December 31, 1999
I try not to think about what Edward is doing or what I would be doing if I were with him. But the apartment is empty, and there’s nothing for me to do but think. This is how I waste away the last morning of the millennium—curled up on the couch in flannel sleep pants sipping coffee, all the while trying not to think about Edward. It doesn’t take long for me to give up—in the absence of distractions, my effort is futile. Needing something—anything—to do, I get up and really look at stuff around the apartment.
I justify it to myself easily. It’s my apartment, too, and Carlisle told me to make myself at home, that I shouldn’t feel weird about using his things. In that sense, it’s not snooping. But my face heats up anyway because this is one of those scenarios where intent means more than action, and I want to try to get a handle on who Carlisle is.
The apartment is decidedly masculine, but not in a typical-guy kind of way. The staples are all accounted for—the leather living-room furniture, the high-end stereo equipment, the mostly-bare walls. There’s a general lack of color—nearly everything is black, white, or made of metal. For the most part, it all seems to fit. Then there are these random pieces here and there that don’t—the deep red cashmere throw draped over the edge of the sofa, the flokati, the fabric shower curtain and liner. Aesthetically, they work, but there’s something about them that doesn’t go, like the they’re the ghosts of girlfriends past.
I make my way to the bathroom and open the medicine cabinet. It’s empty except for a box of Magnums.
“Izzy? If you’re there, pick-up.”
Carlisle’s voice over the answering machine makes my face heat up as if he knows what I’ve been doing even though it’s not possible.
My face is on fire as I close the medicine cabinet and go to the kitchen to pick up the phone.
“Look, we’re slammed tonight and a couple of the temps we hired didn’t show. I’m not sure if you have plans–”
“You’re kidding, right?”
“I didn’t want to presume. Anyway, if you’d like to earn some cash and get out of the apartment…”
Working is probably the best thing for me right now.
“Just tell me when and where.”
When I arrive at Jude’s, Carlisle meets me in the foyer. I can’t remember how he looked when he left the apartment this morning, but it wasn’t anything like the way he looks now. His hair which I’d only ever seen down, is pulled back into a tight, short ponytail at the nape of his neck. He’s wearing the same black chef coat and pants he wears home. By then his uniform is a wrinkled, sweaty mess—not immaculately pressed the way it is now.
“Is it weird that I’m disappointed you’re not wearing a funny hat?”
Laughing, he gestures for me to follow him. “Sorry if I seem abrupt. I’ve never taken on anything this big by myself, and it feels like I have to be a hundred different places at once.”
“You’re running the kitchen?”
“No, I’m running everything.”
“Is that what it means to be a sous chef?”
“No. Technically, a sous chef is second-in-command, but since the concept behind tonight was my idea, I was given free rein over its execution. If it’s a success, I’m that much closer to being able to open my own place.”
“So this is a big night for you! You must be so excited.”
He snorts. “More like scared shitless. If I don’t pull this off, I’ll be back to busing tables. Anyway, back to business. If you think you can handle it, I’d like to work with our sommelier. He’s the guy who–”
“Handles the wine, I know.” I roll my eyes. “Tell me something—is there something about breasts that renders a person incapable of working a corkscrew?”
“Why does everyone assume sommeliers are dudes? My boyfriend…” I stop, meaning to correct myself. At the same time, I can’t bring myself to refer to Edward as my ex. “I mean Edward…well, he’s the same way.”
He stops walking and turns to face me. “Look, I don’t know what happened back in Washington, and I’m trying to mind my own business, but I’ve been around long enough to know a few things…” He looks at me as if waiting for permission to continue.
I nod. “Okay.”
“Whatever it was that brought you here was real. Pretending it didn’t happen, not saying it outloud—that doesn’t change anything. It just makes it harder to move on.”
He’s right, but that doesn’t make it easier. When I find my voice, I’m staring at his steel-toed boots.
“My ex-boyfriend and his father…well, they were both pretty insistent that female sommeliers don’t exist. His dad was kind chauvinistic to the point I barely could bring myself to talk around him, but Edward…” I look up at him, shrugging. “I don’t know. I guess his father brought out the worst in him. Sorry to snap at you. Hearing ‘sommelier’ and ‘guy’ in the same sentence struck a nerve.”
“Female sommeliers are rare. Ours is no exception; that’s why I referred to him as a guy.”
My cheeks are on fire. “Oh.”
“Anyway, Laurent—that’s his name—tends to speak French when he’s rushing around, and since you’re fluent, I thought he’d enjoy having you help him out. As far as everything else goes, as much as I’d like to talk more, I’m on borrowed time right now.”
I follow him downstairs to the wine cellar where he makes some quick introductions then makes himself scarce. At first, Laurent intimidates me. He appears to be in his fifties, and his demeanor is gruff. But after working beside him for while, I start to notice a fatherly warmth beneath his no-nonsense facade. Once he convinces me the wine service tonight is more about quantity than quality, I stop worrying that I’ll drop a bottle or spill some champagne.
The next thing I know, it’s five minutes to midnight and Laurent is handing me a glass of Dom Pérignon and sending me to the dining room so I won’t be “on my own for the start of the new milenium”. It’s a sweet gesture, but a bit of a waste—even if I’m surrounded by people, I’ll still be alone.
December 16, 2009
I take a deep breath and swallow hard. Though I didn’t expect Edward’s conversation with Carlisle to go well, I never expected this.
“I find it difficult to believe he said that.”
“He didn’t have to.”
“Oh.” When I exhale, I force a giggle. “You must have misunderstood. He cares, but not like that.”
“Look, I know you at least tried to move on after you left. I expected that—hell, I’d even hoped for it. I love you enough to want you to be happy, even if it means I have no place in your life. But if this…” He waves his index finger between us. “…is going to work, you have to be honest with me. And I’m getting the distinct impression you haven’t been.”
Sighing, I close my eyes. When I open them, I see Edward—really see him—for what’s probably the first time.
He’s a man.
That’s all he is.
Not a senator, or a larger-than-life figure cast in bronze or marble, not an overwhelming presence, and certainly not a sex god. He’s a just a man—a man who fears loss and betrayal as much as anyone else. A man whose fears are not unfounded, and that’s because of me.
“You’re right,” I say. “I’ll tell you everything—on one condition.”
“I expect the same from you.”
“I’ve already told you. I had sex with a few women but no relationships and certainly no feelings.”
“That’s not what I’m talking about.”
With upturned palms, he flails his arms. “What do you want—names and dates?”
“God, no. Whatever ‘arrangements’ you had and whom they were with—none of that matters to me. In fact, I’d rather pretend it didn’t happen.”
“You know everything else! Hell, the whole fucking country knows everything else. The media is nothing if not–”
“Why are you on anxiety meds?”
He takes in air as if he’s about to say something, but no sound escapes his lips. Instead he turns away, covering his face with his hands.
I’m not sure how long I stand there staring at his back, but enough time passes that I wonder if I’m imagining his almost-imperceptible trembling. His silence makes me nervous, and eventually I start to panic. That’s when I give up trying to figure it out—I’m shaking enough that I wouldn’t be able to tell anyway.
When he finally speaks, he’s still facing the other direction. “Please don’t change the subject.”
His voice is quiet and measured, but I think his face could be telling a different story. If it weren’t, he’d let me see it.
“I love you so much. It’s…” Not knowing what else to say, I press my body to his back, hoping to convey to him that I’m physically affected too, and there isn’t any shame in it.
The next thing I know I’m in his arms. My face is against his chest, and I can feel the wild beating of his heart. I’m not sure if I’m crying out of stress, semi-drunkeness, or the sheer relief that comes with Edward holding me. What matters more is that I’m unable to stop. I’m as vulnerable as ever, but it doesn’t bother me because I know I’m not alone, that he’s vulnerable, too.
“I’m sorry,” I say. “I didn’t mean–”
“Shh.” His arms tighten around me. “You can’t control how other people feel.”
“I meant for snooping in your medicine cabinet. I just wanted to see if you were still as anal-retentive as you used to be. Did I…I mean…are they…? Shit.”
I wipe under my eyes and pull just far enough away to enable me to see his face. He’s flushed but doesn’t appear to have been crying. I want to ask if him if my leaving the way I did is part of why he takes them—if that’s what he meant the other night when he said he was angry at himself for letting me have all the power, but I won’t—at least not now. There’s something I have to say first—something he should have heard from me and not inferred from a conversation he never wanted to have with the half-brother he never wanted to meet.
Standing as tall as I can, I meet his gaze. “I told you Carlisle and I had been friends with benefits, and though it’s technically true, it was more involved than that. I didn’t know where things were going between you and I, or if I’d see you again after that night. It was the first time we’d been alone together in so long. If it turned out to be all we had, I didn’t want to waste it talking about other people.”
“So you and he were together?”
“Not exactly. I wasn’t ready for that kind of thing. I came out here because I felt like I’d needed to figure out who I was again. I couldn’t do that if I got into another serious relationship. For the first year we lived together, we were just friends. Then we starting sleeping together, and eventually were just…more. I wish there was a way I could explain it. Unless…” Then I remember the letter I wrote Carlisle all those years ago—the one now hidden at the bottom my lingerie drawer beneath the underwear I only use once a month.
“There’s something I want to show you.” I head to my bedroom, tugging him along with me.
When I turn away from my dresser with the folded sheet of faded yellow legal paper in hand, the sight of Edward standing beside my bed renders me incapable of movement. His presence is still surreal enough that for a moment, I wonder if I’m imagining it.
“I’m sorry,” I say. “I’m not stalling. It’s just that sometimes I still can’t believe you’re here.”
“I know the feeling.” His smile is small but real.
It reminds me that however awkward I may feel, he’s worth it.
“I wrote this about a year after I moved here,” I say, handing him the letter. “Carlisle gave it back to me, hoping I’d let you read it. I couldn’t bring myself to show it to you, but not because I’m trying to hide anything. Those first months away from you…” I shake my head.
“I was afraid if I let you read it, you’d think I blamed you for what a mess I was. Anyway, it explains a lot.”
I can’t look at him as he reads it. Instead, I change out of my dress and go about getting ready for bed. I’m about to go brush my teeth when he catches my hand and pulls me to where he’s sitting on the bed.
“I’ve had problems with anxiety as long as I can remember. I started taking medication for it during my campaign for the State Senate at the suggestion of my doctor down in Alton. I don’t frequently have panic attacks, but I do have them. That’s what the prescriptions are for.” He holds up my letter to Carlisle. “You could have just told me.”
I shrug. “Things are weird enough between you and Carlisle without you knowing all the details. Anyway, that’s how things were in the beginning. It wasn’t long after that he and I began sleeping together. We never defined our relationship, but we did function as a couple. It was naïve of me, but I thought if we weren’t technically seeing each other, no one would get hurt. I’m not going to claim what we had wasn’t meaningful because it was. But you have to believe me when I tell you what I felt for him was nothing like what I feel for you. He didn’t understand why I thought something was missing until he met Esme. If he seems territorial about me, it’s only because he doesn’t want to see me get hurt.”
He pulls me against his chest and, when he speaks, it’s almost too quiet for me to hear.
“He’s not the only one.”