Pick A Pic Challenge

Title: Forever and a Day

Penname: Psyche001

Banner: #4

Rating: M

Discalimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot of Twilight, are the property of the author, Stephenie Meyer. No copyright infringement is intended.

Summary: When differences collide and opposites attract, the effect can either be destructing or life giving. Either way it is irrevocable. And for a bright eyed boy who is accustomed to privilege, what he finds when he meets misfortune will change his life forever.

To see all the stories that are a part of this contest please visit: www .fanfiction-challenges. blogspot. com

-oXo-

Song: Strong Enough, by Sheryl Crow

~Forever and a Day~

Bella

There was a storm that night.

The familiar rain, like a metaphor for the weight I carried around, was an everlasting reminder that sunshine found little to no favour with me. The dampness was always on my hair, on my skin and on my clothes, seeping through my shoes to mingle with my toes. I was both used to and sick of it, but like everything else in my life that I had no control over, I accepted it.

The rain was different that night, however.

It was desperate and loud as it bashed against the shutters and made the branches scrape against the windows. It wailed and whined like a suffering baby, demanding my attention until I had no choice but to give it. So I turned my ears over to the storm and let it have its way with me, letting it rock the calm and settle beneath my pores, allowing it to stir discomfort like it wanted to.

I watched my sleeping mother on the couch with the television remote wrapped loosely within her stubby fingers. I took it from her hand and switched off the TV, then tuned out the static coated weather forecast on the radio.

I decided not to wake Renee, this being the closest to rest she'd had all week, then headed toward my bedroom when a heavy rapping on the door stopped me.

It was late. We hadn't been expecting company, and in weather like this, it was borderline stupid for anyone to be outdoors.

"Who in heaven's name?" I muttered, as I shuffled to the door and tip toed for the peep hole.

The face I found on the other side sent a sudden clamour of shock through me. My blood ran to ice just as my skin flushed in heat, and every joint in my body locked.

Impossible...

But the knock on the door said otherwise. He was there, alive, and in the flesh at my door, his face framed with dripping locks of wet hair and his shoulders pressed up to his shivering ears.

An audible yelp escaped my lips when the door vibrated with another knock. Then all doubt was displaced when his voice came through the surface.

"Hello?" He called.

And because I had only ever been stupid for this man, I unlatched the hinge and communicated signs of life to him through the door.

Surely, he was standing there when I opened it, drenched from head to foot, his breath leaving his lips in cold lines of mist. Edward Cullen was alive after all; the bastard. And he was looking back at me with hope and relief in his eyes.

"Hello, Bella," he said, rocking slightly on his heels with his hands jammed firmly into his pockets. "It's good to see you."

I, on the other hand, couldn't muster the appetite to feign courtesies with him. I narrowed my eyes quite automatically and shook my head poignantly.

"What are you doing here?"

"I came to see you. May I come in?"

Then I slammed the door right in his face.

Eight Years Earlier

"It's only for two months, dears," Renee piped, to my younger sister Alice, and I. "He has promised not to get in our way. Of the entire squad I can accommodate only one, and have received communication that he is willing to take the guest room, which in our case, is the couch."

Alice and I exchanged an incredulous glance, then looked at the lacking, lonesome couch, doubtfully.

"Two months?" Alice exclaimed. "And he doesn't know he's gonna be on the couch?"

"Now, now, I'm sure he's a bright and well mannered young man. And if there's a problem, I'll simply give him my room instead and take the couch myself."

"But, Ma," I said quietly. "Brady..."

"Won't be an obstacle at all," she cut in, taking my one year old son from my arms. "Now be a dear and get me some socks for my grandchild. His little toes are cold."

"He's not complaining, Ma."

"But I am. Scoot!"

At the time, Renee worked as an assistant tutor at the local community college in Port Angeles, Peninsula College, which had recently been tied to a Tourism Internship program for exchange students. A group of twelve Tourism Majors would be visiting Port Angeles from New York City, for the two month program in Tourism Management, and staff of the college were asked to volunteer their homes to board these students on their stay.

Renee had been vying for a promotion at the college. We needed the money since Charlie was properly ensconced with his new wife and family in Seattle, and the alimony wasn't nearly enough to support a mortgage, let alone feed four mouths comfortably. So, extending our humble abode to one of the exchange students was her way of getting herself in the good graces of Dean Banner.

However, our situation at home, and she knew it, was in no way suitable for the nesting of a prized possession, such as the golden child of Columbia University. How she even managed to cop that one, I had no idea. I was quite certain that some mix up was made and she had received the wrong charge.

The moment Edward Cullen stepped off the Ferry at Kingston, flanked by friends who were perhaps more fitting as fans, a sick feeling twisted the innermost parts of me. He fit the description that Peninsula had given us without exaggeration. His wild crop of reddish brown hair bounced down the landing along with the rest of him, and his vibrant laughter could be heard from inside the terminal. His confidence was staggering, as was his glide, because "stride" wasn't the word I would use to describe the way Edward walked.

I folded my weak excuse for a sign with his name, propped Brady higher up on my hip, and handed the sign over to a sulking Alice.

"We don't need the sign. I know which one is ours," I said to her, guiding the half eaten apple in her thin hand back to her mouth. It was all she had eaten all day, if eating at all was the right word. She pretended to bite it halfheartedly, then lowered it to her side again.

I walked and she followed, to the outer area where the passengers were filtering out. We stood with the other hosts, all holding their carefully crafted signs above head, waiting eagerly for their charges to identify themselves.

One by one the students started matching themselves with their names on the signs. And Edward Cullen, not seeing his name being advertised anywhere, scowled lightly and passed his eyes over the small crowd. He looked right at me for a second, then skimmed over as if I wasn't there.

"That one's ours," I said to Sue Clearwater, presently on the verge of a full on hissy fit when she thought no one was there to claim him. Both Sue and Edward looked at me with raised eyebrows, then Sue started muttering about my lack of sign and something about a mistake that was made.

Go figure.

"We're here, Sue. Don't shit a cow," I said. "If his name is Edward Cullen, he's coming with us, or Renee will shit a cow herself, and that's never a pretty sight."

Her aghast expression was levelly balanced by the snort of laughter that erupted from an amused Edward. His emerald stare lit up surprisingly brighter as he readjusted his shoulder bag and took a light step toward me.

"Yup, this is gonna be fun," he said smilingly, offering his hand. "Hello, I'm Edward."

oXo

It wasn't long before Edward realised he was in the wrong place. He should have been put with a more decent family; one that didn't contain an anorexic, troubled fifteen year old; a force ripened eighteen year old mother; and an overreaching Mother Hen who talked more than she could deliver. Not to mention, our house wasn't exactly the Holiday Inn or wherever it was he stayed when he travelled.

Yes, I saw the cloud of doubt in Edward's eyes, when after the first day he had already witnessed one of Alice's breakdowns, a screaming tantrum from my one year old son, and Renee's flustered attempt to cover it all up with a battered smile and nervous tongue. But he kept his judgement to himself, quietly accepting whatever Renee offered him by way of meals, and didn't talk much. He was polite at best, but the vibrancy with which he disembarked at Kingston had left him completely. He was uncomfortable, and perhaps, even a little overwhelmed.

I was surprised when I came home from work with Brady on the second night, and found him still there. By then I had expected him to lodge a complaint and demand to be placed elsewhere.

"Good night," he said, from the corner of the porch.

I jumped slightly and exhaled in relief when he stepped out of the shadows.

"Sorry to scare you," he said.

"What are you doing out here?" I asked. "It's cold."

Then I thought to myself that he was probably escaping another embarrassing scene inside the house.

"Of course," I said. "I'm sorry."

"What for?" He asked, dropping his eyes to the sleeping baby on my shoulder.

"They had another fight, didn't they?" I scoffed.

He frowned and passed his fingers through his hair. "Um, no. I'm just hanging out. Something got cancelled with my friends and I had nothing else to do."

"Oh," I muttered, shifting Brady's weight to my other shoulder. "Would you at least like a blanket?"

"I'm fine. You go ahead and put him down. Fella looks heavy."

"He is," I gasped. "Well, see you inside, I guess."

Long after I put Brady down to sleep in the room I shared with Alice, Edward still hadn't come inside. So I decided to check on him with the excuse of taking him a blanket.

He was still out on the porch, sitting on the railing with his long legs dangling on the outside.

"I brought you one anyway," I said, holding it out to him.

He looked over his shoulder and smiled, then took the blanket from me. "Maternal instincts never fail."

"Ha," I scoffed, with a cryptic smirk. "Maternal isn't the word I would use for myself, but you're welcome."

He turned to face me and cocked his head to the side. "What word would you use?"

I scratched at a spot on my neck and shrugged, turning my stare out toward the road. "Dunno..."

"Aw, come on," he probed. "Forget that I'm a stranger. No judgement...I swear."

When I couldn't answer, his smiled dropped. "I don't mean to make you uncomfortable. I was just curious about the word you would choose for yourself, seeing that I think you're wrong. I do think you're maternal. It's all over you."

That was worst thing he could have said to me at the time. I was an eighteen year old who felt more trapped than alive, and was detached from my own son in a way that made me hate myself. And the reason for my detachment, no matter how justified it was, was never good enough to quell the pain or shame I carried inside. Brady was not supposed to be in this world...not like this.

I turned away from Edward abruptly then, and excused myself with a short, "Good night."

oXo

I felt badly the morning after and tried to make amends at breakfast before Edward left for the college.

"Struggling," I said, sitting down next to him.

Renee was feeding Brady a bowl of porridge on the couch and Alice was still holed up in our room, avoiding people and food.

"That's the word I would use to describe myself," I explained, when he looked confused. "Struggling."

He nodded his understanding while chewing on his sandwich, and shifted his eyes searchingly between mine. Unnerved by his intent focus, I started clearing away the idle dishes on the table and busied myself with washing up.

oXo

For two weeks in a row, I came home from my babysitting job and found Edward sitting on the porch, every night. And for those two weeks our interaction followed the same pattern. I would take a sleeping Brady inside and put him to bed, then come back out with a blanket for Edward. We would chat until late, maintaining light conversation, then he'd always cross a line and get personal, and ask something that made me unnaturally uncomfortable. Our conversation would then end abruptly and I'd escape to bed.

And true to the form, just like the first night, any unanswered question from the night before would be answered the next morning at breakfast.

I should have known that I'd get caught eventually. Patterns have a way of changing form and merging into new shapes. And that was exactly what happened between Edward and I during his third week with us. Our pattern was disturbed when he insisted on shaking me out of my rut.

I went outside with his blanket, as usual, never expecting that he'd hold my hand from underneath and pull me to the banister where he was sitting.

"Tonight, you should sit over here," he said, tugging me playfully. "Come on, I don't bite."

I cooperated, and climbed onto the banister. Then he went straight for the kill.

"Bella? Where's Brady's father?"

A rush of cold slapped the skin of my face, and when I tried to jump off the banister, he grabbed my arm and stopped me. "Wait. Don't leave."

"I can't talk about that. Please, let go of my arm."

He released my arm and I jumped down to the yard below, but didn't go into the house. The dose of adrenaline that had just exploded inside of me needed to be walked off.

I knew he was following me. His footsteps pushed me forward. I walked and he followed at quick pace until we got to the lake a few hundred yards from my house.

"Why are you running from me?" He asked when he caught up. "What's so wrong about talking to me? So you have secrets. Who doesn't? It can't be any worse than the things I've seen and heard."

"Oh right," I snapped, stopping suddenly. "Because you had it tough. Don't try to make me believe that your life isn't perfect, Edward."

"That's not fair," he answered. "You don't know the first thing about my life."

"I know that whatever you think was so bad can't be worse than what some other people have to live with."

"People like who? You?"

"There you go again, trying to unlock this great mystery about me."

"You shouldn't make assumptions about people, Bella."

"And you shouldn't push me to talk about the things I can't."

"Can't. You never say you won't...you say you can't. Why?"

I wrapped my arms around myself and took a deep breath.

"What's stopping you?" He pushed. "Why can't you talk?"

We stood in silence for a few moments as I tried to find the best way to explain it to him.

"Because it's physically impossible," I said. "I've tried...and the words just can't come out."

Staring at me through the darkness he said, "I'm curious about you."

"I'm not that interesting. And believe when I tell you that you're not the first person to see something in me that needs to be fixed."

"I didn't say you need fixing."

"I do."

"You're exceedingly hard on yourself."

"I'm realistic."

"No, you're difficult."

"And you're a naïve, sheltered dreamer."

"Well, you're a complainer." Then he slapped his mouth ruefully. "Fuck. Sorry, I didn't mean that."

I actually laughed when I saw the fright on his face. The therapeutic sound of it bubbling out of my own throat melted every icy pore on me and he started laughing too. Before we knew it we were heaving and bending over in fits of laughter, our faces paralysed, mouths stretched open, eyes springing water, bellies in hand, with absolutely no sound coming out.

When finally we'd had our fill of snorts and dribble, we wiped our eyes and headed back toward the house.

I couldn't remember a time I felt that relaxed in someone else's presence.

"Thank you," I said.

He stopped my heart when he slid his fingers into my hand and linked them with mine. And just to make sure I didn't try pulling away, he tightened his grip, and bent his head gingerly to whisper.

"Relax. Holding hands is legal up to the last time I checked, in all states."

Then he winked at me, and nothing could mask the healthy blush that pooled in my cheeks. I did earnestly hope, however, that it was too dark for him to notice.

oXo

Edward became a light in the house. He managed to make Alice smile, made Renee flush with screeching laughter with his stories from home, and even attempted playing with Brady whenever he thought I wasn't looking. And every evening when I joined him on the front porch with his blanket, he would take my hand and pull me over to the railing and expect that I sit next to him and chat.

I fell for him fast, head first into a pool of regret. And when I realised what was happening, I tried to protect myself by doing the only thing I could think of. I went sour on him.

The truth was, there was no future for Edward and me. He had a thriving college life in New York City, was the only son and heir to his father's successful cruiseliner company in California, and was the quarterback of Columbia's football team. Bella Swan was a small town girl, the daughter to a divorced and penniless Renee Dwyer, was a mother at eighteen, worked a part time babysitting job to help with the bills, was the sister to an anorexic Alice, and just basically lead a generally depressing existence. Top it all with the hoard of shameful secrets I kept inside and I was certainly a "catch".

Even if the stars had lost their way, or if Cupid himself had screwed up his shot, Edward's life and mine would never take the same path. We were cut from different cloths; him from cashmere and me, from an odd polyester blend. I needed to get my head in the clear.

"What's with you?" He asked one night, while helping with the dinner wares. "Why are you avoiding me?"

"I'm not avoiding you, Edward."

"I'm not stupid, Bella. Something's wrong. Just tell me."

I was agitated with his idealistic take on everything. His naïveté, and theory that laughter could raise the dead, was quaint and in no way applicable to real life...my life.

When I wouldn't give him a straight answer he tried pressuring me to talk. But then Brady started crying and I saw the way he backed off immediately, as if the sound of Brady had scared him.

"That's what I thought," I grumbled while rocking Brady, knowing that my situation was a one way ticket to spinster hell.

Brady was inconsolable that night, and I was close to tears when after an hour he was still crying. Then things only got worse when Renee started arguing with Alice about the food she found hidden in the cupboard.

Alice locked herself in the bedroom and Renee planted herself by the door, screaming and hitting the door for Alice to open up. It was an embarrassing nightmare, and the chaos only made Brady scream louder. His little face was red and swollen and his cheeks were soaked with tears. Even worse was the knowledge that Edward was within earshot, witnessing all of it.

The pressure got to me and I started crying too. I didn't know how to console my own baby. He hated me holding him. My anxiety was making it worse, and I felt the painful urge to scream at him. Renee stopped yelling at Alice when she saw my hysteria and took Brady from me with sturdy hands.

"Go," she ordered, waving me off. "He won't stop crying if you're crying too. Leave him with me. Go for a walk or something."

Relieved that she took him away, I fled the house.

"Bella!" I heard Edward calling after me. The sound of him only made me cry harder.

I ran and ran, my chest stricken with sobbing and my breathing coming in short, loud gasps.

"Bella, wait up!"

I made it to the lake but didn't stop, just kept running alongside it, hoping the water would see it fit to swell in a wave and gobble me up. But Edward caught up to me, and grabbed my elbow.

"Just leave it alone!" I sobbed, pushing him off.

He sprinted in front of me and blocked my path, making me collide with him involuntarily.

"Get out of my way!" I yelled, hitting him repeatedly in his chest. He absorbed every strike, then when I was out of energy, he pulled me to the ground in his arms where I collapsed and cried it out.

He didn't try to shush or console me. He just sat there on the ground and let me cry with his arms around me.

I cried because I liked him intensely. I cried because I didn't know how to reverse it. I cried because I already felt the gap he would leave behind when he left. I cried because of the son I didn't know how to nurture. I cried because of the awful way he was brought into this world, and because I wasn't sure I loved him the way that I should. I cried for Alice who was just as surely crying the same time as I, holed up in our room with days of uneaten food. And for Renee who would always be the unfortunate over-reacher who would never actually reach.

Then suddenly Edward was kissing me. His lips were on my forehead and my face was in his hands. He was kissing me. The welt of emotion that stirred in my heart dug me deeper and my tears came harder. His kisses trailed from my forehead to my cheeks. He kissed my nose and my jaw, my chin and then the corner of my mouth. And I didn't have the strength to stop him, nor did I want to.

His lips sunk into my tear smeared cheeks, then he filled my failing heart with life when he found my mouth with his. I held on to him like I hadn't held on to another living soul, like he would disappear if I let him go. It was emotional, and at the same time, heartbreaking. Nothing would ever be as sweet as this, in that passing moment that would come and go.

I had fallen for him too fast, and was already balancing on the rim of the hole that would house me indefinitely once he left for home. I was allowing him to be the hero, exposing an intrinsic need not even I knew I had until that moment. I was supposed to hate men. I was supposed to seethe in aversion until the day I died. All men were supposed to pay for the sin of the one; the one who took advantage of me, violently forced his seed into me and left me with the spawn of his evil. No man was ever supposed to touch me again.

Then why was I languid in Edward's arms? Why did his kiss shoot a flamed arrow straight through the centre of my heart? And why was it, that when his tongue glided over mine, I opened wider and inclined into him further? I had lost my mind. And I knew I would pay for it dearly since I was sure that Edward felt nothing remotely close to what was reeling inside of me for him.

I was the vulnerable one where he was strong. I was the fish he had caught, and the one he would throw back to the water once he was done admiring it. His pity for me would make him throw me back where I could live instead of dying to his appetite. The scar from his hook would leave an indelible scar, but alas, I would survive...in his eyes. And he would be the hero.

At the moment however, I was still on his hook, because his hands got frisky and roamed all the way down to grope me heatedly between my legs. I snapped out of the trance immediately when I felt him, and jumped out of his lap.

"I'm sorry," he gasped breathlessly, grabbing for the ground at his sides.

I shook my head and pulled my coat around me, gulping at the cold air.

"We should go back," I uttered. "Brady..."

He didn't move. Even after I turned in the direction of my house and started walking, he stayed on the ground.

"Did I cross a line, Bella..."

"Not in the way you think," I answered. "It's okay."

He stood up and dusted his hands off on his trousers, falling into stride next to me. The silence between us was unnerving. I offended him through no fault of his or mine and hated that I couldn't explain it to him and make him feel better. By the time we made it back to the house, however, I felt decidedly better and held his hand a few steps shy of the door.

His fingers curled around mine automatically and a heavy sigh left his chest.

"I'm sorry," he apologised again.

"It wasn't you, Edward. You don't have anything to apologise for. I'm just...different than other girls. It's not something I know how to control."

"I realise that," he answered. "And for what's it worth, I really liked kissing you."

I blushed again when his eyes dipped to my lips. Our heads drifted closer, but then the front door opened and Renee popped her head out. The look she gave us was transparent, and Edward's hand fell away from mine quickly.

oXo

After that night we kissed a lot, and Edward was careful not to put his hands anywhere below my waist. Our kisses were heady. They were passionate and sometimes they went on for hours. We went at it like High School sweethearts, finding creative ways to satiate our appetite for each other without crossing dangerous bases. It was difficult for him, especially when his erection was always prominent between us, but he realised early on that my rubber band reaction to sexual petting was something psychological and involuntary. So he didn't push me.

Still, our petting progressed as the weeks passed, then one night we found indescribable relief when he discovered my breasts and my body didn't seize up. He worked hard for that pleasure, inching closer and closer every night, testing my borders gently, until his hands found the swells and I responded positively. He fondled me sweetly, rejoicing in how far I'd come. But beyond all else, it was his gentleness and patience that turned my heart. I didn't know I could be touched like that and not feel like I wanted to die.

By some foolish indulgence, I slipped carelessly and allowed myself hope. I got lost in his affection and dependent on his constant petting, fooling myself into thinking that we could somehow continue our "romance" even after he went home.

But then the first sign of him starting to detach showed itself one week before it was time for him to leave.

I was changing Brady into his pyjamas on my bed and didn't realise Edward was watching from the doorway. Brady acknowledged him with a wobbly wave and I turned to find him leaning against the frame. He straightened up quickly, shoved his hands into his pockets and after a blank stare at Brady, turned and walked away.

Something changed between us in that moment and a stab of dread punctured my heart. With a brave nod at Brady, I sucked it up, stuffed the oncoming pain deep inside and pressed on smartly. Though I had hoped for a miracle, I wasn't surprised when Edward started pulling away. He went out with his friends in that last week instead of hanging out on the porch with me. My pride even prevented me from asking him about it.

I came home early on the evening before he was supposed to leave and found him on the porch with his travel bag strapped across him. I tried to swallow my anxiety when I realised what was happening, but it was written all over my face. I couldn't hide. And before I could ask, Renee came out with two boys behind her and took Brady inside the house for me. The two boys gave me an awkward look, then patted Edward on the back and went to a waiting car across the street.

"You're leaving?" I asked.

He nodded in admission and swallowed uncomfortably.

"But...I thought you were leaving tomorrow."

"They put us on an earlier ferry," he answered, taking a deep breath. "I didn't know until this morning. I would have called you, but..."

"Don't worry about it," I said quickly, hating the pathetic feeling that was already sinking into me.

"Hey," he said, coming close. "This doesn't mean we aren't gonna see each other again."

I scoffed. "We always knew you had to go back home, Edward. You can stop looking at me like you're guilty about something."

"I wish I could stay longer."

Avoiding the awkwardness, I asked, "So is that your ride?"

"Yup. Those are my friends, Jasper and Jake."

I folded my lips in on each other and nodded, pretending to care about who they were.

"Bella," he groaned, pulling me into an unexpected hug. He smelled my hair with a deep breath and tightened his embrace. I heard the way his heart raced and tried to blot out the sound, squeezing my eyes so tightly that I saw stars.

"I'll miss you," he whispered, killing me a little more. "I promise to keep in touch. I'll call as soon I get back. We can email or Skype. I can even come back and visit...like on Spring Break, maybe."

In my desperation to hold on to hope, I allowed his promises to soothe me, wanting to believe him so badly, that I did.

"This isn't the last of me," he said, raising my chin. Then he kissed my forehead. "I had a great time. Thank you for having me...I'll miss you...Good bye, Bella."

When his friends popped the horn, he squeezed my shoulders, then walked away.

I looked at that car until it disappeared down the street. Then I stood there some more and continued to stare at nothing in particular. I could still smell him on me. I still had goosebumps on my skin from when he kissed my face, but he wasn't there anymore. He was gone. And worse than that emptiness was the reality check waiting to slap me in the face. I hadn't heard from Edward Cullen after that day.

He disappeared.

Eight Years Later

Bludgeoned by shock, I fell back against the door after slamming it in his face and stared dumbly into space. My eyes swept the room shakily. My heart was racing, so fast my breast bone hurt. A hot flash waved through me and my palms were suddenly sweaty.

I felt and heard a soft thud on the other side of the door and jumped away from it as if it could sting. Then Renee stirred on the couch and grumbled something in her sleep about cold pasta. She was now a supervisor at the Supermarket Deli, having never received her promotion at the community college.

"Bella," Edward called through the door. "I know you're still there. Please, open the door."

I turned to face it, balling my hands into fists and squinted. "What do you want, Edward?"

"A towel, for starters..."

"I'm sure there are many at the hotel you're staying at."

"Then forget the towel. I want to talk."

"About what?"

"Can we at least do this with the door open?"

"What could we possibly have to talk about. Plus, It's late."

He didn't respond.

I stared at the door with shifty eyes, waiting for him to say something, then when enough time passed and he didn't, I tip toed to the peep hole. There was nothing on the other side. I dropped onto my heels and twisted my mouth, wondering if it was that easy to get rid of him. And just to make sure, I pulled the door open and poked my head outside to check.

He blind sided me by jumping out from the side, and I recoiled with a yelp, trying to slam the door again, but he shot out his hand and pushed against it.

"What the hell are you...stop that!"

"Let me in, I only want to talk. It's freezing out here!"

"What are you gonna do? Force your way inside? That's breaking and entering."

"I didn't break anything."

"Then that's entering! Bad enough!"

"Mommy?"

I let go of the door immediately and ran over to Brady. "What are you doing awake, sweetheart? Are you okay?" I fell to my knees in front of him and passed my hands over his face and his shoulders. "Was it a nightmare?"

I passed my hands over his bald head.

"Are you cold?"

His arms...

"Is it the storm? Do you want me to lie down with you?"

Brady's eyes were focused over my head. Then he raised a small finger and pointed sleepily. "Who's that?"

Standing up, I pulled him snug into my side and looked at Edward squarely. He was standing in the doorway with the door sprawling open and an unreadable expression on his face, his eyes glued to Brady.

"It's nobody, baby," I answered Brady, pulling him closer to me. "Now go to bed. I will come tuck you in again in one minute."

With a tired nod, he turned toward me, buried his face in my stomach for a few seconds, then went back to his bedroom quietly.

It wasn't hard to see that something wasn't right with my son. His body was abnormally thin. His skin was pale. Under his eyes were blue, and his head was bald and looked oversized on his little body. The questions were already reeling in Edward's eyes, but he didn't deserve answers. I didn't know why he was standing in my house in the first place.

Then Renee, who could sleep through a F5 tornado, woke up.

"What's all the racket about?" And spotted Edward. "Well colour me pink and put me in a china shop. Is that?"

"Hello, Ms. Dwyer."

"How many times do I have to tell you to call me Renee, boy?"

Edward's eyes crinkled in a chuckle that pulled his head down. "Renee."

"What do you want, Edward?" I asked.

"I'll just leave you two to catch up then," Renee interjected, ambling out of the sitting room.

Edward closed the door softly but didn't move off the ironic "Welcome" mat.

"I'm in town on business...and thought I would stop by."

I glanced at the clock.

"At a quarter after midnight?"

"Well the idea came to me much earlier...much, much earlier...but I uh...I chickened out...more than once."

I looked him over, noticing how completely drenched he was, and sighed. "How long were you out there?"

"A few hours."

"In the rain? Are you crazy? You could get sick."

"Well the rain part was just the last half hour or so...but then I couldn't go back to the car, you know, after getting soaked."

"So you were parked out there for hours then?"

"Yes."

"Why, Edward?"

He pushed his wet strands away from his eyes and sighed. "I needed to see you."

With an exasperated grunt, I left him standing there and went to fetch him some towels.

"Here, you can take these with you," I said, walking over to him with the towels in hand.

"Take them with me? You're making me go back out there?"

A crack of thunder chose just then to emphasize his point, and I belligerently whispered a curse under my breath.

Then Renee's voice sounded from somewhere in the house. "You can sleep on the couch!"

"Ma!"

"Shut up, Bella! You're well on your way to spinsterhood."

"Mother!" I screeched, red faced.

"Bella," Edward said, stepping toward me, but I stopped him.

"Look, you can't show up here after all this time and expect me to know how to react, Edward."

He sighed heavily and closed his eyes. "I didn't expect anything. I didn't know what to expect. I just knew that I had to come. I had to see you again. Trust me, this wasn't an easy decision to make."

"Well how convenient for you. And trust, Edward, isn't something I'm likely to give again."

"Now just wait a minute," he belted. "You don't know the first thing about what happened after I left, or how hard it was for me. I'm not an asshole, Bella."

"Hard for you?" I challenged him, narrowing my eyes scornfully. "Please explain how this was hard for you."

"I know I disappointed you. I don't expect you to understand, and I deserve your anger. I do. And I know that showing up here again can't make up for it. But Bella, what happened back then...We were just kids! We were way too young to know what we wanted, or how to make something like this work over distance. I knew you for two months for crying out loud."

"Right," I said with a callous shrug. "Just like I thought. It was nothing."

"I didn't say it was nothing," he huffed, running his hands restlessly through his hair again. "I was overwhelmed by everything back then. It was a lot for me to take in all at once. I was a 20 year old jock."

"Correction, Edward. You were self involved and didn't realise how big of a step I took in letting you close to me at all. Don't think for a single second that it wasn't overwhelming for me too. I get not wanting to carry on with whatever it was we had back then, but you could have had the decency to let me know. You dropped me like a heavy sack of potatoes and went on with your life as if I didn't exist.

"I never expected you be okay with what you found here. I knew it was a lot to handle and that I didn't make it easy. Fine. You walked out of my life, and I accepted it. And just so you know, I haven't been holding on this for the past eight years. I let this go a very long time ago. But seeing you again so unexpectedly like this is just..."

"Just what?"

"Nothing. I'm going to bed, and I don't want to talk about it again. Tonight, or ever. It's in the past, and will stay there. There are blankets in the linen cupboard, which is in the same place you'd remember. Good night."

oXo

I didn't sleep much that night. I lay in bed with Brady in my arms and stared at the ceiling, stroking his head lovingly as he wheezed against my chest. The sound of his breathing swelled my heart like it did every night, and with helpless arms, I cradled him to me and fought back tears that would never stop once I let them pass. It wasn't time to cry for him, not yet, not while he was still alive and clutching me with hands that never played like those of regular boys. The time to cry would come, and until then, I had to be brave – at least, for him.

The next morning panned out like every other. Brady slept in while Renee sat at his side with a cup of warm milk and a slice of toast. That was all he ever ate anymore. Not much else stayed down anyway since the chemotherapy made his stomach weak. On mornings while Renee took care of him, I got time to tidy up and get ready for work at the local hospital where Brady spent his days in the Cancer Ward.

The day I realised he was sick and would spend most of his time in there, I registered for nursing classes so that I could be near to him always. I hated the idea of another job taking me away all day while he was in the hospital. Plus, it helped that I knew how to monitor him without feeling clueless. God only knew, I was already helpless. I couldn't save him.

The only difference on this particular morning was the back of one Edward Cullen, facing me when I entered the kitchen. He was sitting at the counter.

I sat next to him quietly and he pushed a cup of coffee over to me, keeping his eyes down.

"I'm sorry I was a bitch to you last night," I said softly. "You caught me by surprise, and everything just sort of rushed back to me."

"You don't have anything to apologise for. You didn't do anything wrong. I'm the one that needs to apologize for abandoning you like that all those years ago."

"Abandon is a big word, Edward," I answered, shifting my weight in the chair. "It's not nearly that drastic. You don't need to beat yourself up over something that may or may not have happened between us, especially after all this time. Honestly, I didn't expect anything would come of us back then either. I always knew you would disappear eventually. I just didn't expect it to be...well...immediately."

"I know."

"I would have understood, you know. I didn't expect you to want this after you left, but I still think you should have told me how you felt, instead of vanishing like you did."

He turned in the chair suddenly, and I swallowed my tongue.

"I was wrong, Bella. And despite what I said last night about not being an asshole, I was. I knew I felt something very strong for you, that wasn't a lie, but the problem wasn't you." He took a deep breath and dropped his stare to his lap.

"It was Brady, wasn't it?" I finished for him.

"Wait..."

"It's okay, Edward. I knew the truth then and I know it now. You don't need to explain. I saw the retraction in your eyes every time you looked at me, and him. I always knew. But I fell for you anyway." I shrugged.

"Bella. I fell for you just as hard as you fell for me. Don't doubt that. And yes, I was overwhelmed...by lots of things, none of which I handled properly. If I could do things differently now, I would."

"Why didn't you keep in touch...as friends?"

"How could I?" He asked, moving his gaze searchingly over mine. "I had all good intentions of trying, Bella, but once I got home, it just seemed like the best thing for the both of us was to move on. I wanted the memory to stay like it was...sweet and enchanting. I didn't want to complicate things and make it all ugly with broken promises and disillusionment. I thought I was making it easier for you. I thought that disappearing would help you forget."

"Well, it hurt a lot, and I never forgot, though I came to terms with it eventually. I knew from the first moment I saw you that you were better than me."

"Please don't say that."

"Edward, believe me, in the general scope of things, this was actually nothing. It hurt, yes, and I wondered about you a lot after you were gone, but reality soon took over and forced me to grow up, very fast."

He jotted his hand out to mine unexpectedly then, and touched me. My hand twitched on contact, and he pulled his back almost immediately. Then we both shifted self consciously and looked away.

"What's wrong with Brady?" He asked, softly.

The question came out of left field and shook me. I took a moment to regroup, then regurgitated the answer I had to dish out to everyone who ever asked it.

"He's not well."

"That much is obvious. But what's wrong with him?"

"He has Leukemia. It's chronic."

He closed his eyes and gasped, shaking his head slowly as if it hurt. "How long?"

"Since he was two."

"Jesus," he gasped again, looking at me from the side. "Bella, I'm sorry."

I twisted my lips and tried to be nonchalant, finding a table cloth on the counter to unravel. "I actually deserve it."

"What?"

A wayward drop forced its way out from the corner of my eye. I had to take a deep breath and straighten my back defensively.

"Bella...what on earth...why would you say a thing like that?"

"If you only knew," I whispered tremulously, forcing my shaking lip between my teeth and bit down hard. "If you only knew."

"So tell me."

"I can't, besides, it won't change what's going to happen. And saying it only makes me hates myself more."

"Bella." His hand was on mine again, but I was the one who pulled away this time. He waited quietly for me to collect myself then attempted again.

"I'm sorry you have to go through this, Bella. I can't imagine the pain you must be feeling, but at least you have your mother and Alice's help, right? Where is Alice by the way? How has she been...coping?"

A second tear forced its betrayal on me and I had to get up.

"Bella?"

"Alice is dead, Edward."

He froze in stagnant shock and stared through a face distorted in horror.

"Her depression got manic and she tried to kill herself two years ago. She didn't succeed directly, but her body was too weak and malnourished from her eating disorder. Her organs failed. Her body was too weak...she couldn't fight it."

He rushed off the chair and snatched me into his arms without warning. I would have tried to push him off, but the warm strength in his embrace put me asunder. He was the only person who had ever held me like that, and after so long, the rush of nostalgia was too potent to fight. Something like that you never think you need until you feel it, and as I stood there melting in his arms, I realised how sorely I lacked.

Brady and Renee walked into the kitchen then, and the hug ended, making the absence of him immediately felt.

"Mommy?"

"Sweetheart!" I chimed bravely, reaching for Brady.

"Hello, Mister," Brady then said to Edward, observing our visitor calculatingly. "I'm Brady."

A pitiful, though compassionate glaze passed over Edward's eyes, but then he put on a brave face as I did, and held his hand out to Brady. "Well hello there, Brady," he said, smilingly. "I'm Edward. I'd say it's nice to meet you, but you already know me."

Brady cocked his head to the side, glanced at both Renee and me, then shot Edward a questioning look. "I know I'm sick, Sir, but I think I'd remember if I met you before."

I clasped my throat and turned away, passing my hand over the top of Brady's head as I went for cover by the kitchen sink.

"It's okay," Renee whispered encouragingly, as I moved pass her.

"Well, you wouldn't remember," Edward said. "Because you were just a baby the last time you saw me. But just look at you now, so grown up."

"Are you my Daddy?" Brady asked next, shocking us all to ice. Thankfully, Edward was quick and caught himself nicely, with a chuckle.

"I'm not," he answered, laughingly. "But I'm sure I'm the best uncle there is."

"Even better than Uncle Phil?" Brady asked, wide eyed.

"Why? What does Uncle Phil do?"

"He takes me for long drives and gives me cotton candy when Mommy isn't looking. He says smiles are good for my heart, and that he likes to make me smile."

Edward couldn't answer for a few moments, just stood there and held Brady's eyes silently, like his tongue was maimed. I saw when his Adam's apple throttled his throat and the way his chest caved inward. Then finally, he was able to absorb whatever had connected with him and answered my boy.

"Uncle Phil sounds pretty darned awesome to me, Brady. You're right."

"Let's go, buddy," I said, moving to take Brady's hand. "Or Mommy will be late for work."

"Will I see you when I come back, Mister?"

"Edward," Edward answered. "Please, call me Edward." Then he turned his hopeful stare over to me. "If I'm welcomed, yes. I'll be here when you get back."

oXo

I was a distracted mess all day at work. By lunch time I had mixed up patient charts, knocked over a cart of lunches, spilled antiseptic all over the floor and broken at least five pencils.

"Do you need to go home?" Phil, my cousin, asked. He was a doctor on staff and was the one who got me the nursing job.

"I'm fine."

"Your hands are shaking and you sent the wrong pills in to Mr. Clearwater."

Horrified, I snatched the bottle from his hands and gasped. "I did what?"

"It's okay. He hasn't taken them. Go home, Bella. You're stressed out. Don't worry about Brady, I'll bring him home later."

"Are you sure?"

"Go. He'll be alright. You look like you need sleep."

oXo

Edward's sleek, shiny rental was still parked in front of the house when I got home. Just looking at it made my heart sink. It reeked of luxury and the kind of things I never really missed but noticed anyway. I knew Edward was wealthy, even eight years before it was obvious. But to be able to rent something so expensive on a visit meant that since the last time I saw him, he had become richer. Worse yet, it meant he was accustomed to that lifestyle and insisted on it.

I poked around outside the house for a while. I didn't know how to be alone with him in the house with Renee at work and Brady at the hospital. He would want to talk about things, and I wouldn't know how to respond. It was like eight years ago all over again, and I hated the way I reacted to his presence already. I didn't want old feelings to return. He had a life to go back to, and mine was here. And even though there was still an obvious chemistry between us, the facts were the same as they were eight years ago...in fact, they had worsened, one hundred fold.

He was even more handsome now that he was older. His jaw was more prominent. His eyes were resilient and focused deeper. His voice was silkier. He even seemed taller.

I would very easily fall for his inept charm again, only to be left with unrequited thoughts of him while he returned to his perfect life.

"You're back," he said suddenly from behind me.

I swirled around clumsily and cast him a cryptic look.

"I was sent home," I answered him. "Apparently, I'm distracted."

"Take a drive with me."

"Edward, I don't understand what you want," I said bluntly, swallowing nervously as he trudged down the steps and unlocked the car. "Why are you really here? What is it you want to say to me? If you came to apologise, you have already. You can go. There are no hard feelings. The slate is clean."

"Just take a drive with me, please. I won't be a pain in the ass for long. I promise."

He took me to a nice restaurant in Port Angeles and made me order food, though eating was the last thing on my mind.

"Bella," he started, twirling his glass of Coke in his hands. "I know I don't deserve answers, and I'm the last person you need to discuss anything with. I don't intend to pry either, despite the way I come across, but seeing you again has put me back eight years, and it's like... I'm back there again...here."

"Edward, don't."

"You don't even know what I'm going to say."

"No, but I can guess where you're headed. Even back then you got sucked into my melodramatic problems and felt the urge to save me from them. I'm an adult now. I've lived through some of the most terrible things in one lifetime, but I'm coping. I do fine on my own. You don't need to feel sorry for me."

"I don't feel sorry for you."

"Yes, you do. You pity me, and you want to..."

"I care about you. There's a difference."

I shot him a cold look over my uneaten plate of food and pushed it away. "How can you possibly care about me? You hardly know me."

"Of course I know you. You're exactly the same person you were eight years ago. I knew you then."

"I'm not the same."

"You are. You're still sad and guarded. Still responsible and caring...still beautiful."

"Just stop. What do you think is going to happen here? Nothing can come of this."

"I want to know about you."

"Know things like what? You're being awfully..."

"I want to know about Brady's father."

I recoiled instantly and threw my back against the chair. "Excuse me?"

"Brady asked me today if I was his father...and you never told me about him."

"So?"

"He did something to you, didn't he? His father."

"Shut up." I pushed the chair back and grabbed my purse off the table top.

"Bella."

He ran out of the restaurant behind me and grabbed me just as I made it through the door.

"Let go of me, Edward. How dare you come back here after so long and demand answers you have no right to."

He shoved some money into the maitre d's hand then pulled me to the car. "Get in."

"You're accustomed to giving orders and everyone obeying, aren't you?"

"Bella," he forced out with a stringent breath, seeking strength by closing his eyes. "Please, get into the car. We're making a scene and I don't want to upset you."

I threw my body into the passenger seat and watched belligerently as he made his way around to his side. Then after pulling off, I realised he wasn't heading to my house.

"Where the hell are you going? Take me home."

"Bella," he clipped. "If there's one thing I've learned about people and the fucked up things they deal with on their own, is that they don't need to. I don't know what I'm doing here right now, or what the fuck has gotten into me. I don't know if anything about this trip makes any sense at all, or what it means, but there is nothing in this very moment I want more than to make you get that demon off your chest, whatever it is. I saw it back then, and I see it now. It's still there. There's something horrible that makes you a shell of a woman, and you are way too special for that."

"What the hell are you babbling on about? This has nothing to do with you. It doesn't concern you. Drop it, and take me home. Now."

"I'm not taking you home until you tell me."

"You have some fucking nerve! Who the hell do you think you are?"

"I can't stand the thought of someone hurting you, okay? Is that what you want to hear me say? There, I admit it!" He screamed, wrapping his hands tightly around the wheel.

"I never asked you to say anything!"

"I'm saying it anyway!" He yelled, pressing down on the accelerator a little too hard in his passion. "I'm taken right back to that night you broke down in my arms by the lake, and I know, just like I did then, that someone did something to hurt you and you don't talk about it. It's eating you alive.

"Don't you think I know you took a chance in getting close to me back then? Don't you think I know you didn't let that happen with anyone else? Don't you know how fucked I am in my own head that I know this...knew this...but still couldn't man up to it?"

"Edward..."

"You let me in eight years ago, Bella. And no matter how hard I tried to forget, no matter how badly I wished the distance between us could kill the longing in my chest, you were always there. I couldn't get you out. I've thought about you too many times for my own good and cursed myself with all sorts of possibilities of a miracle between us. But I'm not only accountable to me. My life may seem like wine and diamonds, but there's a lot of fuckery that goes on that people don't see, Bella.

"I didn't come here on a fucking business trip. I came here to find you. There's something I needed to see for myself if I am to make the choice they want me to make!"

"I have no idea what you're talking about right now. Please, slow down."

"Don't punish me, Bella. I deserve it, but I'm asking you not to."

"You're fucking crazy! I'm not trying to punish you!"

"You're punishing me by not forgiving me."

"I forgave you years ago!"

"You're lying."

"What?"

"If you forgave me, you would open up to me, and tell me."

"You don't have a clue about what you're asking of me, Edward."

"Then give me a clue, Bella..."

"Why? So you can wipe my tears then hop on the next flight? So you can play hero then disappear again? Fuck you."

He pulled the car over harshly and made the tires skid on the wet road with a loud screech. "I'll never be able to make up for what I did..." he started, but I cut him off.

"You know what? You're right. I did open up to you back then, more than I did with anyone else. I knew I was being stupid, and I knew I was crossing a line that would fuck me over, but I still did it. And yes, you made me believe, despite my own warnings, that maybe you could handle all my fucked up shit. That perhaps, you could see me through all the chaos, and somehow still want me.

"But it was too much for you. My life was too much of a mess, and that's okay! I knew there was no future for us, Edward. Just like there isn't now. There is never any good that comes from any fucking thing in my life. I've had to face that ever since I was twelve years old and have been living with that ever since. You wanna know what eats me away inside? You wanna know why I'm such a shell of a woman? You wanna know what he did to me? You think you could handle it? Like you were able to eight years ago?"

He slammed his fists into the steering wheel and clenched his jaw. "God dammit, Bella!"

"I was fucking raped! Okay?" I keeled over for a gasping breath of air and pressed my forehead onto my knees. "Brady..." I cried through a bucking chest, "...is the result of someone taking my virginity at knife point."

He was solemnly quiet. I couldn't hear or see him anymore. My body was shaking too much. I was crying too hard, and the car was closing in on me.

"But I couldn't kill him," I sobbed. "I was too scared to take him out of my body. I let him grow inside of me. And then I pushed him out of me, and for too long I thought I was incapable of loving him. If it wasn't for Renee I don't know how I'd have done any of it. I didn't love him like a mother should love her child. I was terrified of him. He scared the fuck out of me and every time I looked at him he reminded me...He cried too much, and he was so needy.

"Even before I realised he was sick I knew something was wrong with him. And now I'm losing him! He's going to die, Edward! I didn't want him, and now that the universe is taking him away from me, he's all I want. He's all I want in this world and I'm going to lose my baby."

The sound of Edward's seat belt unbuckling made me shudder. Then he was unbuckling mine too and lifting me, pulling me over the partition between us so that he could hold me in his lap. It was uncomfortable because he was big and the steering wheel pressed into my back, but he held me tightly and wouldn't let go. He pressed his face into my neck and squeezed me, enabling my sobs to roll out, just like that night eight years before when he held me by the lake.

"Bella..." He whispered against my skin. "You're so beautiful..."

"I hate myself."

He pressed a deep kiss against my throat and tightened his arms still.

"Your heart is beautiful. Everywhere, you are beautiful."

"I'm a monster."

He pulled my face down between his hands and made me look at him.

"Don't you ever say that again. Don't you know how precious you are?"

He pulled my mouth down on his and kissed me so passionately he stole the crying breath from my lungs.

"You have the light of a thousand angels in your heart," he whispered against my lips. "And anyone who hurts you like that deserves to die."

There was something alarming about the way he held me; something more than compassion and a lot less gentle than affection. It took me a while to realise it, that he was shaking. And that's when the warning went off in my head. That's when I knew I had made a mistake. He tried to mask it, but there was a deep seated, burning wrath burning behind the planes of that face. Edward was angry, viciously angry, and I just knew that I'd opened a hornet's nest by telling him the truth.

I knew from the look in his eyes that this wasn't the end. A revelation like that would only bring trouble. Whatever this was, good or bad, it was only just the beginning. It would require tears and patience for resolution. It would take forever and a day. He didn't know what he was getting himself into. And I only hoped he was strong enough.

oXo

A/N: This story will be turned into a short, multi-chapter story after the contest. Thank you for reading. VOTING IS NOW OPEN. Link below:

http:/ www. kwiksurveys .com/online-survey. php?surveyID=HCKOOK_eca6d528

Special thanks to the amazing Tkegl for beta'ing for me, and to the sweet nikkiwindland for pre reading.

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