"Are you sure you don't want me to wait?" Tanya asks me for the fifth time. And for the fifth time I assure her that yes, I'm fine, and she can close the store and go upstairs.
6:15 p.m. She has waited too long already.
"Ok," she surrenders with a sigh. "But if he doesn't show up and you need a cab or a place to wait for the next bus, just ring the bell. I don't like the idea of you waiting here outside in the dark and cold. I should kick his cute ass for standing you up, I mean, what the hell?"
"He will come, Tanya. But thank you."
I know my smile isn't really convincing, but Tanya lets it rest. "Ok, see you tomorrow."
When she's gone, I sit down on the doorstep and get out my cell phone. I don't know if Edward has replaced his broken phone yet, but then I realize it doesn't matter anyway because I don't even have his number.
I can't believe he's not coming. Maybe he got stuck in the traffic? Or is he still upset... too upset to keep his promise to pick me up? He wouldn't do such a thing, or would he? But I don't understand what made him distraught in the first place, so I can't be sure.
No, this is ridiculous. He wouldn't stand me up like that. Something must have happened.
The thought sends a chill down my spine. I can't wait here any longer, knowing with sudden certainty that he really isn't coming. Not because he changed his mind, but because he can't.
Something must have happened.
Fighting back the sudden nausea, I rise to my feet and move. If I run really fast, I can still catch the 6:35 bus.
Music is reliable. My piano is reliable, now that I've fixed the treble C. And it was easy to fix. My fingers are leading an independent existence on the keys, as if they didn't need any cerebral commands. They know music; they know the rules.
… they know the song... Bella's song... the new one... a tripping arpeggio...
My fingers know the rules of how to break the rules and how to un-break them again. Sequences, patterns, waves, air in motion. I don't need to pay attention; I just let go and let my body take over. It is safe to give up control because music is trustworthy. And while drops and waves and layers of sound fill the room, I can think.
Music is trustworthy; people are not.
I wish everything in life was as easy as music. Actually, I mistakenly thought it was as easy the first day when I got Bella back. But it isn't. With the things happening these days, there's no doing the math.
… an ascending sequence of open fifths... anticipating the main theme...
There are no chromatic signs to keep you from going astray, to keep you safe. Not even with Bella, no-more-Easybella. Maybe if I could understand love like I understand music, but I don't.
...ritardando... breathing silence...
There's no axis of abscissas to find your place, no formula to predict the results of your actions. No rules, no safe ground. Everything is floating, and what was bliss on one day turns into a mess on the next.
… A minor seventh chord... crescendoing quarters...
I know how to be a musician, but I don't know how to be a man.
I'm playing the song I composed in my head when I was with Bella last night, but I notice it has changed. Where's the sweet cadence gone? Broken chords, broken rules... there's no going back. I wish I could find words to go with the melody.
I've never felt like my music is lacking lyrics before, but now I do. Words that could give shape to Bella's tune for everyone to understand the lovedliness I'm in.
Is that even a word, lovedliness? Is it?
There's a faint layer of flickering light chains weaving itself through the solid grid construction that is Bella's song in my mind, like meanings behind meanings behind meanings.
I gasp and stop playing. I try to get a hold of this additional dimension, but the delicate patterns fade away along with the dance of lights as the sound dies down.
With a sigh, I slowly lower my hands until they rest on my thighs. I can feel the goose bumps under my palms, and I shiver as I notice the chill that has crept in through my bare feet on the cold floor and has now consumed my whole body.
How long have I been playing in the nude? How long has it been since I came home and shed all of my clothes in a frenzy to get rid of that sticky feeling of failure? It was still daylight when I washed the dried sperm off my belly. It is dark now. It must be late.
After the shower I went straight to my piano. And then I played. And I calmed down. That's all I remember. How late is it? And why do I even want to know? Time doesn't matter when I'm playing; it doesn't even exist...
The muffled sound of my new cell ringing from somewhere under the heap of clothes on the floor reminds me that I still have to put them in the washer, or they will soon reek of soured milk and... cum. I don't even want to touch the stained clothes again, but I have to, if only to silence the phone which is starting to give me a headache. I haven't found the time to change that default ringtone yet.
I'm really cold now. I need to put some clothes on. And I should drink something; my mouth is so dry.
Just a minute...
I can't find it in me to get up from the piano bench. Not yet. I close my eyes and wait for the ringtone to stop. After an eternity, it does.
I'm feeling anxious all of a sudden, as if I'm missing something really important. But I cannot figure out what it is. My mind is so screwed up these days. It can't be the laundry... or the phone. It's probably Esme calling. I don't want to deal with either of it. Maybe I should sleep.
Sleep sounds like a really good idea right now. I pull my feet up, let myself fall to one side and curl into a ball on the piano bench. The leather makes a smacking sound, as it separates from my butt cheeks after what I realize must have been hours. My arms hold my knees against my chest and I drift off quickly. It doesn't even bother me when my phone starts ringing again.
I'm back. It was a dreamless sleep, absolute darkness, absolute silence, and it was much needed. Without opening my eyes, I get my bearings effortlessly. It takes me two seconds to remember where I am, and another two seconds to notice what has changed while I was sleeping.
One jar of jelly...
two jars of jelly...
This is my place. I'm still on my piano bench. I'm still in that fetal position and I'm still naked.
three jars of jelly...
I'm no longer cold.
I'm wrapped up in what must be my comforter, judging from the feel and smell of it. The bottom is folded around my feet and ankles, and the sides are firmly stuffed under my knees and my back to leave the cool no way to creep inside this cocoon.
four in my belly...
I'm no longer alone.
She doesn't stir or make any sound; I feel rather than hear her breathing. But I sense her presence like one would sense the coming of spring. The air is different with her in the same room, sweeter... and charged with some sort of energy. Breathing is easier. Moving is easier. She even changes gravity.
She floods the room with lovedliness. It has to be a word!
"Bella," I whisper, and open my eyes.
"Fuck!" comes her muttered response as she tries to untangle her legs and scoot over to me from where she's been sitting on the floor, cross-legged. I giggle at her awkward struggling, which earns me a glare.
"My fucking legs have gone dead," she huffs.
And then she's there - brown eyes, blushed cheeks and all – with her breath fanning over my face. I wiggle one arm free from underneath the thick comforter and our hands find each other like magnets.
"Are you okay, Edward? I was worried sick!"
I take a moment to process what she's saying. I'm feeling much better. I'm feeling really good now, actually. I nod my head yes and smile at her. It's a whole-body smile, tingling down the back of my throat and warming me from the inside of my stomach. I'm just so happy that she's here.
She exhales a long breath. "You were so cold when I found you, lying here in the nude and sleeping like a baby."
"How did you get in here?" My voice is croaky. I remember being thirsty before I fell asleep. I still am.
What? This is the third floor! She cannot -
"Just kidding," she smiles and squeezes my hand. "I have a key. My ex-husband used to do a bit of a janitor's job here, and I still have emergency keys to every apartment. I hope you don't mind that I let myself in? I was really worried about you."
Why does she keep saying that? "I was just sleeping."
"Yes, I can see that. And I'm really, really glad that you're okay."
Her smile is getting gauzy, like something she has just put on to cover... something else... a sadness? I don't like it. A small fragment of memory is coming unstuck in my mind, a puzzle piece of sorts that has gone missing, and I don't like it.
It falls and tumbles towards its destination, and the closer it gets the more it makes my stomach turn.
"Edward, you promised me we would talk tonight, to explain to me why you were so upset. I waited for you at the drugstore..."
The tile clicks into place before she even finishes speaking and the rush of adrenaline flooding my system would knock me off of my feet if I weren't lying down already.
"... but you didn't come."
I hardly hear her last words over the increasing white noise in my ears, as the sequence of events rushes through my mind at a nauseating speed and high pressure, like through a bottleneck, and in reverse order.
Fatigue... my phone ringing... a song that asked for words... piano playing... I tuned the C, still wet from the shower... my sticky clothes on the floor... crying in the car on my way home... leaving Bella at the drugstore... "When shall I pick you up?"
I didn't... I forgot to pick her up... I forgot the time while I was playing... I forgot...
I'm on my feet in a split second, breaking out in cold sweat at the realization of my failure. The comforter slips off of me. I stagger and in the hasty attempt to steady myself I land the flat of my hand on the lower keys.
Bella's shriek mixes with the thundering piano sound. She rises to her feet and slings her arms around my torso in one quick move. I hold on to her desperately, knowing I've messed up badly.
Please, how can I fix this?
"Oh God, Bella, I'm so sorry, so sorry... oh God..."
Is there any way to fix this?
"Please... " I beg.
God, I want to undo this!
"Shhh... calm down, Edward. It's okay. I'm here." Her hands are on my face and in my hair, stroking, soothing... "Look at me, love. I'm here. Nothing bad has happened. Breathe, okay?"
I breathe. I look at her. I calm down a bit.
"That's it," she whispers.
I am sick with love and regret and unable to tell her how I feel right now. This is a new degree of self-loathing, even for an expert in feeling out of place like me. I don't think there are even words to express the helpless misery I'm in. Or maybe...
"Asshole," I croak out. "I am an asshole."
"No, you aren't," she says firmly.
She moves a bit backwards, and I tighten my grip instinctively. I can't let her go; I can't lose her. But then I understand that she wants us to sit down. My body understands... just sit down, that is all. And so we do. Without breaking our touch, we sink down on the bench.
With one hand still cradling my cheek, Bella bends down and picks the comforter up off the floor. She tucks it loosely around my hips and legs, and I feel like crying about the way she cares for me, when I just failed her so badly... multiple times in just one day.
"I'm so sorry," I repeat myself for lack of anything smarter to say. "If there is a way to fix this, please... I would do anything..."
"Stop it, Edward," she cuts in. "I'm not mad at you. And you are not an asshole."
She pulls my head towards her until my face is nestled in the crook of her neck. Her body is working the Easybella medicine on me. Her warmth, her scent, her heartbeat. I start to relax under her touch, even though I still feel like a piece of crap, and rightfully so.
"Well, maybe you were being a bit of an asshole when you kept me waiting for you without any clue what was going on," she continues. "And if you want to fix this..."
God yes, that's what I want, a thousand times yes!
"... you could start by explaining to me what I did wrong and why you were so unhappy today."
I raise my head and take a deep breath; I don't hesitate. "It wasn't anything you did, not really. When we were in the car and -"
She cuts me off by putting her index finger on my mouth.
"Before you tell me everything - and you will tell me everything, right?"
I nod eagerly. Everything. Anything. I love you, Bella.
"Your lips are chapped," she mumbles and her finger grazes my bottom lip. "Okay. I don't know what you did all afternoon, but you are kind of dehydrated and you're freezing and to be honest, you scared the shit out of me when I saw you lying here. I thought you were sick."
I shake my head no, and she smiles and takes both my hands in hers. They are much too small to cover my long fingers, but it feels like their clasp is keeping me from falling apart regardless.
It scares me how much I love her.
"Anyway... before you start, what about we sit down in your kitchen and fetch ourselves something to drink? And you should put some clothes on."
I don't like the idea of more fabric between us, but yes, I guess I should put something on. Especially if it is part of the fix-this-deal. And I'm really thirsty, too. She is right; I'm dehydrated.
But I'm having trouble letting go of her. Like she could disappear while I'm dressing. And it would be my own fault, right? I forgot her... again!
What is wrong with me? I just got her back after I had forgotten her for years, and I did it again. Maybe I deserved to lose her.
I know I'm being ridiculous; somewhere in the back of my mind I know. But the thought is hard to fight back. Haven't I proven today that even now I am incapable of doing right by her?
What if something had happened to her while she was waiting for me? Oh God...
"Edward, you are not going to panic now, are you?"
Yes, I am. Fuck! Focus! I look down at our joined hands, my life-line. I know I'm being irrational, but I cannot let go yet. In a minute, maybe...
Bella sighs. "I'm here, love. I won't go anywhere."
She gets me; she still gets me. She always does. The relief makes me dizzy.
"Okay? Little Green?"
My secret name!
"Would you feel more at ease if I take my clothes off, too?"
Oh God, yes...
Without letting go of my hands, she gets up from the bench. "Come on, let's get some liquid into this beautiful body of yours and then we'll take this conversation to your bedroom. What do you say?"
What do I say?
I want to say a thousand times yes. I want to say thank you. I still want to say 'I'm sorry' over and over again, even though I know she doesn't want to hear that. I want to say that I love her.
I want to say so many things, but that's when I realize that she really isn't leaving. And everything she needs to know right now and everything that needs to be explained comes down to three words.
They are unexpected, but when they leave my mouth, they feel like the most important thing I ever said...
"I trust you."