capitolo dieci

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capitolo dieci

Messaggio  simona80 il Sab 05 Mar 2011, 22:13

Chapter Ten
Edward saw light spilling from underneath the door of his library carrel, but since Peter had pasted brown craft paper over the narrow window in the door, Edward couldn‘t peer inside. He was slightly surprised to find Peter working so late on a Thursday night. It was ten thirty in the evening and the library would be closing in thirty minutes.
Edward fished around in his pocket for his keys and opened the door without knocking.
And what he saw inside completely floored him.
Curled up in a chair was Miss Swan, her head resting on folded arms that were poised elegantly on the desktop. Her eyes were closed, her mouth partially open but not quite smiling. Her cheeks were flushed with sleep, her little body rising and falling slowly, soothingly, like the waves of the ocean against a quiet beach.
Edward stood in the doorway entranced, thinking that the simple sound of her breathing would make an excellent relaxation CD. One he could imagine falling asleep to again and again and again.
Her laptop was open and Edward saw her screen saver, which was a slide show of hand drawn illustrations of what looked like a children‘s story; something with animals, including a funny looking white bunny with long ears that fell to its feet.
The strains of music filled the air and Edward realized that the sound was coming from her computer. He saw a CD with a rabbit on it.
Edward began to wonder why Miss Swan was so obsessed with bunnies.
Perhaps she has an Easter fetish?
Edward was half way through a very elaborate imagination of what an Easter fetish might include before he came to his senses.
He quickly entered the carrel and closed the door behind him, taking care to lock the door. It would not be good for the two of them to be caught together like this.
Edward regarded her peaceful form, not wishing to disturb her or to intrude upon what looked like a very pleasant dream. Now she was smiling.
He located the book he had been looking for on the bookshelf and turned his back to her preparing to leave her in peace.
―Edward,‖ she breathed. ―My Edward . . .‖
The sound of her voice, husky with sleep, heavy with want, floated over to him like a soft Siren call and sent a thrill coursing up and down his back.
He was momentarily frozen, his hand on the doorknob. No one had ever pronounced his name like that before. Ever. Not even in the most intimate moments in his memory. Such as it was.
He knew that if he turned around everything would change. He knew that if he turned around, he wouldn‘t be able to resist the urge – the undeniable and primal urge to claim the beautiful and pure Miss Swan.
She was there, waiting for him, calling to him, singing for him, her scent heavy in the small, too warm, confined space.
My Edward. Her voice laved across his name the way a lover‘s tongue moves across the skin. . .
His mind traveled at light speed as he imagined pulling her into his arms. Kissing her, embracing her.
Lifting her onto the desk and pressing himself between her knees, her hands tugging at his hair, his sweater, his shirt, undoing his pretentious bow tie and flinging it to the floor.
Tangling, tugging, fisting.
His fingers would explore her wavy hair and trace gentle lines across her neck, causing every space, every pore to explode into scarlet – his nose nuzzling her cheek, her ear, her perfect milk-white throat.
He would feel her pulse at her neck and find himself strangely calmed by the gentle rhythm of her blood and he would feel connected to the beating of her heart, especially as it would begin to quicken beneath his touch.
He would wonder if they were close enough, would their hearts beat synchronously . . . or was that simply a poet‘s fancy.
They would kiss and it would be electric – intense – explosive. Their tongues would tangle and tango together desperately. As if they had never been kissed before.
She would be shy at first, hesitant. But he would be gently insistent, whispering words of sweet seduction into her hair. He would tell her whatever he thought she wanted to hear and she would believe it.
His hands would drop from her shoulders and inch over her lovely and still innocent curves, marveling at the changes that emerged in response to his touch.
For no man would have touched her like that before. And she would be eager and responsive to him. Oh, so responsive.
He would be her first. And he would be glad.
She would be wearing too many clothes.
He‘d want to tease her out of them and spread feather-light kisses against every blushing inch of perfect porcelain skin. Especially her lovely throat and its metro of bluish veins.
She would blush like Eve, but he would kiss away her nervousness and distract her so that she would be naked and open before him before she even knew where she was; she would be thinking only of him and his rapt admiration. And not the feel of the carrel air against pale, pink flesh.
He would praise her with oaths and odes and soft murmurings of sweet pet names and she would not feel shame. Honey, sweet girl, dear, my lovely . . . He would make her believe in his affection and her belief would not be entirely false.
Eventually the teasing and tingling would be too much and he‘d lean her back gently, cradling the back of her head in his hand. He‘d keep his hand there throughout; for he would be worried he might hurt her. He would not have her head banging against the desk like an unloved toy; he‘d sacrifice his knuckles and the back of his hand before he would allow that to happen.
He was not a cruel lover. He would not be rough or indifferent. He would be erotic and passionate, but gentle. For he knew what she was.
And he would wish her to be pleased as much as him, her first time.
But he desired her spread out under him, breathless and inviting, her eyes wide and unblinking, blazing with desire. Even though . . .
His other hand would flex across her lower back, the sweet expanse of arched skin, and he‘d gaze into her large and liquid eyes as she gasped and moaned.
He would make her moan. Only him.
She‘d bite her lip, her eyes half-closed as he slid towards her, willing her with whispered words to relax as she gave herself to him.
It would go easier for her that way, the first time. He would still and not rush. He would pause and not tear. He would stop, perhaps?
His beautiful, perfect brown eyed angel . . . her chest rising and falling quickly, the flush of her cheeks blooming across her entire body. She would be a rose in his eyes, and she would blossom beneath him. For he would be kind. And she would open.
And he would watch the transformation entranced, almost as if it were occurring in slow motion . . . sight, scent, sound, taste, touch, soul . . . as she transformed from maiden to matron through loss of maidenhead, all because of him. All because of him.
There would be blood. For the price of sin was always blood.
And a little death.
Edward‘s heart stopped.
And it lay silent for half a beat, and then thudded double time as a new awareness crashed over him and metaphysical poetry, long forgotten from his days at Magdalen College, sprang to his lips.
For in that instant, he saw very clearly that he, Edward A. Masen, would-be seducer of the lovely and innocent Swan-like graduate student, was a flea.
Here are the words his mind whispered to him as he stared breathlessly at the carrel door,
―Mark but this flea, and mark in this, How little that which thou deniest me is; It suck'd me first, and now sucks thee, And in this flea our two bloods mingled be. Thou know'st that this cannot be said A sin, nor shame, nor loss of maidenhead; Yet this enjoys before it woo, And pamper'd swells with one blood made of two; And this, alas! is more than we would do.
O stay, three lives in one flea spare, Where we almost, yea, more than married are. This flea is you and I, and this Our marriage bed, and marriage temple is. Though parents grudge, and you, we're met, And cloister'd in these living walls of jet. Though use make you apt to kill me, Let not to that self-murder added be, And sacrilege, three sins in killing three.
Cruel and sudden, hast thou since Purpled thy nail in blood of innocence? Wherein could this flea guilty be, Except in that drop which it suck'd from thee? Yet thou triumph'st, and say'st that thou Find'st not thyself nor me the weaker now. 'Tis true ; then learn how false fears be ; Just so much honour, when thou yield'st to me, Will waste, as this flea's death took life from thee.‖
He knew why his subconscious mind chose that moment to foist the poetry of John Donne upon him; the poem was an argument of seduction. Donne spoke to his prospective lover, a virgin, and argued that the loss of her virginity was less consequential than the swatting of a flea. So she should give herself to him quickly without a second thought. Without hesitation. Without regret.
As soon as the words presented themselves, Edward knew that they were perfect for him. Perfect for what his primal self was contemplating doing to her. Perfect for his own self-justification.
She was pure. She was innocent.
He wanted her.
Facilis descensus Averni.
But he would not be the one to make her bleed. He could not, would not make another girl bleed for the rest of his life.
All thoughts of seduction and mad, passionate fucking on desks and chairs and floors, against walls and bookshelves and windows immediately gave way.
He would not take her.
He would not claim her.
He would not mark her and take what he had no right to take.
Not her.
Edward Masen was a trite and only semi-repentant sinner. Preoccupied with the fairer sex and his own physical pleasure, he knew he was governed by his thirsts. And only rarely did that thirst give way to something more, something approximating love, but never in the bedroom.
Nevertheless, despite these and other moral failings, despite his constant magnetism for sin, Edward still had one last moral principle that governed his behaviour. One line he would not cross. One respect in which he was almost Miss Swan‘s equal in virtue.
Edward Masen did not seduce virgins.
He did not take virginity, ever, even if it was freely offered.
He did not slake his thirst with innocence; he fed only on those who had already tasted and who in tasting wanted more.
And he was not about to violate his last and only moral principle for an hour or two of salacious satisfaction with a delectable graduate student in his study carrel.
He was a monster, but he had principles.
He would leave her virtue intact. He would leave her as he found her, the blushing brown eyed angel, surrounded by bunnies, curled up like a kitten in her little chair. She would sleep unruffled, unkissed, untouched and unmolested.
His hand tightened on the doorknob, and just as he was about to unlock the door, her voice floated over to him once again.
―Edward . . . you hate me. Why?‖
Bella‘s tone was no longer brimming with desire; Edward heard only desperate resignation and deep, deep sorrow.
The sound of sorrow was something he was strikingly familiar with. And her whispering sounded so upset, so defeated.
Now he had to turn around, if only to convince her that he did not hate her. That she was far too good and too perfect to be despised. And that he wasn‘t foregoing a night of pleasure with her out of hatred.
But out of love - for the goodness he craved and wished his life had been. And perhaps, out of love for the memory of his former self, before all the sin and vice took root and grew, like a patch of thorns turning and twisting and choking out his virtues.
Edward‘s hand left the doorknob and he drew in a very deep breath. He straightened his shoulders and closed his eyes, wondering how he would explain himself. What he would say . . .
He slowly turned around and was stunned by what he saw.
For Miss Swan was not sitting upright, chewing her plump lower lip, swimming in rejection.
Miss Swan‘s head was still resting on top of her arms. Her eyes closed. Her lips parted.
―Edward . . . my Edward.‖ Despite the whispered protestations that fell from her ruby mouth, landing squarely on his trepidatious heart, Miss Swan was still very much asleep.
Edward frowned as the realization passed over him.
Even while dreaming she thinks I hate her. How could anyone hate so sweet a creature? She would be so easy to love.
He should leave her to her dreams, and pray she dreamed of someone else. Assuming he was the Edward of her dreams – her Edward.
He formed this intention and was ready to leave for the second time when Miss Swan groaned slightly and stretched, mewling like a kitten.
Her eyelids fluttered and she stifled a yawn with the cup of her hand.
But her eyes flew open when she saw Professor Masen standing open-mouthed in sudden surprise by the door.
Startled, she let out a yelp and flew backwards out of her chair and against the wall.
She cowered in confusion and it almost broke Edward‘s heart.
Which would have proven that he had one.
―Ssssshhhhh. Isabella, it‘s just me.‖ He held his hands aloft in complete surrender. He tried to smile in order to disarm her.
Bella was dazzled. She‘d been dreaming of him moments before. And now he was here.
She rubbed her eyes. He was still there, staring.
She pinched her skin on her arm between her fingers – he was still there.
Holy shit. He caught me.
―It‘s just me, Isabella, Professor Masen. Are you alright?‖
She blinked rapidly and began rubbing her eyes again. ―I . . . don‘t know.‖
―How long have you been here?‘ He lowered his hands.
―Um . . . I . . . don‘t know.‖ She was trying to wake up and remember all at the same time.
―Is Peter with you?‖
Somehow, Edward felt relieved.
―How did you get in? This is my carrel.‖
Bella‘s eyes flew to his, measuring his reaction.
I am in so much trouble. And so is Peter. Masen will evict him now.
She moved forward rapidly, knocking the chair over in the process, and tipping over a stack of books that had been resting near her hands. A ream of loose paper was thrown aloft by the general upheaval and began falling about her like massive, ruled snowflakes.
Edward thought that she looked like an angel – an angel in a child‘s snow globe, with whiteness fluttering all around her. Beautiful.
She began scrambling about, trying to put everything back into order. She was repeating an apology over and over again like a decade of the Rosary, mumbling something about borrowing Peter‘s key. She was sorry. So very, very sorry.
In one stride, Edward was next to her, his hand gently but firmly on her shoulder. ―It‘s alright. You are welcome here. Be still.‖
Bella drank in the electricity of his touch and hummed softly. She closed her eyes involuntarily and willed herself and her heartbeat to slow. It was very difficult to do; she was so afraid he would lose his temper with her and banish Peter from his precious carrel. Forever.
Edward inhaled sharply and Bella‘s eyes flew open.
―You‘re bleeding.‖ He was holding up her right hand and folding all her fingers down but one, her pointer finger.
Bella saw blood trickling from the tip of her finger. The room began to feel slightly warm and she felt light-headed.
He brought his head close to her face and peered into her suddenly vacant eyes.
―Isabella? Can you hear me?‖
Edward didn‘t know what to do. It was only a small wound; why was she reacting so strongly to it? Perhaps she was weak from hunger or not quite awake. And the room was very warm. She‘d left the heater on.
He caught her as she swooned, wrapping her tightly and pulling her into his chest. She was not unconscious, at least, not yet.
―Isabella?‖ He pushed the hair out of her eyes and brushed the back of his hand across her cheek.
She murmured something and he realized she hadn‘t fainted, but she was leaning against him as if she did not have the strength to stand.
He held her to keep her from hitting the upturned chair or the floor.
She raised her finger to her face and stared at the blood that was beginning to flow downwards. ―Oh no . . .‖
―What, Isabella? Are you going to faint?‖
―It needs to go away . . . the smell . . . ‖ Bella held her finger in front of his face like a panicky child just before her eyes rolled back into her head.
Her legs weakened and Edward felt her begin to fall. He needed to hold her with both hands. There was no way he could shift her to one arm without the risk of dropping her to the concrete floor.
So Edward did something impulsive. Something strange. Something desperate.
He became the flea.
He scooped her up into his arms and watching the blood seep from the wound, which she held aloft so stiffly, he did the unthinkable; he took her finger into his mouth. He closed his lips gently around her flesh and slowly drew his tongue across the pad of her finger, sucking it.
Thankfully, Bella was too out of it to realize what he was doing.
Truth be told, Edward was a little out of it, too. He saw the need to administer first aid and with his arms and hands full that left only his mouth. He was shocked by his own willingness to do such a thing to another human being, and the fact that he did not swiftly and immediately expel the contents of his stomach upon tasting the copper liquid that was her life.
Sucking on her little finger sent shivers racing up and down his spine.
Mercifully, for himself and for his career, he released her finger from his mouth before Bella realized what he was doing, swirling his tongue around it one last time as he ejected it, just to ensure that it was clean.
At least the wound was free of blood.
Now I am a blood-sucking hands-on thesis advisor. Great.
Bella moaned into his chest and opened her eyes.
―Does blood make you sick, Isabella? Are you alright?‖
He was going to move her so that she was sitting down, but she clung to him, wrapping her little arms about his neck as if she was a toddler. He liked the feel of her pressed against him and so he hugged her tightly and leaned his head down to sniff her hair somewhat surreptitiously.
Her little body pressed against his perfectly, as if they were made for each other. It was astonishing.
―What happened?‖ She mumbled against his cashmere sweater, which was a brilliant green calculated to match his eyes.
―I‘m not sure. You cut your finger, but you‘re alright now. The bleeding has stopped.‖
She looked up at him and smiled weakly, a smile that melted his heart.
Bella desperately wanted to kiss him. He was so close. So very, very close. Two inches and those lips would be hers . . . again. And his eyes were soft and warm . . . and he was being sweet with her. . .
He pulled back from her minutely, testing her to see if she was going to faint again. And then he placed her gently on top of the desk before righting the chair.
He withdrew to the door of the carrel and raked a hand through his hair. He could still taste copper, her copper, in his mouth.
―I don‘t mind if you use the carrel – not at all. I was just surprised to find you here. In fact, I‘m glad Peter suggested you use it. There‘s no problem.‖
He smiled to put her at ease, watching as she grasped the surface of the desk for support.
―I was looking for a book Peter borrowed.‖ He held the volume aloft and then turned to look at Bella again.
She was staring at her injured finger and wondering why it was wet. And smelled inexplicably of peppermint.
Since her brain was working in slow motion and she couldn‘t find an explanation after thirty seconds, she promptly forgot all about it and turned her attention to the disarray which was Professor Masen‘s carrel.
Moving slowly, but carefully, she stood up and began to place everything back in order, stacking books on the desk and picking up the white sheets of paper scattered like snowflakes on the floor.
―Were you supposed to meet Peter?‖
―He‘s gone to a graduate student conference at Princeton. He‘s presenting a paper tomorrow.‖
She looked over at him cautiously, and when she saw that his head was cocked to one side and he was still smiling, she relaxed. Marginally.
―Princeton. Yes, of course. I forgot. That‘s a very fine briefcase you have.‖ He smiled at her knowingly, gesturing to the bag that was propped up against the wall.
Bella blushed, trying very hard to keep her secret knowledge secret.
―But there appears to be something alive in there. I can see a pair of ears poking out of one of the zippers.‖
She whirled around.
Edward was right; two little brown ears could be seen coming out of the briefcase, almost as if she had tried to smuggle a pet into the library.
Bella blushed even more deeply.
―May I?‖ Edward gestured to the briefcase, but made no move as he waited for her permission.
Hesitantly, she pulled the stuffed toy out of the briefcase and handed it to him, biting her lip in embarrassment.
Clearly she has a bunny fetish.
Edward held the toy rabbit between his thumb and forefinger, gazing at it curiously as if he didn‘t know what it was. Or as if, in a fit of temper, it might decide to emulate the behaviour of the famous rabbit in Monty Python and the Holy Grail and go right for his throat.
Edward fanned a hand to his neck, as a precaution, and resisted the sudden and overwhelming urge to say Ni.
The toy was brown, of course, and soft. Made of velvet, or something. It had long ears and short limbs and very pleasant looking whiskers. And it stood straight up, looking rather stiff. It looked familiar to him, strangely enough. Something Esme would have owned and loved. Something from a childhood he never had.
Around its neck someone had tied a very sloppy bow out of pink ribbon.
Edward measured the bow with his eyes and came to the conclusion that someone who was either slightly handicapped, (no disrespect intended), or perhaps who had very large hands and lacked the fine motor skills of someone who was gifted with manual dexterity, (such as himself), had tied the bow, such as it was.
And there was a card.
Not wishing to embarrass her further, he smiled at her and then let his eyes dart momentarily to the card, just so he could catch a glimpse of it.
And here is what he read:
Someone to keep you company while I‘m away.
See you when I get back.
The Angelfucker strikes again.
Edward handed the bunny back to Bella. ―It‘s very – ah - nice.‖
―Thank you,‖ she murmured.
―But who is R?‖
Bella turned away from him as she placed Peter‘s gift back into her briefcase, taking great care not to catch the bunny‘s ears in the teeth of the zipper.
―It‘s a nickname.‖
―But why that letter? Why not something that begins with B?‖
Bella frowned at him.
Like what? Bitch? Bastard? Bovine? Bunny? Batgirl?!
―Beautiful,‖ said Edward. And then he blushed himself, for the word had slipped out without prior consideration.
He smiled smally.
―So you‘ve been asleep here for hours, with Rabbit songs and a pet rabbit to keep you company, curled up like a kitten?‖
Bella reddened, as did Edward. He couldn‘t help himself; the comparison was obvious, if a little flirtatious.
―I like your choice in music.‖
―Thank you.‖ She quickly turned off her ancient laptop and placed it carefully in her briefcase with the CD.
―The library is closing shortly. What would you have done if I hadn‘t arrived?‖
Bella looked around, slightly confused. ―I don‘t know.‖
―If no one saw the light from underneath the door when they checked the floor, you would have been locked in the library all night. Without any food.‖
His smile slid off his face at the mere idea.
―What are you going to do to ensure that doesn‘t happen in the future?‖
She looked around quickly. ―Set the alarm on Peter‘s clock?‖
He nodded as if that answer satisfied him. But it really didn‘t.
―Are you hungry?‖
―I should be going. I‘m sorry I‘ve intruded on your personal space.‖
If only you knew how true your words were, Isabella.
―Isabella, stop.‖ He took a step closer as she picked up her new briefcase with one hand and cleared the desk of debris with the other.
―Have you had your dinner?‖
Edward‘s eyebrows knitted together like thunderclouds.
―When did you have lunch?‖
―At noon.‖
He scowled. ―That was almost eleven hours ago. What did you have?‖
―A hot dog from the cart in front of the library, on St. George Street.‖
Edward cursed. ―That is not a meal, Isabella. You can‘t live on that kind of rubbish. And I wouldn‘t eat street meat ever. You promised me you‘d tell me if you were going hungry - and now you‘re fainting on me.‖
He glanced at his white gold Rolex Day-Date. ―It‘s too late to take you for steak; Antonio‘s is closed. Why don‘t you join me for dinner? I was caught up working on my lecture and I haven‘t eaten either.‖
Bella stared at him. ―Are you sure?‖
His expression hardened somewhat. ―Miss Swan, I am not the kind of person who makes idle invitations. If I invite you to dinner, I‘m sure. Now are you coming or not?‖
She swallowed noisily.
―I‘m not dressed for dinner, thank you very much.‖ Her voice was satin over steel and she quirked an eyebrow at him. She had gotten over her initial shock at being surprised in his carrel and was now fully awake and fully annoyed at his current tone.
His eyes passed over her slowly, pausing to regard her lovely figure and then resting for a long time on her sneakers.
He despised sneakers on women. What a waste of a perfectly good podiatric opportunity.
He cleared his throat. ―You look fine, Miss Swan. You are a Swan in any kind of clothing, and I think the blue of that blouse brings out the blush in your skin and the butterscotch flecks in your eyes. You look nice, actually.‖
He smiled at her a little too warmly and then looked away.
I have butterscotch in my eyes? Since when? And since when has he looked at them long enough to notice?!
―There is a little place near my building that I frequent during the week, especially on late nights. I‘ll buy you dinner and we can talk about your thesis proposal, informally, of course. How‘s that?‖
―Thank you, Professor.‖ She looked up at him and smiled.
Their eyes did not meet for long, but they met, and warm and somewhat hesitant smiles were exchanged on both sides.
He waited patiently for her to put everything in order and then he stood aside and waved his hand towards the hallway.
―After you, Miss Swan.‖
She thanked him and as she was passing, he reached out his hand and grasped the handle of her briefcase, brushing against one of her fingers quite by accident.
They both gasped as a shock passed between them.
Bella noticed that his fingers were very cold. She pulled back instinctively, dropping the briefcase.
Remarkably, he caught it.
―This is a very fine briefcase. I think I should like to carry it for a little while. If you don‘t mind.‖ He smirked at her and she blushed.
―Thank you,‖ she murmured. ―I really like it. It‘s perfect.‖
And the two of them walked towards the elevator.
Edward made no attempt to engage her in conversation until they were at his restaurant, Caffé Volo on Yonge Street.
Caffé Volo was a quiet but friendly establishment that boasted perhaps the longest and best beer list in Toronto. It also had a very fine Italian chef and so their food was some of the finest simple Italian fare on offer in the neighbourhood. The restaurant itself was small, only ten tables, which were supplemented in the summer by a spacious patio.
The décor was rustic and included antiques, such as reclaimed church pews, and old harvest tables. It gave Bella the impression of something like a German weinkeller. Like the restaurant Vinum that she had visited with friends when she was in Frankfurt.
Edward liked it because they sold a particular kind of Trappist Ale that he preferred, Chimay Première, and it pleased him to have pizza in the Neapolitan style to pair with that beer. And as ever, he was impatient with mediocrity.
Since Edward was a frequent patron of Caffé Volo and more than somewhat persnickety, he was offered the best table, which was a quiet table for two tucked into a corner near the large picture window that looked out on the madness that was Yonge Street on a Thursday night.
Transvestites, university students, frat boys, policemen, happy gay couples, happy straight couples, luminati slumming, yuppies walking their pretentious pets, eco-friendly activists, street persons, buskers, possible gang members, Russian mafia, a wayward professor or Member of Provincial Parliament or two or four, etc. It was a myriad of fascinating human behaviour, it was live and it was free.
Bella settled cautiously into her seat, which was a converted church pew, and pulled the lambskin rug that the waiter had draped over the back of the pew tightly around her.
―Are you cold? I‘ll ask Riley to seat us near the fireplace.‖ Edward moved to signal to the waiter, but Bella stopped him.
―I like to people watch,‖ she said shyly.
―Me too,‖ he admitted, also shyly. ―But you look like a Yeti.‖
Bella reddened.
―Forgive me,‖ he hastened to add. ―But surely we can do better than a lambskin rug that has been God knows where. It probably used to grace the floor of Riley‘s apartment. And who knows what kind of shenanigans went down on it.‖
Did he just use the word shenanigan in a sentence?
And with that, Professor Masen gracefully pulled his British racing green cashmere sweater over his pretentious bow tie and head and handed it to her.
Bella accepted it and moved the offending Yeti-like carpet to one side. And then gently pulled his warmer and generously sized sweater on.
―Better?‖ he smiled, trying to smooth the beautiful mess that was his hair.
―Better,‖ she smiled, feeling much warmer and very comfortable, blanketed in the warmth and scent that was Edward. She folded up the cuffs considerably because he had long arms.
―Did you go to Lobby on Tuesday night?‖
Edward frowned and looked puzzled. ―No. Now, why don‘t you tell me about your proposal.‖ His tone immediately became businesslike and professorial.
Thankfully, Riley interrupted them at that moment to take their order, which gave Bella precious minutes to gather her thoughts.
―Their Caesar salads are quite good, as are their Neapolitan pizzas. But they are both a bit large for one person. Are you the type to share?‖
Bella‘s mouth dropped open.
―I mean, would you share with me, please? Or you could order whatever you like. Perhaps you don‘t want salad and pizza.‖ Edward frowned, trying very hard not to be an overbearing domineering professor for at least five minutes.
Riley tapped his foot quietly, for he did not want the professor to notice his impatience.
He‘d seen the Professor when he was irritated and did not wish to witness a repeat performance. Although perhaps the Professor would behave differently now that he had female companionship, which was Riley‘s professional prescription for any kind of personality disorder. Small or large.
―I‘d like to share pizza and a salad with you. Thank you.‖ Bella‘s little voice ended the deliberations.
Edward placed the order and then shortly thereafter, Riley appeared with their Chimays, which Edward had insisted Bella try.
―Cheers,‖ he said, clinking his glass to hers.
―Prost,‖ she said.
She sipped the beer slowly, unable to forget her first beer and who it was with. That beer had been a domestic lager. This beer was reddish brown and sweet and malty all at once.
She liked it immediately and smiled her approval.
―It‘s over ten dollars a bottle,‖ she whispered, not wishing to embarrass Edward or herself with loud incredulity.
―But it‘s the best. And wouldn‘t you rather drink one bottle of this rather than two bottles of Budweiser, which really is like drinking appalling bath water?‖
I can only assume that all bath water would be appalling to drink, Professor Masen, but I‟ll take your word for it. Sicko.
―Well? Let‘s hear it.‖ He prompted. ―What are you thinking? I can see the wheels turning in that little mind of yours but I can‘t read it. So out with it.‖
He crossed his arms in front of his chest and grinned at her, as if her little mind gave him no end of secret, condescending amusement.
Bella bristled. He had this annoying habit of using the diminutive little when he referred to her. And she didn‘t like it. Not in the least.
So she decided to strike back.
―I‘m glad I have a chance to speak to you privately,‖ she began, withdrawing two envelopes from her new messenger bag. ―I can‘t accept these.‖
She slid the Starbucks gift card and the bursary awards letter across the table.
Edward glanced at the items, recognized both of them immediately, and scowled. Darkly.
―What makes you think these items are from me?‖ He pushed them back across the table.
―The powers of deduction. You‘re the only one who calls me Isabella. You‘re the only one with a bank account large enough to fund a bursary.‖ She pushed the envelopes back.
Edward paused for a moment. Was he really the only one who called Isabella by her proper name? What was everyone else calling her?
―You must accept them.‖ He slid the paper to her once again.
―No, I mustn‘t, Professor Masen. Gifts make me very uncomfortable, and the Starbucks card is too much. Not to mention the bursary. I will never be able to repay you and I owe your family too much already. I can‘t accept them.‖ She pushed them back.
―You can accept them and you will accept them.
The gift card is inconsequential; I spend that on coffee in a month. I need to show you, in some tangible way, that I respect your intelligence. I said something in an unguarded moment that a nasty little bitch took and twisted.
It isn‘t even a gift – it‘s more like restitution. I maligned you, now I‘m praising you. So you must accept it or this injustice will remain unresolved between us. And I won‘t believe you‘ve forgiven me for my verbal indiscretion in front of one of your peers.‖
He slid them back across the table and glared at her for good measure.
Bella began to stare at his pretentious hand-tied bow tie in order to distract herself from the blazing green of his eyes. She wondered how he had gotten the bow tie so straight and even.
Perhaps he hired a professional bow tie tier, just for that express purpose. Someone with blonde hair and four inch heels. And very long crimson finger nails.
She slid the card back towards him defiantly.
And to her great surprise, his face hardened and he pocketed it.
―Fine! I won‘t play gift card ping pong with you all evening.
But the bursary can‘t be returned; it‘s already been awarded. And the money is not from me; I simply alerted Mr. Randall, the Director of the Pacific Northwest Trust, of your accomplishments.‖
―And poverty,‖ Bella muttered.
―If you have something to say to me, Miss Swan, please do me the courtesy of speaking at an audible level.‖ His eyes flashed to hers.
And her eyes flashed right back.
―I don‘t think this is very professional, Professor Masen. You passing me thousands of dollars worth of a bursary, however you managed to do it. It looks like you‘re trying to buy me.‖
Edward inhaled sharply and counted to ten just to avert a verbal explosion.
―Buy you? Believe me, Miss Swan, nothing could have been further from my mind! I am deeply offended at being so maligned. If I wanted you at all, I certainly wouldn‘t have to buy you.‖
Bella‘s eyebrows shot up and she glared at him. Harshly.
―Watch it, Professor.‖
He squirmed under her glare, which was a rare experience for him.
She revelled in it.
―That is not what I meant. I meant, I would never want to treat you like a commodity. And you are not the type of girl who could be bought, are you?‖
Bella eyed him frostily and then looked away. She shook her head and began staring at the doorway, wondering if she should make her escape.
―Why do you do that?‖ He whispered after a few minutes, eyes closed.
―Do what?‖
―Provoke me.‖
―I don‘t . . I don‘t . . . I‘m not provoking you; I‘m stating a fact.‖
―Nevertheless, it is extremely provocative. Every time I try to have a conversation with you like a normal person, you provoke me.‖
―You are my professor.‖
―Yes, and your best friend‘s older brother. Can‘t we just be Edward and Isabella for an evening? Can‘t we have a pleasant conversation and an even more pleasant dinner and all the rest? It might not seem obvious to you, but I‘m trying to be human here.‖
―You are?‖ It was an innocent question asked in good faith. Bella clapped a hand over her mouth as she realized how it sounded in the air between them.
Edward‘s green eyes opened slowly, like the dragon in the Tolkien story, but he did not take the bait of her impertinence. And he did not breathe fire. Yet.
―As you wish, then. You wish to be professional, so then act like it. A normal graduate student would receive an awards letter, be profoundly grateful for her good fortune and accept the money graciously. So act professionally, Miss Swan.
I could have hidden my connection to the bursary from you, but I chose to treat you like an adult and an equal. I chose to respect your intelligence and not engage in deception.
Nevertheless, I took great care to hide my connection from the University. The Pacific Northwest Trust cannot be traced back to me. And Masen is an extremely common name, especially in Canada. So no one will believe you.‖
He gazed at her coolly and withdrew his Iphone from his pocket, opened up the notepad application and began writing with his finger.
―I wasn‘t going to tell anyone . . .‖ Bella began.
―Can‘t you just say thank you?‖
―Thank you, Professor Masen. But think of it from my point of view – I don‘t want to play Héloïse to your Abelard.‖
She looked down at her silverware and began adjusting the pieces until they were all lined up symmetrically.
Edward quickly remembered seeing her do that once before, when they were dining at Antonio‘s.
He put his phone on the table and looked over at her with a pained expression, made doubly pained by the guilt he felt over what had almost happened in his study carrel.
―I would never do that to you.‖
―Then thank you,‖ she murmured. ―And thank you for the gesture of the bursary, even though I can‘t promise to accept it. I know it‘s only a small amount to you, but it would have meant an airline ticket home for Thanksgiving and Christmas and spring break and Easter. And money for many more extras than I could afford before. Including steak, on occasion.‖
―Why would you use it for airline tickets? I would have thought you‘d want a larger apartment.‖
Bella glanced up at him. ―I don‘t think I can get out of my lease. And anyway, going home to see my father is important to me. He is the only family I have. And I would have liked to see Carlisle before he sells the house and moves away.‖
Actually, it would be worth it to accept the bursary so I could visit Carlisle and the meadow. I wonder if the apple tree is still there . . I wonder if anyone would notice if I carved my initials into the trunk. . . .
Edward scowled obliquely, for a number of reasons.
―You wouldn‘t have gone home otherwise?‖
She shook her head. ―Charlie would have wanted to fly me home for Christmas. But the prices on Air Canada are outrageous. I would have been ashamed to take the ticket from him.‖
―Never be ashamed to take a gift when there are no strings attached.‖
She smiled at him. ―You sound like Esme. She used to talk like that.‖
He shifted in his seat and involuntarily grabbed at his forelock. ―Where do you think I learned about generosity? Not from my other family.‖
Bella looked at Edward, meeting his gaze without blushing or blinking.
And then she sighed and put the awards letter back in her new messenger bag, resolving to spend more time thinking about how best to deal with it once she was no longer in the Professor‘s magnetic presence. For she saw that arguing with him would get her nowhere. And in that respect, as in several others, he was exactly like Peter Abelard.
He looked at her closely. ―But despite all I‘ve tried to do, which isn‘t much I‘ll admit, you‘re still going hungry?‖
She shook her head. ―Edward, I have a tenuous relationship with my stomach. I forget to eat when I‘m busy, or preoccupied or – or sad. It‘s not about the money; it‘s just the way things are for me. So please don‘t trouble yourself.‖
She smiled briefly and readjusted her cutlery once again for good measure.
―So now - you‘re unhappy?‖
She sipped her beer slowly and ignored his question.
―Does Dante make you unhappy?‖
―Sometimes,‖ she whispered.
―And other times?‖
She looked up at him and a slow, sweet smile broke across her face like a sunrise.
―I can‘t help myself - he makes me deliriously happy.
Sometimes when I‘m studying The Divine Comedy, I feel as if I‘m doing what I was always meant to do. Like I found my passion, my calling, my vocation. I‘m not that shy little girl from Phoenix and Forks anymore. I can do this, I‘m good at it, and it makes me feel . . . important.‖
It was too much. Too much information. The quickly drunk beer, the rush of blood to the head, his scent clinging and heavy in her nose from his sweater. She should never have said all those words to him, of all people.
But he only looked at her somewhat warmly, which surprised her.
―You are shy, it‘s true,‖ he murmured. ―But that‘s certainly not a vice.‖ He cleared his throat. ―I‘m envious of your enthusiasm for Dante. I used to feel that way. But for me, it was a long time ago. Too long.‖
He smiled at her again and looked away.
Bella leaned across the table and lowered her voice.
―Who is M. T. Masen, Edward?‖
Startled green eyes flew to hers and then burned with laser-like intensity.
She blinked and then looked down.
―Can you talk about something else?‖
He wasn‘t harsh, but he was very, very cold, and Bella knew she had touched upon a nerve so injured, so raw it was still vibrating with pain.
It took her a moment to collect herself, then before she had fully considered the prudence of her questions, she spoke.
―Are you trying to be my friend? Is that what you were trying to communicate to me with the bursary?‖
Edward frowned. ―Did Alice put you up to this?‖
She shook her head. ―No. Why?‖
―She thinks we should be friends. But I‘ll tell you what I told her - I‘m not a good friend for you.‖
Bella felt a lump grow in her throat and she swallowed noisily.
―Why not?‖
―We exist under the red flag of professionalism, so friendship between us is simply not possible. And even if we were just Isabella and Edward sharing a pizza, I would not be a good friend for you. I am a magnet for sin and you are an angel.‖ He smiled sadly. ―So you see, it‘s hopeless. Abandon hope all ye who enter.‖
―I don‘t like to think of anything as hopeless,‖ she whispered to her silverware.
―Aristotle said that friendship is only possible between two virtuous people. Therefore, friendship between us is impossible.‖
―No one is truly virtuous.‖
―You are.‖
Edward‘s green eyes smouldered into hers with something akin to passion and admiration.
―Alice said you were on the VIP list at Lobby.‖ Bella changed the subject again swiftly, still not considering her words.
―That‘s true.‖
―She made a mystery of it. Why?‖
Edward scowled. ―Why do you think?‖
―I don‘t know. That‘s why I asked.‖
Edward fixed her with his gaze and dropped his voice. ―I go there regularly, hence the VIP list. Although, I haven‘t been there recently, because of personal reasons.‖
―So when you go, why do you go? You don‘t like to dance. Is it just to drink?‖ Bella looked around at the simple but comfortable interior of Caffé Volo. ―Here is as good a place to drink as any. I think it‘s much nicer here. It‘s gemütlich - cozy.‖
And there don‟t appear to be any Masen whores lurking in the shadows.
―No, Miss Swan, in general I do not go to The Vestibule just to drink.‖
―Then why do you go?‖
―Isn‘t it obvious?‖ He frowned.
And then he shook his head. ―Perhaps not to someone like you.‖
―What‘s that supposed to mean, Edward? Someone like me? You are so condescending!‖
―It means that you don‘t know anything,‖ he spat, staring angrily. ―Otherwise you wouldn‘t make me say it out loud! You want to know why I go there? I‘ll tell you why I go there. I go there to find women to fuck, Miss Swan.‖
He was pissed now, and pinched his nose, eyes shut tightly.
―Happy now?‖ He growled at her.
Bella drew breath and held it.
And when she could hold it no more she shook her head and exhaled.
―No,‖ she said in a quiet voice, looking down at her hands. ―Why would that make me happy? It makes me sick to my stomach, actually. Really, really sick. You have no idea.‖
Edward sighed deeply and placed both hands in his hair, tugging and twisting.
He wasn‘t cross with her, he was cross with himself. And he felt ashamed.
Part of him wanted to repel her intentionally; to stand naked in front of her, hiding nothing, bare-souled, so that she would see him for what he really was, a dark monster exposed in the sparkling light.
And then she would run away from him screaming.
Perhaps his subconscious was already trying to do that with these ridiculous, unprofessional outbursts. For he should never in a thousand years have said what he just said to a graduate student. Especially a female graduate student. Even if it was the truth.
She was undoing him slowly, bit by bit and he did not understand why.
Edward‘s green eyes found her face. And across his pale and achingly beautiful features, Bella read remorse.
―Forgive me. I‘m sorry I‘ve sickened you.‖ He spoke very quietly. ―But believe me when I tell you that that is a very good reaction for you to have. You should be repulsed by me. Every time I‘m near you, I corrupt you, in all senses of the word.‖
―I don‘t feel corrupted.‖
He gazed at her sadly. ―Only because you don‘t know what it means. And by the time you realize it, it will be too late. Adam and Eve didn‘t realize what they‘d lost until they were thrown out of Paradise.‖
―I know something about that,‖ Bella mumbled. ―And I didn‘t learn it by reading Milton.‖
Just then Riley brought their pizzas, effectively ending their awkward conversation.
Edward played the part of the host, serving Bella her salad and pizza first and taking great care to make sure that she received more shaved parmesan and croutons than he did.
And it wasn‘t because he didn‘t like those items; he liked them both a great deal.
While they were eating in determined silence and Bella was thinking back to their first silent meal together, a song began to play over the stereo system that was so sweet, Bella put her fork down in order to listen.
She closed her eyes so she could focus on the words.
Edward heard the song, too, and softly began to sing to himself, almost under his breath.
Bella‘s eyes were opened.
Edward, oblivious to the fact that she was now gaping at him, continued to sing, and Bella was struck by the eerie relevance of the words.
But then Edward stopped, suddenly unsure of himself, and began focusing his attention on his pizza.
She glanced over at him with a dropped jaw. She didn‘t know that he could sing. And to hear his perfect mouth and his musical voice sing those words . . .
―It‘s a beautiful song. Who is it by?‖
―Matthew Barber. A local musician. Did you catch that line – like the virtue and the vice? I guess we know which term applies to each of us.‖
―It‘s beautiful, but sad.‖
―I‘ve always had a terrible weakness for beautiful but sad things.‖ He looked at her carefully and then turned away.
―I suppose we should begin discussing your thesis proposal now, Miss Swan.‖
The Professor‘s tone shifted and Bella saw that his professional mask was firmly in place once again.
Bella took a deep breath and began describing her project, invoking the names of Paolo and Francesca and Dante and Beatrice, when she was rudely interrupted by Edward‘s phone.
The ring tone he had chosen sounded like the ringing of Big Ben.
He lifted a finger to pause Bella, while he glanced down at his Iphone‘s screen.
And then something flew across his face.
―I have to take this. I‘m sorry.‖
Edward stood up and answered his phone in one swift motion. ―Tanya?‖
He walked into the next room, but Bella could still hear him.
―What‘s wrong? Where are you?‖
And then his voice was muffled.
Bella busied herself with her beer and her dinner, wondering who Tanya was. She had never heard the name before. But Edward had looked deeply troubled when he saw whatever it was that he saw on his screen.
Is M. T. Masen - Tanya? Did Edward give me a bursary named for her? Is Tanya his ex-wife??? Or is M. T. a code for “empty” or something else and he‟s just messing with me?
Edward returned about fifteen minutes later.
He did not sit down.
He was agitated in the extreme, pale faced and almost shaking.
―I have to go. I‘m sorry. I paid for dinner and I asked Riley to find you a taxi when you‘ve finished.‖
―I can walk.‖ Bella leaned over to pick up her messenger bag.
He held his hand out to stop her.
―Absolutely not. Not late at night on Yonge Street by yourself. Here.‖ He pushed a folded bill across the table. ―For the cab and in case you want more to eat and drink. Please stay and finish your dinner. Don‘t leave because of me. And take the leftovers home, will you?‖
Bella nodded. ―I can‘t take your money.‖
She moved as if to hand him back the bill and he gave her a tremulous look.
―Please, Isabella. Not now.‖ He was tugging violently at his hair.
Bella felt sorry for him so she decided not to argue.
―I‘m sorry I have to leave you. I . . .‖
He was sorry, very sorry about something. He was in anguish. She watched as he raked and pulled at his hair and then fell to rubbing his eyes with the back of one hand. He groaned involuntarily.
Without thinking about it, she slipped her hand into his. A movement of compassion and solidarity.
She was surprised when he didn‘t flinch or throw her hand back at her. He squeezed her little fingers immediately, as if he was grateful for the contact.
He opened his eyes and looked down at her sadly and slowly began to move his fingers gently back and forth across the back of her hand, caressing her lightly. It was all so comfortable and sweet. As if he‘d done it a thousand times. As if she belonged to him.
He pulled her hand upwards, close to his mouth and stared at their connection.
―Here‟s the smell of blood still; all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this hand,‖ he whispered.
Edward kissed her hand reverently, but it was his own hand he was staring at.
―Goodnight, Isabella. I‘ll see you on Wednesday. If I‘m still here.‖
Bella nodded and watched Edward walk swiftly outside and break into a run as soon as his feet hit the sidewalk.
It was only after he was gone that she realized she was still wearing his precious cashmere sweater and that tucked into the fifty dollar bill he had left her was the Starbucks gift card, with a note written on the back of the envelope.
Here is what she read:
You didn‘t think I would give up this easily, did you?
Never be ashamed to take a gift when there are no strings attached.


Messaggi : 74
Data d'iscrizione : 01.01.11
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