12: Seeketh Only Self to Please

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

Lay Your Sleeping head, my love,

Human on my faithless arm:

Time and fevers burn away

Individual beauty from

Thoughtful children, and the grave

Proves the child ephemeral:

But in my arms till break of day

Let the living creature lie,

Mortal, guilty, but to me

The entirely beautiful.

W.H. Auden, “Lullaby”

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

“‘A false sense of security,’ Michael Meade once wrote, ‘is the only kind there is.'”

Eight hundred men and women, bright-eyed and business-professional attired, listen with rapt attention as my father, the Capitol Hill colossus himself, waxes eloquent on the How to Control the World. Impressed by the scale of the engagement, I watch from the wings with members of my father’s staff.

“For this reason,” he proclaims, silhouetted against the colors of the American flag. “It is imperative that you be of one mind and many eyes. Do not let your guard down, do not assume the best, do not trust your opponents, and above all above all live vigilantly, always.”

When I am older, I will look back in wonder at how clearly I can remember my father’s words, and how egregiously I once forgot them.

+.+.+.+

“Good god,” Edward gasps, limp and spent and clutching me to his chest. “I can’t feel my fucking legs.”

I smile, kiss his neck and murmur kindnesses against him.

Yours, I told him, claimed him and took him into me. Now, I stand up from his lap, ignore his moan as he slips out, smile at his grimace as he disposes of necessities, tucking his tender flesh back into his pants.

Worries be over, I think, and run my thumb across the stress line that furrows across his forehead. He stares up at me, focusing on my features like there are ancient answers in my skin.

“If you have something you’d like to say, Edward, then say it.”

He narrows his eyes as they dart away from my lips to meet my gaze.

“I want to know what you’re thinking,” he says, the corners of his lips curling upward.

I could tell him of the satisfaction of the hard-earned soreness between my thighs, or of the bored young boy behind his eyes, or of the predictability of his submission, or of the time and time and time I’ve spent waiting for him to be in front of me, looking at me, exhaustion and a subdued exhilaration in his features.

But I do not answer him.

His eyes focused, dilated, black chasms circled with the green and gold and grey of his irises, captivating in their brilliance.

Down the rabbit hole, something whispers, and I frown.

“I think you should return to your party.”

“It’s not my party,” he grouses, standing up and fastening his fly. “Jesus, look at my pants.”

“You can’t straighten out the wrinkles by pulling on the fabric, Edward. No one’s going to notice.”

He sighs. “They’ll notice when I’m not there. Let’s go.”

I stare at him. “Isn’t Ms. Denault waiting for you?”

“‘Leave with the one you came with,’ huh? What the hell happened to not sharing?”

I shrug. “It’s only dinner.”

He moves closer to me, and I can smell the faint hints of his cologne mingled with sex. “And what if I’d rather leave with the one I fucked during the party?”

“I fucked you,” I reply, smiling coldly.

Edward laughs.

I straighten my dress, stiffen as he kisses my hand.

And we leave together.

+.+.+.+

The letter I receive from my father is typical: no real news from home, a summary of the candidate field he’s been given to work with, an exhortation to make good grades, best friends and a good decision regarding college, and his love.

I know that you’re a person who likes her solitude, he wrote. But I wish you’d find someone to be friends with. No man wants his child to live in self-imposed isolation.

I read the letter with something like a wistful smile before replacing it in its envelope and shoving it into my Versace messenger bag with the rest of my mail. The bleachers are empty except for me, and the sounds of lawn sprinklers and yelling from the soccer players is the mundane soundtrack to the first semester of my junior year.

“Crowley!” Coach Modeste yells. “Eye on the ball!”

My eyes dart to the tallest player on the field, his Phillips Academy practice jersey drenched with sweat as he frowns, looks away from me. So timid. Such a gentleman.

Nerves and expectation, I lick my lips.

“Swannie!” Bree calls, climbing the bleachers to me. “Where the hell have you been?”

“Here.”

“Watching Tyler again?” she laughs. “You stalker, you. Has he noticed you yet?”

“Of course he’s noticed me,” I reply irritably. “He wants me. He just won’t say anything.”

“Brian told me Crowley’s still a virgin.”

I nod.

“So he’s probably too shy to say anything to you. Ask him out.”

It’s not a date that I’m after, but I don’t tell her that.

“Good luck breaking him in, though. I’ve heard he’s hung like a fucking racehorse. Hey, are you coming out tonight? We’re all going into town.”

“I’m busy,” I reply absently. “Maybe next time.”

“You’re so weird.”

Tyler’s eyes are on me again, and I smile.

“Maybe,” I reply absently. “But at least I’m never bored.”

+.+.+.+

“Do you have a car here?” Edward asks.

“Of course I don’t. We’ll take a cab.”

“Wait… I’ll text my driver. He’ll be out front shortly.”

I freeze.

I’m not going anywhere near his car.

“I’m taking a cab,” I inform him.

“What?” he laughs, incredulous. “Are you serious?”

“Yes.”

“Okay,” he says slowly. “May I ask why?”

“Of course.”

He rolls his eyes. “And would you answer if I did?”

“Of course not.”

+.+.+.+

“Do you have any female friends, Isabella?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

I stare at her. “Women don’t like me.”

“And why is that?”

“I’m too direct. I don’t cushion my words. I don’t care for small talk.”

“And that’s why women don’t like you?”

“It’s a start.”

“Mmhm. Have you ever had a close female friend? Someone you trusted?”

“When I was younger.”

“But none since then.”

“No.”

She hums thoughtfully. “Would you say that you don’t trust women, then?”

“I don’t trust anybody.”

She frowns at me over her notepad. “No one at all?”

I shrug, fighting the urge to recoil from what I see in her eyes:

Pity.

+.+.+.+

It’s a quiet Monday evening when his doorman lets me in, and one elevator ride later Edward’s hands are back on my skin.

“I’ve been waiting all day for this,” he moans against my mouth.

I let him take me against the wall, laughing as he thrashes against me, pummels me with his pale hips.

“You’re mine,” I whisper, biting into the smooth skin of his shoulder, desperate as I come, and he moans his assent.

+.+.+.+

“Are you journaling again, Isabella?” Dr. Cope asks. I frown, and she looks meaningfully at my bag, at the worn-looking moleskin protruding from the top. With a sigh, I rearrange it so that it does not show.

“I’m sure you know that’s a positive step. Journaling is a very useful tool in figuring out one’s thoughts and feelings.” She pauses. “I’d very much like to read what you journal. Someday.”

“I’m sure you would.”

“Is there any chance at all that you’d let me?”

“No.”

She cocks her head to the side. “Is there something in there that you think would shock me?”

“You’d have to understand it to be shocked.”

“And you don’t think I would?”

“I know you wouldn’t.”

“Why is that?”

“Because you wouldn’t,” I reply testily.

“You’ll never know if you don’t let me try.” Her next words are careful, but I still cringe. “I’m not your mother, Isabella.”

“Ask the rest of your questions so I can leave,” I snap.

She regards me quietly for several long seconds, but silence and scrutiny are old friends and I do not look away.

+.+.+.+

A Thursday evening, and Edward answers his door with a wan face and prominent dark circles beneath red-rimmed eyes.

I have spent eleven evenings here with him so far, and he has never looked this haggard.

“Are you ill?” I ask, frowning.

“No. Come in.”

“You don’t look well.”

He looks at me, huffs a derisive laugh. “It’s been a rough week.”

I smirk. “Something keeping you up at night?”

“No, you’re not the problem. Not all of it, anyway.”

My eyes narrow at that, but I motion for him to continue.

“It’s just work. And my family.”

“Both? Don’t you work for your father?”

“Yeah.” He frowns. “I told you that?”

“It’s not exactly a secret,” I shrug, avoiding his question. “And I believe your father enjoys a bit of notoriety in the right circles.”

“Yeah, well.” He sighs. “My father’s so-called notoriety isn’t something I normally like to discuss.”

“You’re right. I could be using your mouth for other things.”

The exhausted lines of his face break into a grin.

+.+.+.+

The halls of Philips Academy are practically deserted, void with the vacancy of the Saturday morning before Christmas break. My voice echoes down the hall over the sound of his footsteps”Tyler!”

All six feet and three inches of Tyler Crowley jerk in surprise, and he turns around. He sees me immediately, but my presence in the boys’ hall only seems to confuse him more.

“Swannie?” he asks, frowning.

“Come here.”

He comes, all apprehension and anticipation and ripe, and it’s been months and god I’m so ready and I just to finally do something about it.

“What are you doing he asks, and I tug him into the room and close the door.

“You know what I’m doing,” I say my hands going for the buttons on my shirt. “Help me.”

“Help you what?”

“Take off my clothes.”

“Swannie—”

“Don’t call me that. ‘Swannie’ is for babies and old ladies. I’m seventeen, I want you, and you’re going to be my first. Call me Bella.”

He freezes. “Your first—?”

“That’s right,” I interrupt, shrugging off my shirt and reaching for his belt. “Don’t believe everything you hear.”

“But—Sw—Bella. I’m on my way to… I was going to drive home last night but—”

“But you have to meet with Coach Modeste today. I know.” He stands, still and dumb, as I unfasten his pants and pull them down his long, muscled legs. “This won’t take long.”

In spite of his protests, he’s tenting his boxers, shame and insecurity in the lines of his body. I grin.

“You want me,” I whisper, kissing the skin beneath his belly button, hoping he can’t hear the tremor in my voice. I am a kitten playing dress-up, a foal at the Derby, but experience has taught me the folly of insecurity. “This isn’t wrong if you want me.”

At my words, whatever trance he is in vanishes.

His large hands reach around my ribs to pick me up, turn me around, set me on one of the stripped twin beds. I watch as he reaches beneath my skirt, beneath the cotton panties that are wet enough to make him grunt.

Men only want one thing, my mother’s voice echoes in my head. Tyler’s eager face fills my field of vision, and all I can think regarding my mother’s warning is this:

God, I hope so.

+.+.+.+

A Sunday evening, and Edward’s insistent questions coupled with my evasion continue to grate on him.

He turns into me, backs me against the wall, his mouth against mine. My hands come up to cup his jaw, pull him back and he scowls.

Now you want slow down?”

“Disrespectful,” I chide, lightly popping his cheek.

He catches my wrist, holds it out beyond us. “Stop that.”

“You’re not the one in charge here,” I snap, my free hand reaching for his throat, fingers pressing, pressing into his pressure points there.

He curses, unhands me and we stand, staring. I notice the slump of his shoulders, as if the chains in which I’ve secured him are real.

“There’s a lot I don’t know about you,” he says after a moment.

“You know what you need to know.”

“Says the woman whose last name is still a secret.”

“Don’t,” I warn.

“Give me something, Isabella. How old are you?”

“I’m not discussing this.”

“You don’t seriously expect me to keep doing everything you say, do you?”

“I do,” I reply plainly.

“What’s in it for me?”

“I believe I’ve already demonstrated what you get when you’re good.”

He frowns, memories flashing across his face like light off a prism. “Tell me you’re legal, at least.”

I smile. “It’s a bit late for that, don’t you think? But I’m of age. Don’t worry.”

“Are you married?”

I stare at him, incredulous.

He sighs heavily. “This can’t last if you never answer any goddamn questions.”

“I’m only guaranteed the here and now, anyway.” He pulls his head back, and I am looking into his eyes. “And sometimes, the answers we think we want only confuse us.”

Inhale, exhale, blink and repeat.

“You’re trouble,” he finally breathes after several long moments of silence.

“‘Trouble is the common denominator of living. It is the great equalizer, I quote.

“Doesn’t mean you should wish for it.”

I grin wickedly, pull him down close enough to nip at his jaw. “Maybe it means you should beg for it.”

“I’ve done enough begging for sex from you to last me a lifetime,” he replies, fuming. I can see something weary in his eyes, a beast forbearing to its breaking point.

“Let’s hope not,” I say, and lead him to his bed.

+.+.+.+

“We haven’t discussed Mr. Cullen lately,” Dr. Cope notes. “When was the last time you saw him?”

“Last night.”

“Mmhm. And were you following him?”

“No. I was invited.”

“Invited where?”

“To his apartment.”

Her frown is stunning in its intensity. “His apartment.”

“Yes.”

“And are you over… at his apartment often?”

“Every night.”

“For how long?”

“Almost three weeks.”

The ensuing quiet is all-consuming.

“Isabella,” she begins, care and caution heavy in her tone. “Are you seeing him?”

“I’ve always seen him.”

“But now he’s seeing you?”

“Not yet,” I reply evenly. “But he will.”

+.+.+.+

A Sunday evening, and I milk Edward dry, clenching and coming and reveling in the sight of the straining tendons in his neck as he arches back against the pillow.

He is clingy after, his arms roping me to the rapid rise-and-fall of his chest. I let him hold me, let his lips move slightly against my hair.

“Stay,” he murmurs.

“You know better than that,” I chide, stroking down his chest.

We stay entwined, body to body, until I am ready to leave.

“I think… you’re my favorite thing,” he murmurs when I move off of him, and he is Samson, his sleepy grin a symptom of the willingly unmanned.

I say nothing and turn away, but my hands tremble as they refasten my blouse.

+.+.+.+

“You can’t tell anyone,” Tyler breathes, yanking his own shirt off and laying me down. He covers my virgin body with his own eagerly, a dumb young thing with a big cock and fumbling fingers. “My parents… religious…”

He expends a little effort to get me ready for him, whispers an apology into my neck, lines himself up and it will hurt but I don’t care, I don’t care, I don’t care…

“Ah!” I cry as he pushes into me. He stills at the sound.

“I’m sorry,” he says, and repeats it again and again.

“Keep going,” I reply, my voice pain and ice and rapture.

He does, and there is a sting with every breath, but there is also exhilaration as I fly with each moan and stab of him because gone, gone, gone is the girl I once was, the captive coward who watched men hunt and take and smile and charm.

I am a woman now, no longer the untouched innocent, no longer a pair of eyes watching, waiting her turn. I’ve tasted the fruit, bitter though it may be, and I will taste it again and again and again.

There is one face I want to see on the body pounding into me, and I squeeze my eyes shut and think, think, think—

Tyler comes quickly, moaning about tightness and wetness and he’ll do better next time.

And then there is the crash,

a yell as we’re discovered,

a flurry of motion as I am covered and chastised

and conveyed back home with a severely worded letter from the administration for my parents.

Mother flushes with anger, and father with embarrassment, but the only disgust I feel is for my world and its ways, as the tedium of expectation continues to make itself felt on my pale, frail shoulders.

+.+.+.+

A Wednesday evening, and the smell of us is heavy in the air as moonlight silvers the white of his flesh through the bedroom window.

“My sister wants to meet you,” he announces in a matter-of-fact tone.

My head turns sharply. “Why?”

“Why not?” he shrugs. “She’s curious about you.”

“She knows about me?”

“I told her I’m seeing someone, yes.” He sees my frown. “Is there a problem?”

This is unexpected, and I am not perfect but I am rarely wrong and this… this…

My words are halting, slow. “I didn’t know you would do that.”

“Pardon my presumption,” he replies sarcastically. “I assumed that we were exclusive after you practically threatened to cut my dick off if I look twice at anyone else.”

I tense at his tone, and my stony silence seems to unnerve him.

“Look—I mentioned you, and she’s curious. Apparently, I never talk about who I’m seeing. Of course, I’ve never let a crazy girl half my size beat the shit out of me in bed before either.” He smirks at my glare. “That was a joke, by the way.”

“Edward, I’m not meeting your sister.”

“Why the hell not?”

“Because I’m not your girlfriend.”

“You’re here every night. We’re not fucking anyone else. I like you. What the fuck do you want from me?” he growls, impatience in every inch of him. I dig my nails, drag them down his neck leaving a mark of me.

“Watch your tone,” I warn.

“Isabella,” he protests.

“All I want is you and my freedom. And I already have both.”

“Your freedom?” he frowns.

I nod. “Yes.”

“So, what is this, then? Are we exclusive fuck-buddies?”

My eyes flash him a warning, my nails pressing into him again. “You’re being rude.”

“You’re being ridiculous.”

My hand flies, grabs his chin, pulls him down to face me.

“Don’t speak to me like that. I’m not going to apologize for what I want.”

He is stone-still beneath my hand, his eyes hard. “Will you ever want more?”

I am silent for a moment, a series of moving images flashing across my mind’s eye: domesticity, predictability, two-sink bathrooms, tragically tight smiles, a home in the Hamptons, a ring on my finger, a swell in my belly, a staff to clean the penthouse and put a roast in the oven each night. Dinners in the city with his colleagues, his former fucks. Cold brunches spent staring at one another with open resentment. And boredom.

Above all, boredom.

Every bit of that life seems a shackle, another lock to keep me in a different kind of cage.

“No,” I reply, releasing his jaw. “Although I can’t imagine that will a problem for you, seeing as you’ve already slept your way through Manhattan.”

He says nothing for a few long moments; curious, I turn to look at him.

For the first time since Apotheke, I cannot read his face.

+.+.+.+

Dr. Cope sits, silent and shell-shocked.

And when she speaks, I am no longer the only cold thing in the room.

“Have you ever lied to me, Isabella?”

I freeze.

“Once,” I say flatly. “But only once.”

“What about?”

I do not answer.

“I hope you appreciate that I’m not quite sure what to say to you right now.” She sighs, takes off her glasses and gives me a hard look. “This man has no idea who you really are. He doesn’t know your history with men, or the fact that you’ve fixated on him for so long.”

“No one’s getting hurt.”

“This will not end well, Isabella.”

“You don’t know that,” I snap.

“I know what you tell me. I also know that your father has given you very clear boundaries regarding your behavior with men.” She sighs. “I’m not quite sure how to tell him about this.”

“You can’t tell him,” I say hotly, my chest constricting around the words. “I won’t waive my right to confidentiality.”

“I’m afraid we’re a bit beyond the ethical demands of my profession, Isabella. Your father sent you to me with very clear instructions and he expects me to protect you.”

“Don’t tell him,” I repeat, and it’s the closest I’ve ever come to begging.

Uncertainty and a resurgence of that damned pity are evident in her eyes.

Run, my mind hisses at me.

Run away.

A flash of him gone, a redux of the box in my coat closet with a different return address and betrayal in a green gaze…

And now I feel it:

Fear.

+.+.+.+

Leave him alone, Dr. Cope says.

Leave him alone, and your father won’t know.

And she would not bend further.

So here I shiver, cold as ever, as the Park grows darker, deserted.

Blocks away from here, he is expecting me,

and I will go.

And I will let him go.

Because I have a theory that goes like this:

Nothing matters, really.

You can play your part, or not.

You can love, or not.

Either way, you exist.

Either way, you choose.

And I’ve picked my poison, yes—

But now, more than ever, I choose solitude.

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

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About hollelujah
meh.

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