A/N: Last year, my dear friend, Jdifrans1 coerced me to write with her and a teensy-weensy wish was born inside my heart. That wish eventually brought me here. One day, a random image popped in my feed on Pinterest and this story began to take shape.
This is an inadequate effort on my part to show my love and gratitude to the amazing people here who have become a significant part of my life. People I might not ever see face to face, but who have accepted me without judgment, loved me with open hearts. This little tale has many things from their lives... things they love, things they hate, things we have shared in chats that left an impression in my mind, events that happened in their lives, endings they wished for, but never happened.
I hope you smile when you find your pieces, my persons.
My first attempt to write something alone would have been impossible without ForeverRobsessed. She has transformed my gibberish into a comprehensible something. Accomplishing this gruelling task without complaints and always indulging my whimsical thought process are not the easiest tasks. I can never thank her enough, love her enough for what she means to me.
Thank you for indulging me with this long A/N. I will try to write just one-liners from now on!
Disclaimer - Stephenie Meyer owns all things Twilight. No copyright infringement is intended.
Chapter 1: From Error to Error
*Friday, 7:20 PM
City lights blink like millions of fireflies, glimmering in the dark like jewelled patches over the surface of the earth, as it would appear to anyone watching it from space. Every light tells a story, every blink holds a change of event. They're not too significant in the history of mankind, but to the individual illuminated by that little spark, it could mean the world. Sometimes it's a turn to the right direction, sometimes it's finding themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. However, at this moment, the lights around Angela Cheney only remind her of how wrong everything is going to be if she doesn't reach the illuminated red booth as soon as possible.
It's a rain-soaked July evening in Calgary. Cars honk angrily as Angela rushes through the unusual traffic jam, dodging and jumping between the vehicles to get to the other side of the road. Her need to reach the telephone booth on the opposite pavement is greater than everything else is at this moment. Her phone is not working since she had dropped it in a puddle this afternoon, and she needs to call one of the only two numbers she has memorized. Like every other person with a mobile phone, her brain also remembers only the names on her contact list, not the digits attached to them.
The gift of modern technology, she thinks sarcastically.
Slamming the door open, she enters the booth, only to stop dead in her tracks.
Muted streetlight seeps in through the textured glass surrounding the booth, red, yellow, and blue illuminating the lone receiver hanging limply off the hook and swaying slightly. The scene tugs at a melancholic string inside her, bringing back a time long gone.
A little girl peeks inside the phone booth, as the voice of a woman grows louder. The kid's apprehensive eyes watch the scene as the woman's angry tears roll down her cheeks. Quietly stepping inside, she clutches the hem of the woman's dress in her tiny hands and waits silently. A few minutes pass, then the woman slams the receiver down, but it misses the cradle. Not caring anymore, she whirls around and starts dragging the little girl out of the booth by her arm. She doesn't notice that the call hasn't been disconnected. The crackling sound coming from the hanging off the hook receiver fills the air. The woman ignores a man's muffled plea to understand him, to let him talk to his little angel as she forcefully takes the child away.
Angela had revisited that incident many times behind her closed eyelids. In her black and white dreams, the voice from the receiver got louder and louder until she woke up—trembling, drenched in sweat. Her subconscious used to replay this event from her childhood more frequently when she was younger. The voice on the other end of the phone had belonged to her father. They had been waiting for his return to their small hometown in England, but once again, Angela's father had been deployed. He could not make it home that summer.
He did not make his way back to them, ever.
Their family had never been the same after that. They had left their country and settled in Canada when Angela was seven years old. The resigned anger coming from her mother and her father's helpless plea pouring out of that piece of black plastic had been imprinted forever in her memory. Though she very rarely dreams about it now, when she had said 'I do' to Ben, the image had made an appearance in her head for a second.
It takes her a few more moments to gather herself and remember her reason to be there. The nerves and panic return in full force. Dropping a quarter in the slot, she dials and waits impatiently. It rings a few times and then someone picks up. Angela starts talking before the person on the other end gets a chance to say hello.
"Cynthia, I'm so, so sorry! I was stuck in a meeting on the opposite side of the city. My phone died, and I'm just leaving for home. Then there was this accident near a construction site that caused a major traffic block. I know you said that you'd like to leave early tonight, but could you please, please stay a little longer? I will take a taxi and be there as soon as possible. I will pay you double overtime for this extra hour. Please, Cynthia?"
She stops to take a much-needed breath, and a familiar chuckle fills her ears.
"Sorry, Mrs. Cheney. I accept service only in kind from gorgeous women, no cash."
'Wha—? Ben? Is that you? Why are you home? I mean, how? How are you home and I didn't know about it?" she nearly screams in excitement.
"I got an impromptu leave. And imagine my shock when hundreds of semi-naked images of that underwear model on the babysitter's laptop screen welcomed me home!" Ben guffaws.
"Cynthia must have been getting her David Gandy fill for the day." Angela laughs out loudly. "And I'll let you know, Mr. Cheney, that he's not just any underwear model! He is a super hot celebrity with millions of fans."
"Whatever, wifey! I don't wanna hear about other hot guys you have been lusting after while I was away. Hurry now and come home to me. Cynthia has left a while ago, and our little princess is almost asleep. I'm in serious need of collecting that double overtime."
"Are you now?" she whispers, her voice choked with happiness. After promising to be home soon, she puts the receiver back on the cradle and sighs.
It's amazing how a single person can change the implication of an image forever imprinted in your soul.
Ben had been stationed in Central Norway since last March for some classified CAF training. Though it wasn't a war front, Angela has been missing her husband like crazy. She is certain that the image of a receiver hanging off the hook will incite a different dream for her now.
Just when she is about to step out of the kiosk, her gaze falls on a square object lying on the floor in the corner. Curiosity flares in her mind and she picks it up.
It is a bar coaster.
A strange object to find here, she thinks.
In the dim light of the booth, she can only read the name "Bronko's Pub" printed brightly on it. There are also some handwritten words and numbers on both sides, but it looks like some kind of liquid had spilled on them, making it difficult to read them in the low light. Deciding to decipher it later, Angela leaves the red kiosk with the coaster clutched in her hand. The cryptologist in her doesn't allow her to leave it there, but at the moment, she has a more promising goal to reach.
A few hours earlier in the same red telephone kiosk
Bella Swan kicks the stand on which the pay phone is mounted. Her face is flushed with frustration, and she desperately tries to stop the tears from spilling.
She should have known this would happen! If Mrs. Simpson's cats don't approve of a guy, it's a sign to not let that fucker even stand on your doormat, let alone taking him into the bedroom. But she had ignored the feline intervention and even saved Mike from both Buster and Flora. Their disapproving growls directed to his shoes and scratches on his fingers should have been enough indication. Though the sweet lady from next door apologized profusely for the misbehavior of her fur babies, the said babies never changed their heartfelt greetings every time they had encountered Mike.
Bella is absolutely certain that they had mewed a smug "told you so" or two after she'd kicked Mike out.
The deal was "she cooks-he cleans" whenever he'd stayed over. Last night, the pig had cleaned up her apartment quite well! She shouldn't have let him stay when he'd knocked on her door in the middle of the night, looking thoroughly beat. Though Bella had broken things off with him weeks ago, she could not shut the door in his face. Mike had three pieces of luggage with him. His excuse was that he was going out of town, and his car broke. The garage took long to repair it, while he waited in a nearby bar and then he wasn't in any shape to drive.
"I will be on the couch and out of your hair before you're up," he had promised and he had kept it, too! Only making her home a little too clean in his wake! Her laptop, which had been on the kitchen counter, her phone charging in the living room because the power socket at her bedside had not been working properly, and her collection of Outlander toys had been found to be missing this morning.
Her heart breaks for the kilt-wearing tiny editions of Jamie Fraser. Why a grown man would want them is a mystery to her. It is totally a girly thing to collect figurines of their favourite characters. Though Mike had talked about how his little sister loved the show, Bella had never suspected he'd steal those.
Mike was neither poor nor rich. He was just an average guy with a regular job that paid bills without much trouble. Bella had never tried to learn more because it wasn't like she was going to marry him! However, she remembers finding unusual things in his pockets. Small office stationeries like a box of clips or a stapler, little soaps from the hotel's bathroom where he'd attended a conference, or the bar coaster from a pub he'd frequented with his co-workers. He'd always blamed his forgetful nature to put things back in right places.
Now the more she thinks about it, the more it feels like a case of severe kleptomania.
Bella's old laptop is still good for at least one more year, and her only consolation is that all her notes are saved in the cloud so that she won't have to collect them again. Nevertheless, she can't even think about taking notes on paper with a pen anymore. Technology has ruined her old habits and buying a new laptop will put a nice dent in her savings.
However, the phone falls in the most emergent category. Without that, she is completely lost. Some of her contacts are synced in her drive, but not all. She has been slacking with her own needs lately. These days, Bella feels like she's always running behind the clock. Alerts, reminders, alarms are the things keeping her on track. Coordinating her busy schedule of classes in the university, study sessions with her peers, and two jobs will be impossible until she buys a new phone, which means more money gone from her account. Without it, she does not even have any way to reschedule tomorrow's study session.
That is not all.
The latest photos she took of Rose were still in it. She can't lose those.
Rosalie Hale, her best friend, has been a resident of one of the private rooms in Foothill Medical Center for a while now and has more bad days than good. Somewhere along the line fighting against the last stage of cancer, Rose has lost her natural ability to stay strong in every situation. If the disease has sucked the life out of Rosalie's body, what happened with Emmett has shattered her soul completely. But that is also so very Rose. Not caring about her own needs, she had wanted a life for Emmett without her shadow lurking around his heart. Coming from a broken home, she always knew how it felt to lose the people you love, and she didn't want it for Emmett. Knowing very well that seeing her fade away in front of his eyes would break him, Rose had never even informed him about her sickness. Instead, after pushing him away with deliberate uncaring ways for a while, she'd crafted a perfect incident of her cheating on him with Riley. After that, the big man with a built of a wrestler and a heart of gold had been forced to admit his defeat to have a future with Rose. That was seven months ago, just before her first surgery, and Bella hasn't seen Emmett or heard from him since then.
Last Sunday was a rare happier day she had with her best friend, and she took pictures after pictures on her phone to keep the moments with her forever. She hadn't gotten the chance to transfer or print those out yet. Thinking about losing those moments forever, tears her heart apart.
Bella was alone today at the front desk of the music studio where she works part time and had a short gap of time before her shift started in the pub. So she went to the apartment Mike had shared with two more guys, only to discover that it had been up for a new lease since last week. Nobody could help her there, and the landlord had rudely refused to give her any information about his former tenants.
Then, unexpectedly, a glimmer of hope had presented itself to her when she'd arrived at her second job.
Bronko's Pub is fairly empty at this time of the day. The regular lunch suits are gone and the Friday evening crowd has not started rolling in yet. Liam, the Irish owner of the pub, is at the bar checking stocks for the coming weekend with a clipboard in his hand.
"Hey, Swan! Where's the sunshine today?" He frowns when Bella comes to stand near him.
"Gone with the bastard when he stole my things!" she snaps without thinking, but immediately feels bad about taking it out on Liam and starts apologizing.
"No worries, kiddo," Liam stops her. "What happened? Who stole your stuff?"
"Hi, mates. Hola, Captain."
Jessica, the other bartender, waltzes through the door in that moment.
Jess is crazy about everything related to pirates. Today she is wearing a short dark leather skirt with a tight black & white horizontally striped t-shirt, which has been cut off at the neck. The jagged hem looks like it has gone through Jessica's own experiment with scissors. A bunch of bangles in the right arm, big anchor shaped earrings, a long necklace with a big compass pendant, smokey eye shadow, and bright red lipstick complete her look. This young girl with blond hair knows how to catch eyes.
"Where's the sinking ship?" she asks on noticing the sombre atmosphere.
Once Bella finishes recounting what the sleaze ball had done, a comforting pair of arms hugs her from behind. She inhales deeply the familiar fragrance of Chanel coming from Siobhan, Liam's wife.
"You will get through it, sweetie. You are such a strong girl. I don't think he'll come back again to bother you after this and that's definitely a good thing," she tells Bella with a loving pat on the side of her head. "Though I wish we can find a way to get your things back."
Jessica has been unusually quiet the whole time Bella has been talking. Suddenly, she dives behind the bar, startling the others, and starts rummaging through the things kept on the shelves below the counter, while everyone gapes at her. After a few moments, she straightens up and slaps a bar coaster on the counter.
"What is it, Jess?" Liam asks.
"This." Jess taps a long fingernail painted in electric blue on the small square thing. "This will help you catch the son of a gun. There's his phone number on it."
"What? How do you have it?" Bella exclaims.
"You don't remember it? That scurvy dog tried to push it inside your shirt the night he first came here. But of course, you don't! Because you were busy ogling the green-eyed hottie." Jess winks at Bella saucily. "I found the coaster when I was cleaning up that night, but forgot to tell you."
Bella's eyes widen, and she clamps a hand over her mouth. Of course, she remembers! Both Mike's attempt to lean closer than was appropriate and the green-eyed hottie, as Jess so eloquently puts it.
She had only seen him that one time three months ago. Tall, not lanky but not muscular either, with reddish brown unkempt hair, a sharp jaw line covered with day old stubble, a tiny bump on the bridge of his nose... making him more real than perfect.
However, what made her belly flutter, palms sweaty, and breathing shallow were the pair of green eyes he had lazily dragged over her body. His gaze wasn't greedy or dirty... instead, it was the buzz of static electricity, the satin of the softest caress, and the burn of unspoken promises. Every time she had locked eyes with this handsome man, carnal desire had flown through her veins. All her past experiences with men had paled in comparison in those moments.
The man hadn't said a single word to her, only his eyes had followed her throughout the evening. Still, she had felt that she would have to settle for only second bests from that day onward.
He never came back and so that's exactly what she did. Settled for the pathetic douchebag.
Which brings her to the situation created by said douchebag, and her face falls when she inspects the coaster.
"It's wiped out, Jess."
"Let me look at it," Siobhan interjects. "Yucks! What grown man writes zeroes in the shape of hearts like teenagers? Such a loser to begin with!" She makes a face. "Anyway, the last two digits got wiped off, but you can read the rest. Can you remember it, Bella?
"Oh, wait! There's something else in the back!" She holds it up before Bella can reply.
"What is it, Sibby?"Liam laughs. "Our bar coasters are becoming the FBI's dreams."
Bella snatches it from Siobhan's hand and looks at it closely.
"The game is lost when love is zero," she reads aloud. "What the hell is this? Looks like Mike had written some gibberish too! Though the handwriting doesn't look like his ant-crawling script." She rubs her finger over the writing absentmindedly.
"But you can remember Mike's phone number now, right? Call the asshole and find a way to get back your things."
"I'm not sure, Jess. It was him who always called me, so I don't remember ever pulling his contact up to dial it. I think the last two digits are 5&9, but that could be 6&9 or 3&9 or whatever."
"Anything but 69! I think that number is the farthest related to that fucking cockroach." Jessica scrunches up her nose in disgust. Her unedited dislike for Mike is on a full show today, and they all crack up loudly at her comment.
Liam shakes his head at his girls' antics. "Well, Bella, you should try the number," he says after the laughter dies down. "There is no harm in taking a chance. Here, use my phone."
"No, no, no," Jess protests. "The bastard won't pick up because you have it written boldly on your sign board, and if he is cunning enough, he has already saved it to avoid any connection to Bella. For the same reason, you can't use the landline of the pub either. Try the pay phone around the corner."
"Wow, Jess! When did you get so smart?" Siobhan teases.
"That reminds me," Jess continues, ignoring the ribbing. "Boss, I saw you coming out of the booth last week. Who were you calling when you have a desk phone and a mobile in your pocket?" Jessica wriggled her eyebrows at Liam.
"Leave my poor man alone, girls. You're yet to learn how to add spice to the age-old recipe." Siobhan winks at the girls, while her husband of thirty-one years flushes a little.
"Ewwww!" They cry in unison.
"Thank you very much, but I don't need the details of how you two smoothen out your kinks." Bella shudders, while Jess makes a face.
That is how Bella has ended up inside this tiny red kiosk around the corner of Bronko's. Irritated, frustrated, livid… would be some of the appropriate words to describe her current state of mind. Her first two attempts of trying to reach Mike have already gone horribly wrong.
One was a cranky old lady who began lecturing her about the dangers of calling strangers, and the other was the owner of a pet store, offering her a huge discount on dog food.
Her resolve has started to weaken, and now, she doubts whether the phone number is actually Mike's. She is already on the brink of throwing the coaster away and accepting her loss. Banging her forehead one more time against the glass, she picks up the receiver, convincing herself that the third time's a charm.
Bella takes a few deep breaths and starts dialling the numbers, her brows furrowed in concentration. She goes for 69 at the end this time, and a tiny smile comes to her lips when she remembers Jessica's comment. Jessica doesn't know how accurate she was in her assumption. Sex with Mike has been very religious… he was the most devoted missionary man Bella has known.
The phone rings for a few times and then someone picks up.
"Hello," a deep voice greets.
"Hi! I'm looking for Mike Newton?" Bella replies in an unsure voice.
Something about the deep, throaty voice on the other end makes her nervous.
"Are you asking for him or asking if it's him?"
"Um… both, I guess."
"You guess! Well, I don't have the time or wish to play Guess Who with you, Miss. How did you get my number by the way? Or was that a random guess too?" the man on the other side barks.
Gathering every ounce of her almost non-existent patience, Bella tries to answer the rude man politely.
"Look, I am sorry, but I need to find Mike Newton. He needs to fix the shit he pulled last night and return my stuff. I can't find his phone number. Well, I have part of it, but not the whole thing. I mean, the freaking coaster got wet and the ink was wiped out, so I'm trying blindly here, and I really, really need to find Mike. Also, you don't need to be rude because I don't have the leftover cents to put up with one more asshole! So…"
Bella suddenly realizes that her angry rambling is not making any sense. A little mortified, she stops at the same time the person on the other side of the phone speaks.
"Wait! What coaster? What are you talking about?"
Taking a few deep breaths Bella starts again. "See, Mr..."
"Cullen. It's Edward Cullen. And who am I talking to?" He sounds impatient.
Against her better judgment, Bella starts again, a little slowly this time.
"Mr. Cullen, hello! I'm Isabella Swan, and I'm looking for a man called Mike Newton. All I have his phone number without the last two digits. The bar coaster he wrote it on, gets wet frequently with condensation from the glasses, so I'm trying out my best guesses here. You do understand the situation must be serious for me to act like a desperate telemarketing agent, right? I'm sorry I wasted your time, though."
"Which bar?" Edward Cullen asks with a strange calmness in his voice that wasn't there moments ago.
"I'm sorry?" Bella returns, confused.
"You said you have the number written on a bar coaster. Which bar we are talking about here?"
"It's Bronko's Pub."
"Bronko's. Hmmm... and you are Isabella?" he enquires.
"Ah, yes. Do you know anything about this Mike Newton I'm looking for? By any chance?" She is grasping at non-existent straws now.
"Nothing more than the fact that his phone number matches 80% to mine, and I'm the one with the 69." He chuckles.
Edward Cullen's tone suddenly becomes a little playful. Instead of feeling wary about this strange man, Bella finds herself smiling. A pregnant pause follows the moment, then he clears his throat, and she comes out of the light bubble of the last few seconds.
"All right then, Mr. Cullen. I'm sorry again for this intrusion. Because you are certainly not the person I need. Have a good day, sir," she says, the corner of her mouth still a little stretched.
"Well, I may not be the person you need, Isabella Swan, but don't waste your time chasing a lost game." With that, he abruptly hangs up.
"What the fuck!" Bella stares at the receiver in her hand, confused and getting more agitated with every passing second. The relative calm of the last few moments evaporates as the harshness of his parting words rings in her ears.
Flinging the coaster to the corner with an angry flick of her wrist, she slams the receiver on the cradle and storms out of the little red booth. In her anger-clouded state, she doesn't notice that the receiver bounces off the hook and continues to hang limply as the door snaps closed behind her.
* The plan is to post weekly. Thank you for reading.