Soft Construction with Boiled Beans (Premonition of Civil War)
After Edward went home, I finally called Alice.
“Bella! I was just getting ready to call you. I have a fitting for my dress tomorrow, and your dress and Rose’s dress have also arrived. I pulled so strings to get us all in at the same time tomorrow evening. I just spoke with Rose and she can make it. Can you be at the store at by five?”
I wondered why Rose hadn’t told Alice about the baby.
“Sure, no problem.”
“Thanks. Look, I know I’ve been a little OCD about the wedding, and I really appreciate you putting up with it. I don’t think I could have done all this without you.”
“Well, you only get married for the first time once,” I joked.
She laughed. “In swoops Swan with her trademark fatalism! Seriously, you know Jazz is it for me.”
“Oh, I know this is it for you, because I am sure as shit never doing this for you again. Do you have anything going on afterward? Maybe we can get a drink. I have some things I’d like to bounce off of you.”
God, did I ever.
“Sure, that sounds good. Looks like my next client is a few minutes early. I’ll see you later. Bye!”
I met Rose at her office building and we drove out to King of Prussia together. As soon as we were alone in her car, my curiosity overwhelmed me.
“Did you tell Emmett last night?”
“Yes,” she said, beaming. “I told him I was pregnant and less than a second later he was down on one knee. He said he would have asked me sooner, but thought I needed more time.”
“Mazel tov!” I said. “Please, don’t turn into Alice.”
She laughed. “If I ever become that crazy, put me out of my misery. Besides, neither of us wants all that. We’re thinking about a very small, traditional ceremony and maybe going to dinner afterward. Nothing over the top. We’re hoping to pull it all together by October.”
“Sounds lovely. I’m so happy for you. So, is there a reason you haven’t told Alice?”
“No, not really. We’re just not telling anyone until I see a doctor and make sure everything is okay. I want this so badly, and I’m feeling a little superstitious.”
“I’ll keep it quiet then. I did tell Edward, I hope you don’t mind.”
“No, that’s fine. Emmett will probably call him today and tell him anyway.”
“Shit, that reminds me. I forgot to tell Edward I was going out tonight. I may hitch a ride back to Center City with Alice. I’m hoping to tell Alice about him when we’re done with fittings.”
“It’s about time, Bella. Really.”
“I know.” I pulled my iPhone out of my purse and sent a quick text to Edward telling him I wouldn’t be home until much later.
“Does Edward know your best friend doesn’t know he exists?”
“No, and he’s been pressing me to meet her.”
“Are you sure you don’t want me with you for this?” Rose asked.
“No, you should get home and rest. Besides, it’s just Alice. Sure, she doesn’t typically acknowledge the existence of moral ambiguity, but she loves me and wants me to be happy. She’ll be fine with it.”
I was trying to convince myself more than Rose.
When we arrived at Neiman Marcus, Rose and I walked into the palatial fitting room to find Alice standing in front of a three way mirror in her wedding gown. I’d heard her describe it and I’d seen pictures, but nothing prepared me for the actual vision. It was ivory silk with small chiffon flowers on the bodice. The skirt was full, but not so much that it dwarfed her tiny frame. It was modern while still being classic, fun while still being beautiful. It was, in a word, Alice. She took my breath away.
“It’s amazing, Alice,” I said from across the room.
“Really,” Rose affirmed.
Alice giggled, shrugged her shoulders and turned back to face the mirror. I placed my iPhone on the armchair just inside the room before approaching Alice to get a closer look.
The seamstress was discussing Alice’s options for bustling the train during the reception. After a decision was made, Alice moved across the room to the arm chair.
“I need to sit down. I’ve been running around like a crazy person all day and I think the adrenaline is starting to wear off.”
She sat in the armchair and glanced down at my phone as she moved it out of the way.
“Looks like you have a text message. ‘Stay out as late as you want, I’ll be waiting for you in bed.’ Whoa, when did you start seeing someone? This is amazing. I can’t believe you didn’t tell me. How did you meet? And he has a key to your house? This is so exciting, Bella. I’m so happy for you. I want to hear everything about him. Start at the beginning and be very detailed.”
This wasn’t how I’d planned on telling Alice, but it eliminated the awkward lead up.
“I met him at the Art Museum a while back. We’ve only been dating since June.”
“June? Two months and you didn’t even tell me. This is the longest you’ve been with someone since that asshole from college whose name I won’t mention. I’m so happy for you; I was so afraid you’d never open yourself up again. How did it all start? I want to know everything.”
She was bubbly and adorable, sitting there in her wedding gown, asking me to dish about Edward. I naively took the bait.
“Actually, we met in February. We just started to date in June. I was waiting for him to graduate.”
“College? Where did he go?”
“Um, no, high school,” I whispered.
The seamstress returned with two helpers, each one holding a bridesmaid dress.
Alice looked over at the room, sizing up the audience. “Okay, everybody out!”
I watched as the staff filed through the door. Rose went to follow them until Alice grabbed her wrist on her way out. Her voice was void of any emotion, almost mechanical when as she spoke to Rose. “Except you. You stay.”
This was not going to be good.
“Let me get this straight. For the past two months, you’ve been in a relationship with a kid right out of high school?”
I was going to have to deal with this sooner or later. I looked Alice in the eye and prayed my voice wouldn’t waver.
“So he’s eighteen?”
“Seventeen,” I corrected quietly.
“Seventeen,” she repeated. She looked over at Rose. “Is that even legal?”
“Yes,” Rose confirmed.
“You don’t seem at all surprised by this. I take it you knew?”
“I see,” Alice said. “And you condone this?”
“It’s not my place, nor is it your place to condone Bella’s actions.” Rose’s tone was carefully measured. “Calm down, Alice.”
“I will not calm down. Bella, what the fuck is wrong with you? Have you completely lost your mind? He’s seventeen. Seven fucking teen! There are students at your school who are seventeen.”
I looked down at my feet nervously.
“Oh my god, he goes to your school, doesn’t he?”
“I told you, he graduated.” My voice was barely above a whisper.
“Oh, well, then that makes it all okay,” she said patronizingly. “How can you do this? You’re a teacher. And I don’t give a shit if you were never his teacher, you’re still a teacher. People entrust their children to your care. Children, Bella. Think people would do that willingly if they knew you were fucking one? That you have no problem viewing a boy only two years older than the boys in your class as a sexual object? And don’t even try to tell me this isn’t about sex. With you, it is always about sex.”
I wasn’t sure at what point during her diatribe I had begun to cry. Nothing she’d said was untrue; sex was a factor, but my relationship with Edward was about so much more than sex.
“You can’t even defend your own actions, and do you know why? Because what you’re doing is indefensible. Look, I lived with you for how many years? I’ve seen how you operate, and you know what, it was okay. The one night stands, the flings, the random sex, the experimentation with bisexuality–I stood by and watched it all and I never once judged you because I understood that you were filling a void and no one was getting hurt. All these years I’ve wanted more than anything for you to have someone with whom you would feel comfortable enough to allow to get close to you and hopefully show you that not everyone you love will walk out on you. And here we are–you tell me you’ve found someone, and I’m thrilled for you, really I am. Then you tell me he’s seventeen. Am I not supposed to question your sanity? You spend the past five years shying away from all emotional attachments because of your lifetime of unaddressed abandonment issues and when you do finally decide to pursue a relationship, it’s with a student at the school where you teach. And you expect me to believe that this isn’t about power and that you aren’t only okay with this because his age and position assures you the upper hand? My brother is seventeen, Bella! He plays video games and skateboards all day for god’s sake. How could you even find that attractive?”
“Edward isn’t like that. He’s very advanced and mature–”
“He very well may be mature for seventeen, but he’s still seventeen! What, did you run out of guys your own age? Maybe Jasper should have gone to NYU. Maybe with a population as large as Manhattan’s, you could have made it through three whole years before you needed to resort to the high-school crowd.”
“Enough.” Rose broke through Alice’s rant using her courtroom voice. “Look, I understand that you are a little freaked out by the fact he’s the same age as Jake, and Bella did lie to you by omission for the past two months, so I let you have your little moment. Now it’s done and I’m cutting you off. I have gotten to know Edward fairly well. Edward is extremely intelligent and articulate. Bella has not taken advantage of Edward. He knows exactly what he is doing.”
Alice rolled her eyes. “Oh, please.”
Rose continued, “Alice, nothing about Edward would make you think he was seventeen years old except the date on his driver’s license.”
“Is that how she justified it to you?”
“She didn’t have to justify it to me. I’ve seen how they function as a couple. They’re good for each other. So she’s eight years older than he is. Big deal. Eight years from now, do you think that will matter? Shit, four years from now do you think that will matter?”
“If they are truly meant to be together, she could have waited until he was an adult and they still would have found each other.”
“What good would that do, besides waste precious time while they both use other people for filler? What if Jasper had been younger? Would you have not pursued him? Would you have waited because some other people might not understand? Would you put your life on hold?”
Rose sighed; Alice said nothing.
“Bella has done a lot of things wrong, but so have you, Alice. She’s struggled with her fear of telling you for months…”
“Which tells you everything you need to know right there, doesn’t it? She knows it’s wrong and she’s ashamed of herself.”
“I’m not ashamed of myself,” I clarified.
“No?” Alice asked. “Then why am I finding out now, because I happened to see a text message. You were afraid to tell me because you know it’s wrong.”
“No, Alice, I was afraid to tell you because of some of the really judgmental things you’ve said about Rose and Emmett.”
I regretted it the instant it was out of my mouth.
“Really?” Rose’s voice was completely detached. “Now this is getting interesting. Care to elaborate, Alice?”
“Bella’s making it sound much worse than it was. I expressed concern that Emmett would never be ready to have kids while you were still physically able to do so. I was not passing judgment, merely stating biological fact. It wouldn’t have even come up, except I know how much you want to be a mother.”
“You said that?” Rose laughed coldly as she looked over at Alice. “Lovely.”
“I’m sorry, Rose,” I said. “I didn’t mean to…”
For the next several minutes, Rose and I stood in front of Alice in silence. Finally, Alice spoke.
“Are you in love with him?”
“Yes,” I answered.
“And he loves you?”
“It’s all just so…”
She never verbalized the rest of her thought, and I decided I’d had enough.
“I’m done talking about this. Nothing I say will change the way you feel. I love you like you were my sister, but I really don’t care if you disapprove. Your inability to get beyond your ridiculous prejudices is your own loss. If you still want me to be in your wedding, I will be there to support you, despite the fact you don’t support me.” I turned to Rose. “I’ll wait for you by the car.”
I walked out of Neiman Marcus without looking back.