Friday, June 1, 2012


~Chapter 60~

"Morning, Domenic. How was your weekend?"
"Very good, Ms. Swan. I drove my wife sufficiently crazy."
Ha! I can relate, buddy! Well not me, exactly, Master me.
I glance over at Isabella, who is giving me a pointed glare. Apparently, she agrees.
Fortunately, she turns her attention back to Domenic and teases, "Is that the goal then?"
"Pretty much. At my age, I'm always happy when she even notices I'm there. It seems the interests of women of a certain age revert to young twenty-something pin-up boys," he offers with wonder and dismay.
I snort and throw out, "I wouldn't worry too much, Domenic. I'm sure she appreciates your considerable charms."
Isabella leans into me once we're sequestered in the back seat and says, "Keep telling yourself that, big boy."
"What?" I say with mock hurt. "You're gonna throw me over for some pretty boy? Sheesh, I thought you were above all that."
"Well," she answers, sinking into my side and pulling my arm tight around her, "You're safe for now. But I can't make any promises for when my middle-age hormone surge kicks in. You're gonna need to stay on top of your game when that happens."
"What is this hormone surge you speak of?" I know full well about the Cougar bars and the rampant lustings of the vampire-dazzled sex-crazed Tumblr surfers. It occurs to me I'm actually on the cusp of being too old for them all. Fortunately, I know where Isabella goes when she wants to satisfy her itch, or rather, make herself itchier for me to satisfy.
She shrugs. "I've read about it."
"Are you telling me that I should expect an uptick in your libido?" I query with mock horror, sending her into gales of laughter.
"Don't worry, babe. You'll be going through your own midlife crisis at the time, so it's all good."
I've certainly been party to the moronic decisions made by men in their forties and fifties, whose lives have consisted of a series of compromises that suddenly leave them feeling as though they've missed out on their last chance to be X or have Y or experience Z. In fact, a good many of the subs who've sought out my company had been left by the side of the road like crumpled McDonald's wrappers by exactly such fools. Ironically, the abandoned women are, for the most part, hitting their own sexual renaissance exactly as Isabella is describing it, and if only their men had seen it…oh, it's all such a colossal waste. The lucky ones realize their monumental stupidity and come crawling back, begging forgiveness.
That will never happen to me; for starters, I simply do not live my life that way. I leave nothing on the table. Besides, with Isabella at my side, what more could I possibly desire?
But we're having fun here, and I'm certainly not going to sour the conversation by turning things serious. “This sounds awful, Isabella. Hang on…I want to get some insight here."
I tap on the glass partition, which Domenic has discreetly kept in the raised position since Montauk.
"Sir?" Domenic says, as the glass slides away.
"Domenic, is this true? Do middle-aged women experience some kind of reinvigoration that I need to worry about?"
Isabella pinches me through my dress shirt and shields her eyes from Domenic's in the mirror.
Domenic gives off a long series of cigarette-smoker, cloudy-lung laughs before answering, "Worry? I don't know if that's the proper terminology. But…you should most definitely prepare yourself for the onslaught."
"Oh God," she mutters into my side. I tighten my grip around her shoulders and tweak her nearest breast for good measure.
"And what does this onslaught entail exactly?" I egg him on.
"Sir, there's a lady present," Domenic answers.
Glancing at Isabella's bright red face, I retort, "She's not really that much of a lady, if you'd like to know the truth."
"Bwahahaha! You are so dead, Edward Cullen! Consider yourself seriously shin-kicked."
Domenic's low, rolling laughter fills the front seat. I playfully pinch and tickle Isabella in all kinds of inappropriate places, making her laugh with me the rest of the ride in.
The car rolls to a stop and I help Isabella out; she pats her hair and clothing back into place, thanks Domenic without meeting his gaze, and hurries on ahead. I give him a wink and a fist bump which he returns with a knowing grin.
I jog ahead and loop my arm around Isabella’s shoulders, but she shrugs it off. Never one to accept no for an answer, I come right back at her a second time, and she simply can't resist.
I'm a bastard. She loves me.
"This is just a workout right? No scening, no chocolate chips, no kinky situps?"
Edward gives me his best "Who me?" shrug as he pushes the "R" button.
"Seriously, Edward. I have some holiday joy to melt off my ass here."
I back into the corner as he cranes his neck to get a look at said joy. "I don't see anything," he concludes.
I cross my arms. "Where do you think the chocolate chip cookies ended up?"
"I'm pretty sure Riley and I ate most of them."
"Yeah, but you and your freak-of-nature metabolism would never show it."
"Sweetheart, I have to say, I spent most of the weekend studying your ass at very close range, and I certainly did not see any evidence of unwanted flesh."
What does one say to that? Thank you? "You're incorrigible."
"Yes, I am highly encourageable."
"Lord, help me."
The elevator dings and the doors open to the reception desk.
Edward makes a point of holding his hand over the elevator door and gallantly inviting me out first, and I angle my body sideways to deprive him of the view. He chuckles at my antics and we present our passes to the two perfect female specimens of physical fitness in crisp, white uniforms sitting behind the counter. Keys and towels in hand, we go our separate ways through our respective locker rooms.
I find an entirely different Edward on the business side of the gym. He's already started his jog and I climb onto the treadmill he's obviously saved for me. I've been told I have an elegant stride, but it's not necessarily something that comes naturally to me. Edward, on the other hand, runs as if every muscle in his body exists for the motion. The only body part not ergonomically suited for running is his wild hair, and before long, Edward is swiping at his forehead with the green terrycloth hand towel every few minutes.
I ramp it up until we're running at the same pace, and though he glances over at me a few times, he's pretty intense in his own workout. Oddly, I suddenly feel miles away from him, though we're physically less than three feet apart. I hop off the treadmill at the thirty minute mark, leaving him to run through my circuit of machines and stretching exercises.
"Want help with that?"
I look up from the mat and Edward is towering over me, dripping from every pore.
"Sure," I answer, suddenly craving his touch, though when he does lay his hands on me it's more chaste than anything I can remember from him.
"All set?" he asks, and I sense he's restless to get to his own stretching, so I don't keep him.
Isabella shakes her head as I bite into a cluster of sweet potato fries. "I cannot believe you just ran for an hour just to put that into your body." She swirls a finger over my jumbo bacon cheeseburger and pile of fries.
"I'm a growing boy. Besides, it's my mission in life to try the sweet potato fries at every dining establishment in the state of New York."
"And you're well on your way," she counters.
"How's your salad?"
"It's fine. I'm not really that hungry tonight."
She pokes at the spiky bits of fussy lettuce for another few minutes before setting her fork down with a sigh.
"You're really quiet tonight. You okay?"
She slumps back against the soft brown leather of the booth and I try not to become distracted by her posture.
Her hair is still damp at the ends and she has that warm post-workout glow without a drop of makeup, which makes me insanely happy. An emotion she clearly does not embody right now.
I reach over and cover her hand. "Is something wrong?"
"I'm just tired," she deflects.
"Maybe we shouldn't play overnight on Saturd—"
"No, it's not that," she interrupts, then suddenly adds, "You're too far away."
I give her hand a squeeze. "But I'm right here," I answer.
She shrugs and I catch the gleam of light off the water pooling in her eyes. Shit.
As swiftly as I can, I let go of her just long enough to slide out of the booth and scoot in on her side. I press my side against hers and wrap my arm around her shoulders, drawing our bodies together with as much contact as I can muster inside the confines of the booth. "I'm here, I'm here."
"I'm sorry," she mumbles into my chest. "I don't know why I'm such a basket case all of a sudden."
I do. "It seems you're experiencing some sub drop aftershocks, and I'm right here to help you through."
"But it's a whole day later!" she argues.
"Hey, shh shhhh. Don't judge it, just let it out. And feel me, Isabella. I've got you."
She shudders in my arms while I murmur a litany of soothing words. After a few minutes, she stills.
"Eat your burger before it gets cold," she orders me firmly, twisting out of my embrace just enough so we both can eat.
I do as she's asked, but I make sure we stay connected through the rest of the meal, on the short walk back home, and once we're rejoined in bed.
I let her feel the reassuring weight of me on top of her. In the meager glow of the digital numbers, I find her eyes, and I tell her I love her. Over and over again.
And when words have done all they can do, I cover her lips with mine and I possess her, claiming everything with my tongue inside her.
I keep her warm and safe with my body while my fingers sweep across her cheeks and into her hair, conveying with every touch that I need her, that she's everything.
I lift the fabric of her top and pull it away so that nothing comes between us. Nothing but skin meeting skin. Hot bodies sliding across each other, need revealing itself without fear.
And when neither of us can wait another second, we join in that most intimate way. I thrust inside her with reverence and awe. She swallows up my whimper and answers with the low moan of unstoppable desire, a need so great it brings both of us to tears.
Just then, in that sacred moment, we meet. And two halves make one perfect whole.
"What are you grinning about?" Edward shifts against the soft leather backseat so he's facing me as much as the confined space allows.
"You look sinful in that suit."
To be fair, he looked pretty damn fine yesterday in his freshly-ironed white button-down and even better (I can only imagine) once he rolled up the sleeves at his desk and loosened the tight clasp of his tie. But today is Game Day, and he's decked out in his power suit.
He rolls his eyes and waggles the tail of the “everyman” tie I selected for him. "Just one of the boys, Isabella, remember?"
"Sorry, sweetheart. That tie can only tone you down so much. The inner you can't help but seep through."
"Okay," he says with finality, tucking his conservative tie back inside. "It's possible you're a little biased here."
"Yeah…I think it's fair to say I'm far from objective where you're concerned, Edward."
"Good. I want you muddled and confused. That way you can't tell that I've got the better end of this bargain."
"Pshhhhh, yeah right," I guffaw indelicately.
"Whatever, dude. If you don't see it, there's no way I'm gonna convince you. Maybe your mom will talk some sense into you." His grin tells me he knows full well he's gonna smite my mother tonight. Even if Dad hasn't already prepped her, which I suspect he has, it won't take Edward long to cast his spell. I've witnessed it time and time again.
"She's tried that approach before. Hasn't worked too well for her," I respond, remembering the rocky ride that was our Christmas Eve.
Concern mars his features. I wish I could take back my words. He has his presentation this morning, and I didn't mean for this to get heavy. "Your mother doesn't approve of your choices?"
I sweep my hair off my face. "We don't have to talk about this right now, Edward. You're about to put your head in the lion's mouth and I don't want you to be distracted."
"Now you're really worrying me. Is there something I should know? Some reason your mom really isn't going to like me?"
"Of course not," I tell him. But he doesn't begin to believe me without further explanation for my cryptic comments. "She just got very attached to Jasper, that's all."
He seems duly mollified by my response. "Of course, the doting perfect boyfriend. What mother wouldn't be swept away by Prince Charming?"
I can only shrug. "She was pretty disgusted with me for casting him away without warning."
He harrumphs. "Warning him or your mom?"
"Touché. Oh, and to add insult to injury, she was really horrified that I slept with you the same night."
He croaks, "You told her that? Jesus, way to throw me under the bus!"
"No," I correct him. "She was disappointed in me. This has absolutely nothing to do with you. She will love you. My mom happens to be a great judge of character."
"Not if she thinks you're anything less than bodacious."
Conveniently, we pull up to the curb of Swan Tower. "Out you go," I shoo him.
"Just remember, Westerly's an old geezer who talks just to make sure he's still breathing. Nobody actually expects you to answer him."
"Got it."
Rosalie grabs my arm suddenly and the elevator car feels far too small. "Oh, and Nichols will try to trip you up. Until he gets to know you. So just take your time."
"Okay." I eye her fingers on my sleeve and she loosens her grip.
"Sorry," she mumbles contritely.
"Oh," she starts again, "if Vernon asks you about the effect on productivity, just tell him—"
"Hey. Rosalie. I've got this," I say firmly. She nods and takes a deep breath as the elevator doors open. She's got a lot riding on this as well. It's not every day the big guns look to IT for anything other than damage control. This is our chance to poke our faces out of the ground and feel the warm sun on our cheeks.
I can see through the floor-to-ceiling windows that the Upper Crust are already assembled around the conference table. Two empty seats wait for us at the head of the table, and I attempt to push away the uneasy feeling of sitting in the opposing team's bleachers. There's an awkward moment where we both try to hold the door open for each other; aside from that, we're seated without further ado.
My eyes travel around the oval, taking in the weary faces of men and women who know they're about to be schooled by an outsider, a techie, the 'hotshot from downstairs who thinks he knows best'. One on one, each welcomed my assistance as I was updating sluggish computers last week, but putting me on their management team agenda is far more threatening for them—and thus more dangerous for Rosalie and me.
At the far end of the table sits Charlie, who catches my eye and greets me with a confident nod. Next to him, the “Golden Boy of Sales,” one Jasper Whitlock, who also does his best to give me an encouraging chin nod hello. Seated to my immediate right is Rosalie’s boss, the VP of Systems, Caius Volterra, with whom I've had a few conversations over the five years or so he's been here. He's a good guy—solid skills coupled with the company man mentality one needs to occupy a seat at this table. But Caius is not a risk-taker, and I can see that his slacks are paying the price for his nerves, as his fingertips bunch the pinstripe fabric at his thighs beneath the surface of the table.
It's his job to introduce me, I've been coached, so I wait patiently while he fidgets a bit more, and then finally says, "I'd like you all to meet Edward Cullen, one of our bright stars in IT."
When I reflect later on this presentation, I'll remember the exact moment I knew I had them eating out of the palm of my hand. It was Nichols who asked the question.
"Son, I've been working here at Swan going on thirty years this April. What makes you believe that there's something you can show me to do my job better than I already do?"
Polite titters around the table, partially in agreement, but mostly out of embarrassment for me, for what would surely be my ruination.
"Mr. Nichols," I begin. "You just posted your year-end overseas report on Friday. Now, with Swan operating in twelve countries and five different currencies, I'm guessing you haven't had much time for those four beautiful grandchildren in your screensaver?"
Nichols shakes his head congenially. "Never enough time for those little whippersnappers." Again, polite and knowing clucks circulate and Nichols sits there beaming, the proud grampy.
"Mr. Nichols, I hope you don't mind if I put you in the hot seat for just a moment here?" I risk it, because I have to.
"Sure, go ahead. What else is new, eh, Charlie?"
Charlie and the others grin and nod agreeably.
"Very good, sir. Would you mind taking us through your process for compiling that final excel spreadsheet you presented last Friday at your team meeting?"
He looks slightly surprised that I am aware of so many details, but information is, after all, my business.
"Certainly." He clears his voice, and then proceeds to explain, with a great deal of pride, how the division heads forwarded him their numbers in whatever format was their custom, on whatever time zone made sense in their countries. Nichols then converted the currencies and reformatted each report individually to match the style of the spreadsheet he used, spending hours recalculating and reconciling his report to theirs. By the time he finishes his long, arduous explanation, everyone at the table appears exhausted and defeated. Most likely, a similar story could be heard from each of them.
"Wow," I say, slowly pushing to my feet, as if the very task of standing were back-breaking after hearing such a tale. "That's an enormous amount of effort, I think we all would agree." I watch as the others bob their heads in solidarity.
"Would it surprise you, sir, to learn that there is an easier way?"
Nichols watches me carefully, sizing me up. Finally the bravado falls away and he responds, "Honestly, kid, it would delight me to no end."
"Okay then," I answer, stepping over to the laptop setup in the corner. "I took the liberty of formatting this template for you."
He chuckles when I open the spreadsheet entitled, "Nichols- Pro Forma Sales Report" and calls over, "Hey, how'd you know I'd be the trouble maker?"
"I didn't," I answer, clicking the 'up one folder' icon and showing him and everyone else the folder containing a file for each of them. There is laughter throughout the room. I happen to catch Rosalie's eye and she is glowing.
As I finish my brief demonstration, I issue a warning, "Just so we're clear, all of these files are password protected, and I'm not releasing the passwords until I'm convinced you're road ready. A little IT knowledge can be a very dangerous thing, and I don't want to be the man responsible for Swan Enterprises coming to a screeching halt because somebody didn't understand a macro."
"So you're holding us hostage if we don't accept your proposal?" Westerley chimes in good-naturedly.
I respond with a guffaw. "I suppose you could look at it that way. I just view it as our first opportunity to solve problems together. And by the way, I'd like to point out that some of you are already doing an admirable job with this particular function, and one of the things I'd encourage is a community of best practices. Here…let's take a look at this one."
I click open the file with Whitlock on top and keep my eyes firmly on the projected image. Still, I catch Jasper out of the corner of my eye, sitting just a bit taller at the table as eight heads turn his direction.
"Mr. Whitlock has already established his template, all his division heads are using it consistently, and they all feed up to the cover page. Having met the man, I'm confident he'd be more than happy to show any of you how he achieved that, am I right?"
I fix my gaze directly on Jasper, who frankly looks a bit stunned by the shout-out. "Yes, sure. Of course," he stumbles, then shoots me a curious but grateful look.
"So these workshops will get you talking and listening, not only to me, but to each other, and there is great value in that. You all know your challenges far better than I, and there's no better way to learn than to hear how others have already approached the problem. Let me not leave you with the misimpression that Mr. Whitlock is perfect…" I trail off to good-humored jibes in Jasper's direction, which he handles with an amicable shrug. "…Which brings us to my next area…Managing Corporate Communication for VP's."
"Ha! You mean 'Dummies'!"
I hold up my hands in the classic I'm-innocent gesture. "Your words, not mine!"
I proceed to rock the room with my dazzling display of Outlook skills, from handling emails just once to scheduling meetings in under three clicks. "And there's plenty more where that came from. That was just to whet your appetites."
"We're wet! We're wet!" shouts Bailey, Isabella's direct supervisor, a robust man known for his healthy sense of humor. Rosalie draws a sharp breath beside me, but quickly, the room erupts again into bawdy laughter. The three women VP's laugh less enthusiastically than the men perhaps, but they are in on the joke as well. Rosalie shoots me a look of amazed relief. We are all just a bunch of regular guys.
Once they settle in again, I offer this in closing. "Let me make this promise to you, Mr. Nichols, and to everyone here, for that matter. If you meet with me, and there honestly isn't anything I can help you with, I will cheerfully pack my laptop up and go back into my dark, dreary dungeon and continue to do the regular IT stuff you're paying me to do. For the mere cost of your time and mine for one meeting, you'll be able to give my plan a test drive. How does that sound to everyone?"
Nichols stands up immediately and begins clapping. "Here, here," he calls. Caius and Jasper are next on their feet, followed closely by Charlie, who beams proudly at me beneath his moustache. Rosalie doesn't quite know what to do, not exactly being in the voting camp but also not having participated in the presentation. She opts for standing next to me and giving me a supportive clap on the back.
How'd the tie work for you? ~I
Like a charm! XE
Just got a note from Dad- says you killed it. So proud!
Major celebration tonight *winks*
Can't wait…well, have to wait a little…folks and all.
We can always slip away…
Oh, sure! Way to make an impression!
*shrugs *They'd understand.
Yes, all too well! *giggles*
You should see Rosalie's grin. I'm her new best friend.
Did she GRAB you?
She couldn't help herself.
Oh look at you turning all green! Kinda cute!
Wish I could be with you right now and kiss that pout right off your face!
Me too. Still look yummy?
Mmm, I'll bet.
Sure you can't do lunch?
Harumph! No can do.
K then, 5:30 lobby?
You, me, lips…
Sounds like a party!
So happy for you, Edward. XX
Thanks, babe. Later.
"Edward, no! You cannot spend $170 on chocolates!"
"But you said this was her favorite store!"
"That doesn't mean you have to buy the entire store!"
"It's just a box, Isabella."
"It's just the most extravagant assortment box they sell! Seriously, Edward, you do not have to buy my mother's affection. I promise she'll love you just the same if you get her this box of …chocolate-covered pralines." She shoves the box into my arms and grabs the Boîte Maison before I can regrip.
"Okay, Miss Bossypants."
"Ha! That's a rich one!" she answers, pulling me by the sleeve to the cash register. "Besides, you'll lose serious points if we're late, so you're better off just doing what I say without fighting."
We take our place in the queue; it seems the dinner hour is a busy time for buying luxury chocolates in Manhattan. Isabella bounces nervously on her toes, willing the line to move along.
"Hey, would you rather just skip this?" I ask, hoping she's not about to make me commit social suicide with her parents. I mean, how would Charlie feel knowing I ignored his sage advice? But my first loyalty is always to Isabella, and she's ready to start spitting nickels any minute now.
She looks back at me as if I've just suggested we go swimming in the Hudson. "You can't walk in empty-handed!"
"I can hop into CVS and buy her a Chunky bar or something."
She laughs at me and shakes her head. "This is fine. I'm sorry I'm freaking out on you."
I give her a soft kiss and tell her, "It's okay, baby. It's stressful bringing home your Master to meet the folks."
She chortles indelicately but then becomes serious. "You do get that I'm not worried about Mom meeting you, right? It's totally the other way around."
"Hey, aside from getting a pretty decent idea what your ankles might look like in thirty years, I'm not looking to your mom for any great truths about you. I know you, Isabella. That's not going to change."
"Damn you always know just what to say." She leans up on tiptoes just as the cashier calls out, "Next in line!"

"To be continued," I mutter before setting my box on the counter.


  1. The title kinda reminded me of the tv series white collar... :P It was nice to see Edward give credit when its due.. Why is he so perfect?

    1. Because I can never, ever write him any other way. :)

  2. Giving Jasper a shout out in his meeting made Edward gain some brownie points there, didn't it? Love to convo between Domenic and Edward in the car about older women and their libidos....Hah!

    1. Heehee I like to slip stuff in when I can! (that's what he said)