All I can see are her fingers. Long, delicate, thin. High above her head, they dance in the air.
Fingers that, when we were five, caught lightening bugs with me in my backyard. Fingers that, when we were eleven, smashed birthday cake in my face. On the backs, planes of soft and smoothness cover bones so fragile I'm afraid that if she falls, she'll break into a million tiny pieces. No one watches her as she sways, hips bared by a skirt that hangs dangerously low. Midriff naked by a tank top that rises higher and higher. Her mother would've hated everything about her clothes and her dancing and this room and this party.
I want to go to her, tell her to pull her skirt up, yank her shirt down. Grab her hands and turn them palm up and see the callouses that come with years of guitar strumming and Lego building and bike riding.
But her fingers now cut lines instead of pluck chords, roll joints instead of write notes, and make tiny, innumerable cuts all over her skin that she thinks I won't see.
"This party's bullshit," Ben slumps down in the seat next to me.
He hands me another beer, taking a hit off his own. My eyes stay on her, watching as she stands alone, dancing atop a table in the middle of a room in a party that's bullshit.
"You're only saying that because no one will have sex with you," Alice, seemingly coming out of nowhere, sits on the arm of his chair.
"You had sex with me," he smiles up at her.
"If you could call three thrusts and some heavy panting 'sex,'" she shudders before turning to me, "Your groupies are looking for you."
I sink lower into my chair, bringing my hand up over my face. Alice calls them my groupies; they're just some girls I fucked once ...okay, maybe twice and now they're stuck on me like a hangnail I can't get rid of.
"Jesus," I hear Alice whisper, "Cullen, your neighbor is a freak."
I know, without having to ask, where her eyes are: exactly where mine were just seconds before.
"She is coked out of her mind," Ben laughs, taking another swig of his beer.
"Coked, baked, bombed, what isn't she?" Alice chimes in, "I think the last time I saw Ellie Swan sober was right before my dad took the training wheels off my Huffy."
I want to jump to her defense, to protect her somehow like she use to do for me when Mike Newton shoved me and my Osh Kosh overalls straight into the mud. But I'm done fighting for her, for Ellie, as she prefers to be called now. (Her mother would've hated that too.) I stopped caring the day she turned fifteen, the day I came home from a summer spent at my grandparents', and instead of finding my best friend, I found a hollow-eyed, skinny shell of a girl I once knew who took one look at me standing on her porch and told me to go fuck myself.
"How much longer do we have to stay here?" I finally add my two cents to the conversation.
I never wanted to come in the first place.
"At least another hour," Alice starts, "the captain of the football has to put in a legit appearance. You know, official high school party semantics. If we left now, the entire social hierarchy would fall apart and then where would we be? Jocks and nerds would be sitting at the same lunch table, computer geeks would be trying out for the basketball team, and cheerleaders would be blowing the debate team."
I guess I should mention that I am said captain of the football team. And Alice is a cheerleader, but why, I'll never know. When I first saw Ally, she was shoving some guy's head into a fence post because he made fun of her Doc Martens. Now she wears heels and leaves lipstick stains on cigarettes.
"I'm gonna go get another beer," I push myself up, leaving Ben and Alice to their own devices. The one I have isn't empty, and I know it's a flimsy excuse, but I need a moment to myself.
I make my way through the crowd, doing my best to avoid conversation. I squeeze my way past Tanya Denali dry humping Eric Yorkie, running back extraordinaire. Her skirt is hiked so far up, I can see crotch. But it wouldn't be the first time.
"Hey man," Eric gives me a knowing nod.
I grunt in acknowledgement, continuing on towards the kitchen. The crowd has gathered around the keg, with Mike Newton at the pump. There's no way I'm waiting in line to deal with that asshole. Instead, I grab a bottle of Jack off the counter and continue on to the back patio.
It burns as it goes down, but it feels good in the cool fall air. This is the last fall I will spend here in Forks, at least that's what I keep telling myself. I've played the part for four years now, the popular jock, all-American, takes out the garbage for his mom, studies hard, plays hard, too cool for a girlfriend but will fuck you behind your boyfriend's back. I've got the grades and extracurriculars to get me into any school I want and the reputation to leave a legacy behind.
But you want to know a secret, though? I don't care about any of it. I feel nothing.
I push the bottle to my lips, drinking until I can't taste the bitter anymore. When it's empty, I heave it out over the edge of the deck, yelling "Fuck!" as it crashes against a tree.
"Did it piss you off?"
I jump, startled at the sound of someone's voice other than my own. I know the voice, though it sounds different than it used to. It's deeper now, rough and raspy. It's the voice of someone who smokes too much and drinks too much and rarely ever sleeps.
"What?" I ask, confused.
Isabella Blue Swan stands in the shadows, like a scene straight from a movie, leaning against the side of the house. Smoke pours from her lips as she breathes out, her long, chestnut hair hanging limply around her face. She was once so much more, but now she's a shell, an empty box.
"The bottle, did it piss you off?" she asks again, but she doesn't laugh and I can't tell if she's being serious or cracking a joke.
This is the first conversation we've had since that day in September, when I was still just a boy and she was the girl I thought I knew.
"You're a mess," I say, before I can stop myself.
She laughs then, her laugh as thick as the smoke surrounding her. She takes another drag off her cigarette, it's long and drawn out and I don't know if she's coming up for air. But she does and she drops the cigarette on the deck, putting it out with her flip flops-shoes that she should've stopped wearing back in August when the warmth went away. I suppose it's the closest she can get to being barefoot at this age and get away with it.
She takes a moment, looking down at her feet. The music from the party is thumping around us, filling the silence that has encased us for three years now. She finally looks up and takes a small step towards me. It's the closest we've been to each other in so long and I can finally see her eyes. They're brown and dead and bloodshot and have seen more than I could ever imagine.
She doesn't look away for seconds and I know she knows it's making me uncomfortable.
"We're all a mess, Cullen," and then she's gone just as quickly and quietly as she appeared.
"Edward, don't go too far, I won't be able to see you!" my mother yells from the porch.
But I'm already running around the yard, making claim on the grass, the trees, the pond that sits in the south side of the back lawn. My parents have moved us to a new state, a new town, a new house. It's a bit overwhelming for a 5 year old, but I'm optimistic. Our new house is huge and mom says we can build a tree house in the backyard. Dad got some big fancy promotion and now there's big fancy clothes and big fancy cars that sit in a big fancy garage in a neighborhood full of big fancy houses.
I make my way towards the pond dock, glancing back over my shoulder to see if my mother is paying attention. I don't want to get yelled at for standing too close to the water, which to her is anywhere near the water. Mom is overprotective.
I'm just starting to plan all the games and adventures I'll be able to have in my newfound territory when I hear a rustling noise to my left. I slowly make my way over to the woods that line the south side, a nervous feeling growing inside. Who knows what could be out here? I've never been somewhere that has so many trees and mountains and unknown. Dad says there's wolves here and bears and something called an elk, that I think he might've made up.
"Who's there?" I yell into the trees.
There's more rustling.
"I said, who's there?"
More rustling, then silence. I'm about to yell again when a little girl appears, walking slowly out of the forest. Her hair is down, with wild brown curls everywhere. She's wearing a pink dress that's smudged with dirt and grass stains, her feet are bare, caked in mud and she's holding something in her little hands. When she smiles at me, I can see one of her front teeth is missing.
"Look!" she holds it up for me to see, like it's a trophy she's showing off.
I walk over, having established that she's much less a threat than the wolves, and see a baby frog sitting contently within her hands.
"This is the best place to catch 'em," she grins that toothless grin, offering me the frog.
I nod uneasily, taking it, though not sure how I feel about this shoeless girl and her amphibian (I learned that word last week and am very happy at the opportunity to use it).
"You're new," she prattles on, ignoring the fact that I have yet to say anything, "I'm Isabella. My mama calls me Bella Blue cause that's my middle name and blue is her favorite color, but everyone else just calls me Bella. You can call me Bella Blue though, cause I like you. What's your name?"
"Edward Cullen," I sputter.
"Edward Cullen?" she sounds it out, "Edward. That sounds like an old person's name."
I roll my eyes, having heard the same thing many times before.
"I tried to get my parents to change it, but they're pretty stuck on it for some reason," I explain.
"I like it," she smiles again, "Do you want to be my friend, Edward?"
I shrug. She seems harmless enough and I'm not exactly in any position to turn down friends, having just moved here literally five minutes ago.
"I live over there," she points through the woods, "it's the blue house on the other side of the trees. It's not nearly as big as your house, your house is like a castle."
"Edward Anthony Cullen!" my mother's voice carries across the yard.
I know I'm in trouble, she only uses my full name when I'm in trouble.
"Uh oh," Bella says under breath. She must know the full name rule too.
"I'm over here mom," I yell back, waving my arms so she'll see.
She looks angry as she comes towards us, not seeing Bella standing off to the side.
"Edward, I told you to stay where I could see you," she starts.
"Mom, this is Bella," I say, alerting her that we have company. Mom says it's not polite to air our dirty laundry in public. I use to think she meant real laundry, but now I know it means when she yells at me in front of other people.
"Bella Blue, ma'am," Bella sticks her little hand out for my mother to shake, "blue like the color."
My mother takes one look at this hopeless little girl, with her ruined curls and Sunday dress, and I swear I see her fall in love with Bella right before my eyes.
"Why, hello there Bella Blue," mom crouches down to our level, a giant smile plastered on her face, "I'm Esme, Edward's mother."
"My mama told me I'm not allowed to call adults by their real names," Bella says matter-of-factly, "she says it's unrespectful."
"Disrespectful," my mother corrects, "and I'm giving you my permission to call me by my real name."
"Esme," she tests it out, "Esme, can Edward play with me? We're catching frogs."
"I'm afraid Edward has a lot of unpacking to help with, but maybe later, Bella Blue," mom winks at her.
Bella nods, turning to me, "Can I have my frog back?"
I forgot for a moment that I was still holding it. I gently place it into her hands and she immediately places it into the pocket on her skirt.
"Shouldn't you be wearing shoes, Bella Blue? It's a little chilly out," mom asks, ever the worrywart.
Bella looks down at her feet, then over at mine. It's like she just now realized how odd it is that she isn't wearing any shoes when the two of us are.
"Mama's fixing a hole in the bottom," she responds, "she says I wore one clear through and she's not about to buy me another pair if I'm going to keep running around barefoot anyway."
"You only have one pair of shoes?" my mother asks, incredulous.
"Oh, don't worry, ma'am," she reassures, "they're a very nice pair of shoes."
My mother has a look in her eyes that I can't identify, but I know it has something to do with Bella and her shoes.
"Well Edward, I'm gonna go put the frog in the bathtub so he can hop around," Bella turns to leave, "It was a pleasure meeting you, Esme." She does more of a bow than a curtsy and runs off back into the trees.
"What an odd little girl," my mother laughs, placing her hand over my shoulders and leading us back into the house.
"I like her," I say, looking back at the spot she stood only moments ago.
"I like her too."
Bella's house is instantly recognizable. True to her word, it's blue. Not just blue, but bright blue, with a blue door and blue shutters. There's a bunch of cool stuff in her front yard too, like an old tire, a bunch of neat old car parts, and toys I'm assuming are Bella's.
"Look how tiny it is, mom, it's like a dollhouse," I whisper to my mom as we make our way to the door.
"Edward, don't say things like that, it's rude."
"How is it rude? It's true," I question.
"Honey," she stops us right before we go up to the door, "some people aren't as fortunate as you, but it doesn't make them any less special. But we need to make sure we don't brag or gloat because we do have more, your privilege gives you a responsibility."
I'm about to ask her what the heck she's talking about when the door in front of us swings open and there stands Bella Swan, stark nude in nothing but her unders.
"Hello Esme!" she says happily, flashing that missing tooth.
"Isabella Blue Swan!" a woman's voice yells from somewhere behind her.
Oh yeah, she definitely knows the full name rule.
"You go put some clothes on right this minute," a thin, pretty woman appears behind Bella, "I told you, no more answering the door in your panties."
"I forgot, ma!" Bella explains, running back inside the house.
The woman turns to us, an apologetic look in her eyes, "I am so sorry about that, I keep telling her she can't be running around naked, but I can't quite get her to actually listen."
"Say no more, this one takes his pants off the second we walk in the door of our house," my mom ruffles my hair.
"Moooooom," I whine.
"I'm Esme Cullen," she ignores me, "this is Edward. We moved in across the woods there."
"Oh yes, I'm Renee Swan. Blue was going on and on about the two of you earlier. I'm sorry about that, I tell her to stay near the house when she plays, but she somehow always manages to find her way over to your pond."
"It's no problem, it was nice meeting a friend for Edward on our first day here," mom smiles.
There's an awkward pause.
"Where are my manners, why don't you two come on in," Mrs. Swan moves aside to let us in.
The house is just as tiny on the inside as the outside. There's a small seating area with a flower-covered couch and a television that looks like the same one my grandparents have in their basement. Behind the couch is a curtain, serving as a divider to a make-shift room. I know this because Bella pulls the curtain back, revealing a little bed and dresser. I want to say how cool it is to get to sleep in your living room, but mom's hand on my shoulder keeps my mouth shut.
"Why don't you two have a seat on the couch, I'll see what I have in the kitchen," Mrs. Swan avoids eye contact with my mother, but I don't understand why.
Mom and I sit while Bella dances around the room. I've never seen anyone so full of energy before.
"I'm going to be a ballerina one day," she says breathlessly.
"Well, you're a very good dancer," mom laughs.
"I practiced all summer. Mama says if we can afford it, she'll put me in dance class this year."
We sit in silence, watching as she hops around the room. Renee comes back in holding a plate full of cookies.
"Cookies!" Bella squeals, "Mama, I thought you said these were for—"
"Quiet now, Blue," her mother cuts her off, "we have guests and guests deserve cookies. Especially little boy guests who are as handsome as your friend Edward."
I take a cookie from the plate, thanking Mrs. Swan as I do. Biting into it, I'm instantly hit with the realization that this is the best cookie I've ever had in my life.
"This is the best cookie I've ever had in my life," I say out loud.
Both the women start laughing at my admission.
"Thank you, Edward," Bella's mom beams, "Bella Blue, why don't you go show Edward your clubhouse in the backyard while I talk with his mommy."
Bella runs over, dressed in the same pink stained dress as before, and grabs my hand. Before I can open my mouth, she's dragging me outside.
"Come on, Edward, you gotta see it!" she says excitedly.
She takes me to around the side of the house and soon I see the "clubhouse" her mother was referring to. It's more like a bunch of wooden sheets nailed together with a blue tarp over top.
"My daddy helped me build it," she pulls me inside the make-shift door of the clubhouse, "we spent all day on it and I got to use a hammer."
I don't understand what she's so excited about, this place is crappy. The floor is all mud and the walls are a splinter disaster waiting to happen.
"You spent all day on this?" I ask.
She nods enthusiastically, sitting straight down on the muddy ground.
"This place is gross," I say, looking around the small space, "and you're sitting in a giant puddle of mud, you're going to ruin your clothes."
"It's not gross," she frowns, "and it's just mud, it never hurt no one."
"This isn't even a real clubhouse, there's no windows or nothing," I continue, "and why do you sleep in your living room? That's weird. And your house is small. And blue. And why don't you ever wear any shoes? Can't your daddy afford to buy you new shoes?"
For a moment she looks like she might cry and I start to feel a tiny bit bad, but not bad enough to take back what I said. Her little brown eyes water up, but before they spill over, her face switches to a look I only see on my mom's face when my dad comes home late and misses dinner. Before I can react to her sudden mood change, her fist lands hard and fast across my cheek.
"You punched me," I'm stunned.
"You had it coming," she spits, "I hate you, Edward Cullen and I'll hate you forever!"
She runs off, the little wooden door slamming behind her. All I can do is stare after her, with my hand resting on my sore cheek, and think this is the last I'll ever see of Isabella Blue Swan.
I smile at the memory. That definitely wasn't the last time I saw Bella Blue or her fist. And despite her declaration to hate me forever, we somehow became best friends. It was Blue who taught me what struggle is and that poor exists and that stealing is sometimes the only means of survival.
And on a cold, fall afternoon day when pot was still just something you put spaghetti in, it was Blue who showed me that you can be the best kind of person in the world, but it still won't save your mama.
"Cullen!" Ben yells at me from somewhere inside the house, "Come on, Alice gave us permission to leave!"
I look back at the woods one more time before pushing off the deck rail and heading back inside. The party has gotten even more crowded in the short time I've been outside. The entire senior class has managed to cram themselves into Tyler Crawley's house. The air is laced with cheap liquor and marijuana, a smell I zero in on immediately when I spot James Harvey camped out in the dining room. He's using the table as his own personal display case. Every type of pill, powder, and plant laid out before him. James is here to work.
"Hold up," I yell to Ben, making a U-turn towards James.
I wouldn't exactly call us friends, but I'm no stranger to James and his bag of tricks. Never one for the hard stuff, but I score my pot from him on a regular basis.
"Cullen," he says without even looking up, "what can I do for you?"
"The usual," I reach into my pocket, sliding a small wad of bills across the table.
Before he can respond, Rosalie Hale, a sliver of a girl, comes sauntering up. She says nothing, but somehow James knows exactly what she wants. He hands her a small bag of pills, but no money is exchanged. She pays for her escape in a different way.
Rosalie Hale moved to Forks about three years ago. She was insanely hot, curves in all the right places, blonde bombshell. Now she's sad and quiet and destroyed.
Drugs will do that to a person.
But I don't pity her at all, I welcome her demise. She's the one who introduced the drugs and the destruction. She's the one who took a Blue away and left behind an Ellie.
"Here," James hands her a small vial, "for Swan."
There's a nod and then she's gone and I wonder how Ellie pays for her escape.
"Dude, come on," Ben appears at my side, "let's get the hell out of here."
I grab the bag of weed off the table as he practically drags me out of the dining room. We push passed the basketball team playing beer pong and the glee club doing body shots and find ourselves in the corridor leading to the front door.
"Shit, I lost Alice, wait here," Ben says quickly and then disappears back into the crowd.
I pull my coat tighter, anticipating the cool air that lies ahead of me. When I see Alice's head bobbing through the throng of people, making her way over, I turn to open the door. My eye, however, is caught on a sparkle coming from the living room. It's attached to a chain that hangs around the neck of Ellie Swan. I gave it to her when we were twelve and she was Bella and Blue and perfect in every way.
And now she wears it as she leans over a table with a rolled up twenty and snorts away everything her mother wanted her to be. And when she comes up for air, she looks at me but sees nothing.