Thanks to shoefreak37 and Alby Mangroves for their beta work, for pointing out my ridiculous errors, and giving me the confidence to post. Thanks to m81170 for the banner (link in my profile) and for helping me write my summary.
SM owns Twilight.
"Shit, shit, shit," Edward cursed, dropping his razor into the sink. His jaw stung as bright red blood poured from the tiny nick. Running his hands through his hair, still wet from the shower, he exhaled a frustrated sigh. He pulled some toilet paper from the roll, wadding it into a ball to prevent it from sticking to his damp hands. Putting pressure against the wound lessened the pain, but the blood continued to flow, staining the white paper bright red.
Annoyed with himself for such a careless mistake, Edward moved from the bathroom to his closet. He felt petulant and surly as he stared at the clothes hanging there. What was he supposed to wear on a first date, a blind first date at that? He hadn't been on a first date in almost fifteen years. Edward momentarily considered a suit, but he didn't want to appear like a stuffy old man. Instead, he pulled a pair of slacks and an Oxford from the hangers, throwing them onto the bed.
His face had finally stopped bleeding so he headed back into the bathroom to finish shaving. Looking at the bags under his eyes and the tiny lines around them, Edward felt old, much older than his thirty-five years. The past five years had not been kind to him, leaving him tired and weary. He finished up his shave and ran a towel through his damp hair, no longer caring enough to make sure it wasn't sticking up in every direction.
Stepping back into the bedroom, he put on the clothes he'd pulled out, rolling his sleeves to his elbows. Foregoing a tie, he kept the top two buttons open and decided not to tuck his shirt in; he wanted to be comfortable. Standing in front of his chest of drawers, he picked up his watch and put it on, ignoring the urge to look at the engraving on the back side of the face. He hesitated for a moment, his hand lingering in the air as he moved to pick up his wedding band.
Picking up the white gold band, he held in between his thumb and forefinger, a symbol of the promises he'd made to the woman he loved, vows that no longer held the same meaning. 'Til death do us part. The words sounded over and over in his head, making him question whether he was really ready for the step he was taking. He crushed the ring against his palm, his decision made.
Walking back into the closet, he pulled the dusty wooden box from the top shelf, feeling his heart clench as he removed the lid. The smell of cedar assaulted his senses, but he could smell the vanilla lingering underneath—the smell of Angela. He took out the photo on top, a random snapshot taken in his parent's backyard. Autumn was upon them, the leaves a mixture of vibrant yellow and orange, as they stood beneath that old maple tree. He had his hands around her waist, looking into her eyes, while she had her hands pressed against his chest. The photo had caught her with her mouth open, laughing at something he had said, while he was grinning down at her.
The sparkle in her eyes was visible enough beneath those ridiculous plastic-rimmed glasses she insisted on wearing. Her eyesight wasn't even that bad, but she wore the frames anyway, swearing that they made her look more intelligent. Angela was always concerned about people not taking her seriously enough, underestimating her. None of that stuff had ever mattered to Edward.
They'd met in college, coming from opposite ends of the spectrum. Both were straight-laced, Dean's list students, but where Edward spent his time in the sciences, always hunched over a microscope, Angela excelled in the arts. She painted from time to time to relieve stress and played the clarinet, but photography was her true passion and she excelled at it.
Their courtship had been a whirlwind, insane to those around them that wondered how two seemingly serious people could have fallen in love so quickly. They'd gotten married after less than six months together, with another year of college still left for both of them. That year was a struggle. They lived in a cramped studio apartment, worked crappy jobs, and still struggled to pay the bills. Neither of them cared; they were happy and in love.
Edward gently placed the photo back in the box, resisting the urge to sit down on the floor and go through them all. He didn't have time to reminisce now, but maybe later. Pulling out the dark velvet box, he popped open the lid and stared at the engagement ring inside. The diamond was tiny and muddy, but was the product of sweat and hard work. He had worked at a tiny pizza parlor during the summer to afford it, slinging dough and doing deliveries. The faint scars from oven burns were still visible on his hands. Later in life, when they were more established in their careers, he had wanted to replace it, but Angela had a sentimental streak, adamant that she keep it. He put his own wedding ring inside and shut the box, hoping to close away a part of his life that was over.
The buzz of his cell phone vibrating on the nightstand pulled him from his memories. He quickly threw everything back into the cedar box and shut the lid, stowing it back in its place on the top shelf of the closet. Walking quickly to retrieve his phone, he rolled his eyes as he saw his sister's face on the display.
"Hello, Rosalie," he answered, his voice full of annoyance.
"Hello, Edward. Sorry to bother you, but I was just calling to make sure that everything was still on? We'll be by in fifteen to pick up you."
He rolled his eyes as she spoke, knowing that she wasn't sorry for bothering him at all. Edward couldn't blame her for wanting to make sure that he was okay; he'd been known to fall apart from time to time for no reason at all. He'd made his decision, though, when he'd agreed to go out, and he wouldn't embarrass Rosalie by standing up her friend at the last minute. He wasn't even sure if friend was the right word, knowing that Rosalie had only described the woman, Jessica, as a co-worker.
"I'll be ready, Rose."
"You know it's okay if you've changed your mind. No one would be upset with you," she replied, obviously hearing the sadness in his voice.
"I'm fine. See you in a few."
Edward hung up the phone without waiting for her goodbye, not wanting to give her the chance to inquire further. He didn't want her to say this was what Angela would have wanted, to make him feel obligated to apologize for his depression. His short walk down memory lane had already left him feeling melancholy and he needed to put those feelings away if he was going to get through the evening. He wasn't completely sure if he was ready, but it had been three years. It was time to move on.
Glasses clinked and forks clattered against the dull hum of the dinnertime conversation. Edward tried to remain attentive, to respond when appropriate, but his heart just wasn't in the moment. It was still at home, locked away in that old cedar box with the memories of his wife.
He chewed his entrée slowly and drank his glass of wine. Edward couldn't recall what he had ordered and everything tasted like chalk in his mouth, drying out his tongue and throat. No matter how much he drank, he couldn't seem to quench his thirst. Rosalie kept looking at him with sad eyes and strained smiles. He knew she felt guilty for dragging him out this way, but this was a step in the right direction. He needed to take control of his life again, to stop wallowing in misery and despair.
Jessica was a pretty woman, with naturally curly hair and straight white teeth, but it wasn't enough to hold Edward's attention. She prattled on about her children, her job, and her ex-husband—virtually anything that came to mind. It was obvious she lacked a verbal filter, a quirk that some men might have found endearing; it simply got on Edward's nerves.
Feeling a headache coming on, Edward rubbed his temples and flagged down a passing waiter, ordering bourbon on the rocks. Even if everything about this evening had turned to complete shit, at least he could enjoy a good glass of Maker's Mark. When the waiter sat it on the table, he quickly ordered another, draining the first in one long gulp. Rosalie narrowed her eyes at him—a warning—but he ignored her, turning his attention to her husband Emmett, asking about the Mariners, even though baseball really held no interest for him.
When their entrees were finished, no one ordered dessert, and for that Edward was thankful, happy to cut the evening short. Rosalie, however, had other plans, rattling on about the gallery opening they were headed to next. Edward didn't recall agreeing more than food, but he was feeling too sullen to argue, wagering the date couldn't get any worse.
As they loaded into the car, Edward turned to look out the window, effectively ignoring the giggling, half-drunk brunette that was attempting to start a conversation. She continued to talk, but he tuned her out, nodding his head occasionally, not hearing a word she said. It wasn't until he felt her hand on his thigh that he turned to look at her, his face contorted into a menacing scowl.
Even with only the glow from the passing streetlights, Jessica must have been able to discern his intent; she pulled her hand away quickly, almost as if she'd been burned. The look he gave also seemed to sober her up. She pulled her shawl tighter around her shoulders with a huff and turned up her nose, obviously insulted and annoyed. Edward should have apologized for being so gruff, but he doubted he'd ever see her again. So much for not embarrassing his sister.
The gallery was filled with people, admiring the artwork and enjoying glasses of champagne. They mingled and laughed, putting on an air of importance; Edward found them to be pretentious and snobby. It wasn't the sort of scene he enjoyed, not even when Angela had occasionally had a photograph or two on display. Back then, if only to make his wife happy, he had played the part. He complimented the women on their beauty, even if he was appalled by their leathery, tanned skin and bleached blond hair. He talked business with the men, feigning interest in their stock portfolios and weekend golf games.
Without Angela by his side, the atmosphere was stifling. There were too many people in the enclosed space, the bright lights glaring down on him. The air felt stuffy and overheated, causing a line of sweat to bead across his forehead. He pulled his shirt away from his chest, feeling like he was choking, even with two buttons undone. He undid another, hoping to stave off the smothering feeling that was overtaking him.
He looked around for his companions, but didn't see them anywhere. It would be hard to miss Rosalie's brilliant blond hair and flaming red dress or Emmett's hulking form. He considered just walking away and calling a cab, but he didn't want to be a total asshole. Edward was sure Jessica thought he was a prick, an observation Rosalie would likely agree with. He knew he should have tried to pull himself together and salvage what was left of the evening. Instead, he grabbed two glasses of champagne and looked for a place to sulk.
His salvation was found in a dark, deserted hallway corridor. Edward sank down on the wooden bench that was pushed against the wall, quickly drinking one of his glasses of champagne. It was his fifth drink of the night, far more than he usually had, and he knew he should cut himself off, but the numbness of his lips and slightly confused feeling in his head was a welcome respite from his sorrow. He shook his head and laughed to himself at the absurdity of the whole situation.
Closing his eyes, he thought of Angela again. Feeling a little bit tipsy, the memories brought a smile to his face. He thought about the first time they made love, a fumbling, awkward endeavor in a twin-sized dorm room bed. Angela's roommate had gone home for the weekend, an opportunity they'd taken advantage of. Edward lived in a suite with a whole gang of boys; someone was always there. Angela had been lucky to get in a preferred dormitory. Though the bathroom was communal, there were only two girls to each room.
Though Edward hadn't been a virgin, he hardly considered his one-time backseat encounter with a fiery redhead named Victoria as the experience to make him an adequate lover. That memory was hazy, probably because it had only lasted mere minutes, a couple of thrusts. Angela was the proper Reverend's daughter, pure as the driven snow. Edward would have waited if she wanted, because he loved her, but she assured him she was ready. She always insisted that she wasn't waiting for marriage, just waiting for the right man.
Edward's smile widened as he thought about the fiery blush that bloomed on Angela's cheeks when she saw him naked for the first time, hard and ready. She'd touched him with shaking fingers, tentative and unsure. He'd kissed her softly and told her he loved her, his sincerity evident in his eyes. He would have stopped at any moment if she had only asked.
Slow, sweet kisses soon became heated and insistent. Hands roamed and body parts aligned. That first thrust should have been like heaven, warm and wet, but he hated the pain he knew he was inflicting upon the woman he never wanted to hurt. She grimaced immediately, adjusting to the feeling of Edward deep within in her. Moments later, she brought her hips up to meet his, urging him on. Edward's second time didn't last much longer than the first, but nothing could match the sweet smile on Angela's face when it was over, the loving look she gave him as she cupped his cheeks and told him she loved him. In that moment, he'd known she was it for him, the woman he was meant to spend his life with.
The sound of heels clacking on the tiled floor interrupted Edward's memories but did little to dampen his slightly inebriated, much-improved mood. The sound stopped close to him, close enough for him to feel the heat of another body.
"Fuck off," he said, though his voice was light and full of mirth. He just assumed it was Rosalie coming to collect her moping lush of a brother. Edward wasn't ready to leave his spot, happy to sit there and watch the memories of Angela play beneath his eyelids. He also had another glass of champagne to finish, never one to be wasteful.
"Excuse me?" the voice asked, throaty and warm, so unlike the cold and detached tone of his sister. Turning his head in the direction of the voice, eyes still closed, Edward prepared to offer some witty reply, but the words died on his tongue as his unwanted companion's smell assaulted his senses. She smelled like clean sheets and fresh rain, subtle and so unlike the strong, gag-inducing scents most women seemed to prefer.
Opening his eyes, he saw a petite brunette standing in front of him, her arms crossed over her chest, her stance one of defiance. She was small and pale, with waves of thick brown hair trailing down her back. Her dress was black and simple, plain, as if she were trying to blend into the background. Her skin was smooth, like ivory, her face not hidden behind layers of make-up.
"Did you just tell me to fuck off?" she asked, her annoyance clear by her tone.
"Yes, but in my defense, I thought you were my sister, the very sister that set me up on a blind date with an insipid, gossiping, annoying woman."
"Is that the reason you're sitting alone in a corner, boozing it up?"
"I'm not 'boozing it up' as you so eloquently stated. Just sitting alone, clearing my head and enjoying a couple drinks."
"Hasn't anyone ever told you only alcoholics drink alone? And I'd wager that you've had more than a couple, judging by your bloodshot eyes and the drool on your chin."
"What?" Edward asked, indignant, reaching up to swipe at his mouth, but finding nothing there.
"So can I sit? Or would you prefer that I 'fuck off' as you so eloquently put it?"
Edward smiled at the woman standing in front of him, patting the space on the bench next to him, inviting her to sit. She plopped down without hesitation, rummaging in her oversized purse. Edward never understood the allure of such a giant bag. What did women actually carry in there? Her purse was so large that he thought he could have used it as luggage; there was surely enough space in there to pack for a weekend trip to the beach.
He was shocked when her hands emerged holding a flask covered in purple leather. She grinned as she unscrewed the cap, taking a large gulp before offering it to him. Alcohol killed germs so he didn't hesitate to take it. Whiskey. It burned going down, bitter and strong. Edward looked at the silver plate on the front, hoping to decipher the mystery woman's name, but the engraving wasn't a name. Instead, there was an elegant-looking swan carved into the metal.
"It's my last name," she said, as if she could read his thoughts. "Swan."
"Well, Swan, it's nice to meet you," Edward said, holding his hand out for her to shake. "Cullen."
An hour later, Rosalie found him still sitting on the bench with the swan: Bella. They were both drunk and laughing, slumped over against one another as tears leaked from their eyes. Edward knew Rosalie was angry, her stare cold and penetrating, but he wasn't going to waste his time caring. Though the evening had started out as a total shitfest, it had morphed into something else.
Edward didn't know if it was the liquor or the company, but he felt lighter than he had in weeks, maybe years. It had been liberating to sit with someone and talk about nothing, someone that didn't know about the pain he'd suffered the past few years, someone that had no expectations of him. The painful squeezing grip on his heart was still there, but had lessened in its intensity. Even in his drunken haze, he knew he was truly ready to try to move on.
The next morning, Edward awoke to the bright sun streaming through the open curtains, the birds chirping in the tree outside. It was a perfect morning, the dew clinging to a spider web crafted perfectly in the corner of his window. If he were a chipper, morning person, he might have enjoyed the subtle display. As it were, he felt the urge to gag. Of course, that could have been the result of the alcohol that still churned in his stomach and flowed through his veins.
The events after Rosalie had found him on the bench with Bella were hazy, muddled by the throbbing headache he'd woken with. He remembered Rosalie calling for Emmett to help him get to the car, the drunken stumbling through the nearly deserted gallery. The show had wrapped up and his companions had been unable to locate him. It was the loud guffaws that echoed through the empty space that eventually led them to his location.
Scratching his bare chest, he moved into the kitchen, starting the coffee pot as he rummaged through the cupboards for some breakfast. The cabinets were mostly bare, a result of the workaholic tendencies he'd adopted since being alone; he didn't have time to shop. His mother had bought most of what was to be found, but she hadn't dropped by with groceries in a couple weeks.
Dragging out a stale box of some tasteless granola cereal, he dumped a bunch in a bowl and pulled out the carton of milk. A quick glance at the side revealed that it had expired several days before. Edward sniffed the contents inside, deciding that it didn't smell too bad. He crammed giant spoonfuls into his mouth, eating even though it tasted like sour milk and cardboard.
As soon as the smell of coffee filled the air, he dumped the rotten cereal down the drain, not bothering to turn on the disposal. He grabbed an oversized cup from the cabinet and filled it with coffee, black and strong. Edward winced as it burned his tongue and throat, not waiting for it to cool to a drinkable temperature. Rustling around in one of the drawers, he found a bottle of Advil, dumping out a handful and washing them down with more coffee. The taste of rancid milk still lingered on his tongue.
Edward heard his cell phone ringing somewhere in his bedroom, finally locating it on the floor beneath the crumpled clothes he'd been wearing the night before. He groaned as he hit the talk button, hoping that Rosalie had kept her mouth shut. He was too old to listen to a speech from his mother about his disrespectful behavior or his drinking.
"Hey Mom," he answered, his voice gravely and thick with sleep.
"Edward, dear, how are you this morning?"
"I'm fine, just a little tired."
"Well, I won't keep you on the phone, but I just wanted to make sure we were still on for brunch? The whole family is meeting at that new bakery that just opened up downtown."
"I'll be there."
"I was just worried. I know things have been rough for you, and Rosalie said that last night you had a little too much to drink."
Edward silently cursed Rosalie, wondering why she always felt it necessary to share everything with their parents. There were certain things a mother should never know about her children, but Rosalie seemed to think differently. She'd always been the one to spill her guts and get them in trouble during their teenage years, always feeling guilty and confessing to staying out late, drinking, or sneaking into bars with a fake ID. Edward had hoped she would lose that annoying habit as they'd gotten older, but her verbal diarrhea had only seemed to intensify.
At the sound of Angela's name, Edward tried to tune his mother back in, hoping to politely end the conversation.
"I know that you loved Angela very much, but she would want you to move on with your life. She loved you Edward; she would want you to be happy."
"Mom, I know you're concerned, but I'm fine. Look, I gotta go if I'm going to meet you at one. I still have to take a shower."
"Okay, sweetie. I love you."
"Love you too, Mom."
Edward sat the phone down with a frustrated sigh, already dreading the inquisition that was sure to come at lunch. He didn't want to hear about the pretty new nurse at the hospital or the nice girl his mother met at church. He wasn't completely sure he was ready to move on, but he was trying. Edward wanted to do it on his own terms, however. He didn't need him mother or his father or his sister to pick someone for him. It was obvious that Rosalie's judgment in that area was completely lacking, based upon the previous night's debacle.
Edward winced as he pulled off his sunglasses; the harsh fluorescent lights of the bakery were unforgiving, further intensifying the headache that only more alcohol could cure. He briefly wondered if they served Bloody Marys, but knew his mother would not approve of him imbibing even if they did. That thought annoyed him. He was a grown man. It shouldn't matter what his mother thought.
Maybe he should have slipped a flask into the pocket of his hoodie, just a little something to take the edge off. He wasn't an alcoholic, but it would be nice to loosen up, feel at little more at ease around his family. The flask reminded him of Swan—of Bella—and he realized he didn't even know if she'd made it home unscathed. He hoped that Emmett and Rosalie had at least called a cab for her or helped her find the companions she'd been avoiding at the opening. He shouldn't have gotten so drunk that he wasn't able to make sure she was safe. After all, she was just trying to stir him out of his pensive mood.
A quick check of his watch alerted Edward that he was twenty minutes late. That was par for the course. He was never on time and thought his family should just be glad he didn't decide to ditch them. They weren't hard to spot in the crowded restaurant; his father always wanted a corner table near the windows. He watched them momentarily, talking and laughing. For a fleeting moment, he wished he could just forget, that he could join in their conversation and not feel like an outsider; he missed his wife again. She was always the buffer between them, always more at ease than he was. He loved his family, yet he never really felt like he fit in with them. Angela's death had only deepened the divide.
Slumping down into the one of the empty seats, Edward noticed there was already a tepid cup of coffee and a croissant sitting there. The empty seat to his right didn't escape his notice and he found the urge to wince or break down. Maybe he wasn't ready to move on after all.
The conversation continued all around him, but he concentrated on stuffing his face, assuming that no one would question him if he had a mouth full of bread. When the waitress stopped by, he ordered bacon, eggs, and a waffle. The hangover made him crave something greasy, yet he couldn't resist the allure of maple syrup. The waffle made him think of Angela again.
She would always let him sleep in on Sundays. Breakfast was the only meal she could cook well, and he would be awakened by the smell of French toast, coffee, and bacon. It was their ritual. More often than not he would find her in the kitchen wearing one of his shirts, her bare legs taunting him. She was tall and fit, her skin the perfect tone to appear as though she'd been kissed by the sun, even if she never cared for tanning. He thought about all the times their breakfast would grow cold, only to be reheated later in the microwave.
He just couldn't resist the magnetic pull he felt towards her. Sometimes he would sweet talk her and wear down her resolve with slow, lazy kisses before leading her back to the bedroom to make love with the bright morning sun streaming in through the window. Other times they never made it that far, their desire for one another forcing things to become heated and rushed. He fondly remembered the times he'd fucked her hard against the counter or on the kitchen floor.
Hearing Emmett mention the night before and a "sweet ass brunette," Edward was pulled from his memories, suddenly remembering that he was supposed to be concerned for Bella's welfare. He still couldn't believe Emmett said such things in front of his wife, but Rosalie never seemed to care. She'd always been beautiful and she was secure in her marriage, knowing that while Emmett might occasionally look, he would never touch.
"They were just sitting on this bench, laughing like mad, an empty flask between them, glasses littering the floor beside an empty champagne bottle."
Edward rubbed his hand across his forehead, trying to fill in the blanks from the night before. He definitely remembered the first two glasses of champagne and the flask, but he didn't recall drinking anything more. A flash of a barefoot and giggling Bella popped into his head, an open bottle of champagne in her hand. Then he remembered how she'd said she had connections and ran off to supplement their depleted supply. He winced as he recalled telling her she was beautiful, the faint lighting in the hallway making her skin appear luminescent. It had felt right in the moment, but remembering, it felt like betrayal. Angela was beautiful; Bella was…something else.
"What happened to Bella?" he asked, realizing it was the first time he'd spoken since sitting down when four sets of eyes turned in his direction, their gazes boring into his clammy skin. He could practically feel the alcohol trying to sweat its way out. "Did she get home okay?"
"Yeah, bro, I tried to call her a cab, but she said she was fine. She lived next door so I made sure she got into her building before we left."
Edward rubbed his hand across the back of his neck, debating his next words. Though the details of the night were hazy, he knew that he'd had fun, that Bella made him feel different. He wanted to see her again.
"Did you happen to get her number? I want to call her and make sure she's okay, apologize for getting so tanked."
Rosalie cocked her eyebrow and gave him that look, the one that let him know she wasn't pleased. She'd been giving it to him since they were children—when he'd cut off all of her Barbies' hair or stolen her diary and made fun of her crush on Eric Yorkie.
"Thankfully, no. I don't think it's a good idea for you to see that girl again. She's obviously a bad influence, getting you drunk in a public place like that."
"Rosalie, she didn't get me drunk. In case you've forgotten, I'm an adult. I chose to get drunk. Maybe I wouldn't have been in such a piss poor mood if you hadn't set me up with a laughing hyena that couldn't keep her hands to herself." It was a low blow and he knew it before the words even left his mouth. Rosalie had just been trying to help him, but his ire was sparked by the condescending way she spoke about Bella.
Rosalie huffed and rolled her eyes, crossing her arms across her chest as she sulked like a petulant child. Waffles suddenly didn't sound quite as appealing.
On Sunday, Edward spent the afternoon cleaning up. He was a poor excuse for a housekeeper, allowing dishes to sit in the sink for days, dirty laundry to clutter the bathroom floor. His mother had harassed him endlessly to hire someone, but it seemed like a waste of money. He also didn't like the idea of some strange person in his house, going through his things.
After picking his clothes up from the bathroom floor, he carried them all into the laundry room, dumping the mix of whites and colors into the washer. A pair of pants fell on the floor, but he ignored them, turning the dial to cold and dumping in a liberal amount of detergent. Reaching down to pick up the fallen garment, a crumpled sheet of paper fell from the pocket.
Throwing the slacks into the washing machine and dropping the lid, he leaned against the machine and unfurled the paper. Scribbled down on the front of a well-worn receipt were seven digits and a crude drawing of a swan. He smiled to himself, an unfamiliar feeling blooming in his chest.
A/N: This is very different than blossom, but I hope you'll stick with me and give it a chance. I won't have a set update schedule until my other story and its outtakes are complete, but I will update regularly. Reviews are greatly appreciated. :)