Entry for the TLS Angst Contest
Word Count: 14,108
Pairing: Edward x Bella
Title of Story: More Ferarum
Story Summary: I'm still technically married. I still technically wear my wedding ring. It's on a chain around my neck. With his. He still won't sign the divorce papers. I still don't want him to.
Disclaimer: I don't own these characters.
I used to love casinos.
The way they smell, like filtered smoke and canned air. Stale water and spilled alcohol.
The way they sound. Mechanized chiming, zinging, the false jingling of computerized coins. The chaotic carpet designs, the way they blur under tired, intoxicated vision. The lights, the ceilings, the stairways. Escalators and mirrored elevators. Up and down. Looking at yourself.
And the people.
Old Asian ladies curled into themselves, smoking endless cigarettes while slowly tapping the slot machine screens with gentle but gnarled hands. Young studs playing Swingers. Their fingers wrapped, disappointed, around rocks glasses containing weak, watery martinis.
Young girls in jeans and tanks, their skin covered in Vegas glitter, their eyes full of it—full of promise, full of the wacky ways of Vegas.
The porn, the acrobats, the shops, the shows, the drive-through weddings.
That was me once. Stumbling towards the bank of elevators, one hand clutching a water bottle full of vodka, the other, my bridesmaid.
That was then.
This is now.
I got married here, I got stuck here.
And right now I'm slouched against the bar while Garrett fills my tray with drinks for delivery out to penny slots, dollar slots, high roller tables and video poker. My outfit is cutting tight, too tight, over my bosom, just like his gaze as he wedges a handful of napkins onto my tray.
Wedged between the Miller High Life and the Cuervo straight up.
God, I hate this job.
My eyes burn at the end of the night. My lungs ache, prickly from breathing smoke and recycled, temperature-controlled air. My feet after I pull my stockings off, sore and swollen after a long night in heels.
Coming home from a place that went from magic to monotony. All it took was marriage.
I'm still technically married. I still technically wear my wedding ring. It's on a chain around my neck. With his. He still won't sign the divorce papers.
I still don't want him to.
Even though it's been almost two years.
I see him sometimes, only online, logged into Facebook. I'm afraid to ping him. I'm afraid to open that can of worms.
It used to be he made me brave. He made me adventurous. He made me wild and hungry. I think I did the same for him. I think.
We were alive. Once.
Vodka-tonic, Heineken, whiskey sours, rum and cokes. Water bottles. Tiny ones.
Three good swallows and they're empty.
"Can I getcha something?" The guy hunched over the video poker machine looks like he's been up for three days straight. His shirt's wrinkled, hands swollen, really swollen, flesh squishing around a big class ring with a gaudy purple stone. It matches his lower lip, a pendulous discolored flab, wobbling wetly when he responds.
"Please. Coors Lite."
My smile feels big and fake and plastered to my face. "You got it."
I am an empty vessel.
I keep telling myself I'm going to enroll in school. Become a veterinarian or a social worker. It's not too late. I'm not too old. Not yet. I will be soon, but not yet.
Too old to cram my rack into this get-up, too old for the hemline, the armbands, the gobs of eye shadow.
Soon it will be sad. Not sexy. Soon it will be even more pathetic when some drunk grabs my ass.
I can pull this off for maybe... maybe another five to seven. That is plenty of time to find a profession where I can wear scrubs, or a suit, or even just jeans.
Is that really what my ambition comes down to? My fear of becoming a forty year-old woman wearing sequins in the basement casino of Circus Circus? Too old and worn down to cut it at Caesar's Palace anymore. Too sad and single to parade my ass around the Palazzo? Too wrinkled for the strip and relegated to downtown.
Mr. Coors Lite wants to put my tip in between my squished up breasts. I give him a look. The strip club is less than five minutes away, walking. You want to stick money to some chick's body then you need to go. Away.
He pulls out another ten. And okay. For twenty bucks I will let you stick your money in my bra.
"Atta girl," he says, reaching up and getting a good feel in when he makes his deposit.
I hate my life.
I clock out and change. Then I go home to my tiny apartment and my laptop where I can stalk my husband and tell myself I will look at universities later. Tomorrow. I will do it tomorrow.
But I don't. Tomorrow is the same day as every day.
I used to think I was deep. Now I realize, I'm as vain and shallow as anyone. I used to have ideals. Now I just have a constant bad attitude and calluses on my feet.
Used to be I was married. Now I'm just "not divorced."
And also not getting any.
Not because of any particular value I place on the piece of paper that doesn't bear his signature—the contract dissolution that doesn't free me from this union until it does—not for that.
Because sex with someone else - well... that would just be... weird.
Not because I've never slept with anyone else. It's just been a long time since I hooked it up with someone I didn't worship. Somehow, after a god impales you, a mere stabbing just isn't worth your time.
Kind of like the music tracks he uploads to Facebook. People have plenty of time to "like" them, but three and a half minutes of listening to indie-coffee-shop-rock is a big commitment. I honestly think I'm the only one who listens to every song he uploads.
Am I looking for myself there? Hidden neatly in some lyric, some obscure reference to me that I can wallow in?
My greatest failure. His too.
Sometimes I find those lines, little nuggets that show me he still thinks of me. Or at least, maybe, he thinks of the lessons we learned together. And not that trite bullshit that everyone tells you in the congrats cards you open when you get back from your honeymoon. Not the marriage is work's or the always put the lid down's. Or my favorite: Don't go to bed angry.
Remember to cherish each other.
What a joke.
Two people probably couldn't cherish each other more. It doesn't make them complete, whole, successful people. It makes them complacent about their failures. It makes it okay to look in the mirror and see a cocktail waitress and a construction worker. We were two people who really hated their jobs, their lives, but loved each other with single-minded devotion.
It's okay to go to work and have a drunk throw up on you, or deal with a mentally inept crew, because you come home to someone who adores you. Who knows you. Who is willing to sacrifice themselves, for you.
But that only works for so long.
She calls them hazel but all I see is earth and grass and blood.
My eyes. That has to be about me.
God, I hope that's about me.
She calls it worship and all I see is my shrine.
Does he know I listen to this?
She dreams of me and I dream of me. We dream the dreams of each other. We find ourselves in new lovers, under different covers. The same moon.
Ugh. I don't want to listen to this anymore.
He's a man. Of course he's sleeping with other people. We've been apart for years.
At some point we will have been apart longer than we were together.
That's a while yet.
I start the day fresh and clean and smelling, hopefully, like the first wife of a Raj, all sandalwood and spice. My makeup tidy, hair slightly damp in its ponytail, heels still comfortable. Give it an hour or four. I will smell like smoke, my face will feel grimy. Invariably I will end up smearing my liner on one side, and my feet. Well. Just cut the fucking things off.
And then the next day. Same story. Except this night I manage to spill a whole tray full of drinks up against the front of my "uniform."
So now, I smell more like the Raj's harem. Like sandalwood and Seven and Seven.
The canned, cooled desert air hits the damp material and pulls my nipples into stiff little points that will not go away.
On the bright side, I make double my normal amount of take home tips.
On the bright side, my husband just posted a new song. Apparently he misses the brown featureless hills of some mythological desert.
Is this about me?
God, I hope so.
I look at my watch. It's after three in the morning where I am. That means it's after four where he is.
If he's still in Colorado. I have no idea.
I wonder if he still drives the pickup. Probably.
I wonder why I'm so hesitant to just ask him. I used to ask him whatever the fuck I felt like asking him. He used to answer honestly.
Now the only things I ask him are when I silently scream at my computer screen.
"Who is she?"
"Where are you?"
Then I silently scream at myself.
"Why do you care?"
I will always care.
Maybe these songs aren't about me. Maybe he won't sign the divorce papers because he worries about alimony. I don't want any alimony. Maybe I should make that clear somehow.
Maybe I will email him tomorrow.
Maybe if he signed the fucking things I would move on.
Sounds awful. I'd rather wallow.
I would have to give up all this hope that he will come back.
Maybe he thinks I'm the one that should come crawling.
Maybe I am the one who should come crawling.
Maybe I should come clean.
I didn't actually sleep with that guy. That night. Two years ago. I let him believe it. I let him believe I had cheated. I let him believe that a random fuck defiled his temple. I let him think it, to set him free.
Because, "I love you, Belle. But I hate my life." Well, it's not what I wanted for him. Not ever.
I never wanted to see that tightly wound tolerance. That bleak short-distance vision that only saw all our acquired things burdening him with their permanence. I never wanted to trap and hold him still against his will. I never wanted that. I wanted to fly with him. But that isn't what our marriage became.
I broke his wings, burdened him with a load too heavy to lift off.
I was lukewarm about going to my ten year reunion. I'd been lukewarm about high school ten years ago, barely graduating after a solid year of sparse attendance. It was curiosity that got me, more than anything. And the desire to see some old friends I hadn't seen since. And, if I'm being totally honest, the desire to flaunt my husband and the fact that I was still thin while my arch rival, Lauren, the girl who had made all of elementary and middle school nearly intolerable for me, had blown up to triple her original size.
Like I said. Shallow.
The Silver Strike ballroom at Harrah's in South Lake was jamming with retro hits like Smooth and Say My Name and despite the trip down music memory lane, everything else was quite a lot like high school had been. Pointless and boring.
Except for Alice, a foreign exchange student from Germany. We had been close in the year she was here and had lost touch after graduation. She was there. Her plus one was her brother Emmett, very big, very quiet.
My plus one couldn't make it. He was stuck in Vegas on deadline. Or so I thought.
We drank. A lot. We danced. We migrated from the reunion to Peek Nightclub and got sucked into the thrumming undulation of bodies on dance floors. Bachelor parties commandeered us, bought us drinks. My drink went unattended.
I woke up in my hotel room. In my underwear. Next to a man that wasn't my husband.
I know what it looked like to Edward, standing there, the card key I'd left for him at the front desk just in case, still in his hand. He didn't know that the man was Emmett, that Alice was in the bathroom with her face pressed to the cool porcelain of the toilet. That my dress was in the bathtub, tangled into itself, soaking wet from the cold shower Emmett had dumped me into to keep me alert.
I'd thrown up I don't know how many times.
I remember rolling out from under the duvet, hitting the floor awkwardly, my wrist folding under me.
"What. The Fuck, Belle?"
I waited for the pain from my crumpled wrist to hit me. It did, with a wash of nausea. My brain unleashed a chant into my bloodstream. But I didn't have a voice.
It's not what it seems. It's not what you think.
But I never said any of that.
And later. Back home, I took all those burdens back when I didn't deny the allegations being flung at me. When he cried and cursed in my face, when he held me and damned me to hell and then left. Leaving behind his notebooks full of music and poetry, his toolbox full of drills and bits, his Stargate DVDs and his oversized sweaters with the thumb holes. He left it all.
I still have all of it. I haven't boxed it up or moved it into storage or thrown it away.
This one sweater in particular. It's the last true piece of him I have. It still, even two years later. Still, faintly smells of him. So faint that maybe it's just my imagination. Maybe it's just wishful thinking. Like a woman deranged I keep it in a big Ziploc bag and only open it on special occasions. I only take the smallest breath of it. I don't want to use up all the good-smelly-ness.
Once that's gone. Maybe then I can get rid of it all. Maybe then I will clean house. Maybe.
Maybe then I will stop daydreaming that one day. One day, he will be famous and will come and play Caesars. And we will patch things up.
It's just not possible, though. I didn't cheat. But I did lie.
His life is better now. Maybe now he hates me, but he loves his life.
I take a valium and wash it down with vodka.
I love him and I hate my life.
A couple weeks later I finally send that email. It's short and awkward and it essentially declares that if it's money he's worried about, it states plain as day in the paperwork that I don't want any. Two days later I get a response. It's short and awkward and essentially declares that he will get to it when he does.
I reply immediately.
And when will that be?
His reply pops up within twenty seconds.
When I fucking feel like it.
My ears steam.
Gmail tells me my conversation with Edward Cullen has been updated and I click the little bubble.
Life with me must have been really intolerable for you. You can't wait for it to be completely over, can you?
What should I do? What should I say? Isn't he happier? Isn't his life better? He is free, he is alive, he is pursuing his dreams. The nuances and the details of that, I don't know. But I know that I don't come home to him glassy eyed on the couch anymore, eating vanilla wafers out of the bag and laughing at some stupid sit-com. I know that he just cut his first record. I know he collaborated with people I've actually heard of. Famous people. I know that I heard a song off it while I was at Starbucks. I know that it wasn't about me.
My reply is solid gold brilliance.
I'm such a child.
Apparently he is too, because a couple months later I'm in the midst of asking a bohemian princess with fat well-made dreadlocks and two nose rings what she'd like to drink when he materializes next to her and asks for a Pacifico.
All that smell-goodness and hair and eyes. Eyes like the mold that grows on the remnant of a loaf of bread. Grey-green. Haunted. I just stare. I legitimately just stare. Facebook-him and real-life him are these two wildly different things. I could touch him, here. I could reach out and ... it would be so easy.
Little miss dreadlocks has nothing on us. Absolutely nothing. I've marked every inch of his body. Either in scratches, bite-marks, bruises or ink. Words of devotion, acts of devotion. I've cloaked him in it. There is no part of me that wasn't branded in the same way. In this moment I don't understand how the whole world doesn't see it written all over him. My name and the signs of my ownership.
All they see is the foreclosure.
I head to the bar, flustered as fuck and Garrett can tell. "'Sup?"
I cover my hyper-reality with some kind of excuse. Honestly, I could just be making unintelligible sounds. I don't know. All I hear are the sounds of things breaking and splintering and coming apart.
Me. Shattering. Inside of my voice.
He loads up my tray and the Pacifico mocks me as it sits there next to her small bottle of champagne.
Are they celebrating something?
Why are they in Vegas?
Are they getting married? No, no. He can't get married. He's already married.
I hate my slutty uniform and my smoky hair and my smeared make-up and the pinch of these stockings and myself. I hate that I have to walk back over there and hand him this beer. I have to hand her her drink. I have to wait on them. In my casino.
My eyes are filling up and... fuck. I'm not going to cry over this. I'm going to get over it.
That is what I'm going to do.
She doesn't look at me when I set her drink next to her on the Wheel of Fortune machine. He tips me with a manila folder full of what I immediately recognize as our divorce paperwork. I don't know why it makes me feel like shoving her face against the front of the machine. Because for a girl I've always been a little violent.
A little possessive.
He used to like that about me. Because it was subtle. Because I was subtle.
She probably knows who I am and that I'm the rubbish left at the curb for pick up. His love songs are probably about her. Her hair is the color of sand, if sand were rubbed in a pile of dung and wound into a lice-ridden mess. She could be the mythological desert he dreams of.
I thank him for the folder and his eyes tell me to go fuck myself.
That look hurts. It's the look he used to give to people he couldn't tolerate. To his buddy who made a sexual remark about me one day, to his mom, to his boss. He had that look for everyone. Everyone except me.
I don't know why, but somehow, I thought there was never a way for me to earn that look. I thought I was immune from it, above it, apart from it. I thought that he might look at me with anger, fury, pity... but never the hostile distaste he served up for others.
The same way every moment of my life without him hurts. Just more so.
I stick the folder in my locker and take a ten. Jake is in the break room and when I ask him if I can bum a smoke he looks at me like I grew another eyeball in the middle of my face.
"Hokay, Bella," he says in his thick sing-song accent. "But I deedn't theenk you smouuuked."
I struggle to light the fucking thing with shaking hands. Hands quivering on the end of rubbery arms as I stand here on legs made out of mud.
Inhale and cough.
And feel the nicotine hit my bloodstream.
My punchy feeling dissolves a little.
"You're payyy-el, Bella. You hokay?"
I take another long deep drag, this time without coughing like a middle-school amateur hour smoker and say, "Yeah. Peachy-fucking-keen."
I'm such a bitch, anymore.
Jake and I smoke in silence around the plastic break room table. Him, hunched, his bad eye covered by its patch. Vegas did that to him. Ground him down over the years. A fifty year-old janitor who looks eighty. Me, motionless, watching smoke curl slowly towards the ceiling. I know my ten is over. I know my time is growing short. I have to get back to the floor. Before I get written up.
I thank Jake and he hands me a stick of gum. "De nada, chica."
I spend the rest of the night trying not to see them. But he is tall, his voice has this echoing quality about it. I remember sitting up late in the beginning of our relationship. We would smoke weed and talk about music. We would talk endlessly of time-travel and lyrics. Philosophy and politics. His voice would rumble out of him, an unmistakable voice. It's going to make him famous.
So I hear it.
I hear it in my head, even when I'm on the other fucking side of the place. And I see them. Her hair like road kill, his like an old penny. Her posture a forced too-cool slouch. His ramrod straight. He always towers, in my vision of him.
They don't talk much. I like to think that if this were him and me, we would be sitting in front of machines but turned towards each other. He would be gesturing with his hands, his cigarette dangling from his mouth as he bounced ideas off me. I would be nodding and trying to find some part of me that could be touching him. Always touching.
Even after eight years together. That was what it was like to be married to your soul mate.
Always needing to touch.
But what I realized is that some relationships aren't equal. Some relationships aren't soul-mate. They're soul-check-mate. Soul-slavery. Indentured. Captive.
He was my captive.
Emancipation Procla-fucking-mation, bitches.
They're still not saying anything to each other when my shift ends.
I blessedly ditch my costume and stuff it into my locker. I eye the folder and debate leaving it there. I debate piling things atop it. Like a lunch I can forget about for a couple of weeks. Letting it go old and runny in the bag, smearing ooze on the crisp folder and ruining all the legality within it.
Fuck you and the hippie you rode in on.
But I don't.
I take it home.
I throw it on my dining room table and stare at it. Lost.
I can't Facebook stalk him. I know where he is and what he's doing. I know what his uploads are about. It's all. All of it. Not about me.
I don't know what to do with myself.
So I open the folder, looking for his handwriting.
His handwriting, a small tiny piece of his soul that I can still... touch.
And there it is. Next to the X. Under my name. My stupid married name that I will have to abandon now. I have to go back to Swan... which I don't want to do.
But it's not his name.
Admit you lied.
What the ever-loving fuck?
How does he know?
How can he know?
Now - after all this time?
I flip the page over to where he should have John Hancocked the next page.
Admit it, and I'll sign.
I have the next day off. I run my errands and soak in the over bright sunshine. It's usually beginning its decline towards the horizon when I make my way to work. I love the sun. Though I miss Tahoe, cool and verdant, sometimes I love the stark deprivation of this place.
But not today.
Today the grocery store feels like a Tarantino outpost where the cans of frank-n-beans mock me. Them and the limp topped carrots and wilted cilantro. Everything feels old and retro and fucked. He is tainting my city by being here. He is spoiling my routine and my appetite and my desire to spend my night doing anything other than sequestering myself in my depressing apartment with an ice-cream cake, a bottle of Vodka and a happy little rainbow assortment of illegally purchased pills.
I'm fucking pathetic.
How do I find my purpose? How do I settle for the second best of anything when he is out there? When I know he exists and he does it with such easy masculine grace. How do I exchange two sentences with anyone in this world when they are all subpar automatons? Or maybe that's me.
Wind me up and watch me go.
Admit you lied. Admit you lied.
What the fuck will that accomplish?
Apparently, my divorce.
I need to wash my hands of all of this. I need to move on.
I power up my laptop and pull up email. I send him a message. It's subject only, and Gmail asks me to confirm I want to send it with no body.
I lied. Now sign.
The one good thing about this room with attached shower and kitchenette is that it has a balcony. From it, I can see the strip. This isn't any big whoop, you can see the strip from almost anywhere in this town. I will probably look over the strip from my grave.
I take the bottle and go hit the view. The brown hills in the distance are shrouded in the purpley-orange twilight. The atmosphere all around me is heavy, weighed down by the oncoming night. Feeling infinite, like the rest of my life.
Like the rest of my life where there is no place where I can avoid him. His music and his memory. There is no place where I want to. But I have to find a way.
I drink straight from the bottle. It burns my throat and my eyes. It smells and tastes like rubbing alcohol.
And I like it.
And if I'm not careful, I'll end up an alcoholic.
I'll be stuck here in this fucking surreal, strained life.
Stuck in my white and gold Grecian fuck-me tunic. Stuck in the casinos I used to love.
Stuck forever watching the carpet move under my feet. Stuck avoiding the Bellagio and its blown glass garden ceiling and jetted fountains. Better days.
Fossilized together with this neon, with the nothingness of being a cocktail waitress in this wasteland.
I actually look at universities online the next day. Blue on yellow, gold on navy, accredited. Expensive. Especially considering I haven't the first clue about what I want to do. One of the former cocktail waitresses who still comes in occasionally is a dental hygienist. She makes good money. But I can't really see myself hanging out inside people's mouths all day.
I'd rather hang out in a casino.
Maybe a vet-tech.
Then I'd have to put animals to sleep. Don't think I could do that.
I close the browsers. I'll put more energy into figuring that out later.
I shower and spend some extra time on my hair, working a few braids into a Grecian style coronet, pulling out some thick strands to frame my face. It's the only creative license I get with my uniform outside of earing choice.
People are always propositioning me. It's not usually the sleazy come-on you would expect. It's usually some guy, some poor shmuck who can't tell the hookers from the tourists from the help. He's usually awkward when he asks me if I'd like to make some extra money. He usually looks incredibly embarrassed.
This guy doesn't look lonely, nor is he awkward. And he isn't asking.
He's name dropping.
He asks me if I'm Cullen's wife. Then he concludes that I must be without any help from me. He puts an envelope on my tray. It's stuffed with cash, a key card, and a napkin with a room number on it. I hand it back and his hands go up.
As do my eyebrows.
He smiles. "He just wants to talk to you."
"What's the cash for then?"
"Sorry. He didn't tell me."
I stick the envelope in my locker and try to forget about it.
But I don't.
It's almost three am when I stick the card into the slot, slide it out and push the door open. My heart is thundering inside my skull when I call out, "Hello?"
In my own head my voice sounds terrified, but in the air around me, I think it comes across as defiant. At least, I hope it does.
The suite faces the strip, and I cross the empty room to the windows, watching the fountains of the Bellagio go off thirty stories below. It's amazing how easy it is to lose time while in their trance. It's one of the reasons I ignore the Bellagio. And the fact that I stayed there with Edward when we got married. A million stories down, but higher than I am now.
I finally turn my back on it and head for the door, rubbing my palms against my jeans. All fucking worked up over an empty room.
I feel like I should leave a note. Proof that I came up here, just in case. I'm leaned over the complimentary note pad, pen in hand when the door opens and my husband strides in. He stops near the door to the bathroom, slipping the card key back in his pocket.
"So. You are a whore."
I toss my pen down on the table and square up.
There is no right answer here. I can't say that I came only because I thought he would be here. I can't say that I felt obligated when I saw the couple grand in the envelope. When I saw my name, Belle, not Bella, which is what everyone calls me. And in a script I recognized.
Because he knows those things. He did those things on purpose.
"Apparently not. Not if you think I lied."
I'm shaking. Goddamn it.
I wish I hadn't put the pen down. Wish I had something to grip, something to squeeze in my unstable hand. His eyes sweep me. Those eyes, framed in the hot embers of his eyelashes, his gaze burning me.
"I don't think it. I know it."
"How?" I bite back.
He shakes his head. His lips hiding a smile at the corners. Not a warm one. The sight of it reminds me of that tiny kindness that used to curve his mouth, that lent light to his slightly squinted eyes. The look that would take his face a mere moment before his hand took mine. He would reach for me, fold me up into him, against his chest, against his scent.
He was a safe place, once.
The memory of the feel of him, the smell of him, the lost comfort of him, and I'm inhaling through my nose, almost desperately. Down the bridge of my nose, I see my nostrils flare, but all I smell is the beer on my hands and the smoke in my hair.
He closes the gap between us, his expression making me step back, my heel scuffing against the baseboard as my shoulder blade hits the wall. He stops directly before me, I'm afraid to look up past the open buttons at his collar. I don't know what's in my eyes, whatever it is, it isn't the steel I need.
"Can you smell me now, Belle?"
My eyes feel very round in my face, cool, open. Looking up, I can see every pore in his face, the stubble scruffing his chin and upper lip, the green and grey mosaic of his irises. His teeth, the canine on one side visible as the word "Breathe" falls from his lips.
An order and I follow it.
That shirt in the Ziploc bag, the faint far away smell of him trapped within, becomes laughable compared to the assault of his actual person.
Tang and spice. His sweat, his soap. Rich. Chewable. My teeth clench, wanting to taste him, wanting to fill myself with any small particle that once touched him. His scent must contain molecules of him, I can have them if I simply breathe deep enough. I can change my own biochemistry by inhaling.
He laughs. A bitter, hollow sound.
This laugh. I know his polite laugh, the one he gives to people at social functions, his perfunctory laugh, his nervous laugh, his genuine laugh. The one that comes from the depths of him, the places I used to think were mine.
Because this laugh I don't know.
"Is it nostalgia, kitten? Like how I feel right now? Or how I would feel, if you didn't smell like an ashtray."
His mixed use of old pet names and insults makes my spine stiffen. I forcibly relax my jaw, trying to ease the dull throb behind my eyes. "What do you want? Why am I here?"
"We need to finish this, my Belle. We need to wrap it up, done. And move on. You want your paperwork. You want your freedom. I want to give it to you."
But I don't. I really don't want any of those things. What I want is to be enough, to be better, to be able to change. Or for him to change. But that... that is a possibility like a Wile E. Coyote tunnel. Painted on, fake, I would seek the other side but hit the broadside of a mountain instead. It's futile.
There is no change. I am what I am. And he is what he is, and caging him is wrong. He isn't meant to be domesticated. He's for the wild. The wild is for him. It's in his mouth, in the square of his shoulders and the pierce of his eyes. His stance, his songs. Even his scent, still compressing my brain with its intoxicating vibrancy, rangy and pheromonal. Like elecampane fresh from the tin.
My chin comes up. Very much in the manner of me, of daddy's girl whose irrational stubbornness is accompanied by a stamped foot and a determined glare. He always used to tell me, "Square up, princess. Daddy isn't here to fight this one for you."
He's thinking of it. I can see it in his face. I can hear him, the echo in my mind morphing into reality as he speaks, the word lilted gently by the soft purr of his accent. "Square up, princess-"
"Don't say that to me."
He shifts his weight, pulling a wad of folded papers from his back pocket. Copies of our divorce paperwork.
"I can't sign these. Not as the situation stands. See, my Belle. It says..." he opens them, scanning the words, finger pointing at the line as he reads it aloud. "Dissolution of marriage for fault. Adultery, my Belle. Which you have not committed."
I haven't. But that isn't the point.
I feel the skin against my skull tighten. My hair raising. Best to have it out.
"How did you find out?"
Of his hand.
Through his hair.
His exasperation and frustration and the grace with which he does everything. Absolutely everything. "I saw him, a few months back. I confronted him. I wasn't your meek poet, not that night. Despite your perception of me, I am a man."
I shake my head, dumb. My perception of him. His perception of my perception of him. Both wrong. I didn't think he would confront Emmett, but not for meekness. Maybe though. I've never seen Edward have a testosterone fueled display, not one of aggression or hostility.
He answers the shake of my head with a nod. And an accusation, pointed, particular and cruel. "You changed me."
His eyes are dark, hooded and intense. His lips drawn in, showing his teeth, showing his fight.
"I hate now. You hear me, my Belle? I hate. At least it's marketable."
He means his music. It used to be different, when he wrote in our den, filled volume after volume with poetry and music. It was different than it is now. Now, it's the hurt of a wounded animal, crying from its trap. The cry of a wounded man. Freedom can be a cage too, I guess.
"Your music is better now. It's real emotion, now."
He slouches down, curving his spine to look me right in the eye. "I don't give a fuck. About the quality of my music. Or your opinion of it."
He pulls back, the cloud of his scent moving with him, abandoning me.
Despite the rupture opening up in my heart, I speak, "Still. You didn't have-"
"Don't you dare, my Belle. Don't you fucking dare!"
His hands are fists. Mine are too. But it's his words that are like punches.
"Don't you dare take credit for my success. Don't you ever claim a right to it by your being the cause of my suffering."
"All I meant was-"
"I know well what you meant, wife."
I flinch, the punch of that word brings the sharpest sting, and his angry grimace fades.
He rubs his palm over his eyes, his mouth, hand lingering at his chin, and I glimpse something that mirrors my constant desperation.
Isn't his life better?
"What are we going to do about our marriage?" He talks through his fingers.
I am the meek one, my voice a whisper, spoken at my feet. "End it?"
The spark in his eyes turns to flame, and he matches my whisper with his own. "Have you... in the years we've been apart. Have you... how many men have you fucked?"
My cheeks answer the flame in his eyes with their own burn. The heat forces my eyes closed as I try to breathe, as I try to find the right answer. There isn't one.
Zero means I haven't committed adultery. Anything more than that is a lie I don't think I can maintain.
"I've lost count," I squeak.
He laughs. Again, cold and empty. "Hard to count to zero, isn't it?"
My eyes accuse him when they open. His answering smile is condescending, foreign.
"Ah. I knew it. You fucking liar, Belle."
"And what about you?"
"What about me?"
"How many... how many …" I gnaw my lip. I don't want to ask. I don't think I want to know.
His face is cold and when he speaks, he looks as though he can't believe it himself, his head shaking slightly, his brow furrowed with anger. "A lot."
The pain in my chest is what a heart attack must feel like. I wrap my arms around my middle, trying to hold myself in. I knew it, but I didn't know it.
"Lost count, huh?" My voice shakes, like my insides, like the world under my feet. My reality. Shaken.
He leans away from me, I'd like to think the look on his face is regret. For his words or his philandering, I'd take either. "Why did you do it?"
Like he doesn't already know. He asks like he needs my answer.
"According to you, I didn't."
"Drop it, already. I mean. Why did you let me believe your infidelity. Why are you still telling lies?"
My eyes meet his, hold him. "I love you, Belle, but I hate my life."
The room throws my words back at me. The echo of his words-he must remember them-spool and spin in my ears.
I love you, Belle. But I hate my life.
He rocks back, face severe but sad, voice empty. "Now I just hate everything. Including you. I don't even have that anymore."
My stomach twists and I decide I'm done with this. Nothing is getting done. Nothing is being forgiven or resolved. I straighten and take in some air. I need to get out of here before I lose it. Before I grieve for all I did and all I lost. I need a drink, or four.
I clear my throat, about to say that I'm outta here. He eyes me knowingly, turns away, pulling the tumblers from their little plastic bags and grabbing an assortment of liquor from the mini-bar. He sets the bottles and the glasses down in front of me and I immediately twist the caps off the Kettle One and the Skyy and dump them both into the same glass.
I drain it in four swallows as he's just begun to sip at something that might be Jameson's—his go-to drink from the city of his birth. My eyes water from the stiffness of the vodka and its residual glow about my mouth.
"Feel better?" he asks over the rim of his glass.
His sip turns into a chug and he sets his empty glass next to mine, glossy eyes searching my face as the tension of the taste slowly leaves his face.
"This is what we're going to do."
And then he proposes something insane, something I agree to.
I take the elevator up to my apartment instead of the stairs. My legs are done for the night, and I lean against the dented metal paneling wondering exactly how I get through the next twenty four hours.
What it came down to was this.
He would sign the divorce papers when my adultery was confirmed. When it was legit, as he proclaimed it needed to be. My word wasn't good enough. There had to be proof of it.
Really I just want to see you fuck another man. He said.
There would be money involved. A settlement, of sorts. And then he never wanted to hear from me again.
I poured more vodka.
"So you'll be watching?" I finally asked.
He pointed a finger at me like a gun.
I should've asked why. What I asked was, "Who?"
"Do I have to orgasm?" Another stupid question. But my brain wasn't working right.
"I don't care."
His face was guarded. I searched it in an attempt to learn something, anything, that might be going through his mind. But all I came up with was the idea that this was crazy. Like he needed to prove something to himself. Or maybe to me.
I asked the big question. "Why?"
His big answer was a painful looking shrug. "I have my reasons."
I told him it didn't make sense and he told me it didn't need to.
And then I said okay.
He finds me towards the end of my shift. A tall man in a dark suit, his dirty blond hair pulled back into a ponytail. Without a word, he places a card key on my tray, together with a napkin. I can't look away from the room number, written in a hand I know well, the slanted lines blurring as I stare.
I look up into smirking blue eyes, though his expression is one of business-like formality. Maybe he sees my panic because the smirk dissolves and he gives me a small, sweet smile.
"I'm nervous, too." his voice is clipped, not Irish like my husband. Welsh maybe. His hand reaches towards me. "James."
I look at it, then up at him, before shifting my tray to one hand so I can shake. "Bella."
He nods. "I know."
"What did he … what did he tell you? Is he paying you, too?"
His lips pucker and he shakes his head, like answers to those questions are secrets he won't be divulging.
"Tell me how you know him at least."
He smiles again, and I see a dimple flash on one side. "Roadie."
"Oh." I don't really know what else to say. He seems to understand that. He bows his head to me, tipping a non-existent cap and walking away.
I watch him go, watch the way he walks, one hand tucked casually into a hip pocket. He disappears into the throng, but I know I'll see him again, thirty minutes from now, and thirty floors up.
I change into jeans and a t-shirt at the close of my shift, find Garrett at the bar and order a triple Kettle One neat and drink it, my eyes screwed shut against the burn. During the ride up I fish a Xanax from my pocket and swallow it dry.
Am I really going to do this?
Yes. I am.
I have my reasons. Stupid ones, but reasons nonetheless. Besides the money and his signature.
Maybe I'm wrong, but this feels like a bluff.
It feels like Edward has money to burn, anger in surplus quantity, some sort of revenge thing happening. But that isn't him. It's not his way.
You changed me.
I shift my weight from foot to foot. Watching my muted reflection in the depressing glow of streaked brass paneling. I'm pale, my lips pink and popping out of my face like blood on paper.
Am I really going to do this?
The elevator dings and my heart drops. The doors whip open with a whir and I don't move. The spirals of the carpet do though, and I stamp one foot.
"Square up, princess."
I charge into the hallway and straight to the room, brandishing my card key like a shank. I stab it into the slot, watch the light go green, and then I push into the room.
It's quiet and dark, and I have the sudden feeling of having woken up in the pit of despair. Instead of an albino sponging me down to make sure I'm healthy enough to withstand the machine, there's a tidy row of tiny liquor bottles lined up on the marble counter.
"So it's to be torture then."
Ice clinks against glass, and I find Edward in the corner, sitting in an uncomfortable looking mustard colored chair, leaned forward, elbows on knees. His eyes rise from the tumbler in his hand to me, afflicted, but finally holding a bit of the humor I always used to find there. His hair betrays him though. As it always does. He's been plowing it with his fingers.
I just look at him, and he looks at me, shaking the dregs of his drink gently, the ice speaking in the silence. Clink, clink, clink. A cold, wet sloshing sound.
I should leave. The thought is distinct, loud, and to drown it out I twist the cap off a miniature bottle of something, I don't know what, just whatever my hand touched first. The taste hits me after the burn.
Tequila. Blech. I say it out loud.
I sneak a sideways peek at him and swallow. "Well - where's... you know. Where's the guy? James." I shrug, definitely feeling the purr of the drink hit me.
I snort. It's an indelicate sound. The Xanax is easing into my muscles now, too. My limbs are loose and my attitude is pretty much that I don't give a fuck.
I lean against the wall and tip my head back, looking at the ceiling. A million things I could say charge through my mind. Foggy and futile, because I won't give voice to any of them.
A chime rings out, a sound that stops my heart's beating, a sound that erases the Xanax induced abandon, and I watch as the door swings inward. James comes in, his sweetness from the casino floor gone, now full of swagger, loosening his tie. Why he's wearing one, I don't know. Maybe he feels more like a john with it on.
It makes me feel like more of a whore.
He circles the counter where the liquor line-up sits, taking the three steps down into the sleeping-fucking-area jauntily, coming to a stop in front of me. I've seen that look before. It's the moving in look. It's the imminent kill look, the sleepy half smile... the one declaring that before another twenty minutes pass he will have stormed my castle and pillaged my barn. Or something that makes more sense.
Hopefully, in thirty minutes this will be over. I just have to make it thirty frikken minutes. I can do that. I think I can do that.
I blink. My eyelids leaden, it makes lifting them back up nearly impossible. By the time I do, the world as I left it is still there.
"Drink?" Edward is playing host. I find that a bit amusing. Considering the situation.
Would you like a cocktail before you fuck my wife?
"Nah," my quarry answers, his eyes not breaking from my face.
"I'll have one."
I escape in a rush, wrapping my fingers around the next bottle in the line. I notice my hand shaking, so I press the heel of it against the marble, registering the coolness up my arm and into my brain. The slow progress of the sensation emphasizing the growing distance between me and reality.
The drag of fingers against the prickling skin of my outer arm makes me close my eyes. Hot breath on my ear, reaching around and finding my nose. Not bad, pennyroyal crushed under the boot, slightly minty, but disconcerting all the same.
He's whispering something. But the words turn to mush in my mind. I know they're English, or they were when they fell from his lips. But then it's just warm wet as his words melt into the caress of his tongue. First the shell of my ear and then into its convex and curve. The hair stands straight up on my neck, on my scalp, and I force myself to be still. To not pull away.
A panicky urgency grips me. Tight. About the throat and heart. Demanding that I end this. That I not go a moment further into this future. It was one thing to imagine it, to tell myself I could bear it.
I don't know if I can.
He spins me, his body language backing me towards the bed. My calves hit the mattress and I sit, James leaning over me, one hand pressing next to me, the other searching for skin at my waist.
Must not push him away. Must not.
He tugs at the hem of my t-shirt, his mouth searching for mine, but I can't help the constant twist of my neck, my instinctual evasion. So he layers damp kisses against my jaw, my ears, my collarbone. And then my t-shirt is up over my head and tossed away. He palms my breasts, pushing their weight into each other, sliding, grunting his appreciation.
I don't mind it, I don't think. What I mind is the dark corner where Edward sits. His eyes. I feel them on me. I hear the slosh of his drink.
I begin a slow deliberate disconnect, trying to find that empty hole inside me. The part that doesn't care that I'm growing old under the ostentatious facade of Vegas, like an omelet under a heat lamp.
I stay hot, maybe. But I'm not warm.
I'm not fresh.
I'm wilted and rubbery, crusting at the edges. My flavor is bleeding out of me, like my self-preservation. I cover it all up, in plastic smiles and plenty of eye-shadow.
I wish I could do something drastic. Something like get off this bed, tuck my breasts back into the three year-old bra I'm wearing, pull my t-shirt back over my head, give Edward the finger, and then never open Facebook again.
Never think about his mouth, full of another girl's mouth.
Because I think of it every day. Like brushing my teeth. It's just routine.
My nipples harden as James caresses them with his fingers. More sloshing from the corner. The casual crunch of ice between teeth.
I just want to be free. Free from my burdens, this place, myself. I'm so sick of the mirror, which hands me some pathetic crap every time I reach out for meaning. I'm so sick of this void in me, it devours me from the inside, I silence it with drugs and drink. But all I do is keep it quiet... while it eats. Eats and grows. And consumes me.
I'm tired of the dank emptiness of my neglected hovel. I'm tired of all his stuff, taunting me from their boxes.
I'm tired of every footfall against casino carpeting and the slick underside of every damp bar tray. I'm tired of people smiling at me, the sounds of their losing, the riot of winning.
I'm tired of envy and ennui. I'm tired of everything.
I'm tired of this moment. Of this stranger's hands, squishing my flesh, kneading all my sensitive places with his meaningless touch.
I grit my teeth, trying not to hear his appreciative little sounds as he tugs and pinches at the tips of my breasts. The top of his head comes into view, and I know he is going to suck at me. I turn my face away, denying the actuality of it by not watching.
I'm not crying. I won't.
I press the side of my face against the bedspread, hoping it's absorbent enough to pluck the tear from the corner of my eye before it streaks down to get lost in my hair.
I try to think of the envelope full of money on the counter. But that isn't why I agreed to do this. Not really. I'm doing it as a dare.
I fill my lungs.
I find my rage. I find my childish petulance. The part inside me that is always right, always self-righteous, always boiling with It's not fair! The fury right under the surface. I think of the casual yet interested glance of Miss Dreadlocks standing next to my husband—mine—and which one of us has actually committed adultery. After all, he hasn't signed the papers yet.
He can rail at me, but really, despite the childish nature of what I did, I did do it for him.
And I hate, too.
I push James back, freeing my breast from his mouth with a wet sucking pop. He settles back to sit on his feet, neck flushed and tie askew. My crawl atop him is mindless, an arrow sprung from the bow. Our mouths collide, teeth scraping as I tug at and untangle his tie. His hands are warm, hot pressure at the sides of my breasts and he dives his head to suck both stiffened crests.
I watch him, pulling out the band around his ponytail, then find Edward as I let it fall to the floor. Over James' shoulder, cloaked in shadow, Edward glares. I stab him in the face with my own gaze as I let my fingers slide through James' coarse blond hair.
I just want Edward to give a damn. Even if it's only for a moment. I want him to remember who I am and what I once meant to him. Just for a second.
I grip James by the neck, holding his face to his task, and tip my head back, exposing my throat, keeping Edward's eyes trapped in mine.
"Fuck you." I only mouth it, feeling my lips curled back with animal anger.
To my surprise, he stands.
The sound of his glass hitting the marble tabletop is very loud. And very final.
"I've had enough."
James stills against me. I don't let him go. Suddenly I'm more nervous than I've been at any point so far, all my rage evaporating like breath in the desert.
I try to calm the erratic parade of my heart, breathing hard, shaking with the jagged inhale and exhale.
"James." His voice is quiet, but there's no missing the threat. "I was wrong. Let go of my wife."
"No. Don't." I lock myself around James, trying not to let him disentangle from me. But he does. Going to his feet, facing Edward, a robot ready for his next instruction.
It makes me feel very disposable, and I pull my bra cups back up, fingers trembling.
"Get out." Edward cocks his head towards the door. James swipes his tie off the bed and heads for the exit, not sparing a glance my direction on his way out.
And why should he?
The extent to which I hated myself three minutes ago is exponential now. Orders of magnitude greater.
"What the fuck?"
Edward's hand is pressed to the back of his neck, his head moving slightly, back and forth. Saying no to the empty room ahead of him.
Then he faces me.
He looks disgusted.
His face pursed, eyes aflame. He comes towards me, moving slowly, and I find myself backing up, backing away from him.
He stops, directing his dagger stare at my chest, slicing to ribbons anything that might remain of our old intimacy.
Suddenly he's reaching for me, gripping my arm with cruel fingers—the first time he's touched me in two years—covering my necklace with his other hand. Making a fist around our rings, he yanks, and the chain comes soundlessly apart. He flings it away, it hits the floor with a metallic clang, the chain dragging and skittering to a stop against the wall.
"I fucking... I fucking hate you." He shakes me. "It's the only thing I thought I could feel. Besides the despair and the sick. You make me sick. How. Fucking. Could you?"
I snatch my arm away and he grabs it back.
"Do you know what I've done, Belle? There's no fucking... there's no fucking going back for me. Do you understand? For two fucking years. I thought you fucked that guy. You let me think it... and you know... the only thing worse than that. Is fucking finding out you didn't!"
His angry vein bulges, the one that cuts through his forehead.
"You didn't. You didn't. But I have, my Belle. I thought maybe … you must've … something. In two fucking years, SOMETHING! Someone. And I thought. I thought, I could … make you ... and I can't. Fucking. Do it."
"Is that? Is that what this is about, Edward?"
He doesn't seem to hear me. He goes on, not answering me, still jostling me by my arm.
"You fucking ... lying bitch! Do you know what it's like to lose everything - for nothing? Do you?"
I nod and it enrages him.
"No. You fucking don't! Belle... you have never. Not once. Understood what love means. You think it means being happy. And you weren't!"
He punctuates the statement, releasing me with a small shove.
"You weren't." I spit back.
The room is blurring around me, details collapsing into the pinprick of just his face. Rage darkened eyes, murderous under drawn brows. Hair forward, wild into his face.
"But you don't get to unilaterally decide!" He pumps a fist towards the floor, the other one flexing as if burned by me.
"You could have fought for the truth. If you'd wanted it. But I saw how you looked. Like you'd found an out!"
That's the truth of it. Why I didn't deny anything. He wanted me to be a cheater.
I clamber to my feet and he shoves me back down onto the bed.
I bounce, and he presses one knee into the mattress next to mine.
He has never seemed as big, or as virile as he does in the moment when he leans over me, one hand pressing down next to my shoulder, the other gripping my bra between my breasts, trapping me against the bed.
"You think I don't remember this? I bought this for you."
The damn thing is well made too, because when he pulls it away from my chest I come with it, lifted towards him, feeling small, like a doll to be manipulated. I pull back, away from him, and he clamps a hand on my arm, steadying me as he flicks the clasp between my breasts and the tension of straps retracts towards my shoulder blades.
"What are you doing?"
His reach around is quick, the bra yanked down, my arms pulled backwards, breasts pointing at him. His mouth is hot against my nipple, demanding. He sucks it painfully hard, letting go, ravaging the other breast, then dragging his tongue back. Mouth devouring, chewing at me, gnawing up the slope to my neck as I stare at the ceiling, his arm curled about my waist, keeping me still. He pants into my ear, pulling the lobe between his teeth. "I'm going to fuck my wife."
My body has come to life. Every sensation sharpened into the precision of a blade. His kiss on my neck, my jaw, seeking my mouth. It cuts into me, through my flesh, through my layers, straight to bone.
The shirt under my hands is soft, worn, and I press my palms against his pectoral muscles, feeling the solidity of him. The heat.
Mine, my body screams. This is mine.
But it isn't.
I push with all my strength and he staggers back. Upright, he rips his shirt over his head, chucking it forcefully towards the floor. I can see him breathing. I can feel him breathing. My breath. I can smell him. I push again. Push hard, against his bare skin this time, somehow I'm standing, pushing until his back hits the wall, the abstract print by his head quivering against the thud of his weight.
His eyes close against the impact, opening again, narrowed. We glare at each other, and I stretch myself against him, covering his chin with my mouth, then his jaw, tasting skin as his hands grip the top of my jeans, rolling the fabric into his fists. He pulls me into him, my breasts dragging against his ribcage, rubbing, as I sink my teeth into the rope of muscle between shoulder and neck. He pulls, pulls me into him, his hand curving around my ass, keeping me pressed to him as I try to tear his flesh under the skin.
I want to punish him for that. For those words. For those women. I bite harder.
He makes no sound, but I feel his hand run up my back, my neck, tangling in my hair. Yanking me backwards. Hard. I stumble, not regaining my balance, my equilibrium fucked. He lets me fall, I hit the bed at an awkward angle and slide off it, my back hitting the floor, one leg down, the other propped against the side of the bed. I use it to push him away, meeting his chest squarely with the heel of my sandal when he approaches me.
His hand clamps around my ankle, hauling me up onto the bed. He rips at the strap of my shoe, pulling it off and dropping it. The other foot is stripped, then he's over me again, his teeth sinking into my neck, into the squishy muscle, the same spot where I bit him. In my chaotic mind, I can feel blood spilling under my skin. I gurgle in my throat, and he moves his bite to cover the sound. The pain is ambrosial. Physical, instead of emotional. It blots out my despair. Sharp and brutal, it fills me, leaving no room for my self pity or my self loathing.
I thread my fingers through his hair and give him like-kind. I yank. Hard enough to jerk his face back from my neck. His expression is scornful, insouciant, and I slap him. My hand burns from the contact. Then I do it again.
The second blow knocks his face away from me and he freezes, hovering above me, eyes closed. When he faces me, his eye is watering on that side, the tear growing at the corner, sliding down over his stubbled cheek. My thumb is there before I can stop it, wiping. Hiding it. Removing it from view so I don't have to imagine him crying. So I don't have to think of him in pain.
He places his palm over my hand, cupping me, cupping himself. "All I've felt," he says, answering my quietest thoughts, like he always used to do. "All I've felt for a very long time, is hate. I thought I couldn't feel anything else. I thought I could go out and rut like an animal and at least feel lust. Enough to forget about you for fifteen fucking seconds. But I can't."
I want to tell him I don't care. But I do care.
"Every fucking day I look at that fucking paperwork." His face is so earnest, his eyes glossy. "Every fucking day. I tell myself I will sign it tomorrow."
The graze of his lips on mine, the sweet and sensuous slide of his tongue into my mouth, relaxes and twists my insides at the same time. He tastes of licorice and Irish whiskey. A deep, deep flavor, much deeper than his mouth or mine. He tastes like Edward. Like he always does. And the flavor of him is like being home. I grip his neck, holding his kiss to mine, tasting the elemental insurgency, feeling the heat transfer from his mouth to my lungs. Into my breath, mixing with the oxygen, baking my brain and loosening my knees.
He snakes an arm underneath me, hoisting me fully onto the bed, plundering my mouth all the while. Heart in my throat, he must taste it, before moving his kiss over my chin, my neck where it's bruising, my shoulder, my collarbone. Dragging his open mouth, his teeth, against me. Tasting. Like my attempt to breathe him into me. He's trying to collect my skin against the backs of his teeth.
Like James before him, he squeezes my breasts together, tonguing their tips, biting and sucking, shaking them against his face. My skin goes to goose-bumps under his hands. He leans to one breast, plucking the other, hard. Pulling and twisting, mercilessly. I tug at his hair, and he jerks his head away. Unlike James before him, I feel need twist my guts, wringing them out, oozing heat into my belly, scorching the underside of my flesh. Everywhere. Absolutely everywhere.
Going to his knees he reaches for my fly. Deftly he opens the zipper, folds down the waist, and unsheathes me in one long stroke. Like a magic trick, dumping the material on the ground and pushing my legs apart.
He noses the cotton at my crotch, pursuing me as I move backwards across the bed. I hit the headboard and he looks up, lips curled back in a sneer before dipping his head to bite against the fabric, his teeth digging insistently against my mound, inching down from the pubic bone to nip at my clit. His fingers dig into the flesh of my thighs, pressing my legs wide apart so he can work lower, grinding my labia through the damp material.
I can't breathe, can't speak, can't think.
Hooking the panties edge and pulling it to the side he renews his assault, this time directly against my body. His fervency high, hot, he eats at me. My bent knees quiver as he licks me with a flattened tongue, delving at the opening of my sex, at the bud buried in the folds, finding and tasting every crevice, before stabbing two fingers into my cunt and curling them.
"You are so fucking wet. And you smell like a goddamn ocean."
I am arched against his touch, the electricity of his ownership over my body charging all my particles to full frenzy.
"Who got you soaked like this? James? Or me?"
I don't answer him, just reach for and grip his wrist, forcing his fingers out and in. Fucking myself with his hand. I want his mouth back on my clit. I want him to shut up. I don't want to remember that James even existed.
He rips his hand away from the sheath of my body, stuffing his wet fingers into my mouth, gripping my face by the jaw. His eyes bore into me, demanding. "Who?"
I taste myself, forming the word around the flavors of my wanton despair.
He shoves his fingers deeper, as if to gag me with my own taste, my own voice. "Why?"
I push his hand out of my mouth. His hand curls my hair into his fist, pulling, shaking, speaking through clenched teeth. "Why?"
"It's always fucking been you, you asshole."
His mouth crashes onto mine, teeth scraping. I fumble at his button-fly, plucking the bronze buttons from their holes, and frantically pressing his jeans down.
He straightens, leaving my mouth wet and bruised and swollen. He slides his pants down just enough to get his cock out of his boxers. It looks like my mouth feels. Oversized, fat, hungry. I bend, not touching it with my hands, greeting it the way I did in our marriage. With one long pull, my lips getting as close to the base as I can without choking, the muscles of my cheeks hollowing to create a vacuum around his shaft, sliding back, tonguing the ridge, the glans, the slit.
The salty taste of him.
He is totally silent, seeming to scrape the ceiling above me, an unclimbable tower. But his face at the end of his body is taut, something savage in his eyes.
His hands cradle the back of my head, sliding slowly into my hair.
The clench of his jaw my only warning, he rams his cock directly into my tonsils, my eyes watering as he draws back, thrusting in again. His fists in my hair hold my face in place, denying me any retreat, and I try to mind-over-matter the intrusion, focusing on the veins branching up his arms, like the underside of a leaf, engorged with the pumping of his blood, bulging from the exertion of his muscles.
But I'm gagging.
Four thrusts, six, ten.
I rest one hand against his hip, feeling the protrusion of bone, the constrained energy in his motion, and I press my fingers in, pulling. Helping. With the other I cup his testicles, already tight against his body.
He pushes me back. I fall against the pillows, immediately rebounding to a sitting position. He's knelt back on his haunches, flushed, breathing hard, his hand clenching his cock, hair flung forward to pierce his eyes.
I press my fingers to my mouth, wiping, clearing away the glisten of my spit.
He tightens his fist, looking up at me from under his thick brows. A cynical smile twists one side of his mouth.
And then he's on me, gripping my hips and flipping me over, hoisting me onto my knees. I place my hands against the headboard and push back, pushing my ass into him. He growls—a husky feral sound—as he kneads my flesh, wedging his fingers under the seams of my panties before wrenching them down my legs. He leaves them twisted up around my thighs and I part my knees, stretching them wide, as far as the garment will allow.
I look back over my shoulder to see him, one hand on each of my ass cheeks, spreading them, and then he licks me from clitoris to tailbone, dragging his forearm against his mouth as he comes set between my legs.
"Fuck you," he mouths. And pushes in.
All the air leaves me and I can't get it back. I try to remember how to breathe, try to remember that his cock isn't so big it can actually hit my diaphragm, even though it feels that way. I'm winded, spinning, my skin shrinking about me, hair lifting from the follicle. I'm dimly aware of his legs behind mine, his hands at my waist, pulling me to meet his thrusts. Oxygen deprivation and white-hot arousal are dragging me down, darkly clawing at me, sinking me into a depraved lust. I can move my arms, and I do, reaching back to grab his ass and yank him deeper.
So deep it hurts.
He groans, his weight hitting me, crushing me down, flattening me to my stomach against the bed, his thrusts getting manic, ragged just as the flame unfolds inside me, explosive, and the clench of my muscles around his girth seems impossibly wide. My orgasm stretched bigger, pulled wider, and I call out to him. Hoping, somehow hoping that he can fix it, fix it before I break into a million pieces.
I struggle, I writhe, I beg. I chant to him, pray to him.
I love him.
I've always loved him.
One final thrust, then he stills, pinning me down.
And then he's gone.
I feel bereft as he slides out, hitting the bed on his side, kicking his pants off his ankles and lying, chest heaving, arm draped over his eyes.
I roll to my back, focusing on the air entering and leaving my body, trying to calm the shake of my hands, the quiver of my knees, the unstable feeling in my chest, the burn in my throat and eyes. I cross my arms over my breasts and breathe, sucking air in smooth, the exhalation jagged and uncontrollable.
I'm afraid to move. Afraid to rock the bed. I don't want his attention to return to me. Not yet.
We lay, breathing.
I've just decided to take my chances getting up, having shifted my weight slightly, when he rolls up onto his elbow, eyes sketching over my face, my breasts, over my belly, down my legs and back up. His hand is on my hip before I register the reach, and he squeezes the bone.
Both his fingers and his eyes burrow into me, and for the first time tonight, for the first time in two years, I feel like he sees me. Actually sees. Me.
The me I used to be.
Us. The way we were.
He goes up on his elbow, still looking, still seeing.
"Your bones have never been this close to the skin. Don't you eat, my Belle?"
His tone is quiet, matter-of-fact, and I answer it with the same. "I do."
I see the decision as he makes it, his stern brow relaxing. The decision to kiss me, not made in the heat of battle. It's a decision made with full knowledge. Just a graze at first, his lips soft against mine. Tender, sweet. He drags his thumb over my cheek, fingers clasping the nape of my neck.
I breathe, closing my eyes, focusing on the feel of him, the memory of how it felt to belong to this man. When I open them again, all I see is pain. His eyes are open and full of my face. His mouth breaks from mine, stubble scratching my skin as he buries his face in the pillow next to my ear. His arm comes underneath me, lifting me, holding me to him like a ragdoll as his chest heaves.
I've never seen him cry like this. Nearly silent, his whole body convulsing against me.
"God, how I loved you."
I know he's gone before I'm fully awake. I go up on one arm, the other pushing the hair out of my eyes. The bed is expansive and empty, and though it smells of him, he isn't in it. There is only me.
But I call out anyway. "Edward?"
Hollow silence answers me.
I listen to it, remembering. Remembering the brutality of last night. The tears. His and mine. The desperation with which he took me after exhausting his grief, still intense, but not hurtful. Not that time. It was slow, delicate, like a memory already made. Made and being re-lived.
Like falling asleep on his chest, worn down, fatigued in every muscle, my emotions brittle. Too tired to wonder what happens now. So tired, but still so acutely aware of him, feeling him breathe underneath me, his hand at my neck, tangled in my hair.
I haven't slept like that, since...
A long time.
I kick my legs out, my feet feeling overly sensitive as they hit the cold floor. My clothes are strewn about the room, sad pathetic articles isolated from each other, reminding me how each one was shed.
I gather them up, wobbling a bit here and there, then catch sight of myself in the floor to ceiling mirror and stop. The left side of my neck is a mass of purple bruises from where he bit me, my shoulder too. I turn, my neck complaining as I twist it to look down the length of my back. Fingerprints and bite marks.
I don't bother with my bra. Just the sight of it hurts.
I pull my t-shirt on, wincing, and freeze.
On the counter...
No, no, no, no.
A small stack of papers. I reach for them, hands trembling.
I'm on the ground, legs crumpled under me, sobbing frantically into the sheaf of divorce paperwork bearing his signature next to every X.
He's left Vegas. I know that because of fucking Facebook. He's going on tour. I know that because EdwardCullen dot com has a list of major US cities, followed by major European ones.
I sign the papers... it takes me a week and two bottles of Popov to do it. And then I mail them. I'm divorced now. Maybe not officially, maybe not until I get the final notification. But it's as good as.
I feel somewhat naked without my necklace. I looked for it that morning, for his ring and mine, but I couldn't find them.
The days go by and photos find their way into my life. Dingy, dark clubs and bars packed with people, Edward perched atop his stool on small stages, his band clustered behind him. I like to think he looks worn down, like I feel. But he doesn't. He looks like he always does.
I look like I always do.
And then one day, after throwing up my breakfast of leftover apple pie from the diner in my casino, I realize, looking in the mirror and counting back. I don't look unhappy. I look pregnant.
The lady at Walgreens thinks so too, because as she scans my Clear Blue Easy, she tells me I'm already glowing. She congratulates me. Like I did this on purpose. Like I want to see a little plus sign appear after I pee on the stick in the box she's handing me.
I ponder it on the walk back to my shitty apartment. I've always known... not thought, not wondered, known. That I would be a mediocre mom. My own mom was parenting optional.
I don't see the streets I walk down or the stairs leading up to my floor, or the door, my key, the kitchen or even the toilet. I just see the slim white wand as I hold it in the stream of urine, waiting to see what I get, like a first timer at a slot machine. All sevens? Or a smirking devil?
And which is winning?
As soon as the little plus sign shows up I know. I won.
I find my reflection and she's smiling. For the first time in what feels like a million years. She looks like I feel. Relieved. She utters a shaky, happy laugh.
I guess so.
Tomorrow turns into today. I go down to the Department of Health and Human Services and apply for Medicaid. I buy actual groceries. Like milk. And broccoli, and pasta sauce. And vitamins. I take an admissions exam for the vet-tech program at the J.C.
I cancel my internet service. It's the only way to move on.
I put that fifty dollars into a jar on my kitchen table every month, along with my nightly tips. I don't count it. I just continue to cram fives and ones and sometimes tens and twenties into the jar. When I put on my first maternity pants, I get a bigger a jar. I like seeing it fill with money. My money. Not Edward's. That money just sits in my drawer, in its original envelope. I don't want to look at it.
I like dreaming about the shopping excursion to buy a bassinet, blankets, onesies. A lady in my birthing class tells me to get a thing called a Boppy. I put it on the list.
I make lists now. I check things off.
Except one thing.
This one I grapple with. Sometimes, I think he has a right to know. Other times I think it's better if he doesn't.
Sometimes I think, I am a liar. Other times I think it's just a defense mechanism.
I've kept the truth from him before.
Aside from the philosophical angle, there's the practical, how-the-fuck do I do it angle. I've found myself at the library, paused between studying, staring at a blank email with Edward's address in the 'To' field. My heart hammers and I sweat. I tell myself that can't be good for Little Mister.
It used to be he made me brave. God, that was so long ago.
I close the window and go back to learning about how to tell if an animal is dehydrated.
I slowly turn half my small studio into a nursery. Second hand stores and garage sales help me in the acquisition of a changing station, a bassinet, and a car seat, even though I don't have a car.
Caesar's takes me off the casino floor and gives me a position waiting tables at the buffet. Not easier work, but slightly more palatable for them I suppose. I make less money, but not a lot less. My jar is still filling up.
In the wee hours, when I get home, when I'm so sore I can't hold myself upright anymore. I lean against a mountain of pillows and talk to Little Mister. He stretches and kicks and does somersaults under my hands.
I think about my own father. I think about Edward. I pull out my phone and try to text him. I set the phone on my belly instead.
He said he never wanted to hear from me again.
I just don't know what the right thing is.
I don't cry. Not much. Occasionally. Like the time I see a lady, about as pregnant as me, walking down the strip next to her husband, hand in his. I wonder if he's proud of the baby she's growing, his child. If he feels a sense of ownership about them both, a sense of family. I smile as we pass each other, but it's a polite smile.
I suddenly feel very, very alone.
That night I do it. I call him. The ringing is very loud in my ear and I pull it back a couple of inches. I take deep breaths when I hear the chime break, but it's just his voicemail. I clear my throat and leave him one.
I don't really want to tell his voicemail. I don't know if I want to tell him either, don't know if I could stand the silence on the other end of the line. Or the judgment.
Or his reluctant involvement.
I just ask for a call back. I tell him it's important.
It doesn't come.
The weeks go by, and I reason that at least I tried. Maybe not very hard, but him not knowing, that is on him now. Not me.
Maybe I will call Esme and tell her. Maybe.
The last few weeks are the hardest. My due date is the middle of June and it's hot. Desert hot.
Not only am I looking forward to getting Little Mister out, but I also look forward to leaving Las Vegas. My program doesn't end for another year, but when it does, I'm gone. Out of this stark inferno - to raise Little Mister somewhere green.
Like I feel.