October 12, 1999
“Can’t you do something with your hair?”
Though Edward is standing behind me, I can see his face in the mirror. He doesn’t appear to be kidding.
I lower my eyes, hoping he won’t notice I’m fighting back tears. “I thought I already had.”
“You know I can’t hear you when you mutter like that.”
“That’s kind of the point,” I say, mostly to myself.
Tonight shouldn’t be this big of a deal—at least, I didn’t think it would be. It’s just a dinner party at the home of one of his coworkers. When he didn’t drag me clothing shopping, I assumed he was okay with me dressing like myself tonight—or at least wearing what I think is appropriate for a dinner party. Wanting to show him I do know the etiquette for such an occasion, I put on a knee-length black dress, understated make-up, and the only pair of heels I can walk in with confidence. I even straightened my hair—a Herculean task I would have skipped had I know he wanted me to wear it up. The amount of effort that went into my appearance today is surpassed only by the effort it’s taking to suppress my sigh.
I should have known both would be a waste.
“What’s wrong?” he asks.
“I’m not Miss Cleo–”
“Who the hell is that?”
“–or even your sister, for that matter,” I say, ignoring his interruption. “If there’s something specific you wanted me to do tonight–”
“There isn’t—I just think you’d look more professional with your hair up.”
“Professional?” Feeling defensive, I fold my arms across my chest. “I though this was a social function.”
“I meant sophisticated.”
Oh, I know exactly what he meant, but I’m not in the mood to argue with him. After gathering my hair into my hands, I twist it into a knot and secure it at the back of my head with a large barrette. With my eyes closed, I silently count to ten, hoping he’ll give me a moment to compose myself before we leave. The heat of his breath on my face the side of my face doesn’t change its rhythm, and when I open my eyes he’s standing exactly as he was, staring at my reflection in the mirror with apparent disapproval.
“I hate it when you look at me like that.”
For what feels like forever, I stare at the floor all the while trying to ignore the way his stare burns the back of my head. The next thing I know, the words come out on their own.
“Why are you even with me?”
“Because I love you.” His answer is automatic—almost canned.
“I’m starting to think that word doesn’t mean the same thing to you as it does to me.”
“Love? That’s ridiculous.”
“Is it?” I open my eyes and meet his gaze. “I know I’m not perfect, but no one is. I guess…” I shake my head. “I don’t even know. Forget I said anything.”
“Come on. With all the things that come flying out of your mouth at inopportune moments, you choose this moment to find your inner filter?” He rolls his eyes. “God, you make me crazy sometimes.”
“What the hell do you think you’re doing to me? Look, I know there are things about me you can’t stand—that goes both ways, you know. So you hate that I say what I think? Well, I hate how far you‘re willing to go to win the approval of people who don’t matter.”
“Believe me; they matter–”
I hold up my hand. “The difference between us that I make an effort to understand where you’re coming from. I don’t like it, but I’d never ask you to change—my love comes with acceptance.”
“Are you sure about that?” He takes a step back and crosses his arms. “If you were truly accepting of me, you’d understand the concessions I ask you to make in the company of certain individuals have nothing to do with how I feel about you.”
“What is it, then?” I turn away from the mirror and extend my hands to him. “You tell me.”
“It’s about being successful in life—of meeting my goals.”
“Does one of your goals involve making me resent you? Because that’s the only thing asking me to play the Stepford girlfriend accomplishes.”
“For god’s sake, Isabella, this may have been cute when you were eighteen, but you’re twenty-two years old now! Grow up. Do you think I enjoy being ‘on’ all the time? That it doesn’t tire me out? Haven’t you ever had to do something you didn’t want to as a means to a worthwhile end?” He covers his eyes with his palms, burying his fingertips in his hair. “Of course you haven’t,” he says under his breath. “The only goal you’ve ever had was for me to kiss you with tongue.” Groaning, he runs his hands through his hair. His eyes meet mine, and when he speaks, his voice is carefully measured. “If only you had something of your own. Maybe if there was more to your life than a minimum-wage job pouring coffee—then maybe you’d…” He shakes his head, sighing. “Never mind.”
“Maybe I’d what?”
“Realize you’re being a hypocrite!”
He throws up his hands and shrugs his shoulders. When the sheen on his palms catches the light, I look at his face, thinking maybe he’s crying, too. Though his eyes are the greenest I’ve ever seen them, his cheeks appear to be dry.
“Is it that awful if once in a while I ask you to dress like an adult and watch what you say? Any career you could pursue would have similar requirements—real-world inexperience not withstanding, you’re intelligent enough to understand this. Yet for some reason, you won’t just suck it up and take it for the team—oh no! Instead, you throw tantrums and whine about how if I loved you the way you love me, I’d accept you for who you are the way you allegedly accept me.”
“What do you mean ‘allegedly’?”
“Are you saying you accept me for who I am?”
“Of course I do.”
“Okay then.” He angles his head to the side as if scrutinizing me. “Who am I, Bella?”
His face is blank; his voice betrays no emotion. “When you think of what makes me me, what comes to mind? You can’t accept someone you don’t know, right? Given your earlier claims, it should be easy for you to answer.”
“Why…?” Sobbing, I gasp for air. As hard as I try to find my voice, I can’t.
Just when I think I’m going to collapse, he wraps his arms around me. There’s a brief feeling of weightlessness followed the familiar softness of our bed. With his lips pressed against my forehead, he pops open my barrette and lets down my hair.
“I’m sorry,” he says, his breath hot against my skin. “I didn’t mean to lash out, and the last thing I want is for you to resent me. I just don’t think you realize…wait.” He shifts his body so his eyes meet mine. “If in certain settings I ask you to tone down aspects of your personality or slightly alter your appearance, it’s not because I want you to be that way all the time. You believe me, right? That I love you for who you already are?”
“I want to more than anything.”
“But you don’t.”
I shake my head.
I tell him I don’t know, but I do—I’m just not sure how to bring up my need for some kind of commitment in way that doesn’t make me seem even more emotionally needy than I do already. He doesn’t know I gave up Harvard to be with him—the same way I don’t know he isn’t biding his time with me until someone more suited for public life comes along. It would be unfair of me to hold sacrifices he doesn’t know I made against him—just as it’s wrong for him to ask me to make concessions that help him secure a future he hasn’t indicated he wants to spend with me. This is the moment it hits me—it doesn’t matter how much I love him. If I’m going to keep doing whatever it is he and I are doing, I need to know it’s real for him, too.
December 13, 2009
When I open my eyes, it’s like any other morning. I stretch my arms above my head and straighten my legs under the covers. My alarm hasn’t gone off—I can get a bit more sleep if I want. When I roll onto my side, I see a folded piece of paper on the pillow beside me. Despite the fact I’m half-asleep, right away I recognize the handwriting as Edward’s.
I hate the thought of you opening your eyes to an empty bed, but you looked so peaceful I couldn’t bring myself to wake you. After everything I put you through last night, I imagine you need your rest. Unfortunately, there’s a party matter which requires my attention today.
I doubt the details are of interest to you, so I won’t bore you by explaining.
This evening, I have plans for you—assuming you’re not too tired after work. Have a wonderful day, and who knows? Perhaps you’ll get to open a memorable bottle.
P.S. You pout in your sleep. You can’t imagine what that makes me want to do to you.
It’s too much for me to think about, so I get in the shower and dress for work hoping that in addition to truth, wine will bring clarity.
I’m halfway to the wine cellar when Esme calls out to me from inside her office.
“What the hell are you doing here?”
“Last time I checked, I work here. Wait…” I turn on my heel and poke my head inside her door. “Did Carlisle get pissed off at me for something and drunk–fire me via text message again?”
“Not to my knowledge. I just thought you’d still be in bed.”
I narrow my eyes. “Why? I mean, it’s almost time for the dinner shift.”
“It is. Then again, last night a certain visiting senator asked if we could spare you for the next couple of weeks.”
“Weeks?” I step into her office and close the door behind me.
“Anyway, we owe you some vacation time. There’s also the whole keeping-Carlisle-away-from-Edward-and-knives thing–”
“Carlisle still hasn’t calmed down?”
“Eh.” She shrugs. “He did, but then he got pissed off all over again when I told him I had dinner with Edward. I had to listen to a few hours of his now-standard rant about familial betrayal. You know—all the stuff he should tell his mother but won’t.”
“Ouch.” I sink into the chair opposite her desk. “Sorry about that.”
“Don’t be; it’s not your fault. Besides, Carlisle knows you’d be furious with him if he tried to take any of his daddy issues out on Edward. He’ll get over it eventually—he has no choice.”
“Maybe…but only if Edward plays nice, too. At this point, I wouldn’t bet on it—telling him didn’t exactly go well.”
“I figured as much—otherwise, he would have told you I gave you the day off and you the two of you would be off somewhere doing fabulously dirty things to each other.” She twists the cap off a bottle of Perrier and raises it to her lips.
“Right. Well, that’s not going to happen any time soon. He hasn’t said anything, but I have a feeling every time he closes his eyes he pictures me doing fabulously dirty things to his brother.”
Esme’s choking becomes coughing, and the next thing I know, she’s spitting water all over her desk.
“Do you fucking mind?” She grabs a stack of napkins and wipes up the mess. “His brother happens to be my husband. I don’t care how long ago it happened; the two of you doing dirty things is something I never want to think about. ”
After tossing the wet napkins into the waste bin, she folds her arms and leans back in her chair, seemingly lost in thought.
“What is it?”
“Did he really take it that badly? Not going to lie—the whole you-and-Carlisle thing has a definite squick factor–”
“Thanks a lot, Esme. That’s helpful.”
“–but if I was able to get over it, I don’t see why he can’t.”
“Maybe. I guess it didn’t help that I blurted out that Carlisle was his brother in the car on the way back to my apartment.”
“You can’t be serious.”
“What was I supposed to do? We were kissing and his hands were all over me. I had to tell him before I got distracted.”
She leans forward onto her desk and covers her face with her hand. “Please tell me the driver is on his payroll.”
“He was from a car service.”
“Shit. Carlisle’s finally starting to calm down. If he’s mentioned in the tabloids as Senator Cullen’s brother–”
“He won’t be. Edward played it off as if they’d been Fly Club brothers at Harvard. Somehow, he managed to wait until we were alone to react to the news. When he finally did, it seemed to come out of nowhere—one minute, he’s looking at your wedding picture and the next thing I know, he’s having an emotional breakdown.”
“Really?” she says, seeming to perk up. “That’s encouraging.”
“I can’t imagine how.”
“How many times have you wished he’d let you know how he’s really feeling? Looks like he finally did. Things may messy now, but they’ll settle down. By the way, there was a delivery for you this morning. It looked like wine, so I had Alec bring it downstairs.”
“Fun. I’ll go check it out.”
When I get to the wine cellar, there’s no crate to be seen. Rather than go home, I make my way through the cellar to where we keep our most precious wine. From the corner of my eye, I see it—an out-of-place bottle in the space which until last night was home to the 1995 Lafite. When I pull it from the rack, I realize it’s empty except for a tightly-rolled piece of paper tied with a ribbon. After I pop the cork, I flip the bottle upside down; the paper falls right out. Unrolling it proves tricky, but somehow I manage to do so without tearing it.
There’s a driver waiting outside for you—come to me exactly as you are.
I do as he says. I think I always will.
The hired Towncar brings to me the W Hotel on Lakeshore Drive, at which point a security guard escorts me to what appears to be a penthouse suite. The moment the door swings open, I’m in Edward’s embrace and everything else disappears. I don’t know why it’s different—why he‘sdifferent. Only that everything touching me—the arms, chest, lips, and tongue—they’re all part of him. Maybe that’s why it feels as if I’m drowning. This may be a precursor to having him inside me, but at the moment I’m melting into him. I’m becoming one with him, and it’s all I’ve ever wanted.
He lifts his mouth from mine and drags it across my face to my ear. “I’m sorry.”
“What I said ten hours ago. What I did ten years ago. What I was thinking ten minutes ago.”
His teeth graze my ear lobe as his hand cups my bare breast. I don’t know where my clothing went, just that I’m no longer wearing it. My back is against the wall, and his hand is moving up the inside of my thigh. As amazing as it feels, it leaves me needing so much more.
“Is this okay?” he asks.
Ever so slowly, he presses a finger inside me. “And this?”
“And if I were to take you to bed with me…” He withdraws his finger almost entirely before sliding it back in. “Would you let me inside you?”
I cup his face in my hands. “Only if you promise to stay there.”
“There’s no where else I want to be.”
I pull his body against mine. “Okay.”