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Messaggio  simona80 il Lun 07 Mar 2011, 01:52

Chapter Twenty
Flashback to the previous year, September, in Forks, Washington …
Esme sat at her dressing table in her bathrobe, brushing her long, reddish brown hair and thinking. She was upset. She was worried. But she didn‘t know what to do.
―Come to bed, love.‖
She took her husband‘s outstretched hand and followed him to the bed, divesting herself of her robe in the semi-darkness, and joining him naked between the sheets. She positioned herself on her side, running her fingers through the light dusting of chest hair that decorated his upper body.
―My love.‖ Carlisle grabbed her hand and kissed it softly. ―Tell me what‘s bothering you before I make you forget your troubles. You‘re driving me crazy.‖
Esme laughed. He knew her so well. She would absentmindedly glide gentle hands over his still muscular body in order to help her think better, but it had the opposite effect on him.
―Sorry, dear. I was thinking about Bella.‖
Carlisle sighed and waited for her to elaborate, but he knew what was coming.
―She won‘t return my calls. She won‘t return Alice‘s calls. Charlie says she‘s holed up in a tiny apartment near campus and she‘ll barely speak to him. I was thinking about driving up there to see her tomorrow. I made a lasagne.‖
Carlisle was a thoughtful man, a quiet man. He gave his wife‘s words his full consideration as she waited to hear his opinion. They were that attuned to one another. They were that much in love.
―I don‘t think that‘s a good idea. If she‘s retreating, then it‘s because she‘s afraid. If you go to her home, you‘ll be upsetting her in the one place in which she feels safe.‖
Esme rested her hand on his heart. ―I thought you weren‘t a psychiatrist.‖
―You know as well as I do that girls who have been neglected or abused frequently develop eating disorders, cutting behaviour, or become hypersexual and promiscuous. Bella hasn‘t manifested any of those problems. Instead, she‘s withdrawn and timid. If you threaten her security, you will be threatening her coping strategy. And then she‘s going to have to find something else, possibly something dangerous.‖
―So what should I do?‖
―Why don‘t you write her a letter, expressing your concern. Give her some time to process things and respond. And then wait and see what happens.‖
Esme rested her head on her husband‘s shoulder.
―I can do that, but I wish she‘d talk to me - let me know what happened that made her want to hide from all of us. And then I could help her.‖
―Alice mentioned something about her boyfriend.‖
Esme flinched. ―I never liked the way he looked at her. He was proud of how she looked on his arm, but there was something in his eyes.‖ She reached over and planted a light kiss on her husband‘s lips. ―He never looked at her the way you look at me.‖
Carlisle smiled at her and caressed the naked curve of her hip with his fingers. ―No one looks at anyone the way I look at you because no one loves anyone the way I love you.‖
Esme‘s worries were momentarily interrupted by a passionate kiss and a pair of strong hands stroking her lower back.
―Bella would have been vulnerable when she started seeing him. Her mother had died, she was away from Forks. He was a family friend and probably the first boy to notice her. She likely tolerated whatever he was willing to give to her. And gladly.‖ Carlisle sighed deeply. ―She‘s a dreamy romantic, I think, not unlike her mother.‖
―Don‘t mention that woman to me. She nearly ruined that little girl. When I think of all the hours Bella spent in counselling just to deal with what she exposed her to and –"
He leaned over and kissed her again. ―I know, my love. But you can‘t be mother to all the world‘s children. We have five now as it is, counting Rose and Jasper.‖
―I feel helpless,‖ Esme whispered. ―She‘s suffering and she won‘t let me comfort her. I promised Bella I would be her mother. But she won‘t let me.‖
―She‘ll come back to you when she‘s ready.‖
―You said that about Edward. He wouldn't even come home for Emmett's wedding.‖
Carlisle shifted uncomfortably. ―He has come back to us. He‘s clean, he has a good job, and if we‘re lucky, he‘ll meet a nice girl and she‘ll straighten him out the rest of the way. You lit a candle for him. Why don‘t you light a candle for Bella?‖
Esme kissed her husband, but her sadness over her eldest son radiated through her touch.
―Things will work out, my love. I promise. We‘ll find a way.‖ Carlisle softly kissed her.
And when their contact grew more heated, he looked down at her and traced the soft line of her earlobe, pausing to touch the sparkling diamond in her ear, a gift from long ago.
―You‘re upset. You‘re sad tonight. I don‘t think that we should –"
―Making love with you comforts me, darling. Please.‖
He had never denied her any good thing. He could not deny her this.
He hovered over her, staring deeply into her eyes. There was no need for words; their gazes said it all.
She opened herself to him and he pressed into her gently, touching and holding and moaning and kissing.
It was a slow, easy rhythm, the effortless, intimate coupling of a man and a woman who knew each other. The kind of love making that could last for hours or even a lifetime.
―I worship you,‖ he whispered against her neck, as she arched her back, her hands urging him deeper.
―I love you,‖ she whispered. ―Always.‖
The wave crashed over both of them, leaving them breathless and contented.
Esme‘s last thought was a silent prayer that one day Bella and Edward would each find love. And then she fell asleep wrapped up in the arms of her beloved husband.
-
The present day, in Toronto, Canada …
-
On Tuesday evening, Bella had a very tense conversation with Charlie about the previous weekend‘s events. She called him on her new iPhone, explaining why she had to change her number. He‘d been trying in vain to speak to her for three days but had only reached her voice mail.
He was annoyed.
―Dad, I had to change my number because Jacob called me.‖
―I thought you two weren‘t talking.‖ Charlie‘s voice was hesitant, which made Bella suspicious.
―I wasn‘t. Until he called me from inside your house on Saturday night. Dad, he broke in so that he could use your speed dial to call me!‖
―Son of a bitch,‖ he muttered.
―You should move the spare key from under the welcome mat. That‘s how he got in.‖
Charlie continued talking to himself, as he was wont to do. Until he realized there was a person on the other end of the line.
―Don‘t worry about it. I‘ll deal with him.‖
―Dad, he was drunk and saying all kinds of crazy things. What if he shows up at the house while I‘m home?‖
―Bells, I‘ll talk to him. I was over at Billy‘s last night watching the football game. Jake was there. He was acting completely normal.‖
―He acts that way around you. With me …‖ Bella shook slightly.
―Don‘t worry about it. But don‘t you think you should give him a chance? He probably just wants to apologize. And you won‘t talk to him.‖
―He doesn‘t get to talk to me. He doesn‘t get to be my friend. And no apology will make up for what he did.‖
―Alright, Bells. Alright. But you two had some good years together. I just hate to see it thrown away because of a misunderstanding.‖
Bella rolled her eyes so hard they nearly rolled out of her head and dropped onto the floor.
In that instant she wanted to be vindictive. She wanted to ask her father if he would have taken Renee back if he had seen what she walked in on at age twelve - Renee bent over the kitchen table being fucked by one of the boyfriends.
But she was not vindictive. So she didn‘t.
―Dad, this is way beyond a misunderstanding. And what was broken can never be fixed. Trust me.‖
Charlie exhaled into the phone. ―Okay. When are you coming home?‖
―Thursday.‖
―And you‘re driving with Alice and Jasper?‖
―That‘s the plan at the moment. Edward is coming, too.‖ Bella tried to make her lie convincing.
―I did a background check on him. I was surprised – he seems to be clean. There were a couple of arrests for assault in Boston, but nothing stuck. Of course, I don‘t have access to Canadian police records. Although I have a friend up in Victoria who works for the RCMP. He could probably help me out.‖
―Why the fixation on Edward, Dad?‖
―Because he‘s a bad apple and he‘s going to be around my daughter. I‘m surprised he‘s not in jail right now. All I can say is he‘s lucky he moved to Canada. I nearly arrested him once.‖
Bella shook her head.
―If he was a felon, the Canadians wouldn‘t have granted him a work visa.‖
―Canadians don‘t do their homework. They let anyone in. Including terrorists.‖
Bella stuck her tongue out at her father in a very childish manner and then proceeded to plan her visit with him, hoping against hope that his conversation with Jacob would prove fruitful.
-
After another Dante seminar in which Angela shamelessly flirted with Edward, Bella found herself walking home with Peter, who continued to be charming and friendly and who agreed to stop bringing up Professor Singer and the disciplinary tribunal.
They commiserated over Angela‘s new sexier-than-thou wardrobe and please-let-me-seduce-you-before-you-fail-me stiletto boots, and then Bella bid him a good evening and entered her apartment alone.
She made herself a modest dinner of chicken noodle soup and Lady Grey tea, and then found herself staring at Edward‘s birthday presents.
After Bella‘s birthday had been so rudely interrupted by Jacob, Edward poured her a glass of wine and insisted that she relax by the fire while he prepared dinner. After dinner and a candlelit birthday cake, he presented her with her gifts, before taking her to bed.
He had stayed awake almost all night, caressing her back and her arms, their legs entwined together. She had woken up several times in a nightmare-induced haze, but each time he had comforted her and spooned her more tightly.
She felt safe with him, but worried about how he would react when he found out the truth. If she was ever able to work up the courage to speak the words.
Her iPhone was a gift – of sorts. On Sunday when Edward sheepishly held out the broken pieces of her old phone, she had laughed, for which he had been grateful. When he explained that he was so angry that Jacob had upset her that he‘d smashed her phone, she smiled. And graciously accepted his more sophisticated replacement and his patient tutelage in learning how to operate the damn thing.
He‘d even uploaded the photos Alice took at Lobby, which pleased her greatly. And he helped her enter all of her contacts and numbers, although he‘d quirked an eyebrow when she explained to him that he needed to enter the name Dante Alighieri in conjunction with his own iPhone number. He had also stubbornly insisted that he choose his own ring tone.
Bella‘s primary birthday gift was a series of digital copies of Edward‘s Botticelli prints. He had them mounted in a special book with her name engraved in gold letters on the cover. Even though they were only copies, the collection was priceless. And he had handwritten a dedication on the fly leaf in his elegant script.
To my Darling Isabella,
Happy Birthday.
May each year be better than the last
and may you always have happiness.
With enduring affection,
Edward.
She fingered his inscription, tracing the curls of the capital E. It was, without doubt, the finest gift she had ever received.
In addition, Edward had given her a small photo album of black and white pictures. In some of them, her identity was recognizable. In the rest, the subject was only a glimpse of a face, or a lock of hair against a long, white neck or a laughing girl with her hair flying about her face, eyes closed.
She felt beautiful when Edward kissed her. When he touched her. But viewing these photographs made her feel as if Edward saw her beauty. He saw and captured it, recording it forever.
Some of the pictures were sexy, some were innocent, some were sweet. And perhaps her favourite was one in which she stood in profile while a hand with long white fingers rested on her shoulder, the other hand holding up her hair, and a man‘s face in shadow pressing his lips to the nape of her neck.
She could have blown that photo up to poster size and tacked it to the wall over her bed, the Holiday painting be damned.
Take that, Masen whores.
-
―Why are you calling? Is something wrong? Did you do something to Bella? I swear to God, Edward, if you –"
Edward held his iPhone away from his ear as Alice expertly berated him.
―I didn‘t do anything to Bella,‖ he interrupted. ―Some asshole named Jacob called her on Saturday and she went to pieces. I‘d like some answers.‖
―Holy shit, Edward. Is she okay?‖
―She was very upset. But she won‘t talk about it.‖
―Of course not. She would never talk about it with me either, and I‘m her best friend. Why would she talk about it with her professor?‖
Edward bristled.
―We were discussing Thanksgiving at the time and making plans for the trip when that motherfucker interrupted us.‖
―A bit angry there, Edward. Why do you care?‖
―Because that bastard, whoever he is, broke into Charlie‘s house so he could use Charlie‘s pre-saved telephone numbers to call her.‖
―Shit,‖ said Alice.
―So before I bring her back to Forks, to a village where a mad ex-boyfriend is breaking and entering the police chief's house, I‘d like to know what I‘m dealing with.‖
His sister was silent.
―Alice? I‘m waiting.‖
She sighed into the phone.
―I don‘t know what you‘re expecting me to tell you. This is Bella‘s past. You need to ask her.‖
―I have. She won‘t talk about it.‖
―Can you blame her? If you know already that he‘s an asshole motherfucker, then you know why she doesn‘t want to talk about him. She won‘t even say his name out loud – she‘s that skittish.‖ Alice paused for a minute and then took a deep breath. ―Jacob‘s father is Billy Black, Charlie‘s best friend. Jacob and Bella went to different high schools so they didn‘t really spend time together until they both ended up at Seattle University as freshmen. He treated her nicely in the beginning and they were the best of friends until things went off the rails.‖
―What happened?‖
Edward could hear Alice squirming all the way from downtown Seattle.
―They were having problems before she went to Italy, but she refused to be specific. So I never knew. Then she went to Florence and everything seemed to change. Like they‘d turned a corner. When she came back for her senior year, they broke up on her birthday. And I didn‘t see her again until I came to visit you. Just for the record, Jasper hated Jacob. So I didn‘t spend a lot of time around them as a couple.‖
Edward fumed. ―You didn‘t answer my question, Alice. What are we talking about here? Assault? Infidelity? Emotional abuse?‖
―I honestly don‘t know, Edward, and I‘ve been afraid to guess. I pieced together a few things from a conversation I had with Leah, Bella‘s old roommate. And none of it is nice.‖
Edward stiffened as a sudden insight occurred to him.
―If you want to help Bella, you should try to make her life easier and not harder. I hope you aren‘t intimidating her anymore with your pretentious bullshit.‖
―Actually, we‘re getting along quite well,‖ Edward sniffed.
―As well as in the pictures I emailed to you?‖ Alice giggled as she tortured her brother.
―We have a professional relationship.‖
―Sure you do. You might be fooling everyone else, but you can‘t fool me. Bella broke down and told me she had a date with someone Saturday night and then coincidentally, you‘re with her on Saturday when Jacob calls. So tell me Edward, did you see Bella after her date or before? And how was the date, by the way?‖
―We‘ll arrive in Forks on Thursday. I‘ll bring Bella to the house.‖ Edward‘s voice was cold.
―Good. I think she needs to tell Charlie that she wants to stay with us. Jacob won‘t look for her there. And Edward, thanks for what you did about the house. Carlisle is so relieved. I think we all are, Emmett included.‖
―It was the least I could do. Bye, Alice.‖
―If you hurt her, I‘ll kill you. Now go cheer her up and be gentle. Otherwise you‘ll never coax her out of her shell. Love you.‖
―I – bye.‖ Edward ended the call somewhat uncomfortably, and then returned to the task of preparing next week‘s Dante seminar.
-
With the impending end of term, Bella‘s workload increased exponentially. In addition to writing her thesis, she needed to complete essays for her seminars, which were due December fourth. On top of everything, she was working on applications to graduate schools for doctoral programs.
She and Edward had a vague conversation late one night about her applications. He knew that she wanted to go to Harvard and that she was focusing a great deal of her attention on that application. What he didn‘t know was that the thought of leaving Toronto, of leaving him, was almost unbearable and so unbeknownst to him, she completed an application to the University of Toronto, as well.
Perhaps she wouldn‘t have to leave him, after all.
While Bella was spending most of her days and all of her nights working, Edward was wading through a sea of grading for his other class and working on his second book. He preferred to spend his evenings with Bella, even if they were both working, and sometimes he was able to persuade her to work at his apartment. He would occupy his study and she would spread her papers across the dining room table. But she usually didn‘t stay at the table very long. Somehow she would always end up in his red velvet chair in front of the fire, chewing the end of a pencil and scribbling something into a notebook.
After seeing each other rarely, it was with much relief that the couple dragged their luggage from Edward‘s apartment to a waiting cab on the day they left for Thanksgiving vacation.
As they stood waiting for the taxi driver to place their bags in the trunk, Bella looked up and saw the winter wind blowing Edward‘s already unruly hair, swirling copper strands into his eyes.
Without thinking, she reached up and brushed the hair out of his face and then pressed her lips to his. She stroked his face tenderly, trying to tell him with her eyes what she was too afraid to say.
Edward stared back at her, eyes burning, and then grabbed her by the waist and pulled her into his chest, deepening the kiss and exploring her lower back through her pea coat.
She pulled away first, giggling like a school girl as he surreptitiously patted her backside with a smug grin.
―Still trying to find the right adjective,‖ he teased, sneaking in a final tap. ―Although pert comes to mind.‖
―Behave,‖ she warned, toying with his hair again.
―I need to get this out of my system,‖ he countered, wiggling his eyebrows at her. ―I‘m going to have to go cold turkey for three days.‖
-
Arriving at Pearson Airport, Bella was surprised when Edward pulled her into the exclusive line for first class passengers at the Air Canada ticket counter.
―What are we doing?‖ she whispered.
―Checking in,‖ he whispered back, his lips curling up into a smirk.
―But I only had money for a coach ticket. Edward …‖
He caressed her cheek with his thumb. ―It‘s a long trip and I want you to be comfortable. Besides, the last time I flew coach I ended up sleeping in urine and it cost me a pair of expensive trousers.‖
Bella arched an eyebrow at him.
―I had enough frequent flyer miles for an upgrade, so I bought coach tickets and upgraded them. Technically, you only owe me for the coach fare. Not that I want your money.‖
Bella gazed at him quizzically. ―Urine, Edward? I didn‘t know that Air Canada had a section for the incontinent.‖
He waved a hand. ―Don‘t ask. But it‘s not happening to me again. Besides, they don‘t feed you in coach anymore and I wasn‘t about to let you go without a proper dinner.‖
He kissed her softly and she smiled.
-
The flight to Seattle was largely uneventful.
Edward continued his tutoring sessions on iPhone 101, showing Bella various applications on his phone and asking her if she wanted the same ones. As she perused his programs, she found the iPod function and scrolled through his music files - Debussy, Mozart, Chopin, Berlioz, Rachmaninoff, Beethoven, Matthew Barber, Sting, Diana Krall, Loreena McKennittt, Coldplay, U2, Miles Davis, Arcade Fire, Nine Inch Nails …
Bella hit a button by mistake and found herself looking at Edward‘s University email account. She glanced at it quickly as she tried to switch to the photo album application, and was stunned to find that both Professor Singer and a Tanya Denali had emailed him in the past week.
Fighting a telltale blush, she resisted the urge to read his emails and closed the window quickly. Edward was peering through his glasses at a journal article, oblivious to what had just occurred.
Why are they emailing him?
The answer was obvious but it didn‘t prevent her from asking herself the question.
Edward had uploaded several of the black and white photos of her, including some she had not seen. As she scrolled through them, he somehow became aware of what she was doing. Embarrassed, he tried to wrest his phone out of her hand, but she held it tightly and began to laugh. Not wanting to give their fellow passengers a show, he moved closer and threatened in a whisper to tickle her senseless.
She gave him back his phone.
After dinner, Bella eschewed the movie to snuggle up at Edward‘s side and take a nap.
Edward put his research away and pulled out a hard covered volume from his briefcase.
―What‘s that?‖ Bella‘s soft voice interrupted his thoughts.
He showed her the cover.
The End of the Affair by Graham Greene.
―I‘ve never heard of him. Is it very good?‖
―I just started it. He's considered to be a very good writer. He wrote the script for The Third Man, which is one of my favourite films.‖
―The title is depressing.‖
―It‘s not what you think.‖ He shifted in his seat. ―Well, it is, but it isn‘t. It‘s about faith and God and love and lust. I‘ll lend it to you when I‘m finished.‖ He smirked at her and leaned closer so that he could brush his lips against her ear. ―Perhaps I‘ll read it aloud to you when we're in bed.‖
Bella‘s cheeks pinked up at that remark but she smiled. ―I‘d like that.‖
He smiled at her widely and pressed a light kiss to her forehead.
She snuggled into his side and fell asleep.
He peered down at her from time to time over the rims of his glasses. Even he, verbose as he was, found it difficult to put into words how he felt when she was near him. How relaxed and content he felt whenever she touched him, or when they were enjoying the simple pleasures of music or literature or food and wine. She inspired the strangest emotions and desires, such as wanting to read to her, to share a bed with her chastely, to lavish her with gifts both decadent and plain, to protect her from harm and to ensure that she smiled daily.
Perhaps this is happiness, he thought. Perhaps this is almost what Carlisle and Esme had.
The thought intrigued him.
You love her.
Edward started suddenly.
Where had that voice come from? Had someone said it aloud?
He looked around quickly, but the other first class passengers were either sleeping or watching a film. No one was paying any attention to the nervous professor or the sleeping beauty who was still asleep, despite being jostled by him.
It‟s too soon. I't's just not possible. I can‟t love her.
Edward shook his head at the voice, wherever it came from, and returned to his book more than a little disquieted.
-
After arriving in Seattle late that same evening, Edward pulled his rented Jeep Grand Cherokee out of Sea-Teac‘s parking garage.
―Which hotel did you choose?‖ Bella asked, staring out of the window into the darkness.
―Hotel 1000 on First Avenue. Do you know it?‖
"No."
―It‘s a boutique hotel. Very modern. You‘ll like it.‖
What Edward failed to mention was that he had booked a luxury room that had a panoramic view of Puget Sound. He also neglected to tell Bella that their room had a pedestal bathtub that filled from a faucet that was mounted in the ceiling.
Bella noticed the bathtub before she noticed the view. Or the complimentary fruit basket the concierge always ordered for his most important guests.
―Edward,‖ she breathed. ―It‘s beautiful. But the wall is made of glass and I …‖
He smiled at her and gently took her elbow, leading her inside the bathroom. He pulled a cord and a blind descended from the ceiling to cover the glass wall that partitioned the bedroom from the bathroom.
―You will have complete privacy and your companion will behave like a gentleman.‖ He paused and a wicked gleam came into his eyes. ―Unless you need me to wash your back. In which case, you‘ll have to blindfold me first.‖
Bella flushed slightly and then she grinned.
―We could use one of your bowties,‖ she whispered.
Edward‘s mouth dropped open.
Until she started laughing and he realized that she was only teasing him.
Minx.
As he watched her remove her purple robe and slippers from her suitcase, he quickly realized that there was no way he was going to be able to sit behind that glass wall, covered or not, while Isabella took a bubble bath.
It was a bit too King David for him.
So he mumbled an excuse about finding a newspaper and went to the lobby. He decided against sitting at the bar, populated as it was by various hungry looking women, and instead enjoyed a glass of Leonetti Merlot while sitting in a chair by the fire pit. He picked up a copy of the Seattle Times and spent the next hour dodging the aforementioned women, trying valiantly not to dwell on the beautiful body of the Bathsheba bathing upstairs.
By the time he returned, the scent of strawberries filled the room and Bella was curled up like a sleeping purple cat on the bed.
Her chest rose and fell in a gentle rhythm, her long dark hair fanned out across the white duvet. She was still wearing her robe and her kitten heeled slippers.
Edward watched her sleep for a moment and felt a wave of emotion wash over him. As he tried to sort out his feelings, a procedure with which he had little experience, it occurred to him that the development of their relationship was not being held back solely by the University. It was being held back by him. By his secrets.
And also by hers.
He had determined that he would not make love to her until he revealed everything. And although it pained him to think of it, he knew that it would be best if he waited until she did the same. And that meant that Isabella would have to feel comfortable and safe enough to finally tell him what happened with Jacob. Otherwise, he would only ever know part of her and not the whole.
And they needed to know all of each other.
It was important to him that they not break the letter of the non-fraternization policy, even though they were breaking it in spirit. On top of that, although he had fantasized about moving their physical relationship forward, Jacob‘s revelations had put an end to those fantasies.
He knew based upon her receptivity that she probably would be willing to participate in manual or oral contact before the end of the semester. It would certainly stave off his cravings and satisfy some of his desires, temporarily.
But after what Jacob had said, there was no possibility of Edward seducing her incrementally. Or pushing on her previous experience. Although he would not have used this word, Edward craved intimacy along with
sexual contact and because of Bella‘s past, he was unwilling to allow anything other than sexual intercourse to be their first connection.
He knew that in making this decision, as in deciding not to make love to her without revealing his secrets, he was making it less and less likely that such intimacy would ever occur. But he wanted more with her and not less and certainly not just what her ex-boyfriend had taken from her, a fumble in the dark meant to mimic the true connection one found in sex. Fumbles that had always left Edward somehow wanting.
Isabella deserved a man who was willing to give all of himself to her, in a manner that was tender and patient and focused on union, and not simply to use her to satisfy his physical desires. She deserved to be adored and even worshipped, especially her first time.
Edward would be damned if he would give her anything less.
He sighed deeply and looked at his watch. It was almost two o‘clock in the morning. They both needed sleep.
He gently removed her slippers and then he picked her up in his arms and tried to pull back the bed covers. Her robe fell open slightly, exposing her elegant neck, collarbone and one of her breasts. It was perfect. A rosy nipple budded against creamy white skin. So delicate. So round.
So not what he needed to see at that moment.
Edward struggled to place her underneath the sheets while keeping her from being further exposed, and then he lightly tugged at her robe until she was covered, completely resisting the urge to take her rosy tip between his fingers. Or his lips.
That was one sight he would never forget.
Isabella was stunning in clothes, but Isabella without clothes was like Botticelli‘s Venus.
He walked over to the windows that looked out over the dark Sound and began rummaging through the fruit basket. He poured himself a glass of Perrier and ate an apple and when he was satisfied that he could control himself, he changed into a t-shirt and pyjama bottoms and quietly slipped into bed.
She sighed at the movement and instinctively turned to face him.
This one small, simple act made his heart swell with gladness. Even in her sleep, she recognized him. And wanted him.
He pulled her, all covered, into his arms and kissed her goodnight.
And as he fell asleep he thanked God that the end of the semester was only a week away.
-
When they arrived in Forks the following afternoon, they drove immediately to Carlisle‘s house on the outskirts of town.
Bella called Charlie as soon as they pulled into the driveway.
―Bells! Welcome home. How was the flight?‖
―It was fine. We had to leave really early, but it‘s good to be back.‖
Charlie breathed heavily into the phone. ―About that, Bells. I already told Carlisle that I can‘t join you all for dinner tonight. There‘s a few things happening around the station that I need to supervise so I‘m not going to
be home until really late. Carlisle suggested you stay with everyone at his house tonight so you aren‘t home alone.‖
―Oh.‖ Bella looked over at Edward.
―Maybe we can meet at the diner for breakfast tomorrow.‖
―I‘d like that, Dad. I‘ll ask Alice to drive me. Around nine?‖
―Sounds good. Oh, and Bells, give my best to Alice and Jasper. And stay away from Edward.‖
She flushed furiously. ―Bye, Dad.‖
She disconnected her call and glanced over at Edward.
―You heard that, didn‘t you?‖
―I did.‖ He took her hand in his and stroked her palm with the pad of his thumb. ―We have a few minutes before someone notices we‘re here. Can I ask you how Charlie reacted when you told him about your phone call? You wouldn‘t tell me before.‖
Bella looked down at their conjoined hands and watched as Edward touched her.
―Isabella?‖
―Sorry. Um, he said he‘d handle it and that I shouldn‘t worry.‖
Edward looked grim. ―And the house key? And the speed dial?‖
―I mentioned those things. I hope he took care of them.‖
―He‘s the chief of police, Isabella. Is he going to do a little more than that?‖
Bella shrugged and looked out the window. ―What can he do? He didn‘t hear the conversation. It‘s my word against his.‖
Edward stopped stroking her palm. ―Is that what Charlie said?‖
―No.‖
―Is he going to take this seriously?‖
Bella shook her head. ―Probably not. He will do what he always does and blame everything on me. Say I‘m stuck up and hysterical.‖
Edward cursed.
―Why in God‘s name would Charlie not take this seriously? You are his daughter, for Christ‘s sake!‖
―Charlie thought of him like a son. And he knows next to nothing about what happened.‖
―Why didn‘t you tell him?‖
Bella turned to him with a desperate look in her eyes. ―Because it‘s sick. Because it would make me look sick. And I can‘t lose another parent.‖
―Bella, there is no way your father would disown you because you were physically involved with your boyfriend.‖
―He‘s been watching me my whole life to see if I was going to turn out like my mother. I don‘t want him looking that way at me. He‘s the only family I have.‖
Edward closed his eyes and rested his head back against the car seat. ―I can understand why you‘d be – embarrassed about saying certain things to your father. But if that boy made you do things you didn‘t want to do, if he assaulted or threatened you, then you need to tell your dad. He needs to know.‖
Bella exhaled slowly.
―It‘s too late.‖
Edward opened his eyes and looked at her, and then he cupped her face in both hands.
―Bella, listen to me. Some day you are going to have to tell somebody.‖
―I know that.‖
―I‘d like that person to me.‖
She nodded as if she understood, but made no promises.
He leaned over and pressed a chaste kiss to her lips.
―Come on. Everyone will be waiting.‖
As soon as they walked through the front door, Bella felt - odd.
The house was the same. The furniture was arranged as it always had been. The décor was the same, minus the fresh flowers Esme loved to display in a large crystal vase on one of the side tables.
But the instant Bella exited the foyer and gazed around she realized that the house felt empty, cold, lonesome. Even though it was filled with people.
Esme had been the heart of the household and now everyone could feel her absence.
Bella shivered unconsciously and without warning, Edward‘s right hand flew to the small of her back. A gentle pressure, a reassuring warmth, and then it was gone. They hadn‘t even exchanged glances.
She felt his comfort leave her body and she wondered what it all meant.
―Bella!‖ Alice fairly ran from the kitchen. ―I‘m so glad you‘re here.‖
The two friends embraced and then Alice hugged Edward. Emmett, Jasper and Carlisle rose from their chairs to take turns greeting the new arrivals.
Bella nervously tried to find the words to tell Carlisle how sorry she was that she had missed the funeral, but Alice interrupted her. ―Let‘s get rid of your coat. Rose and I are making flirtinis. Edward, help yourself. The beer is in the fridge.‖
Flirtinis? thought Edward.
He tried to smother a scowl when Alice winked at him.
Bella mumbled something he didn‘t catch and then the two women disappeared into the kitchen, leaving the men to return to the football game.
―I hope Edward was on his best behaviour.‖ Rose sounded peevish as she greeted Bella with a hug and two air kisses. ―I hope he didn‘t try to grope you in the car.‖
―Rose!‖ exclaimed Alice.
Rose tossed her long, blonde hair and then sat on a stool at kitchen island. ―He‘s a sex addict and he‘ll screw anything with a vagina. Didn‘t you warn Bella about him?‖
Alice scowled at Rose. ―He never made a pass at you.‖
―That‘s because I‘m not his type. He‘s threatened by smart, assertive women.‖
An image of Professor Singer flitted unbidden across Bella‘s mind.
―Edward was polite. I‘m just lucky he agreed to drive me or I‘d be hitchhiking. Charlie is working late. I guess I‘m staying here tonight.‖
Alice nodded and handed Bella a glass. ―You need a drink. And you can stay the weekend, if you want. Why be home alone at Charlie‘s when you can be drinking flirtinis with us?‖
Bella giggled and sipped her cocktail a little too eagerly while she and Rose caught up with one another.
It could be said that Rose was beautiful. She was tall and fair with large breasts, long legs and an hourglass figure. Looking at her, men and women always shared the same thought: She has a body for sin. She was intelligent and graduated near the top of her class from Stanford‘s law school, and she didn‘t mind letting people know it. She had a cool temperament that was punctuated by disdain and grudge holding and a wicked sense of humour.
She also had an inexplicable fascination with automobiles.
Bella had always liked her, but since Rose was five years older, she had never felt as if they were especially close.
Alice always said that Rose‘s coldness had an explanation, but she never shared that explanation with Bella.
Bella just assumed that Rose was a (lovable) bitch.
As the ladies sipped their cocktails, Rose told stories about her job as a lawyer in Seattle and Emmett‘s job in the King County Prosecuting Attorney‘s office. She asked polite questions about Bella‘s master‘s degree and steered clear of anything personal.
Alice had whispered to Rose about Jacob‘s re-emergence prior to Bella‘s arrival.
By the time the ladies were working on their second round of flirtinis and beginning to get a little naughty in their discussions, the football game had ended, thus emancipating the men from the large, flat screened plasma television in the living room. Esme had banished the unsightly thing to the basement.
Carlisle had since freed it.
The men joined the ladies in the kitchen, passing around snacks and bottles of beer and giving Alice absolutely unsolicited advice about her free range organic turkey.
―You‘ve cooked it too long. It‘s going to be dry, like that turkey on National Lampoon‟s Christmas Vacation.‖ Emmett winked at Bella behind Alice‘s back.
―Em, knock it off, or I‘m going to cut you.‖ Alice opened the door to the Viking range and began basting the turkey, peering anxiously at the meat thermometer.
―It looks beautiful, honey.‖ Jasper pressed a kiss to her cheek as he took the baster out of her hand, slightly worried that she was going to use it to stab her annoying brother.
Emmett was loud. He was funny, light-hearted and frequently bawdy. He was also the largest of the four men, well over six feet tall and bear like, with dark hair, large, brown eyes and two dimples that appeared whenever he smiled, which was almost constantly.
Momentarily forgetting Alice and her possibly desiccated turkey, Emmett wrapped his massive arms around Rose and began whispering something filthy in her ear. She made a face and then whispered something equally filthy back to him.
She was the Bonnie to his Clyde and he loved her for it.
―So Bella, it‘s good to see you again. Alice tells me that you‘ve been doing well at school. How are your studies coming?‖ Carlisle moved to occupy an empty stool next to her.
Bella smiled. Carlisle was very handsome, with pale hair that had begun to grey and kind blue eyes. He was always the last to speak, his silence usually complemented by Esme‘s chattiness. Without her, he seemed … adrift.
Bella could feel his loneliness and see it in the wrinkles at the corner of his eyes. He looked thinner. And older.
―I‘m really glad to be back, Carlisle. I‘m sorry I wasn‘t here in September.‖ She gave him a guilty look and he patted her hand. ―My courses are good. I like them.‖
Bella tried hard not to blush, especially when she felt a pair of piercing green eyes latch onto her.
―Edward tells me you‘re in his class.‖
―Yeah, how‘s that going?‖ said Emmett. ―Can you understand a word he says? Or do you need a dictionary?‖
Emmett was only joking and Bella knew that, but she saw Edward flinch out of the corner of her eye.
―It‘s my favourite class,‖ she said softly. ―Professor Masen‘s graduate seminar is considered the best of its kind at the University. He gave a lecture in October that had over a hundred people in attendance. They put his picture in the University newspaper.‖
Rose‘s eyebrows went up and her eyes narrowed as they traveled from Bella to Edward and then back again.
―Professor Masen? That must be quite a turn on, Ed. Do your women call you that, too? Must be really hot in the bedroom. Maybe we should try that, Rose. I‘ll have to get a bowtie.‖
―Stop it!‖ Rose swatted her husband on the chest before the two of them began to laugh.
―In the first place, Emmett, I do not have women. And no, the extraordinary lady I am seeing does not call me that.‖ Edward‘s voice was cold and unfriendly as he swept out of the room.
―Emmett, I asked you to behave yourself.‖ Carlisle‘s voice was low but reproving.
―Dad, I was only kidding. He takes himself so seriously - somebody needs to loosen him up. And he‘s always been a player. So what‘s the big deal?‖
―Em, it sounds like Edward finally has a girlfriend. Let him be happy for once.‖ Rose‘s voice was surprisingly compassionate.
Carlisle‘s face wore a peculiar expression.
―Look you all, this holiday is hard enough without the passive-aggressive bullshit towards Edward.‖ Alice‘s voice was raised over the rest as she stood, hands on hips, scowling at Emmett. ―Sorry about the language, Dad.‖
―Alice, why does everything have to revolve around him? Last time I checked, he was only one out of six.‖ Emmett was no longer joking.
―Because he‘s trying, Emmett! Which is more than I can say about you. Now come over here and drain these God damned potatoes, so you can start mashing them. Jasper will take the turkey out of the oven and Bella, would you go and get Edward? I‘d like him to look over Dad‘s wine cellar and choose a couple of bottles.‖
―I can do that, Alice,‖ Carlisle protested. ―Maybe we should give him a minute.‖
―He‘s had his minute. As long as Emmett agrees to behave.‖ She glared at him until he nodded. ―Besides, Dad, you need to carve the turkey. Bella.‖
Alice angled her head towards the upstairs and Bella nodded and slipped out of the kitchen.
She quickly ascended the staircase and walked down the hall, pausing in front of the half-opened door to Edward‘s old bedroom.
She knocked softly.
―Come in.‖ He sounded frustrated.
Edward‘s room had not been redecorated since his seventeenth birthday, except that old band posters and posters of scantily clad women had been eventually removed by Esme.
A double bed stood in the centre of the room, underneath the large picture window that faced out towards the woods. A large antique armoire stood against one of the walls and three massive bookshelves and an old stereo covered the opposite wall.
Almost all the decor was dark blue, including the area rug.
Bella watched as Edward unpacked his suitcase, methodically placing the folded clothes on top of the bed.
When he saw her, he straightened up and smiled. Marginally.
―Now do you see why I prefer to stay at a hotel?‖
―I‘m sorry, Edward. I should have done something. Said something.‖
―You need to do what I normally do – just keep quiet and take it.‖ He dropped what he was holding and was at her side in a moment. ―It's a good thing we agreed to keep our relationship secret. Emmett doesn't think very highly of me and your reputation would be tarnished by association."
"I don't mind. Let them tarnish me."
He smiled at her and caressed her cheek.
"But I mind. I mind a great deal." He cleared his throat. "Tonight, after everyone has gone to bed, I‘d like to take you for a walk.‖
―I‘d love to.‖
―At least that will give me something to look forward to.‖
Edward smiled and then pulled her into a searing embrace. His tongue entered her mouth immediately and his hands rested on her backside, squeezing it shamelessly.
Bella allowed herself to forget she was in his father‘s house for a minute, and then she struggled to back away.
―We – can‘t.‖ She was out of breath and panting.
So was he. Except he had a wild look in his eye.
―But I need you.‖
He grabbed her and wound his hands in her hair.
―I‘m serious. I need you, Isabella. Right now.‖
Bella‘s insides liquefied in reaction to the heat and desperation in his words.
He drew his lips down the curve of her neck, and then nuzzled at the opening of her shirt so that he could nibble her collarbone.
He closed his bedroom door with his foot and then quickly undid two buttons of her blouse, pushing the fabric aside to expose the perfect skin just above her bra.
Squeezing the curves of her backside, he lifted her and pressed her back against the door, pulling her legs flush around his hips.
Bella gasped at the closeness, at the pressing contact between them.
He floated his lips across her upper chest, pausing to dip the tip of his tongue just under the pale pink lace.
Bella threw her head back and groaned as her hands sought his hair, urging him forward.
He responded by tracing a long finger around the perimeter of her demi cup, and then gently beginning to slip inside, while his other hand cupped the back of her right thigh.
Her eyes popped open as his warm palm cupped her naked breast, his mouth latched onto the skin at the base of her throat, sucking slightly.
Much as it pained her to do so, she pulled his hand away and shifted so that he was forced to release his hold on her neck.
―Edward, I‘m sorry. We can‘t.‖ She put her head down and quickly adjusted her bra.
She wriggled slightly but he did not set her down.
Flushing wildly, she avoided the blazing colour of his eyes.
―I know you‘re upset. And I‘d like to comfort you, but they‘re all waiting downstairs. Alice wants you to pick the wine for dinner.‖
Edward gazed at her with new eyes. And then he put her down.
She quickly buttoned her blouse and tried to straighten her trousers.
―You think too highly of me.‖
Bella ran the pointed toe of her ankle boot along the edge of the area rug. ―I very much doubt that.‖
―What I just did was not appropriate or nice. I‘m sorry.‖ He traced a finger over the red mark that had bloomed where his mouth had tasted her, and then he pulled her blouse closed and fastened the top button. Now she looked like a Mennonite.
She looked up into dark, troubled eyes.
―Edward, you‘re still tired from yesterday and this is a stressful holiday. I know you didn‘t mean anything just now. You feel better when you touch me. And truthfully, so do I.‖
Now she was looking at the floor again.
―Come here,‖ he whispered, and then he was enveloping her in a warm embrace.
―You‘re wrong you know, I did mean it. Of course I feel better when I touch you. But I‘m sorry to fly at you like that. I wasn't thinking …‖ Edward looked disgusted with himself.
―You‘re not going to hurt me.‖ The words left her mouth before she had considered them. But as soon as they floated between them, she knew they were true.
He smiled into her hair and then pressed a hesitant kiss to her forehead.
―No, I don‘t think I‘m going to hurt you. But I will endeavour to be worthy of you. Isabella, if you weren‘t here, I‘d have left already.‖
―No, you wouldn‘t have. Carlisle needs you. And you would never leave him in need.‖
A pained look shadowed Edward‘s features. He kissed her once again, more like a friend than a lover, and then he turned back to his suitcase.
Bella crept out of his room and down the stairs, wondering what would happen during dinner. She paused on the landing to check her appearance in the mirror, hoping that she didn‘t look as if she had just stolen a sensual moment with her professor.
-
Alice had planned the seating arrangement well. She sat in Esme‘s place at the foot of the table, so she could be near the kitchen, while Carlisle sat at the head. Emmett, Rose and Jasper sat on one side, Bella and Edward sat on the other.
Even though they weren‘t touching, Bella felt the strange energy that always seemed to vibrate between them. She could feel his eyes on her, but he made no move to brush up against her under the table, much to her disappointment.
Alice stared at Bella‘s new Mennonite look and then she glanced over at Edward.
Edward ignored her by focusing all of his attention on his linen napkin.
Once the serving dishes were proudly displayed in front of everyone, Carlisle asked his family to hold hands so that he could say grace.
A shock passed from Edward‘s hand to Bella‘s, making her withdraw hastily.
Rose‘s eagle eyes saw the retreat, but she said nothing, especially since Bella eventually gave Edward her hand.
―Our Father, we thank you for this day and for the many gifts you‘ve given us. Thank you for our country, our home, our food. Thank you for my beautiful family and that we can be home together, for my lovely wife, the love of my life -"
Seven pairs of eyes opened immediately. Six pairs of eyes swung to the head of the table. One pair of blue eyes immediately closed and his hands covered them.
It had been a mistake. Her description had rolled off the tongue as it normally did during family grace. But the effect was dramatic and immediate.
Carlisle‘s shoulders began to shake.
―Oh my God,‖ mumbled Rose.
Alice was out of her seat in a flash, wrapping her arms around her father‘s shoulders, fighting back her own tears.
Jasper quickly finished Carlisle‘s prayer as if nothing had happened and at the Amen everyone else wiped away a tear or two. And then began passing vegetables and turkey and Emmett‘s mashed potatoes.
Except for Edward. He sat stoically, hands clenched into fists at his sides as he watched his adoptive father weep.
Underneath the table, Bella reached out a tentative hand to Edward‘s knee. And when he didn‘t flinch, or throw her hand back into her lap, she kept it there. Eventually, he took her hand in his and squeezed it.
Bella felt Edward‘s body begin to relax before they withdrew their hands. For most of the meal, he brought his left foot to entwine with her right, keeping their continued connection secret.
While the family enjoyed Rose‘s homemade pumpkin pies, Carlisle told Bella he was moving to Seattle in January in order to start a new job at Virginia Mason Medical Center.
―You sold the house?‖
Carlisle glanced at Edward and then back at Bella. ―Yes. I bought a condo near Alice and Jasper. I‘ll be able to focus on my specialization in Seattle and I‘ll have fewer patients. I‘m not ready to retire, yet, but I‘d like to cut back my hours.‖
Bella felt sad that the house was going to be sold, but she said only complimentary things about his plans.
This must be why Edward wants to visit the meadow tonight.
―So, Edward, why don‘t you tell everyone about your upcoming trip to Italy.‖ Carlisle smiled in Edward‘s direction.
Several things happened all at once.
Alice and Jasper glanced at Bella. Bella continued eating her pumpkin pie as if nothing had happened, trying valiantly not to appear wooden. And Edward sought Bella‘s hand under the table, while he clenched his teeth.
Bella could almost hear his jaw click shut.
―You‘re going to Italy? Man, I wish I had a cushy trust fund that would let me do that. Rose and I would love to go to Italy.‖ Emmett smiled at his wife. ―Maybe next summer.‖
Rose blushed inexplicably. ―Maybe.‖
Carlisle gazed at Edward politely but expectantly.
Bella saw a flicker of anger pass over Edward‘s features and then it disappeared.
―I‘ve been invited to give a lecture at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.‖
―When will you go?‖ asked Alice.
―The beginning of December.‖
―How long will you be gone?‖ asked Rose.
―A week or two, possibly more. My hosts have several events planned and I had hoped to do some research for my book while I was there. But that depends.‖
Edward squeezed Bella‘s hand under the table, but her hand had gone limp.
She kept her eyes on her pie and chewed thoughtfully. No one noticed her eyes become watery.
She didn‘t dare look in Edward‘s direction.
-
After dinner, the kitchen was crowded as everyone helped Alice clean and put things away.
Edward tried to speak to Bella alone but they were constantly interrupted. Finally, he gave up and accompanied Carlisle out to the back porch, while the rest of the family piled onto the couches in the living room to listen to very bad eighties music.
It had been Emmett‘s choice.
And when he and Rose stood up to dance to ―Tainted Love,‖ by Soft Cell, Alice and Bella mocked them mercilessly.
Jasper didn‘t understand the attraction to eighties music or the humour in Emmett and Rose‘s slightly eclectic dirty dance routine, but he smiled politely as he sipped his beer.
When the song was replaced by ―Don‘t You Forget About Me,‖ by Simple Minds, Bella knew it was time to get another drink. She floated into the kitchen and then found herself looking out the window at Edward and Carlisle, who were wearing their winter coats and sitting in two Adirondack chairs on the back porch.
―Hey, Bella.‖ Jasper came up behind her and pulled another beer from the fridge. ―Corona?‖
―Thanks.‖ Bella took the bottle gratefully.
―Lime?‖ He pointed to a series of lime sections in a bowl on the counter.
―Sure.‖
After watching her struggle to force the lime into the narrow opening of the bottle, he sighed slightly and then walked over to her. ―Want me to do that?‖
"Please."
Jasper was a Corona specialist. He pushed the lime into the bottle, and then capping the opening with his thumb, proceeded to tip the bottle upside down, sending the lime to the very bottom. When he righted the bottle, he carefully let the air pressure out of the bottle at a snail's pace and then with a bit of a smug look, handed the bottle back to Bella.
―That‘s how we do it in Texas,‖ he drawled, winking at her.
She took a quick pull from the bottle and smiled. He was right. It was good.
―You‘re a good man, Jasper.‖ Bella surprised herself by speaking the words aloud.
He reddened slightly but returned her smile. ―How are you doing?‖
She shrugged. ―I‘m fine. Grad school is a lot of work, but I seem to be doing well. I‘m applying to different doctoral programs for next year. I hope I get in somewhere.‖
Jasper nodded and then he fixed her with a serious but sympathetic look. ―Alice told me that Jacob called. I don‘t want to upset you, but we‘re both really worried. Are you okay?‖
Bella blinked slightly as she worked through what he had said, realizing that Edward must have told Alice about the phone call.
―I was scared. Even though I was so far away, he still found me. He told me once that he‘d never let me go. But he seems to remember me only when he‘s having trouble with her.‖
Jasper gently patted her arm.
―You‘re with us, now. You‘re part of our family and we stick together. If he steps out of line while you‘re here, Emmett and I will take care of him. Hell, Emmett is itching for a fight. He hasn‘t been in a brawl since law school. What better way to work out your frustration than in teaching someone like Jacob a lesson?‖ He grinned at her and took a swig of his beer.
Bella nodded but did not smile.
―What‘s happening with the wedding? Alice said that you had picked a date, but when I asked her about it tonight, she clammed up on me.‖
He shook his head. ―Don‘t say anything to anyone, but we were planning to get married in July. That is, until Alice saw her Dad break down during grace. She pulled me aside after dinner and said that there was no way she could even bring up the topic of a wedding now. So we‘re back to where we were before – engaged with no fixed wedding date.‖
Jasper hung his head a little and wiped at his eyes with the back of one of his hands.
Bella felt sorry for him.
―She loves you. She‘ll marry you. She just wants a happy family and a big, happy wedding. You‘ll get there.‖
―What about a happy Jasper?‖ he muttered, his eyes momentarily hard.
He sighed and shook his head. ―I didn‘t mean that. I really didn‘t mean that. But I love her. I‘ve loved her for years. I never wanted to live together; I wanted to marry her as soon as we graduated high school. But she always wanted to wait. The waiting is killing me, Bella.‖
―Some people think that marriage is just a piece of paper. Alice is lucky you think differently.‖
―It‘s not just a piece of paper. I want to stand up in front of Alice and God and all our friends and family and make promises to her. I want to be hers forever and I want her to be mine. Not as my girlfriend, or my lover, but as my wife. I want what Carlisle and Esme had, but some days I wonder if that‘s ever going to happen.‖
Bella shyly put her arm around Jasper‘s shoulder and give him a sideways one-armed hug.
―It‘s going to happen. Don‘t give up. Once Carlisle is out of the house and settled in his new life, Alice will see that it‘s okay for all of you to be happy again. Being in this house without Esme is hurting everyone. Because they miss her.‖
Jasper nodded and tipped the rest of his beer back.
―Emmett put a slow song on. Alice will be wanting a dance. Excuse me.‖ He disappeared into the living room, leaving Bella alone with her perfect Corona and her imperfect thoughts.
-
Meanwhile, Carlisle and his eldest son sat outside enjoying Edward‘s gifts - Cuban cigars that he had smuggled in from Canada and a bottle of Carlisle‘s favourite Scotch, The Glenrothes.
―Esme would never have allowed this in the house,‖ Carlisle mused, blowing smoke rings upwards toward the inky velvet of the November sky.
―I‘m sure no one would mind now.‖
Carlisle smiled at his son sadly. ―But I would. For her. Thank you, by the way. These are probably the best I‘ve ever had.‖
Edward smiled. ―You‘re welcome.‖
They clinked glasses and wished one another cheers, and then fell silent, gazing out at the woods behind the house and up at the delicate strands of stars above.
―Bella looks well. Do you see much of her?‖
Edward casually flicked the ash from his cigar into the ashtray between them. ―She‘s in my class.‖
―She‘s all grown up now. She seems more confident.‖ He drew thoughtfully on his cigar. ―Your university seems to agree with her.‖
Edward shrugged.
―Esme loved her.‖
Carlisle watched his son‘s face fail to register any reaction.
―Now that I‘m moving, we‘re going to have to have a family discussion about the furniture and – other things. I know it‘s going to be uncomfortable but I think it would be better to have that conversation now rather than waiting until Christmas. You will be home for Christmas, won‘t you?‖
―Yes, I‘ll be home. I just don‘t know when. As for the furniture, let Alice and Emmett have everything.‖
Carlisle‘s lips pulled together. ―Isn‘t there something you‘d like? What about the armoire that Esme inherited from her grandmother? It‘s always been in your room. Wouldn‘t you like that?‖
Edward looked at him for a moment, studying him. ―I assumed you‘d be taking all of Esme‘s things.‖
Carlisle shook his head. ―It‘s just not possible. There are a few things I can‘t part with. But as for everything else …‖ He sighed. ―Truthfully, this is the most important thing to me.‖ He held up his left hand and showed Edward his wedding ring.
Edward was surprised he was still wearing it, but only for an instant. Something told him Carlisle would be wearing it for the rest of his life.
―She wanted her jewellery divided up. Alice went through it yesterday. There are a couple of things sitting on the dressing table in our room that are for you.‖
―What about Alice?‖
―She is happy with what Esme wanted her to have, and the same goes for Emmett. In fact, they agreed that they wanted Bella to have something, if you didn‘t object.‖
Edward rubbed his eyes. ―No, I don‘t object. What is it?‖
―Esme had two strings of pearls. One of them I gave to her, but one of them came from her parents or she bought them herself when she was a student. I‘m not sure. Those are the ones that Alice would like to give to Bella.‖
―That‘s fine.‖
―Good. Before you leave, just be sure to talk to Alice about the rest of it. You‘ll want to take them with you.‖
Edward nodded and then focused his attention on his cigar.
―Esme loved you. She didn‘t believe in favourites, you know. But you were – special. You were her firstborn. She just wanted you to be happy.‖
Edward nodded. ―I know that.‖
―Actually, she wanted you to find a nice girl and settle down, have children and then be happy.‖ Carlisle smiled.
―That isn‘t going to happen, Carlisle.‖
―You don‘t know that.‖ He reached out an affectionate hand and lightly gripped his son‘s forearm. ―Esme never gave up. Don‘t you give up, either. If I know anything about Esme, it‘s that she still loves you and no doubt she‘s lighting candles and praying for you, even now. She‘s just a little closer to the source.‖
For a moment their eyes met. For a moment, both malachite and azure were damp with tears.
Pray for me, Esme. How am I ever going to live without you?
The two men blew grey smoke across the porch, silently savouring their Scotch and their memories. But saying nothing more.
-
When everyone finally decided it was time for bed, they ascended the staircase almost two by two, like animals lumbering to Noah‘s ark.
Edward held Bella back slightly so that they were the last to go up. And when everyone had disappeared into their respective chambers, he stood outside her bedroom door, gazing down at her with a somewhat hungry look on his face.
Bella felt nervous all of a sudden and looked down at her feet.
He reached down with one hand and popped the top button of her blouse open, sliding his hand across her neck.
"I'm sorry about this." He touched the mark he had made earlier.
Bella kept her eyes down.
"Isabella, look at me." He coaxed her chin upwards with a single finger and then gazed down at her with troubled eyes.
"I didn't mean to mark you. I know you don't belong to me, but if you were mine I would find a better way of showing it to the world than by turning your beautiful skin red or purple."
She looked up at him and her eyes grew teary. Of course she was his. She had been his since she took his hand long ago and followed him into the woods.
―Wait here a moment.‖ He disappeared into his bedroom and then returned, carrying a familiar looking British racing green cashmere sweater.
―This is for you.‖ He handed it to her.
She accepted the sweater and then gave him a puzzled look.
―I was worried that your own clothes wouldn‘t be warm enough. I thought maybe you could wear this to the meadow.‖
―Thank you, Edward. But won‘t you need it?‖
He smiled down at her. ―I have others. And it pleases me to think that something of mine will be so close to you. If I had my way, you‘d wear it all weekend.‖ He straightened his shoulders and took a step closer. "Perhaps this is a more humane way of marking you, Isabella.‖
Edward‘s eyes shone in the dim light of the hallway. He took another step forward as if he were about to draw her into an embrace when Emmett came lumbering out of his room, shirtless and wearing only a pair of boxer shorts. His boxer shorts had smiley faces on them.
At the sight of him, but before he could say something, Edward abruptly stuck his hand out.
―Good night, Bella,‖ he said stiffly, shaking her hand.
Emmett snorted loudly and then scratched his ass as he walked towards the bathroom.
As soon as the bathroom door closed, Edward pulled Bella into his arms and kissed her firmly on the lips.
―I‘ll come to get you in an hour. Dress warmly and wear comfortable shoes.‖ He eyed her high heeled boots with a sigh. It pained him to bid them adieu but he knew that it was necessary.
―Good night, my –" He stopped abruptly and then disappeared across the hall and into his bedroom, leaving Bella standing alone in the hall.
She wondered what he had not said.
She wondered if she should tell him that she was his.
And then she went into her room and changed into warmer clothes, wrapping herself in the scent that was Edward and his cozy cashmere sweater, which enveloped her like a lover‘s embrace.

simona80
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Data d'iscrizione : 01.01.11
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