"We should get inside, Edward." I'd probably come across much more convincing if I wasn't leaning into his embrace like this... if I wasn't tilting my head so he can trail more kisses along my neck, or if I wasn't reaching up to comb my fingers through his hair. But he just told me I am in his soul, so how's that for an excuse?
"You don't mean it," he replies matter-of-factly, pulling me even closer to himself from behind. "And I missed you. So much!"
"I missed you too, but I do mean it. Please let's go inside now." Before Esme comes out to kill me.
"Ok then... we can go upstairs to my old room, if you'd like?"
I'm enjoying him nuzzling my neck far too much to understand right away what he's really suggesting; it takes me a few seconds, but eventually...
"Edward!" I squirm free and turn around, laughing. "You are such a tease!"
"No, I'm... not," he objects, looking confused. "They won't come in there when the door is closed. They never do."
God, he is serious. And so sweet. I'm this close to giving in and sneaking into his old room with him, just because I hate to disappoint him. And well, maybe also because the idea is really tempting. But of course this is not the time.
"Dinner, with your parents – remember?"
Bella is right, of course. Dinner. Yes.
I'm so easily distracted when I'm with her, like nothing else matters but her. And it doesn't even bother me, the chaos she evokes by just being around. I know this is because I am in love; it's what happens to people when they fall in love. Head over heels, right? My mind is a mess, but it's a beautiful mess... with her around it's beautiful. Also, I know it's supposed to wear off over time, which right now I honestly find very difficult to believe.
Bella doesn't want my arms around her as we go inside, but I keep my hand at the small of her back and she seems to be ok with that. I watch her shaking hands with Esme. My mother's eyes dart back and forth between Bella and me. She looks worried, of course. Always worried, always Esme... but unlike a few minutes ago before Bella arrived, I don't care now. At. All. Her overprotectiveness doesn't upset me anymore.
If anything, it is the prospect of having to endure the family dinner that's bothering me; I'm not hungry and I'm not looking forward to long conversations at the table. That's going to be difficult. Because I'm head over heels. Because I'm still thinking about how to lure Bella upstairs to my old childs room and make love to her as soon as possible. Or at least cop a feel... that's what they call it, right? Cop a feel?
Cop. A feel. That's so funny...
I slowly move my hand at Bella's back a little lower and a little sideways towards the curve of her hip. I squeeze lightly and she flinches, almost imperceptibly. A quiet chuckle escapes me, to my own surprise. I'm pretty sure it's earning me another special look from Esme, but I don't care. I still don't care. I keep staring at Bella's back and the ribbon of her apron. I'd really like to give that one loose end a tug right now, and then maybe...Cop. A feel.
I know I'm acting weird. I'm not focused, not 'on track'... and amazingly, I couldn't care less. If Bella hadn't reminded me, I would have forgotten dinner and my parents altogether. I would have acted like a stupid child with no upbringing whatsoever, all social skills and sense of responsibility out the window, and I honestly couldn't care less! Am I being selfish? I just don't care... I am carefree. The thought is hilarious somehow and I laugh out loud.
Oops. All eyes on me.
"What's so funny, darling? Care to share?"
It's Always-Worried-Always-Esme who's asking, clearly confused now.
"I'm sorry... or... no, I'm not." I don't care! What is wrong with me? I guess it's just that... "I'm feeling good, is all." Again, I snort with laughter. They must think I'm not in my right mind.
Esme's face is a battlefield of conflicting emotions, as if she doesn't know herself whether to be amused or irritated. And if she doesn't know herself, then how should I? I quickly avert my gaze; there's no use in even trying to read her. Seems I'm not the only one acting weird today.
Esme is looking as bewildered by Edward's hilarity as I'm feeling. I have no idea what he can possibly find so funny about this situation. Also, I wish he would stop touching me so conspicuously, while I'm trying to make a reasonably dignified appearance in front of his mom. Who, by the way, is just now scrutinizing me as if I were the one responsible for his out of line behavior. Well, maybe I am, but Jeez...
There's a throat clearing, and from the corner of my eye I see Carlisle stepping up behind Esme. He is smiling as he addresses Edward, "Your mother and I are happy you're feeling good. Well, that was the whole point of my little trip, wasn't it? But now - I don't know about everyone else, but I'm starving, so..."
"Oh, sure!" Esme snaps out of her unusual state of confusion. "Bella, I hope you're hungry? Of course you are, what with my husband kidnapping you right out of work. It looks like he didn't even leave you a chance to change. If you'd like to wash up quickly, the bathroom is... well... still where it used to be – how silly of me! You know where the bathroom is."
Did she just wrinkle her nose? Really? Or did I imagine it?
"I do. Thanks." I say, unable to keep the tinge of acid out of my voice. In reaction to my barely concealed dismay, Edward steps even closer to me and starts rubbing my back. I turn around to him, peel his hand off of me and give it a little squeeze. "I'll be back in a minute," I assure him, just in case he is already contemplating following me to the bathroom.
He gives a nod and smiles at me, seemingly at ease with everything. So I straighten myself, direct a polite smile at both Esme and Carlisle, and then hurry down the hallway to where I remember the small guest bathroom is.
Once I make it inside and bolt the door, I slump down and exhale a long breath. Even though noone did me any harm, I suddenly feel defeated. My pink armor and stitched-on crest have transformed into a cheap apron and a simple name tag again. They've lost their magic power and my morale is oozing away. I feel shabby. I don't belong here. This is going to be a long evening.
As soon as Bella is gone, Esme starts to bustle. She ushers Carlisle and me to our places at the round dining table, where she adamantly orders us to sit down side by side. Then she disappears in the kitchen where I can hear her telling Kaure, our Brazilian maid, that we're good to go now. She returns, only to excuse herself once again, saying she'll be right back. And off she goes again. Which leaves me and Carlisle.
This is uncomfortable, and compulsively, I drop my gaze to the table-cloth and start counting leaves and stitches again. In no time, my carefree mood has switched to an unpleasant tension. I really don't want it to be this way. I don't want to feel this way. Carlisle deserves so much better.
It's always been like that, and I never figured out why. Carlisle has always been nothing but kind and patient. Never did he do anything to deserve my irrational rejection. And I know it saddens him. I know. But even after what he did today, I seem to be unable to talk to him.
Eleven stitches... five up to the middle, each of them a little longer than the one before...
I WANT to talk to him, but I can't.
Take a break at No 6, the longest stitch... breathe...
I did talk to him in front of the house though and it was good. It really was.
Seven, eight, nine, ten... I looked him in the eyes and he understood, and he brought Bella here.
Eleven... one leaf down... onehundred and nineteen more to go, approximately...
He brought Bella here, because he understood.
One, two, three, four... STOP!
Open your mouth and -
What to say?
Doesn't matter. Just speak.
Bella's sandwich trick... don't think... ONE... just count... TWO... and then... THREE... speak:
"Sir, I -"
"Edward..." he stops me with a sigh, but I can hear the smile in his voice. "Do we have to go there again? It's Carlisle, please, not Sir. Alternately, you could call me Dad, but I guess that's out of the question."
"Carlisle." Well, that wasn't too difficult. But his interruption has knocked me off course. I'm stuck again. I curl my fingers into tight fists to keep them from grazing the oh so tempting embroidery, but my eyes are still roaming its perfect and calming order. I need to look at something else. Now.
I turn my head, slowly, and my eyes find the center of Carlisle's chest. Not good enough; I know, I know... He is waiting patiently, like always. He never pushed me; he's always been patient. And he's always been sad.
I lift my head and find my safe spot to look at above his shoulder. It feels like I can't breathe right, like there's not enough air in my lunges to speak. My heart is pounding, and it's like thunder in my ears. All I can manage is a weak whispering, but I say the one thing I truly want him to know.
"Carlisle, I'm really sorry." I take a wheezing breath, and my eyes drop to his chest again.
Carlisle turns on his chair to look at me. "There's nothing to be sorry for, son. I really didn't mind picking up Bella. And it was absolutely my pleasure, I assure you."
He doesn't understand. I need to... "It's not about today." I start feeling dizzy with the lack of oxygen. "It's about everything... all that time... from when you took me in... you and me... I'm sorry."
"Oh God...," he whispers almost inaudibly. Even though I know it's just my messed up breathing, it seems to me that all the air has been sucked out of this room. But I still need to say one thing.
"I want to try... I WILL try to be better, S... Carlisle," I stammer, and I mean it. From the bottom of my heart, I mean it. I want to be better with Carlisle, and I'm starting right now. I force myself to lift my head and face my adoptive father, eye-to-eye.
"Edward," he says. His smile is gone, replaced by an expression I cannot read. I never was any good at reading Carlisle anyway... didn't practice enough. I make it for like five seconds before I have to fixate my gaze on his chest again. Five seconds, that's a start. It's longer than when I did it outside, earlier today. It's not good enough, but it's a start. Breathing gets easier.
Carlisle reaches out with his arm and stops midway, his hands hovering over my shoulder. "Edward, may I touch you?" he asks softly.
I want to be better, so this has got to be a yes. But I'm done speaking; I need to focus on breathing for now, so I can only nod. And then I freeze. Stiff as a statue, I brace myself for his touch. And when it comes, it's as much as I can do to not flinch. Carlisle just puts his hand on my shoulder and lets it rest there for a moment. It's not that bad. Not bad at all. His hand is warm; I can feel it through my shirt.
He gives my shoulder a little squeeze and says, "You have no idea how proud you're making me."
No, I don't. But I remain silent, reveling in the feeling of his hand on me. Its warmth and its weight calm me down a great degree. I never would have guessed.
"You've always made me proud," he adds and squeezes my shoulder once more. "You have gained so much; watching you learn and grow up and become the man you are now was a blessing and pure joy. Don't be sorry, Edward. There's no reason to be. I would do it all again if I was given the choice, and I would love you just the same."
I'm glad he's touching me, so I don't need to look into his eyes or answer him with words. I can talk to him with my body instead. I lift my shoulder and tilt my head until my cheek is resting on Carlisle's hand. This comes surprisingly easy to me.
"I love you, son," he whispers. In reply, I slowly rub my cheek against the back of his hand. He squeezes my shoulder again, I close my eyes, and then we both keep still.
That's how Esme finds us.
I finally pull myself together and get up from where I've been sitting on the tile floor with my back against the door. I walk over to the sink, peeling myself out of the now useless apron on the way. The liquid soap in the elegant dispenser on the wall smells like vanilla. I remember that smell and how that porcelain thing once made me feel special and elegant myself when I used it. Now it only adds to my feeling of misplacement.
"Nothing wrong with the simple bar of soap in my own bathroom," I assure my reflection in the mirror. "Makes those fingers squeaky clean all the time!" I start washing my hands almost angrily before I splash my heated face with cold water a few times. I'm not wearing make up or mascara or anything, so I don't worry about that.
Looking up, I watch the rivulets drip down off my face and into the sink for a few seconds. I'm about to start episode two of 'Bella Swan: The Mirror Monologues,' but just when I open my mouth, there's a knock on the door, followed by Esme's voice.
"Bella, are you done? Can I come in for a second?"
Well, seems I'll have to get by without giving myself a decent pep talk. "Just a moment, please," I answer and grab a towel to dry off my face. I unbolt the door, and in comes a shy looking Esme, a pile of clothing on her arms. She smiles at me apologetically. There's nothing left of her earlier judging attitude, no more hint of the mild but noticeable resentment towards me.
"I'm sorry, Bella," she indeed apologizes, "I didn't mean to sound so... presumptuous. I was just a little nervous, what with Edward having an anxiety attack and all. It was the first in months, and it was basically because of you, so..."
"That's ok. I think we're all a little nervous, aren't we?"
Esme seems genuinely relieved, and so am I. This is the woman I'm familiar with, the one I used to think of as the mother I didn't have. It's the Esme I like and, more important, the Esme who likes me. Within a moment, I feel more comfortable.
"And to be perfectly honest, I'm still surprised how things between you and him have developed so quickly and... so, yes... well, I guess I really wasassuming things, and I'm sorry."
"I would never do anything to harm him." I love him.
Esme doesn't look entirely convinced, but she nods her head yes and leaves it at that.
"Look," she says and starts to lay down the clothes she brought on the vanity, "I hope you don't take offense. I just thought, maybe you'd feel more comfortable wearing something fresh for dinner, since my husband apparently didn't think of driving by your place so you could change after your long hours of work. That's why I brought these. You and I are about the same size, so... if you'd like?"
"That's very thoughtful of you, thank you." I have to admit I'd really like to get out of my sweaty t-shirt, the sooner the better. I take a look at the displayed garments; there are a few blouses and even a tailored dress. Everything looks expensive. And very pretty. "Are you sure it is ok for me to borrow your clothes?"
"Absolutely," Esme beams at me, "I'd love for you to wear them. Please take what you like. I'll leave you alone now; I need to check on Kaure... make sure she doesn't mess up our meal. See you in a minute?"
"Sure. Thanks again."
I wait until she has closed the door behind her before I dare to inspect the clothes more closely. The dress is really beautiful; it's a black, woolen shift dress with an inserted piece of sheer fabric around the shoulders. Too bad I have to rule it out, but it doesn't exactly match the sneakers I'm wearing.
I choose the blue satin blouse instead, just because I think it's the most casual thing that is there and will look ok with my jeans, too. Sure as hell, it is still a designer piece and handwoven of insanely expensive imported silk, and I just hope I won't spill sauce on it or something. I bolt the door again, strip off my t-shirt and, following a sudden impulse, thoroughly wash my armpits above the sink before I put the blouse on.
It's a very loose fit. About the same size, Esme? Wishful thinking, much? I snicker quietly. But it's incredibly soft on my skin and the color is really pretty and quite flattering. It looks even sexy in a subtle way if I leave the top three buttons open. Nice!
Exited by the idea that Edward would see me dressed well for a change, I feel my confidence rising. I take the brush that's lying on the narrow shelf under the mirror and start working my hair until it's shining. Given I'm in the guest bathroom, I guess it is ok to use the brush. Or is it not? There's a cosmetic purse, too. Maybe Esme has just put things here so she doesn't have to go upstairs every time she needs to freshen up?
Whatever... this is an emergency, sort of. A girl must do what a girl must do, and I'm sure she won't even notice. I open the small purse and look inside. Just like I expected, there's everything a girl needs to do what she must do. But a little mascara is all I take; I don't want to look painted. And well, I don't want Esme to recognize her own lipstick color. Just in case.
When I'm done with my lashes and look at my reflection, I can't help but smile – I'm looking good. A little pale but good. Having a sudden Emily Brontë moment, I pinch my cheeks a few times. I move my face closer to the mirror to check on the effect, but instead of a nice rosy shade I can only see the quickly fading imprints of my thumbs and index fingers. I don't know what disappoints me more – the poor result of it or the fact that all those romantic classics were lying?
Doesn't matter; this is still the best I've looked since Edward's return, and I'm ready for dinner. Thanks, Esme. I fold my shirt and apron and put them on the window sill, making a mental note to not forget them when I'll leave. And now...