Entry #25 - AH

Truly Anonymous Twilight O/S PP Contest
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Title: French Braids and Forever
Picture Prompt Number:
28
Pairing:
Rosalie/Emmett
Rating:
T
Genre:
Friendship/Romance
Word Count:
7900

Summary: Rosalie Hale considers herself a nomad – always moving, and never finding herself in the process. Can a dimpled boy and his family mend the gaps between her heart and mind? Sometimes you find yourself where you least expected it.

Warnings and Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy belong to J. R. R. Tolkien. Miranda Lambert sings Famous in a Small Town.

French Braids and Forever

Small towns.

Love them or hate them.

For me, it's the latter, and I've only lived in one for a grand total of four hours and fifty eight minutes.

I miss the city – the lights, the noise, the constant activity. Even the smells good and bad blend together to make something perfect in my memory. Memories are all I have left now.

"Rose, stop sulking and find something to do."

"Like what?" I mutter, glancing over at my mother as she arranges photos and hideous pieces of decor on various shelves around the living room. Who really needs a misshapen stone elephant painted with zebra stripes? Or a jewel encrusted Buddha when we aren't religious in the least?

She places the zelephant ornament next to our most recent family portrait, then turns to me. "Unpack, organize, explore the house. I really don't care what you do as long as you're doing something. This is not the end of the world, you know."

"Might as well be."

"I heard that."

Of course she did.

"Mom, I already unpacked, organized, and explored the house. I think I can be afforded some sulking now."

She shakes her head. "Not in my living room. Go take a walk, explore the town." Her face softens. "This doesn't have to be all bad, baby. You might even enjoy living here."

I seriously doubt that will ever happen, but this isn't my mom's fault. With a sigh, I remove myself from the room, not wanting to drag down her obvious cheer.

Figuring I can sulk as much as I want in my room, I throw myself on to the bed and bury my head in my favorite down pillow. It still smells like our apartment which does nothing but bring my mood down further. I wallow for a few minutes until even wallowing is boring.

With nothing else to do, I slip on my cheapest pair of shoes and place my phone in the pocket of my jeans – not that I expect any calls. When you move every year, friends last about as long as a snowman in the desert.

I see us as nomads, constantly moving from place to place without ever settling down. Never having a home or friends or anything of real value. Sure, we have possessions. So many possessions. But they're as transient as the people. It's amazing how easy it is to lose something during a move.

I need more. I'm not sure what I need more of, but I was planning to find it in the city – any city. Now that I'm in the middle of nowhere, I'm lost.

As I look in the mirror, the emptiness is clear on my face, having been amplified by my sulking. I run my fingers through my unnaturally blond hair and make my way outside. Maybe following my mother's advice will clear my head, if only for a few minutes.

...

It stinks.

The air is too dirty or maybe too clean. I can smell too much – the afternoon sunshine, the grass, the dirt and gravel. It's just too much.

My nose is wrinkled as I walk. Probably not the most attractive expression, but I don't care. I don't care about a lot of things anymore.

This town should be named Apathy.

There's only a few major roads through the main part of town, but I stick to the side roads – the side of the side roads. I've yet to see a sidewalk, so I'm stuck walking in the gravel and dirt. My choice of cheap footwear was a smart one.

I keep my eyes peeled for anything of interest, and finally find something worth my time. There's a hedge straight in front of me with a gap in the middle. Conveniently, a well-worn trail rests in the gap, and I follow it.

The air is less oppressive here, and my face finally relaxes. The trail runs through a field which seems misplaced in this residential area. A few pieces of tall grass nip at my exposed heels, so I stop and roll my jeans down from their capri position.

The quiet here is disconcerting, but I continue walking, letting the sound of moving grass and chirping birds dance through my head. I guess this isn't so bad. The calm could be peaceful for the right person. I'm not that person, though. I need...more.

The trail suddenly veers to the left, and a gasp escapes me. There's water. A lake...or a pond, maybe, trimmed by tall grass and moss. It would be beautiful if the water wasn't so brown.

There's also a wide dock, almost too wide for this small body of water.

But more importantly, there are two people, a boy and a girl, sitting on the dock, and they're both staring at me after hearing my sound of surprise.

Immediately, I turn and start to move away, not wanting to interrupt their private time, but a voice stops me.

"Wait a sec. You don't have to run off."

Something about the voice...his voice...makes me listen. I slowly turn back around, tensing in embarrassment.

I wave awkwardly and open my mouth to apologize, but I'm interrupted.

"Hi, you're new here, right?" the girl asks, and I nod. "Well, come sit and we'll get to know each other."

The boy gives me a huge smile and nods encouragingly, and something about it...about him...makes me never want to disappoint and ruin that smile.

Carefully, I cross the dock, thankful for its wide expanse. My fear of water can be panic inducing, but as long as I stay away from the edges, I should be all right. I take a seat a few feet behind them, not daring to sit on the edge and dangle my legs like they're doing.

After seeing my example, the girl brings her legs up and swings around to face me. "Hi, I'm Bella Cullen," she says, offering her hand.

I reach out and shake her hand. "Nice to meet you. I'm Rosalie Hale. I'm sorry if I interrupted anything." This place is so secluded and probably perfect for sneaking around.

To my surprise, Bella laughs. A laugh from deep within her, so different than the nasally giggles from the girls I've been around in the past.

"What's so funny?" the boy asks, but it takes Bella a few minutes to regain any semblance of composure.

"She thinks...interrupted...thinks we're...together...Oh God, Em."

"I'm sorry?" I repeat, confused. "I didn't mean to offend yo –."

The boy abruptly gets this joke that I'm left out of, and startles me with his booming laughter. Bella's picks up again until they're almost rolling around the dock with the force of their amusement.

I'm starting to wonder if I've stumbled across the crazies of BFE. They're certainly acting loony.

"Sorry, sorry," Bella gasps out, coughing a little as she catches her breath. "I can explain as soon as Em shuts up."

"Go on without me!" he orders before rolling to his side away from us and beginning another round of laughter.

I look from him to Bella, then settle on her as she coughs one last time.

"Okay, first of all, Em's my brother."

"Ahh." I nod, embarrassed that I insinuated anything else.

"Yeah. It's okay, though. You're new and you couldn't have known, so don't be too embarrassed, Rosalie."

"It's Rose," I correct, not really knowing why. Only my family uses the shortened version of my name. I've always kept myself from becoming too familiar with anyone, knowing we'll just be leaving in a few short months. But something about Bella makes me want to be familiar.

She smiles. "All right, Rose. I really am sorry for laughing at you. And that big goof is sorry too, even if it doesn't show." She leans back and extends a leg to kick her brother, harder than I'd ever kick anyone.

"Ow, B," he exclaims, sitting up and forgetting his laughter. "How'd you learn to kick so hard?"

"From you."

"Me? What the hell? I've never kicked you before. Mom would skin me alive."

She shrugs and moves her leg back under her. "I still learned it from you."

He scoffs. "Sure you did. Now, if you threw a punch...that you learned from me."

"Shut up. You never punched me. Hugs not drugs."

"That doesn't even make sense."

"So? It doesn't have to."

Is this what it's like to have a sibling? I've always resented being an only child, having parents who'd rather have big careers than a big family, but now that I've seen this example, maybe it's better to be by myself.

"Little B is right about one thing," the boy says, giving me another dimpled smile. "I'm sorry about laughing. Everyone around here knows us, so we've never been suspected of being anything other than brother and sister. I'm Emmett Cullen, and it's nice to meet you, Rose."

He offers his hand which I take without resistance. It's so much larger than mine. Roughly smooth and warm. So warm, but it's not unpleasant in the least. My hand wants to live within his forever.

Unfortunately, the moment has to end, and my hand has to leave its new favorite place. I blush for the first time in my life as he winks and returns to his spot on the edge of the dock.

"So tell us your story, Rose," Bella prompts, scooting closer. "Who is Rosalie Hale?"

My mind is blank, unsurprisingly. I don't know who I am. That was something I planned to figure out later – in the city when I made something of myself. So I stick to the basic introductory story I give everyone.

Rosalie Hale is seventeen, now a senior in high school. She moves every year, thanks to John Hale, the IT consultant and sometimes father. Lily Hale follows him dutifully, like any suitable wife would.

"So...wait. You've never lived anywhere longer than a year?" Bella asks with wide eyes.

I shake my head. "Nope. Companies shift my dad around wherever they need him. I guess they didn't care that he had a child."

"Whoa. We've lived here our whole lives. Same house and everything. Where all have you lived?"

I go through the long list of places, ending with New York City. It's hard to believe that I slept there just last night.

"And now my parents decided to try small town life while my dad commutes to the city. So I'm here for a few months at least."

"That's messed up," Bella says with a small shake of her head. "I couldn't imagine not really having a home. But maybe you'll stay here longer than a year. That's always a possibility, right?"

I nod, not wanting to admit that I actually wouldn't mind moving away from here quickly. Or that's how I felt an hour ago. I'm not entirely sure anymore.

"So what's your story?" I want to get the focus off me, and I am genuinely curious.

Bella's tale is less complicated than mine. She's also seventeen, and Emmett is eleven months older than her - something they like to call "Irish twins." They live with their parents who are still married, not necessarily for appearances but because they're head over heels in love.

I'm a little jealous that they've had this example, whereas my parents are friendly at most. Apparently Emmett and Bella are out here now to give their parents some privacy – not the other way around.

Soon, the conversation moves from introductions to every day topics. Emmett joins in, telling me about the high school I'll be going to in a month. He and Bella also divulge what seems like nearly every secret a small town could possibly have. Nothing is sacred that I can tell.

It doesn't escape my notice that Bella has scooted even closer to me during the course of our chat. Her hands find their way into my wind-blown hair, twisting strands and gently de-tangling the knots, yet she continues talking like nothing is different. I don't attempt to stop her because I'm curious.

When the sun begins its descent, I know it's time for me to head home. The weight I was feeling earlier has disappeared, thanks to the afternoon with my new friends.

Friends.

The concept is foreign, but I do want to know these siblings. There's something about them that's warm and inviting. Maybe my time here won't be so bad with them around.

Bella and Emmett both stand and hug me as I'm leaving, and the affection catches me off guard, which is becoming a constant feeling in their presence.

"We'll be here tomorrow," Emmett says before I walk off. "See you then?"

I blush again and nod. How could I deny him anything when he flashes those dimples?

The air isn't loathsome as I walk home, and I even manage to reach my front door without getting lost.

As I walk to my room, I feel buoyant, as if I'm floating instead of walking. I go to sit on my bed, but my reflection in my dresser mirror startles me. I stop and study myself, a smile stretching my lips as I see my hair.

Bella has managed to create a French braid, but across my head and down the side instead of in the back like I've always seen. It's loose, with bits of hair falling here and there, but it's beautiful. I've never seen my hair look so pretty.

I love it, and I'm pretty sure I love my new friend. Friends.

I don't even have to contemplate returning to the pond. My mind is made up, and has been since the moment Emmett invited me.

"Where are you off to this afternoon?" my mom asks as I attempt to run out the door without being stopped.

With my hand on the doorknob, I turn to face her, but she has her back to me as she arranges some distorted vases on the coffee table.

"I'm meeting some friends," I answer, which makes her quickly turn around and arch an eye brow.

"Friends? When have you made any friends?"

"Yesterday afternoon. They invited me to hang out again today."

She regards me carefully for a few moments then nods. "Well, this is definitely a nice change from your sulking. Text me if you need me."

"Okay. Bye, Mom."

I walk as fast as I can, more excited than I realized.

Bella and Emmett are in the exact position I found them in yesterday, and I'm invited over with waves and smiles. I smile in return and take my seat behind them.

The conversation today is just as easy, just as light. Bella asks how I like our new house. I give a generic answer because I'm not attached to it. I appreciate it for what it is – a roof over my head, but it's nothing more than that.

Bella's hands disappear into my hair as she explains where they live. It's just on the other side of the water, and they walk here almost every day to relax. I may not like water, but I can understand why this would be relaxing. The gentle ripples are soothing, comforting even. I'd love to bring a book out here.

Emmett is quiet throughout the afternoon, and even though I don't know him very well, I think it's odd for him. He offers the same dimpled smile and a hug when I leave, though, so I try not to dwell on his lack of talking. Everyone has off days.

Once I'm back in my room, I head straight to the mirror. Bella's newest creation looks like a French twist and a French braid at the same time. It's just as beautiful as my braid from yesterday, and I love it just as much.

My face isn't as empty as it was yesterday. Maybe the Cullens are good for me.

The next two weeks continue the same way except that I start going to the pond earlier and earlier. The mornings are spent with my mom and the evenings with her and sometimes my dad, but my afternoons belong to my new friends.

Friends. Something I never thought I'd have. Sure, I had acquaintances, but the general rule was to only associate with people who somehow benefited yourself.

Bella and Emmett aren't like that. I'm pretty sure, anyway. They gain nothing from being friends with me other than company, and I receive the same from them. We're all equals in this, and it's refreshing.

Today is like any other day, but I'm taking a blanket and a book with me to see if my relaxation theory is correct. After a night of playing happy family, I need some stress relief.

I walk slowly, enjoying the sunshine. Just a week has made me appreciate this air for what it is. Pure, untainted, fresh. I could breathe it all day long and flush out the memory of city air.

To my surprise, Emmett is the only one waiting for me on the dock. This is different, but I remind myself that I'm not only friends with Bella. Emmett is great too.

"Hey, Emmett," I say with a smile as I spread my blanket out.

He tilts his head in greeting, dimpled smile and all. "Rose. Whatcha reading?"

I sit on the blanket and turn the book toward him. "The Hobbit. It's one of my favorites."

"Really?" he asks, eyes wide. "I love that and the trilogy. I figured you'd be reading that classic romantic shit - I mean, stuff that Little B likes so much."

I'm flattered he feels the need to correct his language for me. He doesn't do that when he's talking to Bella.

"Those are okay, but I'd prefer a little more action. And less pretension."

He laughs and crawls over to sit by me. "Can you read it out loud maybe? I think I'd like a refresher too."

I agree, and we spend the rest of the afternoon with our heads together over the book, diving into the quest of Bilbo Baggins. We make good progress until the sun starts to set, and we decide to continue tomorrow.

Emmett helps me refold my blanket and gives me a goodbye hug, but stops me before I can leave.

"Wait," he requests, sounding uncharacteristically shy. "I know Little B fixes your hair every day, but since she isn't here, maybe I could do it?"

"You do it? You know how to braid?"

He nods. "She made me learn when we were kids. It's okay if you don't want me to, but I thought I could try."

"Okay," I say, not needing to think about it. If Emmett wants to do this, I'll let him without contest.

"Really? Cool." He seems surprised I'm allowing this, but when his strong hands gently turn my shoulders, I know I'll never regret it.

Every movement is careful, calculated as to not hurt me. The feel of his hands in my hair is beyond anything I've ever felt before. A chill runs up my spine without warning, but it's the best kind of chill. The kind that makes me feel alive. I close my eyes to soak all the feeling in, committing it to memory.

He's finished much before I'm ready to go. I hear the rubber band snap into place at the end of my hair, and he throws the end of my new braid over my shoulder.

"There," he whispers, right behind my ear. "All finished." His lips trail over the same spot, giving me another chill.

Did he do that on purpose or was it an accident? Can someone accidentally do that?

After another hug, I walk home in a daze. My mom speaks to me as I enter the house, but it doesn't register. The only thing on my mind is Emmett and what he's doing to me.

At my mirror, I touch my flushed cheeks, the spot behind my ear, and my braid. It's simple, much simpler than anything Bella would have done, but it means just as much. Emmett wanted to do this for me, wanted to give me this.

I dive on to my bed, burying my face in my favorite down pillow. Not to wallow, but to squeal like a preteen girl with her first crush.

Could Emmett be crushing on me? Could I be crushing on him? Did seventeen year olds crush at all?

I have no clue, but I do realize that Emmett is special to me. So special that I forgot to even ask where Bella was.

This scares me in the best and worst ways. I have real friends who matter, but if I lose them, I don't know what I'll do.

"I was school shopping with Mom," Bella explains the next day. "Have you finished your shopping?"

Embarrassed, I shake my head. I haven't even started. I turned sixteen in New York and never needed a license, but now that we live here, I really could use one. Mom is always busy with her women's clubs and philanthropic organizations that she hasn't taken me shopping for anything.

Bella picks up on my embarrassment and pats my arm. "I didn't find much so we're going to some different stores this weekend. Want to come with us?"

The invitation is nice, but I'm not sure. "Won't I be imposing, Bella? Isn't that something you do with just your mom?"

"Sometimes, but not this time. Even Emmett's going."

"Under duress," he points out. "Shopping is always under duress."

"You have good taste though," I blurt out without thought, and my cheeks ignite.

I'm not lying. He may wear t-shirts and jeans all the time, but the t-shirts hug his body just right, and his Levis hang on him in the most delicious way.

"Thanks, Rose." He grins. "Maybe shopping won't be so bad after all."

...

Shopping with the Cullens is anything but bad. Esme Cullen is the sweetest woman I've ever met. She treats me like one of her own right away and makes it a point to tell me that she's happy I'm shopping with them.

With the help of Mom's credit card and her encouragement to buy everything I need, I have no problem finding several new outfits along with some school supplies.

It's almost hard to believe that this is my senior year. This is the last high school I'll ever have to attend. For once, I'm excited. Emmett might be going to the community college in the next town, but I'll have Bella by my side. We vow to make this the best school year either of us have ever had.

Esme – as I've been told to call her – treats us to lunch at a quaint little diner close to home. Everyone here knows the Cullens, so our service is excellent. I'm starting to see the advantages of small town living.

We share some chocolate cake for dessert, and the topic of the future comes up.

Bella wants to be a teacher, and I think it's the perfect fit for her. She's so kind and patient, and would probably have more tolerance for children than I do.

Emmett is planning to go into social work. It surprises me at first, but the more I think about it, the more right it sounds. His gentle demeanor and amazing listening skills will be just what he needs to be successful with the kids he wants to work with.

On the other hand, I'm clueless.

"So what are your plans after high school, Rose?" Esme asks me, nonjudgmental curiosity coloring her tone.

"Um...well...I'm not totally sure," I mumble, and she smiles encouragingly.

"It's perfectly fine to not know. You have plenty of time to figure this out. I didn't know what I wanted to do for sure until my second year of college."

Her words do little to soothe my worry. It's not so much a worry about not knowing. It's a worry because I used to know, but now nothing makes sense.

My dreams always involved going out into the city and making something of myself. The city is exciting and seemingly full of opportunities. I'd go there to find my more. To find myself.

But now, thoughts of the city make the emptiness return. The emptiness that has disappeared within two weeks of living in a town I no longer want to call Apathy. Because now I care. I care a lot, especially about this family who've made me one of their own.

Nothing in the city could beat this.

My mood brightens slightly as I understand what Esme has told me. I don't have to decide anything right now. Even though I'm confused, it's okay to live in the moment, and that's just what I'll do.

All of our shopping is completed successfully after lunch, and we leave the stores with smiles etched on our faces. Even Emmett has enjoyed himself.

On the way home, Bella and I sit in the back together, and I turn in my seat so she can braid my hair.

Today she chooses to braid the sides of my hair and bring them together into a messy bun in the back. Once again, it's beautiful and lifts my spirits more than she'll ever know.

When they drop me and my many bags off at my house, I hug Bella extra long and hard in thanks. I have so much to thank her and Emmett for. Some things I haven't even realized yet.

School starts, and our lazy afternoons on the dock disappear. Instead, we study on the dock and only goof off if we have time.

By the third week of school, the novelty of my appearance wears off, and I relax into the routine. Bella and I share almost every class, and we stick together. I quickly learn that there are fake friends even in the middle of nowhere, but I also learn that Bella has always stayed away from them.

"You're the best friend I've ever had," she explains one day as she braids my hair on the dock. "I've known most of these people since we were in diapers, but if I was dying in a ditch somewhere, I could never call them. I'd call you. Well, after 911, of course."

Tears come to my eyes, and I discretely wipe them away. I want to turn around and give her a hug, but I'm under strict orders to not move my head. She's been practicing waterfall braids for the last week after we saw pictures on the internet.

"You're the best friend I've ever had too," I repeat, laughing at how awkward it sounds. It doesn't make it any less true. "You're really the only friend I've ever had."

"And Emmett too," she adds.

I hum in agreement but don't really mean it. Emmett's much more than a friend. He's become everything.

We've finished reading The Hobbit and have moved on to The Fellowship of the Ring. Bella lets us have our time together without complaint, but I'm not sure if she knows exactly how we feel about each other. Probably because Emmett and I don't know exactly how we feel about each other. We've been dancing around since that day, not awkwardly by any means, but trying to find our way.

I do know that thinking about him brings a smile to my face and a skip to my heart. Seeing him does the same but magnified times one hundred. Sharing random touches makes my stomach flip-flop. And those dimples. Those dimples melt me every time.

I'm just glad he uses his powers for good and not evil.

...

"I like you," Emmett says out of the blue one day. We're alone because Bella conveniently had plans. I love my best friend.

His words surprise me because they don't surprise me. Instead of blushing or turning away, I close our book and lie down to roll toward him.

"I like you too," I confess. It's an understatement, but it will do for the moment.

"Really?"

I nod, and he wraps a strong arm around me.

"All right. Good. That's really good."

"Really good," I echo as I snuggle close to his chest. This spot is exactly where I want to be.

"Hey, Rose?"

"Yeah?"

"Cullens mate for life, you know," he whispers, kissing my temple.

"I did not know that." And the thought doesn't scare me either. "But I thought that was swans."

"Swans do too," he agrees. "And albatrosses, bald eagles, and most wolves."

"You've done your research, huh?" I tease.

He shifts back so he can look me in the eye. "I'd do anything for you, Rose."

And I believe him.

The first quarter of school passes in the blink of an eye, as does the second. We make it through Halloween and Thanksgiving without any problems, and we're soon staring winter break in the face.

Snow covers the ground, but we dutifully scrape it off the dock every time it accumulates. Well, Emmett scrapes it off the dock because it's slippery, and I'm terrified that I'll fall into the frozen slushy water. He and Bella are both well aware of my fear by now, but instead of making fun, they hold my hands and make sure I'm always safe.

The temperature is much too low for us to stay out all afternoon, but we do manage an hour every day before spending the rest of the time in their living room. Esme supplies us warm blankets and hot chocolate while we study for finals, and when Dr. Cullen comes home, he sits with us while we watch TV.

Their family is everything that mine isn't, and ever so slowly, they're filling in all the gaps for me. Esme and Carlisle are there when I need to talk. When I need a ride somewhere. When I just want someone to give me a hug or be proud of me.

My mom isn't a bad mom by any means, but she's no Esme Cullen. And before, I could handle the distant affection, but now I need this.

This is my more. The Cullens are my more.

They even invite me to spend Christmas Eve with them, and I beg my mom until she relents. The Cullens know how to celebrate the holiday, complete with a large Christmas tree they decorated together, Christmas cookies and candy, family movie time, presents, and a large meal.

I sit and snuggle in Emmett's arms until the last possible moment. I wish I didn't have to leave, but my own family duties call. After hugs and kisses goodnight, Emmett drives me home. Before I can leave the car, he pulls my face to his to give me a toe curling kiss.

"The second part of your Christmas gift," he explains once we're breathless. I thought the heart locket was the perfect gift by itself, but I was wrong. The kiss makes it even better.

We've been in like for the past few months, and love on the tip of my tongue all night, but it just won't come out. Tomorrow. I'll tell him tomorrow after I survive a Hale family Christmas. And hell it will probably be.

...

The next morning, my mother wakes me, and we open presents together as a family. None of the gifts mean as much as the ones I received last night from the Cullens. Those were chosen with love. But I smile and say thank you, just as I'm expected to.

Later in the evening, dinner is a small and quiet affair, ending with my dad heading to his study to work. My mom and I eat caramel pie together and listen to Christmas music, and I finally start to enjoy myself a bit. At least until my mother has an announcement.

"So," she says slowly. "Your father and I have an announcement, but it looks like I'll be making it by myself."

My eyes widen as I take a sip of my coffee. Announcements from my parents are never good, and they've always led to one thing. The one thing I refuse to imagine right now.

"Well, your father has received an offer from a different company. One with better pay and benefits. He's already accepted it, so we'll be moving again."

My throat is dry, and I feel like I can't breathe.

"Where?" I whisper.

My mother smiles. She smiles. "That's the best part, baby. We're moving to Paris!"

"Paris...France?"

"The one and only," she says with a nod. "Oh, I'm so excited. We can go shopping and visit all the museums and galleries. We'll be living in a city again. Aren't you excited?"

"When?" I choke out. I need to know when my life will be over.

"That's the hard part. They want him to start right after the new year, so we'll need to start packing tomorrow and be on a plane by next week. I know it's short notice and we'll have to find a school to enroll you, but I'm sure it will work."

Packing tomorrow. We'll be gone next week.

My eyes fill with tears as everything inside me crumbles. Mom's voice goes on and on, but nothing resonates in my head. What she's saying doesn't matter. Nothing matters. I've finally found my more and it's being taken away.

No more Cullens. No more dock. No more French braids from my best friend. The irony isn't lost on me that this is the French's fault.

No more reading with Emmett. No more seeing Emmett. No kisses or hugs or listening ears.

Everything that has ever meant anything to me is in this small town, and I have to leave.

Without a word, I flee to my room and grab my phone. I text Emmett, wondering where he is, and by some luck, he's at the dock.

I race out the door, not bothering to tell anyone where I'm going, and sob my way down the familiar trail. I veer to the left, gasping out a sob as I see Emmett standing and facing the water. He turns when he hears me, smiling just like the first time.

But as soon as he sees me, his smile falls. My knees buckle and I fall, but he's there to catch me. My arms wrap around his neck and my legs around his waist. I hold on like there's no tomorrow because there isn't.

"Rose...Rosalie, sweetheart, what's wrong? You're scaring me, baby. Can you tell me what's wrong?" His voice is frantic, having never seen me like this.

I've never been like this, but I can't respond to ease his fears.

"Rose, it's okay. I promise it'll be okay. Do you need my dad? I can take you to see him."

I nod against his neck. I do need Carlisle. And Esme and Bella. I need the whole family – my family.

Without another question, Emmett carries me to his house, constantly whispering nonsensical words of comfort into my hair. At any other point, they would have worked, but I'm too far gone.

As soon as Emmett walks in the door, everyone appears and attempts to find out what's wrong. Emmett ignores them as he carries me over to the couch, sits down, and pulls a blanket over us. I hadn't noticed how cold I was until now. I'm shaking from it and from my sobs.

Eventually, I run out of tears, and sink against Emmett in exhaustion. I can't hold my puffy eyes open or lift my arms to wipe the wetness on my cheeks away.

Someone brings a wet cloth and wipes my face while humming a Christmas carol softly. Esme. I melt into her touch, absorbing the comfort. She kisses my forehead when she's finished and I feel her sit beside us. Another body takes the place on the other side, and I soon feel the hands of my best friend run through my disastrous hair.

They all give me time to attempt to collect myself which makes me want to cry some more, but I'm finally calm enough to talk. I mumble through the explanation until I'm nearly hysterical again, and Emmett quietly shushes me.

"Paris?" Esme gasps. "In the middle of her senior year? Carlisle, how can they do that?"

He sighs. "Well, they've done this to her every other year."

"But we can't let them do it now. We have to do something."

"And I can probably guess what something you're thinking of." A pause. "Get Lily on the phone."

Esme rushes out of the room, and I feel Carlisle take her place.

"We'll try our best to fix this, Rose," he says softly. "Try not to worry, sweetheart. Just rest."

I nod and reach out blindly. He slips his hand into mine, and I hold as tightly as I can.

I slip into a state somewhere between consciousness and unconsciousness. I hear some things around me. Carlisle's soft words. Emmett's whispered "I love you's." Those make me smile on the inside because I know I'll be saying it back as soon as I'm able.

When Esme returns to the room, a flurry of activity begins. Carlisle and Esme disappear, followed by the closing of doors and the starting of a car. Emmett lifts and carries me upstairs and to the right - to Bella's room, and he manages to crawl onto the bed with me in his arms. Bella follows and resumes her braiding.

It helps to calm me. This is familiar. Being with Emmett and Bella, her braiding my hair. This is what I love. What I don't want to leave.

We sit for I don't know how long, but eventually I find my voice.

"I love you, Emmett. So much," I repeat, over and over. "I don't want to leave you or Bella or anyone. Please, please know that. I love you. I love you."

"I know, Rose. I know," he assures me. "We don't want you to leave either. Mom and Dad will fix it. I love you. It's okay."

The wait is tortuous, but Carlisle and Esme finally return. Instead of making us go back downstairs, they sit on the bed with us.

"Rose, you'll be staying with us tonight, okay?" Esme explains softly. "Everything will be all right."

I crack my eyes open, needing to see her expression. She looks calm, not quite happy, but no longer extremely sad.

"What happened?" I ask, but she shakes her head.

"Tomorrow. We'll talk about it all tomorrow, but for tonight, you need some good rest."

Bella helps me change into some of her pajamas, but then I'm back in Emmett's arms as soon as possible. The three of us curl up on Bella's queen-sized bed. It's a tight fit, but I need both of them with me. Grounding me. I'm here and they're here. No one has left, and hopefully no one will leave. That's what I have to hold on to.

...

Waking in an unfamiliar place has never bothered me before, and it doesn't bother me today although waking in Emmett's arms is a surprise. The best surprise.

He and Bella are still asleep so I take a moment to stretch and continue waking. My body is sore from the force of my distress and my chest feels heavy from all the sobbing. But I'm warm and comfortable.

Emmett begins to move a few minutes later. He stretches and groans, and I giggle because he sounds like he's imitating a bear.

"What's so funny?" he grumbles, tickling my side.

I giggle again. "You. You sound like a bear." My voice is rough, but it makes him smile. He makes me smile.

"I'm glad I could amuse you." He stretches again and opens his eyes, and we spend time just staring at each other. I don't know if I'll ever have the chance to do this again, so I'm basking in it.

We wait for Bella to wake, but that doesn't happen. Emmett takes it upon himself to act as her alarm clock and kick her...repeatedly.

She groans and kicks back, narrowly missing my legs. "Stop it, Em. I'm sleeping."

"Why do I always get blamed?" he asks. "What if Rose is the one kicking you?"

"Rose doesn't sleep in socks," she explains. "I told you I learned how to kick from you. Watch it or I'll tell Mom."

Emmett grumbles under his breath and kisses my forehead. I close my eyes, still soaking everything in.

When we all decide to crawl out of bed, we each take a few minutes to freshen up. My face is a disaster, makeup smeared and bloodshot eyes. I clean up as best as I can, leaving my face blank. Empty. I don't touch my hair. Bella's given me a fishtail braid. A long, sad fishtail braid with pieces of hair escaping here and there. Hanging in the balance like the pieces of my life.

Everyone is quiet when we meet downstairs. Breakfast is somber. No one talks more than a couple words of praise for Esme's food. It would be delicious if anyone could actually eat.

I'm afraid to ask about last night, but the talk can't be avoided. Emmett takes my hand, and we walk to the living room to find a spot on the couch. Bella sits and takes my other hand, squeezing tightly.

"We're here," she promises in a whisper. I love that she isn't promising me any more than what she's sure of. They'll always be here for me, and I know that. But I want to be here too.

Carlisle and Esme sit on the coffee table in front of us. They're serious, but I can see the hope hiding in their eyes.

"We spoke to both of your parents last night," Carlisle explains to me. "Esme and I don't think it's fair to make you move in the middle of your last year of high school. And selfishly, we don't want you to go."

"We love you, sweetheart," Esme says, patting my knee. "You're like our second daughter, and we'd be just as heartbroken as our children to see you go. So we've worked out a plan, and after a rather long talk, your parents are agreeable."

She smiles over at Carlisle, and he nods.

"You'll be staying here with us. We'll work out the specifics a little later, but we'll be your guardians for the time being. You can finish the school year, and really, we wouldn't mind if you stayed longer than that. This is now your home."

Home? I'll have a home?

Emmett shifts slightly and leans over to pull Esme into a hug. "Thanks, Mom. Dad. You have no idea what this means."

She says something to him about rules and open doors. I don't really attention. I'm stuck on the word home.

My seventeen and a half years of life have been filled with many things. A home is not one of them. This family who has known me for such a short amount of time is giving me a home.

I want so badly to believe it. I do. My heart grabs on to the idea and expands with warmth. My head lags behind, wondering how any of this could be true.

"Stop," Bella whispers. I turn to look at her, and she sternly meets my eyes. "Stop doubting. My parents have their faults, but they'd never lie. Especially about this. You can believe it. I promise."

Tears fill my eyes as I hug her tightly. These aren't sad, bitter, or angry tears. I've cried enough of those in my life. These tears are freeing. Filled with hope and promise. And the knowledge that I can keep my more forever. It's all I've ever needed.

"I love small towns." I sigh happily and lean my head against Emmett's shoulder.

He chuckles and kisses my hair. "Oh, come on, Rose. Don't you want to go out to the city? See the lights and be famous or something?"

"Everybody dies famous in a small town," Bella points out.

I nod. "That's deep, B. Nice observation."

"Thanks, but it's a song lyric." She giggles and bumps her shoulder with mine. "I'll let you listen some time."

I hum and let us return to the quiet as we sit and think with our bare feet dangling off the dock.

Emmett's only teasing me about the city. He knows how I missed it at first but now never think of returning. My place is here with our family.

The Cullens have made the past six months better than I thought they could be. After the disaster of Christmas and the miracle of the day after, my life calmed and mellowed to the point where I feel nothing by love and contentment. It's the best feeling.

My parents are in Paris, and while I miss my mom sometimes, I can't imagine being anywhere but here. We talk on Skype once or twice a week, and that's enough.

Carlisle and Esme are the ones who I got to for anything. They give the best advice and only grimace slightly if it has to do with my relationship with their son. They've caught us in compromising positions a few times, but we would never completely disrespect them and all they've given us. Given me.

The dock, on the other hand, has been disrespected many times. Thankfully, it will never tell.

Yesterday Bella and I graduated high school. Today we're back on the dock, ignoring the prospect of the future.

Nothing about the future scares me, mostly because I have a plan. I'm going to be an interior decorator like Esme. I've been helping her work for the last several months, and she tells me that I have natural talent and an eye for it. It's my mission in life to abolish all zelephants, jewel encrusted Buddhas, and distorted vases.

But for the moment, nothing matters but the three of us on this dock.

Bella has already braided my hair. Two French braids starting at the top of my head and curling down into a heart. My hair is its natural brown now with sun highlights kissing the top. It suits me perfectly.

I'm not sure why Bella braided my hair today though. Not with what Emmett has planned.

"You ready?" he whispers to me.

I take a deep breath and nod. "Yeah. I think so. If we don't make it out alive, know I love you more than anything."

He laughs and kisses my lips. "We'll make it out, don't worry. And I love you just as much."

His love is what's giving me the courage to do this. To slowly bring my legs up and stand on the edge of the dock.

I tightly grip Emmett's bare arm, not letting myself get distracted by his deliciously muscular abdomen as I close my eyes. Bella grabs my other hand, threading our fingers to the point of losing circulation.

"I've got you the whole time, Rose," Emmett promises. "Don't be afraid."

I nod again and hold my breath as he counts to three.

At one, I'm afraid.

At two, the fear beings to wane.

At three, I'm smiling. Emmett has me. Forever.

Then we jump.