A/N: Ok, I caved and am posting here. This has been a long time coming and I have people to acknowledge. All 3 ladies have helped get this fic where it is. I hope you enjoy it ;)
Kari-I wouldn't even be here without you and I don't have words...I love you dearly.
Kim-My personal cheerleader, who would swim the oceans that separate us to kick someone's ass if I needed her to. Much love, Sweetie.
Chevy-You are so totally awesome. (did I just date myself with that phrase?) I'd flip you off, but people wouldn't understand. 3
*All characters of Twilight belong to S. Meyers. No copyright infringement intended.
This first chapter contains the controversial subject of abortion. I do NOT condone the way it is used in this first chapter. It will not be a running theme, and will only be touched on in future chapters to move the plot along.
...I'm learning to walk again
I believe I've waited long enough
Where do I begin?
I'm learning to talk again
Can't you see I've waited long enough
Where do I begin?*
I think all the radio stations between Santa Fe and Phoenix were in a secret conspiracy pact; every song on the radio felt like it was specifically dedicated to me. Men and women singing about heartache and starting over, pining away for a lost love. I hated it. I damn near broke the knob when I turned off the radio.
I was feeling every one of my 35 years right about now. I wasn't just road weary, I was life weary. I'd packed up what little belongings I had left and paid the landlord for what I owed him. It was a sorry ass, flea ridden, weekly rental unit that had been my home most recently and it was definitely not worth what he was charging. At the time, though, I really hadn't cared.
My marriage was over.
I now saw that as a good thing, but what a fucking waste of time. Everything I had been working for, that I had been planning for, was nothing but a lie.
That last night with Kate kept replaying itself in my head. I couldn't turn that shit off.
All I had been trying to do was take a little trip down memory lane. Fuck me for being nostalgic.
Kate and I had our ups and downs, like anyone. After two years of dating and five years of marriage, we'd been through a lot. My mother had pushed Kate at me, having met her when Kate was first starting out at the agency. Mother was having some ad mock ups done for her book store and Kate sat in on the meeting. After that, I never heard the end of how wonderful Kate was.
'What a breath of fresh air she is, Edward.'
'...So smart, Edward.'
'...Such a go-getter!'
I finally relented and met her.
Kate and I hit it off well enough. She was smart, pretty and confident, all the things my mother had said. I found her appealing and wanted to see where we'd go. Hearing my mother tell me every week that I needed to start to think about settling down, didn't help at all, either.
I had gotten my Doctorate of Physiotherapy degree, specializing in pediatric rehabilitation. When I was 15, a friend of mine had a horseback riding accident. I saw, first hand, how the physical therapist helped her to regain the use of her legs. Her therapist had even used the very horse that had been involved in her accident. I decided then, that was what I wanted to do.
My plans changed some, well...a lot, when I met Kate. She had an aversion to horses and convinced me that I could do just as much good without them. The hospital's clinic I worked at did keep me busy and immensely fulfilled, so I didn't miss it too much. I felt like those patients were my kids, and couldn't wait to have some of my own.
So, there we were, seven years later. Still childless, after trying for most of our married life. Kate had problems getting pregnant at first. After almost 3 years with no success, I suggested adoption. That idea didn't sit very well with her. She wasn't ready to give up trying to conceive our own, she'd said. Shortly after that, she did get pregnant, only to miscarry three times.
Understandably, things changed with us. Kate became distant and uninterested in much but work. I knew it was just her way of coping with the disappointment, but I felt like she didn't see that I was disappointed, too.
Our lives became routine after that. My schedule was usually predictable, while Kate's was anything but. Intimacy all but left and I am ashamed to say that my sex life consisted of internet porn and my hand. Though the satisfaction I gained from it was temporarily fulfilling, what I really craved was the closeness, that special bond that I honestly never even had with Kate.
It was after a particularly difficult day at the clinic, that I had come home with my mind overtired, thinking about my life and what it had become. I was beginning to think that my best years were behind me. The years I'd spent in college were much more than a learning experience. I'd made some wonderful, lifelong friends and had a lot of great memories.
I wanted to recapture some of those feelings, so I went after the box that was on the top shelf of our closet, all the way in the back corner. Sitting behind a bunch of Kate's purses and shoe boxes, sat a box of my college mementos. As I pulled it out, a couple of her shoe boxes came with it, crashing to the floor.
"What are you doing in there, Edward?" Kate hollered from the bathroom.
"I'm getting my college stuff out. Some of your shoe boxes hit the floor. It's fine." I told her.
I turned back to the mess I had made, putting the black stilettos back into their box. I thought it was odd that I'd never seen her wear those. The other one though, had some papers in it, bound by a loose rubber band. I picked them up not really concerned with what it was, until I saw Santa Fe Women's Clinic printed on a pamphlet. I stood up, thumbing through the papers.
"What the fuck?" I muttered. I heard the bathroom door open and turned to see Kate staring at what I held in my hand.
"What are you doing?" she snapped. Kate walked to me quickly, grabbing at the stack of papers."Give me those!"
Her reaction only spurred me to take a closer look. I turned my back, fending her off. These dates coincided with the miscarriages. But...that didn't make any sense. Kate had never gone to a women's clinic. Her doctor was 2 blocks from her office. This clinic was on the other side of town.
"What the fuck is this Kate?" I held up the papers. I could see the one on the bottom of the pile. Four months ago. I turned the stack over to look at the pamphlet again. Aftercare. Aftercare for what? I looked up at Kate, who was now seething.
"Give that to me. You have no right going through my personal things!" Her hand was held out in front of me, shaking slightly.
"I think you need to explain this. Now." My tone of voice was enough to let her know I wasn't fucking around. She thought about it for a moment before speaking. She squared her shoulders and held her head high.
"I...had an abortion." she blurted. "You know that I am up for partner. I have to be at my best and being pregnant was just, uh, it just wasn't an option." she tried explaining.
I'm not sure how long I stared at her."You what?" My head started spinning and I sat heavily on the bed.
"Oh Edward, don't blow this out of proportion. I've worked very hard to get to where I am. Now that the prize is in sight, I really have to focus on getting there."
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. She sounded like she was talking about getting a fucking dog, not being pregnant with my child.
"How could you do this?" I asked in a daze.
"Christ, Edward. It's not that big of a deal. I've done it be..." she trailed off, grabbing at the papers again.
"What?" I said sharply. "You've done this...before?"
My eyes searched her face, looking for a trace of the woman I married. I didn't see her. Kate didn't answer me. She flipped her hair, put her hands on her hips and started tapping her foot.
"Oh my God." I said faintly, as the realization set in. "How many of my children have you killed?" She sighed and shook her head. "Never mind. I don't want to know." I muttered.
I dropped the stack of papers like they were on fire and got up from the bed. Going back to the closet, I found 2 suitcases and my duffel bag. I didn't even try to fold anything. I grabbed my clothes, hangers and all, and shoved them into the suitcases. I went to my dresser and started emptying drawers until the second case was full.
"What are you doing?" Kate asked.
I couldn't even look at her, let alone answer her. Taking the duffel bag, I went to the bathroom and filled it with my stuff.
"I did you a favor, you know?" she yelled. "Think about it, Edward. If I would've kept this last kid, you'd be like, 53 when they graduated! Do you really want to be an old man when your kid is still in high school?"
"53 is old?" I muttered.
I simply had nothing to say to her. I couldn't, even if I tried. I was reeling and the only coherent thought in my mind was that I had to get out of there. She continued yelling, throwing insults at me.
"You're so goddamned noble aren't you, Edward? You know what else you are? BORING. 'I want a home and a family'." she mocked. "You have no inspiration, Edward! No desire for the finer things in life!" I heard her throwing things around behind me. "You should thank me for being on the pill when we were first married! We wouldn't have been able to take those trips, or go to all those parties at my agency."
She was on the fucking pill? No wonder she couldn't get pregnant.
I nearly tripped over my box of college stuff when I came out of the bathroom. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. The stupid bitch had been lying to me since day one. I bent down and picked it up. Somehow I managed to hold it, both suitcases and my duffel. I didn't even know where Kate went.
I walked straight to the front door, then to my car, loading it with my belongings. I went back for my phone and laptop, stopping to take a look around. I figured that I'd come back another time for anything else I wanted. I walked out the door, leaving it wide open. I got in my car and drove to a motel.
That was 2 months ago. I filed for divorce and submitted my resignation at the hospital. I had to thank my father for suggesting the pre-nup that I was originally against. I was able to put the house up for sale and auction off the contents, minus our personal possessions. Kate was only to get half of whatever the house sold for and her own shit. After I threatened her with telling everyone what she'd done, she backed off on contesting the divorce. I knew she wouldn't want any negativity about her getting out. God forbid it affect her potential for making partner.
I wanted to change everything about my life, with no reminders of Kate or anything we had together. I was looking through the online real estate section, and saw a horse ranch for sale. That took me immediately back to when I was 15, working at our neighbor's horse farm.
The owner's daughter, Leah, and I were friends and school mates. We had been out riding when her horse got spooked, reared up and threw her. Leah landed against some rocks and ended up with some partial paralysis from the waist down. The memory reminded me of how my career was sparked. Her recovery was long and difficult, but so very rewarding, too.
An idea struck me as I stared at the screen, and at the time it felt like it was life changing. I had given up a dream for Kate and now saw a chance to reclaim it. I switched my search to the Phoenix area and found a small ranch that looked perfect for what I had in mind. I made a phone call to the realtor that held the listing. My next call was to my best friend.
So here I am, driving to Phoenix, trying to reclaim my life. Starting over. Jasper offered me a place to stay until I found my own. I had also taken the time to send out resumes to a couple of facilities and had interviews set up for the following week.
As I drove through the city, I realized that while I was excited, I felt a little numb, too. It's been a long time since I've made decisions based solely on myself. While I wanted to embrace my new found freedom, I was still feeling vulnerable and unsure of myself and just exactly what it was that I was looking for.
I blasted the radio to tune out the thoughts in my head and turned into a quaint subdivision. Kids and dogs ran around in the yards, some parents joining in, others watching. It was like a post card. Except for the stares I got for my loud music. That made me laugh. I hadn't done it in a while and it felt really good.
I pulled in behind Jasper's Jeep and turned the engine off. It felt like such a momentous occasion. I almost expected to hear one of those deep voiced announcers pop up in the back seat.
"Edward Cullen, welcome to the rest of your life," I muttered, laughing quietly.
I stepped out onto the driveway and stretched. It felt so good to get out of the car. It's amazing how tired you get just from driving. I took a quick once over of their brick house. It was neat and well kept, with a couple of raised bed flower gardens. A beautiful wife, three kids, two cars, a nice house...Jasper had found the American dream.
Hearing the creak of a door opening brought me out of my envious haze. I looked up to see Jasper coming out of the house. Alice stood in the doorway, smiling. To the left of her, three little faces peered out the front window.
"You made it." Jasper gave me a full on hug then stepped back to give me a once over. "You look like shit."
"Yeah," I agreed. "I kinda feel like it, too."
Jasper and I became fast friends during our freshman year in college when we were thrown together as roomies. He was the mirror image of me, personality-wise, and somehow, we just clicked.
He was just an inch or two shorter than my 6'2 frame and had dark blonde hair that the ladies seemed to love. While always friendly and fun, he was the quiet one; the observer. I wasn't a hell-raiser by any standard, but made my presence known more than he did. Seems like that was a million years ago.
He and Alice met at a party during our junior year and became inseparable. I was the Best Man at their wedding and attended each of their children's christenings. We had been there for each other for every major milestone. And now, here we were again.
Jasper grabbed my keys and popped the trunk. "Where is everything else?" he asked, only seeing a couple of suitcases, 2 boxes and a large duffel bag.
"That's it." I sighed, picking up a smaller bag from the back seat. "Well, I did ship a few things to a small storage unit, but that is pretty much everything I own."
Two trips and we had everything in the house. Alice and the kids waited in the kitchen doorway for us.
"So, I know we talked about giving you the spare room, but Alice came up with something else."
I followed them into the kitchen where they stopped in front of the basement door.
"I moved the kids' toys to the other side so you could have some privacy." Alice said, as we all followed her down the stairs. The boys each grabbed something and little Gracie started dragging my duffel.
I got to the bottom step and halted. On the far side of the basement, Alice had set up what looked like a regular bedroom with a small sitting area, including a desk. There were curtains attached to the beams in the ceiling, going all the way to the floor. They were held back with ties, but untied, it made my new living space more private. She even had the consideration to have everything in manly browns and blues. I was astounded at her effort.
"A-Alice..." I stumbled. "You really didn't have to go to all this trouble." I was truly grateful. They had only a week's notice, and she had been able to do all this. It had been a long time since someone made an extra effort on my part. I was used to feeling like an afterthought.
"Edward, it wasn't any trouble," she assured me. "We needed to make another spare room because Tim got moved into the one upstairs. The kids each have their own room now." Alice ruffled Grace's hair playfully. "Jasper is going to get a friend of his to wall it in and make it a proper guest room."
"Yeah, Emmett and I are going to do the work on the weekends. We'll wait until you move into your own place, though." Jasper said, clapping me on the shoulder.
"Count me in. I'll help with anything I can." I was already feeling the need to repay them for their kindness.
"Go ahead and get settled. The bathroom is right on the other side of the doorway." Alice pointed. "Dinner will be ready in about an hour." She pulled me into a hug. "It's great to have you here, Edward. Please make yourself welcome in our home," Alice whispered in my ear.
She herded the kids up the stairs, leaving Jasper and I standing in an awkward silence. I found myself at a loss for words.
"I know this is hard for you, with everything that happened, starting over...but Alice is right." Jasper put his hand on my shoulder. "You are welcome here for as long as you need. We'll help you any way we can. I just want to see you happy again."
"Thank you, Jazz. I really can't express my gratitude." I swallowed, finding it harder than expected. "Before we turn into bawling women, I think I'm going to take a shower and wash the road off before dinner." We both laughed.
"Sounds good. I'll see you upstairs." Jasper turned, leaving me on my own.
I leaned my head back, letting the water run over my head and face. I could've been out a lot sooner, but the water felt too good to get out yet. When I finally did, the small bathroom was filled with steam. I wiped off the mirror with a towel and took in my appearance.
I saw laugh lines around my eyes and mouth and a 3 day growth on my face. My eyes looked tired. I ran my fingers through my wet hair and actually found a white one. I was not a vain person, but that white hair was yanked out and the search for more was on. After I was fairly certain it was the only one, I shaved and dressed. I didn't want them waiting dinner on me, especially my first night here.
I got to the top of the stairs and saw Jasper and Alice near the stove, wrapped up in each other. Hearing a couple of soft moans, I looked at the tile under my feet and kept moving. I didn't want to interrupt their private moment. Seeing them like that made my heart hurt. I had wanted that kind of marriage, where you stayed in love and it continued to grow. I'd realized not long after I moved out that I was never truly in love with Kate, and now, I wanted it more than ever.
Love, that is.
I quietly cleared my throat and walked through to the living room. The kids were sprawled out on the floor watching Spongebob. I grabbed up Gracie and held her upside down, tickling her belly. Her squeal could bring dogs to the yard, it was so high pitched.
"Uncul Ehwaaard," she laughed. Grace still hadn't mastered the first d in my name.
"Din-ner." Alice said, loud enough to be heard over Grace.
"Chicken nuggets!" Eric, the 6 year old, yelled. "Mom, you said chicken nuggets for dinner," he complained, as he took his seat.
"She did not, you whiner." Tim was 8 and sounded more like his father every day.
"I made a roast with vegetables, in Uncle Edward's honor. It's his favorite," Alice said proudly, giving me a wink.
"It looks delicious, too. Thank you." I was starting to feel a bit self-conscious with all they had done.
Dishes were passed and food portioned out. Gracie insisted that I cut her meat, which I happily did. I loved these kids as if they were family. Jazz and I may not be blood, but brothers we were.
"Jasper told me you have a new project at the museum. How's it going?" I asked. Alice was the head of the restoration department at the Fine Arts Museum of Phoenix.
"It's great. We're almost ready to open the children's area. There's art specifically chosen to appeal to kids and Bella had the brilliant idea to have some hands on, interactive displays," Alice said, excitedly. Tim nodded in agreement. He must've gone to work with his mom.
"Like what?" I asked.
"There's this one where you can make your own statue," Tim answered, shoving a spoonful of potatoes in his mouth.
"That would be the Clay Station." Alice clarified.
"Sounds cool." I said.
"It is! And you can do your own painting. Any color you want, too." Eric took a big gulp of his milk. "Bella said she'd show me how to make different colors." I smiled at the gap toothed 6 year old.
"What about you, Gracie? What do you like at the museum?" I asked, trying to include her. The boys' boisterousness sometimes overshadowed her.
"I wike the finger painting. Bewwa gave me a speciaw shirt to wear," she informed me.
"This Bella sounds very nice." I observed.
"She is!" Tim and Eric said in unison.
"Bella is the Children's Programs coordinator." Alice explained. "She's a good friend, too. She's even sat with the kid's a couple of times." Alice smiled at her children.
"Bewwa is so fun." Grace said.
"It sounds like it." I said.
I helped with the clean up until Alice shooed me away. It wasn't too awfully late, but I had been on the road all day and was beat. I thanked Jasper and Alice again and went down stairs to call it a night.
As I laid in bed, I started ticking off a mental list of the things I had to do. I had interviews starting on Monday and needed to familiarize myself with my new city. I wanted to drive out and take a look at the farm, too. I rolled to my stomach, one arm over and one under my pillow and fell into a dreamless sleep.
The next morning, being a Friday, was a madhouse at the Whitlock's. The kids were in various states of undress and between Alice and Jasper, they were trying to get them to the table for breakfast. I saw Gracie struggling with her shirt, so I stepped in and offered her a hand.
"Here, honey." I pulled the sleeve off her head, righting the shirt so her head could go through the proper opening. "That's better. Now we can see your pretty face." I told her when her head popped through. I helped her get her arm in and straightened her top.
"Fank you Uncul Ehward." Gracie wrapped her little arms around my neck. I stood, holding her and walked to the table.
"Where do you want this one?" I asked, giving her ribs a poke.
"That's my seat," she pointed. I plopped her down and leaned against the kitchen island. I could see these kids were a handful, but what a joy they were, too.
Tim had a Diamondbacks cap on, while Eric was wearing the team's t-shirt. They were both noisily inhaling their cereal, when not taunting each other and their sister.
"Are you going to be alright today?" Jasper asked, putting on his suit jacket. "I know you told me not to take it off, but, I could make it a short day?" he offered.
"Absolutely not." I shook my head. "I'm a big boy armed with a GPS. If I get lost, I'll give you a call." I laughed. "Besides, it's not like I haven't been here before."
"True, but that was as a visitor." he pointed out.
"I'll be fine. I'm going to finish unpacking then drive out to the farm." I said.
"My number is next to the phone, if you need anything." Alice said, handing me a cup of coffee. "Tonight is pizza night, and we should all be home around 6." Alice smiled.
"Great...make sure you get them loaded with anchovies and onions," I said loudly, eyeing the kids for their reaction. Sure enough, the boys made gagging noises and started complaining. Gracie saw her brothers, and joined them. I had a good belly laugh over that.
"Uncle Edward is kidding," Jasper told them, laughing along with me. "He doesn't really like anchovies and onions on his pizza." Jazz got a serious look on his face, "He likes broccoli and cauliflower on it."
The boys stopped their commotion and looked back and forth between their father and myself. "Really?" Tim gulped. I couldn't take it anymore and started laughing again.
"You're silly, Uncul Ehward." Gracie told me.
"Yeah, I guess I am, sweetie." I confessed.
Within 5 minutes, Alice had the boys in her car headed for the school and Jazz had Grace to drop her at daycare. The house was oddly silent and while I normally found some comfort in silence, this just felt empty.
I went back to the basement and finished unpacking. Alice had a chest of drawers and a dowel rod up for my hanging clothes. I placed my laptop on the desk and turned it on. I dug out my phone charger and set it on the bedside table. It wouldn't do me a whole hell of a lot of good to go out and have a dead phone.
I located a map of the area and found a grocery store. I'd take Jazz and Alice's hospitality only so far. I planned on getting a few things for 'pizza night', along with some minor necessities for myself. Pulling on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, I figured I was ready to go exploring.
My realtor called as I was walking out the door, wanting to meet with me at his office. I put his address into the GPS and headed out the driveway.
He was a rotund man in his fifties, red faced and had a comb-over. With his brown polyester suit, he looked like he came right out of the '70's.
"Nice to finally meet you, Mr. Cullen." he said. "Have a seat."
Mr. Estrada, no relation to Erik, told me that some special circumstances had come up. The owner now wanted to be a silent partner in the property. She was willing to take on someone who wanted to work with the horses, but didn't want to sell out completely.
I thought about it for a minute before answering. It was unusual, but it wouldn't hurt to take a closer look. "I'd be willing to entertain the idea, but I'd like to see it before I make up my mind. Not to mention, meet the current owner. I have a few questions on how she sees this working out." Once I could talk to this woman, I was sure I could convince her to sell it to me outright.
I stopped for some lunch at a homey looking diner after I left his office, and got my order to go. As I drove out of the city, I took in the sights and landmarks. There was a nice park with a pond. College kids were strewn across the grass, older folks were sitting on the benches and moms were playing with their toddlers. Across from the park was the museum where Alice worked. All the times I had been to Phoenix to visit, I had only been to the museum once. I'd have to rectify that, now that I'm living here.
It wasn't a long drive to the property. Within 10 minutes, the city suddenly ended and I was in the desert. It wasn't all sand and scrub, like some people think. There were trees and some of the yards had sod down. I followed the directions Mr. Estrada gave me and parked on the side of the road.
The house was barely visible through the trees and sat back off the road a ways. The fencing came up close to the road, though. I had parked under a large shade tree and opened all my windows. I didn't see anyone around in any direction. I ate half my sandwich while I surveyed the area. A large, black gelding came into view. He saw me, too and started making his way over to investigate. I talked to him through the open window until a large pickup truck passed me and pulled into the driveway. I probably looked suspicious sitting there and I didn't want to meet the Phoenix police my first day, so I left, heading back to the city.
I finished my lunch on the way and found the grocery store. By the time I made it to the checkout, I realized that I might have gone a little overboard. I had soda and beer, chips and cookies, along with some toiletries I needed.
I made it back to the house before anyone was home, and stashed the junk food. I figured I would hear something from Alice about all this, but I had to make a contribution. I went down to my room and changed. Dressed in nothing but my shorts and t-shirt, I went back up to wait for everyone to get home. I found that I was actually excited about this little shindig. Something about the camaraderie of family, the infectious laughter of the kids and being with people who loved me, had me looking forward to the night.
I had just started getting into a war documentary, when I heard Gracie's squeal. I turned the TV off and got up to meet them. Alice and all three kids came busting through the door, laughing and carrying on. I took the pizza's from Alice and set them on the dining room table.
"Go wash up!" Alice hollered at the kids, who had made a bee line to the table. She laughed as they ran down the hall to the bathroom. "Kids..." Alice warned.
"I bought some soda and put it in the fridge." I told her.
"I hope it's caffeine free, or YOU will be staying up with them!" Alice threatened with a smile.
"I didn't even think of that." I smacked my forehead. "Let me check before they find out it's in there." I went into the kitchen and took a look at what I bought. Root beer, no caffeine. Whew. I walked back out to the dining room and stopped in my tracks. Standing next to Alice was the most gorgeous looking creature I had ever laid eyes on.
She had long, wavy brown hair, sparkling eyes, a beautiful smile and what looked like the world's best fitting, most perfect jeans. I had lost the ability to speak and quietly tried to back silently out of the room. Thanks to Alice, that didn't happen.
"Edward, I'd like you to meet Bella." Alice smiled impishly. "Bella, this is Edward, our house guest."
A/N: Posting will be Thursdays. I hope you liked it. Let me know what you think about Edward.