“April Fool’s Day was yesterday, you know.”
Kate narrowed her eyes at me. “Huh?”
“I can’t believe you’re wearing a skirt.”
She shook her head like I was on crack. “I wear skirts all the time.”
“Yeah, on the squash court, because you’re required to. And I’ve never seen you in make-up.”
I was sure I hadn’t. Dazed by depression or not, I would have remembered. All done up, she looked much more like a model than a math major.
“Just because I typically choose not to do the girly thing doesn’t mean I’m incapable of it.”
“What’s the occasion? Hot date?”
She snorted. “Not unless you think Jesus is hot. I’m actually going to Mass tonight.”
In the weeks I’d known her, I’d never seen Kate look like this—and for church?
“I didn’t realize you were Catholic.”
“Shocking, isn’t it? With a name like Catherine Kennedy Fleury, who’d have thought? Why? Do you have something against Catholicism? Read The DaVinci Code too many times and think all Catholics are crazy?”
“No, I’m actually Catholic, too. I used to go to Mass every Sunday with my mother, but stopped when I started seeing Bella. She wasn’t in to organized religion.”
Just spending prolonged periods of time on her knees, I added silently.
“Oh. Well, I don’t go every week anymore either, just on holidays.”
“Is today a holiday?”
“It’s Good Friday.”
How had I not realized this? I’d told my parents I’d visit them on Easter. As much as I wanted to see them, I hated the thought of going home. I’d been feeling so much better lately; being in a place so filled with memories of Bella would surely send me over the edge again.
“If you wait a few minutes, I’ll get changed and go with you.”
She smiled. “That would be nice. It doesn’t start for an hour, so you have plenty of time.”
“I’ll be right back.”
I ran upstairs to my room, threw on decent clothing and fired off a quick email to my dad.
From: Edward Cullen
Date: April 2, 2010 5:46 PM EST
To: J. Carlisle Cullen IV
I know I said I’d come home this weekend, but I don’t think I can do it. I’ve been feeling okay lately, and home is too close to Bella’s. I have this image of myself flipping out and spending the night in my car parked outside her house.
Okay, maybe that’s extreme. You know what I mean. I’d never stalk Bella intentionally. Anyway, if you get this in the next two hours, don’t call me. I’m going to Mass with Kate, so I won’t be able to answer the phone.
I love you, and I’m sorry for everything I’ve put you through lately.
From: J. Carlisle Cullen IV
Date: April 2, 2010 6:54 PM EST
To: Edward Cullen
I’m heading into surgery now and won’t be reachable by phone for the next few hours, but I wanted to get back to you right away. Would you rather your mother and I come visit you Sunday? We could go out to brunch. You could bring Kate if she’s free; you know we want to meet her.
By the way, a huge part of maturity is knowing what is too much for you. It wasn’t all that long ago you were so desperate to please that you would have done anything, even to your own detriment. Thank you for telling me this now, rather than going through with something you knew would hurt you.
I love you and I’m proud of you.
Kate excused herself immediately following Easter brunch, claiming she had a paper to write. I knew she was lying, that she just wanted to give me some time alone with my parents. Somehow, she always seemed to know what I needed.
My parents and I lingered at our table at Mezzaluna, but of course the topic of conversation changed the second Kate left.
“She seems lovely,” my mother said.
“She’s a great friend.” I pushed what was left of my tiramisu around my plate.
“Is that all she is?”
“Right now, that’s all I’m ready for. It’s a moot point anyway, because friendship is all she’s ready for. Her boyfriend died in June; she’s still working through it.”
My mom looked up from her plate. “How did he die?”
“A cocaine overdose. Apparently, he had a heart condition and didn’t know it. Kate claims he only used it that one time. I didn’t realize that was even possible.”
“Oh, it’s possible,” my father assured me. “That’s why I always discouraged you from trying it, and why your mother was so against you going away to prep school.”
“It wasn’t because I didn’t trust you,” she added. “It’s because you were so young and had so little social experience. What happened to Kate’s boyfriend doesn’t happen much, but it happens frequently enough that I wanted to keep you out of that scene. It’s not that I wanted to keep you sheltered from everything, but I thought exposure to hard drugs was one thing I could spare you until you were better equipped to deal with it.”
She paused and gave my father “the look.” I knew they were up to something.
“How would you feel about not coming home this summer?” my dad asked.
“Are you trying to get rid of me?”
“Not at all.” He laughed. “I’ve just been thinking about what you said in your email, and I know the shore house holds significance for you…”
Please don’t go there in front of Mom. Please don’t go there in front of Mom.
“…and I was thinking maybe we should go somewhere else this summer. You’re turning eighteen in June; that’s a milestone that deserves a special marker. I’ve taken the liberty of applying for a leave of absence from the hospital. If it’s approved, I thought it would be nice to go to Europe. It’s been a couple of years since you were overseas; you’re due. It would be mostly just us…”
“I’d join you for a week here and there as my schedule permitted,” my mom interjected.
“Where specifically did you have in mind?” I asked.
“Anywhere you’d like. My only requirement is that part of our solo itinerary includes London. I need some new suits, and you know I won’t bring your mother to Savile Row with me.”
My mother rolled her eyes. “Get over it, Carlisle. That little incident happened fifteen years ago.”
There was clearly a back story that I didn’t know.
“Never mind,” my mom said. “Anyway, does this sound at all appealing to you?”
“It sounds great. Thank you.”
As I walked back to campus, I felt like a weight had been lifted. For the first time in months, I had something to look forward to. When I got back to Blair, Kate was curled up on her loveseat with a book. She’d changed out of the skirt she’d worn to meet my parents and thrown her hair up in a clip. A few pieces of it had come loose, and when I sat down beside her, I tucked them behind her ear. Almost on its own, my hand lingered against her cheek. Her eyes were wide as she looked up from her book and met my glance. I found my face moving toward hers, and just when our lips were close enough to touch, I thought better of what I was about to do. I dropped my hand and leaned back into the couch, sighing.
She put down her book and turned to face me. “It’s okay, you know.”
I didn’t know if she meant it was okay for me to kiss her or that it was okay that I’d clearly wanted to kiss her but couldn’t find it within myself to follow through with doing so.
“For you to kiss me. That was what you were about to do, isn’t it? I mean, this isn’t the first time you came very close then changed your mind.”
“Are you saying I’m a tease?”
“In any other context you would be, but I think I know what’s going on here. I want to promise you something. I won’t ever leave you by choice.”
The last part of her words confused me, until I remembered Jason. Given her experience, she would think it was necessary to qualify a statement like that by acknowledging the remote but real possibility that one day, she could suddenly die.
“I’m not saying I expect this to last forever; I don’t have any expectations beyond each moment. I know very well I’m your rebound fling, and that’s okay. Emotionally, we’re in the same place even if we did get there somewhat differently. What I am saying is that if we try this—if you kiss me and it leads to other things and we realize that we are incompatible that way—I’m not going to disappear from your life. I could never do that to you, Edward. I care about you too much. You won’t lose me as a friend if we don’t work out as a couple.”
It was strange to hear her refer to us that way, but I wasn’t all that sure why. We spent every waking moment together, and for the past few nights, I’d even slept in her bed. Though we hadn’t labeled our relationship, we behaved like a couple. We did all the things lovers did with one very notable exception. We didn’t love each other—not in the emotional or the physical sense.
But could I love her? What I felt for her was nothing like what I felt for Bella. There were parts of it that were the same—my intense need to protect her, the extent to which I enjoyed her company, the fact that her laugh could turn my day around, that I’d rather hurt myself than see her suffer any more pain. What wasn’t there was the overwhelming feeling that she completed me, that I was meant to find her, that I wasn’t complete without her.
Though I wanted to kiss Kate and didn’t doubt that I would enjoy doing so, even that was different. With Bella, my lust was a legitimate hunger. My need to kiss her, to touch her, to be inside her was so intense there were times when I thought that it would kill me. I needed to claim her, for reasons I still didn’t entirely understand. If I starting seeing Kate and we never had sex, there was no doubt in my mind I’d survive. I’d just go upstairs to my room and beat off until my cock was sore, then head back to her room and cuddle.
Then again, my mother hated my father when they first met. She always said that love evolved. Maybe my feelings for Kate would, too. My friendship with Bella was just a way to bide my time until I could ask her out. Had we started out as friends, we surely would have needed a transition period, wouldn’t we?
“Do you want me to kiss you?” I asked.
“Even though I feel like I’m being unfaithful, I kind of do.”
I understood her feelings. Though Jason could never come back to her and Bella would never come back to me, I knew I was holding Kate only because I couldn’t hold Bella. I had no doubt Kate had the same feeling times a million.
“You’re thinking of someone else right now.” I stated the obvious.
She smirked. “Like you aren’t.”
“Does that bother you?”
“No, because I get it. Have you ever kissed anyone besides Bella?”
“No,” I admitted.
“I’ve never kissed anyone but Jason. It’s kind of impossible for me not to associate the act itself with him. If you don’t hold it against me, I won’t hold it against you.”
At the moment, the only thing I wanted to hold against her was me. I cupped her face in my hands and pressed my lips to hers.
Kate’s kiss was different from Bella’s. Where Bella was aggressive, Kate was almost timid.
Kate seemed more than happy for me to take the lead, so I did. My tongue didn’t linger in Kate’s mouth; I didn’t want to rush things. After I moved my face away from hers, I put my arm around her and she rested her head on my shoulder.
“Thank you,” she said.
It was the last thing I expected her to say and I wasn’t really sure if she was thanking me for kissing her or for stopping the kiss, or maybe even for understanding that though she was kissing me in the present, her mind and heart were somewhere in the past. She didn’t elaborate and I didn’t ask. I was too busy working through my own demons.
Kissing was an experience I previously associated only with Bella. I’d now also kissed Kate. One physical act I never wanted to share with anyone else down, several hundred to go. I could do it; I didn’t need to enjoy each of them.
I just needed to get through them.