Author's Note : So this is a sappy/not-very-cliched long one-shot story that I had to write to get out of my system. It's not intended at pleasing a large audience, it's just a story that had to be told.

It's dedicated to one of my best friends, who's going through so much turmoil in her life, but yet has the strength to walk in with a smile, every single day.

I hope you enjoy the story, it's a little emotional as well.

Feel free to comment/review and point out any grammatical errors. Thanks for reading!

Not everyone is meant to be a parent. Others implicitly take care of everyone around them.


Coat sleeves. A packet of gum. Wind chimes. A Christmas card from some old relative. Dog hair. A nickel.

All her things were suddenly gone, and in their place were the most random items Hope had never seen. She stared at her locker, her energy draining away. All her notebooks, assignments and so much more… gone. Why?

"All your things are where they should be. Flushed down the toilet. Because that's where your head is and always will be. Watch your back, Jones" Linda Hoffman, the most popular girl in school told her, shoving Hope so her nose cut against a sharp edge of the locker. Linda walked away, not bothering about Hope's bleeding nose, throwing "Stay away from Connor" over her shoulder.

Stay away from Connor? Hope fled to the bathrooms, and splashed some water on her face. The bleeding didn't stop, but it had reduced a bit. Great, that would leave a mark. She was going to walk around school with a mark on her nose, and it was probably what everyone would look at when they would speak to her.

Something caught her eye and she turned to see a clogged toilet, stuffed with… Oh, no. She walked as if a zombie, towards the cubicle and identified all her notes and assignments, ruined beyond repair. The textbooks had been ripped to shreds and all the photos were soggy. She collapsed against a wall of the cubicle and let out a sob.

Two hours of detention after school, Hope entered the library, ignoring her stomach growl. She'd skipped lunch to finish some immediately important assignments, but there was still so much to do. She hastily pulled out some of the books she'd used before as reference and started to redo all her work.

She reached home late and quietly let herself in. She reached into the fridge and took some of the frozen food out. She watched it being reheated in the microwave, finally allowing herself to breakdown.

When walking to school two days ago, Connor had raced up to her to tell her she'd left her bag unzipped. Why had he bothered to tell her, a nobody, that? Because Connor, her new neighbor, had discovered her secret and was being nice. She shifted her eyes to the photo on the mantelpiece. Her mom and dad. They were the greatest couple you could ever think of, always in love and ever so thoughtful of each other. There was one problem in their perfect lives, and that was Hope.

Hope's father Jeremy had been a happy-go-lucky man, just like Hope's mother Bethany. They were the adventurous kind, Jeremy because he was an orphan and grew up looking out for himself, and Bethany because her parents had been over-protective of her and had never let her do anything. They were young kids when they met and fell in love, and despite all precautions, Bethany became pregnant.

As amazing as Jeremy and Bethany were, they never wanted to be parents. They wanted to live life free and happy, exploring places and doing everything adventurous while they were young. Bethany was only seventeen when Hope was born. A day after Hope's birth, Bethany's parents were driving down to finally meet their grandchild, when a freak storm claimed their lives. Forever more, Hope's birthday was synonyms with her grandparent's death.

Bethany, filled with guilt, swore to never celebrate Hope's birthday in memory of her parent's death. But the worst was yet to come. Her parents had left her a fortune – provided Bethany and Jeremy looked after Hope themselves, until she was eighteen. A trust fund was set up for Hope, who would inherit sufficient money to put her through college and give her a basic allowance thereafter.

So Hope, who was to be given away for adoption, was forced to be raised by her parents. She had been named by the potential adoptive family, who couldn't have any kids of their own; who turned bitter when they heard that Hope was not to be theirs. As did her parents over time, because according to them, a baby prevented you from doing the things you always wanted to.

Hope was never abused, never yelled at, never bothered with. As soon as she could speak for herself, Hope was treated like an adult. Her parents provided her with all necessary tools and expected to perform well in class, and in life. And whenever the opportunity presented itself, Hope's parents disappeared on some new adventure/trekking/river-rafting or whatever it was that would catch their attention. Once Hope turned thirteen, she'd been deemed 'old enough to look after herself' and had begun to be left alone. That's how it had been for four years now.

Hope could not wait to get out of school and out of her house forever. To start her own life, to be her own person. Which would happen next year, when she turned eighteen and she went to college. Correction, if she went to college, for which she had to work extra hard, now that Linda…

The beeping of the microwave brought her back to her senses. She pulled out the meal for one and slowly began to unwrap it. A noise made her turn around, and she watched outside her window how Connor was practicing his basketball. Not that he needed to practice, he was the Captain of their school team and had already pleased many, many scouts. Word was that he had a scholarship to any college of his choosing.

She sighed and turned back to her food. But the dribbling of the ball was making so much noise, she looked up again. Connor was looking squarely at her, through the big glass window in her kitchen, with a smile on his face. He waved, and motioned for her to come out. She shook her head and looked down again. "Hey Hope!" she could hear him calling, so she quickly took her food into the other room and hid from view.

The next day at school was no better, someone had found all her books stuffed in the toilet and reported it to the principal. The principal, who was well aware of her situation at home, decided to give her a break by extending her deadlines for assignments, homework and projects. The test, however, were coming up, so he fixed a schedule for her with the necessary teachers; sometimes these went way into the evening. The willingness of so many teachers who came forward overwhelmed her and gave her 'hope'. Hope was also very relieved with this, she didn't have much of a social life and for the first time in her life, it felt like someone cared about her.

That evening, Connor was in his driveway, playing basketball again. This time, she didn't bother looking up. When the doorbell rang, she thought nothing of it and brushed her jeans into place before opening the door.

Connor Lockwood, in all his Greek-God like features, his hand casually over the ball at his side. She looked dully at him, waiting for him to speak. "Mom wanted to invite you for dinner. Would you like to come?" he asked, slightly breathless.

"Thanks, but I've just had mine" she said, used to shutting people out of her heart, before they hurt her. His foot stopped the door from swinging, and he took a step in her direction. "Tomorrow?" he asked. "I have extra classes till seven in the evening" she informed him. "I know. I'll pick you up from school" he said and walked away.

Oh no. "Hey!" she ran after him, but he ignored her. "HEY!" she managed to catch his attention, as she speedily cut him off, leaving her front door open. "Look" she said, her breath heavy from her sudden darting. "I really appreciate this, but please don't come near me. For my own good. Please. Just stay away from me until I finish school. You can invite me over for dinner, heck we can even be friends. But please, just stay away from me for the next couple of months. I'm begging you"

He looked at her curiously, as if he were going to speak, so she cut him off and walked back to her house. "I'll pick you up at seven tomorrow!" he called from behind her. She stiffened and turned, but he was already gone.

But he was there, waiting for her, at sharp seven the next evening. It was getting dark, and she was going to walk home. "Get in, Hope" he said, opening the door. She ignored him and began to walk. "Hope, Mom is expecting you. She's made dinner. Everyone is just waiting for you" he said, pushing the car into gear and moving it at the speed of her walking pace. "Well then, I'll walk to your house" she replied, wrapping her arms around her. "But she sent me to get you, How can I tell her you sent me back and wanted to walk anyway? Come on, Hope, it's just one ride" he coaxed.

Oh, but she was so tired. She swallowed her tears, nodded once, then got into his car. She was asleep before it began to move again.

"Hope, dear…" someone was waking her. And someone was calling her 'dear'. What? Hope opened her eyes hesitantly, not wanting to wake up from her delicious dream. In her dream, her parents came back for her and found her asleep on their driveway. Her mother had pushed the hair out of her face and her father had carried her to her bed. Mom was cooking something delicious, telling her how sorry they were for leaving her and that they were all going to have dinner together now, as a family.

Hope opened her eyes to see Mrs. Lockwood bending cautiously over her. She jumped back and muffled her scream, not understanding where she was or what was going on. "Dear, it's almost ten-thirty. You must be starving. Why don't you have some dinner and then go back to sleep?" the kind lady asked. Hope blinked a couple of times, realizing she was in some kind of a guest bedroom. There were packed boxes stacked around in the room, yet the room still managed to look slightly homey and comfortable. She sat up wordlessly and followed Mrs. Lockwood into the kitchen.

How the Lockwoods had managed to make the house look like home within a month of their moving in, she had no idea. Mrs. Lockwood handed her a warm plate of food, the sight of which had her mouth watering. Without a care for manners, she devoured it like a hungry beast.

Wendy, Connor's six-year-old sister, came bounding into the room, presumably for a glass of water. "You look pretty" the girl told her, pulling a chair next to Hope and flopping her face into her hands as her elbows rested on the table. Mrs. Lockwood laughed as Hope was taken aback, not knowing what to do. She'd never interacted with kids younger to her, she had no immediate cousins and anyway, her parents had only single friends. "Fanks" she replied, her mouth still full. Wendy giggled, displaying two middle teeth.

Hope paused, peering at the six year old in fascination. "You look pretty too" she offered back and was rewarded with a giggle. "When I grow up, I'm going to be a princess!" she said, holding up her hands in a ballet pose. Hope steeled herself for Mrs. Lockwood's reply, and was surprised when the older woman said "That's great dear. You could be a princess. Or a doctor. Or a teacher. Or a lawyer. Or a dancer! You can be anything you want, sweetheart!"

Hope was completely taken aback. When she'd told her mother she had wanted to be the Headmistress of an all-girls school, like some of the protagonists in the books she'd read, her mother had scoffed her and told her that being a Headmistress was not good for the future. Based on current trends, her parents wanted her to become a doctor, so that she could spend a good number of years working hard in college and hospitals. Besides, it would do good to have a doctor in the house, the medical industry was booming. So Hope was training herself to attend medical school. It never occurred to her to disagree.

"What are you going to be?" Wendy asked her. Peering into those perfectly innocent eyes, Hope found herself telling the truth "An engineer". She abruptly closed her mouth, unable to believe she'd said it out loud. "An engineer? That's amazing dear. My husband's an engineer. Do you know what kind of engineer you'd like to be?" Wendy's mother asked, lightly placing a hand on Hope's shoulder as she refilled the plate.

"Mechanical" she said hesitantly, reaching for the plate and devouring it at the same speed as before. Mrs. Lockwood sat across her, looking at her expectantly, as if she wanted her to elaborate. "I've always felt a connection with machines, I love taking things apart and putting them back together again. Jeremy lets me tinker around with the old car's engine, and I've almost managed to make it run again" she blurted out, trying to contain the pride in her voice as she spoke.

Connor Lockwood joined them at the table, swinging an easy arm around his younger sister, and listening to the conversation. "That's amazing, dear! That sounds exactly like my Rafe! Do you know, on our first date, while dropping me back, his car broke down? I thought he was trying to pull a fast one, but suddenly he was so excited, he just left me sitting there in the front seat as he went about trying to figure out what was wrong with the engine!" The expression on Mrs. Lockwood's face was so comically indignant, that even with the spoon in her mouth, Hope let out a laugh, and everyone joined in heartily.

"What was wrong with the engine?" she asked, curiosity getting the better of her, once the laughter had settled down. Mrs. Lockwood wiped a tear under her eye from all the laughing. "I don't know, dear, you would have to ask Rafe himself. He's in a conference a little far from here so he decided to stay there overnight, but he'll be back tomorrow. He's tried to explain to me so many times, but I just don't understand all that machine mumbo-jumbo. I'm not that bright, dear" she explained, standing up to clear the table.

"Sure mom. You're not bright at all. You're not the best real-estate your firm has ever seen. You're just you" teased Connor fondly, helping his mother with the dishes. His mother playfully swatted his arm and they all brought out identical sets of grins, including Wendy. Hope couldn't help but grin too. Mrs. Lockwood's eyes softened as she took Hope's hand in hers. "Come on, child, it's late. Let's get you to bed"

Reality crashed in as Hope jumped out of reach, twisting her arm out of the hold. "I should be going home, now" she said quickly, dropping her gaze and looking for her bag. She tried to ignore Mrs. Lockwood's pursed lips, but looked up when the older woman said "Alright, dear, but I expect you back for dinner tomorrow. Same time, or earlier if you can manage it".

"Um, it's okay, Mrs. Lockwood, I think I still have some frozen dinners at home-" "Hope" the older woman's voice was soft but firm. "You will join us for dinner tomorrow, even if it means I have to send Connor over to carry you here, like he did tonight. You're having dinner here, from now on. Besides, you still haven't met my husband, Rafe. Don't you want to know what part of the car was causing problems on our first date? Or how he borrowed my favorite hairpin to fix it within minutes?" she asked.

Hope's head was reeling with so many thoughts. First, Connor had carried her, not her father like in her dream. Second, she was invited back for dinner with this amazing family, and none of them had any pity in their eyes for her situation. And third, a part of her brain was preoccupied with the parts of a car engine that could be fixed with a hair pin.

She knew she should have refused, but she didn't. One lesson life had taught her was to make the best of every situation. It seemed the Lockwoods genuinely wanted her around, and were extremely nice people. So she let herself smile, nodded her head in agreement and went back to her house, clinging to her backpack to stop herself from skipping.

The next day, there was a picture of Hope in her underwear on every wall and corridor in the school. It was the most unflattering photo she'd ever seen of herself, and the person who'd taken the photo had managed to add a degree of perversion to it. The photo was one of several night ago when she'd accidentally spilled milk from the cereal over her dress as she was cutting fruits into the bowl. She'd immediately taken her clothes off and turned on the washing machine. She'd then begun to clear the mess, picking up the fruits and mopping up the floor on her hands and legs. The camera had managed to capture her on the floor on all fours, in her underwear, clinging onto a banana. There was a mop in her other hand, but you would really have to focus to find it. Hope was naturally curvaceous so the Polaroid looked as if it was taken from a dirty magazine.

She gaped at the picture, her face flooding with embarrassment about how little she was wearing and how provocative she was looking. "Did I or did I not tell you to stay away from Connor, you-" Linda had a potty mouth and a potty mind too, if the pictures were anything to go by. She turned away blindly, as everyone gaped at her picture. Whore, she could hear them whisper, as tears began to form in her eyes. Someone took firm hold of her, bodily shielding her from everyone.

She sat dazed outside the Principal's office before Connor came out again and lead her strongly outside and to his car. "Get in" he said, opening the door and gently pushing her in. "Bu-But we have class in a few-" He got in from the other side and pulled on her safety belt. "I spoke to Principal Keats. You can come back tomorrow"

"But the exams… and assignments…" she continued dazed, the photograph splashed across her mind's eye. "Hope. You're experiencing shock. Just calm down. Relax. Focus on your breathing" Connor soothed. The houses were racing by, but a look at the speed-o-meter told Hope he was actually driving slowly.

"Why didn't you tell me?" Connor asked, a bite in his voice. Was he angry at her? "Tell you what?" she asked, mind still blank and hollow. "That Linda was being a –" She winced at his choice of words. "I d-don't know. It jus-just didn't seem like that much of a big deal" she stammered. "Are you trying to be a martyr, Hope?" he snapped at her. That pushed her over the edge. She burst into noisy tears just as he pulled into his driveway. She was about to run to her house, but firm hands caught hold of her and enveloped her in a hug. Connor was holding her (something was wrong with the whole time-space-continuum thing because she could have sworn he had been still in the driver's seat).

He patted her head and led her to his house, where she passed hands to Mrs. Lockwood. It was the most incredible feeling in the world to her, as Mrs. Lockwood hugged her and pulled her close, muttering soothing and comforting words in her ear.

They sat on the sofa until she got a grip on herself. Connor answered the door and brought in some food. "I'm sorry dear, I didn't cook lunch, I was in a meeting when Connor called and simply rushed home" Mrs. Lockwood said, briskly setting the plates about and serving her some hot food. Hope, scandalized that Mrs. Lockwood had walked out in the middle of her work, began to apologize "I'm so s-sorr-" "Don't you dare apologize, dear. I've been wanting to look after you since you were in your cradle, only your mother never let me. You didn't know that Bethany and I were friends, now did you dear? Jeremy, Bethany and I were best friends since we were kids. Both of them had difficult childhoods and sought comfort in each other. I was just someone they turned to when they fought."

"When Bethany told me she was pregnant at 17, all of us were ecstatic. I was a few years older to her, so naturally I offered whatever guidance I could. But your parents – I'll never forgive them for this – cut me out of their lives. Yes, things began to get difficult for them when your grandparents found out Beth was pregnant, but I still maintain they could have handled it differently, even though they were just teenagers. No, don't interrupt, dear, hear me out. I've been wanting to say this for so many years!"

"I had already had Connor by the time you were born, so I tried again to help Beth with you. Then the horrible crash happened and Beth completely shut me out. Rafe got a transfer just about the same time, and we left within a month of you being born. I heard about the will, I heard the entire story – only because I wanted to adopt you myself. As much as I loved your grandparents, I cursed them because now you'd lost your only shot at a happy childhood. The last I heard, there was some other couple trying to adopt you… and they had named you Hope. What a beautiful name for a beautiful child. We moved back here, as you know, a month ago, and I pulled strings so I could be as close to you as possible"

"My worst fears were confirmed when I first say you. I had a talk with Beth and Jeremy when they were leaving for the Himalayas. 'Let me look after Hope', I begged again, and finally they agreed. My dear girl, do you have any idea how much I've worried about you? How many nights I've stayed up in guilt, wondering if I should fight courts and somehow get you back? Can you ever forgive me, child, for deserting you as I did?" she asked, finally pausing to take a breath and wiping away silent tears.

Hope stared at her with her mouth open, digesting everything that was said. She swallowed once, then again. "I think… I think I always knew someone out there loved me, I could just sort of feel it. It prevented me from going insane. I always thought it was my grandparents, but now I realize it was you. I could feel your love for me, no matter how bad a situation, I always felt wanted by an unconscious force – and I think it was you" Hope didn't realize what she was saying until she said the words, and knew that they were true. She'd always found hope in every situation, and the feeling was identical which what she'd been overwhelmed with love.

It was the Lockwood's love for her that helped her get through every day.

From that day, Hope became an integral part of the Lockwood family. A shy love for Connor found it's way into her heart, and was overjoyed when the feelings were reciprocated. They began dating in college and a year after graduation, they exchanged vows in front of close friends and family. Neither Jeremy nor Bethany made it to the ceremony, communication with them had become strained ever since Hope had told her parents her decision to study engineering. But Hope was exhuberant on her wedding day, because her real parents – Rafe and Sahara Lockwood were present.

Three years later, while she was doing the dishes, Connor came up from behind her and enveloped her in a hug. She savored the feeling, still unable to believe her luck after all these years. "Hello, beautiful" he whispered in her ear before kissing her. "Hello, honey" she shyly replied, drying the plate in her hand before setting it aside. He was silent for a heartbeat so she looked up. He was grinning at her from ear-to-ear. "I bought a house" he grinned, unable to keep it in.

She almost dropped the plate. "What?!" she asked. "It has a huge garage. The owner is a fan of cars, and when I told him how much you loved tinkering with gears and screws, he decided to throw in the cars with the house, free of cost. Says only people like you would be able to appreciate the value of the cars" he rattled off the model and makes of the cars, and Hope's jaw almost dropped. Her hands itched to get to work on them, but she was able to control the excitement long enough to thank her husband properly. A few minutes later they surfaced for air and Hope leaned her forehead against Connor's. "How many bedrooms?" she asked, a little breathless. "Four" he replied, his eyes still closed. "Oh good" she continued, matter-of-factly. "One for us, one for Wendy and your parents visit for when they visit… and one for the baby"

His eyes sprang open. "Baby?" he asked, joy shining through his eyes. "Baby" she confirmed, sealing his lips with hers, feeling like the luckiest person alive.

A/N: There you have it, my first one-shot. Hope you liked it. Thanks for reading!