UPDATE: I am thrilled to announce that my story got 2nd place in the Anything Goes Under The Mistletoe challenge. I was completely shocked. I did not expect it at all.

The Sandbox Presents: Anything Goes Under the Mistletoe

Author: earthprincess4

Story Title: Happenstance

Rating: T

Vamp or Human: Human

Number of Words (not including A/N or header/footer): 14,972

Disclaimer: I don't own twilight or its characters, Stephanie Meyer does.

Please visit the Anything Goes Under The Mistletoe C2 to find more contest entries --

http://www (dot) fanfiction (dot) net/community/The_Sandbox_Presents_Anything_Goes_Under_the_Mistletoe/76627/

I never cared for much of anything in my life except for my car. My father gave it to me on my sixteenth birthday. Six months later, he died suddenly from a heart attack. He was only 46 years old and he was all I had. My mom died when I was just three months old from Cancer. She was diagnosed shortly after she found out she was pregnant with me, and she refused to take any medications for the cancer while pregnant. Her doctors advised her to terminate the pregnancy and to fight for her life but she wouldn't. She spent her last few months fighting every day so I would survive. Once I was born she didn't have any fight left for herself, and she died three months later. To this day, I don't know how much time she was actually able to spend with me during those three months after my birth. I have no memories of her except the stories my dad told me, but he never said much about the time she was pregnant or the time afterwards. Instead, he chose to tell me stories of their life together and how happy they were to be having a son.

After my dad died, I was sent to live with my Aunt Esme and Uncle Carlisle in this Podunk little town in the state of Washington, called Forks. Who in their right mind named a town Forks? My aunt and uncle had been married forever, it seemed like, and they longed to have kids but were never able to. I didn't know why and I didn't pry, but I was always curious. I came here to live with them on Christmas Day. They treated me like a little kid and had so many gifts for me. They seemed so happy and excited I was here. I didn't understand their happiness while I was dying inside.

I grew up in sunny Southern California, so abruptly moving here in the middle of winter was quite the shock. I was acclimating to the climate change well, although fitting in with the locals was a different story. I had been here for only a year and I had gotten in more trouble in that short amount of time than I ever had in my entire life. I guess you could say I fell into the wrong crowd the minute I got there.

Mike Newton and Tyler Crowley were my only friends, and they weren't the best type of friends, so to speak. They kept me well supplied in the drugs and alcohol department, which is the reason my car came to play such a large roll.

One night in early November, after a crazy party that Mike and I attended in Port Angeles, I had drank a little more than I thought I had and wrapped my car around a telephone pole. Everyone was surprised that we had survived such a gruesome accident and walked away, for the most part, unscathed. Hell, even I was surprised. You would think experiencing a miracle of this magnitude would be a huge eye opener and make me change my ways, but it wasn't. I did everything one can imagine that, in normal circumstances, would have probably killed whoever it happened to. But for whatever reason, I was still here. I never died or even came close to dying. For some reason, there was an indestructible force that surrounded me, and no matter how much I tried, I never died. It's not that I particularly wanted to die or set out to die, but I didn't care if I did or not.

Esme described each incident that I had gotten myself into and survived as a miracle. But I just saw it as another big joke that whatever higher power existed was playing on me.

Esme and Carlisle yelled and screamed and threatened to send me away to get help after this latest incident. I didn't care, though. I didn't listen to any of it and, really, I had no interest in being helped. The judge was lenient on me. I am sure there was some bribery involved to get me off easy, and I had no doubt it was Carlisle's doing. He used the same lines every time I got into trouble. "His dad and only parent died recently, and he had to move here. We're trying to get through to him, but he's having a hard time at it. He's just a messed up kid trying to figure out where he belongs." He was right in some sense: I was a messed up kid, but I wasn't trying to figure out where I belonged. I was trying to figure out why the hell I was still here. Why was I left behind?

The judge gave me a hefty fine, which I was sure Carlisle would take care of, and six weeks of community service. I figured I would be on the side of the road in a little orange vest picking up trash. That would be easy; I've done it before. But not this time; the judge had a different plan. He decided I needed to work at a local soup kitchen for the homeless and less fortunate that was being run at a church. I scoffed at the idea at first, but the judge gave me a pointed look that only could mean he was serious and I had better be careful if I didn't want to end up in jail. I shut up. I didn't care if I went to jail or not, but the longer I could stay out, the better.

Carlisle dropped me off my first day working at the soup kitchen. I was tempted to call Tyler or Mike to have them pick me up and skip out on this whole crazy idea. What was I going to do in a fucking soup kitchen anyways? I walked in the back door and introduced myself to the gray-haired, wrinkly old woman named Sue, who met me there. She gave me the once over with a look of disgust, then showed me where to put my stuff and handed me an apron. I laughed and raised an eyebrow at her. There was no way in fucking hell I was going to wear an apron. I was pretty sure this was going to be my last day coming here. Jail would be much easier than this.

I grabbed the apron roughly and followed her into the kitchen, where she told me to wait by the sink until my trainer got there. My trainer? Who was my trainer, and what were they training me to do? I was getting more freaked out as every second passed by before I would meet my "trainer." I glanced around at the people here and noticed that there were four older women who were busy cooking. One was Sue, but I had yet to meet any of the others, and I didn't think they had any interest in introducing themselves to me. I caught a couple of them glancing my way occasionally, and when our eyes met, they would turn away quickly, pretending like they hadn't looked my way. They seemed to be scared of me. I wondered what they were afraid I was going to do— not like I could go wrap them around a telephone pole or something. I wasn't a dangerous criminal or anything. I was content in hurting myself, not others.

I turned toward the sink, trying to hide slightly as I took the bottle of vodka out of my inside jacket pocket and tipped it back, taking a big swig. I needed something to get through this night. As I placed the cap back on the bottle and secured it back in my jacket, I heard a sweet, musical voice speak behind me.

"Sorry, I'm late. I had to pick up my dad's prescription at the pharmacy and, of course, there was a long line, considering it's flu season." I recognized the voice instantly, but I wouldn't say I was excited to hear it. I turned around to face her.

"Isabella Swan," I taunted. "I should have known Miss Perfect would be here." She glared at me, as did the other four ladies. I could tell they were protective of her.

"And what's that supposed to mean?" she asked with anger in her tone. I didn't answer; instead I swallowed hard and looked around at everyone's faces.

Sue walked over to Bella, giving her a welcoming hug and warm smile, then whispered, "He's all yours," in her ear. Great, that must mean she's my trainer. I watched as she put her apron on, turning slightly red across her cheekbones as she glanced in my direction through her hair. She took a deep breath and walked across the kitchen, where I was leaning against the counter.

"You need to put that on," she ordered, gesturing to the apron I still held bunched up in my hand. I huffed but did as she said. The sooner I got all this over with, the sooner I could do the next fucked-up thing that would most likely land me in jail or, better yet, dead.

She waited while I put it over my head and tied it loosely in the back. She rolled her eyes and surprised the shit out of me when she flipped me around and tied the bow tightly around my waist. I moaned suggestively as she pulled the strings tighter. She sighed in disgust. "You're such a pig." She walked out into the main hall and I followed behind, laughing.

"People will be showing up in about an hour. They come through those doors and line up along the wall. Once the window to the kitchen is opened, Sue, Emily, Charlotte, and Mary will dish up their trays as they pass by. Then, everyone finds a place to sit and eat and warm up a little by the fire. They chat with friends, go through our clothing closet if they need something. Then, around seven, we shut down and everyone goes home. Our job is to wipe down the tables and benches before and after they get here and wash their trays and dishes as they finish. They'll bring over their dishes to the washing station over here." She motioned to a small opening in the wall that was similar to where she said food would be passed out, but smaller. "Once all the dishes are done and put away for the next time, we can go home."

I nodded my head in understanding. It seemed easy enough. She walked back in the kitchen and grabbed two towels and a spray bottle of cleaner. She thrust one towel at me and I followed her lead in washing the tables. So far it wasn't so bad. I could get through the next six weeks easily.

Once dishes started getting passed through the window, I was overloaded with work; I realized I was wrong—the next six weeks were going to be brutal. I caught Bella laughing at my obvious lack of knowledge when it came to washing dishes. All she was doing was taking the trays and putting them in their correct bin for me to wash and chatting with the people who came over. She was so polite to every one of them, even if they looked horrible. Some of the men were dirty and smelled bad like they hadn't showered in weeks, maybe even months. Others had missing teeth or none at all. Some recognizably had something seriously wrong with them. There were quite a few little kids running around, as well. After a while, when most of the trays were delivered, Bella walked out into the hall and gathered all the kids into a circle and began playing games with them, giving the adults a chance to talk or look through clothes like she had said. Unfortunately, I was stuck in here trying to figure out how in the hell I was going to get all of these dishes washed by seven.

By the time people started leaving for the night, Bella finally came back in and helped me finish up. She was quick and good at what she did. I think she washed more dishes in the small amount of time she had been helping than I had the entire night.

Once we were done I headed outside to wait for Carlisle. I was covered in dirty water and leftover food particles. I felt grimy and sweaty. All I wanted to do was go home, take a shower, and have a couple of drinks and pass out for the night.

I watched as Bella hugged each of the ladies good night before she jumped in an old, beat-up, faded red truck. She fired up the engine, which was loud and choked a little. I stifled a laugh at how ridiculous she looked in the monstrous thing. As she pulled out of the parking lot, she turned in my direction and waved lazily before turning onto the street.

I didn't really know a lot about Bella Swan, other than she was a straight A student; she probably had the best grade point average in the entire school. She was a little shy and kept to herself most of the time. She never did anything wrong, always followed the rules, and did everything she was told to do — basically the perfect child in everyone's eyes. I didn't have anything against her other than my irritation for how she made everyone else look bad, but I saw something else tonight. She was caring and nurturing, even when it came to people who most would avoid at all costs. I didn't understand it or know why she was that way, but it was intriguing, to say the least.

Monday, Wednesday, and Friday nights I showed up at the church and did my job, even though I hated it. On more than one occasion I was tempted to walk out, but for whatever reason, I stayed. Maybe I was afraid of disappointing Esme and Carlisle, or maybe I didn't want to end up in jail. But, whatever the reason, I stayed. As time went by, I got better at what I was doing and was actually able to keep up with Bella and not end up a watery mess in the process. She didn't talk to me much, and I wasn't really interested in striking up a conversation with her anyway. But sometimes the silence was uncomfortable, so I would ask her stupid questions like what her favorite color was just to get through the hours. When she told me her favorite color was green, I asked her why, but she refused to offer an explanation. It seemed like an odd favorite color for a girl. Weren't they supposed to like pink or purple? I didn't have much experience when it came to girls, so maybe I was wrong. Like I said before, I'm happy just hurting myself; there was no reason to bring a girl into the mess I called my life. So I didn't date or pay much attention to the girls in Forks. There was one girl in California who I dated for a while. Her name was Tanya, and we were neighbors. We walked to school together, every day since kindergarten. For the most part, we were only friends, but as we became teenagers things changed. I didn't understand why they changed because I much preferred her as a friend than a girlfriend, but she wanted more so I gave in. When I left, she didn't even say goodbye. I sent a letter to her once I arrived telling her all about my new home, but there was never any reply. I guess I was only good to her if her friends could see me with her.

I got through my first three weeks at the soup kitchen and only had three left. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't counting down the days until I could be done. I just wanted all this to be over with so I could get my car back. Carlisle had fixed my car while I was doing my community service, but I couldn't have it back until I was done.

On my fourth week, Carlisle explained before he dropped me off that he had to work late and that Esme would come get me once she got off work, but she might be a little late. Great, I thought, nothing like standing in the freezing cold for who knows how long, waiting for my aunt to pick me up. He could have just given me my fucking car back and let me drive myself.

I walked in the back door and saw all the ladies shoot glares over at me. I didn't understand why they still did that. I was never mean to any of them—except maybe that first day, when I was a little rude to Bella. But I was trying to be polite, considering we had to work with each other. Plus, I thought if I did any more teasing at her expense, those ladies would skin me alive.

I rolled my eyes at them, grabbed an apron and headed past them to the main hall. Bella was already there washing down the tables and asked me to set out the salt and pepper shakers and napkin holders.

I did, and then I walked over to my post in the washing area. The first half hour was always the most boring. I had nothing to do but watch as people came in, filled their plates and sat down at the tables. Bella greeted every one of them as they walked in and shook the hands of any newbies. It was like a big ol' family reunion or something.

Later in the night, when Bella finally joined me in washing dishes, I asked her the one question I had been wondering since day one.

"Why are you always so polite to all of them?"

"All of who? she questioned.

"All those homeless people," I said, with my nose turned up in disgust.

"Why shouldn't I be nice to them?" she countered. "They're nice to me and haven't done anything wrong. Should I be mean to them just because they don't have money?"

I stared at her in disbelief, not sure how to answer her questions… Or, maybe they were rhetorical questions and she didn't want an answer.

"And, for your information, they aren't all homeless," she added.

"What do you mean, they aren't all homeless?" I asked. "Isn't that what this place is about— helping the homeless?"

"No, it's about helping people who are struggling in their lives for whatever reason and giving them a sense of hope and comfort," she explained. She stared at me like she was mad or upset that I would even need to ask that question. But honestly, I didn't understand and she didn't really answer my original question either.

When I was done with yet another day, I went outside and sat down on the bench to wait for Esme. I took out the bottle of vodka from my jacket and started downing as much of it as I could. I needed to stay warm somehow. The old ladies and Bella came walking out shortly after and casually conversed in the parking lot before they said their goodbyes and got in their cars to leave. Bella's truck roared to life, and she sat in the parking lot longer than anyone else did. I figured it was because she had such an old truck that it took longer for her defrost to kick in, considering there was a couple of inches of snow on the ground now.

I took another swig from the bottle of vodka, wrapped my coat around me tightly, leaned my head back against the brick wall of the church, and closed my eyes.

"Hey," I heard the familiar voice shout out. I opened one eye, cocking my head slightly to see who she was talking to. I was surprised when I saw she was looking in my direction, leaning out of her window. I sat up and glanced around to make sure she was talking to me. "Edward, do you need a ride somewhere?"

"My aunt's coming to get me," I replied.

"When is she coming?" I shrugged my shoulders because honestly I had no idea what time she planned to come. Carlisle said after she was done with work, but sometimes she worked pretty late. She was an interior designer and occasionally she would get carried away with sketches of her newest decorating vision and lose all track of time. "I can give you a ride if you want," she offered. I stared at her for a few seconds, wondering if maybe I should. I probably shouldn't, considering Esme could very well be on her way and if she found me gone she would most likely panic. But I did, anyways.

I walked over to the passenger door and got in. She watched as I climbed in and shut the door. "Put your seatbelt on, please," she demanded. I rolled my eyes and did as she asked. She pulled out of the parking lot onto the road and headed out of town.

"Where am I going?" she asked.

"Turn left on the 101 and I'll tell you where to turn next," I said. She nodded her head and started driving out of town. We sat in complete silence for a good amount of the drive.

"Do you mind if I turn the radio on?" I asked. "I don't like the silence."

"I don't care. Do whatever you want."

I turned the dial and began searching for a station that came in on her old radio. It was probably the original stereo that came with the truck, it was so old. I finally settled on some soft classical music. She glanced over at me with a raised eyebrow.

"What, does this type of music bother you?" I asked.

"No, it's great," she said. "It's just not what I expected from you."

"I like it. It reminds me of my dad," I offered, not waiting for her to ask the question. My dad was a man of routine and every day after work he would come home, open a beer, turn on some classical music and start going over his files for whatever case he was on at the time. He was a family court attorney, and sometimes there were some pretty big cases that he worked on.

When I was a kid I hated listening to the classical music. I always thought it was so boring and I didn't understand how he ever stayed awake during it. But now, I've come to appreciate it and actually enjoy listening to it on occasion. Plus, it was about the only station that came in on her radio.

I laid my head back on the seat and closed my eyes, listening to the soft music and remembering my dad sitting in his study, until the music was interrupted by a shrill ringing. I shot up, looking around for the cause of the sound. I saw Bella fumble for something in her bag and she pulled out a cell phone.

"Hello," she answered. "No, I can't. I just got out of the soup kitchen." I watched as she spoke to whoever was on the line. She sighed heavily. "Fine, I'll be there soon." She snapped the phone shut and placed it on the seat.

"Do you mind if I run home first? I need to pick up a couple of things, and I don't want to come all the way back across town."

"Sure," I said. I was curious who it was on the phone, but I didn't ask. She seemed irritated with whoever it was, though.

We pulled up in front of her house and she grabbed her bag. I had planned to stay in the truck, but she offered for me to come in, so I followed her. We walked in and were greeted by a gruff but pleasant voice coming from the living room. She took her coat off and placed it on the hook by the door and walked toward the living room.

"Hi, Daddy," she said, placing a kiss on top of his head. I walked slowly over to the entrance and saw a man with dark hair with a few strands of gray mixed in and a full mustache across his face. He was sitting in a wheelchair watching a basketball game on TV. He glanced over at me and then back at Bella with questioning eyes.

"Daddy, this is Edward Cullen. Edward this is my dad, Charlie," she introduced. I crossed the room and extended my hand to his.

"It's nice to meet you, sir," I said.

"Likewise," he said. He wasn't being very sincere, but I didn't blame him. Everyone knew who I was and knew I was a bad kid. I'm sure he didn't like that I was with his daughter at the moment.

"We go to school together, Dad. He's been helping out at the soup kitchen and he needed a ride home. Jessica called and asked if I could come into work for a couple hours, though, so I had to stop by and pick up my uniform before I drove him home." I was surprised she used the words "helping out" instead of what it really was. I'm sure he knew the real reason I was there, and it had nothing to do with helping out. He nodded his head in understanding and looked me over from head to toe. I got the impression he was wondering if he could take me, which I found odd since he was in a wheelchair.

I waited by the door as Bella ran upstairs to get her stuff, and then she bid her dad farewell and headed out the door. I tipped my head toward him as I walked out and saw a flash of warning come over his face. Warning about what, though? I wasn't planning to corrupt his precious daughter or anything.

We climbed back in the truck and headed back out on the road.

"My dad likes you," she said. I laughed loudly.

"What makes you think that?" I asked. I wondered if she happened to see the same looks her dad was giving me as I did.

"If he didn't like you he would have asked you to wait on the porch." I shot my eyes to her, and she met my gaze with a wide smile. "He did that once to a boy I brought home. I had been seeing this guy named Jake for a while and I finally decided to bring him home to meet my dad, and they didn't get along from the moment we walked through the door. Jake was rude and arrogant, and he had no manners whatsoever. My dad kicked him out and told him to wait on the porch like the dog that he was. I tried to defend him and make my dad understand that he wasn't always like that, but he didn't buy it." She laughed at the memory. "I think that was the first and only argument I had with my dad. But he was right and I knew it, so we broke things off."

"Well, maybe the reason your dad didn't kick me out is because we aren't seeing each other. Hell, I don't even know if you would consider us friends," I watched her smile fall, and she turned to look straight ahead again.

"You're probably right."

I felt guilty for saying it — I mean, we weren't seeing each other. I had no interest in her that way, and we weren't close where people would think we were friends. At school she ignored me and kept to her own social group as did I, but I could tell that what I said hurt her feelings.

"What happened to your dad?" I asked, changing the subject.

There was a sadness that came over her face. I felt even worse for bringing up that topic.

"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have asked. You don't have to tell me if you don't want to."

"No, it's fine." She took a deep breath before she began. "He was shot in the line of duty. He was the police chief, before you moved here. The bank was robbed by two guys who were passing through about a year ago. There was a car chase and everything. It was quite an exciting topic for people to talk about for weeks. But for the people who were actually involved, it wasn't so great." She let her sentence end there. I knew there was more but I didn't ask.

"What about your mom? Where's she?" I questioned. Her face fell into sadness even further and I felt stupid for digging myself deeper into a hole.

"My mom left when I was little and I haven't heard from her in 10 years. She had an affair with a co-worker, and when he got offered a better job down south somewhere, she went with him. I guess in a way she chose him over me. It's always just been me and my dad ever since." There was an uncomfortable silence that came over the cab of the truck. I pointed out the road ahead where she needed to turn.

"So what about you? What are you parents like?" she asked, breaking the silence. It was the wrong question to ask and I didn't want to tell her, but I guess she did tell me about her parents, so I explained how both my parents had died and that I now lived with my aunt and uncle. We didn't talk the rest of the way to my house. I think we were both feeling uncomfortable with revealing so much of ourselves to someone who technically wasn't even a friend.

I got out of the truck when she pulled up to the front of my house and thanked her for the ride.

When I had to work at the soup kitchen again, Bella and I barely talked at all. I still felt weird around her, like I knew something about her I shouldn't and that I didn't want her to know I knew, although she was the one who offered the information.

"Bella… Edward," Sue said, getting both of our attention. "There's an annual banquet being held at the lodge next weekend for community service programs, honoring us for what we do. I was wondering if either of you would be interested in attending.

"Of course, Sue, I'll be there," Bella said, quickly.

"What about you Edward? Would you like to come?" Sue questioned. Her expression told me to say no, but Bella's eyes were pleading for me to say yes. I listened to Bella.

Sure, I can come," I said. Sue looked irritated but she didn't say anything. Bella looked excited. I smirked at her obvious joy and went back to washing the dishes.

"You'll have fun," she said. "They always serve great food and have great door prizes and awards to give out. It'll be great."

I nodded my head and smiled at her. "Great," I mocked. She blushed and looked away. I tried not to laugh at her, but it was hard not to. She dipped her hand in the water and splashed a good amount of it toward me. The water hit me across the chest and face. I was in utter shock, and all she could do was laugh as I stood there dripping all over the floor. I grabbed a handful of suds out of the sink and walked a few steps toward her.

"Don't you dare," she warned. I smiled deviously at her as I held the suds above her head. She backed up quicker than she should have as I came toward her because the next thing I knew she was falling and pulling me down with her. We both hit the floor with a thud and soaked up all the water we had spilled with our backs. We glanced at each other for a quick second and began laughing hysterically. I guess we were laughing kind of loudly because shortly after it all happened Sue came in the small room with her arms crossed and gave us both the evil eye. I think she may have even been tapping her toe. We stopped laughing and Bella began apologizing to her profusely. I jumped to my feet and reached out a hand to help Bella up. We finished up the dishes, trying our best not to laugh at how ridiculous we looked. When we were done, she offered me a ride home again and I accepted.

There was something different about our connection now. I don't know if we were becoming friends or what, but I liked being with her. She made me laugh and forget about everything that depressed me. We joked back and forth and told each other crazy stories about our pasts. We even began saying hi to each other in the halls at school.

I remember the day it happened. I was walking down the hall with Tyler while he told me about this huge rave that was happening in Seattle on Christmas Eve that he wanted us to attend. I looked up and saw her walking toward us, lost in conversation with a group of friends. As she got closer I simply said, "Hi, Bella," and smiled. Her eyes shot up to mine in absolute shock.

She smiled back and said the same simple words I did, "Hi, Edward." That's all it took. It was our silent way or declaring ourselves friends. My heart skipped a beat at that thought. She wasn't a screw up like me or Mike or Tyler. She was simple, caring and perfect in all intents and purposes. Yet, she still wanted to be my friend, even though most people would do anything to avoid me. She saw me differently than anyone else ever had.

The week of this big banquet we were supposed to go to all the old ladies were buzzing about who would be there. Mayor Aro, Judge Laurent (who I knew well), the volunteer firefighters, the community watch program—I could tell this was a big deal for the town, and everyone got dressed up in fancy dresses and suits like it was the prom or something. I hadn't worn a suit since my father's funeral. But, I dug it out of my closet and asked Esme to have it cleaned for me. She obliged and sent it to the cleaners that very day. Both she and Carlisle seemed to be happy with my sudden change in appearance and attitude. I hadn't been drinking or doing any drugs for the last week. I didn't feel the need to anymore. When I was with Bella, I didn't have to hide from anything and I didn't feel sad.

Bella asked me if I would be willing to come to the church a little early that week so she could decorate the hall for Christmas. I met her there about two hours early, and we spent all afternoon hanging lights and garland. She even brought in a small Christmas tree with all kinds of art supplies that she said were for the kids to make Christmas ornaments. She made a point to hang mistletoe in as many spots as possible. She said that some of the crowd got a kick out of it and the kids would try everything to avoid it in fear of getting kisses from the grown-ups. But it was all in good fun, so everyone played along. I could tell she enjoyed Christmas very much, and I couldn't help but smile and feel elated with her happiness. This time of year should have been depressing for me because my dad died just a few days before Christmas, but it wasn't when I saw how happy it made her.

I could tell Bella anything, things I couldn't tell Mike or Tyler or even Esme and Carlisle. But she always knew exactly what to say to make me feel better—like the day I told her how I wondered why I was still here and why I was left behind. She explained that it wasn't that they left me behind, but more that they didn't have a choice, and they loved me enough to want something better for me— not to follow them. Bella asked me, "Do you think your parents would want you to willingly die to join them, or do you think they would want you to live a full and happy life and become something they can be proud of?"

I had never thought of it before. My mom had cancer while she was pregnant. Even though she knew she would die, her only thought was giving me life. My dad did the same thing. He did everything in his power to give me anything I would need growing up. He never once blamed me for the death of my mother, like I had. And when he died, he left behind an inheritance in my name to provide for me as I got older. He wanted me to go on and make something of myself, and he made sure that was possible. But how could I be anything worthwhile with the way my life had gone?

On December 16th, I went to school and tried to go about my normal routine, but it was hard. It had been one year since my father's death and I was a mess. Esme tried to convince me to stay home, but I didn't want to be in the house by myself. It would be too quiet and I didn't like the quiet. I kept thinking back to that day when I was called to the office at school and they informed me that my dad was in the hospital and I needed to leave right away. By the time I got there, he was already gone. I never had a chance to say goodbye to him or apologize. I remembered the funeral. I sat in the chair next to Carlisle, staring at the coffin and waiting for my dad to pop out and tell me it was just a big joke. I don't think I even cried. I sat there silently as people I didn't even know walked up and gave me hugs, whispering some sort of sorry into my ear. It was the most irritating thing to hear people say they were sorry. What were they sorry about?

"Edward," Bella said quietly. I finally came to and looked up at her. "The bell rang. Are you going to your next class?" I didn't say anything. I stared blankly at her. "Are you okay?"

"It's been a year," I said simply, not giving any other explanation as to what I meant. She knew.

"Edward, come on. I think you need to go home." She held out her hand, and I stared at it for a second before I took it and followed her out to the parking lot and got into her truck. We drove in complete silence until she pulled into my driveway. I didn't get out, though, and she didn't ask me to.

"We got in a fight that morning. I told him I hated him," I confessed. "I was mad about some stupid concert I wanted to go to in L.A. with some friends, and he wouldn't let me go since it was so far away. We yelled and I said a lot of things I shouldn't have." My eyes filled with tears, but I blinked them away. I didn't want to cry in front of her. "Why did he have to die that day, of all days? Why that day?" A couple of tears began falling down my cheeks, and I turned my head to hide them. I didn't know what I was doing or why I was telling her this. I had never told anyone about the argument my dad and I got into that morning. No one ever knew. Before I knew it, she had slid across the seat and put her arm around my shoulders, pulling me into an awkward hug. I was rigid at first but eventually I gave in and wrapped my arms around her waist. I let the tears fall and the sobs come, and she never once said anything or made me feel like I shouldn't be crying. She just held me in her arms and rubbed the back of my neck soothingly while I cried for my dad for the first time. Hugging her felt odd but safe at the same time. I hadn't let anyone hug me since the funeral. Esme had tried a few times over the year, but I would always pull away or duck before she could. I guess the funeral experience was traumatic enough for me that every hug after that would feel like a pity hug, and I didn't want anyone's pity. But with Bella, it didn't feel that way— it felt like a friend who wanted me to feel better. It was comforting.

When I finally sat up and wiped the tears away, I didn't know what to do. We sat there, silent, for a long time. I knew she was missing school and had probably never skipped a day in her life, but for whatever reason, she did so for me.

"Do you want to stay with me today?" I asked. I glanced at her, wondering what her reaction would be. "I don't want to be alone." She nodded her head and grabbed her keys from the ignition. We got out and walked up the steps to my house. We walked into the quiet house, and I led her up to my bedroom. It's the first time I had ever let anyone in my room—not even Tyler or Mike had been in here. I didn't let Esme or Carlisle in, either, except for when they would stand by the door to tell me something. She stood in the doorway, looking nervous about coming in. Maybe she was nervous about being alone with me, or maybe she was afraid we would get caught and get in trouble.

"We can just a watch a movie or something," I said, trying to ease her tension. She nodded, then walked in and stood by my shelf. I walked over to the shelf and she flinched away slightly. I grabbed two movies off the shelf and held them out for her to choose. She looked down at them, then smirked.

"Do you have a thing for Will Farrell?" I looked down at the two choices I held up and realized they were both Will Farrell movies.

"He's funny," I said shrugging my shoulders. "We can watch something else. I have a whole shelf of movies— you can choose."

"No, this one will be great," she said, pointing to my copy of "Step Brothers." I put "Talladega Nights" back on my shelf, walked over to my TV and put the movie in the DVD player. Then I crossed my room, sat on my bed and propped up a pillow on the headboard. I looked over at her and she still just stood by the shelf, unmoving.

"Are you planning to stand there all day, or did you want to sit down and watch the movie?" I asked, somewhat sarcastically. She rolled her eyes and crossed the room, sitting down on my bed next to me. She was still tense, and I was still upset. I needed something to numb the pain and I thought she needed something to relax her, so I took my bottle of vodka out of my drawer, took a big swig of it and choked it down. Since I hadn't been drinking the last couple of weeks it took me a minute to get used to it again. I offered her the bottle and she vehemently shook her head.

"Bella, it's not going to hurt you."

"I don't drink, Edward."

"You aren't drinking, you're experimenting," I joked. She scoffed at my joke but took the bottle from my hand anyway. I watched as she slowly raised the bottle to her lips and tilted it back. As I watched her take the drink, I was mesmerized by her lips, the color, the softness, the plumpness, the way they puckered around the bottle. I shook my head and blinked a couple of times, realizing what I was doing. I didn't want to think that way about her. We were friends and that's all. I was quickly distracted when she started coughing hard and her eyes started watering. I laughed and took the bottle back from her. "Maybe I should have mixed it with something before I gave it to you." I took another drink and pushed play on the movie. After a while she relaxed some and eased into the pillow next to me. Our arms would brush against each other on occasion, and more than once she would deliberately bump into me during a funny part. I know some of the parts probably made her a little uncomfortable, but she didn't say anything. She didn't drink anymore of the alcohol either, and I could tell she didn't like that I was drinking, so I only took a few more drinks before I stopped and put it back in my drawer.

Around one, we went downstairs and cooked a frozen pizza to eat. Then, we went back upstairs and watched yet another movie. After it was over we sat there, not sure what to do next. I wasn't really in the mood to watch another movie, but I didn't know what else to do. Right as I was about to ask if she wanted to pick out another one, she spoke up.

"Have you ever seen the movie 'Magic in the Water?' It's about a family that goes on vacation, and the little girl discovers that the legend of the town is true, and there is a sea monster in the lake and she becomes friends with it." I had never seen it or heard of it, but I listened. "There's a part in the movie where they lay out on the sand and look up at the clouds to look for shapes and, as they start moving their fingers at the sky, the clouds start changing and becoming what they want to see. It's one of my favorite parts, because when I was little me and my mom used to do that. But since it rains so much here and we couldn't go outside, we started doing it inside the house. We would lie down and stare up at the ceiling looking for pictures in the cracks of paint. I still do it sometimes." She stopped there and I had no idea where she was going with this story. The movie sounded kind of lame and very kid-like. I wondered if maybe the movies we had just watched were not her usual type of movie and I had just corrupted her by having her watch such an obscene movie. "Do you want to try it? Looking at your ceiling and trying to see pictures?" She asked, suddenly. I shrugged, and she took that as a yes and slipped down to lie on my bed. I did the same and lay next to her staring up at my ceiling.

I glanced over at her and she had a huge smile on her face. "This will be great, you'll see." I looked around and tried to see something like she had said but didn't see anything. I pointed out a spot and said it looked like Ms. Cope, the grouchy secretary in the office at school. It didn't at all look like her and she could tell I was lying. She jabbed me in the ribs playfully and we both laughed.

"Edward," she said seriously, after we stopped laughing. I turned my head to look at her. "Your dad didn't believe you when you said you hated him. He knew you loved him, and he loved you, too. It would be hard not to love you." I stared into her eyes, unmoving for a long while. I wasn't sure if I heard her right or if I was picking up some double meaning to her words. Or, maybe she didn't intend for there to be a double meaning but I heard it and didn't know what to do with it.

She took a deep breath, looking nervous, and turned her head back to the ceiling. I took another long look at her before I stared back up at the ceiling, too.

"Do you see right there— it looks like a cat, with the pointed ears and even the whiskers," she pointed up at a spot on the ceiling for me to look at, but I didn't see anything. The only thing I saw was her green-painted fingers. I reached up and grabbed her hand, pulling it closer to my eyes.

"That's kind of an odd color to put on your nails, don't you think? I know it's your favorite color and all, but don't most girls paint them red or pink or something?" I asked. My forehead furrowed as I rubbed my thumb across one of her green nails.

"I'm not like most girls." She looked over at me seriously as she spoke, but she didn't pull her hand away from me.

I smiled crookedly. "I'm well aware of that," I said.

She reached her other hand over and shoved me on the arm, making me drop the hand I was holding. "You're such a brat." We laughed again.

We stared up at the ceiling a little longer, and Bella saw many things in the paint spackle. I think a couple of times I may have seen what she was seeing, but I wasn't sure. We spent the rest of the afternoon talking about nothing, really. I was happy just having her here with me and not being alone.

"Who did you get your green eyes from?" she asked, abruptly. I was surprised by her question and raised an eyebrow at her.

"Is that why you like the color green, because it's the color of my eyes?" I teased.

"No," she said, and rolled her eyes. I noticed that her cheeks turned a light shade of pink, and I couldn't help but smile.

"I think maybe it is. Your blush kind of gives you away." I reached over and brushed my finger across her cheekbone.

"That's not the reason, Edward," she disputed.

"Then what is the reason?" I asked, still feeling pretty sure I figured out the mystery.

"I don't know. I just do, and your eyes are kind of intriguing for that reason," she confessed. I stared at her with a suspicious smile. She looked nervous, like she had revealed more than she wanted to. I found it very fascinating.

"My mom," I finally answered her question. She looked away from my intense stare. "Do you want to see a picture?" She turned back to me and nodded her head with enthusiasm in her eyes. I sat up, reached into the drawer next to my bed and pulled out the picture of both my parents from when they visited Italy. I lay back down next to her, a little closer this time, and handed her the picture. She took it from my hands and studied the faces.

A smile spread across her face when she glanced back at me. "You look like your dad."

"Most people say I'm the spitting image of my mom," I said.

She shook her head. "You have a lot of the same facial features as your mom, but I see a softness and kind spirit about your dad, just like I see in you."

We stared into each other's eyes for a few seconds, and I watched as her tongue darted out, wetting her lips. That was my undoing. Feeling brave, I reached over and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. My hand lingered on her cheek for a second and I began to lean in to kiss her. I didn't know if she wanted me to, but I wanted to and she wasn't pulling away. Just as our lips were about to touch, there was a knock on my door and Esme stepped inside. "Edward, I got… oh, hello," she said, surprised when she saw us lying on the bed.

We both sat up and started to stand quickly. She stared between the two of us for a second, and I noticed Bella blush a deep pink color from being caught. I cleared my throat and decided to talk to end the silence in the room. "Aunt Esme, this is my friend, Bella. Bella, this is Emse."

"It's nice to meet you," Bella said, walking across the room to shake her hand.

"It's so wonderful to meet you, too," Esme said, bringing Bella into a hug. When she released her, Bella looked back at me with a scowl at my futile attempt to not laugh. Esme looked back and forth at our exchange with a shocked expression.

"We were just watching a movie," I explained so Esme wouldn't get the wrong idea. She nodded her head in understanding.

"Would you like to stay for dinner, Bella? I got some Chinese food on my way home. There's plenty," Esme offered. "Carlisle should be home in a few minutes, and I'm sure he'd love to meet you."

I waited for her to answer, hoping that she would but not getting my hopes up. "I wish I could, Mrs. Cullen, but I have to work in about an hour and I need to go home first to get my uniform and make my dad something for dinner," she replied.

"Well, you'll have to come over some other time, then," Esme said.

"Sure, that would be great," Bella accepted. She looked back to me with nervous eyes, like she wasn't sure if she should just leave or if maybe she should wait until Esme left, though it didn't look like she would. Esme continued to have a shocked but pleased look on her face as she glanced between us.

"I'll walk you out," I offered to Bella, then grabbed our coats off my chair and guided her down the stairs. Esme followed us down and rushed to the kitchen, where I could hear her dialing a number on her cell phone. I assumed she was calling Carlisle.

I walked Bella to her truck, and we stood there for a few seconds not saying anything.

"Thank you for staying with me today. I know it was probably hard for you to skip school, and I apologize for that, but you have no idea how much today meant to me," I said. She smiled and wrapped her arms around my neck. I pulled her to me tightly and buried my face in her hair, taking in the scent of strawberries and making it, and this day, part of my most treasured memories. Maybe I could erase the bad memories and replace them with these.

"Anytime, Edward," she said, pulling away from me. "If you need anything, just call, okay?" I nodded my head and stuck my hands in my pockets. She hopped in her truck and drove away as I watched.

On Saturday morning, Bella called and asked if I needed a ride to the banquet that night.

"Are you asking me out on a date?" I teased.

"No," she said, quickly. "I just thought you would like to ride with me."

"I would love to ride with you," I accepted.

"Great, I'll pick you up around six then." I could hear the excitement in her voice. It made me glad that something so little could make her happy.

"I'm looking forward to it." We hung up and by late afternoon I had showered, shaved, and even threw on some cologne before I dressed in my suit. Around five I went down stairs to wait for Bella and saw both Esme and Carlisle give me pleased looks.

"You like this girl, don't you?" Esme asked, with a huge smile across her face.

I was surprised by the question. "We're friends. Of course, I like her."

"I think you have some deeper feelings for her," Esme observed. "You have to admit, Edward, you've changed a lot in the last few weeks. I don't think I've seen you smile since you came here, but now, when you're with her like the other night, you can't help but smile. She's good for you. I think you should tell her how you feel about her." Her words hit me like a ton of bricks. How did I feel about Bella? I liked her as a friend, obviously, but was it more than that? Did I want it to be more than that? Did she want it to be more? Better yet, did I want her to?

I thought about it for a while and wondered if I was ready for that. I didn't want to hurt her. I didn't want to make her disappointed in me. I knew that if our relationship went any further she'd end up leaving me. Everyone I truly cared about left me, and she would be no different. I wasn't worthy of love from anyone. I knew Carlisle and Esme cared about me and wanted the best for me, but I didn't think they actually loved me. I never expected them to. And Mike and Tyler, they were just drinking buddies, basically—not someone you could actually depend on or expect to be there for you when you needed someone.

I started to feel nervous about going with Bella tonight. I knew being with her would be wrong and I would end up hurting her, since I was a mess. Maybe going to this thing with her was a bad idea.

As if he could read my mind, Mike showed up at my door, informing me that Kate was throwing this huge party out at her place and that we should go. There was sure to be lots of alcohol and lots of girls. At first I said I couldn't go, telling him that I had this banquet to go to with Bella— even though I was questioning going at all—but I didn't want to go to this party, either. Then, Mike said something that I'll never forget:

"She'll never want you, Edward. She isn't the type to fall for loner, bad boy, druggies like you and me. She needs someone who's a nerdy, goody-two-shoes, bookworm like her," he insisted. "Besides, could you imagine what it would be like if she brought you home to her dad as her boyfriend? I think he would probably stand straight up in his wheelchair and deck you until you needed that wheelchair. What the hell are you doing with her, anyway? Are you trying to bring her to the dark side? Make her a bad girl?"

He was right. I had no right getting involved with her. I had no right even trying. She deserved better then a screw up. I didn't want her to end up like me. So, I told Mike I'd be ready in a minute. I called Bella's phone, but there was no answer, so I left a message telling her something came up and I couldn't make it. I ran upstairs and changed out of the suit, then took off with Mike.

I regretted it the second I got into his car, and I was sure the headlights that we passed on the road as we left were hers. I wondered what Carlisle or Esme would tell her or if she would realize she had a message and listen to it. I had an ache in my chest that I hadn't felt since the day I was told my dad died. I wanted to get rid of it. So, once we got to the party I went on a drinking binge and got higher than I had ever been before. I don't even know what I took, but whatever it was, I passed out and didn't wake up until Monday afternoon, when I found myself in a hospital bed with Carlisle and Esme standing over me crying. I looked up at them through hazy eyes and saw the sorrow and hurt written all over their faces.

"I'm sorry," was all I could say.

Once I got out of the hospital and realized what a huge mistake I had made I felt horrible. I apologized profusely to both Carlisle and Esme for what I did, but I needed to apologize to Bella, too. I called her repeatedly, but she never answered. I tried to talk to her at school, but she ignored me. So, I went in to the soup kitchen on my last day and hoped she would give me a chance to explain, but I didn't expect her to forgive me for what I did.

I walked in and did my normal routine of putting on my apron, then I walked into the main hall with a spray bottle and towel in hand. She was already there washing the tables and getting ready for people to come in. I walked over to her and waited for her to acknowledge me. She didn't. She pretended like I wasn't even there.

"Bella, will you please just talk to me?" I pleaded.

"Why should I?" She countered, turning to face me. I could see the hurt in her eyes.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you."

"Just tell me why, Edward. Why did you blow me off? Why did you go to a party instead and get so wasted that it landed you in the hospital?"

"I don't know," I said.

"I think you do know. You just don't want to tell me," she said in an angry tone and turned back to washing off the tables. I realized if I ever wanted to make things better between us, I needed to tell her the truth.

"Esme said something earlier that night that made me really think about us and what I wanted. Then, Mike showed up and said that you would never want me because I was a screw up. I realized he was right and everything I wanted, I didn't deserve, and I shouldn't even want it to begin with. I'm not good enough for you."

"You know, I went to the hospital when I first heard you were there. I talked to Esme and Carlisle for quite a while that night. You really scared them, me too. We didn't know if you were going to survive. They had to pump your stomach and put all kinds of needles and tubes in you. I think I heard one of the doctors say that even your heart stopped beating for a few seconds and they had to shock you back to life. What were you doing? Were you trying to kill yourself? Do you have any idea how hard it was to see you like that?" she asked, her voice shaking.

"Bella, I'm sorry I can't be more for you. I'm not good. I'm messed up and I can't change that. I wish I could be everything that you deserve, but I can't," I said, full of remorse.

"I never wanted anything else. All I wanted is for you to see yourself the way I see you." A single tear fell down her cheek. "The only person who thinks you're not good is you, so that's what you portray. But that's not who you are."

People started filing in through the doors around that time, and she tried to walk away from me but I followed behind her, begging her to wait.

"Can you just please forgive me for standing you up? Tonight's my last night here and I don't want to fight with you," I pleaded.

"Fine, you're forgiven," she said simply, without any sound of truth to her words.

"Hey," someone in the line said, getting our attention. "You two are standing under the mistletoe. I think you need to kiss her, boy." We both looked up to see a strand of mistletoe hanging from the garland directly above us. I looked down at her, wondering if she would allow me to and wondering if it was the right thing to do.

I took a slow step closer to her and judged her expression. At first, I think maybe she wanted me to kiss her. I wanted to kiss her, even if it was wrong. I took another hesitant step closer, but she sighed dramatically, rolled her eyes and began to walk by me. I grabbed her arm and swung her around, placing my other hand on her cheek and pulling her to me. I pressed my lips to hers with force and hoped that she would accept me.

I pulled away and took in her expression after the kiss. Her eyes were closed and she seemed to be holding her breath. When she opened her eyes and looked up at me, the only thing I saw was anger. I felt her hand make contact with my face and the sudden rush of heat as my cheek filled with blood. I instinctively pressed my hand to my throbbing face and rubbed it. I looked back at her with disbelief.

"Don't you ever do that again," she chastised. She stormed off toward the kitchen and left me standing in front of the fireplace.

The guy who originally pointed out the mistletoe broke out in a low chuckle. "Dude, you got slammed by sweet little Bella. I guess she's tougher than we all thought she was." I didn't know who this guy was, but he seemed to know Bella well, as did most people here—probably a lot better than I ever did.

"Shut up," I told the guy as I walked toward the kitchen. I took my place next to the sink and started washing dishes like I always did. After a while, she came in the small washing area and joined me. We washed the dishes in complete silence, which drove me nuts, but I didn't know what to say. This was my last time I would be here and probably my last time to get a chance to talk to her. So, I took a deep breath and asked her something I had wanted to know since the first day I saw her here—something that maybe would make me understand her and what she ever saw in me.

"Bella, just answer me one thing: why do you do this? Why do you come here every week and volunteer when you already have another job and you're taking care of your dad, as well as going to school? What do you get out of this?"

She turned to me briefly, then looked out at the people sitting at the tables. I waited patiently for her to speak, but she didn't. She continued to stare out into the crowded hall.

"Come here." She took my hand and led me out into the hall. We stood next to the wall and I watched her, waiting for some sort of explanation. She dropped my hand as soon as we stopped and crossed her arms across her chest.

"When you look out at these people, what do you see?" she asked. I looked at everyone, and all I saw was homeless or unfortunate people enjoying a free meal. I didn't understand what she wanted me to see.

"I don't get what you're asking."

"Do you know anyone here? Do you recognize anyone?" I looked again, and I think maybe I noticed a couple of people who I might have went to school with, but I hadn't paid much attention to anyone, so I wasn't sure. Instead of making a fool of myself trying to guess who they were or what Bella was getting at, I shook my head, wondering if she would just tell me what she wanted me to see.

"Every person here has a story," she began. "They all have something in common, but they have their own story and a reason why they come here. For instance, that family over there in the corner, they're the Hales." She pointed over to a man and a woman who had two blonde-haired grown children, along with one that looked to be about our age, maybe, with short spiky black hair. "That's Jasper and Rosalie Hale, along with their parents. Their dad lost his job about two years ago and they're struggling. They always had a comfortable life. They weren't rich but they had money, they had things. Rosalie was at college. Jasper was getting ready to go to college also. But because of budget cuts at his job, he was laid off, so they had to sell their house and move to something smaller. Rosalie had to drop out because they couldn't afford the tuition anymore. He's been looking for work everywhere, even in other states, but times are tough and there isn't anything available. Their mom works as a waitress at the diner, but they aren't bringing in enough money to survive on. So, they come here every week because three meals they don't have to pay for is that little bit of help that they need.»

«Alice Brandon, who's sitting with them, began coming here right about the same time they did. She was quiet and timid, kind of skittish, but somehow Jasper was able to talk to her and get her to tell him her story. Turns out, her parents left her when she was fourteen and she'd been homeless ever since. She wandered a lot and slept in places you can't even imagine, but Jasper fell in love with her, so he begged and pleaded with his parents to let her come live with them. Even though it was a huge financial burden for them, they let her stay. And every day she doesn't feel worthy of their care and support, and on many occasions she's taken off, but she always comes back because she loves Jasper and knows it would break his heart if she left for good.»

«Then, we have Emmett McCarty over there." She gestured to the man who had mentioned the mistletoe earlier. "He's probably one of the richest men in Forks. Some internet program he developed took off, and now he has more money than he knows what to do with." I turned to her with a shocked look, trying to understand. Wasn't this for people who were homeless—not for people who have money? "He's also our biggest financial supporter. See, he went to school with Rosalie, and he's had a crush on her forever. He knows that they're struggling and he's offered to help them out, but they're proud people and wouldn't take his money, so instead he donates money and clothes and anything else he can think of to keep this place running. And he comes here every week to see her, although he tells everyone that he's just here to make sure his donations are being used appropriately. About a month ago he offered Rosalie's dad a job and, after much resistance, he finally took the job. It's one more way for Emmett to make a good impression on Rosalie and get her to notice him. He's been thinking about anonymously offering her a scholarship to finish school, but he's worried that she'll figure out it's from him somehow. The thing is, he's too shy to tell her how much he cares about her because she's the most beautiful girl in the world, according to him, and he's just a computer geek who doesn't deserve her." I looked at this man who she described as a computer geek, and he didn't look like that at all, in my opinion. He was big and muscular, not a horrible-looking man at all. And Rosalie was pretty but definitely not the most beautiful girl in the world. "Rosalie also feels unworthy of him because she's a poor girl and he's rich." I wondered about that for a second. It seemed kind of ironic and backwards. They both had the same thought about the other and, maybe if they would just talk to each other, they could work it out and everyone would be happy.

"Then there's Victoria, whose husband, James died in a car accident about four months ago, leaving her with nothing but a huge debt that she's struggling to pay off. She's also going to school and trying to become a nurse.»

«And that's Garrett; he's kind of a loner and travels a lot. He isn't here all the time since he moves around, but when he comes he's always so appreciative of everything we do for him. He prefers to live off the land, and that backpack he carries has every possession he owns in it."

I listened as she told the story of every person who was here–even the ladies who worked in the kitchen and made all the food had their own stories. All the kids, all the families, every loner who didn't have anything... I saw everyone from a different perspective all of a sudden. They weren't just poor, or homeless, or disabled. They were people who had struggles and problems just like me, but they still had hopes and dreams for the future.

When she finished, she tipped her head to the ground and almost looked sad.

"So, what's your story?" I inquired.

She took a deep breath before she began. "When my mom first left I was really sad. So was my dad. He also wasn't the greatest cook. So, one night he brought me here and we started coming all the time. I made a few friends, and everyone loved listening to my dad tell stories about being on the force. Most were exaggerated or tall tales, but people loved hearing them, anyway. Everyone here was so great to us. We found happiness here, and those ladies in the kitchen taught me everything I needed to know about being a girl. My dad had no idea what to talk to me about or how to raise me. So, they helped us out a lot."

"After he was shot, I didn't know if he was going to survive, but many of the people here came to check in on me and brought me meals and other things. Even though they couldn't buy it for themselves, they still tried to help out as much as they could."

"When he got home, medical bills were piling up and we had no way to pay them. Insurance and his pension paid for a lot of it, but not everything. So, I dropped out of school and started working three different jobs to help pay them off. My dad was against it and kept telling me to go back to school, but I couldn't let us lose our house. He went into another deep depression since he couldn't work anymore and because I had quit school. Then, last Christmas everyone here, along with a few others from the community, chipped in money to pay off his medical bills so I could go back to school. Emmett, I'm sure, put in the most, but just the thought that everyone here helped out as much as they could when they don't have anything themselves was so thoughtful and unexpected."

"Anyway, now that he's in a wheelchair, our house isn't set up properly for him to leave, and when he does need to leave we have to hire help, since I can't do it myself and we don't have the money to fix the house up. He can't come here anymore, and I know it upsets him because he loved coming, so I began coming here to help out. I felt like I owed everyone here a lot and I wanted to give back to them. After I get home I tell him stories about everyone here and what new things have happened, and it makes him happy."

"I'm trying to raise enough money so I can have someone come in and reconstruct our house so he can come and go as he wants. He thinks I'm saving money for college, but I can't go off to college while he's stuck in the house with no way to leave without help."

"The thing is, everyone who comes here finds whatever it is they're looking for in some way—maybe it's just a warm meal or a warm place to spend a few hours or a friend or love. Whatever it is, they find it here. Everyone here is like a family, and I can count on them more than anyone else in my life." I listened as she explained her story and what this place meant to her. When she mentioned counting on people, I began to realize why she was so mad at me. She thought she could depend on me to be there with her at that banquet, but I let her down.

She walked back into the washing area and started finishing up the dishes. I followed behind her and finished out my last day of community service.

The following days I thought about everything Bella had told me, everything that happened those few weeks I spent with her, and I realized she was right. Even I was granted a miracle while I was there. I might not have needed the financial support or a job or even food. I needed a friend, someone I could actually talk to and trust—someone who saw me for me and not a messed-up kid like most people did. I needed to feel happy again, and she gave me that, then I threw it away. I felt awful about what I did and felt like I needed to make it up to her somehow.

I went downstairs and talked to Carlisle about him helping me out with a plan I had. I didn't know if what I wanted to do would make her forgive me or if it would only make things worse, but I had to try.

I found out where Emmett lived and went over to his house to go over my plan and ask for his help. I was nervous and I didn't know if he would be willing to help me out, but he was very nice and willing to help without much explanation. We became fast friends. We worked out our plan and made the arrangements.

On Christmas Day, I showed up at the church early and met Emmett there so we could set things up. Carlisle and Esme both came to help, as well. We placed gifts for every person under the tree, which Esme helped buy, since we had no idea what to get anyone. Caterers showed up with all the food, and I was sure by now someone was picking up Bella and her dad.

When the ladies showed up to cook their special Christmas Day meal, they walked in completely shocked. I ushered them to a table that was specially decorated to honor them and explained that today was a day for them to relax and let someone else serve them. The wait staff I hired brought the ladies plates of food and filled their glasses with drinks. Every one of them stared at me with disbelief. But they enjoyed themselves. When the normal crowd came in, I greeted everyone just like Bella always did and tried to talk to them politely and respectfully. As they passed through the line, they filled their trays with the food that was catered and took their normal seats in the hall to eat. There were even a few new people who were here.

I waited in the kitchen, watching for Bella and her dad to show up. Esme had promised me that she would watch for them and show them to their seats when they got here. I didn't want her to know that I was behind this, even though I knew she would once she saw Esme, but I didn't want to be the one to face her first. I figured she would probably leave if she saw me.

When I saw her come in pushing her dad's wheelchair, my heart started beating so fast. I was extremely nervous and on any other occasion I would have started drinking, but I was determined to change my ways, so I didn't. I stayed in the kitchen the entire time and helped the caterers and waiters with their duties, although, I think I was getting in the way more than anything. On occasion, I would peak out at everyone just to see that they were all enjoying themselves, but mostly I wanted to see that Bella was still there and not mad at me for doing this.

After everyone was done eating, Esme and Carlisle started passing out gifts to every person here. Emmett brought in a screen and projector to put on a movie. It was an all-day event for everyone to enjoy and have fun as a family, just as Bella had explained the people here were. Emmett turned out the lights to start the movie, and I excused the caterers and went to the wash room to start washing dishes.

I could hear the movie playing and people laughing. I was really happy with how things had turned out.

"I thought I might find you in here," I heard the most beautiful voice say behind me. I felt a shiver run through involuntary at the sound of her voice and I smiled, but then I remembered that maybe she was still mad at me, so my smile fell and I slowly turned to face her.

"Hi," I said. I had thought about what I would say to her so many times and that was definitely not what I had planned, but that's all that came out.

She smiled and tipped her head to the side, motioning for me to follow her. I took off my apron and followed her out to the back and sat down on the steps next to her.

"Emmett told me you planned this," she said. I nodded my head.

"This is great, Edward. It's such a wonderful gift you gave everyone."

"I just wanted to do something nice. Emmett and Carlisle paid for most of it. I just had the idea," I explained.

"Well, regardless, I appreciate what you did today, for everyone—especially my dad. He's having so much fun being here again and visiting with old friends," she said.

"I'm glad. That was the plan." I hesitated for a minute before speaking again. "Bella, I'm sorry for everything I did."

"Edward," she interrupted, "you don't need to be sorry anymore. I just want to put everything behind us." I nodded my head in understanding, even though I had no idea what that meant. Was she saying that she wanted to start over or was she saying that she wanted to forget about everything and not think about me anymore?

I took a deep breath and reached into my jacket pocket to hand her the gift this whole day was supposed to lead up to. I didn't know if it was going to do any good, but I wanted her to have it anyway.

She took the envelope from my hand hesitantly then reached into her bag and handed me a wrapped gift. I took it from her hand and stared at it with disbelief. I wasn't expecting that she would have gotten me a gift as well, nor have it with her. Did she expect to see me here today? Did she somehow know?

As if she could read my mind, she explained, "I was planning on stopping by your house after I was done here. I figured I'd just slip it in your mailbox or something, but I wanted to give it to you. It's nothing special and you probably won't like it, but I decided to take a chance." I smiled at her obvious blush and started to open it.

What was inside actually did surprise me. It was a DVD copy of 'Magic in the Water.'—the movie she had talked about that day in my room.

"I know you probably won't like it and it's not your type of movie, but I thought maybe we could watch it together sometime," she suggested.

"I'd like that a lot," I said. I became very happy at that moment. I think she was telling me that she was willing to give me another chance. "Open mine now."

She looked down at the envelope in her hand and began to open it. She pulled out the papers and read what it said. Her eyebrows furrowed in confusion. "What is this?"

"It's a contract with a local construction company who is going to come to your house and fix it up so it's easier for your dad to get around. This way he can continue to come here with you if he wants, and you won't have to pay for help when he needs to go to doctor appointments or wherever. Now, you can use the money you have saved to go to college like you told your dad you were going to do."

She stared at it with her mouth hanging open, trying to make sense of it all. "Thank you so much for this. You have no idea how much this means to me. How did you pay for this, though?"

"I sold my car and used some of the inheritance from my dad," I replied.

She stared at me, trying to understand what I just said. "Edward, you can't sell your car for this. I can't let you do it."

"It's already done. If you don't accept it, then I sold my car for nothing."

"Your car means everything to you though," she argued further.

"You, and your friendship, mean a little more to me than my car," I clarified. I saw her smile slightly and her cheeks redden.

"But, how are you planning to get to school or go anywhere?" she asked.

"I'll be getting a huge amount of money from the life insurance policy once I turn eighteen, so I can buy a new car then and maybe even go to college myself. But, until then, I was kind of hoping I could talk the most beautiful girl, I've ever met, who drives a beat-up, faded red truck, to give me rides to and from school and to here on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, if she's okay with me starting to volunteer now."

I saw tears in her eyes and wondered if I had made a mistake. When I was just about to start apologizing once again for not thinking, she reached over and grabbed my face, bringing my lips to hers. I was completely stunned. When she pulled away she had a huge smile on her face.

"Does this mean you forgive me and you're willing to give me another chance?" I asked.

"As long as you promise me that you won't listen to those dumbass friends of yours," she demanded.

I smiled. "What friends? The only friends I need are right here inside this building."

She smiled again, reached down and linked our fingers together. "I'll pick you up for school every day around eight," she offered.

I smiled and nodded my head. "Bella, you know how you said every person that comes here finds what they're looking for?" She nodded. "Well, I didn't know it at the time, but I found exactly what I needed when I came here, and that was you." Her face lit up when I said it, and I decided to take a chance.

"Bella," I asked hesitantly, and she looked up at me, "would it be okay if I kissed you?"

"Edward, you don't have to ask to kiss me," she said.

"Actually, I think I do. I'd rather not get slapped again," I laughed.

"Sorry about that," she whispered.

"It's okay. I deserved it."

"No, you didn't." I raised my eyebrow at her. "Okay, maybe you did, but I should have given you a chance to explain.

"There wasn't much to explain. I was a jerk. But I promise, Bella, if you give me another chance, from now on I'll do whatever I have to so you'll be able to trust me and depend on me when you need me, just like you always have for me."

She leaned over and pressed her lips to mine once again. "Like I said, you don't have to ask," she whispered.

I smiled and leaned in, taking her bottom lip in between mine and kissing her passionately. "Great," I joked, once I pulled away. We both laughed lightly, and I cupped her face with my hands and kissed her again.

I knew things weren't going to be perfect and I knew I had a lot to get through, but I knew I could do it with her by my side. Of all the miracles I'd had happen to me through my life, she was the greatest one of all.

A/N: I just wanted to tell Bzeemomof4, Redlulu, and Kaymay09 thanks for taking the time to edit this and for being such wonderful friends.