Letting myself into Bella’s house when I knew she wasn’t there felt a bit wrong to me, despite the fact she’d given me her key. In her absence, the bare plaster walls reminded me of how my dorm looked when I’d first moved in, before Mike and Tyler covered them with various mafia movie posters and stoner art that glowed under a black light. Even though her house revealed almost nothing about her, I still felt like an intruder.
I wasn’t there to spy on her; I had a job to do. My parents decided to a get hotel room for themselves after Alice’s wedding, which seemed a bit strange to me because:
Since I moved on campus, they had the house to themselves every night anyway.
Even if I hadn’t, it didn’t matter. My presence never stopped them. To my knowledge, nothing ever stopped them. The auditory evidence of this was impossible to ignore, even with the considerable distance between my bedroom and theirs.
My mother wasn’t one to drink at large social gatherings, preferring to stay sober so she could better mock my father, who almost always put his foot in his mouth after he’d had one too many.
Ultimately, it worked out well for me that they did, because they were able to add a room for me to their reservation, making it possible for me to surprise Bella with a night in the city.
I went straight to Bella’s bedroom to pack an overnight bag for her, knowing she’d been planning on coming straight home after the wedding. I got what I knew she’d need as quickly as possible and left for the city. After my parents checked us into the hotel, we changed and rode together to the church. My mother and I took our seats behind the piano, and though her fingers were trembling from nerves, her performance was flawless. I took my eyes off the music when Bella appeared at the back of the church.
Her hair was up, and her dress hugged her body. It was as if sex itself was walking down the aisle. That was, of course, until sex itself made eye contact with me, tripped and fell on its ass. If Bella was sex personified, at the moment, she was the drunken kind you didn’t remember in the morning. I rose from the bench in a hurry, looking to make sure she was all right. She sat on the floor giggling until Rose stood her up and handed her bouquet to her.
Through the rest of the mass, Bella managed to remain standing, even if she did sway a bit. As soon as the ceremony was over, I bolted out of the church. If Bella was half as shitfaced as she appeared, Emmett would need all the help he could getting her to the reception. I found her outside, hugging Alice and Jasper.
“Thank you,” she said to Jasper. “I’m so grateful you invited Edward.”
I snuck up behind Bella and wrapped my arms around her.
“Actually, Alice invited me.”
Which she had; she just didn’t know who I was at the time.
Alice grasped Bella’s hand. “We’ll talk on the way to the Art Museum. Edward, would you like to join us? There’s plenty of room, and it would mean a lot to me.”
“I’d love to,” I replied. “Thank you, Alice.”
After the rest of the wedding party began to make its way to the limo, Bella turned to face me, slipping her hand underneath my jacket and cupping my ass. It would have been welcome were we not about to be interrupted by a mob of roughly three hundred people that happened to include my mother.
“Bella, how much have you had to drink?”
“A little.” She started giggling. “Okay, maybe a lot. I’m just buzzed. Really.”
“Right. You can’t even walk straight.”
“That’s your fault.”
“Uh huh. I can’t walk and look at you at the same time. You’re too distracting.”
“That’s exactly my point.”
“Usually, you have no problem walking while looking at me.”
“Usually,” she copied my intonation mockingly, “you’re not wearing a tuxedo.”
“We should get in the car and find you some water.”
“I don’t need water, Edward. I’m plenty wet already.”
There goes my cock.
“Please fuck me,” she whispered, trailing her hands around to the front of my pants.
I removed her hands from my crotch. “Later.”
“Why not now?” she whined.
“We’re in broad daylight, outside a church, with roughly three hundred people about to burst through those doors and surround us. Have you lost your mind?”
“It’s you in that tux. I need to see what’s underneath it.”
“That makes no sense, Bella. Besides, you’ve already seen it.”
“Exactly.” She licked her lips. “You’re divine. We may be outside the church, but I bet I know where we could find god.”
“No, just horny. So what do you say?” She winked and went for my crotch again.
I caught her wrists in my hands. “No, Bella.”
“Come on, Edward. Give us this day our daily head.”
I’d often wondered what kind of drunk Bella was—if she’d be more open, if her carefully maintained emotional distance would fall away and I’d get a glimpse of what was really going on with her. I never imagined alcohol would make her more horny; in all honesty, I wouldn’t have thought that was possible.
“I’ll make a deal with you. After the reception, you can spend all night on your knees. But right now, we need to get in the car.”
I put my arm around her waist to steady her, and she grudgingly walked with me to the waiting limousine. We’d been settled in our seats for all of six seconds when Bella addressed Alice.
“I know the Water Works is beautiful and all, but why the fuck couldn’t you get married in a hotel like a normal person? I mean, do I have to wait until everything is done before I can get any?”
This was just great. With my cheeks aflame, I didn’t have a prayer of convincing Alice my relationship with Bella was one of equals. Thankfully, Alice ignored her. She held her hand out to me, and I shook it tentatively.
“It’s nice to finally meet you officially. I’ve been hearing about you for years. Even if you hadn’t come to find Bella just now, I still would have known who you were immediately. You have your mother’s eyes.”
“I’m so confused,” Bella wailed. “When did you invite Edward?”
“Esme and her plus two were always on my guest list, Bella. Though I didn’t realize that Esme’s Edward and your Edward were one and the same until after we had our falling out.” Alice looked at me. “The different last names threw me. Anyway, after you left Neiman’s that night, Esme came to see me at work and told me that her son was the seventeen-year-old you were dating. She then spent the next hour explaining to me exactly why she supports your relationship. She loves you as if you were her own daughter.”
“So the next day at my house…” Bella started.
“I was there to apologize. I said some awful things, Bella. It was just hard for me to grasp…” Alice looked back at me. “I didn’t know it was you. I like to think that if I had known, I wouldn’t have reacted that way. Anyway, Bella, I drove to your house to let you know that I trusted your judgment and supported you completely, in this and in everything. When you wouldn’t listen to me, I wrote it in a letter. I didn’t know until this afternoon you never read it. I was under the impression that you knew how sorry I was, how much I regretted everything I said and that it didn’t make a difference. I would have stalked you until you listened to me had I known you still thought I was disgusted with you.
“Edward, I wish I could make you understand. Bella and I have been through a lot together. She wasn’t always…”
Alice looked over at Bella, who nodded permission for her to continue.
“She didn’t always think through these things. My fear was that she was acting entirely on impulse.”
“In all fairness, that would have been valid,” Bella admitted.
“I know I went about voicing it entirely the wrong way. I could make excuses for myself, but there are none.” Alice looked up at me. “I have a brother around your age, maybe a year older. He’s also in his first year of college. And he’s…well, he’s not like you.”
“I’m sorry I refused to play for you, Alice. I’m extremely protective of Bella, and the past few weeks have been rough for her. If we’d had this conversation before you lost your organist, I would have said yes.”
“She asked you to play today and you declined?” Bella asked, turning to me.
“Not exactly,” Alice qualified. “Yesterday was a complete nightmare. I couldn’t handle a confrontation with Edward on top of everything else. So I asked Esme if she would call him on my behalf.”
I shook my head, laughing. “My poor mother. She really likes you, Alice. When you asked if I would play, she was more than a little pissed off at me for saying no. She said I was being a stubborn prick and she raised me better than to hold grudges. She insisted you were contrite, and said that if I was going to be an uncooperative asshole, she’d play the music herself.”
Jasper looked at me like I was on crack. “In a single phone conversation, your mom called you both a prick and an asshole?”
I shrugged. “She calls it like she sees it. You should have heard what she said after she found out how I treated you Sunday. Yesterday was nothing in comparison. Anyway, even though she claimed she wasn’t nervous, I was on her behalf. She hadn’t played for an audience in over a decade. I insisted on sitting next to her to turn pages for her, even though she is competent enough that it wasn’t necessary.”
“Why didn’t you tell me you were coming?” Bella asked.
“I wanted to surprise you. Though honestly, Bella, had I known you would have fallen down the aisle when you saw me, I would have given you some advance warning. I have to admit, though, it was hilarious.”
Emmett opened a bottle of champagne and started pouring, stopping after he’d filled five glasses. Of course, he’d skip me. My age was forever an issue.
“I think you’ve had enough, Bella.” Emmett warned, placing the glass that I’d thought was meant for Bella into my hands.
“I’m actually starting to sober up a bit. Yes, I drank a bottle and a half of Veuve, but over a seven hour time frame. Another glass would just be buzz maintenance. I would have tripped even if I had been sober. I mean, do you not see this man?” She squeezed my knee. “Nothing could have prepared me for how he looks.”
Alice perked right up. “You like the tux? I picked it out. It was kind of hard to do without having met him, but Esme brought me pictures.”
Bella gestured to Emmett to pour her a glass.
Jasper stopped him. “Seriously, Bella. If I weren’t elated that you’re speaking to Alice again, I’d be more than a little pissed off you were shit-faced before we even got to the church.”
“That’s partially my fault,” Rose said, passing her champagne flute over to Bella.
Great. She was going to spend all night on her knees, all right. Except instead of her taking it from behind like I’d originally envisioned, I’d be holding her hair back as she puked.
“This afternoon at the hotel,” Rose continued, “drinks were poured for all of us, and I asked Bella to drink mine as well. I didn’t want you to know that I’m ten weeks pregnant…”
Alice bolted out from her seat and hugged Emmett and Rose.
“You’ll ruin your dress,” Rose warned.
“I’m so happy for you. Why didn’t you tell me?”
“We’re waiting until the end of the first trimester before we go public with it,” Emmett explained. “We want this so much and are afraid to jinx it.”
Alice put her hand on Rose’s abdomen.
“You’re not going to be able to feel anything yet,” Rose said, laughing.
“It doesn’t matter, I know he’s in there,” Alice cooed.
“A toast,” Emmett said, raising his champagne flute and looking at me. “To turning the page.”
Seven minutes and forty-eight seconds later, the car pulled up in front of the main entrance of the Art Museum. As we began to climb the steps, I kept my arm tightly around Bella’s waist. She swayed a bit, but seemed steadier on her feet already.
“Does the Art Museum have any significance for you two?” I asked Alice.
“No, I just thought it would be fun to pose for pictures here. Lots of couples do it. It just seems so Philadelphia, at least to an outsider. Why do you ask?”
“This is where I met Bella.” I was amazed she didn’t already know this.
“That settles it. You just became an honorary groomsman. Have you ever been in a wedding party?”
I shook my head.
“Welcome to ours,” Jazz said before pointing to Emmett. “Just remember, no matter what that assclown over there says, you are under no obligation to meet him shot for shot.”
I looked down at Bella. “Should I be scared?”
“I had two intense fears when we started dating. One was that my friends would never accept you.”
“What was the other one?” I asked.
She smiled. “That they would.”
I would have thought them liking me was in her best interest, until I remembered the extent to which mutual friends can complicate break-ups. If this was drunken honesty, it was nothing like I’d hoped it would be.
When we arrived at the Water Works, we were ushered into a private wedding party cocktail hour. Bella started off drinking club soda, but switched to whiskey soon after. I’d been living in the dorms less than a month and even I knew what a bad idea that was. Of course, she refused to listen to me, a fact which if she hadn’t been more trashed than Mike and Tyler at the Street on a Thursday night would really have hurt. I tried to focus on the positive—specifically, that she chose me.
My doubts left me when the bandleader announced the wedding party, and I walked into the ballroom with her on my arm. Hearing my name spoken in the same sentence as hers in front of so many people renewed my optimism almost as much as the smile Bella gave me when he did so.
“Can you believe it?” she whispered as we stood on the perimeter of the dance floor.
“What? Nothing has happened.” I put my arm around her and supported her weight. With Bella in such an inebriated state, I didn’t want to take anything for granted.
“Exactly. We were publicly announced as a couple and so far, Chris Hansen is nowhere to be seen.”
“Who is Chris Hansen?”
She rolled her eyes. “Never mind.”
We watched the rest of Alice and Jasper’s first dance in silence. When it was time for the wedding party dance, I led Bella in a fox trot. She followed me without second-guessing herself, and when the song ended, she actually pouted.
At Alice’s insistence, I sat at the table with the rest of the wedding party. For the first part of dinner, I just watched them interact with each other. They had an ease to their interactions, not all that unlike how I felt when I was with my parents. It occurred to me that this was Bella’s family, and suddenly I was nervous again. I probably would have ended dinner as drunk as Bella if not for Emmett going out of his way to make me feel welcome and included.
After the main course was served, the orchestra opened up the dance floor. Still not trusting Bella’s own feet to carry her, I kept my arm around her waist when she demanded we go say hello to my parents, who were standing in front of one of the many open bars. My father’s eyes went right to my hold on Bella, and he raised an eyebrow as Bella stumbled out of my arms into those of my mother.
“She’s drunk, Dad.”
He laughed. “I kind of got that vibe at the ceremony.”
“I love you,” Bella said to my mother.
My mom laughed. “I love you, too, Bella. So is there an actual reason for your declaration, or do you love everyone right now?”
“No, just you.” Bella pointed to me. “And him. And I guess you, too, Carlisle. And my friends…”
The orchestra began to play a waltz, and I turned to my dad.
“Would you keep an eye on Bella for me?”
He nodded, and I held out my arm to my mom.
“May I?” I asked. She placed her arm in mine, and I led her to the dance floor.
“You seem stressed. Are classes going okay?”
“They’re fine,” I assured her.
“And things with Bella?”
“The distance is a challenge. We’re adapting.”
“I adore Bella. You know that.” My mother’s tone was one I knew well. There was a “but” coming. “But chronological age has very little bearing on one’s ability to have a functional adult relationship.”
“I’m functioning in an adult relationship just fine.”
“It’s not your readiness I’m questioning. Sweetheart, I think you have some expectations of her that may be a bit unrealistic given the circumstances.”
I was beginning to think we’d never get beyond how we met.
“I’m no longer a high-school student.”
“That isn’t what I mean. Loving unselfishly is something we learn from example. Bella hasn’t exactly had anyone to teach her…”
“Until now,” I interrupted.
“She isn’t an equation you can balance, or a science problem you can resolve with an algorithm. She isn’t going to miraculously forget twenty-five years of learned behavior. These things can happen, yes, but only with conscious choice and a whole lot of work. It’s something she needs to do for herself. You can’t fix her.”
“I’m not trying to fix her, Mom. I just want to love her.”
“Throwing yourself into a relationship completely is admirable, but it won’t work if it’s one-sided.” Her tone was one of warning. “Just…” She paused. “Be careful, Edward.”
“Caution isn’t necessary. Bella would never hurt me intentionally.”
“Her intentions are not what concern me.”
Thankfully, the song came to a close, and we wound our way back to Bella and my dad. From the looks of it, our arrival didn’t come a moment too soon.
“I think you should get her back to the hotel, Edward. She’s pretty far gone. Make sure she drinks lots of water. Bella, it’s always a pleasure.”
Bella shot him a look that implied the pleasure had been all his. I put my arm around Bella’s waist and led her outside, at which point I picked her up and carried her.
“I can walk,” she whined, smacking me on the shoulder.
I made my way to the taxi stand and carefully placed Bella inside.
“To the Four Seasons,” I directed the driver.
“My stuff!” Bella sat straight up in a panic.
“We’ll get it.”
Once at the hotel, we rode the elevator to the appropriate floor and made our way down the hallway to my room. Bella stopped at a room a few doors down from mine, so I led her the rest of the way.
“This isn’t going to work,” she insisted. “I won’t be able to open the door to get my things. We should just go back to my house and figure it out tomorrow.”
I pulled my keycard from my pocket and kicked open the door before picking Bella up and carrying her inside, setting her back on her feet in the middle of the hotel room.
“Whose room is this?” she asked.
“Why do you have a hotel room?”
I laughed. “Let’s just say you aren’t the only person in this room who’d fail a field sobriety test.”
She giggled. “Have you even been drinking?”
“Uh, yes. I just haven’t lost control of my gross motor skills, unlike some people in this room.”
“I can walk, Edward. I can also fuck.”
Good to know.
I threw the keycard onto the desk before taking off my jacket and bowtie. Bella just stood there and stared at me, making no motion to prove to her statement.
“Oh, I see how it is.” I said as I removed the studs and cufflinks from my shirt. “You are many things, Bella. But I never would have thought you were a tease.”
I pulled her into my arms and unzipped the back of her dress, which fell to the floor. “I’ve never seen you look more beautiful.”
I unhooked her bra and cupped her breasts in my hands, grazing her nipples with my thumbs. I didn’t believe in reincarnation, but if I did, I’d want to be her bra in my next life. In this moment, however, I just wanted to fuck her. Hard.
“You have no idea what you do to me,” I whispered against her skin. “Earlier, when we were outside the church, I wanted to toss you into the back of the nearest limo and…”
“And what, Edward?” She pulled my shirt off me. “Tell me.”
“I wanted to have you, and I didn’t want to be gentle about it. I feel somewhat guilty about what went through my head.”
“Bella, there was nothing loving about what I wanted to do to you. I wanted to throw you down and plow into you.”
“Yes, please.” She hopped forward and wrapped her legs around my waist. “I know you love me. Now please just fuck me.”
As quickly as my legs would carry me, I moved to the other side of the room and deposited her onto the bed. I took off the rest of my tuxedo as quickly as possible, as Bella removed her underwear and began to touch herself between her legs.
It was the hottest thing I’d ever seen.
“I’m waiting,” she said, pushing two of her fingers inside her. “If you don’t hurry up, I’ll get myself off before you even get into bed.”
I lay down next to her and whispered in her ear. “I like that you touch yourself. I’ve wanted to watch ever since that night on the phone.” I grazed her earlobe with my teeth. “Make yourself come, Bella. I need to see it.”
Still pumping her fingers in and out of herself, she began rubbing her clit with her other hand.
“What are you thinking of?” I asked.
“You,” she moaned. “Always you. Your hair, your hands, your cock.”
Her moans became louder, and she sucked the corner of her lower lip into her mouth. Knowing she had come, I flipped her over onto all fours and entered her from behind. I held her hips in my hands and controlled the movements. I wasn’t at all gentle, but she didn’t seem to mind.
After we were finished, she rested with her head on my chest.
“I didn’t know nice boys could be so…carnal.”
“I didn’t hurt you, did I?”
“No. So, Mr. Closet Voyeur, it’s your turn.”
“I’m not sure I follow you.”
She placed my hand on my cock. “Don’t even pretend you don’t do this three times a day. Show me.”
I squeezed and pumped until she straddled me and sat on my erection. I slipped my fingers into her mouth to moisten them before reaching behind her and pressing one of them into her asshole.
History told the tales of many great men who claimed uncharted territory: Ferdinand Magellan. Hernando de Soto. Me.
I, Edward Cullen, was where no man had gone before. Well, my finger was, anyway. There should be a Wikipedia article devoted to my awesomeness. I was a legend in the making.
Her eyes widened and her moans intensified, but she didn’t tell me to stop. I rubbed her clitoris with my other hand, and seconds later, she came.
That’s right. Give me a scepter and call me a sex god.
As fun much fun as I was having, I knew she would be a wreck in the morning. I reached over to the nightstand and grabbed a bottle of water, which I opened and handed to her.
“I hope you don’t regret this in the morning,” I teased.
“I was talking about your alcohol consumption.”
It wasn’t good that her first thought linked to regret was about our relationship. Maybe it was related to Alice’s wedding.
“Your two best friends are married and the other two will be by the end of the month. Does it bother you at all?”
“I’m happy that they’re happy.”
“No, I mean that it can’t be us. At least, not for a very long time.”
“I’ve never thought of myself as the kind of person who gets married. So no, it doesn’t bother me.”
“Exactly what do you mean by that?”
“It’s just not something I thought I would ever do. And you being the age that you are, it’s sort of a non-issue.”
I suspected she meant to reassure me, but her words had the opposite effect. I was feeling less secure by the second, but I was not going to let that ruin our night.
“You’ve had a lot to drink tonight, Bella, so I’m choosing to ignore the fact that you are still so dismissive of me. Now finish the rest of your water like a good girl.”
She sat up to take a drink, and I drank in the vision before me. Her hair was crazy, and her make-up was all smudged. I couldn’t help but laugh. She looked, well, fucked.
And I did that to her.
“What?” she asked.
“As sexy as I think you look right now, we should probably fix you up a bit before you fall asleep. Turn around.”
She did as I asked, and I started removing the pins from her hair.
“I don’t even have a brush with me. Shit. I don’t have anything with me. I haven’t done the walk of shame in formalwear since college. Tomorrow morning will be fun. Bet they don’t see much of that here at the Four Seasons.”
“In anticipation of that, I stopped by your house and picked up a few necessities. You have all the basics, including a change of clothes.”
I got her hairbrush and began to work the tangles out of her hair.
“Thank you,” she said.
“I’ve always wanted to do this. You know how much I love your hair.” I put the brush down and kissed her neck. “How are you feeling?”
“I’m starting to sober up a bit.”
“As much fun as I’ve had with you in this altered state, I think that’s probably for the best. I hope you don’t suffer too much when you wake up.”
“Who said anything about sleeping?” She lay back on the bed and pulled me on top of her.
Twelve minutes of missionary position sex later, she passed out.
When she woke the following morning, she was in obvious pain. I was ready with a bottle of water and some Excedrin.
“These should help.” I handed them to her and propped her up, supporting her as she swallowed the pills.
“I think I’m going to die,” she whined.
I got into bed with her and pulled her against my chest.
“As awful as you feel, Bella, you’re still much better off than I thought you would be.”
“What do you know about hangovers?”
Had she not met my roommates?
“Ha. More than you think.”
“Edward, last night I had a talk with your father…”
That was random.
“Yes?” I said.
“I wish the two of you weren’t so…close.”
I pushed my mother’s words from last night out of my head.
“I can’t think of a single context where having a good relationship with one’s father is a bad thing.”
“So does anyone else know how many people I’ve been intimate with, or is this something we’re keeping in the family?”
“I’m not following you.”
“Your father said something last night that implied he thought I’d slept around. Other statements he made suggested that he knows about our sex life in explicit detail.”
I laughed. “He doesn’t.”
“Well, he says you tell him everything.”
“I told you the same thing the night we met. You’re overreacting.”
“No, I don’t think I am.”
“Bella,” I tried to reassure her. “He knows almost nothing. I needed to discuss my intense performance anxiety with someone, and the fact that you were experienced was relevant to that conversation. He doesn’t know how many partners you’ve had or that you dabbled with bisexuality. None of that is mine to share. He does know that you were more experienced than I, but this is hardly a revelation. You’re in your mid-twenties and you’re beautiful. No one expected you to be a virgin.”
“He said that I ‘of all people’ should know that sex just happens. How was I supposed to interpret that?”
“Try face value. I’m finding your cross-examination of me somewhat offensive. Do you actually believe I have so little class that I would fuck and tell?”
“You said you told him everything and he confirmed it.”
“Bella, no one tells anyone everything.” I kissed the top of her head. “I don’t want to argue with you, but you should be grateful my father and I are so close. If not for him, we would never have met.”
“Huh. Your wingman.”
The morning was starting to suck. Thinking it couldn’t get any worse, I decided to ask for clarification of the statement she made last night.
“You know, Bella, I was going to let this go, but since we’re airing our grievances I may as well address it. Last night you said that you couldn’t see yourself ever getting married.”
“I actually admitted that? Wow, that’s surprising. I must have been very drunk at that point.”
“Is it true?” I asked.
“What?” she asked, sounding somewhat exasperated.
“You do realize this is a potential dealbreaker for me.”
“You’re kidding, right?”
“You’re too young to open a checking account, and yet you’re telling me our differing views regarding the institution of marriage could potentially cause you to end our relationship? Getting a little ahead of ourselves, aren’t we?”
I nudged her off me and sat up so I could see her face.
“What am I to you?”
She traced the perimeter of my nipple with her index finger.
Disgusted, I pushed her hand away. “That’s what I was afraid you’d say.” I got out of bed, needing to get away from her before I lost it. “I’m going to get in the shower. If you decide your stomach is settled enough to eat, call room service and have them bill it to me.”
I went into the bathroom and locked the door behind me.
It was such an innocuous word—lover. Yet it crushed me. The presence of the letter “R” was the final straw. A single letter changed everything.
If she’d said I was her love, I’d be elated. Boyfriend would also have worked. Hell, I could even content myself with being her friend. The tears came hard and fast, and I felt like I was drowning.
Her lover. I mentally repeated the two words, hoping they would sting less more I tossed them around my head.
I gave her my entire being, but she only wanted one part of me. Was Alice right all along? Was I only her toy? I couldn’t think about it now; first I needed to regain composure so I could face it. I’d figure the rest out when I got back to school. I got in the shower and started the water, hoping to gain clarity through cleanliness.
I didn’t, but I knew I couldn’t hide in the bathroom forever. I wrapped a towel around my waist, and opened the bathroom door. Bella was sitting on the edge of the bed, staring at the floor. She avoided making eye contact with me, and wrung her hands together as she spoke.
“When I was a little girl, I never asked for what I wanted. Somewhere in my own twisted logic, I became convinced that if I articulated my desires I was giving up control, and that if a person knew what I needed they then had the power to intentionally withhold it as a means of manipulating me. Before I learned to read, I learned to keep my emotions to myself.
“I know that’s not how you operate. You grew up with loving parents in a stable environment, whereas I was collateral damage. I don’t mean to patronize you when I say I have so many fears that you cannot possibly comprehend. This is not because of your chronological age or emotional maturity. You just haven’t experienced…”
I sat down beside her, and she still wouldn’t look at me.
“You just haven’t experienced enough to truly understand, and I wish you never do. I hope you never know abandonment, or how it feels to be completely alone. More than anything else, I hope you never become like me. I wish you could stay your version of seventeen forever, that you never lose your idealism or question yourself, though I know it’s inevitable that you eventually will. I can’t protect you from the disillusionment of young adulthood any more than you can erase the ways in which the past twenty-five years have shaped me.
“Regardless of your heightened level of self-awareness, you can’t know if you will still feel the same way you do today several years from now. Your career aspirations, your passions, your expectations of life could all change.”
My mother was right.
Bella wasn’t ever going to love me the way I loved her. She wasn’t capable of it, and she had just admitted as much. I knew what I should say, what anyone with a modicum of self-preservation would do. I couldn’t do it; I loved her too much.
It seemed like I had no other choice but to content myself with whatever she was willing to offer, unless I wanted to walk away. Maybe a clarification would help me to convince myself it was worth it, that we were worth it.
“I have no immediate plans to propose to you, Bella. I do have some grasp of reality. Do you remember what I actually said to you last night?”
“No. I don’t remember much after the cab ride.”
“I asked if it bothered you that marriage was such a long way off for us.”
“Do you have a fear of commitment in general or a fear of committing to me? Or is this actually about fear of letting me know that you do want a commitment from me, because you think I will use this information to manipulate you?”
Remembering the text message she sent me the night before I moved on campus, I slid off the bed and knelt in front of her.
“Bella, look at me.”
She slowly raised her eyes to meet mine.
“I’m not asking you to marry me. I’m asking you to trust me.”
I picked my phone up off the nigh stand and pulled up her text message that said she wanted to spend the rest of her life with me.
“Did you mean this?”
“You can type it on a phone, but you can’t say it out loud?”
“I thought I just explained this to you…”
She still didn’t trust me.
“I heard you, Bella, but I also need you to hear me. I love you and I can’t envision my life without you in it. I know it’s going to take a long time for you feel the same way…”
“I feel that way now,” she insisted.
“Then I need to hear it. Please,” I implored, willing myself not to cry. “It’s not easy for me to be away from you.”
As much as I loved her, I couldn’t go on like this indefinitely.
When she spoke, her whisper was almost panicked. “I want to spend the rest of my life with you.”
It wasn’t a commitment, but it was enough. I rested my head on her lap and closed my eyes.