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Messaggio  simona80 il Sab 05 Mar 2011, 21:23

Chapter Nine
While Bella was at Lobby, there were moments when she was convinced that Edward remembered her. But those moments were fleeting and ethereal and they disappeared like cobwebs blown away by the wind.
So Bella, because she was an honest young woman, began to doubt herself.
Perhaps it had been a dream. Perhaps Bella had fallen in love with his photograph and dreamed everything after Alice and Jasper retreated. Perhaps she had fallen asleep in the meadow alone, the sad recipient of the desperate and lonely illusion of a little girl from a broken home who had never felt loved for a moment in her life.
It was possible.
When everyone in the whole world believes one thing and you are the only one believing differently, it‘s very tempting to assimilate. All Bella would have to do would be to forget, to deny, to suppress. And then she would be just like everyone else.
But Bella was stronger than that.
No, she had not been prepared to call Edward out publicly about exposing her virginity, for that would be to draw too much attention to a fact that she was partially ashamed of.
And no, she was unwilling to force him to acknowledge her or the night they shared together. For Bella had a fairly pure heart and she did not like to force anyone to do anything.
So she cursed Edward when it was appropriate and left it at that.
And when she saw confusion on Edward‘s face while they were dancing and saw that his mind would not allow himself to remember, she withdrew. She was worried what a sudden strong realization might do, and fearful that his mind might shatter, like Esme‘s glass coffee table, she elected to do nothing.
Bella was a good person. And sometimes goodness doesn‘t tell everything it knows. Sometimes goodness waits for the appropriate time and does the best it can with what it has.
Professor Masen was not the man that Bella Swan had fallen in love with in the secret meadow. In fact, Bella had concluded that there was something seriously wrong with the Professor. He was not just dark, or depressed, but disturbed. And probably alcoholic.
But because she was good, she would not break him the way she had been broken, by forcing him to look at something he did not want to see.
She would have done anything for Edward, the man she spent the night with in the meadow, if he had given her even a single indication that he wanted her. She would have descended to hell and searched for him, looking until she found him. She would have stormed the gates and dragged him back. She would have been Sam to his Frodo and followed him into the bowels of Mount Doom.
But he was not that Edward. That Edward was dead. Gone. Leaving behind only vestiges of him in the body of a harsh and tortured clone.
Edward had almost broken Bella‘s heart before.
But she was determined she would not let him break her heart for the second time.
-
Before Alice left Toronto to return to Jasper and the dystopia that was her adopted family, she insisted on seeing Bella‘s studio apartment once and for all.
Bella had been putting her off for days and Edward himself had discouraged Alice from just showing up unannounced. Edward knew that as soon as she saw where her friend was living, she‘d pack Bella up personally and force her to move into a nicer place, preferably Edward‘s guest room.
One can only imagine Edward‘s reaction to that suggestion, but it ran along the lines of ―No fucking way.‖
So on Sunday afternoon, Alice found herself ringing Bella‘s doorbell in order to have tea with her friend and say her goodbyes before Edward took her to the airport.
Bella was nervous. She had the cardinal virtue of fortitude, like a stubborn medieval saint, and so she was unlikely to mind various discomforts or slights. Consequently, she hadn‘t thought her little hobbit hole was really that bad when she signed the lease. It was safe and it was clean and she could afford it. But believing that and showing her apartment to Alice were two different things.
―I need to warn you that it‘s small. But remember that I‘m living on a grad student‘s income and it‘s fixed. I can‘t get an extra job up here because I don‘t have a work permit. And I can‘t afford to live in the Manulife Building or anywhere even half as nice,‖ Bella explained as she ushered Alice into her apartment.
Alice nodded and placed a large square box on Bella‘s bed.
Edward had warned her how tiny the apartment was. Edward had warned her not to make a scene in front of Bella. For Edward still nursed a secret regret over his appalling behavior during his one and only visit to her apartment.
But still, nothing her brother or her friend told her quite prepared her for what she saw behind Bella‘s closed door. The space was small, old and everything in it was second-hand or cheap, apart from the simple curtains and the bedding and anything Bella had brought with her from Seattle.
To her credit, Alice took her time walking through the studio, which only took about five steps, and looked at the closet, inspected the bathroom and then stood in the kitchen ‗area‘ looking at a pathetic little hot plate and an old decrepit microwave, and wept. She put her hands over her face and burst into tears.
Bella stood rooted to the spot, not quite knowing what to do. Alice was disturbed by ugliness, she knew, but Bella had tried to make her studio pretty and had used her favourite shades of purple to do so. Surely Alice could appreciate that.
Alice came to herself a few moments later, wiping her tears and then giggling slightly.
―I‘m sorry, Bella. It‘s hormones and lack of sleep and I‘ve been emotional lately because of Esme. Then there‘s everything with Jasper and the wedding and Edward isn‘t exactly an ideal roommate. Oh, Bella, I just wish I could take you home with me and you could live with us in Seattle. We have so much space. And our kitchen is bigger than your entire apartment!‖
Alice shook her head and smiled at her friend. ―But forget about that now. Edward said you‘re very particular about your tea. He was impressed with how you made it. And you know nothing ever impresses him. So I‘m going to curl up on your lovely lavender bed and learn how you do it.‖
Alice dried her eyes and plopped herself down on top of Bella‘s comforter, holding the large square box on her lap and trying to be brave for the sake of her friend.
Bella was surprised that Edward had even remembered the tea since he had been so busy criticizing her eating habits the one and only time he had visited her. But she pushed such thoughts out of her mind and focused her attention on making Alice feel at home and making her forget her tears.
Soon they were both perched on her bed, holding their china teacups, laughing at old times, and nibbling on chocolate truffles that Bella had purchased with part of her emergency fund, as a celebratory treat.
―Bella, there is something I need to tell you about Edward.‖
―Alice, I really don‘t want to hear it.‖
Alice looked over at Bella and frowned. ―Why not?‖
―Because he‘s my professor. It‘s – safer if we pretend not to know each other. Trust me.‖
Alice shook her head. ―He said something similar, you know. But I‘m going to tell you what I told him, I don‟t care. He‘s my brother and I love him. And there‘s something you need to know.‖
Bella sighed and hung her head.
―He‘d kill me if he knew that I was telling you this, but I think it will make his attitude easier to understand. Did Esme ever tell you how she got him?‖
Bella shook her head. ―Esme only talked about happy things; how proud she was of him, how well he did at Dartmouth and his time abroad at Oxford. She never talked about his childhood.‖
―Esme found him before I was born. He was nine years old, wandering around the hospital in Forks. He‘d been traveling across country with his mother, who was some crazy alcoholic, and she got sick. They ended up at Carlisle‘s hospital and his mother died, of pneumonia I think.
Esme found Edward at the hospital, without a dollar to his name. He couldn‘t even buy a drink from the vending machine. It broke Esme‘s heart. She was even more upset when she tracked down some of his mother‘s relatives and they told her to keep him. He knew no one wanted him. And despite everything Esme and Carlisle did, I don‘t think he ever felt at home with us. He never became a Cullen.‖
Bella thought of Edward as a scared and hungry little boy and fought back tears. She imagined his eyes, large and green in his pale but beautiful face. His shock of copper hair spiked and unruly. Dirty clothes and a crazy mother. Never feeling loved. Bella knew what it was like to have a crazy, alcoholic mother. Bella knew what it was like to cry herself to sleep at night wishing someone, anyone, would love her. She and Edward had more in common than she cared to admit. Much, much more.
―I‘m sorry, Alice. I didn‘t know.‖
―I‘m not excusing his rudeness. I‘m just telling you who he is.
Did you know that after the horrible fight with Emmett, Esme would light a candle every night and place it in one of the windows in the living room? She thought that if Edward happened to be in Forks and saw the candle, he would know that someone was waiting for him, that someone loved him enough to wait for him and he‘d walk up the front steps and come in.‖
Bella shook her head. She hadn‘t known that, but she believed it. That‘s just who Esme was – charity unbounded.
―He pretends to be whole, but he‘s been broken, too. And deep down, he hates himself. He thinks he deserves to be unhappy; he told me so. He thinks God is punishing him.
I‘ve told him to treat you nicely, so I think his behavior will improve. I hope. Let me know if it doesn‘t and I‘ll come back.‖
Bella rolled her eyes. ―He ignores me, mostly. I‘m a lowly grad student and he doesn‘t let me forget it.‖
Alice laughed. ―I find that hard to believe. I doubt very much that he would stare so intensely at a ‗lowly‘ grad student.‖
Bella busied herself with her chocolate. ―He stares at me?‖
She was trying very hard to sound relaxed, but her voice sounded unnatural, shaky even.
And Alice heard it.
―All the time. Haven‘t you noticed? I caught him staring at you over dinner the other night and when we were at the club. Every time you took a drink, actually. And when I grinned at him, he scowled. Maybe he was monitoring your alcohol consumption. He‘s one to judge.‖
Alice looked over at her thoughtfully.
―I see the two of you together and I feel like I‘m missing something . . . but I don‘t know what it is. Bella, he knew that I was going shopping this week and he not only encouraged me, he gave me money.‖
―So? That‘s nice. That‘s what big brothers are for. What did you buy with it?‖
―The money was for you, not me.‖
Bella frowned and turned sideways on the bed, cross legged, so that she could face Alice.
―Why the hell would he do that?‖
―You tell me.‖ Alice folded her arms in front of her and cocked her head to one side, staring at her friend for a moment or two.
―I don‘t know. He‘s been rude to me since I got here.‖
―Well, he gave me some money and told me to buy you a gift. He was very specific. So here it is.‖
Alice placed the box in Bella‘s lap.
―I don‘t want it.‖ She tried to return it, but Alice refused.
―At least open it and see what it is.‖
Bella shook her head but Alice insisted. So she opened the box.
In it she found a very nice chocolate brown Italian made leather messenger bag. She held the bag up by its strap and looked at it. The label said Fendi.
Holy crap, thought Bella.
―Well? What do you think?‖
―I don‘t – know,‖ stammered Bella, staring at the beautiful and classic bag in astonishment.
Alice took it from her now shaking hand and began rummaging through it, muttering about its internal stitching, compartments and overall quality workmanship.
―See how perfect it is? It‘s functional and feminine, since it‘s a messenger bag and not a briefcase, and it‘s Italian. And we both know that you and Edward have a thing . . . for Italy.‖ She added, after a pause that was designed to elicit some kind of reaction out of Bella.
Her telltale flush and immediate nervousness told Alice all she needed to know, but she chose not to embarrass her friend any further.
―I‘m not supposed to tell you it‘s from him. He was very explicit about that. Of course, I ignored him.‖ Alice chuckled impishly.
To her credit, Bella laughed.
―He wants me to have this because he doesn‘t like looking at my ratty old knapsack! Its very existence offends his patrician sensibilities, so he thinks he can use you to persuade me to get rid of it. But I‘m not going to. It‘s an L.L. Bean, damn it, and they offer a lifetime guarantee. I‘ll send it back to the company and they‘ll replace it. He can take his messenger bag and shove it up his stuck up I‘m-too-good-for-domestic-items ass.‖
Alice blinked.
―Right. Well, it‘s not as if he‘ll miss the money. He has piles of it.‖
―Professors don‘t make that much money.‖
―He inherited it.‖
―From Esme?‖
―No, from his biological father. A number of years ago some lawyer tracked Edward down and told him his father had died and left him all this money. I‘m not sure he even knew his father‘s name before that. Edward refused the inheritance at first, but later he changed his mind.‖
―Why did he change his mind?‖
―I don‘t know. That was after the big fight with Emmett and Carlisle. I didn‘t talk to Edward again for a very long time and so there are a lot of things I just don‘t know about.
But as far as the money is concerned, I think he‘s trying to spend it faster than it accumulates interest. So don‘t think of this as a gift from Edward, think of it as Edward sticking it to his old man. He wants to give it away. And he knows that you deserve something nice. He told me so, himself.‖
Bella shook her head. ―I can‘t accept it. I don‘t care where it came from or why.‖
Alice gave her friend a pained look.
―Please, Bella. Edward has been on the outs with all of us for so long. He‘s finally letting me back into his life. I don‘t think I can lose him now after everything . . .‖ Her face crumpled and she looked very upset.
―I‘m sorry, Alice, but it‘s too much. He‘s my professor; he‘ll get fired!‖
Alice clutched Bella‘s hand. ―Will you tell on him?‖
―Of course not!‖
―Good, because you‘re supposed to think this is a belated birthday gift from me or Esme.‖
Alice‘s eyes widened as she realized her mistake. ―Oh God, Bella, your birthday. I forgot. I‘m so sorry.‖
Bella‘s spine stiffened and she clenched her teeth a little.
―I don‘t really celebrate it anymore. It‘s just too hard . . . I can‘t . . .‖
―Do you ever hear from him?‖
Bella immediately felt ill. ―Only when he‟s drunk. Or when he‟s having trouble with her. But I changed my cell phone number when I moved here, so that wouldn‘t happen again.‖
―Bastard,‖ said Alice. ―Well, forget about all that. I wasn‘t supposed to tell you the gift was from Edward, but I just couldn‘t lie to you. I know how much it hurts you when people lie and I wasn‘t going to do that.‖
―Thank you, Alice.‖
The two friends exchanged a meaningful look.
Bella contemplated this one gift from Edward and all of its implications, spoken and unspoken. She didn‘t want to receive a gift from him. He‘d rejected her, plain and simple. Could she have this bag in her little hobbit hole? Could she use it, carry it to school? Knowing all the while that it was from him? Knowing that he‘d be staring at her smugly, thinking that he had done her some kind of service?
Not for Edward. Not for all the tea in China.
Alice saw what Bella was about to do even before the words had formed in the back of her mind.
―If you don‘t accept the bag, I will have to explain that to Edward. And he‘ll know something went wrong. He‘ll blame me, instead.‖
Bella shook her head and silently cursed him.
Oh gods of all pretentious pole-in-keester Dante specialists, send him a rash on il pene. Please. Something extra itchy.
But for Alice, Bella would do anything.
―Fine, Alice. I‘ll do this for you. But will you please tell Edward not to buy me any more stuff? It‘s embarrassing. I‘m starting to feel like one of those kids on the UNICEF box at Hallowe‘en.‖
Alice took a deep breath, gave Bella a nod and a smile and then bit into her very large chocolate. She licked the cocoa from her lips and closed her eyes. It was very good.
Bella hugged the briefcase to her chest, like a shield, and inhaled the lovely leather scent eyes closed.
Edward wanted me to have a present. He must feel something for me, even if it‟s just pity. And now I have something of his besides a photograph . . . something I‟ll own forever.
―Will you tell me what happened at the funeral? I sent a card with some flowers and somehow Edward found it, but no one told him who I was.‖
―He told me about that. I saw the gardenias and Rose said they were from you, but the card disappeared before I had a chance to explain.
I was a wreck during the funeral. Edward and Emmett were fighting and I was trying to keep them away from each other before someone went through a window. Or a coffee table.‖
Bella thought of shattered glass and blood on white carpet and she shivered.
―Why are they always fighting?‖
Alice sighed. ―It never used to be that way. Edward changed when he went to Harvard. . .‖ Her voice trailed off mysteriously.
Bella didn‘t feel comfortable pressing her, so she kept silent.
―Edward didn‘t come home again for years after his fight with Emmett, and then he would only stay a few days. He would always insist on sleeping at a hotel, and that broke Esme‘s heart. Emmett won‘t let Edward forget that – all that stuff he did to Esme way back when.‖
Alice chewed her truffle thoughtfully.
―Emmett looked up to Edward. It really hurt him when things went sour. And now they barely speak to one another and when they do . . .‖ She shuddered. ―I don‘t know what I would have done without Jasper. I‘d probably have run away from everyone and never come back.‖
―Even a dysfunctional family is better than no family at all,‖ Bella said softly.
Alice looked sad. ―Well, that‘s what we are now. We were the Cullens; now we are a dysfunctional family. A dead mother, a grief-stricken father, a hot-headed black sheep and a pig-headed bear called Emmett. I guess I‘m the partridge in the pear tree.‖
―Are Emmett and Rose happy?‖
Alice hesitated. ―Yes. But Rose wants a baby really badly and somehow . . . I don‘t know. She won‘t talk about it, but one night over a couple of beers Emmett told me there is something wrong with Rose. I‘m not sure she can have children.‖
―I‘m so sorry to hear that. I know Rose always wanted a big family. They joked about it at the wedding.‖
Alice sighed. ―My family is like a Dickensian novel, Bella. No, it‘s worse. We‘re a twisted mix of Arthur Miller and John Steinbeck, with a bit of Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy thrown in!‖
―Is it really that bad?‖
―Yes, because I have the feeling there are elements of Thomas Hardy lurking below the surface. And you know how much I hate him. Mind-fucking bastard.‖
Bella thought about this and hoped for her friend‘s sake that the Hardy novel approximating the Alice Cullen experience was more Mayor of Casterbridge than Tess of the D‟Urbervilles, or, God forbid, Jude the Obscure.
Unfortunately, Bella did not pause to consider which Hardy novel best described her own experiences. . .
―With Esme gone, everything is in upheaval. Carlisle is talking about selling the house in Forks and moving his medical practice to Seattle to be closer to me and to Emmett and Rose. And when he asked Edward if he minded if he sold the house, Edward flipped out and wandered off into the woods to his meadow. We didn‘t see him again for hours.‖
Bella blinked rapidly and her breathing came in short, shallow gasps.
Alice was too busy placing her teacup on the card table and walking to the bathroom to notice, but something she said had upset Bella deeply.
By the time Alice returned, Bella had calmed herself through no little effort and was adding hot water to the teapot.
―What did Edward say to you that upset you so much when you were dancing with him? And by the way, my Spanish is rusty but Besame mucho is a pretty hot song! Did you even listen to the lyrics?‖
Bella focused her attention on her teapot and tried very hard not to hyperventilate. She knew she was going to have to lie to Alice and it was not a decision she took lightly.
―It doesn‘t matter about the lyrics because all we talked about is the fact that he knew I was a virgin.‖
Alice narrowed her eyes. ―Bastard! Why the hell does he do things like that?‖ She shook her head. ―You just wait, Bella, I‘ll get him. He has these photos in his bedroom and I‘m going to . . .‖
―Don‘t bother, Alice. It‘s true. Why should I try to hide it?‖ She bit her lip. ―I just can‘t figure out how he knew. It‘s not as if I bring it up in polite conversation: Good afternoon, Professor Masen. My name is Miss Swan and I‟m a virgin from Forks, Washington. Pleased to meet you.‖
Alice rolled her eyes. ―Think about it Bella. He‘s never exactly been in want of female companionship. I‘m sure you smell different to him; you were probably the only girl at the club, apart from me, who smelled as if she was not in heat.‖
Bella looked disgusted, and rightly so, but said nothing.
Is that something a human being can smell? The absence of being in heat?
―When you came off the dance floor, you looked as if you‘d seen a ghost. Like how I imagined you would have looked the night you saw Ja-. . .‖
―Please, Alice. Don‘t. I can‘t talk about that night. I can‘t think about it. I just can‘t.‖
―I could run him over with my Porsche for what he did to you. I still might do that. Is he in Seattle? Give me his address.‖
―Please,‖ Bella begged, hugging her arms protectively across her chest.
Alice flew to her side and pulled her friend into a warm embrace.
―Don‘t you worry, Bella. You‘re going to be happy some day. I can see it. You‘re going to fall in love with a beautiful boy and he‘s going to love you back so much it will hurt. And you‘re going to get married and have a beautiful baby girl and live happily ever after. In New England. I think.‖
―I hope you‘re psychic, Alice. I have to believe something like that is possible, even for me. Otherwise, I just don‘t know . . .‖
Alice smiled. ―You, of all people, deserve a happy ending. Despite everything that happened to you, you aren‘t bitter. You aren‘t cold. You‘ve just retreated a little and been shy, and that‘s okay. If I were a fairy godmother, I would give you your heart‘s desire in an instant. And I would wipe away your tears and tell you not to cry.
I wish Edward had taken a page from your book, Miss Bella. He could have learnt a thing or two from you about how to deal with heartbreak.‖
Bella released her friend, turning back to the tea that was quickly cooling.
Alice looked at her closely before she spoke again.
―I know that it is a lot to ask, but will you look out for Edward?‖
Bella leaned over the teapot on purpose, refilling their cups so that Alice couldn‘t see her face.
―Edward has nothing but contempt for me. He‘s merely tolerating me for your sake.‖
Her friend paused in surprise. ―That‘s not true, Bella. Believe me, I‘ve known him my whole life and that is just not true. I‘ve seen how he looks at you. He can be – cold. But apart from his biological parents, I don‘t think he‘s ever hated anyone in his life, apart from himself. Not even Emmett during their worst fight.‖
Bella shrugged. ―There‘s nothing I can do, Alice.‖
―I‘m not asking you to do anything, really. Just keep your eyes open. And if you see him – starting to act strangely, or if he‘s in trouble, I want you to call me. Day or night.‖
Bella looked over at her in surprise.
―I‘m serious. With Esme gone, I‘m worried that his darkness is going to return. And I can‘t lose him again. Sometimes I feel as if he‘s standing on the edge of a very high cliff, and the slightest movement, the slightest breath of wind will knock him over the edge. I can‘t let that happen, Bella.‖
Bella‘s eyebrows knitted together and she nodded.
―All I can do, I will do.‖
Alice closed her eyes and breathed deeply. ―I feel so much better knowing that you‘re around. You can be his secret guardian.‖ She laughed softly. ―Maybe some of your good luck will rub off on him.‖
―Alice, I have nothing but bad luck and you, of all people, should know it.‖
―You‘ve met Peter, Bella. He sounds nice.‖
Bella blushed and smiled.
―Peter doesn‘t seem to be the type who‘d mind if you were a – you know. Not that there‟s anything wrong with that.‖
Bella laughed. ―You can say it, Alice; it‘s not a curse word. And no, I don‘t think Peter would mind that I am a virgin. But we don‘t talk about such things.‖
-
Shortly thereafter, Alice hugged Bella goodbye and climbed into a cab.
―When I finally work through the monumental pile of issues that I have to deal with, I‘m planning a wedding. And then I‘m expecting you to be my maid of honour, Bella.‖
Bella felt tears form at the corners of her eyes. ―Of course. Just name the date. And I‘ll help you plan it, too. Although, somehow I doubt you‘ll need my help.‖
Alice smiled widely and blew her a kiss out the open window as she drove away.
―I was dreading this trip, Bella. But I‘m so happy I came. At least two broken pieces of my life are coming back together. I feel like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders. And if Edward gives you any shit, any shit at all, you call me and I‘ll hop a plane!‖
-
With her departure, Bella and Edward were forced to part company with their solid and secure St. Lucy. But in true saint-like fashion, she had accomplished all of her tasks before she returned home and she had planted seeds that would soon blossom, in unexpected ways.
-
Late Tuesday afternoon, Bella and Peter sat in the Bloor Street Starbucks enjoying their respective coffee drinks, curled up together on a purple velvet loveseat and talking. They were sitting close, but not too close.
Close enough so that Peter could admire her beauty, far enough away so that Bella could watch his large, kind eyes and not feel overly nervous. Or crowded.
―Do you like Nine Inch Nails?‖ She asked suddenly, cupping her coffee in two hands.
Peter was taken aback by her question.
―Uh, no. No, I don‘t.‖ He shrugged. ―Trent Reznor twists my head around. Unless he‘s singing backup for Tori Amos. Why, do you?‖
Bella shivered. ―Absolutely not.‖
He pulled a CD out of his briefcase and handed it to her.
―I like this kind of stuff. Stuff I can write my dissertation to.‖
―I‘ve never heard of Hem before,‖ said Bella, turning the jewel case over in her hand.
―They have a song I think you‘ll like. It‘s called Half Acre. They used to play it on an insurance ad on television so you might have heard it before. It‘s beautiful. And no one yells at you or screams or tells you he wants to fu-―
Peter stopped suddenly and reddened. He was trying very hard to watch his language around her. But having only marginal success.
She tried to hand it back to him but he refused. ―I bought it for you. Rabbit songs for the Rabbit.‖
Bella shook her head. ―Thanks, Peter. But I can‘t.‖
He seemed offended. And hurt. ―Why not?‖
―I just can‘t. But thank you anyway.‖
Peter looked down at Bella‘s new messenger bag, which was resting at her feet. He squinted.
―You accepted a nice briefcase from someone. Early Christmas present? From a boyfriend?‖
―I don‘t have a boyfriend.‖ She blushed. ―My best friend‘s mother wanted me to have the briefcase. She passed away recently.‖
―I‘m so sorry, Rabbit. I didn‘t know.‖
Peter reached over and patted Bella‘s hand, placing the CD on the loveseat between them.
He noticed that Bella did not withdraw her hand. In fact, she rummaged in her bag to find Professor Masen‘s CD and returned it to Peter with her other hand, while still allowing him to cradle her fingers in his own.
―What can I do to persuade you to accept my gift?‖ He hid his face from her as he placed Masen‘s Mozart in his book bag.
―Nothing. I‘ve received too many gifts in last little while. I‘m all stocked up.‖
Peter straightened up and smiled at her.
―Let me try to convince you, Bella. Nobody, not even the rain has such small, small hands.‖
He moved their hands together, back and forth, holding her little hand up towards the halogen light. It looked very tiny encased in his.
Bella looked at him curiously.
―That‘s pretty. Did you just make it up?‖
Peter leaned his head back against the loveseat and held her hand more closely, his thumb fingering her lifeline gently, almost as if he were trying to read her palm through the tips of his fingers.
―No. It‘s a poem by e e cummings. You haven‘t heard it before?‖
―No, but I‘d like to.‖ Bella sounded very shy all of a sudden.
Peter took a deep breath and gazed into her chocolate eyes, and began to recite the poem,
―somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond any experience, your eyes have their silence: in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me, or which i cannot touch because they are too near
your slightest look easily will unclose me though i have closed myself as fingers, you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens (touching skilfully, mysteriously) her first rose
or if your wish be to close me, i and my life will shut very beautifully, suddenly, as when the heart of this flower imagines the snow carefully everywhere descending;
nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals the power of your intense fragility: whose texture compels me with the color of its countries, rendering death and forever with each breathing
(i do not know what it is about you that closes and opens; only something in me understands the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses) nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands.‖
Bella looked at Peter‘s face, at his kind eyes and gentle smile. ―That was so beautiful. Thank you, Peter. I‘ve never heard anything like it.‖
―Well, it‘s not Dante. But I like it too.‖ His thumb found the centre of her lifeline and pressed ever so carefully. ―It reminds me of you somehow. You are the place I have never traveled; your fragility and your small, small hands.‖
Bella leaned forward to hide her sudden flush of colour and sipped her coffee. But she allowed him to press at her lifeline, which he continued to do.
The movement of her coffee to her lips caused her ancient purple sweater to slip off one shoulder somewhat provocatively, revealing about two inches of an innocently white cotton bra strap and a rounded curve of alabaster skin.
Peter immediately released her hand and gently pulled her sweater to cover the strap, averting his eyes as he did so, and pressing his hand lightly to her shoulder in order to make the sweater stay.
―There,‖ he said softly. ―All better now.‖
And then he moved back ever so quickly so as not to overstay his welcome, tentatively curling his fingers over hers again, still worried she might withdraw at any moment.
Bella watched what he was doing breathlessly, as if it occurred in slow motion.
Something about his movement touched her deeply. It was an intimate act but very chaste; he covered her. He covered the smallest most innocent part of her, away from prying and possibly lecherous eyes. And in so doing, telegraphed his regard and his respect.
Virgil was honouring her. He was protecting her.
In that one act, that one gallant and polite act, Peter had made his way into her heart. Not all the way, but to the Vestibule, so to speak.
If this almost instinctive act represented the content of his soul, then Bella believed that he would not mind that she was a virgin and that upon knowing, his acceptance would cover her and protect her.
He would not ridicule or expose her.
He would keep whatever secrets she held between the two of them alone.
He would not treat her like an animal to be fucked and violated.
He would not wish to share her.
So she did something impetuous and crazy.
She leaned over and kissed him. But shyly, and chastely, on the lips.
There was no rush of blood, no humming, no explosion of fire across her skin. His lips were soft and he responded only hesitantly. Bella felt his surprise in the quick clenching of his jaw. He had tensed beneath her lips, no doubt in shock at her own boldness. She was sorry for that.
She was sorry his lips were not Edward‘s. And this kiss was not like those.
In almost half a heart beat, a great wave of sadness washed over Bella as she cursed herself for having tasted of something long ago that she could never have and never have again. For in partaking of that first taste, she was absolutely ruined.
The tasting of the apple was knowledge, itself, and now she knew.
Bella pulled back before Peter had a chance to reject her, wondering how she had managed to be so forward. Wondering what he would think of her now.
I‟ve just kissed my only Toronto friend goodbye, she thought. Damn it.
―Little Rabbit.‖ Peter gave her a tender look and immediately brought his fingertips up to caress her cheek.
His touch wasn‘t electric, but it was light and soothing.
Even his skin was kind.
He put his arms around her and drew her tightly into his chest so he could hold her and stroke her hair and whisper something sweet in her ear . . . something to reassure her . . . something to remove the mixture of confusion and pain he read on her face . . .
But his soft whisperings were interrupted by the arrival of a great winged harpy, wearing four inch heels and crimson lipstick and carrying two paper cups.
―Well, isn‘t this cozy.‖
A voice, cold and flinty, interrupted the couple‘s soft moment and Bella looked up into the harsh brown eyes of Angela Webber.
Bella sat up quickly and tried to move away from Peter, but he held her fast.
―Angela.‖
―Slumming with M. A. students, Peter? How very democratic of you,‖ said Angela, ignoring Bella pointedly.
―Be careful, Angela.‖ Peter‘s tone telegraphed a warning. ―Two fisted, today? That‘s a bit much. Pulling an all-nighter?‖ He pointed to the two cups she was holding, one in each hand.
―You have no idea, Peter,‖ she purred. ―One for me and one for Edward, of course. Oh, I‘m sorry, I didn‘t see you there, Miss Swan. You‘re so small. I guess he‘s still Professor Masen to you.‖
Angela cackled like an old chicken.
Bella raised an eyebrow but resisted the urge to set Angela straight, or smack that smug smile right off her face. For Bella Swan was a lady. And she liked how Peter‘s arm felt about her shoulders and was unwilling to move. At least, not yet.
―You‘ve never called him Edward a day in your life, Angela. And I triple-dog-dare you to do it the next time you see him.‖
Angela‘s eyes hardened and she glared at Peter. And then she smiled.
―Triple-dog-dare? That‘s funny, Peter. Is that a Vermont thing? Something farmers say to one another when they‘re shovelling manure?
After my meeting with Edward, we‘ll probably head over to Lobby for drinks. He likes to go there after work. I‘m sure we‘ll be exchanging more than –ah- names this evening.‖ Her tongue peeked out from between her lips and she began licking the curve of one of them languorously.
Bella heaved.
―And he‘ll take you?‖ Peter looked grim.
―He will. Oh, he will.‖
Bella gagged and silently swallowed back her stomach contents. For the thought of Edward with this . . . Masen whore was nauseating in the extreme. Even the waitress at Lobby would be better for him than Angela.
―You‘re not his type,‖ Bella muttered.
―Pardon?‖
Bella looked up into narrowed and suspicious eyes and she weighed her options for the slimmest of seconds. And decided caution was the better part of valour.
―I said – don‟t believe the hype.‖
―About what?‖
―About Lobby. It‘s not that great.‖
Angela shot Bella a frosty smile. ―I don‘t think they‘d let you in, dearie. Not dressed like that. Where do you get your fashion tips from – Modern Grunge Magazine?‖
She looked Bella up and down as if she were a less-than prized racehorse. As if she were an old half-blind and forgotten pony at a petting zoo. A pony no one wanted to touch.
Bella suddenly felt very self-conscious. And ugly.
Tears pricked at her eyes as she silently wished she had prettier things, but she fought them back bravely.
Peter noticed exactly what Angela was doing in measuring Bella and finding her wanting. He felt Bella shiver in reaction to Angela‘s feline claw sharpening. So although it pained him to do so, he released Bella‘s shoulders and sat forward on the loveseat and began to flex his arms.
Don‟t make me stand up, bitch.
―Why wouldn‘t they let Bella in, Angela? They only admit working girls now?‖
Angela turned very red. ―What would you know about it, Peter? You‘re practically a monk! Or perhaps that‘s what monks do – they pay for it.‖ She shot a meaningful glance at Bella and Bella‘s precious new Fendi messenger bag.
―Angela, you‘re going to shut up right now or I‘m going to stand up. And then all chivalry goes out the window.‖
Peter glared at her and silently told himself that he could not strike a woman. And that Angela was, in fact, a woman. And not an anorexic sow in heat.
Peter would never have compared Angela to a cow, for he thought cows were noble creatures. Especially Holsteins.
―Don‘t get your panties in a twist, Peter. I‘m sure there are multiple explanations. Maybe Lobby wouldn‘t let Isabella in because of her I.Q. Edward says you‘re not that bright, Miss Swan.‖
Angela cackled triumphantly as Bella ducked her head, feeling very small indeed.
Peter shifted his weight to the soles of his feet and prepared himself to stand up. He was not going to hit her, he was just going to shut her stupid mouth. And maybe manhandle her to the door or something.
He needn‘t have bothered.
―Oh, really? And what else does Edward say?‖
The three graduate students turned slowly en masse to look up at a green eyed Dante specialist who had sidled up to them silently.
None of them were exactly sure how much he had heard or how long he had been standing there.
But his eyes sparked with anger. And Bella could feel his anger radiating outward towards Angela. It billowed like a cloud.
But thankfully, it did not billow towards her. This time.
By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes, thought Peter.
―Peter.‖ Edward nodded coolly, his eyes flickering to the now noticeable space in between Bella and Peter.
The Angelfucker. That‟s right – hands off the angel, asshole.
―Miss Swan, how nice to see you again.‖ Edward smiled somewhat stiffly at Bella, who smiled hesitantly back at him. ―You‘re looking smart, as always.‖
Yes, brown eyed angel, I heard what she said to you. Don‟t worry, I‟ll fix her.
―Miss Webber.‖ Now Edward‘s voice was very cold and he gestured to her to follow him to an empty table as if she were a dog.
You looked at Isabella as if she were trash. You won‟t be doing that again. I‟ll make sure of it.
Bella watched as he refused the coffee Angela had bought for him and walked to the counter to order something else. She saw Angela‘s shoulders trembling with rage.
Peter turned to Bella and sighed. ―Now where were we before we were so rudely interrupted?‖
She inhaled deeply and took a minute to focus herself before she did what she knew she needed to do.
―Peter, I shouldn‘t have kissed you. I‘m sorry.‖
Bella looked down at her leather messenger bag, feeling very uncomfortable.
―I‘m not sorry. I‘m only sorry that you‘re sorry.‖ Peter brought his face close to hers and smiled. ―But it‘s alright. I‘m not mad or anything.‖
―I don‘t know what happened, Peter. I‘m not usually like that - to just kiss someone.‖
―I‘m not just someone, am I? Rabbit?‖ He looked at her with questioning eyes. ―We‘re friends, aren‘t we?
You don‘t need to apologize. Please don‘t be embarrassed. I‘ve wanted to kiss you for the longest time. Ever since that first seminar, I think. But that would have been too soon.‖
He tried to persuade her to look at him but she looked away. She looked towards another table and its two occupants. And she sighed.
―It doesn‘t have to change anything. Think of it as a moment between friends. Just a friendly peck. It doesn‘t have to happen again, unless you want it to.‖ He searched her face to try to read what she was thinking. ―Would that make it better? If we sort of left it like that?‖
She nodded. And squirmed. ―You‘ve been nothing but nice to me.‖
―Bella, you don‘t owe me anything. I‘m not looking for payment, here. I‘m nice to you because I want to be. Because you bring niceness out of me. That‘s why I bought you the CD. That‘s why the poem reminds me of you. You inspire me.‖
He leaned closer so that he could whisper in her ear, acutely aware of the fact that a pair of angry green eyes was suddenly focused on them.
―Please don‘t feel obligated to do or say anything that you don‘t want to do. I‘ll be your friend no matter what.‖ He paused. ―It was only a friendly little kiss, instead of a hug. But from now on, we can stick to hugs, if you want. And then one day, if you want more . . .‖
―I‘m not ready,‖ she breathed, somewhat surprised that she found honest words to say and that she found them so quickly.
He pulled back so that he could see her face.
―I know that, little Rabbit. That‘s why I didn‘t kiss you back much, even though I wanted to. But it was very nice. Thank you. I know you must be pretty careful about who you let yourself get close to. I feel honoured that you kissed me.‖
He patted her hand and smiled at her again.
She opened her mouth to say something, but he beat her to it.
―I could break Angela‘s neck for what she said to you. I won‘t even talk to her the next time.‖ His eyes darted to the Professor‘s table where he noticed with some relief that the angry green eyes were now fixated on Angela, who was bowing her head and close to tears.
Bella shrugged. ―It doesn‘t matter. I don‘t care.‖
―I care. I saw how she was looking at you. And I felt your reaction; you cringed. You fucking cringed, Bella. Why didn‘t you tell her to fuck off? To go to hell?‖
―I don‘t do that if I can help it,‖ Bella explained swiftly. ―I try not to lower myself to their level. And sometimes, I just feel so – so surprised that someone is being nasty to me, I can‘t think. I‘m speechless.‖
―People are – nasty to you?‖ Peter began to get angry.
―Sometimes.‖
―Masen?‖ He whispered.
―He‘s coming around. You saw him just then, he was nice. ―
Peter nodded reluctantly.
Dickward.
―I don‘t mean to be all – Francis of Assisi or something, but anyone can shout obscenities or throw a punch. Why should I become just like them? Why not think that sometimes – just sometimes – you can overcome evil with silence. And let people hear their own hatefulness loudly in their own ears, without distraction.
Maybe goodness is enough to expose evil for what it really is, sometimes. Rather than trying to stop evil with more evil. Not that I‘m good. I don‘t think that I‘m good.‖ She paused and looked over at Peter. ―I‘m not making any sense.‖
Peter just smiled. ―Of course you‘re making sense. We talked about this in my Aquinas seminar; evil is its own punishment. Look at Angela. Do you think she‘s happy? How could she be, behaving like that. And some people are so self-absorbed and deluded that all the shouting in the world wouldn‘t be enough to convince them of their own vices.‖
―Or jog their memory,‖ Bella mumbled, gazing over at the other table and shaking her head.
-
The next day, Bella found herself in the Centre for Medieval Studies checking her mailbox before Professor Masen‘s Dante seminar.
She was listening to the CD that Peter had given to her, which she had uploaded to her I pod. Peter was right; she‘d fallen in love with the album immediately. And she had found that she could write her thesis proposal while listening to his music much better than while listening to Mozart.
Lacrimosa was far too depressing.
After days of finding nothing in her pigeon hole, she finally received some mail. Three pieces of mail, actually.
The first was an announcement of the rescheduling of Professor Masen‘s lecture, ―Lust in Dante and Aquinas: The Deadly Sin against the Self.‖ Bella made note of the new date and planned on asking Peter if he would accompany her to the lecture.
The second piece of mail was a small cream coloured envelope. Bella opened it and was surprised to find a Starbucks gift card in it. It had been personalized, she saw, and the image on the card was a large lit light bulb. And the text emblazoned across it read, ―You are very bright, Isabella.‖
Bella looked at the back of the card and saw that the value was one hundred dollars.
Holy shit, she thought. That‟s a butt-load of coffee.
It was obvious who had sent it to her and why. Nevertheless, she was very, very surprised.
Until she withdrew the third piece of mail.
The third piece was a long, sleek envelope, which she quickly opened. It was from the Chair of the Department of Italian Studies, congratulating her on winning a bursary.
She read no further than the amount, which was five thousand dollars per semester, payable on top of her regular graduate student stipend.
O gods of all really poor graduate students with very small hobbit-hole-not-fit-for-a-dog apartments, thank you, thank you, thank you!!!
―Isabella, are you alright?‖ The voice of Mrs. Cope, comforting and gentle, wafted over her shocked body.
She stumbled uncertainly over to the desk and wordlessly handed Mrs. Cope the award letter.
―Yes, I heard about this.‖ Mrs. Cope smiled widely. ―It‘s amazing, isn‘t it? These bursaries are few and far between and then suddenly on Monday morning we received a call saying that some foundation had donated thousands of dollars to endow this award.‖
Bella nodded, still in shock.
Mrs. Cope glanced down at the letter.
―I wonder who he is.‖
Bella blinked. ―Who he is?‖
―The person the bursary is named after.‖
―I didn‘t read that far.‖
Mrs. Cope held the letter up and pointed to a block of bold print.
―Right here. It says that you are the recipient of the M. T. Masen Bursary. I was just wondering who M. T. Masen is. I wonder if he is a relative of Professor Masen. Although Masen is a common enough name. It's probably just a coincidence.‖

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