Present Day - June 7, 2018

A door clicks open and for the briefest moment I hear the din outside my dressing room. It's the kind of dull roar the voices of a few thousand people make when they've come together for an event. Tonight is an event. Tonight I am the fucking event.

"Here you go, buddy," I hear Emmett say. "This has gotta be quick."

"Of course. Whatever times he gives me is golden."

A chair scrapes along the floor.

"Edward?" Emmett calls.

I look at myself in the mirror. I'm much older than the last time I did this shit. I've gone gray at the temples, and crows feet are etched at the corners of my eyes. Laugh lines are permanent these days, despite the fact I haven't been laughing much as of late. Nevertheless, I'm so much happier than the last time I did anything like this. And I'm scared shitless.

Heavy boots echo as they cross the dressing room, heading for the bathroom. "Ed?"

I splash water on my face and grab a towel to wipe away the wetness, then go for the doorknob. I eye pill bottles on the shelf on the way out of the bathroom, then pull the door firmly closed behind me. A kid no more than twenty-three nearly knocks over his chair as I walk into the room.

"You okay, Ed?" Emmett asks, clapping me on the back. He's fallen back into his role as security with seamless ease. Meanwhile, this old persona fits me about as well as one of Alice's leather jackets.

"Mr. Cullen." The kid rushes to greet me, stumbling forward with his hand outstretched. "It's an honor, sir."

"Ed?" Emmett asks again.

"I've got this," I assure him. His eyes meet mine and I nod. His smile lets me know we're not just talking about the skinny twirp with the writing pad and the iPhone in his hand. "Give us five?" I ask.

"No problem, buddy. Five minutes, kid," Emmett says to the reporter on his way out the door. Once again it opens and there's a swell of voices and music. It clicks shut and we're left in silence; just me and an adolescent reporter, hand outstretched.

I take a seat on the couch and lean back, trying to get comfortable. The boy makes haste to find his own discarded chair. His forehead glistens and he wipes a hand on the leg of his jeans. I watch as he tries to make up his mind about how close he should position himself. I remind myself I shouldn't pass off my insecurity to the kid in front of me. Making him sweat will do me no good.

I lean forward, elbows on my knees. "Deep breath, son. Take a seat wherever you want. Let's make the most of this for you."

The boy's chest rises and falls, then his shoulders sink just a little. He manages to sit. His fingers quit fiddling.

"What's your name?" I ask.

"Jim Dalton, Mr. Cullen."

"Call me Edward. I'm not your high school math teacher."

"No, sir. I mean, no, Edward. I should think not."

"Not like I don't know my way around a trigonometry problem." Thea's homework is challenging. We all help out from time to time.

The boy in front of me smiles tentatively.

"Where would you like to begin?" I ask. We have five minutes, and at this rate this kid is certain to leave empty handed.

Jim smiles. "Well, the beginning, I guess. How did this all start?"

I chuckle despite myself. "Do you know the Masens, Jim?" I ask.

"Are you kidding? The Masens were one of the seminal punk rock bands of the twentieth century. From your first show in '81 you set the -"

"I was joking. That's the long version of this story, and you don't have the time for it. If you want the long version, you should read -"

"Isabella Swan?" the boy asks. Hearing her name on the boy's lips makes my chest ache and I find myself catching my breath. "I have, Edward. We all have."

Fear returns, redoubled. I think about the pills. I think about Emmett's eyes. Where are Jasper and Alice? I remember Seth's words from earlier in the evening.

"Tonight's story isn't in that book, Jim. Tonight's story began in January 2016."


A/N: What began as a future-take for the Babies at the Border compilation has grown into something a little bit bigger. This teaser marks the beginning of It Never Goes Out, a companion to There is a Light. It will be posted as its own separate fic starting tomorrow. Put me on Author Alert if you'd like to follow along. XOXO ~BDC