A/N: It came to me this morning, out of the blue, and it demanded to be written. It hasn't been beta'd, and it's barely been double-checked by me.
Most characters belong to S. Meyer. Some new ones might pop in. The plot is mine. So are all mistakes.
Break - Chapter 1
"Why am I here? Well, let me tell you all a little story…"
One year earlier:
"I feel so tightly wound lately, you know? Like the next issue to pop up in my life is the one which'll break the camel's back, as they say."
"Babe." Alice reached across the table and laid her hand on top of mine, squeezing my fingers. "You need to relax."
"I know. It's just hard."
Sighing, I set down my fork and sat back, pulling my hand out from under Alice's and raking it through my hair. All the while, she watched me through tender, sympathetic eyes until her gentle compassion became a little too much for me to bear. I swept my gaze to the café windows instead and squinted against the noon summer sun, watching the midtown crowd scurry back and forth on their lunchtime errands.
"Bella, I know things haven't been great for you lately. Between Michael nagging you about your articles-"
"My article suggestions have been pretty shitty lately; he's right about that." I chuckled ruefully. "I just haven't been up for the research. So I can't really complain about him giving my space to others." Like to you, for example, I thought.
On the heels of that thought, I felt the heat of shame burn my cheeks. After all, Alice was one of my best friends. We'd worked together for about four years as writers for The High Line, a Chelsea based publication in New York City named after the elevated park and greenway in the neighborhood, a park created on what was once an elevated New York City railroad track.
"Yeah, you can complain about it," Alice said heatedly. "So, you've hit a bit of a rough patch? So what? It happens. He should be more fucking understanding." Alice stabbed at a well-trimmed piece of her pricey wagyu steak, pointing it at me as she spoke. "You've not only put in your time, but it's your articles which put his shitty, underground publication on anyone's radar in the first place."
I smiled at how defensive she was on my behalf. Alice was always telling me to be more assertive. But I was a small-town girl at heart, who for a while, played well at the big-city girl game.
"You better not let him hear you say that. It's bad enough he knows we're good friends. You don't want him taking your articles away too. Shitty by association."
"Oh, fuck Michael. He can go suck it." Alice made an obscene gesture, one which illustrated her words. I threw back my head and laughed heartily, just as I was sure she'd intended.
"Seriously, Al; we're only a couple of buildings from the office. I don't want someone hearing you and getting you in trouble."
"Oh, fine," she muttered. As she stuck her piece of steak in her mouth, Alice's eyes strayed to my lunch.
"Bella, why are you having Ramen?"
"Because I like Ramen."
"Since when?" She raised an eyebrow. "And why aren't you having wine with me?" Her eyes grew wide. "Don't tell me you're finally-"
"No." I cut her off before she could finish. "No, I'm not."
The sympathetic look returned. "Well, are you sure you're not drinking water and eating Ramen because it's the cheapest thing on the menu?"
"I'm sure," I lied.
Alice set down her fork and sighed, reaching for my hand again.
"I'm sorry, Bella. I shouldn't have been so thoughtless and suggested this restaurant for lunch. I know Michael pays by the published article."
Again, I looked away. When Alice suggested this particular restaurant, my ego kept me from suggesting something else, like maybe the hot dog vendor at the corner or Taco Bell down the block, both of which I'd visited pretty frequently lately. Pride also kept me from asking my husband for money. He and I had enough issues to contend with lately.
Alice, however, was never one to worry about money; though I'd never call her flashy. She was one of those independently wealthy trust fund babies who was also a hard worker – and in her case, a great writer. Her mother was a designer, her father a world-renowned surgeon, and she only had one sibling with which to share the wealth.
In an ironic twist of fate, I'd actually been who hired Alice back when I was Michael's golden child and was allowed to make those type of decisions. Back then, she was wide-eyed and fresh out of college, and I'd been Alice's mentor, although, I was only five years older than her. At the time, our age difference made her look up to me, and taking her under my wing gave me validation.
It had been a while since I was anyone's golden child or golden anything. Now, Alice was The High Line's Golden Child, not that she didn't deserve it.
"Hey, lunch is on me, okay?"
"I can pay for my Ramen, Alice."
Alice exhaled, but she didn't push it. "So, I take it things at home haven't improved much?"
I swallowed and shook my head. "Every month is a new disappointment. He wants a baby so badly, and I…" Again, I tried swallowing, but my throat was too dry, and instead, I emitted a strange sound.
"Bella…" Alice said shakily, "you ever stop to think this is putting way too much pressure on you…that maybe he's putting too much pressure on you?"
I shook my head. "He's not. As a matter of fact, he's been really patient. We've been trying for over two years now. At first, we just thought it was taking us a bit longer, you know? Big deal, right? So, we just had more sex."
Alice chuckled. "A great side perk."
I smiled sadly and shrugged.
"Then six months of trying became nine months. And nine months became a year, and still nothing. Then started the specialists and the fertility treatments, and the medical bills with nothing to show for them."
With another prolonged sigh, I fisted my hair.
"And then all that stress started affecting your work and your friendships."
"It's just hard to hang out with most of our friends. They have kids already, and it's difficult to be around them."
"Bella, honey, I keep telling you, all this is just building and building. One of these days, you're going to explode." She leaned in closer and spoke quietly. "Why don't you just tell him you need a break from trying? If he loves you, Bella, I'm sure he'll understand."
"We are taking a break, Alice," I whispered.
Then, I just laid the confession out there. If not Alice, then who could I tell?
"We haven't had sex in almost three months."
Alice's blue eyes grew wide, and she sat back heavily against her seat.
"Yeah. Wow. He suggested we take a break. I mean, our sex had become so scheduled, determined by the moon and dates on a calendar and bodily temperatures." I shook my head. "So, he sat me down one day and said he hated to see the strain it was putting on me."
"That was considerate of him."
"Yeah." I smiled faintly. "He's a good man, he is; and he loves me, and I love him. It's just been a stressful couple of years. Sometimes I feel like…"
"Like?" Alice prompted.
"Like he's been cheated, you know? I mean, we had all these big dreams when we got married and moved here from Washington, almost seven years ago. We'd build our careers, buy a nice place here in the city, have two or three babies. Instead, we're stuck in a small rental because we haven't been able to save enough for the type of place we want in the Meatpacking District since real estate here has gone through the roof."
"It's gone through the roof thanks to articles you wrote for publications like The High Line," Alice said, chuckling ruefully. "I'm sorry; I'm sorry. It's not funny."
Especially since you own a great, three bedroom place here, I thought.
Alice's apartment had floor-to-ceiling windows galore, half of which faced the Hudson and the New York City skyline, and half of which overlooked The High Line Park itself. Alice often complained about those windows, about how close they were to the actual walkway. Her kitchen windows overlooked the park, and she often moaned about wandering into her kitchen in the mornings in nothing more than bra and panties and finding tourists with their noses practically up against her window.
'Maybe if you remembered to close your blinds?' I would often tease her. But honestly.
Again, I mentally chastised myself for my petulance.
"It is funny, in a fucked up sort of way," I smirked. "My articles helped the neighborhood with its resurgence, but then my stress fucked with my career, and now my husband and I are mostly living on one salary, and we've got medical bills up the wazoo."
"Bella, I've told you, if you guys need a loan…"
"No, Alice. I do appreciate it," I stressed, "but we're okay. As I said, we stopped seeing the fertility experts a few months ago, and I honestly don't know if we're going to go back."
"Bella…" Alice said carefully, "maybe you two aren't meant to have a baby, and that's fine," she added quickly. "Not everyone is meant to be a parent."
She was right; I knew she was. But my heart still clenched painfully at her words. I was thirty-one years old, in the prime of my life, living in New York City. Yet, I suddenly felt so alone…and so old.
"I've just…I've got this image in my head of giving birth, while the proud daddy helps the baby out and then kisses my sweaty forehead and tells me how much he loves me and how grateful he is."
For a long while, Alice's blue eyes held my brown ones. I could tell from the way she bit her lip she wanted to say more, but perhaps thinking she'd pushed enough already, she didn't. Instead, she drew in a long breath and exhaled it, wiping her mouth with her napkin before smiling gently.
"Come on; let's get back to the office before Michael starts looking and doesn't find either one of us."
"There's only one of us he'd look for," I grinned. "I'm surprised he hasn't asked me to give up my office yet."
Alice shook her head as she pulled out her Burberry wallet. "Let's go. And I've got your Ramen, Bella."
"Thanks, Alice," I whispered, reaching across the table for her hand, "for more than just lunch."
Again, she shook her head and returned to rummaging through her wallet, pulling out a hundred dollar bill.
If I couldn't own the great apartment in the area which my husband and I had once dreamed of, at least my office faced the Hudson River, framed by the Manhattan skyline. It was a great view, and I wasn't kidding when I told Alice I was surprised Michael hadn't asked me to give the office up yet. After all, there were writers on staff with crappier offices, writers who'd actually been productive for the past year or so. Alice, for example, had an office on the other side of the floor, which looked out on faded, brick-faced apartment buildings and garbage-strewn alleys – still expensive real estate to be sure – this was New York – but not the best of views. Then again, she lived with a great view, so she couldn't really complain too much.
Before my mind wandered into avenues of envy again, I returned my attention to the view.
I'd actually been staring at it nonproductively for the better part of that afternoon. The month had started out with a vague notion for an article on the resurgence of vinyl records, a notion which two weeks into the month, had pretty much gone nowhere.
Instead, day after day, I sat staring through the window and seeing my husband's bright eyes, his warm smile, feeling his powerful thrusts filling me back in those days when we made love to make love, not to make babies. God, he was a good lover.
I exhaled through narrowed lips as I remembered how it felt, as my pelvic muscles tightened instinctively at the memories. We used to sleep spooned into one another arms and legs wonderfully tangled. Lately, he slept on his back, staring up at the ceiling, his hands at his sides as if he was afraid to touch me. Perhaps it was my own fault for putting him through all this stress…for not letting him know how much I still craved him for him, not merely to make babies which might not ever come.
Suddenly overwhelmed and constricted despite the office's great view, I decided on a walk. Perhaps a solitary stroll among the gardens, artwork and wandering entertainers along The High Line would help me clear my head, would help me find a way to talk to my husband, would help me find my inspiration for writing once again.
Luckily for me, my office building led right to the park via a small, connecting walkway. There was no denying The High Line's beauty despite the fact that it had once been nothing more than rusting train tracks. Now, it was two winding miles of urban design blended with ecology which provided an oasis for New York City residents and tourists alike. It was a soothing walk, and as I slowly wandered down the grass-filled tracks, I watched the families that wandered with me; some locals, some out-of-towners.
There was a little girl, about three-years-old, who skipped along with her tiny hand encased within her daddy's hand. There was a young boy, perhaps about four, who rode his tricycle, ringing his bell at everyone who passed him.
There was a teenaged boy, perhaps about fifteen and likely a tourist or he'd be in school. He was snapping pictures with his phone, pictures of the flower beds, of the concrete water fountains, and of the steel artwork. When he pointed his camera at one of the apartment buildings – Alice's apartment building actually – I watched his head jerk back. He froze momentarily before his thumb started working with a vengeance. It was then I realized he was snapping pictures of Alice's kitchen.
"Damn it," I muttered as I swiftly approached the boy. Alice had forgotten to close her blinds again, though what the boy found so interesting in Alice's kitchen I couldn't even fathom.
"Darn tourists. And where are his…?"
I reached the young boy and stood behind him. The blinds were wide open alright. Through them, there was a clear view of Alice's immaculate and luxurious kitchen with top-of-the-line cabinetry, countertops and gourmet-level appliances. I knew for a fact she rarely used any of it, except for occasionally wandering into the kitchen in her bra and panties to make morning coffee.
Well, Alice had apparently gone home early, and she was sure as hell using her kitchen now. She was, in fact, naked and using her marble countertop as an ass rest, while some guy stood in front of her and that counter, also naked, ass bared to the world while he thrust frenziedly into her.
"Oh, fuck," I breathed, momentarily as frozen as the teenaged voyeur in front of me.
"They sure are."
Alice's face was awash in lust, totally oblivious to everything around her – well, save the man around her, of course. Her mouth was agape, head thrown back as her lover sucked on one of her breasts then the other. With one hand, she held his blond head tightly against her. With the other, she gripped the counter, using it as leverage with which to move her hips furiously back and forth.
"Oh wow," the young voyeur in front of me breathed. "New York City kicks ass."
His admiring whispers snapped me awake.
"Stop it," I hissed at the boy, pushing down his camera. "Stop taking pictures of that."
"Hey!" the boy complained.
"Excuse me, what's the problem here?"
A man and a woman swiftly approached us, the tourist boy's tourist parents I assumed.
"Your son is taking pictures he shouldn't take," I snapped. Then I looked back at the boy and wriggled my fingers at him. "Give me that phone so I can erase those pictures."
"Oh my God," I heard the mom exclaim as she looked at the window. "How indecent."
Indignant on Alice's behalf, I glared up at the mother. "She's in her own kitchen; she can do what she wants."
"She should close those goddamn blinds," the mother snapped back at me. Then, she looked up at her husband. "Right, James? James!"
Apparently, the young voyeur before me had learned his trade from daddy dearest.
Instinctively, I looked at the window again. Alice now had her lover's hair fisted in both hands, using his locks as reins, as she rode like she was at the rodeo. Though the windows were soundproof, it was pretty obvious she was screaming her head off, eyes pinched shut. I forced my eyes back to the boy.
"Give me the phone," I repeated through clenched teeth.
"Hell no," the boy spat.
"Why, you little-"
As I snatched the phone out of his hands, my eyes flashed back to Alice's windows.
There are threads that tether you to sanity – love and friendship being two of those. I believe that was the moment I lost a couple of those threads. At the very least one of those threads came loose because I literally felt my heart drop to my feet where it constricted…constricted…mangled into bitter pieces…and broke.
Done with her orgasm, Alice's eyes opened, and she stared in horror through the window, realizing she'd forgotten to shutter those damn blinds again. Her lover followed her horrified gaze, looking over his shoulder and through the window, eyes growing wide as well.
At first, the words were just murmured, half-formed thoughts.
"Excuse me, miss. Please watch your language around my son. And please give him back his phone."
"Mother…fuckers," I said with only slightly more inflection while I watched Alice and my husband scrambled to get their clothes back on.
"Your language, miss! It's bad enough my poor son just saw what he saw. Please give him back his phone!"
"Dirty…fucking…bastards. Dirty, fucking, cheating bastards."
"For God's sake, your language and the phone!" the boy's mother yelled.
And yes, yes, I admit it; I may have snapped a bit. Empty chest heaving, I whipped my head toward the mother.
"You want the fucking phone, lady? For what? So your dirty little son could jerk off to it tonight?"
The woman gasped.
"Or do you want your filthy husband to jerk off to it?"
"How dare you?" the husband howled.
"Give me back that phone!" the boy's mother demanded.
I looked at the window. Alice and my husband were half-dressed, and as they scurried out of the kitchen, I turned my attention back to the little tourist family before me.
"You want the fucking phone?" I held the phone up high and flung it over the once-rusty railroad tracks. "Go get the fucking phone."
As I sprinted to the stairs which would lead me off The High Line, I heard the boy's mom screaming behind me.
"Someone call the cops!"
With my vision tunneled, I took the steps down two at a time despite my heels. Conveniently enough, Alice's building was just a few yards from the bottom of that particular staircase, another fact she'd often bitched about – the foot traffic its proximity created. I'd commiserated with her on her misfortune. Now, I grinned.
My steps picked up speed as I neared the glass-windowed entry to her building. Forgetting my manners, I think I shoved someone aside in my haste to get through those doors because a man's deep voice called out, somewhat stunned and concerned.
"Pardon me, miss. You should be careful on those."
I ignored him and his suggestion as Alice and my husband, hastily dressed, stepped out of the elevator. I stopped short.
"YOU FUCKING ASSHOLES!"
I vaguely recall there were perhaps a handful of people in the lobby, leaving and entering the building, retrieving mail, speaking with the building's doorman off to the side and such mundane activities.
Alice froze, but my husband took two steps toward me, palms up.
"Bella, calm down."
"Jasper, you fucking BASTARD!"
"Calm down!" he yelled.
"Bella," Alice said shakily.
I turned my fury on her. "And you," I hissed, "you goddamn whore!"
There may have been some gasping around me; I don't exactly recall that part. It might be on the official transcript.
"Excuse me, miss," someone may have said behind me. "What's going-?"
I was too far gone to deal with anyone but the two assholes in front of me.
"You were supposed to be my friend! One of my best friends! And you're fucking my husband?"
"Bella, stop. This is my apartment building and you're embarrassing me," she hissed.
I jerked back my head. "Are you fucking….? Are you fucking kidding me? I'm embarrassing you?"
"Bella-" Jasper said.
"Miss, maybe we should-" the unknown character behind me said.
"You were sitting naked as a fucking jaybird on top of your kitchen counter, fucking my husband with your windows wide open, and I'M EMBARRASSING YOU?"
There were definitely gasps all around us after that. Alice's dainty nostrils flared.
"You damn…" she sneered, shaking her head. "We couldn't just do this like adults, could we?"
I cackled pretty wildly; yeah, I did.
"Doing this like adults pretty much went out the window when you did my husband through the window!"
"This is your own damn fault, Bella," she snapped back. "You were a nag, and he got sick of you."
As I said, I'd lost my heart back on The High Line. Nevertheless, it turned out there was still a piece of it left to mangle. Silently, I looked at Jasper.
"Bella…we've been having issues for a while. You know that."
"We've been having issues, Jasper," I said, "not goddamn lovers on the side."
He sighed and spoke with maddening calm. "Bella, when was the last time you and I talked?"
"Uhm, this morning when we left for work together?"
He rolled his eyes.
"I mean really talked, Bella. When was the last time we laughed together? Watched a movie together? Went anywhere together?"
"We share a life together, Jasper."
"We share an apartment, Bella," he smirked, "that's about it. We haven't even…"
I chuckled bitterly when he trailed off. "Oh, don't worry. I informed your little tramp myself just a short while earlier when I thought she was my friend that you and I haven't had sex in almost three months."
"It's because he loves me, Bella," Alice said. "Not you."
I swallowed past the agonizing tightness in my throat, pushed back the sting in my eyes and the mortification at her words because I refused to cry in front of her, in front of either of them.
"Is that true, Jasper?" I asked, fighting to keep my voice steady. "Do you love her?"
Jasper's blue eyes held my gaze.
"Answer me, Jasper," I pleaded. "Tell me if it's true." I was even willing to give him an out. "Was this all a mistake, Jasper, caused by the stress we've been under? We can work through it if that's the case." My voice shook as I nodded erratically. "We can work through-"
"He doesn't want to work through it, Bella," Alice hissed behind him. "He doesn't want you anymore. He wants me. He loves me."
"Alice, what the hell have you done?"
It was that same unknown voice again, the one who kept asking questions. I had the vaguest notion that it was the man I'd shoved aside in my haste to get into the building.
"Be quiet, Edward, and mind your business," Alice said, her eyes on me.
"Oh, I'd say this is my business, Alice," the man replied smoothly.
"Jasper, talk to me," I said softly, ignoring the others. "Tell me this was a mistake. We'll work it out, Jasper. Just tell me it was-"
"It wasn't a mistake, Bella!" Alice yelled. "Why do you think he suggested you two stop having sex? He doesn't want you. What's more, Michael doesn't want you on the paper anymore! He's decided to give me your office. Nobody wants you, Bella, because you've lost your touch. As a matter of fact, you've lost more than just your touch. So how could you possibly think Jasper would want to have children with you when you're such a freaking basket case? Two years of trying and you can't even give him a baby; meanwhile, he and I have been together for four months, and I'm two months-"
See, I could've dealt with all the rest. But as they say, there's a straw that breaks the camel's back. And that…was when…my mind broke. I didn't even let her finish.
They say I lunged for her. Jasper had to stand between us while I reached around him for her salon-styled hair, for her expensive blouse, for her filthy, red mouth. They say I actually removed my heels and flung one at her. When Jasper blocked it I grew so furious I flung it at the building's windowed entrance. Who knew one little heel could break a whole glass window?
They say when I couldn't get to her I started beating Jasper. They say it took some unknown man behind me to pick me up by the waist and literally pull me off of my husband. They say the unknown man calmed me, spoke soothing words in my ear, words I can't recall before the cops came and took me away.
They say I made threats.
Anyway, that's why I'm here now.
Q: How long will the story be?
A: I have no idea, my loves.
Q: When will it update?
A: Whenever I can update, my darlings.
Q: Will it be angsty?
A: What do you think, my dears? ;)
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"See" you soon.