A/N: Happy Monday!
So, here we go: BREAK from Edward's side of things. Meet me at the end for some disclaimers of the usual and not so usual kind.
Most characters belong to S. Meyer. The rest belong to me. So do all mistakes.
BROKEN – Chapter One
"So, there's no clustering of sickness within the families, and none of the healthcare providers are getting sick, which suggests that the event isn't-"
"It's not contagious, no."
"At least, that much is encouraging." I clicked to the next sheet of data Emmett and I were reviewing together through one of the modern wonders of the professional world, which made it possible for us to hold a face to face, though we were thousands of miles apart.
"Hey, Ed, tell me again what she said she needed to pick up from your place?"
Switching to the tab with the results of the kidney and nerve tissue specimens, I angled my head, brow furrowing as I reviewed the data.
"I'm sorry, what? Who?"
Emmett exhaled heavily and pointedly restated each part of his inquiry. "Your girlfriend. Kate. When she called you up out of the blue. What did she say she needed to pick up from your place?"
"Ex-girlfriend," I amended, eyes on the laptop screen and mentally sorting the data, "and she said she needed to pick up a lipstick."
"A lipstick? Man, what a flimsy excuse," Emmett snickered. "Dude, you're totally back in her-"
"Em, has the team collected all the medications found in the patient's homes yet?"
"No, they haven't, but listen to me. You play this 'I gotta pick up the lipstick I forgot at your place' game just right," – he chuckled heartily at his imitation of Kate's voice – "and I'll bet my life you and she end up-"
I sucked my teeth and threw my back heavily against the government office chair, banging my spine on the hard wood.
"See, this is why I wish I was already over there." Running a frustrated and antsy hand through my hair, I sat forward and switched back to Emmett's image. "Em, I need those medications collected from all the patients' homes, asap."
Emmett growled and fisted the man-bun on top of his head, skewing it to one side and giving it an even more haphazard appearance than it had when we first got on this call.
"Dude, I wish you were already here too! I collect and study the organisms; you examine their patterns and all the other factors. Skype or no Skype, it's all easier to coordinate when we're both in the same place."
What's more, since his arrival to Costa Rica three days earlier, his lab coats appeared increasingly wrinkled, and he'd developed sweat marks under his armpits. These were all aberrations to Emmett's usually fastidious appearance despite that head of hair. But, I could empathize with the last two if not with the first; power tended to be spotty in the mountains of Central America. Even this connection, which we'd finally gotten up and running, was choppy and erratic. Needless to say, fickle power connections made shaving and keeping cool tricky secondary objectives at best.
"Em man, I apologize for leaving you to shoulder this op on your own for a few days." Again, I fell back heavily against the hard chair. One of these days, I'd end up with a fucking broken spine. "But I had to make sure that Hantavirus New Mexico Report was finalized properly. Meanwhile, I'm here demanding more and more shit from you."
"Ed, one of these days, you're going to turn your back, and the world'll have ended with a quiet whimper. Poof," he said, a surprisingly muted sound accompanied by an equally underwhelming gesture, popping open his hands in illustration of some sad sort of explosion. "The entire population'll be decimated by disease so quickly they won't even have time to bitch about it." He chuckled heartily.
"Emmett, that's a fucking sick thing to say."
But I chuckled too while I berated him. After the shit Emmett and I had seen throughout the years, we had to laugh to keep our spirits up and thereby our mental health because it was all interconnected. It was either develop a somewhat morbid sense of humor or develop an ulcer…or worse.
"My point is, Ed, stop it with the fucking apologies," he said, abruptly much more sober. "That's not where I'm going with this at all. You can't carry the world on your fucking shoulders. Once in a while, you've got to make your life your priority. I mean…" through the patchy connection, I watched him swallow, "maybe that's why Kate-"
"Em, I'll be there in a couple of days. In the meantime, have the team collect all medications from the patients' homes."
"Fine; change the subject," he muttered. "All right," he sighed in surrender. "So, why? What are you thinking?"
"I'm not exactly sure yet, but we've ruled out West Nile and Dengue Fever...what if it's not a virus at all?"
"Hm. Interesting." He nodded slowly, tapping two fingers against the overgrown hair on his jaw. "All right; I'll get 'em collected. The locals here are getting antsy regarding this 'enfermedad misteriosa,' as they're calling it, and they're pissed off that their Ministry of Health hasn't been able to give 'em any answers. Dude, Costa Rica is not as fun as it's cracked up to be when it's hot as balls, a mysterious illness is making everyone sick, and you've got a bunch of scared individuals following you around impatiently."
"It's a good thing you can at least communicate without a language barrier," I said, referencing the Cuban half of his heritage. "It's good for the local pop to have someone who can convey info easily; helps minimize their fears."
"You communicate well enough – minus the white-boy accent," he grinned. "And you've always been much better than me at calming the public – until you start talking specific strains, then you just fucking lose them."
I chuckled at the rib.
"Unfortunately, my Latino half tends to get them more riled up. 'Chico, cuando sé lo que pasa, te haré saber.' Man, pretty soon, they'll be coming at me with pitchforks. Seriously, Ed, take precautions before you get here. Maybe say 'bye' to the fam." He made the sign of the cross and chuckled again.
"You really are sick. But now that you mention it, I have been thinking about going to see Alice before I leave."
"Ooh," he said, following that up with a sharp hiss. "A visit to your sister. Dude, you really are crossing all your tees," he teased. "So, what's sweet little sis been up to lately?"
"I have no idea," I said, raking a hand through my hair again "and that's what worries me. She's been way too quiet for the past few months."
"Seriously?" Emmett snorted. "You're worried because there's been no trouble from that front for a while? Dude, thank your lucky stars. I mean, not to be an asshole or anything, but between your kid sister's college suspensions, her…enthusiastic dating habits," he cleared his throat, and I was sure we were both happy to skip mention of the time my sister accosted Emmett in the bathroom of our parents' house – well, our father's and her stepmother's house – when she was seventeen, "and all the shit your father's had to smooth over for her throughout the years, I'd think you'd be glad she sounds like she's finally settling into adulthood."
I chuckled. "You'd think so, huh? But relative silence from my sister usually means trouble in one form or another. She hasn't been around much lately, and last time I saw her a couple of months or so ago, she mentioned some new guy, but she was really shady about him."
"She told me to mind my business when I asked her something as innocuous as his name."
Emmett chuckled. "You know she's always been combative with you. If you say it's black, she says it's white."
"Yeah, I suppose," I shrugged. "But you know how much she loves showing off on social media, yet she hasn't posted much lately. She's never had too many girlfriends to begin, with her envious and competitive personality, but even that one girlfriend she's vaguely referenced over the past couple of years – not sure what her name is – even that one she hasn't referenced lately."
"I can see the gears churning," Emmett grinned. "You're extrapolating."
"It's what I do, isn't it? I extrapolate a bigger picture from the little information I have and come up with a conclusion and a solution."
"So what's your conclusion here? What's little Alice Cullen up to?"
"I don't know yet, but I've got a feeling it's nothing good. Anyway Em," I sighed, "thanks for holding down the fort. I'm on tomorrow night's flight, so I should be there within a couple of days."
"All right, man. In the meantime, I'll get those meds collected, and you…good luck with Kate…and with little sis."
I snorted but made no other reply as I reached out and shut down the connection.
For a brief moment, I sat there watching the afternoon sun through the windows as it shimmered over the river. It was a great afternoon for a walk, for a sunny stroll by the waterfront – if I had the time, and if I was the type of person impressed, or even distracted by the world outside the windows.
But I wasn't, so I returned to work.
When the knock came at my door late that evening, I exhaled in frustration, completely blanking on who it could be. I'd been skyping with Emmett again, going through the list of meds the team had collected so far from the patients' homes, and their common uses. I'd paused our call while I went into the kitchen to make myself coffee – one of my few, guilty pleasures – in prep for a couple more hours of work.
"Coming!" I admittedly barked at the second knock, mentally cursing whoever let in the interloper without forcing them to use the intercom. It was there for a fucking reason.
"Some people don't belong in New York," I muttered as I reached for the door handle.
When I found her on the other side of the door, I mentally cursed myself. I'd completely forgotten she was stopping by – for her lipstick.
"Well, I'll certainly pay for a new one," I'd offered when she'd called me that morning mentioning some lipstick she'd left behind the last time she'd been at my place.
"No, no, that's fine, Eddie. It's…they don't make that color anymore."
"Oh. Well, uh, do you happen to remember where in the apartment you left it? I'll look for it and send it out-"
"No. No, I'll just stop by and pick it up, if that's okay."
"Yeah, sure. No problem," I'd said, while I edited the document in front of me.
"All right, Eddie. I'll see you tonight then."
"All right. See you later, Kate. Have a good day."
"You too, Eddie."
"Kate." I raked a hand through my hair. "Sorry, I completely forgot you were stopping by."
When her full, red lips tightened into a straight line, and a flicker of indignant shock crossed her features, I cursed myself some more.
"Sorry, sorry. What I meant was-"
"You were busy with work," she finished for me with a magnanimous yet knowing smile.
I swallowed before offering her an apologetic smile in return. "Yeah. Yeah, that's what I meant."
She snorted. "May I come in?"
I stepped out of her way, and when she walked past me, I caught a whiff of her perfume. It was a familiar scent, strong and floral, and throughout the few months we'd dated, I'd never made up my mind on whether I liked it or not. Nonetheless, as I shut the door and turned back to the apartment, catching Kate sashay toward the couch, for a second, I recalled why I'd been pretty crazy about her for a while.
Not only was she physically appealing – tall, long legs, long blond curls, great breasts and ass – but she was an intelligent, well-spoken and independent woman; a dentist actually, which was how we'd met. She'd gushed and gushed about my teeth through three bi-yearly exams before I'd finally asked her out. But then, our relationship only lasted the length of one bi-yearly exam. We'd been broken up for a couple of weeks by then.
Nonetheless, Kate wasn't the type of woman to play games, which was why I'd rejected Em's earlier insinuations that the Lipstick Issue was simply a ploy.
"So, how've you been, Kate?"
She turned around and flashed me a brilliant smile. After all, she was a dentist.
"I've been good, Eddie. Thanks. And you? How've you been?"
"Good," I nodded. "Busy."
She chuckled lightly. "What else is new, right?"
I didn't reply. My job and all it entailed had pretty much been the reason for our break-up.
"So, I'm in the middle of something, but you can go ahead and look around for that lipstick." I waved a hand in invitation. "Though I've got to tell you, I don't remember seeing one. Had I seen it, I would've definitely called you or texted you." I rubbed the back of my neck. "I mean, obviously, it would've been yours, right?" I chuckled, face hot from all my blabbering. "What I mean is-"
"I know what you mean," she chuckled softly in return. "I never suspected you of cheating, Edward. That's not why I broke up with you."
"I know," I nodded. "Anyway, you're welcome to-"
"Edward…" She drew in a deep breath, her breasts rising and falling in my periphery, "I've got to make a confession."
"I didn't come for a lipstick." She shook her head. "There is no lipstick."
We stood facing one another, more than a few generous feet of space between us, but now I had no idea whether to move closer…offer her a seat; a drink. I'd expected her to be in and out.
"Kate, I'm not sure-"
She stepped closer, cutting the space between us in half.
"I've been thinking, Eddie…maybe I was too hasty, too demanding. I mean, this is your career. How would I have felt had you asked me to put you before my career?" She shook her head. "I don't think I would've taken it well."
"I would've never asked you to do something like that."
"I know," she nodded vigorously. Another step forward. "That's what I'm saying. We were together for six months. Maybe it was unreasonable for me to expect you to…" she swallowed, grey eyes wide and nervous, "fall madly in love with me in six months. I mean, we're not easily fascinated teenagers or even kids in our twenties. You're thirty-three; I'm thirty. We've gotten used to leading our own lives. And maybe…" Another step forward, and she did away with sufficient distance so that as she continued, she was able to reach for my hand and knit her fingers through mine, "maybe, eventually, I can get used to all your traveling and all your late hours."
She was a tall woman, so when she pressed her mouth to mine, she didn't have to reach far. Then, as she went through her speech, her lips brushed continuously against my lips, and my body...began responding.
"Edward…I've realized I made a mistake, and I want to give us another chance. I know you and I could be great if we really work at it. We could build a life together; marriage, children," she said huskily, her breath washing over me, her scent tickling my senses. "Imagine a little boy with my eyes and with your perfectly straight nose. Or a little girl with my curly, blond hair and our height. And I understand you want to keep traveling for your job, and that's fine. My mom said she'd help me with the kids. She's always wanted grand-"
I stepped back and pulled my hand out of hers. For a while, we merely held one another's gaze. Kate was a beautiful woman; a good woman; a bright, intelligent woman.
"Kate…I don't think you made a mistake."
She exhaled heavily. "Forget what I said about children. You've made it obvious, with your heavy-duty condoms and with your constant reminders about my birth-control that you don't want them at any point in the near future. Nowadays, women are giving birth in their forties, so if that's what's scaring you here-"
"Katie, it's not…" I raked a hand through my hair, "Look, I'll admit I've never given thought to children, but…you're a wonderful woman, Kate, and it's not you, it's-"
She chuckled ruefully and shook her head. "You're not going to give me the 'it's not you, it's me' speech, are you?"
"It's true," I said simply, shrugging my shoulders. "Kate, I do care about you-"
"Then give it some thought, Edward," she said. "I know I showed up out of the blue-"
"Kate, I have a trip coming up. I'm leaving tomorrow, and I'm not sure how long I'll be gone."
Again, she sighed, she shut her eyes, reopening them after a few seconds. "It's okay. We can talk about it again when you return."
"No, Kate," I said decisively. "I'm not going to do this to you. I'm not going to lead you on. Kate, you were right to break up with me. I'm not the guy for you. You deserve a man who'll fall to his knees and thank his lucky stars you ever crossed his path, who'll be willing to give up absolutely everything for you, and who'll jump for joy at the knowledge that you'd want to marry him and bear his children."
"And that's not you," she said simply.
"No, Kate. That's not me," I replied honestly.
After she left, and I returned to my laptop, I realized Emmett had been on the entire time.
"Sorry, I didn't want to interrupt, and I didn't want to completely sever the connection what with how hard it is to get a good one, but I did step away," he said.
I snorted. "It's okay. We didn't say anything that scandalous."
For a few moments, he said nothing. "Ed, I don't get it. She really was a great woman, and willing to accept all your travel."
"I thought you said you stepped away?"
"Well, yeah, but I heard some – including that bit about the heavy-duty condoms."
I chuckled. "Asshole. But…yeah, she was- is a pretty close to perfect woman."
"Except for that nasal voice."
"Stop. And…on paper, we could've been perfect together."
"Then, what is it that you're looking for, Ed?"
I drew in a deep breath and exhaled it audibly. "I don't even fucking know. Maybe, it doesn't exist."
During a quick break the following morning, I called my father.
"Edward, how are you? I'm glad you called."
The genuine thrill in my father's voice whenever I called, which admittedly wasn't all that often, always filled me with equal parts gratification, guilt, and anger. I never knew how I'd respond from one conversation to the next. The issues between Carlisle Cullen and I were too old, too deeply-rooted for an examination during a quick phone call. Besides, I had too much to do: a flight that night to finish prepping for, calls to make, instructions to leave in place…and a visit with my little sister.
"Hey, Dad. I'm good, thanks. I'm prepping for a trip tonight, and-"
"Oh, yeah? Where are you headed?"
"Costa Rica. There's an outbreak in the mountains, near Monteverde, and the country's Ministry of Health is having a hard time pinpointing the actual virus and it's cause, so they've asked the CDC to lend a hand. But, Dad, I called-"
"Edward, just…look, I want you to know I'm proud of the work you do; I really am. But please be careful in those countries and around those people, for your mother's sake if not for mine."
"I'll try not let the natives breathe on me too heavily," I replied.
"Come on. That's not what I mean. We worry. Have you called your mom?"
"Yeah, I have actually. I keep in regular contact with her and she actually calls me more than once in a blue moon. And when I told her where I was headed tonight, she said she hoped my team and I could figure out quickly what's making the people there sick. Now, can I get to the reason why I'm calling you?"
He sighed over the phone line. "What is it, son?"
"Have you spoken to Alice lately?"
Another sigh. "Edward, you know how your sister is. She's hard to track down under normal circumstances."
"Under normal circumstances," I echoed warily. "So, something is going on?"
"I don't know," he said, a note of frustration tinging his tone.
"But you suspect, don't you? Yet, I'd bet you haven't done a thing to investigate. Not that we should have to babysit a twenty-five-year-old woman as if she was fifteen."
"Edward, my plate is full right now. Between speeches I have to prep for, surgeries I have to schedule, and-"
"And my fucking plate isn't full, right? You didn't just hear me tell you that there are people fucking dying in Central America, and we don't know the cause?"
"But I'm going to have to be the one to investigate what the fuck is going on with your daughter before I leave the country, right? Because you made her with another woman, saddled Mom with her, and now just throw money at her."
"Take care, old man."
I stood before my window, gazing out at the river as I hit the number for Alice's office later that afternoon. I'd greet her pleasantly, like a big brother, then I'd ask if she wanted to schedule a late lunch or an early dinner. Yeah, I had to plan my words, tamp down on the rising suspicion that she was in the middle of another one of her typical shit-fests.
"Be calm, Edward," I murmured to myself as the line rang. "You don't know that something's up. Give her the benefit of the doubt. Maybe Em's right, and she's finally-"
"Hello? Uhm, sorry, I mean Alice Cullen's office?"
The voice which answered didn't belong to Alice.
"Uh…hi, I'm looking for Alice?"
"This is her office, but this isn't Alice. Sorry." The person on the other line chuckled somewhat ruefully.
"Is this her secretary?" I asked with some confusion. As far as I knew, Alice was one of the lower-level writers on staff at the publication, and she didn't have a personal secretary.
"No. No, this isn't her secretary," the person replied. "I came into Alice's office looking for her to see if she wanted to brainstorm some ideas, but she wasn't in here. Then I just got distracted with the view from her window."
I grew more confused. The last time I'd visited Alice, she had a small office with a view of an alley. She hated it, and she'd gone on about the magnificent river view in one of the office's on the other side of the building – her friend's office. I'd reminded her that when she'd sent me her friend's writing, it'd been clear why the friend deserved that view.
Alice hadn't appreciated the reminder.
"I'm sorry, but I've seen the view from Alice's office. There's not much to look at."
The person on the other line chuckled – a soft, musical chuckle I found myself responding to with an uneven sigh.
"No, not usually," she admitted. "Poor Alice. But, I tend to get easily distracted by what's going on beyond a window. For example, right now, I'm watching one of the storefronts across the alley, with a graffitied back door to what I believe is the Asian restaurant across the street. The back door has a huge sign with block letters on it that clearly and unambiguously says, 'ABSOLUTELY NO SMOKING ANYWHERE NEAR THESE PREMISES BY PENALTY OF LAW AND IMMEDIATE DISMISSAL.' Yet, there are two guys right outside, both dressed in Hibachi gear, chef hats, and dirty aprons, playing dice and smoking away the afternoon as if they haven't a care in the world nor a sign right in their faces forbidding exactly what they're doing."
I laughed and laughed. "You painted that so perfectly, I can practically see them."
Again, she chuckled, but this chuckle was much quieter, and it sounded as if it held a bit of self-mockery.
"Yes, I'm a wonderful story-teller, especially lately."
For some reason, the satirical tone of her voice made my chest ache. "Well, it sounded like a wonderful story to me."
"Thank you, and I'm sorry." She offered me yet another rueful chuckle. "As I said, I came in to brainstorm with Alice, got distracted, and when the phone rang, I completely forgot I wasn't in my office."
"That's understandable," I smiled.
"Well, I'm not a secretary, but I'd be happy to take a message," she said sweetly, "though I do think Alice has left for the day. Actually, it's so beautiful outside, I think I'll do the same. I'm not getting much accomplished here anyway."
"Then, don't worry about taking a message. Go enjoy the rest of the day. I'll call her cell."
"Okay. Take care, Stranger, and enjoy the rest of your day too."
"Oh, by the way, I'm Ed-" I began, but she'd already ended the call.
And as I set my own phone down, my gaze landed on my own windows and my view. That musical voice replayed itself in my head:
'I tend to get easily distracted by what's going on beyond a window…'
'I'm a wonderful story-teller…'
'Take care, Stranger…'
I smiled to myself. Maybe there was more to windows than their translucency after all. With another deep breath, I called Alice's cell phone.
No answer. I looked up at the clock and mentally ticked off most of the To-Do items I'd wanted to complete before my evening flight. I had a few hours.
"Oh fuck, let me just get this over with," I breathed to myself. "Let's see what Little Sister is up to. Who knows?" I grinned. "Maybe I'll even bump into her quasi-not actual-secretary."
And with a stupid chuckle, I stood from my hard-backed government chair, walked around my desk, out of my office…
…on my way to Alice's building.
So, let's address some FAQs:
Q: Will this be angsty?
A: Short and sweet answer: Yes.
Q: How long will this be (number of chapters, number of words)?
A: I don't know the exact length yet, since I'm writing as I go, but probably around the length of BREAK, give or take 50,000 words and/or twenty chapters or so. ;)
Q: What's the update schedule?
A: I don't really know. BREAK usually updated twice a week, once early in the week and once late in the week. So, I'll try to stick to that, but I can't make any guarantees.
Q: Does one need to read BREAK before they read BROKEN?
A: At the moment, I don't believe so, but since it's only the first chapter, and I'm writing as I go, I can't make guarantees. There will be many scenes from BREAK that won't be here in BROKEN, and even if they are, they'll be from a different POV. So I think it'll really be up to the reader.
Q: Will BROKEN simply be exactly the same story as BREAK, but from Edward's POV?
A: My plan is to write this story to cover as many alternate scenes as possible. As much as I can, I want to write this so that we're not reading the same scenes from BREAK, only they're in Edward's POV. Of course, there will be instances where they will overlap. But mostly, I want this to be Edward's story of what was going on with him, on his side, during this time.
Now, we get to the important Q&As:
Q: If I hate the story, do I need to review and let you know?
A: Not at all! I won't mind in the least if you don't tell me you're hating the story. As a matter of fact, I have a very easy solution for it: Click the 'X' and never reopen the story again. :)
Q: If I have a critical yet CONSTRUCTIVE comment to share, should I review?
A: If you have a critical yet CONSTRUCTIVE comment to share, which doesn't involve attacking me personally nor delivering the comment with snarky, passive-aggressiveness, then YES! By all means, share! Common courtesy is a beautiful thing, and I ADORE replying to comments that are shared by reviewers who remember that I'm a real person, with real feelings, and I will reply in kind. (Hint: Telling me you hate the story and I suck is not a useful comment. Please see #4 above).
If I've forgotten anything, please go ahead and let me know, and I'll answer all your questions. :)
Seriously, I hope you all enjoy.
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"See" you soon. :)