Hello again! This will be a short story. 3-4 chapters. It's all written so I'll post as my beta finishes. Thanks for giving it a whirl. I've missed this so, so much!

Many thanks to my beta ShearEnvy and my prereaders bashfulfan and ilusocantante. LOVE. Much love to roglows for her kind words and for reminding me how wonderful this community is.

Disclaimer: Not mine.

This would be the right time to cry.

I will as soon as I catch my breath-as soon as I can hear over the dull thud of my heartbeat. A lock of my dark hair hangs in front of my eyes but my fingers shake too hard to push it back.

Emmett runs up, stopping a few feet from where I stand. He won't meet my eyes. "They called the cops. Is she okay?" Emmett asks. I don't answer, but he wasn't asking me anyway. For a second I have the urge to throw my arms around his neck, but my brother hasn't willingly hugged me in years. As if he senses that thought, he takes another step back. Jasper's in motion next to him, pacing then pausing, his fists clenching and relaxing. He tugs at his hair, glancing at me then letting out a noise like an animal. "Motherfucker deserved it. I should've-"

Emmett tells him to shut up.

Jasper quiets, but doesn't stop moving, like he still wants to throw a punch. He palms his right fist in his left hand.

I've never seen Edward that angry, his fist backing up and slamming back down, over and over. The memory makes my head swim. I can see the man's broken face and blood on his button-down shirt, the blue sedan door he was trying to push me into still open.

Jasper's body twitches, words spilling out of his mouth like he can't stop them. "What if he took her, Em? Like one of those sick fuckers you see on TV-"

Emmett cuts him off again, yelling this time. "Shut the fuck up, Jasper!"

His anger gets lost, the bright autumn sunshine ignoring him. The birds pause, but only for a few seconds. When this is over, it will be like we weren't here at all.

Behind me, I hear the flick of a lighter. I turn, focusing my eyes on Edward. He hangs back from the three of us, a shake to his hand as he exhales and brings the cigarette back up to his lips. His knuckles are bloody, his shirt covered as well.

The expression on his face causes tears to well sick and hot behind my eyes. I clench my teeth.

"We shouldn't have brought her," Emmett says, the words breaking through the haze in my brain. When I turn he's frowning, but his expression softens when he looks at me.

"We won't get in trouble, Em," Jasper eyes me, and I can tell he doesn't totally believe what he's saying. He's been in trouble too many times already this year, and his dad is already threatening to kick him out. When he reaches out to touch my arm I flinch, and the hurt is plain on his face. "You'll tell them Edward was protecting you, right, short stack?"

None of them have called me that in years. I used to hate it, but today I don't mind. Today it makes me wish I could jump back weeks -years- to before any of this, before they started sneaking out and coming home with red eyes, smelling like alcohol and pot.

Back then this wouldn't have happened. Emmett said no one would buy them beer if I was with them, so I stood on the deserted side street. Just before I saw the man walking toward me I was wishing I was home talking to Rosalie on the phone in the kitchen, eating the Rice Krispie Treats my mom just finished making.

I squeeze my eyes shut.

The sun is starting to set and I start to get chilled, my bare arms cross over my chest. I try not to think about the way the man grabbed my hand and tried to pull me toward his car, away from the boys. His palm was sweaty and I almost got out of his grip but he grabbed my elbow hard, twisting. The pain reminded me that I should be screaming.

I try to breathe deeply but I can still feel the phantom of his hand clapped over my mouth.

Jasper ducks down, bringing his eyes level with mine. "Bella..."

My throat is tight and I'm holding back so much that I'm afraid what comes out won't be human. "I'm okay." The sound of my own voice orients me. I'm suddenly aware that I'm here, not in the back of some stranger's car. Looking down at my arm, I see dark bruises forming from the man's grip on my skin.

I'm safe. I'm here. This time I can't keep from crying. A siren sounds somewhere far away, then another.

Edward's gaze is steady. He tosses his cigarette butt and steps forward, pulling me against his chest. My face presses into him and his arms hold me tight while I let hot tears soak into his ruined t-shirt. He smoothes the hair out of my face and lets his hand rest on the back of my neck.

"It's okay. We got you," he whispers.

I've been laying here for two hours, the same song on repeat. Every time it peaks, my heart rushes in the same way, my whole body aching. I want to keep chasing that feeling. I never want to listen to another song ever again. I never want to move or laugh or smile...

Emmett yanks the headphones out of my Discman.

"What?" I ask, my ears ringing in the abrupt silence.

"Mom left a list of chores. I did my half." He tries to hand me the piece of paper, dropping it on the bed when I won't take it from him. "Did you finish your homework?"

I roll my eyes. "I'm going to procrastinate and do it Sunday night like a normal person."

Emmett signed up to join the Army after he graduates. I can see how that will be a good fit.

"Just get up," he says. "I made breakfast."

"I'm not hungry," I lie.

"Don't pretend you're one of those girls who doesn't eat. You ate half a pizza last night."

"So did you," I say, defensively.

"Yeah, but I outweigh you by a hundred pounds," he says over his shoulder. He leaves the door open behind him.

I roll my eyes again but it's a whole lot less satisfying when there's no one there to see it. My stomach rumbles.

I wonder if he made bacon.

Jasper's in the kitchen, rolling a blunt at the table. Ever since my mom started dating Phil, the weekends have been a free-for-all at our house. Jasper's blonde hair is sticking up on one side and his blue eyes are bloodshot. He probably slept on the couch last night. The whole kitchen smells like skunk.

"You know, my mom could come home any time. Phil lives, like, twenty minutes away. Plus, that reeks."

"You reek," he says, smiling. He licks around the wrap and rolls the blunt gently between his fingers, clearly satisfied with his work. There's a plate of bacon next to the stove. I grab a piece and sit across from him in the breakfast nook, bringing my knees up to my chin to fight off the morning chill.

"Wake and bake?" I ask.

He shakes his head. "Party tonight. Some chick Edward's...dating." The way he hesitates makes my skin go cold. I pull my flannel tighter around me.

"Whatever," I say, trying to act like I don't care but failing.

"What are you gonna do tonight?" he asks.

"Rosalie wants to go to Tanya Denali's party."

He freezes, looking up quickly.

"That's who he's dating?" I ask. Jasper nods. "What does he see in her? I mean, she's pretty, but...whatever."

Edward always dates really pretty girls, but they aren't usually in the Denali's tax bracket. The really annoying thing is that Tanya is actually really nice. I'm going to have to work pretty hard to find a reason to hate her. She's not even that slutty.

"She's got a great rack and a heated pool," he says, shrugging.

He backpedals when he sees my face, glancing behind him to make sure Emmett's out of earshot. "Speaking of...your rack is filling out nicely."

"You're an ass," I say, my cheeks getting hot.

He laughs, giving me a genuine smile before getting back to the task at hand.

The phone rings and I hop up out of habit, grabbing it off the wall before Emmett can get to the hallway phone upstairs. I hear him bound out of his room, trying to make it in time. He groans when he realizes I beat him. I grin.

Before I can say anything a voice says "I got the stuff."

I can't help the laugh that bursts out of my mouth. Rosalie always sounds like she just got done doing something dirty, like she's having a cigarette after sex with a married man.

I glance back at Jasper, but he's rolling another blunt.

"What if it wasn't me that answered?"

"I knew it was you," she says, simply.

She got her cousin to buy us a bottle of vodka for the party tonight.

"I'm not sure I want to go," I say.

"Because of Tanya and Edward?" she asks.

I swallow old feelings. "Whatever."

"Wait, how did you even know? I told Jasper not to say anything."

That wounds me more than I would like to admit. I speak around the lump in my throat, though, without a trace of it in my voice. "It's fine. Just come over around nine."

"Can we ride up there with Emmett?" she asks. I sigh. I hate going to parties with my brother. I hate going to parties with Emmett and Rosalie even more. They bicker. I wish they would just admit that they like each other but it's possible that neither of them will ever make the first move.

"I'm sure."

"Cool. Later."

I put the handset in the cradle. I hate the idea that my friends feel the need to keep things from me.

"I'm going on a walk," I say, pulling my army coat off the hook.

Out of the corner of my eye I can feel Jasper watching me. "What did she say? "

He must have been paying more attention than I thought.

I pull on my boots and straighten up. "Nothing."

Emmett walks into the kitchen, his hair wet from the shower.

"Can Rose and I ride with you to that party tonight?" I ask.

He shrugs. "If she keeps her mouth shut."

"I don't see that happening," I mumble. Jasper laughs, but I don't. "I'll be back."

"Where are you going?" Emmett asks.

"Just on a walk."

He frowns and I have to keep myself from rolling my eyes.

"I'll stay close," I say, quietly.

He nods, but doesn't move. I walk out the door without saying anything else and start down the alley, enjoying the crunch of leaves under my feet. The neighbor kids wave and I wave back, wishing just a little that I could jump in one of the piles in their yard like we used to when we were kids.

I walk for as long as I dare before turning back. Even though it's annoying I don't want Emmett to worry. It's one major downside of being the "almost" girl.

I was almost abducted.

I almost met a tragic end.

Of course, the upside of being the "almost" girl far outweighs the downside. The downside is something that the newspapers reported in great detail after they caught my would-be kidnapper. The things they found when they raided his house still haunt our whole neighborhood. It's so dark that my mind glazes over it, like it happened to someone else. None of us bring it up anymore, but I know it's not because we don't remember. It's in the way I still wake up to find my mom asleep in the rocking chair in my room, or how Emmett waits for me after school to give me a ride home, even if I have to stay late and even though it's not too far to walk.

Like a thousand times before, I find myself walking toward the gas station a few blocks from our house.

I step inside, shuddering from my line of thought, not the cold. Edward looks up at the bell, a slow smile spreading when he sees me. The darkness lifts and I find that achy, twisting feeling I was chasing earlier.

"Hey," I say, walking toward the beverage case and pulling out a bottle of juice.

He watches as I set it down on the counter, shaking his head and sliding my money back to me when I try to pay him.

"You don't have to do that," I say. He shrugs, a small smile on his face.

"Hey, Ben, I'll be out back," he says over his shoulder. Ben gives him the okay, not looking up from his comic book. Edward walks around the counter, nodding his head toward the back exit for me to follow him. We step out into the alley just as the wind whips up, tossing my hair around my face. I pull my coat around me and sit on an overturned crate. He sits on the crate next to me, not even bracing himself against the cold; it never seems to bother him. He reaches into the breast pocket of his flannel, his arm pressing against mine. I wait for him to light a cigarette, but he unwraps a piece of mint gum instead.

He catches me looking at him. "I quit."

Smiling, I bump his shoulder with mine. I'm always bugging him about it. "When, this morning?"

I saw him smoking last night while he was waiting for Emmett.

He smiles. "Alright, fine. I'm working on it."

Grinning, we sit side-by-side not saying anything. He and I have always been able to be like this-together and quiet without it being awkward. I think about why I took the walk in the first place and my smile falls. He watches me, brow furrowed. I know he won't ask me what's on my mind, so I just say it.

"Tanya Denali, huh?"

He stiffens, clenching his jaw.

"Not that I care." I close my eyes and take a deep breath, disappointed in my total lack of filter. It's so uncool. "I mean, she's really nice," I concede, even though he hasn't said a word.

We sit in silence for a long minute.

"Can I ask you something?" he asks.

I turn to look at him, curious. "Sure."

"Do you think it's a good idea for Emmett to join the Army?"

From the way he says it, I can tell that this has been on his mind.

"I don't know. He's well-suited for it, but I'm not sure that means he'll be happy."

He doesn't agree or disagree. I decide to give him my real answer, something I haven't told anyone.

"I think he's doing it to get back at my dad."

Edward's head jerks up, his eyes intensely focused on mine. "That's what I was thinking."

My dad had all of these plans for Emmett. He always regretted not graduating from college, so he pinned a lot on Emmett's future, like it was happening to both of them. He was going to go to school on a football scholarship and then he was going to do something really important with his life. Military service wasn't what my dad had in mind.

"How is your dad?" he asks.

I stay at his condo twice a month, per the custody agreement. "He's okay. He misses all of us. He's got a girlfriend."

"It doesn't seem like it bothers you," he says.

"Of course it bothers me." My parents splitting up was one of the worst things that's ever happened to me. "I'm just not angry about it. Not like Emmett is, anyway. Everything is so black and white with him. Like, my mom is innocent and my dad is the devil. Even though she's never home anymore because she's with Phil, somehow when my dad moved on he was betraying her."

"It's fucked," Edward says, succinctly.

I agree with him.

"I think Emmett blames himself."

I turn to look at him. "For my parents?"

Clearing his throat, he nods. "I think he thinks…" he glances at me, his expression uneasy. "I think he thinks that if he hadn't brought you to the liquor store that day, your parents would have stayed together."

"That's insane," I answer quickly. My parents would have gotten a divorce either way, or at least that's what I choose to believe. "Do you ever think about it?" It's mentioned so infrequently that it doesn't have a name.

He freezes next to me, clearing his throat after a few seconds. "All the time."

I look away, fidgeting with my sleeves. "What about that Halloween?"

Of all the things that never happened, the late hours of October 31, 1989 happened least of all. I've never breathed a word of it to anyone. Not Rosalie or Jasper, not the shrink I was assigned to see, not even my diary.

This time he doesn't respond at all.

I jump a mile when the back door swings open and Ben sticks his head out. "Emmett called to see if you're here."

My face heats. "I'm leaving now. Thanks, Ben." He disappears and I drop my face into my hands. "How long until they ship him off to basic training, do you think?"

I peek over at Edward and he's staring at the ground. "You should go," he says, not unkindly, but my chest aches nonetheless.

He stands, reaching out his hand to help me up. My cold fingers press against his warm skin and when I stand he doesn't let go right away, looking down at our hands. He meets my eyes and I can't breathe.

I'm stunned silent by how close we're standing and how he's looking at me. Neither of us break eye contact, the moment stretching across a line that I didn't even know was there. He seems to realize that at the same time I do, his gaze dropping to my lips and then away from me altogether. He takes a step back.

It takes me a few seconds to come to my senses. My skin tingles and that charged, awful, wonderful feeling screams through my whole body, almost painfully intense.

"I guess I'll see you later." I intentionally don't say anything about the party.

Nodding, he gives me one last half-smile before going inside.

I stare at the closed door for a long moment before I start down the alley. I float the whole way home.

Thanks for reading!

I love you.

See you soon.