Title: The Reluctant Bridesmaid
Pairing(s): All Cannon
Disclaimer: Twilight's Characters belong to Stephenie Meyers. I'm just borrowing
Summary: A disaster at sea, a family's secrets and unspoken vows. How much sacrifice should one woman endure?
Submitted for the 100 Pictures—An Anon Fanfic Competition
Please check out the other entries here: http:/www(dot)fanfiction(dot)net/community/100_Pictures_An_Anon_Fanfic_Competition_Entries/83603/
The Reluctant Bridesmaid
The inauspicious date of Friday the 13th could not be more laden with remorse. On that date I was fated to act as maid – brides-maid as a fact and bear witness to the end of my life.
The nails in the coffin had begun their dance many months hence, on another stormy day in the North Sea. My father and my eldest sister's betrothed had perished in a storm, to the best of our knowledge.
The man, the one I would consent to will my very soul to the scorch of hell for his smile; he was set to wed the one other creature I could never deny; my youngest sister Alice. If I was to believe the scant information my Aunt Jane and Uncle Alex had provided. We only knew that the bridegroom had seen us at market-day and church in the village. He did not live in the village. The exact details of how he had come to agree to the marriage had not been divulged, my aunt deeming it vulgar that we should inquire.
In the weeks since we learned of the loss of the ship "Faire Isle" one horrible event had crested on another. Rosalie was too overcome to make herself useful with practical affairs, she had confessed her fear of being with child to mother's sister Jane and a frantic search for a groom seemed to have sprung overnight. Matter not that the girl was in hysterics over mere kisses, Uncle Alex saw it a path to greater fortune. His machinations as to dower the three of us were at that moment, obscured
So I walked with her to the shore, to mourn our parents, this wedding to take place but a year and a day after our dear mother's death and but six months past the loss of Faire Isle and its more than fair crew.
At first, Alice sat, hair unbound in the wind, staring toward the waves where our father also had made his repose. I lay my head over my arms, succumbing to the weariness that
I could not mount in the presence of others. After a bit, she patted my head, speaking with a cheer I did not expect.
"Bee, I'm not going to carry worry over this any longer. I recall all the stories Mum used to tell us here. She taught us to be brave in any circumstance and to trust our faith in the Almighty, who cares for the sparrows and the birds of the field. I shall love, or endeavor to learn to love what God gives me." She stood and as she did I saw clearly her eyes were bright and her countenance without worry. I held her hand as we returned to the house, Rosalie waiting on the stoop, brush in hand to attend to our tresses.
As the carriage arrived at the church, Aunt Jane veiled Alice and I held her flowers. Rosalie being in mourning, she would sit in the front pew with Aunt Jane while I attended to my sister.
At the appointed time, the doors to the sanctuary opened and as I peered to the altar to identify the groom, I too felt a peace instead of the dread I had carried. Alice always had a knack for knowing when the weather would change, or the supper dishes, perhaps her intuition had served her well again. The groom stood with our barrister's son. He wore a fine set of clothes, well fit and he had kind blue eyes and a wave to his light hair. It was not a bad sight. Alice glowed on Uncle Alex's arm as she was placed into the strangers care with the act of her hand going from Uncle's to his.
I waited, without breath to hear his name.
"I, Jasper Whitlock, take thee Alice Swann, to be my lawfully wedded wife."
I heard no more of the ceremony in my conscious thoughts. I wanted naught but to see her happiness in a fortnight, and then I might keep the ease I found walking up the aisle.
I had only a moment with Alice at the wedding breakfast, really at the conclusion. I had my chair fixed next to Mr. Whitlock's and his full attention was to his bride. The way his face shone gave me pause. Perhaps the Almighty had a kind drop to spare for the orphan maidens of Charles and Renee after all. I helped Alice freshen up as she prepared to leave the house and travel to the accommodations of her husband. It turns out his cousin is our barrister and he was here from his plantation in Virginia, to study English law with his cousins. He confessed to his bride that he had seen her at market and at church on Sunday. He, thru his relatives made inquiries as to whom he could request permission to court, stunned instead to find the situation, and praising divine providence, made the marriage contract based on the happy continence Alice carried whenever she left our home.
Alice had blushed deeply as she confided to me, asking for a fresh pitcher of water and I was only too happy to oblige, eager to be alone with my own thoughts. At the well, I was obscured from sight by the hedge between the porch and the path. As I drew the water, I heard male voices and crunching on the gravel. One bid the other safe journey and I heard the hinges on the door.
I could not help but hear the next words clearly; they were spoken with such conviction.
"Listen to me, hearken hard to my voice. I cannot lie and I think I shall not have a chance to speak again. I want you to love your bride with your whole heart. She who walks to the alter will be willing to give the same to you. It is my heart's desire to see her without pain, and you as well. May God provide mercy but Love your bride!"
I stepped away, never once meeting his eyes, letting his warm comforting scent and the tone of his speech be the memory to carry. If I had seen his face I would be undone. I took a deep breath and carried the pitcher into the house.
I recognized the scent and the sound as belonging to one of the guests that had shaken hands in the swift line of welcome. I confess; I know not the name of my phantom groom. I know his face and eyes, his gaze in contemplation in a borrowed pew, changing each of the half dozen Sundays I have found him in service over the past year. I wondered who spoke, to whom and about whom. Mr. Whitlock was inside, speaking with Uncle, so it would be other suitors, our family making it plain knowledge that seeing each of us married was his project for the balance of the year.
This realization had made me feel like a bonnet in a shop window. I wondered what sets of eyes were making measure of my figure. I was sure to be found lacking, and I decided not to care. I could recall one person, who stood out, and if I went to that place in my memory, my soul would crack and I would rather be a spinster aunt then on display.
Virginia seemed a world away and I wondered if I would but speak to my sister through letters. Time passed and I felt hardened to the world, caring for my sister as she broke under worry and grief. Two more months, and once again, my Uncle announced he's arranged for another set of nuptials. Rosalie seemed to calm at the announcement, as if the loss of the decision made a turn in her head. At the close of the day, as we prepared for bed, she took my hands and sat on the comforter.
"Be, I know I have been a pain the past weeks. I have to confess I have been afraid, afraid of trying to live in case I had lost my love. I believe, I really believe I will find what I really want at the altar next Saturday." She spoke with a smile that stretched from her heart to her face and I faced the fact that my eldest, wise sister may certainly now be mad. It would be a long week.
I awoke that Saturday to an unusually loud and long session of bell tomes, but other than the noise, I could not spare the energy to give it one more thought.
I rode with Aunt Jane and Rosalie in the carriage, the curtains drawn tight. My Uncle was tight lipped and wild eyed as he helped us down from our post and into the vestibule.
In the dim light I could not believe my eyes. My dear Papa stood before me, a bit thin for his cloak, but otherwise hale and vigorous. Rosalie and I grabbed onto him, nearly pulling us all into a heap on the floor.
"Does this mean?" My veiled sister could barely breath out the words. My father nodded in the affirmative and in a blink, Rosalie was righted, ready to bolt down the isle without Father if necessary. I watched thought the opening sanctuary doors as my sister's beloved shook hands with the minister. I did not recognize the scowling almost groom who peered down the path towards me, appraising my gait as if in an auction ring.
The applause, which met the arrival of my father and sister, rose like a sudden wall of joy, surrounding us and protecting the pair. As I turned, I could see the congregation contained the Whitlocks, my sister and her husband beaming as they watched the ceremony. I could not grasp the luck of my siblings. I was sure mine had run its course.
The green gaze I had searched was not to be seen.
As the afternoon wore on, a feeling of dread spread in my chest and I fought it, not wanting to cloud the day. My sisters were happy each enough for 10 lives, and my father home safe to boot. The tale of the adventures that returned Charles and Emmett was a thrill to every ear. I wished it could ease the heavy chill spreading from my heart to my limbs. I climbed the stair, passing the study when I heard the rough voices that confirmed my dread.
"Charles, I am glad you are home, but the contracts been altered twice. I am within my rights to demand satisfaction."
"I've made no decision on the matter, you must take this up with Alex here."
"No, I've been patient"
"No to you sir. I have need of my daughter, a fortnight will not do. I will not finish this for at least a month, maybe two before I consent."
I heard and anguished grumble and a fist pound what I expect to be the large desk. Uncle Alex held the voice of reason.
"What are you thinking? Would you expect to publish the banns and curry a favor with the Reverend without consent?"
I did not rest to hear the close of the conversation or see the participants. I had a few months to convince my father to leave me a reluctant bridesmaid and not fit me for a veil.
Several months hence, I helped my father prepare for a journey to Virginia, and to my sister. She had requested our presence, as her first child was due. Rose and Em were to remain, minding the family firm, father feeling it was in capable hands as the new nameplate read Swann McCarty Ltd. I had not seen James other than in church and market. I asked my father if I should prepare for courting, a conventional practice my sisters had all but abandoned in their betrothals. I could not hide my happiness as he looked into my eyes.
"I do not deem anyone worthy or your attentions, so far. "
Mr. James Abernath, the unsatisfied almost groom, was at the docks, scowling, watching us embark on our costal sail. We went below deck quickly as I did not want to favor him with a wave. I found Virginia and the Whitlock home to be more than welcoming. Jasper did not hold with owning intelligent folks, he employed a few freemen for his household. This set him apart from some, and explained why Alice was insistent we come. At least to my eyes, that was a working explanation.
A few days after our arrival, I sat with Alice, teacup in hand when she decided to "settle up" as she put it, my future affairs. It began with an innocent conversation.
"Do you know there was a fight, almost full fisticuffs, just before my wedding, and Rose's too?"
I sputtered into my Darjeeling, mouth agape at my sister's audacious claim. All I could manage was a strangled cry. Couldn't anything go right in my family?
"Now, don't get in a dither over this. Seems someone thought they had a right to one of us, not specific, but any one and he felt he should fight for our hand."
I looked bleakly at Alice. "So, that answers questions from the study on Rose and Em's day. I'm the one to be his prize, the last of the line."
"Eh, whatever you heard was probably nonsense. I know father wouldn't and Uncle Alex wouldn't dare allow something so crass."
"But you were married quick as a wink and sight unseen – and it was the same for Rosalie"
"Psh, I knew who I was getting, and I was glad of it."
"You knew?" I stared, unsure of my own mind's health. "You. Knew. How? How did you know?"
"How do I know anything that I know and I tell you, the weather on the morrow, the baked chicken you love instead of a dried up roast or the fact Papa would return?"
I stared. "You knew Papa, Papa was alive? I don't understand"
"Bee, dear I didn't know until that afternoon when you and I went to the cliff, I said a prayer for him and Emmett, and you and Rosalie. I just couldn't say a thing about my situation, Then, I just felt happy and peaceful, and I just saw Papa would be back"
"How did you know you would love your husband?"
"Be, I've seen him in my dreams since I was six and we carried the flowers for the Darcy's. I put the crumbs of cake under my pillow. For the following fortnight I dreamed of Jasper."
I was beyond speech. I rose and stood at the windows that looked out onto the road, the lace curtain obscuring my face from the street. I'd often felt that few things touched me; I was the strong one of the girls, Rosalie being the wise and Alice being our warm hostess. Only the loss of my parents had shaken me as much as the realization I had no hope of a happy ending. Father found no one suitable for me. All I knew was a gentleman with vivid green eyes was the focus of my fantasy life, green eyes, and coppery hair in the light of the church window. I felt a tear slip down my cheek.
"Alice, after you and your little one are well. I will let father know I intend to care for his needs as long as necessary. I won't be wed for convention or contract."
"I know. I know who you saw, who stole your heart."
"Alice, I have never courted, nor had divine intervention nor made childish eyes over the garden gate."
"Rosalie fell in love at the gate at 6, true. I fell with an angelic investiture in my dreams if you must, but each of us fell quickly. You did too. With Mr. Cullen"
"You know his name?"
"He knows Jasper. I know not how he knew of you, he's been to Philadelphia, and I think to our town too. He came to dinner and inquired about your propensity. I asked you and Papa to come by the next post. "
"I still don't understand"
"Do you remember the night that Papa rode for the surgeon and I sat with Mama? She watched you and Rose fall asleep on the hearth and then we spoke. She confided she had a bit of sight like me. She also told me she and her brother both fell in love, truly at the blink of an eye. Trust me dear sister, as you always have. So, it's our fate."
"And If I'm brought to the Altar with another?"
"Papa wouldn't dare."
At that moment, father and Jasper came into the entry hall, ending our conversation.
That night I took my sister's advice. She had nary led me astray. I had only met his gaze once, eye to eye. I had looked up as I walked back down the aisle after Matins. I could not avoid those emerald orbs. They inhabited my dreams.
I was taught to pray for others, to pray for the divine will to be accomplished by my hand.
Tonight I prayed for my heart.
Another fortnight passed and Alice's time grew close. The tension in the household had begun to rise and I did my best to lessen the stress where I could. All was for naught as a pair of letters arrived in the morning post. Father's countenance went from fine to purple in the space of three lines on the first, and back to fine as he read the second. He stood up from the breakfast table but before he could speak, Alice piped out loudly.
"Your grandchild will not arrive to a maiden aunt. Bee will be safely married before he arrives."
"He arrives? He? Bee? What in the name of all that is good and merciful are you saying Daughter?"
Jasper rose and kissed Alice on the cheek. "One thing I have learned in marriage to your daughter Sir is never to discount her proclamations, at risk of peril." He smiled as he motioned for them to adjourn to his study.
I felt as bleak as a January dawn. "Safely married? Alice?"
"Now don't fret, Franklin Charles will not be here till Monday next or perhaps early Tuesday…"
"Alice Elizabeth Whitlock!"
" I think naming him after our fathers is perfectly fine. We should see if my gown will suit you…"
"Alice" I tried one more time as a few angry tears escaped the corner of my eyes.
"It's not that awful. It has a lovely bit of embroidery on the sleeves. Do not fret. It is a silly legal misadventure, but Father and Uncle Alex will set things right."
Alice said no more that week, and I was suddenly set, as my sisters before me, to ascend the chapel steps with a mystery. Alice was swept up in readiness for the nuptials while I stayed silent. To my sorrow, I would not have Pastor Gaines or even my friends' support in the narthex. My Father and Alice would do their best to fill the bride's compliment of pews. Vicar Weber's daughter would assist me. I hoped at least she was not too disappointed on her part.
I was glad of just one thing. Alice's veil had been obscure almost to the point of opaque. I would rely on my father to get me to the front, and downcast my eyes for the rest.
As I waited in the vestibule, I was certain this was the Divine Providence alerting me to the fact I should not be fanciful or prideful. I would be a good daughter and do my part to honor my Father's wishes. I do not recall the sound of the organ. I do not recall the flowers I held or the walk on Papa's arm.
I just remember hearing his voice and seeing his bright green eyes as he lifted the lace to kiss me.
Franklin Charles arrived at quarter past midnight on Tuesday, September 16th, 1851.
I never doubted Divine Will or Alice again.
I closed the notebook, noting the leather was old, but well cared for. Edward had stretched out behind me on the couch. The fire was beginning to die down and I noticed he had placed his hand along my hip. All of his touches had been kind and polite. This one was more. It was warm, to all parts of me. It was making me long for something I could not quite understand. I closed my eyes, remembering.
He had met me in French club the first week of classes – I didn't learn his name for several weeks – but he knew mine.
He was around at lunch 4 days out of five, and often dinner too.
He brought me coffee in the dorm lounge when I studied late.
He walked me home after the disastrous Halloween dance.
He, when he learned I was planning to stay on campus for Thanksgiving, asked me to his house, being so much closer and I could just ride with him, and a few others up to the cities. We'd dropped the others off before arriving at his home, I'd met his parents, Carlisle and Esme; and been shown to his sister's room. She was spending the weekend on the coast with her finance's family. After changing into some comfy clothes, Edward had asked me to join him by the fire in the family room and shown me this book.
I read the cover of the book aloud "The Best Love Stories"
"Now do you know why my parents were so glad to meet you?" Edward's voice had a new quality, one I had not heard before, longing.
"Are these your family?" I nodded toward the book on my lap. He propped up his head on his hand and reached around me with the other, tracing the words on the cover with his finger as he spoke.
"Yes, there are six more stories in here. I'd like to write the next one."
"It's a beautiful tale."
"She lived until 1907, she was my great, great, great, great, great grandmother Abigail "Bee" Cullen. We've had an Edward in every generation since. It's our fate."
"Fate, Edward. Is it a bad fate?"
"Not for the past 7 generations."
I stretched out next to him, hugging the volume to my chest. I had one more question.
"Are all the stories like this?"
"Not exactly. They all have a common thread. They all have an Edward and a Bee, and we Cullen men all do the same thing."
"We fall in love at first sight." He swallowed as he spoke, moving his hand to my knee.
He had inherited the green eyes, the beautiful green eyes that looked right into me, into my heart. I knew right then, I'd known but not understood for a while.
He took the book from my chest, and I was able to read the back as he lifted it away to place on the table
I couldn't bear to close my eyes as we kissed. I did not want to miss one bit of the happiness I saw there.
When we had to break to breathe, we sat up and he arranged things so my head rested against his chest, his arms resting comfortably around me as I was listening to his comforting heartbeat, wondering. I swear we are perfect for each other; it was as if he read my mind.
"Edward Carlisle and Beatrice Esmeralda. – Carlisle and Esme - I'm the first to use Edward in a while"
I recognized the painting over the mantle, it was Alice and Abigail.
The Cullen family had it right. I smiled as looked up. "I can't wait to read the next seven stories, because the best love stories – "Are the Ones You Write Yourself.""
11The Reluctant Bridesmaid © 2010