Thursday, December 15, 2011

Massage Therapy, Chapter 26 - Farewell

This is the end! *sniff* I never imagined what a long, wordy journey I'd ben taking when I started this in July of 2010. It was a labor of love, though, believe me. Thanks to all of you who took it with me. Your support means the world to me.


Saturday, December 11

Dear Tanya,

It feels strange to be writing to you now after all this time. It’s been nearly three months now since I stopped. But Dr. Brennan thinks that I should write you one last time and give you my final farewell. It’s part of my therapy -- symbolic more than anything else at this point, but she thinks it’s important. Maybe it is. She hasn’t steered me wrong so far.

I wish I had known about her when you were still alive. If I had ever gone to Dad for help back then, I might have. But no, I was almost as stubborn as you were. We were both so hell-bent on being independent and doing everything ourselves, the last thing we ever wanted to do was turn to our parents. I can’t help but think that if you had seen the right kind of psychotherapist -- someone as patient and kind and clear-headed as Norma -- you might still be around.

I spent years and reams of paper turning those kind of “what-ifs” over and over in my mind. If only you had done this; if only I hadn’t done that. I addressed all those vain conjectures to you as if you could somehow change what happened, or at least explain it. I knew all along that the dead tell no tales. In truth, many of those “letters” had nothing to do with you, and I’m sure you know that. That was especially true after I met Bella. My journal was just an attempt to make sense of my life after you turned it upside down.

I know now that there are events fate throws at you that you can never make sense of. All you can do is pray for the strength to deal with them, and hope that you have good people around you to help you get through them.

I wish you had felt like you had that in your life. You did, you know. Even though I didn’t love you the way you wanted me too, I did want to help you. I would have been there for you if I had only known how. I can’t tell you how sorry I am for the last words I said to you. You know that if I could take them back, I would. Wherever you are, I hope you can see that I didn’t mean them. I was angry and frustrated and I said things to purposely hurt you. We both did that night, and so many nights before that.

Looking back, I realize how young and immature I was. I was as ill-equipped to handle your mental and emotional issues as you were. I wish I had turned to my father for help, but I was too proud. And when you did turn to your father, he was too proud to admit you had a problem. I wish he could have seen the truth before it was too late. I feel for him, I really do. He’s living in a personal hell of his own making. He blames me because he can’t shoulder his share of the responsibility in what happened to you. And the truth is, we were all culpable. We all made mistakes. Now we have to live with the consequences.

I guess the difference now is that I’ve decided to stop making myself pay for those mistakes. I don’t know if I can fully forgive myself for my part in your death, but I can’t continue to take the sole responsibility for it. I used to think that if I did, the punishment would be enough to finally assuage my guilt. I never wanted to listen to Alice when she reminded me that you had free will, and I couldn’t have stopped you from exercising it. And I never wanted to hear it when my father told me I was throwing my life away along with yours after I quit school. But they were both right. Wishing you had been in a better frame of mind won’t bring you back, and putting my own life on hold won’t, either.

Bella hit the nail on the head when she said that the mental illness took your life. When she uttered those words, I realized that I was finally ready to put the blame squarely where it belonged -- on a disease. Not on me, or your father; not even on you. We were all victims. I’ll never stop wishing we could have gotten you the right kind of help before things got so bad. But wishing won’t make it so, and beating myself up over it won’t accomplish anything except to waste another life. I don’t know how much I have to offer the world, but I’d like to think I can make a difference somewhere, to someone.

You made a difference to me. I want you to know that. I still remember the good times, you know . . . when you were vibrant and full of life and fun and mischief. I wouldn’t change any of what we shared. I’m grateful for all of it, even the bad stuff. I don’t regret you, or us. You mattered to me, and I hope you knew that when you were alive. I hope you know it now.

And even though I couldn’t save your life, I made a difference in Bella’s, of that much I’m sure. When she came to Emmett and me for help, her issues were more severe than I ever imagined. I didn’t know if we would be able to “fix” her, but I wanted more than anything to rise to that challenge. I knew my life had purpose when I worked on her. Of course, I didn’t find out until later why I was so drawn to her, and why she affected me so deeply. But I was filled with the conviction that I was put here on this earth to save her after I failed so miserably with you. What I didn’t know then was that she was meant to save me, too.

I wish I could have done that for you. Or that you had stuck around long enough to find the person who would be to you what Bella is to me, and I to her. All I can do now is to live my life more consciously, and be the kind of man in the present that I wish I could have been in the past. It’s the only way I know how to honor you now that it’s too late to ever truly make amends.

I’m still not sure what I believe of heaven and hell, or whatever lies between. I know that Bella believes her mother is in heaven, keeping watch over her. If there is some kind of afterlife or alternate world we go to after we die, then I hope you can see how I’ve tried to change as of late. I think that would make you happier than me punishing myself over and over for my shortcomings with you. You already know how sorry I am, and how impotent and angry and frustrated I felt for so long. The time finally arrived for me to let it all go. Not to forget -- I’ll never forget. But to forgive -- myself, you, our doomed situation.

I stopped writing to you when I realized I was ready to move on. I have moved on. I hope you don’t begrudge me that. I lived in my self-imposed prison for so long that I hardly know what to do with my freedom now. I’ve tried to put it to good use. I’ve registered for the spring semester at U-Dub, still majoring in pre-med. I’ll be working part-time as a massage therapist, then taking afternoon and evening classes. I know it’s going to be hard work, but I’m ready for it. I’m ready for my next challenge.

I won’t be alone at UW next year. Alice decided that being closer to Jasper was as important to her as her career, so she’s transferring next semester and completing grad school here in Seattle. She had considered doing that anyway because of their pediatrics program, so her decision didn’t come as much of a surprise to me. I know how she feels about Jazz, so this is a win-win for her. For Jasper, too. He’s a man of few words, but I could see how much he missed my sister while she was away. Can’t say I blame him. I would never be able to withstand any lengthy separation from Bella.

She and I are pretty inseparable these days. She still has her own career, of course, and it’s thriving. The Wolf Pack just finished recording and are playing bigger venues around Seattle; their CD is due out in the new year. And Vegan Vamps are in the middle of a nationwide tour, promoting their first CD. Bella and Rosalie have managed to iron things out, for the most part. We all have to co-exist peacefully since Emmett is so gone on Rose. To be fair, she’s pretty enamored of my brother, too. Sometimes opposites attract. One thing I’ve learned is that love is unpredictable, and it usually hits you when and where you least expect it.

I certainly wasn’t looking for Bella when she walked into my massage room that day six months ago. I fought her with every fiber of my being at first. I wasn’t ready to change; wasn’t willing to let go of the past and welcome someone new into my life. Someone who actually mattered -- someone I’d want to invest in again.

But now I can’t imagine my life without her. I miss her when she’s not around, and I know she misses me, too. She tells me so all the time, in our diary. Weird, I know -- the two of us keeping a shared journal like that. But it’s been a surprisingly good thing. We write mostly when the other isn’t around, but then we’re free to read each other’s entries later. Sometimes it’s easier to put things in writing than to say them to each other’s faces.

You’d think that would be a great way to start fights, wouldn’t you? That we’d carelessly put something down in print in the heat of the moment and then regret it later. But it’s actually had the opposite effect. We feel better when we get things off our chest, and later we often laugh about our grievances after we’ve had time to cool off. We don’t fight much, anyway. And when we do, it’s always about little things. Bella’s constantly rearranging my kitchen and then I never know where anything is, on the rare occasions I actually want to fix myself some food. And she always acts annoyed when I want to have sex in the morning, because she says I make her late to work. Granted, she does have a little further to drive to the office than I do. But I don’t really believe her protests because she’s as turned on by wake-up sex as I am, despite her claims that she’s not a morning person.

I guess I shouldn’t be telling you these things, should I? I’ve strayed far from the point of this letter. Or maybe I haven’t, really. Because one of the things I wanted you to know is that I’m happy now. Bella and I make each other happy in a way that you and I never did, and never could have.

I’m not saying this to hurt you. I’m just stating that what you wanted from me was something I never could have given you, regardless of your bipolar disorder. I truly wish you could have seen that there was so much left for you here in this world -- a whole life beyond me, beyond us. I’d give anything for you to have lived long enough to discover that like I have. I wish you hadn’t sold yourself short. But I’ve learned that selling myself short in penance is no solution; no way to live.

And that’s what I want to do now. Live. I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me, and be happy for me. Even when I was furious with you, I wished you only the best. I still do. I pray that you’ve found the peace that always eluded you when you were alive. If Bella’s right, and there is a heaven, then maybe you’ve found it and you’re in a much better place now. I hope that’s true.

Maybe you can meet up with Bella’s mom and watch over us tonight. Bella’s going to perform for the first time ever, at an open mic night at Billy’s. She’s not doing it alone, though -- we’re going to do a duet together, the song that I wrote for her. Alice just got back home yesterday, so the whole gang is going to be there to support us. I’m really excited about it, because I know Bella will do great.

She’s mildly terrified, of course, even though I reassure her at least once an hour that she’s going to be fine. We’ve rehearsed so much that I think we could perform this thing in our sleep. But I know all too well about pre-performance jitters, so I’m trying to be the strong, calm one this time for her sake. I like it when she relies on me. Responsibility doesn’t freak me out like it used to. Guess I really am growing up.

Maybe it’s too much to ask you to witness my life finally moving forward without you. I suppose it is. But I like to think that if you had gotten the help you needed, you and I could have been friends eventually. Or at least not enemies. I never wished you ill, and deep down I know you never did me, either. So now that the moment has arrived for us to part ways for good, and I’d like to make it an amicable split. I hope your spirit is as willing as mine is.

My mom’s friend Tom is taking me out on the Sound tomorrow for a short trip on his boat. You and I both know what tomorrow is -- the blackest anniversary I’ll ever know. It’ll be three years to the day since I found you in that bathtub. But I hope to lessen its stain by taking this letter with me, reading it to you, and then casting it out over the water. Norma suggested that I do something symbolic -- a “cleansing ritual,” I think she called it -- to end our chapter once and for all so that I’m fully free to commit to the next.

I’m ready now. I’ve been ready for awhile. Bella told me she never said good-bye to her mom; just farewell until it was time for them to meet again. And so I’ll simply say “farewell” to you, Tanya, because I truly do wish you well. Wherever you are, I hope you can find it in your heart to do the same for me.


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Massage Therapy, Chapter 25 - Reunion

The Diary of Bella and Edward
Monday, September 20

Aw, that’s sweet that you put my name before yours, Edward.

Ladies first, always. You know I’m a gentleman.

But only when necessary, thank God.

I thought you liked gentlemen.

I do. But I happen to be very fond of your un-gentlemanly behavior, when you choose to unleash it. It does decadent things to my girly bits.

Mm . . . so I’ve noticed. Stop distracting me -- I have very important events to record here. I’ll do things to your girly bits later.

Is that a promise? Okay, okay. So exactly how does this shared journal thing work, anyway? Do we take turns writing entries? Or do we divide each page down the middle so we can make comments on what the other has written?

That sounds equitable. Let’s divide it down the middle. Or how about I take the left-hand pages and you take the right?

Okay, sure. But what happened to “ladies first?”

I’m calling dibs this time because I want to write about your surprise for me today. That’s the kind of thing I need to describe in detail for posterity. Although I’m certain I’ll never forget how I felt when I walked into that room and saw you there.

It was a good surprise, wasn’t it?

The best. But before we get ahead of ourselves, I need to backtrack a bit. Are you hungry? You’re welcome to anything in my kitchen while I write. This could take awhile.

Is that your way of asking me to make us some dinner? You know, this would go a lot faster if we kept a cyber diary instead. Typing is a lot quicker than writing long-hand. Join me in the twenty-first century, Edward.

I like the physicality of writing the old-fashioned way -- the feel of the notebook on my lap, the paper under my hands, the pen between my fingers. You should be happy that I’m such a tactile person. It has served you well, if I’m not mistaken.

Indeed it has. And I must admit, you look very poetic and dashing scribbling away next to me while I look over your shoulder. But I’ll leave you here on the couch for now and go make dinner with whatever you have in the kitchen that passes for food.

Hey, I went shopping when I knew you were coming home. You might be surprised.

You always surprise me. In a really good way. So, you write about today, and I’ll read it later and add my own comments. This could be fun.

It will be fun. That was a nice kiss you just gave me, by the way. I almost didn’t let you off of the couch, except that I really am kind of hungry, for food this time. I wonder if you can feel my eyes on your ass while you walk away? Probably, since they’re pretty much fixed there whenever you have your back to me.

God, I missed you here in the loft. I never minded the emptiness before you filled it. It’s so cold when you’re not here . . . vacant. Kind of like my soul was before you resurrected it. When you read the rest of the letters in here, you’ll know. I don’t care anymore that you’ll see how needy I am. I know you need me, too. If I’d realized how much freedom there was in surrender, I would have given in to you completely long ago.

I have to hand it to you -- I really didn’t see your surprise coming today. I believed your texts, and I believed Emmett’s ruse. Even Jessica was amazingly convincing as she lied right to my face. Should I be a little worried at how duplicitous all of you are capable of being? Of course, look at how I kept things from you for so long. Turnabout is fair play. And considering how much that turnabout was to my benefit, I’m pretty undeserving, no matter how much you’d probably like to argue that point.

In any case, I readily believed Emmett when he begged me to squeeze in a session with a new patient of his, even though he knew how anxious I was to leave work as soon as possible to meet you at your place. Jessica even went so far as to reschedule my last appointment of the day so that I could take off early. You should have seen the repentant look on her face when I sullenly asked her about my unexpected new client.

“Sorry, Edward. Emmett says this new girl has some major issues going on -- muscles tight as a drum, pulling her spine all out of whack. Maybe you can just give her a quick relaxation massage today and then reschedule her some other time.” Her last phrase sounded like a question, her sheepish grin looking more like a grimace.

“Yeah, Emmett already gave me that hangdog expression. It’s fine. I’ve already waited a week -- what’s another hour?” I said with a resigned shrug.

“Well, just think how much sweeter your reunion will be the longer you have to wait for it. Right?” I should have questioned the giddy tone of her voice right then.

“Sure,” I answered with a quick, forced smile. “So, do you have her patient file?”

“Emmett put it inside the door,” Jessica replied smoothly.

“Okay.” I began to walk down the hall toward the massage room when I caught her smug grin out of the corner of my eye.

“You look pleased with yourself,” I noted, stopping briefly at the side of the counter. “Did you have a nice weekend? Did you see Jake, perhaps?” I added hopefully.

“I did, actually,” she said, her face brightening. “He took me to this cool Mexican restaurant before he had a gig with the Pack. They’re sounding fantastic, by the way. He says the recording is going great. And on the plus side, he didn’t mention Bella once the entire evening.” -- That’s probably the same place he took me. He really needs to up his game and get more creative.

My grin matched her own. “I’d say that’s a very big plus.” Of course, you’ve been gone all week, but like Jessica, I choose to believe that maybe he’s finally accepting reality and moving on from his fixation with you. If not, I’ll help move him along forcibly, if necessary. -- I love it when you start in with the macho posturing and threats. That does things to my girly bits, too.

It always takes me a few seconds for my eyes to adjust to the ambient lighting in my massage room. I pushed my glasses up my nose, then reached for the patient file folder Jessica had deposited in its usual plastic holder on the wall inside the door. I wish I had a picture of the huge smile that engulfed my face when I opened the file and saw the name on the top of that patient information page. I knew what I would find when I looked over at the massage table, but I still felt a surge of emotion barrel through me at the sight.

There you were, lying face down on the mattress, your pale skin gleaming like amber-tinted alabaster in the glow of my desk lamp. I felt exactly the same as the day I first saw you there . . . strangely, inexplicably moved; and inexorably drawn to you.

Except now, there’s nothing inexplicable about it. And I welcome your inexorable pull instead of fearing it. I relish the sway you have over me now. I live for it. I happily gave into its insistence as I slowly walked toward you and gazed down at your beautiful back.

I’m sure you heard my voice crack with emotion when I spoke. “What seems to be the trouble, Miss Swan?”

You spoke through the towel-wrapped donut hole, just as before. “Well, I’ve been having some issues that go way back to a car accident I was in six years ago. I thought that maybe you could help me. I hear you’re the best.”

I smiled and came to stand at the head of the table, looking down at those cascades of chestnut hair just like I did that day. When I touched your neck, it felt almost like the first time. Your skin prickled in goose bumps again and desire stirred deep within me. It was the same desire that’s always been there, yet so much richer now, infused with love and respect and understanding.

“I don’t know if I’m the best,” I said dubiously. “But I promise to do my best for you. If I can make you feel whole again, that will be the best thing I’ll ever accomplish.”

My hands were on autopilot as I spoke, examining every inch of your ivory skin in search of any deficiency. I found few. And the ones I did find acquiesced to my touch in a way that made my satisfaction -- for both you and me -- soar. You are living proof of my worth.

“My entire life, I’ve never felt as whole as I have with you.” Your words were mumbled through the donut hole, but they still sounded like angels singing to me. “Maybe if I’m lucky, I can return the favor someday.”

I couldn’t take any more after that. I’m sure you could hear how choked up I was. “You already have. You know that. In a way I thought would never be possible for me.”

I pulled the flannel sheet over you and gently lifted you into a sitting position. You easily helped me along, which you never would have been able to do that first day without wincing from your lower back injury. And then you fixed those chocolate eyes on me for the first time in a week, and I felt the melancholy of those days disappear in an instant.

“Edward, that letter . . .” You were shaking your head; I tried to still the motion by placing my hands on either side of your face. “I don’t even know where to begin. How to tell you what those words meant to me. How I wish I hadn’t left you here to go through all that alone.”

“But I had to do it alone,” I interrupted you. “You knew that. You knew that taking a step back would make me take a step forward. I needed the push. Or the pull. Whatever it is between us that forces me to be a better man.”

Your hands were on my face then, too; warm and cradling and possessing. “You were already a good man without me. I wish you’d acknowledge that.”

“But I like who I am with you so much better. You freed me from that cage, in so many ways . . .” I trailed off, remembering how you brought me out of myself without even trying. Without me even realizing it. “Here I am, the therapist, being healed by his patient.” My smile felt both wry and grateful.

“We healed each other.” I drank in your smile, swam in the film of tears that gathered in your eyes. “I came to you for massage therapy and got so much more.”

“A hell of lot more than you ever bargained for, I’m sure,” I replied with a laugh, determined to make this a happy reunion for us.

Your laugh was short but genuine. “More than I ever hoped for.”

“I know the feeling. I’d still be stuck in a hell of my own making if it weren’t for you. Thank you for not giving up on me. For not letting me give up on myself.”

“You know you don’t need to thank me for that.” Your fingers were in my hair then; my scalp tingled and begged for more. “I’d do anything for you.”

I saw the truth in your eyes; felt it in your touch. “And you know I’d do the same for you.”

A smile broke through your tears then. “You’re going back to school!” I smiled and nodded a little sheepishly at your exclamation. “The fact that you’re doing something for yourself means more to me than anything else you could do for me.”

“Yeah, well, it feels like a way to finally complete that chapter of my life and be done with it. I mean, I have no idea if I’ll end up even using that degree. You never know, I just might chuck the whole health care profession and join Jasper’s band instead.”

I saw your eyes light up a little at the idea, but your reply was diplomatic. “You know I’ll support whatever decision you make.”

I nodded and felt my grin spread. “There’s a certain appeal in joining The Grade, you know. Just making music all day and night. There’d be a lot of satisfaction in that -- reaching people in a different way. You always said music could save people. That it saved you.”

“You know how much I believe that,” you enthused. “And I could get you signed to Java and oversee your recording and marketing and distribution….”

I cut you off before you got carried away. “And then we could crash and burn like Rosalie and her first boyfriend when they tried to work together like that. Remember what I’ve always said about business and pleasure?”

Your expression was scoffing as your hands moved down my neck, thumbs over my collarbone, fingers under the collar of my lab coat. I watched my own hands stray over you the same way.

“Your insistence on not mixing business and pleasure is what caused us so much trouble in the first place,” you reminded me. “If you had just allowed the two to co-exist peacefully, we never would have had all those misunderstandings.”

“Maybe,” I admitted. The sheet had begun to slip down, exposing your breasts, and the dusky pink protrusion of your nipples distracted me. “But back then I was unconsciously looking for excuses to fuck things up between us. If one method didn’t do the trick, I would have found another.”

“Or maybe you would have just given in to me.” I watched as your fingers unbuttoned my shirt, one by one; felt the warm air and your even warmer touch ignite my skin with desire.

“I wanted to.” My voice was growing huskier, my hands bolder. Your sigh was soft and maddening when I traced the tips of my fingers over your hardening nipples.

“Just think what could have happened the day that we both got ourselves off, a room away from each other, instead of giving in to what we both wanted.”

It was my turn to sigh as I trailed my fingers down your taut stomach, taking the sheet down with them. I stopped only when you reached up to push the lab coat off of me. I let my arms go limp until you had succeeded in making my jacket and shirt drop to the floor with a muffled thud.

“God, the thought of you lying here, touching yourself . . .” I stared down at you and imagined your fingers working yourself into a frenzy while you fantasized about me. I caught your eyes with mine and voiced my desire out loud.

“Show me. Right now. Show me what you did.”

Even in the dim light, I could see the blood rush to your cheeks in my favorite cocktail of self-consciousness and lust. You bit your lip in that way that drives me crazy, then you lay back on the table and kicked the sheet down with your feet, your eyes locked with mine the entire time. But I soon felt my eyes stray down your body, and your hand followed, fingers smoothing over your belly, heading south. I think I stopped breathing for a minute as you pushed your fingers under the lace edge of your panties -- tiny floral print today -- and down, down, down until they forced a pleasurable sigh from your mouth.

“I’m sure I started like this,” you said, moving your hand up and down rhythmically beneath the cotton panel, legs spreading and hips tilting upward. I glanced at the sultry gaze in your eyes before my attention was arrested by the movement of your body, undulating into the pressure of your fingers. “I’m sure I was imagining you doing this to me, touching me this way. And then, when I was good and wet, my fingers slid inside . . . deeper, and then deeper still . . . while I pretended they were your fingers. . . and then your cock.”

Your voice was almost as hypnotic as the motion of your hand pushing the fabric of your panties down while you pleasured yourself. My dick was throbbing, but my eyes were frustrated. My hands obeyed their demands and I reached for the edge of your underwear, pulling the offending cotton down over your hips. I loved when you lifted your body so that I could pull the panties down and remove them altogether. I loved even more that you would let me watch you do this to yourself -- shove the fingers of your right hand deep into your vagina while your left hand joined in and massaged your clit in perfect time.

The self-conscious girl I once knew never would have done this so freely; never would have trusted me enough to truly let go of her inhibitions. I thought I had banished her for good until I saw her lurking in your eyes last weekend when you found my journal. But watching you now, unashamed and free, I knew that I would not see her again. And that is one loss I will not lament.

I couldn’t decide which I wanted more -- to continue watching you do the all the work, or to jump in and do it myself. I compromised by unzipping my own pants and pushing them down, releasing my hard-on into my own waiting hands.

I’m not sure why it felt so intimate to do this together -- watch each other revel in our own auto-erotica without even touching each other. Yet our eyes were transfixed on each other’s sex while our frantic hands brought moans to our hungry mouths. We hadn’t even kissed yet, and at last I realized that my mouth was watering for yours, begging for the feel of your tongue tangling with mine.

I think I murmured something like “So fucking sexy” before I gave up and leaned over the head of the massage table, grabbing your face in my hands and covering your lips with mine. God, the taste of you after so long . . . Indescribable. I couldn’t stop devouring your mouth with hungry kisses, and your desperation matched mine, which only made my crazier. My hands were all over you, one in your hair, the other caressing every part of your body I could reach, like a blind man finally granted permission to “see” his lover for the first time.

Your hands were just as hot and greedy on my skin, searing me and making me groan into your mouth. By the time you grasped my dick and began stroking it up and down, I was a panting mess, barely able to even kiss you. I felt like a teenager again, floored by the first touch of a girl’s hand. I could feel you grinning into my mouth; relishing your power over me, using it to your advantage and mine as you pumped my shaft hard and fast. You showed my dick no mercy, knowing that it wanted none.

You know me so well -- what I need, what I want; but most of all, what I don’t even realize that I need and want. I always prided myself on having figured that out about you. I never stopped to consider that you’d figured out the same about me.

As our kiss disintegrated, you scooted around slightly so that your head was hanging slightly over the edge of the mattress. You looked up at me and I could see that your expression was provocative, even upside down. Your hand never stilled on my dick, gently yanking and pulling me in the direction of your mouth.

“Give me your cock. I want to taste you.”

I vaguely hoped that Emmett and Jessica had vacated the building, because the groan I emitted was definitely loud enough to be heard in the next two rooms. My lust barely outweighed my awe as you tilted your head back and took me in your mouth. You were unable to really move your head in this position, so I withdrew, let you take a breath, and gently pushed into your mouth again, down your open and waiting throat. I felt it constrict around the tip of my cock, and I pulled out before you choked; but then the irresistible urge to gently push into that hot, wet entrance overtook me again.

“Fuck,” I groaned, unable to produce any other coherent speech as I filled your mouth and watched your throat expand in the shape of my cock before I withdrew again. I’m still a little stunned that you took me in that way, over and over . . . Let me bury myself so deep that your lips sucked the base of my cock before I pulled back again.

If it bothered you, you never let it show. Your hands gripped my hips and thighs; your tongue tickled my shaft with every thrust. If you choked, I pulled out. But I can’t deny that the sensation of fucking your beautiful mouth was one of the most intense highs I’ve ever experienced. Not just the feel of it, but the trust you had in me not to hurt you. I was overwhelmed at the fact that you wanted to give me pleasure so much that you were willing to do something that might have been completely uncomfortable for you. --Just so you know, it wasn’t that bad. I felt kind of fierce, like a sword swallower in the circus. Getting you off gets me off. Surely you’ve figured that out along with all your other insights, right?

Once I got into the careful rhythm of it, I couldn’t keep my hands off of your body before me, naked and wanting. My fingers soon picked up where yours had left off, stroking and rubbing and then sliding inside you. I can’t believe how much I missed that sweet pussy after only a week. I felt like the luckiest bastard in the world that you would let me invade you so completely, fingers plunging deep in one end while my dick plundered the other. But you seemed to welcome the invasion, your moans vibrating my cock until I thought I would lose it and ejaculate right down your throat.

But I didn’t want it to end like that, so premature, in such a coarse way. Today deserved better than that.

I withdrew from you completely and eased your head back up on the flannel-covered mattress, turning you slightly so that I could drown in that Hershey’s syrup looking up at me.

“God, you’re incredible,” I said before I leaned down and kissed you, not giving a damn about where your mouth had just been.

“So are you,” you replied, shaking your head a little. “Do you have any sexual hang-ups at all?”

I thought for a moment. “I’m not really into pain, yours or mine. I guess that’s my only boundary.”

I loved that little Mona Lisa smile you gave me. “Works for me.”

My lips found your throat and I nuzzled there a moment, but my imagination was restless.

“Do you remember that text message you sent me when you were drunk?” I whispered in her ear.

Your giggles stirred the hair at my temple and sent a hot shiver down my spine. “Vaguely.”

“Allow me to refresh your memory, then. I believe you said you wanted me to fuck you from behind . . .” I stopped to plant several kisses along your neck. “. . . deep and hard, like you like it.”

Your feigned shock was adorable. “That must have been the whiskey talking.”

“I don’t think so,” I argued, letting my lips trail down your chest. “I think you were telling me exactly what you like. You said you wanted my cock aalll the way in.” My thumb toyed with your left nipple while my tongue tickled your right, and I relished how it made you squirm and squeal a little. “I love it when we’re on the same page.”

I stood abruptly so that you’d scowl up at me until you saw that I was merely removing my clothes entirely, including shoes and socks. I climbed up on the mattress and lowered myself onto you, groaning at the feel of your body beneath mine, warm and soft and responsive. My mouth captured yours and I didn’t want to let it go; my fingers entwined in your hair and held on for dear life. The feel of your skin, your lips, pressed to mine is the closest I’ll ever get to heaven on earth, of that I’m sure.

I couldn’t wait to enter you. Your legs were instantly open to me, your limbs already wrapping around me and holding me there. Our moans mingled into one when I slid my cock into that sweet heat, and I knew I wouldn’t stop until we both came undone.

“What about the fucking from behind?” you murmured in my ear. You didn’t seem eager to turn over any time soon, your hands gripping my shoulders and my back, your hips bucking forcefully upward with every thrust of my cock.

“Later,” I managed to grunt hoarsely. “We have all night.”

Your groan was guttural as I ground my hips into yours. “Thank God we do,” you replied in between moans as our rhythm intensified.

I’m going to admit something to you right now, Bella. No matter how many gymnastic positions we attempt, or silly toys we play with to keep things interesting, I will never love anything as much as I love looking you right in the eyes, every inch of our bodies fused into one, when we come. Nothing will ever surpass that connection I feel with you when we’re face to face, body to body, soul to soul; when you tighten all around me and possess me, and I surrender and explode inside you.

There is nothing I will ever need or want more than that. And I think I sensed it from the very beginning with us. It just took me awhile to stop playing by the rules -- not just the ones imposed upon me, but the ones I made for myself. So today, when I finally ignored them and followed my heart instead, I felt another barrier fall away. Coming inside you on that massage table was one of the most oddly freeing things I’ve ever done. It was like acknowledging, once and for all, what is most important to me. Or whom, I should say.

It will always be you. You are my life now.

And speak of the angel, you’re walking toward me right now. Something smells delicious in this loft, and I’m about to go see what it is. You can read this and add your own comments, or fill in the things I left out.

I love you, Bella. I’ll say it every day, and I’ll write it every day, so you never forget it.

Wow. There’s not much to add. (Although I couldn’t resist a little peanut-gallery comment here and there, which you’ll see when you look back at your entry.)

As always, your words astonish me, Edward. I don’t know why I’m surprised, though. From the very beginning, I saw that depth in your eyes; that anguish and desperation; and that hope for something more. Something better. I wanted to really know you, like no one ever has before. I wanted to be the one to set you free. And now that I’ve actually helped you accomplish that, I know my own worth, too.

I’m watching you in the kitchen, sniffing under pot lids and peeking into the oven, and I’m absurdly, insanely attracted to you right now. It’s like your mere existence makes me so high that I’d be happy to simply observe you from afar for the rest of my life. But trust me, I’m much happier when you let me share in your existence.

You are my life now, too.

And I’ll tell you I love you, in words written and spoken, every day. That can be our troth to one another.

Until we make an official one, that is. And make no mistake, regardless of what I’ve said in the past about marriage, I will require some sort of formal commitment if you hope to ever have the slightest chance of keeping me barefoot and pregnant.

With that, I’m off to check on dinner. You look happy enough with it, and that’s enough for me. Here, you take the journal while I go stir. Love you.

I knew it! I knew you wanted to have my babies. *picture my smug, self-satisfied mug here*

That can wait awhile, though. We have a lot of living to do before then. That’s why I bought such a big diary for us. I know we’ll fill these pages in the blink of an eye.

This is just the beginning for us, Bella. And I intend to savor every minute of it.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Massage Therapy, Chapter 24 - Letters

From the Desktop of Bella Swan
Sunday, September 19

I forgot how relentlessly green Forks is.

Every day I’ve been here this week, I’ve realized more and more why you needed to leave, Mom. It’s peaceful and tranquil, and the natives seem to like it. Dad has settled nicely into his niche here, and he’s content. But within a few days, the flora-filled atmosphere somehow went from soothing to oppressive. Maybe it’s because the quiet and solitude gave me more than enough time to mull things over in my head. Too much time.

Maybe it’s because I miss Edward so much that my heart hurts.

All I know is that I can’t wait to leave tomorrow. I love Charlie and I’ll miss him, but I’ve decided he’s coming to Seattle the next time he wants to see me, even if I have to come here and forcibly drag him back with me.

The fishing trip with him Tuesday was good, and Wednesday I helped him do some chores around the house; but I think we were both relieved when he went back to work Thursday and Friday. Problem is, that left me with a lot of time on my hands. I practiced playing my new guitar until my fingers hurt; then I took lots of walks and did lots of thinking. But no matter what my head comes up with, my heart still holds fast to two things: I love Edward no matter what; and I love my job at Java Noise enough to try to work things out with Rose.

As long she’s in Emmett’s life and I’m in Edward’s, we’re stuck with each other. We had had a good working relationship before her paranoia got the best of her, so I’m hopeful that we can rebuild it. I was actually relieved to get a voicemail from her Friday afternoon while I was out for one of my strolls.

“Bella, I’m so sorry to bother you while you’re on vacation, but I have looked everywhere and I cannot find that press kit for Leo Clifton. You remember that big, hairy dude that looks like he spent three years in a Himalayan cave? Well, Mark saw him perform last week and was really impressed with the guy. I know we have his demo somewhere. If you remember where it is, please give me a call back.

“Hope you’re having a good vacation. I was thinking about you a lot earlier this week--I know how hard those days must have been for you. We all miss you here. Talk to you soon.”

I was actually grateful to have an opportunity to be useful, so I called her back as soon as I got home and discovered her message.

“The press kit is in my holding file, bottom right drawer of my desk,” I told her when she picked up. “That’s where I keep all the pending acts -- the ones we’re seriously considering.”

“Thanks! You’re a life saver.” I heard her rummaging until she let out an exclamation of victory. “How is it I’ve never known this is where you keep the hot commodities? I need to pay more attention, obviously. But I never would have looked in your desk without asking you first, anyway. I learned my lesson there,” she added contritely.

“That’s okay. Obviously you need to have access to all the files. It’s just the top desk drawer that I got a little upset about. It’s okay. I mean, you did have a point about everything in that office being Java property.”

“Well, I crossed the line and we both know it. But I really do want to try to earn your trust again, if you’ll let me. We want you back. I want you back. I need your ear! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve turned to ask your opinion on something and you weren’t there. I’ve missed you.”

“Wow,” I said, a bit surprised. Rosalie had never been so open or so complimentary before. “That’s nice to hear. I’ve kind of missed the activity, too. And the music. It’s so quiet here.”

“So . . . that means you’re coming back next week?” she asked uncertainly.

“Yeah, I think so. Would Tuesday be all right?”

“Tuesday would be great.” Rose sounded relieved. “I was afraid you were going to give your notice. Can’t say I would have blamed you.”

“I thought about it, to be honest,” I admitted. “But I love my job there, and I believe in the company. I’ve always liked the philosophy at Java. It’s more about the integrity of the music and the artists than making money.”

“True. Though I prefer to strike a profitable balance where that’s concerned,” she answered with a laugh. “Well, I’d better get this file down to Mark. I’ll see you next week. And Bella . . . thanks.”

Her last words carried more weight than the rest. I could tell she was thanking me for my effort to forgive and forget rather than helping her find a file.

“You’re welcome,” I told her, in the same knowing tone.

As I hung up the phone, I felt like a weight had been lifted. I never realized what heavy burdens grudges were until I let one go.

That night, I let the weightlessness get to me a bit. I met up with Eric, Tyler and Lauren. Angela will be interested to know that Eric asked me lots of questions about her. He always had a thing for her in high school but never acted on it, so Ben beat him to the punch. Eric was surprised, and I think a bit disappointed, to hear that Ange and Ben are still together.

I was surprised myself to see that Tyler and Lauren were still an item, and in fact, were engaged to be married. I was also feeling guiltily smug that Lauren had put on a considerable amount of weight since high school. The guilt went away as soon as I realized that she was as snobby as ever, regardless of the fact that her beauty queen days were far behind her. She still acted like she was the hottest girl in town. But I soon realized that I was content to let her enjoy being the biggest and brightest fish in her tiny pond. I’d be heading back to the ocean I loved soon enough.

So, I decided to relax, drink and be merry. I joined them in their drinking games, to disastrous results. The drunker I got, the more I missed Edward; and the more I missed him, the more I drank.

We hadn’t talked all week. It seemed to be a literally unspoken agreement between us: that we would take this time to be on our own, to work on ourselves; so we had only sent text messages to one another. The sound of his voice haunted me. Amidst the noise of the bar, I kept imagining his velvet tones in my ear, his breath on my neck, his whispered tremors shivering down my spine.

His phantom voice guided me all the way home. I could practically hear him telling me which way to go as I drunkenly maneuvered my behemoth of a truck down the back streets of Forks. As soon as I sneaked past Charlie’s room where he lay snoring, I fell on my bed in a stupor and began texting Edward.

I groaned with embarrassment when I read the messages back the next afternoon. It took me a good twenty-four hours to stop vomiting in between bouts of fitful sleep, while Charlie gave me disapproving looks and then harangued me for driving drunk the night before. I finally choked down some toast last night, then spent a few hours practicing the guitar again before passing out once more.

Today Charlie and I went fishing again, but with Jake’s dad, Billy Black, this time. Billy asked me all kinds of questions about The Wolf Pack’s progress. Jake had filled him in, but he liked hearing about their prospects from someone on the business end of things. It was strange to be that person -- the one sounding like an authority on something, while talking to my dad and the father of one of my old friends. It was the first time I realized I wasn’t really a kid anymore. I felt like one of the adults instead.

It was late in the day and I was helping Charlie clean the fish we’d caught when he remembered the letter. Edward had written to me, old-school style, and sent it via snail mail to Forks. Dad hadn’t bothered to give me the letter while I was heaving all day long yesterday, but I wish he had. I would have made different plans for today.

But maybe it’s better this way. I’ve come up with the perfect reunion for Edward and me, I think. I’ve already called Emmett to help me put my plan in motion. Edward will be so surprised. I have a big, stupid grin on my face just thinking about it.

In the meantime, I can’t stop reading his letter. Every time it hits me as hard as the first. See for yourself:

Thursday, September 16

Dear Bella,

I know I told you that I needed time to get my thoughts together before I told you about my appointment today. But the truth is, writing them down is the way I’ve always sorted them out and made sense of them. I think -- no, I know -- you do the same. So I hoped you wouldn’t mind a letter from me while I attempt to figure things out.

I’ve written to you every day this week. Since the moment you left, I’ve known that you are the only person I want to write to anymore. So I went and bought a new notebook after work on Monday. It’s nice, a real journal, with a white cover. I’m sure the shrink would tell me that my color choice was symbolic. I’m sure it probably was. New beginnings, clean slate and all that.

But I decided to send this letter, because I want you to have it right now. I want you to know what’s been going on in my head. No more secrets, no more withholding. No more testing you to see what it will take to make you turn your back on me, thus “proving” to myself that I never deserved you to begin with. I’ve been very good at creating self-fulfilling prophecies the past few years.

That’s just one thing the shrink made me see. I think you’d like her. She’s older, probably sixty-ish, with these eyes that crinkle up like walnuts when she smiles. She looks like someone who’s smiled a lot in her life, and I like that. She’s warm and easy to talk to, kind of like my Aunt Jeanne was.

Even so, I was surprised at what happened when I met with her today. She had a cancellation after my appointment, so she let me stay there for two hours. I say “let me” because I was on some kind of crazy roll, talking my fool head off. So strange for me, the guy who’s so good at bottling everything up inside. But this time, everything came spilling out. What happened with Tanya and how much I let it derail my life. How I resented my parents, especially my dad, for their efforts to keep that from happening. Because if I had picked up the pieces and continued on the career path I had intended, it would have been like Tanya never happened, and I couldn’t allow that. Wallowing in the past and letting it ruin my life it was the only punishment I had for my perceived crimes.

She never left a suicide note. Never blamed me for anything, nor forgave me for anything. She left no answers to my myriad questions “why?” So I answered them myself, or tried to. All those letters to her were just my way of trying to get answers that I can never have. Creating any kind of scenario more complex than the cause-and-effect finality of me telling her I didn’t care if she killed herself, and her going ahead with the deed. I was trying to be my own confessor, jury, judge, priest. . .you name it. I waged war on myself daily. And when you’re waging both sides of the battle, self against self, you can never truly win or lose. Never move on from the battlefield and just find peace.

I stayed there because I thought that was all I deserved -- a purgatory of my own making, suitable for someone who’d be as callous and unthinking as I was the day I said those words to her. Like many a prisoner, I became accustomed to the captivity. It became the norm. I sought no conscious release from it.

At least that’s what I always thought. But Norma -- that’s the therapist -- pointed out that it was no accident I went into massage therapy. I know that’s true. It was an easier path than getting my undergrad degree and then going to med school, but it would still allow me to heal people. And I figured out long ago that my desire to help others was mostly a futile stab at making up for the person I’d driven to destruction.

But what I never realized was that I was subverting that healing from myself onto them. I still kept my old wounds festering close to the surface without even realizing it. Outwardly, I appeared to move on. I came out of isolation after a few months, went to massage therapy school, and befriended Kate. She was “safe,” non-threatening, because she would never want more from me than friendship. She got me socializing more, and so did Jasper, taking me to clubs and urging me to join him onstage.

Before I knew it, I was back in a familiar groove, not that different from the one I was in before I met Tanya. I only dated women casually, never letting anyone inside. Because right there under the surface still lurked every ounce of pain and guilt I’d ever had over Tanya’s suicide. I picked at those wounds in secret every night, in the pages of that black notebook, never letting them heal. Making sure they held me tightly in that cocoon of carefully concealed self-loathing. I didn’t deserve to move on from that. I didn’t want to.

And then I met you. I’ll never forget the day I first saw you, your pale skin gleaming in the glow from my desk lamp. I felt something I hadn’t felt in so long. I didn’t know why at the time. But when I touched you, I knew that there was as much pain inside you, right beneath that perfect porcelain, as I carried under my own skin. I was enthralled. And I was terrified.

It only got worse the more I got to know you. The things you said in our first few meetings let me know just how much you and I had in common. I held you at bay because I knew that connecting with you would mean moving beyond my self-imposed prison. . .letting myself out of the cage, giving up the fight. I knew you were my empathy and my freedom and my salvation.

And this whole time, I’ve never felt like I deserved to be saved.

I know how angry everyone was that I didn’t press charges against Tanya’s father, but I also suspect you know exactly why I didn’t. He finally took my punishment out of my hands. I’ll never be able to describe what a relief it was to feel his fist slam into my face -- to have someone besides me place the blame squarely atop my shoulders and then knock it sideways. The catharsis I felt from that was the first taste of freedom I’d truly allowed myself, and the first time I began to fight back, at least in my mind, against the accusation that everything was all my fault.

But the downside, of course, was what it did to you. I hate how I made you suffer by being a coward and not confessing everything to you earlier. The second I began to let go of the guilt over Tanya, I felt it attack me over my failings with you instead. It had happened before that, too. The night I tried to goad you into hitting me, into being my punisher. The times I pushed our sexual boundaries and demanded more of you than I had any right to. They were designed, subconsciously at the time, to provoke you into telling me what an asshole I am, so that I would be justified in my self-loathing and self-blame.

But you never did that. You never let me sabotage myself that way. I know you never will. You see through me -- no, into me -- like no one ever has before. I knew all along that you would. And I knew just how badly I needed that. Needed you. Part of me was ready to accept it; to accept you and your love. The other part was determined to keep myself in that cage of my own making and make sure that I continued to suffer for my sins.

I suspect that you’ve already figured all of this out. That you’ve seen it, or at least sensed it, all along. Before I delved this deep into myself, I was sure that you were the one who needed me. I was so focused on the idea of “fixing” you -- your body, your soul -- that I didn’t recognize just how much I was getting out of the deal. That’s not such a bad thing. You finally made me selfless for once in my life. I’ve never wanted anything as much as I’ve wanted you to be healthy and happy and whole again.

But I know that you were afraid that if I didn’t look inside and see all the stuff that’s been going on there, it would come back to haunt us both. It broke my heart when you found my journal. Not because I was afraid of what you might read there, but because that old insecurity was back in your eyes -- the self-doubt I thought I’d helped you get over. I’ve never been able to understand why you don’t see the beauty in yourself that I see in you. It baffles me still. But then I realized that maybe that’s how you see me, too, so maybe I should start believing it. Believing that I’m worthy of your love. Worthy of forgiveness for past mistakes -- not just your forgiveness, but my own.

So that’s what I’m working on now. Norma says I was already well on the way to making a lot of these breakthroughs on my own, especially after what happened with Tanya’s father. Those last weeks leading up to your birthday were like a ticking time-bomb. I had given myself a deadline to tell you everything, but Donnelly literally beat me to the punch. That old adage “everything happens for a reason” seemed to hold true that day. An act of violence wrenched my cage door open, but I’m counting on you to take my hand and help lead me out of it.

I took the first step, or maybe the second, after I left Norma’s office. I went to the Admissions office at the University of Washington and picked up a course catalog. I’ve decided that I’m going to get my undergraduate degree, even if it takes me two more years of night school while I work to do it. I don’t know if I’ll go on to med school or not -- I haven’t thought that far ahead. But finally finishing what I started seven years ago seems like a good start.

As for the therapy, I’m going to see Norma every Thursday afternoon for awhile. She thinks it would be a good idea for both us to visit her together some time. I told her I’d run it by you. Maybe she can help us really let go of all the old misplaced guilt instead of just giving it lip service. Maybe only time can really make that happen, but I still think that you and I can help each other more than anyone else ever could. We already have. There was definitely a reason that you came into my life when you did. I’ll be grateful for that -- for you -- every day of my life.

I’m tearing these pages out of the new notebook to send to you, but the rest of my letters are here for you to read when you get back. This isn’t just my own journal I’m starting. I want it to be ours, to tell each other anything we might be thinking or feeling, no matter how awkward. Maybe that’s weird, wanting to share something like that with you. Diaries are supposed to be personal. But now that I’ve let you in to the darkest corners of my soul, I don’t mind the light shining on them anymore. Because with the light came warmth, and love.

Bella, your love is the best gift I’ve ever received. I want to cherish it, and return it, with everything I have. No holding back any part of me anymore. What’s mine is yours. All you have to do now is claim it.

Forever yours,

Can you believe him, mom? What guy has thoughts like this, and then sits down and wrestles them onto paper? I never knew it was possible for anyone to touch my heart the way he has mine. I literally ache for him, like part of me is missing while we’re apart. I don’t even know if it’s healthy or normal. I guess if I visit the therapist with Edward, we can find out together.

But I don’t care, really. All I know is that I love Edward with everything I have in me, and I’m hanging on to him -- to us -- until my dying breath.

This is where the difficult part comes in, because I’ve made a decision.

This is the last letter I’m writing to you.

Of course, I’ll still mutter to you whenever things are going wrong, and imagine you smiling down on me when everything’s great. But it’s time for me to stop turning to you to get me through the ups and downs of life. After all, if Edward is being brave enough to give up his crutch and count on me instead, then I need to step up and do the same.

“Need” is the wrong word. I want to. I’m ready. You’re my past and my foundation; the amazing woman who made me what I am today. I’ll always love you more than words can say, for being the best mom, and friend, a girl could ever ask for. And I’ll always wish that Fate could have written a different ending for us, so that you could have been with me decades longer.

But now it’s time for me to embrace my present and my future, and I know without question that they lie with Edward. There’s a new journal waiting for me, with tons of blank pages ready to be filled with a new story -- Edward’s and mine. I know that wherever you are, you’re excited for me. And you’re always welcome to read over my shoulder.

I won’t say good-bye . . . just au revoir. Until we see each other again.

I love you, Mom.


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Massage Therapy, Chapter 23 - Texts

Text Messages
Monday, September 13

12:25 p.m.
Edward: Just got your voice mail. Wish I could talk to you in person but I know you’re driving. So glad you liked the birthday present. When I thought about what you’d really like, the guitar and sheet music was the best idea I could come up with. Drive carefully and remember to let me know when you get to your Dad’s. Love you.

2:41 p.m.
Bella: Damn, we keep missing each other. I’m at a truck stop in BF Egypt, filling up the gas-guzzler. I think old Red gets negative miles to the gallon. The present was perfect. I promise you, I WILL make that guitar sing. Eventually. ;-)

4:57 p.m.
E: I know you will. It’s later -- you should be in Forks by now. Please let me know when you get there safely.

5:20 p.m.
B: I’m here. No problems on the road. How is your jaw?

E: Hurts like hell. It’s good for me. I’m glad your trip was uneventful. I love you.

B: Put ice on it again and take those pills your dad gave you. I love you, too.

11:03 p.m.
E: Can’t sleep. Keep thinking about last night. I know you hate apologies, but I owe you one. Coming to your place and forcing myself on you like that was inexcusable, no matter how freaked out I was about the thought of losing you. As if pounding you into the headboard was going to keep you from leaving my sorry ass. I wouldn’t blame you if you did.

B: You know I won’t. I love you. I knew what was going on with you. I pushed you into getting therapy; you pushed back. I would have stopped you if I’d wanted to.
P.S. I’ll let you in on a little secret -- I like being pounded into the headboard. By you, anyway.

E: Hate to tell you, but that’s not much of a secret. I may be oblivious to some things, but recognizing what turns you on isn’t one of them. The difference last night was that I didn’t pay attention. I was selfish. I took without giving. I’ll never do that to you again.

B: Apology accepted. But I don’t accept the idea that you’ll never give me a good pounding again. In fact, I demand that you do. Just let me catch up next time.

E: That is definitely something I can agree to. I look forward to it. So when is it that you’re coming back to Seattle?

B: LOL Not sure. As much as I miss you, I think you and I both need this time apart. Just to think. Figure things out. I do, anyway.

E: I know. You’re right. Do what you need to do. I promise to do the same.

B: Love you. Good night.

E: Sweet dreams, Bella.

Tuesday, September 14

7:45 a.m.
E: Can’t stop thinking about you. I know what a hard day this will be for you. Call me if you need to talk. Hope you and your dad are doing okay.

2:13 p.m.
B: Sorry I didn’t answer earlier. I was up and out in the wilderness at the ass-crack o’ dawn, believe it or not. Charlie wanted to take me fishing. It was kind of nice. Peaceful. Kept our minds off of things. We actually caught a few trout, so looks like I’ll be cooking tonight. Didn’t have any phone service out there to answer you ‘til now. Don’t worry, the day is going okay. Gonna call Phil in a bit and see how he’s doing. Thanks for checking up on me. You’re the best.

2:55 p.m.
E: I’ll always check up on you. Glad you and your dad are spending some quality time together. Makes me think I should do the same w/mine. I told him about the other night and let him check out my face, so you and Alice should be happy. He gave me the name of a good psychotherapist, BTW. I have an app’t. with her Thursday afternoon. Wish me luck.

B: You won’t need luck. I know you hate doing this, but I have a strong feeling that you’ll be glad you did. Otherwise I wouldn’t have pushed you so much.

E: I know. I’m getting used to the idea. It’ll be a good thing, I think. You can say ‘I told you so’ later.

B: I don’t need to. Just let me know how it goes. Good, bad or ugly, I want to know.

E: You’ll be the first to hear about it. Hate to go but my next client is here.

B: Go heal -- it’s what you do best.

E: Guess we’ll soon find out.

Wednesday, September 15

11:22 p.m.
E: Just got back from Billy’s. Jazz and I did a little open mic action. Went well. Crowd was good. No tomatoes. NGL, Imma li’l drunk right now. Miss you. Bad. Why does whiskey make it worse? What are you wearing? Shit. Sorry. Meant to say, How was your day?

B: LOL Glad to see you’re just a “li’l” drunk. Sorry I missed you and Jasper -- you know how much I love hearing you sing. Been practicing on the Martin all day long. I’m going to make you proud one of these days.

E: You make me proud every day. And grateful. I don’t know why the hell you put up with me.

B: Stop it. That self-deprecation is something you should ask the therapist about tomorrow.

E: Don’t remind me. And BTW you should do that yourself. Makes me nuts when you get all insecure and think I won’t be satisfied with you or that I still love my dead ex-girlfriend. You need to get over that shit. If you could see inside my mind you’d know how consumed I am with thoughts of you. All hours of the day and night. If that’s crazy, I don’t care. Call me certifiable. I love you. I need you. I want you. Only you. Now tell me what you’re wearing for fuck’s sake.

B: Wow. Remind me to get you to this exact level of intoxication next time we’re together. I’m wearing the same tank top and pajama pants I always wear to bed. Now go jerk off like a good, horny boy and then sleep it off. Don’t you have clients in the morning?

E: Just a couple. Then I have app’ts. Very Important Appointments. Getting-My-Shit-Together-For-Bella Appointments.

B: You mean for Edward.

E: Fine. For both of us. I won’t apologize for doing it for you, too. Everything I do is at least partly for you. I’m hanging up now before I start spouting bad Bryan Adams songs.

B: LOL God, I love you. When you’re whacking off tonight, imagine my mouth on you. Licking . . . Sucking . . . Swallowing. Deep. Sweet dreams, sexy man.

E: Fuck. Me. How long does it take to drive to Forks? I’m ready to get in the car right now.

B: You’re drunk as hell. Go to bed. That’s an order.

E: I love Bossy Bella.

B: I know.

Thursday, September 16

6:30 p.m.
B: Haven’t heard from you yet. Must admit I’m a little nervous. Please tell me how everything went with the therapist. How are you?

E: Okay. Or at least, I will be. Sorry I didn’t call or text. Have a lot going on in my head right now. Trying to sort out my thoughts. When I do, you’ll hear from me, I promise.

B: Okay. You’re scaring me a little. Was it that bad?

E: Yes, and no. In the grand scheme of things, it was good. Just . . . difficult. But I expected it to be.

B: I’m sorry. I wish there was something I could do. Please call me if you want to talk.

E: I will. I guess I’m the one who needs some time now.

B: Fair enough. I’ll be here when you need me.

E: I always need you. Don’t ever doubt that.

B: Goes both ways. Only three days and I miss you like crazy.

E: Only takes me about three hours.

B: I know. Me too. Don’t worry, I’ll be back soon. Don’t know how many more contemplative walks in the woods I can take. It’s too green here. Gives me the creeps.

E: LOL My nature girl. A little self-analysis goes a long way, doesn’t it?

B: Yeah. It’s hard, but worth it.

E: You’re right, I know. Perspective, and all that.

B: Right. I’ll let you know when I’m coming home. Tomorrow night I’m meeting up with a few old classmates who are still here in Forks.

E: Really? Anyone I should worry about? Mike Newton, perhaps?

B: *snort!* No. And even if he were here, he’d be nothing for you to worry about. You know that.

E: Yeah, I know. We both need to work on being secure in our relationship.

B: You’re right, we do. Guess the therapist is doing her job.

E: So far, so good. I promise I’ll tell you all about it as soon as I get my head together.

B: No hurry. I’m not going anywhere, honest. Forks isn’t that far. I’ll be back soon. I miss you too much not to.

E: Ditto. But I’m glad you did what you had to do. I think I’m ready to do the same.

B: Good. I love you, Edward.

E: I love you, too. That’s one thing I don’t need a shrink to help me figure out.

B: :-)

E: Back atcha, baby.

Saturday, September 18

1:57 a.m.
B: Wee! My turn for drunk texts. Fuck I think the booze is stronger here than in Seatlte. Is that possible?

E: I don’t think so. Unless some asshole slipped something in your drink. Who were you with?

B: Eh, no one you know. Couple guys, Eric and Tyler and this bitch Lauren. She was a bitch in HS and she’s still a bitch. But even she wouldn’t slip sumthin in my dink. Drink. Shit. LOLOL No, I just had too much. Dumb drunking games. You know I cant play sports. Even bar sports. Fucking lose every tine.

E: LOL Oh, my sweet girl. You are not going to be well tomorrow. Wish I was there to hold your hair back when you vomit, then make you greasy hash browns in the morning.

B: Oh I already barfed once at the bar. Not prety. Made it to the toilet tho at least. Missed you all night. You shoulda seen the lozers in this place. Had to get drunk just to look at ‘em. Guh that’s mean! I’m so spoiled. You’re sexy as fuck. You know your the sexiest fucker I’ve ever seen with my actual eyes who wasn’t like on a movie screen somewhere. Fuck. I miss you. Picturing you naked now. Plz tell me you’r naked.

E: Christ. I’m about to be. It’s not right that your drunk texts make me this hot. I see my swearing has been a bad influence on you. Even if I was there, it would be wrong to fuck you when you’re this drunk. But now that’s all I can think about.

B: Mm Im thinking about it too. I’m lying face down on the bed . . . imagining you fucking me from behind. God that wuld feel so good right now. I’d get up on my hands and knees so you could push that cock aaalll the way in and fuck me deep and hard like I like it.

E: Good God. You’re trying to kill me, aren’t you?

B: Yes. If I have to be drink and horny an frustrated, you can at least be furstrated with me.

E: Oh baby. That’s a given right now. Will be until you come back. When are you coming back?

B: Um mebbe Sunday? Think tomorrow I might not feel so god.

E: I think you may be right. Now it’s my turn to tell you to sleep it off while I go beat off again.

B: Ill be beating off w/you.

E: I think you’ll be passed out, but I appreciate the solidarity.

B: No relly I will. Soon as I shut this phon. Fuck these buttins are tiny. Cnt see so good.

E: LOL Good night, Bella. Try to take some aspirin with a big glass of water right now.

E: Bella?

E: Oh, honey. I’ll be thinking of you tomorrow when you’re in hangover hell. I love you. Good night.

2:41 p.m.
E: Okay, it’s mid-afternoon and I still haven’t heard from you. Please just text me “Hi” so I know you’re alive.

B: “Hi.” Barely. Death would be a sweet release.

E: Sorry you’re so sick. Why the hell did you get so drunk without me around?

B: Because there was nothing better to do. No one to stop me.

E: Bad reasons. Imagine me giving you a nice neck massage . . . There. Does your head feel better?

B: No. Imaginary massage is futile. Need the real thing.

E: I can be there in a few hours.

B: No. I’d die if you saw me this way. I smell like the bottom of a beer cask.

E: Now you know why I slunk away from your place that first morning. Shame and self-loathing in Seattle.

B: Now in Forks.

E: Right. I’ll let you get your rest. Feel better, sweet Bella.

B: Thanks. Maybe tomorrow.

E: Definitely tomorrow.

Sunday, September 19

4:02 p.m.
B: I just read your letter. Well, it came in the mail yesterday, but I was so sick that Charlie didn’t bother me. The he went and forgot to give it to me until just now, the doofus. Edward . . . I don’t even know what to say. No, that’s not true. I have a million things I want to say to you, but not like this. It has to be in person. I would have left Forks today if I’d gotten your letter sooner. I’ll call you as soon as I get there tomorrow. I can’t wait to see you. I love you more than words could possibly express.

E: I can’t wait to see you, either. I never knew a week could drag by so slowly. Next time I’m coming with you.

B: There won’t be a next time. I’ll never leave you behind again.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Massage Therapy, Chapter 22 - Estrangement

From the Desktop of Bella Swan
Monday, September 13 (cont’d.)

When I woke up yesterday morning, the sun was high in the sky and Edward’s side of the bed was empty.

I stretched and blinked, my mind blessedly blank for a minute. I simply luxuriated in my favorite king-sized cocoon, wondering idly if Edward was reading or checking email, or maybe attempting to make me breakfast. I giggled at the thought.

And then the reality of the night before came rushing back to me, crushing my fleeting bliss with one swift blow.

Much like the impact Mr. Donnelly’s fist had on Edward’s face, I supposed.

I frowned and forced myself to sit up. I needed to go find him and make sure he was okay. I didn’t stop to think about whether or not I was okay. I was afraid if I allowed myself that luxury, I might not like the answer.

When I reached the bedroom door, I heard the low murmur of Edward’s voice and followed it to the living room. He lounged on one end of the sofa, cell phone to his ear. He smiled -- then winced -- when he saw me. The crack in his bottom lip had darkened to an ugly scab, and the side of his face protruded slightly in a profusion of faint eggplant-colored bruises. I tried not to gasp at the sight, but the sound was out of my mouth before I could stop it.

“Well, judging by Bella’s reaction, I’m a pretty sight this morning,” he quipped into the phone. He paused to listen, then added, “I know. All this from one measly punch. Which only proves what a complete pussy I am.”

I gave him a reproachful look as I sat down facing him on the couch. I could hear his sister’s voice over the phone, and her tone matched my expression.

“Alice says I’m a pussy, too,” Edward told me with a sly grin.

Her violent protests were easy to hear through the tiny speaker. I gave his leg a reproving shove while he chuckled at us both.

“Yeah, I know,” he said to her in reply. “Bella thinks I should have had him arrested, too. But it only would have added fuel to the fire of his resentment. This way, he got in his last licks so maybe he can stop blaming me for everything. Well, as much as he’ll ever be able to.”

He listened to her answer, then said, “I know he’s as much at fault as I am. That’s something he’ll have to live with for the rest of his life. It’s punishment enough.”

He gave me a meaningful look and reached over to give my knee a squeeze.

“Sure,” he said into the phone, then handed it to me. “Alice wants to talk to you. I’ll be back in a minute.” He gave me a light kiss on the forehead before rising from the couch and heading for the bathroom.

“Hey Alice. Are you all settled in your new place?” I greeted her.

“Moved in, yes. Settled, not so much. Jasper just left and I miss him already. Seems like some kind of freaky dream that I’m back in school. I mean, I just graduated, didn’t I?” she asked with a wistful laugh.

“Well, I commend you for going back to finish your education. Getting a medical degree can’t be easy.”

“No. Trust me, if it was, I’d have found a way to be licensed to practice already,” she said before changing the subject. “But forget about me and the fifty pounds of textbooks I just bought today. How are you doing? I can’t believe you found out about Tanya the way you did. I told Edward nothing good would come of his procrastination.”

“I’m okay, I guess. I mean, I’m not the one walking around looking like a tenderized pork chop,” I joked weakly.

“Not on the outside, anyway,” she replied insightfully. “If Edward had been up-front with you, maybe this would have been easier for you to deal with.”

“Well, I’m not sure there ever would have been a good time for the discussion we had last night. But yeah, it was kind of a shock. I wish Edward would have pressed charges against Mr. Donnelly.”

“I’m not surprised he didn’t,” Alice sighed. “In Edward’s mind, he had it coming. Knowing his guilt complex, it probably actually made him feel better.”

“I think you’re right about that. And I get why he feels that way. But I just wonder if it’s going to change anything.”

“Hmm. I don’t know,” she mused. “Edward’s been using the guilt as a crutch for a long time. It’s been a good excuse for him not to move forward with his life. But if anyone can give him a reason to change, it’s you.”

“I hope so,” I replied. I wasn’t sure I wanted the onus of Edward’s recovery to be on my shoulders. I knew that if he really wanted to change, he’d have to want to do it for himself.

“I know so,” Alice said confidently. “Now that everything’s out in the open, you two can start with a clean slate. Believe me when I tell you that I’ve never seen him the way he is when he’s with you. You make him happy like no one ever has before. Trust me, I know.”

“My ears are burning,” Edward’s voice drifted over my shoulder. “Whatever my baby sister is saying about me, it’s a lie.”

“I sure hope not,” I said as he resumed his place next to me on the sofa.

“Wow, you mean she’s being nice for a change? She must miss me already. Or maybe it’s just pity.”

“I do miss him,” Alice piped up in my ear. “I miss you both. You have to promise to email me and text me and tweet me. I swear I’ll answer, even if I only have time for two lines.”

“You know I will, and so will Edward. You want to talk to him again?”

“No, just remind him to have Dad check him out and give him the good drugs if he needs ‘em.”

“Will do,” I said with a chuckle.

We said our good-byes and I handed the phone to Edward. He set it on the coffee table and looked up at me cautiously, as if he was bracing himself.

“How are you feeling?” I asked.

He shrugged. “Sore. Apologetic.” He reached out to cup the side of my face briefly. “I’m sorry I put you through all that last night.”

I shook my head firmly. “No more apologies.” I leaned in and gently stroked his injured jaw. “Alice said your dad can get you a prescription for some pain pills. Why don’t you call him?”

He grimaced slightly. “Not necessary. I’ve got some leftover painkillers from a couple years ago when I sprained my wrist slamming one of Katrina’s fly balls.” He let out an embarrassed laugh.

“Did you take some this morning?”


I sighed in mild exasperation. “Typical man. Did you at least eat some breakfast? I can’t believe you let me sleep so late.”

“I figured you needed it after taking care of me all night. I made myself a protein shake. I’m surprised the blender didn’t wake you. But the thought of chewing wasn’t terribly appealing to me, so . . .”

I frowned and ran my thumb gently over his cracked bottom lip. “I could make you some soup for lunch, when you’re ready,” I offered.

He smiled and pulled me close. “Sounds good. I might take you up on that offer.”

We snuggled quietly on the couch for a bit. I was still feeling drained from the evening before; still feeling the aftershocks of Edward’s seismic admissions. He seemed subdued himself, his arms heavy and protective around me. I knew I could spend the entire day this way, wrapped in his embrace, and be content.

“You know, I can postpone my trip to Forks,” I said at last, breaking the silence. “I don’t like leaving you like this.”

“You don’t have to do that for me. I’m fine. I’ve endured worse.” He fingered his jaw, apparently examining the swelling.

“So you won’t even miss me, then?” I teased.

“I’ll miss you like crazy. You know that.”

“Maybe you can come up next weekend and meet Charlie,” I said, then immediately wanted to bite my tongue off for suggesting it. I still had trouble envisioning the two most important men in my life spending more than about ten minutes in each other’s company without running out of things to talk about.

“I’d love to meet your dad,” Edward said, with a little too much relish for my liking.

“Yeah, well, I’m not sure you’ll win him over with your face looking like a mincemeat pie. Maybe we should wait until you’re healed.”

“Oh, I’ll be good as new by next weekend,” he grinned. “Besides, he doesn’t know what the other guy looks like. I can make up a great story about how I defended your honor against some lowlife thug.”

“Tanya’s father might as well be a thug. The guy is huge and he attacked you without any warning or way to defend yourself. You should have pressed charges,” I grumbled.

Edward’s smile faded. “I just want it to be over now.”

I gave him a relenting nod. “I know. I do, too.”

“I’m glad we agree on that.”

We shared a gentle kiss, and afterward I ran my finger over the hardness of his healing lip.

“I hate that he did this to you,” I whispered. “Marred these sweet lips.” I kissed him softly again.

“They’ll be good as new before you know it,” Edward assured me. “And when they are, I intend to put them to good use again.” His eyes traversed my body up and down, gleaming with that light I love so much. “But in the meantime, I’ll just have to use my fingers instead.”

His hands were on me then, following the path his eyes had just roamed. I sighed with pleasure and let my own hands find the warmth of his skin under his t-shirt.

“I wanted to end yesterday by making love to you all night,” he whispered, his fingers exploring under the hem of my borrowed shirt. “Best laid plans . . .”

“Don’t let him ruin them,” I said. “We still have today.”

He smiled and kissed me as well as he could, but the rumble of discomfort in his throat gave him away.

“Sshhh,” I admonished, placing my index finger over his swollen lips to still them. “Let me do the work.”

I placed my lips gently upon his before moving them to one side of his face, then the other. I made sure they were mere feathers on his bruised flesh. My fingers were silk ribbons, gentle and caressing, as I slowly undressed him and then myself. I allowed them to be firm only with his growing erection, stroking him to readiness before swinging one leg over his body and lowering myself upon him.

We both sighed with satisfaction at the feel of him entering me. I pushed myself slowly down upon him, easing his thick length deep inside until my thighs met the warmth of his. His hands wandered over my body as I rode him at a leisurely pace, pushing down until he filled me completely before releasing him and beginning again.

My moans became louder with each thrust of my hips against his, and he bucked upward to meet me with equal fervor, his gasps and groans matching mine as our pace quickened. I pressed my body into his, loving the hot silk of his skin on mine as his arms wrapped around me and pulled me closer.

I grasped his hair more firmly, and he nuzzled the undamaged side of his face against mine, his hot fingers gripping my ass while he thrust harder and harder into me. Passion had its way with us then, obliterating careful restraint as our bodies gave in to the insistent rhythm of lust.

But when our eyes met through the blur of skin and sweat and the swinging locks of my hair, I saw so much more. I saw the truth. Or maybe I just saw what I always wanted to see.

“You love me,” I gasped as I tightened all around him, clinging, coming.

His gentle fingers gripped my skull, holding my face to his, willing the mirror of my love to reflect back into his gaze as my body unraveled all around him.

“What gave it away?” he murmured with my beloved crooked grin as he rocked into me, still working toward his own release. My answering laugh was short, swallowed by the intensity of the moment. I circled my arms around his neck and held him close while his cock plunged up, up, up until I felt a second wave of tightness constrict my belly deep within.

“You’re going to come for me again,” he rasped, his voice registering both appreciation and wonder. “Just one of the many things I love about you.”

I could muster only a moan in response, too swept away by the burning between my thighs and the passion in Edward’s face. His brows furrowed, his breathing quickened, his cock throbbed into my burning flesh. I watched as his eyes squeezed shut just before I felt his sweet explosion, bathing me inside with liquid heat as his gasping breaths warmed my face.

The burn within me ignited and my body became a dancing flame, crackling with bursts of energy around him. I clutched him closer, trying to still the trembling that shook me, but it was no use. My ecstasy repeated itself, stronger and more insistent this time, wringing soft cries from my throat as it had its way with me.

“Fuck, I love the way you come,” he growled into my ear, and my fingers grasped his thick hair in response.

“And I love the way you curse at me,” I replied between panting breaths. “Makes me know you really feel it.”

He chuckled, his hot breath in my ear sending now-familiar but still effective shockwaves down my spine. “I’m such a romantic,” he joked.

“You are,” I sighed as my body began to relax. “A dirty-talking, perverted romantic, but a romantic nonetheless.”

“Much like yourself, Miss Swan,” he said with a devilish grin.

“I learned from the master.”

“So you’ve said. But I refuse to take full responsibility. I think I just bring out something that was inside you all along.” He was still grinning as he nuzzled my face once more. His breath was warm and soothing now.

“I think you may be right,” I said quietly, pressing my lips to his temple.

“Mmm,” he murmured into my cheek. “This is how yesterday should have ended.”

I nodded my agreement. “Still, I’m glad everything’s out in the open now,” I said. I didn’t add that I wished he had trusted me enough to reveal the truth on his own.

“I was a coward,” he admitted. “I should have told you sooner. I can’t tell you how sorry I am for that.”

“Remember what I said about apologies?”

It was his turn to nod. We sat still awhile longer, enveloped in our usual post-coital glow. As much as I hated to tear myself away from him, the realization that I hadn’t even brushed my teeth yet, let alone showered, began to creep and crawl over me.

“It’s my turn to apologize, anyway. You must love me to put up with my morning breath this long,” I said with a grimace.

“Bella, I think we’re far beyond that kind of superficiality,” he said dismissively.

“Well, I’m still not beyond common courtesy. You’re all nice and clean and I’m . . . ” I trailed off with a shudder of distaste.

“Delicious,” he asserted, burying his nose in my neck. “You have no idea how good you smell to me. Your hair . . . your skin. . .” He inhaled deeply for emphasis.

I sighed contentedly and breathed his own heady scent into my lungs. “I feel the same way about you. But please, for my own sanity, you have to let me go shower.”

He chuckled and eased his grip on me. “Fine. Don’t take too long.”

“I won’t,” I promised. “When I come back, I’ll make you some lunch.”

“Then definitely hurry. I can come help, if that will speed things up.” He waggled his eyebrow suggestively.

“I’m pretty sure that would have the opposite effect.” I gave him a warning look as I disentangled myself from his embrace. I hated how cold and naked I felt after I pulled myself away from the warmth of his body. His face also registered disappointment at first; then his gaze turned admiring as it lingered over me before I turned and hurried to the bathroom.

I brushed my teeth and showered quickly, anxious to get back to Edward. I donned the thick terry bathrobe he kept on a hook behind the door, then rummaged through his medicine cabinet until I found his prescription for Tylenol 3. I grabbed the bottle and took it back out to the couch, where he lay reading a classic rock magazine.

“Quiz,” he announced as I approached. “What was the name of the club where the Beatles and the Stones first saw Jimi Hendrix play?”

I didn’t miss a beat. “The Marquee Club in London, January of 1967. Here, take two of these immediately.” I shoved the prescription bottle at him.

“God, I love you,” he said appreciatively at my knowledge of musical trivia. His smile faded as he took the bottle from me. “I don’t need these, Bella. I feel fine.”

“You don’t know how much you tossed and turned last night, and how much you moaned in your sleep,” I argued. “You were in pain.”

His frown turned to a resigned pout. “I’m sorry I kept you awake.”

“Apologies . . .” I reminded him with a clucking noise. “You can make it up to me by taking some medicine.”

His half-smile was more of an annoyed curl of the lip. “Remind me again why I like your bossy side. . . ?”

“Because it’s always right. You’ll thank me later.”

“I’ll be asleep later,” he groused. “Codeine knocks me out.”

“You’ll heal faster that way.”

He emitted a dubious-sounding grunt and reached for his coffee cup. I leaned down and gave him a quick kiss before heading to his bedroom to change into the clothes I had worn sailing the day before. Then I made my way to the kitchen, where I discovered that Edward had almost none of the necessary ingredients to make soup.

“Do you have any broth or bouillon?” I called to him.

I could hear his snort all the way across the room. “Open the second cupboard, middle shelf,” he directed me.

When I complied, I was met with the sight of several cans of Campbell’s ready-to-eat soup. I laughed in spite of myself. “This wasn’t exactly what I had in mind,” I told him.

He grinned but didn’t leave his perch on the sofa. “Soup for bachelors. I’m used to it.”

I shrugged and chose the chicken noodle variety, then warmed it in a pan while I fixed a grilled cheese sandwich. Edward peppered me with more music-related questions, which I answered with little effort. After I correctly identified the person for whom Robert Plant had written the lyrics to “All My Love,” Edward jumped off the couch and loped over to the stove.

“Marry me,” he said in my ear, wrapping his arms around me.

I ignored the pins and needles dancing down my spine and answered, “If I had known all it took was canned soup and grilled cheese to get you to commit, I wouldn’t have bothered with the home-made stuff.”

“Right. You’re the commitment-phobe,” he accused playfully. He gave me a quick kiss before getting serving dishes and silverware out of the cabinets.

“That’s not true,” I said in quiet denial. “If I ever hear a proper proposal, I’ll give you a proper answer.”

I glanced at him in time to see one eyebrow raise in contemplation at me. He said nothing as we settled down to eat lunch at the bar. In fact, he was unusually quiet while we ate. By the end of the meal, he was yawning profusely.

“Guess you were right about the codeine,” I said with a grin. I reached over and gave his neck a gentle squeeze. He eyed me with sleepy irritation.

“I told you so.” His childlike response made my grin deepen.

“Why don’t you go take a nap? I’ll clean up,” I offered.

“Fine,” he agreed grumpily. “I’ll be a zombie the rest of the afternoon. Are you happy now?”

“If it helps you relax and heal, then the answer is ‘yes.’”

“Harrumph.” He gave me a cross look before hopping off the bar stool and disappearing to his bedroom.

I soon found that I was grateful for a little time to myself. I was in a contemplative mood as I washed up the dishes. I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t more relieved now that the riddle of Edward’s past had been solved. Or had it? Maybe the uncertainty was what worried me as I nervously scrubbed every bit of his kitchen until it gleamed spotlessly.

No matter what Edward said about not loving Tanya the way he did me, the truth was, he did love her at one time. He loved her enough to stick by her through some very tough times. And when she killed herself, the trauma of how she did it derailed his education. He switched careers entirely because of her.

Even though my rational side told me that whatever they had was long ago and couldn’t touch us now, an irrational streak of jealousy still ran through me. I hated the thought that Edward had shared the kind of closeness we have with someone else. And I was more convinced than ever that the bond he’d had with Tanya was much stronger than the one I’d shared briefly with Mike.

I tried to dispel my pointless fears by working my way around the rest of the loft. I found myself tidying up every corner of its considerable space while Edward napped, even though I can usually think of a dozen things I’d rather do than clean. I even fluffed and turned over the couch cushions, first in the living room and then the music room.

That’s when I found the notebook.

It was stuffed in between the arm and the far left seat cushion, just haphazardly enough that I didn’t know whether it fell in or was shoved there on purpose.

I didn’t want to pry, but I couldn’t help but wonder if this was where Edward kept his song lyrics. He still hadn’t written down the words to “Bella Notte” for me, and I was desperate to have them.

I slowly opened the black leather cover and peeked at the top of the first page. What I saw there made my breath catch in my throat.

Dear Tanya.

I stared at the name, trying not to look at the message below it. Edward’s words to his deceased girlfriend were none of my business. And truthfully, I wasn’t sure I wanted to read them anyway.

I raised my eyes to the date at the top of the page instead. December 15 . . . nearly three years ago. Right after Tanya died. With trembling fingers I flipped the pages back to find the last entry.

It was dated yesterday.

I slammed the notebook shut. My heart sank and my stomach roiled as I stared down at it. Suddenly my formless fears had substance and shape. I literally held the considerable weight of them in my hands. I knew what I would find if I scanned the volume’s numerous pages. After all, I have a computer hard drive full of sentiments I can never send to you, Mom.

I thumbed gingerly through the sheets of paper just long enough to confirm my suspicions. Sure enough, each entry began with her name, or addressed her in some way. I closed the cover quickly before I was tempted to read any more. I didn’t want to invade Edward’s privacy like that, no matter how much my curiosity begged me to do it. Besides, I wasn’t sure I wanted to know why he wrote to her all these years. I desperately wanted to believe it was only guilt tying him to the past, but the pages I held in my hands taunted me with possibility of so much more.

“Whatcha got there?”

I jumped at the sound of Edward’s voice behind me, teasing and innocent though it was. When I turned so that he could see the notebook in my grip, his smile faded.

“I didn’t read any of it,” I blurted instantly. “I found it in the sofa. I thought that maybe it was for song lyrics, but . . .” My voice faltered as our eyes carried on the rest of the conversation.

“There are song lyrics in there,” he said at last, though he still looked guilty, even ashamed.

“Like I said, I didn’t read it,” I reiterated softly.

“I don’t mind if you do. Go ahead.” His tone was unconvincing.

I frowned and shook my head. “I wouldn’t do that to you.”

He shrugged. “It doesn’t matter. I’m not keeping any more secrets from you.”

I nodded in acknowledgement, but was still uneasy. I didn’t believe he really wanted me to read the letters, any more than I wanted to see whatever sentiments the pages in my hands contained.

“I told you I do the same with my mom. I write to her all the time,” I reminded him. “Because I love her and miss her so much.”

As soon as the words were out of my mouth, dead silence fell. I hadn’t meant them as an accusation, or even a question. But I knew now that I wanted -- needed -- an answer.

Edward’s denial was swift. “That’s not why I wrote to her,” he said, a tad too defensively for my liking. “You have to believe that.”

I held the notebook out to him, but he was slow to take it. His eyes were pleading.

“I don’t know what to believe anymore,” I whispered.

“It’s not the same,” he insisted, finally taking the book from my hands. “The reasons I wrote to her were not the reasons you write to your mother.”

“No, they probably weren’t,” I conceded quietly. “She was my mom. My caretaker, my best friend. Tanya was your lover.”

Edward stared at me in stone silence for a moment, his eyes filled with incredulous dismay. He shook his head in frustration, then shook the black-covered tome at me.

“Read it, Bella. Read it and you’ll see. Since the day I met you, every entry in this journal has been about you. And that’s all this is -- a journal. All those letters to her were only a pretense. They were really letters to myself, trying to figure out how to get past everything. Trying to find some peace.”

I didn’t reach for the notebook. I remained still, just looking at him. I wanted to understand the desperation in his eyes.

“Did it work?” I asked him pointedly.

His face fell. Asking the dead for forgiveness was a fool’s errand, and we both knew it. My mother’s death was unrelated to my relationship with Edward, other than my injuries being the catalyst that eventually led me to him. But the suicide of Edward’s first real girlfriend had directly affected his relationship with the next. Her specter still hung over us like a watchful moon, waxing and waning, but never truly gone.

I wanted her gone. The question was, did Edward?

When I realized what I was about to say to him, my gut churned.

“You said that you tried to convince Tanya to see someone. To get some help with her problems,” I began tentatively. I didn’t need to finish the thought. Edward’s face darkened at the implication.

“You think I need to see a shrink,” he stated. He tossed the journal in the direction of the couch, never taking his disillusioned eyes from mine.

“Not necessarily,” I answered hastily. “Maybe just a grief counselor or something. I’m just afraid that this --” I motioned to the notebook where it lay on the couch -- “is bigger than me. Bigger than the both of us.”

“You’re wrong. Nothing is bigger than us.” Edward shook his head in denial. “Besides, I tried counseling. It didn’t do one fucking bit of good.”

“But maybe it will now,” I persisted. “Now that you’re in a better place. Now that you have a reason to let go of the past once and for all. At least, I hope you do,” I added uncertainly.

“Of course I do. I am letting go of it. Last night was a huge step for me, whether you know it or not.”

“Then take the next one. Don’t stop now,” I implored.

His face twisted in pain and frustration. He looked like he was fighting back tears, or maybe angry words. I hated feeling like I was giving him an ultimatum, but I had to know that Tanya’s ghost wasn’t going to come between us any longer. I had to be sure that he was willing to let her go.

“You told her that you felt like you couldn’t help her -- that it was beyond your capability,” I reminded him. “Well, that’s kind of how I’m feeling right now. I just think it would help you to talk to someone completely objective, who can help you sort out why you’ve held onto the guilt for so long. Look how many pages you filled trying to be your own therapist, and where did it get you?”

He was definitely fighting back tears now, and so was I. I knew this was not what he wanted to hear. It broke my heart to say the words. But I knew I couldn’t go forward with him until he was able to move forward himself.

“I told you I’d do anything for you,” he said, his voice tight. “If that’s what you need, then I’ll do it.”

“I think it’s what you need. I want you to do it for yourself. You need closure.”

“I need you.” His words were strangled; his eyes, pleading. I grabbed both his hands in mine and squeezed them tightly.

“You have me. Don’t ever doubt that. But right now, I think you need more. I think you need something I don’t know how to give you. I don’t know how to make you forgive yourself, or stop begging a ghost for absolution.”

“You should know better than anyone else exactly why I did it. You still write to your mother. You haven’t let that go.” But his accusation was half-hearted. We both knew how different that was from being bound to the memory of someone whose final act was designed to tie him to her forever with tethers of guilt and recrimination.

“I’ll never let go of my mom completely because I’ll never stop loving her,” I said. My hands went limp in his. I swallowed hard and forced myself to voice my worst fears. “I know you love me. I just don’t know how much you still love Tanya.” Her name left an acrid taste in my mouth.

Edward’s eyelids squeezed shut and his head shook slowly back and forth. He gripped my hands more tightly, forcing them to fight back. His expression was almost infuriated.

“How many times do I have to tell you I don’t love her? That I stopped loving her long ago?” He let go of my hands and clutched the sides of my face instead. “What do I have to do to prove to you that I love only you?”

I fought back tears of my own as I brought my hands to his, gentling his grip on me.

“I know you love me,” I reiterated. “But love can’t always fix everything.”

The fury in his countenance finally won. “That’s bullshit!” he exclaimed. He abruptly let go of my face and took a step back. “Love is all there is, Bella. It’s the only thing that can fix anything. It’s the only reason to even try.”

“Then love yourself enough to try. Before you met me, you spent the past three years beating yourself up over what happened. So now that you finally got someone else to do it, you think that’s the end of it? One punch in the face and you’re completely over it?”

“I am over it!” he shot back vehemently. He turned away from me, gripping his head in his hands, his fingers raking roughly through his hair. He took several deep breaths, seeming to will himself to calm down.

When he turned to face me again, his words brimmed with unwilling resignation. “I don’t blame you for doubting me. I brought it on myself by keeping things from you. I’ll do whatever it takes to regain your trust. I’ll call and make the appointment tomorrow.”

His face was still twisted in bitterness, and I felt queasy. If he was this unhappy about the prospect of getting help, I didn’t know how much good it would do.

“Please don’t do this just for me,” I begged quietly. “Please do it for yourself.”

“I’m doing it for us,” he said. His eyes grew apprehensive. “Assuming there still is an ‘us.’”

“Of course there is,” I asserted quickly.

But though we stood mere feet apart, the divide between us had never felt wider.


It was ten o’clock last night when I heard the front door bell, followed by a series of insistent knocks.

“Just a minute!” I hollered from my bedroom as I packed the last of my underwear and socks in my suitcase. I had left Edward’s place shortly after our argument, claiming I had laundry to do before packing for my trip to Forks. He let my lame excuse slide. I figured maybe he was glad to be rid of me.

I worried all night that he was still upset with me for essentially forcing him to go into therapy. Had I done the right thing? I wasn’t sure. I’d always thought counseling had helped me, yet I still had a breakdown of sorts the night I almost ran over Lucky. I was afraid that if Edward didn’t deal with the emotional fallout of what had happened with Tanya, it would still rear its ugly head in some awful way that I could not predict.

I hurried to the front door and undid the safety chain. “Did you forget your keys?” I asked with a laugh, expecting to see Angela’s face when I opened the door.

Instead I saw Edward’s bruised, rain-soaked countenance staring down at me.

I opened my mouth to speak, but nothing would come out. He was staring at me with an intensity that shook me to my core. His lips quivered as if he wanted to say something as well, but only a shaky breath escaped. He took my face in his wet hands and drew me to him, kissing me fiercely. The dried blood on his lip was rough against my skin, but I opened my mouth to his insistent tongue and let it begin the familiar dance with mine.

Edward fell back against the door, shutting it and pulling me against him. My fingers were quick to bury themselves in his wet hair. It dripped on my forehead as he kissed me harder, whimpering with pain or need, I wasn’t sure which. My own clothes became soaked next to his, but I knew it was no matter. He was already pushing them out of the way, his hands finding my skin beneath with hot assurance. I pulled at the damp flannel shirt covering him, and he let go of me long enough to free his arms of it before crushing me to him again.

Before I knew it, he was lifting me off the ground and my legs instinctively wrapped around him. He carried me back to my bedroom and fell with me upon the bed. We were reduced to a frantic tangle of wet fabric and warm skin as we writhed and groped at one another.

As soon as our clothes were removed and thrown in all directions, Edward was inside me. I gasped loudly as his thick cock impaled me, thrusting so hard and deep that my hands flew up to the headboard behind me to brace myself. His hands covered my own in seconds, fingers curling possessively around mine as he drove deep again. I cried out at the suddenness of his attack, surprised but not unwilling as he began drilling me with rhythmic precision.

The air was filled with nothing but my continued cries and his grunts as he plunged into me with the intensity of a pile driver. His eyes were wild, desperate, hungry, guilty . . . so many things at once that I could only stare up at him helplessly while he pinned me in place and fucked me senseless.

My body was beginning to stir in response, my insides squeezing us both to an impending climax , when he suddenly switched tactics. I gasped with shock again when he withdrew, moving his hands and ravaged lips down my body instead, stroking and tonguing me until my moans were as low and urgent as his own. Only when I felt his mouth between my legs, leaving a slick film in its wake, did I realize what he was about to do.

He rose up on his haunches and stared down at me, his expression alternately asking permission and demanding submission. I closed my eyes and waited for the last wall between us to be torn asunder.

The tip of his cock was not unwelcome against my back entrance. Warm and wet, it pushed its way slowly, ever so slowly inside, and I was ready for it.

At least, I thought I was. I still yelped in pain when its full girth stretched my opening beyond its previous limits. Edward stopped a moment, his fevered eyes registering momentary apology; but when my initial pain had subsided, he pushed on until I let out a long breath of relief. As before, pleasure had soon replaced pain, and I moaned softly in time with the slow, gentle rhythm he began.

It wasn’t long before I grew used to the sensation of him filling me this way, and his pace increased, as did his groans of pleasure. I studied the grateful arousal in his eyes as he watched his cock disappear again and again in my ass, and I wondered why this somewhat taboo pleasure was such a turn-on for him. I had to admit that it was becoming a bit of a turn-on for me as well, though it wasn’t as intensely pleasurable as regular sex was for me. I knew it would take me longer to find satisfaction this way.

As if reading my mind, Edward let one of his hands wander from its perch on my thigh down to my sex, stroking and fingering my clit while he continued to pump his cock deep inside my rectum. My body writhed in response, the combined sensations thrilling me in a whole new way. The fervor of Edward’s movements increased, and the more I moaned, the faster he stroked and entered me.

When I reached up to run my hands over the planes of his torso and belly, he sighed with a shudder and fell into me, pressing his body against mine as his tempo increased. He was beyond control once more, thrusting into me with the same abandon he had before, but without the same results. My orgasm was elusive now that he had removed his hands from my clitoris, and while his body rose to a fever pitch of ecstasy, mine could only lag behind and enjoy his release.

His euphoria was short-lived when he realized that, for the first time, I had not met him at that pinnacle. The satisfied conqueror soon became the penitent thief.

His first words since he arrived were ones of trepidation.

“Did I hurt you?” he whispered. He pulled out, but didn’t pull away.

“No. You were amazing.”

“You didn’t come.” His face was stricken.

“I would have,” I assured him quickly. “It was just taking me a little longer, that’s all.”

“Why didn’t you stop me?”

I smiled gently. “I didn’t want to.” I couldn’t find the words to tell him how fiercely beautiful his passion was to me.

He shook his head in bewilderment. “I would have waited for you.”

“I didn’t want you to wait. If I had, you would have known it.”

I reached up and wiped the sweat and rain from his face. He stroked my hair and gently kissed me. His eyes were filled with conflicting emotions again, and they darted all over my face, looking for an outlet. His lips found mine again, and yet again, perhaps trying to wordlessly express feelings that were too complex, too deep, to verbalize.

I had no energy for words myself. I held him while he buried his face in my neck and curled himself like a fetus around me.

“Please let me stay with you tonight,” he murmured.

“There’s nowhere else I’d want you to be,” I answered truthfully.

I waited until he was asleep before I gently withdrew from his embrace and went to the bathroom to clean myself up. I was a little sore, but perversely, I liked the sensation.

When I returned to the warmth of Edward’s arms, I covered his bruises with tiny kisses before I fell into an exhausted sleep.


“Happy Birthday, Bella.”

The whisper of Edward’s velvet voice woke me from my slumber this morning. I smiled and opened my eyes to the gorgeous sight of him grinning down at me.

“Thanks,” I said. I stretched and began to prop myself up on my elbows.

“No, don’t get up. You deserve to sleep in. I want you to get your rest before you have to drive all afternoon.”

“You’re too good to me,” I protested sleepily.

“I wish that were true,” was his characteristic reply.

I sighed and reached up to trace the purple stain that still sullied his perfect skin.

“Your face looks a little better.”

“It feels a little better,” he conceded.

“You’ll have fun explaining this to your clients today.”

“I think the knuckle-shaped bruises will do the talking for me,” he said ruefully.

My eyes swept over his lithe form leaning over me. He was already dressed and ready to leave for work.

“I’ll miss you,” I murmured, running my fingers over his healing bottom lip.

His hand stroked my face, mimicking my movements. “I’m going to do whatever it takes to make you believe in me again,” he promised.

“I never stopped believing in you. I just want you to believe in yourself.”

His lips pursed slightly in doubt, but he nodded. He leaned down and pressed his lips to my forehead.

“I love you,” he whispered, his breath warm on my skin.

“I love you.”

“Drive safely. Promise you’ll call me the minute you get to Forks,” he ordered.

I smiled at the over-protective Edward I know and love. “I promise.”

The twist of his sad smile and the gait of his long legs were the last things I saw as he closed the bedroom door behind him. I reached for the pillow he’d slept on and pulled it close, burying my face in its musk. Breathing his scent in deeply, I fell asleep again.

I was unconscious until mid-morning. The blanket of gray smothering the sky had been ineffectual at waking me. I lay still for a moment, trying not to think about the fact that the weather matched my mood. It seemed apropos for my birthday. A dark cloud descended over September thirteenth when I lost you the next day.

I dragged myself out of bed and was trudging in the direction of the bathroom when something caught the corner of my eye. I started violently when I turned and saw a strange head-like shape protruding over the back of the sofa. My relief was profound when I finally realized what it was: the top of a guitar case.

I padded across the hardwood floor to the rug in front of the couch. Propped up at one end was a very new, yet very familiar guitar case, wrapped in an enormous red bow.

“Oh no, you didn’t,” I whispered to myself, since Edward was nowhere near. A small ivory card with my name written on it was tucked under the bow. I pulled the card out, my fingers shaking for no good reason as I removed it from its envelope.

The antique cream-colored paper was embossed with an ornate treble clef sign and musical notes on the front. The card was blank, save for Edward’s elegant scrawl inside: “This belongs to you more than it ever did to me. I know you can make it sing. Happy Birthday, Bella. I love you. Edward.”

My eyes were already brimming with tears as I opened the snaps of the guitar case and let the lid fall open against the back of the couch. Even though I knew what I would see, I still let out a tiny gasp as the dull gray morning light glinted softly off the glossy wood of Edward’s -- now my -- Martin acoustic guitar.

I carefully pulled the instrument from its container, teary-eyed and grinning like a loon at Edward’s thoughtfulness and generosity. As I strummed my fingers along the perfectly-tuned strings, the wonderful memories of that guitar replayed in my head. The night Edward performed the song he’d written just for me; the next day when he taught me how to play it myself. I blinked back the moisture in my eyes so that I could find the proper frets to form some chords. The progression I played was the beginning of my song; our song. I had practiced what I could remember of it, but he still hadn’t given me any sheet music for his composition.

That’s when I caught sight of something else in the bottom of the guitar case. Another ribbon, pale blue this time, was tied loosely around several large pieces of paper that matched the ivory of the card Edward had given me. I leaned down and grasped the pages, sliding them out of their silky tie. They were bound on one side by fabric tape. The cover contained only a few words, in Edward’s signature script:

“For Bella, the light that leads me out of my darkness. I will love you always. Edward.”

When I opened the bound pages, my tears fell freely. There, written in Edward’s meticulous hand, were the entire guitar tablature, melody line and lyrics to “Bella Notte.” I sat with a thud on the sofa, re-reading every word he had written to me in that song. In light of what I now knew, his words touched me more deeply than I had ever thought possible. They broke my heart, then healed it, in the space of two verses and choruses.

Once I had managed to pull myself together, I searched for my phone and called Edward. A text message wasn’t enough this time. I got his voice mail, and I gushed my heartfelt thanks in broken, sniveling words.

“Edward, this is so beautiful. The best birthday present I’ve ever gotten. You are too good to me, no matter what you say.” I paused and added, “Just be good to yourself now. Please. I’ll be back before you know it. I love you. So much.”

Tears pricked at my eyes again. Even though I truly believed Edward and I needed this break from each other, I knew that getting in my truck and leaving him behind, even for a week, would be the hardest thing I’d done in a long time.

When I packed up my rusty old truck for the trip to Forks, I included my new guitar. I figured I’ll have plenty of time to practice in the coming week. If Edward thinks I can make it sing, then I intend to do just that.

He’s not the only one who has something to prove.