***This story was previously called 'Taking Chances'. It has changed to this because I felt that 'Taking Chances' was not original or unique enough. The current title, The Dash In Between, is taken from a quote by thequotewhore on twitter: "There are two dates on your tombstone but the most important part is the dash in between." I thought that it was very fitting :)

PLEASE READ THIS NOTE… it won't take long, I promise :)

:::WARNING::: This story contains dark mature content, including but not limited to: underage sex, smoking and drinking, drugs, terminal illnesses and mentions of death, rape and suicide. And there's a bit of normal teenage angst and hormones thrown in for good measure.

Quick note – if you actually know me (as in, you speak to me in person on a regular/semi-regular basis) then please, PLEASE do not read this. It will save both you and I loss of sanity and a little embarrassment. Thanks.

Disclaimer – I am merely using my unoriginality to have some fun. Any publicly recognised characters, settings and objects belong to their rightful owners. However, the plot and these characterisations belong entirely to me, Stephaniiie, copyright © 2010.

Death is life's way of saying "you're fired". Suicide is our way of saying "I quit".

Taking Chances

Chapter 1 – Beautiful Stranger

Bella POV

13th September. My birthday.

I'd had a lot of shitty birthdays in my life. This was just another to add to the list. My mother was gushing about how amazing it was that I had reached my seventeenth birthday as she drove and I studiously ignored her. Renee and I were so different. She was so positive, and happy, and completely optimistic. Even if she was upset by something she'd cover it up with a false smile. I was the opposite. I couldn't be bothered to make an effort to appear happy if I wasn't; what was the point? Nobody really cared one way or the other whether I was happy or not. Which was good, I supposed, because I was rarely happy at all. As I stared out of the window, watching the damp green woods fly by, I tried to pinpoint the last time I had been truly happy. The last time I had flashed anyone a genuine smile. I couldn't. It had been far too long.

When Renee pulled into Forks High's parking lot, we both sat in silence for a long moment, me staring straight ahead at the entrance and Renee staring at me. Then, her hand came over to cover mine. "I'm sorry, sweetheart."

I turned my head and glared at her; she knew that I didn't want her sympathy. "Whatever."

Her eyes were rimmed with red and she reached up to wipe a lingering tear away from the corner of her eye. "Bella, honey, I just want you to know that I'm proud of you. You're stronger than I am."

"I know," I said quietly, lacing my fingers together and looking down. There was an awkward pause before I reached into the foot-well and slung the strap of my black messenger bag over my shoulder. I checked my 'hair' in the wing mirror, adjusting it slightly so that it looked like real hair. "See you later."

"Are you coming straight home?" Mom asked.

I shrugged. "I dunno. I'll probably hang out with Em and Jazz for a bit. But I'll be home sooner or later."

"And you have your phone?"

No. "Yes."

"Okay, sweetie. I lo…"

I swung my door open before she could finish saying the three words she tried to throw at me whenever she could. "Later, Mom," I said, cutting her off and climbing out. I didn't wait for her to reply before I kicked the door shut and headed into school without looking back over my shoulder.

I handed my doctor's note to Ms Cope, and tapped my foot impatiently as she read it over. It was ridiculous that they still wanted me to get doctors notes when I missed an hour or two of school; it wasn't like they didn't know where I was.

Once she had signed it and excused me, she handed it back and let me go off to class, shooting me a sympathetic look as though that would make me feel better. It didn't. I wanted to hit her.

I walked along the off-white corridors as slowly as I could. School corridors always seemed strangely eerie when they were empty. I dragged the tips of my fingers along the bumpy walls, wondering how many germs were now multiplying on my fingers and where they'd end up later on. When I finally reached the door to my Trig class, I hesitated. Trig was my least favourite subject, and it was probably the only thing that I'd fail. I didn't particularly want to go in, but I skived it enough as it was. Plus, skiving was boring when it was just me – and I knew that it would be because I had told Jazz and Em to go to class that morning because I had known that I wouldn't be there. And if I wasn't there then they'd ask questions. I could tell them that I just had just wanted to stay in bed for a while longer, but I had told them that before and I knew that they'd get suspicious if I kept skiving like that without getting at least a lunchtime detention.

So I sighed and manned up before reaching for the handle. But the door opened before I could turn it and Mr Varner was stood there glaring at me. "Were you going to come in, Miss Swan, or were you going to dither around outside all day?"

I scowled and pushed past him to take my seat at the back of the room. Jess glanced up gingerly as I took my seat but otherwise ignored me, moving her seat slightly away from me. I couldn't work out whether she was aware that she did that or not.

Jess and I had been really good friends a few years back. When I had strived to do well and have a future. When life was shadowed with a golden glow of relief and smiles. But then the darkness had come and smothered the happiness throwing me into a black world of negativity and depression. And when my own life had been taken out of my control I had fought to get it back in my own hands again. Unfortunately, stealing the upper hand back from a few tiny malformed cells had resulted in losing the friends I had made. Or, more than that, my old friends were now scared of me. But that was okay. Because girls were nosy and liked to know everything that was going on, especially girls like Jess and Lauren. And how could someone with so many secrets be friends with people like them? No, it was much better for me to be friends with Emmett and Jasper and, initially, James. They didn't ask many questions, they joked around, and they smoked with me. It was much easier to relax around them than it was around Jess and Lauren and the other girls.

Trig was torture. It was the one lesson that I actually felt I had to pay attention in because it was the only one I wasn't expected to pass hands down. So, because of my excessive note taking, the seconds dragged by and the period seemed never-ending.

Finally, though, the bell rang and I threw my books into my messenger bag and took off without uttering a syllable to Jess, as usual. I visited my locker briefly before ducking behind the bike sheds where Emmett, Jasper and I always met up. Yes, it was cliché but, somehow, we hadn't been caught here yet.

The small gap between the bike sheds was horrible. Underfoot was only mud, and scuffed brown grass. It was always wet because, well, this was Forks and it always rained. Plus, the drains were blocked up so the only way any water was going anywhere was by being absorbed into the ground, which was already saturated. It stank too, like mildew, and smoke, and rotting wood. The ground was littered with wrappers and packets and occasionally someone would throw a condom round as a joke, though they weren't usually used. I refused to touch them all the same. But it was private and that was really all we needed.

I was the first one there that day, so I sat on one of the upturned metal buckets and dug around in my bag for my cigarettes. I pulled one out and lit it with the lighter from my pocket, taking a long drag before blowing the smoke back out through my lips.

Smoking cigarettes for me wasn't so much a habit. It was just something I wanted to do. I was pretty sure that, if I wanted to, I could stop smoking and my body wouldn't crave them too much; I was lucky like that. I didn't smoke because I needed to, but because I wanted to. That was rare, though, I knew. I wasn't stupid.

I was halfway through my first smoke when I heard the telltale guffaw that was Emmett. A moment later the two boys had rounded the corner and were sitting on their own upturned buckets.

"Hey, Bells," Em greeted, holding out his fist for a fist bump.

I just raised an eyebrow at him, and he dropped his hand, smirking. Emmett hunched his shoulders as he lit his own smoke. He was massive, Emmett; hugely muscled from all of the working out he did. His face was kind of babyish in a way, though, which looked quite funny compared to the direct contrast that was his body. He had a crop of dark curls on his head that Jazz and I often compared to pubes, big blue eyes and a soft jaw line so his face was kind of round; he even had dimples when he smiled, for crying out loud!

Jazz, Jasper Whitlock, was the opposite. He was quite lanky, and very tall, but he had a really manly face. He had sharp and defined bone structure and piercing hazel eyes that were almost a strange golden colour. His hair was blonde and kind of wavy and floppy and if he let it grow too long it would cover his eyes. It was almost that long at the moment.

Emmett McCarty was the goofball and Jasper was usually the quieter of the two but Jazz definitely had his moments. I wasn't sure where I fell in our little group dynamic. Perhaps I was the glue holding us together. Or maybe I was just the girl that kept them in line. Whatever. The three of us just worked.

It had been four a while back. James had been our fourth member, taking up the fourth upturned bucket. He had always had a crush on me, and everyone had known it. But then one afternoon he had taken it a little bit too far and he had been promptly kicked out of the gang for attempting to rape another member. He had moved cross-country that summer as well, so we hadn't seen him again. I was relieved about that because he had managed to get enough of my clothes off to see the bruises that were scattered across my pale skin and he would have known that something was up. He could have easily googled it or something and told everyone. But he had gone and my secret was safe. For now.

"Hey, B," Jazz said suddenly, bringing me back to the present.

I glanced up at him just as he threw something at me. I caught it neatly in my hands and looked down at the glass bottle. A whole bottle of good tequila, with a red ribbon tied around the neck. I laughed.

"Happy birthday," Jazz said.

I rolled my eyes. "I told you not to get me anything."

Now Jasper rolled his eyes. "Em got you a present as well. We coordinated."

And Emmett reached into his backpack and pulled out a gift bag sello-taped messily at the top.

I narrowed my eyes suspiciously but took the bag open all the same, pulling it open and reaching inside to pull out a box with a set of four shot glasses. I laughed again. "Thanks guys. That's actually awesome. Drink?" I asked, pulling the cap off of the tequila and opening the box.

Both the guys leant forward in anticipation and I fought the urge to ask whether this was a gift for me or for them, though I was unable to hide my smirk. Inside, though, I was secretly really, really glad that they had at least had the common sense – or maybe it was forgetfulness; you never knew with these two – to not get cards. The thought of putting cards up around my room to remind me of the 'occasion' made me shudder.

Once the three shots had been poured, we took one glass each and chinked them together before taking the glass to our lips and knocking the liquid back. The heat instantly burnt my tongue, then my throat and then the fire spread to the tips of my fingers. I shivered excitedly and beamed at Em and Jazz.

"Hey, have you guys seen the new kids?" Em asked randomly after a moment.

"Uh, no," Jazz said as I asked, "There are new kids?"

Emmett shrugged, fiddling with his glass. "Yeah. Three of 'em. They're all, like, siblings or shit but they don't look like each other at all. There're two girls and a boy. One of the girls was in my mechanics class and, dude, she was smokin'."

I snorted. "Em, if it has boobs you think it's 'smokin''."

"She's got a point," Jazz backed me up.

"No, but, seriously. She's blonde, and tall, and all curvy and shit." He paused and then added, "And she has a great rack."

Jazz and I groaned simultaneously.


Jasper just shook his head. "What about the others?"

"The other girl is tiny, like, teeny tiny. I've seen kindergartners bigger, dude. She has this kind of black hair that sticks out everywhere and she's a skinny little thing. Like the total opposite to Rosaline, or whatever the hell her name was. I only saw her briefly in the corridor." Emmett took a drag of his still unfinished smoke before continuing. "And the guy is… odd."

"What do you mean?" I asked as I reached into my bag for another cigarette.

"Well, he's all quiet and shit. He was in my Spanish class and he didn't say a word."

"Maybe he's just shy?" Jazz suggested and I nodded in agreement.

Emmett shook his head slowly. "Nah, there's something else… he just seems… weird. And his hair is the most messed up colour. Like between red and brown. Oh, and get this; at the start of the lesson he took all of the stuff out of his pencil case and lined it up like exactly. He even got out one of those angle-measuring-thingies-"

"Protractor," Jasper supplied.

"Whatever. He got out one of those and was measuring the angles between his pencils. That dude is just weird." He stubbed out his cigarette on the wood of the shed beside him.

Jazz looked to me and changed the subject. "Are you doing anything this evening?"

I bit my chapped bottom lip. "Not really. I was thinking maybe we could head to the den and just… I dunno… hang out?"

Jasper laughed. "Sure, sure, I can get you your weed. I'll have to go home to get it first."

I breathed a sigh of relief. I loved how Jasper knew what I was saying even when I didn't say it. "Cool."

"That's really what you want to do on your birthday?" Em asked, a dark eyebrow raised. "You wanna smoke it up in an abandoned cottage?"

"That's what we did on your last birthday, dickhead," I retorted.

"Yeah but…"

"But what?" I snapped, getting a little pissed off at his tone. I knew what he had been about to say. "But I'm a girl? What fucking difference does that make? If I wanna do it then I'll do it, alright?"

He shrugged, backing off. "Alright, alright."

I sighed and leant back against the shed behind me again. That was one of the good things about these guys. They didn't want to argue with me. They just let me do whatever I wanted. I supposed that a lot of it was down to ordinary teenage naivety; most teenagers didn't think about what smoking cigarettes and marijuana would do to their bodies later on in life. I was different to most teenagers like that; the effects smoking had on my body was the only thing I ever thought about when I pulled out my lighter or took a drag from a cigarette.

I knew that it was a control thing. By smoking and doing drugs and drinking alcohol, I was the one harming my body. I was the one killing myself. I was in control. It was a feeling I had grown up with, control. I had grown up with control of myself but I took it for granted. I had always been so cautious; careful not to cross the road without looking, careful not to run by the side of a swimming pool, careful not to go too close to the edge on the La Push cliffs. I had used my control to keep myself safe, as everyone did. Self-preservation was an instinct that everyone was supposed to have. But then, when I was just twelve, I had lost the control of my body. At least, of my insides. My insides were being controlled by just a few cells that had developed and spread. A few cells that the doctors had detected just a little bit late. A few cells that combined to form the word that no parent, or person for that matter, ever wanted to hear: leukaemia.

And now, five years on, I was still fighting a few crapped up cells for control of my own body. These cells were killing me but now I was battling them to kill myself. If I was going to die, I didn't want to die a victim of a disease that killed hundreds. And I was pretty sure that I was going to die. In fact, if someone had told me a few years ago that I would still be around to see my seventeenth birthday, I wouldn't have believed them. Perhaps I was a pessimist, but I had stopped fighting to stay alive. As far as I could see, there wasn't much worth fighting for.

Jazz, Em and I sat and smoked in silence until the bell rang signalling the end of break. We all sighed simultaneously and stood up. I reached under my bucket and pulled out the box that was hidden under there, pulling off the airtight lid and hiding my tequila and shot glasses in with the rest of our stash.

"We can take this to the den with us later," I said as I pushed the box back under the bucket and slid it out of sight.

Jazz nodded. "Good idea."

I rubbed my hands off on my skinny jeans. "See you at lunch, Em," I said, flashing him a quick smile before grabbing Jasper's hand and dragging him off to our Spanish class.

Nobody paid attention to our linked hands anymore; everyone presumed that Jasper and I were dating, and we didn't bother telling them that we weren't. I didn't care if that was what everyone thought, and Jasper didn't either. It put other guys off of asking me out and vice versa for him. Don't get me wrong, I did want to date and I definitely didn't want to die a virgin but the pick of the crop in a place as small as Forks was… well, somewhat limited. Since I was against giving myself to any of the half-wits around, it certainly looked like I was going to die with my hymen completely intact.

Spanish was the same as usual. Jasper worked his ass off, and I copied his notes and his answers.

When lunch rolled around, Jazz and I made our way to the cafeteria together in silence. It wasn't an uncomfortable silence; it was just an 'I don't have anything to say' type silence. We bought our lunch and then went to sit with Emmett who was already at our usual table in the corner of the cafeteria.

We always spent the first half of the lunch hour in the cafeteria; it was a tradition. We'd sit at our usual table, which no one ever took but us, and eat and bicker about pathetic things like whether batman or superman was the better superhero. It was juvenile, and dull, and really, really stupid, but it was nice. It was nice to just hang out and not be scrutinised like I was going to fall apart at any second. That's what it was like to spend time with my mother.

Today's argument was whether banana or vanilla milkshakes were worse.

"Banana, by far," Emmett added his two cents. "I mean, banana is a fruit, so it must be healthy so it must be the worst."

"No, no, no," Jazz disagreed, shrugging his grey jacket off of his shoulders as the clouds parted momentarily and the sun lit the room.

I huddled deeper inside my own jacket – a black one, with some kind of logo over the left breast – and tugged on the sleeves. I didn't like it when the sun made its rare appearances. When it was cold I had an excuse to cover every inch of my skin; when it was hot, I looked weird. But I didn't want to take it off and reveal the light spattering of bruises that I had all over my body.

"You like banana milkshakes?" Em asked Jazz in disbelief.

Jazz shrugged. "They're okay. But vanilla is all horribly sweet and strong and just…" He shuddered.

"Chocolate is sweet and you like that," Em pointed out.

"It's the only sweet thing I like."

"Why? You're insane!"

I spoke up then. "Chocolate's a natural aphrodisiac," I told them quietly.

Two heads turned simultaneously to look at me, eyebrows raised in question.

I sighed and repeated, "Chocolate's a natural aphrodisiac." At their blank looks I explained, "It turns you on."

Em guffawed loudly causing everyone within a five-table radius to look over at us. "Wait. You mean Jazzy here likes chocolate milkshake 'cos it makes him horny?" He snickered again immaturely.

I shrugged. "Well it does. I dunno if that's why Jazz likes it though."

Jasper made a face. "It just tastes good, jeez. You have to analyse everything. Hey, are you gonna major in English Lit? You'd be good at that."

I shrugged again, trying to stop my expression from becoming downcast. I highly doubted I'd live long enough to major in anything.

Thankfully, Emmett changed the subject. "Hey, looks like the new kids are getting the one-oh-one from Miss Jessica Stanley."

Jazz and I glanced over our shoulders to see that there were three new faces sat at Jess's table. Jess was talking to them with exaggerated gestures and ridiculous faces. I remembered when I had been sat there on my first day at Forks High four years before; when I was the one being given the 'one-oh-one', as Emmett put it. Things were a little different then.

I analysed the new kids. Emmett had described the girls pretty accurately. The first was tall, and blonde and absolutely stunning. She had lightly tanned skin that seemed to be perfect, I could see the sparkle in her blue eyes even from the other side of the room, and her hair cascaded down over her curves like some kind of golden waterfall. The second was tiny, thin in the extreme and with short black hair that stuck out every-which-way, though you could tell that it was like that on purpose; skilfully straightened like so. Her perfect and pointed features reminded me of a little pixie, giving her an edge that was almost magical. The boy, though, Emmett had not done justice to at all.

He was well-muscled, but not huge like Em, and his hair was more fascinating than strange as Em had described it. It was a kind of coppery-bronze colour and stuck out in every direction, like his sister's but this was obviously au natural. He kind of looked like he'd just gotten out of bed after some damn-awesome hot sex and decided to leave his hair as it was, which sent tingles through my body. He had sharp bone structure, his jaw coming out at almost a right-angle from just below his ear. It was long, his jaw I mean, and strong and perfectly clean of stubble. I had an overwhelming urge to lick it.

Just after I had been staring at him for a moment too long, his head turned – as did those of his sisters, meaning that Jess was informing them about us – and his eyes met mine. I wanted to look away, having been caught staring, but I couldn't. His eyes were the deepest and most gorgeous shade of mossy green. They were bright, vibrant, but they were missing a sparkle of happiness. My cheeks heated and I knew that I should look away but I was lost in his eyes.

"Bella!" Jasper hissed, his hand touching my elbow and shaking me slightly. "Hello?"

I managed to blink and then look away from the bizarrely beautiful boy back at our table.

"Whoa, Bells, what was up with that?" Em asked when I was looking back across the table at him, turning my apple in my hands. "You completely zoned out for a moment."

"Sorry," I muttered, embarrassed. I looked up at the clock above Em's head and changed the subject so that they couldn't interrogate me about the whole staring-at-the-hot-new-boy thing. "Wanna go smoke?"

They both nodded and we got up from our table. As we headed for the bins to dump our leftover food in, Jasper laced his fingers through mine and gave my hand a reassuring squeeze. I looked over and smiled at him briefly before allowing him to lead me out of the cafeteria.

I didn't once glance back at Jessica's table, at the new boy, as we walked out, even though I was sure that I could feel his eyes on me. I didn't even wait until we were round the back of the sheds before lighting up a smoke, for the first time in my life feeling like I needed the calm that came with the sour taste.

Emmett and Jasper exchanged glances but neither one said anything.

I didn't know what the feeling that was pulsing through my veins was but I did know that, for the first time in a long time, I felt a little spark of life inside of me. I had no idea what was so special about these new and beautiful strangers but I had a feeling that life was about to get a tad more interesting…


*Stops typing, looks up and notices readers… if there are any* Ohai guys! A new story? I know, I know, I'm crazy. But the idea came to me in the early hours in the morning and would not leave me alone. By the end of the day, I had two eight-page chapters written and a huge plan. So here we are.

This story is (hopefully) going to be a little different from my others. This is my attempt to step tentatively out of my comfort zone and branch into more mature stuff – hence the rating. I'm also going to try and Americanise this one because I've been told that that's the correct thing to do. Plus, I'm gonna try and get rid of the A/Ns. This chapter might have a little one what with it being the first chapter, but in the future it'll just be important, story-related stuff.

Now, I am totally aware that the word 'cancer' or 'leukaemia' will send people running for the hills. If you've read this far then thank you and please stick with me. If you've read anything else I've written then you'll know that I only do happy endings. It's sometimes a bumpy road, but the destination is always a nice place to be. So just bear that in mind.

And, if you're a new reader (as in, you haven't read anything by me before) then welcome! New people are always welcome here so don't be shy and say hi (hey that rhymes!) :) I also tweet a lot now, and I have facebook. Follow me StephaniiieJo on twitter and my facebook is linked on my profile :)

Oh, and I picked the title because the lyrics to the song Taking Chances match this story perfectly :) If you don't know them already, then look them up... they're prettiful :)

This is all for now. But Edward's POV is up next and we can dip into his lovely and mysterious cranium… ;)

Reviews aren't compulsory but you could consider it payment since you're reading this for free? Smiley or frowny faces are absolutely fine with me :)

Thanks so much :)