This was my entry into the Lyrics to Life contest. It's based off the song of the same name by Marcus Foster, later covered by Rob. To my surprise (and outright joy) this won first place in both the Judges' and Public Vote!

The biggest thanks to both SophiaCorgi and GeekChic12 for going over this for me. I love you both.

I hope you like it.

Heat prickled across the skin of my cheek, the stubbled hair standing to attention as I shivered. I turned to see Edward Cullen's face spin away from mine, his eyes fixed firmly on the board in front of us. I shook my head, convinced I must have been imagining his stare - just as I had the many other times I'd felt it over the past few weeks.

When the bell rang to signal the end of the lesson, I watched him race from the classroom without even the slightest glance toward me. Wishful thinking to have him look at me that way, or in any way except with loathing. Lean and long-limbed with enough sinewy muscle to fill out his frame, he was the kind of beautiful that graced magazine covers, the kind of beautiful that found an equally gorgeous wife and settled down to have perfect children.

Definitely not the kind of beautiful that would accept a crush from a male classmate.

I felt anxiety fill the pit of my stomach as I imagined disgust filling that perfect face, picturing his embarrassment that the token gay student had silly fantasies about him. That was probably why he stared so much. He knew how I felt and was trying to let me know it in the hopes I'd back off. A painful sense of shame spiderwebbed through my body at the realization. My sexuality had caused my parents discomfort and driven them to ignore me, and I should have known once it made its way through the gossip mill that any boys I took even a slight glance at would feel the same.

I trudged from the classroom feeling dejected and desolate, wondering why I was confined to a small town with even smaller minds. I walked down the halls alone, ignoring the ever-present whispers and stares that had emerged since I trusted the wrong person with my secret. The halls were packed as people rushed to lunch, but I had a circle of isolation around me, as if my homosexuality were a contagious disease others could catch.

For the millionth time, I bit down on the inside of my cheek and ignored the tears that threatened. I would not let them see me cry. I'd keep my head held high, and one day I'd show them all I was so much more than what they made of me.

I didn't show anything but indifference until I reached the woods at the back of school, my secret refuge. I crossed the threshold into the thick cluster of trees, and then I felt myself crumble. I fell to my knees in the damp dirt, crying before they even hit the ground. I pressed my face into my hands and sobbed, wishing I could be anyone other than me.

My life was lonely.

My parents had all but disowned me since I'd come out, making it clear though I still lived in their house, they didn't consider me their child. I lived each day trying to avoid them, hoping not to see the derision in their eyes. I had told them I was attracted to boys as soon as I plucked up the courage at sixteen.

I remembered my mother's tears, her loud cries smashing through the silence of the room.

"How could you do this to us?" my father asked, as though I'd had a choice.

I sobbed and pleaded, explaining I couldn't be any other way. I told him how hard I'd tried to like girls, that I'd even dated a few in a desperate attempt to fight the inevitable. He did nothing but look at me through narrowed eyes.

I stumbled over to his chair, blurry-eyed and trembling, and I laid my head on his knee. "Please love me. Please, I need you to still love me."

His hand pushed me backward, breaking the contact between us. "There will never be a space in my heart for queers."

With those words, a space opened in my own heart—a black hole that sucked in all the good and turned it to black, polluted everything pure and left it to rot.

"I'm still the same person," I implored, my voice strangled by tears and grief. "I'm still your son."

His face twisted then, ugly and angry. "I have no son."

I rocked back onto my heels, his words like a physical blow. I looked between my two parents, flickering between the bowed head of my mother and the clear contempt of my father. I managed to stand and make my way to my room before they could say more, but their words had been enough. They took root in my stomach and filled me with humiliation, with a bone-deep revulsion for who I was.

I had told my friend, James, of the situation, unable to hold all my hurt in. Except he was just as disgusted as they had been, his insults flying from his mouth as he backed away from me. He shook his head as I tried to explain, telling me to leave his house before he made me. I wandered around the neighborhood feeling lost, my heart cracked down the middle.

The fissure only got bigger when I turned up to school on Monday to find all my friends knew of my preference. They ignored me, the physical turning of their backs making it clear I was shunned. I was more alone than ever, and that only grew as word spread throughout the school.

I went days without hearing my name, my only interaction with teachers who decided to call on me in class.

Months had passed since then, and the forest was the only respite I received. I was surrounded by trees, not judgment, blanketed by the fresh air, not people's irrational hate.

That's why when Edward Cullen stepped into my sanctuary one day, everything changed.


I stayed silent, trying to hide the way my stomach still spasmed with sobs.

"Jasper, are you okay?"

I wiped my tears and turned around slowly to see Edward standing behind me, his face soft.

"Hey," I said, my voice scratchy.


I looked behind him, wondering where his jock friends were. He seemed to understand, shifting sheepishly. "I told the guys I had homework to do."

I stayed quiet, staring at him. He seemed uncomfortable.

I was so tired of having to apologize for making people uncomfortable.

"Were you upset?" he asked, stepping forward slightly.

I snorted, looking toward the dirt smearing across his white sneakers.

"Why were you crying?"

My cheeks burned with embarrassment. Never let them see you cry, I told myself, and now I'd failed.

"You can tell me," he encouraged. I looked up, seeing nothing but earnestness in his expression.

"I guess sometimes things get hard to take," I said, shrugging like I didn't have the weight of the world holding my shoulders down.

Edward stepped closer, eyeing me as if I'd bolt. I wasn't far from it, especially when he came to sit next to me.

"I'm sorry they're cruel."

"I think that's an understatement." I ignored the ache in my throat.

"They're just scared, you know."

When I did nothing more than look at him, he swallowed hard and spoke again. "They don't understand you. They can't understand why you… feel the way you do, and it scares them."

I shook my head, anger and sadness battling inside my mind. "So I deserve to be treated this way? I deserve to be ignored and belittled, have all my friends act as if I've committed some heinous crime against them?"

Edward opened his mouth to speak, but I was too far gone. "I didn't fucking choose this. Who would choose to have their family disown them? Who would deal with the shit I deal with every single day and choose to be this way? I can't help it. I expected shock, but I didn't expect this… this disgust. I didn't expect to become an outcast because I like boys rather than girls. I didn't expect my life to be ruined because I tried to stay true to myself."

My voice broke on the last sentence, and yet more tears escaped from under my screwed-up eyelids. I felt Edward's hand cover mine, nothing more than the whisper of a touch. I looked at him, at the sad set of his mouth, and then I turned my palm upward and held on to his hand so tightly it had to hurt.

"I'm tired of being alone," I whispered, my words punctuated by a whimper. "I'm so lost."

I felt Edward shift slightly, his denim-covered knee bumping against mine. "You… you don't have to be alone," he said quietly, closer than he was before. I glanced up at him through the hazy tint of tears, seeing his face turned toward mine. "I'm here." His hand slid against mine, and suddenly he seemed too close.

"What are you doing here, Edward?"

"You don't have to be alone," he repeated, his thumb rubbing against the rough skin of my palm.

I swallowed, confused and aching and wanting so badly to believe he was here for me. "Don't fuck with me."

"I wouldn't."

I stared into eyes a darker green than the forest surrounding us and leaned forward, my face only inches from his. "Please don't fuck with me."

"I wouldn't," he repeated, and then his lips were pressing against mine.

It was so new, the feeling of being wanted, so unexpected that I froze. He kissed me softly, sweetly, but I was paralyzed by fear.

"Kiss me back," he murmured, his mouth still pressed against mine.

I closed my eyes and gave in, the brush of his lips against mine causing butterflies to whirl in my stomach. We kissed gently for seconds and then broke apart, Edward's palm cupping my cheek.

"You're beautiful, Jasper." His finger traced my cheekbone, and for the first time in my life, I felt beautiful. I felt like I could be the type of beautiful that caught and kept Edward's type of beautiful, and maybe we could create our own beautiful together.

Except then the bell rang off in the distance, and his spine straightened, his palm falling away from my cheek.

"Keep your head up," he said, and then he was gone.

Over the next weeks, Edward ignored me as he had before. His eyes didn't meet mine. His words were never directed toward me, but I still had the memory of his kiss. I let the feeling of his hand on my cheek flood me until I was sure I could still feel it, and on the particularly bad days, it got me through.

I didn't know why he'd come to me, why he'd kissed me, or why he'd ignored it since then, but he'd given me a piece of himself that I could keep, and I treasured it. I let it comfort me and fill up the gaps left by the cruel words of others, content that at one point, that beautiful boy had given me a sliver of happiness.

I told myself it had been curiosity on his part or maybe some mistaken attempt to show love to a boy who had none. As the days wore on without any interaction, though, I became less convinced of his good intentions. His care turned into a cruel prank in my mind. The laughs that followed me down the halls seemed louder, and I imagined him telling his friends how he'd gotten the poor gay loser to believe anyone could care.

The first sign of tenderness I'd seen in months, and it was nothing more than a trick.

The idea wrecked me, tearing through me so viciously I was numb to anything else. For once, I didn't need to ignore the whispers of students, because I didn't hear them. I heard nothing but "you don't have to be alone" in Edward's gentle tone, and the words grew tortuous. They rattled around inside my mind, the sharp edges concealed by my desperation finally showing through.

He had left me alone, more alone than ever. He had made me think I had someone, and then he'd ripped it right back out of my grasp, leaving me broken into irreparable pieces.

I stopped eating, stopped bothering to lie in a bed that brought no sleep. Instead, I stayed in the four-walled misery of my bedroom, listening to music or watching movies. I tried desperately to connect with them, but the pain I felt masked everything else. It swept away the fleeting moments of happiness before they could truly set in, and it seemed a ten-minute interaction with a teenage boy would be the catalyst that finally broke me.

I missed a day of school that turned into two days, and then before I knew it, I'd been out for a week. I assumed my parents must have heard from the school, but they didn't bother asking me why I wasn't attending. I spent my days filling journals with sad, bitter ramblings in an attempt to clear through the mess in my mind but only succeeded in fulfilling every teenage stereotype possible.

On the Saturday afternoon of the week I'd missed school, I heard a knock at the front door. I knew my parents were out, and so I had no choice but to answer it myself.

I walked down the stairs and opened the door, prepared to find one of my parents' friends waiting for me. Instead, there was Edward Cullen, awkward and unsure.

"What are you doing here?" I asked, my voice hoarse from disuse.

He didn't answer but stared at me with wide eyes, and I grimaced as I realized how awful I must've looked.

"Are you sick?"

I laughed. "Of course I'm sick. You didn't hear that I'm gay? That's a sickness," I said. Except my laughter turned into tears, and before I knew it I was crying uncontrollably, my hold on the doorframe the only thing keeping me up.

"Why did you stay away, Edward? Why give me that only to take it away?"

He cleared his throat. "I… Remember when I told you people are scared because they can't understand?" He didn't wait for an answer. "I don't get it either. I just know that when I see you, I want to touch you. I want to hug you and make everything better, and I want to keep you safe from everything that hurts you."

He looked up at me, his own eyes tear-filled. "I'm scared of that. I'm terrified by how I feel for you, and I stayed away because I have no idea what it means."

I slumped, my sadness replaced momentarily by shock.

"Are you… you're gay?"

He shook his head vehemently before I'd even finished speaking, his answer firm.

"But you want to touch me?"

He nodded this time, hesitantly, as though he didn't want to admit to it. I licked my dry lips and swiped away my tears with the sleeve of my sweater, eyeing the boy in front of me. He looked as lost as I felt.

"Come inside."

He stepped into the house cautiously, glancing around at the foyer. I was beyond confused. I had convinced myself Edward's comfort was nothing more than a joke, and yet here he was, telling me he had feelings for me that scared him.

They scared me, too.

"You can touch me," I said quietly, trying to smile when he looked at me. "You could... hold me."

He took a deep breath as he moved closer to me, his arms twitching at his sides. He brought them up slowly to encircle me, holding me loosely. I stood rigid, out of my mind with fear. He hugged me gently at first and then much tighter once he saw I wasn't stopping him, wrapping his arms around my torso and squeezing.

"I was worried about you," he said.

I blinked, unaccustomed to the feeling of being worried about.

Unaccustomed to someone caring enough to worry.

"I was worried your parents had done something." His breath was fast against my neck.

"They ignore me."

"I… I don't think it's right, how they treat you. How any of them treat you."

We stood silently, holding each other close. I didn't know what was passing between us, only that the rapid beat of my heart matched Edward's. I could feel it pressed against my chest, his pulse syncing with my own.

There was the slightest pressure of lips against my neck, and I realized Edward had kissed me. I drew back slowly, standing in his arms with our faces so close together I could see the laughter lines around his eyes. I resisted the urge to count each freckle on his face, didn't allow myself to notice the different shades of green in his eyes.

When he kissed me, it was tentative, as if he knew it was an admittance of something he wasn't ready for. I kissed back without being asked this time, letting my lips feel the heat of his.

"What does this mean?" I asked minutes later when he'd cradled my head against his chest.

"I can't stay away from you, Jasper."


He inhaled slowly. "But I can't let other people know," he whispered, and there was my choice.

I could be alone in the world, or I could accept what Edward offered. I would be a secret, a shadow confined to silence, but I would know his touch, his kindness.

There didn't seem to be a choice at all.

"Okay," I said, closing my eyes as his lips descended on mine again.

I prayed I wouldn't regret it.

I went back to school the next week, the whispers worse than ever. They became spoken taunts, low tones that spoke vile words in the hopes I'd let them hurt me. I met the eyes of those who tried to drag me down until they looked away, and I let each small victory bolster me.

Edward gave me secret smiles, little twitches of his lips that rebuilt the ribboned shreds of my heart piece by piece. He didn't come to the woods until Thursday at lunch, but when he did, it was with open arms and a shelter from the storm my life had become. We talked about inconsequential things, mostly spending our time with our bodies pressed together. Edward's kisses were reluctant at first, but soon he loosened up until he was the aggressor, chasing my lips and tongue each time I tried to break away.

We managed to see each other two or three times each week, and those minutes we spent together became the most precious of my day. I gained a new confidence, not allowing myself to cower any longer. The shackles of disappointment had been loosened by gaining acceptance from someone, and I basked in the times where I could be myself around Edward.

We kissed and we touched, our hands roaming and bodies writhing. We hadn't done anything serious, no skin-to-skin contact, and I sensed we wouldn't for some time to come. Edward was slowly becoming more comfortable, the period of stiffness each time I touched him greatly reduced, but there was an undeniable tension whenever I took things further and caught him off guard. I retreated each time it happened. It seemed impossible that I had someone to touch me, someone to show me affection.

I was so caught up in how good it felt that I could ignore being someone's shameful secret.

Until suddenly, that secret wasn't so well kept any longer.

Toward the end of March, as the first signs of spring began to show across Forks, it felt as though there was something new blossoming between Edward and me. We were in the last few months of senior year, and I dreamt of getting out of town and into a big city where no one knew me. I sat on a tree stump, leaning back into Edward's embrace, the muted sunlight filtering through the trees and casting bright stripes across his skin.

"You're going to the University of Washington, right?" I asked, settling my head on his shoulder.

"Yep. Hoping to do pre-med."

"You know I'm going there too?"

His hand paused from raking through my hair. "You are?"

I swallowed. "Yes. I'm going to be studying English there."

"It'll be good to be close to you." If his words weren't telling enough, the way he pressed a kiss to the back of my head was.

"Edward? Do… do you think at some point, we could stop hiding?"

The first sign of the mistake I made was the way he seemed to turn to stone behind me, his hand fisting around my hair. "You knew the agreement."

I scrambled, trying to find safe ground on the cliff edge I seemed to be on. "But even in Seattle?"

"I'm not gay, Jasper."

I opened my mouth, but there were no words. There was nothing except dread trickling cold down my spine, and then when I did have words, they were the wrong ones. "You touch me like you're gay."

I was shunted forward as Edward stood up from the tree stump. "What the fuck? I'm not one of you."

"I know it's scary—"

"No. You thinking I'd ever want to be with you is scary. You thinking I could be gay is downright delusional."

"But you said that you wanted me to touch you."

"That doesn't make me gay. I just wanted you to feel better."

The newly-formed patches holding my heart together seemed to dissolve. "You just wanted me to feel better?" I whispered.

"I wanted you to think someone cared."

I sat up, the forest spinning as bile burned the back of my throat. "You're lying. Don't lie to me."

"Don't lie to yourself," he spat, picking up his bag and stomping out into the field back to school.

I sat in the woods until afternoon turned into evening, exactly where he'd left me.

Hurting, hating, aching.


It was a long three days before Edward showed up at my house.

He stood on my porch, his eyes red-rimmed and so sad it sliced through me. I stood my ground and refused to let him in even though my parents were out.

"My parents would never accept me being gay," he whispered, and I closed my eyes. "They'd kick me out, and I'd have no one."

"You'd have me." I didn't have to see the expression on his face to know it wasn't enough.

I wasn't enough.

"I wish it could be different."

"Not as much as I do, Edward."

He leaned a shoulder against the doorframe, stepping close to me. "Would you let me touch you? Just… just this one last time?"

I knew I should've said no. I knew I should have told him to leave and never come back, but of course I didn't. I couldn't pretend I didn't want him.

I took his hand and led him to my room, both of us sitting on the dark sheets of my bed. He wrapped a hand around the back of my neck, and I swore to remember each touch he gave me, each word he whispered while his tone was soft and hushed.

We kissed for long minutes, his mouth finally moving down to my neck and then on to my collarbone. His hands shook as he pulled on the hem of my shirt, and I shivered as I lay on the bed before him. He kissed my chest and stomach, playing with the short hairs there. He trailed a hand across the muscles underneath my skin, watching them twitch and shift as he touched me. He kissed my mouth hard, only breaking to lift up his own shirt and strip it off.

His skin was so warm against mine, the wiry hair on his chest scratching against my skin and causing me to break out in goosebumps. He swallowed as he looked at me, bringing one hand to brush lightly across my nipple. I whimpered and arched toward him, encouraging the touch. His touch burned my skin, and I knew I'd never be the same.

Edward peeled my jeans off with gentle touches and tender eyes, his gaze cataloguing every inch of my body. He cupped my erection in his palm, and even through the cotton it felt better than my own hand ever had.

"Touch me," I begged. "Just for tonight, touch me like you love me."

Something close to pain passed over his face before he buried it in my hipbone, kissing the hollow underneath as he rubbed me gently. He snuck his hand underneath the waistband of my boxers and circled me, his grasp firm as he moved in long, slow strokes. I groaned his name, running a hand through his hair.

He didn't want me, but he wanted this.

I told myself it was enough.

He brought me close to climax within minutes. "You're beautiful," I said, my voice strained as his hand moved faster. "I wish you'd let yourself love me. I know you do."

Edward planted his mouth firmly on mine, no doubt stopping any other words he didn't want to hear escaping.

When I came, it felt emptier than I could have imagined.

We lay in bed entwined afterward, my thighs damp and sticky as they tangled with his. I had no words left, nothing but sadness to give him.

"I should go," he said, leaning forward to kiss my hair one last time.

My bedroom door burst open just as Edward was pulling his jeans up.

"Do you have a friend over?" my father said across the room to me, and then saw the half-naked boy next to my bed. "Cullen?"

I watched as his face swung to me and then down to the clothes littering the floor, fear pinning me to the mattress.

I could do nothing but watch as slow realization passed over his face, my chest so tight I could barely breathe. "You have sixty seconds to be out of my house and get that car off of my drive." His voice was deceptively calm as he spoke to Edward, but his eyes were furious as they locked onto mine. I sat up, avoiding his gaze, and put on my shirt. I tried desperately to catch Edward's eye, but he acted as if I wasn't there as he gathered up the rest of his clothes. He was bright red and panting as though he'd just run a race, his hands moving quickly to get himself dressed.

He left without even a glance backward.

My father watched him jog down the stairs and then turned to me, disgust clear on his face. "I didn't think you could make me any more ashamed than you already had."

With that, he walked out, and I was left to wonder if the only good in my life was gone forever.

I walked into school the next morning like I had chains attached to my ankles, each step heavy and seemingly impossible. I heard my father on the phone to Edward's dad the night before, telling him he'd found us in bed together. I could do nothing but bite down on my fist and stay silent, tears streaming down my cheeks as pain seared through me.

I looked down at the red cuts on my knuckles as I walked into the locker room, ready to change early for gym so as to avoid the suspicious glares and slurs that occurred whenever I tried to change with the others.

Stopping just inside the door, I saw Edward gently moving his t-shirt down his body. I caught a glimpse of purple on his ribs before it disappeared under the fall of cotton. I stepped forward hesitantly, unsure of what to say. When I saw the patchwork of bruises that marred his pale face, though, I couldn't keep quiet any longer.

"Your dad?"

He stiffened, his back suddenly painfully straight. "Leave me alone."

"Edward, please-"

"Leave. Me. The. Fuck. Alone." He turned around and stalked toward me, crowding my space and pressing me back into the wall. "You couldn't help yourself, could you? You couldn't just leave me alone, couldn't accept that I don't want you back."

"You do want me. You're gay, Ed—"

I was cut off by a punch to the jaw, the shock of it making me slump to the floor. I stared up at him, trying to ignore the way my stomach twisted.

"Don't you dare."

"You love me," I pleaded.

"No one loves you," he spat, his words like knives that flayed my skin, peeled it away from bone and sewed it back together with hate-laced stitches.

"You can't deny it, not after the way you touched me."

"I was confused. I was taken in by your bullshit. Stay away from me."

"What if I don't want to give up on us?"

He leaned down, his beautiful face inches from mine. Each hard line was filled with spite, no trace of the soft boy who gave me so much hope.

"There is no us." His lips curled up as though disgusted. "Fucking faggot," he hissed, and that made me stop. The venom in his tone rendered me immobile, my heartbeat stuttering and stopping. It began to pound and race once what he said sank in, something inside me breaking wide open.

I couldn't breathe, move, think. I couldn't do anything but surrender to the agony that started a slow, debilitating roll through my body.

I curled up on the floor, laying my face against the cold tile. I stared at his hateful face through teary eyes before he turned and walked away.

As he slammed through the locker room door, I wished I was dead.

The last few months of school seemed longer than the previous four years. Edward was barely in school because of 'personal issues', but I was undecided as to whether that was good or bad. People in my classes became more concerned with getting into college than they were with teasing me, yet my days were still filled with a loneliness I couldn't shake.

I had nothing, no one, and I barely even noticed the days pass me by. The thought of my academic scholarship and new start in Seattle were a lifejacket, keeping me afloat.

They did, mercifully, and before I knew it, I was finally leaving my parents' house. There was no sense of home about it, and the only grace they bestowed was letting me keep my car so I could drive my things to Seattle. I packed up my things alone, moved them to the car without help, and said goodbye to my childhood bedroom for the last time. I was about to leave when my mother dashed from the house and wrapped her arms around me tight, making me stumble back a few steps.

Her hand clutched the back of my hair fiercely, almost painfully. "I love you, sweet boy. You will always be my son."

I said nothing, just hugging her back, knowing I'd likely never see her again. I took one last breath of her sweet perfume and stepped away, got in my car and started it before I could turn back. I couldn't stop the look in the rear view mirror, though, and my last sight of her was with a tear-stained face and one hand over her heart.

When I arrived at my dorm, I refused to let myself retreat into my shell. I looked everyone in the eye, enjoyed the company of people who valued me as more than a target. I had a single room, so I used that as my sanctuary now that the woods behind Forks High weren't within fleeing distance. I made friends, though, and I found I needed a safe place less and less. My life didn't hold danger anymore, wasn't filled with people looking for the next way to make me falter.

I realized that coming out as gay would never be a one-time event. The first few times happened when tentative friendships were still being formed, when I couldn't bear to begin to care about someone only to have them turn on me once they knew.

Not again.

College was blessedly different from the microcosm of high school, though, and it became easier with each lip-trembling attempt. I came not to fear rejection but bask in acceptance. I let the easily-given understanding of friends chip away at the iron-clad walls around my bruised heart.

I was still skittish, and I didn't love meeting new people, but I was slowly learning to live.

And I found that life could be wonderful.

Dating, on the other hand, was not so easy.

The issue with being gay and open about it was that my friends constantly tried to set me up with someone. They didn't know my history with Edward - just that I had been horribly burned in the past and that I needed someone who would understand that.

Peter was supposedly that person, my friend, Seth, believed. He was 'good looking, for a dude', easy-going and friendly, funny and smart, all words I should like. And when we went out, he was all those things. He was witty and held a great conversation. He had blue eyes, though, and I could only remember the glow of green staring back at me. His hair was brown and short, and I craved reddish and messy. His body was stocky, and I couldn't stop imagining tall and lean.

Peter was perfect... on paper. In real life, though, he wasn't what I wanted.

He wasn't Edward.

I explained to him at the end of the night, and his compassionate acceptance only made me wish even more that I could find some spark between us. I tried so hard to open myself up to something new, to give him a fair chance, but it was pointless.

My heart was still tied to a boy who would never want it.

I devoted my time to doing well and just enjoying life, and both things came surprisingly easy when I wasn't battling inner and outer demons just to get through the day. I did a mini-Thanksgiving celebration with those who couldn't afford to go home, and I found myself in the middle of a cobbled-together family better than the one I'd had before. As winter took hold, I got a job in the library to find something useful to do with my time. Students began to go home for Christmas, and campus grew quiet, but the solitude was peaceful. I worked my days away checking books and talking to people, and I marveled at the difference finding supportive friends had made.

It was on one of these quiet days that I was walking through the shelves, trying to find a book for a student, when I bumped into a firm, tall body. I felt the grip of strong hands on my upper arms and had to swallow back the bitterness, the painful longing that swelled. I opened my mouth to apologize, staring up at the man I'd run into, only to see a face I thought I never would again.

"Hello, Jasper."


I closed my eyes again, feeling the brand of his fingertips through my sweater. Then I remembered the last words he'd spoken to me, the ones that had cut into me deeper than any others had, and I stepped free of his hold.

I wished I could break free of all his holds over me so easily.

I tried to pass, to swerve around him and pretend it had never happened, but just as I walked past I heard a raspy "please don't."

Cursing my feet as they stopped, I bit my tongue and hated that I was playing by his rules… again.

"I've been hoping to bump into you," Edward said quietly, his voice so scared it confused me.

"You've seen me before?"

He shifted slightly, the movement bringing him further into my line of sight. "I'm enrolling this semester. I wanted to get ahead on some reading, but when I saw you in here…" He looked up, his smile tremulous. "Books were the last thing on my mind."

The words gave me butterflies I had to tamp down, the reminder of how he hurt me stopping them mid-flight.

"I didn't expect you to be happy to see me," he said, but the way he wrung his hands told me he didn't expect me to be so unhappy either.

"I have to get back to work."

"No!" he half-shouted, his hand latching onto my forearm. I gave a pointed look until he removed it, but I felt his touch long after he retreated. "Could we please meet somewhere? I have a lot to explain."

I opened my mouth to say no, but the quiver of his chin stopped me. I looked at Edward, taking in the bruise-like dark circles under his eyes and the shadowy hollows under his sharp cheekbones. He looked sad, but more worrying was that he looked as beaten-down as I used to.

I ground my molars together. "Seven p.m. at the diner down the street. If you aren't there, you won't get another chance."

He nodded frantically, the jerky movements so unlike the Edward I knew.

"I'll be there."

I walked away, wondering how many chances I could give someone to wreck me.

I got to the diner ten minutes early, hoping to give myself enough time to calm before he arrived. Instead, I found Edward in a booth toward the back, his voice cracking as he spoke to someone on the phone.

"I'm scared. What if he doesn't accept it? What then?"

I walked closer as he shook his head, staring down at the cracked vinyl of the table in front of him.

"I don't know if I can."

I cleared my throat, wishing I'd given him more opportunity to notice me earlier when he startled and slid across the seat to welcome me, banging his knee on the table on the way out.

"Hi," he said, his voice wobbly and breathless. "I have to go... I love you too," he spoke into the phone as I sat in the booth, trying to pretend I wasn't listening.

"My Mom," he explained as he sat back down, shrugging sheepishly.

"How is she?" I asked, remembering her warm smile.

"She's struggling, but she's pushing through."

I felt my eyebrows pinch together at his words, but before I could ask him to elaborate, we were interrupted by a bored-looking waitress. We both ordered a coffee and waited for her to leave, Edward's eyes darting anywhere but my face.

"My parents got a divorce last year," he said, and I almost dropped the sugar packets I was gathering. He ran his finger along a tear in the menu. "After he… My mother couldn't forgive him for hitting me."

My throat was achingly tight as I realized what he really meant. After he found out about you.

"I'm sorry, Edward." He looked so hurt, so weighed down that I couldn't bear it. I slid one hand forward slowly, almost pulling back when he tensed up. He didn't let me, though, reaching his own hand forward until our palms brushed.

"It wasn't your fault," he said, shrugging. The lines of sadness framing his mouth made it hard to breathe.

"It wasn't yours either," I said quietly, hooking my index finger around his. He made a low noise from the back of his throat, guttural and full of pain, and then turned to look at the drizzle making tracks on the window as the waitress dropped off our coffees. She stared at our joined hands as the cups made a dull clack against the tabletop, and I gripped Edward's finger tighter.

"It wasn't your fault," I repeated once she'd left. "We did nothing wrong."

I watched his face contort and twist, but his hand didn't move from mine. "I was so scared of how I felt."

I was the one who tensed that time, my spine pulling up as we reached the gritty ugliness I didn't ever want to relive.

"I'm not scared of it anymore," he said, his voice strong and sure. "I'm only scared that you won't feel the same."

I inhaled, feeling like I'd been punched in the stomach. I didn't know what to say or how to react. I couldn't think of anything other than the pure anger on his face the last time I'd spoken to him in high school. My eyes became clouded by tears, but I didn't try to hide them. I wanted him to know that he'd hurt me just as badly as his father had wounded him, his words more crippling than any punch could have been.

"I'm so sorry. I won't ever have words to tell you how much, Jasper. I treated you horribly, and I have no reason other than I was terrified and confused. You tried so hard to make me see, to trust me, and I threw it all back in your face. I know that." Edward's fingers entwined with mine and locked there, and I let them. "And yet I can't forget you. It's your face I see in my mind when I wake up, the last thought I have before I go to sleep. At first I thought it was regret, but it's so much more. It's desire, and it's attraction." He took a deep breath. "It's this ache to be with you. I'll leave you alone if you tell me to; I'll do my best to make sure you never see me again."

I shifted in my seat, contemplating asking him to do just that.

"But I won't go without letting you know that I want this," he said, squeezing my hand fiercely. "I want you."

His eyes held mine, even as tears began to slip down my cheeks. "In secret?" I asked, my heart more fragile than glass.

He flinched as though my question hurt. I wondered if it pained him as much as it pained me. "Never." His voice was quiet but vehement. He lifted our hands to his mouth, kissing my knuckles softly. "You deserve so much more than to be somebody's secret."

Edward's free hand brushed away the tears dripping from my jaw down onto the laminate tabletop. "You hurt me so badly," I said. It wasn't an accusation or an insult, just a statement of fact. "I was used to rejection. I knew how to cope with not being wanted, how to recover from it, but you broke me. I gave you all I had, and you wasted it and ruined everything I was clinging to. I don't think the scars from that will ever go away."

He nodded, swallowing hard. "I'll do my best to make them fade. I want to give you new memories, so good they push all the bad out. I want to give you the affection you deserve. I want to give you the love you should have always had."

His thumb stroked the inside of my wrist. "Let me love you, Jasper. Please give me the chance to love you."

My body shook, fluttered and shuddered as I stared into the earnest, wet eyes of the only boy I'd ever cherished. The only one who'd ever treated me like I was precious, a gift to look after.

"Don't let me down," I whispered. The smile breaking across Edward's face reminded me of a sunrise breaking through gray clouds. As he shuffled out of the booth and sat down next to me, enfolding me in arms that felt like home, I knew I'd made the right decision.

Our first date was a week into the new semester.

It seemed strange to be dating someone I had so much history with, but another part of me loved it. I loved that Edward insisted on picking me up, his blushing cheeks and small smile telling me how grateful he was that I'd given him another chance. I loved the fumbling conversation, the small pauses where we did nothing but stare at each other in the dim lighting of the restaurant. The food was forgettable, and so was the movie we saw after it, but Edward's touches were something I'll never forget. He was tentative and gentle - the merest hint of pressure against the small of my back as we were led to our table, a light brush of skin as he took hold of my hand as we walked to the movie theater. Later, he dropped me home with a tight hug and a sense of hope that refused to be extinguished.

Our first kiss happened as we were walking home from our third date. We'd gone bowling, giving me plenty of ammunition to tease Edward with. His pout reminded me of how he looked when he lost football games back in high school, and the comparison fueled me on. I taunted and mocked until he could take no more. When he kissed me under the amber glow of a street lamp, right there in the middle of a busy sidewalk, I realized he was so much better than the boy I'd known.

We abandoned the pretense of dating and became boyfriend and boyfriend (something which Edward got endless amusement out of), and I couldn't remember a time I'd ever been happier. My days were filled with the laughter of friends, my nights warmed by the arms of a beautiful man, and it felt like I'd been rewarded for the pain I'd had to endure before.

Edward told me he'd come out to Esme almost as soon as his Dad had left the house, saying the months he'd been in and out of school were due to his mother's depression. In some ways, I couldn't help but be plagued with guilt that I'd brought such sadness to his family, but Edward refused to let me feel that way for long. He told me how much happier he was now, and those words combined with his kisses made it hard to regret anything that had come before.

My first time meeting Edward's mother as his boyfriend came about purely by accident. I was at his apartment after having stayed there the night before, enjoying his cable TV choices when there was a knock at the door. Seeing as Edward was in the shower, I thought nothing of answering it, only to see Esme on the doorstep. I'm not sure who was more embarrassed, especially given that I was wearing a shirt with Cullen on the back, but before long, she had me in her arms.

"Thank you for bringing my son so much happiness. I know how you were treated by your own parents, and it hurts my heart," she said, her voice quiet as she spoke in my ear. "If you ever want a mother, you know where I am."

She pulled back, her eyes shining with tears. I held onto her hand and felt the last of the walls guarding my heart fall.

Edward and I grew ever closer, and I stopped holding back the pieces of myself I'd reserved just in case things fell apart again. He was devoted and affectionate, tender and attentive, and I wondered if life could get any better.

I must have tempted fate.

Our first fight came when he asked me to accompany him back to Forks for Thanksgiving, ten months after we'd reconnected. We were mostly living together by then, spending nights at the other's apartment so often it seemed inevitable one of us would eventually just stay permanently. Realizing I had nowhere to go, Edward invited me to spend the holiday with him and his mother. I was excited to see Esme again, having spoken to her on the phone countless times and seen her whenever she came to Seattle, but I dreaded having to travel back to that small town.

It carried memories so painful I had no choice but to relive them. I'd be there with Edward this time around, but I still couldn't shake the deep-set fear I had of returning.

I outright refused to go, stating I'd never return there, but Edward insisted. He said he wanted to show people who we were, what we had, but I wasn't that strong.

It became such a source of tension that I began sleeping alone in my apartment, and a twin bed had never seemed so big before.

On the morning he left to go back to Forks, Edward pleaded with me one last time to go with him.

"This is the last hurdle to your happiness," he said. "The last hurdle to our happiness. We can turn our backs for the final time on everything that happened there after this."

I couldn't, though - didn't have the courage to face my demons, no matter how far removed they were from my life as it was.

"Are you going to let this be the thing that breaks us?"

"I can't go back," I said, begging him to understand.

"And we can't move forward until you stop giving it such power to hurt you. Please trust me to look after you. Nothing will hurt you there."

Edward seemed so sure, but I was too blinded by the past to see the damage I was doing to my future.

"Do you have any idea what you're asking of me? Do you think I have any good memories of that place?"

He moved a half-step backwards as if trying to dodge my words. "No good memories?" he asked, his face pale and drawn tight. "Not even with me?"

I tried to stop the laugh that bubbled up, but it escaped anyway. The sound was loud and ugly in the silence of the room.

"Jasper?" The wisps of hurt straining his voice cut me.

"My memories of you are some of the worst," I said.

His face crumpled.

"Some of the worst?"

The anger that had begun to swell at his ignorance suddenly overflowed. "Yes, Edward! Some of the worst. I was ignored or ridiculed by everyone there, but at least none of those people pretended to give a shit first."

"I didn't pretend," he whispered.

"You gave a shit when it suited you, when you could hide it away and leave me to carry the shame you didn't want to."

"I'm not ashamed anymore, Jasper!"

"Maybe my shame doesn't fade so easily," I snapped back at him.

I tried to ignore the tears that made his eyes shimmer.

"Are you ashamed of me?"

I hated that he had to ask. I hated that I'd made him think that was even a possibility.

Mostly, I hated that my answer was closer to yes than it was to no.

"I'm ashamed of myself," I said, but it wasn't enough. I saw it in the way his eyes screwed shut, could sense it by the way his hand fisted.

"You're ashamed of what we have?"

I didn't have an answer to that.

"Now who's the secret, Jasper?" he asked. The words were bitter, but his voice held only sadness.

He stood in front of me, his shoulders slumped. There were tear tracks lining either side of his jaw, his lips pink and pursed. There were dry patches, flakes and coarse skin that juxtaposed how softly they pressed against my forehead when he stepped closer to me.

"I'm sorry. I can't do this."

It sank in then, exactly what I was giving up by giving in to my fear.

"Don't leave me," I whispered, begged. "Everyone leaves me."

"Then stop pushing me away."

I didn't have the words to tell him that I wanted to do the opposite, that I wanted to cling so hard we merged into one. Instead, he only saw me clinging to what I considered safe, and now my time was up.

He shook his head, shut his eyes, cursed. "I wanted you to fight for us." Now those lips curved into a smile so bittersweet my heart clenched. "I love you," he said. My breathing stopped. "I love you, but I won't keep hiding."

He kissed me once more, and then his dry lips and wet eyes disappeared from sight as he turned away.

It was only once the door clicked shut that I realized what I'd done. I lay down on the sofa and threw my arm over my eyes, trying to convince myself I hadn't just made a terrible mistake.

I lasted three days without Edward before the fear of losing him overwhelmed the fear of seeing people who had never cared about me, and then I was in my car and driving as fast as I could to Forks.

It took four hours that felt like days, but each mile I traveled brought me closer to him.

To the boy who loved me.

I couldn't ignore the nausea that started as soon as I hit the sign for Forks, nor could I pretend my breathing wasn't heavier as I drove past the street my parents' house was on.

"He loves me," I told myself out loud, hoping to bring some calm to my racing pulse. "He's worth it."

I stopped at the one grocery store in the center of town. My knees felt unsteady as I walked through the entrance, but I kept putting one foot in front of the other until I'd picked up what I wanted, and then I did so again until I made it to the checkout.

I made eye contact with the girl there, vaguely recognizing her as someone who'd been a year below me in school. She gave an unexpected smile, wishing me a good day as I stepped into the unusual afternoon sunshine.

As the rays warmed my skin, I took it as a sign that I'd done the right thing.

When I made it to Esme's house and saw Edward on the porch swing, it took all of my strength to stop the car. I barely had the door open before he was there, his arms around my neck, pulling me into his body.

"I knew you'd come."

I hugged him back, more grateful than I could articulate. He flinched as the object in my hand brushed his arm, pulling back to see what it was.

"You brought me flowers?"

I shrugged, suddenly embarrassed. "That's what you do when you upset your partner, right?"

"Right," he whispered. "Partner."

He kissed me softly, and I pressed back just as gently, communicating everything I needed to.

I'm sorry. I shouldn't have let you leave.

Edward stood straighter suddenly, his mouth breaking away from mine. "Did you bring the flowers with you from Seattle?"

I blinked, confused. He was staring at me intently, almost searching for something - and then I realized.

"No." I cleared my throat. "I bought them at the grocery store in town."

"Yeah?" he asked. His eyes were glassy, but his smile was blinding.

"Just for you," I told him. I knew he got it when he shuddered and stepped into me, so close there was nothing but love between us.

"Thank you," he whispered, pressing his wet cheeks into my neck.

"I should be thanking you, baby." I kissed his hair and pushed my palm between his shoulder blades, keeping him tucked in to my body.

"I never want to fight with you again," he said, making us both laugh.

I sobered as I remembered how lost I'd felt without him. "You've made my life so much better, Edward. You've given me hope, and now you've given me love, and I won't ever be able to thank you enough."

He sniffed and stepped back slightly, his cheeks dimpled by the grin he couldn't contain. "You could start by loving me back."

I ran the backs of my fingers over his cheekbone. "I always have."

As his mouth met mine, I couldn't hold back my smile. I had a future to look forward to, and nothing or no one could take that away.

Edward gifted me with the hope I'd had stolen from me, rebuilt the courage that'd been worn down.

He gave me happiness.

He gave me his heart.

He gave me everything.

We had many other firsts - our first apartment, our first vacation, our first kiss as a newly-engaged couple.

Our first dance.

Our daughter's first steps.

And through them all, I loved him.

Thank you for reading, and to everyone who voted for this story in the contest.

Please let me know what you thought! xoxo