November 30, 1995
Though Alice had been typing away at her computer the entire time I was on the phone with my mother, I don’t even bother to pretend she wasn’t listening.
“Could this get any worse?”
“Probably,” she says. “Don’t tempt fate.”
“I mean…ugh!” I flop onto my bed, groaning.
“They’re making you choose?”
“My mom wants me to see her new place in Arizona; my dad expects me back in Forks. And I don’t want to be in the middle, right? So I should visit one and then the other. But I don’t want to set the expectation that’s what I’ll do on every holiday. I could swing it this time, but I can’t afford to make a habit of it. I knew when I decided to come here that I wouldn’t be able to go home much unless I got a part-time job, and I really didn’t want to have to work this year.”
“If your parents want you to fly all over the place, they should pay for your tickets.”
“Right. Unfortunately, they have limited resources and an endless capacity for guilt.” I shrug. “They’ve always been like this.”
“Then you shouldn’t feel guilty. Edward never does; when he was at Harvard he never came home for Christmas. He always went skiing with his girlfriend’s family.”
“Girlfriend?” I know there were girls before me—that would be obvious even if he hadn’t told me, which he had. Still, it’s weird to think of them, and though part of me doesn’t want to know, another part of me has never wanted to know anything more.
“Well, she’s his ex-girlfriend now, but yeah.”
“He went on ski trips with her family?”
“They were together four years. I think her parents expected him to propose after graduation; he broke up with her instead.”
I want more than anything for her to elaborate, even though I’m afraid of what I may find out. But she doesn’t say anything else—she just turns back to her computer.
“Why?” I ask.
“Why did they break up?”
As if she wouldn’t want to know if she were me.
“He doesn’t talk about stuff like that with me.”
“But you met her…”
“So you must have come to your own conclusion.”
“I don’t think he felt as if he could trust her.”
Alice resumes typing on her computer, so I don’t press her for any more information.
November 23, 2009
“I’ve never done this,” I say, studying my reflection in the bathroom mirror. “At my age, it feels kind of ridiculous.”
“The walk of shame. You know, when you’re forced to go home in yesterday’s clothes with sex hair and smudged eye make-up, and everyone who looks at you just knows.”
He leans against the marble countertop and folds his arms across his chest. “How can you have sex hair if we didn’t have sex?”
“You don’t have to have had sex to have sex hair. You can get it through other things, like making out or dry humping–”
“Osmosis from a dirty mind?”
“Heh. That would explain yours more than mine.”
“Seriously, Bella. Are you honestly ashamed of spending the night with me?”
If anything, I’m ashamed we did nothing that would give me reason to feel shame. Despite his insistence otherwise, part of me feels as if his request to try again wasn’t real—that it was as much a figment of my imagination as the fantasy which compelled me to put my hand in my underwear. If that’s the case, I may have just missed the last opportunity I’ll ever have to make love. Not sex—I can have that whenever I want it—but the experience of giving my body to the person who owns my soul.
I give him a small smile. “Not as much as I’d be if I hadn’t.”
I look at him and, as familiar as he is, he’s different. Ten years ago, I would have insisted it wasn’t possible for him to be more attractive than he already was—and now he is. Though the copper stubble on his face is what I’d come to expect in the morning before he’d gotten a chance to shave, the jawline it covers is more angular than what I remember. His hair is how it always was first thing in the morning—the tousled, artfully messy look that makes me want to run my fingers through it and make it even messier—but now there are strands of silver mixed in with the red. And I want to know if hair around his navel is the same color I remember, or if that’s different, too. I realize I’m as fascinated with the idea of exploring his body as I was when I was eighteen—cataloguing what’s new along with what has stayed the same. As much as I loved his body before, I want it to have changed. I need to believe the years that have passed affected him as much as they have me, that his aging is a physical manifestation of his emotional maturation. I need him to be different so we don’t end up the same way.
“What are you thinking?” he asks.
“You’re going gray.”
He rolls his eyes. “Last night, it was wrinkles. Today it’s gray hair. Are you trying to give me a complex?”
“No,” I say, laughing.
“Then what?” He pulls his shirt over his head and steps out of his pajama pants.
I don’t lower my eyes, but the reflection of his bare butt cheeks in the mirror would seem to indicate he’s naked. I mentally mark his propensity for whipping it out on a whim as one for the things-that-haven’t-changed category.
He smiles. “As you can see, I’m none the worse for wear.”
I want to look, but I can’t. If I look, I’ll want to touch. If I touch, I’ll want to taste. If I taste, I’ll want to swallow. If I swallow, it will never be enough.
It’s already too much.
“You might want to put that away.”
“I thought you’d never ask,” he says, grabbing at the hem of my t-shirt.
I smack his hand away.
“What? You told me to put it away. You know as well as I do where it belongs.”
“You’d think you were a sex-starved teenager.”
“Well—as you’ve pointed out—I have gray hair and wrinkles, so I think it’s safe to assume the latter part of that is definitely not the case.”
“And the former?”
“It’s complicated.”He walks over to the shower and turns on the water. “I’d invite you to join me, but I don’t think you’d find the temperature to your liking.”
“Still taking showers so hot they scorch your flesh?” I cross the room and place my hand under the stream of water. “Holy shit, that’s cold.”
“I’m used to it.”
“Right. Because an independently wealthy, unmarried United States Senator who has been called one of the sexiest men alive clearly would have difficulty getting action.” I shake my head sighing. “Why are you doing this?”
“Why do I take cold showers?”
“I understand their purpose; I want to know why you felt compelled to tell me you take them. Are you trying to make me feel guilty?”
“Actually, I was trying to make you feel better. You keep making these comments about how you think I’ve spent the past ten years, then when I try to clarify things, you either change the subject or say you don’t want to know.”
“Because I don’t want to know!”
“That’s the problem—I do! Not only do I want to know you, I want you to know me.”
“You wanted me to know you’re horny; I get it.”
“No. Relationships are complicated for someone in my position; therefore, I typically don’t have them. You have this perception of the person I’ve become, and it’s not flattering. I don’t know; maybe you need to see me that way. Maybe it makes decisions you’ve made a little easier on your palate. But if you meant what you said earlier—that you were willing to try again—then you have to see me for who I am.”
“I see a man who enjoys great power and who could have anything or anyone he wants.”
“How can you see anything? You won’t even look. I’m standing in front of you–”
“And you’re naked.”
“In every sense of the word—and you’re completely oblivious to it.”
“Believe me, I noticed you were naked.”
“Then look at me! Look at me, Bella.”
So I do. His body is hard, his penis is soft, and though he’s yet to step under the shower head, his face is wet.
“I want you. I’ve spent a decade wanting something I couldn’t have from someone who moved halfway across the country to get away from me. I’m used to doing without. That’s what I wanted you to know.”
I throw my arms around him with such force it knocks him off-balance, and we stumble into the shower stall. Frigid water soaks my t-shirt and though I’m freezing, I don’t move. I can’t—but not because he’s holding me too tightly, though he is. It’s because he’s right. I need to know how he feels, what he’s done, and who he’s become. If shivering through ice-cold showers is something he endures, I need to endure it, too.
He pulls back and cups my face. I think he’s going to kiss me, but he doesn’t.
He stares at me, shaking his head. “Your lips are turning blue.”
“I don’t care.”
He adjusts the temperature of the water flow gradually so our bodies have time to adjust. My t-shirt is completely see-through and when his eyes roam over my body, he smiles. I expect him to make a comment, but he doesn’t.
“Turn around,” he whispers.
Assuming he wants privacy for something, I comply. The next thing I know, he’s rubbing shampoo into my hair. As he works it into a lather, he massages my scalp with his fingertips.
“I missed this,” he says.
As we finish getting ready for the day, we pretend there’s nothing remarkable about being in each other’s company.
We know the opposite is true.
When Edward brings me back to Alice’s apartment, she opens the door wearing an elf hat.
“You’re justin time,” she says. “Sing with me, Big Brother!”
“Have you started using Bailey’s in your coffee instead of half and half?” he asks. “Because this isn’t like you.”
Except he’s wrong. It is like Alice—I know from having shared a dorm room with her for fours years that she loves cheesy, whiny Christmas music with a passion of equal intensity to the one I have for cheese and wine.
I also know she hasn’t done the Christmas thing in a decade because Edward hates Christmas and that Edward hates Christmas because of me.
“I decided there’s no reason to wait until after Thanksgiving to get in the holiday spirit,” she explains. “If I want to hear Christmas music, I’ll play it. It just so happens that WASH-FM has taken care of it for me. The only thing missing is you.”
“Sorry, Alice,” he says. “The email about Karen Carpenter Christmas Karaoke must have gotten lost in my spam folder. I didn’t have a chance to Google song lyrics, so unfortunately you’re out of luck.”
“How can you not remember this song from our childhood?”
“I’m not sure to whose childhood you’re referring, but it certainly couldn’t be ours.” He turns to me. “Our father only listened to classical music and despite what the fact she gave birth to Alice would imply, our mother had better taste than this.”
Alice rolls her eyes. “It’s just us—we’re all family here. You don’t have to worry about your approval rating going down because once upon a time you donned blinking reindeer antlers and sang along with Wham.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’ve never–”
“Oh, don’t even.” She shakes her head, and the silver bells on her elf hat jingle. “I can produce photographic evidence of the antlers.”
“–listened to Wham.” He acts as if he’s annoyed, but when he looks at her, his face lights up. “Wait. Maybe I have.” He snaps his fingers in a moment of feigned realization. “Isn’t that the soundtrack to a kung-fu movie?”
They continue teasing each other, and it’s obvious they’re as close as they ever were. Though I know their childhood was far from idyllic, I’m a little envious. They’ve always had each other. No matter what happens, they always will.