Sour Milk


Prologue

December 1st 2011

"Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord. And let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace. Amen."

One hand, two, three – he stopped counting after Liam Doyle. He received each shake and pretended to register the myriad of condolences with an automatic, sombre "thank you". The congregation soon waned in number as people shuffled through the sludge and gritty sleet from the previous night's snowfall; his Oxford's were a useless insulation and his toes burned with a numbing cold.

He waited until Siobhan Murphy and her younger sisters had vacated the cemetery before approaching Father Hughes with his honorarium – it was the least he could do for dragging him halfway across Chicago in the middle of winter.

"Thank you, Father," he kept his fists bunched in the pockets of his pea coat and dared one final glance at the casket, gently blanketed by fistfuls of soil from various members of the congregation, "the reading from Ecclesiastes was one of his favorites."

"I remember," Father Hughes nodded.

He offered the honorarium as a final thank you and offered to drive him back to Canaryville but the Father refused, stating that his wife was waiting in the nearby parking-lot.

"He was a good man, Edward," Father Hughes reached an arm out to stop him from walking in the opposite direction, "he raised you with good intentions and he would have been honored to be in your presence today."

"Thank you, Father," Edward swallowed thickly, fighting the surge of guilt and shame that often accosted his soul, "- will you be coming to McCarty's?"

"I'll be there to pay my respects," Father Hughes nodded, "some of the gentlemen from St Gabriel's are doing a collection for the funeral expenses."

Edward nodded and bit back his instinct to refuse such a generous act- he would donate the money to St Gabriel's anonymously at a later date. He said his final goodbyes to Father Hughes and trudged back to the edge of the cemetery where his Volvo was parked. It took him a few moments to compose himself before he could bring himself to turn on the engine and leave the casket behind.

McCarty's was packed with locals wanting to pay their last respects to the late Edward Cullen Senior; Tilden High buddies, neighbors, local bar keepers and shop assistants – Canaryville was like any small neighborhood- everyone knew everyone and a death was a loss mourned by many.

His wallet never opened as the Killian's flowed his way the entire night, followed by a long regaling of Ed's most memorable moments, such as the time he was caught canoodling with Daisy Murphy under the bleachers, who, apparently, was something serious with Frank O'neill, one of his best friends and future best man.

"Ed was a cheeky bastard at the best of times, but he sure let Frank get a few easy punches in before he really laid it on thick," a former neighbor shook his head at the memory, "God bless his soul."

Edward thumbed the edge of his bottle as idle chatter overtook reminiscing, his cell vibrated in his pocket and knowing that it was most likely work, he turned it off and removed himself from the bar to get some fresh air. The day had been long and Canaryville was the same place it had been seven years ago when he'd last stepped foot on home turf.

He sheltered himself under the stoop of McCarty's sign and tried to avoid the relentless rain as he lit the end of his cigarette. His grandfather had hated the habit, but he couldn't seem to quit. He told people it was an addiction he was fighting, but underneath the bullshit was a deeper truth, and one that he, quite frankly, didn't want to address or admit.

He finished the cigarette halfheartedly and glanced at the floor as his Oxford stamped out the heat; the gentle scuffle of a new pair of feet jarred him for a second and he turned to face the newcomer, automatically shutting himself off for another condolence from a sympathizing neighbor.


Dark rivulets of blood trickled from the spliced skin of his knuckles, flecks of grit and fractured bone pitted into the crevices of the wound. The sting had numbed long ago, rendered a lesser pain in the fight with the numbing cold of winter – he'd had worse. The stumbling patrons that left McCarty's were either too intoxicated or entirely uninterested by his bedraggled presence on the curb of the sidewalk; he couldn't find the strength or will to curse at Liam Doyle, who tripped and vomited a hand's breadth from his newly purchased Oxford's.

They weren't him anyway.

He flicked his tired cigarette onto the road and swallowed thickly as the nausea churned in his stomach. The Killian's and Jameson that swam in his gut threatened to make a reappearance, bubbling alongside the deep-rooted, festering resentment that had been seven years in the making.

How dare she.

He ragged the tie that had served as a noose around his neck and wrapped it tightly over his bloodied knuckles; it throbbed, but at least he could breathe.

"Fuck it."

He vomited.

His head span; temples clutched in his fingers; it smothered him. It was this place, being home – back in the projects, the pub, the condolences, the funeral ...her.

His eyes watered against his will and he lost it; everything that seemed to be under his control had been hijacked – the countless amounts of cash spent on sub-par therapy sessions and investing himself in beautiful, accomplished women had crumbled into a fine ash. With one small look she had cremated his indifference to her; she'd uprooted the monster within him and he'd swallowed the bait as though he was a man starved.

"Hey."

He'd laughed in her face, neither wanting to entertain a drunk illusion or an untimely happenstance of fate.

"I heard about Ed from Jess..."

Jessica Stanley – the woman with more kids than cents to her name; he wouldn't have guessed much father than her sorry existence.

He'd struggled to keep himself upright, the gratuitous Killian's wreaking havoc on his composure and co-ordination, not to forget his amiable filter. Siobhan Murphy and her sisters had supplied him with a seemingly inexhaustible amount of free beer and he had imbibed each poison with reckless abandon.

"Oh, you're drunk."

She was all but a blur, a swathe of red hues and streetlight glower. Red lips, red dress. Black tights; creamy skin through worn, threadbare fibers. He reached out to touch her – tripped. How fitting; bowed at her feet, paralyzed – or rather- paralytic. He scrambled to his feet, grit and dirt embedded into his fingernails – knees wet. At moments she was two – two rawboned figures, one again...two. He found support against the brick of the pub, the world a kaleidoscopic spin.

"Let me take you back inside."

She touched him.

It was 2005 and he was drowning all over again, in the fear and lust, the incalculable fights and wounds, graham crackers and Popov, slamming doors, split lips, sour milk, stale water; everything so potent and surreal.

He ragged his arm away as though her touch burnt a thousand degrees, knowing, deep down, it really had.

"I shouldn't be here."

He panicked.

As she turned to leave his body pressed hers against the rough brick of the pub; lips smashed, hands curled around her skull. He wanted to hurt her. He wanted her to regret ever meeting him. The panic drained and the venom seeped into the usually sweet cadence of his voice. Jekyll over Hyde.

"You're still sickeningly easy."

He really couldn't help himself.

Her fist had replaced her lips.

The metallic taste of blood registered on the tip of his tongue and he sniggered at the burning pain; she still packed a punch.

"Still living in the projects, eh?"

He punched her right back – emotionally; his words still carried weight seven years later. Even under the malfunctioning streetlight he could see the evidence of his malevolence, the salty trails a testament to his victory.

"Fuck you."

He wanted the last word – always did.

"You already did, Love."

She stepped right back up and slapped him, a lobstered hand-print imprinted upon his cheek.

He couldn't hit a girl. He wouldn't. He lashed out at the wall instead.

Her body recoiled. She was wired that way - guarded. A complete flight risk.

She turned and left without another word.

He tightened the coiled tie around his fist and brought a new cigarette to his lips as he processed the events of a half hour before. He was glad the Killian's and Jameson had already been expelled from his gut because the shame was enough to make him nauseous in itself.

He wasn't a malevolent person, not really - not when you got past the seven years of resentment and valiant efforts to bury that life.

"C'mon, up you go, Junior," someone gruffed as they pulled him up by the armpits, "place is closin', you need a ride home?"

"I'm alright, Alistair," he shook his head, "I'm not staying far from here."

"Alright," he nodded as he pulled the pub's keys from his jacket, a cigarette dangling from his mouth.

"Did Frank and Liam pay my tab?"

"What do you think?" Alistair turned towards him with a look that told him what he already knew, "don't worry, I'll hound them for it when the next paycheck rolls in- Tanya and Irina have promised to keep a look out in the mail. You goin' back east soon?"

"Yeah," he sighed, rubbing a hand over his cheek, "I think it's for the best."

"Ay, I think so too, Junior."

"Take care, Alistair," he waved the wounded bundle that was his right hand.

"You too Edward, you too."

When he found himself walking down West 47th, ten blocks from his motel, he chalked his bravado down to the distillery he had made of his gut and decided to go with it. By the time he'd reached 213 he was soaked to the bone, lips tinted with hues of blue and purple, hands reddened and stiff.

He pulled back the grille from the door and knocked fervently.

No answer.

His fist pounded the door a little irately and only ceased when a porch light flickered on.

"What the fuck are you doing here?" a male pulled back the door and looked seconds away from slamming it back in his face.

"Where is she?" he demanded.

"Where's who?"

"Don't fuck with me now, Ben -"

"Take a step back Cullen," Ben warned, stepping out onto the porch as he closed the door behind him, "what the fuck are you doing here? I told you not to come around here anymore."

"It was Ed's funeral today," he deadpanned.

"Shite," Ben wrenched a hand over his shaved head, "I'm sorry, Ed, really – my heart bleeds for you, but why the fuck are you stood on my porch?

"She turned up."

Ben looked at him confused and a little stunned, "she did?"

"Yeah."

"Is she alright?"

"How am I supposed to know?" Edward hissed, "who the fuck does she think she is?"

Ben shook his head.

"Go home, Ed – don't do this to yourself," he warned, "get out of Chicago and go back to the money, do you know how hard it is to get out of here? Ange and I would kill to be in your position."

"She was right there, Ben – right in front of me."

"And you know what?" Ben asked, a little more frustrated than he had been opening the door, "so will the Blacks if you go anywhere near her. Ange still hasn't forgiven you for that shit you put us through back then, so do us a favour and go the fuck home. You were shit together and better off without her."

"I just need to see her one more time – I was an ass -"

"Grow up, Man," Ben turned back to the front door.

He only realized he had grabbed Ben when the tension in his forearms became painfully tight. He immediately loosened his grip on Ben's collar and backed away with an apology that tumbled out of his lips as quickly as his rage accumulated. She did this to him.

"I don't know where she is and Ange hasn't spoken to her since before the Blacks trashed the house. Do yourself a favour and stay away, she's not worth throwing yourself away for."

Ben slammed the door behind him, leaving Edward alone on the porch. He shoved his hands in his pockets and backed away from the house with a sense of vicious embarrassment; the Cheney's owed him jack-shit. He traipsed his way back to the motel, stopping briefly outside St Gabriel's church; she was everywhere. She wrecked him.

The golden statue of St Gabriel loomed over him as he bit back the confessions that wanted to escape him. He hadn't seen Father Hughes since his leave and he hadn't ever entertained the thought of ever coming back to Chicago.

"I hate her," he finally confessed.

He did, somewhat.

And for a moment, he also hated himself.


Thank you for taking the time to read this, much appreciated. Three more pre-written chapters and then I'm alone with my muse.