ENTRY #83 - AH

Pen Name(s):
Twitter or Facebook:
Title: I Chose You
Picture Prompt Number: 15
Pairing: All Human, Bella / Edward
Rating: R
Word Count (minus A/N and Header): 9,989
Summary (250 characters or less, including spaces and punctuation): Ignored by, but hopelessly in love with her best friend, Bella follows Edward into a world she shouldn't touch and must face the consequence of that choice. She reviews their past; only at the end does she see things for how they truly are.
Warnings and Disclaimer: I do not own Twilight. All characters belong to Stephenie Meyer. Story comes with the standard tissue warning. Story contains sensitive subject matter including but not limited to: substance abuse, self harm, and death. Please read with caution.

A/N: I will include a proper authors note with thanks and shoutouts after the contest if over, except for the following advertisement: This story was beta'd thanks to Project Team Beta. Look 'em up. Check 'em out. Let 'em teach you grammar.

~*&*~ I Chose You ~*&*~

You loved me in your own special way.

I meant the world to you, but not enough to keep.

You made mistakes. You believed I wouldn't understand why.

I was more than you deserved. You were all that I wanted.

We met as children. You didn't like me at first. You picked on me. I played with your sister though you were mean to me. I kept coming over to your house to play even though you made me cry. I had a horrible crush on you. You always ignored me. You were just another cute boy who had every girl wrapped around his finger. A boy who wanted more, and didn't realize he already had it. Your parents adored me because of my innocence. They saw me for what I was – an honest child who simply wanted friends. I had my fitful moments, but didn't carry a mean bone in my body. Because of that, I was hurt more often than not.

One day your sister wasn't home when I came to play. You stopped me as I went to leave.

"Do you want to hang out?" you said.

"Sure," I replied, surprised you were talking to me.

That day you bothered to learn more than my name and weight. And when you learned of the toys I owned, we devised a plan. I had a Nintendo in my room. I could play violent, corrupting games like Mortal Kombat without getting into trouble. We told your parents we were going to play Super Mario Brothers, but we never did. We played Mortal Kombat until you went home. You left with a smile. I liked that. You became my friend that day.

You came over without my having to come and see if you could play. That excited me. The kids I played with didn't usually seek me out. You liked my brothers and sisters. My parents were scary, you said, but they were nice to you. You learned that my parents almost never yelled. They never hit me when I got in trouble. I learned your parents were so strict they hit your backside with a belt if you were bad, and sometimes when you weren't. I didn't understand why. Neither did you.

I stayed over at your house with your sister, and we played Marco-Polo in the bedroom. I always lost because the room was small, and I was too big to hide. Your sister was tiny compared to me. We talked our parents into letting you stay at my house without it being weird, since you were a boy and I was a girl. I may have had a crush on you, but you were my friend, and we weren't like that. Our hormones hadn't kicked in yet – we were interested more in video games than the opposite sex.

You'd stay in my room, and we were allowed to shut the door. My dad didn't like it, but my mom trusted that we weren't doing anything wrong. I thought it was silly you woke up early every morning while you couldn't believe I slept into the afternoon. You laughed when I made bologna and cheese for breakfast. You liked me because I was odd and made you laugh. I liked you because you were cute and nice to me. Your hair was a color I'd never seen on a boy. Your eyes were, too. You thought my hair was neat because the curls bounced without hairspray. We went back and forth between houses like kids shared between families.

One day you burst into my backyard where I was roasting marshmallows. You were out of breath and giggling.

"Listen…" You tried to make a high-pitched squeal. It always made me laugh because you sounded like a girl when you did it, but this time your voice crackled.

"What's the big deal?" I didn't understand your excitement.

You lost your voice as you tried to speak. "My voice is changing. I can't reach a high pitch anymore." You squeaked again, and we both giggled.

You were excited because it meant your body was changing. You were becoming a man. I feigned excitement for you. Unlike me, I knew you couldn't wait to grow up. You stole a few marshmallows and squeaked again to make me laugh. I did, of course.

As the years passed, other friends would come and go. You were the only one who stayed. I hung out with your sister, but as time wore on we found we had little in common. You took up most of my attention anyway. More often than not, I'd find myself thinking of you. You made other friends and acted different around me when they were near. I didn't think anything of it at first, but as we grew it started to bother me. I was different from them, and you treated me as such. I didn't like them and they didn't like me, although you said that was because they didn't know me like you did.

"I think you're cool, so they will too," you said.

I still didn't trust them. I didn't like who you turned into when you were around them. I could see how your behavior changed between them and me. I didn't understand at all.

You still came over every other weekend. In the summer you would stay for days at a time. You liked coming over to my house rather than staying at yours. My parents didn't yell over the stupid things yours would. My mother adored you, as did I. You were smart and a good kid. She liked that I had a friend like you. Still, my mother knew a lot more than she let on.

Your body started to change after your voice did. While I sported a chubby face and ridiculous haircut, your hair stood spiky and you became taller, leaner. You started playing sports and hanging out with big groups of people. You'd go to parties but told me little about them. I'd see the way you looked at other girls when we went out in public. Your entire bravado would change, and I'd chastise you like a sister all the while encouraging you like a friend. You were at the dating age, and I was being left behind more often.

I didn't look like other girls. I wasn't pretty like they were. All the boys treated me like I was an alien. I tried to ignore it and go on as if it didn't matter, but inside it hurt. I wished I looked like the pretty girls you knew. I wished I could grab your attention like they could. I dreamed that one day I would break the ugly duckling spell I'd been cursed with and blossom into a beautiful swan.

You entered high school, terrified and excited at the same time. I asked you why.

"It's just a new place," you told me. "I'm nervous because I'm a freshman. Freshmen always get beat up. I gotta get a good rep so they can't touch me."

There was a twinkle in your eyes like you already had a plan in place. I knew you would charm the high school kids like everyone else. You would find your way.

You drew a picture one day when we were bored. "You can sell it when I'm famous," you said with pride. The picture was of a mutated dog and an old frog in a wheelchair. "They're best friends," you continued. "They're decrepit and senile, but still kicking it."

"Friends until they croak?" I asked, observing all the small details of the picture.

Your long fingers cracked as you stretched. "Literally. Note the frog."

That next summer, we didn't see each other because you caused too much trouble at home. You told me you were going to stay with your uncle in Montana for a while. You'd be back by the end of summer. You never called or wrote while you were away. I visited with your sister, but it wasn't the same without you. I missed you terribly. Everyone knew why except for me. I thought I missed you because you were my best friend.

I had a crush on you from the first day I saw you. It showed in the way I acted around you, the way I talked to you. It was seen in how I looked at you, the things I did for you. You were my best friend. You were like a brother. I understood I loved you, but not that way. I told myself I had a crush on you because you were downright beautiful. There wasn't another girl who disagreed. I adored you. You became my whole life without me even noticing.

I hadn't understood until you came back.

"Her name is Victoria," you told me. "I wrote a poem about her… can I read it to you?"

I sat in your bedroom in shock. I nodded as instinct took over, my inner best friend kicking in. I dealt with the girls you were around all the time although I didn't like it. You'd never written poems for them, though. If you had, you never showed me.

I listened carefully as you spoke. Your eyes lit up at the thought of her. My heart ached, but I stayed calm. You were my friend, and I wanted you to be happy. If she made you happy, I could deal with that.

I toyed with the seam of my oversized shirt. "You really like her?"

You smiled wistfully. "She's the prettiest girl I've ever seen." I mustn't have hidden my hurt very well, because then you blurted, "You know what I mean."

I scrunched my eyebrows, picking up on what you were thinking. "No, I understand. You like her… I'm not insulted or anything." I insisted.

"Are you sure, I mean…" You paused and looked me over, deciding something. You put the paper back in its folder. "Never mind, I shouldn't have told you."

Now I was insulted. I knew you knew I was hurt because of this Victoria and my defenses shot up. "Don't get your panties in a bunch. I'm just surprised, that's all. You don't write, let alone write poetry. She has to be some girl."

You sighed and smiled, relieved at the train of thought I fed you. "Well, yeah, I mean, I frickin' wrote her poetry," you laughed.

You told me about her fiery red hair. How her eyes were as blue as the deep ocean. I pretended to choke because you were being cheesy. In truth, I didn't like the idea you were close to her.

That night, I cried quietly into my pillow. You'd never have the look in your eyes when you thought of me that you had when you thought of Victoria. While I could make you smile, I'd never make you smile like you did that afternoon. You'd never look at me like I wasn't anything more than a sister, a friend. I cried because I liked you much more than I should. I allowed myself to revel and wallow for all I realized and lost in the same moment.

I loved you, but I didn't own you.

You owned me, but you didn't love me.

This was not a good thing at all.

I calmed myself by thinking of ways I could act normal around you since I admitted how I truly felt. Finding I'd basically acted like a little girl in love the entire time I knew you didn't curb my embarrassment one bit. Still, I couldn't go without seeing you. I needed to devise a new plan of action.

I would act around you exactly as I always had. I would push the brakes a little, but pretty much stick to being my same silly self. I knew I wore blinders when it came to you. All too often, I overlooked and underplayed the things you did that hurt me or made me angry. I decided that night to shift my focus. I couldn't have you the way I wanted you, but I wouldn't give you up as my friend. I wouldn't give up hoping for more between us, either, because you never know what the future might bring, but I wouldn't dwell on it. You meant too much to me. The idea of spending less time with you than I was already allowed made my heart ache.

I needed to put on my big girl pants to deal with this. And that made me cry all the more.

I was blessed with my first period two weeks later. I sobbed the whole day. Mom held me and explained all the little things I needed to know since my body officially announced itself as a woman. I was horrified this had happened without my permission. When I said I was going to put on my big girl pants, I meant it metaphorically.

I knew about biology. I understood what it was when I saw the blood. But I didn't want it. I didn't want to have to worry about all these new and terrifying things that came along with being a woman. Growing up was complicated enough without a period; with it I knew it was going to be downright unbearable.

I never told you what or when it happened, yet you still figured it out. You knew I never wanted to grow up and that I ultimately despised how girls were suffocated by bras and pads. You came over one weekend and I still hadn't gotten out of bed. You looked at me sympathetically and lay next to me.

"Are you okay?" It was all you said, but I knew you knew. You had the same look in your eyes you did when you were in on a secret.

"I feel like my stomach bottomed out and took up residence in my foot," I grumbled.

You snorted. "Do you need some chocolate? A heating pad, maybe?"

I glared at you in spite of my pain. "No, but you should move if you don't want your testicles punched."

You scooted to the edge of the bed and laughed. "Hey, leave my sack out of this. It didn't do anything to you."

For a millisecond, I pondered the image of what that included. There was an awkward pause. You quickly changed the subject.

You held my hand over your heart. "For what it's worth… I'm sorry you're in pain."

The pain faded as you touched me. You had the sweetest, most caring look on your face.

"C'mon… get dressed. I'll buy you an ice cream. Double-chocolate fudge, just how you like." Your crooked smile lit your eyes. You didn't like when I felt bad.

"So you're looking to end my pain by putting me into a sugar coma?"

Your fingers lightly brushed my cheekbone. My heart spluttered. "Anything to ease your suffering," you said sarcastically, with an underlying hint of something I couldn't make out. "If you're unconscious, you can't feel pain."

That was the last time you spent the night in my room. You opted for the couch the few times you stayed after that. You spent more time with my brother when you came over than with me. You were family, so at first I didn't mind.

I saw you smoke one of his cigarettes and thought it was your first time. When I asked him for one, he flat out told me no. He didn't want to get killed by mom. When I pointed out she'd kill him for giving you one, he made you brush your teeth and use extra-strength mouthwash. Mom cornered me later, asking if either of you'd been smoking in the house. I lied and told her no. She asked again. I gave the same answer. She knew I lied for you. I didn't want you to get into more trouble than you already were. I had the odd feeling that smoking cigarettes wasn't your biggest issue.

Your family moved across town. I barely saw you for the rest of the year. You came over now and again but wouldn't stay long. You surprised me on New Year's Eve, showing up unannounced with your parents. There was a fight, and they wanted you gone, only somewhere you couldn't get into trouble. So they brought you to my house. You didn't object, but you weren't really there for a visit. You wanted to see my brother, but he'd already headed out. I was glad you'd come because I missed you. You never called or e-mailed. I was beginning to wonder if I'd done something wrong. You fell asleep on my bed after your parents left. I slid your shoes off and covered you with a blanket. You seemed at peace as you slept, like it was the only time you weren't tortured by one thing or another.

I was the only one awake as the ball dropped in New York.

A million people celebrated along one street while I sat, by myself, on the couch.

I was in desperate need of a new hobby.

I picked up on the hysteria surrounding boy bands. I liked pop music and enjoyed copying the dance moves. You listened to artists like Nine Inch Nails and Eminem. I dared to dress more girlish as my hair grew longer and my breasts got bigger. You started wearing baggy clothes and talking like a gangsta, whatever that meant. Your sister called you a douche-bag-wannabe. I hoped it was a phase you'd grow out of, much like my ugly duckling syndrome.

You hit another growth spurt and suddenly were taller than I was. It made me feel weird. I'd always been taller than you. You gaining the height advantage left me unsettled in unmentionable ways. You began shaping up and building muscle tone. I'd yet to develop womanly curves and still couldn't fit in anything below a size fourteen. I took a nose dive in the confidence department because I looked like an acne-ridden brick. Compared to you, I seemed horrifically out of place.

You joined the football team. I didn't know until your mom brought it up one day. You invited me to a game, though I didn't accept until you insisted I come. I got the feeling you didn't want me there. I wasn't pretty like the other girls you knew, or even like your sister was turning out to be. You knew how I felt about my image and told me I was pretty anyway. You said how I felt on the inside would reflect how I looked on the outside. You said things sometimes that made me believe you saw me as more than you let on. It left me terribly confused.

I dressed in my darkest, most girlish clothes, hoping I wouldn't embarrass either one of us. Being different only had its advantages when you weren't surrounded by those who ridicule the weakling. I knew where I fit and stuck to my role. You knew as well, and in midst of everyone who'd come to watch the game, you pretended not to know me.

Afterwards, your parents were too busy talking to see it. But I saw it. I felt it. You stood next to your friends and waved me off when they weren't looking. It made me angry. I didn't deserve to be treated that way. You knew I didn't deserve it, but you did it anyway. I only got you alone as it was time to leave because I followed you. You were staying behind while your parents took me home.

You feigned innocence when I called you on your actions.

"I have too much to pay attention to," you claimed defensively. "I see you all the time. I don't always have to pay attention to you."

I called bullshit. You were hiding something.

"It wouldn't have hurt to introduce me. The least you could have done was say hello or even look at me, but no, you didn't even do that. Do you know how that makes me feel?" It made me feel like shit, I wanted to say. My voice rose, and I found myself shouting, "You didn't even acknowledge my presence, and you're the one who invited me!"

You shouted back. "I didn't… I didn't even want you to come today!"

It felt like you slapped me in the face. I couldn't think of anything I did to make you ignore me.

"So why didn't you tell me to stay home? If you don't want me around, then stay away. Don't come to my house. Don't talk to my family…"

You scoffed. "You can't keep me away from your family."

I stiffened and glared at you. "The fuck I can't. You really think my brother will want to hang out when I tell him how you've treated me?"

I fought to keep the sadness out of my voice. "What I did do to make you hate me?"

Pain stretched across your face and you tugged your hair. "God, I don't hate you… believe me… I…" You reached for my hand but hesitated. Your eyes flickered behind me. Someone was coming. You didn't want them to see.

"I don't believe you," I whispered.

I walked across the field to the road without looking to see who was coming. I didn't wait for your parents. The sun had set, and I'd left my jacket in the car. I didn't care. I wanted them to worry. I wanted you to worry. I wanted them to be mad at you because you were the last person to see me. I wasn't one of those kids who acted out when they got angry. If I disappeared, it was because something bad had happened. I'd let you stew on that and let them blame you for hours, just to let you know you weren't the only one who had control in this relationship. Mine weren't the only strings that could be pulled. I held power over you, too, even if I didn't understand exactly how much.

I hurt just as bad as you. Things went on in my life that I didn't want to talk about. Only I was willing to reach out to you. I wanted to spend time with you and hash things out. I didn't ignore you when things got bad or when I felt there was something you didn't need to know. If I didn't want to be around you, I told you so. I didn't hurt you to make you go away or protect you. Had I known many people outside of us, I would have proudly introduced you as my friend. My circle was small, but incomplete without you. I don't think I could have ignored you if I tried. And that thought frightened me.

I walked the safest roads I could find. I knew walking away like that was stupid and would cause everyone to worry. I'd face the consequences when I got home. I'd take being grounded if it meant my message would get across to you.

Whatever we were dealing with wasn't healthy. I was too young to feel this strongly. Too young to give another person this much control. I'd heard awful tales within my family of relationships gone horribly wrong. I promised I wouldn't make the same mistakes. I knew there was an obsession here growing beyond my control. I couldn't function properly without you in my life, and I didn't know when that happened.

I wondered if I was over thinking things. That perhaps I was too involved and confused over feelings to the point I lost touch with reality. Maybe I was crazy and picking up mixed signals I then interpreted wrong. I thought a lot during my walk about the differences between right and wrong, sane and crazy. I thought about how you treated me when we were alone versus when we were in public. I thought about how you treated me when we were younger versus where we currently stood. I thought about things girls my age shouldn't have to think about when it comes to relationships. I wasn't even in high school yet. But if I knew anything, it was that when it came to you, my senses were heightened tenfold.

I could feel it when you entered the room without seeing you. I'd think of you and suddenly you'd call. I'd have the strangest feeling something was wrong and later find you'd gotten into trouble. I was dealing with something otherworldly, and I was in way over my head. But I knew I wasn't making things up. I had a choice to make. I could continue down this road with you and see where it went, or I could start over before I fell in too far.

The question was, was I strong enough to face either possibility?

I'd been walking for hours before I finally caved and admitted I was lost. I stopped inside a convenience store to use the phone, flip-flopping over who to call. It was late enough that I knew your parents would have told my parents I was missing. I didn't feel like dealing with that at the moment. I called the only person who wouldn't bitch me out the second he saw me. I called my brother.

I walked out to meet him when I spotted his beat up pick-up truck. He hardly said anything. He was usually quiet, but tonight there was a charge on the air.

"Did he hurt you?" he asked as we pulled up to a red light.

I didn't look at him. "Not physically, no."

"Do I need to hurt him?" he said nonchalantly.

I would've loved him to punch you in the face, but I wasn't going to tell him that.

"No."

I stared out the window until we got home. I wished I had a better place to hide. My brother's face echoed my worries, because he knew what I was going to find when I got inside. He'd been a trouble maker in his teen years, only I was too young to remember the things he got into.

Dad cursed me out as soon as I entered the front door. He shouted to look at him as he spoke. I wasn't avoiding his glare on purpose. I felt guilty about what I'd done. Mom walked in and told him to cool it or leave. I was glad when he left. He acted as if I was some horrible daughter who just committed a felony. God forbid I got into any real trouble.

Mom raised six kids before me. She'd seen everything and been over it twice. While it may have worried her, disappearing for a few hours was the least she'd ever dealt with.

"You're grounded," was the first thing out of her mouth; the next was, "So… why?"

I told her we had an argument, and I walked away before I did something stupid. I was calmly informed it didn't work as walking alone through the city at night counted as something stupid.

I wasn't allowed to see you for a while. Mom decided we needed a cooling off period. I doubted anyone could stop me from seeing you if the urge truly possessed me, but I didn't push it. You didn't want to be around me anymore, and I had to deal with that. I wasn't good enough for your friends, and I had to deal with that. I wasn't good enough for you… and I had to deal with that.

I ran straight to the bathroom and jumped in the shower before I even took my clothes off. When the sobs finally hit, I cried out all my anger and fear, all my sadness and frustration. I hated hurting people, no matter the reason. I hated when the ones I loved were hurting and I couldn't do anything to stop it. I hated this power struggle I felt brewing between us. Most of all, I hated myself. I hated myself and the idea of the person I knew I was becoming. I hated the fact that through all of this, I couldn't stand the thought of letting you go.

I unknowingly dealt with things a lot better than you did. You didn't like being told to stay away from me. It was two nights after the fight when you started calling.

Three nights when your e-mails filled the spam filter.

Four, when you saw my brother downtown and he threatened to punch you in the face.

Five, when you stopped by and I wasn't home.

Six, when you finally scaled the tree outside my window.

The amount of pleasure I got out of it was sickening. I didn't get off on it, but I didn't trust myself to say I couldn't if I wanted to.

I let you in, so you didn't kill yourself falling off the tree. You landed with a thump. I usually danced around, so my parents didn't think anything of it.

You were silent once you stood. You could barely look me in the eyes. I spoke first.

"Why are you here?"

"Because…" You paused and ran your hands through your hair. "Because."

In your mind, because was a good enough reason.

My temper flared and I stood my ground. "I can scream for my dad right now."

"Because I needed to see you, okay?" you admitted, frustrated.

You'd never done anything like this for me. I didn't believe you scaled my tree simply because you wanted to see me.

"Yeah… but why?" I pushed.

"Why are you asking why?"

I smacked my palm against my forehead. I was just as frustrated as you were. "You're the one who climbed through my window."

We glared at each other. "You realize this is stupid."

"I realized that a long time ago," I snapped.

Everything we did lately was stupid and convoluted by mixed emotions we couldn't control. I'd already admitted this to myself. I was waiting for you to catch up.

I pulled back when you reached for my hand. Your face twisted like the action hurt you.

"I don't hate you. I promise that's not why… I just…" you struggled and diverted. "My parents won't let me call you. I used a friend's phone…"

"Why even bother?" I asked out of pure curiosity.

You sighed, walking further into the room. "I just need you… I need you to know it's not you, it's me, okay? I don't hate you."

It's not you, it's me. I didn't touch that since it would only be a waste of time. You were using it as an excuse. So I asked something simple, hoping to get a real answer.

"Did you get into trouble because I left?"

"Yeah."

"A lot?"

"Yeah."

"Do you ever complete a full sentence?" I shot, annoyed.

You smirked but weren't amused. "Around you? No."

I took the chance and dove into what I wanted to know. "Why didn't you acknowledge me?"

You shrugged as if it was nothing. "You don't like the people I hang out with… I don't see why it matters."

I shook my head. "That's not the reason."

You agreed. "It's not."

"Are you going to tell me what's wrong?" I demanded, looking you in the eyes.

You stared at the floor. "No."

We were back to square one. "Then why are you here?"

A hundred emotions flittered across your face. You sat on the bed. Your eyes grew dark as you thought, then whispered, "Because they can't keep me away from you."

I hung my head in shame. Of course that would be the reason why you'd come. They told you to stay away completely, thus your desire to see me grew.

You didn't want to be here.

You were here because they didn't want you here.

"I'm not yours to keep." I bit my lip to stop it from trembling.

Your darkened eyes grew even deeper, and in one breath you changed and confirmed everything I'd ever thought about us. "Aren't you?"

You didn't have to tell you me how you felt then. I knew. With those simple words, I knew. I understood what the something was between the words said and unsaid. I saw what you were hiding as clearly as I saw you upon my bed. It was bigger than both of us.

You were too damaged to use.

I was too fragile to keep.

You stood then, and you did something I never thought you'd do. You kissed me. A kiss so tender it would have caused tears had they not already been there. You broke the kiss and rested your head against mine.

"I don't hate you," you said with finality.

You climbed out the window and down the tree swiftly. I didn't need to hear you say goodbye. Your kiss held words enough. I watched you walk until I could no longer see your figure in the distance. And then I cried.

I watched weeks pass through the window. I did what I had to do to function, but I wasn't present. My parents fought to the point Dad made Mom cry. The fights always worsened after one of them tried to talk to me. Dad said I was a disrespectful space-case who needed to grow up and stop moping over a stupid boy. Mom said I was suffering from a broken heart and needed time to grieve. I ignored them both and locked myself in my room.

They officially separated two months after you kissed me. They said it wasn't my fault. I understood it took more than two months of fighting to breakup a marriage. That didn't stop me from thinking I had something to do with it. I cringed at the hate I felt between them. I hadn't paid enough attention to see when all this started. That only added to the guilt I was already wallowing in.

Three months after you kissed me, your sister told me over the phone that you didn't live with them anymore. You'd been missing school and got caught with drugs in your locker. You had a humongous fight with your parents and furniture was thrown. Your mom called the cops while your dad tackled you to the ground. You spent the night in jail with two black eyes and a bloody lip.

"I don't understand. What did I miss?" I uttered to myself, but she heard me.

"It's not anything you missed," she offered. "I love him… he's my brother… but the boy has lost his shit. I hate to tell you this, but you walk around with blinders on when it comes to him."

"He hasn't talked to me in three months," I admitted, ignoring the blinders comment.

She sighed. "Well, maybe that's a good thing."

I ended the call knowing it was probably the last time I'd talk to her. I let her words replay in my mind and for once truly questioned just how blind I was when it came to you.

You were mixed up in a world of smokes, pills, and powders. I wondered how long you'd used and how I'd missed it. I wondered what it would be like to get high – to leave the world behind for just a moment and forget everything that made me hurt. I locked myself in my room and wondered if I could make my way into that world. I wouldn't stay long. I thought if I could just suspend reality for a little while, it would help. And maybe, when I went to get out, I could pull you out with me.

I started to lose weight because I danced a lot. At least, that's why my family saw. What they didn't see was that I'd stopped eating, too. I stopped eating junk food and sugary things. I didn't eat breakfast or lunch and only ate small dinners. I'd snack on slices of cheese. If I craved something sweet, I drank chocolate milk because it was good for me. And there was no way in hell I was completely giving up chocolate. My acne cleared up. I lost almost thirty pounds in seven weeks.

That fall, I had put up a good enough front that no one suspected what I was up to. I turned to the only person I knew who was involved with smokes, pills, and powders. His dad had married my oldest sister, and then they shipped him off to live with his mother. We still saw each other now and again. When I told him what I wanted, he knew you were my overall reason. He knew all too well how I adored you.

"You should have a better reason," he said, sounding amused.

I gave him the stink-eye. "You honestly think I care?"

"You know you do." He chuckled, puffing the last of his cigarette. "You're looking good by the way."

I shuddered and glanced at myself. In my mind, I was still flabby with a baby face. I had no idea what he was looking at.

He started me off slowly with smokes and worked up to pills. I lounged in euphoria, basked in foreign energy. I was always eager to try new things and get the next hit. I could hold my own like a champ. He said I was a born natural.

He knew just where to go to show me off. It didn't take long for word to get around that I was the new girl in the crowd. I saw you at a few parties before you finally noticed me. When you did, it felt as if all my effort had come to fruition.

You were in the backroom surrounded by girls and immersed in a cloud of smoke. I was dancing. My left arm draped over a boy while my right hand held a beer. His hands stroked my hips as we swayed. I could sense your anger brewing. I smiled into my cup two steps before you pushed the boy away. You grabbed my wrist and pulled me out of the house. You yanked so tightly you left a bruise. You yelled as you forced me down the block. I broke away easily and shoved you. I was lucky I had feeling left in my limbs since I was so high. I laughed at how stupid you could be sometimes.

You shook your head and pulled my wrist again. "We need to get you home."

"I can't go home like this," I shouted, trying not to laugh. "My parents will kill me."

Your eyes were fierce, and you pinned me against a parked car. "It's better you die there than die here."

Your words were bitter. I wanted to heed them. I knew with every fiber of my being what I was doing was wrong. I knew I was only hurting myself the deeper I got. But the brake was hard to press on a downward spiral. The only known way to stop was to hit bottom.

"You need to go home," you whispered forcefully.

I pressed my head against yours so we were nose to nose and dared you. "Make me."

You dared me back. "Go."

I could feel the tension roll off your body and fed on it. You were thinner since I last saw you but still so beautiful it hurt. I wanted you so badly. I left you standing under the streetlight. I didn't think I'd see you again that night. I'd the full intention of finding someone decent enough to make out with before the night was over. The music blared from the house. Hardly anyone was outside.

I didn't feel you behind me until your hand covered my mouth. Your other hand twisted my arm around my back. I bit you and turned to run as you pushed me against the trunk of a car. I saw your face and hit harder because I hadn't known it was you who grabbed me. I cursed you out, but it only egged you on. We wrestled across the car into an area full of small, leafy trees. Between the cars and the foliage, no one could see us. Because of the music no one would hear if I screamed. I tried to run but you got a hold on my waist and dragged me to the ground. I kneed you in the gut. You were still able to pin me.

"Is this what you want?" you panted, holding my arms above my head. You pushed your weight onto me and squeezed your knee between my thighs. You nuzzled my ear and whispered, "Because this I can give you."

You were digging for a response. One of fear. Only I wasn't afraid, and that made you angry. More than that, it scared you. I struggled to free my wrists.

"You won't hurt me," I huffed. "I trust you."

You pushed harder to prove your point. "Are you sure about that?"

I jerked my head up and kissed you as hard as I could to prove my point. At first you wouldn't respond, but I didn't give up. Your lips soon began to move in sync with mine and your grip on my wrists loosened. Your hand slipped down between my hair and the ground and cradled my head. We struggled for breath and battled for dominance, silently daring the other to be the first to break the kiss. Your other hand snaked along my side to the hem of my shirt, lifting it until you palmed my breast. I moaned against your lips and arched my back against your touch, leading your body to settle directly over mine.

It didn't take long for parts of our clothes to disappear. You slid your jacket under me before you slid into me. You begged several times to tell you to stop. I never did. I urged you to keep going through the pain when you tore me inside. It was temporary, and overshadowed by how much I wanted you. You finished before I could and slowed. I didn't mind. I wanted every piece of you every way I could have you. I would do it again in a heartbeat.

You walked me home and asked if it was okay to see me again. I told you it was but only if you meant it. Your regret served to sober you when you saw the blood stained through my jeans.

"If you apologize, I'll kill you." I muttered.

You apologized for wanting to apologize instead. I didn't kill you.

We hid in the alleyway behind my house. You asked when I started using. I didn't answer you. I asked the same question back. I didn't wait for your answer. I kissed your lips and slipped through the fence. I didn't expect to see you again.

It wasn't as easy to stop as I hoped it would be. I'd grown so accustomed to numbing myself I did it even when I didn't want to. Sometimes when I went out, I'd find you there as if you were waiting for me. I'd use and dance. You'd be there using and dancing with me. Sometimes we wouldn't make it as far as the using or the dancing. Your lips would find mine before anything else, and you'd enchant me with kisses and promises. You were my choice drug, so I didn't mind.

I only got high away from home. You knew I wouldn't use anywhere near my house, and took complete advantage with me none the wiser. You kept it all away from me and replaced it with yourself. Then, when I hurt so bad from needing a hit, you'd slip me a pill and we'd fall into bed like nothing else mattered. I treasured every way we moved. Every way we touched. Every way we kissed. It wouldn't be like this for us with anybody else. We'd live and die by these moments, I was sure.

You were mine. I was yours. It was as it should be.

As winter crept along, I'd been so wrapped up in everything else I forgot just how observant my mother was.

It was the weekend. I couldn't get a hold of you. I could feel the need creeping up on me through hot flashes and cold sweats. If I didn't get a hit soon, I'd start to shake. I didn't want to do that in front of my parents. I waited forty minutes and called you every five with no luck. I left the house to find a hit for myself. The cool winter air aided in keeping the hot flashes at bay, but I quickly started shivering. I was at least twelve blocks from the house when I fell over with crippling stomach pains. I crawled along the sidewalk dry-heaving. With no strength in my arms or legs, I couldn't move off the icy cement. I trembled in a lucid mix of cold, panic, and withdrawal. I heard a car screech. The last thing I saw was my mother's face before everything went black.

Four weeks.

That was how far along I was.

That meant I was due in August.

Meaning you knocked me up in late October.

I was in the phase where my body would stop producing my period and keep the blood for the fetus. I just hadn't missed the period yet. I never paid enough attention to physical education to notice the signs of pregnancy as you experienced them. I only paid attention to the things which could get you pregnant. After I was properly lectured by the doctor, I realized I'd pretty much ignored them all.

"The pains were a warning sign," he told my mother before turning to me. "Given your predisposition to narcotics and your low blood sugar, you're lucky your mother got you here in time."

"Will there be any damage to the baby?" Mom asked. She was already thinking of it as a baby.

The doctor looked at me when he answered her. "It's too soon to tell at this point."

Mom blamed herself. Dad blamed her too.

I called him an asshole and asked her not to cry.

"Please don't blame yourself, Mom. This is all on me."

They kept me at the hospital for a week to detox and keep an eye on the baby. I was released but in program on an outpatient basis. They listed me as high-risk pregnancy given my age and drug history. Every test they ran came back normal. The baby would be fine. I didn't even have an STD. I wasn't sure if I believed in God at that point, but I was incredibly thankful for the results.

I studied the effects alcoholism and drug usage had on families. It was required reading in AA. I couldn't stop sobbing over the picture of the helpless infant on the pamphlet. The message was received loud and clear. I endured three months willingly and finished my classes. I kept myself healthy. I got things ready for the baby's eventual arrival. But I was sort of floating along in a secluded bubble. I missed you like crazy. A therapist helped me deal with my misguided emotions concerning that – better late than never, I supposed. No one knew where you were. It was as if you'd fallen off the face of the earth. I found myself praying every night that you were okay.

I was six months along when I finally saw you. The carnival was visiting just outside the city. I couldn't go on the rides, but I sure as hell could eat the food. I'd just purchased a giant bag of pink cotton candy when I spotted you. You were running the attractions, talking to a beautiful woman. You said something and she laughed. Your smile faltered when you noticed me and took in my protruding belly. I made to get lost in the crowd. You caught up before I moved too far.

"How long?" you said, fully looking me over.

"Six months." I breathed.

"Is it…?"

"Yes."

"Why didn't you…?"

"I couldn't find you. Nobody could," I answered sullenly.

A thousand emotions crossed your face, and you swallowed. You settled on resignation.

"I'm gonna step up to this."

I watched the fear and indecision dance across your eyes, and I knew, though you would try, you would fail. You didn't mean it.

The baby kicked due to my increased heartbeat. I placed my arm protectively around my stomach. "You don't have to step up to anything. We're well taken care of."

Your eyes didn't leave my stomach as you said, "Can I…?"

I'd never seen you move as slowly as you did that moment. I'd never seen you as careful. It gave my heart hope. You touched my belly gently and I moved your hand to where the baby kicked. It responded in kind underneath your touch. You looked as if you wanted to burst but held it all back. Your eyes misted over. You pressed your fingers over them to hide it. When you opened them again, they shone with new determination.

"I'm there for this." The promise sounded different than before.

"I'll believe it when I see it."

You went back to the fence. The beautiful woman was gone.

You called a week later. Again, the week after that. We talked for an hour each time. You struggled for subjects to talk about. You avoided what needed to be said, as always. You came with me to a doctor's appointment. I was surprised; for once, you didn't smell like alcohol and weed.

Only one person at a time could be in the ultrasound room. My mother stepped aside and let you stay. You looked scared as you took in the machines. I promised they weren't there to hurt you. You rolled your eyes. I giggled at the cold jelly on my skin. The picture on the monitor came in bright. The black and white image of a baby appeared on screen, followed by the rhythmic sound of a steady heartbeat.

There were only two other instances in life when I'd seen you cry. Both of which were caused by physical pain. I watched you watch the monitor. A single tear crept down your cheek. I wanted to kiss it away. I wanted you to revel in the feelings I'd already embraced.

We created this. I wanted to say. This little creature carries pieces of you and me. The best pieces.

I gave you one of the pictures the nurse handed me. You studied it and stuck it in your pocket. You held my hand as we walked through the parking lot.

"That's what it feels like to be a man," you spoke with conviction.

I tugged on your hand. "That's what it feels like to love."

And I knew you fell in love the second you heard the heartbeat. I did, too.

You did what I expected you'd do the very next week. You did what I'd hoped you wouldn't. You didn't call. You didn't answer your phone. Another month passed, and no one knew where you were. I let you get to me. I let myself believe. I was so tired of crying. I was tired of being so determined to keep you in my life no matter how many times you left. I entered my eighth month with a promise to myself and the baby that I'd get over you. I hadn't a clue of how to start. I didn't know how to move on without the piece of my heart I'd given away so willingly as a child. You never wanted it. I'm not sure either of us truly had a choice in the matter.

I loved you without reason.

I loved you through thick and thin.

I loved you completely and unconditionally.

But now there was someone else I loved that way too.

Someone more important than me… or you.

There would be a scar on my heart where it once knew you. But I would grow around it. I'd stitch my battle wounds and keep marching on. I'd focus on every possible cliché ever written over a broken-heart. And I would laugh. I would live. I would love. Life had taken away one reason and given me another. I would forever and always be connected to you. I suppose in a way I was thankful for that. Because while you wouldn't let me have you and keep you, you left me with the next best thing.

I received your postcard in mid-July. It was postmarked in Montana.

I know at this point it won't mean much, but I promise you, I'm getting better.

I wondered cynically if someone else wrote on your behalf.

I pulled out an old shoebox I kept full of little things which reminded me of you. I placed the postcard safely inside. I figured the baby may like to look at it one day.

I was nothing but a grump by the beginning of August. It was hot and sticky every day. I was itchy all over. I was excited and terrified that the baby would soon enter the world. I was excited to see its face. I was terrified of what would happen to my vagina.

There were three fans blowing on me in the air-conditioned living room. I'd been enjoying dinner when the doorbell rang. My brother answered. He finally got his chance to punch you in the face. You always spoke of wanting to be a man. You certainly took his fist to your face like man. You didn't fight him back. And after the commotion died down, with a steak on your eye, you admitted you were not a man.

"I don't know how to be." You confessed as you winced. "The night of the ultrasound, I got completely shitfaced. I woke up with no clue where I was. My wallet was missing…" you reached into your pocket and pulled out the worn photo "…but this was still there."

Your head shook with disbelief. "I don't think I ever cried so hard in my life."

I stood across the room, arms folded over my chest. You were actually looking me in the eyes as you talked.

"I hitchhiked all the way to Montana. I was so fucking scared. When I showed up, I begged my uncle to either help me or kill me. He has a shotgun. He'd do it too," you laughed bitterly, then turned serious. "I want to be better. I know I need to be. I'm not gonna make any promises I can't keep…"

I snorted. "There's a first."

"Look…" you held up your hands "…I'm not asking for a romantic relationship."

Because we both know where it led last time, I heard between your words.

"But what I am asking for is a chance to earn… your… forgiveness."

"You need to stay clean." I spoke through my teeth. "If you go off track, you will never see either of us. Ever."

"You don't need to threaten me," you said quietly.

"That's not a threat. That's a promise."

You sighed. "Okay."

You didn't bother calling. You showed up on the doorstep three days later. You found a place to live and were looking for a job. I asked if you signed up for any group meetings. You shrugged off the idea until you saw my face. You said you'd look into it. I gave you the number of the place I went to. I offered to go with you, but you declined. You took the card and stuffed it in your pocket. We bantered back and forth every other day for the next few weeks. I was glad you were taking the steps you needed to get better. There was still a long road ahead.

You didn't believe I was ever in the same position you were.

"There's nothing wrong with you," you stated flatly.

"The fuck there isn't. Look at me." I gestured to my body but meant for you to look deeper.

I'd messed up a relatively happy life and trudged my way into a darker world because I was lonely. I obsessed over a boy who didn't want me. I used every chance I got to make said boy jealous, getting knocked up due to my efforts. I felt like a completely useless fraud with a hopeless future. And I was barely sixteen. But you didn't know all that. You didn't know because I wouldn't let you, and because you refused to read between the lines as much as I did.

I used you just as much as you used me.

We may have gone about things differently, but it was what it was.

You gave me the once over then quickly looked away. "There's nothing wrong with you."

I proved you wrong on August fifteenth. I hadn't intended to. It just kind of happened.

You called that morning. You were looking into college programs. You didn't have a cell, so I couldn't tell you my water broke before nine. My brother was on labor-watch. He pinned a note to the door explaining where we were. I was the one having contractions, and he looked more scared than I did. It made me laugh. Mom arrived just after I was hooked to the monitor.

It was nearing five in the evening, and labor was progressing at a strong pace. You still hadn't arrived. By five-forty-five, I was eight centimeters dilated. My brother left to find you on my urging. He looked like he needed a good excuse to leave the room, so I tasked him with the job. By six-fifteen, I was ready to start pushing. You burst through the door at six-twenty-one with my brother in tow. You apologized for being late.

You held one arm behind my back, the other wrapped around my leg. It was seven-thirty-two. They could see the baby crowning. I cried and screamed as they encouraged me to push. I had been pushing. I was pushing. But I needed to push more. These pushes were the most important ones. I was so tired. I was so close.

We both gasped when we saw her. I hadn't wanted to know the gender until the baby was born. I wanted something out of the whole ordeal to be a happy surprise. She was smudged with red all over, and her tiny head was misshaped slightly. She was beautiful. It was the most disgusting and perfect thing I'd ever seen in my life. They placed her immediately in my arms, and for that, I'm thankful. I'd never felt so weak and exhilarated at the same time. She cried as the nurse wiped her with a cloth. Your long fingers ran soothingly over her matted hair. I felt myself smile. I gazed into your eyes, so full of joy. I was so dizzy.

"Thank you," I whispered.

Your arms wrapped tightly around us and you called my name. It was the last thing I heard anyone say.

I wish I could explain everything to you since then.

"I don't know why this happened."

I wish you could see how clear and simple things truly are.

"She has your eyes. God, she has your eyes."

Where I couldn't find the words before because of my physical limitations…

"She looks more like you every single day."

now I lack words because there are none to properly describe everything I see.

"I'm so sorry… for everything. I'll do right by her, I swear it. I'm so sorry."

I'm not sorry.

"If I wasn't so stupid… If things happened differently…"

I would have made the same choices. And I chose you.

"I love you, Bella. I miss you so much."

I know.