Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.

Thank you to my new pre-reader, Hadley Hemingway


Chapter 5: Network Moment

'I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore!'

"So you're up here alone?" I ask Bella. She sits behind me on the edge of the tub while I install the new faucet on the bathroom sink.

"I was,"she says to my back. I glance up at her reflection in the mirror. "And then you showed up just in the nick of time."

"Right."

"What about you?" Bella regards me with a knowing smirk, as if to say she's aware I was beating off not three hours ago to the fantasy of her bare ass bent over this sink. "All on your lonesome?"

"Not staying long," I answer. "There was someone I had to see." I finish tightening the new faucet knob to the fixture and then turn around. "I'm going to turn on the water," I say. "Test it out and let me know if it works."

She stands, again brushing her arm against mine as we pass each other. Definitely intentional, which gets me wondering. In the kitchen I reach to the back of the cabinet under the sink and turn the valve.

"It works," Bella shouts.

I get up and wash my hands. She appears beside me, taking a pitcher from the refrigerator.

"Lemonade," she tells me. "Want some?"

"Sure." I'm not done asking questions.

Bella goes to the overhead cabinet and pulls down two ugly glasses with sunflowers painted on them. There used to be a set of eight, but Anthony broke one when he tripped over an exposed root along the road to the lake, splattering the glass and the screwdriver he was drinking over the pavement. I broke another one, because it seemed wrong to leave an odd number of glasses.

"I don't take you for a plumber," Bella says as she hands me my drink. I lean against the counter while she takes a seat at the kitchen table.

"Yeah?"

"You'd be the fittest plumber I've ever met. Somehow I don't think you get abs like those from bending over toilets, or arms like that from wielding wrenches."

"I told you. I like climbing."

"So what do you do?"

I shrug.

"Does it pay well?" she asks with a smile.

"I manage."

"Must be nice," she says.

"How about yourself?"

"I guess you could say I'm between jobs," Bella answers. She looks toward the window.

During the course of our morning, I've seen her demeanor transition numerous times, transforming on a dime. And yet I get the sense I still haven't seen the genuine article behind her many faces.

"I had a Network moment," she says. A secret smile reaches her eyes as she turns to face me.

"A what?"

"The movie," she explains. "Peter Finch and Faye Dunaway."

"Sorry," I say. "Don't know it."

"Yeah you do," Bella says. "Howard Beale is clenching the front of the anchor desk on the nightly news, lamenting the depression, inflation, crime, and everything else fucked about the era. Then he gets up," she says, standing, "and yells into the camera, 'I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore!'" Bella shakes both fists in the air, but the display is unconvincing. I do know the line, though.

"And?"

She laughs at herself, flopping back down in the chair. "Maybe I should have referenced Jerry Maguire instead. Although, I didn't have some great epiphany of conscience. I just woke up one morning and decided I hated my job, hated my apartment, and hated my life. So I left."

"And here you are."

She spreads her arms out, giving the room a cursory glance. "Here I am with the alphabet collages, yarn webs, action-figure architecture, and you."

"Tossing your life savings into a shitty rental house in the middle of nowhere," I continue. It's a nice story, but I'm not buying it.

"And your car," she adds. "Let's not forget about that."

As if I could. And I wonder if she sees how much it pisses me off that she mentions it.

"I figured a little solitude could do me good," Bella tells me. "Get out of the city, back to nature, and figure out what the hell I'm going to do with the rest of my life."

"How long ago was that?" I ask.

She smiles in a self-deprecating way, almost bashful. "Three months."

"How's that working out for you?"

"Brilliant," she remarks. "Obviously."

I can't get a read on her, but I know this: The woman is bullshitting me. And for some reason, I get the sense that Bella knows she's playing to a suspicious audience.

But she still gives my dick a twitch. No reason to alter plans in that regard. One more day, and then I'm gone.

"You hungry?" she asks.

"I could eat."

xXx

"Doc!" Emmett's voice follows the loud bang of the front door bouncing off the interior wall of my parents' apartment. "We need you!"

"Get him to the kitchen," Jasper commands.

"Fuck," Peter wails. Incoherent groaning follows.

Anthony and I run from the living room to see Emmett and Jasper bump against the walls of the tight hallway carrying Peter toward the kitchen.

"What the fuck happened?" Anthony asks. The men shove past us and dump Peter on the kitchen table.

"It fucking hurts, man," Peter whines. "Shit, it's bad. It's bad isn't it?"

My father comes in from the bedroom carrying his medical bag. "Cut his shirt off," he orders. Carlisle sets his kit on the counter before taking a bottle of rubbing alcohol from under the sink and dousing both hands.

"They hit the Lantern Pub," Jasper answers. "Five of them."

I rip open Peter's shirt, exposing the gushing hole in his abdomen. He fights, writhing in pain. Anthony finds a pair of scissors and cuts off one leg of Peter's jeans. Another hole in his thigh streams red over the table and drips to the laminate floor.

"Anthony, tie off that leg," our father commands. Carlisle turns around with a needle prepared. "Hold him still."

Emmett grabs Peter's feet while Jasper puts his weight down on his biceps, keeping his body pinned. Carlisle sticks him in the arm and retracts the syringe.

"We don't have time to wait," my father says. "Give him something to bite down on."

"Fuck," Peter wails. "Doc, you gotta help me. Don't let me die."

Jasper takes off his leather belt and doubles it over, sliding it between Peter's teeth and using the ends to hold Peter's head to the table. His eyes are anxious, terrified.

"You two," Carlisle says to Anthony and me. "Clean your hands. I need them."

We do as we're told, splashing rubbing alcohol up to our elbows, and then stand on either side of the table as our father instructs us to hold this, clamp that, press there.

"How many walked away?" I ask Jasper.

"Two."

Anthony's eyes meet mine. Peter groans and screams through the bit in his mouth. No one in this building will call the police. Such noises barely get noticed in our neighborhood.

"Garrett, Riley, Liam. They're all dead," Emmett snarls. He beats his fist against the refrigerator door.

"Aro?" Anthony asks. "Why now?"

"Why come at us in our own neighborhood in the middle of the day?" I question.

"Not Volturi," Jasper answers. "The Romanians."

I hold a metal instrument in place as Carlisle digs in Peter's belly for the first bullet. Anthony presses down on the wound in Peter's thigh, but the blood finds a path to the table anyway.

"Let go," my father says. I pull my hands away and take a step back.

"Well?" I address my brother.

Carlisle pulls the bullet from Peter's abdomen. If possible, more blood spews from the wound. He stopped fighting a while ago.

Jasper puts two fingers to Peter's neck and waits. "Barely," he says.

Carlisle shakes his head. He grabs the ceramic bowl with the discarded slug and chucks it at the wall, fragments shattering across the floor. "There's nothing I can do," he says with his back turned. "He needs blood. We don't have it."

"Take mine," Emmett says. "Hook me up."

"I can't type you," Carlisle exclaims in exasperation. "I can't type him." He turns to face Jasper, ignoring Anthony and me. My brother still hasn't given me an answer. "Do it."

Jasper places his hand over Peter's nose and mouth. It takes several seconds before Peter's eyes open. He struggles feebly. We watch and let it happen. And then he's gone.

"Let's go," Anthony says to me.

At some point in his past, I believe my father was a good man. He grew up poor, a street kid picking pockets for extra cash to help his mother. It was dumb fucking luck that one sweltering afternoon in August he picked the wrong mark. Instead of beating the shit out of the scrawny punk, the boss offered Carlisle a job. He became a package boy, running he didn't ask what to he didn't know whom. When that street kid was all grown up and his mom dead two years, the boss sent him to college and then medical school.

Our father never had a taste for violence, but he was clever, worked hard, and was damn grateful for the opportunity. That's how a gutter rat from Hell's Kitchen becomes a mob doctor for the Irish mafia. It was only natural that his sons would start picking up similar packages, except we didn't mind putting the bloody holes in the other side. It paid a hell of a lot better.

In spring the Romanians came to Midtown to start a fight. They fired the first shots, precipitating a war for our little corner of the island. Midtown raged and blood flowed down W 42nd Street while the brother bosses of Little Italy were content to hide out in Lower Manhattan, waiting to pick off the victor that emerged.

We pushed back, ridding our island of the red menace and sending them back over the Queensboro Bridge. But, by summer, the heat closed in. Anthony and I were instructed to lay low, wait it out. The boss would send for us when it was safe to go home. And then a fucking car accident took his life. Returning to the city, to that life, seemed pretty damn pointless after that.