11: Glacies et Flamma

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

He said to me, ‘I’m a true friend!’

and then touched my dress.

How unlike an embrace

the closeness of his caress.

Thus, you stroke birds or cats, yes,

thus you view shapely performers…

in his calm eyes only laughter,

beneath pale-gold eyelashes.

And the voices of sad viols

sang behind drifting vapour:

‘Give thanks to heaven, then –

you’re alone at last with your lover.’

Anna Akhmatova, “Evening”

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

Edward Cullen’s apartment is immaculate, masculine and moneyed.

Alabaster granite floors, Venetian plastered walls and polished ebony wood accents: this is where he unwinds. This is where he nurses his abominable vanity.

I note the bookcase in his office on my way out, my eyes quickly skimming across the titles on one of the shelves. The Letters of Private Wheeler, The Middle Parts of Fortune, Sagittarius Rising, The Cruel Sea, The Forgotten Soldier

My smile is wide and involuntary: Edward is a student of war.

A pile of opened mail on his credenza catches my eye. The topmost envelope looks like an invitation, is postmarked several weeks prior and bears a return address to the Sumeria Group.

The city lights wink at me, luminous and congratulatory, as I leave his building and hail a cab.

+.+.+.+

October and November are my father’s favorite and worst months.

Safely ensconced in what his contemporaries have dubbed “The Bunker,” fifty of my father’s closest work associates gather in the home office suite he’s constructed in the basement of our home in McLean. In each room, a widescreen television pipes in MSNBC’s coverage of the congressional elections.

So far, spirits are high. Out of sixteen of Charles Swan’s endorsed candidates, nine have won congressional seats. And, with an appropriately sulky concession speech from the defeated incumbent, Jacob Black makes ten.

There is applause and cheering, high fives and hugs, as Black comes on-screen to give his victory speech. He strolls onto the American flag-festooned stage, a wide grin planted firmly on his face. Behind him, Mrs. Black practices her Stepford Grin.

“That boy is gold, Carlisle,” my father barks into his phone, his dark eyes locked onto the television. “Wait—no, he’s better than gold. I’m telling you, this is JFK redux— no, hear me out: he’s got the looks, the money, the political savvy…”

His voice drones on beside me as I stare, fascinated, at the triumphant image of the young, dark-haired man on the screen. I feel the stirrings of something forgotten, forbidden, feral. For an instant, I am transported to a place of green and grey and shadows, to a part of me once awakened under the glow of a cloudless night. It’s a fascination, a fancy, a driving burn to possess the elemental.

The Golden Boy continues to sell himself on screen. At his prime, at his personal best, he is the very picture of power.

I want it.

+.+.+.+

“Ms. Swan!” Billy calls with a grin.

“Good morning, Billy.”

“Off to the coffee shop?”

“Not today, Billy. I’m going to the Park.”

“Changing things up, eh?”

“I suppose so.”

“Well, just so happens I’ve got a quote for you.”

“Alright.”

“‘In the morning a man walks with his whole body; in the evening, only with his legs.'”

I smile; this quote is one of my father’s favorites.

“Ralph Waldo Emerson,” I answer.

His grin drops into an instantaneous scowl. “You’re cheating. I don’t know how, but you’re cheating.”

“I’m not a cheat.”

“That’s what they all say.”

“I’m serious,” I insist. “Cheating is lying, and I don’t lie.”

“Not even a little bit?”

“No. Winning’s only fun when you fight fair.”

“Ah,” he chuckles. “But then who decides what’s fair?”

I smile.

+.+.+.+

“Hello, Isabella,” Black calls as he walks out of his office. “I didn’t know you came with your father today.”

“Congressman Black,” I greet, smiling.

“Oh please. Congressman Black was my father.”

“Your father was a senator.”

“Purists would argue that since Congress is comprised of both the Senate and the House of Representatives, members of both houses are technically Congressmen.”

“But certainly we could take into account the public’s perception of the word Congressman as chiefly pertaining to members of the House. Have you ever met a senator that insists on being addressed as ‘congressman’?”

He shakes his head, chuckling. “I have not. But I’m not actually interested in arguing about political etiquette and forms of address. I just spoke with your father about you.”

He has aides to chase me for him, but I do not mention that. “And?”

“And he mentioned your interest in working on the Hill. Why didn’t you say something earlier? You know I’d love to have you on my team. You’re an accomplished, intelligent woman. I could always use a mind like yours.”

He’s right about me, but he doesn’t know that—at least, not first-hand. Jacob Black has spoken to me all of four times since we’ve met, and each exchange was spent making polite small talk while I pretended not to notice him staring down my shirt.

“Aren’t you all staffed up?”

“I can always make room for you,” he says with a wink. “What do you think?”

I am going to take the job.

“I’ll think about it,” I reply coolly.

“You’ll think about it?”

I nod.

He stares at me for several long seconds, looking like a puzzled dog, and every thought plays out across his features like a pantomime. He’s thinking he has one of the most coveted intern posts in Washington. He’s thinking about all the press his every speech garners, about how the media outlets fall and fawn all over him whenever he moves. He’s thinking about the magazine covers, the young politicos aspiring to his image, the “Sexiest Man Alive” title. He’s thinking about the world at his fingertips, Washington at his beck and call…

And me, thinking about it.

“I’ll be in touch, Congressman,” I say calmly.

I leave him in the hallway and I do not look back.

+.+.+.+

Cold, my mother called me, but I did not feel it,

until

now.

The flames I’ve found in him, in having him, have died into smoldering embers, the inferno devolved into the carcass of a campfire.

I will stay away, I remind myself, disliking the break in my routine, even as I realize its necessity.

But now, for the first time, I am cold, through and through.

The sun beams down upon the silvered towers of Manhattan, unfiltered by the cloudless sky. It is a beautiful morning, a wonderful day to walk down to the coffee shop.

But I mind my purpose, and stay away.

+.+.+.+

“Black said he spoke to you about a job yesterday, Bella,” my father says around a mouthful of Bo Luc Lac.

“Yes?”

“‘Yes’ nothing. I put myself out there to let him know you were interested in working with him. The least you can do is try it.”

“I’m taking the job.”

He frowns. “You are?”

“Yes.”

Father chews his food thoughtfully, giving me a long look. “I’m glad to hear that,” he says finally. “It’ll be good for you to find something you like.”

I nod, because I have found something I like, and its relation to politics is only incidental.

“I’ll call him and let him know the good news,” Father declares. “He’ll be glad to hear it… he was a little put out when you didn’t accept right away.”

“Always giving those boys a run for their money,” my mother remarks with a smirk.

Her joke falls flat. Father and I continue eating as if we’d never heard her.

Dinner is finished in silence.

+.+.+.+

By Wednesday, the cold is inescapable.

This is the longest I’ve gone without seeing him since I found him in Apotheke.

The absence of him is maddening.

My addiction rears her head, furious at my discipline, shaking and demanding the warmth of him. Go take him again, she roars. A call to the car service and you’ll be there. In twenty minutes you can be at his door.

She reminds me of the bestial glint in his eye as I pinioned his wrists with my hand.

Of the feeling of belonging, of owning.

Of the taste of his throat, his lips.

Of the sound of my name on his voice…

Bella, he breathed, and the sound was a song….

Warm us on his skin, my fingers cry plaintively. We are frozen.

“No!” I scream, and my voice echoes off the faces of my condescending walls.

And then there Is only my breathing, harshly keeping time to my racing pulse.

Patience, I repeat.

Carpe diem, she rebuts.

“There is a plan,” I whisper defiantly.

But no one is there.

+.+.+.+

“I’m sorry we had to cancel our appointment last week,” Dr. Cope says apologetically. “I was down with the stomach flu.”

“Sounds terrible.”

“Do you remember what we talked about last time?”

“Yes.”

She looks at me expectantly. “And?”

“You’ll need to be more specific with your questions, Doctor. I’m not a mind reader.”

“No,” she muses, tapping her pen against her lips. She smiles at something secret. “No, Isabella. I don’t suppose you are.”

I do not like her tone.

“Tell me this, Isabella: as someone who is not a mind reader, you seem to possess a vast amount of personal information regarding the men in your life.”

“Yes,” I reply coldly. “But that isn’t a question.”

“How do you do it?”

“The same way anyone does anything well. Time, effort. Discipline.”

“You speak of it almost as if it’s a hobby.”

“A hobby is any consistent activity done in one’s leisure time for pleasure.”

“You have a lot of leisure time, I presume.”

“Presume away.”

There is silence as she stares at me.

“So,” she sighs after a moment. “Time. You have plenty of time.”

“Yes.”

“But that’s not the only reason, is it?”

I look at her sharply.

“You’re driven by something else, Isabella. What I’m trying to figure out right now is what it is.”

“It’s my nature,” I shrug.

“We’ll agree to disagree.”

I shrug.

“Last time we spoke about Jacob Black, do you remember?”

“Yes.”

“Your father says that the incident with Mr. Black was not the first time this has happened, that this has happened with three men. Is that true?”

“It’s true.”

“Tell me about the others. Tell me about…” she glances down at her notes. “Tyler Crowley.”

+.+.+.+

My mother’s eyes are always searching me, alternately seeking and assailing what she sees; her stare as my father informs her of my impending move to New York is no exception.

“How many times have you done this?” she demands, turning on me. “How many others are there?”

“Renee. That’s enough.”

“I think we have the right to know, Charles. She can at least give us that. How many, Isabella?”

But I am silent.

“Answer me! How many married men have you… victimized?”

“Just the one,” I reply dryly.

“Do you think this is funny?” she hisses. “These are people’s lives, Isabella. If the media gets wind of this— this isn’t high school anymore!”

My father sighs heavily. “Renee.”

“How many?” she asks again, ignoring him.

“How many what?”

“How many she sputters. “How many men have you… have you fixated on?”

“Three.”

Only three?”

“Yes.”

“And did you follow them home? Did you break up their marriages?”

“I’ve never broken up a marriage.”

“Jacob Black—”

“Jacob Black is an arrogant, condescending, narcissistic asshole with a messiah complex and a congressional seat. Besides, his wife is staying with him.”

“You seem relieved,” she notes coldly.

“I am.”

“I’d imagine you to be capable of many horrible things, were you to be so inclined.”

“Everyone is,” I reply. “But at least I don’t pretend.”

+.+.+.+

By Friday, it’s been one week since I’ve seen him.

Tasted him.

Fucked him.

One week, I think in a loop. Seven days. One week.

A onceover in the mirror and I’m ready to go.

My stomach flutters, just barely, on the elevator down.

I’m disgusted at myself, at the tremor along my limbs. I’m no virginal schoolgirl. Even so, I will need the drive to Gotham Hall to regain control of myself.

Nothing matters, I tell myself, willing away the twitch in my bones and choosing calm. Follow the thread. That’s all.

Everything but my mind hisses in derision.

It’s been a week,

it’s time to be warm again,

and I’m ready.

+.+.+.+

The Liberty Ball is hosted by the Sumeria Group and apparently features the talents of someone called DJ White Panda. The massive, gold-lit ballroom of Gotham Hall features a 120-foot ceiling with an ornate stained glass skylight and marble flooring. The grandeur of my surroundings threatens to swallow me, and I welcome it.

Cocktail hour is in full swing, and I move in and around the small champagne cliques that fill the main hall, a selkie back in her societal skin, a snake in the grass. The feeling of freedom, of fate rushes into my lungs like a kiss of life.

I glow with it, and search.

It takes me twelve minutes, but I spot him, resplendent in his tuxedo, tall and grave and handsome.

And her, beside him, golden and gracious.

My skin begins to hum. It’s been one week, and I don’t care who’s standing next to him I want him desperate.

+.+.+.+

I am hunched over in a chair in the middle of a dingy motel room, my bare legs freezing from the broken A/C unit and my hand locking with writing cramps.

“What are you writing about?” Jacob asks, lazy and naked in the rumpled bed.

“You,” I reply.

+.+.+.+

As if she can sense my gaze, Tanya Denault looks across the room at me. Her eyes land on my face and she smirks. Beside her, Edward Cullen is engrossed in conversation with a short, fat man with no hair.

I smile back at her, sharky and sharp, showing as many teeth as possible. I am a threat, I convey with a look.

She looks away first, her perfect features furrowing in annoyance, as I walk closer, fingers loosely wrapped around my flute of champagne. Edward’s eyes flicker up to mine as I approach, his mouth curving up, then down, conflict and confusion and something else, something dark.

And then I am there, and he is leaning in to greet me like I’m a friend.

“Edward,” I greet politely, turning my head to allow him a kiss on the cheek.

“Isabella,” is his courteous reply. His lips brush hotly against the skin too close to my lips to be appropriate before he stands back. “It’s good to see you again.”

“Likewise.”

He stares a beat too long. Beside him, Tanya coughs.

“Introduce us to your friend, Edward.”

He does, pausing only when he remembers that he does not know my last name. He looks at me for help, and I only smile.

Tanya’s eyes narrow.

“I’m so sorry,” she says after introductions are made. “I didn’t catch your last name.”

“I didn’t throw it,” I quip, and the fat man beside her laughs.

“Isabella has had entirely too much fun stringing me along as I guess her identity,” Edward says casually, but there is an edge to his voice.

Tanya laughs airily. “Living incognito in Manhattan? Oh my, Isabella. I do hope you’re not hiding anything.”

“Everyone’s hiding something.”

My voice is civil, but falls sharply on her ears; she is hard eyes and a pale face, mouth locked into a polite hybrid of grin and grimace. Beside her, Edward is examining me with a look of barely-concealed fascination, a young boy faced with the facets of a shiny, new thing.

“I’ll agree with that,” Fat Man exclaims. “I don’t trust people with money.”

“Eli,” Tanya chides with a laugh. “You have more money than me and the Cullens combined.”

“So I’m an expert,” he rejoins, and there is more laughter.

Edward’s surreptitious glances are subtle, but not as much as he’d like to think. I catch his eyes on one such pass and hold his gaze. Tanya, Eli and a few other young professionals aiming for the upper classes continue their banter, blissfully blind to the fire of confusion, frustration and lust in Edward’s eyes.

I see you, I mouth silently, and his eyes narrow.

The fire is back, flames licking at my lungs, and I smile.

And walk away.

+.+.+.+

“I thought you could use another one of these,” my father tells me quietly, pressing a small notebook into my hands as we stand in his study. “You’re always writing or reading, and I know school’s been pretty tough on you.”

I take it from him, examining the cover. He says nothing for several long seconds, his gaze flicking awkwardly between the moleskine and my face. “It isn’t for you to write in,” he finally explains, every inch of him awkward.

“Then what?”

“I’ve already written in it. Just some quotes we both like. It’s… it isn’t anything much, but. Well.” He shrugs. “Maybe you can rattle some of those off to one of your professors. Suck up a little.”

“‘You may send poetry to the rich; to poor men give substantial presents, I murmur, smiling.

“Marcus Aurelius,” he answers.

+.+.+.+

My heels click and click and click, my steps a steady staccato across the marble floor as I walk, walk away.

There is a mass of people flooding into the ballroom but I continue upstream, waiting.

“Isabella!” he calls.

I do not stop.

+.+.+.+

I am winded, wide-eyed and weary and covered in filth when my father finds me.

“There you are!” he exclaims, catching my ten year old body as it crashes into him. “Bella—where on earth have you been?”

There are no words, I am unable to speak, to think, to feel anything but confusion and fatigue and a strange sense of euphoria as I burrow my face into my father’s tuxedo-clad shoulder.

“Have you found her?” a man asks nearby.

“I’ve got her. I think she was stuck in the maze.”

“Has she gone into it before?”

“No, not in the last four summers we’ve been here. We’ve always told her not to— Isabella, are you hurt?”

I shake my head no, but the trembling does not stop until Nanny Ilse strips me of my torn and tarnished party dress and puts me in the bathtub.

“Scrawny,” she mutters, holding up my arm as I drip onto the bathmat. “You would not shake so much if you were not so little. Where on earth did you get the idea to go into the garden maze, child?”

“I… I wanted to see…” I struggle to say, my teeth chattering.

“Never mind,” she interrupts soothingly, pulling a towel around my shoulders. “You can tell me about it tomorrow.”

I never tell her about that night, but I neither do I forget it.

+.+.+.+

“Isabella, I know you can hear me,” he calls loudly. “Stop walking.”

I stop at the far end of the mezzanine, noting the door along the wall to my left. “Since when do you give the orders?”

“What the fuck was that back there?” he demands.

“Be more specific.”

“You said ‘I see you.’ You mouthed it.”

“I did.”

“What the fuck does that even mean?”

“I can’t imagine there are too many ways to misinterpret those words.” I push open the door beside us; on the other side is a much smaller room full of leather couches and chairs. “Let’s talk in here.”

“What did you mean by that?” He asks as he follows me inside, bristling. “Answer the damn question, Isabella.”

“Don’t speak to me like that,” I say flatly, turning toward him. “Not ever.”

He blinks. Stares. Breathes in, breathes out, and then”Who are you?”

“I’m the only one in this building who knows what you are,” I answer quietly.

He frowns. “What am I?”

“You already know what you are. I’ve already told you. You’re bored. You’re bored and you’re lazy and you’re mine. You think I don’t know what it’s like? To be surrounded by people who don’t know, who can’t know. Do you think Tanya knows you? She doesn’t know anything. She knows she loves being seen with you, loves the idea of you two merging your bank accounts. She might even like it when you fuck her.” I move closer, until I can feel the harsh, shallow puffs of his breath on my forehead. My hand reaches between us to find him, semi-flaccid, and I squeeze him. “But I see you. I know you. I know that you distract yourself with business, or with any one of those women out there in the ballroom. I know that you’ve spent your entire life hunting pussy for sport. And I know that I’m going to make you regret every single woman you’ve fucked before I found you.”

“You’re fucking insane,” he rasps.

“Perhaps. But I know who I am.”

He practically sputters, “And that makes you better than me?”

I shrug. “It makes me honest. I’ve never lied to you, Edward.”

“Oh my god,” he moans.

“But you’ve lied, haven’t you? You’ve lied to me. You’ve lied to Tanya.”

“Fuck.”

“You’re lying to yourself right now, aren’t you? Telling yourself you don’t want me.”

“I don’t. Not like this.”

“Not when it isn’t on your own terms, you mean.”

“My own— fuck, Bella, I don’t even know you!”

“When has that ever stopped you? You were perfectly fine with fucking me before, weren’t you? At the fundraiser, in the coffee shop. Pretty, blank little Bella with her quiet and her cunt. So easy to project something onto an empty canvas, isn’t it?”

“No… wait, it wasn’t like that. I liked you—”

“But you don’t anymore?” I ask with a smirk.

He says nothing, panting, his hardening cock in my hand, his private school posture finally slumped into something real. This is the Edward Cullen I’ve dreamed of, broken and bewildered, his beauty brought down to earth. My sun god, grounded.

How refreshingly human, how warm. Achilles on his knees, bleeding from a browbeating.

“What do you want?” he asks in a low voice.

“You.”

“What? My money?”

I laugh. “I don’t need your money, Edward.”

“Then what? What is this—”

“I want you.”

“What does that even mean?”

I push on his chest, and he collapses onto the couch, dazed and defenseless. “You look lovely like this,” I murmur. I lift my hand to stroke his jaw and he flinches away.

“Don’t touch me.”

“Do you think you can lie to me?” I whisper. “You want this. You want me.”

“I wanted what I thought was you—”

“That’s not real,” I snap. “That’s easy. That’s what schoolboys send in Valentine cards. That’s what fucking Britney Spears sings about.” I sink with a sigh onto his lap, ignoring the way his frame stiffens further as I thread my arms around his neck. I lace my fingers in his hair and lean into him, pressing feather-light kisses along the edge of his lips, reveling in the way he exhales shakily against my mouth.

“Stop it,” he protests weakly.

“I’ll stop if you really want me to,” I whisper against his cheek. “But you don’t.”

“Isabella,” he says, and it sounds like a sigh.

“You belong to me,” I whisper. “Whether you want to or not. Look,” I say, shifting against the prominent hardness in his lap. “On some level, you know. You must know.” I nip at his jaw. “How could you not?”

He does not relax, but his hands tremble as they cling to my hips. I feel each fingertip press into me. Desperate, they cry against my skin. We are desperate.

My own hands caress him, a calming hand on quivering skin, clamoring for his warmth, echoing the cry.

“You love your little-boy Valentines, don’t you?” I murmur. He groans. “You’re going to love me.” I roll my hips against him. “You already love when I fuck you.”

A strangled, “Please” is his only response.

“Please what, Edward?”

He shakes his head. His erection twitches against me.

He’s desperate.

That’s two of us.

“‘Be Mine, I say into the skin under his jaw. “That’s a Valentine, isn’t it?”

“Fuck…”

“Is that a request?”

He nods.

“In a minute, then. First, there are a few things we need to clarify.”

“Like what?” he groans.

“Like this,” I answer, reaching between us to grab his erection. His hips thrust up, a reflex, into my hands. “I’m not sharing it with anyone.”

He nods again. “Okay.”

“You’ll also stop asking me personal questions.”

“Why?”

“Because they’re unnecessary. You don’t need to know my last name to know that I own you.” He stiffens, and I laugh. “You’ll get used to the idea.”

“What about you?”

“Excuse me?”

“What about you?” he repeats breathlessly. “Am I supposed to share you?”

“Hm. What if I said yes?” I ask, rolling my hips into him, loving his response.

“Then I’d kick the other guy’s ass,” he moans. “Fuck, you feel good.”

“Save your energy,” I whisper against his jaw. “I’ll be yours.”

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



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About hollelujah
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