Monday, March 28, 2011

Massage Therapy, Chapter 12 - Anticipation, part 1

From the Desktop of Bella Swan
Monday, August 9

“Wow. Those are gorgeous!” Rosalie exclaimed from the doorway between our offices.
We both stared at the profusion of brightly-colored daisies that dwarfed my desk from a large glass vase.

“Yeah, they are,” I agreed. I couldn’t remove the tiny grin that was fixed upon my face. Edward had remembered my favorite flower, which I had mentioned in passing on Saturday when we were just shooting the breeze. As gestures went, flower-sending was tried and true for a reason. Our text message “conversation” after I received them had gone well, too, with Edward giving me the extravagant compliment that they couldn’t compare to me. I wasn’t surprised at his poetic words; just giddy that they were aimed at me.

“Are those from Edward?” Rose asked incredulously. I nodded, still smiling. “Shit, what did he do?”

My smile finally faded. “What makes you think he did something?”

“It’s not your birthday, is it?” she checked. I shook my head. “Then a bouquet this big can only be an apology for something.”

I sighed and decided to spill the beans, at least the PG version, of what happened Saturday night. Rose sat down on the chair across from my desk and listened, her eyes growing rounder as I continued my tale. I left out the personal details, especially about Edward’s “equipment malfunction;” but she definitely got the gist that we were intimate.

“You have to promise not to tell Emmett,” I concluded. “I don’t think Edward has said anything to him about having feelings for me. If he still does,” I added uncertainly.

Rose gave the massive bouquet another gander and said, “Oh, he still does, trust me. He remembered your favorite flowers despite all the drunken mayhem later on. But my question is, what are your feelings after all this? Are you as upset as he seems to think you are?”

That was an excellent question. By the time I discovered Edward’s apologetic voicemail on the cell phone I’d neglected in my purse, I’d convinced myself that he regretted what had happened between us, and I was bracing myself for the return of Mr. Cullen, Massage Therapist Only, the next time I saw him. The thought made me sick to my stomach. I was frightened at how much more I wanted from him than that.

He had awakened something inside me that I didn’t even know was there--something primal and visceral. My entire being literally ached for him after he left. One night with him was all it took for me to want more; to yearn for his body next to mine as I slept. Instead, sleep was elusive last night while my imagination worked overtime, picturing the things we would do if he were there beside me, under me, over me. The oneness I’d felt with him when he’d grasped me so tightly and told me he needed me was the thing that I now craved like no other. I was shocked at how suddenly he felt like my other half, and how bereft I was when he was missing. I was scared to death that he’d never let me--or himself--feel that union again; that he would deny us both.

I wished I could understand better why he would do such a thing. Wouldn’t it be easier for him to just give in and be happy? Could he really be that afraid that I would hurt him? The idea was unthinkable to me. I just wanted to be with him, plain and simple. I was amazed at how quickly the desire had come over me. For the past nine months I had been happily single, for the most part. I’d been concentrating on graduating and getting my career off the ground, and a serious relationship was the last thing on my mind.

But when it came to Edward, it seemed that there was no middle ground. His arrival in my life felt hugely important, and it was both thrilling and terrifying. I could understand his hesitancy in giving himself over to it completely. After all, I had balked for a moment myself at the prospect of jumping in with both feet. But it seemed far too late to turn back now, to me anyway. I couldn’t bear the thought that it didn’t seem that way to him.

The first thing I felt when I heard Edward’s message to me on my lunch hour was profound relief. He wasn’t writing us off. He wanted to make things right. But the more I listened to it, the more worried I was about his comments that “he had done so many things wrong that he didn’t know how he’d make them up to me.” What was so wrong, I wondered? I’m sure he didn’t feel great about the way he’d showed up at the bar and skulked around spying on me, but that was inconsequential in light of everything that happened afterward.

I wondered if he remembered any of the wonderful things he’d said to me. The way he had wiped my insecurities away with one incredulous look; one reverent kiss. The way he had brought me to heights of physical ecstasy that I never even dreamed existed. Was he sorry about all of that? Why the hell would he think I “wouldn’t be able to get rid of him fast enough” the next day? I couldn’t help but worry over the difference the cold morning light had revealed in our viewpoints.

The arrival of the flowers spelled out that difference in vivid, colorful detail. He thought that whatever he had done required some kind of grand gesture of apology. As I stared at the innocent daisies now, I grew increasingly nervous over what, exactly, Edward felt sorry for.

I looked at Rosalie’s inquisitive face and tried to articulate how I was feeling. “I’m not upset, really. At least not like he thinks I am. I don’t care about any stupid mistakes he made by getting drunk or leaving too soon the next day. What worries me is that he regrets everything else in between, too. The good stuff.”

Rose scowled and waved her hand dismissively. “Don’t even think that way. If he didn’t want to see you again, he never would have phoned or sent flowers. He’s scared he’s in the dog house and he wants to get out. He said he was really sick, right? Most guys would rather die than let a girl see their weaknesses. He probably just didn’t want you to listen to him spew in your toilet all day, and now he feels like a giant douche about the whole deal. You just have to decide if you want to let him off the hook or not.”

“Of course I do,” I said. “I already texted him earlier and told him to stop apologizing. And then I got these flowers three hours later.”

Rosalie’s eyebrows raised. “Wow. He must be feeling guilty about something. Or, he just really, really likes you,” she added with a grin. She reached into the bouquet and took the tiny greeting envelope out of its plastic holder. “Mind if I read the card?”

Geez, nosy much? I felt like saying. But its contents were benign enough, so I shrugged and said, “Sure.”

“’Looking forward to Wednesday.’ What’s Wednesday?”

“My appointment with Emmett. Edward wants to talk to me afterward.”

“Face to face? That’s good. Better than over the phone. He’s manning up,” she smiled rising from her chair. “Sounds to me like you’ll have everything straightened out in time for the ball next weekend.”

She was about to turn and leave, but my stumped expression must have stopped her.

“’The ball?’ You mean like Cinderella?” I snorted. “What are you talking about?”

“The Black and Red Ball next weekend. You mean Edward didn’t ask you?” Her face registered surprise.

I couldn’t help but laugh. “Why would Edward ask me to a ball?”

“It’s a big charity event that the Cullens throw every year. Emmett invited me over the weekend, and I must admit I was pretty honored, because it’s a huge upper-crusty gala. All of Seattle’s elite will be there. Well, maybe not Bill Gates-level elite, but you know, all the society-page types. I just figured that Edward had asked you to be his date.” She looked at me rather apologetically.

I stared at her a moment, not sure what to make of this news. “I’ve never even heard of the Black and Red Ball,” I finally admitted. “Edward never mentioned it to me.”

“Oh.” Rosalie looked chagrined. “Well, maybe he just hasn’t asked you yet. Although, being less than two weeks away, you’d think he would be trying to line up a date by now. Or maybe he’s not even going,” she suggested finally, as if trying to cheer me up.

“Maybe not. I can’t really see him at something like that,” I said, trying to picture him in a suit. No doubt the tie would look like it was strangling him, even more than his lab coat did.

“Well, it’s his loss, then,” she said. Her forehead scrunched in thought, a look I knew well: she was plotting. That could be a dangerous thing.

Suddenly her face brightened. “I think I’m having a really brilliant idea right now. What if I could find out a way to bring you with me, regardless of whether or not Edward gets around to inviting you? I’m wondering if Emmett can get us a corporate table. I’ll bet Rich and Mark would love to contribute to the cause and schmooze a little bit with some money types. We could all go together and represent Java Noise. That could be fun!”

“Yeah, sure,” I agreed less than enthusiastically. A fancy charity dinner didn’t sound like my idea of a fun evening; more like work, especially if our company president and A&R department head would be there. My brain was still trying to absorb the fact that Edward had not once mentioned the event to me--an event that his family hosted every year. Maybe he had no intention of asking me to such a thing, essentially “outing” our budding relationship to everyone. Did he intend to keep us in hiding? Or worse yet, did he intend to end “us” before we even began? Maybe the flowers weren’t a peace offering--maybe they were a consolation prize, meant to cushion an imminent blow.

I tried not to let that paranoid thought run away with me as Rosalie returned to her office to call Emmett and arrange everything. Minutes later, she poked her head through the doorway and reported that he was going to try to get Java Noise a table, and he’d have an answer for her tomorrow.

“This will be perfect,” she exclaimed, her eyes bright with anticipation. “You could bring one of the guys from the Wolf Pack to represent our clientele. I mean, if Edward’s not gonna step up, then this could give him a little nudge in the right direction, you know?”

The thought made me uneasy. “I don’t think game-playing is the right way to go about it, though.”

“I know, and I agree with that, as a general rule. But if he’s going to waffle back and forth and toy with your feelings, then I think he’s got a wake-up call coming to him. Do not underestimate the power of the little green-eyed monster. Maybe if you show up with someone else, it will inspire Edward to stake his claim.” Her eyes narrowed shrewdly.

“Geez, Rose, you make him sound like a Neanderthal,” I said with a small laugh.

“Honey, they’re all cavemen when it comes right down to it. Don’t let his civilized exterior fool you. You need to get him to cut through all the crap, figure out what he wants and then go for it,” she said with authority.

“You make it sound so easy. So black and white,” I sighed, knowing that with Edward, there were a hundred shades of gray in the middle.

“It IS black and white. Either he wants to try a relationship with you, or he needs to walk away. Don’t let him try to pull any of this in-between stuff. You deserve better,” Rosalie asserted. She raised her eyebrows at me authoritatively before going back to her office.

I thought about her words during my drive home after work. Maybe she had a point. I couldn’t deny that the fact Emmett had asked Rosalie to his family’s annual event while Edward hadn’t even mentioned it to me stung a bit. Emmett had known Rose for even less time than Edward and I had known each other, and yet he was obviously proud to have her on his arm. Maybe Rose was right, and I should send Edward a message by showing up with someone else. Make him work for it a bit. I was weary of trying to second-guess everything he said, every move he made. Perhaps it was time to just get on with my own life and make my own plans before I drove myself crazy over-thinking everything.

But even as I sit here typing this pep talk to myself, I know it will be easier said than done.

Wednesday, August 11

Oh God oh God oh God. This is bad. So bad. For one thing, it’s hard to type when I can’t see the keyboard through my tears. For another, it’s hard to find the words to explain just how badly I’ve screwed everything up.

It’s times like these when I wish so much that you could give me advice, I’m practically beating my head against the computer monitor in case it will make you magically appear. Where are you when I need you, Mom? I was hoping you’d be with me when I spoke to Edward today. I wish you had put some words in my mouth other than the ones that came out. I just hope I haven’t ruined everything permanently.

All day yesterday I felt like something bad was coming. I should have been looking forward to seeing Edward again, but instead I could only feel a vague but growing sense of dread. It didn’t help that Rosalie was a relentlessly busy bee, humming happily over the plans she was making for a group of us to attend the Black and Red Ball. By the time she had everything confirmed, The Wolf Pack had arrived to do some preliminary recording in-house before we farmed out the bulk of the job to a recording studio. She dragged me down to Studio B to approach the band about one of them attending the big soiree. They looked about as thrilled as I was at the prospect. Rose pinpointed lead singer Sam as the obvious choice to represent the band, and our company. He quickly begged off, saying that he had a prior commitment for his girlfriend’s birthday back home.

“Well, I want one of you to accompany Bella to this thing. What about you, Jake?” she suggested.

I wanted to sink under the recording console, or punch Rose in the jaw. Since neither was a viable option, I simply stood there smiling weakly, trying to avoid Jake’s raised eyebrows and toothy, pleased grin.

“I’d be happy to accompany Bella to the ball,“ he announced with a laugh. “Are you going to be wearing glass slippers and the whole nine yards to this gig?” His eyes twinkled at me mischievously. “Do I have to wear a tux?” he suddenly added, his smile fading.

“I think a nice suit and tie will suffice,” Rose told him. “Just think of it as an opportunity to reach a new audience instead of a boring obligation.”

“Sure, no problem,” Jake snorted. “Maybe I can sit in with the orchestra for awhile and give ‘em a little up-tempo backbeat. Or teach ‘em the chords to ‘Three Strikes,’” he added, referring to one of the band’s original songs. The guys all guffawed over the idea.

“Okay, that’s settled,” Rose said with satisfaction. “You two can work out the details later. In the meantime, we’ll leave you all to tap the creative muse. Barry will help you with that,” she smiled at the engineer as she motioned for me to follow her out the door.

“Thanks a lot, Rose,” I huffed as we retreated down the hall back to our offices. “Jake already has funny ideas about us. Now he’ll think this is a real date or something.”

“Is that so bad?” she countered in between the staccato clip-clop of her heels down the tiled hallway. My comfy espadrilles padded silently alongside her.

“Yes, it is,” I complained. “I’ve been trying to discourage him, especially now that we’re working together. It’s a recipe for disaster.”

“Spoken like, oh, I don’t know, Edward Cullen?” she shot back. “Maybe you should give the kid a chance if Edward’s not willing to play ball.”

“But I don’t have those kinds of feelings for Jake. And I can’t believe you’d encourage such a thing anyway.”

“I’m not,” she sighed as we neared her office. “I just think you should keep your options open. You can always remind Jake that the date is for work purposes only, but Edward doesn’t have to know that. You can play the jealousy card with him. It’s a win-win.”

“I’m starting to think you’re seriously deranged,” I told her, then realized she was still my boss, regardless of the crazy schemes she was dragging me into. “I mean that in the nicest way possible, of course,” I added grudgingly.

She only laughed. “Stop worrying so much. I have the feeling everything’s going to work out just fine.”

“What makes you think that?” I could only see probable disaster looming ahead.

“Just a hunch. I have a good feeling about next weekend. You’ll see,” she smiled knowingly. She reminded me of Alice Cullen at that moment, seemingly sage while endorsing a patently ridiculous idea. She disappeared into her office, ending our discussion for the moment. I headed back to my own and tried to concentrate on the pile of work waiting for me.

The afternoon was no better. Twice during breaks in recording, Jake came to my office to discuss our “date.” He wondered what he should wear, when the shindig started, how long it would take to drive there, and what time he should come pick me up. I felt like saying, “How the hell should I know? Ask Rosalie, since she’s the one dragging us all against our will.” Instead I tried to be nice and polite and noncommittal. I reminded Jake that this was only a work function. His words assured me he knew that; his expression said otherwise. The apprehension twisting my stomach muscles only grew.

Today they were in knots. All I could think about was seeing Edward later, regardless of the barrage of work-related chaos that demanded my attention. Rose was going crazy booking more appointments for the two of us: spa treatments, manicures and pedicures, hair appointments; and certainly not least of all, shopping for dresses and shoes. By the time I left work, she had my next two Saturdays jammed full of ridiculous frou-frou rituals in preparation for the Cullen fiesta. I might have gotten caught up in the spirit of it all if it weren’t for Jake chiming in throughout the day again, talking about borrowing a suit from Quil, who had been in his sister’s wedding last year. To my surprise, he sounded nearly as excited about all the excruciating details of this upscale party as Rose was. All I could get excited about was seeing Edward again. It had only been three days, but it seemed like weeks.

I practically raced out of the building to get to Emmett’s appointment. My nerves were dancing frantically by the time I rushed through the front door of Cullen and Cullen, PC. Jessica looked up at my flushed face and smiled broadly.

“No need to hurry. Emmett is still finishing up with a patient. You want to go sit in the massage chair for a little longer today?” she offered.

I let out a ragged sigh. “Yeah, that would be great,” I agreed. Maybe the extra time in the heated, automated massager would relax me a bit. I tried to think calming thoughts about lying on a sandy, sunny beach, listening to the waves; but inevitably Edward showed up in this scenario, bare-chested and squinting in the sun, laughing and teasing me and throwing me in the ocean, then falling upon me and kissing me. That scene quickly dissolved into an X-rated version of “From Here To Eternity,” sending my heart rate skyrocketing again.

Thankfully Emmett was free before I had any more time to fantasize. His amiable smile put me at ease as it always did. I wondered why he was always such a calming influence on me, when his brother had the power to send me into a tizzy in so many different ways.

“How are you feeling?” he asked as he ushered me into his office. “Any trouble with your back?”

“No, not at all,” I replied honestly. “The only trouble I have right now is work stress. The chair helped though,” I fibbed.

“Rose said it’s been pretty busy. Of course, knowing her, she’s creating half of your stress just by being so wound up herself.” Two weeks and Emmett already had Rosalie Hale figured out. Impressive.

He looked me up and down and said, “Well, I don’t see anything wildly out of place. Let’s get you on the table and check you out.”

He worked a bit on my back, but performed very few adjustments compared to what he usually did. I asked him if that was because I was improving.

“It is,” he confirmed as he raised the hydraulic table so that I could step off of it. “Things are staying in place much better than they were. I think you’re ready to go at least two weeks, maybe three, without seeing me.”

“Really?” I asked. My wallet was breathing a sigh of relief at the news, but the rest of me wasn’t so sure. I wondered if Edward would be telling me the same thing soon. I already disliked the idea of him cutting back on our therapy, even though I knew that day would eventually come.

“Yes, I think you’re ready. Ideally I want to gradually lessen the frequency of your treatments until they’re about every three months. If you keep progressing like this, it should happen in no time,” he smiled.

“Wow. That’s cool, I guess,” I said uncertainly.

He chuckled and shook his head. “Most patients would be jumping up and down at that news, you know.”

“I know. But I don’t mind coming to see you. I always feel better when you’re done working on me,” I told him truthfully.

“That’s nice to hear. That’s the whole point. But you shouldn’t need to have me manipulate you so often. We want to get you stable. Edward will continue to help you with that.”

“Right,” I sighed in relief. “I’m counting on that.”

He made some notes in my file and then said, “I hear you and some of your co-workers are coming to our fund raiser next weekend. I know it sounds like kind of a drag, but it can be fun. We’ll try our best to make it that way, anyway.”

“We?” I asked hopefully.

“Me, Edward and Alice. We’re all required to be there or we get cut off from our inheritance.” He studied my tense expression a moment. “That was a joke, by the way.”

“Oh, sorry,” I replied sheepishly. All I had heard was that Edward would definitely be there. “I’m sure it’ll be great.”

“I’ll make sure we all get seated at a big table together so we can talk about the snoots behind their backs,” he grinned conspiratorially. I liked how he said that as if he and his well-to-do siblings weren’t “snoots” themselves.

“Sounds like fun,” I laughed. “It’s an honor to be included, so thanks for getting us tickets.”

“No thanks necessary. It’s for a good cause. My aunt died of a heart attack at fifty-three a decade ago, and my mom and uncle have held this annual AHA fund raiser ever since. We appreciate when any company wants to contribute, so our thanks goes to Java Noise too.”

I nodded and picked up my purse, ready to go give Jessica my co-pay. My heart began pounding rapidly as Emmett and I said our good-byes and I headed to the front counter. After I gave Jessica my check, she announced that Edward wanted to see me in his office a moment. She looked blithely unsuspecting as she escorted me back down the hallway to the closed door and gave it a couple of raps. Then she smiled and left me standing there as she made her way back to the front.

The blood rushed through my ears in quick, rhythmic spurts as I waited. Why was I so nervous? Maybe because so much seemed to be riding on this meeting, and I wasn’t even sure why.

The door opened, and there he was, knocking the wind out of me again just by existing. His lab coat was gone, revealing a white button-down shirt with the sleeves casually rolled up, and deep gray, close-fitting slacks that revealed the long, slender line of his legs. He pushed his glasses up his nose and I stared into his glorious, troubled face. This gorgeous man was as nervous as I was. He was nervous over me. I still had trouble wrapping my mind around the concept.

He told me I looked great as he ushered me in and pulled up a chair. I sat down and folded my hands to keep them from reaching out to touch him. I was pretty sure we wouldn’t get anywhere if I threw myself on his lap and begged him to kiss me. Although maybe words were overrated. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to put the right ones together anyway.

He asked how I was, and I rambled some long, incoherent answer about work and the band. I wondered if I was visibly shaking, or if that was just on the inside. He said he’d been hanging out with Jasper’s band. I told him I’d like to hear them sometime. Then we stared uncomfortably at each other, and I wondered which of us would break first.

He did. He sighed and rubbed his legs, making me want to touch him again; and then he said he didn’t want things to be awkward between us. I felt the breath hastily leave my lungs, hoping he didn’t hear the shakiness that finally escaped. I told him that I didn’t want things to be awkward between us, either, and that was why I had been upset that he left the way he did. I just didn’t want him to shut me out again.

He apologized and said that he had panicked because it felt like too much was happening too soon. So he does regret what happened between us, I thought. I felt anxiety gnaw at my stomach again, exactly the way it had Sunday morning. It abated slightly when he told me he didn’t want to let the fear win anymore. He wanted to start over and do things right with me. He said he didn’t want to blow it this time.

I tried to assure him he didn’t blow it. I told him we didn’t have to start over; that we could just continue where we left off. How could we go back to the beginning when so much had been said and done? Granted, it had happened quickly, but to me there was no point in trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube, so to speak.

And then I realized that maybe he didn’t really remember what had happened. I had always known it was probable that he’d have no recollection of the things he’d said to me; the way he had begged me, “Let me love you.” But it still hurt when he assured me that our relationship wasn’t just about sex, because that confirmed my fears: the sex was all he remembered.

Of course, he insisted that he did recall everything about that night, but I doubted that was true. He kept talking about going back because we “missed a few steps somewhere.” He wanted to do things the “right way.” I tried to tell him that there was no right or wrong way; and why didn’t we just do things our way? But he had to go and apologize yet again for “performing a questionable sex act on a girl he really likes and respects.” It hadn’t felt cheap or tawdry at the time he performed it, but when he put it that way, it suddenly did now.

I knew I should have been elated that he was essentially telling me he wanted to date me. He was trying to be a gentleman and do things the old-fashioned way--the “right” way, in his mind. Why couldn’t he understand that I didn’t care about right or wrong-- I just wanted to be close to him? Having him pick me up for some formal date felt like going backwards. I knew that was silly, because he was right; technically we had skipped directly from a casual afternoon date to an evening of drunken sex. But we had talked and shared so many things in the short time that we’d known each other that I already felt closer to him than I had Mike in the entire time we were together. The strong connection I’d felt with Edward the first time I saw him perform had only grown deeper in the past few weeks. I simply couldn’t put my feelings for him in the context of casual dating anymore. I realized that I was ready for “too much, too soon”…and Edward wasn’t.

That’s when he introduced his plan for “making it up to me:” he wanted to take me to the Black and Red Ball. Now he asks me, was all I could think. Now that I already had a commitment to attend with my colleagues; now that Jake was getting his buddy’s suit altered so he could escort me. My face felt like it was on fire as I tried to explain. I watched Edward’s expression grow harder when he realized that I would essentially be going with Jake. I was reminded of that caged-lion look he’d had the first day I met him, across the hall in his massage room. I finally reached out to calm him, putting my hand on his knee as I begged him to understand that this was business, and that I would give anything to be there with him instead. Surely he had to know that. How many times did I have to tell him that he was the one I wanted before he’d believe it?

His tone was snide as he asked if I had planned to just show up and surprise him. How dare he, when he’d never even mentioned his family’s gala before now? I reminded him that it wasn’t like he had asked me to go with him, and for all I knew he was taking Kate or something. Her name just popped out of my mouth; a sore spot that I could never seem to quit poking to see if it still hurt me.

That’s when he blindsided me. At first he didn’t even realize what he’d blurted: that she would be treating me from now on. The Barbie Denali. The living, breathing antithesis of myself; the inadvertent trigger of every self-conscious insecurity I’d ever had. Confusion and panic fought for supremacy inside me. It didn’t even make sense to me at first. She was a massage therapist, too? I didn’t want that woman touching me, ever. And I didn’t want Edward to stop.

I could feel senseless tears coming before he even had a chance to go into his spiel about how he couldn’t treat me after everything that had happened between us. I had no choice but to tell him the naked truth: that he was the one who knew me, who knew my body; he was the only one I wanted touching me. I didn’t even know if I was talking about the therapy anymore. All I knew is that I didn’t want him to take his healing touch away from me. He and Emmett had helped me more than anyone ever before, and I couldn’t afford to lose that. The panic began to take over, wild and irrational. I didn’t want to hear any more of his excuses about conflicts of interest or legalities. Almost without conscious thought, my tongue lashed out, sharp and precise, and cut him off at the knees.

“But you’re not a doctor.”

The words reverberated in my head, strangely distant, like shrapnel bouncing off of a far-away target. I knew they would pierce his Achilles heel, and I was slow to claim them afterward. But there was no mistaking that they had shot from my lips. I knew I should apologize, but now that I needed them, the words refused to come. As Edward handed me Kate’s business card, with our usual Saturday, ten o’clock a.m. appointment time written neatly on it, I no longer wanted to apologize. I only wanted to cry, and leave, not necessarily in that order. I stared at the card and couldn’t help but feel completely abandoned in that moment.

When I got up to go, he tried to coax me to stay. He apologized about not asking me to the Black and Red Ball sooner; he tried to take me to dinner. I lied and told him I was meeting Angela. I knew I was pushing away the one thing I wanted most with both hands when I refused him. But I suddenly understood why he wanted to move more slowly, and go back somehow. Our utter lack of communication since I’d walked through the door spelled out quite clearly what I hadn’t wanted to see before: I didn’t know Edward as well as I thought, and it seemed he didn’t know me, either. Maybe a little breathing room was in order. I needed it desperately at the moment. I told him as much, and the pain I saw in his eyes cut me to the quick. We knew each other well enough to hurt one another, that much was certain. Whether we know how to heal and get past those hurts remains to be seen.

I tried not to cry during the ride home. It’s too dangerous to drive when you can’t see the road through your tears. But once I got here, I let them flow freely. I knew I was being foolish about Edward referring me to Kate, and I’m sure Edward didn’t understand my reaction at all. I’m not sure I understand it myself. All I know is that I was finally starting to feel okay again. Not just my back, but me. Dealing with the past. Letting go of some of the pain and survivor guilt. Letting go of you. But now I feel like I’m twisting in the wind, with nothing and no one to hang onto anymore.

I’m waiting for Angela to come home, because I know she’ll be able to calm me down and talk some sense into me. It’s not often that I lose it like this, but when I do, she’s the one person who can make me feel better, outside of you. And since you can’t give me those great mama-bear hugs anymore, I have to make do.

I haven’t decided what to do about the appointment with Kate. Right now, the thought of letting anyone but Edward put their hands on me makes my skin crawl. But my niggling curiosity about that woman, and her relationship with him, is nagging at me worse than ever. Maybe by Saturday I’ll be strong enough to show up for the appointment. What’s the worst that could happen? I can always leave. Lord knows if I’m there too long, Rose will be at the door with a stopwatch and a baseball bat, dragging me out to commence shopping for dresses.

Compared to that, a massage session with Katrina Denali might not be so bad after all.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Massage Therapy - Stakes, part 2

Edward Cullen’s Little Black Notebook
Monday, August 9

“You left.”

Two simple words. Yet the accusation implied in my sister’s judgmental tone and glare made it sound like my actions were worthy of the guillotine.

“I know, I know. I should have stayed and cuddled and all that bonding morning-after stuff that girls always want,” I sighed. I dipped a French fry in catsup and morosely gnawed on it.

“Don’t make me hit you. I will give you a black eye,” she threatened. She’d done it before, when we were kids. I’d hacked off her Barbie’s hair in retaliation for Alice forcing my GI Joe to attend an imaginary prom with the plastic blonde. I was incensed that a valiant soldier of war like GI Joe had been made to suffer such a frivolous, girly indignity. Alice begged to differ.

“Don’t bother,” I said. “I’ve been beating myself up enough for the both of us.”

“I doubt that,” she contradicted me. Her face softened slightly as she studied my dejected expression. “Were you really that sick?”

“I lost count of how many times I hurled. If I had done that at Bella’s place all day, I would have had to castrate myself and hand my balls to her at the end of it. Seriously. I couldn’t stay there.”

“But you called a cab while she was still asleep? Have Mom and I taught you nothing?” she began, and I feared she would continue the verbal tirade she’d launched during the first half of my cheeseburger. “I mean, you like Bella, right? She’s not just one of your mutual and forgettable one-night stands. Correct me if I’m wrong.”

“You’re not wrong. I tried to tell her that. I called to apologize and I got her voice mail. I haven’t heard back.”

“Hmmm. Well, either she didn’t get the message, or she’s still upset and she’s letting you stew in your own juices. And you deserve to marinate for awhile.”

“Fine. We’ve established that I’m a scumbag. Can we please move on to the redemption phase of this conversation? I’m trying to figure out the best way to make it up to her.”

Alice sucked on her soda straw thoughtfully, her brow furrowed in concentration. “Well, I think the traditional methods of groveling are definitely too cheesy. You know, flowers, mushy cards, Peter Gabriel tunes playing from a boom box held up outside her window,” she grinned. I gave her a withering look before she continued. “Although, you know, studies do show that flowers are the one gift that always make a woman smile. It’s impossible to look a bouquet in the face and not appreciate the beauty of nature.”

I tried to envision Bella’s expression when the florist graced her desk at work with cascades of Gerbera daisies. Would she smile at the bright colors, or sneer at the “please forgive me” card attached?

“Are you seriously suggesting that sending flowers is going to make her stop hating me for walking out on her?”

“Well, I doubt very much that she hates you,” Alice said in rather grudging consolation. “I mean, it sounds like you said all the right things. It’s just that the abrupt actions you took are probably screaming a lot more loudly right now.”

“Okay, fine. Then I need an action to counteract that. Something big. Something impressive.”

“Edward, I think you’re missing the point,” she sighed as she speared some salad on her fork. “I’m sure that all she wants from you is a little bit of honesty. She probably just wants to understand what went wrong, or to know for sure if it really did go that wrong. She’s probably feeling as uncertain about everything as you do.” I was surprised at this bit of advice. It was pretty down-to-earth for a girl who was so fond of grand gestures and epic moments. Maybe Jasper’s low-key sensibility was rubbing off on her.

“Who are you, and what have done with my sister?” I asked suspiciously.

She let out a small laugh. “Here’s the thing: maybe you should listen to that little voice inside you that made you want to escape. Figure out if why it’s telling you to back off, and whether or not you really want to. I think you need to be sure you really want to move ahead with this relationship before you do anything else. I mean, I know what I think you should do, and what I think you ultimately want to do. But if you just blindly charge ahead and then change your mind again, you won’t just be hurting yourself this time. You’ll be hurting Bella, too.”

I stared at Alice, stunned at this newfound clarity of hers. Cautiousness was not in her repertoire--that had become my specialty the past couple of years. So hearing this from her took me by surprise, to say the least.

“I think it may be too late for that. I think maybe I already hurt her. And God knows it’s the last thing I ever wanted to do,” I added quietly, pushing my plate away. I’d lost my already tepid appetite.

“Is it so bad for you to ask her for a little bit of time to think about this? Maybe there’s a reason she never called back. Maybe she feels like she needs a little space herself. Maybe things went too quickly for her, too, and now she’s worried that she’s blown it with you. She may be thinking the opposite of what you assume she’s thinking. Either way, it’s probably not as bad as you presume. You always see the glass half-empty,” she sniffed, taking another sip of her soda.

“Before I left, I told her that I knew we needed to talk, but that I just couldn’t do it that minute. But I’m afraid it sounded like a brush-off.”

“You’ve already apologized for that, even if it was via voicemail,” Alice reminded me. “I know it’s hard, but you may need to just wait it out until she’s in your office again. When’s her next appointment with Emmett?”

“Wednesday afternoon,” I answered. I already knew Bella came every Wednesday, late in the day. I used to make sure I had an appointment scheduled then, so I could avoid the temptation of seeing her. This week, I made sure I’d be available.

“So take a couple of days to figure out what you really want to say. That way you won’t jerk her around anymore, no matter what you decide.”

I studied my baby sister through narrowed eyes. I felt like I was watching her mature right in front my eyes. It was a bit of a revelation. I was now realizing how much I relied on her youthful optimism to pull me out of my deep abysses. Obviously, it was time for me to grow up, too. Way past time.

“I have to say, I’m impressed,” I told her as I drained my iced tea. “I was completely ready to pull any crazy stunt you suggested to get Bella back, no matter how humiliating it might be. You just missed a golden opportunity.”

She grinned and shrugged. “Eh, what I just told you may have been a bunch of hooey. Maybe I was just buying time so I could think of something outrageous,” she winked.

I laughed, pretty sure she was joking, but not entirely. I waited and watched the wheels churn in her head for a moment.

“Ooh! I know. You want a big gesture? You can’t get much bigger than Mom’s party next weekend!” she suddenly exclaimed.

I stared at her blankly before I realized what she was talking about. “You mean the Black and Red Ball? You want me to ask Bella to a boring fund raiser?” I had forgotten that the date was fast approaching. Ever since Mom’s older sister died prematurely of heart disease a decade ago, Mom and her brother Bill have hosted an annual dinner to raise money for Go Red For Women. Because February weather is so unpredictable, they usually schedule the party in late summer at Uncle Bill’s estate in The Highlands. It’s a very elegant affair, with plenty of Seattle’s elite in attendance. Most of them probably come so they can nose around the old family estate while enjoying an outdoor dinner and dance in its expansive gardens overlooking the Sound.

I’d always disliked the event because I had to wear a suit and tie and be on my best behavior all night. Besides, it always made me miss the times I’d spent at Aunt Jeanne’s place, listening to her awesome music collection. Most of my records had been hers. It made me laugh that Mom and Uncle Bill had come up with such a highbrow event to honor a woman who was so laid-back. Mom always reminded me that it was about raising money to save other women like Jeanne, and catering to Seattle’s deepest pockets was the best way to go about it.

“It’s only boring to us because we’ve had to do this every year since we were kids,” Alice argued. “To most people, it’s an opportunity to have a fancy dinner in a gorgeous setting, and contribute to a good cause in the process. I’ll bet Bella would love to come with you.”

“You think so?” I asked skeptically. The girl had told me she didn’t own a pair of high heels. She lived in t-shirts and jeans. She reminded me a lot of Aunt Jeanne, actually.

“You won’t know unless you ask. It’s a thought, anyway. At least you’d have fun for a change if she were there. And for once, you’d be bringing a date that Mom and Dad would actually approve of.”

“Nice. Thanks,” I said sourly. But the more I thought about it, the more I wondered if Alice wasn’t crazy like a fox. Even if Bella didn’t want to go, maybe she’d appreciate the gesture. After all, it was for a good cause. And the garden maze would certainly be fun to explore with her. In fact, there were a couple of secret spots where we could sneak away from the party entirely and make one of our own.

What the hell was I thinking, imagining such a thing? Wasn’t one taboo sex act enough without adding outdoor fornication to the list?

My cell phone vibrated in my pants, and for a second I wondered if my errant dick had set it off. I pulled out the phone and was shocked to see a text message from Bella’s number.

Hi Edward--sorry I missed your call last night; must have been in the shower. Didn’t hear your message until just now. Please stop apologizing for the weekend. I know you didn’t feel well yesterday. It’s fine. We can talk Wednesday after my app’t. w/Emmett. ~Bella

A dozen different thoughts duked it out in my mind at once. Thank God, she’s not mad. She was in the shower. She wants to talk on Wednesday. Damn… Bella in the shower. Why doesn’t she want to talk sooner? Maybe Alice is right and she wants some time to think, too. Mmm, Bella showering….. Why did she text instead of call? Maybe she’s afraid to talk to me. Why? Does she use a washcloth or one of those nylon loofah things? Why didn’t I look in her shower when I had the chance?

“Edward, what is it? Is something wrong?” Alice’s voice interrupted my mental breakdown.

“I don’t know,” I admitted, passing her the phone. She read the message, keeping her face carefully composed.

“She wants to talk to you. That’s good, right?”

I eyed her skeptically. “You don’t sound convinced.”

“Well… she did text instead of calling. And she agreed to talk to you, but two days from now. So I’d say you’re not out of the woods yet. But you will be, I’m sure of it,” she ended with forced cheer.

“That’s it, I’m sending her flowers,” I announced as the waitress dropped our bill on the table.

“It can’t hurt,” Alice agreed, giving me a somewhat sympathetic look as we rose from the table. I fished out enough money for the bill and a tip while she pronounced me “the best big brother ever.”

“No, just the biggest pushover,” I smiled.

“Don’t worry, I’ll figure out a way to pay you back,” she grinned mischievously. I wasn’t sure I liked that look. “You know, Edward, if you think about it long enough, I’m sure you’ll know exactly what to do to make it up to Bella.”

“You think so, huh?” I asked dubiously as she walked me back to Cullen and Cullen PC.

“I have faith in you,” she said, reaching up and giving me a peck on the cheek before I went inside.

“Glad someone does,” I muttered to myself as I entered the office.

My next client hadn’t arrived yet, so I made a quick call to the closest flower shop and ordered two dozen Gerbera daisies to be sent to Bella at Java Noise. I felt like a bit of a moron doing it, but I decided some sort of peace offering couldn’t hurt, no matter how clichéd. When the florist asked me what to put on the card, I told them simply, “Looking forward to Wednesday.” Bella did tell me to stop apologizing, after all.

I spent the rest of the afternoon waiting. After each appointment, I would check my phone, hoping to hear some kind of confirmation that she’d received the flowers. Twice I was disappointed. Finally, after my third appointment, I was greeted with the following:

Gerberas - my favorites. You remembered. They’re beautiful, thank you. Looking forward to Wednesday, too.

A bit of blessed relief filtered through my body. She didn’t seem mad. Maybe the flower idea wasn’t as lame as I’d feared. I quickly texted back.

Of course I remembered. I’m glad you like them. But I’m sure they pale in comparison to their recipient.

Too much? Maybe. I hit “send” anyway.

Her reply arrived before my next client did.

Very smooth, Mr. Cullen. You always know the right thing to say.

I snorted out loud at that. I replied: I wish that were true.

Jessica poked her head through the door to inform me my next client was here. My phone vibrated in my hand and I stole a look at the Bella’s answer.

You hit the mark more often than you realize. See you Wednesday.

I couldn’t wipe the smile from my face as I put my phone away. I didn’t need two days to think about it. If I still had a chance with Bella, I wasn’t going to blow it. I would do whatever took to get it right this time.

Wednesday, August 11

I wish cats could talk.

Lucky is currently staring me down with this superior expression on his face that makes him appear as if his tiny brain contains all the secrets of the universe. If it does, I wish to God he’d clue me in.

The past forty-eight hours leading up to seeing Bella were interminable. The clock was an enemy whose face became aggravatingly familiar as the minutes marched slowly by. Each massage appointment seemed to drag on forever, but at least I was occupied while I was at work. When the night fell, I begged Jasper to bring his band over to practice, or let me crash their rehearsals. Thankfully, he was game to keep me from losing my marbles. Monday night I hung out in his drummer’s garage, listening to the trio try to work out a tricky bridge in the middle of one of their original numbers. Last night they hauled their gear over to my place and jammed for awhile on the ground floor, even letting me improvise on a few numbers. They loved the acoustics in the old mill, so I know they’ll be back, thank God. Maybe they’d like to come back tonight. I should call Jasper right now.

Or maybe I should try to figure out what the hell just happened.

My last client left shortly after 4 p.m. Bella was already in Emmett’s office for her chiropractic work. I went out to the front desk to tell Jessica that I needed to see Miss Swan for a moment before she left, and to show her back to my office. Bella had never actually been in my office, because I really only use it to finish up paperwork and take care of some of the more mundane tasks in between massage sessions.

And now, I paced. I tried to actually accomplish something at the computer, or with my files, or even just rearrange my desk; but I could concentrate on nothing. So I paced. And I sweated. And I couldn’t believe how nervous I was, nor how badly I wanted to see Bella. She hadn’t left my mind since Sunday, but even my most vivid fantasies came nowhere close to the real thing. I needed to see her. More than that, I wanted to touch her, smell her, taste her. Remembrances of Saturday evening kept coming back to me, splicing themselves together like reels of film in my booze-ravaged brain, creating a more linear moving picture of everything that had transpired between us. Reminding me just how amazing she was, and how lucky I’d been that she’d let me paw her and devour her over and over like some kind of insatiable animal in heat. I wanted to do it again. And I wanted her to do the same to me.

Shit. Stop it. Stop thinking with your dick before she walks in this room, my humanity demanded. I took deep, cleansing breaths and tried to tame the beast.

And then she knocked on my door, and every urge I had retreated under the blanket of anxiety that enveloped me. I took another deep breath and tried to calm down as I headed for the door. I reminded myself that I had a plan, and I’d already put it in motion. This morning I had arranged for Katrina to start treating Bella so that I could no longer use ethics as an excuse to keep her at arm’s length. I was going to be the kind of man she deserved. And I was going to start by asking her on a formal date. I figured it didn’t get much more formal than my family’s Black and Red Ball.

I opened the door to see her standing there alone, the sound of Jessica’s heels clicking down the tiled hallway behind her as she returned to the reception area. I found myself inhaling again sharply at the sight of Bella still in her work clothes, a surprisingly feminine cotton blouse and slacks. I had figured that at an indie label, the dress code was probably shredded denims and a concert tee. Then again, knowing Rosalie Hale, maybe she required her assistant to be a little more professionally attired. Bella’s hair was pulled back into a sleek ponytail, even my favorite errant lock tamed and put in its place. I found that a little disconcerting.

But then the chocolate drops gazed up at me and drew my full attention: heart-breakingly beautiful, and every bit as anxious as mine. I wanted to pull her into my arms and kiss her, but I felt awkwardly frozen to the spot.

“Hi,” I finally breathed, somehow finding my tongue. “You look great. Come in.” I managed to step back and beckon her into the room.

“Thanks,” she said, blushing slightly. Her eyes swept the small room for a moment, then settled on the two chairs in front of my desk.

“Have a seat,” I offered, pulling out one of the chairs for her. As she sat down, I grabbed the other chair and turned it to face hers, sitting directly opposite her. Our knees were nearly touching. She folded her hands tightly in her lap and stared cautiously up at me.

“How are you?” I asked her.

“I’m fine,” she said quickly. “Good. It’s been really busy at work, getting the band signed, helping them find good representation, starting the pre-recording process, figuring out which studio to use….” Her ramble trailed off as she bit her lip. “There’s a lot to do. How about you?”

“I’ve been keeping busy,” I replied. “Jasper’s band has started rehearsing in my building downstairs, so that’s been kind of fun.”

“Really? That’s cool. I’d like to hear them sometime.” Her smile was polite, reserved.

I sighed and rubbed my hands up and down my thighs. “Why is this so awkward? I don’t want this to be awkward. I want things to be okay between us.” I searched her eyes for some reassurance.

Her answering sigh sounded like one of relief. “I want that too. I don’t want you to feel uncomfortable around me. That’s why it bothered me when you left like that. It felt like you were shutting me out again.”

“I’m sorry. I know that’s what I was doing, and it was a knee-jerk reaction. I haven’t let myself get close to someone in awhile, and all of a sudden it just felt like too much, too soon. Like we were moving too fast. I guess I panicked. It was stupid, and thoughtless, and I’m sorry.” I couldn’t stop the words, and the apology, once they started spilling out.

She still looked a little troubled. “So… how do you feel now?”

I let the Hershey’s syrup surround me as I looked deeply into her eyes. If I was going to drown, this was the perfect place to do it.

“I feel like I don’t want to let the panic win anymore. Like I don’t want to be so careless trying to protect myself that I hurt other people in the process.”

She nodded but was silent, waiting for more. I took a deep breath.

“I’d like the chance to start over with you. To do things right this time. You know, actually ask you out on a proper date, take you someplace nice, treat you the way you deserve to be treated.” Her slowly growing smile gave me some long-awaited comfort. “I don’t want to blow it this time with you,” I finished.

She shook her head, her smile wry. “You didn’t blow it, Edward. We don’t have to start over completely. I kind of like where we are now, getting to the middle of things.”

“Yeah?” I replied uncertainly. “But we went from our first kiss to… some pretty heavy stuff, in about twelve hours’ time. I don’t want you think this is all about sex for me. You mean more to me than that. I want this to be more.”

She still looked curiously perturbed, and I couldn’t quite figure out why. Wasn’t this the kind of stuff girls wanted to hear? Unless she didn’t feel the same way about me….

“I never thought it was just about sex. That’s not how it seemed to me. I guess you really don’t remember our weekend very well,” she said. The tiny line would not leave the middle of her brows. I had to figure out a way to erase it.

“I do remember,” I insisted, then faltered at the look on her face. “I’m pretty sure I do. A lot of it was really wonderful. But I feel like we missed a few steps somewhere over the past few weeks. I just want to do this the right way.” I couldn’t seem to find the right words to tell her that she was more than a one-night stand to me, and that I wanted what we had to grow into something strong and lasting.

“Maybe there is no right or wrong way,” she suggested. “Maybe we can just do things our way.”

I looked at her in surprise. She must be the most understanding girl alive, I thought.
“That sounds very wise,” I agreed. “But just to be clear, getting bombed and performing questionable sex acts on a girl I really like and respect is not my idea of the right way to do things,” I asserted, feeling the need to set the record straight.

The line deepened between her eyebrows, which was not the reaction I was hoping for.

“So what is the right way to do things, in your opinion?” she asked. I suddenly felt like this was a test. I hoped my answer would let me pass with flying colors.

“Well, I’d like to make all of that up to you, if you’ll let me,” I began.

“You already sent me flowers, and that was more than enough. They’re gorgeous,” she interrupted.

“Not too cheesy?”

“No! I told you I love Gerberas. I can’t help but smile every time I look at them.” Damn that Alice, she knows her stuff.

“Well, I’m glad. But I had something a little bigger in mind. I’d like to ask you on a formal date. And when I say ‘formal,’ I mean that literally. My family hosts a big fund-raising dinner every year for the American Heart Association, which doesn’t sound like much fun, but it’s actually a pretty cool evening.”

“The Black and Red Ball?” she asked, her tone oddly hesitant.

“Yeah, you’ve heard of it? It’s kind of a big society event, I guess. I know you may not think of that as your kind of party, but it’s actually pretty nice, with a really excellent dinner and a formal dance afterwards with an orchestra and a band. It sounds kind of stuffy, I’m guess, but my Uncle Bill’s estate is really beautiful, and there’s a huge garden maze that we could escape to if it gets too boring.” Way to undersell it, Cullen. I halted and studied her face, but I couldn’t understand her expression of faint dread.

“Anyway, it’s a week from this Saturday. I’d be honored if you would be my date this year. I’d love to introduce you to my mom. I think you two would really hit it off.” That last bit kind of shocked me when it popped out of my mouth. But now that it was out there, I didn’t want to take it back. If Bella hadn’t thought I was serious before, she surely did now.

Her face looked unusually pale and her eyes shifted around uncomfortably. God, what did I do now? Was the idea of meeting the mom too much? Were we doomed to keep scaring each other to death before we ever got this relationship off the ground?

“Wow,” she finally said, her voice still hushed. She let out a humorless laugh. “I would love to attend the Black and Red Ball with you… but… I’m already going with someone.”

I stared at her, uncomprehending. Surely I hadn’t heard that last part right.

“Um… you’re already going? But that’s impossible. It’s extremely hard to get tickets. They’re very pricey and exclusive. I should know,” I said. I felt like I was boring holes through her with my disbelieving gaze.

“That’s the funny thing--the tickets actually came from your brother,” she said with a slightly hysterical chuckle. She looked horribly uncomfortable, and at the moment, I couldn’t seem to feel too bad about that.

“My brother,” I repeated in a none-too-happy tone.

She cleared her throat. “He invited Rosalie to be his date, and when she found out what the cause was, she asked him about the possibility of Java Noise buying a table at the event so that several of our employees could attend. She thought it would be a great opportunity to get the label some exposure and ‘hobnob with some of Seattle’s movers and shakers,’ as she put it,” Bella explained. At least she seemed as unhappy to tell me this as I was to hear it.

I began to put the puzzle pieces together, and I didn’t like the picture that was appearing. “So Emmett arranged for your company to purchase a table. Good PR, tax write-off… I get it. Do I need to ask you who’s going to be representing your label?” If she said his name, I was going to lose it. I’d have to keep myself from losing it somehow. I could feel my hands forming fists as I shoved them under my thighs.

She swallowed hard, her cheeks growing pink. “The president of the company, of course, and his wife; our A&R VP and his wife; and me, as Rosalie’s assistant, along with a member of our latest acquisition, to represent the talent.” Her eyes were pleading now. She didn’t want to say his name any more than I wanted to hear it. So why did I force her?

“Of course. Sam Uley would be the obvious choice, right?” I needled her. I couldn’t stop myself. The realization of what was happening was too galling to take it lying down.

Her face was scarlet now. “It would be, except that he’ll be back home visiting his girlfriend Emily for her birthday,” she explained. I wondered if my face looked as rigid as it felt while I tried to keep my composure. I could feel my nostrils flaring like a stallion’s. The thought of her on Jacob Black’s arm all night at the ten-year anniversary of my aunt’s memorial dinner made my blood boil so hot I was sure there must be steam coming out of my ears.

“Edward, please,” Bella entreated, leaning forward and placing her hand on my knee. This first touch from her since our last time together was like a flame-thrower engulfing my thigh. “You know this is nothing but business. You know I would give anything to be there with you instead.”

I was fairly certain of that, especially given the frightened look in her eyes right now.

“Were you going to tell me about this? Or were you just going to show up and surprise me?” I asked, failing to keep the bitterness from my tone. I knew she probably got railroaded into the whole affair by Rosalie, but I still couldn’t keep my irrational resentment of Jacob Black from seeping out around the edges.

Bella leaned back, freeing my knee from her warm grip. “Well, it’s not like you asked me. You didn’t even tell me about this family party of yours. For all I know, you already have another date,” she accused.

I wish I had a picture of the stupefied look on my face at that moment, because I truly couldn’t believe what I had just heard fall from Bella’s lips.

“How the hell could you even think that?” I demanded.

“You could have asked someone before we even met,” she clarified. “How was I supposed to know you weren’t already going with Kate or something?”

I let out a derisive laugh at the absurdity of the idea. “You’ve really got to get over this weird phobia you have about Katrina, especially if she’s going to be treating you from now on. We met in massage therapy school, she’s a good friend of mine, and that’s it. End of story.”

Bella’s eyes were huge, incredulous black holes as she gaped at me. “What did you just say?” she whispered, her voice trembling with what sounded like rage.

I desperately tried to remember the words I’d just uttered in the heat of the moment. “We’re just friends, Bella. That’s all it will ever be,” I tried to assure her.

“No. The part about Kate treating me from now on,” she said in a low, shaky tenor.

Shit. This was not how I had planned to break that bit of news to her. I suddenly found myself in the defensive position.

I took a deep breath and said, “I arranged for you to start seeing her for your therapy. Surely you understand that I can’t keep treating you, after everything that’s happened between us.”

Her head shook violently from side to side. “No, I don’t, actually. All I understand is that you’ve helped me when no one else could.” Her eyes quickly lost their anger and were beseeching instead. “You know me, Edward. You know my body, and what I need. I don’t want anyone else touching me but you,” she whispered plaintively.

Were we still talking about massage therapy? As I sank into the dark pools staring up at me, I could think only of making love to her again, worshipping her with my hands and my mouth and my body. I didn’t know if that was what she was getting at; if that was what she really wanted. But I did know it was pure folly to confuse it with my vocation.

“Bella,” I said hoarsely, reaching tentatively toward her face. I wanted to brush my favorite lock of hair out of her face, but it was nowhere to be found. My thumb stroked her bare cheek gently. “Please try to understand. I have to separate this from work from now on. I can’t do it any other way. It’s too hard for me.”

She shook her head again in refusal, her face scrunching up pitifully. I knew tears would be falling soon. I couldn’t take it. “You’ve already admitted yourself what a bad idea it is to mix your personal life with business. If I were a doctor, it would be illegal for me to treat you. You know that.”

“But you’re not a doctor,” she said matter-of-factly.

My hand froze in place, then dropped away and came to rest on my lap. She knew how that well-placed barb would sting. We stared at each other a moment, a sad resignation settling over us. It was the empty victory of the moment when you know someone well enough to hurt them, and you do it deliberately. We had just taken our first intentional shots at each other. It was another milestone in our relationship; another that was reached too soon.

I finally tore my eyes from hers and reached over to my desk, retrieving Katrina’s card from where I’d placed it. I had planned to give it to Bella after delivering the good news that we could see each other freely and openly now because my professional obligations to her would be coming to an end.

“Please, Bella,” I implored her as I handed her the appointment card. “Don’t compromise your treatment because of anything that’s happened between us. You’re getting to the point where you won’t need to see a massage therapist regularly anymore, anyway. And Katrina is excellent at what she does. I hope you’ll give her a chance.”

Bella took the card from me and looked at it a moment. I tried to read the expression on her face, but could come up with nothing to call it except “extremely upset.”

“All right,” she said quietly. She reached for the small handbag that still hung over one arm and placed the card inside. She rose from her chair, and a wave of panic rolled through my gut.

“Don’t leave,” I begged, jumping to my feet. “I’m sorry I flew off the handle about the Black and Red Ball. It’s not your fault that I didn’t ask you sooner. It came up a lot faster than I realized.”

“It’s okay,” she replied. “I really didn’t want to go, especially if it might lead Jake on. Believe it or not, I do care about sparing his feelings. But Rosalie can be pretty persuasive when she wants to be. And, well, she is my boss.”

“I know. It’s fine. It’ll be fine. Maybe I can cut in for a dance or two,” I tried to joke.

She gave me a rather pained smile.

“Can I take you to dinner or something?” I asked, desperate to keep her from leaving.

“I’m already meeting Angela for dinner, actually,” she said. She looked down a moment, then took a deep breath before lifting her eyes to mine. “You know, Edward, I think you might have been right about us missing a few steps… going too fast. Maybe we should slow down; take a little time to think about things.”

My eyes closed; my heart sank. I should have known that my bright ideas would come back to bite me in the ass.

“What are you saying?” I asked, not really wanting to hear the answer.

“Maybe we should take a little break. See how we feel about everything the next time we see each other.” She didn’t sound convinced of her suggestion.

“And when would that be?” You really are a glutton for punishment, Cullen.

“Well, since I won’t be seeing you for massage therapy anymore, then I guess that would be at the ball,” she replied.

Touche, Miss Swan.

I nodded and said simply, “I look forward to it.”

I looked forward to seeing her with MonkeyBoy all night the way I looked forward to a root canal, I thought grimly as I watched her hurry down the hall from my office. But how could I argue against her desire for some space, when I knew it was probably for the better anyway?

It didn’t mean I had to like it, though.

“What should I do, Lucky?” I just asked the tiny fur-covered swami next to me on the couch. I’ve been half-heartedly scratching and petting him since I dragged my sorry ass home, and even my absent-minded affections have been enough to keep him purring contentedly beside me.

He squinted his eyes a couple of times and purred more loudly, the rumbling noise oddly comforting.

“So you’re saying there’s not much I can do, and that I need to take it in stride,” I offered. He squinted again, and I swear his mouth curved up a little more in feline grin.

“Easy for you to say,” I grunted.

I don’t know how I’m going to stay away from her for ten days. I could barely get through the last three without seeing her. But maybe she’s right--maybe the time apart will bring us some clarity about where we stand with each other. Obviously today’s communication breakdown was a red flag. I need to figure out what went wrong, and how to make it right. Maybe Alice is right, too - if I really think about it, I’ll figure out exactly how to make it up to Bella. What would she really love? What would really touch her? Not fancy parties or flowers, but something real and from the heart.

And then, with the speed and brilliance of a lightning bolt, clarity came.

"Sorry, Lucky," I announced as I gave him a final pat and rose from couch. "I've got work to do."

I picked up my notebook and headed straight for the piano.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Massage Therapy, Chapter 11 - Stakes, part 1

Edward Cullen’s Little Black Notebook
Sunday, August 8

Flowers, musk, sex.

Those were the first things to fill my nostrils when I awoke. Something silky tickled my nose. Bella’s hair. I pushed my face into it, inhaling deeply. My fingers crawled toward it, grasping and winding and tangling. They didn’t want to let go. They knew this was heaven.

I sighed into the silk, and the scent changed. Whiskey, beer, nicotine. My own stench rose up to assault my senses, reminding me of reality. My stomach roiled; my head throbbed. The much-deserved hell of my own making staked its claim and demanded that I deal with it.

I was going to be sick.

As the urgency of the situation became clear, I reluctantly pulled myself away from the warm sweetness of Bella and staggered out of bed, assaulted by the sour bile pushing up from my belly. I stumbled toward the door and wrenched it open. Racks of clothing on hangers hit me in the face as I stepped forward, disorienting me for a moment. As I realized my mistake, the soothing smell of Bella’s closet stilled my quaking stomach for a moment. I paused to regroup as I looked around the room for the door to the hallway. Right before I swung the closet door shut, I spied something very familiar, yet incongruous, hiding in the corner behind the shoe boxes: a guitar case.

Bella told me she didn’t play, my muddled thoughts insisted. So why does she have a guitar?

I had no time to ponder the significance of this. The biological drive to purge myself of last night’s poison drove me quickly from the room and down the hall. I barely had time to close the bathroom door behind me as I fell to my knees before the porcelain throne. I stared for a second at the brand-new, unblemished toilet seat--the very contraption that had brought Bella into my life. She had bought it to cradle the ass of that grinning, kiss-stealing little shit, Jacob Black. I ignored the urge to christen it accordingly, and instead pushed it up and out of the way before heaving violently into the stool.

Of all the low moments of my life, this might possibly be the lowest, I thought as I flushed away the proof of my total idiocy. I shuffled to the bathroom sink and looked at myself in the mirror. What a fucking mess. Hair standing in cowlicks all over my head, eyes sunken into black sockets, stubble forming what was essentially a beard and mustache at this point, or soon would be. The only good thing about that was that Bella’s sex clung to it tenaciously, and every breath reminded me of how lucky I was that she had let me bury my face between her beautiful legs last night. I couldn’t even think about how insanely delicious she was, not while the bile in my mouth tainted the memory with its acrid taste.

I reached for the toothbrush and toothpaste on the vanity and scrubbed my mouth clean. I don’t know why it had seemed so significant when Bella handed me my own toothbrush to use in her place. It was like some sort of stake that chained me here in her apartment, only I didn’t balk at the captivity. Instead, I was shocked to find that I was happy to be shackled here, in her life. Why she would want me, I would never understand. I wondered if she would ever forgive me for my behavior last night. I had done so many things wrong, I didn’t know how I’d ever make any of them up to her. Maybe I shouldn’t try. Maybe I should uproot the stake and make a run for it while I could, sparing us a lot more heartache down the road.

I put the toothbrush back in its holder and sighed at the mirror. I knew I should shower or at least wash my face, but I didn’t want to remove her scent from me. I opened the medicine cabinet so that I wouldn’t have to look at my stupid mug anymore, and I stared at the pills there. The age-old hangover question presented itself: antacids or aspirin? Right now, the headache was worse, pounding my brain with rhythmic sledge-hammer precision. I wished Bella had some Alka-Seltzer.

I settled for the aspirin and headed for the kitchen. Dawn was just breaking, the sun’s rays extending pale pink fingers through the kitchen window. There sat my glass of water from last night on the countertop where I’d left it. I suddenly remembered how unreal Bella had looked as the refrigerator light glowed around her. She had turned to get a water pitcher from the top shelf, and the boy shorts I’d always pictured her in taunted me mercilessly, riding up her ass cheeks and cutting across them, exposing a perfect handful of firm, round flesh on either side. I was lost after that. I had to have her. I didn’t care how. I wanted her, and I took her.

She wanted to be taken, didn’t she? It had seemed like it at the time. I hated how fuzzy everything was. Then again, I wished I could forget the humiliation of my impotence entirely. What the hell was that about? Holy fuck. That was a punishment from God, for sure, for all the mistakes I made--and continue to make--with this girl.

I poured myself a glass of orange juice and downed the aspirin. I wandered to the bedroom door and gazed at Bella, sound asleep, her hair spread in wild disarray across the pillow. She was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen, bare-faced, naked and worked-over by my relentless lust the night before. Had I really done what I seemed to remember doing? Shit. Oh, shit. I had. I absolutely had. I had performed an act on her that I never dreamed of trying unless I’d been dating someone awhile, or happened to pick up someone who was on the kinky side during my bar-hopping days.

I went and sat on the couch in the living room, reaching back through the alcoholic residue in my mind to recall the details of the night. After piecing them together, I could only come to the conclusion that I really was a revolting piece of work. In the space of only twelve hours, I had gone from giving that lovely girl a first kiss to manually sodomizing her. What kind of perverted bastard does that?

I felt sick again. Either my stomach didn’t appreciate the juice and aspirin combo, or it was so disgusted with me as a human being that it was trying to turn me inside out in a futile stab at absolution.

It was no use. I only felt worse after my second round of vomiting and then brushing away the sick from my mouth. As more memories began to fall into my consciousness like leaves to the earth, I realized that it wasn’t just my obnoxious behavior that had me in turmoil. It was the fact that I had bared my soul. Admitted things. She knew everything now: how I’d fantasized about her, longed for her, wanted and needed her. Did I even tell her that I loved her? Not exactly, I didn’t think; but the word had escaped my lips at some point. Did I love her? It was so soon. I’d only known her a month. All the more reason to regret the way I’d violated her last night.

It was too much, too soon. All of it. I wasn’t ready. I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready. I don’t know how to love someone--not the way a woman like her deserves to be loved, anyway.

You know this better than anyone, Tanya.

And the bitter, horrible truth that I never wanted to admit, but have to right now, is that I never loved you the way I already love Bella. I never loved you enough, or the right way. The way you wanted. The way you deserved. What kind of a man would I have been if I’d gone along with all of your dreams and plans, ignoring the voice inside me that kept telling me they weren’t mine? It would have ended anyway. It had to. I don’t know why you couldn’t face that. I wish I could have helped you. You had to go and end everything with such finality, on your terms. You were always so fucking stubborn like that. Geezus, why didn’t you get help when I begged you to?

I’ve asked these questions for three years now and I’ll never have answers. But the difference now is that I have something to compare us to, and so far, there’s no comparison. Things are so easy with Bella, when I allow them to be… when I let go of the ties binding me to the past and let her in. And yet, the prospect of being with Bella is more daunting than I ever imagined, because my feelings are so strong. They scare the hell out of me. I never thought the stakes could be higher than what I went through with you. But this feels so important that I am practically quaking in my boots. Because if I fuck things up with her the way I did you, I’ll be the one who won’t survive.

My mind churned with conflicting thoughts as I shuffled, Zombie-like, out of the bathroom and slowly headed for Bella’s room. My first instinct was flight. The fight wasn’t in me. I wanted space, time, and possibly a blood transfusion for the god-awful hangover. But my assholery of the night before would only be topped by my bolting from the scene of the crime, so I manned up and crawled back into bed with her.

I accidentally woke her, but she only smiled, wrapped her arm around me and told me she was sorry I didn’t feel good. Like I deserved even an ounce of her pity. But I couldn’t resist the pull of her body as she scooted closer and put her arm over me. I stared at her, lying so close, and took comfort in the heat of her skin wherever it touched mine. She was my remedy. But I didn’t feel like I deserved one.

I passed out for awhile, and woke up to find myself spooning her, conforming my body to hers like a shell surrounding a precious pearl. I breathed her in for ages, trying to soothe the throbbing of my head by resting it on her chestnut hair. Part of me never wanted to leave her. It wanted the world to stop spinning and just let me lie here with her until she healed me completely through osmosis.

The other part wanted to run like hell and never look back. My shell was used to protecting me and no one else. It liked keeping people out, where they couldn’t hurt me. Or maybe it was the other way around--maybe the shell was to keep me from hurting them. Either way, the armor usually came up a hell of a lot faster than I could lower it.

As the two opposing sides of me battled it out, I clung to Bella, kissing her hair, over and over. I already knew which side would win. I could feel myself withdrawing, and even her sleeping form couldn’t anchor me here.

At last I tore myself away from her and made my way to the living room. I dressed quickly, donning the same t-shirt she’d worn yesterday while her clothes dried. Why did that seem so long ago? The t-shirt confirmed the passage of time, now reeking of stale bar smell instead of being permeated with her delicate scent. My fingers went on auto-pilot as they found my cell phone and dialed a cab.

What the fuck are you doing, Cullen? You have to wake her up and at least tell her you’re too much of a coward to stay here.

I didn’t get the chance. She appeared in the living room then, the most gorgeous example of morning-after dishevelment I’d ever laid eyes on. I wanted to carry her back into the bedroom and make love to her the rest of the day. I also wanted to crawl home with my tail between my legs and die quietly in my bed.

The conversation went as badly as I expected. The kinder she was to me, the faster my defenses mounted. A thousand things I wanted to say to her swirled around my aching head but could not seem to articulate themselves on my tongue. I tried to apologize; I tried to make her understand how wonderful she was, and how unworthy I was of her affection. I knew it came out all wrong, and it was nowhere near enough. I was acting like a jerk, a self-fulfilling prophecy with which I was all too familiar. I made sure that by the time I turned to leave, the look of hurt disillusionment she gave me was completely justified.

I threw up again the minute I got home. The commode and I had a torrid affair the rest of the afternoon, interrupted by bouts of fitful sleep. I no longer knew whether it was the alcohol or my self-destructive behavior making me ill. Maybe one caused the other. The cat surprisingly took pity on me, sparing me his reproving stares and curling up by my side while my body recuperated.

By evening, I started awake from my last doze as a horrible realization hit my now-sober brain: Bella probably thought I was going to leave her without so much as a good-bye this morning. I may be low, but even that would have been beneath me.

I grabbed the phone and dialed her number before I could lose my nerve. I was met with only the recorded version of her voice, asking me to leave a message. I couldn’t figure out which was stronger, my relief or my disappointment.

“Bella, it’s me, Edward,” I began awkwardly. “I’m really sorry about the way I left this morning. The fact that I was sick as a dog is no excuse. I just want you to know that I never would have left without telling you. I was going to come wake you up when I got off the phone, but you beat me to it. I did so many things wrong last night that I’ll never be able to make them up to you, but I at least wanted you to know that I would never leave you like that. I shouldn’t have left at all, I know. But I couldn’t understand why you’d even want me to stay. I figured you wouldn’t be able to get rid of me fast enough, so I guess I was trying to beat you to the punch.” I sighed, knowing how utterly lame all of that sounded. “I know I’m not helping things here. I don’t blame you for not picking up. But maybe you’ll let me talk to you after your appointment with Emmett this week. I hope so. Or you can call me back if you want to.” I had no idea how to end this pathetic, rambling message. I finally just said “good-bye” and hung up, feeling worse now than I had before I called.

I made myself a grilled cheese sandwich and managed to choke down most of it. I wondered if Bella was a good cook. I would have loved to let her make me breakfast, but I couldn’t bear the thought of running to her toilet to heave it back up again, which most assuredly would have happened. Letting her see me so weak and vulnerable was simply more than I could bear, especially after my shortcomings last night. Now that I was lucid, I could admit to myself that that was the main reason I left so abruptly. It wasn’t to spare her. It was to spare me. And now I had the unenviable task ahead of trying to make it up to her.

I watched the phone for awhile, as if I could somehow will it to ring by staring at it. Bella never called back. I didn’t really expect her to, but a tiny ray of dumb hope remained in my soul; hope that I hadn’t blown it completely, hope that she would forgive me and let me try again so I could get it right this time.

I finally gave up on the prospect for tonight and picked up my silent cell, scrolling through my contact list. I debated: Alice or Jasper? Alice would have my head on a platter after I told her the gist of what happened last night. So would Jazz, but he’d be a lot less judgmental and more matter-of-fact about the whole mess.

“Hey,” he answered with his usual laid-back cool. “What’s up, brother? You checkin’ up to make sure I got your sister home in one piece last night?”

Shit, I’d forgotten all about their date. “No, actually, but now that you bring it up….”

Jasper chuckled. “I was a perfect gentleman. I picked her up promptly, escorted her out for a lovely meal and an art gallery opening, and then chastely kissed the back of her hand when I deposited her on your parents’ doorstep before midnight.”

That one made me laugh out loud, and it felt good. “Well, if that’s the case, I’ll bet I’m going to hear a different assessment of your evening from Alice. Did you really ride the ferry with her back to mom and dad’s?”

“Of course I did. I wouldn’t drop her off on the boat by herself late at night. What kind of lowlife do you think I am?” I could practically hear the shit-eating grin in his voice.

“Oh, man. My mom is probably in love with you now. I mean, she was already, but now she’s probably started planning the wedding reception for you and my sister. You realize that, right?”

He only laughed. “I think I’ve already resigned myself to the fact that I can’t fight the two of them once they’ve started conspiring together. I can think of worse fates.”

“Wow,” I marveled. This was big. I knew how to read between the lines of Jasper’s subtle comments. He must really like my sister. A lot. “So I take it the date went well?”

“Very well. I don’t kiss and tell, of course. Especially since Alice is your sister. That would be gross.” We both made similar shuddering noises of distaste. “But yeah… we had a great time. She’s pretty special.”

“Yeah, she is,” I had to agree. I couldn’t wipe the surprised smile off my face at the thought of my best friend and my sister hooking up. It would take some getting used to, but it made sense. And I actually really loved the idea of Jasper being my brother-in-law, if that’s where this was heading. On the other hand, it could be disastrous if the whole thing didn’t work out. I decided I’d better play an impartial third party as best I could.

“So, what’s up with you? How did your non-date with Bella go yesterday?”

I sighed heavily. Where to begin? “The afternoon went pretty well. Better than well, for awhile, anyway. I kind of screwed it up by the end.”

“What’d you do?” Jasper asked, sounding unsurprised.

“Well, we ended up back here at my place, and I not-so-gently reminded her that she’d better leave to go get ready for her date with Jacob Black.”

“She’s still going out with that guy?”

“Yeah. Well, she doesn’t see it that way, but I’ll bet he does. She was supposed to meet him for dinner before his band performed for some bigwigs from her label later on. It was all business, she said. But I don’t trust that kid.”

“You don’t need to trust him,” Jasper interrupted. “You need to trust her. Do you?”

I sighed again. “Yes. I knew all that and I still used their dinner date as an excuse to push her away. She even asked me to meet her later on at the club, but I told her I didn’t want to be a fifth wheel.”

“Ouch,” Jasper said with a chortle. “Denied. You know why you’re doing that, right?”

“Of course I do,” was my resigned reply. “She’s the first girl I’ve wanted to get close to since Tanya. I don’t know if I’m ready.”

“You’re probably never going to be ready, at least in your head. You’re just going to have to take the leap. Eventually you’ll want to. You don’t need to rush it,” Jasper advised. “You haven’t even known her that long. Test the waters a little longer. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

“You’re right, there’s not. And that would be great advice, except that it’s too late to take it. I already jumped off the deep end and now I’m treading water like hell.”

“Geezus, what did you do?”

“I showed up at the club last night.”

Jasper let out a whistle. “Okay, that’s not so bad. She asked you to, right?”

“Yeah, she did. But it gets better. I met up with James first and got completely tanked before I grew the balls to go see her again.”

Jazz groaned loudly. “I can’t believe you called up that douche. What the hell were you thinking?”

“I wasn’t thinking. Unless my subconscious was trying to come up with the best way to fuck myself over in less than twenty-four hours.” I continued to tell him an abbreviated version of the evening, since I prefer not to kiss and tell, either. I concluded with my Taxi Ride of Shame home and my pathetic phone call begging for forgiveness an hour ago.

Jasper was silent a moment. “I know a place where you can rent a stallion and a white flag, if you want to make a grand, romantic gesture of self-abasement.”

“Ha ha. Not helping.”

“Well, as I see it, you have two choices right now. Either you can walk away from this girl completely, or you can try like hell to win her back. It doesn’t sound to me like she’s written you off completely. She’s probably smarting a little bit, though. You need to convince her she didn’t do anything wrong, just in case she’s blaming herself for some stupid reason. Have you considered telling her about Tanya?”

I shook my head, the thought causing something like a panic attack in my chest. “I’ve already had the chance to do that but I just can’t… go there. I don’t see what good it would do. This isn’t about her.”

“Isn’t it?” Jasper countered. “I mean, if fear of getting close to someone again is the only thing holding you back, then maybe Bella needs to know what you’ve had to deal with.”

“I know. I know you’re right. It just feels like telling her would sort of… spoil our relationship. Bella is so different from Tanya, and what we have is already so much better, that I don’t want to look back. I don’t want the past to taint the present.”

“Yeah well, wishing something doesn’t make it true. If you can’t talk to Bella, then why not see a shrink? It’s been awhile. Maybe it could help you this time. Give you some better perspective.”

“Maybe,” I said reluctantly. I felt myself shut down completely at the thought. My experiences with counseling were useless, to the best of my recollection. I just didn’t see the point of re-hashing everything, and I still don’t.

Jasper sensed I was just about done with this topic. “Okay. If you don’t want this to be over with Bella, then you need to do something to make it up to her. I wasn’t kidding about the grand gesture. Call Alice. I’ll bet she’s got plenty of ideas for embarrassing ways you can try to win back Bella’s affections,” he said with a laugh.

“Oh, hell. I want to tell her about last night like I want to drill a hole in the middle of my forehead. Why do you think I called you first?”

“I hear ya,” he laughed. “But she’s required to forgive you--it’s sibling law. Then you can put her devious mind to work for you.”

“You seem to know my sister well, given the short amount of time you’ve spent together,” I said suspiciously.

“Yeah, but I’ve known you a lot longer. I pay attention. You two have that weird juju going on. She’ll have your back, and probably come up with a genius way to help you out.”

“You’re right,” I admitted. “Hey, before I go, I’ve been thinking: if you and your band are having trouble finding rehearsal spots, you’re welcome to use the downstairs here. Since I’m on the third floor, I probably won’t even be able to hear you guys. And even if I can, that’s okay. I have the feeling I’ll be needing the distraction.”

“Seriously? I may take you up on that. We’ve been using Stew’s garage, but I’m sure his neighbors could use a break from the noise. I’ll check with them and let you know.”

“Sure. You’re welcome any time. I’ll give you a key,” I offered.

After we hung up, I braced myself and called Alice. This time, it was definitely relief I felt when I got her answering service. I told her to meet me for lunch tomorrow at the café by the office. Jazz was right--it was time to whip out the big guns. And Alice would have the best ammo of anyone I knew.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Massage Therapy, Chapter 10 - Vertigo, part 3

“You can’t do what anymore?” I whispered, just to be sure Edward’s lips would tell me the same thing his eyes were saying.

“Stay away from you. Pretend I don’t want you.” His thumbs ran slowly along my cheeks as his fingers combed into my hair. “I’ve wanted you since the day I first saw you… since I first touched you.”

I stared up at him, dumbstruck. I prayed to God that this was actually happening; that I hadn’t fallen asleep in my bed and was simply having one of my desperate dreams. His fingers felt real enough as they tangled further into my hair, running along my scalp, sending tingles down my neck. My hands moved to his chest of their own volition, my fingers spreading across the wisps of hair over his taut pecs. His eyes were hypnotic as they held mine under their spell, but I could feel the warmth of his skin and the rapid drumming of his heart beneath my hands.

“I can’t believe I finally get to touch you,” I said, my words the merest whisper. I could barely find my voice.

A tiny gust of a laugh shot from his mouth. “’Get to?’” he repeated. “Like it’s some kind of privilege. If you only knew how much I’ve wanted you to.” The Sex Voice was softer, gruffer, more seductive than ever.

How much I’ve wanted you to…. My mind was awed at the confession. “It is a privilege,” I insisted. My fingers skimmed over the protrusion of his nipples and further down to the beauty marks below, reading the Braille of his body as my eyes remained fixed upon his. His face was so close now, I could smell the toothpaste masking his earlier sins. I didn’t care what they were. I welcomed every last one of them.

He shook his head ever so slightly as it bent closer to mine. “You always get it backwards.”

Any words I might have mustered to deny it were silenced by his lips upon my lips, his tongue tangled with mine. The soft exploration of our earlier kiss had given way to hungry demands this time. He was insatiable now--his mouth tasting, probing, licking, biting mine--gently but insistently until he drew ragged breaths from my ravaged mouth. He kept closing the distance between our bodies until none was left. I didn’t realize I was giving way until the small of my back met the edge of the countertop and I was pinned in place, the length of his torso flush against mine, hot and hard and soft all at once.

His hands finally let go of my hair and dropped quickly to my waist. I gasped in surprise as he easily hoisted me up on the counter, bringing us face to face. His eyes never left mine as his hands slid down to my thighs, gripping them firmly and pulling me tight against him again, my groin to his belly, my legs wrapping around his trim waist. He seemed determined to get as close to me as physically possible, and my body strained to meet his, pushing greedily against him.

I finally let my eyes fall to the beard that was overtaking his jaw, and my fingers soon followed, trailing along the thick, rough hair and thrilling to the prickle of it against my fingertips. His mouth demanded my attention, lips swollen and red, parted and panting, inches from my own. I stared at the delicious candy that was so close. I was awed by the sight, the feel of his mouth as my fingers traced the soft, wet skin of his lips.

The sound that came from him then was something between a sigh of surrender and a growl of animal lust. I savored the candy as his mouth attacked mine, insistent and hungry. His beautiful hands stroked my face, then drifted down my neck to my shoulders. I couldn’t keep track of them after that as they traveled up and down my body, front and back, leaving intricate webs of sensation that ensnared me and bound me to him as his mouth took possession of mine.

He finally released me with a gasp, and his eyes traveled my face again, seeming to drink me in as I was him. He kissed my cheek gently as his hand caressed the other side of my face.

“So beautiful,” he whispered in my ear, his warm breath billowing in shockwaves straight down my spine. His words mirrored my thoughts exactly as I gazed at the exquisite sculpture of his face so close to mine. His mouth began a slow, seductive journey down the side of my neck, leaving a trail of wet kisses to my shoulder. My fingers twisted deep into his thick hair as my head fell back, granting him better access to my neck. Everything in me yielded to him, begging him to invade my personal space and make it his. I wanted his in return, my greedy hands tracing the strong lines of his jaw and neck to his broad shoulders, then over his shoulder blades and down the ribs of his back. My fingers examined every muscle and bone, eager to learn the map of his body beneath the warm, smooth blanket of skin. Was this how he felt when he worked on me during our massage sessions? Like a grateful student granted permission to study a revered subject? I should only be so lucky.

His exploration of my shoulder continued as he pushed the hindrance of my camisole strap out of the way. He ran his tongue along my collar bone, the wetness making his breath feel cool as it met my skin. Goose bumps rose on my flesh and I felt my nipples harden under the thin cotton of my shirt. His mouth traveled toward the evidence of my desire, and I tensed involuntarily as he pushed the fabric lower, ready to uncover the tiny, quivering mound. I’d always been self-conscious about the size of my breasts, the modest boost they’d gotten when I went on the pill still not enough to erase my insecurity.

Even drunk, Edward didn’t miss the way my body stiffened against him. “Is this not okay? Do you want me to stop?” he asked hoarsely.

“No, I don’t want you to stop,” I assured him, biting my lip and bracing myself.

“Then what is it?” he questioned, cupping my chin gently as his bleary eyes tried to focus on mine.

“It’s just… I don’t want you to be disappointed,” I gulped, looking away from his worried gaze.

“Disappointed…?” he said, uncomprehending. “In you? That’s impossible.” He reassured me with small, sweet kisses, his lips beseeching.

“I’m not one of those kinds of girls, you know,” I faltered, trying to find the words to explain. “Those perfect-bodied Barbie-doll girls.” Images of Kate Denali flashed through my mind, and I wondered again if Tanya had resembled her.

Edward looked genuinely confused now. “What makes you think I want someone like that?” His face registered something akin to distaste.

I shrugged and had difficulty meeting his incredulous stare. “James said I wasn’t your type… that I was so different from--”

“Sshhh.” Before I could say her name, Edward’s fingers pressed gently over my lips, shushing me the way I’d silenced him that afternoon. “Don’t let any of his garbage pollute your mind.” His eyes flashed fiercely and his grip was firm on my face. “The only thing you need to know about any girls from my past is that none of them ever made me feel the way you do. Not even close. This…with you….” he shook his head, seeming to struggle to find the words. “…it’s so much more than anything I ever had, anything I’ve ever felt before. I don’t know how to explain it… I don’t even understand it.” His hands stroked my face gently; his eyes pleaded for permission. “Let me show you.”

I wondered if he knew what his words did to me; how they swelled my heart to the point of bursting and brought me to my knees. He probably wouldn’t even remember them in the morning. He would never understand how he pulled me off the ledge and sent me freefalling; falling for him, falling in love. I refused to think of how hard my landing might be. Instead, I allowed myself the freedom, the exhilaration, the weightlessness of the fall.

I clutched him to me as his mouth sought my skin again, burning a path south, eager to feel and taste the few parts of me that he had yet to discover. When he tugged the hem of my camisole gently upward to remove it, I raised my arms to the sky like wings and let him release me. His mouth closed over my naked breast, hot and sweet, gently tickling and sucking my nipple into a hard button that seemed to be hardwired to every nerve that converged between my legs. His hand worked the neglected breast in similar fashion, fingers massaging the flesh until it was erect and eager for his mouth to come claim it as well.

My sighs became moans as he kissed and caressed my breasts this way, back and forth, until they were swollen and sore and my back arched wantonly, head thrown back, hands buried in his hair.

He finally released them and worked his lips up the other side of my chest and neck to my ear, where he whispered, “You see? More than a mouthful is a waste.”

The giggle that escaped me was a relief; a momentary respite from the sexual tension twisting my body so thoroughly under his touch. “I thought the saying was, ‘more than a handful is a waste.’”

“No, the handful measurement is for your ass,” he murmured wickedly, his hands suddenly dropping to my cheeks and giving each a firm squeeze. I gasped with pleasure as his palms and fingers caressed and then thoroughly gripped my flesh harder, pulling me more tightly to him. My legs were spread wide, my panty-covered crotch straining against the treasure trail of pubic hair that taunted me above the waistband of his briefs. I could feel my hips beginning to move against him, aching to start the rhythm that would draw him into me, deeper and deeper. He felt it and moved with me, his hands guiding me. And then his mouth was on mine, his tongue teasing me in identical rhythm with our bodies, simulating what we both wanted, what we knew was coming. My arms wrapped around his neck to match my legs locked around his waist. The hair on his chest tickled my nipples, and I flattened my breasts against his chest, eliminating every bit of air between us. I couldn’t get close enough to him. I wanted to breathe only his breath, smell only his skin, even tainted with the alcohol that battled his heavenly natural scent.

His mouth broke away from mine as he rasped, “Where’s your bedroom?”

“First door to the left,” I reminded him as he lifted me easily off the counter and headed for the kitchen door. He staggered a bit, his motor skills still shot. Either that or I weighed a lot more than I thought. He was the oddest drunk I’d ever seen, seemingly lucid, but his body uncoordinated and uncooperative as he stumbled around the corner and into my bedroom.

“I could have walked, you know,” I teased him as he teetered toward the shape of my unmade bed in the dark.

“No way. That would spoil my romantic seduction moment,” he replied. Mere seconds later, he walked right into the bed frame and rather ungracefully deposited me on top of the mattress, mumbling “Shit!” as he half-fell on top of me, clutching his bruised shin in pain.

“Edward,” I laughed ruefully, unable to contain myself. “Are you okay?”

“Fuck. Ungh. Yes,” he grumbled, rubbing his shin and then seeming to give up on the endeavor. “What about you? I didn’t hurt your back, did I?” His voice was filled with concern.

“No, I’m fine. The bed is a soft place to land,” I reminded him with a smile.

“I never want to hurt you,” he whispered as he eased his body over mine, feeling his way in the dark until his face was inches from mine. “I only want to make you feel good.” His lips were tender on mine. “Better than good.” His lips grew bolder, and my mouth opened against his, letting him in. His hands were in my hair again; mine found the small of his back and pressed him into me as my legs encircled him. I knew that I’d probably regret having sex with him when he might not even remember it, but my body was in control now, and it would not be stilled as it writhed beneath him.

His body responded in kind, moving fluidly against me, grinding me rhythmically into the mattress. He groaned loudly as his lips broke away from mine, attacking my neck and chest with renewed vigor. My fingers itched for the feel of his hair between them, and I obeyed. He moaned as I massaged his scalp; I moaned as he took my right breast in his mouth again. I was overwhelmed at the sensations hurtling through my body, one after the other, taking me to places I’d never been. Frustration began to bubble within me as my open legs were met with only layers of fabric instead of skin on skin. I’d never felt lust like this in my life; never wanted and needed a man--this man--inside me so badly. My brain had been reduced to only one base thought, a crass and relentless mantra: Fuck me. Fuck me. Please, for the love of all that is holy or otherwise, FUCK. ME.

He raised his head from my chest, breathing heavily, and I could feel his frustration as well. It came out in his voice as he seethed, “It’s too dark in here. I can’t see you. I need to see you.”

“Open the blinds,” I suggested, gesturing to the window across the room. Just as I was about to offer to do it myself, Edward was off the bed and weaving his way to the sill. He fumbled with the plastic rod until the slats opened and let the night sky into the room. The moon had risen late, but its rays were finally here, bathing the room a pale, pearlescent indigo. I memorized his silhouette as the light glowed over his shoulders and lit his tousled hair into blue flames. He didn’t move. I couldn’t see his face, but I could feel the heat of his eyes on me, scorching me, even as my oscillating fan drew goose bumps from my flesh with every pass. He walked slowly toward me; my heart rate increased twofold with every step. When he finally stopped at the edge of the bed and gazed down at me, my breathing was quick and shallow, chest heaving. The burning hunger in his eyes ignited a fire between my legs and I squirmed at the radiating heat. I silently begged him to release me.

As if reading my mind, he knelt next to me and ran his hands slowly down my torso to encase my hips, his thumbs digging softly into the nexus of my thigh and hipbone. The nerves there quivered violently and I gasped audibly, my hips lunging involuntarily upward. In that moment, he grasped the fabric of my panties between his thumbs and fingers, and with one easy pull, they were halfway down my thighs. I exhaled in a shuddering breath as he continued to pull them slowly down my legs, then left them in a lacy pile at my feet.

His hands moved as slowly as molasses back up my legs, first gentle and feather-like, then firmer as he reached my thighs, gripping them and running his thumbs along the inside, up toward my throbbing sex. A second attack of self-consciousness battled with my arousal as I suddenly wondered if Edward was turned off by pubic hair. I always kept things trimmed and shaved down there, but I hadn’t actually waxed the hair off in…well, ever. Mike never seemed to mind much, and the thought of yanking my pubes out by the roots had always sent me into paroxysms of panic. It sounded too painful to actually endure of my own freewill.

I must have frozen up again, because Edward stopped just short of the manicured triangle and shifted his gaze to my face, gauging me.

“Are you okay?” he asked hesitantly.

“Yeah. I’m just… I’m sorry I haven’t… waxed,” I finally sighed, biting my lip.

He gave me the same look that he’d given me when I tried to hand him his water glass in the kitchen--a look that clearly questioned my sanity.

“Do you honestly think I give a shit about that?” he asked. “I’m sitting here thinking that you look so unearthly beautiful in the moonlight that you should be in a museum… that I should get down on my knees and worship you and thank God that you even let me touch you… and you’re worried about a little pubic hair?”

I stared at him, stupefied at his words. He was saying the kinds of things that I’d dreamed of him saying, but never truly thought I’d hear. He was the one who looked like Michelangelo’s David, his slender, well-muscled physique gleaming in pale perfection under the moon’s rays.

He released my legs and crawled up next to me, lying on his side and turning me toward him.

“How shallow do you think I am?” he said softly before he kissed me. His hand slid slowly down my middle and settled on my hip, his fingers gently squeezing my cheek, thumb rubbing that incredibly tender spot on my belly. I felt moisture gather between my legs, preparing for his touch. I forced myself to focus and answer his question.

“I don’t think you’re shallow. It’s just that, anymore, a lot of girls have Brazilians, and I thought you might prefer that,” I said, feeling a little foolish. I stared at his chest, unable to meet his eyes; and my hand couldn’t resist the urge to reach out and examine the hard muscle there.

He let out an annoyed-sounding laugh. “I prefer whatever makes you happy,” he said. He moved his hand slowly forward, over my abdomen, toward the patch of hair in question. “I want what’s inside there. I don’t care how the outside is decorated.”

My soul quivered at his words; my body, at his touch.

“You are too good to be true,” I sighed, moving my own hand down his flat stomach, letting it drift to the chiseled indentation that marked his hip. I couldn’t help but stare at every distinctly masculine part of his long torso as I explored them all with my fingers.

“Hardly,” he snorted, a glint in his eyes as his hand drifted lower. “I’ll leave the hairless pussies to the pedophiles.” And with that, his fingers slid over my snatch of hair, then gently worked their way between my labia to the slick, tender flesh beneath. A moan vibrated my throat immediately at his touch, my legs parting and hips lifting to meet his probing digits. My own fingers combed through his treasure trail and slipped under the waistband of his briefs, eager to find his cock and give him the same immense pleasure he was giving me.

“So wet,” he whispered as his fingers slid up and down my clitoris, into my ready opening. “Is all this for me?” he questioned. The half-smile that flitted across his face faded quickly as my hand moved further down to the base of his cock, forcing a groan from him instead. He massaged me up and down, making me nearly sob at the sensation of his fingers working their usual magic, but with in an intensity I’d only dreamed of. He was right--I was drenched with desire for him. With every stroke of his hand, his middle finger slipped deeper inside me, urging my hips toward him to help him along.

I grasped the base of his cock and slowly pulled my hand upward until it reached the sensitive tip. I savored the sound of his heavy breathing as I swirled my palm over the thick, round head. I pushed my hand back down his length to the base again, loving the feel of him responding to my touch, thickening, lengthening, growing in my hand.

“God, Bella,” he groaned. I could answer only with mindless noises of my own as we stroked each other, the push and pull between us growing more urgent as our desire grew. His face was so close that it was nothing but a beautiful blur in the rare moments that I tried to focus. My own rapture was escalating to the point that I didn’t even notice at first that there was something wrong. “Wrong” was the wrong word. Nothing could ever be wrong with Edward, at least not so wrong that I wouldn’t do my damnedest to make it right.

Edward’s equipment simply wasn’t quite up to the task at hand, so to speak.

He wasn’t really soft, that much was evident. Nor was he particularly hard, at least not as hard I was certain he was capable of being. He wavered somewhere in between, responding to my touch, but not enough to progress to the next level. I soon realized that the alcohol and cigarettes and probably plain exhaustion were taking an unfortunate toll on Edward’s manhood. It wasn’t a problem so much as a disappointment, one that became more evident the more diligently I worked to make him feel as amazing as he made me feel. And, rather ironically, the more friction I applied, the less rigid he became.

I slowed my efforts and stroked him gently, then leaned in to kiss him. He obviously realized that his body was letting him down, for his face hardened with humiliation and he removed his hand from between my legs. He turned away from my effort to kiss him, rolling on his back and staring blankly at the ceiling.

“I don’t believe it,” he finally said, his voice a mere crumb.

“Edward, come on,” I began, determined to make this okay for him. No matter how insecure I felt about my body, I was sure it didn’t compare to a man’s utter shock and horror when faced with any sort of penile dysfunction. “Think of how much you had to drink. You could barely walk an hour ago. And you know smoking doesn’t help. It constricts the blood flow to--”

“Stop. I beg you, please don’t,” he cut me off. “I’m fully aware of the potential side effects of my assaholic behavior tonight. It’s just… this has never happened to me before. And I know all guys say that. Every guy who can’t get it up swears it’s never happened before. But I’m telling you, I’ve been drunk off my ass a hundred times before and could still seal the deal. So this is….”

He let the sentence hang in the air, unfinished, as all the air left his lungs in one tremendous sigh. I hoped he was exaggerating about the number of his past drunken conquests.

“It’s normal. Human,” I finished for him. I scooted closer and laid my arm over his chest, covering his heart with my hand. His face twisted bitterly as he shook his head in disbelief.

“I know what it is. I’m being punished for all the times I fantasized about you when I shouldn’t have.” He placed the palms of his hands over his eyelids, rubbing them, as his fingers clawed at his hair.

“You fantasized about me?” I asked, slightly awed and more than a little thrilled. “When?”

He let out a short guffaw. “When didn’t I fantasize about you? I mean, that’s the real kicker: I’ve been jacking off at least twice a day thinking about you, and now that we’re actually here together, the perpetual boner I’ve had for a month is a no-show.”

I let that sink in a moment, savoring the knowledge, as well as the mental image. It was not, however, helping to ease my current state of sexual frustration.

“I even did it in the office,” Edward continued. “I’ve never whacked off at work before. Ridiculous.”

I stared at him in surprise. “When did you do that?”

“Last Saturday,” he sighed. “The whole time I was working on your legs, I was losing my mind. I wanted to mount you right on the massage table. Instead, I finished myself off in the restroom after our session was done.”

I gasped as I realized what that revelation meant. “I can’t believe you did that,” I said in wonder, remembering my own similar actions right after he left the room.

“I know, I’m a sick pervert who has no business treating you anymore,” he lamented.

“Well, if you’re a pervert, then so am I,” I informed him. “As soon as you left the room, I did the same thing. I was so turned on from you touching me that I couldn’t stop myself.”

He turned his head to look at me then, his expression incredulous. “You mean to tell me we were both masturbating at the same time, a room away from each other?”

I nodded. Aggravated grins suddenly spread across both of our faces as the immense irony of the situation struck us. Frustrated anew, Edward began muttering a stream of profanities as his hands covered his eyes again. I was reminded of the first day I ever saw his face and realized he was the man behind the hypnotic voice and masterful, healing hands. He was infinitely more attractive to me now, intoxicated and tired and unable to bring our fantasies to life. He was real.

He ended his string of expletives with the confounding words, “God-damned Dead Kennedys,” then sighed and stared at the ceiling again.

It took a moment before my mind switched gears from the former First Family to the 1980s seminal punk rock band. I chortled as I made the connection.

“’Too Drunk To Fuck?’” I recited the title of one of their more infamous songs.

His head lolled toward mine and his eyes narrowed. “You knew that?”

“It’s a punk rock classic.”

“Wow. I think I love you,” he said, his crooked grin disarming, as if I had any defenses left. His words reverberated in my head, a joke that didn’t seem funny. I wanted to take those words so seriously that it scared me. I couldn’t risk serious right now.

“No, that’s the Partridge Family,” I answered sardonically.

His eyes twinkled with mirth, but his voice was low and husky. “Now I know I do.”

Please don’t do this to me, Edward. I couldn’t afford to believe any more of his whiskey-induced professions. I stared at his chest, absently swirling my index finger through the sparse hair around his left nipple. I felt his hand on top of my head, stroking my hair, and I finally looked up into his eyes, so remorseful as he gazed at me.

“If you knew how much I want you, you wouldn’t believe this is happening. I don’t know why my body’s betraying me now,” he said softly, shifting onto his side and cupping my chin gently in his hand. “Maybe it’s because I want you too much.”

“Edward, you’re still trying to metabolize all that liquor, and it’s late, and you’re exhausted. We don’t have to do this tonight, you know. We can have plenty more nights together… if that’s what you want,” I added uncertainly.

His brows furrowed as his eyes wandered my face, my body. “I want… so much. Too much,” he repeated. I didn’t know why he kept saying that. I didn’t like how it sounded--as if he didn’t deserve to get what he wanted.

“I want the same thing,” I assured him, my hand reaching up to stroke the soft skin of his cheek where it met the rough stubble of his jaw. “I want you. I can wait. You’re worth waiting for.”

His eyes were deceptively sober. “I want to be. I want to be deserving of you. I want….” his voice trailed off again, desperation whittling the end of his sentence away. He leaned in and kissed me, moaning softly into my mouth. He seemed needy and vulnerable as he pulled me toward him, working his leg between mine, wrapping his arms around me as he deepened our kiss. I melted into him; limbs clutching him more tightly, pressing every inch of my skin against his and luxuriating in the warmth of his body meshed with mine. His lips left my mouth with a sigh and immediately found my cheek, my neck, my earlobe.

“Let me have you, just for tonight. I can make this so good for you, I promise,” he whispered throatily into my ear. His body moved so sensuously with mine that I didn’t even need his cock inside me to feel completely at one with him.

“You can have me as many nights as you want,” I whispered back, my lips catching on the soft skin of his earlobe as I spoke. “It’s already good for me. Just being next to you is good for me. I never thought it would really happen. I thought you’d never let me get close to you.”

He grimaced as he spoke. “That’s because I’m a fuck-up, Bella. I’m damaged goods. And now you have proof.” He held me tighter, clinging to me, and buried his face in my neck. I was reminded of the pain I’d felt emanating from him the first time I saw and heard him sing. Its raw sting pulsed through me now as I held him, and I wished for nothing more than the power to heal him through my touch, the way he had done for me.

My hands combed gently through his hair as I rained tiny kisses over his temple, his forehead, anywhere my mouth could reach. “Everyone is damaged goods, if they’ve lived long enough. I don’t care if you’re not perfect. You’re perfect for me.”

The sound he made into my neck was indescribable, some strange hybrid of animal and human, pain and pleasure. It shook me to my core.

“Bella…” he began, his voice thick with emotion. I waited for him to go on. I tried to get a glimpse of his expression, but his features were obscured as he breathed heavily into my neck. He finally pressed his lips to the side of my face for a prolonged moment, a kiss that felt almost reverent.

“I need you,” he said.

I looked into his eyes until he slowly raised them to mine. “I’m yours,” I promised. “Take what you need.”

He shook his head slowly. “No. I want to give to you instead.” His lips pressed solemnly against mine. “Let me love you.”

My eyes rolled back and my lids closed. I could no longer think about what his words meant. They would be long gone in the daylight, with no witness to remember them but me. Instead, my mind surrendered to my body and to Edward, and I let them be my guide.

Everything that followed was nothing but pure sensation taking over me. His hands, his mouth, were everywhere; kissing and caressing my skin until I was so delirious I thought I might pass out. As he worked his way down my body, he came to the part of my abdomen that he’d worked on that morning, and I winced as he touched the tender spot.

“Are you sore from the psoas release?” he asked me. I was amazed that he couldn’t sustain an erection, but he could still enunciate the phrase, “psoas release.”

“A little,” I nodded.

He responded by gently kissing and licking my side until I could feel nothing but rampant lust raging between my legs. My body undulated beneath him, ready for his mouth to move down, to taste the cream that coated me. His hands felt huge but lithe on my hips as he gripped them lightly, massaging his way down, pressing his thumbs into that spot that he now knew made me squirm with unbearable pleasure.

“Edward, please,” I begged, the words out of my mouth before I had formulated the thought.

“Please what?” he taunted, moving his lips southward. I felt my legs opening for him, beckoning him. My entire groin throbbed almost painfully with want.

Suddenly he rolled off of me and stood up next to the bed, leaving me cold and shocked as I peered up at him, confused. He reached down and grasped my thighs gently, then pulled them toward him, turning my body so that my legs opened to the side of the bed. He kneeled down on the floor between them, then lifted my legs and placed them over his shoulders.

“Oh God,” I moaned with anticipation as his hands slid down the insides of my thighs and came to rest on either side of my sex. I felt him gently pull on the skin there until my labia opened, exposing my quivering clitoris to the cool air. Before I could react, his warm tongue replaced the cold air, and I whimpered like a baby as the shockwaves barreled through me. His tongue licked up and down and side to side, thoroughly tasting every bit of flesh there; and when it flicked rapidly on the swollen tip of my clit, I cried out in sobs of ecstasy that I could not control.

I had a quick flashback to my time with Mike--certainly not because he was an expert at oral sex, but because he occasionally liked to watch porn to get in the mood. I remember laughing at the women in the videos, with their absurdly exaggerated panting and groaning and screaming, like banshees in heat. I always thought they were putting on quite a show because men seem to fall for that sort of sexual melodrama.

But as Edward Cullen buried his face between my legs, I had to admit that maybe it wasn’t all acting. Maybe there were sensations that were so mind-blowing, so beyond the scope of mental control, that the only response was an uninhibited physical release. The combination of his soft lips, wet tongue, rough beard and hot breath on my sex was far too incendiary for me to hold in my reactions. By the time his tongue plunged deep inside me, performing what his dick could not, I gasped and moaned uncontrollably. “God” and “Edward” became one and the same as I cried out to both, alternately.

Edward had become more animal than human, too, growling and grunting as he devoured me. When he spoke, it was only to ask me rhetorical questions such as, “You like this, don’t you?” to which I could only nod helplessly and twist my fingers in his hair, forcing his face back down.

“God, you’re so delicious,” he murmured as his tongue tasted every part of me, front to back--all the way back. “I’ll never get enough of you.” He placed his hands behind my knees and pushed my thighs further apart, spreading me wide open, as he continued to explore every orifice with his mouth. I wondered if he only did this when he was drunk, or if he was this uninhibited all the time. I didn’t stop him, because not only was I curious, but everything he was doing felt amazing. I had known from the minute I met him that I would be putty in his hands, no matter what he wanted to do to me. I had the feeling he was about to put that theory to the test.

He slid his hands, smooth as silk, down the backs of my thighs to my pussy again, but this time, he didn’t stop there. He placed one hand over my clit, stimulating it with his long fingers before slipping them back to my wet opening again. I was out of my element with someone as skilled as Edward, and my ceaseless moaning was evidence. Mike had been my first lover; I had been his third. Neither of us was particularly experienced, and sex was mostly awkward and experimental. Going from him to Edward was like leaving the triple-A minors for the All-Star team. If I had thought his hands did wondrous things to my muscles before, I was about to be schooled in exactly what his hands were capable of.

His index finger was deep inside me before I could blink an eye. Through my fog of desire, I could hear him utter things like “so tight” and “dripping wet” and “going to have to get you ready for me.” That’s when a second finger joined the first, slowly pushing into me, stretching me, forcing more cries from my mouth. My hips moved rhythmically upward, pulling him deeper. He began increasing the speed, pumping faster, curling his fingers into my g-spot and stroking it rapidly. I could feel the pressure building inside me… the convergence of a million unbearably intense sensations in the ultra-sensitive spot that Edward’s expert touch was massaging into a frenzy.

“That’s it,” he whispered as he felt my body tighten around him. “You’re almost there.”

And then, inexplicably, he removed his fingers from me. “No!” I blurted without thinking. “Don’t stop,” I begged him, my words more a whimper than a demand.

“Oh, I’m not,” he replied, gently kissing the insides of my quaking thighs. “I’m nowhere near done with you yet.”

His mouth descended on me again, working me up and down with his lips and tongue, tickling me roughly with his beard. He kissed his way back between my cheeks again, and I groaned softly when he tongued the tight opening there. I wondered if I should be ashamed at how good it felt. Then again, if it didn’t bother Edward, then why should it bother me?

He placed a wet fingertip against the taut, flat opening and pushed gently. My body instinctively resisted the intrusion, and I was suddenly reminded of my last trip to the gynecologist. She had performed an anal exam, and though not exactly painful, it wasn’t the most fun fifteen seconds of my life, either. Was I ready for something like this?

“Do you trust me, Bella?” Edward asked, again seeming to sense my hesitation. His eyes were liquid midnight as he sought my permission. I was surprised to realize that I didn’t even have to think about my reply.

“Of course I do.”

“You know I’d never do anything to hurt you, don’t you?” His words tumbled like cascades of velvet from his lips, caressing me, lulling me. I nodded my consent. “I need you to relax completely. Can you do that for me?”

Could I? He had me in such a heightened state of arousal that I wasn’t sure.

“I’ll try,” I whispered.

He proceeded to work slowly on the rigid band of muscle, lubricating me with his tongue, then rhythmically probing with his finger, trying to gain admittance. His free hand rubbed my thighs and stomach with a soothing touch, trying to relax me; and then his fingers found my clitoris again, massaging me slowly, tempering the discomfort that his other hand was causing.

Still, I winced as his relentless finger pushed its way further inside me. “Relax, Bella,” I heard him say, his breath warm and enticing on my straining flesh. I concentrated on releasing the tension from my body, letting it go limp and pliant in his hands. And then, quite suddenly and surprisingly, the ring of muscles relaxed and gave way, allowing Edward’s index finger entrance. It slipped easily inside me after that, and I gasped at the unexpected flood of pleasure that rippled through me.

“How does that feel?” he asked as he gently pushed the digit all the way in.

“It feels good,” I admitted, still a bit flabbergasted. “So good.”

“That’s because there’s a bundle of extremely sensitive nerves right at the opening here,” he murmured, the doctor in him taking over. I was glad he didn’t use any clinical terms for the body parts he was stimulating, because I really didn’t want to think too much about what he was doing to me.

“It’s really an amazing pleasure center in the body. You can get a lot of sexual gratification from this.” His finger began slowly, methodically pumping in and out of me, building a rhythm in the back as he had done in the front moments ago. “I’m going to give you the most amazing orgasm you’ve ever had, Bella. I’m going to make you come like you’ve never come before.”

“Oh my God,” I mumbled as my eyes closed and my head fell back. I reached behind me and gripped the bed covers in my fists as I gave myself over completely to the tremors that Edward was sending through me. Not content with breaching my back door, he attacked the front simultaneously, his mouth and other hand taking turns stroking and kissing and rubbing and licking me until I writhed uncontrollably, begging for more. That’s when I felt his fingers enter my vagina again; one at first, plumbing me deeply; then two, filling me completely. My cries of ecstasy came out in sobs again as his hands delved into the most tender, intimate parts of me, stoking the burning nerve endings into a raging volcano that was in desperate need of release.

“Edward… God… please….” I gasped as his fingers plunged deeper, faster, more ruthlessly inside me. I didn’t think I could take anymore. The pleasure was so intense it was almost pain. I throbbed with need, begging for a climax to end the exquisite torture.

“Come for me, beautiful girl,” was Edward’s whispered command. He placed the tip of his tongue to the tip of my clit, then moved it back and forth with the speed and delicacy of a hummingbird’s wings.

The volcano erupted.

The first contraction of my orgasm was so strong, so intense that my hips surged upward, every muscle inside me gripping Edward’s fingers as if they were life preservers. My chest heaved breathlessly as I cried out; my hands gripped any piece of fabric that was nearby. After the shockwaves of that first initial burst had subsided, the rest of the contractions began, wracking my body with wave after wave of unbridled ecstasy as I convulsed around Edward’s hands. I had no name, no frame of reference, for this kind of euphoria. The freedom of my climax made me feel as though I had left my body entirely; yet I had never been so completely, happily anchored within the confines of my flesh and its demands.

As I slowly came down from my incredible high, I became aware of Edward’s amazing hands still moving gently inside me, stroking me, as he kissed and gently nipped at my legs, my belly, my buttocks. I didn’t want him to stop, or to move away. I dreaded the emptiness I would feel without his flesh and bone inside me.

But slowly he pulled his hands free, licking his fingers clean, apparently unperturbed by where they had just been. I wondered if he had any sexual hang-ups at all… or just emotional ones?

“So beautiful,” was all he kept saying as he continued to caress me gently everywhere, languidly moving his way up my body as he pulled himself back up on the bed and situated us both so that our heads were on the pillows. He pulled the covers gently up to my waist, but no further, as he nuzzled and fondled my breasts.

My arms wound around him, fingers toying with the damp curls on his neck. I was speechless, dazed.

“Are you okay?” he finally murmured as his face reached my neck. “Did I hurt you?”

“No. God, no. The opposite. Unless you an kill someone with an orgasm. Which I’m beginning to think is actually possible.”

He chuckled softly into my neck. I could smell my sex on his face, and I was strangely okay with that. I intended to return the favor someday. I began to daydream about giving him head so amazing that he’d feel as languorous and useless afterward as I did now.

“I can’t believe you’re real,” he whispered as he settled next to me, face to face, his head on my pillow. “You can laugh at this all you want, but I have to tell you that you have the most gorgeous pussy I’ve ever seen or smelled or tasted. It’s perfect. It’s fucking perfection. The scent of it makes me crazy. No girl smells like you, so sweet, so completely irresistible. It’s insane.”

I laughed a little as I stared at him. I had no idea how to respond to that. If I weren’t so utterly spent, I would have been wet and ready again just listening to how much I turned him on.

“So I guess what you’re saying is that you’re pussy-whipped,” I teased him.

His sleepy grin warmed me as much as his encircling arms. “I am definitely that. I was before I even saw it. So I feel very lucky right about now.”

I shook my head as I smiled back at him. “You’re the one who gets it backwards. I’ve never had anyone make me feel the way you make me feel. What you just did to me… there are no words.”

“So we’re both lucky,” he admitted. I nodded in agreement. He leaned in and gently pressed his lips to mine. He stifled a yawn, then said, “Just you wait until I get my dick working again. You are going to be in so much trouble. Your pussy is going to be screaming for mercy.”

My eyebrow raised. “You promise?”

“Such a naughty girl,” he sighed, his eyes closing for a moment before he struggled to open them. “Keep it up and I’ll give you a spanking.”

“You keep it up and I’ll let you,” I giggled.

“Fuck, you’re going to get my dick hard yet, aren’t you?” His eyelids closed again, and I knew that our little game of slap and tickle would have to wait for another day. Maybe tomorrow, if he wasn’t too hung-over, I thought wickedly.

But now it was time for rest. His eyes stayed closed and his face relaxed as he drifted into unconsciousness. I shifted my body so that the moon would illuminate his features. I don’t know how long I stared at him before I finally succumbed to sleep. I was fascinated by his eyelashes, the longest I’d ever seen on a man. Likewise, his smooth complexion and deep-hued lips were almost too pretty, too feminine. Yet these unlikely features were assembled over a bone structure and punctuated with hair growth so strikingly masculine that it left no doubt as to which chromosome was in charge.

He had called me “beautiful” so many times in the past twelve hours that I lost count; but the man I was lucky enough to find lying next to me was the very definition of the word. Yet even with such physical perfection before me, it was nothing to his words, his expressions, his respect in the way he treated me. Those were the traits that gave him true--empirical--beauty.

His face was etched indelibly on the backs of my eyelids as I finally lost consciousness. I slept fitfully at first, not because I was uncomfortable with Edward in my bed, but because I felt a tiny thrill each time I rolled over and discovered him there. His body was always touching mine in some way, the contact between us remaining unbroken. He often sighed in his sleep and scooted closer, or brought his arm across me to pull me to him. His head never left my pillow; his soft breath tickled my face throughout the night. I snuggled into him and enveloped myself in the warmth of his skin, so much better than any blanket. I didn’t know how I would ever sleep in this bed again without him in it.

At last I succumbed to a deep and exhausted sleep as the dawn approached. I faintly heard Edward get up and head for the bathroom, and I hoped he wasn’t sick. The fan I ran in my bedroom every night helped block noises beyond my bedroom door. I had fallen asleep again by the time he returned, but I opened a sleepy eye as he crawled back into bed.

“Are you okay?” I mumbled, reaching for him as he pulled the covers back over us.

“I’ll live,” he answered rather unconvincingly.

“Poor baby,” I sighed, rubbing my nose against his shoulder as I placed a protective arm over his troubled tummy.

“I brought it on myself.” He rested his hand over my arm, his fingers finding mine.

I couldn’t argue with that, and I couldn’t stay conscious, either. By the time I awoke, the sun was trying valiantly to breach my blinds as it glared, full strength, around the window frame. I squinted at the window and realized that the blinds were shut. Edward must have closed them. I turned and reached for him, dismayed to find only a cold, empty space where his body had been.

A tiny seed of worry, even panic, sprouted in my belly. He hadn’t left, had he? He wouldn’t do that. He wouldn’t sneak away in the morning, no matter how embarrassed he might feel about his drunken antics, or lack thereof.

Would he?

I jumped out of the bed and searched for some clothes, yanking the nearest sweats and t-shirt over my naked body. I bolted out of the bedroom and took a quick inventory of the apartment. I was relieved to hear Edward’s voice, low and quiet, as he talked on his cell phone. He was sitting on the couch, fully dressed. So much for any thoughts I might have had cuddling with him and serving him breakfast in bed, which I was fully prepared to do.

He ended the call as I approached the sofa. I suddenly felt uneasy and I didn’t know why. I hated the feeling.

“You’re up,” I said lamely as I perched next to him on the sofa. His still looked tired, dark circles rimming his sunken eyes.

“Barely,” he said with a rueful chortle. “I’m sorry if I woke you.”

“No, it’s fine. I wish you had. How are you feeling?” Dumb question. I already knew the answer.

He shrugged. “Like I expected to feel. Thanks for the aspirin, by the way. And I helped myself to some orange juice--I hope that’s okay.”

“Of course it is. Anything I have is yours,” I answered. In light of how intimate we had been hours before, I was almost insulted at his reserved politeness now. But I was more afraid than anything else.

He leaned forward, his elbows on his knees, hands kneading through his hair. He finally turned his head to look at me.

“I’m sorry for the way I behaved last night. I was an idiot. You deserve better.”

The anxiety in my gut only grew at his words. “You were fine. Everyone gets drunk now and then. It’s not the end of the world.”

He still looked disgusted with himself. “Yeah, well, you shouldn’t have had to baby-sit me while I behaved like an irresponsible jackass. I knew that gig last night was a big step for your career, and I almost put that in jeopardy. That’s inexcusable.”

I shook my head in denial. “You seem to forget that you stayed out of the way for that very reason--so you wouldn’t interfere while my bosses were there. You were extremely thoughtful, actually, even bombed off your ass. Although it didn’t seem like it to me at the time.”

A wry grin played at the corners of his mouth. “You had every right to be pissed at me. My showing up like that was a disaster from the very beginning.”

The anxiety had teeth now, gnawing at my insides. “I don’t know. I think things turned out pretty well.” I studied his gloomy face. Didn’t he remember anything about how great we were together? Or the heart-stopping things he said and did to me?

“There were some pretty amazing moments, if I recall correctly,” he admitted, his grin growing. “Although if I’d been able to plan things, the evening would have gone much differently.”

“Really? I wouldn’t have changed a thing,” I insisted. He gave me a look of extreme skepticism. “Okay, maybe one thing. But you more than made up for what I’m sure you consider to be a short-coming.”

He said nothing at first, just sighed; then he tentatively reached out and stroked my hair. “I didn’t hurt you, did I? Be honest with me.”

He really was too good to be true. And he did remember. Relief helped to still my anxiety for a moment. “You didn’t hurt me, I swear. I’m feeling just the teeniest, tiniest bit sore in a couple of places, but that’s normal, for me, anyway. I mean, it’s been awhile.” My eyes fell in embarrassment. I didn’t want to admit that I hadn’t had sex since Mike and I broke up late last year. I simply wasn’t one to pick up guys for one-night stands, even though I certainly had plenty of chances in my line of work.

His hand moved to the side of my face, his thumb stroking my cheek. His eyes were penitent. “I’m sorry. I should have gone slower. I should have waited until I was sober. I should have done a lot of things differently.”

“Please don’t do this,” I begged quietly, hating the feeling of him backsliding into regret and self-blame. I didn’t want to lose the Edward who teased me with goofy come-ons and took what he wanted, confident that I would want the same things. “I’m absolutely serious when I say I wouldn’t change anything about last night. I’m just sorry that you’re paying for it today.” I reached out and mirrored Edward’s movements, smoothing his hair and stroking the 24-hour beard growth that crept down his neck.

“I have felt better,” he admitted with another wry smile.

“Why don’t you let me make you breakfast? Sometimes some good, greasy hash browns and eggs are just what the doctor ordered for a hangover.”

His face turned ashen. “Thanks for the offer, but I really can’t eat anything just yet.”

“That’s okay.” I continued to brush the side of his face with my hand, trying to comfort him. “Why don’t you just lie down and sleep some more? I can make you lunch later. I can even hold your head if you need to throw up. I’m excellent at that--I have an iron stomach. Just ask Angela.”

He grinned and looked down, shaking his head. “You’re much better to me than I deserve. I’m afraid I’m the ‘suffer in solitude’ type. I’m going to head home and get out of your hair. I’ve been a big enough imposition on you already.”

He was leaving. The anxiety had fangs now, slashing at my insides.

“Are you sure? I make a really good nurse maid. I’ll take good care of you, I promise.”

His eyes seemed pained as he looked at me. I swear I thought he might cry.

He swallowed and said, “You’re amazing, you know that? You’re incredible. Everything about you….” His words withered and died. He gulped again. “You’re too good to me.”

“You deserve it,” I tried to convince him.

He looked down again, as if he had trouble holding my gaze. “I know we need to talk, but I really can’t do this right now.”

I exhaled shakily, hoping he didn’t notice. “That’s fine. We’ll talk when you feel better.”

He nodded and managed a glance at me. “Thank you.” He pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and looked at the time, then rose from the couch. “My cab should be here any minute, so….” He gestured toward the front door.

The anxiety had ceased merely biting at me; it was now grabbing my heart and slamming it viciously against my ribs.

“Why did you call a cab?” I exclaimed as I jumped from the sofa. “I’d be glad to take you home.”

“You’ve already done too much for me, Bella.” He rested his hand on my collarbone, just as he had done in the bar last night when he begged to talk to me. Except then he was inviting me in with the gesture; now he was pushing me away.

He leaned down and brushed his lips against mine, so lightly that I could barely perceive the contact. “I’ll talk to you soon, I promise.”

I watched helplessly as he walked across my living room and out the door. I didn’t follow.

I spent the day in bed, wrapped in his scent. Even the stale alcohol and smoke that polluted it was a welcome reminder that he was here. I relived every moment of the past 24 hours, growing only more confused and disoriented the more I tried to make sense of the incredible highs and lows.

Exhausted, I finally gave up on the endeavor and ripped the sheets from the bed. I threw them in the bathroom hamper and then stepped in the shower, letting the clean, hot water wash away the remnants of Edward’s touch from my body. When I came to the dirty bandage on my knee from the day before, I grasped the edge of the tape and gave it a ruthless yank, pulling it off the wound in one swift movement. The skin was still raw and red. But once I let I breathe a bit, I knew a hard scab would form and protect the tender skin beneath.

I’ll heal. That’s what I do.

BTW...some FFnet reviewers made me realize it looks as if Edward was going to sneak out that morning without telling Bella! That's not the case. Looks like Edward will have some explaining to do in the next chapter... ;)