Disclaimer: The Twilight Saga and its inclusive materials are copyright to Stephenie Meyer. This is a work of fiction, and thus, prescriptions in this story are not implied nor intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice.
A/N: In my haste to submit the story, I forgot to include a note to thank JavaMasta for her kindness and a beautiful banner, and Bronzehairedgirl620 for generously allowing me to contribute along with such talented authors I should be weeping under a table with a consolation lollypop. Thank you for the opportunity to contribute in my own way.
I will post this Brobdingnagian "one-shot" in five parts.
Freedom in a Syringe
by Anton M.
"In those days," continued Ishvar, "it seemed to me that that was all one could expect in life. A harsh road strewn with sharp stones and, if you were lucky, a little grain."
"Later I discovered there were different types of roads. And a different way of walking on each."
— Rohinton Mistry, A Fine Balance, page 468
A brown-eyed woman sixty three years of age eyed the black piece of plastic in her lap. Colorful round buttons formed rows and columns for reasons she could not grasp, and as she turned it upside down, she observed the two barrel-shaped metal objects in a rectangular hole. The woman frowned. She could've sworn she knew its purpose, but it didn't come to her.
As she raised her eyes and found a girl rustling around the living room, she couldn't recall the reason, either.
"Where are you going?"
Her unsurprised daughter buttoned up her grey coat as she responded, "I already told you. I'm going to take a few extra classes for ballet. I'll be back at nine."
Momentarily satisfied, Renee nodded and moisturized her lips with sweetened white tea. "You're out too much. Remember when we used to sit and play scrabble for the whole day?" Her eyes lit up. "We could do it tomorrow! Do you think Charlie would like that?"
Bella hunched and shut her eyes as she inhaled. She was going to be so late she didn't know if her temporary teacher would still be there to wait for her. She had had to feed Alice and put her into bed after her seizure; Alice had a television to keep her company, but Bella reminded herself to ask her neighbor Jasper to stop by. She couldn't count on her mother. She already worked at a restaurant during weekends and Tuesdays to help her family.
Losing a father once had been bad enough, now Bella should've had to bring the news to her mother every time she asked. But she didn't.
"Yes." Bella pursed her lips. "Ask him later."
Renee visibly perked up and smiled. "I will."
Her attention was caught by Dr. Phil. Renee's eyes were glazed and hand shook a little. Her puffy silver hair surrounded her wrinkle-covered face and made her seem much older than she was. Renee had been forty three at the time Alice was born and forty five when she gave birth to Bella. The youngest daughter had never asked how her mother had the courage to have another child after the genetic accident of the first one. She simply didn't think Renee would be able to answer that. Bella kissed her on the forehead.
"Take care of yourself. I'll be right back."
The woman, taken aback by the action, tore her eyes from the television, and jerked back. "Who are you?"
Bella made sure she had keys in her pocket before she hauled a bag over her shoulder and left. The door clicked locked. She hopped downstairs and knocked five times on the scratched door. Her downstairs neighbor, a twenty-three year old blonde bohemian who studied to become a psychologist greeted her with a genuine smile. Bella liked to think that Jasper would have accepted her offer to date had he not been openly gay. Bella, apparently, had little experience distinguishing between a straight male and a gay one. She blamed her upbringing.
"Hey, Jazz. I need a favor."
"Hi ballerina," he responded, munching on a gum. "Wanna come in for a drink?"
Bella impatiently shook her head. "I'm sorry, not today. I just wanted to know if you could check on my sister in an hour or so. I already gave Alice her medicine, so you don't have to do anything. Just check if she's breathing and all." She dropped keys into his hands and smiled. "Thanks."
Rather amused, Jasper chuckled. "You already seem to have made the choice for me."
Bella crunched her face. "No, I just… I really need to know Renee isn't making her drink sangria. In her state of mind, I wouldn't be surprised. Will you help me?"
"Always beating around the bush." Jasper set the keys on a hanger. "Of course I'll help."
"You're a life-saver," gushed Bella and kissed him on his cheek. "See you later! I'll make it up to you."
Before Jasper could respond, Bella jumped down the stairs and disappeared around the corner. Jasper returned to his scratched leather couch and continued to read The 33 Strategies of War by Robert Greene. He munched on his apple-flavored gum and turned the page.
The minute hand clicked behind the faded glass and pointed toward XII; an hour hand continued the vertical line in the other direction. The tall man passingly noticed, strode toward the low bench where his old hand-sewn backpack rested, and set aside his glasses. He swiped his forehead with a towel, lit a bluish halogen light in the corner and put on his contact lenses. He revealed a white roundish bottle with a pink label. In black capitalized letters, it read, 'VALPROIC ACID.' It was 2-propylpentanoic acid, or C8H16O2, a fairly simple chemical formula; most commonly used in cases of depression, bipolar disorder, epilepsy and schizophrenia.
He habitually inserted the plastic syringe, turned the bottle upside down and pulled the plunger until it read 7 milliliters. He set it aside, uncovered Snickers, gulped it down and absent-mindedly eyed the pink liquid in his little plastic syringe. After a minute of staring, he calmly raised his chin and emptied the barrel into his mouth. It tasted awful, like a bad cherry candy with a sour-bitter side-taste. He recalled an idea from the father of toxicology who had proposed that only dosage differentiated poison from harmless matter. Edward couldn't recall the author's name, but agreed nevertheless. He washed the liquid down with half a bottle of water and washed the syringe in the bathroom.
There were no new messages in his phone; not even from his girlfriend.
The minute hand pointed at III as he turned off the light and continued to stretch. The fitness center had a view of the rainy Vineland Road. Considering that it was the end of the rush hour, the traffic could be seen as fairly light. But instead of worrying Edward, it frustrated him. According to Rose, her friend was "a punctual and conscientious girl." His sister's estimation of the girl, Betty or Becky or Barbara — he did not, in fact, care enough to ask — had not only been misguided by personal opinion, it was wrong. Edward figured that perhaps the girl backed out and decided not to come. After all, if she did show her face, she would already be forty five minutes late.
Edward decided to wait for another fifteen minutes.
He had briefly met her a couple of times, but they hadn't spent enough time together to get past the commonplace politeness. Rose had explained that the girl needed private lessons or she would fall behind in her lessons in Central Florida Ballet Academy. Edward had immediately refused. He hadn't taught anyone since the Russian girl Tanya two years ago, and in the world of ballet training, two years could suppress even the most skillful dancer's talents. Being fit was crucial. But in either case, he did not dance ballet any more. Edward attended the University of Florida, School of Architecture, and had his Master's Research Project to think about. He had no will to waste his time with amateurs. But Rose, knowing his weakest spot, played on his fears and after an hour-long discussion, forced him to backtrack from his refusal. His sister had only known B-something for a year, but somehow, the new girl had not been intimidated by Rose. They befriended. Edward couldn't understand how Rose could have something in common with such a forgettable girl.
Girls' dressing room's light was switched on and the wooden floor reflected it; the old room that used to be a ballet studio was now occasionally used as a spare room for aerobics and Latin Ballroom dancing. It creaked a lot, but it was perfect for practices like this one.
Edward sat on the only window sill, waiting as he listened to her rushed footsteps, the rustling of clothes and a peep that must have signaled the girl switching off her phone. He realized he was more frustrated by her presence than the alternative. Had she not turned up, he would have simply had proven his point to Rose. He would have had more time for his project. He would not have had to wear tights.
The girl appeared and closed the door. "Hello?"
Her scared voice echoed in the empty room. The curtains in front of the windows made the room quite dark, and Edward decided not to answer to see how she would act. The girl started to feel the walls for a light-switch, but after she found one, she switched it on and dropped her phone to the sound of Edward's voice.
A short pale girl stared at Edward with wide eyes before she picked up her mobile phone and set it on the bench.
"I'm sorry, I..." her voice faded as she straightened. "I had a few things to handle." She averted her eyes.
"Do you want to be here?"
She eyed the beige walls, the dark wooden floor, the wall-size mirror and the lonely window a side of which Edward had opened earlier. She stepped closer to the center of the room, but hesitated. "Um, yes."
"No but," she argued. "I do want to be here."
"Are you sure?"
"And what is your name?"
If she was surprised by Edward's lack of knowledge, she concealed it well. "Bella."
"I know," replied the girl. Edward eyed her as he pushed himself off the only window sill and walked next to her. She cocked her head back to see his face. Edward stood a little awkwardly with his hands on his sides and the awful taste of medicine still in his mouth.
"Here's how this is. Everyone can find excuses. If a person doesn't want to do something, they'll find an excuse not to do it. Do you agree?"
She was a little taken aback by Edward's quiet insistence, but recovered quickly. He hoped she hadn't expected a pat on the back and a smile. "I think so."
"I expect you to take this seriously."
She gulped. "Of course, sir—Edward." Gaining confidence, Bella proudly lifted her chin and looked into his eyes. "I do want to be here." Her expression hung between fear and childish eagerness. She had brown eyes, matching hair in a bun and a child-like quality in her uncomfortable posture. She wore grey tights, a darker T-shirt with the words 'Punctuality is the virtue of the bored.' The piece of cloth was too big for her. Edward's eyes lingered on the mocking sentence long enough for Bella to notice and shift her weight on her right foot. He continued without a comment.
"You'll have plenty of time to prove it," he said. "I do not care what your excuse is today, but you will not be late again. If an emergency comes up, I expect you to notify me. You have my number. Understood?"
"Good. I'll give you half an hour to warm up before we begin. Today is just a matter of understanding your weaknesses and setting goals. Do you have any questions?"
She lowered her eyes and muttered to his chest. "Just one."
He raised his eyebrows, but didn't comment. She realized he was not about to urge her to continue and cleared her throat. "Just one. I— um, I wanted to know if there's any possibility we could change the training on Tuesday to Thursday?"
"And leave Monday unchanged?"
"Um, yes." She was quick to back-track. "I mean, we can leave it as it is, but I can't guarantee I won't be late again next Tuesday."
He eyed her forehead in silence. To put his life-long friend's hypothesis to practice, Edward had Taekwondo on Thursday evenings and Saturday mornings at 6251 Commerce Park Drive. It was a ten-minute drive, but the practice itself lasted for two hours. He shook his head. "Thursday is unsuitable."
Her face fell.
"Unless you agree to come here at ten in the evening."
She finally stopped looking at his chest area and locked eyes with him. "I wouldn't mind at all. But what about Friday?"
"I prefer to keep all Fridays unoccupied."
She offered Edward a pursed-lips smile. It wasn't irritated, but not particularly fond either; just distantly polite. "Thursday at ten it is."
He nodded, put on his CD and not long after, Jem's 24 started to play. Bella frowned, probably waiting for an excerpt from Schubert's Rosamunde or Tchaikovsky's Waltz of the Flowers. For the first few seconds, she simply stared at him with wide eyes. He shrugged. Eleven seconds into the song, the violins joined in, and Bella started to get Edward's idea. She offered him a genuine smile. Edward returned a meager variation of it.
For the first fifteen minutes, he observed Bella's five leg and arm positions and other movements. She had a problematic posture, and while her leg movement was good (but not great), she didn't seem to know what to do with her hands. Her coordination left much to be desired. Edward didn't think he had ever seen such an ungraceful ballerina before. She got the rhythm, she knew the movements, but she lacked fluidity. She lacked grace.
When Bella had been in the focus of his attention for a quarter of an hour, he stretched and joined the warm-up. She knew Edward kept his eyes on her and probably fumbled more than she would have if he hadn't been there, but as a ballerina, she would have to get used to the attention sooner or later. The Who by Baba O'Riley let him know half an hour was almost over. Edward stopped moving.
"What do you think are the things you should work on?" asked Edward over the music.
She paused and looked at him. "Um, I think jumps and coordination. And leg movement."
"We'll get to jumps. You're occasionally uncoordinated, we'll have to fix that. But you're wrong about leg movement. Your hand movement is far worse. And your posture is similar to a person who's afraid of being hit. I'm not about to hit you. Straighten your back."
She slowly, as if testing the waters, leaned back her shoulders. He stepped in front of her, placed his hands on her ribcage and squeezed gently, tilting her upper body away from him. She flushed. Edward huffed under his breath.
"Bella, I'm not here to feel you up. I have zero intention to seduce you. Do you trust me?"
He didn't want to hear hesitation. Edward place a hand on her waist and the other on her shoulder, letting her know how she should stand. "Raise your chin."
She tilted it up.
"There. This is how you will stand from now on, either dancing, buying hygiene products or being belittled by your new teacher. Don't look like you accept humiliation. Don't accept humiliation."
She didn't blink as she nodded slowly.
"Good. Now, your legs aren't long enough for a classical ballet dancer, so you'll need to work twice as hard to get it a hundred percent right. That's why I know you'll be working hard — you have no choice. Don't take it as a disadvantage; take it as an opportunity to prove yourself. Your hand movement is almost zero. No coordination whatsoever. We'll work on a few pure coordination exercises. Do you agree to dedicate your time to that?"
She gave Edward the polite pursed lips smile. "Yes."
"You switch postures too abruptly. One movement needs to grow to the other smoothly, you need to look more like you're gliding or about to gain invisible wings. Not like you discovered a snake from your drawer. And doing crutches, you breathe randomly. You need to exhale when your muscles are tense — raising your head and arms — and inhale when your muscles relax — lowering them. Remember that. Who are your ballet teachers?"
"Um, what does that have to do with anything?"
"More than you know. Who are they?"
"There's Gary Banner, James Herby, Jessica Stanley..."
"Don't listen to a word Banner says, try to watch his movements instead. He explains in a way only the Greek understand. Be careful with Herby, the rumors are not exaggerating. Don't get too close to him. But he has connections, so pay attention when one of the heads of ballet studios decides to pay a visit. Stanley is afraid of being firm, so when she says 'you should' take it as a 'must.' Do they comment on your hand movement?"
"A little. They're more worried about my legs."
"The way you were built is important, but not crucial. Focus is crucial. When they criticize your legs, pay no attention. Just work twice as hard. Why are you wearing a T-shirt at least three sizes too big for you?"
She stepped out of his hands and averted her eyes. "Um, is it important?"
"Yes. I can't see your movements under that tent you're wearing."
She flushed a little, but gave him no answer. This time, Edward decided to push her. "Is there a specific reason?"
"I can see that. I'm a guy who's been to a ballet school, I know all about embarrassing. Why?"
Tentatively, Bella stared at the floor as she muttered, "My breasts are too big."
"I see." He showed no emotion. "What do you have underneath this tent?"
She flushed further. "Um, a sports top."
"Strip. Take off your tent."
She pursed her lips, and not as a smile this time. She took it off, threw it on the bench and crouched worse than before. He stepped closer and placed his hands on her shoulders, leaning them back. "Hey. No hunching." He took a quick glance at her problem, and wasn't surprised it was mostly created by the teachers and co-dancers, if not her mind. "C-cup could be a problem, but I assume you are B. Most ballet dancers are A as I understand. You don't have much to worry about."
She frowned and hesitated. "The teachers think they are."
"The teachers think they are morons?"
She huffed a chuckle. "That they are too big."
This time, she laughed. Her face was still red, but Edward seemed to convince her to let go of her tent. He released her shoulders and simply stood in front of her. "Do you have any questions?"
"It's not a question, but... um. This seems more like a lesson of confidence and movement than actual ballet. I—I think I imagined something else."
"Are you unhappy with this so far?"
"No, just surprised."
"We'll get to the ballet part. Right now, you need to have your fundament strengthened. Only then we'll get to the serious part. Do you have a specific date or will we finish with the lessons when you've reached our goals and improved your movements?"
"Um, I'd agree on both. Our grade has an audition for The Nutcracker on the 13th of October. We all have parts in it, so if I'm not good enough for a better part, I'll probably be one of the background dancers. I'll need help after that, too."
"But you would like to dance one of the main parts."
She lifted one of her shoulders and smiled slightly. "Of course. But I'm not good enough and I know people in my class much more likely to be chosen as main dancers."
Edward stared at her eyes without blinking for so long it made Bella uncomfortable. She lowered her gaze. He continued, "What would you say if I told you that you can have one of the main parts? With enough focus."
Bella shook her head. "That's a month away. I won't be good enough quickly enough."
"But I'll teach you to learn. You'll practice. If that's what you want, you can have it, but you can't wriggle out of any practice. No excuses."
She contemplated, but had already figured she would try her best under his guidance. She nodded, and suddenly, a question her schoolmates (and Bella) had pondered on slipped out of her mouth.
"If you're good enough to teach others, why did they throw you out of ballet school?"
She paled as she realized her straight-forward question. He curtly shook his head, acting as if he heard nothing, walked to the stereo and put on Port de bras, Etudes II by Robert Long. For the next two hours, he guided her dancing and showed her coordination exercises to practice for the next Monday. She noticed the way he acted more indifferently toward her than before, and considered apologizing, but couldn't gather her guts to do it.
"Do you want to do a jump together? Pas de deux?" inquired Edward when Wendy Boots came on; the last song, just like the first one, had little to do with classical ballet. Bella hadn't realized Edward spoke of her for full ten seconds before she snapped out of it.
"You mean with me?"
"No, with the poltergeist standing behind you," answered Edward impatiently. "With you, of course."
"Um. I'm not sure how good I am at that, but we can try."
"We can start with the promenade and the fish before attempting a jump," said Edward. Bella hesitatingly took a position on pointe. He placed a hand on her waist and walked around her, turning her body. She had no problems keeping balance, but she flushed.
It continued to annoy Edward. "Do I make you uncomfortable?"
Bella lowered her heels to the ground. "A little. I'm prone to blush, though, so just ignore it."
Irritated, Edward sighed and waited as Bella took an arabesque position. He lifted her as she folded her bottom leg up, and swung her back so she could make a curve close to the ground.
"You're too stiff. You were flexible before."
Bella pursed her lips. Why couldn't he be satisfied with anything?
"I don't care you're sorry. I want to feel you bend as you did before," scolded Edward, unpleased. "Are you scared of me or men in general?"
She held his gaze. "I'm not afraid of you. Or men."
"Then prove it."
She repeated the fish seven times before Edward was remotely satisfied with her performance. It was almost nine o'clock when he trusted her to trust him. He wanted her to jump into his arms from quite far.
Bella shook her head. "You're insane. That's a risky thing to do. I'll crush you and then we'll both end up in the hospital."
"Is it just me or do you always refuse to oblige orders?" snapped Edward.
Bella shut her eyes and took a deep breath, much like she did when her mother would ask the same questions over and over again. She reminded herself that he was, after all, her teacher, and she was in no position to be honest. It's you. You're a pathological perfectionist.
Edward, having seen her reaction, asked with a calmer voice, "Have you ever fed medicine to a cat?"
"I— Excuse me?"
She had noticed his tendency to ask seemingly irrelevant questions, but this surprised her so much she forgot her irritation. Bella frowned. "I haven't. I used to have a dog when I started to go to school, but it ran away when I was twelve."
Edward shove a hand through his hair. "I have. We had a cat named Kate who needed to have some pill against having kittens. I held her down between my legs and put it between her yaw. I succeeded, but she started to clapperclaw and in the end, I think I was more harmed than she was. I still have the scars."
Bella continued to scowl. It felt like he had suddenly decided have a conversation about your favorite Mozart composition with your horse.
"Edward — Are you alright?"
He shrugged and offered her a faint smile. "Yes. I actually have a point. You're me. I'm the kitten. If you fall, I'm the one to get hurt."
Bella let out an awkward chuckle. "'cause that's encouraging. I don't want to be responsible for your death."
"Like you have the chance of hurting me," said Edward, growing frustrated again. "All I ask is for you to try."
Bella took a moment to eye him with skepticism before she turned around and put his CD on shuffle. Adagio in G-minor by Tomaso Albinoni started to play. She faced him, took the moment to brace herself and tiptoed around him before gaining ground and jumping into his arms. She held her breath. He caught her, twirled her around and solemnly placed her on the floor.
"See, that wasn't so bad."
Edward stopped the music, strolled toward his bag and left Bella nearly breathless in the middle of the floor. He picked up his backpack and turned about to bid her goodbye, but his sewn bag tore open and filled the floor with items. Bella rushed to help him. Edward attempted to shrug her off, but she would not go. Thus, in the middle of papers and a towel lay a white bottle with a pink label and an awfully familiar smell.
"Why do you need this?" questioned Bella. She understood the purpose of the medicine, but Edward possessing a bottle she could not comprehend. Without uttering a word, Edward snapped the bottle from her hands and threw it into his broken backpack.
He held the bag in front of him with two hands and nodded as a goodbye. Bella sat alone on the floor, watching the dressing room's door silently close. She stood up, took her coin and turned off the lights.
Edward picked up the remnants of his bag and searched for the key in the pocket of his jeans. The white one-storied building on the neat-lawn Chestnut Street in Clermont sat in the middle of other mundane one-storied buildings. It was a thirty minute drive from Vineland Road. Up until last month, Edward hadn't come to his father's place often, but ever since he began looking for a new apartment to live in, Edward did not have a choice. He crashed at Carlisle's place.
Having unlocked the door, Edward walked through the hallway and into the tidy kitchen, where he could finally set aside his broken backpack. He turned on the lights and opened a brown pack of Tim Hortons. The package derived from a coffee shop in Ottawa where his mother worked. She provided enough Arabica coffee to last a lifetime. Perhaps she felt guilty she moved away from her children after convincing them to settle in the States, but without exceptions, the same brown package arrived every first week of the month.
Edward felt his knees buckle as he walked toward the fridge. He gripped the counter in vain before he collapsed to the floor. His body started to shake.