A/N: This chapter has given me some trouble. I needed some sort of gathering to parallel the La Push trip so that Bella can meet Jake. I also wanted to make some parallels dealing with all those lovely boys asking Bella to prom, and it's time to mend the bridge between Edward and Bella too. So… this is a sort of convoluted melding of all of the above. Hopefully you'll forgive me the liberties I've taken. I hope you enjoy it. I had fun, as I always do, writing it.
Sorry about the delay. I got caught up in another fic, and my closet twilighter-ness has been holding me back lately, since my husband is laid off of work. He's been home a lot, and since he doesn't know about this little secret of mine, it's been hard to steal time to work on this…
...Okay, I wrote the above over a year ago. I can't believe I let this happen. In chapter 8 I promised repeatedly a long and speedy update. I'm sorry that I lied to you. I don't deserve you. Please forgive me.
I had a baby. Is that a good excuse? Not good enough, but it's all I've got.
I'm sorry this chapter is rough. It's probably going to take me a minute to get into the swing of things.
I've lost my beta. RosieWilde, if you're reading this, where are you?
A million thanks to miaokuancha for stepping in for this. You're my hero bb.
"Perhaps by and by I may observe that private balls are much pleasanter that public ones. But now we may be silent." Lizzy to Mr. Darcy in Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen
The First Two Dances
The fortnight that followed Isabella's encounter with Mr. Edward Cullen was extremely vexing. Mr. Cullen maintained his indifferent attitude toward her whenever they were in company together, which Bella counted to be eight times since the "unfortunate accident" involving Mr. Tyler Crowley's horse.
Good news reached her one afternoon, however, and eased, be it ever so slightly, the nervous state in which she constantly found herself and which she attributed to Mr. Cullen's odd behavior and evident abhorrence.
Miss Jessica Stanley and Miss Angela Weber came for a visit with the tidings of a public ball to be held within the week. It was to take place in the neighboring village of La Push, which Isabella recalled to be the residence of her father's good friend, Mr. William Black.
Miss Stanley could hardly contain her excitement as she relayed to Isabella all of the particulars.
"It has been too long since we had a ball." She sipped her tea with relish as she spoke, "Indeed, I can scarcely remember the last such gathering I attended. You must remind me Angela, when was our last ball?"
"Nearly a month ago," her friend replied obligingly, "at the Mallory's. You wore your –"
"That has put me in mind of another bit of news," Miss Stanley interrupted, rather rudely Isabella thought. Angela did not seem to take offense however. Isabella suspected she was accustomed to it.
"Miss Lauren Mallory has already been secured by Mr. Mansfield for the first two dances. I should suspect we shall be receiving the same attentions as the ball approaches. Miss Swan, have you any hopes of a particular partner?"
Isabella blushed and wondered that Miss Stanley could be so bold. They were not yet well enough acquainted for her to be comfortable in revealing her hopes for the evening in casual conversation.
"I'm sure Miss Swan would like to become better acquainted with the gentlemen of our society before she entertains such hopes," Miss Weber suggested, much to Isabella's gratitude.
"Well I for one, expect an offer from Mr. Newton. He hinted, when last we met, that a dance between us was long overdue." Miss Stanley laughed at Isabella's expression. "Do not look so shocked at my manners, Miss Swan. I simply do not see the sense in concealing my feelings. However, I would not speak such things had I not absolute confidence in the outcome, so I shall venture to predict that Mr. Newton will ask me for the first two dances. Moreover, I should invite you to count upon it."
Isabella found the news of the ball to be particularly welcome for two reasons.
The first was that she hoped the anticipation of the gathering would serve as a distraction to all her acquaintances from the account that continued to circulate of her mishap many weeks past. She conjured the possibility that news of the ball would soon be the center of all conversation, and her embarrassing encounter with Mr. Crowley's horse might finally be forgotten.
Her second source of relief lay in the fact that she knew her father was to be occupied in town on the evening in question. With him away, she would be without a chaperone and therefore quite unable to attend the ball. That the ball should at the same time divert attention away from her uncomfortable mishap and also fall on a date when she could with perfect courtesy avoid appearing at all was so extraordinarily fortunate as to appear blessed by a higher power.
For the moment, Isabella concealed this knowledge from her two friends, not wishing to deject them from their excitement about the coming evening. They all spent the remainder of the visit discussing dresses, whether or not Miss Stanley required new gloves, and whom Mr. Newton might engage for the third and forth dance. (Seeing as he would be engaged for the first two to Miss Stanley, of course.)
The next day brought a visit from Mr. Newton to the Swan residence. He sat with Isabella's father in the library for the better part of an hour, and it was surely only by the most fortuitous of circumstances that he crossed paths with Isabella on his way out.
"How are you Miss Swan?" Mr. Newton bowed deeply before receiving his hat from Hannah as he prepared to take his leave.
"Very well Mr. Newton, how is your mother?"
"My mother is quite well Miss Swan, thank you. Have you heard our good news of the approaching ball?"
"Yes. Miss Stanley and Miss Weber were kind enough to bring me tidings of it yesterday."
"Excellent, excellent." He nervously brushed at his coat. "I wonder, Miss Swan, if you would do me the honor of reserving the first two dances."
Isabella felt pity for Miss Stanley when she heard the words, and was flattered by the request. She was also relieved, however, to have an acceptable reason to refuse him.
"How very kind, Mr. Newton, but I'm afraid I will be unable to attend that evening."
"I'm sorry to hear it." He colored slightly, but soon regained his composure. "Perhaps you know of another young lady in need of a partner."
"I believe Miss Stanley is unengaged at present, and would be pleased with the invitation."
"Miss Stanley." His voice and expression made Isabella suspect that the prospect of reserving Jessica Stanley for the first two dances was one that had not heretofore occurred to him. "Yes indeed."
The door was open, and there was nothing hindering him from taking his leave. Isabella saw him off from the porch and noticed, as she turned to retreat into the house, that Mr. Cullen was passing and seemed to be amused by something or other. Isabella let out a huff and closed the door.
She was invited to tea with Mrs. Yorkie and Miss Cope.
Mr. Yorkie was also at home when she arrived, and was just preparing to entertain a group of young men who were coming for a shoot.
"We have a fine day for it," he informed her joyfully, as he escorted her into the parlor. "My new retriever is very well trained and I believe quite prepared for the day. We shall see how he does."
Isabella congratulated Mr. Yorkie on having such a fine animal. As he continued to regale her with his anticipation of the day's activities, she dearly hoped that his mother and aunt would present themselves soon, ere she find herself contending alone with an entire group of young men, in conversation on a topic about which she had little interest and less knowledge.
"There is a horse approaching." Mr. Yorkie observed, peering through the parlor window. "I believe it is Mr. Emmett Cullen and his brother, Mr. Edward Cullen."
Isabella sat straighter and hoped that the women would come down before the two men were let into the house.
"While we are alone, Miss Swan, I had something particular I wanted to ask you."
She felt, before he spoke, that she knew what his request would be and prepared a response.
"I should be honored, if you would save me the first two dances at the La Push Ball."
In her nervous state, she was perhaps a little too brief, but it could not be helped. Mr. Edward Cullen was approaching!
"I'm afraid I do not mean to attend that evening." She tried to sound regretful. "But I thank you for the honor of your request."
As though she had been listening, and waiting for the conclusion of the conversation before she revealed herself, Miss Cope entered the room and invited Isabella to take their tea in the garden.
"It is a shame you will not be attending the ball, Miss Swan. All of the young men in the county must feel the loss of it."
"You are very kind," was the response, but the thought was concealed, "You are very nosy."
The next day the sun bared his rare and unfamiliar face and Isabella took advantage of the good weather to take a turn about the garden.
As fate would have it, Mr. Tyler Crowley was passing down the lane at the same instant that she came upon the gate and he bowed his head and spoke to her.
"A very fine day, Ms. Swan."
"A very fine day indeed, Mr. Crowley."
"I must apologize once again for the unfortunate circumstances that arose between us above a fortnight ago, Ms. Swan. I cannot –"
"Mr. Crowley please!" Isabella did not think she could stand to hear yet another apology. "You must not vex yourself and we need not speak of it any further. All is forgiven if ever there was anything to forgive. It was an unfortunate accident, and all is well in the end, so do not worry yourself a moment longer."
"I know that there is little I can say to communicate to you how sorry I am, Miss Swan. But if you were to accept my hand for the ball's first two dances, I should be assured that we are again on friendly terms."
"It is not necessary, Mr. Crowley." Isabella sighed inwardly. "I regret to say that though I am honoured by the kindness of your offer, I am unable to attend that evening."
"That is unfortunate." Mr. Crowley's demeanor fell for but a moment before it brightened again. "This shall not dishearten me Miss Swan, for there is always the Spring Ball." And without another word, he continued down the lane.
Isabella observed that among the traffic along the road at that moment was Mr. Cullen's carriage. Among its passengers was a seemingly amused Mr. Edward Cullen. Isabella attempted to assure herself, as she turned away, that his expression had absolutely nothing to do with an exchange he could not possibly have overheard.