At the ass crack of dawn on July 16, Jacob and I were driving a rental VW Jetta to East Hampton where my other friends were going to marry this fine Saturday morning.
"Bells, remind me again why I'm doing this," Jake grumbled, his eyes flickering from the GPS device to the road and back.
"Because you are my best friend and wouldn't let me suffer this alone," I reasoned. "Because of free food, too."
"Food. Right." He glanced at me sideways, gripping the wheel. "What about this guy who looked at me like he wanted to rip my head off? Why isn't he your plus one, huh?"
"His name is Edward," I said dryly. "He has to work. He couldn't leave for the whole weekend."
The truth be told, I didn't even ask Edward to be my plus one—attending public events together was out of question, especially when the relatives of the bride were his colleagues. It felt as if we were seen out together, a bomb exploding inside the church would cause much less disastrous effect. Maybe I was exaggerating things, but it was better this way. One can never be too cautious. Besides, I needed someone to take care of Mr. Puss—and it was a miracle that he had agreed to. I left the cat with him last night and he had already called me three times since, worried because the little man refused to leave the carrier bag and spat at him.
"Is that so?" Jake didn't even try to hide sarcastic notes in his voice.
I didn't have a chance to give him a witty answer because my phone started ringing.
"Bella, I can't do it," Alice practically shouted into my ear.
"What?" I gasped.
"I'm having cold feet. I couldn't sleep all night. I feel like I'm making a huge mistake." Her voice trembled badly and she sniffled.
"No, you're not," I tried to sound as calm as possible, looking at the clock on the dash. Thank God, there was still a plenty of time. "Listen to me, Mary Alice. You will not do anything right now. Close the fucking door, order breakfast, and wait for me. I'll be there in an hour."
She sniffled again. "Okay."
I hung up and groaned. I was supposed and stay with Alice overnight but instead I selfishly decided to spend some time with Edward. Her anxiety attack was my fault—I shouldn't have left her alone on such a nerve-wrecking night, and now I had to do the damage control. Pronto.
"Pull to the curb," I commanded, grabbing the handle of the passenger door. "I'll drive." The possible ticket for speeding was the last thing that bothered me at that moment.
Luckily, we made it without incidents and soon I was knocking on the door of Alice's hotel room.
"I can't," she said again, weakly this time. I'd never seen her looking so scared before.
I took a deep breath, making her sit on the edge of the bed. "You and Jasper are meant to be together. And today your friends and family are coming over here to celebrate your union. What is wrong about that?"
She shook her head. "Last night as I lay in bed, I thought about you, Bella. How happy you've become now that you're single. How excited you are. How your eyes shine. You do what you want, enjoy your life to the fullest... there is nothing to hold you back—you can buy a ticket and fly away, anywhere. And then I thought that I've never felt that free in my entire life. When I get married, there will be the house, the garden, the mortgage, the kids... and I will never be able to do it. I will never be able to just drop everything and run away."
"So you decided to run away now?" I asked incredulously.
God, I was so fucked.
"Alice, look," I started, carefully choosing words. "It's only an illusion. I can't really run away. I have responsibilities. My work."
"You can call in sick," she said stubbornly. "And you are free to do whatever you want after work."
"Okay. But what if I told you I don't want to? What if I told you that you don't see the other side of the coin?"
She stared at me, unblinking. "What do you mean?"
"I mean, when I go home after work, I don't feel happy or excited. I feel sad and lonely. You only see me when I'm with you, Alice. Remember that movie you made me see, Into the Wild*?"
When she gave me a slight nod, still clearly slow on the uptake, I continued, "You can run away but it won't make you happy. Happiness is only real when shared," I said passionately. "What I wouldn't give to have someone waiting for me at home. Someone who would want to share his life with me. To have kids. To go on vacation together... trust me, traveling alone is no fun. There is someone who wants all that with you. He loves you so much, you love him, and now you want to throw it all away?"
"God, Bella." She blinked and a tear ran down her cheek. "How could I be such an idiot?"
I sighed. "Have you had a shower?"
"What the fuck are you waiting for?"
Having delivered the almost runaway bride to the tenacious hands of a hair stylist and a make-up artist, I went to the room I shared with Jake to finally start getting ready. He had already discovered a bottle of champagne and we decided ten thirty in the morning was right about time we got down to it. I needed some relief from the nervous strain of the past few hours; I also needed some courage because I was a bridesmaid along with Alice's cousin Tanya.
Intentionally or not, Alice couldn't have chosen the bridesmaids looking so different in similar light purple dresses—Tanya was a blonde with stark blue eyes and a big breast, and given that I had to wear flats due to my recent injury, she was also more than a head taller. She was a really nice person, too; it was hard to believe such perfection existed, let alone was single. It made no sense to me at all. What the hell was wrong with men?
I was so busy anxiously watching Alice for any signs of a new panic attack as we made our way down the aisle that I missed the moment when people started crying. Only when Jasper put the ring on her shaking finger and the minister announced them man and wife, did I let myself take a breath. The deal was done; the boundaries between them existed no more. That called for another encounter with Veuve Clicquot.
The reception was held in the hotel patio, with white tents and long tables decorated with fragrant gardenias. Very chic. After the first round of toasts, I caught myself trying to calculate how much it all cost to my friends but stopped myself, realizing I was becoming a cynical bitch. Jake was too busy tasting canapés, so I asked Tanya to finally introduce me to her and Alice's relatives, Esme and Carlisle Cullen.
Alice's aunt, Esme, appeared to be an amiable, lively, and engaging woman who looked a bit like Julia Roberts. Her husband was just as friendly and possessed the unmistakable charm of a true English gentleman; he also reminded me of the doc from Nurse Jackie whose name I had forgotten. I remembered their story Alice had told me—it happened in the early nineties in London when Esme, an art school student from New York, met Carlisle, a promising young architect. They fell in love from the first sight; he followed her back across the pond and they had been inseparable since. It would have been a picture of a perfect happiness if not for one thing: they couldn't have kids.
"Isabella!" Esme exclaimed, giving me a warm hug as I explained who I was. "I'm so glad to finally meet you! Edward was ecstatic about working with you."
My jaw dropped. "Um... Please, just Bella... and it was a real pleasure for me, too," I managed, turning to shake Carlisle's outstretched hand.
And then, as if I wasn't dumbfounded already, Tanya smiled her perfect Hollywood smile. "Oh, by the way, Esme. Tell Edward I said hi. And tell him to call me if he changes his mind."
I didn't realize I was gaping at her, undoubtedly rudely wide-eyed and speechless, until someone tugged my elbow.
"I need to talk to you for a second," Alice said sweetly. Too sweetly. And from the look on her face, I was in a big, big trouble.
She dragged me inside the hotel and into the very room where I tried to calm her down just a few hours ago. Now the tables had turned; she practically pushed me to sit on the bed, looking down on me menacingly. "What's with you and Edward Masen?" she pressed. "Don't even try to deny it," she went on when I didn't reply. "It was a real pleasure, huh? And the way you stared at poor Tanya! If looks could kill, she would already be nothing but a pile of ashes on the ground, for fuck's sake."
I refused to reply or even meet her gaze for that matter.
"Bella, dear," she said in a softer voice, "I have warned you about him, haven't I? The guy's emotionally stunted. He's not good for you."
"You don't know him at all," I snarled. "You have absolutely no right to—"
"I don't," Alice agreed. "But I know what happened to Tanya. He told her he isn't interested in having a long-term relationship."
"Well good, because I'm not interested in having a relationship, either," I spat out bitterly. "You wanna know what's with me and Edward? Fine! We fuck. It's the best sex I've ever had and I am content with it."
"Are you?" she asked quietly.
"Yes, I am." I looked daggers at her.
"You're content now, great. But what about tomorrow?"
"Fuck tomorrow. I enjoy living in here-and-now. By the way, I read about it in the books you gave me."
"I don't believe you." Alice settled on the bed beside me. "I don't believe you," she said again. "I might not be a good shrink after all, but I can feel it when people are sincere and when they're not. I believed what you told me this morning. I saw your despair and your loneliness... or was it just because you were trying to convince me?"
I shook my head, focusing my vision on the pile of bags in front of me. The newlyweds were going on their honeymoon in a couple of hours.
"I'm confused," Alice said. "This is contradictory and I just can't figure it out. What is the truth, Bella? What you said in the morning or what you're telling me now?"
I kept staring at the bright orange Samsonite bags in front of me. Alice wasn't the only one confused. It somehow felt like I had reached a metaphorical impasse where I lost track of what was right and what was wrong in my own life.
"I don't know," I said. And that was the truth.
"God, Bella, I'm sorry." She embraced me with a deep sigh. "I'm so sorry I wasn't a good friend for you when you needed me. God, I missed out on such important things about you because I was so absorbed with all this shit." She waved around somewhat aimlessly. "We need to talk. I'll be back at the beginning of August and we'll figure it out together."
"I'm going on vacation next week," I reminded her.
"Good. Awesome. Staying away from all this fuckery will help you gain a new, fresh perspective. You need it."
The knock on the door interrupted us. "Allie, everything okay?" Jasper asked, peeking in.
"We're fine." She smiled at him, then stood up and took my hand. "Now let's go. I have spent a fucking fortune on this wedding; we'd better have fun to make it worth it!"
Two hours and a few more glasses of champagne later, Alice threw the bouquet to the excited crowd of single ladies. It was Tanya who caught it; I didn't even bother trying. After Alice and Jasper had finally cut the cake and driven away into the sunset, I retreated into my room and called Edward.
"Are you having a good time?" he asked. How I loved the sound of his voice on the phone, deep and soft, bracing me like a sea breeze, always making me weak at my knees and warm.
"Yeah," I breathed out. "Oh, I finally met Esme and Carlisle. They are so lovely."
"They are. And I'm sure they think the same of you."
I don't know what had gotten into me next—was it the fact that deep inside I had wanted him to be the one to introduce me to his friends, or was I just tired and quite drunk—but my brain failed to filter the words coming from my mouth. "There is also a girl named Tanya. She asked them to say hi to you," I blurted out.
I heard him drawing in a sharp breath.
"I'm just curious, you know," I said. "On what terms are you two?"
He paused before answering, making me tense. "Esme and Carlisle tried to set us up last fall," he finally said. "We met a few times."
"Did you have sex with her?" For some reason, I just couldn't shut the fuck up.
He sighed. "Isabella, you're drunk."
"I am, but I'm not that drunk."
"Not that it's any of your business, but no, I didn't have sex with her," he said calmly. "Maybe I'm a bastard, but I'm not cruel. I knew that she wanted more and I didn't want to give her false hope. I'm always honest about my intentions."
"She's very pretty," I uttered bitterly.
"She is," he agreed. "But I didn't want to wake up with her scent on my pillow or babysit her cat."
A pang of guilt sobered me up instantly. "I'm sorry," I stuttered. "I didn't mean to pour it on you. It's just... it's been a hard day, with Alice having cold feet and all that jazz."
"Go to sleep, Isabella. Tomorrow is another day. Think about someone who's waiting here for you. He is missing you a lot."
"Did you feed him?" I smiled.
He chuckled. "Actually, I didn't mean the cat."
My pulse quickened and I closed my eyes, wishing I could just hop in a taxi and throw my arms around his neck. I even considered driving back now but both Jake and I had been drinking.
"You still there?" he asked.
"Looks like your cat is taking to me. He left his carrier and went to take a tour. So help me God if he decides to mark the territory."
I laughed. "If you get along well, I might let you have him while I'm on vacation."
"I'd rather you didn't leave."
"Come with me. My mom will be happy. She's a great cook, too," I started rambling, "and my stepfather is really cool—"
"Isabella, you are drunk," he cut me short. "Go to bed. Now."
I sighed. "Okay. Sorry."
That night I couldn't sleep. This hotel must have had a bad aura about it. Also, Jake's snoring was too loud, yet not as loud as my own thoughts. I thought about Alice and Jasper, then about Esme and Carlisle, and then, inevitably, about Edward and myself. And the more I thought about us, the more uneasy I was becoming. It felt like I was missing out on something important but I couldn't grasp what exactly it was. Eventually, I gave up and rolled out of bed, dragging my feet into the bathroom. I filled the glass, gulped it down, and took a deep breath, staring at my reflection in the mirror. The answer wasn't there, but then, all of a sudden, it occurred to me where I might find it.
I sank down on my knees on the cool tiled floor and folded my hands.
"Our Father who is in heaven," I whispered, "Hallowed be Your name..."
I repeated the Lord's Prayer over and over again until I felt strangely peaceful and calm. Then I scrambled myself from the floor and returned to bed, falling asleep in a second.
I woke up with the terrible hangover that only happens after drinking too much champagne. I was dying to get home as soon as possible but, unfortunately, Jake had a different idea. Yesterday he laid his eyes on one of Jasper's friends, and as they met by the outdoors pool this morning, it appeared the interest was mutual. They sat there in chaise lounges, soaking up the sun and talking, and I didn't have it in me to disturb them—what if this guy was the one for him?
The sun hurt my eyes, so I waited for Jake in our room, watching TV behind the drawn curtains. Finally he returned, brimming with excitement about being asked out on a date, and we took off. The ride was long enough for me to sober up completely; I still didn't have the answer but at least the question was becoming much clearer.
It was late afternoon when we pulled to the curb at Edward's building.
He opened the door with a wide smile, taking my hands and pulling me inside. "Hi." His hands were cold—but then again, his whole apartment was always too cool for my liking, even if it was refreshing on a hot day like today.
"Hi." I let him kiss me but didn't reciprocate.
He stepped back, slightly tilting his head, his eyes searching mine, his hands not letting go. "What's wrong?"
His eyes were green or gray. It was impossible to tell. Everything about him was impossible to tell.
"What am I to you, Edward?" I asked quietly.
Green. Or gray. His stare was becoming even more intense and he withdrew his hands, but only to cup my face. I stood motionless like a statue, my heart not beating and my thoughts all forgotten at once. Then he kissed me again. Slowly. Delicately, as if afraid I would break. Giving and not expecting anything in return. His lips were taking away my worries, filling me with so much hope instead. I didn't know what exactly I was hoping for, but it didn't really matter. I just felt it—something—right there in his kiss.
When I gasped and finally replied, his fingers traveled down to my shoulders, bringing us closer. At that moment, the spell was broken by my phone.
"Shit," I pulled back and reached for the damned device in my denim shorts' pocket. "It's Jake. He's waiting downstairs. I gotta go."
"Don't." He caught my wrist. "Tell him to go home without you. I'll hail you a cab later."
I looked into his eyes, almost black now, and knew that as always I wouldn't be able to resist him. I quickly dismissed Jacob and even before I hung up, he swept me into his arms and made our way toward the bedroom. He didn't hurry as he put me down on the bed and undressed me, exploring my body with his cool hands and hot lips.
He didn't say anything out loud. Instead, he showed me. And maybe it was true that actions spoke louder than words.
I hoped so.
*Into the Wild is a 2007 American biographical drama movie directed by Sean Penn. It is an adaptation of the 1996 non-fiction book of the same name by Jon Krakauer based on the travels of Christopher McCandless across North America and his life spent in the Alaskan wilderness in the early 1990s. You should see it if you haven't already—it's insanely beautiful and very thought-provoking.
Thank you, Katie1824, for holding my hand.