Hi! So I've gotten a bunch of questions about Jacob and how he should be pictured with the whole blue eyes blond hair thing. So I found a photo of how I see him and I'm posting it as the story picture this week. I really hope nobody thinks this is any indication that Bella will end up with Jacob because it's not!
I hope you all love Edward as much as I do in this chapter! xoxoxoxoxo Kera
So much of my life the last year has felt like a dream. After the night by the pool everything was surreal, at least at first. The weight of sadness that was as constant as gravity. The relationships that were once delightful, I pushed back against as hard as I could until they were virtually unrecognizable. The ugliness that I invited into my life. The rough and dirty was so alien to me then, like playing make-believe in a stranger's house. But after awhile there wasn't anything left of my old life. My parents divorced, Lindsay in a different city, Jacob pushed away one too many times, until those things were the memory, and my tortured self and time spent with Matt became my reality.
Now, in one of the most lovely and sought after restaurants in Manhattan, I'm reminded how much I've changed. When I talked with Jacob this afternoon, even though we were making a plan about something awful, I had felt more like myself. I hadn't run away or clammed up, I had talked about subjects I don't want to think about and it had been okay. But there are too many things that I've already done, and they're colliding with the life that I'm trying to rebuild. Waiting on my street for me to come home, or in my dreams at night.
Sitting opposite Edward, I say a silent thank you that I woke up this morning with him lying beside me. That he still wants to be with me seems like a miracle. My eyes lock on his and I'm filled to the brim with something tingly, something exactly like the champagne that the waitress brings us, glimmering and effervescent in the flickering candlelight and golden mirrors and the blush fanciful flowers that engrave the panels in between. It's distinctly French and I feel like a princess in the Palace of Versailles.
Reaching across the table he catches the chain of my necklace between his fingers and slides them down the length. There's a slight tugging at the back of my neck every time he slips over a bead until he arrives at the tasseled end, each delicate strand a piece of fine chain. He lets go so that it runs along his palm, catching it just before it slips away. "Have I told you yet how incredible you look."
As his eyes run over me, I'm acutely aware of every detail that he's taking in. Self-consciously, I see what he's seeing in my mind's eye, my reflection in the mirror as I fastidiously applied makeup, my indecision over which dress. The one I finally chose is daring. Metallic grey with a plunging neckline, made from a material that clings to every curve. I had tried putting my hair up a dozen different ways, finally deciding to set it in rollers, so that now it's falling in soft, coppery waves around my shoulders. He brushes the tassel up my arm and I shiver with pleasure, it's soft like a feather, but the metal is cool and I can feel the slight weight of it as it runs along my skin.
"You're wearing the bracelet," Edward says, pleasure tinting his voice a rich mahogany.
"Of course," I say, rolling one of the charms, the heart, between my fingertips. "It's beautiful. And it reminds me of you." I smile at him.
"Does that mean you wore it all day?"
I think guiltily to our afternoon apart, and how I had spent it. How much I keep from Edward. I drop my hands to my lap, compulsively twining them together. But there's something else that's been gnawing at me, and as much as I don't want to bring up Matt, I have to know. "How is your chest?"
He takes my hand under the table, massaging my palm with his thumb. "I'm fine. How are you?"
"I wasn't hurt." I feel like I'm stating the obvious, but his expression is unwaveringly stern. He drops my hand, the break in contact seems like a reprimand.
"Since you've decided to stay at your own apartment, I've arranged something for you." He makes it sound like he's granting me a favour, by letting me stay at my place, rather than a choice that I've made. "You start tomorrow. Brazilian jiu-jitsu."
"You're kidding right?" I say disbelievingly. "You can't just sign me up for activities."
"Feel free to arrange the time that suits you," he continues, unaffected, or if anything slightly amused by my reaction, "or I could teach you."
I picture Edward in nothing but drawstring pants, demonstrating a move, his hands sliding along my body as he instructs me on a position. The intimidation of having to learn in front of him would probably be worth it. "Is jiu-jitsu how you knew how to... knock him down?"
"Not jiu-jitsu, no. I started with kung fu, but I switched to aikido about ten years ago."
"Are you good?" I demand, feeling cheeky.
"At aikido, I am."
His face relaxes into a smile at my inquisition. "Excellent." He sounds like he's joking but I'm sure it's true. I size him up.
"If I take jiu-jitsu, will I be able to beat you?"
"That sounds like a challenge." There's a competitive gleam in his eye. "If you can pin me for three seconds, or flip me once, I'll concede to you."
"What will I win?" As soon as the words are out of my mouth, I realize he's going to demand something if I lose. I wet my lips nervously.
"What do you want to win?" His tone implies it could be anything, the world if I asked for it. I think hard. There's nothing I want, except…
"Questions," I say. "Answer one question for every second I pin you."
The change in his expression is subtle, but it undeniably closes off. Afraid I crossed some unspoken line, I stammer, "There's so much I want to know about you, what inspires you, what motivates you, where you came from…" I trail off, uncertain. To fill the increasingly awkward silence I add one last thing. "What you still want to accomplish."
"Fine," he says crisply, "and if I win, you'll tell me everything about you and Jacob."
I gape at him, assuming that I didn't hear him correctly. "You mean you want questions, too?"
"No," he says, "I mean that is my question. Only one."
"Sorry, do you mean Matt?" My face is getting hotter with every passing moment. Why is he asking me about the person I omitted telling him I spent the afternoon with? And how would he know what Jacob means to me, I've barely mentioned his name. I had been feeling cocky, but now that he's demanded his prize my illusions have evaporated, I'm sure to lose. I don't see a way around it, though, without admitting implicitly that there's something I don't want to tell him about Jacob. I lift my chin and say, "Fine."
The words come out of my mouth in the exact way Edward had spoken a moment ago, when he agreed to the terms. The voice of someone with something to hide. For a moment a discomforting sense fills me, I met Edward for the first time only a few weeks ago, don't have a character reference for him, don't know anything about him really. But of course he has things he'd rather not tell me, for exactly that reason; learning about each other can't be forced, it was a stupid, aggressive move to suggest it in the first place. "Hey," I say, "I'm sorry, that was a silly idea."
"No," he says, "it's an interesting suggestion."
"I'm not a gambler," I admit, "it was just the first thing I thought of."
"You don't like gambling, or you don't believe in it?"
I'm caught off guard by the complete change in direction. "Don't believe in it?"
"The practice of gambling is fairly controversial. The addictions, the expense, not working for what you get, an avenue for drug dealers to hide their income." He rattles off the reasons matter-of-factly, it's a list not an opinion. My heart clenches at the last one.
"I don't support drug dealers," I say flatly, "or money laundering for that matter. But gambling in and of itself," I shrug, "it's not worse than anything else. How do you feel about it?"
"The same. There are worse things that need fixing. It's a better use of our time to go after pedophiles and rapists."
Despite the dark turn our conversation has taken, Edward is speaking lightly, and it's a relief to move away from topics that I'm personally invested in, where I'm monitoring my words in the hopes that he won't ask any questions that I can't bring myself to answer. I'm starting to relax, and ironically it's just as our dinner is ending. Neither of us speaks while the waitress sets a long plate between us, a row of delicacies to finish our evening with: a spoon of ice cream that's the colour of toffee, something that looks like toasted marshmallow in an espresso cup, a tiny square cake with too many paper-thin layers to count.
"And how about playing," I say with a smile, because the idea of Edward whiling away his time at cards seems unlikely at best. "Do you spend much time at the casino?"
"There's been the occasional long night," he says, returning my smile, "in Vegas or Monaco."
I dip my spoon into the ice cream, it's slippery and cool and in stark contrast, I bite into a crunchy chip of sweetness. The flavour of salted caramel fills my mouth, toying with my senses.
"It's hard to imagine that. You, following someone else's rules, leaving everything to chance…"
"Is it difficult to think of me that way, Isabella?" Edward lightly runs his fingers over my wrist and down my fingertips, capturing my hand in his, grazing his lips across my knuckles. "You underestimate yourself."
I flush with pleasure. It's wonderful, and romantic, and I wish I could forget about the voice in my head, reminding me that every excessive compliment is probably not true. Edward makes me want to let go, dive in with complete disregard for consequences like broken hearts.
"When you relinquish control, is it relaxing for you?" I ask.
"It's not about handing over control. If I choose to play a game, it's still what I've decided to do and maybe, in the right mood, it will be entertaining. But no, that's not what relaxes me."
"So you're in control at all times?" I don't know if I'm jealous or horrified. So much of the time I feel so little control, but to be certain of everything, and on all the time, it sounds exhausting.
"I was completely serious - not when I'm with you. But at all other times I would say yes."
I stare at him, waiting for him to do something to indicate that he's exaggerating, but he just stares back at me, and for a few minutes I'm lost in the shimmering green depths. "Why would you think you're not in control with me?"
"Because I want you too much."
I can barely hear, the blood is pounding in my ears so loudly, it's making me dizzy and disoriented. "Me too," I say, my voice barely audible.
The waitress clears our final course, as soon as the table is bare between us Edward reaches across, clasping my hands in his. As our fingers twine together I feel a bit calmer, there's an urgency to be physically connected to him. I keep holding his hand all the way to his car, only letting go when he opens my door.
Half an hour later I find myself sitting on Edward's couch, the warmth of the fire and the wine making his living room almost comfortable. Edward wraps a piece of my hair around his fingers, it's an intimate gesture but I can tell his mind is somewhere else.
"Your challenge at dinner has me thinking. I want to play a game with you," he says.
"What kind of game?"
He picks up my wrist, his fingers lingering for a moment on my pulse. He slides his fingers down my hands, applying pressure all the way to my fingertips. Somehow he makes even this simple gesture erotic, slowly continuing until he's finished with each one, until the flow of my blood is humming to every cell in my body.
"It's in the bathroom," he says, pulling me to my feet.
Edward's huge master bathroom is dominated by a soaker tub. He turns the faucet and it gradually fills with water, a long process since at least three people could fit comfortably in it. The steam from the hot water is dispersing throughout the room, making the air heavy with moisture, laden with the scented oil that Edward added. There's a wooden tray neatly lined with floating candles on the double vanity, and he places it beside the tub. I watch spellbound as he takes off his clothes, leisurely, piece by piece until he's standing naked and mind-numbingly gorgeous in front of me. As if on cue, the tub is full. He dims the lights and turns on some music with a slow rhythmic bass. My eyes are glued to his every movement and to his bronzed, perfectly sculpted body. I gulp, a little guilty about objectifying him.
"It's your turn," he says.
My hands go instantly to my dress, responding with aggravating quickness to the authoritative undercurrent in his tone, before my sluggish brain catches up. My fingers hesitate on the zipper that runs down the side. "You haven't told me the rules yet."
"It's a water and fire game." I try to focus on what he's saying, to slow down my breathing and skittering pulse, but it's hard when he's standing naked in front of me, taking off my clothes.
"The candles will float in the tub," he continues, sliding my dress off my shoulders, letting it fall to the floor. "I can use touch," he runs his fingers up my thigh and along my panties to demonstrate, "as my weapon. You need to remain still so that the water doesn't splash and snuff out any candles."
"And what happens if a candle goes out?" I shut my eyes, trying not to be consumed by the heat that's building under his touch.
"Then you have to answer a question of my choice," Edward replies, slipping my panties down my thighs. "You're not allowed to lie, if you do I'll know and there will be consequences."
The idea of a game, although it invoked some trepidation, was very exciting. But the mention of consequences in the bathtub hits too close to home and my nervousness is blossoming into full-blown fear. Edward isn't Matt, there are no restraints to trap me, there's no reason to think he'll hurt me or make me do something I don't want. If it weren't for the consequences I might be able to calm down.
"Is it what you wanted to know earlier?" I ask shakily. "You could just ask me."
"Something else entirely, and this method seems infinitely more interesting,"
"What are the consequences?" I ask tentatively, inwardly upset even before the sentence is out at how timid my fear is making me, like I'm not empowered in my own decision-making and judgement. If you don't like the idea just say you don't want to play, I tell myself sternly, but the voice sounds like my mother's and I feel more like an unsure child than ever.
"Don't worry about that," Edward says, his voice calm and reassuring, "if you don't want to answer just ask for a different question."
"Then what's the point of playing the game?" I ask, now totally confused.
"So that you'll think carefully about your response and not mislead me with untrue information," Edward explains patiently, as if he'd been trying to tell me this all afternoon instead of the last five seconds. "This wasn't supposed to be stressful, let's do something else."
I manage to feel disappointed and like I've been a disappointment all at the same time. "No, it does sound like fun," I say, trying to sound bright, "let's give it a try." I dip my foot into the water, testing the temperature before I step in.
I sink back into the tub, submerging my whole body in the warm and fragrant water. Hoping the heat will seep into my muscles and relieve my anxiety, I focus on letting my arms float weightlessly. With a dark, scorching look he slips into the water opposite me and gives me a sensual, teasing kiss.
"Come here." He spins me around so that I'm sitting with my back against his chest. "Are you ready?" he whispers into my ear.
He lights all the floating candles with cool efficiency. The butterflies in my stomach dance in nervous anticipation of what's to come as I watch, fascinated, while he releases the candles into the water one by one. It looks so magical with the flames flickering just above the water, the light pooling and reflecting off the surface in little halos of liquid gold.
"I'm going to wet your hair so a candle doesn't singe it if the flame gets too close." He tugs my hair gently and I let out a gasp as he tips my head back. As soon as my ears touch the water I jerk upright. I lean forward panting, my pulse racing.
Edward's arms are around me in an instant, crushing me in a tight hold. "You're okay," he says soothingly into my ear. "We're just in the bath, you're fine."
That doesn't reassure me, but his secure embrace and calming words do, and my heart rate starts to settle.
"I'm sorry," I say self-consciously as he sets up the candles again. "I don't know what got into me."
"Don't be. We'll take it slow."
He starts innocently enough by massaging my head, putting pressure on all the most sensitive areas until every muscle in my body is relaxed. Edward runs a trail of kisses down my neck, and gently blows on my damp skin. His warm breath against my wet exposed skin, cooled from the surrounding air, is almost painful in its intensity. I shift slightly, lifting my shoulder in response, but my movement is too quick and it sends ripples through the water. One of the flames fizzles out.
"You're going to have to do better than that," Edward says, "I like my games to be a challenge."
My cheeks feel hot with embarrassment from my clumsy behaviour. "Of course," I mumble.
He turns me around in one smooth motion so that I'm facing him, I watch the candles but there's hardly any movement on the surface of the water at all. Reaching for the one that went out, Edward relights it.
"So what's your question?"
Edward encloses my foot in his hand, running his thumb down my sole. The pressure is deep and it feels like a massage until he lightens the touch, skimming with the edge of his blunt nail. My knee jerks up reflexively and I grimace as the water splashes and ripples causing several candles to flicker out.
"Why were you frightened of going underwater?" Edward asks, his voice measured.
"I'm not," I reply automatically, "you caught me by surprise."
Edward moves fast and he's cradling my head, lowering me into the water before I realize what he's doing. Instinctively I reach out, pushing back against his face, struggling to break free. He pulls me back upright again, his eyes glittering into mine.
"You can pass, but don't lie to me." It sounds like a warning, but then he asks in a gentler tone, "Why are you scared?"
I stare back at him, tossing back and forth between wanting to confide and wanting to avoid. "I've been bound and submerged," I say, so quietly that at first I'm not sure if he's heard me.
"Matt?" Edward asks harshly and I nod.
"I don't want to know the details," he says coldly. I look down, mortified by his reaction; he's obviously disgusted, and why shouldn't he be, I think bitterly. I have been, often enough.
He leans forward, reading the self-loathing on my face. "You have nothing to be ashamed of." He's so close that I can feel his breath against my skin, and see the warmth resurface in his eyes. He tips my chin up, capturing my mouth in a soft kiss. "I thought there was a different reason."
He's looking at me so intently that I'm sure he can see my distress. "Something you said once."
I look back at him but can't utter a word, paralyzed by fear. Afraid of what's happened, of delving too deep into the memories. Of finding something there that's unbearable. "I can't," I say, finding my voice and pushing against him so that I can stand up, but Edward holds onto me, circling my waist with his hands.
"I can help you."
"What do you mean?"
"The fear of water. If you trust me enough." The light from the candles are reflecting in his eyes and the result is hypnotically beautiful. I stay, still on my knees where he stopped me from going.
"What if I don't want to get over it?" I whisper.
"You'd like to continue being irrationally scared of a bathtub?" Edward asks.
"No. I don't know." I need more time to think, or let go. "What would you do to make it go away?"
"What, no unconditional trust?" Edward gives me a half smile.
"But enough to get into the bathtub," I point out. And that's pretty significant, I must trust him a lot to get in here after what happened.
"Sometimes it helps to re-enact some part of it, but with a different ending." Seeing the look in my eyes, he adds quickly, "One of your choice."
The thought is terrifying, but I remain kneeling, staring at him.
"I can bind you," he begins, circling my wrists in his hands to demonstrate, the movement spurs me into motion. I step out of the tub and take one of the towels, shakily wrapping it around myself.
In the bedroom I sit on the edge of the bed, at a loss about what to do. I want to go home but it's so late and the prospect of getting there is frightening too. How did my life turn into this, I seem to be jumping from one paralyzing, fearful moment to the next. It's exhausting. I don't even remember what normal feels like, but I'm sure this isn't it.
Edward would drive me, I should just ask him to take me home. He comes into the room and stands in front of me, I already felt deflated and from this vantage point he towers over me.
"I'm going to go home," I say with a total lack of certainty.
"I shouldn't have pushed you." Edward sits down beside me.
I shrug, tears pooling. I blink my eyes furiously, trying to force them back.
"How did you know what you were pushing me towards?" I ask, finally breaking the silence.
"Because I can read you." Edward tucks my wet hair behind my ear. "I want you to open up and tell me things, but I should be more patient."
His apparent knowledge of things I've never spoken of makes me feel exposed. I shiver, but I'm not sure if it's his words or the chill of sitting, dripping wet, wrapped only in a towel. Edward goes to the bathroom, returning with a whole stack. He wraps them around me, one after another, until I'm mummified in soft luxury. He tips me over so that I'm lying on the bed, then lies down beside me. It's gratifying to have so much of Edward's attention, the intensity of it is overwhelming, almost as if I'm being compelled. Maybe I'm being dramatic. Or maybe on some level that's what I'm hoping for, someone who has the power to consume my life.