Disclaimer: Stephanie Meyer & Little Brown Publishing own all rights
She slammed the door with the graceful force that only a woman’s rage can inspire, making a picture frame crash to the floor and cracking the plaster above the door. As I watched the little white chips of plaster fly everywhere, I knew I would have been lying if I said my heart didn’t crack a little too, watching her walk out on me in anger, even if it was fucking unjustified anger. My mind reeled as it tried to grasp exactly what had just happened. The scent of sex and roses still hung in the air, yet nothing was the same as it had been ten minutes ago. She had just blindsided me with the force of a Mack truck. What the hell did she expect me to say? Did she expect a thank you for snooping into my past and trying to interfere with my future?
Automatically, my mind flew back to when I had come out of the shower. I was more convinced now that she had been looking for something, and she hadn’t found it. It made me feel horrible; why didn’t she just talk to me?
She did you jackass, and look how you behaved.
With a grumble, I put on the boxers I still held in my hand and walked over to my desk. I took a drag from the smoke she’d lit and given to me as I poured myself a healthy tumbler full of bourbon. I hadn’t been drinking much since I met Rose, but I could feel the muscles in my shoulders tightening as I sat down in my chair. The chair that, twenty minutes ago, was seating my happily-getting-laid ass. I clenched my eyes shut, trying to shake the involuntary image of her bouncing on top of me from my mind and gulped down the glass of Wild Turkey.
Rose said they were in trouble; the very thought of that inspired instant nausea. I knew beyond any doubt that I would do everything I could to help them. It wasn’t a question to be considered, despite everything that had happened in the past. I couldn’t let my mother suffer or be in danger. The very notion of something happening to her was reprehensible. As for my father, he had always been her rock, and mine too, in happier times. I’d never believe that he would do something that would put her in danger of any sort. The possibility of blackmail surfaced in my mind, but I quickly dismissed it. It was impossible to start speculating without more facts.
I snuffed out the butt I was smoking and reached for my pack to light another, and just my fucking luck, my pack was empty. I was going to have to go out, an idea I loathed at the moment. I’d much rather sit here in my boxers and drink myself into oblivion, but a glance at the bourbon bottle told me that there was no way in hell that was going to last the night either. Reluctantly, I stood and got dressed, but before I left I pawed through my unpacked suitcase and pulled out an old, worn photograph. With it tucked into my breast pocket, I headed out the door.
I hailed a cab, and after stopping at the liquor store for bourbon and smokes, I filled up my flask in the backseat and told the cabbie to take me to Hwang’s. I needed to think and something about the greasy green walls and bad light always got my wheels turning. My mood hadn’t improved much by the time I strode through the door. I was surprised by how busy the place was, and my usual table was taken by couple of college kids. I ground my teeth and looked for another table, spying one on the far side of the room near the restrooms and the pay phone. I made my way over and sat down as Hwang’s wife came to take my order. With my sesame chicken on the way, I took a few more swigs of the liquid courage otherwise known as Wild Turkey. I felt the warm flowing numbness spread through me and knew it was time to do something I generally avoided like the fucking plague.
It was time to remember the past. It was time to be honest with myself.
I reached into my breast pocket and pulled out the only photograph I had of my parents. It was taken on my sixteenth birthday by a member of the house staff as the three of us posed for the camera. I sat at the dining room table, a huge chocolate birthday cake covered in lit candles in front of me. My mother was leaning down next to me, her mouth puckered up to help me blow them out as if I were still four years old and needed such assistance. I looked at the camera with a sheepish grin, ecstatic that, in my mind, I had reached the age of a certain manhood. My father stood on my other side, his eyes dancing and his mouth twisted into a proud and adoring smirk as he watched over the two of us. The same smirk I saw in the mirror, on the lips I’d inherited from my mother.
My heart squeezed with regret, as it always did if I looked at the picture too long. Usually at this point when my throat started to tighten, I would put the picture back in its place in the top drawer of my desk, but this time I didn’t put it away. This time I forced myself to keep staring at it, forced myself to feel the bullshit for once.
That birthday was a memorable one, I recalled with a snort. My mother planned a small party at the house, nothing fancy, more subdued than the usual shin-digs because of the Depression. She’d invited a handful of their friends from the country club and a few of Dad’s colleagues. They brought their sons and daughters, with whom I had nothing in common. My sixteen years of tennis matches and tea time monotony had taught me that most of these people had about as much substance as the smoke curling from the end of my cigarette.
After dinner, one of Dad’s friends said something I didn’t much appreciate. I don’t even recall what it was now, it was that fucking unimportant. My reaction was a smart ass comment right back, and if I remember correctly, there was no doubt some cussing involved. Dad didn’t appreciate that. After all the guests had left, he came to my room, and reminded me how we should treat guests in our home, especially colleagues of his. He also told me that I had to apologize to Mr. Important the next day. I refused and caused a big argument about how I wouldn’t kiss up to anyone. In the end I did apologize, but swallowing my pride and learning to bite my tongue left a bitter taste.
That wasn’t the final straw however. It was just the spark that started the slow burn. It was when I was eighteen that I tore my family apart.
Discussing my future was a frequent topic of conversation in the Cullen house. For months leading up to my graduation, my father had been urging me to choose a college and a path in life. I once mentioned an interest in law, and he soon began gently encouraging me. Frequently. Now that I was older and wiser, I realized I mistook my father’s interest in my future for a desire to superintend it as he saw fit. I’d never been one to respond well to authority. That hardheaded propensity combined with teenage arrogance and stupidity blinded me to what Dad was really after. Making sure I was happy and secure was all he wanted. The same thing every parent wants for their child, just something better than what they had.
So when I got home from visiting the campus at the University of Illinois, I walked into his office at home, sat down in front of his massive desk and told him I wasn’t going to be a lawyer. That in fact, I wasn’t going to college at all.
“What have you decided on instead, Edward?” he asked, clearly disappointed but calm. My impetuous youth bucked against the condescending authority I thought I heard in his voice.
“I’ve always had an interest in the law, as you know.” He nodded, and I took a deep breath before reaching into the pocket of my jacket and pulling out the Colt .32 I had purchased from a pawn shop the day before. Slowly, I laid it on the desk between us.
“A police officer? That’s a very noble cho-” He assumed but I quickly corrected him.
“A private investigator. I imagine the pay is a little more lucrative than what the city can offer.” I explained, my eyes tight, watching his reaction. His brow furrowed suddenly with concern.
“This sounds dangerous, Edward. Your mother will be in a constant state of worry. Even I don’t like the idea of you participating in any kind of profession that would warrant the use of a gun,” he said, seriously.
“I don’t plan on using it unless I have to,” I replied, and tried to sound calm and steady. He leaned back in his chair and clasped his hands together in front of him.
“Don’t you think this might be a profession for a man of more…experience? Perhaps a police officer would be a better start,” he compromised.
The suggestion had me bristling immediately.
“I can handle it,” I retorted.
“Son, don’t you think you might be too naïve? You’re eighteen, what do you know of crimes of passion and the seedier side of life? Nothing, I hope,” he said with finality.
“This is what I want,” I said tightly.
“Edward, the Depression is going on and you want to be a private detective? How will you survive on that?” he asked, his voice betraying his growing frustration, and genuine concern.
“Unlike some people, I don’t need fancy digs and silver spoons to be happy,” I shot back and stood up, reminding him of how I little cared for what he considered a comfortable lifestyle. I was ready for the conversation to be over.
“I do believe you’re being a bit unfair, Edward. My profession has fed you and clothed you and sheltered you rather nicely, not to mention providing you with plenty of pocket money, ” he finished.
That was the last straw for my young pride.
“Not anymore. I’m eighteen and I don’t need handouts,” I said, and turned on my heel to leave the room. I was finished talking.
“This conversation isn’t over yet, Edward,” he said firmly, but I strode angrily from the room and ignored him. It was over in my view.
I went to my room and packed up the necessities. They both tried to persuade me to stay. It was no use. I was ridiculously fucking stubborn then – not that I’d changed any – and could be a cold bastard when I wanted to be. Mom tugged on my shirtsleeves, crying. Dad stood in the doorway, stunned. They asked reasonable questions: Where would I go? How would I eat? Maybe they hoped I’d be scared into staying. I didn’t have answers for them, but that didn’t change my mind. I ignored them both. I walked out of the door of my childhood home for what I thought would be the last time.
The song on Hwang’s radio changed to “Serenade in Blue” and drew my mind back from my memory. They never tried to contact me. I knew the reason why, and it had nothing to do with any ill will toward me. They knew me better than I knew myself, they knew that I would have to be the one to contact them, that my stupid pride wouldn’t have it any other way. I’d realized long ago the only thing keeping us apart was my bullheadedness. The distance between us was my doing, and it was my responsibility to reconcile it.
Would I be able to apologize for all I’d done? Would they accept my apology? There wasn’t a way on this Earth I could ever make up for the pain I’d caused and the years we’d lost. I was more than a little worried about what they would think of my living situation. I knew Mom would be shocked if she saw my tiny, dingy studio apartment that doubled as my place of business, and Dad would give me endless grief about drinking. Would they be proud of me? I wasn’t proud of myself sometimes. I wasn’t proud of how I’d treated them or of how I’d treated Rose. I certainly wasn’t proud of some of the things I’d been forced to do when I’d first left them. It was tough, those first few years, and I did what everyone was doing at the time, anything they could to survive. I definitely wasn’t proud of those years.
I pulled out my flask and took two generous gulps. My order came and I took a few bites but ended up just dejectedly poking the chicken around on the plate with my chopsticks. I pushed the plate away from me and lit a smoke. Rosie slamming the door on me flashed through my head. She came to me as a favor to my father. I knew she did it out of concern for me, and my parents. My brilliant response was to be stupid and insensitive, even though, in the moment, I knew damn well Rosie thought she was doing what was best for me. I knew, as much as I didn’t want to admit it then, that she was probably right. And then I had to say something mean and cruel, not fucking thinking before opening my fat mouth. How typical of me. Rose deserved better than that.
Can she forgive me?
My hand went to my head, my fingers pulling on my hair as they wove through it. I’d fucked up beyond recognition and I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to live with the consequences of my actions toward her tonight. Imagining my life reverting to what it was five months ago made me instantly depressed. Her fury was breathtaking even though it was my fault, and her strength to be honest with me was as sexy as it was infuriating. I was still in awe of her. When she left me tonight, I cringed at the thought of not knowing when, or if I would see her again. Or the next time I could make a crude little joke with double meaning and watch her lips purse in pretended disdain while her eyes betrayed her and twinkled. Not knowing if I’d hold her again, or play with her hair, or just be near her.
One thing was fucking certain, if I didn’t see Rose anymore, I knew I’d be drinking a lot more bourbon.
Aren’t you supposed to be honest with yourself, Cullen? Stop trivializing it, admit it.
You love her.
I wanted to deny it, only because that’s what an adulthood of habit and fear and insecurity and stupidity told me to do.
But you can’t.
It was true, I couldn’t. I loved her.
Heaven fucking help me.
I took a nervous swig from my flask and hoped she felt the same. I hoped she would show me more understanding than I had shown her tonight. Hoped that she would forgive me for how I had behaved this evening. I needed her, now more than ever, if I was going to try to bridge the gap that I had created between me and my family. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to grovel enough to Rose to make up for what an asshole I’d been tonight, but I knew there was one thing that would make her happy. It was the same thing would make me happy, too, in the long run, if I was able to survive the hell of taking the first few steps.
The payphone hung on the wall a few feet away from me, the black plastic receiver staring down from the wall at me like a priest awaiting a confession. I stood reluctantly and made my drunken way over to it. I hoped Mom answered. I wasn’t quite ready to talk to Dad yet, but I’d have to be careful with what I said to her, I wasn’t sure how much she knew about the situation that Dad needed my help with, and I didn’t want to alarm her. I also didn’t really want to go to the house yet, I needed neutral territory.
My hand reached into my pocket for my flask and took a few more swigs of courage. There I was again, standing in front of the payphone about to make the call that I’d started to make so many times. A call that would change everything. I brought my hand up to the receiver and briefly realized it was shaking. I let it drop back to my side and took a deep breath. Time seemed to freeze. Everything around me was cast in the yellow glow of cheap fluorescent lights which only amplified the tacky green wallpaper.
You can do this, Cullen. You’ve wanted to hear her voice for a long time.
I gritted my teeth and brought my hand to the receiver again. This time I snatched it off the hook decisively and pushed it against my ear much harder than was necessary. Thank God for Wild Turkey, or this would be the shortest fucking phone call since Bell invented the damn thing.
I reached into my pocket and pulled out a few coins. I pushed one into the slot on the phone and dialed the number. A moment of silence, then a ring. And another. Then a click as someone picked up the line.
“Hello,” a pleasant, melodious voice said.
“Mom,” I said in a whisper.
“Mrs. Carlisle Cullen?” I asked, thinking that I had been wrong and it wasn’t her. Maybe their telephone number had changed and I called the wrong house.
I gave it a moment, but still no answer.
“Forgive me,” I apologized, “I must have the wrong number,” I slurred slightly and started to pull the phone away from my ear.
“Edward?” I finally heard her ask incredulously. Her voice triggered so many little flashes of happy memories to spark through my head, barbecues and Thanksgiving and family camping trips. My eyes crinkled shut with the sting it caused and I leaned forward, resting my free hand palm down against the wall.
“It’s me, Mom. Is Dad there?” I asked.
“Edward,” she replied, her voice thick with relief and surprise. “No, he’s with a patient.” She paused and I started to speak but she spoke again. “And you’re looking thin,” she continued. “I clip out all your photographs from the paper and I’ve been worried about you,” she scolded gently.
“I’m fine, Mom. Everything is fine. Don’t worry,” I soothed. The hand against the wall clenched into a fist. I knew I made her worry every day, probably. I just hated facing that fact.
“I have a scrapbook, you know. I’m so proud of you, Edward.” She said with the pride that only a mother can. My mind, however, was ravaged with the image of her, sitting on the floor near the fire, gluing little strips of newsprint to the black pages of the book. She’d take care to arrange each clipping perfectly, making the most of the space on the pages. I could also imagine my father standing nearby, watching her sadly.
Sad because of me and my selfishness. My eyes started to sting. I had to make this quick.
“Dad had invited Rosalie and me to dinner, but I’m not sure that is a good idea. Do you think you and Dad can come to Rose’s estate for tea?” I asked softly, suddenly chickening out on going to my childhood home.
“Of course, Edward,” she said excitedly, happiness coloring her voice. My throat tightened more.
“I can’t talk more now, but tell Dad I called and that I’ll call him later with the details.” I said quickly, hoping Rose and I were on speaking terms by then.
“Alright,” she said as she sniffled, obviously crying.
“I’ll see you soon,” I said and softly placed the receiver back on the hook.
A few years ago, Emmett and I had gone to the B&K Theatre to see a double feature. Before the first feature started, there was a short cartoon playing with a character that was so angry, he had steam coming out of his ears. Looking at my reflection in the pane glass windows of Lou Mitchell’s, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see steam coming out of my ears the way the cartoon character had. My emotions seemed to go full circle: confusion, anger, sadness. I’d passed confusion for a second time and I was back on anger yet again.
My heels clicked loudly on the sidewalk as I made my way to the door of Lou’s at a quick pace. My steps were so hard, I felt each one radiating up through my body. The evening was bringing a cool breeze to the summer air and I was grateful I had thought to wrap my sweater around me since I left in a tizzy. The rush of the air swirled my hair around my head and I was certain I looked a bit like Medusa. I made no attempt to fix my hair and a small part of me wished that when he had watched me leaving his dinky apartment, the gaze would have turned Edward into stone.
I opened the door of the diner with force, causing the bell hanging over my head to ring incessantly. Patrons head’s snapped up at the sound of the bell chiming over and over. I saw Alice standing behind the counter, order pad in hand and pen poised at the ready. Her dark eyes widened as she saw me standing in the doorway and I could tell that she was quickly assessing the situation. Catching my sour expression, she silently questioned with hers if I was okay. Frowning back, I shook my head once. Once was enough. Jutting her chin toward an empty stool at the end of counter, she indicated that I was to sit down and wait until she was done.
After she finished helping the customer she had been speaking to, she slid the order slip onto the high chrome counter that separated her from the cooks in the back room. I saw a hand fiddling with the radio before reaching over to grab the slip that Alice had just deposited. Shifting my glance, I came eye to eye with Alice. She leaned forward, her elbows on the counter and her backside pushed out.
“First things first, Rosalie. Are you hungry?” I nodded my affirmation. “The usual? Egg salad on rye, lettuce, tomato? Side salad?”
The usual choice sounded boring. I shook my head at the mention of it, sighing dramatically. I thought for a moment and decided to go with decadent. Lou made the best desserts. “I’ll have a vanilla milkshake, extra malt. And a piece of that pie.” I pointed to the pie that sat under the dome on the counter. From where I sat, I couldn’t tell what type of pie it was and I didn’t care, I just wanted it. She nodded and cut a huge piece of pie while she asked one of the other waitresses to make the milkshake over her shoulder. Returning to me, she pushed the plate of what I could now discern was apple pie toward me, a fork resting on the plate next to it. I usually didn’t indulge in sweets but tonight was a sweets kind of night, to be certain.
“So toots, what’d he do?”
How in the world does she do that?
I sighed and ran my fingers along the pearls I had worn especially with him in mind. My anger was once again fading away and sadness was creeping in once more.
I looked for a diversion so that I would have time to collect my thoughts. Settling on my sweater, I slipped it off of my arms. Alice was watching me expectantly, but the look turned perplexed. “What? What is it?” I asked, running my hands along the ribbon appliqué that adorned the shoulders of my dress.
Alice moved her head closer to mine, rising on her toes to push herself over the counter so she could whisper, “Well, you obviously left in a hurry. Your button…” she trailed off and pointed to the row of buttons on the front of my dress. I had missed one all together. Thankfully it was down near my waist, where the belt had held the material cinched together. Discreetly, my fingers pushed the final white button through the vermilion-colored dress, my cheeks a similar color.
“Any time. Hold on a sec.” She sauntered back to the kitchen for a moment and I heard her speaking with Lou in low murmuring tones. After a brief pause, she appeared once more and grabbed my milkshake from the other waitress. She plunked it down in front of me, placing a straw and spoon next to the glass.
“Alice, what are you-”
She held up a hand, stopping my words. Picking up the dome once more, she cut another slice of pie. Finally, she flipped up a section in the middle of counter so she could walk to my side and came to a stop once she reached the red vinyl swivel stool next to mine.
“Now, out with it. What happened that made you come walking in here with your buttons all willy-nilly?” She took a forkful of pie and popped it into her mouth.
“Well, I don’t know the full story but from what I gather, Edward and his folks have been estranged for quite some time. His father is Dr. Cullen and he-”
“Dr. Carlisle Cullen?” She asked, cutting me off with her question.
I nodded. “Yes, the very one.”
“He and his wife come in for lunch and I sometimes wait on them. Such nice people, so soft-spoken and kind.” She smiled, thinking about them, before her thoughts caught up to what I had said. “Edward is their son?”
Grimacing at her response, I explained, “Yes, he’s their son, although I didn’t even know they had a son or that it was Edward until he said something recently. They aren’t on speaking terms and haven’t been for quite some time. Dr. Cullen has been my family doctor for what seems like forever and I’ve gotten to know him and his wife over the years. Dr. Cullen called me this morning saying that he needs Edward’s help. He thought that perhaps I could help in persuading Edward to talk to them once more and hearing him out.”
I took a deep breath and plunged ahead, describing what had happened before I came to the diner that night. Alice listened with a sympathetic ear and gave the appropriate responses throughout. The pie was soothing, as was the milkshake. But the most soothing of all was having Alice there, sitting beside me with her hand resting on my arm, patting it occasionally. I finished my story and took a long hard pull of the malted milkshake through the straw. “That’s the story, Alice. Tell me sincerely , what do you think I should do?”
Alice thought for a moment before she said one word. “Nothing.”
“Not. A. Thing,” she emphasized each word as she shook her head back and forth. “You said what you needed to. Now this is in his hands. You said it yourself, toots, he needs to work this out for himself.”
She held up a finger and interrupted my interruption. “But nothing. He knows where he can find you. Don’t be one of the simpering dames that goes crawling back to her man when he’s the one that’s been acting like a nogoodnik. He’ll figure it out eventually and then he’ll come to you. And there better be groveling on his part.” She paused for a moment. “And flowers. He better bring flowers too.”
“No, he’s not a flowers kind of guy. Maybe Chinese from Hwang’s?” I joked and she smiled. I could tell she was relieved that I was able to joke in the situation.
“Hey now! You mean you go to places other than Lou’s? How dare you?” she kidded with me.
We sat in silence as I thought for a moment about what she had said. All of the points she made were valid and I knew deep down that she was right, but I couldn’t help but think there was something more I could do in the situation. The corners of my mouth started to pull down and I was about to say as much when she stopped me again.
“Rosalie. Remember your strength. You are a force to be reckoned with! You showed that before when you walked out of Edward’s apartment and you’re going to continue to show that.” She grabbed my hand with both of hers. “You keep that man on his toes. Never let him get complacent.”
“Wise words, Alice. Thank you for reminding me. You know we’ve never said the words but I think, I mean, I’m pretty sure that I… well, I care for him a great deal. I might even…” I couldn’t even say it to her, with Edward being nowhere in the vicinity. He knew. I knew he knew.
She knew what I was trying to say.
“All in good time, Rosalie.” She finished her piece of pie and swung her legs around toward the outside, hopping off the stool. “I’m sorry I don’t have longer, but I have to get back to work.”
“That’s fine, Alice. Thank you so much for setting me straight. This conversation was just what I needed.” I stood with her. She looked down at my pie and milkshake, nearly untouched.
“Aren’t you going to have more?” She asked as she pulled her order pad out of the front pocket of her uniform.
I flashed a small smile as I ran my hands along my skirt. “Of course, I’m planning on having all of it. A girl’s got to have her delicious comfort foods, right?” Alice smiled a rueful grin back at me. “I was just going to use the payphone outside to call Emmett to come pick me up.”
“Oh, you can use the line behind the counter, toots. Only for our best customers.” I tried to protest, but she just waved me toward the other end of the counter and pointed to the phone that hung on the wall. Once again, I realized how fortunate I was to be surrounded by people who cared for me. These people weren’t related by blood but they treated me as such and I was incredibly grateful. The raw emotions I’d felt talking into Lou’s were fading, and now I was able to feel hopeful that Edward would come around, that we could get through this.
After a brief conversation with Emily, in which she assured me that she would send Emmett with the car, I returned once more to my milkshake and pie and gave them the full attention that they deserved.