1995 Chateau Lafite-Rothschild
January 30, 1997
“I don’t get it, Izzy.” Alice leans against the back of the booth, folding her arms across her chest. “What’s so difficult about choosing a major?”
I sip my Diet Coke in a pathetic attempt to buy myself enough time to come up with an answer that will sound better than the truth. When I return it to the table in front of me, I’m no more prepared than I was before.
“I want to major in French,” I tell her.
“Then why haven’t you just declared? Get it over with; you’ll have one less thing to worry about.”
Except she’s wrong—once this decision is made, several others take its place. Declaring a major means nothing if I have no idea what I want to do with it once I finish college. I’m not sure why having a major means I need a life plan, but it does. Meanwhile, I don’t. I may not know what want to do when I graduate, but I know what I don’t want to do when I go home tonight—look Edward in the eye and tell him I’m no closer to having my future figured out now than I was the day I told him my life’s goal was for him to kiss me. At least, that’s how he’d see it. In reality, there’s one thing I have figured out since then—I want to spend forever with him.
November 30, 2009
“I guess you’ve met him?”
“My…” He stops, shaking his head. “I don’t even know how to refer to him. William? Mr. Cullen? That lying motherfucker?”
When I snort, Carlisle gives me the Look of Death.
“Sorry.” I’ve been meeting each of his gulps of Jack with a comparably-sized sip of armagnac in hopes it would make this conversation less painful. I now know it’s a waste of alcohol—I doubt there’s anything in the world that could make this less painful.
“What does Senator Cullen call him?”
I nod. “Lying motherfucker is an endearment typically reserved for special occasions.”
“So if Senator Cullen–”
“His name is Edward.”
“I’m aware of that.”
“Then why won’t you say it?”
“Using his first name implies he and I have a personal relationship.”
My eyes shift from one side to the other. “Uh, you kind of do.”
“We do not.”
“That doesn’t mean I’m planning to have anything to do with him.”
I slide off my chair and kneel in front of him. When he turns his head, I know what he’s trying to do. I also know it doesn’t make a difference—whether or not he witnesses my mouth produce the words, they’re no less true.
“I love him, Carlisle.” I rest my hands on his knees. “Please, look at me.”
His eyes meet mine, and he sighs.
“I love him, but I love you, too. And I don’t care if you pursue a fraternal relationship with him or not—that’s up to the two of you. You’re my best friend in the world, and I don’t know what I’d do if you were unwilling to acknowledge his place in my life. He’s not going anywhere.”
“So he says.”
“I left him, remember?”
“I do, Iz. But I also remember why.” He raises the bottle of Jack to his lips and finishes it off. Rather than put it down, he grips it so tightly that his knuckles are white.
I angle my head toward the bottle. “You can let go, you know.”
His laughter is bitter. “Easier said than done.”
“Why? There’s nothing left. Not only does it not help at all, but if you refocused that energy into something positive…” I shrug. “I mean, I know this is a shock to you, but you can’t exactly change it. None of this is Edward’s fault.”
“Is this where you tell me smiling uses fewer muscles than frowning?”
I ignore the fact he’s mocking me. “Would it help if I did?”
“No. We both know flipping someone off requires the least effort of all.”
I’m smiling as I give him the finger. This time, his laughter is real.
“I want to hug you, but…”
“There’s a condition?”
“You have to let it go.”
Sighing, he places the bottle on the floor. I sit beside him and put my arm around him. He trembles against me; I know he’s begun to cry.
I know nothing I say will comfort him, so I do what he’s spent the past ten years doing for me. I hold him as he sobs, all the while hoping he realizes how much I love him.
December 11, 2009
“They ordered what?”
I look at Alec in disbelief. He’s one of the most seasoned waiters we have on staff; he knows procedure.
“The 1995 Chateau Lafite.”
“Why didn’t you send me to the table?”
“I offered. He said it wasn’t necessary, that he knew what he wanted.”
I put my tastevin around my neck and rise from my desk chair, sighing. “Ugh. And my night was going so well.”
Laughing, he follows me out of the wine cellar.
“Let me guess,” I say, wiggling my pinky as we climb the stairs to the dining room. “One of these?”
The man I’ll find sitting at the table in question is one of two types. He’s either the kind who orders one of the most expensive bottles we stock, not out of an appreciation for fine wine but to call attention to the size of what he has in his pants. It’s safe to assume that if his dick were anywhere near the size of his wallet, he’d have made a different selection. The other possibility is that he is a wine lover—but he’s also a misogynistic asshole who can’t stomach the thought of a female sommelier. I always bust out the tastevin to serve patrons like that. For some reason, chauvinists seem to respect tastevins as much as they do testicles.
After buttoning my suit jacket at the entrance to the dining room, I check my appearance in one of the mirrors. The tastevin isn’t the only thing that distinguishes me from the servers. They dress identically regardless of gender, whereas I’m given more freedom with my attire. I tend to wear knee-length pencil skirts that have a bit of stretch. They set me apart from the rest of the waitstaff without impeding me from performing my job. Satisfied with how I look, I follow Alec to the table in question.
“Monsieur, this is Isabella, our sommelier.” Alec steps to the side, gesturing to me.
The moment I see the patron in question, my fake smile becomes real.
“Thank you,” I say, acknowledging Alec with a nod. Now free to attend to his other duties, he hurries off, leaving me to attend to mine. The vision before me is even more fabulous than I remember—the red hair, the chin cleft, the bespoke suit I want to see crumpled on my bedroom floor. Fuck the Lafite; I want him on my tongue.
I tell myself to focus. How many times have I dreamed of this moment? This is my chance to wow him.
“Senator Cullen! Good evening and bienvenue a Un Souvenir Lèger. I trust your experience dining with us has been pleasant so far?”
“Very much so, thank you.”
“Alec tells me you’ve requested the 1995 Chateau Lafite Rothschild.”
“Your taste in wine is excellent, Senator.”
“I’m hardly an expert, but it’s my understanding 1995 was a great year for Lafite.” He doesn’t even try to be discreet about the fact he’s checking out my body. “By now, I imagine it—among other things—has aged to perfection.”
I’m thirty-two years old, but I might as well be eighteen. I want nothing more than to sit on his lap and lick him. Then I remember we’ve yet to go public and somehow I manage to restrain myself. Maintaining a professional demeanor as I discuss the menu is almost impossible, but miraculously I’m able to do so. Then he goes there.
“How do you feel about the cock?”
“Cock?” I repeat, certain I misheard him.
Bye-bye brain-to-mouth filter! Though our affair was brief, it’s been nice knowing you.
“The one here…” He pauses, nodding toward his lap. “Obviously.”
Oh my god. He’s come to torture me.
“Though it’s been some time since I’ve tasted that particular variety, I recall it being quite good.”
“And the meat on the bone? Is it the kind that melts in your mouth?”
“It always has in the past, yes.”
My face may be on fire, but he’s as poised as he always is.
“In that case, I’ll have the cock.”
“Are you certain, Senator?” I ask, believing I misheard him. “Though my memory might be failing me, as far as I know, the cock isn’t to your liking.”
“True. However, I’m told the coq au vin here is the best in Chicago.” Leaning forward, he adds in a whisper, “Did you think I was referring to something else?”
“Of course not,” I lie. “That has never been on the menu. As you know, that kind of cock is hardly a light-hearted memory. If anything, it’s quite…substantial.”
“Yet you like to eat it?”
Oh, two can play at this game.
“Yes. I daresay it’s my favorite source of protein. Do you have any other questions for me, Senator?”
“Yes, actually. Do you always wear skirts and heels to work?”
“I meant with regard to the menu,” I say, laughing. I’ll answer his other question eventually—but only after I’ve stripped him naked.
“No. Thank you, Isabella. You’ve been more than thorough.”
His smile as I step away from the table is one I know well; it’s what I see in his eyes that’s new. When I realize what it is, it takes my breath away.
He’s proud of me.
Part of Esme’s vision when she opened Un Souvenir Lèger was to make wine an integral part of the dining experience. When a patron orders a particularly special bottle, Esme joins me at the table when I serve it. It’s a win for all parties involved—the person who ordered the wine enjoys receiving personal attention from the executive chef, and Esme is treated to a taste.
It’s hard to describe the extent of my elation as I walk to the kitchen to find Esme. On second thought, maybe walking isn’t the right word. My legs may be carry me forward, but there’s a definite spring to my step. I’d say I was floating and, though it captures the appropriate weightlessness, it doesn’t do anything to convey my bounciness. When Esme sees what I’m doing, she looks at me as if I have two heads.
I can’t control my giggle. “I suppose I am.”
“Why are you skipping?”
“I’m about to open our one and only bottle of 1995 Chateau Lafite-Rothschild.”
Her eyes narrow slightly. “Opening comparable bottles has never made you skip before.”
“Wait until you find out who ordered it.”
“Do we have a VIP?” Her eyes sparkle with excitement. “Oh my god, who?”
That’s when I realized I fucked up. I open my mouth to tell Esme she doesn’t have to join me at the table when I present the bottle, that Edward will understand how awkward that is given the fact she’s married to his illegitimate half-brother. Then I remember he doesn’t know.
Edward doesn’t know because I didn’t want to tell him over the phone.
“Shit fuck jizz grandma sodomite,” I mutter under my breath.
“So who ordered the Lafite?” she asks, laughing. “Your sexually promiscuous, homosexual male grandmother?”
“No. It was my boyfriend. And I realize I’m an ass for springing this on you, but I totally forgot he and Carlisle are…you know…because I was so wrapped up in the way Edward makes me happy in my pantyhose. If you don’t want to do this, I’ll make something up–”
“Give me two minutes to freshen up, and I’ll meet you in the wine cellar.”
“Are you sure? I mean, you don’t have to–”
“Yes, I do. I’m not going to lie, Iz. I’m worried about him hurting you. But if he means that much to you…”
She reaches out and squeezes my hand. “You introduced me to the love of my life. The least I can do is allow you to introduce me to the love of yours.”
If only it were that simple.
“Shush! Another protest from you, and I’ll fire your ass.”
I know better than to argue with her. I skip my way back to the wine cellar, all the while wondering how I got so lucky.