Beneath the Undertow
"Edward…" A familiar voice boomed through the heavy beats of The Bravery.
"Edward…" An ear bud fell suddenly behind my shoulder, I slowly opened tired eyes.
"Sorry, Harry." I righted, squinting into a blazing July sun.
"Edward, Mr. Jenks is in from Portland. He's meeting with a few of the guys later on. Come upstairs after your shift." Harry Clearwater's usual warm eyes were cool, darting and avoiding.
"Harry… what's…" Turning his back, a trembling hand ran over a balding head as he hurried towards the main building. Fuck. Thumbing over my simple sandwich on rye, I counted months and a year to date my next evaluation. Nothing matched, nothing. I quickly surmised meeting with Mr. Jenks wouldn't result in a raise, a bonus or promised promotion. I swallowed a swig of generic cola and my waning pride. Smoothing over my Thursday message from Bella scribbled in green, reality loomed. I used the silent love note to wipe the fear beading across my forehead.
Steadying with a deep inhale then out, I tossed my brown paper sack and sweet words in the trash. Passing by cliques of all ages, knuckles broken and bare, taking their thirty minutes of respite, Billy shouted across the dry, blazing courtyard. "Cullen, pull up a chair, man. You alright?"
"Hey, Billy." I matched a tight hand grip with an old friend, a mentor on the field, and unlikely peer. "You know anything about Jenks being in town from Portland today?"
"No…" He paused, masking a sigh with a smile as he realized. "Probably just throwing some weight around. I'll walk you in." He rested a strong, sturdy palm on my shoulder. I reactively squared and flexed, grasping the last of my dignity.
"You wanna go an extra hour on Sunday? I've got time. Your slider was looking solid yesterday. You should hit the cage after work though, we're closing in on the day." Billy coached, holding the door.
"Okay," I agreed quietly with a sudden shiver of frigid artificial air. My fate forever owned by another, patience was a struggle. Pulling worn gloves from my rear denim pocket, I took the stairs down. Slower by the step, I unrolled and buttoned the cuffs of my flame resistant chambray. The menacing roar of operation barreled through me. Blowing a deep exhale, I reached, lifted and rolled punishing weight and texture over my shoulders, forearms, then hands. Powering levers, shifting, guiding thick timber while I measured the possibilities. My mind drowned in visions… Bella twirling barefoot in a brand new dress, nothing beneath… a perfect, smooth sea blue, clinging to curves… bare sun-kissed shoulders… creamy flesh peppered with freckles begging me to count and kiss. A surprise, wrapped in a paper and a ribbon… her smile beautiful, her dark eyes wide and grateful. A piercing alarm shattered my reverie, reminding to reload, turn and labor. Fisting my leather sheathed hands; I glanced at the ticking time high on the wall. Once, the black numbers and dial counted down moments to hold my wife. Making love at dusk, caressing her growing belly, and eating frozen dinners and fruit in bed. But the passing hours were punishing, other possibilities forced forward. Another loss… another letdown, another dream done and gone, but it would be Bella's to lose not mine.
I twisted the marred, flat white gold band anxiously. Sitting, shifting, rolling my neck in a black vinyl sofa, I waited. A quarter past four came and went. Clearing my throat at the turn of a knob, I stood finally, running a weary hand over stubble I wish I'd shaved.
"Edward Cullen. Well hell…" Mr. Jenks, the younger not the older, strutted within a tight handshake.
"Garrett… I thought your dad was…"
"Come in, Edward." A sweeping gesture welcomed me into his large temporary office. I fell into the small, simple chair in the corner of the drab space. "Shit, how long's it been, man?" Garrett smirked, loosening his grey silk tie.
"Oh…" I shrugged, watching him casually perch on the corner of the cheap laminate desk. "Maybe a year or so." Focusing on the framed forestry posters and safety slogans beyond his full head, I sought to steady.
"Yeah, yeah… okay, that's right. The Jenks Timber summer picnic… with Bella." His smirk led him, treading dangerously. "How is… Bella?"
"She's good." I blurted, suddenly yanking my gloves from my back pocket, slapping them against my denim thigh in warning. "Starting nursing school this fall." So don't fuck with my job cocky prick.
He straightened and scoffed. "Huh. Good for her. She deserves…" He paused, moving slowly behind the desk. "She deserves everything."
I launched. Gripping the edge of the desk, white knuckled ready, I clenched. "Garrett, cut to the chase. And leave my wife out of it." He staggered with wide eyes.
"Cut to the chase? Cut… Cutter… Ole Cutter Cullen… How's that working out for you now?" He taunted, envy saturating his sound.
"What the fuck do you want? What's the point with this shit, Garrett?"
"The point? You want the point?" He slid into the burgundy chair. Breathing deep, he delivered his final act. "We're restructuring. Starting an apprentice program with the local college. Your job… your level will be…" I interrupted with a palm in the air.
"Was this apprentice program your idea?" Angling my stare, I pushed.
"It's smart, Edward. A progressive plan. I'm… sorry." He rested his forearms, folded his hands, finished.
"Sorry? That's it? I'm done? You can't move me into another area? Another group?" I loathed the desperation.
"What else can you do? I mean really, Edward." My knees buckled, he tortured. "If you'd just headed to UW with that sweet scholarship…" He narrowed his eyes, curling his thin mouth, patronizing.
I buried my face briefly, pounding my bottom lip with my fist. "Do I get two weeks to find something else?" Silence. "Okay."
"Listen, Edward…" Garrett Jenks rushed and stumbled in designer shoes. "I know you and Bella have had a rough time. But, this… this is business." His large hand landed against the door, blocking.
"Got it. Now get the fuck out of my way so I can go home and hold my wife."
Locked, hidden, raging with damp eyes, I slammed the blue stall wall. Rolling my forehead against the cool metal surface, an angry exhale morphed into a shiver. A tremble buried deep in my gut, a reaction to the nightmare. Thoughts of the next day and the day after, numbers on paper that wouldn't compute. Fuck. Bella's tuition, even more fundamental than that… Dark, beautiful eyes, masking the depth of her own worry and fear. My steel toed boot joined my fist, pounding and kicking away all the energy left.
"Sure, yeah. Book the suite. Whatever you want, I don't give a shit. We're not leaving the room all weekend anyway. Do they have one of those big ass tubs with the jets like that other lodge?" Again, the words and voice seeped like poison. I waited, composing, until he left with his expensive phone and my worthless future.
The Meadow was always the most peaceful at dusk; just before the iron scrolled gates were locked for the night. We had a schedule, a plan that never included Thursdays, but I was there. The edge of a large white tent flapped through a midsummer breeze, freshly pitched apparent by the thick rows of pale blooms and folding chairs.
"Bella, you have to get dressed." I found her naked, curled on our double bed clutching her pale pink bra to her still swollen stomach.
"No." She stared through the window. Kicking off my old dress shoes, I melted in behind her, caressing long dark waves from her weary face.
"We have to do this for him," I whispered firmly against her smooth, damp cheek. She gasped, sobbing. "I know…" Holding tighter as she shook.
"I want him to come back. He needs to come back, Edward. We love him. I'll sing to him…" She turned in my arms, staring desperately, willing me to make the pain disappear.
"You held him. I didn't hold him… Why didn't I hold him?"
I searched, hoping for the right words. "You couldn't. But he knew you were there."
"I should've…" She mumbled softly against my white shirt. "I'm sorry." I framed her face with our joined hands.
"He's gone, baby. We need to let him rest today…" Several quiet moments passed, we watched new snow fall, gathering outside our small, borrowed house. She unlaced our fingers and sat slowly. Her delicate straps slid up and over, holding the lace behind for me to connect.
"Hmmm…" I dusted, soothing over her shivering back.
"Nothing fits… I… have to wear my… my maternity clothes to… our baby's funeral."
I steeled, my head respectfully hung low as I paced up the green hill. Assured the quietest of plots, sweet silence under the massive ancient oak tree. I cleared tiny twigs, dried leaves and droppings from the rusting vase secured by a linked chain. Two long trembling fingers and a curled thumb gripped the white smudged leather and red thread. I pinched, squeezed the old baseball as I leaned closer to the marble headstone. Dropping it into the narrow mouth of the vase, my fingers then trailed to the engraving that haunted my dreams.
Riley Anthony Cullen
January 29, 2009
One day, not through… the beginning and the end.
"So this ball, this one's from the Senior State Championships. I think it was the hottest ever… a record high in Washington. Your mommy was so damn gorgeous that day." I paused to chuckle, a favorite image of Bella soothing my memory. "You were just starting to show. Not a lot, but everyone could see. She was so proud, finally. She had this white dress on… like a sundress, real short. Glowing. And her hair…" Blowing hard through puckered lips, I stared away, fighting. "Okay, little man, I know you want the game scoop, don't you…" My monologue routine, I detailed each and every inning, always peppering with visions of Bella. He needed those parts too, the best parts.
"I lost my job today, Riley." The reality slid off my tongue easily, I could tell my baby boy any and all. "Your mom doesn't know yet. Not sure how I'm going to…" I broke, the grassy earth caught me. I thumbed the small, silver disk of his initials and day hanging from a dark leather cord around my neck. Somber, silent, I let truth settle.
"Emmett, what's going on, man?" A fist bump over a wide, mahogany bar was our typical greeting. A cool bottle budgeted for pay day brought me to an old friend every other week. The Cliff was crowded for a Monday, pool players and booths full.
"What're you here on a Thursday for, Edward? You bring that beautiful wife of yours?" Emmett grinned, twisting a cap off my usual. A white terry towel flung across his broad shoulder, his eyes sparkled at the mention of Bella. She had that effect on everyone. Some I knew was sympathy, pity, but mostly it was simply her.
"Nope, she's home. Been a long day, thought I'd cool off before I head home," I explained sipping slow.
"You alright, Cullen?" Emmett shouted as a crowd moved through the door.
"Oh yeah. I'm good. Just…"
"Cutter Cullen! What the fuck, man? How the hell are ya?" Seth Young tackled me from behind. I spun, righting for a masculine embrace. My former teammate sized me up, as my ego plummeted to the sticky bar floor. "Damn it's good to see you." Seth grabbed me into another rough wrangle.
"What about you, Young? The big guns, huh? Shit. The Cubbies… The Chicago fucking Cubs." We laughed, knocking my scabbed elbow to his tight bicep.
"Buy me a drink…" Seth joked, I stiffened.
"Sure… sure." I raised my beer towards Emmett indicating the next and then some as we fell into a corner booth. "How long you in town for? You're off for the All-Star break or what?"
"Yeah, just the weekend. Thought I'd come home and hug my mom…eat some decent food."
"Oh shit, please." I scoffed. Emmett brought drinks and lingered.
"Damn it's good seeing you two together again…" He shook his head exasperated at time, circumstance. I silently agreed. Staring into Seth's eyes from the dusty, clay mound was my life aside from Bella. My catcher, we were a team. Big plans, hopes, and wishes, we shared, but only he realized. "Seth, you know Edward's gonna hit up the Mariner's open tryouts next week." Goddammit, Emmett.
Seth leaned, twisted back against the dark green vinyl. The expression he wore was familiar. "Edward…" I quickly swigged, waving to dismiss.
"No big deal, man. It's not. I swear." Forcing a chuckle, I tapped the neck of his bottle, encouraging him to move on.
"It is a big deal. What the hell are you talking about? You've been training your ass off." Emmett pushed, confused. "Your fastball is fucking incredible right now. And shit, Seth you should see his cutter."
"Yeah, we've all seen his cutter…" Seth smirked, wide eyed.
"Can I use the bar phone, man? I need to check on Bella." I interrupted, shoving lightly in warning. Emmett slid into my seat as I stalked away.
"Hey, baby. Where are you?" Bella's sweet voice calmed.
"Oh… I… I ran into Seth at the… gas station on fourth."
"Seth… Young?" She asked excitedly.
"The one and only." I leveled a mock salute towards the booth.
"Oh my god. Give him a hug for me."
"Anyway, I offered… he offered to buy me a drink over at The Cliff."
"Aww, that sounds good, baby. You need to relax more. I'll just eat a bowl of cereal for dinner then. Have fun."
"I love you… I love you so much." Tangling the curled phone cord in my blistered hand, I balanced my heightened emotion.
"I love you too. Oh hey, can you stop over at Meyer's Grocery and pick up a dozen cupcakes on your way home? They have those pre made vanilla frosted ones in the bakery."
"For what?" I snapped, mentally counting the contents of my wallet.
"Jesus." She paused. "Because we're having a little welcome thing for the new coach tomorrow in the school lounge. I signed up for dessert. Is that a problem?"
I breathed. "No… course not. I'm sorry. I mean, I do have a problem with the way Coach Banner checks you out…" She giggled flirtatiously, my favorite.
"Shut up. You're crazy. Besides, you already own the sweet ass and perfect tits he stares at everyday."
"Bella, I swear… I better not find that pumped up fucker loitering in the school office." I played along, watching Seth angling and gesturing hits, swings and style. My heart ached.
"Drive safe, baby."
An attractive, dark haired young woman was snuggled into Seth's side when I returned. "Edward, this is my fiancé, Carmen." Surprised, I shook her manicured hand, a large diamond sliding between us.
"I've heard a lot about you, Edward." She beamed bleached teeth behind heavily glossed lips. "All good though," she squeaked. I mirrored her smile and finished my beer. Seth's expression was pensive as he stroked down her thin, tan arm. He studied my knuckles, hands, almost wincing.
"Listen, you've been through…" Seth spoke low. "It's been a rough go for you, man… for Bella too. Are you sure you want to put yourself out there like this again? I'm talking straight up here, Edward." Carmen watched doe-eyed, eager.
"Like what? I know the drill and I know the chances. Billy asked, I'm doing it. I've got nothing to lose, Seth. Nothing." My stomach tightened.
"What does Bella say?"
"She doesn't know… yet." I pursed my lips and shook my head. Carmen squirmed slightly, distracting Seth. He whispered something in her ear, she disappeared. "Getting married?" I taunted, diverting the conversation.
"Yeah, December. Can you believe it?"
"Sure. Why not? Being married is… it's the best."
"The best?" He chuckled, shifting. "You got the best girl, Cullen. That's for fucking sure." He held his bottle in the air toast, then rubbed the back of his neck anxiously. "Rookie… Single A farm team… You sure about this?"
I tensed, over the analysis. "Hey, gotta start somewhere. It's just for fun, man. Seriously knock it off."
"I just don't want to see you… down again. You deserve better, Edward. How's things over at Jenks?" I fell back, tossing a bowl of peanut shells across the pine table.
"Well you'll never guess who fired my ass today?" I laughed, scoffing masking my embarrassment. "Garrett Jenks. Cocky motherfucker."
"No shit. I bet he asked about Bella… huh?" We shared a knowing smirk, then his face fell. "They let you go?"
"Restructuring." Carmen slid back in position, spilling from her black tank top. "I'll find something else."
"Baby, I'm tired," she purred, pecking Seth's neck, then rubbing the color away. Smiling, he glanced between us.
"You still working out with Billy at the school field?"
"Yeah, yep Sunday afternoons. He hasn't changed either, still brings that damn red bucket to sit on."
"How 'bout I come out and catch a bit for you? We don't fly out 'til Monday morning."
"Ah, man, you don't have to."
"I'm sure he wants to, don't you, baby?" Carmen said quietly.
"I do, definitely. Let's see this fastball Emmett's swearing by." They stood, I stayed. Promises of a Sunday reunion at the field were our parting words. The volume of empty bottles suddenly tallied, I threw my thin leather wallet down. Shit.
"What's the damage, Emmett?" I asked anxiously.
"Zero, man. Seth took care of it." He busied squaring bottles and tightening caps. I kicked at a barstool with my boot and shoved a five dollar bill into the full tip jar. "Edward…" He shouted after me as I made my escape. "I didn't mean to put that out there…"
"No… it's fine. Probably won't do it anyway. I have to get some shit sorted first."
"Don't give up, man. You know I've been there. If anyone deserves a second chance it's you, Cullen."
"Thanks. I appreciate that, Emmett. But, right now, I need to go home and love on my girl."
The bedroom lamp glow filtered through the thin cotton curtains. After draining the final can of six more while parked in the driveway, I rolled up my truck window, wincing. I wiped the humid moisture off my face, forehead and neck and fell through the rusty door. Meandering towards our front porch, I knew the night was late and problems weren't solved. A quiet stumble down the hallway, I followed the pale light to our room. Pushing open the door, I took in the white sheet twisted around my favorite bare, long legs. Admiring and roaming up the view to her pale blue cotton panties peeking where my worn jersey had ridden high. She had a sleepy grip on an old cheap paperback. Coven of Forbidden Love, water stained and torn, settled between her hips. Undoubtedly the fourth or fifth read, I made a mental note to stop at the library for her.
Absorbing the innocence and peace, I stalked closer. I kicked off my steel toed boots from sore feet, pulled my standard issue Jenks Timber shirt over my head and tossed it far in the corner. Unbuttoning and shoving down my jeans, I reached the edge of our bed, carefully sliding in next to Bella. Gently tugging the novel away, I teased up the length of her arm, down her chest over the swells of pert breasts, feeling under the peeling team numbers.
She reactively nuzzled when I wrapped around. Placing wet, soft kisses down the warm flesh of her neck, she hummed along my naked shoulder… then startled. "Baby… no. You smell like swill and…" She grumbled, wrinkling her nose and leaning away. "You didn't leave the cupcakes in your truck did you? Remember what happened on your dad's birthday last…"
"Fuck." I fell defeated back into my pillow, roughly rubbing my eyes.
"I'll go out and get them." I quickly pulled her wrist, stopping her from looking for something that wasn't there. She stared, knowing. "You forgot."
"I'm sorry," I mouthed, dusting her knuckles with pouting lips. She twisted her mouth and rolled her beautiful, dark eyes. Lying back, arms stretched overhead as she sighed in frustration.
"I'll just get up early with you in the morning and stop on my way. Thank god tomorrow's Friday… and payday. Did you blow your beer budget tonight with Seth?" Truth avoided as I hovered. My hands smoothed over the heated skin of her taut middle, thumbing along and under the thin edge of her panties. I grazed her jaw, nipping and tasting.
"Edward…" She whispered sympathetically. "I'm tired. I had to inventory everything in the science department and the Dean's office today. I mean… I…" Tugging her plump bottom lip between my teeth was an attempt to hush and ignite. She freed, squirming slightly, my erection waning between her thighs. "I can just… I'm here… if you want…" I exhaled, resting my forehead against hers.
"It's okay." Twisting the small, black pin on the lamp, we drifted into darkness… a safe place where my secrets could rest.
Thanks very much for reading xo
We're excited that you found us over here at aftrnoondlight. Big thanks to our lovely and very sharp pre-readers Obsmama and FFpassion. We appreciate the support, detailed feedback and suggestions. xxoo
Hugs to St. Kristen for the great research sources xx
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This story will run three chapters and conclude with a short epilogue of HEA. We'd love to hear your thoughts on the sweet young couple or just say hi...
Chapter 2 will be posted on Sunday. Have a wonderful weekend.