January 1, 2000
When I open my eyes, the late-afternoon sun is streaming through my window brightly enough that the dust particles in the air look like tiny flecks of gold. I shouldn’t feel like a slacker for sleeping in considering how late I worked last night, but I kind of do. Edward’s routine is so regimented, I’m used to being awake at the asscrack of dawn regardless of whether or not I need to be. I consider lingering in bed, but then I smell coffee brewing. I make my way toward the kitchen, stopping in the hallway when I hear a voice I don’t recognize.
“I can’t believe you went through with it. You hate living with other people.”
“I hate working for other people more,” Carlisle answers. “If last night showed me anything, it’s that I’m ready to open my own place. If you could have seen it…Ma, it was amazing—the kind of night out people talk about for years.”
I’ve always thought eavesdropping required some degree of effort on the part of the person listening in; therefore, I’m unwilling to acknowledge that’s what I’m doing.
“I’m so proud of you,” she says. “You know, if you really believe you’re ready, there’s no need to wait. You have more than enough money to do this sitting in trust–”
“We’ve been through this before—just, no. He didn’t want me. Why should I want his money?”
“Ma, stop it.”
I may not know what they’re talking about—hell, I may not even really know Carlisle—but I know this isn’t a conversation he wants to be having.
“I’m sorry to intrude,” I say, stepping into the kitchen. “I just wanted to get some coffee.”
“Carlisle didn’t tell me he had company.” She extends her hand to me, smiling warmly. “I’m Sarah. It’s so nice to meet you—my son is always so secretive about his personal life.”
Of course she thinks I’m that kind of guest—he’s in sleep pants, I’m in one of his old band shirts, and both of us have bed hair.
“This is Izzy,” he says, “my roommate.”
“Oh?” Her eyes dart from me to Carlisle, then back again.
For a split second, I could swear she looks disappointed.
“Well, I should be on my way.”
“Nice to meet you,” I say.
He follows his mother to the door. “I’ll walk you out.”
It doesn’t matter that I can no longer see them-I can hear them just as well as I could when they were right beside me.
“No wonder you don’t mind having a roommate!”
“It’s not like that,” he says.
“Hm. Maybe not yet. See you later.”
When Carlisle reappears, I’m standing there with nothing in my hands and my head angled toward the front door as if I’ve been…well…eavesdropping, which of course I was. In the rush to make it look like I wasn’t, I reach for a teaspoon in the dish rack, knocking my coffee over in the process.
“Sorry about the parental invasion.” He gets a dishrag from the drawer and mops up the spill. “You know, despite the fact I’m a twenty-eight-year-old chef, my mom thinks I’ll starve if she doesn’t drop off food once a week. I’ve been so slammed at work getting ready for New Years Eve, I forgot to tell her you moved in. Anyway, I’m not sure how much you heard…” He runs a hand through his hair, tucking it behind his ears.
His face is flushed, and I can tell he’s embarrassed. I’m just not sure over what.
“Uh, how much did you hear?”
For a split second, I consider lying. Then I realize I’m not awake enough to come up with a halfway decent one, so I don’t bother.
“Enough to know you’re a mama’s boy with a trust fund that for whatever reason you won’t touch.”
His mouth drops open but nothing comes out.
“Fuck.” I stamp my foot, snap my fingers, and turn my head all at once. “I knew I should have lied.”
“I don’t have a trust fund, but if I did I’d have no problem spending it. The money my mom was talking about…” He rolls his eyes. “Well, that’s a long story—and not one I enjoy telling.”
Considering how understanding he’s been about me not wanting to talk about Edward, the least I can do is offer him the same courtesy.
“That’s fine,” I say. “I won’t pry…”
“…about that. But the fact your mom still cooks for you?” I shake my head. “I’ll never let you live that down. Not to mention…”
“Maybe it’s the fact that I’m still half asleep, but I got the distinct impression your mom was disappointed you and I aren’t getting it on.”
He shrugs. “She probably was.”
“Seriously? Once my mom found a pair of my black panties once and went on a two-hour long tirade about how I was going to burn in hell. I can’t imagine having a parent condone promiscuity.”
“Believe me, it’s nothing like that. She just doesn’t want me to end up like her.”
I hold out my hand. “And that would be?”
He leans against the kitchen island and takes a sip of coffee. “I’ll tell you—but only if you tell me why you left D.C. on Christmas Day with just the shirt on your back.”
“Oh.” I pick up my mug and head back to my room. “Never mind.”
December 16, 2009
I lower my head so he won’t see me rolling my eyes. “So much for honesty.”
“What makes you think I’m lying?”
“Seriously? I mean…” If I can get past the absurdity of what he’s saying, I just might be able to put my thoughts into words. Unfortunately, I just can’t. “Seriously?”
“Yes,” he says.
“Thanks, Alex. I’ll take Revisionist History for 200.”
“You don’t believe me.”
“No,” I admit.
“Why? What possible reason would I have to lie about this now?”
I let out a long sigh. “I suppose you have a point. Okay, your turn.”
After threading his fingers through mine, he rests our joined hands on my lap. “I know you well enough to know that whether you verbalize it or not, you’re hoping things between him and me go a certain way…” He pauses, brushing his thumbs against my thighs.
“I have no expectations whatsoever; you know this.”
“I’m not talking about expectations. In your ideal world, how does this end? Because I’m going to be honest—I can’t see us ever being friends.”
“Neither can he.”
He snorts. “At least we have that in common.”
“I’ll tell you the same thing I told him—I just want you to accept his place in my life.” I see him grimace, and I don’t have to think about my next question. “Why are you jealous of him?”
“Because everything he is to you, I should be—and the worst part is, it’s all my fault. Once I realized your inexperience wasn’t an act, I shouldn’t have let the physical aspect of our relationship progress as quickly as it did. I could say it’s because we were sharing a bed and you kept asking me to kiss you, but it’s more than that. You were so trusting, so honest. You looked at me as if I already was the person I still fear I’ll never be. I wanted to be your lover so badly, I forgot I should also be your friend. So yes, I’m jealous of him. Everything you have with him, I want you to have with me. I want to be your best friend, the one you can count on to be there. I want to be the person you drunk text dirty haiku to, the one you confide in, the one you know won’t judge you. But I also want to strip you naked and fuck you senseless. I want you to need me the way I need you.” He brings my hand to his mouth, and slowly drags his lips across my knuckles. His eyes close as his sigh warms my skin. “Were you happy with him?”
“I was content.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” His voice is as polished as ever, but then he opens his eyes, and I can see his vulnerability.
I tell him the truth without hesitation. “He isn’t you.”
He pulls me tightly against him and presses his mouth to mine. We promised honesty, and there’s nothing more honest than this. Unlike before, we don’t make love to avoid having a difficult conversation. We make love because we had that conversation, and we came out of it okay.
December 20, 2009
Fourteen years later, it’s the same; I can’t take my eyes off him. Standing in front of my bathroom mirror, he’s almost out of place. Even as he does something as mundane as brushing his hair, he doesn’t seem to belong in such humble surroundings as my bathroom. I watch him from behind, focusing on his reflection rather than the sight of him in the flesh. At the moment, it’s better for me to think he isn’t real—otherwise, I’d be unable to resist the urge to jump his bones.
“You know…” I lay my hand on the counter and lean into him. “We don’t have to go anywhere tonight. I’d be perfectly content staying home.”
“I thought you always went to Carlisle and Esme’s for Sunday dinner.”
He laughs. “I’m not going to mess with Sunday dinner.”
“It’s not Sunday dinner the way you’re thinking. Our days off from work are Sunday and Monday, so Sunday is our Saturday. Besides, you and I just had dinner with them Wednesday…” I run my fingers down his chest, stopping when I reach his belt buckle.
“The main reason I came to Chicago rather than inviting you to Alton was because I wanted to see if I could be a part of your normal, everyday life.” Making eye-contact with me in the mirror, he points his brush at my reflection. “I think it’s safe to say nothing about Wednesday was normal.”
“That’s my point. Given the tension between you and Carlisle, I don’t think a slight change in routine would be the worst thing.”
“Ha ha.” I fold my arms across my chest as I lean my lower back against the vanity.
“Come on, Bella. It wasn’t that bad. All things considered, it’s a miracle neither of us left on a stretcher.”
I close my eyes, sighing. “Is that supposed to make me better? I mean, that was before you even knew the whole story. If it took that much effort for you to refrain from trying to kick his ass…”
“Trying? Thanks for the vote of no confidence.”
“Not trying to bruise your ego here, but Carlisle’s a fourth-degree black belt.”
“Oh sure.” He rolls his eyes, laughing. “Now you tell me. In all seriousness, you’re not willing to give up your friendship with him. I’m not willing to give up my relationship with you. If we don’t get over the awkwardness of the situation now, it’s only going to get worse.”
I take the brush from his hand and place it on the counter beside the sink. “There’s also a chance Sarah will be there.”
“Oh. Well, that’s not a problem.”
I brace myself for evidence of sarcasm, but it never comes.
“Seriously? You’d be able to sit across a dinner table from the woman with whom your father cheated on your mother?”
“My father cheated on my mother with many women, and it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve had to interact with one of them socially.”
“You can tell me if it’s too much. I don’t want you putting on a brave face for me. You’re more important to me than dinner at my friends’ house.” Wrapping my arms around his waist, I press myself against his chest and breathe in the musky scent of his skin. “You’re more important to me than anything.”