Chapter 31 - The Perils of Pie


Bella


"He renovated a room to look exactly like his high school bedroom? Did you think he was gonna chain you to the bed and keep you down there like some sort of sex slave?"

"Maybe if it was 1986 and I was a character on the Young and the Restless I'd have thought that. Jesus, Alice." She laughs and I roll my eyes at the taps, sliding my toes up and down the side of the tub. I know she's joking, but I can't help feeling defensive. "He was being nostalgic. He's sensitive, not sociopathic. Besides, he didn't really renovate the room for us. He's a Big Brother to this sixteen-year-old boy. The kid's staying with him for a week in November. That's why he wanted to renovate the space in the basement. He added the reminiscent touches for our reunion, that's all."

"That is pretty sweet. Anyway, enough with the renovation details, I want to hear more about the kinky sex. "

"I don't know if I'd call it kinky…"

"But it was hot, right?"

I smile at my painted toes. "We've wanted this for so long, just being together was mind-blowing. I had more come-to-Jesus moments with Edward this weekend than I had in the last two years I was with Mike."

"Jeez, that's amazing and awful all at the same time." She lets a beat pass and then adds, "How many times did you do it?"

"Five."

"Five times in two days. Huh. Not bad."

"Well, three days. Twice on Friday, twice on Saturday and once today."

Which explains why I'm in the tub. After a year of celibacy, my neglected lady parts don't know what hit them—repeatedly. A soak seemed like a good idea.

"So five times. And it was great every time?"

I feel strangely reluctant to answer. I shift uncomfortably, the water swishing a little with my movements.

"It was incredible. We're so compatible. He definitely knows what makes me tick," I say.

It's true. When we were kids, Edward had seemed perfectly attuned to the way my body worked, but now, it's as if he knows exactly where to find even the most elusive of orgasms and has a special key at the ready. Every time. And we barely moved beyond conventional lovemaking—oddly enough, Edward's idea.

Let's enjoy this, one thing at a time—leave something to look forward to.

I tacked on the implied next time.

I can't imagine the heights of ecstasy he'll transport me to once his tongue gets in on the action. Actually, that's not entirely true. I can imagine it—I am imagining it, and the graphic thoughts I'm conjuring up make me want to climb into my car and head back to his house.

Before Alice can get out her next question, I tell her I have another call coming through.

"I'll have to call you later," I say. "It could be Carlie."

She speaks quickly now. "Okay, I'll let you go. Call me later. I need more info. Good luck talking to Car."

"Thanks."

I hang up and drop the phone on the bath mat, staring at it over the edge of the tub. There's no other call coming through. I've already spoken to Carlie and I know she'll be home in a little over an hour. I just couldn't bring myself to tell Alice every single detail of the time I spent with Edward. I feel as if by telling her all the details of our intimate encounters, I'm sullying something sacred.

X-X-X

By the time I'm dressed and counting down the final minutes to Carlie's arrival, the aroma of baked apple pie permeates the whole house. It's a scent which will forever remind me of Edward now—of stolen kisses in the orchard where we picked apples on Saturday afternoon, giggling like teenagers as a couple of kids came across us necking amid a clutch of Macintosh trees. Their mother had mouthed an apology, hustling the girls off to find some Spartans a few rows away. Undeterred, Edward had merely chuckled and resumed grabbing at my ass and kissing me. I'd neither complained nor discouraged his advances.

Once we were back at his house, I baked an apple pie while Edward made a nuisance of himself, hovering behind me and distracting me with sultry whispers, soft neck kisses and wayward caresses. It's a wonder I hadn't sliced off one of my fingers or botched up the pie entirely. But no, my digits had all remained intact and the pie had been delicious, almost as divine as the rest of the evening which we spent sprawled out naked on his living room floor, drinking red wine and listening to Zeppelin while we rolled around under a throw blanket in front of the fireplace. I don't recall ever having a more romantic and sexually charged weekend in my life. Mike would never have devoted so much time to such frivolous activities.

I feel a twinge of guilt for thinking ill of Mike. He's probably spent the past few days worrying about chemotherapy and radiation while I've been off reliving my youth and hatching plans for the future, ones which definitely involve a lot more sex with Edward. I'm in the midst of once again daydreaming about all this future sex when Carlie comes crashing through the door. I rush to the front hall to help her, waving to Mallory's parents as they back out of the driveway.

"So did you have fun?" I say, giving Carlie a quick hug which she just as quickly extricates herself from before toting her bag through to the kitchen.

"It was okay."

"Just okay?" I follow her to the laundry room, watching her tip her dirty clothes onto the floor. "You seem annoyed. Did you and Mallory have a fight?"

"Nope."

Her clipped one-word response is dismissive. The dread I've been feeling all day knowing I've promised Edward I'll tell Carlie about us tonight is multiplied tenfold. She's in a bad mood. This doesn't bode well.

She brushes past me, slinging her empty bag over her shoulder. Once she's in the kitchen, she turns and sniffs a few times as she pulls her phone out of her pocket.

"Apple pie?" she says.

I quietly congratulate myself for making the pie. Could this gesture be a mood changer?

"I thought we'd have a nice dinner. Get caught up after your weekend away."

"You made the pie from scratch?"

"Yep."

"Picked the apples yourself, I bet, right?"

"Yes..."

She cocks her head, a tinge of defiance in her narrowed eyes.

"That would explain this."

She taps her phone's screen a few times and then holds it up for me. It's a close-up shot of Edward and me in the orchard.

We weren't in the midst of picking apples.

She storms out of the room before I can reply, clomps up the stairs, and a few seconds later, slams her bedroom door.

I drop my head in my hands.

Oh God, I hate technology.

X-X-X

Ten minutes. That's how long I wait. Long enough to slowly drain a glass of Shiraz. Long enough to give Carlie a chance to cool down and myself an opportunity to work up the courage to face her anger. Long enough to replay Edward's pragmatic words—the ones he comforted me with as we leaned against my car, saying goodbye after one of the best weekends of my adult life.

Carlie might be upset at first, but she'll come around.

Everyone has a right to have a fulfilling relationship.

You're a vibrant, beautiful woman. You deserve happiness.

It's not your fault Mike has cancer.

My glass empty and my brain teeming with these rational rebuttals, I head for the stairs. There's no sound coming from Carlie's room. On the landing, I stop for a moment, pressing my ear to her door. Nothing. I knock lightly. No response. I tap again.

"Car? I think we should talk."

Still nothing. I turn the door knob and poke my head into her room. She's lying on her side facing the wall, ear buds in her ears as her fingers move rapidly across her phone's tiny keyboard—the twenty-first century teenage girl's version of writing in a diary. She's most likely ranting to Mallory about my unforgiveable transgression.

How dare I have a life?

(How dare I not tell her the intimate details of aforementioned life?)

I cross the room and perch on the edge of the mattress. A slight tilt of her head shows she's registered my presence, but she doesn't move, barely missing a keystroke in the message she's composing. I cross my hands in my lap as I stare at the poster on the back of her door—five English lads with outlandish mops of hair and absurdly provocative expressions, reaching out their hands to whatever love-struck teenage girl is gazing at them from her pink-quilted bed.

Time passes. Minutes? Hours? Days? I'm trapped in my tortured thoughts and desperate for some small sign that Carlie understands my feelings—realizes everything isn't always about her. Finally I hear movement. A sigh. The shifting of the mattress. The sound of her phone landing softly on the comforter, her ear buds following, gently thwacking her phone as they land.

"Does daddy know?" she says, her voice small and tired.

"No. I haven't mentioned anything. I wanted to tell you first."

I turn, thinking I'll try to reach for her hand or something, but she sits up, drawing her knees to her chest and wrapping her arms around her bent legs, shutting me out—at least physically.

"I'm sorry you had to find out that way, Carlie. I'm sure it was embarrassing for you to hear it from a friend instead of—"

"It wasn't a friend. It was stupid Gemma Radcliff. Of all people, it had to be her."

"I wanted to tell you. So many times I tried to tell you, Car, but I stopped myself every time. I was afraid of your reaction. I didn't want to upset you. I didn't want you to be angry."

"I guess I should be happy. Everything makes sense now."

She perches her chin forlornly on her knees while I try to understand what she's saying.

"What makes sense…?"

"You know. I thought the divorce came out of nowhere, but I guess you were hooking up with your old high school boyfriend. Dad couldn't compete with that."

I push myself off the bed, unable to sit still in the face of such an absurdly off-base accusation.

"Hold on," I say, waving my hands, as if to erase what she's just said. "You think I was having an affair?"

"Are you saying you weren't?"

"Good grief. Of course not!"

"Honestly?" There's that defiant edge again. The narrowed eyes, the jutting chin.

"Carlie." I look at her disapprovingly. The phone rings downstairs. I glance over my shoulder, but I don't move. Whoever it is can leave a message. "I didn't cheat on your father. I didn't have my first date with Edward until Labour Day. Then I got home and I was going to tell you, but your dad was here with his terrible news."

She ravages her lower lip with her teeth. I slump onto the bed, reaching out and curling my hand around her ankle.

"Until you found Edward for me on LinkedIn, I hadn't had any contact with him since high school. Honestly."

"So it's my fault?"

"Fault? What's your fault? That I've reunited with a man who enjoys my company? That I actually get to have a second chance with someone who meant a great deal to me a long time ago? I'd hardly call that something to fault."

"No, I mean it's my fault you don't want to be there for daddy. If I hadn't looked this Edward guy up…"

She trails off, leaving me to imagine the rest of the sentence.

"I'm sorry your dad's sick. It's not fair. I know that. But whatever your Aunt Myra says, it's not my responsibility to look after your father and his illness isn't a good enough reason for us to get back together."

"Well, duh. Now that you're banging some other guy—"

"Carlie!" I don't mean to snap at her, but I can't help raising my voice. I take a deep breath and stare at her as she glares back at me. "Crudeness isn't necessary," I say, trying to regain my cool.

She breaks first, looking away and then sliding sideways on the bed so she's staring at the wall again.

"Sorry," she mutters. Her tone is snide. She might as well have said, fuck you.

"You know, I came up here to apologize to you sincerely. An apology doesn't carry much weight when you're being snitty and staring at the wall."

She lurches upright again, her eyes blazing.

"I'm sorry, okay? I'm sorry stupid Gemma Radcliff took a picture of you making out with a guy in a frigging apple orchard and sent it to me. I'm sorry dad's cancer is wrecking your life. I'm sorry everything sucks!"

She starts to cry—snotty sobbing, saliva collecting at the corners of her mouth as she dissolves. I try to reach for her, wanting to comfort her but she jerks away, rolling into a ball again and batting me away with her hand. In my head, I imagine Dr. Hale—Rosalie—telling me to leave things alone for now. Carlie's not going to reward me by letting me ease her pain with a hug and she's far too upset to listen to reason.

I push myself off the bed and leave the room, closing the door behind me and feeling like an utter failure.

X-X-X

Since it's Sunday night, I should be phoning my mother. It's the last thing I want to do. I check the messages and discover that the call I missed while I was in Carlie's room was from Myra. Her message is brief: Mike's got a big week coming up. He's hanging in there but he's understandably nervous about his first round of chemo and radiation. She wants me to call her back, something about needing to plan next weekend.

Phoning my mother slips down a notch. It's now the second last thing I want to do.

Alice had asked me to call her back, too. And of course Edward wanted me to keep him posted on the events of the evening. I put the phone back on the cradle.

I need some time to regroup.

I put the casserole I made for dinner into the fridge. I look at the apple pie meditatively for a moment and then cut myself a large piece, telling myself that red wine goes with everything. I turn on the CD player and flake out on the couch with my wine and my pie, listening to Songs from a Basement in Rosedale.

I make short work of the slice of pie, but I nurse my wine, reclining with my arm over my eyes to finish listening to the CD. By the time the last song has started—Edward's version of Just Breathe—I'm beginning to wonder if Carlie will emerge again this evening, or if I won't see her until the morning. I'm not going to knock on her door again. I said my piece.

Prodded by Edward's husky voice, I take in a giant lungful of air and let it out slowly. I'm on my third deep breath when I hear a stair creak. I sit up quickly, my eyes darting to the CD player. Carlie appears and leans against the family room doorway.

"That's not Eddie Vedder," she says, bobbing her chin at the stereo.

I scan her face. It's all red and splotchy. Her eyes are puffy. She's had a good old crying jag, as my mother would say.

"No, it's not."

"Who is it?"

I pause. Do I dare?

"Actually…it's Edward," I say, deciding that honesty is probably the best policy, under the present circumstances.

"Huh." She listens for a few seconds. "He sings."

"And plays the guitar. He recorded this for me as a birthday gift."

"He must have it bad."

I bite my tongue and cross to the stereo, stopping the disc.

"You didn't have to turn that off on my account."

"I'd rather not have his kind gesture ruined by your nasty commentary."

She rolls her eyes and heads for the kitchen where the pie sits on the cooling rack in the middle of the breakfast bar, minus one generous slice.

"Did you eat dinner?" she asks me, poking her finger into the gooey filling and then licking it off as she crosses to the cupboard.

"Not exactly. Unless a huge piece of pie counts as dinner."

She grabs herself a plate and a fork, cutting herself a slice and then sitting at the kitchen table, her back to me. She's swallowed her pride by coming downstairs and now she's deigning to partake of a piece of pie full of salaciously gathered fruit. This is progress. We can't just carry on as if our conversation upstairs didn't happen, though. We need to clear the air. I cross the room and join her at the table.

"Listen, I know all this seems to be coming at you from left field, Car. It's taking some getting used to for me as well—being in a new relationship—but it's important to me to give things with Edward a fair shot." She doesn't say anything. I take that as my cue to push forward. "Sometimes I imagine myself living here by myself after you graduate and go off to university. I don't want to spend the rest of my life alone."

"Great. So I should feel guilty for wanting to go away to school now? You want me to stay home and commute somewhere local?" she says this to her pie, while stabbing it with her fork. I imagine Dr. Hale might call that sublimation.

"I'm not trying to make you feel guilty, Carlie. I'm explaining my feelings. You should go to whatever school offers the best program, regardless of where it's located, and get the best education possible. Your dad and I started a school fund when you were born so that you could do just that." Her eyes flicker up to mine grudgingly. "I suppose what I'm trying to point out is that you're not the only one with a future. I love you, so I want you to be happy. You should want the same for me."

She takes another quiet mouthful. I sense she's chewing over my words along with the pie crust.

"Is he moving in?" she says at last.

"Of course not." My voice softens as I try to imagine her worst fears—a strange man moving into our house, encroaching on her space, occupying rooms her father had once dominated. "Edward has his own home."

"But he'll stay over sometimes?"

"We haven't talked about it. Perhaps, eventually. I promise not to force him on you. We'll just take things one day at a time, okay?"

She doesn't answer, instead continuing to work away at her slice of pie. Cut, bite, chew. Cut, bite, chew. The last three mouthfuls seem to take an eternity for her to consume. Her cell vibrates beside her on the table, and I'm grateful to hear something other than the clanking of her fork and my own pulse throbbing in my temples.

"I guess Mallory's been getting an earful, huh?" I say, nodding at her phone.

"I haven't been talking to Mallory. I've been talking to Doyle."

"Oh."

I try not to imagine the things she's been telling him. He probably hates me already. But hey, isn't that what teenaged girls' boyfriends do?

"How is he? How's his mother feeling?"

Carlie shrugs, scrapes her fork across the remaining apple filling on her plate. "The chemo's brutal. She feels gross and sleeps most of the time."

"I'm sorry to hear that. You know everyone reacts differently to the treatments."

"Dad's done a lot of reading. He's prepared for the side effects."

"You spoke to him?"

"He emailed me. I think he wanted to make sure I wasn't worrying about this week."

"Did it help?"

"Not really."

She glances at her phone. She wants to read whatever message is waiting for her. Resisting seems to be taking super human effort. I'm kind of proud of her for resisting. What a strange world we live in.

"I really am sorry about all this, Carlie. I'd planned to tell you about Edward on Friday. Then you went to the cottage. Plan B was tonight."

"I guess things didn't go down the way you'd planned."

"Not exactly." I smile at her gently, but she doesn't join in. She's not amused. I wonder if she'll ever be amused again.

After sighing extravagantly, she falls back in her chair. "Do we have plans next weekend?"

Her ability to change the subject on a dime never ceases to amaze me. Is the topic closed? Am I forgiven? She makes my head spin.

"I'm not sure. Why?"

"I know it's Thanksgiving and all, but Doyle wants to hang out on Saturday night."

Of course—the message from Myra. We should talk about next weekend.

Thanksgiving.

Crap.

"So he wants to hang out?" I say.

Define hang out, is what I actually want to say. I do my level best not to remember what hang out meant to Edward when we were teenagers.

"Yeah. One of his friends is in a band. They're doing this concert thing at a house party. Can I go?"

"Will there be adult supervision?"

I get the eye roll.

"I don't know, Mom. Does it matter? I'm not gonna do anything stupid. I just wanna hang with Doyle and see this band."

"What if there's alcohol there. Or drugs?"

"So worst case scenario I'll have a beer or a cooler. I'm not gonna go crazy. And Doyle's totally anti-drugs."

"Well, that's a comfort, I suppose."

She picks up her phone and rubs her thumb tentatively across the screen. "So can I tell him I'm allowed?"

"Will I get to meet him? I'd like to meet him first."

"And what if you don't like him? Will you tell me I can't go?"

I want to shake her, she's so infuriating. I remind myself that I'm the adult here, and try to remain rational.

"You're a good judge of character. You like him and you're choosing to spend time with him, so I'm sure there won't be any reason for me to disapprove."

"You won't wig out over his lip ring and his hair? He wears eyeliner, too."

"I promise not to judge him on his appearance. I told you that before."

Eyeliner? Oh God. I'm judging already. Must. Stop. Judging.

"So how will you get to the party? Does Doyle drive?"

"Yeah, I don't know if he'll have the car, though."

"If he picks you up, I'll meet him then. If he doesn't, I'll drive you both over. We can chat in the car on the way there." Her shoulders slump in what I can only assume is anticipatory mortification. "I just want to meet him, Carlie. I promise I won't pull any Spanish Inquisition stuff. Don't make a big deal out of it."

She pushes herself up out of her chair.

"Okay. Fine. So I'll tell him I can go?"

"Oh, sure, why not?"

Even as I say these words, I'm thinking of all the reasons why not.

X-X-X

Myra.

My mother.

Alice.

Edward.

My To-Call list. There's really only one person I want to talk to. I grab the phone, safe in the knowledge that Carlie's back in her room with the door closed, no doubt texting Doyle to let him know that despite being a bitch from hell, I finally agreed to let her go to Saturday's party. Of course, she also has to prep him for my so-called interrogation.

I don't plan to interrogate him. I just want to look him in the whites of his (apparently charcoal outlined) eyes and let him know with a single pointed look that if he hurts my daughter, I'll castrate him.

As any mother would.

I dial Edward's number and he answers immediately.

"There you are." He sounds so relieved. "I've been clutching my phone for the last hour. I was tempted to call, but I knew you'd be in touch when you were ready. How'd it go with Carlie?"

"Not amazing. Get this—one of Carlie's schoolmates was at the orchard on Saturday. She must have recognized me. She took a picture of us kissing and of course felt the need to text it to Carlie. She got the message on the drive home from the cottage."

"Oh, shit. Bombshell."

"Totally."

"So she didn't take that well, I'm guessing?"

"I'd say that's accurate. She was pissed off, hurt, mortified…"

"Christ, I'm sorry. Not the best turn of events."

"Not at all."

"So what did you tell her?"

"Before or after she accused me of having an affair with you while I was married to her dad?"

"She didn't…"

"Yep."

"How the hell did you deal with that?"

"I just reminded her that she was the one who found you in the summer in the first place and said I've wanted to tell her about you, but the timing's always seemed wrong. I think she finally believed me."

"And how are things now? I gather she's not in the room with you?"

"No, she's in her bedroom, texting with a friend. A boy—kind of a boyfriend, I guess. She's got so much going on. Her dad starts his treatments this week…I don't know. She's emotionally overwhelmed."

"She'll be okay. Kids are so resilient."

"I guess. I'm just going to leave her be for now. She needs time to digest everything."

"Good thinking. You're a great mother, Bella. Don't go second guessing yourself."

"I suppose." I sigh heavily, trying to shut out the sound of the harpy—the ever present voice of doubt. "How was the rest of your afternoon? What did you do after I left?"

"I went for a run. Bad idea. My legs are like rubber."

I can't help smiling. "I wonder why."

"I know exactly why. And I don't regret a single minute. In fact, I've been flaked out on the sofa trying to remember every detail of every minute for the past hour."

"Really?"

"Hell, yeah. I started missing you as soon as you drove away, West-End. It's like I've entered this new phase of existence—I'm either with you, or wishing I was with you. That's all there is."

I close my eyes and let these words wash over me. "That might be the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me."

"It's true. I miss you like crazy."

"I miss you too. The weekend was wonderful. I can't wait to see you again."

"How about coffee on Tuesday night while Carlie's at riding lessons? I'll meet you at the usual spot?"

"Of course." I imagine us sitting in the coffee shop, holding hands. "It won't be long enough."

"Can we try to swing something next weekend? The studio's closed for three days for the holiday."

"Carlie's going to a party on Saturday night. I'd like to stay close to home in case she needs me, but maybe you could come over for a few hours."

"That sounds like a plan."

"I can't promise she'll be ready to meet you. I told her we'd take things one day at a time."

"Hey, we're making progress, Bella. That's good enough for me."

"Thanks for understanding."

"Of course. So it's Thanksgiving next weekend. Will you be baking pumpkin pies?"

"Probably."

"Is your pumpkin pie as tasty as your apple pie?"

"Tastier."

"Not possible."

Hearing the smile in his voice makes me smile right along with him.

"Will you make me a pumpkin pie?" he says.

"I might be persuaded…"

"I can think of a few ways to thank you for your efforts. If you're interested…"

I'm not just smiling now, I'm grinning ear to ear.

"How about I make you two pies?" I say.

The sound of his laugh makes me want to spend the rest of my life baking him pies.

(And being thanked for them.)


After writing that, all I can say is thank goodness my daughter isn't an eye-roller. I'd lose my mind.

If you're still out there, thanks, as always, for reading.

R

xo