capitolo ventinove

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capitolo ventinove

Messaggio  simona80 il Mer 09 Mar 2011, 01:05

Chapter Twenty-Nine
Very early Christmas morning, Edward sat in bed in his boxer shorts and glasses, watching Isabella sleep.
He could have returned to the light of the living room, where he had played Santa Claus only an hour before. But he preferred to be near her.
Even in the darkness.
Carlisle's conversation with him from the day before plagued his mind but her presence comforted him.
-
His adoptive father had asked Edward about Tanya and Edward had said about as much on the topic as he dared, emphasizing that Tanya was his past and Bella was his future.
Carlisle's compassion truly knew no bounds as he encouraged Edward to make professional counselling a necessary condition for Tanya's continued access to the trust fund, pointing out that she probably quit therapy far too early.
Once Edward agreed, Carlisle smoothly changed the subject to Bella, asking his son if he was in love with her.
Edward replied unequivocally in the affirmative, to which Carlisle responded by bring up the r-word.
Responsibility.
"I am taking responsibility for her."
"She's still a student. What if she becomes pregnant?"
Edward's expression hardened. "That won't happen."
Carlisle smiled at his son. "Look at your brother and Rose. They didn't believe it would happen, either, and yet sometime in August you'll become Uncle Edward."
"I've already demonstrated that I more than take care of my responsibilities, Carlisle." His voice cooled considerably.
Carlisle sat back in his chair, tenting his fingers reflectively.
"Bella is very like Esme in several ways – not least of which is her willingness to sacrifice herself for those she loves."
"I won't allow her to sacrifice her dreams for me, you can be assured of that."
Carlisle nodded to himself and his eyes flickered over to the picture of his wife that he always kept on his desk.
"Did you know that when I first started seeing your moth – Esme, that she would duck whenever I brought my hand close to her face? It broke my heart.
"Her mind knew that I wasn't going to strike her, but her body had a memory of its own. I had to ask her if I could touch her before I raised my hand. It took a long time for her to completely relax around me.
"It took even longer for her to believe that I wasn't going to leave her, even after we were married. I wonder if Bella isn't worried you'll tire of her – set her up with a trust fund."
Edward's eyebrows knit together like thunderous clouds.
"I won't tire of her. And I won't live without her."
Carlisle fixed him with a serious eye.
"If you've already made your choice, then why don't you tell her?"
"Because we've only been together for two weeks."
Carlisle raised his eyebrows in surprise, but elected not to interrogate his son over the semantic ambiguity of the phrase "being together."
"You know my view on this. If you love her and you're sleeping with her, then you should marry her. At the moment, you appear to be with her under false pretences; your actions indicate that she is only a partner in a sexual affair, when your intentions are more – serious."
Edward bristled at the characterization. "Isabella isn't my mistress."
"Yet you won't make a commitment to her."
"I am committed to her. There's no one else."
"Then make some promises to her. I'm sure she's anxious about what the future might hold when you return to Toronto. And when she graduates.
"Marriage is a sacrament that exists partially to protect women from sexual exploitation. If you take that away from her, then she is little more than your mistress no matter what you choose to call her. And she has seen what happened to Tanya."
Edward scowled, but didn't bother to respond. He respected Carlisle, loved him even. But he would be damned before he would defend his personal life with Isabella to him.
"Marriage is more than a piece of paper – it's a mystery. In fact, there is a Midrash that suggests that marriage is made in heaven between soul mates. Isn't Bella your soul mate? Don't you want to be with her forever?"
"What I want is immaterial. I won't rush her into making a life-changing decision in the middle of the school year," Edward muttered, rubbing at his eyes in a familiar way. "It's far too soon."
"Pray that you won't wait until it's too late," Carlisle countered, shaking his head sadly at Esme's photograph.
With these words, then, ringing in his ears, Edward sat with his knees bent, resting his forearms on his legs as he watched his beloved Isabella sleep.
-
Bella stirred, a nameless anxiety wafting over her in her dream. A moment or two later she rolled towards Edward's side and reached out for him, her fingers making contact with the silk at his hip.
In the darkness of the room, Edward looked like a gargoyle – a grey, motionless figure that stared back at her from behind his glasses in stony silence.
It took a moment for Bella to recognize him.
"What are you doing?" She was somewhat confused and still half-asleep.
"Nothing. Go back to sleep."
Her beautiful face creased in puzzlement. "But you're sitting there half-naked in the dark."
He gave her a tentative smile. "I like to watch you sleep."
Bella shivered.
"Why?"
"It relaxes me."
She slid closer to him, searching for and finding his hand. She kissed the back of it and pulled it towards her heart.
"That's a bit creepy, Edward. Do you always perch on women's beds, watching them sleep?"
He smiled and pressed his palm flat against her chest so he could feel her heart beat.
"Only yours, love. You fascinate me."
"Then I take back the creepy comment," she yawned.
His face grew serious. "Isabella, forgive me for being an ass last night. I don't want you to think that our relationship is based on sex." He cleared his throat roughly. "Or that that's all I want. It isn't."
Her smile faded. "I know that."
He moved his hand to stroke her eyebrows with his fingers.
"It's just that you're so pretty," he whispered. "It's difficult for me not to touch you, not to want to be with you that way."
His hand floated across her cheek, almost as if he was afraid she might bruise if he touched her too firmly. "I feel like a part of me is missing when I'm not close to you.
"But I love you and I want you to be with me because you want to be. Not because you feel obligated."
She leaned into his hand.
"Edward, of course I want to be with you.
Whenever I think of sex, even in the abstract, I think of you. I think of how you make me feel, what it's like to look into your eyes when you're inside me. There were so many times when you could have pressured me or taken advantage of me, like the night we were in your old room and I – I took my top off. But you were patient with me. And when it was our first time, you were so gentle. I've been very lucky to have you as a boyfriend, Edward. You've been very good to me."
She gazed at him adoringly.
"Why don't you come over here and give me a hug? I think we could both use one."
Edward crawled under the covers and cuddled close to his beloved.
And when her regular breathing indicated that she had fallen asleep once more, he whispered a few significant promises to her in Italian.
-
When Bella woke up the next morning, she was treated to breakfast in bed – a blood orange mimosa, coffee, and a Belgian waffle.
And then she was nagged impatiently while she ate until she agreed to accompany Edward to the sitting room.
He was so excited he was practically bouncing, albeit in a very dignified and professorial way, despite his lack of shirt.
A small, Charlie Brown Christmas tree had been conveniently "borrowed" from the Lodge's lobby and was placed in the centre of the room. Several brightly coloured parcels rested beneath it.
And two large, red stockings embroidered with the names "Isabella" and "Edward" were each sitting in a corner of the loveseat, respectively.
"Merry Christmas, darling." Edward kissed her forehead as he grinned widely. He was very proud of himself.
"I've never had a stocking," she admitted sheepishly as he sat her on the loveseat and placed the stocking in her lap. It was filled with candy.
And panties that had Yuletide images on them.
And in the toe was a flash drive that had video of a certain tango against the wall at the Royal Ontario Museum.
She would discover it later.
"Why haven't you had a stocking before?" asked Edward.
"Renee didn't … and Charlie didn't think of it …" She shrugged.
He shook his head. He hadn't had stockings either, before he came to live with the Cullens.
Bella pointed to a couple of presents that were wrapped in a red and green plaid and sitting on the coffee table where she had placed them the night before.
"Those are yours. Why don't you open them first?"
Edward beamed and sat on the floor by the tree, cross-legged. He picked up a small box and tore at the paper with abandon.
Bella giggled at the sight of him, this very proper professor sitting in his spectacles and his underwear, attacking his gifts like a four year old.
Edward opened the box and was very surprised at what he saw inside. Nestled in cream coloured silk were a pair of silver cufflinks. But these were no ordinary cufflinks. These cufflinks bore the shield of the city of Florence.
He gazed at them in wonder.
"Do you like them?" she asked softly.
"I love them, Isabella. I'm just surprised. How did you -?"
"While you were in a meeting, I went over to the Ponte Vecchio and bought them. I saw them in the window and I thought they would look quite smart with your fancy shirts."
Edward rose to his knees and shuffled over to her, kissing her gently in gratitude. "They're perfect. Thank you."
She smiled at the sight of him kneeling in front of her.
"There's another gift for you."
Edward grinned widely as he found a second small, flat present. Underneath the wrapping paper he found a framed eight by ten inch reproduction of Marc Chagall's painting Lovers in the Moonlight.
Inside the enclosed card, Bella had written a few sweet nothings, declaring her love for Edward and her gratitude at finding him again, and then, almost as an after thought, she wrote the following:
My real gift to you is myself –
all of me.
I'd like to recreate this painting with you
in black and white.
I'd like to pose for your photographs.
All my love,
Your Bella.
XOXO
Edward was speechless.
His eyes met hers with a questioning look.
She flushed slightly. "I think it's time you had some photographs of us together to hang on the walls of your bedroom. And I would like to do this for you. If that's alright."
Edward moved to join her on the love seat and kissed her deeply.
"Thank you. The painting is lovely, but what is far more lovely is you." He smirked. "Your fondness for Chagall will be our inspiration. But I think we'll have to practice our poses first."
He moved his eyebrows suggestively, tracing the curve of her cheek with his thumb before leaning forward to tug her lower lip into his mouth and kiss her hungrily.
"You are the greatest gift," he murmured to her skin, as his lips moved from hers.
He felt her cheek move into a smile beneath his mouth and then he pulled back to retrieve one of her gifts from under the tree.
She rewarded him with shining, eager eyes.
When she opened the small box, she found a compact disc that he had made for her, entitled Loving Isabella.
"It's the playlist that we listened to in Florence," he explained.
She blushed in recollection.
"Thank you. I was going to ask you for a copy of those songs. They will always bring back happy memories."
Underneath the jewel case she found a series of gift certificates for various spa treatments at the Windsor Arms Hotel in Toronto, some of which had various exotic sounding names such as Vichy shower and seaweed and salt body wrap.
She smiled and thanked him, reading the titles aloud until she came to the last certificate.
It wasn't for a spa treatment.
She looked at the paper in her hand.
To Isabella, the love of my life,
arrangements have been made for you to see a plastic surgeon in Toronto
as soon as we return.
Based upon the information I provided, he is confident
that your scar can be removed completely.
You don't need to worry about it anymore.
With all my heart,
Edward.
Edward released the page from her tense fingers, smiling apologetically.
"I shouldn't have included that in the box. I should have simply told you. I'm sorry."
He stood up and moved towards the tree, but Bella reached out and caught his hand.
"Thank you," she breathed. "It just took me by surprise. I thought I would have to wait."
She bit at her lip. "But this is the best gift you could have given me. Thank you."
Edward exhaled deeply and leaned over to kiss her forehead. "I've made other arrangements, too, for both of us. Especially after what happened yesterday, we should both talk to someone."
"You're worth it."
"You are worth it," he corrected her, his eyes blazing.
She smiled a little and peered around him, gazing at a large box that was still underneath the Christmas tree.
"There's one more present. Is it for me?"
Edward nodded.
"Well, can I open it?"
"I'd rather you waited."
She frowned. "Why? Would you rather have me open it in front of your family?"
"God, no!"
He ran his fingers through his hair and then gave her a half-smile. "Sorry. It's just kind of – ah – personal. Would you wait and open it tonight? Please?"
She stood up and placed a light hand to his face. "Of course. But now I'm curious as to what's in there. Judging by the size of the box, it's not a kitten."
It was his turn to laugh. "No, it isn't a kitten. Although if you wanted a pet, I'd buy one."
She giggled and hugged him affectionately.
"So what was in the box from Peter?"
I knew that question was coming.
"A bottle of maple syrup, which I gave to Charlie. Some cheese, which I will bring with me to Carlisle's house. And a couple of toys."
Edward pulled back so he could see her face.
"Toys? Really?" He sounded sarcastic. "He knows that you're an adult, doesn't he? And didn't he give you some kind of stuffed bunny a couple of months ago? I think he has some kind of animal fixation."
Angelfucker.
"Edward, you happen to have a fixation on women's shoes. So don't start with me." Her voice held a warning.
"I've never denied my aesthetic appreciation for fine formal footwear. They're works of art, after all." He spoke somewhat primly.
"And in any case, I'm not starting anything. Not yet." His eyes twinkled impishly.
"If you must know, two of the toys were related to my thesis. He gave me a set of Dante and Beatrice action figures."
Edward's face manifested a look of intense perplexity.
"Action figures? I didn't know there were such things." His grin widened into a provocative smile. "I'd like to see them. Are they anatomically correct?"
She rolled her eyes. "Now who is being a child?!"
"I was just wondering what kind of action they are capable of participating in – privately, of course."
"Dante would be rolling over in his grave."
Edward pressed his lips to her cheek. "We could re-enact that event by taking Peter's dolls outside and burying them in the back yard."
Bella couldn't help but giggle.
"Thank you for my presents. And thank you for taking me to Italy, which was the best present of all."
"You're welcome." He cupped her face in his hands and searched her eyes for a moment before pressing their lips together.
What started as a shy, closed mouth kiss quickly escalated, until feverish, needy hands pulled and grasped at one another.
Bella stood on tip toes, pressing against his naked chest, gasping in his mouth, until Edward groaned with frustration and gently pushed himself back.
He moved his glasses so that he could rub his eyes.
"I'd rather continue what we were just doing, but Carlisle wants us to go to church with him."
"That sounds nice."
Edward replaced his glasses and shrugged. "Wouldn't a nice Catholic girl such as yourself prefer to go to Mass?"
"It's the same God. And I've gone to church with your family before." Bella searched his expression. "Don't you want to go?"
"Church is not the place for me."
She took his hand in hers, stroking the back of it. "Why not?"
"Because I am a sinner. They'll - judge me."
She looked at him earnestly.
"Edward, we're all sinners. If only holy people went to church, the churches would be empty. There wouldn't even be priests. And I doubt very much that the people in Carlisle's parish will judge you. Episcopalians tend to be pretty forgiving."
She gave him a peck on the cheek and then disappeared into the bedroom to pick out a dress.
Edward followed her into the bedroom and collapsed on the bed, watching her rifle through the hangers in the closet.
"Why do you still believe in God? Aren't you angry with him for all of the things that happened to you?"
Bella paused what she was doing in order to regard him.
He seemed very unhappy.
"Bad things happen to everyone, Edward. Why should my life be any different?"
"Because you're good."
"The universe isn't based on magic – there isn't one set of circumstances for the good and one for the evil. Everyone suffers sometime. The question is what you do with your suffering, right?"
He gazed at her impassively.
She continued. "Maybe the world would be a lot worse if God didn't exist."
He cursed softly, but didn't argue.
She sat next to him on the bed.
"Did you ever read The Brothers Karamazov?"
"It's one of my favourites."
And it was Tanya's dissertation topic before she dropped out of Harvard.
"Then you know the conversation between Alyosha, the priest, and his brother Ivan."
Edward snickered, but not unkindly. "I suppose I'm the rebellious free thinker, and you're the religious boy?"
Bella chose to ignore him and pressed on.
"Ivan gives Alyosha a list of reasons why either God doesn't exist or if he exists, that he is a monster. It's a very powerful discussion and I've spent a lot of time thinking about it. It still moves me.
"But remember how Ivan ends his discussion. He says he rejects God's creation, this world, and yet, there is at least one aspect of the world that he finds impossibly beautiful – the sticky little leaves he sees on the trees in the spring. He loves them even though he hates the world he lives in.
"It isn't faith. It isn't salvation. It's the remnant of hope. It staves off his despair and demonstrates that despite the evil he has seen in the world, there is at least one good and beautiful thing left."
She moved so that she could see Edward's expression more clearly and then very tenderly, she placed a pale hand on either side of his face.
"Edward, what are your sticky little leaves?"
Her question took him entirely by surprise. So much so that he simply sat there, staring at the brunette in front of him.
It was in moments like this that he remembered why he had initially thought she was an angel. She had a goodness about her that was rare in human beings. At least, in his experience.
"I don't know. I've never thought about it before."
"Mine was Esme. And you." She smiled at him shyly. "And even before that, there were the Salvation Army workers back in Phoenix who were kind to me when my own mother couldn't be bothered. They gave me a reason to believe."
"But what about the suffering of the innocent? Of children?" Edward's voice was barely above a whisper.
"That's Ivan's strongest argument. And he's right to use it. But what's wrong with the rest of us, Edward? Why do we allow people to abuse and mistreat their children? Why don't we defend the weak? Why do we let soldiers come and round up our neighbours and make them wear a star on their clothing and cram them into boxcars?
"Why do we stand around and do nothing while other people suffer?
"It isn't God who is evil – it's us.
"Everyone wants to know where evil comes from and why the world is riddled with it. But why doesn't anyone ask where goodness comes from? Human beings have a tremendous capacity for cruelty.
"Why are people like Esme and Carlisle so kind to others? Because there is a God and he has not allowed his Eden on earth to be entirely corrupted. There are still those sticky little leaves, if you look for them. And when you see them, you can feel his presence."
Edward closed his eyes, drinking in her words with her touch, knowing in his heart that she had spoken a very deep, very profound truth.
Try as he might, he could never stop believing; even in his darkest days the light had not gone out.
He had had the guidance of Esme and then providentially, when she died, he met his Beatrice again and she had showed him the rest of the way.
He kissed her chastely and when she left him to shower, he marvelled at her quiet brilliance. It was more than likely that she was far more intelligent than he since her intellect was marked with a true creative originality that he only dreamed of having.
And despite everything that had happened to her she had not lost faith or hope or charity.
She is not my equal; she is my better.
She is my sticky little leaf.
-
An hour later, Bella and Edward were driving from the Lodge in Sequim to St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Port Angeles.
Edward was in a black suit and white shirt, proudly wearing Bella's cufflinks, while she wore a modest plum coloured dress that skimmed the bottom of her knees, and tall black boots that he had purchased for her in Florence.
"That's a very plum dress," he whispered, pressing a kiss to the back of her hand.
Bella giggled and warned him to keep his eyes on the road.
-
When they walked through the front door of the church, they noticed that the Cullens had already arrived and were sitting in the family pew. Bella and Edward slipped in next to Jasper at the far end and were rewarded with a very warm smile from Carlisle, who was sitting next to Alice.
"Glad you could make it," Jasper whispered, winking at Edward.
"We're on time."
"Barely," Jasper snickered. "Make sure to include what delayed you in your prayers."
Bella flushed a brilliant red, even though nothing remotely like what he was implying had occurred since they arrived in Forks.
A sea of awkwardness.
That's how Edward would have described the atmosphere in which he found himself as he sat with Isabella at the end of the family pew.
He was grateful for the liturgy, the order, and the way in which Scripture and the first Book of Common Prayer were read and used in the service. He found himself contemplating his life and the steps that led him to the beautiful woman who held his hand throughout the service.
But Christmas was a celebration of birth – one birth in particular. And all around him he saw babies and children; the manger scene at the front of the church, the banners and stained glass windows, and the glowing skin of his sister-in-law who was seated on the other side of Carlisle.
In one brief, transcendent moment, Edward realized that he regretted his sterilization, not just for himself and the fact that he was no longer able to father a child, but also for Isabella.
Even though he knew it would be painful, he imagined lying in bed with a very pregnant Isabella and placing his hand on her round stomach in order to feel their child kick. He thought about holding their infant son in his arms, shocked by the array of reddish hair on his head.
His imagination startled him. It marked a complete shift in character and priority, away from the guilt and selfishness that had marked his life up until the reappearance of his Beatrice. A shift towards the permanence of a commitment to a woman with whom he wanted to create a family, with whom he wanted to have a child.
His love for Isabella had changed him in multiple ways. He just hadn't been aware of how dramatic the changes had been until he gazed at Emmett and Rosalie with a kind of wistful envy.
Those were the thoughts that occupied Edward's mind as he held Isabella's hand until it was time to participate in the Eucharist.
He was the only one in the family pew who didn't stand and file to the centre aisle in order to walk to the communion rail.
Edward watched his family intermingle with other families, young and old, men and women, healthy and infirm, as they moved towards the altar.
There was something comforting about church, he thought. Although he found the overall experience, especially the homily, convicting. He had wasted a good deal of his life – years that he could never get back.
He hadn't told Esme the things he wanted to tell her before she died.
He hadn't treated Tanya or Isabella with the dignity that they deserved.
In thinking of Tanya, Edward tore his eyes away from the dark haired woman in the pretty dress and hung his head, praying almost unconsciously for forgiveness and also for guidance in how to deal with her properly. He was walking a tightrope, he knew, between taking responsibility for his past indiscretions and eliminating her dependence on him. He prayed that she would be able to find someone who would love her and help her put the past behind her.
Edward was so deep in prayer that he didn't notice his family squeeze past him to retake their seats, or Bella's warm little hand snaked through the crook at his elbow, pressing herself soothingly to his side.
And he didn't notice the moment in the service, just before the benediction, when his father broke down into silent, shoulder shaking tears, and when Rose placed her arm around him, leaning her blonde head to his shoulder.
The kingdom of heaven is like a family, thought Bella, as she watched Alice hug Carlisle from his other side. Where love and forgiveness replace tears and suffering.
Oh God, please give me a long and happy life with Edward. I don't know how it will all work out, but I love him. And I want us to have the kind of marriage that Esme and Carlisle had.
Yes, I said it.
I want to be married and I want to marry Edward.
Even if it takes years of therapy for both of us to be ready … have mercy on me and hear my prayer.
-
After lunch, Alice marshalled her family into helping her prepare for the large and sumptuous turkey dinner that was scheduled for that evening.
Bella spoke to Charlie on the phone briefly, exacting his promise that he would arrive around three o'clock in order to participate in the gift exchange, and then she and Rose parked themselves on bar stools in the empty kitchen to peel and cut apples for a pair of pies.
Alice had cheated and bought the pastry, but had removed it from its Pillsbury packaging and placed it in between layers of plastic wrap in the refrigerator so that no one would know.
"I'm sorry you've been sick," Bella offered, trying not to gaze too pointedly between her Flirtini cocktail and Rose's ginger ale. She really didn't want to antagonize Rose while she was holding a sharp object.
Rose tossed her hair behind her shoulders and gave Bella a measured look.
"You can cut the bullshit. I know you know." She waved her paring knife carelessly towards the living room. "I know everyone knows. And I'm grateful you're all willing to play along."
"We're really happy for you and Emmett. But we don't want to upset you."
"I'm not afraid of being upset; I'm terrified that something bad is going to happen. That's why I wouldn't let Emmett tell anyone. He wanted to place a notice in The Seattle Times a month ago."
They both snickered.
"If you don't mind me asking, why are you so worried?"
Rose shrugged and focused all of her attention on apple peeling. "Edward never told you?"
"Told me what?"
Her eyes narrowed as she searched Bella's expression, and then she looked back at her apple.
"What happened to me before I met Emmett."
Bella shook her head. "You and Emmett were already together by the time I moved to Forks."
"It happened a long time ago." She sighed and finally put the knife and apple down, taking a long drink of ginger ale.
"I'm not looking for sympathy, just so you know. I'm not a victim." Her voice grew hard.
Bella nodded.
"My parents were friends with this family in Seattle, the Kings. Have you heard of them?"
"I don't think so."
"Royce Sr. was a senator, but he lost the election right around the time I had a falling out with his son." She fidgeted with her hands.
"Royce and I dated while I was in high school. We were pretty serious. I went up to Seattle one weekend to visit him at his parents' house."
She toyed absently with the ends of her long, blonde hair, staring at them as if they held a hidden, secret knowledge.
"His parents were in D.C. and he decided to have a party. He always enjoyed showing off. That's probably why he dated me in the first place. He liked the fact that other guys always noticed me. It turned him on.
"So everyone was drinking and there were some drugs. Royce pulled me into his father's library where a few of his country club friends were doing coke and he wanted me to – I don't know – pose for them.
"At first, I thought it was funny. Like he wanted me to model for them. So I did.
"But then he wanted me to take my clothes off. I said no.
"He hit me and said that he owned me. That if he wanted to fuck me in front of his friends, he'd do it."
Bella flinched and her eyes grew wide, but Rose didn't meet her gaze.
"I won't describe what happened next. Let's just say that I wound up in the hospital."
"Oh, Rose, I'm so sorry."
She straightened her spine regally. "Thank you. I appreciate that."
She placed her palm over one of the apples and rolled it across the surface of the counter.
"I thought the worst thing they could do would be to attack me. I didn't realize that what they did would make it impossible for me to get pregnant."
Bella inhaled quickly. "But you're pregnant now."
Rose looked over at her and smiled. "Yes. And the doctors have no idea how it's possible given that my – insides – are so messed up. But as they told us at our last check up, I could miscarry at any time. So I'm expecting the worst. And everyone else should expect that, too."
"Oh Rose." Bella reached across the island to take her friend's hand and surprisingly, Rose let her.
"Emmett wasn't repulsed, you know, by the rape. I told him about it right at the beginning. I thought it would scare him away. He sent me a dozen white roses and a card that said 'I'm sorry about what happened to you. I already knew that you were intelligent and beautiful – now I know that you're strong.'"
She smiled tightly and withdrew her hand. "I made him wait a long time – for everything. He never complained or got angry. That's when I knew that he was the one."
"When I was in high school, you two were always talking about getting married and having kids."
"We didn't know how bad it was until we tried to conceive. Poor Emmett. It was like a bait and switch. All we did was talk about having kids and then it turned out I couldn't. I thought for certain he'd leave me."
"But he's crazy about you."
"Yes, he is. I'm very lucky." She looked over at Bella meaningfully. "And so are you. Edward is crazy about you, isn't he?"
Bella looked down at the piles of apple peels in front of her. "I think so."
Rose snorted like a pug with a breathing problem.
"You think so? Are you kidding? Maybe you don't know what he was like before he fell for you, but the rest of us remember. Now look at him. It's sickening, really. I kind of miss the old bastard."
She winked at Bella and Bella smiled.
"And he gave you Esme's earrings. Don't think that we didn't notice."
Bella reached up to touch the diamonds in her ears. "I tried to give them back. He wouldn't take them."
Rose scowled as she picked up her paring knife once again.
"He's not going to wear them. Unless he's decided to become a cross-dresser and join the circus." She was pensive for a moment. "That would be interesting, by the way. Edward – in women's clothes – on a trapeze. Hmmmm …
"Look, Bella. Who else should he give the earrings to? That psycho bitch that barged in here yesterday? Please!"
Bella shuddered, but said nothing, ducking her head to focus entirely on peeling more apples, while Rose made quiet note of her reaction.
-
Later that afternoon, when all of the dinner preparation had ended, when the turkey was in the oven and the large dining room table had been set, the family gathered around the large Christmas tree in the living room to open gifts.
The Cullens were a generous family and so there were lots of presents, some serious, some in jest, and Bella and her father each received their fair share.
Emmett had become the disc jockey for the afternoon and had chosen a wide variety of Christmas music. Where the term Christmas music was somewhat creatively applied.
When the strains of The Pogues' Fairy Tale of New York wafted into the air, Jasper finally stood up in protest.
"What is this sh- stuff?" he asked, gesturing at the stereo.
"This is Christmas music. Deal with it."
"No songs with cuss words." Alice jerked her head in her father's direction and raised her eyebrows at Emmett. "It's Christmas, damn it."
"But the tune is catchy. And anyway, I'm sick of Vince Guaraldi. After this, it's going to be Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer." He grinned at his sister, eager to taunt her.
"I brought some music that you could play." Jasper began to walk upstairs to retrieve his compact discs before Alice gutted Emmett like a fish in front of her entire family.
"I'm not listening to country! Or western!" Emmett shouted after him.
"That's a real shame, Emmett. I've got some Hank Williams, Jr. in my truck. Sure would liven things up a little."
Everyone turned around to gaze at Charlie, who winked at Bella over the rim of his coffee mug.
Since when did my father develop a sense of humour? she thought.
"I'd be interested in that as well, Charlie," Carlisle spoke up.
Why can't my family play some music that is fucking festive? growled Edward to himself, preparing to fight Emmett for control of the stereo.
Alice ignored Emmett's painful attempt to sing along with The Pogues and walked out to the front hall.
She came back carrying a rectangular present that was wrapped in red paper with a typed label on the top. "I forgot about this one. It arrived this morning."
She plunked it down on Edward's lap.
Everyone stared.
"Who is it from?' he asked, looking at the label in confusion.
"It's not from us. Open it and see."
Edward gave Bella a hopeful look but she shook her head, biting her lip. It wasn't from her.
He frowned and began to rip off the wrapping paper. And then he slid his fingers in between the cover of the box and its bottom, separating the two.
He lifted the lid of the white box carefully.
And what he saw inside disturbed him.
There was more than one thing in the box, but when Edward pulled back the layers of white tissue paper all he saw was a picture.
A small, grainy, black and white picture.
An ultrasound picture of a baby, with a note attached to it, announcing the baby's sex and name and Edward's paternity.
He covered the photo before anyone could see it and threw the box aside as if it contained the plague.
He sprang to his feet and walked quickly to the back door, breaking into a run as he slammed the door behind him.
"So who is it from?" Emmett's voice broke the silence as Bella followed Edward.
Rose elbowed her husband in the ribs, hissing a woman's name in his ear.
--
"Edward? Edward! Please." Bella stumbled across the back porch and into the yard, jogging after her lover's retreating form.
It was snowing. Large, fat flakes of wet snow fell like feathers from the sky, beginning to blanket the grass and bare trees in cold whiteness.
She knew where he was going.
"Edward!"
He disappeared into the woods as if he didn't hear her.
She hastened her pace. She knew that if she lost sight of him she'd have to return to the house. She wouldn't risk being lost in the woods again without a coat. Or a map.
"Edward!"
When she entered the trees, she saw him. He was about fifty feet in front of her, half obscured by a large stump. He turned around slowly, this copper haired man, clad only in his suit and tie, wearing expensive Italian shoes that were surely ruined.
"You aren't wearing a coat. Go back to the house." The temperature of his voice matched the falling snow.
"I'm not leaving you."
One of her high heels caught on a branch and she pitched forward, almost falling.
Edward was in front of her in an instant, steadying her with both arms.
"I don't want to talk right now. Go back inside before you get sick."
Bella shivered in his arms. "We don't have to talk."
He released her and took a step backwards, staring at her. Hair long and curling at her shoulders, arms now crossed in front of her chest because of the cold, a light dusting of white on her head and plum coloured dress.
She looked like a snow angel. A figure one would find in a fairy tale or a snow globe, the dancing flakes hovering around her like friends.
"You're beautiful," he breathed, momentarily distracted from his sorrow by the sight in front of him.
She held her pink and naked hand out to him. "Please don't go to the meadow. It's so cold. You'll catch pneumonia."
He shook his head stubbornly and refused her hand.
"She's never going to let me go."
"She's sick, Edward. She needs help."
He laughed at her remark, but his laughter was dark.
"She tried to seduce me yesterday by offering me a blow job and today she's hell bent on exposing my past – on Christmas day at my parents' fucking house.
"Don't you understand? She thinks I've lied to you about her. That box is her way of ensuring that you leave me. And you want to help her?"
She pulled her hand back to her chest and hugged herself, shivering violently.
It had been a long time since Edward made her feel stupid. And small.
She didn't know what was in the box. He'd closed it too quickly. Now she wondered what Tanya had tucked inside …
"You deserve to have a happy life with someone who can give you all the things I can't. You should let me go." His eyes grew sad and he turned away from her.
"The only thing that would make me unhappy would be losing you. Tanya can't do that to me. Only you can."
She coughed a little as the cold air burned her throat.
Edward hung his head.
"Please go back, Isabella. I won't have your illness on my conscience."
"What about my broken heart?"
He turned around and gave her a long, searching look.
"You said that you loved me, Edward. You promised – and you didn't just promise me with words. You promised me with your body, with your eyes, with your hands. Are you going to break your promise?"
She was remarkably calm, she thought, far too upset and too afraid to cry. She would not waste her energy on tears.
"I do love you. I've never loved anyone else. But wouldn't you rather find someone who didn't have so much baggage and who can give you a child?"
Bella inhaled roughly, making an odd wheezing sound as the bracing winter air filled her lungs. "Is that what this is about? Why didn't you tell me?"
When he didn't answer, she took a step towards him.
"It isn't enough just to share your happiness, you have to share your burdens, too. Otherwise there will always be a barrier between us. And that isn't fair.
"You don't have to protect me from your thoughts or feelings, Edward. I need to hear them. And yes, someday I think I would like a child. With you.
"I'm sure there is a little boy or girl out there who is our child. We just have to find him. Esme adopted you and your brother and sister. We can do the same thing. We can have a family together and nothing Tanya says or does can keep that from happening."
Her face grew pained. "Unless you decide you don't want that. Or you don't want that with me."
"Of course I want you." His voice cracked and despite the semi-darkness, Bella saw a creeping liquid fill his eyes.
"Then stop saying goodbye to me." She reached out her hand once again, and this time he took it.
They wrapped themselves around each other, under the falling snow, shivering in each other's arms in a darkening wood.
Any tears that were shed were now shared.
-
Late that evening, Edward and Bella sat together in their pyjamas on the floor next to their Charlie Brown Christmas tree.
In the hope that her gesture would amuse Edward, (and eliminate his jealousy), Bella opened Peter's gift and placed its remaining contents on the carpet so that he could see them.
He seemed particularly enamoured with the Dante and Beatrice figurines, so much so that he decided to show Dante pursuing a little not quite chaste action with Beatrice – in a position that he had yet to try with Isabella.
She blushed and tried to look away, but it was rather like looking at the equivalent of a medieval car accident. So she couldn't.
At least he had them kiss first.
In return, Bella encouraged Edward to lay Tanya's gift out, so that all of the secrets could be revealed.
He didn't want to do it, but for her sake, he did.
He picked up the ultrasound picture in his hand and grimaced.
Bella whispered a request to look at it and he gave it to her with great, sad eyes.
"This picture can't hurt you, Edward. Even if Alice and Emmett found out, they would be compassionate. The miscarriage wasn't your fault."
She traced a finger across the curve of the baby's little head.
"You could keep this somewhere private. But she shouldn't be kept in a box. She deserves to have her picture framed. She deserves to be seen."
Edward placed his head in his hands and groaned as if he'd been struck.
She moved to place her arm around his shoulder.
"She isn't a dirty little secret; she was your daughter. You loved her and you wanted her.
"Tanya meant this picture to hurt you, but really, it's a valuable gift. You should have this picture, because you are her father."
Edward was too choked up to respond.
In search of a distraction, he reached into the box to remove the rest of the contents.
Inside, he found a very fine, very expensive made to measure Thomas Pink formal dress shirt. When he examined it more closely he realized that the shirt manifested his exact measurements.
Isabella could not have known that those shirts were a particular favourite of his and that at least two of the ones hanging in his closet in Toronto had been purchased by Tanya on previous occasions.
The shirt alone would have been an extravagant gift but there was something else – something small and shiny in the double cuffs of the white shirt.
Cufflinks.
Staring up at him against the luxurious cotton of the shirt were a pair of gold cufflinks featuring the shield of Magdalen College.
With a mere glance, Edward divined two facts. First, Tanya would have spent several hundred British pounds on those cufflinks. Second, this was Tanya's way of asserting their shared history – a history Bella could not partake in.
Edward hastily covered the shirt with tissue paper, trying to hide the cufflinks from Bella's eyes, but it was too late. She had already seen them.
And from the look on her face as she thought of the modest silver ones she had given him in contrast to the large gold ones Tanya had purchased, Edward could see that she was upset.
"I'm going to send it all back." He placed the shirt back in the box, ignoring the card that Tanya had enclosed. "I'll keep the ultrasound picture, but everything else will be returned."
Bella nodded and handed the photograph back to him.
He stroked her face with his hand and kissed her softly, trying to say without the overused word that he was very, very sorry.
She knew that he was.
She also knew that it would take time for both of them to process everything and so she changed the subject.
"Can I open my present now?"
"Of course."
Edward placed the last gift in Bella's hands and then began rubbing his chin nervously.
When she saw what was inside, she realized why he was so nervous.
It was lingerie.
But not ordinary lingerie.
Edward had bought her a corset.
The corset itself was Victorian in style and elegant in the extreme. It was made of midnight blue satin with black lace detailing and boasted black ribbon laces in the back.
It was very beautiful and very, very sexy.
She held it up in surprise and he looked for her reaction eagerly.
"There's more," he said quietly.
Underneath the corset she found a pair of tiny black lace panties, a pair of black silk sheer stockings and a black lace garter belt.
And truly, that would have been enough.
Except the gift was from Edward.
Which meant that he had chosen a pair of shoes to complete the ensemble.
Bella picked up a pair of black Valentino d'Orsay pumps that had large bows on the toes.
"It's a selfish gift. We joked about corsets once and I ordered this from a designer in Paris. I thought the blue would look magnificent against your skin.
But you don't have to keep them. Everything can be returned. I'm sure that after the past two days wearing something like this would be the last thing you would want to do. Especially with me."
Edward's mood shifted further into depression as he recalled their uncomfortable tiff last night.
She smiled at him sweetly and leaned over to kiss him.
"Thank you," she murmured against his lips. "For all of it. And I promise I will wear it."
"You will?"
She looked down at the corset and ran her fingertips down the delicate boning that gave it its shape.
"I'll have to give myself a pep talk before I wear it, but I think it's very feminine and very pretty. And I love the shoes. Thank you."
Edward's shoulders relaxed and he breathed deeply.
He wanted to ask her to try it on immediately. He wanted to see her in those shoes … perhaps perched atop the bathroom counter with him between her legs … but he kept his fantasies to himself.
"Um, I need to explain something." Bella placed all of the items back in the box and then closed the lid, cradling the present in her lap.
"I can't wear this tonight."
"That's alright. Some other time." Edward hid his disappointment well, behind a smile.
"It will be a little while before I can wear all of it."
"Whenever you're comfortable, you can surprise me." He gave her a quick peck on the cheek and then took her hand in his, caressing her palm with his thumb.
"I tried to explain this to you last night but, uh, I didn't quite finish."
He stilled as he waited for her to spit it out.
"Um, I'm having my period."
Edward's mouth dropped open slightly and then he closed it.
He blinked a few times.
Truthfully, he'd never been happier to hear about a woman's cycle before.
He pushed the box aside and lifted her so that she was seated on his lap, embracing her warmly.
"That wasn't the reaction I was expecting." Bella's voice was muffled by his chest as he hugged her tightly.
"So it wasn't that you – were upset with me about Tanya? Or that you didn't want me?" His voice telegraphed his doubt.
"I wasn't happy about what happened yesterday, but that didn't prevent me from wanting you. Of course I want you. You're you. You're handsome and sexy and you always make me feel special when we make love. And beautiful.
But right now, I'm just not going to – go there. Or actually, have you go there. Uh, you know what I mean." She grew flustered and felt her cheeks flame.
Edward kissed her forehead and chuckled to himself. "Not to worry. I have other plans for you this evening. I think it's time we both relaxed and simply enjoyed one another."
He drew her to her feet and led her by the hand to the spacious washroom, pausing to press play on the stereo. The strains of Sting's Until began to fill the room as they disappeared through the door.
-
The woman held her sleeping baby in her arms, holding her close in a darkened nursery.
The walls were painted a soft yellow, contrasting nicely with the white crib, the pink gingham crib skirt, and the beautiful Degas print of ballerinas that hung proudly on the wall.
It was the sanctuary of a little princess.
The baby stirred and yawned, her little rosebud mouth opening and closing, and then she began to root against her mother's chest, searching for nourishment.
The woman pulled the strap of her simple white nightgown off her shoulder in order to expose her left breast.
But the child wouldn't feed.
The child began to struggle in her arms.
She gently tried to guide the infant to latch, eager to feed her, but it was as if the baby was seized by incredible strength.
The infant writhed and struggled like a toddler in her arms and then, with a heart-stopping thud, fell to the floor.
The woman screamed and picked the baby up, shaking in horror.
As she cradled her little girl to her chest once again, she saw that the baby's face had gone white.
She was motionless.
And cold.
With a blood-curdling cry, the cry of Rachel weeping for her children, the woman pressed her dead child to her heart, rocking back and forth, begging God for mercy …
And then suddenly, all too suddenly, she sat up, wide awake in a strange bed, covered in a cold sweat.
No amount of repetition made the dream vary in its events or its terror. No amount of vodka or pills could remove the ache in her chest or the tears from her eyes.
She reached for the bottle by the bed, knocking the hotel's alarm clock off the nightstand.
A few shots and a few small, blue pills and she would fall asleep again, letting the darkness take her.
She could not be comforted.
Other women could have a second child to assuage the loss of their first. But she would never bear a child. And the father of her lost baby no longer wanted her.
He was the only man she ever loved and she had loved him from afar and then she had loved him close by, but he had never wanted her.
Not really.
He was only far too noble to cast her off like the used piece of goods she was.
As she sobbed into her pillow, her head spinning, she mourned a double loss aloud –
Maia …
Edward...
-
Relevant Story Links:
Chagall – Lover‟s In The Moonlight
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a0Q5-YfuhXQ Sting – Moonlight
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TY4Zl8TeP8g&feature=related Sting – Until
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wjEIP6otc4Y&feature=fvw The Pogues – Fairy Tale of New York

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