Age of Edward Contest 2012
Title: Someone Like You
Type of Edward: 1950
Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight and all character names. The plot is the property of the author.
No copyright infringement is intended.
(Thank you to my beta on this story: danna0724. Thanks for pre-reading and giving great feedback!)
The roses were mocking her again. Their voices full of merry derision, ringing around her like twittering birds, calling out, answering back, laughing. Bella eyed the sharpened blade in her hand and then silenced them all with quick and decisive snips. Their severed heads pooled around her gardening shoes, scattering scarlet petals as the buds hit the paving stones.
When she reached the west end of the bungalow and looked back, her mouth fell open in surprise. Her front yard was a massacre of inflorescence.
What am I doing? Is this real?
She looked at the shears again, somehow expecting to see blood, but instead seeing only the slight shine of sap.
This is NOT real. She pocketed the shears and headed back into the house, fighting the urge to run.
This is not real, she told herself again. But the nausea was already upon her.
She fell to her knees in the bathroom, taking deep breaths and fighting back the memories that had only gotten more vivid since the end of the war. She held herself there, motionless, tensed, as a parade of soldiers marched behind her eyes, missing limbs, their faces a blurry mess of gore. They screamed as she used every ounce of strength her small body possessed to hold them down, to hold them still.
Wait, no – not men under her fingers, just this cool porcelain basin.
'Hold her still!' a voice echoed in her mind.
To hold me still. Burns. Melted flesh, shrapnel. Oh my God, the shrapnel.
Bella vomited into the bowl.
A few minutes later, after swishing the sourness from her mouth with Listerine, she was still staring hard into the looking glass over the basin. Her reflection tried reaching out. "Hello Bella, you look tired."
"Thank you, yes, I am tired. And lonely." She answered quietly. "I won't cry today though. Today will be a good day."
The girl in the mirror looked as if she didn't believe any part of that statement. But her gaze wasn't accusatory, just resigned.
Bella made her way into their small kitchen, strapped herself into her favorite apron, neatly smelling of starch, and started assembling the casserole she had planned for this evening's dinner.
It was quiet. Every day was empty.
She tried willing the knot in her throat to unwind, to not turn into a sob. Her neck was beginning to ache with the effort as her fastidious fingers sprinkled cheese into the big Pyrex baking dish. She turned on the oven and stared at its shiny chrome finish. Her distorted image stared back.
I will not cry today.
But it was too late. The tears were already rolling silently down her cheeks as her will crumbled into angry surrender. She sobbed, inhaled and then screamed, slamming her fist against the tile countertop.
The house was unusually warm when Edward quietly pushed open the front door to his Bungalow. He hung his Fedora on the hat rack in the foyer and met his green gaze in the big oval looking glass. He tugged the hair at his brow, took a few deep breaths, and ran his palms along the sides of his head, flattening the wayward strands.
The kitchen was empty, the bar was still. No chilled drink awaited his homecoming, no fragrant dinner, no pampering wife. It seemed like ages since Bella had last met him with a smile and a freshly stirred Manhattan. He opened the window over the sink and the scent of fresh cut roses wafted in.
He eyed the forgotten baking dish on the counter, full of some unappetizing looking glop, and the unwashed utensils and measuring cup in the sink. Some vegetables lay next to a box of Jell-O brand gelatin which sat in an empty mold, also forgotten. Edward grimaced. He felt the heat radiating off the oven and pulled the heavy door open to see its vacant but oppressively hot interior. He sighed and turned the dial to OFF.
Tonight would not be easy. Like most nights anymore.
He ran his fingers through his hair, undoing his earlier effort, and slid out of his suit jacket. He tossed it over the back of a chair and hoisted his suspenders off each shoulder, letting them swing at his hips. Circling around behind the bar, he poured two fingers of Lagavulin in a rocks glass with a splash of water. He stood there a few moments, drink in hand, eyes unfocused, seeing both the passing of years behind him, and this moment. The inevitability of right now.
He downed the scotch and decided to force the issue. Heading back to their bedroom, he passed the framed photos of his sister, their parents, Bella's father, the chief of police, dead now these six years. He came to a stop outside their bedroom door, cracked open just enough for him to see Bella's form in the shadowy interior of the room. She lay in a ball at the foot of their bed, her silken hair obscuring her face. Clutched in her slim fingers was her handkerchief, the fine blue embroidery of her initials peeking out of her grasp.
Guilt. In his chest, like a boa constrictor squeezing the breath out of its prey. Every exhalation allows the deadly coils to grip tighter. He pushed the door open and approached her, bracing for the storm.
He bent and ran a hand over her brow. Her eyes fluttered and then came open.
"Oh!" She sat up suddenly, her unkempt hair flowing dully in her wake. God, she was beautiful. Everything she did, whether it was sane, or insane, resonated with him. His heart had been branded by her, years ago.
"Hello, darling. Did you fall asleep?"
Her huge red rimmed brown eyes flew to the fashion watch dangling on her wrist and her face erupted into an expression of bleak panic.
"Oh no! Is that really the time?" She was on her feet and flying through the bedroom door, scrubbing her hands over her face as she came to a stop in the gleaming kitchen, seeing the uncooked casserole on the counter. Following behind her, Edward watched as her whole countenance slumped in defeat.
"I take it today was not a good day?" Edwards said quietly. He had seen the rose bushes on his way in, naked of their blossoms. He wondered, reluctantly, what the neighbors thought about his eccentric wife. Probably that he should have her committed.
Which was absolutely out of the question.
Her voice is soft. "'My father used to say that if you have nothing nice to say, you should keep your mouth shut." Edward wondered if she was referring to him, but sadly, thinks it's more likely she means the flowers. She turns to look at him. "You're late. Where have you been?"
Edward rubbed his palm along the back of his neck, pondering tonight's angle. From here it wouldn't matter what he said. He could take a gentle understanding approach, or give her a stern husbandly reprimand for her lackadaisical attitude toward his dinner. More likely he would try for gentle and end up exasperated. Whatever he said would be wrong.
"I was at the club with Emmett. Don't worry about dinner, I've eaten." He began to loosen and pull off his tie.
"You… you already ate?" Their gazes met. Green to brown. Moss and chocolate.
Bella walked over to him purposefully and inhaled deeply through her nose. "You smell of Shalimar."
"Bella – YOU wear Shalimar."
"Not since Christmas, when you gave me the Miss Dior Cherie."
"And you wear that?" She didn't. It was gathering dust on her vanity.
"Sometimes." She whispered.
"Sometimes. Like when you have dinner ready on time? Sometimes." His tone was annoyed, and he was already regretting it, but then he thought of Maribel. Her warm mouth, her warm welcoming body. Just get through this, he told himself.
Fire flashed in Bella's eyes, cocoa turned to steel. "You scarcely take meals here anymore. Honestly, Edward, I don't know why I bother."
"Bella love, you DON'T bother."
And then he watched the steel melt into pain as Bella grabbed the heavy crystal ashtray from the dining room table. Edward ducked as it flew past him. Maybe he shouldn't be provoking her, but the sooner he got through this… charade… the sooner he could see Maribel. The ashtray shattered against the wall as Bella looked around frantically, desperate for something else to throw at him. A spoon from the set table hurtled past his ear, followed by a plate, knife, fork, and the napkin which just fluttered pathetically to the floor in front of her. She watched it with an almost bewildered expression. Then, in an utterly childlike display of tantrum, she grasped the back of the dining room chair and tipped it backwards. The steel frame clattered against the linoleum before her. Her face was angry and cheeks were pink. She swayed and Edward knew she would be the next thing to hit the floor.
He took two quick strides forward, hunching down to catch her as she collapsed. He released a long held breath. Well that was quick, and she went down relatively easy. Thank God.
There she was, glowing like an angel under the hanging lamp above. Her pin curls perfectly set, waving softly around her face. Edward drank her in as he closed the distance between them and pushed his nose into her hair. Shalimar, Lux, and Lustre-cream. Divinity. His heart stammered as her eyes met his, absolutely bewitching. Full of playful delight and sly seduction. No tired judgment, just warmth, and wanting.
"I didn't think you would be here tonight," he said, plucking the Lucky Strike from her finger tips and grinding it out in the empty glass at her elbow. She pouted at him, but it was halfhearted. Her eyes were still smiling.
"Of course, darling. I've been waiting for you." He ran a hand up her arm, enjoying the texture of her silky blue blouse, skimming the slim shoulder beneath. Her lips were matte red, her lightly freckled face wore a concerned expression. "Did your wife give you trouble again?"
He nodded solemnly without breaking eye contact. "I don't know what to do. She is getting worse." Edward paused before going on. "And she suspects."
"Us." Edward confirmed and then filled his mouth with hers. It tasted like smoke and whisky, rich and hot. He lost himself in the kiss, deepening it, as she placed her hands on his hips and pulled her body flush to his.
She was breathless when she broke away and said, "Divorce her."
Edward groaned into her hair. "You know I can't. I won't. She isn't well. She can't manage without me."
Maribel pushed against Edward's chest and looked up at him with imploring brown eyes. "Doesn't she have any family? Siblings?"
"She has no one. Only me. And I made vows, Mari. I'm not sorry about it." He brushed her jaw with his thumb, "I told you, this is all I have to give. You said it was enough."
He searched her beautiful upturned face, her mouth swollen from his kiss, one brow arched slightly higher than the other. Her thick lashes swept down, forming big crescent shaped shadows on her cheeks. Hiding her eyes hid her feelings. "It's enough, Edward. I won't bring it up again."
"You know I love you. Since the day we met. It's you and no one else." He hoped that she felt his sincerity.
"No one else?"
He shook his head. "Only you."
Emmett McCarty handed Edward a brandy highball and leaned back against the bar in his office. Miss Stanley had just escorted a client out, and Emmett was wiggling his eyebrows suggestively at Edward, referring wordlessly to their mutual secretary's ample cleavage. Edward just chuckled.
Emmett lit a cigarette and offered one to Edward. He declined.
"Such a wet rag, Eddie. My doctor recommended this brand." Emmett blew a ring of smoke towards the ceiling. "It is so smooth."
"I just don't buy that those things are good for you." Edward sipped his drink. "How is Rosie?"
"Great. Emmett Jr. is keeping her busy. But, damn if I didn't marry the foxiest doll in all Christendom. Pregnancy didn't hurt her figure one bit."
"You are a lucky man."
"That I am, indeed." Emmett swirled his drink and grinned his big self-satisfied smile. "She is talking about a BBQ for the 4th. Do you and Bella have plans?"
Edward remained quiet. Whether or not they came would depend heavily on Bella's mental state that day. Emmett knew a little bit about Edward's struggles at home, not the whole story, but some of it. Edward knew that his frustration with Bella was often apparent, but he tried to keep the reasons vague. His wife wasn't all there, and that wasn't something you talked about with your business partner.
"Well, keep it open, Ed. I will let Rose know that you two are a MAYBE." Emmett paused. "How are things with Maribel?"
Edward allowed himself his own self-satisfied smile. "Incredible. I saw her last night, in fact."
"Ah, that explains the shit-eating grin this morning. But hey man, I don't mean to be a downer, but - you're being careful? You know? The last thing you need is an illegitimate Edward Jr."
Edward clinked his glass against his partners. "No need to worry."
Emmett smiled conspiratorially. "Sounds good man. Would love to meet her one day."
"We'll see." Edward replied neutrally, but his internal response was a lot different. That would never happen.
Just like a bastard born of carelessness.
Maribel was incapable of having children. It didn't seem to bother her much. When they had discussed it, her laugh had bubbled out of her like frothy champagne, light and airy, and her cavalier response had surprised him. "No brats for me." She had patted her navel lovingly and said "Durn thing got broke. In the war effort, darling."
We all made sacrifices, she'd said.
"You don't want to be a mother?" He had asked.
"No, of course I do. And one day I will be. I'm thinking about adoption. The asylums are full of children that need a home." Another truth. But a woman like Mari probably wouldn't be allowed to adopt. He didn't mention it.
He had met Maribel for the first time in 1946, shortly after his return from Europe where he had been deployed with the 13th Armored Division. He would never forget the first time he had seen her, standing near the bar at a dinner party, sipping a cocktail and waving a cigarette in a holder as she spoke. Her dark hair had been swept back over one shoulder, exposed in a sleeveless evening gown and glowing like polished ivory. When her twinkling gaze had landed upon him a knowing smile had appeared on her darkened mouth. The implication had drawn him in, like a fish on a line. That was exactly how he had felt when he had found himself mere inches from her without recall of ever moving. Like he had been reeled in and was floundering without air in some otherworldly reality.
"Hello." It was more of a breath than a word, as his hungry eyes had feasted upon her fragile yet resilient face.
His sudden proximity had obviously startled her, her sensuous smile turned cordial. "I'm sorry, have we met?"
"Perhaps not," he replied, "let's rectify that, shall we?"
From there it had been effortless. He had shared her company for the rest of that evening, and then again a couple of weeks later at a similar event. She frequented the dinner club near his house and they began to rendezvous there, sporadically, then often. She knew from the beginning that he was married, but she seldom questioned him about his wife or his life at home. He avoided questioning her about her life either. He didn't want to know. When they were together, nothing else existed.
Their passion grew and began eclipsing other things. Edward found himself pushing Bella away, justifying his insatiable hunger for his mistress. Insatiable, even after years of incandescent meeting.
He couldn't stop.
Neither could she.
Her eyes reflected his perfection, her body was his escape.
Now, back in his office, Edward stared hard at the portrait of Bella he kept on his desk. A picture of happier times. She was looking back at the camera over one shoulder, her small veil lifted back over her bonnet. Her smile was huge, but her eyes were sad. Bella's eyes were always sad.
They had married in the tumultuous days of 1942 as the US geared up for war, and had enjoyed a short time together before being separated by his deployment. His parents had arranged the small wedding at Black Orchards, and the two of them had "honeymooned" at the Mayflower Park Hotel in downtown Seattle. He smiled at the memory of Bella, newly his wife, tripping over the hem of her nightgown and stumbling straight into his arms.
"Thank you for catching me," she had whispered up at him.
"Always, Bella. I will always catch you."
He had meant it, then. He drained his glass and tried to focus on work.
When Alice pushed open the door to Edward's bungalow, Bella was there, furiously winding up the cord to her Hoover, her tangled hair wild about her face. Her dress was clean and neatly pressed, but it hung like a farce on her too thin frame. Alice could easily see that the woman underneath was coming unraveled.
"Oh Alice," Bella exclaimed in a rush, "I'm so glad you're here." Alice was suddenly caught up in a violent hug as Bella, seemingly near tears, started gushing about "right and wrong, but mostly wrong." She untangled herself from Bella's manic grip and shushed her.
"Bella, honey, it will be ok. Let's take things one at a time, hmmm? Start by graciously welcoming me into your home and then offer to fix me a Vodka Collins."
Alice pulled off her gloves and sunhat and laid them on the foyer table. A determined Bella eagerly gestured towards the sitting room. Alice watched her, saw the effort she was making to slow herself down, to breathe. Alice perched on one of the chairs and straightened the voluminous skirt of her Dior dress. Time for project Isabella, she thought, studying the pale distracted face of her best friend.
Alice and Bella had been next door neighbors and best friends growing up in Maple Leaf, a suburb of Seattle. When Bella had married Alice's older brother Edward, they had become more than that; they had become family. Bella had always been odd, but Alice, being a bit odd herself, had never much minded, and she was one of the few people who could really help Bella when she seemed to be slipping.
In her childhood she hadn't been so bad. Her youth and adolescence had been marked by periods of prolonged silences, crippling melancholy, and self-imposed isolation. Bella struggled to relate to most of their classmates, she was a wallflower, mostly ignored, and she preferred it that way. Alice and Edward were the only real friends she had.
Then came the horrible war, and Bella had been getting worse ever since. She probably should not have gone with Alice into the US Army Nurse Corps, but at the time Bella had made a strong argument against staying back in the States alone.
"I can't, Alice. I can't sit here day in and day out, waiting for a telegram. I can't be here alone. You and Edward can't just LEAVE me here. Please. I can be helpful. I can be useful!" And Bella could be useful. She was as tender as a baby deer, her fingers efficient yet gentle, her bedside manner the warmest and most genuine Alice had ever seen. She did some of her best communicating with those in the grip of fever or fear. Her voice was an analgesic, her presence a comfort. Wounded soldiers flooded the makeshift hospitals, shells fell around them, Bella stayed focused.
Maybe she had seen too much death, experienced too much terror.
In 1945 she was aboard a hospital ship accompanying a group of wounded men being transported when it was attacked by German bombers. The ship sank, and Bella came home with a network of sutures across her abdomen and hip. Shrapnel.
She came home scarred, body and soul.
When the news had come out about the death camps, Bella had suffered terribly. "I lost so much, but not as much as some." She had sobbed into Alice's chest. "How can people be so cruel, Alice?" Alice had no answer.
Her poor tender heart had been crushed beneath the boot of the Nazi regime, and Alice wondered if she would ever recover.
And here she sat, still wondering, four years later. Shock therapy treatments recommended by the family physician had only made her worse. Edward had ended the treatments after only a few sessions, disgusted at the disassociated look in Bella's glazed eyes. Nothing had been tried since, and Bella was obviously in a downward spiral.
"Mmmmm Bella, this drink is perfect. "Now then, tell me what is the matter?"
She had dark circles under her weary eyes, her attempt at rouge this morning looked pathetic. "I'm not all here, Alice."
Not all here? That was new. "What do you mean?"
"I mean. I don't know where I am. But I'm not HERE. I lose things, I lose time. And, I'm losing Edward." There was panic in her voice.
"He is done with me. Pushing me away. I think he has found… someone… else. He is always at the club or with Emmett. He golfs until sundown, he dines away. And when he IS here, I… I… don't make it very pleasant for him." Her eyes were downcast, her whole body radiating shame. "He is going to leave me."
Oh dear, indeed.
"Bellaaaaa. My brother loves you. You know that."
Her brown head just shook slowly. "Not anymore." She spoke to her lap before looking back up at Alice, her eyes brimming. "I have to be better. Please help me."
Alice considered Bella's plea. She knew she could help. The little things went a long way with Bella. She just needed someone to keep her grounded, someone to fill her silent days with something real.
"I was just thinking to myself yesterday how dreary and boring my afternoons are. What if I come 'round and visit for a little while every day, just for a bit? But you have to agree to let me test some of my new Avon color palettes out on you."
Bella nodded. "Are you sure? I know it's asking for a lot…"
"No it isn't, Bella. You and I could both use the company - this place must be quiet as the grave most of the time. It will be fun, hmmm? Should we start today? I have all my Avon in the car." Avon was Alice's secret weapon.
"Yes, please, but before we do that, there is something I need to ask." Her face was stark, hesitancy in her eyes. "I need to know – who is she?"
"Find out for me?"
"Bella, I don't think…"
"You're wrong," Bella interrupted, shaking her head. "Promise me."
Bella had reached for Alice's hands and was gripping them tightly, as if holding herself in place. Alice sighed. Getting involved in her brother's infidelity was a bad idea. "If I do promise to look into it, how will that help you?"
There was a glint in Bella's eyes that made Alice's breath catch in her throat.
"I need to know," was all Bella said in response, her voice tight and malevolent. Eerie.
Bella couldn't be dangerous, Alice reasoned. She trapped spiders in a mason jar and set them free outside for heaven's sake. She was incapable of inflicting pain, yet here she sat, looking as if she wanted to crush the life out of something with her bare hands.
Edward looked at his wife, curled up on the sofa asleep. Her fine boned feet were tucked underneath her, her T-Strap sandals discarded next to the coffee table. Her dark hair had been set and fell to one side in lustrous waves. Life magazine lay open at her side.
Her nails had been polished, her mouth was rosy and her lashes darker than usual. The Manhattan he craved sat on a tray upon the bar in a circle of condensation. From this position he could also see the dining room table, laid out with her best service, the food still waiting to be served, stone cold. Two tapered candles had been reduced to a puddle of cold congealed wax.
He suddenly remembered a hasty message from Miss Stanley as he left the office. "Mr. Cullen, Mrs. Cullen just telephoned to confirm that you will be home for dinner. Should I ring her back with an affirmative?" He had just given an absentminded nod as he strode out, and now he was hours late. He'd dallied at the club, putting off going out into the rainy evening, putting off going home. He hadn't even telephoned. Guilt squeezed his chest again.
He stooped down and looked at her. She looked so small, so ethereally beautiful. Edward had been in love with her as long as he could remember. Through college, through the war. In sickness and in health. But mostly in sickness.
He gently gathered her into his arms and carried her to their bedroom. He laid her gingerly on the coverlet, removed his dress shirt and shoes, and sat down beside her, pulling her to him. She rolled towards him and he looked down, directly into her watchful eyes. They were glossy and apologetic.
"I'm sorry," she said quietly. Her apology made him feel like the biggest ass, bar none.
"Shh, doll. You have nothing to be sorry for." And that was true. He was the selfish bastard in this equation.
She sat upright. It was plain the effort she was making. Her pearls were clasped around her neck and she smelled of Miss Dior. He really preferred Shalimar, but Miss Dior Cherie was pleasant enough. He eyed her soft décolletage and felt himself stir. Like Pavlov's dog, he thought to himself. His reaction to her was always intense, it didn't matter what scent she was wearing. He cupped her jaw with one hand, wanting to kiss her. Wanting her to kiss him back.
"I do. I do have things to be sorry for. The ashtray, and the, well, the casserole yesterday. And. And most days."
This was when he was supposed to return the apology, but it stuck in his throat. He was sorry, but he couldn't name exactly what for. I'm sorry that you are crazy? I'm sorry that you push me away? I'm sorry that I push you away? He had no words.
Instead, he kissed her, full and demanding. She whimpered in surprise as he clasped the nape of her neck, keeping her from escaping. The pressure of her head against his hand eased as she stopped pulling away and gave in. Her body softened, melted into his, and the touch of her tongue sent a spear of desire ripping through his midsection and into his groin. Bella's fluttering fingers found purchase in his hair as he growled into her mouth. The skin of his neck ignited under her touch, sending heat radiating across his skull and in to his face. His hairline burned. Want became need, mindless prepossessing hunger, something powerful and alive, pulsing between him and his wife alone.
One hand moved to cover her breast, he palmed its slight weight and ran his thumb just inside the fabric of her dress, grazing the flesh underneath. She gasped into his mouth, which fed his ardor like flame to tinder. His cock was straining against his trousers, and the thought of it buried inside her body made him ache.
God, Bella. His Bella. He kissed her neck and pulled her closer. His hand slid from her breast to the hem of her dress, tracing the curve of her body on its way. He hesitantly ran his fingers along her thigh where her flesh was squeezed by the abrupt end of her stocking. He could feel the clip that extended down from her corset and the heat that beckoned him, mere inches from his exploring hand.
His mind stuttered over one word. Please. Please. Like a skipping phonograph, please, please, please, he begged silently, as his thumb traced the soft flesh of her heated sex through damp panties. He devoured her involuntary whimpers, and choked back his own possessive growls.
He clasped her hand and brought it to the swell in his trousers. He reflexively kneaded himself against her touch, but when he released her hand she was gone. He opened his eyes to see hers overflowing. She was backing slowly from his embrace.
"Bella, no." he pleaded. He couldn't let her get away.
She was breathing heavily, her breasts rising and falling underneath her bodice. She gripped the bed to steady her backwards retreat. Oh great, she is going to run again. Edward reached for her wrist to pull her back onto his lap but she saw his intent and was out of reach in an instant.
Maybe it was lust, or maybe it was impatience, but his, "Damn it, Bella!" sounded far harsher than he actually felt. "I'm your husband and I want you," he continued tersely, "I'm not going to hurt you."
"I'm sorry," she shook her head.
"It's OK. Now get. Back. Here." His voice was slow and even. He pointed down at the bed to emphasize what he meant by 'back here.' His green eyes blazed.
She squared her shoulders. "Are you sleeping with someone else?" Her voice quavered.
He met her accusatory gaze. "No."
"Liar," she hissed and fled the room. Edward heard the front door slam as she sought her solace in the downpour outside.
Edward made a frustrated fist and pounded it against the mattress. The caveman part of his brain told him to go after her and drag her to his bed. She was small, he was strong. She was his wife, she belonged to him.
MINE, his brainstem persisted. Mine.
If he could just get his hands on her, he could change her mind. Turn her reticence to desire. Turn no to yes. He blew his hair out of his face and headed into the en suite bath, slamming the door behind him. He could never force Bella to do something she didn't want to do.
And the fact that she didn't want him, hurt. A lot, in fact.
He reasoned that her rejection was part of what drove him to Maribel. The guilty coil around his chest relaxed a bit. He was a man after all.
He stuffed the shower curtain into the tub and opened the hot water spigot. The bathroom filled with steam as he set a can of Barbasol on the counter with his shaving kit. He stripped. Undershirt, sock garters and socks, trousers with suspenders, all folded neatly and set on the rack. Finally, his under shorts joined the stack and he stepped under the hot stream.
It won't take long, he thought, as images of Bella with her dress pushed up filled his thoughts. Those stockings, and taking them off, and opening her dress. Her, sprawled out underneath him, hot and panting, or pulling her down onto his cock, penetrating her molten center, the look on her face as he pushed in to her. The feel of her clenching all around him as he manipulated her over the edge and into her orgasm. Her mouth saying things like "yes" and "please," and "now."
He braced himself with one hand against the wall in front of him as he came in three abrupt streams. He watched, trembling, as the viscous fluid circled the drain and then disappeared.
He stood like that for a few moments, recovering, contemplating. Bella, it was always Bella.
He scrubbed, rinsed, lingered, and then shut off the tap and pulled back the curtain. He was surprised to see Bella sitting on the closed toilet, watching him. Shit, how long had she been in here?
Her hair hung heavy with damp and her dress lay in a soggy heap next to the heating element. She was in her Roussel corset, those stockings exposed in all their glory, her eyes a dark smeary mess of runaway mascara. Edward grabbed the towel to hide his returning arousal.
She stood and told him to sit. He saw then that she was holding his straight edge razor and brush. He froze for an instant, unsure if it was wise to let his addled wife at his throat with sharp implements, but Bella didn't have a violent bone in her body. She couldn't even rip a Band-Aid off someone without herself shedding tears.
He tucked his towel neatly around his hips and sat on the john facing her, looking up into her face. She had done this before, but not for a long time.
With a frothy hiss she dispensed the Barbasol into the bowl and then brushed it in little circles over the scruff of beard covering his jaw, and up over his cheeks. He pursed his lips in readiness as she swept the brush over his mouth. When she finished and laid the brush on the counter, he smiled up at her. One side of her mouth quirked up, and there was the faintest glimmer of amusement in her eyes as she flicked open the razor and leaned in.
His heart stammered at that tiny smile. Encouraged, he reached out and cupped the back of her calf as she deftly ran the razor over his cheek with her feather light touch.
The only sound in the room was the scrubby sound of stropped steel carving away his two day old beard, until she broke the silence with a question, asked in a small voice.
"Do you remember when you asked me to marry you?" She tapped the razor on the bowl of the sink, he nodded.
"Of course." Scruffffffff, more stubble gone.
"And what did I say to you, that day?"
He swallowed. "You said 'no'."
"Do you remember why?"
He would never forget.
It was during the summer recess before his final year of school. He was home in Maple Leaf and had been scheming about how to get into a situation where he could kiss Isabella Swan. He had finally managed a twilight stroll through Black Orchard. Her hair had been shorter then, and the finger waves around her face kept catching a gleam from the dying sun, giving her a glowy halo. They had stopped at a small rocky outcropping and Bella was laughing. After a pause, Bella's face became serious and she said, "Well?"
"Are you going to kiss me, Edward?" The expression on her face in that moment lit his blood on fire. The fire raged hotter as he leaned in and brushed his mouth against hers. He was reminded of the Tesla coil he had once seen at a science fair, but now the crackling snap of white lightning twisted between his body and Bella's. When he had pulled her in close, fitting her body against his, he knew. He had to have her forever.
"Marry me, Bella."
Her fingers were splayed in the hair at his collar, and her eyes had searched his for a long moment, before she sighed and pulled out of his embrace.
"I can't marry you."
"Yes you can, say you will, and I will speak with Chief Swan this very evening."
She shook her head. "I won't."
"You deserve better. Go get yourself a girls-school girl, with a talent for fashion. Go get yourself a real wife, a good one. One that will impress your future boss with her wit and her cooking."
"I don't want a Macy's store mannequin like that, Bella Swan. I just want you. Future bosses be damned"
She looked contemplative for a moment before she murmured, "My name is misleading, really. I am no swan, just a flightless bird, Edward, earthbound. Someone like me will only drag you down."
"Peacocks are flightless, and look how beautiful they are."
She laughed. "Peacocks are male, silly."
He laughed too. "Well I definitely don't want one of those then."
"That college you go to must not be as good as you think, considering you didn't know that. They also fly, sort of."
"Bella, say YES." He pleaded.
"I am in love with you." He persisted.
"That makes no sense," she replied. "It doesn't make sense for you to love me. I'm… nothing. Worse, I'm a handful of nothing."
"Bella, you… are everything."
But still she resisted.
He spoke with Chief Swan anyway, who had given him a look that said, "Are you crazy, boy?"
"My daughter, is… well… she needs… well, you know." He had stopped abruptly, apparently not wanting to give voice to exactly what was wrong with Bella. "You know that, right, Edward?"
"Yes sir. I promise to care for Bella forever, sir."
"You love her?"
"I do. Very much."
"Son, I like to think you know my daughter pretty well, with your sister and her being close like they are, I'm pretty sure you know also what it means to marry Bella. It means patience, enduring patience. She's pretty good most of the time, but every marriage has its tests. Yours, probably even more so. It's not always going to be easy. You may regret it, one day. I hope not, and I hate saying this kind of thing, but it needs saying. She's damaged, no doubt. I think you can handle that, frankly, I wouldn't say yes if I didn't. But know this too, I will be watching. And you will answer to me if that child hurts in any way. You understand?"
Edward had nodded and answered together, "Yes sir."
"Okay then. I believe we are clear on the matter." He stroked his dark mustache. "Now you just gotta convince her. Good luck."
It had taken a year. He wrote her letters like he ate his breakfast, every day without fail. Always, he would sign the bottom:
Edward A. Cullen
Responses came daily. Her signature each time:
Isabella M. Swan
He came home for Christmas. He trapped her under the mistletoe and peppered her face with boisterous kisses, again and again, until one day when they were alone, and he caught her chin and plundered her mouth with his. The feel of her answering tongue in his mouth made the skin around his neck flush hot and his groin tighten. He backed her into the corner and pressed his heat against her. He forced himself to think of Joe DiMaggio's hitting streak and then mentally ran through sheet music for Clair De Lune to try to keep from exploding against his own fly. He had pulled back sharply when they heard the back door open and Alice's bubbly voice call his name.
"Say yes," he panted.
"Stop asking," she had panted back.
She accompanied him to the train station when he left. He slipped his hands inside her muff and slyly slid a small ring onto her finger.
"Be my wife, Bella."
"Be reasonable, Edward." Her cheeks were pink and she had snow in her hair.
The ring came back to him in a letter 3 days later.
Days passed and then he was back for Easter and it was the same thing all over again.
"I will never give up." He proclaimed one day
"I will never give in." She had answered.
But he thought, maybe, she would.
He was back in June, right before his birthday, a college graduate, brimming with pride and new determination. He pulled his bags out of the Lincoln and caught movement in the window of the Swan residence next door. Bella was home.
The gesture from his father could only be interpreted one way. Go get her.
His good cheer hit the wall of her silence. She opened the door, saw him, and then closed it on his broad smile.
She wouldn't talk to him, she wouldn't come out. That day and the next. And the next week. Alice would disappear for hours and when Edward asked, she simply said, "Bella doesn't think it's a good idea to see you right now."
He ached inside. She was keeping her distance.
On an overcast day in July, he had seen her over the fence, sitting on the swing that hung from the oak in the Swan backyard. She was staring at his bedroom window and even from that distance he could see the glossy shine of the tears in her eyes.
There was a gap in the fence between their houses that they had always used as kids, and he slipped quietly through it. He thought that she hadn't seen him but she had. "Welcome home, Edward," she said without turning to look at him.
He pulled her off the swing and into his lap under the oak tree. She leaned her head against his shoulder and they sat for a long time. Neither of them spoke.
Eventually, the unseasonable cloud cover gave way to a summer storm. As drops started plinking into the grass beyond the canopy of branches protecting them, he decided it was time.
"I love you, Bella."
"I will always love you. I know you think, in that beautiful whacky brain of yours, that you aren't good enough for me. Which is just… ridiculous." She straightened and looked at him. He swept a lock of her hair back behind her ear so that he could see her face.
"I've gotten my orders. I'm headed to Camp Beale at the end of summer."
Her eyes were huge.
"Tell me that you don't love me, Bella. Tell me, and I promise, I won't ask you about marriage again."
The rain was falling steadily around them.
"I can't do that." She finally said. The relief felt like menthol injected into his veins, head to foot, cool.
Then, like a cat, she was on her feet and running. Running away, he thought. But she loved him, she had admitted it, and he could wait.
Hours later he made his way up to his bedroom where he came face to face with a very wet, very emotional Bella Swan. Her summer dress clung to her all over and her hair hung about her face in dripping rivulets.
"You love me?" She accused.
"Forever," he replied
"You want me?"
"You are a fool."
He was about to pull his coverlet from the bed to wrap her in it when her voice came again.
"Ruin me, Edward. Right now. So that I can't say no to you anymore." She blurted, and then softly ended with, "It's the only chance I'm going to give you."
She started unbuttoning her dress. One flap fell to the side, and Edward could clearly see the dark pucker of her nipple through the thin wet material of her chemise. Eight buttons, nine. Ten, and Edward was still frozen. Eleven buttons, twelve. Maybe another man, a better man, would have stopped her. He was powerless to.
She had said that this would be his only chance. He took it. He took her.
She wept, she said yes, he married her.
He never regretted it.
And now he sat looking up at her as she scraped the razor against his throat.
"I remember, you silly little fool, that you thought I deserved better." He squeezed her calf as she tapped the razor against the basin.
"It was true then. Even more so, now." Her voice was a whisper. She placed the edge of the razor against his jugular. He tilted his head slightly to give her a clean line. "So much blood, pumping, just under the skin. Just there. Into your brain and then back to your heart." He felt pressure from the blade as he watched her swallow.
Scruffffffffffff. Another clean stripe in the cream.
Her eyes swept to his. "Do you want to divorce me, Edward?"
"No. Never." His answer was immediate. And then he laughed. "Even if I did, I certainly wouldn't admit to it while you are holding a straight edge in your hand."
He'd meant it as a joke, but she obviously didn't take it that way. What looked like an involuntary spasm of her arm resulted in the opening of her fist. The blade fell, bounced once, and skittered on the floor tiles.
He watched it spin a couple of times and come to a stop. Bella stood before him with one hand held open, and he reached up and threaded his fingers through hers.
"No, Bella. Never." He said again.
"You could," – she seemed to choke a little on her words – "you could, have me institutionalized."
He stared at her, dumbstruck.
"Then, you could be free. Maybe I would," – another break – "get better."
He pulled her roughly into his embrace. She fell haphazardly into his lap as he wound one hand through her hair and the other around her back.
"Never say that to me again. I won't hear of it, understand? Never even think it, Bella."
"I trapped you. I knew it was wrong, but I did it anyway. And now look at us."
He pulled back from her and looked into her face. "There is nothing wrong with us, that we can't deal with."
"You are rarely here, Edward. And I'm… I'm rarely here either. I am so lost." The guilt was back again. How could he think that she could handle the neglect and the provocation that he had been dealing out in equal measure?
Now it was time for his apology. And it came from his soul. "Bella, I am so sorry for my absence lately. Sometimes, it's just easier to stay away. I thought maybe it was easier for you too…" That's a pathetic excuse, he thought. He knew it wasn't easier, not for Bella. She was shaking her head slowly as she got back to her feet. She wiped his face with a towel and then picked up his comb.
"Not easier, for me, not. But I understand, for you." She dragged the comb through his thick bronze hair, working it back, away from his face. Oh Bella, trying to be the supportive wife despite it all. He sighed.
"You don't need to get better, kitten. I do. I will be home for dinner tomorrow night, have it ready at seven."
She nodded solemnly.
"And Mrs. McCarty is having a 4th of July BBQ and we've been invited. You should make those finger sandwiches with the cucumbers."
He could tell by the look on her face that she did not think that was a good idea at all. He smiled encouragingly. "It will be fine, Bella. Just fine. We will take it one day at a time. All right?"
"All right," she agreed slowly.
Bella stood in the thick sunshine of late morning, staring hard at her rose bushes, denuded of their blossoms. Her hand was in her apron pocket turning a delicate Zippo lighter around and around. She had pulled it out of a pair of slacks that morning and the inscription on it had knocked the breath from her body.
All my love.
She'd slumped against the washing machine and just stared at the thing for a full twenty minutes. Everything around her had swirled into nonsense at the sight of those etched words.
It only confirmed what she had already known in her heart. But despite that, the pain that had exploded inside her chest had doubled her over, incapacitating her. As the feeling intensified, the room around her swam.
Is this real? She pressed one hand to her face. Am I real?
She'd marched outside and stared at the front of their bungalow, so content looking. So empty. All that silence, every day. All that screaming.
I am crazy.
She pulled out the lighter and read it again. The desperation churned inside her ribcage as the adrenalin pulsed just inside her skull.
She knew now, for sure. And she knew what she had to do. Could she do it? Could she keep it together long enough?
She went back inside.
Edward had just finished penciling notes on ad copy for a client when his phone buzzed and Miss Stanley announced Mrs. Jasper Whitlock to see him.
"Send her in, Jessica. Thanks."
Alice came in and shut his office door behind her. She was wearing the most ostentatious hat Edward had ever seen. "Good God, Alice. What is that on your head?"
"Oh Edward, its Haute Couture, get with it."
Alice rolled her eyes. "It's French. I got it-"
Edward held up his hand. "Say no more."
"It keeps the sun off of my face," she reasoned.
Edward stood and made toward the bar. "Drink?"
"Scotch and soda. Just a splash though."
He handed her the glass, sat back down with his own, and quirked an eyebrow at her. He had a pretty good idea of why she was here.
"Have you come to lecture me?"
"Yes, actually. Where were you last night?"
"Home, with my wife. Where were you?" Edward asked her in a light playful manner.
"I was at your house until almost 8:30, guess who wasn't there."
He pretended to think about it. "Me?"
"Bella asked me to find out who you're sleeping with. Not, if you were sleeping with somebody else, but WHO she is. She's convinced of your infidelity. You have to stop this."
"Alice, this is not your business. Stop meddling in my marriage."
"Wrong, brother. Bella is my business, she always has been, and what you are doing is driving her to madness."
Edward ran a hand through his coiffure leaving several strands disarrayed.
"What would you have me do, hmmm?"
"Tell her, just tell her the truth. And go from there."
"Tell her? Are you serious?"
"She can handle it. It would be better if she knew."
Edward leaned forward and looked straight into his sister's adamant eyes. "Alice, Bella can't handle getting a fucking casserole into the oven. Non compos mentis, dear sister. Remember?"
"She can… and what I'm telling you, dear brother, is that you MUST tell her. Immediately. Or I will."
Edward just stared at his sister.
"Now isn't a good time. She isn't doing well, lately."
"Actually, Bella isn't that bad right now. She is reacting more to your behavior than anything. She's unraveling because she thinks that she is losing you. You are provoking this, you are pushing her away on purpose. That is what Bella cannot handle. I'm serious. Because here is the thing, she isn't BLAMING YOU. She is blaming herself. You can't let it go on. Edward, it's cruel."
He sat back in his chair. The burden of this whole situation suddenly felt intolerable.
"I can't lose Maribel," he finally said, honestly.
Alice's eyes were shining and fierce. She leaned forward and placed an envelope of photos in his hand. "Maybe these will help you. I'm sorry, Edward, but you married Bella. She has to come first."
He felt tears prick at the corners of his own eyes. He had come to more or less the same conclusion last night. But somehow, in the light of day, it hadn't seemed as critical for him to actually choose. He just had to be more attentive to his wife. More present.
"Either I am unfair to Bella, or I am unfair to myself. Is that how it is?"
"I don't see it that way. But if you DO, well, that IS unfortunate." Alice was quiet a moment. "Look at it this way. You can deal with the unfairness, because you ARE compos mentis. She cannot. What happens when she completely breaks down? Then you lose everything."
Edward stared at his wedding photo. "I love her so much, Alice."
"Both of them."
It was just before seven, and the table was set, once again with Bella's finest service. There was coffee bubbling in a pot on the stove and dinner was warm in the oven. Alice had brought over ingredients for a salad when she visited this afternoon and Bella had tossed it with light dressing. The air was fragrant with the smell of garlic, and an ice cold Manhattan was waiting on the tray.
Alice had done Bella's hair in a very sophisticated style, then lightly powdered and rouged her face. Bella had laughed gaily as Alice complained about Jasper's lack of appreciation for fashion. Bella had made some lighthearted jokes herself. It was amazing how together she could be sometimes.
Bella had told her she needn't wait around, like she had last night, and Alice departed with a quick kiss-kiss to each of Bella's lightly freckled cheeks, and a brazen wink of encouragement.
"You're doing great, Bells. And that dress – woohoo! Edward won't know what hit him."
Bella had smiled and waved as Alice pulled out and then she closed the door and sat at their baby grand piano. She let her hands drift over the keys. Before she realized that she had decided to, she was playing.
Edward came home to a house full of music. He could hear the tinkling of the piano from outside and he peeked through the front window. Was it Bella?
Yes. She was swaying slightly as her graceful fingers tapped out Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. He just stood watching until she came to the end and twisted her head to look at her watch.
He pushed open the door and she spun on the bench to face him. She smiled.
With her whole face.
With all of her.
A big radiant smile that he answered in kind.
Then he was standing next to her, bending forward to kiss her cheek.
"You look amazing." He said, and she glowed in her demure way.
"Alice helped me make Italiano for dinner. Are you hungry?"
She clapped her hands together. "Excellent! I've been sitting here dreaming of garlic bread for an hour. So much so that I had to write a song about our eventual pairing." Her eyes twinkled and Edward was captivated.
She turned back to the piano and played a few bars of "Oh Christmas Tree" before she paused to sing. "Oh Garlic Bread, Oh Garlic Bread, how tasty are your slices." She laughed her full throaty laugh and looked up at him.
She was behaving so…NORMAL. Well, normal Bella anyhow. He considered delaying what Alice had told him he must do. But no, he was resigned. He had to do it now.
"Bella, I…" – he paused and took a breath – "we have to talk."
She was on her feet in a flash, pressing her fingers to his lips. Her eyes beseeched him. "No, Edward. Not tonight. I don't want to hear it tonight. Tell me tomorrow." She was nodding at him trying to get him to nod also, trying to get him to agree. He sighed. He wanted to shed this burden now, and tomorrow seemed a long way off.
Bella was suddenly up on tip toe and her mouth was on his. She pressed her warm body flush against him. He clutched her hips and pulled her closer, sinking into her kiss, spinning her around and easing her against the wall. Trapping her so that she couldn't run. He kissed her throat, her jaw, her temples, then brought her fingers to his mouth and kissed their pearly tips, all the while watching her dark eyes. She watched him back.
Then she placed her hand over the bulge in his trousers and squeezed, every so lightly.
She was saying yes. Tonight she wanted him. He twitched against the snug cut of his inseam, and, like he had years ago, started visualizing Clair De Lune sheet music and…
Bella coming underneath him.
Dinner would have to wait.
He scooped her up into his arms and she yipped as her feet left the ground. He blindly headed for their bedroom, his mouth back on hers. He could feel her smile under his kiss. He tossed her playfully onto their bed and she rolled to flick on the Tiffany bedside lamp. It cast a dim multicolored glow about the room.
He went down to his knees and pulled off her sandals, kissing the side of her slender ankle. Then he ran his palm up her leg, caressing the bare flesh where her stocking ended. He wanted to savor this.
He held his hand out and she took it.
He hoisted her back to her feet and peeled her dress from her. There was that Roussel corset again and he burned hard in response. He knelt and took her hips in his hands, nipping the exposed flesh above her stockings, rubbing his forehead over her corseted navel.
It will never go away, he thought, as he took her in. The feverish desire that he always felt, only for her. He looked up at her and spoke it aloud.
"I want you."
"Have me," she replied.
A pile of clothes formed at his feet.
He kissed her. He suckled her, he caressed her.
He filled his eyes with the sight of her, sprawled on the coverlet, her hair, pooling luxuriantly around her flushed face. Her eyes were hooded with desire, and something else, the melancholy that never faded completely. That melancholy was his. The slightly parted mouth which so often said things nonsensical, he owned it.
He was owned by it.
The exposed upturned breasts with light pink nipples that pearled under his mouth as he sucked them. Her soft scent, a mixture of soap and feminine musk, a hint of the Shalimar she claimed not to wear, intoxicating to him in every way. He hovered over her, guarding her delicate form with his masculine one, unpeeling her corset, teasing her body, making the breath come short from her lungs.
He needed her. Not just her body, but her whole being.
Cradling her with one arm, he lightly pressed his thumb into the curls at the apex of her thighs. Slowly, he began to knead her gently there, her damp heat tormenting him, as he bowed his head to join his mouth to hers. Her hands, which had been curling into the downy pillows behind her head, reached up and grasped the nape of his neck. She began to writhe in tandem with the motion of his hand and he knew she was approaching the precipice. All he wanted was to push her over it.
He felt his heart beating, hammering, but not in his chest.
Her voice was shallow and breathy, and it pulled at something stretched taught within him, pulling tighter, making him impossibly harder.
"Oh. Edward. Yes."
The white hot crackle of electricity running along his spine hummed with urgency. He couldn't wait. He must.
The first hint of her upwards arch plucked at a feral part of his brain, he growled in response and plunged into her. She mewled and sobbed and churned and writhed underneath him.
He withdrew slowly as her heat rippled around him.
Clench and release. Clench and release.
He thrust forward again, all of him. Completely owned by her.
Three strokes, then half a dozen. He watched her through strands of hair that had fallen forward into his face. Her mouth open, God that mouth. Pure eroticism.
Close. So close.
Again, and again, he thrusted in to her, trying to ease the carnal demand, even as it grew. His eyes met hers just as her lashes fluttered closed and renewed whimpers burst quietly from her chest as her clench and release began anew. It was more than he could stand. The coil of furious heat that had been slowly accumulating in his center erupted. He sucked in a deep lungful of air as his pleasure was drawn from him in threads of ecstasy.
He buried his face in her fragrant hair and felt her arms go up around him. Her heart pounded directly beneath his own.
He wasn't sure what drew him out of slumber. The warm room was still dimly lit when he opened his eyes. His gaze immediately fell on the silhouette of his wife, lying quietly on her back, staring at the ceiling. He watched a big tear roll silently down the side of her face and get absorbed into the pillow.
Her beautiful mouth was shut resolutely and one hand lay protectively over her womb. He reached for her, sleepily, and pulled her into him. His arm straddled her waist as he nudged his groin into her backside, tucked his knees up into the recess of hers. He ran his palm over the spider web of scars ridging her belly and up between her breasts, pressing it gently over her heart. He ran the tip of his nose over the shell of her ear.
"Don't cry, darling. I'm here." He spoke softly, soothingly.
Patience, Chief Swan had said. Enduring patience.
Bella was in turmoil. She was afraid to move, afraid to leave the warm sanctuary of her bed. She was safe here, and she knew that once she stepped foot onto the cold wood floor, that safety would evaporate. She clutched the underside of her pillow, the cool side, and ran her free hand over the empty space that Edward had vacated this morning. She rolled forward and pressed her face into his pillow. It smelled of his hair pomade, with a hint of fresh menthol.
She twisted her face around and saw the peek-a-boo of bright morning sunshine through their heavy lace curtains.
Today was going to be a fine day. Just fine.
She took a deep breath, gathered her courage, and swung her unclad legs over the edge of the bed.
No point in dallying.
Edward had hummed Clair De Lune seventy times already, his mind thick with memories of Bella. He signed memos and drafted proposals with only partial awareness of what he was doing. Tonight he would explain things to Bella, she would understand, and they would move forward as best they could. He scrawled instructions on a preliminary sketch and slipped it into his OUT box.
Images of Bella laughing, radiant, during dinner last night swam before his eyes. She had been so coherent, so present, more so than she had been for a long while. The meal hadn't suffered at all by being kept warming in the oven, and the wine he had chosen from the cellar had been perfect. Bella had served him with rosy cheeks and shining eyes, and by the end of the bottle, of which he had consumed the majority, he had her again. He remembered the way she looked covered in a glowing sheen of sweat, undulating slowly atop of him.
He began humming again.
Bella stared at Maribel intently, but without malice. Maribel stared back. She couldn't believe how beautiful the woman was, she looked ethereal, groomed, perfect. This was the woman Edward was in love with, and Bella knew she would never measure up. She was exactly the opposite, earthly, chaotic, burdensome.
"Hello Bella. What do you want?" The exquisite creature asked.
"You… know me?" Bella's voice came out in a surprised squeak.
"Of course." Maribel took a drag of her cigarette.
Bella was transfixed. "I have your lighter," she said stupidly, and held it out.
Maribel looked at it and smirked good naturedly. "Are you sure that it's mine?" Another puff on the cigarette.
"Yes, it's all yours. I give you everything I have."
Maribel's laughing eyes turned serious. "Don't be foolish, Bella. That is not what Edward wants."
"You can give him a real life, and children. Normalcy." Bella was backing away.
She heard Maribel calling after her. "Bella – NO!"
Edward left the office earlier than usual. He was nervous about going home, but today was different. Butterflies were dancing in his stomach but he felt positive too. He needed to work out exactly how to say what he needed to say, how to explain things without blame, without accusation. He had absolutely no idea how Bella would react, but the more he had thought about it, the more he felt that Alice may be right. Maybe Bella could handle it.
Bella sat fully clothed in their claw foot tub and leaned against its sloped back. She studied her hands. Could she bring these hands to do what needed to be done? Her mind wandered back to the time she had watched her father skin a deer in their backyard. He and Harry Clearwater were triumphant over their kill and all she could do was stare. And shake. Her father had noticed, handed his knife to Harry, and come over to her. He put a big calloused palm against her cheek and studied her with worried eyes.
She heard her father speaking to her now across the years, "The deer gives its life so that we can live, Bella. We give thanks for that." She hadn't really understood it then, not until this moment.
"I love you, Edward."
The tremor in her arm eased.
Now, she told herself.
She closed her eyes and swiped the razor across her throat, opening her jugular.
So much blood, pumping, just under the skin. And everywhere.
Edward bounded up the steps of the bungalow, still humming, and pulled the envelope Alice had given him the day before out of his suit coat pocket. He paused outside the door and leafed quickly through the photos.
Maribel reaching for her drink with a gloved hand, her dark mouth open in exclamation. In her other hand was her cigarette holder.
Him laughing, sly eyed. Maribel sat beside him, smirking in her usual way.
Maribel and Alice dancing the Charleston in the Whitlock game room.
Him whispering in Maribel's ear. The look on her face was pure joy.
The only woman he had ever loved. The only woman he had ever touched.
On the back of the photo, in Alice's tidy scrawl it read:
My brother, Edward Cullen and wife, Isabella. Christmas Eve 1948
When he looked at the photo – he clearly saw Maribel. It was there in the precision of her features, the gaiety in her eyes, no confusion, no sickness. Plus that damned cigarette. Alice could see her too, in the neatly manicured hands and perfectly coiffed hair.
Anyone else would see Isabella Marie Cullen.
Who would Bella see?