Modulation


Relationships are almost always made official with an exchange of metal. Of course, in my parents’ case, the metal in question was platinum, which they wore daily on the fourth fingers of their left hands. My relationship with Bella became real with a small piece of tarnished brass that now hung from my key chain. It was small and seemingly insignificant, but granted me entrance into Bella’s home. She may have retained her walls, but I knew where the door was and finally had the means to unlock it.

I tried not to focus on the fact that she had given me said piece of metal after a romantic gesture gone horribly wrong, during which I nearly shattered her bedroom window with rock that seemed perfectly pebble-like until I threw it. She appeared in the window, groggy and annoyed, and I was certain she’d give me hell. Instead, she gave me her front door key. Though I could easily write it off as being more about convenience than commitment, it granted me entry into Bella’s life. I needed it on my person at all times and when my dad and I swapped cars, I carefully removed it before handing my key ring over to him.

As expected, he called me out.

“Bella’s house?” he asked.

“Yes. It just makes things easier.” I shrugged, hoping that if I downplayed its significance, the conversation would end there.

Like most of my attempts to distract my father, it didn’t work.

“That’s a big step. Shows a bit of commitment and a lot of trust on her part.”

“You think?” I was somewhat surprised that he would see it that way.

“Well, yes.”

“I want to think that, but at the same time, it seems more about convenience. She hasn’t given me any indication that she’s as serious about me as I am her.”

“What makes you say that?”

“I don’t know. She’s been sending a lot of mixed signals lately. Take the key, for instance. The key is great. It grants me access to her house and her life. That would imply trust and thinking toward the future. Meanwhile, she won’t even hold my hand in public.”

“I can’t say I blame her.”

Huh?

“Wait, whose side are you on?”

“Yours. Typically, I would say that was a red flag, but this situation is different. Teachers’ contracts have morality clauses,” he explained.

I snorted. If Bella’s sexual history was any indication, her school district clearly did not have a problem with immorality.

“So?”

“They exist, and they are ambiguous. A sexual relationship with a student is illegal in the state of New Jersey. That has to be grounds for dismissal.”

“Ah, yes, but I’m no longer a high-school student,” I reminded him.

“Four weeks ago, you were. Don’t be naïve, Edward. You were the golden boy at school, and now you’re shagging a teacher. No one will believe that it started after you graduated, and people love to make examples. Even if the relationship began after you graduated, it places some question on her ability to make good judgments. She’d lose her job and probably her teaching license.”

“You know it wasn’t like that. I’m hardly a child, and I pursued her.”

“I know it hasn’t been like that, yes. You have to admit to outsiders she would appear to be a predator. Look, your mother and I haven’t treated you like a child for years now. Though we don’t doubt it was the right way to raise you, we fully appreciate and understand both laws and societal perceptions exist for a reason.”

“I felt like she was using her job as justification for her own discomfort with our age difference.”

“She should be uncomfortable with your age difference. Under most circumstances, she would be very wrong to have a pursued a relationship with a seventeen-year-old. Bella recognizes you’re different but she’s not unaware that most people would not. I wouldn’t push her on the PDAs. If it’s still an issue after enough time passes that her job no longer feels at stake, then you should bring it up again.”

I could see his point, but I hated the idea of hiding. I loved her, and she claimed to love me.

“How much time do you think that will take? You know, for it not to matter.”

“As long as it takes for her to be comfortable taking that sort of risk. Trust me, Edward. It will happen before you know it.”

I knew what he was getting at. My father always claimed that time moved faster for adults, and the speed with which July passed seemed to indicate he was correct. My internal metronome continued to mark each second as it had, but at the end of every day, I found myself wondering if I’d somehow lost a few hours. I felt like my world was being governed by a new time signature, one in which I couldn’t play competently. For the first time ever, I felt out of control. The idea that time could sneak up on me, even with my careful attention to it, made me uneasy, and the realization that this was more due to my fear of losing Bella than the nerves of starting college scared the shit out of me. I wanted to stop the clock, but I couldn’t, and the next thing I knew it was August.

I was sitting at Bella’s piano pondering this very thought as my fingers moved over the keys.

Her voice brought me back to the present.

“Nightswimming?”

I nodded.

“I didn’t realize you were an REM fan.”

“I’m not. I mean, I like some of their stuff, and my mother loves them. This song just came out.” I swung my legs over the piano bench and faced her. “‘September’s coming soon,'” I quoted.

She rolled her eyes. “Please don’t remind me.”

“Not wanting to return to work, huh?” I teased.

“This has far more to do with school than work.”

Her statement seemed contradictory given that she worked in a school, but I didn’t ask her to elaborate. I patted the bench next to me, and she sat down.

“So where’ve you been all afternoon?” I put my arm around her waist. “I missed you.”

“With Rose. She’s pregnant. She just found out.”

“I didn’t realize they were trying. That’s great news.”

“They weren’t. She’s happy, but scared about what this means for her career and how Emmett will react.”

“Why is she worried about Emmett? He’s going to be ecstatic.”

“You think?”

She sounded genuinely surprised, like the idea that a man could be happy about a baby was completely foreign to her.

“I know. He wants all that with her. He’s just doubted that she wanted it with him.”

“He’s a bit young to be a father,” she stated.

“According to whom?”

“Well, society I guess. People seem to start families later and later these days, to experience life a bit more first.”

I laughed.

“What?” she asked.

“It’s a baby, not a death sentence.”

“There are certain things that people need to experience,” she explained. “If you settle down too quickly it’s not something you get over. People don’t just decide that they are okay with the things they might have missed. At best, they have miserable mid-life crises. At worst they–”

“At worst what, Bella? Are we talking about the proverbial wild oats here? Because not everyone needs to sow them. Personally, I’d rather skip the meaningless experiences and get right to the significant ones.”

She continued speaking as if she hadn’t heard me. “At worst you flip out and abandon your infant daughter.”

I pushed myself off the bench and knelt on the floor in front of her.

“I’m not your mother,” I said quietly. “And I’m not your ex-boyfriend. I don’t need to go out and fuck fifty girls to be sure you’re the right one. I know you’re the right one. I believe in us. My only reservation is that you don’t.”

“How does my concern over Emmett’s readiness for parenthood make you question how I feel about our relationship?”

“Because Emmett loves Rose the same way I love you. You know this; you’ve seen it. And yet you sit here doubting Emmett, not realizing that by extension, you are doubting me.”

She averted her gaze, and I touched her face.

“Hey. Look at me.”

Her eyes timidly met mine.

“I love you. I don’t know what it will take to get you to believe that.”

“Come upstairs with me,” she said.

“No. It’s not going to work. You are constantly letting your words and actions convey the true extent to which you doubt my love for you, and then you try to use sex to convince me I’m wrong. Sex is just a hormonally-governed biological function designed to ensure the propagation of the species. It proves nothing.”

Shit.

I was turning into my father.

“Fine. I come home and you’re playing a song about the end of summer, which is inevitable. Time passes. It only brought the nagging fear I’ve been doing my best to suppress back to the surface.”

“You think physical intimacy will allay this aforementioned but as yet undefined fear?”

“No, but it would help distract me,” she explained.

“From what?” I moaned in frustration.

“I’m afraid we won’t survive your first month at college, and that you only think you love me because you haven’t really seen what else is out there.”

“I don’t give a fuck what else is out there, Bella. This..” I wagged my index finger between us. “…is all I’ve ever wanted. Look at my family. My parents are every bit as in love with each other as they were the day they got married nearly twenty years ago. You know, my father and I discussed this in depth when I realized I was in love with you. I asked him if he thought I was crazy for being so sure I’d found the person with whom I wanted to spend the rest of my life. He told me that although he enjoyed being single at the time, there wasn’t a thing he experienced as a bachelor that wouldn’t have been a thousand times better with my mother at his side. If he had found her when he was seventeen, he would have set out to make her his and never looked back. I love you the same way. Why do you have such a hard time believing that?”

“I just…” she began.

We were far too uncomfortable to have a serious discussion, and this was something we needed to work through until was resolved. Silently cursing her lack of furniture, I scooped her into my arms and carried her upstairs. We settled into her bed fully clothed, and she lay silently in my arms for four minutes before I finally spoke.

“If our roles were reversed, if you found me when you were seventeen and I wound up being the only lover you ever knew, would you feel as though you missed out?”

“No,” she whispered.

I rolled on top of her, and stared into her eyes.

“Exactly.”

Satisfied that we’d confronted the issue, I pressed my mouth against hers as I quickly removed her clothing. She undid my pants, pushed them off me with her feet, and then parted her thighs in a non-verbal request for me to enter her. The ensuing physical pleasure from doing so was accompanied by an overwhelming sense that this was where I belonged – holding her, loving her, surrounded by her. Even while ejaculating, I realized the release that came with coming was secondary by far to the intensity of knowing I was doing so inside the woman I loved.

“Edward?”

Bella’s voiced startled me.

“Yes?”

“You’re truly not at all curious?” she asked.

“About what?”

“About sex with other women. You know, seeing what else is out there.”

“No.” I didn’t even have to think about my answer. “I’ll never understand why that is so hard for you to believe. Now, may I ask you something?”

“Of course.”

“Why won’t you tell me your number?” I asked.

“What number?”

“The number of partners you’ve had. I don’t care what it is, you know. It just bothers me you don’t trust me with it. Please, Bella?”

“No.” Her tone didn’t seem to invite any further discussion, but I didn’t let that deter me.

“But I told you mine.”

“Don’t be silly. We both know you had nothing to tell.” She got out of bed and stared out the window, seemingly lost in her memories of a painful past which I was powerless to change.

I settled for what I could do—love her completely and hope that eventually she’d forget everything else.

“I do, now.”

“Oh, really?” she asked, getting back into bed with me.

I nodded.

“Perhaps we should start over then.” She climbed on top of me, her thighs straddling my hips. “So, Edward. How many sexual partners have you had?”

“One,” I whispered.

“One?” She pushed her hips against mine.

“Yes. Exactly one. I’d watched her for months.”

“Hmm…you don’t say.”

“Yes. She was forbidden.”

“My, my.” Her hand slowly brushed along my body, stopping to play with the hair above my cock. “What made you decide to pursue her?”

“She did. I ran into her at the Art Museum on a Friday night. There was a jazz quartet playing and she was stunning. I watched as she stood there alone and swayed to the music. When I noticed her glass of wine was empty, I brought her another one. She thanked me and I struck up a conversation with her. She didn’t talk down to me like teachers usually do, and she did not treat me as if I were a freak like I was used to from my so-called peers. She was human, and treated me as if I were the same. Only my family had ever done that, had ever treated me as an equal.”

“I was never your teacher.”

Her clarification was part chastisement for suggesting that she was.

“No, you weren’t.” My eyes focused on her bare breasts before meeting her eyes again. “Well, not in the classroom anyway, but as far as this is concerned…” I pinched her nipple before dragging my hand down the front of her body. My thumb found her clitoris and began to stroke. “…and this. Consider me your dedicated pupil.”

I thrust into her and stroked her as she rode me. The amazement of being able to touch her body that way was a novelty that had yet to wear off. She collapsed on my chest, and I held her until our breathing returned to normal.

“Edward?”

Her voice was somehow weighted, and it cut right through my post-orgasmic haze.

“Yes?”

“About my number. You know, how many sexual partners I’ve had. It’s not that I don’t trust you. That’s not why I haven’t told you what it is.”

“Well, why is it then?”

I asked even though I wasn’t all that sure I wanted to know.

“It’s because I don’t know the answer.”

Shit.

Fuck hundreds. She had to be in the thousands.

“If I had to guess,” she continued tentatively, “I’d say somewhere around forty.”

Did she mean forty thousand? That would mean she averaged one hundred fifty-two sexual partners each week and twenty-two each day. Nothing was impossible, but that wouldn’t leave her much time to teach.

She must mean forty, as in only forty. Four zero.

Forty didn’t seem so terrible. It was an average of eight new partners per year. It was a lot, no doubt, but it was nowhere near what I thought it would be.

I was actually relieved.

“Was that so hard?” I asked.

She propped herself up on her elbow and peered down at me. “It doesn’t bother you?”

I shook my head. “You won’t be upset with me if I’m honest with you?”

“Of course not.”

“I actually thought the number was much higher.”

She laughed in earnest, and somehow seemed more comfortable with the idea that I could know her secrets and love her anyway than she had even a minute before.

Overcome with a renewed sense of optimism, I couldn’t help but kiss her.

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