Here I am again with another story. MCMU is nearly finished, and well, I really like this one. I hope you will as well.

Thank you to Southern Heifer for pre-reading. It's un-beta'd because I'm giving Scorpio11 a break from my madness.

Of course, SMeyer owns the characters. If I did, hell, I'd be on an island somewhere warm. It's February for craps sake!

I'd love to hear from you.


Chapter 1. Pigtails and Purple Braces

August 1999

Esme Cullen sat in the office down the hallway of the second floor of her new home taking in the trees surrounding it. They were all mature trees and provided wonderful shade for the house and spots of the yard. The sourwood and glory bower trees were set to explode any time, and she was excited to see the blossoms. She remembered how much the fall was her favorite time of year, and after all the years in Southern California, she was looking forward to experiencing the change in seasons.

She turned back to the desk and began reviewing the itinerary for her upcoming book tour, not happy at all to be away from her family after they'd just moved from Los Angeles, but the move had been for the benefit of the family, and she definitely didn't regret it.

Her husband, Carlisle, had taken the job as Chief-of-Staff at a rural hospital, and they both thought it was for the best. He'd worked at a renowned hospital in LA, but when they saw they were losing their three sons to the trappings of the Los Angeles life style, it was an easy decision to make the move.

As she worked through the itinerary seeing book signings in cities across the country near the holidays, she was worried. Leaving her beloved husband alone with their three sons for a month seemed like a monumental task, but he'd told her more than once they'd be fine without her. She silently prayed they would.

"Mom, get down here, now!" her youngest son, Edward, called. He was twelve. He was the shyest of the three Cullen boys, but he and his mother shared many hobbies, not the least of which was their love for reading and music. She scrambled from her desk and ran down the stairs to see what had him so upset.

When she met him at the front door, she saw the problem first-hand. Before her on the sidewalk stood a small Girl Scout with a wagon full of cookies, two bloody knees, and tears streaming down her cheeks. She had braces on her teeth, and she appeared to be completely shattered.

"Oh, goodness, what happened?" Esme asked as she walked down the stairs of the porch and squatted down a bit to take in the small girl with pigtails tied with green ribbons.

"I'm sorry. I tripped on your sidewalk. Would you…would you…are you in need of any cookies? We're trying to make enough money to…" the girl sniffed out before she broke down completely, blood pouring from her knees and apparently, a cut on the palm of her hand.

"Edward, go get the first aid kit. Dear, come inside," Esme coaxed the sobbing child.

"I…I…can't. My daddy told me to wait until he came home from work, but I didn't because Paige told me she was going to come sell cookies in my neighborhood so I wouldn't be able to go on the trip at Christmas to see The Nutcracker. I'm not supposed to go into strangers' homes…ever," the girl sobbed.

Esme couldn't help but tear up a bit herself because as coltish as the girl looked, she was absolutely adorable. She blinked away her own tears as her son came back with the kit.

She took the girl by her uninjured hand, leading her to the chairs that had found a home on the large front porch which had first caught Esme's attention when she and Carlisle had made the trip to Forks, Washington, to search for a house.

She helped the child into the chair and knelt down when Edward returned with the first-aid kit. "This might sting a bit," she informed as she cleaned the wounds. She looked up and saw the child squeeze her eyes shut tightly, tears still falling.

What surprised her the most that afternoon in mid-August was when her son, Edward, took the little girl's uninjured hand and held it. "It only hurts for a minute. Mom's done this a lot for me and my brothers. Think about something else. What do you plan to do over the rest of summer?" he asked kindly.

The girl looked up at him and smiled a little smile. "I hope I get to visit my grandma, but I'm excited for school to start." Esme saw the look in the girl's eyes as she took in Edward and smiled. The girl wasn't thinking about the pain any longer.

"That sounds like fun. Where does your grandma live?" her son asked, keeping the girl's mind off of the fact Esme was applying antibiotic ointment to her knees, bandaging them, and then dealing with the cut on her hand.

"She lives in Portland, and it'll be my first time getting to stay with her by myself. It'll be my second sleep away for more than one night without my mom and dad. I got to go to Girl Scout Camp earlier this summer, and it was my first sleep-away camp, but Alice didn't get to go because she had to spend time with her dad. We went swimming and sang songs around the campfire. There were crafts and stuff to earn our badges," the little girl extolled with a broad smile, flashing the purple braces on her teeth.

"Your braces are cool, but aren't you too little to get them? I just got mine, and I'm twelve," Edward told her.

"I fell out of Alice's tree house and loosed my front permanent teeth, so they put them in a month ago. My teeth were weird anyway," the girl replied, causing Esme to stifle a chuckle at the two of them.

"Okay, sweetie, you're set to go. Can I get two boxes of thin mints and a box of tag-a-longs?" Esme asked as she stood.

"Wait," Edward called as he ran into the house.

"What's your name, Girl Scout?" Esme asked as the little girl went to the wagon and pulled out the order.

"I'm Isabella Marie Swan, ma'am. My daddy's the chief-of-police here in town. He's on duty and my mom's out of town. Mrs. Cope, my babysitter fell asleep, but my troop is trying to hit the neighborhoods before the other troops get their cookies. Maybe I should have waited," the girl responded with a tilt of her head as she bit her bottom lip.

"I'm Mrs. Cullen, so we're not strangers any longer. How much for the cookies?" Esme asked as she watched the girl do the math in her head.

"Seven dollars and fifty cents, please. I can only break a ten," the girl responded as she pulled out a small coin purse from her skirt pocket.

Esme laughed. "Isabella Marie Swan, I'll be right back," she commented as she turned to walk into the house to get her wallet.

Just then, Edward raced out with a handful of cash. "Edward, what are you doing?" Esme asked.

He ignored his mother and looked at the girl in front of him. "How much for the whole wagon load?" he asked.

"Edward, we don't need that many cookies," Esme scolded.

"I know, but she seems to be dead set on going door to door, so if I buy her out and walk her home, she'll be fine," he countered. Esme hid her smile at his sudden protectiveness over the girl.

Esme kissed him on the cheek. He was so kind, and she once again realized how special he really was. In that moment, she decided the book tour scheduled between Thanksgiving and Christmas would be her last. She needed to be there for her family, especially her growing sons, and that was all there was to it. If she never sold another book or wrote another story, it wouldn't matter as long as she was able to witness moments like the one she found herself in that August day.

"You know, if you actually introduce yourself to her, you could go with her to a few houses and walk her home. I don't think having twenty-odd boxes of cookies in the house is a good idea with your brothers and your father around. If you want to help her, accompany her around the neighborhood for an hour and then walk her home," she suggested with a tender smile.

He appeared about to protest, so she raised an eyebrow. He looked down at the sidewalk and acquiesced. "Fine."

"Short stuff, what's your name?" he asked as he sat on the top step as the girl went to her wagon and reorganized the load after having given Esme her three boxes of cookies.

"I'm Isabella Marie Swan. I like Bella best, but my grandma calls me Isabella. My best friend, Alice, calls me Bell, like from 'Beauty and the Beast'. My daddy calls me Bells," the girl introduced herself.

Esme watched as Edward stuck out his hand and introduced himself. "I'm Edward Anthony Cullen. I don't go by anything else because I hate other nicknames, but Bella is nice. Maybe you could show me around the neighborhood while you sell your cookies? I'll walk along with you as you go, and I'll take a box of Samoas."

Esme stood on the porch and watched Edward hand the girl three dollars, receiving fifty cents in change. She paid the girl for her cookie purchases, and after business was transacted, she watched her son shove his hands in the pockets of his hooded sweatshirt as he walked next to the Girl Scout pulling a rust-speckled, red, Radio Flyer wagon behind her loaded down with cookies. In her mind, she'd never been more proud of her son.


May 2003

"Hi, Mrs. Cullen. Is Edward home? He promised to teach me how to play soccer," Bella commented on a May Monday afternoon a bit more than three years later.

Esme was shocked that her self-centered, fifteen-year-old son had made the offer to the nearly thirteen-year-old girl. He was suffering from a case of hormones, and the girls calling their home for him had kept his mother on her toes. Her older sons were enough to keep her on alert. When her youngest began garnering a following of his own she wasn't thrilled.

She and Carlisle had met the Swans, who were neighbors, not long after Bella had shown up selling her cookies. The two families had become friends, though Esme had instructed Edward to never disclose how they'd actually met Bella. She never wanted to get the girl in trouble, and her youngest didn't seem to want to cause her trouble either.

"Oh, Bella, I'm sorry, but he's still at baseball practice and hasn't come home yet. Would you like to come in?" Esme asked looking at her watch to see Edward was at least an hour late. It was becoming a habit of his because his groupies attended baseball practices to watch him, and he hung around after to entertain them, as Jasper had told her. She wasn't happy about it at all and planned to speak with her husband when he arrived home from work.

Bella let out an exasperated sigh. "That's okay. I'm sure he's busy with that Tanya girl. Sorry to bother you, Mrs. Cullen." With that, the girl turned to walk down the stairs of the porch, soccer ball in her arms. Just as she was about to turn the corner, Emmett came screeching up in his Jeep.

He hopped out, seeing a defeated-looking Bella walking down the sidewalk. He sprinted toward her and scooped her up, swinging her around a few times and releasing her to stumble around the neighbor's yard. Once she finally settled and stood stark still, Emmett circled her a few times and then touched her on the shoulder, causing the girl to run after him.

"I tagged you," he called after her causing her to erupt in a fit of giggles.

Emmett stopped suddenly and scooped the girl up, swinging her onto his back and walking back toward the house. The girl had her arms around Emmett's neck with a glowing smile on her face while he was dribbling the soccer ball she'd carried earlier.

When they climbed the stairs, Emmett turned to his mother. "Where's the toad?" he asked quietly. It was a nickname Esme didn't like nor understand, but there were many things about her sons she didn't understand, so she chalked it up to brotherly antagonism and decided to live to fight another day.

"I'm not sure. He had baseball practice," she answered to the best of her knowledge.

"He forgot about my soccer lesson because he's with Tanya," Bella stated as she shimmied down Emmett's back. Emmett looked at his mother with a pained look.

The family knew the history. Bella's mother had taken off when Bella was ten, and the Cullens had become her surrogate family because her father worked nearly round the clock to avoid the pain of being alone. Esme didn't mind having the girl around at all, having only had the three boys, but she felt sorry for Bella. No little girl should have to endure the pain of having a mother abandon her.

Renee's disappearing act wasn't really a surprise to Esme or Carlisle after they spent more time around the Swans. Carlisle had speculated the woman was addicted to prescription drugs the first time he'd met her, and one night when he and Charlie had met for a beer after each man finished his workday, Charlie confessed as much to Carlisle.

Carlisle had attempted to help him secure a rehab facility in Arizona for Renee to get clean, but when she found out about the plan, she packed her things and took off without a word for her husband or her daughter.

Since that time, Esme had tried to become a surrogate mother to the girl, but Charlie's refusal to tell the girl the truth about her mother's condition was something Esme couldn't support. She and Charlie had words over the situation more than once. He explained Renee's disappearance to Bella as being necessary for her job and kept the girl's hopes alive that one day, her mother would come breezing back into her life and pick up where the family had left off. Charlie refused to listen to reason regarding the damage he was doing to the little girl, and it broke Esme's heart.

"Hey, Edweirdo isn't the only one in this house who knows how to play soccer, Bells. Let me change outta my jeans, and I'll teach you a few moves that are barely legal in MLS," Emmett teased as he looked at the little girl, seeing her eyes light up.

Emmett turned to his mother and winked. He was a senior in high school, getting ready to graduate, and Esme would miss him. He was boisterous and at times, obnoxious, but he had a tender heart. She'd always appreciated that about him.

An hour later, Esme sat in her office on the second floor of the house on Hampstead Street and watched her Goliath of a son teach the twelve-year old sprite of a girl how to run while kicking the soccer ball. She found it was impossible to hold back the tears as she thought about the turn Bella's life had taken.

How a mother could abandon such a beautiful little girl was unfathomable in Esme's eyes, and the fact the child still had a light about her was nothing short of amazing.

At six o'clock, Esme ordered Emmett to take Bella home. Her father was working the split shift, and he'd called earlier in the day to tell her he planned to order dinner and would be home waiting to eat with his daughter.

The new neighbor they had on Fifth Street would sit with Bella until she went to bed, and he'd be home at midnight. Esme wished it wasn't that way for the family, but as her husband was always quick to remind her, it wasn't her concern unless she was asked her opinion or for her assistance.

"Em, will you walk Bella home? Charlie should be on his way by now," Esme called out the back door of their home as Emmett taught Bella how to bounce a soccer ball from one knee to the other.

"Sure, Ma. I'll be back for dinner. Keep me a plate," Emmett called as he pulled the girl up on his back and carried her down the street. Esme could hear the girl's heartfelt giggle through the open windows in the kitchen where she was fixing dinner.

Just then, Carlisle pulled into the driveway. The way he skidded to a stop on the gravel circle led her to believe something was definitely wrong. She walked to the front porch after setting the timer on the stove for the pizzas she'd made, and waited.

Carlisle hopped out of the car leaving Edward and Jasper still seated in it behind him, heads down. It didn't look good at all.


To the casual observer, the Cullen boys were as different as night and day. Emmett, always the gregarious one, played football and wrestled during his years at Forks High. He was a star athlete and had a scholarship to the University of Washington to show for his efforts.

He'd met the girl of his dreams his first year at Forks High when the pretty cheerleader had sold him brownies at a bake sale the first week of school. The captain of the football team and the head cheerleader, Rosalie Whitlock, had been an item since that day and were planning to go off to college together, him majoring in physical education while Rosalie majored in network engineering.

They'd mapped out their future, complete with the timing of their first children and the neighborhood where they wanted to purchase their first home and anyone who knew them was certain they'd succeed.

Jasper Cullen, the middle son, was the quiet, contemplative type. He was taller than his older brother, so his sport of choice was basketball, though he only played recreationally with a few friends from high school or his brothers. He was a master of military strategy, choosing to spend his Saturday nights playing "Risk" with his father or playing combat video games, rather than attending parties or dating the girls who were interested in him.

He much preferred studying history or playing guitar than sitting in a theater with a girl, suffering through an insipid movie in hopes of rounding another base. That was something his friends from school discussed during their pick-up games without discretion or concern for the young ladies' whose reputations they were sullying.

Jasper had vowed if he ever found a special girl, threats of mutilation wouldn't be enough to get him to disclose the private moments he shared with her. It was something his father had instilled in him, and he held the value sacred.

Edward Cullen, the youngest son, had grown out of his crippling shyness when his braces came off and he hit a growth spurt the summer between eighth and ninth grade. He'd shot up several inches over the summer, causing his mother much frustration when she had to purchase him an entire new wardrobe for school.

The first day he walked into Forks High, still a bit self-conscious of the changes that had taken place in his body over the last few years, he began noticing girls he'd attended middle school with, who'd never given him the time of day, began staring at him and trying to get his attention as he went about his school days.

Even more surprising to him were the glances and attention he seemed to receive from upper-class girls. They were much more sophisticated in their approaches, but he knew for a fact several fights had broken out in the girls' locker room with his name linked to the altercations.

Every day when he opened his locker, there would be slips of paper with girls' names and phone numbers on them which had been slipped between the slats of the door.

In the beginning, he would simply gather them up and toss them into the trash until one day, Nick Newton explained to him that rumors were floating around the school Edward didn't like girls because he hadn't taken advantage of the "potential for upper-class tail."

Being new to that type of attention, he was unaware people were always watching him, but as Nick explained things to him, he settled into a new routine and even began calling a few of the girls to thwart the bad press circulating through the campus regarding his sexuality.

After spending the Christmas break discussing the situation with Nick and Gerry Crowley, another friend of Edward's who was a year older, they'd convinced him he needed to meet someone and schooled him on the ways of maneuvering the high school dating world.

He'd taken their advice, maybe a little too well, because he seemed to go out with a different girl every weekend. The fights in the girls' locker room broke out again, but this time, they were between the flavor-of-the-day and a woman scorned. Those tales circulated the hallways as well, making Edward Cullen even more desirable among the female population of the small school.

Yes, all of the Cullen boys were very different, but they had a few things in common. First, they were no longer bitter regarding the fact their parents had moved them from Los Angeles to Forks. Second, they were devoted to their family, even if the boys did fight on occasion. Third, they were all extremely protective of Bella Swan.

Each boy felt the little girl had been dealt a shitty hand in life with regard to her mother taking off and her father basically leaving her to fend for herself a lot of the time, so they made it their mission to watch out for her at all times and spend time with her when they could…or when said spending time didn't conflict with their hobbies or time with members of the opposite sex.

It was that spirit of protectiveness that had landed Jasper and Edward in the principal's office that day after school, waiting for their father to come to school to meet with the principal.

"What the hell is he doing?" Jasper asked no one in particular as he looked up from the book on Eisenhower he'd been reading while waiting for Edward to shower after baseball practice. He'd looked at his watch, seeing it was nearly five-thirty. Baseball practice ended at four-thirty.

He rose from the grass where he'd been lounging and headed to the gym in search of his brother. He was sure Edward was with his latest love interest, Tanya Denali, and he was prepared to find the two of them, not for the first time, in some state of near undress in the boys' locker room.

When he rounded the corner to go inside the room, he heard arguing from inside, so he quietly opened the door and slipped around a row of lockers two down from where he heard Tanya yelling at his brother.

"This is fucking ridiculous. You're going to run home to play soccer with that tomboy when I'm telling you my parents are gone until late tonight. You told me you wanted to do it, but you wanted our first time together to be special. Well, I've got my car outside and the whole house to myself. Just tell Jasper to go home and lie to your parents about a class project you've got with Nick," Tanya shouted.

Jasper didn't like the girl at all, and he knew she had a reputation of not knowing how to say the word "no." He'd warned his brother she was easy and Edward should stay away from her, but his little brother was nothing more than a walking hormone of late, so he was certain Edward was trying to formulate a lie he believed his parents would buy.

"Tan, baby, I know Bella's a pain in the ass, and trust me, the idea of going to your house to finally fuck you is a lot more appealing to me than going home and teaching the runt to play soccer, but my mom gets really pissed off if we don't keep our word," Edward explained.

Jasper rolled his eyes at his brother's attempt to be suave, and just as he was about to make his presence known, Tanya spouted, "She's a spoiled little bitch. She's fucking twelve-year's old. Jesus Christ, she should find friends her own age. Don't you think it's a little sick you and your brothers spend time with her and she's not related. Unless one of you guys is fucking her, I don't get it."

"Tanya, that's ridiculous. She's just a kid, for fuck's sake. Mom takes care of her because she doesn't really have anybody, okay? It's all strictly pity. Yeah, she's spoiled, but if I don't take my turn at entertaining her, my mom won't let me go to Holden's party on Saturday night. Remember, what we planned to do after making an appearance?" he reminded Tanya.

Jasper stepped around the lockers when all talking stopped and a lot of moaning became audible. He saw his brother with his hand up the girl's shirt, rounding second, and he decided to put a stop to it.

He dropped his book on the bench at the opposite end of where Tanya was straddling Edward's lap, scaring the couple so much Edward dumped her into the floor when he shot up at the sound.

Edward looked toward the boom to see Jasper with an angry look on his face, and both brothers immediately began cursing at the other. "You fucking jerk," Edward shouted.

"Me, a jerk? You're the fucking jerk the way you were talking about Bella, you ass. You've broken your promise to her three times this week, even after you swore to her last night you'd be there for sure tonight. All that just for a little disease-riddled pussy?" Jasper shouted in return.

"Hey!" Tanya screamed as she got up from the floor. "You're not going to let him talk about me like that," she added.

Jasper saw his brother swallow thickly. "Hell, no," Edward responded as he dove for Jasper.

A fist flew connecting with a left eye. A shoulder in the stomach knocked someone into a row of lockers which was evidenced by a resounding thud as a head met the cinderblock wall. More fists. More rolling on the floor. A headlock or two all led to the baseball coach busting into the locker room to break up the fight.

He had a tough time separating the two boys, unaware Jasper was as fit as he was because of all of his martial arts training. Unfortunately for Jasper, he didn't realize it was the coach, who happened to be his favorite history teacher, and he leveled the man with a roundhouse to the chest, sending him into a row of lockers and flat on his ass. Jasper only realized it when he looked down and saw he had Edward around the neck in a choke hold.

"Shit, Mr. Zaniga. I'm sorry." Jasper hurried over to where the man appeared to be unconscious.

"Go get Principal Banner, NOW!" Jasper shouted at his brother. Within fifteen minutes, the boys were sitting in the waiting room of the office while their father checked Mr. Zaniga for a concussion.

"I got called out of the Emergency Room to come get you two idiots for fighting. How the hell did it end up you were fighting each other? I thought you'd gotten into it with other boys, but no, you two dumbasses have to fight with each other at school?

"Well, you're both suspended for three days, but you're grounded until the Fourth of July. Jasper, no driving, and Edward, you will not get your license until school starts. Do you understand me?" Carlisle yelled as the two boys, both bloody and bruised, sat in the back seat of the Mercedes with ice packs on their faces.

Without another word, Carlisle exited the car, shaking his head in disgust as he went inside to try to explain to his wife what had happened so the couple could provide a united front with the boys.

"You're really a fucking douche, you know that?" Jasper snapped at his brother who was examining his right hand. Jasper noticed the swelling and immediately felt guilty.

"You should never lead with your pitching hand, dumbass," he told his brother as he exited the car leaving Edward alone.

"Fuck," Edward commented to no one. He knew he'd let everyone down. His parents for obvious reasons would be disappointed in him. His teammates would be pissed because he wouldn't be able to pitch in the quarter-final game on Saturday against their rival, Sequim High. He only felt a bit of remorse for letting Tanya down regarding their plans for Saturday night because he'd actually been trying to figure out how to break up with her.

He wasn't ready to take the step Tanya wanted, but he'd endured the rumors regarding his sexuality at the beginning of the year and had no desire to relive it. He'd worked hard at building his reputation as a ladies' man, but if the truth ever came out he'd never actually had sex with any of the girls he'd dated, he knew it would all go to hell.

All of those things were minor in his estimation compared to the guilt he felt having letdown Bella. He'd developed a huge affection for the girl since the day she'd shown up on their front porch, bloody and crying, some three years prior.

He realized, as he sat there alone in his father's car, Jasper had been right. He'd been too caught up in being a fifteen-year old boy of late and had broken many promises to the girl. Unfortunately, he was now grounded and wouldn't be able to do much to make it up to her, but maybe if she wasn't too mad at him, he could coax her to come by the house after school so he could teach her how to play soccer.

It would definitely pass the time as he served his sentence, and maybe it would get him back in Bella's good graces, along with those of his parents.

With a resolution to turn over a new leaf and be a man of his word just like his father, he went inside the house to face his mother's wrath. He knew it would be epic, but if he was being honest with himself, he knew he deserved it.


Here are a few 'A's' to the 'Q's' I'm sure you have. Yes, in the beginning we'll jump some time because the real meat of the story is when they're older, but this is the background. Yes, there will be a bit of drama, but you know me…it won't be anything you can't handle. Yes, it's completed so once I start posting (unless nobody reviews) I'll post on a regular basis. Yes, I expect you to review. Yes, if you don't, I'll pull it down. Yes, I'll still love you if you don't like the story.

Any other 'Q's' you have I'll try to 'A'.

Thanks for reading. I hope to hear from you.

Till next time…xoxo