March 12, 1996
Spring Break is aptly named. Though my family was broken long before now, it doesn’t become real until I visit my dad. It may be the town in which I grew up, but it doesn’t feel like home. Despite how much he’d claimed he missed me, that he wanted me to come home, he tiptoes around me. I know he’s trying, but I think maybe that’s the problem—he’s trying too hard.
When we arrive at the house he shares with his girlfriend, she meets us at the door.
“Hello, Mrs. Clearwater.” I force a smile. “Thank you for having me.”
“We’re family, Izzy. Now that I’m marrying your father, don’t you think you should call me Sue?”
My eyes fill up with tears. We were in the car for hours. How could he not have told me this then?
I turn to my dad and whisper, “I thought it ‘wasn’t like that’.”
“It wasn’t at first, but it is now.”
I struggle to keep my face neutral. “Clearly.”
I don’t have the money to fly home with any regularity; Dad’s marital status shouldn’t affect my life much, but it does. It makes me wonder how much of my parents’ relationship was real and how I could have bought into something that was obviously an act. I understand why Edward can’t stomach being in the same room as his father; at the moment, I’d rather be anywhere but with mine.
They’re both looking at me, waiting for me to respond. The problem is that I don’t know what to say. I mean, I know what I’m supposed to say from an etiquette standpoint. At this very moment, I can hear my mother quoting Emily Post. It’s insulting to congratulate a bride-to-be because it implies she needed luck to secure a husband. Though in this instance if she needed anything, it was more than likely deceit and manipulation.
“Congratulations, Mrs. Clearwater. That’s really…” I struggle for something polite to say but come up empty. “…um…something.”
“Let me show you where you’ll be sleeping,” my dad says.
“Great!” Some time to myself is exactly what I need right now.
“You don’t mind crashing on Leah’s floor, do you?” she asks. “It’s only for a few days. Your father started converting the attic into a bedroom for you last summer, but with all the over time he’s been putting in at the station, it’s not finished yet.”
“How would you have known I’d need a room here last summer?” I ask, looking at my father. “You were still living with mom and me.”
When he doesn’t respond, I look at Mrs. Clearwater. She’s looking down, fumbling with her watch strap.
I take a deep breath and count to ten. “Crashing on Leah’s floor is fine. Thank you for your hospitality.”
I can get through anything for a few days. Summer is another matter altogether.
When the rest of the house is asleep, I sneak downstairs to call Edward. He answers just when I’m about to hang up; his speech is slurred and his voice hoarse. It makes me feel even shittier than I did before.
“I’m sorry,” I say. “I didn’t mean to wake you. I should know better than to call you this late. I forgot about the time difference, and I know you don’t like to be disturbed during the week–”
“Call me whenever you want.”
“Thanks…I just…” This time, I can’t stop myself from crying. “Everything’s different. He’s different. They’re getting married and…” My voice breaks. “I feel selfish for being upset. It’s not that I don’t want him to be happy; I do. I just hate that it comes at my mother’s expense. He was planning to leave her months before he actually did…he started converting the attic into a room for me here last summer. And though they didn’t seem all that happy, they were still married. I mean, they were still…you know…”
“You don’t know that.”
“Oh, but I do. Emptying the upstairs trash was one of my chores, and well…” I shake my head, wishing my brain erased as easily as my old Etch-a-Sketch. “Let’s just say some of the stuff I’d see in there was traumatic. I mean, I found out the hard way there are things other than chocolate coins that come in gold foil wrappers.”
“Got it. Though…”
“No, tell me.”
“I’m not trying to upset you, but you don’t know for sure your dad was using those with your mother.”
He’s right, but it doesn’t make me feel any better.
“I’m not sure which scenario would piss me off more. I mean, I know my mom isn’t easy to live with, but I can’t see how she deserved this…”
“What he did is so not okay–”
“I agree with you. I meant that everything will be okay. You moved out. Going forward, your parents can only affect you as much as you let them.”
“Until the summer—then I have no other option. My mom is going on some missionary thing, so I can’t stay with her in Arizona. I’ll be back on my stepsister-to-be’s floor, which is just peachy considering how nice she was to me when we were in high school. I hate her. Leah—that’s her name—she was the one who snapped my bra across my back in ninth-grade-gym class.”
He yawns. “Don’t girls do things like that all time? I mean, Alice has similar stories.”
“I bet Alice never had shoulder pads fall out of her gym shirt!”
“Your gym uniform had shoulder pads?”
“No. My bra did.”
“On the straps?”
“No, shoved inside the cups.”
“I’m sorry,” he says, laughing.
“It isn’t funny.”
He doesn’t stop laughing.
“It was one of the most humiliating moments of my life. I can just imagine what she’ll do now that we’re under the same roof. She could…like…shave my eyebrows while I sleep or replace the contents of my shampoo bottle with Nair. How would you feel if I came back from summer recess bald?”
“If you’re that worried about it, stay here.”
“I can’t afford it. I have school expenses; I won’t earn enough money to pay rent, too.”
“Who said anything about rent? I like having you around and unlike your family, I’d never ask you to sleep on the floor.”
I think of what it would be like to spend the summer with Edward and see us laughing, cooking, and making love. It’s the kind of thing I dream about—that it could be real just doesn’t seem possible.
“Do you really want me to stay with you?”
“Did you really stuff your bra with shoulder pads?” His voice isn’t at all teasing. If anything, he seems genuinely curious.
“Answering questions with questions is an avoidance tactic,” I remind him.
“Oh, I agree.”
I’m blushing even though he’s on the other side of the country. Damn him.
“Yes,” I admit.
“You’ve stuffed your bra?”
“No,” he says, laughing. “My experience with lingerie is limited. I’ve been known to remove it, and occasionally trip over it on the way the bathroom in the morning.”
The other end is quiet, and I wonder if maybe the call disconnected somehow. When he finally does speak, his voice is completely serious.
“I want you here with me.”
I don’t have to think about my answer. “Yes.”
Leah’s floor may be hard and drafty, but I don’t notice. I spend the night feeling warm and fuzzy.
November 23, 2009
Alice gives me The Look when Edward and I re-emerge from the guestroom, but she doesn’t say anything. She doesn’t have to; he beats her to it.
“Do you mind if I crash here for the next few days?” he asks. “I won’t get in the way; I figure I’ll stay in the guestroom with Isabella.”
Alice’s narrowed eyes dart from me to Edward, then back again. Without uttering a word, she takes me by the hand and pulls me into the guestroom, shutting the door behind us.
“Spill it, Izzy.”
“I don’t know anything about what just happened out there! You’ll have to ask him–”
“What just happened in here?” She gestures to the bed behind me.
“Noth–” I stop, realizing that’s not exactly true. “Not much.”
“Yesterday, you weren’t even speaking to him.”
“I know, right?” I throw myself on the bed and clutch a pillow to my stomach. “I’m not even sure how it happened. One minute I’m cooking and, the next thing I know, Edward’s there and I’m crying. Then he puts his arms around me and I can feel him and smell him; he feels just like I remember and smells just like I remember. It makes me cry harder, so he holds me tighter and brings me to his place. Soon he’s crying, too, and swearing up and down he’ll never leave me again if I give him this week, that he knows he can prove to me he’s changed.” I groan, hiding my face behind the pillow. “I sound like I’m insane.”
“No. You sound like you’re in love.”
“I never stopped.”
“I know.” The mattress dips as she sits on the edge of the bed. “Neither did he.”
“When I was in here getting dressed, I called him. He’d told me on the plane he kept the same phone number all these years, just in case I called him. I was sure he was lying. Then I heard him on the voicemail greeting and I knew it had to have been recorded a long time ago based on how he sounded. And for a moment, I thought…I don’t know what I thought.”
“Come on. You know exactly what you thought.”
“If I tell you, you’ll smack me for being an idiot.”
“I may smack you anyway for pulling my dick.”
“I thought it was his only phone, and then when he explained he had another number in addition to it–”
“Oh my god, Izzy. Seriously?”
“I know, right? I know it was stupid to think that, it’s just…that’s what I needed—for him to make that kind of huge gesture that says not only is he capable of genuine emotion, but he feels it for me. Otherwise, I’m just setting myself up for more of the same.”
She sighs, but doesn’t say anything. I’m about to ask her if she hates me when she pummels my shoulder.
“Ouch!” I hold up the pillow in defense. “Don’t hit me; I warned you it was idiotic.”
“Move over. There are a lot of things I need to tell you, and it could take a while. I want to get comfortable.”
I wiggle away from the center of the bed to make room for her.
“This feels like college,” she says, stretching out beside me.
“The whole talking-about-boys-in-bed thing?”
“No, the you-being-a-dumbass thing.”
“You know how he was, Alice.”
“I do—and unlike you, I always have. He’s my brother. I love him to death, but I’m not oblivious to his faults.”
“Believe me, neither am I.”
“Not anymore.” She fluffs a pillow then rests her head on top of it. When she speaks again, she’s staring straight up at the ceiling. “June 19, 2000.”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“That’s when Edward taped that message for you. He thought that if you were ever going to call him, you’d do it for his birthday.”
I close my eyes, sighing. “I nearly did. I dialed half his number then hung up.”
“Yeah. What you don’t get is that everyone else did. Back then, that was his only phone. Our family, his coworkers—they all heard that message. And he caught hell for it. His friends thought he was pathetic; Dad thought he lost his mind. Anyway, Edward only got the number he has now when he moved back to Illinois to take a job with the state legislature. Izzy…” She swallows hard, but she still doesn’t look at me. “I know what he did to you. I saw it, remember? But I also saw what losing you did to him.”
“Why is he on anxiety meds?”
She turns her head sharply to look at me. “He’s on anxiety meds?”
“I don’t know if he takes them or not, but he has recent prescriptions in his medicine cabinet.”
Her eyes narrow slightly; I know what she’s thinking.
“So I went snooping around last night,” I admit. “Not all of us are psychic, you know, some of us are forced to gather information the old-school way.”
She looks back at the ceiling. “I didn’t know about that.”
“I know it was stupid of me to think that would be his only phone, and I’m fully aware my initial reaction was fucking naïve and a bit self-centered.”
Alice snorts. “Only a bit?”
“Maybe a lot. In my defense, that’s all it was—an initial reaction. It didn’t last; I know it had far more to do with who Edward and I were then than who we are now.”
“What should I tell him?” she asks. “Are you okay with him staying here all week? Because if you’re not, I’ll tell him no. He promised me he’d stay away if he made you uncomfortable.”
“I want him here,” I say. Then it occurs to me that she may not. “I mean, as long as it’s okay with you. You’re who I came here to see.”
“Are you kidding?” She throws her arms around me, hugging me tightly. “I get to have my brother and my sister under the same roof again. Nothing would make me happier.”
I poke my head into the living room on my way to the kitchen. Edward is sitting on the sofa typing away on his BlackBerry.
I poke my head into the living room on my way to the kitchen. Edward is sitting on the sofa typing away on his BlackBerry.
“You might want to go pack a bag,” I tell him. “I’ll have dinner ready by the time you get back.”
He jumps to his feet and crosses the room, stopping when he’s in front me. “Are you sure?”
I nod, smiling.
“Don’t get too excited,” Alice calls from behind me. “I’m making you crash on the living-room floor. I don’t want to have to burn the sheets and mattresses after you leave.”
“That’s fine, Baby Sis. Don’t worry about me. I mean, I may not be able to fall asleep unless I’m naked, and though the open floor-plan would bother some people, I don’t mind in the slightest. We’re all family here.”
“Ew…yuck!” Alice whines, wrinkling her nose. “Fine, crash with Izzy. But if I hear the slightest mattress squeak from the guestroom, you owe me a new set of Heavenly sheets. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go throw up now.”
She hurries to her bedroom, shutting the door behind her.
Edward looks at me, smiling.
“I see through your lies, Senator Cullen.”
“I don’t have any idea what you’re talking about.”
“Pajama-induced insomnia? That’s ridiculous even for you.”
“How would you know? Your information is somewhat outdated.”
“I’m may drink wine for a living, but I haven’t killed so many brain cells that I’ve lost my short-term memory.”
“What are you talking about?” he asks, laughing. “I haven’t slept in front of you since the Clinton administration.”
“You did last night—and you were wearing a t-shirt and pajama pants.”
“See, that’s where you’ve gotten your facts wrong. I might have shared a bed with you last night, but I didn’t actually sleep. I couldn’t; I was wearing clothes. And on that note, I need to go pack a bag that will not include pajamas.” He turns on his heel and strolls toward the door, stopping to retrieve his jacket from the coat rack in the hall.
I’m still laughing when he closes the door behind him. As far as I can tell, I win either way.