Dad pulls up to the curb at 30th Street Station in his red Prius, and I toss my bag in the back and climb in the front. We do as much of a hug as we can over the apparatus between us, and he pulls smoothly out and onto the Schuylkill Expressway. Traffic’s light at this point; everyone’s pretty much already where they’re trying to go.
“How was your trip?”
“Fine, Dad. How are you?”
“We’re excellent.” Mom and Dad always speak in ‘we’. Whether or not they’re together, they’re united. “Your mother is slaving away, putting the finishing touches on all your favorite dishes.”
“How many this year?” I ask, knowing Mom’s penchant for inviting any and every stray human who doesn’t have another place to go.
“I think we’re up to seventeen.” He chuckles because he has absolutely zero to say about it, and he kind of loves it.
“I hope I don’t have to sit at the kids’ table again.”
“Hmm, that depends. Are you going to be inciting trouble this year?”
“Oh come on, Dad. The Great Cranberry Fight was like eight years ago.”
He shakes his head, but I see the humor in his eyes. “Tell that to your mother. We’re still pulling cranberries out of the carpeting.”
“How’s Boomer doing?” Our yellow lab just rounded the corner into double digits.
“Feisty as ever, and he’ll be happy to see you. It’s too quiet at home without your pranks and your friends.”
“Mom keeping busy?”
Dad smiles fondly. “Your mother doesn’t sit still for five minutes. If she’s not tutoring down at the Boys and Girls Club, she’s teaching knitting at the women’s shelter. Honestly, I think I see her less since she stopped teaching last year!”
I nod my head in amazed wonder at the woman who never fails to make our house a home, a warm place where people always feel comfortable and well cared for.
“And how’s your squash game?”
“Not bad. I took third place this year in the Club Championship, and Aro and I are still the reigning doubles champs.”
“Pretty good, old man,” I tease him.
“How about you? You’re looking fit. Still running?”
“Yeah, it’s been a nice mild winter in the city. I’ve been able to get out there quite a bit. And when I can’t run, I use the health club in my building.”
“I love the work,” I respond. “But I have a new boss, and it’s been a challenge trying to get used to each other.”
“Uh oh. Don’t tell me, it’s a woman.”
“Why would you say that? I don’t have a problem working for women.”
He stares straight ahead and makes a face like he’s biting his tongue.
“Edward, it’s Christmas Eve. I don’t want to start a fight with you.”
“I’m not gonna fight. I just don’t understand why you’re saying that.”
We’re close to the house now, and he’s pulled up to a stop sign. “Son, can you name one woman who’s ever been able to tell you what to do, other than your mother? I mean, a single teacher, boss, friend…?”
“What about—” Oh, no, that didn’t work out too well. “Yes. There was the time that…” Crap. He’s right. The only way to answer him is just to be good and grumpy.
“See? You’re mad.”
“Why would I be mad at you? You’re a guy!” I snark.
Dad shakes his head and pulls into the garage. “Go kiss your mother.”
“Merry Christmas!” Four shocked eyes look past my lone figure on the stoop, as if I’m hiding Jasper in my back pocket.
“Uh, Bella dear, isn’t somebody missing from this picture?” my mother finally blurts. Dad looks less surprised, but I’m not sure why.
I guess we’re doing this right here. “Jasper and I broke up. It’s just me this year. May I come in?”
“WHAT?” Mom answers, clutching her heart dramatically.
“So, it’s true,” Dad says in a disappointed tone.
They’re both still blocking the door, and I’m getting cold and irritated. “Am I still welcome in this house, or what?”
“Oh, of course, dear. Come in, come in. Charlie, get her bag.”
“Come in, sit down. Here, let me take your coat. How about a drink, sweetie? Want some champagne?”
I lay my head back against the back rest of the couch, comforted by the familiar curve of the furniture that’s greeted me every summer and holiday season I can remember.
Mom fusses with the drinks while Dad plops down heavily into the old armchair next to me. It doesn’t escape my notice that Jasper and I took these very same positions earlier today. Suddenly, I’m so exhausted I can’t keep my eyes open. I know Dad’s waiting for me to explain, but I don’t know how I’m going to do this. Obviously, he knows something already. Maybe if I just sit here and don’t say anything, he’ll start.
“Here you go, Bella, Charlie. Well,” Mom says nervously, “Merry Christmas.”
The three of us clink our glasses in the saddest, lamest toast ever uttered. I pull gently at the Cristal, trying not to look into the disappointed eyes staring back at me. It’s times like this I’d kill for a brother or sister, or ten, to take the attention off me.
Mom folds my hand inside hers and asks, “Bella, what happened?”
“I just had to break it off—”
“You broke it off? But, why?”
Gee, Mom, thanks for assuming I’d been dumped.
“It was just becoming more and more apparent that Jas and I weren’t right for each other.”
“Weren’t right for each other,” Dad finally pipes up. “How can Mr. January not be right for you?”
“Excuse me?” Jasper posed for Playgirl?? And how would Dad know about this?
“No. But I’m not surprised.” Jas has always been in high demand by his clients. I’m only surprised it took until now for him to accept one of their proposals.
“Look,” I tell them, “I’m sorry you’re disappointed. I get it. Jasper’s perfect.”
“Oh, Bella, that’s not the point,” Mom reasons. “You two were just so happy together. I don’t understand.”
“I can’t believe I’m gonna ask you this,” Dad starts, “but did he cheat on you?”
“God no, Dad. Nothing like that.”
He shakes his head. “Didn’t think he had it in him, anyway.”
“Did you two have a fight?” Mom asks, trying desperately to understand.
“Look, I understand that you two love Jasper, and I do, too. But it just isn’t going to work between us. You’re going to have to accept that. I could really use some support here.”
“Of course, dear,” Mom says immediately, wrapping me up in her arms. I bask in the comfort she offers for several minutes before pulling back.
“Dammit, Bells, you know how I loved Jasper for you. Did you know he was going to propose last night?”
“Yeah. How did you know?”
He slumps back in his chair and closes his eyes, totally defeated. “He asked me for my blessing.”
“He did? When?”
“On our fishing trip a couple weeks ago. Damn, that kid is head over heels. He would have made a fine husband for you.”
“He’ll make a fine husband for somebody, Dad, but it’s not gonna be me. I am sorry to disappoint everyone.”
Dad pops forward in his chair and says in his corporate voice, that sleek, calm, steady voice, “Bella, please don’t get me wrong. I’m disappointed for you, not in you. I could never be disappointed in you, Bella Rella.”
“Oh, Daddy.” His old nickname for me brings out the twelve-year-old girl still desperate for his approval. We both stand and he pulls me into a tight bear hug. It’s as if he’s uncorked the hole in the dam, and my eyes spill with long overdue tears.
“There, there. It’ll be all right,” he soothes. “You’ll find someone else.”
“Oh, Edward. You’ve been away too long. Let me look at you.”
She holds me at arm’s length and does that mom thing. The body scan machine at the airport has nothing on her ability to sniff out a lost pound, an overdue haircut, or a slightly elevated body temperature. Apparently, I pass muster this time, as a wide grin spreads across her face.
“Who is she?”
It’s uncanny. Dad coughs from across the room, trying to warn Mom she’s about to step in it. Because he’s mistaken Mom’s laser-accurate radar for our own conversation in the car.
“A girl from work,” I answer truthfully, doing nothing to dissuade Dad from his assumption.
Just then, Boomer bounds into the room and I crouch down to accept his affections. “Hey, Boo! How ya doing? Ahhhhhh.” There’s nothing like burying your fingers in the scruff of a yellow lab’s fur. Plus, he provides an excellent diversion as usual.
“Sit down and tell me everything,” Mom says, undeterred by the canine distraction.
“Don’t you have some potatoes to mash or something?”
“No, Edward. That can all wait. I want to hear about this girl.”
“Yes, Edward. Tell us about the girl from work,” Dad says, chagrined that he’s only now deduced that I must be sleeping with my new boss.
I plop down on the couch, and Mom’s practically on top of me. “Aren’t you going to offer me a drink first?” Boomer settles proprietarily across my feet.
“Why? Have you forgotten where we keep the glasses?”
Dad laughs out loud at her retort, but I’m less than amused. “Sheesh, come home for a little TLC, and this is how I’m treated.”
“Carlisle, would you fix Edward a drink while he tells us about his girlfriend?”
I sneak a victorious look at my father, who rolls his eyes and asks, “Wine or the hard stuff?”
“How about a vodka martini?”
“Okay, then. Sounds like this might be a really good story!”
Mom taps my knee impatiently. “Come on. Don’t keep an old lady waiting.”
“Fine. I met Isabella about three weeks ago.”
“Isabella? That’s an unusual name.”
“She’s an unusual girl.”
“Is she in your department?”
“No, actually, she works upstairs.”
Mom laughs. “Edward, you work in the basement. Everyone works upstairs from you.”
“Yeah, that’s true. Isabella works way upstairs, as in corporate offices.”
“O-o-oh,” says Dad, in a singsong voice, delivering my martini. I take a first sip, relaxing into the chilled vodka and letting the liquid soothe and burn at the same time.
“And how did you meet this girl upstairs?” Mom asks.
“I was asked to work on a project with her. Kind of silly actually. There was this problem with the Secret Santa routine…”
“Hmmm, a problem?” Dad quirks an eyebrow.
I shrug. What can I say?
“Edward. You didn’t,” Mom says.
“I might’ve.” I shrug again.
“Oh, Edward. This is how you choose to squander your MIT education?”
“But it was worth it. Wait till you meet her.”
“We get to meet her?” Her attitude takes a 180-degree turn.
“Well, sure…eventually. I mean, we only started, um, dating….last night.”
“Edward! You’re talking to your mother!” Dad warns.
“Oh honestly, Carlisle. You think I don’t know what goes on today in the world?”
“Okay, this is really awkward. Can we talk about something else? Mom, how big is the turkey this year?”
“I’d say about 180 pounds, from the looks of you,” she answers.
The three of us dissolve into laughter, and the conversation is tabled. Guests arrive, we stuff ourselves into oblivion, and before I know it, it’s 10:45.
“I guess there’s a silver lining to all of this,” Mom says. “At least you’ll be spending Christmas with us this year instead of at the Whitlocks’.”
“Actually, Mom, I need to get back to the city.”
“What do you mean, dear? You’re not going to be all alone on Christmas?”
“Actually, what?” Dad chimes in, interested now.
“I’m spending Christmas with a friend.”
“No, Mom. A guy from work.”
“Bella? Please tell me you’re not dating another guy from work. Already?” Dad asks, his voice laced with concern.
“Holy shit, I don’t believe it. Are you trying to kill me here?” Dad stands up and dramatically grabs at his heart.
“Yes, Dad. That’s exactly what I’m going for. Geez, narcissistic much?”
“Don’t talk to your father like that, Bella.”
“Well, I’m sorry, but I thought this was about me? Now it’s about Swan Enterprises. Would you maybe like to put it on the agenda for your next Board of Directors Meeting?”
“Well, I’m sorry, but I thought this was about me? Now it’s about Swan Enterprises. Would you maybe like to put it on the agenda for your next Board of Directors Meeting?”
“If it’s going to affect the stock price, yes, I might have to.”
“I hardly think who I sleep with is going to affect your Earnings Per Share!”
“You’re already sleeping with someone else? So soon after Jasper?” Mom is horrified. I know it sounds bad, but well, oh hell, it is far worse than it seems, actually.
“It’s not like I slept with him while Jas and I were together.” Lame, I know.
“There’s usually somewhat of a grace period,” she says gently, as if she’s surely failed me as a mother.
I set my fork down. “I realize the timing is unfortunate. But believe me, it’s also coincidental. I happened to meet someone just as I was already coming to the conclusion that Jas and I were through.”
“That’s usually how it works,” Dad says snidely. “Have you told this to Jasper?”
“More or less.”
“I’m guessing you told him less,” Mom says. “And how did he take the news?”
“Pretty much the same way you both did. But he knows I didn’t cheat on him.”
Mom holds my gaze. “Your body may not have cheated, but that doesn’t mean you were faithful.”
I nod, chastised. She’s right, and there’s no use denying it. Edward captured my interest the moment we met, and my thoughts were with him far more often than they had a right to be.
“Well, I don’t know what you expect me to do now. We’re both single, consenting adults. Are we supposed to stay apart for appearance’s sake?”
“I think you owe Jasper a little dignity in this, don’t you? I mean, you’re not going to go around flaunting this other guy right under his nose at work, are you?”
“Not flaunting, no. But I didn’t think we’d have to avoid each other, either.”
“Bella, who is this man? How did you meet?”
Who is this man? That should be a fairly simple question. Who do I describe to them? My Edward, my Secret Santa, the Dark Prince, or Black Velvet? The only one I can, of course. “He works in the IT Department. He came up to work on a project for me a few weeks ago.”
“You just met him three weeks ago and you already threw over Jasper for him?” Mom is alarmed now, really questioning my judgment.
“Like I said, Mom, Jasper and I just don’t work long term. It’s really got nothing at all to do with Edward.”
“Wait, Edward in IT? Edward Cullen, the guy who did the security review?”
“Yeah. You remembered his name? Wow, that’s impressive.”
“Bella, I didn’t get where I am today by forgetting people’s names. What have I always told you about that?”
“People like to be remembered. Shows you care. Blah blah blah.”
“Pass the ham, Smart Alec.”
~ -/- ~
Thankful that I’d already downloaded my stories to my account earlier in the day and set everything up the way it had been before I panicked, I now could sit down and report in to my…master. No two ways about it, even though I wasn’t given permission to call him that yet.
Sir: Choosing the one moment was a delicious challenge. Kudos to you! So many memories floated across my mind’s eye—you unzipping my dress and baring my breasts, the brush of the feather that sent me quivering, your black velvet bowtie possessing me around my own neck, the thong pulled roughly upwards, the heeling training-being forced to hyperawareness of your every move and held to perfect obedience (ung!). But in the end, I had to go with that moment where you slapped both hands down on my ass cheeks and ordered me to go! And I was crawling for my master for the very first time, on my hands and knees, more naked than naked, completely exposed and open for you. And I could feel your eyes on me, and I felt sexy and wanted and perfectly content.
And I will admit, Sir, that my finger gave me quite the rough workout just now. Nothing tender or slow about it. Doing things exactly the way you ordered, without you even being there to watch. When I looked up into the mirror to get your permission, I nearly lost it and came right there on the spot, but I refocused myself and concentrated on the numbers, slowly, steadily, and brought myself back under control. But when I hit the number one, Sir, all bets were off! I opened my eyes for a second and what I saw in the mirror was a vision of a woman I don’t even know yet. So wanton, so needy, and oh, so satisfied. Thank you, Sir. ~omk
I hit send at 10:55 and settle in with a glass of wine to wait for his reply. Not that he promised me one.
As I suspected, Isabella is free with her written words to describe more of her inner desires. Things she wouldn’t have an easy time saying to me, she is more than willing to message to Black Velvet. Good thing the two of us share files. Down, Geek, Black Velvet warns Edward.
Her message leaves me wanting, but I don’t satisfy myself before I answer her. I’m more effective in a heightened state.
princess-You delight me with your writing, as always. I could not have chosen a worthier moment for you to use for tonight’s challenge. And once again, my sweet girl, you’ve given me a window into your desires that I plan to use to both of our advantages in the future. I certainly sensed your excitement at my hands slapping against your backside, and oh, we will have so much fun with that! I love that you also pointed out some runners-up moments—the thong left on, the temporary collar, and wow, that exceptional heeling you did. Have I forgotten to tell you what your perfect obedience does to me? (though you didn’t allow me the need for even the slightest correction, which was somewhat disappointing) No matter, the next challenge will just have to be that much harder.
And you report back to me that you’ve been rough with yourself? Well, that’s no big surprise to me, but it’s certainly good to know that you don’t require kid gloves. Ah, leather gloves…there’s a thought! You inspire so many creative fantasies, my dear! It’s wonderful to see you back in full force. Sleep tight, with visions of sugar plum fairies and leather-gloved masters dancing…BV
I wasn’t necessarily expecting a response so quickly, or even at all, but before I can shut down, I’m alerted to her message:
Permission to go round two, Sir? (Really. Not. Fair.) Looking forward to everything you hint at! With much affection ~omk
Her closing fills me with a warmth I haven’t let myself hope for in so long. At least a part of her has affection for one of my many embodiments.