Disclaimer: Twilight, as you may have noticed, does not belong to me. I just enjoy playing with the characters because I love them so.
A/N: So you are forewarned, this was my submission to the Fandom Against Juvenile Diabetes compilation. Back then, I hadn't planned on being as bizee bee as I am right now. The plan was for this to start posting immediately when I was able to post the first chapter. That's just not gonna happen. So here's the first chapter. This will begin updating when Tomorrow Is Another Day is done which shouldn't be TOO long.
"Hey, Princess. Wake the fuck up."
Bella blinked blearily, sitting up with a start. Automatically, she hugged her purse - which she'd been cuddling like it was a teddy bear - tighter to her chest, looking up at the scruffy, tired looking face of the man trying to get her attention.
"End of the line, girlie," he said, sounding annoyed. "You gotta get off here."
End of the line?
Still startled and groggy from sleep, Bella stood quickly and looked around. "Where are we?"
The man laughed, shaking his head. "Man, you are in trouble, aren't you, girlie? Coney Island. End of the line."
She fell silent but followed the man off the subway, looking around with a rising anxiety.
Coney Island was not her intended destination.
She shrank back a moment, a little wide-eyed as she took in her surroundings.
Coney Island looked like it had been taken over by mer-folk.
All around her were men, women, and children with brightly colored tails, shimmering body costumes and... well... not much up top.
Bella glanced to the side only to snap her head forward again, her face flushing red with warmth.
Not much on top, if anything at all.
"Excuse me. Do you know -"
Bella turned to find that the man she'd followed off the train was no where to be seen. He'd been swallowed by an intimidating crowd of people. They brushed by her, some of them bumping against her in their rush to get wherever they were supposed to be.
"Hey, Princess, move it along, your highness," someone grumbled as they pushed passed.
Bella wrapped her arms around her middle and hurried off to the side, looking around, trying to regain her bearing. As she craned her neck, trying to read the signs around her, find out where she could get back on the subway going the correct direction - back to familiar territory in this big city.
Because she was looking up as she walked forward, she didn't see the three young men in front of her until she'd barreled into one of them.
"I'm sorry," Bella murmured, moving off to the side, intent on getting away from the men - boys really. She thought perhaps they were twenty.
The second man stepped in front of her. "Where you off to so quick, baby?" he asked.
She chuffed, shaking her head slightly and pivoting again only to have the third man cut her off.
"This the wrong kind of dress for this party," the third man said, raking his eyes up and down her body, making her stomach churn uncomfortably.
The second man snickered. "And she's missing her seashells, awww."
"Not much to cover," the first man said derisively.
Bella swallowed hard. "Excuse me," she said clearly, again trying to move around the three men. She surreptitiously let her purse slide down so it was hanging from her hand by the strap. Her heart was beating a thousand miles a minute as she looked between them, wondering if it would be melodramatic to scream for help. They hadn't done anything really, hadn't touched her... yet.
"There you are!"
Bella jumped when she felt a hand slip into hers, twining their fingers together. Her automatic instinct was to jerk away but he held her fast. When she lifted her head, she found herself staring into steady brown eyes. Somehow, she trusted him, and she let him pull her to his side.
"Come on, sugar," he said, steering her away from the three men. "The parentals are waiting for us."
She let him lead her a distance away, out of sight of the men, though a glance over her shoulder showed that they'd already lost interest. Breathing a sigh of relief, she quickly put some distance between herself and the boy who'd gotten her out of a potentially sticky situation.
He was a boy, she realized. He couldn't have been that much older than she was.
"Are you okay, Princess?"
"I'm fine," she said shortly. "Why does everyone keep calling me that?" Her annoyance wasn't really directed at him but at herself. She hated feeling so out of sorts and needlessly scared.
The boy leaned back against the wall of the station, shoving his hands in his pockets and regarding her with an amused expression. "Well, even in a crowd like this, you stick out," he said, nodding downward at her body.
Following his gaze, Bella realized exactly how out of place she must have looked in her prim, tailored dress. The boy was dressed like everyone around him - well, like everyone who wasn't dressed as a mermaid, anyway. He wore dark jean shorts and a bedraggled looking, button-down black shirt. Both were wrinkled. Beach-bum casual.
Bella sighed, rubbing her eyes tiredly. The boy chuckled, slipping his hat off and tossing it between his hands. "So what brings you to Coney Island?" he asked conversationally.
She debated inwardly for a few moments, wondering whether she should mark herself as so easy to take advantage of. Then again, the boy already knew she was out of place and out of sorts. "This wasn't my intended destination," she said finally. "I fell asleep on the subway and -"
"You fell asleep?" he interrupted. Shaking his head, he gestured at the purse she clutched in a vice grip. "Have you checked to make sure you're not missing anything?"
Grimacing, Bella opened her bag and dug through it quickly. Peering into her wallet, she was relieved to see the few bills and single credit card carried still in tact. Jostling her bag again, she could see her cell phone where it had fallen to the very bottom. "Everything seems to be accounted for."
He snickered again, shaking his head. "Man, you really are in the wrong part of town, aren't you? Why do you talk like that? And where are your parents? What are you, 14?"
Bristling, Bella stood up a little straighter. "I'm 16," she grumbled. "I'll be 17 soon." Rolling her eyes, she leaned against a pillar, trying to relax. "Anyway, I'm fine on my own. I just fell asleep, that's all."
He smirked but didn't argue, which she was grateful for. "Why don't you tell me where you were headed, kid? I'll get you where you're going."
"I wanted to head out to some museums - you know, experience New York. But maybe I should just go back to the the hotel," she mused, still feeling a little shaken.
"Where you staying?"
For a moment, Bella debated on lying. She knew the reaction she was likely to get when she told the boy the name of her hotel. Still, she wanted to be back on her way to familiar territory, and he'd been nothing but helpful so far. "The Plaza," she admitted.
He pursed his lips, whistling. "So you are a princess." He laughed. "What are you doing hobnobbing with the lowly peasants on the subway? If you're staying at The Plaza, I'm sure you coulda had a driver take you wherever you wanted."
"Just because I have money doesn't mean I need to waste it," she retorted, feeling irritated. "The subway is more than adequate to get me where I'm going." Her expression softened somewhat, and she looked away. "Besides, it's not really my money. My parents were never very well to do. It's my step-mother's money, and I'd rather not use it if I can help it."
He tilted his head, regarding her curiously. "Fair enough." He jerked his head across the street. "The entrance to the train you need is a couple blocks this way. I'll walk with you." He offered his hand. "My name's Jasper, by the way. Jasper Whitlock."
The buzz of paranoia that had been humming in her brain since she was startled awake on the subway spiked but quickly receded. She took his hand, shaking it with a firm grip. "Isabella Swan."
He was handsome, she realized as her hand dropped back to her side. The thought made her blush for some ridiculous reason.
"You know, though," Jasper began as they started to walk. "If you want to experience New York, there's no better place than right here, right now. Museums are fine, I guess, but New York is happening all around you."
"Um, some very warped version of The Little Mermaid is happening," she murmured, her eyes taking in all the bizarre and brightly colored costumes.
"Where do you go for Mardi Gras? New Orleans, right?" He shrugged. "Maybe you can read about it in a book, see a collection of beads in a museum, but you're not going to get the atmosphere. Same thing goes here. The Mermaid Parade is part of our history, part of the artyness of the area."
"Artyness?" she giggled at his made up word.
He winked at her. "Lotta artists around here, kid. Free spirits, I think your kind calls them."
"My kind," she said scathingly. "I'm not some preppy bitch, you know."
He held up his hands in a placating gesture. "That's fine. I'm just saying. If you really want to experience New York, why not stick around? You're already here, after all." He hesitated a moment before he continued. "And I don't mind hanging out with you, if you want. I could be your tour guide."
She quirked an eyebrow, taken aback by this unexpected turn of events. "Come on. Really?"
"Sure, why not? I'm here anyway. I got nothing to do today. The parade is at two, and I wanted to check that out, but there's always plenty to do on Coney Island." He grinned at her then, and Bella felt her breath catch in her throat.
His grin was more than a little hot. It kind of made her bones feel all melty.
Great, now I'm making up words.
Bella glanced around, realizing the teeming sea of people didn't feel quite as intimidating with Jasper at her side. "If I'm really not going to be a bother," she hedged.
Though she wouldn't have thought it possible, his grin got even wider. "Nah. Like I said, I was going to be here anyway, and you seem like a cool kid."
"You're so full of it," Bella snickered a little while later, catching him staring sidelong at a particularly pretty mermaid. "You're not here for the 'artistic spirit', you're here for the tits."
He blinked at her a moment then laughed loudly, coming to a stop in the middle of the sidewalk. "First of all, I am a teenage boy, after all. I think about sex every six seconds - which, by the way, is much better average than reality. It's not my fault if I like boobs and they're everywhere."
Bella shook her head, ignoring her blush at the turn in conversation. After all, it was her fault.
Jasper chuckled, shoving his hands in his pocket as they continued walking. "See? I thought there was a normal teenager in there. I can't believe you said tits!"
"You think I speak too formally, don't you?" Bella said, rolling her eyes. "It happens more when I'm nervous. My stepmom, she parades me around with her kids so everyone can see what a perfect combined family we are." She grimaced. "I hate it. All the hand shaking and such. She expects me to be very proper - you know, a lot of flowery words to show off the private school education she bought for me." She shook her head, realizing she was babbling in front of this near total stranger. "Anyway. It's just habit. I know it makes me sound like a snob."
He waved his hand. "It's all good. I get it. My friends always poke fun when I let a y'all slip," he said with a laugh. "I'm originally from Texas."
Looking around, he tapped his lips, a contemplative expression coming over his face. "Hey, you got a twenty on you by chance? If you want to fit in, I bet I could make it happen for around twenty dollars."
More curious than anything else, Bella reached into her wallet, producing the twenty dollar bill he'd asked for. Taking it, he nodded his head in the direction of a group of mer-folk, and Bella followed as he crossed to them.
Fifteen minutes later, Bella was out twenty dollars but had a flowing skirt to pull over her dress covered in sequins in every shade of green, blue, teal, and turquoise known to man, and a shawl made of some gauzy material set about her shoulders like a swirl of light green ocean.
Besides her new wares, Jasper had put on quite the show. Bella had never experienced anything like it outside of her books. Certainly the boys at her preppy school weren't this charming by a long shot. When he spoke to the group of girls - women - he'd wandered up to, his voice had gotten a shade deeper, his tone lilting. He leaned in, teasing them lightly as they talked.
Bella had experienced a brief pang of unreasonable, idiotic jealousy. He hadn't talked to her like that.
She felt slightly mollified when he wrapped his hand around her wrist, tugging her over to the group. Together, they clucked over her as she flushed red, but she had to admit she was more comfortable blending into the crowd, even if her outfit was a little ridiculous.
"Hmmm," Jasper mused, tapping his lips and looking on her with a smile that made her want to duck her head. "Almost, almost. One more thing."
He turned back to the little group, particularly a young woman who sat with what Bella recognized was an impressive makeup case. "Bella, come sit over here for a minute. Charlotte here is going to paint your face."
"What?" Bella looked around at the gathered women. They all had brightly colored face paint, shiny splashes in all sorts of hues and designs, painting the skin of their faces, necks, chests, shoulders... just everywhere. "Oh, I don't think... I mean, I'd feel silly."
"It's not silly. It's fun. And I'll be you'll look even prettier than you do already."
At that, Bella did duck her head, smiling because she just couldn't help it.
"Purple and green, I think," Charlotte mused. "Maybe a reed-like design?"
"What do you think, Bella? Shall we leave it up to Charlotte? " Jasper asked, grinning at her. "Come on and I'll let my friend, uh -" he pointed at another woman.
"Lucy," she supplied.
"I'll let my friend, Lucy, paint me pretty."
"I don't know if I could improve on what's already there," Lucy said slyly.
Jasper winked. "Well, make me sparkle, sugar."
"You were right. This is probably the best parade I've ever seen," Bella admitted. "The most fun, anyway." She was trying not to notice the way their sides brushed. The crowd was immense, and it was natural that she shied toward Jasper.
"It's always fun," he agreed. "Good New York experience?"
"The best so far," she said with a smile.
As the crowd converged, Jasper reached out, slipping his fingers through hers so naturally, if she didn't know better, Bella would have believed it was the norm for them, like they'd been friends forever.
She tried not to read too much into it, tried to ignore the fact that she suddenly felt like giggling and grinning and... otherwise acting like some of the other girls at school, squealing over boys. He just didn't want her to get lost, that was all. It didn't mean anything.
It didn't escape her notice that when they were past the worst of the crowd, he did not drop her hand.
"So what's it gonna be, kid? Back off to your yacht or you want to explore Coney Island more?"
Bella tugged her hand out of his, abruptly annoyed. "I don't own a yacht. Why do you keep calling me kid anyway? You don't look like you're that much older than me."
"I'm not," he said, looking far more amused than contrite. "I'm 18, but just barely. My birthday was three days ago. He tapped her nose playfully, silencing any other retort. "Don't take it personally, Bella."
She regarded him for a handful of moments, as if debating whether she was going to let him off the hook. Of course, when he leveled that deathly grin at her, the fight was over before it started. "You're not sick of me yet?"
"Well, then let's get something to eat. I'm peckish."
Jasper laughed, shaking his head. "Peckish," he echoed, beginning to walk again.
"You know, I really hate that she sent me to a private school. Mostly, I agree with my step-mother's ethics and with her viewpoints. She's a good senator, I think," Bella said as they walked. "But it's hypocritical to send her own kids - and me - to a private school when the majority of her constituents could never afford the same privilege. Avoiding the problem isn't going to solve anything. Good schools should not be something only the rich can affo -"
"Whoa!" Jasper said, throwing up his hands. "I didn't mean to spark a political debate," he said, chuckling. "I mean, don't get me wrong. I see your point, but what say we have some hot dogs and forget about anything serious for a few minutes."
"Hot dogs?" Bella asked dubiously.
"Not just any hot dog, Bella. The hot dog to end all hot dogs." He swept his hands out grandly. "This is the Nathan's Hot Dog."
"Is that supposed to mean something to me?"
Jasper gave her a disparaging look. "Really?" he cried incredulously. "You can probably quote the works of Shakespeare by heart - all that iambic pentameter shit - and you've never heard of the most famous hot dog in the United States."
"You're getting awfully defensive about a wiener."
He snickered. "Okay, ki...Swan. Now your participation is mandatory. Come on."
"Aren't Grey's Papaya supposed to be the best hot dogs?"
Jasper sighed, shaking his head sadly. "You need to stop watching Fools Rush In."
After Nathan's - which Bella had to admit was good - Jasper dragged her down to the Boardwalk.
"These games are rigged," Bella said bluntly.
"I'll show you rigged. What do you want?" Jasper asked.
Looking over the prizes, Bella tapped her lips. Well, if he was going to insist on showing off. "I want a big ass panda."
"Language, Bella! I'm scandalized." He stared at the thing, grimacing. "You really want the most obnoxiously big stuffed animal on the entire Boardwalk?"
"You said anything," she pointed out.
"I did at that," he mused. "Okay. One big ass panda, coming right up."
"Those games are rigged."
Bella laughed. "I told you that. I'm not just a stupid tourist, you know."
He looked over at her, his smile making her breath stutter, and he tugged lightly on the end of her ponytail. "You're not a stupid tourist. Tourists usually annoy the shit out of me."
"It's good to know I'm not annoying," Bella said, feeling inexplicably shy suddenly. It was strange how quickly the air around them changed. His casual touch felt weighty somehow, significant. And he was looking at her in a way that made her nervous. Not nervous in a way that made her want to run, but a tingling in her belly that she didn't quite know what to do with.
"Well," he murmured lowly, idly running the tip of his finger down her arm. "Maybe you should get your stepmother to look into this. Scandalous. People are being ripped off."
"Maybe," she echoed. She wasn't quite sure what she was agreeing to.
His finger came up, tapping her once beneath her chin. "At least I won you something, right?"
In spite of her rising nerves, she grinned, looking down at the prizes she carried. "I like Slinkys," she assured. "And this wraparound monkey is pretty cute."
"Don't forget the Rubik's Cube," Jasper pointed to the thing sticking out of her purse. He sighed then, pursing his lips as he looked at her. "It's getting late. I should probably get you back to your hotel."
"Well, here we are," Jasper said as they walked up to The Plaza.
Bella couldn't be sure, but she thought that they'd slowed down the closer to the hotel. By the time they were at the entrance, they were enacting what could be labeled a casual stroll.
"Do you... Do you want to have dinner or something?" she asked awkwardly, blushing furiously.
He looked down, but there was a smile on his face. "I don't think that's a good idea."
"Why not?" she asked, curious about his choice of words.
"Look at me, Bella," he said, holding his arms out. "I've never even looked at a place as fancy as The Plaza. I don't fit in there."
"I didn't fit in at the parade," she pointed out.
His grin broadened, and he stepped forward, into her bubble space. "I think it'd take a little more than twenty dollars to make me look like I belonged here," he said softly. Bella found herself holding her breath again, looking up and finding him so near her. "So, I guess that means you had a good day?"
Finding herself tongue tied, Bella nodded. She swallowed hard, trying not to feel ridiculous and failing. "For you too, right?"
"Yeah," Jasper said, taking another step toward her. "It was a very good day."
Bella bit her lip, finding herself utterly frozen to the spot. She felt young and foolish but eager as she stared up at him. What she expected to happen, she didn't know.
She was sure she wanted it to happen, though.
His fingers under her chin, Jasper tilted her head up, looking her in the eye a moment before he ducked. Bella closed her eyes, knowing with sudden certainty that he was about to kiss her.
"Bella, you're back."
Bella flew backward, her eyes widening as she spun to face her father. "Dad!"
Hands on his hips, Charlie Swan stepped not so surreptitiously in between Bella and Jasper. He paused then, taken aback. "Bella, what happened to your face?"
Bella realized belatedly that her face was still streaked with green. "It's a long story," she mumbled.
"I think that's my cue," Jasper said wryly. He stretched a hand out, quickly squeezing Bella's. "Thanks for keeping me company." He tipped his hat at Charlie. "Sir."
As she watched him retreat, ignoring her father's questions for a moment, it took Bella almost a minute to realize there was a paper in her hand.
When she was sure her father wasn't looking, Bella opened the paper, grinning when she realized Jasper had left her his e-mail address.
A/N: Thanks to all those who donated to a worthy cause and thanks to jadedandboring for beta work! Well... what are your initial thoughts?