Author: dryler PM
Life doesn't always go as planned, especially in Georgian London, a world of arranged marriages and strict social hierarchy. Written for The Age of Edward 2010 contest.Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama/Romance - Edward & Bella - Words: 3,580 - Reviews: 103 - Favs: 106 - Follows: 52 - Published: 10-02-10 - Status: Complete - id: 6368693
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Age of Edward Contest
Pen name: dryler
Title: Alternative Arrangements
Type of Edward: Georgian Edward
"He's too young," Edward's mother argued.
"He's not a child, Lizzie."
"He's seventeen! He hasn't even finished his education yet, and you want to force him into marriage!"
"Better than him ruining himself over a whore!"
Edward stood in the shadows on the upstairs landing and listened to the traveling voices of his parents. That vile and hateful word whore seemed to echo off the wood panelling around him and reverberate down to his very soul.
"Anthony," she immediately scolded. "It's a passing fancy, no more."
"It's going too far," his father harshly said. "If we fail to act now who knows what kind of damage he'll do to his reputation? The boy's lost all the reason God gave him."
"He won't agree."
"He won't have a choice. I've already talked to the girl's father, and we're of the same mind. They should be married as soon as possible. We think early next month would be best."
"People are going to think he's gotten her in trouble. I shudder to think what Mrs. Hale will say."
"I'd rather she speculated over his respectable marriage than gossiped over our son's involvement with an actress."
Edward hurried along the backstage hallway, ducking to avoid rushing stagehands carrying set pieces and weaving around clusters of ecstatic performers on his way to the dressing rooms. When he finally reached his destination, he hesitated just before his knuckles struck the door. He stared at the name painted across the wood and reverently brushed the letters with his fingertips before abruptly knocking.
As soon as her voice called out to him, he couldn't help but smile. When he stepped inside, the smell of Tanya's floral perfume and thick stage makeup flooded him instantly. The door clicked closed behind him as he watched her remove her styled wig and unpin her blonde hair. Her eyes caught his staring in the mirror, and she coyly smiled.
"I didn't expect to see you again so soon."
"I had to see you," he said quietly, the weight of necessary words pressing in his chest.
Her smile grew as she turned her attention back to her appearance.
"I'm glad you came," she said as she rose from her seat with a playful flourish and practically danced towards him. "We opened Love for Love tonight. I think it went very well. Carmen says it's the best production of it she's been in yet."
He frowned as she wrapped her arms around his neck.
"That's hardly a proper play."
"It is in every way a play," she replied teasingly.
"It is a play, but in no way proper. You deliberately misunderstand me."
Her expression grew solemn as she studied his face.
"It isn't that bad, Edward," she said, consolingly touching his cheek. He caught her hand in his and held it tightly against his chest.
He thought about proposing in that moment - damn his father's plans and ultimatums - but the words slipped away not yet half-formed. In their place fell the words that had repeated in his mind since he spoke with his father.
"I have to get married."
She went rigid in his arms, and he clutched her tighter to him.
"If I had a choice... my father is insistent. He's threatening to disown me if I don't comply. If I were the only one involved it would be different, but my mother..."
He went silent when she placed a hand on his chest.
Tanya smiled at him sadly and said, "I can't claim to be surprised. I haven't been under any delusions. I know my role in the world as well as any other production. You will still come to see me, won't you?"
"I suppose I might," he replied uncertainly.
"And you'll still love me, won't you?"
"Always," he answered with conviction.
"Then what more can I ask?" She tried to smile and appear indifferent, but resignation undermined her efforts. When she took him to bed it was with a passionate desperation that made his heart ache for impossible futures.
"It isn't yet Armageddon, Edward. Try to have a little cheer," Jasper said, clapping him on the shoulder.
"It feels like it might be," Edward replied dejectedly.
Emmett laughed and said, "I think you're becoming like those women who declare themselves moments from death at the slightest hint of fatigue. It's a much less becoming trait in men."
Edward scowled at him before turning back to the room. Across the hall, on the other side of the dancing couples, sat Miss Swan. Although she was seated with two other ladies, she seemed to be completely ignoring their conversation. Indeed, she seemed to be ignoring the entire ball.
"What does one say to their future wife?" Edward asked quietly.
"You might start by introducing yourself," Jasper suggested.
"We have been introduced," Edward responded peevishly. Although he was aware that his parents and her father were all watching him, waiting for him to approach her, he was steadfastly ignoring them. He wasn't ready to take that first step.
"Miss Swan is a friend of Miss Brandon, with whom I am acquainted. I joined their party at some garden or another last month and she introduced us."
"So you've already spoken."
"No. I'm not entirely sure she does speak."
"Not completely silent, surely?" Emmett said.
"I believe her to be capable of it, but I've never experienced it."
"Well, Miss Brandon is just the sort of lady who would appreciate a silent friend. It's the perfect opportunity for her to claim both sides of the conversation." The affection in Jasper's voice caused Edward to briefly turn to look at him. Jasper coloured almost immediately and schooled his expression into neutrality.
"She's pretty," Jasper stated.
"No... well, yes she's lovely, but I was speaking of Miss Swan. She may not be the most beautiful lady I've seen, but I do think she's pretty."
"But she looks intolerably serious," Emmett said.
"Intolerably serious, is it?" Jasper asked.
"Oh, certainly. I don't know what I should do if I were made to marry a serious woman."
"You'd have to learn how to say serious things," Edward said, then began to make his way across the room towards his intended bride.
He wasn't aware of anything really bad about her. She was a bit too short and a bit too plain and far too solemn, but he had no reason to believe she was anything truly disagreeable like malicious or petty. The worst he knew of her was that she wasn't Tanya, but he didn't expect her to be. Nobody could be.
It wasn't until he was standing in front of her that she broke out of her reverie. She started, her eyes widening with something akin to panic when she recognized him.
"Miss Swan." He greeted her with a brief bow.
"Mr Cullen," she acknowledged him softly. There was a noticeable lack of eye contact from both of them.
The ladies seated with her quieted, and Edward was aware that they were watching him and Miss Swan interact. It made his bearing even more self-consciously awkward.
"Would you care to dance, Miss Swan?" he asked, because he was supposed to.
"Yes," she answered, because she was supposed to.
And they didn't exchange another word for the rest of the evening.
The entirety of their courtship, such as it was, was arranged by their parents. After the ball, they were put together in both public and private settings. For etiquette's sake they did speak, but it was almost exclusively commentary. That opera was excellently preformed. These gardens are very well maintained. Your dining room is lovely.
He still went to see Tanya, more frequently but for briefer intervals than before. They never spoke of his upcoming marriage again, though the topic was almost a physical presence in the room.
It wasn't until the week before the wedding that Edward found something aside from pleasantries to say to Miss Swan.
As he walked next to her down a gravel garden lane, their parents a respectful distance behind them, he realized, quite belatedly, that he made a very unattractive suitor for one's daughter.
"Why does your father want you to marry me?" The words jumped forth before he could really contemplate them. He winced at the careless forwardness.
She was silent for a moment before she quietly replied, "The boy I was supposed to marry died. I'm afraid it's left me in a state somewhat unappealing to prospective husbands."
He stopped walking for a moment, causing her to turn back and look at him questioningly.
"You're sad," he stated with no small amount of wonder as his view of her shifted.
"I suppose," she replied carefully.
They lapsed back into silence as they started to walk again.
"Do you know why my father wants me to marry you?" Edward asked after a few moments.
"You ran off with an actress."
"I didn't run off. I just didn't come home for a few days," he said.
"I suppose your parents didn't appreciate the difference," she responded dryly. He noticed her smile with surprise. He wouldn't describe it as happy, but certainly amused.
"Not particularly," he replied with a subdued smile of his own.
The wedding was utilitarian and awkward, and the wedding night followed suit. They lay awake in the silent dark in the apartment their parents had furnished for them. Edward felt ashamed and alone, frustrated by the bedclothes that clung to his damp skin.
In an offer of mutual comfort Edward reached across the seemingly vast distance between them and placed his hand over top of hers on her stomach. Initially she tensed at his touch, but after a moment her fingers linked with his. He imagined them as mountain ranges separated by a deep valley, but now with a bridge, no matter how flimsy it might have been in its newly constructed state.
A flush of hope swept through him, diminishing his shame and loneliness, as he realized he could grow to be fond of his newly minted Mrs Cullen. Maybe someday they would be happy together.
Over the course of their first month of marriage Edward and Isabella developed a quiet familiarity akin to friendship. Despite the growth in their relationship, conversation was almost entirely restricted to surface topics. It seemed to Edward that they recognized something deep inside each other, but they couldn't find the means to crack the surface of polite formality.
The stress of living with a near stranger was wearing on Edward. The fact that he hadn't seen Tanya since he kissed her goodbye the week before his wedding wasn't helping.
He rationalized that as long as his intention was only to speak with her, there wasn't anything wrong with going to visit her. He still didn't tell Isabella where he was going when he left.
As he navigated the backstage area of the theatre he dismissed his clammy palms as a product of the drizzling rain outside, but there was still a furtive feeling lurking in his chest that he couldn't ignore.
He was certain that as soon as he saw Tanya he would feel better, but standing in her dressing room only made his uneasiness grow. He loved her deeply, but he was acutely aware that his responsibility was to Isabella. He had said his vows and signed their marriage certificate. Whether his intentions were platonic or not, it was wrong of him to be there.
When Tanya tried to kiss him he attempted to explain this, but she only looked at him like he was mad.
"You don't love her," she stated incredulously. "You didn't even want to marry her."
"But I did marry her. She's my wife. I can't... it's adultery. It's..."
"It's what, Edward?" she asked harshly.
She laughed. It was a horrible, bitter noise that made Edward wince.
"I think you must live in a wonderfully simple world. Everything is either right or wrong, and you always seem to know which it is."
"Would you really want to be a part of an immoral relationship? You think I would do that to you? Or to myself?" Edward asked.
Tanya sighed, deflating in front of him. She clutched at the front of his coat.
"I would settle for it, if it meant I could have you in some way."
"I think adultery is unforgivable. She doesn't deserve to be betrayed just because she hasn't induced me to love her."
"You bastard," she muttered savagely. "You bastard!"
She slapped her palms against his chest, shoving him as hard as her shaking arms were capable of.
"What about what I deserve? I love you. I love you. Why isn't that enough?"
Edward fled the room when she picked up a porcelain vase off her dressing table. It shattered on the doorjamb just as he passed through, sending colourful shards flying everywhere. In the back of his mind he was aware of a stinging pain on his cheek, but it barely registered amongst his raging emotions.
When he burst out of the theatre, he ignored the hackney coach he'd paid to wait and instead set off down the London streets. He didn't realize it was raining until after his clothes had soaked through, and even then it didn't occur to him to go home. He walked until his entire body felt heavy and numb, but his mind was still spinning, repeating over and over what had just happened. The thoughts that most dominated his mind were questions of how well he actually knew Tanya and how compatible they really were.
When he finally did get home, he collapsed in a chair in the sitting room, and, ignoring his sopping clothes and the cold fireplace grate, stayed there for whatever remained of the night.
The morning light was barely touching the sky when Isabella came into the sitting room, still in her nightgown and housecoat.
"Edward?" she called, her arms crossed tightly across her chest and her posture stiff.
He looked up, but didn't respond.
"I know you went to the theatre last night. I don't know when you got home, but it must have been late. I understand you have feelings for her, but you can't... this isn't what either of us planned, but this is our life. I believe adultery is wrong... and so does God. I understand that my saying this may be inappropriate, and I know there's little I can do if you decide to continue your relationship with her, but I think you should consider that we're permanently connected. Your actions now could affect the state of our future relationship, a relationship that will determine how your everyday life will be. So perhaps you should... think about that," she said, the words tumbling out of her mouth in nervous starts and stops.
She went silent and stared at him, waiting wide-eyed for a response.
"Why are you shaking?" she asked, concern clouding her voice. When he still didn't answer, she approached him and tentatively touched his face. Her fingers felt hot against his forehead.
"You need to get into bed." He was submissive as she pulled him up and led him into the bedroom, leaving him to change into fresh clothes. He crawled into bed with the buttons of his nightshirt undone, his cold fingers too clumsy to manipulate the little disks.
"You're very much like a small child when you're ill," Isabella muttered as she helped him to rearrange his blankets again.
"That's quite a wounding thing to say to a man. Had I the energy, I think I would be highly offended."
She smiled softly for a moment before taking her seat and picking up her book. She had read a few pages before he spoke again.
"I agree with you."
"I believe adultery is unforgivable. I just wanted to talk to her. Perhaps that isn't much of a justification, but I had no intention of... I respect the vows I made to you. It won't happen again."
She studied him for a moment, before nodding. She was turning her attention back to her book when he spoke.
"What are you reading?"
"It's a novel from the circulating library."
"You read novels?" he asked with surprise. "Do you enjoy them?"
"Some of them, yes."
"I've never heard anything good about novels."
"When I was at school they talked to us about the indecency of novels, but I don't entirely agree, at least not when it comes to all books. In fact in this novel only two men are represented as worthy gentlemen and both are rigidly virtuous. I admit that the representation of love is highly unrealistic, but even women have the capability to be realistic from time to time." She smiled sardonically.
"Would you like me to read it to you?" she asked.
He was momentarily stunned by the offer, before he collected himself enough to answer, "All right."
She returned his smile, and flipped to the beginning of the book and began to read aloud.
"You're feeling better?" Isabella asked as she got into bed that night.
"Yes. Still a bit chilled, but it should pass quickly."
"I'm glad. You could've made yourself very sick sitting out there in wet clothes."
"I'm not a sickly person, Isabella."
"You shouldn't underestimate disease. Jacob died of a fever, and I never knew him to get sick before that," she warned quietly.
"Was that your fiancé?" Feeling the need to comfort her as she had comforted him with her voice and attention, he reached over and took her hand.
"We were never actually engaged. Jacob and I were friends since childhood. For as long as I can remember he used to say things like when we're married... or after we've had our first child... as if he thought it were inevitable that we would be married. I always found it amusing, in a very presumptuous way. I never really thought about it seriously, but then he died very suddenly, and I realized I thought it was inevitable too."
She shrugged off his apology.
"I'm afraid I despaired over what my future would be after he was gone. I found it almost impossible to imagine moving forward, but I suppose my future has been started anyway." She paused for a moment, seemingly lost in her own thoughts. "I'm much more hopeful now. I don't think this life will make for too bad an alternative."
"I think we can be happy."
"So do I," she replied, squeezing his hand.
Edward smiled and asked, "Were you more talkative then?"
"No, I've always been quiet. I suppose I used to wear it better though."
"It gives you an air of dignity."
"I'm sure it makes me appear sullen, but that's nice of you to say," she responded with a small laugh.
In the silence that followed, Isabella seemed uneasy.
"Did you want to marry her?" she reluctantly asked.
Edward looks down at their joined hands, and responded, "I thought about it. I almost asked her many times, but I never actually did. I would've had to give up everything that comprises my life now, and I never found the courage. I'm not sure I ever would've asked. It's not just status or my family and friends, but I've always imagined that my adult life would be like my parents'. I love Tanya, but I know I couldn't have that with her. She wants different things."
Isabella raised her free hand and tenderly touched the cut on his cheek.
"Maybe some things just aren't meant to be," she said.
He lifted the hand he was holding and held it against his chest, pulling her closer in the process. As Edward held eye contact with her he felt a burgeoning intimacy that bordered on uncomfortably vulnerable. But instead of pulling away, as half of him wanted to, he kissed her and felt for the first time that he could come to love her.
A/N: Beta'd by Feisty Y. Beden (FFn and Ravelry).
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