A Sort of Homecoming
“Oh my God, I have to take you there.”
He was driving me toward what he called Montrose Harbor and we passed by a club called Blue Chicago.
“Best club in Chicago. I’ve seen the greatest bands there. I used to come into the city when I was sixteen and sneak in with my fake i.d.”
I had to smile as I looked at Edward behind the wheel of the Audi he’d rented for our stay in Chicago. He was so excited and his face, always amusingly animated, was lit up like he was a ten-year-old on Christmas morning. I reached over and put a hand on his thigh, squeezing lightly.
“You realize that we’re only in town for three days and you’ve already pointed out about a dozen places we have to go while we’re here.”
He squeezed my hand at his thigh before lacing his fingers through mine. “Hope you rested up while we were in Paris, then. You’ll need your energy.”
I chuckled and scooted closer to him. “Paris was wonderful, love, but you know as well as I do that resting wasn’t really on our agenda.”
He glanced my way and winked at me lasciviously. “True, but luckily you seem to have lots of energy when it’s needed.”
“You’re forgetting that I’m old. I don’t have quite the stamina I used to have.”
“Really?” He raised his eyebrows, comically. “Is that true? Did you used to have more stamina?”
“Truthfully?” I smiled demurely. “No.”
He chuckled and I watched the scenery approaching us through the windshield. Chicago had a lot more trees than I expected.
“I’m in much better shape now than I used to be.”
His hand flattened over the top of mine and he pressed into it. “Yeah, okay. That makes sense. ‘Cause seriously, how much stamina can a woman have? I was about to ask if you ever killed a man.”
We laughed together, the sound like music to my ears. It was a cold and cloudy day, but the sun had begun to peek down at us, streaming beautifully through the tops of buildings and the many trees we passed.
“Wouldn’t be a bad way to go,” I said, still chuckling.
“Death by pussy. That’s like leaving this world the same way you came in.”
“You’re really very crass, you know.” I was still smiling as I rolled my eyes.
He lifted my fingers to his lips and kissed them. “Yes, but you love me anyway.”
“Yeah, usually.” I shrugged.
We had arrived in Chicago late the previous night and headed straight to our hotel—the Renaissance Blackstone, right on Michigan Avenue, near Grant Park. It was lovely, as was our view of Lake Michigan, but I missed Paris already. If I was in love with Edward before, our six weeks in Europe, capped off by a week of romance beyond my wildest imagination in Paris, just cemented that fact. He wined and dined me in an extravagant manner; we wandered through the streets of the city, gaping at the sites like the tourists we were; we walked daily, hand-in-hand, through the Tuileries garden. But nothing was better than the inordinate amount of time we spent in our suite, gazing out at Paris from our balcony and making love like the world was ending and we were living on borrowed time.
Traveling can be stressful under the best of circumstances. Even your closest friends can leave you so irritated you want to stick a fork in someone’s eye. Traveling with Edward, though, was a joy. It was a given that we were interested in the same things and therefore wanted to visit the same sites. What was less obvious was just how comfortable we would be together. Neither of us were strict, by-the-clock tourists, always planning out our days to the minute. We decided what we would do each morning and went about each day at our leisure. We were both wanderers—we liked to walk around and get lost, which led to the most fabulous discoveries, such as the tiny restaurant in Rome where nobody spoke a word of English, but they served us the best food of our entire trip; the ruins we literally stumbled upon while gathering lemons in the Cinque Terre; the old Spanish couple in Barcelona who invited us into their home for an afternoon meal. While we always had plenty to talk about and Edward never bored me, we didn’t feel the need for constant conversation. Often, we would just sit in quiet contentment, letting our environment envelop and seduce us, our only communication being a soft caress.
I knew without question there was no one better suited to me than Edward, nobody I would rather be with. I no longer knew what I wanted from my life or who I wanted to be when I grew up, but I knew that whatever and wherever I ended up, I wanted him at my side. I felt a strange mixture of peace and excitement at that knowledge.
There were two goals for the stop through Chicago at the tail-end of our trip. The most obvious was that Edward was to introduce me to his parents. To that end, we were having dinner at their home that night. Edward’s other objective with this trip — one that was left unspoken, but I knew to be his main goal — was for me to fall in love with the city itself. He had applied to start the Masters program at Northwestern in the fall and while he had submitted applications to other universities as well, it was a forgone conclusion he would be accepted into his alma mater. He longed to return to Chicago. He liked Southern California (especially the weather), but I knew that the only thing really holding him there was me.
“I wish it was baseball season,” he said. “I used to love going to see the Cubs.”
“You must be a glutton for punishment, then,” I said with a grin as I pulled my wool pea coat tighter around my neck.
“Hey, don’t be dissing my Cubbies!” He glanced over at me as he turned onto a highway that ran along the lakeshore. “Are you cold, doll? Want me to turn up the heat?”
“I’m okay, for now.”
It was really cold in Chicago. There was no snow on the ground, but the air was like ice and it cut through me like a switchblade. I thought I was literally going to freeze even standing inside the airport, waiting for our luggage to come around on the carousel. When we walked outside, I thought I had died and just stepped into hell. I’d been shivering in my coat and gloves ever since. I even had a hat on my head. So far, Chicago, with its numerous parks, skyscrapers and the coastline, seemed to be a beautiful city. From what Edward had been telling me all day, it was also filled with world class restaurants, jazz and blues clubs and museums. I had no idea, though, how I would ever to get used to the cold. The fifteen hours I’d spent there so far made rainy Forks, Washington, seem like Hawaii.
“What time do we have to be at your parents’ house?” I was eager to change the subject. I didn’t really want Edward to know how uncomfortable I was. He was so excited to be home.
“Seven. I’m sure we’ll have a cocktail hour before we eat. And you’ll be thankful for the booze, believe me.”
I smiled as I looked at him. His jaw was tense and I instantly regretted asking him about dinner. I reached over to caress his arm.
“I’m sure it won’t be that bad, Edward. I promise I won’t embarrass you.”
He huffed in response. “It’s not you I’m worried about. Please, just ... whatever happens, please don’t think I’m anything like them, okay?”
“Edward...” I squeezed his forearm. “I already know you. I already love you, remember? Meeting your parents isn’t going to change that, silly.”
“I know ... I just...” He sighed heavily and pulled into a parking lot in front of the lake. The water looked grey under the heavy clouds and the wind made waves across its surface. I shivered, just the site of it making me even colder. Edward turned toward me as he shut the engine. “You don’t know these people, Bella. Hell, I barely know them. But they’re ... difficult. My dad, especially. He’s a hard ass and he’s immediately suspect of everyone. I’m just afraid they’re gonna make you feel uncomfortable.”
“Well, first of all, I am quite used to dealing with hard asses, Edward.”
He gave me a halfhearted smile.
“Second, even if they do make me feel uncomfortable, so what? It’s only one night. It’s not like we’re moving into their spare bedroom.”
He looked at me for several seconds before he leaned over the center console and gave me a soft kiss on the lips. He caressed my face as he pulled away only slightly. I had no idea what was on his mind, but it was apparent that his carefree attitude from earlier had been diminished significantly.
“You wanna go for a walk by the lake?” he asked.
I pulled away, my mouth dropping open before I could catch it. “Dude ... it’s like two degrees out there.”
He smiled and hit the button to unlock our doors. “That’s a slight exaggeration, love. Come on. I’ll keep you warm.”
He tried. He kept his arm around me as we walked and I snuggled into him, wrapping my arms around his waist, under his jacket. He even snuck kisses onto my neck. It was all for naught. I was shivering violently about five minutes into our walk and we had to turn around and head back to the car.
“I can’t believe my kissing your neck didn’t even warm you up. I must be losing my touch.” He grinned and leaned over to do so again.
I shivered and pulled away from him. “Well, first of all, your nose is cold so that is not helping at all.”
He chuckled as he started the car. “And second?”
“Shut up. There is no second. Just turn on the fucking heat.”
By the time we made it back to our hotel, all I could think of was taking a very long soak in a very hot tub. When the water started to turn cold, I got out, knowing there was something wrong. Edward knew I was soaking naked in an oversized tub — with bubbles — and he didn’t interrupt me with amorous intentions. This was a key indication that something was amiss.
I slipped his Ramones T-shirt over my head and headed out to the living room.
He glanced at me and he paused for a moment before his eyes returned to the newspaper in his hands.
I leaned against the doorway. “I’m sorry, baby.”
He looked up at me, folding the paper and putting it in his lap. He smiled. He loved it when I called him baby. “Why are you sorry, doll?”
I loved it when he called me doll or doll face. Hell, I loved it when he called me baby, too. “I’m sorry I’m having such a hard time with the cold.”
He started to laugh. “Why on earth would you apologize for that?”
I shifted my weight from one foot to the other. “Well, it’s just that I know how important it is to you that I like Chicago. I don’t want you to think that because I hate this horrific weather that I won’t want to move here when you get into Northwestern.”
He looked at me for several seconds, his expression thoughtful. A small smile played on his lips. Then he leaned over the arm of his chair and dropped his paper to the floor before motioning at me with his hand. “Come here,” he whispered.
I walked over and stood in front of him.
“Come here,” he repeated and motioned for me to sit on his lap. His arms wrapped around my waist as I did so. “We haven’t really talked about this.”
“No.” I shook my head slowly. “We haven’t.”
“Bella, I really want to go to Northwestern. Not only do I feel comfortable there — here, in Chicago — but it’s a great school. If I get into grad school here, I can get my PhD in Philosophy.”
He brought one hand to my face, cupping my cheek, his fingers in my wet hair. “But Bella, I can’t do it without you.”
“Well, you don’t have to.”
His fingers caressed my scalp and I closed my eyes for a moment at the relaxing feeling.
“Yeah?” he asked. “You’ll move here with me, if I get in?”
I wrapped my hands around his neck and kissed his lips before I answered. “A—you will get in. And B—there is no way I am letting you move here, or anywhere, without me.” I kissed him again, with more intent, before resting my forehead against his. “I can be happy living anywhere. But I cannot be happy living without you.”
“Jesus, Bella.” Both of his hands held my face and he pulled me to him for another, deep kiss, his tongue caressing mine. “I love you so much. You know that, right?”
The urgency reflected in his eyes made my breath shudder and I kissed him softly yet again before I whispered, “I do. And I love you.”
He held me close, looking into my eyes, for several long moments that seemed to stretch into forever. I barely blinked, not wanting to miss a split second of his green eyes glowing with unspoken thoughts and feelings he didn’t need to name. I knew what he was feeling, because I felt the same.
I felt warm, I felt safe; I felt incredibly loved.
I also felt something distinctly hard against the underside of my thigh.
“I can’t believe you snagged my T-shirt.” His voice was deep and husky as a sly grin stretched across his lips and a familiar spark lit up his eyes. The fingers from one hand danced across my cheek while the other dropped to the hem of that shirt, his fingers slipping beneath. His grin widened and his eyes brightened. “And no panties.”
“I love this shirt,” I said, tilting my head and raising a shoulder in reaction as his fingers tickled the skin of my neck. “I’ve been coveting it for a very long time. And you didn’t have any panties that fit me,” I added with a wink.
He raised his eyebrows and pinched my earlobe. “Well, if you swear to always wear it with nothing on underneath, you can have it.”
“Really?” I moved my hands across his shoulders, his chest. I paused over his heart, feeling it beat heavily, making me smile. “You’ve got yourself a deal. But don’t blame me if I get a lot of attention while I’m wearing it.”
He chuckled and again brushed the skin of my neck lightly, making me shiver. “Oh, no. You can only wear it for me.”
I raised one eyebrow. “Well, what’s the point of having such a cool shirt if no one will ever see me in it?”
“I’ll see you,” he said, his hand moving to the back of my neck. “Who else matters?”
He brought my face toward his and enveloped my mouth in a kiss. As I buried my hands in his hair and he slipped his tongue between my lips, I reveled in how hot his kisses could always make me.
He shifted in his seat so I could wrap my legs around him and he stood, taking me with him. I held on tight as we continued the kiss and he walked us toward the bed. His hands were on my hips, beneath the shirt, as he lay me down. His fingers trailed across my skin as he lifted my shirt, pushing it up, until it gathered beneath my breasts.
“You know the only bad thing about you not wearing panties?”
“Mmm...” I closed my eyes as his lips made a trail across my tummy.
“If you don’t have them on, I can’t take them off of you.”
A huff of air was the only response I could muster as he pushed the shirt up even farther and attached his lips to my breast. I felt his hum against my skin as my fingers threaded through his hair and I pulled him tightly to me. I arched my back, almost involuntarily, as his lips and tongue lavished attention on my flesh. A strangled moan slipped from my lips as he kissed my belly button.
“I love the way you taste, baby,” he whispered against my skin. His hand moved down my thigh and back up again, cupping my rear-end and squeezing it lightly. “And you always smell so good.”
He attached his lips to the crease at the apex of my thigh and my leg jerked reflexively, my stomach muscles clenching to the point that I sat up slightly. My fingers tightened in his hair as his name flew from my lips and he chuckled against my skin, licking the spot he had sucked between his lips only a moment before. As he settled between my legs, his fingers crept between my folds, opening me to him, and he gazed down at me.
“My god, you’re beautiful.”
He whispered so softly that I barely heard him. My hand tightened in his hair as he then took one long lick, humming as he attached his lips to my clit.
My head fell back onto the bed and I closed my eyes, pulled willingly into the oblivion to which his loving mouth led me. As I writhed beneath him, he gave me his full attention, stopping only briefly to speak words of love; heated words he knew would drive my mind further away and encourage me to simply be—to be wanton, to be free, to be completely myself and know that he would love me all the more for it. As I started to come under the pressure of his mouth, my head thrashed against the mattress and his hand gripped my hip. His fingers slipped inside me, the movement only serving to increase the intensity of my orgasm and bringing me to a shattering climax.
His name was but a whisper on my tongue as he continued to kiss me, bringing me down slowly from heights to which only he had ever taken me. When I caught my breath and opened my eyes, he hovered above me, his hands still working magic against my slippery flesh. He bent to catch my lower lip between his teeth before sliding his tongue over it. He slipped his tongue into my mouth in a heated kiss.
“I have never — will never — want anyone the way I want you,” he said as he maneuvered himself between my legs and pushed into me. My breath left my body in a huff as I arched toward him, wrapping my legs around him, pulling him deeply into me.
He moved slowly inside me, looking into my eyes, as if he could find an answer to some unspoken question within them. His weight on top of me only served to bring us together and I gripped him to me with my hands at his back. The love reflected in his eyes brought the wetness of budding tears to mine and I gripped him even tighter as I felt another climax building within me—one borne of physical sensation, but also the physical manifestation of our connection.
“Oh, fuck,” he whispered as he dropped his head to my shoulder and the pace of his thrusts increased. He would pull almost all the way out of me before filling me again and again and when I screamed once more in passion, his voice was an echo of mine before he fell on top of me, exhausted in his release.
We slept then, briefly, wrapped around each other. He woke when I did and I felt his fingers drifting across my back as I rose to leave the bed.
“I have to take a shower,” I whispered as I bent to kiss his cheek softly. “I was all clean and you had to go and make me dirty again.”
He smiled and ran a hand through my hair. “I got news for you. I didn’t make you dirty. God did.”
I chuckled and ran my nose along his beautiful jaw, feeling the scruff of his evening shadow tickle my skin. Edward smiled and closed his eyes.
“You can sleep a while longer, if you’d like,” I said. “It’s only four.”
Instead of sleeping, though, he followed me into the bathroom. Stepping into the shower with me, a sly grin on his face, he said, “Hey, we’re saving water this way.”
I nodded, chuckling and knowing full well that no water would be saved. We were in that shower for far too long to be environmentally prudent.
The drive to Arlington Heights took just under an hour. We drove north and west, away from the lake, and skirted the airport before we passed through a wooded area and the suburbs. It was a lovely drive and I watched as the sun left a pinkish trail in the clouds on the horizon before setting. Finally, we arrived at a gated community where Edward stopped at the guard station and gave the attendant his name; the gate opened and we were allowed to drive through. After about five minutes of cruising through winding, tree-lined streets past increasingly larger and grander homes, we turned onto a long driveway. Both sides of the drive were lined with large trees, bare due to the season.
“Are we driving to Tara?” I asked, a smirk on my face.
Edward just chuckled. He had been obviously nervous throughout the drive and I placed a hand on his thigh, hoping to calm him.
My eyes widened as we neared his childhood home. The house was beautiful, to be sure—an English Tudor style, with a steeply pitched roof and several gables. There were many tall, narrow and small-paned windows visible and I counted three large chimneys. Edward stopped the car and we exited the vehicle silently.
“Oh my–” My mouth fell open as I gaped at the mansion in front of me and he walked around to my side of the car. “You grew up here?”
He chuckled and I felt his hand at my waist, leading me up a cobblestone walkway toward the front door.
“Yes, this is my parents’ house.”
“Edward, this isn’t a house. It’s a friggin’ museum.”
He chuckled again, shaking his head as we reached the front door and he rang the bell. We didn’t have to wait long before the door was opened by a young woman dressed in a maid’s uniform. I couldn’t help the grin that spread across my face as I recalled Edward once telling me he’d like to get me into such a uniform.
“Hello,” Edward said. “Don’t know if you remember me, but I’m Edward and this is Bella. The Masens are expecting us.”
“Of course, sir,” the young woman said, stepping to the side to allow us entry. “Welcome home. Please come in and I’ll take your coats.”
As we stepped over the threshold and into a large foyer, a lovely woman who appeared to be in her mid-fifties glided lightly down the staircase to our right. I assumed her to be Edward’s mother even before she spoke. She had her son’s green eyes, though the light in hers had been muted over the years and they were surrounded by a few light wrinkles. Her auburn hair was pulled back in a bun and she wore a dark blue, silk dress that fell to her knees.
“Edward, dear,” she said, walking toward us with her arms open. “It’s so good to see you.” She put her arms on Edward’s shoulders and pulled him toward her, kissing his cheek. He put one hand on her back as she did so.
She turned toward me. “And you must be Isabella.”
I smiled and held my hand out toward her as Edward removed his coat and handed it to the maid.
“It’s Bella,” I said.
“Yes, Bella, this is my mother, Elizabeth. Mother, Bella Swan.”
“It’s lovely to meet you, Mrs. Masen.”
She barely put a cold hand in mine before dropping it. “Pleasure,” she said, eyeing me carefully.
The maid came toward me with her hand out, slightly. “Ma’am?”
I removed my coat and smiled at her, as well. “Hi,” I said to her. “I’m Bella. And you are?”
“Alice, ma’am.” She gave me a little curtsy.
“Oh, Alice.” I smiled widely at her. “One of my best friends is named Alice.”
Her eyes grew wide and they darted from me to Elizabeth and back again. She curtsied again and made her way out of the room, our coats draped over her arm.
When I looked back at Edward, he was smiling widely at me. “What?” I asked.
He just shook his head, still smiling. “Nothing.”
Mrs. Masen cleared her throat. “Please, come into the living room. Your father is waiting for us there.”
We walked down the hall toward a room to the left, passing a large family portrait which hung from the wall, a photo obviously taken when Edward was about ten years old. I looked at him and grinned as we passed and he rolled his eyes, putting his hand on my back. The room we entered was fairly large, with a few different sofas and several chairs scattered around the room. My eyes were immediately drawn, however, to the tall and broad-shouldered man standing at a bar in the corner, dropping ice cubes into a glass. He turned as we entered the room.
“Edward,” he said as he put down his glass. He turned and walked toward us. “Good to see you, son.”
“Hello, Father,” Edward said, shaking his hand.
They seemed so formal with each other and I couldn’t help but think of my own dad, Charlie. He wasn’t the most comfortable man when it came to showing physical affection and even he would grip me in a bear hug when I had been away at school and he hadn’t seen me in a few months. But I supposed it was a bit different for boys.
“Father, I’d like to introduce you to my girlfriend, Bella. Bella, this is my father—the other Edward Masen.”
He grinned as his father extended his hand toward me and I shook it. His hand was so large I thought mine would be swallowed up within it, but after exchanging pleasantries he returned it to me.
“I was just going to have a drink,” he said as he moved back toward the bar.
“Please,” Elizabeth said, as she lowered herself onto a tan-colored sofa that appeared to be made of some luxurious fabric. “Have a seat and make yourselves comfortable. Dinner will be ready shortly.”
I found it odd that Edward had been invited to have a seat in his childhood home. The formality of the atmosphere again struck me.
“Scotch, Edward?” Mr. Masen raised a decanter filled with amber liquid toward his son.
“Sounds good.” Edward nodded.
I watched as the elder man filled two glasses. He had a strong profile, much like Edward’s, and dark hair that was greying at the temples. But that’s where his resemblance to his son ended. He was broader in the shoulders and stood at least two inches taller. He had a hard look to him, with dark, stern eyes and an angular nose. I could tell he must once have been quite attractive, but he gave off an icy, intimidating aura that was not at all inviting.
“And you, Miss Swan? What is your pleasure?”
“Vodka, please. On the rocks.”
He looked up at me, an eyebrow raised. I had to smile, as the expression was so like the one his son turned on me often.
“No soda? Tonic?”
“No, thank you,” I said, smiling in spite of his cold demeanor.
“Elizabeth, can I make you a martini?”
“I’ll just have gin and tonic,” she said as she shifted in her chair to glance at him before returning her gaze to Edward and me.
“How are you finding Chicago, Miss Swan?”
“It’s a lovely city,” I replied. “Edward has been playing tour guide all day.”
“Yes, and she’s been freezing all day,” Edward said, chuckling. “I’m afraid our Chicago weather doesn’t exactly suit a woman from Southern California.”
I glanced at him curiously, because he seemed nervous, and smiled, somewhat embarrassed. “It’s true. I get cold when the needle drops below seventy degrees.”
“You grew up in California then?”
“I was born and raised in Washington,” I said, answering her question as her husband brought us our drinks on a small tray. He then took a seat next to his wife.
“State or DC?”
“State. A small town called Forks.”
“I’m afraid I’ve never heard of it.”
“No reason you should,” I replied with a shrug. “It’s a very small town, only a few thousand people live there. It’s north, by the coast, and it’s wet and cold there, at least I used to think so before I came here. I’ve lived in California since college, though. I guess my blood has thinned.” I smiled and Elizabeth thinned her lips in something approximating a smile in return.
“And what do your parents do, in Forks?” She said the name of my hometown as if she had just swallowed something rotten.
“My parents divorced when I was young. I didn’t know my mother, really. My father was the county sheriff.”
She exchanged a pointed look with her husband that clearly indicated I might as well have said Charlie was the county drug dealer.
“I see,” she said. “Was?”
“Bella’s father passed away a few years ago.”
Edward spoke on my behalf, for which I was grateful. Something about this woman made me feel incredibly uncomfortable. I felt the urge to make sure I hadn’t tucked my dress into my underwear or something.
“Oh,” Elizabeth’s eyes widened, slightly. “I’m terribly sorry, Miss Swan.”
“Please, call me Bella.”
She merely hummed at my invitation and took a large gulp from her glass. Elizabeth waved toward something behind me and a well-groomed gentleman I hadn’t even known was there stepped forward, a decanter of clear liquid in his hand. He bent slightly forward, topping off her glass with straight gin.
“More ice, ma’am?” he asked.
“No, this is fine, Benjamin.” She looked toward us. “My husband never makes my drinks strong enough.”
Edward had already finished his drink and ran a hand through his hair, bouncing his leg next to me. I put a hand on his thigh, rubbing slightly, and he stopped fidgeting. Though his parents made me uncomfortable, it seemed odd to me that he was obviously so nervous in his childhood home.
“Dinner is ready, ma’am.” Yet another woman in uniform stood in the doorway, this one older, with grey hair and round, chubby cheeks.
“Well,” Elizabeth said as she stood from her chair, her glass in hand. “Shall we, then? To the dining room?”
Edward and I followed his parents into a beautifully furnished, formal dining room. A large table, which would sit up to ten people if needed, was set for four, a large floral centerpiece in the middle. Edward pulled a chair out for me before taking his place at my side while his mother sat across from us, his father at the head of the table.
“We’re having a roast chicken,” Elizabeth said. “Edward tells me you don’t eat red meat, Miss Swan. We’re usually meat eaters, I’m afraid.” She chuckled and held her glass to her lips yet again.
Why did it feel like she had accused me of tearing the heads off of cute little baby chicks?
I blushed, slightly. “I hope you didn’t go to too much trouble on my behalf,” I said. “I really ... I mean, I can eat anything. It’s just a preference.”
“Oh, please,” Edward said, an edge to his voice. “It’s not like we’ve never eaten chicken in this house.”
“I do hope you don’t have any other dietary restrictions my son failed to disclose,” she responded, embarrassing me further.
Edward exhaled in exasperation as I said, “I’m sure whatever you’re serving will be lovely, Mrs. Masen.”
At that moment, the chubby-cheeked woman we’d seen moments before entered, placing salads in front of each of us while Benjamin made sure our glasses were filled. I shook my head and smiled at him when he tried to fill my glass with more vodka. I planned to stick to the water in front of me, at least for the meal. I didn’t think it advisable to drink excessively at the home of my boyfriend’s parents. Plus, something told me I needed to stay on my toes around those people.
The salad was light and lovely, drizzled with a raspberry vinaigrette. Conversation was minimal and I started to feel slightly tense in its absence. As our salad plates were being cleared, Elizabeth turned her eyes to Edward.
“I saw Heidi Lundquist at last week’s benefit for the Museum of Contemporary Art, Edward.”
My stomach churned at the mention of her name and Edward’s arm went behind me, resting on the back of my chair. Heidi, or La Perla Bimbo as I’d come to call her, had at one time almost been the ruin of our budding romance.
“You remember her, of course,” his mother continued.
He nodded and took a drink of his Scotch. “Of course.”
“She looked very well. She’d spent the holidays abroad. Apparently, she did a lot of skiing.”
Edward simply hummed a response as our dinner was served, his jaw clenching in irritation. Along with the chicken we were promised, a plate of asparagus and red potatoes was set on a sideboard by the wall, in preparation for serving.
“Such a lovely girl. She asked about you, of course. You should call her while you’re in town.”
I knew in my heart that this woman had no idea the hell that lovely girl Heidi Lundquist had put Edward and, by extension, me through only months prior. The hackles had already been raised on my back, though, and if nothing else it was rude for her to mention another woman — one I’m sure she knew Edward had dated, at the very least — while I was sitting at his side. I watched as the maid or cook or whatever the woman was who served Elizabeth her meal approach to do the same for me and tried to ignore the tense atmosphere that was enveloping the room.
“Why would I do that, Mother?” Edward was obviously bristling at his mother’s chosen topic of conversation as he gripped his fork tightly in his hand and his jaw continued to clench. I put a hand on his lap, trying to soothe his irritation.
“It was simply a suggestion, dear. I’m sure she would love to hear from you.”
Yes, I’m sure she would.
Conversation again came to a lull as we began eating our dinner. After several uncomfortable moments, I could not help but speak.
“This meal is wonderful, Mrs. Masen,” I said, honestly. “Is it rosemary and sage on the chicken?”
“Yes,” she answered, smiling politely. “Cook dug up an old recipe of hers, especially for this night.”
“Well, my compliments. The room, too, is lovely.”
“Thank you,” she said before she popped a small piece of chicken into her mouth. I noticed that not only was she not served much food to begin with, but eating what was on her plate seemed to be quite a chore for her.
We fell back into an uncomfortable silence and I wondered if all Masen family meals were spent in such stillness. Looking at Edward, it certainly didn’t seem he was surprised by the quiet, though he still seemed irritated.
When our meal was completed — Elizabeth having left at least half of hers untouched — our plates were cleared, coffee poured and a dessert of chocolate-raspberry cake was served, topped with a light ganache. It was divine.
“Mmm...” I couldn’t help my delighted reaction as a bit of smooth chocolate heaven hit my tongue. “Wow. I think I may have died and gone to heaven.”
I looked at Edward, who was smiling at me. His parents merely looked at me impassively, continuing to eat their dessert. I cleared my throat, uncomfortably, and looked back down to the chocolate divinity in front of me.
“Your mother tells me you’ve left your job and you’re thinking of moving back to Chicago.” Edward’s father spoke for the first time since we’d sat down to dinner.
“Yes, sir; that’s the truth.”
“Does this mean you might be considering coming to work at the firm?”
Edward cleared his throat, his fingers playing in the condensation on the glass in front of him. “Actually, I’m going to go back to school. I’m hoping to go back to Northwestern and get a teaching degree.”
“Teaching? Why on earth would you want to be a teacher?” He sneered at his son, taking his glass of Scotch in hand. “There’s no money in teaching.”
“Well, money isn’t exactly why I want to teach.”
“Well, please enlighten me, Edward. Why would you want to teach?” Every time the man opened his mouth I was given another reason to dislike him. I was glad he hadn’t spoken much thus far.
“It may seem off to you, Father, but most people think education is quite valuable.”
Mr. Masen gave him an obnoxious, thin-lipped smile. “So what is it you plan to teach?”
“Philosophy. Maybe History, as well.”
His bitter laugh was loud, his sarcasm cutting. “Both extremely useful subjects.”
“And what would you have me teach, Father? The art of the hostile takeover?”
“You know that I would rather you join the firm and work with me; carry on the family business, as it were. But if you must teach then yes, why not teach something that will actually be useful to students entering the real world?”
“Actually,” I spoke up, sitting a bit straighter in my seat and looking Mr. Masen in the eye. “The study of Philosophy is of great use in business. After all, what is Philosophy but the study of how society should organize itself, how institutions should relate to society, the purpose of human endeavor? I’m sure you’ve heard of The Wealth of Nations, Mr. Masen.”
The elder Masen nodded his head in my direction, condescension evident on his face. That might have been only the second time he’d bothered to look at me directly since we’d been introduced. “Of course. I practically have it memorized.”
“Then you know that the serves as the intellectual platform for capitalism,” I continued as he nodded impatiently. “It lays out how markets should be organized and how people should behave in such markets. Well, the book's author, Adam Smith, was not an economist, as many believe, but a philosopher. He was chairman of the Moral Philosophy Department at Glasgow University when he wrote the book.”
Mr. Masen’s eyes narrowed a bit at my statement and he took a drink from his glass of Scotch. I felt Edward’s hand at my thigh, squeezing it lightly, and I looked toward him. I returned his smile before continuing.
“Like other philosophers, Smith attempted to create a new framework for understanding the world, addressing how we as humans seek alignment in our relationships and among competing interests.”
“The philosophical approach Smith pursued has faded from use,” Edward Senior stated dismissively.
“True,” I said. “Yet it's more relevant than ever in light of the difficulties organizations and countries face in today’s economy. Credit, climate, and consumption crises cannot be solved through specialized expertise alone. These problems, like most issues businesses confront in the global marketplace, feature complex interdependencies that require an understanding of how political, financial, environmental, ethical, and social interests influence each other. A philosophical approach connects the dots among competing interests in an effort to create synergy.”
“Well, that’s just fascinating.” Elizabeth piped up, taking her own drink in hand and finishing it in one long drink. She waived a hand and Benjamin miraculously appeared at her side to refill her glass. “And what did you study in school, Miss Swan, to have such knowledge?”
“My degree is in English, actually, with a special emphasis on American Literature.”
Mr. Masen chuckled. “I see you’ve done much with that degree. Obviously, you were smart enough to go into business when you needed to make money.”
I bristled under his haughty gaze, but never wavered. Edward’s hand remained at my thigh.
“It is true that my career took me into Credit and Financial Analysis. But to assume that my English degree has not been useful would be a mistake.”
“True,” Edward said with a grin. “She corrects my English on a daily basis.”
I smiled, though my eyes remained on the elder Edward. Since I had captured his attention, his eyes had dropped several times to my chest. It almost made me lose the delicious dinner we’d just had.
“The arts of communication and critical thinking should never be underestimated, especially in business,” I said. “Learning to interpret what is not plainly in front of one’s eyes is essential—especially when determining the future financial health of a company.”
Mr. Masen eyed me coolly while his glass was refilled by the ever-diligent Benjamin, who also came around to refill Edward’s.
“Perhaps I should hire you, Miss Swan, since Edward here is determined to avoid working for his old man.”
“You should,” Edward said. “But I’ll warn you now—you may not survive. I’ve been in a board room with her. It’s not pretty.”
“Pretty has no place in the board room,” Masen said, his eyes still on mine.
I understood full well the real point behind his statement. I could not — would not — be the first to break our apparent stare-down. Luckily, I didn’t have to. His eyes shifted to his wife as she announced that we should take our drinks into the sitting room.
Edward grabbed me by the hand as his parents moved ahead of us and kissed my cheek. “I love you,” he whispered in my ear.
I looked at him curiously and smiled. “I love you, too.”
“I gotta warn you, though. You may have made yourself an enemy.”
“What do you mean? Your father was about to offer me a job a moment ago.”
He chuckled. “Yeah, so he says. But you just showed him up at the dinner table. That’s never good. Though I love you for it.” His hand squeezed my hip as he wrapped his arm around me.
We turned the corner and found ourselves in a large, beautifully furnished room. Two sofas faced each other in front of a large, marble fireplace within which a fire already roared. A few chairs were scattered about the room in various conversational pairs, two sitting across from a small table that held a striking marble chess set encased in it. In the corner of the room stood a beautiful, shiny, black grand piano. Above the fireplace was a portrait, obviously painted years ago, of a much younger Elizabeth Masen, sitting in profile at a piano and wearing a floor-length, blue gown. It was gorgeous, as was she in the painting.
“Wow,” I said, staring up at the portrait as she took a seat on one of the sofas. “Mrs. Masen, that painting is beautiful. Do you play?”
She waved her hand at the painting as if in dismissal, but I could tell my compliment pleased her. “I used to. I haven’t played in ages.”
“You should,” Edward said, taking a seat opposite her. “I used to love to hear you play.”
She smiled, almost warmly, at him. “You were such a child then. Such a precocious child.” Her smile widened at her memories and something unspoken passed between her and her son.
Edward Senior took up residence by the fireplace, standing facing it, the hand holding his drink resting on the mantle. He stared intently into the fire.
“Mother tried to teach me to play piano,” Edward smiled at her. This was the first exchange of the evening that communicated any sort of warmth between him and either of his parents. It made me smile, as well.
“You played well,” she said, taking another drink from her glass, which was almost empty already. “You just wouldn’t play what I wanted you to play.”
“You play piano?” I asked, my eyes wide.
Edward shrugged. “Only a little.”
“Do you know that when we first met I thought you must play piano?”
He raised his eyebrows as he looked at me over the rim of his highball glass. “Why is that?”
I felt a slight blush creep over my face as I remembered how watching his hands had turned me on and I internally cursed my admission, ill-advised in front of his parents. “I just thought you had a pianist’s fingers,” I hedged.
One of his eyebrows remained raised as he grinned at me. My blush deepened and I took a drink of vodka. I heard his soft chuckle beside me as he leaned back and put his arm on the back of the sofa, behind me.
“Do you play an instrument, Miss Swan?” Elizabeth asked. I couldn’t help but notice her refusal to call me Bella.
“I’m afraid not. I have no musical talent whatsoever.”
“Well ... I’m sure you have other talents.” So much for the warmth she almost exuded moments earlier. She stood and actually refilled her own glass for the first time that night. I watched as she walked toward the bar in the corner, steady in her high heels. I couldn’t believe she wasn’t already bombed. I also wondered if they had a bar in every room. I was tempted to excuse myself to go to the bathroom, just so I could see if they had one there.
“You two used to work together.” She stated this matter-of-factly as she poured her drink, obviously already knowing the answer.
“We did,” said Edward. He rose from his seat, taking my glass from my hand, and walked toward the bar.
“And you thought it wise to pursue a ... romantic relationship?”
Edward chuckled as he freshened up our drinks. I looked into my lap, mortified.
“Wise? No,” he said. “It was, however, inevitable.”
“Inevitable,” she echoed her son. “How so?”
I looked up to see Edward standing by the bar, next to her. He put a hand on her back.
“The heart wants what the heart wants, Mother.”
She waved a hand at him as she turned and made her way back to the sofa. “Oh, Edward. You were always such a silly boy.”
I gritted my teeth, reminding myself that it was Edward’s mother sitting in front of me and to keep my mouth shut. Edward handed me my fresh glass of vodka and took his seat beside me. I took a healthy drink under the heavy weight of Elizabeth’s gaze.
“I hate to be rude, Miss Swan, but do you mind my asking how old you are?”
I almost spit vodka all over their expensive rug.
“Mother!” Edward exclaimed as he sat forward in his seat.
She put a hand to her throat and fiddled with her necklace. “Again, I am sorry if the question seems rude. I just ... well, it would appear that–”
“I’m thirty-nine,” I interrupted before I had to listen to her say I looked older than Edward.
Silence fell over the room as I watched her jaw fall open. Her hand stilled at her throat. I glanced over at Edward, but he had his nose in his drink, downing it quickly.
I was trying to think of something to say when Elizabeth finally spoke. “Well, I guess if you’re going to give me grandchildren, you’d better get to work.”
I was helpless to keep a blush from covering my cheeks and I looked down into my lap.
“Mother!” Edward exclaimed again, obviously exasperated. “I can’t believe how intrusive and rude you’re being. We are not having this discussion.”
“Well, dear, I meant no offense. It’s just that, at Bella’s age, you have to think of these things.”
I looked up from my lap and into her eyes. She might have said that she didn’t mean to be rude and meant no offense, but she peered at me with barely disguised malice. I straightened in my seat and found my voice, deciding to just lay it all out there. It was obvious this woman was not going to like me no matter what I said or did and I’d finally had enough of her attitude.
“I can’t have children Mrs. Masen,” I said. The strength of my voice surprised and emboldened me. “So really, it’s a non-issue.”
Her face paled and she looked over toward her husband, who remained motionless in his stance at the fireplace. “You—can’t?”
I shook my head. “I cannot, no.”
I felt Edward’s hand at my shoulder and his arm behind me, though I continued to look at the callous woman before of me.
Her eyes went to her son. “Edward ... did you know about this?”
“Of course I knew, Mother.” Edward sounded exasperated, still. I felt so bad for him. I couldn’t imagine bringing him home to meet Charlie and experiencing anything like this. But then, that never would have happened.
Mrs. Masen’s face reflected her shock. “And yet you...” She looked back to me, her hand gesturing in front of her. “Forgive me please, Bella, I mean no offense.”
It struck me how often she used that phrase and how it was always disingenuous. It also struck me how she chose this moment — one in which she was being unbearably rude — to call me by my first name.
“I’m sure this is a heavy burden for you to bear,” she continued. “But it’s only ... I mean, certainly you can understand that Mr. Masen and I desire to have grandchildren someday.”
“Mother.” Edward’s voice had lost its previous, almost shrill tone. He spoke softly and low. He was angry. Dangerously angry. I reached to put my hand over his at my shoulder, but he pulled his away. “There are many ways to have children and there are many children in this world who need a home. Should Bella and I decide to start a family, we will discuss our options and make a decision between the two of us. But it will be our decision and it has nothing whatsoever to do with you. Now I will thank you to mind your business and stop being so incredibly rude to the woman I love.”
“Enough!” Mr. Masen finally decided to open his mouth and all of our heads turned toward him. He remained standing at the mantle, looking down at the brightly burning fire, holding a drink in his hand. He brought the drink to his lips and finished it in a gulp, placing the empty glass on the mantle before he turned toward his son.
“You’ve made your point, Edward.”
“Excuse me?” He stood and turned slightly toward his father and the two squared off.
I finished my own drink, my heart jumping to my throat. I felt as if I was about to witness the Gunfight at the OK Corral.
“I don’t know what you hoped to accomplish by bringing this woman here tonight.” His father didn’t look at me as he gestured toward me with his hand, making me feel like Monica Lewinski.
“Excuse me?” Edward repeated. “Mother invited us for dinner. I had no idea we were really being invited to the Spanish Inquisition.”
“Don’t be so dramatic, Edward. What did you expect our reaction would be? You finally bring home a girlfriend and she’s the daughter of a small town sheriff who is old enough to be my girlfriend.”
I audibly huffed at that notion, but the man never swayed from his point of attack.
“Did you really expect us to welcome her with open arms? You knew exactly what you were doing and how we would react. Well, congratulations. You’ve made your point. You’ve upset your mother and proved that you’re an independent young man with ideas of your own. I should have expected nothing more from you, since you’ve been trying to prove as much since you were an ill-behaved teenager. Well done. But you’re almost thirty now, boy. It’s time you grew up and realized what being a Masen requires of you. And the next time you bring someone home to meet us, please make sure it is under serious circumstances and it’s someone you expect to have in your life—for the rest of your life. We are not interested in meeting the next hot piece of ass you hook up with.”
After my gasp, a deathly quiet fell over the room as I looked up at Edward, my eyes wide. I was appalled by the way his father had spoken to him and enraged at how he had spoken of me. But more than anything, I was worried about Edward. His hands were clenched into fists and his jaw twitched from tension. He looked at the elder Masen with narrowed eyes that were black as coal. I had never seen him so angry and I was very afraid he was about to punch his own father.
His voice was quiet when he finally spoke, his jaw still clenched. “Bella, please get our coats.”
I rose immediately and walked toward the foyer where Alice was miraculously waiting to hand me my coat. She gave me a sad smile as she did so. Once I had it on, she handed me Edward’s as well and moved out of the room quickly. I walked quietly back toward Edward, who remained standing in front of his father. He jumped perceptively as I touched his arm and then wrapped it around my waist.
“If being a Masen requires that I be like you, Father, I would rather not be one at all.” With that, we turned toward the door.
His father’s laughter followed us out of the room. “You enjoy being a Masen well enough when you need money though, don’t you?”
“Keep it!” Edward yelled as he opened the door and ushered me through it.
We drove in silence for at least ten minutes, tension thick in the air. I watched Edward as his jaw repeatedly clenched and unclenched, the beautiful angles of his face marred by anger and stress. My chest ached for him and I had no idea how to help him feel better. Finally, I started talking and couldn’t seem to stop.
“How do people live like that?” Edward made no movement and said nothing in response, so I continued. “I mean, seriously—to never have to fill your own glass? I mean does your mother even dress herself? Does poor little Alice have to brush her hair every night while Elizabeth regales her with tales of the latest costume party at Manderley?” I was rambling, my hands in rapid movement in front of me, my eyes wandering through the light that reflected off the damp city street outside the car windows. “Oh my God, those servants. They’re just always ... there. How do they do that—know when to poke their head in and when not to? You know they must hear every little thing that goes on in that house. You have no secrets from those people, Edward, I hope you realize that. I really thought I’d been transported back in time like a hundred years. It was like a chapter out of some Edith Wharton novel.”
Abruptly, Edward caught one of my hands in his and pulled into the small parking lot of a gas station that was obviously closed. My words finally died in my mouth at the same time. I looked over at him and he gazed at me, a happy smile on his face as he slipped the gearshift into park. The tension that had moments ago filled the car seemed to have lifted and I smiled in return and in relief. He reached over our bodies with his other hand to cup my cheek in his familiar way, bringing my face to his before kissing my lips, softly.
“I love you,” he said, his eyes sparkling into mine.
I felt his words in my toes and another wide smile stole across my lips. “I love you, too.”
My smile was replaced by a look of shock and my mouth fell open at his next words.