Though this isn't my first attempt at writing a multi-chaptered story, it is the first I've had the courage to post. Please be kind! Much thanks to lislar and jenidig for beta services, to brandy_d and eviekinz for pre-reading. You ladies rock!

Disclaimer: Twilight belongs to Stephenie Meyer, but she's nice enough to let me borrow her characters for a little while. :)

Chapter 1: Oh, She's Only Seventeen

Bella stood at her locker, shoving books in and gathering the things she needed to take home for the weekend. She didn't have any homework, but she wanted to get a head start on some reading for her literature class. She tucked her battered copy of The Crucible into her messenger bag and slammed the locker shut.

"Have a good weekend, Bella."

"See you on Monday!"

Bella waved to her two classmates as they continued towards the exit, giggling with one another. The two girls, Laura and Cathy, had invited her over on Saturday to watch the movie version of The Crucible, but she had politely declined. Though she might have enjoyed an afternoon of watching movies, eating popcorn, and gossiping with the two, her mother would be home this weekend and she was anxious to see her.

Renee was supposed to have only been away for three days, but somehow the trip had been extended to ten. She'd gone to Jacksonville again to visit her boyfriend. He'd been gone for several months and Bella had assumed that by now Renee would have moved on to someone new. Her mother wasn't the type to stay in relationships for long, and Bella was shocked that this one had lasted as long as it had, especially with Renee's latest boy toy moving halfway across the country.

Bella took her time walking home, getting lost in her daydreams. When she arrived at the small rental house she shared with her mother, she was shocked to see Renee's beat-up old Toyota Corolla already in the driveway. Her mother wasn't supposed to be home until later tonight. Walking into the house, she felt immediately on edge as she noticed stacks of brown cardboard boxes piled up in the foyer. As she entered the living room, she saw Renee standing near the large curio cabinet, wrapping her porcelain knickknacks in newspaper and placing them into an open box.

"Mom?" Bella questioned, trepidation evident in her voice.

"Oh, Bella! Good, you're home. I've already put some empty boxes up in your room."

"Mom, what are you…what's going on?" Even as she said the words, Bella knew exactly what was happening.

"We're moving! Aren't you excited? Oh, baby, you're going to love Jacksonville. It's so sunny and I already found us this cute little apartment…"

Bella didn't wait for her mother to finish. She bolted straight for her room, slamming the door loudly. She fell down onto her bed just as the tears that had pooled into her eyes began to slide down her cheeks. She was so sick of all of this, sick of being a tag-along to all of Renee's whims and desires. She'd finally gotten comfortable in Phoenix, but just like always, she was being uprooted before she'd had a chance to bloom. All that mattered was what Renee wanted; she never even considered Bella's wants or feelings when she made huge life decisions. After all, Renee was the adult and she was the child. And doesn't mother always know best?

~ o ~

Renee continued to pack boxes for the move, even as she heard the sobs coming from the bedroom of her only daughter. It was just like Bella to get overly emotional about something as silly as a little move. Renee couldn't even understand why she was so upset. This wasn't their first move together, nor was it the first move Renee had made for a man. Renee tried to count up the number of times she and Bella had moved to a new city, but stopped counting when the number reached double digits. Their first move, of course, had been to leave wet and dreary Forks, Washington behind. She escaped in the dead of the night with two-year-old Bella in tow, leaving a distraught Charlie Swan to pick up the pieces of what had been their life together.

This move was different, though. This time, they were moving so that Renee could be with the love of her life, the much younger Phil Dwyer. Phil was a minor league baseball player and he had been traded to a team in Jacksonville during the off-season. Renee had made a few trips to Florida to visit, but she'd found it hard to gather the strength to leave Phil and return to Phoenix.

Deep down, Renee knew that she should feel guilty for uprooting her 17-year-old daughter for the companionship of a man, but she just couldn't find it in herself to care. She was essentially a selfish creature; having a child didn't change that. Truth be told, the only reason that she had taken Bella when she fled Forks was because of the guarantee of child support. No matter what happened between them, Charlie would never wish to see his daughter go without, and Renee had needed that money to start their new life, to get them settled until she could find a job.

~ o ~

The move to Jacksonville had been a torturous affair. The "cute little apartment" Renee had rented was definitely little, though nothing about it could be even remotely considered cute. The kitchen was grimy, with torn linoleum, outdated green appliances, and dreary yellow cabinets with peeling paint. There were two very small bedrooms, though Bella was convinced hers was actually meant to be a small office or walk-in closet. She only had room for a twin-sized bed, a small dresser, and one of her bookcases. Some of her furniture had to be put into storage, but a few things, like her desk, could be placed in the living room.

Bella tried to find the good in the situation, but it seemed as if there was none to be found. Her new school was horrible. She just didn't fit in with the girls there, the ones with bleached blonde hair and tanned skin. Sure, she didn't really fit in at her school in Phoenix either, but at least the kids there knew her. She and Renee had lived in Phoenix for several years, longer than they had ever stayed in one place. Bella had honestly thought she could survive there until college, until it would be her choice to leave.

Disappointment colored Bella's outlook, as she was once again hurt by the choices her mother had made. She thought Renee had finally grown up, given up her need to chase men all over the country. It wasn't that Phil wasn't a nice guy; he definitely was. But Bella knew that he was just another knot in a long string of men that Renee had changed her whole life for. Bella thought back to the times that Renee had colored her hair, changed how she dressed, taken up new activities, or simply just pretended to be someone she was not. Renee would do anything to please a man, anything to be with her flavor of the month, though she always insisted that the man in question was her "one true love."

Bella had been subjected to one too many "uncles" in her young life and Renee seemed oblivious to the effect this had on her daughter. Though she barely knew her father, Bella found herself missing him more than she ever had. Visits with Charlie were few and far between, but Bella always looked forward to them. Her father was a quiet man, but time spent with him was comfortable and warm, like a favorite flannel shirt. Charlie wasn't one to vocalize how he felt, but his actions spoke louder than any words ever could. He sent cards for every holiday, called to check-in often, and, unlike Renee, never forgot a birthday. He had also never introduced Bella to any so-called "aunts."

Bella briefly considered hopping on the next flight to Seattle, leaving the sun of Jacksonville for the rain of Forks. She'd never really given much thought to living with her father, but she surmised that it couldn't be worse than this. Of course, she knew that Renee would pitch a fit if she knew the thought have even crossed Bella's mind. She would just have to tough things out, find a way to overcome being the social pariah at her new school. If only she hadn't had to transfer mid-semester, when all of the students had already made friends and settled into routines, then maybe things would have been different.

It wasn't as if Bella had a lot of friends that she had left behind in Phoenix. She simply missed the comfort and serenity the place afforded her. The students there at least knew her name, accepted her for who she was. She had people to chat with in class, to ask for help with her homework, or to sit with and enjoy lunch in the cafeteria. The students at her new school simply avoided her. No one offered to show her to her classes on the first day, to help her get caught up on the lessons she had missed, or asked her to sit with them at their table in the cafeteria. She spent much of her first weeks wandering through the hallways, confused and clutching the school map to her chest. Lunch hours were endured by hiding in a deserted bathroom or the library. There no one would stare at her and make her feel uncomfortable, like she was unworthy of their presence. She didn't even have a lab partner in biology! It was a miserable existence and she wondered how she would survive until summer.

Renee, meanwhile, had completely immersed herself in Phil and his life. She spent all of her time going to his games, making friendly with the team wives, or staying with him at his apartment. She would try to call Bella daily to check on her, but sometimes days would pass before they actually laid eyes on one another. Renee didn't spend much time in their small apartment, preferring to be alone with Phil at his place. Bella didn't know if her mother didn't realize how depressed she was or if she simply didn't care.

~ o ~

Though time seemed to pass on slowly, Bella eventually made it through the spring. When summer vacation finally rolled around, she was utterly exhausted. She hadn't realized how hard keeping up a façade of happiness would be. With nothing but free time on the horizon, she planned to spend her days reading and relaxing, immersing herself in the worlds of her favorite books. Even if her own life left something to be desired, at least she could pretend for a little while that things were better. She hoped that the summer would help rejuvenate her broken spirit. Maybe she could even spend some time with Renee, time that might make headway into healing their fractured relationship.

Bella's plan, however, did not take into account the flighty nature of her mother. Renee had plans of her own, plans that centered around Phil. She wanted to take time to go to the ballpark and see more games, to travel with the team on road trips. Because of her job as a kindergarten aide at the local elementary school, she hadn't gotten to spend nearly as much time at the field as she would have liked.

Only a week after Bella's summer vacation began, Renee was boarding a charter bus with Phil and his team for a lengthy road trip. Renee thought that time on the road would be good for her relationship with Phil, especially without Bella around. In her own way, Renee loved her daughter, but Phil didn't want children. She knew that if Bella had been younger and unable to take care of herself, she and Phil would have never had a chance. If they could just make it through the next year, they would be alone, as Bella would be off to college and living in the dormitories.

~ o ~

Bella spent the duration of the month of May reading and lounging around the apartment. It was almost as if she lived alone, as Renee only stumbled through between road trips, to pick up clean clothes or drop off dirty laundry. While Bella didn't have the responsibility of earning money, she still had to make sure that things were in order and that the bills were paid. For years, she had been the one responsible for making sure the water and electricity stayed on, that there were groceries in the cupboard, that dinner was cooked, and their clothing was laundered. Even though she felt a bit of hostility and contempt towards her mother, she still made sure that she washed Renee's clothes and put them away. Half of the time, bunches of Phil's dirty goods also seemed to make it into the pile, but Bella washed those as well. She felt more like a laundry service than a daughter.

Once the bills were paid and a small amount of groceries were purchased, there was little money left over for Bella to buy anything extra or to have fun with. She couldn't take advantage of any of the sights and sounds of the city. Though she was more of a homebody, she would have at least enjoyed being able to go to a park or a museum, to spend time at the beach, maybe even experience some of the more touristy spots Jacksonville had to offer. Realizing that she was simply squandering away her time when she could be doing something to change her circumstances, she set out to find a job. She applied at a bookstore, which was her top choice, the restaurants near her home, as well as any place that seemed to be hiring at the nearest mall. As her luck would have it, after several weeks of waiting, none of her top choices had called back and she was forced to take a job at a local ice cream shop. With no work experience, she wasn't surprised by the crappy, seasonal job she'd ended up with, but she had hoped for something that didn't have anything to do with food.

Work at the ice cream shop was tiring and repetitive. The small building only housed the kitchen, a freezer, a storage closet, and a pair of restrooms. The windows stayed open in hopes of coaxing in a gentle breeze. All of the tables for customers were outside, scattered on the patio that surrounded the small ice cream shack. Some were simply regular picnic tables, but a few had large umbrellas to shield patrons from the blistering sun. Bella spent her days scooping ice cream, blending milkshakes, and trying to stay cool in the sweltering heat.

Many of the customers at the ice cream shop were kids Bella recognized from her school. She was jealous of them, as they sat together laughing and eating ice cream. Bella wished she could be one of them, but she knew they only saw her as the girl that took their order. No one ever noticed her, went out of their way to speak to her, or remembered that she was a student at their school. She wondered why she was so invisible and if anyone would ever notice the pale, brown-haired girl that simply wanted to fit in.

On one particularly hot day, Bella was behind the pick-up window, wiping up the remnants of the sticky ice cream someone had let drip all over the counter.

"Hey, you're the new girl," a husky male voice called out.

Bella looked up to see a handsome young man staring at her. He had dirty blonde hair, a deep tan, twinkling blue eyes, and the whitest teeth she had ever seen. She stared at him with wide eyes.

"At school…you went to my school, right?"

Bella closed her eyes briefly before looking at the boy again. Of course, she knew who he was. His name was James and he had been a senior at her high school. Though she tried to remain oblivious, there were certain students at her school that stood out and he was one of them. Aside from being the son of a well-known politician, he had been an honor student, was captain of the baseball team, and she thought she'd heard gossip in the hallways that he'd been accepted to several Ivy League institutions. She assumed he would be heading off to college in the fall and she wondered why he was taking time out to talk to her. Surely there was someone much prettier, smarter, and more outgoing that he should be spending his time talking to.

It wasn't that Bella thought she was ugly, but more that she simply wasn't beautiful. When she looked at her reflection in the mirror, the words plain and boring were the only things that came to mind. She had long brown hair that fell around her shoulders in waves, a deep contrast to her pale porcelain skin. Her face was adorned with deep chocolate eyes, a small nose, and bow-shaped lips. She was a petite girl, thin but curvy. Maybe she was at least pretty. Bella was broken away from her internal assessment of her appearance when she heard James clear his throat.

"Yeah, I went to Bishop," Bella shyly replied.

"Cool," he said as he stuck out his hand. "I'm James, by the way."

"Bella," she whispered, as she placed her tiny, sticky hand into his.

"Well, Bella, it was nice to officially meet you. I'm sure I'll see you around."

He grabbed his milkshake from the counter and sauntered off, walking towards a shiny new pickup truck. Bella continued to stare at his retreating form, still unsure if their conversation had actually happened. When he arrived at his truck, James turned and winked at her. Bella blushed furiously, not used to being paid attention to by teenage boys, especially not boys as handsome as James. Technically, she'd never even really been kissed, unless she counted the time she was twelve and a boy on the playground tried to shove his tongue down her throat, an unpleasant experience she'd definitely like to forget.

~ o ~

Since introducing himself, James started to make more frequent appearances at the ice cream shop. Though Bella didn't want to get her hopes up or assume that his visits were to see her, she was happy when James would appear at the window, asking her for ice cream suggestions and making sure she prepared his order. He also always left a nice tip in the jar on the counter. She paid careful attention to the people he spoke with, trying to figure out if any of the girls that hung around were his girlfriend, but he only spoke briefly to those milling about and he always arrived and left alone.

On a particularly sticky July afternoon, Bella sat at one of the umbrella-covered picnic tables, sipping on a soda and reading one of her favorite novels. She was finished with her shift, but it would be an hour before the city bus would swing by. She lived close enough that she could have walked, but after a grueling shift, she wasn't feeling particularly motivated. Her hair was plastered to her forehead, a combination of the heat and the stupid hat she was forced to wear. The small apron that was provided did nothing to protect her clothing and her t-shirt was riddled with stains. She was sweaty and sticky, the latter the result of a run-in with a particularly evil milkshake machine. Too immersed in cataloging her disgusting appearance, she hadn't noticed that someone had sat down at the table with her. She was startled when she looked up and saw James, smiling at her like she was made of sunshine.

They stared at one another for several moments, until James finally broke the silence, making a crack about the book Bella was reading. She giggled and held the much abused paperback close to her chest, her stomach alight with nervous energy. With the awkwardness broken, conversation soon moved along, the two making small talk and gaining insight into one another's lives. Bella learned that, quite opposite as to what she expected, James would not be attending college in the fall.

"I just don't know what I want to do with my life. My parents are pressuring me to go pre-law and follow in my father's footsteps, but sometimes I think I just want to load up my truck with all of my stuff and hit the road. My dad pulled some strings to get my admission deferred, but I'm hoping the time off will help me figure out some other way. I don't know if college is really my thing."

"That must be tough, but at least your parents have expectations of you. My dad's not around, and my mom…she just doesn't really care."

"At least you have a couple of years left to figure that stuff out."

"Actually," Bella mused, "I don't. I'll be a senior this year. And I'll be eighteen next month."

"We will definitely have to celebrate that occasion," James said, his eyes alight with mischief.

Conversation between the two continued at a leisurely pace, with little to no awkward silence. Bella was surprised to find that she and James had several things in common, including a mutual love of reading, though she preferred classic literature to his obsession with all things science fiction. Their family lives couldn't have been more different, however. James was from a wealthy family and lived in an upscale neighborhood in a large, brick home. He had fought with his family to attend a public school, rather than being sent off to boarding school like his brother. He'd spent his whole life in Jacksonville, but he longed to see the world. He loved to surf and spent as much time at the beach as possible. He offered to teach Bella how to surf, but she declined due to her clumsy nature. He laughed at that and told her maybe she could try body boarding instead.

They continued to talk until Bella looked up and realized that she'd missed her bus completely. The parking lot of the ice cream shop was practically deserted and the kids that usually hung around were all gone. A check of her watch confirmed her suspicions; they'd been sitting there talking for nearly two hours. Bella knew she should be getting home, especially since Renee was supposed to be dropping by later in the evening. When James offered to walk her to her car, she was embarrassed to tell him that she'd missed her bus. Instead, she told him she had walked and when he offered to give her a ride, she accepted.

The drive to her house was a short ride spent in silence. She wasn't sure what to say and she struggled to keep from fidgeting. She kept her eyes trained on her sneakers, trying to avoid the urge she had to just stare unabashedly at James. When they pulled up to her house, she thanked him for the ride, but continued to sit in the cab of the truck. James was staring at her like she was something to eat, something that made her both nervous and excited. When he leaned towards her, staring at her lips, she flinched and backed away. He looked at her, his eyes awash with confusion.

"I'm sorry. I just…it was really hot today and I've been working. I probably smell bad," she nervously rattled on.

"Bella, I think you smell like vanilla ice cream and maraschino cherries…and those are two of my very favorite things."

Bella blushed at the compliment, and when he leaned in again to kiss her, this time she let him.

A/N: Just stick with me here. Things will be a little rough for a bit, but I promise that this is a Bella and Edward story. Time will jump around for the first few chapters, but will slow down once we reach a certain point. Chapters may also get longer as we progress.

I have to give a huge shout-out to the talented lislar. She lets me annoy her with multiple e-mails each day, harassing her with each and every silly thought that runs through my head. She's helped me map out my story, fine tune my characters, and really define the story I want to tell. She's awesome! Definitely check out both of her stories, The Innocent Heart of Darkness and Second Chances.

Other stories that make me drop everything and read are The Cannabean Betrothal and A Rough Start by ItzMegan73, The University of Edward Masen by SebastianRobichaud, and Relative Wind by Mac214.