Behind Closed Doors – C14

DISCLAIMER: Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight. I’m here having fun.

-BCD-

Chapter 14: The Hearts & Flowers

Glancing at my phone to check the time, I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion Secretary Platt is going to be a no-show for our scheduled appointment twenty minutes ago. When the lady behind the reception desk finishes her call, she confirms my suspicions.

“I’m sorry, Miss Swan. Secretary Platt will be unable to keep your meeting. She’s running behind and already heading to her next one. Would you like to reschedule?”

“Yes. When’s her next available?” I take out my phone, opening my calendar app.

“It looks like next week. Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. Will that work for you?”

I scan through my calendar, knowing I’ll do whatever is necessary to get time with her finally. “Yes. That will be great.”

Even though it isn’t great. Now I will need to reschedule my own meetings.

“Very good. I have you down for next Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. If you find that time doesn’t work out or something comes up, just give us a call.”

“Thanks.”

Since my appointment is a bust, I decide to go straight to the airport rather than trying to stop back by work before my evening flight to New York.

Traffic is slow going due to the recent snowstorm, but being already on the road, I should still make it with time to spare.

When I’m seated outside the gate for my flight, I go through my most recent emails and find myself caught up with more time to kill before takeoff. Against my better judgment, I click my saved shortcut and proceed with my daily gossip check. I hope there isn’t anything new regarding Edward or me, but unfortunately, there’s a new post at D.C.’s Daily Chatter:

We know it won’t surprise our readers, but everyone’s favorite green-eyed ginger, Edward Masen, is at it again, sending hearts aflutter all along the East Coast. Our sources tell us while things are cooling off with Lauren Mallory, hair and makeup artist on his show, sexy times are heating up times two. Could it be double the trouble or double the pleasure? Edward was photographed with not one but both Volturi daughters, Chelsea and Corin, at the American Heart Association’s Annual Heart Ball last week. Their parents, Senator Marcus Volturi and his wife Didi of New York, were on hand for the event as well and couldn’t be more taken by the popular Sunday morning talk show host. Word has it the sisters are feuding over Edward’s attentions, but our sources claim it’s impossible for him to pick just one when he is head over heels in love with both. We won’t be surprised to see Edward at Reagan National Airport, making plenty of quick trips to New York, or the girls in D.C. while they sort out this latest love triangle. Check out the photos below. Let us know who you think will win his heart, Chelsea or Corin? Both are gorgeous and either one would make the perfect match for Edward. There are no losers here.”

I scroll through the photos, and my chest gets a little tighter, each one feeling like a dagger, twisting my tattered heart to pieces. I didn’t say a word to Edward when the post about him and Lauren was published online, and I’ll try to put this one behind me as well. I know we agreed to talk about things if anything is bothering us, but I’m struggling not to let my insecurities grow into something else. I’m trying not to believe there is anything more to these relationships than what we see in the photos, but it’s difficult. If they had better photos, I’m positive they would already be out there.

With a deep sigh, I shut off my phone and lean my head back against the seat while I wait for boarding to begin. I’m heading to New York myself for a meeting with Senator Marcus Volturi, and hopefully, my dogged pursuit and determination will pay off for my latest article.

-BCD-

“Watch where you’re going!” I’m almost run over by someone in a hurry.

Shit. I always forget how different it is up here in New York City versus D.C. Even on a wintery day, no one cuts you any slack.

I’m in the morning bustle, heading to Senator Volturi’s offices for my scheduled appointment when the stiletto heel of my boot gets caught in a road grate.

Perfect.

I struggle to extract my foot, and when I do, it is without the heel completely intact. Actually, it is dangling in such a way that it will be impossible to continue. So, I rip the heel from the bottom of my boot and toss it into my bag, hoping it can be repaired later. I continue on my way, albeit a little slower than the constant stream of bundled New Yorkers and with an obvious limp with the height difference in boots. We all scurry to our destinations as new snowflakes start to flutter and drift across the dark gray morning sky.

The weather forecasters are calling for a new storm to push across the Northeast this weekend, but I’m hoping to nail my interview and be back on a flight to D.C. before it hits.

When I arrive at Senator Volturi’s offices on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, I check in with the receptionist and begin what feels like my continued day of wait from yesterday’s time in Secretary Platt’s office.

“Miss Swan?”

I’m startled from my thoughts. “Yes?”

“Mr. Williams will see you now. Right through that door.” She points to the only door in the waiting area.

“Mr. Williams? I scheduled a meeting with Senator Volturi.”

“No one meets with the Senator without speaking with Mr. Williams first.”

“Ah.” I grab my bag and head for the door, but it opens before I get there.

“Miss Swan?”

“Yes, that’s me. Bella Swan.” I put out my hand and shake his.

“I’m Alec Williams. Please call me Alec. Right this way.” He guides me through an elaborate maze of offices until we are standing outside of an empty room.

“We’re going to grab this smaller conference room where we can talk. Help yourself to coffee. I think there’s also tea or bottled water if you wish.”

I move inside the room, set my bag on the table, and start to unpack my items for the meeting. “I’m fine. Will the Senator be joining us?”

“He’s in another meeting. So, we will see if his schedule will allow a few free moments a little later.”

“Okay.” I power up my laptop and wait for the screen to come to life.

I catch him staring at my lame boot missing its heel. “Road grate bit it off this morning,” I explain, as if it isn’t obvious.

“Welcome to New York, right?” He chuckles.

I smile. “You can always feel the love of the city.”

Alec takes a seat across from me. “So, you’re here about the latest proposed tax cuts of benefit programs?”

“Yes, I recently did an article for the Post on the far-reaching effects of those cuts. Did the Senator get a chance to read it?”

I pull out a paper copy of my article and slide it across the table to Alec.

He barely glances at the pages. “It’s doubtful, but I’m aware of it.”

“Then you understand the impact those cuts will have on our Nation’s children by limiting access to health care, nutritious food, and affordable housing, which will compromise their development at a critical time in their lives. I’m referring to programs like Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, the Low Income Energy Assistance Program, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. These types of programs help low income families make steps toward leaving lives of poverty behind them while allowing the basic needs of their children to be met.”

I spin my laptop screen around for him to see a photo of a single mother and her two boys. “This is Jackie from Kentucky and her boys David and Brian. Jackie is a single mother who grew up in a family that couldn’t cover her basic needs. She knows what it’s like to go hungry or be unable to visit a doctor when sick. Jackie works as a receptionist at a local auto shop while her boys are in school, then picks up evening and weekend shifts at a restaurant whenever they need extra help. She works two jobs to provide the basics for her boys, but still needs these programs if she ever has any hope at a better life for them.”

“Look, Bella—”

I change the photo to another family. “This is Andrea from Minnesota. She is a widow left with three teenage girls. They struggle every day to put food on the table and keep the heat on in their two bedroom apartment.”

Alec looks like he wants to interrupt me again, so I move to the next family. “This is Paul from California. He is a single dad with two children, a son and a daughter under the age of six. Paul needs the Senator to address the needs of low-income and middle-class families. Mothers and fathers need paid leave, childcare, and an increase in the minimum wage.”

“Bella, let me stop you right there. Our cuts aren’t aimed toward children. We are looking to develop the workforce.”

“But that’s who will be affected by them. Families share resources. They live under the same roof. Housing costs are one of the largest burdens on the family budget. Most live in substandard housing, which has potential health hazards of damaged plumbing, lead paint, and gas leaks.

“Well-child visits and access to dental, vision, and hearing screenings are extremely important. Because the sooner delays are diagnosed, we can begin treatments in infants, toddlers, and children of all ages, which provides for a better outcomes as a child grows older.

“The National School Lunch Program provides low-cost or free lunches to 30.4 million children every day. When mothers receive the benefits of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, we find a decrease of infant mortality and low birthweight babies.

“These tax cuts will only benefit wealthy individuals and corporations. The increase of administrative burdens and work requirements will undermine the programs benefiting families with young children. You are putting barriers between the programs and those who need them most.

“Children need nutritious food for their developing brains. They need a safe bed to sleep in every night, and a competent healthcare professional to monitor their development. By limiting access to these and other programs, you are adding to the toxic stress on the family unit.”

“Bella, we don’t see it that way. These programs or handouts have gone on long enough. We need to streamline programs. Welfare reform is necessary in all areas and we’re putting Americans to work.”

“At what cost? The American family? American children? Is it because children don’t have the right to vote? The Republican controlled congress has lost sight of the American dream, and Senator Volturi is leading the charge against our Nation’s children and those at our borders.”

“Bella, don’t be ridiculous. Senator Volturi will always work toward beneficial legislation for all Americans. The Volturi brothers are the sons of immigrants who came to this country looking for a better life and have flourished for generations.”

“Yes, the Volturi family has always been known to be quite ambitious. I believe it is their father, Roberto Volturi, who they should thank, no?”

“Roberto Volturi was a wealthy businessman, Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, and U.S. Ambassador to Italy. It is Roberto who paved the way for his sons to enter American politics. They are carrying on his values and traditions every day as they represent those who elected them into office,” Alec explains.

“And would his voters still support him if they realized he was the one pushing for the same type of tax cuts lawmakers in Kansas experimented with, ending in massive failure?”

Alec lacks a response so I continue.

“Kansas lost so much revenue, schools were forced to reduce operating schedules, and public services lapsed across the state. By creating massive shortfalls in the state’s budget the Governor raided early childhood education funds until legislators blocked him from eliminating the entire fund. Kansas had their bond rating downgraded twice, funding for higher education cut, and they are experiencing slower economic growth than the rest of the country. Never mind the fact that an entire group of newborns, infants, and toddlers are completely disconnected from services needed to provide the best start in life.

“Alec, eliminating business taxes is detrimental, as is helping the rich to avoid income taxes completely. Senator Volturi needs to reconsider his position on these tax cuts before it’s too late and another generation of children fall between the cracks.”

“Perhaps the recent expansion of the child tax credit will help low-income families and appease your readers.”

“Yes, but it targets those in the U.S. illegally by requiring parents to submit their child’s Social Security Number. This will affect approximately one million children of low-income families who are currently receiving the credit, but do not have a Social Security number for their child. This will be a particular problem for immigrant families, as the children of undocumented immigrants won’t have a Social Security Number either.”

We’re interrupted when Alec’s phone vibrates, and he gives me the bad news. “Ah. Unfortunately, Bella, the Senator won’t be able to meet with you today and his position on the tax cuts remains the same. He will proceed with the plan, as he has the support he needs to pass. At this time, the Senator has no further comment for your follow-up article.”

“You’re underestimating the power of the Presidential Veto.” I stick out my chin, defiant in a last-ditch effort of hope.

“If the President wishes to see any kind of progress in his agenda, he will figure out a way to work with both sides of the aisle. However, in this situation, Senator Volturi has the votes he needs without the President’s signature.”

I’m shocked by this news, which means he has support from Democrats and possibly Independents too. I hope my voice doesn’t waver. “You have two-thirds in both the House and the Senate?”

Alec lets out a sinister chuckle. “Yes, Bella. We have a bipartisan effort on this one, leaving the President with little recourse. He will be forced to sign it.”

A lump forms in my throat, and I nod in my understanding, as the feeling of defeat settles in my bones. “I see.”

“I understand your fight. It’s admirable, but not how the system works. Everyone has a price. It’s how the world works.”

A new realization occurs to me. “You’re buying votes?”

“You make it sound so dirty. It’s more of a ‘you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.’ Everyone has their own legislation they wish to see pass, and if they want any type of progress in a Republican-controlled Congress, they will support the Volturi brothers’ efforts when given the opportunity.”

Releasing a heavy sigh of defeat, I gather my things and prepare to depart. “I understand. Thank you for your time, Alec.”

We stand, and he walks me toward the door to the lobby.

“It’s been a pleasure, Bella. Hopefully, the next time we meet it will be under different circumstances. Can I interest you in having dinner with me?”

He can’t be serious, but I don’t want to shut the door to the possibility of him being a useful resource if I ever need it in the future. So, I put on my more than polite smile.

“Uh, I’m only in New York for a short visit this trip. Perhaps another time.”

He grins. “I look forward to it. My offer is out there for this evening, if you reconsider. Enjoy the rest of your day.”

We part ways, and I leave the Volturi building, bundling up when I see a fresh coating of snow has covered the roads and sidewalks.

I’m lost in the fresh feeling of defeat while retrieving my phone from my bag when someone bumps me from behind, sending my phone flying through the air. It lands facedown on the concrete, and when I flip it over, the screen is completely shattered.

Shit. It’s going to be one of those kinds of days.

I step off the curb and flag down a taxi.

“Where to Miss?”

“The nearest Apple store.”

“Sure thing.”

-BCD-

With my new phone in hand and my afternoon completely wasted, I enter the lobby of my hotel and decide to locate the bar, because at this point, having a cocktail is probably in my best interest.

“What can I get you?”

I look around and notice an unusual amount of couples in the bar.

“I don’t know.”

“How about one of our specials?”

I look over the drink menu and question the large number of drinks with “love” or “sex” in the titles. “Kind of unusual names, don’t you think?”

“Not on Valentine’s Day. I can’t make them fast enough.”

“Valentine’s Day?” Shit.

“Yes. It’s today.”

Double shit. “I’ll take a ‘Sex in the Driveway’ then.”

“Coming right up.”

When my drink arrives, the obvious falls from my mouth. “It’s blue.”

“Yes. Like a ‘Sex on the Beach,’ but without the cranberry juice.”

“Well, I’m positive it will be the closest thing I’ll be having to sex tonight.”

“No Valentine’s dinner date?”

Oh, God. Alec asked me out for dinner on Valentine’s Day? Holy shit. I’m glad I dodged that one.

“No. I didn’t even realize it was Valentine’s Day. I’ll be having room service after this,” I explain, pointing at my drink, which is oddly quite tasty.

“You never know, maybe your luck will change and your day will get better, since it looks like this one has been a challenge.”

“It has. I’m almost ready to call it done.”

I down my drink a little faster than I probably should. The realization of all the couples around me makes me anxious, and I’m ready to flee to the safety of my room.

Checking my phone, I notice I don’t have any missed texts or calls from Edward, which leaves me feeling a little sad and lonely. In an effort to shrug off my gloomy, unsuccessful day, I decide on a long hot soak in the tub then order room service.

I’m bundled up in the hotel robe, waiting for my food, when my phone starts to vibrate with a call from Edward.

“Hello?”

“Hey, sweetheart. Happy Valentine’s Day. Did you get my flowers?”

“Uh…” I look around my hotel room and unload. Tears form, and I know my voice wavers this time. “No, I’m not at home or the office. I’m in New York, remember? It’s been a shitty day. I broke my heel, then my meeting was pointless. Carlisle is going to be so upset with me and how poorly my meeting went with Senator Volturi. I didn’t even get to meet with him, just his aide.” I pause and take a shaky breath. “Some idiot ran into me on the street and I shattered the screen of my phone, then had to get a new one. I had a stupid drink at the hotel bar, which turned my teeth blue. You know how much I hate that. I just finished soaking in the tub, and now I’m waiting for room service to deliver my dinner. I’m sorry I totally blanked on it being Valentine’s Day.” There’s a knock on the door. “Hang on; it’s probably my food.”

When I open the door, I find Edward standing on the other side bundled up in his winter overcoat covered in a fresh dusting of snow. He’s holding a bouquet of red roses in one hand and his phone in the other.

“How’s your day looking now?” He grins, and I pull him into my warm room. I melt in the safety and comfort of his snow-covered arms and cold lips. My heart feels like it could explode at seeing him, which is exactly what I need on a day like today.

A/N: Huge thank yous to LizziePaige, Honeymoon Edward, and purpleC305 for pre-reading and Midnight Cougar for beta-ing. xx

The gossip continues, but Bella tries to shake off those insecurities and not let them bother her which is easier said than done. Time is moving on and before you know it we will be back to the one shot where Bella is on Edward’s show.