I don't own. Obvi.
Chapter One: The Prophet and the Cripple
What a day to be alive,
what a day to realize I'm not dead.
What a day to save a dime
what a day to die trying.
What a day to start again,
what a day, holy Toledo.
What a way to say goodbye,
what a wonderful life, now.
What a way to survive,
what a day to begin breathing.
Bring on the evening.
"All I'm saying, is if you don't use it, you lose it," Emmett dribbled, wheeled forward and shot, missing horribly. "It's a miracle it still works. Don't squander that. It'd be like slapping God in the face."
Emmett never knew the right things to say, so eventually he gave up trying, and said whatever popped into his mind. Somewhere around the time I gave up hoping that nerve endings would reconnect and fire again, even if it wasn't as rapidly as normal, or as well as suggested, Emmett gave up bottling up his questions and suggestions in fear of being politically incorrect, and started speaking.
"You're an absolute idiot," I stated. "How in the world did you manage to run the company so long without burning it down?" Emmett checked the ball straight at my chest, in a way I'm sure he hoped it would transform into a brick or maybe ninja-throwing star; something to maim me. But the basketball could kill me, if timed correctly. Or maybe the ball was too big for that. Commotio cardia. If struck in the direct center of the heart, within one or two percent, at just exactly the right instant in time, in that moment between the thump and the bump, a strike could kill; instantly.
"I'm just trying to think of ways to get you out of this building for fuck's sake, Edward," he sat back as I shot and the swish echoed until the ball thumped on the ground like a lopsided heartbeat. Six beats then silence as it rolled. Commotio cardia. "You barely go out in public, you don't talk to anyone except me or Alice or Rosalie, and I'm pretty sure you haven't gotten laid in about…five years."
"I think your exaggerating," I trailed off before becoming agitated and huffing my way towards the ball in three long pushes.
"How old are you?" he asked while doing a wheelie.
"Twenty-three," I sighed. For being alive almost a quarter of a decade, I'd accomplished so much, I felt like I was already seventy eight, at least. I graduated high school at fifteen, started college, graduated by eighteen, had one girlfriend, inherited a multi-billion dollar company, lost said girlfriend, discovered a new mathematical theory, and managed to become a paraplegic before the big two-five.
"And when was the accident?" Emmett continued. I hoped he would fall from his stupid circus act. I threw the ball at the wall and let it patter angrily to a stop across the gym floor.
"I already said I'd go, what else do you want from me?" I shouted. The front wheels of his wheel chair echoed femininely as they clanged on the ground with the force of his giant body straining them.
"For you to not be a giant, egotistical, pity party, cry baby, tool shed," he leaned forward, forearms resting on his knees and glaring at me. In this moment, if there was every any doubt of the roles of the family, Emmett affirmed his rightful spot as big brother. He looked like Dad.
When he was my age, he was forced to take over the family business, Cullen Industries, after the accident. He never wanted it, but things happen, or so they say. Alice was only a kid, so he sent her off to boarding school while I was lucky enough to not have my prayers answered.
"I'll be there," I repeated through gritted teeth. My jaw muscles were probably Olympic athletes in their own rights after my bi-weekly gym days with Emmett.
"I went the whole way upstairs, and you guys are still down here playing?" Rosalie cut Emmett off before sounds could come out of his already opening mouth. He snapped it shut when he saw her and seemed to forget about me completely when he looked at her.
I understood why they were getting married; love. And it wasn't just the regular, 'you're my whole life,' or 'I want to live in your mouth and count your teeth,' kind of love that everyone thinks they have to have, but it was the kind that shut Emmett up mid-ass kicking, and made Rosalie move a thousand miles away just to see him every night, kind of love. I could appreciate it, even if it was an emotion, and therefore immeasurable, and therefore inadequate and unnatural and biased to such a degree it was un-provable.
"It's a miracle," Emmett stood up from the wheelchair he used when we hung out in the gym, to make things fair. Because taking away someone else's legs, at least for a few hours, was the epitome of equality. "Your amazing hotness has given me my feeling back below the waist. My God! It's a miracle!"
"Stop being a jackass and shower," Rosalie shook her head, though there was the tiniest smile in the history of the world hiding on her face. Their love was also the kind that allowed name-calling. "We have to meet the florist in forty five minutes."
"Do I have to?" he whined. The giant, well over six foot, and two hundred pound plus behemoth of a man whined like a fourth grader trying to get out of gym class.
"Go get changed," Rosalie snapped. Wedding planning only made her more charming, in my opinion.
"You could change me," I gagged as Emmett wound his arms around her slim form, and decided I should gather my bag to get away from the disgusting performance. There is something about couples that is utterly disgusting unless you're in one or
"I'm in love with an idiot, you know?" Rosalie lamented and I nodded, even though my back was turned to them. "Hurry, Em. I've already rescheduled three times."
"Alright, I'll meet you in the lobby in a few," I heard him kiss her, in that nasty, lovey, spitty kind of way. I heard Emmett's less than stealthy feet pound towards the showers, and I knew his lack of a good bye was anger.
"Hey, Edward," Rosalie threw a few seconds later. "I had my assistant bring your suit and shoes over a few minutes ago, so it should be hanging in your apartment. Thank you for volunteering your place for the shower."
"It's my honor," I turned to her and lied through my smile. Emmett forced me to offer something nice to my future sister-in-law because he was afraid she thought I hated her. Truth be told, I didn't give a fuck. "What else is family for?"
"And you'll be there?" she continued. I plopped my bag on my lap and pushed myself towards the elevators at the end of the hall from the gym. She followed.
"Where else would I be? It is my place, after all," I snapped.
"Right," she nodded and turned right when I turned left at the end of the extravagant hall towards the elevators.
"Good morning, Mr. Cullen," Ernie, the elevator operator greeted me as I pushed myself onboard. "How'd you shoot them today?" he asked and pushed the penthouse button.
"Didn't you hear? The Lakers were scouting me," I deadpanned until silence filled the small container that traveled up seventy floors. I could deadpan with the best of them. Unfortunately, it wasn't a redeeming quality.
"Guests will be arriving around eight," I stated, almost to no one, as the elevator dinged at my floor. "Make sure the front desk knows and checks each ID with the guest list."
"Yes sir," the middle-aged man nodded as the doors opened. "Have a great day, Mr. Cullen."
I didn't respond because there was no point, so the doors closed quietly, leaving me with nothing more than complete silence in my private floor. Silence and the whir of my wheels against the hardwood floor. That was then overshadowed by the throwing of my gym bag on the floor of my bedroom and the click and routine motions of a record player starting while I went through the motions of showering, dressing, grooming, and being as human as one can be with four wheels under foot.
The caterers and party planners came just as I finished. I secluded myself to my bedroom, though it wasn't really a prison. Floor to ceiling windows for two walls giving a beautiful view of the navy shipyard and water, though you had to peer really hard through the scrawls I littered and smudged the windows with dry erase markers, like a chalk board when I worked on some of my equations or proofs. I only noticed time moved at all because eventually it was impossible to see my writing against the dark sky backdrop. It was comforting though, to sit and stare at the marker on the window, to explain things in another language. It was concrete, theoretically.
"Why are you not dressed?" Emmett appeared as I heard some people arrive and some hired musician started playing on the piano in the living room. "I warned you earlier, Edward. Don't ruin this. For one night, pretend you're not miserable. You might surprise yourself."
"What are you, a fortune cookie?" I snapped. Emmett threw the garment bag of my suit at me and walked out. I could clear a room like nobody's business. That could be added to my resume probably. Algorithms, deadpanning, and room clearing.
I took my time getting ready, though it wasn't hard since it was a lot of extra work. I heard people laughing, crystal clanking, obnoxious storytellers that take over conversations just by being louder than everyone else around them. I tied my tie, black, and pushed it snug against my collar, also black, and wiped my sweaty hands into my black pants. Rosalie knew me well when it came to picking out clothes.
I ran my hands through my hair and decided that was good enough. I felt stubble and I should have shaved, but if someone were to ask my how many fucks I gave about making a great impression, I would answer zero. I gave zero fucks. The bags under my eyes were discerning though and I smiled because of it. No one approaches the cripple to begin with, and no one approaches one that looks like he hasn't slept in weeks.
"I know they say that black is timeless, but I think you're taking it to an extreme," a high-pitched, confident voice floated from the doorway. I turned on a dime, because that's what I do, to find Alice, in all of her knowing, annoying, little sister glory. Though now, I guess it was hard to consider her a little sister, what with her turning eighteen a few weeks ago and everything. A freshmen at university, she was stuck in that pre-adult, the world is sparkles and rainbows, spoiled princess mindset. It was almost disgusting, but maybe because I never had it. Almost like how you think sitting around all day would be the best thing in the world, until you can't walk.
"I read somewhere that it's supposed to make one look taller," I sat up straighter. Alice's dress made a funny noise when she walked as whatever fabrics it had in it swished. It was bright pink, and reminded me of something Molly Ringwald passed on wearing.
"You look handsome," she gave me a small smile after smoothing the shoulders of my jacket. Sometimes I forgot she was an orphan since thirteen, sent away because her brothers couldn't figure out how to deal with her, and raised herself in Belgium with strangers, and when I remembered, it only made me feel worse for hating her; sometimes. She looked like Mom.
"You look pretty," I offered something. "How's the apartment?" Emmett gave her the floor below mine. Maybe 'gave' is the wrong word since we all shared the inheritance, but he offered it, and she accepted instead of the condo in Vale, the beach house in Monterey, the cabin in Idaho, and the ranch in Montana. But at one point, we'd been a family at each of those locations. We hadn't been a family in the floors at the top of Lake Point Towers.
"Good," she muttered and straightened to look over me in the mirror, where she adjusted the top of her dress.
"How many people are out there?" I asked as I snapped my watch on my wrist. It could tell time at depths of submarines, where fish glowed in the dark, and sun stopped pilfering through the water, which always confused me, because it didn't have a glowing face, so it'd never be useful if I decided to dive the Mariana's trench.
"Almost two hundred probably," she dug in her clutch and put on some lip-gloss. I knew that because Tanya applied about thirty-nine coats an hour when we dated. I counted the ticks of my watch as I tried not to be nervous. Forty-three. Crowds were bothersome.
"How long until they all leave?" I sighed and let my head lull backwards on my chair. I counted the times it swung freely before coming to a stop. Six and a half.
"You not having a good time isn't going to make you walk or whatever," Alice ignored my question and snapped her bag. "You don't deserve for your nerves to fix themselves."
"Yeah, because that's what stopping it," I sneered. "Deserving."
"Put a smile on for Emmett," she snapped back. Two hundred and eighty-one seconds into her being in my room and she was already sick of me, and vice versa. "He's done enough for you."
"Right, inheriting billions and working in a corner office and allowing me to work on formulas and theories is benevolence at best," I pushed myself towards the door and waited for her to follow.
"Sometimes you're an idiot," she stated before taking a deep breath and smiling before walking out of my solitude. I took thirteen before I slowly snuck into the throngs of people milling in my rooms.
People who knew my parents shook my hand while I smiled and tried to remember seeing them at Christmas parties as a kid, or even the funeral. People look different in real life and in funerals. Waiters with plates of snacks twirled among the chattering, content, giggling mass. I didn't see what they had because I couldn't.
I finally found Emmett and Rosalie, his hand on her waist, hers wrapped around his back until it rested on his shoulder. They looked like vines; happy vines. I grabbed a scotch. The good kind, that almost made me forget that sometimes life sucked.
"I'd like to have everyone's attention," I clanked my glass and moved so I was near the couple. I cleared my throat when it worked. You never expect it to actually work. A faceless blur of people suddenly came into focus, like realizing you're looking out of the wrong end of the telescope, and I realized they were all staring at me. When I looked at Alice she looked on in abject horror. I peaked at Rosalie and Emmett, and they looked like they'd wheel me off the balcony if I made a scene.
"I've never been a best man before," I started, setting my cup on my knee until it left a little water ring in my slacks. I liked the way it glistened then faded back to the absence of light. "Hell, I've never been a good man before, so I'm not sure how to make a speech." People murmured a laugh, which I appreciated. Three seconds later I started again. "But I would like to offer my warmest welcome to Rosalie Hale, as she embarks on this journey with Emmett, and becomes a true Cullen." Everyone clapped. The woman closest to me did it twenty nine times. "I've known Emmett for, well, twenty three years, I guess. Anyone who can handle him deserves the best happiness in the world. Rosalie, good luck. It's been a wonderful experience, watching you both fall in love and become this couple that has become, at least for me, a true representation of what love and trust should be. To the happy couple," I held up my glass and everyone did the same before becoming a blur once more. I chugged the contents until it burned my throat and pealed at least four layers of esophageal lining away. Rosalie kissed my cheek. There were many parts of this period of time that made me want to vomit.
"Thank you. I know it means the world to Emmett, even if you just bull-shitted an entire room of people," she whispered before wiping away lipstick that wasn't on my cheek. I gave her a smile quickly.
Emmett shook my hand and clapped my shoulder.
"Thanks," he whispered. "It means a lot to Rosie, to feel welcomed with us." I shook my head.
Alice stepped up next, glass of sparkling cider at the ready. I wheeled myself away, because she didn't know Emmett, considering she visited four times in the past five years, and had just met Rosalie once.
I mingled more until I found myself translating the conversation into French because my mind was that bored with drabble about stocks, investments, and pitches I gave no fucks about. For the next two hours I drank two more scotches until I figured I should stop myself since it was illegal to drink and drive. While people told stupid jokes and clamored about absolute nothingness, I invented a formula for figuring out how long it would take for my ice to melt in each glass. About five hundred and ninety three, depending on the temperature of the scotch and how quickly I drank it, which was directly related to the conversation at hand.
People didn't move to leave, and I figured jamming ankles with wheels, or running over toes would be unacceptable to Rosalie and Emmett, so I snuck back to my bedroom after I contemplated stabbing myself in the legs each time someone said the word 'happy'. Even though it wouldn't hurt for the most part, I was sure it'd clear the room.
"What the fuck are you doing in here?" I snapped at some woman sitting on the corner of my bed, heels discarded as she wiggled her toes. "This is off limits to party-goers."
Her head snapped up, moving the curtain of brown hair that covered her face when she was leaning over, and her eyes were wide as she gasped and a hand covered her chest, holding her heart in its cage as a preventative measure. For a split second I felt a little bad about scaring her, until I realized she was sitting on my bed.
"I'm so sorry," she whispered and stood quickly. Her hair bounced around her shoulders as the waves shimmered in the low light of the lamp on my nightstand. "I didn't realize," she trailed off and pushed hair from her face. "I just needed a second. I hate these things, and I hate heels, and my feet were killing me. I'm sorry."
I liked her dress; black, simple, Audrey Hepburn. I liked her eyes too; warm like when a match burns to your fingertips.
I looked at her heels, and I could feel the pain, hypothetically.
"I don't have that problem very much," I offered as she gulped awkwardly. I liked the way that sounded and looked. "My feet haven't bothered me in a while." A small smile stretched across her lips. My brain worked on cosine and tangent equations to map them. She pulled at the necklace on her chest, holding the pendent I recognized as a patron, and sliding across the gold chain. Twelve times. I felt her eyes on me, so I pushed myself to the other side of the room.
"I'll just get out of your way, I'm really sorry," she repeated. I watched her wince as she slipped the offensive shoes on again, giving her at least four more inches on her petite frame. "I liked your speech though. It was nice, for someone who has never been a good man." I smiled and felt my chest move with a chuckle. It felt weird.
"Are you Catholic?" I offered as she played with her necklace again as she bent over and grabbed her clutch from my bed. It was small, and I wondered what would fit in it. One saltshaker and a small creamer bowl, one key and six Masterlocks.
"What?" she asked absently, following my voice to my new position near the windows. "Oh, um, sometimes."
"Sometimes?" I was confused.
"Yeah," she nodded, gazing past me at the reflection of tiny numbers on the windows. "Sometimes."
"How can you be sometimes part of religion?" I pressed. "Do you just pick and choose? Or just celebrate holidays with candy? Or is it just when it's convenient?" My tongue was Niagara falls, and my words were verbal barrels, and I wouldn't survive the fall. But then again, who did?
"I believe in a lot of things," she gave me a smile; as if it were something she was accustomed to doing regularly. "Sometimes faith is just believing in something, sometimes."
"Right," I nodded slowly, twice. "And Jesus could make me walk."
"Weirder things have happened," she offered.
"A prophet among us," I mocked her.
"You asked," she insisted. "I'm under the belief that religion is like your private parts, you keep it to yourself, and don't go around showing people. What do you believe in?" I watched her approach me. Her legs were long, and I liked them too. She didn't look at me, but maneuvered so she could read the numbers and try to figure out what it was.
"Nothing," I stated, matter-of-a-factly. I was nonchalance. I found a paddle and was swimming away from that agonizing drop to nothingness.
"Nothing?" she asked. "Not even numbers?"
"Well, yeah, obviously," I shrugged and loosened my tie because it was making it hard to swallow when she smelled like peaches and strawberries.
"There you go," she straightened and turned her head towards me. I counted the movements of her muscles in her bare shoulders. They were the color of ivory, like my piano. "I'm sure there are lots of things you believe in. Like I said, I'm Catholic, sometimes."
"It doesn't make sense," I stated again. She was winning.
"What does?" she smiled again. Six times already.
"Convert me?" I asked as she realized we were just sitting and standing in my bedroom. It's a shame, when someone becomes aware of things like that. I offered a way out, a challenge she'd have to decline.
She turned towards me and searched my face. Her eyes moved thirty-three times in the course of twenty-four seconds. It wasn't until she threw her clutch on the bed that I realized I gave up counting after that instant. I also realized I was on the edge, and the fall didn't seem so bad.
Her brown eyes now seemed to lean more towards syrup, the thin kind, like almond flavored, and her eyebrows creased as her lips grew thinner in determination, so I started a new formula as I gazed between all of her features. She rubbed her hands together, almost massaging them. She held them up in front of my face before moving them to my temples. I flinched, and she faltered, but only for a second. I couldn't remember the last time someone touched me.
"You're touching me," I stated weakly.
"Shh," she hushed me.
The hands were warm, slight, soft. They pressed my ears gently as her fingers spread and moved in my unruly hair. Her eyes stared right into mine until they made me uncomfortable. My equation disappeared when her thumbs started making circles on my temple. Fingertips trailed along the nape of my neck, then traced my brow line, my hairline, my eyelids. Slowly she pulled her hands away, and for some reason I hated my inability to describe, I missed them. She cleared her throat and straightened herself away from my level before wringing her hands slightly.
"Well, try it out," she smiled. Seven. I tried to stand, but my feet wouldn't move.
"Sorry, not this time," I laughed.
"Not this time?" she asked. I lifted my leg and let it slap back into place. "Oh, I was supposed to make you walk?"
"Weren't you trying to convince me and convert me through a miracle?" I was again confounded, and that made me frustrated.
"No," she laughed. It was breathy. Her hand pulled on the necklace again.
"What were you doing then?" I watched her pick up her bag from my bed and walk towards the door.
"Reaffirming my faith." With that she waved and walked out of the bedroom, closing the door lightly. When it opened I heard a swell of people's voices and light piano music, before it was quiet again.
I sat there for seven thousand, four hundred and fifty eight seconds before I moved to change. I didn't care what was going on outside. I stared out the window and counted the blinking lights of radio towers. Once every three seconds. Two thousand, four hundred and eighty six blinks. My mind replayed the fourteen minutes spent with that woman over and over again. Each time though, her smell and the sound of her laugh became more distant.
I climbed into bed, determined to set my mind on something else, and opened one of the science journals I occasionally edited or proofed. One hundred and twelve pages later, Emmett knocked and came in my room.
"Everyone's gone," he sat on the edge where the girl was once sitting.
"Finally," I muttered and returned to reading.
"Thanks again, I know it wasn't easy for you, and I know sometimes me and Alice are rough on you," he started. I'd heard it before so I just kept reading. "But we just hate seeing you like this."
"Paralyzed?" I interjected.
"You're the only person that care about that," he shook his head as he pulled at his own tie because the subject often strangled him. "Was it as bad as you thought it'd be?"
I thought about the mingling, the speech, the elevation of anxiety and the whoosh of quiet of my attempted conversion and smiled. Twice for the night.
"Worse," I shrugged. Emmett laughed. It was booming.
"I'll see you tomorrow for your fitting," Emmett slapped my leg. The only reason I realized was because I heard the thud.
"Alright, after physio right?" I set my alarm.
"Yeah," he nodded and walked towards the door. "Oh," he patted his jacket pocket, then his pants before pulling an envelope out of his back pocket. "Someone left this for you, or at least I'm assuming it's you." He handed me an envelope that had written in delicate curves: To the Best Man.
"I'll see you tomorrow," I stated, pushing him out as best I could. He nodded and walked out with a smirk.
I tore open the paper and poured a tiny chain and coin shaped piece onto the magazine I folded over my lap. A tiny note flittered with it.
I think you need this more than I do. Everyone needs a little something sometimes. -the Worst Prophet Ever
I picked up the chain after reading the note seven times. A saint stared back at me. I didn't know what they did, or how to use that thing, but I ran my thumb over the face and letters. I unhooked it and put it around my neck, pulling it and moving it twelve times, just like the girl. I watched it rise and fall against my chest with each breath. Twenty-one breaths.
I didn't believe in anything, but the faint idea that this once touched that girl made my head a little woozy.
I opened my nightstand and took out one of my sleeping pills. Then I took out three more. I turned off the lights and felt foreign, with cold metal on my chest.
I wanted to take it off, but that seemed inappropriate, so I let it squeeze my ribs against my mattress until my lungs were pancakes. Which didn't seem so bad, with visions of almond-flavored syrup eyes slathering my dreams.