capitolo trenta

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capitolo trenta

Messaggio  simona80 il Mer 09 Mar 2011, 01:44

Chapter Thirty
While Tanya was retching into the toilet in the Fairmont Olympic Hotel she was seized by a sudden longing.
It was more than likely that her parents would drive her from the house or at the very least, slam the door in her face. She hadn't been a very good daughter. She'd been a disgrace, actually, and had squandered her parents' money and her own opportunities on drugs and alcohol and Edward.
Not necessarily in that order.
But it was Christmas and she was alone. Even the possibility of being rejected by her family seemed preferable to drinking herself into oblivion in a cold, impersonal hotel room.
Perhaps her parents would allow her to stay the night and see her younger sisters. She wouldn't have to sleep at the house. She could stay at a hotel. She wouldn't even bother asking if she could stay for dinner.
She wiped the vomit from her mouth and stumbled to her feet, leaning her hands against the marble counter.
Looking in the mirror all she could see was the reflection of her parents' disappointment. But perhaps they would overlook it for a couple of hours … and then she could slink back into the night and return to Boston.
This Christmas was different. This Christmas, Edward was no longer a possibility. And all her friends in Boston were busy with their families or lovers. And the lovers she had used to occupy her time had all gone their own ways and had moved on either to happiness or to self-destruction.
She had no lover, no Ph.D., no baby, and most painfully, no more contact with Edward.
She looked at herself in the mirror and resolved not to spend Christmas alone, no matter what awaited her in Alaska.
Later that evening, the taxi drove away, leaving the tall, blonde woman to walk up the long path to the front door.
She sighed and pulled her coat more tightly around her thin body, and her fashionable wool hat further down over her ears. And then she straightened her spine and picked up her two bags and began trudging towards the small house.
An older woman with stooped shoulders was looking absently through her kitchen window into the front yard while she peeled potatoes.
When the blonde was still a long way off, the old woman saw her, appearing out of the darkness like an angel.
She ran outside immediately, not bothering to change her simple house shoes for boots or to grab her heavy coat.
She ran unsteadily in the crunchy snow until she met the blonde halfway down the shovelled path.
The blonde stopped, hesitating.
The old woman wrapped her arms around the blonde's neck and kissed her, happy tears coursing down her face.
"Mamochka," cried the blonde, as a sob escaped her throat.
"Golubka moya," responded her mother, hugging her again and rocking her slightly back and forth.
Tanya and her mother stood in the deep Alaskan snow, crying bittersweet tears on Christmas Day until the rest of their family came outside to join them.
Tanya was finally home.
Professor Felix Pacciani wasn't virtuous, but he was clever. And tricky.
He didn't believe Angela Webber when she declared that she was willing to meet him for a sexual rendezvous and so in order to ensure that their liaison actually happened, he withheld the name of Professor Masen's Canadian fidanzata.
On the condition that Angela meet him in Madrid in February, when he would tell her everything.
Angela was unwilling to wait that long or to sleep with him once again in order to ferret out that information and so she didn't respond to his last email, choosing rather to regroup and plan an alternative way of discovering the fiancée's name.
It could be said that she was jealous and that this was her primary reason for wondering who had successfully captured the Professor's attention when she had failed (inexplicably).
It could be said that she had begun to nurse a suspicion about a certain doe-eyed brunette, ever since she and Professor Masen had almost come to blows in the Dante seminar over a mistress called Tanya.
But perhaps the most accurate explanation was her new and rather prurient fascination with the rumours she had heard about Professor Singer and her not so secret lifestyle. When Professor Masen embraced her after his lecture at the University of Toronto, it set a good number of tongues wagging.
Perhaps Felix was wrong. Perhaps the Professor did not have a fidanzata after all. Perhaps he had a Mistress.
In order to solve this very juicy mystery, Angela contacted an old flame from Florence who was a journalist, hoping that he or one of his colleagues would have information about Professor Masen's lecture and his
personal life. While she waited for a response to her enquiry, she focused on an information source that was a little closer to home.
In the Vestibule, all sins would be revealed.
It should have been obvious. Professor Masen's marked absence from Lobby began the evening she tried to seduce him. So his relationship with his fiancée must have begun around that time or shortly thereafter. Previously, he had not cared who he hooked up with or when.
Or perhaps he and his fiancée had been involved only causally until that fateful night.
It was always possible that the Professor was far from monogamous in his relationship and that he had had a fiancée all along, although such an attachment would have likely made the rounds of the rumour mill.
Whatever the true situation, Angela's way forward was abundantly clear. It was a good deal more than likely that the Professor and his fiancée had attended Lobby together sometime over the course of the winter semester, since it appeared to be his watering hole of choice. All she needed to do was to contact someone who worked at the club and pump them for information.
And video footage from the security cameras.
"No way in hell, Angela. I don't care what you want or what you're offering, I'm not going to help you." Lauren Mallory's voice was shrill, so much so that Angela had to pull her Blackberry away from her ear in order to avoid permanent hearing loss.
Angela knew better than to argue with her former best friend. There was too much bad blood between them because of Benjamin, Lauren's brother. Lauren wouldn't help her.
And Laurent, who was the head of security, had a serious girlfriend, which meant that he wouldn't be ripe for the picking. His fidelity to Irina was well known.
And more than one of the bartenders was gay.
Which left Lucas.
Lucas was a computer geek who assisted Laurent with security at the club but only in a technical capacity. Nevertheless, it was Lucas who had access to all of the video recordings from the security cameras and it was Lucas who rather enthusiastically agreed to let Angela into the club after hours so that they could sift through CD upon CD of footage starting with September 2009, together.
And that was how Angela found herself sitting on the vanity in the women's washroom with Lucas pounding into her on a Sunday morning when she should have been in church.
Edward and Bella arrived back in Toronto late in the evening on January 1st. They went to Bella's apartment directly so that she could drop off some things and retrieve some clean clothes.
Or so Edward thought.
With the taxi waiting at the curb for them to return, he stood in the middle of Bella's cold and shabby apartment expecting her to pack an overnight bag.
She didn't.
"This is my home. I've been gone for three weeks. I need to do laundry and get settled and then I need to work on my thesis tomorrow. Classes start on Monday."
Edward's face grew very dark very quickly.
"Yes, I know that classes begin on Monday." His tone was clipped and almost offended. "But it's freezing in here. You don't have any food and I don't want to sleep without you. Come home with me tonight and then you can return tomorrow."
"If I stay with you tonight, I won't want to leave. And then we'll make love all day tomorrow and I won't get any work done."
"That is the general idea, yes." Edward smiled at her, not unkindly. "We have some catching up to do."
She shook her head stubbornly and began unpacking her suitcase.
He took one look at her activities and then strode through the apartment door, closing it somewhat loudly behind him.
Bella hadn't expected him to leave in a fit of temper.
Should she go after him? Should she call him?
Should I give in?
She had just pulled out her phone to call him when he opened her door, suitcase in hand.
"What are you doing?"
"Keeping you warm."
Bella could tell that he was annoyed and she worried that he was a little cross, too.
Edward placed his suitcase down and then disappeared into the bathroom, closing the door behind him. He emerged a few minutes later with his shirt untucked and unbuttoned, muttering something about having successfully turned on her damned electric heater.
"Why would you want to stay?" she blurted out.
His expression mirrored hers.
"Did you really think I'd let you stay here alone? After everything that transpired between us these past few weeks?" he growled grumpily. "Would you rather I leave?"
"Of course not! But your apartment is so much more comfortable. It's cold here and you're probably tired ..."
"I am not accustomed to sleeping without you and I refuse to start tonight." He shook his head, still muttering to himself, and then proceeded to undress unashamedly without further conversation.
While Bella used the bathroom, Edward found himself looking at some of the things she had displayed on her card table – the book containing the Botticelli reproductions he had given her, a pillar candle, a book of matches, and the photo album of pictures he had taken of her that one magical day.
As he leafed through the album he found himself impossibly aroused. She had promised to pose for him again. She wanted him to photograph her.
A month earlier he never would have believed that such a thing could come to pass. She'd been so timid, so nervous, so afraid.
He recalled the look she had when he had taken her to his bedroom after their horrible argument in his seminar. Thinking of Isabella's eyes, large and terrified, and the way her body trembled under his hands, diminished his arousal.
He didn't deserve her. He knew that. But her own perceived unworthiness prevented her from seeing that truth.
He shook his head as if to clear the negative thoughts from his mind and focused on one photograph in particular – Isabella in profile with his hand on her shoulder, his other hand holding up her hair, while he pressed his lips to the nape of her neck.
She was unaware of the fact that he had a copy of that same picture hiding in his closet, large and framed. He had never displayed it on his bedroom wall for he was worried about her reaction. But when he returned to his apartment tomorrow, hanging that photograph would be his first task.
The thought alone was more than enough to fuel his desire and so he took the candle and struck a match to light it, placing it on the windowsill before turning out the lights.
A romantic glow fell over the bed just as Bella entered the now darkened space.
He sat on the edge of her narrow bed, completely naked, while she stood agape, clutching a pair of worn flannel pyjamas.
"What are you doing?" He glanced with disguised distaste at her sleepwear.
She blushed and looked down at the profusion of plaid in her hands.
"I'm trying to decide what to wear."
Edward stared at her intensely.
"Come here."
She walked over to him and he reached out a hand to take the pyjamas from her, tossing them aside quickly. "You don't need these. You don't need to wear anything. Come to bed with me."
"But my bed is so small. There isn't enough room for sex," she whispered, somewhat embarrassed. Her naked sex god boyfriend was sitting on her tiny cot, begging her to go to bed with him, and she was making excuses.
But how was it going to work?
Edward's eyes grew even more heated. "Perhaps there isn't enough space for sex. But there is more than enough room for me to make love to you. Now come to bed."
Bella grew warm at his words and proceeded to disrobe slowly in front of him, placing her clothes on one of the folding chairs.
When she was finished he paused her movement toward the bed and placed his hands on the top of her head, almost as if he were blessing her.
"You're even more beautiful tonight, Isabella."
He began to touch her as she stood before him, drifting his fingers through her long hair to her face, where he caressed her eyebrows and cheekbones.
His eyes remained stubbornly fixed on hers, their fire searing into Bella's consciousness.
In her whole life, no one else had ever looked at her like that. Like a green tractor beam that immobilized her and pulled her in. Like she was the only woman in the room, in the world; the only woman ever.
Like she was Eve.
Something of the old Professor Masen was visible now, especially in his gaze, which was raw and sexual.
He wanted her desperately, of that there could be no doubt.
She closed her eyes briefly and then his hands moved from her neck to her face, pausing for a moment.
"Open your eyes."
She opened them and gasped at the hunger reflected back at her. A week without sex had done this to him, she thought. He was like a lion, eager to feed but still wisely stalking his prey. He didn't want to scare her off.
And she was helpless under his hands.
"Have you missed me touching you like this?"
Bella's affirmation escaped her mouth as a throaty moan.
Edward's chest swelled with satisfaction.
It was a long journey from her face to her knees and he seemed to enjoy it, pausing slowly at different parts, his touch light but sensual. She felt flushed and warm beneath his gentle fingers, despite the coldness of the room.
Although as soon as she thought of the cold, she shivered.
Edward stopped his explorations immediately, despite the fact that he wasn't finished, and moved aside to allow her to crawl into bed, closest to the wall. He pressed his chest to her back, pulling the purple duvet over their naked bodies.
His skin was warm, much warmer than hers. And her shivering soon subsided as she made fuller contact with his heated flesh.
He kissed her neck and left shoulder repeatedly, moving his hand up and down her body, teasing her.
And then he moved forward so that his entire body was flush with hers, close, very close. So close in fact that …
Bella stiffened.
Edward rested his hand on the flat of her abdomen.
"Relax." His voice practically scorched her ear. "This is a very comfortable position. It's very intimate."
When she didn't respond, he continued.
"Unless you don't want to. Perhaps I've misunderstood."
Edward loosened his grasp, suddenly apprehensive. If she rejected him again, he'd try to be understanding, of course. He would not behave like a spoilt child.
But it would upset him. Greatly.
"Please be gentle. I've never – no one has ever …" She wasn't rejecting him, but the tension didn't leave her body.
"Of course you've never done this before, darling. I know I'm your first." He chuckled softly. "And I'll always be gentle with you."
Edward hummed as he continued adoring the back of her neck, moving his hand down to her left hip so that he could draw her leg back slightly.
Bella's concern was telegraphed by her nerves until it shot across the surface of her skin. He felt it beneath his fingers.
But her concern was irrational.
Or so it seemed...
Edward pushed himself up on an elbow so that he could reach her mouth. He kissed her passionately, but with tenderness, and then he looked down into wide, worried eyes.
"What's wrong?"
When she didn't answer and her eyes darted down to the way their bodies were entwined, he pressed her, a finger tracing the end of her chin.
"Tell me."
She smiled thinly in response but he recognized her smile for what it was – a weak, conciliatory façade.
As he reflected on her previous word choice, coupled with the position of their bodies, he was seized by a sudden illumination.
She thinks I'm going to...
His expression hardened.
"Isabella, I would never initiate something like that without discussing it with you first. That isn't something a couple can just jump into on a whim."
He grimaced sharply. She was far too compliant. Would she really have let him? Without discussion or preparation?
She had no idea what she was acquiescing to and the mere idea that she would be so naively indiscriminant disturbed him.
"You don't want to see my face. I thought you wanted…" Her voice was quiet, barely above a whisper.
And it slashed through Edward's heart like a razor.
"Darling," he reproved her, his face contorting momentarily as his eyes screwed shut.
He brought his nose to hers and nuzzled her gently, like a repentant horse.
"Of course I want to see your face. I love you. I simply wanted to make love to you in a new position. One that would allow me – better access to your beautiful body with my hands and a way to hold you close while I'm inside you. Just normal love making, my dear. Nothing new or exotic."
A soft kiss on her cheek nearly took her breath away.
"I'm not sure you truly believe that I love you."
It wasn't a criticism. Not really. Just a whispered lament.
He hadn't meant to give voice to his suspicion, but the words had tumbled out nonetheless.
"I believe that you love me. I just don't know what's normal - for a couple like us." Bella whispered back.
"What is normal for us – what should be normal for us is that we give ourselves to each other freely because we love each other.
"And that we never take advantage of our love by making extraordinary sexual demands in exchange for intimacy. Especially after we've been apart."
Edward kissed her once again and then he fell to petting her hair a little; the slow, soothing motion of a captivated lover.
"I've missed making love with you this week. So much. I felt so far away from you."
"I've missed you, too."
Edward smiled his relief.
"Then let me give to you tonight. Let me show you how much I've missed you."
A sigh left her lips and he felt her body relax in his arms.
Edward returned to his place behind her, allowing his left hand to wander over her curves.
"I love you." His lips pulled wetly at her neck and he moved his right hand to cup her head, coaxing her to lean against his palm instead of the pillow.
He wanted to cradle her, to caress her, and then to consume her.
"It was tortuous not to touch you like this."
"It was tortuous not to feel you touching me." The stirrings of desire in Bella's voice set fire to his blood.
But he would not rush.
When she was more than ready he entered her gently, a whispered warning disclosing his intention so that they could move together.
She strained to give him her lips and he explored her mouth hungrily, before the angle became too much and he had to be satisfied with worshipping her neck.
Since he couldn't see her face, Edward had to use his other senses to read Isabella's reactions.
And read them he did: every gasp and inhalation, the way she moved her hand to cup part of his backside as he moved against her, the temperature of her skin as it began to rise and the rhythm of her hips, especially when he drew her lower leg over his to allow him to enter her more deeply.
He moved slowly, focusing on her pleasure as he promised, a tender, comfortable rhythm that initially matched the patient flicker of the candlelight.
His lips moved to the curve of her ear so that he could whisper to her in between unstifled groans.
"So beautiful…"
"So soft in my arms."
"Feel what you do to me."
"You undo me. Completely."
"Please, Isabella. Don't stay away from me."
His wavelike motions extended for some time until the flame of her desire burned white and hot. Only then did he thrust with a quicker purpose until she was panting his name and finally shuddering beside him.
And then silent.
After he found his own climax, he held her tightly in his arms, each of them unwilling to break their connection.
"Baby?" Edward was drunk with pleasure, his endearment slightly slurred.
Bella hummed and stretched, curling her arm around his hip to press him closer to her.
"Did I please you?"
She giggled. "Now I know why the Beatrice action figure was so happy with her Dante after your Christmas demonstration. I had no idea what I was missing."
Edward chuckled and kissed her cheek. "Good."
"I prefer to see your eyes, though."
"Me, too. But it heightens the other senses when one is dulled. And cuddling is a very important component to making love."
"I would never have pegged you as a cuddler, Professor Masen."
Edward drew some skin from her neck into his mouth, sucking it lightly.
"I have become a great many things since you made me your lover." He sighed and placed his face in her hair, inhaling deeply of her scent. "Sometimes I wonder if you realize how much you've changed me. It's no less than miraculous."
"I'm no miracle worker, Edward."
"Love covers a multitude of sins, Isabella."
Bella had almost drifted off to sleep, warm and secure in Edward's arms, when his voice broke into her hazy thoughts.
"Charlie told me about what happened at the Forks diner."
That remark drew her out of her sated haze.
She was glad he was spooned behind her. She didn't want to see his expression.
"He told me that your former roommate called you names and threatened you." He was whispering in her ear, trying to sound relaxed. "Is that what happened?"
In the hope of ending the conversation, Bella hastily described her altercation with Leah, choosing to leave out the part in which she had mocked Bella's sexual encounters with him in front of half of the population of Forks.
That's when Edward rolled her onto her back so he could see her face.
"Why didn't you push her? Curse her out?"
"I don't go around assaulting people. And what could I say? The damage had already been done. Cursing her would have made it worse, and given everyone more of a freak show."
Edward swore loudly.
"Bella, did you just sit there and take it?"
She chewed at her bottom lip. She hated it when he was angry. Even if he wasn't angry with her.
"Why? Why would you do nothing?"
"My father was nearby. He would have been embarrassed enough."
Edward brought his lips together into a tight, red line.
"That's ridiculous. He would have wanted you to defend yourself. The same thing happened at Starbucks, didn't it, when Angela was rude to you and I showed up?"
She nodded reluctantly.
Edward sat back on his knees, throwing his arms up in frustration. "Why won't you ever fight back?"
Bella didn't answer him because she didn't have an answer herself.
The situation with Angela was a case in which she had chosen to do nothing. And really, Bella hadn't thought that Angela would hurt her physically.
The situation with Leah was completely different. Bella had been so ashamed she had just wanted to hide.
"It seems that the only person you've ever fought back against is me. You stood up to me when we were at the Vestibule and you ripped me to shreds in my seminar. But you let everyone else walk all over you."
A pang of guilt rippled across Bella's heart.
"I'm not complaining - I want you to stand up to me. But I want you stop being so compliant with everyone else."
Edward sighed and kissed her forehead, nuzzling her nose once again.
"You are my sticky little leaf.
"My beautiful, sad, sticky little leaf and I want to see you happy and whole. So I want you to promise me something."
Bella looked up at him expectantly.
"I want you to promise me that the next time someone attacks you, verbally or otherwise, you will fight back. That you will do something. Even if it's just saying no or stop. Will you do that?
"For me, if not for yourself?"
Bella saw genuine concern in Edward's troubled eyes and she nodded her acquiescence.
He leaned over to blow out the candle and then he moved her so that she could recline on his chest.
In Bella's narrow bed in her small kitchenless studio, Edward ran his fingers through the long, loose curls that spilled across his naked upper body.
"Lost and insecure
you found me, you found me
Lying on the floor
surrounded, surrounded
Why'd you have to wait?
Where were you?
Just a little late
You found me, you found me
Why'd you have to wait
to find me ..."
She must have fallen asleep. Somehow, Bella awoke to the sound of Edward singing softly to himself. She didn't recognize the song, although she recognized the sentiment behind it.
She opened her eyes and pressed her lips to his chest, kissing over his pectorals and light chest hair to his tattoo.
"It wasn't too late, Edward. We found each other in time. Things are so much better now, even though neither of us is perfect."
She initiated their love making this time. Her hands explored his body, her eyes alive with need, until they conjoined wordlessly.
Edward's body arched lovingly over hers like a banner, his eyes fixed on her face.
The silent air of her tiny studio was broken only by heavy breathing and occasionally muffled pants.
And her own voice moaning to a fevered pitch.
It was a subtle language – this shared language of lovers; the reciprocation of sigh and groan, anticipation growing and feeding until groans became cries and cries became sighs once more.
Edward's body covered hers completely, a delicious weight of man and sweat and naked skin upon naked skin.
This was the joy that the world sought – sacred and pagan all at once. A union between two dissimilars into a seamless one.
A picture of love and deep satisfaction.
An ecstatic glimpse of the beatific vision.
Before Edward withdrew from her, he pressed one more kiss to her cheek.
"Do you see what we can become together?" he whispered as he smoothed damp hair away from her face.
She smiled in agreement.
"Never make me sleep alone again."
Unfortunately, poor Professor Masen's demand was not met.
Over an extremely pretentious Sunday Brunch at the Four Seasons, Isabella patiently explained why she couldn't spend every night in Edward's bed.
He had to admit that she had a point.
Bella was under tremendous pressure to complete her thesis by mid-March and Katherine Picton was already pushing her to turn in her chapters more quickly. Quicker chapters would make it easier to speak more specifically about Bella's abilities to Garrett Armstrong, the Chair of the Department of Romance Languages at Harvard, should he follow up on her reference letter.
And Bella couldn't concentrate when Edward was around. Her cheeks grew pink and her voice grew soft when she explained why.
Something about green eyes and a fit body and sexual pyrotechnics and a chemistry that vibrated in the air between them, which kept her from focusing on the tasks at hand.
Edward was extremely flattered.
So they worked out a compromise. There would be telephone calls and texts and the occasional Gmail, but apart from a lunch or dinner here or there during the week, Bella would stay at her apartment. Until Friday afternoon, when she would arrive at Edward's in order to spend the weekend with him.
Neither of them were overjoyed at the arrangement, but the life of a graduate student was rather akin to that of an indentured servant. And of this, Edward was well aware.
On Wednesday night, long after her Aquinas seminar was finished, Bella found herself falling asleep to the sound of Edward's voice on her phone. So she started asking questions about his childhood in order to stay awake.
"What was Christmas like when you were a little boy?" Bella yawned into her iPhone impolitely.
Edward's body stiffened, but of course she couldn't see that.
"I don't remember."
"Did you celebrate Christmas with your mother?"
"I'm sorry." She paused in order to change the subject. "Professor Leaming's Aquinas seminar is very good. Except that Angela Webber is in the class. All she does is show off in front of everyone and glare at me occasionally."
Edward inhaled deeply.
"My father bought my mother an apartment in Chicago while she was his mistress. When she became pregnant he stopped paying the fees on it. She sold off the expensive gifts he had given her and most of the furnishings in order to keep it. But without a job, that didn't last too long. She had to sell it one Christmas."
"Oh, Edward. I'm so sorry. How old were you?"
"I think I was five. Or four. I can't remember. Because there was an influx of cash that year I actually received a few Christmas presents. Usually, she ignored the changing of the seasons. They meant nothing to her."
Bella bit her lip sadly.
"That Christmas I received a model train set and a coffee table book on the art of Michelangelo."
"A coffee table book is a very strange gift for a five year old boy."
"I think my mother just saw it lying around and decided to wrap it up.
"She hired the toy shop owner to come over to our new apartment to set up the train set. She was too out of it to do it herself. Although at that age, I still had expectations. Expectations that were never met."
"Edward, I shouldn't have brought it up. I'm sorry."
"I later learned that the book was a gift from my father to my mother when he bought the apartment. I'm sure he thought it gave the space the right sort of look." Edward's voice was bitter.
"I'll bet Michelangelo inspired you to study all things Italian. It probably led you to Dante."
And to me.
Edward didn't comment.
Later that evening, he was sprawled across his spacious medieval bed, staring at the large photograph of Bella that he had hung recently on the wall.
He couldn't sleep. Each night was the same, staring at the picture or at Holiday's painting, or staring out the south-facing windows at the skyline.
How was he ever going to survive the next academic year if Isabella went to Harvard?
I won't.
Edward had comforted Isabella in her anxiety over next year while they were in Umbria, but he hadn't spent an extraordinary amount of time thinking about their possible separation.
Until he slept alone three nights in a row. Three nights that were three too many.
Now he realized his own loneliness and as he stared at Isabella's picture once again, he began to develop a strategy for ensuring that they would not be separated.
The strategy cheered him considerably and eventually he fell into a peaceful sleep.
The following night, Bella telephoned Edward well past eleven o'clock, just before she retired for the evening.
"I finished the book you lent me."
"That was quick. How did you manage that?"
"I'm loneliest when I go to bed at night. I've been reading a little to help me fall asleep." She sounded shy all of a sudden.
Edward smiled to himself. "I've missed you, too. So how was the book?"
Bella pondered a moment as she tried to put her reaction into words.
"I'm not sure why Esme liked it so much."
"Well, it's a love story. A really passionate, romantic love story. But when they convert to Christianity, they look back on their love with a kind of criticism. They seem to think that their love was pagan – that they made idols of one another. It made me sad."
"I'm sorry it saddened you. I haven't read it, although Esme used to talk about it. Can you see why she liked it?"
"Parts of it …"
"Think of the great romantic tragedies of literature. Some of them describe unrequited love, such as A Tale of Two Cities. Some of them involve tragic endings, such as Romeo and Juliet. And some of them involve dark, twisted obsessions, such as Wuthering Heights.
"The story you've described is requited and consummated. They get married. That doesn't sound tragic. It's just that their views of the world change when their lives take on a spiritual dimension."
"But why should they? How could love be pagan, Edward? The greatest of these is love?"
Edward chuckled. "You're asking me that question? You surprise me, Miss Swan. I thought that I was the pagan in this relationship."
"Edward," she reproved him gently. "You told me yourself that you aren't a pagan."
He sighed thoughtfully. "So I did."
"So? Explain it to me."
"Your Scriptural quotation isn't quite right. It isn't – the greatest of these is love in the common sense understanding – it's the greatest of these is charity. And charity or agape is not romantic love. I mentioned something of the sort in my lecture in Florence.
"I'm sure Jennifer Leaming will address this topic in her seminar, but you know as well as I do that Dante and Aquinas view God as the only thing, the only person in the universe who can satisfy the longings of the soul. This is Dante's implicit critique of Paolo and Francesca's sin. They forego a higher good – the love of God – for the love of a human being. And of course, there's no comparison."
"Paolo and Francesca were adulterers. They shouldn't have fallen in love with each other in the first place."
"That's true. But even if they were just unmarried lovers, Dante's criticism would be the same. If they love one another to the exclusion of everything and everyone else, if they believe that their love is the only thing worth having or living for, if they deny their need for God, then their love is pagan. They have made pagan idols of one another and their love.
"And they're also very foolish. Because no human being and no love affair can ever make another human being completely happy and satisfied all the time. Human beings are far too imperfect for that."
Bella was stunned.
Although there were aspects of Edward's explanation that she knew already, it truly surprised her to hear such words from his lips.
It appeared that she was a pagan about her love of Edward and she hadn't even realized it. Moreover, Edward seemed to have a much less exalted view of their attachment. And this shocked her.
"Isabella? Are you still there?"
She cleared her throat. "Yes."
"It's just a theory, Isabella, like any other theory. You don't have to believe it. And it has nothing to do with us." He spoke the words, but his unease remained. He knew that he had made an idol of Isabella, his Beatrice. That was why he was so adamant that they not be separated next year. No denial or sophisticated rhetoric could make these facts false.
And truthfully, given all the time he had spent in a twelve-step program that encouraged him to focus on his higher power and not himself, his lovers or his family, he knew better.
"So why did Esme like this book? I still don't understand."
Edward sighed into the phone.
"I don't know. But I can guess that when she first started dating Carlisle, after being in an abusive relationship with someone else, she viewed him as a saviour. He rescued her and he protected her and then he married her. They rode off into the sunset of Seattle."
"Carlisle is a good man," Bella murmured.
"He is. The best of men. But Carlisle is not a god. He isn't an angel or a magician. And if she married him thinking that all of her troubles and baggage would disappear because of his perfection, their relationship would not have lasted. She would have been disillusioned eventually and she would have left him in order to find someone else to make her happy.
"Maybe she liked that book because it taught her to look beyond her marriage for fulfilment. And then once she found it, she was able to bring that happiness back to her marriage.
"Perhaps the reason why Carlisle and Esme were so happily married was because they had realistic expectations; they didn't expect one another to meet all of their needs. It would also explain why a spiritual dimension was so important to each of them. Why they tried to raise us in the church."
"Maybe you're right, Edward." She laughed a little. "It seems that my book is a lot different from the Graham Greene novel you were reading."
"They aren't so different."
"Your novel is about an affair and a man who hates God. I wikied it."
Edward resisted the urge to growl.
"Don't wiki things, Isabella. You know that website is unreliable."
Bella laughed at him.
"Yes, Professor Masen," she purred.
Edward groaned inaudibly. She had this uncanny ability to go from intellectual heavyweight to flirtatious kitten in the blink of an eyelash. And it made their current separation all the more painful – for him.
"Why do you think Greene's protagonist hates God? Because his lover gave him up for God. We both read a novel about pagans, Isabella. It's just that the endings were rather different."
"I'm not sure they were so different."
Edward smiled at her in spite of himself. "I think it's a bit late for us to be having this conversation, darling. I'm sure you're tired and I have some paperwork I need to do."
"I love you, Edward. Madly."
Something about the way her little voice sounded in his ear made his heart quicken.
"I love you, too. I love you far too much, I'm sure. But I don't know how to love you any other way." His final words were a whisper, but they burned in the air.
"I don't know how to love you any other way, either," she whispered back.
"Then God have mercy on us both, Isabella."
Snowfall in the city is very different from snowfall in the country, thought Bella, as she and her sweetheart walked through the cascading snow to his building so that he could pick up his car. Tonight would be an evening of celebration at a fancy French restaurant, Auberge du Pommier.
They had just had their first appointments (separately) with professional counsellors and strangely enough, they both felt giddy and happy and eager to celebrate the end of their first week back at the University.
Edward tugged on Bella's arm and pulled her into the doorway of a shop, kissing her firmly as he backed her into a wall of glass.
She giggled breathlessly when he finished, and in return, dragged him out to the sidewalk so they could admire the falling snow.
Yes, snowfall in the city is very different. In the country, you can hear the snow falling around you; its large, fat flakes unfettered by skyscrapers and office buildings.
In the city, the wind drives the snow in between the tall buildings, but the snowfall is lessened considerably by the many obstacles.
Or so Bella thought.
When they arrived at Edward's building, she paused in front of the large china shop that dominated the first floor. But Bella wasn't interested in the great window of china that gazed out at her matrimonially. She was only interested in the handsome man beside her.
Edward wore a long black wool coat that boasted a black velvet collar and a Burberry scarf that was wrapped like an ascot at his neck. The hand that clasped hers was clad in black leather gloves. But it was his hat that fascinated her.
Professor Masen wore a beret.
She found his choice of haberdashery strangely appealing. Edward had refused to succumb to the local custom of wearing knit caps or toques.
No. A black wool beret to match his overcoat did nicely enough. And he was very elegant in it.
"What?" His face crinkled up as he watched her watching him, a slow smile playing about with his lips.
"You're beautiful," she stammered, unable to take her eyes away from his striking figure.
He shook his head. "Silly girl. You're the beautiful one. You're an angel in the snow."
He kissed her long and good in front of a hundred bone china place settings, and then gently pecked her ear.
"Let's just take a cab to dinner. Then someone else can fight the rush hour traffic and I'll be able to devote my full attention to you in the back of the cab. I'll run to the bank to take out some cash from the ATM and I'll be back in a minute. Unless you'd rather join me."
Bella shook her head. "I want to enjoy the snow while it lasts."
He snorted loudly. "This is a Canadian January, Isabella. Believe me, the snow will last."
He moved her scarf aside to kiss her neck noisily and then he chuckled to himself as he disappeared down the street.
Bella turned her attention to the display of china in the window and began to admire one place setting in particular, wondering how it would look in Edward's apartment.
She turned around and came face to chest with Peter.
He smiled at her and then engulfed her in a warm hug. "How are you?"
"I'm fine," she responded somewhat nervously, worrying that Edward would surprise them. But she had no way to signal to him to stay away.
"You look great. Did you have a good Christmas?"
"Very good. I brought you a souvenir from Seattle, but it's at my place. I'll put it in your mailbox at the Centre. How was your Christmas?"
"Fine. Busy, but fine. And I'm glad you liked your gift. Thanks for emailing me to let me know it arrived. How is Professor Leaming's seminar?"
"I love it. We've only had one meeting so far but it was very good."
"I was thinking about auditing it. She covers a lot of material that is relevant to my dissertation. Maybe we can get coffee next week after her seminar."
He stood there for a moment, grinning.
Bella smiled back at him, resisting the urge to turn around and look for Edward, when all of a sudden Peter's smile slid off his face.
His dark brows came together and he took a step closer, a scowl clouding over his usually benign features.
"What happened to you?"
Bella looked down at her winter coat but saw nothing that would alarm him. And then she wiped at her face, wondering if Edward had smeared her lip-gloss across her cheeks.
But Peter was looking elsewhere.
Peter was looking at her neck.
He came closer still, so that he was truly violating her personal space, and pulled the edge of her purple pashmina aside with his large bear-like paw.
"Holy God, Bella, what the hell is that?"
She flinched as one of his work-roughened fingers tentatively skimmed the bite mark on her neck, cursing the fact that she had apparently forgotten to use concealer that morning when she applied her make up.
"It's nothing. I'm fine." She moved backwards and wrapped her pashmina around her neck twice, fussing with the ends far too long so that she wouldn't have to look at him.
"I know what nothing looks like, Bella, and that isn't nothing."
She bit her lip and silently prayed that Edward would not interrupt their conversation. A full-blown war would erupt between the two of them if Peter thought that Edward was responsible for that scar.
Peter's eyes narrowed suspiciously.
"Did Anthony do that to you?"
"Of course not! He would never hurt me."
Peter cocked his head to one side.
"You told me that he hurt you before. I thought that was why you broke up the last time."
Bella found herself wrapped in the coiled python grip of her lies.
She opened her mouth to protest and then quickly closed it, trying to think of something to say.
"Did he bite you out of love? Or anger?"
Peter tried to keep his voice calm, but he was on the edge of losing it. He was furious with whoever had treated Bella so violently and more than willing to track down the offender and kick his ass. Several times.
"Anthony would never do something like that to me – for any reason. He never put a hand on me."
"Then damn it, Bella, what happened?"
She blinked at his anger and found herself looking down at her boots.
"And don't lie to me," he breathed.
"Someone broke into my father's house during Thanksgiving and attacked me. That's how I got the scar. I've been hiding it until I could make an appointment to have it removed. I know it's hideous. I'm ashamed of it."
Peter was quiet for a moment as he considered what she said.
"A bite mark seems awfully intimate for a burglar. Don't you think?"
Bella's eyes met his and she began chewing at the inside of her mouth.
"And why should you be ashamed of being attacked? It wasn't your fault."
Peter sighed and shook his head.
"Alright. You don't want to tell me. I get it."
He reached out and took her hand in his, lightly stroking the surface of her palm with his thumb.
"If you need to get away from him, I can help."
"That's very kind, Peter, but the guy is in jail back in Washington. He can't reach me here."
Peter's shoulders softened slightly.
"I'm your friend, Rabbit. I care about you. Let me help you before something worse happens."
"I don't need help," she said, momentarily forgetting everything else as she looked into two dark pools of concern.
"Why didn't Anthony come to your rescue? I would have beaten the guy to a pulp."
She began to tell him that Anthony had, in fact, rescued her and then swiftly thought better of it.
"He must not be a very good boyfriend if he allows you to be manhandled like that. Assuming he isn't the one who marked you."
"I was home alone. No one could have known that someone would break in and attack me. And I'm not a damsel in distress, Peter, despite what you might think." Her eyes flashed and she withdrew her hand.
Peter gazed at her sharply.
"I never said you were a damsel in distress. But that thing on your neck is not something a burglar would do. It's a fucking mark, Bella. Like he was branding you.
"And you have to admit that you've been knocked around by a couple of people, even in the short time since I've known you. Angela, Professor Pain, Masen …
"This was different."
"Please don't let anyone use you as a punching bag. You deserve so much better."
He shuffled his feet in the snow and then stared her straight in the eye.
"I'd never treat you like that."
His whisper was so quiet she almost couldn't hear him. But somehow the wind that swirled above Bloor Street brought the words from his lips to her ear.
"I'd never let anyone treat you like that. I know how a man should treat a woman. And it isn't like a possession." He glanced significantly towards her covered neck. "Or a pet."
Bella looked into his kind, brown eyes and stood mutely, hoping Edward would not appear…
Peter thrust his hands into the pockets of his coat and shifted his weight back and forth. "I'm heading over to Yonge Street to meet some friends for dinner. Would you like to join me?"
She shook her head. "I've been out most of the day and I'm going to head home."
He nodded. "I'm running late, or I'd offer to walk you home."
"I'll be fine."
"Okay. Well, I'll see you around then." He gave her a pained smile and then began walking away.
Bella turned to look the other way, but Edward was nowhere in sight.
"Bella?" Peter called to her.
"Angela Webber has been asking a lot of questions about you at the Centre. Mrs. Cope let it slip that Katherine Picton is directing your thesis instead of Masen. You might want to watch your step."
Bella's face blanched.
"She's just jealous. There's nothing she can do. But if she bothers you, let me know. I'd like another chance to tell her off." He looked at her sadly. "You know where to find me if you need me. You be careful, okay?"
She nodded and then watched as he disappeared into the crowd of pedestrians.
At two o'clock the next morning she startled awake.
She was in Edward's bed and his room was dark. But she was alone.
After Peter had conveniently disappeared, Edward had returned to her side. If he had seen her exchange with Peter he gave no sign of it. Although he seemed somewhat distracted during their celebratory dinner.
And then later, when she was ready for bed, he had kissed her on the forehead and sent her to his room alone, claiming that he had a few emails to answer.
Something was definitely wrong.
After five days of separation and celibacy, would he really want to waste their first night together on email?
Bella had almost dressed herself in the corset and garters that he had bought her for Christmas, just to tempt him. But she didn't want to be manipulative.
She swung herself out of bed and tiptoed down the hall.
The apartment was swathed in darkness. Only the light from underneath Edward's study door was visible.
She stood in front of the door listening for the sounds of movement, and when she finally heard a few clicks of the computer keys and a deep groan, she thoughtlessly turned the doorknob and walked in.
Without knocking.
To say that Edward was surprised would have been an understatement.
His eyes swung to hers, narrowed and uneasy, from behind his glasses.
"What are you doing?" He stood up immediately, hiding a sheet of paper in a stack of papers that were scattered on his desk next to his laptop.
"I – nothing." She flushed and looked down at her bare legs.
She wiggled her toes on his beautiful Persian rug.
He was at her side in an instant. "Is something wrong? Are you sick?"
"I'm sorry I disturbed you. You didn't come to bed. I - missed you."
Edward sighed deeply and removed his glasses, rubbing his eyes roughly.
"I'll come to bed soon. I just have a few things that can't wait. But I've almost finished."
Bella nodded and turned to go.
"Wait. Let me tuck you in." He took her hand in his and led her down the dark hallway and then proceeded to help her into bed.
He perched himself on the edge of the mattress as he drew the sheets and duvet up to her chin. And then he leaned over and pressed an almost parental kiss to her forehead.
"Sweet dreams, my sweet girl."
He smiled at her smally and then disappeared, closing the bedroom door behind him.
Bella lay awake for some time wondering what he had been hiding on his desk and why he would be hiding it from her ... was it a letter? Who was it from? Did it have something to do with the fact that Angela was now asking questions at the University?
A hundred possibilities swirled across her mind.
She wrestled with the question of whether or not she should strive to find out or simply trust him.
Without coming to a conclusion, she fell into a troubled sleep and dreamt of whirling, swirling sheets of paper that fell from the sky like snowflakes.
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