Disclaimer: I don't own anything related to Twilight, it all belongs to Stephenie Meyer - bless her
Chapter One – London
Summer nights in England are usually pleasant in a balmy sort of way, but after several stiflingly hot days, the latent heat that radiated from London's over-cooked buildings and shimmering pavements, lingered in the murky atmosphere that hung over the city like an unwelcome thermal blanket, causing the stagnant evening air trapped below to remain uncomfortably warm and humid.
From the air-conditioned corridor that served the rear entrance of a famous five-star hotel, and through a narrow doorway covered with fluttering insect-repelling tapes, a solitary figure emerged from the cool shadows into the twilight. The tall, slender man halted on the threshold of the building and looked beyond the lines of foul-smelling refuse containers and piles of discarded tins and cardboard boxes that were piled haphazardly against the crumbling walls of the untidy yard. The unfamiliar sight that greeted him was a sharp contrast to the opulent and magnificent hotel entrance situated less than a few hundred yards away, but what it offered him was exactly what he needed at this precise moment in time – a secret, covert escape route.
The empty street that served the tradesmen's entrance seemed deserted, but he still hesitated before taking his next step, allowing his tired eyes the opportunity to explore every shadow in the yard and every doorway and every window in the buildings opposite that overlooked the back of the hotel. He listened for a familiar noise that would indicate the imminent danger of discovery, but it wasn't there, so he moved forward slowly, dropping one foot onto the step below, hesitating again before his other foot followed, then he stilled once more to listen carefully to the sounds around him.
He could hear the distant but constant hum of the city traffic, mixed intermittently with blaring horns from taxis and cars being driven through the late rush-hour jams by over-heated and irritable motorists. Above him was the pulsating throb of a low-flying helicopter cutting gracefully through the sticky evening air, no doubt transporting a captain of industry to his pile in the country over the heads of lesser mortals who were cramped together on the earth's crust. To his right, he could hear muffled chatter and clinking glasses emanating from the welcoming open doors and windows of a traditional London pub, and finally, in the distance, the unmistakable sound of Big Ben chiming seven o'clock.
The particular sound he was listening for; the distinctive metallic click that had been part of his life almost every day during the last three years, was not there, so he carefully picked his way through the stinking kitchen detritus whilst holding his breath until he was away from the confines of the hotel. With his head down and collar pulled around his face, he hastily turned left onto the broken pavements of the shabby back-street, then left again, around the corner of the hotel and into the shadow of another building where he exhaled and hungrily gulped in some cleaner air.
He leaned back against the grimy grey concrete wall and took another deep breath then shut his eyes tightly and put his hands up to his ears to block out the noises of the city. Without the distraction of the sights and sounds around him he reflected on the decision he had just taken and why he had taken it, but could find no other reason than he wasn't prepared to live the dishonest and destructive sham that was his life any more.
The inevitable repercussions from the impulsive decision he had made just a few minutes ago in the bathroom of his hotel suite caused his hands to involuntarily fly up to his head and grab handfuls of his hair, tugging at it, as though he was attempting to tear clumps of it from his scalp. He recognised this habitual self-harming action was a sign of severe stress, as he had repeated this action so many times before, but on every previous occasion, after he had calmed down, he had gritted his teeth and carried steadfastly on down the never-ending road that had been laid out before him by others.
But not anymore.
This was the end of the line for him and also to lying, to dishonesty, to being manipulated, to everything connected with his previous way of life.
As he stood in the shadows, reflecting on what had happened to him in the last forty-eight hours, he was well aware that if he stuck with his decision to walk away from the hotel there would be no going back. Any bridges that could have returned him to his old way of life would have been torn down and burned completely. But there was to be no turning back for him. Even though his professional conscience was still wavering, in his admittedly brutally damaged heart the decision had already been made. He was getting away from this wretched place before he lost the last vestige of his free will completely.
He could hear and feel his heart pounding frantically in his chest and he felt incapable of moving from the spot, so with his back to the wall and knees bent, he allowed his body to sink slowly to the ground and hunch itself into a tight ball to obscure his face from view. If there had been any passing pedestrians in that lonely alleyway, they would have taken him for a down-and-out and would have either hurried past without looking or paused to drop a coin in his hand if they were feeling generous. With his unkempt hair, unshaven face, worn jeans and turned up collar, they would not suspect for a moment he was a fabulously successful actor, loved and admired by millions, whose photographically-enhanced face currently adorned acres of advertising space across the city.
After a couple more minutes of unnecessary contemplation over what he had just done, the young man raised his head and ran his fingers through his hair again; this time in a feeble attempt to bring it under some sort of control. His cheeks were damp; evidence of the tears of anger and frustration he had been shedding previously in his hotel room and then again, just a few moments ago. He rubbed his face with his hands then slowly stood up, straightened his jacket, brushed down the back of his jeans and took a deep, calming breath, then began walking in the direction of the Thames which he knew was very close to the hotel.
From his top floor suite of rooms there was a spectacular view upstream towards Westminster Bridge, the London Eye Wheel and the imposing government buildings that lined the Embankment opposite the South Bank. As he took his first steps towards the river and his new, self-imposed, solitary but unburdened life, for the first time in years he felt a long-supressed urge to be beside the main artery of this bustling city.
He had been brought up, if you could call it that, not far from this famous river. As an angry and frustrated teenager he had regularly sat on its banks to take time-out, usually after having heated arguments with his abusive and neglectful parents about matters that now seem trivial, but at the time, to him, were a matter of life and death. For hours he would sit on the embankment wall as evening turned into night; his eyes fixed on the fast-flowing brown water as it followed its ancient and uninterrupted course to the estuary. The spectacle of the city's life-blood escaping from the chaos of London to the wide waters of the ocean had the inexplicable consequence of calming his sensitive heart and pacifying his adolescent temper.
The river had been his teenage 'drug of choice' as its constancy helped him cope with the traumas of his unhappy childhood and adolescent years. The river was dependable and faithful; it would always be there for him when he needed it, unlike the transient people who moved in and out of his life, including his worthless parents whom he hated then and still hated now. There had only been one person in his early years that he had truly loved and trusted; now she was gone and he had no-one in his life now who understood what he'd been through in the past and no-one to talk to about the present.
As he walked in the direction of the river, his footsteps echoing in the dark alleyway that only ever saw the light of the midday sun, he hoped that a trip to the water's edge might help him find some solace like before. But he laughed grimly to himself, as he knew that it would take someone a great deal wiser than Old Father Thames to sort out his problems this time and deal with the shit-storm he had created and had left for others to deal with back at the hotel.
He carried on walking with his head down, watching his footing on the uneven London pavements or 'sidewalks', as he was now obliged to call them when he was in Los Angeles, his newly adopted home. As he left the alleyway and turned the next corner he froze, as he was instantly aware that the sound he had been listening for in the hotel doorway was there; the sound that had plagued most of his adult life. It was the unmistakable click click click of cameras followed by the noise of running feet, which meant that a posse of men and women were heading towards him and he could hear them shouting his name.
"Fucking Pap's," he growled under his breath as he spontaneously broke into a fast sprint; quickly disappearing into the shadows of another nearby alleyway that ran between two office buildings then out into the next street. He was young and fit with long legs and even though he wasn't a sportsman per se, he could set a pretty fast pace on a treadmill, which meant that his speed and stamina was more than adequate to outrun a pack of camera carrying, beer-swilling, cigarette smoking Paparazzi.
He sped down nameless London streets, skidding around corners this way and that in an attempt to lose the parasites. As he was running, he was imagining he was running for his life, away from all the bullshit, lies, corruption, intrigue and chaos that surrounded him, but after a few minutes at full speed he had to stop as he was overheating and gasping for breath. He put his hands on his knees, panting like a dog, but he allowed himself a smile of satisfaction as he couldn't hear any sounds of pursuit.
"Fat useless bastards," he muttered to himself. "Hope they all have fucking heart attacks!"
Now totally lost, he looked around for a street sign or any familiar landmarks that would give an indication as to where he was and found he was in a crescent of pristine, white-fronted Georgian houses with iron railings and window boxes full of summer flowers. A memory of his beloved grandmother came into his head and he smiled. She had spent her early childhood in this type of house in the 1930's, before her parents left England to live in India taking her with them. He had promised to buy her a house like this when he was 'all grown up' even though she assured him she was happy in her home in Richmond. Unfortunately she hadn't lived long enough to see his success, which was one of his many regrets.
"I can't do this anymore," he shouted to the empty street. "What do these assholes want from me? Haven't they got enough fucking pictures?"
He yelled at the world in exasperation, not expecting to hear a reply from God, Jesus, or anyone else who may have been listening.
There was no-one around to ask where he was and out of desperation he put his hand in his jacket pocket for his cell phone. He intended to call his friend, Jasper, to try and convince him to come and rescue him, even though Jasper's last text message to him was, 'Fuck You'. Then he remembered he had left his phone next to the bed in his room.
"Crap!" he cursed out loud.
He walked away from the immaculate street with his head down and jacket collar turned up again, hoping not to be recognized. Once more he felt tears starting up in his eyes and the edges of the paving stones gradually blurred from view as it suddenly occurred to him that in the city of his birth he had no-one to turn to and nowhere to go.
It was over five years since he had physically walked the streets of London on his own and that was when he was twenty-one, just before he left England to try his luck in LA. He would either have been trying to find any sort of paying work during the daytime, or spending the evenings going to gigs, or drinking with Jasper and other acquaintances, but always making the most of the diverse London night life. He still loved this city; preferring it to the heat of LA or the brashness of New York. He missed the culture, the pubs, even the depressing weather. London was his home town, but now he felt like a stranger.
He turned another corner and heard the welcoming sound of clinking glasses and laughter again. He looked across the street to where the noise was coming from and for a second he didn't realise what he was seeing, but then he recognised the pub was the same one that was situated behind his hotel. It quickly dawned on him that he'd been walking and running in a circle as beyond the pub was the back of the hotel and the alleyway where he had started his journey. He looked cautiously along the familiar streets and could just see the huddle of Paparazzi standing at the top of the one that led to the front entrance, waiting like snipers ready to ambush him on his return. Cursing under his breath, he turned around to escape in the opposite direction, silently screaming in his head.
Glancing over his shoulder to see if he was being followed and not looking where he was going, he sprinted across the road straight into the path of a middle-aged woman, knocking her heavily against a parked vehicle. Almost in slow motion he watched helplessly as her body slid down the side of the car and rolled onto the pavement. The woman lay still for a few seconds then instinctively gripped her purse tightly to her chest and glanced up fearfully at her assailant.
"Oh my God, I'm so, so sorry," he cried as he dropped to his knees. "Are you okay; can I do anything to help you?"
The woman was well dressed in smart black jeans and a dark brown leather jacket and he guessed she was aged about forty. Her eyes were now tightly shut, almost as though she was expecting to feel the first blow from a mugger, but when that didn't happen and what he had just said registered in her brain, she opened her eyes cautiously and looked up at him.
"Should I call an ambulance; do you live nearby?" he spluttered frantically.
He put his hand under her arm and helped lift her into a sitting position. "Are you injured at all?" he asked, panicking, and looking for evidence of cuts and bruises.
"No, I'm fine," she replied, as she brushed her clothes down with her hands. "It's not every day I get swept off my feet by a handsome young man though," she added with a grin. "For a second I thought I was being mugged."
He helped her stand and retrieved some of the contents from her purse that had fallen into the road. She was average height, small build, with expressive green eyes and brownish auburn hair that was almost the same shade as his. Her clothes were casual but classically stylish and he noticed her purse was a Mulberry, so she was obviously quite wealthy he guessed and then he admonished himself for checking her out and making assumptions.
The woman took her car keys from his hand and looked up at his face as if to say something, but instead she gazed intently into the eyes of this stunningly handsome young man who was standing before her, looking just as shaken as she was. As she took in what she could tell was written all over his troubled face, she gasped. But it was not the gasp of recognition he was used to, it was a gasp of concern and pity.
Her right hand reached up and rested on his shoulder then she cautiously raised it further up to his face, delicately brushing her fingers over the dark shadows under his red-rimmed, but still beautiful, grey eyes.
"I'm fine," she said again in a soft whisper, "but I can see that you're the one here who's hurting the most?"
He was transfixed as he allowed her to touch him. The gentle caress of her hand on his cheek and the caring tone in her voice triggered a long-distant memory of warmth and compassion; something he had not felt since the last time he saw his grandmother about a month before she died. He looked down into this strange woman's face and said with a voice breaking with emotion,
"I need help; I need to get away from here."
Then he bent his head onto her shoulder and started to sob.