16: Cet Air Me Rendra Folle

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

Azure isle of childhood paling,

On the deck of a ship we stand alone.

It appears, oh mother, to your daughters

You’ve left an inheritance of woe.

Marina Tsvetaeva, “To Mother”

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

Without its master, my father’s house surrounds us with silence, suspended in anticipation of his return. Every wall and tile echoes his absence.

Where did he go? I ask, and Ilse frowns, sighs, tells me she’s sure he misses me, wherever he is.

The days pass, turn into weeks and my mother, when she is not in her bed, moves throughout the house like a spectre, angry and pale and wandering.

“Let her be lost for a little while, Liebchen,” Ilse tells me. “She will come back.”

But I like the house like this, its long hallways devoid of the empty chatter of my parents’ constant parade of guests and contemporaries. I am free to roam unchecked now, creeping through the rooms with the stealth and curiosity of an intrepid jungle explorer.

“It’s like we live in a pyramid,” I whisper to Ilse once, but she only gives me a sad smile and tells me I am more right than I know, and that perhaps I could read more about Ancient Egypt to pass the time.

And so I am engrossed in an illustrated tome on the pharaohs when I hear the music from downstairs, notes coloring the stale air for the first time since my father left.

Ilse comes out of the sitting room, annoyed and mildly distressed when she sees me approach.

“Leave your mother alone for a little while,” she cautions, attempting to lead me back toward the staircase, but it is too late.

The music stops, and seconds later, my mother emerges from the next room, pausing in the doorway to brace her hands on the frame. “Isabella?” she slurs.

“Upstairs, Bella,” Ilse begins firmly.

“No,” my mother snaps. “She can stay. Come in and sit, Isabella.” She moves aside to let me enter, unsteadily pushing me toward the settee. “That’s all, Ilse,” she calls. “Isabella can stay with me for now.”

“Sit,” she commands, and I do, taking in every detail of her: her chestnut hair pinned into a stylish chignon, her sleek frame encased in a red cocktail dress. Heavy clumps of her mascara frame glazed, vacant eyes, and the uneven lines of color on her lips tremble slightly as she stares back at me.

“How’re you holding up?” she mutters with a smirk, watching my reaction before chuckling darkly at my frown. “Never mind. You’re fine, of course. Ilse. You have Ilse. Do you like music, darling?”

I nod cautiously, watching as she walks unsteadily to the sound system used to pump music throughout the downstairs during parties.

“I adore Piaf,” she crows, and the horns of ‘Padam, Padam’ fill the room. “Do you know this one?”

“Yes.”

“Ilse,” she realizes aloud, and again, I nod.

“We watch French movies, too. She says it will help me learn.”

“Ilse’s very smart when it comes to the French,” she rejoins absently. “Her husband was from Normandy. Do you know what the song is saying, Isabella?”

I still, listening, and my mother grins and sways in the middle of the room, singing along.

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…”

“She says the song’s making her crazy,” I say. “She says it overwhelms her.”

“‘Overwhelms’… such an intelligent child,” my mother muses, but her tone is harsh. “Very good, Isabella. Not that it matters the song loses its charm once it’s translated.” She sits then, collapsing onto the seat beside me in the most ungraceful movement I’ve ever seen her make. “He’s not coming back, you know.”

“Father?”

“Yes,” she answers, annoyed, and I notice the half-empty tumbler of clear liquid on the end table. “Why would he? Men only want one thing, Isabella, and he’s a man. He can do whatever wants, with whomever he can persuade to stay on her back long enough for him to finish. Look at you,” she spits, leaning closer, her hand coming up to my hair. She watches, fascinated as the brown strands fill her fingers. “You look just like him. My little souvenir from my marriage to Charles Swan. My little-“she snorts.-love token.”

“Mother-”

“I grew up for him,” she sighs, her breath stinging across my face. “I was only nineteen, and young- I loved being young. There were so many things- and he came, wanted to marry me. And do you know what my father said?”

I shake my head.

“He said we were a ‘smart match.’ A Higginbotham marrying young, no education, but there was money. And I did it. And now look- now look where I am.” She releases me, falling back against the couch. “Ruined,” she mutters, closing her eyes.

Moments later, she is asleep.

I stay beside her, thinking and thinking and thinking, until Ilse comes to lead me away.

+.+.+.+

The walls are quiet, but my mother’s voice inside my head screams louder than ever.

“What are you feeling right now, Isabella?” Dr. Cope asks.

“Nothing,” I answer honestly.

“Nothing at all?”

“That’s what I said.”

“Okay.” Dr. Cope pauses, scribbles on her notepad. “Right. Now, I’d like you to picture your mother.”

“Why?”

A corner of her mouth tugs upward. “You’re not afraid of an exercise, are you?”

I shake my head.

My mother.

Thoughts of her writhe, twist and turn like a serpents’ nest, hissing and whispering of a thousand different memories and their accompanying misery. They show me the shape of my Renee Swan, a whitewashed, faded figure, freezing and fearful.

They show me the map of a maze traversed long ago, its angles and lanes pressed into my mind’s eye like a thumbprint.

They show me my father, the architect of this world, my world, stern and stuck in the very mold he created. They remind me of his voice, echoing words like “family” and “sacrifice,” even as he and my mother lay me upon the altar of their influence.

They remind me of my place in his world, of what is asked of me: to reflect well on him.

But my mother whispers to me, and I know that I am angles where they want curves, sharp where sweet is best, and cold when all my parents ask of me is a little warmth, a little want. A perfect image is necessary, you see, when it’s what you sell. Divorce, deviation from the acceptable anathema.

The Kingmaker does not peddle tarnished crowns.

Power and control, he tells his clients, and they nod and beg for an endorsement, a stamp of approval. It is a delicate ballet, one that my father is one mistake away from losing. “It’s not easy to live on top,” he told Jacob once. “It demands perfection of you, of your life. Even of your family.”

Perfection, by any means necessary.

I hear the strains of ‘Padam, Padam,’ remember the hollows behind my mother’s eyes as she claimed her ruin.

Men only want one thing, she told me. And yet, how she needed him.

“Isabella?”

I start at the sound of the doctor’s voice, focusing to find myself under her scrutiny.

“Can you tell me what you feel now?” she asks.

I tell her I feel nothing, but something in my eyes begs to differ and this time, the pity on her face is undisguised.

+.+.+.+

“Beautiful day, Ms. Swan,” Billy declares, grinning as I step out of my cab.

“It is,” I concur.’There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.'”

“I’ve never heard that one.”

“You really need to start doing your research, Billy. There are books you can buy that are full of different quotes-”

He holds up a hand with a grin. “Wait, now. If I cared about beating you at your own game, I might, but I think I’m fine with letting you win.”

“You don’t want to win?”

“Can I win that game?” he laughs. “And to answer your question, it doesn’t matter if I get you good with a quote. Maybe I just like to talking to you.”

“Oh.” I blink slowly, confused. “But why?”

“Because I stand here for about seven hours a day, Ms. Swan. It’s nice to have a beautiful young lady to say hello to.”

I look at him, then, at the weathered, clean-shaven, kind features above the starch of his doorman’s uniform. The creases of thousands of smiles furrow friendly shadows into his skin, and I can see hints of his receding salt-and-pepper hairline that disappears beneath his cap. He needs to trim his eyebrows.

He thinks I am pretty, and has no other motive for it than to hear me say hello.

“The quote is by Alfred Wainwright,” I tell him. “He wrote tourism books.”

“Well then, there you go,” he says with a smile and a wink. “You learn something new everyday.”

I give him one last look, nodding once at his grin before walking inside.

+.+.+.+

The neglect I endured during my father’s absence does not abate once he returns.

I am occasionally brought out, introduced to mother’s friends and their husbands, prettied and made much of before I am sent back upstairs to the warm, heavy accents of Ilse.

Since my father’s return, they are tension and tenterhooks, claws unsheathing quickly as they circle one another with caution and contempt. My mother grows thinner, as my father’s eyes grow more and more dim each day.

“We’re not discussing this now,” my father tells her often regarding Esme and a myriad of other things he does want to hear, and his voice flat and hard and final.

And still, I watch her: cold and bored and bleeding and frozen and feeble. Powerless, incapable, weak. For all her bluster, for all her disgust with me, her vodka and pills and her Piaf, she bows to his whims, scrapes and shames herself to stay in his good graces, desperate not to waste her second chance. Ruled by my father, a tyrant in his own absent-hearted, iron-willed and larger-than-life way.

I am both repelled and fascinated by the calm power he exudes in the face of my mother’s constant grappling. He is untouchable, stony and statue-still as she storms, no longer the laughing man who showed me how to sail, who assured me he owned the ocean.

With growing disgust, I see my mother watch him, her eyes twin points of gunmetal grey, her patrician features always, always trained on the blank slate of his face. The rings on her left hand shackle her to his words, to our world.

Die Liebe hat sie vergiftet,” Ilse tells me. “Love has poisoned her, child. She deserves pity, not anger.”

But I give her both.

+.+.+.+

Charcoal pinstripe suit, blue necktie.

Edward’s hand on my waist burns like a brand, and he leans down to greet me, brushes his lips against my cheek and thanks me for meeting him.

“I thought dinner out would be a nice change,” he explains, his eyes carefully sweeping down my frame and up again. “This is nice.”

It’s a Herve Leger, I inform him, and he nods like he knows what that means but his hungry eyes do not leave the dip of my décolletage.

“If this is a game, I feel like I’m winning,” he says quietly, and I do not correct him.

+.+.+.+

“These,” my mother announces, dropping the box at my feet, “are sick.”

“Those are private.”

“I think we both know what happens whenever you’re given any measure of privacy,” she retorts. “Have you been taking your medicine?”

“Yes,” I snap.

“But you’re still chasing boys. You’re still writing this- this filth.” She picks one of the journals out and opens it, and my skin grows hot. “Tell me,” she spits, shoving the book in my face. “What is this?”

I focus on the page, on the handwriting and sketches and doodles I’ve made in my most private moments, in my most sacred fantasies. “It’s a man,” I answer quietly.

“I know it’s a man. What is he doing?”

“He’s masturbating.”

“What about this one?” she continues, flipping to the sketch spread across two pages, to the only sketch that makes me blush. “Who are these people?”

“No one.”

“No one? Really?” she demands. “Is that you, Isabella? Is that Tyler Crowley?” she asks angrily. “When did this happen?”

“It didn’t.”

“Do you expect me to believe that, after all the trouble you’ve gotten the two of you into?”

“I’m seventeen. I’m not the only girl at my school who has sex on campus, Mother.”

“I don’t care what everyone else does! You’re the only one there whose actions are a reflection on this family. Your father almost lost some very valuable support over your little fling with the Crowley boy.” She drops the book back into its box. “You’re getting rid of these.”

“No I’m not,” I rejoin, feeling the flush of anger across my skin. “They’re my journals.”

“They’re the manifestos of a horny, unbalanced adolescent who’s seen one too many fetish films,” she snaps back. “Get them out of my house.”

That night, under my mother’s watchful eye, a box of journals is placed at the foot of the back stairs to be removed. Let the staff read them, I think spitefully. Let them read and see and laugh at my parents, at the pills, at my mother’s efforts to subdue the beast in my brain.

Anger and lack of surprise settle in my chest later on, as I watch my blue-blooded mother carry the box away herself.

+.+.+.+

The low lighting of Locanda casts us in muted tones of bronze and brown, and the brightest thing I see is the candlelight reflected in two sharp points in Edward’s eyes. Here, away from the bedroom, away from the clubs frequented by his friends, he is a simpler version of himself: self-assurance bordering just on arrogance, a meaningless polite smile for our server, and an expression that alternates between a smirk and a heated gaze for me.

His collar is white, shockingly so, against the golden skin of his neck. My eyes follow the line of it down to the perfect double windsor knot of his necktie; I lick my lips, and he notices. He grins, and I feel myself begin to respond with my own smile, with the slight flush conquering my skin.

He orders a bottle of Quintarelli Valpolicella, winks at me as the sommelier pours us each a glass and quietly leaves us.

“No water for you this time,” he quips, raising his glass to me.

The meaning of his words touches me like a live wire and I start and stare, frozen, as he watches me expectantly.

“I’m not an idiot, Isabella.”

“No,” I agree, slowly raising my own glass. “I don’t suppose you are.”

“What should we drink to?”

I hesitate only a moment before answering. “To living free.”

He nods, echoes me absently, and we drink.

+.+.+.+

Tyler’s father notices the scratches on his face, neck and shoulders and demands answers.

And Tyler, the good Christian boy, honors his father and his mother and reaps the blessings of victimization.

I am told, again, that I am crazy.

“You’re not taking your medicine”, my mother says accusingly, and I am called a liar when I argue, when I silently hand her the rust-colored plastic bottle and tell her to count the pills.

Mr. Crowley begins to speak of the matter to his friends, to those good, church-going politicos who listen eagerly as he claims that I am dangerous, that I am disturbed, that I am a pervert. They listen and talk and then talk some more, and our family portrait grows less illustrious with every wayward remark, with every ear that hears, with every mind that knows.

The statue of my father is awakened then, and flies into a fury.

Damage control, he sighs. Do not interact with the Crowley boy, or any boy. Stick to your studies. He is not unkind, but there is a sag in his shoulders, a furrow on his face that reveals his deepest wish: that I would shape up, slow down, fit in and make his life easier.

Mother glares at me coldly all the while, resenting the trouble I’ve caused her in her social circle. I don’t care to discuss my teenage daughter’s sexual proclivities at breakfast club, she huffs.

“You know how important reputation is to your father’s work,” my mother says, her flat tone at odds with the venom in her eyes. “This family has been through enough gossip.”

“Not all of it has been about me,” I reply calmly. “When Father left-”

“He came back,” she snaps.

“Not fast enough.”

And then she smiles, and there is something in it that echoes the cries of the homeless man in Columbus Park, years before. Something desperate and dire and burning.

“Ignoring the rules doesn’t make them go away, Isabella,” she says flatly. “You’re a fool if you think you’re free.”

+.+.+.+

“I don’t suppose you’ll tell me why you deemed it necessary to make me think you were drinking on our first date,” he begins nonchalantly, but he looks at me intently and his eyes do not leave mine.

“I’m sure you know how I feel about your questions,” I retort lightly.

At that, his eyes meet mine, and his look is still, steady and unwavering from my face.

When he speaks, his voice is calm. Even.

“Alright, then,” he says slowly. “Would you like to dance?”

I nod, and he takes my hand and leads me to the hardwood floor, half-full of other couples swaying to the slow, soft strains of the music from the stage.

No, no, no non crederle, the woman at the microphone sings, and it is a sad sound.

And then I am in his arms, we are chest to chest, my temple pressed against the strong stroke of his jaw and he is holding and I am holding on and there is something in my chest that tries to leap out, latch on and stay, stay, stay with him but I cannot brook sentimentality where control is concerned and so I force myself to relax against him.

“I’m going tell you something,” he murmurs into my ear, and he cannot see my eyes widen. There is something like fear that sticks into my ribs at his words, a hot poker pricking at the tender tissues of my vital organs and my muscles flinch and flex, anticipating the necessity of flight.

“My middle name is Anthony,” he says, the smooth cadence of his words almost lost beneath the music. “I’m named after my grandfather. My birthday is June 20. I’m thirty-two years old and I’m the youngest VP to oversee Mergers Acquisitions in the history of my family’s investment firm.”

I listen, staring over his shoulder, swaying dumbly to the music as he continues.

“I went to Penn for undergrad and got my MBA from Columbia. My mother’s name is- was Elizabeth, she was one of the first female Fortune 500 CEOs in the country, she died when I was eighteen, and I’m still angry at her for a myriad of reasons I won’t go into. My younger sister, whom you’ve met, is my mother reincarnate, minus the work ethic, and tries to plan every fucking second of my life. My father is Carlisle Masen yes, that Carlisle Masen who, as I’m sure you know, is renowned as the most obnoxious real estate developer in the whole of the Western Hemisphere-”

“I don’t want to hear this.”

“Let me finish. I’ve never been arrested, and I’ve never been in love, but I went skydiving for my twenty-first birthday and it was one of the only times I’ve actually felt alive. My favorite book is “The Forgotten Soldier” by Guy Sajer, and I don’t give a fuck if the book’s nonfiction or not because, I swear to god, it was the first story I really understood.

“I want a dog, and sometimes I think about adopting a mutt, or picking up one of those free puppies people are always trying to get rid of, but I always get close to getting one and then stop, because I’m afraid anything that depends on me for its survival doesn’t stand a chance because I work too much. Well, I usually work too much. I had a meeting yesterday with my father yesterday so he could ask me why I’ve been leaving at five o’clock each day for the past several weeks. I was able to tell him, for the first time in my life, that I was going home to spend time with a beautiful woman-”

“Edward-”

“-who drives me out of my fucking mind half the time, but I’m not sure that even matters to me because, for the first time, I’m living the way I want to live. I like getting distracted in meetings all day because I think about you. I like thinking about the look on your face when you pin my hands down and fuck me- like you’re a second away from eating me alive and your taste… sometimes I think about putting my mouth over every inch of you just so I can taste you, you taste like girl and salt and… like a fucking mango.”

I stiffen, and his arms tighten around me; I can feel the steady rise-and-fall of his chest as he holds me to him.

“Don’t do that,” he says quietly. “Listen to me. It’s not just the sex- even though, god- sometimes I think I could live in you- but… I think you’re the only real thing I have, and I meant what I said the other night. I don’t know what you want, or how I’m supposed to keep you. I have no idea exactly what the fuck I’m doing right now, but Isabella Bella I want to know more of you. I could try to be subtle, but I think we’re both beyond that, so here I am, telling you what I want.”

And I want to leave, scream my farewell, scream that he’s ruined it all, beg him to take it all back because now- now he is more, and he’s been more but now it is real, and I am no longer Artemis hunting the foolish youth, I am Persephone and he is Hades, a cluster of pomegranate seeds held within his lean, strong hands and I am afraid, I am afraid.

He leans back, looks at me, expectancy and skepticism warring in his gaze as he says, “It’s your turn.”

“Edward, please-”

“I deserve to know you,” he says heatedly.

“This isn’t about what you deserve.”

“Give me three things. Three things about you that I don’t know.”

“No.”

“Bella.”

His voice is a warning and I swallow slowly, every inch of me vibrating with the awareness of the his arms, of his body wrapped around me like a chrysalis on the dance floor. “Only three?” I ask quietly, and I feel his nod.

“For now.”

My eyes close, and I can see the wall of green looming in front of me, forcing me left or right, and I do not know which turn is my escape, and which will lead me to the man I saw silhouetted in the moonlight, and so I do not wait, I do not think, I only plow forward through the underbrush, crying out at the pain of the brambles.

I sigh at the memory, and his arms loosen to allow me enough room to face him. I look into his face, and he smiles like he cannot see the shadows stretching within my gaze.

“I love the ocean,” I begin slowly.

One.

“I’m afraid of fire.”

Two.

“I like dancing with you.”

The pleased light in his eyes causes a small jolt inside of me, the echo of a pebble in a well, and his answering smile is another secret I plan to keep.

+.+.+.+

Seth’s cries echo in my ears long after he is gone, the harsh cry overlaid by the soft, soothing tones of Ilse as she cleans the leftover blood from between my fingers, from underneath my nails.

“He is a nice boy,” she sighs, and I watch her thick fingers scrub, scrub, scrub. “You should not have hurt him like that, Liebchen.”

“He was mean to me. He tried to pull me into the water.”

“Many people will be mean to you. You cannot hurt them all.”

“Father can.”

She frowns. “You are not your father, Isabella.” She catches my eye, her expression stern. “You must learn that it is possible to be better than your money makes you.”

“Will I ever be good, then?” I huff, annoyed at Ilse, at her wisdom in the ways of a world to which I was born, a world in which I walked the echoing, conspicuous steps of an alien presence.

“You are already good,” Ilse answers imperturbably, patting my hands dry. “Now you must make others see it.”

+.+.+.+

If Edward notices me stiffen as I meet his driver’s eyes, he does not show it.

“Riley,” he greets absently.

“Mr. Cullen,” he replies, and his eyes are hard as they meet mine.

The ride to my apartment is quiet, and Edward holds my hand, occasionally looking at me with a light I do not want to see.

He dismisses Riley for the night when we arrive, and I nod to the doorman who is not Billy as Edward follows me in, and I fight the urge to move away from his hand as it rests on the small of my back.

+.+.+.+

Tyler answers my knock within a few seconds. He does not look surprised to see me.

“Swannie-”

“Don’t call me that,” I snap, my existing ire blooming into simmer at his nonchalance. “Let me in.”

He looks away, and does not open the door further.

“Tyler,” I say, and my voice is a warning.

“I can’t let you in,” he mutters. “My dad talked to his friends on the board. The administration has me on lockdown.”

“Of course. I forgot how much control they’re capable of exerting from down in the office.”

“Bella…”

“You’ve been awful,” I tell him, and my voice is confident despite the tremor in my throat. “You’ve been bad and I’ve come to punish you.”

“What? What did I do?” he asks cautiously. “I thought-”

“You told your father about me,” I say flatly. “You told your father, and he told everyone. Now everyone knows.”

“I’m sorry,” he breathes, but his eyes are not on my face.

I follow his gaze down to my hand as it rests on the door frame, my fingers drumming an impatient tattoo on the wood.

My lips curl into a smile. “What are you thinking about, Tyler?”

He flushes, the eternal Galahad, even after all we’ve done. His eyes drop to the floor, but his breathing hitches ever so slightly…

“Everyone knows,” I repeat. “They know how much you love it when I fuck you.” I whisper, and there is only a moment before he nods.

“Let me in.”

“My dad-”

“I don’t give a fuck about your family, or mine for that matter.”

“I can’t…”

“I want you underneath me again.”

There is a battle in his eyes, and I intend to win it; when he groans, it sounds like defeat.

“Let me in,” I repeat slowly. “I won’t tell you again.”

He opens the door.

Dirty boy, I whisper, and push my way inside.

+.+.+.+

Underneath me, Edward writhes and hums his approval as I rake my nails down his chest.

“Do you like seeing this in the mirror?” I ask him tauntingly. “Look at all these scratches I’ve left. They’re never going away, you know. Even after I’m gone…” I dig into him. “You’re going to see these and remember this.”

“Just where… do you think you’re going?” he groans as I lean down, lapping at the marks my nails have left on his torso.

“That isn’t any of your business,” I laugh, but there is something that pulls, flutters and struggles to be free.

Hope is a thing with feathers, something in me whispers.

Edward smirks and rocks his hips against me, supine and satisfied to watch me score his flesh.

“What do you want, Edward?” I demand, lifting off of him long enough to unzip his trousers and release him. My fingers tease his cock as he watches me, and his hands ball into fists on either side of him.

“I want in,” he answers clearly.

I open my mouth to tease him, to tell him I’ll let him inside when I’m ready-

And then I hear it-

Pounding.

We both freeze, and his stare heats my profile. “Are you expecting company?” he asks sharply. I am too surprised to punish his tone.

The knocking on the door continues, and I move. “Wait here,” I say brusquely. “Don’t you dare leave this bed.”

He nods. I can feel his eyes on me as I grab my silk robe, tying the belt and hurrying for the door.

+.+.+.+

Love has poisoned her, Ilse said of my mother.

I remember those words in the summer months, as Carlisle and Esme greet our family in front of their home, as the men shake hands and the women eye each other sharply, despite all they have in common.

The darkness in Esme’s eyes has a mate in my mother’s gaze, its cousin shadowing the hollows in both of their faces as, well-bred to the last, they exchange hellos.

“You look so grown up, Isabella,” Esme says kindly, quietly. “How old are you now?”

I tell her I’ll be eleven in September and she tells me I’m a lady now, that she wishes she had a daughter just like me.

“Having a daughter of one’s own is a blessing,” my mother says, too sweetly, and Esme’s flinch is almost imperceptible.

+.+.+.+

The knocking continues as I glance through the peephole, looking briefly before yanking the door open to reveal a tall young man in a dark suit. It’s almost midnight, but there is a pristine American flag pin attached to his lapel like he’s come straight from a Young Republicans brunch on Dupont Circle.

“Ms. Swan,” he says quietly. “I’m sorry to disturb you this late-”

“Who are you?”

“Paul Strickland. I work for your father.”

“What are you doing here?”

“Your father hasn’t been able to reach you on your phone.”

“I don’t use it. If he wanted me to call, he should have told Dr. Cope.”

“I’ll be sure to let him know that. In the meantime, you’re needed at home.”

“Why?”

“Your father asked that I put you on a jet tonight. I can explain on the way.”

“I’m not leaving until I know what’s going on.”

He pinches the bridge of his nose, clearly aggravated, and I look him over again. Twenty-six or twenty-seven, probably fresh out of law school and looking for a way into the upper echelons of Washington. His father and my father probably golf together.

“Ms. Swan, there’s been an accident. Your father insisted that I bring you back tonight.”

Unmoving, I stare at him.

“It’s your mother,” he continues, completely out of his element and wishing I would shut up, pack up, load up so he can look good, so he can upgrade to a bigger flag pin, a better office.

“What happened?” I ask. My tone could be used to discuss weather.

“Ms. Swan,” he entreats, discomfort and impatience and pity his tone and I know.

I know.

+.+.+.+

Your mother is dead.

Your father wants to see you.

Your mother is dead.

Words on a loop, around and around, circling my lungs with robes of thistles and thorns and squeezing, tightening…

My fingers are pale on the dark wood of the door frame as they press, listless. They look almost alien in the dimness of the foyer.

Breathe, I think, and breathe and breathe again.

Your mother is dead.

Your mother is dead.

Your mother is-

“Bella?”

His voice is behind me, concern and confusion and I cannot face him, I cannot turn around, I cannot give him one more part of me without cracking, crumbling, breaking into something less, something foolish.

Paul’s apologetic expression fades into something bland as he looks behind me, and I know what he sees, what he’s heard of me by the way his eyes sharpen, by the neutral set of his mouth as he looks back at me.

“I’ll come back,” he says. It is a promise and a warning.

And then he walks away, and I am left standing in my doorway, frozen as ever.

I feel nothing, tremendously void, terribly blank, staying still, tensing and trying not to shake as inside there is a tremor, a stirring of something dark and cruel and ugly that waits underneath, watches me with narrowed, gleeful eyes as it anticipates my weakness and its own liberation. The tatters of dark wings spread, and the span of them is a shadow across my vision as there is a shift, a shake, a whisper of the fault line threatening to run the length of me.

“Are you alright?” Edward asks quietly; I recoil at the compassion in his tone.

The shadow darkens, the fault line frees itself and I am torn like the temple curtain, splitting, falling, suspended by nothing.

Run, run, run-

But to where?

Power and control, gone.

Stupid, stupid Bella, the dark thing whispers. What were you thinking, bringing him here?

“Isabella, “Edward says again, but his voice is firmer and he’s moving toward me, I can hear his steps come closer.

He is closer, he will touch me and turn me and I cannot, I will turn myself or I will run, run, run-

Your mother is dead.

Nothing really matters.

The queen is dead,

Long live the queen.

Breathe, and breathe again, gird and guard and go

I turn to face him, and the darkness trembles.

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


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About hollelujah
meh.

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