Contest entry for Lyrics to Life Contest

Title: Sure Eyes

Pairing: Emmett/Edward

Rating: M

Word Count: 9368

DISCLAIMER: The author does not own any publicly recognizable entities or song lyrics herein. No copyright infringement is intended.

Summary: When the butterfly escapes the killing jar... Sometimes standing up for someone, no matter what it might cost you, can free you both.

~0~


"Your turn, McCarty."

I watched Jake flex his fists, his biceps bulging under the muscle tee.

I laughed, trying to appear disinterested.

"No go, Jake. I'm not doing some dumb dare. Besides, you know if it came down to it, I could take you down. Greater muscle mass, see?"

I indicated my toned bod, worked to perfection from long hours of weights, cardio and boxing. His face twisted into the take-no-shit expression he had perfected. The boy was a bully and a thug, and truth be told, maybe he could best me in a fight. The thing was that he held one card over me - one thing that could make or break me.

Landing a place in the team was down to him; the coach would listen to his recommendation. I was a sub at the moment, but a space was available on the team after Sam's injury in his last game. The team voted for whom they wanted as a replacement and I had worked hard to make that choice an easy one.

"Everyone takes their turn, McCarty, you know the drill. And I have the perfect one for you. I'm sure you'll be able to do us proud."

I looked into his smug features and wanted to turn and walk, to tell him where to stick it, but damn it, I wanted what was mine. And really, how bad could it be? It wasn't as if I'd have to kill anyone. Although offing Jake wouldn't be... I shook my head. No good thinking like that. I needed the boys to like me, to trust and respect me, and if it took a stupid dare then so be it. I just hoped it wasn't dressing up like a girl in a huge bra and panties, fire hydrant red lipstick smeared across my mouth in the worst approximation of a girl I'd seen since Mrs Doubtfire. Poor Sam – it had taken a long time for them to let that one go, and now I was up for his spot.

I squared up to him, seeing the interest in the other guys' faces. Jared was smirking, anticipating my reaction and I wondered if they were all in on it.

Of course they are. Or at least Jake's henchmen are.

"Go on then."

Jake lowered his voice to barely a rumble. The others gathered close.

"The other new kid - the Brit."

I narrowed my eyes. Jake's grin was unsettling.

"What about him?"

"I'm pretty sure he's into guys. In fact, word has it he has a thing for you, you know - lots of staring at you in the corridors and mooning over you in classes. Maybe you've noticed?"

I hadn't, but my heart thumped a little too hard. I didn't like where this was going, but I said nothing.

"Your dare, McCarty, is to make him think you like him too. Keep it subtle, nothing over the top or ostentatious, just... little things. I want you to reel him in nice and slow, lead him on. Make the little English fairy believe he has a chance with a member of the football team. Give him hope, McCarty, and then at the end-of-season shindig you destroy him in front of the team. Tell him he's nothing more than a cheap little dare. Do that and you'll be a legend at this school. Fail... and you'll be a no-one. Am I clear?"

I stared at him, trying not to show my disgust. The simple fact was that I wanted to fit in here. Year after year of moving schools meant I had no friends and this would be where I finished up high school, where I would spend the rest of my senior year. I knew that these guys weren't my friends, but I wanted to belong, to do something to make them accept me and ease my way through my final year.

But this? This was mean. This kid was new, in a foreign country, and stuck out a mile with his accent, pale skin and messy hair. I had seen him in class and around, but I certainly hadn't noticed him watching me. Chances were he wasn't gay, probably just lonely like me. He didn't seem to have any friends either. Maybe I could work this to help him somehow.

I would have to play this very carefully, to look as though I were following the rules of the dare, but not attracting attention from the other students.

Jake offered his hand to shake and I had no option.

"You've got 'til Halloween to become a legend or a loser."

The dare was on.

~0~

To begin with I didn't do a thing, just observed from the fringes to see what classes he had and where we overlapped. I wasn't the average jock and did well in academia, but I was just about coping with pre-calculus whereas this kid was breezing through calculus and that singled him out as a brain. The first classes I noticed him in were Biology and English literature where he sat near the back of the room, scribbling furiously, but never once raising his hand.

The day Ms McKenzie called on him to read a passage aloud to the class, I heard the panic in his breathing, the clearing of his throat before the words flowed in that crisp, English accent that sounded so out of place here. When he was done, I saw him lower his head until only his hand could be seen twisting his hair, his face screwed up in apparent mortification. So, confidence not a big thing with Mr Cullen, it appeared.

Edward Cullen: could a name be more English? He sounded as though he were a lost member of the aristocracy. Perhaps he knew the Queen – went to tea at Buckingham Palace and fed treats to the dogs. I grinned to myself before remembering what I was doing. It wasn't until I was called on for reading that I felt it, the prickle of eyes on me. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a room full of bored students, passing notes and doodling in notebooks, but I felt attention on me and couldn't look around to see where it came from until Ms McKenzie called time. Turning my head to stretch my neck, I caught his eye and saw that he was scribbling something, working intently until his guilty expression betrayed the fact I had caught him in the act of watching me.

Was he sketching me?

Whether or not Edward really did have a crush on me didn't make me feel any better about what I was to try and do, and guilt was already starting to weigh heavy on my conscience. I had to find a way to make it look something it wasn't, a way to make Jake think by Halloween we were on the brink of being something.

I was quiet that night over dinner and my sister, Alice, commented on it. Now I'd love to say that my little sister is a pain, but truth be told, she's a sweetheart. We've always been tight and shared pretty much everything in our lives. Later that evening when I sat in my room contemplating a particularly dry assignment, there was a soft knock on the door.

"Come in, Ali."

She appeared, wearing a concerned smile. Sitting down on the edge of my bed, she waited, knowing that I would talk in my own time. Floating a pen across my knuckles, I stayed quiet for a few moments until the pen slipped and hit the carpet. A sigh escaped me when I bent to pick it up; I slouched back in my desk chair.

"You know I'm up for a spot on the team? Well, according to Jake, I have to prove myself worthy. They want me to complete a dare as some rite of passage."

Alice tilted her head.

"A dare? Something juvenile no doubt knowing those boneheads. Please don't get photographed wearing something embarrassing, Brother dear. I have a social life too you know and I don't need it to wind up on the critical list after you get spotted in some heinous cross-dressing incident. With your skin tone, you'd look ridiculous in pastels."

Her sardonic eyebrow challenged me to argue, and I laughed for a moment, distracted by the image she painted.

"No cross-dressing, I swear. It's... far more underhand than that. I have to seduce someone, make them like me – trust me – by the end-of-season Halloween bash at Jared's place."

"Well that hardly sounds like a challenge, especially if you like them anyway. Do you like them?"

I sidestepped her question.

"That's not all, Sis. I have to seduce them first and then tell everyone at the party that they were nothing more than a bet. They want me to humiliate them in front of the whole team in order to win the dare."

Her hand flew to her mouth, her face a mask of pain.

"No, Emmett – you can't do something like that. It's cruel and you're never mean or cruel to anyone. There has to be a way around it, a way to circumvent the dare without causing public humiliation. Can you tell them the truth?"

"Definitely not."

"Well, if you're not already friends then perhaps you can work on that. If you take it slow enough then it might not get far enough for them to be hurt. Plus you get to make a new friend. That's not a bad thing; let's face it, if you had a few friends then you wouldn't be in this situation. Plus, if you can build trust between you then they might agree to pretend for you at the party."

I could see she was trying, and the idea wasn't a bad one, but we both knew that this was not going to be straightforward. She gave me a big, reassuring hug and left. I could see her worried expression although she tried to hide it.

~0~

The next day in Biology class I fluffed my answers on a test after not studying the night before. The dare was already wrecking my life and I had weeks of it ahead. Mr Burnley pulled me aside to point out how unlike me it was to fail a test. I agreed with him and said I had slept badly, resolving to study harder for the following week. To be honest, Biology didn't come easily to me - I had to really work to achieve a passing grade, but I made up for it in English and Math classes. To my surprise, when I left the lab, somewhat deflated by my failure, I saw Edward hovering nearby.

I smiled, seeing him duck his head before remembering he was there for a reason. He spoke in a quiet tone, his voice low and hesitant.

"Uhh... if you need any help I could, umm, well... I could help you study."

He could hardly meet my eyes and his cheeks were flushed with embarrassment, but he held his ground waiting for what he presumed would be a brush-off.

"You'd do that? That'd be great – I could use the help. I don't have any friends here yet." I shrugged, a wry grimace on my face.

The smallest of smiles touched his lips.

"Uhm - the library? We both have a free after lunch before English."

He knows my schedule?

I nodded. "Sure. Thanks, Edward."

He swallowed hard and, head down, hurried off, no doubt cafeteria bound.

As it turned out, he didn't go to the cafeteria at all – I found out later that he brown-bagged it, preferring to dine outside on a deserted stairwell, book in hand. I guess he didn't get hassled out there. I inhaled my food, sitting alone, before heading out to collect my books from my locker.

The library was deserted, most preferring to be outdoors on a gorgeous fall day. I had nowhere else to be and studying seemed a better use of my break than walking round the field again. I fished out my books and dumped my bag on the floor. I was going over my failed test paper from that morning when Edward appeared, faltering when he saw me already there. Pulling out a chair next to me, the scraping loud in the empty room, I saw him flinch.

I felt genuine gratitude at his kindness.

"I really appreciate this, you know."

He smiled, a small shrug of the shoulders indicating his awkwardness. His face was closed; the only emotion readable to me through his posture was embarrassment. I had no idea if it was because he was regretting offering to help me or if he just didn't tend to talk to people generally. His voice was low and halting.

"I don't really have any friends here. It makes sense to try and make some if I can. I have a couple of friends back home and I miss them. No idea when I'll see them again."

Loneliness; I understood that all too well.

"Yeah, I hear that. My buds and I lost touch after the first couple of moves. With Dad being posted to different areas, Ali and I found it too hard to keep up. We send cards and talk on the phone once in a while, but we don't see them anymore."

"Ali's your girl?"

I looked confused for a moment before realising.

"No! Oh no, sorry, man! Ali's my sister and my best friend. Between us we just found we had nothing to talk about to our old friends anymore so we stopped trying so hard. Things change, people move on – it's life. Good news is we're finally putting down some roots here. Maybe now we can get lives of our own – make some friends and maybe keep them."

I felt oddly embarrassed admitting this to a stranger, but Edward was nodding as if he understood.

"What about you, Edward? Why are you here, so far from home?"

"My Dad's a cardiothoracic surgeon. He trained in one of the top hospitals in London."

"Explains why you're so good at the subject." A wry smile tugged at my lips.

He flushed.

"He got offered a top job here and so we moved. He's great, encourages me in everything I do, but of course this is his passion and so it rubs off. When I was a little kid he would tell me stories about his day and I sucked it in like a sponge. If I became a doctor too he would be so proud." He smiled a small, secret smile that made me question his plans.

"Is that what you want too? To follow in his footsteps?" I could see how his life could be prewritten for him if he wanted to follow the blueprint, but a part of me wondered if Edward had a rebellious streak hidden deep down.

"I could. I have the grades, and if finals go to plan then a Uni place is a given. Problem is..." He tailed off, not meeting my eyes, and I waited for him to find the words.

"You want something else?" I noticed his throat bobbing, his voice smothered by fear or regret – I couldn't yet tell. I lowered my voice to an almost whisper. "It's okay, you don't know me and you certainly don't have to confide in me."

His eyebrows creased inward, the eternal sign of worry and inner battles. I felt bad, as if it were my fault. Had I prodded at a raw nerve? I hadn't meant to upset him.

"It's not about what I want – it's about following in my Father's stead. The men in my family are all doctors. It's expected of me and I won't be the one to break tradition. I'll have lots of time to pursue other interests later on."

I was intrigued.

"So your parents just expect you to do... to be... what they want? Have you talked to them?"

His eyes flicked to mine and I shut up. That look told me enough. He had either talked until he was blue in the face, or else he knew better than to even bring the subject up. Either way, my senseless commentary was not helping the situation and I sat back in my seat.

"Sorry, dude; it's none of my business. Shall we make a start? We've still got about an hour or so."

He didn't meet my eyes again, merely opening his book to chromosomes and starting to explain the test questions I had struggled with.

~0~

I listened, took notes and learned - he made it sound so easy. He sketched a diagram to explain it in straightforward terms and the facts slotted into place. He would have made a terrific teacher, although I had to admit the shyness could be a problem there. Maybe a scientist – he could be the one to discover the cure for cancer or HIV and save the world. I smiled at my thought and he caught it. I realised he was waiting for me to answer him and I hadn't even heard the question.

"Am I keeping you from something more interesting because I could be studying for my math test." His words were clipped; he felt hurt at my inattention. The smile left my face.

"I'm sorry, Edward. I was thinking... never mind. What was the question again?"

"I asked if this was what you needed or did you have any other problems before we finish."

"This was great, really. It makes so much more sense now. Thanks so much for the session – it was so generous of you to help me. I'd offer to return the favour but I don't know if there's much I could teach you to be honest."

"Maybe not." His words held a tone of finality. He picked up his books and neatened them before repacking his backpack with a sigh.

"See you in class."

And with that he slid back his chair and walked away, his head down. It was only after he'd gone that I saw the piece of paper on the floor.

It was a small pencil sketch of me.

~0~

A couple of days later we had a game and the team were expected to cream the opposition. The Wildcats were good, no doubt about it, but the Wolfpack were having a stellar run and were pretty much unstoppable this late in the season. The cheerleaders were doing their thing at half time, and I was sucking on a bottle of water, watching the girls drool over Jake. He was revelling in the attention, making sure they got a good view of him preening while they pranced and chanted his name with overzealous enthusiasm.

I glanced idly around while I drank, my eyes finding Ali in the stands, my biggest supporter. She looked up and caught my eye, waving and grinning. I raised my bottle in a salute and took another swig. When my eyes scanned the crowd I was stunned to see Edward sitting alone on the end of a row, hunched in on himself, his bag clutched against his stomach like a protective shield.

I had no idea if Edward liked football or sports in general, but I thought of the sketch and wondered if it was some kind of hero worship thing. Jake's words came back to me:

'...word has it he has a thing for you...'

Right now, Edward didn't look like he was having a good time. In fact, if asked under oath I'd say he was there against his will which made no sense to me. I couldn't think about it any longer as it was time to get back out there and secure our victory, which we did with some ease.

~0~

We next came into contact when I stumbled across him on that stairwell, eating his lunch. He looked surprised to see me and even more stunned when I sat down next to him.

"Hey, dude - I aced that last test thanks to you." I gave him a soft nudge with my shoulder. "Thanks, man."

He swallowed his mouthful of chicken salad and wiped his mouth.

"Glad to help."

I tried again.

"Hey, you know what I was thinking? That we could maybe meet up for lunch and eat together outside; by the bleachers or here if you prefer."

I held my breath for a moment, expecting a brush-off. He took a swig of his bottled water and set it back down.

"We could do that."

"How about tomorrow? I can brown-bag it with you. The food'll be better for sure."

Was that a smile?

"You don't like rubbery hotdogs with luminous green goop?"

I snorted.

"Hot dogs are okay at a game, but they aren't good for training. I prefer lean meat and fish."

"I fear you're in the minority here. From what I've seen, the Wolfpack eat that rubbish by the ton."

I half laughed.

"They have to train hard to burn it off. I prefer my food to be fuel, not poison. That being said, I don't knock back a good pizza once in a while."

"The US does seem rather fond of pizza. Who knew melted cheese on round bread could be so popular?"

Our eyes met and we both laughed, the spontaneity of it feeling so natural. I let him finish his sandwich, fishing an apple out of my bag for dessert, and we sat in an amiable silence to finish our lunches.

~0~

When I didn't have early training, I drove to school at a more regular hour. Sometimes I would pass Edward striding along, his bag over his shoulder, his long-legged gait easily recognizable from a distance. The third time I saw him I pulled over.

"Edward! You want a ride?"

Eyes wide, he looked around before nodding. Closing the door, he pushed his bag down between his knees.

"Thanks. I appreciate this."

"Hey, no problem. I've seen you a couple of mornings and figured I'd ask the next time. Do you drive?"

"Yeah, back home I do; had to sell my car when we moved out here." He twisted the silver ring on his index finger back and forth.

"So I never asked – is your Dad on like a year's contract here or are you here indefinitely?"

"From what Dad has said, I'm finishing up high school here. I intend to apply for universities in the UK though. I want to return to normality as soon as I can."

"What about your folks? Are they settling in?"

"It sounds like it. My parents are outgoing and vivacious – they fit in wherever they go. They just don't understand why I'm struggling."

"Do you try and talk to them about it?"

"No; I go to my room and study after dinner. It seems to make them happy. Do you talk to yours about this sort of thing?"

I thought about it for a few seconds.

"I guess I talk to Ali mostly. She and I, we can talk about anything and we understand each other. I've grown up with Dad's job and we just deal with each move as it comes. This time I get to stay in one place for the rest of the school year – maybe even make it into the main squad. I don't know. It's hard trying to make new friends all the time, you know? Sometimes we don't even try cos Ali and I know that we're only there for a few weeks. At least now we can."

I hoped he understood that I meant every word.

I slowed down and pulled into the school lot, nosing my old girl into a spot across from the main doors. Walking across the lot together, a couple of the squad stood watching us.

Jake would know soon enough.

~0~

We fell into a pattern, Edward and me. If I saw him in the mornings I would stop, and on the days we had early training I would give him a lift home instead. It was getting easier between us; trust was being built, day by day. We now lunched together every day, varying where we sat to get some peace and quiet. I'd forgotten how it felt to have a good friend who wasn't my sister. Edward was opening up more, day by day, although he'd never exactly be verbose. He still struggled to look me in the eye for more than a second, but shyness wasn't a crime where I was from.

After a while I brought up the subject of drawing and that I'd seen him sketching in class. He brushed it off, saying he doodled to pass the time. I let it pass for now, making a mental note to revisit it at a later date. I had his sketch of me tucked into my dictionary at home. I couldn't tell him I had it and I couldn't bring myself to throw it out when it was so good.

October 20th and the night was both dark and miserable. Heading out to my old Chevy after practice, I bowed my head against the rain and sprinted across the lot. While the engine warmed up and chased away the cold inside, I flicked on the wipers and saw a hunched figure leaving the grounds, bag slung across his back. I couldn't be sure until I saw his familiar gait.

He's out late tonight.

Edging out of my spot, I headed to the exit and squinted through the side window, blurry with rain. Cracking the window enough to be heard but not enough to soak me through, I called out.

"Edward? Edward! Jump in."

He spun round, shocked, until he recognized me. Without hesitation he shrugged off his bag and sprinted around to the passenger door. Rain blew in and I shivered, turning up the heater. When the door banged closed, he turned to me.

"Thanks, Emm. It's dire out there tonight. Are you sure you don't mind running me home?"

"'Course not. You're late tonight – detention?"

I smirked, knowing full well that Edward never got into trouble.

"Biology project. It's for extra credit."

Of course it was. The boy was a major brain.

Buckling up, his hand brushed mine before he pushed his bag down between his knees and sat back.

I nodded. It was a 10 minute drive, but a long walk, even in good weather. I drove along the darkened streets, seeing Halloween decorations all ready for the big night. I swallowed hard. Less than two weeks to go until the inevitable, inexorable moment that this had all been leading up to. Finding his street, '64 Oak, first turn on the right after Cedar', I pulled over to the kerb and waited for Edward to jump out. When he didn't move, I switched off the engine and waited for him to speak; it was clear there was something on his mind.

An expectant silence hung heavy in the car. It was Edward that broke it when the tension between us was stretched tight enough to snap.

"You know, my parents aren't home. They won't be back til at least 1am."

The words hung between us.

"I just thought that we could hang out for a bit, if you want to and your parents don't mind. We could get some takeaway for dinner."

I answered before I could change my mind.

"Takeout sounds good. My folks will be fine - I can call them to say I'm gonna be late." My heart was thudding in my chest.

"Okay."

I followed him inside, noting how he almost dropped his key when he went to unlock the door. I called my Momma and told her I was eating with a friend. As expected, she was just fine, just telling me not to be too late back. After a brief discussion, Edward rang the order through to the local Chinese takeout and ran out to collect it, telling me to make myself comfortable. Shrugging off my jacket, I hung it on a hook inside the door and toed off my shoes before hovering in the hallway, unsure of where to go.

The house was larger than ours and in a nicer neighborhood. It was warm and spacious, and I could see what looked like a study off to my right. Further cautious investigation revealed a kitchen and a lounge room, sparsely furnished with heavy wooden furniture and a large fireplace on the opposite wall.

I took a seat on the huge leather couch and waited for Edward to return. After less than ten minutes I heard the door close and noises coming from the kitchen. He reappeared with a bag full of cartons and two forks, joining me on the couch. We both sat, enough space between us to eat without it being awkward. Trouble was, I was feeling plenty awkward, sitting on a soft, brown leather couch with a guy I knew was into me and who I was meant to seduce.

I expected him to turn on the TV, but instead he switched on some music and started to eat his dumplings. Reaching for my own food, I made up for lost time, packing away my tangerine chicken and rice. While I ate, Edward went to the kitchen for sodas and smiled when he saw I had almost finished my food; he had barely made a dent in his Chow Mein. As if to further illustrate this observation, he put down his carton and took a mouthful of Coke.

"Aren't you hungry?"

His brow furrowed then smoothed.

"Not especially. I can finish it later."

"Did something happen at school? Is something bothering you?"

"No – no." His tone was measured, calm.

I put down my empty carton and took a swig of Coke before wiping my mouth with my finger. His gaze was on me, steady and unwavering. I noticed for the first time that his eyes were deep green, his lashes sweeping his cheeks when he blinked.

"Emm – do you fancy a beer? We have some in the fridge."

"You drink?"

"Of course." He smiled, his head cocked. "My parents don't have a problem with the odd beer at home. Plus, it's legal at 18 back home."

"Lucky." My smile spread across my face. "Okay. My folks don't mind either although I tend not to when I'm training."

He looked happy when he returned with two opened bottles. I took a swig, relaxing at last and enjoying how the evening was panning out.

I gazed around the room again, taking in the pictures on the walls and lack of family mementos. I remembered the sketch he had dropped.

"I see you scribbling in class sometimes. What do you draw?"

"All sorts of things; doodles mostly." He seemed unwilling to elaborate.

Conversation was a little stilted, mostly about school, and I wondered if he was expecting me to say something but all I could think of was the giant elephant in the room that was Jake's dare. I didn't want to hurt Edward – truth was, I really liked him and I thought we could be good friends once all this dare crap was over. I needed to find a way out of it that didn't automatically result in my being thrown out of the squad. The only thing was, I didn't think that a win/win way out existed.

I wished I had more time.

What I hadn't counted on was Edward's own plans.

I sank the rest of my beer and set the bottle down. The TV was on now, tracks from the last decade permeating the room around us, the volume down low. I was about to comment on the girl singing into the mirror with a towel wrapped around her head, when Edward closed the gap between us and pressed his lips to mine in a kiss that sent me spinning. It lasted a mere second or so, yet the spontaneity of it rocked me to my socks. For a couple of seconds afterward he looked at me, his eyes alight with momentary madness or maybe just repressed lust. When I didn't respond, his head dropped into a familiar stance, one I saw every day at school – embarrassment.

"What... what was that for?" I heard my own stuttering words and cringed.

"I see you every day and all I ever wanted was to talk to you, to have you see me." His words were muffled, his chin almost on his chest to avoid looking at me again.

I stared.

"When we started to hang out, I hoped that it would be enough to be close to you, to spend time with you." His chin lifted enough for me to see scared, naked eyes that couldn't lie even if they tried.

"So you're saying..." I swallowed hard, my throat dry, and I wished I still had beer in my hand.

"I like you – I really like you."

So Jake was right about him.

I kinda hated that fact.

Edward was running his teeth over his thumbnail, his hand noticeably shaky. He had withdrawn back into himself at what he perceived as rejection. This boy had been hurt in the past, by whom or what I had no idea, but he was vulnerable. I reached out across the seat cushion and laid my fingers on his wrist before sliding them down to his hand. When his fingers wrapped around mine I knew what to do.

"Edward..."

His hand dropped from his mouth and he shuffled a few inches closer. The soft leather creaked and I held my breath for a moment.

"I just wanted... I wanted to ask you something today; if you say no, I get it, okay? I waited til you were leaving school tonight, hoping that you'd see me and stop." I said nothing, letting him force out the words he was struggling with. "I know it sounds like I tricked you into bringing me home tonight and I'm sorry for that, but it was the only possible way I could talk to you with no one else around."

I squeezed his hand in encouragement.

"It's my birthday today."

A surprised smile lit up my face.

"Hey, you kept that quiet! Happy Birthday, dude!" I stopped dead when I looked around and realized again that we were alone – no family and no celebrations were looking likely for him tonight. "Where are your folks? Why aren't you all out having a family supper somewhere?" I thought of my birthdays and how rowdy the McCarty clan got when we went out to celebrate.

"They're working. They don't see birthdays as a reason to celebrate; only achievement is celebrated in my family. I got a gift to mark the day, but they don't make a fuss. Not even on my 18th. I got a card from my grandparents in the mail." He tailed off, nothing more to add to what was clearly a depressing situation. I understood now how deeply that rejection cut him.

"That sucks, man. I'm sorry. If I'd known-"

He cut me off in a breathless rush.

"There's only one thing I want for my birthday and it isn't anything they can give me."

I searched his face for answers.

"You."

Never in my life had one word held so much hope and yet been weighted with such expectant disappointment. My words were unsteady.

"That's really what you want?"

He looked terrified and I felt protective of him even though we were all alone. His words were rushed.

"I want to be with you tonight. I'm not a virgin, Emmett." His tone was defensive, yet his cheeks were pinked with arousal. "You want it too, don't you?"

He seemed so certain. My mind was whirling at breakneck speed, unable to comprehend how quickly the evening had changed course. He leaned in a fraction, waiting for me to pull away, to tell him 'no'. Instead I met him halfway, kissing the lonely boy who wanted nothing more than to be with me. My fingers sank into his hair, holding him tight to me while I kissed him, slowly and thoroughly.

Jake will be so proud.

Enough.

Fuck Jake and his dare. I couldn't hurt Edward like that. I'd find a way out of it somehow. If all else failed, I'd deny the whole damn thing in front of the whole school if I had to.

He kissed me back, pressing himself against me wherever he could reach. When we broke apart, I rasped out my immediate thoughts before he could kiss them away.

"I don't want to rush into anything we're not ready for. You have nothing to prove to me." I reached out to him, stroking his disheveled hair to reassure him.

"Please, Emmett. It's what I want." I wasn't convinced, but he was adamant, and I allowed myself to be led out of the lounge room and up the stairs. When the door closed, he made as if to remove his shirt until I stilled his unsteady hands.

"No, let me."

I could see he was shaking. His cheeks held two bright spots of livid pink, and yet his eyes were so dark in his otherwise pale face that I could no longer see any trace of green in their depths. I leaned in, hesitant and cautious, and kissed him again, a barely there touch this time, but enough for him to part his lips in response. I let my hand roam the front of his shirt, feeling him flinch. I looked at him then, questions in my face that he read plain as day.

"Please, Emm."

Stepping back, I pulled my own shirt over my head, seeing his eyes widen. I knew I looked good, but this was to set him at ease, not pressure him into more. His hands found his buttons and this time I let him, his fingers fumbling with the small fastenings, almost ripping it from his body in ungainly haste.

Edward set the pace, his desire for me crystal clear. His body was hard and eager, his kisses heated and urgent. Falling onto his bed, I was swept along by his hunger, my mind refusing to cooperate even when my body hardened in his merciless, torturous hand. I was burning with need, every nerve screaming for release. Handing me a condom and lube, he urged me on at a frantic pace, desperate for us to reach the final act. I tried to ready him but he refused, simply urging me ever onward. My fears were realized when I tried to enter his tight body and he froze, agony etched across his distressed face.

This was all wrong.

I rolled away from him, trying to get him to look at me. His forehead was pressed into the pillow. I reached out and stroked between his shoulders and he flinched again.

"Edward, why would you want to do this if you weren't ready? I never wanted to hurt you."

I thought he was crying, but I couldn't be sure with his voice muffled by the pillow.

"Because I wanted to do this before you realized what you were doing and stopped it. Before your fantasy of a girl faded and left you here with just me underneath you."

He turned his head and looked pointedly at my deflated erection. His tears were flowing unchecked, humiliation burning behind them. I felt like shit.

"You think I'm imagining a girl?"

"You like them, don't you?"

"You look nothing like a girl, Edward." I stroked his razor-sharp jaw line. "Not at all."

He pulled away from me, his face screwed up in what I could only guess was embarrassment and yet I thought I saw loathing in there too. I felt queasy to my stomach.

"What's this all about, Edward? I think you need to tell me what exactly is going on."

"Shouldn't I be asking you that?" He scrubbed his face with the back of his hand, pushing himself up until he sat facing me.

I shrugged helplessly.

"I heard about it. The dare."

My world tilted to a dangerous angle; I felt like I was slipping.

"I know I was some bet to you and I wanted to know just how far you'd go. The pathetic thing is, I really like you and if this is all I'm ever going to get then I'll take it. I didn't think you'd be prepared to go the whole way – you just had to seduce me, right?" I was floored. "Well mission accomplished there. I got to kiss you and even see you naked; bonus points for me."

His tear-stained face tore me apart.

"You knew? Why didn't you... wait – you wanted me anyway?"

I felt wretched and spineless whereas Edward had a backbone of steel. I couldn't have done what he did that night just to prove a point.

"I guessed you wouldn't do it, but I wanted to try; it was my one and only chance to sleep with the man of my dreams, even though it wasn't real." He may as well have ripped out his beating heart and handed it to me to crush. "Well you lost, I guess. You won't be humiliating me at the party now, will you – looks like the steroid squad win this round."

"How..." I shook my head to clear it. "How did you even know about it? The dare, I mean."

I realized even while I was saying it that it was the wrong thing.

"Sorry you got found out? Now you don't get your place on the team." His voice was rough as ground glass.

I reached for my underwear, pulling them on in an awkward fashion. He just watched me, his face a mixture of triumph and desolation.

"Did it ever cross your mind to just ask me? Was it really easier to just humiliate the English nerd and win your place?"

"Answer my question first. How did you know?"

His reddened eyes met mine.

"Because I was there in the cubicles, getting dressed after badminton practice, when they all burst in. They didn't bother to check - my guess is they assumed the place was empty as everyone else had left."

I finally understood everything.

"And you didn't let them know you were there because you saw it as a chance to-"

"-sleep with you. Yep, that's it. I'm that pathetic."

"No, you're not. And as for asking you? Imagine someone you don't know walking up to you and asking you to make out with them in public and pretend they were into you , just so you could get a place on the squad. What would've been in it for you? Months of lying to everyone and having gay jibes thrown at you every day? I was trying to get to know you, to make a friend, Edward. Granted, this wasn't the best way, but..."

"You know what? Just go. We're done; this whole charade is over. We both know where we stand now." He swung his legs around and sat on the edge of the mattress before reaching for his underwear. Under his breath he muttered "Happy birthday, Edward. One to remember."

Pulling on my pants, I stood up and threw on my shirt. Running through my mind was the thought that it had been his idea for it go this far, his plan to get me naked and vulnerable after a couple of beers to loosen me up, yet I couldn't be mad at him. If we had gone through with it, if we had been together in that way, it would've been worse still because no matter how much he wanted me, he would have always looked back and felt used. I reached out, my hand grazing his shoulder, and saw him flinch away from me.

I've destroyed everything.

I let myself out and slunk home, hating myself more than I ever thought possible.

~0~

October 31st, Halloween, and the party was raging, the beer flowing thanks to Jared's parents who had no problems with their son and all his yahoo buddies getting wasted at the end-of-season bash. I guessed when you could afford staff to clean up after them it wasn't that big a deal in the grand scheme of things.

Jake and the boys caught my eye a few times and I knew what was coming. They were waiting for Edward to turn up, hot and heavy for me, so they could witness the destruction of his confidence and self-worth in a public forum. Truth be told, I felt sick. Tonight probably meant the end of my dream to join the team and possibly get a scholarship to college next year.

Ali and her friends were giggling in a corner, sharing some big secret amongst the group. When she saw me she beamed, throwing a small wave my way. I winked at her and she nodded. Turning toward the door, I saw the moment had arrived.

Edward was here.

The Wolfpack spotted their prey and began to circle him, letting him find his way to the kitchen to fetch a soda before they began to tighten the noose, trapping him in the big games room where the main party was going down. French doors opened out onto an expansive garden and students spilled outside, dancing and making out on the patio. The music volume suddenly dropped and a loud booing rumbled through the crowd. My stomach roiled – it was time.

Jake jumped up onto the covered pool table and all eyes went to him. The chattering lessened; the star Quarterback was addressing his people.

"Everyone – I'm here to make a short announcement. Now, the Wolfpack..." as if on cue, howling rang around the room in response, "the Wolfpack have had a stellar season and we are truly grateful to Mr & Mrs Cameron for letting us have the run of this fantastic house for our celebrations." Cheering rang round the room. "I don't want to keep you from your partying so I'll keep this short. As you all know, Emmett McCarty is on the bench, waiting for a permanent place in the Pack. Well I'm here to announce that that place is available and can be his if..." he held up his index finger in a reprimand, "if he completes his dare, the standard rule for joining up. So, without further ado, shall we ask him and find out?"

The crowd howled again. Arms spread wide like a football messiah, Jake's eyes scanned the room until they found mine. His predatory grin spread across his face and I knew he expected me to fail.

"Step on up, Emmett. Let the crowd see you."

Willing my legs to move, I stepped up to the table, my arms crossed in a defensive posture to exaggerate my muscles.

"Now, we also need another person in the room for this. Tell them, Emmett. Tell them about your dare and then tell the room if you completed it."

Unmoving, I spoke, my voice holding little in the way of inflection.

"My dare was to seduce a person of the Pack's choosing and then to humiliate them in front of tonight's crowd. I was to make them feel worthless and humiliated, to rob them of their self-esteem by telling them they were nothing more than a cheap little dare."

The room was silent, the crowd hanging on my every word.

"So who wants to meet the person deemed to be worthless enough for this dare?"

Jake's face darkened, furious at my ridiculing of his rules. I ignored him.

Deafening silence filled the room, but then a girl's voice came from my left hand side.

"I do."

I recognized the girl as Rosalie, a friend of Ali's, and a Pack girlfriend if I wasn't mistaken.

"So do I." This time it was Rebecca, another Pack girl who stepped forward.

One by one, seven girls stepped forward, all Pack girls, forming a semi-circle in front of where I stood. I sensed a power shift in the room, the team looking worried for the first time in their knuckle-headed lives. Then, as if on cue, the line parted and Edward passed through to stand in front of me, nervous as hell and clearly wishing he were somewhere else.

"For those of you that don't know him, this is Edward Cullen, my dare. I was to seduce him because he's new to the school, like me, because he's British and he quite possibly likes guys so obviously that makes him fair game. Well, it turns out he does like guys which is quite fortunate for me."

Without another word, I walked up to him, wrapped him in my arms and kissed him, feeling him relax and respond, trusting in me. I heard the mutters, the whispers and giggles, but I made sure that kiss spoke volumes before I broke it.

Clearing my throat, I turned to face Jake, my arm still around Edward.

"You never asked, did you? It never occurred to you that maybe I like guys too. So I should thank you, Jake, because thanks to you, I met a fantastic one. I guess I don't make the team now – good thing I have someone to console me."

Leaning in, I kissed Edward again, a brief brush of the lips that made my body light up like a firework. His face was a delightful shade of pink, flushed with happiness and acceptance.

The cheering started with Ali, followed by her wonderful friends who had engineered this whole showdown. Bragging about the dare within earshot of his girlfriend had proven to be a very foolish strategy for Jake. The Pack girls, by necessity, spent a lot of time together, and once Rosalie heard about it and told Ali... well, the shit hit the fan in a major way. She had fronted me out about Edward and I had told her everything, including how he and I had been close to becoming more than friends. After that, there was no way that this little game could ever have gone off in Jake's favor.

~0~

Those days at school after our fight had been painful and somehow colder without my friend at my side. For his part, he had refused to look at me, speak to me or even acknowledge I existed. I had tried to give him a lift one morning, but he pulled his bag tighter to him and veered off away from the road where I couldn't follow.

Something had to be done.

The Pack had started smiling at me in the corridors and parking lot, the change of events in mine and Edward's friendship having been noted and passed back to their leader. I knew how badly they had wanted me to lose, and I no longer cared. The more days that passed, the more I had missed him.

It had come to a head one night just before Halloween. Seeing him hunched over against the howling wind, his jacket flapping underneath his bag strap, I had pulled over and gotten out of the car. He had ignored me and tried to keep walking but I'd caught up with him easily, yelling to make myself heard over the wind and rattling leaves.

"Get in the car, Edward. This is dumb – we need to talk!"

He had struggled against me, but I had bested him easily. Wrenching open my car door, he had slumped into the seat with a face like thunder.

"We have nothing else to say to each other."

"Yes – we do. I have a lot to say and you will damn well listen to me, Cullen."

His brow had furrowed in anger, but I wasn't about to stop now. Starting the car, I had pulled over at the park, vaguely aware that being around so many trees in this wind wasn't the greatest idea, but at least we wouldn't be overheard.

"I want to talk about the dare, Edward. I need you to hear my side of this." He shook his head, staring straight ahead, eyebrows knitted together. "I wanted into the squad and that dumb dare was my way in. But..." I saw him about to interrupt. "I wanted to do it so that you didn't get hurt. So you didn't get humiliated. I never wanted that to happen, even before I got to know you. Once we became friends I knew there was no way I could allow that to ever happen. I had the idea of getting to know you and once we were tight asking you if you'd help me out. But like I said that night, it wasn't something I could've ever done right away. I wanted them to leave you alone, and I wanted to get to know you better." I took a noisy breath. "I wanted to find out how you felt about me before I took our friendship any further."

He was staring at me now, disbelief in his eyes.

"Are you trying to tell me I ruined your plans?" He sounded indignant.

"That's not what I meant. You were so full-on that night and I didn't know to handle it. You were on a mission to get laid and I got swept along with you, but then it all went wrong and I hurt you. I hate myself for that. You weren't ready and I knew it, deep down I knew it."

He muttered into his coat collar and I strained to hear. He lifted his chin.

"I thought you liked girls."

"When did I say that?"

"I – well I thought... are you telling me you're gay?" He sounded stunned, his thoughts finally catching on to my revelation. "And you wanted to take our friendship further?"

He was looking at me now, daring me to laugh and make some joke about how I could never go with a guy unless it was for a bet.

"You're my friend, Edward, and I really like being with you. I wanted to wait til this whole thing was over and then see if we could make this work as something more."

"So you weren't seeing me naked and imagining some hot cheerleader's arse instead of mine?" His eyes were incredulous.

I smiled, reaching out to stroke his jaw.

"No, the ass I was looking at was all you. Maybe I'll get to see it again someday and treat it with the reverence it deserves."

I bit my lip, hoping we were on the same page. He flushed pink, frowning hard.

"I lied."

I stayed quiet, letting him finish.

"I am a virgin. I just didn't want you to think I was. I thought I could act experienced, just do it and get it over with. But it bloody hurt."

I sighed, feeling shitty.

"You weren't ready and I knew it. I'm so sorry, Edward. If you ever want to try again we'll take it good and slow. No pain, I promise, only pleasure."

I'd leaned in and kissed him then, feeling him relax into it. My only thought had been that we'd get through Halloween somehow.

~0~

In the end, even with a lot of opinions being thrown around and the girls having to, somewhat efficiently I thought, shut down any homophobic comments and jeers, I got my place on the team. They'll think twice about any future dares, I reckon.

I'll never forget the look on Jake's face that night when I kissed Edward; I thought he was going to blow his cookies. The whole thing was beautifully rounded off with Jake's girl, Leah, choosing that moment to deliver a ringing slap to his smug face.

Ali got a great shot of it on her phone.

It was somewhat unfortunate for Jake that, later that year, the yearbook staff mysteriously lost their official quarterback photo for the yearbook on the night before it went to print. But it all turned out fine.

My darling sister was very happy to supply a replacement picture at short notice.

~0~


Song: Secret Oktober, Duran Duran
www dot youtube dot com / watch?v=XYFeT5UPGj0