AN: This was written as a collab with kyla713 for the Fandom Gives Back Autism Speaks Fundraiser back in March. Thanks for those that donated to such a worthy cause. Thanks once again to kyla713 for a chance to work with you. Enjoy!
Your name- ericastwilight and kyla713
Title- P.S. Love always
Original or FF- ff – Edward and Bella
Any pertinent warnings or information- n/a
Hi, my name is Edward. I'm eight years old and in the third grade. I'm excited to have a penpal and hope you are, too. I like computer games and reading and playing with my dog, Buddy. What do you like to do? Do you like school? I don't. I can't wait to grow up and never have to go to school again. I can't wait for Christmas next month either. What did you ask for?
Write back soon.
Looking down at my newly written letter, I give a nod of satisfaction and raise my hand to tell the teacher I'm done. When Mr. Banner told us three days ago about this project, I wasn't looking forward to it. What can I, a city kid from Chicago, have to write about with a kid from a place I'd never heard of in Washington? Who names a town after a utensil, anyway?
But when I went home and told Mom about it, she started telling me about a penpal she had when she was a kid in a whole other country, and how much fun it was to learn about other places. So now, I'm really excited about it.
The teacher takes my paper and folds it into the envelope with my name and address on it, telling me I'm free to go to recess. Since it's snowing out, I make my way to the gym and sit in the corner, writing out the thoughts in my head. This is something I need to do everyday.
What is he going to be like? Would he like the same things I do? Does he play sports, which my mom never lets me do, saying I'm still too little? How different is it to live in a small town?
"Look at little Edward, writing in his diary again like a little girl," a familiar, taunting voice meets my ears from across the gym, and I look to see James and his friends laughing at me again.
"It's not a diary, it's a journal," I say defiantly, bringing my knees up to my chest and closing the book. There is no way I'd let him see what I wrote; he'll beat me up for all the funny pictures I draw of his mean face.
"Dorkward," James calls back, beginning to walk toward me. "Are you writing about your feelings in your diary, Dorkward?"
"My name is Edward," I growl, angry tears forming in my eyes and I hate it. Why does he always have to pick on me?
"Aw, are you gonna cry now, Dorkward?" James says and pretends to rub his eyes like a baby. "Gonna run home and tell Mommy?" He and his friends laugh, and he rips my book from my hands.
"Hey, give that back!" I yell, standing up quickly and grabbing for my journal that he holds way up over his head. "It's mine!" It's so far out of my reach, not even jumping helps. I hate being so short.
James continues to laugh and my fists clench at my sides. He's been picking on me since my first day of kindergarten when he pushed me face first into the mud and broke my glasses, and I'm tired of it. I let out a yell and charge toward him, knocking him to the floor and sending my journal flying from his hands. After only a few swings of my own, he flips us over and his fist meets my face. Oh, that's gonna leave a mark.
"Boys, stop it! Stop it, right now!" Principal Wellington yells at us, running across the gym and pulling James off me while Mr. Banner picks me up off the floor. "Both of you in my office. Now."
I sit in the office with an icepack from the nurse resting against my new shiner, feeling sick to my stomach while I wait for my mom to come out to take me home. I know how much trouble I'm going to be in for getting suspended, especially when Dad gets home. I've never been in a fight in my whole life, but I know my parents are going to be so mad at me.
Voices start to rise inside the door and I hear my mother's coming closer until she steps out of the office. "This boy better get the same punishment then. Let's go, Edward."
"Your boy threw the first punch," a rough looking man wearing a red and black flannel shirt, who I assume is James' dad, snarls at my mother and I feel her hands rest on my shoulders. "James was defending himself. Teach your kid some restraint, lady."
"Edward has never been in any kind of trouble, and if you ask me, bullying a little boy is a far worse offense," Mom calls back as we walk out the door, mumbling under her breath as we step outside. They are words I don't think I'm supposed to hear, I think.
I've never seen my mom this mad before and she doesn't speak again through the whole ride home. When we arrive, she tells me to sit on the couch and wait for my father to get home. I hear the clicking of the second hand while I watch it go around, thinking that 5:30 will never come.
But it finally does and I feel the tears in my eyes when my dad pulls into the driveway. My mom meets him at the door like she does every day, but this time, they are whispering for several minutes before coming into the living room. They sit across from me on the other couch and my dad leans forward, folding his hands in front of him.
"Edward, we are very disappointed in you," Dad begins calmly. I nod and look at my lap, twisting my fingers together. My stupid eyes start to sting even more. I will not cry, I will not cry. "What's gotten into you? Why would you hit that boy?"
"I'm sorry," I mumble and hang my head more. "He took my journal and called me a girl. Then he called me Dorkward, and made me really mad."
"Your mother and I with handle that with your principal, but it's no excuse," he says and shakes his head. "Next time, you go to a teacher."
"Yes, Dad," I reply with a nod and look up to see my mother waving me over to them. I stand up and my dad slides over to make a space between them for me. When I sit down carefully, I feel my parents arms come around me. "I hate being a dork." I feel my face flame with color as I say this, something that always happens when I'm embarrassed or mad.
"You are not a dork, sweetheart," my mom says softly and kisses the top of my head. "You're a very smart, wonderful boy. And we love you very much."
"I don't want to be smart," I cry, pushing my glasses up my nose. "I wanna have friends." This time the tears come and I let them. I know that my parents won't make fun of me for crying.
Their embrace tightens around me and I lean against my mother chest. "Well, pretty soon, you'll have your penpal, right?"
I open my eyes and look up to see my mom smiling down at me, and I'm relieved. She isn't too mad at me, and I finally remember … my penpal. Who wouldn't know me or see my dorky glasses, or how short and skinny I am. And my excitement starts to grow again. "Yeah, I will."
I did get grounded for a week for my fight with James, but I don't mind. Instead, I keep checking my mailbox every day, waiting for my first letter to arrive. Thanksgiving passes, and there is still no letter, when other kids have already gotten theirs and written back already.
Until December 10th. I come home from school and my mom is waiting at the door with a blue envelope in her hand, waving it with a smile. It's finally here! I run up the stairs to take it from her and hurry to my room, ripping it open as I jump on my bed.
Finally, my friend!
I pull out the matching blue paper inside and excitedly begin to read.
Hi, my name is Bella, and I am eight years old, too. I go to Forks Elementary and I'm in the third grade. I was very happy to get your letter and can't wait for you to write back.
I love baseball and play shortstop, and everyone thinks that's weird because I'm a girl. I don't have a computer, but my mom and dad got me a Super Nintendo for my birthday and I love Mario Bros. I hope I get more games for Christmas. I hate school, too, especially math. But my parents say I have to go because I want to be a vet when I grow up.
So, what are you like? Do you have brothers and sisters? I have one brother, Emmett, and he's ten. And he picks on me all the time.
Hope you write back soon! Can't wait to hear more about you.
A girl? I got a girl? All the boys in my class got other boys who are really cool. And I get a girl?
I stomp downstairs and into the kitchen as my mom is setting my after school snack on the table.
"It's a girl, Mom!" I wave the letter at her. "I got a girl!" I yell, sitting down hard in my chair and banging my head on the table. Why did this happen to me? "I knew this was gonna be stupid!"
"What's wrong with her being a girl?" she asks as she slides a plate in front of me. I sigh and look up at her. The stupid letter is stuck to my forehead and I pull it away from my face angrily. "You like your cousin, Alice, don't you?"
I grumble something not very nice under my breath that my mom makes me repeat. "Like I have a choice," I mumble. "She smells girly, gives me a headache and tries to paint my toenails!" I make fists and pound one on the table. This makes my mom raise an eyebrow. I apologize before I continue my rant. "And everywhere she goes, she leaves glitter behind. Do you know how long it takes me to wash out that stuff when she sleeps over?"
My mom smiles and asks for the letter. I look at her and then at my letter. It's stupid, but for some reason, I don't want to show it to her. Bella's my friend, and for now, she likes me, I don't want to share her. I hold the letter to my chest and this is when I notice that the paper smells—like grapes. I take a sniff and sigh, shaking my head at my mom.
"What is it?" she asks, curious. I get my innate curiosity from her.
"It smells like grape bubblegum," I whisper, refusing to meet her eyes. I hear her chuckle and ask if I'm going to write back.
"No," I say loudly. "I don't write to girls." I look at her and I can see that she's trying not to laugh.
"Whatever you say, honey," she says. "I can just get rid of that." She motions for the letter again but I just hold on to it harder.
"I can do it." I push up my glasses and I know I'm being stupid but I can do this by myself.
It's been five days since I got Bella's letter and I still haven't written back. I take it out of my desk drawer and reread it for like the hundredth time. We have nothing in common.
She may be a girl but she does things that boys do. Like baseball, which I can't play because my mom thinks that I'm too small and the baseball would hit my glasses and smoosh them to my face. I roll my eyes and read the part about her brother. I wish I had a big brother. Someone that had to play with me, no matter what. Just like I have to play with Alice when she comes over.
Bella's very lucky to have someone that can be there for her. She also wants to be a veterinarian, which means she's not allergic to animals like I am. I'm allergic to a lot of things—except my dog, thankfully—and I really hate it. It's another thing that makes me different from everybody else.
I've always known I was different. I learned how to read and do math before I even started school. When I was four, I had to take a test and the man said I was really smart for my age. But I'm also small and underweight. My hair sticks up and is this weird red color. That's why kids like James and Marcus always pick on me. I'm an easy target.
Not anymore, though; I won't let them. If a little girl can play shortstop in a sport that mostly boys play, then I can stand up for myself. I won't tattle either, because only a baby would run to tell a teacher.
I look at Bella's letter again and decide that I should write back. It would not be nice for me to ignore her, even though it took forever for her to write back to me. If anyone at school asks about my penpal, I'll tell them all about her, but I won't tell them that she's a girl or even her name. That's my secret. They'd call her my girlfriend, and laugh at me even more, even though she's just my first friend that happens to be a girl.
I slap my palm to my forehead because this is still stupid. Once I find my notebook, I open it to the first page without any writing on it. I reread Bella's letter again and try to think what to write. She likes baseball, but I don't play it. I won't tell her that because then she'll think I'm a wimp. Which I'm not, I don't think. She has a brother and I don't. She likes her SNES but said she didn't have a computer, which is just dumb. Doesn't everyone have a computer?
I feel bad, because maybe she doesn't have a lot of money. Still, I have Mario Bros and I like it, too. When I reread the part about getting picked on by her brother, I wonder if it's as bad as when James picks on me. Shouldn't her brother protect her, not pick on her? I know I would if she was in my class and some stupid boy like James tried to hurt her.
Then again, if she was in my class and she got one look at me, she'd run. All the girls in school either ignore or laugh at me. I don't really care, since most girls are dumb. But as I read Bella's letter, I know she's not like them. None of the girls in my class would play baseball or video games; they only like to giggle about stupid things and play with dolls.
I don't know how long I've sat here, trying to find something to write about. I'm totally clueless for the first time in my life. If I ask my mom for help, I have a feeling she'll make me write stupid things like "Bella is a pretty name" or "your letter smells nice."
I'm not going to write that. I run my hand through my hair as I try to come up with something funny or exciting to write about. After a half an hour passes, I see that I only have a couple of lines.
It's cool you play baseball and have such an important position. I don't play baseball but I'd like to, maybe I can next year. I don't have any brothers or sisters but I do have an annoying little cousin named Alice. She only likes glitter nail polish and the colors pink and purple. That's what makes her annoying. But she's my cousin, so I'd never pick on her.
Should I start with "Dear Bella"? What if she thinks I like her? I look at her letter again, pick it up and take another sniff. I really like the sweet smell of it. I scowl at the letter, reminding myself that this is still dumb. She started her letter "Dear Edward", even though I had started my first letter with "Hi".
I don't know what to do! I pull at my hair and cross out half of what I wrote, and then decide to start over. I put a big cross through it and rip out another piece of paper. I really hope it's not this hard every time I try to write to her. Then I remind myself again, that I'm only writing back to be nice, not because I want to get to know Bella.
I'm not sure how much longer I've been sitting here, but soon, I hear my mom calling me. I open my eyes to find that I fell asleep. I didn't finish Bella's letter! I wipe the drool from the corner of my mouth and see that there's some on her letter. Oh, man. I try to wipe it off, but it just smears my writing. This sucks! I have to rewrite it. I pull at my hair again and wonder if it's always going to be this hard to talk to girls.
"Edward," my mom calls again as she knocks on my door. Her eyes are wide. "What did you do to your hair?" I shake my head and turn to look in my mirror at the mess I've made of my stupid hair. Sure enough, it's sticking up at every angle.
I bite my lip and try to decide if I should tell her the truth. "I'm trying to write back to my penpal."
"Oh," she says and she looks surprised but pleased, too. I haven't said anything about the letter for a while now. "How's it going?"
I point out my hair and roll my eyes. "How do you think, Mom?" I let out my breath loudly and pick up Bella's slightly wet letter. It's as good as it's going to get. "I'm going to rewrite it a little neater then it should be okay."
"I'm happy to hear that," she says. "I have to go to the store in a bit, we can stop at the post office, if you'd like."
I swallow and nod. "May I pick out the stamp?"
Thirty minutes later, we're going down the aisle at the local grocery store and I see something I want to get. I pull on my mom's sleeve and point at them. She only raises her eyebrow in question but sees that I'm not going to say anything about it.
"All right," she says, waving her hand. "You can get them."
I smile and grab the pack of scented pens. "They're not for me," I clarify to her. She smiles and as she continues down the aisle, she starts to hum some song.
When we get to the post office, the lady behind the counter shows me a bunch of stamps to choose from. I pick one of Babe Ruth and hope that Bella knows who he is. When I get Bella's letter ready, I put the pack of pens my mom bought at the store inside the envelope.
My mom clears her throat from behind me to get my attention. I look up at her and I can feel my cheeks blush. "Yeah?"
"Weren't there six pens?" she asks, smiling.
I nod and shrug. "Must've lost one," I mumble.
"Maybe I should look for it in the car."
"It's okay," I say and seal the letter so my mom can't check which one is missing from the pack.
"If you're sure."
I nod again and walk to the counter to give Bella's letter to the lady. "Will she get her letter by Christmas?" I ask her.
She gives me a smile and nods. "She should. It's nice of you to send her a present." I blush again and nod, refusing to meet my mom's face. I know she's laughing, I can hear her whisper something to the lady before she leads me out of the post office.
Finally, I sent Bella a new letter. Now the waiting starts again.
I stare out the window above my desk, watching the heavy, February snowfall. I wonder if it's snowing like this in Forks, my thoughts falling on Bella again, as they do a lot. We've been writing letters back and forth now for two years—sometimes two a week, if the mail is quick—and I've found that it's really not that bad having a girl penpal.
While the other kids in my class had lost touch, or interest, with their penpals, I turn to Bella for everything—advice, comfort, or just someone to talk to, and she always seems to understand. And I look forward to every single, multi-colored letter she writes me, with the scented pens I send her every chance I get.
My eyes fall to my pencil cup at the corner of my desk, with only one pen in it—a purple, grape scented one, the same one I'd snuck from the package with that first response I'd sent her. Beside it is the small school picture she sent me last year in a tiny frame—she's pretty, for a girl. Aside from her letters, they are the only things I have that I can touch to remind myself that I have a real friend, even if she's miles and miles away.
"Edward, the mail's here," my mom calls up the stairs and I swear there's a dust cloud following my feet as I run from my room and down the stairs.
My smile widens as I spot her holding a yellow, bubble mailer and I anxiously rip it open on the spot. I reach inside and pull out the familiar blue envelope, a tinier white one, and a woven bracelet with long loose ends.
First, I open the small envelope, and a folded Valentine falls out with a puppy on the front that looks like Buddy.
You're a doggone good Valentine
Then I open the blue one and sit on the couch to read, after my mom tells me to get my shoes off the cushion.
Hi, how are you? I'm doing good, but it's been really cold here since Christmas. I really can't wait until Spring. Rain is always better than cold and ice, and I won't have to wear my ugly hat and mittens anymore.
I know it's not Valentine's Day yet, but my dad brought me home a box of them tonight and I wanted to give the first one to you. I always have to give them out to people that I don't like, and I wanted my first one this year to someone I do. That and we were making friendship bracelets in art class today, and I made a green and black one for you. And I wanted to make sure it got there on time, even if it is stupid. I hope you like it, though.
So have you learned anything new on the piano lately? My dad said next year, I can play an instrument in school, but I don't know which one. What do you think?
Talk to you soon!
Valentine's Day is still a week away and I really haven't thought about it yet. It's always been just another day to me, except for spending the night before at the dining room table with a class list and a box of paper cards. Writing names on each one that don't know or even like me. But Bella is my friend, why haven't I ever thought about sending one to her.
I run my finger over the ridges and bumps of the friendship bracelet she made in my favorite colors and sigh. I want to do something nice for her, too, but I have no idea what. A pack of pens won't cut it this time.
"Mom, can we go to the store?" I ask and she comes around the corner, wiping her hands on a dishtowel.
Mom shakes her head and replies, "Honey, it's really bad out there. Maybe tomorrow."
"Please, Mom. I have to get something for Bella. Look!" I hold up the valentine and the bracelet, and she walks over to look at them with a smile.
"I have a better idea," Mom says and I look at her curiously. "Why don't you make her something, too? I'm sure she'd really like that. And you just got your school pictures in, why not send her one this year?"
I wrinkle my nose and shake my head—there's no way that's happening. There's a reason I've never sent her my picture. Girls don't like short, skinny boys with glasses and a stupid retainer, that soon enough, would be exchanged for braces. And even though I know that Bella isn't like most girls, I still don't want to lose my friend. "No way. Those pictures are stupid and ugly, and I need to get her a card, too."
"Edward, your pictures are very nice, and she sent you one. It's only fair," she says with a raised eyebrow and then sits down next to me. "You can make her a card, too. You draw so beautifully."
I sigh and my cheeks flush. I know my mom is biased, but she also really likes the stuff I draw—it's all over the fridge and covers the wall by her desk in the office. "Fine."
Mom rustles my hair as she stands to leave and I groan, but I don't really mind. It's not like she can mess my hair up any more. I collect my things from Bella and go back upstairs, grabbing my sketchbook as I pass my bed. I pull out a page once I sit down at my desk and begin to sketch, losing hours as I draw her a purple rose.
Once I finish with her card, I sit and think—what else can I give her for Valentine's day? My eyes land on my electric piano and then widen.
Of course! I can play the piano for her and put it on a cd, since my keyboard is hooked up to my computer! Just before bed, I slide the cd and card into a bubble envelope to send back to her, and write a quick note to her on my stationary.
Thank you for the card and the bracelet. I really liked them. They aren't stupid at all, and I'm gonna wear the bracelet every day.
I would have gone out to get you a card and a present for Valentine's Day, but it's snowing really bad and my mom couldn't take me. School's already been cancelled for tomorrow because of it. So I made you a card with a purple rose on it, since I know you like purple, and a cd of the new Beethoven piece my piano teacher taught me. It kinda sucks, but I'm still practicing and just learned the last part a couple days ago. And it's the only way I can think of to play for you. And, by the way, I think you should try the flute.
I hope you like them, and Happy Valentine's Day!
P.S. I am also sending you one of my school pictures.
One week passes without a letter from Bella … I get nervous.
Two weeks pass … I'm freaking out. Did she think my presents were stupid? Or she finally saw what I look like and got grossed out? Stupid, stupid me. I knew I shouldn't have sent her one!
Three weeks pass … I'm really worried and I decide to not wait for my turn. I sit at my desk, grab my stationary out of my drawer and begin to write as soon as I get the paper to the surface.
I'm really worried that I haven't heard from you in so long. Is everything okay? I hope you're not sick or anything, or didn't like my presents or my picture. Hope you still want to be my friend.
Another week passes before I finally spot the familiar blue envelope buried among our mail. "It's Bella! It's Bella!" I yell through the house and run to my room, sitting on the floor just inside the door and opening her letter.
I'm sorry I have written you to thank you for the card and the cd, and your picture, too. My dad got a frame for me to put it in and everything, and I love the cd. I listen to it all the time and it's really helped me.
The reason I haven't written lately is because right after I got your letter, my mom got real sick and had to go to the hospital. She died last Tuesday and my dad, my brother and I are very upset …
The letter fell from my hands and onto the floor as I felt tears in my own eyes, looking down at the marks on the paper most likely caused by hers. Her mom was dying and I'd been stupidly thinking she just didn't like me anymore.
I grab the letter and hurry back downstairs, finding my mom on the couch, reading. I run over to sit next to her and hug her tightly around the waist. I could never imagine losing my mom. Just the thought of it terrifies me. To never feel her hugs and kisses anymore, or have her tuck me into bed at night. Or feel her hand on my hair, comforting me when I'm upset, like it is right now.
"Bella's mom died," I answer her before she can ask and I feel her hug me tightly. "I need to call her, Mom."
"But baby, you need her number for that," my mom replies, kissing the top of my head.
I hold the letter up to her and her eyes widen. I've never shared the contents of my letters from Bella with her before, but this is important. I watch as she reads the bottom of the letter.
I really wish you lived closer. I have no friends to talk to and Emmett is always gone over to his best friend's house. I know he's sad, too, but even having my big brother around right now would be better than nothing.
If it's okay with your parents, do you think you could call me? If you can't, I understand. I'd just really like someone to talk to.
"Please, Mom. My friend is really sad," I plead with my mother and her eyes meet mine. Then she reaches for the phone, dialing the number at the bottom of Bella's letter and handing it to me.
I should be nervous, but for some reason, I'm not. I think it's because she needs me. The shrill of the ringing stops suddenly as a timid, shy voice says, "Hello." And I know it's her, because I can hear the pain so clear in her voice.
"Bella," I say, sounding more like an unsure whisper.
"Edward," her answering sigh is so sweet and filled with relief. "I knew you'd call me."
"There's nothing else I'd rather do than to talk to you," I whisper, this time unwavering in my support. At least I hope so.
A little sniffle tells me that she's been crying and I can feel the lingering sting in my own eyes. My mom brushes her hand over my hair and kisses my forehead.
"Take as long as you'd like, honey," she says before leaving to give me privacy.
"Is that your mom, Edward?" Bella asks softly.
I sigh and nod, even though she can't see me. "Yes, that was her."
"Tell her I said thank you for letting you call me."
"I will, Bella." The silence that follows is brief before she cuts through it with a small sob.
"I miss her," she whispers.
"I know, Bella," I say, running my free hand through my hair. I don't know what to say to her, but I know that I can listen. "Do you want to tell me about her?"
She giggles softly, an unexpected sound. "She always smelled like vanilla and fabric softener…"
For hours, I listen and talk her through a rough day. I hear someone—her father, most likely—call her for dinner. "Thanks again for calling, Edward."
I feel my face heat up as I try to buck up the courage to ask her something. "Do you think," I mumble and freeze for a few seconds.
I clear my throat and continue, because this is Bella and she's my friend. She'd never do or say anything to hurt me. "Do you think I can call you again sometime?"
The silence after my question is so long that I stop breathing as I wait for her answer. "I'd like that very much."
I smile to myself and even throw a hand in the air. I actually now have a friend I can call that's a girl. That's so cool!
It's been weeks since the first time I called Bella. Sometimes, when my mom thinks I'm doing homework, which is usually done way before then, I'm actually on the phone with Bella. I know I shouldn't be sneaking around, but like my letters, it's personal.
I didn't get a chance to call her after school today because she had a baseball practice and didn't get home until late. Which means it will be even later when I call her since we're in different time zones. I have to sneak downstairs to call her, and luckily, she has a phone in her room.
Dinner is unusually quiet and I look at both my parents, who look excited about something. "What's up?" I ask with a mouth full of mashed potatoes. My dad raises an eyebrow; his silent way of saying, he didn't appreciate seeing my dinner while I spoke. I grin sheepishly and shrug.
My mom clears her throat and primly wipes her mouth before speaking. This is her way of showing me by example. Parents, jeez! "Well we wanted to discuss our vacation this year with you," she says. I start bouncing in my seat. Usually they always pick where we go, since I was too young to voice my choice. But not anymore.
"I know!" I say, smiling. "May we go to Forks?"
My mom smile falls, and bites her lip nervously. Oh no. The face tells me that she hadn't expected to hear that from me. I had wanted to go to Disneyworld for a long time now. I drop my gaze to my plate. I didn't want to hurt her feelings. "It was just a suggestion. How about Disneyworld?"
My mom shakes her head and gives me a small smile. She knew I would rather meet Bella than dumb old Mickey Mouse. "We can go during Memorial Day Weekend for a few days. How does that sound?"
I grin because I just had a wonderful idea, except I first need to check with Bella. "I can't wait to tell Bella," I say, digging into my food again. I've been really hungry lately. "May have seconds, please?"
Later, I call Bella when my parents send me off to bed. "Edward?" I can barely hear her, so I know she's keeping her voice down so her dad doesn't hear her. "How was your day?"
I could lie and tell her that everything went great. But it didn't. James managed to lock me in a dark janitor's closet until Aro, the custodian, found me. "I got locked in the closet again."
"Oh, Edward," she says. "You need to do what I said."
"I promised my parents I wouldn't get in a fight again," I reply.
"Then tell a teacher," she says loudly. "I don't like that he keeps doing this to you. If I came there, I'd march right up and give him a right hook."
I smile, because she says this all the time. Even from miles away, she always makes me laugh. "You'd break your throwing hand."
"You're more important than playing baseball," she whispers. I blush, and thankfully, she can't see me. I know she doesn't mean for it to sound like I was more than her friend.
"Thank you," I say, coughing for no reason. "Um, I wanted to ask if you know where your dad is taking you for vacation this year."
"Well, spring break he has to work since his deputy went on leave. So we're not going until the end of May."
"Do you know where?"
"He said he'd like to take me to California. We haven't been to Disneyland since I was six."
I huff and sigh. "You don't think he can take you to Disneyworld instead?"
This time, she sighs deeply, whispering her answer. "We can't afford that kind of vacation."
I keep forgetting that Bella doesn't have as many things as I do. In fact, she had to spend all her Christmas present money from her grandparents to buy a CD player to hear the Valentine's CD I made her.
"That's okay," I say. "I didn't mean … you know …"
"I know you didn't, Edward."
"What I mean to say is that my parents are taking me to Disneyland, too!" I'm lying, and hopefully she won't hear it my voice.
"Really? When? Oh my gosh," she says, a little too loudly. "Are we finally going to meet?"
"I hope so," I whisper. We arrange for another phone call when we both have more information on our vacations.
I'm going to meet Bella Swan. Sweat breaks out over my forehead after we hang up. I'm going to meet Bella Swan. I whoop loudly and run upstairs. There at the landing is my mother, with her arms crossed over her chest.
"Explain, please," she says sternly.
"I had to talk to Bella," I say, ducking my head down so she'd know I was sorry.
"I see," she murmurs. "And what could you possibly have to talk to her about at eleven at night."
I twist my hands and fingers, trying to decide how much to tell her. "She's going to Disneyland for vacation the same time we're going to Disneyworld."
"Hmm." She taps her finger on her chin, her lips still in a thin line. "I suppose we can see about going there, instead. We might even be able to stay a few extra days, too."
My gaze snaps to her. "Really!" I run up the last of the steps and tumble into her arms. "Thanks, Mom."
We're at the hotel, waiting for Bella and her dad to arrive, her brother having decided to stay in Forks with a friend instead—not feeling much like vacationing when his mom just died. I suppose I wouldn't either, if that had been me. And this trip was about Bella and I finally meeting each other, anyway. My parents are talking while they unpack our suitcases. I'm sitting on the edge of the bed, writing in my journal.
I'm nervous. I know Bella likes me on paper and over the phone, but will she once she gets to see the real me? I can't hide my red cheeks, or my allergies that have been acting up since we got here to California. I know the Bella that I talk to almost every day and write to twice a week would never do or say anything that can hurt me. I have to believe that she won't once we come face to face.
I really wish I didn't have to wear glasses—
I stop writing when I hear a knock on my door. It's late in the day, and we're all going out to dinner so we can make plans for the rest of the week. My mom and dad each give me a smile. "Would you like to get it?"
I shake my head, then immediately correct myself and nod. With a quick look in the mirror, I know I'm looking my best. And then I mumble that I'm just being dumb, and that it's only Bella. When I answer the door, my eyes meet a wide chest. I gulp and look up into a set of dark eyes. I totally forgot I was going to meet her father, too. Gah!
My legs are telling me to run, but my heart says that I have to do this if I'm to meet his daughter. I swallow and slyly wipe my sweaty palm on my cargo pants. I extend my hand slowly and watch him raise an eyebrow.
"Hello, sir," I say. "I'm Edward Cullen." When he takes my hand but doesn't say anything, I continue. "Bella's friend." I think it's best to remind him that I'm her friend. His firm grip is a little tighter than should be appropriate, but I don't think I should call him on it. He, is after all, my girl … I mean, friend's father.
"Edward," he says in a deep voice. His face is clean-shaven, except for under his nose. He has a mustache, and I'm trying hard not to stare at it. "Are you and your parents ready?"
I nod and pull open the door wider so he could step inside. I look behind him and don't see Bella anywhere. "Where's Bella?" I ask stupidly. Where are my manners? I should introduce him to my parents first. I go to slap my palm on my forehead but stop myself just in time and run it through my hair instead. Play it cool.
"She's cleaning herself up," he says, smiling a little. "I think she's as nervous as you are." My parents both chuckle and the grownups start to talk among themselves.
"Is it all right if I go see her?" I ask once they finish talking.
"Sure," he says. "We're in the room right across the hall." I nod and rush to get my jacket on. When I leave the room, I hear Mr. Swan tell my parents about how helpful I've been to Bella. I smile, because I'm happy that our friendship is making this easier on her.
I knock, shifting my feet around as I wait for her to come to the door, which is cracked open slightly—most likely so her dad could still watch her from our room. "Come in," a pretty voice from inside says. Instantly, I recognize that it's Bella from all our phone conversations. She really shouldn't allow anyone to come in unless she's sure who it is. Determined to tell her this when I see her, I walk inside the room and exhale loudly as a tiny little thing collides with me, knocking me against the door.
"Edward!" she gasps and pulls me even tighter against her. I wrap my arms around her, noticing that she's almost as tall as I am. "Edward." This time she says my name so softly, with a small hiccup, that I just squeeze her tighter. Her hair is dark, like in her pictures, and long over her shoulders. And she smells like vanilla and something flowery but not as strong as my cousin, Alice.
"Imhfmm so adf yourfhere," she mumbles against my chest.
"So am I, Bella," I whisper, running my hand through her hair. It's now that I realize that I'm hugging a girl … who is not family, in any way. Then I hear someone clear their throat behind me. Bella and I jump apart and she squeaks, while I try to maintain a level of coolness by just avoiding our parents' eyes. Doesn't work for very long because I look up to see my mother laughing behind her hand, my dad with a strange crooked smile and Bella's father patting the side of his pants, probably looking of his weapon.
I swallow thickly and smile. "Mom, Dad, this is my best friend, Bella Swan," I say, hoping that this helps get me on Mr. Swan's good side. It's not like I'm dating his daughter or anything; I'm only ten. We're just friends. I feel small fingers slip into my hand, and I can feel the texture of string. I look down to see that Bella has a matching friendship bracelet.
"You're my best friend, too," she says, turning the bracelet so that I can see my name stitched on the underside. She faces my parents and gives them a little wave, blushing a pretty pink color. It's nice to know that I'm not the only one that does that. My parents introduce themselves and Mr. Swan—who insists that I call him Charlie but I know my mom would never approve of that—says we're going out for pizza.
We're sitting in the back of the rental car with my mom, who is doing her best to ignore us, but failing miserably. I start to sneeze—my allergies acting up again—and my mom hands me a tissue from inside her purse. I hear a small whimper beside me and my mom frowns. I turn to see Bella's bottom lip trembling. I know it can't be easy for her to see my mom and me together. I take her hand, giving it a little squeeze. She smiles and rests her head on my shoulder. "Thank you for being my friend," she says softly.
All through dinner, Bella and I hold hands or by our pinky fingers under the table. I learn even more about her, just by watching her. She's very smart. I find out that she's left handed, while I'm right handed. She excels in writing and reading, while my strongest subject is math. Though she enjoys video games, fishing with her dad and playing baseball, I can see that she is as far from boy as could be.
She's … pretty.
I feel my cheeks heat up and my hands start to get clammy again. She's pretty and I'm just plain, dorky Edward. Why hasn't she run yet? Is she just being nice? No, she wouldn't be here if she didn't want to be. She's the one that hugged me first. Though I doubt she felt the way I do, it didn't mean she'd hurt me. This new revelation is alarming, but it's also exciting. I've never liked a girl before. I liked Bella way before I knew she was as genuinely beautiful on the outside as she was inside.
Our parents are busy talking when we get back to the hotel as Bella disappears to go get ready for bed. She returns shortly afterward, in blue pjs with a couple of candy bars. While I supply our drinks of chocolate milk, she jumps on my pull out sofa. There's an all-night Jaws marathon playing and we decide to watch that. My mom stays with us while the "boys", as she put it, go down to the lounge.
Bella falls asleep after the first thirty minutes, curling up to my side. I look up at my mom as she turns down the television. "Are you going to tell her?"
I shake my head. "No," I snort. "She'll think I'm stupid or something."
"The little girl I saw and heard at dinner would never think that."
"I don't want to ruin anything by telling her something like that," I reason.
"Just know that I'm sure the feeling is mutual."
I shrug and hope my mom is right.
"Look!" Bella says as she points at the wild display of dancers and characters in the parade. We're sitting on the ground, watching all the colors and listening to the music. It's awesome and Bella hasn't stopped smiling since we arrived this morning.
We've been through most of the major rides, except for a few. Our parents thought we should take a break, have lunch and catch the parade. Bella's hand is in mine, her body in constant motion as she keeps bouncing in place. "Oh my gosh," she says. "Did you see that flip? That is so cool!"
"Do you dance?"
She shakes her head. "Only when I'm cleaning," she says shyly, and then giggles. "Last time, I knocked down lamp."
I grin and pull her up since the parade is over. We walk over to the little café where our parents have been sitting, watching us. "That was amazing, Dad," Bella says as she hands her disposable camera to him.
"I'm glad you're having a good time, kid," he says, before passing her a basket of fries and a turkey sandwich.
"The best," she replies, while looking at me. Mr. Swan turns his eyes on me, staring as if he can pull out all my secrets with just a look. "Dad!"
We just finish our lunch when we decide to Tomorrowland so we can ride Space Mountain. I'm really excited about this one because it's an indoor rollercoaster and it's dark. Bella and I take a seat together as Mr. Swan decides to sit this one out.
Bella takes my hand, which is weird, since she wasn't scared on the Haunted Mansion ride. "I don't think this is a good idea," she murmurs. "I can't see where we're going."
"That's the fun!" I say loudly as we hit the first dip. Bella screams bloody murder.
By the time we exit the ride, Bella's a trembling mess, but not crying. I'm supporting her weight, by wrapping an arm around her waist to hold her up. "I'm never riding that again," she grumbles, holding me tighter.
I laugh a little and hold my hand to my ear. "What? Can you repeat that? I can't hear you." My ear is still ringing from her freakishly loud screams. She scowls and slaps my arm, then surprises me. She kisses my cheek, lingering there for a few seconds before running toward her dad.
Bella kissed me. This is going down is the journal as the best day ever!
The rest of our stay in California passes in a blur. There's more hand holding, quiet whispers as she snuck in my room, hugs and sweet kisses. Enough that I think I fried some of my brain cells, because I can't think of anything else but Bella.
It's the last day and we're on the way to the airport. Our parents are talking amongst themselves while Bella and I are quiet. We have to say goodbye soon. Mr. Swan turns to look at Bella, his eyes snapping to our clasped hands for a moment.
"I think this is a trip we can try doing once a year, kiddo," he says to Bella.
"It would be wonderful to see you again, Charlie," my mom says.
"Really?" Bella asks, looking at her father and then at my mom.
"Sure," he answers. "Next time, we can go to the beach instead or something."
"We can rent a little beach house along the coast," my mom suggests.
"Maybe I can look into deep sea fishing in the area," Mr. Swan says, directing his words to my dad. Who I know, goes deep sea fishing twice a year.
"See," Mom whispers softly. "You two will see each other again." Bella nods, but doesn't say anything. She looks out the window, a tear slipping down her cheek. My mom encourages me to talk to her as she joins Dad and Mr. Swan's conversation.
"Bella," I whisper, taking her hand fully. "Are you okay?"
"Promise you won't forget me," she says, turning to face me.
"Never," I say as I squeeze her hand a little. "How could I forget my best friend?"
She smiles and rests her head on my shoulder. "I'll never forget you."
We arrive at the airport a few minutes later, and we're all in a hurry, getting all our bags out of the shuttle. Our flight isn't for another hour after we get through security, but Bella's is already boarding. She gives me a big hug, and I realize that she's really strong for a girl. Carefully, she presses a blue envelope into my palm.
"Don't read it until I'm gone," she says softly as she places a kiss on my cheek again.
I nod and stuff the letter in my back pocket. I take out the small gift I bought her in Disneyland while she was in the bathroom with my mom. "I bought you something," I say, blushing as I hand it to her. I hope she likes it. "Don't open it until you get on the plane."
She nods, looking up at me with big brown eyes. This time, I place a small kiss on tip of her nose. "I'll see you soon."
With her father leads her toward her gate, she looks behind over her shoulder and waves. I feel my mom pressing a tissue in my hand, having nothing to do with allergies.
"You can call her when we get home," she says. I shake my head because it isn't soon enough.
I pull out Bella's letter while on the plane and read it to myself.
Thank you for coming to California. You have no idea how much it meant to me. I'm so glad I finally met you. You are the sweetest and smartest boy I've ever known. Don't ever let someone make that seem like a bad thing. I never had the chance to show you how to throw a proper punch. Sorry. I'm going to miss you, telephone calls and letters are never going to be enough anymore.
P.S. Love always
I trace the letters of her name and sigh. I'm glad I gave her the locket I bought for her at Disneyland, instead of waiting for her birthday. Hours later, I run down the hallway to the living room so I can call Bella.
"I'm taking your suitcase to your room, son," my dad says as he runs up the stairs. "Your mom is grabbing the mail from Ms. Cope next door."
"Okay! I'm going to call Bella."
"Good, make sure they arrived safely."
I smile and sit down by the little table where the cordless phone is. I hear the front door slam, and moments later, my mom walks in with a handful of envelopes and flyers. "Are you calling Bella?"
"Yes," I say, picking up the phone.
"Tell her I said hello," she replies as she opens one of the envelopes.
"Is it okay if I make the call in another room?" I ask, hoping she doesn't wonder why.
She smiles and gestures for me to go into her office. I grin and run into the room, taking a seat behind her desk. I tap my fingers as I wait for Bella to answer. Before she does I hear my mom yell out my name.
"Edward!" she yells. "Three hundred and forty-three dollars in long distance!"
Oops. That's gonna be a lot of lawns to mow.
I haven't even started at this school yet, and I'm already sitting in the principal's office. About a week ago, my parents got a letter in the mail from the new high school I'm supposed to be starting in September, requesting this meeting "to discuss the results of your child's placement test," it said.
My palms are sweating and I feel like I might start hyperventilating at any moment. I try to run over every answer that I could remember giving on that placement test I'd taken at the end of the school year. I thought I'd done well at the time, but now, I'm worrying that I failed and they're going to tell me that I have to go back to public school.
No, please no. I can't go back there.
The door behind us opens and a jovial looking man steps in with a thick folder in his hands—and my heart starts racing all over again.
"Mr. and Mrs. Cullen, Edward. Thank you for coming in. I'm Dean Weber," he says with a smile as he steps behind his desk, extending his hand first to my parents and then to me. I nervously wipe my palm on my pant leg before giving him a firm handshake. "No need to be nervous, Edward. You're not in any trouble."
I let out a heavy breath of relief and feel my mom's hand on mine as my elbow lowers back to the armrest.
Dean Weber settles into his chair and slides closer to his desk, opening the folder and handing my parents each a packet of papers. "These are the results of your son's placement test in June. And I'm wondering if you've ever considered having his IQ tested?"
My eyes widen and I swallow hard—is he saying I'm stupid? I never thought I was anything extraordinary, but I never thought I was dumb. And my mom and teachers have always told me that I'm "special", but now I'm beginning to wonder exactly what they mean by that.
"When he was younger, yes. My wife and I have thought about having him retested on occasion, but felt it might be better to wait until he's a little older and more mature," my father replies and I turn my stunned gaze to him. He thinks so, too?
"I only ask because in my ten years as Dean here, I've never seen results like this in any ninth, or even twelfth grader," he says, folding his hands in front of him on the desk. "To put it quite plainly, your son is going to be bored out of his mind if we try to put him in even AP classes in the ninth grade this year."
Both of my parents look to him in surprise and I glance over my mother's shoulder to the paper in her hands, and feel my stomach drop out.
"As you can see, Edward performed at an eleventh grade level throughout almost the entire test, with the exception of math, which he did at nearly college level," the dean continues to my stunned parent's—and a stunned me, as well. "Your son is exceptionally gifted, and while technically, we could push him up to his senior year and he could do just fine academically, that would cause him more harm than good socially. Remaining close to the age of your peers is vital at this age. But I think Edward would benefit immensely, academically speaking, to advance him an extra year."
I don't comprehend anything else that is said throughout the entire meeting, sitting there dumbfounded. He's saying I'm smart, freakishly smart. Great, just what I need—one more thing that makes me different from everyone else.
After the meeting, my parents take me out for lunch and it's obvious that they are bursting with pride, and I do my best to appear as if I share in their enthusiasm. When in all actuality, I'd like nothing more than to crawl under the table and hide. Or better yet, go home and talk to Bella.
Over the last four years, so much has changed. Every summer we go on vacation with Bella and her dad, just as my mom suggested after our trip to Disneyland. We've gone to the beach, and to the desert—where I found that my allergies were significantly decreased—and even visited Bella in Forks this past summer, with her father being unable to afford a trip this year. It was fun, but weird at the same time.
Meeting her friends was awkward, but nothing compared to meeting the brother I'd only ever heard about, as he'd always opted to stay behind in Forks with his friends, rather than go on vacation with Bella and their father. His eyes looked me up and down as he towered over me, his arms folded over his chest. Gone was the ten-year-old that Bella had complained about in her first letter to me, and in his place, stood a massive sixteen-year-old, making no secret in his body language that nobody messed with his baby sister.
Sitting at dinner one night, he must have caught me staring at Bella across the table because he leaned toward me and whispered, "Not a chance, dude."
As if I didn't already know that. I've always thought Bella was pretty, but in the last six years, she'd begun to progress to beautiful. Her hair has thickened and acquired more red highlights, her cheeks losing any trace of baby fat from her childhood. And I'm fourteen … I've begun noticing other things, too.
Her body is developing curves— and amazing ones at that—in her waist, thighs, hips and butt. And her breasts, while not overly endowed, accent her frame perfectly.
Like I said, I'm fourteen and a guy. I can't help but notice things like this, even when it is my best friend. All the more reason for me to bury the feelings I have for Bella that have only grown in the last few years.
No girl like her would ever really want a guy like me, at least not as anything more than what we were—best friends.
I'd come to that startling conclusion even more this past summer when Bella and I were sitting on the rocks by the beach, watching her friends play volleyball.
"Am I ugly, Edward?" she asks me with her eyes lowered to her lap.
My eyes widen as much as they can, unable to imagine how she could think such a thing. "Heck no, Bella. You're beautiful."
The moment the words leave my mouth, I feel my face flame and I clear my throat, nervously adjusting my glasses. She looks over at me and gives me a nervous smile. "Then why don't boys like me?" she mumbles softly and then looks back to the game. "Like Mike, for example."
My gaze follows her hand as she points to a shirtless blond guy on the sand, high-fiving one of his friends.
"I've had a crush on him for like ever," Bella says, emphasizing her words. "But because I don't have big boobs or I don't put out or something, he doesn't even notice I exist." She takes in my shocked expression and rolls her eyes. "Yes, Edward, even in a small town like this, I'm still one of the few remaining virgins in my grade. Sad, but true. So, what is it?"
I look into her questioning eyes for a moment before she leans her head on my shoulder. "You're perfect just the way you are, Bella. And if he doesn't see that, he's not worth it."
"Thanks," she murmurs quietly, hugging her arms around mine and turning her face up to look at me. "Even if you have to say that because you're my best friend, thanks."
Bella gazes at me for several seconds, looking thoughtful before shifting on the rocks she's sitting on it to face me more directly.
"Have you ever kissed a girl, Edward?" she asks out of the blue, and I'm too stunned—and embarrassed, though she should know I haven't—to answer. "I'm only asking because, you know, we are starting high school in a couple months, and neither of us is with anyone. I think we should make one of those pacts. That if we're not married or at least involved with someone by the time we're thirty, we get married."
"Bella, you're only thirteen," I sigh, breaking my gaze from hers.
"Fourteen in September," she corrects me.
"Even so, I don't think you have to worry about that for a while."
"So, you wouldn't marry me?" she asks, folding her arms over her chest, looking remarkably like her brother at that moment. "Is there something completely unmarriable about me?"
"No!" I reply, shaking my head insistently. "I was only saying that I don't think you have to worry about it right now. That's all."
"If I don't worry about it now, then someone else will get you first," she replies and I glare at her sarcastically. "Don't you start with me, Edward Cullen. You're everything a girl could ever want. So will you marry me … in sixteen years?"
I give her a small smile and a nod, even though I know it will never happen. By the time she reaches thirty, she'll be married with at least two kids already—and it won't be with me.
"Okay, now we have to seal it with a kiss. And it's totally binding because it's both our firsts," she replies, leaning forward a little and closing her eyes.
Bella's lips purse as she waits and I feel my heart leap into my throat, the sweat beading on my forehead and it has nothing to do with the humid June weather. It's my first, and only, real kiss with Bella Swan –my best friend, my dream girl—and I'm totally unprepared.
I swallow hard and slowly move forward, accidently bumping her nose with mine and groaning at my clumsiness. I'm ready to pull away when her eyes open and her hands come to my face, holding it between them as she firmly pecks my lips with hers.
"There, now you're my future, maybe-husband," she smiles and returns her head to my shoulder to continue watching the game.
Even though I knew it was just a silly pact, I was nervous about how awkward things would be between us afterward.
My fears have been quelled now, since nothing has changed in our conversations, and she'd even gotten over her crush on that Mike kid since he made fun of me in front of her, and she subsequently punched him in the groin. Yeah, that even hurts me a bit to think about, but reminded me that I'm just as important to her as she is to me.
However, I learned this summer how to throw a proper punch. James still won't look me in the eye to this day.
When we finally arrive home after the meeting with the dean, I race up to my room and close the door for privacy. While I'm pulling my phone out to call Bella, I notice my message light flashing with a text from her. Since the massive phone bill that took me all summer to work off, my parents and her dad arranged to get us each phones on the same plan; thereby avoiding minute overages and long distance charges ever again. And texts are nice as well when we can't actually speak to each other.
Go check your email. 3
I sigh heavily. I really just want to talk to her, but I know she'll expect me to have read it when I finally call her, and I don't want to disappoint her. So I start up my computer, and it seems to take forever for it to load, but my patience is just thin today.
I finally get my email open, and as usual, the only new email I've got is from Bella.
Guess where I'm writing to you from. My room! My dad got me a computer for my birthday and hooked it up for me early so I'd have it ready for school. Might be easier to talk at night now without waking up Dad, Emmett or your parents. Yay!
P.S. Love always
I manage a smile at our own quirky way of signing our letters/emails/etc. that she'd started years ago, while dialing her phone.
"Hey! Did you check your email? Isn't this awesome?" Bella's excited voice comes through after barely a ring.
"Yeah, that's really cool," I reply with another attempt at enthusiasm today. While I am really happy for her and excited about the computer, the day's events are just wearing on me.
Bella is really quiet for a moment before she releases a small sigh. "I thought you'd be happy."
Her voice sounds sad and I run my fingers through my hair, a nervous habit I've developed over the years. "No, I am, Bella. Really. Just still getting over the meeting with the dean."
"Oh my God!" she gasps and I can hear her hand clap over her mouth. "That was today? I'm so sorry! I feel like a complete idiot now!"
"Don't. I haven't made a big deal out of it, and I don't expect you to remember every little thing I ever tell you."
"No. You're my best friend. I'm supposed to remember these things," she replies sharply, leaving no doubt of her frustration with herself before her voice calms again. "So how did it go?"
"Not good," I sigh, lying down on my bed and staring up at the ceiling. "They want to push me up a grade."
"Um," Bella drawls and I hear her bed creak as she sits on it. "Am I missing something here? Isn't that supposed to be a good thing? Like, you're wicked smart or something?"
"Yeah, I'm 'wicked smart or something'," I reply sarcastically, rolling my eyes in disgust. "Apparently, even too smart for high school, but no one wants to damage my social development. Like it makes a difference. I thought going to a new school, where no one knows me, would be a good thing. But they're all gonna know what a freak I am, too."
"You are not a freak!" Bella shrieks and I have to hold the phone away from my ear at the volume of her voice. "And you know I hate it when you say that!"
"I know. But Bella, what 'normal' person aces a high school placement exam? I just thought things would be different this year," I mumble, picking at the leg of my dress pants.
"Edward? You remember this summer when you told me that I was perfect just the way I am?" she asks and I hum in response. "Well, so are you. 'Normal' is boring, and I wouldn't have you any other way than as you are. You're my Edward, and I love you."
"Always?" I ask with a small smile. Even though I know she doesn't mean it in the way I'd like her to, it's still good to hear … and just what I needed.
"Always always," she replies and I hear the genuine smile in her voice.
And that makes everything so much better.
BellaMarie913: Sorry, just got home and I can't stay on long
My brow furrows as I look up from my homework to the incoming message on my computer. I set aside my notebook and turn toward my monitor.
EAC620: Everything okay?
BellaMarie913: yep. I'm just going out tonight and have to get ready.
EAC620: oh okay. Cool.
I don't even attempt to mask my disappointment. The stress of my senior year is piling on me; having to already be considering career choices and colleges, all in preparation for life itself and the pressure is overwhelming. And talking to Bella always helps and is the one thing I looked forward to every day. And while I should be happy that she took the time to at least say hi before leaving, I can't help but feel a little upset that she isn't going to be there tonight.
BellaMarie913: Are you okay?
EAC620: Yes. Why?
BellaMarie913: because you only give short, clipped answers when you're upset about something.
EAC620: I'm fine.
The cursor continues to blink on my screen and I begin writing my essay again. After several silent moments, my cell rings and lights up with Bella's name.
"Hello?" I answer, holding the phone between my shoulder and my ear, continuing to write in my notebook.
"Okay, have you completely forgotten who you're talking to here? I don't need to hear your voice to know when something is bothering you," she said, her voice carrying an almost scolding tone. "I know you inside and out, better than you know yourself sometimes. So spill it. What's wrong?"
"Nothing. I have this huge essay due on Monday anyway and gotta go down to the college tomorrow to start my registration for the fall," I reply, trying to sound as non-chalant as possible. "It's Friday night, you should go out."
"I'm sorry, Edward. But Jake asked me out for tonight at the last minute after practice today and—"
"Wait. Jake? Is this a date?" I ask, fully alert now and losing all restraint on my tongue.
"Well, yeah," Bella says as if it should be obvious. "I'm sixteen. Did you think I was never going to date or something?"
"You know, I just wanted to come home and tell my best friend that I have a date tonight. With a really nice guy that I really, really like. And I thought I could count on you for some encouragement or moral support. But I guess you're far too into your brooding male phase to really care. I'll talk to you tomorrow, I gotta go."
The call disconnects with a snap of her phone, leaving me stunned at the suddenness of her outburst. And admittedly, a little hurt.
I've expected Bella to start dating … someday. I just thought there would be more warning signs, something to prepare me for the inevitable. But more than that, it's her biting words and the way she hung up on me that stings the most.
I've always known that there would never be anything more between us than friendship, but it doesn't stop the ache I'm feeling in my heart right now. And childish as it may be, there is only one thing that will help me at this time.
I walk downstairs and sit down on the couch, leaning my head on my mother's shoulder. "Bella's got a date."
I don't need to say anything else—she knows exactly what that means. She always does. Her arms come around me and she strokes my hair.
"I'm sorry, honey," she whispers softly and kisses my forehead.
When I open my eyes again, the room is dark and under my head, there's a pillow in the place of my mom. A blanket is draped over me and the cable box reads 1:32 am.
I sit up and stretch a little before quietly making my way upstairs, past my parents' bedroom and into mine. My screen still lights up the room, but before I can turn it off, I notice there's a new email waiting for me.
I'm really sorry about blowing up at you earlier. I was really nervous about my first date with Jake, but I shouldn't have taken it out on you. Please don't be too mad at me. I don't know what I'd do without you.
P.S. Love always (always!)
Before I can even think of replying, I shut off my screen and turn to climb into bed. Still half-asleep from downstairs, I easily fall back under.
The next two days are the longest of my life. Bella has tried emailing, texting and calling me numerous times, but between everything I've had to accomplish, as well as still sulking a bit, I haven't replied. But when all is said and done, I miss her. Even just the sound of her voice, or knowing she's on the other end of the messenger online talking to me, is a comfort I've come to rely on.
It's Sunday night and I'm lying on my bed, staring at the screen of my phone, with Bella's number highlighted on it.
What are you waiting for? This is Bella. You're going to have to talk to her again at some point. She's your best friend.
Taking a deep breath, I press the call button and listen as the phone rings three times—just enough to make me nervous—before she picks up.
"Edward Cullen, where the hell have you been? Do you have any idea how worried out of my mind you've made me? I thought you were lying dead in a ditch somewhere or something. I was this close to starting to call hospitals and the police."
"My parent's would have called you if I was," I point out, even though I know she hates it when I get super technical about things.
"That is completely beside the point!" she bellows and pauses for a moment, and I swear I hear a sniffle. "If you didn't want to talk to me, an email would have sufficed. Or a text. Or even smoke signals, I am really not picky. Just something to let me know you're okay."
"Bella, are you crying?" I ask in astonishment when her voice cracks slightly at the end of her statement.
"No! I'm mad!" Bella yells back but her speech is still trembling. "Fine, maybe a little. But that doesn't make me any less mad! You had me really scared, Edward. Don't ever do that to me again."
"I'm sorry, Bella," I reply, sincerely feeling awful for what I'd obviously put her through. "Are we okay?"
"I don't know. Are we?" she asks nervously, and I swear I hear her bite her lip.
"We are. With me, anyway," I say, holding my breath until I hear Bella release hers.
"With me, too," she replies and I feel relief rushing through me.
We've survived our first big fight. And as I listen to the details of her first date, I know we can survive anything. I'll endure anything, as long as she is happy.
It's May, and my upcoming finals are consuming my mind almost completely. College exams, even for the menial classes I've been taking the last two semesters, are exceedingly more demanding than anything I endured in high school. And I've studied more in the last couple weeks than I ever have before.
So much so that I don't even notice that the sun has set until my mother flips on my desk lamp when she brings my dinner up to me.
"Can't go straining those eyes, honey. Or you're going to have to put your glasses back on. And don't forget to bring your plate downstairs before you go to bed, which won't be too late, right?" she states more than really asks, and I nod with a 'yes, Mom'. "Goodnight, sweetheart."
"Goodnight," I reply distractedly with my eyes back on my textbook, before placing a forkful of food in my mouth.
Just as I finish studying for the following day's Advanced Calculus final, my phone begins to vibrate and dance on the surface of my desk. I look to find that I've received a text from Bella before noticing that it's already 11:30, and I haven't called her yet.
"Damn!" I hiss under my breath and open the simple message.
You busy? I really need to talk.
Without giving it a second thought, I call her, worry already creeping into me. Even in the simplicity of her message, I know something is wrong.
And it's confirmed with the soft, teary 'hi' that comes through when she answers. "Are you okay?"
"Not really," she replies softly, and my chest tightens at the sadness in her tone. "Jake and I broke up."
I feel my eyes widen with her statement, and I am suddenly at a loss for words. Bella and Jake have been dating for a little over a year now, and despite her admissions to me about her worries that she hadn't wanted to have sex with him yet—which was both torturous and relieving to hear all at once—they seemed to have a good relationship. They got along well, and rarely fought. It doesn't make any sense, so my concern only doubles. "What happened? Did he hurt you?"
Bella sniffles with a sad laugh. "No, nothing like that. We parted on good terms, and I honestly think he's more broken up about it than I am tonight. We just realized tonight that he's far more there than I am. How's a relationship supposed to progress like that? I care about him so much, I really do. But kissing him is like kissing my brother, and I still don't feel anything sexually. Maybe I'm broken or something."
"No, I don't think you're broken. Maybe Jake's just meant to be a friend, you know? I think once the right guy for you comes along, you won't have any problem," I reply gently, attempting to comfort her.
"You think that 'right guy' will make an appearance in the next two weeks?" She sighs heavily as she speaks, and my heart starts pounding.
"Oh no," I reply, driving my hand into my hair as I lean back in my chair. "Prom."
"Yeah," she says in an even softer voice. "I can't exactly just not go. I mean, I have my tickets already, and my dad got me my dress. He even rented a limo for me, Edward. Which I know he really can't afford, even with Emmett not living here anymore. But Jake's not gonna want to go to prom with his ex-girlfriend, when it's not even his school or his friends. And a girl going to prom stag is really pathetic, but I'm not stooping low enough to go with Mike. I'll leave that to Jessica."
"Oh God, Bella," I sigh, at a complete loss for words yet again. Bella only rants without stopping for breath when she's really upset about something. She'd never hinted at all that prom was this important to her, and I really don't know what I can say to comfort her except, "I wish I was there. I'd go with you in a heartbeat."
Well, that sounded stupid and pathetic, Edward. Like she can't do better than you, I curse internally, and only kick myself harder when I hear her laugh through the phone.
"I know you would, Edward. And I'd accept in a heartbeat, too," she replies and the smile on her face is audible in her voice again, and I begin to relax somewhat. "Thank you. I just really needed to hear your voice tonight. You should get some sleep, it's late there."
"No, it's okay. We can talk for a little while more, since I didn't call you earlier," I mumble after stifling a yawn behind my hand at the mere mention of sleep.
"You have your big Calculus final tomorrow, and you need your sleep. Gotta get good grades if you're gonna be transferring to Seattle next year," she teases, and it's really good to hear—as well as the reminder of what I was studying so hard for.
After many conversations with both Bella and my parents, I decided to apply for a transfer to UW in the fall, to both be closer to her and start on my computer science degree. She wanted to remain close to her father, while still obtaining some independence, and I just wanted to be where she was. So UW makes the most sense in the end—we could always transfer later if the need arises.
"All right. But if you need me for anything, I'm just a call or a text away, got it?"
Bella laughs softly, giving one last sniffle. "Got it. Goodnight, love you."
"Love you always," I reply and she whispers the customary "always always", before we whisper the final goodnights and hang up.
I set my phone back on my desk and grab my dinner plate, taking it down to the kitchen as my mother had requested hours ago. I feel so bad for Bella, having to go to prom all alone, but there is little I can do all the way in Chicago.
Gazing at the large doorway in front of me, I begin to wonder what I was thinking when I called Chief Swan the next day after my final. But the moment I spot her, I remember exactly what I was thinking.
Bella was upset about going to the prom alone, and Emmett had called me with an almost desperate plea.
"Dude, don't let my sister do this alone. This is one day she shouldn't have to worry about anything, and if there's anyone I know I can trust with her, it's you."
So I called the Chief and began making plans for this night, struggling when I talked to her in order to keep it a surprise, even though it broke my heart to hear her so down. Even now, surrounded by her friends, she still looks somewhat sad … as well as absolutely gorgeous.
Her white dress makes her look like an angel, while still short enough to show off her sinfully beautiful legs. Her hair is swept back from her face, and hanging in long curls down over the skin exposed by her open-back dress.
Her father bought that? I can't help but think to myself.
I feel the eyes of Bella's friends on me before I even see them whispering to her and pointing in my direction. She turns her head over her shoulder, but before I can so much as wave, she turns away and shrugs to her friends.
One of the girls begins to walk toward me with a wide—and obviously fake—smile on her face. "Hey, gorgeous," she simpers and I give her an odd look, glancing around briefly, certain she's not talking to me. But when I look back to her, she hasn't moved and is looking directly at me. "What's a tall drink of water like you doing at this prom?"
The music begins to play loudly in the banquet room again, and I lean toward her ear to speak to her so she could hear me. "I'm here to see Bella."
Her eyes widen as she turns her head toward me slowly, holding up a finger to me and running back to the small group and speaking into Bella's ear.
Her head snaps in my direction and I can barely make out her exclamation of "What?" before turning back around.
Then, as if the entire world shifted on its axis, her body visibly freezes and she turns back slowly to look at me. I take a deep breath and smile, giving her a small wave and her hands come up to cover her mouth. With one step taken more quickly than the last, she makes her way across the room toward me with tears in her eyes before leaping into my arms and wrapping hers around my neck.
"Oh my God, Edward. What are you doing here?" she cries into my shoulder, hugging me tightly and instantly erasing any misgivings I might have had before this. The smile on her face, the happy tears in her eyes and feeling her in my arms dispels any doubt; this was the right thing to do.
After making the rounds with her friends—with all of them giving me blank stares and gaping jaws— Bella brings me out to the dance floor and sways in my arms to the slow tempo of the music. I'm sure she can feel my heart pounding against her cheek where it's resting on my chest, and I try to focus on not stepping on her feet in my nervousness.
"Okay," she says suddenly, lifting her head to look up at me. "Now that you've completely rendered my friends speechless, and me as well, what are you doing here? And what happened to you? You were barely taller than me just last summer. And where are your glasses?"
If not for her smile that is illuminating every one of her beautiful features, the bombardment of her questions might have made me a little more uneasy. But there's wonderment and fascination gleaming in her eyes, and pure happiness—something I'm sure she hadn't felt much of over the last few weeks. "Well, for one, I didn't want my best friend to have to go to her prom alone. And as for the rest," I reply with a shrug. "Growth spurt and contacts."
Bella pauses in her motions and raises an eyebrow at me. "You got contacts and didn't tell me?"
I chuckle at her jokingly appalled tone and secure my hold around her hand on my chest. "I wanted to surprise you when I came to Seattle this summer."
"Well, you definitely accomplished that," she laughs, resting her cheek back on my chest again. "You look good. Really good. And I'm really glad you're here, Edward. Thank you."
"You're welcome, Bella," I reply, hugging my arm around her waist.
Most of our conversation throughout the evening passes quite naturally, until we decide to take a walk outside to escape the stuffiness of the banquet hall. Her fingers wrap around mine and her head rests against my arm as we move along the sidewalk, until she lifts our joined hands with a chuckle.
"I can't believe you still wear this and it's not cutting off your circulation yet."
Bella's fingertips run over the friendship bracelet she sent me for Valentine's Day when we were ten and then hugs herself against my side. "I suppose there's some benefit to having such skinny wrists."
She gives a soft laugh but it dies quickly and her grip tightens on my hand. "Edward, can I ask you something?"
"I'm pretty sure you just did, but of course," I reply, to which she furrows her brow for a moment, and then laughs and rolls her eyes.
"You're still a virgin, right?"
The suddenness of her question briefly subdues the embarrassment it should cause as I gaze at her. But not for long and I feel my neck and face blush furiously, and my eyes shift away from her. "You of all people would know if I wasn't."
"I'm sorry, I don't mean to embarrass you," Bella says apologetically, sliding her arm around my waist. "Just … do you ever think it's just never going to happen?"
"Bella, I'm seventeen and already in my second semester in college, and probably the only male in my class still living at home with my parents and not going to 'keggers'. I think that pretty much speaks for itself," I reply with a heavy sigh.
Bella is silent for a moment before she reclaims my hand and leads me over to one of the stone benches outside the hotel. "I've done a lot of thinking over the last two weeks. What went wrong with my relationship with Jake, why I just never felt right even discussing sex with him. Why even kissing him felt awkward," she pauses, turning toward me. "And then, I think about this. How in sync we've been with each other since we were kids. That even though we only see each other five or six days a year, you are still the closest person to me. I can talk to you about anything and I can trust you with my life. And I was thinking about, when you come out to Seattle this summer…"
I look back to her as she drifts off and her eyes are gazing at me questioningly, and I feel mine widen. My heart starts pounding in my throat at what she seems to be insinuating and I shake my head. "You can't be serious. That's not the way it should happen for you."
Bella's head lowers and I notice the pink tinge beginning to color her cheeks under the lights from the hotel. Her tongue moistens her lower lip before she takes it between her teeth and she releases my hand, folding her arms around herself protectively. "Sorry, it was just a stupid idea. I know you don't think of me or want me in that way. I just know that you'd never hurt me and I can trust you."
"Bella, believe me, I want to," I reply, leaning toward her and she trembles with a shiver. I take off my jacket and lay it over her shoulders, wrapping my arm around her and closing my eyes as I kiss her forehead. "I just think you'd end up regretting it happening like that in the long run."
Bella's head rests on my shoulder and she leans against me more. "I don't regret you being my first kiss."
"That was a peck and hardly counts as—"
"You were the first boy I ever kissed besides my father and my brother, and that's only on the cheek," she interrupts me, tilting her head up to look at me. "I don't want to start college as a virgin, but I also don't want to end up sleeping with some random guy that I don't care about at some campus party or something. That, I would regret."
I ponder what she's said for a moment, looking down into her eyes. I know, in many ways, she's right. I couldn't bear to hurt her, even if my life depended on it. Nor could I bear the pain it would cause her if she chose the wrong person, ruining it for her completely. She would be safe with me; I know she'd be cared for. My only worry is that I will end up falling more in love with her than I already am, if that's even possible.
"Okay," I reply when I finally find my voice, taking a deep breath and rubbing her arm through my jacket as the damp air around us begins to seep into our skin.
"Do you think it could be tonight?" she asks nervously with her fingers tracing along the fabric of my tie. "I know I wasn't expecting you to be here tonight, but I don't think I could pick a more perfect night for this."
My stomach lurches into my chest at her request, and I swallow hard against the nervous lump in my throat. I definitely thought I would have more time to prepare for this, with my move to Seattle still weeks away. But one thing I've always had difficulty doing in all the years I've known her, is telling Bella no—but I know there's a problem. "Bella, we're not prepared for this tonight. At least, I know I'm definitely not."
Her eyes lower from mine with a nod, appearing a bit dejected before her head snaps up again. "Oh, you mean…" she trails off, looking at me meaningfully and I nod. "Edward, it's prom at a hotel. They are practically handing them out as door prizes. Better safe than sorry, you know? And besides, my friends were trying to convince me to go out and get 'lucky' earlier. And as you could see when you arrived tonight, I really wasn't in the mood."
I watched her hands as they opened her clutch purse, holding a sealed condom between her fingers and then quickly closing the clasp again as a group of people walked by. I drew in a deep breath and gave a silent nod, and her hand took mine to lead me back toward the hotel—to my awaiting room there.
"Can you zip me up?" Bella asks softly a half hour after we arrived at the room, as I'm sitting on the edge of the barely used bed in my simple hotel room.
I nod and stand up silently to zip up the back of her dress, too embarrassed to look her in the eyes. Even for the first time, it's humiliating how quick it was and I briefly even half wondered if she was still a virgin after it all. But even now, as I finally look up, there are still hints of tears in her eyes; so I know it had to have hurt, even if only a little, as she said. One falls down her cheek with her gaze remaining on the floor, and I reach out to take her hand. "I'm sorry, Bella. That it wasn't better for you."
"It was perfect," she whispers tearily, turning toward me and wrapping her arms tightly around my waist. "So perfect."
"Then what's the matter?" I ask worriedly as I hold her against me. I will never understand girls or their unpredictability; of that, I'm sure.
"It's just so confusing, too," Bella says in a soft voice, lifting her eyes to meet mine. "It felt good, and right, and more than anything I felt with Jake in an entire year. What does that mean?"
"I don't know. But it doesn't need to be figured out tonight," I reply, trying to calm her. I know her emotions are most likely just as turbulent as my own after what just happened between us, and everything it could potentially change.
Bella nods and her eyes fall to my chest, her fingers coming up to knot my loosened tie. "When do you leave for Chicago again?"
"In the morning," I reply and watch her chin tremble as she attempts to nod again. I feel a sudden surge course through me and I lift her face with my fingertips, waiting until she looks up to me before speaking again. "We are going to be okay. I'm sure of it. And we'll figure it all out in a few weeks when I come back."
The most beautiful smile I've ever seen on her graces her lips at that moment and she slides her arms around my shoulders. As she lifts onto her toes, we embrace each other tightly for several minutes and I actually feel the words I have just spoken. No matter what, we will be okay.
"There's one thing I have to do," she says suddenly with a small laugh, releasing me and walking over to the bedside table. She shuffles through the drawer for a moment and then comes back to me with a small sewing kit in her hand. "Give me your wrist."
I furrow my brow as I lift one arm, but she smiles and grabs the other, sliding the small scissors beneath my worn friendship bracelet. Just as I'm about to protest, the blades snip through the threads and it falls into her palm, her fingers closing around it and holding it to her chest. "Why'd you do that?"
"Well, for starters, it was way too tight, even on a 'skinny wrist'," she replies and then looks down to it, twirls it around her finger and presses it to her lips. "And I think we're way beyond friendship bracelets, at the very least, aren't we?"
"If that's the case," I reply with a small smile in return, taking the scissors from her hand and slicing the matching bracelet from her wrist as well. I repeat her motion of bringing it to my lips and kissing it gently.
The fingers of her other hand wove into the hair at my neck, slowly bringing my lips to meet hers in a tentative, but lingering kiss.
We certainly did have a lot to figure out.
And figure it out we did.
I arrived in Seattle a few weeks later, and once my parents had said their goodbyes to me in my dorm room and headed to the airport, Bella and I went out for dinner and had the anticipated, very long, talk we'd known needed to happen in person. Neither of us wanted to rush into anything, but even that conversation was easier with one another than either of us expected it to be. And within a few months after college began, we decided to date each other exclusively.
During my last year in college, as she'd already received her Veterinary Associates Degree, after four years of dating, I asked her to marry me—to which she promptly accepted.
And now, three years after our wedding in that small church in Forks, I'm kissing the damp forehead of my beautiful wife as our newborn baby's cries fill the delivery room. "You did it. I'm so proud of you, Mrs. Cullen."
"That name still hasn't gotten old," Bella replies emotionally, both smiling and crying at the same time as she tilts her head back and kisses me. "They're all waiting."
I nod, kissing her gently one more time. "I'll be right back."
Bella squeezes my hand tiredly before releasing me, and I hurry out to the hall leading to the waiting room, where our family anxiously awaits our baby's arrival.
"I got a girl!" I announce excitedly the moment I reach the door, instantly catching the attention of everyone, even the family members of other patients.
Our fathers and her brother clap me on the shoulder in congratulations, but my mother rises and walks toward me with a smile and tears in her eyes.
"Well, that's certainly more enthusiastic than the last time you said those words," she says with a soft laugh as she hugs me around the waist, and I feel my face heat at the memory of how angry I'd been when I first received my first letter from my penpal. And she turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me.
And as I sit, hours later, with my arm around my wife, and my fingertip running over the tiny hand of our daughter, I realize just how good it is.
"I love you," I whisper against Bella's temple, pressing a gentle kiss against it.
"Always?" she replies, exhaustion and elation in equal measure heavy in her voice.