. . . and her body says yes , and her scent . . . that scent says a thousand times yes . And my own body's answer is loud, so loud it almost hurts . The heat . The throbbing . A thousand times yes . . .
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Little Green & Easybella 30
I've just maneuvered the car into a parking spot on the other side of the street when Tanya Denali steps out of the drugstore and waves me over. I'm really early and I know Bella won't be off for another thirty minutes. But I just couldn't wait at home any longer. I even tried to kill some time in Port Angeles and visited a few stores, or else I would have been here even sooner.
I was prepared to wait in the car, but apparently Tanya has other ideas. So I shut off the engine and wave back at her to let her know I'm coming, and well... just to return the friendly gesture. I'm very eager to see Bella and tell her about my phone conversation with Esme, so I'm really happy for the invitation. Pointing the remote back over my shoulder to lock the car, I jog across the street. It's only when I see Tanya grin and shake her head with a chuckle that I notice how much my cheeks are straining with my own smile.
"Wow, Eddy, I'd really like to think you are happy to see me, what with that gorgeous smile of yours," she laughs. "I'm not delusional enough to not know you didn't come for me, but I'll be damned – Bella is one lucky girl!"
I can't stop smiling, even when I have to turn my gaze towards her shoulder to avoid eye contact. With her, it's more like an old habit anyway, a precautionary move I feel is not really necessary. Actually, I am once more quite comfortable in her company.
"But I am happy to see you," I assure her and offer her my hand. This time she takes it, but instead of shaking it in greeting, she surprises me by putting her other hand on top of our joined ones.
"You know what's funny?" she says softly. "I kind of believe you."
"Like you should." I'm oddly at ease with the fact that she keeps holding my hand. Just like the last time, my eyes settle on her mouth, which is curled into a pouty smirk. Inspiration hits me and with a wink I tell her, "Also, you look 'hot damn' again today."
Abruptly, she lets go of me and snorts with laughter. "Come in, smart ass, before I change my mind."
I follow her inside, elated by the way things between her and I just seem to click. This feels so... normal – just friends saying hi and engaging in a good-natured banter. Who knew? I start wondering about the whereabouts of Bella though.
"I can't believe you just cracked a joke like that, Eddy," Tanya hollers back over her shoulder. "By the way, 'hot damn' right back at you. Is that shirt new?"
I look down on myself. "Yes, it is. How do you know?"
She stops and turns around. "No rocket science, my dear. May I...?"
She reaches for my left arm and pats it gently to indicate for me to lift it. Then she grabs something and pulls it forward for me to see. It's a price tag dangling on a thread from the side seam.
"Forty-nine ninety-nine? Worth every cent, if you ask me. Bella will be mush when she sees you in this. That green is exactly the color of your eyes; do you know that? "
Actually I do. That's why I bought it this afternoon. And because I know Bella likes green. I still don't see her. Maybe she's working somewhere in the back?
"Where's Bella, by the way?" I ask, trying to rip the tag off.
With a sharp intake of breath, Tanya interrupts my efforts. "Stop that, silly! You will ruin that pretty shirt. Come on, I have a pair of scissors somewhere in the back, I think."
She takes my hand and drags me through the store. Once again, I marvel at the lack of discomfort when she touches me. It happens so naturally; before I know it, we're in the backroom and she pushes me down on a chair. While she starts rummaging in a drawer, I realize she didn't answer my question.
"So... Bella?" I inquire. I'm getting a little nervous.
"Ah... sorry I didn't tell you earlier; Bella's not here."
Her answer hits me like a sudden punch in the guts.
Not here? But she is supposed to be here!
"But she asked me to keep you company," Tanya continues, still with her back to me. "You know, in case you showed up early."
I have no idea what to make of this piece of information… or how to make my stomach stop turning.
"I wonder how she knew," Tanya mutters amused, as if the fact that Bella is missing meant nothing. She turns around, wiggling her eyebrows, and holds a pair of scissors up. "Got the little fucker!" she cheers triumphantly.
But the shock must register on my face, because her grin dies as soon as she sees me. "Oh, fuck!"
In a heartbeat she's crouching in front of me, wide-eyed. "Crap, Edward, I'm sorry. Bella will be here in a few minutes; everything is okay. You're not freaking out on me here, right?"
I'm still trying to grasp what's going on and I'm freaking out alright, but I shake my head no for her. I don't want to scare her.
Bella is okay; she will be here in a few minutes. Okay. Bella is okay… where is she?
"Edward, can you breathe for me, just once?" Tanya snaps the scissors in front of my nose a few times. "Edward?"
Am I not breathing?
"I will do something terrible if you don't breathe, I swear."
Like what? And where is Bella?
I stare at her mouth incredulously.
"Listen, Bella is at Mrs. Schneider's, that's all. She's delivering goods, like every Wednesday. Old lady, wheelchair, chatty as hell, may take a while. Okay?"
I'm still staring. And I'm scaring her. Well, so much for me being normal around a friend...
"Goddammit!" She jumps up to her feet and points the scissors at me, dangerously close to my face. "Breathe the fuck now, or else I will shake the shit out of you!"
I take a deep breath.
Bella is okay.
"I'd rather you don't," I tell Tanya.
"Jesus Christ," she mutters gruffly and rolls her eyes. "Lift your arm."
"Sorry if I scared you. I'm not freaking out."
"Why yes, you did scare me, Gigolo. I really don't need that shit, you know." She holds up the removed price tag and smiles. "There you go. You sure you're not going to panic or something?"
I nod my head yes. I'm sure.
"Okay, good. Because I'm not going to mother you all day, you know. Also, Bella would probably rip me a new one if she came back to find you with a blue face while I'm giving you a mouth-to-mouth."
Her voice is colored with indignation and she didn't call me by any name, so it's hard to tell whether she's just messing with me or not, despite her smile. I risk a quick look into her eyes and find her playfully glaring at me.
Yes, we're good. She's not really mad.
I don't know if the discomfort I'm supposed to feel facing her is drowned out by the aftermath of the shock, or if it is something about Tanya herself, but I don't feel any urge to avert my eyes.
"You're welcome," she says, although I haven't thanked her yet.
I should have said thanks, but now it is kind of obsolete, so I just keep holding her gaze a little longer. The fact alone that I can do this is too fascinating to stop – too fascinating and too comfortable. I am compulsively blinking a lot though, as if my body begs to differ. But I'm keeping the eye contact.
"Wow..." Tanya whispers and tilts her head to one side. "Are we having a moment here, Eddy?"
In an obvious attempt to prevent her grin from growing wider, she pulls her cherry-red bottom lip through her teeth. The movement leaves the familiar trace of lipstick on the lower edge of her front teeth, and my eyes are drawn to it like magnets.
"I guess so," I say.
We both chuckle, and the spell is broken. She gets on her feet, tosses the scissors back into the drawer and closes it with a well-practiced push of her butt. Then she leans against the cabinet and starts twirling the price tag back and forth, coiling and uncoiling its thread around her index finger.
"So... now that we've established that your girlfriend is not humping some other guy somewhere but just helping an old lady, like the good girl scout she is – what funny things are we two going to do with the time remaining?"
"I never thought Bella was with another guy," I clarify. "I just didn't know she wouldn't be here. She didn't tell me about Mrs. Schneider."
"Oh, did she not?" Tanya raises her brows so high, I can see it without even lifting my eyes from her mouth. "Dude, you gotta give the girl a break; she's not supposed to tell you every little thing."
She is right, of course. Also, I am much too early. If I had arrived at the right time, I wouldn't even have noticed that Bella went somewhere else. A thought that doesn't really calm me...
"So if you weren't thinking Bella was with someone else, why were you freaking out like that?"
I shrug my shoulders. "I'm weird. I don't deal well with surprises."
"Is that an autism thing? Or just an Eddy thing?"
I don't really know how to answer that question. I never was without autism, so how am I supposed to view myself separately from it? It's an interesting question though; I never really thought about that. Would I be affected as much by unexpected events if it weren't for being autistic?
"Anyway..." Finally fed up with twirling the price tag around, Tanya flips it into the trash bin. "If you don't like surprises, you better not show up surprisingly early. You never know what surprises are waiting for you, right?"
I raise my brows, too. Because two can play this game. "Well, who is the smart ass now?"
She laughs. "Touché! Not bad, Eddy, not bad..."
"Thanks," I say, grinning.
She claps her hands and straightens herself. "Hey, we'll have to keep this between you and me, but we're practically closed already and I could really use a beer. What about you?"
"Uh... I'm driving."
"Yeah right. Crap, I wasn't thinking. A coke then?"
I notice that I'm actually quite thirsty. "Coke would be great, thank you."
She claps her hands once more and walks out into the sales room, calling over her shoulder, "I'll be right back. Don't move, okay?"
"Okay," I say loud enough for her to hear me. Then I slide down a bit in my chair and exhale a long breath. I think I'm doing okay now. I'm still a bit nervous because Bella hasn't returned yet, but there are still fifteen minutes until the drugstore closes officially… as opposed to 'practically'.
I'm still amazed about the connection Tanya and I have. I am not sure if it is something about her, or if maybe I'm just getting better at socializing in general. I have thought about it before... I believe it's something to do with Bella.
Being with Bella, even for this short period of just a few days, has changed me in so many ways. Before, it was not only that I felt uncomfortable about meeting people; I actually just didn't care about interacting with others. I had no interest in making friends or becoming part of a group. It never mattered to me if someone liked me or not. Not enough to put much effort in it anyway.
That has changed. Because this is not just about me anymore. It's about us. Bella and I, we make an 'us' now. And I want to be in her world as much as I want her in mine. I am willing to do what I can to make this work; I always was. I had worked so hard to become more apt at Glenholme School to get there... to earn my place by her side. She had been the reason all the way.
I just didn't expect stepping into her world to be this... enjoyable. I tentatively touch my cheeks to confirm that I'm still smiling. Yes, I'm actually enjoying myself being around Tanya. And being able to connect to her, along with the knowledge that she likes spending time with me as well, gives me a certain sense of achievement that surprises and satisfies me in equal measures.
I guess I care now. And maybe that's what's making things easier, even pleasant. Anyway, I know for sure it wouldn't be like this without Bella. Because I wouldn't care. Would I stop caring again if I lost Bella? I don't really want to think about that, but it's an obvious question, kind of...
"Coke for you… on the house!"
Tanya's voice and two soda cans clanking down on the table thankfully snap me out of my musings. "And one for me too," she says and winks. "I decided to be a good girl today." She drops herself onto the chair opposite, opens her drink and with a nod towards me, lifts it to her mouth for a long swig.
I follow suit and almost moan when the cool liquid hits my throat; it feels that good. My hostess and I are having another 'moment' of sorts while we're both raising our chins higher and higher with each gulp we take, watching each other over the rims of our beverage cans. We stop at the same time – I with a blissful hiss, Tanya with a hearty burp.
"So..." she starts, wiping her mouth with a back of her hand, "I suppose you're not the jealous type then, huh? I'm curious, Eddy, because most guys I know, when their girl isn't where they thought she would be, the image of her with another man is the first thing they would think about. It's a testosterone sort of thing. But you...?"
"That idea didn't cross my mind," I answer honestly. Jealousy is a strange concept to me. I understand the mechanics of it in a way, but I don't think I ever felt jealous of anyone or anything. It's hard to imagine what it might feel like.
"No, it obviously didn't. But what if you had reason to think – and I'm not saying you have, of course – that Bella was with another man? Just for argument's sake… let's say I had told you she's delivering goods to a young Mr. Schneider instead of the old Mrs.?"
I know what she's aiming at with her question, so I think about that for a moment.
"Is he dangerous?"
"The young Mr. Schneider we just invented for argument's sake."
Tanya smirks. "Uhm... no. But he is handsome. And single."
I try to imagine the scenario and listen carefully inside me, but it doesn't strike any chord.
"It wouldn't make any difference," I say. "It doesn't matter whether Bella is with an old lady or a young man, as long as I know that she's well and safe."
"But he is handsome!" Tanya repeats indignantly.
"That's not his fault, I suppose."
"You are kidding me, right?" She makes a funny face, and I can't help but laugh.
"No, I'm not," I assure her. "See, I don't think I know what jealousy feels like. I think it's a special form of envy, only it isn't about belongings, it's about persons. It seems stupid to me. Why should I envy Bella talking to other persons, men or women?"
"Okay, maybe not talking. But what about touching? Wouldn't you want to interfere if young Mr. Schneider got a little touchy-feely with Bella?"
"Probably," I admit.
"Aha!" Tanya blurts and points her index finger at me triumphantly. "So you would be jealous, after all. I knew it. All guys are possessive when it comes to their girlfriend."
I'm still laughing quietly; she is too funny. "I would want to interfere because most likely Bella wouldn't be comfortable with a touchy-feely Mr. Schneider," I clarify. "It's nothing to do with possessiveness. You cannot possess a person, so why would I feel possessive?"
"Oh come on, Eddy, and what if she does like it? Are you telling me you would just stand by and watch them holding hands?"
I think I would. But if I am honest with myself, I must admit it's not exactly a pleasant visual. Anyway...
"I don't know, Tanya. But it's a moot point, because I know Bella wouldn't like being touched by a hypothetical Mr. Schneider or any other man who's not a close friend of hers. So of course I'd do something to help her get rid off the unwanted physical contact."
"You are slippery as an eel and you know it," she huffs, throwing her hands in the air. She thinks I'm avoiding her question.
"I know what you're asking," I say. I'm trying to sound serious again, even though her exasperation is quite amusing. "I'm really not jealous. I don't even think I have any idea what jealousy feels like."
"Well, it's easy for you to say that now. But I bet you would change your mind if you'd actually happen to walk into your girlfriend kissing another guy."
Tanya leans back in her chair and takes a long swig of her coke. She's not funny any more. She looks sad. And it's not because of me, or something I said. I know I didn't do anything wrong; I just answered her questions. Yet she seems disappointed. She shakes her head and sighs.
"You are lucky that Bella is such a faithful soul who deserves your superhuman trust."
No, this is definitely not about me.
"Did that happen to you?" I ask softly; I don't want to upset her further. "Did you get jealous because your boyfriend kissed another girl?"
"Ex-boyfriend!" she hisses. "And you can bet your ass I got jealous when I saw that unfaithful bastard stick his tongue down Lauren Mallory's throat."
I guess this is where I should take her hand or something – whatever people do to comfort a friend who is upset. But I can't bring myself to move a finger; I don't think I'm ready for that. Her sudden mood swing took me off guard. I want to sympathize, but I am at a loss.
"What did it feel like?" I ask instead. I really want to know.
"Well, it's no fun, I can tell you that much," she snorts mirthlessly.
"It hurt, yes?"
"Yes, it did." She closes her eyes for a second, then she takes a deep breath. "Look, Edward, I'm sorry I brought all this up; I don't know what got into me. I guess it's just one of those days."
"It's fine," I say.
"No, it's not, but never mind."
But I do mind. I want to know. "Were you angry? What did you do?"
"What do you mean? I kicked his ass, that's what I did. I broke up with him."
"Because he kissed that girl?"
"No shit, Einstein!"
That seems a bit harsh. But I know people often make rash decisions out of jealousy.
"How long had he been your boyfriend?"
The answer comes immediately; she doesn't need to ponder. "A little more than a year. We were pretty serious."
"Do you know why he kissed the girl?"
"Jesus Christ," she moans. "Who cares? I didn't ask him."
"But how did you know he was being unfaithful? A kiss can have many different meanings."
She looks at me incredulously. "Did you hit your head? I saw him lick that bitch's tonsils; that didn't exactly leave much room for interpretation!"
"He might still have been loyal to you in his heart and mind though."
I weigh my next words carefully. I feel like I'm onto something, and I really want her understand what I'm saying.
"Let's look at it the other way round. If your boyfriend…"
"…your ex-boyfriend never kissed anyone but you, would that prove in any way that he's faithful?"
She stares at me in silence. The only thing moving is her left eyelid, which is twitching nervously. Since she doesn't appear to come up with an answer any time soon, I continue to lay out my thoughts.
"I mean, apart from kissing that girl, was he good to you? Like, I don't know... did he defend you against others when they treated you unfairly or talked behind your back? Because I consider such behavior as being faithful. Was he there for you when you had a bad time and such? Did he stay with you even when you were no fun? That's loyalty, is it not?"
She opens her mouth as if to say something, but closes it again without speaking and just looks at me, dumbfounded. "I need a cigarette," she mutters eventually, and rises from her chair. She fetches a pack of Marlboros from her purse on the cabinet and holds it out to me. "You want?"
I shake my head no. "I don't smoke."
"Want a toothpick to chew on then? Haha... just kidding – good for you that you don't smoke. It's a bad habit."
She lights a cigarette and inhales deeply. I know she is playing for time; I can see that she's thinking. Is smoking even allowed in here? After two more drags, she returns to her chair where she sits down and stubs out the cigarette in the ashtray on the table, almost angrily.
"You're asking the weirdest questions, Eddy, you know that?"
I don't think my questions are that absurd, but maybe I'm being too nosy. Maybe Tanya doesn't want to share such personal matters with me. "I apologize. I didn't mean to –"
"No, it's fine," she cuts in.
Encouraged, I inquire, "So…?"
She sighs noisily. "Yes, he did all that. He was very good to me, and until I caught him with Lauren Mallory at my birthday party, I really thought he loved me."
"I believe he did love you."
"Edward, seriously… you have no idea what you're talking about. Believe me, you cannot know what it's like to be cheated on by the one you love unless it happened to you. Until then, I guess we just have to agree to disagree. He cheated on me, at my own fucking birthday party! That's not love in my book."
I think about it for a moment, trying to picture Bella touching another person somewhat intimately. I don't like it. Admittedly, I'd rather she wouldn't touch anyone but me, but at the same time the idea seems kind of selfish. I don't think I have the right to decide who Bella should see, talk to or touch.
Just because I have no desire whatsoever myself to experience close physical contact with other people doesn't mean it's the same for her. I don't like being touched by other people at all, but maybe she does. And even though I selfishly wish being intimate with Bella was my exclusive privilege, it has to be her choice.
"I can see those little wheels turning inside that pretty head of yours, Edward," Tanya suddenly speaks up. "You're a smart dude, but you're also very young and naïve in a way – which is part of your panty-dropping charm. But believe me, that boy-meets-girl and love and heartbreak thing isn't something you can figure out with applied logic."
"I'm beginning to see that," I agree. "But still…"
Tanya shakes her head. "Okay, Mr. Spock, how is this? My boyfriend…"
"Your ex-boyfriend," I correct.
"…my now ex-boyfriend, yes! We were exclusive, okay? That means, he wasn't supposed to fool around with other girls – no sex, no kissing, no fondling – just like he expected me to keep my legs closed and my hands off of other guys. It was a promise we had made to each other. It's what couples usually do when they become exclusive; they don't even need to spell it out."
"I see. Then it was wrong of him, kissing that girl." A broken promise; I can understand that.
"Yes, it was. And you don't just swallow shit like that and say, 'Oh, no problem, baby, I forgive you for ripping my heart out!' If you think you could do that if it was Bella, you're just lying to yourself."
"I would not break up with her," I say, knowing with certainty I never would.
"No, I guess you wouldn't," Tanya whispers. "Bless your heart."
I'm glad to see her smile again, even though she does it with closed lips. I kind of miss her lipstick-stained grin.
"I forgave my mother Esme this morning," I tell her without thinking. I don't know why. It just came to me. Maybe it's because we're talking about forgiving.
"Holy shit, really? I take everything back; you're a fucking saint!"
Judging by Tanya's reaction, Bella must have filled her in to some extend about Esme. "So you know what she did with our letters?" I ask, just to make sure.
"Yes, Bella told me. What your mom did was all kinds of wrong. How could she do that to you?"
"She made a mistake."
Tanya huffs. "That's a really nice way to describe it."
"Just like your boyfriend."
"You can't compare those things."
"I think I can. Your boyfriend did something wrong and broke your heart, even though he cared for you. Esme did something wrong and broke mine, even though she cared for me."
Crossing her arms on the table, Tanya suddenly leans forward which makes her breasts almost pop out of her tee's neckline. She squints her eyes and her face registers an odd mix of sarcasm and genuine interest.
"Okay, Gandhi," she says. "How in fuck's name could you forgive her?"
I knew she would ask this question. I waited for it.
"I decided to forgive her because of the thousand things she'd done right, instead of breaking up with her for the one thing she'd done wrong."
Slowly, Tanya lets herself sink back against the backrest of her chair. Her hands come to rest on her lap, and she exhales lengthily through pursed lips. At the same time, I can hear the front door of the drugstore open and close, and although I happily recognize the sound and rhythm of the approaching footsteps as the squeaking rubber soles of Bella's sneakers, I keep looking at Tanya. We're not done yet.
"You're scaring me, Edward," she says, and then her signature grin is back in full force. "That planet you're from… tell me, are there more of your kind?"
I don't know what to say to this. Also, I really want to stand up now and finally meet Bella. But Tanya winks at me, and whispers, "Never mind. Another time, okay?"
And just when my slightly out-of-breath girlfriend enters the room and fills it with her soothing scent and warm presence, Tanya's voice resumes its normal level and she pipes conversationally, "So the banana-flavored rubbers were that good, huh?"