Proposal of Courtship. After a successful granted acquaintance meeting, the father of an unmarried daughter commits to spend time with a potential suitor to assess his character, viability and intentions. This process can take anywhere from a few hours to a few months, as the father considers the matrimony of his daughter. Once the father of the impending bride is confident in his appraisal of the suitor, permission for courtship will be granted or denied.
Edward wasn't deaf, nor was he blind. He had seen and heard the evidence that his parents were eager for him to express an interest in the daughter of the new residents to the area: the Swans. For that reason alone, Edward did his best to steer clear of Bella. He'd glance at her every now and then when he saw her at church or at the evening services in his parents' home, but that was the extent of his interest.
Until he noticed that she wasn't noticing him.
Bella Swan's ability not to take note of Edward seemingly made him notice her all the more. And because she was rarely looking at him, he was free to study her physical characteristics without fear of being caught, or worse, being expected to follow through with a formal acquaintance meeting.
It wasn't that Edward thought highly of himself – no true Cannabean would. However, he did know what many, non-Cannabean women placed great value on: financial security, commitment and desirability.
It was no secret that Edward had branched out from his family's successful winery and created a thriving business of his own. Though most people had no inkling of what a person in the import/export business actually did, they did recognize his face when he had been featured in a regional business journal as 'one to watch'. And although he did still reside in his parents' home, it was common knowledge that he wasn't there for financial reasons.
Another well-known tidbit of knowledge was that Cannabean men were not interested in playing the field. From an early age, it was ingrained in them that they would choose a woman for a wife, get married and have a family. A series of frivolous relationships was highly looked down upon and rarely condoned. Even though the Cannabean lifestyle was ambiguous to outsiders, this characteristic of their belief system was often considered a redeeming quality.
On the note of desirability, Edward wasn't positive about the motivations that drove the various flirtatious glances, gropes and giggles that he received from numerous women, but he did know that he wasn't at a loss for them. For whatever reason, women wanted his attention and they wanted to give him theirs. Granted, news had quickly spread that Edward had all but shut himself off from people during the last three years, so the advances had greatly decreased. However, that simply left the die-hards, those that would not heed his subtle hints at disinterest and unavailability.
But Bella seemed to place no value on anything concerning him whatsoever. It was the first thing that intrigued him.
The second thing that had piqued his interest was Bella's seemingly devout adherence to Cannabean law. Children born into the Cannabean faith often either abandoned it as they grew older or conformed to a watered down version of the religion that better suited their personal choices. Edward had to admit to belonging to the latter group at one point in his life, and his brothers still did. Even Rosalie, and definitely Alice, had never been described by their Cannabean virtues.
It was evident that Bella didn't cloak herself in a Cannabean coat that she only pulled out on Sunday or when she was around others who shared her faith. It was who she was even when she thought no one else was looking. The kind way she spoke to people, the respectful way she interacted with her parents and the reverent way she worshiped.
The first time he'd observed her during the music as the Cullen's Sunday evening service, he was riveted by the way she seemed to be overcome by the ambiance. He hadn't been able to take his eyes off of her, not even when she'd turned and caught him looking. Edward remembered the way she'd looked away quickly, as if stung by the eye contact.
That was the evening his mother had caught him peeking out the window at Bella as she and her family had departed. Ever since then, a knowing smile perched upon Esme's lips whenever Bella and Edward were in the same vicinity. It irritated Edward and drove him to swing in the opposite direction where Bella was concerned. He wouldn't talk about her, to her or even go near her. And when other people were around, he wouldn't look at her. But when he was alone or out from underneath the watchful eyes of his mother and sister-in-laws, he'd look.
And that's when Edward was captured by Bella's third attribute: he found her unpretentiously beautiful.
In fact, Edward, so far, had only seen one flaw that Bella had, and that was that she seemed to be fond of Alice. On the rare occasions that Edward joined the entire Cullen clan for Sunday brunch, he'd pretend not to listen as Alice prattled on about how funny Bella was, or how smart or how nice or how good she was with the babies…
Alice didn't have the best reputation around town, and most people, definitely other Cannabeans, kept her at arm's length. Of course the Cullen's didn't, because she was married to Jasper, and Bella, not being a long-standing resident, was not aware that there was any reason to be leery of her.
"Alice sure thinks Bella is something special," Esme had told Edward one evening when it was just the two of them alone in the house.
"Well that's certainly a red flag, isn't it?" Edward had responded.
"Edward…be nice," was Esme's reprimand.
"Honesty is virtuous even if it hurts." Edward knew his parents didn't agree with his literal adherence to Cannabean law, but they couldn't exactly argue with that which was in black and white.
Although the hopeful smile was not dormant on Esme's lips, she didn't speak of Bella or her associations with Alice again. And Edward tried to put it out of his mind as well – and he was nearly successful…until two weeks later.
Soon after the announcement that Emmett and Rosalie were expecting their fourth child, Alice had taken ill and had stayed home from the Sunday evening service at her in-laws.
When Bella came in to the basement that evening, Edward watched as her eyes searched for Alice, and when they didn't find her, Bella browsed about the room, taking in paintings, books and some of the cultural décor Carlisle Cullen had brought back from his travels abroad.
Edward leaned against the bookshelf in the corner as he leisurely watched her smile and offer niceties to the people who crossed her path as she made her way over to where her parents were settling. She was almost to them when her arm came into accidental contact with Jeremiah Doughtry. Quickly she excused herself and tried to move away, but Jeremiah stopped her.
Jeremiah Doughtry had always been a castaway in the Cullen brothers' circle of friends. Ever since an incident at the age of twelve when he'd "accidentally" killed a cat with a bb gun and then blamed it on Jasper, Edward and his brothers had pegged him as seedy and untrustworthy and wanted nothing to do with him. As he got older, Jeremiah was known to be a Cannabean in name only. When he was home on vacation from his job as a career student, he was a sometimes partaker of the evening services, but only when he had nothing or no one better to do.
No longer laid-back in his observations, Edward stood ramrod straight as he watched Jeremiah's Cheshire cat grin spread across his face. An unexplainable emotion gripped Edward as he waited for Bella's facial expression to reveal her thoughts. Would she be sucked in by his worldly charm? Would she be interested in this guy?
Relief exuded from Edward's pores as he watched Bella quietly disengage herself, smile politely and then point in the direction of her parents before going to join them.
"You know, Charlie Swan is a very agreeable man. Have you met him?"
Edward flinched as he turned and noticed, for the first time, his father standing next to him. Carlisle had witnessed the entire scene and instead of ask Edward about it, he simply asked the question that would reveal that he knew of his son's secret: Edward was interested in Bella Swan.
"I don't doubt that he is, but I'm not sure if I'm…ready for that," Edward answered, not bothering to deny what his father's question insinuated.
"What holds you back?" Carlisle questioned.
"I'm just a little wary of her choice in the company she keeps."
"Alice? Is that all that keeps you from moving forward?" Carlisle frowned.
Edward wondered if there was a double meaning in his father's words. Did he mean that Edward was stagnant in his life in general, or this matter alone?
Before Edward could discuss the issue with his father any further, Carlisle walked to the front of the room to start the meeting. As Edward took his seat, he glanced at Jeremiah and saw that he was leering hungrily in Bella's direction. He saw a new opportunity in her, and he was energized by the thought of a conquest. Although Edward no longer doubted Bella's disinterest in Jeremiah, he knew that eventually someone else would be successful in his attempt to woo her. Edward questioned himself as to whether or not he would be able to live with the fact that he sat back and watched it happen without even making an effort of his own. The question was answered before it was even completely formed.
And so later that night, as Edward helped his father put the basement in resting order, he asked the question the Cullen patriarch had been waiting years to hear.
"So…Charlie Swan is agreeable you say?" Edward asked.
Carlisle paused as he listened to what Edward was asking. "He is," he nodded. "Shall I pay him a visit?"
"Alright," Edward exhaled.
Carlisle walked over to Edward and placed his hand on his son's shoulder. He didn't even bother to restrain the smile that he wore.
"I'll handle the other issue as well," Carlisle promised.
Edward nodded, wondering exactly what his father would tell the Swan's about Alice to enlighten them.
The following week, Edward was still none the wiser about what his father said to Charlie Swan, but he was not shocked to find his mother preparing to work beside Bella in the nursery, in Alice's stead.
Edward tried not to look obvious as he watched his father have a short conversation with Charlie before church. He attempted to analyze Charlie's facial expressions as Carlisle requested an introduction to Charlie's daughter on Edward's behalf. Charlie's face was impossible to read; the set of his mouth hindered by his thick mustache.
Carlisle put Edward's curiosity to rest right before the church service started. As Edward moved down the row to sit on the other side of his father, Carlisle smiled.
"Did you have plans later today?"
"Today?" Edward asked, not expecting the meeting to take place so soon.
"Apparently he's seen you watching his daughter. He's been expecting you," Carlisle said, amused.
Edward's cheeks grew ruddy as he realized he hadn't been as stealth as he'd previously thought. Just about everyone had caught him eyeing Bella at one point or another. Even Bella!
The church service droned on, but Edward didn't hear a word of it. His mind was focused on the acquaintance meeting he'd just agreed to and the implications it held for his future. What if Bella was the opposite of what he perceived? What if he had to reject her? What would that mean in their small Cannabean circle?
But what if Bella was exactly as he'd perceived? Was he ready to embark upon the journey of courtship?
After church, Carlisle disappeared to find Charlie and confirm their afternoon plans. Edward saw him moments later speaking to both of Bella's parents, and he quickly turned away, his nerves not allowing him to watch in fear that their expressions gave away their true impression of him.
Instead, Edward roamed towards the information counter, a location he'd seen Bella frequent – and on this day she did not disappoint.
Out of the corner of his eye, Edward watched as Bella neared the counter, picked up a bulletin and leaned against the aged Formica as she read. Curiosity again seized him as Edward wondered about the woman he would soon be introduced to. Slowly he slid towards her until her body language revealed that she was aware of him. He wondered if she would speak to him or perhaps look at him. Each second competed to be the last one before she was eternally aware of him…
And she looked, albeit briefly. So briefly, in fact, that Edward wasn't sure that she even saw his face. But she didn't speak; she simply slid further away from him, microscopically. If he hadn't been watching for it, he may not have even noticed it.
"Well hello, stranger."
A pair of unnaturally hued heads disrupted Edward's view of Bella and he looked over to see Emily and Erica Parker, a set of eighteen-year-old twins who might have turned Edward's head in his younger years. However, at nearly twenty-five years old, they held no appeal to him. And certainly not when they stood next to the very person who did.
"Hello Emily... Erica," Edward greeted tersely. From where he stood, Edward knew he was visible to his father and the Swans, if they bothered to look in his direction. The way Emily and Erica were sidling up to him would look very bad for a man about to be granted an acquaintance with another woman. Edward knew he had to get away from them, and quickly.
"How come you weren't at the single's dance?" Emily asked.
"I don't dance," Edward stated in a formal tone.
"Oh…for a minute there we thought it was because you were no longer single," Erica smiled.
Edward silently wondered if they planned to be as transparent as they were or if they were just that uncouth.
"And there's that," Edward hinted, hoping that his not-quite-a-lie would deter the eager twins.
"Really?" their faces fell simultaneously.
Edward shrugged and smiled slightly. But as he did so, he cast a glance in Bella's direction and was pained to see that not only had she moved several yards away, but also her mother was standing next to her and was staring straight at him.
And then Bella looked as well.
"I'm sorry, ladies. If you'll excuse me…" Edward made a quick exit and walked towards his father. Luckily Carlisle waved him over at that moment.
"Edward, Mr. Swan has graciously invited us to dine with his family this afternoon," Carlisle said as he stepped back to allow Edward a spot near Charlie.
"Thank you, sir." Edward extended his hand for Charlie to shake.
"You're welcome, Edward." Charlie's serious eyes penetrated Edward's.
Edward readied himself for a series of questions from Charlie, but none came. Instead, the three men stood there in awkward silence until Charlie spoke again.
"What do you think of Amos Bradley?" Charlie asked.
"I think he had a firm grasp on what it truly means to be a Cannabean and I strive to take his words to heart every day," Edward answered.
Charlie nodded. "You know, a lot of men your age don't even know who Amos Bradley is."
"That's unfortunate," Edward said. He would have added that he wouldn't have known either if it hadn't been for his own motivation and self-study, but he didn't want to disrespect his father in that way. Charlie obviously felt that all men should be schooled in Bradley's handbook of Cannabean lifestyle, but of Carlisle's three sons, Edward was the only one who knew it, and knew it well.
After a few more beats of silence, Charlie smiled and nodded towards the door. "Well, I think we've given the girls enough of a headstart. Shall we go?"
Edward felt as if hummingbirds were trying to escape his stomach as he sat in the back seat of his father's car and listened to Carlisle and Charlie banter as they approached the Swan home. He thought of what he would say to Bella and how she might react. Would she be shy? Would he have to carry the conversation? Would she talk too much? Would he be able to get a word in edgewise?
Not wanting to sound scripted or rehearsed, Edward abandoned his thought process and focused on the small, single-story home Charlie had instructed Carlisle to park in front of.
"This is a nice, quiet street," Carlisle remarked.
"It's home for now," Charlie said as he got out of the car and walked toward the front porch. Edward followed quietly behind.
The aroma inside of the house caressed Edward's senses as he was overtaken by how delicious lunch smelled. Had Bella cooked or had her mother?
His question was answered when he peeked into the kitchen and saw that she was the only one standing there.
It was the first time he'd heard her voice in close proximity and the lilt of it complemented all of her other traits.
Edward watched as Bella's eyes grew in shock as she turned around to see her father accompanied by two other men. Barefoot and still wearing the dress she'd worn to church, Bella addressed her father only, asking if he wanted her to go retrieve her mother.
Instead, he gestured for her to stand at his side, and he made the introductions right then and there.
"It's nice to meet you," Bella finally spoke directly to Edward.
His heart skipped a double beat as he held her gaze. "Likewise."
Bella retreated to put away Edward and Carlisle's coats, and when she'd returned, Edward noticed that she had slipped on a pair of shoes. She busied herself with setting the table and didn't seem to notice when her father resituated things so that she sat next to Edward instead of alone on the other side of the table.
Edward had grown up knowing that any outing, meeting or social event that he ever had with a woman would be chaperoned. He'd had years to get used to the idea, yet knowing that he would have to strike up a conversation with Bella in front of an audience was a daunting thought, even though his father and Charlie were doing their best to look unassuming.
"So, Bella," Edward cleared his throat.
"Yes?" she turned to face him expectantly.
"How are you liking Forks so far?"
It was a simple question, and one Edward didn't necessarily need the answer to. Therefore, while she spoke, he paid more attention to her body language and demeanor, instead of her words.
She'd mentioned home, and Edward asked her about that. Was she homesick, and hoping to return to where she'd come from? Was settling down in Forks a part of her life's plan?
"I don't really make plans that far out into the future, but I'm not one to rule anything out."
Edward couldn't help but smile at Bella's answer. It was perfect in its simplicity. Just as she was willing to move with her family, despite her adult status by society norms, she would be just as willing to conform to the life of her mate.
It was an affirmation that Edward wasn't sure Bella was even consciously aware that she was making. After all, it had only taken him a few seconds in her presence to know that she had no idea that the lunch was actually a granted acquaintance. He wasn't sure why Charlie had kept it from her, but Edward had faith in the man's reasoning.
By the time Edward had said goodbye to Bella that afternoon, he knew that he wanted to see her again. And even though his father urged him to give something of this magnitude his "complete and utter concentration", Edward knew he did not need the full twenty-four hours that was customary.
Still, he waited until after the Cannabean service had finished that night, before he called the Swan home.
"I hope my call at this hour won't be construed as rude and disrespectful," Edward said the moment Charlie had picked up the phone.
"Oh. Hello, Edward," Charlie said. "What can I do for you?"
"Sir, I wanted to thank you for this afternoon and to ask for your permission to court your daughter," Edward managed in one breath.
"I see," Charlie said slowly. At first Edward thought that Charlie was going to deny his request; it took him a while to give his reply.
"Edward, I enjoyed having you by this afternoon as well. And since you've convinced me that you are a learned man in the Cannabean way, I assume that you know how we proceed from here," Charlie quizzed.
"Yes. You'll spend time getting to know me and determining if I'm the type of man you find suitable for your daughter…sir."
"So, what are you doing tomorrow, Edward?"
"That's what I said."
"Tomorrow, uh, I have to be on a New York conference call at 6AM, and then-"
"How long will that conference call last?"
"I've never known it to last longer than an hour and a half."
"So you're free at eight?"
"Sure. I'll still be at my office, but I don't have any appointments at that time."
"Great. Just give me directions and I'll be there at 8AM sharp."
Edward knew exactly what Charlie's strategy was. He was giving Edward no time to prepare in hopes that he would catch a glimpse of the real man, and not a rehearsed façade. And though it was going to be a setback, business wise, to have Charlie in his office so early in the morning, Edward didn't begrudge him in the least, because all of Charlie's efforts confirmed what Edward had recently realized: Bella was a precious commodity and worth every hurdle.
So at 8AM the next morning, Edward sat behind his just-cleaned-off desk and waited until he heard Charlie's gruff voice address his administrative assistant.
"Good morning," Edward appeared to greet Charlie. Edward intercepted Charlie from his assistant and offered him coffee and an array of fruit and pastries. Charlie turned everything down, but followed Edward into his office. Edward quietly shut the door behind him, not wanting anyone else to hear what the two men were about to talk about.
"What do you do here, Edward?" Charlie asked as he stood in the middle of Edward's office and looked around at his surroundings.
"I import and export commodities," Edward answered.
Charlie turned and looked at him quizzically. "In simple-man lingo?"
"Basically it's international trading of merchandise."
"And what do you trade?"
"I import high end culinary items to restaurants…Russian caviar, stuff like that. And I export technology to other countries."
"Sounds pretty simple."
"Yes, sir, some days it does."
Charlie nodded and continued to look around. "How come you don't work in the family business?"
"Well…up until a few years ago, I did. When I went to college, I went with the intent of being able to take over the business side of the winery, but while I was away, my oldest brother stepped into doing that role, so there wasn't a need for me to take over that aspect. I started looking into other avenues of business, and as a senior project, I proposed an import/export business. My mentor professor encouraged me to consider it as a real opportunity, and long story short, that's basically what I have here, today." Edward explained.
Charlie didn't look impressed. "So you left the family business altogether?"
Edward nodded. "The wine and grape industry is seasonal and very risky. There are times throughout the year that it would be very hard for my brothers and myself to support a family on the business's earnings, while maintaining steady personnel. This became apparent a few years ago when there was an unexpected freeze in the area. My family's output was a third of what it usually was and if it hadn't been for the gains from this business, we wouldn't have been able to offset those loses and we would have had to lay off workers…the winery never would have been able to right itself by the next season."
"So you help with that business?" Charlie asked.
"Of course. It's still the family business, even if I'm the only one involved with it. I'll always take care of my family," Edward said.
Charlie finally took a seat and folded his hands in his lap. Edward tried, once again, to offer him something to eat or drink, but Charlie, again, refused.
"How old are you, Edward?"
"I'll be twenty-five in June."
"How come you still live with your parents?"
"Prior to getting my business going, I really had no reason to move out. But after the business was up and running, I simply waited until the process of incorporating was complete so that I could be sure my personal assets will be separate from the business, in case anything should happen," Edward noticed that he hadn't really answered the question, so he added, "My attorneys just finished the incorporation on my business, so I will start building my house in the spring."
"I'm looking into a few lots. One is down the road from here and the other is near my parents."
"Why wouldn't you move on your parents' property?"
"My father is considering relocating to a warmer climate once he retires from the hospital. If he did that, my mother might sell the winery, if my brothers aren't interested in taking it on completely, and it is unclear as to whether or not that means the homes would be sold as well or if the land would be rezoned. So…that's something to consider."
Edward wondered how much, if anything, his father had told Charlie about why Edward didn't own a home on the family property. But unless Charlie asked him a direct question, Edward wasn't planning on volunteering any information on that subject.
Charlie seemed to take in the information with great interest. Suddenly he shifted uncomfortably in his chair, a signal that he was shifting gears in the conversation. Edward used the lull in the interrogation to take a quick sip of water. The constant question and answer was making his throat raw.
"So, Edward…" Charlie leaned forward and looked Edward in the eye, "are you a virgin?"
Edward choked on the water that he was just swallowing, which resulted in a coughing fit.
"Yes, sir," he answered after pounding on his own chest a few times.
"Because my daughter is purer than Everest snow and I'm not going to hand her over to have her honor and reputation sullied by some maverick."
"Of course not, sir," Edward stated, still trying to come to terms with Charlie's no-nonsense way of speaking.
Charlie eyed Edward suspiciously, as if he were contemplating asking a more probing question. Edward prayed that he wouldn't be asked about his sexual experiences, because while he was a virgin, Edward didn't want Charlie to find out how narrow his qualifications were for the term.
"I have only the most honorable intentions where Bella is concerned, sir," Edward reiterated when Charlie remained silent.
"Well, Edward. We've talked about you, what you do, what your plans are," Charlie sat up straight and rubbed his hands together. "I just have one more question for you: why should I allow you to court my daughter?"
Edward thought briefly as he considered an answer that wouldn't sound trite or arrogant, but one that would do Bella justice.
But he couldn't think of anything to say. His mind was blank.
Looking down at his hands, Edward finally spoke, knowing that Charlie's decision depended on his answer.
"Sir, I can't imagine what it would be like to love, nurture and teach a daughter from birth, and then have some man sit before you and try to qualify himself as worthy to be in her life," Edward paused, already hating his answer and not being able to take it back. "Bella is the epitome of what any Cannabean man could hope to encounter, if only to know what kind of woman was truly intended for man. She's kind and giving, respectful and reverent; even when she thinks no one is watching... And, sir, I will expire my last breath striving to be the man worthy of that."
A deafening silence followed Edward's words, and neither man looked at the other.
"Well…thank you, Edward." Charlie stood abruptly and held out his hand for Edward to shake.
Edward accepted it, but he didn't make eye contact. The abruptness of Charlie's departure signaled to him that he'd blown it with his answer.
He hadn't said Bella was beautiful. Every father thought his daughter was beautiful so why would he be expected to turn her over to someone who didn't proclaim her beauty as well?
"Um…of course. Thank you…for your time," Edward said as he stood and ran his hands nervously through his hair.
After all that, and now it was over. He had been so close and his premature answer to a question of great magnitude had caused the perfect woman to slip through his fingers.
"Edward?" Charlie stopped in the doorway.
"I have to get to work, but we'll talk later to discuss the details, but Bella will be available to have supper with your family on Sunday."
Edward looked up to see the inconsequential smirk on Charlie's face. He'd made Edward sweat, intentionally, and from the looks of it, he'd enjoyed every minute of it.
"Sir?" Edward asked, for fear that if he asked the full question, he'd find out that he was mistaken.
"Oh, and another thing, if you're going to be courting my daughter, you're going to have to agree to call me Charlie. Sir makes me feel old."
Edward was speechless and he shook Charlie's hand once again and watched him exit thorough the front door.
Edward's admin looked at him in puzzlement as he wordlessly walked to his office, an eager grin on his face, and shut the door behind him.
It was official. The courtship was granted. And thank goodness for that, because the only thing Edward could think of was when he would get to be in Bella's company again.
*As mentioned in a previous chapter, Amos Bradley is the author of The Cannabean Handbook – a book that strict Cannabeans follow literally.