15: Under Her Dark Veil

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

Under her dark veil she wrung her hands.

“Why are you so pale today?”

“Because I made him drink of stinging grief

Until he got drunk on it.

How can I forget? He staggered out,

His mouth twisted in agony.

I ran down not touching the banister

And caught up with him at the gate.

I cried, “A joke!

That’s all it was. If you leave, I’ll die.”

He smiled calmly and grimly

And told me, “Don’t stand here in the wind.’\”

Anna Akhmatova, “Under Her Dark Veil”

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

Artemis, the goddess of the hunt, was destined for greatness from birth, and she knew it, reveled in it.

Ammut, the funeral demon, was the unapologetic devourer of men’s hearts.

The selkie always found her way back to the sea.

And I,

I,

I will find my way away from him, soon.

Soon.

+.+.+.+

Alice Cullen is an inch or two shy of standing eye-to-eye with me, with bony wrists and the severe jaw of her brother. She is a striking woman, dark-haired and bright-eyed, with full lips pursed above a delicately pointed chin.

She stands straight, rigid shoulders and arms angled in a patrician bent with her hands folded in front of her. Her expression is only a few centimeters away from overtly hostile.

She does not know me, and she does not like me.

“Edward told us he was seeing someone,” she begins coolly. “I’m sure you can imagine how surprised I was to hear it.”

“I’m sure I can’t. He seems rather adept at keeping female company.”

“Yes,” she agrees, looking at me oddly. “He is popular with the ladies. At least, he is with the ones around him.”

“Alice was just leaving,” Edward interrupts, coming into the foyer with a glare that is not meant for me. “I told her I was expecting company.”

“I think it’s a case of excellent timing that I was able to meet Isabella at all. He’s very mysterious sometimes he loves having secrets,” she stage-whispers to me.

Beside her, Edward stiffens.

And so do I.

“Anyway, I’m glad we’ve finally had the chance to meet. Our parents have been harassing Edward about bringing you over.”

“Alice,” he snaps. “That’s enough.”

She gives him a long look and a smirk, and then she is saying that it was nice to meet me, that we’ll see each other again soon, and she is out the door.

+.+.+.+

“You’ve destroyed me,” Jacob’s letter says, and I’m sure it’s meant as a reproach.

What have I truly done, except to humble a blundering, blithering colossus? What crime of the heart have I committed that he has not?

I read the rest of his words, the type screaming at me in his fury, his humiliation. My father sees, frowns and asks who the letter is from, but he already knows that a certain congressman wants closure.

Wordlessly, I hand him the missive and return to my room.

+.+.+.+

I sip my Merlot slowly, drinking it in with the sight of the city below.

“Do you want to go onto the terrace?” Edward asks from behind me, and I nod.

And then we are out in the cool of the autumn night, and there is nothing beneath us but air and suspended steel.

He shuts the terrace door and I am trapped, but I knew this would happen when I agreed to come outside and so I stand, still.

“Why are you so bored?” I ask suddenly, wanting to gather, gather all I can from him while there is still time.

His smile makes him look old, older than it should, and there is a foreign wistfulness in his eyes as he looks down upon me. “Did the elusive Bella just ask me a personal question?”

“Are you going to answer it?”

“I didn’t know I was bored,” he replies quietly.

“But aren’t you?”

“Of course I am. I just didn’t he sighs. “I just didn’t know before.”

His face angles, shadows just enough for me to hear the words he does not say.

But I stay silent.

“I have family here, in the city. My parents, and,” he gestures toward the door. “Alice. My sister.”

Against my will, another hunger begins to growl inside of me, preceding the desire I feel for his body. I am back, back when I was consumed with the yearning to know, to know everything.

“Are you close?” I ask quietly.

He shrugs. “Close enough, I suppose. It’s complicated.”

“I have time.”

His smile is brief, and he sets his wineglass onto the nearby table and leans against the railing. His back is long, straight and strong, but the muscles have relaxed him into the tranquil frame of the man before me.

“My mother’s dead.”

“I’m sorry,” I tell him, because it is the thing to say.

He waves me off. “I was young. Not too young to remember, but…” he sighs. “It was a long time ago.”

I wait.

“Alice and I—we’re close, I guess. I’ve always looked out for her. She’s gotten it into her head recently that she’s supposed to do the same for me.”

“What about your father?”

I watch his profile, see his eyes harden as they stare out at the skyline.

“We don’t talk,” he says shortly.

“Not ever?”

“I see him occasionally at the office. He wants to help me consolidate the family legacy. Or what’s left of it anyway— the business was in my mother’s family, and Alice and I are the only ones left, really. I’m not complaining I have a good life. But it’s rare to be around someone real.”

“Am I real, then?”

His eyes find mine, unreadable. “I think so. And I think… you may have ruined me for others who aren’t,” he confesses quietly.

I do not disguise my skepticism, my sneer as I think of Tanya, of Victoria, of countless others before them. “I doubt you’ll ever be lonely,” I scoff, attuned to his profile as he turns away, waiting for a reaction.

His jaw clenches, and the muscle in his cheek bunches, relaxes as he swallows.

“You don’t know everything, Isabella,” he sighs, and it fatigue and something else in a breath tumbling into the air beneath us.

We are still then, for several long moments, and all is quiet, all is calm.

“What about you?” he asks, and I start at the question.

“Excuse me?”

“You’re bored,” he states. “I find that people who invent games often create them out of boredom.” He leans closer, his eyes never leaving mine. “So why are you bored?”

Something inside me hisses, Why does he want to know? and I straighten.

“I’ve told you about this,” I reply, uneasy and cursing my discomfort. “We’re a bit old for Twenty Questions.”

“It was one question. Not everything’s a game.”

“I know that,” I snap.

His expression is skeptical. “Sometimes I wonder.”

Talk about something else, I think. Anything else.

“Well… if this was a game, you certainly found a way to one-up me. I didn’t think you’d ambush me with your family.”

“I didn’t tell Alice to come over. She was picking up a photo album for my stepmother.”

I roll my eyes, white-knuckled hands wrapped tightly around the balcony railing as I speak toward the city. “I’m sure.”

I can see my breath in the cool night air, and exhale experimentally to see if any of my words are visible as well. He watches all the while, I can feel him, his eyes and the warmth inside.

“Who are you?” he breathes, but I do not answer.

His eyes do not move from me, and moments pass as he stares at the stone-cut of my cheek before his hands are around my wrists and I am being pulled gently, gently to face him.

“I want to say something,” he says slowly.

“What—”

“No, just wait. It’s— this game you’re playing with me… is that all there is to this?”

I stare at him, searching for something clever, but all I can manage is, “What?”

“The anonymity. The control. Not that I’m complaining,” he says quickly, smirking, but then the smile is gone again. “I like you.”

“I don’t play games.”

He huffs a disbelieving laugh. “I don’t know anything about you beyond what you’ve given me. You could be a serial killer, for all I know.”

“I think you know exactly what you want to know.”

“Right. So I should have you followed? Rummage through your purse? Go through your apartment?”

“You could do that, I suppose.”

“I could. But I’m guessing you’ve already thought of all that.”

“Most of it, yes.”

“Are you going to tell me why?”

“Are you going to rummage through my purse?”

“I could,” he says. “I could do a little detective work, I suppose.”

“I don’t want that.”

“Then I won’t.”

“I know you won’t.”

He stares at me, and his look is sharp. “I want to know you,” he says firmly. “Without the games.”

There is nothing but the space between us and the sharp, seeking light in his eyes.

+.+.+.+

“It reminded me of you,” Tyler whispers, cheeks tinged red as I hold his gift between cold, calm hands.

The figurine is unspeakably delicate, porcelain and pretty, the sinewy, sensual limbs of Artemis exposed as she leaps gracefully in the middle of the hunt. The statuette is as beautiful as it is fragile.

Its weakness annoys me.

“This could break so easily,” I tell him, and he nods. “You know I’m stronger than that.”

And then I pull his eager limbs away, the figurine forgotten between us as I show him how to avoid the girls’ prefect on the trek to my room.

He is timid beneath me, so different from the tough athlete or the cocksure heartbreaker.

He is mine.

“How… how did you know how to do that?” he whispers against me, once, and his ass clenches beneath my hands as he remembers me, inside.

So I tell him about erotica, explicit videos not meant for a girl’s eyes and, above all, instinct, but he’s such a good, dumb, sweet boy and has never looked further than pornographic footage of a man on a woman as she screams Yes, Yes, Yes in a pantomime of pleasure.

And then he is wanting and I bite his kisses and watch as the boy, That Boy, the one everyone wants, finds himself a helpless hulk in my thin, pale arms. He comes, crying out in ecstasy and I smile as I find the reason behind the reaching in his eyes:

He wants, always, more.

+.+.+.+

I avoid Edward’s gaze the rest of the night and he knows it, but it does not stop him from groaning my name as I mount him.

That night, I fuck him hard, my nails digging into his chest, scratching down the side of his neck and then his hands move as his hips move, long fingers around my wrists, lifting and sliding and holding, and my palms meet his palms as he says my name, says my name again and then my eyes meet his eyes and I feel, I feel, I feel

The cold of my balcony

The warmth of his fire

The steel of my memories

The soft rumble of his moans

The fullness of him inside

And I feel and fly and tumble like a dervish into something new, something bold and brash and breathtaking and I am running, I am running through and through with walls of green beside me, above me, and all I can hear is the pounding of my heart above the whistle of a moonlight breeze through the branches.

And maybe this is different, maybe I can run and take him and go, go away from this city with its box in the closet and the box in which I live and the walls that call me crazy and I’ll leave and they will finally know what it means to be alone, to echo nothing within yourself and all you have is the promise of a future something, if you can hold out for it.

Or maybe they’re all right, something whispers. Maybe you’re stuck, drag him down and move on to the next one.

But he is different and this will not end well and crazy crazy crazy take him take him take him and

take him!

So I do, and my hands leave his hands, find his hair and his neck and I fall, fall, fall onto him as we move and my lips seek the honey of his mouth as he opens to my teeth and my tongue and I lap at him, a starving animal, a feral, thirsty thing.

“Bella,” he groans again, and of course it’s my name, of course he is undone.

I have wanted this, planned this and now I am here, but

all I can think of

is the feel of his pulse beneath my fingers

the rhythm of him, hard and hot and buried to his hilt in my cunt

and the echo of my words as I tell him, as if from a lifetime ago,

that I see him.

+.+.+.+

Renee Swan is a wonderful neighbor, always welcoming new families to the area especially when those families have earned millions in investment banking.

Now we stand on the massive porch of the home closest to ours on the lane, and my mother is oozing what some would call “charm.”

“Isabella, this is Mr. and Mrs. Goldberg,” my mother says brightly, ushering me to stand in front of the well-dressed man and woman in the foyer before us. “Don, Mitzi this is our daughter, Isabella. She’ll be eleven in September the same age as your Seth, I believe.”

“It will be nice for Seth to have someone to play with,” Mrs. Goldberg says kindly. “He’s been lonely since we moved. Does Isabella have any siblings?”

No, my mother replies as steps sound on the stairs and my eyes land on the lanky limbs of a boy only slightly larger than I:

Seth.

+.+.+.+

I fall asleep with Edward still inside me a mistake, I think.

Because my mind senses his presence, bucks against it like an unbroken stallion.

Run, run, run, run, run, it whispers steadily, and I try but I’m tied to his lifeless limbs.

In my dreams, he is pallid and ghoulish in the garb of an undertaker.

“I’m going to pick you apart,” he whispers. “And then I’ll eat you alive.”

And willing, I lie still and let him.

+.+.+.+

After my father becomes aware of them, Jacob’s accusatory letters immediately cease.

Now, there is the problem of what to do with me.

Sent away, my father says quietly into the telephone, deploying the powers of some odd informal brotherhood, a deep camaraderie that transcends past betrayal and political backstabbing, a bond of power that causes like to honor like.

A broken heart, my father says to whoever will help him.

A new city, with new faces and new opportunities to start over.

The best thing for her.

Perhaps law school, once she gets settled.

An apartment in the city… Carlisle will come through.

No trouble, no trouble at all.

Her mother is worried.

Call Dr. Cope, she’s flexible, she’s cooperative.

Help her, help her adjust.

Time away, sent away.

The best thing for her.

And I, I do not mind being packed away to a new city,

because I have experienced worse,

and better the tall, foreign buildings of the Manhattan skyline

than the small, bitter weight of my parents’ poison on my tongue.

+.+.+.+

Morning light spills across his bed as I move quietly through his room.

My mind is steady, firm and calm, but now there are nerves.

Nerves.

I yank too hard on one of my stockings, cursing as it runs up to the thigh.

My hands are trembling just barely as I zip up my dress.

My ankles wobble slightly in my heels.

Edward is still asleep, a snoring tumble of long, lean limbs on his bed. I watch him for a moment, wondering whether I will ever be able to want less than to both whip him and win him.

+.+.+.+

“Do you want to play a game?” Seth asks, and his hair is a dark tangle against a blue sky as he stands above me.

“What kind of game?” I ask warily, because he is a boy who makes girls like me play second fiddle to him in every pursuit of fun.

“Well,” he shrugs. “We could wrestle.”

The last I see of Seth Goldberg is his soaked, scrubbed red-raw face as his au pair helps him into the house.

There is blood.

What have you done? my mother screeches, her voice echoing through the halls of our home as Ilse bundles me away to my rooms upstairs.

Hush, Liebchen, she murmurs over and over, and it is only then I realize that my body is shaking, that I am heaving dry, overwhelming sobs of exhaustion and exhilaration as she whisks me upstairs.

Just a girl, he said. Just a stupid girl.

But I won.

I won and I’ll always want to win.

“I held him… I held him… I held him…” I hiccough, and she shushes me again.

+.+.+.+

“You’re late,” Dr. Cope sighs, her eyes drinking in every detail as I sit down and breathe.

She sees my rumpled dress, my hastily assembled hair, the run of my stocking. She hears the breathless whisper of my chest as it works to steady my racing heartbeat.

“Rough night?” she asks with a lift of an eyebrow.

“Nothing you or my father needs to know about,” I reply coldly.

“You know that’s not how this works, Isabella.”

She is right, and something in the core of me shudders.

+.+.+.+

I am set in my place at the table, washed and rested, and the screams of Seth Goldberg are far away now.

Except my father’s face is furrowed, frowning, and my mother looks livid.

The Goldbergs are very upset, she says.

Seth may have scars on his face, she says.

She can’t imagine why I pushed his face into the rough tiles of the pool deck, she says.

I do not say anything.

“Tomorrow, we will go over to the Goldbergs’ and you will apologize,” she declares coldly. “Mr. Goldberg is important to your father.”

“Renee he mutters.

“But first,” she continues. “I think you owe me an apology.”

Beside me, Ilse stiffens.

“You are a very blessed little girl, Isabella. You have everything. The least you can do is behave appropriately with the other children. I expect more of you. I expect you to act like a lady.” She sighs. “Apologize.”

“No.”

“Isabella, apologize!”

“I won’t.”

“Now.”

“I’m not sorry. I won’t say I’m sorry if I’m not. That’s lying.”

“Charles!”

“I’m not a liar.”

“What is it, Renee?” he asks wearily, his head in his hands.

“Take your daughter somewhere, please. I’ve had enough of her today.”

“Isabella—”

“Cold little thing,” Renee huffs. “I don’t know what’s wrong with her.”

Wordlessly, Ilse hurries me out of the dining room.

+.+.+.+

I replay every bit of Dr. Cope’s session, each monotone, well-meaning syllable, as I walk back home.

“Good afternoon, Ms. Swan,” Billy calls cheerfully. “What’s my quote today?”

I pause, thinking, remembering an oft-read line from one of my father’s favorite authors.

“‘Above all, we must abolish hope in the heart of man. A calm despair, without angry convulsions, without reproaches to Heaven, is the essence of wisdom.‘”

He huffs, and his expression is one of annoyance. “You don’t make this game easy, do you?”

I shrug. “It’s Alfred Victor Vigny,” I tell him. “Another French writer.”

“French,” he scoffs. “I’d like to learn some French. I’d like to know how to say, ‘That’s bullshit.'”

Ce sont des conneries,” I reply.

“Well then, that. That’s bullshit.”

“I didn’t write it.”

“You’re the one walking around quoting it. You’re the one spouting that bullshit like it means something. People aren’t goddamn robots. Let ’em hope. Know what I mean?”

He meets my eyes for a long moment, and despite my scrutiny, I look away first.

Hope.

Hope is a thing with feathers, I remember.

Dickinson wrote about hope, about the merry, singing bird in her breast. Warm little thing.

But I feel hollow, and any song inside might only echo, echo and die.

“I don’t know what you’ve got going on,” Billy says kindly, sharp eyes not missing a thing. “But it’s always good to hope.”

“For what?” I ask bitterly.

He opens his mouth, closes it again but he gives me no words and I think I have my answer.

+.+.+.+

Seth is not the only one taken to the doctor in the aftermath of what my mother refers to as “the incident with Isabella.”

I am marched into a clean white room, sterile and hostile, bright lights blazing down upon me as I am asked and asked and asked:

Why?

Time drags and I am tired, and then Dr. Scott is scribbling on a small pad and my mother is nodding, nodding with something like relief, something like knowing in her eyes.

Words in a context I do not understand are exchanged, things like dissocial and episodes and Risperdal and then we are standing, then we are leaving.

“I knew something wasn’t quite right,” my mother tells Dr. Scott in a low voice, taking the paper from him.

I look to the doctor then, my neck craned like a question mark, but he does not meet my gaze.

+.+.+.+

I have not been to Morningstar for several weeks, but my usual table is still open and I sit, waiting, always waiting.

There is the bustle of coming and going, but still he comes in several minutes later, grey suit and blue tie and right on schedule as he walks to the counter, orders his drink.

Weeks and weeks earlier, he would have passed me without a second glance, leaving me with only the familiar angles of his profile and the burning need to know, to know, to know.

But now, he spots me immediately.

A grin and a wink and I am almost angry at the anticipation that blooms in my chest, a stubborn desert blossom that will not die in the dry, arid air.

“You come here often?” he teases as he approaches me, all wide grin and bright eyes.

“About as often as you do,” I reply coolly.

“Hm. I do come here frequently.”

“I know.”

“Maybe it’s because I like the view.”

“Oh?”

He does not even attempt to hide the trajectory of his eyes as he leers at the cut of my sweater. “Maybe I like the view a lot.”

We are surrounded by people, by unknowing and unknowns, by those who see us only as obstacles on the way to their days. We are blurs, but we are bright and wouldn’t it be lovely to take him here, to sit him down and show the world that I’ve won, that I’ll always want to win and that he’s mine, he’s mine, he’s mine.

“It gets better, you know,” I tell him.

His eyebrows shoot up. “Is that right?”

“I’ve heard the view is best toward the back of the cafe.”

“Ah. Back by the restrooms?”

I tell him he’s getting warmer, and glow at the heat in his gaze.

+.+.+.+

Breathless, I walk, walk, walk through the lanes of the hedge maze and it is a forbidden garden, a whole other world of verdant limbs and looming shadows that lure me in and lose me.

They are here, I can feel it.

A feeling, a glow, a tremor runs up through my young body and every reflex is ready, every nerve ending is exposed and sensitive to what may happen.

I want to see, I want to see.

I walk for what feels like hours, and the sky is the only constant.

And then there is a noise.

And then there are more noises.

I creep ever closer.

+.+.+.+

The wall of the stall is cold, cold as my fingers curl around the top on either side of him, anticipation running in electric streams throughout my body.

“I’m going to be late,” Edward breathes, and my hand in his hair pushes him into the wall and he flinches and frowns but he is not leaving, he is still here.

Captive, captivated.

His breathing is almost loud enough to drown out the sound of his zipper as I slide it down, the sound of my stumbling as I remove my underwear.

He tries to turn me around but I resist, winding my arms about his neck, wrapping a leg around him, inviting, allowing him to slide his hands beneath my ass, move underneath my skirt as I squeeze my thighs around his hips and he enters me silently. My breath hitches as he begins to move, and it’s hard like last time but now he’s in control and he knows how to thrust up just right, over and over and over and I balk even as my body rejoices at his scent and his sweat.

“Is it good?” he rasps.

“Of course,” I breathe, pulling painfully at his hair and his loud gasp when I tighten around him lets me know that he agrees.

We both come quickly, and breathe breathe breathe as I straighten my clothes in the mirror, pretending not to notice that he’s behind me, staring.

I wait for him to look away.

He doesn’t.

“See something you like?” I ask sharply.

His eyes meet mine in the mirror. “I see you,” he replies.

+.+.+.+

My mother announces the doctor’s diagnosis at dinner and the dining room table is impossibly long, impossibly glossy as I stare into its surface. Beside me, her hands in her lap and practically vibrating with dissent, Ilse has decided which hill she is to die upon.

“There’s nothing wrong with Isabella,” she argues, stolid face behind wisps of grey-blond hair falling from her bun and she is something bright, bold next to my calm, well-groomed parents, my mother’s hair neatly tucked into her usual chignon.

“Thank you, Ilse, but Dr. Scott was very clear that this medicine will help her.”

There is the clink, clink of the silver but I am not eating, I am watching the woman next to me.

“Excuse me,” Ilse says after a moment. “But I think you should get another opinion.”

“Ilse,” my mother interrupts coldly. “You’re forgetting your place.”

Beside her, my father massages the bridge of his nose; the conversation, brief as it has been, seems to have already exhausted him.

But Ilse is only just beginning.

“I am a part of Isabella’s life, Ma’am.”

“Yes. A hired part.”

“I am with her every day. Isabella is a sweet child, she is sensitive and she only wants—”

“Yes, and I’m her mother. Dr. Scott is her physician. If he says she exhibits symptoms of—”

“Ilse,” my father interrupts wearily. “We’re only asking that you give Isabella the medicine as she needs it.”

“She doesn’t need it,” she insists. “She’s a child, and it is poison.”

My mother rolls her eyes. “If the doctor says—”

Mein gott, do not tell me about your doctor,” Ilse spits, her accent weighing heavy on her words. “I am not some stranger in this house I know who is paid to say what whenever they are needed. I know about your doctors and your attorneys and your consultants—”

“That is enough,” my mother snaps.

“She will take that pill and she’ll fade away,” Ilse continues angrily. “She will be just as— as bland and as boring as the wall.”

“This medicine will help her behave appropriately,” my mother responds, her voice cold in its anger. She is in high dudgeon now, cheeks flashing pink, eyes snapping with fury.

Beside her, my father looks older than ever.

“Ilse he sighs again.

“Isabella is not a doll, or a dog!” Ilse exclaims. “Which is more than I can say for this…” she narrows her eyes on my mother. “This miststück!”

“Ilse!” my mother gasps.

Fotze,” the older woman retorts.

“That’s enough.”

My father does not yell, but there is an undercurrent in his tone that makes both my mother’s and Ilse’s mouths snap shut, makes their faces turn to look at him.

“Ilse,” he says quietly. “Isabella will be happier this way.”

“She’s happy now.”

“She’ll be able to be like other girls her age.”

“Of course, I forgot that is the goal,” Ilse retorts bitterly. “To make her a perfect accessory for you both.”

“Fuck you,” my mother yells, sudden and sharp.

“Ilse,” my father says flatly, his hand a restraint on my mother’s slim forearm. “Will you please help us with Isabella?”

“I will not give her that medicine,” she insists, and her voice is shaking. “Please do not make her take it. She is a beautiful child who needs attention, and care, and love—not medicine for crazy people. You cannot give her pills and think she will just be perfect, or happy.”

“Ilse,” he says.

The silence suffocates us, its presence heavy and pressing like a drape, like a funeral shroud. My eyes do not leave the distraught profile of my nanny, of my best and favorite and only friend and there is a thrum, thrum of desperation in each breath as I beg her with my eyes, as I beg for what I want with all of me.

Please don’t go, don’t go, don’t go.

But then there is a shuddering breath, and I know.

“I will not give it to her,” Ilse finally says, shaky and somber. “I cannot.”

Later that day, she tells me goodbye and holds me in warm, warm arms that have cradled me since infancy, murmuring words in her native language that I’ve never understood, that I’ve always known. Her thick fingers wipe away the hot tears as they run, rivers soaking my cheeks, congesting my nose, my throat. My face burns with exhaustion and grief.

“You are so, so loved, Liebchen,” she says into my hair. “You are strong, the strongest. You make them see you are perfect already.”

“Ilse,” I say, and it is a croak, a cry of a girl who cannot do, who cannot be, who lives according to the whims of her betters.

She gives me one last look, her ice-chip eyes are wet with her own tears, and I feel them as she kisses my forehead, squeezes my small, fragile frame to her one more time.

“Be a good, good girl,” she whispers.

And then she is gone, and there is no more warmth.

+.+.+.+

He walks me out of the coffee shop, and I marvel at how I have tamed him, this man who enjoys a plurality of women, now holding my hand on a Thursday morning.

The sidewalk is busier than the café, and he pulls me closer, kisses me, and I let him.

“Meet me for dinner,” he says against my mouth. “Eight o’clock. Locanda Verde.”

I open my eyes to find him staring down into my face and it is odd, so odd and my mouth curls into a small smile.

“Prim, pretty thing,” he whispers, grinning back at me. “I’ll win you over sooner or later.”

“We’ll see,” I say.

“Dinner?”

“We’ll see,” I repeat.

Then there is a discreet cough and Edward pulls away, away and back toward his car—

Where his driver stands, eyes narrowed as he watches.

“Where’s the fire, Riley?” Edward jokes, squeezing my hand before moving away, climbing into the Towncar. “Eight o’clock,” he calls, right before the door is shut in his face.

Riley and I lock eyes for one long moment before he is turning, turned and in the car and driving away, and I watch as the car disappears around the corner and into the sea of traffic.

Slip away, slip away, I think.

One of us will.

I will let him go, soon.

Soon.

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

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