Twilight and its characters are the sole property of Stephenie Meyer. No copyright infringement is intended and all creative rights to these characters belong to their original author. No profit is being made from this story.
Based very loosely on a true story, shamelessly extrapolated and mutilated and moved to the other side of the Atlantic.
Edward's whole life was inside the bulging yellow envelope.
It looked so unassuming, labelled with Jacob Black's name and work address in his brother's lopsided spider-crawl print, antithetically thin black ink on a scuffed white sticker. The stamp wasn't straight either, so maybe – hopefully, perhaps? - they'd just throw it aside when they saw it. Inside, however, was his life and personality in a series of indecipherable tests and prolix statements of values, aspirations, hobbies. It was somewhere between a job application and a gross invasion of privacy. What if they published it? Still, the temptation to just send it and see what happens...
Edward knocked back one last drink with a grimace as he stared at it, poised over the far edge of the coffee table. I'll think about it. Sufficiently relaxed, he abandoned the envelope on the table by the front door and left for another compulsory, torturous family dinner with his brother, parents and ever delightful sister-in-law.
Dozing in a folding chair at work two days earlier, he'd heard Jake Black talk over the end of one of his current favourite tracks. No customer had been in for at least – he glanced at the clock – twenty-five minutes, and normally he would amuse himself with the radio, slumped in the chair, occasionally sorting new stock to look busy when his eyelids began to droop.
"Well, ladies and gents, here at Howlin' FM we've got a very exciting new 'opportunity' for you all." Edward's ears twitched and he slouched forward, staring at the decade-old radio on the counter as if it had lips to read. It was only the host's irritatingly frequent laugh that diverted his gaze into the palm now over his eyes.
"We're running a blind-date style competition with a very different twist... If you're one half of our lucky couple, you're going to meet your dream partner on your wedding day, and then enjoy a lovely, complimentary two week honeymoon, just the two of you."
Edward snorted as he stood and shuffled a box of stock from under the counter with his feet, but kept listening anyway. It was this kind of entertainment that put a smirk on his face even on days like this.
"Now, we're not just going to randomly pair you up and leave you to it. No, we've got fifteen scientific personality tests for you and a horde of psychologists to assess and match you, and our strongest match will be getting hitched at the end of next month. So, for all of you singletons out there, head over our website and grab the forms. I, myself, am entering, of course... Deadline's June 7th, however, so get going – you've only got three weeks. Now, up next..."
Jake Black continued to speak over the intro and Edward recognised it instantly. It was not one of his favourites, and something about DJs chattering over music grated on his nerves. He had slumped down into the chair again, abandoning the box, and was adjusting the dial to another station when the bell over the front door rang and he glanced up, expecting more teenagers to intimidate considering the hour. Dragging himself to his feet, Edward groaned and stretched his arms up to push out a loose ceiling tile, showcasing his height, then hauled the box – and an official looking clipboard – into the section with the kids and actually worked.
Sometimes he hated his job.
Of course, he wasn't the only person to hear about Howlin FM's contest. His brother was pounding on the door of Edward's apartment not so long after midnight that night; technically, it was the next morning, as he grumbled to himself. Looking through the peephole, he slammed a palm into the door with a soft thud.
"Emmett," Edward said, trying to singe him with a glare that would bugger toast as well as he managed every morning.
"Rose is out," Emmett said. He shrugged and stepped inside. "You work tonight, don't you?"
"No, not tonight, you twat." Emmett grinned; Edward was his younger brother and he had never grown used to adult Edward's occasional cursing, although he was used to Edward's grouchiness at night. He slept only when he needed to and was used to doing things as and when he wanted. He had always been the same; his need for his own independent routine was unnerving. "I was about to go to bed. Make it quick."
"I thought you did."
"No. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday. Tonight was my night off."
"Sorry, man." Emmett clapped Edward on the back as he passed and Edward stalked after him, leaving the door open.
Emmett made a beeline for the kitchen as Edward sprawled out over the couch in resignation, fists balled over his eyes as the kitchen light flooded the living room with a square of bright, gelid pain. "So what did you want, apart from a chat? I'm opening the store in the morning, so it had better be quick."
"It's not like you sleep anyway. You're fucking nocturnal, kid."
"If you work 'til midnight at night and start at eight the next morning, you sleep in between. I was nocturnal once, when I wasn't working."
"You're a waster, man. I've caught you dozing at work before. But that's not the point. Well, it kinda is. Anyway, did you hear about that Howlin' contest?"
Oh, shit. "Of course I did. Record store, forty-plus hours a week? Yeah. I heard. What about it?"
"I think you should enter." Emmett's silhouette appeared in the square light and Edward squinted. He appeared to be eating; Edward couldn't discern what. He hadn't realised there was even food in there.
"Because it's... wrong. It's for-"
"Don't give me your romantic bullshit about true love and lifelong marriage and the happily ever after. If you're so right about all of this, how come you're lonely?"
"I'm not lonely. And anyway, it's not about romance-" He almost spat the word. "- or whatever. It's definitely not for me."
"You are lonely. I don't know anyone else as bad as you for completely avoiding people. You live in this apartment, work two jobs and cram your free hours with compositions and gigs where you turn up, play, have one perfunctory drink, and leave. You only ever talk to me, Mom, Dad and Rose. You need to get out. You're a good guy, you have a lot going for you. You just don't do people." He thrust a handful of slightly dog-eared pages at his brother who snatched them away just to get him to stop the rustling as they were shaken up and down. "Fill them in. Seriously, kid, what's the worst that could happen?"
"It's a hoax and my whiny life story is poured onto the internet for all to see?" Emmett raised an eyebrow. It was too delicate a gesture, it seemed out of place. Edward idly wondered if it was borrowed from Emmett's wife. He shook the thought of wives away. "Anyway, it's not as if I'm frigid."
Emmett guffawed, his hulking form leaning forward in the chair he dwarfed. "No," he spluttered at last, "but that's not love either. Just do it. It's worth it."
Edward dropped the papers on the floor and stretched his arms up behind his head. "Bullshit. Go home, Emmett. I'll talk to you tomorrow."
"Yeah. 'Night, cranky." Keeping his eyes closed, Edward reached for a magazine off the coffee table and hurled it at his brother. Emmett laughed again. "Missed, kid. Maybe you should work on your aim, not your beauty sleep."
"It's not beauty sleep after midnight. If I'm not careful I'll turn into you."
"You wish. 'Night then, Sleeping not-so-Beauty."
"That doesn't make sense."
Emmett was already gone, and Edward's head was suddenly spinning so fast he would either sleep right there or have no hope of sleep at all. Stepping over the papers on the floor when he could no longer hear Emmett thundering down the stairs, apparently oblivious to the hour, he headed for his keyboard.
Four hours later, he was back in his living room armchair, scowling at those unassuming and now even more dog-eared sheets, still on the floor between last Tuesday's newspaper and a broken CD case. He picked up all three and discarded them appropriately – the newspaper with the rest of the stack, the CD to one of the endless shelves across the longest wall and the forms into his bag for work in three hours and twenty-eight minutes. He had worked himself into the state where something more than strong coffee and mind-numbing stock work would be needed to get him through the day.
Curled up in bed ten minutes and a hot shower later, Edward was still shivering. Maybe Emmett was right. Something was missing.
What did he have to lose?
Work the next morning was dull. There were just four customers before midday and he had already meticulously stocked and restocked most of the sections. Emmett appeared again at one and Edward tried to hide the papers as fast as he could but it took less than seconds for Emmett to be leering over the counter, not even long enough for Edward's brain to command his arms to at the very least turn the papers over.
"Hey, look who's filling in the forms!"
"Shut up." Edward shuffled them away anyway. Something about getting caught doing it made him feel... wrong. He pushed that away for later thought.
"I thought you might. Good for you, kid. I hope you get it, although God knows what Mom would say. Then again, she doesn't have to know, and she would be so happy if you were..." Edward glared. Emmett read it for exactly what it was – impatience; Edward's own time was being invaded again. If he left now, his plan would work better. "Anyway, I just came to tell you that dinner's tomorrow night not Sunday this week."
Emmett shrugged. "Just is. I told them you didn't work Fridays... or Wednesdays." He had the decency to look sheepish, but there was still evidence of a smirk.
"Couldn't give me more notice, could they? It's good I'm not playing this Friday, isn't it?"
"Look, it's tomorrow at seven. If you're not there..." Emmett paused. He adjusted his jacket. "Just be there. And get those forms finished."
Edward stood to get the door for him with a polite but sardonic nod. Without a word, Emmett gave a little wave, grinned and left. The day didn't get better for Edward. Neither did the next.
Edward hadn't even made it up to his parents' porch steps when Rosalie appeared before the closed front door and blocked his path.
"Yes?" he asked with a grimace that had almost been intended as a smile. They were adults. They could be civil... sometimes.
"I have good news tonight. If you whine and moan and bitch like normal, then I'll give you something to really bitch about. Okay?"
Edward shrugged. "You want silence, then?"
"No. Don't upset Esme. For Christ's sakes, Edward, could you not, you know, be normal for a night?"
He rolled his eyes. "My mother has coped with my moods for nearly thirty years. She knows how to deal with me."
"Yes, but she shouldn't have to. As you say, you're nearly thirty. As Emmett would say, you need to get laid; my stipulation of that romantic and admirable notion is that it should be regularly and by the same girl, but I'm not sure I'd wish your angst-ridden presence on anyone."
"Thanks, Rose. It's nice to see you too. Excuse me." As he stepped up, Rose moved aside and let him pass.
"Mom?" Edward called as he crossed the threshold, leaving the door open for his sister-in-law. He was approaching the kitchen when Esme appeared in a flurry of caramel curls and smiling eyes and wrapped him in the most absorbing embrace she could manage from inches below him. Edward squeezed her back and lifted her slightly off her feet. Her squeal made Edward's own face light up in return. Only his mother could evoke such a response from him. At the sound of his father entering the room, Esme pulled away and her smile faded slightly. She traced under her youngest son's eyes with her finger.
"You look tired, Edward. Are you looking after yourself?"
Edward's smile grew wistful too. "Yes, Mom. Still recovering from Emmett's-" he glanced behind him. Rose was still outside. "-midnight visit. Did he tell you about that?"
"Yes. What was he doing at your apartment at that time?"
Edward floundered. He couldn't tell her about the contest, not even now that he was really considering it. Especially now.
Emmett saved the day. "I told you, Mom. I thought he worked Wednesday so he'd just be getting home. Rose was out, I was bored."
Esme smiled again and hurried over to the stove where her husband was stirring away at something. She slapped his hand.
"Carlisle, your son is here and you take over the stirring for me? Shame on you. You've not seen him for a week."
Esme didn't realise that Edward met his father for lunch every Tuesday before his shift at the hospital and during Edward's break to discuss his life without a mother's idealism and endless praise. Dr. Cullen was more pragmatic. Between the two of them, Edward believed he could not have had better parents. They would have been the perfect example for him if he had children, but...
That was one more reason not to try his luck in the contest. Perhaps it was worth adding as a note, for fairness' sake. Edward managed not to think about it any more, but it would hardly be fair. He would have to add it as a note. Then he caught himself acting as if he were going to enter and tried to physically shake his head clear, brushing the thoughts away with fingers through his hair, but his father gripped his hand and pulled him into a one-armed hug. He held it just long enough to murmur in Edward's ear, "Brighten up; we can talk about it later if you have to."
Edward pulled away. "What?
"That," he said, nodding at his son's face. He mimicked it, then laughed. Edward did too, weakly, until Rose returned and sat beside Emmett, taking his hand and thumbing his wedding band as he wrapped an arm around her shoulder.
"What on earth have you done to already have Carlisle so... depressed?"
Emmett looked at his wife. "Um, they're laughing, Rose? That's not depression... I mean, even Edward's laughing." She clipped him around the ear. "Sorry," he mumbled.
Carlisle moved back over to his wife. "Just pulling faces at Edward."
Emmett contorted his face into a shape that shouldn't have been possible. Everyone except Rose laughed now, but when Edward looked at them he withdrew to the farthest corner and folded himself into a chair, chin in hands again. The others were the picture of perfection, father's arms wrapped around mother's waist, son's arm around his wife's shoulders.
Then there was the bronze-haired boy in the corner, shrinking his lanky frame into as small a shape as possible and looking on, lonely and-
He caught himself. Emmett was right. Lonely.
After half-watching the two couples snuggle up together for another minute - about as long as Edward could stand - he vanished into the hall in search of the piano. His apartment would only hold a keyboard, so this was, aside from his parents, the only thing that brought him back week after week. The feel of real keys, actual ivory over spruce on an antique instrument instead of the impersonal plastic covering on modern keys, convinced him – he berated himself for the sentiment – that he was more connected to this instrument, knowing it had been played by his mother and who knew how many other relatives, than he ever could be with his Yamaha keyboard or any piano of his own he ever managed to save and make room for.
He sat down on the stool and reverently stroked his fingertips across two octaves' keys, then played a quiet trial chord or two. Then, tossing aside all conscious thought, he launched straight into a piece, one of his own compositions, lugubrious and lingering.
"You sound a little off today, Edward," his mother said from the doorway. "Was it the meter? Are you okay?"
He nodded, still playing, pounding the keys now where he had merely crept over them before. "Fine." When she neither answered nor moved, he had to speak again. "It's the meter. I had a little to drink before I came. Not too much, but a little. You know I normally only play sober."
"I just like you to play." She stepped alongside him and tangled a hand in his hair. "Dinner's ready, whenever you are." Kissing her son on the temple, Esme temporarily dissolved his angst enough for him to bring the piece to a premature close and smile up at her.
He stood and offered his arm, leading her back to the dining room where pulled out her seat with a flourish. She beamed.
Sitting between his parents at the ends, Emmett and Rosalie on the other side, Edward felt as isolated as he was content to be alone. This contradiction had never bothered him before tonight.
"So, how are things, Edward? Have you written anything new recently?"
He glanced up the table at his father who was raising a forkful of roast lamb to his mouth, eyes trained on Edward.
"That one you were playing earlier?"
"I started it a few days ago. It's not finished."
He nodded. The melancholy of the piece was transparent to Carlisle but he wouldn't ask about the inspiration there. It would wait until their Tuesday lunch.
"And how's work?"
"Alright," he said, and it wasn't a lie. It was the same generic answer he gave everything. Nothing had really changed in the last five years on his side of the table, even though there was now a beautiful woman on his brother's side, Esme's eyes were framed by deeper crinkles when she smiled and Carlisle was sporting a little grey at his temples.
"They're hardly difficult jobs," Rosalie contributed.
Emmett jumped to Edward's defence, as well as he could against his wife – distraction, not disagreement. "Rosie, we have news, don't we?" His wife's face twisted into an expression Edward had not seen for years - excitement, nerves, euphoria. It was her wedding face. Edward had watched her face very closely that day.
"Yes. I'm - we're - pregnant." She clasped Emmett's hand on top of the table and Esme jumped to her feet, rushing round to embrace her daughter-in-law. As Esme and Rosalie were distracted with squeals, hugs and details, and Carlisle by watching their antics, Edward furrowed his brows at Emmett. He shrugged with a smirk.
Edward jerked upright and nodded stiffly. "Congratulations," he muttered. "And thank you for dinner, Mom, but I have to work tomorrow, so I should go."
Esme released Rosalie and glanced at him, concerned. "Work, tomorrow? On a Saturday? I thought you always took Saturday off."
"Yes..." he lied. "But not this week. I need the money."
"Are you alright with everything, honey? Rent, car payments, utilities? Do you need help?"
He shook his head, eyes still on the plate in his shaky grasp, gravy trickling dangerously over the sides, and left quickly on uneven feet with mutterings about saving for something special, leaving the plate beside the kitchen sink and grabbing his coat. He was at the front door when he heard clicking heels. Stopping to pull the raincoat on despite the unusually cloudless summer sky, he gave Esme time to appear at his side and put one hand on his arm, her other arm around his waist.
"Don't worry about it, Edward. It's not your fault."
"I know, but-"
"No buts. You'll find somebody yourself some day soon and be just as happy as your Emmett and Rose or your father and I. You're a good boy, and a good-looking one, and so talented. One day not so far from now some helpless girl is going to fall head over for heels for you." She smiled. "Mother's intuition."
He shook his head but smiled regardless and pulled her into another hug, feeling her cheek pull up against his chest. "Thank you, Mom. I love you."
She kissed his cheek. "And I love you, but you need more than just a mother's love. But go on, get home and call me soon."
He squeezed her hand and left as quickly as he could without appearing rude.
Returning home, he realised that the drinks that had seemed so smart before, and the additional two glasses of wine with dinner, had only left him in an unbreakable melancholy.
Looking around the apartment didn't help either; it was nearly as messy as it was allowed to get before somebody in the family would intervene. As ever, the CDs were immaculately organised and only one or two favourites were off the shelves, but everything else lay where it had been discarded as Edward spared very little time to clear up. The fact that the carpet wasn't its original colour for dust and that some of the newspapers were now as grey as they had been black and white did little to ease his mood.
A very bad case of the megrims, his parents would have called it.
Before pouring it out through his abused keyboard again – he had yet to manage to save for a proper piano and didn't have room regardless – he decided to bite the bullet. Scooping up the papers and throwing his unsurprisingly wet coat down in its place he sprinted in one burst from his apartment to post the letter and back inside again before the CD playing switched to a new track.
Back inside he squeezed his eyes shut and pressed his face into both hands, running them back and then holding them on the top of his head, flicking through his internal catalogue of music for something happy – anything to chase off this infernal self-pity. There was nothing.
It seemed as good an occasion as any to compose his own.
Three monotonous weeks later, Edward burst into his apartment on a Monday evening to forage for food, shower, change and get back out to work. Flicking through his mail as he crossed the apartment, he threw it to one side as unimportant, flicked on the kettle, showered faster than he could ever remember, dressed as he stumbled back into the kitchen, pulled more than necessary from the cupboards into a heap on the floor, kicked the debris aside, made an instant meal and a coffee, drained them, scalded the inside of his mouth and glanced at his watch.
His inhuman speed getting ready for work meant he could reward himself with listening to a week's answer phone messages. Well, half-listening. He went back to his mail for a more useful perusal.
The third message, however, certainly caught his attention. It seized it by the cuff of the neck and lifted it six inches from the ground. Edward's head spun.
"Hi, Mr. Cullen. This is Seth Clearwater from Howlin' FM. I'm calling to congratulate you on your upcoming nuptials. Give me a call back as soon as you can, we have lots to discuss." Edward, dazed and light-headed, scrambled for a pen to take his number and just about wrote it down on his arm, although he wasn't sure if the seventh digit was a three or a five. His skin hurt. Then he stared with wide eyes at the machine until the message ended with Seth Clearwater's congratulations again and Esme's voice took over.
"Edward, it's Mom. You didn't call back, if you don't call me back soon I'm going to come over and-"
He left the apartment with that fourth message still playing. It would wait. As he hurried down the stairs, coat half on, he keyed in Seth's number from his unclothed arm, and dialled. It rang three times.
"Hi, is this Seth Clearwater? You called me, and-"
"Yes." Edward had twisted his other arm into the coat and was adjusting it, phone held between his ear and shoulder.
"Nice to finally speak to you, man. So, first off, congratulations."
"Thanks." Edward stilled, dragging the word out. He even stopped in the street. This was real, wasn't it?
"You don't sound too happy. Bad time?"
"No. Like you said, there's a lot to discuss."
"Well, where would you like to start? The bride, the itinerary, the paperwork or general questions?"
"That order sounds good."
Seth laughed. "Alright. Can't tell you about the girl, unfortunately. Part of the premise, the surprise. I'll check with Sam about how much I can tell you, but what would you like to know if I can talk?"
He pondered, switching ears to pull the other sleeve on. "Name and age, a little about her, maybe some of her answers to those silly tests? I'd like to at least speak to her, even if I don't get to see her."
"Sounds fair. I'll see what Sam says. He's the boss. I haven't called her yet - was just about to - but I'll see if that's what she wants. Nothing's really set in stone yet." Edward noted that with something resembling delight. "Next, the itinerary... Well, we've booked the honeymoon flights for June 28th, from Seattle."
"I'm not sure if I can tell you that either."
Edward sighed. "Anything else?"
"Well, it'd be ideal if the wedding were on June 27th, and we want you to come in for an interview on Tuesday June 23rd. Anonymous if you want it to be."
Esme's face flashed through Edward's mind. If she knew what I am doing... "Yes, definitely. Anonymous, please."
"And lastly, the paperwork..."
Edward groaned; he didn't realise it had been aloud until Seth laughed. He wasn't sure what irritated him more – being caught, or the thought of paperwork at home as well from two jobs. "How bad is it?"
Seth laughed again; foreboding. "Very. You'll need to sign the wedding license on the day of the interview, and the contract for interviews and appearances and such. Of course, we can't make you sign a contract to go through with the wedding. Something about it being invalid if one or both parties are under duress, you know?"
"Yeah." Edward considered that with the ghost of a smile.
"That's it, I think. Apart from you both having to be there to sign the license, but we'll work that out. You can call me on this number most of the time – be fair, okay? - and I'll send you an email with all the other contacts on it. Um... yeah." Silence. Edward switched ears again in the gap. He could feel a migraine coming. "Congratulations again, Mr. Cullen, and I'll see you next week."
"Next week?" The sudden silence was deafening. Edward noticed a little old lady walk unnecessarily out of her way to avoid him and one woman turn in the other direction as he stood deathly still, mouth agape and hand fixed in his hair. His scalp was protesting the tugging as strongly as the rest of him was rejecting the news.
"Well, yeah... it is the fifteenth. The interview would be next Tuesday, the wedding Saturday and the honeymoon Sunday."
"Oh, Christ. Alright. Yeah. Bye, Seth. Thanks."
"You're welcome. Enjoy your last week of freedom, man."
Next on Edward's list of calls to make was Emmett. He called him at home. Rosalie answered.
"Edward." She was curt and didn't let allow him to speak. "He's not here. He's working. He'll call you back." She hung up. He didn't even have time to realise she had probably known it was him from caller ID.
He went to work and waited, panicking, and tried again as soon as he was free. This time, he breathed a sigh of relief as a greeting.
"Edward. Rose said you'd called. You alright?"
"Yes. Maybe. I'm not sure."
"Can you come over?"
"Yeah. As soon as you can. Or meet me somewhere."
"I can't leave now. I'll come in tomorrow; is that okay?"
"What? The store?"
"Yeah. I'll be there at midday. Can this wait that long?"
"No." He could hear Emmett about to protest. "Well, I suppose so, if it has to, it could, I guess... Um, right."
"I'll see you tomorrow, Edward. Whatever it is, it's not the end of the world. Go sleep, alright, kid? 'Night."
An hour later, for the second time in as many weeks, Edward found himself lying recumbent in an armchair after one too many, eventually settling in front of his keyboard until he could hear birds outside, not managing to get it just right.
When I say "true story", I mean one my father told me over dinner three months ago, but he's far from renowned for telling the truth. His story is probably more fiction than mine.
A thank you bigger than Edward's envelope (if thank yous were envelope sized) to Kyrene for being a better beta than me. Thanks too to Miss-Beckie-Louise for her opinions, pre-reading and misplaced encouragement.
Next few chapters are already written, and they'll be here soon. Thank you for reading. (: