You're a part time lover and a fulltime friend...
An Act of Atonement
The day was a sluggish-pace, and Isabella could only blow a breeze at herself with the flower-patterned fan in her loose grip. The day, since several hours ago, already rose to blistering hot temperatures that burned her pale flesh. In fear of the skin reddening—the pain of it always incredibly excruciating—, Isabella steered away from the areas of the deck where the sunshine poured into. Alice kept a steady pace beside her, actually enjoying the cascading rays caressing her tiny little body.
"I love that exotic, dark-colored look that some women possess from the sun," Alice chirped, smiling kindly at Isabella, who returned it with her own sugary-sweet grin that would make any man swoon on their unsteady feet. Well, all but Edward, who continued ignoring her; seeing her as nothing but a spirit who took up too much space, which, on this massive boat, made no sense.
"I do, too."
Alice instantly detected the wistful voice. "Are you still solemn over Edward?"
"What?" Isabella halted in her tracks and towed Alice to the side of the deck, still under the shade of the canopy. Although the black-haired maid blinked innocently, those deep-set pools of hazel held nothing but deceit and mischief. "Alice, tell me how you know about this… dilemma."
"I know about your feelings for him—"
"How would you know that?!" Isabella barked.
"Oh, it's immensely obvious," Alice countered, flicking her hand dismissively at the woman's flamingly frustrated expression, "the way you gaze at him as if Cupid had struck you with his love-making golden arrow. How sourly hurt you are by his lack of attention over you." She playfully pinched Isabella's cheeks, flushing the skin with a bright pink. "It will all go swimmingly sooner or later. Just you wait."
The younger woman, however, remained displeased, somewhat mortified. "Am I that immeasurably noticeable with it?"
"You literally swoon when he passes by."
"And not to mention the starry-eyed, open-mouthed expression practically reserved for him."
"Alice, you need to—".
"Oh, I can imagine those raunchy dreams you have at night—"
"ALICE!" Isabella cried, clasping a hand over the shorter woman's mouth; words muffled under her gloved palm. "Alice, I understand now, thank you." Releasing her hand, she smoothed it down her side and fixed her face to appear more content and less distressed. Alice smirked knowingly and, from afar, Rosalie stood from a place on one of the benches and called, rather obtusely, her name.
"I have to go." Bowing, Alice darted off to her mistress.
Isabella, knowing that she needed to boil down her emotions before they explode, wandered in the other direction, hoping to find Edward and have a serious, not at all harsh or disruptive conversation with him regarding these particular… feelings of… lust, passion, need, compassion. Biting her bottom lip in an inappropriate habit, she ambled more hurriedly into the ship's hallways, hoping to find him in his room.
The moment she stood in front of his room, the door closed, a harmless tinkling of piano music filled her head. It was a sweet and tender song that floated in the air, and she could imagine the light flutter of her eyes; the little miniature Cupids prancing in the air, hovering around her head. Swallowing the lump in her throat, she tentatively opened the door and softly shut it behind her, the wood creaking.
Edward, who had been leaning against the piano and completely consumed by his work, stiffened, his entire back erect; fingers stopping on the keys, producing a drawn-out proportion of a soft-sounding key. He turned around on the bench, his lips curving down into a deep grimace. Lifting her chin with a show of confidence, Isabella strutted over so that she was positioned right beside him.
Edward, sliding to his feet, stepped away from her. "And what are you doing in here without permission?"
"I understand," Isabella retorted in an almost sarcastic, yet soft tone, "that you do not want me in your presence, but I want to handle certain matters between us in an adult manner—"
"We have no 'matters' together," he responded haughtily, "none at all."
"Well," she replied smoothly, trying to maintain her calm demeanor, "then I do, and I am here to sort them out." She pushed the piano bench away as to create actual space between them. "I just wanted to say how…" Clenching her eyes shut momentarily, she could only swallow her anxiety before finishing with a short breath, "attracted I am to you, which I'm sure isn't astounding, seeing as every other woman on this ship is…"
Edward flexed his fingers. His eyes were tight. Even his frown seemed forced. He swayed for a few seconds before composing his previous taut form and balling his hands into firm fists. "Is that all?" he inquired petulantly.
"No, that's the least of all." Isabella was very aware of the bright crimson coloring her cheeks, but with little sense of courage inside her, continued on in the same level voice, "You can not even begin to comprehend the affect you have on me emotionally. You could have been an ugly, ogre-like man wobbling on one leg onto this ship and I would have been just affected merely because of your… freedom… your no restrictions-like attitude.
"I want so much of that." Her eyes burned for the threat of tears, and she still continued, albeit in a quivering voice, "You are so fiercely independent and unafraid and it is everything I want to be. To just… just… Oh, for crying out loud"—she nearly blanched at her own choice of words—"be exactly like you! All of you is affecting everything I've worked for on this ship! My marriage, my status, my concentration!"
"And I'm very sorry to here that!" Edward retorted, stomping his foot on the floor. "But even if I did have any feelings for you, I'd never risk your position in society and appropriateness or mine! You'll be ruined. I'm not going to take the blame if such a thing occurred—you being shunned by the men and women surrounding you. No more social events, no more shiny palaces and mansions…"
Isabella threaded her trembling fingers through her brown tendrils. "I don't care about any of that."
"I can hear it in your voice," he responded silkily, the grimace set on his handsome face, "the denial of your nature. I can't blame you. You've been modeled into the perfect social woman of wealthy status, and it took control of your brain at an early age. It's wired your brain and commanded you. But I applaud how you managed to keep control of your voice."
"I'm not like them," she murmured pathetically, blinded by the fogginess of tears coating her eyes. She wiped at them with the back of her gloved hand. Edward remained unfazed by her emotional turmoil. "I will never be them."
He shook his head pitifully. "You already are…"
"No!" Her fingers curled into fists at her sides, the image of a stubborn child bringing upon a hell-raiser of a tantrum. "I'm not going to stand here and let you degrade me with your prejudice! I know how I am, and know how capable I am of making my own choices. I'm not afraid of losing social standards. I don't care how people think of me. I could do well without these clothes." She gestured to her sparkly gown. "I could go on wearing pants from the sewers and not care, so long as I have my independence."
"When you marry Jacob Black"—Edward spat the name with raw malice—"your independence will be gone. You'll be well-behaved, you'll obey everything he commands, and never think outside your own mind. And over time, all you'll know is how to be your husband's proper wife, and nothing more."
Isabella worked to gain sense in her clouded mind. His ominous words swirled around her head in a tangled mess. Her throat tightened, swelled. A heavy tinge of terror laced through her nerves at the imaginative image of herself wiping her sweaty forehead, three or five miniature Jacob's rowdily twirling and screaming around her; the husband, of course, absent. But she was his wife. She obeyed—she cooked, cleaned, and stayed only inside the house while he "worked" (or, in other words, drowned himself in unruly alcoholic beverages of the early evening).
"Why are you saying this?" Her words slipped from her mouth in a careless, monotonous fashion. In the mirror across the room, she spotted her reflection; placid-like yet embittered expression; deeply-etched scowl.
Edward merely frowned down at her. "I'm speaking the truth. Are you finished here?"
"Yes," Isabella mumbled cynically, and with a turn of her heel and a swirl of her dress, she stormed out of the room, conscious of his eyes trained on her retreating back. Slamming the door, the walls rattled with vibrations of animosity. Several women hovering near whispered harshly to one another. Her ears were hot with rage and embarrassment, each battling against each other for control.
The outrage won the battle. Her frosted heart melted. The demon of a woman inside her awoke. Passion—not passionate love, but fiery infuriation—burned in her head. Edward Cullen loathed her existence, yet why did he give her such heavy warnings of her future? And why, oh, why, did he continually through her glances from across the dinner table? She once thought women were confusing creatures, but men, she now thought, were the true puzzling ones—their zealous habits of losing focus on emotions; their inability to be insightful.
Renee explained that women, when making decisions, used intelligence and emotions at the same time. She then said to Isabella that men, in time of choice, either thought with knowledge, and if not knowledge, an emotional approaching: never both simultaneously.
But Isabella didn't concern herself with understanding Edward. She just wanted to decipher his exact feelings toward her. And, as a woman, her clever yet demonic mind would conjure up a plan; a plan she once heard Jesse giggling about because she, too, had done it before—although the outcome held no promise for the plan succeeding, seeing as Michael still ignored her.
… Isabella Swan would bring envy into Edward's heart.
During that evening's supper, Isabella chewed on her bottom lip in nervousness. Jacob chatted boastfully with Jack Stanley about hunting. Edward sat beside his soon-to-be uncle, Carlisle. Esme and Carlisle, whenever locking eyes, melted away together in adoration and true love. Her tongue soured; eyes bulging in brief jealousy. But her mind invoked the confidence necessary for the storm to come.
Allowing her hand to drop from her lap, she entwined her fingers with Jacob's. He paused shortly in his conversation, body stiffening in a brief paralysis of astonishment, before smiling widely and continuing on; dark orbs glittering. She couldn't deny that if his ferocious hunger for dominance and his unfathomable lack of self-control (over his moody anger) didn't exist, she may have loved him.
But Jacob Black was a man of dark vanity, high self-importance, and outrageously unrestrained fury. His sisters were bumbling idiots; their minds only set on a respectable—and wealthy—marriage with a millionaire and the latest fashion of the year. For Heaven's sake, they each even had their individual cigarette holders (an increasingly popular idea for women to possess them) melded of fine and expensive jade gemstone!
Isabella leveled her shoulders to be squared together, her chin lifted upward in a high esteem of confidence. If one were to catch a glimpse of her eyes, they'd see dazzling and near black brown irises; a shadow cast across them. Not even the exceedingly bright dinning room could illuminate the sinister expression playing across her face.
Wordlessly, she plucked a loose strand of hair hanging limply in front of Jacob's eyes, and smoothed it back with the other tresses. He grasped her hand in a tender, thankful squeeze, and held it tightly under the table. The sunshine beamed into the room from behind them. Despite her conviction that she did not love Jacob—alas, a small part of her cared for him—, her heart fluttered; fingers warmed in his consoling hand.
Edward lifted his eyes to catch their arms, below the surface of the table. The jade orbs hardened into stone. She felt her throat raw itself from the twinge of remorse splinter through her chilled blood; remorse for his suffering under her antics and guilt for using Jacob as nothing more than a meager asset to a greater plan of hers.
A plan that succeeded—succeeded in proving Edward's precise feelings toward her.
"Jacob," she cooed in a soft voice, in which he cocked his head to gaze pleasantly at her, "may I retreat to my rooms? I feel quite exhausted for some strange reason." In fact, she did feel fatigued; her cheeks losing color, her spirit flustered. Jacob, shortly pressing his lips tenderly against her forehead, nodded, and with a small curtsey to the table members—the men bowing their heads and smiling thinly—, Isabella strolled sweepingly out of the room, the chatter leaving her ears.
Her destination, however, was the ship's front deck.
Because the weather was amiable—pouring sunshine and warmth, and lapping waves that created a soothing sound—, the deck wasn't too empty, as she'd hoped; but because it was supper time, only a few, primarily lovers, strolled about, smiling brightly at the distant horizon. Isabella leaned over the railing, her fingers entwined together, elbows rested, and eyes sparkling against the sea-green ocean.
She froze when Edward appeared beside her, his lips sewed into a thin thread; eyes softened yet chaotic. "I-I'm sorry," she stuttered without thinking, revealing her plan. Yet, the handsome man remained a statue of nonchalance. She felt mesmerized by the reflection of the crystalline water against his startlingly bright irises.
"Sorry for what?" he inquired casually. "Leaving the afternoon dinner early?"
"No, I-I mean—well, about—"
"I haven't seen a bird in a long while." Edward gestured to two large white birds with long and slender necks, both floating on the water. Upon the dawning of the ship, they spread their exceedingly elongated wings and set off into the skies. "It reminds me of land."
She laughed despite the growing rawness in her chest. "Yes…"
"I know what you're doing," Edward suddenly commented, his voice deathly calm, "and I suppose you feel childish now?"
"Very much so," she whispered. "But I can't stand any of this." Her eyes flickered up to meet his, her own brown orbs glistening brightly; battling tears brewing at the corners. "You're a man—a wealthy one, at that!—and you'll never know how it is… to have people hold high expectations of you. People pushing you to sew your lips shut, and only obey… to have your mind cancelled out."
Edward titled his head, eyes all knowing. "I don't understand… but I can feel how much you loathe it."
"Despise!" Isabella spat, glaring into the ocean. "That seems a better word; a more passionate word."
Her heart skipped it a beat when he rested an assuring hand on her shoulder. "I'm sorry for you." She opened her mouth to speak, but found her tongue twisted in a knot. He continued smoothly, "But you do realize how different you are from the rest of us? It runs in your blood. Your mother defied everything"—of course everybody would hear of that scandalous news—"and now it's your turn."
Isabella folded her arms across her chest, eyes glittering. "No… I can't. She was strong. She had a reason. I have no reason." Renee was in love, enough so to untangle the ropes holding her down. Isabella… was ambitious—dangerously so—coupled with being a young and foolish girl of early adulthood. A hazardous combination that is! And now, her womanly heart ached and pined for someone.
It would all end in chaos, she told herself solemnly.
"You think you're not strong?" Edward arched an eyebrow in blatant disbelief. "You, Bella Swan"—her eyes fluttered lovingly, unintentionally—"are clever, cunning, mischievous, compassionate, and charming… None of that is strong to you?"
"Well, when you explain it to me so daringly." She smiled in a humored fashion and playfully elbowed him. He let out a hearty laugh, but his cheeks stained an amusing red. She, in turn, breathed a small laugh. The early evening settled into a beautiful cloak of warmth and happiness. Even as the sun blazed against their skin and his hand held hers as they gazed out into the horizon, Isabella felt no sense of awe under his touch; no aching of the heart as his fingers stroked her…
… Because in that moment, she found a true friend.
Jasper weaved through the crowd. The day was still young, the sun still ablaze, and the sky still painted blue, yet Rosalie had already scurried off with a meager little excuse of, "It's too hot. I'll be in my room." The blue twinkling of her eyes gave way to her lie. Curious, he had finally decided to search for her after not finding her in her room, of course. And the search for the rose seemingly took hours—she was nowhere near of the popular areas, such as the Turkish Bath—which she gluttonously devoured her time with, primarily because it helped "eliminate the unattractive blotchiness of her complexion"—and the swimming pool, where she often modeled her voluptuous body.
This search ended the moment he stepped onto the stern of the boat and his eyes landed on the third class deck. Rosalie sat near the young man from days ago, the one she pined after, a girlish infatuation that Jasper had previously considered had ended. Yet, she caressed his cheek and leaned into him, loving gestures that the man immensely enjoyed… too much, in fact.
Too much for it to be a simple infatuation.
Enough to irritated Jasper.
He took a staggered step forward, but Rosalie, having spotted him, already sprinted up the steps, desperation on her face. After reaching him, they stood facing each other for several prolonged seconds of tension, before he grasped her arm and towed her away. From the corner of his eye, he saw her send an apologetic smile down at the man. Reckless idiot, she was.
"Why are you so cross with me?" Rosalie demanded agitatedly.
"You know precisely why," Jasper retorted haughtily, to which she rolled her eyes. Once reaching her room, adjacent his, he pushed her inside, closed the door behind them, and whipped around to gaze at her with flaming eyes. Alice, who had been fluffing the jewel-encrusted pillows of the Victorian-styled sofa, froze, blinking in puzzlement. Neither sibling acknowledged her presence, too preoccupied fuming.
"Are you in a relationship with that man?"
Rosalie's eyes narrowed indignantly, but her speech faltered as she spoke, "Yes—no, I—well, we… Jasper, you must understand…" She threw herself at him, clasping his hands in her grim and trembling ones. Her once hardened eyes failed to remain confident and cool. "I do care for him! Very much, I do! It's the first time I've ever… felt such passion and craving. He's everything I need and I've given him by heart!"
"You're a woman commanded by temporary obsession," Jasper snapped vehemently.
"How dare you question my—"
"You're what?" Jasper intervened. "You're feelings? Rosalie Lillian Hale, you're being—"
"Oh, so now you take the tone of our father, using my entire name?"
Before either could pursue any more clipping insults of pure fury, Alice tentatively stepped forward, her hazel orbs careful. "I believe Miss Hale feelings are genuine and true, especially for some of such high-expectations of a man"—Rosalie scowled—"and Jasper, I believe you are simply being consumed by protectiveness, for your sister is your duty. I can't blame you from trying to save her from heartbreak."
"Or maybe I'm speaking with wisdom," Jasper retorted.
"Or stupidity," Rosalie murmured.
Alice grimaced under the heavy weight of annoyance between the two. "You're just bickering siblings."
"Yet my bickering is in the defense of my love!" Rosalie rounded once on Alice, dress flapping. "He's just a fool frightened by any form of emotion!"
"Any form of emotion," Jasper scoffed with a roll of his eyes. "I'm trying to explain to you that your feelings are just deluding you into thinking you're in love, and… well, people can't falling in love in less than a week!" He stomped his foot stubbornly.
"Who said I was in love?" Rosalie frowned at him. "I love him, but I'm not in love with him…"
"What does that even mean?!" Jasper bellowed, blue eyes ablaze with puzzlement and irritation.
"Right now…," Rosalie began, near whispering to him, "Emmett and I are simply in the stages of love—the passion, the lust, the recklessness… But soon, and maybe it will take months, perhaps a year, but we'll be strengthened into something more—commitment, honesty… feelings so powerful that nothing could pull us a part. You can shake your head at me and project your voice for hours, but I'll never give up the idea, nor will I give up my heart."
She stared into his eyes, her own glistening. "I don't care what you say or do, this is how I feel."
Jasper's taut back loosened, his shoulder slouching. Alice, who had been ringing her finger around the fabric of her skirt, wrinkling it, smiling thinly and eased down on the sofa, her legs crossed.
"Jasper," Rosalie echoed mockingly.
"Rosalie," he continued, breathing a sigh, "I… I can accept what you mean… as long… as you're reasonable about it… and not too… fast-paced."
Her lips curled upward into a tremendous grin that illuminated the room. Throwing a grateful glance at Alice, she danced across the room in one fluid moment and wound her arms around her brother, him mimicking the notion. They stood in an iron embrace for several prolonged moments, their sibling love melting away the tension, when Rosalie breathed a loud sigh.
"I would like to tell you, brother, that Emmett and I are engaged…"
She hissed in pain when the arms around her tightened drastically, fingers digging into her back. Both girls cringed at the extremely ear-shattering shout that spilt through the air; probably shook the entire ship—hell, even the earth rattled with little earthquakes!
Isabella glided down the deck. Although speaking with Edward was enormously consoling, the awkwardness emitting from both always created a deep void that didn't reassure her of any of her problems. The one person her mind drifted to could possibly be the most reassuring of all—Renee held no promise of understanding, Alice was too insightful for comfort, and no other came to mind.
Except him… Charlie Swan.
She recalled finding him on the ship. Initially, after near hyperventilating for hours, she had decided upon ignoring his presence and hoping to God that Renee would never accidentally run into him: the result would be a whirlwind of chaos that no one would have predicted. Yet, in the moment of vulnerable Isabella found herself caught in, her heart reacted to him—reaching for him, crying for him… her true and only father. It wasn't necessary to tell him that she was, in fact, his daughter; that could come later, perhaps minutes before the ship docked in a few days.
After asking several officers—seeing as Charlie Swan was First Officer—, she found him lingering near the front deck, examining the railing. Ocean mist sprayed into the air. Children and men and women of first class chatted boisterously; well, the children, the boys, danced and played and argued barbarically with one another. The younger girls watched longingly from the distance.
Isabella steered away from the raw image and strolled up behind Charlie. Lightly, she tapped him on the shoulder, to which he turned on his heel, a tender smile plastered to his kind face, despite the aging of it; the hollowed dark eyes, cracks creasing in his skin.
"Can I help you, miss?"
He didn't recognize her from before, and although it wasn't shocking, Isabella found herself feeling… neglected. I'm your daughter! she wanted to scream at him, but appropriately restrained herself and smiled politely in return.
"Yes, I… well…"
Okay, randomly seeking advice from a complete stranger—well, technically, seeing as they knew nothing of each other—wasn't the brightest of ideas. And with a start, she realized that she had to tell him; to inform him that she was his daughter, the one he didn't no exist. Biting her bottom lip, she breathed unevenly as she spoke to him, "I must tell you something… in private. Oh, and I'm Isabella… Higginbotham."
Charlie's eyes hardened at the last name, understanding full well of her being Renee's daughter, and probably thinking her as Phil's child, too. Although suspicion laced with his expression, he nodded curtly, saying, "Well, we can go to the deck's private lounge. No one is using it at the moment."
Nodding, she followed him across the deck and down the open hall, the sun pooling down, before they entered a small room of wood-paneled floor, several tables, and sofas, and massive green plants rooted in enormous pots. Despite the sunny area and tranquility of the room, her hearty beat wildly to its own rhythm. Charlie faced her, fingers flexing apprehensively.
"I need to inform you of… something…"
With a deep sigh, she began with a story he probably didn't want to remember.