capitolo quaranta

Andare in basso

capitolo quaranta

Messaggio  simona80 il Dom 13 Mar 2011, 01:28

Chapter Forty
"Forgive me, Isabella. My goal was not to hurt you. I promise. And I regret everything that you just described. Truly."
"Then why, Edward?"
He inhaled deeply.
"It's a long story. And only you can tell me how it ends …"
Bella pulled away from him so that she could see his face better, bracing herself for what was to come.
Her sudden movement seemed to cause the scent of her hair to waft over to him.
"Your hair is different," he murmured.
"A little longer, perhaps."
"It doesn't smell of strawberries anymore."
"I changed my shampoo," said Bella, almost coldly.
"Why?"
Edward shifted his body to eliminate the gap between them and then, inexplicably, cried out in pain.
"Are you alright? What happened?" She sat up, gazing over at him in alarm.
Edward's fists were at his side and his eyes were clenched shut. He cursed a few times through his teeth.
"It's my leg. I wrenched it."
"Will you be okay?"
Edward held up a hand to indicate that he needed a moment and then he proceeded to slam one of his fists into the futon.
"Angelfucker!"
At least, that's what Bella thought she heard. But given the context, she couldn't be sure.
"Should I call your nurse? Should I take you to the hospital?"
He shook his head. "I need my pills. They're in my jacket."
Not bothering to put her sandals back on, Bella ran across the garden to the patio to retrieve Edward's blazer.
She noticed that the music coming from the sound systems had shifted from Frank Sinatra to Peter Gabriel. But given the fact that she was born in the 1980s, she did not recognize the song that was currently playing. Nor its significance.
She also noticed that Rebecca had set out a chilled bottle of Perrier with two glasses that were lined with lemon slices. She gathered them into her arms and flew back to the tent.
As she searched the blazer pockets for his medication, her hand closed over a small, velvet box.
Edward was clearly in a lot of pain and so she ignored her find and quickly went through the other pockets until she found his pills.
He took two of them with the glass of water that she obligingly poured.
"Should you be taking pills after drinking?"
"I only had one glass. The alcohol should have left my system by now." He showed her the prescription, which had a name on it that she didn't recognize. "I asked them not to prescribe narcotics, but they didn't think they could manage the pain without them. This is supposed to be one of the least addictive painkillers. But as a precaution, my nurse is monitoring my pill intake. There are some roads I will not go down again."
He paused and gazed up at her, the discomfort still evident in his eyes. "It's easier to bear the pain when you're here."
Bella shuffled her feet. "I can't save you, Edward. And I can't take the pressure that comes with having you think that I can."
"Isabella." Edward reached out his hand and took hers. "I understand that you can't save me. But I can't deny the comfort and relief I feel in your presence. It's like breathing."
She withdrew her hand slowly.
"Do you think you re-broke your leg?"
"No. I just moved it in the wrong direction. Dr. Tan warned me it was too soon to come home. But since I'm a jackass …"
Bella sat down next to him and they were both quiet for some time, as they waited for Edward's pain to subside. The music shifted to Nat King Cole and Bella recognized two songs, Stardust and Autumn Leaves.
"I'm sorry, Edward. If I hadn't been standing in the middle of the road, this never would have happened."
His eyes were dark as they lifted to meet hers.
"It was an accident. And I'd do it again if it meant keeping you from harm."
"But you could have been killed!"
"Better me than you. I love you, Isabella. No matter what you think of me or what I did, I promise that I was only trying to protect you."
She sniffled slightly and moved to lie on her side, careful not to touch him in the process.
"I am your faithful one, Beatrice," Edward quoted, his eyes brimming with emotion. "Please remember that when I tell you what happened."
He took a deep breath and said a silent prayer before beginning his story.
"When you and I were separated the week before the Tribunal, I read every University policy document that I could find. The more I read the more I realized how much I'd put you at risk. I broke rules without even realizing it. It became clear to me that Aro must have uncovered the inconsistencies surrounding our relationship and that he was going to exploit them." Edward tugged at his hair anxiously. "I could accept whatever he wanted to do to me, but I was afraid that they were going to expel you. I couldn't stop thinking about it – how I had placed you in such a precarious position."
He gazed into her eyes and lowered his voice.
"I came to your apartment to see you and I ruined our last night together. I should have told you why I was upset. I should have told you that I loved you. But all I could think about was how much I needed you. I never should have treated you the way that I did. I'm sorry."
"I felt so alone the next morning."
"I'm sorry. It was the worst way for me to deal with my anxiety. But I hope that you believe me when I tell you that it wasn't just a fuck to me. Every time we were together it was always, always done with love. I swear."
Bella nodded, sadly. "For me, too."
He closed his eyes for an instant before continuing.
"I take full responsibility for the fact that we ended up in front of the VOLTURI. I should have known better than to try to get around the rules. Hell, I should have known the rules and followed them. But I was selfish. I wanted you and I didn't care what I did in order to be with you.
"When you stood up and confessed our relationship and I saw Aro's reaction, I knew it was over. Our lawyers were prepared to stonewall, hoping that the Tribunal would excuse us or hand down a ruling that we could challenge in court. But when you confessed, you provided the corroboration that Aro needed."
"We had an agreement to show a united front. An agreement, Edward." Bella's voice grew heated.
"If Aro had given us a fair hearing, I would have stuck to that agreement. I acquiesced to you in good faith, Isabella. But I also promised you from the very beginning that I wouldn't allow anyone to hurt you or to end your career. When Aro looked at you and smiled, I knew exactly what he was going to do. And I couldn't let him. A promise takes precedence."
"An agreement is a promise."
Edward inhaled deeply. "Put yourself in my position. I placed you at risk. I should have been the one to fix it. It isn't only promise keeping that's at issue here, it's justice. I was the wrongdoer, I deserved the consequences." Now his green eyes glinted. "And I would be damned if I let you take the punishment that I deserved."
She looked away, shaking her head but not bothering to contradict him. Now was not the moment to start an argument.
"Aro was looking for someone to blame after Victoria embarrassed him during your first meeting. And Katherine Picton complained about him to the President of the University. Aro needed to produce dramatic results from our hearing in order to justify his witch hunt."
"Katherine filed a complaint? I didn't know that."
"I didn't either, at the time. She filed a brief on your behalf arguing that Aro didn't follow the appropriate procedure. Apparently, the University disciplinary policies require an informal hearing before a complaint is referred to the VOLTURI. Aro followed this procedure when he investigated Angela's complaint against you, but he ignored it when it came to the fraternization charge."
The implications of what Edward was saying were suddenly very, very clear.
"So even if we'd said that our relationship was consensual, Aro would have tried to punish both of us?"
"Exactly."
"Why didn't you tell me this?"
"I didn't know. I didn't know what kind of evidence they had until they told us. Believe me, if I could have coordinated our defence before hand, I would have. But by the time I realized what was going to happen, it was too late."
"So I made it worse," Bella whispered.
Edward gently leaned over and brushed the back of his hand against her cheek.
"You told the truth. But in this case, there were political machinations behind the scenes that neither of us were aware of. When Katherine realized what had happened, she was stricken. She tried to help me, but there wasn't much she could do. I'd already confessed."
He groaned slightly at the memory.
"A consensual relationship between a faculty member and a student who is not under his supervision must be disclosed to a supervisor. I should have notified Professor Santos that we were seeing one another. But I didn't.
"The issue of your seminar grade was also my fault. Once again, I should have gone to Santos and told him that Katherine was submitting your grade. Instead, she graded your work and then I submitted your grade online with everyone else's. Of course it looked as if I was evaluating your work, even though I had already told Santos that I had a conflict of interest.
"Both of these mistakes could have been prevented if I hadn't been so arrogant."
"I'm responsible for what happened, too. I should have insisted that we wait until Christmas to start seeing each other." Bella sounded guilty.
"I would have pursued you, regardless. I was completely enthralled by you. I still am."
He gave her what could only be described as an adoring but mournful look and then he looked away.
"You wouldn't have felt the need to speak to the Tribunal at all if I hadn't made so many errors in judgement. Once Caius began warning you about the consequences of your words I knew I had to intervene. He was the person who I expected to be the most sympathetic to your plight. His vote, along with that of Dr. Chakravartty's, was essential to keeping you from being punished. When you lost his support, I knew that Aro would see to it that you failed my seminar and then all of your hopes of going to Harvard or anywhere else for a Ph.D. would be ended. I had to do something."
"So you pushed me out of the way and jumped in front of the car."
Edward grimaced. "I knew that in order to change Caius' mind I was going to have to lie. I was going to have to play the part of the monster and I knew that you wouldn't let me do that. So I demanded that they excuse you and once you were out of the room, I lied through my teeth."
Bella wiped away a stray tear. "Couldn't you have told me what you were going to do before you did it? Couldn't we have taken a recess and at least discussed it? We were a couple, Edward. We were supposed to work together!"
He hung his head. "When I saw you in danger, I simply reacted. The uppermost consideration in my mind was protecting you. What do you think would have happened if I had taken you aside during a recess and explained what I was about to do?"
Bella chewed at the edge of one of her fingernails. "I wouldn't have let you go through with it."
"I knew that. I might not be much, Isabella, but I know the difference between right and wrong. And it would have been a sin, a sin to allow you to lose everything because of my failures. I couldn't live with that, even if you believed that I betrayed you. I only hoped that you would accept my explanation afterward and forgive me. But truthfully, I wasn't sure."
"You were willing to risk everything to save me, thinking that I might not forgive you?"
"Yes," he whispered.
Bella swore she saw moisture in his eyes, which he swiftly removed with his fingers.
"James tried to dissuade me from speaking, but I ignored him. However, he interrupted long enough to convince the Tribunal to take the punishment of dismissal off the table, in exchange for my confession. I thought it would simply be a matter of lying to the VOLTURI, but Aro was dissatisfied. He tried to paint me as a sexual deviant."
"How?"
Edward hid his eyes.
"Aro produced email correspondence between me and Jane Singer. The emails were old – from before I met you."
Bella swallowed nosily.
"Jane?"
"Yes. The Tribunal knew all about her from Peter's complaint. Aro read some of her more provocative emails to me aloud and then he read my responses. You can imagine what was in them."
Bella felt sick.
Edward's voice dropped and Bella watched his body shiver.
"It was like standing naked in front of God and having all of your secret sins read out loud for the world to hear."
Now he was staring at her, his eyebrows knit together.
"I had forgotten what I was like before I met you. How I used to talk. How I used to be. You made me forget.
"That's when James revealed a surprising fact. In the course of arguing that the emails were irrelevant, since they were clearly consensual and between two faculty members, James mentioned that Victoria was Jane's attorney. And then he leaned over and whispered to me that Jane and Victoria were involved. Isabella, if I had had any idea that Victoria was so entwined with Jane, I never would have suggested that you retain her."
"She told me eventually." Bella's voice was quiet. "But by the time I found out, it was too late."
Edward dragged his fingers through his hair.
"Marcus objected to the inclusion of those emails and so they were stricken from the proceedings. But the damage had already been done. Suddenly, it was easy to convince Caius that I was a monster. I said that I had tired of partners like Jane and decided to target you for my affections.
"I told them that when my advances were rebuffed, as evidenced in your email, I used my charm to seduce you. Then, in order to keep you from reporting me to my superiors, I convinced you that I loved you."
"What are you talking about?" Bella's eyes grew wide and a coldness slid down her spine. "They never mentioned anything about my emails."
Edward exhaled loudly, scratching his head.
"You forget that each of the VOLTURI have their own individual agendas. If Aro had my emails as his pocket aces, Alex Chakravartty had your email as hers. You accused me of harassment, you mentioned being on your knees …" He shrugged. "She provided a very lively defence of your predicament, one that Aro attempted, but failed, to challenge. You were Tess and I was Alec d'Urberville and that was enough to save you."
He looked at her sadly. "It was Providential, in a way. Your confession put you at risk, and your email saved you."
"This was my fault," Bella protested. "You warned me to be careful in my emails and I ignored you. It cost us everything."
"Not everything." He moved his hand to rest against her cheek, pressing his lips to her forehead. "My beautiful, brilliant Isabella Swan, M.A."
He sighed and withdrew, worried about overstepping the boundary that she seemed intent on erecting. Although the sight of her unshed tears unravelled him more than the pain in his leg.
"I wasn't careful in my emails to Jane. I deserved what happened to me."
"That's bullshit," said Bella fiercely. "I know that actions have consequences. Believe me, I know that. But I don't believe that human beings are stuck on some karmic wheel that turns and turns and turns forever. If you are truly sorry for the mistakes you made and you try to correct them, then you shouldn't have to spend the rest of your life paying for them. You should be able to atone for them and ask for forgiveness."
"Do you really mean that?"
She flushed a deep red. "Of course I do."
Edward lowered his gaze to the futon. "Be patient with me, Isabella. I went through some changes while we were away from one another. But that's a very long story and of course, my redemption has only begun."
Bella stared.
She had noticed that Edward was different but she hadn't realized how different. She had credited any softness or vulnerability she had seen in him to the trauma of being in a life-threatening accident. But now that she saw Edward's contrition, and his surprising use of the word redemption, she knew that the man she had known prior to their separation and the man who begged for her patience now shared the same skin, but possibly little else.
Edward blinked a little at her surprised face before continuing.
"James worked out a kind of plea bargain. I agreed to give up teaching undergraduates and supervising female graduate students until the VOLTURI determined otherwise and they agreed not to strip me of my tenure. But there was a catch."
He cleared his throat gruffly.
"Aro and Marcus weren't wholly convinced by my tale. I think you made quite an impression on them. Aro ordered that there be no contact between you and I, even casual contact, starting at that moment. He made it clear that any communication between us would nullify the Tribunal's decision and that he would bring us back in order to face a fraternization charge.
"As a final indignation, he decreed that if I quit my job in order to continue my affair with you, you would be punished for violating the non-fraternization policy. I had to give my word that I would break things off with you on the spot."
Bella was quiet for a moment as Edward searched her face.
And then she closed her eyes, as a tear rolled down her cheek. "When I fell, you looked at me as if you hated me. You looked disgusted."
"Bella, please." He grabbed her hand and pulled her to his chest. "I could never hate you or be disgusted by you. That look was not meant for you. It was the culmination of everything that happened and my absolute hatred for the VOLTURI. They threatened and frightened you and they were going to separate us. Any disgust I felt was directed at the Tribunal and myself. That look was not meant for you, I swear."
Bella shed more than a few tears at that moment, the consequence of shock and anxiety and a measure of relief at having her questions answered. Finally.
But some of the most important questions remained.
"I hate that I've made you cry again," Edward said ruefully, running a hand up and down her back to comfort her.
"It's painful to remember."
"For me, too. I don't want to prolong the pain, but I think we should stop. My medication is making me sleepy and we're both still recovering from the accident."
Bella nodded against his chest. "I should go home, but I'm so tired."
"I'd like you to consider this as your home, when you're ready. You can stay with me tonight or I'll order a taxi." He glanced down at his injured leg in frustration. "I can't drive."
She shook her head. "I should go. But I can't."
"Then stay – in my arms. There are blankets in that corner over there," said Edward. "If you'll let me, I'll get them."
She slowly extricated herself from his embrace and walked over to the blankets, pausing to blow out all the candles as she did so. She left the tea lights in the Moroccan lamps overhead to burn out, admiring the play of light and colour against the walls of the tent.
The very air shimmered.
They made a nest together in the centre of the futon. Edward lay on his back with his beloved at his side. He did nothing to stifle the deep sigh of contentment that escaped his lips as he wrapped his arm about her shoulders.
"Edward?"
"Yes, my love?" He stroked through her hair slowly, revelling in the feel of the silkiness of the strands as they slipped through his fingers. He tried to savour her new, unfamiliar scent but found himself mourning the loss of the old one.
"I … missed you."
He turned his face so that he could kiss her nose.
"Thank you, my sweet, sweet girl."
He squeezed her tightly as a feeling of cautious relief coursed through him.
"I used to lie awake at night wishing you were with me. To rock me to sleep," Bella said softly.
"I'm here now, love."
Bella hummed to herself and within minutes, the two weary, battered former lovers were sound asleep.
-x-x-x-x-
When Bella awoke the next morning, she was confused.
She opened her eyes and saw bright July sunlight streaming in through the open door of the tent. She was curled up into a little ball under two cashmere blankets that had been lovingly tucked in all around her.
And she was alone.
Were it not for the fact that she knew that the tent belonged to Edward, she would have thought that she had dreamed the previous evening. Or that she had woken up in a new dream.
As she got out of bed, she found a note, in Edward's handwriting, on his pillow.
Beloved Isabella,
You were sleeping so peacefully that I didn't want to disturb you.
I have an appointment with my nurse this morning. I'll come back to check on you when I'm finished.
I will ask Rebecca to make waffles for breakfast because I know they're your favourite.
Falling asleep in your arms again reminded me that I was only half a person in your absence.
You make me whole.
With love,
Edward.
Bella couldn't deny the fact that a variety of emotions set upon her as she read Edward's note, like a symphony of different instruments. Perhaps the most dominant feeling was that of relief.
Edward loved her. Edward had returned.
She loved him. She would forgive him.
But forgiveness and reconciliation were different things and she knew that although other forces had been at work to effect their separation, she and Edward each bore responsibility for the situation in which they currently found themselves.
Bella didn't want to run back into his arms only to escape the pain of their separation, for that would be like taking a pill to kill a pain without investigating its root causes.
She found her sandals and slowly walked into the sun, across the beautiful garden, and retrieved her purse before walking into the house.
Rebecca was already busy at work in the small kitchen, preparing breakfast.
"Good morning," she greeted Bella.
"Good morning. Can you tell me where the washroom is?"
Rebecca wiped her hands on her apron and smiled apologetically. "Unfortunately, in these old houses there's only one bathroom, and Edward is in it."
"Oh," said Bella.
"It's at the top of the stairs. Do you want to knock on the door? He's been up there a while. He might be finished."
The thought of running into Edward, shirtless and damp from the shower, possibly wrapped in a towel, made Bella's skin grow pink.
"Um, I'll wait. May I?" She gestured to the kitchen sink and with Rebecca's permission, proceeded to wash her hands. When they were dried, she removed a hair elastic from her purse and pulled her hair into a ponytail.
Rebecca invited Bella to sit down at the small, round kitchen table.
"This house isn't very convenient for someone on crutches. The stairs are steep and it takes him forever to go up and down, even with someone's help. But the nurse is here and it sounds like she has agreed to move into the spare bedroom until the cast comes off."
Bella was surprised. "I thought that you lived here."
Rebecca laughed as she retrieved a pitcher of freshly squeezed orange juice from the refrigerator. "I live in Norwood. I used to live with my mother but she passed away a few months ago."
"I'm sorry." Bella gave Rebecca a sympathetic look as she poured orange juice into two wine glasses.
"She had dementia. She's better off where she is," said Rebecca simply, before returning to her cooking.
Bella watched as she plugged in an electric waffle maker and then proceeded to wash and hull a basket of fresh strawberries, before whipping some cream.
Edward had planned the breakfast well.
"It's going to be an adjustment to keep house for a professor after looking after my mother. He's a bit – particular, but I like that. Did you know that he's lending me books from his personal library? I've just started reading Jane Eyre. I've never read it before. I never had the time. He says that as long as I keep cooking I can keep borrowing books. Finally, I have a chance to further my education and use everything I learned from years of watching the Food Network."
Rebecca laughed.
"I don't know the professor very well, but I'm already very fond of him. He reminds me of my son, strong but gentle." At this, she smiled. "He doesn't like to feel helpless. So he spends ages in the washroom doing everything himself while the nurse stands in the hall, hoping he doesn't fall and break his other leg."
Bella resisted the impulse to run to Edward's rescue, thinking that it was best if she let him keep part of his pride (and his towel) intact. So she sipped her orange juice and began to eat her breakfast, urged as she was not to wait for Edward's arrival.
"I'm surprised he bought this house when the kitchen is so small and there is only one bathroom," Bella remarked between bites of a spectacular cinnamon scented waffle that was served with strawberries and cream.
Rebecca wore a knowing little smile. "He wanted to live in Harvard Square. And he liked the garden. He said that it reminded him of his parents' place back home. He plans to renovate the house to make it more comfortable, but he refused to book a single contractor until you gave your approval."
"My approval?" Bella was incredulous.
"Well – he might have said something about selling it if you didn't like it. Although given the language I heard coming from upstairs this morning, I think he has decided to install a second bathroom down here and have the staircase ripped out and replaced. Immediately." Rebecca passed a plate of crispy bacon to Bella. "I don't know if you've noticed this, but the professor can be a little intense."
Bella laughed loudly. "You have no idea."
She was able to enjoy not one, but two waffles before the sound of Edward, his cast, and his nurse came thumping down the stairs.
"Good morning, love," he greeted her, kissing the top of Bella's head softly before seating himself next to her.
"Good morning. Where's your nurse?"
Edward grimaced slightly. "She went home to collect her things so that she can, um, stay here. Temporarily. With the way the floor plan is and my leg …" He shook his head and leaned closer to Bella so that his lips brushed against her ear. "I hope you aren't upset about her moving in. It's merely for safety and so that she can monitor my medication. I'll probably be in a cast for six to eight weeks."
He leaned back so that he could read her reaction.
Bella felt for his hand underneath the table and held it for a moment.
"Eight weeks is a long time for you to be on pain killers. And what if you were to fall in the middle of the night? Of course someone should stay with you."
Edward's green eyes glinted flirtatiously. "I'd rather have you as my nurse, Isabella."
Bella flushed and looked down at her plate.
He sighed at her reaction and rubbed his eyes with both hands. "Gale is a good nurse. But she's rather implacable."
Acutely aware of Rebecca's presence, Edward and Bella made polite small talk for a moment or two before Bella excused herself to visit the washroom.
With one look at her face and hair in the mirror, she realized that she needed to have a shower. And that's when she noticed a shopping bag placed neatly on the corner of the vanity, with a small piece of paper attached to it.
Darling,
Make yourself at home.
Love,
Edward.
P.S. I'm sorry about the toiletries. I thought you'd like them. But there are others underneath the vanity that you can choose from.
Searching the shopping bag, she found bottles of her old brand of strawberry shampoo and shower gel, along with a new lavender coloured poof and several different sets of clothes that looked oddly familiar.
He kept my things. He kept what I returned.
It took a moment or two for her to overcome the sudden, almost overwhelming feeling that passed over her. But she swallowed it back and showered and dressed, making herself presentable.
She tried not to notice that the black trousers and the Santorini blue silk blouse were a little large on her, evidence of the fact that she had not completely regained all of the weight she had lost.
I wonder if the velvet box I found in Edward's pocket last night was the wedding ring he bought me. Or maybe it was Esme's earrings.
Out of all of the regrets she had in life, returning Esme's earrings was one of the greater ones. She knew that action, although it seemed necessary at the time, would have injured Edward deeply.
They had wounded each other and both were in need of forgiveness and healing. But Bella couldn't decide what path would be the best one to take in order for her to mend.
The obvious choices in life aren't always the correct ones.
When she finally came downstairs, Rebecca was cleaning up the kitchen and Edward was in the garden. She went to him, and found him reclining on a chaise in the shade of a large umbrella.
"Are you alright?" She asked, for his eyes were closed.
He opened his eyes and winked at her. "I am now. Come." He extended his hand and she took it, settling herself in the chaise adjacent to him.
"That colour suits you," he said, appraising her blue blouse with unconcealed delight.
"Thank you for keeping it."
A shadow crossed his face then, but soon it was gone and he was smiling again.
"What would you like to do today?"
Bella toyed with her fingers in order to distract herself from his unsettling green eyes. "I think we should finish our conversation."
He nodded and then inhaled deeply, silently seeking the assistance of his higher power. He did not want to lose her. And he knew that her reaction to the next part of his story might bring about just that.
"I know you remember our conversation in the hallway, outside the Tribunal's room. When James was rude to you, I was so close to losing my temper. I wanted to break off his hand and feed it to him."
"Why?"
Edward looked over at her in surprise.
"I don't think you comprehend the depth of my feeling for you, Isabella," he said softly. "It goes beyond wanting to be near you, or to protect you. I want you to be happy and I want the people around you to treat you with respect."
"Yes, but you can't break off people's hands when they're rude to me."
He made a show of stroking his chin thoughtfully. "No, I suppose not. Can I run over them with my car? Strike them with the Oxford English Dictionary?"
"All twenty volumes? Of course."
They shared a laugh and then both fell silent for a moment.
"I wanted to communicate what had happened behind closed doors, but I was ordered not to talk to you. That's why I spoke in code. Except I stupidly quoted Abelard, forgetting that you and I had radically different interpretations of his relationship with Héloise. I should have quoted Dante, Shakespeare, Milton, anyone. But I quoted Abelard and you looked at me with such disgust …" He shook his head.
"You were so angry. You accused me of fucking you … Isabella …." Edward's voice broke as he pronounced her name and Bella swore she saw the beginning of tears at the corners of his eyes.
"Did you really think so lowly of me?" He reproached her with his tone. "To think that was what I wanted? To think that was how I would choose to say goodbye?"
Bella looked away, avoiding the intensity of his gaze.
"You were always so vocal with me. But that night you were silent. You didn't even leave a note. And you were always so meticulous before. So sweet with me."
He nodded sadly.
"I didn't trust myself to speak. My pride prevented me from appearing weak in front of you. But as you can see, I've been humbled." He waved a frustrated hand at his cast.
"At least God didn't make me eat grass."
Bella looked over at him cautiously, not knowing if he was making a joke.
"So you're Nebuchadnezzar now?"
Edward smiled. "Better Nebuchadnezzar than Icarus."
Bella smiled back. "Rebecca told me that you lent her a book. Maybe you're Mr. Rochester. Edward Fairfax Rochester."
"Not yet, I'm not," he whispered, his eyes full of longing.
"Why not?"
"Because my beloved Jane hasn't promised to return to me."
Bella swept her hair behind her ears nervously.
"You were talking about our conversation in the hallway after the Tribunal," she prompted, eager to change the subject.
Edward sighed.
"I knew that if I quit my job while you were still a student, Aro would target you. So there was no way I could escape. My plan was to wait until you had graduated and then to resign my post. I'd give the VOLTURI what they wanted until July first, when my contract ended, and then –"
Bella interrupted him. "Why didn't you just tell me that?"
Edward pinched the bridge of his nose so tightly, she thought he was going to leave scars between his eyes.
After what appeared to be a tremendous effort, he opened his eyes and retrieved his iPhone from his pocket. Scrolling through a few screens, he settled on something.
And then he fixed distressed and haunted eyes on hers.
"I mentioned July first in the hallway after the Tribunal. But I soon realized that it was too opaque of a remark, especially when you were so upset. On my way out of University College with James, I ducked into the men's room on the first floor. I quickly typed an email to you on my phone and sent it."
Bella gaped.
"But I didn't receive that email. Did you send it to my University account? Did Aro intercept it?"
He shook his head and handed her the iPhone. "Read it."
Bella quickly glanced at the screen. And what she read shook her.
Isabella,
I love you.
This separation is only temporary.
Wait for me – I'll return July 1st.
It was all an act.
Forgive me.
Please,
E.
Bella blinked several times at the email, as she tried to assimilate what she saw typed in black and white with what she had experienced.
But she couldn't.
"I don't understand. I didn't receive this."
Edward gave her a tortured expression. "I know."
She looked at the screen again and saw that the date and time of the email matched Edward's story. But the addressee of the email was not her University account.
It wasn't even her Gmail account.
In fact, the actual recipient was someone entirely different.
I.M. Santos.
Bella's eyes widened as the magnitude of Edward's error suddenly became very, very clear.
He hadn't sent the email to her.
He'd sent the email to the University email account of Professor Inacio Marcelo Santos, the Chair of the Department of Italian Studies.
Edward's supervisor.
"Oh, God, Edward. No!"
He plucked the iPhone from her hand, muttering curses upon himself.
"Every time I tried to do something for you, it backfired. I tried to save you, and Aro was suspicious. I tried to give you a clue in conversation, and I made you feel like a whore. I tried to email you to explain what I was doing, and I sent the email to my Chair by mistake. Honestly, Bella, were it not for the fact that I hoped that someday we would be having this conversation, I would have stepped out into rush hour traffic on Bloor Street and ended it."
"Don't ever say something like that again. Don't even think it."
Bella's sudden show of fierceness surprised him, and he found himself back-pedalling quickly.
"Losing you was a low point for me, Isabella. But suicide isn't an option I'd entertain again. Not anymore." He gave her a look that seemed to signify much more than he could say at that moment.
"I didn't realize my mistake until a few days later, when Professor Santos called me into his office. He produced a printed copy of the email, and I was prepared to beg, to lie, to pay him off if I could. But he didn't want money."
At that moment, Edward and Bella were interrupted by Rebecca, who joined them on the patio carrying a pitcher of homemade lemonade, garnished with a few frozen raspberries that floated delicately in the cloud of yellow. She served their drinks with an encouraging smile and then vanished back into the house.
Edward drank greedily, enjoying his reprieve.
"So?" said Bella, sipping her lemonade.
"Santos had already received a report from the VOLTURI disclosing the terms and conditions of the Tribunal's decision. He knew that if he gave my email to Aro, I'd be fired. But he didn't want to bring negative attention to the Department because it would scare away students and potential donors. So he made me promise not to contact you again and then he asked me to take a leave of absence for the rest of the semester. I didn't have a reason to stay, since I couldn't be near you. So I agreed."
"He let you go?"
"With a handshake and a promise."
Edward scrubbed at his face with his hands as the memory of that dreadful conversation haunted him.
"He showed me mercy. Then more than ever I felt obligated to keep my word. I resolved not to contact you until July first and to disappear until then."
Bella shook her head stubbornly.
"But what about me, Edward? You made a lot of promises to me. Didn't you think about keeping them?"
"Of course. That's why I placed the books in your mailbox right after the Tribunal. I thought you'd read my inscriptions and wait for me."
"But I didn't realize they were from you. Peter brought them to me and put them on my bookshelf. I didn't even look at them until the night of our accident. That's why I was running outside. I didn't have an internet connection in my apartment and I wanted to email you."
"What would you have said?"
Bella squirmed uncomfortably.
"That I misjudged you."
He gave her a long, silent, pained look.
"I thought that you read my messages. When I saw that your mailbox was empty, I assumed that you looked at them.
"When I sent you away from my apartment it was because I had to, not because I wanted to. Do you know how many current and retired University professors live in my building? I couldn't risk someone seeing you and the information being passed to Santos or to the VOLTURI.
"Imagine my surprise when my next-door neighbour rapped rather forcefully on my door and unceremoniously shoved every gift I'd ever given you into my hands, before cursing me out in French and then repeating the same curses in English. He threatened to horsewhip me.
"I thought that you'd had enough. That you'd decided I wasn't worth waiting for."
Tears sprang to Edward's darkening green eyes and he brushed them aside quickly.
"Why would you think that?" Bella asked in a low voice.
He pressed his lips into a hard line.
"You returned everything, even Esme's earrings. You said I'd broken your heart. I thought you were telling me that you didn't want me anymore. That we were over."
Bella winced.
Edward had a point. Their misunderstanding and miscommunication had escalated to such a fevered pitch, they had both lost faith in each other.
Despite any evidence to the contrary.
"I knew that I'd put myself in a situation in which I was careless with your affection. I take full responsibility for that. But it wasn't intentional. It was pride and bad judgement and mistake after mistake.
"I went to Forks. Carlisle called and accused me of doing exactly what I had confessed to the Tribunal – seducing you for sport. He told me you'd been speaking to Alice. I wasn't sure if his characterization came from you or not. I couldn't blame you for thinking badly of me, but I had hoped you would have seen through everything."
"I knew that you cared about me, Edward. I just couldn't understand why you wouldn't talk to me. Why you wouldn't even see me."
"I wanted to, but I couldn't. I'd already done so much damage." He looked down at his hands and began to turn the wedding ring around his finger again and again.
"Katherine Picton came to see me before I left Toronto. She was worried that her complaint against Aro had made things worse for us. Although I didn't tell her about our relationship, she seemed to put all the pieces together.
"She assured me that she would see that Aro left you alone during my absence and that she would do everything she could to help you graduate on time. And then she mentioned that an old friend of hers had left the Department of Romance Studies at Boston University in order to take a position at UCLA. She wanted my permission to nominate me as his replacement. I knew you were moving to Boston and so I asked Katherine to go ahead."
"She was very kind to me," said Bella introspectively.
"And to me. I interviewed for the position and then I awaited their decision. In the meantime, I travelled to Chicago, I stayed at a hotel in Boston ... I soon realized that I had to do something to shake myself out of my depression before I did something that I would regret."
Bella's stomach suddenly tightened.
"Something you would regret?" she repeated.
"Not women, Isabella. Not even when I thought that you didn't want me anymore. The mere idea of being with someone else made me sick. I was more worried about – other vices."
"Before you go any further, I need to tell you something." Her voice was stronger and more determined than the will behind it.
Edward began to watch her carefully, wondering what in the world she was about to reveal.
"When I told you that my relationship with Peter didn't go beyond friendship, what I said was true. Technically."
"Technically?" Edward's eyebrows flew up and his voice lowered to a growl.
"He wanted more. He told me he loved me. And he – kissed me."
Edward was silent for a moment or two and Bella watched as his hands formed tight fists, his knuckles whitening.
"Forgive me. If I had known your attentions were engaged elsewhere, I would have never presumed to take up so much of your time." His voice was stiff and cold.
Bella watched as the walls he used to protect himself went up right before her eyes.
"My attentions are not engaged elsewhere. They are where they always have been – with you."
Edward gazed at her sceptically.
"Peter helped me find the courage to leave my apartment when all I wanted to do was hide. But I never had romantic feelings for him. I think you know this already, but you ruined me for other men when I was seventeen. No one will ever capture my heart the way you did." Her voice trembled as she blinked back her tears bravely.
"But he kissed you."
"Yes, he did. And I saw what my life would be like with him. But even without an assurance that you would come back, I turned him down." She looked at the ground and squeezed her eyes shut. "Not because I wouldn't have had a good life with him. But because he wasn't you."
"I'm sure that distressed him."
"I broke his heart," said Bella simply. "And I took no pleasure in doing so."
Edward exhaled loudly.
"I was worried that if we had any contact and Peter found out about it, he'd run and tell Aro."
"You were wrong about him. He was the voice of reason when I needed it. And he was good to me, even after I broke his heart. He was Virgil," she added in a whisper.
"I will make my apologies to him." Edward reached over to take her hand in his.
"I know you said you were faithful, and I'm not questioning you on that. But did anyone – kiss you?"
"No." He smiled ruefully. "I'd make a good Dominican or Jesuit, don't you think? With my new virtue of celibacy? Although I discovered during our separation that I don't have the disposition to be a Franciscan."
Bella gave him a quizzical look.
"I never meant for any of this to happen, Isabella."
"We never meant for a lot of things to happen." She squeezed his hand in affection and then withdrew it, silently willing him to finish his story and wishing to give him the physical and emotional space to do so.
Edward closed his eyes thoughtfully and then reopened them.
"I was plagued by nightmares. I'd failed and lost you. But I was determined to survive until July first. If I wasn't offered the position at B.U., I was going to resign my job in Toronto and then come to you and beg for your forgiveness. All I had to do was keep myself together until the end of June.
"So I went to Italy. I wanted to feel close to you, to remember a happier time. Truthfully, Isabella, those days with you in Florence and then in Umbria were the happiest days of my life." He averted his eyes. "I even went to Assisi."
"Assisi? To become a Franciscan?" Bella smirked. "Did they refuse you?"
He laughed.
"Hardly. I felt drawn there. I visited the Basilica and I thought I saw you." He looked over at Bella hesitantly, wondering if she would think that he was crazy.
"Your doppelgänger led me to the lower church and then down to the crypt. To the tomb of St. Francis."
Bella watched Edward as he closed his eyes. And then she waited.
"At first, I simply stared at the young woman, wishing she was you. Wishing I hadn't made so many mistakes.
"I was confronted with my own failures. My selfishness and vices. My sin. And then slowly I began to see how in the midst of my failures, I'd been given chance after chance. Through no virtue or goodness of my own, I'd been given grace and goodness and love. And I'd thrown it away or treated it cheaply. I didn't deserve the family who adopted me. I didn't deserve Maia, who was the best part of my relationship with Tanya. I didn't deserve to survive the drugs and graduate from Harvard. I didn't deserve you."
He paused and brushed at his eyes again, but this time the moisture didn't abate.
"Grace isn't something that we deserve, Edward," Bella said softly. "It comes from love. And God wraps the world in second chances and sticky little leaves and mercy, even though some people don't want them."
"Something …. I don't know how to describe it. Something happened. I stopped running. And I found – peace."
Bella smiled.
"Do you know the poem The Hound of Heaven by Francis Thompson? Professor Leaming was fond of quoting it in connection with discussions of conversion.
'All which I took from thee I did but take,
Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might'st seek it in My arms.
All which thy child's mistake
Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home:
Rise, clasp My hand, and come!'
Edward took Bella's hand and pressed desperate lips to her fingers.
"How are you not an angel?" he asked.
"Whatever happened to me, it made me want to be good. To value every day. To forgive others. My experience caused me to focus on God, but also to love you more. I've always been attracted to your goodness, Isabella. But I believe I love you even more deeply now than I ever did before."
She nodded as her eyes suddenly blurred with salt water.
"My love for you before was tinged with selfishness. I should have told you that I loved you sooner. I should have asked you to marry me while we were in Belize. I made up my mind around Christmas that I was going to ask you. But I didn't share my feelings with you; I kept them to myself. I thought that we had all the time in the world."
Bella tried to speak but her voice caught in her throat.
"Please tell me that it isn't too late, Isabella. Please tell me I haven't lost you forever."
With one last, plaintive whisper, Edward covered his face with his hands.
Bella didn't observe him long before she went to him. But it was long enough to realize that she had seen nothing more heart rending than the sight of the man she loved, who had formerly been so strong and proud, humbled and broken and crying.
She stood to her feet and pulled at his shoulders until he was leaning against her. And then she wrapped her arms around him, kissing the top of his head.
"Edward," she said softly. "It isn't too late."
When he didn't respond, she brought her cheek down to rest atop his head.
"You asked Alice to tell me that you wanted to be my last. That message gave me hope. But even before I received that message, I still loved you. I never stopped."
He moved his hands from his face and placed them around her waist, pulling her closer still.
"We both made mistakes – with our relationship, with the Tribunal, with each other. But I had hope that you would come back to me. That you still loved me."
Bella waited for Edward's tears to subside and when he finally looked up at her she kissed him slowly on the lips and then sat down beside him.
He was embarrassed, she could tell.
But Bella also knew that the tears were the result of a multiplicity of things – a broken leg, exhaustion and frustration, and the pain that lingers from a prolonged depression.
"I suppose I should give you an easy out, Isabella. So you don't have to waste any more time on someone so broken."
"You're no more fractured than I am. And I would never abandon you just because you're broken."
Finally Edward's eyes grew alight with hope. "Then you'll stay?"
"I love you. And that love isn't going to go away. But I need to think about what to do next, how to be with you. I've changed over these past few months and I see that you have, too. I want more than what we had before."
"More than I can give you?" Edward asked softly.
She smoothed the material of her black trousers in order to avoid his eyes.
"Not necessarily. But the question of where we go from here is an open one. Some things need to change." Bella blushed. "And some things, I hope, will stay the same."
"Then tell me what you want, Isabella. Tell me and I'll give it to you."
She shook her head. "It doesn't work that way. I don't want to be a dictator and I don't want you to dictate to me. I want us to figure things out together. And that will take time."
-x-x-x-x-
Soon it was too warm to sit outside and so Edward and Bella returned to the house and settled themselves in the living room. Edward was able to recline on the leather sofa and prop his cast up on cushions, while Bella made herself comfortable in one of the red velvet chairs.
Home, she thought. This feels like home. Being with Edward again and sitting in his favourite chair. Hearing him whisper that he loves me …
"I didn't mean to pry, but I saw photos of my graduation on your iPhone. I didn't know you were there."
Edward smiled. "I wasn't about to miss it. I was so proud of you. Katherine was obviously pleased with your success and Charlie seemed as if he was ready to burst with pride."
He neglected the urge to mention the fact that he saw Peter sitting with Charlie, not wishing to broach that topic once again.
"So, should we address the elephant in the room?" asked Bella, smiling.
He nodded, suddenly tense.
"Um, I'll start. I want to get to know you again. I want to be your partner."
"I want you to be a good deal more than that," whispered Edward.
Bella shook her head vehemently.
"It's too soon. And if we decide to get married, I want us to choose our wedding bands together. I can understand your generosity in buying them as a surprise, but you robbed me, Edward. You robbed me of the joy of choosing something with you. That's what I'm asking for. I'm asking you to allow me to be your partner and not to rob me of the joy of standing on my own two feet with you, making decisions with you, choosing a house with you."
"I didn't mean to hurt you."
"You need to understand that your unilateral decisions hurt me. And they have to stop or we aren't going to get very far."
Edward's face fell.
And that one act was far more telling than any words.
"What is it?" she asked, dreading his answer.
He shifted uncomfortably, wincing as he repositioned his cast on the cushions.
"I don't regret trying to save your career. I wish we could have come to a consensus about it. But when I saw you in danger, I reacted. And I'd do it again."
Bella felt her anger rise. "So this whole conversation, your apologies, everything, means nothing?"
"Of course not! The way I went about it was terrible. I agree. I should have talked to you before I did anything. But if you expect me to be the sort of man who watches the woman he loves, the woman he hopes to marry, lose her dreams, then I can't meet your expectations. I'm sorry."
Bella flushed a brilliant red. "So we're right back to where we started?"
"Only if you hold it against me. But I didn't hold it against you when you went out of your way to protect me from Angela, or from the Tribunal. I didn't hold your email against you, even though we both agree it was a mistake. Can't you give me the same consideration? Can't you give me grace, Isabella? Your grace?"
Despite his pleading tone, Bella wasn't really listening. At that moment, all she heard was Edward discounting her objections. Again.
She shook her head and walked to the door.
Here was the fork in the road, where the paths diverged.
She could walk through the door and down the stairs and everything with Edward would be over. Permanently. There would be no second chance.
Or she could stay, knowing that he refused to see his damned heroics in front of the Tribunal as anything problematic.
She hesitated as she prepared to walk through the door, knowing that once she left it would be over. They would be over.
"Let me love you, Isabella. The way that you should be loved."
Of course, she was so lost in her own contemplation that she hadn't heard Edward pull himself to his feet and hobble over to her.
His lips vibrated against her ear and she could feel the warmth of his body radiating through her clothes and against her back.
"I am a man. Of course I want to protect you. Nothing will change that."
"I would rather have had you than Harvard," she protested.
"Now you can have both."
"But at what cost, Edward? Don't tell me that our situation didn't damage you."
Balancing on his crutches, he brushed her hair over one shoulder and pressed his lips to the bare side of her neck.
"I made mistakes. Forgive me. I promise I won't rob you of your dignity or our partnership. But I won't stand by and watch you get hurt when I can prevent it. In your independence, don't make me a monster, Isabella."
In stubborn annoyance, Bella took a step forward, but Edward caught her arm quickly, almost losing his balance in the process.
"In a perfect world, there would always be communication and consultation between partners. I would prefer our relationship to be like that. But we don't live in that world. There are emergencies and mistakes and cars careening down wet roads. Is my desire to keep you safe so great a sin that you would leave me over it? Truly?"
As if to emphasize his point, Edward withdrew his hand and steadied himself on his crutches, waiting for her decision.
When she remained silent, he continued. "I will do my utmost to make decisions with you and not for you. But I make no apologies for wanting what's best for you, for you to be safe and happy and to live up to your considerable potential. And I won't be beholden to a rule that I have to consult you before I act in cases of emergency.
"You want me to treat you like an equal. I want the same treatment. And that means that you need to trust me to make the best decision I can make, given the information I have, without being omniscient. Or perfect."
He sighed deeply. "What man doesn't want to protect the woman he loves? Or sacrifice himself for her? Someone whose love doesn't run very deep."
"I'd rather have you alive and carrying your shield then have you dead and covered by it."
Edward laughed softly. "I think the battle of Thermopylae is behind us, my love. But I share your sentiment and would ask the same of you. My little warrior."
He kissed her neck again.
"If I could go back and do things differently with the VOLTURI, I would. But you can't fault me for failing to know the future. And for keeping my promise that I wouldn't let them expel you."
Bella sniffled, but said nothing.
"Take my ring." He quickly slipped the wedding ring from his left hand and held it over her right shoulder. "I wore this to signify the fact that my heart, my life was yours. It still is. But I will wait until you're ready. I will wait to wear the ring that you choose for me."
She took the ring from his hand hesitantly, and then slipped it on one of her thumbs.
"I'll sell this damn house. I only bought it to be close to you. But I can find an apartment until you're ready to choose a house."
"I don't want you to sell your house. You just moved in. And I know you love the garden." Bella's voice was quiet.
"Then tell me what you want, Isabella. I can't lose you again. We can hire a mediator or a therapist to give us advice about how to move forward. We can take our time without making promises about the future. But please forgive me. And help me to do better. Teach me and I promise I will be your most willing student."
When she was silent and unmoving for several minutes, Edward switched one of his crutches to the other arm and took her hand, limping and leading her from the living room to the staircase and then slowly and painfully, upstairs to his bedroom.
"What are you doing?" she asked as they approached the door.
"I need to hold you in my arms and I think that you need to be held. And that damn sofa is too narrow for both of us. Come, my love." He led her to the bed and then carefully positioned himself on his back with open arms, inviting her to wrap herself around him.
But she hesitated. "What about Rebecca?"
"She won't disturb us. And the door is open, Isabella. Nothing untoward will happen."
"What are these?" She pointed at what looked like two groupings of large picture frames that were leaning against one of the walls and covered by a sheet.
"Look at them."
Bella crouched down on the hardwood floor and removed the sheet.
There were about ten large photographs, stacked in two groups of five, all black and white.
All featured Bella.
Some included Edward.
She hadn't seen most of them before as they had been developed and then framed after their separation. There were photographs from Belize, from Italy, and posed photographs that had served as part of her Christmas present to Edward.
All startlingly beautiful and sensual and lovely …
"It was difficult for me to look at them when I thought I'd lost you. But as you can see, they've been awaiting your return."
Edward watched as Bella looked through the photographs one more time before staring intently at his favourite one, a picture of her lying on her stomach on a white bed in Belize.
"What happened to the old ones? The ones you had before you met me?"
"Long gone, Isabella. Merely forgotten memories."
She hummed absently.
"I want to earn your trust. Your respect. I want to be your husband."
Bella replaced the sheet over the pictures very carefully and then walked towards the bed. Her expression was conflicted, worried.
Edward reached out his hand. "Relax, Isabella. I just want to hold you."
She smiled shyly and then allowed herself to be pulled into his arms so that she could nestle against his chest.
"That's better," he murmured, kissing her forehead.
He moved his right hand to his pocket and fished something out of it, closing his fingers so that it was centred in his palm.
"For you," he said, presenting a small, velvet box in front of her eyes.
"Edward, I told you – I can't."
"Open it."
She shifted her weight to one elbow and then slowly opened the box. Inside, she found Esme's diamond earrings.
"Please, Isabella."
"I didn't want to return them. I know that it hurt you and I'm sorry."
"Will you take them back? If you take them, you have to promise to keep them forever. My poor heart can't stand to have them returned again."
Bella nodded and quickly placed the diamonds in her ears, before setting the now empty velvet box next to them on the bed.
"Beautiful," he whispered, pressing his lips first to her left ear and then to her right.
"I don't want to be without you anymore. But I want us to take things slowly. No more talk of marriage, just yet."
"I can be patient. But I know what I want." He kissed her once again.
This time, the kiss escalated quickly.
Hands roamed to find purchase on muscles and curves, mouths connected determinedly, punctuated by sighs and almost breathless moans, hearts began to beat faster, faster.
It was a kiss to mark a reunion, to pledge the continuation of fidelity and love.
Edward kissed her to show her that he loved her, that he'd wait for her, that he was sorry.
And Bella kissed him back to tell him that she could never give her whole heart to anyone else. And that she was hopeful that their shared imperfections, once acknowledged and explored, could be ameliorated in order to provide both of them with a healthy, happy life.
She pulled away first, pressing their foreheads together.
She could hear his quickened breathing and it pleased her that they still had this reaction to one another.
"I don't expect our relationship to be perfect. I don't want you to think that's what I'm demanding or that's what you need to be. But there are some things we need to work out and whether that takes a therapist or not, I know it's going to take time." She sighed deeply. "As much as it would be easier to try to forget what happened, we can't go back to the way things were before. Too much has changed."
"I agree. I want to be able to date you as I was unable to back in Toronto. I want to hold your hand as we walk down the street. I'd like to take you to the symphony and kiss you on your front steps and send you flowers …"
Bella giggled. "We're a bit beyond that, don't you think? We were lovers, Edward. You have photographs of the two of us in bed together, leaning against your wall. I've seen you naked."
His face grew very serious.
"I wanted to discuss that with you."
She looked up at him in surprise. "What?"
He inhaled and exhaled very slowly, telegraphing his reticence to answer.
"I won't make love to you again until I regain your trust."

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