A Rough Start

Chapter 1 – Father Figure

Edward put his empty beer bottle down on the table with a loud clatter, definitely a sign that he'd had enough. He looked over at his friend, Emmett and held up his hand, a signal not to engage in another round.

"I swear, if it wasn't for porn, a good brew, and Rosalie when she's not on the rag, life wouldn't be worth living," Emmett said as he slumped down in his chair.

The Forks lumber mill had just made its second round of cutbacks and though Edward, Emmett and their good friend Jasper, had managed to come away with their jobs intact, they had a lot of friends who didn't make it. And in Forks, there weren't many ways to make a living.

"You thinking about relocating?" Edward asked Emmett.

Emmett shrugged. "I think about it all the time, but in reality, you have to have money to move and I don't have any. Companies are hardly hiring and the ones that are, aren't paying moving expenses."

Edward nodded in agreement. He'd been trying to relocate from Forks to Seattle for the past six months, but he hadn't been able to find anything that didn't require a college degree. Besides, now was not the time to take a vacation from work, and that's exactly what he would have needed to attend a job interview out of town.

"It's definitely a never-ending cycle," Edward said.

Emmett let out a loud belch before popping a handful of peanuts into his mouth. "Oh, look. Here's Jasper."

Edward turned to see a forlorn looking Jasper Hale approaching.

"Hey, man, what's up?" Edward greeted.

Jasper worked in the administrative offices at the lumber company, so his day had been even more stressful than Edward and Emmett, as he had to look into the faces of men he'd worked alongside for years and hand them their last paycheck.

"Kill me now," Jasper sighed as he sat down in the chair that had been reserved for him. "I had to break up two fist fights today. Tension is running high."

"Just tell me we've reached the end of the cutbacks," Edward sighed.

"No can do, bro," Jasper mirrored Edward's heavy sigh. "Though people might not lose their jobs, if they can't break even on this round, they're going to start cutting hours."

"Fuck," Emmett muttered.

"Now, don't go getting worried, yet," Jasper held up his hand against the notion. "It's a big if. And if you guys keep doing what you're supposed to be doing, you'll be fine."

Edward wasn't at all comforted by Jasper's words, but he didn't let on. Instead, he listened and laughed at one of Emmett's asinine jokes and tried not to think of work, at least for a few minutes.

"Hey, Edward, did you ever find out why Social Services was calling you?" Jasper asked suddenly.

"Nah. They're closed by the time I get off and I don't have time to deal with that shit at work. Especially not now that they're watching everything so closely," Edward explained.

Ironically, when Edward stumbled in from the bar that Friday evening, there was a message from someone named Heather calling him from Social Services. She referenced a certified letter that Edward was sure he hadn't received. As soon as he deleted the message he had no intention of returning, Edward shuffled out to his overflowing mailbox and pulled out three different peach-colored slips telling him that he had a certified letter to pick up from the post office.

"Maybe some rich relative put you in their will," Emmett said the next Monday over the hum of the saw. "You should check into that shit."

As promising as that sounded, Edward knew his luck didn't run that way. He fully expected the letters to reveal some long lost income tax bill or the fact that someone was using his social security number, but he was responsible for all the debt they'd racked up.

"No. I don't have time," Edward insisted.

So he let the matter drop for another day.

And that turned into two days, which turned into a week.

On Friday of the following week, a woman dressed in a steel gray suit, entered the lumberyard. Eyes all over the area turned in her direction, as it was obvious that she wasn't from around there.

"Edward Cullen!" The loud voice of the foreman boomed throughout the vast area.

Edward looked up to see the well-dressed woman standing next to Jasper and the plant supervisor.

"This lady needs a word with you," the foreman shouted when he saw Edward take notice.

Edward quickly moved in their direction, anxious to get all eyes off him. He threw an inquisitive glance in Jasper's direction, but Jasper merely shrugged, having no information to offer.

"Gentlemen, is there a secure room where Mr. Cullen and I can speak in private?" the woman asked.

"Sure, take my office," the foreman offered.

The woman nodded before gesturing for Edward to follow her inside. Once alone, she locked the door, closed the blinds and turned to face Edward.

"Well, Mr. Cullen, you sure are a hard one to get a hold of," she smiled and extended her hand to him. "I'm Heather Daily from the Department of Social Services. Have you gotten my calls? Letters?"

"Yeah, but I work. By the time I get off work no one is available for me to call," Edward excused himself.

"That's what lunch breaks are for, Mr. Cullen," Heather smirked.

Edward couldn't help noticing the edge to the woman's voice. It unnerved him and made him immediately anxious.

Instead of engage in further small talk, Heather put a file folder on the desk and pulled out a photo.

"Do you recognize the woman in this picture, Mr. Cullen?" she asked.

Edward squinted at the familiar face and immediately knew who it was. "Yeah. That's a girl I went to high school with. Her name is Jessica. Jessica…Stanley."

"And do you remember the last time you saw Miss Stanley, Mr. Cullen?"

The way she kept saying his name, 'Mr. Cullen', made Edward think she was going to put him in handcuffs and haul him off to prison if he even looked at her wrong.

Edward let out a loud burst of air. "Gee, uh…it's been years. At least five, I'd say. We dated a little bit after high school but then she moved to Oregon with her parents and I stayed here. Why?"

Instead of answer, Heather pulled out another photograph, this time, of a little boy with piercing green eyes and light brown hair.

"How about this picture. Do you know who this is?"

Edward looked down at the child and instantly saw the resemblance to Jessica. But aside from the eye color, there appeared to be nothing that genetically tied him to Edward.

"I don't have any kids," Edward said without delay.

"Well according to this birth certificate recorded August 26, 2004 in Salem, Oregon, you have a son, Anthony David Stanley, born August 4, 2004."

Edward didn't pretend not to know that Jessica had gotten pregnant. Almost two months after they'd broken up, she'd called him and told him that she was "late". After profusely telling her that there was no way in hell that he was getting back together with her, he'd asked her what she wanted to do about 'it'. That's when she informed him that she didn't want to be with his "unmotivated, low-class, going-nowhere ass" and that she would "take care of it". Three days later he'd mailed her two hundred dollars and they never spoke again. As far as Edward had been concerned, she'd taken care of "it".

Now he was being told that "it" had grown into a "he" and she had effectively been taking care of him for the past five years.

"How do you know he's mine? Jessica never mentioned anything about having a son. Are you sure you've got the right guy?" Edward asked.

"Of course you'll need to submit to a paternity test, Mr. Cullen, but I'm not here for a delayed baby shower. The reason that I am now involved is because Miss Stanley passed away nearly a month ago. Since you are listed on the birth certificate as next of kin, we have been attempting to release him into your care, contingent, of course, on a paternity test."

"Jessica…died?" Edward asked incredulously. "What happened?"

"Car accident. She and her mother were returning from a lunch date and they pulled out into oncoming traffic."

"Her mother?"

"The only survivor was the driver of the other vehicle. The little boy was not in the car at the time."

Heather's no-nonsense demeanor was beginning to bug Edward. She was talking about the lives of human beings as if they were inconsequential and unimportant.

"And where is he now?" Edward asked, trying to wrap his mind around the situation.

"Foster care."

Edward's heart sank at the notion of it. "What about Jessica's dad? Why isn't he with him?"

"Mr. Stanley is almost seventy years old. His health does not allow him to take on this type of responsibility."

While Edward sat mulling the whole situation over, Heather was pulling something that looked like it belonged in a laboratory out of her briefcase.

"Now if you're willing to submit to a paternity test, we can get this situation sorted out in a timely manner."

"Sure," Edward shrugged.

It was amazing how fast the state could get something done when they wanted to. Four days later Edward received a certified letter informing him that the probability of paternity for a Mr. Edward Anthony Masen Cullen to an Anthony David Stanley was 99.99%.

Edward Cullen had a son.

That Thursday, after work, Edward made the tiring drive from Forks to Salem, Oregon. Though his heart stung a bit knowing his son had to spend extra time in a foster home, it wouldn't do either one of them any good if he'd lost his job in the midst of this ordeal.

My son.

No matter how often Edward said it to himself, and he did say it often, it still wasn't becoming real to him.

Over the solitary hours of his journey, Edward imagined meeting his son for the first time. It played out over many different scenarios, all of the imaginations getting hung up at the same point: did he introduce himself as 'Edward' or as 'Dad'? That line of questioning led to Edward wondering if the little boy had ever considered anyone else to be his father. Did Jessica have a doting boyfriend out there somewhere that had been there since the very beginning but had no legal rights? Would the little boy whimper some other guys name in the middle of the night – night terrors and separation anxiety gripping his tiny soul?

The little boy… Anthony was his name. Edward wondered if Jessica had planned to one day tell him that they had a son, because in her giving him Edward's middle name, it was as if she was securing a tie to her son's father, even if she'd never told him of his existence.

As the city of Salem began to appear on destination markers along the interstate, Edward felt his level of apprehension elevate. He glanced over that the empty passenger seat and wondered if he should have brought a present, a toy, to break the ice. His internal monologue was badgering and accusing. Of course he should have brought a toy! The little guy…Anthony, had just lost his mother and had to move in with a complete bunch of strangers! He probably didn't have much to call his own anymore. A toy probably would have been nice.

Six fast food stops, four coffee runs and three gas station trips later, Edward exited the off-ramp and followed the short directions to Gardener Avenue. His eyes darted around cautiously as he considered the neighborhood the little boy…Anthony…his son had been staying in for the past few weeks. It appeared to be a lower middle class dwelling area, with overgrown lawns, broken fences and dilapidated vehicles on the street. Still, it looked better than where Edward lived. At least these places had lawns.

4571 Gardner Avenue. Edward found the house much too soon. He hadn't even solved the dilemma of how he would introduce himself to his son for the first time. And speaking of introductions, how should he introduce himself to the person who answered the door? Would he announce himself as Edward Cullen, the father? Or Edward Cullen, Anthony's father? Or would he simply state "Edward Cullen" and leave it up to them to form the appropriate conclusion?

Even as his feet made it to the door, he still hadn't made a decision.

He knocked once, as opposed to ringing the doorbell, halfway hoping that no one was home; a way to buy himself a little more time to come to terms with his situation.

There was a shuffling sound on the other side of the door, a pause, in which Edward assumed someone was looking out of the peephole, and then the distinct sound of a safety chain being unlatched.

The door opened and a mature African-American woman, roughly in her late fifties to early sixties, opened the door. She took one look at Edward and turned her head to call behind her.

"Ant'ny! Your father's here!"

And that settled that.

The woman turned back to Edward and looked him over, obviously searching for the similarities between him and the young boy. Her eyes raked over Edward's auburn-hued locks, taking in the numerous cowlicks that cause it to stand on end. They darted to his hands, his chin, the structure of his jaw and his mouth, before landing on the windows to his soul: his eyes.

"Yep. You look just like him." She muttered.

And then she moved slightly to the side and a small little boy, with lighter hair and huge green eyes, peered curiously from behind her.

Edward started at the sight. First of all, Anthony was smaller than Edward had expected. Weren't five-year-olds taller? Is he potty trained? And second of all, he looked like his mother…Edward's mother. An undetermined emotion seized Edward's heart in that moment and wouldn't let go. This was his child. His flesh and blood.

Still, it felt strange and foreign.

"Hi." Edward heard his own voice for the first time in hours.

Anthony said nothing and gave no indication of greeting. He simply blinked and stared.

"Well, here's his stuff," the woman, who had yet to introduce herself, gestured towards a few suitcases and backpack.

"That's it?" Edward asked. Before the question was all the way out of his mouth, a small piece of paper was being thrust into his hands.

"This is the address to his granddad's house. He'll ship the rest of his things to you."

Edward nodded. "Uh, thanks…?"

"Dotty." And then she turned her attention to Anthony and gently stroked his cheek with her finger. "Now remember what we talked about. You be a good boy for your daddy, ya hear?"

Anthony nodded minutely and stole another glance at Edward before leaning over to pick up his backpack. He unzipped it and pulled out a small puppet, aged and worn.

Edward eyed the toy conspicuously. Yep. I should have brought a toy. Anything would be better than the doll Anthony was gripping now. A boy with a doll? That shit has to go.

Dotty struggled to lift the largest suitcase and Edward quickly took it off her hands. He led the way to his waiting vehicle and heaved it into the trunk before heading off to get the rest of the luggage. As he loaded everything up, Dotty put a booster seat in the back before securing Anthony in with the seatbelt.

Edward said an awkward farewell to Dotty before dragging his hands nervously through his hair and climbing in the driver's seat. Under the guise of adjusting his rearview mirror, Edward used the instrument to conspicuously view his offspring in the backseat. His eyes roamed over the child in much the way Dotty had eyeballed him. Edward took in the clean and seemingly in fashion shirt, the small, knobby knees, the hands that looked like his father's…Edward's father's, the small mouth that was settled into a pout, and then the eyes.

Anthony's gaze was piecing as he and Edward stared at one another through the reflective instrument.

And then Anthony finally spoke.

"I hate you."