Twilight Characters are owned by Stephenie Meyer

1

The gas station looked almost deserted, run down, and dirty. The pumps were old and faded red. A little convenience store was attached, but dusty windows hid the view of what was stocked on the shelves. It was miraculous to find a station in the middle of the desert, so nobody could complain.

Most travelers didn't use the sandy back roads, preferring to stay on the Interstate. People tend to be afraid of old school situations. If it wasn't shiny and using tons of electricity something must be wrong.

A large RV pulled up to the pumps and a petite woman opened the door to climb out. She stretched her arms high into the air and moved out of the way so her husband could step onto the concrete. He opened his wallet and handed her a credit card.

"Get me a Snickers," he called, as she headed toward the grubby store.

"Get some orange slices out of the fridge," she hollered back to him.

He shook his head and mumbled something about being on vacation and eating however he wanted. He waited for the pump to light up and began filling the oversized vehicle. The woman came out of the store with a small paper bag.

"You better have a Snickers in there," he teased, as he pulled out his cigarettes. "If nicotine doesn't kill me I want to make sure sugar does."

The woman wrapped her arms around his waist, "Death doesn't want an old coot like you."

He reached around and grabbed the paper bag from her hand as he grinned at his wife of thirty years. He opened the bag to see several candy bars of various sizes. "I knew I married you for a reason," he grinned.

"Give me those," she demanded, taking the bag and climbing back into the RV. He chuckled and pulled his lighter from his back pocket.

His attention turned back to the large motor vehicle, watching as the numbers on the old gas pump rolled making a clicking sound. He thumbed the lighter after placing a cigarette into his mouth.

A black cloud of smoke rose high into the desert sky right after a loud explosion could be heard for miles.

The small town of Forks, Washington was known for two things, the county hospital which served several small communities and provided jobs for the town, and the Swan Ranch. The ranch was two hundred acres and sat high on a hill overlooking Forks. Rodeo stock was raised and trained by Charlie Swan and his partner Billy Black. Billy was a Quileute man, educated in veterinary medicine. He had a knack for understanding animals but couldn't quite figure out how people worked. He had a quick temper and didn't put up with what he called "silliness" from folks.

Charlie inherited the land from his father who raised beef cattle. He lived in Forks his whole life and was known for his wild antics. When he caught the eye of Renee Foster, a local school teacher, the entire town shook their heads. She wasn't a pretty woman by any means, but she was bright and had a lot of spunk. She enjoyed the outdoors and could ride just about as well as Charlie could.

Town gossip was sure Charlie would use the spinster teacher and leave her with a broken heart. What they didn't expect was the marriage announcements that arrived in the mail. Speculation led to a probable shot-gun wedding, insisted on by the Foster family, but they were again proven wrong when a child didn't arrive until many years later.

Charlie and Renee had one child, a girl named Isabella. She was known to most of the town as Bella. Of course, she was spoiled and had everything she wanted or needed. She could ride a horse as well as Charlie and could be just as stubborn as Renee. She inherited the best physical qualities from both parents. Her dark hair and large brown eyes made her a target for most young men. Charlie was a strict parent and never allowed the cowboys around his daughter. He said it was a hazard of the job and watched Bella like a hawk.

Nobody was surprised when Bella ran off to elope with a sweet talking rodeo bum named James White. She met Jimmy in Texas during her freshman year in college. He convinced her they could live on love, while he secretly planned to have her daddy pay all the bills.

Bella wouldn't hear of it and dropped out of school to be a bank teller. Jimmy didn't like living as responsible adults and soon began running around and drinking heavily. Bella worked very hard to keep her marriage problems a secret and hoped time would straighten out her husband.

Billy Black never married, but lived with several women off and on. He spent some time in rehab to wean off of prescription pain killers, a product of his own rodeo days, but remained an excellent vet and partner at Swan Ranch. He eventually moved into a small apartment over the tack shed and was more a member of the family than a partner. He was currently in a long twelve year relationship with a Quileute woman named Sue. He had proposed several times but she was adamant never to marry again.

Her first marriage was filled with violence which left her blind in her right eye. After becoming self sufficient by opening a small craft store she refused to be dependent on a man ever again. She usually stayed with Billy about three days out of the week but always made sure to go home before she got too comfortable.

The phone was ringing as Bella opened the door to the apartment. She didn't hurry to pick it up because it was payday and she knew it meant fighting with Jimmy over Friday night plans. She sat her purse down and grabbed a diet Pepsi from the fridge before picking up the receiver.

"Hello," she said warily.

"Bella, this is Billy."

She couldn't help the smile that formed on her face, "Hi, Billy. How are you?"

He moaned a little as he tried to find the right words. "I'm sorry sweetheart, but I have some pretty bad news."

Bella sat in one of the mismatched chairs around her old table. Her mind was spinning trying to come up with something that could be pretty bad but not ruin her life. She didn't speak and waited for Billy to offer some information.

"You need to come home; I got you a flight in two hours. Can you be on that flight?" He was stalling and trying to judge her reaction before he continued.

"Billy?" Was all she managed to say.

"I'm so sorry Bella, your parents have been in an accident," he managed to get the words out before the choking feeling took hold.

"Accident, what kind of accident, are they okay? Oh God, Billy." Tears began falling and her heart was racing. She knew the answer before she asked it, but hope was her last salvation.

"There was an explosion," he paused, "Honey, come home, so I can talk with you."

Her head fell into her hand and the slight pain reminded her why she couldn't come home. Her bruises from the last beating Jimmy gave her had not totally healed. Loud sobs rose from deep within her chest. She didn't let her parents know the nightmare she had been living for the past two years and now it seemed so silly; such a waste of time hiding from her parents who she would never see again just to keep her loser husband happy.

"I'm coming home, Billy," she managed to say. "I'm coming to stay."

The mourners slowly made their way from the graveside one by one. Bella kept her large dark glasses on and remained sitting under the canopy next to the two freshly dug graves. Time stopped for her. It should have been me, she kept thinking. She should have been the one to blow up and escape the awful life she had created for herself; or at the very least been with her parents when it happened.

What she wouldn't give to be able to talk to her mother one last time, to tell her the awful things Jimmy had done and let her father protect her like he always did. She took her father's guard as an interruption in her life, but now understood the love behind it. She had squandered that love and now look where she was; hiding behind large glasses so nobody could see the affects of her marriage.

Two young men were waiting for the last of the mourners to leave to begin the process of lowering the caskets and covering them over. They were too embarrassed to ask Bella to leave, but they wanted to get their work done and head home. One cleared his throat rather loudly. Bella turned her head in their direction, but didn't really look at them. She finally reached down and removed her black heels, stood, and headed through the cemetery away from the funeral car waiting for her.

The car door opened and a gentleman in a black suit with a long braid running down his back got out and began walking briskly toward her. His gait was one that spoke of years of abuse to his back. He hunched over slightly and limped as he tried to catch up to Bella's determined walk.

He finally caught up with her before she reached the front gate, "Bella, let's go home."

She continued to walk and lifted her hand to motion for him to stop following her. "I want to walk home, Billy. I need some time alone."

"There's a luncheon at the church. You really should be there," he called after her.

She spun around quickly to face him as she pulled off the large sunglasses revealing the yellow bruises, "Really, Billy. You really think I should be there?" Without waiting for an answer she turned back around and headed out the cemetery gate.

Billy headed slowly back to the waiting car. He understood her reasoning and if he could find some way to get his hands on Jimmy White it would be the last time the young punk would even think about hitting a woman.

Bella made the mile walk in bare feet never noticing the hard gravel beneath her soles. Her pain was deep inside. Her heart ached and her veins pulsed with fear just waiting for Jimmy to come after her. Her only solace was the fact her parents wouldn't have to look at her battered face and scarred body. They wouldn't live the shame of having a twenty year old divorced daughter. That had to be worth something.

As Swan Ranch came into view she suddenly felt better. The great county house, with its dormer windows and large wrap around porch, was a sanctuary. The house was surrounded by a white fence covered in roses. The border completely obscured the view of the large back yard, which contained a swimming pool and a built in barbeque pit. At the side of the house stood a large automatic gate with the words "Swan Ranch" arching over the driveway. The house was a separate entity from the sprawling indoor arena and fenced acreage.

Bella opened the latch on the house gate and walked to the back yard, slipping her feet into the pool. She sat on the steps and let her mind go.

Tears flowed freely down her face as she made plan after plan for her life. She would divorce Jimmy, first thing. She would continue to live at the Ranch and become Billy's partner. She had learned a lot about the business from her father and Billy could teach her the rest. Jessica was her best friend from high school and still lived in Forks. She would reconnect with lost friends and refuse to date until she felt healthy, both mentally and physically. Determination became her best weapon to escape the hell she had been living.

She wasn't aware of how long she had been sitting and planning until Billy came up behind her.

"Let's go inside, little girl," he said softly.

She bristled at the comment but didn't say anything. He followed her into the house and watched her climb into her fathers recliner curling up like a lost puppy. He waited while fresh tears fell sitting silently until she was ready to talk.

"I'm going to divorce Jimmy," she informed him with a new confidence.

"That's a positive step," he agreed.

"It was worse than it looks." Her eyes went to her lap unable to look him in the face while she spoke. "He did some permanent damage." She sucked in a shaky breath. "I can't have children."

Billy put his fist to his mouth and bit down on his knuckles to contain his rage. His eyes filled with tears and he suddenly felt out of his league. He didn't know how to respond or what words would lend comfort. He wanted to hit something, preferably Jimmy White. His leg began moving up and down at a frantic pace as he nervously sat in his chair.

"I know you are very disappointed in me," she mumbled, raising her head to look at him.

He only shook his head back and forth and swallowed hard. The silence was so loud, but neither one had the words to end it. Finally the sound of the back door opening drew their attention. Sue walked in and headed directly for Bella pulling her into a tight hug. The tension in the room was palpable.

"Are you okay?" she asked.

Bella looked at Billy and his head was turned away, still biting on his knuckles. Sue followed her gaze and looked back and forth between the two. "What's going on?"

That was it, Bella broke. She buried her head in Sue's neck and sobbed loudly. Her entire body heaved with anger, sorrow, shame, and regret. Billy stood and walked out the back door leaving Sue to handle the fragile girl. He hurried to the horse ties behind the arena and began punching the solid wood over and over again.

"Shhh….it will be okay," Sue repeated.

"I'm alone. I am totally alone," Bella said between sobs.

"No, you are not alone. You have me and you have Billy. You are ours now and we will never leave you."

"I tried so hard, I wanted to make him happy but I couldn't do it."

"Are we talking about Jimmy?" Sue asked as she pulled back to look at Bella's face.

"Yes, I'm going to divorce him. He was so cruel."

"Listen, this is an area I am too familiar with, so you look at me and listen."

Bella wiped her face with her hands and took a deep breath meeting Sue's stare.

"You did nothing wrong. Do you hear me? NOTHING! Men who push a woman down are the best liars around. They are predators, who seek out people to hurt. Would you blame a child for being molested by a pedophile? No, you wouldn't, so don't blame yourself for being Jimmy's victim."

Bella shook her head in agreement but wasn't sure she was actually absorbing the words. "I wasted so much time without my parents and I will never get it back."

"No, sweetheart you won't. But there is nothing we can do about that. The clock will continue to tick and the sun will continue to rise and fall. All we can do is make things better from this moment forward. We will help you, dear."

"Okay." Bella felt empowered by Sue's words and determination. "I need to find a lawyer."

"No, first you need to come let me fix you something to eat. We don't want you getting sick." Sue took her hand and pulled her toward a chair.

"Do you think Billy is okay?" Bella asked after looking out the window.

Sue was pulling food from the fridge. "I'm sure he is pissed and wanting to hit something. It seems to be a male character trait….hit something to feel better."

"Has he ever hit you?" Bella asked in astonishment.

"No, but he has hit walls, trees, horse trailers…..you name it."

"Does it scare you?" She couldn't imagine how terrified she would be if she saw Billy punching something. He was a big man and usually such a gentle soul around her.

"He can hit whatever he wants as long as he doesn't destroy anything of mine or make me stitch him up."

Bella felt a shudder run through her body. She had many stitches from Jimmy using her body to punch. She wondered how many Sue had from her other relationship. It was not something she wanted to have in common with the wonderful woman in front of her. Everyone in town knew Sue's story and she feared she would become the next topic of gossip.

It would be too much to ask of a small town to let Bella quietly return to her life in Forks. A divorced girl of two wealthy dead residence of such prominence as Charlie and Renee Swan would surely be a scandal too big to resist. She resigned herself to being pretty much a hermit for the next few months.

2

The last of the winter run off was making its way down the swollen streams. The snow had been heavy this past winter offering Bella the refuge she needed. Spring brought new hope and she was tired of being hidden away in the large house.

A truck pulled up to the automatic gate and honked. Billy hit the button to swing the large entrance open and stood in the parking area waiting for the vehicle to pull up. It was filled with boy scouts coming for a tour of the ranch.

"Hey," she called out to Billy, "Do you want me to do the honors for you?"

"You feel up to it?

"Sure, why not."

She was grinning from ear to ear as the boys loaded out of the back camper. "Welcome to Swan Ranch, I'm Bella Swan."

The boys were loud and not paying too much attention except for one boy in particular. He was staring at Bella like he recognized her. She looked at him closely to see if he resembled somebody she knew, possibly the younger brother of an old school mate.

He didn't turn away from her gaze, but kept staring directly at her. She felt uncomfortable and moved her attention to the scout master.

"I'll take you on the nature trail first and then we will make our way to the arena," she smiled while leading him across the parking area. The boys followed along and she noticed the strange boy making his way to the front.

She stopped at the trail head and asked the boys to be quiet and listen for a minute. "This trail was made by my father, for my mother as an anniversary present. She loved bird watching and spent a lot of time walking this trail. It is professionally groomed and bird seed is kept out year around."

"There are several places along the trail to sit and watch the different species of birds. I see you all have your binoculars, so I will only ask that you remain quiet and not scare the birds."

Many of the boys were pushing and poking each other making Bella sure they would not see very many birds this day. It didn't matter, the trail was beautiful in its own right and she would enjoy walking it again.

They headed up a slight incline and she noticed the boy who stared at her speed up until he was walking directly next to her. She looked down at him and smiled.

"Hi," she offered looking into the boy's eyes. They were an odd color of green, almost translucent. He had an olive tint to his skin even though he wasn't tanned, making his eyes stand out even more. A mop of brown hair with golden highlights made her hand twitch with the desire to reach out and try to straighten the locks.

"Hi," he grinned back at her. "Do you like living here?" he asked as if he was one adult speaking to another.

"Do you mean at the Ranch or in Forks?" she asked and then wondered why she even bothered. It seemed like an odd question for a boy of his age to ask.

"I guess both, aren't you from Texas?"

She instantly tensed and turned her attention away from his prying eyes. Something about him made her uncomfortable. She was sure he must have a sibling her age and had heard all kinds of gossip about her.

"What's your name?" she asked, none too politely.

"Edward Masen." He looked hurt by her rudeness.

Her mind began trying to process the name. She couldn't quite place it but it sounded familiar. He kept watching her with his head tilted while they walked, waiting for an answer. She sped up trying to ignore his curiosity.

The group stopped at the first sitting bench and looked over the incline on the side of the trail. It dropped off to a steep slant but was covered in a variety of trees. Most of the boys were looking through their binoculars trying to find their houses in town instead of looking for birds. Edward never lifted his off his chest but continued to stare at Bella.

She made her way over to the leader and pulled him aside. "What is up with the Edward kid? He is kind of freaking me out."

The leader rested his arm on his large beer belly and leaned in close to speak without the boy hearing. "He's a different duck; way too mature for his age. His father was Charles Masen; he died while mowing the lawn a couple of years back. His mother put him in scouts so he can have a male role model, but he doesn't fit in too well."

"Elizabeth Masen?" she asked suddenly remembering the family.

"Yeah, she has two older girls; in their thirties I think, Rosalie and Alice. Edward was a change of life baby. His mom is like… sixty and works at the hospital. The kid is alone a lot."

Bella felt her heart soften and was sorry for being so rude to him. He couldn't help it if his odd colored eyes looked like he was staring into her soul. She returned to the group and headed further down the trail. Edward regained the spot next to her and she smiled at him without looking directly into his face.

"How old are you?" he asked as they walked.

"Don't you know it is rude to ask a woman her age?" she teased.

"Why?" he asked, "You can ask me how old I am."

She laughed out loud and hoped he wasn't offended. "Okay, I'll bite, how old are you, Edward?"

His mouth formed into a big smile showing his perfect teeth. "I'll be fourteen on May thirteenth."

"Wow, you must be excited to be a freshman next year," she teased but he only groaned.

"It's still Junior High," he pointed out.

Lowering her voice she whispered to him, "I'll be twenty-one in November."

"What day?" he asked.

"The second, does it matter?"

His brow furrowed in thought and she could almost see his brain counting the amount of time between their ages. He finally stopped thinking and turned back to her. "Are you excited to finally be an adult?"

She felt like he had slapped her in the face so she scowled at him. What did he know about being an adult? She was divorced and had buried both of her parents. That meant way more than years on a calendar. She unconsciously quickened her pace trying to get away from his curious questions. He matched her speed step for step.

"Are you mad?' he inquired.

She sighed loudly and began pinching the bridge of her nose with her finger and thumb. "Um…..no, I'm not mad. I just think we should stick to talking about the trail."

Edward fell back into the crowd of boys and Bella instantly felt guilty for being mean to a boy that needed attention. She wanted to be free from the feelings his question brought up. She didn't like being the freak that was afraid to talk to a thirteen year old boy. But there was something about him that made her uneasy, something beyond those damn eyes.

She conducted the remainder of the tour without looking directly at Edward. He stayed in the middle of the crowd so she couldn't tell if he was looking at her or not. When they made their way to the pool area boys began throwing their shirts on the deck and anxiously waited for permission to jump in.

"Okay guys," Bella began, "the pool is heated so it will be more comfortable if you stay in the water. You can use the diving board but if I see more than one on at a time, I will make it off limits."

The boys began jumping in screaming "cannonball" as they made a combined huge splash. Edward took off his shirt but didn't jump into the pool. Bella sat on a lounge chair pulling it close to the pool to act as lifeguard. The scout leader pulled his chair into the shade and began barking at boys who were getting too rowdy. Edward sat on the steps with his head down.

"Edward," Bella yelled to the boy, "Come here."

He smiled and jumped up quickly to make his way next to her. "Do you not like to swim? Or do you not know how?" She suddenly worried about embarrassing him by pointing out he wasn't in the water.

His smile faded and he walked over to the diving board. He stepped onto the board and waited for Bella to meet his gaze; then he jumped effortlessly flipping once and twisting into a dive. The other boys all began whooping and begging him to do more tricks. Bella followed his perfect swimming to the steps. He climbed out of the pool and sat back on the steps like he had earlier.

What was going on with this kid, Bella thought. She didn't know if he was mad or insulted at her but something had changed his mood from the flirty boy on the trail to the sulking kid in front of her. When he finally looked at her again she motioned for him to come with her into the house. He grabbed a towel wrapping it around his waist and followed her through the doorway.

"Edward, I apologize. I have been rude to you and it isn't your fault. I have some major adult drama going on in my life and I shouldn't take it out on you."

He shook his head but didn't speak. "Friends?" she asked.

"Friends," he murmured.

"Want to help me serve the cookies?

He finally looked up at her directly into her eyes. She felt the same jolt she had felt earlier. They were not the eyes of a young boy and it was unsettling. His mouth slowly pulled upwards into a grin, "Yeah, I'll help you, but don't give Mike a cookie. He ate the ones from Eric's lunch box, but Eric doesn't know it yet."

"Which one is Mike?' she asked as she laughed.

"You'll know," he smiled as he lifted the cookie tray and followed her back onto the patio.

"Cookies… cool," came a scream from a chubby boy who headed straight for Edward.

Bella leaned over to speak into Edward's ear. "Mike, I presume?"

Edward winked at her causing her to feel disturbed again. He didn't act like a young teen; his actions and movements seemed natural and not rehearsed. She turned her attention back to Mike.

"I'm going to hand you some cookies and I want you to give them to Eric, okay?"

"Aw…that's not fair," he complained. He reached out and took the cookies and turned to a small, frail looking boy. "Here Eric, sorry for eating the cookies in your lunch box."

"That's okay," the boy comforted him, "Tyler spit on them, so I wasn't going to eat um."

Edward and Bella looked at each other and doubled over in laughter as Mike turned green. "That will teach you to steal from other boys," Bella added as she wiped the tears from her eyes.

The boys ate their cookies and drank juice boxes and began preparing to leave. Bella noticed Edward did all the cleaning up, even picking up the scout masters empty juice and throwing it away. She could tell he was a responsible boy and decided to offer him a job.

"Edward, are you interested in a job? It would be stuff like mowing the lawn and helping Billy clean the stalls….that type of manual labor. I could pay you ten bucks an hour."

He looked at her warily, his translucent eyes looking deep into her thoughts. "For the summer?' he asked.

"If you like, but if you want something more I could use you after school."

His face lit up and he assured her he would be there at three-thirty the next day. Bella instantly thought about his leader saying he needed male role models and promised herself to have him work with Billy as much as possible.

At three-twenty the following afternoon Edward rang the door bell. Bella had decided to have him work on the roses. They all needed to be pruned and tied back, as well as mulched. Billy had filled two wheelbarrows with rose food and mulch, but was too busy with a sick bull to work with Edward.

"Hey, kid," Bella greeted him warmly. "Here's a pair of gloves, please leave them on so you don't get stuck by the thorns." She showed him what she wanted him to do and left him working enthusiastically.

It was only two hours later when he came back to the door. His hair was soaked, Bella hadn't noticed the rain moving in. "I covered the wheelbarrows with a tarp and I threw the clippings into the mulch bin," he said with pride.

"You are a great worker, Edward. I'm really glad I hired you." She motioned for him to follow her into the house. He removed his shoes and quickly caught up with her.

"Are you hungry?" She handed him a plate before getting his response. He looked at the hamburger and chips and smiled. "Have a seat," she instructed.

Billy walked through the door at that point and she handed him a plate, too. He sat across from Edward at the table as Bella made her way to the end. Billy eyed Edward trying to size him up.

"You look like a strong boy," he finally said.

"I am," Edward beamed, "I can do anything you want me to." His eyes suddenly fell to his plate, "I'm not good on horses though; I've only ridden one."

Billy chuckled, "I appreciate your honesty. I know a lot of cowboys who think they are good but haven't managed to ride even one."

Edward instantly tried to clarify his meaning, "Oh, not like a cowboy, I mean not like a rodeo ride, just a ride at a carnival."

"I think Billy is teasing you, Edward," Bella interjected, "And it's not very nice of him."

Billy just rolled his eyes and began talking about the bull he was working with. Edward listened intently at everything they said. Bella would listen and nod every once in awhile but didn't interrupt Billy as he went through his day. Edward thought of Bella as his boss but listening to Billy he began to think she worked for him. When it came time for desert Billy excused himself and went back to his sick bull.

"I have chocolate ice-cream or vanilla." Bella was speaking to Edward but not looking at him. He was staring at her as she stood with the freezer door open. She was not much taller than he was and she seemed…fragile.

"Can I have a scoop of both?" he asked.

She finally turned to look at him with a big grin. "Great idea, I think I'll do the same."

He watched her scoop out the ice cream into two bowls and walked over to the counter to get his portion. She looked up to smile at him, but her mouth never made it. He was looking at her with those strange eyes again. His face was the face of a young boy but his eyes made the hair on her arms stand up. She began fumbling with the lids to the cartons and didn't look at him again until he turned to return to the table.

"I can give you a ride home when you're done. We can just throw your bike into my truck."

"Okay," he said softly.

"Is there something wrong, Edward?"

"No, it's just really quiet at my house."

Her heart began to ache for this lonely boy. "I know what you mean. I don't enjoy my own company either."

"My mother works from midnight to noon four days a week. She sleeps all afternoon so I usually only see her before I go to bed. She gets called in a lot, too."

"I'm sorry," Bella offered, "You are welcome to come over whenever you need someone to talk with, or if you're bored or something."

His face lit up and he nodded. "It gets better, ya know."

She was confused at the turn their conversation took, "What gets better?"

"Missing them." He spooned a large portion of ice cream into his mouth.

She couldn't respond when he looked at her again with those haunting eyes, all she could do was nod.

3

After loading his wet bike into her truck she headed down the hill. Edward gave her directions and she realized he lived close to the hospital. He seemed sad to be going home and she understood his loneliness. She tried to engage him in conversation to lighten him up a little.

"Have you lived here long?" she asked

"Yeah, I've lived here my whole life. I have two sisters, but they are twenty eight and thirty one. They both live in Seattle."

"You must miss them very much."

Edward just shrugged at the comment. "They have their own families."

"Is your mom home, I would like to meet her?"

"Okay," he agreed. He jumped from the cab as soon as she pulled into his driveway and headed for the door. Bella took her time unloading the bike and was relieved to see his mother following him out to the truck.

"Hello, Mrs. Masen," she said with a smile while extending her hand. "I'm Bella Swan. I hope you don't mind Edward working for me."

"Please call me Elizabeth," the gentle woman pleaded. Her grey hair was pulled up into a bun and her ample chest made her the perfect stereotype of a caring nurse. "I can't thank you enough for letting Edward work for you. It is difficult for me to provide for him and pay the large hospital bills from his father. He will work hard, I promise."

"I can already see that," Bella assured her.

"I work nights and hate leaving him alone so much." She wrapped her soft arm around Edward's shoulders. Her eyes were a grey color that made Bella feel warm. She thought Edward must look more like his father.

"Hey, I have three extra rooms, so if you ever need someone to look after him, or if you don't want him home alone, he is welcome to use one at any time."

"I'm not a baby," he complained as his kicked at the rocks with his shoe.

"I don't think Ms. Swan was implying you're a baby, Edward. She has made a generous offer and you should thank her."

He looked up at Bella and she had to force herself not to look away. His eyes narrowed as if he was trying to decipher her thoughts. "Thank you," he finally said.

"I'm not there, yet," spilled out of her mouth. She didn't know where the words came from but Edward nodded as if he knew exactly what she was talking about.

"I can help," he responded so softly she wasn't sure she heard him right.

Bella was suddenly aware of Elizabeth looking at them warily. "Well, I better let you both get on with your evening. It was nice to meet you Elizabeth, I'll see you tomorrow Edward."

She drove home oblivious of what she was doing. She found herself in the garage and decided to talk to Billy about the weird feelings she had around Edward.

Billy was in the arena raking up the thick dirt floor. She couldn't remember how many times she had watched him do that exact thing along side her father. Only then did it dawn on her that he was probably missing Charlie as much as she was. After grabbing another rake she walked up beside him and started working.

"Want some company?"

"Sure, baby girl. What's up?"

"What do you think of Edward?"

He stopped raking and took a deep breath, "I have to say the kid does good work. At first I thought he was too young, but he seems to have an excellent work ethic. I can sure use him."

"Have you noticed his eyes?"

"His eyes?" Billy chuckled.

"Yeah, he has really freaky eyes. They look almost unnatural and not just the color; they look like they belong to an old man or something."

"Well," he hesitated, "As long as he works hard he can have any ole damn eyes he wants."

Bella huffed in irritation and said, "Forget it; I'll just talk to Sue about it. Men are clueless."

"What?" he demanded, "Just because I don't stare into a young man's eyes, you get pissy with me?"

"I said forget it," she walked off angrily.

"Hey, Bella?"

She turned to look at Billy in exasperation. "What?"

He turned sideways and pulled on his ear, "Don't my ears look like they belong to a French woman?" He doubled over in laughter and Bella grew angrier.

"Bite me!" She said and stalked off in a huff with the sound of Billy's laughter ringing in her ears.

"You're not the first woman to say that to me," he yelled after her.

The week pretty much followed the same pattern. Edward showed up after school and worked on the roses along the fence. After eating dinner with Bella and Billy he would jump on his bike and ride home. On Friday he asked what time he needed to show up Saturday morning.

Billy jumped into the conversation. "I need help loading some stock for Casper. Do you think you can help me with that?"

"Billy," Bella brought his attention back to her, "do YOU think he can handle it?"

Edward didn't like being talked about and thought he at least deserved a chance. "I'm strong, and I listen really well," he demanded, "I can do it."

While Edward was looking away, Bella raised her eyebrows and gave Billy a stern look. He got her message and tried to reassure her he wouldn't do anything to hurt the kid. Edward filled with pride when Billy told him to show up at the arena by eight o'clock Saturday morning.

"Make it nine and I'll let him stay and watch a movie," Bella smiled at Edward as he looked at Billy hopefully.

"Fine, as long as I don't have to stay. I'm not interested in watching 'Finding Nemo' or 'The Incredibles."

Edward growled in frustration and crossed his arms over his chest. Bella laughed at how easily he became offended over his age. With a mother and two sisters he must have to deal with a lot of babying.

After doing dishes she made some popcorn and showed Edward the collection of DVD's. He seemed fascinated by her father's collection of old black and white movies.

"Can we watch this one?" he asked as he tossed her a DVD.

Bella looked at the cover and looked back at Edward. "Twelve Angry Men?" She raised her eyebrow suspiciously. "You don't have to prove anything to Billy."

"I know," he said angrily. "I really want to watch it."

Bella sat and stared at Edward for a minute slapping the DVD case against her leg. "What's going on here?" she finally asked.

"I want to watch a classic. What's wrong with that?" He said in defense.

She took a deep breath and narrowed her eyes. "Edward, do you get along with kids your age?"

He looked at her in confusion, his eerie eyes boring into her.

"I mean, you seem so mature for your age and I wonder if other boys have a hard time understanding you." She tried to explain without hurting him further.

"I don't care if they do." He was defensive now. "I like me, so I don't care what others think."

She noticed how his words sounded like something he had to say often as she felt awful for bringing the subject up.

"I'm not saying they wouldn't like you. You are a very likable person, Edward. I was just curious if you had close friends."

His demeanor seemed to relax a bit. "I have always been around adults. I guess I relate better to them, but yeah, I have friends."

Bella decided not to push it any further and stood up to put in the DVD. The sound of a car honking as it pulled up behind the house caught their attention.

"Just a second, Edward, I'll be right back." She headed out the sliding glass door.

Edward watched through the glass as Bella hugged a woman who looked to be around her age. She was large, not heavy, but tall with an hourglass figure. In comparison Bella seemed like a child next to her. They spoke for a few minutes and then headed to the house.

"Edward, this is my friend Jessica. We went to high school together."

"Are you babysitting?" Jessica asked without acknowledging Edward.

"No," Bella hurriedly answered. "Edward is my friend, he works with Billy."

He noticed how she put him into a totally different category than what he really was. He knew he was a kid that she took pity on and offered him a job. But he couldn't help but feel happy at the way she introduced him. He extended his hand to shake Jessica's.

"You have to come with me to Sud's tonight. They are having an awesome band and I know the lead singer."

Bella looked at Edward and he expected her to begin making excuses for ending their movie night, but instead he saw panic. She was afraid to go to Sud's and he wasn't sure why, but he felt the need to rescue her from Jessica's proposition.

"Um….my mom is working all night, so I guess Bella really is kind of babysitting me."

Jessica glared at him and turned back to Bella, "Come on, we won't be out late. He can stay here alone for a few hours."

"No," Bella insisted, "I can't do that, maybe another time."

"Fine," Jessica whined. "But you can't refuse next time….promise?"

Edward didn't like her. She was pushy and clearly didn't care about her Bella's feelings since she seemed oblivious to her obvious discomfort. He was watching Bella closely trying to see if she needed him to intervene again. She was looking back at him, as if he was where she was gathering her strength. It made him feel good, like she needed him.

After half an hour Jessica finally left. Bella's hands were shaking as she tried to go back to the DVD. Edward walked over and took the case from her hand. Instead of putting the disc in the player he walked back to the couch and sat down. Bella sat on the fireplace seat looking stunned.

He took a deep breath and began talking softly. "I want to be a doctor when I grow up… I have to be. I have to so other kids won't lose their father's to heart disease like I did. I was home alone with my dad when he fell to the grass as he was mowing. I tried to help him, I did the best I could but his heart was so damaged nothing could be done."

Tears began to form in Bella's eyes as he continued.

"It wasn't a total surprise, he had been having chest pains, but he called it heartburn. He should have said something so I wouldn't have to relive it over and over again."

He looked at Bella and took a deep breath.

"My mother needs me to be the man of the house; even though she's seldom there. It hurts her too much to be home….I think. At least that is what I tell myself. because it is easier to believe than to think she doesn't want to be around me."

His eyes were filling with tears now too, but he kept going. He sensed Bella needed to hear his pain in order to let go of hers.

"I can't relate to kids my age because most of them don't understand loss. I do." He looked at her and let his own tears fall freely down his face. "I do," he repeated.

She nodded. "I got divorced recently." She noticed Edward's eyes widen in surprise. "I lived in Texas with my hus…ex husband. He was very abusive."

Edward noticed a shiver run through her when she mentioned the relationship.

"The hardest part is trying to forgive myself. I never thought I would be that person, you know? I never said anything, and I have to relive it over and over again, too."

He nodded.

"How can I go out with other men if I can be so weak?"

He waited.

"I don't want to be afraid, but I am."

He smiled softly.

"I'm not ready. I'm just not ready," she sighed.

"There's your answer," he finally spoke. "If you're not ready, don't do it."

Her face blushed as she looked into his wise eyes. "How did you get so smart?" she teased.

He shrugged without smiling. "Unfortunately, wisdom comes from experience."

"Okay, stop," she insisted. "Now you're freaking me out. Are you sure you are not a thirty year old man trapped in a teenager's body?"

"I wish," he mumbled too low for her to hear.

He opened the DVD case and took out the disk. He walked over to the machine and loaded it before heading to the kitchen to get the popcorn. They watched the movie with an unspoken understanding of each other's pain. Edward wanted to feel needed, and Bella wanted to feel safe.