He was six years old when he met the love of his life, the reason of his very being. Sandboxes are good places to meet girls when you're a six year old. She had hair the color of chocolate-milk syrup and eyes to match.
"That's a really ugly cat," she said, pointing to Pennington in his lap. He was the weird hairless kitten his weird hairless aunt had given him when he turned four. He tried to tell her that cats were for girls and babies, but she didn't listen. She said he was still a baby in her eyes.
"He's not ugly. He's naked," he said, with all the indignance of a six year old. He wasn't a baby anymore; six is a lot older than four, but he liked Pennington anyway. Pennington was his friend, so of course he had to defend him. But he couldn't hit her, because his Daddy said you never hit girls. "You're ugly."
"My mom says I'm a hot mess," the girl agreed, with a sigh. "He should wear clothes, it's a rule. My mom says you have to wear clothes in public. I don't like it, but she says that it'ss a rule, and you have to follow them, I guess."
"I like my clothes," the little boy replied defensively, tugging at the straps of his denim overalls. "My mom bought them."
"Moms do that," the girl replied knowledgeably. "Whenever I try to pick my own clothes out, my mom makes me change. She said that I don't understand color cord-nation. Whatever that is. She still lets me pick out my socks though." As if to prove this, she wiggled her brightly colored toe socks in her equally bright orange flip-flops.
"They look like rainbows," he replied awkwardly. He was new in town, and didn't know anybody. It's hard being six and having no friends; and it's not even school time, so he doesn't even have class. Not that he likes class. But he likes friends. And now he doesn't have any, because Dad said they had to move. He'd been mad for a whole week.
She smiled, all dimples and gapped baby-teethed. "I love rainbows!" She looked at her hand, before wiping it off on her shirt, leaving behind a smear of something sticky and of an indeterminable color, before proffering it to the little boy. "I'm Anna Belle."
"I'm Michael," he replied. "But you don't have to call me that. You can call me Mikey."
"Mikey's a good name," Anna Bell agreed, sinking down into the sand. "My mom calls me Anna Belle Elizabeth Crane, but only when she's mad, cause' that's all of my names together. But you can just call me Anna. Or Bell. Whatever."
He wasn't going to tell her that his name was Michael Peter Nation, because Shirley Summers from pre-school in his old town said that Peter was a private-part word, and he didn't want his only friend here to make fun of him. "My mom calls me Michael but I hate it, cause that's my dads name, and we get confused."
"I can see how that would happen." Anna Belle nodded solemnly. "There's two Anna's and a Bella in my class, and it's real dumb cause' when the teacher calls on me they all answer. But I'm way cooler then them, cause' I have two first names."
"I just have the one," he said self-consciously. He didn't want her to not be his friend any more, because he didn't pick his name. He didn't!
She stared for a moment, pushing back her tangled bangs before shrugging her shoulders. "You're okay though. Is your cat gonna poop in here, cause' that would be really gross, and I'd probably have to leave."
"Why would Pennington poop in the sandbox?" Mikey asked, truly bewildered.
Anna Belle shrugged again, grabbing one of the plastic shovels his mom had bought him 'to encourage out-door activities'. "I don't know. My friend Andrea has a cat named Lacy, and it poops in this little tiny sand box in her house. It's really gross."
"That's a litter box," I replied. "It's not the same thing."
"Oh good. Hey do you want some gum?" she asked, spitting a wad of sticky gum into her hand.
Mikey sighed. "My mom says that I'm not allowed to have gum. She says it'll rot my teeth out."
Anna Belle rolled her eyes. "Yeah but we have all those other teeth, so it's okay. Here!" She tore the gum in half, stretch strands sticking to her fingers. "Open your mouth."
He did as he was told, but mostly cause' she kind of scared him. It didn't have much flavor, but he chewed it anyway, eyeing her warily as she popped her half back into her mouth.
"That's so gross," Anna Belle laughed. "I like you, Mikey. Can I touch your ugly cat?"
"His name is Pennington, and he's not ugly," he replied. "Yeah, okay I guess."
She squealed out a tiny giggle as she pinched his wrinkles softly between her fingers, and scratched between his ears. "That is so gross!"
He was six years old and she was already the most beautiful person he had ever met.
He didn't know it then, but he was going to marry that girl.
She'd push him down for the first time by the swing-set when they were seven, and he'd kiss her for the first time by the merry-go-round when they were eight. They'd get in their first real fight by the monkey bars, in the tenth grade. Twenty-two years after they met in that sand-box, she'd ask him to marry her.
And it wouldn't be the first time.
Letters From Bella
My darling Jacob and more darling Leah,
When I look at you tw,o I know what it is to be truly happy. The love you share, it's almost too much. Never have I had more wonderful friends. Jacob, you took a broken girl and put her back together. Leah, sister of my heart, you were my fellow member of the Heartbroken Heartbreaker's club. When I was sure no one could understand the pain I felt, you were there, comrade in arms.
Some of the best chapters in my life are written about you. I know it isn't saying much, what with the way I am, but I wouldn't be the woman I am today, if it weren't for you two. You made my world beautiful when all I ever saw was rain. I love you both, and wish you the world.
You were my best friends, and even death can't change that.
P.S. I wrote this before I knew what it was to be truly happy all on my own. If the love you two share is half as wonderful as the love I share with Peter, then I'm going to die the happiest post-mortem Go mother ever. Give that baby a kiss for me every single day.
To My Boys,
No tears for me please, don't start acting like women on my account.
There are so many things I'd like to say to you, things I never got the chance to say. Things that were said without words, but bear repeating.
You are my family, the only family I ever really had. You took care of me when there was no one else, picked me up and set me right. I tested you, pushed, you and pulled you to pieces, but you were always there.
There were times when it looked dark, but I had more sun in my life than any girl deserves. You boys, my boys. The world's a better place because of you.
Don't cry for me. Remember me if you must, but please don't cry. I love you all.
I really hope you don't send this letter to an editor, or have it published for an asinine amount of money. Dude, class: get some. Anyway, I just want you to know that you were never just my publisher; you've always been my friend. I'm pretty sure if I was so sick I couldn't wipe my own ass, you'd wipe it for me, if it meant I could bust out another chapter. But no, really. Thank you for always caring, and for never questioning the limits of my bone-deep paranoia. You always made sure I was taken care of, pushed me when I needed to be pushed, and listened when all I needed to do was talk. Even if all I had to talk about was the economical infrastructure of the banana import industry. That was the day we learned that the green pills and the blue pills did not mix well.
I love you, you little grammar nazi.
May you continue to make ass-loads of money from me post-mortem.
Dear Dr. Kipslin,
You've been my therapist for several years now, and have helped me through so much. I know you never really thought I needed the medication, and maybe if I had listened to you earlier, I wouldn't have been so lost. Anyways, I just wanted you to know that you helped pull me back from the brink, and I am thankful for that. Also Dr. Alexander is a stupid shit head that doesn't deserve his PhD in psychiatry. Just saying.
Dear Dr. Alexander,
Vampires are so fucking real.
Dear Mom and Phil,
I don't know if I'll get to say goodbye like a daughter should. The years have not been kind on our relationship, but no matter what was said or done, I'll always love you both.
I know I put you two through hell, ran you through the ringer and back. It's a wonder you've stuck by me all these years, as bull headed as I can be. You know I get it from my mom, Phil.
If I haven't told you, I want you to know that I love you. You were the best mother I could have ever wished for Mom, you taught me things most kids couldn't understand. The world may have been an oyster, but you taught me to find the pearl.
Phil, I couldn't have asked for a better man for my mother. I take comfort in the fact that I know she'll always be taken care of, always be loved.
P.S. I wrote this before we visited. If it wasn't for Peter, I might have never said good bye. I want you to know that with him I found the love of my life. Know that I was happier than I have ever been. I've attached a letter for Jamie, I want him to have it.
Baby brother. That's what you are, you know? I'm sorry I wasn't a better sister, but I never really felt like I could do the job the justice it deserved. I was mistaken. I know that I hardly know you, but I love you, and I wish there had been more time. But I do know that you're the best little brother I could ever hope for.
Dear Cullen Collective,
I'm dying. From a blood disease. Ironic, right? I don't have much more time before Peter comes back from getting the clean blankets and water I asked for. I need you to send these letters, Carlisle. There's an open envelope attached with flash-disk and a letter. It's got all the pictures from our trip on it. Develop them, and send them to Peter at the Forks house, along with his letter, please.
I have to go.
I forgive you, and love you in my own way.
I don't have much time to write this, I know you won't stay gone long. Don't lose faith Peter, even after I'm gone. Our love won't die, just because I did, and neither should your hope. You were always my Angel, don't stop now.
A/N I just want to thank the amazing Beta who made this story worth reading. I probably wouldn't have half of you reading and reviewing if it wasn't for her. So, much love to VampishVixen, who helped make Peter and Bella what they were.
Once Bitten, Twice Shy has been nominated for two awards in the GLOSP Awards, and I've been nominated *blushes* for best author. Which is so freaking cool. I don't think I deserve best author, but it would be neat to see OBTS take home some cake, you know? So if you all could check it out and vote for me, that would be awesome. www (.) glospawards (.) blogspot (.) com/