1. Its Just Life
A/N: I know I'm crazy for starting a third story, but I couldn't help myself. I wanted to try my hand at an all-human, and this idea wouldn't leave me alone. The titles of chapters are going to song names since that's where I get my inspiration anyway…this one is Its Just Lifeby Kate Voegele. I thought it was appropriate.
Also, please remember, despite being a college student, I choose to not interact that extensively with the alcohol and drugs scene, so I really am going with secondhand info here- please forgive me for mistakes.
Smoke swirled through the air, intermingling with the pounding beat of top-40 music issuing from speakers placed strategically around the crowded and dingy room. Behind me, bodies pulsed to the music, limbs and other body parts sliding rhythmically in tandem; girls and guys entangled seductively with each other, inhibitions erased by the atmosphere, various forms of alcohol, and in a few cases, an assortment of choice illegal substances. Lights were turned low, and an eerie red glow permeated the darkness, ensuring that everyone felt they were satisfying their rebellious streak by endeavoring into such a "dangerous" environment.
The illusion was quite satisfying for the average twenty-five and under crowd that frequented the place, taking a break from their otherwise normal and responsible lives. Nestled in the University District of Seattle, the crowd demographic was dominated by University of Washington students and young professional alumni who enjoyed returning to their old stomping grounds. By tomorrow afternoon, they would have each recovered from their indiscretions and prepare to return to the world of studying, classes, or office jobs Monday morning.
I was seated at the bar, out of the reach of the bloody emanation of the red light bulbs and away from the loudest of the cacophony created by commercialized combinations of beats and tones that passed with the masses for music. Instead, I was bathed by a bright but narrow field of light showering down from one of the fixtures of the track lighting running the circular length of the glossy black counter.
Unlike the others who populated the small interior of M's Bar and Nightclub, I willingly and easily refrained from joining the fray of the dance floor. I wasn't terribly interested in socializing with anyone this evening- or hardly any night. Except for the bartender, who so generously dealt my drinks each evening.
I was especially eager to talk to him now, as I downed the second half of my third shot of vodka.
"Emmett." I called softly, knowing he would hear me. He stood just a few feet away, polishing some glasses he had removed from the dishwasher a few moments before.
He sat down the long-stemmed cocktail glass and his dish rag before ambling slowly over to where I was seated.
Emmett was the classic picture of a tough bartender, straight out of the movies. He was a huge six foot four inches tall, and if I had to guess, over two-hundred pounds of pure muscle. He must spend most of his days at the gym before he came to the bar each night. Only his thick mass of unruly brown curls, his nearly ever-present dimpled boyish grin and slight Tennessee-born southern drawl prevented his appearance from being menacing. Not that anyone would ever think about starting anything around his intimidating stature.
Emmett owned the nightclub- as its moniker reveals, if you happen to be one of the few who knew that his long-time girlfriend, Rosalie, called him Em. She was the only one who could get away with using that nickname, but it still made for a nice title to the place he had begun leasing about two years before, at the ripe old age of twenty-one. He had been fresh out of UW undergraduate business school, with the experience and training of a bartender. Armed with the combination of seed money promised by his parents if he graduated with a degree in business and a matching small business loan from the bank, he had jumpstarted his career as an entrepreneur.
With an amazing stroke of luck, his investment had become an extremely popular nightlife hot spot within its first year, through Emmett's one-man show of hard work and his implicit knowledge, gained through extensive personal experience, of what was appealing to his target audience. Though Emmet could now afford to have others share in the menial duties of running the place day to day, he continued to live up to the clichés that plagued his profession, preferring to remain in the thick of the action, even after his constant presence was no longer necessary. Emmett was just that kind of guy- he was fun-loving and laid-back, thus, he enjoyed the job that was tailor-made for his personality and aptitudes. The chance to interact with others in such a low-key environment was hardly work for him.
"What'll it be Edward?" Emmett asked, sidling up to the bar, taking my shot glass from where it sat, upturned, on the counter. I was here at least three or four times a week and had been sitting in this same seat every time I visited for about six months- needless to say, we were on more than a first-name basis.
"I'll just take another, please. Actually, go ahead and make it a double." I replied, noticing how my words were beginning to slur slightly, "L's" coming out with difficulty.
"Alright man. Hitting it kind of hard tonight, even for you, huh?"
I shrugged, knowing that taking straight shots was a little out of character for me, especially so many. I generally stuck to just one or two drinks, only enough to get a buzz going to get me through the night. Tonight was turning out to be worse than the usual though, and I was intent on being fully distracted, whatever measures that required.
When I didn't answer verbally, Emmett seemed to understand I didn't feel like talking about my reasons. Not that I ever felt like talking about it- the past that propelled me to M's several times a week. While Emmett and I had befriended each other, he still had no idea why I was constantly in here. Mostly we talked about trivial things, sports and cars and other non-important subjects.
Ever obliging, Emmett just pulled a clean glass from under the counter and the bottle of clear liquid relief from behind him. He filled the glass to the brim before giving it over to me. I nodded my thanks, and Emmett walked around to the other side of the island, cluttered with the rainbow of colored bottles, multitudes of glasses, and taps of beer, all encircled by the bar.
I took a large gulp of the drink before me, feeling the satisfying burn the fiery liquid trailed behind after it traveled the length of my throat. I concentrated on the sensation as a distraction from the memories and pressures that were haunting me with greater fervor than usual, holding the small glass in one hand, resting my upper body's weight upon the counter through my forearms, back hunched.
My mind wandered, and eventually I became entrapped within my own bubble, blocking out my surroundings- a mighty task considering the decibel level.
That's why I hardly noticed when a short girl, her height enhanced by curly brown hair, took the seat beside me. Eventually, she did catch my attention when she turned her body towards mine, not-so-subtly "accidentally" knocking her red-stiletto shoed foot into my leg.
I glanced up, turning my head while my body remained hunched over the bar, looking to find the source poking that had interrupted my drunken reverie.
The girl was oblivious to my obvious desire to be left alone, and a smile that I assumed was supposed to be flirtatious spread across her small features.
"Hi, I'm Jessica." She said, boldly offering a hand for me to shake.
I noticed her fake French-manicured nails before I politely took her hand- even if I was playing the part of a drunk, I had been raised to be a gentleman with manners.
In the moment that we connected, I was given the chance to fully take in the girl's- Jessica's- appearance. She fit the part of UW sorority girl perfectly. In addition to impractical pointy-toed shoes, she was wearing a black scrap of cloth that hardly passed for a dress- I would be surprised if it hit her mid-thigh when she was standing, considering how dangerously close to indecent it was when she was sitting, legs crossed. The draping neck line left little to the imagination, and one of braided straps was nearly slipping from the edge of her shoulder. A tan that was impossible to obtain naturally in rainy-Seattle colored her skin, and dark heavy eye-makeup shadowed her eyes while her lips shined with a coat of lip gloss.
"Edward." I responded to her introduction tacitly before dropping her hand. I hoped that perhaps she would realize that there was a reason I was sitting at the bar, alone, smelling of too much alcohol. Then maybe she would leave me, curiosity satisfied. Not surprisingly, I was not so lucky.
"Nice to meet you Edward." she said, peppiness seeping out of her pores, along with the distinct smell of something else that I was assuming gave her the courage to approach a stranger. "I know this is kind of strange and all, just introducing myself, and I don't usually do this, but I've noticed you around here quite a bit, and I just couldn't help myself, I was curious…" she trailed off, mercifully ending her nervous babble.
I groaned internally, Jessica already grating at my nerves with her attempt to hit on me, despite my unwelcoming body language. God, this girl was clueless. I decided that the best way was to just cut her off, before she made a bigger fool of herself. As gently as possible, of course.
I turned from the bar, positioning myself more directly in line with the girl. "Look, Jessica- I'm sure you're a very nice girl and all, but I'm just not interested in socializing tonight. Now, if you would please excuse me…" I said, slamming back the last of my drink before abandoning my seat and walking around to where I had last seen Emmett.
Jessica's jaw dropped in shock and I could see the indignation in her expression, but I couldn't bother to pay much attention to how I may have hurt her feeling right now. It was more important to focus on my footsteps, being careful to not stumble as I made my way around the bar. I wasn't too far gone, but my motor skills were off, and the room was swimming, some of the colors beginning to stream together, so I ran my hand along the countertop as a precaution.
Thankfully, Emmett was just a few yards away.
"Dude, don't you think that was just a little harsh?" Ah- so he had heard my exchange with Jessica.
"I was only being honest." I replied, shrugging my shoulders. "What was I supposed to do?"
"Why don't you ever give one of these girls a chance Edward? You could have just about any one of them, you know."
I shook my head, not wanting to have this conversation with him again. Emmett, while faithful to Rosalie from the day they met in his senior year of college, had been quite the womanizer in the past, and could not understand why I never took advantage of the many opportunities presented to me- Jessica was just the latest in a string of girls in the months since I had come to town, eager to please.
"You know I'm not interested right now. And certainly not in some bubble-headed sorority girl."
Now it was Emmett's turn to shake his head.
"Yeah, yeah. Doesn't mean I can't think you're entirely crazy. You ready to pay your tab?" He changed the subject, recognizing the discussion was closed.
I nodded, and began to count out the cash. I handed it over, and Emmett went into responsible bartender mode.
"Want me to call you a cab- or you could just stick around for about half an hour and Rosie and I could give you a ride?" he asked. I knew that Emmett had made last call, and would be ushering out the already thinning crowd in about five minutes. He was already mostly cleaned up, and Rosalie would be coming by soon to pick him up as she did every night that she didn't have to teach second-grade at the local elementary school the next day.
I considered the two options, deciding that I would take Emmett up on his offer. I lived about halfway between the bar and Emmett and Rosalie's apartment, so it wasn't like I would be imposing.
"You sure?" I asked, going through our usual routine. Generally, I would just take the cab or walk, but I wasn't really ready to be alone yet, as pitiful as that was. I knew that my inner demons would start tormenting me soon enough and I wanted to postpone that for as long as possible.
"Of course- what are friends for?" he posed the rhetorical question, grinning as he slapped me on the shoulder, before filling a glass of water and insisting I drink it.
I took it, spinning it slowly on the counter while Emmett turned up the lights and cut the music, directed the last few stragglers out the door, called cabs and arranged rides for the most drunk, and filled the dishwasher with one final load.
He was sweeping the floor when Rosalie came through the back door, dressed in just a pair of jeans, and a fitted red v-neck t-shirt, but stunningly gorgeous. Though not my type, it was impossible to deny the beauty of Rosalie. She hardly ever wore more makeup than necessary, and her long golden blond hair cascaded without help in casual long layers down to her shoulder blades. Rosalie was naturally endowed with the ability to turn heads fast enough to give every man in Seattle whiplash, and she hardly had to try.
Not that she was unaware of how beautiful she was- she certainly knew how attractive she was. Perhaps that was why she held such little appeal for me- in addition to the fact that I would never attempt to make a move on a girl I knew was taken. That was just disrespectful.
I averted my eyes as she shimmied up to Emmett, capturing his lips in a passionate kiss, as if they had been separated for a month rather than the eight hours it had been since she had dropped him off before going out to dinner and a movie with her friends from the school.
I stared down into the flat, clear surface of my water for a full minute before daring to look up again, afraid that I might be scarred if I did. Even then, the two were just beginning to extricate themselves from one another, and Rosalie's hand remained on his broad chest for a moment, his eyes locked adoringly with hers before they separated entirely.
Only then did she notice me.
She slid gracefully to where I sat, taking the stool next to me and sitting her purse on the counter top.
"Hello Edward." She said politely, with only a little warmth in the greeting.
While Rosalie held no grudges against me, we had never been able to connect very deeply. If I was to attempt to say why, I would have to guess that it was because she didn't capture my attention in the way she did that of other men- and my guesses about such things are hardly ever wrong. Though I was certainly not saying that Rosalie wanted me to see her that way. Her pride was just offended that I didn't, and it affected our relationship.
"I take it we're giving you a ride back to your place?" she asked, her nose wrinkling almost imperceptibly at the smell of alcohol that I was probably giving off.
I only nodded, knowing that just as this didn't bother Emmett, Rosalie didn't mind either, so long as her red BMW convertible, courtesy of her ultra-rich socialite parents back in New York, stayed a puke-free zone. Honestly, Rose was a compassionate person at heart, despite the pretenses she gave off- so long as you didn't endanger those pretenses by doing something like ruining her leather seats.
"What did it this time?" she questioned, referring to the fact that I was hardly ever too incapacitated to get myself home by walking.
"About five or six shots of vodka."
"Hmmm…" she responded. I could tell she, like Emmett, desperately wanted to know the deeper reason behind my actions. Unlike Emmett, she didn't hold back and confirmed my theory.
"I don't suppose you'd want to talk about it?" she asked, the slightly sisterly feelings she had developed toward me coming through.
I only shook my head in reply, and she sighed in frustration. Thankfully, Emmett showed up at that moment and began counting the till, his last task of the night. As he counted, he turned the conversation to lighter topics, his booming voice filled with laughter as he recounted to Rose my earlier run-in with Jessica and other comic stories from the night, including the guy who he had found in the bathroom, no idea where his pants had gone. Though the story was juvenile, Rose and I smiled along, happily humoring Emmett, affected by his infectious chuckles.
Eventually, Emmett locked the money in the safe for the night and we all left, Emmett turning out the lights and locking the doors. He wrapped his arm around Rose's waist and we headed down the darkened sidewalk along the mostly deserted street.
We reached Rose's car, and all climbed in, Rose in the driver's seat, Emmett beside her, and I in the back.
We drove mostly in silence until we reached my apartment building. I climbed out, said my thanks and good nights before stumbling up the stairs, struggling with fitting my key in the lock, then entering the first floor of my building where my apartment was located. After the last obstacle of another locked door, I made it into my apartment. I immediately began stripping off my t-shirt and threw it on the black couch in the living room, continuing on my way down the hall to my bedroom.
I barely managed to strip off my jeans before falling into my bed, suddenly exhausted. My eyes slid shut almost immediately, heaviness weighing on my eyelids, and my consciousness cut off at the same moment my sense of vision disappeared.
Unfortunately, my drunken stupor did not equate to a peaceful sleep. My night was filled with traumatic dreams, my brain recalling visuals from the few months I had spent as a member of the US Marines before coming to Washington.
Straight out of high school, I had persuaded my parents, Edward Masen Sr. and Elizabeth Masen, to allow me to join the marines without cutting me off, promising to attend college upon the conclusion of a four year term. It had been a compromise the result of several months of arguments. Initially, I had wished to make the armed forces my career, but the idea did not bode well with my father, who envisioned me as a professional- a lawyer like him or a doctor. My mother had also opposed my decision, though much more quietly and for different reasons. Her overwhelming love for me prevented her from approving in good conscience, and she expressed that her greatest desire was for me to be safe.
Eventually, after many bitter battles that included my constant argument that I should serve my country, my father had acquiesced, offering me a deal. I would still receive my trust fund and could serve my country- for just four years. Then, I would go to college, and study whatever I wished, since I had already expressed my disdain for medicine or law. Honestly, my father and mother knew that there was no stopping me, even if they had cut me off. It was only the effect of my loving mother's constant tears and pleas that convinced me to agree.
So I had entered basic training, going through the most holistically strenuous and difficult task of my life up until that point. However, with determination, I survived. Upon graduation, I was assigned my base, only to receive deployment orders less than a month later.
Though I knew I should be terrified and ideologically disagreed with the circumstance that had lead to the conflict I was about to join, I couldn't help but entertain visions of glory and honor in my head, the two factors that had been much more powerful motivations in my decision than my loyalty to my country.
I joined the forces in Iraq just a few weeks after receiving my orders, and was put on the front lines as part of a unit in charge of stabilizing a particularly violent pocket of Baghdad. Things had been going well, and we seemed to be winning the battle as the area became safer, people venturing out more in the day, though there was still a curfew.
Eventually, like had happened countless of other times, the security broke down in the area as insurgents made an influx into the neighborhood. We were taken by surprise on what should have been a routine transport of various supplies, including humanitarian aid. It was just another one-hundred degree afternoon, until a roadside bomb exploded, sending the scene into chaos. There were ten of us in the group escorting the caravan. Four died, one escaped unscathed, and five of us, including myself, were injured.
I was lucky, if one could call it that. Unlike a couple of the guys, I kept all my limbs, and didn't have the severe burns covering my body like the guy in the lead humvee. I was in the car taking up the rear along with two others. I was sitting in the front of the vehicle, and only suffered from some mild to moderate lacerations from the glass shattering, some minor burns, and injuries resulting from our vehicle rolling over. I got away with only a severely broken leg, a couple broken ribs, and a concussion.
After the accident and being stabilized, our entire unit, minus the guy with only some scrapes and bruises from the backseat of my vehicle, was shipped to the hospital in Germany. There I was checked out for internal bleeding around my brain and other internal organs, had my lungs checked out in case there were complications from my broken ribs, and my leg was assessed. It turned out that it required surgery, and I ended up staying at Walter Johnson Memorial in Bethesda, Maryland for a few weeks, going through recovery and physical rehabilitation.
Like so many other young soldiers who return disillusioned with war, my physical injuries were the least of my problems. I had seen people, my brothers and friends, die. It damaged me, and I shrank into a shell of myself, hardly talking or acknowledging others except for when it was necessary. The dreams had started then- night terrors is what the official psych doctor had called them.
After the doctors realized that I was now defective and would be little use in service to the US, I had been honorably discharged from the Marine Corp, and given a medal for my service, along with an anti-anxiety medication and a recommendation for a VA therapist.
Neither of these two things had stopped the dreams, and the flashbacks still plagued my nights, leaving me without quality sleep and ensuring I never forgot the evil I had seen. Thus, this night was no exception to my routine and my dreams were filled with the faces of my comrades, explosions, and death.
The next morning, from the moment my eyes opened, I knew that I was going to pay for the night before. Hangovers were a rare occurrence in my existence, since my body was so adjusted to a constant influx of alcohol, but this morning I was not spared.
I groaned, rolling over, hoping that maybe I would just slip into unconsciousness again. Five minutes later I realized my hopes were getting me nowhere, and I grudgingly pushed the heap of covers away and rolled out of bed.
I shuffled my feet along the carpeted hallway, and made a stop by the bathroom, only slightly phased by the reflection that greeted me. My hair was in its usual disarray, and I only ran my hands through it in an attempt to calm it down. I brushed my teeth to remove the bitterness from my mouth, and splashed some water on my face, vaguely wondering how long it would be before my eyes would lose the red that rimmed them and left bloodshot streaks in the white. I considered shaving the two day stubble that now graced my jaw line, but decided it could wait.
One thing that could not wait, however, was finding some way to end the pounding inside my skull. I pulled open the mirrored medicine cabinet, in search of the answer to my problem. I considered the bottle of ibuprofen that sat to the left, my hand hovering near it. I thought better of it at the last second, and moved my hand instead to the right, choosing one of the prescription bottles on the top right shelf.
After taking two of the vicodin dry and replacing the bottle to its rightful place, I closed the white medicine cabinet and walked out of the bathroom, still in nothing but my boxers. I walked toward the kitchen, deciding that I should probably eat something, since, thankfully, I was not being confronted with nausea.
I entered the white and black tiled room, adjacent to the living room where my t-shirt from the night before was still thrown haphazardly across an arm of the sofa.
"Good afternoon." Jasper, my roommate, greeted me from where he sat at the wooden table with a sandwich and a psychology textbook open in front of him.
I grunted in response, looking over to the microwave's digital display. 1:14 PM. Indeed- I had slept into the afternoon.
"Rough night?" he questioned knowingly.
"You could say that." I mumbled in response, perusing the cabinets for evidence of anything edible. I settled for cereal because of its simplicity, though in my mind, its fitness for consumption was questionable. It wasn't exactly the most appealing breakfast food.
I settled in at the table across from Jasper. "What about you?" I asked.
"Eh- it was alright- ended up back here early. Figured I should hold back so I could get up and get some studying done today. You know midterms are starting this week, right?" He questioned in a way that was more of a suggestion, referring to the fact that I too was a student at UW. His question was fair, considering it was such a rare occurrence for me to actually show up at class.
I didn't reply to his prodding, knowing that he wasn't actually going to give me a speech on class attendance.
"What are you reading?" I asked, changing the subject and knowing that most of the stuff Jasper studied as a psychology major was actually interesting.
He smirked a little before answering, but eventually told me. "Addictions." He said, thousands of implications in his tone and facial expressions.
The irony that had Jasper smiling wasn't lost on me. While I refused to call my problems addictions, I knew that Jasper did, though he hardly ever brought it up. He knew it was a sensitive topic, and that I would refuse to talk about it. Of course, the irony didn't end there.
Jasper had been the guy in the passenger seat of the vehicle I had been driving in Iraq. We had been placed in the same unit upon arrival in Iraq, and had quickly befriended each other. Like myself, the military had always been Jasper's dream, and we had similarly privileged upbringings. We were both hyper-aware of people, though while I was a good judge of what people were thinking, he was better at telling what they were feeling. Together, we had made a pretty good team, and were on our way up the ranks, until that fateful sultry summer afternoon.
We spent time together in the hospital, while he was being treated for the fracture in his skull and the multitude of cuts from debris that had left a pattern of scars along one side of his body from his waist to his neck. Jasper was one of the few people who had been able to get me to talk about anything, and our friendship had deepened to more of a brotherhood.
In the first few months we had been back on American soil, he had suffered through many of the same issues as I, and had initially become "addicted" to the pain medications he was given. His family had ensured he received help, and he currently considered himself a recovering addict.
That was fine and good for him- whatever. He seemed to be doing better, but I knew he still struggled, despite the fact that he was far more functional than I was. Still, I was happy for him, even if he was convinced that all I needed was to come with him to one of the group therapy sessions he went to. I consistently refused and he just put up with everything I did. I knew he had hopes that eventually I would come around.
This time, I just shook my head.
"I'm fine Jasper- maybe I'll even go to class this week and study this afternoon, if it will convince you."
"You don't have to report to me man. I was just answering your question."
"Uh-huh." I said, getting up to rinse out my bowl in the sink, ignoring the light knowing chuckles that came from the table behind me.
True to my promise, I did study that afternoon after showering and collecting my clothes. Not that I needed to study.
I was a music major at UW, and I had ended up there for the sheer fact that it had been as far away as I could get from Chicago. My parents didn't care where I went, so long as I attended somewhere. I only wanted to get away from the smothering attention I felt from them and my friends in the area who kept alternating between treating me like a hero and a fragile doll ready to crack. Jasper had decided to come too, also wanting to get away from his home in Texas and because UW is one of the top twenty schools for an undergraduate degree in psychology. Seemed we marines did stick together after all.
I had already spent most of my life studying music theory and history. My mother had ensured I received piano lessons from the time I could walk, and it had stuck. I knew how to read any music, could compose, and knew every major composer's work and his influences, in addition to some less well-known ones. My vast knowledge made it easy to get by in my classes without much effort, so long as I showed up when necessary for testing and performances. It turned out that wasn't all that often, and I rarely needed to go out in the daylight, preferring to wait until nightfall when piercing beams of illumination threatened to reveal everything I tried to hide. Night was just more comfortable for me.
That's why it was out of the ordinary for me to leave the apartment that afternoon, heading over to one of the coffeehouses that dotted every corner of Seattle. I had no idea why I did it, except that I just felt this need to get out of the apartment, and it couldn't wait. So, I picked up my books, thinking I might actually study a little, but knowing it was more likely that I would spend the time playing the piano nestled in the corner of the shop. Either way, I just needed to get out- it was as if I was being pulled by some invisible force, and I had no option but to comply.
A/N: So, is it worthy of continuation? As usual, reviews determine whether or not I continue writing. Sorry that this is a lot of building action, but I think the background is necessary. Now, go on and click on that little button just down there little ones :). skips off gleefully...