Leitmotif III

Bella looked at me in disbelief when I held up the Grant Wood lithograph from my father’s collection and asked her where she wanted me to hang it.

“You’re kidding, right?”

My mom shook her head. “No. It was part of Carlisle’s personal collection. I think he would want you to have it.”

“Did you know I met Carlisle for the first time at Edward’s graduation? He teased me about my lack of academic regalia. My back was turned to him, and I thought he was a student. I responded to him somewhat condescendingly by implying he was too poorly read to understand that I was paying tribute to Virginia Woolf. I sent him off to read Three Guineas and told him to report back to me.”

“I know. He told me all about it after you and Edward left our house following our disastrous first meeting. It stuck out in his mind because he’d never read anything by Virginia Woolf. It was the first time in his adult life someone made a literary reference he didn’t immediately understand. He insisted the Women’s Studies program in which he participated as an undergraduate had nothing whatsoever to do with feminism or literature.”

I snorted. “That’s so Dad.”

“I know, right?” My mother smiled at me before turning back to Bella. “I explained to him why academic garb is patriarchal, why some feminists would eschew it, and why despite the fact that you were engaged in an inappropriate relationship with my underage son, I suddenly found myself wanting to dance around a burning house with you.”

Though I had no idea what my mother was talking about, the look on Bella’s face seemed to indicate that she did.

“Were you the first woman in your family to attend college?” Bella asked.

“The first person, period. We’re kindred in more ways than you realize.”

She threw her arms around my mom. “Thank you. I can’t find the words to articulate how much this means to me.” When she stepped out of my mother’s embrace, Bella wiped under her eyes. “What do you think about hanging it over the piano?”

I couldn’t have stopped my smile if I’d wanted to. “I think that would be perfect.”

As grateful as I was that Bella orchestrated Easter dinner so my mother would have people around her, I wanted nothing more than to have Bella to myself again—or to have Bella at all, for that matter. Once Rose and Alice arrived, they stayed sequestered in the kitchen with Bella. My mother talked baseball with Em and Jasper while I played the piano with David on my lap. Emmett put him down for his nap just as Bella called me into the kitchen to carve the turkey.

“You’re good with David,” she said, handing me a knife and meat fork.

I wasn’t sure what to make of the fact that she seemed surprised by this.

“I should be good with David. I’m the backup to his backup babysitter.”

I expected Bella to be impressed, but instead she erupted in hysterical laughter. I couldn’t imagine what she found so funny. Didn’t all women wet their panties over guys who were good with babies?

“What?” I asked.

“That’s like being Speaker of the House. Sure, it’s a nice ego boost to say you’re third in line for the Presidency, but you’ll never actually have the stress of sitting in the Oval Office.”

I faked a menacing gesture with the fork. “I’ll have you know I’ve watched David on multiple occasions when Rose was stuck in the office unexpectedly and Emmett had previous school commitments.”

“How very domestic of you. This morning you wore my ruffled apron, and now you’re telling me you’ve worked as a nanny. If I didn’t know any better, I would seriously question your masculinity.”

I had no doubt she was kidding, but I seized the moment nonetheless. I put the knife and fork on the counter, pulled her into my arms, and kissed her. As my tongue entered her mouth, my hands cupped her ass, pressing her against my omnipresent virility. When I realized I’d have no time to jerk off between now and dinner, I stopped kissing her and went back to slicing the meat.

“Was that manly enough for you?” I asked, doing my best to appear unaffected.

Bella was out of breath when she spoke. “I don’t think I’m convinced of your prowess yet. Could you do that again, please?”

“I’d love to, but eventually our guests will start to wonder what is detaining us, something that could get more than a little awkward, considering my mother is one of them.”

Bella came up behind me and wrapped her arms around my waist. “It’s just my luck that no sooner do I get you back that I have to share you with six of my nearest and dearest friends. I want nothing more in the world than to be alone with you.”

“Believe me, it’s mutual.”

I continued to carve the turkey as Bella stood beside me, watching.

“As well as I know you, you’re still full of surprises.” She gestured to the meat platter. “When you said you wanted to do this, I assumed you would come back here, make kung fu noises, and ask if I had a machete. I never thought for a moment you actually knew what you were doing. I mean, when we met, you couldn’t even boil water.”

“My father always insisted on slicing the meat for holiday dinners; he taught me. He used to joke it was the only thing he knew how to do in the kitchen without my mother’s help. I hope you didn’t think I asked to do this out of some sort of bizarre machismo.”

“Are you referring to your aforementioned omnipresent virility?”

“Yes.” I laughed, unaware that I’d said that out loud. “In all seriousness, I thought doing something my dad always did would help me feel close to him.”

Bella nodded, seemingly deep in thought. “Did it work?”

“You know, it actually did. I don’t think I’ve told you how much what you’ve done today means to me.”

“It’s nothing.” Her demeanor shifted, and she smiled. “Besides, I’m always willing to be on the receiving end of oral sex.”

Were we really back to this? A sex joke to avoid a serious discussion was classic Bella.

“I’m serious,” I said.

“I know, and I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have made light of your sentiment. You have to understand it’s still hard for me.”

“Talking about emotion?”

“No.” She averted her eyes and shook her head. “Receiving praise. I mean, it’s not that I don’t think that I’m worthy of it or that I don’t have value. It’s just a somewhat new revelation, and I’m not accustomed to other people feeling the same way.”

“How did you do it?” I asked.

“Do what?”

“Come to believe in yourself.”

“My therapist had me make a list of my positive attributes, and told me to recite them in front of the mirror every morning. I felt like a complete asshole doing it at first, but it really did help. You know how when you hear negative things about yourself all the time you start to believe them? Apparently, it’s the same with positive ones.”

“Then let’s try this again.” I put the fork and knife down and faced Bella. “The past few weeks you’ve been thoughtful, giving, and more supportive than I ever imagined possible. I don’t think I could have gotten through this without you.” I hugged her tightly. “As soon as I have you alone, I’ll be happy to elaborate.”

She was smiling when she pulled away from me and picked up the meat platter. “It won’t be too long.”

“I’ll be counting the minutes.”

And I did. Three hours and six minutes later, I had her to myself again. I wanted nothing more than to touch her, but she pushed me away, saying cleaning was her top priority. When I went into her kitchen, I understood why. Stacks of dirty dishes covered every inch of the counter and table. I’d rolled up my sleeves and turned on the faucet, when I heard Bella laughing at me from the entrance to the dining room.

“Do you even know how to wash dishes?” she asked.

“Well, no, but how hard can it be? Where is the switch for your garbage disposal?”

“I don’t have one. And before you ask, there’s no dishwasher, either.”

Thinking she was kidding, I took a step back and surveyed her appliances.

Her laughter intensified. “I can’t believe you never noticed. Did you think I washed them by hand all the time because I enjoyed it?”

“In my defense, when I’m in a room with you, I tend to focus on you. This is especially true when there’s a chance your top may get wet…and see-through.”

“Good save.” She opened a drawer and handed me a dishtowel. “Given your novice status when it comes to cleaning, I think it’s better if I wash and you dry.”

“Whichever you’d prefer,” I said.

Bella filled the sink with hot water and detergent before pulling on a pair of bright yellow rubber gloves. “I’d prefer loading a dishwasher, flicking a button, then going to bed, but that’s not an option.”

“Not for tonight, no.”

“Not for the foreseeable future. I looked into getting a dishwasher; I’d more or less have to redo the entire kitchen. It will be a few years before I can afford it. Besides…” She bumped into me with her hips. “I don’t mind it when I have company. It sucks only when I’m alone, but then I usually zone out and daydream.”

“I bet your daydreams are exciting.”

“Indeed. They typically revolve around how much I wish I had a dishwasher. I’m not complaining, though; it’s good to have something to work toward. People who get things too easily never appreciate what they have. Let me tell you—the day I don’t have to stand here and scrub pots and pans after company leaves will feel like Nirvana.”

I faked a smile and tried to ignore what my mom would refer to as bourgeois guilt, realizing for the first time this expression was a misnomer. The guilt was there, but there was nothing bourgeois about it. The truth was that even without access to my trust fund, I had more than enough money to renovate Bella’s kitchen. The words “I’ll buy you a dishwasher” were fighting to come out, but I swallowed them. Even if Bella knew the extent of my dad’s wealth, she still wouldn’t want me to spend money on her.

When I came home, my mom was on the couch waiting up for me. I got myself a beer and sat across from her.

She must have picked up on my mood. “Is everything okay?”

“I need a favor. I told Bella I’d be tested for STDs before we…”

My mother raised an eyebrow.

“You know,” I continued.

She giggled. “I have a pretty good idea, yes.”

Thank god she didn’t make me say it.

“Can you order the tests and have them expedited? I mean, I know I don’t have anything, I just…shit…fuck, I didn’t mean to curse in front of you…damn it.” I leaned forward and ran my hand through my hair in frustration. “I’m sorry. I know it seems like I don’t feel comfortable talking to you about this stuff.”

“You don’t feel comfortable talking to me about this stuff.”

“Well, yeah,” I admitted. “Dad always drilled into me the importance of treating you—women in general, really—with respect. It’s hard for me to sit here and admit that I have to take blood tests I don’t need as a mea culpa for being such an asshole to Bella about her past when we first started dating.”

My mom took the beer out of my hand and downed it a single gulp before placing the empty bottle on the table next to her.

“Why do you need a drink for this? I mean, do you remember how you mocked me when Bella got her concussion?”

“That was different; I already knew you two were having sex. I’m just slightly uncomfortable with the idea of you telling me things about Bella that she wouldn’t tell me herself. If you think the conversation might go that way, tell me now and I’ll get another beer. Come to think of it, maybe I should get one anyway.” She went to the kitchen and returned with two bottles of lager, one of which she handed to me.

“When we first started dating, Bella got tested. I didn’t ask her to; she did it because I had no experience whatsoever and she wanted to make sure I’d be safe. Now that I’ve been with someone other than her, I feel like I should do her the same courtesy.”

“Understandable. But why do you need them expedited?”

Hoping she’d figure it out for herself, I took a swig of my beer. Three seconds later, she snorted.

“Oh. Never mind. I’ll write up the lab slip in the morning and make the necessary phone calls. It shouldn’t be a problem.”

“Thanks, Mom. I love you.”

She stood up and ruffled my hair. “I love you, too. Good night.”

The following morning, I blew off class and had blood drawn. After I finished up at the lab, I drove to Bella’s house. When I unlocked her front door, I was greeted by silence. I smiled at the realization she was still sleeping. As much as she’d changed during our time apart, she was still the same Bella. I went upstairs to her bedroom and took out my laptop, thinking I’d read in bed with her until she woke up. Instead, I watched her sleep. Soon she began to stir, and when she opened her eyes, she wasn’t at all surprised to find me in bed beside her.

“Good morning,” she said, yawning.

“Not in this time zone. It’s actually a little after two o’clock in the afternoon.”

She sat up and rubbed her eyes. “How long have you been here?”

“About an hour. You looked so peaceful. I couldn’t bring myself to wake you.”

I reached out to her and pulled her against me. She took my right hand off her and straightened my arm, pointing to the piece of cotton held in place with surgical tape.

“Someone isn’t wasting any time.”

“Um, no,” I admitted, laughing.

“I didn’t know you could have blood work done on such short notice.”

“You can have anything done on short notice if you have the right connections.”

She turned to look at me, immediately contrite. “I hope I didn’t make you feel pressured. I know in the past, I haven’t always been patient. I hope you didn’t feel as though you had to rush out and do this.”

“Let me clarify something.” I rested my hands on her shoulders. “I have never felt pressured to have sex with you. Not then and certainly not now.”

“You said you felt objectified–”

“Oh, at times I did, but for that we’re equally culpable. I was completely aware that you were using physical intimacy to avoid confronting your emotions. Still, I wanted you so badly I went along with it. At no point did I ever insist that we keep our clothes on and just talk. I knew you had unresolved issues from your past, that you felt unlovable. I naïvely believed my love could make you whole, that I could prove to you how worthy you are simply by loving you. I think that was a large part of why our break-up destroyed me. It wasn’t just that I’d lost you—I’d also failed you. Until then, I’d never failed at anything.

“I believed you when you told me you were incapable of love, and for months I wondered how I could have been stupid enough to believe that you felt that way about me. As time went on, I looked back on our relationship with some distance and a little clarity. I realized what you said on Thanksgiving contradicted everything you’d communicated to me previously. I knew you lied. I just wasn’t sure if it had been during our relationship or its demise. I don’t fault you for any of it.”

“You don’t have to,” she said, staring into her lap. “I do enough of that for both of us.”

“Bella, look at me.”

I touched her chin, and she raised her eyes to meet mine.

“I forgave you a long time ago; you need to forgive yourself.”

“I know,” she whispered. “And I’m trying. I’m not telling you this to make you feel sorry for me. I just want you to understand…I know the Thanksgiving Massacre was entirely my doing, and I know some people would think I deserved to suffer for it. I just want you to know…well…that my actions caused me pain, too. Each and every moment we were apart, I ached for you. I regretted my decision to end our relationship the moment you left. I just didn’t go after you because there was something I wanted more than to have you in my life.”

“And what was that?” I rubbed the back of her neck as I spoke.

“To actually deserve my place in yours.”

I leaned forward and kissed her forehead. “You do.”

She exhaled, and I felt her relax in my arms. She trusted me implicitly—of this, I no longer had any doubt. I owed her the same courtesy.

I could no longer postpone telling her about my inheritance.

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6 Responses

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  1. on 21 May 2010 at 1:25 pmAzucena

    your site is up! I am jumping with Joy! congrats Pretty Girl :)


  2. on 21 May 2010 at 2:11 pmMary

    Loved this chapter b/c there was so spoken that wasn’t in AA5. So much emotional richness that it just makes my heart swell. Glad the site is back up and thanks for the update, I’ve missed it!


  3. on 21 May 2010 at 2:22 pmGabi

    What a great start to a long weekend! A bottle of syrah and a Counterpoint update…which is absolutely wonderful, as always. You picture perfectly how Edward has matured. Thank you. (Also, thank you for having enough spirit to work so much to rebuild the site. I hope this awful incident won’t happen again.)


  4. on 21 May 2010 at 11:11 pmKate

    Loved this! So nice to see things from Edward’s POV. I look forward to hearing how the inheritance chat goes, or a chapter of the Masen sisters, or really anything you feel like writing.

    Sorry about the crazy hackers!


  5. on 21 May 2010 at 11:25 pmElizabeth440

    One of the best parts about CP is that it causes me to appreciate Bella – especially post-break up Bella – so much more. I love her for catching herself after making a sex joke. It’s such a great little example of how deeply ingrained and automatic those defense mechanisms can be, even after a person evolves. Bella has changed, yes, but she has to work at it every day, and that effort was perfectly captured.

    So I’m curious about the dishwasher conversation and Edward’s musings…Bella’s house is a metaphor for her, and she’s already made the structural and decorative changes. A kitchen remodel and new appliances aren’t necessary but they would improve the quality of Bella’s life, so I’m guessing that they are actually a metaphor for Edward and how he completes her?


    elisabethm reply:

    I love how you described the metaphor of Bellas house. It made me appreciate the depths of this story even more.