Saturday, November 26, 2011

Massage Therapy, Chapter 22 - Estrangement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Will do,” I said with a chuckle.

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

“How are you feeling?” I asked.

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

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

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

“Did you take some this morning?”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m glad we agree on that.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I learned from the master.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Remember what I said about apologies?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You’ll heal faster that way.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s when I found the notebook.

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

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

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

Dear Tanya.

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

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

It was dated yesterday.

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

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

“Whatcha got there?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Did it work?” I asked him pointedly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Of course there is,” I asserted quickly.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His first words since he arrived were ones of trepidation.

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

“No. You were amazing.”

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

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

“Why didn’t you stop me?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


“Happy Birthday, Bella.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Your face looks a little better.”

“It feels a little better,” he conceded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I love you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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