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capitolo trenntasette

Messaggio  simona80 il Sab 12 Mar 2011, 23:51

Chapter Thirty-Seven
"That's it. I'm calling Edward."
Though Bella's mind was frozen on one point, somehow she found the words to respond.
"Why?"
"Because this is his mess! And I think he'd want to know that you're pregnant." Alice muttered a few choice words about her brother, which included a fairly disparaging remark about the fact that he neglected to "wrap it."
Bella shook her head. "Don't."
Alice paused with her fingers poised above her cell phone.
"You're going to tell him, aren't you? You won't keep this a secret?"
Bella's face was impassive. "I'm not ready to talk to him."
Alice closed her phone reluctantly, tapping it absentmindedly against her chin.
And then she turned an unnatural shade of white, made far whiter against her dark eyes and hair.
She sat down on the bed cautiously and turned wide, worried eyes toward her friend.
"Bella, you aren't thinking about getting an – abortion?"
The last word came out as the merest whisper.
Bella didn't answer right away. It was as if the wheels of her mind were running on the slowest of speeds and she could barely understand her predicament.
"Bella?"
She shifted awkwardly.
"No. I could never do that."
An image of Edward's sorrow over Maia passed through Bella's mind like a spectre, floating through her consciousness.
Alice inhaled and exhaled deeply. And then she squared her shoulders.
"You should probably take a pregnancy test and then figure out what you're going to say. But this is something Edward needs to know, and soon."
Bella wrapped her arms tightly around her middle as if she were hugging herself and her baby.
"He doesn't want to talk to me. I went to his apartment and he sent me away."
"Bella, I don't know why he did that. But this, this is different. And if I know my brother at all, I know he will do the right thing."
"Just for the baby," Bella muttered.
"Hey, look at me." Alice took her friend's hand and fixed her with a determined look. "You have no idea how he will react. You have to give him a chance and not prejudge him."
"He'll only come back out of obligation. And Charlie will kill me. He warned me about getting pregnant. Now he'll think I'm just like Renee." Now Bella was crying. Huge, wracking sobs shook her thin body, as her friend took her into her arms.
"No, he won't. Sweetie, how could he? I know that you and Edward weren't married but you were in a relationship. You loved each other and that love made a baby. And babies are blessings. All of them.
"My biological parents threw me away when I was a baby. Emmett's parents abandoned him and really, Edward's mother did the same thing. But the Cullens are not a family who will abandon children. Even if Edward has his head so far up his ass that he won't speak to you, you have the rest of us – me and Jasper, Emmett and Rose and their baby, my Dad … Don't you think that my Mom would have been thrilled to have a grandchild? We're your family and we will love you and that baby forever. Don't you worry. Everything is going to be alright. I promise."
The two friends waited for Bella's tears to subside and when they finished, Alice walked to the closet and rummaged inside, pulling out a small overnight bag. She placed it on the floor and unzipped it.
"What are you doing?" Bella asked, wiping her nose with a Kleenex.
"I'm packing for you."
"Why?"
"Rose booked us a suite at the Four Seasons, thinking that we needed to have a slumber party. It was her way of saying she's sorry she couldn't be here. We'll pick up a pregnancy test on the way and then we'll order room service and drown our sorrows in complex carbohydrates, chocolate, and wine."
Alice looked over at Bella. "I guess I'll have to drink for the both of us."
Bella rubbed at her stomach distractedly and then went into the washroom to clean herself up.
The mere possibility of a pregnancy was far too much for her to grasp. Edward had sworn that he was sterile. That he was sterile voluntarily. How could this have happened six years after his operation?
Bad karma.
But Bella couldn't leave that fleeting thought unquestioned. Her pregnancy wasn't the result of bad karma; it was the nature of things. Men and women loved each other and produced children. It was the pre-emptive vasectomy that had tried to circumvent nature. And if Edward hadn't changed, if she ever knew him at all, then he would welcome their baby.
He would be happy. Even if he was no longer happy with her.
She thought back to their conversation about adoption when she had followed Edward out into the woods at Christmas. He wanted to give her a child. He told her so. And no matter where he was in the world or what he was doing, he wouldn't abandon their baby.
And that thought alone gave her hope.
Within an hour, Alice and Bella were comfortably ensconced in a suite at the Four Seasons, which was roughly a block from Edward's apartment building.
Alice had visited a drug store and purchased four different pregnancy tests of various sizes and accuracies, "just in case." She placed them haphazardly on the bathroom vanity and then proceeded to draw Bella a hot bubble bath in the oversized tub.
"I'm going to call Jasper to tell him I arrived and then I'm going to order a really big meal and a bottle of wine. Try to relax."
Bella did as she was told.
While she reclined, closed eyed in the tub, she tried to plan what she was going to say to Edward. But her mind kept flitting from one problem to another.
To her credit, she didn't even think about what would happen to her plans for Harvard or her academic future. She had more important, more immediate things to consider.
This is the worst possible week for this to happen. I'm supposed to be finishing my thesis. What if I miss the deadline?
Bella quickly decided that if she worried about her thesis on top of being pregnant, that she'd slide into a full-blown panic attack. So she focused her attention on a redheaded, green-eyed child and allowed that image to comfort her.
Even if Edward didn't want me anymore, to have a part of him forever would be something good. Edward's baby has to be the result of a miracle ...
The mere idea of having created a child with her beloved Edward was something magical to think about, despite her fears. And so it was that idea that she clung to amidst all of her apprehension and anxiety.
Thirty minutes later, Bella wrapped herself in one of the Four Seasons' fluffy white bathrobes and walked out into the sitting room of the suite.
Alice was setting the table with the fruits of room service, two large plates of pasta Bolognese, a salad, two large slabs of chocolate cake, and a bottle of Chianti.
Bella wasn't sure she could eat what was on offer; her stomach was still too rocky for food. But she sat on the sofa with her legs tucked up underneath her and watched as Alice ate.
For a small person, Alice had a very large appetite.
"I owe you an apology," she said, in between bites of pasta. "I didn't mean to be so harsh about the birth control. Especially now." Her eyes automatically wandered to look at Bella's tummy, which was hidden by the bathrobe.
"You were right. But things are more complicated than that." Bella fidgeted with belt on her bathrobe as she thought about how to say what needed to be said.
"Edward was a gentleman when we were together. He offered to use condoms, but I said no."
Alice dropped her fork so that it clattered against the side of her plate. "Why would you do that?"
Bella curled further inward, as if by making herself spatially smaller she would eliminate Alice's annoyance.
"He said that he had been tested and that he was healthy. He said that he used condoms with the – others. I looked into his eyes and had no reason to think that he was lying. And I wanted to be close to him. So I said no."
Alice rolled her eyes and then took a large sip of wine.
"What about birth control?"
Bella focused her attention on her hands, which were twisted in her lap. "He said he couldn't have children. And once again, I had no reason to disbelieve him."
"See, that's the part I don't understand. I hate to think that he would lie to you about that. But this is the first I've heard of it." Alice gave Bella a quizzical look. "Are you absolutely sure? Are you certain you didn't misunderstand him?"
"He was pretty clear. On more than one occasion. But Edward is – ashamed of a lot of things."
Alice nodded and returned to her dinner, suddenly feeling as if she had hooked her fishing line on a whale rather than on say, a trout.
"I'm sorry to drink in front of you, but I really needed it." She lifted her glass apologetically.
"It's alright. I don't drink much, anyway, but I have been drinking. Will that hurt the baby?" Bella clutched at her middle as a wave of nausea overtook her.
"I don't know. We'll have to call my Dad."
Bella shook her head. "Not before I talk to Edward."
Alice sighed but didn't argue.
An hour later, she had almost finished the wine and was feeling remarkably chipper as she and Bella sprawled across the large, queen-sized bed, in their matching bathrobes.
Bolstered by a very good slice of chocolate cake, Bella described what had happened at the Tribunal and Alice, to her credit, resisted interrupting her.
"I don't know, Bella, it sounds pretty cut and dried to me. Edward must have taken the blame on himself so that he could protect you. I'm pretty sure that he wouldn't go through all of that just to keep his job. He can always get another one. And he doesn't need the money.
"What I don't understand is why he wasn't more explicit about what he was doing. Why didn't he grab you afterwards and say I love you but we need to wait this out or something." Alice giggled shamelessly. "Knowing Edward, he would have recited something in iambic pentameter just because he could."
Alice was tipsy.
"Maybe Edward was glad to be rid of me."
Alice reached over to pick up a pillow and threw it at Bella's face. "Don't even start with that crap. He loves you and now he'll have another reason to love you."
Bella clutched the pillow to her chest as she reclined on her side. "How can you be so sure?'
"How can you doubt him so easily? He isn't a teenager with a high school crush. He's a grown man who knows who and what he wants. Trust me, it took him a lifetime to work up the courage to love someone. He wouldn't stop just because some stupid committee told him to. Have a little faith."
"If he loves me, he would talk to me. He would have promised me he'd return. But he didn't."
Alice groaned and rolled onto her side so she was facing her friend.
"Don't take this the wrong way, Bella, but self-esteem is not your strongest quality. You've probably been telling yourself all along that you aren't worthy of him and that eventually, he'll leave you. And whatever this – this clusterfuck is, has played right into those insecurities."
Bella blinked at Alice's frankness.
And then her eyes narrowed. "Whatever my failures, he still made a unilateral decision and refused to let me in on it. What kind of person does that?"
Alice covered her face with her hands in frustration before placing them at her sides.
"Bella, listen to yourself. Do you really think that Edward is a monster? That he lied to you every time he said that he loved you, that he was just stringing you along for fun?
"What if he discovered that those stupid Vulture-y people were going to hurt you? If you were standing in the middle of the road and a car was going to hit you, Edward would rush into traffic to push you out of the way, even if it meant that he might get hit. He wouldn't send you an email or consult you first." Alice began to giggle at her own analogy while Bella grimaced.
"You know what men are like – they're single-minded. He was so fixated on the Vulture-y, it probably never occurred to him that you'd think that he didn't want you anymore. Until he says otherwise, I'm sure he thinks that you two are still a couple."
"No, we aren't. He has given me no indication that he's ever coming back. I can't see him and he won't talk to me."
Alice yawned loudly. "Just until graduation."
"What's that?"
"The University only has power over you while you're still a student. Once you graduate, you can tell them to go screw themselves."
"Not if Edward is still working for them. He promised them he'd give me up. He told me so himself."
Alice threw an arm over her eyes. "That's the part I don't understand. Why didn't Edward quit? Academics are like aliens. Why can't they do things like normal people?"
Bella rolled onto her back and examined the ceiling, asking herself a similar question.
After a few minutes of shared silence, she decided to voice one of her other, greater fears.
"Alice?"
"Uh huh?"
"What if Edward comes back some day, but he gets lonely while he's gone?"
Alice paused before replying.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean – what if he sleeps with someone else?"
Alice was quiet for a moment. So quiet, Bella began to repeat the question, but Alice interrupted her.
"Do you really think he'd do that?"
"If he's single, he can date who he wants."
"How well do you two know each other?"
"Alice, I'm pregnant. I'd say we know each other pretty well. Why?"
Alice rolled onto her stomach and looked over at Bella.
"Because what you're suggesting is cruel. If Edward were a cruel person, then maybe he'd find someone to screw while you two were on a break. But somehow I can't imagine him doing that. If he knew you at all, if he knew about your past with him, then he would know that that kind of betrayal would kill any possibility of a future. And he'd be an idiot to do it."
Bella nodded and decided at that moment not to tell Alice about the wedding ring that Edward had supposedly been wearing.
"If he sleeps with someone else and you find out about it, tell him not to bother coming back." Her voice was steely.
Alice groaned. "Fine. But believe me, if Edward does that on top of getting you pregnant, losing you will be the least of his worries. Emmett and Rose will disembowel him. And then my father will have to say his funeral oration over the entrails."
-x-x-x-x-
After the two friends retired for the evening, Bella spent several hours tossing and turning. When her restlessness finally got the better of her, she tiptoed quietly into the bathroom, shutting the door behind her before turning on the light.
Alice was dead to the world and snoring, sprawled diagonally across the queen-sized bed.
Now would be a good time for Bella to discover the answer to at least one of her nagging questions.
She chose the simplest pregnancy test of the four available and with a deep breath and a silent prayer for help, (in whatever form was available at that moment), she followed the instructions religiously.
While she was waiting the requisite minutes for the results, she stared at herself in the mirror.
What she saw displeased her. Greatly.
Dark circles, pale skin, watery eyes, visible veins in her neck and throat… She was going to have to take better care of herself for the baby's sake. She was going to have to eat better and stay away from alcohol. And stress.
How am I going to explain this to Katherine? Or Peter?
And what about Charlie? He'll shoot Edward for sure.
When the requisite time had elapsed, plus an extra minute or two just in case, she picked up the test and looked at the display.
And then she covered her mouth and burst into tears.
-x-x-x-x-
"Baby, open your eyes."
His voice was warm and thick as he moved inside her, distributing his weight to his forearms on either side of her shoulders.
He leaned down to draw the delicate skin from the inside of her bicep into his mouth, kissing and then sucking on it slightly. It was just enough to tease her and perhaps to leave a gentle mark.
He knew this drove her mad.
"I can't," she gasped, in between moans. Every time he moved it sent the most wonderful sensations coursing through her body.
Until he stopped.
Suddenly, her eyelids fluttered open.
He rubbed his nose against hers and smiled.
"I need to see you."
His eyes were gentle, but intense, as if he was holding back the flame of desire momentarily.
"It's hard for me to keep my eyes open." She groaned a little as he moved inside her once again.
"Try for me, love." He kissed her softly. "I love you so much."
"Then why did you leave me?"
Edward looked down on her with dismay.
"I didn't …"
x-x-x-x-
Bella's dream was so tantalizing, she didn't hear Alice awaken just before noon, cursing wine and headaches and jet lag. She walked uneasily to the bathroom, popping a couple of aspirin with a large glass of water before relieving herself.
As she washed her hands she spied four used pregnancy tests all set out in a row on the vanity.
Shit, thought Alice. She did this without me.
Alice picked up the first test and read the result.
Then she picked up the second and then the third.
And finally, the fourth.
All four tests had the same reading.
Not pregnant.
An hour later, Alice had finished brunch and was just beginning to feel rehumanized by her third cup of coffee. While she waited for Bella to emerge from the bedroom, she sat sprawled on the sofa in the living area talking to Jasper.
Their conversation the evening before had been brief. Jasper had known that Alice's usually bubbly self had been dampened by Bella's troubles but he hadn't pressed her for details.
Now she felt free to explain that Bella was most definitely distressed over Edward's sudden and silent departure, but that all things considered, she was doing well.
Jasper shared Alice's scepticism over Edward's unwillingness to contact Bella directly and declared, in true Texan fashion, that it might be wise to confront Edward "man to man" and deal with him before he and Bella ran into each other at the wedding.
Alice asked her fiancé to give the matter a little time and then she pointed out that Edward had been hiding from the family and that no one knew exactly where he was at the moment, anyway.
She also neglected to mention Bella's pregnancy scare, knowing that the event would only incite Jasper's anger further. And she asked him not to stoke the fire of Emmett's rage. Or Rose's.
Then with a brief discussion of a few wedding-related items, she concluded their conversation by telling him that she loved him and that she continued to be really excited about their August wedding.
"I could never do what Edward did," Jasper said softly. "I could never leave you. For any reason. Married or not."
Alice's voice caught in her throat.
She swallowed a few times. "I know that, honey. But something tells me that he still loves her and that he's going to come back. I just don't know what he's waiting for."
And with that, the happy couple said goodbye.
"Is Jasper alright?" Bella asked as she walked into the sitting area.
Alice waved a dismissive hand. "Oh, he's fine. But he sends you a hug and wants you to know that he misses you. Brunch?"
"Sure."
Alice ushered Bella to the small table in the corner and offered her coffee from a carafe along with some fresh fruit, yogurt and muesli.
And then the two friends sat down and each waited for the other to address the elephant in the room that equated to the tests that sat somewhat patiently on the bathroom vanity.
True to precedent, Alice cracked underneath the pressure first.
"So … you aren't pregnant."
Bella nodded.
"Are you relieved?"
Bella suddenly looked conflicted, turning her cloth napkin over and over in her hands.
"Um, the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to have Edward's baby. No matter what. Now … I just feel emptier. As if I've lost something else."
Bella focused her attention on her muesli to keep the tears at bay. She felt lonelier at that moment than she had since the day that Edward sent her home from his apartment building.
Alice squeezed her friend's hand sympathetically.
"I'm sorry that you're disappointed. But I honestly don't believe that this is the end of you and Edward.
"However, I think you need to go to the doctor. Even if Edward said he was clean, for your own sake, you should be tested. And you should tell your doctor that you're missing your periods. That isn't good."
Bella chewed on a piece of strawberry thoughtfully. "I read a book once in which a girl didn't have a period for years."
"What book was that?"
"Eva Luna by Isabel Allende."
Alice nodded but didn't comment, as she was unfamiliar with Latin American authors.
After a few moments of silence, she pulled out her phone. "I have Edward's new cell phone number and email address. Do you want to call him?
"No."
Alice frowned. "Why not?'
"Because no matter what he says I'll cry. And after last night, I can't take any more tears." Bella's lower lip began to tremble.
Alice's expression softened.
"I'm sure he wants to talk to you … if you're hurting, so is he."
"When he calls me, I'll talk to him. But I'm not putting myself out there again only to be rejected. I can't take it." Bella sipped her coffee slowly as a thought came to her. "Maybe he'll be at my graduation. I won't be a student anymore."
Bella's face brightened, which cheered Alice considerably.
"See? That's probably what Edward had planned all along. He'll see you at your graduation. When is that?"
"June eleventh."
Alice swore obliquely rat the lateness of the date and then picked up Bella's iPhone and promptly entered Edward's new contact information into her list of favourites.
Later that afternoon, Alice and Bella returned to her apartment so that she could feed JD and also pick out a dress and stilettos that were, in Alice's words, "club worthy."
Alice had spent the better portion of the afternoon cajoling her friend in order to convince her that they should celebrate the end of the pregnancy scare and the coming of graduation with a little dancing.
Despite the fact that it was a Monday night.
"You'll have to wear this," Alice withdrew Bella's Santorini blue dress and Christian Louboutin heels, which happened to be the outfit that she had worn the last time she went dancing.
"Absolutely not." Bella hastily explained her reticence and after a short exchange, Alice acquiesced.
Which basically meant that Bella had to wear her old Prada heels and v-necked black dress, both of which were several years old but still smart.
"What happened to all of the things that Edward bought you?" Alice's voice was muffled as she sifted through Bella's small closet.
"I gave them back."
"You what?" Alice stuck her head through the closet door, wearing a very disapproving look on her face.
"He broke up with me. I returned his gifts. I didn't want them any more."
Alice stared at Bella in shock.
"Are you kidding? He bought you those things because he wanted you to have them. What the hell is he going to do with designer shoes and fancy underwear? Wear them himself?" Alice huffed as she disappeared back into the closet. "Besides, I'm not convinced he actually broke up with you. He never said the words!"
Bella chewed at her fingernails but said nothing, hoping against hope that Alice wouldn't bring up Esme's diamond earrings. She didn't want to explain the fact that she had returned them as well.
When they were finally fully dressed and ready to dance, Alice telephoned the concierge at the Four Seasons to elicit a recommendation for a dance club.
Of course, he suggested that they go to Lobby, which was just around the corner.
"No way in hell," said Bella.
"It's close by so we can walk home afterwards. We can just have one drink and maybe a dance or two and then leave. It will be empty on a weeknight, anyway. So come on."
Alice was a force of nature and would not be thwarted, which is why Bella soon found herself shaking Laurent's hand at Lobby's door and following him into the club.
"It's good to see you again, Isabella."
"You, too. Laurent. How is everything?"
"Fine. Fine. Irina and I are getting married." Laurent's face broke into a wide grin.
"Congratulations. I'm happy for you."
"Thanks. And who's your friend?'
"This is Alice."
"Welcome, ladies. Monday nights are jazz nights, so the music will be low key. I can take you to the VIP section, if you like."
With a warm welcome from all the staff, who were rather underworked that evening, Alice and Bella found themselves on the same white banquettes with the exact same cocktails as they had when Edward accompanied them.
Bella sipped her Cosmopolitan and tried very hard not to remember what it had been like to dance with Edward to their song.
Truthfully, she tried not to think about Edward. Period.
"Isn't this better than hanging out at home moping?" asked Alice, as she tapped her foot to the music.
Bella had to agree.
And then Alice frowned. "I know that I'm forgetting something. Something Dad or Edward told me to tell you. I just can't remember what it is."
She closed her eyes for a moment and Bella watched her lips move silently, as if the movement was an aid to her memory.
However, Alice didn't have much time to remember, for they were interrupted almost immediately by a tall, blonde banker who was strikingly familiar.
"Bella?" He gazed down at her, smiling widely.
"Michael."
He seemed relieved. "You remember my name."
"Yes. Michael, this is my friend Alice."
The banker politely shook Alice's hand and then turned his eager eyes back to Bella. "Would you like to dance?"
Bella opened her mouth to refuse but a completely different response came out. "Okay."
Alice shot her a warning look but Bella took Michael's hand and let him lead her to the dance floor. She paused while he spoke to the DJ, presumably asking him to play something slower. Which he did.
Bella almost swallowed her tongue when she heard Diana Krall's voice.
Mercifully, the song was only George Gershwin's 'S Wonderful.
"You never called." His voice wasn't accusatory, just wistful.
"No, I didn't."
"I was devastated."
Bella looked up at him sceptically. "We met only once."
"But I never saw you again."
"I started seeing someone."
Michael sighed and brought his face closer to hers. "So did I. It was a disaster. You?"
Bella looked down at the floor.
"He broke my heart," she whispered.
"I'm sorry."
She shrugged and looked away.
Michael pressed his hand against her lower back a little more tightly.
"So it's – over?"
"Maybe. It's complicated."
"That sounds like a Facebook relationship update."
He was trying to make her laugh but all he received was a tight smile.
"Sorry, Bella."
He was quiet for a moment, but he pulled her in more closely, still maintaining a respectful distance between their bodies.
Michael was a gentleman.
"So tell me why you're here on a Monday night," Bella prompted, changing the subject.
"It's tax season, which means I'm really busy at work. Whenever I have a night off, I like to go out. A couple of guys from work are jazz fans so they're here every Monday." He scanned the barely half-full club. "I can see why they prefer it to Fridays. It's quieter. And less crowded."
Bella agreed.
They were quiet for a moment or two until she decided to break the silence.
"I'm sorry your relationship was a disaster." She looked up into his sparkling blue eyes with sympathy.
"It was my fault, really. She was attractive but – nasty." He chuckled ruefully. "I guess that will teach me to be shallow. I should have stuck with my intention of only dating nice girls. Like you."
Bella blushed and looked away.
They were quiet for the rest of the dance and Bella had to admit that Michael was handsome and very nice. He was more sophisticated and polished than Peter and calmer and quieter than Edward.
But she knew without a doubt that he would never win her heart.
When she thanked him for the dance, he kissed the back of her hand, caressing her knuckles lightly with his thumb.
"Bella, I'm going to ask you again to call me. But I'm not ready to say good night to you yet."
As the evening progressed, Michael joined Alice and Bella on the banquette. He was good company and he kept the rest of the predatory men at bay.
By the end of her second cocktail, Alice had warmed to Michael and the two of them entered into an enthusiastic discussion about small businesses and corporate investments.
When they began discussing pension plans, Bella excused herself to go to the ladies' room.
She had just dried her hands and was fixing her make up in the mirror when a tall figure came up behind her.
"Funny to see you here."
Bella turned around slowly.
Angela Webber stood before her, arms crossed, fingers drumming against her elbow.
"I thought this club didn't live up to the hype," she sneered.
Bella chose to ignore her and hastily took a step sideways, closer to the door.
But Angela blocked her path.
"You think you're so smart," she seethed. "But you're nothing but a piece of trash!"
Bella shook her head and muttered something about Angela's presumed intoxication, wrapping her arms around her middle protectively.
"I'm out of the program because of you. Edward won't even speak to me. And to top it all off, you're throwing yourself at my ex-boyfriend!"
"Angela, I don't know what you're talking about." Bella tried to move around her, but Angela stood in front of her once again.
"Oh, no? Who were you just dancing with? Take it from me, Michael is not your type."
Angela and Michael? The thought seemed incredible.
"If you want him, then go and get him. I won't stand in your way." Bella waved a slightly nervous hand at the door.
Angela's eyes narrowed. "How long have you been seeing him?"
"I'm not. I've met him twice. Once last fall and then tonight."
"So you're the one," Angela breathed.
Bella crinkled her eyebrows in disbelief.
"I have no idea what you're talking about." She reached for the door, but Angela roughly pushed her hand aside.
"You have everyone fooled, but you don't fool me. You're just a slut who fucked her way through grad school and got away from it. I'm going to have to start over now because of you. What graduate program is going to accept me now that I've been expelled? My career is ruined!"
Angela began to swear profusely, her cheeks red and her eyes flashing, fists clenching and unclenching at her sides.
Bella straightened herself up to her full height, which was admittedly not tall, and looked Angela straight in the eye.
"Angela, let me out of here. I know that there is one restraining order out on you already. If you don't get out of my way right now, I'm going to scream my head off. And then you'll have to deal with security."
Angela smiled a slow, menacing smile.
"Let's just say that I am acquainted with security. And I don't think I have anything to worry about."
Bella darted for the door, hoping to make her escape.
And then several things happened all at once.
With a cry, Angela lunged towards her, grabbing a fist full of long hair and jerking her backwards, away from the door.
Bella struggled to remain upright, tottering on her high heels and moving her head to try to slacken Angela's hold.
Two older women chose that most inopportune moment to powder their noses and walked in on the catfight, gasping at the scene in front of them.
Oblivious to the witnesses behind them, Angela and Bella began to struggle.
Bella cried out in pain as her hair was practically pulled from her scalp and she was swung around like a rag doll.
"I'm going to enjoy smashing your face in," Angela whispered as she tugged Bella's hair. "And don't tell me you didn't fuck Michael, too. I saw the way he was dancing with you."
As Angela prepared to slam Bella into the wall something truly unexpected occurred.
Something terrible and possibly wonderful and more than slightly out of character.
Bella fought back.
Bella, the shy Franciscan, who always turned the other cheek, decided that desperate times called for aggressive measures.
Before Angela could obliterate her face against the bathroom wall, Bella curled her little fingers into a tight fist and then swung wildly, connecting with Angela's nose and causing blood to spurt over the two of them.
Angela released Bella immediately, screaming in pain as she held her hands up to her face, blood seeping between her fingers.
When Bella had caught her breath, she quickly ran past the two witnesses, who were gaping in silent, frozen horror, and went to find Laurent.
Laurent was more than a little surprised that a catfight would occur on a Monday night. Given his own observations of Angela, plus a little videotape he had of Angela fraternizing with Lucas after hours, he was only too eager to call the police and have them deal with her. And then he was going to ban her from the club – for life.
Michael, who was shocked that Angela and Bella knew one another, ashamedly confirmed that he had begun dating Angela some time in the fall and had broken up with her just before Christmas.
He hadn't realized how unstable she was.
The possibility of Bella pursuing legal satisfaction against Angela cheered him a great deal, although he was more than slightly disappointed that Bella refused to promise to call him and that she ended their interaction with a goodbye and a chaste hug.
An hour and a half later, Alice and Bella were able to leave the club and walk home, secure in t he knowledge that Angela had been arrested for assault.
The two witnesses and Laurent had ensured that Bella was released, with the understanding that she was the victim and had reacted in self-defence.
Bella wasn't looking forward to calling Victoria the following day to explain what had happened but she knew that Victoria would more than ably defend her.
As they entered the suite, Alice quickly telephoned Emmett so that Bella could give him a blow by blow account of what happened.
Both Emmett and Rose were duly impressed with Bella's unexpected show of moxie and might have suggested she channel that energy into kicking a certain Dante specialist's ass. Multiple times.
It should be noted, however, that the evening ended with Bella politely declining Alice's suggestion that they have the momentous event memorialized with a tattoo of Wonder Woman on Bella's ass.
-x-x-x-x-
Edward was lying in the centre of the bed, eyes closed, while she trailed leisurely open-mouthed kisses across his pectorals, pausing reverently to kiss his tattoo, before extending her attentions to his abdominals.
An oath left his mouth as she ran her fingers lightly up and down the well-defined muscles before swirling a tongue around his navel.
It has been so long …
That was the thought that came to his mind as she gently traced the skin and strands of hair below his navel before reaching a hand down to grasp him firmly.
He shifted his hips.
She was stroking him now and he was panting, begging even. She teased him unhurriedly as her long, silky hair caressed the tops of his thighs, before taking him into the warm vacant wetness of her mouth.
Edward muttered a tame but surprised expletive as he gave himself over to the sensations, before weaving his fingers into her hair …
And then a sick feeling came over him as he remembered what had happened the last time he had done so.
He withdrew his hand immediately, worried that he had frightened her.
"I'm sorry," he whispered. "I forgot."
A cold and strong hand caught him by the wrist before tugging him back to grip her head roughly.
"What the fuck did you forget? How to enjoy a blow job?"
Edward's eyes flew open at the unexpected voice and the maniacal laugh.
And then in absolute horror he looked down into narrowed blue eyes.
Tanya.
She was naked and crouched over him like a harpy, smiling smugly as she held him close to her mouth.
Edward recoiled immediately, shouting expletives and crowding backwards against the headboard while she sat back on her heels and laughed.
Her laughter was chilling.
She pointed to his nose and indicated that he should wipe the traces of cocaine from his nostrils.
What have I done?
He scrubbed his face roughly with both hands.
And then he retched, dry heaving over the side of the bed.
When he came to himself, he held out his left hand to show her his ring – but there was none.
The wedding ring was gone.
Tanya laughed again and began crawling towards him, eyes feral, locking a hand around his right ankle and pulling him toward her …
Edward struggled with her and then jolted awake.
He flailed around, looking earnestly for any sign of her.
But there was none.
He was alone.
He was in an empty room in the Parker House Hotel and had just awoken from the most terrible nightmare.
He swung his legs over the side of the bed and placed his face in his hands, his shoulders shaking.
-x-x-x-x-
The darkness was thick and Edward felt himself slipping slowly, slowly.
His current activities had placed a great deal of pressure on him. When that pressure was coupled with a striking sense of loss, it made it almost impossible for him to function at a high level without some kind of support or outlet.
Every day became more difficult. Every day the drinks grew larger. Every day he realized that he needed to do something before he descended back into his old coping mechanisms and ruined his future – permanently.
So he followed his instincts and he ran.
Within twenty-four hours, Edward had fled the darkness that assailed him and was checking into the Gallery Hotel Art in Florence.
It had been short notice, but he had persuaded the manager to give him the same suite in which he and Bella had consummated their relationship.
As he walked into the room, he half-expected to see her. Or at least, signs of her. A pair of shoes carelessly kicked off under a coffee table. A taffeta dress pooled on the floor next to a blank wall. A robe strewn across an unmade bed ...
But of course, she wasn't there.
After a relatively restful sleep and then a shower, Edward contacted his old friend Dottore Vitali from the Uffizi Gallery and met him for dinner.
They spoke of Harvard's new chair of Dante Studies. They spoke of Felix Pacciani and Edward was marginally comforted to learn that although Felix had been offered a campus interview while Edward had not, that Felix's lecture had been regarded as poor by the Harvard faculty. It was a cold comfort, but a comfort nonetheless.
The next day, Edward sought to distract himself from his troubles by engaging in pleasurable activities. Breakfast on a Piazza, a walk along the Arno, a lengthy afternoon at his tailor's in which he ordered a hand-made black wool suit, and an hour or so spent looking for the perfect pair of shoes to match his new clothes.
His tailor declared that the suit was so fine, Edward could be married in it. And then the tailor laughed, until Edward held up his left hand and showed him his fourth finger.
But no matter where Edward walked in the city of Florence, he thought of her. He hugged the sweet and sour memories tightly to his chest, knowing that they were better than the chemical alternatives.
Late that evening, slightly drunk but still steady on his feet, he wandered by the Duomo, retracing the path he had taken with his Isabella after he had gifted her with Esme's earrings.
Almost nothing she had done had hurt him as much as the return of that gift. She might as well have told him that she never loved him. Or that he had wounded her too deeply to ever love him again.
That was the substance of his unspoken fear. A fear too dark and too hopeless to be verbalized or even conceived of when entirely sober and awake.
Tortured by this idea, he stumbled across a familiar looking beggar, who sat in the shade of Brunelleschi's dome, craving money from the tourists.
Edward approached him.
"Just a few Euros for a lame man," the beggar cried out to him in Italian.
Edward found himself feeling for his wallet. Without reflection, he withdrew a roll of bills and held it in front of the man.
"I've seen you before. Last December. And yet, you're still here." Edward's Italian was only slightly slurred.
The beggar shrugged. "I'm here every day. Even Christmas."
Edward dangled the Euros closer to the man. "My fidanzata gave you money. You called her an angel. Do you remember?"
The man smiled toothlessly and shook his head, never allowing his eyes to leave the cash in front of him.
"There are many angels in Firenze. But more in Assisi. I think the angels favour the beggars there. But this is my home." The man hesitantly held out his hand, uncertain that Edward would actually give him the money.
Edward placed the bills in the beggar's hand and turned sharply on his heel, the echoes of the beggar's joy and blessings ringing in his ears.
He didn't feel especially deserving of a blessing.
He hadn't committed the act of charity the way Isabella would have done it, out of compassion and love.
He felt as if he was on a precipice between good and evil and despite the fact that he desperately wanted to do good, he worried that it was already too late.
The next day he tried to secure the house in Umbria that he had shared with Isabella, but it was already occupied. So he travelled to Assisi, where he checked into a small, private hotel that was simple in its furnishings but very comfortable.
He rose early the next morning and made his way to the Basilica of St. Francis.
The Basilica was more than worth visiting, for persons of all faiths, if only for its medieval frescoes and the peaceful atmosphere that pervaded it.
Edward was drawn to that atmosphere, especially in his current state, and it was of no little coincidence that he found himself retracing the steps he had taken with Isabella prior to Christmas.
He had taken her to Mass in the Basilica superiore or upper part of the church, and had even waited patiently while she went to confession before the Mass began.
As he wandered through the upper Basilica, admiring the frescoes and drinking in the quietness and openness of the sanctuary, he saw a woman with long, brown hair, who was about Bella's size, disappear through a doorway.
Intrigued, he decided to follow her.
Despite the crowd, he found it easy to pick her out and so he found himself wending through the groups of tourists in the Basilica inferiore.
And then she vanished.
Distressed far beyond what was warranted, he searched the entire lower church in vain. And then it occurred to him to go deeper into the bowels of the Basilica towards the tomb of St. Francis.
And there, kneeling in front of the crypt that held St. Francis's relics, he saw her.
He slipped into the last row of pews and out of respect, knelt. But he couldn't take his eyes off her.
It wasn't her. He knew it. She was a little fuller in the hips and wider in the shoulders and her hair was slightly darker than Isabella's. But she was beautiful and her beauty reminded him of how much he'd lost.
The room was small and primitive, a studied contrast to the wide-open elaborately frescoed upper Basilica. Edward was not alone in finding that the simplicity that was St. Francis's life and mission was more accurately reflected in the unassuming tomb.
It was with such thoughts in mind that Edward found himself leaning forward on his forearms against the pew in front of him and bowing his head. And before he could form the intention to do so, he found himself praying.
At first they were just words. Desperate utterances and whispered confessions. And then as time wore on, his prayers took on a more repentant shape, while unbeknownst to him, the young woman lit a candle and retreated.
If Edward's life had been a major motion picture or an epic novel, an old, weathered Franciscan brother would have stumbled across him as he knelt in prayer, and seeing his distress, had compassion on him, offering spiritual guidance.
But Edward's life was not a motion picture or an epic novel. And so he prayed alone.
But God heard him.
If you had asked him afterwards about what occurred in the tomb, he would have shrugged and evaded the question. Some things cannot be put into words and perhaps they defy language itself.
But there was a moment in his prayers in which Edward was confronted with the magnitude of all of his failings, both moral and spiritual, while at the same time feeling the presence of One who knew the state of his soul and longed to commune with him anyway.
He was suddenly aware of what Annie Dillard once referred to as the beauty and extravagance of grace. The way that love and forgiveness had been lavished on the world and more specifically, on Edward himself, through the lives of Esme and Carlisle and Emmett and Alice.
And Isabella, my beloved.
The magnet for sin had found something very unexpected underneath the floors of the upper Basilica.
And he was more determined than ever not to fail in his quest.
-x-x-x-x-
During the first week in April, Bella was in a race to finish her thesis in order to meet Katherine's deadline of April ninth.
After a tumultuous weekend that included a pregnancy scare and a physical altercation with her nemesis, she found herself forgoing sleep, her weekly meeting with Siobhan and all of her therapeutic assignments in order to pull successive all-nighters.
Were it not for Peter, she would have foregone nutrition as well.
Peter was a peach.
He would show up with dinner every night and when she ran out of fish food, he went to the pet store to make sure that JD had his daily bread. He checked Bella's translations of Dante and proofread her chapters and when she discovered that she had lost one of the secondary sources that she desperately needed, he raced to Robarts library to hunt it down and photocopy it for her.
When she finally collapsed in exhaustion at three o'clock in the morning on April ninth, it was Peter who took the memory stick with her thesis on it to his apartment so that he could print out the entire project in triplicate.
"It's finished," he whispered, as he placed the stacks of paper on her card table.
She blinked over at him from where she was curled up on her bed and a sleepy smile stretched across her face.
"Thank you." She held her hand out to him and he squeezed it warmly.
"You must be exhausted, Peter."
He rubbed his unshaven face with his free hand. "A little."
"You can sit down if you want." She moved sideways on the bed until she was closer to the wall.
"I should go back home and get some sleep."
Bella squinted at the alarm clock on her nightstand.
"It's five o'clock. You can just crash here."
Peter released Bella's hand, his face manifesting a worried expression.
"Are you sure?"
"We're both tired. And I don't have a futon."
"I'm not sure this is a good idea, Bella," Peter whispered.
"Okay." She closed her eyes and sighed.
Peter watched as she seemingly fell asleep again and then he sat down on one of her folding chairs and took his shoes off.
And then against his better judgement, he crawled in next to her, perched on the edge of her single bed, until she eventually moved closer to him, resting her head on his shoulder.
He couldn't help but sigh in almost untroubled contentment as he held her in his arms.
-x-x-x-x-
For Bella, the rest of April was a vortex of activity. There were final revisions to be made to her thesis, meetings with Katherine Picton, Victoria, and Siobhan, and Friday nights to be spent with Peter.
Katherine ensured that Bella's final draft was error free and something that she could be proud of. And then she telephoned Cecilia Simonetti in Oxford to ask her to look for Bella at Harvard in the fall.
Bella benefited a great deal from Katherine's patient but unsentimental mentoring and was grateful for her academic guidance.
Victoria, on the other hand, continued to sort out Bella's legal problems.
In an effort to protect their client, Angela Webber's attorneys sought to have Bella charged with assault, and when their proposals fell on deaf ears, they sought to sue her for breaking their client's nose.
Victoria handled most of the matters through strongly worded letters and a few telephone calls to the Crown Attorney's office, until Miss Webber finally gave up and made a plea arrangement on the assault charge.
Despite Victoria's repeated attempts at persuasion, Bella would not accept any settlement money associated with the Tribunal. For once in her life, Victoria gave up, conceding to James that the matter was a lost cause.
But James and his client saw to it that Victoria was well paid for her services in defending Bella.
After Bella's thesis had been submitted, Siobhan found her client much changed. She was more relaxed, since much of her stress had been eliminated, and she seemed hopeful.
Hope is a powerful virtue.
Somehow, Bella's friend Alice planted the seeds of hope in her mind and these seeds were nurtured by time, for Bella believed that her boyfriend would return to her at graduation.
Siobhan knew that it would be unwise to take hope away from another human being, so rather than discounting the idea, she sought only to structure and to monitor it, encouraging Bella to continue focusing on her therapeutic assignments and goals.
But even Siobhan had to admit that hope made Bella progress more quickly and more easily with respect to her therapeutic goals of health and confidence.
In contrast to April, the month of May crept along like a drunken sea turtle.
Bella spent much of May planning her move to Harvard, securing a place in one of the graduate residences for the fall and winter semesters, and trying to find a summer apartment to sublet.
In addition to these time-consuming but necessary tasks, she planned her academic schedule for the year and with Peter's assistance, began constructing a reading list for her fall seminars. She was eager to begin studying the texts that would form part of her curriculum in the next semester.
Bella was never idle, although she and Peter sought to avail themselves of the pleasures of Toronto and the early summer weather whenever they could. But many weeknights found them in the library together while he worked on his dissertation and she worked through her reading list.
And then there was Charlie.
Ever since Charlie had learned of Edward's sudden departure he had taken on a more active parental role.
He insisted that Bella attend her graduation and he refused to allow Peter to move her to Cambridge. Alone.
Although Peter secured a summer apartment for Bella, which was being sublet by his friend Patrick's new girlfriend, it was Charlie who paid the security deposit and the rent for July and August. From the pictures he had seen, it was a clean and cozy studio located on the third floor of a brick townhouse on Mount Auburn Street, which was walking distance to Harvard.
And it was Charlie who flew to Toronto on June eighth so that he could watch his only daughter graduate with her M.A. on the eleventh before they packed up all her things and began the long drive from Toronto to Cambridge in a rented U-Haul.
Bella had it fixed in her mind that Edward would be at her graduation and that their separation would come to an end. So on the morning of the event she was extremely nervous.
She had bought a new dress for the occasion and a new pair of high heels with some of the money Charlie had given her as a graduation present. Dressed in shimmering, summery blue with artful black shoes, she left Peter and Charlie on the steps of Convocation Hall while she went to line up with all the other graduating students.
Charlie liked Peter. A lot.
Peter was forthright and had a firm handshake. He looked Charlie directly in the eye when they spoke to one another. And he had offered his assistance in helping move Bella to Cambridge, including accommodations on his family's farm in Burlington, even after Charlie had insisted that he could move Bella by himself.
Charlie dropped a hint to his daughter over dinner the evening before graduation suggesting that Peter was an obvious choice for a new love interest, but Bella had simply bitten her lip and changed the subject.
During the interval between Alice's visit and graduation there had been no more messages from Edward, although Alice would email Bella once in a while to say that she or her Carlisle had heard from him.
Bella knew that he had spent an extended period of time in Italy and then in Oxford, before returning to the United States, but none of his relatives had seen him and no one knew exactly where he was or what he was doing. Although it was rumoured that he had been in Forks and also in Boston.
Not even Peter knew where Edward was. Although Professor Santos had assured him that Professor Masen would continue to direct his dissertation during the upcoming academic year, a fact that he reluctantly shared with Bella.
Despite that unwelcome revelation, Bella's flickering hope, which she had nursed from an ember into a small but stubborn flame, was fixed on graduation and what she believed would be a bittersweet reunion.
As the graduates filed into the hall, Bella couldn't help but scan the audience, looking for Edward. But with hundreds of people it was unlikely that she would see him.
However, when she gazed over at the faculty section, she easily located Katherine Picton, dressed quite regally in her Oxonian robes.
If the faculty were seated alphabetically, and it certainly seemed as if they were, then Edward should have been seated near her, dressed in Harvard's crimson.
But he wasn't.
And certainly, Harvard's crimson stood out amongst the sea of black robes and other colours, making its alumni easier to locate.
Bella tried very hard to concentrate on the ceremony, knowing that this would be her only opportunity to graduate from the University of Toronto. But she was distracted, panicked even, wondering why Edward wasn't there.
When they called Bella's name, it was Katherine who ascended the stage in slow but certain steps to hood Bella with the vestment of a magister. It was Katherine who shook her hand professionally, wished her well at Harvard, and handed her the diploma.
Professor Masen was nowhere to be found, even afterwards at the reception. And Bella knew better than to ask any of his colleagues where he was.
Later that night, after a celebratory dinner with Peter and Charlie at a local steakhouse, Bella stared up at her studio ceiling wondering how she could have been so sure that Edward would return and yet been so wrong.
He mentioned July first to me. Maybe that's the date of his return. But according to Peter, Edward will still be working for the University next year.
Will he come looking for me in Cambridge? Would he jeopardize his job a second time?
Bella began to feel very foolish over her constant, naïve hopes, so to punish herself, she listened to Alice's congratulatory voice mail, which she had sent earlier that day.
"We're so proud of you Bella! Jasper and Emmett and Rose and my Dad all send their love and we have presents for you. Thanks for sending me your new address in Cambridge. We're going to mail everything and make sure it arrives at your new place after you move in. I'm also sending your bridesmaid's dress for the final fitting.
"Dad booked your flight from Boston to Seattle for August twenty-first. I hope that's okay. He wanted to pay for it and I know that you were planning on coming out a week early in order to help with the last minute things.
"I'm positive Edward is going to be at your graduation, even though he's been secretive about his whereabouts lately. So as soon as you two kiss and make up, call me! We're all on pins and needles out here. And I can't say that Emmet and Jasper are completely over what happened, but I'm sure they'll get over it.
"Not that it matters anymore, but when I visited you in April I forgot part of Edward's message. And then with the – the thing with your tests and the fight at the dance club, and wedding plans out here I kept forgetting to mention it every time I talked to you.
"But he told me to tell you 'I want to be your last.'"
Relevant Story Links:
Kansas – Carry On Westward Son https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iQru7oCdYXA
Sarah McLachlan - Prayer of St Francis Assisi https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dGyOtU3Es_s&feature=related
Tommy Tutone – 867-5309(Jenny) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tBHJqtgo8RA&a=3Rd2wpHfHSA&playnext_from=ML
The Police – King Of Pain https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CGEJcizQEXk&feature=related
Diana Krall – S‘ Wonderful (With Claus Ogerman) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6mM2HkNE1nA
Two wonderfully written novels are also mentioned in Chapter 37.
Isabel Allende's Eva Luna.
Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.
These books are very different from one another but they each deserve a wide audience for their interesting descriptions of life, love and nature.
Allende's story combines the supernatural with a partially fictionalized Latin American history. It's ethereal and surprising and each character is a character.
Dillard's work is semi-autobiographical and American and biological. How she manages to weave these elements together is for me, a mystery. But the journey is well worth it. It makes for a thought-provoking read.
Botticelli's, Madonna and Child with an Angel, c. 1465
The painting is Saint Lucy by Domenico Beccafumi. It dates from the 16th century (prior to 1551), and is owned by the Pinacoteca Nazionale di Siena.
St. Lucy has a very interesting legend. When conventional attempts to martyr her failed, her eyes were removed. For this reason, her iconography is associated with a pair of eyes. She plays an important role in Dante's Divine Comedy.
Orazio Gentileschi's painting St. Francis held by an Angel, c. 1607. This masterpiece is owned by the Prado Museum in Madrid and is far more striking in person.
The Tomb of St. Francis of Assisi, which is located below the Basilica of St. Francis in the city of Assisi, Italy.
St. Francis of Assisi had a startling conversion to Christianity. Once converted, he left the wealth of his family behind and founded an order of men who served the poor and the sick. The charity of St. Francis has been mentioned several times in UOEM, as has Assisi, which Edward and Bella visited during their holiday in Umbria.

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