Author's note: This is my first attempt at a "Twilight" story. Hope you like it! Please review, if you do - or even if you don't – and tell me why!

Major, big-time, super-huge thanks to my beta Dinx for her support! You're the best!

Also, big thanks to Project Team Beta and Flibbertigidget, who was my other beta on the prologue. Thanks, gals!

Disclaimer: I don't own any characters you recognize. This story is rated M, and is not suitable for younger readers. Story contains some violence, very foul language and may eventually contain sexual situations. Please do not read if any of these things offend you.


In June of 1996, an unusually warm summer for the Olympic Peninsula was settling in. Families were using their vacation time trekking the surrounding mountains and having picnics on nearby beaches.

Isabella Marie Swan was nine years old. It would be her very first summer in Forks, Washington. Her parents had divorced when she was barely over a year old. Thankfully, Bella wasn't old enough to grasp the concept that Renee felt smothered, felt like she was on the fast track to nowhere in the tiny, dreary town.

Charlie and Renee's last argument had been a brutal one. It ended with Renee snatching Bella out of her bassinet, picking up a hastily packed, worn piece of luggage, and running out to a waiting cab. She didn't stop until she stepped off a plane in Phoenix with her precious cargo.

A week later, divorce papers were served in Forks. Renee didn't want anything except full custody of their daughter, and it was granted. After all, Charlie couldn't be expected to care for a baby. He had a demanding job, and hiring a full-time nanny just wasn't feasible.

Charlie was relegated to speaking to Bella - when she finally began talking - over the phone and in birthday cards with hardly a note scribbled inside. Usually, the cards were signed "Love, Charlie." Bella knew this man only by his name, not as her dad. He missed her first word, "bel-la," and her first tooth. He missed her first day of school and her first dance recital.

But as Bella got older, Charlie found himself missing her most of all. He began to talk Renee into letting Bella visit. Renee was uneasy with the idea, given that Bella had never laid eyes on Charlie. But for Christmas, in 1995, Bella was led off a plane in Seattle, her hand tucked tightly inside her mom's, and she met the man she came to know as "dad," though she still - even to this day - preferred to call him Charlie. And he was okay with that.

The next summer, Bella was allowed to visit on her own. She was excited. It was her first "big girl" trip anywhere, and she really liked Charlie. He called her almost every day and she would spend an hour talking to him before Renee would force her to get off the phone and do her homework. Renee had to be convinced by Charlie, her new husband Phil, and Bella that it would be perfectly okay for Bella to spend her summers in Forks. It would allow Renee to travel with Phil's baseball team, and Bella would be able to "branch out," as Charlie had so eloquently put it.

So on this particular June day, in the summer of 1996, Bella found herself on First Beach in La Push, holding Charlie's hand as they walked to the beach to watch a beautiful sunset.


"Yeah, peanut?"

Bella was quiet for a moment before she took a deep breath. "Why did Momma and I move away? Didn't she like it here?"

Charlie had hoped - no, prayed - that Bella would never ask such a question, but of course she would. What child wouldn't want to know the answer to a question like that? And Bella being Bella, she was curious and had an insatiable desire to feed that curiosity.

Charlie slowed Bella and released her hand, spreading out a tattered old Mariners blanket on the sand. Bella dropped to her knees and opened up the brown paper sack that held their dinner. Charlie looked down at her, a smile on his face before he joined her, maneuvering his lanky frame around. This would be their first sunset viewing together.

"You don't have to answer, I guess. If you don't wanna," Bella said thoughtfully as she carefully laid out a spread of ham sandwiches, chips, and fruit.

Charlie cleared his throat. "It's not that I don't want to answer, Bella. I just want to make sure I can help you understand."

Bella rolled her eyes as she snapped open a can of Cherry Coke. "Charlie, I'm old enough to understand."

"I know you are, peanut. Believe me, I know. Your momma wasn't kidding when she told me you were much older than your nine years."

Bella's eyes darted around when she heard the sound of musical laughter, her inquisition falling to the wayside when her eyes landed on a family traipsing through the sand, their feet bare and the wind whipping their hair around. The man, obviously the father, carried a rolled up blanket and a picnic basket. The woman, the mother, was walking hand-in-hand with a girl about Bella's age nestled between them. Their arms were swinging back and forth and Bella heard the girl squeal as her parents attempted to pick her up.

"Oh, my big girl!" the woman exclaimed cheerfully. "I keep forgetting how grown up my Alice is."

Suddenly, two boys darted around from behind them, chasing each other toward the water. Bella's eyes took in the sight of the family as they moved past. Alice smiled at her as they walked by.

Bella's eyes widened. The family was beautiful, picture-perfect and too good to be true.

"Chief Swan," the man said, nodding to Charlie as they walked by.

"Carlisle," Charlie replied, offering the man a friendly smile.

"Who are they?" Bella asked, twisting her body around to watch as they found a spot several yards away.

"Those are the Cullens," Charlie replied, taking a bite of his sandwich. "The man, his name is Carlisle. He's a doctor."

Bella blinked, her nine-year-old self able to appreciate that. Carlisle looked like a very nice man, definitely nice enough to be a doctor.

"His wife, the woman, her name is Esme."

"She's very pretty," Bella said in awe. She watched as the woman offered her husband a smile, the setting sun illuminating her perfect face, casting her in an angel-like glow.

"Those are the three Cullen kids. Emmett is the oldest. He's fourteen or so, I believe. Next is Edward. He's probably around twelve. And then there's Alice. She's your age."

"Do you know them all?" Bella asked, still unable to take her eyes off them. Emmett and Edward were rough-housing now, throwing each other around. Alice was sitting next to her mom and dutifully emptying their picnic basket. Carlisle had moved away and was nearing the water's edge. He stopped momentarily, his hands on his hips, as he surveyed the colorful horizon.

"The Cullens are fairly new to Forks," Charlie said, interrupting her gawking. "They've only been in town since the first of the year. I see Carlisle from time to time at the hospital. Once in awhile, I run into Esme and the kids in town. They're all nice."

"And pretty," Bella mumbled to herself, breaking her eyes away from them when Alice looked her way.

Charlie's radio came to life on his hip and he sighed. "Sorry, honey. I gotta take this." He went to stand and dropped a kiss on the top of her head as he did so, walking several feet away but not far enough to leave Bella completely alone.

Bella picked at the crust of her sandwich, willing herself not to look in their direction again. It was rude, all that staring, but she couldn't help it. She'd never before seen such a breathtaking display of love ... or family.

"Emmett! Edward! C'mon, boys," Carlisle called.

Bella shot a glance in their direction as the two boys began jogging toward the picnic, still taking teasing jabs at each other.

Alice looked in Bella's direction again. This time, she tapped Esme on the shoulder and Bella saw her whisper something to her. Esme looked right at Bella, causing Bella to glance away hurriedly. Not even half a minute later, she heard a cheerful voice behind her.

"Hi, I'm Alice!"

Bella was stunned as she looked up and found wispy Alice Cullen standing right beside her, her short black hair held up on each side by barrettes. She wore a bright yellow dress that nearly swallowed her tiny frame, but Bella thought it fit her perfectly.

"Hi ... I'm ... I'm Bella."

"I can't stay, I wish I could," Alice said, looking over her shoulder as her family settled onto the blanket. "But my mom said I could come give you these." She paused. "If you want them. And doesn't everyone like cookies? You like cookies, don't you?"

Bella stared at her, unable to wrap her brain around the ball of energy in front of her. "I ... yes, I do. I love cookies."

Alice's hand was still holding the two cookies on a napkin. "I knew you would! These are chocolate chip M&M cookies. We made them today. I brought one for your dad, too."

Bella timidly reached for them just as Carlisle called for his daughter.

"I gotta go. Maybe we'll see each other again!" Alice said before turning and running back to her family.

Bella looked down at the two perfectly round cookies in her hand and then back toward the Cullens, who were immersed in their dinner and familial conversation.

"Whatcha got there, kiddo?" Charlie asked, plopping down next to her.

"Cookies. Alice brought them to us."

"She did, huh? Well, that was nice of her. Did you thank her?"

Bella's eyes widened. "Oh no, I forgot to!" She went to stand, but Charlie gently caught her arm.

"Not right now, Bella. They're eating dinner. You can wait. I'm sure she'll understand."

But Bella felt stupid now. How could she forget to say thank you? Of course, it's not as if the pint-sized beauty gave her enough time to. Just as fast as she appeared, she was gone again.

So Bella waited impatiently as the sun began to set and each family happily chatted, watching the sky turn a glorious shade of oranges and purples. When the last of the dazzling orange had begun to fade, the Cullens began packing up. The boys took off running again, trying to get everything they could out of the remaining daylight.

Carlisle yelled at them as they began getting further away down the beach. Esme and Alice finished packing up their things. Charlie and Bella both stood, Bella taking their trash to the nearby bin as Charlie shook out their blanket.

"Another beautiful sunset," Carlisle said as he approached Charlie with his family in tow.

"Doesn't get much better than that," Charlie agreed, holding out his hand. Carlisle smiled as he shook it and then looked toward Bella.

"You must be Isabella."

Bella felt her cheeks warm as the family - including the two boys - stared at her. "Yes, I'm Isabella," she said. "But I like to be called Bella."

She heard one of the boys snicker and her cheeks grew even warmer.

"Well, it's very nice to meet you, Bella," Esme said, smiling down at her. "We've heard a lot about you."

Bella raised her questioning eyes toward Charlie, who merely shrugged, a half-smile on his face.

"I know you've already met Alice," Esme stated. "This is Edward and Emmett. Say hello, boys."

"Hello, boys," they both said, saluting her. Bella regarded them curiously, especially the one called Edward. He had sharp green eyes. She'd never seen anyone with eyes that green before. Edward returned her stare for a moment, wondering why this Bella was looking at him. He might have been uncomfortable with anyone else gawking at him, but this girl looked as harmless as a puppy. He found her peculiar looking, with her big, brown eyes, blushing cheeks and pouty lips. She reminded him of one of his grandmother's beloved painted China dolls - the ones Grandma Cullen had locked in the cabinet so none of her nosey grandchildren would bother them.

Edward grinned as he pictured this Bella with makeup all over her face and her mouth frozen in a permanent 'oh' shape.

Emmett gave him a quick jab in the shoulder, thereby breaking Edward's trance and forcing them off into another chase.

"We must be going," Carlisle said. "Early shift tomorrow."

"Doc," Charlie said, shaking his hand one more time. "Nice seeing you all."

Bella stared after the family as they walked toward the parking area.

"Oh! Alice!" Bella cried, suddenly remembering. Alice froze and quickly turned, a smile on her face.

"What is it, Bella?" she asked, her voice lifting.

"I forgot to thank you for the cookies. They were yummy."

Alice's smile broadened, if that were possible. "You're very welcome. I hope to see you soon!" And then the girl turned and took off in a full run to catch up to her parents.

Bella was still mystified when she went to bed that night. She smiled as she thought of the perfect family, and especially of Alice. She was sure she'd never met anyone quite like Alice Cullen. She was also sure she would like it very much if she and Alice Cullen were to be the best of friends.

It happened quickly that summer. Not only did Alice Cullen see Bella Swan again, they spent nearly all of their free time together. They had sleepovers and stayed up late into the night, way past their bedtimes, giggling and making up stories about the adults they knew. Alice even convinced Esme to talk Charlie into letting Bella stay there during the day when he had to be at work. With Esme working from home most days, that wasn't a problem, and Esme was glad that Alice had a friend to keep her occupied.

Emmett and Edward, on the other hand, began their merciless teasing of the Swan girl. Bella did her best to ignore them, but when she was forced to be around them, like at dinner or when they had her over for "family" night, Bella was forced to deal with their shenanigans. Charlie told Bella that boys were meant to tease girls and she should just do her best to play along, but sometimes, it got a little hard. Like when Edward put shaving cream in the toes of her shoes, and then he and Emmett laughed uproariously as her eyes grew big when she put said shoes on in the family's foyer.

It was just the little pranks at first. But every summer, as the boys and girls got older, they grew more clever. And given that Bella was only in town for the summers, they had amassed a whole stock pile of pranks to pull on the poor girl during her summer visits.

Eventually though, Emmett and Edward got too old and too involved in other activities to even pay much attention to Bella Swan. Emmett turned sixteen and his parents bought him a Jeep. Bella hardly saw Emmett at all that summer. Edward was practically foaming at the mouth, having held his older brother in such high regard for so long, and never skipped a chance to go anywhere with Emmett in his shiny new toy.

For her part, Bella managed to stay preoccupied as well, but there were times she kind of missed Emmett and Edward, even if they were being mean. She and Alice were almost thirteen now, which meant silly fairytales gave way to real-life stories about the boys in their schools. They were old enough now to go shopping - with adult supervision close by - and even better, see more intelligent movies. Alice had spent the better part of one Saturday begging Emmett to take her and Bella with him and Edward to the movies.

Emmett said no, and Edward laughed along with him, even throwing in an insult as he was known to do. "I don't want to be seen anywhere near you or the ugly Swan!" Edward said to her before rushing out to jump in Emmett's Jeep.

Alice looked at her friend, whose bottom lip was quivering. "Aw, he didn't mean it, Bell-Bell! You know how he is."

Yes, Bella thought, I know how he is. Stupid Cullen boys.

And then, the worst possible thing happened; Bella earned a new nickname from Edward, and it was the ugliest, most hurtful name anyone had ever called her.

"Hey, Smelly Belly! You soap up today?" he called as he walked past her in the living room.

"Edward! You're so mean," Alice said, throwing a protective arm around Bella as they sat on the couch.

"Shut up, Alice. Why are you friends with her anyway? She's so ..." Edward waved his fifteen-year-old hand around and then grinned. "Unnecessary." His grin widened as he thought about his clever assessment of the petite wallflower now cowering on the sofa.

Alice's chin dropped open and Bella sank into the seat cushions as her friend jumped up and began chasing Edward. They disappeared and Bella heard Alice screaming at Edward as they ran upstairs.

"I'm sorry, Bella," Alice said sadly as she came back to her.

Bella shrugged, her arms folded. "I don't care. He means nothing to me." But that couldn't be further from the truth, because as Edward got older, and as Bella got older, it didn't take a genius to see that both were blossoming. Bella saw how Edward was growing taller, his body more defined. His hair was unruly and still looked so perfect. And those green eyes, the very first thing she ever noticed about Edward Cullen, were even more beautiful.

Bella would never, ever tell anyone - including Alice - that she had a crush on Edward. The mortification would just be the death of her if he ever found out. Not that Alice would tell, but she didn't want to take any chances.

It was the very next summer that Edward turned sixteen, and just like his brother, he was given a shiny new car, a silver Volvo. Bella tried to find solace in the fact that now she'd never have to see Edward, for he'd be out and about and never home when she was there, never around to tease her and call her hurtful names. Emmett was going away to college, and Edward would need to find other things to occupy his time. Bella would miss looking at the bronze-haired boy, but she sure wouldn't miss his less-than-charming demeanor or the name-calling.

Bella was insanely jealous when, the summer just before she turned fourteen, Edward found himself a girlfriend. He paraded her around in the Cullen home like she was the Queen of England. Alice and Bella would pretend to gag and roll their eyes, but deep down, Bella was envious of this Tanya girl. She was all legs and blonde hair, with blue eyes and boobs that Bella would never have. Bella hated her. It was obvious Edward didn't - she caught them making out in the living room one night when she stumbled downstairs to get a pint of ice cream for her and Alice to share.

"Get outta here, Smelly Belly!" Edward shouted when he caught sight of her. Tanya laughed and congratulated him on his insult before pulling his face back to hers.

Bella grabbed the Chunky Monkey and high-tailed it upstairs, tears stinging her eyes. She'd never understand him as long as she lived.

In 2002, on a February night in Phoenix, she received a phone call from a sobbing Alice.

"Oh, Bella. It's Edward. He's ..."

"What, Alice? What?" Bella practically screamed into the phone. Oh, please don't let Edward be injured. Or dead. Though an injury might not be so bad. Maybe it'll knock some decency into his brain!

"He got suspended for the rest of the year at school."

Bella blinked. "What? That's all? Why are you so upset? That's not your problem. He's seventeen!"

Alice sniffled. "That's not all. Mom and Dad are sending him to Chicago."

Bella lay there in bed, unmoving as she stared at the ceiling. "Chicago? For what?"

"To live with my aunt and uncle." Alice began sobbing again and Bella wished she could be there to hug her best friend.

"Forever?" Bella asked, panic settling in. She sat up suddenly and squeezed her eyes shut.

"No, just until the next school year. He's going to finish out this school year in Chicago and then they said he could come back here if ... if he was better."

Bella picked at the lint on her comforter. "Alice, what did he do?" she asked, her voice in a near-whisper.

"Your dad didn't tell you?"

"Charlie never talks about work with me," Bella answered, though for once she wished he had.

"He punched a teacher, Bella! And then when the principal came, he punched him, too!"

Bella's hand flew to her mouth. She didn't know whether to laugh or cry. "Oh no!" was all she could manage.

"There was some stupid fight or something, I don't know. I tried to get Tyler to tell me, because Tyler's older sister Jane is in class with Edward, but he said he didn't know what happened, just that there was a fight. And I think Tanya was involved."

Bella frowned. "I can't believe he's still with her anyway," she said softly.

Alice sighed. "I know, and she's so cruel. I mean, really cruel. She treats us freshmen like we're dirt on the bottom of her shoe or something! But my parents just love her. That's only because she's sweet and polite around them. As soon as they're gone, she's back to being mean again. Ugh, I hate her!"

Bella was taken aback by Alice's outburst. She'd never known Alice to ever speak so ill of someone, let alone say she hates them. Bella heard Esme call for Alice in the background. "Oh, I have to go," Alice said. "I'll call as soon as I can."

"Okay, bye, Alice."

"Bye, Bell-Bell. Miss you much!"

Bella clicked her phone off and then looked at it. Should she call Charlie in Forks and ask him about what happened? Or would he say he couldn't talk to her about it? Did she even want to know?

She decided she did, in fact, not want to know unless she heard it from Alice and went back to reading "Emma."

As it turns out, Edward did punch a teacher, and the principal, and when a police officer came to the school, Edward attempted to punch him. Add to that the fact that both Carlisle and Esme were called to the school, away from the hospital and an important client meeting respectively, and you had one very messed up situation and two very angry parents.

It wasn't until Chief Charlie Swan arrived that things quieted down. The school said they were expelling Edward for the rest of his school life, a minor fact as far as he was concerned, but then his parents had to go and get it reduced to a suspension for the remainder of the year. Carlisle convinced them that there was obviously some underlying issue and it would be corrected before Edward stepped foot inside Forks High again. So the school agreed that Edward could come back for his senior year as long as he met the credit criteria.

"Whatever," Edward had muttered, holding an ice pack to his temple. He may have done the most damage, but not until after some damage had been done to him. He was protective of what was his, and that included one Tanya Denali, who wasted no time in gushing how Edward Cullen - resident hot shot and the most popular guy in school - had fought another guy for her.

That evening, his parents informed him that the following Friday, he would be on a plane to Chicago. His car was taken away and he was grounded until then. Edward spent his days and nights holed up in his bedroom, blasting Rage Against the Machine and smoking pot from the window ledge. It wasn't as if he couldn't get his GED. Hell, it was practically the same thing. And he wasn't even sure he wanted to go to college, so that didn't matter either. Though the appeal of college girls doing college things at college parties certainly did appeal to him.

"Alice!" he yelled, banging on the wall between their rooms the night before he was to leave.

"I'm on the phone!" she yelled back.

"Who the fuck cares, get in here!" he replied, hitting the wall again.

Five seconds later, her head poked in the door. "What?"

"Who are you talking to?" he asked, sitting back against his headboard, arms crossed.

"None of your business," she replied. She started to close the door, but he called her for again.

"Is that Smelly Belly?" He smirked, pleased that the nickname he'd came up with for her still stuck.

Alice rolled her eyes. "Stop calling her that. You're not twelve anymore."

Edward scowled at her. "It's a shame I won't be around this summer to give her hell. She's such a fucking pushover. God, I swear..."

But Alice slammed the door before he finished his sentence, and Edward just rolled his eyes. He loved giving Bella a hard time. She took it like a champ, and once in awhile, she gave it back, but never as good as she got. Sometimes, he just wanted to take her by the shoulders and shake some sense into her, tell her to fucking man up. She'd never get through life if she didn't grow some balls. The last summer though, he had his work cut out for him. He didn't see Bella much, given that he was a little busy with Tanya, but when he did see her, he had a hard time believing she was the same Bella.

When he first met her, she was all knees and elbows. Even then she was a scared little thing. But as they got older, he couldn't help but notice how she began to change. Her hair grew out into soft waves, her body began to fill out in all the right places. He couldn't believe that little Smelly Belly had grown into that. Not that he'd ever tell anyone. She was nothing to him, after all. Just a blip on the radar. Since Alice insisted on remaining friends with the girl, he just had to endure, but not without an arsenal of verbal weapons. He wasn't even sure why he didn't like the girl. He just knew he didn't. She was too timid, shy and innocent for his liking. Then again, there were more than a few people Edward didn't like.

The next day, Edward was on a plane to Chicago. He didn't really give a fuck, he'd told Emmett on the phone the night before. His aunt and uncle weren't going to boss him around and if Edward wanted to go out, he would. Carlisle and Esme were convinced that Edward just needed new friends, so Edward would see about making friends, beginning with the first person who could score him some weed.

That summer was carefree for Bella. She and Alice grew even closer, if that was possible. With Edward out of the picture, Bella finally felt like she could breathe when she was at the Cullens. Of course, being thousands of miles away didn't mean he couldn't torture her anyway. Whenever he called, if Bella was around, Alice would roll her eyes, mouth 'sorry' and quickly hang up on her brother when he started taunting Bella through the phone.

Emmett, however, came home from college that summer, and Bella marveled at the change in him. He was all smiles and when he first laid eyes on her, he caught her up in his arms and swung her around, causing her to squeal. "Look at you, Bella! All grown up! Good lord, if I were sixteen again..."

"Emmett!" Alice shouted, horror in her voice. But she laughed too when he picked her up and then draped his arms around the both of them, walking inside the Cullen home.

"College is good for you, Em," Bella said, taking a seat at the bar in the kitchen.

"Thanks, kid. It's been fun. And crazy." He winked at her and popped open a can of Coke. "So, how's things in good ol' Forks? Got yourself a boyfriend yet?"

"Emmett," Alice warned, rolling her eyes.

"What? Just askin'. But I guess there aren't any boys in Forks worthy of your attention. Either of you," he said, giving a pointed look to Alice. "And they'd never pass the big brother test anyway."

"Is that Emmett I hear in the kitchen?" Esme called, walking in from the foyer.

Bella watched their exchange and smiled warmly. This was an Emmett she could stand to be around. He had grown up, unlike Edward who still acted like a petty twelve-year-old. Emmett was like the big brother she never had. Edward was the black sheep brother she could do without.

That summer had been perfect. Too perfect. When Bella returned to Phoenix, she cried on Renee's shoulder. It was getting harder for her to go and just spend the summer, then return to her normal, mundane life in Phoenix. She had friends she liked in Phoenix, but none that she would call close, not like Alice, who knew everything there was to know about Bella Swan. At this point, it was feasible that even Emmett knew more about Bella than her friends in Phoenix.

One evening in early August, when Bella was stuffing her backpack with the usual supplies she'd need to start her sophomore year the next day, Renee swept into the room, a sad smile on her face, and perched on the edge of Bella's bed.

"What?" Bella asked, smiling a little at her mom's expression.

"Well, I just got off the phone with Charlie. You know, school doesn't start there for another week."

Bella sighed, zipping her bag. "I'm aware of that."

"So, if you were to go up there this week, you wouldn't be behind in anything. You'd be starting right along with everyone else."

Bella was sure she hadn't heard Renee right. She blinked a few times, trying to process her mom's words. "What do you mean?"

"Oh, honey. It's so obvious that you just love it in Forks. You come home every summer and mope for days. Your dad is beside himself with the idea of having you move up there..."

Bella's mouth fell open. "What!" she shrieked as she threw her arms around Renee, tears of happiness running down her cheeks. "Mom! But ..."

"It's okay, honey. Really." But Renee's sadness came through in her words and Bella hastily sat down beside her, holding her mom's hands.


Renee smiled, her eyes wet with unshed tears. "I'm going to be honest with you, Babygirl. Phil and I are separating, and I don't want you here for that."

"What?" Bella choked back a sob. "But Phil's ... so great. I mean, you guys ..."

"You should be glad you weren't here this summer," Renee said, staring across the room. "We went to Houston so he could do his tryout for the Astros, and he didn't do so well. All these years of frustration just caused him to snap. He said some pretty hurtful things. Things I'm not sure I'll ever be able to forgive him for."

Bella tried to imagine Phil lashing out, but she couldn't. He had been nothing but fun and kind toward her. Of course, she didn't know what went on between them behind closed doors, or when she was away. She only knew that they seemed to fit together perfectly.

"What are you going to do, Mom?"

Renee squeezed Bella's hands. "We'll take care of things here and ... well, I haven't thought that far ahead, to be honest. Maybe I'll come up to Seattle or something. I'll be closer to you that way."

When Renee left Bella alone, she quickly grabbed her phone and dialed Alice's cell.

"Alice Cullen's cell, this is Edward Cullen speaking."

Bella felt her throat constrict upon hearing his voice. Shit!

"Hello? Is anyone there?"

"Um, hi ... hey, Edward. Can I speak with Alice, please?"

There was a pause, and then Edward laughed. "Well if it ain't ol' Smelly Belly! Goddamn, I missed you this summer. It was hard finding someone as path..."

His voice was cut off and Bella heard Alice yelling at him. There was a very obvious scuffle and then a breathless Alice came on the phone. "Get out of here, Edward!" she yelled.

Bella heard Edward cackling as he apparently walked away.

"Bella? God, sorry about that. Edward was helping me set up my new phone."

"Some things never change," Bella said dryly.

"Yeah, Chicago didn't make a dent at all in his asshole-ness."

Bella laughed and then remembered why she was calling. "Alice! Guess what?" She could hardly contain her excitement, and Alice quickly picked up on her friend's unusual giddiness.

"What? Tell me!"

"I'm moving to Forks!" Even as she said it, practically screaming it into the phone, she couldn't believe it. Never in a million years would she have believed she'd be leaving sunny Phoenix for dreary and boring Forks - and loving it.

"What!" Alice joined in her excitement, demanding Bella tell her everything.

At one point, Esme came onto the line when Alice had excitedly told her mom why she was dancing around the living room.

"Bella, you're moving to Forks?"

"Yes, ma'am," Bella said, unable to contain her grin.

"That's wonderful, honey. We're so glad! Is there anything you need me to do?"

"Oh, well, I don't know. I don't think so. I mean, Charlie..."

"Oh yes, of course." Esme had always considered Bella to be a daughter and it was sometimes easy for her to forget that Bella had her own family.

"Well, if you - or Charlie - need anything, please let us know."

Alice came back on the phone and there was more squealing, but Bella calmed down long enough to sadly tell Alice about Phil and Renee's looming separation.

"That's so sad," Alice said, her voice dropping an octave. "But your mom might move up here?"

Bella nodded, flopping back on her bed. "She said Seattle, which is okay, I guess. I mean, she didn't like Forks before and I doubt that will have changed in fifteen years. But she likes Seattle."

"We should introduce her to my mom! They could become good friends. Wouldn't that be awesome? Then we really would be a big family!"

Bella had to smile at Alice's unwavering optimism. It was one of the things Bella loved most about her. It balanced the pair out nicely. Alice's optimism and faith in comparison to Bella's constant view of reality.

All worries Bella had about transitioning from school in Phoenix to Forks High escalated on her first day. She was told that since she was enrolled late, she'd have to take a locker in the upperclassmen wing. That didn't set too well with her, or Alice, who pouted about losing time with her best friend in between classes. Bella was even more nervous when she found out her locker was right across from Edward's. Thankfully, he chose to ignore her for the most part, but now she had to endure the sight of him making out with Tanya on a constant basis.

The first month went by quickly as Bella settled into her new life. She adored Charlie, loved going home and cooking dinner for him. In turn, he made sure she had everything she needed, and as her sixteenth birthday approached, Bella grew anxious. Alice insisted on throwing a birthday party for her, and Bella finally relented when Alice promised she'd keep Edward away.

Bella picked out the perfect dress with the help of Renee, who was visiting for her daughter's birthday. It was a deep blue, the color of the sky at dawn, and fit her perfectly. When Bella arrived home from school that day, a Thursday, there was an old Chevy sitting in the driveway as well as two other cars - one being her mom's rental - and her dad's cruiser. Bella eyed the scene curiously as she approached the house and went inside.

"Surprise!" Renee screamed, clapping her hands excitedly as Bella walked in.

"Mom? What ..." Bella nearly jumped out of her skin upon seeing both of her parents, Charlie's best friend Billy and Billy's son, Jacob.

Renee gave her a tight hug and then Charlie did the same.

"Happy birthday, sweetheart," Renee said, smiling. "We wanted to have a little party here before you go to the Cullens."

"Happy birthday, Bella," Billy said, smiling at her.

Bella returned his smile and bent down to kiss his cheek. "Thanks, Billy. Hi, Jake."

Jacob grinned at her before giving her an awkward hug. "Happy birthday, Bella."

She smiled at him and then looked back at her parents. "So, um, thanks for this."

"Oh, honey, you're welcome! You only turn sixteen once."

Bella let them fuss over her for a half-hour or so before she was led outside.

"Here's your present, from all of us," Renee said, grinning. "I know it's not..."

Bella cut her off as she stared at the truck, its red paint faded, revealing the primer beneath it. "This is mine?"

"Uh huh," Renee said, nodding.

"You got me a truck?" Bella couldn't believe it. She was going to have her own wheels! "Oh my gosh! Thank you!" She hugged each of them before pulling the door open and climbing in.

"Jake, why don't you show her where everything is?" Billy suggested, grinning.

As their parents shuffled back to the house, Jacob climbed in next to Bella. The pair hadn't really gotten acquainted during Bella's summers in Forks, what with Jacob living on the reservation and Bella always running around with Alice. They'd seen each other a few times, mostly when Billy or Charlie traveled to the other's house for whatever reason. Plus, Jacob was two years younger.

"Wow, I can't believe this is mine," Bella said as she ran her hand along the cracked leather seat. "Where'd you guys get it?"

"Oh, it was my dad's. Back in the day," Jacob replied, watching her as she scanned the interior. "It was sitting in our garage for a long time, so when your dad mentioned he was thinking about getting you a car, my dad talked him into letting us fix this one up for you. It's not pretty, but it runs great. If you don't plan on speeding, that is."

"Hello, police chief's daughter," Bella joked, nudging him. "This is great, Jake. Thanks. There's just one little problem."

His brow furrowed. "What's that?"

"I don't have my license yet!"

Jacob laughed. "Yeah, your dad said he's taking you tomorrow."

Bella excitedly drummed her hands on the steering wheel. "This is the best birthday ever."

Thankfully, it stayed that way. True to her word, Alice kept Edward away - but only because he went to Port Angeles to see a movie. Bella was given several gift cards to buy books and music, which she planned to do right away.

The next day, Charlie let her skip her first class so he could take her to get her license, which she accomplished with ease. Charlie beamed with pride over his daughter's perfect score. Bella squealed with excitement as she slid behind the wheel of her truck when he dropped her at home. He followed her as far as he could before he turned off and she drove on to school. The truck was loud and made squeaky noises as it rumbled along, but she loved it. It felt comfortable.

Of course, in Bella's world, her excitement would quickly diminish. Since she arrived late, she'd be forced to park further away, and everyone knew that Edward Cullen always parked in the back, taking up two spots so no one would park next to him and damage his ostentatious car. She pulled to a stop behind his car and sighed. As usual, his silver Volvo was parked across two spaces, leaving one open. She knew he'd have something to say about her parking next to him, but what could she do? It'd only be this once...

When school let out that day, she wasn't surprised to see him standing there, leaning against his car, a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. He was talking with a couple of friends, a scowl on his face. She slowed her step, hoping that by the time she got to her truck, he'd be gone. However, he remained there, and as she approached, he glared at her.

"Is that your heap of junk?" he asked, nodding at the truck.

She took a deep breath. "Yeah," she mumbled. "Birthday present."

Edward laughed, as did his friends. "Some birthday present. Jesus Christ." He pushed away from his car and walked around the truck, completely circling it before meeting her as she opened the door. Her breath caught in her throat when he grabbed the door, forcing it out of her hand.

"Don't park next to me again. Got it?" he said, his voice dripping with disdain. "Or maybe you should. This piece of shit makes my car look like a million dollars."

Behind him, his friends snickered and Bella threw her bag into the cab before looking at him. "I apologize if my heap of junk offends you, Your Highness. Not all of us are blessed to have everything handed to us on a silver platter, like that golden stick that's shoved up your..."

"Bella!" Alice yelled, nearly running to her.

Edward glared at Bella. "Finish that sentence, Swan. I dare you."

"Or what?" Bella hissed just as Alice got to her side.

"Wanna go to the mall? You have some gift cards to spend!" Alice said, smiling.

Edward pushed away from the truck, causing the door to swing toward Bella. She caught it and stared at him as he walked around to his car. His two friends dispersed and Edward gave Bella another glare before getting into his car. A second later, his tires squealed as he pulled away.

"Wow, what got into him?" Alice asked, watching her brother's car disappear.

"Oh, you know. The usual," Bella commented.

"So, the mall?" Alice asked, bouncing on her heels.

"Um, the mall is in Port Angeles, Alice. I can't drive my truck there."

"Why not? It's not that far!"

Bella laughed. "Alice, my truck goes, like, forty miles an hour. It would take forever to get there and back."

Alice frowned, but it was obvious the wheels in her head were turning. "Oh, I know! I bet Mom will let you drive her car!"

Bella's eyes widened. "Are you crazy? We can't ask her that!"

"Why not?" Alice quickly whipped out her cell phone. "You have a license to drive now. You can drive anything, Bella."

Bella knew she wouldn't win this argument. She could only hope Alice would hear the unusual sound of 'no' from her mom. Unfortunately, she didn't. Esme would always be accommodating to her children.

As the months progressed, Bella quickly discovered that as long as she stayed out of Edward's way, she'd get along fine. Ever since that incident in the parking lot, he'd taken it upon himself to glare at her whenever their paths crossed, and she certainly never parked near him again, even though she was tempted a time or two. It's not as if he'd beat her up or anything. At least, she didn't think so.

It was strange, their relationship. She'd never call them friends, even though, by all definition they should be, given that they'd grown up together and were practically family. But now he ignored her, acted as if she didn't exist at all. As if he were a king and she were a lowly peasant. Thankfully, with it being his senior year, and since he was the most popular guy in school, he was never home, which meant she could come and go from the Cullen home and never cross paths with him.

That next spring, the one before Bella would turn seventeen and enter her junior year, it only took one night for her to discover she had been an idiot for ever crushing on Edward Cullen.

The Forks High contingent, along with a handful of kids from La Push, were having a party at First Beach. This stunning girl that no one really saw as such was being flirted with - by a senior. Eric was popular, the star catcher on the Forks High baseball team and a teammate of Edward's. Before Bella knew it, this cute boy was giving her her first real kiss. And then he was lying on top of her in the back of his pickup truck.

Bella was aware that she would stop when things got too heated. She didn't want this Eric to be her first, but for now, she didn't mind being kissed by him. She didn't feel ready for anything else.

At some point, she heard laughter nearby and she recognized Edward's voice, but then things took a turn. Eric's fingers moved under her shirt and he palmed her breast. She tried to push him away but he locked his legs with hers and held her down. When she managed to spit out a "stop," he covered her mouth with his hand. She grabbed tightly to his shoulders, trying to push him away.

"Dude, Eric's feelin' up the Swan!" a voice said as it approached.

Edward was laughing. "Dude must be desperate."

More laughter.

Eric still had his hand over Bella's mouth and tears were stinging her eyes. He removed his other hand from her shirt and grabbed her wrist tightly.

"Don't do something stupid now," Eric said to her, his voice a harsh whisper. "No one will save you anyway." And then he replaced his hand on her mouth with his lips, kissing her roughly, his tongue invading her mouth as he grabbed her other wrist, rendering her completely immobile.

Bella's heart hammered against her chest. Why couldn't Edward see that something was wrong? That this is not what she wanted? She was shaking beneath Eric now, more frightened than she had ever been in her life. Maybe she should just let him do it, get it over with. She was no match for his much larger frame. She wished she had followed Charlie's rule of always carrying pepper spray with her.

"Shit, let's go. Maybe Swan will finally get lucky. No one else wants her," Edward said before they broke into more laughter and walked on. They had mistaken her muffled cries for moans of pleasure. Edward smirked in their direction as he and his friend walked on, hoping to find girls for themselves.

Eric suddenly moved both of her tiny wrists into one of his large hands and Bella screamed into his mouth when she felt his free hand move between them, fumbling with the button on her jeans.

Oh god! Help me ... someone ... please, anyone ... Edward, come back!

"Shut the fuck up!" Eric hissed at her when she let out a cry. He pulled the zipper down on her jeans and it took just one second, as he shifted atop her, for her to gain the courage and strength from out of nowhere to break free. She brought her knee up between his legs and he let out a yelp as she found her target. She scrambled away from him, but he caught her ankle. She kicked at him and managed to free herself before falling out of the truck and onto the sand below.

"You fuckin' bitch!" Eric said between his teeth as he hurried to grab her. She jumped to her feet, stumbling as she did so, tears burning her eyes. He let her go, slamming his hand down on the gate of his pickup.

Bella ran as fast as she could in the sand, her sneakers sinking and threatening to trap her with each hurried step. No one paid her any mind as she hurried by, nearly falling at one point, breaking her fall with her hand. She cried out as she felt something give in her wrist.

"Bella? Bella!" Alice yelled from nearby, rushing to her best friend's side. "What the hell? What happened?"

Bella shook her head vigorously, ignoring the looks and whispers of those nearby. "I ... I have to go," she whispered. "Can you ..."

"Of course, Bell Bell," Alice said softly. "Just let me tell Edward..."

"No!" Bella said quickly. "Please, just ... let's go, okay?" Her chest was burning as she struggled to catch her breath, the cool salt air infiltrating her lungs. On top of that, her right wrist was throbbing. If she hadn't broken it, she'd be surprised.

Alice helped her to her feet and threw a glance over her shoulder. Edward was nowhere to be found. "Bella, Edward drove me..."

Bella groaned as she remembered. She hadn't driven her truck, opting to catch a ride with Angela instead.

"Forget it. I'll get ... um ... I'll see if Angela can go." The last thing she wanted to do was be in a car with Edward. That's why she had turned Alice down in the first place.

Alice sat Bella down on a bench near the parking lot before sitting beside her. "Bella, what happened?"

Bella sucked in a breath, cradling her injured arm against her. "I can't ... um, not here, okay? I can't."

"I can call Mom," Alice said. "Is that okay?"

Bella nodded, but just as Alice pulled her cell from her pocket, a large figure appeared out of the shadows. Bella visibly cringed, thinking it was Eric, and she sank against Alice.


Bella let a sob escape her as she recognized Jacob's voice. "Jake..." she whispered.

He dropped to one knee in front of her. "What the hell happened? Did that asshole Cullen do something to you?" Yes, Edward's reputation exceeded him far out of the Forks town limits.

Alice glared at him. "Cullen's sister sitting here!" she snapped before speaking into the phone.

Jacob gave her an apologetic look. He had no problems whatsoever with Alice. He liked her, at least from what he knew of her. It was her brother he didn't like.

"Can you take me home?" Bella asked him, running her good hand under her eyes.

"Of course, Bells. Sam drove us, but I'm sure he'll take you." He helped her stand and looked at Alice as she stood.

"My mom is coming, thanks," Alice said, grabbing Bella's good hand.

"What happened to your arm?" Jacob asked when he noticed Bella holding it against her stomach. "It's swelling, Bella."

Alice glanced down at it, her eyes widening. "What the hell, Bella? I demand you tell me right now what happened!"

"I can't!" Bella cried, tears running down her cheeks.

Jacob was livid, his hands clenching into fists at his sides. He spun around and surveyed the groups of people huddled in various spots on the beach. No one was paying them any attention. Jacob took a step forward and Bella grabbed his shoulder.

"Jake, don't."

He looked back at her, his eyes dark. "Bella..."

"Just forget it. Nothing happened. okay? I just ... changed my mind, that's all."

"What do you mean..." Jacob's voice trailed off as he realized what she was saying. "Bella..."

Alice dropped an arm around Bella's waist and hugged her tightly. "It's okay, sweetie."

"No, it's not okay," Jacob hissed. "Who was it, Bells? Who did this to you?"

"I fell," she said. "My hand broke my fall. That's all."

"Not that," he replied. "I'm talking about..."

"C'mon, Bell Bell," Alice said, leading her to the parking lot. "Mom will be here any minute. You don't have to tell him anything."

Bella gave Jacob an apologetic look. "Will you please tell Angela I've gone?" she asked him before letting Alice lead her away. She heard Jacob say her name one more time before he was out of earshot.

"Okay, Bella. What the hell? It wasn't Ed..."

"No!" Bella practically shouted. "It wasn't your precious Edward." She instantly felt guilty for being so harsh, but really, she could only take so much.

Alice sighed. "Thank god."

Bella stared at her. "You mean you thought ...?"

"I don't know. No, of course not. He'd never do something like that."

"I wouldn't be so sure," Bella mumbled as headlights cut a swath across them.

"There's Mom. Let's go. I'll have Dad look at your wrist."

Esme didn't ask Bella for information as they drove away from First Beach, assuming correctly that Bella obviously didn't want to talk about it. Alice kept throwing worried glances back at Bella, who stared out into the darkened forest as they drove back to Forks. Once they arrived at the Cullens, Bella found herself in their kitchen, sitting at the bar as Carlisle gently examined her arm.

"Good news, it's not broken, just sprained, and mildly at that," Carlisle said, smiling.

"How can you tell it's not broken without an X-ray?" Bella asked. She'd been through enough of these that she was surprised an X-ray wasn't necessary.

Esme chuckled as she sat a glass of milk down in front of Bella. "He's the best doctor in the state, isn't he?" She winked at Carlisle, whose eyes lit up with affection as he looked at his wife.

"Sorry," Bella mumbled. "It's just ... I've kind of been here before."

"That I don't doubt," Carlisle replied, grinning. He sent Alice up to his office to grab another one of his bags that held what he needed for Bella's injury.

"Bella," Carlisle said softly, bending slightly so he was able to look directly into her eyes. "You know Esme and I consider you a part of this family, a daughter of sorts."

She nodded, stiffening as she knew what was coming next.

"You can talk to us, you know. I understand it might be ... difficult to talk to your own parents about whatever happened. We won't judge, and everything you say will be completely confidential."

Bella's eyes teared up and she quickly blinked. "I ... um, nothing happened. I just ..." Her face reddened and Esme came around to her side, rubbing her back gently.

Alice came into the room and set Carlisle's bag on the counter. Carlisle patted Bella's shoulder before he took out what he needed. He gave her some instructions for taking care of her wrist and some Tylenol before releasing her to Alice, who quickly pulled Bella upstairs.

Once the bedroom door was closed, Alice turned to her. "Talk to me, Bell Bell. I want to help."

"Alice," Bella replied, sitting on the edge of the bed. She began picking at the bandage Carlisle had wrapped around her wrist.

"Bella, we're best friends, aren't we? Sisters, even. Though not technically. Anyway..." Alice waved her hand around before sitting down next to Bella. "You know you can tell me anything."

"Why is it so important for you to know? It's not a big deal." Okay, it is a big deal, but that's no reason to blab about it.

"Of course it's a big deal! I'm not trying to be dramatic, but..."

Bella snorted. "Right, Al. Because you're never dramatic."

Alice narrowed her eyes. "I'll pretend you didn't say that. I just ... I'm protective of you. You know that."

Yes, I do know, Bella thought. Except when it comes to Edward...

"You're staying the night, right?" Alice asked suddenly.

"I didn't bring anything to wear."

"Come on, Bella. You know you can borrow anything of mine. Please?"

Bella sighed. "I'll have to call Charlie."

Alice clapped excitedly and handed her the phone. I'll get it out of her yet! Alice thought. She was dying to find out who Bella had been making out with, but more than that, she wanted to know who it was so she could effectively ruin him. No boy was going to make her best friend cry and get away with it.

Bella and Alice fell asleep around midnight. Or rather, Alice fell asleep. Bella was pretending to sleep, afraid that she'd have a nightmare starring Eric Yorkie. Alice had been pestering her all night, and no matter how many times Bella changed the subject, Alice kept going back to First Beach. Not even a shared pint of Chunky Monkey could make Bella talk, and Bella always loosened up when she had chocolate.

At one a.m., Bella sighed and rolled off her side of the bed, careful not to disturb Alice. She used the bathroom and stumbled downstairs to pour herself some milk. She stuck it in the microwave and let it warm for a minute.

After ten minutes, she dumped the rest of the milk and stepped out onto the front porch to get some fresh air. It was chilly and she instantly wished she had her jacket, but it wasn't unbearably cool. She hadn't been sitting there five minutes when Edward's car rolled up. The engine cut off and he was out before she could even register that she was frozen in place and unable to hurry in ahead of him.

"What are you doing here?" he asked, twirling the keys around his index finger. The smell of cigarettes hit her as he stepped in front of her.

Bella crossed her arms at her chest protectively, wincing as her wrist throbbed. "Alice wasn't feeling well, so..."

He studied her for a moment. "Bullshit. She never gets sick. Why are you here? Why'd you guys leave the party? And what the fuck happened to your arm?"

She cast a glance at him, then down to the ground. "It's none of your business," she said softly.

Edward moved slightly and she flinched. "I suppose not. Except that you're in my house. And you're sitting outside in the fucking cold at one in the morning. Are the accommodations not to your liking?"

She glared at him then. "You're an asshole."

Edward chuckled darkly, surprised she had the gall to say that to him. "Ah, don't sound so sad, Belly. I thought you were already aware of that fact."

"Don't call me that," she mumbled.

"What ... I thought I was going easy on you with that one. It was better than the alternative, and we both know what that is."

Yes, I remember, she thought, frowning as several old taunts entered her mind.

"Well, I don't know about you, but I'm not wasting another minute of my time out here. Are you coming in anytime soon, or should we expect to find your frozen corpse in this very spot tomorrow?"

She covered her face, her hair falling limping around her cheeks. She was beginning to fall to pieces, and he was the last person she wanted to see her tears.

"Christ, are you crying? I mean, really? Whatever." He moved up the steps next to her, his right foot grazing her thigh. There was a pause and then the door opened, slammed. She jumped a little even though she knew it was coming.

And then the tears came.

It wasn't that much later, after she'd went inside and silently climbed the stairs to Alice's room, that she heard Carlisle milling around, preparing to head to the hospital. She didn't want him to start questioning her, but she wanted - no, needed - to go home. Again, she found herself quietly leaving Alice's room and heading downstairs after she'd gathered her clothes. Carlisle was standing at the counter, sipping coffee when she walked in. He lifted his head and looked toward her.

"You're up early," he said, smiling.

"I, um ... was wondering if you could drop me at home?" she asked, her voice barely above a whisper.

"Of course, Bella. Are you hungry? I can fix you something."

She shook her head. "No, but thanks." She crossed her arms, letting her eyes dart around the room.

Carlisle sensed her uneasiness and decided to pour the rest of his coffee in a thermos so they could leave. Bella watched him as he moved around the kitchen, pulling his jacket on and then picking up his bag.

"How's your wrist? Is it bothering you?" he asked, touching her shoulder when he moved in front of her.

She shook her head. "No, it's fine."

"Do you have all of your things?"

She motioned to the bag at the door. "I'm ready."

He led her outside and opened the door for her. She watched as he walked around and got in beside her. She was always comfortable around Carlisle, but this time, she found herself tensing when his hand brushed her arm as he moved around. She flinched, nearly recoiling away from him.

Carlisle glanced at her as he started the car and turned the heater on. "Bella, my offer still stands. If there's anything..."

"There isn't," she said quickly. "It was nothing. Just stupid teenage stuff. You know..." Her words trailed off and she shrugged.

He didn't reply right away, and Bella wondered if he was preparing some long, drawn-out speech.

"It wasn't Edward," she said suddenly. Wait, what? Why the hell did I say that?

Carlisle looked at her. "Well, that makes me happy, but I'm still concerned about you. I remember what it was like to be in high school, Bella. If you won't talk to me, at least promise me you'll talk to someone. No woman should ever go through something like that, and certainly not alone."

Bella felt tears welling up in her eyes. She stared out the window.

"And despite his reputation, Edward is a good person, Bella. I know he's not always on his best behavior, but I trust that he'll grow up to be a fine man. Everyone has bumps along the way."

Once Carlisle realized Bella wasn't going to talk to him, he sighed and concentrated on the road. When they approached her house, he spoke again. "You remember everything I told you about caring for your wrist?"

She nodded as he pulled up out front. "Thank you."

"I want to see it again in a week or so."

"I'm sure I'll be over," she replied as she opened the door.

"I'll wait until you're inside. Goodbye, Bella."

"Bye," she said softly before getting out.

The kitchen light was on and Bella groaned as she headed up the steps. Charlie was supposed to be off that day, so why was he up so early?

She waved at Carlisle as she pushed the door open. Charlie immediately stepped into the hall and looked at her. "You're home early."

"I had Carlisle drop me off." She started up the stairs but he stopped her.

"Seems there was a little trouble out at La Push last night."

Bella's eyes widened and she looked over her shoulder. "Oh yeah?"

"Yeah. Eric Yorkie's parents called here not long ago. He didn't come home from the party and they were concerned."

Bella's heart sped up and she sank to the step she was standing on, tears in her eyes.


"He ... he didn't come home?"

"Well, he's home now. They just called, actually, which is why I'm up when I should be sleeping." He chuckled a little. "But he was sporting a nice little shiner, according to his dad. Eric told his dad that Jacob Black came after him unprovoked. Did you see anything out of the ordinary before you left?"

Bella shook her head, relief coursing through her veins. Her first thought was that Jake had done something stupid, like pushing Eric off a cliff. But if all he did was hit him, well - she'd have to give Jacob a hug for that. He might only be 14, but he had the mentality of a much older guy. She almost wished she could have seen little Jacob Black punch the much larger Eric Yorkie.

"Ok, well, go on up to bed." He eyed her as she stood. "Oh, Bells?"


"What happened to your wrist?"

"Oh, you know me. I fell last night. Dr. Cullen fixed me up."

"Good man, that Carlisle. It's going to be okay?"

She nodded, smiling a little. "Good as new soon."

Alone in her room, Bella sobbed into her pillow and eventually fell asleep. She spent that Sunday doing homework and dodging Alice's phone calls. She considered playing sick so she didn't have to go to school the next day, but it just wasn't in her to be dramatic and play hooky.

Bella got to school earlier than usual and quickly made her way to homeroom, bypassing her locker, which was across from not only Edward's, but Eric's. She wished she had listened to Alice and insisted they move her when they stuck her there at the beginning of the year. She wouldn't be able to go all day without a trip to her locker, so the most she could hope for would be that Eric wouldn't be there, or that she could somehow get out of class a few minutes early.

In homeroom, Alice sat down behind her and poked her shoulder. "Bell Bell, it's very rude to ignore your best friend. Why didn't you call me back yesterday?"

"I was tired," she replied, scribbling in her notebook. "And I had to do homework, and laundry, and ..."

"Uh huh." Alice sighed and sat back, staring at the back of Bella's head.

Homeroom and English Lit passed uneventfully, and then Bella was forced to go to her locker. She sucked in a deep breath as she rounded the corner, her head down so her hair would cover her face. She heard laughter and swallowed thickly, pressing herself as close to her locker as she could while fumbling with the lock.

"...the Swan," she heard a voice bellow, followed by more laughter.

"So you tapped that, huh?"


"Tapped it hell. I banged that pussy so hard she was begging me to stop," Eric said.

I won't cry, I won't cry, I won't cry.

"Jacob Black is a fuckin' pansy, man," someone else said. "We should go down to La Push and teach him a lesson."

"I think he likes her. Why else would he get all pissy about me fuckin' her?" Eric's voice grew closer and she held her breath. "I'll have to warn him, though. She really was a lousy lay. Just laid there and took it."

He was behind her now, and she knew he was talking to her as he spoke. Worse, everyone around them could hear everything he said.

"Hey, man..." she heard Edward say. "Is that really necessary?"

"Bella Swan," Eric said, leaning against the locker next to hers. "You've recovered nicely, I see."

Her hands were shaking as she went to close the locker door, holding every book she'd need for the rest of the day. He leaned in closer. "You tell Jacob Black that he better watch his back. You got me?"

"Leave him alone," she whispered. "He's just a kid."

"Or what? Huh?" He reached forward and she flinched as his finger ran up her arm. "You're a lousy fuck, Bella Swan."

She moved away from him, walking as fast as her legs would take her. She heard him laughing behind her as she rounded a corner and ran straight into the restroom.

Bella missed her next class, and Alice was hot on her heels, demanding to know why she wasn't there. Bella told her she wasn't feeling well, which wasn't a complete lie, but she wasn't going to go home. She had a test in algebra that she'd studied hard for and wasn't about to miss. She skipped the lunchroom, opting to eat in the library rather than risk any further humiliation or questioning from Alice. She knew Alice meant well - she always did. But the girl had a knack of pressing the issue and not knowing when to shut up. After lunch that day, Bella went to the office before going to biology.

"Hi, Bella," Mrs. Cope said, smiling. "What can I do for you?"

"Um, can you see if it would be possible for me to switch lockers? I'm stuck in the upperclassmen wing and I'd feel more comfortable somewhere else." She was holding out hope that someone else might have moved from the underclassmen hall. Had anyone left the school that year? She couldn't remember.

Mrs. Cope clicked around on her computer and smiled. "As a matter of fact, there is an opening."

Bella let out a sigh of relief. "Thank you so much."

"No problem, honey," Mrs. Cope said, smiling as she quickly wrote down the locker combination. "You can move when you're ready."

Bella thanked her again and left the office just as the bell rang. She was feeling lighter now, knowing she'd get away from Eric and Edward and anyone else who might continue to torture her.


Bella groaned. "Not now, Alice. I'm late. So are you. What ..."

Alice stepped in front of her, a grin on her face. "Study hour," she reminded Bella.

"Oh, right. Well, it's not mine, and I have to get to bio. See ya." Bella moved around her and Alice stared after her friend, a worried frown on her face.

In his calculus class on the other side of the building, Edward was twirling his pen around, his eyes locked on the back of Maggie Bires' head. He wanted to reach out and touch her hair, just to see if it was as soft as it looked, but of course, she would freak out, being that she was a bit of a shy girl, and he really couldn't afford another visit to the principal's office. His thoughts wandered back to the earlier run-in with Bella. He smirked, wondering why she continued to let people get to her. In a way, he felt bad for her, and it kind of pissed him off - the way Eric had accosted her. You don't just say shit like that in front of people who don't need to hear it. He wasn't sure he wanted to hear it. Scratch that, he knew he didn't want to hear it. And no matter what Eric had said, he wasn't quite sure he believed that she was a lousy fuck. He was willing to bet she could be a spitfire...

"Mr. Cullen?"

Edward's eyes snapped to the front of the room. "I'm sorry, what?"

There was a snicker beside him. He shot a glare at Eric before looking back at the teacher.

"Would you like to come up here and work through this equation?"

Edward panicked. Shit, for the last several minutes, he'd been thinking about everything but calculus.

"Uh ... sure?" Edward said as he slid out of his desk. He stared at the whiteboard as he moved ahead, trying to work it out in his brain before he was made to stand there like an idiot. He didn't give himself enough credit, apparently, because he effortlessly worked through the problem and with a smug grin, handed the marker back to the teacher.

She narrowed her eyes at him, having let Edward Cullen get the best of her again.

That May, Edward graduated and Bella silently rejoiced when he announced he was going to the University of Washington in the fall. Away from Forks, and away from her.

Finally, she'd be able to breathe.