SM owns Twilight and its characters. I own this story. 2010.
Thank you to BilliCullen and Scooterstale for pre-read/beta duties. You guys are awesome and wonderful!
Down You Go, Suffer Long
In my periphery, against the far wall, bright flashes of white danced and quivered, reflections of sunlight streaming through crystal. Like stars in the night, the oblong, colorless speckles trembled against the deep midnight wall, meandering from ceiling to floor. In a way, it was beautiful, a fractured, flickering symphony of light.
But my true interest was held by the glass in my hand, in its richly colored contents. Holding it up against the sun, I squinted and looked through the bottom; everything seemed different, everything was tinted and fallow, a sepia-filtered snapshot of the world.
A hundred shades of gold bounced and refracted through the hard-cut glittering facets in a myriad of dark tones mixed with pale. Ocher and amber and smooth caramel all swirled together, changing and melding with every motion.
I tilted my tumbler and looked inside, watching the amber fluid slink and slide, enthralled by the rolling waves. It was oddly mesmerizing, capturing my unfocused gaze and forcing my eyes to follow the eddying current. With just a flick of my wrist, it lazily sloshed around, painting the inside of the glass.
Scotch was a viscous liquid. At least more so than water, I corrected. It coated, it stuck. If but for a moment, it hugged the crystal walls of its prison. It was as if it didn't want to part, as if it relished its gilded captivity. Or maybe, just maybe, it was trying to climb the walls to escape. I wondered what it thought of its life in its sparkling cage. I wondered what it felt about being consumed.
I was drunk.
And I really did not care that it was only three o'clock in the afternoon on a Tuesday. Nor was I bothered by the knowledge that I'd just opened a twenty-five year old bottle solely for the purposes of inebriation and that I was shooting it like I would cheap vodka. All I cared about was the smoke and sherry tinged warmth pouring down my throat and the way it settled deep down in the pit of my stomach. All I cared about was the fact that the more I drank, the less concerned I became with the goings on of the world.
For just a few hours, I didn't have to worry about the one hundred and fifty-two unread emails sitting in my inbox. I didn't have to worry about returning the fourteen voicemails from people with whom I had no desire to speak. I didn't have to deal with listening to their trite and inane chattering, their ill-conceived attempts at acting like I gave a damn about them or what they had to say.
More importantly, I didn't have to think at all.
Carelessly, I flopped down into the chair by the window and threw my feet up on the ottoman. The leather was cool and slick and worn from all the hours I'd spent in this exact position. I didn't know precisely why this particular spot in the house appealed to me, but it always had.
From this chair, from my hidden upstairs perch, I could gaze outside, watching time pass by. I could see the stream that bordered the left side of the wide lawn, now bloated and rushing from the spring rain. A stand of apple trees, my mother's long-abandoned attempt at an orchard, grew wild and unkempt nearby.
Every time I looked at those trees, half of me wanted to bulldoze them to the ground while another, quieter side of me wanted to repair the natural decay that I'd allowed to occur. On the rare occasions my parents ventured back from the city to visit, I could see the lingering sadness in my mother's eyes when she saw her 'babies,' as she used say, untamed and uncared for. Those days I wanted to burn them down and salt the earth.
In the distance, I could see my other property, a small, two-story rental house, a white Cape Cod with red shutters, which I'd purchased three years ago at auction. I'd bought it partly as an investment, but mostly as a way to manage my neighbors. Most of the time it sat empty, decaying and rotting slowly away, just like my mother's orchard.
I knew that I should do something to keep it up, that it was stupid to do otherwise. With the persistent spring rains and the warming temperatures, the backyard grass needed cutting and the front shrubs needed trimming. A bright green creeper with curling arms wended around and up the siding and had already made it to eye-level.
It'd been probably two decades since the place had had a new paintjob, and the last time I'd bothered to check on it, the porch steps seemed iffy. God knew, the carpets should have been pulled up and replaced years ago. I shuddered to think what might still linger from the last inhabitants.
I supposed I should at least make an effort to keep the place decent. Perhaps I'd call in a contractor to just… fix it.
A soft ping and vibration at my hip told me that I'd forgotten to dispose of my phone downstairs. With a sigh and shuffle of my glass, I unclipped it to see who I was choosing to ignore.
"No thanks. Not now, Dad," I muttered with a grimace, immediately tossing the phone on the side table.
I knew what I'd hear if I were to answer. I'd hear the same old rhetoric, the same bullshit about how I needed to visit my mother, how I needed to return my brother's calls, how my soon-to-be sister-in-law barely knew me, how they hoped I'd meet them at the cemetery tomorrow.
No thank you, indeed.
It was interesting how they were the ones always 'intervening' and telling me that I needed to move on and move past what had happened, yet they always managed to bring it up in some way. It was almost comical, a game I played to see how many minutes would pass before someone slipped. And they wondered why I wasn't interested in spending any time with them.
Because I lived that nightmare enough as it was. Every morning, I woke up and stared in the mirror at the angry, inch-long purplish and white indentions littering my left side, my own personal epitaph, my permanent reminder. Every day, I walked down the hall past the door that led to what was once my sister's room. Every night, I sat alone at my dining room table, eating my dinner and staring at the chair she once occupied and the chairs the rest of them had escaped three years and nine months ago.
Every damned day, I thought about how I was left alive and how she wasn't. And I thought about how my father had looked at me in that hospital room. That night, his ice-blue eyes had told me everything: I should have been the one to die, not her. She was the baby, the last-born, the one that my brother and I had always protected, and I had killed her.
No, I didn't need to remember. I certainly didn't need to visit her gravesite just to have to listen to them chat and laugh and reminisce. And the thought of their pitying smiles and tormented eyes just made me want to throw things.
I wanted to forget, not remember. One would have thought that four years would have been enough. But I'd learned long ago that my mind simply didn't work that way.
Tiredly, I leaned my head back against the cushion and closed my eyes. In an almost unconscious gesture, one I'd picked up from my father, I raked my fingers through my hair and noted that I needed a haircut. That, that insufferable mop of hair, as well as its dark copper tint, I'd inherited from my mother.
Same with the eyes, although where hers were a bluish verdigris, mine were truly green, a bright jade or emerald, depending on the lighting. She'd told me once that I'd inherited the color from a grandfather who I never had the chance to meet.
The rest of me was a copy of my father but with a few inches added in height. We wore the same sharply cut facial features, the same angular brow, and the same lean frame. We both walked softly, and we both had a gift for stillness.
But that was where our similarities ended. Personality-wise I was as different from the rest of my family as night from day. I'd always been the serious one, preferring to be alone and left to my own devices. Even as a child, I spent my days locked in my room, buried in books, tinkering with models, or out hiking alone though the woods. I craved solitude and quiet. The rest of them were warm and cheerful, loud and sociable. They made me tired.
I watched in annoyance as the tiny light on my phone blinked red, indicating yet another voicemail I wouldn't be answering. I assumed that in the next thirty minutes, there would be two more, one from my mother and a third from Emmett. Tag teaming was their typical modus operandi.
Instead of answering, another drink seemed to be a more suitable response. Slugging what was left down, with only a slight sway, I rose to find my half-emptied bottle. I glanced around my office, frowning at the disheveled stacks of papers littering my desk, notes and invoices that I'd yet go through. I had time, however; that was one of the perks of running your own business from your home. For me, time was a flexible, non-meaning entity. My sleep patterns were erratic and unpredictable, so it was as common for me to work at two in the morning as it was two in the afternoon. For me, the only markers of passing days were the comings and goings of my one regular house guest.
Unhappily, I realized that I'd left my scotch downstairs in the kitchen. And at this point, I just wasn't drunk enough to leave it there, so I traversed the obstacle course of books and binders I'd left out the night before and made my way down the stairs.
I knew that Mrs. Cope wouldn't hear me over the crinkling bags and rush of water spraying against steel. Like every other afternoon, she'd already begun preparing dinner. When I paused at the entryway to the kitchen, I noticed brightly colored vegetables stacked in neat piles on the counter, as if they were politely waiting for their turn. In her typical fashion, her back was to me, and she was humming some tune from some other decade. But I could see that she was carefully slicing something bright pink and raw on the cutting stone. Lamb, from the looks of it, I guessed.
For a moment, I stared, watching her sure motions and listening to the rhythmic tapping of metal to granite. Unable to look away, I stared as thin rivulets of pale pink blood gathered and ran down the tilted sideboard and into the sink, where I assumed it would be flushed down the drain along with the running water. My eyes were glued to the flowing blood, and I could feel the alcohol in my stomach burning. This was why I never cooked for myself. The sight and smell of blood was nauseating.
It was a strange arrangement we had. Technically, Mrs. Cope was my assistant and receptionist for my business, but over the years, she'd taken to simply being an assistant both for the business and for me personally. For the most part, we understood one another, or rather had an unspoken agreement. The nurturing grandmother in her couldn't bear to see me starve myself, and at her age, she still needed to feel useful. She was a good typist, surprisingly up-to-date technology-wise, dealt well with people, and was organized, all skills that I required for my business.
Most of all, however, I needed someone who didn't hover and mother me, at least not in a way that smothered me. I needed someone who knew when to leave me alone and when to be quiet. I needed someone who could tolerate my mercurial nature. And it helped that she was old enough and married enough that I didn't have to worry about anything more than platonic emotions.
"Mr. Cullen," she chuckled. "I hear you just fine."
"Mrs. Cope," I replied politely, startled from my introspection.
My gaze flitted from surface to surface, trying to locate my elusive bottle. Irritably, I muttered, "I just forgot something. I'll be out of your way shortly."
"Your scotch is in the living room," she said softly, motioning to the door with her head.
I could hear the disapproval in her voice, but as always, she knew not to press further. She had been around long enough to know when my moods were sour; and they always were at this particular time of the year. She simply continued her preparations, banging pots around a touch too loudly, as if nothing were out of the ordinary, as if she couldn't see the slight stagger in my steps or hear the hint of a slur in my words.
"Ah, thank you, Mrs. Cope," I returned, turning at once on my heel toward the living room.
"Oh, Mr. Cullen, one more thing?" she asked, shifting around to face me.
Her features were soft with the wrinkles of her age, and seeing them twist uncomfortably with what appeared to be indecision was not what I'd hoped to see. Confirming my suspicions, she nervously wiped her hands on the towel tucked in her waistband, and her hazel eyes glanced from me to the doorway into the living room.
I sighed and looked upward to the ceiling, trying not to take my impatience out on her. But having a serious or even partly serious conversation was not high on my list of priorities at the moment, especially considering that the room was already wobbling and my lips were numb.
"What is it, Mrs. Cope?" I said in what I hoped to be a civil voice.
"Your renter?" she started. "I prepared her paperwork for you, but you haven't signed yet. I left it sitting on your desk last week. And she'll be here on Saturday. I'm assuming you'll want to have the place given a once over? It's… it could use a little buffing."
"What?" I asked, thoroughly confused. "What the hell are you talking about?"
Her eyes widened in realization and her lips turned in. "Yes, sir. Mrs. Lovelace? You agreed to her renting out the house about a month ago."
"I did no such thing," I snapped, losing my tenuous hold on my irritation. "Where is that paperwork? I want to see it."
"Your desk, Mr. Cullen," she replied formally, just as I was bounding up the stairs.
Approximately two minutes later, after pillaging through the third stack of invoices, I located the paperwork in question. Just as Mrs. Cope had said, it was accurately dated one month prior and was filled out and ready for me to sign. Judging by Mrs. Cope's neat script, the simple lease form had apparently been completed over the phone.
Application Date: May 1, 2010
Name: Isabella S. Lovelace
Date of Birth: September 13, 1980
Former Address: 1321 Summit Park, Phoenix, Arizona
Rental Agreement: 1 year from lease date, payment due via cash or check the 1st of each month
Monthly Due: $1100
Method of Payment: 6mo. in advance, to be paid upon arrival.
Security Deposit: Equal to 3mo. rent, $3300 paid via secure wire transfer, 5/1/10.
Again, I flung myself down in my old chair and glanced out the window, staring at the now slightly blurry empty and dark house in the distance. I had no idea what had possessed me to say yes. In fact, I only had a vague recollection of even speaking with Mrs. Cope about this woman. Knowing me, it'd probably occurred on another afternoon much like this one, and I'd responded without even realizing what was being asked.
"Goddamnit, Edward," I growled angrily at myself as I slung the stapled papers across the room. "Such a fucking idiot."
In the back of my mind, the gears turned. And a small part of me couldn't help but recall that Mrs. Cope had called her Mrs. Lovelace. Yet only her name appeared on the application. Part of me was curious.
But I didn't want to see lights in those small windows. I didn't want to see flowerpots and curtains and other such nonsense. I didn't want to see evidence of people in my space.
I didn't want a tenant, especially some damned woman, who was clearly embroiled in some drama, who would no doubt be helpless. The inevitability of dealing with this woman for a year was infuriating and exasperating already; I needed to find a way to stop this at once.
Chapter title: Lyrics from Sin, by Stone Temple Pilots