8: Up A Winding Stair


Said the cunning Spider to the Fly, “Dear friend what can I do,

To prove the warm affection I ‘ve always felt for you?

I have within my pantry, good store of all that’s nice;

I’m sure you’re very welcome – will you please to take a slice?”

“Oh no, no,” said the little Fly, “kind Sir, that cannot be,

I’ve heard what’s in your pantry, and I do not wish to see!”

Mary Howitt, “The Spider and the Fly”


Try and twist and tear as I might, I cannot be free of the vast, shapeless shadow that gathers beyond me, its edges tinged in white and forming themselves into things I do not want to see.

The silhouette of him.

You’re not normal, Bella, but

come closer, it beckons,

and then comes to me anyway,

smelling of Acqua di Gio

and swallowing me whole.


“Dr. Cope asked me to call and let you know that she is under the weather and will not be able to make your appointment this week,” the receptionist informs me cheerfully.

I almost dread the feeling of freedom that descends with her words.


Father always loved to sail.

“It’s about balance,” he’d tell me, before launching into a lengthy exposition on the virtues and purposes of a good wooden centerboard, the importance of weight distribution and the dangers of heeling.

And then we would sail, the wind a mad thing in our hair, the sun a benevolent mother with a warm embrace and I would squint through the flyaways of my braid and wonder what it must be like on the floor of our great, grey sea.

“Do you own all of this?” I asked him as a child.

And he laughed and said, Of course.

And then he would tell me of other things; about the fall of Anne Boleyn and the Eye of Horus, the Egyptian god of sky and war and hunting, and of how he manifested as a falcon, a symbol of majesty and power.

And I would listen, awestruck and silent, because Horus, our boat, was a beast my father had tamed and surely, surely he could do anything.

I was silent then, but did not know the virtue of it.

And did not learn it, until I began to speak.


I preen and primp and prepare, a dull rock beating itself into something that gleams, glistens.

“Where can I pick you up?” he’d asked, and I’d replied that I would meet him at the restaurant.

He thinks I couldn’t possibly notice his eyes darken with disappointment as he says it would be no

trouble at all to pick me up at my place. “Are you sure?” he asks.

I think of the way his driver looked at me outside of Morningstar that day, the cold, precise assessment.

I think of the way the backseat of a car could very easily compromise my plans.

I think of another man’s memory, a dark head on my pillow and long, tan fingers twisting in my sheets

and hair as I tell him, Of course I’m sure.


I’ve been the duckling.

I’ve been the girl in the corner, the one who watches and waits, wishing.

I’ve been the un-captivating captive, shackled and slain by that chronic compulsion, the niggling need to belong, to belong, to belong.

I’ve been the prey, praying for a way out of mazes of my own making.

Weak, wanton.

Helpless, hopelessly enthralled by the hunter.

But those days will never come again—not even as they try to escape that box, that little brown box in the closet. You’re done, I tell them. You’re done and I’m done with you.

But still, they whisper.


“Careful, Ms. Swan,” Billy quips as I leave. “Or I might start thinking you have friends.”

“I’ve already told you that I’m meeting someone, Billy.”

He eyes me up and down, giving a low whistle when he sees the deadly height of my slingback stiletto pumps. “He’s gonna love those.”

“Don’t be inappropriate, Billy.”

“Sorry, Ma’am. What’s my quote?”

“‘Love is a game in which one always cheats,'” I quote.

He grins, triumphant. “Honore de Balzac.”

“That’s impressive, Billy.”

“Right?” He winks. “I saw it while I was Googling.”


I do not fidget on my way to the restaurant.

My feet do not tap impatiently on the cab’s floor.

My fingers do not shake.

Only my palms and my pulse betray the hum of excitement in my chest, twisting, shifting inside.

It’s beginning again.

This thought sustains my excitement the entire ride over, lightening my step after I check my coat and walk into the dining room, my eyes roving hungrily over the landscape of softly-lit white tablecloths until I find him.

As always, I find him.

Black suit, white shirt, no tie.

He stands from the table to greet me as I realize he must have come straight from work. He looks sharp, precise. His eyes meet mine and I read in them the desire to win and win me over.

Love is a game, I think, and I am ready for him.


Over drinks, Edward speaks of his work, of buying and selling and trading and guessing.

“It’s really all one big wager,” he explains, leaning forward over the table like it’s a secret. “But the guesses get easier when you know what you’re doing.”

“I understand,” I say, and I do.

And then there is more first-date drivel which he seems to be able to recite from memory: background, college, likes and pet peeves. He enjoys the New York Philharmonic Symphony, hates anything to do with Jennifer Aniston and has a long, faded scar on his forearm from playing polo in college.

I carefully listen to him speak, unable to memorize him fast enough.


Our plates have just been cleared when he leans forward, a bemused smile curving up his lips.

“You know,” he says, loosened and lax by the alcohol. “You’re very hard to read.”

“As compared to what?”

He shrugs. “Other people.”

“You mean other girls.”

“Other people,” he repeats firmly.

He is all expectant looks and raised eyebrows, waiting for me to reveal something that will smooth out the puzzled line between his brows, but I say nothing.

“Alright,” he concedes. “For the sake of compromise, let’s say that you’re hard to read compared to other women.”

“Other women?”

“Other women.”

“Other women like Tanya Denault?” I ask, poised and pointed.

His eyes widen for a brief moment before his face smoothes back into its former implacable expression. “You’re not at all like Tanya,” he says evenly.

“I know I’m not.”

“Oh really?”

“I’m not like a lot of other girls.”

“Should I be worried?” he asks, but he isn’t serious.

I sip my drink and set it down, smiling small. “Perhaps. Tell me about Tanya, Edward.”

“She’s a good friend of mine,” he answers smoothly. “And that’s all.”

I hum thoughtfully, unabashedly scrutinizing his features as he squarely looks me in the face. He’s a good liar, his expression the perfect balance of innocence and indifference as he stares me down.

I could press the issue, but I already know what matters of the truth, which means I already know he’s lying. I say nothing of this.

Instead, I smile again. “Very well. So. I’m difficult to read?”

He thinks I don’t notice the small look of relief that cross his face as he replies, “Extremely.”

“Does it bother you?”

“Not at all,” he replies with a smile. “I’ll figure you out eventually.”

Our eyes hold for a long moment, his gaze a proposition.

“I look forward to it,” I say momentarily, and salute him with my glass.


“The night is young,” he suavely declares with a wink, standing from the table and offering me his hand. “Care to take a walk?”

I nod. I know where we’re going.


“Tell me something about you,” he pleads laughingly, elbowing me gently. “I’ve been talking all night.”

“I’m a good listener.”

“You’re a Sphinx. You’re too quiet. Be less quiet.”

He thinks we’re feeling a buzz together, but an earlier trip to the ladies room at SD26 allowed me to instruct the waiter to begin replacing my vodka tonics with ice water. And so I walk, sober and silent, a plain grey thing in the face of the dazzling hues of a tipsy Edward Cullen.

“Tell me about you,” he insists. “Give me something, or else I’ll think you’re not enjoying our date.”

“I rarely go somewhere if I don’t enjoy being there.”

“That’s interesting,” he drawls, nudging my arm again. “Tell me more about that.”

“I don’t take requests.”

He laughs again, showcasing his brilliant teeth and the vibrant muscle of his tongue. “Let me rephrase,

then,” he says. “Why don’t you go places you don’t want to be? Everyone has to at some point. That’s life. Societal obligations and all that.”

“Randolph Bourne said that ‘Society is one vast conspiracy for carving one into the kind of statue it likes,

and then placing it in the most convenient niche it has.'”

He chuckles. “Well, some niches are more comfortable than others.”

“I believe you,” I reply. “But I’m not interested in filling a niche.”

He frowns, stops suddenly and grabs my arm, stilling me beside him. “Oh yeah? Do you not think you’re in one? You think you’ve somehow evaded being carved into something you don’t particularly like?”

“No one can completely escape that,” I say with shrug.

“Then what’s the point of fighting it?”

“To live as free as one can. And I do.”

His expression is skeptical. “Do you?”

“Yes,” I reiterate plainly.

He says nothing for a moment, regarding me with a steady. “I believe you,” he says finally, his eyes darkening with a secret I don’t yet know.

After a long several seconds, he begins walking again. “We’re here. Let’s go up.”


The 230 Fifth Club is full of rich colors and plush couches, with scantily clad waitresses dotting the

landscape. Near the middle of the floor, a large staircase leads up to a rooftop garden that I am

determined to see before the night is over.

I’m not the only one determined to see something spectacular at the end of the evening.

He thinks I’m too busy removing my jacket to notice as he stares at my legs. He thinks he’s subtle with his repeated glances at the neckline of my dress. He thinks there’s no way I’ve noticed the way he’s been eyeing my mouth as I speak, or eat, or drink.

I’m sure he’s envisioning my lips otherwise occupied.

As we continue inside, Edward Cullen offers me his arm and I take it, curling my fingers around his bicep with the precision of a talon, my fingertips yearning to press through the cloth and finally, finally feel the skin that stretches, unclaimed and uncaught, beneath the sleeve. The images of him, of what he will do to me once I let him, assault me, a barrage of sweat and flesh and fucking that rushes through my heartbeat.

But that’s not what tonight is for.

“Have you ever been here?” he asks me over the music.

I do not respond.

“Cullen!” someone female yells, and his attention is pulled away to acknowledges the greeting with a vague nod in the woman’s direction.

I don’t ask if or how they know each other.


He introduces me to a table of his friends: beautiful people who assess me coolly, their faces betraying nothing more than their own ennui.

“She’s better than the last one,” one of the men quips to his friend in a voice I’m sure I’m not meant to hear.

“Better tits,” is the equally-subtle rejoinder.

Seemingly oblivious to this exchange regarding my breasts, Edward looks around before turning to a woman at the table of his peers. “Is Alice here?”

“She’s around,” the woman answers. “But she’s here. And you’re in trouble. She’s still pissed.”

The people at the table privy to this information laugh uproariously, as Edward only nods and leads me away.


He thinks I don’t notice the looks he receives as we make our way to the roof. Women watch him, wistful or lustful or smug, their memories or fantasies playing out in an unsubtle panoply of desire across their features. And then their gazes inevitably catch me walking behind him, after which they occupy themselves either by glaring at me openly or looking down and away.

Look at yourselves, I want to sneer. Waiting for me to leave his side so you can simper at his every word, laugh at his inane jokes as you surreptitiously ask the universe for a way to master your gag reflex so you can suck him off in a back room well enough to warrant a quick fuck and a phone call the next day.

There are blondes and brunettes and redheads of all different shapes and sizes, but the vacancies in their eyes make them all look the same. They part unwillingly for us.

I’m sure their panties are wet already. Small wonder that he’s bored.

For now.


The view of the city is breathtaking, all lights and steel and sky. In the distance, the Chrysler Building looms imperiously over its immediate vicinity.

Edward leads us away from the clusters of people, over to a section of the low hedge of shrubbery lining the rooftop’s wall.

“It’s beautiful up here, isn’t it?”

I nod in agreement, fighting the urge to climb the greenery and sit on the ledge, letting my feet dangle in the air over Manhattan.

Instead, we place our drink orders with a stray waiter and stand facing the city.

“Tell me what you’re thinking.”

I smile. “I’d rather not.”

“I don’t even know your last name.”

“Selkies don’t have last names,” I remind him.



“I’m trying to be patient, here,” he huffs.

“Try harder,” I retort dryly.

I feel, rather than see, him sulking. I let him be, silent as I stare out over the skyline.

“I don’t think I’m used to being turned down,” he mutters after a few minutes.

I know this already.

“You’ll have to tell me sometime.”

“Yes,” I agree. “I suppose I will.”

He turns to me then, his hand moving to my neck, and I move to face him.

The colors of him, the colors.


His mouth parts slightly as he stares down into my face, hooded eyes and full lips and sharp jaw, and for the first time all evening I am unsure of my ability to guess what he’s thinking.

Take him take him take him, something inside of me chants.

Crazy, something else hisses. You’re crazy crazy crazy crazy—

“I’m having a lot of fun with you tonight, Bella,” he murmurs, and I am awake again.

He’s said these words before, but not to me.

He’s still playing his own game, and playing it well.

And so I resume mine.

I turn back toward the city and tell him that I’m glad. And when he takes my hand to hold, I let him.



About hollelujah

One Response to 8: Up A Winding Stair

  1. I love this! Different from what I’m used to reading, but good. 🙂

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