December 26, 1999
It’s two o’clock in the morning, but I don’t let that stop me. In all honesty, it’s just as well. I have no desire to call Alice at her father’s house where the caller ID will display my location. The last thing I want to do is put her in the middle. Telling her I’m in Chicago then asking her not tell Edward isn’t fair to her. As freaked out as I am about doing this, I know I have to. As much as I needed to get out of D.C., the last thing I want is to hurt Alice or cause Edward to worry needlessly.
As suspected, the phone doesn’t even ring. There’s a pause, and then I hear her voicemail greeting. I start speaking after the tone.
“Alice, it’s Izzy. I just couldn’t do it anymore. We got into a fight and I realized if I didn’t get out now, I never would. Anyway, I’m safe, and I love you. I’ll be in touch.” I move to hang up the phone, then stop. “No matter what, you’ll always be my sister.”
I end the call right before my voice breaks. For the second time in as many nights, my pillow is soaked before I finally fall asleep.
December 27, 1999
I step away from the door and scan the tables in the coffee shop, looking for potential-apartment dude. There are two blond guys here but neither of them have goatees, so I’m guessing I made it here before he did.
“Isabella? Hi, I’m Carlisle.”
The next thing I know, I’m on the floor.
“Are you okay?”
“Uh huh.” I scramble to my feet and brush off my jeans, afraid to look at his face. After our somewhat-awkward phone conversation, he probably already thinks I’m a spaz. Explaining that I fell off my stool because I’m that stressed over finding a place to live wouldn’t do much to change his mind.
“I’m sorry,” he says. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”
Forcing a smile, I look up at him. He’s exactly how he described himself—very tall, with blond hair and a neatly trimmed goatee. At the same time, this description isn’t entirely accurate. He left out that the part about being good-looking to the point it’s almost intimidating. Meanwhile, I feel like an asshole for even noticing. I offer to buy him coffee, hoping the time standing in line will be enough to pull myself together. By the time I return to our table, I’m convinced I can do this without sounding like a douche.
“I’m glad you were okay with meeting me here before looking at your apartment,” I say. “I mean, I know if I move in I’ll be alone with you all the time. It’s just I’ve never been out on my own before and–”
“No, it’s kind of a pain in the ass—that’s why I appreciate it so much. Anyway, it’s not as if I’m paranoid or anything. But my dad is a cop, and for as long as I can remember, I’ve been told never to go anywhere with strange men.”
His eyes widen.
Fuck, what if he’s offended? I backpedal, trying to cover my ass.
“Not that I think I you’re strange. I mean, in the ten minutes I’ve known you, several adjectives have gone through my head, but strange isn’t one of them. Good-looking has, but since the same can be said of the average serial killer…”
One corner of his mouth turns up, and he cocks his head to the side. “I’m not sure how to take that.”
“Anyway, I’ve been babbling about myself so much we’ve barely talked about you. And we should, you know, before we go back to your place.”
His laughter catches me off-guard—not because I don’t see the humor in what I said, but because it reminds me so much of Edward’s.
“Back to my place?” he says. “Well, when you put it like that…”
“Ha ha. You’re funny. You know what I mean.”
“You mean you don’t want to see my etchings?”
I flash him The Look of Death.
He smiles. “Sorry.”
“No, you’re not.”
“You’re right; I’m not.”
“Fine, then I’ll go first. I’m twenty-two, and I just moved here from Washington.”
“State or D.C.?”
“I grew up in Washington State. I went to college in Washington D.C., where I earned a degree that’s useless unless I want to teach, which I don’t. I mean, I’m sure it pays more than what I was making as a barista, and it would get everyone off my back about my lack of direction, but I don’t think I have the patience for it.”
“Then you shouldn’t do it. Teaching is hard job—even for those who love it. It’s not fair to students to go into education simply because you can’t think of anything else you’re qualified to do.”
“Right.” I put my elbow on the table and rest my head on my palm. “Your turn. What do you do?”
“I’m a teacher.”
It doesn’t matter that I don’t know what to say to him. I’m too busy choking on my foot.
“Just kidding,” he says, laughing. “I do have a degree in music education, though. When I was right out of college, I taught high school for a year.”
“You make it sound like it was a long time ago. You can’t be that old.”
“I’m twenty-eight. Anyway, the funding for the program was cut, and I took a job waiting tables. It didn’t take long for me to realize I was more comfortable in the kitchen than I ever was in a classroom, so I went back to school to learn to cook. Now I’m the sous-chef at Jude’s.”
“Wow. I like to cook and people say I’m good at it, but I can’t imagine doing it for a living.”
“Don’t like cooking that much, huh?”
“Oh, I love it. It just never occurred to me I could pay the bills that way. Then again, I majored in French—I can’t make pay the bills that way, either.” I move my arm, knocking over my coffee in the process. “Shit.” I mop up the spill with the paper napkin I don’t realize I’ve shredded until now. “I’m not usually this clumsy.”
“You’re nervous. It’s fine; I get it.”
“Is it that obvious?” I close my eyes and sigh. “God, I feel like such a tool.”
“Why? You said you’ve never been out on your own, and moving to a city where you don’t know anyone is a huge adjustment for anyone.”
“True. Then there’s prospect of living with someone I don’t know—and that’s scary. I mean, I did it my freshman year of college, but this is different because…well, you have a…you know. You know what I mean, right?”
“Was that English?”
“Don’t make fun of me.”
“You know,” he says, laughing. “You could have just said it’s because I’m a guy.”
“In case you haven’t noticed I’m a little on edge here!”
“Hey, I’m slowly calming down. Twenty minutes ago, I wasn’t even able to keep my ass on my seat.”
“At this rate, by the time we get back to my apartment, you may even be acting normal. Let me know if that happens, okay? Somehow I get the feeling having a baseline for later comparison would be helpful.”
I don’t know that I’m necessarily what I’d call normal, but by the time Carlisle and I walk around the corner to his apartment, I’m the most at ease I’ve been all day. That his facial expressions remind me of Edward doesn’t come as a surprise to me. In the two days since I left Washington D.C., I see Edward just about everywhere I look.
Carlisle’s apartment is just about perfect. A couple blocks from Wrigley Field and built around the same time, it has lots of neat architectural touches newer construction lacks. There’s only one bathroom, but the kitchen is so amazing it more than makes up for it. Most importantly, something about him tells me I can trust him—and it has nothing to do with the fact he volunteers his personal information and tells me to have my dad run a background check.
By the time I take care of my bill at the hotel, I’m too tired to make a run for necessities. I move into my new place carrying nothing but my purse. If Carlisle thinks it’s weird that he has to lend me sheets, towels, and a t-shirt to sleep in, he doesn’t comment.
And if he hears me crying in my bedroom, he doesn’t comment about that, either.
December 16, 2009
Since Edward came to Chicago earlier than planned, Esme suggested we introduce him to Carlisle as soon as possible. This way, if things didn’t go well, all parties involved would have enough time to cool off before Christmas, thus sparing Alice unnecessary drama.
I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it wasn’t this. When Carlisle and Esme arrive for dinner, Edward comes with me to answer the door. Though I’ve spent hours mentally going over what I’d say at this moment, when I open my mouth nothing comes out. Just as I find my voice, I hear Carlisle’s.
“Hello, Senator,” he says.
“Good evening, Carlisle.”
They stand there staring at each other the way fighters size up their opponents.
“I don’t know about you,” Esme says, “but the draft by the door here is killing me. Why don’t we move this to the living room? We could sit down and have some drinks.”
“I was about to mix some martinis,” I say.
“Perfect. I’ll have mine extra dirty.”
Esme follows me into the living room, but Edward and Carlisle stay rooted in place.
“Would you come for a walk with me?” Edward asks him. “There are some things I need to say to you.”