November 22, 1995
Telling Edward that I’d forgotten to pack pajamas may be the best lie I’ve ever told, and not just because he liked seeing me in his undershirt. If I were wearing the flannel monstrosity I’d brought with me, I’d be drenched in sweat right now. Edward is that hot and not just because of his hard chest, gorgeous eyes, perfect bubble butt, and insane confidence—he also produces lots and lots of heat. During the course of the night I wake up a few times, and though I feel suffocated, I don’t wiggle out of his arms. I like being here too much. Instead, I kick the covers away and pull him closer, fascinated by his warmth.
When I open my eyes in the morning I’m shivering, and I don’t need the sound of the shower running in the bathroom to tell me Edward had already gotten out of bed. Taking advantage of his absence, I pull the covers around me tightly and sit up, studying the space around me for any information it could provide me about the person who occupies it.
It doesn’t give me much. His walls are empty with the exception of a framed copy of the Declaration of Independence hanging opposite the bed. To say his space is uncluttered is an understatement—with the exception of a photograph of a woman I assume is his mother, there are no personal touches whatsoever. Either he’s a total neat-freak, or he’s completely unsentimental.
When I hear the bathroom door open, my face heats up. I know I wasn’t actually snooping—I wasn’t looking at anything that wasn’t in plain sight—but I feel bad about it anyway. Then Edward strolls into the room naked except for a towel wrapped around his hips, and guilt is the last thing on my mind. He smiles at me as he walks over to the bed.
“Good morning,” he says, sitting beside me. “Did you sleep okay?”
I nod like a tool, but I don’t say anything. I can’t; I’m too focused on how at ease he is with his body, how comfortable he must feel in his own skin, and how different it must be from how I felt when I was naked except for a towel in front of him. I wonder if it’s a guy thing, or an older-guy thing, or even something that has nothing to do with age or gender and everything to do with sexual experience—something of which I have none and he probably has lots. It could also be about confidence, and though I have more of that than I do sexual experience, that’s not saying much.
“Good.” He brushes his thumb across my cheek before standing and walking over to his dresser. “I was trying to be finished in the bathroom before you woke up. I hope you didn’t need to get in there.”
His back is to me as he pulls a pair of boxers out of the top drawer. I don’t know what he does with his towel; I just know one minute it’s covering his ass, and the next it isn’t. I think his butt cheeks might be like the sun—that I’ll go blind if I look at them directly—but I can’t help myself; they’re too perfect. Then he steps into his boxers and I get a glimpse of something even more fascinating than his ass crack. There dangling between his thighs, I see the back of his ball sack.
“Doesn’t that get in the way?”
He pulls on his boxers creating what I can only describe as a total eclipse of the ass. When he turns to face me, he’s laughing.
I squeeze my eyes closed and scrunch up my face. “I said that out loud, didn’t I?”
“Yes, you did,” he says. “And no, it doesn’t.”
“I can’t believe it,” I mutter under my breath.
“Why? I’ve been working with it my whole life; I’m used to it.”
“I meant I can’t believe I said that.”
There’s laughter in his voice. “I can.”
I feel the mattress dip as he sits beside me, and when I open my eyes, he’s wearing jeans and a button-down shirt. I’m relieved and disappointed in equal parts.
“I figured after you got out of the shower, we could maybe get some breakfast and then do some grocery shopping. I don’t have much of anything to feed you here.”
“If I’m going to do the cooking, then aren’t I technically feeding you?”
He’s laughing as I get out of bed. I start to head toward the bathroom, then turn around and grab my bag to take with me. As much as I enjoyed this morning’s show, I’m not about to reciprocate.
An hour later, we step into the hallway. Edward locks the door to his apartment, and as we make our way to the stairwell, he reaches for my hand, threading his fingers through mine.
“Wouldn’t want you to fall or anything,” he says.
“I’m not clumsy.”
“No, really, I’m not. I was just distracted yesterday.”
“Your…” I stop myself just in time. “Never mind.”
It doesn’t matter; he’s figured it out and is already laughing at my expense.
At the coffee shop on the corner, he pays for breakfast. We proceed to the supermarket, where he pays for groceries and arranges to have them delivered. As soon as we return to his apartment building, I ask him how much I owe him.
“Nothing,” he says.
“Don’t be silly. You’d never buy this much for yourself.”
“True, but it’s not any different from if I’d asked you out to dinner. I’d fully expect to pay for your meal.”
“That would be a date though.”
“Isn’t that what this was?” he asks. “It follows the date formula. I extended an invitation, which you accepted. We spent the day getting to know each other a bit better, and I escorted you home. Granted, it’s a little strange that your home at the moment happens to be my apartment.”
“Why didn’t you just ask me out?”
“As cute as you are when you’re nervous, I wanted you to actually enjoy yourself.”
“So you took me on a date to Safeway?”
“It’s a bit different, I admit. But it’s not as if I didn’t feed you.” He opens the door to his apartment then steps aside, gesturing for me to enter. “I hope you won’t find it presumptuous if I invite myself in?”
“No,” I say, giggling.
He follows me inside his apartment and closes the door behind us. I move to sit down, but his hands clasp mine, holding me in place.
“And if I kissed you?”
He doesn’t wait for me to answer; he just brushes his lips against mine.
“Not presumptuous either,” I say.
“What if I asked you to come to bed with me? Would that be inappropriate?”
“Not under the circumstances…I mean, it’s not as if there’s anywhere else to sit.”
I kick off my shoes and flop onto the bed; Edward stretches out beside me, lying on his side with his head propped up with his hand.
“Did you really consider this a date?” I ask, turning to face him.
“Yes. Is that okay with you?”
“Yes!” Amazing is a more applicable word.
“What about this?” He rests his hand on my hip. “Is this okay?”
“Will you tell me if something isn’t?” he asks, lowering his face to mine.
The next thing I know, my hands are in his hair and my tongue is in his mouth. He’s making noises that make me think he likes that I’ve taken some initiative, so I take off his shirt. My eyes are closed, and I’m so caught up in how he tastes and feels that I’m oblivious to everything else.
“Can you even feel this?” he asks.
“Huh?” I look down to find him touching my breast over my shirt.
When I bought my Miracle Bra, my mother told me only sluts wore this stuff. This statement alone was enough to convince me Second Skin Satin was sex itself wrapped in shiny polyester. Now that I realize the cups are so padded that I may as well be wearing a chastity belt for boobs, I wonder if maybe she wasn’t trying some reverse psychology on me—that she knew very well that if a guy tried to cop a feel while I was wearing this bra, there’d be no way I’d actually feel it. Once again, my life is ruined by my over-protective mother and my non-existent breasts. Mother un-fucking A (cups).
“No, I couldn’t.” I sit up and cross my arms over my chest. “I’m wearing a lot of layers…at least, that part of me is.”
“Oh.” He pushes himself onto his knees in front of me. “May I take them off?”
“The bra or my shirt?”
“Ideally both. There’s no reason to be self-conscious.” He slides his hands underneath my shirt and moves them up my back, stopping when he reaches the clasp of my bra. “I think you’re beautiful.”
It’s the first time anyone has ever used that word to describe me, and I like hearing it. Even more, I like hearing it from him.
“Do you want me to touch you?” he asks.
I’m trembling as I whisper, “Yes.”
“Is it because this is new to you, or because you don’t trust me?”
“Maybe a little of both.”
“May I ask why?”
“Why haven’t I done this before? I spent most of high school grounded for cursing. And I’d never met anyone I’d wanted like this until now.”
“No, I meant why don’t you trust me?”
“You’re too good at all this. I mean, I’m not even sure I know how to get myself off, let alone get a guy off. You’re obviously experienced, and you probably have expectations…”
“What would you like to know?” He slides his hands out from under my shirt and rests them on my knees.
I think I know what he’s going to say, but I ask him anyway. “Are you a virgin?”
I close my eyes and sigh. “I guess that was a stupid question. I mean, you’re older and I could sort of tell, but I didn’t want to assume…”
“Have you done it a lot?”
“How old were you when you…”
“Lost my virginity? Sixteen.”
“Have you been with a lot of girls?”
“No,” he says, laughing.
“Why is that funny?”
“Because that’s so far from who I am, that you would think that is amusing.”
“But you’re like…sex personified.”
“I wouldn’t go that far, but I do consider myself an extremely sexual person.”
“So it makes sense for me to assume–”
“No, it doesn’t.” He spreads his fingers and moves his hands up my legs a few inches, stroking the inside of my thighs with his thumbs.
My breathing starts to deepen—even through my jeans, his touch feels amazing.
“See? You’re the same way I am. How many men have touched you like this?” he asks.
“There you go. Sexuality and promiscuity need not have anything to do with each other. When you find someone to whom you feel connected, it’s normal to want share your body.” He places his hands back on my knees. “Is there anything else you’d like to know?”
“Are you with anyone right now?”
“I’m with you.”
“I mean besides me.”
“I wouldn’t be with you right now if I were with anyone else.”
“Why are you with me?” I ask. “You’re so beyond where I am, and you’re gorgeous and charismatic. You could probably have anyone you wanted.”
“At the moment, I only want you.”
“I’ve liked you from the first time I met you. If you weren’t right out of your parents’ house and rooming with my sister, I probably would have asked you out then. The more I saw you, the more you appealed to me. You’re so—for lack of a better way of putting it—real. I’ve spent my whole life surrounded by people pretending to be something they weren’t, and you’re not like that. I doubt you could fake an emotion if your life depended on it. You don’t even think before you speak—how could you possibly lie?”
“Please. Not only do I lie, I’ve lied to you.”
“Last night when I said I forgot to pack my pajamas.”
“Oh,” he says, laughing. “So you were trying to seduce me?”
“No! I mean, yes. Well…kind of.” I bury my face in my hands. “Shit.”
“It’s okay; I don’t mind. I’d just like to know what you were thinking.”
I push my hair behind my ears and meet his eyes. “What I packed was frumpy and juvenile, and I really wanted you to kiss me with tongue.”
So he does. He leans toward me and presses his mouth against mine, teasingly tracing my lips with his tongue. With his mouth still open, he drags his bottom lip across my face to my earlobe, which he scrapes lightly with his teeth.
“Like this?” he whispers.
“Will you let me see you?” he asks, then sucks my earlobe into his mouth. After he releases it, his hands settle on my hips.
“Will you let me touch you?”
I feel his fingers work their way under my shirt to the clasp of my bra. Once again, I’m panicked.
“I’m not ready to have sex with you,” I say. “I mean, I want to…it’s just…”
“I’m not trying to have sex with you, Isabella. I just want to touch you…to be close to you.”
I don’t have to think about it; I want to be close to him more than anything.
“I promise to stop if it gets to be too much.” He unhooks my bra then traces his fingers around my ribcage under the now-loose band. When he reaches the underside of my breasts, he brushes my nipples with his thumbs.
This time, I do feel it—not only there, but also in my belly, between my legs, even on the soles of my feet. I don’t stop him when he pulls my shirt and bra off my body. Then he pulls me into his arms and holds me. The heat of his skin is overwhelming, and I feel myself melting into him. I’d do more, but he stays true to his word. We lie in bed together, barefoot and bare-chested, holding each other and talking. He tells me about prep-school, his four years at Harvard, and how determined he was to attend a law school that would have him in the same city as Alice. He tells me about the half-brother he’s never met, whom Alice doesn’t know exists. He thinks that if she did, she wouldn’t be able to stomach being in the same room as their father, either.
After a few hours of talking, I know. I may be lying still in his arms, but I’m not without movement. I’m falling. I’m falling fast and hard.
November 22, 2009
Without loosening his hold on me, he moves toward the door. Leading comes as naturally to him as stumbling along gracelessly at his side comes to me. The mechanics are the same as they always were, but this time I’m not following him out of absolute trust or adolescent hero worship. He’s leading me over the edge; I’m sure of it, but I don’t care.
Trembling from hiccups and hysteria, I turn my face to his; my eyes ask the question my lips are quivering too much to form.
“I’m taking you home,” he says.
One way or another, this is the end. Running is useless; I know that now. I move and move and move when I finally stop I’m exactly where I started.
“Okay,” I whisper.
Edward fumbles a bit with his keys as he unlocks the door to his apartment—a simple act that’s complicated by the fact his arms are around me. From the moment I broke down in the kitchen, he’s yet to let me out of his embrace. “Can’t have you falling in the stairwell,” he said as he helped me out of the cab. There’s security and a doorman and a semi-private elevator, and though there must be stairs somewhere, we don’t use them.
Once the door is open, he tries to pull me over the threshold, but my feet stay rooted in place. Though so much of him is the same, I know this will be different and I’m not sure I’m ready for that. It’s hypocritical of me—I’ve gone on with my life, it’s only fair that he do the same. Except I really haven’t. I fled to the city in which he grew up, where I rented an apartment that reminded me of the one we shared here. I’ve dated men since him, but I haven’t been in love with any of them. I moved, but I never moved on.
“I know how you feel,” he says.
“I don’t even know I feel.”
“I know how I feel. I’ve thought of this so many times—what you were doing, who you’ve become, if I’d ever see you again, if I’d feel the same.” His hand brushes my cheek then angles my face toward his. “Ask me, Isabella,” he whispers. “Just ask. I promise, this time I won’t say no.”
“Don’t you see? That’s the problem. Children ask; subordinates ask. I shouldn’t have to ask. I should be able to just tell you–”
“Then tell me. What you do you want?”
I used to want him more than anything—more than I wanted my own career or self-fulfillment, more than I respected myself. At eighteen, it was idealistic; people thought I was being romantic. At thirty-two, it would be downright stupid. Everyone but Alice would say I was being a fool. Truth be told, I was a fool then, too— I didn’t notice because we were so on fire. I want it back, even if it only lasts half a moment. I want his heat; I want to burn. I want him inside me, but more than that, I want to be inside him. I want him to consume me. It’s all I’ve ever wanted, and all I have to do is say it.
So I do. “I want you to kiss me.”
He’s tentative in a way he never used to be, and I wonder if he’s as nervous as I am. His hands cup my face, and his lips brush against mine once, twice. It’s the slightest of contact—it’s already too much, but I know it will never be enough.
With his cheek pressed against mine, he whispers in my ear, “Come home.” His chest trembles as he inhales. “I won’t rehash the past or try to make you stay. I just need you.”
This time when he pulls me through the doorway, I go with him. I think I always will.