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capitolo trentadue

Messaggio  simona80 il Mer 09 Mar 2011, 20:39

Chapter Thirty-Two
Bella saw fear flash across Edward's eyes, but only for an instant before it was gone.There was nothing more terrifying to her than the sight of Edward's fear.
She closed her eyes and fanned a hand to her face, swaying slightly.
Edward caught her before she collapsed and led her into the living room. He helped her take off her coat and boots and then he urged her to sit down in the red chair next to the fireplace. He flipped a switch, which caused the flames to ignite, and then he disappeared.Bella leaned backwards in the chair and covered her face with her hands."Here. Drink this." Edward nudged her hand with a glass.
"What is it?""Lagavulin. Scotch.""Edward, I don't like that stuff."
"One swallow, just to take the edge off."She tipped the crystal glass to her lips and drank, feeling the burn of the alcohol in her mouth and throat.She coughed wildly and then handed the glass back to Edward. He downed the rest of the Scotch in one gulp and then sat on the sofa opposite her."What's a VOLTURI?"
"It's an acronym for some of the Vice-Presidents of the University, who sit on a disciplinary Tribunal. Actually, it's rare for them to sit on the committee personally. Usually, it's an associate Vice-President or a member of their office who represents them. With the exception of Aro, who signed your letter. He chairs the committee.""Did you get a letter, too?"Edward tugged at his hair, his eyes averted.
"No. Nothing. No messages, no emails, nothing. I don't understand. The Chair of my Department didn't mention anything in our last faculty meeting."
"So you didn't know about this?""Of course not!" he snapped. "You think I'd do that to you? You think I'd keep this from you?""You keep secrets," she whispered. "That night you were working late in your office, you wouldn't tell me what – "
He interrupted her quickly. "I was working on a job application. For Harvard. Garrett Armstrong called me the night that you and I went to Auberge for dinner, while I was on my way to the bank. He invited me to apply for an endowed chair but told me they needed my portfolio by Monday morning. I haven't been on the job market since graduate school and so I need to put a few files together. It took longer than I expected."Bella stared at him incredulously. "Why didn't you tell me?"
He looked down at his shoes and his voice grew quiet.
"I didn't want you to get your hopes up. The chance of me getting that job is very slim. I'm not a full professor and without a doubt they are recruiting senior people like Katherine Picton. But I had to try – for your sake.
"We would have to disclose our relationship if I was hired and you wouldn't be able to be supervised by me. But I wouldn't be the only Dante specialist in the department, anyway. You could work with someone else."
Bella's eyes filled with tears. "I'm so sorry."
His head shot up immediately. "Why are you sorry? I shouldn't have kept my application a secret. But I knew I didn't really have a chance."
He shuffled his feet and looked back at his shoes pulling at his hair with both hands. "I didn't want to disappoint you."
"You aren't going to disappoint me, Edward, unless you keep secrets from me. I was imagining all kinds of crazy things – that's what I'm sorry about."
"Do you have any idea what the complaint might be?"
"I haven't done anything but go to school and do my work. Except for that run in with Professor Pai – Professor Singer. Do you think that she …?"
Edward seemed to consider this possibility for a moment.
"I don't think so. She was hauled in front of the Tribunal last year when Peter Norris filed a complaint. She knows they aren't friendly to her. I'm sure she wouldn't go anywhere near them.""She still has a job. So I guess not everyone who appears before the Tribunal is fired.""That's right. But they have the power to fire employees, including faculty, to censure people and take away privileges, and also to expel students. They are the highest disciplinary committee in the University."
Expel?Bella inhaled shakily. If she was expelled, she wouldn't be completing her M.A. And that would mean that Harvard …
"If the complaint was about us, then they would have filed a complaint against me, too. It just doesn't make sense. There must be something else."
Edward fixed his eyes on her. "Would Peter do this?"
"No. He wants to help me, not hurt me."
Edward nodded begrudgingly. The Angelfucker was a good man and not one to file a complaint maliciously. And he seemed to be more than a little protective of Isabella, so it wouldn't make sense for him to try to hurt her or her career.
Me, on the other hand …"What about Tanya?"
Edward shifted against the leather of the sofa. "You don't need to worry about her. She's in Alaska with her family."Bella's mouth dropped open. "I thought they disowned her.""They did. I mentioned something to her back in Forks about visiting them and it seems she took my advice. My lawyers in Boston tell me that she hasn't been drawing on her trust fund since Christmas day, when she bought a one-way ticket to Anchorage. And no one has heard from her, so I'm assuming she's fine.""I'm glad, " said Bella."So am I.""That leaves Angela Webber."
"What about Angela Webber?" Edward almost growled."She's in my Aquinas seminar. And she's been in a good mood lately. A very good mood. Remember that Peter told me Angela found out that Professor Picton was directing my thesis?"Edward cursed.
"She's been harassing me all year. I should have filed a complaint against her." He shook his head. "Unbelievable."
He stood up and walked over to Bella, smoothing a hand over her hair. "There's no point in worrying until we figure out what we're up against. I'm not so sure it's Angela. She's upset with me, not you. If the complaint were about our relationship, they would have summoned both of us.
"Regardless of what the complaint is, I'm not taking any chances. Give me a couple of minutes to make a phone call." He kissed her mouth softly and then disappeared down the hall and into his study, closing the door firmly behind him.
Bella walked over to the couch and curled up into a little ball, shutting her eyes against the threatening tears.
"What is it now, Masen? I'm in bed with a fuck-hot law clerk..." James' complaint was interrupted by squealing and high-pitched giggles.
"Zip up your pants, James. This is going to take awhile."
James Greenspan cursed into Edward's ear and then covered his cell phone with one hand.
"Don't go anywhere, sugar," he said to his female pelvic affiliate before scuttling off in his red bikini briefs to the washroom.
"Okay, what the hell is up, Masen? I was just about to have the best sex of my life."
Edward briefly summarized the contents of the VOLTURI letter and then asked for James' help.
"I can't help her."
Edward began to sputter and protest, but James ignored him.
"I can't. Listen, if they're dragging in your twink- ahem – girlfriend in front of a judicial committee, it's possible that your relationship with her will come up. And then all hell will break loose. Have you told her to keep it a secret?"
"Well, that would be the first thing I would do. Believe me, Edward, you don't want to be drawn into anything through her. Let her deal with her own problems."
James heard Edward breath in and out chillingly slowly. He braced himself for the barrage to come.
"Listen to me, James. I'm not in the habit of cutting loose my friends. Least of all Isabella. Is that clear? Or do I need to find myself another lawyer?"
"Alright, alright. Then you need to hire an attorney for her. I won't do it. If this blows up, and it might, you'll need me to represent you and it would be a conflict of interest for me to represent both of you. She needs her own counsel."
"Fine!" spat Edward. "Who do you recommend?"
James sighed into the telephone. "I would have suggested someone from my firm, but that's a little too close to home, especially since we want to keep your relationship under the radar.
"I'd recommend Victoria Weston. She works for one of the large Bay Street firms and she has appeared before the Tribunal before. We had a – thing a couple of years ago and she hates my guts. But she's good at what she does."
Edward rolled his eyes at James' admission.
"I'll text you her contact information. Ask your girlfriend to call Victoria's office today and explain the situation to her secretary. I'm sure she'll jump at the opportunity."
"What's the likelihood of this becoming a lawsuit?"
"I have no idea. Sounds to me like the committee is engaged in a fishing expedition. Someone filed a complaint but I'm guessing the evidence is thin or contradictory and that's why they want to speak with your girlfriend before they pursue disciplinary action. Whatever you do, don't let her go in there without a lawyer. Or this could turn around and bite both of you right in the ass."
"Thanks for that, James." Edward's voice was laced with sarcasm.
"In the meantime, I think you and I need to have a little chat about your relationship with your girlfriend. And I'd like you to make a list of anything – and I mean anything – that is relevant to this situation and the University. Any kind of evidence that might make an appearance at a disciplinary hearing, such as emails, texts, messages, and photographs. Send everything to me tomorrow and I'll start looking at it, just as a precaution. I don't like surprises and I don't like being unprepared."
"I don't want to have to say, 'I told you so,' Edward. But I told you so. The University has a zero-tolerance policy with respect to fraternization, which means they can expel your girlfriend and fire you. Let's hope someone reported her for plagiarism or failing to return her library books or something."
"It's always a pleasure to speak with you, James," said Edward frostily.
"If you didn't think with your dick, you'd never have to speak with me. I just hope she was worth it because if the shit hits the fan, she's going to turn out to be an extremely costly lay."
Before James could say goodbye, Edward hurled the handset against the wall, watching it smash into several large pieces before it fell to the hardwood floor below.
"Miss Swan." The tall, red-haired beauty in the power suit strolled into the corner office, shook Bella's hand and then sat behind her large, oak desk.
Bella took in her appearance curiously.
Victoria was very fit, with white, unfreckled skin, and cascades of red, wavy hair. Her mouth was wide and full and her blue eyes sparkled. She was not necessarily beautiful, but she was striking and Bella could not help but stare.
Victoria caught her staring and then laughed softly.
Bella immediately looked down at her purse and began to fidget with it.
"Now that's something you cannot do in front of a Tribunal."
Bella looked up at her with questioning eyes.
"You can't fidget. You have sit up straight and no matter what they say or what they do, you cannot look away from them when they make eye contact and you cannot fidget. It makes you look guilty and weak." Victoria softened her criticism with a smile, but she was serious.
"Law is as much about psychology as it is about precedent. Now, what can I do for you today, Miss Swan?"
"It's just Bella."
She took a deep breath and told her story. She told almost all of it, beginning when she was seventeen and ending with Angela's recent mood change.
Victoria listened carefully, jotting down notes on her laptop and nodding on occasion. When Bella had finished, Victoria was quiet for a minute or two and then she spoke.
"This is quite a situation. But at the moment, it's unclear who made the complaint and why and what the complaint is about. So let's not assume it's about your boyfriend. Although we should prepare for the worst-case scenario along with the best. Was your relationship with your boyfriend absolutely consensual?"
"Yes. Of course."
Victoria nodded. "Have you ever had a sexual relationship with one of your professors or teaching assistants before?"
"Is it possible he seduced you solely for his own amusement?"
Bella gaped at her.
"Absolutely not. Edward loves me."
Victoria appeared relieved. "Good. Well, good for your sake personally, not so good depending on the complaint."
Bella was confused. "What do you mean?"
"I mean that if your relationship was consensual, then the Tribunal can punish both of you. If you were a victim, if he took advantage of you or threatened you, then you aren't to blame."
"I'm not a victim. We are in a relationship and we waited until after the semester was over before we became involved."
Victoria shook her head. "No, according to your story, you had an amorous relationship with him beginning around the end of October. You waited until after the semester was over to sleep with him. But given the way the policy is written, you still broke the rules. And your trip to Italy is going to make it look like your relationship was far more serious and far more intimate than you are willing to admit while you were his student.
"Who did you tell about your relationship?"
"His family. My father. That's it."
"So no one connected with the University knew about the two of you?"
"As far as I know."
"What kind of evidence could you offer for the fact that you weren't having a sexual relationship while you were his student? Apart from your testimony, which the Tribunal might choose to disregard."
Bella shifted in her chair. "Um, there is something."
"What is it?"
"I was a virgin before Edward. I was a virgin before we went to Italy."
Victoria stared at her as if she was a mythical creature, such as, say, a heterosexual man who knew the difference between Manolo Blahniks and Christian Louboutins.
"Do you have any physical proof of that? Such as a doctor's note from an examination?"
Bella squirmed. "No."
"Then there's no point in bringing it up. Did anyone from the University see you and Edward together during the semester?"
"Not as far as I know. Although we went to a dance club with his sister back in September."
Victoria pursed her lips.
"Bringing up the fact that you are a friend of the family is not necessarily a good thing. It results in a conflict of interest that isn't as serious as fraternization but could possibly pose a problem.
"But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Since we don't know the nature of the complaint, our strategy should be to gather as much information as possible from the Tribunal while giving away nothing. That will buy us some time to adequately respond to any disciplinary proceedings, should they arise. Hopefully, they won't.
"At this meeting, I will do all of the talking. Since they haven't disclosed the nature of the complaint, it's probable that the complaint is specious and that they know this. We won't add fuel to their funeral pyre."
Victoria smiled.
"You have to have confidence. You have to believe that this is nothing and that you have done nothing wrong, otherwise they will pick up on your nervousness. And we don't want that. I have appeared before this Tribunal before with a very dear friend and we were fairly successful. I will be successful with your case, too."
Bella took small comfort in Victoria's confidence, but some comfort was better than nothing.
"In the meantime, I would like a list of anyone you think would have filed a complaint against you and why. I'll have one of my assistants perform some background checks and see what we can dig up. I'll also place a call to a contact of mine connected with the VOLTURI and see if I can find anything out."
And then Victoria frowned. "Until this matter is settled, you and your boyfriend need to cool it. Don't be seen in public together. And don't talk to him about what you and I discuss. If the complaint is about fraternization, he will have his own counsel, who will look after his interests. I don't want my defence of you compromised by your pillow talk."
Bella's eyes flashed with a momentary heat.
"Edward is my boyfriend. We're serious. If I'm in danger so is he. Our relationship was consensual and I have no interest in being defended at his expense. Any blame we have is equal between us."
Victoria gazed at Bella curiously.
"I understand all that. I do. But are you sure that's his disposition as well? You told my secretary that James Greenspan is your boyfriend's attorney. Why isn't James representing you, if you and your boyfriend are determined to show a united front?"
Bella opened her mouth to form an answer, but none occurred to her.
"Listen, you aren't the first student to find herself in this situation. I'm sure it's upsetting and confusing. But you need to realize that no matter what happens with the Tribunal, it's quite possible that your summons in front of them will scare off your boyfriend. He's a tenured professor with a strong academic record. I'm sure he will protect his job at all costs. You need to prepare yourself in case he breaks off your relationship and throws you to the wolves."
"That isn't going to happen. He loves me. We're talking about moving in together. And – other things."
Victoria looked over at her condescendingly.
"Love can be easily killed, especially when unemployment looms. Tell me, did he receive a summons from the VOLTURI?"
"Think about it. It's possible they only summoned you because the complaint only concerns you. It's equally possible that they only summoned you because the complaint is a fraternization complaint and they are worried about bringing him in without sufficient evidence."
"I don't understand."
"They might think that they can convince you to implicate him. In the past eight years, both students and faculty have sued the University, alleging that the institution did not protect them from sexual harassment. That's why the non-fraternization policy was implemented. Aro Pritchard, the Chair of the Tribunal, was one of the authors of that policy.
"Once the policy was in place, the University was inundated with complaints. And then a number of faculty members filed lawsuits against the University's administration when they were brought in before the Tribunal under false accusations or inconclusive evidence, citing emotional distress and defamation of character. I was an attorney that brought forward one of those lawsuits.
"Now the VOLTURI have changed their tactics. They only call in a faculty member when they are prepared to schedule a disciplinary hearing in which the member could be disciplined. They don't bring them in for chats or informational meetings, as they are doing with you. Otherwise they'd be mired in harassment cases and cases appealing to the Human Rights Commission alleging discrimination. Not to mention the fact that the union gives them trouble every time a faculty member is summoned to appear before the Tribunal."
Bella gazed at Victoria wide-eyed.
"I'm not saying that all of those law suits were legitimate. But it was a way for the faculty to fight back against the VOLTURI's tendency to investigate any trifling complaint for fear of being sued. We live in a litigious society. Although laws exist to protect individuals, they can also be exploited. And then the only individuals who benefit are the lawyers.
"Your boyfriend has sent over a retainer, which I will return in view of the possible conflict of interest. I think it best for me to represent you pro bono."
Bella nodded uncomfortably. She had forgotten about the legal fees.
"I'll pay your fees. But it might take some time …"
Victoria laughed. "The entire point of taking a case for the good is so one can further the good. I don't see much good coming out of taking your money. You should be spending it on text books and your moving expenses to Massachusetts."
Her smile tightened and then disappeared.
"I am not a fan of Aro Pritchard or his Inquisition. He is a small-minded, arrogant, power hungry little man. Anything I can do to embarrass or humiliate him is definitely for the good. Believe me, representing your interests in front of him will be one of the few pleasures I've had recently. I should be paying you for the privilege."
Later that evening, Bella was still curled up into a ball, only now she was trying to sleep in Edward's bed. He was still in his study, furiously typing on his computer, researching all the University policies that applied to graduate students, trying to figure out what had possibly come to the attention of the Tribunal.
The thought of Edward having to do that for her … the thought of Edward's career possibly being threatened because of her, combined with the possibility of losing Harvard, made the tears come.
It was all so overwhelming. And the worst part was not knowing what the specific danger was and whether it extended to Edward, too.
She tried to cry quietly, sobbing into her hand, but on his way to the kitchen Edward heard her echoes down the hall. And it broke his heart.
He quickly walked to the bedroom and stripped down to his boxer briefs. Then he slipped in behind her, wrapping his arms around her upper body and pressing his lips to the back of her neck.
"Sssshhhh, sweetheart. Don't cry. Please don't cry." Edward paused a moment. "I wouldn't have continued working if I'd known you were so upset."
Bella immediately wiped away her tears and tried to stop sobbing.
She hiccupped a couple of times and then proceeded to cry silently.
"I am not going to let them expel you. We've hired the best lawyer and we are going to fight this complaint. It's quite possible it's simply a misunderstanding and by Friday evening, it will all be over."
"What if this is about us? What if they come after you?"
Edward clenched his teeth together. "They won't come after me."
"But what if they do?"
"Then I'll deal with it. Don't worry about me. You have enough to worry about. You focus on your thesis and your studies, and you let me worry about this. I'm not going to let anyone hurt you. I promise."
He reached up his left hand to touch her cheek, and found it wet.
He rolled her onto her back and began sweeping soft kisses across her face.
When he finally opened his eyes, he saw that her tears were still flowing.
"I'm afraid," she whispered.
Edward stroked her hair and pressed a kiss to the tip of her nose. "I know, my love. But no matter what, I won't let them keep you from Harvard. It's going to be fine."
She nodded and he wiped at her tears again.
He gave her a pained look.
"What can I do, Bella? I don't know how to – comfort you." His voice was small and sincere.
"Kiss me."
Edward kissed her mouth; the hesitant, light kiss of a teenage boy who was unsure how the girl next door would react.
He needn't have worried.
Bella responded by wrapping his hair around her fingers and pulling his lips to hers, kissing him fiercely and coaxing his tongue into her mouth.
He kissed her back, but with restraint, and then he pulled away before pressing their foreheads together.
"I can't," he whispered.
"Please." She tugged at him, running her hands across his broad shoulders and down the sinews of his back, pulling him toward her.
"I can't make love to you while you're crying. I would feel like an animal. Like I was hurting you." Edward sounded a good deal more than apprehensive.
"But I need you."
"Wouldn't you rather I held you? Or ran you a hot bath or something?"
"Making love with you makes me happy because it reminds me how much you love me. Please. I need to feel like you want me."
"Of course I want you, Bella. I just want to treat you properly."
She was not the sort of woman who made many demands, and what demands she made were almost always good. And almost always about what was good for him.
Edward knew this and it pained him to deny her and those large, sad brown eyes.
But the trails of her tears had extinguished his libido. He would far rather have held her tightly and tried to soothe her by simply being close to her, than to attempt an act he would not be able to perform.
Her face told him that she needed him, that she needed this and them and the conjunction of body and soul.
She wants sex as a means of comfort. This beautiful, sad woman thinks that having sex with me will make her happy. And not for the obvious reason. But because she loves me.
While he stroked her hair, deciding what to do, he realized something about himself.
No matter what his therapist had intimated, he was not a sex addict.
He was not a wanton hedonist with a massive libido who was willing to, as Emmett had put it, screw anything female and attractive.
Isabella had changed him. He loved her. And even if she begged him, he couldn't become aroused while seeing her distressed and in pain.
Maybe I'm not as selfish as I thought.
Maybe I love her even more than I thought possible.
She was still staring up at him, wet eyed, her fingers tracing up and down his naked back.
He decided to give her part of what she wanted, to touch and caress her, focusing on distracting her with pleasurable feelings and sensations, hoping that it would be enough.
He brushed aside her tears and kissed her, slowing their pace to a gentle exploration. She ran her fingers through his hair, anchoring him to her as she softly scratched his scalp.
Even in the midst of her sorrow and need, she was kind. And affectionate.
He feathered his lips to her neck and her ear, where he whispered about how much she'd changed him. How much happier he was now that she was his.
She began to sigh in contentment as he adored her neck, dipping a playful tongue into the hollow at the base of her throat before kissing it chastely. And then he nipped at her collarbones, gently pulling aside the thin strap of her tank top so that the white slope of her shoulder was bare to his mouth.
She would have removed her tank top for him, exposing her breasts, but he stopped her.
"Patience," he whispered. "There's more to come."
He wound their fingers together and kissed the back of her left hand, extending her arm so that he could draw the flesh of her inner elbow into his mouth, pausing when she began to moan.
Now her moans of pleasure awoke his desire and he felt himself responding to her.
He coaxed her out of her tank top and panties so that she was exposed beneath him, and he kissed every inch of her. Gliding strong hands across trembling, soft skin, taking his cue from the heat that shot across her flesh and the sounds that escaped her lips.
When he was satisfied that her tears had stopped and she was asking him for more, he cast his boxer briefs aside and knelt between her legs.
He was giving her the opportunity to stop, even though it strained his self-control.
"I want you, Edward. So much."
"I want you, too. Always."
He was inside her then and she was moving her hands up and down his back as he arched over her. A small sigh escaped her lips as she relaxed against his movements.
Nothing was as beautiful as this.
She loved the way his muscles rippled underneath her fingertips and how their bodies responded instinctively to one another. Anticipation and fulfilment swirled together as they each gave and responded.
"Faster," she whimpered.
Edward smiled against the crook of her neck and began moving more quickly, entering her more deeply before reaching down to worship her rosebuds with his tongue.
She was close, he could tell by her breathing and the way she grasped desperately at his hips and then the curves of his behind.
"More," she groaned, and almost before he could thrust any faster she was shaking and crying out his name.
In itself, this was the moment he craved most, even beyond his own climax. The sound of his name tripping from her lips amidst the waves of her satisfaction.
She had been so shy the first few times they made love. She hadn't said his name. So every time she pronounced it in that ecstatic, breathy whisper, a precious warmth overtook him.
This is what love is, he thought. Being naked and bare before one's lover and unashamedly calling her name in need.
In his own orgasm, he reciprocated, whispering her name and telling her that he loved her. It was inextricably linked in his mind and experience now – sex and love and Isabella. The holy three.
He held her tightly while they caught their breath, smiling to himself. He was so proud of her; so happy she could give voice to her desires, even when she was sad.
He kissed her softly and was grateful to see that her smile had returned.
"Thank you," she whispered.
"Thank you, Isabella, for teaching me how to love."
"Aro, this is Katherine Picton."
Aro Pritchard held his telephone receiver with surprise. Usually, his administrative assistant was much better at screening his calls. But Katherine was nothing if not persistent and she usually received whatever she wanted.
He closed his eyes and sighed. "Ah yes, Professor Picton. To what do I owe this pleasure?"
"There's no pleasure at all, Aro. I demand to know why I received a letter from your office requiring me to be interviewed at one of your Stalinist proceedings."
Aro pressed his lips together in order to avoid biting back. She was famous, she was old and she was a woman. He wasn't about to curse her out.
Although he wanted to. Desperately.
"We need to speak with you about a few things. Ten minutes, tops, and then you'll be on your way," he replied smoothly.
"Nonsense. It takes me ten minutes to walk down the front steps of my house in the winter. It will take forever to walk over to your office. I demand to know what I am being summoned to and why, or I'm not coming. I have work to do."
No wonder she isn't married, thought Aro. I can actually feel my balls crawling back up inside my body just to get away from that shrill voice.
"A complaint has been made against the graduate student you are supervising."
"Miss Swan? What kind of complaint?"
Aro cleared this throat and then in a very understated way, he explained the nature of the complaint that he had received.
"That's outrageous! Have you even met Miss Swan before?"
"This is a ridiculous complaint made against an innocent and hard working female student. And need I remind you, Aro, that this is not he first time that a successful female graduate student has been slagged in a University proceeding."
"Professor Picton, I am quite aware of that. But evidence was presented. We wish to interview you about your dealings with Miss Swan and to ask you a couple of questions, and that's it."
"I don't have time for frivolous concerns and I am not going to lend any credence whatsoever to a witch hunt that is targeting my graduate student."
Aro smiled like a crocodile.
"But Professor Picton, I thought that Miss Swan was Professor Masen's graduate student?"
"She's my graduate student, do you hear me? I am her thesis director."
"Then it is essential that we speak with you. Without your testimony, it's quite possible a grave injustice might occur. Your testimony might be exactly what we need to clear Miss Swan's name."
"Codswallop. It's your responsibility to see that justice is served regardless of my presence and that female graduate students are protected from the intrigues of jealous competitors. I'm surprised that you have allowed the complaint to go this far. Quite surprised.
"And wipe that smirk off your face, Aro. I can hear you smiling condescendingly at me through the telephone and I don't appreciate it."
Aro cleared his throat noisily.
"Professor Picton, are you refusing to appear before the committee?"
"Are you hard of hearing, Aro? Or just intellectually lazy? I've said more than once that I refuse to cooperate with your pursuits. I don't work for the University anymore. I'm retired.
"Furthermore, I will be bringing this matter up over dinner tonight at President Naylor's house. I'm sure he and his guests will be most interested in how the VOLTURI has changed since I first started working at the University
"Margaret Atwood is the guest of honour. As an alumna, I know she takes an avid interest in the affairs of her alma mater. Particularly the more patriarchal machinations. I wonder what she'll make of this, Aro?"
And with that, Katherine hung up the phone, leaving Aro to regret summoning her in the first place. For, as Katherine suspected, he was deathly afraid of Margaret Atwood's pen.
Within minutes, he was begging his administrative assistant to help him wheedle an invitation to dinner at the President's house.
Peter walked into Professor Leaming's Aquinas seminar on Wednesday and was shocked by what he saw.
Bella sat at the back of the room, her skin pale and dull, with dark circles under her eyes. She looked terrible.
As he made his way to the empty seat beside her, she lifted her head and smiled at him thinly. Her smile alone pained him.
What the hell happened?
Angela Webber breezed into the seminar room, her large Michael Kors bag dangling from her wrist. She looked remarkably well rested and her hair was elegantly coiffed and her eyes were bright.
She was wearing red. Not cherry red or blood red but scarlet red.
The colour of triumph and power.
She saw Peter and Bella together and cackled quietly.
Bella flinched.
Peter's dark eyes shifted from Bella to Angela and then back again. He watched as Bella bent over her notebook, doodling geometric shapes in the margin.
"What's wrong?"
She continued her doodling. "Nothing. I'm just tired. I think I'm coming down with a cold."
And I was up late crying and making love with my boyfriend, who is your dissertation director.
Peter shook his head. He would have pressed her, gently this time, but Professor Leaming entered the room at that moment and began her lecture. The class was soon captivated by her discussion of the principles of natural law and natural justice. And Aquinas' defence of the oppressed …
After the seminar, Bella quickly picked up her messenger bag and her coat, hoping to make a break for the door.
Peter stopped her.
"Would you like a cup of coffee? I was going to walk over to Starbucks."
Bella shook her head. "I'm pretty tired. I think I need to go home."
Peter's eyes glanced down at her bare neck, her bare unmarked neck, and then moved back to her face.
"Is there anything I can do?" he asked.
"No. Thanks Peter. I'm fine, really."
Peter nodded and then watched Bella turn to leave, but before she could enter the hallway, he was at her side.
"On second thought, I should head home now, too. I can walk with you, if you want. It's in the same direction."
Bella bit her lip but nodded and the two friends descended the staircase from the second floor to street level before walking outside into the bone chilling winter air.
She wrapped her Magdalen College scarf around her neck, shivering against the cold.
"That's an Oxford scarf," said Peter.
"Did you buy it in Oxford?"
"Um, no. It was a gift."
Anthony, thought Peter. I guess he can't be a complete bonehead if he went to Oxford. Then again, Masen went to Oxford …
"I really like the Mariners cap you gave me. I'm a Red Sox fan, but I'll wear it with pride, except when I'm in Vermont. My dad would burn it if I wore it on the farm."
Bella couldn't help but giggle and Peter smiled.
"How long have you been sick?"
"Um, a few days."
"Have you been to the doctor?"
"It's just a cold. They wouldn't be able to do anything for me."
Peter seemed to consider this as he stole glances at her while they walked past the Royal Ontario Museum, snowflakes swirling around them and the crystal monstrosity that was the north wall.
"Has Angela been rude to you again? You seemed upset when she walked in the room."
Bella stumbled in the ankle-deep snow and Peter quickly reached out one of his large paws to steady her.
"Careful. There could be black ice under there."
Bella thanked him and began to walk a little more slowly after Peter released her.
"If you slip again, grab hold of me. I don't go down. Ever."
She glanced at him sideways, completely innocently, only to see him blush.
Bella had never seen a rugby player blush before.
Not many people have.
"Um, what I meant is that I'm too heavy. You wouldn't be able to pull me over."
She shook her head. "You aren't that heavy."
Peter smiled to himself at the perceived compliment.
"Bella, has Angela been harassing you?"
"I've been staying up late every night working on my thesis. My director is pretty demanding and last week she rejected several pages of my Purgatorio translation. Said it wasn't good enough. So I've been redoing it and it just takes so long. It's frustrating."
"I could help you. I mean, you could email your translations to me first before you give them to her. Every good writer needs an editor."
"Thanks, Peter. But you're busy with your own stuff. You don't have time for my problems."
Peter stopped walking and placed a hand on her arm.
"Of course I have time for you. You're working on love and lust and I'm working on pleasure. Some of our passages will overlap. It would be good practice for me."
"Well, if it wouldn't be a bother," she said, looking at him shyly.
"It's no bother. Send me what you have and what your deadlines are and I'll look at it. No problem."
"Thank you, Peter." She grinned and he grew warm at the sight.
He withdrew his hand and they began walking again.
"Did you know that the Chair of Italian Studies sent out an email announcement about your admission to Harvard? He said that you won a pretty big fellowship."
Bella's eyes went wide. "Um, no. I didn't know that. I didn't get that email."
"Do you know what Masen did? He made me print out the email and post it on the bulletin board next to his office, after he made me go through it and highlight all the important information, including your name, with a bright yellow marker. Figures. He was nothing but rude to you while you were in his seminar and now he's probably going to take credit for your admission to Harvard. What an asshole. "
Bella's eyebrows furrowed but she didn't comment.
She flushed slightly and looked down at her feet. "Nothing."
"Bella, spit it out. What were you thinking just now?"
"Um, I was just wondering if you'd seen Professor Singer hovering around the Centre? Or talking to Professor Masen?"
"No. Thank God. Sounds like she's gotten over her fixation with Masen and moved on to someone else. And she knows better than to speak to me. That was one of the conditions of her continued employment from last year's hearing. She was told to stay away from me.
"Wait a minute. Singer hasn't tried to contact you, has she?"
"No. I haven't seen her at all."
"Well, that's a good thing." Peter smiled at her again and patted her shoulder fraternally.
Since the Tribunal meeting was scheduled for Friday afternoon, Bella and Edward were required to re-schedule their respective therapy sessions.
Bella elected to see Siobhan the day before, while Edward, unbeknownst to Bella, cancelled his appointment. He preferred to use his time either learning more about the VOLTURI and its habits, or assembling his portfolio.
He was far too agitated to sit still in a chair and tell Liam about his mother. But he didn't want to disclose to Bella how upset he was because he didn't want to contribute to her distress. So he kept silent.
Recognizing that Bella needed to discuss what was happening with the VOLTURI, Siobhan set aside her goals for that session and listened patiently before offering some suggestions.
"Stress can be very destructive to our health, so it's important to deal with it adequately. Some people prefer to talk about their problems while others prefer to think about them. How have you dealt with stress in the past?"
Bella fidgeted with her hands. "I've kept quiet."
"Can you share your concerns with your boyfriend?"
"I can. But I don't want to upset him. He's worried about me as it is."
Siobhan nodded sagely. "When you care about someone, it's understandable that you would want to protect them from pain. And that's perfectly appropriate on some occasions. But on others, you run the risk of shouldering more than your fair share of stress or responsibility. Can you see why that might be a problem?"
"Well, I don't like it when Edward keeps things from me. I feel like a child. I'd rather have him share things than shut me out."
"It's possible that Edward feels the same way, that he worries about you shutting him out. Have you discussed this with him?"
"I've tried to. I've told him I want to be equals, that I don't want to keep secrets."
"Good. And what was his response?"
"He either wants to take care of me or he's worried about disappointing me."
"And how does that make you feel?"
Bella gestured with her hands as she tried to find the words. "I don't want his money. It makes me feel poor and dependent and – and helpless."
"And why is that?"
"He gives me so much already. Every cent he spends on me makes us that much more uneven."
"Is it important to you that your relationship be even?"
Siobhan smiled at Bella kindly. "No relationship is absolutely even. Sometimes, when couples try to split everything in half, they discover that the relationship is not a partnership, but a bean counting exercise. So striving for evenness in a relationship can be unhealthy.
"On the other hand, striving to have a partnership in which each partner is valued equally and each partner shares both burdens and responsibilities can be a very healthy way of structuring a relationship. In other words, it isn't a problem if he makes more money than you. But he needs to understand that you want to contribute to the relationship, perhaps not necessarily financially, but in other ways, and that those ways should be respected just as much as the money. Does that make sense?"
"Yes. I like that idea. A lot."
"As for protecting one another ..." She smiled.
"You could make a biological or theological argument as to why men feel the need to protect their women and children. Whatever the reason, it's a fact. Men tend to find their self-worth in actions and accomplishments. If you refuse to let him do things for you, he'll feel useless and superfluous. He wants to know that he can take care of you and protect you, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Partners should want to protect one another. But like any view, it has its extremes and it has its middle.
"What you and your boyfriend should do is to strive for the middle. Strive for balance. Allow him to take care of you in some ways, while exerting your independence in others. And then you should impress upon him the need for you to take care of him, too. In upcoming sessions we can explore the question of balance in more detail and we can address it in our joint sessions with Edward and Liam."
Bella nodded. The concept of balance or moderation truly appealed to her. She wanted to care for Edward and she wanted him to care for her, but she didn't want to be a burden and she didn't want him to look at her as if she was broken. But she didn't quite know how to sort all of that out practically.
"Some men have what I call chivalry syndrome – they want to protect their women as if they were absolutely helpless. And this might be romantic and exciting for a time, but eventually reality will set in and it will become stifling and patronizing. When one partner does all the protecting and the other does all the receiving, it's unhealthy.
"Of course, some women have the feminine equivalent of chivalry syndrome – wounded duck attachment. They seek out men who are bad boys or broken and afflicted and attempt to fix them. But we'll table that discussion for another day.
"At his extreme, a chivalrous male can do all kinds of rash things to protect his woman, including riding into battle on his horse, or taking up arms against thousands of Persians, when he should be running in the opposite direction. Discretion is the better part of valour." She chuckled slightly. "Did you see the film 300?"
Bella shook her head.
"It's about the Battle of Thermopylae, when three hundred Spartans held off two hundred and fifty thousand Persians before being defeated. Herodotus writes about it and Leonidas, King of the Spartans,
"He cannot be withstood by the courage of bulls nor of lions,
Strive as they may; he is mighty as Jove; there is naught that shall stay him,
Till he has got for his prey your king, or your glorious city."
Bella regarded Siobhan with no little interest. How many psychologists could quote Herodotus from memory?
"King Leonidas was an extreme case and you could argue that his last stand was precipitated by political concerns rather than concerns related to chivalry. But my point is that sometimes the chivalrous man ends up doing more damage through his protection than can be done by the force threatening his partner. Spartan women used to tell their husbands and sons to come home carrying their shields, or under them. If you found yourself in that situation, you're probably prefer that Edward didn't die holding the line against thousands of Persians and came home to you alive, instead."
Bella nodded in absolute agreement.
"In your conversations with Edward, you might want to talk about that - how you feel about being protected to his own detriment, how you should share your risks and responsibilities, why you want to be a partner rather than child or a helpless female, etc."
Bella smiled to herself as the light bulb above her head began to shine.
"Thank you, Siobhan."
True to her word, Katherine Picton declined to attend what she viewed as Aro's witch trial. She sent a strongly worded letter to his office to that effect, offering her assessment of the complaint and the situation at hand and then she urged the Tribunal not to entertain frivolous and petty intrigues.
Bella arrived at the Vice-Presidential suites of offices at the University on Friday afternoon and met Victoria in the hallway. She gave Bella some last minute instructions and then assured her that everything was going to be fine. And when Bella's nervousness did not abate, she sent Bella to the ladies' washroom to compose herself.
"I don't care what you do in there, but whatever you do, you need to come out looking relaxed and confident."
Easier said than done, thought Bella.
A few minutes and a lot of prayers later, she emerged with a much braver face.
The VOLTURI, or more exactly, the Chair of the VOLTURI, favoured formality and refinement. For these reasons, the Tribunal always met in a large, wood-panelled room in University College. The four members of he Tribunal sat in large, high backed chairs that were vaguely medieval in style, behind a large, dark wood table that ran almost the width of the room.
Two small folding chairs were centred before the table and that is where Victoria and her client sat most uncomfortably.
"A moment for introductions." Aro's rich, baritone voice rang out in the room.
"Miss Isabella Swan?"
Bella nodded, but said nothing.
"And who is your representative?" His pale, cold blue eyes gave away nothing, but it was clear that he recognized the red head at Bella's left.
"Victoria Weston, Dr. Pritchard. I will be representing Miss Swan."
"Is there a reason why Miss Swan has elected to bring an attorney to these proceedings?" It was clear that he was already irritated.
Victoria smiled widely and immediately made eye contact with the small, south Indian woman on Aro's right, who returned her smile.
"Why, Dr. Pritchard, my client was simply following your instructions. You suggested she retain a lawyer in your letter." Victoria's voice was deceptively sweet.
Aro resisted the urge to growl at her, for he did not like being made a fool.
"Would you care to introduce your colleagues, Dr. Pritchard? I don't believe my client has had the pleasure."
Aro glared in Victoria's general direction and then cleared his throat.
"Dr. Marcus Davenport, Vice-President of Faculty Affairs." A tall, blonde haired man to Aro's left nodded disinterestedly at Bella.
"Dr. Caius Chow, Vice-President of Student Affairs." Caius was a Chinese Canadian who wore wire-rimmed spectacles and a button down shirt with no jacket and no tie. He was the most casually dressed of the four of them and the most obviously friendly. He smiled at Bella and she liked him instantly.
"Dr. Alex Chakravartty, Vice-President of Diversity." Alex was a beautiful and petite woman of Indian descent, with dark eyes and long, straight black hair. She was dressed in a black suit with a large persimmon coloured silk scarf swathed like a sari around her torso. She, too, smiled at Bella, in between withering glances and the occasional scowl in Aro's direction.
"This meeting is for informational purposes only pursuant to a complaint that was filed in my office. We make no claims as to the merits or veracity of the complaint and have simply asked Miss Swan to speak to us for the purposes of clarification. We will begin by asking questions and then Miss Swan, you will have the opportunity to ask questions of us. I hope the meeting will terminate in about an hour."
Bella inhaled slowly, watching him, and waiting.
"Are you having a romantic relationship with Professor Edward Masen?"
Bella's eyes bugged out of her head and her jaw dropped open. Before she could gasp, or speak, Victoria interrupted.
"My client will not answer any questions until the substance of the complaint is revealed. The letter was understandably vague, given the policies of the University, but you have passed the point of vagueness with that question. Exactly what is the complaint against my client, what is the evidence for the complaint, and who is the complainant?"
Alex smiled widely and sat back in her chair, delighted, as she felt the anger rise in her colleague.
Aro tapped a finger at the glass water pitcher in front of him, making the slices of lemon dance to his drumming.
Bella noticed that his pitcher was the only one that had lemons in it.
"That is not how these meetings work. I am the Chair, I ask the questions."
"Dr. Pritchard," Victoria's voice took on an almost patronizing tone. "We both know that the policies and procedures assumed by this Tribunal are governed by the principles of natural justice. My client deserves to know the specifics of the complaint, the nature and scope of the evidence against her, if any, and the identity of the complaint. Otherwise, this is an unjust proceeding."
"I have to agree with Miss Weston," said Alex.
Aro fixed Bella with an angry eye.
"Very well. An allegation of graduate student misconduct reached our office, concerning you, Miss Swan. It was alleged that you entered into a sexual relationship with one of your professors while you were his student, for the purpose of procuring certain favours and that you threatened him with a harassment complaint if he didn't comply."
Bella's jaw almost dropped to the floor.
Victoria laughed. Loudly.
"This is a farce. How likely is it that a first-year Master's student would sexually harass a professor? And that a professor would be so afraid of her that he or she would simply comply?" Her voice dripped with disdain.
"The allegation is not without precedent at this institution, Miss Weston. And we take all harassment complaints seriously, as dictated by our policies."
"That's fine. We'll play along, for now. What are the alleged favours?" asked Victoria.
"A high mark in a seminar in which the professor was the instructor, financial payments, in the form of a bursary, and the procurement of an established, retired scholar to direct Miss Swan's thesis."
"Are we to know the name of the alleged victim?"
Aro watched Bella closely. "Professor Edward Masen."
Victoria smiled widely. "Someone has an excellent sense of humour. In reading your letter, Dr. Pritchard, I would have thought my client guilty of failing to pay a parking fine, not sexual harassment. Did Professor Masen file the complaint?"
Bella held her breath, horrified, as she waited for Aro's answer.
He tapped the papers in front of him with the end of his pen and then placed the pen down on the table.
"No, he did not."
"Well, what was his testimony on the matter?"
"We intend to speak with Professor Masen once we have gathered more information. Our protocols dictate that faculty members who are a party to a harassment complaint are brought in last, not first, especially if it's the case that the allegations might take on a different form in the light of new evidence. And as Aro mentioned, this is not a disciplinary hearing although we have taken the allegations seriously." Marcus spoke for the first time, his voice quiet but calm.
Bella found him very difficult to read. He seemed to hold no obvious dislike for Aro, but no obvious support, either. And the way he held his countenance gave one the impression that he was constantly bored.
Victoria fixed Marcus with a stern look. "So in the feudal and patriarchal hierarchy of the University, female graduate students are preyed upon first? And only afterwards the alleged victim, whose testimony could exonerate her, is approached? All of this could have been cleared up by a five-minute telephone call to the professor. I'm shocked that you would drag my client in here without the courtesy of even attempting to speak to the alleged victim."
Aro began to protest but Victoria interrupted him.
"Who is the complainant?"
"The complainant's name is Angela Webber, a fellow graduate student."
Victoria received the news impassively but Bella looked down at her hands.
Aro held up two pieces of paper.
"Based upon our preliminary investigation, it seems that Professor Masen saw to it that Miss Swan was awarded the M. T. Masen bursary. And Professor Katherine Picton has provided us a letter in which she states that she was approached by Professor Masen to direct Miss Swan's thesis."
An assistant scurried out from behind Aro's chair and walked a file of papers over to Victoria.
She glanced at them briefly.
"The file you have before you contains all of the evidence provided by Miss Webber, including a series of photographs and news clippings from a Florentine newspaper showing Miss Swan and Professor Masen in an embrace at a public event in Italy, where Professor Masen is quoted as saying that Miss Swan is his fiancée.
"And there are two videotapes showing personal interactions between Miss Swan and Professor Masen at a dance club, during the time that she was his student. These interactions appear to be of an intimate nature and certainly go well beyond the appropriate boundaries of a professional relationship." He paused for effect.
"It's possible that the evidence could be proof of more than one infraction. So for this reason, we are eager to hear Miss Swan's account. So I ask you again, did you enter into an inappropriate relationship with your professor for the purposes of gaining special favours and did you threaten him if he didn't give in to your advances?"
"Dr. Pritchard, I am astonished that a man of your stature would be persuaded to give credence to a complaint that not only strains credulity but is supported by the very flimsiest of evidence. Newspaper clippings from an Italian tabloid? Videos that cannot be authenticated? A bursary? A thesis advisor? There is no prima facie case. None whatsoever."
"Don't quote the law to me, Miss Weston!" Aro snapped, his swift temper getting the best of him. "I've been practicing law since you were in kindergarten!"
Victoria raised her eyebrows at him and then closed the file ceremoniously.
Aro glared at her and Bella before continuing.
"This body has a moral and legal responsibility to take every harassment allegation seriously. The newspaper article demonstrates that Miss Swan and Professor Masen were romantically linked only days after the end of the semester. It appears to demonstrate the existence of a prior inappropriate relationship, if nothing else."
"A consensual relationship between two adults that occurred after the close of the semester would not be against the rules. And the fact that my client was described as Professor Masen's fiancée demonstrates that there was no harassment," protested Victoria. "I cannot believe you summoned my client to listen to these bizarre accusations. The complainant is clearly unstable and living in a fantasy world. I will advise my client that she is well within her rights to file a harassment complaint against Miss Webber."
Aro cleared his throat noisily.
"If your position is such that Miss Swan and Professor Masen engaged in a consensual relationship, the Tribunal will gladly make note of such a declaration. When did this consensual relationship begin, Miss Swan?"
"My client admits nothing. I was simply offering a hypothetical interpretation of the evidence proffered in support of the complaint," Victoria objected.
"Graduate students and their professors cannot engage in consensual relationships. The power differential is too great to allow for consent." Alex's voice was passionate. "And I have no interest in listening to the Chair pursue his own investigation into Miss Swan's personal life with or without Professor Masen during winter break. Oh, and Meagan?"
Aro's assistant moved toward Alex's chair.
"I want to be sure that my remarks are minuted in the official transcript."
"Of course," said Aro's assistant, before returning to her seat.
"We are here today to discuss a harassment complaint. Given my views of consent, and my past history in dealing with harassment cases as a member of this Tribunal, I need more than a prima facie case to convince me that it is even possible for a graduate student to harass and threaten her professor, despite the precedents cited by Dr. Pritchard.
"I would like to suspend this interview for the purpose of interviewing the complainant, who I believe has been scheduled to meet with us later this afternoon. And I would like to re-iterate my protest at having Miss Swan interviewed prior to the complainant." Alex gazed over at Caius and Marcus expectantly.
Aro made no attempt to disguise his scowl as Alex effectively stabbed him in the back."I have a different understanding of consent." His voice was equally passionate. "Nevertheless, we will be interviewing Miss Webber and so all of your questions can be posed to her after we are finished with Miss Swan.
Alex crossed her arms in front of her but did not protest further while Aro continued his presentation."I have a signed letter from Professor Picton indicating that she was approached by Professor Masen in October because he was experiencing a conflict of interest in his supervision of Miss Swan. What other reason
would he have to approach Professor Picton other than giving Miss Swan what she wanted? What other kind of conflict of interest could there be, other than an inappropriate and possibly harassing relationship?"
Bella opened her mouth to answer him, to reveal the fact that she had known Edward since she was a teenager, but Victoria grabbed her forearm in a death grip."You sound as if you have already taken a position on the complaint, Dr. Pritchard, and are therefore biased. Perhaps your letter would have been less disingenuous if you had stated that your true purpose in this meeting was to poison the well against Miss Swan so that you could manoeuvre her into facing a fraternization complaint."Victoria was provoking him now, and he knew it.
But he wouldn't lose his temper again.
Aro's voice was cold and calculating. "The complaint alleges harassment and that is the line of enquiry we are pursuing. The complainant testifies that Professor Masen and Miss Swan engaged in a lover's quarrel in front of a room full of witnesses during one of his seminars. This was presented as evidence of Miss Swan's possible avenues of reprisal against Professor Masen if he didn't give her what she wanted. Shortly after that embarrassing public display, Professor Picton signed the paperwork that allowed her to become Miss Swan's thesis advisor. Quid pro quo. Quod erat demonstrandum."
He could not suppress his smile.
"Nemo me impune lacessit, Dr. Pritchard." Victoria smiled at the other three members of the Tribunal, before turning a stony gaze in Aro's direction.
"This has been very illuminating. Very illuminating. Unfortunately, the complaint is both malicious and false.
"The evidence appears to have been brought forward by a graduate student who at best is jealous of the fact that Professor Picton agreed to supervise Miss Swan's thesis. So my client will not be answering any questions. Moreover, if you decide to pursue a disciplinary hearing on the basis of this complaint and this evidence, not only will I represent my client's interests at that proceeding, but I will be pursuing other avenues of remedy against the complainant and this committee."
Aro flushed and Bella watched as he gripped his pen rather tightly. "Are you sure this is the position you wish to take, Miss Swan? An argument for leniency could be made if you cooperate."
"Cooperate with fabrications and fictions? You've basically called my client a whore and argued that she slept with her professor to gain a preferment and that she threatened him to get what she wanted. I don't need to remind the Tribunal of the laws regarding defamation of character. I believe we found ourselves in a similar situation last year. We do not give in to threats."
A smile appeared on Aro's lips. "Not threatening, no. We do not threaten, we adjudicate. And this investigation is not over. We will be interviewing witnesses and other relevant parties and then we will repeat this conversation again. Do any of my learned colleagues have any further comments or questions for Miss Swan?"
Alex, Caius and Marcus all shook their heads.
"Then Miss Swan, if you refuse to answer my questions, you are dismissed."
Victoria nodded at each of the members of the Tribunal and then she stood up and escorted Bella out of the room.


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