This is a little something that wouldn't leave me alone this week so I managed to crank it out in a few days.
Huge love and hugs and sloppy V-day kisses to my amazing beta/pre-reading team, Emsuckle, Twilightladies, Lellabeth, Nikki, and guest reader this time round, Tinsley Warren. You girls made my week by getting this turned around so quickly, and I can't thank you enough.
Cared Cullen - Thank you so so so so much for the absolutely beautiful banner you made for this story - it is so appreciated!
Mariahajile and SueBee, thank you for the info on NYC xo
This story will be in two parts , with part two being posted later today.
Disclaimer: SM Owns Twilight. The Script own Break Even.
Growing up, I would scoff and roll my eyes when I heard people talking about being heartbroken.
I don't remember the first time I heard the term, but I do remember thinking it was the strangest thing, hearing it in movies or reading it in books: different scenarios explained in different ways.
"Oh she's heartbroken, you know, but she's dealing, she's getting on..."
"Heartbreaking, just heartbreaking."
I guess when I was very young, I was quite horrified by the idea that someone's heart could break. How did it break? Would little pieces slowly fall off, chipping around the edges and collecting somewhere in their stomach? Or did it slice in two, right down the middle, each piece just laying there lifeless in the chest cavity? Did it explode, like a firework? Shattering into a million tiny pieces that went flying all around the body?
Surely if one's heart was broken, they would die.
And yeah, I'd heard of older people who'd "died of a broken heart". They were withered and aged, paper-thin skin and greying hair. Maybe a heart defect or cancer. Maybe healthy as a horse. But their spouse would die from one thing or another, and a few months later they would kick the bucket too.
I could never get on board with the idea that they'd died of a broken heart. To me, they were just old, and it was their time.
I guess I was a little cynical, even back then.
So with the exception of old people, everyone else I could see that was apparently suffering from heartbreak was still very much alive and kicking.
Still getting up every morning, going to work every day. Going about their business and looking after their kids. When I was fourteen, my aunt, who had been "heartbroken" after her husband had left her for another man a year previously, married someone else. Big white wedding and everything, even though it was her second time around. He was a banker from the city, and fifteen years her senior.
I'd always thought there'd been something fishy there, since every time someone asked them how they met, they stumbled over their words and gave different answers. No one seemed to really care, though, because Aunt Liz was just so happy.
My point is, I figured heartbreak couldn't be all that bad, since Liz didn't die or end up in hospital or anything like that. Or maybe her new husband's penchant for buying her designer purses helped sew the pieces of her shattered heart back together.
Yeah, definitely more than a little cynical.
Throughout high school, I watched all my girlfriends date their "first love" and then get their hearts broken. One had a guy, a few years above us at school, who went off to college and met someone else. Another caught her boyfriend making out with a cheerleader after a football game.
I played the dutiful best friend, offering a shoulder to cry on, a pint of Ben & Jerry's and a packet of Kleenex. I rolled my eyes while they weren't looking, wondering how on earth they could be so dramatic, because, come on, we were sixteen and this was their first relationship. Did they really think it would last forever? Did they really believe they'd found the one?
I kind of avoided boys all through school too. Not that I ever got any attention from guys. I was on the heavier side, and the new girl at school with the strange accent from down south. I got called all manner of unoriginal fat nicknames, Belly being the most common, an obvious play on my name, Bella.
So I guess at some point during my teens, while I scoffed at the idea of heartbreak, I vowed I would never put myself in a position where someone could have that power over me. A little contradictory, right? But I swore I'd never be a snivelling, red-nosed wreck like my friends, pining away in their bedrooms, eating ice cream and listening to sappy love songs.
I abhorred the idea of marriage, and always told my parents they'd never get any grandchildren from me. I'd been fiercely independent growing up, the middle child of three girls. Typical cliché middle child syndrome. My older sister was the overachieving smart one with the perfect grades, the most popular girl in school. My younger sister was the baby of the family who got away with bloody murder and could do no wrong in my parents eyes.
I had been stuck in the middle somewhere, not really ever knowing my place. As soon as I graduated high school, I went off backpacking around Europe for the summer, much to my parent's dismay. But I was eighteen and I used money that I'd saved from summer jobs since I was fourteen. Aunt Liz gave me money towards the trip too, no doubt from Uncle Harry's back pocket.
There was really nothing they could do to stop me.
Starting college that fall was a strange experience. Tanned from the European sun, toned from hiking around vineyards in Italy, and slimmer from living on a Mediterranean diet for eight weeks, I was suddenly subjected to the attention of horny freshman frat boys.
While the attention was uncomfortable at first, I soon adjusted to college life, attending parties, drinks getting a little stronger and outfits a little more daring each time. Outwardly, I reveled in being the cool girl, the girl that guys stared at when I walked into a room. Yeah, I know. Conceited, much? But inwardly, I felt like a fake and a liar, knowing that the glamourpuss image on the outside was a far cry from the shy, insecure girl on the inside.
The truth was, once a guy got past the looks and body, what would be left? I was entirely uninteresting, even boring myself to tears sometimes.
I was a crier too, in secret of course. Despite my cynical ways, I did have a heart, and cried for a solid three minutes when my mother called me at college to tell me that the dog had died.
She said she was heartbroken. I rolled my eyes through my tears, told my mother I had to get to class and hung up the phone.
See? I was only a little cynical.
I continued to avoid boys throughout my college years, holding myself to the vow I'd made as a teenager. I had a perfectly good Rabbit and porn collection, and my shared apartment with three other girls from college meant that I was never really lonely.
As time went on though, I found myself wondering what it would be like to have someone special. But it remained only that, meandering thoughts late at night when I'd hear my roommate giggling with her boyfriend in the next room, and I'd swipe a single tear away and scold myself for being such a baby.
One time, on Valentine's Day, I took delivery of a huge bunch of red roses for my roommate. I sneaked a peek at the note from her boyfriend, which contained all manner of soppy and disgusting things that I can't remember now, and promptly burst into tears.
I got my period later that day, so I put it down to that and never told a soul.
So when I met James in senior year of college, no one was more surprised than me that he managed to sweep me off my feet.
My cellphone buzzes in my pocket, interrupting my little trip down memory lane. I cradle the phone in my hand, tilted toward me and away from the no-doubt-nosy neighbour on the subway seat beside me.
I have a thing about personal space, and people reading over my shoulder. Reading a text message on the subway is making me twitchy.
It's a message from my mother, asking how my art class went. I text her a quick reply and flip the cover back over my iPhone. On second thought, I flip it open again and pull up the iPod feature.
I rummage through my purse for my earbuds, plug them in and hit shuffle on the music.
I rest my head on the window and close my eyes.
There's a whole other can of worms. Well, not really, since it's kind of related to my earlier story.
See, the art class is a kind of therapy for me.
My doctor (read: therapist) suggested it. She said I needed a creative outlet for my emotions. At first, I adamantly refused-I mean, it was enough that I was attending therapy with her, listening to her psycho-babble and analysis of every word week in week out.
It was only through the combined nagging of my therapist and my mother that I eventually relented. And I've found myself kind of enjoying it so far.
But why do I need therapy? Why do I need a creative outlet for my emotions?
Back to James, who swept me off my feet. There's another term I always hated too. It just seemed so contrived, so fake. I had never believed in love at first sight or any of those things.
James didn't even do any grand gestures or sweet talking, the kind of thing you'd expect when you heard someone had been swept off their feet.
No, he was kind of shy and awkward, just like me. But he just got me. He suffered from an awful condition called think-without-speaking, and would blurt out random, state-the-obvious but cute things.
"I like your lips." Random but cute.
"Your eyes are brown." Obvious.
"They're so beautiful." Maybe even a little swoony.
My roommate's boyfriend had introduced us at a party, and we spent the whole night hidden away in his room, laying on his bed, talking until sunrise.
He was cute and blonde with sparkling blue eyes that made me feel a little shivery all over when he'd level them with mine when I was speaking. I wasn't used to such intense eye contact. His voice was deep and rumbly, making him sound all macho, which he wasn't at all. He was cute and sweet and kind of quirky like me, and his lips were soft when they first touched mine.
We'd been inseparable since that first night, until four years later when I'd come home from work early because I'd been throwing up all afternoon, to find a skinny blonde thing with fake plastic tits bouncing on top of him in our bed.
I vomited all over the bedroom floor.
It was later that week I discovered I was pregnant.
I was nine weeks along and my partner of four years was fucking another woman, right under my nose.
It had been going on for three months, and he'd been planning on telling me soon because he'd decided he'd "fallen out of love with me" and was going to end it. The excuses, justification and passing the blame started then, as he spewed vitriol and hate at me.
"You never do the things I want to do."
"We have nothing in common anymore."
"You're not the same woman you were when we first got together."
"We've just grown apart... I'm not in love with you anymore. I'll always love you... In a way."
Jesus. Could he have been anymore cliché?
Of course at the time I didn't realise it, because I didn't find out until later that week, but my hormones were on a roller coaster ride.
I cried, begged, screamed, pleaded with him not to leave me. I promised him I'd do this and that and the other to change, I would do anything if he just stayed with me.
When I think back on it now, I hate myself for acting that way.
He'd made his mind up, packed a bag and left our apartment that night, saying he'd be back later in the week for his stuff.
And thereafter began my own personal brand of heartbreak.
I called in sick to work for the rest of the week - because I genuinely was still throwing my guts up - but also because I just couldn't face anyone or anything. I didn't leave my bed except to visit the bathroom, I kept the blinds down and the room dark, and I switched off my cell and unplugged the house phone.
I had become what I had always avoided, what I had always vowed I would never be.
And I discovered that it wasn't just an emotional thing but physical too. I had this ache in my chest every time I saw our framed picture on the nightstand. On the third day I threw it across the room and it smashed against the wall.
It only made my chest ache a little more.
Some days it was just a dull ache, like the throb you get when you have a mild toothache. Other days, it was sharp and stabbing, like a big wisdom tooth cutting through, squeezing and pressing against your other teeth.
My heart was squeezing and pressing against my chest. I could imagine maybe a quarter of it breaking off, leaving jagged edges and torn fibres. Every time I thought about what James had done, a little bit more chipped away. Not just from my heart, but from my self esteem.
Deep down, I knew he was a scumbag in the end. Days, weeks, months afterward, I had come to the realization that even if he'd stayed that first night and begged for forgiveness, it never could have worked again. One thing that I believed wholeheartedly, one hundred percent without a shadow of a doubt, was once a cheater, always a cheater.
I never would have trusted him.
Nevertheless, it took me the best part of a year to mourn the loss of my relationship and the man I had fallen in love with.
Of course, there was also the small matter of the baby I was having. I'd been on antibiotics around two months before that, and stupidly forgot to use extra precautions. I hadn't even realised it at the time.
My parents were my rock, insisting I move back out to their house in Queens and take a break from the fast pace of the financial district. My job as a broker was stressful, but thankfully I could afford to take an extended leave of absence, due to some smart investments and savings of my own.
I was relieved then that James and I had never gotten married.
But that thought had soon been followed by hysterical tears. I thought about the what-ifs and maybes. I had seen myself marrying James. Walking down the aisle in a classic white gown, his handsome face shining with pride as he watched me. I had pictured him bringing me ice cream in the middle of the night when I had a pregnancy craving.
The slightest things triggered the tears and caused another little piece of my heart to fall away.
Of course, when Sam was born, a tiny little piece of my heart, one that had been hanging on by a single muscle fibre, started clinging a little tighter. That little piece got stronger with every gurgle and cry. With every little smile and burp. With every baby soft kiss.
Yet, it didn't fill the hole in my heart. I spent most of Sam's first year in my pyjamas, barely leaving the house. I would mope around my parents' house, barely functioning, doing what I had to do to keep Sam fed and in clean diapers. I would leaf through photo album after photo album of James and I, the tears dripping onto the glossy clear covers.
Postnatal depression, the doctor said.
You need to snap out of this! My mother would yell.
One day I woke up to find that my mother had removed all the photo albums and anything else that would remind me of James from the house.
Looking back, I don't know how she didn't have me committed. I was like a zombie.
It was when Sam was around a year and a half old that I started to feel half normal again. I had a eureka moment I guess. I was meeting James to drop Sam off for the afternoon and James pulled me into a hug.
"I'm sorry for everything," he said. "You're doing a wonderful job with Sam."
I had pulled away, shell-shocked and speechless. I jumped into my car and sped away. After getting over the initial shock of his declaration, I realised that when he hugged me, I felt nothing. Not even a little flutter.
I had fallen out of love with him.
Of course, I had hated him instantly the day that I caught him cheating on me. But I took me two years to get over the man I had fallen in love with. The man who'd been my first everything.
Because I realised that the James that had hugged me that afternoon bore no resemblance to the man he had been all those years ago at college.
When I see him now, I feel nothing.
And it's the biggest relief.
But even though I don't love James anymore, even though I have absolutely no attraction to him whatsoever, I am still heartbroken.
It's been four years now, and I'm still heartbroken.
And I laugh at myself sometimes, because I laughed at others who were heartbroken, and scoffed when people used the term so carelessly.
But the irony of it.
The girl who always swore she'd never let herself be heartbroken.
This heart is as broken as it can get.
And I'm over him.
But what he did. The rage, the self doubt, the self blame. He shattered my self esteem and crushed my confidence. I blamed myself for a long time.
My weight had fluctuated, yo-yoed over the years and my first thought had been that I wasn't skinny enough. I wasn't pretty enough. I wasn't interesting enough or fun or exciting enough to hold him.
The thing about heartbreak is that it can mean many different things. While I had mourned the loss of my relationship, and realised that I didn't want him back, the sadness that I felt slowly morphed into anger.
I was angry that he'd lied and cheated, angry for blaming myself, angry for giving him that power over me.
Anger morphed into sadness again when I'd be out with Sam at the park and I'd see other couples with their children. The picture-perfect family scene that I felt robbed of. The dull ache would fill my chest again, and I'd find myself blinking back tears in the middle of the park.
Maybe a certain song, scent, or tv show would remind me of our time together and I'd shut myself in my room and cover my head with a pillow and scream and sob until my throat burned.
The thing is, it had been four years. I was back at work part time and loving my work. Sam was thriving in kindergarten and just the sweetest little boy. I'd moved out to an apartment on my own again, not far from my parents place but close enough to work.
I was gaining back my independence and I should have been happy.
But the loneliness was stifling, and I'd find myself in tears at least twice a week over it. Some days it felt like the air was being squeezed out of my lungs, like water being squeezed out of a sponge. I'd lay awake for hours in the night, wondering if I'd forever be alone.
I'd sunk into a deep depression.
I'd read romance novels and scoff at the unrealistic happy ever after endings. I had flounced chick flicks of any description, and Valentine's Day was my most hated holiday.
I'd be paranoid that people were thinking, what a whiny little bitch, get over it already.
And they'd be right. I was a whiny little bitch sometimes. I'd wallowed in my own self pity long enough. Which was why I was frustrated that I'd still cry myself to sleep some nights, four long years later. Tears would come to my eyes when Sam would ask me why Daddy didn't live with us.
Days like that become less and less as time goes on, though. Therapy sessions and art class help me channel my emotions into something productive, something I can feel proud of.
Which is why I'm sitting on the subway coming home from my art class, with a cardboard box containing a heart at my feet.
Well, not a real human heart, of course, because that would be gross and a little bit creepy. Can you imagine the smell?
No, it's a weird kind of clay sculpture I've been working on. It's kind of ugly, and I guess I was feeling particularly aggressive when I started on it.
It's only the size of my hand, and is kind of rough around the edges. It was constructed of several small pieces all molded together. As a result, it has little bits sticking out of it. It's uneven and asymmetrical, and it kind of reminds me of a messed up jigsaw puzzle, where the pieces haven't been fitted together properly. I painted it red and black. It reminds me of those creepy pictures you see of a smoker's lungs.
I can use it as a doorstop or something. Or not. I'll probably throw it in the trash.
The thing is, I look at this ugly heart and wonder if it represents my own. Have I become so bitter and jaded that my heart is starting to decay in my chest? Is my heart like a mismatched jigsaw puzzle?
I really want to believe that's not true. I really want for my heart to be clean, pink and healthy again, whole and strong, pounding a strong rhythm, pushing oxygenated blood around my body and cleansing the pain and despair. I want to believe that my heart is still capable of loving.
Maybe it's the time that has gone by. Maybe its the therapy sessions and the art class. Maybe it's seeing everyone else around me get on with their lives, move on, grow up, get married.
Or maybe the real reason that I want to believe all of that is the cute guy sitting a little further up the train from me.
He takes the same train as me every week, and I've noticed him since I've started taking the art class and had to take this subway route. He's tall and kind of on the skinny side, his baggy jeans hanging off his narrow hips. I can see a thin line of black above the waistband of his jeans, and I can't help but wonder if he's a boxers or briefs kind of guy.
There's a clean line of muscle along his arms, his triceps defined not by heavy weight training but perhaps some kind of manual labour. He always wears a beanie on his head, but his thick eyebrows and almost-beard on his face tell me that his hair is the warmest shade of brown, like the colour of melted chocolate. I wonder if the hair on his head is long or short, and I wonder how much of it I could grip on to as he moves his face between my legs.
What? I haven't had sex in over four years, my mind is allowed to wander a little.
Chucks on his feet and a black t-shirt that clings perfectly to his broad shoulders and narrow waist to complete the look. His whole look is on the scruffy side, but his face.
His face should win awards.
I'm trying to think if I've ever seen a face so unique. His face is long and lean, like the rest of him, and he has a strong, angular jaw. One day I was close enough to him to really study his face in detail. He has high cheekbones and huge green eyes. And his lashes. Wow. Most girls pay big money on expensive mascaras, false eyelashes and eyelash tints for length like that.
It makes me wonder about the length of other parts of him.
He catches my eye, and one side of his mouth turns up in a sort of half-smile. We've made eye contact a couple of times, and I've not hidden the fact that I've been checking him out.
You might think that sounds a little contradictory for a girl that's still suffering from a broken heart. Don't get me wrong, I am not about to approach him. I'm still painfully awkward and shy, and some days look in the mirror and think that's it's no surprise that James cheated.
My confidence has plummeted and my self esteem is non-existent. I figure, there's no way anyone can be interested in me.
So I kind of figure that there's no harm in checking out cute guys - it's not like anything is ever going to come of it - so why not sit back and enjoy the view?
Although, when I realize I've been staring for a minute too long, I feel my cheeks flame and I quickly look away, but I don't miss the smirk that crosses his features as I realise I've been caught.
I shrug to myself. So he caught me looking.
I figure nothing can be worse than walking in on your boyfriend fucking someone, so when it comes to being embarrassed, things like that don't affect me so much anymore.
Like water off a duck's back.
My stop is next, so I gather up my little box with my heart in it , pull out my earbuds, and drop my phone into my purse.
The train is pretty full, so when it stops I wait for most of the carriage to clear before moving toward the exit. I can't see the cute guy from earlier, so I wonder if he got off already.
The deep, smooth voice behind me causes me to inhale sharply and I stand there, frozen to the spot as I feel warm air on the back of my neck.
I don't need to turn around to know who the voice belongs to, because I've imagined his voice in my head many times. I've daydreamed about him approaching me and us getting to talking, two strangers on a train finding a common interest and missing their stop because they are so mesmerized with by each other.
Of course, this has always been just a little fantasy in my head, and never would I have imagined that he would have actually talked to me, let alone that those would be his first words to me.
The little box is open on top, you see, so anyone standing over me would be able to see what's inside.
I'm trying to figure out what to say in response. He's obviously being sarcastic, because it's a really fucking ugly heart, although his voice didn't really have that sarcastic tone to it.
Before I can think of what to say, his hands grip my hips from behind as we are both jostled off the train by an irate passenger who has pushed us out of his way.
"Move along, people, I ain't got all day!" A suit with a briefcase rushes past us, cursing and grumbling as he goes.
I'm caught off guard by this person's rudeness, and the sharp push causes me to stumble, the little box flying out of my hands and sending my clay heart bouncing to the ground and shattering into tiny pieces all over the subway platform.
Cute-stranger-from-the-train drops to his knees and starts gathering the pieces up. I just stand there, stock-still, mouth agape, still wondering what on earth just happened.
I'm standing here on the subway platform, with a cute guy on his knees before me, with my heart literally smashed into hundreds of little fragments all over the ground.
And he's gathering them all up.
It takes me a minute to register that he seems to be addressing me.
"Shit, I'm so sorry, I almost knocked you over."
I shake my head, because, what? Did he miss the rude guy that almost knocked us both over?
Suddenly feeling a little redundant, I drop to my knees with him and start gathering the remains of the heart.
"Really, it's fine, that asshole was clearly in a rush and we were in the way."
I lift one shoulder in a half-shrug and give him a small smile.
He doesn't return my smile and I feel a little dejected. His eyebrows knit together in a deep frown and he looks down at the pieces of clay in his hand.
"Your heart. It's ruined. I don't know if this can be put back together." He shakes his head.
My eyes sting and I blink quickly, standing up and looking anywhere but him. The tears come easily and I blink them back, wiping my face with my sleeve.
He has no idea how true his words are.
He clears his throat and stands up. I make a show of fumbling through my purse, pretending to look for something, anything, so that I don't have to meet his eyes.
"Umm... it's Bella, right?"
All the air leaves my lungs in one quick breath. The busy subway platform fades away, the hustle and bustle of people moving around us becomes nothing more than a buzz in the background; it's like he and I are the only ones here.
"How do you know my name?"
He bites his lip and looks a little sheepish, and it's kind of adorable on him.
He scratches the back of his neck and stumbles around his answer. "I... uh... I'm in this class with you."
He pulls his backpack off his shoulder and unzips it, hoking around for something inside. He pulls out a bright, red, shiny, perfect heart.
And my own heart flutters in my chest. Butterflies that have been sleeping for years come alive in my stomach and my skin feels tingly all over.
The air around us pops and sparks with anticipation, like a cork flying off a champagne bottle.
How did I not know that the guy I've been admiring on the train for weeks is also in my art class?
"Your heart's really beautiful," I say, referring not only to the one in his hand, but also to the one that I'm sure beats strong inside his chest.
Somehow, I just know this man has a beautiful heart.
"Thanks." He smiles, and the butterflies in my belly do a little dance. He's so gorgeous. "Umm... my name's Edward."
"It's so nice to meet you, Edward." I hold my hand out to him. "And yes, it's Bella."
He grins and shakes my hand hard. He squeezes my hand and steps a little closer.
"I really liked the sculpture part of the class. If you like, Bella, I could help you make a new heart."
I return his grin.
"I'd really like that."
I didn't think it was possible, but he smiles a little wider and my heart beats a little faster.
"Umm... would you like to go get a cup of coffee?"
I'm more than a little shocked, and I feel like the bubble around has suddenly popped. I drop his hand, feeling exposed.
"I have a kid," I blurt, suddenly feeling nervous. I mean, this guy is cute and all, and as much as I've been dying to talk to him, the reality of him asking me out to coffee has my internal defense mode kicking in.
What if he's just after one thing? What if he's married or has a girlfriend? What if he's a serial cheater?
He's given me no reason to think that way, yet it's ingrained in me after what I've been through.
I figure, if he's the type that's just looking for a good time, maybe the knowledge that I have a child will send him packing.
Much to my surprise, his smile doesn't fade, and he actually laughs a little, rubbing the back of his neck again.
"Well, would your kid like to come for coffee, too?"
My jaw hits the floor at his response. Not literally, of course, but you know what I mean. I was not expecting that.
"No, it's just, I figure you'd want to know that, you know." I know that my face is like a tomato right now and I suddenly have a keen interest in his shoes.
The very last thing I expect is his hands on my face. His thumb and forefinger touch my chin and gently pull my face away from the ground. I can't avoid his eyes. They are intense as he levels his gaze with mine. My whole body is on fire from his touch.
"It's just a cup of coffee, Bella. Unless you have to be back?"
When my mom texted me she said Sam was having a nap, and I know she doesn't have to be anywhere, so I figure I can spare half an hour.
"I've got a little time."
"Yeah?" He grins.
"Yeah. Although, I prefer tea."
Thoughts so far? Part two will be up later today. I'd love to know what you think.
In the meantime, you should listen to "Break Even" by the Script - the song that inspired the title, and parts of the story.
See ya later!