The City


“You used to do this every Friday?” Esme asked as we climbed the steps of the Art Museum.

“Just about. When I moved out of the city, I started coming with less regularity, but this was my weekly ritual.”

“Fine art and cheap beer? That’s quite a combination.”

I laughed. “Actually, hanging out at McGillin’s doesn’t seem as mind-numbing when it’s a chaser to a more cerebral activity.”

After we went inside, I flashed my membership card at the front desk and took out my debit card to pay for Esme. She gestured for me to put it away, and leaned in to speak to the Museum employee.

“I don’t have my membership information with me, but I believe we are technically members. Would you be able to look it up for me?”

The attendant nodded, and Esme proceeded to give her the pertinent information. When she located Esme in the computer, her eyes widened.

“Thank you, Dr. Masen. Would you like to be accompanied by a docent? If you’re coming to visit the works you’ve donated, she would be able to escort you directly to them. Sometimes locations change and it isn’t always easy to find what you’d like to see.”

Wait, did she just say works you’ve donated? As in Esme?

Whoa.

“I don’t think that’s necessary, but thank you. My friend here is more than capable of providing me with any guidance I may need.”

“Enjoy your visit, Dr. Masen, and feel free to stay for Art After 5. Tonight we’re featuring a jazz ensemble.”

“Thank you.” Esme  stepped away from the desk, gesturing for me to follow her.

“You’re a donor?”

She shrugged. “Something like that.”

“Edward never mentioned it.”

“Good boy. I would hope we raised him better than to try to use his wealth to impress women.”

We walked through the European Art exhibition, and our conversation never lulled.

“I used to come here to think,” I explained. “None of my friends are really the museum types, so I didn’t have to worry about anyone asking if they could join me. I’d spend the afternoon visiting my favorite pieces, and then have a glass of wine or two while listening to whatever live music was being featured. I think the Art Museum was the only place where I could be by myself for hours, and not feel weird about being out alone. Then I met Edward, and it became our special place.”

“When you first met, were you honestly not aware that Edward was a high-school student?”

I stopped walking and looked at Esme.

“I don’t mean to interrogate you, and I apologize if it came out that way. I’ve just always been curious, and until now I never felt comfortable asking.”

“Initially, no. But to be fair to Edward, he more or less came clean within the first thirty seconds. He introduced himself with the assumption that I would recognize his name and know that he was a student where I taught. He was correct. His reputation preceded him, and I found myself in the company of the boy whom veteran teachers claimed had the greatest mind they’d ever encountered. I think that’s why I continued speaking to him after I knew. In the beginning, I found him intriguing. As the evening progressed, we talked about everything from music to how it feels to be different. His perspective was fascinating. I could have easily spent all night just talking to him.

“After that first night, I went out of my way to avoid him. The attraction was intense, and I thought the best way to handle it would be to remove myself from temptation. The day after he graduated, he asked me out on a date.”

Even though we were walking, my eyes kept darting back to Esme. It didn’t appear as if anything I’d said upset her. I decided to seize my opportunity.

“Since we’re being completely honest, I have a question for you.”

She let out a small laugh. “Fair is fair.”

“Our disastrous first meeting notwithstanding, were you always as approving of my relationship with Edward as you appeared to be?”

She was now laughing in earnest, and in a gesture strikingly similar to Edward’s, pushed her hair off her shoulder. I was so thankful to see her smile, I didn’t care that it probably was at my expense.

“No,” she said finally, “though not because of your age. The night we met, though I may have questioned your intentions, I was very impressed with how you handled yourself. I liked you almost immediately, and began to feel attached to you when you came to our shore house for the Fourth of July. You seemed like a lost child, and you were noticeably uncomfortable around simple familial intimacy. When Carlisle or I praised you, you acted as if you were in pain. I realized that your parents’ apparent disinterest in you still affected you a great deal, and I had serious doubts about your ability to have a functional relationship with anyone. Edward, though wise beyond his years, was still so incredibly naïve. I knew it wouldn’t end well. As a parent, you want to protect your child from everything, but you can’t. We all have our hearts broken at one point or another; that kind of pain is inevitable. As sad as it is, it’s part of growing up.”

She reached over and squeezed my hand. “I haven’t upset you, have I?”

“No. I’m just amazed at your level of perception.”

“I’m a shrink, and I’m damned good at what I do.”

“Apparently.”

I stopped walking when I realized we were right in front of the peepholes. “Have you ever been back there?” I gestured to the dark corner.

“No. Is there more to see? I always assumed this was the end of the gallery.”

I stared at her in disbelief. “So you’re a patron–”

“Technically, Carlisle is a benefactor.”

I waved my hand dismissively. “Semantics. You get your own docent, and you never took them up on it?”

She shook her head. “No, though I know Carlisle and Edward have. What’s back there? It has to be something dirty, or they wouldn’t have it so tucked away.”

My cheeks heated up the moment I realized I was about to look at erotica with my pseudo-boyfriend’s mother.

“Are you blushing?” Esme began to giggle.

“There you are.” Edward  kissed Esme on the cheek before coming over to me. He placed the back of his hand against my face. “Are you feeling okay? You look a little flushed.”

“She’s fine,” Esme interjected. “Just embarrassed.”

Edward’s eyes narrowed as he scrutinized me. “You’re blushing?”

I nodded.

He pulled me against him, laughing. “I didn’t know you could blush. Here all it took was showing my mom the mixed media I used to seduce you.”

“What?” Esme asked.

“Wait, Bella didn’t tell you? I assumed that was the cause of her apparent mortification.”

Esme shook her head, then disappeared behind the wall.

Moments later, we heard her slightly muffled cry. “Oh my God.”

“I guess she found the peepholes.”

Laughing, Edward pressed his lips against mine, taking advantage of his mother’s absence. After a moment, I nudged him away. As much as I wanted to kiss him, I did not want an audience.

“Okay,” Esme said when she reappeared. “I’m kind of feeling like a failure as a parent right now. In what alternate universe is it acceptable for a sixteen-year-old boy to show something like that to one of his teachers?”

“For the record, I was seventeen, and I had graduated.”

Esme rolled her eyes. “What, like twelve hours prior?”

Edward laughed. “Something like that.”

“How did you even know that was back there?” she asked. “I’ve been here more times than I can count, and I’ve never seen it.”

“Dad,” he said, shrugging.

“Why am I not surprised?” Esme laughed, shaking her head. “So, did he show this to you before or after he bought you the porn stash?”

“After.” Edward cleared this throat. “I didn’t know you knew about that–”

“I didn’t know about that,” I interrupted. “But it sounds like a great story.”

“There is no story,” Edward insisted.

“But your father bought you porn,” I repeated in disbelief. “That’s epic.”

“Fine. Here’s the story. Once upon a time, my father bought me porn. The end. Who would like a glass of wine? They were about to start serving when I came in.”

I turned to Esme. “You’ve more than earned it, but we only have time for one. We have to make it to McGillin’s before the bouncer gets there. After a certain point, they start to card at the door. Edward has graciously agreed to be our designated driver, so just kick back and have fun.”

Esme grasped my hand in one of hers and Edward’s in the other. “In case I forget to tell you later, thank you. I truly appreciate what you’re trying to do for me. Both of you.”

We made our way back to the Great Stair Hall. Esme and I each had a glass of wine and listened to the jazz ensemble’s first set before leaving for McGillan’s. Alice and Jasper were waiting at our usual table. When she saw us approaching, she leapt up from her chair and threw her arms around Esme.

“I’m so sorry…” Alice began.

She stopped talking when she saw me shake my head and silently mouth the word, “Don’t.”

Her tone of voice  went from morose to more drinking. “…we already ordered a pitcher. I hope that’s okay. It didn’t occur to me that you may not like lager.” Alice looked over Esme’s shoulder at me and I gave her the thumbs up.

Jasper rose and extended his hand to Esme. “Nice to see you again, Dr. Masen.”

“Please, call me Esme. I feel old enough being the token mother.”

“Why?” Jasper asked. “It’s not like you’re old enough to be our mother.”

“Thanks for the sentiment, but I know you’re full of shit.” She sat beside Alice and picked up a menu just as our regular waitress arrived with our pitcher.

She placed it on the table and smiled. “Bella! I haven’t seen you in a while.”

“I know. I haven’t been out much. I’d like to introduce you to my friends, Edward and Esme.”

“Nice meeting you. Are all of you drinking?” she asked.

“No, just Esme and me. Edward’s driving.”

“Good deal,” she said before turning to Esme. “I’m going to need to see some ID.”

Alice and I started cheering as Esme produced her driver’s license.

The waitress did a double take as she looked at the date and then looked at Esme. “Damn, girl.” She handed the license back to Esme. “So what’ll it be?”

As she went around the table taking food orders, Edward poked me under the table.

I turned to him and whispered. “What?”

“Now I’m your friend?”

“That’s what you said you wanted to be.”

“I said that months ago. Is that how you still think of me? I suppose it’s an improvement over lover, though I wouldn’t mind being both, and maybe a few other things as well.” He trailed his hand up my thigh, but stopped shy of the Promised Land.

It was just as well. Our moment had not gone unnoticed. Our server’s voice cut through my Edward-induced haze.

“Do you two need to get a room? Because there’s no private party going on upstairs right now. If you’re quick, no one will notice.”

I smiled despite the fact I was embarrassed. “I think we can restrain ourselves, though it seems I misspoke earlier. Esme is family, and Edward is the love of my life. Meanwhile, I’d like onion rings and a tequila shot. I’m going to need all the liquid courage I can get if I’m going to get up and sing later.”

Esme looked at me in shock, the significance of my declaration eclipsed by her horror. “You brought me to karaoke?” She turned to the waitress. “Make that two tequila shots.”

Edward looked at his mother in disbelief. “Are you planning on singing?”

Esme smiled. “Let’s just say I’m keeping my options open.”

The evening wore on, a celebration of friendship, life, and off-key singing. As much as I wanted to be alone with Edward, it was wonderful to see Esme enjoy herself. By the time Edward walked me to my door, it was already well into Saturday morning.

He stood with me on my porch as I fumbled with my keys, and followed me inside my living room.

“I want to stay more than anything. I’m just not comfortable leaving my mother alone over night yet. I hope you understand.”

“Of course. I’m not in a hurry.”

“When you clarified my significance to you, were you serious?”

Because of his under-the-table grope fest, I decided he deserved to be teased.

“Absolutely. If I learned anything today, it’s that your mother is indeed my family.”

He groaned in frustration.

“Oh, you mean what I said about you?” I leaned into him and  kissed his throat. “I meant that, too.”

Almost instantly, I felt his tongue against my lips and his hands against my face. I pressed myself against him, wordlessly trying to convince him of my sincerity. I then remembered Esme was waiting in the car. I tapped him on the shoulder and broke the kiss.

“Your mother is waiting.”

“I know.” He sighed, hugging me tightly. “Thank you for everything.”

“You’re welcome. Always.”

“I’m starting to believe that.” He opened my front door and stepped onto my porch. “Good night. I’ll call you when I wake up.”

I waved to Esme as their car pulled out of my driveway. As I crept upstairs to bed, I had an overwhelming feeling of gratitude.

I was alive, and I was loved. Nothing else mattered.





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  1. on 01 Oct 2010 at 3:17 pmlisa89

    Esme is wonderful, and you know I love all the rest of your characters.

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  2. on 13 Nov 2010 at 12:49 amkng1986

    I’m with Carlisle. I’m glad Esme is not wallowing.

    [Reply]


  3. on 02 Jan 2011 at 8:44 pmFancastride

    Love the interaction with Bella and Esme.

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  4. on 06 Jan 2011 at 10:28 amSea4Me

    Hurray!!!!!!!!
    (and I’ve read that one shot…so freaking funny!)

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  5. on 29 Jan 2011 at 11:06 pmJanice

    Things are coming together!!! Glad Esme had a good time :)

    [Reply]