"Shut it, Swan. It's none of your business." Unknown to him, that statement was the beginning of my fascination with him. Well, I was an avid reader and like any other girl, had read my fair share of romance novels. What was different about me, however, was like I didn't daydream about having a Prince Charming come in to sweep me off my feet. I was clumsy enough without that, thank you very much. Well, that was what Edward Masen tried to do, anyway. I got hell from Jessica for days when I rejected his invitation to our homecoming dance, which was all the girls had been talking about lately. Really, I had decidednot to go at all since it wasn't like I was going to dance anyway, so why should I have let a mere guy change my mind with just a simple question? Although I had to admit to being shocked that he was interested in such a plain girl like me – or who knew, maybe it had been a dare from his friends, but I normally wasn't a bad judge of character and he had certainly seemed sincere enough.

If Jessica could hear my thoughts now, I'm sure she would be shrieking again, so yes, maybe I was understating matters a little, considering how Edward was one of the most sought after guys on campus. He was popular and an all-rounder, as they term it, being the baseball team captain while aceing all his classes. So I suppose I could see Jessica's point of view, but my logic made sense to me too. All the talks the school organized were always going on about how we shouldn't try smoking or drugs or well, you get the idea, bad stuff because of peer pressure. So I figured, how is this different? What kind of reason is it to accept his invitation simply since everyone expected me to? Renee may not be the most responsible mum, but I think this piece of advice she gave me was unexpectedly wise.

She said not to lead a guy on, and I can totally see her point there…because it would be like giving them false hope, you know? Right, sorry, just realized I've gotten totally off topic here. So, as I was saying, what caught my interest in the opposite sex were people who were enigmas. That statement certainly led me to realize he was one, that there was more to him than that bad boy reputation. And I wanted to figure him out. Well of course, how hot he was didn't hurt either. I know how shallow I sound, but honestly, I had been ogling that gorgeous arse of his for days, even as I had been constantly whining to Angela about how he stunk of smoke and how frequently he swore. So…I shut my mouth after he made that statement. I may, as quoted from Angela, need a verbal filter, but in that instant, my brain knew well enough to cooperate with him. That look of his promised death – well, maybe not literally, considering how much trouble he would probably get into for it – anyhow, coupled with his reputation, I wasn't about to test my luck.

Even if I doubted all those rumours were true, it wasn't like I had a way to find out which ones were, since asking him was absolutely out of the question. Besides, he could make life hell for me by simply not turning up for our tutoring sessions. I needed that on my college application, and although telling the teacher he wasn't cooperating was an idea, it didn't sit well with me especially if I had to reveal that it was because I had tried to pry into private matters. I wasn't about to totally drop the matter, though. They say sharing your troubles help, and I'll bet he hasn't shared his with many, if any. He always seemed so angry, even in my first impression of him. He had been scowling then, and I don't recall ever seeing him smile. Or perhaps that first bit could be excused, since I had been my typical clumsy self and ran into him, spilling my orange juice on his jacket. For all I knew, maybe it had been his favourite one and it never looked or smelled the same after that incident and he's held a grudge against me since then?

Well alright, I could totally imagine Angela's exasperated voice in my ear now. "Bella, you think too much." Which is really, quite true, but not like I'd ever tell her that. I hadn't really thought about Jasper before the tutoring, though. I knew he was adopted by the Hales, though he refused to take their name, and that he had a sister named Rosalie who was already in college. He had always been just there, in the background, a seemingly rebellious teen who people warned me away from. I couldn't even remember how many times I'd heard mutters like "He's bad news, Bella," or "You should stay away from Whitlock, that kid's just a disaster waiting to happen.". Not to mention the plentiful rumours…apparently, he had been on a week's suspension after he threatened a teacher with a knife for giving him an F on a test, he had a gang outside, he took drugs, he had a dragon tattoo on his back, he had nipple rings, well, you get my drift.

All these had obviously made me rather apprehensive when the time for our first tutoring session came around, but I figured I had worried pretty much for nothing. He was a sullen, moody student. Up till the point where I randomly decided to change my methods of teaching, after I realized the one I had been using might not have even helped him since it was basically how we were taught in class. So I thought over it and figured it would be better for me to explain in detail why he was wrong, not just simply make him do corrections. I requested that he bring his English workbook for our next session, and got him to redo a comprehension we had done in class. As I had predicted, he made pretty much the same errors that he had before.

"So, why do you think your answer is right?" His face darkened, and I wondered what in that statement had set him off.

"I'm done," He spoke up harshly, sweeping his book and stationery off the table. I jumped from the resulting crash.

"Hey, what-'" I caught his sleeve as he turned to go, and both of us froze as faded scars across his wrist were exposed. Which was the point that statement was made, and afterwards I practically pleaded with him, albeit in an angry way, to at least tell me what I had done to make him so mad. Later I was grateful that I had chosen to change the location we used in the same week I had decided to change my methods, for I couldn't imagine how it would have gone in the library – our row would have attracted loads of attention, and he would probably have ended up hating me for the revelation he had made to be known by others, for there was no doubt that it would have been publicized. Or maybe he wouldn't have said that much at all. As it was, he practically blew up at me.

"I just-I just hate it, okay? You make me feel so fucking inferior! Like she used to-" And this time as he broke off, I let go of his sleeve and let him leave. I learnt later that he didn't usually answer direct questions unless he was upset or angry enough. So, that day, I picked up his stationery, dusted off his book, and somehow managed to catch him before class the next morning to return them to him, as reluctant as I was. I knew it would be awkward and that I wouldn't know how to act around him now, but I didn't want him to get into trouble for not doing his homework either, given that the chances he would actually approach me to get his stuff back was extremely low. Basically, I shoved them into his hands, muttered "We have to talk," and ran off to my next class.

I was tapping my fingers nervously against my leg, wondering if he was going to turn up, just as the person in question dropped his bag onto the bench across me, not meeting my gaze, which strengthened my resolve to stick by my original plan. I wanted to keep to my promise that we talk, but I felt it was better done only at the end of our tutoring session in case he stormed off again. I didn't want my curiosity to affect his learning, too. So we proceeded as normal, and I couldn't tell if he found it surprising that I hadn't brought it up or if he could read me well enough to know that our talk would be an inevitable occurrence. For if it was the latter, I certainly couldn't say the same about him. He was amazingly hard to read, which led me to the random thought that he would definitely make a better poker player than me. Though it wouldn't make a difference if we were playing with Lauren – I generally tried not to insult people, but that girl was really thick.

She was nasty to me because she liked Tyler, who kept chasing after me. She was somehow convinced that my continual rejection of him was an attempt to play hard to get. Couldn't she see she didn't have any reason to be jealous, that I wasn't interested in Tyler at all? Anyhow, as our tutoring session neared its end, I couldn't help the restarting of the tapping off my fingers as my nerves acted up. I hadn't any idea how I was going to start the conversation with him. He finally spoke up, irritation plain in his voice, "Just spit it out.".

So I blurted, "I think we should be friends," and received a snort as well as a raised brow as a result for my effort.


I bit back the temptation to retort as I normally would have, wanting him to know that I was serious.

"Just…listen. I've heard the rumours, but I don't trust that everything is true, and I want you to know that I'm willing to just…overlook them. Besides, more friends never hurt, right?" There was a beat of silence, followed by a shrug and disbelieving eyes.

"Whatever." He probably didn't trust that I actually meant what I said , and I was determined to prove him wrong. What happened to him, to make him have so little faith in the world? In humanity? I smiled at him.

"I keep my promises. See you tomorrow, Jasper."

So the next day, I made a point of smiling and waving whenever I saw him, receiving a nod from him each time in acknowledgement. It wasn't much, but I was satisfied – at least he wasn't ignoring me, right? I could tell Angela was curious about my sudden change in behavior, but she also knew me well enough to know that I would tell her eventually in my own time. During our break time, I whispered to her to 'cover for me', and left her fondly shaking her head at me as I quickly bought a sandwich and headed out to find Jasper. He was sitting near where we had our last two tutoring sessions. It was usually empty, avoided by others due to the humidity. It wasn't hard to figure out that the solitude was probably his main reason for being there. I simply walked over and plopped myself down next to him.

"Hey." He spared me a sideways glance, and made no attempt to make any conversation as I began unwrapping my sandwich. I tried again, "So, have you eaten breakfast?"

It took quite a few seconds of me looking at him to signify that I was waiting for his answer before he finally shook his head.

"Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, haven't you heard? Are you allergic to anything? Is tuna fine?" He looked faintly amused at my enthusiastic rant, and I finally got to hear his voice for the first time that day.

"No, I'm not allergic."

"Right, so…here." I offered him half of my sandwich.

"It's alright, I'm not hungry."

"Come on, at least have a bite?" I held the sandwich up to his mouth, giving him what Angela termed as my 'puppy dog eyes'. Probably uncomfortable with how I would have practically been feeding him if he relented, although I certainly hadn't meant for the action to carry any sexual connotation, in the end he compromised by tearing off a bite-sized chunk and popping it into his mouth.


It soon began to become our routine. I told the others that I wouldn't be eating with them anymore as I had asked for help from Mr Reynolds and would be having extra math lessons with him. I knew it was pretty believable for a cover story, for Math certainly wasn't my best subject and the others checking up on me would be unlikely as they wouldn't think I'd have any reason to lie. Not to mention my absence probably wouldn't make much of a difference, anyhow, considering how often I actually contributed to the conversation. I didn't feel too bad for abandoning Ang, for I knew she would probably go off to find Ben if she was too bored of the gossip. She was the only one who knew the truth, and even though I knew she didn't totally approve, I also knew she understood the necessity. It wasn't that I was ashamed of spending time with Jasper, but it would cause more rumours if it was known and I rather thought there were quite enough around about to be going on with already. We would also be unable to enjoy the peace which permeated the air right now.

He still didn't talk much, but I could tell he was more comfortable with me now. I loved it even more when I managed to coax that rare laugh out of him, it lighted up his whole face. Besides, I had a feeling he wasn't naturally the type who enjoyed talking just to hear the sound of their own voice, anyway. I did at least learn some small facts about him, like how we both preferred tuna to egg mayo and that he was exactly three months older than me.

"Bella, I don't mean to pry, but I'm just concerned about you.

"I know, Ang, and I appreciate it, but I'm perfectly capable of taking care of myself. I have pepper spray in my purse, you know." I joked in an futile attempt to lighten the mood.

"It's just...I know how it seems, especially with the rumours and all. But you know that saying about how we shouldn't judge a book by its cover? I think we all agree but when it comes to carrying it out, it's a different matter altogether. What I can see is just a guy who people judge without even having given him a chance, and I'm just giving him that chance now. And what I can see so far tells me I was right to place my faith in him. And that's pretty much all I can tell you without breaking any confidences." There was a thoughtful silence from my gentle friend, and I smiled to myself. Angela valued logic, and I knew she would come around eventually.

I always wondered if he'd heard our conversation that day, for if there was any other catalyst for his sudden decision to finally confide in me, he certainly never mentioned it and I never asked. I can vividly recall how nervous he was then. He tried, I could see, giving me a tense smile when I nudged him and raised my eyebrow, a silent signal asking 'what's wrong?', but he was breathing so fast I was afraid he was going to hyperventilate and the dark eye bags certainly didn't help the picture. And considering his normal blank expression, I knew just how much of a big deal it was to him. I decided that dragging it out wasn't going to do him any good, and dumped my sandwich into my bag.

"Come on, spit it out. You know I don't bite."

"A trade? We tell each other something personal about ourselves?" Having expected he would say something like this, I didn't waste any time on hesitation.

"Deal. I'll be nice and go first, then. Have you ever been to a funeral?" I proceeded to recount my experience at my grandfather's one. How I had felt guilty for not crying, when Renee was sobbing so hard. How I feared that there was something wrong with me, some defect, because I didn't really feel that sad, but I hadn't really been that close to him. What kind of attachment can you form to a man you only saw once or twice a year? He had the dubious honour of being the only person who knew that - well, it wasn't like it made for normal dinner conversation. I looked over at my companion, daring him with my eyes to mock me. What I received in response was his usual silence. I wasn't sure if I was imagining it, but I swear I could feel him giving off reassuring vibes. It soon became my turn to calm him, however.

"Relax, Jasper. You know I won't judge you, right?" I lightly rested me hand on his clenched fist, hoping it would provide him with some support.

"Remember that day I swept my stuff off the table?" He told me of his youth, about a girl named Victoria who was his class monitress. About the constant taunting over his weight, for he had been plump in those days. How he never told the teacher or his parents, because regardless of what they said in talks, he knew they wouldn't believe him if he did, for she was a model student. How blind adults could be, sometimes, how his teacher had ignored his plea,"Please sir, anyone but her."

He had been dismissed, told that she was the best option and how grateful he should be. How ashamed he had been, that a mere girl could make him feel so low.

"Oh, you don't understand anything do you? Even a 5-year-old could do this." His grades, obviously, had not improved, and he had been blamed for not trying hard enough.

"You have to work hard if you want to improve, Jasper. You don't want to disappoint your parents, do you?" How glad he had been when Victoria and him were finally separated into different classes, and he had thought he was making a friend. He had been so thrilled at the attention he got from James, that such a friendly, popular boy would want to be friends with him.

"I should have known that it was too good to be true. Well, I won't ever be that naïve again." It hurt to hear the resignation in his voice. He sounded so jaded, and we were only seventeen. I wished I could say something, do something to make it all better for him, but I knew I couldn't break the spell his words had cast over us, otherwise, I would probably never get to hear how his story ended. He described how he had opened up to James, telling him he liked a girl in their class but she would probably never cast a second glance at him. James encouraged him to exercise to lose weight, and invited him to jog together. When he turned up at the running track, James shook his head at the T-shirt and jeans he had on, and brought him to the changing room where he said extra sets of sports attire were kept.

"I didn't know that Victoria was his girlfriend and that they had planned it all. He held me down as she pulled a dress over my head, and applied makeup on me. They left me tied up there, and somehow got Alice, the girl I liked, to come find me. I still remember the expression on her face. Pity, anger and shock. She got me cleaned up. I never saw her again, I transferred schools."

My mind was reeling. God, how I wished I could go after those people who did that to him. To know that children of that age were capable of such cruelty…the bitterness in his tone brought me back to reality.

"I bet you think I'm weak, huh?" He was standing facing away from me, shoulders hunched and hands in his pockets. I went over and slipped my arms around his waist.

"I don't, Jasper. You didn't do anything wrong. It was their fault, not yours." I sensed that there was more to the tale, but I accepted that this was probably all he was ready to tell me at this point.

"Come on, let's go. Mrs Green will understand." His exhaustion was almost tangible, and he didn't make any protest as I tugged him towards his car and held out my hand for the keys. My truck was currently being repaired, and I usually hitched a ride with Ben and Angela every morning.

"Do you want to come in?" His words were a quick mumble, and I deduced that he wanted me to stay but didn't really know how to ask.

"Sure." I followed him up to his room, where he paused outside the door to sheepishly warn me about it being kind of messy. I shrugged, not really surprised – he was a teenage boy, after all.

"Umm, you can just do whatever, I'm going to-" His statement was accompanied with some awkward hand waving and gesturing at the bed, and I couldn't help but grin.

"I'll wait till you fall asleep. Come, I'll tuck you in." He looked rather bemused at my abruptly motherly behaviour, but made no complaint as I drew the blanket over him. I had been in the process of trying to clean his room when sudden moans broke the silence.

"Please, please, no-let me go!" His blanket was all tangled around his legs as he thrashed. I rushed over and began lightly shaking him.

"Jasper, wake up. It's Bella. It's alright, you're safe now." His eyes were so haunted, and my heart ached for this boy, who had learnt some of life's hardest lessons and been forced far too early into manhood. I reached over and brushed his fringe out of his eyes.

"It's alright, Jasper."

Things were relatively normal for the following week, until the day Jasper didn't come and didn't bother to inform me. I texted him, only to receive one word answers in response. After the second message I sent wasn't replied, I gave up. I figured that there wasn't much to be replied to "Get well soon!" other than "Thanks", anyway. A few more days passed before something Lauren said finally pushed me to take action towards the decision I had been hovering over. When would these people ever stop speculating? There were rumours that he had been suspended again or even expelled. So I told myself I'd go over to Jasper's house to check on him this afternoon. The flu or a cold shouldn't take him this long to recover from, right? I was sure that if it was something more serious or infectious he would have told me. Besides, if he was sick, his mum would definitely be home to take care of him and then she wouldn't allow me in if it really was something contagious.

Or well, actually she might not let me in at all for the same reason why I hadn't been texting Jasper for the past few days – I doubted that he would be in any mood to, plus I didn't want to disturb his rest. Still, no harm trying, right? I felt that he would at least be comforted to know that I had cared about him enough to drop by. I waited outside the ornate wooden door, hearing the chimes of the doorbell pealing distantly from somewhere in the bungalow.

"Good afternoon, Mrs Hale. I'm Bella Swan. Is Jasper in?" I knew my last question sounded rather ridiculous, for it was unlikely that he would be wandering the streets when he was ill, but "Can I come in to see Jasper?" would sound even worse. The motherly looking woman hesitated a moment before she let me in.

"It's nice to finally meet you, Bella. I would like to say Jasper's talked a lot about you, but you know how little he speaks, so I barely know anything about you, dear. But I do know that he cares for you a great deal, so don't hurt him…" She let the sentence trail off, both of us knowing that I wouldn't – at least not intentionally – but I understood that it was probably part of a parent's duty to say stuff like that, so I just nodded.

"His room is upstairs, it has his name on it." As I ascended the stairs, I thought I could hear her murmuring, "Jasper's probably not going to be happy with me, but II think it'll help if he doesn't keep his feelings all bottled up like that…"

I knocked on his door with some trepidation.

"Come in." He was sitting on the carpet, leaning against his bed. When he twisted around and saw me, his first words were, "Mum didn't tell me."

I opened my mouth, ready to rebuke him – what kind of greeting was that? – but closed it again upon deciding that he did have a point there. Besides, after careful observation, he did indeed look rather unwell. Not in the feverish kind of way, just more of…bone deep exhaustion. I had to stifle a gasp as I finally met his gaze. I might have been overdramatizing it, but they looked like the eyes of the dead. No, I think it was more of eyes that were silently screaming their pain at still being alive…having come to that chilling conclusion, I cautiously went over and settled myself beside him, our arms touching like how we usually sat during break.

"Are you alright?" Unsure of why I felt the need to but doing it anyway, I kept my voice low. He gave me a half shrug, which wasn't really much of an answer, but I waited, knowing from experience that he needed the time to think about how to say what he wanted to. I watched him open and close his mouth a few times like a goldfish, and I would have laughed if the situation wasn't quite so serious and if not for the almost palpable frustration I could see rolling off him. I noted with a detached fashion how hard he was clutching the carpet, and was a moment away from suggesting that he might have an easier time if he were to write it out when he finally spoke up.

"I like you, Bella." I wondered for a brief second if I had misheard, but he continued before I had a chance to make any reply to that statement like that I liked him too – and in that moment it finally clicked. So this was what that feeling was, the one I had never put a name to and had been determinedly ignoring since I first realised its presence. I know it sounds silly, but I've never really liked any boy. Sure, I had gone out on a few dates, but only to be polite, not because of any real interest I had felt towards the guys. I knew instinctually that this wasn't just as simple as like, but I had only known Jasper for what, a few months? They say denying a fact doesn't make it any less true, but regardless of whether this was one, I refused to use the word 'love' – it was too soon – and the age old question, how do you know for sure, anyway?

The word was thrown around so casually these days, and any adult would probably dismiss any feelings we had at this age, brushing it off to hormones, telling us that it was just puppy love that wouldn't last. But those were all generalizations. I believed there were exceptions, but I didn't know of any examples, and even if I did, who was to say we were one of those exceptions? I was glad I had always been good at multitasking, for as I was having this epiphany, Jasper continued to speak.

"But I don't deserve you, and it's not like you'll want me anyway. I'll probably regret saying all this later when I'm done, it'll probably ruin our friendship. I'm sorry for having these feelings and not being able to cope with them without telling you. Believe me, I tried, but it didn't get any easier. I…" He held out a prescription bottle for me to examine, and I wordlessly took it. Oh. Depression.

"After the incident with the makeup and all…I refused to go to school, telling my parents I was sick. And I really was, for the first few days. I vomited whenever I thought of it. These," He revealed the scars on his wrists, "I don't know what I was thinking then, honestly. I just wanted the pain to go away." His voice was so far away, and it terrifies me. I'm afraid he will go into that place again, that place in his head which I might not be able to reach him.

"Jasper…" I didn't know what to say. My voice was raw, strangely, as if I'd been screaming or crying. He looked at me then, his eyes clearly showing how he expected me to run from him in revulsion after knowing his secret, and I despaired over whether I would ever get him to see the way I saw him, if I could ever manage to convince him that my feelings for him were real and not just me acting out of a misguided sense of duty or pity. I took his hand and kissed along his scars.

"Don't speak for me, Jasper Whitlock. I know you're messed up, I know it won't be easy, but I like you too and I'm willing to try this out. So I shall just answer your unasked question, yes, I will be your girlfriend."

So here we were, a year and a half later. He's grinning at me from across the room, twirling his graduation cap in his hands, and I shoot him a fond smile before I continue my conversation with, of all people, Mike Newton's mum, who's asking me about my future prospects. I never regretted the decision I made that day, and each word still rings true too. We've had our share of arguments and years as well as joy and laughter. Jasper will probably never be the most confident guy, but I've made sure he knows I love him unconditionally, and even though he doesn't say it much, I know he does too. I can see it in his eyes, every time he looks at me, the same way I see Ben looking at Angela. I don't know how things are going to go, but I've always told him, there's no point spending so much time dwelling on the past or future when we're living in the present, that we should take each moment as they come. No matter what lies in wait for us, regardless of the fact I know he'll probably always struggle to some extent, I know everything will be alright, as long as we're there to go through every obstacle we may encounter together.