To Mrs. SWS, thank you for your editing skills. Also to those who are still reading and supporting this, like Theresa R. Lili82, timidvampire, medward.. THANK YOU. lenaweirdodancer your review impelled me to write this chapter, I hope you're still there!
I ran towards Emmett and Rosalie as soon as I spotted them at the arrivals gate. Their flight was delayed and they finally landed at 10 a.m. My dad wasn't coming for the weekend; he rescheduled his flight, delaying it for a couple of days. We expected him to arrive on Monday afternoon. Even though he made some excuses about work, I'd gathered through Jacob that things were moving fast and were getting serious with Sue. I also couldn't overlook the fact that my dad was terrified by the mere thought of crossing paths with my mother. He was terribly disappointed about the entire ordeal, but knowing her like he did, he assumed she could just turn up unannounced. Thankfully, she didn't.
"Emmett!" I said with a surge of emotion I didn't know I still had in me. He embraced me tightly, like he used to. It took us a while to disentangle from each other; Rosalie and Edward had already run out of pleasantries when I shifted my attention to them. I greeted Rosalie with a somewhat timid hug in comparison to the one I gave my brother.
"How was your flight here?" I asked eventually when I got my voice back.
"Even flying first class it was a little tiresome. It still took us nearly a full day to get here… Looking at you made it almost worth it…"
"Almost," Rosalie agreed.
Emmett then turned his attention to Edward for the first time, and seemed a little taken aback by his presence.
"Em, you remember Edward…" I stuttered as I watched him transform into the overbearingly protective brother I knew he could be.
"Well, yes. I'm just surprised to see him here," he told me accusingly.
Edward looked at me expectantly, gauging my reaction, before he spoke calculatedly.
"Well, I thought it would be polite to come with my girlfriend to the airport to meet her family. I wouldn't want them to think that I´m uncaring."
And there it was: a new accusation.
"We wouldn't…" Rosalie answered quickly. "But it was really nice of you. So what plans do you have for us while we're here?" Just like that, she entrapped Edward in conversation as we led the way to the cars.
"Boyfriend?! Are you serious about him?" Emmett asked, unable to hide his surprise.
Edward must have heard the question, because he turned his head, letting me know he was clearly paying attention.
"Maybe it's not the time to talk about this," Emmett said, sensing my discomfort.
"Why don't you both go with John and I'll drive with Rosalie?" Edward suggested.
We took his offer gladly. I needed some time alone with my brother.
"Thank you, Edward," I whispered only for him to hear as I tilted my head for a quick kiss. He smiled with mischief, kissed me back for a lot longer than necessary, and walked away.
"I'm so glad you came," I said after ten minutes of silence.
"Me too," he answered roughly. "Rose called mom. She didn't pick up the phone or return her call."
"She's all right, Em."
"Did you really give her money to stay away from you? From us?" he added begrudgingly.
"Let's not fight like we did over the phone. Will you please let me explain?" I urged and he finally listened to me. I told him everything from the beginning: the house and the car I bought her, the initial allowance, her surprise trip to England and the interview that came as the breaking point to me. He already knew most of it, but he let me tell everything again without interruptions. His silence was worrisome, but after a while he regained his voice.
"I'm sorry I lashed out at you the way I did. It just felt so wrong!" he exhaled raggedly. "I'm really sorry… To be perfectly honest with you, after the shock wore off, I was actually relieved that you managed to get her out of our lives. I just couldn't cope with the guilt that came from that. You were always this kind of invisible glue in our family that always managed somehow to get us back together. When all of this happened, a part of me feared you might give up on all of us."
"Em, I would never…"
"I know," he said interrupting me abruptly. "Rosalie made me see that." He paused for a while before continuing. "I've done well for myself, haven't I? She's nothing like our mother," he whispered almost with reverence for his wife.
"No, she's not. Why would she be?" I agreed.
"I was lucky to find a woman with a heart that matches her beauty. And she's so strong! I really strayed from the female example mom set at home," he added, deep in thought. "You, on the other hand, had a terrific male role model. I think you should find someone more like dad - someone you could rely upon, someone trustworthy and…"
"Are we talking about boys now?" I cut him off, trying to sound as nonchalant as possible.
"This Edward, he's a little… conceited, isn't he?"
"I thought you liked him…" I said defensively, still attempting to sound casual.
"Talking about sports and videogames once or twice isn't the same as liking. I feel indebted to him because he saved your life. That isn't something I could ever forget, but I have to be sure that you don't feel like you owe him something, because you don't."
"He's not with me to collect some sort of debt." Surprisingly my words rang very true as I said them out loud - even though I still failed to see the reasoning for all the madness in our relationship.
"Well, this is new. So you two are in a serious monogamous relationship?" he asked, incredulous.
"Well, it's complicated." I diverted a little hurt, still feeling insecure about anything that concerned Edward.
"Not from my point of view. Is he still seeing other girls?" I looked at him horrified. "What? You think I don't read the news?"
"It's not that. I just don't know how I feel about him. He's everything I thought I hated in a man and yet I feel this pull towards him. I'm old enough to know better, that I shouldn't be attracted to the bad boy. That being said, I'm not deluding myself into thinking that I'll miraculously change him and his ways."
"You have feelings for him."
"Against my better judgment, I do."
"Maybe he's not so bad," my brother threw in unhelpfully. He frowned, clearly worried, but said no more.
That car ride was enough to reconnect with my brother and it was like there was one less cloud in the stormy sky. I awkwardly changed the subject to something lighter and after a few minutes the conversation started flowing without effort, like it used to. He talked about his job and his prospects for a promotion and eventually let slip that he and Rosalie would be expanding their family in the near future. After I prodded him for information he conceded that she was twelve weeks along; he was so proud and happy that he just couldn't hold it back anymore. Their life in Australia was really everything he could have ever wished for. Reading between the lines, I understood this as him also saying, "I love you, but don't even think about asking me to move to be close to you, because I'm extremely happy where I am right now!"
"This house is exquisite and the view is just breathtaking!" Rosalie gushed as she looked across the window towards the lake. It was unusually sunny and the window faced west, where the sun was setting. The light gave her that ethereal beauty you always expect to see in a pregnant woman but so seldom do.
"Emmett told me about the good news," I told her after ensuring he was out of hearing range. She blushed a little, but smiled that beautiful and pure smile I've rarely seen coming from her.
"I'm ready, you know? To move on with our lives. The prospect of being parents really put everything in the right perspective for us."
"You're saying that because you didn't see me throw up every time they tried to serve something resembling food during our flight," she teased.
"I've apologized to Emmett, but I have to try to make amends with you too. I'm sorry about going completely berserk with my mom, even more so now. I don't want to deprive this baby from knowing his or her grandmother."
"In the long run you've probably done Emmett and your dad a favor, regardless of the heartache it caused. I know this might seem harsh, but to be honest, I'm not sure I want your mother around as an example for my kids."
"She'll probably have a fit when she realizes she's about to be a grandmother," I chuckled because I knew my mother too well. "Maybe one day she'll come to her senses."
"But could you ever trust her again?" Rosalie asked earnestly.
"No." I answered without hesitation. "I don't think I can."
"Don't worry yourself too much about it. It's done now and that's all there is to it." There was a pause and she looked outside again. "I don't mean to pry, but can I ask you something?"
"You and Edward, it's getting serious isn't it?"
"Have you been talking to Emmett?!"
"Well, I have. But that's not why I'm asking you this. I've talked to your boyfriend today, you know."
"You have talked to him before, quite regularly considering you manage the advertising campaign of the a.m. in Australia."
"I've never talked to him about personal affairs. Regardless of my prior opinion about him, I can see now he really likes you. I wasn't expecting that. We had a very enlightening talk on our way here."
"He poured his heart out to you?" I teased.
"I wouldn't go that far, but I think I'm warming to the fact that he might be my future brother-in-law."
That remark caught me completely off guard. She smiled apologetically, realizing my discomfort and moved on to different subjects as I showed her again where her bedroom was.
"Everything is so opulent here; I feel like I shouldn't even consider touching let alone using any of this."
"Don't fret about that. I hope you really enjoy your stay. You think this is opulent because you haven't seen Edward's palace in London. I believe Henry did a great deal to modernize this place. One of the things Greta did when I inherited this estate was to make a complete inventory of its contents. Most of the things that were considered priceless and irreplaceable were securely stored."
"Most of the things?! What about the rest?"
"Maybe they are meant to be used and enjoyed while they last."
Her eyes glistened at the double entendre, but she said no more.
"Will you be staying for dinner?" I asked Edward, who was sitting, facing the fireplace in the library. He seemed deep in thought and turned abruptly, clearly surprised to see me.
"Do I need a formal invitation to stay?"
"No, you don't. I didn't mean to make it sound like that. It's just that I didn't know if you had any plans with your family."
He turned back around in his seat, somewhat sulkily and didn't reply.
"This is new to me, you know?" he said after a while.
"I'm sorry. There's a part of me that believes you'll never break. Maybe that's part of the charm."
"Or maybe that's the problem." His green eyes focused on mine, searching for a second before he stood up. "I think I'm going to leave you with your family and not impose myself any longer."
He briefly kissed me on the cheek and walked away.
"Edward, please. Stay." He stopped, but didn't turn around immediately. "I want you to stay and get to know my family. My brother will warm up to you and whatever you said to Rose on your way here was very effective. I believe you have an ally in her for life."
"I just told her the truth: that for some twisted reason of fate I really love you, even though you're making me miserable. Maybe I deserve everything you're throwing at me, but I still have to ask: what the hell are you doing to me? To us?! To yourself?! We've talked about this before and you didn't listen to reason then, but maybe now, with your family here you can feel that it's right, that you belong here. This is your home now. Move to England. Your life is here now, with me."
"It's just too soon!"
"But one day it might be too late!"
"Is this an ultimatum?"
"No, it's the truth. You're the one who says we should take some time to get to know each other. With the present state of things, tell me, how am I supposed to do that if you put an entire ocean between us? Bloody hell, Isabella! Something's got to give!"
"I didn't know you felt like that…" I told him, exasperated. But it was a lie. He'd been pressing on that matter for a while.
"How could you not? I've been nothing but transparent to you over the last weeks."
"That's the point; we've been together for a few weeks! We've only met in December and we were apart for nearly three months."
"That was a misunderstanding. We've talked about that. But we can skip all arguments and go straight to the crux of the matter; you haven't forgiven me. Maybe we should consider the possibility that maybe you can't."
"I forgave you, but I haven't forgotten. Only time can help me and that's what I'm asking for!"
"Time to do what?"
"I don't want you to think! If we take into consideration all the crazy and unbelievable things that have happened, we don't stand a chance. Do you think it's easy for me? Any of this? But you know what? Once I decided that I could put that behind me - which before you start arguing, I have - I've never let you down. I've never questioned you again. And unlike everyone else, I have stopped questioning why you were chosen to be Henry More's heir. Can you do the same for me and give me the benefit of doubt? You push and pull; you're lonely and then you need space - all in the same bloody day! How am I supposed to keep up? So, no, I don't want you to think. I believe that maybe, just maybe, after everything we've been through, we have strong feelings and a connection that overcome the rest. That's got to be worth something. To hell with everything else!"
I was speechless. I've never imagined he could be so… well eloquent.
"So please, make a decision. What am I to you?" he asked darkly.
"What happened to being casual?" I evaded the question.
"You don't want casual, but you're afraid to try for more! I'll ask you just once more – what am I to you?"
Honestly I was taken by surprise. We were ok in the morning, sort of. At least that's what I thought. I had avoided any direct confrontation for the past couple of weeks. I felt like screaming because everyone was pressing and pushing and making demands, but I also knew that I should stop feeling sorry for myself. He deserved an answer. So what did I want from him?
"Honestly?" I said after pondering for a while.
"Please." And his eyes were pleading and vulnerable in a way I never imagined possible.
"I just know I need you in my life, and maybe it's selfish, but I want you to love me. Unconditionally." There, I said it!
"I do. God, I do! Believe me, I do!" He reiterated, sensing my disbelief. "Why do you think you need me? Why do you feel like you need my love?" He smiled gloriously before he concluded. "You, Isabella Swan, are in love with me." And just like that he went back to his usual self, so confident it was unnerving. Well, I didn't know how to argue back, because a part of me knew he was telling the truth. Just that glimpse of frailty in him was enough to help take my defenses down.
"Are you trying to manipulate me, Your Grace?"
"It's not manipulation if the subject is aware of the game," he replied, very pleased with himself. "Deep down I know you believe me. Now, who's hiding behind technicalities? And by the way, I'm sleeping over. I already called Alice for a change of clothes."
"Might as well invite her to dinner."
"Well, I wouldn't like to become too overbearing…"
"You love me."
And he kissed me deeply, fisting my hair tight to hold me in place, staking a claim.
Later that day, Alice came over to dinner and so did my uncle. He was delighted to meet Emmett and promised Rosalie that they could count on him to christen the baby. A lot of speculation went on about the baby's gender and so on, and everyone shared their hopes and well wishes with the expecting couple for the near future. My mother's absence was noted like a cold breeze that finds you between a door's cracks, but we still felt content. Edward was charming, lively, and playful until he said, "American football is Rugby for sissies!" and that was it, The boys got so lost in their argument, nothing managed to divert their attentions – not talks about pretty, unborn babies or even dessert. Unfortunately for Emmett, my uncle shared Edward's opinion and they ended up scheduling a game on Tuesday morning.
"I'll call my mates," Edward said, anxious for the opportunity to release some steam.
"Pretty boy, you don't stand a chance! Bring it on. Might as well bring a pen and pad to take some notes!"
"Really!? You actually want me to record the time and date you've cried like a girl? You want to show it to your kid and teach him that it's ok to be sensible and that men are allowed to cry?"
"Really, Edward?" I said, finally calling his attention to me.
"What?" he asked perplexed.
"It might be a girl…" Rosalie pointed out.
"What?" Emmett was incredulous that she dared make such a suggestion.
After Alice and my uncle left and everyone went to sleep I lingered in the library, trying to focus on a presentation I had to make in a couple of weeks.
"Are you coming to bed or what?" Edward asked, embracing me, wearing nothing but his black pajama pants.
"Were you walking around the house like that?"
"I was hoping to tempt you to come to bed," he said, pulling me onto his lap.
"Have you been working out?" I asked while I rested my head in the crook of his neck. He had always been lean, but I thought his muscles were more defined.
"Not enough…" he answered while drawing random soft, butterfly patterns with his fingers over my back. His touch was so soothing and I was so tired…
The next morning I woke up in my bed. Edward, who was beginning to stir by my side, must have carried me back to our room.
"Good morning," he said lazily.
"Hey, you. I don't remember you carrying me back here."
"You fell asleep nearly instantly, I thought you had passed out."
"And right after the most satisfying epiphany…" he added coarsely.
I hid my face against his arm while he embraced me, trying not to give much away. He thought I loved him. I didn't, did I? Could I? I still felt no compelling urge to answer this question.
"I know you're not ready to say it. I'm trying to be understanding and patient, but I am actually hopeful that everything will be just fine. Don't ruin that just yet," he said, rolling over me.
"Who are you and what have you done with Edward Cullen?"
"No, the question is, 'what are you doing to Edward More Cullen?'" he asked before he bit my lip a little forcefully. "Don't worry. I'm still the same old Edward. The difference is that somehow you entered the very select group of people I'm actually fond of. The good news is, now that you're in it, it's unlikely that you'll ever get out. The bad news is that I don't ever intend to let you out."
That's a little unsettling…
"Let's go. You have to make yourself presentable. We're having breakfast with my family."
"I don't remember agreeing to that…"
"I gathered you wanted to spend the day with your family, but they'll probably sleep in for most of the morning. Keep in mind that they made a substantially longer flight and Rosalie is pregnant. Besides, Madeline will be there, so I think Alice would appreciate our company."
"I was hoping to continue working on my presentation…"
"Later," he said kissing me.
"You brought her!" Alice said before sighing in relief when she saw me entering the bright kitchen.
"I didn't know you could cook," I said, bemused, as I skirted the kitchen island to hug her.
Her hands were sticky with dough and she had a little bit of flour on her forehead.
"Therapy." That explained it.
"What are you making?"
"Brioche. Edward loves it."
"Ali, shouldn't you have done this yesterday so it could be eaten today?" he asked, amused.
"Kneading, great therapy…" she repeated again.
"Are you okay?" Edward asked, puzzled.
"Now that you're both here, yes."
"Mandy is driving you crazy, isn't she?" I asked, hinting at our joke on Madeline.
"You can say that… That Molly is really something… capable of driving a saint to commit murder…"Alice was kneading the dough vigorously.
"What are you two talking about? By the way, I'm not eating that..."
"Edward, no one said you could," Alice answered bitterly.
"You were happy thirty seconds ago, Ali, what's going on? Who's Molly?"
"I think I should go wash up," she huffed, leaving her project unfinished.
I stared at Edward for a while, dumfounded.
"I'll go to her."
"Thanks," Edward said while squeezing my hand.
I followed hastily after her, climbing up the stairs two at a time, nearly crashing into Jasper in the process.
"Excuse me. I wasn't paying attention where I was going." I moved to continue up the stairs, but he held me by the arm, restraining me.
"What are you doing? Let me go!" I hissed and he immediately released me.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to grab you like that. Did I hurt you?"
"No, I'm fine."
"I was hoping I could find you alone. I need to talk to you," he demanded quietly, "in private."
"It's important," he pressed.
"I'm not sure I'm comfortable with this."
"Can I meet you at More Park? Sometime when Edward is not around?"
"You can, I just don't see the point."
"I'll see you downstairs."
He continued on his way like nothing happened and I was stuck for a few seconds before I found out again how to use my limbs to move. That family was really something else.
"What happened, Ali?" I asked after a timid 'come in' was heard behind the bathroom door.
"I've seen them together yesterday, by the Jacuzzi."
I looked at her puzzled so she enlightened me. "When I got home last night after dinner at your place, I saw them, by the pool, in the Jacuzzi, together."
"Jasper was thoroughly fucking Madeline, in the Jacuzzi, by the pool…"
"Together, I've gathered that now."
"How dare he!?"
"Alice, they're engaged. I know how hard it must be for you, but I thought you were moving on."
"I'm not. Bella, I'm not. I was petrified and she saw me. I know she did, but she kept going and going. And he grunted like a pig in the end, when he… when he… when he finished."
"Oh God, Ali, I'm so sorry… but maybe it was for the best. Maybe seeing that was the eye opener you needed to move on."
"Maybe that's why he doesn't want me," she mused, "because I could never do that to a man… I mean, I can't even kiss Seth properly! And he's so sweet, but I don't love him the way I love…" she stopped abruptly and sobbed bitterly.
"Alice, that's not why and you know that. There's nothing wrong with you. It's just that there are some… cultural impediments. To the rest of the world a relationship between you two would be seen as incestuous somehow… I fear that might tear you and your family apart."
"You sound like Edward. Don't you think he's given me this lecture before? Can you not judge me for a second?" she screeched.
"I'm not judging. I'm merely stating the obvious. We've talked about this; it's not good for you. For all we know he really sees you like a little sister." Even though I'm not so sure of that anymore. "Why didn't you just walk away? He's a creep! You deserve better! Better than this whole mess and better than him actually. Honestly, even if he wasn't your stepdad's son, I would still advise you to stay away from him."
"The same way you managed to stay away from Edward?!" She was resurfacing the Tanya incident in Australia. I closed my eyes, trying to suppress that memory and shuddered. I knew Alice was just lashing out, but she had a point. What was it with these brothers? They needed to be psychoanalyzed; seriously, they demeaned women.
Edward never did that to you. Did he?
"Don't do this Alice."
"I'm sorry. You know I envy you, right? My brother was the ultimate bad boy, the prime flower of aristocracy. He was arrogant, conceited, disdainful, uncaring, ruthless, and I could go on and on. His only redeeming quality was his sense of family unit and his love for me. He made Jasper look like a little lamb, and in some aspects I'm pretty sure he still does, but when he's with you he's different somehow. There's more to him. He should hate you, but instead he loves you. If he's able to feel that kind of unselfish love, then why isn't Jasper? Am I that unworthy?!" She stopped, breathing heavily, before whispering, "The worst part is, the selfish part of me would give up anything for a chance to be with him."
That felt like a blow to my stomach.
"I didn't know you still felt that strongly. What about Seth? I thought you were doing fine."
"I like Seth, but I can't force myself to love him. I thought I could, but after last night, I know I can't."
"Is he aware of that?" I questioned. I was pretty sure he was falling in love with her over these past few months.
"No, and I hate myself even more for that," she sobbed.
She cried convulsively for over half an hour, completely helpless, as I tried to sooth her, embracing her awkwardly, kneeling in the cold bathroom floor. She looked so frail, so damaged, so young.
She eventually quieted down, mumbling incoherent words and disconnected thoughts, and later stopped talking altogether. Her breathing was fast and shallow and her eyes were closed. It was clear to me that she was making up her mind about something.
"I'm going to tell him," she said hoarsely. "I need to tell him. He needs to know before he marries her. And I need him to tell me that he never noticed me as a woman, that I'm truly like a sister to him and that my feelings disgust him. That's the only way this spell can be broken. That'll make me stay away for good."
"Are you sure you want to do that?" I didn't know how to reason with that. I feared that conversation and its repercussions. Without realizing, I began hyperventilating, thinking I couldn't betray my friend, but knowing that remaining a bystander could represent a catastrophe of epic proportions. And then I remembered that Jasper wanted to talk to me. It had to be about Alice, what else could he possibly want to talk about?
"Let's go. I'm all right now that I've made up my mind," Alice said after composing herself and applying some make up. She looked again to the mirror and frowned a little. "That'll have to do." Her eyes were puffy from crying, but there was a spark in them that made all the difference in the world. Determination.
"Bella, how's your Residency coming along?" Carlisle asked breaking a very uncomfortable silence.
"Everything is going just fine," I replied politely. "I'm a little tired, but I expected as much," I smiled.
"More so in your case," Edward accused. "Dad, Bella and I have been talking lately, and I was hoping she could transfer here. Do you think it could be troublesome?"
"Really?" he asked clearly surprised. Esme, who was sitting across from me, frowned, worried. That didn't go by unnoticed by Edward.
"I don't think it presents much of a problem. I could talk to some friends who are more knowledgeable of the legislation, but I've had American residents before, so it mustn't be too hard."
"I'm sure Bella doesn't want you to meddle in her life like that, Carlisle, Edward," Esme interjected.
"It's fine." I was still trying to wrap my head around Edward's new tactic when my musings were interrupted.
"I thought you didn't like the weather," Madeline said quietly, remembering my previous words.
"She doesn't," Edward cut in, "but I must insist upon having her here."
"I never thought I'd see the day. You're really infatuated!" Madeline chuckled humorlessly. "Isabella, you must share how you did it. So many have tried before you and no one succeeded, not even Tanya."
"Madeline, I don't think that's appropriate," Carlisle intervened with a soft but commanding tone.
"But it is a delight to see. Even I have to admit that Dr. Swan has billions of qualities that make her quite attractive, especially to Edward." Madeline completed victoriously.
"I've had enough, Madeline." Edward said with a lethal tone. "If it weren't for the fact that you're my brother's fiancée I wouldn't dream of sharing a meal with you. I'm terribly crossed by your words and I won't tolerate them. I'm not a teenager infatuated by a pretty, rich girl. I'm someone who has lived and seen a lot. And before you say anything, yes, I experienced all of the worldly pleasures that were offered to me. You know that from your own experience. I'm not virtuous, but never claimed to be. I'm a man. Do you see this woman by my side?" he asked, looking around at everyone, but pointing at me. "I'm not letting her go, so I demand you to be respectful. Let me warn you, for the last time, I will not tolerate another session of this nonsense. Bella must be making me lose my edge because I highly doubt you'd dream to cross the line like that a few months ago, but don't fool yourself."
He said the last words in a staccato, assuring that they didn't go unnoticed by anyone, and an uncomfortable silence followed. Esme was pale, Madeline even paler, looking at Jasper for some sort of defense, but he was flabbergasted, glued to his seat, and apparently couldn't utter a single word. Carlisle's expression was unreadable. I didn't know where he stood when it came to his son's marriage. He was a very intelligent man so I expected some opposition, but he was calm as ever and steadily continued his meal.
"I think that pretty much covers our feelings about this. Behavior such as this is unacceptable in our society," Alice concurred with a touch of superiority unseen in her, and no one spoke after that.
As soon as I thought it was safe, I removed my napkin carefully from my lap, excused myself from the table, and got up. The last thing that I wanted was to commit some etiquette faux pas. All the men followed me in an act of chivalry that I still wasn't completely used to. Apparently you could be as snide as you wanted as long as you remembered your manners.
"I'm sorry, dear. I can't imagine what must you think of us," Esme said, getting up along with the men. "Please stay for lunch."
"Thank you, but I'm already otherwise engaged."
"Her family is visiting," Alice completed. "Bella actually invited me for lunch and I accepted. Oh dear, I just realized I forgot to tell you."
"We´re both having lunch at More Park." Edward said.
Esme seemed annoyed but remained silent. I didn't invite them, but that didn't seem to cross their minds. Part of me was hoping to spend some quality time alone with my family, but if things were to work out between us, I'd just have to give him a chance, and I couldn't blame him for not wanting to stay at home.
The rest of the morning was pretty uneventful. We went to mass, had a nice, informal lunch, much to Alice's joy, who still found everything normal families did a novelty. Edward was a little uncomfortable in the beginning, especially because Emmett seized every opportunity to point out how aloof Edward was from his own reality. But I have to admit, he did all right, even though I was certain that he could never do 'normal' on a daily basis.
Since it was an unusually warm afternoon, we enjoyed a nice walk in the Park. Edward knew the property better than me, so he was the perfect guide. Rosalie was clearly overwhelmed, and kept asking, "have you seen this?"
"Have you imagined my little nephew or niece running around wild in these gardens?" I asked my brother and he beamed at me with his lovely smile, really proud of himself.
"On a scale of one to ten, how tacky is it if I take you to the maze?" Edward inquired as we were headed back to the house.
"I'd say about a nine," I laughed. "And the sun is setting soon."
"Where's your sense of adventure?" he provoked.
"I had breakfast with your family. That's enough of adventure for a month."
"I'm really sorry about that. I never got to apologize," he said, holding my hand. "Even my mom wasn't her usual self today."
"Yes, I noticed that. It seemed that she resented me somehow. I don't think I did something to offend her, did I?"
"Not really…" His answer was vague.
"This is really tacky, Edward." I said as we entered the narrow bushy corridor, but he ignored me and kept a steady pace through the maze. I placed my hand on the wall, feeling the leafy texture beneath my hands, which was deceitfully soft, like the man guiding me. I heard in some documentary that these mazes were basically formed from one continuous wall, so if the entrance is connected to the wall around the goal, then I would be fine if I kept my hand in touch with the wall along the way.
"You're falling behind, Bella," Edward said, amused, "I won't let you get lost. Trust me." He walked back and hugged me tight, spinning me in the air and placing a sloppy kiss on my mouth.
I realized once my feet touched the ground that my hand left the wall and panicked a little. I'm somewhat claustrophobic.
"That won't work here," he said pulling me by the hand. "This isn't a simple-connected maze, it's multiply-connected." I looked at him puzzled, but he explained.
"Henry More was a very… intriguing man. For some reason, he was an enthusiast of mazes, not labyrinths, he'd say."
"And why is that?" I asked bemused and extremely surprised that he was sharing any sort of information about Henry that wasn't judgmental somehow.
"Well, traditionally a labyrinth has only one right path from the entrance to the goal, usually the right one is the most complex and tortuous, where as a maze must have different choices along the way towards the same goal. Labyrinths are particularly used for religious purposes, symbolizing a sort of pilgrimage pathway. The most famous example is the Notre Dame des Chartres, a gothic cathedral in France. But its use can be tracked to Neolithic art, thousands of years ago, and you have many examples of it from England to India throughout the centuries. But I'm rambling… So, initially this was a simple-connected one; it was originally designed in the late 19th century, but twenty years ago the late Duke of Vidal, Henry More, had the old one removed and had this one planted instead."
"And you don't agree with that."
"Not at all; he did superb work on these grounds. As I saying, these walls are exactly two and a half meters everywhere, and it's a lot more intricate than its predecessor. Henry only kept the central glade and the original fountain. I grew up running around here, so I'm pretty confident I know every path in this maze. Some of them have delightful checkpoints along the way, others are narrow and have obstacles, but usually are shorter and quicker to the point, with one exception, of course."
"Of course," I agreed. "Which one are you showing me?"
It was getting dark, almost twilight, when we took a right turn. And then I saw them: several humanoid figures placed in different positions along the way, but all faced away from where we stood. As we walked along the corridor I noticed the delicate contours of the bronze sculptures.
"These were acquired in the late nineties and were probably the last pieces of artwork that Henry bought."
"They're beautiful, poignant even, despite the fact that they appear emotionless. As a whole these figures seem to constitute something grand," I said as I moved along, "but as you come closer to any of them they seem to just blend into the background, like a shapeless void of some sort. They're really unsettling. What's the artist's name?"
"Magdalena Abakanowicz. She's a Polish artist who lived through the World War II. I believe she's still alive. They were created in the early nineties, I think. Her most famous piece of work is in Chicago, actually. It's called Agora."
"I've seen it. It's in Grant Park! I can see the resemblance now. I find these even more disconcerting than the Agora piece. I'm surprised to find modern art here at the Park."
"These were listed among the properties belonging to More Park. You should have known that. They were actually a good investment…" he mumbled distractedly.
I looked at him, upset because once more, at least indirectly, he was accusing me of being careless with my inheritance. What hurt the most was that he was right. I quickened my pace, wanting to leave the expensive artwork and everything it represented behind me.
"Left or right?" I asked at the end of the corridor, my tone edgy. Edward was languidly following behind.
"Surprise me. It's your choice now."
I hesitated and exhaled loudly.
"I'm sorry," he exhaled as well and grabbed my hand gently. "Please turn back around for a moment and look at it from this perspective." I did as he asked and noticed that the pieces had a whole new dimension from that angle.
"Even though they look void as an individual, the whole is something to behold. And it's so different depending on the perspective you're looking from. Now they're looking at you and they seem like a fierce unit ready to crush you. They're empowered and stand out as a group, but give the impression of being plain, harmless, and even useless individually. The artist grew up in a communist regime so many say that her late artwork expresses and criticizes to some extent that the whole, the group was far more important than the individual. In that regard, I prefer her early works. Never bought any of it though… But looking from here, that's not how I interpret it. For Henry this represented his fears and anxiety towards the end of his life. Not even his billions made him more than a grain of sand in the desert. And then there was you."
I couldn't grasp meaning from the tone he used when he said those last words. I was afraid I'd misinterpret him but just couldn't ask. Still, I marveled not only at the artwork, but at the man next to me. The green in his eyes was barely noticeable; all I could see was the light brown around his irises. It was then I realized, I could look at him from different perspectives as well.
"What I really love about this particular place," he continued eventually, not lowering his teller eyes from mine, "is the ambiguity of it. Isn't that what life really is: a series of ambiguous events, where facts mix with plans and intentions and feelings and become this… amalgam?"
"We're going left."
He smiled and followed.
"So I gather you are a maze, not labyrinth kind of person?"
"Well, a few months ago I'd say you're correct. But right now, I'm not so sure anymore. How about you?" he asked.
I smiled but didn't answer. I felt like my life was an early maze. It might have felt obscure and in fact multifaceted; nevertheless, everything was made from one continuous wall, no matter how many junctions might have been added. I just needed to keep my hand firmly in it and never relent, no matter how hard it was to stay on the right track.