December 31, 1995
Edward hasn’t told me exactly what our New Year’s Eve agenda is, except that I’m supposed to wear a dress. I’d brought exactly one dress to college with me—a short, black, baby-doll thing with puffy sleeves. I throw it on over thick black tights and my Docs, the way I always wear it. My one concession to the fact it’s a special occasion is my lipstick. It’s Revlon ColorStay and more money than I like to spend, but the shade is called Raisin and sets off my skin tone nicely. It makes me feel sophisticated—almost like a grown-up—which is much better than how I usually feel. When I emerge from the bathroom, I’m pleased with how I look.
Then I see Edward. What he’s wearing isn’t exactly a suit, but it’s not a tuxedo, either. I’m not sure how to describe it, except that it’s dressier than business attire but not like what guys wear to the prom. It looks amazing on him, and all I can think is how much I want to rip it off him. He smiles when he sees me, then he surveys my outfit. Though his face betrays nothing and he doesn’t speak, it’s obvious he doesn’t like it. I’m just not sure what to do about it, except go on the defensive.
“You said to wear a dress and I did, even though I feel ridiculous. This is the only dress I have; please don’t make fun of me.”
“It’s not the dress, it’s…well…you’re wearing Doc Martens.”
“I usually do.”
“Even with dresses?”
“With everything,” I admit, shrugging.
“Okay.” He draws out the second syllable, making it sound more like a question. Then he sighs, and I know something is wrong.
“I’m not sure how your pseudo-goth attire works with the dress code.”
“Dress code? I thought we were going out to eat.”
It’s one of those moments, in which he knows something I don’t but feel as if I should. When this has happened before, we were doing physical stuff and the ensuing awkwardness I felt came largely from my unwillingness to admit my genuine fear of breaking his boy bits and landing him in the emergency room. This is different. I feel deficient—not because of my age or lack of experience, but because he’s been exposed to things that I haven’t and likely never will. It makes me feel plebeian, and I don’t care for it one bit.
I smack my lips and fold my arms across my chest. “What the hell kind of restaurant has a dress code?”
“The four-star kind.”
Until now I wasn’t aware restaurants had stars, but I feel ghetto enough as it is, so I nod and my fake my I-knew-that look. The problem is that I can’t successfully fake anything.
“It’s okay,” he says, pulling me into his arms. “I should have explained this to you in better detail. Sometimes, I forget this is new to you.”
I don’t think he means to sound patronizing but he does, and it infuriates me. I push him away—not only do I not want him to touch me, I don’t want to be anywhere near him.
“It may surprise you to hear this, but Forks isn’t all trailer parks and elk hunting. There are shops and businesses—some of which even serve food.”
“I never meant to imply otherwise.”
“Then why are you acting as if this is the first time in my life I’ve gone out to eat?”
His silence tells me he’s censoring himself, and I wish he wouldn’t. Good or bad, I want to know what he’s thinking and feeling—that will tell me who he is. Otherwise, I’ll never know if I really love him, though not because I question the validity of my emotions. I just wonder if the boy to whom they’re directed even exists.
He looks at me and when he speaks, his demeanor is gentle. “By your own admission you’ve never experienced fine dining. That’s why I made the reservations—because given your love of food and cooking, I think you’ll enjoy it. But I know you, and you won’t if you feel self-conscious.”
“You said it was jacket-required, right? I think I’ll be fine. I mean, I have a jacket to wear over this.”
He laughs and, though I’m not sure what he finds so funny, I laugh, too. It’s preferable to the alternative, and I don’t want him to see me cry.
The restaurant is the kind of place I’ve seen in movies, that I thought didn’t exist in real life. Who am I kidding? In my real life, places like this don’t exist. Edward holds my hand as we’re led to our table. As we wind our way through the dining room, I see little black dresses and lots of diamonds, but mine are the only Docs in the place. I realize he was right—I am underdressed. Though no one seems to notice let alone care, it feeds my unease and reinforces the fact that Edward and I come from different worlds. I think of ski-weekend ex-girlfriend. She probably wore diamonds, not Docs. I’ve never felt inadequate before and I don’t want to, but I do. I can’t help it.
The table at which we’re seated is candlelit. It’s romantic, and we’re back in our bubble where there’s just us and nothing else matters. His smile is beautiful, and I’m able to relax. Then I look at the menu, and I think I’m going to die. There are no prices on individual dishes, just one at the top of the menu next to the words prix fixe. The word expensive seems inadequate, but the phrase fucking insane comes to mind.
“I can’t afford this,” I say.
“I invited you; this is on me.”
“But you couldn’t have known…”
“I’ve been here before. You should try the risotto. I think you’ll enjoy it.”
I tell myself this isn’t a big deal, that I knew he had money. Except it is kind of a big deal, and I had no idea he had this much money. I don’t have time to process this, though. When I look up, a man with a funny silver necklace is standing beside our table.
“May I have a diet coke, please?” I ask.
“I’ll let your waiter know,” he says. “Do you have any questions about the wine list?”
After much discussion, Edward orders a bottle.
“If that wasn’t our waiter, who was it?” I ask when we’re alone.
“Okay,” I say, gesturing for him to continue.
“He’s the wine expert. Most fine restaurants have one on staff. These guys are amazing—you tell them what you’re ordering, and they make suggestions that will enhance your meal.”
His expression doesn’t change when he nods, and it’s clear he has no idea why I would take issue with his choice of words.
“Isn’t that kind of sexist? I mean, I’m sure there are female some of…whatever you said they were called.”
“Sommeliers. And you’re right; there probably are. I’ve just never encountered one.”
I want to remind him that even if he has been here before he can’t possibly frequent these sorts of restaurants regularly enough for his statement to have any validity, but then I realize I don’t know for sure that he doesn’t. When it comes to his life outside of me, I don’t know much of anything.
But I want to—I’m just not sure how to go about asking.
After the waiter takes our food orders, the sommelier returns and presents Edward with a bottle.
Edward surveys the label, nodding. “Thank you.”
With a grace and efficiency I’ve never encountered, the sommelier opens the bottle and pours less than a mouthful into a glass, swishes it around a bit, then takes a sip.
“Oh, sure, help yourself,” I say.
He smiles; it’s Edward who appears mortified.
“No, seriously. Why did you do that?” I ask.
“There are so many factors that can affect the quality of a bottle of wine. I wouldn’t serve it without being certain it tastes the way it was intended.”
“So you’ve tasted every bottle you offer?”
“Yes.” He pours a glass and places it in front of me.
“Do you ever get drunk at work?”
He laughs. “You’ll enjoy this. Your companion made an excellent choice.”
I look at Edward. If he was annoyed with me before, he doesn’t appear to be now.
“I’m sorry I’m bothering you,” I say to the sommelier. “This is all new to me, and it’s fascinating.”
“You aren’t,” he says, flashing me a smile as he pours a glass for Edward. “I’m here to answer questions. Let me know if I can be of any further assistance. Enjoy.”
Despite the way the evening began, I do just that.
Half an hour before midnight, we’re back at his apartment. I lean against the wall in the hallway as he unlocks his front door.
“Problems standing?” he asks, smiling.
“No.” I straighten my posture and, for a second, I’m able to remain upright. It’s when I try to walk through the door that I trip over my own feet.
“Careful there.” With his arms around me, he walks me inside his apartment and over to his bed. “Probably the safest place for you right now.”
“I’m not sleepy.” I shrug out of my coat and hand it to him.
After hanging it in the closet beside his own, he kneels in front of me and starts unlacing my boots. “Who said anything about sleep?”
He’s close enough for me to lick and I want to more than anything, but I don’t because I’m still weird about it. It doesn’t feel as if he’s mine to touch.
“You’re yummy,” I tell him.
“Now this sounds familiar.”
“You probably hear it all the time.”
“Only from you when you’re drunk,” he says, rubbing my feet through my tights.
“Don’t. They probably smell like ass.”
“They smell like feet, and I don’t mind.”
“You drank twice as much as I did. Why aren’t you trashed?”
“What makes you think I’m not?”
“You don’t seem it. You’re just as graceful and polished as always.” Realizing what I said, I cover my face with my hands. “God, I’m pathetic.”
“What makes you think that?”
“Because you make me nervous—like, really nervous—and I feel like an enormous douchebag when I’m nervous. I don’t want you to think of me like a tool who says dumb things all the time because when I’m not around you, I usually don’t. And you’re so…not like me. And you make me want stuff I’ve never wanted, that I’m not even sure I understand.”
He smiles, and my eyes go right to his lips. All I can think about is how it feels when that mouth does dirty things to me.
“I want to be inside you,” I say.
He laughs. “I don’t think that’s physically possible.”
“Not like that…I mean…you’re always inside me, even when we’re not…you know…because I love you. I love you so much. I want more than anything for you to love me like that, the way I love you.”
“I already do.”
“I love you, Bella. I’m not always good at showing it and it’s hard for me to say, but I hope you believe me.”
I collapse backwards onto the bed, groaning. “This sucks.”
“That’s not the reaction I was hoping for-”
“It’s the wine, right? It has to be the wine. I’m hallucinating.”
“Wine won’t make you hallucinate.”
“That’s what I thought. But I also thought you told me you loved me, and there’s no way that was real.”
“Ah, but it was.”
“I don’t believe you! In fact, I bet when I wake up tomorrow I won’t remember any of this happened.”
“In that case, I’ll have to remind you. Meanwhile…” He runs his hands up the insides of my legs under my dress. “Does this feel real?”
“Yes,” I say, sighing.
“What about this?”
He hooks his thumbs inside the waistband of my tights and tugs gently. I raise my hips and he pulls my tights down my legs, slowly dragging his fingertips along my newly-exposed skin. I think he’s going to touch me there, but he doesn’t. He doesn’t touch me at all. I bring my legs together, expecting to catch him between them, but he’s not there. I prop myself up on my elbows to see where he went; I don’t see him, but the bathroom door is closed.
If this is real, he loves me. Loving me is nice, and it makes me want to do something nice for him. I evaluate various possibilities, but the fact I doubt I could walk limits me. Then I remember how much he seems to like getting me naked, and that’s something easily enough accomplished. I wrestle myself out of my dress and underwear, tossing them across the apartment. Stretched out on Edward’s bed wearing absolutely nothing, I feel adult and empowered, maybe even sexy. Then I remember I have no boobs. I grab a pillow from the head of the bed and hold it in front of my body.
He emerges from the bathroom clad only in his boxers, but he doesn’t look toward the bed. Instead, he gets a bottle of champagne from the refrigerator and pops the cork.
A-cups be damned! He claims he likes them despite their humility. I toss the pillow aside and lie on my side, waiting for him to see me.
“Five minutes to midnight,” he says, pouring us each a glass. “Think you can make it? I mean, you’re even worse off than I am, and I’m in pretty poor…” He stops talking when he sees me on the bed. “Wow.”
“Happy New Year.”
The champagne is abandoned on the counter. We don’t toast at midnight; we’re otherwise occupied.
1996 is going to be a good year.
November 23, 2009
My feet no longer touch the floor, but I don’t worry about falling. Even if Edward were to let go of me, I wouldn’t hit the ground. I couldn’t; the pull I feel toward Edward is far stronger than gravity. With my legs wrapped around his waist, he presses me against the guestroom door. My hands pull at his hair as my tongue enters his mouth. When he pushes his hips into me, he’s as hard as the wood behind my back. It’s for me, it’s because of me, and though it’s attached to his body, I know without a doubt it belongs to me. He belongs to me. It seems as if he always has. The only thing left for me to do is to give myself back to him.
“I want you, Edward. I want forever.”
He tightens his hold on me and carries me to the bed. Soon, he’s bare-chested and I’m down to my bra and my jeans. His hands are in my hair and he’s kissing me, and for the first time of my life, I’m not afraid. I’m standing on the cusp of losing myself forever, and I don’t care because he’s lost himself, too. I don’t need me as long as there’s an us. With his hands still in my hair, he nudges my head back slightly and looks in my eyes.
“Everything. Nothing. I’m not even sure.” I shrug.
“But you meant what you said?”
“I’m confused. One moment I’m listening to Alice’s Christmas plans and the next thing I’m here.”
“You didn’t seem to mind.”
“Oh, I don’t. But I would like to understand what brought us here. As of a few hours ago, you were still ambivalent.”
He has to know how much that voicemail would mean to me. When I left him ten years ago, it was rare for him to hold my hand in public. But for him to record that outgoing voicemail message on his cellphone and leave it there all this time for anyone to hear—that kind of gesture makes nothing else matter.
“I called you just now, but you didn’t answer.”
“I must not have heard you over Alice’s jingle-hell rock.”
“I meant your phone.”
“That I should have felt—it’s on vibrate in my pocket. I’m sorry if you thought I was ignoring you.”
“I didn’t. Anyway, it went directly to voicemail.”
“Are you sure you dialed the right number?”
“Yes. There was a message for me…”
“Oh,” he says, nodding. “I can’t believe you finally heard it. I kept that number active in case you called me, but I use a different number now. I’m not even sure where the phone attached to the number you called is—it’s this ridiculously heavy thing that looks like a brick. I kept it active for you…just in case. I used to check for messages on it daily, sometimes even more than that. Then I set it up so any messages left on it would show up on my BlackBerry.” He cups my face in his hands and strokes my cheeks with his thumbs. “That phone line was my only chance. I had things I needed to tell you, and that was the only way I knew how. I’d given up thinking you’d ever hear it.”
“You have another phone number?”
“Of course. I’d don’t care who from my personal life hears that message, but from a political standpoint–”
“I should have known.” I close my eyes, sighing. “I can’t believe I thought…” I shake my head. “Never mind.”
It’s ridiculous for me to feel disappointed, but I can’t help it. His message proves that he loves me. If only love were enough. More than that, I need him to accept me as I am. I’m not entirely sure he does.
“We should get back to Alice,” I say. “She’s probably been waiting forever. We’re being horribly rude.”
“You’re probably right.” He picks up his shirt and puts his arms through the sleeves. “You haven’t changed your mind about us, have you?”
I almost say yes. Then I see his eyes, and I just can’t. I think about it as I pull my sweater over my head. He’s a United States Senator. Of course he wouldn’t have an outgoing message like that for everyone to hear. It’s enough that he left it there for all those years just for me. It’s more than enough.
“No,” I tell him, smoothing my sweater over my hips. “I love you too much.”