Delamain Réserve de la Famille Grande Champagne Cognac
June 20, 1996
The heels I wear to Edward’s birthday dinner aren’t bad. Unlike the black patent leather stilettos I wore at the boutique, they have straps and a chunky heel, and my ankles don’t feel as if they’re going to give out on me each time I take a step. The shoes aren’t a problem, but my underwear—or lack thereof— is a different story. The blue dress shows everything, and pantylines are no exception. For the first time in my life, I have no choice but to wear a thong. The narrow strip of Lycra between my legs offers no coverage whatsoever, but I tell myself not to worry about it because my dress comes down to my knees. It isn’t until we leave the apartment and I feel air on my butt-cheeks that the realization strikes me—I’m about to meet my boyfriend’s father with my girly bits exposed to the elements. I tell myself it’s not a big deal, that no one will be able to tell just by looking at me. When we arrive at the restaurant, my delusion is happily in place. As Edward gives his name to the maitre d’, I listen to the music playing over the sound system. It’s Bach’s Air on the G String. I walk to our table thinking I want to die.
Mr. Cullen stands when he sees us. “Hello, Edward.”
“Good evening, sir.” Edward shakes his father’s hand before gesturing to me. “You remember Isabella?”
I expect recognition to show on Mr. Cullen’s face, but it doesn’t. He’s not looking at me disapprovingly, but there’s no warmth there, either. I wonder if he’s noticed the way my dress fits and has assumed I’m the kind of girl who’d go True Scotsman to a four-star restaurant. Then I realize what his passing judgment on me like that actually means—that my boyfriend’s dad checked out my ass—and it makes me want to spew. Sometimes I wish I were more comfortable standing up to Edward. If I hadn’t been such a pussy at the boutique, I wouldn’t have to worry if mine was hanging out in front of Edward’s father. If I had it to do over again, I would have put my Doc-Marten-clad foot down and insisted we look for a dress that would accommodate actual undies and not this ridiculous anal floss.
Faking a smile, I clench my thighs. “We met briefly the day Alice moved into the dorm.”
“Yes, I recall.” He leans into me as if he’s going to kiss my cheek. His breath is hot against my skin, but his mouth never actually touches me. “My daughter speaks very highly of you.”
I’m not sure if I should be offended or relieved he faked kissing me. I mean, according to Edward, his dad goes around siring offspring with random women. Who knows where his lips have been? Then again, I look like I’m not wearing any underwear. It’s possible Mr. Cullen thinks I’m a gold-digging tramp—a theory which the dress his son bought for me would seem to support. My eyes scan the room as I take my seat. The women are dressed pretty much the way I am. For all I know, their boyfriends paid for their dresses, too. Hell, they could even be call girls. But that would mean I’m dressed like a paid escort. Oh my god, I must look like a hooker. I don’t think I’ve never wanted to feel the fraying cotton of my favorite jeans so badly as I do right now. Who cares if they’re not fashionable or impressive? I bought them myself, and there’s something to be said for that.
Throughout dinner, Mr. Cullen is somewhat cold and very formal, but he seems to treat everyone he encounters the same way so I don’t take it personally. He’s given me no reason to be uncomfortable around him, but I am and I can’t understand why. So I sit in silence at Edward’s side as he and his father discuss places I’ve never been and people I hope I’ll never have to meet. I nod occasionally to indicate I’m listening, all the while fiddling with my napkin on my lap.
“This is all largely irrelevant,” Mr. Cullen says. “Thankfully, Clinton is almost assured a second term—assuming he can keep his wife in check.”
Edward nods. “I daresay you’re right.”
“Her type is always a liability.”
I wait for Edward to disagree, but he doesn’t. My quick intake of breath seems deafening to me as I turn my head to look at him, desperate for any indication that the person sitting next to me is whom I think he is. My panic lasts all of a second. Edward smiles when his eyes meet mine, and though his current affectations may not be familiar to me, the need and the pure adoration I feel for him is. I don’t wonder if I love him, but I can’t help but question the extent to which I know him. I spend the rest of dinner trying to convince myself one doesn’t invalidate the other.
Mr. Cullen takes two sips of cognac before announcing he has another engagement. After taking care of the check, he rises to his feet. Edward follows suit, but gestures for me to remain seated.
“Happy birthday, Edward.”
“Thank you, sir.”
There are no words of affection, nor are there any expressions of regret that their time together has ended. They shake hands from opposite sides of the table, and Mr. Cullen leaves. Edward’s feet are rooted in place, but he doesn’t stay with me. His face is blank as he stares off into space. Seconds pass, or maybe even a minute—I’m too stressed out to keep count. He sinks back into his chair. Leaning his elbows onto the table, he slumps forward and exhales. I know he’s hurting, but I don’t know why or what to do about it. That Edward would ever become upset in public is as weird to me as using “daresay” in modern conversation or having an “income” I do nothing to earn. I’m still processing it all when he straightens his posture and reaches for the cognac in front of him, raising the glass to his father’s now-empty seat.
“Réserve de la Famille,” he says, staring at the amber liquid. “How apropos.” In a single gulp, he downs it.
I take a small sip from the glass in front of me. “It’s nice, I guess. It feels kind of weird going down. It’s only been available to the public for the past ten years or so. Before then, the family that makes it kept it for themselves.”
“How could you–”
“Sorry. God, I can be such a dumbass. I wasn’t trying to change the subject. You know how it is when you know you need to say something but you have no idea what, so you rattle off random facts that don’t mean anything?” I close my eyes, sighing. “Of course you don’t,” I mutter under my breath. “You always know what to say.” I take a deep breath and start over. “I don’t know what you need from me right now or if it’s even me you need, but I know you’re hurting and you need something. You have this intense-yet-mentally-absent look on your face and…” I stop, not sure what to say. I want to tell him to talk about his feelings—that he can lean on me the way I lean on him—but I don’t. I’m afraid he’ll tell me I wouldn’t understand.
“No.” He shakes his head. “I was wondering how you knew that.”
“Oh. The sommelier told your father.”
“After I made that obnoxiously loud clang trying to make my fork and knife perfectly parallel at four o’clock while keeping the pointy things up and the blade facing me.”
His forehead scrunches, and he shakes his head.
“What? Don’t pretend you didn’t hear it.”
“They were speaking French, Bella.”
I shrug, feeling self-conscious. “I’m good at languages.”
“Apparently. The only phrase I got out of that exchange was pied-à-terre. I should be used to it by now. My father has always been a chauvinistic pig who uses anyone he doesn’t deem his equal. As far as he’s concerned, he has no equal.”
“I know pied-à-terre has a certain connotation, but sometimes it just means a second home.”
“Except we’re talking about my father.” Shaking his head, he reaches for Mr. Cullen’s barely-touched cognac. His eyes meet mine and, instead of taking a sip, he places the glass on the table in front of him. “I’m sorry,” he says, sighing. “Chugging floaters in four-star restaurants isn’t exactly classy.”
“It’s not as if I care.”
Staying seated, he turns so he’s facing me. When I try to do the same, my legs crash into his. He rests his hand against my knee, stroking my skin with his thumb as if he’s trying to rub away pain.
“You don’t have to do that,” I say. “I’m not hurt.”
“I didn’t think you were.”
I expect him to stop touching me—I know he doesn’t like to be physically affectionate in public—but he doesn’t. The look on his face is almost identical to the one Alice gets when she wants to ask me for something but is afraid of how I’ll respond. I open my mouth to ask him what it is out of habit. Then I remember how different Edward is from Alice. I can only assume if he needs something from me, I won’t have to pry it out of him.
“I don’t want to be like him,” he says.
“You aren’t.” I want more than anything to see his smile. Not knowing how else to make that happen, I change the subject. “You never did tell me what you wanted for your birthday.”
There’s no joy in his responding laughter. “To get drunk,” he says, eying the glass in front of him.
“If that’s what you need to feel better, I’ll close my eyes.”
When I open them, all three glasses on the table are empty.
Edward insists he isn’t drunk, but I know better. Between the wine at dinner and the cognac afterward, he’s easily consumed twice the alcohol he did on New Year’s Eve, and that night he walked into a wall on his way to the bathroom. Though he isn’t exactly unsteady on his feet, he lacks his usual grace—it’s only a matter of time before his coordination follows suit. I suggest we take a cab home—I can barely walk without tripping in heels as it is. There’s no way I’d be able to keep him from falling, too. But he wants to walk and since it’s his birthday, I don’t argue.
When we’re finally in front of his apartment building, he keeps walking.
“Where are we going?” I ask, stumbling along at his side.
He leads me into the neighboring alley, stopping only after we’ve reach a point where the lights from the street cease to illuminate us.
I let out a nervous laugh. “What?”
He turns to face me, still saying nothing. His hands are in my hair as he kisses me. It’s that kind of kiss—the good kind, the kind that makes me dizzy. It’s the kind of kiss he’s never given me anywhere anyone can see.
“I need you,” he says.
“You have me.”
I kiss his mouth again. He takes a few steps forward; I stumble along until my back is pressed against the brick wall of the apartment building.
“And if I need you now?” His hand trails down the front of my body and squeezes my breast.
“Okay,” I say, giggling. I don’t believe for a second he’s serious.
“Wrap your legs around me.”
“I can’t; my dress is too narrow.”
He grabs the edges of the slit in my skirt and pulls, tearing the fabric to my hip.
I look at my now-exposed thigh, then up at his face. “I can’t believe you just did that.”
“Wrap your leg around me,” he repeats, loosening his belt. “Unless you don’t want to…”
I do as he says; I want to make him happy more than anything.
He pushes my thong to the side. “I need you to keep quiet. The thrill of getting caught…that’s what’s exciting. Actually getting caught is for amateurs. Bite my shoulder if you need to, just don’t make a sound.”
Seconds later, he’s inside me. The bricks scrape my back with each of his movements, but I don’t tell him to stop. I need to prove to him not everyone is like his father—that some love is selfless, and I’m willing to put him first.
So that’s what I do.
November 26, 2009
"Dinner was amazing...No, Daddy," Alice says, laughing. "Of course I didn't cook it. Izzy—you remember her, don't you? She flew out from Chicago earlier this week, and she made dinner for us. Are you familiar with Un Souvenir Léger
? Oh…Well, Izzy’s their sommelier. She made all of Edward’s favorites; he’s here, too.”
The moment Alice says his name, Edward begins shaking his head.
“Would you like to talk to him?” she asks, ignoring Edward’s protests. “Hang on a sec.” She offers him the phone. “It’s our father.”
She rolls her eyes and thrusts the phone into his hands. “Talk to him,” she whispers.
He raises it to his ear. “Happy Thanksgiving, sir.”
Not wanting to make things any more uncomfortable than they already are, I pull Alice into the guestroom with me.
“Yes,” she insists.
I throw my hands in the air. “Exactly!”
“No,” she admits. “But that probably means it’s something stupid, and that’s really sad. Life is too short for this bullshit, Izzy.”
I don’t argue with her; I have a cheese course to serve.
“You’re still so soft. I’ve always loved that about your body…the way your skin feels against mine.”
I can’t control my giggle. He’s naked except for boxer briefs; I’m wearing panties and one of his undershirts.
“What?” he asks.
“Then show me some of the best ones.” He tugs on the hem of my t-shirt. “Please?”
I know what he wants and why he’s asking. Dealing with his father has always made him crave comfort—something he typically prefers to receive sexually. As much as I want to comply, it doesn’t feel right. I gave him my soul forever and a decade ago, and though giving him my body again shouldn’t feel like such a big deal, it does. Not only is it too soon, it would be for all the wrong reasons.
“You are,” he insists.
I don’t want to upset him, but if he expects our relationship to work, we can’t tiptoe around this. Politician or not, he has to realize his hypocrisy.
“Let’s be real, here. By your own admission, you’ve had sexual relationships with women for no purpose other than your own fulfillment.”
He clasps my hands, and his eyes meet mine. “You aren’t.”
If he disagrees, he doesn’t verbalize it. Sighing, he arranges my t-shirt so my stomach is once again covered.
“May I hold you?” he asks.
He rests his head against my cotton-covered breasts. Despite the fact he’s wearing boxers, he’s asleep within moments.