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capitolo sette

Messaggio  simona80 il Ven 04 Mar 2011, 13:02

Chapter Seven
The present day in Toronto, Canada . . .
Alice sat at Edward‘s breakfast bar Thursday morning drinking a homemade latté and pouring over French Vogue.
She was feeling better this morning. Much better. Her conversation with Jasper had gone well the night before. Although he continued to be disappointed that the wedding was off, he continued to tell her over and over again that he would rather have her, Alice, than a wedding.
―We don‟t have to get married at all, ever. Or we can delay the wedding until you‟ve finished grieving. But I still want you, Alice. I‟ll always want you. As my wife, as my lover . . . Right now, I‟ll take whatever I can get, because I love you. Come back to me.‖
Jasper‘s words had burnt through the haze of depression and grief that had clouded Alice‘s mind.
And suddenly everything was very clear.
She had thought she was running away from Emmett and Carlisle, and the ghost of Esme. But perhaps she was running from Jasper, too, and to hear him voice those words . . . as if it was possible for her to leave him. As if she could even contemplate staying away from him.
His statement had almost broken Alice‘s heart, and made her realize how much she truly wanted to marry him. And how she was determined not to make him wait too long to be her husband while she sorted out her self and her family. Including Edward.
Life was too short to be miserable. Esme had taught them that.
Edward entered the kitchen wearing his eyeglasses, kissed the top of her head and slid a wad of bills in front of her.
She eyed the cash suspiciously and then flipped through it, her eyes widening. ―What‘s this for?‖
Edward cleared his throat and sat down next to her. ―Aren‘t you going shopping with Isabella today?‖
She rolled her eyes. ―It‘s Bella, Edward. Get over yourself! And no, we aren‘t. She‘s working on some project all day with a guy called Peter. And then he‘s taking her to dinner. Or something. I can‘t remember.‖
Edward cleared his throat, sounding remarkably like he was growling.
Angelfucker.
The thought sprang, unbidden and uncensored, into his mind, making him growl even more loudly.
Alice ignored him, slid the money back and turned her attention back to her magazine.
He slid the money towards her again. ―Take it.‖
―Why?‖
―Buy something for Isabella.‖
Alice‘s eyes narrowed. ―Why? This is a lot of money, Edward.‖
―I know,‖ he said quietly.
―This is five hundred dollars. I know that Canadian money isn‘t worth as much as American, but jeepers, Edward, that‘s a bit much.‖
―Have you seen her apartment?‖
―No. Have you?‖
Edward shifted on his bar stool. ―Just for a moment. She was caught in the rain and I drove her home and . . .‖
―And?‖ Alice draped an arm over his shoulder and leaned over to him with a delicious grin. ―Spill, Edward.‖
Edward pushed her arm off his shoulder and glared at her.
―Stop it. It wasn‘t like that. But anyway, I saw her place briefly while I was dropping her off and it‘s terrible. She doesn‘t even have a kitchen, for God‘s sake.‖
―No kitchen? What the hell, Edward?‖
―The girl is as poor as a church mouse and she has nothing. Not to mention the fact that she carries around this loathsome excuse for a book bag. Spend all the money on buying her a decent briefcase, I don‘t care. But do something. Because if I see that book bag one more time, I swear I‘m going to go postal.‖
Edward raked his hands through his already messy hair and then kept them there, hunching his tall frame over the breakfast bar.
With the power of perception only possessed by an intuitive, Alice regarded him carefully.
Edward appeared to be the ideal poker player; impassive, unemotional, cold. Oh, so very cold. Not merely cool, like a breeze, or water from a stream in the autumn, but cold. Cold like a rock against your skin in the shade of the setting sun.
Alice believed that his worst character flaw was his coldness; his ability to say and do things without regard for the feelings of others, including his family.
Despite his coldness to others, however, Edward was her favourite. And as the baby of the family and ten years younger, she was his favourite, too. He‘d never fought with her the way he‘d fought with Emmett or even Carlisle. He‘d always and only protected her – loved her, even. At his worst, there was no possibility of Edward ever hurting Alice. She‘d only been hurt watching him hurt everyone else.
Especially himself.
Alice knew that upon closer inspection Edward would make a lousy poker player. He had too many tells, too many revelations of his inner turmoil. He pinched his nose when he was close to losing his temper, he rubbed his eyes when he was frustrated, and he raked his hair and occasionally pulled at it when he was distressed or afraid.
Alice watched him tug at his hair and wondered what he was afraid of.
―Why are you so worried about her? You weren‘t that friendly when she was here for dinner. You won‘t call her Bella.‖
―She‘s my student. I have to be professional.‖
―Professionally mean?‖
Edward sat back and scowled.
―Fine. I‘ll take the money for Bella and I‘ll buy her a briefcase. But I‟d rather buy her shoes.‖
Edward released his hair from his hands and perked up. Slightly.
―Shoes?‖
―Yes. What if we were to buy her something pretty to wear? And some beautiful shoes? She likes pretty things, she just can‘t afford them. And she‘s cute, don‘t you think?‖
Edward twitched beneath his grey flannel trousers. He brought his thighs closer together to hide the fact from Alice.
―Spend the money on whatever you like, but you must replace the book bag.‖
―Good! I‘ll buy her something fabulous. But I‘ll probably need more money . . . and we should take her somewhere special so she can show off her new clothes.‖ Alice batted her eyes playfully at her older brother.
Without argument or negotiation, he removed a business card from his wallet and then he withdrew his Montblanc fountain pen and slowly unscrewed the cap.
―Do normal people still use those kinds of pens? Or just medievalists? ‖ She leaned over, staring. ―I‘m surprised you‘re not using a quill.‖
Edward frowned at her. ―This is a Meisterstück 149,‖ he said, as if that should mean something.
But it didn‘t.
Alice rolled her eyes as he used his sparkling eighteen karat gold nib to write a brief note on the back of his business card in a confident but old-fashioned hand.
Only Edward would have a sparkling nib, she thought. And then she resisted the urge to create a double entendre out of that thought, because he was her brother.
―There.‖ He slid the business card across the counter. ―I have an account at Holt Renfrew, the department store across the street. Show this to the concierge and he will direct you to Bree, my personal shopper. She‘ll place everything on my account. Don‘t go completely mad, Alice, and you can keep the cash for yourself. Happy Birthday, six months in advance.‖
Alice leaned over to press a light kiss to her brother‘s cheek. ―Thank you, Edward. What‘s Holt Renfrew?‖
―The Canadian Saks Fifth Avenue; they have everything. But you must replace the book bag. That is all I care about. The rest are just – inconsequential details.‖ His voice sounded gruff all of a sudden.
―Fine. But I want you to explain why you‘re so agitated about an L. L. Bean book bag. All the freshmen at Seattle had one. I had one, for crying out loud. Before I grew up and discovered Longchamp.‖
―I don‘t know.‖ Edward pulled at his hair again and then removed his glasses and began rubbing his eyes.
―Should I add lingerie to my shopping list? Do you like her - like her?‖ Alice grinned annoyingly.
He snorted. ―How old are we, Alice? It‘s not about romance; it‘s about penance.‖
―Penance?‖
―Penance. For sin. My sin.‖
Alice rolled her eyes. ―Edward, you spend so much time in the Middle Ages you‘re starting to sound medieval. What sin have you committed against Bella? Apart from being a jackass! You don‘t even know her . . .‖
Edward replaced his eyeglasses and then shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He was twitching at the mere thought of sin and Miss Swan. Together. In the same room. With him. And nothing else . . . except perhaps a pair of couture stilettos. . . that he could finally touch . . .
―Edward? I‘m waiting.‖
―I don‘t need to confess my sins to you, Alice; I just need to atone for them!‖ He snapped, snatching the magazine out of her hand.
Alice set her teeth.
―How good is your French, Edward? And your knowledge of women‘s fashion?‖
Edward looked down to find the magazine open to a photo of an air-brushed and spread-eagled model wearing a très petite white bikini. His eyes widened.
―And don‘t speak to me like that. I‘m not one of your students. And I‘m not going to put up with your shit.‖ She crossed her arms in front of her chest, and glared at him.
He sighed and began to rub his eyes again, minutely adjusting his glasses to do so.
―I‘m sorry,‖ he muttered, returning the magazine, but not before he gave the model one more serious look, purely for research purposes, bien sûr.
―Edward, why are you wound up so tight? Are you having girl troubles? Do you even have a girl right now? When was the last time you had one? And by the way, what‘s with those photos in your. . .‖
Edward interrupted her quickly. ―I‘m not having this conversation with you, Alice. I don‘t ask who you‘re fucking.‖
Alice bit back an angry response and took a very deep breath.
―I‘m going to forgive you for that remark, Edward, even though it was insensitive and crass. When you‘re down on your knees making your penance, include the sin of envy, will you?
You know I‘ve only ever been with Jasper. And I think you know that what we do together goes way beyond what you said and frankly, I‘m insulted! What‘s wrong with you, Edward? Why are you so cynical about sex?!‖
Edward muttered an apology and refused to make eye contact with her. But his warning shot across the bow had accomplished what he wished it to accomplish, and that was to divert Alice‘s attention from one of her questions. So he felt no remorse. Not really.
―If you don‘t like her, then you must feel sorry for her. Why? Is it just because she‘s poor?‖
―I don‘t know.‖ He sighed and tugged at his hair.
Alice shook her head slowly.
―Bella brings out the protective side in people. She was always a little sad and a little lost. Although make no mistake, she has steel in her bones. She survived an alcoholic mother and a boyfriend who . . .‖
Edward‘s green eyes shifted to hers with interest.
―Who?‖ He prompted.
Alice shook her head. ―You said you didn‘t want to know about her personal life. It‘s too bad, really. If you and she weren‘t in a professional relationship, you might have liked her. You might have been friends. You have enough in common.‖
She smiled at him, testing the waters, but Edward kept his eyes on the breakfast bar and began rubbing his chin absently.
―Do you want me to tell her the briefcase and the shoes are from you?‖
―Of course not! I could get fired for that. Someone will jump to the wrong conclusion and I‘ll be hauled in before the disciplinary tribunal. You don‘t understand, Alice, universities take these non-fraternization policies very seriously.‖
―I thought you were tenured.‖
―It doesn‘t matter,‖ he muttered.
―So you want to spend all of this money on buying gifts for Bella, and you don‘t care if she ever knows that they are from you? You‘re acting a bit like Cyrano de Bergerac, don‘t you think? I guess your French is better than I thought.‖
Edward stood up, effectively ignoring Alice, and walked over to the large espresso machine that was poised over the wine fridge. He began the somewhat laborious process of making the perfect espresso, keeping his back to his annoying little sister.
Alice sighed.
―Fine, Edward. You want to do something nice for Bella. You can call it penance, if it pleases you. But maybe it‘s just kindness. And it‘s doubly kind, because you want to do it in secret and not embarrass her or make her feel like she owes you something. I‘m impressed. Sort of.‖
―I want her petals to open,‖ Edward breathed.
Alice heard what he said, but dismissed it as incoherent mumbling because she couldn‘t believe that he had actually said what she in fact heard. It was too bizarre.
―But don‘t you think you should treat Bella as an adult and not a child, and tell her it‘s from you? Let her make her own decision about whether she should accept it or not?
―She wouldn‘t accept it from me. She hates me.‖
Alice laughed. ―Bella is not the type of girl to hate people, Edward. She‘s far too forgiving for that. Although if she does hate you, you probably deserve it.
But you‘re right - she doesn‘t accept charity. She would never let me buy things for her except on very special occasions.‖
―Then tell her it‘s for a backlog of Christmas presents from you. Or tell her it‘s from Esme.‖ A meaningful look passed between brother and sister.
―Esme was the only person Bella would accept charity from. Because she thought of Esme as her mother.‖ Alice shook her head sadly, willing herself not to cry.
―I know, little one, we all did.‖ Edward was at her side in an instant and wrapped her in his arms, trying to comfort her as best he could.
In his heart, Edward knew exactly what he was doing by asking Alice to buy some girlish pretty things for Miss Swan. He was paving Hell with energy; buying an indulgence, forgiveness for sin.
He‘d never reacted this way to a woman before, except for . . . but no. Edward wouldn‘t indulge himself in that line of thought. That would serve no purpose, no purpose at all.
He knew he lived in Hell. He accepted it. He rarely complained about it. But truth be told, he desperately wished he could make his escape. But he had no Virgil and no Beatrice to come to his aid. His prayers went unanswered and his plans for reform were almost always thwarted by something or other.
Something with various faces, but that usually wore four inch heels and had long blonde hair and who would scratch long fingernails down his back while screaming his name, over and over and over again. . .
Given his current state of affairs, the best that he could do to reform himself would be to take the old man‘s blood money and lavish it on a brown eyed angel, who couldn‘t afford an apartment with a kitchen.
And who would blossom a little when her best friend gave her a pretty dress to wear and a new pair of shoes.
Edward wanted to do more than buy her a briefcase, although he would never tell Alice what he truly wanted; he wanted to make Isabella smile.
-
-
While Alice and Edward were discussing penance, forgiveness and ridiculous abominations of book bags, Peter was waiting for Bella just outside the entrance to Robarts library, the largest library on the campus of the University of Toronto.
Although Bella could only guess at this, in the short time in which he had known her Peter had grown quite fond of her.
He was used to having lots of friends, many of them women. And he‘d dated his share of both well-adjusted and troubled girls. His most recent relationship had run its course. Charlotte wanted to stay in Burlington, Vermont and be a schoolteacher. He wanted to leave Burlington and study to become a professor. After two years of a long distance relationship, it was not meant to be. But there was no malice, no slashing of tires or burning of photographs. They were friends, even, and Peter was proud of that fact.
But now that Peter had met Rabbit, he began to appreciate how a relationship with someone with whom he shared common interests and common career goals could be very exciting and very fulfilling.
Peter was old-fashioned. He believed in courting a woman. He believed in taking his time. And so he was perfectly content only to build a friendship with the beautiful and shy Rabbit until he knew her well enough to express his feelings for her. And until he was confident of her regard for him.
He was determined to spend time with her and treat her properly and pay her a lot of attention so that if someone else came along in the meantime and tried to muscle in on him, he‘d be close enough to tell that individual to back the fuck off. No matter what his hair looked like.
Bella was sorry that she would miss out on shopping with Alice, but she had already promised Peter that she would spend the day with him at the library. She needed to get started on her thesis proposal now that Professor Masen had agreed to be her supervisor. She felt more than a strong motivation to perform well in his class and to dazzle him with her proposal, although she knew based upon his previous behaviour she was likely to do neither.
Alice had understood, however, and had promised to telephone Bella the next day. And so that is how Bella found herself not shopping Bloor Street with Alice, but rather meeting Peter at the library.
―Hi.‖ He greeted her warmly and immediately slipped her heavy knapsack off her shoulder and transferred it to his. He barely felt its weight on his massive shoulder.
Bella smiled up at him, relieved to be unburdened for a little while. ―Thanks for agreeing to be my guide. The last time I was in here I got lost. I ended up in an obscure section on the fourth floor that was entirely devoted to monsters.‖
She shivered slightly.
Peter laughed. ―It‘s a huge library. I‘ll show you the Dante collection on the ninth floor and then take you to my office.‖
He held the door open for her and Bella floated by him, feeling very much like a princess. Peter had excellent manners, and he did not use them as a weapon.
Bella considered how some people, who-would-not-be-named, used manners to intimidate and to control, while others, like Peter, used them to honour and to make others feel special. Very special, indeed.
―You have an office?‖ She asked, as they flashed their student I.D. cards at the security guard who sat at a desk by the elevators.
―Sort of.‖ Peter held the elevator door open with his massive paw, waiting for Bella to enter before he joined her. ―My study carrel is next to the Dante section, conveniently enough.‖
―Can I apply to get a carrel?‖
Peter grimaced. ―They‘re like gold. It‘s almost impossible to get one, especially as an M.A. student.‖
He read the question in her eyes and hastened to add, ―I think M.A. students are just as important as Ph.D. students. But there aren‘t enough carrels to go around. The one I have isn‘t even mine – it‘s Masen‘s.‖
If Peter hadn‘t allowed Bella to push the button for the ninth floor he would have seen her skin turn slightly green and heard her sharp intake of breath. But he didn‘t.
Once they arrived, he patiently guided her through the Dante collection, showing her both the primary and secondary sources. And he watched with delight as she trailed her hand across the spines of the books lovingly, as if she were greeting old friends.
―Bella, would you mind if I asked you a personal question?‖
Bella stood very still, fingering a quarto volume that had a tattered leather binding. She inhaled its scent deeply to keep herself calm and then she nodded slowly, terrified of what he might ask her.
―Masen asked me to pull your file from Mrs. Cope and -‖
Bella turned her head to face him, eyes large and unblinking.
Oh no.
He held his hands up to steady her.
―I didn‘t read it. Don‘t worry.‖ He chuckled softly. ―There‘s nothing personal in those files anyway. Apparently, he wanted to remove something he‘d put in there. But it was what he did afterwards that surprised me.‖
Bella arched an eyebrow and waited for him to spit it out.
―He telephoned Garrett Armstrong, the Chair of the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures at Harvard.‖
Bella blinked slowly, like a lazy amber streetlight. ―How do you know?‖
―I was dropping off some photocopying and I heard him on the telephone. He was asking him about you.‖
―Why would he do that?‖
―That‘s what I wanted to ask you about. He was asking why they didn‘t have generous enough funding for their M.A. students. He‘s an alumnus of that Department, you know. Armstrong was the Chair when he completed his Ph.D. four years ago.‖
Holy shit. He was checking up on me? Of course. He wouldn‟t believe I actually got into Harvard, just like him.
Bella closed her eyes, her fingers clutching the bookshelf for support. She swayed slightly.
―I couldn‘t hear everything that Armstrong was saying. But I heard Masen.‖
She kept her eyes closed and waited for the other shoe to drop. She only hoped that Peter would drop it quickly, and not directly on her toes.
―I didn‘t know that you got into Harvard, Bella. That‘s pretty amazing. And Masen was amazed, too. He wanted to know if you‘d really been accepted into their program, and how highly you were ranked in their admissions pool.‖
―Of course,‖ mumbled Bella. ―I‘m from a small town in Washington. I went to a Jesuit university of about seven thousand students. How could I get into Harvard?‖
Peter frowned.
Poor Rabbit. That sick fucker really did a number on her. I should seriously kick his ass. And then I should go to work on him . . .
―What‘s wrong with Catholic schools? I did my undergrad at St. Mike‘s in Vermont and I got a great education. They only have three thousand students. But they had a Dante specialist in the English department and a Florentine specialist in History.‖
Bella nodded as if she heard him. But she hadn‘t really.
―Listen, you haven‘t heard the whole story yet. The point is that Armstrong tried to persuade him to send you back for your Ph.D. Said you were very highly ranked. That‘s pretty good, considering the source. I applied to that department and was rejected outright.‖
He smiled somewhat half-heartedly, not knowing how she would react to that piece of information. ―So if it‘s not too personal, why didn‘t you go to Harvard?‖
―I didn‘t want to come here,‖ she whispered, her voice low and guilty, like a penitent child. ―I knew he was here. But I had no other choice; I‘d already turned down all the other schools. I have thousands of dollars worth of student loans from Seattle and from my study abroad program . . .I just couldn‘t afford to go to Harvard. I was hoping to finish my M. A. quickly and then go next year. Hopefully, I won‘t have to borrow any money for my Ph.D. The funding is better.‖
Peter nodded reassuringly and then as Bella distracted herself by turning around to examine the books more carefully, he regarded her, entirely oblivious to the small piece of information she had unknowingly revealed. The piece of information that would have told him much more than why she hadn‘t gone to Harvard.
As he watched her opening and closing the dusty volumes, her eyes widening and a smile playing across her lovely lips, he realized that the nickname Rabbit was an even better fit than he had initially thought. For yes, she was very much like a rabbit one might find in a meadow or something.
But she was also very much like The Velveteen Rabbit.
Peter would never have spoken such words aloud and if you had asked him if he knew the book, he would have lied bold-faced while looking you straight in the eye. But Charlotte had loved that book, and so early on in their relationship she had demanded that he read it so that he could understand her properly. And Peter, all two hundred plus pounds of Vermont farm boy, had read the damn thing surreptitiously, because he loved her.
Truth be told, he loved that story, too.
In looking at Rabbit, he had the feeling that she was waiting desperately to become Real. Waiting to be loved, even. And the waiting had taken its toll on her. Not on her outward appearance, which was very attractive, although Peter would have said she was clearly too thin and too pale, something a good deal of Vermont milk and dairy products could have improved, but on her soul. Which he thought was beautiful, but sad.
Peter wasn‘t even sure he believed in souls until he met Rabbit. And now that he knew her, he had to believe. He hoped privately that some day she would become what she wanted to be; that someone would love her and she would transform from a frightened rabbit into something else. Something bolder. Something happy.
Not wanting to indulge himself in too many literary flights of fancy, Peter swiftly decided that he needed to distract Rabbit from her sorrows and so he smiled at her again.
Then he led her to a door that had a brass nameplate on it that said the following, in very elegant cursive script: Professor Edward A. C. Masen.
Bella noticed with interest that none of the other doors had brass nameplates on them. She also noticed that Peter had taped an index card with his own name on it underneath the nameplate. She imagined Professor Masen coming along and ripping the card off out of spite.
And then she noticed Peter‘s full name, Peter V. Norris.
―What does the V stand for?‖ She crooked a finger at the homemade nameplate.
Peter blushed slightly. ―I don‘t like using my middle name.‖
―I don‘t use mine, either. And I can understand if you don‘t want to tell me.‖
She smiled and then turned her gaze expectantly at the locked door.
―You‘ll laugh,‖ he said.
―I doubt it. My last name is Swan. That‘s a pretty stupid name.‖
―I think it‘s beautiful.‖
Bella reddened, but only slightly.
Peter sighed. ―Promise you won‘t tell anyone?‖
―Of course, Peter. And I‘ll tell you my middle name, it‘s Marie.‖
―That‘s beautiful, too.‖
He drew a deep breath and closed his eyes.
And then he waited.
As did Bella.
When he could hold his breath no longer and his lungs were clamoring for oxygen he exhaled quickly. ―Virgil.‖
Bella stared. ―Virgil?‖
―Yes.‖ He opened his eyes and studied her for a minute, worried she was going to laugh at him.
―You‘re studying to be a Dante specialist and your middle name is Virgil? Are you serious?‖
He nodded. ―It‘s a family name. My great-grandfather was named Virgil. . . He never read Dante, trust me. He was a dairy farmer in Essex, Vermont.‖
Bella smiled up at him. ―I think Virgil is a beautiful name. And it‘s a great honour to be named after a noble poet.‖
―Just like it is a great honour to be named after a noble bird.‖ His eyes grew soft and he smiled at her widely.
Bella looked away, embarrassed.
Peter cleared his throat as a means of lessening the sudden tension between them.
―Masen never uses this carrel – except to drop things off for me. But it belongs to him and he pays for it.‖
―They‘re not free?‖
Peter shook his head and unlocked the door with his key. ―No. But they‘re totally worth it because they‘re air conditioned and heated, they have wireless internet access, and you can store books in here without checking them out at the circulation desk.
So if there is anything you need – even if it‘s reference material that you can‘t check out – you can store it in here.‖
Bella looked at the small but comfortable space as if it were the Promised Land, her eyes wide as they wandered over the large built-in workspace, comfortable chairs and floor to ceiling bookshelves. A small window offered a very nice view of the downtown skyline and the CN tower.
Bella wondered how much it would cost to live in a carrel rather than in her not-fit-for-a-dog-hobbit-hole.
―In fact,‖ said Peter, clearing some papers off one of the bookshelves, ―I‘ll give you this shelf. And you can have my extra key.‖
He fished around with some things and came up with a spare key, and then he wrote a number down on a piece of paper. ―That‘s the number on the door, in case you have trouble finding it again and here is the key.‖
Bella stood, gaping.
―I can‘t. He hates me and he won‘t like this.‖
Peter shrugged. ―Fuck him.‖
Bella‘s cheeks exploded with scarlet.
―I‘m sorry. I don‘t usually cuss – that much. At least, not in front of girls. I mean, women.‖
Bella nodded, but that was not exactly why she was blushing.
―Masen doesn‘t have to know. He‘s never here, anyway. You can store your books and he‘ll think they‘re mine. And if you don‘t want him to catch you, you don‘t have to work in here. Just drop by when I‘m around – I work here all the time. Then if he sees you, he‘ll just think we‘re working together. Or something.‖
He smiled sheepishly. He really wanted to key her – to know that she could drop by at any time. To see her things on his shelf . . . to study and to work next to her.
But Bella didn‘t want to be keyed.
―Please,‖ he said, taking her pale hand in his and gently opening her fingers. He felt her tremble slightly and so he ran his thumb across the back of her hand just to reassure her that everything was fine.
He pressed the key and the paper into her palm and then pressed her fingers closed, taking great care not to press too hard lest he bruise her. He knew that Masen had bruised her enough already.
―‘Little Rabbit, Real isn‟t how you are made; it‟s a thing that happens to you.‘ And right now, you need something good to happen to you.‖
Bella started at his words, for he had no idea how true they were.
Is he quoting from . . .? Impossible.
She looked up into his eyes. They were warm and friendly. She didn‘t see anything calculating or crude. She didn‘t see anything underhanded or harsh. Maybe he truly liked her. Or maybe he just felt sorry for her and so he was being charitable.
Whatever his mysterious motivations, in that instant Bella chose to believe that the universe was not entirely dark and disappointing and that there were still vestiges of goodness and virtue, and so she accepted the key with a bowed head and almost a tear.
―Don‘t cry, little Rabbit.‖
Peter reached out a tentative finger to stroke away a tear that had not yet fallen. But then he thought better of it and placed his hand at his side.
Bella turned away, ashamed of the sudden and intense rush of emotions she was having, over being keyed of all things, and having him quote beloved children‘s literature to her. As she frantically looked for something, anything, to distract herself, her eyes alighted on a CD that was sitting by its lonesome on one of the bookshelves.
She picked it up. Mozart‟s Requiem.
―Do you like Mozart?‖ She asked, turning the jewel case over in her hand.
Peter averted his eyes.
Bella was surprised. She moved as if to put the CD case back, worried she had embarrassed him by going through his personal effects, but he stopped her gently.
―It‘s alright, you can look at it. But it‘s not mine. It‘s Masen‘s.‖
Once again, Bella felt cold all over and slightly sick.
Peter saw her reaction this time and started speaking very quickly. ―Don‘t tell anyone, but I stole it.‖
Bella‘s eyebrows lifted.
―I know - it‘s terrible. But he was playing one track from the damn thing over and over and over again in his office. Lacrimosa, lacrimosa, lacri-fuckin‘-mosa. While I was in there cataloguing part of his personal library. I couldn‘t take it anymore! It‘s so damned depressing. So I stole it from his office and hid it here. He hasn‘t played it since.‖
Bella laughed. She closed her eyes and opened her mouth and laughed.
Peter smiled with relief at her reaction.
―You didn‘t do a very good job of hiding it, Peter. I found it in what, thirty seconds?‖ She giggled and tried to hand him the CD.
He cautiously pushed her long hair back behind her shoulders so he could have an unobstructed view of her lovely face.
―Why don‘t you hide it at your place, instead?‖
Instinctively, Bella stiffened and took a step backwards.
Peter watched her head go down and her teeth clamp onto her lower lip. He wondered what he‘d done . . . should he not have touched her? Was she worried that Masen would find out she had his CD?
―Bella?‖ His voice was soft and quiet, and he made no move towards her. ―I‘m sorry. Did I do something wrong?‖
―No. It‘s nothing.‖ She glanced at him nervously and then placed the CD on the shelf. ―I love Mozart‘s Requiem. And Lacrimosa is my favourite part. I didn‘t know he liked it, too. I‘m just – um – surprised.‖
―Then borrow it.‖ He picked it up and put it in her hand. ―If Masen asks, I‘ll say I have it. But at least if you borrow it you can upload it to your I pod and then you can give it back to me on Monday.‖
Bella looked at the CD. Hard.
―I don‘t know . . .‖
―I‘ve had it in here all week and he hasn‘t been looking for it. Maybe his mood has shifted. He started listening to it after he got home from Seattle. Not sure why . . .‖
Bella impulsively slid the CD into her decrepit knapsack. ―Thanks.‖
Peter smiled. ―Anything for you, Bella.‖
He wanted to hold her hand. Or at least to squeeze it for an instant. But she was skittish, he could see, and so he gave her a wide berth as he led her into the hallway so that he could continue giving her a tour of the library.
―Uh, the Toronto Film Festival is on this weekend. I have a couple of tickets to some films on Saturday. Would you like to join me?‖ Peter tried to sound casual as he led Bella to the elevators.
―What films?‖
He sighed. ―One is French and the other is German. I prefer European films.‖ He smiled half-heartedly. ―I don‘t know. I could trade the tickets for something more local . . .‖
Bella shook her head. ―I like European films, too. As long as they‘re subtitled. My French is almost non-existent, apart from words having to do with food, and I only know how to swear in German.‖
Peter pressed the button for the elevator and then turned and gave Rabbit a very long, very studious look. And then he grinned – widely.
―You can swear in German? How did you come by that?‖
―I lived in the International House at Seattle University. One of the exchange students was from Frankfurt and she really liked to swear – a lot. By the end of the semester, we were all swearing in German. It was kind of a res hall thing.‖ She turned a light shade of pink and looked down at her sneakers.
Bella knew that Peter was a doctoral student, which meant that he had already taken language courses in French and in German, in all probability. He would probably make fun of her amateur linguistic skills. She waited for a snide remark or a dismissive wave of the hand.
But he only smiled warmly and held the elevator door open for her. ―My German is terrible. Maybe you can teach me to swear in it – that would be an improvement.‖
Bella inhaled as she stepped into the elevator. And then she turned to him and smiled back. Widely this time.
―Maybe. And I‘d like to go to the movies with you on Saturday. Thanks for inviting me.‖
―No problem.‖
Peter grinned to himself. Rabbit was coming to the movies with him. Not just one, but two. And then afterwards, there would be dinner . . . he had yet to introduce her to his favourite Indian restaurant. Or perhaps he should do that tonight and take her to Chinatown after the double-feature. . . And then he would take her to Greg‘s for homemade ice cream . . . and invite her to accompany him to the Art Gallery of Ontario to see Frank Gehry‘s new addition next weekend.
As they continued their tour, Peter resolved in his heart to be patient. Very, very patient. And cautious, whenever he reached out a tentative hand to offer her a carrot or to gently stroke her soft fur with his fingers. Or else he knew he would frighten Rabbit away. And then he wouldn‘t have the opportunity to help her become Real.
-
-
The next morning, Bella sat on her little bed with her old laptop working on her thesis proposal for Professor Masen and listening to Mozart.
Professor Masen‘s choice of music surprised her. How could he go from listening to Nine Inch Nails to this?
Was he only listening to it because of Esme? Or was there some other reason he was torturing himself by listening to that same track over and over again?
Bella closed her eyes and concentrated on the words to Lacrimosa, sung loudly and passionately by the multi-voice choir in haunting Latin,
―Lacrimosa dies illa
Qua resurget ex favilla
Judicandus homo reus.
Huic ergo parce, Deus:
Pie Jesu Domine,
Dona eis requiem.
Amen.”
(Translation: Day of Weeping, on which will rise from ashes guilty man for judgment. So have mercy, O Lord, on this man. Compassionate Lord Jesus, grant them rest. Amen.)
What is wrong with Edward that he listens to this over and over again?
And what does it say about me that I can‟t help but feel close to him when I listen to it?
All I‟ve done is replace his photograph with his CD – it‟s the same thing. I‟m just not sleeping with it under my pillow.
I am one sick puppy.
Bella shook her head and tried to concentrate on her thesis proposal, distracting herself from the sound of Classical weeping with thoughts of Peter and the previous day‘s activities.
Peter had been very helpful. In addition to giving her a key to the Professor‘s carrel, he‘d offered advice about how best to structure her thesis proposal, and he‘d made her laugh more than once. More than she had laughed in a very, very long time.
He was a gentleman – he opened doors and carried her heavy knapsack. He was chivalrous about everything and Bella could not help but like him. It was nice to be around someone who was both handsome and sweet – an oft overlooked and frequently rare combination.
But Peter also made Bella nervous. For a variety of reasons.
She was grateful for his guidance, however. For truly, who better than Virgil to guide her through a thesis proposal on Dante?
Bella wanted her thesis proposal to impress Professor Masen; to make him realize that she was a capable student and slightly intelligent. Even though she knew he would likely disagree with her on both points, no matter what Professor Garrett Armstrong of Harvard had said about her.
And she‘d be lying if she told you that she wasn‘t trying to subliminally jar Masen into remembering her.
She wondered what was worse – that Edward had forgotten her? Or that Edward had become Professor Masen? Bella was sickened by the second arm of the dilemma and so she refused to even consider it – much.
She would far rather Edward had forgotten her but remained the sweet and tender man she kissed in the meadow, than for him to become Professor Masen, with all of his vices, and still remember her.
Bella‘s thesis proposal was simple. She was interested in a comparison between the courtly love manifested in the chaste relationship between Dante and Beatrice, and the passionate lust manifested in the adulterous relationship between Paolo and Francesca, two characters Dante placed in the circle of the lustful in The Inferno.
Bella wanted to discuss the virtues and drawbacks of chastity, a subject she had more than a passing interest in.
As she worked on her proposal, she found herself staring back and forth between Holiday‘s painting and a postcard with the image of Rodin‘s sculpture The Kiss (Le Baiser) that she had taped to the wall. Rodin had sculpted Paolo and Francesca in such a way that their lips weren‘t touching; nevertheless, the sculpture was sensual and erotic and Bella had not purchased a replica of it when she visited Musée Rodin in Paris because she found it too arousing. And too heartbreaking.
So Bella had settled for a postcard.
In addition to her boulangerie and fromagerie French she knew enough to realize that the title of Rodin‘s sculpture was part of its subversion. For baiser in French could mean either the innocence of a kiss or the animality of a fuck. One could say, le baiser and refer to a kiss, but if one said, Baise-moi one was begging to be fucked.
Both innocence and begging were wrapped up in the embrace of these two lovers, whose lips never touched. Frozen together, yet separated, for all eternity.
Bella wanted to free them from their frozen embrace and she secretly hoped her thesis would allow her to do so.
From time to time over the years Bella had indulged herself in thinking about the meadow, in reliving her first kiss with Edward and some of what came afterward, but mostly she did so in her dreams.
She rarely, if ever, thought of the morning after and its tears and hysterics. It was far too painful a memory. It was a memory of betrayal she revisited only in her nightmares . . . and unfortunately for her, that was all too often. And it was the reason she never sought him out.
Just then, her cell phone rang, interrupting her homework.
―Hey, Bella. Do you have plans tonight?‖ It was Alice. Bella could hear Edward talking in the background.
Bella immediately hit the mute button on her computer so that Edward couldn‘t hear Mozart over the telephone.
She waited with baited breath to see if he had heard . . .
―Bella? Are you still there?‖
―Yes, I‘m here.‖
Bella could hear Edward muttering in the background, and she couldn‘t tell if he was angry or simply complaining. Not that that was a new problem.
―What‘s wrong? Are you okay?‖
―Yes. Fine. Um, no plans. No plans tonight.‖ Bella bit her lip as a wave of relief washed over her. He hadn‘t heard the CD. Or so it seemed.
―Good. I want to go to a club.‖
―Oh, come on. You know I hate those places. I can‘t dance and it‘s always too loud.‖
Alice laughed heartily. ―Funny you should say that. Edward said almost the same thing. Minus the dancing part. He thinks he can dance, he just refuses.‖
Bella sat up very straight on her bed. ―Edward would come with us?‖
―I‘m only here two more days. He‘s taking me somewhere nice for dinner and then I told him I want to go to a club. He‘s not happy about it but he didn‘t say no. I thought it would be more fun if you joined us after dinner. So how about it?‖
Bella sighed deeply. And shut her eyes.
―I‘d love to, Alice. But I don‘t have anything to wear. Sorry.‖
Alice giggled. ―Just check your closet and pick something black. Something simple. I‘m sure there‘s something in there that I picked out for you once upon a time. Do you still have those Prada shoes?‖
Just then the doorbell rang.
―Hang on, Alice, someone is at my door.‖ Bella walked out into the hall, noticing a delivery man standing outside the front door to the building.
She opened the door. ―Yes?‖
―Delivery for Bella Swan. You her?‖
Bella nodded and signed for what turned out to be a very large rectangular parcel.
―Thanks,‖ she mumbled and then she stuck the parcel under her arm and shifted her cell phone to her ear. ―Alice, you still there?‖
Alice sounded as if she was laughing. ―Yes. What was it?‖
―Some kind of delivery. For me.‖
―Well, what is it?‖
―I don‘t know. It‘s a big box.‖
―Open it.‖
Bella locked her apartment door behind her and then put the box down on her bed. She propped her phone between her ear and her shoulder so that she could still talk while she opened the package.
―I‘m just ripping off the craft paper now. The box has a label on it – Holt Renfrew. I don‘t know why someone would send me a present . . . Alice, you didn‘t!‖
Bella could hear squeals and laughter over the phone.
She opened the box and found a beautiful Santorini blue off the shoulder cocktail dress with a v-neckline. Bella didn‘t recognize the name on the label, Badgley Mischka, but it was probably one of the most feminine dresses she‘d ever seen.
Nestled in a shoe box next to the dress, she discovered a pair of black patent leather Christian Louboutins. She looked incredulously at the red soles and the very high heels. The shoes had a pretty velvet bow on each toe and Bella knew that they were probably worth about a month‘s rent. At least.
And then tucked into the corner of the box, almost as an afterthought, was a small citrine beaded hand bag. Only Alice could have chosen such a perfect and unusual ensemble.
Bella felt momentarily like Cinderella.
―Do you like everything? I know you‘re fond of everything Italian, but I thought it was time to go global.‖ Bella could hear Alice smiling over the phone.
―It‘s beautiful, Alice. All of it. Wait a minute, how did you know what sizes to buy?‖
―Bella, I do this for a living! I knew what size you were when I saw you the other day. And you‘re almost the same size you were in high school. Lucky girl.‖
―But it‘s too much. The shoes alone . . I just can‘t . . .‖
―Bella, please. I‘m so glad we‘re friends again. And really, apart from running into you and being able to get close to Edward, nothing good has happened to me since Esme got sick. Please don‘t take this away from me, too.‖
Alice really knows how to lay on a guilt trip.
Bella inhaled sharply and then bit her lip. ―I don‘t know . . .‖
―It‘s not my money, Bella. It‘s family money. Since Esme died . . .‖ Alice trailed off, hoping that her friend would derive her own (erroneous) conclusion.
And that‘s exactly what Bella did.
―Esme would have wanted you to spend her money on yourself, Alice.‖
―Esme wanted everyone she loved to be happy, and that included you. And she didn‘t have much of a chance to spoil you after . . . after what happened. I‘m sure she knows we‘re talking again and she‘s smiling down on us. Make her happy for me, Bella.‖
Now Bella felt tears pricking at the back of her eyes. And Alice felt guilty for being so manipulative.
Edward felt neither tears nor guilt and wished that the two girls would settle things already so that he could use his own damn telephone to make a phone call.
―Could I pay for part of it? Could I pay for the shoes – over time?‖
Edward must have heard that, because she could hear his cursings and loud protestations in the background. He was muttering something about a mouse and a church. Whatever that meant.
―Edward! Let me handle this.‖ Bella could hear bits and pieces of an argument that was brewing between the two siblings.
―If that‘s what you want, that‘s fine. (Edward, stop it.) But it‘s our last night out together and I want you to come with us. So wear it and join us, and we‘ll work the money out later. Much later. Like when I‘m back in Seattle. And living on social security.‖
Bella sighed deeply and offered a silent prayer of thanks to Esme, who had always been good to her. ―Thanks, Alice. I owe you one. Again.‖
Alice squealed. ―Edward!! Bella is coming, too!‖
Bella held the phone away from her ear so she couldn‘t hear Alice shrieking.
―Be ready around nine, we‘ll pick you up at your place. Edward says he knows how to get there.‖
―That‘s pretty late, Alice, are you sure?‘
―Bella please! Edward chose the club and he says it doesn‘t even open ‗til nine. We‘re going to be early as it is. Just spend some time getting ready and we‘ll see you tonight. You‘re going to look hot!‖
And with that Bella ended her phone call and sat next to her beautiful new dress.
Alice shared Esme‘s generous and charitable spirit. It was too bad some of that spirit hadn‘t rubbed off on Edward . . .
She wondered how she was ever going to be able to dance in those sexy and dangerous shoes. And then she contemplated the exciting and slightly frightening prospect of dancing with a certain Professor.
But Alice said he doesn‟t dance. Figures.
In a fit of inspiration, Bella walked over to her dresser and cautiously opened her underwear drawer. Without looking at the photograph that was hidden at the back, she quickly withdrew a small and sexy string of cloth that could charitably be termed underwear if and only if one thought that anything one wore underneath one‘s clothes counted as underwear.
Bella held the string in the palm of her hand, for that is how tiny it was, and meditated on it as if it were an image of the Buddha.
And in a snap decision, she decided that she would wear it, hoping that like a talisman or a charm it would give her the courage and the confidence to do what she needed to do.
What she wanted to do.
And that was to remind Dante of how much he had lost when he abandoned her.
There was to be no more lacrimosa for Beatrice.
Translation: Lacrimosa means ‗weeping‘ or ‗sadness‘ in English.

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