Friends, thank you so much for reading, reviewing, and recommending Heart's Desire (Ceanothus gloriosus).
Thank you so much to Maplestyle and myimm0rtal for their insight and assistance.
Edward's gone quiet since we exited the highway. One hand's on the wheel, the other rests on the gear stick, and he wears the hint of a smile, an almost imperceptible upturn of the lips that appears… wistful. A trick of the light, perhaps. Or my judgement is clouded by another day filled with memories I'd long forgotten. High school, art class, Edward. It really doesn't seem that long ago, yet so much has happened.
He's probably just tired.
He turns into his driveway, cuts the engine, and invites me in for water. I can't deny that I'm parched.
I misjudge the weight of the door and shove it closed too hard, the same way I do my father's truck. I cringe in reflex, used to the way my father gets on me for "slamming" his doors. Edward doesn't react.
I walk around the front of the SUV in time to see him stretch his arms above his head. His T-shirt edges up, his abs pulled in tight. I recall the earlier sight of his entire torso, his chest, his stomach—paler than his arms but darkened by fine hair and defined with the hint of a six-pack. How would it feel to run my fingers over him there? My pulse quickens. I rub my thumb and fingertips together.
How can an inch of skin take hold of me this way? I clench my jaw and shame comes for me, disgusted to catch me checking out a married man—again—with his wife on the other side of those walls.
I avoid Edward and head toward the front door. I don't know if he had seen me looking. If he had, will his face reveal it? And then what? What can I possibly say? If I say nothing, my expression will surely speak what my voice can't.
I let the waist-high pot at the foot of the porch steps distract me. Grecian curves, hewn from what looks to be marble, its twin poised on the other side of the steps. Directing a gaze proves easier than directing thoughts. The rest of my mind is still a few feet away, caught up in that flash of Edward's skin. How long can a second's vision last? I tug the hem of my shirt lower.
"Moonflower," Edward says, and I flinch. "They open in the evening." He moves to stand beside me. "Height of summer, they'll open in a few minutes flat." He plucks a bud from its stem, pries the flower open, and offers it to me.
"Mmm..." I can't help but let out the sound as I close my eyes. Its fragrance, tranquil, the scent of a lullaby.
"It's funny," he says. "Some people can't smell it. Or they can, but it doesn't smell good to them. It smells plasticky, or like sunscreen or something."
I finger the dark green leaves. I can't imagine being anything but intoxicated by this scent. "But you can smell it?"
"Yeah. Love it. But they've been hell to keep alive." Edward tosses the crumpled flower into the soil. "They shouldn't be, but… I can't tell you how many times I've threatened to rip the stupid things up and plant something else."
I follow him up the steps and mimic his stamping on the welcome mat.
He calls out for Gianna as he crosses the threshold, then says she's not here. I wonder how he can be sure. He's only called her once and not very loud.
He hangs his keyring on a metal key rack mounted to the wall. His dangle alone.
Is that how he knows?
He kicks his shoes off, pulls open the closet door, and sets them on a stand. His cap lands on top of them. I follow his example, toe off my sneakers, nudge them against the wall with my foot, and set my bag down. Edward scoffs. "Well trained."
His words bring my gaze to him and it doesn't dawn on me that I've lost my power of avoidance until our eyes meet. There's something different in his, like they've darkened, like there's something hidden there in plain sight if I'd just look close enough. He'd said it in the tone of a joke, but there's no joke in his face.
With a shake of his head he shakes his expression away. "Come on."
He leads me through the living room to the kitchen. The refrigerator is one of those huge stainless steel affairs with the ice and temperature-controlled water dispenser on the front. Our silence is rattled as he fills two tall glasses. We gulp them down. Icy water slides down my throat and cools my insides instantly. I feel my lips with my tongue. They're as chilled as my glass.
Edward's hair is flat against his head until he shuffles a hand through it. Then it's a mop.
He catches me looking for sure this time. "Gi thinks I should cut it."
I shrug a shoulder. I don't want him to cut it.
"Hungry?" he asks. "I haven't eaten since this morning." He pulls a bowl out from a low cabinet and places it on the counter which looks like granite, smooth and black and flecked with green. "I'll cue up some burgers." From the fridge he grabs ground beef, tears open the package, and dumps the beef into the bowl.
"Beer first," he says. I appreciate that he washes his hands even though he hasn't technically touched the meat.
I find myself following him back through the living room to the door I'd earlier thought led to the garage, and it does.
There's no car out here. But there is a sofa, an old ragged yellow one. We pass a dartboard, a couple of skateboards, and a large metal cage-like basket piled high with sports equipment. We stop at a bar area complete with two stools. A bike hangs over our heads. Three framed skull prints line the concrete wall behind the bar. The print in the middle with the pink skull and the peach and green background has words printed through it: Art is anything you can get away with.
"He wasn't the originator."
I turn to Edward, who has been watching me take in the prints.
"That quote. McLuhan wrote it. Warhol made it famous, so it gets attributed to him." He bends behind the bar and grabs two beers from a small fridge. He pops the tops off with a bottle opener magnet.
"Do you – do you still do art?" I ask.
"Every day. Landscape's my art now."
I tell him I hadn't thought about it like that. I'm not sure why. Maybe because he does it for other people and not solely for himself.
"If it feels like art–" he shrugs "–it's art."
"Maybe you should frame that. Attribute it correctly to Edward Cullen." My face heats up as I say his full name. He stares at me. I bring my hand to my cheek, my palm damp, and I hold it there for a few blinks.
It's like he's opened a page to me and I try to read his stare but too soon, or just in time, he breaks his stare with a breath of a laugh.
"But besides landscape design, do you still..."
"I still sketch. Yeah."
"Because you were always drawing."
He gives several small nods and looks away from me.
"You were drawing the first time we met."
I cringe a little, a tensing of my shoulders, my jaw, my eyes. I pull my lips into my mouth. I let too much slip. "No. Not when we first met. When I first saw you."
"When did you first see me?" He tilts his head.
"It was... We were – we were in the library." I leave it at that, vague. I don't give him the particular day because he wouldn't remember it.
I don't think he even knew I was there.
I was still finding my way around campus, only a week into freshman year, still technically summer, too hot to be in school. My History class spent the period in the library for a research assignment. As I searched the spines of books, more for taped on letters and numbers than a title, I thought of how I'd rather be swimming, how last week at this time I'd flown down a water slide, praying not to run into the person ahead of me and then laughed when our mats collided and we crashed into the pool.
I retrieved the book I needed and headed back to the computer Angela and I were using. I can't say what it was that made me stop and look Edward's way.
I thought he was a junior or senior, so tall already. He strode to a table and pulled out a chair. His legs stretched out beyond the edge of the library table. He took the notebook from under his arm, slapped it on the table, slipped the pencil from behind his ear and began writing. Or, he appeared to be writing.
Hair hung into his eyes, and he was biting on one side of his bottom lip. He was cute. So cute that my stomach hopped.
I took a few steps in his direction, hoping he wouldn't see me, hoping he would. I snuck a closer look at his paper. A dragon, its wings, delicate and detailed, unfurled under the tip of the pencil.
He drew fast.
Angela called me, and I scurried away, aware that anyone could have noticed my gawking. When I glanced back a girl with a short bob was touching his shoulder and he looked up at her. A smile.
No, he hadn't seen me then. Hadn't yet known I existed.
He knows I exist now. Here I am, standing in his garage, a place I'd never imagined I'd be. I'm not sure if this is better. Sometimes there's more promise before a person knows you're alive than after.
Edward holds the garage door open for me and shuts the light off behind us.
In the kitchen he places the bottles of beer on the counter. "Not yet." He grabs a lemon from a bowl of fruit, tosses it with one hand and catches it in the other. He slices it right on the counter and adds a wedge to the tip of each bottle.
A step closer and he offers me my beer, his arm stretched toward me. I no longer see the beer. I see his forearm. The way his muscle swoops over his bone like a sculpture and how the light plays on it along the top, shadows getting gradually darker, as if his arm was built this way, purposely, for exhibit. The place where the forearm meets the upper arm at the inside of the elbow. The veins. The hair, each strand coming from inside him, rooted in him.
He thinks if it feels like art, it is art. If it looks like art, is it art, too?
I accept the beer, feel the glass, solid and cold and wet in my palm. We both squish our lemon wedges into our beers, letting them land in the liquid.
He takes out a red onion and sets it next to the bowl of ground beef. He dices it like an expert into tiny, near-symmetric cubes. He adds the chopped onion to the beef and shapes the patties.
"Big or small?"
I tell him medium, then, after another hand-washing, he covers the bowl with plastic wrap and returns the extra meat to the fridge. Two patties sit side by side on a plate.
"Cheese?" he asks.
I look around. Condensation from my bottle sweats into my hand. "Um..." I lean against a wall of cabinets. "Will Gianna be back soon?"
"Where is she?"
He shrugs. Tugs on the neck of his shirt. "Dinner. A bar. A club."
I'm not sure I should be here, drinking beer, eating dinner—dinner that Edward is cooking for me—when Gianna is out, when she has no clue. But Edward acts like it's nothing, like it's natural.
I frown. What if she were to walk in now? What would she think? What would anyone think?
"I don't know. This is... weird." The feeling that I should leave overwhelms me. My legs itch to move toward the door, toward my car, toward home. Edward and I are supposed to be doing business together, but this, this right now, is not business.
"Bella, she doesn't tell me her plans, okay? And I don't ask anymore."
Is it okay? I stare at him, beer unmoved in my hand.
"Come on," he says like he's asking me to understand something or not to worry or to change the subject.
"'Come on' what?"
"Just–" He shakes his head. "Don't, all right?"
"I think I should go." I push my beer toward him and when he doesn't take it, I set it on the counter.
"What do you think I'm doing here?" As quiet as his voice is, the tone is clipped.
"I don't know. You keep saying things without saying anything."
"Well, I'm not going to spill my guts to you."
His eyes, the way they darken, the fall of his eyelids. Just like at the coat closet. He does have a lot to spill, doesn't he? I think he's... hurt.
"Edward..." It comes out in a whisper. I pick up my pendant, ease it up over my chin to my lips. It's cool against my mouth and I realize how hot I am.
"Look, there's no ulterior motive here. I invited you in for a drink and some food. That's it. I'm not surprised Gi isn't here, but I didn't plan this. No matter what's going on..." He glances past me and then back to my face. "I don't..."
I reach forward, tentative at first, but then with more resolve, and touch his arm. Just a light touch. His skin is warm, his hairs soft. I bite back the feeling that rushes through me as I touch him, the feeling that lifts me off the ground in a way it shouldn't. "I–I'm sorry that I implied..." I shake my head and let go of him. "I'm sorry." And I'm apologizing for more than he knows. For being so damn attracted to him when I shouldn't be. For acting like he might have been up to something when that hadn't even crossed his mind.
He has no reason to feel guilty or compelled to explain himself. I'm the one who should bear those burdens. It's projection, Psychology 101.
He picks the beer up off the counter and hands it back to me. "We're old friends. This is us. Old friends." He tips the neck of his beer toward mine and I clink mine against his. I try to smile. I try to pretend that old friends is all I ever wanted us to be.
I ask where the restroom is and excuse myself as Edward points the way. It's a "powder room," only a toilet and a sink. The towel on the towel holder looks untouched. On the counter of the sink lie elegant napkins with a gold fleur de lis in the center. I assume they're for hand-drying. I feel guilty using one and then guiltier dropping it into the empty trash can. The trash in my bathroom is overflowing. I contemplate flushing the napkin but don't want to clog the toilet. I drop it in the can—add my litter to their immaculacy.
On my way back to the kitchen I notice there's no TV in the living room, not out in the open. There is a big armoire in which I assume the TV is tucked away, and hanging on the wall from an iron curtain rod is a tapestry. It's the vintage image of a Parisian woman in a hat, a soft, fading impression of the Eiffel Tower in the distance behind the lettering "Weekend à Paris."
The decor is what Maggie would call French Glam or Parisian Romance or Parisian Chic. Anyway, it's French.
Edward has already heated the grill. Before he takes the plate of burgers out, he cleans every last surface of the counter—sprays it down, wipes it dry to a shine, and replaces the spray in the cupboard under the sink.
If this is him or more of his "training," I can't say or ask.
Plate and his beer in hand, he motions with his shoulder for me to follow. As we step through the back door I expect to find a lush backyard overflowing with greenery. It's not. It's small, and designed for entertaining.
The entire area is centered around a square table. It seats twelve—three to a side. No bench seats here, just rattan chairs with their straight backs and ample cushions. A wrought iron candelabra stands in the center, matching the bigger ones positioned like sentries around the table.
I take off my socks and shove them into my pocket, and while Edward fiddles with the barbecue, I wander around, both curious and still needing to put some distance between us. Like a little girl, I match my steps to the criss-cross patterned pavers. My bare feet fit inside each stone.
The fence to my left is lined with rose bushes—vivid pink and red, yellow and peach. Lavender-colored roses. One is white with a pink ruffly edge. They're all planted in pots, all different shapes and sizes, all unique designs, and yet somehow cohesive in their staggered placement. I smell a few roses, trying to decide if it's just my imagination, or if the different colored blooms have their own distinct scents. The branches stretch tall, maybe pruned that way, or maybe fighting each other for sun—a battle to stay out of one another's shadow.
I turn. He hovers a palm over the grill of a stainless steel barbecue that looks like it's designed to cater for a party of fifty—or transform into a light aircraft.
"Can you grab some thyme for me?" He points somewhere behind me. "And some basil."
A smile grows as I digest what I see.
Metal pails, cut in half, a blackboard band painted around the middle, are mounted on the brickwork—a herb garden suspended against the side of the house. Basil, mint, oregano, dill… there must be about a dozen of them, all labeled in chalk.
I find the thyme and pluck a few sprigs, careful not to uproot the plant. I go for the basil next. "How much?" I call over my shoulder.
"About six leaves is good."
"That's fantastic." I nod toward the wall as I hand Edward the herbs. He sets the basil aside and runs his fingers down the thyme's stems, scattering the leaves across the burger patties.
"Thanks." He looks past me at the ingenious herb garden. "I had to think outside the box for that one. Gi was set on the whole area being paved over. If I'd had my way, most of this space–" his arms outstretched at a right angle, he indicates the left half of the yard "–would be a veggie patch."
I think about the vegetables in my landscape plans. "I can't wait to cook with things from my own backyard." How long before they're ready to pluck out? It will be well after Edward is finished with the plantings. He won't be there to see it. I can't imagine the two of us hanging out like we are now after my yard is done, with no reason for him to come over. Maybe this is how it's supposed to be for us. In and out of each other's lives every once in a while. In high school I had dreamed and hoped to have a class with him, but it was only one class we shared and in the last semester of senior year. This is just the way life deals with us. Our cards, different suits in a game of solitaire.
"I'm jealous of your yard." Edward takes a long pull of his beer. Stifles a burp.
"My almost yard," I say.
"You've got so much space to work with. Gi, she has... fancy taste. Lots of vegetables and fruits. They just go bad because..." He finishes off his beer. "It's a waste of money. If we grow them out here, they're already ours."
"She buys them but doesn't use them?" I'm pressing, I know. I take a sip of my beer the way he sipped his—to hide behind it.
"Well, I mean." He looks me directly in the eye. "She isn't here, is she? When would she..." His gaze floats off again. "Yeah, she buys them. Doesn't use them. Much. I try to before they rot. I've gotten pretty creative."
I want to ask him why he doesn't suggest she cut back on the produce buying, but maybe he already has. You can't force a person. I clear my throat, too many of the wrong words threatening to escape.
He motions to another plant, long-legged stems caged by wire inside a pot. "Got tomatoes, though. They'll be ready to harvest in a couple of months. And my lemons." He swerves his hand to a far corner, a tree in a half wine-barrel, some not-quite-yellow lemons apparent from where we stand.
"And your herbs," I say.
"And my herbs." His smile relaxes me. I hadn't noticed that my shoulders were tense until this moment.
He picks up a tapered lighter and retrieves a small silver pail from somewhere behind his grill. A citronella candle, I realize, when he clicks the lighter and the wick starts to burn. A wave of sweet lemongrass rises.
"It stinks, I know," he says. "But it works."
"I like the smell."
Another one of those long looks. Another "what?" from me. Another "nah, nothing" from him. I look away.
A pair of blackbirds dive into the garden; one lands on the table, the other perches on the back of a chair. A trail of droppings slides down the chair's woven back. From behind me, Edward snickers.
It's only when the bird poops again that Edward moves toward the table with a half-hearted wave. "Go on. Get outta there."
The pair give a few fake-out flutters, hop across the table, choose a different chair, but when Edward gets within a few feet of them, they concede defeat, rise with their check-check noise and soar into the fading evening. Two birds like bowties in the sky.
He walks back to the barbecue. "Can you watch these?" He slaps the burger patties on the grill and they start to sizzle and spit. "I'll just grab some stuff." He picks up his basil leaves and takes them inside with him.
He reappears with ketchup and some gourmet jar of mustard, plates and cutlery, and some rolls. On his last return he carries a bowl of tomato salad. The deep green of basil catches my eye, interspersed among the tomatoes and crumbles of cheese.
"I make a mean Caprese." Sarcasm spikes from his words and he narrows his eyes in a menacing way as if he just told me he was a boxing champion or something. He sets the bowl on the table. "Sort of. Hope you like sage cheese. We don't have mozzarella."
I tell him I've never even heard of sage cheese.
"Gi's," he says. His every mention of her name is casual, like the first time he mentioned she was his wife. But it doesn't land with any nonchalance in my ears. Her name jars me, an interruption, a reminder of whose home I'm really in. Not Edward's, but theirs. It isn't his patio I stand on or his burgers I watch or his herbs I'd pulled sprigs from. Everything surrounding me is theirs. And Edward—as much as our conversation is able to settle my nerves, as he starts to feel like a friend—he's first, and always first, Gianna's.
"Six bucks for a thing, like, this size." He spreads his thumb and index finger out like a partial rectangle. "I admit, it's pretty good."
I slip the spatula under a burger and lift it enough to peek underneath. I take a chance and flip it. I exhale. Nicely seared sides. I flip the second burger.
"Need another beer?"
I shake the almost empty bottle in my hand, bring it to my lips, swallow the dregs. "One more."
Once inside he pokes his head out through the door. "Or would you rather have wine?"
He takes longer to reappear than I expect and I recall that he's had to trek back into the garage to retrieve them. His… man-cave? It didn't seem very cave-like in there.
When the burgers are ready, avoiding the chair streaked with bird poo, we both take a corner seat beside each other.
"Do you have parties a lot?" I try to imagine the empty chairs filled with coupled-off people, laughter and champagne flowing around them on a balmy summer's eve.
Edward chews, swallows, takes a swig of his beer. He doesn't look at me when he answers. "Used to."
I shift back against the cushion of my seat. A breeze blows through, followed by another and another until it's as steady as good conversation. The citronella candle flickers, but it's the wind that keeps the flies at bay.
"It really happened, by the way," he says.
"The lizard. Lahote swallowed it. It was just a baby though."
As if that makes it less gross. I wrinkle my nose and Edward grins with his lips pressed to the mouth of his bottle.
"So, this was all lawn when you bought the place?" I ask. "Did you lay the brick yourself?"
Edward looks at the ground, the pavers I'm tapping with my toes. "Yeah, I did."
"You did an amazing job. It's gorgeous."
I watch his throat bob as he swallows. "Thanks." He reaches for my plate, stacks it atop his own. The empty salad bowl gets piled on.
"I made a mistake," he says. "Right there."
He points to a section of pavers beneath the table. It takes me a moment to see it in the fading light. The pattern falters, two darker bricks side-by-side where they should alternate.
"Drives Gi mad, just looking at it. She was so pissed off when she realized I'd screwed up. But I can't fix it without pulling up almost the entire area."
"You know… My mom was into quilting for a while," I say. "And there's this myth that when the Amish quilt, they deliberately make one mistake. Supposedly, they'll mess up the pattern on one block—on purpose. As a sign of humility. Because only God can make perfect things."
The smile I was hoping to provoke doesn't appear. Edward doesn't even look at me, just keeps staring at his bricks. I pick up my beer for a sip, but nothing reaches my mouth. It's empty.
I can barely hear him when he speaks. "Perfection is... perfection is more of a goal around here. Than humility. I don't know if it was always Gi. It didn't used to be. It was her parents. But for a while now, yeah, it's Gi." He nods as if coming into agreement with himself. I see his jaw pulse once.
I wonder how long "a while" is to him, and I want to ask him if Gi is perfect, because I know the answer. I know what his answer would be. He's opened another page, and this one is plain.
My fingers vibrate with the remembered feel of his arm. The urge to touch him is consuming—but it's an offer of comfort laced with selfishness.
It's so easy to… feel too much for Edward.
If I don't change the way I respond to him, I'm going to end up getting hurt. I hook my index finger in my necklace, twist it so tight I feel a throb in my fingertip.
"I should go."
He gets to his feet and I motion to the dirty plates, the empty beer bottles. "Need any help?" Say "no." Say "yes."
"I got it covered."
He follows me to the front door. I collect my bag and cram my feet into my shoes, not bothering with my socks. Edward pulls open the door. I look out into the night and then back into his eyes. "I, uh…Thank you so much, for today."
"So, I'll see you soon? I mean, my yard…"
"Got a few easy jobs to finish up this week." He runs his free hand over his face. "Pretty sure we'll be good to start yours a week from Monday."
"That's great." I step outside. "See you."
The door closes with a soft thump. I pause there, echoes of his "Bye, Bella" running through me.
I breathe in the moonflower perfume. They've unfurled in the hours I was with Edward. Tiny moths dance around the white blooms, landing and alighting, each taking their turn.
I snare one of the flowers, bring it to my nose and inhale.
I toss it back into the pot. It lands beside the mangled blossom Edward picked earlier. I head to my car. And though I drive home in silence, my mind is loud.
Gianna is lucky.
He's with me in bed when I close my eyes.
Edward putting his cap on my head. His laugh. His own space in his garage. A momentary pain revealed in his voice, in his words, in the shadowing of his eyes. That fingertip width of skin as his shirt lifted. The artistry of his forearm. His art—soon to come alive in my yard.
He turns up in my dreams, too. I don't remember what he says or does, if he says or does anything, but I feel him. I feel him still when I wake.
I look at the morning mess I am in the mirror and tell myself, "Someone else's husband is under your skin."
Yelling at myself doesn't change a thing. He's still there, reeling in my blood—pressure against my knuckles and under my fingernails. After my shower I slather my skin in peppermint oil for the tingle, to make me feel something other than Edward.
For the first time since the last wedding I attended, I paint my nails. Aqua. To cover him up. But you can't cover up or hide a feeling that's stirring from the inside out. Emotions, though not tangible, not touchable, not strangleable, are forceful enough to break through bone and muscle, skin and nails, paint and oil. They'll follow you to bed, to the next room, outside, to work—travel across bridges, cities, states, countries.
When Edward is still with me the next morning, I look at myself in the mirror. "You can handle this," I say. Control it.