Story Name: That's The Way Of The World
Genre: Drama/Angst/Romance/Bisexual Themes
Pairing: Bella/Edward ~ Caius ~Tanya
Total Word Count: 19,704
Summary: An ordinary boarding school student is chosen by an extraordinary college man who introduces her to getting high and mind-blowing sex. Fun morphs into love and obsession, with jilted ex-lovers primed for sabotage. Can true love survive betrayal?
Disclaimer: I do not own Twilight. I have, however, experienced portions of this story myself, and I won't say which parts. I will let you guess!
I'm shrinking back into the corner of the crowded elevator. Practically holding my breath so I won't invade anyone's personal space, I feel the hairs on the back of my neck tingle as someone is staring unabashedly at me. I surreptitiously check him out him from the corner of my eye, and can see he is dark-haired and taller than everyone else around us.
At my current angle, I can't determine whether I know him. Usually I can ignore these guys. They check me out until they get a look at my wedding ring, and then they either give up, or find another object of their lust. I languidly push my hair back behind my ear, careful to make my ring visible, yet it has no effect.
The elevator stops on the fourth floor and as usual, the junior residents exit en-masse where they'll go to a lecture room and then make rounds with their respective attendings. Usually when they leave I can breathe easier, but the guy in the corner is still staring.
If I were still the old Bella, I would lash him with a stream of expletives. However, I'm not the old Bella. I am Isabella, wife of a very well-respected man who loves me more than I will ever love him. He understands and accepts that he doesn't have my undying love, but I'm nothing if not loyal, and I would never cheat on him.
Blushing, I study the tiles on the elevator floor as if they're Sanskrit. I then hear a familiar voice whisper the name I'd used a long time ago, when I'd been another person.
I look up quickly to find a more mature version of a young man I used to know. When I see the trademark dimples, they totally give him away.
"E-Emmett? Emmett Cullen?"
"One and the same," he chuckles as he maneuvers to join me in my corner. There is an awkward moment before we embrace as old friends do. Grinning, he folds his arms and leans casually against the wall. "I thought it was you over here, but then it's been a long time. The blush finally gave you away."
I'd heard that Emmett had come back home to work for University Hospital, but the UW campus is such a sprawling behemoth, I didn't think I would ever run into him - well, hoped was more like it - especially if I didn't go looking. Boy was I wrong.
"You work for UW?" I ask, playing dumb.
"I've only been back a year," he says.
"Small world. I've been here four years. It's a shame we haven't run into each other till now," I lie. The elevator finally stops on my floor. "Good seeing you..." I say as I back out of the car, but Emmett follows me, deftly grabbing hold of my wrist, as if he senses my intentions to run.
"We haven't seen one another in what, fourteen years? And you want to leave another meeting to chance? I don't think so," he says urgently, as our colleagues swirl around us going to their various locations. "You ran away from him, and maybe that was your prerogative, but Rose and Alice never got over you just disappearing."
Dr. Eric Hsu, one of my co-workers, eyes Emmett's hand on my wrist and my obvious discomfort. "Dr. Troudeau, is there a problem?"
I smile weakly at the diminutive Asian man who scrutinizes Emmett. "I'm fine, Dr. Hsu," I insist. "Dr. Cullen is an old friend."
Only after I utter those words and Emmett releases my wrist, does Eric seem satisfied that this is the case.
"I'll see you in the lab, Isabella," Eric says finally and saunters away turning the corner toward our offices.
Just seeing Emmett causes a myriad of emotions that I haven't experienced in quite some time. My throat closes, tears threatening to spill. I look everywhere but in Emmett's eyes, knowing the pain I will see there.
Finally, I look at him, chin quivering. My voice cracks and tears escape, despite my valiant effort to contain them. "I had to have a clean break, Em. What happened between your brother and me…it left me broken."
Emmett pulls me into one of his infamous bear hugs. "You know he never meant to hurt you, right? He was who he was long before you two met. And that's not an excuse, it's just the truth."
"I know. I left because I knew he couldn't change for me."
"That's where you're wrong, Bella." He holds me away loosely so he can look into my eyes, glancing at his watch before he speaks. "Listen, I know you've got to get to work and so have I, but I have some things I need to tell you, and I don't want to do it here—now. Can you meet Rose and me later for dinner?"
"No, we have plans tonight." I refer to my husband without actually acknowledging him.
"Bella, you'll probably want to see us alone..."
"I don't keep secrets from my husband."
"There's a lot you don't know, and if you're okay with your husband hearing it, by all means, bring him." Pausing, Emmett expels a long sigh, his voice husky with emotion. "What happened may have broken you, but it almost killed him."
I met Edward Cullen in 1974 during winter break in the middle of his junior year at the University of Washington. I was sixteen years old and a sophomore at Clallam County Academy, which was a co-ed day academy and boarding school.
Edward's brother Emmett, who was then a freshman at UW, was having a party at their parents' house while they vacationed in St. Tropez before Christmas. Some of the girls at CCA had scored an invitation to the "college" party, and I tagged along. It didn't take much convincing, since the alternative was watching my mother play kissy-face with her current boyfriend.
The party was in their basement recreation room in the back of the house. It was teeming with CCA alums home for the holidays, and a small contingent of lucky current CCA students like me. Mike Newton, a freshman at Clallam County Community College, latched onto me, and I danced with him a few times because I didn't want to be a loser wallflower. I didn't know any of the other people there besides the girls I had come with, and they had all disappeared into the throng, drinking, smoking, making out, and heaven knew what else.
About an hour into the party, two of the most beautiful guys I'd ever seen entered the room. One was about six-two, with a slender, chiseled physique, and a head of gorgeous tousled bronze hair that framed his head like a mane. The other guy was about five-eleven with platinum blond shoulder length hair. In my inebriated state, they looked like angels fallen from heaven. A trio of salivating girls in miniskirts with big boobs and pouty lips immediately surrounded them. These guys appeared to be either stoned or disinterested in the bimbos flanking them. However, the girls giggled hysterically at everything they said and posed prettily for attention.
A beautiful blonde girl, who would soon become one of my best friends and was also Emmett's date, was teaching me a new dance step. She was so high, she kept calling me Brenda, and I stupidly answered to it. I figured she thought I was someone else and if I corrected her, my cachet would diminish accordingly.
The deejay put on an Earth, Wind and Fire record and the crowd went wild. Mike and Emmett joined Rosalie and me and one of the bolder pouty sycophants pulled the blond guy onto the dance floor, but the bronze-haired guy scanned the crowd before he made a beeline in my direction. Heart in my throat, I looked around to see which girl he was seeking to claim for his first dance. I almost lost control of my bodily functions when he whispered something to Newton, who reluctantly slunk away.
He held his hand out to me, I took it, and he pulled me into a vortex that I didn't emerge from for a half-hour. He was such a good dancer he kept me from stumbling around in my characteristic uncoordinated fashion. After a stream of dance songs, the deejay finally slowed it down, he took me effortlessly into his arms, and I clung happily to his warm muscular body.
"What's your name?" he finally asked.
"Bella," I whispered, afraid if I said it too loudly, he'd disappear in a puff of smoke.
"I'm Edward, Emmett's brother. You must be one of his classmates," he assumed. I didn't correct him. I just shrugged an answer, trying not to make a total idiot of myself.
The slow dance with him was so sensual. I was embarrassed not only because of my reaction to him, but also his to me. I could feel him pressing insistently against my lower abdomen as we moved in tandem with the music. Obviously, the pot didn't affect his libido like I'd heard it could.
"You're a good dancer, Bella," he said into my ear. His warm breath made me falter a bit, but he held me close, and I found my footing again.
"Well, there's proof that I'm not," I muttered dryly.
He pulled back, his brilliant green eyes caressing my plain brown ones. "You're good because you're uninhibited and allow yourself to be lead and not think about what your next move should be."
"It's really you." My copious visits to the beer keg earlier were finally kicking in and emboldening me. "You and your friend look like you could be professional dancers."
"Me and Caius?" He chuckled. "That's so far from the truth. I'm a music major and his is journalism."
"They're still artistic and creative."
"Have you declared a major yet?"
"Nope." That wasn't technically untrue. I knew he'd lose interest real soon if he found out how old I was.
"You've got time," he said. "Next year is my final year at UW and I only decided early because my major requires it. Emmett drew the short straw, so he gets to carry on the Cullen legacy. Drag for him, man."
Caius having stopped dancing and was watching us through narrowed eyes while his bimbo bombarded him with incessant chatter.
When the song ended, Edward took my hand and walked over to Caius. He held his arm firmly around my waist, and I couldn't help but overhear Caius whisper loudly in his ear, "What the hell are you doing, man?"
Edward laughed and clapped Caius on the shoulder. "Chill! I've been dancing with beautiful Bella," he said. "Bella this is my friend, Caius. Caius, Bella."
Caius nodded, but his glare cut through me like a laser and I flushed, completely unable to acknowledge him. The pouty bimbo sidled up to Caius and rested her head on his shoulder, and his face finally calmed into impassivity.
"We're booking it for awhile," Edward said, almost like it was a challenge. "Keep an eye on my baby brother. Catch ya on the flipside, okay?" Not waiting for an answer, Edward tugged me along and I followed like an obedient sheep. I would follow this guy to the moon in my very own homemade Apollo Edward rocket, he was so fine.
We walked outside and I hugged myself as Edward closed the door to the nice warm room.
"Sorry, we have to go around to get to the other side of the house. My Dad bolts the door shut into the house from the rec room while they're gone. He knows Emmett always has parties when they're away. Keeps the burnouts from trashing the rest of the house."
"It's okay," I said, trying not to let my teeth chatter.
The sidewalk had been shoveled and salted, but if there was a slippery patch, my bumbling feet would find it. I was staring at him so intently in all his preternatural glory, I lost my footing and face planted in the snowdrifts. He immediately helped me up, apologizing profusely.
"Oh man, I should have held onto you." He steadied me, dusting snow gently from my clothing. "Let me check you out. My father is a doctor," he murmured with a smirk, as if that made his request completely legitimate. He held me flush with one arm as he used his other hand to touch me gingerly with his agile fingers.
"I don't detect any physical impairment," he teased.
I giggled. "I believe I still have control of all my motor functions, too." I shivered and he put his arm protectively around me and walked me along the sidewalk faster than I would have dared on my own.
He unlocked one of the massive oak double doors at the front of the house.
"Welcome to casa de Cullen," he said, as he locked the door back and leaned against it. He cocked his head to one side and regarded me with a hungry gaze.
I couldn't help but blush. I had never been in this situation before.
He smiled. "She blushes like an ingénue."
"Compliments of my dad." I chattered to soothe my nervousness. "Or so my mother says."
"What's his name? Maybe my folks know him."
"His name was Charlie Swan. He was the Forks Police Chief a long time ago."
He pushed away from the door and approached me, like a lion approaching its prey. He really did move like a dancer. "Was?"
"Yeah, he died in the line of duty like right after I was born."
"I'm sorry," he said tenderly as he tucked my hair behind my ear. He was so close we were almost touching. "Are you naturally law-abiding, Bella? Or do you tend to break a few rules?"
"I'm drinking under the age of twenty-one. I think that might qualify as walking a bit on the wild side, don't you think?"
"Point taken," he said, kissing me softly on my temple. His lips were soft and warm even though we'd just come in from the cold. "So, do you toke up?"
"I've never done it," I admit. "But there's always a first time for everything, right?"
"Right." He kissed me, his tongue invading my mouth so thoroughly I might have considered it as rude from any other boy. Edward was a man and knew exactly what he was doing. He kissed me until my head was spinning and we hadn't even smoked any pot yet. I was reeling as he took my hand and headed for the stairs.
I couldn't get my fill of looking at him. He was so gorgeous, and I really couldn't believe my luck. He had chosen me above all more beautiful and sophisticated girls at the party.
When we entered his room, I noticed three walls plastered with band posters and a full wall contained a massive stereo system, ubiquitous albums, and forty-fives. There was a piano keyboard in the corner with a small portable bench. His bed looked custom-made, the mahogany wood matching the dresser and desk.
He put a Frampton album on low, then went into his closet and returned with a cigar box. When he sat on the edge of the bed, I realized it was a water bed. He patted the space beside him and I sat down as the bed sloshed.
He saw me checking out his room and looked around. "Yeah, it's the same as it was when I was in high school. Mom likes to think I'm still her little boy."
"So you and Emmett didn't board at the Academy?"
"Yeah, right. Like Esme Cullen would let someone else raise her children," he said. "Your mother boarded you?"
"Sure did," I said wryly, careful to use past-tense. "Renee Swan Dwyer didn't care who the hell raised her kid."
He opened the box, inside was a plastic bag with what looked like dried weeds, a package of cigarette papers, a cigarette lighter, a glass ashtray, and several neatly rolled joints.
"You're lucky. Our boarded friends always got away with more shit than Emmett and I ever could.
He grinned, lighting the joint and taking a long draw before holding it out to me. I was awkward, never having smoked even a cigarette. I puffed on it and immediately started coughing and sputtering.
"Inhale," he instructed, chuckling, "and hold it in as long as you can before you feel like your lungs are about to burst, and then exhale, okay? Here, let me show you."
He took the joint from my hand and inhaled another long toke, then handed it back. I mimicked him, and this time, it wasn't so bad. When it was nearly to the end, he took a tiny clamp and held it as he smoked it down to almost nothing. I was worried he was going to burn his beautiful lips.
"What?" He asked.
"Doesn't that burn?"
He was matter-of-fact. "It will if I don't do it right."
"Why do you smoke it down to a nub like that?"
"It's concentrated in the roach," he explained. "I've gotten the best highs from mostly-smoked joints."
About half way through the second one, I think I got the hang of it and was inhaling the earthy, acrid smoke like a pro. Then Edward did something so sensual, I almost swallowed my tongue.
"Here, let me blow you a shotgun," he said.
"I'll show you," he said. "Pucker your lips as if you're about to kiss me. When I blow the smoke into your mouth, inhale, okay?" He took the joint, put the lighted end in his mouth, and leaned in, our lips almost touching. Then he blew the smoke into my mouth and I inhaled deeply like I was absorbing his soul.
As I began to float higher and higher from the effects of the pot, he took a couple more tokes, watching me as I smiled widely.
He snuffed out the joint and put the ashtray and cigar box on the floor. His eyes were smoldering as he kissed me softly underneath my eye and then on my lips.
"Bella," he said seriously. "I have never wanted a woman as much as I want you right now."
"Neither have I," I said nervously. Then I giggled, realizing what I'd just said.
He laughed, but then grew serious again. "Will you let me make love to you, Bella?"
I had made out with guys before, but usually it was just furtive groping. I could never relax and get into it because I was always on edge, sure we were going to get caught by our housemother. I never thought I would make the decision to relinquish my virginity so spontaneously, but there it was.
"Yes..." He was scooting us back onto his bed before I'd even gotten the word out. I kissed him back, offering all of myself, holding nothing back.
I had always thought all guys were anxious, but Edward wasn't. He took his time kissing and caressing every inch of my body as he slowly undressed me. It was then I realized that my not getting into it had nothing to do with getting caught, but that the guys I'd been with had no idea what they were doing.
"Beautiful," he kept murmuring worshipfully. I had never felt beautiful before, but Edward made me believe it.
His kisses left me weak, even more drugged than the pot. He kissed me until I grew impatient and began unbuttoning his shirt. Edward chuckled at my eagerness but then helped me, taking a foil packet from his jeans pocket before he threw them off the bed. His briefs were stretched taut by his erection, and I was too naïve to be fearful that it would hurt, but at that point, I didn't care.
I had been bare and exposed to him for quite a while, but finally he allowed me to help him pull his briefs down, and it was then I was able to view him in all his glory. If I thought he was beautiful in clothing, it was nothing compared to naked Edward. He was absolutely magnificent, from his sturdy shoulders and chiseled torso, to his narrow hips and muscular thighs, to that beautiful part of him that would soon be inside me.
He began touching me where no guy had ever touched me before and I was glad I held out for Edward. When he inserted a finger inside me, it hurt a little, but the pleasure began to building quickly. He added another finger and kept his thumb working me until I couldn't stand it anymore.
My body shuddered with an intense sensation I had never felt before. All I could do was cry out, "Oh, god! Oh, Edw...Oh, god!"
"I'll be your god if you want, baby, but I prefer Edward," he teased, as he took one of my breasts into his mouth and rode my orgasm out with me.
Then suddenly he was on top of me and entering me. I had figured this part would be painful, but I had no idea. It was very good he'd gotten me ready beforehand, because I was sure it could have hurt a lot worse. He entered me slowly and I tried to keep my cool.
"Oh damn…you're so... perfect... like a glove... "
I figured it would help if I moved with him, so I followed his movements, and it was just like when we were dancing. Our bodies were in perfect harmony with one another.
I wanted Edward to stay inside me forever, but I knew it would be over soon. His thrusts got more frantic until he groaned and I knew he'd had an orgasm. He didn't slow down, and I realized he wanted me to have one too. I didn't want to lie, but I knew he'd be disappointed if I didn't, so I panted and moaned, hoping I was convincing.
Surprisingly, we were able to achieve a rhythm that was elusive for many during first encounters. Even though I didn't orgasm with him inside me, we began something that night that we would never be able to interpret, understand, or forget.
When our heartbeats slowed, he rolled us away from the moist spot on the bed created by our perspiring bodies. He pulled me onto his chest, cradling me against him.
"I think I'd better do laundry before my mom comes back," he said as he looked toward the spot we'd just vacated. In the middle were a few small round blood stains. I thought this must be why they called it popping the cherry, because when the stains were fresh they looked like a cluster of cherries.
Edward blew up when he realized he had taken my virginity. He deposited me unceremoniously on the bed and rolled away, but I thought I saw his green eyes misting, he was so angry. He sat up on the side of the bed and let lose a barrage of expletives.
"Shit...Fucking asshole...god dammit...I shouldn't have fucking done that...I thought you..." The muscles in his back and on his arms were taut as he grasped his hair so hard I thought he was going to pull it out by the root.
Oh god, I had messed up really bad. "I wasn't any good...was I?"
"No," he protested, and I burst into tears. He lay back beside me on the bed and pulled me into his arms, holding me so tight I could barely breathe. "I mean—you were perfect—I just didn't deserve something so precious. I've done some shit you wouldn't believe. I haven't been a good guy."
"I don't care about your past. I wanted you to be my first."
His respect for what I had given him made me feel close to him, and I think I fell so much harder later on as a result of it. At last, I finally felt like a woman.
We must have fallen asleep, because we awoke to footsteps coming up the stairs. I pulled the blanket over me and Edward jumped up and quickly slid on his jeans and was at the door as we heard a gentle knock. I saw a flash of platinum blond hair before Edward stepped out, closing the door behind him.
There was a whispered argument that escalated until I finally heard Edward clearly say, "What part of 'no' do you not understand, Caius? Now get the fuck out of here."
"You need to fucking tell her!" Caius bellowed. Then I heard more arguing, running, and feet pounding down the stairs.
I was so spooked, I scrambled off the bed, grabbed up my clothes, and locked myself in his bathroom. I found some clean towels in the linen closet, cleaned myself up, and put my clothes back on.
About fifteen minutes later Edward came back.
He looked disappointed when he saw me fully dressed.
"I didn't know whether I should stay or go," I said. "I didn't mean to make your friend upset."
"You didn't. Caius was just being... " he paused as if searching for the appropriate word, "...a bitch." He picked up the half-finished joint and re-lit it.
"I guess I should go see if my friends are ready to go."
"Most everyone is gone except a couple of Em's closest friends and Rosalie 'Absolut' Hale."
"It's her drink of choice. She carries a flask in her purse at all times."
"No wonder she was so nice to me," I said.
He handed me the joint. I had just been fucked by a gorgeous man who didn't seem like he was trying to get rid of me, so I gratefully took it.
He sat on the edge of the bed, and pulled me between his legs. "Why didn't you tell me you were a virgin?"
"I got caught up in the moment."
He buried his head between my breasts and my hands went into his luscious hair. "You should tell a guy these things, you know. I thought you were experienced and might be interested in a different kind of fun...I-I'm sorry I misjudged you."
Edward drove me home. I found out he was twenty and was hoping to apprentice with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra when he graduated next May. Much to his father's disappointment and his mother's joy, he aspired to write music and to conduct an orchestra someday.
We exchanged phone numbers. I almost freaked when I didn't hear from him for a couple of days, but when he finally called, we talked almost non-stop for two days about anything, everything, and nothing. He asked me what I wanted to do when I graduated, I told him I wanted to found a religion based on worshipping him.
"Good luck with that," he chuckled. "Seriously," he said. "What do you want to do with your life?"
"I want to get as far away from Forks as I possibly can, and maybe be a research scientist to cure some dreadful disease." It was the truth. Science had always fascinated me, and I was enamored with scientists like Madame Curie and Gertrude Belle Elion. We talked about my passion and Edward had a way of making me believe I had a real future in what I felt was only a pipe dream.
A few days later, he drove us into Seattle for a movie. It was the ﬁrst time I'd ever left Forks without telling my mother where I was going. We smoked a couple of joints in the alley behind the theater and later, when we were both stoned, we had dinner at a nice Italian restaurant.
I had adopted Janis Ian's At Seventeen as my anthem because I was so awkward in my youth and having a mother like Renee, who was all about social standing and a pristine outward appearance had practically ravaged my self-esteem. It angered Edward that I had chosen this song to describe myself. Because of that admission, he often called me Beauty.
"Beauty, not only are you a total fox on the outside, but you're beautiful inside too." He told me this all the time, but I found it very hard to believe.
He'd play me songs like You Are So Beautiful by Joe Cocker, determined to cure me with music. Most of what he played was inconsequential, because we were so caught up in each other, we rarely heard it. Renee was clueless and so busy running around with her Fabio, she never caught us.
When he visited me in those three weeks, we had sex, and lots of it, absolutely destroying my bed. Edward often preferred to take me from behind so he had easier access to my breasts. He would never enter me until I was completely ready. My breath quickened as soon as he manipulated my g-spot, and I would shiver uncontrollably. Sometimes I would bite him anywhere my teeth could find to interrupt him and prolong our lovemaking. I never had to fake it again.
The night before he was to go back to Seattle, I knew I had to tell him that I was sixteen and a student at Clallam County where he had graduated three years earlier. I kept putting it off but now that it was the moment of truth. I had to tell him or he would really hate me when I didn't turn up at UW where he would be in the spring.
My mother and her lover had gone to Southern California to escape the oppressive cold in Forks for a few days, and I had the house to myself. Edward came by early, so we would have more time together. His parents expected him at dinner that night, so he couldn't stay. As soon as he walked in the door, we were like a pair of bunnies, copulating at the slightest provocation, and our orgasms were nirvana.
Later we lay in bed, eating from a fruit and cheese tray after smoking. Edward was in a mellow mood, as my head lay in the crook of his arm. He fed us both from his hand even though I knew it had to be uncomfortable as hell for him.
I plunged right in. "I have to tell you something."
"What?" he asked lazily.
"I'm not one of Emmett's classmates," I said quickly. Rip the fucking Band-Aid off, right?
He sighed. "I know."
I rose up to look in his eyes. "How long have you known?"
"Rosalie told me the day after the party."
"Does it bother you that I'm not... older?"
"It did," he answered honestly, his forehead crinkled with anguish. "I tried to stay away. I was prepared to bow out of your life because you don't need a conflicted monster like me complicating your life."
I caressed his cheek. "You're no monster, Edward, and I don't care what you've done in your past."
"I don't know if I'll be able to stop doing the things I've done, but you make me feel like I might be able to."
I didn't push him to confide in me that day, and maybe I should have, but I thought if I pushed him, he'd leave, and I didn't want that. I was insecure enough to give up anything to keep him with me.
The next year, Edward regularly drove to CCA to visit me a couple of times a week. He would park his car down the street from the school and climb the ﬁre escape of my dorm, usually during my Art Appreciation class, which I skipped so religiously that I was sure I would fail, but somehow I managed to get a B.
Most of the girls in my dorm were having sex. We were harbingers of a new breed of sexual exploration, rivaling our parents' "free love" era of the sixties. Rosalie was one of those girls, and the guy making her scream was none other than Edward's brother, Emmett. She was a lot more casual about their relationship than I was about Edward. Emmett was me in their relationship, the one who loved too easily and wanted more too quickly.
Rosalie gave Emmett just enough to keep him coming back, but she often pissed him off so she could be with her first love: vodka. Later that year, they broke up, and Rosalie's dependency on booze intensified, until she was discovered by campus security passed out by the fountain in the quad. The next day she was gone from CCA, but we would be reunited the next year, I just didn't know it then.
My adoration of Edward bordered on obsession. We never talked about what we were, or how our relationship would go, and maybe I was a little afraid to find out. Surely a man that beautiful was being chased by college girls. For a long time, I was content not to know if he was seeing anyone else.
I had stolen my mother's new diaphragm and I used it, but Edward was still cautious. He would come on my stomach, or anywhere else other than inside me. He was always gentle as he wiped me clean after our lovemaking.
The summer after his junior year we had the best time together. Rosalie covered for us, and we were able to go away together for two weeks without my mother finding out. The rest of the year was blissful. Edward had become my world.
WINTER / SPRING 1976
It was the second semester of his senior year before I finally got the courage to ask Edward if he had a girlfriend at UW.
He hesitated, considering his words. "Not really," he said, as if he were apologizing.
"What the fuck does that even mean?" I persisted. "Either you do or you don't."
"I've been involved with someone. It's too fucked up for me to even think about..." Edward looked like he was about to cry. "I never should have involved you in my fucked up life."
"Don't say that. You're the best thing in my life."
"Our families have been friends most of our lives. She's met the monster in me and she puts up with it."
"Does she know about me?"
Edward had never been as hurtfully sarcastic as he was with me that day. "Oh, yeah. She knows I ride out to Podunk Washington a couple of afternoons a week to sneak into a dormitory and fuck my girlfriend at boarding school. Look, we don't have that kind of relationship and neither do you and I."
"You're an asshole," I screeched, but immediately regretted it. I panicked as I watched him prepare to leave. I was naked, my breasts still tender and moist from his mouth, my stomach sticky from his semen. Edward slammed the door to my room, but I didn't hear the door to our suite close. I pulled on one of his shirts I'd claim a while ago and ran after him. He was standing at the door, his hand on the knob like he was frozen there.
"Please don't leave me," I cried. He turned to me, but couldn't look in my eyes.
The suite was decorated with furniture from Pier One Imports, all wicker love seats with soft pillows, and a velveteen wing chair with a square ottoman. I stood on the ottoman and held my arms out to him, and when my shirt fell open, he grabbed me around the waist and took one of my breasts into his mouth. We seemed to have forgotten where we were. I wrapped a leg around him, holding my heel ﬂush against his butt. I could feel that he wanted me again even though he was upset with me just seconds before.
I should have pried his mouth away from me and pushed him back into my room to hide him, but I didn't want him to stop. I had fallen head over heels in love with him and I would give him anything and everything, even my very life.
Suddenly the door was swinging open. "What's all that racket going on in here... Isabella!" Mrs. Berty screamed, appalled that a guy was in my room and I was practically naked. Doing an impression of my mother, I ignored her, wove my fingers through Edward's hair, and held him close. Neither of us panicked, or ran. We just quietly accepted the consequences.
Renee was brutally honest about why she married my stepfather: She did it for money, freely admitting she always wanted the finer things in life. She left my stepfather, Phil, when I was eight. The poor bastard adopted me, so he ended up paying child support for a kid that wasn't even his, and alimony to a wife who was all too happy to be rid of him. She realized she would never have been able to lead this type of lifestyle had my biological father lived. I think she was happy to have been widowed at such an early age.
She had once been a fairly good ballet dancer, but she was a sad excuse for a mother, and she embraced the title of cougar before they even had a name for it. She filled her house with luxuries, most of which we wouldn't ever use or need. She hated other women unless they were dancing beside her with no aspirations for a principal role, or praising her for her genius. She never socialized with them and the Pacific National Ballet supported her for years while she was their prima ballerina.
I had never known Renee to have a single female friend; well maybe one if you counted Sue Clearwater, who'd been her maid and the closest thing I had to a mother until I was shipped off to boarding school at the age of six. When Renee wanted to escape the winters in Forks, she flew to California or Miami's South Beach and ate Godiva chocolates from her hotel room bed to pamper herself. Guys were drawn to her like flies and the older she got, the younger they became. She wore a permanent sphinx-like smile, as if she had a secret that no one else was privy to.
When she came to pick me up at CCA, her face was pink from waxing and she was wearing a mini skirt like the ones girls my age wore.
I was mortified. "Mom, what are you wearing?"
She ignored me and walked into the meeting with Mrs. Berty and the headmaster.
Renee listened quietly as they outlined my various infractions. I knew she didn't care about what I'd done. The only thing she understood was that I would be cramping her style.
In the car on the way home she said, "It's going to be virtually impossible to ﬁnd a new school for you in the middle of a term like this."
She quickly discovered that Port Angeles Academy would take me in the summer, if I would repeat a couple of classes, which meant that my mother had to share the house with me through the end of spring.
She had been cleaning out closets when she learned of my expulsion. There was a shoebox full of costume jewelry that she had marked for Goodwill. I took a necklace and pendant with plastic cherries on it. For some reason, it reminded me of Edward.
"I had been missing you anyway," she said disingenuously. "Maybe we can go to Europe next month."
She was generally cold-hearted, but sometimes she pretended to have some motherly affection for me. I wondered if the same thing would happen to me if Edward ever left. I couldn't imagine a life without him.
"I don't know," I said. It didn't appeal to me to be that far from Edward for any length of time.
"And you don't have to go to Port Angeles Academy. We can enroll you in Forks High School in the fall, if you want."
"No thanks," I said, "I'd prefer boarding over public school any day."
This was no lie. Besides, it gave me the autonomy that I could never get living in the house with Renee. I wanted the relative safety and comfort of radiator-heated old buildings that were either never quite warm enough, or too warm. I loved the camaraderie with the other girls; the way we played our record players loud in the common room and danced until we were exhausted.
One of my favorite songs now was That's The Way of The World, by Earth, Wind and Fire, because Edward and I danced our first slow dance to that song. Boarding school was my world and I knew the way of it much better than Forks. I even liked how we were required to go to church on Sunday mornings, where we sat nodding out like junkies and listening to pastors who invariably put us to sleep.
In a dormitory, there was always someone a few feet away from you, burning Jiffy-Pop popcorn on a hot plate, or asking their parents for more money on the hall phones. There was always someone from down the hall borrowing your clothes, or exhaling pot smoke through the blades of window fans, or showing you how to perm your hair, or completely having a catfight, and making up by the end of the day. At boarding school I was never lonely like I was at Renee's house.
About a week after the incident, when Renee gave up on policing my whereabouts, I began driving past the Cullen house each afternoon, waiting for Edward's car to appear, signaling that he was home for Spring break. I had been sitting across the street from his house working a crossword puzzle, when he finally showed up.
When he climbed out of his car wearing a green paisley shirt and blue jeans, I was so busy looking at him I didn't notice he had company until that guy Caius got out, and then he opened the back door for a girl wearing a long-sleeved jersey knit wrap dress over white bell bottoms. She had long strawberry blonde hair, and a narrow patrician face, with high cheekbones, like a model. She was cultured, beautiful even; everything I was not.
Jealousy coursed through me, and I pulled into the driveway behind his car. He escorted his friends to the door before he came to the car to talk to me.
In my desperation, the first words out of my mouth were ridiculously stupid. In a feeble attempt to seem more grown up, I propositioned him like a hooker. "Edward, you look good enough to eat," I said. "Get in the car and I'll blow you."
He scrunched up his face as if he were in pain, and closed his eyes. "Bella, don't cheapen yourself like that."
"I've missed you," I said. "Will you go for a ride with me, so we can smoke? I've got a couple of joints."
"I can't. As you can see I have friends home from school."
This was not my Edward, but I didn't want him to leave, so I brought him up to speed on what happened after Mrs. Berty had him escorted from the building by campus security. There had been no time for us to make any plans to see one another again. I had never taken the time to get any of his personal info, like a telephone number. My only option had been to case his parents home like a burglar until he turned up.
"I got expelled," I told him. "I'm starting at Port Angeles Academy this summer." He nodded, vaguely paying attention, but looking back at the house nervously. "In the mean time, you can come to my house on Thursdays. My mom's usually away all day at the salon."
He bent his knees, squatting so he was eye-level with me through the window next to my car. "Bella," he said softly, "we can't be together like that, and you can't come here anymore."
I couldn't accept that as truth. "Why?"
He rolled his eyes. "My mom almost called the cops when she saw you sitting in your car staring at the house. She described you to me and I begged her not to. She knows about what happened at CCA. They threatened me with a statutory rape charge."
"Chief Black wouldn't have had me arrested. He was my father's best friend. I'm sure I could talk him out of arresting you, too."
"Well, it didn't stop him from carting my ass off to jail after we got caught."
"Don't worry. I would never sell you out. Besides, I'll be eighteen in September."
"As much as I want to be with you, baby, my life is complicated in ways you can't fucking imagine. I'm no good for you, Bella. I need you to let me just be with my friends, right now, okay? My folks have told me to 'straighten up and act right,' and contributing to the delinquency of a minor as they so eloquently put it, would be going against that."
"I wanted to meet your folks this week—as your girlfriend," I said, trying not to sound like a whiny child.
"You can't, Beauty."
"Well, when will we get to be together again?" I asked impatiently. "How long are your friendsstaying?"
"I'll call you when I get back to Seattle so we can talk, okay? It's going to be impossible for me to get away this week."
Unable to wait for his call, I went through the Cullen mailbox after his Spring Break and found his address on a letter he sent to his parents. I drove to Seattle, and I actually found Edward's apartment without getting lost.
It was April and raining in sheets like it usually did in the Pacific Northwest. I was soaking wet and my sundress was stuck to me and totally see-through. Edward answered the door and his eyes bulged. Then he finally looked up at my face and his expression softened.
"Bella, I was going to call you; I've just been trying to sort some things out." He looked haggard and tired, but he smiled involuntarily and stood aside to let me come in.
"I really needed to see you." I said. "I couldn't wait any longer."
I jumped him the moment he closed the door and we didn't make it to his bedroom. We threw so many things over, the downstairs neighbor banged on the ceiling. After a loud vocal climax, we showered together and he gave me dry clothes to put on while my dress dried in his bathroom.
I wanted to ask him so many questions, but I was too happy to see him to make waves. We smoked pot in a homemade pipe-like device he called a bong. This was so much smoother and purer. I got high within minutes. We cuddled on his couch tripping off the snowy, blurred images on his portable color TV. Reception in his apartment building was horrible. We got the munchies so bad we traded bites of a pickle and mayonnaise sandwich until the pizza we ordered arrived.
When Emmett got home, he looked worse than Edward had when I'd arrived. Maybe worse. He raised his eyebrows when he saw me. "Hello, Bella."
"Hi, Emmett." I said, suddenly finding it hard to swallow my pizza. I felt so bad for him. I knew that he still carried a torch for Rosalie.
Edward went off into the kitchen to get Emmett a drink, leaving him alone with me to ask the questions he knew Emmett wanted to ask.
"Have you talked to Rosalie?" He asked as he sat on the edge of a stuffed chair.
I cleared my throat. "Yeah, she's going to Port Angeles Academy now. It's smaller than CCA, but she sounds like she's adjusting. I'll be joining her there in the summer."
"Um, yeah, Edward was in deep shit when that went down at your school. If our dad hadn't donated so much fucking money, he might've been looking at some serious legal issues right about now."
"I'm sorry. It was my fault. I got us caught."
"You can't take all the blame. Edward is a big boy."
There was an awkward silence. Then I tried to cheer him up. "I'll be seeing Rosalie this weekend. Do you have a message for her?"
"She's got my number," he said stubbornly. Then he relented. "Tell her I'm here for her when she's ready to cut the crap and really deal with her issues."
As it turned out, I didn't have to ask Edward what I was to him. That night after we made love in his bed and shared one of our intense world-rocking orgasms, he declared himself to me.
"I love you so fucking much, Beauty."
"I've loved you from the moment I laid eyes on you," I told him and then proceeded to snot-sob all over his naked chest.
I repeatedly went back to Seattle to see Edward. We had somehow come to an unspoken agreement that if we saw each other there we weren't breaking any rules, and there was no way we'd stop seeing each other.
As it got closer to his graduation day, I became increasingly concerned about how we were going to be able to continue our relationship. His desire to stay in Seattle and join the orchestra was strong, but the possibility of that happening was tenuous at best. Coincidentally, his family friend, and former girlfriend, Tanya, had an uncle who was on the arts board of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in New York, and she was dangling that piece of low-lying fruit over Edward every chance she got.
I was too naive and Edward was too desperate to recognize what Tanya and Caius were planning until it was too late.
A couple of months before his graduation, Edward called me at PAA and told me not to come to Seattle that weekend because he would be flying to New York to meet Tanya's uncle, Maestro Aro Volturi, to discuss the possibility of him joining the Met as an apprentice conductor. He assured me that after he was set up in New York and I graduated, I could join him there and go to college while he built a name for himself in the music industry.
I was ecstatic about our future, until my world came crashing down, on Edward's birthday ironically. With his graduation behind us and his imminent move to New York looming, we were going to go all out for his birthday and celebrate it in grand style.
Edward was supposed to come to my dorm and pick me up in his car for a change and take me out to dinner. We would have a fabulous gourmet meal, I would give him his birthday present, and then we'd spend the night at a luxury hotel in downtown Seattle.
Alice and Rosalie had helped me pick out a gorgeous cocktail dress for the occasion and had put me through a beauty regimen that would rival any luxury spa treatment. I actually felt like I finally looked beautiful enough for Edward. Too anxious to wait in my room, I sat in the Lobby and waited for him. When I saw his car pull up outside, I rushed out excitedly so I could see his reaction when he saw me all dressed up.
My face fell when I saw it was Caius at the wheel, smiling his infamous reptilian smile.
I walked to the car, opened the door, and leaned in. "Caius, what are you doing here? Where's Edward?"
"He's in the middle of somewhat of a crisis right now, so he asked me to pinch hit for him. He's going to meet us at the restaurant."
I got in and went with him, like a lamb to the slaughter.
When we got to the restaurant, Caius presented me with a single red rose, seated me at the table and then took the seat across from me. I was perplexed.
"I'll just stay here until Edward arrives, if you don't mind," he announced. The waiter was hovering so he waved him over. "A bottle of Chablis, please, 1955." The waiter bowed and scurried away. "I think it's appropriate to drink from the vintage year of Edward's birth, don't you think, Bella?"
"Of course," I answered coolly.
He peppered me with small talk until the waiter returned and poured the wine. Taking his glass, Caius raised it across the table to me. "To secrets being revealed and your eyes finally being opened."
Still clueless, I touched my glass to his and downed half the glass. All I wanted to do was see Edward for his birthday, give him his present, and go to our hotel room so we could make love all night.
Caius trained his eyes on me and impassively began to share his true intentions. "Bella, I think it's time you knew the score."
"What score is that?"
"Yours and Edward's relationship has been a sham from the beginning," he said. "The night he took your virginity, we were supposed to share you."
"Share?" I felt dumb and extremely naive. My mouth fell open and my heart shattered as he continued.
"Edward and I are bi-sexual, Bella. We've been together since our freshman year at UW, and we occasionally have women to share a bed with us. Tanya was the first to join us and if she has her way, she'll be the last."
"W-what are you saying... I-I can't believe Edward sent you here to tell me this. Where is he?"
"Well, Edward is actually back at his apartment with Tanya, who has moved in for all intents and purposes. You see, she's carrying Edward's child. One of the drawbacks to pregnancy is that in the first trimester, you women get sicker than a motherfucker. Tanya is puking her guts out as we speak, and Edward is holding her hair."
"You're lying," I spat, tears spilling and ruining the mascara that Alice had so carefully brushed onto my lashes.
"The only thing I'm lying about is why I'm here. Edward was going to call you and cancel, but I offered to come, pick you up, and take you out so he could take care of Tanya."
The mascara was burning my eyes and practically blinding me, but I couldn't stand to hear any more. I jumped up from the table and ran. An older woman saw me and followed me into the bathroom. She was an available mother figure, so I cried heartbreakingly in her arms.
"Can I do anything to help you, dear?" she asked.
"No," I said glumly. "M-My b-boyfriend was supposed to meet me here, b-but... " I couldn't continue, because I was having another bout of hiccupping sobs.
"I understand, sweetheart, I've been stood up a time or two in my youth."
Being stood up was one thing, but I had been ambushed. I pulled myself together long enough to plan my rescue. There was no way in hell I was getting into a car with Caius again. "If you could do me a favor and call Irina Gant at the Port Angeles Academy, and ask her to pick me up, I would appreciate it."
When she arrived, Irina found me sitting on the lid of the toilet in one of the stalls. I cried so much, I couldn't produce any more tears. She held her arms out to me, I fell into them, and she supported me as we walked out of the restaurant together.
Ms. Cope was asleep in the car, and Irina didn't seem to be fazed by my request for them to pick me up miles away from PAA in a place where I was not supposed to be. She looked younger somehow that night, wearing Gloria Vanderbilt jeans and a cotton knit sweater.
"Get in," she said gently, holding the back door open for me. "Try not to wake Sleeping Beauty."
As the car glided away from the restaurant I stared out the window, and pretty soon we are on the highway headed back to Port Angeles.
"So why did you call me, Bella?" Irina asked. "You could have contacted one of your friends and we would have been none-the-wiser."
"I knew you would be there for me," I said. "I'm sorry it's so late."
"You know you can call us anytime." She waved me off and I really believed it was not an imposition for them. "Tell me what happened."
I told her the whole sordid story about me and Edward, only leaving out some of the more vile and hateful things that Caius said. I needed to hear those words come from Edward's own mouth before I could believe them.
I ran out of words and it was quiet in the car as Ms. Cope woke up. I think she and Irina forgot that I was in the backseat as they lovingly held hands across the console the rest of the way back.
I fell in and out of a fitful sleep, lulled by the rhythmic slap of the tires on the pavement. I was safe with my surrogate mothers and as long as they were with me, I couldn't go to Edward.
When we returned to PAA, Irina began to counsel me, which meant early-morning sessions in her office, talking in depth about what happened. At first, I couldn't bring myself to answer all of her questions, but I eventually relented, because I loved to talk about Edward Cullen. I told her, Ms. Cope, Rosalie and Alice, that I just wanted him to touch me again. I told them if I had a choice, I'd give my very life just to hear his voice again, to see his strong jaw line, his beautiful mouth, and his wild unruly hair. His kisses were my salvation.
They were ready when Edward showed up at PAA and tried to see me. I heard him screaming for me as Rosalie and Irina held me in my room, and Ms. Cope and the security officers subdued him outside. Eventually, I didn't hear his voice anymore and Alice returned from downstairs to give me a blow-by-blow of what happened.
When Irina and Ms. Cope were certain I wouldn't run away to be with Edward, they gave me a pass to go home. Renee was polishing her toenails in her bedroom, an open bottle of ginger ale was on the floor next to her feet. She had three different outfits spread out on the bed.
"I couldn't choose," she told me, pushing her hair behind her ear. "I'm going out with Gary Banner tonight, if I can get my stomach to settle. What do you need, baby?"
What I needed was to crawl into her lap, to cry on her shoulder, to confess that I didn't know how to stop wanting this man who was not good for me; who had a boyfriend and, in fact, had also impregnated his girlfriend. I wanted to tell her that I didn't want to lose him so much that I would accept all that he was and would be willing to share him if that's what it took to keep him. But I didn't tell her any of that.
"I'm not with Edward anymore," I said. She looked momentarily confused. "You know, the guy I was with when I was kicked out of CCA."
My mother looked up into my eyes, her mouth in a hard line.
I also told her that I had used her credit card to buy him presents.
"You gave presents to the guy who got you expelled? Someone who doesn't want you?" Renee said. She took her least favorites of the three outfits and returned them to her closet. "I don't understand you. I'm also not thrilled with you running around using my credit cards."
That would be all she'd say on the matter. She wouldn't spend any time punishing me. She was distracted, as always, by her own variety of commitments, which ranged from her date with Gary Banner, to her seat on the board of the ballet, and indulgent shopping sprees to fill the closets that she'd just emptied out a few months ago.
I decided as I was going back to PAA, I would not go back my mother's house until it was time to pack up my things and go away to college.
Despite giving Irina my word, I went back to Seattle to try to see Edward even knowing what I knew about him, Caius and Tanya. His car wasn't there, but a hand moved the blinds in the window, so I rang the doorbell and waited. Tanya answered wearing a UW sweatshirt that clearly belonged to Edward; it hung to the middle of her thighs. Her hair was in a loose bun with tendrils falling haphazardly out of it.
She said, "So, you're Bella?"
"Yeah," I said. "Is he here?"
"Nope." There was a disdainful smirk on her face.
I knew it was impolite of me to mention it, but I couldn't help myself. "How is your pregnancy progressing?"
"Excuse me? He fucking told you about that?"
"Actually, Caius told me."
"And you think it's okay to show up at our home asking me questions that are none of your fucking business?"
I saw then, with startling clarity, what I had come to see. I saw that Tanya was a class-A bitch, someone that would make Edward miserable in the end. She was beautiful, yes, and had all that it took to snare a man. Unlike me, she could argue with Edward without dissolving into tears. Unlike me, she was not afraid and would be more than happy to take it in the ass.
I slapped her with as much power as I dared, given her condition.
It didn't surprise me that she hauled off and slapped me right back.
"Now get the fuck out of here before I call the cops. And don't come back or I'll get a restraining order," she said. "I'm sure Edward will be interested to know how his little boarding school tramp slapped the mother of his child. You would have been an embarrassment to him."
I knew her threats were not idle, so I left.
I was not sorry for having slapped her. I was upset that I had failed to take him from her; my shame was in using that ill-fitting diaphragm. If I had been smarter than Tanya, I could have been pregnant and having his child.
When I got back to PAA, Rosalie and Alice treated me with sympathy, as if I was mourning the loss of a relative. When I was asleep, they took turns staying with me because they said I chanted Tanya's name in my sleep.
Finally Rosalie said, "Alice and I will go with you if you want to put the fear of God in this Tanya, bitch."
"She's not worth it," I said sadly.
"Bella, do you want to talk about what happened?" Alice asked.
I wound up telling them everything about the fucked-up quartet we were. And yet, despite everything, I still wanted to fuck his predilection for other women—and men—out of him.
"We should head over to Alice's. It's supposed to snow later," Rosalie announced as she flopped onto her bed.
"I can't right this minute," I said half-reluctantly. "I have to type that English Lit paper due today at five, so I'm headed over to the computer lab."
Rosalie sat up, "Why would you do that, when I've got the Apple?"
I'd forgotten that the girl who'd come to boarding school with more luggage than the Queen of England, had an Apple I personal computer and a new Epson printer.
Her parents were friends with the Apple founder back in California and had gotten a steal of a deal on the computer. However, they'd paid an obscene amount of money for the Epson printer so Rosalie wouldn't have to go to the lab and share electronics with the other girls. I didn't complain, because Rosalie's excesses would save me a tongue-lashing from Alice Brandon.
As we dropped off my essay, Rosalie and I agreed that it would've been tantamount to committing social suicide to bail on Alice's Hurricane Ridge ski weekend at her parents' vacation home. Deciding we could at least handle the bunny slopes, we hoped we were in good enough shape not to embarrass ourselves; though I was worried about my lack of coordination. I'd inherited none of my mother's gracefulness, and she swore it must have been some recessive trait from my father's side of the family.
We left the dorm in Rosalie's Range Rover and traveled the seventeen miles south of Port Angeles to the mountains to join Alice for our precious time away from the Academy. The roads were getting icier as the sun set, and I was thankful for the chains on the tires.
"I'm jonesing like a motherfucker. I feel sick," Rosalie said. "I knew I should have had a shot of vodka before we left the dorm."
"You promised Emmett you would quit." I offered her some of my ginger ale. "Here. This'll settle your stomach."
She snorted. "It'll just make me sicker."
"No, it won't."
It was actually Edward Cullen who'd told me about ginger ale when my stomach had been upset, but Irina advised me not to think about Edward, just as she'd advised Rosalie not to talk about drinking.
Irina was the best housemother we'd ever had. PAA was considered a "last chance" boarding school, many of the girls having gone to several others before landing there. Although it was just my second one, it had been the only place that my mother could get to take me on such short notice that wasn't out of state. Other schools jokingly called PAA, the reformed school of boarding schools. It was an alternative boarding school, a place for troubled, at-risk rich kids.
Approximately thirty of us occupied a building supervised by our spinster housemothers who shared an apartment on the first floor. We had a running bet back then that Ms. Cope and Irina were lesbians, and the first girl to uncover concrete proof that they were would win a three-hundred dollar kitty. I had come closer than any other girl at PAA to winning because I'd witnessed a tender moment between them when they'd picked me up in Seattle. I knew they smoked pot because I discovered their stash in Ms. Cope's hope chest and pinched some on occasion to share with Alice and Rosalie.
Marijuana pilfering aside, Port Angeles Academy was a good fit for me personally. There were strict rules and the housemothers scheduled bed checks to make sure that none of their charges had absconded during the night, or weren't entertaining any unwelcome guests. We compared these nightly excursions of the PAA Gestapo to prison headcounts.
Ms. Cope did the first check nightly at eleven, moving through our sleeping quarters stealthily as if she was afraid we would catch her doing something naughty. She had perfect posture and was prematurely gray, her salt and pepper hair hanging in a loose braid down her back. Her ample bosoms jutted out proudly, compliments of her longline bra she seemed to wear always, even during sleep
At two in the morning, when we were in the throes of REM sleep, Irina made her rounds wearing nothing but a short baby doll nightie and furry slippers, smelling like the lavender toilet water she drowned herself in. She looked like a flower child of the sixties. Ms Platt was beautiful with warm cinnamon-colored hair. She was also the nurturer.
At six in the morning, they both performed the wakeup call dressed in their "uniformed" attire. Ms. Cope in slacks and a man-tailored suit jacket, while Irina donned a long skirt, starched white blouse, and cardigan sweater. Rosalie said this was proof-positive they were a couple. That kitty was never one by anyone while we attended PAA.
"Do you realize this will be our first meal in six months without those closeted dykes watching over us?" Rosalie asked as she wiped her runny nose rather inelegantly with the back of her cashmere-gloved hand.
"Yes, I do," I said, although I'd grown quite fond of Ms. Cope and Irina. Familiarity had not bred the contempt in me that some of the girls at PAA had for them.
PAA was an all-girl school, so beauty and boys didn't figure into the equation of determining popularity. It was based on our reputations. There were rumors I'd had an affair with an older man, and that Rosalie used to get so drunk before church that she once barfed into the baptismal fount.
Alice was the most revered among us, perhaps because her situation remained a mystery until Rosalie and I were bold enough to befriend her and inquire about it. She was so gaunt when she arrived at PAA, a strong gust of wind could have blown her away. Even her fastened Mary Janes were too loose on her feet. Her hair was jet black and neatly bobbed, but thinner than the silk camisoles we wore under our uniforms.
"She has an eating disorder," Rosalie guessed, and I agreed. Alice was skin, bones, and tendons. To test our theory, we offered her food every chance we got and she refused it. However, at our first dinner with her, Rosalie and I couldn't believe how Alice had loaded her plate—a mountain of mashed potatoes smothered with a lake of gravy, and a steak fit for a lumberjack.
"She eats." Rosalie, still disbelieving shook her head. "Maybe she's bulimic."
One of our core values at PAA was "don't ask personal questions or pre-judge others; our response is acceptance and forgiveness." Rosalie summarily ignored it and, later after we confirmed that Alice wasn't upchucking her food after meals, demanded that she tell us what her deal was.
"I got pregnant last year," Alice said, as a single tear escaped her right eye and slid down her flawless bird-like face.
"Did you...have an abortion?" Rosalie asked, tentative yet undeterred.
"No." Alice wiped the tear away with the back of her hand. "I had the baby, but it was stillborn." We listened attentively as she continued. "When my baby died, I became depressed."
Rosalie and I looked at each other, remorseful for having whispered behind her back for more than a week.
"Are you still with the baby's father?" I asked.
"My parents don't think I am," Alice said, "but I'd sooner cut off one of my limbs than let Jasper go. He's my soul mate."
Rose and I shared with Alice the reasons that had brought us to PAA. Rosalie's ex-boyfriend back in back in California had raped her, after which she proceeded to drink all the vodka in Silicon Valley trying to get over it. I had gone off the deep end and gotten self-destructive after a college man I'd fallen head over heels for lied and cheated on me. We all agreed to support Alice when she told the other girls she'd had leukemia that was in remission, because they'd become suspicious when she started to gain her weight back.
As an apology for pre-judging Alice, we mounted a successful campaign to get her elected as Chairwoman of the PAA Social Committee. She held meetings in the common room, decorating it festively with crepe paper streamers, rainbows and gold foil stars hanging from the ceiling. When she scolded us for breaking certain house rules, we felt like we deserved it. Her scoldings were our penance. Just as Ms. Cope and Irina's counseling helped us live with the horrors of our pasts. Alice knew our first instinct was to be bad and tried to steer us in the right direction.
Alice had presented her invitation to us for the ski weekend on cream-colored card stock, decorated with a purple satin bow and written in purple calligraphy by her own hand. Our skiing issues aside, Rosalie and I accepted anyway. We wanted to support Alice.
Alice's father left after the first night, and Rosalie and I no longer had to share a bed in the guest room. We had spent months sleeping within six feet of each other, but the intimacy of sharing a bed was weird. I wore flannel pajamas and Rosalie stripped to her cami and lacy underwear.
We overslept and didn't make it to the slopes the first day, so we just frolicked around in the snow like we had when we were in early grades, sledding, making snow angels, and snowmen. It was the best day we had together at the Brandon ski retreat. We planned to make up for lost time the next day.
Rosalie and I were in her room putting up the board games that had rescued us from boredom. Alice prepared for bed, too, and joined us in the guest room where we congregated despite the fact that we all had our own rooms now.
"I'm going to brush my teeth and crash." she said, glancing sideways at Rosalie in her skimpy attire. "Aren't you freezing?"
"Not really." Rosalie smirked. "I've got something that'll warm me up in no time."
Alice became incensed. "Don't you dare oversleep in the morning Rosalie. We have to get there early to beat the lines."
"What about breakfast?" I asked.
"We can bring hot chocolate and bagels with us in the car."
"I'm not sure we should have come," I said after Alice shut the door.
Rosalie opened her suitcase and removed eight airplane-sized bottles of vodka. She set them down on the floor in front of her, as if they were chess pieces and she was about to check-mate. She drank them quickly and methodically, like a pledge in a frat house, playing a drinking game.
"I'm glad we came," she said, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. "I can do whatever the hell I want just this one weekend with no one to answer to—not Ms. Cope, Irina, or Emmett. Besides, I like to ski."
"You said you couldn't ski."
"I told you that so you wouldn't fucking bail on us."
I said, "You're a lying bitch, Rosalie."
"You'll be fine, Bella. I'll teach you."
"You know how uncoordinated I am. Has your vodka-addled brain made you forget this?" I wished I could take the words back the minute they were out of my mouth.
Rosalie's voice was cold. "On second thought, get Alice to fucking teach you, she's the better skier anyway."
I felt bad. I hadn't meant to insult her like that. "I just don't need another person lying to me."
"Bella," she said coldly. "Everyone lies. Ms. Cope and Irina are back at PAA having hot lesbian sex in secret because they would probably lose their jobs if the bigwigs knew. Alice is sneaking Jasper in the house tonight to possibly knock her up again, and I'm going to drink until I pass out, because Emmett isn't here to stop me. You kept that whole thing about your pervy ex-boyfriend a secret. What? You think you're the good girl because you decided to leave him?"
I stalked out and retreated into the room I was occupying for the night. Still awake at midnight, I went to the living room, threw more wood on the dying fire, and curled up on the sofa. Lying in the silence of the wee hours of the morning, I thought hard about my life and came to a decision.
I needed to start worrying about my own problems and stop concentrating on everyone else. I needed to let Edward go. I'd spent far too much time and energy on him. I'd sacrificed my dignity and let myself wallow in my own self-pity. I was tired of it. He wasn't in my life anymore and I was letting him control me. If I continued to contact him, I would only have myself to blame and my friends who'd been providing comfort, would lose patience with me. And they'd be right.
I needed to get my life together.
The next day we went to the slopes and I sat and watched Alice and Rosalie ski as I wrote my five-year plan. I refused to ski because I liked having unbroken limbs and I didn't want to do the bunny slopes alone.
After we got back to PAA, I got a phone call during the time usually relegated for our parents to call. He pretended to be Phil and I went to the phone wondering if something had happened to my mother. She might be a bitch, but what could I say? She's still my mother.
"Phil, hey... is something wrong with Renee?".
"Bella... it's me." Edward sounded like he'd been through hell, launching into his explanations quickly, obviously afraid I'd hang up on him. "I fucked up royally, baby, and I'm so, so sorry."
This was it. The moment of truth. I needed to be strong in my resolve and put my money where my mouth was. Time to be a grown-up and not the stupid schoolgirl who followed him around like a rock star groupie.
"You don't have the right to call me baby, anymore," I said. "Maybe you need use that name for the mother of your unborn child."
"Beauty, I should never have taken Tanya up on her offer to go to New York to meet her uncle. We got high after getting shitfaced at the hotel bar, and I fell for her 'one last time for old time's sake' crap, because I was desperate and stupid, and thought I really needed her and her uncle to jumpstart my career. Then on my birthday I trusted Caius to bring you to meet me at the hotel, but he took you to that restaurant and told you things that I should have told you myself— in the beginning. I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me. I never meant to hurt you. Please believe me when I say I was doing it for our future, but I went about it the wrong fucking way."
"So, it's true, then? Your relationship with Caius and Tanya—your intentions to share me when we first met?"
"Yeah, but when I realized you had never been with anyone else and we clicked, there was no way I was gonna share you with Caius. We fought about it and I kicked his ass out of my house that night. You were special and I wanted to protect you from the ugliness that had been my life up until that point. If you believe nothing else, Bella, please believe that I love you."
"Edward, you lied to me, cheated on me, and then I learn from your male lover that you swing both ways, a fact that you withheld from me for over a year. I can't even begin to wrap my head around that. I love you too, but I don't know if I can ever trust you again. What would happen when you got tired of me? Would you find another man to make things interesting again? I can't live like that...always wondering if I'm going to be enough."
"I gave it all up when we became exclusive, and Caius is dead to me. You're more than enough for me... "
"That's what you say now, but how can I believe that? You have an obligation to your unborn child, so I think you need to concentrate on that, and leave me out of the equation."
"Bella, please, let's work this out... I love you. Tanya means nothing to me. I have no intention of marrying her, of being with her. I'll support my child, but she's not who I love. I will always love you."
"Love should have made you keep your cock in your pants, Edward. I've got to go...goodbye."
After I hung up on him I cried for another couple of days, Rosalie and Alice, keeping silent vigil over me once again.
When we got back to PAA, I dove headlong into my studies and I graduated on time with everybody else.
Rosalie reconciled with Emmett and would be going to the Betty Ford clinic immediately after graduation. Alice and Jasper were married on Valentine's Day and she was six weeks pregnant when we received our diplomas.
After the ceremony on the PAA lawn, I shucked my cap and gown and told Renee of my plans for the summer. I looked up and saw Emmett and Edward approaching us. He was still so beautiful, he took my breath away.
Emmett flirted with my mom and offered to escort her to the refreshment table to get her a drink. Edward and I were left alone. It was awkward being in his presence after months of trying to get over him. The burn was still there, but I couldn't waver.
"Congratulations, Bella," he said. A tiny muscle was working in his jaw, and I knew the meeting was as difficult for him as it was for me. "I couldn't miss your graduation. Don't be upset with Rosalie and Emmett for letting me know, okay?"
"Thanks, Edward," I said. He was wearing a suit, and I wondered if that was what he would have looked like on the night we were going to celebrate his birthday. Then I chastised myself for even thinking about that again. A pain had lodged in my chest just underneath my heart that wouldn't go away. It was exacerbated by being in his presence, but I couldn't let him know that.
"So what are your plans?" he asked.
"I've been accepted at Harvard," I said, my voice so high I didn't even recognize it. "I'm leaving for Cambridge next week. I opted to do a summer track."
"Following your dream of being like Curie and Elion," he said. "And college dormitories are kinda like boarding school. It should suit you just fine."
Irina recognized Edward and gave me a look as if to ask if I was okay. I nodded.
"So, Rosalie and Emmett tell me you have a son."
"Yes," he said with a genuine smile. "Anthony is three months old now. My parents are spoiling him rotten."
"That's great," I said. "I hope he grows up to look just like his dad."
There was an awkward silence again. My throat was closing so fast, I needed to get the hell away from him before I decided to take him up to my room and ravish him. I am a sad case. I still wanted him to touch me more than anything, but I knew if I did, I wouldn't go through with my plans. I also would've had a hard time trusting again because our relationship began with a lie, and it was a fact I couldn't forget. Not yet.
I made a quick excuse. "I need to say hello to my stepfather and his wife. He's only the man who's paying to send me to Harvard. It was great seeing you, Edward."
I could tell he was trying to contain his shit too. "Is it okay if I hug you, Bella?"
When he said that, I totally lost it, because I remembered the night I gave myself to him for the first time.
"Will you let me make love to you, Bella?"
I shook my head frantically, a sob bursting from my throat like vomit, and I ran into the dormitory like someone was chasing me.
I can't get Emmett's words out of my mind. What did he mean it almost killed Edward? My concentration at work is non-existent, and I leave after lunch because my reminiscing has conjured the beginnings of a migraine.
When James comes home at six, I'm lying in a fetal position in our bed. He realizes immediately something is wrong, kicks off his shoes and climbs in behind me. I feel so protected in his arms. Our relationship has always been honest; he knows everything about me and I know everything about him.
He's the Executive Director of the HIV/AIDS Coalition of Seattle but he is also a cell biologist, like I am. He's an extremely sensitive and caring man, and always puts my needs above his own. I don't deserve him and I tell him this all the time, but he likes to say he can do enough appreciating for both of us.
"Isabella, my love, what's wrong?" he asks.
"Um, I ran into Emmett Cullen today at work. I knew it was just a matter of time," I mutter helplessly.
"Was he pushing you to see his brother?"
"No, but he wants me to see him and Rosalie tonight."
"We have the fundraiser... "
"Yes, I told him we were busy."
"Perhaps you should have invited him and his wife to the event. Seems to me this would be a cause that your friends could champion."
I turn to face him. "You would be okay with them coming?"
"Sure. The coalition can use a man like Dr. Cullen getting behind what we do."
"Okay, I'll call them now." I kiss my husband and remember how I could never just kiss Edward like that unless it turned into a full-blown inferno. I kiss him again, determined to feel something that rivals what Edward made me feel, but it's no use. He's aroused, and I'm numb.
James chuckles, "If you don't stop that we'll be late to the fundraiser." I give up, roll off the bed and grab the phone from the nightstand.
"Hello," Rosalie sounds the same, just more mature.
"Rosalie, It's Isabella... Bella."
"Oh my God, Bella! Em told me he ran into you at Udub today. I've been hoping you would call."
"It's so good to hear your voice," I say. "I'm sorry we lost contact. My only excuse is... "
"I know, baby," she says with understanding. "I'm married to the brother of the man who broke your heart. I get it, I just...let me stop." She sounds like she's crying. "Listen, I called Alice and Jasper. They're flying in as soon as Jasper can get away. They desperately want to see you."
"Oh, wow, I didn't mean to incite an impromptu PAA reunion."
"Don't be silly, we all want to see you."
"Which is why I'm calling. My husband James and I are hosting a fundraiser tonight and we'd love it if you and Emmett could come. I know it's short notice, but it's at 7:30 at the Hyatt downtown."
"Em had a late surgery, so he's not even home yet. Can we meet you guys later, for dessert?"
"That's sounds great," I agree. "Let's say nine-thirty in the hotel restaurant?"
"Perfect! We'll see you then."
Catching up with Emmett and Rosalie is not as difficult as I had envisioned. I've always loved their dynamic together when Rosalie wasn't drinking. After we're done with all the "getting to know you again" stuff, Emmett and James talk sports, while Rosalie and I have a private chat.
I find out she's been sober for the fourteen years we've been out of touch. They have a son and a daughter, Emily and Seth. Rosalie is essentially a stay-at-home mom, but she's a Physical Therapist and works part-time in the mornings, and gets home long before the kids get out of school. I tell her how proud I am of her.
"I have to admit something. I was pissed at you for a couple of years, because one of the steps we go through in AA is to apologize to all the people we've wronged with our addictions. You weren't around for me to do that and I might have called you a few choice names because of it," she admits sheepishly.
"It's okay," I tell her, and I'm serious. "I probably deserved to be called a few of them. I've been a horrible friend."
"Now that I know we're in the same city, you just try to get rid of me again," Rosalie warns.
"So tell me about Alice and Jasper."
Rosalie laughs. "Well, they have four children."
"Why am I not surprised?" I grin.
"Jasper's great uncle left him a thousand acres of land when he died. They live on a ranch in south Texas. Alice home schools her children and everything."
"Whatever happened to Caius?" I ask. Emmett's ears perk up when he hears the name, and he and Rose share a knowing look.
"Caius passed away in 1982," Rose says quietly.
I'm momentarily taken aback. "Really, what happened?"
"AIDS," Emmett supplies. "He would have died alone in the hospital, but Edward hired a home health nurse to keep him comfortable until he passed away quietly."
Rosalie takes my hand underneath the table, and I look in her eyes. "Tanya passed away in 1986. They weren't sure about Caius' case, but by the time Tanya was diagnosed, we knew it's what he'd had, too."
"It was pre-AZT," Emmett says. "They never stood a chance."
"B-but we had chemical trials then," I stammer. "Surely, with your father's connections, someone could have gotten them the medication."
"Dad tried, but he was given the run-around by Dr. Boykin's office at Duke, and he finally gave up."
James flushes, and I know that something about this conversation isn't sitting very well with him. I clear my throat. I have to ask the question. "Edward wasn't... infected, was he?"
"No, thank God," Emmett says quietly. "He battled his demons for several years until Tanya got sick, then he realized that Anthony, his son, needed him and he got clean."
"Edward became addicted to cocaine in 1977. He functioned well for a couple of years, and then the board at the Met forced him to take a hiatus. He still worked though, writing musical scores for movies and television," Rosalie explained. "He didn't get serious about his sobriety until Tanya got sick and she couldn't take care of Anthony anymore.
Emmett finished bringing me up to speed. "Rosalie and her sponsor referred him to a great facility in New York. He's been clean since 1981, and working at the Met again."
"I didn't think he accepted the position at the Met after everything," I muse.
"He didn't initially, but the buzz about him in Seattle had Aro calling him a year later. It was the only place Tanya was willing to consider moving Anthony because she had family there."
My throat is dry. "So, they got married?"
"Oh, hell no," Emmett says. "Edward and Tanya were only civil to one another because of Anthony. He never had anything to do with her romantically again."
"Edward and Caius fell out shortly after you and Edward broke up. Caius and Tanya made a go of it for a while, but Caius enjoyed swinging too much. He never really settled down, and Tanya grew tired of his risky lifestyle, but it was too late, someone had already exposed them both, and more likely someone Caius was with on a more consistent basis."
I can't believe the way things had turned out for the two people who'd done their best to split up Edward and me. I wanted to believe they had gotten what they deserved, but as one of the people who'd discovered the drug for those with HIV, I couldn't revel in it. No one deserved to die such a horrible death.
James and I worked closely with Dr. Boykin at Duke, and our discovery of AZT opened the door for the proliferation of several drugs to combat the disease. Why hadn't Carlisle been able to secure a place for Tanya, at least, in the clinical trials? It may have been too early to do anything for Caius, but there should have been something available when Tanya was diagnosed, even though news of the trials were mostly by word of mouth in the medical community.
My mind is swirling with "what-ifs" as James drives us home. I gather he is upset by all our talk of Edward, so I allow him time to digest the fact that my past is colliding with our present. When we get home, he uncharacteristically pours himself a drink and I leave him in the den to prepare for bed.
There is a message on the answering machine from Alice that has me blubbering like an idiot. James doesn't even come into our room, although I know he must have heard me. I strip, get into the shower, and allow the water to soothe me. It has been an extremely emotional day, and as much as I want to sleep, I am not sure I will be able to.
I dress in my pajama set and go back in the den to talk to James. I didn't want my rekindled friendship with Emmett and Rosalie to drive a wedge between us.
He's standing at the fireplace, half-full drink glass in hand, looking pensively into the fire he has built.
I hug him from behind, wrapping my arms around his waist. "It isn't like you to stew over things, sweetheart. Why so distant? You know, Edward's my past, right? You're my present and my future."
He turns in the circle of my arms, deposits his drink on the mantel, and holds me close looking deep into my eyes. "I know, honey." He forces a smile and continues, "It's just, seeing you with your old friends and your reaction to their news of Edward. You were so relieved he hadn't met the same fate as his friends. It was like a kick in my gut. It's the first time in our marriage I ever feared losing you."
"Despite what Caius and Tanya did to sabotage my and Edward's relationship, he and I played a very healthy part. It's just that with everything we know about HIV and AIDS, I was just saddened by how it touched the lives of people I've known, no matter who they were, and rightfully relieved that Edward and his son were spared that tragedy."
"You're so forgiving. It's one of the things I love most about you," he said cupping my cheeks and kissing me softly on the lips.
I snort irreverently, "That's only come with time."
James makes love to me in a way that's reminiscent of my first time with Edward. He takes his time to worship my body and brings me to a rare orgasm without using his mouth. As we're snuggling, I ask him a question that's been nagging at me ever since Emmett said it and I'd seen James's reaction.
"Honey, would Dr. Boykin have disallowed any physician inquiring about an opportunity to be included in the clinical trial?"
James stiffens, but says, "I don't think he would have if the request were legitimate."
"I'm going to call his office tomorrow and get to the bottom of it... "
"Why don't you just leave it, Isabella? Those people are dead," he snaps.
His harshness stings. I roll away from him, and he hovers over me apologizing.
"Baby, I'm sorry. I'm tired... and jealous of someone who hasn't been in your life for fifteen years. Please forgive me for being such an ass."
I allow him to spoon with me and within a few minutes, I calm down and fall asleep.
Before I realize it, a month goes by. Alice and Jasper fly into Seattle in their private jet with their brood, visits for a long weekend and then goes back to Texas. Rosalie and I get together almost every weekend, usually somewhere neutral, because James is still uncomfortable knowing that Emmett is Edward's brother. I also see Emmett more often now at UW. It's funny how you can avoid someone for a year and then a chance meeting happens, and you begin seeing them everywhere.
I call Cassie Singletary, Dr. Boykin's office manager at Duke, and ask her to pull the clinical trial requests received from Dr. Carlisle Cullen in the 1980s. She promises to get right on it and fax them to me.
I sit with Emmett at a symposium and he holds out an envelope to me.
"Bella, I really like your husband and this is not an attempt to get you back together with my brother. He begged me to give this to you and the only reason I'm agreeing is because it details something that happened to Edward when we were very young and lived in Chicago."
I look at the letter, fear gripping my heart. Is there anything he could possibly say that would make me want to end my happy marriage to a man who adores me? I don't think so, but I can't deny that my feelings for Edward are not dead. I have refrained from asking Rosalie and Emmett questions about his romantic life. I don't know which would be worse: if he's in a relationship or if he isn't.
I take the letter and drop it in my purse. After the symposium, I go back to my office and close the door. Edward's graceful looping handwriting is still the same. He apologizes again for taking my innocence, for withholding his true nature from me, and for exposing me to the ugly reality that had been his life until he met me. Halfway through I have to stop reading because tears blur my vision so much I can't continue.
Edward had been molested by a man at a boarding school they had attended in Chicago when Dr. Cullen was finishing up his residency there. No wonder his parents refused to board them.
Given the cycle that this type of abuse often spawns in children exposed at a young age, he believes it manifested in him as a predisposition to bi-sexuality.
I resume reading again, horrified by the series of events that changed the course of Edward's life forever.
"Eventually, my recreational use of marijuana was not enough and I spiraled out of control when I was introduced to cocaine by some of my colleagues in the arts scene. Since getting clean, I've been seeing a psychiatrist in the City who's helped me to at least try to understand what happened, and now I'm at peace with who I am.
I have never stopped loving you, Bella. I've had relationships with two other women since I left my self-destructive path, and I've come to terms with the fact that they both ended because they were not you.
Emmett and Rosalie have told me that you're married to a man who loves you very much, and I'm grateful to him that he was able to do for you what I could not. I realize that the pain I put you through was unconscionable and my actions since have only served to prove that you were better off without me. Sadly, I can't say the same for me.
Your active forgiveness will allow me to live the rest of my life as a father Anthony can be proud of, and if I'm not fortunate enough to find someone as you have, I will go to my grave always grateful that I had you in my life for the time that I did. Yours Always, Edward."
I lock my door, turn on my radio and sob until I'm spent.
I recover from my crying jag in time to finish a paper I was writing for a journal and am leaving the office at 5:30 when the receptionist stops me.
"Dr. Troudeau, a Ms. Singletary from Duke faxed something to you," she says handing the papers to me.
"Thanks, Marjorie. I was expecting these." I flip through until I find the signature pages.
I break out in a cold sweat. Dr. James Troudeau had denied Dr. Cullen's request to be included in the clinical trials at least half a dozen times.
I step back into my office, hoping upon hope that Cassie Singletary is still in her office. Pay dirt; she answers.
"Cassie, this is Isabella Troudeau again."
"Hello, Isabella. I trust you got my fax."
"Yes, I did, and thanks. One question: Was it customary for Dr. Boykin to allow James to sign off on clinical trial requests?"
"Typically they both signed. But when Dr. Boykin was out of the country, James was delegated when Dr. Cullen sent his first request through, and he asked me to continue to run any future requests by him from that Physician whenever I received them. Is there a problem, Isabella?"
I don't have words to describe the rage that boils within me. "No, not at all, Cassie. Thanks again."
James has the table set with candles lit when I get home. I leave my purse and briefcase on the island in the kitchen and find him on the patio flipping steaks on the grill. He swoops in to kiss me, but I turn my face and he barely grazes my cheek.
I silently hand him a page that bears his signature on Dr. Cullen's final denied clinical trial request. When he reads it, all the blood drains from his face.
"Why?" I whisper.
"I was still trying to get you to agree to marry me. I knew from what you told me that Edward had participated in risky behaviors. I thought if he was out of the picture, you would finally be free to love me like I love you. I'm so sorry, Isabella."
Then the excruciating reality sinks in. He didn't just deny the request because it was Edward's father, he denied hoping that Edward was one of the patients needing the drug. For the second time in my life, I'm betrayed by a man who professes to love me.
I turn on my heel, pick up my purse, and walk past the romantic table set for two and out of the home I helped build.
At the airport, I'm torn. Should I book a flight for Phoenix where Renee settled after I left for college, or should I call Alice to see if I can stay in her guesthouse for a few days? I look at the board. There's a flight to Dallas leaving in an hour and I can get a connecting flight out from there. The Phoenix flight doesn't leave until nine. I call Alice and choose Dallas.
I call my boss the following day and tell him I'm taking an emergency leave due to a family crisis. Lord knows I have enough leave time accumulated.
Alice and Jasper give me a wide berth and instruct their rambunctious children to do the same. I emerge from the guest house to eat meals with them, and Alice comes in after the children are put to bed each night and we bond like we had at PAA. We're still boarding school girls at heart.
It's Alice who encourages my epiphany.
"Alice, am I just doomed to never be happy?" I ask one night as she's cutting my hair. She's been hinting about my split ends for days.
"Like all of us PAA girls, you and I never had a real family we could trust. Ms. Cope and Irina came the closest, and even they had their human frailties. But we forgave them, because we loved them, more than our very own mothers. No matter what happens with Jasper, I trust him with my life and forgive him. Love overcomes a multitude of sin."
"Why Alice Brandon Whitlock, I guess you were listening during all those church services," I tease. Then I let her words really sink in. "I think you're right."
Had I ever really forgiven Edward for his betrayal? Would I ever be able to forgive James? I didn't know the answer to those questions just yet, but I made a decision. I would stay in Texas until I could figure it out.
"I know I said It'd just be few days, but I think I might take my boss up on his offer to allow me to work out of the lab at the University of Texas and stay for a while."
"Mi casa es su casa, Ma'am," Alice says like a true Texan.
Jasper knocks and we wave him in through the kitchen door.
"Bella, I love you like a sister," he drawls playfully, "but may I please have my wife back?" He throws a sexy gaze at Alice. "I put Alyssa down a half-hour ago and she's finally asleep." Alyssa was their fourteen-month-old.
"Looks like someone's starving for a little attention. Go on you two, keep those home fires stoked."
When my friends leave, I call James. I had been at the Whitlock ranch for three days. He deserves to know where I am and that I'm okay.
"Oh, Bella, sweetheart, I'm so glad you called." His voice is so distorted with emotion he calls me Bella, and he never does that. "I've been worried sick about you..."
"I'm in Texas at Alice and Jasper's ranch," I say. "I'm sorry I worried you. I should have at least let you know where I was going."
"It's okay. You needed time to think. I know my betrayal is in some ways worse than what Cullen did to you."
"He has nothing to do with this. When we became scientists, we both took on the awesome responsibility of always remaining objective. We aren't medical doctors, but the tenet of doing no harm applies to us too. You violated that, and I really don't know how to feel about it. On some level I want to understand your desperation. It remains to be seen if I can."
"I'm so sorry. I'll call Dr. Boykin and confess what I did. I know I can never work in a lab again, but I'll do anything to make this right. I don't want to lose you."
"You should do whatever will help you sleep at night. My ability to forgive you won't be affected either way."
"Next week is Thanksgiving. Do you think you'll be home by then?"
"I've decided to work out of the lab at UT for a while, and tomorrow I'm going to find a psychologist to talk to so I can try to make some sense of my life. I'll call you every few days and update you on my progress."
He sounds defeated. "That's fair enough, I suppose." His voice cracks. "I do love you, Isabella. Contrary to what you may believe right now, I'm not the sum total of the mistake I made."
Rosalie, Emmett, and their family come to Texas for Thanksgiving, and it's the first time I've ever experienced a warm family holiday meal. All of us PAA girls had a version of the same type of holiday growing up—catered meals or sometimes dinner with the help if Mom and Dad were on vacation somewhere.
Emmett and I get a moment alone one night when Jasper retires to his study to do some bookkeeping, while Alice and Rosalie supervise bath time for the children. The television is on, but it's just background noise. We both seem to be deep in thought.
I break the silence. "Have you spoken to Edward since… you know?" I feel compelled to know.
"He asks about you all the time. I've had to talk him out of hopping on a plane several times. He'd actually booked a flight to Seattle last week so I had to tell him you were here. That led to questions about why. He probably would have come here if he knew Jasper a little better."
"I don't want you to lie to him, Emmett. Just tell him the truth."
"He appreciates my updates, but I'm sure he'd like to talk to you himself, if not face-to-face, maybe a phone call will do."
I don't know how to feel about calling Edward. I'm still married to James, even if I was still reeling from his fresh betrayal. "I'm not sure if that's a good idea."
"Okay," Emmett says holding his hands up in surrender. "I'm just making a suggestion. You of all people know how persistent Edward can be. I'd give it another week and he'll be landing at that little airstrip Jasper and Alice call an airport."
"You really think he would do that?"
"What'd he do after the Caius thing? And your graduation?"
I smile in spite of myself. "He showed up."
"None of us knew where you were after Harvard. He took a couple of trips to Cambridge, but was never able to find you, and Renee had moved and left no forwarding address, so we were all stumped until a couple of months ago."
"I didn't want to be found, Em. When I graduated from Harvard, I was offered a position at Duke and I took it, because I couldn't see myself going to Phoenix where Renee was, and I definitely wasn't going back to Forks. It was too difficult being with any of you guys after my history with Edward."
"I've been where you are. Remember that time Rose and I broke up? You want to know what made me go back to her even though I had no guarantees that she was going to straighten up her act?"
"My Dad said to me, 'At what point do you stop torturing yourself, son? You said you love her and don't want to live without her? If there's no one else for you, you need to take the good with the bad and have faith that she'll come around if she loves you the way you think she does.' Bella you can apply that to James or Edward. You're the one with the power right now. You've been fortunate enough to have had two men in your life who love you very much. Admittedly, both are flawed, but only you get to decide which one you can't live without."
"You think he'll stop with the flight-booking if I write him back? I do owe him a letter."
Emmett shrugs, "Maybe. Now, a phone call might carry a bit more weight."
I retreat to the guest house. Edward's letter has been in my purse for weeks. It's dog-eared and crumpled when I take it out. I read it again and my heart seizes, but I don't cry.
I pick up the phone and dial his number.
"Hello?" His voice sounds as young as it did fourteen years ago.
"Nah, it's Anthony… Hold on… Dad!"
I smile as I hear Edward reprimanding his son about his phone answering etiquette.
Then he's on the phone.
"He sounds like you. Does he look like you, too?"
"Bella?… Let me take this in my studio… hold on."
I chuckle. "Okay."
After several seconds, he picks up again and the other phone clicks. "The answer to your question is 'spitting image,' although he has his mother's hair and eye color."
"Emmett and Rosalie are a doting aunt and uncle. I feel like I've already met him."
"He is a handful, but I wouldn't have it any other way."
"Um, Edward I'm sorry I didn't answer your letter. I kind of got caught up in some relationship drama of my own…and, uh…"
"I'm just glad you accepted it and you know what's in my heart. That's never changed. What has changed is my willingness to be open about my secrets. I should have told you everything from the beginning. You didn't deserve the way I handled your heart, and for that I'm truly sorry. I'm also sorry about the trouble in your marriage."
"No more apologizing, please. As I heard recently, we are not the sum of our mistakes."
"Thanks for that.
"Enough with the heavy," I say. "Tell me what's going on with you and your career."
We talk for about an hour and Edward tells me about the operas he's conducting with the Orchestra for the year. He's also writing songs for a couple of major motion pictures, and giving Anthony and his cousins piano lessons when he can. Apparently, it was true. Many of Tanya's relatives resided in New York.
"I wrote an Aria for you for your graduation. I never got to give it to you. If it's okay, I'd like to give it to you at Christmas. Anthony and I will be in Forks at Mom and Dad's for the holidays, and we usually spend a couple of days with Rosalie and Emmett when we're there."
I should tell him that I can't see him at Christmas, but I don't.
I finish isolating and testing a ton of cervical cancer cells while I'm in Texas. I analyze my data and write my next article for the Cell Biology Journal and overnight it to my boss in Seattle. Alice and Jasper drive me to the airport the week before Christmas. I'm going home to my husband.
I don't tell James I'm coming because I don't want him picking me up at the airport. I take a cab, and walk to my door wheeling a suitcase full of clothes I had to buy when I'd left so abruptly.
James is on the sofa passed out amongst copious amounts of empty bottles and take-out containers littering the living room, dining room, and kitchen. I want to be angry but I'm sad for him instead.
I'm sitting in the armchair watching him as he wakes up.
He sits up too suddenly and has to hold his head to steady himself. "Bella… you're here…" His shoulders heave and he begins to cry.
I go to him and hold him as he wets the front of my blouse with his tears. I know he's lost weight because I feel his ribs as I hold him against me.
Later, when he's calmed down, he insists that he'll clean everything up, but I help him anyway. While James is showering, I call Rosalie and ask for the name of someone he can talk to immediately.
I make a late dinner of Fettuccine Alfredo and salad. We eat together, but James's emotions are all over the place. He's barely able to eat a third of his food.
He wants to make love to me and I let him, but sometime during the act, he becomes Edward and I'm sorry that I let him.
Early the next morning, I call Rosalie's friend and make an appointment for James. At eight-thirty when he's about to leave, I stop him at the door.
I give him a slip of paper with the pertinent information. "I made this appointment with someone who could help you. Be there today at 3:00 if you're serious about working things out between us."
"I'm there," he swears, kissing me soundly as he walks happily out the door.
James is late coming home. I call Rosalie's AA friend, but she says he never showed. I've finished dinner when the doorbell rings.
A Seattle police officer is at my door.
In two days, I'm burying my husband. He'd apparently drank through a late lunch that day, gotten behind the wheel of his car to get to his appointment, and was rammed by a student running a red light. The alcohol probably prohibited him from reacting in time.
I go through it all on autopilot. James's parents, Renee, our friends, our colleagues, and all my PAA girls are around me. His mother is not warm when I greet her, but I'm too numb to care. Our relationship will not survive James's death and I'm okay with that.
It's raining when we get to the cemetery. It's only when Alice and Rosalie are ushering me to the car that I see Edward and a young man that can only be his son Anthony, standing under a tree.
I know that it would be wholly inappropriate, but I want to run to him. I want him to hold me and tell me that everything is going to be all right. Instead, I slide into the car with Renee and the driver pulls away.
In that moment, I know that I would have chosen Edward, even if James had lived. I know that I will wait a reasonable amount of time to mourn my husband's death; I will talk to a therapist to finish the process I began in Texas, and I will go to Edward. He has always been my everything, even when I stubbornly wouldn't forgive him; even through marriage to a man I was not in love with.
I will ask him to forgive me for not allowing love to cover over a multitude of sins, and I will let him know that I can't live any longer without him. I will do this because I've squandered fourteen years only to conclude that he's still my world. I will do it because sometimes that's the way of the world.
E/N: After the contest, an epi detailing the sexy reunion may or may not be written. In the meantime, enjoy the lyrics to "That's The Way Of The World."