22. Ramus Pomifer

+.+.+.++.+.+.+

Bright as ever flows the sea,

Bright as ever shines the sun,

But alas! they seem to me

Not the sun that used to be,

Not the tides that used to run.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

+.+.+.++.+.+.+

The sky falls. The earth moves.

Shifting sands, moving plates, the friction of stones and fault lines and the thundering crashes of felled trees. Every sound carries the timbre of my mother’s voice.

Shadows in the sky twist and dance across the violent landscape as I stand atop the rubble of a crumbled ivory tower. My heart is hot in my chest, brutally beating chaotic rhythms against the paper flesh of my neck, my wrists, my inner thigh.

The groans of a dying world echo in my bones like a dirge as, from somewhere deep within the chamber of my chest, a sharp and steady ache cruelly pushes its way to the surface.

+.+.+.+

The days at Au Chien Pèlerin bleed together, swiftly forming into a ribbon of backbreaking work and the unfamiliar company of Ilse and her family. Gone are the polished angles of Manhattan, the closetful of soft fabrics and echoes of whispers between art-adorned walls in cavernous modern apartments. I move through each hour in an odd languor, sleeping and eating and working as I wait for the walls of the Lethuillier’s chambre d’hote to become more familiar.

Each morning is the same: I wake to the chill of dawn and the cold wooden floor beneath my bare feet, dressing myself with mechanical motions and avoiding the sight of my own pale reflection in the antique bedroom mirror. I move through the house, descending the back stairs like a specter in the dawn.

The days are spent following Laurent around the property, moving in and out of the grey stone outbuildings as he acquaints me with the rhythm of the farm. The coveralls he’s provided for me smell of manure and sweat and everything that is not the life I’ve left behind, allowing me to step outside of my own skin to shed the past like an afterthought.

He acts as though I am equal parts a help and a nuisance to him, flippantly introducing me to the five Vigny brothers as a pet of his grandmother’s before forbidding them from using their time to flirt with me.

“I speak French, you know,” I tell him after the young men disappear to begin their work.

“Perfect. Then I will not have to repeat myself.”

There is an easy synchrony between Laurent and the estate; his existence is woven into it as surely and as seamlessly as the warp and weft yarns of a tapestry. He moves with quick, light steps, his rangy limbs and broad shoulders exuding the confidence of one born to the land, his calloused fingers occasionally ceasing their work to pet Sascha the hound, to scratch one of Ilse’s goats behind its ears, or to quickly stroke one of the several dozen cats that roam insouciantly about the property.

A few times, I have looked up from my work to catch him watching me, his features furrowed into a thoughtful frown.

This morning, however, he catches me.

Bonjour, little stray,” he calls, grinning once he sees me watching him from behind the warped glass of the mud room window. “Come outside and sing for your supper.”

+.+.+.+

Years before and an ocean away, a brisk breeze dances across the Potomac, whipping impatiently against Horus’ sails and pulling my hair into long, wild ribbons around my face. My father frowns as I try to tame the errant locks with my hands.

“Ilse should have put your hair up,” he sighs.

“I didn’t want it braided.”

“Then pull it out of your face so you can see.”

“I don’t have a hairband.”

“Here.” He reaches beneath one of the seats, pulling out a battered straw weave hat. “It’s your mother’s.”

“I don’t want it.”

“Then you won’t learn how to sail.”

Grudgingly, I take the offered hat, sloppily tucking my hair beneath the band.

“The trick is to know your lines,” my father digresses, gesturing to the line clutch. “Do you remember what this one is for?”

“Main sail halyard?”

“No, it’s one of the reefing lines. Now answer this one what do we do before we raise the mainsail?”

“Find the wind,” I answer.

He gives me a small smile and looks away, pointing us into the breeze.

+.+.+.+

At the end of each day, my muscles tremble with fatigue as I struggle to keep up with Laurent’s long strides. The only sounds are the panting of the ever-present Sascha and the syncopated rhythm of our footsteps against the dirt lane on our way back to the house. I am exhausted and filthy, but the pangs of my tired body are a welcome distraction from the gnawing ache behind my lungs that I am not ready to acknowledge.

The sun diminishes into a small, brilliant brush of marigold against the deepening indigo sky as the animals of Au Chien Pèlerin quiet and settle. Sturdy brown cows plod to their stalls inside the old stone barn as hens disappear into their roosts. Even the barn cats grow silent, their daytime yowling abandoned for the stealth of nocturnal hunting.

But as the farm’s sounds fade into nighttime silence, the inside of Au Chien Pèlerin comes alive, its walls splashed with warm light and the conversations of Ilse’s guests. Rich smells of supper permeate the ground floor, and we are all seated around the long dining room table as Caroline makes the necessary introductions. Beside me, Laurent grows animated with the company, sharing stories and laughing at others’ anecdotes as Ilse looks on in approval.

I nod and smile when appropriate, pushing away memories of other, more formal parties Edward’s brash young profile as he moved through a crowd of his parents’ friends; the sight of Tanya Denault’s slim, manicured fingers resting lightly on his arm at the Liberty Ball.

What would the Kingmaker say if he could see his daughter clad in dirt- and manure-stained coveralls? What would Edward think if he saw this prim, pretty thing clumsily wielding a pair of Laurent’s pruning tools?

The ache intensifies, a canker in my chest, and so I smile and do not think of the men I’ve left behind.

+.+.+.+

My mother’s hands are smooth and and clean and cold, her palms like flat stones against my skin as she cradles my cheeks, her full lips curved into a smile as she looks down into my face. She is close enough that I can see the pores beneath her fine powder, the stray hairs that escape from her coif, and the slight flare of her nostrils as we pose. The air smells of perfume and perspiration beneath the late afternoon sun as a photographer named Jamison shoots the Swan family’s annual portraits on the back lawn.

Over the clicking of his shutter, I can hear my father from where he stands behind Jamison. His tone is severely professional.

“Who was it?” my mother asks as he disconnects the call.

Click. Click.

“Buchanan’s people,” he answers, handing the phone off to his aide.

“Mrs. Swan, I’m sorry to interrupt, but if you could face your daughter again…”

She complies, but her eyes are not on me. “What do they want?” she demands from behind her smile.

“He’s thinking about ’96.”

“What did you tell them?”

He ignores her, coming to stand beside us. “Pretty girl,” he says kindly, chucking me lightly under the chin. “How are we doing, Jamison?”

“Great, sir,” the photographer dutifully answers. “You have a beautiful family. Now, if you two could face me… I’ll have you move Isabella to stand in front of you…”

I am placed perfectly in the center, standing up straight and baring my teeth in a smile. Side by side, my parents place a hand on each of my shoulders.

“I hope you’re not going to waste your time nursing every GOP evangelical windbag who thinks he has a chance,” my mother hisses.

“Renee,” my father says quietly, and it is a warning.

Click. Click. Click.

Jamison smiles at me from behind his camera. “Relax your face, Isabella.”

“Don’t treat it like it’s none of my concern, Charles. If I’m going to help you with your precious donors-”

Renee.”

Silence.

Several seconds pass in which we remain in place, posed and frozen as the shutter clicks away. I smile and ignore the feel of my mother’s hand, smooth and clean and cold, as her fingers tense against my skin.

When the session is over, Jamison shakes my father’s hand and tells him once again what a perfect family we are, but there is pity in his eyes as he says goodbye.

+.+.+.+

“Five hectares and a thousand trees,” Laurent informs me proudly. Excitement crackles around him as we walk through the shadows of the orchard rows, the bare winter branches stretch above us, pregnant with the promise of a coming harvest. “Four kinds of apples, though we use only the bittersweet and acidic for the calvados.”

“What are calvados?”

“Apple brandy. It is our livelihood.”

“How?”

“Tourists,” he shrugs. “Do you know the history of this village?”

“A bit.”

“Then you know of its importance in the Second World War. The invasion, John Steele, the church parachute…” He rolls his eyes at my shrug. “You will find out soon enough, I suppose. Tourists come, they see they farm, tour the orchards, taste our calvados, and then go home to order more.”

“Where do you make it?”

“The distillery is up there, to the north of us. We age it there as well. We will hire more workers to help us in the spring, but for now…” he gestures around us. “There are only a few of us.”

I look around and frown; the stately symmetry of the tree lanes is offset by the presence of several grazing cows. “A few of us, including the livestock?”

“Yes cows, or goats. They gobble down worm-filled fruit as soon as it hits the ground. Now, see this?” He reaches up to grab one of the central tree limbs. “The trunk Le leader centrale. When we prune, we must leave that branch to be the highest so that it will keep the shape of the tree.”

“What do we prune them with?”

He walks around to the back of the truck. “For now, you will use this.” He produces something resembling a cross between a weed-eater and a large scythe. “Faites gaffe,” he says, slapping my hand away as I reach for it. “You will kill us both if you do not wait to learn.”

I will not admit that my pride stings more than the skin on my hand. “I might learn faster if you stopped treating me like a child.”

“You are a child,” he laughs, shouldering the pruning tool as he walks toward one of the trees.

“Don’t fucking laugh at me,” I snap.

“Why not?” Laurent asks, stopping in his tracks and turning to face me.

“It’s rude.”

“It is not rude if you are being funny.”

I glare at him, my jaw clenching of its own volition.

“Begin then,” he says with a sigh. “I will wait.”

“Wait for what?” I demand.

“You are going to do… what is it called a tantrum. Like a little child.” He waves his hand dismissively in my direction. “I will wait until you are done.”

“Fuck you,” I spit.

But he only nods, gesturing toward the trees behind him. “Good. Come, now there is work to do.”

My humiliation simmers, a burning rock in my gut at his nonchalance. I remember the long-gone luxury of rousing Edward’s anger, watching as his aggravation unfurled itself in red banners beneath his cheekbones and the clenching of his fists. I was a goddess then, holding his rage in the palm of my hand as our pulses galloped to the rhythm of our ragged breathing.

And now, I am a farmhand with only the detachment of an insolent French orchardist for company.

Where has the power of Ammut the Destroyer gone to? I wonder. Where is Athena the Huntress?

Isabella,” Laurent calls again. “You may pout, or you may work, but you cannot learn if you do not watch. Now come, and give me your angry looks later.”

Weak, something inside me hisses indignantly as the anger breaks, falling away from the empty spaces in my chest as I grasp at my pique, willing it to return as my mind hisses, Do something, do something! This isn’t who you are.

But both the fire and the ice are gone now, and the power that once lived at my fingertips sits at my feet like a dead, dull stone, its heat faded to a faraway place.

Laurent waits as I stand motionless under barren boughs of the orchard trees, scrutinizing my features with an expectant expression. I finally meet his gaze, and he cocks a brow in an unspoken question.

With a weary sigh, I go to him.

+.+.+.+

“Tell me more about your mother,” Dr. Cope suggests.

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Have you ever met my mother?”

“That’s irrelevant.”

“You have met her. Well then, I’ll tell you what I’m sure you already know: she’s perfect. She’s the perfect wife. The perfect hostess. The perfect political asset.”

“The perfect mother?”

I smile, and my flat voice feels like a scream as I reply, “Of course.”

+.+.+.+

“You are making her nervous,” Laurent mutters impatiently.

“You’re making me nervous,” I snap, glaring into the beady eyes of the hen before me.

“She will not peck you unless she is afraid. She will not be afraid unless you continue to hover over her with your hand stretched into… how do you say in English, griffe?”

I do not tell him that the word he is looking for is ‘claw.’

“I only offered to help with the orchard, you know.”

He shrugs. “We work where we are needed.”

“I hate chickens.”

“And yet, here you are.”

In the nesting box before me, the fat, brown and white hen named Mathilde eyes me suspiciously. I begin to reach beneath her again, flinching again as she moves to strike.

“Omi has spoken of you,” he sighs dramatically. “Brave Little Isabella. How annoying that she has grown up to be bested by a common laying hen.”

Scowling, I hesitate for only a moment before quickly reaching beneath the indignant Mathilde. My fingers close around the warm, smooth surface of the egg, and I withdraw my hand.

“Ouch,” I growl, feeling another sharp peck on my wrist as I pull free.

Laurent grins down at me. “Perfect. Now do the rest of them.”

+.+.+.+

In two days, Paul Strickland will knock on my door, and I will stare at the shiny American flag pin on his lapel as he tells me that my mother is dead. But I do not know that now, because the future is only a shadow on the horizon as Edward’s chest is pressed to mine, his fingers gripping my shoulders as he paints a litany of the profane onto my skin with every panted breath. I like him like this, desperate and needy and rough and I lift up to meet him, tightening, pulsing, pulling him closer and deeper-

He stops.

Cursing, he moves back onto his knees, leaving me cold before lifting me up, pressing me to him as he begins again this time with slow, languid movements.

“Faster.”

He shakes his head. “I’m too close.”

“You’re touching me like I’m a goddamn china doll. I’m not breakable.”

His hands reach, grab, fingers clenching around my hips and yanking me until my back is flush with the front of him. The sheets bunch as he pulls us back to the center of the bed, shoving me down before him and I am prone, biting down on my sheets as he pulls my hips up until my cunt is exposed, naked and wet and wanting. His breathing is ragged and fast and he may be the one crouched behind and above but a glow like victory races through my veins like quicksilver while he’s only a sliver of control away from fucking me like an animal.

“Just… fuck, be easy for once,” he groans, sliding against me.

“Don’t go slow.”

He complies, shoving into me hard, hard, hard enough to hurt but it’s good, it’s the best and I want more. Suddenly I’m moving through the deep, through the dark, through a red haze and an old maze that unfurls like a wrinkled banner and there is no monster here, no blood or victory, there’s nothing but release and freedom and up, up, up until I breach the surface of a faraway sun, gasping as I come. The sound is ugly and sharp.

And then I am limp, flat on my stomach, still breathless as he moves behind me in a painful, reckless rhythm. “You’re not breakable,” he says, over and over and over.

I let him fuck me like a savage until he believes it.

+.+.+.+

Ilse sits with me at the small kitchen table, rubbing salve from an old tin onto my chapped and blistered hands. “Laurent says you have been working as hard as the Vigny boys.”

“He doesn’t give me much of a choice.”

“You do not have to do this, Isabella.”

I shrug, wincing at the tightness of the muscles in my shoulder and neck.

“Well, we must find you some gloves, at least.”

“Laurent said I have to let the skin harden.”

Quoi!He forgets himself. You may work like a farmer, but you are not one.”

“My fingers are starting to callous.”

“I will not let you go back home with the hands of an old man. You will use a pair of mine.”

I freeze at her casual mention of home.

“Why is the house so quiet?” I ask, changing the subject. “I thought Caroline said all the rooms are booked.”

“They are. The quiet it is a rule for our guests. We are loud at supper, and quiet during the day.”

“Why?”

“Among other things, it allows the heart time to catch up to the body.”

“That’s… sentimental.”

“Not sentimental. Practical.”

“I don’t understand.”

She eyes me thoughtfully. “No,” she says slowly. “Perhaps you do not. But I think soon you will. It is why I have told Laurent that he must let you work quietly.”

“He doesn’t.”

She laughs. “I suppose I am not surprised. He has always hated being told what to do.”

“I’ve noticed.”

“Be patient with him, though. He is a kind person, and he seems to like your company.”

“He and his mother both treat me like a child.”

“Laurent still enjoys annoying pretty girls. And Caroline… I cannot speak for her. Perhaps you remind her of her own children smart, and stubborn. You were a very single-minded young girl at times. It is so odd to see you now,” she continues wistfully. “Odd in a delightful way, you must understand… there are still traces of that stubborn little girl, of course, but then there are other times that I see your mother so clearly.”

“I’ve been told I favor my father.”

“You have your father’s coloring, his eyes and hair, but your features this,” she continues, lightly tapping my nose. “It is your mother’s nose, how it turns up just slightly, perfectly. And the shape of your eyes and mouth even the little point in your eyebrows. It is all Renee.”

“I’m not sure that’s a compliment.”

“You are both beautiful women, Isabella. Your mother did what she could.”

“I thought you despised my mother.”

“I did not particularly like her, it is true. But she is a sad woman, not an evil one.”

A mirthless laugh flies from my mouth like a shot. “She isn’t anything, now. She’s dead.”

The silence that follows is suffocating.

“I did not know,” Ilse sighs after a moment. “I am sorry.”

I shrug.

“When did this happen?”

“Three weeks ago.”

Her frown deepens. “Is that the reason you ran away?”

“It’s part of the reason.” Flashes of the old world race through my mind in an instant, images of Edward and leatherbound journals and frozen family portraits. “I needed to leave, and I left.”

“How simple.”

“Yes.”

“Will you go back?”

“I don’t know. I don’t… I need to feel like myself again before I do.”

Across the table from me, Ilse is perfectly still. I study the salve on my fingers as the quiet spans countless seconds.

“Perhaps it would help if you would try to understand your mother.”

“Ilse,” I scoff.

“What she did was not right, but I think with time and-”

“My mother’s choices were her own,” I interrupt coldly. “I’m not a historian, I’m not a psychologist, and I can’t rewrite the past.”

“But can you ever forgive her?”

“Doubtful.”

She smiles sadly. “Perhaps you have more in common with Caroline than you think.”

There is a large crash before I can process her words, the kitchen door opening with a burst as Laurent strides inside, smelling of the barn.

“Here you are,” he exclaims as his eyes land on me. “What are you doing?”

“Her fingers are chapped,” Ilse informs him reproachfully. “You have not given her gloves.”

“Nonsense. Look at her hands they are just beginning to look respectable.”

“You are working her too hard,” she argues.

“It’s fine, Ilse.”

Laurent turns to me, scrutinizing my face. “Perhaps Omi is right. You look like shit.”

“Laurent!”

He rolls his eyes. “I am agreeing with you, Omi. Very well, then. Isabella, go rest.”

“I’m not tired.”

“Go,” he insists.

“You were going to show me how to compost.”

He dismisses me with a flippant wave of his hand. “Matthieu will do it.”

“I’m not going to sleep.”

“Then find something else to do. Happy, Omi?”

Ilse smiles. “You will feel better after resting, Isabella.”

“Yes,” Laurent agrees. “And you will need it we are going into the village tonight.”

“Why?”

“It will be a surprise,” he offers with a wink.

“I don’t like surprises.”

“You will love it.”

“Will I?”

He shrugs. “Perhaps. Or perhaps you will not. Either way, we will leave after supper.”

+.+.+.+

Heavy snow blankets Dartmouth’s stately buildings, gilding each surface with the quiet of winter. In front of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon house, the decades-old trees occasionally snap and groan at the added weight to their branches. The graceful beauty of the property, however, belies the raucous activities that happen within.

“Hey you.”

I look away from the landscape outside the window to the man beside me. Generically handsome, with a clean shirt and speech that isn’t too badly slurred; he isn’t drunk, not yet, but he will be soon.

“Hello.”

“You’re Isabella Swan, aren’t you?”

“Yes.”

“I’m Patrick Donnelly. You having fun?”

“Not really.”

He frowns. “Oh. Sorry?”

“Don’t be. I didn’t expect to.”

“Where’s your date?”

“I’m here alone.”

His eyes brighten. “Can I get you a drink?”

“No, thank you.”

“Oh,” he says again.

All play and no work, I think, makes Jack a bumbling, fumbling idiot.

“You know, your father’s a hero of mine,” Patrick informs me with a smile, blissfully unaware of my disdain.

“Is he?”

“Oh yeah. He’s a big deal around here.”

“So I’ve heard.”

“Were you at the unveiling yesterday?”

“I was.”

“What’d your dad think of the portrait?”

“He loved it,” I answer coolly, remembering the applause of the crowd, the lights of the small stage, the self-satisfied gleam in my father’s eyes as his former Sigma brothers now prominent faculty members unveiled the large, pompous-looking likeness of the Kingmaker.

The same portrait now hangs above the fireplace behind us.

“Cool,” Patrick enthuses, taking another large swallow of his drink.

Yes, I think dryly. Cool.

Patrick stays by my side for most of the evening, leaving only to refill his red Solo cup and coming back to continue telling me about his classes, his parents, his hopes and dreams. I nod and insert the occasional hum as the party rages on around us, pausing to smile stiffly for acquaintances as they drunkenly wield their camera phones.

“So… you don’t drink, huh?” Patrick slurs a little over an hour later, frowning down into his empty cup.

“Not usually, no.”

“Are you religious?”

I smile, feeling the frozen, painted stare of Charles Swan boring into my neck. “Walk me home.”

His eyes widen. “What?”

“I’m tired. I’d like to go home now, and I’d like you to walk me there.”

And then he is an eager puppy, all smiles and helpful hands as he offers to fetch my jacket from the coat closet.

I fuck him, fast, on the floor by a row of wet rain boots, covering his mouth with one hand in an attempt to stifle his groans. The room smells of sweat and feet and the dampness of winter, and I am too aware of the loud conversations on the other side of the door, the wadded condom wrapper still clutched inside my hand, and the desperate, pathetic way he holds onto my hips as I ride him.

“Let me go,” I snap, batting his hands away. “I know how to fuck you.”

My words push him over the edge; he thrusts erratically up, up, up before twitching inside me as he expels a long, low sigh. I feel a wave of triumph in spite of my annoyance as he comes, clueless and sated, brought low for a quickie in a coat closet.

Patrick Donnelly is still lying on the floor, grinning foolishly at me as I straighten my skirt and turn to leave, sober as ever.

“Can I call you?” he asks me breathlessly, his Brooks Brothers trousers pulled down to his knees. His dick is almost comically flaccid against his thigh, the used condom leaking onto his skin. Here is the perfect Sigma Alpha, a future captain of industry, a leader of tomorrow.

“Of course not,” I calmly reply. “Goodnight.”

+.+.+.+

After supper, I climb into the cab of an old white pickup truck with a sign on the door proclaiming it to be the property of Lethuillier Orchards.

“Where are we going?” I ask Laurent again.

“I will give you a hint: it involves drinking.”

“I don’t usually drink.”

“Then I do not think you will enjoy our destination.”

Five minutes later, I am squeezed between Laurent and two of the Vigny boys as Denys, the largest of the brothers, jumps into the bed of the truck. My left thigh is pressed intimately against warm line of Laurent’s leg. As he maneuvers the truck down the lane, I realize that I can smell the clean, crisp scent of his soap.

“Etienne, détends-toi,” Laurent teases, smirking as Etienne Vigny nervously attempts to sit on my right without touching my leg. “She is one of us now, eh?”

Etienne blushes, offering me a shy smile.

I am silent for the short ride, my mind occupied with deciphering the regional patois that colors their rapid-fire french.

“We are here,” Laurent soon announces, nodding to a small corner storefront with Le Neptune Bar emblazoned across the entrance canopy. From within the stone building, I can hear the strains of a lively violin.

“I have shown you how to work as we work,” he continues as the Vigny boys pass us to go inside. “Now I will show you how to drink as we drink.” Seeing my expression, he frowns. “What is wrong?”

“I don’t drink.”

“You are too young to be so severe, Isabella. Enjoy your life come in and tell the world to go away for a little while.”

“One drink,” I concede.

+.+.+.+

“‘There is no knowledge that is not power, my father quotes from behind a stately-looking podium.

It’s a line by Ralph Waldo Emerson that he uses in every speech, innocuous enough until it is imbued with my father’s ambition.

Every word, every move, every look, each handshake and smile and grimace matters. Everything is a move, the product of strategy.

It is exhausting.

It is safe.

+.+.+.+

Laurent buys me a drink.

“Calvados,” he says, handing me my glass as we stand at the bar. I sip the amber liquid, blinking rapidly as the brandy burns down my throat as Laurent watches. “Good?”

I nod, taking another sip. And another.

The snifter empties faster than I expect it to. I look up in time to catch Laurent’s smirk as he watches my expression. “One more?”

“One more.”

+.+.+.+

“Leave your mother alone for a little while,” Ilse cautions me, gently leading me toward the stairs that would carry me away from the spectacle of my mother’s grief, she is too late, too late because the music stops and my mother appears, slurring my name and pulling me into the drawing room to the dulcet tones of Edith Piaf.

“Come in and sit, Isabella,” she says, pushing me toward the sofa. She is beautiful, svelte and elegant in her red cocktail dress as she puts me in my place, a spectator to witness the implosion of her universe.

Un jour cet air me rendra folle

Cent fois j’ai voulu dire pourquoi

Mais il m’a coupé la parole

Il parle toujours avant moi

Et sa voix couvre ma voix…”

“Men only want one thing,” she tells me, her eyes blank as she stares at the portrait of her and my father featured prominently above the fireplace, her vodka loosening her tongue as she waxes on bitterly about the state of men and love.

“And now look where I am,” she sighs, moments before declaring herself ruined and closing her eyes, her brilliance fading into the melancholy glimmer of a dying star.

+.+.+.+

“One more,” I tell the bartender, reveling in the warmth that the brandy has spread through my limbs as I perch on an old barstool. From the table he shares with the Vigny boys a few yards away, I can feel Laurent’s eyes boring into my back.

The small band at the other end of the room is making enough noise for the patrons around me to raise their voices as they engage in conversation with one another, the music and laughter blending into a cacophony of village networking.

Laurent appears suddenly at my side. “How many have you had?” he asks lightly.

“Two.”

“Gilles,” he calls to the bartender. “How many for her?”

Gilles shoots me a cautious glance before looking back to Laurent and holding up four fingers.

“Fuck both of you,” I mutter.

He laughs. “Come sit with us again.”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“You keep starting drinking songs. It’s vulgar. It’s I hiccup.-embarrassing.”

“Embarrassing? You were the only one not singing.”

“I don’t like them.”

“Okay, no more drinking songs. Come sit.”

His large hand almost spans the width of my lower back as he guides me to a seat. “I am sorry that I am not nicer,” I tell him over my shoulder, hating the slur of my words.

“Who wants you nicer?” he laughs, pulling out a chair for me as we arrive at the table. “Matthieu, Denys une autre chanson.

“You said no more drinking songs,” I snap.

But Laurent only laughs at me, standing on our table to begin the opening lines of La Boiteuse.

+.+.+.+

“Tell me what it means,” I demand with a smile, trailing my index finger down Edward’s midline. His even breathing catches as I move past his navel.

“What what means?”

“The words you scratched into your Bösendorfer. Don’t play dumb.”

He rolls his eyes, grabbing my finger before it can move any lower. “Maybe I am dumb. Maybe you fucked me stupid.”

“I didn’t fuck away your memory.” I roll until I am straddling his hips, my breasts pressed against his torso and my mouth on the poetic line of his collarbone. “Tell me,” I insist.

He scowls. “Why do you want to know?”

“Because,” I reply, kissing down his chest as I rub my wetness against his semi-erect cock. “I’m curious.”

“Quid pro quo, then. Tell me something about you.””Haven’t we’ve done this already?”

“Tell me something else.”

With my lips pressed to his chest, he cannot see my scowl. “I asked first.”

“And I don’t want to talk about it.”

Annoyed, I sit up. “You’re being rather difficult tonight.” I lift myself, hovering above his erection. He flinches, shuddering as I drag my nail up the underside of his cock before taking him into my hand, lining him up against me. “Why won’t you give me what I want?”

“Maybe I’m tired of always giving you what you want.”

“Apparently not,” I sigh, sliding down until he is halfway in.

“Someday,” he says roughly, glaring down at where he disappears inside me, “I’m going to stop being so nice to you.”

“Oh, do tell.”

“I mean it. You keep pushing- god-”

I tighten and slide further down, taking him in until there’s nothing left, smiling as his eyes fall shut.

“Not today,” I muse mockingly.

“Not today,” he affirms, and surrenders once again.

I am still sore from him, my muscles burning with fatigue as our hips crash together in a frenzy of friction and heat. His hungry fingers clutch at my flesh and I smirk, fucking him slow and lazy until we both forget the promise of someday still lingering above us.

+.+.+.+

I walk, basking in the bite of the wind as I stare at the sea. The drunken singing of Laurent and his companions echoes from somewhere behind me, but my thoughts are occupied by another man, one with an arrogant laugh and a sharp smile and hair the color of an old penny.

“Isabella!”

I turn to find Laurent loping toward me, barefoot in the cold sand.

“What do you think?” he asks breathlessly, coming to my side to face the sea.

“It’s too dark to see anything.”

“Then trust me when I tell you that it is beautiful.”

I nod, languorous with the remaining effects of the brandy. “Where are the Vignys?”

“Oh.”

He pauses awkwardly, staring out into the distance above the ocean. “I am glad you came with us tonight.”

“How kind of you to bear the company of Ilse’s stray,” I retort.

He throws his head back and laughs, and my eyes take in the tanned, lean lines of his neck.

“A stray that has not lost her claws, I see.”

“Never.”

“How are your hands?”

“They’re fine. I’ll wear gloves tomorrow.”

He nods. “You will need them to finish the composting. If you want to.” He sees my perplexed frown and laughs. “Omi does not want me working you to death. I am trying to be nice.”

“I said I would work, and I will.”

“Why?”

“‘Why?'”

“Why are you here, Isabella? Why does a wealthy American girl come to France to work as a farmhand?”

“It’s not that simple.”

“May I tell you something?” he asks suddenly.

I shrug. “If you want to.”

“Are you familiar with Weißensee?”

“Excuse me?”

“Of course you are not. But perhaps Pankow? Or East Berlin?”

“I’ve heard of them,” I answer warily.

“Americans love to talk about East Berlin and Reagan. They show footage of the Berlin Wall falling and people celebrating, honking horns and waving flags and watching David Hasselhoff dance in a leather jacket.”

“And?”

“Did you know it took the DDR men one night to build the Wall? It ran through the city center, right in front of my grandmother’s front door on the Bernauer Strasse. Omi took her sisters and my mother and ran across before it was finished, before the border guards could detain them. Her husband was shot crossing two days later.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“She met and married my grandfather and came here with my mother a few years later. She doesn’t like to speak of it, of course.”

“Why are you telling me this?”

“Because I thought you might care. You are not the only one who has felt pain, Isabella. There is more than one way to move on.”

Bitterness wells up in my throat, filling my mouth with acid and spilling out like a poisonous spring. “Then I wish to god you would tell me how,” I exclaim harshly. “Since you’re the expert.”

“Not an expert,” he corrects. “Just a friend.”

“Friends,” I scoff. “We’re not friends.”

“Of course we are. I like you. I even like your claws.” He moves closer to me, standing so that I can feel the heat of him against my arm. “You are beautiful as well that helps.”

His words sink in, blending with the brandy and causing a warmth to spread across my skin. “Laurent…”

“Little stray,” he murmurs with a smile, his large hand cupping my jaw, pulling my face toward his as he bends toward me. His lips are cold and dry and chapped by the sun and the wind. It has only been weeks, but the contact is foreign.

The ache in my chest sharpens, and I am suddenly angry that it is even there at all.

I lift my arms, threading them around Laurent’s neck to pull him closer. He makes a noise that sounds like approval, and when he opens his mouth, I do the same.

It all comes back, my aching muscles remembering how to pull and grab and stroke and pet, my skin thrilling at the feel of his fingers. This is what I can do. This is what I’ve mastered.

We are sloppy, languorous with booze and fatigue, and he does not resist when I pull him down to the sand to sit astride him.

He pulls me down to kiss me again, the weight of his hands slowly moving across my shoulders, down my back to cup my ass. I can feel him against me, his erection growing harder between my legs. My hips begin to rub against him in a frantic rhythm.

With a grunt, he rolls us over, his lips moving down my neck and I buck my hips desperately, seeking contact but he doesn’t cooperate, doesn’t settle his hips against me and I growl in frustration.

His fingers are fast, trailing down the front of me, unfastening my jeans and slipping beneath the waistband. My fingers dig into his scalp as he strokes me.

“Okay?” he asks, and I nod and tell him not to stop.

Large fingers rub small circles, and I cannot get enough, I cannot stop or my chest may burst from the pain.

And then his fingers move lower, and I bite at his lips as he slips two inside of me, my eyes clenched shut as I move against him, closer and closer and closer-

“Laurent! Qu’est-ce tu fais?”

Cursing, Laurent stiffens, pulling his fingers away from me as the laughter of Denys and Matthieu comes closer.

Va chier!” he calls back. “Go away.”

They keep their distance, remaining several yards away, but they are close enough for me to see the gestures they make for Laurent’s benefit.

“We can go back to the house,” Laurent says easily, laughing as Denys pretends to fellate a piece of driftwood.

“Just tell them to leave.”

“No, it is just as well. I do not have anything with me.”

I fall back to the sand with a groan of frustration.

“Are you okay?” he asks.

I open my eyes to look at him, the concerned expression etched across his strong features, the relaxed lines of his posture. There is nothing heavy about him, nothing dark or hurt or angry. With the exception of his erection, he looks as if we had just been interrupted in the middle of a handshake.

“I’d like to be alone,” I say flatly.

I can see him in my periphery as he stares at my profile. “I will tell you when we are leaving,” he says after a moment, standing to his feet. He adjusts himself before walking down the beach to the raucous shouting of Denys and Matthieu.

I watch him go, his broad back disappearing into the darkness.

My chest is throbbing, desperate and angry and unsatisfied.

“One of me,” a street bum once declared, his eyes bright with insanity as he laughed at the young girl clinging to Ilse’s hand. “One of the cold ones. Another one of me. Passion! Passion! You’ll die for your passion!”

I watched a young man take a girl in a garden maze, thought him an elegant beast to be brought low, grasped for my triumph at the price of his pride, plucked his plumage to adorn my own wings, chilled him with my touch even as I sought to make him burn.

“I did love you,” Edward told me before walking away, and the slump of his shoulders screamed defeat.

Defeat because I defeated him.

I won, I tell myself with a bitter laugh.

won.

But by the side of a foreign sea, the specter of Edward chases away the warmth of another man’s touch.

The cold one. The luckiest unlucky passionate one.

He haunts me still.

A sharp squall rips across the water and onto the beach, biting through my coat and I shiver and shake as I realize: pain or not, I’ll never be anything but hungry for him.

And trembling, I burn.

+.+.+.++.+.+.+

“Ramus Pomifer” is Latin for apple branch. It was also a constellation located between Lyra and Hercules.


About hollelujah
meh.

17 Responses to 22. Ramus Pomifer

  1. Sue says:

    Thank you so much for creating a contingency plan in case FF gets stupid again! I just love this story!

  2. Sara says:

    I almost die the other day! Thank you so much for posting and for writing this amazing story…as a follower I can’t thank you enough…

  3. SLKerouac says:

    Thank you for continuing this story. I have read from the beginning. Bella is so lost. Will Ilse help her find herself? Will Bella change? Will it be enough for her father and Edward? Keep this story going!!!

  4. TwistStix says:

    Ffn is so anal. I hope I still get updates. This is such a captivating story and I feel there is so much more to tell.

  5. FF pulled this story out? WHY?! This is such an amazing story! I can’t wait to find out what happens next. So happy you posted it here for us readers ^_^

  6. maria says:

    Thank God I found you again. I can’t get enough if these two. I need to know if they reconnect and I need to know NOW!

  7. Anonymous says:

    love your story thank god i found it again ff sucks they keep pulling stories

  8. Adt216 says:

    So thrilled you have found a new hine

  9. Debbie says:

    I had started this story and got sidetracked. When I came back to it, I had to search and luckily found it here. Bella is one messed up girl. Hopefully she will get it together while on the farm. I really don’t want her to become involved with Laurent, although he seems like a nice, laid back guy. Hopefully another chapter will be posted soon.

  10. Katie says:

    I almost had a heart attack when I found out this had been removed from ffn. Glad to be able to keep following E and B and all their craziness here. Here’s hoping for a new chapter soon! 🙂

  11. Anonymous says:

    hi, i think you have a great story. I don’t think any of us want to see it disappear, or just remain unfinished. when can we expect an update?

  12. niuxxxx says:

    Hi, do you plan update??? Fihish it?? This story is incredible. I love it, bb. It is like a breath of fresh air in the stale choking haze of pathetic histories. And now I want to feel my own freedom… And I want my own madness… I want to burn….

  13. It’s been 6 months! When are you going to update??

  14. Sarah says:

    Just re-discovered this, thought it had been left. I see it hasn’t been updated in a long while but I want you to know this is a story that does not leave one’s mind and begs to be completed. Great writing and hope to see a new chapter in the near future?

  15. Julie says:

    Rediscovered your fanfic! I hope your life slows down enough to finish this incredible tale. It took quite a dredging of my memory to remember either the name of the fic or your Fanfic author name. Hollelujah beat the title, in case you care to know. Lovely photos for this story.

  16. Nelly S. says:

    I want more more more more!

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