Title: The Cullen Enterprise
Author: Amethyst Jackson
Summary: Bella has no idea how she's going to continue supporting herself and her recovering father on her meager income…until a certain CEO waltzes in with an offer she can't refuse.
Disclaimer: The characters in this story are in no way mine, and that is why I am making absolutely ZERO dollars off this story. And the idea isn't all that original, either, so I'm really not making any claims here.
Chapter One: Another Day, Another Dollar
When I pulled up to the house in my truck, I thought about turning around and going for a long drive, but I knew that would be a waste of gas. We were pinching every penny these days.
I turned off the engine and let out a slow breath before I climbed out of the cab. It had been a long-ass day at Newton's, spent mainly doing inventory by myself in the back since we had about three customers all day. If it weren't for mail orders from around the area, the store would probably have been out of business a decade ago. The end result of moving around boxes all day was that I was exhausted, and I wanted nothing more than to order a pizza for dinner and go to bed, but that was not an option.
We didn't have pizza in the budget. I'd planned out each meal for the week and bought only what I needed to cook and to have healthy snacks for Charlie. Everything else went toward the bills we were horribly behind on. Even when I was exhausted, I had to cook – and if Charlie saw how tired I was, he would want to order that pizza for me. He would want me to work fewer hours.
So I climbed out of the truck and tried to put a spring in my step as I walked over to the mailbox. Inside were the usual items – three bills, one envelope from Publisher's Clearing House advertising a big jackpot prize, and one envelope addressed to me from a name I didn't recognize in Ohio.
That happened a lot lately since I'd put our story online. At first, when people had commented on my blog asking if they could send me money, I'd refused, too proud and too embarrassed to accept. Once the warnings of potential foreclosure starting coming, though, I'd given in and started giving out our address. My pride would do Charlie a fat lot of good if we lost the house.
Fucking cancer, I thought, and not for the first time since Charlie got diagnosed two years ago.
He's in remission now, I reminded myself. All the hard work and scrimping was worth it to have my dad recovering.
I snuck the bills and the mystery envelope into my shoulder bag and tossed the Publisher's Clearing House into the garbage can by the garage. Everyone knew you had to buy the magazines to win anything.
When I got inside, I found Charlie dozing on the couch. He was still tired all the time, though the doctor promised some energy would return soon. I hated to even think it, but it would help to have Charlie back on his feet. The cancer had forced him into early retirement from the Forks Police Department, but fortunately he still got his pension. He hadn't worked since, for obvious reasons, but any additional income would help out a lot right now, and I hoped he'd start looking for some light work soon.
I slipped upstairs to put my bag away and change from the jeans and Newton's Sporting Goods T-shirt I wore at work into a tank top and sweatpants. My bed just sat there in the middle of the room, tempting me, but I ignored it and went back downstairs.
Charlie was still asleep, so I went into the kitchen and pulled out the two chicken breasts I had already marinated this morning for tonight's dinner and placed them in the oven to cook. I started on a salad after that.
It was after six when Charlie woke up and wandered into the kitchen to investigate. I was sitting at the table by then reading Pride and Prejudice for the twelfth time while I waited for the chicken to be done. I was actually dying to read something new, but the library in town had a dismal selection and buying books, like everything, cost money.
"Smells good," Charlie commented as he reached reflexively into the fridge for a beer, only to frown when all he found was juice. He'd been doing that for about two years now. I heard him sigh, and he got out the filtered water jug instead.
"Should be ready in ten minutes or so," I told him.
"Thanks, Bells." He flopped down in his usual chair across from mine and sipped his water while I went back to my book. When the oven timer went off, I got up and got the chicken out, then laid everything out on the table. Charlie dug right in, and I picked up my fork with something less than gusto.
"How was work today?" Charlie asked eventually. He always asked, and I knew it was partly because he felt guilty that I was home supporting us instead of off at college. For his sake, I faked a smile.
"It was good, quiet. I got to work in the back today, so I didn't have to deal with so many customers," I sugarcoated it.
"Good, good," Charlie mumbled.
And that was pretty much the extent of our dinner conversation. Neither one of us did all that much these days that could foster discussion.
After dinner, I cleaned up quickly and went upstairs to shower. After putting on my PJs and drying my hair, I thought about going straight to bed but sat down at my desk instead. I turned on my computer and pulled the mail out of my bag while I waited for it to load.
The bills were first. One was the mortgage – the second mortgage, anyway; we'd taken out two – and the next two were medical bills. As usual, they were long past due and larger than I could hope to pay right now.
I set them aside and moved on to the fourth envelope. It contained a twenty-dollar bill and a note of support.
I still couldn't believe complete strangers were willing to send me money. I wanted to think I would do the same if I had the money to spare.
Wanting to put off the bills for a little longer, I turned to my computer and checked my e-mail. There were a few comment notifications from my blog, about ten spam e-mails promising cheap Viagra, and one e-mail from a name I didn't recognize with the subject, "A Helping Hand."
I deleted the junk e-mail first, then read my blog comments. They all told me to be strong, to hang in there, that the worst was over, but it was hard to be comforted with the bills staring at me from the corner of my desk.
I opened the mystery e-mail last, afraid it was some kind of scam or a virus waiting to ambush me. If my computer crashed, I'd find myself without a computer for a while.
When the e-mail loaded, I found a long missive waiting.
Pardon my forwardness, but are you Miss Isabella Swan? My name is Edward Cullen, and one of my company's endeavors is a charitable foundation for families struggling with cancer. When a friend of mine showed me your blog and I saw that you were located in Washington state, I looked to see if anyone whose name might be "Bella S." had ever applied for our assistance. I found only an Isabella Swan whose circumstances seemed to match what you've described in your blog.
If you are, in fact, the same Isabella Swan, I want to apologize first and foremost that the foundation declined to assist you. As I'm sure you know, there are many families in need and we must prioritize as best we can. Having heard your story, I would like to offer my personal assistance.
I would like to request your permission to call you. The application you submitted to the foundation contained a telephone number, but I didn't want to use that information without your consent.
Let me also say that I understand this e-mail is unconventional and probably somewhat disconcerting. Feel free to decline or ignore me entirely, but I promise you that I only want to help.
CEO, Cullen Enterprises
I sat gaping at the screen for a long while. I had indeed applied to the Esme Cullen Foundation for Families Struggling with Cancer, but that had been almost six months ago, and at that point, they'd determined our case was not extreme enough to warrant financial assistance.
This had to be some kind of sick joke. Surely the CEO himself of Cullen Enterprises would have better things to do than get in touch with broke girls in Forks. The e-mail address looked legit, but e-mail addresses could be faked. The stalker guy had done it in the last Girl with the Dragon Tattoo book, after all. And if this was a fake, then the person would have had to hack into the foundation's files to find my application, which meant he was definitely advanced enough to fake an e-mail.
I couldn't fathom why anyone would go to that kind of effort just to play a sick joke, though.
Frustrated, I closed the e-mail and shut down my computer. I was done thinking about this for one night.
A/N: I know, I know. You're wondering, "What the hell are you doing, AJ? You're supposed to be FINISHING fic, not starting new ones!" The sad truth is, I'm a Gemini. I can't help myself.
But the GOOD news is that Madman's Mercy 13 is with the beta, so it's not being neglected.
This story will be kind of like The Learning Curve in that chapters will be short and frequent...but less short and less frequent than with The Learning Curve.