ENTRY #75 - AH
Truly Anonymous Twilight O/S PP Contest
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Title: Golden Brown
Picture Prompt Number: 21
Word Count (minus A/N and Header): 7,101
Summary (250 characters or less, including spaces and punctuation): They say for every ten years you're clean, you spend seven of them waiting. Edward has been clean for four years and every day he wakes up thinking of two things. The addiction, and her. Contains drug use and mature sexual content.
Warnings and Disclaimer: Contains drug references, and other adult situations. I don't own Twilight or any of its characters. The song 'Golden Brown' is owned by The Stranglers.
"Just an hour, man. I promise," Emmett says laying a hand down on my shoulder. He can see the reluctance in my eyes, see the shift in my posture. I really don't want to go in there, and he knows it.
It's been over four years since I've been into a strip club. To some it seems like no big deal, people spend their entire lives not stepping foot inside clubs with names like Rawhide or The Kitty Kat Club. But for me, places like this are a symbol, a reminder of a past better left alone, of stupid ideas and even stupider decisions.
Standing outside the club makes me realize how long four years really is, and how much I've changed in that time.
I drank a lot when I was younger, but so would any twenty-one year old kid with a bottomless bank account and no one to hold him accountable. The problem was, when I chose to drink, I chose to obliterate myself. Not only that, but I also felt the need to mix that alcohol with anything I could get my hands on; pills, speed, coke, acid, you name it, I took it.
It's places like this, places already so full of temptation that my problem began.
But it's Emmett's night, and he's just so fucking happy. He deserves a good night, God knows he does. He deserves one night where my very existence doesn't fuck something up. I mean, he didn't even need to invite me, we haven't known each other that long. And anyway, who the fuck wants to invite an ex-junkie to their stag night? But he did, and I can tell that he hasn't said anything to the other guys, anything about my past. It's obvious to me because there are no awkward silences, no one hides their wallets, and no one gives me those fucking pitiful looks - the ones that remind me that I'm not like everyone else. Sure, there's the spark of recognition, I'm still that Cullen boy, the rich one, the one that was in all the magazines. But it ends there, and I'm grateful for that.
It's this thought that carries me forward until I'm almost at the front entrance. I focus on my breathing; steady and calm, and of the crunching of my feet on the asphalt; heavy as my heels drag. I can feel the bass trembling under my feet and already I want to turn back. I'm barely at the top of the stairs, but I can already see the flashing of the lights, hear the rattle of glasses and smell the mixture of cheap perfume and sweat. The room is hazy with smoke, both cigarette and the artificial kind. A vague recollection of the club enters my mind, but to be honest, when you've been in as many as I have, they all start to look the same.
A heavy hand falls on my shoulder and I jump at its weight.
I turn and Emmett smiles at me, his arm resting across my shoulder, calm, relaxed and reassuring. He is the only person at work who knows about my past. He knows what being here means to me, what a place like this can do to my resolve.
"Just stick with me and you'll be fine," he says quietly.
He leads me over to a huge table where the other guys are sitting. A huge red leather sofa encircling a large wooden table obviously not just meant for drinks. Thankfully, he sits me down next to Jasper, who I've only just met, but who seems to be a cool guy. He tips his beer at me as I take the seat beside him and we fall into easy conversation. There's something about Jasper that puts me at ease. For one, he looks at me when I speak, and he doesn't fidget nervously like he doesn't know what to say. It makes me feel like a real person again, not this silhouette of who I used to be; the rich boy fallen from grace. And every minute I sit in the crappy leather upholstery my confidence grows. Jasper is so obviously not interested in having a lap dance; he barely even looks at the dancers as they parade around, and one glance at his hand reveals why. He's married – lucky her, he's a good man.
Emmett brings me a whisky glass filled with Coke, a simple charade that means I don't have to be subjected to the questioning that arises when I say I'm not drinking. Men are assholes like that, I should know; I would have done the same thing.
"Can I interest any of you gentlemen private dance?" a dancer asks, and most of the guys throw their hands in the air like over-eager pre-schoolers.
If only their wives could see them now.
What is it about married men and strip clubs? Sure, I came to places like this when I was younger, but I never had something better to go home to. Someone who didn't smell like cheap body glitter and stale smoke. A warm breath on the back of my neck, a body to curl up against, someone who would still be there in the morning.
Emmett is the only guy besides Japer who doesn't opt for a dance. I think he's only here because Rose's younger brother organised it. Me, I couldn't think of anything worse. Bachelor party be damned, if I found someone who looked at me the way Rosie looks at Emmett, wild horses couldn't drag me to a strip club.
The stripper is persistent in her search for guys who want a dance. From the corner of my eye I can see Jasper looking as uncomfortable as I feel. We both slink down into our seats trying to blend in, trying to be ignored. I pretend to be really interested in the bottom of my glass when she stops right in front of me. My head snaps up and my eyes widen as she smiles down at me, all fake sincerity and fluttering false eyelashes. "Hey there Green Eyes, how about a dance?"
I shake my head, smiling apologetically. "Um, no…no, thank you."
She cocks her head to one side. "What? You don't think I'm pretty enough?" Her bottom lip drops dramatically as she turns to the group of guys behind her, who all yell and pound on the table in their excitement. Some call my name, chanting like we're at a fucking football game. My heart is in my throat and my face flushed in embarrassment.
"No," I answer shaking my head, immediately regretting my words. "I mean, yes, you are, you're very pretty. I just don't want a dance. Thank you, but no."
Her smile is devious, and I know that if there weren't ten other men, all desperate for the affections of the female kind, she would have pressed the issue. Thank fuck she doesn't. She knows she can get her fifty bucks three times over elsewhere, so, with a shrug of her shoulders she leaves me be.
Jasper smiles kindly when one approaches him, but, ever the gentlemen, he politely refuses.
A chorus of loud whistles and cat-calls go up amongst our group as Andy, one of Rosalie's younger brothers, finds himself ear-deep in the cleavage of a blonde dancer. She rubs his face back and forth, really giving him a good show as the rest of the group laughs and spurs her onwards. When she moves aside, his face is as red as the cheap carpeting, but as embarrassed as he is, he's got a grin on his face that stretches from ear to ear.
I suddenly wish I could remember my first lap dance.
Truth be told, there seem to be a lot of things I've forgotten, whole chunks of memory erased.
The smoke in the club is thick and the sweet powdery smell of it is cloying, almost to the point of being suffocating. Through the haze I can see the other guys, their laps all full of women giggling, dancing and pretending like they actually give a shit.
It's not that I don't find the women appealing. I'm still a guy, and the sight of a half-naked woman still gets me hard. Fuck, just the thought of someone other than me touching my dick makes me hard. But try as I might, the scene just doesn't interest me, doesn't evoke the same feelings it used to. Some of them barely look legal, although I'm sure that's the point. I can't help but wonder why they're here, what twist of fate made them desperate enough to need a job like this. I ponder it for all of a second and then remember exactly what can turn a girl to stripping, or worse. It's the same thing that made me steal from my own family, turned me against my friends, and in the end, stole from me the only person I loved more than the drugs.
Nursing my glass, I count the minutes until I can be at home, warm and comfortable in my bed. It still amazes me that something as small as a warm bed can make me feel so happy. But it's the little things that I'm beginning to appreciate. Like the smell of coffee when I walk past the vendor on my way to work. Caffeine is just as addictive as any other drug, so I don't drink it, but I can still appreciate the smell. I also love the way my sheets smell when they're clean; like laundry detergent and fabric softener. Maybe it's the fact that I've actually spent the time washing the drying them myself, but it's a strangely satisfying smell.
I'm contemplating these small things, when something catches my eye.
The hint of red in the hair of a dancer as she passes by sends my mind reeling, spinning out of control, and all of a sudden I'm there again. Dirty, emaciated, smacked out of my mind, my body intertwined with the only thing that held me to the earth.
I watch as the petite brunette gyrates to the beat in front of an eager looking guy. Her timing is lousy but her hands are what he's watching. They touch her hips, her breasts, her stomach, moving, moving, always moving. He watches, rapt, as she straddles his lap, her knees on either side of his hips. Her back is to me, but for a second I imagine it's her. The small waist, the long dark hair and the pale, almost transparent skin, it could be her. The dim lighting and smoke makes it all that more easy to lose myself in the memory.
There are some things that I've forgotten, or that I chose to forget. I did awful, stupid, despicable things when I was high. And I was high all the time. But there are some things that I also choose to remember, some things that serve as reminders every day. The memories that say 'Get out of bed, Edward', 'Brush your teeth, Edward', and 'No, you don't need just one more hit.' I remember the look on my father's face the day he found me. I remember seeing my younger sister Alice on my first day of visitation. And more than anything, I remember Bella.
Sweet, beautiful, smart; she was everything I never knew I wanted. She'd found me, like a moth to a flame, one night in a club in the city. As bent out of my mind as I was, I knew from the moment I met her that she was different. Sure, it helped that she liked to party, but then who didn't? A little blow here, some pills there, and in the morning some weed to take the edge off.
Of course, that's how it all starts.
We thought we were indestructible. And in some ways we were. We'd found the secret that held all things together. In each other, we'd found the answer. But the world is a strange and often bewildering place to a pair of junkies in love. So we hid ourselves, stole away to live what we thought was a romantic bohemian lifestyle, a perfect life where the outside world wouldn't intrude. Our own world in which together, we were complete.
Looking back now, clean and sober, I can see it for what it was.
Our days were spent thinking about our next hit and how everything would feel good, better, the best, once we got it. Our nights were spent wrapped up in each other. She consumed me more than the drugs ever did. She devoured me body, mind and soul. The psychologists always told me that those feelings were just a side effect of the drugs, but I still think it was us. It was as if I couldn't get enough of her, her skin, her lips, and the sounds I could elicit from her with just a curl of my fingers, a flick of my tongue. She was perfect, and she was my world as I was hers.
Another round of applause goes up as the girls finish their dances, pulling me from my reverie. My memories, as much as I cling to some of them, are painful and emotionally draining. Sometimes it takes everything I have not to curl up into a ball with them, letting the guilt and pain swallow me.
I figured that since most of the guys got a dance we'd be leaving, but suddenly, a group of dancers begin to walk towards where Jasper and I are sitting. I try to look engrossed in the carpet, hoping that they will leave me alone, but I'm not that lucky the second time round.
Without warning the brunette from across the room is in my lap, her body pressed against mine as she dances to the beat of the music. I try to gently remove her from my lap, but she's insistent, closing her hands around mine, holding them in place as they rest on her hips. The movement of her ass on my lap should be making me hard, should be evoking some sort of pleasure reflex, but it's not. All I can see is the skinny frame of the girl sitting on top of me. All I can smell is her cheap perfume and the stale alcohol on her breath and skin.
Up close her waist is tiny; she's even smaller than she looked from the other side of the room. Her ribs are sticking out and the only thing holding her g-string up is her hip bones. Her limbs are so thin it's as if you can see the mechanics of her body, her muscles, stretched taught over her bones.
I try to move her again, but short of tossing her from my lap there's nothing I can do but sit there. She stands again, no taller than I am sitting down, and that's when I see them; small red marks, some raw and some healed, dotting her shoulder blades, her arms, her ribs. Faint purple bruises are scattered across her hips and lower back, small and evenly spaced. I don't want to know who made those marks, it turns my stomach to think that someone would touch this girl hard enough to leave a bruise.
Her hair flicks with every movement, fanning across my face and I cringe at the smell; cigarette smoke, hairspray and just unclean hair, like it hasn't been washed in days. In my lap again, she grabs my hands and puts them on her legs, my entire hand encompassing her thigh as she leans back, resting her head on my shoulder, her other arm around my neck. I groan a little as she shifts around in my lap, her hands moving up over her stomach and chest.
"You like that honey?" she says in a breathless voice. "You want to go somewhere more private?"
Her voice is soft and raspy, like honey on sandpaper and a slap in the face.
I know that voice, it haunts me in my dreams, it speaks to me when I'm feeling at my lowest, when I'm so close to temptation that I can feel the sting of the drugs in my veins, taste them in my mouth.
Feeling me tense beneath her, she sits forward and turns. "What's….."
Her words hang in the air between us as she stares at me, her eyes wide and her lips parted.
I'm seeing things.
This is not real.
Her name sounds foreign, like something from a dream. I reach out for her, waiting for her to disappear like smoke, evaporate into thin air. But she doesn't, instead she reels from my touch, pulling away so hard that she falls from my lap to the floor with a thud.
Time stops as she stares up at me unblinking. A single word slips from her mouth.
The day my father turned up was the last time I'd seen Bella. A recent guilt trip on my parents had left us flush with cash, and that day after our morning hit, Bella decided to make apple pie. Of course, we had nothing even remotely close to what she needed, hell, we didn't even have an oven. But she was hell bent on making me Grandma Swan's apple pie. And as always, I would have walked on water for that girl, so apple pie it was.
"Best in the world! Like sunshine and rainbows in your mouth. Everything is golden with apple pie…"
She whirled around our filthy apartment, rambling incessantly, throwing clothes over her gaunt frame.
"Hurry back," I'd said, too blown to move let alone get out of bed.
I opened my eyes as the bed shifted slightly, finding her atop me, her knees straddling my hips.
"An afternoon of extravagant delights…never a frown, Golden Brown…" she mumbled as I held her close, marveling at the feel of her fingertips across my cheekbones. "Zoooom…you flew into my life like a rocket ship…it was fast, but I liked it…." Feather light kisses dusted my eyelids as they slipped closed again, heavy and blissful, "…quivering and wet…I dream only of you, my sweet love. My Golden Brown. My Edward."
And then, sealed with a kiss she was gone.
I don't know how long I lay there, dreaming of apple pie and warm, sweet skin, but the next thing I knew, the door was being flung open and my father was there.
After everything I'd done to him, to my mother, to our family, I didn't deserve what he'd done for me. Days, months, countless hours he'd spent searching the city for my secret hideaway; the heir to the Cullen fortune hidden away like a diseased animal. And find me he did, naked and strung out, malnourished and bordering on psychotic. Even through the mess of my drug addled brain I knew I couldn't leave without Bella, so I fought. I kicked and screamed and yelled, I said things no son should ever say to a father.
It pains me still, like a kick to the gut, every time I think of Bella, blissful and manic-happy, coming home to find our home empty. As if I'd never existed.
Even as I sat in my room at the rehab centre, on my way to being clean, I thought about her. I thought about what I would do when I got out. How I would find her and bring her back with me, sober her up too. But when I went back she was gone. And here, now, seeing her like this - in this place - I'm completely speechless.
She stares up at me and I instinctively reach out again to help her up.
"Don't touch me!" she yells, slapping away my hand as she scrambles to her feet, grabbing the money that has fallen from her underwear.
My only instinct, even after all these years is to get to her, not to let her go, but the bouncer steps in my way, his hand on my shoulder.
I watch as she pushes through the crowds of men, her legs are so skinny that her knees look as if they will give out at any moment. Her hands are clutched to her chest in an attempt to cover herself, and I watch, helpless, as she slips through a curtain at the back.
"You okay?" Jasper asks, his concerned eyes no doubt having taken in the scene.
"I know…knew her." My eyes still search the room, even though I know where she is.
"Do you need to go?"
I swallow thickly, running my hands through my hair. I want to run back behind that curtain, swoop it aside like The Wizard of Oz and find out what's back there. But I won't, I won't because I'm scared of what I'll find. My vast and varied experience with places like this leads me to believe that The Boom Boom Room is not a reputable establishment, and behind that curtain even darker and more sinister things lie. Things I don't want or need to see.
But I can't leave.
How do I walk away now?
No. I can't, I won't stay. I need to be somewhere that I can think. I need to be clear headed, not clouded by cheap booze and even cheaper women.
"Yeah," I nod. "Yeah, I'm going to go."
Jasper nods. "Sure. I'll tell Emmett you left."
"Tell him I'm sorry."
The night is warm, unseasonably for this time of year. The hot night after a day's rain has made the air muggy and thick, and I can almost feel it in my lungs as I take deep breaths. It's times like this I wish I smoked.
My hands shake as I clutch them behind my head. My brain is screaming at me to go back in there.
Find her. Find her. Find her, it yells.
She's right there. Reach out. Touch her.
You know you can.
Just this once.
My gut twists as I think about Bella. There is no doubt in my mind that she's still using, the scars and the shape her body is in tell me as much. I want to know everything about her but I'm scared. They say for every ten years you're clean, you spend seven of them waiting. Waiting to slip again, waiting to wake up and not crave. I've only been clean for four years and every single day I still wake up and it's the first thing I think about. With Bella right inside, perhaps on the other side of the wall I'm leaning against, I feel like Alice in Wonderland standing on the precipice of the rabbit hole.
Do I jump?
Oh, but the fall is half the fun. It's stepping back that's the hard part.
And because someone somewhere has a bad sense of humor, there is no need for me to make my mind up, it's done for me as the side door to the club swings open with a bang.
"Get your shit together, Bella."
Oh, God. She's right there.
I can see her, outlined in red as the bright lights of the club flood the alley where she stands.
The monster inside my brain hisses.
Just one more time, Edward.
You know she'll have something to make you feel better.
Just a bump, a toke, a sniff.
It'll be better.
Everything will be all better.
"You've got ten minutes. There are people waiting on you."
"I said alright! Fuck."
She turns, her eyes meeting mine as the door slams shut, leaving her in the dark while I stand under the light of the street lamp. Like a moth to a flame I move towards her. Gently, quietly; she's a rabbit in head lights. Too quick and you'll scare it off. Don't make any sudden movements, but don't look away.
"Well, well. Golden Brown." Her voice is raspy and low, she sounds older than her twenty six years.
With her hair up off her face she looks younger. Draped in a dirty robe, she pulls at a cigarette like it's oxygen, her hands shaking as she keeps her eyes locked on mine.
I know it's too close when she takes a step back, keeping some distance between us. The urge to reach out and touch her is overwhelming. I have to stick my hands in my pockets to stop myself.
"I thought…" the words catch in my throat as she stares back at me. It's like the light has gone from her eyes. She no longer feels the euphoria of the highs, the electrifying sensation that the drugs bring. She only knows that without them she can't, or won't, survive. She needs them simply to get through the day.
"I never thought I'd see you again."
She scratches at her arm, the skin raw and red. "Well here I am. Living it up."
"You look good," she comments, looking me up and down. "Very…tidy." She points at me with her cigarette, disdain dripping from her words.
"Yeah. I…I'm clean."
She snorts. "Good for you. How's that working out for you?"
I know she sees through me, she always did. She can see me squirming, see me battling with that voice in my head. It whines and screeches, clawing at the inside of my chest, my brain, my lungs.
One more time.
For old time's sake.
"It's working out fine," I say through gritted teeth.
"Four years. It's been four years since I…" I can't even finish my sentence. Can't say the words.
Since I last got high.
Since the last time I had a drink.
Since the last time I saw you.
"Well good for you," she snaps, flicking the ash from her cigarette. "So if you're clean then why are you here?"
I know that if I don't say everything I want to say now, I'll hate myself later.
"I looked for you. After that day, I came back but you were gone."
"You didn't expect me to hang around and for you, did you?"
Even though I know she's lying, her words still bite.
"Where did you go?"
Her mood shifts suddenly and she glares at me. "Oh, what? You care now? I've been getting along just fine without you, Edward."
She's dirty, malnourished and smacked out. Fine doesn't seem to be quite the word I would use to describe her.
"Fine? Are you turning tricks to pay for the drugs? Is that what you're doing now that's so great?" I immediately wish I could snatch the words right out of the air, stuff them right back where they came from.
"You want to know if I'm sucking dick for money, Edward?"
A cruel smile graces her lips as she flicks the butt of her cigarette away.
"You want me to suck your dick? Is that it?"
Her fingers, thin and wiry, tug at my belt buckle. "Fifty bucks for a blow job, honey. And for a little extra, you can come in my mouth."
My hands find her shoulders and gently, I push her away from me.
She stumbles back a few steps, scowling. "What? Is that not what you wanted to hear? You don't want to hear that I suck cock for money, Edward? News flash," she's practically yelling as she pushes me, her strength surprising me. "I fuck strange men to feed my habit. An addiction you fucking started."
"Bullshit. You were just as screwed up as I was when we met."
She snorts. "And look at us now. You get to have a perfect life while I let guys grab my tits for ten bucks."
Bile flavors my breath at the thought of her giving herself to strangers. Her perfect little body, that for a time was mine; the only place that made me feel like I was home.
"You don't have to do that. There are other ways…"
"Fuck you," she spits, venomous and angry. "What I do is none of your fucking business! You gave up the right to give a shit when you walked out!"
Frustrated, my hands tug at my hair. "I didn't walk out, Bella. It wasn't my choice to leave you. Please believe me," I plead. "If it were up to me I would have taken you with me."
"You're a liar," she hisses. "You left me just like everyone always does."
She raises her hands to shove me again, but I capture them, holding her wrists lightly.
"I thought about you…I still think about you. Every. Single. Day."
Her hands shake as I hold them in mine, her wrists are so small I'm afraid I'll snap them, or bruise them at the very least. Just the thought of hurting her more than I already have, kills me.
"You were my perfect world, Bella. My dream."
"Don't," she shakes her wrists from my hands but her attempts are feeble, her strength waning. "You don't get to touch me."
Her face crumbles and tears streak her cheeks.
"No! You left me! You were all I had and you left."
"I know. I know, and I'm sorry. But you have to understand, I didn't mean to leave, Bella. I would never have left you, I swear..."
"I waited for you," her voice is barely a whisper, it crackles and breaks like a record on an old player. "I sat in that apartment for two days and I waited for you. The Ice cream…" her eyes glaze over as if she's lost in her memories, "…it all melted. And the butter too. Gone. It was all gone. You were gone."
"Let me make it right, Bella. I swear I'll make it better." I want to reach out for her, touch her gently, smell the familiar scent of her skin.
"I loved you, Edward. I loved you and you left me." Her bottom lip quivers and all of a sudden she looks younger, child-like as she hugs the robe around her tighter. "You made me feel beautiful. Loved. Perfect. And then you were gone."
"You were beautiful, Bella. You still are. I know the girl I love is in there somewhere. And to me, that girl is the most beautiful thing in the world. More beautiful than anything I could stick in my arm; she's my everything."
Her eyes close, and for a moment she looks peaceful, lost in her memories. As fucked up as the situation is, I still want her. I want the beautiful girl I fell in love with in another life. Standing in the darkened alley we're both light years from being whole, but being this close to her almost feels as if I'm a step closer to being complete. All this time I've been trying to find something to fill the void that heroin left; work, family, friends, exercise, sport. It hits me like a rock when I realize that all this time I've been waiting for her, waiting for her to come back to me.
My fingers reach out for her. "Come with me, Bella. I can help you."
Her whole body trembles slightly as she looks at my outstretched hand. "You can't help me, Edward," she whispers. "You shouldn't even be here. I shouldn't be here."
She starts to step back but I grab her, trying to not be rough with her sinewy arm. "Just wait. Please. I can take you away from this. You don't have to go back in there. You have a choice."
The door is thrown open, startling the both of us as it slams against the brick wall.
"Bella! Get your skinny ass back in here."
She doesn't even turn to see who's calling, instead, pulls her robe tighter and takes another step back. "You should go."
"No. Please. I'll come back tomorrow night, we can talk…."
"No!" Her shoulder moves as I reach for it. "You can't do this, Edward. I'll only ruin you. Please, just go."
The guy from inside the club yells again, banging his hand on the metal door loudly. "I won't tell you again, Bella. Get inside!"
I want to throw my fist into this guys face to shut him up, but already she's stepping away. I can see her shutting down, closing in on herself as I watch, helpless to stop it.
"You don't understand, Edward. I don't have a choice."
She looks at me once more, before turning and stepping back through the door into the bright red lights. The heavy metal door slams shut and she disappears, leaving me alone.
I want to run in and grab her, throw her over my shoulder and take her away.
I want to wait out in the alley until she finishes so that I can talk to her.
I want a million things, but all I can do is stand there, looking at the place where she stood.
It feels like I've been standing there for hours, rooted to the spot.
"You okay, Ed?"
As quiet as it is, Emmett's voice still scares me as it pulls me out of my internal warring.
I don't even have to answer; Emmett can see that I'm pretty far from being okay.
"I'll call a cab."
With sudden ferocity, the events of the night come crashing down around me. By the time the cab arrives, I'm crouched down with my head in my knees, trying desperately not to run inside and make a scene. The voice inside my head knows I'm losing my grip; it gnaws at my insides, howling like a caged animal. But it's not the drugs it wants, it's her.
Emmett helps me into a cab and takes me home. Sitting on my sofa with a coffee for him and water for me, I tell him everything. It feels good too. I've never had someone that I've been able to be completely honest with. My family have been amazing through it all, but I've always given them a watered-down version of my past. Some things are both difficult to say, and to hear. I don't think my mom or sister would handle the ugly truths.
"Shit, Edward." Emmett holds his cup in both hands, his elbows on his knees. "What are you going to do?"
"I don't know. What can I do? She doesn't want my help."
"Look, I haven't had a lot of experience with this kind of thing, but I think you need to find her."
"And what? Force her to go to rehab? I can't."
Emmett rubs his hand over his face, sighing. "I just know that if it was Rose, and I had a chance to do something – hell, I'd do it. There's nothing I wouldn't do to make sure she was safe."
He's right. Pandora's box is open wide and there's no going back now. I have it in me to help her and that's what I'm going to do.
I'm going to make sure she gets everything that she needs to be whole again.
I'm going to give her the only thing I have to give.
Sitting outside of a strip club feels even seedier during the day than it does at night. But Emmett doesn't seem to be fazed.
"So we just go in there and ask to see Bella?"
I shake my head, watching the late afternoon sun filter through the buildings. I'm not even sure what we're doing here. Finding her was the first thing we decided, after that, I'm not even sure what I'm going to say to her.
"The bouncers saw what happened last night, they're not gonna tell me shit."
Emmett frowns, tapping his fingers on the steering wheel. "Okay. New plan." He unbuckles his seatbelt and opens the car door. "Stay here."
I don't have time to argue because in a second he's gone, car door closed, striding across the car park towards the club.
It occurs to me, while I sit in Emmett's car in silence, that I haven't really thought much about what I'm going to do with Bella once I find her. Chances are she's going to fight me the way I fought my dad. Drug addicts can be surprisingly strong, so I'm glad I've got Emmett to help if needed. But then, the thought of having to restrain her and possibly hurting her in the process makes me sick to my stomach. She's a grown adult, and unless she decides to come of her own volition, there's nothing I can do. But every minute I sit there not doing anything feels like another step closer to losing her again. I won't let her go again, not until I'm one hundred percent certain that I tried everything.
By the time Emmett comes back my fingernails are practically bloody stumps and I've gone through almost an entire packet of chewing gum.
"What did you do? Was she there? What did she say?"
He holds his hands up in front of him and I make an effort to pull myself back into my own seat. "Steady. She wasn't there…"
I slump back into my seat feeling defeated.
"But there was a girl called Crystal, who gave me the address of a place where we might find her."
My stomach is a knot of tension as Emmett pulls the car up beside an apartment building on the other side of town.
"You want me to come in?"
I want to say no. I don't want to burden Emmett with what he's going to see inside. I know what's in there. I know he's going to see things that he won't be able to un-see. But I know that even though he's asking, he'll follow me anyway.
"Maybe just wait outside the apartment."
The only sound is the fluorescent lights that flicker overhead as we tread quietly down the long corridor. The walls are stained and dirty, the floor sticky. I'd like to say I don't feel a sense of familiarity creeping in, but I do. It's a far cry from the beautiful house that he shares with Rose up town. But nevertheless, Emmett stays close behind, looking determined as we approach the apartment we're looking for.
I raise a hand to knock and hesitate.
You can do this. Do it for her, Edward.
I knock twice.
Emmett shrugs and I knock again, this time louder.
I check the address again as still no one answers the door.
Looking around, I try the door handle, unsurprised but still nervous to find it unlocked.
It's barely an apartment. Minimal furniture, one window covered with an old sheet and no one in sight. The only thing that tells me that this is where I'll find her are the piles of books. Stacks of them lie haphazardly around the space, under the table, on the kitchen bench, holding up a single lamp.
Emmett follows me in but goes no further, choosing instead to stand just inside the door as I move through the dirty apartment.
There's only a bathroom and a small bedroom off the living area, which is where I find her.
The mattress is bare save for a sheet that's tangled around her skinny legs. Other than a few piles of clothes, her room is fairly clean. Her clothes are in piles on the floor beside her bed, along with more stacks of books. A grey t-shirt that I recognize as one of my own is twisted around her torso as she lies soundlessly on the bed.
Kneeling beside her I can see her chest rising and falling, her breathing is shallow and weak, but it's there. I breathe a sigh of relief, trying to make my heart slow its pace. Her skin looks even more translucent in the light of her bedroom. Inky blue bruises mar her knees and shins and the skin on her inner arm is raw and scarred. Her hair, sweaty and limp is matted to her forehead and neck, but even as she lies there, probably out of her mind, a little smile turns the corners of her lips up.
Bright orange colored plastic beside her bed catches my attention, hair thin metal winking at me in the dull light. Metal, burned and twisted sits upon a book, asking to be touched. She still keeps her little tin, the pretty one with the flowers on it, all battered and dented from years of use.
Pick it up.
Touch it. Smell it. Taste it.
A deep gasp pulls my attention from her stash and I turn to see her smiling, still wasted as her lashes flutter, her eyes moving rapidly under pale blue lids.
Gently, I move the damp hair from her forehead, holding her cheek in my hand.
"Bella. I know you can hear me."
Smiling lazily, she opens her eyes. "Golden Brown," she slurs, pinprick pupils zeroing in on me.
Hearing her say my name with such reverence makes my hear stutter and swell, renewing my determination.
"You came back, Angel of the storm…"
"I came back for you."
"I'll make apple pie."
"No," I choke, "no apple pie, just you and me."
"You came back for me?"
My thumb brushes the dark skin under her eye. "Always."
She sighs, long and deep before her eyes slip closed again.
"Bella?" I shake her gently, lifting her off the bed and into my arms. Her breathing is slow and shallow and her skin is hot, too hot.
I need to get her out of here before this hit starts to wear off, and since she's a regular user, that doesn't give me much time. But I can't bear to put her down. Although barely recognizable to the eyes, in my arms she feels almost familiar.
I spy an old duffel bag which Emmett precedes to stuff with anything he can get his hands on.
"Bella, baby. Come on now, open your eyes for me."
Her body is limp but I can feel her breathing, feel her warm breath, slow but rhythmic against my neck. Holding her tight, I lift her off the bed, wrapping her arm over my shoulder.
"Fly away sunshine," she mumbles, and I clutch her tighter, holding her to my chest.
"I'm here. Everything's going to be fine."
"Like the stars and strawberry pop tarts?"
I smile as Emmett leads the way back down the hallway towards the car.
"Like sunlight and chocolate bars."