Pick A Pic Challenge Entry
Title: Meet Me in the Meadow
Penname:
Soft Ragoo
Banner:
#36
Rating/Disclaimer: T( :0 How did that happen?)
I own no rights to the characters Stephenie Meyer created – I just like twisting them into my own versions in different settings.
Summary: The meadow; Bella and Edward's playground. It grew an innocent love that took years to realize.

To see all the stories that are a part of this contest, please visit: www . fanfiction-challenges . blogspot . com Please check it out – there are some awesome one-shots and really great banners. And vote from January 8th-15th. :)

Meet Me in the Meadow

I stared out of my bedroom window, as I had my whole life. I'd always felt there was something out there, meant just for me. Currently, the only thing out there was my neighbour, Edward. He was trimming our shared hedge. I sighed, watching him labour at it. He looked hot. My own temperature began to rise as I realized the unspoken innuendo.

"Pfft! It's Just Edward. Get a grip!"

Edward was two years older than me, so it wasn't like we were close… exactly. Well, when we were kids and age didn't matter, we played together, being neighbours and all. Okay, we were close then. Best friends. When we got older, things changed. His big, dopey friend saw to that. The ogre liked to torment me any time he caught me looking over the hedge through my window.

"Bell-laaa…" he'd shout out. "Come on over! Edward wants to play!"

Initially, I'd blush furiously and disappear from my window. Then I learned the art of flipping the bird. He'd roar with laughter and I'd do it more forcefully before slamming my window shut. I mastered my flipping off skills on Emmett. Goof.

Without the ogre around, Edward was friendly. Personable… enough. Most times. Sometimes he seemed more like the old Edward. Okay, sometimes he made me fall in love with him. I don't know how he selected Emmett as his friend – they were polar opposites. Edward was polite and soft-spoken. Possibly even more shy that I was.

Lost in old memories, I couldn't move away quickly enough when Edward looked up. He saw me and waved. Caught! I waved back and shut my window. It would have been much easier if he was a jerk, like Emmett. Now I felt obligated to go talk to him. Recalling how hot he looked (get a grip! Just Edward!) I poured two glasses of lemonade over chipped ice.

"For Edward," I explained to my puzzled looking mother. "He's doing yard work. He looks hot."

My mother gave me an uncomfortable smirk before saying, "That's nice, sweetie." She picked up on the innuendo as well. Gah!

"It's. Just. Edward!" I shrugged as I walked out on her and her smirk. "Klutz approaching!" I shouted, nearing the hedge. "Put down the power tools!"

He cut the power and wiped his forehead on the edge of his t-shirt. His stomach was rippled just enough and… gah! "You were safer up there," he laughed, pointing to my perch upstairs. His smile was kind of awesome.

"Here." I stuck my arm out to offer him a glass. "You look…" Oh… Whatever! "Hot." His smile, with reddened cheeks was even more awesome.

"Thanks. I hear you're leaving. Looking forward to college?"

"Looking forward to leaving this place, for any reason. I'd hate to get stuck here." I grimaced, realizing he had chosen a local college when he finished high school. "Sorry. How's… What is it you're taking?"

"Business." He tipped his head back as he drank. His bottom lip looked so red against the glass. Plump. Soft. Gah!

"For…? What…? Exactly…" I had to not focus on his lips. School seemed safe.

He shrugged. "Not a clue. What are you taking?"

"English Lit."

He had developed a bit of an Emmett laugh. It didn't anger me as much, however, because he didn't look like Shrek. "You have no idea what you're doing either, huh?"

Got me.

"Will you be around at the end of the month? Alice and Jasper are coming for a short visit. They asked for you."

Alice and Jasper, his cousins from Texas. They used to come every summer. I got a kick out of them – they were twins and total opposites. Jasper was tall and blond and oh-so-southern and mysterious. Alice was my best friend at one point. She was tiny, dark and embraced the north. She worked very hard to cover her accent while Jasper just rolled with it. Sigh. I had a bit of a crush on him at one point when we were little. I covered it really well though. No one ever knew.

"Still crushing on him?"

Okay. So Edward saw through my shield. "I wasn't… I don't… It's just… His accent has always intrigued me." There – re-covered.

"Mm-hmm."

Or not. "Pfft! It was just a silly kid thing."

"Maybe when they're here, we could go back to the meadow."

"Shut up!" I grabbed my lemonade glass back from him as he laughed. Teasing me about that? Really? I screamed a Star Wars Luke 'NOOOOOOO!' in my head… there was more nasty Emmett in my Edward and it wasn't right!

0 ~ 0

The meadow… Dammit! Why did he have to bring that up? It had been the cause of me avoiding him for a several long, agonizing months – twice – until I was sure he'd forgotten. I liked how we were with each other now – there was no tension (okay, maybe a little tension) and I had something to look forward to when I would come home. Edward was pretty nice to look at from my window. Okay, he was hot.

Avoiding my window for the remainder of the afternoon, I curled up with a book. Austen would take my mind off Edward. Austen could take me into her world no matter what real life was dishing out.

Or so I thought.

Unable to be distracted by her prose, my eyes drifted to the shadowbox frame above my desk. It held one tiny dark flower – preserved and pressed for nearly a decade. Austen, having failed her mission, was set aside as my thoughts took me back to the meadow.

The meadow. Our private playground. It was near enough that my parents allowed me to go there under Edward's watch, but far enough from our backyards that we felt we weren't being observed constantly. Alone with our imaginations, we could be anyone.

We had a shared love for retro TV shows and movies. We were Power Rangers – Mighty Morphin; the good ones. We were great archaeologists, uncovering the lost secrets of the world. Edward was cuter than Indiana Jones, and just as funny and smart. And we were Jedi, bringing balance to the Force. Sometimes we didn't know who we'd be until we got there. Other times, we would plan our day in advance.

One night, I overheard our parents talking. It was a warm night – we were getting an early spring so I had left my window open. They were discussing Edward and how they dreaded the thought of him being dragged into some other world. 'Tween', they called it. He had somehow managed to avoid catching it thus far, but it was inevitable. It sounded horrid! And apparently, whenever he did catch it, it would mean the end of our friendship! Boys with Tween didn't play with little girls. I was stunned. How could my Edward not be my friend? I cried and cried – wishing I could keep things as they were. Wishing I could keep Edward away from Tween or even… catch Tween myself so he wouldn't be alone with it. Eventually, I cried myself to sleep, resolved to the fact that we had battled our last Sith and dug up our final relic. We would morph together no more. Sigh

The next morning Edward waved up at me in my window, beckoning me to come down. He didn't look any different. There was no indication he had outgrown me just yet. I put on my best pre-teen look and went to join him.

"Hey," I said, very laid-back.

"Hey! I was thinking last night – we really lucked out with it being so warm for spring break. It's warm enough that we can actually dig!" He turned very serious and put on his Indy-but-cuter face. "I have an expedition. You in, Swan?"

My spirits soared as he produced a map and pre-dig instructions.

"I thought we could really hide some stuff this time – make it challenging. I've got some things already but if you can collect more, we'll go out and each of us will hide or bury our relics for the other to find. Then we'll do the expedition all week! Good idea?"

Inside, I did a little girl happy dance. He still wanted to play with me! He wanted to play with me all WEEK! "Great idea!"

He took a good look at me, frowning. Rats! Had he just caught Tween and saw that I didn't have it?

"Hey… Bella… have you been crying? Your eyes are puffy."

I couldn't admit to crying. Little girls cried. "I was watching 'Free Willy'," I offered my best cover. That one made him cry too. I'd seen him. However, he looked dubious. "And… allergies." A kid in my class had been complaining about that all week. His eyes were watery. That would do it.

"Oh. Can you go to the meadow with allergies? Won't that make it worse?"

Why would the meadow make it worse? I'd be with my best friend, playing like we always had. That would make it better! I shook my head at him as if he were being silly and we agreed to meet again after I'd come up with some relics to use.

I found an old mood ring that I'd thought was super cool until it kept telling me I was envious – continuously. Piece of junk! But a cool relic. And then I grabbed an unusual coin I had. It was supposed to be a quarter, but it had a moose on it. Weird. I debated between a seashell I had and a piece of sea glass that looked like a seahorse… I opted for the glass since it could be buried and dug up without being damaged as badly as the shell. It was my favourite. It could be a fossil!

The next day, we did our expedition prep – each of us hiding our relics and then writing out cryptic clues to help us find the treasure (with our left hands so that we wouldn't know it was our own writing) and packed our field lunch (pb & j sandwiches and granola bars). We would fill our canteens (water bottles) in the morning.

It was one of our best adventures. We didn't uncover the final lost relic until the last day. He was really being dense about it, which was odd. It was such an easy one, I thought he'd find it first. I gave him extra clues (left hand written) and we celebrated with cupcakes.

"I didn't tell you – the final piece to this puzzle is yet to be found," Edward announced as he finished off his third cupcake. Do Tweens eat a lot? "You have a little icing on your…" He reached over and wiped at the corner of my mouth. His fingers had never touched my lips before. It was rather enjoyable.

"Thanks," I whispered, lowering my eyes from his, staring at my half-eaten cupcake. If I had more icing, would he touch me again? I passed it over to him. "Want this? I'm done."

He shrugged and ate the remainder in one bite. "So…" he said around the morsels in his mouth. "As I was saying, the final challenge to complete our expedition is to locate The Sign of Eternal Binding. Without this, the other relics are rendered useless to us."

I gazed at him, enthralled with this turn of events. Not only had he planned a whole week with me, but now that it was ending, he found something else to keep us in the meadow longer. I knew it wasn't planned – there was no left hand note to guide us.

So we spent several hours in search of The Sign. Basically, I followed Edward around as I had no clue what to look out for. Indy-but-cuter-Edward stayed in character but all I could think about was him becoming an evil Tween. It could happen any day. I wished I knew some other kids who had caught Tween before so I would know what to expect and maybe help him get over it.

"You're not into this, are you."

I guess I had zoned out. Edward stood in front of me, looking somewhat awkward. He was no longer the great archaeologist Jones; just my shy Edward. I grinned up at him broadly. "This is our best expedition yet, Indy! Even if we never uncover The Sign…"

"Oh, but we have! I just discovered it!" Opening his hands, he revealed two tiny bluish-purple flower heads.

"That's The Sign?" I was skeptical.

"I'm sure of it!" he beamed. Well, he would know.

"Are you sure they aren't cursed?"

His eyes widened and he dug out his mission journal. Flipping through the pages, he stopped and studied the section pertaining to The Sign. This was very clear and in his own right-handed writing. "The Sign of Eternal Binding must be sought with great caution. Once uncovered, The Finder must seek a dependable, trustworthy Taker to share it with." He paused his reading and stared deeply into my eyes.

"Or what?" I was into it – completely engrossed in his game.

"Or The Finder will be cursed with a life spent alone," he replied in wide-eyed whisper. He stuffed his mission journal into his back pocket.

"It says that?" I reached around to pull it back out.

"You can't!" he cried out. "If I give anything to another person before the giving of The Sign, the curse is unbreakable!"

"Oh!" I gasped. I would never curse Edward! "Quick! Give me The Sign!"

"Are you sure?"

I nodded, eyes wide. "I'm trustworthy!"

The corner of his mouth twitched. It wasn't a full smile, just the start of a half-smile. He must have been trying out a new Indy look. It suited him. It turned into his own shy grin as he passed me one of the two pieces in his hand. Placing the flowers in our left palms, he reached for my right hand and held it. We then crossed our left arms over top and he placed his hand palm-down on mine and closed his eyes.

"As the two pieces of The Sign unite, so do The Keepers," he recited. "This ritual hereby binds these Keepers for eternity." He kept his eyes closed as if in prayer.

Eternity… that meant forever – not just until he becomes a Tween, right? I clenched my own eyes shut and prayed like nobody's business that I was right – that was exactly what eternity meant. When I opened my eyes, his new Indy look was back, only he looked more like my Edward than Indy-but-cuter-Edward. I liked this new smile. A lot.

And so, that day in our meadow, we were Eternally Bound. I carefully pressed my relic and Mom helped me frame it so it wouldn't get lost or damaged. I didn't want either of us to be cursed because I'd been careless. I don't know what ever happened to his piece of The Sign.

0 ~ 0

That summer, Edward turned 12, but he didn't catch Tween. He was still my Edward and we had our meadow days but none could match our Greatest Expedition. Fall, still no sign of Tween, but Emmett began coming around a lot more. That cut into our time. Edward didn't play when Emmett was there. They mostly sat around or threw balls at each other. Not my idea of fun, but I still liked watching from my window. Edward could catch a ball very gracefully. I did miss playing with him, though.

I caught a break over Christmas – Emmett went to his grandparents' for the entire school holiday so I had Edward all to myself once more. We were pounded with one snowfall after another and it turned our meadow into an inviting winter wonderland. Together, we erected a two-room snow fort. It took us the entire first week to construct it – breaking only on Christmas Day, and then we moved in.

We ate our lunches in there, chattered on about TV shows, movies, books and his newfound love – video games. I hated video games. They kept him inside and out of view. He attempted to teach me how to play chess. I just couldn't grasp it and we ended up playing checkers instead.

The day before school started back, we made our way to the meadow early. I took our lunches and game board inside the fort, but Edward stayed out.

"I've got the board set up!" I called out to him. He was busy clearing an area of snow. "What are you doing?"

He looked up with his perfected Indy-but-cuter smirk and kept working. "You'll see."

I sat on the snow bench inside the fort and watched him. He built a perfect snowman and then started on another. My bum got cold, just sitting there on the packed snow, so I joined him.

"I figured, we won't be back here every day and it's a shame to let the house go unused. I'm making a Snow Bella and Edward to take our places."

I thought that was the sweetest thing ever. I got busy myself, as he worked on Snow Bella. I knew she was me because she was considerably smaller than Snow Edward.

"What did you make?" he asked, brushing the snow from his gloves.

"They needed a pet – Snowball – he's a terrier."

He smiled his approval and went inside to eat a sandwich. I continued working and when he came back out, I made the introductions. "Our chill family – Snow Edward, Snow Bella, spunky little Snowball, of course, and the newest family member, Snow Baby Crystal!"

The perfect smile fell from his face and he looked away. I always knew when Edward was uncomfortable. He would bury his hands in his pockets and stare down at his feet. He was doing that – watching as he dug the toes of his boots into the snow. His feet had gotten really big, I noticed.

"Edward, what's wrong?" I asked, because he always did when I got that way.

He shook his head and muttered something that sounded like, "We shouldn't be doing this."

"Why not?" I countered, going with the assumption that I'd heard him correctly.

"Because, Bella! You've made us a family!" His voice was angry and I had no idea why. We had pretended to be a family many times – brother and sister as Luke and Leia, frequently. I had even married Indy, though refusing to be called 'Mrs Jones'. I didn't see why our Snow Family was different and I said as much.

He squeezed his eyes closed and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Bella! Do you even know how babies are made?"

I stared at him with wide eyes. What did that have to do with our Snow Family? "Uh, sure…yeah…"

He snorted and buried his hands again. "Bella, I don't think we should come here anymore."

My heart sank as he uttered those words and I felt a thousand emotions crash down on me. I didn't even know if there were a thousand emotions to be felt, but I felt each one. It was one thing for Tween to take My Edward from me, but this was all my own doing. I lashed out at the nearest thing – our Snow Family. Tearing apart Snow Crystal with my hands, I kicked our terrier and instantly felt bad. I ran over to where he had landed and patted him gently into the snow he laid on. Panting, I started back towards the Family to finish off Snow Crystal but tripped over a branch that had been uncovered. I sprawled onto Snow Bella instead, taking her down with me. "No!" I cried out, burying my face in my frozen mittens. "I killed her!"

Edward, who had been silent until then – as far as I knew (he could have left altogether during my display of destructive rage. I wished he had…) – spoke up. "Bella, you can't kill a snow person. Don't be so childish!"

I felt foolish and his words stung, but not as much as seeing how easily he accepted the broken Bond. "They were Eternally Bound, Edward," I whispered. "Now he's all alone." And then, I did something even more foolish – I cried – like a childish little girl. I covered my face once more, ashamed, but unable to stop the sobs. And I couldn't bear to look at him struggle with how to react to my childish outburst. I didn't want to cry! I didn't want him to think I was childish!

"Bella." His voice was low and soft and right by my ear. His hand was on my shoulder. "Don't cry. I'm sorry – I wasn't thinking… we'll fix it! We can rebuild her before the curse takes hold." He pulled me closer as we knelt in the snow. It was an awkward sort of hug. "Okay? It'll work. I promise. Just don't cry anymore, okay? I'm really sorry."

He made everything right with Snow Bella and Edward, but it wasn't right with us. He didn't want us to come to the meadow anymore. He thought it was childish, like me. We were done.

I went home and looked up exactly how babies were made, since that seemed to be important to him. I had the basic concept; I knew it took a male and a female who cared for one another and somehow they connected and produced a baby that would be half of the father and half of the mother. It didn't seem like the Snow Baby itself was Edward's issue – it was how Crystal was made, generally speaking, of course, because Crystal wasn't our real baby. It took one Google to understand. I wanted to die on the spot.

That was our first term of avoidance. I went out of my way to not bump into Edward at school – EVER. And I avoided my window (except when I was certain he wasn't looking, because I did miss looking at him). And for the first time, I was not looking forward to summer break. It was easier to avoid him at school than at home.

0 ~ 0

It took us months to get to a place where I didn't shrink away in shame. The talk he initiated resulted in a mass amount of tears (mine, of course) and more shame, but we came to an understanding and he made a pact that we would maintain our Bond. He kept his pact, in us spending more time together. However, with him came Shrek. I have to admit, Emmett wasn't so bad once I got to know him. He lived to torment me and inspired me to flip him off in many creative ways but he was always good natured about it. I even saw the merit in having him be Edward's best friend – Edward was increasingly moody and Emmett kept him from terminal brooding. Although the dark, intense Edward was strangely appealing, I liked laughing Edward. I liked laughing Edward a lot and Emmett could always make him laugh.

I was still uneasy around Rosalie-gag-Hale, who was freakin' glued to my friend and his sidekick. I knew the moment I slipped up with something, she'd be on my blunder faster than she'd be on any cute boy. Like, lightning fast, trust me. I was awkward, at my best, but 13 was horrible to me. I had yet to develop any sort of girly curves and I shot up 3" in the last term of the school year. I was all arms and legs and I completely understood how Edward always felt like his feet were too big for his body. My legs were too long for any display of grace. Accidents just happened, wherever I went. I could only pray that 14 would be kinder to me.

That summer, Edward turned 16 and he seemed to have grown into everything quite nicely. His cousins came to visit and went everywhere he did and because Alice was my summer bestie, all of us were together. However, on the day that they all planned a beach outing, I conveniently had something extremely important to do (alphabetize my books, movies and CDs – something new I was trying). There was NO WAY I was appearing in swimwear with Rosalie-gag-Hale in the vicinity. No way.

My summer bestie ratted me out to Edward, but then made up for it by telling me, in detail, what his reaction was. "He said that is she ever… EVER!... made you feel bad again, he wants to know because you're his friend and if she treats you badly then she's no friend of his. Period."

"Awww!" We dreamed up ways to antagonize her just so he would dump her as his friend. A girl can always dream.

"Do you think he's ever kissed her?" That had been a concern for me since she moved into town.

Alice shrugged. "She looks the type to have kissed every boy but Edward hasn't said anything. Maybe he told Jasper. I'll ask. Oh, and we're all going to the meadow for a bonfire tonight! Edward said you have to come."

I froze. The meadow? As in, our meadow? My first instinct was to run over and kick his door down to demand an explanation. What was the idea of inviting everybody to our meadow when we couldn't even go there anymore? A stronger urge to be back there with him took over and kept me from humiliating myself. "Alice, do you think a bonfire is a good idea? In a meadow?" What if we burned our whole meadow down?

"Oh, right – yeah, it's not really a BONfire. One of the guys… Newt?"

"Mike Newton, yeah…"

"Yeah, well he's got one of those backyard fire pit thingies that will keep it contained."

I nodded, thankful that someone was thinking.

I marched into the meadow with Alice, large and in charge. The meadow was my domain and now I knew that Edward would have my back if the bitch got nasty. We roasted weenies and marshmallows and the boys told dirty jokes. It was easier being almost-14 with 15 and 16-year olds. We didn't seem as different now. It was the same as when we were kids and age didn't matter.

At some point, the boys stopped telling jokes and began challenging each other to do stupid things. It turned into a group game of Truth or Dare – a game that's loads of fun to observe… until you're in the hot seat.

"Bella! Truth or dare?" Mike Newton called out. *gulp* Damn him!

"Um… truth?" No way would I take a dare from him. I could see his sly grin even in the darkness. It looked menacing when the flames from the fire illuminated him. My fingers dug into the log Alice, Angela and I sat on.

"Okay… Bella, when was your first date and who was it with?"

I concentrated very hard on keeping my eyes from flicking over to Edward. And then I remembered, the one time I had thought was a date, wasn't. It was merely another debacle.

Alice jumped to my defence. "No fair! That's two questions! She only has to answer one."

"It's okay. It doesn't matter anyway because I'm not allowed to date until I'm 16," I mumbled. A rude snicker came from beside me and I ignored it but my summer bestie could not.

"Her father is the chief of police, dingbat! Something you should be aware of when your legs are spread in the bushes. Anyway… who's gonna be brave enough to attempt to date his daughter? No one here, that's for sure!"

Everyone laughed and I hoped it was for Alice and her bluntness rather than my pathetic situation. I risked a glance at Edward. He wasn't laughing, but I made out my favourite smile in the darkness. And I think he winked over in my direction. But it may have been the way the fire flickered at just that moment.

"Your turn Bella," he said smoothly, getting us back on track.

"Jasper – truth or dare?" Please pick truth, please pick truth… I was dying to hear that accent. Gah!

"Dare!"

Damn. "Okay…um…I dare you to… eat the Crispy Crud!" Everyone knew I was referring to the hot dog that got charred beyond recognition before it suffered further abuse. I couldn't believe it hadn't been used in the game yet. I regretted that it would go to Jasper though – he should have taken truth.

"Only for you, sweet thing," he quipped before downing it in two bites.

GAH!

The game went on and I tuned out after Jasper finished speaking until Emmett called out Edward's name. That got my attention.

Edward chuckled as he stared at his shoes for a decision. He mumbled something like, "I'll kill you if you go there…" Emmett cackled and slapped him on the shoulder before he boldly stated, "Okay. Dare."

I watched the ogre-grin spread even wider on Emmett. "Edward, I dare you to kiss the prettiest girl here."

Damn him!

"You're so dead," he chuckled as he stood up. I couldn't watch. Rosalie-gag-Hale was sitting on a rock, just to the right of our log and I knew Alice wouldn't have to bother asking her brother if Edward had ever kissed her. It would happen right here, in front of me. I guess there was still the matter of whether or not this would be their first kiss. I stared at my feet, my stomach churning. This game was not fun at all.

Another pair of feet came into my view point. They stopped on either side of mine and didn't move. Looking up, I saw him staring. At me. He took his hands out of his pockets and held them out to me. I let him pull me to my feet and gulped as he leaned over me. He had really gotten tall!

"Let's go over there," he whispered and tilted his head to the side. "You didn't say I had to do it right here!" he retorted when Emmett grumbled. I lifted my most used finger to burn him further. Of course, he laughed.

My boldness evaporated as soon as we turned from the circle. My heart pounded with each step we took together. I knew they were all still watching. He would have to kiss me or lose his dare. I backed against a tree when we were far enough away from the spectators.

"Is this okay?" he asked, so quietly. He seemed as nervous as I felt.

"Um… yeah. It's fine." I chewed on my lip as the corner of his mouth lifted. His hand came up to hold my cheek as he leaned down, inching closer and closer. He closed his eyes when our noses touched – I followed his lead when he tilted his head to allow our lips to meet.

It was the single, greatest moment of my life. Edward's lips were on mine and they were warm and soft and moved over mine so gently. I think I felt his tongue dart out a couple of times, but he kept what he knew was my first kiss very PG (even though, technically, it was more than one kiss). After his third approach – he had alternated going in from his right, to his left and then back to his right – he pressed his forehead to mine as he stroked my cheek with his thumb. I became aware that his other hand was on my hip. He had long fingers. There was a lot of coverage with those fingers. "Still okay?" he asked softly.

"Uh-huh," I mumbled as I wound my fingers through his hair. When did my hands get up there? "I think you won," I commented to cut the sudden awkwardness I was feeling.

He lifted his head from mine and pulled me into a hug. His soft laugh rumbled through his chest as I pressed against it. "I sure did," he replied.

For a moment, I didn't have a clue what he was talking about – then I remembered, he had won his dare. This was a dare. This wasn't Edward kissing Bella, it was part of the game. Get a grip, Bella… I exhaled and tried to clear away the haze he had created in my head. It made perfect sense that he had chosen me to help him win. No pressure. We were friends. I wouldn't expect anything to come out of this. Yeah. No expectations. I knew where we stood… but I certainly wouldn't object to another kiss like that!

"Um, I'm glad Emmett gave you this one!" I blurted when he continued his silent embrace.

"Mmm. Me too. I couldn't stand to see you over here with any of those guys." He pulled back enough to look down at me. "I really should thank Em. I wouldn't have had the balls to do that on my own." His tongue ran across his lips as his eyes moved to mine. And then he said something like, "I've wanted to for so long…"

I wasn't sure what he wanted or if that's what he actually said – I was lost in the green eyes moving closer as he gave me one final kiss. "Thank you for being the prettiest girl and my friend. Bella, when you turn 16…" He sucked his bottom lip into his mouth as he stared at his feet instead of me. I thought this look might be even cuter than his crooked smile. "I'd really like to…"

"Are you just about done over there? We're all getting bored waiting!" A voice rang out from the circle.

He never finished his sentence. Smiling shyly, he tucked some hair behind my ear before running his fingers down my jaw. My knees felt weak.

"Are we done?" I murmured when he seemed frozen in time.

And he said something like, "Until you're 16" but he had already turned away from me. His hand still gripped mine as he led me back to the circle. Approaching from my side, he stepped over the log easily and helped me take my seat before strutting over to his side. My face felt hotter than the flames in the pit as everyone made kissing noises and such. I looked up to give him a smile, because with him being even shier than me, he must have been dying. He had an odd way of showing it – he was standing in front of Shrek with his hand out. Emmett plopped something into his hand and Edward examined it. "And…?" He held his hand back out.

"No way! You actually did it?" Emmett yelled out before reaching back into his pocket. Wait…

What? We hadn't 'done it'! My god, if this ever got back to my dad, I'd never date! "No we didn't!" I jumped up and yelled. "We just kissed!"

Edward turned around and I saw what he'd taken from Emmett – money. "Bella, he didn't mean it like that. He's talking about something else."

Money.

Truth or Dare didn't involve money. They had a bet! I was a tool for Edward to win a stupid bet! It had nothing to do with our friendship or him thinking I was pretty. He'd used me. The cloud I'd been walking on evaporated and my legs felt like lead. My heart pounded like a steel drum and tears were very, very near. I had to get out of there before they erupted.

His hand caught me as I made the most direct path out of the meadow. "Bella! Don't go – I'll explain it to you later." His voice was lowered and he spoke with such sincerity – just like the other time he had made me believe in him. Such a good act. I didn't need brilliant-actor-Edward placating me over this. I wasn't a child this time! I was simply gullible. Naïve. Bloody stupid to believe he had chosen to kiss me over Rosalie-gag-Hale for anything other than a bet.

"Don't bother," I retorted, pulling my arm free. "I'm a big girl. I get it. And I'm going home now." It felt good to make my stand without shedding a tear.

"Let me walk you!"

"Don't!" I hissed and he backed away a step, hands in his pockets. "And don't waste your time later trying to spin this in your favour. And," I snorted, "don't waste your winnings on something stupid." As I stormed off, Alice came up behind me, giving her cousin a good slap on the chest before running after me. She had to run because I was doing the 1-mile dash to get the hell out of hearing range before my sobs escaped from my constricted airways.

I lost the battle as soon as my friend – my real friend – arrived at my side. "He kissed me on a bet, Alice!" I cried on her shoulder. "A stupid bet! Our friendship was worth what… twenty bucks? Less, maybe!"

"Oh honey, there has to be more to it…" Her northern accent was gone. She was just Alice, my real friend. The actor-friend was still in the meadow. "Let me go back an' get 'im. We'll clear this up in a jiff, okay?"

I shook my head frantically, tugging on her to stay put. "No! No way… you don't understand. We've been through this before… well, not this, exactly. He's never kissed me before… Alice… why did he have to kiss me?"

That night, I poured my heart out to my more-than-summer-bestie. I told her everything about all the times I'd messed up with him. I told her how I'd been falling for him and denying it – I was. I didn't even comprehend that I had more than just a silly crush on Edward until I started talking about it.

"I can't keep doing this, Alice," I resolved as we laid together in my bed. "I have to get over him. Find a way to only see him as a friend. Nothing else. Just Edward."

She stayed with me all night and in the morning, Mom got us baking. I loved to bake and doing it with my mom and best friend made everything seem okay. I'd get through it. Again. And I knew for damn sure, I'd never step foot in that meadow again.

0 ~ 0

An airplane brought me out of my reverie; a paper one, to be precise. It flew swiftly and surely, landing on the floor between my window and my bed. Edward. Only he could craft this device. He had taken The Art of Paper Folding one year while I had dance class. Obviously, he had kept up with his learned skills. A smile crept up on me without my intent as I bent to scoop it up. Unfolding it, the smile faded as I read the five word message it delivered: Meet me in the meadow? Immediately, I took it to my desk and scrawled a huge 'NO!' across his message and crumpled it up before firing it back through my open window. When I didn't hear a laugh or a voice beckoning me, I took a hesitant peek down. The paper ball was gone and so was Edward.

The remaining summer weeks passed by and I didn't see much of him. Going away to college was going to change our relationship again. It already had. He didn't even tell me that Alice had gotten a job at the last minute and wouldn't be visiting with Jasper; that changed the tone and instead of spending every minute with them as I had in previous visits, I only saw Jasper in passing aside from the night before he left when a bunch of us went out for dinner. He cornered me on the way back from the washroom and pulled me over by the bar.

"Alice says you hardly call anymore. No emails either?"

I hung my head. We'd had a disagreement the previous year, involving Edward of course, and though she had promised to never bring it up again, I was hesitant to keep our long-distant friendship going. It was difficult enough living next door to him, but having my friend remind me of feelings I'd struggled to tamp down was too much to bear. "That's my fault. I miss her, Jasper. Will you tell her? Once I'm settled at school, I'll send her an epic email, I promise."

He nodded, flashing his sweet smile. "Of course. That's one relationship out of the way…"

"Oh Jazz! Not you too!" I frowned at him, knowing what he was about to do.

"Bella… I'm assuming you'll give me what-for and that'll be the end of our friendship too, but I have to ask… what did Edward do? Why are you shutting him out?"

If it were anyone else, I would have. But his enticing drawl suckered me in, as usual. "Jazz…" I sighed and leaned against the bar. I didn't want to talk about it… and yet, everything was about to change anyway and that included maybe never seeing this handsome, sweet and understanding guy next to me. What did I have to lose confessing to him? "What did Edward do? Nothing, really, except be himself. I'm shutting him out because I can't be myself with him."

His faced scrunched up in confusion. "Why ever not; you two grew up together. If anyone should be able to just be themselves around one another, it's you."

I offered a sad grin. What he said was true – we should be that way. "I want that, more than anything. I try, Jasper… sometimes it's just too difficult."

"It's too difficult to try or be his friend?"

"It's difficult to…" I exhaled, steeling myself. If I let it out, there was no taking it back. "Sometimes it's just too hard to act like I don't see him as anything but the guy I grew up with – Just Edward. I've done so many stupid things because of that over the years, and built up a wall that my true feeling hide behind just so that I can maintain the core friendship because I don't want to be without that. I can't imagine life without him in it at all." Once I started, I rambled on and on. Jasper listened, much like his sister had on the last day at the meadow. And when I finished, he turned me to face him, his hands holding onto my shoulders. A mischievous smile had one corner of his lips curled up.

"You two need to talk."

He would say no more about it, much to my frustration. What the hell kind of advice was that? I had considered, many times, just telling Edward how I felt but what good could come of that? Then we'd both be awkward around each other. That would kill the friendship, for sure. Jasper's words and little smirk ran through my mind for the entire sleepless night. Things were about to change; I was leaving Forks anyway… in 2 days. I could blurt it out and then not have to face him in shame every day. By the time I returned for Christmas, the shock would have worn off and brilliant-actor-Edward could pretend like it never happened and it would go back to… this… fake sort of friendship. I wanted the real deal, more than anything so in the end, I refrained from blurting. I simply avoided him so as not to tempt blurting fate.

On the morning of my departure, Mom was in the kitchen early and I could smell her special waffles from my room. I headed down, all ready for the day and kissed her cheek as I grabbed my plate. "I'll miss these, Mom. And you."

"Aw, honey… me too. Listen, I'm so sorry but my staff meeting got changed and I won't be able to take you to the train station this morning."

"Oh." I tried to hide my disappointment. "Dad's taking me?"

She shook her head. "Edward is."

And so I found myself, on my porch, with my bags, waiting for Edward to emerge from his house at the pre-arranged time. He bounded down the steps of his house and his long legs looked like they made it to mine in 3 steps.

"Ready to get the hell out of Forks?" he quipped. I snorted as I got up to start carrying my bags over to his car. He began loading them and stopped abruptly, slapping his forehead. "I forgot the bag I'm supposed to drop off at my dad's office. Can you run in and get it while I finish up here? It's right by the front door… so I wouldn't forget it. Watch you don't trip on it!" He passed me his keys and my eyes glued themselves to the matted strings hanging off his key ring. Its mate was upstairs in my room.

"Where did you… when…"

He seemed to be holding his breath as my cut-off questions came. His eyes were on the object in my hand as well. Finally, he exhaled and let out a nervous little chuckle. "Well… Alice gave it to me. A few years ago. It's been on there since. I can't believe you've never seen it."

"You know I…"

"I know." He cut me off this time. "That's why it's there."

"Oh." I turned and fled for his house as I felt my cheeks growing hotter. If Alice had given him my friendship bracelet, then he knew the story behind it… that it was meant for him and I'd given it to Alice instead. I didn't know whether to kick my old summer bestie for betraying me, or kiss her for giving it to its rightful owner. I did know that I had to go back to my room before I left. Rewarded with his cuter-than-anything-in-reality-or-imagination smile when I looped its mate onto my own keys, I knew I had done something right.

We arrived early to find out my train was delayed. Edward chose a secluded spot for us at the end of the platform to wait for its arrival. "So, now that we match…" He held up his keys and jangled them. "… Bella, if you made this for me, why didn't you give it to me yourself?"

My cheeks flushed and there wasn't a damn thing I could do about it. I stared at his feet so they wouldn't grow redder looking at him. "It was pretty childish… and you were… older…"

"It's really childish for me to have hung on to it this long then, huh?" he teased, lightly. "I guess your Sign is long gone then."

"My Sign of Eternal Binding? No way! It's still in its frame, on my desk." I countered. "Where's yours?" He had seen mine, many times. As far as I knew, he had thrown his out the day we played it out. Probably before we even left the meadow.

With a raised eyebrow, he held my gaze, reaching around to his back pocket. Unfolding his wallet, he pulled out some folded bills and tapped on them to loosen something stuck inside – a bit of parchment, which he passed over. "Open it up."

I squinted at him, skeptical as I carefully unfolded it. I gasped as I looked down at the pressed dark flower inside the parchment. "No! No way!"

His laughter rang out. "You thought I'd forgotten?"

"I thought you'd thrown it out! This is the same one? Seriously?"

"Bella! Pfft! Think about it… would I curse either of us by being careless with my half of The Sign?" His smile lit up his face. His cheeks were flushed too, making him look even brighter and happier.

"Oh my god!" I giggled, carefully examining his preserved Sign. "I can't believe you kept this… and you have it with you."

"Always."

My eyes snapped up to meet his at the serious tone in his voice. I blinked rapidly, to avoid gawking at him. "And I left mine in my room," I whispered.

"Take mine," he offered. "You can bring it back and trade for yours when you come home next." His mouth lifted into a smirk. "You are planning on coming home again, aren't you? I hope."

If there's something here for me… If you're here for me… "Yeah," I whispered breathlessly. "I'll be coming home."

He nodded with a shy grin and stuffed his folded bills back into a particular place in his wallet. "I hear a whistle. Your train's coming."

I wished it would break down on the tracks before it even pulled into the station. Suddenly, the last thing I wanted was do was leave Forks. "Thanks for bringing me here. And waiting all this time."

He shook his head and said something like, "I've waited a lot longer." His eyes caught mine and his mouth twitched a little. "I hate goodbyes."

"So it's… later…" I suggested, rocking on the sides of my feet.

He snorted a laugh. "Later… dude."

"Right!" I laughed. "Later, dude."

And then he said something like, "Ah, fuck it…" and picked me up in a tight embrace. "I wish you weren't leaving. Be safe, Bella. And come home. I'll miss you." He was using that totally sincere tone against my ear – brilliant-actor-Edward couldn't be faking this… could he? I swallowed the lump in my throat as he set me back down gently. "You should go. I don't want to make you cry. I've never wanted to make you cry."

"Email me?" I blurted.

"Every day."

"Your feet… you have really great feet." I had stared at them enough to know great feet. I don't know why that came out at this particular moment, however. And then he did something I'd never seen from him… he laughed through his nose as I often had and then cursed mildly when I laughed at him. It was then I noticed his misty eyes. Was this why he hated goodbyes? Without another word, I stood on my toes and pecked at his cheek with my lips before hastily boarding the train. I watched his unmoving form as we pulled away from the platform and even after the train pulled out, he stayed in his spot. I watched without blinking, afraid that the little speck that was Edward in the distance would disappear in the split second of a blink. Tears streamed down my cheeks as the speck vanished and only then did I close my eyes.

He kept his promise and emailed me every day; even on the days that we spoke on the phone. Every night, I fell asleep having just read Edward's email. While others began feeling homesick, I felt more at home than I had at home. I had my Edward back… and we were better than ever.

I hadn't intended to go home until Christmas break, but I couldn't stay away from Edward for that long. When I told him in an email that I was coming for Thanksgiving, I swear I heard his enthusiastic 'yes!' all the way from Forks. Though I was happy to see Dad waiting for me on the platform, I couldn't deny that I was disappointed that I didn't see Edward in his place. I tried to talk Dad into putting the lights and siren on in his cruiser to get us home faster, but he wouldn't go for it. It did cheer him up though.

"I knew you'd miss Forks."

"Yeah Dad. I miss Forks," I grinned at him. I missed him and Mom, too. And Mom's coffee cake. She had some ready for me after we broke our embrace. I got a text message when I was into my second slice and third rundown of the dorm set-up. "It's Edward," I announced. My heart raced, just seeing his name on my screen – but my parents…

"Go on, honey. We have all weekend to catch up." Mom gave me a gentle shove out of my chair and my grin widened.

Until I read his message…

'Meet me in the meadow?'

I sighed, heading out to the porch. 'Edward…'

'Please?'

'Come here instead.'

'Please Bella?'

'Edward…' *sigh* 'I'm on my way.'

He looked like an angel, standing there in our meadow. I had to stop for a minute when he came into view; he took my breath away. He appeared to be moving, when he spotted me, though the only sign was his opened shirt and jacket waving at his sides. Maybe he was floating. I began floating to meet him halfway and then suddenly he was moving much quicker, running to meet up with me. When he did, his arms wrapped my waist and he lifted me in a spin. We were both laughing when he set me down.

"Thanks for meeting me here," he said softly. "I wasn't sure you'd agree."

I gave him a playful scowl. "You'll pay for making me come back here."

He tilted his head with a small frown of his own. "Why do you hate it here so much?"

My mouth clenched shut. I could 'talk' to him in email… in person was proving to be much more difficult.

"Bella?" He reached for my hand and tugged me towards the rock pile. We sat on the ground with our backs against the smoothest of the bunch, as we had done dozens of times. "I asked you to come here so we could talk. Please talk to me. Tell me why you don't like the meadow anymore."

I picked at the dying grass beside me idly, deciding what to tell him. I went with the truth. "Because two of my worst, most humiliating moments happened here. Memories I don't care to rehash."

He snorted softly beside me. "Odd. Most of my best memories come from here."

I turned on him in a flash. "Then why did you say you didn't want to come here anymore? Or was it just that you didn't want me to come with you? Why now? And why in the summer?"

"I always wanted you with me," he replied in a much calmer manner than I had hurled my questions in. "I asked you in the summer, because I wanted to tell you that. Now, because a mutual friend suggested – very strongly, I might add – that we should talk this out. Finally. There wasn't time before you left and so…" His smile lightened my mood. "Here we are. Have you not figured out why I stopped coming here with you all those years ago?"

I shook my head. "No. Honestly… at the time, I figured it was because you had outgrown our kid games. But we didn't have to play, as such… we could have just hung out… I would have done anything you wanted to." I knew I sounded pathetic and needy, but it was the truth.

He stared intently as I spoke and then said something like, "That's why we had to stop…"

Feeling bolder, after spilling that bit of truth out, I switched to the second round of meadow humiliation. "The last time we were here…"

He held up a hand. "Stop. I'd like to explain that part before you pummel me with questions… and by the look in your eyes, maybe even fists. You never gave me the chance then, so I'd like that now, if you don't mind."

I nodded, feeling like Mom's coffee cake was on its way back into my throat.

"Emmett kind of set that up… but don't hate on him. He was helping me out, in his own way. We had a bet, but I was too shy to do it myself… he ended up sacrificing his own win to help me overcome my inadequacy."

"Too shy to do what?"

"To follow through on the bet," he confessed.

I shook my head, utterly lost. "You bet that you could humiliate me?"

"No!" His eyebrows knitted together in a deep frown. "I never intended to make you feel that way. The bet, initially… Emmett bet me on the last day of school that the whole summer would pass and I still wouldn't tell you how I felt. That's how it started, honestly. I had been working up the courage… I was going to tell you at the beach, but you didn't go. I was so relieved that you came to the meadow, but that really put the pressure on. When the game started, Emmett warned me that no matter what happened, he'd make me out myself. Truth – I'd have to confess my crush. Dare – I'd have to kiss you. That was the second bet – to complete the dare. The whole point was to reveal my true feelings for you, not to humiliate you. I'm sorry you felt that way. I shouldn't have accepted my winnings in front of you… I should have refused them. I never should have accepted the bet in the first place. I'm sorry for all it. Except the kissing part. Not sorry for that."

My jaw was hanging open when he finished. He had a crush, on me. I stammered some incoherent words.

"You didn't leave the scene with any feeling but humiliation?" He asked, looking embarrassed himself. "You really didn't grasp what I was trying to tell you? Everyone else knew."

Another jaw-dropper. Everyone? That's why Angela spent the next few months trying to work out ways to get us together. She couldn't just tell me? Then again, I had talked myself into him being… Just Edward. I chewed on my lip, willing stupid tears not to well up. I could feel them coming.

"… why Rosalie laid off you and why I was so pissed at Newton when we went to the movies…"

He was still talking and I only caught snippets because my mind was in overdrive. The most-amazing-first-kiss was real! He had kissed me for real, not just for a dare. Not for a bet.

"… the jackass knew I was into you and he still monopolized you…"

"You liked me, back then?" Words finally spilled from my open mouth.

"Back then? Back… always. God, Bella… I don't even know when it happened. It just seems like you've always been the girl I wanted. That's why I insisted on us not playing here anymore… it's not that didn't want to be with you, it's that I had started to think of other… well… put it this way – that was the year I discovered that girls had lumps and bumps and smelled so much better than boys."

I watched his crooked grin spread with his blush. "I didn't have lumps and bumps for a long time after that." I blushed too, so he wouldn't feel alone with it.

"It wasn't necessarily your lumps and bumps I was interested in. It was just you." He cleared his throat and pulled a face, showing his discomfort. "It was really inappropriate to be thinking of your best friend in that way… at that time. You were a kid. We both were, but I mean, I had all these feelings growing and hormones dictating my motives… and I didn't know what to do with any of it. The last thing I wanted to do was make you feel uncomfortable in any way, so I thought it was best to avoid temptation. You were so innocent and trusting of me."

I knew my knees up so I could rest my chin on them; anything to stop my mouth from gaping open. I didn't trust myself to speak. Luckily, Edward was on a roll.

"The night of the game, when you admitted you couldn't date until you were 16… it felt like an opening. It reinforced that I'd been right to not act out my feelings before then, but there was a light… at 16." His crooked grin made another appearance. "The way you responded to my kiss that night, it gave me hope. In those moments, I thought the wait… all the waiting was worth it. And I would wait longer. I would wait for you." He stared out blankly at the meadow in front of us.

"Alice gave me your friendship bracelet before she left that summer. She let me explain what really went on." He gave me a playful nudge with his shoulder. "She wouldn't tell me what you really thought about it and I made her swear not to tell you that I cared for you the way I did. She said I had earned your friendship more than anyone, so she gave the bracelet to me. I hope you don't mind. Don't be mad at her for it…"

"I'm not! It's yours." I finally spoke and the sudden sound of my voice startled him. It broke the tension and we shared a laugh before I continued. "I made it for you… and then I chickened out, because Rosalie… well…"

"What? What did she do?" There was anger in his eyes and tone.

I shook my head. "She just… she was the one who pointed out how childish it was. It was, really. I couldn't give it to you then because I figured you'd actually wear it just to make me feel better. I didn't want you to be ridiculed because of me."

All anger faded and the blush returned to his cheeks. "I would have worn it," he admitted in a low voice, barely above a whisper. "Bella, if I had… if you'd given it to me and I'd worn it, would it have changed anything? Would you have seen then how much I cared for you? Would you have been even remotely interested in me by the time you could date? Or would it have marked me as Best Friend – Period?"

The knowledge that he had liked me – liked me, liked me – had slowly been sinking in, but his questions still made my eyebrows rise in shock. "By the time I could date… Edward, by then I had talked myself into seeing you as nothing but my friend! I felt guilty any time I thought you looked cute or I felt too good after you'd touched my hand or something. I didn't want to ruin what we had because of…" I took a deep breath, preparing to say it out loud. "Because of the feelings I had for you. I couldn't take the embarrassment of you knowing that I liked you and I didn't want you to have to deal with appeasing the little girl with a crush… you were older. More mature…"

"More mature?" he snorted. "Bella, I may be older – through no fault of my own, believe me, I've wished my parents would have had me even a year later – but you've been more mature than me for most of our lives!"

I shook my head. "No, that's not true. The things you're telling me now… things that I misconstrued at the time… you handled all of this with more maturity than most adults have. I merely cried or denied, all the while burying my true feelings for you. You remained steady."

He stared at me intently. "I see it otherwise, but I'll agree to disagree. So, have I ruined the meadow for you, yet again? Have I added another episode for you to remember with disdain?"

A wide, teary-eyed smile spread across my face. "Do you still feel the way you did back then?"

A nod and a so-cute-when-he-blushes smile. "Ten-fold. Now I don't feel guilty or like a letch. I just… I like you, Bella. More than like. I care for you… You're my best friend, the person I trust most in the world. The person I'd choose to spend my time with. The person I ache for when you're not around. I've been falling for you for a decade and it's only now that I'm able to enjoy it. So… yeah… I'd say I still feel the same. What about you?"

I lowered my head to gain control of my emotions before speaking. I was ready to do cartwheels… in my mind, of course… physically, not a good idea. "I think you owe me a prom night date." When I looked up, he had the same teary-eyed grin I wore.

"I think you owe me The Sign. Can I have mine back now please?"

Smiling, I extracted it from my back pocket. I had folded a paper over his parchment so it wouldn't get ruined. "Stored near my ass, as it's been near your ass for a decade."

He laughed, unfolding his wallet to welcome his Sign home. I watched him unfold his money, and place the parchment inside before carefully refolding it and tucking it away.

"How have you not lost it in all this time?" I asked, still in awe that he took it with him everywhere. "Has it never fallen out when you go to pay for something?"

He tilted his head, examining me before he extracted the folded bills and parchment once more. He passed me the folded papers. "Open it up."

Unfolding carefully – once, twice – I saw his writing on the money inside the second fold:

The meadow -
Bella 04-08-05

"The money from your bet," I surmised out loud, around the huge lump in my throat. That was the date of our kiss in the meadow. "You never spent it."

"Are you kidding? It protects The Sign! I don't want to be cursed!"

Laughing, we engaged in a playful slap/tickle round with each other before ending up with our foreheads pressed together. Our heavy breaths were in sync. "Bella, I think it's appropriate to have our second kiss right here in the meadow. Do you agree?"

"Definitely."

His hand came up to my cheek, just as it had the night of the first and his thumb stroked my cheek. I closed my eyes, rapt in the sensation. This time, I knew for sure it was real. Any lingering doubt disappeared as his warm lips met mine and I kissed him back allowing myself to feel everything. Just Edward with the cuter-than-anything smile truly was My Edward – just as he'd always been back in the days of the meadow.


A/N ~ I've wanted to try a challenge for some time now but I didn't know if I could do a one-shot – this proved to be true enough with this one… a second chapter will follow after the contest ends with all the scenes I had to cut. LOL! Thanks for reading. XX ~ SR