I found a loose string dangling from the hem of my existence.
When I pulled it, the world around me began to unravel.
My father —
the man who told me to never lie,
to never, ever lie
to be a good, good girl —
declared, ensconced in grief and power,
against a soundtrack that proclaimed there were no regrets, that
"Love is never enough."
And, for an instant, I believed.
But the hollow in his eyes gave him away.
The tremor of his hand.
And then the creator of my world began to unravel, thread by brazen thread.
No longer the omnipotent god of my childhood, the Kingmaker is now a sad old man, surrounded by rules and lackeys and the cocoon of his own influence. Sad and weak, a pale imitation of the god who once delivered keynote addresses on How to Run the World.
No longer the impervious Medusa of my memories, my mother has proven to be human after all, demonstrating just how cold she could become within the confines of a coroner's shroud.
And no longer the elusive demigod of the rakish grin and persuasive charm, Edward is more real to me in his absence than all the rest, his abandonment wearing like a canker somewhere deep in my chest.
All my idols, destroyed, and I —
I am left in a pile of rubble, a Roman amongst the ruins. All is dead and grey.
And now there is nothing left to worship.
"I'll leave," I tell my mother once, taut and trembling with rage after she explains, once again, why I am not the daughter she wanted.
But my words are deflected by her derisive laugh like pebbles ricocheting off of armor. "And go where?" she asks bitingly, eyebrows high and lips curled into a sneer.
And I answer: "Away."
I am leaving the Kingmaker's keep.
A nameless numbing, a pull in my chest.
I walk through haunted halls and childhood doorways, a shadow passing over the posts one last time.
Here and there are family portraits, posed, pretty and perfect, their matted eyes frozen and flat as they watch me walk past.
Stay, the walls whisper coldly. You don't exist out there. You'll shiver, wither and fade.
But I've seen my own future:
storm clouds gathered on the horizon of a flat earth,
harbingers of where the world ends and drops into nothing,
where I live in the shadow of a man who buckles under the weight of his own power.
The coldness of the house clings to my shoulders with long, freezing fingers that dig into my flesh with a grip like a vise.
Stay, the chill insists, and grows heavier with each of my footsteps.
And, for a moment, I wish I could stay,
and be cold again.
But there is the front door, and here is still another step closer, and another.
And now my bag is hastily thrown into the trunk of the cab on the curb.
And now I am in a backseat that smells like old leather and stale smoke.
"Dulles," I tell the driver, Paul's hastily scribbled directions in my hand.
And now the car pulls away from the curb.
And now I am gone, descending from Mount Olympus, the home of my childhood fading behind me like the last conscious wisps of a long dream.
I am a child, miserable and starched in a dress my mother chose.
After dinner, her smile is as stiff as her form, perched on the antique settee beside me in the Masens' drawing room.
"That Clayton girl is back," Carlisle remarks. "She's broken one of her records, I've heard."
Beside him, Esme nods. "I'm just glad she's in one piece."
"What was her time?" My father asks, sipping his scotch.
"Two hundred and eighty-five days," Esme replies, a wistful smile gracing her lips. "I can't even imagine the hardship..."
"No circumnavigating the globe for you, then?" my father asks with a grin.
"I'm sure I wouldn't last a week," she rejoins coyly.
He laughs. "I'm sure you could do anything, were you so inclined."
"I'm afraid I'm not familiar with whomever you're discussing," my mother interjects, her voice full of ice and iron.
Carlisle looks up from his drink. "Lisa Clayton," he informs her absently. "First British woman to single-hand around the world, non-stop. Quite a hero of Esme's, isn't she, darling?"
"And a hero of yours, Charles?" my mother asks, an edge to her tone.
"I admire any woman who can demonstrate that kind of... independence."
"Do you?" she murmurs, sipping her tea.
His gaze is bland and steady as he stares her down for a moment, before his eyes shift to me.
"Where is Ilse? It's past Isabella's bedtime."
My nanny leads me away moments later, but I do not miss the hollow anger of my mother's expression as she watches my father laugh.
And now there is the roar of the jet engine,
the rush of take-off,
the revelation that this is it, that I am really leaving.
It pulls down on my shoulders as we taxi down the runway, the sleek aircraft gaining speed before slicing up, up, up.
My bones are feeble, brittle and frail beneath paper flesh. My fingers clutch the armrests of my seat and I watch as the city is swallowed by the bare silver clouds and the azure of an infinite sky.
The earth drops away like a forgotten toy, and I am afraid.
Minutes crawl by as I stare at the seat in front of me, my mind far away, re-tracing the lines of the large study filled with the sounds of Piaf, the bedroom and belongings and the stale air I've left behind.
The pity in Paul's eyes as he handed me the piece of paper.
My father's ire at being questioned.
My mother's hollow laugh.
My own footsteps on a cold sidewalk as Edward Cullen disappeared into the Morningstar Cafe.
His stony silence as I'd mocked him,
his open mouth against my neck after his climax,
his breath slowing, steadying before he breathed his final words to me and walked away.
I did love you.
But he never did, not really. He never could.
After all, what had I ever given him? Ice and claws and venom...
Unbidden, a memory of him flashes before my mind's eye: his face, thoughtful and serene in the reflection of a bathroom mirror as I straightened my hair.
I see you, he said.
A blink, and the memory recedes, left in the frigid clutches of the stratosphere around me.
And now I fly, as desperate as Icarus ever was for safe harbor, a place in which to mend melted, waxen wings.
There is the heat of the city, the sounds of the park, the taste of Zen butter and the unpleasant odor of the man who cackles and declares that I am marked.
"Get away from us," Ilse commands.
"One of me," he laughs, staring down into my eyes as she tries to move us away from him. "One of the cold ones. Another one of me. Passion! Passion! You'll die for your passion!"
I was a child, then.
But his words echo through the years, thumping in my chest now like a bodhrándrum.
"Marked! A little girl marked. It's not right, but it's real. Passion! She'll die for her passion! The luckiest unlucky passionate one…"
And now I know:
there is more than one way to lose a life.
Artemis hunted for pleasure; Athena, to hone her strategy.
And Hathor, the discontented daughter of the sun, left her father's house to wander the sky for a millennia.
"I'm leaving," I told Edward once, and the words used up my remaining breath as the weight of him pushed my chest further into the bed.
But he only called me a liar and clutched me tighter to himself.
And I let him.
Edward's words, Edward's voice. The heat of him, sweeping over my skin as I melted, dissolved, faded against his flesh.
And now I am not a goddess - no longer untouchable, no longer the master.
And although I am finally flying, I do not feel free.
Memories swirl, rise unbidden, phantoms begging to be resurrected. I let the old moments swallow me whole, their colors garish now that they are seen through my older eyes.
I am a child again, small and pale and plain with eyes that are too big and a mouth that stays pursed in seeming discontent. My legs are too long for my body, and I am thin all over. A perfectly awkward eleven year old, my mother sighs to Ilse when she thinks I cannot hear.
But tonight is different as I run up beneath the warm light of the garden lanterns, up to the Masen home, the sounds of the party drawing closer with each coltish stride. Music spills from the open terrace doors as my parents and their peers sip wine and socialize, and the proximity of it all is enough to make me feel like I could be grown and beautiful.
Run, run, run through the galley kitchen and up the stairs and stop, breathing heavy and looking down into the open rooms so I can watch.
The guests are dolled-up and done-over, gilded with their best and glazed from the wine. They laugh and talk and dance and commiserate on the daily difficulties of running corporations and households and social lives.
And in the midst of it all is Edward, handsome and full of the arrogance of youth and wealth.
They love him for it, they watch his every move. He has the power of their attention and he wears it well, smirking and laughing and winking; I want him all the more for it.
I do not make a sound, but Edward looks up suddenly, his eyes meeting mine and there is magic. Down the rabbit hole I go and I fall and land and stretch, growing until I am not a child anymore; I am taller and older, and finally, finally beautiful as I stand in front of him.
Our eyes meet and hold. If the figment of him is surprised by this dream-like alteration to the memory, he does not show it, patiently waiting for me to speak as I stare.
"You don't love me," I say plainly, and the party chatter ceases at the sound of it.
All eyes are on us now, but he remains unperturbed.
"Say it until it sounds true," he replies with a smile.
So I do.
"You don't," I gasp, and awaken.
But I am alone.
And I am exhausted, but I cannot sleep again.
Eventually, the night sky lightens to the pink hues of sunrise and all is still, serene and beautiful.
Soon after that, the patchwork quilt of land surrounding the sprawl of the airport grows closer and closer.
My ears pop as we descend.
A city skyline looms in the distance, then disappears behind runways, control towers and cargo trucks.
And now there is the jolt.
And now the run of the landing.
"Bienvenue, ladies and gentlemen," the pilot jovially announces over the intercom. I overhear the couple behind me anticipating the misery of jet lag.
And now there is the jostle of disembarking, the heaviness in my arms as my body moves sluggishly through the airbridge, demanding sleep with every breath.
I recall that it is almost midnight where I've come from, and that I have not slept for two days.
But I keep moving.
It is the first time that I stay the entire night with him, falling asleep between foreign sheets as Edward's fingers rest heavily upon the curve of my hip.
"Who is this little woman in my bed?" he breathes hours later, laughing softly as he exposes my naked breasts to the pale morning sunlight. "She's usually long gone by now."
And I, waking gracelessly, glare at him as he runs his finger down the mid-line of my chest, his hungry eyes watching as my nipples traitorously pebble.
"Like a gypsy dream," he murmurs with a smirk, tracing circles on my skin. "Bella with no last name, who comes from nowhere and knows no one."
He rolls to his back when I push him, hissing with pleasure at the feel of me.
"I know you," I reply, and overtake him.
The lobby of the Park Hyatt Vendôme is almost completely silent. My own breathing and the tapping of computer keys are the only noises; they blend into a soothing lullaby that weighs down on my already heavy eyelids. Even the white lilies in the vase in front of me seem to sweetly urge, sleep, sleep.
"I am sorry," the hotel receptionist says in accented English. Her perfectly made-up features are locked into a polite smile as she holds out my father's credit card. "Is there another method of payment you would like to try?"
I stare at her blankly, the beginnings of something desperate bubbling inside my chest.
"Try it again, please," I say.
She runs the card again, staring intently at her computer screen for several long moments as she waits for a reading.
When she looks at me again, there is another apology in her eyes.
Numbly, I reach out to take the proffered card from her hand; unconsciously, my thumb rubs over the raised lettering of my father's name.
Sometime between the purchase of my plane ticket and now, my father has realized what I've done, and has acted accordingly.
"How much is the room?" I ask flatly.
"Seven hundred and thirty euros."
I blink, thinking of the fifty euros I casually spent on cab fare, of the remaining thirty-five in my wallet-
It is now all I have.
The clerk's smile only falters slightly as I turn to leave, weariness dogging every new step.
In between her questions and my answers, there is only the sound of Dr. Cope's pen as it scratches across the notepad.
"What do you want for yourself, Isabella?" she asks, and the pen stills, waiting.
"Freedom," I answer without thinking.
Scratch, scratch, scratch.
"And what does freedom mean to you?"
She waits, pen poised.
But I do not answer, because I do not know.
It is La Ville-Lumière, the City of Lights and the City of Love.
And I am alone in it.
From where I stand, I can see both the marble storefront of Tiffany & Co. and the oxidized copper of the Vendôme Column.
I have been here before, on these busy streets that run wild, their velveteen ribbons slicing through the crowded arrondissements, the tree-lined boulevards and the Baron Haussman architecture.
But the Paris I experienced as a schoolgirl is gone now, Its moneyed doors closed to me as I stand on the busy sidewalk along the Rue de la Paix. The privileged veneer has been stripped away to reveal the angry bones of yet another hungry city.
I think of my abandoned bedrooms in Washington and New York. I think of the way the luxury mattress perfectly conformed to my body as I slept beneath silk sheets and down comforters.
I think of the warmth of two bodies beneath those comforters, of bronze hair on those pillows. Of glass-green eyes across the counterpane.
A street vendor gives me directions to the Montparnasse train station before unsuccessfully convincing me to purchase a map of the city.
Gare Montparnasse is a little over four kilometres, he informs me in rapid-fire French.
I try to remember how to convert the distance to miles before deciding it doesn't matter.
And now I begin to walk,
but everything is an obstacle,
and I am so, so tired.
I am a woman, new to New York, the shadow of Jacob Black still tinting my vision.
The balcony of my TriBeCa apartment is one perch among many.
I revel in the anonymity, the bite of the cold against my undress.
The cacophony of traffic drifts up from the streets below and I am untouchable,
a Gothic grotesque that blends into the stone architecture.
Clad only in underwear, I wait for something to show me myself.
Gare Montparnasse is ahead of me now, the large letters above its entrance looming over the street.
There are just enough euros in my wallet to purchase a ticket to Carentan.
And now I collapse into my seat. My eyelids droop as I sit, hungry and tired and cold, in an old plastic seat on the train out of Paris.
Sleep descends but I beat it back as one does a fog, failing but waking as soon as my head drops to my chest.
And now the countryside flies by in a rush of brown and grey, the fields lying barren beneath a bleak winter sky.
Minutes crawl and congeal, until—
finally, something breaks the horizon:
a steeple jutting proudly into the sky, the harsh architecture of a cathedral dominating on the city hill, looming over the town - a cranky relic of a long-forgotten era.
I have arrived in Carentan, and my journey is almost finished.
"Why so many books about war?" I ask Edward one evening as we lie, sweaty and sated on the carpeted floor of his den.
Still panting, he stretches his neck to follow my gaze to the bookshelf. "Oh... it's an interest of mine."
"You like to fight," I declare, cruelly pinching his earlobe, smiling as he gasps and tries to pull away.
"I like to read about strategy," he clarifies. I rest my fingers on his lips, pushing in until he opens, lightly bites the tips of them.
"Strategy is for fighters. So tell me," I whisper, curling my fingers until they are hooked in the corner of his mouth, mimicking his hold on me from several nights prior, "do you like to fight, Edward?"
"That would depend on the enemy," he counters, and I feel him stirring inside of me once more. "I like fights I can win."
I sit up, curl my fingers into his hips underneath me as he continues to harden. "Do you think you'll win this one?" I ask, squeezing him with every part of me, daring him to look away.
"Who says I haven't already?"
Gilles is young and fat, with a sweaty face and a lazy eye. He overhears me outside the brasserie inquiring about the bus station and asks me where I'm headed.
His hand is clammy as he helps me into his battered Fiat Punto, but he is willing to take me to Sainte-Mère-Église on his way to Montebourg.
"I'm going to keep my eye on you," he says with a grin. "Do not try to rob me."
As if I could, I want to snap. My limbs feel leaden, dead and numb and useless.
"What is in Sainte-Mère-Église?" he asks as we speed down the Rue de la Halle.
"A close friend, since you have traveled all this way?"
"Yes," I answer flatly.
He nods and smiles, unperturbed by my demeanor.
And now the road is an ebony ribbon through the wintry farmland; not once does he stop talking.
"You are strong, the strongest," someone once told me, her blue eyes snapping with conviction, spilling with tears.
I did not believe it then.
I do not believe it now.
I am finally here.
Slowly, exhausted, I uncrumple Paul's hastily-written note and read the last few lines to be sure.
Chambres d'Hôtes - "Au Chien Pèlerin"
2, chemin du Nord
Inside a clean, quaint stone house that has been converted into a Bed & Breakfast.
The small, floral-themed foyer, with its cloying sweet smell, makes me fidget beneath the familiar itch of claustrophobia.
But now there is also anticipation as I stand, waiting for someone to appear behind the tiny reception desk.
Every run, after all, has its end.
And now there is nowhere else to go.
"Bonjour," a cheerful voice calls from somewhere on the other side of the wall behind the desk. "Un moment."
After a moment, a tall woman in jeans and a work shirt appears from around the corner. She cannot be more than fifty-five, her greying blond hair wound into a frayed coronet around a thin, sharp face. "Comment puis-je vous aider?" she inquires politely.
I frown with disappointment, severe and scraping against my lungs. "Anglais?" I ask, too tired to speak anything but my native tongue.
"I speak English," she says, smiling. "Do you have a reservation?"
"Are you the only one here?" I ask abruptly.
"I'm looking for the owner."
"I am the owner."
"Are you the only owner?"
"I am Caroline Lethuillier," she informs me, her demeanor cooling. "What is your name? If you have a reservation-"
"We are booked until the Spring."
"I've traveled from Washington, DC nonstop since yesterday."
"We are full."
I stare at her.
"I have no ride, and no money. I came here-"
"I am not sure what you expect me to do," she interrupts bluntly. "This is not a shelter."
"-I'm looking for someone-"
She opens her mouth to speak again when a loud crash sounds from somewhere behind her.
"Caroline!" someone yells from inside. "Ich habe das Bild an die Wand gehängt!"
"Maman," Caroline replies loudly. "Un moment."
"Wo ist Christophe?" the voice yells again.
Only now it is closer, its timbre more recognizable.
I turn to look at the owner of the voice as she comes into the foyer, fatigue and hope burning in my head like a fever.
A slight woman with grey hair and cornflower blue eyes. There is still the square jaw, the strong hands that clutch the mirror she is holding.
Her many wrinkles crease even further when she sees me.
"Bonjour," she says politely.
"English," Caroline tells her before turning back to me. "I am sorry, but if you are-"
But I am not listening.
"Hello," I tell the older woman. "Do you remember me?"
She frowns, her eyes narrowed as she examines my face.
Recognition replaces confusion, writing itself into every line of her weathered features.
"Isabella?" she gasps.
And now I open my mouth to speak, my voice coming out in a croak: