Disclaimer: Stephanie Meyer & Little Brown Publishing own all rights
Mr. Holland sat, perched on the bedroom window, maintaining her vigil. Families rushed about the city streets, large groups of people entering homes, greeted with large hugs and quick kisses on the cheek, all under her watchful gaze. Her eyes keenly studied the street scouting every single man, waiting for him, knowing that her owner was busy at work in the kitchen. While Mr. Holland was still a cat and not prone to such exuberances, she was happy that someone had finally sparked something in Rosalie. She could tell that Rosalie was different since meeting him. The far-off, wistful expression that she saw so many times when Rosalie played the cello had seeped into other times, too, and she often found her owner staring off, thinking dreamily.
Normally, the cat would be napping at this time, but she was too interested in their impending visitor to sleep. She could hear Rosalie bustling in the kitchen, working fastidiously to give the appearance she had just thrown things together, rather than the meticulously planned meal it was. The short bell of the door broke Mr. Holland from her thoughts and she stood, arching her back and yawning once before gracefully hopping down from her perch.
A bit breathlessly, Rosalie opened the door to her apartment. It would be easy to say that her cheeks were flushed from being in the warm kitchen, just as it would have been easy to say that his were reddened from being in the cold air. They stood, staring at each other for more than a moment, before Edward shook his head, as though breaking out of a daze. He shoved the pie he was holding toward her, and she clumsily reached for it, while he clarified: “It’s apple.” She nodded. “I made it.” Her eyes widened. “My mom, she and I used to… make stuff. Bake. Together.”
“That’s really…” she trailed off, trying to think of the right word. Cute, surprising, lovely, adorable… “Sweet. And thoughtful. Thank you for making the effort.”
Rosalie was so focused on Edward that she jumped a bit at feeling Mr. Holland’s body against her leg. She gave fair warning as Edward removed his coat that Mr. Holland wasn’t the friendliest of cats and that he might want to steer clear, or be prepared for the cat to do so on her own. Mr. Holland peeked around her leg, curious to see Edward, the man that she’d been hearing about for the past three weeks. Green met green and Mr. Holland deftly leapt onto the low sofa table, ignoring the low chiding tones Rosalie aimed at her; a skill that any good cat could show off with pride. Surprisingly, she stared expectantly at Edward, waiting for something. Ignoring the warning, he cautiously offered his hand, while Rosalie held her breath and prayed that the cat didn’t maim him. After all, he needed that hand to conduct and she imagined bandages would be a significant hindrance.
Mr. Holland daintily sniffed his hand, her eyes narrowing when she realized that he was the owner of the offending dog that had been spending much time with her owner. She appeared to infinitesimally raise her nose in disgust before nuzzling her face against the back of his long fingers. With that, she tilted her head back and rubbed her body against not only his hand but his sleeve, her emerald eyes slits of rapture as she purred.
Rosalie watched the entire exchange in utter astonishment, slightly mouthing a surprised Oh! “It looks like you’ve got a fan. She’s very picky with her affections. She won’t associate with just anyone.”
“Hmmm, wonder where she gets that from.” He teased her because, after their night at Archie’s, he knew that he could. Still, he watched her curiously as he continued to bond with her cat. Knowing it surprised her intrigued him.
A quick flip of the hair over her shoulder and a smile was all the answer he got in return as she placed the pie in the refrigerator, then carried his coat off, apologizing for the lack of closet space. He stood, waiting in the foyer, at first unsure of whether he should follow her or wait for her to return, before finally settling on walking into the living room. While she placed his coat on her bed, she called out to him, telling him to make himself at home. A fleeting thought rushed through her, noting that if he were truly at home, she would have tossed his coat on the sofa and brought him to her bedroom. She shook her head to dislodge the thought and quickly glanced in the wrought-iron mirror over her dresser. She looked fine, if not a bit flushed. Get yourself under control, Rosalie, she thought as she left the room, closing the door firmly behind her.
Wringing her hands in front of her, she bustled back into the room, finding Mr. Holland looking at him adoringly as they both sat on the couch. She gave the cat a quick glare, wondering what her deal was, and offered Edward a beverage. “I have a pinot grigio chilling, merlot, beer, soda-diet or regular, juice-apple, orange, cranberry, water…” She looked at him with a raised eyebrow as she’d listed most of what she had to offer… in the way of beverages.
“What are you having?”
She thought for a moment. She was partial to the merlot but she knew it could stain her lips and teeth and worried about looking silly. “I’m going to have the pinot grigio,” she said, decidedly.
Edward nodded at her choice. “I’ll have the same, please.” He stood and followed her to the kitchen, the aroma of the food wafting through the apartment. “It looks and smells like you went all out. I hope this wasn’t an inconvenience for you.”
“No, no trouble at all. I… enjoy doing things like this. It just doesn’t make sense for me to do it all the time when it’s usually just me. And Jasper and Alice, well, they are lovely but they are so-” She cut herself off, looking almost embarrassed.
“Together?” Edward supplied the word.
“Yes! I almost feel like I’m intruding on their own personal bubble when I’m with them alone. That’s why…”
“What?” His elbows rested on the counter and he leaned in, conspiratorially. “I promise you, whatever you’re thinking, I’ve probably felt the same.”
“That’s why I’m glad that I had you there at Archie’s the other night. I didn’t feel like such an intruder.”
It felt right.
She moved around the kitchen and he sat on the high bar top stool she had placed at the counter. Initially, their conversation and moves were part of the carefully choreographed dance they’d been following up until this point, each afraid of saying too much or not enough. Edward kept both of their wine glasses filled, and they snacked on a vegetable tray that Rosalie had bought the previous evening. He told her about his mom and where he’d grown up, told her about the first time he’d seen an orchestra and what it inspired, even told her a bit about Bella.
A reach for a platter revealed a sliver of her back to Edward’s eyes. Drawn to the small span of skin, he was surprised and scintillated to see black ink, equal points on either side of the small of her back. The wine made him bold; he desired to know more, anything she’d share. Once she stood by his side, the platter deposited on the counter, his hand finally did what it had longed for since the last time they’d touched. His pointer visited the small of her back, just between where he’d seen the marks.
Frozen in her spot, one hand resting on the counter and the other holding the stem of her glass, she tilted her head so that she could look at him. He wanted to know it, to see it, to trace it with his finger or with his tongue. “You have tattoos.” It was a statement, an observation, and the only thing he could say. His toe had already gone over the line with the entire encounter. The dinner, the thoughts he could not rid himself of, not that he wanted to, those were already questionable. His touch and his desire to know more were merely a crescendo to a piece that should never have been played.
“I do,” she replied, unable to formulate words beyond that. His finger remained there, searing her skin, his eyes betraying the desire and intrigue he had hoped to hide. He had failed completely, and every glance spoke the words he knew he couldn’t speak. She knew that they echoed her own. She, too, knew they could not be acted on. It didn’t stop her from wishing.
The alcohol pushed her boldness as well and she kept his eyes locked with hers as she turned her back slowly to him, an offering of delicate skin still peeking from her shirt. He didn’t dare look away. “Would you like to see?”
“I would.” Short sentences, spoken quickly and quietly, as though if it was said in this manner, it would be kept secret.
The fabric of her burgundy blouse was hitched slowly, exposing the lower portion of her back to him. He caught the gasp before it escaped his lips. F-holes, mirroring the tattoos of a photograph he’d seen of Kiki de Montparnasse, stretched over a good portion of her skin, sitting prettily on either side of her spine. Edward held his hand at bay, not allowing his fingers to do what they wished, to return to her delicate smoothness.
“Is there a story?”
She lowered her shirt once more, covering her skin, because she knew it was the appropriate thing to do. “Have you ever questioned your choice to be a musician?” A shake of the head told his answer. “Well, I stopped playing for awhile, thinking that I’d been forced into it. I was in college and well, I was working a lot harder than other people in other majors. So I just stopped, stopped playing, brought my cello home. I wasn’t sure it was what I really wanted and thankfully, my parents were supportive of my indecision. I’d even changed my major to elementary education. After a year, I realized that while my parent’s careers had steered me, my heart truly belonged to music. The day I returned to the program, I got my tattoos and I never looked back. But, if I do, I’ll see these to remind me.” They shared soft smiles before Rosalie clasped her hands together and declared that dinner was ready to be served.
The small dining room table held more than its fair share of food and they both sat with full glasses of wine and soon, full stomachs. The conversation was rhythmic and melodic, their laughter rising and falling easily. They dined as friends, with an underlying hint of something more.
While they both cleared the table, Edward’s cell phone rang. Apologetically he looked at the screen, seeing the word Mom. He’d tried to catch her earlier in the day but was unable. He did not want to be rude while he was in Rosalie’s home. He breathed out that it was his mom calling and that was all that it took for her to shoo him away with a wave of her hand.
“Edward, honey. It’s Mom.” Esme always felt the need to announce who she was, even with caller ID. “Happy Thanksgiving!”
Edward sat in the chair near the window, the cello resting next to it. “Same to you, Mom. Are you having a good one? Please pass my regards to everyone there.”
Her muffled voice relayed his message to everyone and he could hear family members calling out their greetings. Esme laughed at the chaos of their voices and he closed his eyes, relishing the rich, warm tones of his mother’s voice, the ones that could comfort from thousands of miles away.
“What are you doing today, Edward? Please tell me you aren’t alone.” Since his divorce, there had been other holidays where this had been the case. Christmas last year was spent with Chinese food and movies, surrounded by composition books. It never bothered him as much as it had his mother, but even so, he was happy to report the turn of events. He could hear Rosalie in the kitchen, talking to Mr. Holland, and the squeak of her oven door.
“No, I’m not alone. One of the members of the orchestra didn’t have plans and kindly invited me for dinner.”
“One of the members? A woman?”
“I’m glad to hear you aren’t alone,” Esme stated carefully. She was thrilled her son was with someone else on Thanksgiving, but she knew the potential issues that could arise from his son’s position as this woman’s superior. She had to trust that he would never jeopardize his career.
“Thank you, Mom. I’ll call you once I get home. Will you be around in a few hours?” He said this to make it clear that he didn’t have any intentions on spending the night. Plus, if he promised his mom a phone call, the temptation of staying would be less. Slightly.
“I will. I’ll speak to you more then, honey. I love you. Be safe.”
“I love you, too.”
Edward absorbed the silence for a beat before Rosalie called out to him that she’d be there in a minute, she was just warming the pie and putting leftovers in containers for him to take for himself and Jack. Sitting in the straight-backed chair, he pulled her cello between his legs, wishing it was her there instead. Running his hands over the body of the beautiful instrument and longing for it to be her. His head bowed as he looked at the neck, trying to remember proper placement of fingers. The bow felt unnatural in his fingers as he tried to recapture the proper positioning in his fingertips. The information lay dormant in his mind from years of disuse, but it seemed suddenly important – even vital – that he pay homage to this particular instrument.
His tongue between his teeth and his brow furrowed, he concentrated as he attempted to play the prelude to Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1. Rosalie heard the music and walked out to see him with her favorite cello. While she should have felt annoyed at his blatant disregard for her personal property, the loving way that he cradled the instrument to his body and the clear reverence with which he treated it, only served to draw her closer to him.
“Tempo, Maestro,” she teased him quietly, ribbing him the way that he would her. Gently, she came to stand behind him in the chair. “May I?”
He misunderstood her question and started to rise, but she placed a hand on his shoulder, putting pressure enough that he knew to stay in the chair. Leaning forward, she placed her left hand in tandem with his, on the fingerboard, her right just past the crook of his elbow, as far as she could reach without sitting behind him. The position mimicked what she’d done with Leah at their music class, but this possessed none of the innocence that had been present that day. Both of them were profoundly aware of the slight press of her breast against his shoulder, the feel of her breath lightly caressing his cheek. He held his head steady, afraid of what might happen if he were to turn even slightly in her direction. This was more than dinner with a friend, no matter what either of them told themselves.
“It’s been awhile,” he muttered. Her hair fell over his shoulder as she nodded. She tapped the instrument twice with her ring finger. “Why do you do that?” he asked in hushed, reverent tones. He had to keep quiet about so many other things, but he could afford his curiosity on this.
“I’m putting my heart into it. Vena amoris. I know it’s been proven false but it’s how I connect.” She brought her finger to her lips to demonstrate, kissing it softly and tapping again. His eyes followed her finger hungrily, and he quickly turned away from her, feeling the light sheen of sweat on his flush face cool when she exhaled. Neither of them spoke again. Attention was focused on their playing while she struggled not to think of the increased pressure of her chest against him as she inhaled and how close their cheeks were with every movement of the bow.
His bowing was on point, her fingers moved up and down the fingerboard, and together they created the notes. They finished their duet on the solitary instrument. Hearts racing, they knew that words could only hurt this moment they’d created together. Instead, she moved the hand that had been guiding his bowing arm to his shoulder and rested her cheek against the back of his neck. His fingers finally wound through the strands of wheat-colored hair that he’d wanted to touch. It was everything that could not happen, and yet it was. Neither wanted to be the one to break the spell, neither wanted to be the one to point out the very real fact that this was forbidden, that it shouldn’t happen. So they put their lives on pause for a moment and used it for what it was, a comfort, a sense of acceptance, kindred spirits.
Before it could become any more or less than what it was in that very moment, the buzzer went off in the kitchen, signifying that the pie was warmed. Hair was unwrapped, as were arms, and quiet smiles were exchanged as they straightened themselves before heading into the kitchen. The apple pie was carefully removed from the oven and the coffee gurgled as the last of the water ran through it.
The offer of coffee was accepted, as he knew he needed to break the daze created by both the wine and her. Steaming mugs were placed side by side before Rosalie turned her attention to the pie, placing it on a trivet before taking two small plates from the cabinet. He watched her move around the small kitchen while inhaling the coffee’s aroma. She would offer cream, sugar. That would be appropriate and correct if not what he preferred, and it would remind him of his place, his lot, his fate of not always getting what he wanted.
“I wish I had thought to get whipped cream or ice cream for the pie,” Rosalie said as she searched the fridge. “I’m pretty sure I don’t have any but… I might…” Opening the refrigerator door, the cold air hit her. She thought it might break the spell she fell into when they were together but it did not. Instead, she found something that might assist in her current predicament. It wasn’t the cure all but she pulled out the familiar tub of Cool Whip. “Is this okay?” she asked, uncertainly.
The smile that lit his face was reminiscent of the one she’d seen from him prior to going to Archie’s a few short days ago. “It’s more than okay.” The smile didn’t leave his face as he took the container from her and opened it. Instead of spooning a dollop of the topping onto his pie, however, Rosalie watched as he dropped a heap into his coffee mug.
“That’s… disgusting.” Pushing her mug toward him, she nodded her chin from the container to her cup, her actions contradicting her words. “Let me try.”
She prepared herself, screwing her face into a puckered grimace, not knowing what to think but assuming it wouldn’t be anything good. She took a sip and paused.
“Well?” His heart thundered ridiculously, knowing it was only a silly coffee thing but, in his heart, wondering if it could be so much more.
Her mind flashed to the day that they were together at Starbucks. “Wait, is this why you were glaring? That day that we met…” She thought about him looking at his coffee in disdain. “This… this is why.”
“I like what I like.”
She rolled her eyes teasingly. Of course you do. “What in the world ever gave you the idea in the first place?” The blue in her eyes was alight with curiosity.
“Once in college, when I was badly in need of coffee and out of creamer and milk, I became desperate,” he explained, smiling.
Rosalie nodded. She remembered making many interesting culinary discoveries in college. She took another sip and decided it wasn’t disgusting. The creamy sweet smell seemed familiar and it suddenly clicked. It was one of the scents she associated with Edward. She brought the cup closer and inhaled the fragrant steam deeply. The silence deepened as they ate their pie and shot cautious glances at each other over the table. Their thoughts lingered on what had happened before the oven buzzer had interrupted them. As Edward brought the last forkful of pie to his mouth, he decided the gentlemanly thing to do would be to make a respectful exit.
“I can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed myself. You’re an excellent cook, and a gracious hostess.”
Rose hid her frown with her napkin and glanced at the clock. It was later than she thought. “And you are an excellent baker. Are you sure you wouldn’t like another slice?” she stalled.
No, he told her gently, his eyes burning. He couldn’t possibly eat another piece, he really needed to leave. Jack was waiting for him. She handed him a bag of leftovers and went to retrieve his coat. She helped him put it on, her hands lightly smoothing the cashmere over his shoulders. He turned to face her and they were mere inches apart. Their breath mingled as they each battled with what was right versus what they wanted. It would be so easy for him to wrap an arm around her waist and pull her to him. Her fingers almost reached up to trace his cheekbone of their own accord. Almost.
He took up her hand as if he were going to kiss it, but instead enclosed it between both of his. His earnest eyes, full of longing for that which was forbidden, penetrated her soul. He wanted to tell her how he felt, wanted to question her and hear that she returned his affections. He wanted to dance his fingers over her tattoo and play her body like an instrument. He wanted to make her his.
Instead, he said his goodbye. “Good night, Rose. Thank you for a wonderful evening.” His eyes smoldered.
Rosalie’s thoughts were jumbled and erratic. “Thank you for coming. I’ll see you Monday, at rehearsal.” Both their expressions darkened; Monday was a very long way off. His head bowed slightly before he turned on his heel and left. Rosalie closed the door, leaning back against it until the latch clicked and then sagging flush to it, her head making a slight thud. With her eyes shut, she tried to gain control of her trilling heart. She felt Mr. Holland brush against her leg as she offered up an inquisitive meow, then sniffed the door. Rosalie sighed, then stooped to scoop the cat into her arms.
“Yes, he’s gone. Let’s go be morose together, you little flirt.”
Jack gave Edward the olfactory third degree when he returned to his apartment. Edward got the feeling Jack wasn’t upset that he’d been with a cat so much as that he’d been with Rose and hadn’t taken Jack along. After Edward took him out for a quick walk, he made his apologies to Jack by giving him a big hunk of turkey from the leftovers Rose had sent home with him. As Edward put the containers in the fridge, a memory flooded his mind. Her cheek resting softly against his neck, his fingers threading through her luxuriant hair. The moment had been painted in the sad hue of resignation and wasted fate. Edward knew that Rose felt something between them just as he did. Something she had a difficult time refusing, just as he did. Edward also knew that action would have to be taken before one of them did something they regretted.
Despite the late hour, he pulled the bench out from his piano and sat down. His feelings were bunched up in an unorganized ball of confusion and he knew the best way to sort them out was to play them out. Jack curled up under the bench, seeming to sense Edward’s need for moral support. He brought his fingers to the keys and, raising his ring finger, tapped his lips twice in dedication to her before unleashing the sadness and conflict in his heart.