5: Those Who Doubt

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

I stood musing in a black world,

Not knowing where to direct my feet.

And I saw the quick stream of men

Pouring ceaselessly,

Filled with eager faces,

A torrent of desire.

I called to them,

“Where do you go? What do you see?”

A thousand voices called to me.

A thousand fingers pointed.

“Look! look! There!”

And at the blindness of my spirit

They screamed,

“Fool! fool! fool!”

Stephen Crane, “I Stood Musing In A Black World”

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

“You musn’t touch things that aren’t yours,” my mother told me.

“Be content with what you have. There are others less fortunate,” My father would say.

And I listened and nodded and dressed like a good, good girl.

But time marched on, dragging us behind it and I began to realize that Mother knew she could afford to live by her rule, because money bought her everything.

Father knew it as well; he bought Mother.

I watched my parents watch me grow up, pride and joy disintegrating into disgust and bewilderment as they realized that their Park Avenue Princess – their good, good girl – could be so very cold.

+.+.+.+

I do not see Edward Cullen again until the Monday after the fundraiser, until he comes into Morningstar looking starched and clean and untouched by my hands.

I don’t like it, but I swallow and focus.

Navy suit, cobalt tie.

He orders, oblivious to me. This is when my invisibility begins to rankle.

I keep my head down as he exits, silently willing his eye to catch my form and remember. Remember something.

Look at me, I scream via telepathy, my pulse thudding a bass line in my ears.

The ringing of the bell above the exit informs me that I will need to be more patient.

+.+.+.+

“Morning, Ms. Swan.”

“Good morning, Billy.”

“I got one for you,” he announces with a grin.

“Okay.”

“‘Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.‘”

I sigh, quickly racking my brain. “Franklin Roosevelt?”

“Theodore,” he crows, amused at my mistake. “Better luck next time, right?”

+.+.+.+

Black suit with grey pinstripes, light pink tie. Walk in, walk out, oblivious to the way my hands curl around my coffee mug like talons that need to tear through something. He’s too far away.

I remain unseen.

+.+.+.+

“Isabella,” Dr. Cope begins gravely.

Annoyed, I brace myself for the forthcoming lecture. She does not disappoint.

She says things like “fear of intimacy” and “unhealthy fixation” and, the old failsafe, “predatory behavior.”

She gives me suggestions to distract myself. Yoga. Photography. A job.

I tell her yes, of course I’ll consider those things, before leaving, heaving a sigh of something like relief.

+.+.+.+

Grey suit, light green tie.

I look up as he leaves and even manage to catch his eye, but still, he does not stop.

Patience, I remind myself. I’ve been here before, and experience has been a merciless teacher. Acting rashly ruins everything.

Patience.

+.+.+.+

Sometimes of dream of him. And then I dream of other things.

“You’re not normal.”

Black smoke words, wispy twisting, curling and twirling until its tendrils are ropes wrapped around my wrists, pulling me back into a day long gone. Everything is dismal, just like it was back then, back when a different man looked me in the face with sad eyes and scowl and whispered words, hateful words that now echo in my sleep.

“You’re going to Hell, Bella.”

+.+.+.+

“What is like to lose your mind?” an old friend asked me once, and he’d been joking.

“It’s at least as easy as keeping it,” I’d replied, and I’d meant every word.

+.+.+.+

“So, you spoke to him,” Dr. Cope notes disapprovingly, closing my journal.

“I introduced myself.”

She levels a look at me that could be described as ‘Not Amused.’

“Isabella, do you remember what we talked about regarding this fixation?”

“I remember what you said,” I reply evenly.

“I’ll say it again: what you’re dealing with is typical of an addiction. Your interactions with Mr. Cullen seem to be increasing your sense of power over him, simply because you are able to approach him on your terms.”

“You’re talking about him like he’s a victim.”

“How would you define the criteria for being a victim, Isabella?”

“‘One who is harmed by another.’ I know the definition. I haven’t harmed him.”

“Do you intend to?”

“Of course not.”

“I want you to be aware of the potential legal consequences if you continue to insert yourself into this man’s life.”

“Are you going to report me?”

She sighs. “Whether or not I report you to someone should not be your biggest concern. Right now, I want us to focus on helping you confront your past.”

“I don’t see a need for that.”

“Then why are you here, Isabella?”

“You know why I’m here,” I sigh. “If you’ve forgotten, call the man who signs your paycheck.”

“Your father and I speak regularly, Isabella. I’ve never made a secret of it. I hope it goes without saying that whatever is said in our sessions remains confidential.”

“For now,” I retort. “You’re forgetting that I’ve done this before.”

Her silences are heavier than her lectures, and this one is no different. For interminable moments, the only sounds I can hear are her breathing and my own even pulse.

“That’s our time today,” she says finally. “Until next week.”

+.+.+.+

Tuesday evening.

The walls of my bedroom hem me in, holding up the moldings that stare balefully down at me. Every square inch of this place is a reminder of its transitory quality; it is no more a home to me than the streets outside.

“What the fuck are you looking at?” I ask the walls of my bedroom, annoyed at their ever-present presumption. They’re so damn sure I won’t knock them down. They’re so damn sure they’ll get rid of me.

Crazy, they whisper. You’re crazy.

“Maybe I am,” I snap. “But I’m still in charge. What do you think about that?”

They don’t respond.

I make a call.

They’re repainted by Thursday.

+.+.+.+

It’s a Friday morning when his eyes find mine.

Navy suit, burgundy tie.

He’s walking back across the Morningstar, heading out for the exit, heading into his day, when by some chance, a whim, a whisper of fate or the tug of the thread that leads me, his eyes flit over one side of the shop before landing on my face. His entire body seems to jolt for a moment, seemingly stunned into immobility by the Ghost of Drunk-Interrupted-Hand-Jobs Past.

He’s moving again, and any pretense of being complete strangers is over because I can’t look away from him and my lips turn upward as he takes a step and a step and a step, before he’s standing in front of my café table.

Nothing really matters, I remind myself, breathing and breathing out. Follow the thread.

“Hi,” he begins.

“Hello.”

His jaw flexes, like he’s trying to mold his next words with the nervous-looking clenching of his teeth. “We know each other, right?” he asks quietly, his customary frown deepened with confusion.

I’m impatient to get past this part, this re-introduction, but manage to answer indifferently: “You tell me.”

“The Bootleg Ball. You were there?”

“I was.”

“Everything’s a little hazy from that night,” he chuckles. “But you looked—you look so familiar.”

‘A little hazy’ is a good way to describe the way he’s seemed to have forgotten putting my hand on his cock. I add another fact to my collection: Edward Cullen has a gift for understatement. And oblivion.

But I already knew that.

“I was there,” I repeat.

“Right. I’m so sorry. Tell me your name again.”

“Bella.”

He smiles. It looks flirtatious. “Do you have a last name, Bella?”

“I do.”

A few seconds pass before it’s obvious that I have no plans to fill in any blanks for him. As he realizes this, his smile falls, just a bit. He’s so sweet, so polite. So different from the man who’d begged me to meet him out back for a quick fuck. Scotch seems to be his courage of choice.

“Right. I hope I haven’t offended you by coming over—”

“Not at all,” I assure him calmly. “It’s always good to see you.”

“Right,” he says again.

He’s what I’m used to, so his next words don’t surprise me.

“Will I see you around again?”

“And where would we see each other?” I ask, cocking an eyebrow.

He stares at me for a moment. If he were a schoolboy, he’d shuffle his feet. “We’ll be at the Chelsea Exhibition at Agora next Thursday.”

“I don’t have a ticket.”

“It’s open to the public. All kinds of people will be there.”

“All kinds?”

“All kinds,” he repeats.

“Well, then. Maybe I’ll be one of them.”

His answering smile is warm. “I hope so.”

He offers me a pleasant goodbye and exits, leaving me mulling over the last few minutes, mulling over the moment I’ve been waiting for since I watched his limp, drunken form being poured into the limo he’d shared with Tanya Denault for the benefit. I watched them drive away, their taillights disappearing around a corner as I waited for a cab in the dark.

I’m nothing if not a willing satellite, content to orbit the outskirts of him. For now.

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


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About hollelujah
meh.

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