Night Landscape with a Lioness


Edward held me as we slept, his arms wrapped so tightly around me, I had no fear whatsoever of falling out of the top bunk. As I closed my eyes and rested my face against his chest, it occurred to me that since our reconciliation, he always gripped me in his sleep. His nocturnal attachment spoke volumes about what he would not consciously verbalize.

My fidgeting caused him to stir, tightening his arms around me while murmuring something unintelligible. He woke up startled, his eyes wide open as they adjusted to the darkness. He exhaled finally when he focused on me. I kissed his chest, and he stroked my hair, resting his back onto his pillow as his surprise was replaced by relief.

He was still terrified I would leave him.

I knew we needed to discuss this, but now was not the time. His fingers released their death grip and began tracing patterns on my back. Propping myself up on one elbow, I stared into his face and whispered the only words that could possibly reassure him.

“I love you.”

He gave me a sleepy smile and said that he loved me, too. I rested my cheek against him and let the rise and fall of his chest soothe my fear that life had made him cynical and that I was partially culpable.

The following morning we avoided Edward’s eating club at my request, and instead went to PJ’s on Nassau Street for pancakes. We filed into line outside the restaurant, and Edward had his arm around my waist. No one gave us a second look, let alone a disapproving one. I wondered if perhaps I’d been imposing my own discomfort with our relationship onto others and if the copious disapproving glances etched in my mind were, in fact, imaginary.

In reality, dressed in one of Edward’s sweatshirts with my face scrubbed clean, I looked no different from any of the college girls around me, with the possible exception that most of them were clearly hungover or still drunk. I felt a strange burst of pride. With age came wisdom, and I was finally smarter than that.

I leaned against Edward and sighed.

He kissed the top of my head. “The food here is worth the wait, Bella. I promise.”

Most quality life experiences were.

“I imagine it is. There would have to be something special about a pancake house that manages to flourish among a sea of diners.”

“You’ll see when you get inside. The interior is battle-weary from years of being well-loved. There’s no pretense, just great food.”

I smiled up at him. “I trust you.”

My voice had a tinge of intensity to it, and I realized I wasn’t talking only about his choice of restaurant. It was the first time I said those words and meant them. The irony that they came freely from my lips in a conversation seemingly about food but actually about life did not escape me.

I trusted him implicitly with everything.

Twenty minutes later, we slid into a wooden booth, carved with decades of graffiti, and placed our orders. He held both my hands across the table, and we touched constantly like a couple of love-struck teenagers.

I did, anyway. Edward actually was one. For the first time, I didn’t inwardly cringe when I remembered his age. I loved him, and he made me happy. Nothing else was relevant.

“You don’t have to do the semi-formal tonight if you’d rather not. I know how uncomfortable all of this makes you.”

“No, I’ll stay for the weekend.”

He looked at me as if I had three heads. “Who are you, and what have you done with my girlfriend?”

I smacked his hand playfully.

“Seriously, though,” he began, his demeanor changing. “I don’t want you to do anything for me that you don’t want to do. I still feel like a little shit about last night.”

I started giggling.

“What?”

“You were up my ass. Of course, you felt like a shit, but definitely not a little one.”

“Ha ha,” he deadpanned, rolling his eyes before finally smiling. “I guess my choice of words could be construed as humorous, but I’m trying to be serious here. Bad pun notwithstanding, I don’t want you to stay out of a sense of obligation.”

“I’m feeling something right now, but it’s not obligation.” Under the table, I slipped my foot out of my shoe and ran my toes up the inside of Edward’s leg.

“Behave,” he warned.

“I’ll be good.”

My foot continued its movements.

“Oh, I have no doubt.”

The waitress arrived with our food, and I was instantly distracted from my under-the-table play.

Edward smirked at me. “Have I finally discovered your sex drive’s kryptonite?”

“I’m ravenous. Besides, banana pecan pancakes win over giving you a foot job any day of the week. Now, if I were on the receiving end…”

He raised an eyebrow. “That would be different?”

“Maybe. It would depend on how hungry I was.”

We finished eating, then spent the day tooling around campus. Edward showed me his favorite places, sharing stories and inside jokes about some of them. Halfway through the afternoon, it occurred to me that I would already know these things if we hadn’t broken up or I had been more willing to share this part of his life. A brief feeling of melancholy washed over me, but I didn’t allow it to linger. I began to entertain the idea that Edward had been right when he said our time apart had been necessary for both of us to grow. I smiled and listened intently, grateful that he was finally opening up about a time in his life he was previously so unwilling to share with me.

Soon it was time to dress for the semi-formal, and I knew that meant braving the communal showers. What a difference four years made. My alma mater, though not as old as Princeton, had a similar setup in the dormitories. At twenty-two, this didn’t bother me, but at twenty-six, it did.

We began to walk toward the ladies’ room, but Edward stopped in front of the men’s room.

“Hang on a sec.” He quickly vanished inside.

Well, this was great. I was about to turn and walk the rest of the way to the women’s bathroom alone when he reached through the door and pulled me into the men’s room.

“Don’t worry. There’s no one in here,” he assured me as he led me to the showers.

He placed his towel on a hook and went behind the curtain and to turn on the water. Seconds later, I joined him.

“This has to be against the rules.” I squeezed some body wash onto my loofah and began scrubbing myself.

“Technically, yes. People do it all the time though.” He pointed to my breasts. “You missed a spot.”

“I’m getting to that.”

“Allow me, instead.” He bent his knees and cleaned my nipple with his tongue.

“You were planning this, weren’t you?”

“Communal shower sex tops my short list of things to experience before graduating, yes.”

The walls were disgusting. There was no way in hell I was leaning against them. I could give him head, but there wasn’t enough room for me to bend at the waist and there was no way in Ivy League Hell I was getting on my knees on the shower floor. There was a very good reason I was still wearing my flip-flops.

I looked down and could have easily confused his cock for a towel bar. I put my hands on his hips for balance and squatted in front of him.

I moved one hand to his shaft and looked up at him. “Would oral count?”

My tongue darted out to lick the tip of his penis, and he nodded enthusiastically.

After he released into my mouth, we finished showering. We kissed under the stream of water, and Edward insisted on washing my hair for me, an act which he confessed also topped his short list.

We returned to his room to get dressed, and the look on his face when he saw me in my dress made a second night on campus more than worth it.

As I stood before him in the exact outfit I’d worn to the orchestra on our first date, he was awestruck. He raised his hand and rotated his index finger. I turned for him slowly and then repeated his gesture.

“Your turn.”

He rotated leisurely, and I found myself wishing we hadn’t committed to the second night of Houseparties. I just wanted to pull him by his tie and strip him. Sadly, I settled for straightening it instead.

“I can’t decide if I prefer you in a suit or in a tux.”

“This can’t be the first time you’ve seen me in a suit.”

It wasn’t, of course. The first time I saw him in a suit was at his father’s funeral. If he looked delicious, I was proud to say I didn’t notice.

“It may as well be.”

My arm through his, we made our way back to the Street. When we arrived, the first person I saw was Tyler.

“I thought you belonged to a different club,” I said after he greeted me.

“I do, but my girlfriend belongs to this one. We decided to split Houseparties.”

“That makes sense.” I smiled at him warmly. “Thank you for giving us the room to ourselves.”

“No problem. I’m sure Eddie told you about the hot tub?”

I shook my head in disbelief. “I’m still amazed you guys even thought of that.”

“The idea was genius, I must admit. You should come see later. We’re having an after party.”

“Thanks Tyler, but no thanks.” Edward’s voice was clipped, and his tone was surprisingly final.

I looked at him questioningly. “I was kind of curious to see it, actually.”

“Trust me, there’s not much to see. Just a hot tub in a dorm room. Everyday, boring stuff.”

Tyler shot Edward a strange look before turning back to me.

“Maybe some other time, when Edward decides he wants to be fun again.”

Edward glared at Tyler, who smiled at me before walking away.

“What was that all about?” I asked.

“Nothing. Just believe me when I say that you didn’t need to see the hot tub tonight.”

I didn’t ask him to elaborate. Tyler was, after all, the co-founder of Hard Drug Tuesday. I assumed they would be doing coke or E later and just dropped it.

“It’s just as well. I don’t have a swimsuit with me.”

Edward laughed. “That’s just it. You wouldn’t need one.”

I looked at him quizzically, and he continued.

“Room rules. No clothing in the hot tub.”

“Oh.”

Though just a few moments ago I was annoyed that Edward had spoken on my behalf, I suddenly felt grateful he had done so.

“Call me possessive, but I don’t want my friends ogling your goodies.”

Edward and I went to the bar and got drinks, then made the rounds. Though Kate was present, she kept her distance, acknowledging me only with a smile when my eyes met hers from across the room. Since the stress of socializing with the ex-girlfriend was now a non-issue, I was free to enjoy the evening.

Surprisingly enough, I did.

As we left the club, we passed Tylor on the Street, surrounded by his friends. They were all obviously wasted.

“Are you sure we can’t change your mind?” he asked.

“Positive,” Edward replied tersely.

As soon as we passed them, I heard a female voice I didn’t recognize.

“He was never this uptight when he was with Kate.”

A second girl I didn’t know responded.

“It has to be about his new girlfriend. Even after he and Kate broke up, he still made the rounds.”

I stopped walking and looked at Edward.

“Did you and Kate ever…”

I wasn’t sure what I was asking, or even if I wanted to know the answer. If he’d been to a nudity-required hot tub party with his ex, I didn’t want to know about it.

Did I?

My own experience told me that the debauchery present at those kinds of parties rarely stopped with nudity, and it would be completely out of character for him to do that sort of thing. Then again, he has admitted to whipping it out at parties. If Kate asked him to participate, he’s the kind of guy who would suspend his own feelings of discomfort for the woman in his life.

“I’ll explain when we get back to my room.”

In a brilliant move, he smiled and waved at the group behind us, letting them know that we had heard them without sacrificing class or causing an ugly confrontation.

We didn’t speak again until we were back in his dorm room.

“So,” I began. “Kate was in to group sex.”

I was expecting him to be defensive, but he looked almost amused. “How did you make the leap from swimwear-prohibited parties to orgies?”

I shrugged. “I went to college.”

He wrinkled his forehead in disbelief. “Did you ever…”

“Oh, no you don’t.” Though teasing, there was a definite edge to my voice. “This isn’t about me.”

“I hate to disappoint your inner perv, but no. Kate and I never participated in those types of activities. However, when the hot tub went in at the beginning of the school year, we did make the occasional appearance. If things started to go that route, we left.”

I was instantly relieved. We’d come so far. I would be crushed to find out he’d lied to me.

“Have you?” he asked.

I played dumb. “Have I ever what?”

“You know what I’m asking. Have you ever participated in team sports?”

“Well, yes.”

Edward looked like he didn’t know whether to laugh or to throw something.

“This is hardly a revelation. I’ve more or less owned it already. You know I’ve experimented with women.” I shrugged. “It’s easier to go down that road for the first time with a male audience.”

“Go down is right. Here I am, trying to spare you debauchery that would probably look like a Disney movie compared to some of the shit you’ve seen.”

“I appreciated the gesture. My past is one thing. It does, after all, have a context. At this point in my life…” I grasped his tie and pulled him toward me. “I don’t feel compelled to share my toys.”

His hand dipped under the plunging neckline of my dress and fondled one of my breasts.

“You share with me,” he whispered, his lips against my neck.

“Those are your toys.” I cupped his package over his pants. “These are mine.”

His lips crashed into mine, and he had me out my dress in seconds. He palmed my bottom before pulling away, smiling.

“A thong. I knew it.” He stripped out of his suit before picking me up and placing me on his desk. “Lean back and raise your hips. I owe you.”

I complied, and he slid my thong over my hips before replacing it with his mouth. His tongue and fingers were where I needed them most. Just as I found my release, he picked me up and wrapped my legs around his hips. Still standing, he entered me.

“Don’t worry. I’m not going to drop you.”

I closed my eyes and lost myself in our coupling, trusting him completely while not discounting the implications of doing so.

Hours later, after rounds two and three, we rested in bed, my head on his chest. I was almost asleep when he spoke.

“Would it have bothered you if I had?”

“If you had what?” I muttered drowsily.

“If I had participated in team sports.”

“Honestly?” I yawned. “No. However, it would have bothered me to find out only tonight that you had done so. I mean, I’ve asked you about your sexual activity while we were apart. Orgies were not part of your answer. I would have felt more betrayed by your dishonesty than your experimentation.”

“You didn’t actually think that I had…”

“For a moment, I did. It was silly of me, and I’m sorry. I know it would be out of character for you. In my defense, you are the kind of man who would do anything for the woman in his life. If Kate had asked you and it was important to her, I know you would have considered it.”

Edward laughed.

“What?” I asked.

“It’s nothing.”

“No, tell me.”

He hesitated before speaking. “Kate was so freaked out when she saw what was starting to happen.”

“Conservative, huh? That doesn’t surprise me.”

“No, just inexperienced.”

With great effort, my voice betrayed no emotion. “Were you her first?”

He said nothing, but an answer wasn’t necessary. I already knew.

“That explains a lot. The first person always holds a special place in our hearts. No wonder she still cares about you.”

“Does James hold significance for you?”

“Yes. He’s the only person I’ve ever fucked whom I would gladly castrate given the opportunity. I’d call that special, wouldn’t you?” I let out a small laugh. “All kidding aside, he would be special to me if it hadn’t ended so hideously. As strange as it seems, I’m more comfortable with the idea of Kate now than I was before we had this conversation. No one in their right mind ends up with the first person they screw.”

I realized my error as soon as the words were out of my mouth. Surprisingly enough, they didn’t seem to upset him. He didn’t ask me to clarify, or beg me to take him more seriously. He just tickled me until I cried uncle.

In this case, it was Uncle Present Company Excluded. I didn’t say the words to appease him, or even to get him to stop tickling me. I said them because for the first time ever, I believed we could make it.

“Would you do something for me?” I asked.

“Anything,” he answered immediately.

“When we get home, there’s a phone call I need to make, something I’ve postponed much longer than I should have. Will you just sit with me while I talk?”

His eyes widened with realization, and he nodded slowly.

The following afternoon, while lying on my sofa safely ensconced in Edward’s arms, I picked up my phone and dialed the only number I knew by heart.

For most of my life, the number had been mine as well.

A gruff male voice answered on the third ring. “Hello?”

“Hi, Dad,” I said tentatively. “How are you?”

“Cut to the chase, Bella. What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong. Can’t a girl call her father just to talk?”

“A girl could, but you never have.”

He had a point.

I laughed nervously. “You see through me, as usual. I wanted to tell you I met someone…”

Though I was speaking to my father, my eyes never left Edward’s as I detailed his many attributes.

“He’s extremely bright and funny. I love his mind, and I could spend hours talking to him about absolutely nothing. He takes care of me, and makes me want to be a better person.”

“What does he do?”

“He has two years left of college,” I explained.

“Did he start late?”

“Actually, he started early.”

He sighed, and I knew I was in for it.

“Isabella, how old is this boy?”

He sounded simultaneously bored and condescending, a feat only a parent could accomplish.

“Eighteen.”

I was incredibly grateful my voice didn’t waver. Even over the phone, my father could sense fear.

“Do you think it’s wise to be involved with a boy no older than the ones you teach?”

I knew this was coming.

“Actually, Dad, I teach fifteen-year-olds.”

“Eighteen is too young to be in a serious relationship. Look at your mother.”

I sighed. “Mom is forty-four, and she’s still too young to be in a serious relationship.”

“Do you want to end up like me?”

I knew it would hurt him and do nothing to further my cause, but I needed to say it.

“Mom isn’t the reason you’re alone. You are.”





Leave a Reply

7 Responses

Comments RSS

  1. on 26 Aug 2010 at 7:44 pmchansen

    I love it, adore it. Your prose absolutely flows, twists, turns. Delighted to find this here. If I could favorite it I would. Its classic with a twist. You’ve made magic of these characters.
    Off to read Counterpoint. Will read it here just in case you’ve taken things out at FFNet

    [Reply]


  2. on 29 Aug 2010 at 4:59 pmizziey

    ouch, but it only hurt because it’s true.

    [Reply]


  3. on 01 Oct 2010 at 4:24 pmlisa89

    I just hissed through my teeth, and I don’t know that there’s a sound I can type to express that, haha. Burn on Bella’s dad. As always, I’m enraptured.

    [Reply]


  4. on 31 Oct 2010 at 9:51 pmRandy

    Reading this story again for the 100th time. I love it more each time I read it. Since reading Some Little Girls, i have always wondered if Bella ever had the chance to introduce Edward to Charlie. Hoping we get a glimpse of that sometime. Thank you for reposting the story, I missed it so much while it was gone.

    [Reply]


  5. on 25 Nov 2010 at 7:24 pmBooksgalore/Bookishqua

    Oh man. Tough conversation with Charlie. Bella does have a point.
    :)
    Books

    [Reply]


  6. on 06 Jan 2011 at 11:35 pmSea4Me

    Healing bit by bit. Edward’s sleep-cling is a nice parallel to Bella’s canon nightmares. I’ve only mentioned a few, but the lines and concepts you’ve worked in astound me. It’s not like you mirror SM’s chronology; I’d guess it’s a consuming process. Thanks for sharing all of this work with us!

    [Reply]


  7. on 30 Jan 2011 at 12:23 pmJanice

    Love Bella’s answer to her father. Her therapy is really helping her. She’s getting a lot of her fears realized off her mind. I love your writing!! Your brilliant!!

    [Reply]