Believe it or not, this is my new story. There are 20 chapters and an epilogue, and I plan to update weekly.
Love and Nutella to my girls Fliki, Carol, Katie, Sandy, and Helen. Your support has been incredible.
Ah, almost forgot! Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight.
THE HOUSE OF GLASS
As a teenager, I used to love to imagine my future life. I had no doubt that by thirty I'd have an interesting job, an apartment in Manhattan, a loving husband, and at least one kid. The job part had come true—I work as an Italian interpreter in one of the world's largest real estate development companies. The apartment part had as well—I had inherited my grandparents' old two-bedroom downtown. The husband and kids part? Not really.
I turned twenty-nine last year. In late November, I mustered up courage and finished a relationship that had been slowly dying for months, sucking the life out of me. At first, I felt nothing but relief, but when I returned to my forlorn apartment, I was consumed by sadness. I mourned for losing the hope of having my own family, and most of all, for true love I had never managed to find. I was going nuts analyzing what I did wrong and asking myself: Was that all there was for me? Why couldn't there be more?
I let myself wallow in self-pity for the whole weekend, and then I was done with that shit. I had tried—I had tried so many times to make a relationship work, but it never worked for me. Something was always off. So maybe I just wasn't cut out for it? Maybe some people just weren't meant to exist as a part of a couple? Maybe the beautiful story about finding one's soulmate that my Italian grandmother had told me was nothing more than a fairy tale?
Anyway, I refused to give in to melancholy. After work on Monday, I went to an animal shelter and adopted a cat—a two-year-old white fur ball with blue eyes, aptly named Mr. Puss. I'd always wanted to have a cat and there had always been some reason why I couldn't afford it. Jared, my boyfriend of the past three years, was allergic. Now that wasn't an issue. Apparently, being single had its benefits; I just had to discover and enjoy them.
So the changes had begun. It suddenly occurred to me there were so many things I missed out on while spending all my spare time with boyfriends, doing what they liked to do and not doing what they didn't. Jared liked to watch basketball on TV, and I'd always been a baseball fan. If we went to movies together, we saw some thriller while I would rather see a romantic comedy. We used to hang out with his friends who tended to ignore me and I rarely had time to meet with mine because he didn't get along with them. On the weekends, we visited his parents in New Jersey; not only did I suspect them of secretly despising me for some reason, but I also hated to leave Manhattan when it was buzzing with exciting events. Finally, I preferred healthy food and Jared couldn't live without deep fried everything.
Why didn't I see our differences earlier? Why did I keep trying to stoke the fire that never really burned? For what purpose had I sacrificed my time, my life, letting "I" get sucked into "we"? For the sake of being in a relationship just because the majority of people my age were? Screw that. The IKEA idea of finding happiness in siding with the masses never appealed to me. Screw IKEA and its $ 24.99 bed sheets. I'd rather buy a nice set of Egyptian cotton ones in a designer store and enjoy being happy on my own.
Now there were books to be read, movies to be seen, museums to be visited... I even bought a gym membership. My apartment looked like it had been hit by a hurricane because I finally had time to make much needed renovation. With my best friends' help, I was whitewashing, plastering, papering, painting... We had so much fun in the process; those two weeks at the end of December were the highlight of the last year for me. My grandmother used to say that family is the people you love; I loved my friends and it was more than enough.
Don't get me wrong—I hadn't turned into a prude or man-hater. I loved men. I had wonderful male friends and co-workers, and I could spend hours swooning over hot actors. But let's face it: Leo had Bar Rafaeli, Ryan had Scarlett, Brad had Jen and then Angie. Hot men tended to choose gorgeous women, and I was just plain, average: fair skin, small breasts, brown eyes, dull dark brown hair (which I used to dye every possible color until it almost fell out). I didn't cherish a delusion—my chances to be noticed by someone dreamy were slim. At the same time, I didn't want to settle for less anymore and refused to believe that Jared was the best I could have hoped for. I'd rather live a full, exciting single life and use this opportunity to develop as an independent person who pursues her own goals and interests, and then... who knew?
When I returned home from the New Year's Eve party, I wrote that down on a Post-it note and put it on the fridge as my 2011 Resolution.
So on the morning of January 2nd, I found myself in the midst of a clutter that once had been my bedroom, trying to organize the remnants of my past life into three piles: yes, no, and maybe. To the first—the smallest—pile went things that looked like they belonged to a self-sufficient person who leads a fabulous life. There were my professional certificates I intended to frame and put on the wall; my childhood photo albums; a great deal of good and thought-provoking books given to me by my friend Alice Brandon, psychoanalyst; my most beautiful shoes and underwear which made me feel confident.
To the second went my too old bags and holey sweatpants; bottles of perfume I only used once; CDs (who the hell needs CDs these days?); romance books I grew out of; old magazines and dust-covered plush toys given to me by my boyfriends (why would anyone give a plush fucking toy to someone older than 12 was beyond me).
The third pile appeared to be the largest one because it contained almost all my clothes. After some deliberation, I decided to use this chance to go on a shopping spree and reluctantly packed most of it to give away to charity. It somehow made me feel lighter, like I was getting rid of an old, unfortunate me and ready to embrace a new happy life.
Ironically, it was later that day that I first saw him.
It was late afternoon when I finished packing, and I desperately needed a change of scenery. I took Alice's tattered paperback copy of Jonathan Livingston Seagull* and headed for the nearest Starbucks. Considering myself an expert on good coffee, I didn't like their stuff; but I enjoyed the smell and the ambience of a coffee house, and I just wanted to get away somewhere, anywhere for a couple of hours.
I took my cup of tea latte and sat at an empty table by the window, watching snowflakes whirling in a slow dance outside. Soon, I was so mesmerized by the view that when the front door opened in the periphery of my vision, it startled me. I blinked and reflexively turned my head toward it.
A tall man entered the coffee house. He was wearing a black, expensive-looking wool coat with its collar raised to keep him from the snow. It was to no avail, though—his medium-length light brown hair was ruffled by the wind and sprinkled with snowflakes. He was beautiful—a classical movies kind of beautiful, his fine features carrying a certain refinement you met so rarely these days, yet he was young, I guessed, thirty-something. My gaze followed his confident, steady gait as he proceeded to the counter.
"A grande cappuccino, please," he said in a silky smooth voice, "name is John."
I smiled involuntarily. Oh John, please let me be your Elizabeth.**
From my spot I couldn't see his eyes, but I imagined they must be gray. Cold. Everything about him seemed cold. He looked annoyed as he glanced at his watch and impatiently tapped his fingers on the counter. When his coffee was finally ready, he grabbed the cup and stormed out of the coffee house without a glimpse in my direction.
Slowly but surely, my new life kept gaining momentum. The first work week of the year came with new projects and I got down to them with zeal. I was bursting with energy like never before; I worked after hours and didn't feel tired. On the weekend, Alice and I went shopping. It seemed sensible to invest tremendous amounts in sharp work clothes and shoes, but I had also gotten a few beautiful dresses and a pair of designer jeans. If I wasn't going to spend all my free time watching TV at home anymore, I would need something decent to wear.
Next Saturday, wrapped up in a new dress, I went to visit the Pollock exhibition at the MoMA. It was there I saw him again, the man from the coffee shop. He was in the company of an elegant gray-haired lady who wore a Chanel suit and carried a Hermes bag. I watched them from afar; they were walking leisurely, stopping by every other exhibit. She was holding his elbow intimately, but there was something wrong between them—some incomprehensible estrangement. He looked tense, constantly pulling at the perfect Windsor knot of his tie as though there wasn't enough air in the room. A group of tourists blocked them from my view and then they were gone, taking the unsolved mystery away with them.
The following Friday, I met with Alice and her boyfriend Jasper Whitlock, also a psychoanalyst, at a club. Alice and Jasper dated for what seemed forever, and from what I knew they weren't going to move in together. Alice had always said that two shrinks living under one roof would be disastrous. Anyway, they both seemed content with what they had, and over a couple of martinis I began to wonder if boundaries were the key to happiness.
I wasn't even surprised when I cast a glance at the bar counter and saw him sitting there. It seemed we were like two satellites moving on different orbits which inevitably and regularly crossed. He had on a black tailored suit, no tie, and I wondered what his occupation was—a stockbroker? A sales manager? A lawyer? This time, his company was a young, model-looking blond woman. She was talking animatedly and he smiled at her, sipping his drink, but his smile seemed forced, condescending. He looked bored and for some reason, I suddenly thought he must be very lonely.
"What you're looking at?" Alice followed my gaze. "Oh, that figure."
"Huh?" I raised my brow. "Do you know him?"
"Yeah, it's Edward Masen. We've met at my aunt's—he works with their firm; they made him a partner recently. An architect, ingenious and arrogant. Don't even bother; he's not your type."
I wanted to ask her to elaborate what she meant by my type, but then decided the point was moot. I wasn't his type— that was pretty obvious.
Meanwhile, single life was growing on me. I had almost forgotten how fantastic it felt having nobody to answer to. I could cook when I was in the mood and have a snack the next day. I could shop for any unnecessary stuff without explaining to anyone its practical meaning. I could watch The Vampire Diaries without being frowned on. I could hang out late with my friends because no one would be waiting for me at home, and the headache in the morning after would be from too much buzz, not from someone drilling a hole in my head for acting irresponsible.
That was exactly what happened on Valentine's Day—my neighbor and buddy Jacob Black and I decided to celebrate. He was recently dumped by his boyfriend, and I was giving him a hard time about being codependent. Our party in my kitchen dragged on long after midnight; in the morning, my only concern was to keep my eyes open and not die from dehydration. And as ill luck would have it, when I was making my seventh trip to the office water cooler I stumbled across Mr. Banner, my boss.
"Bella! I've been looking for you," he said excitedly, readjusting his glasses. "Has Jessica emailed you the business trip details yet?"
"Business trip?" I stuttered. "What business trip?"
"Oh. Do you remember The Renaissance Hotels project?"
I nodded. I translated this project documentation last month. We bid on the multi-million dollar contract to renovate an old rundown house in Venice, Italy into a five-star hotel.
"We're on the verge of blowing it. The client has declined our proposal so we've had to create a new one, pronto. Fortunately, we managed to find an architectural firm that agreed to do it on a tight schedule. So tomorrow you are going to accompany the architect to Milan and interpret his presentation to Marco and Mr. Rossi."
I gulped, trying to keep a sudden wave of nausea down. "Tomorrow?"
"Come along with me; I'll introduce you now."
I steeled myself, following him down the hall to his office. The universe hated me today. I wished I had washed my hair that morning.
"He can be a bit difficult," Mr. Banner warned me quietly, his hand pausing on the door handle. "But he's a professional, and so are you; I believe you two will find a common language, pun intended."
He was standing by the window with his back to us. When he turned, I finally saw the color of his eyes. They were green-gray. He was wearing a black suit with a dark gray tie over a snow-white button-down and his hair was neatly slicked back.
He looked impeccable and I looked like shit.
"So," Mr. Banner said, "Isabella, this is Edward Masen of Cullen Architecture. Edward, this is Isabella Swan, our in-house Italian specialist."
He slightly cocked his eyebrow, assessing me. "Miss Swan."
"It's Ms. Swan," I mumbled.
"Ms. Swan." He nodded, reaching out for a handshake.
His hand was cold.
*Jonathan Livingston Seagull is a book about self-perfection written by Richard Bach.
**John and Elizabeth are the main characters of the 1986 movie Nine and ½ Weeks, portrayed by Mickey Rourke and Kim Basinger.
Need I say more? Put on your seat belts!