his fingertips tapping on the window. I had convinced myself that maybe he'd come back and we'd hang out for a while, talk about nothing and sit in silence in the basement. Now and then, I would glance at a new kid roaming the halls, or a visitor entering the yard, and swear up and down it was him. I hated myself for wishing he'd come, for hoping he'd stay and be as miserable as I was, for just the sake of me. I was being selfish and knew that wasn't fair. He deserved a chance. After all, we barely knew each other.

Right?

I shut my eyes and inhaled, feeling the shattered glass feeling every time I swallowed. I tried to remember the warmth and the calm that came over me when he held me six nights ago on the beach. I slept. For three hours, I actually fell asleep. And I didn't have nightmares about my mom or death or explosions or screaming or anything else. I just slept. And I'd always be thankful to him for being able to do that for me.

But, somehow, I also hated him, for being able to do that and then take it away. Because that meant he held a missing link to my existence.

~*~

Rosalie slid a folder over to me and refilled my Styrofoam cup with Pepsi from a two-liter bottle, "Bella, are you sure you don't want to go out to eat? There's a nice restu-"

"No, I'm fine," I cut her off as I looked through my reports. "Besides I don't have any money and I don't want your charity." She sighed and didn't say another word as I glanced at pictures of a life I once knew, then quickly flipped them over before my mother's smile scarred me more. "Why did you want to meet?"

Rosalie folded her hands and straightened her back. "I wanted to discuss some things with you today."

"Such as?"

"There's a lady, Kate Kapochi. She's a manager at a popular restaurant here in East Seattle. She has three girls, all adopted. They were fosters once too. Anyway, a few months back, she put in a call to me and asked if we had anyone that met her requirements. Someone who has integrity, who is smart, has character and will. Must be female because there's no man in the house. We discussed a few options. But for some reason, your name kept coming back to me."

Rosalie paused and lifted her hands to stop me from objecting, like she knew I would. "Now, before you get all huffy, I didn't give her your name or tell her anything about you, because I wanted to discuss it with you first. There's no sense in getting anyone's hopes up this early in the game. But Bella, she's a really sweet lady. Mid-forties. Her daughters are all around your age. We could put you in as a temporary placement for now, see how you like it and adjust. There's good schools in the neighborhood."

She drummed her fingernails on the metal table and smiled. "Oh Bella, you should see the neighborhood. It looks like something out of a Brady Bunch Special, you know, where all the houses line the street and are the same size with same shudders? It's very quaint. So my question to you is, would you be interested in giving it a chance? I could set up a phone meeting if you'd be more comfortable with that, and we could go from there. I know how you tend to shy away from people at first..." she said, letting her voice trail off.

Rosalie kept talking, but I tuned out, staring at the chipped black polish on my thumbnail. Everyone I loved was gone. Edward went away, too. Demetri didn't talk to me anymore. Angela didn't bother to try and speak much after Edward left. There really wasn't anything for me here, unless I considered my daily run-in with Sheena and her grimy friends. I rubbed the fresh bruise on the back of my neck.

"H-How long would it take?" I cut her off, and she blinked at me. "For me to move in?"

"Maybe a week or two?" she answered, a question rather than a statement. She wasn't sure. "These things can get hairy if they're not done correctly."

"I'll do it," I answered, crossing my arms over my chest. "There's no need for phone conversations. Any place has got to be better than this shithole."

Rosalie's eyebrow cocked. She'd never heard me speak like that. "I sense that you're angry today."

I glared at the side of her head. I had nothing. What was there to be angry about?

She sighed and stood up, collecting her things and shoving them in her briefcase. "I'll do what I can do. Expect a phone call from me tomorrow, three o'clock at the latest. We'll run over the options then." She began to walk away, but then turned and looked back at me. "Bella?"

I didn't speak.

She smiled softly, "It gets easier."

I stared at Rosalie's large eyes and picked at a blister on my finger. I wanted to believe her as my eyes roamed her fancy clothes and soft hair and image of a perfect life. I wanted to know the things she knew about the system, that way I wouldn't feel so hopeless. But that was stolen from me, along with my dignity, every time Sheena's fist hit my skin.

I needed to figure out how to toughen up and pull myself together. I shouldn't rely on anyone else.

I had to become my own strength.


EdwardPOV

"Knock knock." Jasper entered from across the hall and dropped on the side of my bed, making a mess of the word I was writing. "What's up?"

I tried to fix the error, growling internally at him for causing it. "Nothing."

"Writing another letter to your mom?"

I shook my head again. "No. To my friend, Bella."

"Bella," Jasper repeated, and I smiled down to my paper. "That's a pretty name for a girl."

"Yes, it is."

"She hot?"

"Yes."

"Thought so," he grinned. "So," he said as he stood and pulled a pack of nearly smashed Camel's from his jeans pocket, "I think it's about time we blow this joint. Show you the ropes."

"What do you mean?" I asked solemnly.

"You're coming out tonight. No exceptions. It's been almost a week, which means plenty of time for you to get settled in. Jake's picked up the keg from John, and the bonfire starts at nine out on the beach. A shower, some jeans, nice t-shirt, and a pack of condoms, and you'll be good to go."

"I don't really feel like g-"

"Fuck that, you're going," Jasper cut me off. He walked over to me and tossed the dirt bike gloves I'd yet to use on top of my letter, which forced me to stop writing altogether. "You'll have plenty of time to write that shit and sulk tomorrow. But we want you to chill with us, and it'll be good for you to get out of this room. Billy knows we're heading out there. He doesn't think there's gonna be alcohol, of course. But, if you can manage to come home with a lick of common sense and don't break anything valuable, it'll be straight. We're ridin' the bikes out there."

I sighed and stared down at the velcro straps of the gloves. "I've never ridden a bike before."

"Well, you're not riding dirty on the back of mine. I don't dig other men's ballsacks pressed against my shit. But I'll show you how to handle yours if you get your ass movin'."

I glared at him and his insistence. The dude seemed to have it all, a crystal ball in his polished hands. On the outside, Jasper seemed like your average misplaced badass that girls enjoyed and other boys wanted to be. Hard to believe his parents were meth addicts and out of his life by the time he was three. I wasn't sure what to make of him.

He huffed and stared right back at me, stubborn as a mule. "Well?" When I didn't respond, he used friendly threats. "Don't make me call for reinforcements," he teased with a thick southern accent and a crooked grin. "I know plenty of people that will haul your ass out there, if I can't do it myself. Which I probably fucking can."

~*~

Jasper growled in frustration when we entered the garage just after ten o'clock. "I forgot I have to fucking put gas in it. Now all my shit's gonna smell like it." I stared blankly at him as he loaded both his black and silver bike and my own with gasoline, then tossed me the keys. "Come on, we have to cut this lesson short. We're late."

I pushed my bike after him, and the knots tightened in my stomach. I was afraid I'd wreck it and cost Billy money. I was afraid I'd break my neck. I was afraid I'd be made fun of. I was afraid, period, but, I'd never admit it. I didn't want to look like a pussy in my new home.

The lesson consisted of him hopping on his bike, showing me where the break, clutch, and gas was, then waiting impatiently while I kick-started my own and tried to steady the wobbling, vibrating machine. On the first try, I almost pissed my pants when I skid the tires and nearly fell over. Jasper laughed his ass off and moved forward to meet me at my new starting point. "It's a beast," he chuckled. "You handlin' your business?"

"Yeah, yeah, I got it," I muttered. Before I could blink, he took off, and I had to struggle to catch up to him.

The crisp air chilled my bones as the bike sped down the rocky path, toward the coast. Jasper weaved in and out of the trees, while I stayed on the main course, praying and hoping that I would not die. I tried to pick up some of his techniques, the way he managed the ride, but it felt impossible to learn all at once. I quickly decided to stick with the basics, hit the brakes when I needed too, and kept breathing.

In my head, I imagined the get-together to be minimal. But it seemed like everyone Jasper and Jacob knew was down at the beach, surrounding a giant bonfire. There were fifteen trucks pulled up, with speakers blasting out the latest songs. My nerves spiked when we parked the bikes. Their friends stared at me as Jasper made his way over. I could see them questioning, wondering, debating. Honestly, all I wanted was to hop back on the bike, turn around, and go back to hide in my room. Simply vanish.

"Don't worry about it." Jasper saw the fear in my eyes as he came around the side of the bike. "It'll be fine."

"I don't know any of these people," I muttered.

"You don't know me either," he stated as he stuck one cigarette in his mouth and another behind his right ear, "but isn't that the fucking point?"

I shrugged.

Jasper led me over to the first circle, a group of around forty people, filled with both male and female students, though there seemed to be twice as many girls as guys. I listened as the music got louder, and the people shouted over it. Random conversations about past parties, school events, the latest gossip. I had no idea what anyone was talking about, and found myself constantly kicking the sand around or staring off into the ocean. People bumped into me, and Jasper did his best to introduce me, but it seemed like all the questions were repetitive. Who was I, where did I come from, how did I like the Blacks, if I had a girlfriend, where my folks were. I didn't want to explain my life to these strangers anymore than I wanted to explain it to my counselors. The first few times, I answered briefly, but then I just ignored them.

I noticed Billy's son, Jacob Black, running toward us from the beach, with three girls under his arms. The boy was fifteen, and looked like an Abercrombie model, with his short black hair, perfect, bright teeth, chiseled body, tight (and currently soaked) shirt... Not to mention his charming attitude and calm voice. Jacob and Jasper seemed like water and oil; couldn't be more different. Jake was preppy. Jasper was an outsider. Jake was quiet around the house. Jasper cursed a lot and spoke his mind. Jake loved the outdoors, sat for hours in the woods with a shotgun. Jasper loved bikes, and engine parts, and reading old books about the Civil War and Vietnam.

But they were close. It didn't take long to recognize how they looked out after each other. How they defended each other. How they encouraged, and understood, and loved without pushing. It made me happy to see that for once in my life. I never had any siblings. I wasn't sure what to do with them. How do you become close to someone, and care for them, and be friends with them, when you don't know anything about them? Would I ever know? Does anyone ever truly know anything about anyone? There are people that have been married for years, and sleep in separate bedrooms, and with the morning coffee conversation aside, they barely even speak to one another. Day in, day out, we're strangers, even to ourselves.

So how are we supposed to love anyone, or let anyone love us? The task seemed impossible.

~*~

I hadn't realized I'd been spacing off, until a strong arm was thrown over my shoulder and a hand patted my chest. "Hey man," Jacob chuckled as a few girls surrounded us, "what are you doing? Come on, join the party. Get to know some people."

"I was thinking about my friend," I muttered incoherently. I blinked, refocusing.

"That Bella girl?" he asked. Jacob learned about Bella the first night I was there. He approached me before Jasper did, when I wrote my second letter to her. Now I had six of them, and hadn't sent one.

"Yeah."

"Maybe we can come up with a plan, bust the girl out every once in a while. Bring her here for a night?"

"Yeah, right. Billy would kill us and The Volturi Center would have the police after me."

"Shit, Dad won't care. Trust me," he laughed. "He won't see us. He never does." I shook my head, but he cut me off. "We'll be careful. You won't get caught." He winked before running off to chase a dark-haired Latina girl with a curvaceous body and a pretty laugh. She screamed when he scooped her up and spun her around in the sand. I laughed as I watched them, the rush of joy unfamiliar, but it diminished as soon as it came. Shuffling my feet, I stared down at the sand, and prayed that one day I'd heal.

As I moved toward the shore, away from the laughter of the crowd, I allowed the water to sweep my thoughts away again. I thought about my mother. I thought about my father. And I thought about Bella. Shy, tiny, artistic, beautiful, vulnerable Bella. Wrapped in my arms on this very beach, but a few miles away. The faint sound of her breathing as she relaxed. The smell of her skin.

"Excuse me? Um... Edward?" A short girl with creamy bronzed skin and jet-black hair called out to me. She was bundled in a white jacket with her arms folded across her chest. Her brown boots, which covered the bottom of her jeans, moved toward me. She gave a polite smile when our eyes met. "I thought that was you. Your brother is looking for you." I lifted my eyebrow in question, so she answered, "Jasper."

"He's not my brother," I quickly corrected her as I shook the hand she extended out to me.

"I thought ya'll lived together?"

"Yeah, bu-"

"I'm sorry. I thought -- Isn't he your, um, foster family?" she questioned.

"I don't know what he is... I... I-I mean..." I became flustered and frustrated. "I am an only child," I sneered at her. "I have no family."

She kept her smile, somewhat satisfied that she could get an honest reaction out of me. She stepped even closer and a hint of Downey and fresh apples came my way. "My name is Naomi."

"You already have my name," I shrugged, and kicked the sand around my feet, cursing myself for being such a dick. The girl was being kind to me and I should be kind back. "But it's nice to meet you anyway."

She studied me for a moment. I turned away from her eyes. "Likewise," she spoke softly.

~*~

The party dwindled down after three in the morning. Everyone was wasted by then. Jasper talked me into 'popping my cherry' and having a few drinks, which I did after deciding that I was sick of being alone all of the time. Some of their friends turned out to be decent. Others were total asses, like the few guys who claimed territory, that I was on their reservation, or that their girl was talking about me. Jacob and Jasper quickly told them to shut the fuck up. After we cleaned the trash up that everyone left to us, they helped me kick-start my bike..

"Hey man," Jasper chuckled as a blonde girl straddled the back of his, "can Naomi ride with you? These three are coming back with us, and we've only got three bikes."

I hesitated, and Naomi hesitated too, keeping her distance from me. She was sweet, but she didn't know me. I didn't blame her for worrying. I looked like a homeless person.

"Come on," Jasper chuckled. "You're not going to make her walk are you?"

Swallowing thickly, I lifted the safety helmet from the back of the bike, and Naomi slowly walked over and took it from me. We didn't speak on the way back to Billy's. I was sure she'd rather ride with anyone else, anyone with more experience. It felt awkward, having her arms around me, feeling her body pressed against the back of mine. I wasn't used to it. I wasn't used to touching anyone at all, aside from Bella on the beach and when I hugged her goodbye before I left The Volt. But this girl wasn't Bella... and that made me miss her more.

On the way up the rocky hill, I thought about how we said goodbye. I could see Bella standing in the corner of the room I shared with all of the boys, a permanent frown on her face. Her eyes were cast down to the floor. I didn't know what to say to her, as I threw my backpack over my shoulder. I didn't know how to say goodbye, didn't understand why the thought of that was painful. With heavy feet, I walked toward her and didn't stop until there was only a single foot of space between our bodies. Her chest rose and fell, and I swore I heard her sniffling.

I wanted to cradle her. I wanted to press my lips to her forehead and remind her how strong she was. Thank her for being such a wonderful new friend -- my only real friend -- and for putting a smile on my face. I wanted to tell her how beautiful she was, how she deserved the world, how much I'd think about her when I walked out that door. But, instead, she fell against my chest and I threw my arms around her, and we didn't look at each other, and we didn't say any thing at all. The day before, we had made promises to write, to stay in touch. Everything left didn't need words. We couldn't fight the inevitable, and we didn't have the energy to sacrifice for it. I held her for as long as I could manage, until Renee came in and told me we were behind schedule. Bella's eyes cast up to mine very briefly, and when she blinked, a tear fell down her face. Even with the distance, I could taste the salt of that single tear. Sighing, I wiped it away with my fingers.

And then she was left in that room. And I was gone.

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

I turned my head and noticed Naomi standing in the door frame of my bedroom. Loud bangs and laughter, followed by whispering and shushing, came from down and across the hall. I had no doubt in my mind why they wanted wanted the girls to come over. But I'd never been exposed to anything like that before, so I hid away as soon as I could.

"A friend," I answered shortly. "What are you doing in here?"

She let herself in and closed the door behind her, then trudged over to where I sat on the edge of my bed, "Well... they'll probably be busy for a while, and I'd rather not be tormented by being around it. So I thought I'd hang in here with you instead, if that's all right?"

I studied her flirtatious eyes, the way she rocked from heel to toe, itching to get closer. It made my heart speed up in a weird way. "I'm not doing anything," I answered with a shrug. "You'll probably be bored."

She sat beside me, handed me the extra cup of beer she held, and played with the ring on her index finger. Her smile aimed at the ground. "I'm okay with bored."

I shrugged and crossed my arms.

Stale air lingered in my room while the slight sound of shuffling and girls giggling echoed down the hall. For a second, I wondered what it'd be like, to be as free as Jacob and Jasper. They seemed careless. As if they were untouchable. I wanted to be like that. For just one day, to feel the wind through my fingers, and not have to worry about any other thing or any other person. I wanted to think for myself, care for myself, do what I wanted without worrying about consequences.

I hated myself for the control I forced on myself.

"You have a girlfriend, don't you?"

I chuckled uncomfortably and re-situated myself. "Why would you think that?"

"The way you're sitting... acting... You're all guarded. Single boys aren't this guarded..." Her smile grew more flirtatious, "Especially sixteen year-old single boys."

"I don't know you," I argued gently. My frown came back. "Anyone. That doesn't necessarily put me at ease here."

Naomi sighed heavily. "It's okay if you do. I just... would like to know."

"Why do you want to know?"

She slid an inch closer to me and turned, her full pink lips parted and flawless bronzed complexion warm and inviting. Her hand covered my wrist, and she pulled it down and moved even closer to me, "…because I like you..."


BellaPOV

I shot out of the bed and clutched my chest, gasping for air. My lungs burned. My throat strained. Shaking, I crept from the bed as quietly as I could manage and crawled into the girls' bathroom. This was the third night it happened. The third night I woke up in panic, knowing that something was changing and I had no control over it.

Whimpering, I yanked the thin, brown paper towels from the dispenser and soaked them with cold water. I rubbed it all around my neck and wrists. I tried to catch my breath. My swollen eyes filled with more tears and I pressed my forehead to the white basin of the sink. The ground beneath my feet seemed to open up below me.

Something was definitely wrong. I felt it with my entire being.

"Calm down, Bella," I swallowed, gulping large gasps of air. "You have to calm down. You can't do this. You... y-you can't do this to yourself again."

I closed my eyes and shuddered, wishing that clocks could wind backward. Everything was messed up. The inevitable feeling of being alone came on strong.

"...Isabella?"

With a heavy gasp, I clutched the basin and spun around. Swiftly, I dropped to the ground and cowered beneath the sink.

"Isabella... why are you crying? Are you hurt?"

Shaking my head, I tried to close my mouth, tried to reason with myself. This wasn't happening. This couldn't be happening.

"...Darling?"

I watched as soft, pale hands reached toward my face. I closed my eyes when the chilling fingertips grazed my cheek and wiped away the burning tears I'd shed.

"Don't cry Isabella... Nothing is worth your tears," the angel whispered softly, cool breath on my face. The voice was familiar, warm. It reminded me of everything that was once perfect in my life, everything that had disappeared.

I wanted it back. I wanted it all back.

Shivering, I ignored the pain of my bones tightening together. I'd suffer for this. To have it all again, I would gladly suffer.

"...Mom?" I whispered into the dark.

~*~

Rain sprinkled against the window pane, blurring the trees outside.

"Bella, you're exhausted."

"I know what I saw."

"Exhaustion can lead to delusions. Sometimes, the feeling of want can be so desperate that... your emotions can't help but surrender to it."

"She was there."

"How can that happen?" Diane asked calmly. She uncrossed and re-crossed her legs in the other direction, pressing the pen to her bottom lip. She didn't believe me for one second. She wouldn't even allow herself the idea of believing me.

I stared over her head and out the window, unblinking. My eyes were heavy, and stuck open. The sweater surrounding me wasn't enough to keep me warm this evening.

"...Bella?" she questioned again. "How can that happen if your mother has passed away?"

"I don't know," I ground out through my teeth while my fingers massaged my throat, "but... I know... what I saw."

Miss Diane sighed heavily and leaned back in her chair, writing a few things down. I watched the pen swirling, the marks coming up. It didn't take long to figure out the words she'd use to describe me. Insane. Crazy. Nutjob. Suffering.

At least the last one would suffice.

"Let's talk about something else," she said. "Why don't you tell me about how you've been getting along with the other kids around here?"

"You know how I'm getting along," I barked at her. "Don't you get the nurse files?"

"Is that still going on?"

"Every time someone isn't looking."

She frowned and moved her chair a little closer toward me. I pressed myself up against the back of mine. "Bella... I'm sorry you're going through such a traumatic time. I'd hoped that by now, you would have been placed. I'm doing what I can to move you up to the top of the list, but it's going to take-"

"Hope is overrated," I snipped, glaring at her grey eyes. "You can't go on hope. You have to go on facts. You can't control this place anymore than I can."

"Bella..." she said, tentatively. I knew where this was heading. "If you say we have to go on facts... then how could you have seen your mother in the restroom with you last night?"

I stared blankly at her face, wishing I could scream and claw her eyes out. I had so much anger inside me, and right now, she looked like the perfect punching bag.

"Bella?"

I peeled my eyes away and tugged at the gloves covering my fingers. "...I thought we were going to talk about something else."

~*~

On Monday, a package arrived for me. A tiny brown box, wrapped in clear tape all the way around. Someone took extra precautions when they were sending it, to make sure nothing and no one could get inside without being noticed. At first, I thought it was from Tom, and I felt the excitement I thought lost grow again.

But then I noticed the sender's name. E.C. And all I felt was ache.

With trembling hands, I sat at the far picnic table, as far away from everyone as humanly possibly, and ripped open the tape. I had no idea what would be in this package. It'd been a week, and I'd received nothing from Edward, even though he promised to write every day. Maybe the items in this tiny box were a send-off. Sorry Bella, it could be saying. I figured out that there is a world outside of The Volturi Center, and that I don't need to remember you anymore. Have a good life.

Somehow, in the deepest part of my core, I knew Edward Cullen would never be that shallow or cold. Not even in print.

A gasp escaped my lips when the contents were revealed. It wasn't a plastic hand with a middle finger extended. It wasn't shiny new toys, or cds, or snack food, like everyone else here received. It was eight, crisp, white envelopes, each with a single digit number on the front from 1 to 8.

Somewhere overhead, a bird squawked and flew away. Basketballs drummed on the court. Sneakers squeaked on the pavement. Gossip echoed. They were all in their world. Mine was wrapped up in whatever could be inside these envelopes.

Hesitantly, I opened #1, and fumbled to lay it flat before me. I stared at the beautiful scroll, taking nothing in but his penmanship, and felt the chains around my heart loosen slightly. It was sad, how little I knew of Edward, when the effect he had on me still existed, even from miles away. Something told me I shouldn't read these letters, that I'd only be more consumed, and that would do nothing to help me with the mess I was in. Edward left. I was still here. I needed to adjust to that, not bury myself in a fantasy life of what-ifs. What-ifs couldn't exist in a place like this.

Dear Bella,
I'm in the car, on the way to Port Angeles to see the home. It's raining out. I know I should be focused on the road ahead of me... But somehow, my mind keeps drifting back to you. I apologize for being unable to give you a proper goodbye. I find myself constantly asking questions, wondering what could have been different. I'm sure that if you are still thinking about me, then you're wondering if I will forget about you now that I'm out. After all, who would want to think about a place like that, right? I know what you're thinking. But Bella, please rest assured that that will not be the case. The only friend I've ever had beside you was Angela, and I've found more closeness with you in one night full of silence than I had with her in months. Sure, I'll miss her, and I wish her nothing but fulfillment, wherever her path may lead. But with you, I can't help but worry, and wonder, and wish. I am unsure what this means. What you mean to me. I've never had a friend before you, and somehow in this short period of time, I doubt I'll ever have another like you.
I have to go now, we're pulling into the drive. I'll write more later, I promise.
Sincerely, Edward
.

I took a deep breath, folded and placed it back in the envelope, and moved on to the next. In the back of my mind, I knew I should wait. Save them all for a later time, have something to look forward to. But with Edward, there was no waiting. It was as if he was standing in front of me, or lingering across the yard. This was here, he was here, right now, with me. There was no way I could wait.

With willing fingers, I ripped open envelope #2.

Dear Bella,
Have you ever wished that you could freeze a moment in your life and bottle it up? I've thought about that today. Billy Black took me to the local diner to have lunch with him, to get to know each other better. The conversation flowed surprisingly well, as Billy's an easy guy to talk with. I didn't open up as easily as he'd hoped -- but somehow, ironically, I think he expected that. He appeared unphased and carried on to the next question, telling me he'd let me think about my answers. But then that question popped up: What has been a moment in your life before you were put in foster care, that you wished you could freeze and bottle up? And do you want to know something strange? I couldn't think of a any.
I mean, sure, yes, I remember my mom fixing my hair when I was four or five, back when she'd actually touch me. She'd dip the comb in a cup of water and spike my hair up, laughing about how she was going to do it until it got stuck there -- which sadly, rang true -- and teasing me about how high she could make it. I loved to see her laugh, to watch her red hair bounce. But then I remember my father storming into the bathroom, and my mom clutching me to her chest. My father's shouts of her wasting time with 'the boy' when she could have been doing laundry. He knocked me over on his way to the hamper, yanked it from the corner, dumped all the clothes that were in it on my feet, and said that since I was being a pansy boy who loved to get his hair fixed, that I could be a pansy boy who learned to do laundry. And from then on, I was the only person in the house that would do it.
Billy didn't know my thoughts had led to that direction. I tried not to show it on my face. But it really bothered me when I couldn't find a single happy memory. In fact, I don't think I even had a life back then. The happiest memory I've ever had in the past sixteen years was probably watching you draw what you wanted to see in me. Because that's what intrigued me most about you. In your eyes, in your touch, lies your passion. There, drawing, you were vulnerable. Spread open like a book before me. And I'll never forget how I felt being in your presence.
Thank you for listening. I'd love to know about your happiest memory, whenever you write back.
Sincerely, Edward.

Moving onto envelope #3 was more difficult with blurry eyes. I felt Edward's pain, as a five year old little boy, stab through my heart. It scared me, the unannounced connection I had with him. I blinked the tears away, thankful they didn't fall. I started to feel eyes on me from kids in the distance. I didn't want them to see me weak.

Dear Bella,
I had another nightmare tonight. I'd hoped that moving away from the hell of that place, that starting over anew would banish, or at least diminish, those, but sadly, it didn't. I woke up gasping and sweaty. The pillow soaked from strangled tears. Feeling more exhausted than before I fell asleep.
I don't remember too much about the dream, except for the fact that you were there, and my mother. I stood in Times Square in New York City. You know, the place you see on the news, with all the televisions, signs and tall buildings? Only it was empty.
Well, there was a giant distance between my mother and I. We stood facing each other. She stared at me blankly, with tubes connected to her arms, and reached out for me. I moved a step closer, and then I heard your voice. You called for me, and I spun around, and then there you were, standing in the distance, wearing those gloves of yours. And you reached out to me. I took four or five steps toward you, then turned back around, and noticed my mother had moved further back. I shouted for her that I'd return and stepped closer to you, and then she started screaming for help. I turned again and my dad had his hands around her throat. Her eyes bloodshot, her trembling fingers struggling to reach for me. I ran toward them, feet as heavy as iron lead, and begged for him to let her go, to hit me instead. Over and over, I felt the blows, each time he punched my mother. I begged for him to stop but he wouldn't. And then I heard you, screaming over their voices. Begging me to come back. Over and over, I was making decisions, moving forward and backward, going in circles. I felt my parents slipping away. I felt myself losing hope that I couldn't get to them in time, that I couldn't save my mother. And then I felt that same lost hope, that I couldn't help you, couldn't find out why you were in pain, were screaming endless, haunting screams. I felt the pull, began to grow dizzy, prayed I could somehow be in two places at once. But like smoke, everyone vanished into thin air, and I was the one that was alone.
Then I woke up.
I don't know why I'm writing you this. I shouldn't burden you with nonsense, but... I had to get it out. Tell someone. For some reason, I wanted to tell you.
What does that mean?
Sincerely, Edward.

The tears broke through the damn of my armor and splattered over his page. I didn't know what his dream meant to him. But, to me, I wondered if I was holding him back. Even with the separation, maybe my fear was coming true. I didn't want to hold him back, make him choose anything. I just wanted him to be happy.

"Shit," I cursed, swiping them away. I only made it worse. A few letters from Edward's name were now ruined.

Growling, I took a deep breath, put it back in its envelope, and opened #4.

Dear Bella,
I haven't sent these to you, and I apologize for that. I'm also sorry for the last letter you read. I thought about not sending it at all, but then I felt like I'd be keeping something from you, and that seemed impossible to do. Eventually, it'd come out in another letter anyway.
Not much has changed around here. Billy's nice. He's a music teacher, spends a lot of time on the piano. I like to listen to the melodies when I sit outside the balcony to my room. His music is soothing.
There's two other boys, Jasper and Jacob. Jake is Billy's biological son. He's fifteen. Jasper, who's sixteen, has been in the foster care system since he was three. Billy's trying to go through the adoption procedures with him right now. They are day and night apart, but seem very close. They're cool guys.
Jake approached me first. He's shy, and Jasper is... not, so it surprised me when Jake extended a hand and offered to help me with my things. Of course I declined, but it made me feel good that he didn't look at me like an outsider trying to take over his place in his father's life. Guess it was all the horror stories I heard in The Volt, about kids like us. Coming in to preexisting lives, changing shit up, pissing people off.
.I hope that it will be an easy transition for you as well. I cross my fingers that you'll get out of there as soon as humanly possible.
Please let me know that you're doing okay, Bella. I think about that a lot.
Sincerely, Edward.

Boys on the basketball fight were screaming at each other about cheating.

Angela came and sat on the far end of the bench from me. She gave me a tender smile and pulled a comic book from her bag.

I turned away from her and opened letter #5.

Dear Bella,
I thought about my mother a lot today. Wondering what she's doing, and what they are doing to her. Her next court date is coming up. They say I should be there. Not only as a key witness, but they're throwing 'suspect' out at me again. I'm unsure what to think right now, to tell you the truth. I haven't seen my mother in weeks. I have no idea about her mental stability, but if it's anything like her letters... well... then I fear for the both of us.
I'll let you know how it goes. I have to help Jasper do some yard work.
When you write back, tell me if you've been reading anything good lately. I know how you steal those books from The Volt's library on occasion. ;)
Sincerely, Edward.

It felt strange but I almost smiled at the thought that he knew I borrowed the library books. Without meaning to, I pictured the three books hidden under a sweatshirt in my locker. I wondered what he'd write back about my choices.

"Would you like some?" Angela asked as she extended a can of Pringles toward me.

I bit my lip and stared at her, refocusing on the present for a moment. My stomach growled.

She shook the can around.

I smiled and took a few, then looked back toward the box in front of me. "Thanks."

"Sure," she answered quietly.

I wiped any grease from the Pringles off of my fingers on my jeans. I couldn't stand the idea of any of the letters getting dirty.

I pulled letter # 6 out quickly, needing his words more than I should.

Dear Bella,
I hope you're not sick of me yet. It feels like you're the only one I can talk to, even if it's only through the mail. How are you? How are things with Sheena? I want to know everything, please don't hold back. I need to know. It's been burning inside me, not being there. I feel left in the dark.

I smiled at the sentence he had to scribble out and re-write. It made him seem more real to me, just then. Like the beautiful boy who once stood in front of me, flaws and all.

^^^Sorry, Jasper sat on my bed. Anyway, I don't think I'll be able to write much tonight, unfortunately. The guys keep going on and on about a party they are having on the beach. Say I have to go. A part of me wants to stay here and write to you. Imagine what you're thinking. But another part of me wants to go and try to enjoy myself, get to know them better. Again, like the dream, I'm torn.
But they're not going to stop until I go. I'll write more later.
Have you received that package from Tommy yet? Just wondering.
Wish me luck tonight.
Sincerely, Edward.

A sharp pain pressed into my ribs when I folded that one back up. I wasn't sure if it was jealousy, or worry, or some other foreign emotion that bothered me. Edward was going to be okay there, I could tell. I needed to accept it. Needed to support him. I couldn't be worrying every time he went out and did things with his friends. That's what teenage boys did, what I used to do.

What made it so different with him?

Dear Bella,
The party went okay after all. At first, the rest of the kids looked at me like I was the outsider. I almost expected them to make me leave, and was slightly concerned that some of the guys wanted to piss on all of the women, to mark their territory. I spent most of the time looking out at the ocean and thinking back to our night last week.
Jasper and Jacob brought three girls back with them. Billy never noticed, asleep on the opposite side of the house. Everyone was wasted by then. I wasn't sober myself.
I cannot tell you what the guys were doing with those two in their rooms, but from what it sounded like... Well... let's just say that I shouldn't have been listening at all.
The third girl, Naomi, hung out with me while her friends were busy. She's very nice, a bit timid. She was born in Japan. Her father's retired from the Navy after more than twenty years dedicated, and decided to move to Port Angeles to take care of his sick mother. She has an absent mother and is left most days to wander around by herself. I think you'd get along with her, if you two were to meet. She seems to understand where I come from, what the world is like for you and I. She doesn't ask too many questions.
Jasper and Jacob gave me this idea at the party. They said that maybe we could sneak you out one night, bring you back here and hang out with us. I told them that they were crazy, that it could get the both of us in serious trouble.
But then I thought about how much I missed seeing your eyes.
How are you sleeping?
Sincerely, Edward.

With trembling fingers, I tossed the envelope back in the box and clung to the last letter like it was my final breath. He was with a girl. Why did that bother me so much? Why did I want to scream, or cry, or kick this picnic table? I had to have known this was coming, had to have known that he'd make more friends. That girls would come around. That there would be attraction.

I couldn't expect that he'd wait for someone like me. Mousy, pale, motherless, albino-girl Bella.

Edward and I, we were just friends. Pen pals.

I shouldn't feel so jealous.

The letters Edward sent to me- each of them- I felt grateful for and angry with myself for once thinking he decided not to write. Because he had written every day he'd been gone.

This was the start of a friendship web, like the kind I made with my friends in my past life. One of us would tie yarn around our finger and throw the ball, saying something nice about the person who caught it. Then they'd wrap it around their finger, and toss it to the next person, and so on and so on, until the circle between everyone became a web.

Sure, these letters weren't little notes of Edward saying nice things about me.

It was much more than that.

He was opening himself up. And I knew that I could do the same. I trusted him.

I stared at #8 in my hands. Pondered opening it for the longest time, while I listened to the other kids laugh and the tree branches swaying.

I tried to remind myself that, after this, there'd be no more letters for now.

But I still couldn't wait.

With a defeated sigh, I ripped the final letter open, and held my breath while I read it.

Dear Bella,
You should be receiving this on Monday. At least I hope so. If not, you may be surprised when you find out that I am coming to get you tonight. Be at your window at eleven o'clock, and dress warm. I'll see you as soon as I can.
Sincerely, Edward.



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

Please let me know your thoughts. Feedback means a lot to writer's who dedicate their time to provide a story, so make sure to hit that green button if it pleases you. ;)

Three Quick announcements:
1.) Pictures of Bella & Edward (age 16) have been added to the thread. I'll update their pics when they turn 17, and 18 as well.
2.)I've noticed from a lot of your pm's and reviews... This story is not even 1/2 finished yet. We are no where near the preface. :D
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