capitolo trentuno

Andare in basso

capitolo trentuno

Messaggio  simona80 il Mer 09 Mar 2011, 12:57

Chapter Thirty-One
Peter couldn't sleep.
Had he been a melodramatic sort of person he would have described his restless evening as a dark night of the soul.
But Peter was not melodramatic.
Even after a long evening over dinner and many beers with players from his rugby team, Peter couldn't get the image of Bella's marked neck out of his mind.
It haunted him.
Peter had fairly well defined views about how a man should treat a woman, views that had been shaped largely by his parents. His mother and father weren't overly demonstrative in their affection nor were they sentimental. But his mother and father always treated one another with respect.
Growing up in Vermont, his mother had encouraged him to treat girls like ladies and his father had demanded the same, saying that if he ever heard of Peter treating a girl badly that he'd have to answer for his behaviour.
Peter thought back to his first keg party, during his freshman year at St. Michael's College, and how he had run into a girl in a torn shirt, shaking and crying, on his way to the bathroom. He'd calmed her down and then demanded that she point out who had attacked her. Peter cornered her assailant and held him until the Burlington Police showed up, but not before roughing him up a little.
And when his sister Heather was being tormented by boys in junior high school, boys who would make lewd comments and snap her bra strap against her back, he waited for the little fuckers after school and threatened them.
Heather continued her education bully free after that.
In Peter's romantic economy violence between men and women was absolutely unthinkable and he would have used his savings to get on a plane to track down the person who had marked Bella, if he only knew the asshole's name and location.
But he hadn't been able to get that kind of information out of her.
It was his own fault, he thought, as he stared up at the ceiling of his simple apartment. He had gone all knight in shining armour on her and she had retreated. If he had been less intense, less angry, more supportive, then perhaps she would have felt comfortable revealing what actually happened. But he'd gone overboard and pushed her and now it was unlikely that she'd ever tell him the truth.
He hadn't meant to make her defensive. Now he owed her an apology.
He could Google her name or look up the local newspaper from her hometown and see if there was any information about her assault. But that would be a gross violation of her privacy and a kind of betrayal.
Here was his ethical dilemma: if he did nothing, he would be respecting her privacy and her autonomy and allowing her to choose what personal information she divulged. But if Bella was being abused by her boyfriend or someone else, then she needed help. And abuse victims frequently hid their abuse because of fear or shame. So if he did nothing, it was quite possible that whoever had branded her would continue hurting her – or worse.
However, if he did some research on her attack and found out who had done it, perhaps he could help her. Or at least know from whom to protect her.
It was difficult to know what to do when a friend was in trouble.
Should I respect her by staying out of it?
Or should I try to help her no matter what she says?
Peter didn't know which arm of the dilemma he was going to choose but one thing he knew for sure – he was going to keep his eye on Bella and he'd be damned if anyone would injure her when he was around.
-x-x-x-x-
"I'm sorry baby," Edward whispered as he brought their noses together. He was making love to her and his hands were everywhere as they moved reciprocally. Finally, his fingers found purchase on her upper thigh, lifting and pulling her.
The adjusted position made it difficult for Bella to focus on his apology.
"I shouldn't have stayed up so late. Not when I have a goddess in my bed."
Bella giggled, a sunny, happy little laugh, which made Edward laugh, too.
And the laughter caused their bodies to vibrate in new and interesting ways.
"Um, ahhhhhh- you're forgiven." Bella was a little breathless. "But don't let it – ah – happen again."
Edward moved so that she was straddling him while he was seated and wrapped his arms around her tightly. "It won't. Now let me make it up to you… multiple times."
-x-x-x-x-
Shortly before eleven the next morning, Bella rolled out from under Edward's arm, which was lying heavily across her chest. She used the bathroom and brushed her hair, and then she stood in front of the large black and white framed photograph of Edward kissing her neck and pulled on one of his white Oxford button-down shirts.
She loved the photograph but had been surprised to see it so prominently displayed on his wall and in so large a size. It made her think back to her first visit to Edward's bedroom, when she had studied the black and white photographs that used to grace his walls. And he had vomited all over her and his British racing green sweater.
She giggled good-naturedly when she thought about his taste in clothes. Edward certainly had panache when it came to his garments. And his headwear. But that was Edward and his style suited him. He would have looked good wearing nothing but a brown paper bag.
Bella thought on that for more than a few seconds.
Leaving Edward to snore softly in peace, she walked to the kitchen where she fetched herself a very large glass of water. As she drank the water in the kitchen and nibbled on an apple, she thought back to his actions the night before.
What had he been doing in his study?
Why did he have to work on a Friday night?
Before she could form the intention to stay in the kitchen, she found herself wandering into his office.
It was a violation of privacy to be snooping around. It made her look as if she didn't trust him.
But Bella trusted Edward.
She didn't think that he would cheat on her or go back to using drugs or drinking heavily. And she didn't think that he would intentionally keep good news from her. It was only the bad news that he sought to keep secret.
Bella trusted Edward, but she didn't trust Tanya or Professor Pain or Angela. And she worried that one or all three members of that unholy trinity were emailing him in an attempt to seduce or blackmail him.
Of course, she had kept her own secrets about what Leah said to her in the diner and Peter's reaction to her scar. It would be hypocritical to confront Edward about his secrecy when she was engaged in the same behaviour.
She walked over to his desk and saw that his laptop was switched off and closed. All the papers from the night before had been cleared away, the gleaming wood of the desktop almost completely bare. There was no way she was going to pry into his files and desk drawers in search of his secret papers.
However, there was something on his desk that she had not expected.
There was a small, sterling silver frame with a black and white ultrasound picture in it.
Maia.
She picked up the frame and held it in her hand, marvelling that Edward had progressed so far as to have a picture of his daughter displayed.
Lost in thought, she stood looking at the photograph for what seemed like a long time.
"Did you find what you were looking for?"
Bella turned around to find Edward leaning against the doorframe, arms across his chest, clad only in pair of striped boxer shorts.
He smirked at her, staring perhaps a little too long at the naked flesh that peeked out from between the top buttons and at her shapely legs.
He glanced at the picture frame and the smirk left his face.
Bella quickly replaced the frame on the desk.
"I'm sorry."
Edward strode towards her.
"It's alright. I still haven't decided where to put it. I'm not sure I can have it on my desk …" As his voice trailed off, he looked at the frame and then he looked at Bella. "But I don't want to keep it in a drawer."
"It's a beautiful frame," she offered quietly.
"I found it at Tiffany's a couple of days ago."
Bella grinned and cocked her head to one side. "Only you would buy a frame at Tiffany's. I would have found one at Wal-Mart."
"I went to Tiffany's for quite a different purpose," he whispered, searching her eyes.
"Did you find what you were looking for?"
Now his eyes burned into hers. "Absolutely. Don't you know that by now? What I was looking for?"
Bella blinked at him as if she were in a fog of some sort, until he leaned down to kiss her.
It was a remarkable kiss.
He placed his hands gently on either side of her face and then brought his lips to hers, pressing firmly before beginning his joyous movement.
Within a moment, Bella had forgotten all about why she had wandered into the study as she felt the same rush of energy and attraction that she had always felt whenever he kissed her.
He stroked her tongue tenderly with his, sliding his hands through her hair to rest on the back of her head. And when he withdrew, he kissed her cheeks and her forehead.
"Do you remember the first time I kissed you?" He smiled down at her.
"Yes."
"Did it make you happy?"
"Very happy. You ruined me for other men with that kiss. Not that I minded." Bella blushed.
"You ruined me before that. I think you ruined me for other women the moment you took my hand. I just knew by the way your skin felt against mine that we belonged to each other."
Bella nodded and then stood on tiptoe, reaching up to brush her lips against his.
"Thank you, Edward."
"You look beautiful in my shirt." His voice was gruff all of a sudden. "I was planning to take you out for breakfast. There's a small crêperie around the corner that I think you'd like."
She took his hand gladly as he led her back to the bedroom so that they could shower together and begin their day.
-x-x-x-x-
Later that afternoon, they worked in his study. Edward sat at his desk reading an article while Bella sat perched in his red velvet armchair checking her email.
Dear Bella,
I owe you an apology.
I'm really sorry I upset you when I ran into you yesterday.
I didn't mean to.
I was just shocked and worried about you.
If you ever need someone to talk to, I'm just a phone call away.
You're a good person and I don't want to see you get hurt.
Hoping we can still be friends.
Sorry for being such a jerk and treating you like a damsel in distress.
I know you're a strong person,
Peter.
Bella looked over at Edward and found him lost in thought behind his eyeglasses, immersed in one of Katherine Picton's publications on the seven deadly sins.
She quickly typed a response.
Hi Peter,
You aren't a jerk.
The experience back in Forks was traumatic and I'm trying to forget about it.
But I should tell you that my Anthony saved me -
in more ways than one.
Some day I'd like to introduce you to him.
He's wonderful.
Not sure why Angela is interested in who is directing my thesis.
Thanks for the warning.
I'll put your Christmas present in your mailbox at the Centre on Monday.
It's small but I hope you like it.
(Go Mariners!)
Of course we're still friends,
Bella.
She was not about to interrupt their blissful afternoon with news of Peter and Angela. But she resolved to tell Edward everything before they went to bed together that evening.
-x-x-x-x-
Katherine Picton had always lived a somewhat reserved life and that was exactly what she wanted. She owned a nice home in the Annex neighbourhood of Toronto, which was walking distance to the University. She spent her summers and her Christmases in England with her extended family. And she spent most of her time publishing articles and monographs on Dante.
In other words, she lived the life of the respectable academic spinster, except that she didn't garden or take lovers or own a bevy of cats. (Regrettably)
In short, hers was a quiet but good life. Despite her retirement, she was very much in demand for public lectures and speaking engagements and more than one university had attempted to lure her out of retirement with promises of extravagant salaries and low to no teaching responsibilities.
Katherine would rather have dug the Panama Canal with her fingernails while suffering from yellow fever than to give up the time she could devote to research in order to maintain an office on campus and attend faculty meetings.
So when Garrett Armstrong of Harvard University telephoned her the first week in January about an opening for an endowed chair in Dante studies, that's what she told him.
Garrett was stunned.
"But Professor Picton, we could arrange it so that you have no teaching responsibilities. All you would have to do would be to deliver a couple of lectures a semester, have a presence on campus, and supervise some doctoral students. That's it."
"I don't want to move all my books," said Katherine.
"We'll hire a moving company to pack them and move them for you."
"They'll mix them up and it will take days to put them back in order."
Garrett respectfully suppressed a groan of frustration. "We'll hire special movers – movers accustomed to moving libraries. They'll take your books off the shelf, pack them in order, and replace them on your shelves here in Cambridge exactly the way they were in Toronto. You wouldn't have to do a thing."
"Garrett, moving companies don't know how to catalogue books. What if they make a mistake when they unpack the boxes? I have thousands of volumes in my personal library and I might never be able to find what they misplace. And what if they lose something? Some of those volumes are irreplaceable!"
"Professor Picton, if you would accept the endowed chair, I'll come to Toronto and move your books personally. By hand."
Katherine paused for a moment, until she realized that Garrett was serious. And then she burst into peals of British laughter.
"I'm rather impressed. I had no idea that Harvard could be so accommodating."
"You have no idea," muttered Garrett, hoping that she would change her mind.
"I'm not interested. There are lots of younger persons you should be considering instead of a sixty-eight year old retiree and I can give you a short list, if you wish. But while we're on the subject of your department, I want to talk to you about my graduate student, Miss Isabella Swan, and why I think you need to admit her to your doctoral program."
Katherine spent ten minutes telling Garrett why he should admit Miss Swan and why it had been a mistake for him to fail to offer her adequate funding the previous year. Then she impressed upon him the need for Miss Swan to receive a lucrative fellowship this year. Finally, when she had finished scolding him and effectively telling him how to do the job of the Director of Graduate Studies, (which was not, in fact, his job), she thanked him for his call and hung up on him.
Garrett stared at the now disconnected phone in his hand with a look of incredulity.
-x-x-x-x-
If you were to ask Edward if he wanted to be in therapy, he would have said no.
He didn't relish the idea of talking about his feelings or his childhood, or being forced to relive what happened with Tanya and Maia. He didn't want to talk about his addictions or his coping mechanisms or Jane and the myriad other women he had fucked.
But he wanted a future with Bella and he wanted her to be healthy – to bloom fully and not just partially. And he privately worried that he was somehow impairing her ability to blossom, albeit unintentionally, just because he was, well, Edward.
So he vowed to do everything in his power to support her, including changing his behaviour for the best and focusing more on her needs. In so doing, he recognized that he could do with an objective evaluation of his own selfishness and some practical advice as to how to overcome it. Consequently, he was determined to brave the discomfort and embarrassment of admitting he needed help and see a therapist on a weekly basis.
As the days of January slipped by, it became abundantly clear that both Edward and Bella were very fortunate in their choice of therapists. Drs. Siobhan and Liam Fitzgerald were a married couple who specialized in meaning-centred therapy.
Meaning-centred therapy sought to work with clients on their psychological and personal issues with a view to integrating those considerations with both existential and spiritual pursuits. Far from focusing solely on physical or emotional challenges, the Doctors Fitzgerald helped their clients find meaning and happiness in their daily lives.
Although it was somewhat accidental (or Providential) that Edward had chosen these therapists over the hundreds of others in practice in Toronto, they turned out to be an excellent choice.
Like any therapeutic relationship, counselling began slowly. Trust needs to be built between the therapist and his or her client. In Bella's case, she liked Siobhan and found herself able (with encouragement) to discuss both her relationship with Edward and her troubled pasts with Jacob, Charlie and Renee.
Siobhan recognized that Bella was an extremely intelligent woman who derived a lot of her self-worth from her ability to succeed academically. She was focused and hard-working and apparently tenacious and assertive, but only when it came to intellectual pursuits.
In other areas of her life, particularly with respect to her relationships with men, Bella suffered from a diminished sense of self-worth and a lack of self-confidence. Where she could be assertive with respect to defending a particular reading of Dante in a formal essay over and against established professors, in more personal situations she seemed timid and overly passive.
Siobhan quickly linked this bifurcation with the years of abuse that Bella had suffered and a possible case of post-traumatic stress disorder, and she hypothesized that education in general and the study of Dante more specifically had saved her from complete disintegration.
Siobhan was very concerned about the nature of Bella's relationship with her boyfriend. She worried that the power differential between Bella and Edward, coupled with Edward's strong personality and Bella's diminished self-confidence, would make their romantic relationship more of a mental health hazard to Bella than a help.
But Bella claimed to be in love with Edward and to be very happy with him, and it was clear that she derived a lot of pleasure and no small amount of security from their relationship. She adored Edward. She looked up to him. However, the strange account of how they met and then met again, when added to certain facts about Edward's past and his addictive personality, raised all sorts of red flags in Siobhan's mind. She was careful not to give voice to these concerns at the beginning of counselling, but she was determined to monitor their relationship in order to determine if it was healthy or not for Bella to continue her involvement with the Professor.
The fact that Bella did not recognize these red flags showed more about her own psychological state than she could reasonably realize.
Denial was not just a river in Egypt.
Siobhan knew better than to expect any of her clients to change their personality traits and habits over night. Human beings didn't operate like that. So she encouraged Bella to begin her journey to wellness by focusing on speaking to herself with kindness in areas beyond the academic and intellectual, and politely but assertively requiring others to speak to her with respect in those realms, as well.
Even within the space of a few weeks, Siobhan noticed that Bella made progress, albeit incrementally, and she seemed to be happier with her life as a result.
Once the foundation of renewed self-esteem was built, Siobhan intended to ask Bella to become more assertive in establishing boundaries with other people so that she didn't lapse into her old habits of either being a people pleaser or a doormat.
And that included her relationship with Edward, both inside and outside of the bedroom.
Bella confided in Siobhan about his tendency to keep secrets from her out of the fear of either injuring her or driving her away. In response, Siobhan pointed out that on occasion, Edward tended to lapse into a parent-child relationship with Bella rather than maintaining consistent adult-adult interactions and that these lapses needed to stop - for the well being of both of them.
Edward's encounters with his therapist were also illuminating.
In view of Edward's addictive personality, Liam became concerned that Edward's relationship with Bella was only a new outlet for what could be a sex addiction.
However, it soon became apparent that the addiction that Edward had to Bella, if any, was more emotional than sexual, although it was manifested in sexual ways from time to time.
Since Edward was monogamous and not engaging in risky sexual behaviour, and since he and Bella appeared to be happy and committed to one another, Liam conceded that Edward's sexual need for Bella was not entirely abnormal.
Nevertheless, Liam encouraged Edward to focus on non-sexual communication with Bella on a daily basis, using those days and nights when they were apart to develop their intimacy with one another. And Edward was instructed to try to work out his stress or feelings of abandonment and any conflicts in non-sexual ways.
Simply put, Liam told Edward that sex would not repair things and in many cases, it would likely make things worse.
At first Edward balked at Liam's assignments.
He denied his need for improved non-sexual communication with Bella, arguing that it was unnecessary since he spent a great deal of time communicating his feelings to her in non-sexual ways, such as through emails, texts and gifts.
Moreover, he pointed out that he and Bella were young and so was their relationship. Of course it was expected that they would engage in regular and frequent sexual activities. They were still in the exploration stage. And if Edward had his way, they would stay in that stage as long as possible.
But eventually he decided to give Liam's instructions a try, solely because he saw no reason to withhold any good thing from Bella that might make her happy.
So he wrote a one page letter to her in which he described how wonderful and talented she was and how much he loved her, being careful to make the letter non-sexual in nature and focusing entirely on her and not on himself. As part of the letter, he described some of the non-sexual but romantic things he would like to do with and for her, including taking her to a beach somewhere and spending time walking with her on the sand. Then he hired someone to deliver the letter to Bella's apartment that same day.
When Bella called him up in happy tears after reading it and practically begging him to come over and make love to her, even though it was a school night, Edward realized that the pursuit of non-sexual communication with Bella made him very happy because it made her happy.
He vowed to continue the practice creatively on a daily basis.
Although he didn't feel the need to describe all the dividends that his non-sexual communication paid on the nights they were together, Liam couldn't help but notice that Edward's overall happiness increased while his general stress level decreased.
It didn't take a Ph.D. in Psychology to figure out why that was the case.
Go figure.
However, Liam was worried that Edward's passion for Bella, although reciprocated, bordered on the obsessive, despite Edward's studious avoidance of any mention of Beatrice or angels or salvation via Swan during therapy. Liam was concerned that if Bella rejected Edward, he would lapse into a serious, possibly self-destructive depression.
Although Liam and Siobhan did not discuss their clients with one another, with Bella and Edward's permission, they planned to schedule a few joint sessions when the therapy progressed to a certain point.
It was uncertain how long it would take for their clients to reach that point.
-x-x-x-x-
During the first week of February, Bella was weightless, floating and happy, her neck unmarked through medical technology. Her scar removal was healed and no one would ever know that she had been marked by an old boyfriend.
Therapy was going well and so was her relationship with Edward, although on occasion he seemed distracted, lost in thought, and she would have to call his name twice to bring him back to her.
She had just finished an amiable coffee with Peter during which they discussed Angela's recent inexplicable good mood and she was on her way to the library when she received a telephone call that would change her life forever.
Garrett Armstrong was on the line in order to notify her that she had been accepted conditionally into the doctoral program in Romance Languages and Literatures at Harvard, on a very generous fellowship, for the fall of 2010. The acceptance was conditional on the satisfactory completion of her M.A. at the University of Toronto, but as Professor Armstrong pointed out, given her letters of recommendation and the glowing endorsement of her thesis offered by Professor Picton, Bella should have no problem completing her degree. Professor Armstrong was eager to hear Bella's acquiescence to the offer, but he knew that most graduate students would need a little time to think about it, and so he asked her to telephone him with her decision in seven days.
Bella was surprised at how calm and professional she sounded on the phone. Of course, she wasn't doing much talking.
After the call ended, she texted Edward with trembling, nervous fingers.
Harvard just called – they want me.
Conditional on my M.A.
Love, B.
A few minutes later, she received a reply.
Congratulations, Love.
In a faculty meeting.
My place – one hour?
E.
Bella smiled at her iPhone and then quickly completed her library errands before walking over to Edward's apartment.
She wasn't sure how to greet him. On the one hand, he would be happy for her. On the other, Garrett Armstrong's offer brought up a host of issues that she and Edward desperately needed to discuss. What would make that discussion run smoothly?
Bolstered by Siobhan's encouragement to be kind to herself, Bella decided to have a hot bubble bath in order to allow herself a few minutes to relax. She left a note to that effect on the hall table where Edward always dropped his keys, and then proceeded to make herself at home in his spacious tub.
About twenty minutes later, she was half-asleep under a profusion of strawberry scented bubbles when he joined her.
"This is a welcome sight," he whispered, leaning over to kiss her forehead. "A warm, wet, and naked Isabella in my bathtub."
"There's room for a warm, wet, and naked Edward, too," she said, grasping his hand.
He smiled. "Not tonight. Shall I take you out to dinner to celebrate? Where would you like to go?"
There was a time when Bella would simply have accepted Edward's suggestion because she wanted to make him happy. But on this occasion, she really wanted to spend time alone with him. So she spoke up. "Can we just stay in? I don't want to be around a lot of people."
"Of course. Let me change and I'll be right back."
By the time Edward returned, Bella was standing in the centre of the bathroom, wrapped in a towel.
He handed her a flute of champagne and they clinked their glasses together and toasted Bella's very good news.
"I have something to give to you," he said, disappearing into the bedroom. He returned a moment later with something blue in his hands.
He held the article of clothing up so that she could read the lettering on the front and then he watched her reaction.
She smiled.
"This was mine. I'd like you to have it." He took her glass and placed it next to his on the vanity and then he tugged at her towel until it dropped to the floor.
Bella pulled the hooded Harvard sweatshirt on and then stood there, like an almost naked sorority girl who had just rolled out of bed with her boyfriend.
She looks better than any sorority girl I ever met.
"Gorgeous," he whispered, wrapping her in his arms and kissing her enthusiastically. "This is quite an accomplishment and I know that you've worked very hard for it. I'm proud of you."
Bella began to glow under his praise and she squeezed him back tightly.
"But this sweatshirt is yours."
"I want you to have it. My smart, smart girl."
"Edward, I haven't even decided if I'm accepting their offer or not."
"What?" He pulled away and his expression morphed into a scowl.
"I just received the call today. I have a week to decide."
"What's to decide, Isabella? You'd be crazy not to accept it!"
Bella fidgeted with her hands. She had thought that Edward would be saddened at the mention of their separation, but happy for her. She hadn't thought that he would be angry.
Edward paced back and forth and tugged at his forelock.
"Didn't they offer you enough money? Is that the problem? Because you know I can cover the cost. I'll buy you an apartment near Harvard Square, for God's sake."
"I don't want to be kept."
"What are you talking about?" he asked sharply.
Bella squared her shoulders and took a deep breath.
"I don't want you to support me. I want to pay my own way. I want us to be equals."
Edward groaned in frustration and then cupped her face in his hands. "Isabella, we are not equals. We will never be equals. You are my better."
He stared at her, his sincerity bringing a particular light to his green eyes and then he kissed her softly, before pulling her into his chest.
"I have more vices than you and I have more money than you. I refuse to share my vices, but my money is yours. Take it."
He sighed and his shoulders slumped.
"If you don't want my money, then at least let me help you secure a loan. Please don't turn down this opportunity. Please. You've worked so hard for it."
"Money isn't the issue. The Department Chair offered me a very generous fellowship, which will be more than enough to cover my expenses. And then some."
She looked him straight in the eye and prepared to voice her true concern.
"Edward, I'm worried about what will happen to us if I go."
"Do you want to go?" His voice was muffled as he leaned into her hair, resting his cheek against the side of her head.
"Yes. So badly. But I don't want to lose you. And I don't think I can be without you. It will kill me."
"Then I'll go with you."
She pulled back so that she could see his eyes again.
"I told you this when we were in Umbria. I've applied for a sabbatical. If that doesn't work, there are other possibilities, including a leave of absence. It wouldn't hurt me to spend a year at Harvard finishing my book. We can go together and that will buy me some time to figure out what I should do about the following year."
"Edward, I can't let you do that. Your career – your job – is here."
"Academics take sabbaticals and research leaves all the time. Ask Katherine."
"What if you resent me?" she asked.
"It's far more likely that you'll resent me. Tied to an older man when you should be dating men your own age. And an older man who is a selfish know-it-all and can't stop bossing you around."
Bella rolled her eyes. "Stop it, Edward. You're talking about the man I love. And the man I love is not the person you described. Not anymore. Besides, you aren't that old."
He kissed her lightly. "Thank you, my love.
"We don't have to live together if you don't want to. I'll be your neighbour, if you wish. Of course, if you don't want me to go …" He swallowed loudly and waited for her response.
What if she doesn't want me?
What if I'm holding her back?
Bella threw her arms around his neck and kissed him passionately.
"Of course I want you to come with me. I was so afraid of losing you."
"It's only the beginning, love," he whispered, pulling her into the bedroom.
-x-x-x-x-
With the relief that an early acceptance to Harvard brought, and the assurance that she wouldn't have to make the move alone, Bella was able to redouble her efforts on her thesis and her M.A. When she and Edward were apart, she worked tirelessly, spending hours upon hours in the library or at her apartment studying and writing.
So when Edward whisked her away for a surprise Valentine's weekend in Belize, she didn't protest.
It was a celebration of their love, and Bella's acceptance to Harvard, and other things, things that Edward was not yet ready to share.
When they finally arrived at the Turtle Inn resort, it was late evening and the stars were already out.
Bella explored their accommodations – a private hut on a secluded beach – while Edward ordered room service.
The walls there were white, with the exception of one of the bedroom walls that was constructed of tall, teak doors that accordioned to open out onto the porch. The ceilings were a mixture of bamboo and thatch and a large white bed was centred in the room, shrouded in mosquito netting. Most of the wall hangings and materials were Balinese in design and Bella was particularly taken with the open air shower and bathtub that were located off the bathroom on a side veranda.
While Edward wrestled with the resort kitchen staff over the telephone, Bella quickly slipped out of her clothes and took a shower. The space was not completely closed, affording the bather a view of the beach and the ocean. But since it was dark out and they were on a private beach, there was no possibility of an embarrassing surprise.
Apart from one's lover.
Bella quickly rinsed the perceived grime of travelling from her body, and then wrapped herself in one of the thick, terry bathrobes provided by the hotel.
"Dinner will arrive in about an hour. I'm sorry it's going to take so long." Edward licked his lips as he took in the sight of Bella in her bathrobe.
He kissed her forehead. "Would you like to take a walk with me on the beach? I've been looking forward to it for some time."
Edward had changed into a white linen shirt that was mostly unbuttoned, with the sleeves rolled up to expose his forearms. He wore khaki pants with the hems rolled up and he was barefoot.
Eat your heart out, Robinson Crusoe.
Bella arched an eyebrow at him. "I think I'd rather do something else."
She tugged him, smiling, towards the bed, and then gave him a gentle push so that he was seated on its edge.
He caught her by the belt of her robe. "We don't have to make love now. I'd be content to talk to you and just relax. It was a long trip."
His face telegraphed the fact that he was in earnest, which somewhat surprised her.
"We've been apart for a few days, Edward. I miss you." Her voice dropped to a throaty whisper.
He pulled on her belt so that she was standing in between his parted knees and then he slid his hands to rest on her backside, squeezing slightly. "We could spoon together and take a nap. There's no rush."
She rolled her eyes. "Edward, I want you to make love to me. Now. If you're saying no, just tell me."
Welcome back, Tiger.
Edward's face split into a very wide, very delighted grin.
"I'd never say no to you, Miss Swan."
"Good. Then give me five minutes, Professor Masen."
Edward sank down on his back, his feet still on the floor, and rubbed at his face. Bella's new found confidence was absolutely enticing. In a single sentence, she'd aroused him so much that he was in pain.
It seemed like forever, but it was really only a few minutes later when Bella emerged from the bathroom, wearing her Christmas gift from Edward.
He sat up immediately as she stood backlit in the doorway.
The midnight blue satin of the corset accentuated the pink and cream of her skin, making her round breasts look fuller and her waist smaller.
Edward couldn't help but gasp at the exquisite hourglass that was now Bella's voluptuous figure.
Dragging his eyes away from the corset, he hungrily regarded the merest glimpse of a pair of tiny black lace panties, paired with black silk sheer stockings that were held up by a black lace garter belt.
And then finally and gloriously, a pair of black satin Valentino d'Orsay pumps on her pretty little feet.
Edward nearly had a heart attack when he gazed at the shoes alone.
"Salut, Professeur. Ça va bien?" Bella purred at him in French.
It took a moment for him to figure out why she had made this linguistic choice, so taken as he was by her figure and her footwear.
Bella was wearing his beret.
When his eyes finally met hers, and she watched him swallow hard, she pouted at him provocatively and then removed her hat, tossing it at him.
After he caught the beret and threw it aside, she walked slowly, very slowly, to the bed.
"I really like my Christmas present, Professor Masen."
Edward gulped. "I like it too."
"Have you seen the back?" She shimmied her hips slightly and then turned around, watching him over her shoulder.
He reached out a finger to touch the black satin laces that tied the corset tightly. And then he dragged his hand down to the panties that cut across her pert backside.
"Enough teasing, Miss Swan. Come here."
Just like that, Professor Masen returned and he pulled her to him, bringing their mouths together in a hungry kiss.
"I'm going to take my time unwrapping my gift … with the exception of the shoes. I hope for your sake that they're comfortable..."
After ten minutes of knocking on the door, the poor room service waiter had to take their dinner back to the kitchen and await further instructions.
The instructions never came.
-x-x-x-x-
Their stay on Belize was short, only four nights. They spent most of their time on the beach or in the ocean, or naked, wrapped in one another's arms, except for the times when Bella wore her corset …
And those instances when Edward wound her in silk or cotton or gauzy mosquito netting and snapped her picture. It was an excellent location to set up his tripod and take photographs of the two of them together. And the fact that Bella was both happy and relaxed contributed to the beauty of the pictures.
During their last night in Belize, Edward lay on his back in the centre of their large, white bed, underneath the mosquito netting. Bella rested her head just underneath his pectorals, her arm wrapped around his waist, their legs entwined.
She was almost purring in contentment.
"Are you happy?" Edward's voice came out of the candle soaked darkness, as he ran his fingers over the top of her head and down to trace the curve of her elegant neck.
"Yes. Are you?"
"More than I ever thought I could be."
Bella smiled against this chest and kissed the skin there.
"Things seem - different since we came back from Italy," he prompted, his hand still ghosting across neck and shoulder.
"We have a lot to be grateful for. We have each other. I have Harvard. Siobhan has been helping me. I feel like I'm finally putting the pieces back together."
"Good," he whispered. "And the way that we make love, you're happy with that?"
Now Bella lifted her head so that she could gaze up into his concerned green eyes.
"Of course." She laughed quietly. "You can't tell?"
"Of course I can tell. But your body is not your mind, or your heart. I just wondered."
He seemed embarrassed now and Bella repented of her decision to laugh.
"Are you happy with the way that we make love?"
"Yes, very much. I feel it changing - I feel the connection deepening." He shrugged. "I just wondered if you felt it, too."
"Edward, things are so much better now than they were before. Sometimes I think that this is a dream. Believe me, I'm happy." She leaned up to kiss him and then rested her head back on his chest. "Why are you asking me these things? Is something wrong?"
"Where do you see yourself in the future?"
"I want to be a professor like you. I want a happy life. I want to be with you." Bella's voice was on the quiet side, but remarkably assertive.
"You don't know how happy I am to hear that."
"Really?" She looked up at him and smiled.
"Really. There are some things about the future I'd like to talk to you about, Isabella. I'd like to make some promises to you. But I want us to wait a little while longer before we have that conversation. Does that trouble you?" He reached out a finger to toy with the diamond in her ear.
Bella didn't need a narrator to understand what his physical gesture meant.
"No, I understand." Her voice was even softer now.
"You are the one for me, Isabella. There will never be anyone else. That's a promise I can make right now."
She lifted her head and smiled, noting the intensity with which he spoke.
"I don't want you to think that any hesitation on my part is due to lack of feeling." Edward gave voice to Bella's unspoken fear.
"Thank you, Edward. I'm yours. All of me. And I'm so glad we won't be apart next year. The thought of losing you was torturous."
He nodded as if he understood.
"I love you, Edward. And I'll love you forever."
"I love you, too, Isabella. Now come here so that I can worship you."
-x-x-x-x-
Tuesday morning, Bella took a taxi from Edward's apartment to her small studio. She was still floating, blissfully happy and very much in love.
Edward was going to ask her to marry him. She knew it. He just wanted a little more time before he proposed.
The mere idea of being able to be with Edward forever, to be his wife, made her ecstatic.
As she stood on the front porch of her building, she checked her mailbox. Tucked inside was a letter from Harvard, which she opened immediately. It was a formal offer of admission to the doctoral program and it included the terms of her conditional acceptance and her fellowship.
In addition to the Harvard letter there was a white business sized envelope with the University of Toronto insignia on it. The words "VOLTURI Tribunal" were typed above the return address.
Bella had no idea what a VOLTURI Tribunal was. She quickly ripped open the envelope and hastily read its contents.
And then she picked up her luggage and ran like hell to Bloor Street, flagging a cab to Edward's condominium.
She flew into the lobby, past the security guards and into the elevator that would take her to his floor. Tripping down the hall with her small rolling bag, she didn't bother to knock on Edward's door but simply let herself in with her key.
"Isabella? Back so soon?" He walked to the front door with a smile. "I'm flattered that you couldn't stay away from me."
Bella batted away his outstretched arms and placed the letter in his hand.
"What's this? What happened?"
The shattered look on Bella's face told him everything he wanted to know, but he read the letter anyway.
February 5, 2010
VOLTURI Tribunal
Office of the Vice-Presidents
University of Toronto
Toronto, Canada
Dear Miss Isabella M. Swan,
A complaint has been filed in our office alleging that you have violated the Graduate School's Code of Ethical Conduct for Graduate Students.
In conjunction with this complaint, you are requested to appear in person at the Tribunal's office on February 19, 2010 for a preliminary meeting. You may bring an individual with you to represent your interests. This individual may be a representative of the Graduate Student Association, a family member or friend, or an attorney.
Note that this meeting is for information purposes only and does not constitute a hearing, nor has the Tribunal taken any position on the legitimacy of the complaint.
Please confirm with this office that you have received this letter and that you will be attending this meeting. If you do not attend, an investigation will begin automatically and there is a possibility that you will be required to attend a disciplinary hearing.
Sincerely,
Aro Pritchard, L.L.B., Ph.D., Q.C.
Vice- President, Legal Affairs.
Chairman, VOLTURI Tribunal.
Edward looked down into Bella's panicked eyes and tried to find the words to reassure her that she had nothing to worry about … but he couldn't.

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