17: Because She Chose to Turn

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

A single glance: a sudden dart of pain

stitching her eyes before she made a sound…

Her body flaked into transparent salt,

and her swift legs rooted to the ground.

Who will grieve for this woman? Does she not seem

too insignificant for our concern?

Yet in my heart I never will deny her,

who suffered death because she chose to turn.

Anna Akhmatova, “Lot’s Wife”

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

“You’re shivering,” he says quietly.

Because I am cold, I think.

He hears me anyway, thoughtful frown and seeking hands, and encircles my stiff form within his arms.

+.+.+.+

We are two weeks into our month-long stay with the Masens when Ilse tells me our family is moving to the guesthouse.

“Apparently there’s been a family emergency,” she explains. “Some of Mr. Masen’s relatives will be in the house, and he thought it best to allow them as much privacy as possible.”

“Then why can’t they stay in the guest house?”

“Don’t be rude, Bella. You’ll like your new room it overlooks the garden.”

“Can you see the maze from my bedroom?”

“I’m sure you can.”

“Can I go through the maze to get to the house?”

“You aren’t going into that monstrosity,” she replies. “You have the rest of the estate to play on.”

“I’ve seen the rest of it. It’s boring.”

“Perhaps you need someone to play with,” she muses. “We will have to pray for a little girl to come visit you.”

Two days later, Ilse’s prayers yield impressive results.

+.+.+.+

Contained by the strong, lean cords of his arms, my body continues to tremble violently and it will not obey, it will not stop but he is still here, still holding and I do not know what that means.

Stupid, stupid Bella, I think, but even my musings are subdued in their confusion, neurons firing desperately, weakly offering thoughts and memories at random, synapses working, working like a shark that cannot stop swimming.

So I open my mouth to tell him to go but my teeth chatter and all I can tell him is, Cold, I’m so cold.

His arms release me a moment later and I am gently pulled, led down the hallway toward my bedroom.

“Come on,” he coaxes, and shaking, I go, my mind grasping desperately for quotes, words, philosophers’ thoughts on the merits of striving in the face of futility.

+.+.+.+

“All of these parties,” Ilse huffs, watching from the lawn as the Masens’ staff prepares for yet another evening of dinner, dancing and cocktails. “Human beings were not meant to celebrate each other this much.”

“Do you think that’s why mother stays in bed all day?” I ask, annoyed at the effect the removal to the guest house has had on my ability to peruse the rooms in the main house. There is a chill in my mother’s dealings with Masens, for all the smooth manners between Carlisle and my father, and it is easier to stay away, to play outside and avoid the awkward, forced niceties of our hosts, especially now that there is new company in the main house.

We are polite pariahs as Carlisle Masen attends to his mysterious relatives, and the boredom is stifling.

“I’m sure it does not help,” Ilse answers, frowning, and her tone brooks no further discussion.

Later, my mother rises from her bed, pale as ever, and I watch her transform from a shell of herself into a woman worthy of bearing the name of the graceful birds in the lake outside.

“Isabella will eat her dinner here tonight,” she absently tells Ilse.

“But I’m dressed for the party,” I protest.

“Then dress in something else. It’s unheard of for a child to keep adult company as often as you do.”

“Isn’t there another little girl in the main house now?” I demand.

“Carlisle’s daughter is none of your business,” she snaps. “And I don’t want you nosing around that family anymore.”

Ilse sighs, but does not make me change, and later, does not tell me no when I ask if I can play in the garden.

+.+.+.+

The bathroom amplifies the sound of our breathing as Edward fiddles with the faucet and then there is a hiss, a rush, and water streams, steams the empty shower stall.

He undresses me quickly, but I feel the light press of his lips on the skin he so deftly uncovers and I want to tell him, I want to say the words and make them real and face them, forget them.

My mother, I want to say clearly and calmly, but my throat convulses, my tongue tripping and failing and falling on the syllables until I am stammering, mangling the words that my mother, my mother is dead.

He comes around to face me, large hands cupping my face and eyes full of pity, full of concern.

The warmth of his fingers stays on my skin even after he drops his hands, places us under the spray of the shower head, winds himself around me again and holds my head to his chest.

The steady step of his heartbeat echoes in my skull, and we are both silent.

+.+.+.+

The austerity of the main house is put away for parties, its grey exterior adorned with the glow of a house lit from within. The garden paths around the maze are festive now, illuminated by their wrought-iron lamps, and they light my way to the service entrance of the main house. The kitchen is a battlefield of pots and pans and trays and starched white uniforms, and I maneuver through it quickly until I am out, through a door and climbing the back stairs within moments, sweaty fingers dragging along the butternut paneling, seeking my favorite party-gazing spot behind the banister beams on the landing to the third floor.

And then I am there, my legs folded underneath me as I gaze down at the fete from my impromptu perch. Colors and light and laughter float up in a cocktail of manners and sophistication mixed with just enough alcohol to make everything louder.

I have done this before, and I relish this role as the lone lookout planted in my own private crow’s nest. I spot my parents down below, glittering and smiling, marvelous and in their element. My father is handsome in his white tie and tails, a worthy escort of my mother, whose pale skin and scarlet dress attracts almost every eye but his.

Cocktail hour nears its end as my mother’s laugh draws my gaze back to her, her face tilted up, smiling coyly at a man whose face I cannot see, whose only visibly distinctive feature, tousled and longer than refinement allows, is hair the color of a burnished penny.

+.+.+.+

Edward washes me, cloth on my skin and fingers in my hair as I shiver, tremble like a virgin and freeze.

He does not tell me that I am okay, that everything will be alright. He does not say anything as he presses his mouth to the inside of my wrist, lips pressing against my pulse.

He is quick, smooth in his movements but his brow remains furrowed in concern and I hate this, I think, but something inside screams in protest, mutinous as ever.

+.+.+.+

He is a nameless, handsome young man escorting my mother out of his father’s formal dining room, tall and lean, dripping old and new money in a tuxedo with an air of dishevelment in the crooked bow-tie, in the scruff on his handsome face. He looks like the college boys who work for my father; the only thing missing is an American flag pin on his lapel.

Handsome, even features, sharp jaw and white teeth, a grin that seems to cut a swathe into the haughty aloofness of society ingénues.

He listens politely to my mother for a few minutes before excusing himself, leaving her to other company and making his way to the bar. I watch him walk across the room, watch the eyes of the women trail and cling to him, secret, quiet smiles pasted onto their flawless faces.

A woman I have seen my mother pretend to like approaches him at the bar and they stand and talk and drink and laugh as I sit alone on my perch, wondering what it would be like to be older, to be beautiful and brilliant and wanted by someone like him.

My eyes follow them as they drink and laugh and leave through the terrace doors.

+.+.+.+

I am dried and laid down, and his calm and his care surround me like a noxious gas, seeping and rendering me still, lifeless and naked as he takes his place beside me.

The walls of my bedroom stare down in chastened silence, in guilt and pity, but even their judgment is an element within a universe created for me, a world unimaginable without the icy, hostile visage of my mother.

Unimaginable.

And yet,

and yet.

Loss is not a spectre, nor an ominous shadow come to steal. It is not the chill in my bones, not the quickening breath in my chest, not the trembling that has long since overwhelmed the rest of me.

I do not feel the way a child should feel at her mother’s passing.

I do not feel anything.

+.+.+.+

“I’ll leave,” I tell her once, taut and trembling with rage after she tells me, once again, exactly why I am not the daughter she wanted.

But my words are deflected by her derisive laugh like pebbles ricocheting off of armor. “And go where?” she asks bitingly, eyebrows high and lips curled into a sneer.

“Away,” I retort, but it is an empty threat and she knows it.

+.+.+.+

All is silent, all is still, but my memories play out across the moulded ceiling, faded images of two people who chased the American Dream and the small, pale daughter who could never quite keep up.

“I haven’t lost my mother,” I say to the ceiling, and Edward stiffens in confusion beside me. I feel his frown without turning my head.

“You told me in the shower he begins.

“I haven’t lost my mother,” I repeat. “I never had her.”

He is quiet again, cautious and I can tell that he’s waiting on my words by the patient tension that hums through his frame.

Tell him, tell him.

Maybe he will listen.

No one listens.

He is different.

They’re all the same.

Run, run, run.

But rest awhile first.

The walls on all sides urge me to step onto the altar, lay myself down and cut myself open and watch as my own blood spreads, spills rubies across the cold floor before him, seeping across to his black Armani dress shoes as he stands, stays and waits and listens.

Time crawls on in silence, dragging us behind it but I have nothing, there is no altar and there are no more words.

“Do you want to talk about it?” he asks quietly.

My voice is flat when I tell him that there’s nothing else to say.

“Then say what you’re thinking.”

I pause, breathe,

And tell him the truth”Nothing.”

“Then what do you feel?”

“I don’t.”

He does not respond, and I cannot see his face.

+.+.+.+

All I can see is her face.

My mother possesses an extraordinary control of her features. Sitting still and straight beside her in church, I divide my time between staring at the architecture and looking up to her stoically attentive profile, envying her her blankness, her ability to control the face she shows to God.

I strive for that same blankness whenever Ilse dodges my questions about “the Cullen boy.”

“What’s his first name?” I ask.

“From what I can tell, he doesn’t go by his first name, and I do not know him,” she tells me wearily. “If you are so curious, perhaps you should play with his sister. I’m sure she would be happy to tell you all about him.”

“Mother said Alice is still sad about her mother and won’t want to play with me.”

“Of course she’s sad about her mother, the woman’s been dead for a week.” She sighs at the disappointment in my expression. “But your mother may be right. Perhaps it is not a good idea to make new friends with Alice. At least, not this time.”

I am annoyed at the rebuff but later, Alice is forgotten as I watch him during the evening entertainments at the main house.

He moves throughout these social functions with the grace and guile of natural predator, cocksure and calm as girls flirt, flit around him. It’s Cullen, I watch them mouth to each other as he moves through a party, smiling and leaning down to whisper things and watching them blush with a knowing grin and I am not ignorant to the idea of sex, but there is something in his manner that advertises what I’ve only heard adults whisper about; each one of his movements is a promise of something illicit.

I watch from above as he smiles, kisses hands and leans down to whisper things that make his confidantes blush. I watch as his face loses all traces of polite interest when he thinks no one is looking.

He’s bored to tears with these people, and yet they dance to his tune with the grace of a marionette troupe. It seems as though no woman is unaffected by him.

Including my mother.

“He’s a lovely boy,” she sighs once to my father and he agrees, nods, oblivious to the telltale flush that mars her porcelain skin as the lovely boy in question disappears through the terrace doors and into the garden, a giggling girl on each arm.

+.+.+.+

I flinch when he speaks, jarred from the hypnotic stillness by the low hum of his voice.

“Do you know Tom Stoppard?”

“The playwright?”

“Yes,” he replies, rolling over to his side to face me.’Dying is not romantic, and death is not a game which will soon be over. Death is not anything… death is not… It’s the absence of presence, nothing more… the endless time of never coming back… a gap you can’t see, and when the wind blows through it, it makes not sound…'”

The words arrange themselves in my mind, aligning perfectly and unlocking memories of evenings spent staring at a stage in rapt attention. “Is that…?”

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. It’s my favorite play.”

I stare at him, processing what he’s saying.

“The American Shakespeare Center mounts productions of it every so often…” he continues. “I’ve seen it several times.”

Such a curious choice, and I feel my attention drifting away from the shadow pressing into my chest at the thought of Edward Cullen enjoying a play. “Why?”

“Because I like it.”

“But why do you like it?”

He exhales heavily, thoughtfully rubbing his face before speaking. “I like the way Stoppard treats the characters. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern behave as if they are absolutely powerless they’re ridiculously passive, to the point where, when they do have a chance to change the course of the story, they intentionally remain powerless, and it eventually ends up killing them.”

“That doesn’t explain why you like it,” I argue, and his lips curl into a small smile as his fingers dance across my neck until they begin toying gently with a strand of my hair.

“Fine, then,” he says after several moments. “I like the play because it’s absurd. I like it because its absurdity is planted firmly in the real world.”

“In your world?”

“I think so.”

“Your world has elements of the absurd to it, then.”

“Of course it does.”

I turn my head to look at him, at the solemn profile and smooth, sharp lines of his nose and chin. “Tell me.”

“What do you want to know?” he sighs.

And I am honest again as I tell him”Everything.”

Seconds drag by, languorous and empty; I’m wondering if he intends to ignore me when he begins to speak, his words measured and flat.

“Okay, well every morning, I wake up in a real, live ivory tower… my drapes slide open with the alarm and then there’s the world, a skyline that’s full of buildings that are full of people who would probably kill to be where I am and who I am. I get ready for work, put on a suit and as I’m tying my necktie it’s- Manhattan’s just… there. Watching me.

“Then I get in the car, get my coffee, and I go to yet another ivory tower, and there I tell people to tell other people what to do with their money, and how the random choices of others could possibly turn a profit for them, and doing so turns a profit for me. And you know what? The whole time I’m telling them this, I have this overwhelming urge to just fucking stop and say, you know what? This is a crapshoot. I have no fucking clue. Good luck. But do you know why I can’t say that?”

I shake my head, although I’m sure I do know. Something within me wants his voice.

“Because my mother was Elizabeth Hale Cullen, and she decided who and what I would be before she even knew I existed. I was raised to know what made people money, what made usmoney, and I watched people treat my mother like a fucking goddess because she was good at her job, and because her father before her was good at his job, and his father before him, et cetera, ad nauseam.

“Any world where people like my mother can donate millions to homeless shelters while rolling her eyes at bums on the street is absurd, Isabella. Money and power and this… these big, shiny Manhattan buildings. It’s a pantomime of reality. It’s grotesque. And I can’t say that to anyone else because that’s not who I am to them that’s not who my mother created me to be.

“I was raised to exist inside a very specific bubble, and the only way I’m still sane is because I decided to do certain things my own way- Bella?”

Man down, man down, I think, and I am sitting up, breathing hard and hand at my chest, shadowed wings flapping frantically against the edges of my own memories as the weight of past words comes crashing into me. My chest is tight and my hands are shaking and there is a noise, a wail, a keening howl of something desolate that echoes against my bedroom walls.

Hush, hush you’ll wake the neighbors, I want to say, and Edward is behind me and his arms are around me as I sob and shake like a mad thing, a wail of shame and something else clawing its way out of my chest.

I am not free, I want to tell him. I am as trapped as I ever was, but this time, this time I don’t think I want to leave.

+.+.+.+

“What’s a pretty girl like you doing up here by yourself?” a voice asks from behind me.

I whirl around from my spot on the landing, coming face to face with the crisp, clean lines of a well-made tuxedo and the planes of his face.

His. Cullen’s.

“Well?” he repeats, eyebrows up, and I want to tell him that I watch, that I see, that I want to know where he takes his women once they’re through the terrace doors.

But all I can whisper instead is that I want to watch the party.

He smirks. “Watching it is probably more fun than being down there. Let me know if anything interesting happens, won’t you?”

I nod.

He passes me to continue down the stairs, and I am staring at his back when he stops midway and turns back around. “What’s your name?”

Isabella, I almost say, but then I remember: I don’t know his name.

“I want to know yours first,” I tell him.

“Call me Cullen.”

“That’s not your name.”

“It’s what I prefer,” he says shortly.

I sit up straight. “Then I prefer ‘Swan.'”

“Alright, then.” He smiles indulgently. “Or how about ‘Swannie’?”

“Swan,” I correct him.

“Not yet, you’re not,” he laughs, starting down the stairs again, and his last words are thrown carelessly to me over his shoulder. “Maybe someday.”

He melts seamlessly into the crowd of guests below, but I do not lose sight of him. Once again, I watch him play his game as the evening unfolds, quiet smiles and knowing smirks and long, pale fingers deftly touching innocent places with illicit promise.

And then there is the terrace door, his arm locked around the small waist of a laughing young woman with eyes that stare up at him adoringly, his smile cold and thin.

They are going to the garden.

And trembling, I follow.

+.+.+.+

The world has dissolved into something less familiar, more frightening.

Minutes stretch into something more substantial as Edward murmurs things into my ear that I do not quite hear or understand, the words lost in the thundering of my pulse and the whirlwind of oxygen crashing through my lungs as I breathe, and breathe and breathe some more, and that’s the point, isn’t it? of life, to breathe and keep breathing and to live and last.

My mother is not breathing now, those lungs that once delivered her disgust into the atmosphere are now deflated, shriveled and expired somewhere in her chest, somewhere, wherever she is. She will have no more breaths, no more words, and I cannot find it within myself to be more than sickly fascinated that this woman, this titan, could be felled by something so mundane as a lack of a heartbeat.

Breathless bones, ruins. A memorial to mortality.

I want something other than silence, now. I want sounds, songs, some noise to fill the void, if only to hear itself echo.

“Tell me about your mother,” I whisper, and he stiffens.

“What about her?”

“Tell me why you hate her.”

He makes a small huffing noise. “I don’t hate her.”

“Then what?”

“I don’t know, exactly. I used to hate her… I spent most of my teens and twenties hating her, but- well, I just don’t anymore.”

“I don’t think I believe you,” I reply, frowning. “It can’t be that simple.”

“Why not?”

“Because I know how the world works.”

“Really? You’ve figured it all out, have you?”

“I’ve figured out enough to know that hate isn’t a simple emotion. Not simple enough to fade overnight.”

“Spoken like one who thinks she hates her mother. But hate isn’t an emotion, Isabella. It’s a choice.”

“So wise,” I sneer. “You don’t know anything.”

In a matter of instants, he is no longer beside me but above me, holding his weight on his hands and knees as his eyes stare intently into mine.

“I’m good at what I do because I possess the ability to simplify issues which others have made unnecessarily complex,” he says, quiet and fierce and firm. “It’s a gift.”

“You’re good at what you do because mommy made you into something that would turn a respectable profit,” I retort.

“Like her mother and her mother’s mother before her. And your mother, I think. We’ve all been cast in a mold.”

“What do men know about molds?” I scoff.

“You don’t think men have unfair expectations placed upon them?”

“I think most men don’t give a shit what people expect of them.”

“That’s a broad brushstroke,” he says, quiet and light. “What about politicians? You think presidents operate independently of the electorate’s expectations?”

I freeze, and a shadow of suspicion passes over my mind. I wonder exactly how much he knows as I try to control my voice. “Presidents care once or twice,” I concede flatly. “Enough to make people like them every four years.” I sigh, because there is an art to remaining respectable, and I know that he and I have been trained very differently in the ins and outs of maintaining propriety. “Women are the bearers of honor and shame in my world. That’s more than surging in the polls in time to win an election.”

He stares at me intently. “You really believe that,” he murmurs, incredulous.

“Peter Ustinov thought it was true… ‘through pressure of conformity, there is freedom of choice, but nothing to choose from.'”

He regards me silently for several moments, but when he speaks, he smiles.’I, for one, hope that youth will again revolt and again demoralize the dead weight of conformity that now lies upon us.’ Howard Mumford Jones.”

“I’m doing what I can,” I sigh, my eyes slipping shut with exhaustion, with the desire to escape. Click my heels three times and begone, begone.

“What, revolting?” he asks.

I nod.

“And what is this revolt for? Are you railing against a system built on inequality? Or are you another little rich girl with mommy/daddy issues?” I open my eyes to glare at him, only to find his face closer to mine than I’d thought, his gaze settled intently on my own. “Revolts happen when there’s a lack of freedom, but you seem to pride yourself on your independence. So which is it, Bella?” he whispers. “Are you a slave to conformity, or are you truly as free from convention as you claim to be?”

“I’m my own person,” I snap.

“And yet, so resentful of convention, almost as if it still has a hold on you.”

I have had enough of talking.

“Fuck convention,” I hiss, grabbing his face and opening my legs, using my body to pull him closer. “Fuck me.”

Slowly, he lowers himself until his hips and torso flush against me, eyes on mine and fingers in my hair. “Let me show you something,” he says, pressing tender touches on my scalp, his thumbs brushing away stray tears that have streaked down my temples.

“You’re going too slow.”

But he ignores me. “You’re not free,” he breathes. “Not yet. But you’re beautiful.”

“Stop it.”

“Why?” he frowns.

“Because I don’t need to hear that.”

“It’s true.”

“Of course it’s true. You wouldn’t fuck me if I wasn’t beautiful.”

He frowns. “Enough of the bitter. Sweet is just as good.”

But sweet is ephemeral, and his eyes are warm but I remember my mother’s hollow, heart-cold laugh. “Sweet isn’t real.”

“I’m real,” he says against my jaw.

“You don’t know me.”

“Don’t underestimate me,” he warns, and his mouth descends upon mine, and I give in, a speck of ash caught in the bellows of a zephyr, and this is not the heat of him writhing beneath me, this is a fire, flames licking and spreading and sprawling across me, and I sweat, melt underneath him as glass-green eyes open and stare into mine, flashing with something I do not want to see and I am captive, captivated once again, even as my muscles scream and burn with the urge to leave, to leave, to run.

He shushes, strokes and tries to soothe, makes me fit against him, slides inside as I am wracked with tremors, tensing and shaking and stilling and locking like one possessed, like a demoniac in a sea of sacred Latin.

“God,” he grunts as I receive him, and my fingers claw gratefully at his shoulders as he curls and unfurls above me, and this is different, this is foreign, this is uncharted territory, he is a new world and I could step and step and trip and tip right over, right off the edge of him and here be monsters, something warns, hisses and what to do? what to do? but cry in confusion as a world of ice begins to melt, as seas rise and my shores are flooded, my lungs are filled with the same salty streams that are running down old tracks on my temples, soaking Edward’s fingers as they cradle my face.

I gasp against him, pleasure and anguish running like quicksilver through my veins and Ammut, Ammut how did you remain so cold, standing by that lake of fire?

Artemis, how could you have mistaken him for Actaeon? The man above me is no naive youth, but his past and his present combined into The Alodae, into vanquishing twins that set their hearts to conquer.

Alice, you fool, you’ve swallowed the wrong pill.

Crazy, crazy, crazy- or not- but either way, condemned.

I have not conquered him, he is not cowed. He moves above me, grace and fire and groaning as my cunt begins to flutter around him and then there is a burst, a blast and I am caught in the epicenter as our voices bounce off of walls that, for once, avert their gazes.

This is different.

He is different, and I have known that, of course, but still-

I am done for.

Let me go, I hiss, and struggle, struggle, struggle against this beautiful boy, this old monster in the maze.

Let me go.

But he only tightens his arms, breath hot on my neck as he whispers things, precious and terrifying things that only make my disintegrating world flood faster.

Too much, too much, too much, and the waters ever rise higher, pressing and holding my limbs and I cannot breathe. Let me go, I beg the rising levels. Let me float.

The water gives me nothing, and the steel of his arms anchor me to the seabed.

+.+.+.+

Pale, moonlit skin fills my vision as the long, lean lines of him move.

Beneath him is his beautiful creature, fragile and small, her fine-boned ankles locked behind naked, trim hips as he ruts into her like a mad thing. Fascinated, I stare, my innocent eyes drinking in every detail, this new knowledge made sweeter by its forbidden nature.

She is panting, gasping, yelling things in ecstasy, exhilarated as she calls out to him.

Cullen, Cullen, Cullen, she cries.

“Someone’s going to hear you,” he hisses, but she is oblivious to the venom in his voice.

She does not stop moaning and he steps away from her, smirking as she begs for more, more, more.

Will he stop? I wonder.

But then he grabs her by the waist and pulls her off the bench, turning her to face away from him in cruelly quick movements. He pushes her forward at the waist, her hands on the grey stone slab of the bench and then he is back and bending over her and she is pleading for him to give more, to not stop, to be harder and harder and harder.

A foreign feeling continues to bleed through me, an odd sensation blooming in my chest, an alien warmth between my legs. I am both captive and captivated to the tableau before me.

Minutes pass in which I cannot look away, equally sickened and exhilarated, and then she is screaming, exulting and he is telling her to shut up, shut up but she does not stop, and the garden maze is filled with the sounds of her boisterously crowing his name.

He slows, moving against her a few more times with a long, low noise, and then he stops.

And now the garden is filled with the sounds of their breathing, harsh and heavy.

I am shivering.

They separate after several moments, and she collapses onto her back on the bench as he begins re-dressing. Laughing and light, she reaches out to touch the leg of his trousers. She pouts as he slaps her hand away.

“Get dressed,” he says curtly.

“What’s the rush?” she asks, languidly fondling one of her breasts. “We haven’t been gone long.”

“Long enough.”

She sits up, her face shadowed by hedges and moonlight. “You’re my first,” she says quietly.

He laughs. “I sincerely doubt that.”

She begins to argue in a soft whine, but I am newly flushed, both with what I’ve seen and with the realization that they will come this way when they are finished, they will pass me and see me.

I begin to back away, but the gravel crunches beneath me, and the sounds of my movement are no longer camouflaged by the noises of the couple on the other side of the hedge.

Through the branches, I can faintly see his head snap up.

“Who’s there?” he asks flatly.

I do not twitch one muscle, but my breathing grows harsher. The woman hastily begins tugging on her dress.

“Someone’s behind the hedge,” he tells her with a smirk. “Let’s hope it’s not your father.”

She says something and he snaps at her to be quiet as I take another step back, and the gravel is just as loud as the first time and the moonlight makes his face coldly radiant as he smiles.

“I hear you,” he calls in a sing-song tone.

And then he is moving.

And I am running,

running,

running.

And even the hounds of hell cannot catch me.

+.+.+.+

All is silent, all is still.

His arm stretches across my naked waist, holding me to him.

“What are you thinking?” he asks again.

This will never be enough, I want to tell him.

I’ll never be enough.

Bright eyes stare searchingly into me from beneath a brow furrowed in thought. “Tell me.”

So I do, and his frown grows deeper.

“You’re wrong,” he says firmly.

“You’re wrong,” I echo. “You don’t know me.”

“You keep saying that.”

“It’s true.”

“Do I have to know everything about you before you believe that I… that I care about you?”

I shrug.

“That sounds boring,” he sighs. “Absolutely, indisputably boring. And I know how much you hate boredom.”

My answering smile is thin.

+.+.+.+

The night air is a welcome sting on my face as I step outside the bar, the rowdy sounds of Apotheke swiftly fading as the door shuts behind me.

Several yards away, the streetlights throw his figure into the shadows, his tall, straight form leaving a grotesquely stretched version of itself on the pavement behind him as he walks.

And I follow.

A few cabs pass, but he does not hail one, and so neither do I.

The minutes pass slowly, but my heart is racing as we continue up the street.

I remember the coldness in his eyes, the handsome, heartless smile from my childhood. The chase he began, years before, now slowed to a cold city stroll, the hedge walls replaced by imposing brick and steel facades rising into the sky on either side of us.

I am not a girl anymore, and I’m sure I could be his type, but I am not something to be caught.

Second Avenue stretches before us, and my teeth chatter as the chill settles into my spine but still he walks, and still I follow.

He stumbles once, and I can hear the occasional muttered invective toward God and humanity and sidewalks in general as he goes.

He is drunk.

He was Adonis and Narcissus and Cupid, all rolled together in an obscenely beautiful, cruel beast that fed on the silly little hearts of the females in his acquaintance. He flirted, fucked, assured aging women of their allure, and drew the young ladies toward the discovery of desire.

And now, this is my sun god, after all these years, the monster in the maze whose rutting silhouette has shown me my own desire: to own, to be free, to never, ever be a nameless fuck like one of his women; to never live in subjugation to the caprice of male desire. He walks in front of me still, an inebriated pseudo-lech who stumbles through the city streets at night like an old bum. He cannot be poor, unless his father cut him off.

I wonder what has happened to him.

I wonder what he’s become.

I wonder many things, many things about the man whose face I see constantly, whose first name I never discovered.

My father’s face, frustration and resignation in his eyes, flashes before me.

There are only so many chances I can give you, he said.

New York is a place to start over, he said.

But New York is where he is, where I am and at the head of the ouroboros, there is nowhere to go but down and around again.

My feet are sore and freezing when he finally stops and enters a brightly lit diner with a cheery cherry-red storefront. There is a large logo on the glass door: The Morningstar Diner.

Why did we walk all this way?

I want to know more. I want to know it all.

From the sidewalk, I watch as he sits at a table, glances at a menu. I cannot hear him, but I am looking at his lips as he winks at his waitress and says, “I’ll have the usual.”

She walks away, and his head falls into his hands. He is the picture of fatigue, of world-weariness.

Where have you been? I wonder.

I could go in right now, sit at his table and flirt, possibly win a trip to a hotel room or, god forbid, his apartment. But women do that to him frequently, I’m sure, and whatever I do will not be on his terms.

Self-control. Temperance.

Patience.

There is a moment of mad whimsy, of looking into the eye of the fates and making a deal:

I will come back, and I will wait.

And he will come, or not.

But either way, I will not chase him-

yet.

Here is the middle of the maze, the heart of the city, and the only plan I have is to pick him apart and watch him squirm.

He ordered “the usual,” and I know I will see him here again.

It is with this plan in mind that I hail a cab back to TriBeCa, mind racing and heart full of something both familiar and foreign.

The game is on.

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About hollelujah
meh.

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