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.


  1. Yes, Edward, it really is time to do some damage control! Thanks for the update, Leann! :) Can't wait to see what Edward will come up with!

  2. Yes, it is! He messed up. Silly boy. *sigh* Don't worry, Alice will help him out. But if he thinks hard enough, he'll know what to do. ;)

    Thanks for reading and reviewing as always! (((hugs)))

  3. Poor Edward! Not so enigmatic now. I like how his inner dialog gives insight into his approach-avoidance feelings the morning after. Also liked his mano a mano dialog with Jasper. Great interpretation of the aftermath of the previous chapter!

  4. Thanks for the lovely comments, honey! Hard at work on the rest of EPOV...should be up soon!