We do not own Twilight; we only screw them up and change their hair color.

Dusty has been in the works for a long time. It's going to be consuming, beautiful, and catastrophic. Be ready to see the reality of American youth at its worst. This is not your typical fic.

Fall in love … do it.

LovelyBrutal is our Beta.

Fever Ray - Dry and Dusty: Never leave me, walk close behind me. Your hand, my hand, fits so easy. No tomorrow, let us stop here. We did some great things, didn't we?

Dry and Dusty.

Chapter One - Isabella Bliss

"Walk close beside me, Bliss." Mom looks down at me. She seems joyful … hopeful. She laughs. "You chose to have a banana popsicle for breakfast?"

I nod, following my mom through the parking lot. "You told me to grab something."

Her thumb rubs miniature circles on the hand she holds. "I meant morning foods, not sugar."

I shrug.

"But that's what I get for allowing a fifth grader to choose her own breakfast, right?" Mom does some more smiling and it feels like music and sunshine. "Come on, Bella, we're going to be late on your first day."

I hold my popsicle between my lips as Mom guides me toward the front doors of Forks Elementary School. The school seems so large to me. It feels impossible and threatening. Dad promises that everything will be okay, but what if it's not? What if they don't like me? I wish we never had to move. I wish my dad never got a new job offer. I miss my old school, with my old friends, and my old teacher. I miss my old house.

My popsicle is cold on my teeth.

"Wait here, baby. I'm just going to run in and grab some paper work." Mom is trying to act cool and easy. She's afraid for me. I'm her baby. Mom and Dad's only child. I'm their Isabella Bliss. So I'm trying to be cool and easy, too. Mom and Dad worry too much, and I can do this. I'll find friends. Maybe I'll tell them they have to be nice to me because my dad is the Chief of Police, and if they're not, he'll arrest them.

No, that won't work.

I can't see much of the school from its front entrance. I'm supposed to wait here, but I can hear them―other students. I bite the tip off of my banana popsicle and take a few steps in the direction of the noise. My pink backpack hangs high on my shoulders, and my clear jellies slip some in a puddle of water.

My toes are wet.

I take nervous baby-steps, but the closer I get toward the gate, the louder the noises are. Playing noises. Laughing noises. Comfortable noises. I lean one hand against a tree and peek on the other side of the building. Through the chain-link fence are all of my new classmates. I feel like an outsider and intruder. Before I realize what I'm doing, I'm standing directly in front of the gate's entryway, watching, studying, learning.

My popsicle is half-gone and Mom still isn't back. Yellow sugar melts down my fingers. My lips are cold and my tongue is numb, but I can't stop looking. I'm about to be thrown into the lion's den and all I ate for breakfast was a banana popsicle.

Bad choices.

"Do you really think that there is one single person in this entire town who's not going to love you, Bliss?" My dad said the night before. I may have cried. I may have whined, and I may have begged to move back to our home. Our home before we moved here five weeks ago. That home is so much better than this strange, cold, noisy home.

I'm not intruding there, but here, I am.

"Your new best friend is just waiting to be found, Bella," he said, patting my head.

"Yeah right, Dad," I grumbled.

"I'm serious, Bliss. There's someone in that school who was born to be your friend."

"Just one?" I smiled.

Last night Dad helped me feel better, and when I woke up this morning, while Mom was curling my hair, I felt good. I was determined and ready, but now, looking at all of these kids, I don't know.

I mean, is one person ever really born for another?

"Hey you, in the purple dress, move!"

I turn around and skip out of the way just as a crazy person zooms past me on her skateboard, almost taking out my toes. She skids to a halt and kicks up her board before she stomps in my direction.

She stomps. She doesn't walk. She stomps as if her feet weigh a hundred pounds each. She stomps like she means business, like she's going to run me over because I was in the way.

"You almost killed me!" the girl shrieks, closing the distance between us. "Don't stand there anymore."

"Okay," I say, leaning back against the fence. "I'm sorry."

She's in front of me, tapping her foot. She smells like chocolate chip cookies and playtime. It's early, but it's as if she's been up and sweating in the sun all morning long. Her cheeks are cherry-red, and her hair is long, board-straight, and dirty blonde. This skateboarder is awkwardly wearing a jean skirt. Her shoes are filthy, and the right one is wrapped in duct-tape. Her nail polish is chipped, and her shirt is brand-new and pink. In her hair is a bow, but it's there because someone told her to wear it; I can tell.

She's so pretty. So, so pretty. And she's fierce. And her eyes are the most crystal-clear blue color I've ever seen.

"I didn't mean to almost kill you," I whisper.

The girl just looks at me, tucking her board underneath her arm. Then she smiles, and so do I. "Are you eating a yellow popsicle for breakfast?" she asks, wiping her forehead with the back of her hand.

I look down at my popsicle and nod. "Yes."

"That's so cool. I wanted to eat cake for breakfast today, because it was my dad's birthday yesterday and we had chocolate cake last night, but Mom said no, so then I had to eat Frosted Flakes. Your mom is probably waaayyy cooler than my mom. Lucky. You're so lucky. I'm Alice Cullen."

She's a capsule of energy. I can hardly keep up. "I'm Bella Swan."

Alice is small and spunky and smelly and cool. She's cooler than me, but she's different than me, too.

"Sorry I almost ran you over," Alice kind of, sort of blushes. "But I was going so fast because my brother was being so mean, and I wasn't paying attention because my mom made me wear this skirt"—she tugs on the end of her jean skirt—"and then I looked up and you were there, and it was too late to slow down, and you almost died."

I shake my head, excited. "I didn't almost die. I moved, remember?"

Alice kind of, sort of smiles, but she isn't looking at me, she's looking at my popsicle. "Can I have that? I mean, are you going to eat the rest of it? I mean, because it's melting all over your fingers anyway."

I look down at my popsicle, and she's right, it's almost all melted. I really wanted it, but she can have it. "Okay," I hand it over.

Alice really smiles now, blowing her bangs out of her face. "Thanks." One of her front teeth is slightly chipped.

I have a feeling she's about to finish off the popsicle in one huge bite when a boy with a few other boys approach us.

"Alice," some boy says, "return the girl's popsicle."

The boy, with the same eyes as Alice, stops beside us. His friends, two other boys, walk ahead. This boy is tall and lean. He towers over me, or at least that's how I feel placed along side him. His smile is lopsided, and his fingers run through his messy hair at a steady rate. He's cute, I guess. I mean, I don't know. I like his eyes.

"I gave it to her," I say, adjusting my footing.

"Yeah, Edward. She gave it to me." Alice eats the popsicle in one bite. "So shut up."

Edward laughs loudly, pulling on the ends of Alice's blonde hair. She swats his hand away, but he pulls a piece in the back. "Nice skirt, Ally," he teases.

She drops the popsicle stick onto the ground and swings her skateboard at him. The dirty and worn pink wheels spin, spin, spin. The grip tape is starting to peel off, and the deck itself has been messily spray painted a dark green color with half-torn stickers all over it. But they laugh happy laughs; Edward dodges Alice's swings, but she isn't really going to hit him, they're just playing. I watch them, straightening out my purple romper, touching my hair to make sure it's in place.

When the two of them are done messing around, they come back to me. "This is my brother, Edward," Alice says, pointing toward the boy with the same color eyes as her. "He swears he's cool because he's a sixth-grader, but he isn't even that awesome."

Edward pushes Alice. "I'm cool." He laughs. "And I'm awesome."

Alice rolls her eyes, jumping back onto her skateboard. She does circles around me and Edward.

"So, you're new?" Edward asks.

I count the buttons on his flannel to keep from looking at his face. Alice is wrong, Edward is cool. He speaks kind of softly, and he's full of energy, too. He's kind of like her; they are the same.

"Yes, today is my first day," I say, trying to stand tall. I dare myself to look in his eyes, and when I do, I smile. He's kind.

"What's your name?"

"Isabella Bliss." I immediately palm my forehead. Only my parents call me that; it's embarrassing.

Edward looks at me for three seconds before Alice rolls by and hits him as she goes. "Well, ummm, I have to go."

"Bye, Edward," I say, trying to hide my face behind my hair.

Alice is doing kick-flips and tricks on her skateboard behind me. The sound of her pink wheels hitting pavement is already oddly rewarding. It's like I've heard the sound my entire life. Those noises are supposed to be with me. They will always be. I know it.

Edward hesitates before he walks away. He pushes his fingers through his hair, and says, "I like the color."

I smile and look around. I'm clueless. "Of what?"

He crookedly smirks, and his eyes light up. "Your hair. I like the color of your hair."

"Oh." I touch my soft curls. "My mom says it's called strawberry-blonde. I let her curl it for me this morning." I don't know why I told him that.

He laughs easy. "Your mom lets you to have sweets for breakfast and curls your hair for you in the morning? She sounds cool." He's walking backwards, slowly.

"She is," I answer, stuck in place.

"Well, see ya."

"Bye."

Edward turns around and begins to run toward his friends, but then he stops and faces me. "I really do like it." He smiles. "Your hair color, I mean."

I make a face. Why would he say that? What do I say back, I like your hair, too? Cause, I mean, he has cool hair; it's like brown and red or gold…

Is he making fun of me?

Edward's laughing, but it doesn't seem like he's doing it to make me feel bad. "Bye, Isabella Bliss."

I shake my head. "Bella. My name is Bella."

He nods and runs off, taking all of my embarrassment with him. Boys are weird, and they make me feel dumb. I wave goodbye before he's gone. Alice is still skating, and I enjoy watching her. I would never ride a skateboard, but it's kind of cool watching her do it. She's good, skilled. Alice has a few bruises on her legs and scraped knees, so it's apparent that she does this often. I like the way her hair flips when she hops onto her board.

"Bliss?" Mom calls for me.

Biting on my nails, I watch Alice for a moment longer before I run back over to my mom. She squints out into the parking lot, looking back and forth for me. In her hand is the paperwork she went into the office for. She looks over-worried and panicked.

"Right here, Mom."

Her face calms and she smiles, noticeably relieved. "I got your class number, baby. Where were you?"

"Over there." I point toward Alice.

Mom nods, taking my hand before heading toward the gate I just came out of. I want to talk to Alice more. I feel like she could be my friend. My only friend. I'm pulling on my mom's hand, asking her to wait. Mom isn't really paying attention to me. It's a mom thing: they're able to block out pulling, nagging, crying and whining.

We pass through the gate. Alice isn't really paying attention to me when an older man approaches her. He's pointing toward her skateboard, and by the face Alice is giving him, this isn't the first or the last time she'll be given grief about her hobby.

Alice quickly shoves the skateboard into her backpack; it mostly hangs out, but that doesn't stop her from putting her bag back onto her back. Alice is rolling her eyes, blowing her bangs out of her face. She nods and nods and nods … then she see's me.

"Mom," I groan, pulling down on her wrist. "Mom, stop."

"What, Bella?" She's flustered, more anxious about my new class than I am. Which is dumb. I'm the one spending the day in a new class, not her.

I point toward Alice, and she must understand because she truly smiles. Mom has a fresh face, but there are a few lines around her eyes that show when she is really happy about something, and they're showing now. "Did you already make a friend, Bliss?"

I nod.

Mom takes a good long look over at Alice, who is looking back at us. The man is still berating my new friend, but I can't see his face. He must be a teacher here, though. With his back facing my mother and I, he has his finger right at Alice's nose. She doesn't flinch, but he wiggles and shakes it as if he's saying: no, no, no. And: bad, bad, bad.

My mom exhales loudly; she doesn't believe in yelling at a child, or spanking, or pointing fingers. She believes in smothering and closely-watching, but never shaming. My parents never snap at me, and I've never been hit. My dad says it's an indignity that children are hit at all. He never tells me details, but he's a cop, and he's seen his fair share of "hit" children over the years. Whatever that means.

Mom and Dad are constantly reminding me about the importance of making "good choices," and "keeping in my own body space." That man is definitely not remaining in his own body space. He's being mean.

"That's it," Mom whispers, pulling me by my hand behind her. The bangles on her wrist jingle and sing. Her skirt floats behind her, and her curly hair bounces with her steps. I kind of trip over my feet because Mom is walking too fast and my jellies get slippery. "Do you mind explaining to me why you're yelling at this little girl?" Mom releases my wrist and points a finger in the man's face. "How do you like it, huh, huh, huh?"

Me and Alice giggle while the bald man with the ugly glasses stumbles over his words. "Well, you see, she's been told. Ummm, well..."

"Your mom is soooo cool," Alice whispers, taking my hand.

Her hand is yellow-sugar sticky and sweaty and hot, but it feels like home. It feels like it's going to be in this spot forever. It feels like maybe Alice was born to hold my hand.

.

.

.

After Mom finishes lecturing the man on how to appropriately treat a young child, she escorts Alice and I to our class.

"You can't ride that skateboard on school grounds, Alice," Mom says. "But if he ever talks to you like that again, just let me know." And after comparing Alice's class number with mine, she says, "Oh, look, you and Bliss are in the same class."

Yeah, Alice is my only friend and she's in my class. We're sitting right next to each other. The scent of chocolate chip cookies and sweat is beside me. Oh, and chocolate cake.

"You brought chocolate cake to school?" I ask when she offers me a some from her baggie. It's squished and squashed. It doesn't even really look like chocolate cake anymore.

"Yeah, I'm always hungry." She giggles. "Mom said I couldn't have cake for breakfast, but she didn't say I couldn't have it at all." Alice shrugs her shoulder like it's no biggie.

The other kids in class stare at me like I look strange or something. I don't. Mom curled my hair for me this morning, so I don't look strange.

Mrs. Perkowski, our teacher, introduces me as the newest student to have arrived to Forks Elementary School. I blush, they wave, and now Alice is offering me some of her left over cake. We share crayons when we begin our class work; she divides the crayons by giving me all of the girl colors: pink, yellow, purple, and turquoise. And she keeps all the "tom-boy" ones: blue, black, red, and green. We share orange because it's neutral.

I like the way she looks at me.

During our first recess, Alice sticks with me. I swing on the swings while she tries to chase boys.

"I can't run in this darn skirt!" Her face turns a light shade of red as she stretches out denim, ripping a few stitches.

At lunch I share my turkey sandwich with her. She offers me some of her peanut butter and jelly, but I tell her it's okay.

I meet some new friends:

Lauren: She's in our class. She's really pretty and really nice. She likes my purple romper, and I like her pink headband. I think she wants to be my friend, but we're both equally shy.

Garrett: He's in my class, too. He just said hey and that's it.

Leah: She smiles at me, and I feel bad because I don't tell her she has lettuce in her teeth. It would be rude to embarrass her in front of her friends, and I don't want her to hate me. She'll figure it out sometime during the day.

Jasper: He's shy, too, and I have a feeling he doesn't use his words too often, but he speaks with his eyes and it's comforting. He's best friends with Garrett.

Kim: She demands attention from everyone, and I don't know how I feel about it. She's friends with this girl Charlotte, and I don't think she likes me either.

After lunch, we're back on the playground and I see Edward again. He's out on the field playing soccer. Alice is busy throwing tater-tots she stole from the cafeteria at Kim, so I watch her brother run up and down the grass field. There are a bunch of other kids with him, kids who I figure are his friends. On the sidelines are girls; they smile and giggle and whisper to one another.

I think they're stupid. Why are they giggling at sweaty boys kicking a ball around?

The blonde boy kicking the ball back and forth with Edward smiles at the girls, but Edward's in his own world. His concentration on the ball is unbreakable as he rushes down the other side of the field with a trail of followers chasing after him. His hair falls in his eyes, he's smirking, and I wonder if he ever stops.

I stand at the end of the swings until Edward kicks the ball into the white net. He makes a goal, and the few people on his team all seem to be happy about it. The blonde boy who was flirting with the girls jumps on his back, and another boy with darker hair tackles the back of his knees until all three of them are on the ground.

The girls are clapping, still whispering and giggling. Only now, they point, too. They point at Edward and his friends, and it's odd to me. What's so special about him?

"Tater-tot?" Alice asks, popping one into her mouth.

I look away from her brother, into her eyes. She has a few freckles scattered across her nose and a small scar by her left eye. I wonder if she'll ever tell me how she got it. I wonder if she's going to be my best friend, because I want her to be. I wonder if she thinks I'm strange because I stare at her so deeply. I wonder if she realizes how hard it is not to look at her so closely.

"No thanks," I say, turning away from the soccer field, deciding that tomorrow morning I'm going to bring Alice her very own banana popsicle.

.

.

.

After my very first day of the fifth grade is over, I go home and call my dad and tell him all about my new school: "My teacher was okay, but she smells like peanut butter," and "Everyone liked my purple romper so I think I'll wear my pink one tomorrow," and, "I made this new friend but she's kind of different, and she sneaks chocolate cake into school in lunch baggies."

That's where he stops me, saying he'll be home from work soon.

When my dad gets home, I don't give him a chance to change out of his uniform before I'm talk, talk, talking about Alice Cullen again: "She has a skateboard and a brother, but she has a skateboard!" and, "She held my hand on the way to lunch today, and she shared crayons with me, and she threw tater-tots at this other girl because she said she was mean to her, and ..."

I go on and on and on. My parents are happy that I've found a person to bond with right away. I kind of, sort of tell them about Edward, but Dad gives me a funny look, so I ask him about his day instead.

Dad and I shared first days: his first day as the new Chief of Police, and my first day of school.

The next day I bring Alice a popsicle, and she brings me a piece of chocolate cake. It isn't smooshed either. She eats her popsicle right away, but I'll wait to eat my cake until lunch because I don't have a fork.

Edward looks at me like he wanted a popsicle too. Maybe tomorrow.

Alice and I become close in the weeks following the beginning of the school year. We're best friends, and despite our dissimilarities, we get along wonderfully. The more time that passes, the more comfortable we get. We're an odd couple, but that doesn't bother us. I like Alice the way she is, and she deals with my girly tendencies.

It's true, we're near perfect.

Everyday we have a sort of routine: Mom drops me off at the front of the school in the morning, and Alice meets me outside the gate where she can ride her board. Sometimes Edward is with her, sometimes he's not. I give Alice a popsicle, and she gives me whatever junk food she finds in her house before leaving for school.

At recess, Alice chases boys or makes fun of Kim, but I watch Edward play soccer. I've learned that his blonde haired friend is named Petey, and the dark haired friend is named Ben. He has a lot of other people he hangs out with, but those two are his closest friends.

They are his Alice.

Since meeting Alice and Edward, I've only spoke to Edward a few times. He smiles at me in the mornings, and every once and while he'll say hi. He hasn't said anything more about my hair, which is a relief. I keep thinking about what I would say if he ever commented on my hair again, and everything I came up with is pretty dumb: "My mom said I can't talk to boys," and "Shut up, Edward!"

I'm just glad he hasn't mentioned my hair again. My mom did tell me not to talk to boys, and Edward is all boy.

Sometimes he smells like Alice, only worse.

As August, September, and a lot of October pass, I'm beginning to think that Edward might never talk to me again. Not that I really care, because, well, I don't care. It just makes it more awkward when Edward asks out of nowhere, "Why does your mom call you Bliss?"

I have part of a Twinkie (courtesy of Alice) in my mouth, and I'm taken off guard by the question, so I don't bite down just yet. Edward stuck around by the gate with Alice and waited for me before class started today; his friend Petey is with him. I don't particularly like the way Peter looks at me, but then again, I don't think I like the way any boy looks at me. Even Edward, because sometimes he stares at me with those abnormal blue eyes and it's just scary.

Now Alice, Edward, and Petey are all waiting for my answer, and I don't want to tell them. So I chew my Twinkie slow, slow, slow. When the first bite is finished, I take another.

Edward smiles; his eyes are set on at my mouth. Then Petey says something like, "She's a fifth grader?" And Edward looks at him instead.

I'm still chewing, doing all I can to procrastinate this conversation. Alice becomes bored with my slow eating and starts riding her board around the parking lot. Edward waits for my answer after he kind of mumbles a little something to Petey, and Petey sort of rolls his eyes before crossing his arms over his chest and loud-sighing.

When I swallow the last of my Twinkie, I'm sad because it's all gone. Mom doesn't usually buy sugar-foods. She says that it's bad for my teeth, and that's why I don't tell her about my daily exchange with Alice.

"Well," I say quietly.

Petey runs after Alice, pushing her around on her board, leaving me and Edward by the gate alone. Edward leans back against the fence, holding his backpack on one shoulder. I'm looking at his face and wondering if it's possible that he actually looks older than he did three months ago.

I wonder if I look three months older.

"You don't have to tell me, Bella," he says so softly his lips hardly move. His eyes are ahead, watching his best friend and his little sister play around. He seems to be a little bit annoyed with Petey, only not really.

"It's stupid," I whisper.

It's the middle of October, but I'm still wearing a dress. Mom tried to talk me out of it; we compromised on the red pea-coat.

I press the tip of my Mary Janes into the ground. The hem of my dress falls right at my knees, brushing lightly across my skin. Mom was right, it's too cold to wear summer-dresses, but I hate jeans, and I hate sweaters. I hate tennis-shoes and socks. I like bows and lace and plaid-print and straps and sandals and jelly-shoes. Alice tells me that I look funny, but I look pretty.

My daddy says so.

Edward looks right at me, and I have a feeling he's going to say something about my hair again, so I make a face. These Edward-induced-faces probably aren't too pretty, but I can't help it. He makes me feel weird.

"My mom calls me Dusty." He laughs, pushing himself away from the chain-link fence.

"Why?" I ask.

His eyes return to Alice when he says, "I have no fucking idea." Edward chuckles like he knows exactly why, only he doesn't want to tell me.

He doesn't have to tell me because I can't believe he cussed!

I probably look like a fish with my mouth open, gasping for air, but I rarely hear my parents curse, and it's outrageous to me that Edward just said the f-word so freely. I feel like I should tell on him or something, but then, I feel like it makes Edward, the sixth-grader, so much cooler.

"My parents call me Bliss because it's my middle name. I'm kind of a miracle." I shrug my shoulders, trying to control my blush. "My parents had a hard time trying to have a baby, and when I was finally born, up until they filled out my birth certificate, I was going to be named Isabella Marie after my grandma. At the last minute my mom changed it to Isabella Bliss." I touch my warm cheeks. "My mom says it's because I was a blissful wonder."

He smiles slightly before sticking his hands in his pockets. "She was right."

During class, Alice informs me that her family some of the time refer to Edward as Dusty because he used to cuss when he was a small child. At the age of two or three he overheard his dad say the word "asshole." Apparently, Edward repeated it over and over and over, and because he was so young, their parents thought it was funny, declaring that his mouth was mini-foul, dusty, not filthy. However, his language only got worse over the years. Especially lately, she says.

"But it's too late to call him Filthy, because he's already Dusty." Alice explains, coloring her fingernails with green marker.

.

.

.

It's Halloween, and Alice and I are dressed up for the parade at school. Actually, everyone dressed up. Kim is a lady-bug, but her dress is too, too short and she almost got sent home for the rest of the day because of it. Luck for her, her mom brought her a pair of shorts to go under her costume. Only now she's being dramatic, claiming her costume is ruined because of the shorts underneath.

Alice says that Kim is "scandalous."

I like the word.

Scandalous.

It rolls off of my tongue nicely.

Jasper Hale dressed up as Freddy Kruger, and he's been spending all morning chasing my best friend around the swing set. She screamed when he first scared her, but Alice dressed up as Michael Myers, so maybe Jasper Hale is kind of afraid of her, too.

Mrs. Perkowski is dressed up as an apple, and it's cute because she's a teacher, but she still smells like peanut butter, so I don't like it when she gets too close to me. She gave us candy, though.

"What are you?" Edward asks from behind me. His voice is close to my ear; he tickles my neck with his breath.

I step away from him, and he laughs like he always does whenever he embarrasses me. "What do you want, Edward?"

He jumps in front of me and I scream.

I'm dainty and zombies scare me, so what?

"You look like a princess. Is that what you are, Bliss? A princess?" Edward's face is covered in white-gray make-up, and fake blood covers his clothes. Not too far behind him are Petey and Ben, and they look the same as Edward, only not as scary. No way, Edward looks frightening.

It's his eyes; they pierce.

"Yeah," I say, turning away from him, crunching on my Blow-Pop. "I'm Sleeping Beauty."

Alice runs through the playground, screaming at the top of her lungs while Jasper runs right after her. It's the most I've ever seen him move; he's always so laid back.

Laid back: another term I've learned from Alice.

Leah, who's dressed up like a cheer leader, is with me. I don't think she knows what to make of Edward and his friends. In fact, she looks like she is about to cry. Edward, Petey, and Ben are here to tease me, though. She has nothing to worry about.

It seems like they've been doing a lot more teasing than usual lately. Edward never misses a chance to pull on my hair or hide my backpack from me. Last week Petey took it into the boys' restroom. Alice almost went in after it, but Jasper Hale did it instead.

"Awww, a pretty-pretty princess," Edward says, twisting one my curls around his finger before he and his friends begin to laugh at me.

"Leave me alone, Edward!" I shout, moving away from him again.

Petey jumps in front of me, waving his hands around like an idiot. I breathe out of my nose, pushing him away. He looks gross, not that he ever looks better, but he looks especially gory today. While I'm pushing Petey away from my body-space, Ben tugs on my princess dress. I swipe his hand away and straighten out my pink, silk-satin.

"Hey," Edward says to his friends, but they don't stop picking on me. Leah isn't saying anything, not that I expect her to. If Alice wasn't being stalked all over the playground she would stick up for me. I know that these boys are only messing around, and I'm used to it, but that doesn't mean I like to have my costume made fun of or pulled on.

"Petey, quit it." I stomp my foot on the ground, but this only causes them to laugh harder. I'm covered in glitter, blush, and a little bit of lipstick, and these stupid boys are ruining it.

So I start to cry.

Leah runs away to get Alice, but it's Edward who kind of, sort of comes to my aid.

"Bliss," he whispers softly, "don't cry, princess-pie."

He feels bad for making me cry; I can see it on his zombie face and hear it in his worried-tone. Edward touches me, but I step away from his contact. I'm sniffling and my chin is quivering. Alice is here and she's yelling. I hide my face in my hands and cry until my shoulders heave up and down.

"Darn it, Dusty, look what you did." Ally smells like running and laughter.

Edward doesn't say anything, but I swear I can feel his anxiety. Poor boy. Poor, poor boy.

This is the part where I start to feel bad, too.

Pretending to cry in order to make zombies feel terrible isn't nice. So between Alice yelling at Edward, and Edward felling awful for making me cry, I remove my hands from my face and say, "Just kidding!"

Ben, Edward and Petey take a step back. Petey and Ben blush because you aren't supposed to make girls cry, and they thought I was, so the joke is on them. But Edward, his stabbing eyes focus right in on me like he's saying: game on, Bliss.

I stick my tongue out at the teasing trio before I take Alice's hand and we skip away toward the Halloween parade together.

Alice wins Most Horrifying costume in the school's contest.

I win nothing, but I get a snack sized Snickers from Garrett, so I'm happy.

.

.

.

"Do you think your mom will let you come over?" Alice asks, taking half of my sandwich while I take her oatmeal cookies.

Turns out I have a massive sweet-tooth that I was unaware of before I met Ally nine months ago.

I shrug, biting into the brown-sugar gooey goodness. "Maybe. I have to ask my mom and dad."

Alice trades me her white milk for my chocolate milk. "Okay. My mom says it's fine if you spend the night. She even said she'll make dinner, which is really weird because my mom doesn't cook."

I hold the cookie up. "She makes cookies."

Alice rolls her eyes, opening my milk before her own. "No, Bliss, Mom buys these from the baker on her way home from―" Alice pauses to think. "Well, from where ever it is she goes during the week."

We giggle. I split my baby-carrots with her.

She dips them in ketchup, and I almost throw-up.

"When I get home I'll ask my mom if I can spend the night tonight."

"She'll say yes," Alice assures me with a mouth full of food.

Edward comes by our lunch table and takes my white milk.

.

.

"It's almost summer and Alice wants me to spend the night." I've never been allowed over to a friend's house before, let alone able to spend the night in another home. But I'm going to be a sixth grader soon, so I think I'm old enough.

Dad doesn't look up from his newspaper, but Mom is waiting for him to say something. She has that "Mom" look again. She wants to say no. If she says no, I'll die. I can't be away from Alice all summer; she's my best friend.

My heart is beating all kinds of rigid and quick. I'm chewing on my bottom lip and pulling on the ends of my hair. It's May, so I'm able to wear skirts again. When the sun first started to show I practically threw all of my jeans away. But now I can feel my knees tremble, so I sit and cross my legs, giving me parents the please, please, please face.

"Isn't there a boy in that house?" Dad asks, finally putting his paper down on the table.

"A boy? Oh, you mean Edward? He isn't a boy, he's a brother." I stop pulling apart my hair.

Mom laughs, but Dad doesn't.

"I don't feel comfortable allowing you to sleep under the same roof as a boy, Bliss." Dad sits back in his recliner.

"But Alice is my best friend."

"She's a good kid, Charlie," Mom says, not completely confident in her own words. And it's not that she doesn't like Alice, it's because my mother and father's grip on me is sometimes too tight for comfort. Since becoming friends with Alice and Edward I realize how different and strict my parents really are compared to other moms and dads.

I crack my toes on the carpet, waiting for their decision. I feel like I'm about to break loose and jump right out of my skin. Never in my entire short life have I ever wanted to yell at my parents, but sitting in this living room while they give each other half-looks and share huffed-breaths, I feel like screaming. I feel like standing up and demanding some freedom.

"Please let me spend the night with my friend," I say steadily, keeping care of my tone. "It would mean a lot to me."

For some reason, I think back to when Edward cursed that one morning. I've re-played that moment a million times in my head, but I've never had the courage to say it out loud. I remember the way his face looked when he said it.

Fucking.

"I have no fucking idea."

He was so sure of himself, and I think I like the way his eyebrows crunched together as the word left his lips. He ran his hands through his hair and adjusted his backpack. But right before he said it, he licked his bottom lip.

Fucking.

Let me fucking go, Dad.

I want to fucking go to Alice's, Mom.

This isn't fucking fair!

I could never.

"I'll want to meet some parents," Dad says uncertainly.

I stand up and scream. I jump up and down and clap my hands and do a little dance. I hug my daddy and don't pay attention while he grumbles words about pre-teen boys and something called a chastity belt.

"Thank you, thank you, thank you!" I squeal, taking off up the stairs to pack my bag.

"Isabella." Dad's deep tone echoes off of the walls. "We're trusting you."

I lean against the banister and nod my head, quickly thinking about Edward. "You can trust me," I say, forgetting about Edward and thinking about Alice. "I promise."

"I know we can," Mom replies, smiling until her laugh lines show.

I take their silence as a sign and make my exit up the stairs. I grab my backpack and dump out all of my school stuff before tossing in nail polish, hair brushes and lip-glosses. I find a pair of pajamas and stuff those inside along with a pair of clothes for tomorrow. While I brush my teeth, I call Alice and ask for directions.

On the car ride over I can hardly remain in my seat. Dad didn't come along, but Mom is driving with strict instructions: she must talk with parents and make sure that the boy doesn't look like a threat. They're totally embarrassing, but I don't let it bother me, because for the first time in my entire life I get to spend the night at a friend's house.

After turning into Alice's drive-way, my mom whistles as she looks around. "This place is nice," she says, mostly to herself.

She's right, their house is nice. It's big and white and not a thing like our home. Out front on the porch is Alice. She opens the screen door and yells into the house. When Mom stops our car, I get out and run toward my friend. We hug and Alice takes my bag from me.

Mom takes a little longer than me to remove herself from our car. Alice waves to her and offers a hug when Mom finally stands beside us. Alice and I are talking about how excited we are, making plans to stay up late and eat lots of candy when the screen door opens and a lady walks down the stairs.

This lady is a presence.

She's wearing a tight blue shirt and a black pencils skirt. Her high-heels tap on the wood as she descends down the steps. Her hair is an unnatural red color, but it's seamlessly curled and styled. And when she smiles, I feel Mom almost cringe.

Alice's mom looks nothing like my mom.

"You must be Renee," the lady with the deep-red hair says, offering her hand.

Mom flattens her curly hair before shaking Mrs. Cullen's hand. "Yes, and your name?" Mom asks kindly.

"I'm Esme Cullen. I'm sorry that my husband isn't here, but he's stuck at the office." Esme glows charisma and charm. I'm infatuated with her … I like the sound of her voice.

Alice rolls her eyes and sticks a finger in her mouth like she's going to throw up.

Mom browses over Esme Cullen for a few more seconds before her eyes fall and settle onto me. "Okay, Bliss, I'll be back for you tomorrow afternoon."

I wish it was tonight forever.

"She'll be fine," Esme says brushing her hand along my long blonde hair; her touch is soft like butter, and I naturally gravitate toward her. She smells clean and fresh and simple. "Do you want to come in and look around before you go?" she asks my mom, snagging a string off of her skirt.

Mom shakes her head; I don't know what she sees in Esme, but if it's anything like how I feel, she knows I'll be okay here.

Safe. This home feels safe.

When Mom is gone, we all take a deep breath. I'm free. It happened. She left. I'm not at home, but with my best friend in the world. I'll sleep next to her, and she'll let me paint her nails. I'll try to brush her hair, and maybe, just maybe, Alice will let me apply some lip-gloss on her pouty lips.

Alice and I look at each other before sprinting into the house. The inside is even better than the outside, and I feel like if take a wrong step I'll break something. I stop dead at the door and admire the art on the walls and the huge-huge-hugest TV in the living room.

On the couch is Edward.

He looks at me, and I look at him.

Then he smiles.

He doesn't have any shoes on.

I can see Edward Cullen's toes and it's kind of, sort of weird.

"What are you doing here?" he asks, and it's only in this moment that I notice Petey and Ben sitting next to him.

"Shut up, Edward. Bella can spend the night if she wants to." Alice cuts in, standing in front of me.

I look over her shoulder toward Edward. The boys are playing some game on the huge-huge-hugest TV. There is a bag of Doritos and three Cokes down by their feet.

Edward looks different outside of school.

"You're sleeping here? Why?" Edward says and Petey snorts. Ben just laughs. He always does whatever Edward and Petey do.

I think Alice is about to attack them when their mother comes in from outside. She looks over at Edward and makes a noise with her lips. "Edward, have some fucking manners and be polite."

That word again!

"And clean up before your dad gets home," she adds before stepping into the kitchen.

Edward looks embarrassed for being scolded by his mother in front of his friends. He tosses the remote control onto the floor and begins to clean up after himself and his followers. Alice steps into the living room and pulls me along with her. She sets my backpack beside the love-chair and holds my hand while we watch Peter and Ben race cars or something.

It's quiet for a while, until Petey loses and I laugh at him. Then he starts teasing me again. Alice and Petey start screaming at each other, and all I want to do is go to her room and listen to pop songs and try on Esme's heels, but when Alice gets started it's hard to get her to stop.

"You're just mad because you're ugly, Petey, and you suck," she says, pointing a finger from where we sit.

Alice is wearing a pair of mismatched socks: one is pink and one is black. It reminds me of school when Alice and I share crayons and she takes the boy colors and I take the girl colors. Her hair is down like it normally is, parted down the middle. As she yells, she pushes it behind her ear, but it keeps falling into her face. She's still in her school clothes: a cut off pair of jean shorts and a white and pink polka-dot shirt. I don't know where her board is, but I have a feeling that if she had it she would be swinging it at Petey's head.

When Edward comes out of the kitchen he looks more upset than he did when he went in. He tells Petey to shut up, but he doesn't listen.

"You dress like a boy," and, "You suck on the skateboard, not me," and, "Did I hurt your princess feelings, Bella?"

Petey is a jerk and super annoying.

"Hey," Edward yells over his friends, silencing us all. "Don't talk to my sisters like that."

Sisters?

Edward doesn't bother to correct himself. He retrieves his controller off of the ground and continues his game like he never said anything at all.

Maybe I smile at him.

When the boys start to do boy things and act all boy-like, Alice finally escorts me up to her room. It looks exactly like she told me it did: band posters and dirty clothes. Her bed-spread is pink, white and black zebra print; it's silky and wonderfulness.

"Can I paint your nails?" I ask her, showing her the glitter pink color my mom bought for me earlier this week.

Alice looks down at her nails and shrugs. "Sure."

We sit on the floor, but Alice has to wash her hands before I can get started; they're dirty from when she was skateboarding before I got here. When she comes back from the bathroom she wiggles her fingers in my face and laughs.

I get half of a hand done before the bedroom door opens and three boys come barging in. They steal my nail polish and flicker the lights on and off while Alice and I try to get up off the floor to chase them. It isn't until Alice jumps on Petey back that I realize I'm laughing until I cry.

I can't remember a time I've had this much fun and I only just got here.

"Want this?" Edward dangles the nail polish above my head.

"Yes."

"Do you think you can catch me?" He palms the nail polish and runs out the door.

Petey and Ben are chasing Alice around the room. She laughing, having fun, so I take off after Edward. He runs in the opposite way of the stairs, down the hall. I follow, demanding that he give it back. Edward opens a bedroom door and goes inside.

It's his room.

I stop.

Following him would be a bad choice.

Edward peeks his head out of the door. "What's the matter, Bliss?"

"Give me my nail polish, Edward," I demand. There is no way I'm going near his bedroom. My dad would be so upset.

Edward smirks a mischievous smirk. He steps out of his bedroom but remains beside the doorjamb. "I think I'll keep it, strawberry-blonde."

I make a face. "Give it back."

He tosses it into the air. "Say please."

"Please."

"Say it again."

"Edward," someone says from behind me in an all-authoritative tone, "give the poor girl her nail polish back."

I spin around, coming face-to-face with a man; a tall, powerful man. This person's body-language screams power and sureness. His suit is perfectly pressed and his hair is flawlessly gelled. He's clean shaven and smells so good. He looks exactly like Edward, or Edward looks exactly like him.

"Dad, this is Isabella. Alice's friend from school," Edward introduces me, pressing the nail polish back into my hand before he steps past me and his father.

"It's nice to meet you, Isabella."

"Hello, Alice's dad," I say, greeting him with my hand like my mom did with Esme earlier. He takes it with a small-teensy-big-huge grin. His hand is warm, but not so soft, and not so gentle. He's careful to cradle my small hand in his large one. He doesn't squeeze, but I can feel the power behind his grip.

His eyes aren't exactly trustworthy, but they are caring.

Mr. Cullen laughs and it trembles through my chest. "Call me Carlisle, sweet-child." He releases my shake and moves to the side with a slight nod.

In front of Alice's bedroom door, Edward is waiting for me. He smiles a half of a smile and raises an eyebrow, asking me to hurry up already.

"You're welcome into my home anytime, princess." Carlisle's voice is so sure and so positive that I instinctively believe him absolutely. But it's not the invitation that takes me by surprise, it's the princess he added at the end.

I snap my eyes up at Carlisle, then back at Edward, and in this moment I immediately know that there is more than one person in Forks who was born to be my friend.

There is an entire family.