Entry #64 - AU

Truly Anonymous Twilight O/S PP Contest
Pen Name(s):
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Title: Fearless
Picture Prompt Number:
42
Pairing:
Renesmee/Jacob
Rating:
T
Genre:
AH, Romance/Angst
Word Count (minus A/N and Header):
9,982

Summary (250 characters or less, including spaces and punctuation): I didn't have a family, I didn't have any friends – I was a freak, something to make fun of. By now I should have gotten used to the bullying, the beating and the name-calling, but it still hurt. I didn't know there was hope for me – until I met him.

Warnings and Disclaimer: Includes sensible themes such as bullying, depression, and mentions on self-harm. I don't own anything from the Twilight Saga.

"Hey, Freaky-smee Cullen!"

I deliberately ignored the awfully familiar name, cringing instinctively at the sound of it, and I tightened my grip on the strap of my backpack until my knuckles turned white.

Keep on walking, I told myself, my eyes fixed on the dusty tips of my old trainers. Don't stop, don't turn around – just keep walking and ignore them.

"Hey, we're talking to you!"

Something hard hit me between my shoulder blades, and I bit my lower lip with such force I almost drew blood. I knew I would have found a bruise in that spot that evening.

I kept on walking anyway, my chest feeling tighter and tighter with every step I took; I could hear their loud laughter behind me, and it frightened me just like it had frightened me the first time they had followed me after school, in first grade.

Over ten years had passed since that first day, yet the sensation hadn't changed the littlest bit.

Another rock, bigger than the first, hit me on the back of my head, and I stopped dead in my tracks at the sharp pain, my hand automatically running through my long copper ringlets to rub the tender spot.

I turned and, of course, there they were – five or six random guys from school, whose faces were familiar in the worst of ways. It was almost never the same group that followed me – everyone in my year took turns in tormenting me, like it was some kind of game – but there was one person who particularly enjoyed hurting me, and who always led them.

"What do you want?" I spat out, mustering up all my strength to keep my head held high and look at the boy in the front, the one who had thrown the rocks at me, the leader, in the eyes.

He was tall and lean, with tanned skin and longish sandy-blonde hair that fell over his face, partly covering his cold steel-grey eyes; I had heard some girls at school saying that he was cool and mysterious, but to me he was only a vile, horrible torturer.

"Oh, but why, Freaky-smee, we just wanted to have a chat with you," he said, taking a step towards me, then another.

"Leave me alone, Howard," I hissed, taking a step backwards to get away from him, my shoulders slightly hunched in a weak defensive stance. I was shaking, but I held my backpack even tighter so that my hands didn't show how scared I was of him and his friends.

"I can't, and you know that, honey," he replied, his smile sickeningly sweet as he closed the distance between us in three swift strides and grabbed the strap of my backpack, tugging at it with such force I stumbled and almost fell.

Hatred burned in my veins as I heard his laugh; there was no way I could escape him now, for the rest of his friends had quickly surrounded me, blocking any way out.

"I said, leave me alone!" I cried, jerking backwards to break free of his hold on me; he released me, but another boy immediately shoved me back to him, roughly pushing me by the shoulders.

I clenched my fists, feeling small and weak compared to combined strength of the boys and girls in the group, who were staring at me like a pack of ravenous wolves who had just surrounded a defenseless fawn.

"You always bring some friends with you, don't you, Howard the Coward?" I snarled, feeling trapped and directing all of my anger and fear on him like an injured animal. "Poor little boy is afraid of walking home alone, huh?"

I knew I shouldn't have provoked him like that, but I couldn't just stand there as they hurt me once again – I needed to react, if not with my body, with my words.

"I heard someone else is afraid of walking around alone, right, Freaky-smee?" he sneered, grabbing my backpack and tearing it away from my shoulders, throwing all of my books and stuff in the mud. "But poor little orphan doesn't have a Mommy and Daddy or any friends to help her and walk her home! Oh, poor little Freaky-smee!"

"Yeah, you are a freak!"

"No one wants to come near you!"

"You are just so ugly!"

"Everyone hates you!"

"Why don't you do us a favor and go jump off a cliff? It would make everybody happier!"

With every insult, they pushed me hard, back and forth from one side to the other of their circle; when I stumbled and fell, some of them kicked me, others threw me more rocks.

Eventually they lost interest in me, and they left, still calling me awful names all the way down the street until they turned left and disappeared.

I could feel tears threatening to flow out of my eyes, and I fought them back, my throat feeling so tight it was hard to breathe. My books were wet and smeared with mud, and there were brown and green stains on my jeans and hoodie; Elianor wouldn't have been happy when I came back home in that state.

I put everything back into my backpack, my hands shaking so badly I barely managed to take hold of the zipper and close it; then I threw the strap over my shoulder and I ran away as a light drizzle started to pour down, just cold enough to make me shiver.

I ran across the street and all the way through the park, not caring where I was going – the farthest I got from everyone, the better. Eventually my lungs started to burn, and I stopped, letting my already dirty bag fall into the mud; I was half-hidden behind a tall fence, no one would have noticed me. So I pressed my back against the hard wood and let myself slip down to the ground, sobs rippling through my body as I finally let the tears fall.

I missed my family so much…

Why did they have to leave me? Why did they have to take that plane to Europe and leave me with the neighbors just because of a stupid cold? I remembered it clearly, even if almost eleven years had passed since that day.

Some English friends of my Grandparents were celebrating their thirty years of marriage, and the whole family had decided to go to their party – Carlisle and Esme, my Mom and Dad, and my aunts and uncles too – everyone but me had boarded that damn plane because I was sick and, after all, it was just a three-days-long trip, right?

But the plane never got to England, and my family never came back. They crashed somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic, leaving only me behind.

I hated them all because of that.

I wrapped my arms around my legs and buried my face in my knees, feeling utterly lost and just

So

Completely

Alone.

I wanted to go back home – back to the big house in the woods of Forks, back to the small, welcoming town I was born in. I wanted my childhood back, the friends I used to have when I was five and everything was just so simple, my happiness, my innocence.

I wanted my Mom and Dad, whose faces I could remember only thanks to the faded pictures I kept in the album under my mattress at Elianor's house.

I didn't hear the soft footsteps until I saw a glimpse of battered trainers and faded jeans in my peripheral view, and I instinctively jerked away from the tall figure, afraid that it could be Howard or one of his minions again.

The voice that spoke, though, wasn't harsh and mocking, but soft and concerned.

"Hey, are you ok?"

No one had spoken to me with such kindness in years.

"Yeah," I muttered, pushing my hood further down over my face with a hand and wiping my tears away with the other. "Yeah, I'm perfectly fine."

I heard a rustle somewhere to my right, and I knew that he – because he was a boy, I was sure – had crouched down beside me, probably to look at me in the face and make sure that I wasn't a toxic or something like that. I sounded pretty freaked out to my own ears, anyway, so I couldn't blame him.

"You don't sound ok," was his soft reply.

"That's no news to me, thanks," I sighed, finally letting go of the hood of my jacket and turning my head to look at the foreign boy for the first time.

Even bent like that he looked tall – much taller than me, but that wasn't difficult since I was barely five feet-something. His skin was of a deep russet color; he had dark, messy hair and black eyes that were looking back at me with a mixture of curiosity, worry and caution in them. He looked more or less my age – seventeen or eighteen, I wasn't sure.

"Had a bad day, haven't you?" he asked with a small smile, probably trying to cheer me up; I must have looked pretty messed up to him.

"You have no idea," I muttered, shifting a bit and wincing involuntarily as the new bruises on my back and arms screamed in protest. I would have been terribly sore in the morning.

"By the way, I'm Jacob. Jacob Black," he introduced himself. "And you are…"

"Renesmee," I said softly, looking down at my hands. "My name's Renesmee."

He sat down beside me, looking perfectly comfortable on the muddy ground, and whistled softly.

"Wow, that's one long name. Isn't there a nick you go by, something shorter?"

I cringed, the awful Freaky-smee echoing mercilessly in my mind. Everyone called me that at school; to the teachers I was just Miss Cullen, and Elianor never really called me anything, so the derisive mangling of my name was the only nickname I got. I vaguely remembered my family calling me Ren or Renny when I was small, but that was their name for me; I wouldn't have shared it with a stranger.

I let my silence speak for me, and he seemed to understand, because he shrugged and looked up at the cloudy sky.

"Well, it's a pity to cut your name down, but believe me, if someone needed to tell you to watch out for something, you'd be dead by the time they pronounced it fully. How about…Nessie? Or Ness? Sorry, those are the only two I can think of."

I smiled slightly at his words; it felt good to simply talk to someone without fearing insults raining on me at any moment. I wondered who that boy was to act that normally with me: he had never met me before, and I probably looked like a mess with my stained clothes, messy hair and red-rimmed eyes; for all he knew I could have been a toxic or a runaway, yet he was sitting in the mud with me, chatting like we had just met in a perfect normal situation.

"Don't be sorry, they are better than many names they have called me," I muttered, only half-joking; my voice was still raspy, but at least I didn't sound as crazy as only minutes before. My cheeks were still wet, so I wiped them with the back of my hand; when I lowered it, though, I saw that my fingers were smeared with red.

"Shit!" I cursed under my breath; I hadn't noticed the cut on my left cheek before. I hated blood – just the sight or the smell of it was enough to make me dizzy.

"Hey, you are bleeding!"

Jacob's eyes darkened as he took in my red-stained fingers, and his hand went to my chin, tilting my face so that he could see where the blood had come from; the cut was on my left cheek, and he couldn't have seen it from where he was sitting.

"It's just a scratch," I quickly minimized, slowly breathing in and out through my mouth to chase the unpleasant feeling in the pit of my stomach and trying not to think about how warm Jacob's hand felt on my face. I hadn't realized how I cold I was until that moment.

He ignored my words completely, focusing instead on the injury on my cheek.

"Who did this to you?" he asked, ignoring my weak attempt at discarding the whole thing as nothing; he looked much older all of a sudden, his face dead serious.

"I – no one. I fell while I was walking in the park," I lied, but it sounded fake to my own ears. I had never been a good liar. "Face-first. And I hit a rock," I added, trying to make it somehow more believable; that was partially true, because I was sure it was one of the rocks Howard had thrown at me that cut my cheek.

"Fell face-first, huh?" he muttered, looking like he didn't believe me the littlest bit. I wouldn't have either, had I been him.

Then he took a small white square from his pocket – a handkerchief, I realized – and gently pressed it to the cut on my face.

I was taken so off guard I couldn't do anything but look at him with wide eyes. After all this time, I wasn't used to kindness anymore.

"Here," he said, dabbing the wound to wipe the blood away. "Blood always make things worse than they are. I'd put something on it if I were you, once you get home."

I nodded, blinking a few times to clear my mind from the slight haze and suddenly realizing how late it was; not that Elianor would have noticed, but I didn't want to risk to meet my classmates again while walking alone along a dark street.

"God – I have to go, it's almost dark!"

I grabbed my once blue – now brown with mud – backpack and jumped to my feet; I felt dizzy for a moment at the sudden movement, but it passed as quickly as it came.

"Do you live very far from here?" Jacob asked me, getting to his feet and brushing his stained jeans. He really was tall – as in really tall: I didn't even reach his shoulder, something that made me feel incredibly small.

I shook my head, pulling the hood of my jacket back over my head.

"Nope; the house I'm staying in is just a couple of blocks away from here, in Elm Street."

He seemed to consider my words for a moment, his brow furrowed.

"Elm Street…it's the one that crosses with Mortimer Street, right?" he asked a little doubtfully, looking down for a moment. I nodded; how was it possible, that he didn't know where it was? The town was so small!

"It's on my way home," he said with a smile, running a hand through his hair. "Mind if I join you for a while?"

I shrugged, and we started to walk in no hurry, neither of us talking for a few minutes.

"When I asked you where you lived, you said 'the house I'm staying in'," he muttered after a while, looking down at the dark sidewalk. "Isn't it your home?"

He threw me a sideway glance, and I shook my head, kicking a small stone away from my path and looking down at my shoes.

"I'm in foster care," I said softly, tucking my hands deep in my pockets. "I have been for over eleven years now, but that place isn't and will never be my home."

"I'm sorry," Jacob murmured; I turned my eyes back on him, and I saw genuine regret on his face. "I shouldn't have asked."

"It's not your fault," I sighed, shivering in the cold drizzle that had once again started to fall. "You didn't know."

We both stayed in silence for a few yards; then, curious, I asked him: "How come I have never seen you around here before?"

He grinned, his face lighting up completely; he made me think of the sun, so warm and bright.

"I've just moved here three days ago," he explained simply, glancing at the darkening sky.

"That's why the confusion with the streets," I uttered, and he laughed.

"Yeah, well, I hope I will be able to find my way around soon. I mean, I was able to walk around the woods of Forks without ever getting lost once, and now I struggle to remember whether I should turn left or right to go back home!"

"You come from Forks?" I asked, my head snapping up immediately at the familiar name. I couldn't believe it; how many chances were there to meet someone from my home town?

"Y…es?" he answered, but it sounded more like a question than a statement.

"I was born there," I told him, feeling an unfamiliar, genuine smile form on my lips.

"Really? Wait – in what part of town did you live? My house was in the Quileute rez, we have probably met when we were little!"

I shook my head, adjusting the strap of my backpack on my shoulder and feeling my happiness disappear quickly. So, he was a Quileute.

"I'm afraid not – I've never been to the reservation. There was no love lost between my family and the tribe because of some old legends of your people about the cold ones, or something like that. I remember people saying that the Quileutes had celebrated for days after the news of my family's death had spread out."

Jacob stopped dead in his tracks, his eyes wide as he looked at me.

"You…you are the Cullen child," he uttered, looking a little shocked. "I remember people talking about you – you were the only one who wasn't on that plane."

I swallowed hard, feeling tears threatening to overflow once again.

"Yeah, well, sometimes I wish I had been with them instead. Maybe it would have been better, since no one seems to want me around, even now," I whispered, my voice full of bitterness and pain. I had never told that to anyone before.

"It wouldn't have," Jacob murmured as I quickly turned my back on him to hide the fact that I was crying. "Another death would have never made things better; it would have just added to the numbers of a tragedy."

"It's not always easy to think that way, Jacob," I said, balling up my fists with such force my nails almost cut into my skin.

He didn't try to argue with me, and he didn't say some sickeningly cheesy crap about how my parents would have wanted me to have a long and happy life, either. He just put a hand on my shoulder, squeezing it briefly before he let his hand fall back at his side.

"Come on," he told me, nodding towards the dusky sky. "We have to hurry if you want to be home before dark."

We didn't talk again until we stopped in front of Elianor's house, and I took an internal sigh of relief: the windows were dark, she wasn't home yet. Maybe I would have been able to throw my clothes in the washing machine before she noticed what a mess I was. Not that she would have cared about me, of course; she would have just complained about how ungrateful I was, ruining those wonderful jeans and hoodie that she had bought me at the flea-market and that would have fit a girl a foot taller and ten pounds heavier than me.

"I'll see you tomorrow at school, then," Jacob said, and the ghost of a smile made the corners of my lips twitch at his words. Maybe the following day I wouldn't have had to hide in the library in between classes and during lunch. Even if that meant spending that time with a boy who descended from the tribe that had been at war with my family for generations.

He grinned, and he waved at me as he walked away, towards Mortimer Street.

"I'll look for you before the beginning of first hour, Ness! Bye!"

"Bye," I murmured after a bunch of seconds, my voice too low for him to hear me in the distance.

The cold, the dark and the loneliness hit me then, and I ran to the door, the gravel of the narrow path that led to the porch crackling and squeaking under the soles of my shoes.

I turned the knob and walked inside; luckily Elianor always left the door open, or I would have had to climb in through the window since she had never trusted me enough to give me a copy of the key.

I climbed the creaky stairs two at a time and unceremoniously threw my filthy backpack through the half-open door to my room before I stepped in the bathroom, closing the door behind me and turning the lights on.

The bathroom was small and unwelcoming, with cold white tiles both on the walls and on the floor, a plain mirror above the sink and a white shower curtain. Elianor loved aseptic essential style, white walls and polished iron surfaces; I longed for honey-colored woods and warm, bright colors – dark blue, rich green, velvety red, bright yellow. In that house, I had no colors.

I discarded my too-big clothes on the floor and quickly stepped into the shower; the hot water was a blessing after the cold outside. It was the end of October, and my light jacket did little against the chilly wind; two weeks before I had asked Elianor for something warmer, and she had accused me of being an ungrateful, spoiled little scoundrel. So I had given up on it: if I managed to earn some money doing little jobs here and there during the weekends I would have bought a cheap parka; if not, I would have had a long winter of colds and coughs in front of me.

When I shut the tap and stepped out of the shower, finally warm and mud-free, and looked in the mirror, I cringed.

My arms were covered in bruises, some greenish and almost healed, others dark purple and fresh, and my back was as well; I knew that, had I looked down, I would have found the same dark stains on my legs, too. My face was the only unmarked area, except for the thin, long cut that ran along my cheekbone. I rummaged in the medicines cabinet until I found the bottle of hydrogen peroxide, squeezed some on a ball of cotton wool and lightly dabbed the red line on my cheek; then I wrapped a towel around myself and tiptoed to the basement, dumping my grimy clothes in the washing machine.

For a change, that night Elianor wouldn't have had a reason to tell me how ungrateful I was.

I had nothing else to do beside slipping in my room and shutting everything else out, so that's what I did.

Like the rest of the house, the room I was sleeping in was cold and impersonal, like an orphanage's: white walls, greying furniture, white crispy sheets on the bed and thin matching curtains at the window. There wasn't a single book on the shelves above the desk, no pictures on the walls – no signs that a girl actually lived in that room, except for the small pile of clothes one could have found neatly folded in the top drawer of the dresser, the worn teddy bear my parents had given me for my fifth birthday sitting by the pillow and my other pair of shoes, the battered red trainers I usually wore in summer, gathering dust under the bed.

No one knew that I hid my treasures under the mattress – my family photo album, a few paperbacks and the cheap mp3 reader I had bought the previous summer with the money I had earned working at the Starbuck's near the school for two months. I had sneaked in the school's IT Class during lunch break without permission to use a computer and put music into the thing, but it now worked, to my great delight – music was the only thing I had left.

I threw on a pair of holey black sweats and a huge blue t-shirt and curled up on the bed, retrieving the small device from under the mattress and putting the earphones on before I switched the light off. I didn't feel like eating, and I didn't bother to steal something from the kitchen before Elianor came back home even if I knew I would have regretted it later; after all, hunger was a familiar companion to me.

I had grown thinner and thinner in the last months, and she hadn't even noticed; not that she would have cared, anyway – even if the social assistants sent her four hundred dollars a month to pay her back for the expenses of my maintenance, Elianor never fed me much, or spent half a dollar more than it was absolutely necessary on me. I highly suspected that, had I been able to survive on thin air, she would have stopped feeding me at all.

So whenever I was sent to do the shopping I kept a dollar or two of the change for myself, so that I could at least buy lunch at school. And I sometimes skipped meals anyway because the little money I had wasn't enough to buy a sandwich at the school cafeteria.

I pressed the play button on the mp3 reader and closed my eyes as the soft music started to play in my ears; it was Debussy's Claire de Lune, one of my favorite classical pieces ever. My Dad was a musician, and he used to play the piano all the time when I was little; I would watch his hands move over the black and white keys for hours, and sometimes my mother would join us, sweep me up in her arms and dance around the room with me. That song was the one my parents loved the most.

So I kept listening to it again and again until, exhausted, I fell asleep.

The next morning began in the same way as always – with Elianor's shrill voice and a loud rap on my door tearing me from my dreams with the gentleness of a hippo.

"Renée! UP!" Elianor screeched again; eleven years, and she still hadn't learned that my name wasn't Renée, but Renesmee. I groaned, burying my face in the pillow and hoping that I had the power to make her disappear. I would have probably been better on my own, so it wouldn't have been much of a problem; it would have risen my spirits and optimism by much, even. But, she would have barged in if I didn't get up on my own, and I really wasn't in the right mood for one of her you-are-useless endless lectures. I had been taught enough on that subject already.

"Coming!" I yelled, mustering up all my strength to sit up and push my legs off the side off the bed, wincing slightly.

God, every single inch of my body hurt like hell.

I waited for Elianor's footsteps to fade away towards her room before I silently snuck into the bathroom to quickly wash my face and brush my teeth; breakfast wasn't an option for me in the morning, even if I was starving. Oh, well, at least I did have enough money for lunch that day, so I would have been just a matter of a few hours.

Then, as silently as I had gotten there, I tiptoed back to my room to get dressed. I didn't have much of a choice: since everything I owned came from a cheap thrift store downtown, my clothes were either too small or too big for me, and rather worn out. I chose a tank top that would have probably kept me warmer than all of my shirts, which long sleeves were now far too short for me, the only pair of jeans that actually fit me – they were several inches too long, but I knew how to fix them with a smartly hidden turn-up – and my favorite hoodie, of a deep midnight blue that made my hair look like pure copper.

I wasn't, for obvious reasons, one of those look-obsessed girls (Hello? I usually had bigger problems to worry about, like how to avoid being beaten up every day, or find a way to buy myself food so that I wouldn't starve), but colors were something I couldn't give up onto. Colors, and my hair, which hadn't seen a pair of scissors in ten years and cascaded down my back and several inches past my waist in a waterfall of curly flames.

Poetic, huh?

I grabbed my backpack, still muddy from the day before, and I ran downstairs and out without even glancing at Elianor, who was sitting in the kitchen, probably having a rich breakfast. I didn't even bother to take my jacket – it was useless against the cold anyway, so there wouldn't have been any point in wearing it.

The wind was chilly, so I tucked my hands deep in my pockets and walked along the curb at a quick pace to keep myself warm; despite the cold it was a wonderful morning, the sky clear and totally cloudless, and I kept glancing up often so that I could print the bright colors in my mind and use them as a support during the long school morning I had in front of me. Not that I didn't like school – I found some of the classes really interesting, and my marks were excellent – but it was boring; my classmates were just so slow… And besides, I'd had plenty of time to learn that even the most interesting thing could lose its fascination if you had no one to discuss it with.

Saying that the school was small was an euphemism: five hundred-twenty two students, myself and Jacob included. It was a low brick building with big windows and a large garden that ran all around it, benches and tables dotting the grass here and there. To an outsider it might have looked nice, but I actually considered that place as my little personal hell.

I kept my eyes cast down as I walked across the lawn to the entrance door, trying to go as unnoticed as possible; if any of my classmates spotted me in that moment, they would have probably gotten the opportunity to lock me in the broom cupboard before the corridors became crowded with students. They had already done it several times before, and they seemed to find it really amusing.

When I finally reached the safe island of my locker, I drew a sigh of relief: I was right in front of the teacher's common room, no one would have dared to touch me as long as I stayed there.

A quick look to the books in my backpack was enough to know that I couldn't leave the poor, crumpled things all smeared with mud from the day before, so I did a quick run for the bathroom, where I wet a tissue with water so that I could fix at least some of the mess. I didn't meet anyone on my way, and I couldn't believe my luck – apparently, that would have been one of the rare mornings of calm I always wished for but almost never got.

Despite my efforts, not all of the stains were removed from the battered covers of my textbooks; not that I was expecting to be able to do much more with only a wet tissue, anyway. Well, at least they were decent…

"Hey," a soft voice spoke behind me, and I jumped, dropping the books I was holding and instinctively closing my fists as I turned sharply, expecting the trouble I was used to-

And instead I found a pair of black, smiling eyes staring back at me.

"Oh – hey, Jacob! You scared me!" I complained, scowling at the tall boy standing right in front of me, a huge grin on his face.

"Sorry, Ness – didn't mean to scare you, really," he apologized, his smile getting even bigger as he crouched down and quickly picked up all of my books before I could even remember that they were spread all around me in a crumpled heap of paper.

"Wow – English, Biology, Calculus, French, Italian and Latin…I probably wouldn't be able to take half of those subjects. Smart little thing you are, aren't you?" he asked as he peeked at the titles of my textbooks, looking genuinely impressed.

I shrugged, taking the manuals from his hands and placing all of them in my locker except for the one I needed for my first hour, carefully avoiding Jacob's gaze in the process. Was he serious, or was he just making fun of me?

"I just find this stuff interesting," I explained, probably a little too defensively, and he obviously noticed.

"Hey, you don't have to justify anything – I really mean it, you are brilliant to take those many subjects! I mean, Calculus and Latin? I wouldn't understand a line of those books you are carrying!"

I laughed at that, an unfamiliar sound to my own ears; it felt good, the sound so carefree it was hard to believe it really belonged to me.

"See, I can even make you laugh!" he cheered, the smile returning on his lips even bigger than before. "No offense, but you really seemed upset yesterday; I take your smile as a personal conquest!"

I shook my head, hugging my book to my chest and shutting my locker carefully – I didn't want anyone to mess with my stuff in between classes.

"You really are a strange boy, Jacob Black," I murmured as we started to walk along the corridor together, heading nowhere in particular; we still had ten good minutes before the start of first hour anyway.

"Says the Vampire Girl," he replied, and I scoffed, rolling my eyes at him. It really was easy to talk and joke with him, like breathing.

"Still referring to your Quileute legends about my family? In case you haven't noticed, I'm human. I eat. I don't sleep in a coffin. I can walk in the sunlight. And, hello?, my heart beats! Plus, I know some of your tribe's legends, too – you descend from wolves, right? How about I start calling you Wolf Boy?"

He laughed, adjusting the strap of his battered book bag on his shoulder.

"You have a point – no more Vampire Girl, then. Anyway, just for your information, you don't need a silver bullet to kill me. And I don't feel like growing fangs and claws at every full moon."

"Thanking God," I muttered, making him laugh again. I liked the sound – it reminded me of better, happier days I forgot about way too often.

"So, what year are you in, Ness?" he asked after a few moments of companionable silence. "With all those complicated books, it's hard to tell – you could be a freshman as well as a senior. Or are you one of those kids who are so smart they finish High School at, like, twelve?"

I rolled my eyes again, and sighed in mock exasperation.

"Really, Jacob, do I look twelve to you?" I asked, arching one of my eyebrows questioningly. If he answered yes, I was ready to hit him on the head with my English book.

"Nah, not really, I was just kidding you," he said, tucking his hands in his pockets. "But I really am curious."

"I'm a junior," I told him, hugging my book closer to me. I knew I looked younger than that, to the point that I could easily pass for an eighth grader; the fact that I was so small and thin and that I never wore any makeup didn't help, either. "I turned seventeen a few weeks ago. What about you? Senior?"

He flashed his bright grin at me, looking really happy.

"Why, thank you, but I really am not that old. I'm a junior, too – people usually mistakes me for an older student just because I'm tall. It's not bad – actually, looking older than I am usually keeps troublemakers away from me."

"Lucky you," I murmured just as the bell rang; I looked around and suddenly noticed that I had been walking in the wrong direction, and that my English class was in the other wing of the school.

I was almost surely going to be late.

"Hell – I gotta go! See you later, Jacob!" I called, smiling at him from over my shoulder as I ran away.

"I'll meet you at lunch!" he called behind me, waving and grinning.

The thought kept me company for the whole morning, and I couldn't help but smile: no library that day, yay! I wouldn't have had to spend a lonely lunch hour hiding among the shelves of battered books for the first time in what seemed like – and probably were – years.

It was still with a smile on my lips that I walked to the cafeteria when the lunch bell rang; it took me no more than a bunch of seconds to find Jacob in the crowd, for he was so tall spotting him was super-easy.

We queued together to buy our lunch, and he told me about how his first day had been until that point, an enthusiastic smile on his face. He'd had fun, but it wasn't a surprise since he followed only four subjects – English, Mathematics, PE and Spanish, which was renown to be the easiest class in the school.

Once we were done, I had my sandwich in hand, while Jacob was carrying a large tray full of food – an hamburger, two slices of pizza, an apple and a huge piece of cake, practically enough to feed an army.

"Are you planning to eat all of that? You are going to explode!" I teased him, honestly astonished: I usually didn't eat that much in a week!

"Hey, I'm a growing boy – I need energy!" he complained with a laugh as we sat in a lone table in a corner, a little away from the rest of the kids.

"Yeah, right," I teased him, turning my wrapped-up sandwich in my hands. "You're so tall all that food won't probably be enough."

He smiled, but after a moment his expression turned serious.

"Are you going to eat just that?" he asked me, throwing a doubtful look at my poor-looking sandwich; if I had to be honest I knew that it would have barely been enough to silence the hunger for a couple of hours, but it was all I could afford with my less than poor finances.

"Yep," I said, trying to sound cheerful and failing miserably; my stomach was rolling and grumbling pitifully, on the verge of digesting itself.

"But you're thin, Ness," he stated softly, his dark eyes scanning the obvious almost nothing that filled my large hoodie. And he pushed the tray forward so that it was in between the two of us.

"I had a big breakfast this morning; why don't you pick something up from here? The pizza looks delicious," he offered with a smile.

I couldn't help but smile back, touched, even if I would have never admitted that, by his kindness. He barely knew me, yet he was acting like he really cared for me.

"Jacob, you need to eat – you said it yourself not two minutes ago," I reminded him, looking down at my hands.

"I know, and it's true," he stated with a shrug. "But I have the impression that you need food as much as I do, if not more. Come on, eat that sandwich – then we'll share the rest. No objections."

I had to admit, I hadn't been that full in weeks – probably months, I wasn't sure. Actually, I couldn't even remember the last time I had eaten a proper meal like the one I had just had.

It felt wonderful, not being hungry, even if only for a few hours.

"See you after school, then?" Jacob asked me as we rose from our chairs; we didn't share a single class, not even English, the only one we had in common, which was a pity, really.

"Sure," I said, smiling and grabbing my books – I had Latin now, and the Professor was obsessed with punctuality. "Sorry, I have to go – see ya later, Jake!"

And with that I rushed off, feeling light and warm after spending the whole lunch break with Jacob. It was odd, how much he was able to affect me – he made me smile and laugh, something I had almost forgotten I could do, and when I was with him all the bad memories disappeared, taking all the pain and sorrow with them. He was addictive, and in the best of ways.

I made my way through Latin and Italian, my last two classes, without being too bored, and when the last bell finally rang I almost ran from the classroom, quickly collecting my stuff and walking out in the cold afternoon air.

Jacob's last class was PE, so I probably had a few more minutes before he was done; my plan was to wait for him by the entrance door, but the chilly wind made me change my mind at once – I was freezing, I needed to move so that I could warm up a bit.

After all, he would have found me even if I waited for him by the gates, right? I was the only one in the school with that hair color, I stood out like a red light in the snow.

Too late I understood that I'd had the worst idea ever.

I had just walked outside the borders of the school that someone pushed me hard by my shoulders, unceremoniously throwing me to the ground; I managed to cover my face with my hands just in time, avoiding to squash my nose on the pavement but ending up scraping my palms badly against the rough surface.

Damn.

I scrambled on my feet as quickly as I could, carefully avoiding to look at my bleeding hands as I fixed my eyes on whoever had pushed me. Not that I needed to see him to know who it was; I had learned to recognize Howard's gentleness years before.

"Always the gentlemen, aren't you?" I spat, venom dripping from each of my words.

"Oh, why, Freaky-smee, aren't you happy to see me?" he asked in mock delusion, flicking his sandy hair back with a smirk. "And I thought that we were friends!"

He pushed me again and again then, away from the school gates and around the corner where no one would have seen us; I tried to push him back, to fight him, but I was too small, too weak to make any difference.

"Don't you want to be with us anymore, Freak?" another boy asked, reaching out to pull at my backpack and almost making me stumble again.

"You know, you can't abandon friends like this!"

"We saw you, sitting in the cafeteria today, like you were normal."

"What did you think, that you could creep out of your wormhole like this, without asking for permission?"

"They are right. You need to be taught a lesson, Freaky-smee," Howard said, sneering as he grabbed me by the arms and shoved me against the near wall, where I hit my shoulder hard against the bricks.

Man, that hurt.

I slid to the ground, gritting my teeth and fighting the pain as I carefully moved my arm; no broken bones, I had been lucky.

"See what happens, when you don't stick to where you belong, you monster?" a girl asked mockingly, flipping her long, oxygenated blonde hair back.

"Worms belong to mud, freak, didn't you know that?"

"Did you hear them, Freaky-smee?" Howard asked, his voice almost sweet as he bent to look at me in the eyes. "You are not one of us, you will never be. Even your friend, the one who was with you today, will soon learn that it's better to stay away from you. Because, who would ever want to be friends with a freak?"

Anger shot through my veins at his threat; he had already taken everything away from me, but Jacob, he wouldn't have touched. I wouldn't have lost the only friend I had ever had because of him.

"Enough!" I hissed, the pain forgotten as every muscle in my body tensed, ready to attack. "I'm sick of this!"

And then I jumped, faster than I had ever moved, with a strength I didn't know I had, tackling Howard to the ground; he looked at me with wide eyes, surprise and fear clearly showing in them for a moment.

I had never attacked him, in ten years of torments. I suppose he wasn't expecting a reaction from me at that point.

His shock faded quickly, though, and we started to wrestle, rolling on the ground and trying to overcome each other; I was frightened, for I had never fought before and Howard was so much stronger and heavier than me, and it was probably the only reason why I managed to muster up enough force to stand up to him.

I kicked and pushed, fighting tooth and nail against him, his crushing weight and his bruising hands; he had never been that violent with me, which made me think that he was afraid of me, of my anger.

He tried to pin me down, and I caught the only opportunity I had: I kicked him in the stomach with all of my strength, and he pulled back, coughing and pressing a hand to his abdomen.

I made the move to jump on him again before he could get back at me, but one of his friends pushed me aside, against the wall, where I hit my already bruised shoulder again with so much force I screamed.

Then they all went against me at once, kicking me, throwing rocks and everything they found at me, yelling horrible insults as they hit me again and again.

I curled up in a tight ball, trying to shield my body from the blows as they beat me, staining my clothes with the blood dripping from my injured hands, from my nose, from my lip, and wondering whether they had the intention of killing me right there and then. Considering the pain I was in, it probably wouldn't have been that bad.

"STOP!"

My eyes shot open as the yell boomed around me, echoing against the tall walls of the empty alley; it sounded angry and dangerous, like a wolf's growl.

"Let her be, now!"

The small crowd around me scattered in seconds as the tall, dark figure approached, covering the distance in a few long strides. They looked actually scared, a fact that didn't surprise me: when it was me they were beating it was easy, but Jacob…they probably wouldn't have been able to overcome him even if they jumped on him all together, and they knew that.

While his minions ran away like they had the devil on their heels, however, Howard, still half-bent from the kick I had given him, wasn't that fast. There must have been some divine justice going on that day, like, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, because apparently my tyrant was about to pay for his actions.

Jacob – tall, muscular, dangerous-looking Jacob – grabbed him by the collar of his jacket and pulled him up roughly, slamming him into the wall opposite to where I was; Howard, wide-eyed and pale as a sheet, didn't even try to fight him.

Here Howard the Coward was again.

"Didn't your mama teach you that girls can't be touched even with rose's petals, you scumbag?" Jacob spat, lifting him up until he was standing on the balls of his feet.

"D-don't hurt me!" Howard pitifully stuttered, trying to get away. "Please, d-don't hurt me!"

"Hurt you?" Jacob almost roared, slamming him against the wall once again. "Do you know what my ancestors used to do to those like you? They used to skin them and then rip them to pieces, one limb at a time. A slow, terribly painful death. Our legends say many lost their minds halfway through the process. I'm curious to know how long it would take you."

Howard stared at him in horror, his skin turning slightly green like he was on the verge of throwing up – and he probably was.

"I'll tell you this only once, mate, so open your ears," Jacob murmured, the threat clear in his cool voice. "I swear that if you dare so much as talking to her ever again, I'll rip your body in pieces so small your minions will be grey and crinkled by the time they put all of you back together – if they manage to. Have I made myself clear?"

With that he threw Howard on the ground roughly, an expression of deep loathe on his face as the blonde boy scrambled to his feet and ran away in a hurry without looking back.

Then his eyes were on me, all the anger gone as he crouched down next to me, reaching out to gently push my hair away from my face.

"I'm so sorry, Ness…I heard you scream and I ran here as fast as I could. I should have known better than that after finding you like that yesterday, but this...this I would have never imagined. Come on, I'll take you to the hospital."

"No hospital," I said forcefully, wiping the blood from under my nose with the back of my hand and trying to ignore the sickening rusty smell of it. God, I really was a mess. But I knew that going to the hospital would have gotten me in trouble, for it had already happened years before. I didn't want to repeat that same mistake. "I'm not hurt that bad, it's just the blood that makes everything look worse than it actually is. I just need to go home and clean up, really."

He looked doubtful, but he didn't complain as he helped me up and wrapped an arm around my shoulders protectively – a thing which helped me greatly since I was more than a bit wobbly after all the blood I had lost.

I kept the hood of my jacket over my face all the way to Elianor's house, and that, along with the dimming light of dusk that made the bloodstains hard to spot on my dark clothes, helped me to hide the terrible state I was into.

Elianor, as always, wasn't at home – thanking God, I didn't want to know what she would have done had I walked through the door looking like…well, like I had just endured severe beating, which was exactly what had just happened after all.

"Up for a cup of tea?" I asked Jacob as we stopped in front of my door; he was looking at me with an expression that clearly said We need to talk, and, surprisingly, I realized that I wanted to tell him what had happened, because I had the sensation that he would have believed me, unlike everyone else. He, who was the descendant of the tribe my family had practically been at war with for centuries and whom I had barely known for twenty-four hours, was the only person I really trusted.

Hell, I really was messed up, wasn't I?

He nodded, and I led him inside, in the cool, unwelcoming white house.

Welcome into the lab!

We didn't speak as I made tea, pouring it into two old, chipped mugs that respectively sported the logos I LOVE NY and SMILE!, the only not-white-and-plain ones that Elianor owned. Then I took them and silently gestured for Jacob to follow me upstairs, where we would have been able to talk without risking Elianor to barge in at any moment.

As I passed by I spotted my reflection in the large mirror in the corridor, and I grimaced: I looked far worse than I expected, like someone out of a horror movie.

"God, I really need to get rid of the blood," I muttered, wrinkling my nose as I led Jacob to my room, where I laid both mugs on my empty desk. We probably wouldn't have drank that tea anyway, it was just an excuse to talk. "Give me five minutes, ok?"

I closed the bathroom door behind me and methodically began to wash my hands and face, carefully taking all of the blood away; I found out that my palms were covered in abrasions from when I fell, that I had a cut on my lip and a dark shadow forming along my right cheekbone – nothing that I couldn't hide with some concealer stolen from Elianor's bag, anyway. The rest of my body, though, hurt like hell, and I didn't need to look to know that I was covered in fresh bruises.

Some hydrogen peroxide on the wounds, two pieces of clean gauze wrapped around my palms and the worst part was taken care of, at least for now.

So I went back to my room, where Jacob was waiting for me sitting on my bed, a thoughtful, serious look on his face. I plopped down beside him, absentmindedly rubbing my still aching shoulder in an attempt to soothe the pain; I had been worse, but it bothered me anyway.

He seemed to notice, because his expression, if possible, became even darker.

"Why didn't you want me to take you to the hospital?" he asked, his eyes boring into mine with such intensity I had to look down.

"Because I can't, Jacob," I murmured, avoiding to look at him as I spoke. I felt vulnerable in that moment, more than ever before, and I hated the feeling. "I've been there before, but – the doctors, they think that my injuries come from self-harm. When I tried to denounce Howard, his friends swore that he didn't even know me, so the only possible explanation they found was that I was hurting myself."

I laughed softly, but it was hollow, cold sound, no signs of joy, of life in it.

"At the beginning they took me to a shrimp, but I refused to talk to him. And after a few months, came the medicines, to 'keep me under control', they said, so that I couldn't harm myself. For a while I managed to hide those stupid pills, so that they thought that I was taking them, but when my foster keeper discovered what I was doing she started to force them on me. So I started to cough them up behind her back. I was twelve when this started, and it went on for two years before she gave up. And I have no intentions of going through it again."

I didn't realize that I was crying until I saw the drops falling on my already stained jeans, and I pulled my knees to my chest in a feeble attempt to shield myself from the painful memories.

It only made me feel lonelier and frailer than I already was.

Then I felt a gentle touch on my arm, the warmth of it seeping through the sleeve of my hoodie and into my skin like sunlight, and I closed my eyes, relishing the unfamiliar sensation.

"I'm sorry," Jacob whispered, gently wiping my tears away with his other hand.

"You didn't know," I replied softly, without looking at him. It wasn't his fault, only mine, because I was broken beyond the point of return.

"I'm not sorry because I asked, Renesmee," he murmured, lifting my chin and waiting for me to open my eyes. I did, surprised to hear my whole name come from his lips, and the sadness I saw on his face made my heart squeeze.

"I'm sorry that you had to be through all of this. But things can change. My mom's a doctor, she will believe you. This has to stop, Renesmee. You deserve so much better than this life."

"How can you say that?" I asked him, tears running freely down my face. "You don't even know me, how can you be so sure?"

I didn't say it out loud, but I was afraid. Afraid to…believe, after all this time, that there was hope.

His eyes softened, and he smiled sadly at me, looking like he knew perfectly what I was thinking.

"Because I've seen how good you are, Ness. And I want to help you."

He took my bandaged hand in his gently, and I understood that it was an offer – he was offering me a choice.

"Do you trust me?"

Hell, yes! Yes, of course I trusted him! Against rational thinking, I trusted him with my life.

It was like something was set free inside me, like all of my desperation had suddenly turned into strength, and I nodded, squeezing his hand back.

He smiled then, and I felt warmth spread through my body like I was sitting right in front of the sun. He really was addictive to me.

He stood and gently pulled me to my feet, still holding my hand like he was afraid I could run away if he released it. I didn't mind, though.

"It will be ok, Nessie," he promised, and he bent his head, his lips brushing mine for the briefest moment. It was barely enough to constitute a kiss, but it was there, and it felt

So

Completely

Right.

So I followed him outside, fearless.

Six months have passed since that night, and now when I look back to those eleven years of my life I can hardly believe it wasn't just a nightmare.

Theresa Black was just like her son – kind-spirited, sweet and caring – and she didn't hesitate when I told her what had happened to me; she didn't even ask Jacob for confirmation before she believed me.

She called the police right away, and this time there was evidence of what happened, a witness and a detailed medical report of my injuries; no one contradicted me, no one accused me of lying.

I don't know what happened to Howard after that, but he disappeared from school, and people murmurs that he has been sent to reformatory. I hope the rumors are true.

Also, Elianor was put under investigation for child abuse once Doctor Black discovered that I was severely undernourished, and a month later the social assistants found me a new foster family in town – a real family this time, who welcomed me with such warmth and kindness I cried on my first day there.

I don't think I could have found better people than Ben Cheney and his wife Angela: they are so caring, so loving…And their five-year-old daughter, Tanya, is adorable; it took no time for us to become like sisters.

I overheard Ben and Angela talking last week, as I walked past the half-open kitchen door to go upstairs to my new room. They are thinking of legally adopting me, and they will ask my opinion on it soon. I think am going to accept.

As for Jacob and I, we are together now – we have been since I moved into my new home. With him by my side and Howard gone, I have finally managed to make some friends, and I haven't been hit or called Freaky-smee in six months. I am still getting used to that.

At the beginning Jacob and I used to talk about before, but we have stopped now – I've gotten over it, I think, for while the memories are still there, the pain is gone.

And now I'm free, free and fearless.