Note: I am not Stephenie Meyer nor do I own the Twilight series.
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Dreadful, dreadful, dreadful, I scolded myself, wincing at the memory of the morning's unfortunate events.
After a rather boring conversation with my obvious admirer, a somewhat staggered Daniel was escorted out by Marie, a small smile playing on the edges of her lips. She knew exactly how I discouraged them—the naïve, incorrigible suitors looking for a proper wife, that is—and, unlike my mother, she loved my antics. After watching countless young men from the area enter the parlor, looking and feeling confident, and exiting a few hours later with a dazed, somewhat frenzied expression, she stifled giggles at every Sunday Tea meeting.
"Charming them again, Miss Swan?" She whispered as she returned from escorting out Daniel. Though her tone was hushed and cautious—undoubtedly trying to escape my mother's derogatory glares at the mention of my charming antics on the suitors—Marie's eyes told another story as she cast a naughty glance in my direction.
I smirked, thankful for Marie's support. If it weren't for her, I may very well be married to an egotistical, liquor-drinking, vile young man, though likely in possession of a rather large fortune.
I grimaced. Anything would be better than aging, wrinkling, and growing grey hair at the side of a detestable man. Marriage was an undoable, lifelong action with permanent effects—I had seen enough marriages gone bad to know the extent of the unhappiness that a woman was willing to endure to please her husband. Although my heart throbbed for the poor, idealistic women that gave their hearts away at young ages to rich fools, I could not help but feel a slight resentment towards them—frustrated by their naivety. How could you not have known? I felt like yelling. Couldn't you see that their confidence was just an act?
I blinked back tears. My efforts were to no avail—I would have to marry sooner or later, and with every tick of the clock I was one second closer to marriage. One second closer to a long, unhappy life, married to a distrustful man who thought of me only as an asset—of course a woman was only an asset, what more to her could there possibly be? Women's only task was, after all, to 'sustain a household and adhere to her husband's every wish,' as quoted from my Knightley's textbook.
At Knightley's Academy for Girls, nearly every aspect of a lady's place in society, motherhood, and household services was covered by far more detail than I cared to hear.
What my textbook failed to explain, however, was the one aspect that truly mystified me—men. Were they truly as awful as Marie depicted them to be? Or were all kind, honest, loving men only as substantial as the characters in fictional novels?
My mother could tell I was deeply in thought as she approached me, hesitating before sitting next to me on the flowery sofa in the parlor—the very place where Daniel had sat only minutes ago. Though I paid her no attention at first, staring intently at the needlework in my hands, her reproving gaze was tireless, and eventually I could not focus on my stitches.
"Yes, mother?" I asked nervously, unable to meet her gaze.
"Bella…" She began, stroking my hair affectionately. "Bella, darling, you know why I need to talk to you."
And indeed I did. But I was hoping to postpone this unpleasant conversation for the future… preferably in several years. I fidgeted in my seat, braiding and unbraiding a strand of my hair, as I silently seethed. She was going to try to guilt me, was she? Two could play this game.
"Yes, mother, I do. Do you really think it necessary to discuss this with me?" I asked curtly, growing more and more irritated by the moment.
"Bella, you cannot dismiss every suitor we bring about you. You're a perfectly charming girl! Now, pray tell, why on Earth should you grow old and unmarried?"
Because I want to! I felt like hissing. Anything would be better than marrying some wealthy idiot who thought of me as nothing more than a possession.
I pursed my lips, pretending to consider my mother's perspective. "You know what, mother? I think I see your point."
Her eyes widened hopefully as she clasped her hands together, eagerly awaiting the rest of my 'epiphany.' She honestly thinks I will give in that easily?
"But…I'm sorry, mother. I refuse to condone such behavior. None of the suitors I have laid eyes on interest me any more than my sewing. So, unless you can introduce me to a young man with a decent intelligence, holding any interests other than horse-racing, gambling, and discussing finances, I will happily oblige."
With that, I turned on my heel, exiting the room. I did not allow myself a second glance at my mother, afraid that her expression would haunt me. Much as I hated it, my mother's efforts were truly for my benefit. My little speech certainly had not discouraged her—she was determined to find me a husband, that was for sure—but I knew she would feel disheartened by my lack of interest.
That piece of knowledge was enough to make me feel guilty and slow my walk, but not enough to turn around and apologize. Definitely not enough.
The large, oak door seemed tall and intimidating as I made my way to the entry hall. I threw on my petticoat, not caring if my quick dressing disturbed the perfect curl of the ringlets framing my face.
I twisted the heavy brass knob of the oaken door and rushed out into the cool, Chicago air.
I inhaled deeply, invigorated by the sensation of the outdoors. My hair was probably disheveled and my cheeks red from the wind whipping around my face, unprotected by my hood. But, at that moment, I could not bring myself to care. I skipped down the stairway leading up to our house, feeling childish and free.
My adrenaline rush was not dampened by the typical Chicago scenery around me—in fact, the sounds and sights only heightened it. I twirled, letting my curls bounce free and unrestricted. Horses' hooves could be heard as they clopped down the street, pulling carriages. Street venders' shouts and advertisements were an abundant presence in the sidewalks.
Chicago was notorious for its gray, cloudy skies. But, for once, I did not resent the climate of my city—I smiled up at the sky, glad for the familiar reminder of home in such hectic times.
The smell of cooking crepes wafted out from the street, making my head spin. "Mmmm," I breathed. I closed my eyes for a moment, smiling at the dizzying, mouth-watering smell. My corset tightened around my waist at the effort, a reminder of the wrath I would feel upon returning home. 'Good heavens, Bella! Young, responsible, well-bred ladies don't go parading down the street in their best dresses!' I could almost hear mother yelling. I knew I would be in trouble when I returned home—as for the meanwhile, I had not yet thought up any suitable excuse for my actions—but I might as well take advantage of the freedom of the outdoors while I had it.
I walked toward the smell of cooking crepes, wafting out from the right side of the street. I turned a corner, narrowly avoiding being trampled by Sunday shoppers dressed in black. I self-consciously glanced down at my ensemble—my navy blue dress looked attractive, of course, but certainly not appropriate for walking, unescorted, in Chicago's busy streets.
I will only walk to the crepe stand, order a crepe, and promptly return home without stopping. I repeated to myself, hoping to calm myself. I felt extremely uncomfortable by the way some men's hungry eyes lingered at my bosom—couldn't they look elsewhere? I knew my pretty, navy dress showed off a bit more cleavage than most of my Sunday Tea dresses, but surely grown men could control their wandering eyes?
I flushed at the looks I was receiving, quickly making my way across the sidewalk. Finally! I thought, relieved. The crepe stand stood prominently at the side of the street, the scent strengthening—a result of its new proximity.
My eyes darted across the line of customers dressed in black business clothes, quickly assessing the amount of time it would take to wait in line.
Surely it will not take longer than ten minutes, I thought, trying to comfort myself. If I did not return to the house in half an hour, my mother would certainly send someone out to look for me. The mere notion of one of our plump housemaids scurrying down the sidewalk, shouting my name, was enough to make me cringe with embarrassment.
I nervously glanced over my shoulders as I made my way to the line for crepes. Unfortunately, my unbalanced tendencies decided to resurface as I bumped into the last customer in the line, sending me backwards.
The sidewalk whirled upwards. Two gloved hands caught me around the waist, gingerly pulling me to balance.
Grateful at avoiding an embarrassing fall, I quickly straightened up, smoothing my skirts in the process. His hands lingered at my waist.
"Thank you, sir. Pardon me." I muttered, irked that a gentleman touched my waist—no matter how called for it might have been.
"No problem, Miss." A velvety voice called from above, causing me to look up, curious who it might belong to.
Blood rushed up to color my cheeks as I swayed unsteadily—though, this time, not from a lack of balance. The man standing before me wore a black suit—perfectly normal, it seemed, from a distance, but up close I could see the intricate threading and clearly expensive design. His auburn hair was whipped around by the wind, only drawing more attention to the beauty of his face.
Vibrant green eyes peered down at me beneath thick, black eyelashes—eyelashes, it seemed, that should belong to a girl, for they were far too beautiful to be a man's.
His full, pink lips—almost shockingly symmetrical—twisted up into a crooked smile. The man grinned impishly at me—revealing a set of gloriously white teeth—his new, beaming expression radiating brilliance.
I nearly swooned.
"Are you alright, Miss?" He asked, his brown furrowing in concern. My face must have looked scarlet at the embarrassment I had just endured—nearly falling over, here in Chicago's streets, in the presence of this man! I realized, with a gasp, that his hand still was in contact with my waist.
But, as new, alien feelings bubbled up inside me with surprising fervor, I realized the last thing I wanted him to do was remove it.
I looked up into the eyes of this astonishing young man, and, taking a deep breath, I prepared to answer him.
"Yes. I'm terribly sorry—I'm Isabella Swan." The words rushed out of me breathlessly; certainly the fault of my near-falling experience and tight corset. Or perhaps it was his presence, and the odd, strangely pleasurable sensation it triggered in me.
"Edward Masen." Clearly amused by my breathless state, the right side of his mouth tugged up into an uneven, yet irresistible smirk.
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