Coming Up For Air
What if you didn't meet your soulmate until you were already married to someone else? Bella's life is upended when she meets Edward a little too late.
1. The Playground
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When I look back over my life, there are two halves. There is the time before Edward. And then there is the second half, which begins the moment I first saw him -- standing on the other side of a small playground -- staring at me with such intensity that I was momentarily paralyzed. He looked at me as if I were a ghost. In a way, I had become one, because the person I’d been only moments before was gone.
“Come on, honey, we’ve got to hurry,” I urged Molly. Molly pushed her spoon in her cereal half-heartedly, her eyes still rooted to the TV. “You don’t want to miss your first day!” I cooed. My enthusiasm sounded forced, even to me.
Mike walked into the kitchen and came to a dead stop. “Please tell me you’re not wearing that,” he said in a voice flat with disapproval. I glanced down at my sleeveless white shirtdress, belted at the waist, and sandals – an outfit I’d been happy with until that very moment.
I braced myself for another variant on a fight we’d had many, many times. “I’m taking her to preschool. It’s not a job interview.”
I watched the anger flit across his face. “Good to know you’re trying so hard to fit in,” he snarled.
“I don’t need to fit in, Mike. It’s a goddamned preschool.”
“Fine,” he smirked. “Whatever. I’m obviously the only one who cares about our daughter’s academic career.”
“She’s two. Isn’t a bit early to throw around terms like ‘academic career’?”
He looked at me stonily, disgust etched in every feature, and grabbed his car keys. “Try not to ruin this,” he said acidly, walking out to the garage and slamming the door behind him so hard the windows rattled. I hadn’t missed his emphasis on the word “try”, knowing full well his implication: that I ruined everything I touched, that it would be a miracle if I managed to pull this off.
I took a deep breath, counted to ten, and then exhaled to the same count. In meditation they call it a “cleansing breath”. I call it a “putting Mike’s bullshit behind me breath”. It had, of late, become part of my morning routine.
“Okay, Molly, time’s up,” I said, trying to sound upbeat. “You’re going to be late for school!” Turning off the TV was like bringing her out of a trance. She blinked up at me as if it were the first time she’d seen or heard me all day.
“School?” she asked, looking completely perplexed.
St. Mary’s was almost 40 minutes from our home at rush hour. I groaned inwardly as I envisioned making this drive every day for years to come. I wondered again how exactly I’d ended up in this situation. School hadn’t even been on my radar when Mike came home the previous winter with an admissions packet. He was ecstatic: St. Mary’s was Seattle’s most elite private school, and Mike’s boss was on its board of trustees. It didn’t mean we were guaranteed a place, but it meant we had a chance. That was more than enough for Mike.
“William Holmes is gonna write us a letter,” said Mike, slapping the packet down in front of me on the kitchen counter. He looked like he’d just won a gold medal.
I considered it warily. I’d heard about St. Mary’s – the children all dressed in outrageously expensive clothing, their mothers dropping them off each day in head-to-toe Chanel. A friend of mine had driven by the school one afternoon at carpool and told me it looked like a presidential motorcade, but with more expensive cars: a line of black and silver Mercedes and BMW sedans as far as the eye could see.
“Do you realize what an opportunity this is for Molly?” he asked, seeing my discomfort. “She’s going to have access to things we never had.”
“She’s only two,” I said, a pleading note in my voice. I wanted time to think.
“Look,” he barked, and I could hear his irritation, “She’ll be three by the time school starts. They have space in the nursery school. If she doesn’t get in then, she doesn’t get in at all, so it’s now or never.”
I choose never, I thought to myself. I’d spent enough of my formative years in Phoenix as a have-not, never having quite the right clothes, not going on the glamorous trips over winter break. We certainly weren’t “have-nots” now -- Mike did really well. He just didn’t do St. Mary’s—private plane – chalet in the Alps well. We could never keep up with that. And I didn’t want to try.
I lost the argument, ultimately, as was usually the case when we disagreed. He was convinced that St. Mary’s would give her something we lacked. He saw my objections as a lack of ambition or some kind of middle-class ambivalence, and eventually I just gave up. Much like the big wedding we had instead of the small one I’d wanted, and the ornate house we bought in the suburbs instead of the loft in the city – he got his way because I didn’t have the energy to continue fighting about it.
We made it, as it turned out, with plenty of time to spare. Too much so, really. While the elementary and middle schools were in a freestanding building down the road, the preschool was housed in the basement of St. Mary’s church, and the building was locked. The head of school had apologized and disappeared, presumably to get the key. In another unfortunate turn of events, Seattle was in the midst of a heat wave, so I swayed in the full sun with a handful of other parents. A trickle of sweat ran down the back of my neck and between my shoulder blades. I usually appreciated my thick, curly hair, but today it felt like a fur coat. I lifted it to feel the breeze against my skin.
Most of the parents were in business attire – Mike was right – and I imagined they were far more miserable than me in their dark suits.
Molly had initially clung to my leg, but to my relief she’d eventually separated, and began to play warily alongside the other kids. I smiled slightly, looking at her sweet, serious face. She approached sandplay with the seriousness of a chemical engineer in a lab, frowning slightly as she poured sand from one bucket to another. A little blonde boy came up and grabbed one of her buckets. She looked hurt for a moment but said nothing, and proceeded to pour sand into the lap of her Lilly Pulitzer dress. It was the only one she had, a gift from her grandmother, and I could only imagine Mike’s chagrin if he were here to see her. He’d embraced the concept of “fitting in” at St. Mary’s wholeheartedly. I was guessing that didn’t involve destroying her best dress.
Molly found a small friend, and an unwilling smile crossed my face as I watched their play progress from pouring sand in their laps, to putting it in each other’s hair. Her dress, and now her hair, were a disaster.
“Molly,” I called, approaching her, “no sand in your hair or hers, okay?” I grinned. She smiled back, somewhat impishly, which led me to believe she’d be right back at it momentarily.
At that exact moment, I had the sudden sense that I was being watched. As if I were a marionette, my head jerked up from Molly to the man who stood directly across from me. In spite of all the activity around us – the children playing between us, the adults chatting on both sides – he was looking only at me. He stared at me with such intensity that my breath caught in my throat. He looked stricken, almost grieving, and I could do nothing but stare back.
He was one of the most handsome men I’d ever seen, with high cheekbones and a full, sensual mouth. He was tall and neither lanky nor broad but somewhere in between. His bronze hair stood untidily and yet perfectly so.
He broke our gaze first, suddenly looking away. It took me an additional breath to avert my eyes. I dropped my eyes to the ground and noticed my hands were shaking. The whole thing was over so quickly I could almost believe that I imagined it, except that I could feel his stare in every cell of my body.