My mother woke up the next day with a mean hangover. I found this somewhat amusing not because I enjoyed seeing her unwell, but because my mom had a hangover. I called Bella to tell her and possibly make plans to see her later in the day, but she appeared to bit be every bit as bad off as my mom was. At least, I assumed she was when she answered the phone by whining that it was too sunny, too early, and too loud. She said she’d call me back when she could breathe without pain. Assuming my mother felt the same way, I waited until late in the evening before attempting to discuss my meeting with Dad’s attorney.
“Did you know Dad left a letter for me?” I asked when she was no longer green.
“When did he write it?”
“A few months ago when we updated our wills, we updated our messages to you as well.”
“You wrote one, too?”
“Didn’t that feel kind of morbid?”
“It wasn’t easy, but not because either of us was afraid of death. More because we knew what losing us would do to you.” She shrugged sadly. “When you’re a parent, you sacrifice the luxury of avoidance.”
I nodded, but remained silent. I had so many questions that I didn’t know where to start.
“I know you feel overwhelmed, and that’s understandable. Focus on allowing yourself to grieve and work through the feelings that evokes. Don’t even worry about the money and what it means. Whether you’ve been aware of it or not, it’s always been there. You’ve always had access to its resources.”
“Bella will hate it.”
“Bella doesn’t have to have anything to do with it. When she finds out, it will be weird at first, but she’ll adapt. Just don’t put off telling her too long. Postponing the inevitable does no one any favors—believe me, I know.”
My mom reached over and ruffled my hair like as she did when I was a kid. A month ago, I would have been annoyed, but under the circumstances, I found it oddly comforting.
“Speaking of Bella,” she said, “she invited us for Easter dinner tomorrow. Would you believe I’ve never been inside her house? I think a hostess gift is in order. I know she likes art, but I have no idea what her taste is.”
“She likes the Ashcan School and has a fascination with Depression-Era printing, but she wouldn’t be comfortable with you spending money on her.”
My mother smiled. “Like your father.”
“Dad didn’t need anyone to spend money on him.”
“No, I mean your father loved the Ashcan School. I doubt Bella would object if I gave her something that was his.”
“Except that he disapproved of our relationship to the extent that he threatened to have her fired if she hurt me again.”
“That’s just parenting.”
“It’s the downside of having your father for a best friend. At the end of the day, he was still your father. He just wanted to protect you. I have no doubt that if he’d had the opportunity to see her growth firsthand, he’d feel differently.”
I wanted to believe her more than anything.
“Do you really think that?”
“I know it.” She gestured for me to follow her. “Come upstairs with me. I think the perfect piece to give her is in the study.”
The next day, I drove to Bella’s house four hours prior to the time she’d told my mother. I couldn’t help it; I wanted some time alone with her before the others arrived. Her house was quiet as I stood on her front porch and knocked on her door. And knocked. And knocked some more.
I was being ridiculous. I had a key; I should just let myself in. The second I did, I knew exactly where Bella was and why she couldn’t hear me—she always zoned out when she was cooking. I followed the scent of turkey to the kitchen and found Bella standing at the counter wearing nothing but panties and a tank top—both of which were white and sheer. Her hair was piled on top of her head, leaving her shoulders bare. When I snuck up behind her, I saw she was the process of mashing potatoes by hand.
“Good morning,” I whispered before pressing my lips to her neck. “Turkey is sort of an odd choice for Easter, don’t you think?”
“I can’t make ham.” She didn’t look up from what she was doing. “Rose and Em are coming.”
If she was able to ignore me, I needed to step it up a notch. My fingers found the bare skin on her thighs. She sighed, slammed down the potato masher and turned around, crashing right into me.
Then she screamed.
She picked up a dishtowel and started whipping me with it. “You scared the shit out of me. You can’t just go breaking into people’s houses while they cook. Had I been cutting something, I could have accidentally amputated a finger.”
I couldn’t help but laugh at her. “Ah, but you weren’t, and you didn’t.”
She continued waving the towel in my face. As amusing as I found her pathetic attempt at home defense, it wasn’t at all conducive to conversation.
I carefully pried the towel out of her fingers. “Does it seriously bother you that I’m here? You used to like it when I surprised you in the morning.”
“That was different. In those days, I knew there was a possibility you’d show up. You didn’t have to resort to picking locks.”
“I didn’t pick your lock.”
“How else would you get in here? What, did you climb in through a window?”
I held up her front front-door key. “I used this. I know I should have offered it back to you a long time ago, but it was the only tangible thing I had of yours. Okay, so maybe that’s not exactly true. I had a pair of your panties, but you didn’t exactly give them to me. I sort of had them by default.”
“Has it been on your key chain all this time?”
I nodded. “I couldn’t bring myself to take it off. It was the only thing I had that connected me to you.”
She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. “During the past eighteen months, did you ever use it?”
“No. However, I’d be lying if I said I never thought about it. There were times when the pain from being away from you was excruciating, and I desperately wanted to feel close to you. One night, I drove here with every intention of letting myself in, but I couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to violate you.” I touched her cheek briefly, then dropped my arm back to my side. “You aren’t mad at me, are you?”
“I should be furious with you.”
“But you’re not.”
“No, I’m not. I had my fair share of very weak moments, when I missed you so much it hurt. If I’d had your room key in my pocket, I can’t say for sure I wouldn’t have been tempted to use it.”
“I should have told you I still had your key sooner. I know it was wrong of me to keep it. I was afraid you’d ask for it back, and I didn’t want to give it up.”
“It’s okay; I understand.” She looked down and sighed. “If I’d known you were coming, I would have gotten dressed. It just gets so hot in here with the oven on. Hang on a sec while I get changed.”
She turned to leave, but I held her in place.
“Don’t put on clothes for my benefit—I think you look almost perfect as you are. If you would just allow me to make a couple of slight modifications to your attire… ”
I began to lift her shirt over her head. The second I had the slightest glimpse of boob, she crossed her arms over her chest, thwarting my effort to undress her.
“Um, what do you think you’re doing?” she asked.
I decided to change tactics. I grabbed her ass and pulled her against me; she pushed me away. Unwilling to admit defeat, I placed my hands on her hips and kissed her neck.
“Okay, Edward,” she said with a sigh. “I get it. Christ is risen, and so has your cock. I’m not completely unwilling to help you with that, but don’t you think we have some things to discuss before we go there?”
“That’s not what you said two nights ago when we were dry humping against your living-room wall.”
“Yes, well, two nights ago, I was drunk off my ass.”
“And now I want to be drunk off your ass.” I rubbed her butt over her panties. “Something tells me it’s far more intoxicating than tequila shots.”
She laughed, but stepped away from me anyway. “I’m serious. I know we’ve been physical before, but a lot has changed since then.”
I knew what she was asking. Given what a douche I was about her sexual history, she was perfectly within her right to want to know about mine.
“I haven’t had unprotected sex in the time we were apart, if that’s your concern. However, I’m not opposed to being tested. It’s only fair, considering you did that for me.”
“I think you should get tested, but that’s not my primary issue. We’ve yet to define our relationship, and I don’t think it’s wise for me to be intimate with you until we do.”
She had to be joking. How many times had I told her I loved her?
“Are you asking me if I want to go steady?” I teased.
“Don’t mock me.”
When I realized she was genuinely upset with me, I stopped smiling.
“You know, last weekend you accused me of using sex as an avoidance tactic. Yet here I am, trying to have a serious conversation with you, and what are you doing?”
She had a point.
“I’m sorry, and I promise to keep my hands to myself.”
“It’s not that I don’t want you to touch me; I do. I just don’t know what you want from me. Friday night I told the world the depth of my feelings for you. That same night, you said you wanted to be my friend and my lover. That could mean commitment, or it could just mean you want to be fuck buddies. I need some clarification.”
“If I recall, I said I wanted to be a few other things as well.”
“Right. Exactly what did you have in mind?”
She looked as if she were on the verge of tears, and I wondered how she could doubt my love for her. I struggled to find the words that would convey to her how I felt—that my issues with the physical aspect of our relationship were not because I didn’t want her, but because I wanted all of her, not just the parts she was willing to give me.
Not knowing how else to comfort her, I pulled her into my arms and placed quick kisses across the side of her face, stopping at her ear. “Don’t get me wrong—I want to fuck you. I’m even more obsessed with the idea now than I was when I first saw you, though until recently I would have never thought that was possible. You are, and have always been, my ultimate sexual fantasy. Put me alone in a room with you, and I’m going to want to claim you in every way possible–”
“I know you felt objectified before, and I’m sorry.” She pushed me away and crossed her arms in front of her breasts. “That doesn’t make it okay for you to do the same thing to me. If you’re just looking for sex, I suggest you seek it elsewhere.”
Wait. What? Did she honestly think that?
“I could never use you for sex. I never stopped loving you; I just haven’t always trusted you.”
“Do you trust me now?”
“Yes. The past three weeks…” I closed my eyes and shook my head. “They’ve been the worst of my life, but I know I never would have gotten through them without you. You’ve given me everything I’ve asked for and things I didn’t even know I needed. Add to that what you’ve done for my mother… I never realized you could be so nurturing. To say I want you in my life forever doesn’t quite capture the sentiment. You are my life.”
Now she really was crying. How could I keep fucking this up?
“What did I say that upset you?”
“Nothing.” She grabbed a tissue off the table and blew her nose.
“Then why are you crying?”
“I’m afraid that you’re reacting to grief and not thinking clearly.”
“I knew you’d discount me again. What is it going to take for you to believe I love you?” I groaned in frustration. “Is it a matter of time or is there something I can do? Tell me what you want from me. I’m at a loss here.”
“I’m not belittling your feelings. I just know that we don’t always see clearly while we are bereaved–”
“I’ve never seen more clearly.” I cupped her face in my hands. “I love you. I want you. I need you. Most importantly, I’ll wait for you—for as long as it takes.”
I brushed my thumb across her lips, and she granted me permission with a slight nod. I gave her what was meant to be a chaste kiss, but when her hands held my head in place, I pushed my tongue into her mouth. She dropped one of her hands to my ass, and my restraint evaporated. My frantic hands sought to touch her everywhere, before finally giving up and pulling her against me. As if she knew what I needed, she wrapped her arms around my neck and her legs around my waist. With my mouth still on hers, I carried her upstairs and placed her on the edge of her bed before kneeling on the floor in front of her.
There were so many things I wanted to do to her, but more than anything else, I wanted to kiss it.
“Lay back,” I whispered.
After she complied, I hooked my thumbs under the sides of her panties and pulled them down her legs, placing them on the floor beside me. I pushed her thighs apart before moving my fingers to the damp hair on her labia. I spread her open ever so gently, and pressed my lips to hers before tracing her clitoris with my tongue.
I took my mouth off her so I could watch as my two fingers disappeared inside her flesh. She was just as hot as I remembered, and I marveled at how despite how much she’d changed, this part of her remained the same.
“So wet,” I whispered almost reverently. I licked and sucked as my fingers stroked her from the inside; she moaned and thrashed about on the bed, squeezing her legs together. Though pressure of her thighs against my head combined with the volume and intensity of her noises seemed to indicate she was close to orgasm, I’d never before made her come this quickly. I increased the speed of my tongue, and when she nearly tore off my head with her legs before her body went limp, all of my doubt dissipated.
I rose to my feet and lay on the bed beside her, pulling her still-trembling body into my arms. She snuggled against me with her head on my shoulder, and when her breathing returned to normal, she spoke.
“What was that?”
“I believe it was an orgasm.”
“I know it was an orgasm. I just…wow. Uh, why did you do that?”
“I wanted to thank you for being there for me. It was either send you a card, or give you cunnilingus. I assumed you’d prefer the latter. Was I wrong? I can always run out to a Hallmark store–”
“That’s won’t be necessary. And for the record, I always prefer cunnilingus to greeting cards.”
I laughed. “I got that impression. There was a moment there when I thought your legs would tear my head off.”
“Sorry about that. It’s been a while for me, and I’d forgotten how amazing that feels.” Her eyes settled on the tent at my crotch. “Now, what about you?”
She reached for my the bulge in my pants; I caught her hand and flattened it against my chest.
“I don’t need you to reciprocate. This morning was all about you.”
“I thought you were ready to be intimate again.”
“Oh, I am. I just didn’t expect that you would be, and I didn’t come prepared. Do you still have your IUD?”
“I’ll get tested as soon as possible. Now, would you like your key back? I completely understand if you do, but since we’re going to be a couple again, it does make sense for me to hang onto it.”
“You should keep it. Everything here is yours anyway.”
Knowing I’d never be able to find the words to convey how much her statement meant to me, I kissed her, hoping it would be enough.
“I love you so much,” she whispered.
I stopped myself before I verbally reciprocated. Automatic responses, though nice to hear, never carry the same weight as initial declarations. Besides, there was something Bella needed to be reassured of far more than my love—something she’d once had, then lost, and now was slowly earning back.
“I believe you.”
With a quiet sigh and a smile on her lips, she closed her eyes. Though she tightened her hold on me, she seemed to relax.
I knew she understood.