They said one moment can change everything. Well, they were right. I don't remember what my life was like before the car accident – I was just five, after all – but I remember I was happy. That my parents loved me, even if I didn't see my dad that much and he wasn't as affectionate as my mum. I know logically I should hate the drunk driver who ran over him, who started the destruction of my world as I knew it, but I gradually learnt to hate my mother instead. I used to hear her sobbing late at night, and I tried my best to comfort her as she fell apart, wrapping my arms around her warm body, trying to glue her back together. It wasn't enough, but it was all I could do, as young as I was. I blamed her for not being able to pull herself together well enough to take care of me, for the fact that I had to take on what should have been her responsibility on my own shoulders, stealing away any chance I had at a normal childhood. What child had to come home to their mother lying dead drunk on the floor and have to drag them back to their bed? What child had to take care of his own meals, with no one to remind him of a proper bedtime or to do his homework?
She had occasional sober periods, but they became increasingly rare as time passed. She was able to act normal long enough in order to avoid suspicion from the neighbours, snaring some temporary part time job like a cashier at a drugstore, but I found myself searching for employment too, as soon as I could. We weren't exactly short of money, for the insurance policy my dad had taken out had paid out well, but I didn't know how much my mother spent on her indulgences, and I wasn't about to ask her. I'd learnt not to question things after once when I'd asked her why we kept moving and if there was any particular order or significance in the places we moved to. Guess what? Not only did I not get an answer, I received a tight slap instead. It was the first time she'd hit me, and I always wondered if she remembered that she did afterwards, since she'd pretty much been knocked out from all the alcohol she'd consumed. I also didn't get any regular sort of allowance, which was the other reason why I went job hunting. Besides, it provided me with a legitimate excuse to spend time out of the house too, not that I really needed one, considering that I wasn't exactly accountable to anyone the majority of the time.
It was pretty miraculous how I actually managed to scrape passes in school, despite all that shit. Even if I had a feeling all that would be for naught by today, given that there was an extremely high likelihood that I was about to smudge my mostly pristine record, I thought as I glared threateningly at a bronze haired guy. It wasn't like any of it mattered anyway. My days of youthful innocence – of thinking that if I got perfect scores on my tests, I'd finally make mummy happy enough to smile at me everyday like she used to – were long over. She didn't care about my future, no one did. Including myself. I knew I wasn't going anywhere anyway, so what difference would it make? Even if I died today, I doubt anyone would grieve, they'd more likely be thinking good riddance of bad rubbish instead.
I didn't know whether to be pleased or upset that the opportunity I'd had for punching that guy straight in his insolent face flew right out the window with the approach of a teacher. Well, so it appeared that Mr Green Eyes didn't want his record to be tainted huh? The irony was that I ended up in detention anyway, for falling asleep in class. It seemed that the teachers here were stricter than in my previous schools. I doodled aimlessly on my writing pad until a cheerful looking boy slid into the seat beside me.
"So, what are you in here for?" I made no reply save for shooting him an irritated glance, and tuned him out as he continued, unperturbed, chattering on about how he had landed himself in here. I didn't expect to make any friends, neither did I want any. I couldn't comprehend the mind-set of boys my age, how overly concerned they were about shallow matters such as the football team they supported not winning a match. I didn't have anything in common with them. Besides, all I needed was more complication in my life. They would certainly probe, ask me awkward questions that I had no intention of answering. I was jolted out of my thoughts by the same boy, who appeared to be annoyingly persistent.
"So, how about you?" He even dared to touch me. My glare didn't abate, but I deduced that he was unlikely to go away until I answered him.
"Fell asleep in class." He couldn't seem to take the hint from my curt tone, and instead appeared to be encouraged by my response. I cursed myself for even attempting to be nice in the first place. At least I finally had an excuse to leave.
"Look, just fuck off." And I hated myself for even caring about the bewildered and hurt expression on the boy's face. It wasn't like that was the first time I'd rebuffed any attempts at friendship people tried to offer me, but this boy was different, somehow. More innocent, more pure, than the rest. Which was precisely why he ought to stay far, far away from me. I would just corrupt him with my influence. He got under my skin, though. I shouldn't have let him. Jacob Black. He had a father, Billy, who was in a wheelchair. His mother had passed away while giving birth to him. It was amazing how differently we turned out, given that we both came from single parent families, I mused bitterly. I never faulted him for it, though – he was like the brother I never had. And he was the one who introduced me to Bella Swan. I'd always thought they could be made for each other. She was clumsy, constantly tripping over stuff, and she got sent to the hospital a real lot. They'd been best friends since forever, with their dads knowing each other too. Jacob claimed that he only saw her as a sister, but I wondered about it, whether he simply told me that because he could sense what I felt. I wouldn't put it past him to give up his girl for me – Jacob was good like that, though I called him too noble for his own fucking good. He told me it'll always be friendship over love, for him.
He did keep his word, though. Even when he started dating Leah Clearwater he still managed to make time for me. Now that girl was the complete opposite of Bella. A real spitfire, she was, not like it was any surprise Jacob would be able to handle her, though, with his easy going personality. Didn't make any difference between me and Bella, anyhow, no matter what he said. I wasn't any good for her either. She deserved someone honest and open like Jacob, amiable and friendly to balance out her quiet nature. Not me, with my attitude and mood swings. She deserved so much more than someone like me, who was so prickly and defensive when it came to anything personal because it was what I had learnt to do, over the years, to protect myself from the world around me.
"Bye, Paul. Bye, Bells." I hugged Jake back as tightly as I could when he wrapped me up in one of those giant bear hugs of his. It was a mark of how affected Paul was by his departure, that he allowed Jake to hug him too, given how uneasy he was with any form of physical affection. Nodding to Leah, I got into Paul's car.
Oh, Jake…I knew I'd miss him terribly. I tried to tamp down my tears, for I knew Paul would be irritated by them, even if anyone else would excuse me for it since I was a girl. If I had been any other girl, I might have thought his way of thinking unreasonable, but we had known each other for – well, not since childhood like me and Jake, but a few years. Certainly enough time for my clumsy self to accidentally stumble upon his 'deep, dark secrets' as he grimly put it, during an inane attempt in which I had been trying to make small talk. It was just us two for once that day, since Jake had somehow gotten himself into detention and told us to carry on with our original plan, saying that he'd join us later. So I'd decided I might as well make use of the opportunity to get to know Paul better, since normally we didn't have much of a chance for heart-to-heart talks with Jake around. Me and Jake though, we'd had our fair share of those while growing up.
One that especially stuck in my mind was the one we'd had after our experimental kiss, which had been awkward, to say the least. We were best friends and hopefully always would be, and that was all that would ever be between us. I knew him too well to think of him as more than a brother, and he'd grudgingly admitted that he couldn't really see me as a possible future partner after that mortifying day in sixth grade I'd come wailing to him about how I was sure I was dying because I was bleeding for no reason. Yes, I know it sounds unbelievable that I hadn't known about that, since even without Renee's guidance the school usually provided lessons. But I supposed I missed them all, probably due to Renee popping up and dragging me with her on one of her crazy plans.
Doesn't sound too hot that my father who was the Forks Chief of Police couldn't stop her, but I knew it was because he couldn't deny her the opportunity of spending some time with me when I barely ever saw her. She sounds like a shitty mother, and I'm not gonna lie and protest, but I don't really blame her. After all, with her flighty nature, she was hardly going to settle down when she was just out of her teens in a town which the sun almost never peeked out the majority of the time. Jacksonville, where she was now living with Phil, suited her nature much more, and that wasn't just an assumption, since she raved about the wonderful tanning activities she had out there often in her emails to me. Well anyway, as I was saying, I knew Paul well enough to know the real reason why he couldn't tolerate people crying. I knew who it reminded him of, and so I didn't fault him for it, as much as I currently longed to just sob on his shoulder like I had done on Jake's countless times.
I glanced over at him, hands white-knuckled on the steering wheel and mouth set in a hard line. He was a rather silent guy, very different from Jake, but not in a bad way. I liked that he didn't feel the need to fill every second with needless gossip, unlike someone like Jessica. It was probably the reason why I barely had any girlfriends, in addition to my marked distaste for shopping. I mentally resolved to myself to try to initiate more contact with Paul. I doubted he had many other friends other than Jake, based on what Jake had mentioned, and he certainly didn't seem the sociable type. Despite his tough guy exterior though, I knew that he was a good guy at heart and I definitely wasn't about to abandon him just because Jake wasn't here anymore.
"Thanks for the ride. So, wanna hang out together tomorrow?" I quickly blurted out, before I lost my nerve. God, why did I feel like I was asking the guy out? At least I wasn't blushing. He shrugged.
"So, see you after school then." I mustered up a faint smile as I got out of the car, and was rewarded by an amused grin from him - as per my usual clumsy self, I tripped over my own feet and almost fell out of the door.
"Easy there, Bella. See you."
It was lucky I knew Jake's schedule, I thought, as I waited outside Paul's last class for him. I had to scramble to catch up with his long stride as he wound through the crowd towards the gate.
"So, where do you want to go?" I attempted brightly as we stood outside the car park. He heaved a sigh and turned, focusing dark, serious eyes on me.
"Look, Bella. You don't have to accompany me because you feel obligated to, you know? It's not like I'm a lot of fun to be around either so you can just-go be with your friends." I had to fight to prevent my jaw from dropping. Was that really how he saw himself? What was I supposed to say to that?
"Paul, don't-demean yourself like that. Do you really think so little of me? Believe it or not, I actually like being around you." He laughed humourlessly.
"Well, if the princess says so, then who am I to argue?" His tone was clearly disbelieving, and I privately swore that I'd prove it to him through my actions till I could get it through that stubborn head of his. Since he didn't seem inclined to offer any suggestions on where to head to, I would simply have to make the choice for us both. I took him to the meadow – my one and only ex – had shown me. I knew he wouldn't be there, since he was big on not going out on school nights. I didn't know what Paul would think of it, but I had always found the place to be calming, and that seemed like something he needed, given how tightly he kept himself in check. He kind of reminded me of Edward, really, except that he didn't look to me to be overly controlling too, like Edward had been. I needed to coax him to let go more. Too much pent up emotion wasn't good for anybody.
"It's…nice." He commented, a reluctant smile pulling at his lips.
"Come on, then." I casually hooked my arm around his, tugging him towards the alcove of trees, ignoring his abrupt freezing up. I shared friendly touches with Jake constantly, and I was determined to get Paul used to it too. He might not be comfortable with it, but I felt that he needed it. He couldn't have gotten much affection in his childhood, and I was going to attempt to make up for that fact now. So our outings continued. He finally started taking initiative after a while, bringing me to the raced where we played car racing together. I watched him shoot, and we shared a grin whenever he got through to the next level. It wasn't the same without Jake, but I realised we were becoming as close as I had been with Jake too. Paul was now a big part in my life – I felt weird without his presence.
It was all going fine till the day I dragged him to Jessica's birthday party with me. I had promised Angela I would go, but I didn't want to be the third wheel – I knew Ben was going too. I argued with myself that I wouldn't have acted as I did if it hadn't been for the mood the disco-style music had put me into. Whatever the reason, what had been done couldn't be undone, and I replayed the few seconds I had got to enjoy of his lips in my mind often, afterwards, cutting out the heart-breaking end – him abruptly pushing me away, the gasp of "We can't," followed by him bolting, leaving me standing dazed in the courtyard looking after him, hand still absently tracing where his lips had been just moments ago. I didn't even remember how it got home, though it probably had something to do with Angela. Hurt by his rejection, I made no attempt to contact him afterwards, and neither did he try to contact me – till a week later when I found him waiting outside my class. We stood there silently looking at each other until everyone else had left, with amazingly no snide comments made by Lauren. He got straight to the point, as he always did.
"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have left you there like that. Did you get home alright?"
I nodded, then looked away before answering, trying to brush it off as casually as I could manage, "I should apologize too, for forcing my attentions on you. Not that I'm surprised that you don't want me though," and I paused, leaving the rest unspoken. You're so hot that you probably have dozens of girls throwing themselves at you regardless of your attitude.
"No, it's not you, it's me." Now, wasn't that the typical breakup line? I looked up though, hearing the unveiled honesty in his tone, and his eyes were conflicted, as if not knowing if he should say whatever else was on his mind. I gently took his fingers, squeezing them lightly.
"What is it, Paul?"
"I'm not good for you, Bella. I'm only going to drag you down with me. I don't think I can handle…relationships." I could see the anguish in his eyes as he unconsciously gripped my fingers tighter in his agitation.
"Hey now, don't I get a choice in this? I'm involved too, aren't I? You can't just decide on my behalf like that." I kept my tone soft, only mildly chastising.
"Bella, you wouldn't have done that if you were thinking clearly."
"No, I wouldn't. And I'm grateful that the atmosphere there gave me enough courage to do it. I want to try this together with you, Paul. Will you give me-give us a chance? Promise me you'll think about it, alright? I won't push you if you truly think you're not ready." He reluctantly assented, and I proceeded to drag him off to the raced, anxious to see a smile on his face again. A few days later, his face carried a half fearful but determined look on it as he announced to me that he wanted to try this 'being together thing'. I had no idea what were his motivations behind that decision, but I certainly wasn't about to complain. I put my arms around his neck and locked my lips to his, giddily tasting his unique flavour once more.
As I inserted my key in the lock, it's hard to believe that we had come so far. Of course, it hadn't been all sunshine and smiles, we'd certainly had our share of thunderstorms. I had a hard time trying to be supportive for Paul after his mother's death, since needless to say, he had mixed feelings about it. There was also the time I foolishly accepted a glass of wine from Mike Newton –at the wedding of – well, I can't really remember who now - but when he smelt it on my breath, Paul pretty much went ballistic. We had a terrible fight over that, since I was defensive about not having done it on purpose and I shouted that he was making a big fuss over nothing. I was the one to apologize for that, ashamed of how insensitive my words had been in light of the fact how exactly alcohol had affected his childhood. His reaction might have been extreme, but it wasn't as if he hadn't a good reason for it. I eventually managed to convince him to go to therapy, and he's still going now, weekly. He's currently working as a mechanic, while I'm attempting to write a book as well as holding a part time job as an office clerk. I look up to see the simple joy on his face, and as I return his welcome enthusiastically, this is where I will end our story for now.