capitolo trentatre

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capitolo trentatre

Messaggio  simona80 il Gio 10 Mar 2011, 20:32

Chapter Thirty-Three
After their appearance before the Tribunal, Victoria drove Bella to the Windsor Arms Hotel, which was very close to the University.
"You need a drink," she announced, handing the valet the keys to her red Mercedes.
Bella had been to the hotel before but only to the spa so she could use the gift certificates that Edward had given her for Christmas.
Victoria quickly led her into the bar that was near the front door of the hotel. It was a small, sleek room, decorated in violet, black and grey.
Bella shivered, for she found the decorating scheme quite cold. And almost Gothic.
"Victoria!" The bartender came around the side of the bar to greet her with a kiss on each cheek. "You aren't usually here this early."
"A rough day, Pierre. We need a cocktail." She returned his embrace and then stepped back. "This is my friend, Isabella."
Pierre greeted her warmly and then asked what they were drinking.
"Lemon drop," said Victoria.
"Flirtini," said Bella, nervously.
Pierre nodded and left the two of them to find a comfortable seat in one of the corners.
"Well, that Tribunal was a confederacy of dunces," announced Victoria, eyeing Bella carefully.
Bella nodded, wondering if she was Ignatius Reilly, the protagonist of the book with the same name, or whether Edward was Ignatius and she was Myrna Minkoff.
Pierre delivered their drinks with a smile, and a few tapas dishes, "on the house." He winked at Victoria and then returned to the bar.
Victoria took a long pull from her drink and then settled herself against the banquette.
"My advice is to file a counter-harassment complaint against this Angela Webber witch, citing malicious intent, as soon as possible."
"I'm not sure I want to antagonize her."
Victoria laughed. "What more could she do to you? Boil your bunny in a pot on the stove?"
Bella sipped her Flirtini, but said nothing.
"Listen, a complaint against her would be a shot across the bow. We don't have to follow through on it, but it would give her and Aro something to think about. You told me that she was after your boyfriend. Don't you want to strike back?"
"What I want is for all of this to be over and for the Tribunal to leave us alone. I don't understand how she can file a harassment complaint on Edward's behalf in the first place. They should have thrown it out."
"The Tribunal isn't a court. It has its own rules and procedures, some of which are drawn from the law. For example, the Tribunal accepts amicus briefs. She claimed to be a friend of the Tribunal and filed on Edward's behalf, citing the fact that he was being blackmailed by you as a justification for her intervention. Sometimes with complaints like this the Tribunal keeps the identity of the complainant a secret. Aro must have decided that Angela was not in danger of being harmed by you, otherwise he wouldn't have disclosed her identity." Victoria shook her head.
"It isn't fair to have secret complainants."
"No, it isn't. But once again, the Tribunal isn't governed by the legal code or by precedent, necessarily. Although Aro likes a good legal argument." Victoria sipped her cocktail once more. "It's possible he's bluffing when he says he's going to interview other people. But just in case, I'd like a list of people who you think he could interview and anything they might say that would be potentially damaging."
"But he let me go."
"Bella, I think we won today's battle, but I'm not sure we've won the war."
Bella turned to her, wide-eyed. "What do you mean?"
"I mean that we were able to show that you aren't the one harassing Edward, but I think that Aro smells a violation of the fraternization policy. So it's quite possible we'll end up back there in a week's time."
"Oh, no." Bella began sawing on her lower lip with her teeth.
"Don't worry. Yet. A fraternization complaint targets you, but it also targets your boyfriend and the Administration is very cautious about bringing in a faculty member over such a serious allegation. They'll continue their investigation until they're sure, and then they'll pounce.
"Even if it comes to that, at the moment you have at least two allies on the Tribunal, Alex and Caius. Marcus will almost always side with the faculty. As the Chair, Aro doesn't vote unless they decide to vote by secret ballot."
"Why is that?"
"Robert's Rules of Order. But I'm sure in this case, Aro is going to demand that they vote by secret ballot. And then if it's a tie, Aro breaks the tie."
"What does that mean?"
Victoria sighed.
"It means I can't predict the outcome. Personality-wise, I can hurt you. Aro dislikes me intensely and wants nothing more than to see me humiliated as I humiliated him in a proceeding last year. Nevertheless, he is a fair man, in general, and we will get a fair hearing. I think.
"In the meantime, let me file a complaint against this Angela Webber character. As for you and your boyfriend, don't draw any unnecessary attention to yourselves. Aro will be investigating both of you this week and we have no idea what Angela is telling them right now."
Bella shook her head, a wave of nausea crashing over her as she thought of Angela giving testimony to the Tribunal.
"Alright, Victoria. File the complaint. I don't think it will accomplish anything other than to antagonize her and to keep my name in front of the Tribunal, but you're the lawyer.
"Do you think she's having an affair with Aro, and that's why they took her complaint so seriously?"
Victoria laughed heartily. "I doubt it. I think he prefers men, but I don't know for sure. He's just a crusader who wants to ferret out any potential lawsuits before they hit the courts.
"Even if the Tribunal were to find you guilty of an infraction, we always have legal recourse. So if they give us an unacceptable result, we'll sue their asses."
Victoria smiled widely and downed the rest of her lemon drop in one swallow.
-x-x-x-x-
Thirty minutes later, Bella was exiting the elevator on Edward's floor. She passed his French neighbour as she walked down the long hallway and they exchanged a brief but friendly nod. Then she let herself in with her key.
"Isabella? Is that you?"
"Yes."
Bella could not have known this, but Edward had been in his study all afternoon researching the University policies on various things and trying to discover what kinds of punishments the Tribunal had meted out in the past.
And when his anxiety got the best of him and he could no longer sit still, he had pestered James by phone, pacing the floor like a lion in a cage and almost wearing a footpath into his antique Persian carpet.
Bella quickly removed her coat and boots and was ready to walk into the living room when Edward met her in the front hall.
"Did it just end now? Why didn't you call me? I tried to reach you but your phone was switched off."
He placed his hands on her shoulders and kissed her forehead.
"Victoria wanted to debrief me afterward."
Now Edward looked even more concerned.
"Are you alright? What happened?"
"I'm fine. They let me go."
He let out an expletive and pulled her into his arms, hugging her tightly. "If anything ever happened to you …"
She returned his embrace and exhaled slowly against his chest.
"It was Angela Webber."
"What?" He pulled back so that he could see her face.
"Angela Webber accused me of sexually harassing you so that you would give me things."
"What? What the fuck?"
While Bella hurriedly described the nature of the complaint and Aro and Victoria's exchanges, Edward's expression grew darker and more dangerous. When she quoted Aro's final words, he took a large step away from her.
With a cry, he reared back and thrust his fist through the wall. And then, for good measure, he withdrew his fist, dragging fragments of plaster and dust with him, before punching through the wall twice more in rapid succession.
Bella stood there, open-mouthed and in shock as Edward trembled before her, his eyes closed, and his chest heaving.
Part of her wanted to run, to duck, to hide.
But she found herself rooted to the spot, staring at him.
He'd been afraid, she knew. Terrified she'd get hurt.
No matter how much she wanted to run at that moment, the sight of a few drops of blood dripping from his knuckles and onto the hardwood floor captured her attention and she set her fears aside.
"Edward!"
Entirely forgetting that she grew faint at the sight (and smell) of blood, Bella took a cautious step forward, grasping his bloodied fist in both hands.
Her voice dropped as her head bowed.
"What have you done to yourself?" she whispered.
She looked up into his blazing eyes and then pulled him towards the guest washroom.
Surprisingly, he came willingly.
"Sit down," she instructed, watching him seat himself on the lid of the closed toilet.
She examined his knuckles and found them split in more than one place, dust and bits of plaster mixed with his blood.
"You might need stitches," she said. "And I'm worried you've broken something."
Edward opened and closed his hand several times, wordlessly demonstrating that his hand wasn't broken.
"I think you should have an x-ray, just in case."
His only response was to pinch his nose with his uninjured hand, and to heave a deep, shuddering sigh.
She opened the medicine cabinet and removed a few first aid items.
"I'll try to clean this, but you should go to the hospital."
"I'll be fine." His voice was tight.
Using tweezers, she removed the bits of plaster from his wounds and then cleaned them with iodine.
Edward barely flinched as she bathed his knuckles and she noticed that he was shaking slightly, possibly from residual fury.
"I'm sorry I upset you," Bella whispered hesitantly.
Edward opened his eyes and stared. "I nearly brought a wall down, and you're apologizing to me?"
"I should have told you when you were sitting down. Or after you'd had a drink."
He shook his head. "Then I really would have knocked the wall down. Or worse. I'm too angry to drink, Isabella."
Bella had trouble imagining what could be worse than bringing down a wall with one's bare hands, but she continued her first aid until the wound was completely clean and then she affixed a few butterfly bandages on the cuts in order to close them.
When she was finished, she ghosted her lips to his knuckles.
"I'm so sorry."
Edward caught her hand in his.
"Stop it." He placed his lips against the open palm of her hand and kissed her. "I seem to remember another time in this washroom when I was the one playing doctor."
Bella blushed at the memory. "I was mortified. I wanted to make a good impression and then I smashed your crystal and sprayed your nice shirt with Chianti."
Edward shook his head. "It was an accident. I had to work up the courage to put iodine on your cuts. I was so afraid of hurting you. And that was before I …"
He closed his eyes and rubbed at them.
"I'm still afraid of hurting you. Only now it's worse. What happened to you today is my fault. I should have protected you." His shoulders hunched forward in defeat. "Everyone I love ends up hurt. Or dead."
"Edward," Bella's said, her voice a warning. She leaned over and took his face between her hands, forcing him to look at her. "Don't. We knew the risks when we got involved. And I don't care what they do to me." Her voice broke on the words, but she spoke them anyway. "I don't care about Harvard or my Ph.D. I'm only afraid of losing you."
A strange fire illuminated Edward's eyes.
"Not even hell could keep me from you," he whispered.
The lovers embraced desperately, drawing comfort from each other's very skin.
A short while later, Bella was naked, coaxing Edward to join her in his large bathtub.
"I'm not in the mood for a bubble bath, Isabella. What I want to do is wring Angela's little neck. Or take a crow bar to something."
Preferably something ugly and poorly made. Like a minivan.
"That's why you need a bubble bath, my love." Bella stepped into the hot water and then settled herself amongst the suds.
He regarded her intensely – the way her long hair was pinned up haphazardly on top of her head, a few curls escaping the bobby pins, the gentle contours of her breasts floating amidst the water like two white, pink tipped lilies, the nervous way she bit at her lip until she realized he was staring at it.
He didn't want to relax, he wanted to destroy, to maim, to injure; all in order to protect her.
How in the world had he ever agreed to allow her to enter that lion's den alone?
It was too late now. The damage had been done. And he sensed from what Isabella told him that it was all far from over.
Out of a desire to please her after his disgusting show of temper, and for no other reason, he took off his clothes. It was difficult with an injured hand, but he managed, hanging up his button-down shirt on a hook on the back of the door and folding his black trousers neatly, placing them on the marble vanity.
As he leaned over to remove his boxer shorts, Bella glanced at him surreptitiously.
She never seemed to tire of his beauty or to get used to it. Especially the way his muscles rippled across his back and then lower down...
As he opened the door to the linen closet, she was treated with the sight of his backside in all of its curved and muscular glory and she was reminded of how it had looked when she saw him drop the purple towel behind her bathroom door, and the way it felt to hold those curves in her hands whenever they made love.
But all of these thoughts were interrupted when he sat behind her. She snuggled backwards in between his legs until she was leaning flush against his chest and then gave a relieved little sigh. Being close to him was comforting.
He moved his injured right hand to hang over the edge of the bath.
"Do you remember the first time we bathed together?" she asked.
"Yes. I'm not likely to forget it."
"You were worried I was hurting and you carried me to the tub." She smiled shyly. "You are very considerate, Edward, but that was one of the kindest things you've ever done for me."
"Thank you." He gave her a peck on a cheek. "But I can't reminisce about happy things with you right now. I'm far too angry for that. I'd like to rip out Aro Pritchard's tongue and strangle him with it.
"When we're finished here, I will call James and tell him what you told me. I'll direct him to draft a letter to Aro denying that you harassed me and saying that Angela is a malicious little bitch who has been troubling me since she arrived. I'm sure he'll tell me to refrain from saying anything else."
Bella couldn't help but smile at the thought of the Tribunal receiving a stern rebuke on legal stationery that said that the complainant was a "malicious little bitch."
"It would be interesting to see that stuffy Aro reading profanity aloud into the minutes. I suppose if Angela is branded a bitch before the Tribunal, then it must be true."
Edward shook his head at her sarcasm.
"We're still in danger. Even if they think our relationship is consensual they can still decide to punish you. They're unlikely to believe someone like me would actually wait to consummate our relationship. I'm the most damning piece of evidence against you."
"Edward, please don't talk about yourself that way. I don't care what they think. We'll tell the truth and they'll have to prove us wrong." She turned sideways so that she could rest the side of her face against his chest. "The most important thing is for us to work together."
He reacted instinctively, tightening his arm against her breasts, and pressing a kiss to her hair.
"Our only hope is that they won't pursue this any further. If they do, if they try to hurt you, so help me God I'll –"
"Edward, we have to show a united front. We're partners. We broke the rules together and we should take the consequences together. I can bear anything as long as they don't separate us - or hurt you. Please don't let them do that. Please don't do anything rash."
He fumed slightly.
"Did you stand up for yourself in the meeting? Like I asked you to?"
"Victoria did all of the talking. She said it would be better if we gave away nothing. But I agreed to have her file a counter-harassment complaint against Angela, which she's going to prepare."
"I should have been the one to file a complaint against her, months ago. That part, at least, is my fault. But Monday morning, I'm notifying the Chair of my Department that I will no longer be supervising Miss Webber's Ph.D. dissertation. She'll be out of the program without a director."
"Won't that escalate things with her?"
"She told the VOLTURI about us. She tried to end your graduate career. I'm going to end hers."
He pulled Bella even closer, so that his lips could find her neck. He kissed her repentantly and then buried his face in her long, dark hair.
-x-x-x-x-
Later that evening, Angela found herself seated at the bar at Lobby, drinking a dirty martini from a clean glass.
"Bad day?" asked the bartender, raising his voice slightly so he could be heard over the music.
"You have no idea. Keep the martinis coming."
He frowned slightly and then nodded, moving to make her a second drink.
She couldn't have predicted that afternoon's turn of events, the way the Tribunal had turned on her, like a serpent she'd caught by the tail.
They'd used words like ill advised and speculative.
But really, how could she have become his fiancée so quickly without blackmailing him? How could he have chosen her out of affection, when he seemed to be a man with no heart at all who was only interested in one thing?
She'd heard about his reputation. She knew what he was.
He was a manwhore. A more. And no amount of monogamy or celibacy would ever make him otherwise.
He'd crack eventually and go foraging for someone else to fuck.
He wasn't with her for the sex that was for sure.
How could he sleep with such a mousy little thing? Someone who was so clearly a virgin at the beginning of the semester, when he could have had me? I majored in Lolita studies when I was a teenager!
Even after the second dirty martini, it didn't make sense to her how Professor Masen could have chosen such a plain and ugly creature when he could have had her warming his bed. And riding him.
Now I'll have to find a new dissertation director. And I doubt Professor Picton will take me on. Although it's worth a shot …
"Hello, gorgeous."
Angela's machinations were interrupted by the nerdish looking man who sidled up to her, wearing a white t-shirt that had the word Metaphysics written elegantly across the front of it, a rust coloured corduroy jacket, grey dress pants, and white sneakers.
It was an extraordinary ensemble.
"Hello, Lucas."
-x-x-x-x-
The following week passed by quietly. Neither Edward nor Bella received any communications from the Tribunal, other than a curt note from Aro directed at Edward, indicating that he had received his statement regarding Angela.
So it was with a rather optimistic state of mind that Edward and Bella returned to their regular therapy sessions on Thursday.
Siobhan chose the topic of fear for that week's session.
"Bella, what are your greatest fears?"
She considered the question for a moment, before fidgeting with her fingernails.
"Um, losing my boyfriend. Flunking out of graduate school. Ending up old, alone and senile with multiple cats."
"Losing him how?"
She squirmed in her seat.
"I'm afraid he might decide we aren't a good match and he'll leave me. He's also very handsome and women can't help but notice him. I'm worried he'll tire of me and decide he wants someone better. Especially if I move to Cambridge next year and he doesn't come with me."
"I thought you said he was planning on joining you."
"What if he changes his mind?"
Siobhan offered a sympathetic look. "Being separated from a loved one is painful, that's true. But why are you afraid that he'll tire of you? He says that he loves you. He seems quite attentive. Don't you believe him?"
"I believe him now but people change. People stop loving each other. My parents loved each other once and they ended up hating each other."
"No relationship has a money-back guarantee. I can't promise that you and your boyfriend will always be together, whether he moves with you to Harvard or not. But what I can do is help you make your relationship healthy and give you the tools that you need in order to have a happy life with or without him."
"I can't be happy without him," whispered Bella, trying not to cry.
Siobhan seemed to consider this for a moment.
"Is that really true? You and he were separated once before, weren't you? And you survived. In fact, I would argue that you thrived, at least in the realm of academics. You did very well in school, you spent a semester abroad in Italy and become fluent in Italian. You were accepted to Harvard for your M.A. You became the capable, intelligent woman that you are today. Don't you think you could survive again if something went wrong? Turn lemons into lemonade?"
"That was before I really knew him. Before we became so – close. If I were to lose him now …" She shook her head and sniffled.
Siobhan smiled at Bella. "I'm not saying it wouldn't be painful. But if you build your happiness on another person, you will be disappointed. Once again, it's important to strive for balance. It's alright to need people, it's alright to love freely, but if you think that your happiness depends on someone else, that's just not true. And it isn't healthy."
She leaned forward in her chair. "The pedestal you've placed your boyfriend on is far too high. Remember, he's a man and not a god. Or an angel. When he tumbles off that pedestal, and he will, you're going to be hurt. Let's work on bringing that pedestal closer to the ground, and focusing on other things that bring you happiness, before he falls.
"And let's focus our attention on getting you healthy. You and your relationships will never be perfect. We aren't striving for perfection. We're striving for health, well-being and happiness, and equipping you to live a meaningful life where you can love and be loved without fear."
Bella pondered the truths that Siobhan poured into her ear. She knew that her therapist was right – that she had a lot of work to do on herself. But she also couldn't shake the feeling that Edward was her soul mate, her bashert, and that there would never be another.
How could I live without my soul?
-x-x-x-x-
Aro Pritchard spent his Friday night alone in his office with a bottle of Jameson's whiskey.
It was not unusual for him to do so. In his position as Vice-President of Legal Affairs, his sole purpose was to prevent the University from being sued. And he was very, very good at his job.
Nevertheless, on this particular evening he found himself mired in a very tricky, very sensitive case.
Miss Webber's harassment complaint, while clearly specious, had alerted him to a possible case of fraternization between a professor in the Department of Italian Studies and one of his graduate students.
The problem was that the evidence was contradictory.
By all accounts, Miss Swan was a rather timid young woman, who had been disliked initially by Professor Masen and possibly even verbally abused by him in his graduate seminar.
Then, out of the blue, he had approached Professor Picton to supervise Miss Swan's thesis, citing the fact that she was a friend of his family as the reason why he could no longer continue to supervise her.
Here is where Aro was puzzled.
Professor Masen had not objected to Miss Swan's admission to the program, knowing that he was the only professor who directed theses on Dante. So if there was such an obvious conflict of interest, why hadn't he objected to her admission to the program? Or declared the conflict of interest to one of his superiors at the beginning of the academic year?
It didn't make sense.
And Aro did not like it when things did not make sense. For his universe was nothing if not sensical.
As he pondered the situation and the evidence, he pulled out one of his favourite books and began to read a very sophisticated analysis of prisoner's dilemmas. Aro liked to keep his mind nimble.
Down the hall, Alex Chakravartty was frustrated.
She knew that based upon precedent, Aro had no problem punishing a graduate student for sleeping with her professor if the relationship violated the non-fraternization policy. Even if that relationship was consensual.
But since he had never been a woman or a member of a minority group, he had no first-person familiarity with the way in which a power differential eroded the possibility of consent.
In Alex's philosophy, it did not matter if Miss Swan thought she was consenting, or wanted to consent to having an affair with her professor. Their relationship was by definition non-consensual because of the difference between their powers and positions.
But now that Aro had caught a whiff of a possible infraction, he would leave no stone unturned in his quest to protect the University against exposure. And possible subsequent lawsuits from jealous students such as Miss Webber who would allege that Miss Swan had received academic preferments because she was sleeping with her professor.
Margaret Atwood's op-ed piece in The Globe and Mail on the shadowy nature of the VOLTURI Tribunal would have caught Aro's attention that week. Far from causing him pause, it would only propel him to prove himself and the Tribunal unworthy of the pejorative description she offered.
Over the course of her career, Alex had seen too many bright and promising graduate students become the playthings of their professors. She would not allow the same thing to happen to Miss Swan with impunity. Given Professor Masen's rather colourful reputation, she found it difficult to believe that he had done anything other than seduce the young Miss Swan and then attempt to cover it up afterwards, conveniently convincing her that they were "in love" and that their relationship was "consensual."
The time line of events seemed to support Alex's theory.
And because of the power differential and Professor Masen's seductive lies, Miss Swan had not reported him. She wouldn't have been the first student to have fallen into this trap.
Aro knew of Miss Swan's early admission to Harvard and that a failing grade in Professor Masen's Dante seminar would cause her to lose her place. In his quest to protect the University, the reputation of the VOLTURI and his own good name, he was likely to commit a grave injustice that would permanently injure Miss Swan and end her career.
Alex felt that it was her responsibility as Vice-President of Diversity to ensure that Miss Swan's rights as a graduate student were protected and not trashed by a reactionary Vice-President who was concerned with covering the University's collective ass. (Which was, admittedly, rather large)
Annoyed and frustrated, she inserted a flash drive into her computer that had been provided to her by the Information Technology office. Yes, it was possible that Aro and even Marcus and Caius had requested the exact same files. But Alex preferred to look at the evidence herself and to come to her own conclusions.
She opened the single folder on the drive and began scanning through the emails that had been culled obligingly from Professor Masen's account through a very sophisticated search engine. She adjusted the parameters of her own internal search engine to include only those messages that had been sent to or received from Miss Swan, Miss Webber, Mr. Norris and Professor Picton.
It only took a few minutes for her to find exactly what she was looking for.
She found two emails that had been sent before the end of October 2009. The first had been written by Professor Masen to Miss Swan,
Dear Miss Swan,
I need to speak to you concerning a matter of some urgency.
Please contact me as soon as possible.
You may telephone me at the following number: 416-zzz-zzzz (cell).
Regards,
Prof. Edward A. C. Masen,
Associate Professor
Department of Italian Studies/
Centre for Medieval Studies
University of Toronto.
And then the second email, sent by Miss Swan to Professor Masen, in response to his message.
Dr. Masen,
No, I did not read your card. I destroyed it.
Stop harassing me.
I don't want you anymore.
I don't even want to know you.
If you don't leave me alone, I will be forced to make an appointment with the University's harassment officer and file a formal complaint.
And if you call my father, I will do just that.
Immediately.
If you think I'm going to let a little insignificant thing like this drive me from the program, then you are very much mistaken.
I need a new thesis director; not a bus ticket home.
Regards,
Miss I. M. Swan,
Lowly Graduate Student,
On-Knees-More-Than-The-Average-Whore.
P.S. I will be returning the M. T. Masen bursary next week. The first and middle initials are very apt.
Congratulations, Professor Abelard. No one has ever made me feel as empty as you did Sunday morning.
Bingo, thought Alex.
-x-x-x-x-
On Monday afternoon, two registered letters from the VOLTURI were delivered to the private residences of Professor Edward Masen and Miss Isabella Swan.
These letters were neither understated nor polite. They demanded that the addressees appear before a disciplinary hearing to be held on Friday morning on a matter related to the University's non-fraternization policy. Both Edward and Bella were encouraged to bring representation, possibly an attorney.
The speed with which the hearing was scheduled left the couple and their lawyers scrambling to strategize and prepare. Luckily, James and Victoria were each of a suspicious nature and had been preparing for just such a hearing all along.
Unluckily, they had not studied prisoner's dilemmas or game theory.
James' advice to Edward was to stonewall, although he urged Edward to coach Isabella on what to say and more importantly, what not to say. Failing that, James had every intention of arguing that Isabella was an unstable, impressionable student who had become fixated on Edward at a young age and had seduced him.
But he didn't tell Edward that.
Victoria's advice paralleled that of James. She told Bella to say nothing and then to blame Edward for everything, intending to argue that he was the older, rakish professor who had seduced an innocent young woman with promises of a long and happy future. When Bella declared that she wanted to confess to the relationship and tell the truth about everything, Victoria told her that that was a very bad idea. And she privately schemed to bring up Edward's promiscuous reputation and brushes with law enforcement.
Neither Edward nor Isabella were entirely happy with the attitudes displayed by their attorneys.
Nevertheless, the targeted couple succumbed to the collective pressure to keep their distance from one another until after the Tribunal meeting, and so they each spent a very long week sleeping single in their separate apartments. And in both cases, suffering through very vivid, very horrifying nightmares of permanent separation.
-x-x-x-x-
On the night before the Tribunal, Bella and Edward said their good nights via telephone. Edward cut the conversation short, unwilling to talk about the unhappiness that was their situation and their private fears as to what might happen the following day.
Some time after midnight, Bella was awakened mid-dream by the sound of three sharp taps against her window.
At first, she thought she was still dreaming. But when the raps were repeated, this time more loudly, she exited her bed and pulled aside the curtain.
There, standing with his nose almost pressed against her window, was Edward.
He looked slightly wild, eyes frantic, wearing his beret and his winter coat, knee-deep in a snowdrift.
She quickly unlocked the window and helped him open it and then stood aside as a gust of frozen air whooshed past him into the room.
He closed the window soundly, locked it and drew the curtain.
"Edward, what are you –"
She wasn't given the chance to finish her question as Edward wrapped her in his arms and pressed his ice-cold lips to hers. His lips were cold, it was true, but his mouth and tongue were warm and inviting.
And the heat of his kiss, which was deep and erotic, began to blossom across her skin.
He pulled away from her, but only for a moment, so that he could divest himself of his hat and coat, and then he was embracing her once again, tracing icy fingers up and down her arms, unbuttoning her pyjama top and slipping a hand inside to cradle her breast.
She would have asked him what was happening, but she knew.
It was all passion and fear and undeniable need.
He moved her backwards to the bed as he pulled his shirt out of his trousers, watching her slip off her pyjamas as he carelessly dropped his shoes, clothes and socks to the floor.
Within an eye blink they were naked and he was pulling her up into his arms, tugging her legs around his hips.
They'd never been this quick to undress and to love.
As he walked her to the closed door and pressed her back against it, his movements were frantic and desperate, but not rough or unkind.
His cold fingers teased her while his mouth trapped her breast, sucking and nipping.
She was crying out already, still shocked at his speechless fervour.
A few moments later her mind was almost distracted by the difference in temperature between their bodies; the taut, hard coldness of his chest and still iciness of his fingers, pressing against her soft, warm curves, while his left hand supported her bottom.
It's like making love to a marble statue, she thought.
When he felt with thawing fingertips that she was ready, he thrust up into her, grunting into the crook of her neck in preliminary satisfaction, his upper body relaxing slightly at the feel of her.
But there was no space between their bodies or air between their skins.
Bella moaned appreciatively at the sensation of being one with her beloved. Her hands immediately slid from his shoulders to his hips and she cupped his backside to press him into her more deeply as he groaned into her ear.
It was a cacophony of unembarrassed sounds and noises, made far more animalistic by its lack of language. And of course, the rhythmic bumping of Bella's back against the heavy wooden door.
Their coupling was loud and fast and deep, and perhaps the most intense physical connection they'd ever had, topping even their sex against the wall in Florence.
And that was something.
Soon they were exploding jointly into bliss, hearts racing and blood pumping through veins, clutching one another and crying out. Then finally, finally, they collapsed into a tangle of flesh and limb and limpid satisfaction on Bella's narrow bed.
Edward was on top of her but she would not let him move. He shifted slightly to distribute his weight to the mattress, but he, too, was unwilling to break the contact of skin against skin.
Bella petted his hair and told him how much she loved him as he buried his nose in the hollow of her throat, inhaling her scent.
But Edward said not a word.
-x-x-x-x-
Bella was alone when she awoke the next morning. In fact, there was no sign of her evening visitor apart from an unlocked window and the scent of Edward and sex that clung to her rumpled sheets.
She had expected a note, a message, something.
But there was nothing.
I feel like Psyche after her wedding night.
Perhaps in Edward's haste to return home to ready himself for the Tribunal, he had forgotten to scribble something sweet on a page.
She sighed.
They would be seeing one another soon enough.
She showered and dressed quickly. Although part of her wanted to keep Edward's own scent in her hair and on her skin, she knew better than to appear before the Tribunal smelling of sex.
Victoria had urged her to look professional, so she wore some of Edward's gifts, a blue blouse, black Theory pants and a pair of black pointed toe boots.
She wore her hair long, following Victoria's instructions, for it made her look sweet and innocent. And at eleven o' clock sharp, she met her lawyer in the hallway outside the Tribunal meeting room.
Edward and James were already there, huddled next to the wall and talking in low, hurried tones. Edward, like James, was dressed in a dark suit with a white shirt. But the similarity ended there. For once again, Edward was wearing one of his silk bow ties, this one in cerulean blue. The contrast between the blue of his tie and the green of his eyes was quite dramatic.
Bella waved at them shyly. James scowled at her and looked away, but Edward returned her wave with a tight smile.
He looked nervous and very, very stressed.
Victoria quickly pulled Bella to sit next to her on a low bench just outside the door so that they could discuss their strategy.
No sooner had they begun than the door swung open and a large, angry looking rugby player strode into the hallway.
Bella stood up instantly. "Peter?"
He moved closer to her and began speaking very fast.
"Bella, are you alright? Tell me it isn't tr–" Mid-sentence and mid-stride Peter stopped as he saw the face of Victoria, who was now standing behind her.
He stared at the two of them, eyes wide and questioning at first, and then narrowing.
Muttering curses, he scowled and strode past both of them without another word.
"Peter?" Bella called to him, but he disappeared down the stairs.
"Do you know him?" asked Victoria.
"He's a friend."
"Really?" Victoria seemed incredulous.
Bella turned to face her. "Why? Do you know him?"
Victoria shrugged. "He filed a complaint last year against a friend of mine and I represented her. That's when I made an enemy of Aro."
It took a moment for the import of Victoria's revelation to sink into Bella's brain. But when it did, she sat down slowly.
What have I gotten myself into?
Her answer to that question was interrupted by Aro's assistant, Meagan, who called the four of them into the room.
Edward and James took their seats on the left side of the room, on two folding chairs, while Victoria and Bella were seated on the right. No sooner had they all arranged themselves than Aro spoke.
As was his practice, he introduced himself and the other members of the Tribunal and then he turned his attention to the matter at hand.
"Both of you have been notified by letter as to why your presence was required today. Pursuant to our investigation of the harassment complaint made against Miss Swan by Miss Angela Webber on Professor Masen's behalf, we have talked to Professor Picton, Miss Webber, Miss Swan, Mr. Peter Norris and Professor Santos, the Chair of Italian Studies.
"Based upon the evidence and the testimony of several of these individuals, we have decided to dismiss the complaint of harassment against Miss Swan, for we find that the complaint was without merit and it was absolutely denied by the alleged victim, Professor Masen."
Aro stared at Edward, pursing his lips.
"However, during the course of our investigation of Miss Webber's complaint, several facts emerged, facts that have been corroborated by more than one witness. First, that a public argument with possible personal overtones took place between Miss Swan and Professor Masen during his graduate seminar on or about October 28, 2009.
"Second, that on or about October 31st, Professor Picton agreed to supervise Miss Swan's M.A. thesis at the urging of Professor Masen, who later notified Professor Santos about the change. Professor Masen is quoted as saying that the switch was necessary due to a conflict of interest between Miss Swan and himself. Namely, that Miss Swan was a 'friend of his family'. Paperwork was filed in the Centre of Medieval Studies to effect this change and that paperwork was submitted in November with both Professor Masen and Professor Picton's signatures."
"Third, on December 10th, Professor Masen gave a public lecture in Florence, Italy, to which he was accompanied by Miss Swan. Over the course of the evening, he introduced Miss Swan as his fiancée. These facts are substantiated in print and in photographs, but they have been corroborated by two members of the senior staff at the Uffizi Gallery, um, a Dottore Vitali and his personal assistant, Gianna DiFabio.
"Since it seems clear that Miss Swan did not harass Professor Masen into participating in an amorous relationship with her, we now turn to the question as to whether an amorous relationship between the two parties is or was in existence and what its nature was. So I ask you Professor Masen, are you engaged currently in a personal relationship with Miss Swan?"
"Dr. Pritchard, you've offered no evidence of any policy infractions here. All you've offered is a sketchy timeline that is open to multiple interpretations. I will not allow you to railroad my client." James' response was terse and direct.
"If your client has nothing to hide, then he will answer our questions. When did the relationship between you, Professor Masen, and your student begin?"
Before James could open his mouth to protest, Alex interrupted. "Once again, I ask that my objection to the possibility of a consensual relationship between a professor and a graduate student be minuted." She fingered the printed emails in the dossier before her thoughtfully.
I'm going to enjoy embarrassing Aro, she thought. And that misogynistic monster, Masen.
"Duly noted," growled Aro. "Professor Masen?"
"With respect, Dr. Pritchard, my client is not obligated to respond to supposition and speculation on the part of this committee. Perhaps Miss Swan might take a different view." James cast a snide look at Victoria and then smiled innocently at Aro.
"Very well, then. Miss Swan?"
Victoria glared at James and then squared her shoulders to face the committee members.
"My client has already been subjected to a harassing experience by this Tribunal when she had to respond to a very serious, but entirely malicious complaint. In view of the stress and emotional trauma that has already been inflicted on her, I ask the Tribunal to direct its questions to Professor Masen. He's the one who placed my
client in contact with Professor Picton, he's the one who referred to her as his fiancée, he should be answerable for his actions and we have nothing to say until he does so."
Bella leaned over to protest in Victoria's ear, but Victoria waved her off.
Bella gritted her teeth.
"Ah. A classic prisoner's dilemma to which each agent provides a classic response. I wonder if you realize the outcome you are headed towards if you continue in this manner." Aro cleared this throat. "I can allow each side a short recess in order for you to confer with your attorneys but I expect both of you to answer my questions expeditiously and truthfully.
"In the absence of any testimony at all, we reserve the right to decide the matter for ourselves, based upon the evidence we have been able to gather. And to mete out just punishments, if they are required. You have five minutes." Aro's voice was cold and dispassionate.
His challenge did not go unmet.
But it was met by a surprising source.
Bella quickly rose to her feet. "I'll answer your question."
Victoria clutched her arm, but Bella ignored her. So Victoria stood beside her, waiting for the appropriate moment to interrupt and to object.
Across from them, but out of their eyesight, Edward was whispering quickly and furiously into James' ear. James simply shook his head.
"I am involved in a romantic relationship with Edward Masen. Our relationship is absolutely consensual and it did not begin its romantic phase until December 8, when we went to Italy together.
"I am an old friend of his family's. I went to high school with his younger sister and she was my best friend. Because of the ten-year age difference between Edward and I, he didn't recognize my name or my face when I arrived here in September. However, once he realized who I was, he approached Professor Picton and Professor Santos to have my thesis supervised by Professor Picton.
"We developed a friendship over the course of the semester. He had Professor Picton grade my work in his class so that although it appears on my transcript as Professor Masen's seminar, it was actually Professor Picton who assessed my performance. Um, that's all."
Aro tapped his legal pad with his pen and smiled. Widely.
Which was Bella's first indication that something had just gone very, very wrong.
She sat down slowly, ignoring the hiss of Victoria's voice in her ear, and trembling, turned to look at Edward.
She knew he could feel her looking at him. She could tell by the set of his mouth.
But he wouldn't return her gaze. Instead, he had his arms crossed angrily over his chest, his eyes fixed on Aro's like a cobra, waiting to strike.
James was writing furiously on a yellow legal pad.
"Thank you, Miss Swan. So despite some of our concerns over the nature of your relationship with Professor Masen, it seems clear that the relationship was amorous and that it was consensual." Aro glanced in Edward's direction and then turned to look at Bella again.
"But since you've been so forthcoming, allow me a follow up question. When did you purchase the airline ticket to Italy, knowing that you would be travelling with Professor Masen?"
Bella gazed at Aro blankly.
"Surely the tickets would have been reserved at least two weeks prior to December 8th, which would place the date in November. So prior to the end of the semester you must have had a conversation about your intention to accompany him to his lecture at the Uffizi as his guest. And I'm assuming hotel accommodations were also reserved at that time.
"Exactly when did you become Professor Masen's fiancée? Are we to believe that he proposed to you in Italy, but that prior to that the two of you were simply friends? Friends who were professor and student and perhaps planning a romantic getaway in between conversations about next week's seminar reading." Aro tsked at Bella. Twice.
"Come now, Miss Swan. You seem so sure of yourself. Tell us the answers." Now Aro's face was split in half by an extremely patronizing smile.
Edward leaned forward in his chair and would have intervened, but he didn't have the chance.
Caius was already speaking.
"Miss Swan, at this point I need to remind you of the nature of the non-fraternization policy of this University." Caius' calm and kind voice was a studied contrast to Aro's arrogance and pride. "You are new to the community and are probably unaware of some of the nuances of the policy. Nuances that Professor Masen is well aware of.
"Consensual amorous relationships between professors and students do not violate the policies of the University if the relationship is disclosed to the professor's supervisors and the Chair of the student's department. Except in cases where the professor is in a position of authority or supervision over the student.
"In your case, Professor Masen did not disclose your relationship to his superiors at all, even though we are now halfway through the winter semester.
"Most troublingly, you were writing your thesis with Professor Masen until the beginning of November, about a month prior to your trip to Italy. And you were registered in his Dante seminar for the entire fall semester, and were awarded a mark of A. The optics of this situation are quite damaging.
"The policy exists to protect students from being preyed upon by their supervising professors and to prevent any possibility of unfair preferments being dispersed. If you had dropped Professor Masen's class, and if he had disclosed his relationship with you to Professor Santos, we would probably not be here today. But since you remained in his class, and he remained silent on your relationship, we have a problem.
"Professor Santos testified before this committee that he has no recollection of any conversation with Professor Masen about having Professor Picton grade your work in the Dante seminar. And the Registrar's Office reports that it was Professor Masen who submitted your grade via the online grading system. We have dated copies of those electronic documents, if you and your lawyer would like to see them."
Caius handed a few sheets of paper to Meagan, who walked them obediently to Bella and Victoria.
While Victoria glanced at the documents, Bella gaped in horror at Caius. She looked over at Edward but once again, he wouldn't return her gaze.
"Dr. Chow, I'd like a moment to speak to my client." Victoria's voice broke through Bella's shock.
"Those moments are past, Miss Weston, since your client has already opened the door." Aro's voice was harsh.
"Dr. Pritchard, just because the student claims that the relationship was consensual does not make it so," Alex cut in. "She might not be in the best position to judge whether or not it was actually consensual. Clearly she was unaware of some of the choices that Professor Masen made surrounding the relationship."
"No," said Bella, strongly. "It was consensual. There was no coercion. But we were not romantically involved until Italy, which was after Professor Picton graded my work. And in Italian, fidanzata has a deeper meaning than simply 'girlfriend.' Professor Masen didn't mean that I was literally his fiancée, he only meant that he cared for me more deeply than just a girlfriend. He loves me and I love him." Bella's voice took on a stubborn tone that contrasted sharply with the tremor in her voice.
Aro snorted in a very ungentlemanlike manner.
"I find parts of Miss Swan's testimony credible and I am gratified to learn that her relationship with Professor Masen was entirely consensual. However, I agree with Aro, that her explanation of the genesis of their relationship does not seem consistent with the facts," said Marcus. "In the interest of fairness, I would like to invite Professor Masen to offer his account."
"Dr. Davenport, why should the burden of proof rest on my client?" James' voice was smooth and deadly calm. "The case is circumstantial at best. Miss Swan has acknowledged the relationship and said more than once that it was absolutely consensual. But it would appear that no amount of context or testimony from either she or
my client will sway the collective minds of this Tribunal. Perhaps you should make your ruling and then we'll see how the matter fares in court."
Marcus and Aro scowled darkly in response to James' threat and were only too eager to allow Victoria to change the subject.
"Dr. Prichard, in contrast to Mr. Greenspan and his client, we have no interest in escalating things beyond this Tribunal unless it becomes absolutely necessary. The damage done to my client's reputation and career will be immediate, extensive and irreparable if you ignore her testimony and the testimony of the character witnesses who have spoken on her behalf. And quite frankly, given the damage done to her by Miss Webber's malicious complaint, I believe that Miss Swan has suffered enough.
"Any evidence that suggests that the relationship began when my client was in Professor Masen's class is circumstantial. Simply put, there is no proof that the non-fraternization policy was violated. Respectfully, we ask this Tribunal to rule in our favour and to conclude these proceedings." Now Victoria was on her feet, arguing passionately.
"Not so fast, Miss Weston." Caius looked over at Edward sternly. "I find it strange that Professor Masen seems willing to allow his fiancée or girlfriend to be put on the defensive while he hides behind his attorney and threats of a lawsuit. Perhaps he is unaware of his own peril. This body can assess a failing grade for Miss Swan's participation in your graduate seminar but we also have the power to strip a professor of his tenure. And I am inclined to hold a tenured professor more responsible for a policy infraction since he should know better."
Edward stood up to protest, but Caius waved a dismissive hand at him and turned his attention to Bella.
"Miss Swan, are you absolutely sure that the relationship was consensual? Have you any doubt in your mind as to whether Professor Masen overstepped the boundaries of a professional relationship when you were his student? Are you cognizant of the repercussions if this Tribunal concludes that the relationship began prior to December 8th?"
"Enough!"
Seven pairs of eyes swung to look at an angry looking bronze-haired man with flashing green eyes.
"I have testimony to offer on this matter, which I wish to present now."
Edward's jaw was set, his fists clenching and unclenching at his sides.
Bella began to worry that he would reopen the wounds on his right hand.
"It appears I've finally captured your attention, Professor Masen, and persuaded you to come out from behind your lawyer," said Caius sarcastically.
"Such a remark is beneath you, Dr. Chow." Edward glared at him.
"Are you willing to answer our questions?" Aro interrupted the staring match between the two men.
"Yes."
Once James got over his surprise, he stood at Edward's side. "Dr. Pritchard, my client has retained counsel and I will continue to advise him. Can you give me a moment to consult with him?"
Aro nodded and James began whispering hastily in Edward's ear.
Bella could see that he did not like what James was saying and she watched him mouth the words "no, no, no."
Eventually, Edward dismissed James with a murderous look.
"I am willing to answer any and all questions, but not while Miss Swan is in the room. Some of the answers I wish to give are of a personal nature and for various – ah – reasons I prefer to keep those answers confidential."
Aro measured Edward intently and then nodded.
"Very well. Miss Swan, you are dismissed for the moment, but please don't leave the building. We might have need of you shortly."
"Dr. Pritchard, if Professor Masen is intending to malign my client, he can do so in front of us!" Victoria protested.
"I have no intention of maligning anyone. But the collective agreement ensures me confidentiality in all judicial proceedings. I am invoking that right." Edward's voice was cold and it made Bella shiver.
Aro took a moment to consult with Marcus about the nature of the collective agreement between the University and its faculty, and then nodded in Edward's direction once again.
"Any determination of fault and consequence in this proceeding will be made on an individual basis, which means that we will asses the infraction of Miss Swan separately from the infraction of Professor Masen and vice versa. Thus, anything that Professor Masen divulges of a personal nature that has no bearing on Miss Swan's guilt or innocence will not affect our determination with respect to her. She will have a fair hearing."
Victoria opened her mouth to protest once again but Aro waved her off.
"If Professor Masen offers testimony that compromises your client, you will be notified of that fact and will have the opportunity for rebuttal. But any matters not bearing on your case, Miss Swan, will be kept confidential. Miss Weston, Miss Swan, you are both dismissed for the present. My assistant will fetch you when your presence is required."
Victoria shook her head, but took Bella's arm and tried to pull her towards the door at the back of the room.
Bella planted her feet.
"Our relationship was consensual. I knew what I was doing and I don't regret it. At all. This is not a tawdry affair. We are in love," Bella protested, looking right at Aro.
Aro couldn't help but see Edward shake his head and then begin to pinch the bridge of his nose rather tightly.
"Miss Swan, you will have your chance for a rebuttal. Now if you please …"
-x-x-x-x-
That hour was the longest of Bella's life.
She and Victoria discussed strategies and possible further actions related to various hypothetical scenarios. But neither of them knew exactly what Edward was saying.
Victoria was certain that he and James were throwing Bella under the bus so she worked furiously, putting together a defensive argument against any and all possible allegations.
Soon Meagan was ushering them back into the room. Bella's fingernails had been chewed down to the quick and Victoria's adrenaline was at an all-time high.
I am going to burn that motherfucker James. And then I'm going to shank Aro with his own God damned pen, thought Victoria.
As soon as Bella saw Edward's demeanour and Aro's face, she knew something had changed.
Something serious and terrible had happened.
Edward's shoulders were hunched and he was leaning forward in his chair, hands clasped between his knees tensely, head lowered.
She stared at him, willing him to look at her.
But he wouldn't.
James refused to look at either Victoria or Bella and simply sat there, scowling.
"Miss Swan, allow me to come straight to the conclusion. The Tribunal excuses you from these proceedings and finds that you are not guilty of any wrongdoing with respect to the non-fraternization policy of the University or any other infraction related to this matter. You're free to go." Aro had no sooner finished his announcement than he began shuffling his paperwork dismissively.
"Thank you, Dr. Pritchard." Victoria smiled widely and then exchanged a nod and a meaningful look with Alex.
"What about Edward?" asked Bella.
"That is none of your concern, Miss Swan," said Aro. "You are dismissed."
"Come on, Bella. Let's go," Victoria whispered, eager to leave before Aro changed his mind.
"But it isn't fair."
"What?" cried Aro, glaring in Bella's direction.
"I said, it isn't fair. Our relationship is consensual. If I didn't break the rules, then he didn't either. We should both be dismissed."
"Miss Swan, your situations were treated separately. The Tribunal will ensure that Professor Masen is given due consideration." Caius spoke to her gently.
"If he is going to be punished, then punish me, too." She took a step closer to the table behind which the Tribunal sat.
Edward's head shot up and he stared at Bella with a furious look on his face.
"Miss Swan, you are being treated differently because you are in different roles at the University and further information has come to light. Please, let us do our job." Alex's tone was not unsympathetic.
"No. We did this together. If he is guilty, so am I."
"Not necessarily," said Aro.
"Then tell me what he said! Give me a chance to respond." She looked desperately at the faces of the four Tribunal members, one after another, hoping that someone, anyone would relent.
"This body has no obligation to inform you as to the wrongdoing of another member of the University community and you'd best remember your place, Miss Swan." Aro snapped, eying Miss Weston as if to prompt her to silence her client. "In fact, we expect you and your attorney to keep all of these conversations confidential. And if you don't, we'll be dragging you back here. And you don't want to appear before us again. Do I make myself clear?"
"Edward has done nothing wrong! Don't you see what he's doing? He's lying to protect me!
"But I won't let him do it. If you punish him then you have to punish me, too."
Both Alex and Caius shook their heads.
"Why do you believe him instead of me? I'm the one who's the student. You should weigh my testimony more heavily. I'm telling you that everything was consensual. He didn't do anything wrong. You have to believe me!" Bella grew desperate, on the verge of tears, pleading with the Tribunal.
"Miss Weston, we expect you to control your client and to remove her from this room. If you cannot control her, my assistant will call the University police." Aro's voice was threatening now.
"No!" shouted Bella, taking a step closer to Aro. "Please, you have to believe me. This is my fault. I knew who he was from the very beginning but he didn't recognize me. I didn't have to come to this University. I knew he was here. This isn't his fault, it's mine. Expel me but let him go!"
"That's enough!" Aro swiftly lost his temper, raising his voice to drown her out. "Meagan, inform the University police that Miss Swan is to be forcibly removed."
"Come on, Bella." Victoria tugged on her arm, in vain. "If the police show up, they can arrest you."
"Edward, what happened? What are they doing to you? Edward?"
Bella took a step in his direction but the pointed toe of her boot got caught in the carpet and she tumbled to her knees.
Finally her eyes connected with Edward's as he looked down on her.
She inhaled slowly as she realized that his dark green eyes held nothing but contempt and disgust.
In a single instant, the fire in her veins turned to ice and she felt the room spin.
"Edward?"
Bella burst into tears as Victoria pulled her to her feet and half-carried her to the door.

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