This took a little longer than expected! It's been ready for quite a while, but I wanted to have it thoroughly betaed. Thanks to the girls from Project Team Beta who worked on this chapter; Kathleen, Rebecca, Semo and Melissa!
In this chapter we get to know a little bit more about Edward and his daily life. I hope you like it, and I'll be thrilled if you review and tell me what you think! Feedback really speeds up my flow.
Edward found himself walking around aimlessly yet again, though this time inside the warm comforts of his own home. He had moseyed around for hours, looking at the old paintings that hung in the hallways and listening to music from the sitting room gramophone. The days seemed longer than usual, and he couldn't remember what he used to do to quell the boredom, to make the time seem more worthwhile. He referred to time like that these days, as before and after. The time before he met Bella seemed eternities away, hazy, as if he was another person entirely and was now looking at it through different eyes.
Before, he hadn't seemed to know what life had to offer, what possibilities lay out there. That he could actually enjoy spending time with another person his age was something he hadn't even contemplated, and now t hat he had, it was impossible to take it back and forget that it ever happened. His moments with her had changed his view of life, and nothing would ever be the same.
His view of life before had been content, and he had been resigned to the life he was expected to lead. Even though he fought it in his mind, he knew he would eventually take a wife, and he would give her children and a good home. He would get an education, get a job, take over the mayoral position after his father perhaps, and live well. He had no hope, nothing about his future prospects excited him beyond being something that others had mapped out for him.
And now he knew for certain that none of those things ccould ever happen. He could never marry a lady he had no passion for, when he knew there was a girl like Bella out there, who could intrigue him so with just a couple hours of interaction that it left him shaken to his very core. He and Bella had barely spoken, and he knew so very little about her, and yet it was enough. It had given him the taste of something more. Something he could enjoy, not just endure.
He had to see her again, and this time he would make sure that they had more time together. He wanted to watch her read again, find out which books she liked the most, how many she had read and if she knew his favorites. He wanted her opinion on them all, and was already planning in his mind which ones he would make her read and then discuss with him. He wanted to know if she, too, lost herself in the characters of the books and wished that she were leading another life entirely. With the life she had, he was almost certain that she did. He wondered exactly what fictional life intrigued her the most.
His feet led him to the little first floor study, where he had taken Bella the previous day. He looked at the door hesitantly for just a second before venturing inside. He cringed as he saw the sofa as the memories from the night before came to him. He rubbed his jaw thoughtlessly, where he still could feel the sting from his father's palm.
His parents had not been pleased when they had found the dirt smeared all over the expensive fabric from Bella's dirty gown and shoes. His mother's yelling had woken him up at dawn.
"Edward Anthony Cullen! Edward, you come down here right this second!" she'd yelled, and he had been up off the bed in an instant. In a a panic he threw on the clothes he had worn last night, his heart hammering like a frightened bird's. Had they found out that he had taken a poor girl in with him last night? One of the servants might have seen or heard them; he knew they liked to cause a stir. Edward had been careless and far busier watching Bella than minding his secrecy. Perhaps Bella herself had come back to the house for some reason, oblivious to the rules and appearances of his home. Perhaps they had left traces somehow.
He fled down to the hallway where his mother was standing with her most furious scowl, and he leaned against the railing panting, looking around in a panic for any reason for his mother's anger.
"What is it, Mother?" he asked, only then noticing that she stood in front of an open door. More precisely, the door to the study. Reality crashed in on him as he realized what it was all about. How could he have been so careless? In the stress of getting Bella out of the house and slipping back unnoticed to his room, he had forgotten the mess they had made.
"How, young man, do you explain this?" she seethed and pointed to the ruined sofa. He stared at it wide eyed for several moments, scratching his head while looking for an excuse. His mind was unusually blank, not a single harmless explanation coming to him.
"Why do you think this is my doing? I lay in bed all night, Mother," he finally said.
"Don't you even try to make excuses. I asked Helen about it immediately of course, and she said that all the servants and maids were in their wing all night," his mother said, and he cringed. Helen was the housekeeper, the overseer of all the servants, and it was her job to keep everyone busy and to control the young servants' activities. Also, she had always been unreasonably strict with Edward ever since he was a little boy. It had probably pleased her immensely to say that Edward had to be the guilty one.
"Also," his mother continued, "I cannot remember you getting home before we went to bed last night. What in God's name did you do?"
"Um, it was wet outside and my shoes and pants got dirty. I forgot all about it when I came back, and as I wasn't sleepy yet, I sat down and read a little," he stammered. "I should have remembered that my clothing was dirty, I'm so sorry."
"What is going on here?" the deep and mighty voice of his father filled the room. His large frame occupied the doorway, and he laid a sinister look upon Edward before his eyes trailed to the sofa. Things had deteriorated from there on; his father had always had a problem with his temper, and when Edward saw the protruding vein throbbing upon his forehead, a vein he was a little too familiar with, he knew he was in trouble.
It had been hours, but the large mirror that hung on the study wall told him that his chin was still red and swollen from where his father's palm had made impact, and it stung when he touched it with his fingertips.
Edward sighed and turned away, facing the books and contemplating which one he would pick. His eyes fell upon the book that lay on the floor, forgotten in his hurry to get Bella out safely. His heart jumped a beat when he saw it, and he bent down to pick it up. It seemed to him that a piece of Bella's presence still lay in it, and he clutched it safely to his chest as he sat down, envisioning Bella sitting with the book in the exact same spot. The sofa cushions still smelled heavily of bleach after Helen had scrubbed them mercilessly earlier that day, murmuring curses about Edward under her breath.
His eyes followed the words on the page in front of him, but his mind was elsewhere. He sat shifting through the pages for a few minutes time until he sighed and placed the book on the table beside him. He'd read it too many times and his mind just wandered to places he'd rather not visit rather than focusing on the words in front of him. Instead he pulled another book from the shelves, a crime he hadn't read before, and resumed his previous position. These words were fresh to him, and he was for a while able to submerge himself in the dramatic text.
After reading a few chapters, he put the book away and lay idly on the cushions, watching the dust fly past the light above him. Where the chandelier was fastened to the roof beam, there was a deep cut through the wood that had been made from decades of holding the heavy metal, and he fixed his eyes on it, looking without really seeing it. It wasn't long before it went blurry in the edges and its blackness swallowed up the whole room and everything faded away…
His body seemed light as a feather suddenly, and he was afloat on the cushions like they were the surface of a lake. He could hear the soft cooing of water and a soft breeze through grass, and he knew he wasn't alone in the room.
"What do you think of this dress?" Bella asked as she twirled around on the floor, making the white silk of her dress flare out around her. Its light color seemed to shine like a beacon, bathing the dark room in soft light. She laughed her most thrilling laugh as she sent Edward a shy look over her shoulder.
"It's beautiful," he said in awe, feeling the warmth that radiated from her. He wanted to run to her, lift her up and show her just how beautiful she was, but his body couldn't seem to move from his position on the sofa.
"You think?" she giggled and flew towards him, her feet several inches from the floor. It looked purely magical.
"Absolutely," Edward nodded. "Just like you."
Bella jumped softly, seemingly weightless, over the back of the sofa and hovered in the thin air above him, smiling like the light of the sun down on him. He wished he could reach up and touch her, to run his fingers over her soft, rosy red cheek and tuck her hair behind her ear. She leaned in closer, so close that she was almost touching him, and he yearned for it with his whole being, but when he could nearly feel her skin against his he was abruptly awoken by something soft hitting his head.
"Laying around snoring, are we, huh, lazy boy?" the nasal voice of Helen rung out and woke him fully from his dream. The light that had filled the room so warmly shrank back and he was yet again in the dark, dim study. He could have screamed out in ruthless frustration at the interruption, but he wouldn't give Helen any more reasons to vituperate him, not if he could help it.
"It seems I must have fallen asleep, yes," Edward nodded and sat up to stretch.
"Well, you couldn't have gotten much sleep last night, running around sullying the house and gorging in the kitchen as you were," she huffed. "Anyway, your mama wants you to get dressed up and cleaned before the guests arrive."
"Don't you remember that you are having dinner with some of the families from your father's office today? I expect you to clean up by seven o'clock, or I'll scrub you myself and you know how that goes," Helen said while shaking her stubby finger at him like she always did.
"Yes, I'll be ready," Edward said in defeat.
"I hear that Emma Boyer is coming, you know that pretty redhead that is John Boyer's daughter. She has quite an eye for you."
"What a joy," Edward said with a wide smile as he rose from the sofa and headed out to the hallway, thankful that Helen was not familiar with sarcasm.
As he headed up towards his room, he wondered, not for the first time, why his parents kept a housekeeper that was so rude towards him. None of his friends had to stand up to such nonsense; he knew the oldest sons were always treated like gold in their homes. He'd even heard that his old school friend Charles Harris, who treated his subservients like dirt underneath his sole, often got his servants locked up for whole days if they talked back to him. He even some of his younger cousins in trouble at times. But no, things were rather the other way around in the Cullen household.
Later that night, when the living room was filled with chatter and laughter and rich people, Edward sat in a chair along the wall even more resigned and silent than usual. He watched as people walked around, talking politely to each other about politics and the weather, laughing at jokes that weren't funny and people they didn't really like. The wine they were sipping boldly made their cheeks redden and their voices rise, and it seemed to make the ladies' subtle glances at him less innocent and more predatory. He avoided their eyes at all costs. Eye contact always encouraged them, and he wasn't in the mood for any encouraging tonight, if he ever was.
He was incredibly thankful towards his mother as she called everyone to dinner just as Emma Boyer had worked up the courage to walk up to him, though he knew she'd boil her own hand if she knew she'd interrupted a possible conversation. He was quick to sit down next to his father and a few of his colleagues, and he had to wipe his face with a napkin to hide his smile when he saw the chagrin on Emma's face.
The men were discussing Cuba's rebellion against the Spanish rule, and Edward, who had always been interested in war and rebellions, listened intently. His father, already slightly intoxicated, was saying in a boisterous voice that the sinking of U.S.S. Maine in Havana could not have been a convenient coincidence, and that America should answer to the ridicule. Edward was able to forget his surroundings for a while as they discussed this matter.
"The belief that America should avoid getting involved in other countries is an outdated view," Edward stated. "These other countries are now at our doorstep with their warmongering."
"Edward, why don't you stop that ridicule and play some piano for us? The ladies would like to dance," his mother called out from across the table. Reluctantly he got up to do as she requested, and he heard his mother brag about what a fantastic musician he was. He rolled his eyes as he heard the ladies around her sigh.
He stayed behind the safety of his grand piano for the rest of the night, playing more from his own mind than from the sheet in front of him, as his mind busied itself with thoughts from his dream as the ladies swirled around on the floor.