April 11, 2001
On the rare occasion Georges shows up at Jude’s, everyone gets jumpy. Ever since he opened a second restaurant, he generally only comes to tear Carlisle a new one over something insignificant or to fire someone. In the hour and a half Georges and Carlisle have been in the office with the door closed, no other employees have been summoned, so I’m fairly certain no one’s neck is on the chopping block. When the phone in the wine cellar rings, it’s way past the time Carlisle were supposed to go to lunch.
“Finally,” I answer. “Meet you at the door in two minutes?”
“Could you come to the office?”
“Fine; I’ll meet you there instead.”
I grab my jacket and head upstairs. My hand is on the doorknob when I hear Georges’s voice.
“Rule are rules. One way or the other, this can’t continue–”
As tempting as it is to eavesdrop, the likelihood of getting caught is too great, so I knock on the door. When Carlisle opens it, I notice Georges is the one sitting behind the desk.
“Isabella,” Georges says. “Please have a seat.”
I take one of the chairs facing him; Carlisle sits in the other. A second later, Carlisle stands up and drags his chair across the carpet until our armrests are touching.
“As you are aware, we have a strict anti-fraternization policy between management and their direct reports…”
Of course, I’m aware of it. That it’s never been enforced is a running joke among the waitstaff.
“It has been brought to my attention that not only are you and Carlisle involved in such a relationship, but because of your…involvement…you were given a promotion for which you were not qualified. Is this true?”
I look at Carlisle. “Shouldn’t Laurent be here, too?”
He shakes his head. “Ultimately, it was my decision to promote you.” He turns to Georges. “And I’m willing to own it–”
“Isabella, you’re fired.”
My mouth falls open, and I look at Georges. There’s nothing in his face that would indicate he just said what I think he said, and I start to wonder if maybe I imagined it. Then I hear Carlisle’s voice from somewhere beside me.
“Fine, then. I quit.”
It’s interesting, the kind of people who hang out in bars on weekday afternoons. I scan the room around me and see a couple of college students, some dudes in suits talking about how they snuck out of the office, and an old guy more interested in the horse race on TV than anything happening around him.
Then there’s us: Carlisle and me, the recently unemployed; and Laurent who was too pissed at Georges to stay at work.
“C’est un connard.” Laurent downs a shot of Jameson. His face scrunches up as he turns to me. “What now?”
I take a deep breath. This is the first time I’m saying it out loud, and part of me is afraid they’ll both laugh in my face. Lord knows Edward probably would.
“I want to be a sommelier.”
Carlisle’s expression softens. “I think you would be amazing.”
“So here’s what I’m thinking,” I say. “I already know enough to pass my Level I–”
“It doesn’t matter,” Laurent explains.”You need another two years in the restaurant industry before you can even register for the course.”
“No,” I say, “Three years in the industry is strongly suggested, not required.”
“He’s right, Iz. They won’t let you anywhere near Level III without it.” Carlisle turns to Laurent. “Didn’t your niece go through Levels I and II?”
“She did, but she wanted to learn more about wine to be a better chef. It wasn’t as if she wanted to be a sommelier.”
“I don’t want to be any old som,” I say. “I want to be a Master.”
“Isabella…” Laurent adopts a fatherly tone. “Of the forty-four Master Sommeliers in the world, only six are women.”
I sigh. “In other words, you don’t think I can do this.”
“That’s not it at all,” he says. “I know you can do it. I just don’t want you to think it will be easy–”
“Okay then,” Carlisle says. “I think you should register for Level I as soon as possible. You’ll need a decent reason as to why you’re no longer employed–”
I blink back tears. “What? That the owner of Jude’s is a misogynistic prick who fired me for sleeping with someone I love isn’t decent enough?”
Carlisle smiles, and for a moment, no one says anything.
Then Laurent snaps his fingers. “An internship in Armagnac—that’s the answer. You can stay with my sister and study under my niece, Esme. A few weeks there and you’ll be ready for Level II.” He slides off his barstool. “I should be getting back to work. If Georges is on a rampage…” He kisses my cheek. “You be good. Á bientôt!”
After Carlisle waves goodbye to Laurent, he turns back to me. “He’s right, you know. Add a few MBA-level courses in restaurant management and a diploma from culinary school, and your odds of being accepted to Level III will be as good as anyone’s.”
I think about what he’s saying. Culinary school. Graduate-level coursework. The last thing I need is more student debt. But when I think about where I am as opposed to where I want to be, it all seems worth it—assuming it works.
“If I do all that, do you think it’ll make up for the fact I have tits?” This is when it hits me—I was really fired—and I can’t stop myself from crying.
Carlisle puts his arms around me and takes care of the bar tab.
Later, when he thinks I’ve dozed off, he gets out of bed and goes to his computer. Through mostly closed eyes, I watch him pull up Quicken. A few minutes of crunching numbers later, he pounds his fist on his desk and starts to cry.
Knowing he wouldn’t want me to see him like this, I close my eyes and pretend I’m asleep.
December 26, 2009
Alice doesn’t look as bad as I expect her to look, but that’s not saying much. I sit in the chair beside her bed; that it’s still warm from Edward’s body has a calming effect on me. If he could get through this, I can, too.
When she sees me, she sighs. “Edward told me Carlisle and Sarah gave me CPR, and that they’ve been here all night.”
She sighs again. “I guess it’s true, then.”
“That Carlisle is my…” Yawning, she rubs her eyes. “It’s still weird to say it.”
“I thought Edward would wait until things got a little better to tell you.”
“He didn’t…tell me.”
“Then how did you…?”
She gives me her infamous You’re-a-Dumbass-Izzy look.
“Oh, no,” I say, shaking my head. “You couldn’t have. I don’t care if you father is on the board of the hospital; there’s no way in hell a nurse is going to find you a Magic 8 Ball.”
She rolls her eyes.”Oh, please. I did not ask the Oracle. The first time I saw Carlisle’s face…he has my eyes and Edward’s smile. I knew my dad played around a bit after my mom died, I just never thought… I don’t know.”
After a minute or so of silence, I decide I can’t take another second.
“I still can’t believe you’re sick.”
“We all knew it was coming,” she says.
“I thought when it did, you’d tell me.”
“Oh? Kind of like you didn’t tell me I had another brother?”
“How long have you known?” she asks.
“I figured it out a few weeks ago when you sent me that old family picture. I’d never seen your father as a young man–”
“I meant that I had a brother, not who it was.”
I can’t bring myself to look at her, so I stare at my hands in my lap.
“That’s what I thought.” She sighs. “I expect this from Edward, but you…Why didn’t you tell me?”
I whip my head up to look at her. “I should be asking you the same question!” The second the words come out of my mouth, I already regret them. “I’m sorry; I shouldn’t have snapped at you.” I take a deep breath then slowly exhale. “I just want you to know I’m here for you. I know you can beat this–”
“Don’t you get it? I did everything I could—had the gene test, went on preventative drugs, had a prophylactic mastectomy. And you know what I got from that? A heart condition and the body of a ten-year-old boy. I still got cancer in my thirties. I still ended up with my very own bed in the hospital my mother died in…” She swallows hard. “I remember it, you know—unlike Edward, I had to watch. At the end, she was sicker from the chemo than she was from cancer. If I’m going to go, I might as well…” With her eyes closed, she sighs. “I just can’t fight it anymore. I’m tired, and it’s no use anyway. I’m done with it. Whether I have two more days or two more years doesn’t matter. I refuse to waste another minute of my life bald, weak, and puking.”
I stare at the door again; I don’t want her to see me cry.
“Look at me.”
I turn my head slowly; her eyes meet mine with fierce determination.
“This is real, Izzy. It’s real, and it’s going to kill me.”
“No.” I shake my head. “It isn’t–”
“I’m dying, Izzy—I am. But do you know what that means? Right now, I’m still alive.”
“But you’re giving up–”
“No. I’m going to live.”
She covers her mouth, yawning. I stay with her until she falls asleep.
When I step out into the hallway, Edward’s there waiting. He takes my hand in his, and though I have no idea where we’re going, I walk with him anyway. I think I always will.
After a while, we stop in front of the chapel. He gestures to a portrait on the wall beside the door. I read the inscription:
In loving memory of Elizabeth Masen Cullen
I look at him; he’s still staring at his mother’s picture.
“I wasn’t here when she died. I stayed at school in Boston; my father said that was more important, that I needed to stay focused on my…” He raises his hand and curls his fingers like quotation marks. “…long-term goals. Anyway, I called Howard and Joe while you were visiting with Alice. There’s going to a be a press conference tomorrow, and I’ll make the announcement then. It would be easier for me to get through it if you’re standing beside me, but I understand if you don’t want to.”
I have no idea who Howard and Joe are, but I let that go for now.
“Why are you holding a press conference?”
When he looks at me, his face is almost serene.
“I resigned from the Senate.”