Chapter 1

When I was seventeen, I wasn't what one would classify as popular. My hair was chaotic; it defied all styling products and stuck up six ways from Sunday. I've been told I have nice eyes, but back then they were hidden behind thick, coke-bottle-lens glasses. My voice change felt like it took five years to complete, and it would crack at the most inopportune times. Acne took up residence on my face, neck, back and chest. I tried over-the-counter medications, homeopathic remedies, and avoided chocolate and grease, but nothing worked.

If all that wasn't enough to make me an outcast, I had a major growth spurt the summer before my senior year. I was six-foot three and weighed 150 lbs soaking wet with clothes on. And my size twelve and a half shoe didn't make me very graceful. At best, I was gangly and awkward. Have I mentioned I also wore braces? The old-school-silver-metal-whole-mouth kind. I have the pictures to prove it though not many since I destroyed most photos of myself at that age long, long ago.

Growing up, my father had several affairs. Since we lived in a small town it was a well-known fact in our community, but my parents kept up a façade of a happy marriage until I was fourteen. That all changed when my father left my mother for his lover, Garrett. I've had little contact with him since he up and moved to Florida to live happily ever after.

My brother, Carlisle, is nine years older and really more of a father figure to me than a brother. I've always looked up to him; much more so than the man who calls himself my dad. I have very little respect for the man who abandoned my mother and essentially me without so much as a backward glance.

Carlisle was living on his own in Seattle when our dad left, so he never had to deal with the teasing and tormenting that I did. Let me tell you, it wasn't easy being the son of the only known gay person in a small town. But my brother was always there with words of advice. The one thing he told me was to be proud of who I was no matter what, and to not live with regrets.

Taking his advice to heart, I worked up the courage to ask the prettiest girl in school to go to senior prom with me. If nothing else, I had balls. I'd never been on a date and thought the prom would be the ideal choice for my first one. I may or may not have been hoping I'd also get my first kiss and, please God, get laid as well. Go big or go home, right?

Jessica Stanley was standing with a group of the other popular girls in the parking lot after school. I gave myself a pep talk before asked if I could talk to her alone. With an odd look to her friends, she agreed, taking a few steps in my direction. Stuttering and stumbling through my words while I kicked at imaginary rocks, I managed to ask her to go to prom with me. Imagine my surprise when she said 'yes!' I was ridiculously excited. I literally ran home that day to tell my mom, who was as elated as I was.

When the time came, Mom took me to a neighboring town to get fitted for a tux. She helped me choose a corsage and gave me a lecture about respecting boundaries when out with a girl. I hoped and prayed we got to the point where I needed that advice.

I showed up at Jessica's house in a stretch limo, corsage in hand. It took me a minute to calm the jitters in my stomach but I finally knocked on her front door. I wiped my sweaty palms on my rented tux and wiggle my toes in my too tight, stiff, shiny, uncomfortable shoes as I waited.

Jessica's mother answered the door. With my outstretched hand, I proudly introduced myself as Edward Cullen, there to pick up her daughter for prom. With a puzzled look, Mrs. Stanley informed me Jessica had left a half hour before with her date, Mike Newton, captain of the football team. But of course.

I lied, laughing it off and said I must have been at the wrong house - what else was I supposed to do? I knew she knew the truth but she graciously said nothing to me about it. If she had, I may have died right there on her front steps.

After being stood up, there was no way I could go home and see my mom. She'd scrimped and scraped together the money to rent the limo and tux, and to buy the corsage. She went without just so I could have that one special night.

Instead, I had the limo driver use up the time paid for. He drove from Forks to Port Angeles and around town. He stopped at the McDonald's drive-thru for a Big Mac combo, supersized with fries and a Coke – his treat – which I thought was very nice. After I stuffed my face, I bawled my eyes out, wondering why life had to be so cruel. Hadn't I dealt with enough - the years of bullying and tormenting - but why add insult to injury and have me stood up on prom night?

In the back of the limo, I cursed myself for thinking someone as beautiful and popular as Jessica Stanley would actually agree to go to prom with geeky, old me. I was a delusional idiot to fathom I had a chance with her. My hope of feeling like a regular teen, doing something as normal as going to prom, was a fucking joke.

My heart hurt so much. More than that, my ego took a hit and I don't think I ever fully recovered. I had no idea how I was going to go to school the following week knowing that once again, I was the butt of all their jokes.

Somehow, I managed to quell my tears before I went back home. Of course, my mom was waiting up for me that night, wanting to hear every last detail. I made up an elaborate story about all the decorations and pretty lights. In detail, I described the dress Jessica wore, how she loved the corsage that matched the coral pink of the material perfectly. In reality, the carnation was stuffed in a garbage bin somewhere on Main Street. My mom smiled when I told her of all the dancing we did.

When she asked if I'd kissed her, I said yes.

Her eyes lit up and she grinned from ear to ear as she clapped her hands together. Mom was my best friend, my only friend really. She knew I'd never kissed a girl before- she was as excited as I would have been had my tale been the truth. She begged me for details; I couldn't deny her like I had been, so I gave Mom what she wanted to hear.

My story was that at the end of the night, I led Jessica by the hand outside onto the balcony. Under the light of the full moon, I told her how beautiful she looked and Jess told me I was the most handsome man she'd ever seen. I'd closed my eyes, leaned in, and the kiss was perfect. There was some hesitation for a brief moment and then my lips brushed against hers for a first kiss that was soft, yet tender. I told of the butterflies that took flight in my stomach, tickling with anticipation. With her hand on my arm, Mom swooned at my description. Thankfully, I had a vivid imagination and could give my mom that piece of joy. As a parent myself now, I know how important it is to see your children be happy. I have no regrets about lying to my mom because in that moment she was truly happy.

Less than twenty-four hours later, she was gone.

As she stood making me breakfast the following morning, mom suddenly collapsed to the floor, the dishes clanging on the tile as she fell. By the time the paramedics arrived after my frantic 911 call, there was nothing they could do. Apparently, she'd had an aneurism, quick and painless for her, heartbreaking for me to witness as a seventeen year old.

Carlisle, who was living in Seattle with his then-girlfriend now-wife, Esme, came to the house that night. I was in a daze having lost both my mom and best friend in the blink of an eye. As I stood idly by, my brother took over. In two days, he'd packed my things, made arrangements for our mother's body to be cremated, the ashes sent to his address, and for our childhood home to be sold.

The long drive from Forks to Seattle was a blur of passing trees and raindrops on the windshield that rivaled my tears. As the miles passed, the realization I was getting that much further from my mom – the only person I believed truly loved me – was crushing. My chest was tight; my heart felt as though it was pulverizing under the pressure. Each shard ripped through me, leaving deep scars I doubted would ever heal. Though Carlisle was with me, I felt completely alone and unbelievably scared for the unknown that was my future.

Literally with open arms, Esme welcomed me into their home. Shyly, I thanked her for her hospitality and assured her I wouldn't overstay my welcome. Though I was only seventeen, I promised to get a job to afford me a place of my own – a statement she balked at telling me I could stay as long as necessary.

Without much more than an occasional 'how are you?' or a back slap in passing, Carlisle gave me personal space in which to grieve. To an extent, Esme did too, but she was the one who'd often sit in silence with me at the kitchen table at four in the morning. Or she'd give me a hug because she'd say it looked like I could use one.

After months of me being numb, Esme really took me under her wing. She made arrangements for me to take some courses at a local college- just to give me something to do with my time. She helped keep me motivated and reminded me to do my assignments. On really bad days, she'd literally drag my ass to school. She became a dear friend, the first person in my life who wasn't a relative who truly cared for me. And yes, I had a slight crush on her, perhaps more for her compassion than anything else.

With my GED completed and under my belt, Carlisle got me a job working for a friend's construction company. Mr. Cheney paid me far more than what I was worth, but I think that was orchestrated by my brother. Partly for my self-esteem, and partly to afford me the money to move out on my own.

Though I missed both of them dearly and I was scared shitless to be on my own, it was time. After a year and a half with them, I needed to let them be a couple again, especially with their impending wedding. More importantly, I needed to learn to stand on my own two feet...somehow.

One day, a few months after I got my own place, Esme stopped by unexpectedly I answered the door in my usual attire – sweat pants, grubby t-shirt, two days growth on my face and, I'm sure, less than stellar body odor. As she walked in without invitation, I pushed my glasses up my nose and tried to tame my hair, hoping for some semblance of order.

Esme had to move a pizza box and some other take-out wrappings off the couch to sit down. As casually as possible, I laughed as I tidied up, tossing garbage and miscellaneous crap into the sink. I explained I'd been so busy with work and such that I couldn't possibly keep up with housework.

My soon-to-be sister in law called me out on my bullshit.

"'Work and such', huh? Tell me what exactly the 'and such' consists of. You're obviously not bringing girls back to this dump."

I snorted and let my secret slip.

"I wouldn't even know what to do with a girl if I did bring her home."

I blushed something fierce and Esme quietly asked me a question.

"Edward, have you ever had a girlfriend?"

There was no way I could lie to her after all she'd done for me. I shook my head and sat down beside her.

"Ever held a girl's hand? Taken someone special out on a date?"

"I look my mom out to the diner in Forks for dinner all the time."

Esme gave me a small smile and stared right through to my soul. It was that look of genuine concern – perhaps love – which made me crumble. Never before had anyone shown me such compassion. I felt the shards of glass stabbing my heart again and, without my consent, I let down the guard I'd had in place since I'd left Forks after the disastrous prom. Before that even, since the bullying first started in elementary school.

Through sobs, I told her all about the botched date and my fake first kiss. I took off my glasses, tossing them onto the mess as I wiped away my snot and tears.

"You must think I'm a real loser." I said it with a slight laugh but Esme shook her head.

"Not at all. I think you're a sweet kid who got dealt the short end of the stick in life. You're cute without your glasses, you know."

"Maybe you should put them on, you're obviously not seeing clearly." My fingers pulled through my hair; I'm sure making it no worse for wear.

"Have you ever worn contacts?"

I shook my head. As I did, Esme moved closer to me, her hand tugged at my hair. I was mortified, imagining how greasy it was after two days without showering but she didn't flinch.

"Come with me, I think I know exactly what you need."

That Sunday afternoon, my life was transformed as much as my look. Like that show 'What Not To Wear' I was completely made over. First Esme got me contacts, and then forced me into a chair at a salon. The stylist cut my hair and found me products that actually worked in my hair – go figure. After lunch, she bought me new clothes that somehow looked tailored to my gangly form.

The last store she dragged me into was to buy a suit. I balked at that – wondering where I'd ever need such a formal look but she insisted. Esme informed me woman had power panties to make them feel good; therefore I needed a suit and tie. After all the fussing and pinning, I looked at myself in the mirror. A good hard look. I actually smiled at the reflection of myself. Gone was the acne, the uncombed hair, the braces; the boy who didn't have an ounce of self worth. Replacing him was a man who could have been any normal guy on his way to the office. I wasn't happy, but I could see that maybe I could trick myself into it.

Esme- sweet, wonderful Esme- came to stand beside me, and looped her arm through mine. We looked like a couple standing there, smiling at each other. I turned to face her and she placed a hand against my cheek, grinning at me.

"Hey, handsome."

I couldn't help but to smile back at her. For the first time since I don't know when, I felt good about myself. And I was so incredibly thankful to Esme for her efforts.

And then I did something so incredibly stupid. I leaned in for a kiss.

Starting this story was a scary leap into a different genre for me but with many thanks to my pre-reader Lolo84 and my beta Capricorn75, I did it. Thank you for all your help and encouragement.

I'd love to hear your thoughts.