Contest Entry for the Happily Ever After TwiFic Contest

Title: Learning to Live

Pairing: Edward/Bella

Rating: T

Summary: An online friend, a support, a reason to go on. Emails that serve as a lifeline for two people who have known each other most intimately, just through words.

Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight.

Dear NotReallyBadass,

The beginning and the end are always very easy. It's the middle that taunts – reachable, but not quite. Touchable, but you can't feel it. Mirage. Elusive. The substance of everything you do is in the middle and sometimes it's hard to find it.

What if you never find it?

What if your life has a beginning and an end – like all lives do – but you never get a middle?

What if your life is like someone handed you a creamless Oreo?

What if you stay in the middle of nowhere, in a town where fun equals going to a restaurant where everyone knows you and still chooses to ignore you?

What if you're nothing special? What if you're just a blip on the social radar – just a tiny little blip that people see and then look away?

What if no one cares?

What if you sit under your blankets one night before Christmas and wonder about where your life is headed and there are simply no answers?

What if you've been trying to contact your 'friends' for hours and they are too wrapped up in their own lives to pick up the damn phone and just hear your 'Happy Holidays' greeting? What if you miss them and they don't miss you back?

What if you moved away from the city and away from the only friends you knew, and after days of crying on the phone and promises of forever, the phone calls became weekly and emails became monthly and visits just never happened?

What if they chose to move on too? And why shouldn't they when there's nothing special to hold them back?

What if you have no one to kiss under the mistletoe, or when the countdown to the New Year ends, and that midnight will be spent lonely, possibly checking out Facebook, looking at everyone else's partying photos and resenting their happiness? What if you forgot what it's like to be happy and content?

What if you're just plain lonely?

Because I think I just might know how that feels.



PS: I miss you. I don't know where you've been for the past three weeks, and I might be spamming your email id with emails I don't even know if you've read. Or hell, maybe this is one more message on the internet, sitting in some server like a lost puppy with no home and no one willing to adopt it. (Your figurative absence is making me more melodramatic than usual. If you are simply ignoring me or if I said something to upset you, let me know so I can at least have closure. You owe me that much.)

PPS: Merry Christmas.


Dear ForeverAlone,

I think your beginnings and ends are just ideas that you've been fed and fed and overfed since childhood. Who is anyone to decide when your life begins and ends? I don't think anyone qualifies to make that choice for someone else. Yeah, my biology teacher will probably define it in clear terms – you are born, you live, you die.

I don't think that's life. I think that's existence.

To live, you have to live.

Life begins from the moment you decide to live it. Life ends when you no longer have the energy to curve your lips into a smile or let your eyes tear up. When you don't have reasons to go on. When your body chooses to confine you to blank walls and narrow, lumpy beds and mind chooses to torment you with memories of moments you wish you could have held longer.

Then you wait for biology to decide when your time is up.

You know I live in a similar town. Only, I am more than a passing blip on the radar. What if I told you it's nothing special to have fifty people around you, drunk and having the time of their lives? What if even in the midst of so many people, you couldn't relate to a single one?

'What if no one cares?' you ask. What if your idea of care was screwed up? Because if you think having your picture taken with a crowd at a New Year's party and having fifty 'likes' and a hundred 'comments' on it means that all these people care…you're wrong. They only care that their nose looks crooked, or that their paunch is showing, or that they are standing with the hottest person. And if they are one of the likers or commenters, they only care that you're standing with a bunch of popular kids so commenting on your picture will make them look like a part of that fun they can't have.

By the way, why must under the mistletoe and New Year's kisses mean so much? Why should we need this redundant tradition to show someone how much we care?



PS: I missed you more than my words can tell you. I was grounded for…reasons. On top of that I failed a couple of tests and my parents decided to overreact as always and take my internet away. Couldn't email you from school before vacations either because my computer teacher is always hovering, convinced I surf porn (I swear it was only once, and I was dared). Anyway, I have my internet back. I'm offended that you think I am capable of just abandoning you. Not cool.

PPS: It sucks to care about those kisses. It sucks even more to have a tongue that tastes of bitter alcohol and vomit shoved down your throat at the start of a new year. (My brother did not have the best start this year, and I had to hear all about it. Still on the lookout for brain bleach. Help appreciated.)

PPPS: If someone gave me a creamless Oreo, I'm fairly certain I would slap them. Hard.


Dear NotReallyBadass,

I am so sick and tired of this teacher at my school. She relentlessly picks on me. It's like she takes one look at me and knows – just knows – that I don't know. And I don't. I don't know what she's talking about and I don't know why she keeps talking about it. It's nothing my books don't tell me. I just choose to not remember it.

And why should I? What great life lesson can be learned from this gibberish?

Does it teach me how to cope with loss? Does it teach me how to be my own person and not let myself be defined by the stereotypes that I know people use to define me? Does it make the 'loser', 'emo twat', 'homo', 'crybaby' post–its on my locker okay? Does it teach me the courage to rip off those notes with dignity, tear them to shreds in the middle of a crowded corridor and shower the shreds on the persons who posted them, instead of coming to school early and getting rid of them before anyone can see?

Does this education make it easier for me to answer where I'm going with my life?

I don't let my grades slip, though. I always cave in at the last minute and just…fucking study. I don't want to disappoint my Dad. Though I think it might be too late for that.



PS: I'm sorry I offended you. I don't know why you put up with me, but I am glad you do. I can never thank you enough for that.


Dear ForeverAlone,

Last night I was in an accident. Well, a small one, where I didn't get seriously hurt or anything, but an accident nonetheless. You see, one of my friends borrowed this bike – which is a fancy way of labeling temporary theft – from his elder brother. Got a hold of the keys somehow and called me up past my bedtime – I promise I'm not ten, and it's just that I like routines, hence the term 'bedtime' – for a fun night out.

And I thought – why the hell not? Was it not me who was preaching about living?

So I did it. I snuck out of my house for the first time, feeling this rush inside me. Like my insides were being tickled. Like my head was on fire. Like I could just do anything and be anyone. All because of the thrill that sneaking out gave me.

And it was nothing compared to the thrill that that bike could create. Holy shit.

So there we were on this empty road, speeding away to nowhere, breathing and laughing and feeling like the world was our game and we had just won. And then this animal came out of the woods; out of nowhere it was right in front of us. My friend hit the brakes but it wasn't soon enough. He panicked and swerved and we barely missed the creature (I think it was a deer but it was too dark to tell – also, I was a second away from shitting my pants to really care about what that thing was), but we were going too fast and skidded down the highway.

I don't know who it was among the two of us, but in those five seconds of pure panic, one of us yelled 'jump!' – and it was stupid. So, so stupid. The whole thing. The bike, the speed, the brakes, the jump – all of it. But that's what danger does. That's what thrill does. It makes you senseless.

So we somehow jumped and rolled over on the road, while the bike hit a rock and choked and coughed like an old man before dying completely.

We dragged the bike all the way home, with shaking hands and foggy breaths and racing hearts and fear and gratitude. I actually thought I might cry. I don't think I ever felt so much before.

My friend is grounded, obviously. He also has to earn the money to repair the bike.

I have a few cuts and scrapes on my body and this huge bruise on my back – the signs that last night even happened. It still seems a dream that was on the edge of being a nightmare.

And the only real thing about all this is that in those seconds, mere seconds, when I thought I was going to die, for some reason my only thought was you.


NotSoBadass (my name never suited me more)

PS: I hate school too. But you already knew that.

PPS: Those people who put notes on your locker are the losers, not you. Don't let them make you believe otherwise.

PPPS (is there a limit to these things?): You put up with me too. In fact, I can safely say that you are the best friend I have. Thank you.


Dear NotSoBadass,

Holy freaking shit. You just scared the hell out of me. The whole accident sounds terrifying. I'm just…OMG. If I knew you in real life, now would be the time when I would buy a bus/train/plane ticket to get wherever you are and hug you. I would. I so would.

Because despite knowing that you are okay, just reading all of that makes me regret that I haven't met you. I don't even know your name.

You could've died last night, and you never would've had a chance to know any of it. You could've died without knowing how much you mean to me. How I read your emails over and over to breathe and carry on. To find courage to wake up every morning and put a smile on my face. To remind myself I'm not alone, that someone cares, that you'll be there to give me your words of wisdom no matter what.

You've always been there. Even though it's only been like seven months or something, it feels like always.

I can't think of what my life was before I commented on a random thread of a random article. Before you replied with your kind words even though I was just a name. Before we got into a weird conversation about nothing and everything, and created fake email ids to speak at our own leisure. Before that conversation, I didn't even know who I was.

Truth be told, I still don't know who I am. But I know I am your friend. And maybe that's enough for now.



PS: Not. So. Freaking. Badass. Next time you decide to be impulsive and go on a life–threatening endeavor, please know that somewhere out in the interwebs, some random girl will be devastated if something happened to you. Live but don't get killed.


Dear ForeverAlone,

I live in Forks, Washington. It's…yeah, I'm not even going to waste words on that one.

So there. Now you can stock up on traveler's passes or whatever. For next time.

Just kidding, just kidding. I promise, no more "impulsive" and "life–threatening endeavors." Like I said, it was stupid of me. Very stupid. I just wanted to feel something, you know? Despite being one of the stereotypically cool kids, sometimes life can be very dull and lifeless, know what I mean? Sometimes everything seems pointless to me too.

That's no excuse for putting my life on the line though. Maybe I should just stick to pot for feelings.

You're not going to rip me a new for that too, are you?

By the way, I scored a B– in Advanced Math last week. Made. My. Goddamn. Day. I think you, more than anyone else, know what this means to me. You know everything. Ninety percent of my life has been laid bare in front of you, and the best part is, you don't judge. You just let me vent, and make me feel like I am worth something when you trust me with the deepest, darkest thoughts you have.

I think more than anything else, I should thank you for giving me a sense of self. You know me, and you make sure that I know me. You don't hesitate in calling me out on my bullshit, you don't hesitate in putting your bullshit out there for me to call out on. It's really as simple as that.

I hope you know this by now – but just in case, let me say (write) it – if the roles were reversed, and you had been in that accident, I would have lost my mind and stalked you down till I knew where you were so I could hop on a bus/train/plane, just like you said. I won't pretend to know how our friendship works and has survived all these months, seeing as we don't know each other's names or faces or addresses, but there is an intimacy in this strangeness. There is ease in not knowing. There is security. Like closing your eyes on a rollercoaster as a child and finding your happy place. Like instinctively putting a blanket over your head whenever you hear strange noises – and believing that that blanket could stop anyone.

You are my blanket.



PS: You are cute when you're trying to fullname me even though you don't know my full name.

PPS: If I said "you are my blanket" to a girl in real life, I would legit get laughed at for straight ten minutes and never be allowed to live it down. Even if you do that, it won't change the fact that you are.


Dear NotSoBadass,

Rest assured, "you are my blanket" is quite possibly the cheesiest thing I have ever read.

That said, it is also the sweetest thing anyone has ever said to me, and if a guy sent me this on a card, I would shamelessly get it laminated and keep it in my underwear drawer like a lovesick teenager, because I am just that pathetic. (I would print out your email just for that line, but if my Dad ever found it, I would fear for your life, so just…no.)

Speaking of pathetic, I cried today. Over a guy. The horror.

It's just that…he was kissing a girl. A girl who was not me. This guy whom I've had a crush on all through high school just…he wasn't pushing her up against the lockers or making out in the backseat of a car or anything. Oh, no. It was the loveliest moment I have witnessed in my life.

I was at the town library, hoping that one of their employees had finally taken her maternity leave so I could have a job to give me enough money to buy something nice for my parents for once (yeah, parents as in my mom, too – we may not see eye to eye, nor talk on the phone beyond a 'happy birthday' here and a 'Merry Christmas' there, but she did spend fourteen hours in labor so I could be born). I was talking to the librarian, who seemed more than happy that she wouldn't have to look for a replacement for a few months (score!). As a thank you, I offered to start my new job right away.

So there I was, stacking the shelves like a pro (trust me, I knew where everything went even without the list – finally something I'm good at), when I saw herher, the bane of my existence; her, the golden–haired, blue–eyed, stereotypical wet dream of every teenaged boy; her, the rich parents, but absent parents, insert–some–sad–story–here–for–why–she–is–so–spoiled–and–mean. And she was reading.

And then there was him. The nicest guy in town, the sweetest, most charming, polite, I–volunteer–at–every–charity–event guy, who helps out at the library for free. I admit, he was (one of) the reason(s) I wanted this job so badly. I just didn't figure his reason for doing it was her. She, who studied at the library secretly so as to not ruin her cool reputation and still get good grades because of course she has to be so perfect.

She, whom he stared at all through the hour that he helped me stack the shelves. She, who smiled her perfect smile when he leaned over to whisper something in her ear. She, who blushed and looked at him like he is the most amazing man she has ever known. (He is, just saying.)

She, the lucky one, for whom he sat there and read out passages from some book like in one of those cheesy rom–coms. She, who was at the receiving end of his feather–light kisses and fingers tracing her hairline.

She. Not me. Never me.

Not me, who stood there behind the shelves, watching them act like the secret high school sweethearts that they apparently were, from between two copies of Jane Eyre that I wanted to fling at them. So badly.

Not me, who pulled at her hoodie sleeves, feeling exposed and judged even though no one even looked at her. Not me, who pretended to have a headache and left early on her first day of work so she could have her breakdown in peace.

I have never felt a longing that profound. I want what she had – and I don't just mean the guy. I want to have it easy in life for once. I want to be looked at, to be admired, to be loved – even for a little while so I would know what it's like. So I would know that I am at least worthy of it. I want to smile so effortlessly, and smile like I mean it.

I want to know what it's like to be kissed. To have someone's lips on mine and feel their breaths on my face. To have hands hot as fire against my body. To be able to touch a face and write secrets on it with my fingertips.

I want to be with a guy who can just be there. Someone I just know I'll find beside me when I look up from whatever crazy path I'm on. Someone who can give me the courage to pursue that crazy path in the first place.

And I know…somewhere deep inside me, I just know that only I can find that courage. Only I can make myself happy.

But I can't help that I want. That I crave. That sometimes all I need is a hug and there's no one there. There never was, and if the past is anything to go by, there will never be.

I sometimes think I'm destined to be alone.

I'll shut up now.


ForeverAlone (that name never suited me more)

PS: I am from Forks, Washington, too. What are the odds? If I wasn't so depressed, I would probably freak out over the fact that if we live in the same town, and both go to school, and there is only one Forks High, then you are probably in the same school as I am, and we might even be in the same classes. I would freak out over what it meant for my life, but I really don't think it can get worse. So just go ahead and tell me who you are while I'm already having one of those days.


Dear ForeverAlone,



Jesus. How do I say this?

That guy. At the library. Kissing her.

That was me.

















You totally believed that, didn't you?









Dear ForeverAlone,

I'm sorry. I just could not resist that one. Please don't kill me yet. You might want to kill me after you meet me anyway.

Speaking of which…I would love for us to meet.

I could tell you my name right now, and you could tell me yours, and that blanket over my head could be taken away in a second as we come to the realization that we might have already met without even knowing. Although, I'd like to think that if I met you, I'd probably know you. I trust myself on that.

So here's what I'm asking you to do. Don't overthink this. I beg you.

Tomorrow evening, 4 pm, I'll be at the beach down at the Quileute rez in La Push. It's a Sunday, so a lot of people will be there. Just to assure you that I don't have intentions of either raping or killing you (one can never be too careful these days; carry a pepper spray if it makes you feel safer).

If you'd like to join me, I would love that.

If not, that's okay too.

Just know you'll find me there, should you choose to look up from your (for now, non–crazy) path.

Goodnight, best friend.


NotSoBadass (seriously, even in appearance I am as lame and non–badass as I sound.)

PS: I'll wear a red t–shirt. White is too mainstream.

PPS: You would make my life a lot easier if you wore blue, so I could recognize you. You will show up, right?

PPPS: I don't think I'll be sleeping tonight.


I freak out. I completely, and utterly, freak out. I shake off my depression and shake in my boots, and wipe my sweaty palms on my jeans. I try deep breathing. 'Try' being the key word. Then I type out three different replies to his email and delete them.

And then I freak out some more.

And then I look for my blue shirt.


I stand, leaning against my hideous orange truck, and feel very stupid. The paint is chipping allover. I let my already damaged nails get damaged further as I pick at the paint falling apart.

What the hell am I doing here? What am I even going to say? What is this going to accomplish? Why am I putting the one good thing in my life, on the line? What if he's a jerk in real life and was only pretending to be sweet to me? What if this is one big practical joke by some bully in my school and someone will walk out with a "Gotcha!" and video record my reaction to torture me with for the rest of my life? Even if that's not the case, what if it's too awkward? What if we can't talk face to face at all?

My Dad keeps saying that I'm too much of a pessimist. He's wrong. I've seen an awful lot of exactly how awful people can be, and how easily they can change. Technically, I'm a realist.

I look around with trepidation, my heartbeat thundering in my ears. I don't think I have been as terrified and excited in my life. It doesn't help at all that I didn't sleep a wink. My mind was too busy narrowing down the possible 'NotSoBadasses'. I didn't reach to a conclusion. At moments, I feel like my sleeplessness is going to catch up with me. That it's only the adrenaline holding me up.

I open the truck door and reach for my bag on the passenger seat, taking out the bottle of water. I place it on my forehead; the coldness of it feels good on my overheated skin. I just sit there like this and take slow, deliberate breaths for a while – my eyes closed, my mind busy humming the most soothing songs. Finally, I unscrew the cap and take quick gulps of water.

And then almost choke on it when I see a flash of red ahead of me. He's just walking there in the sand, towards the water, his back to me. So much for calming myself down. My heart feels like it will jump out of my chest any minute as I step out of the truck. I flinch at the sound of the door slamming, but I don't think anyone else even hears it. No one looks this way. This noise is drowned out by all the noises of kids playing around.

It's a sunny day. It's a lovely day.

I take a deep breath or two again. Or twenty. And then I walk towards him.

I can do this, I can do this, it's no big deal at all, I've known him for months now. I can say something. He'll say something. We'll be okay.

He turns around just as I reach him, his brows furrowing when he sees me.

"Isabella Swan?"

"Hi, Mike."


I've known Mike ever since I got here. He's in most of my classes, though he pretends that I don't exist, and his Mom drags him to grocery shopping all the time. We run into each other every now and again. He says a quiet 'hi' to appease his Mom and I return it and that's that. And then we just stand there and stare at each other.

Which is exactly what we're doing now.

"So…" he starts, presumably wondering what the hell is going on. I don't think he has noticed my blue shirt yet. I'm still too taken aback to say anything. Of all the people I had shortlisted, he wasn't one of them.

"Um…I…you…" I stutter.

"Yes, go on. I'm sure you can get to the point," he says, rather rudely.

"What are you doing here?"

His brows furrow more. Then he looks at me carefully, like he expects me to freak out any second. He's not that far off the mark. "I'm waiting for a friend. Why?"

"Do you…are you…?" God, no wonder no one wants to be friends with me. I'm terrible at making even the most basic conversation.

"Well?" he asks, impatiently.

And then I feel an arm wrap around my waist.

"Hi," the softest voice whispers near my ear.

In that moment, I feel like my heart has literally exploded into a thousand butterflies, coursing through my blood stream. My cheeks heat up again and my feet feel like they're cemented on to the ground. Even my fingertips tingle. I wonder if something's physically wrong with me that I'm having such a strong reaction to a guy. Then again, no guy has ever touched me. Not even like this. Maybe it's the newness of it all.

And the feeling multiplies when I turn around and look at him, because as soon as I do, his thumb starts stroking my waist.

Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.

I take my time to take in his face. He's just…breathtaking. Flawless. His vivid green eyes contrast with his pale skin; his sharp jaw leads to full, pouty lips that curve up in a smirk at my inventory. I watch his tongue as it wets his lips, and hear him speak again.

"Nice, t–shirt, Mike," he says, so utterly amused.

"Whatever, thanks man," Mike mutters, clearly still weirded out, and walks off.

Edward Cullen – I know Edward Cullen; all girls know Edward Cullen. He's that shy guy who never asks a girl out, yet all girls would do anything to be his date. He's that polite, handsome guy that other guys hate, and are just desperate to watch him screw up. He's that gentleman who safely drove Jessica home when she was drunk after the Homecoming dance, but not before buying her some coffee and driving around till she was okay enough to pass off as just tired, so she wouldn't get in trouble with her parents. Everyone knows that. Jessica tells about it to anyone who hears, and even to those who are not interested in knowing (example: me). He's the guy who can charm his way out of homework, yet somehow pass; who hangs out with the crowd that screams trouble and acts nothing like them.

He leads me to a quieter area, near the trees, one arm still around me, while the other one balances a backpack on his shoulder.

When we reach the trees, he throws the backpack down near a fallen log and takes a step back. He looks at me so intensely, like I'm a puzzle piece that doesn't make sense in his picture. Like I'm a frown you don't realize you're wearing till someone asks you what's wrong.

And all I want to do is giggle at fate. Because what the hell.

There are a thousand things I want to say to him in that moment, so naturally my lack of brain to mouth filter makes me choose the silliest one.

"You were right. You don't even look remotely badass."

He laughs – his entire demeanor relaxing and making him look more like a seventeen year old than forty – and touches my nose with his fingertip. "Come here," he says, his arms already pulling me close.

And as if I've done it a thousand times before, I effortlessly melt into his embrace. It's easy. It's just so goddamn easy. There are no hidden cameras and no people jumping out of the bushes to celebrate their prank. It's just him and his sincerity. It's just his clean smell and minty breath. Just his sweet laugh and gentle hands.

He's almost a foot taller than me, so he bends down a little as he hugs me tightly. My hands hold the plaid shirt he's wearing over his red t–shirt in tight fists, while his trace my back. When my head rests on his shoulder, a lump lodges itself in my throat. I feel it crashing down on me. The whole thing. The adrenaline rush goes away and I feel like I might fall to the floor if he weren't holding me so tight.

It's not a joke – it's real, it's real, it's real. He's here and he's holding me and how do you prepare yourself to meet your best friend for the first time? How do you look at them and see the things you already know will be there? How do you prepare yourself for a physical onslaught of what you've been emotionally experiencing for months? How do you come to terms with having a real version of what you imagined hugging your best friend would be like?

You don't. You can't. It feels like being forced to acknowledge how broken you are as you are slowly put together by something beyond powerful.

It feels like being in the palm of someone who can crush you like you were an autumn leaf, and trusting them to protect you instead.

It feels like telling your brain over and over that it's okay to let someone in, even though he's already in your bones.

I gulp – again and again and again – but it doesn't work. I squeeze my eyes shut but they sting anyway. I tell my heart to stop being stupid but it's already way beyond that.

When his cheek rests on the top of my head, my tears escape the corners of my eyes, soaking his shirt.

His heart beats fast against me, his warmth washing over me far more than the sun's. His breaths fall even and deep against my cheek and he doesn't say a word. He just stands there and holds me like he knows how much I need it. I sniffle and pull him closer, even though every inch of us is already touching. I feel like I could fuse my body with his. Like he could read me this way too.

"Wait, why are you crying?" his voice wraps around me in concern. "Hey, hey, Bella…hey, come on…don't cry."

I take a shuddering breath. He pulls back just a little and puts his hands at the back of my head. "What's wrong?" he asks, his voice gentle, his eyes worried, his hands soothing, his heart ever so caring.

"Nothing," I croak out.

"Then why are you crying?"

I wipe my face but more tears spill. "I don't know. It's just feels really nice to be held."

He touches my face with the back of his hand, and he leans closer to rest his forehead against mine. "Well, I plan on holding you for however long you want me to."

So I simply put my arms around his waist and bury my face in his chest. His hands push my hair away from my face and wrap around my shoulders, holding me like I am something special. Like I mean something to someone. Like I matter. For the first time in a very long time, I feel like I matter.


Minutes later, after I've finally calmed down and managed to stop the waterworks, we sit down next to each other on that log, with our elbows resting on our knees. It's kind of strange, because he's silent and so am I and it's not weird. We just…are.

"What are you thinking so hard about?" he finally asks.

I shrug. "Just how strange this is."

"Yeah, it is strange." And then, after a moment, "Can I ask you something?"

I smile. "Isn't that all we've done in our emails?"

He smiles too. "Be honest. Did you really believe it was Mike? For those couple of minutes anyway."

I shake my head. "I was so taken aback. He isn't the type."

"And you think I am?"

I look at him now. "Yeah."

"So you did try guessing."

"Last night. I sort of shortlisted about ten people who could be NotSoBadass. You were one of them."

"I shortlisted too."


He shrugs. "And nothing. I don't really know a lot of people. I wasn't the best judge of it."

My brows furrow. "How can you say you don't know a lot of people? Um, hello, I'm Forever Alone."

"Well…not anymore, you're not. I'm here."

I smile again, warmth spreading through my chest. "Just answer the question, Edward."

"I know a few of those in my classes. Those are the people I hang out with. The guy I was on a bike with? Jacob Black. He and his group of friends from the rez. They were the closest friends I had. Before you."

"And they're not your friends now?"

"They are. Like, we hang out from time to time. But they do drugs and stuff and I…don't. So the hangouts have lessened considerably over the months."

"But you smoke weed."

"I've done it twice. That's it. And I told you about both the times in my emails. I don't really wanna go home smelling like trouble. I don't think my upstanding–citizens–of–Forks parents would like that very much. Hence my silly pen name. My friends keep taunting me about how I am such a wuss and not badass at all. It's almost like an inside joke." He shakes his head in amusement and tucks a strand of my hair behind my ear. "What about you?"

"I already told you I don't have any friends."

"No, I meant, have you tried…stuff?"

I raise a brow. "Because the daughter of the Chief of Police would have a lot of access to that kind of stuff."

"Oh yeah. Sorry. Forgot."

"I mean, I probably could try if I had the chance. It's not like my Dad's ever around."

"Why isn't he around? It's not like the crime rate is very high here."

I take a deep breath and marvel over how, despite all the things we've discussed over months, somehow this never came up. "I think I remind him of Mom too much. He still loves her, even after all these years. And kind of blames me for their divorce. Well, both my parents do, in their own way. I was the nuisance that drove them apart."

"Bella, you were a child when they divorced, if I remember that email after your birthday correctly. A toddler, even. It's not your fault if your parents weren't ready for parenthood."

"Well, try telling them that," I shrug, and look away from his kind eyes. The sun is beginning to set. The sky is a vibrant orange. Everything looks like it's on fire.

"You shouldn't blame yourself for everything," he says softly.

"I don't."

"Yeah, you do. It's allover your face. You blame yourself for your parents' divorce, you think no one wants to hang out with you because you're anti–social, no one wants to take you out because you're a "boob–less plain–Jane" – like you once said – and I only put up with you because I was unfortunate enough to cross your path and we happened to have a few things in common."

I get defensive. "Look, just because I sent you personal emails, doesn't mean they detailed everything about me. I wrote most of them when I was either angry or sad, so most of them are irrational. Don't pretend like you know me."

"Bella, look at me."

I don't.


I sigh and comply. "What?"

He leans closer and speaks so low that I have to strain to hear it. "I do know you. Like it or hate it, I do know you. It makes me really sad that you think all those things about yourself. And I'm not saying that out of pity. I'm saying it because I care. I do. Because I want you to know that you're one of the funniest, smartest, nicest people I have ever known. That even though I've only met you today, we've been friends for a long time, in the most heartfelt manner possible. That you think you are ordinary and boring, but you're not. You're beautiful."

"Oh, come on."

"No, you are," he insists, taking my hands in his and turning me around so one of my knees is on the log as I stare at him. "I think you're lovely, and I am so, so, lucky to have you in my life. That all these idiots who didn't ever ask you out are just that – idiots. I hate that they made you think so low of yourself."

"You're sweet, Edward."

"I'm very honest, too. And you know that. So believe me when I say this – you are something special. To me you are. And I want to spend all my free time with you, and take you out to see all those movies we discussed, and find you those expensive first edition books you have on your wish–list, and buy you a gramophone that you once told me you wanted, and take you to the Great Wall of China because that's a long ass hike that I've always wanted to take and it'd be nice to have your company, and…" I let out a small laugh as I cry, remembering his passion for that hike. He moves a hand to wipe my cheek and then brings it back to hold mine. "I want to do all of that because I want to make you smile. You're too precious to be so sad."

"I…" I don't know what to say. I fail at words. I fail at it so bad. So I just say the one thing that matters. "Thank you."

He moves closer and kisses the side of my head, which for some reason makes me blush. Then he takes a deep breath and kisses the other side. I let my hands out of his and move them up his arm, feeling the sparse hair on his forearm till where his shirt sleeve is rolled up, and his sharp breath intake as my fingers reach his shoulders and neck. His hands move to my face again. He traces my burning cheek with his thumb and then places small kisses on it. It's so tender. I close my eyes.

My heart is beating so loud; I bet he can hear it.

His kisses my nose and then my chin.

"May I?" he asks, his breath washing over my lips.

Weighed under everything I thought I had to face alone and knowing that I'm finally not alone, my hesitance is palpable. I can feel it radiating from my furrowed brows to my hunched shoulders to my shaking hand that is clutching his collar and pulling him closer, even as my mind tells me to push him away. That it's wrong. That it will jeopardize everything. That I don't know how to do this.

I don't know. I don't know.

"Hey," he whispers, brushing his nose against mine. "Trust me?"

My eyes slowly open and meet his. So close that I can see the shadows his eye-lashes cast against his cheek in the setting sun. So close that with a breath he could shatter me and with another, make me feel like I have it all.

"I do trust you," I finally say. "It's me I don't trust. I don't know how to do this."

"Confession: Neither do I. I've actually never kissed someone before."

I would scoff at him and ask him to stop joking, if it weren't for the fact that his entire face flushes red. Even the tips of his ears. I haven't recovered from the surprise of his words when he speaks again.

"Confession two," he says in a low voice, his breath on my face tickling and comforting, "I would really, really like to kiss you. I… When you told me for the first time that you had never been kissed, ever since then I…I've been thinking about what it would be like to be your first kiss. For you to be mine. First everything."

And just when I think he couldn't be any more adorable, he flushes even more.

"I don't know if this is a mistake, but if it is," I whisper back, "promise me we'll never regret making it."

His smile lights up my heart. "I promise."

I give him a small nod, and just like that, his lips are on mine and they are fire. My breath is more like a choked gasp, and all I know is that in that moment, I could breathe all of him in. His lips are so soft and gentle and slow and for once I understand what it feels like to have fireworks dancing behind your eyelids. My hands rest on his neck and a thrill shoots through me when I feel his pulse racing beneath my palm.

Our lips part for just a second for air, and then my upper lip is gently pulled into his mouth. I act purely on instinct and let my tongue taste his bottom lip. A low, deep sound escapes his lips and it's like the world shifts on its axis.

I've read about being kissed for the first time in more shitty novels than I would ever admit, watched it on TV, heard whispers of it being the best moment of your life and whatever. And now I understand it. I have never felt anything like it before. It's warm and wet and slightly sloppy even though we're so careful, hesitant one second, passionate the next, and every time our lips part, even for a second, it's like he leaves behind this tingling sensation. Our breaths are one already and when his tongue meets mine, a sort of frenzy begins. It's like it's impossible to stop. This desperation clawing inside me finds strength and my hands make their way to his hair. I grip it tightly and my fingers pull him closer. His arm snakes around my waist and pulls me closer too. We're flush against each other, gasping against each other's lips, hands everywhere at once, too close and not close enough. Like if we let each other go, breathing will change. Everything will change. From the tips of my nails to the soles of my feet, I am a mass of awareness. Of knowing that this is too special to let go. Too important. Too overwhelming. Too life–giving.

His lips meet mine again and again, and as the sun goes down, I learn how to write secrets on his face with my fingertips.

I learn how to live.

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