Should I give up or should I just keep chasing pavements
Even if it leads nowhere?
Or would it be a waste even if I knew my place
Sould I leave it there?
Disclaimer: These characters aren't mine, but I do love to play with them. SM owns all. But, you know, respect the parts I added? No copying. ;)
Thank you to Swimom7 and SparklyBabs for pre-reading this and encouraging me to re-post this as its own story. Much love to both of you.
"Ms. Swan," a cool voice called from the doorway.
Bella looked up, startled, and pushed the specialized magnifying glasses up so she could see who was calling her. She blushed immediately when her boss, Lauren Mallory, came into proper focus. Ms. Mallory looked impatient; her lips were tight and she was tapping her foot.
"Oh! Ms. Mallory!" Bella cried nervously. "I'm sorry. I was just going over the documents you left with me."
Bella gestured to the yellowing papers on the table. The bright overhead lights as well as the strange backlit table made them glow. Bella just stopped herself from caressing the documents with her gloved hands lovingly.
"And?" Lauren asked. "What do you have?"
"Well," Bella said as she leaned over the table, her voice high with excitement. "They appear to be authentic letters from the seventeenth century. Here," Bella pulled the glasses down over her eyes and motioned for Lauren to come over. She sighed when the woman stayed rooted to her spot but bent over her work, continuing her explanation. "There are indicators in the ink here – and here – that show us it was likely plant based and of the variety we would expect to find from that time period in England."
"But are they from the family we're searching for?"
Lauren's insistent voice grated on Bella's nerves, but she swallowed her frustration and simply shrugged her shoulders.
"With the bottom halves of the letters missing or destroyed, it's nearly impossible to determine who wrote the letters."
"Anything else?" Lauren asked with a sneer.
"The letters make mention of a woman named Esme. I don't know if that means anything to you?"
Suddenly, Lauren's face spread in a smile for the first time since Bella began working on the woman's documents.
"That's … that's very good," she said. "Esme is one of the names associated with the Cullen clan. Yes, this is very good indeed. Mr. Masen will be pleased."
"I must caution you, Ms. Mallory, that the name Esme is not uncommon for this time period. It's possible we've hit upon nothing more than a remarkable coincidence."
"Oh, but we are so close," Lauren cooed at her, finally entering her workspace. "I know it is in your nature to be cautious and careful—it's why I pay you so well—but let us just, for now, revel in a partial victory, shall we?"
Bella removed the glasses and smiled at the eccentric woman.
"Who is this Mr. Masen that you spoke of?"
"He is my connection in England," the older woman cooed. "He is a private man; there is no need to go into detail."
Bella was used to her boss's secrecy. She thought it made Lauren feel more important to have secrets to hide from others and she didn't press her on details.
"So … what now? Are there more documents that you wish me to examine for you?"
"Yes, indeed there are. Bella, I'd like you to go home early and pack yourself a bag. You'll be traveling tomorrow."
"Traveling? To where? What do you mean?"
Bella didn't enjoy surprises. In fact, as a rule, she despised them. She'd risen out of her chair in her agitation and now stood towering above Lauren.
"Hush, my dear. All of your expenses will be paid. And really, this is the chance of a lifetime for you. There are more documents, they just happen to be across the pond. And you are more easily transited than those precious documents, don't you agree?"
Bella didn't like the idea of being "transited" anywhere, but she agreed that she wouldn't want precious documents such as the ones in front of her to be removed from storage and sent on a transatlantic flight. Going to them was definitely the better option.
"I will give you details when you arrive in the morning," Lauren explained, reaching an arm around Bella's shoulders. "I'll likely set you up on the red eye for London tomorrow evening if that is ok with you? I expect you will have all your things in order by then?"
It was phrased as a question; but Bella understood it was a directive, not a question.
Bella left the rare artifacts room of Ms. Mallory's personal library after asking for the morning off to arrange her affairs. Jake would need to be taken care of and her dad would have questions. She thought she might be able to kill two birds with one stone, however.
She took Jake to the dog park and then brought him, his bowl and his favorite chewy over to her father's house. Charlie kept a bag of his kibble at the house and Bella thought she'd have better luck talking her father down from his worries if she just showed up at the house with Jake than if she called first. It would give him less time to think up questions.
"Honestly, dad, I'm not sure how long it's going to take," she said again, running her hands through her hair distractedly. "But this is a big opportunity for me. Can't you please take care of Jake for me while I'm gone?"
"I don't mind taking the dog, Bella, it's you I'm worried about. You barely know anything about these people and now you're going to travel halfway across the world for them? I think it's a mistake."
Bella sighed and resisted rolling her eyes. She walked over to the fridge and picked out two cans of beer and handed one to Charlie. He took it grudgingly and looked at her, waiting. He wasn't giving up.
"They're my employers, Ch-dad." She bit her tongue as she tripped over his name. "It's only natural that they would pay my expenses on a business related trip. Besides, I'm going to be doing what I do—looking at old documents. Really, how much trouble could I get into?"
He shuddered at her words and then began laughing as he cracked open the beer.
"This is you, Bells. You might not want to tempt your luck there, baby doll."
She hugged him and sat back in the chair, popping open her own beer. "I'll be fine. I promise you … nothing worse than a paper cut will befall me in the jolly old land of England."
Charlie questioned her for a little over an hour, but finally relented when she stood her ground. She found the more she talked about the impending trip, the more excited she became. The trip meant a brand new group of colleagues and a different set of documents. It could lead to opportunities she hadn't dreamed possible when she was holed up in Lauren's tiny library.
As she packed later that night, deciding what she would need, she began to think about the unknowns. She knew she would at least get the opportunity to do some research at Oxford. If nothing else, that was worth it. She wondered what treasures she would encounter, what secrets the documents might hold for her. And who knew connections she might make? She'd always dreamed of doing extended work in England. Maybe this was her chance.
When she laid her head down on the pillow that night, far too late, she found she was actually excited about trip. Even if nothing came from it, it would be a change from the dull routine her life had fallen into during the past few years.
The flight was rough. There was no other way to describe it. Bella hated flying to begin with, and had a routine to get through it. But even her iPod and her requisite Jameson's before take-off couldn't fix this flight. Turbulence and a loud seatmate kept her up all night so that she arrived with burning eyes and an addled brain. She was thankful no one from the University was meeting her at the airport; she was not in shape for first impressions.
The cab pulled up to the hotel and Bella stepped out of the cab, bleary eyed and ready to make acquaintance with the nearest feather bed. The walls of the building had to be hundreds of years old. Directly in front of her was the weathered face of a stone lion's head, blackened by time and the rain. In her sleep-deprived state, Bella regarded the lion with a loopy smile before nodding her head at it. If a light touch at her elbow hadn't startled her, she might have bid it good day.
"Isabella Swan, I presume?" a smooth, English accented voice addressed her.
Bella turned around and had to look down. In front of her was a bright eyed young woman who stood roughly a head shorter than her. Her eyes were the strangest color of green that Bella had ever seen. In her sleep deprived state, she nearly asked the woman if she was wearing contacts.
"You are Bella Swan, are you not?" the woman asked. "You've come from the States?"
"I'm sorry," Bella replied. "Yes. I'm Bella Swan. And you are?"
"Alice Brandon. I'll be your guide and liaison while you are in Oxfordshire. The lobby's this way."
Alice turned on her heel and marched toward a heavy wooden door. It was shaped like a drawbridge and came complete with iron studded nails in the wood.
"What is this place?" Bella asked, running her fingers over the mossy stone walls.
"This is the Old Parsonage Hotel," Alice said. "It was built in the 17th century. She's quite a gem, wouldn't you agree?"
Alice turned around and flashed a devilish grin at Bella before pulling open the enormous door. When she stepped inside, Bella felt as though she was in another world. The rustic beauty of the mossy stones outside had given way to chic elegance on the inside. Everything was polished mirrors and deep burgundy. Bella thought she might have stepped into the middle of a swank club, not the lobby of a hotel.
Alice got her checked into her room in record time, running through all of the paperwork and details in under ten minutes.
"I assume you'd like some time to freshen up? Perhaps catch a spot of shut eye?"
"Is it that obvious?" Bella asked, grimacing.
Alice nodded kindly.
"You look absolutely dead on your feet," she said. "Go catch a wink of sleep. I will be back in …" she looked down at her watch, "just about three hours to collect you and bring you to the college to meet your fellow researchers."
The room was amazing, but Bella barely noticed it. She was asleep almost immediately and awoke, disoriented, some time later. She looked around the darkened room wildly, trying to remember where she was. The light seemed wrong and the smells were off. Jake wasn't laying on top of her. She knew she definitely wasn't at home.
The flight came back to her slowly. She was in England on business.
"Shit!" she cried, sitting up suddenly.
It shouldn't be this dark. It should be mid-morning. How the hell long have I been sleeping?
She pulled her hair out of her face and squinted across the room to try and see the clock. It wasn't digital so she couldn't see it, but she did see the figure of a woman sitting in a chair watching her. Bella cursed again.
"Hello, Isabella," the woman said.
The voice was vaguely familiar, but Bella couldn't place it immediately. Something about the voice made her quell the impulse to scream; she recognized it from somewhere, but her addled mind still couldn't put a name to it. The woman switched on a light which made Bella squint painfully. The spiky hair, the strange green eyes …. Bella remembered her. The small woman sitting the chair was Alice Brandon. And she was going to take Bella to Oxford to meet the rest of the team.
"Alice," Bella said unsteadily. "You frightened me. How did you get in here?"
"I have a key. I've laid out your attire for the evening. We have approximately forty-five minutes to prepare for dinner."
"Dinner? How long did I sleep?"
"It is six o'clock right now. I left you at nine this morning. So…nine hours? I tried to rouse you to bring you to meetings at the college, but you were impossible to wake. We thought this would be a better option. Do you feel more rested?"
"No! I feel like I got run over by a bus," Bella grumbled, throwing the covers off and hopping out of bed.
Her stomach rumbled loudly, but Alice didn't make any comment. Bella couldn't remember eating on the plane or since she'd been in London. That made it almost twenty-four hours since she'd eaten. No wonder she was starving.
"I also brought a protein bar for you," Alice said as Bella breezed by her toward the bathroom, "so you won't be ravenous during dinner."
"How very … thoughtful of you," Bella replied, shaking her head as she closed the door to the bathroom. And fucking weird, she continued in her head.
Bella wasn't used to being handled. It'd been her and Charlie for the past twenty odd years; with him, she'd always been the handler, not the handled. As she finished going to the bathroom, she looked around and saw that all of her toiletries had been laid out and a new dress hung on the door. Bella had never seen it before.
She opened the door not to thank Alice, but to politely tell her to back off. However Alice was standing in the doorway, nearly making Bella scream.
"You'll need to shower first and then get dressed," Alice said calmly. "We need to leave the hotel by 6:45."
"Alice, listen, I appreciate everything, but really … this is too much. Don't you think you're overstepping the boundaries just a bit here?"
"I'm sure I don't know what you mean," Alice said in the same voice. "I'm simply following my instructions. Besides, I like you, Bella. I want you to do well when you meet Mr. Masen this evening."
"Mr. Masen?" Bella asked. "I only know the barest details about this trip. I'm afraid I don't know much about Ms. Mallory's team here."
"I can assure you that Mr. Masen, nor any of his team, are part of Ms. Mallory's team. This is Mr. Masen's show and if you impress him enough, he will allow you to participate. Ms. Mallory is only nominally involved at this point. Mr. Masen is grateful to her for bringing your expertise to his attention, but he will decide whether you will be of further use here."
"But I don't understand," Bella said.
"Of course you don't," Alice said with an ironic laugh, "but perhaps it will become clearer this evening."
Alice shooed her into the bathroom for a quick shower. As Bella wiped the steam away from the mirror, she looked at her reflection critically.
"Mirror, mirror, on the wall …who's the most naïve of them all?" she asked herself.
Oh, that'd be you for sure, she told herself as she began her makeup. What in the hell have you gotten into this time, Bella Swan?
A/N: *cringes* So, technically this doesn't count as a new story. This is an old wit fit thread that I wrote back in September. It was a popular thread and one that I rudely left unfinished. I want to finish it now and I wanted to give it its own story in order to do so. This is an AU and it is modern, which is kind of virgin territory for me. If you are familiar with Elizabeth Kostova's book, The Historian, you may recognize elements from that story in this. It is not, by any means, a Twilight retelling of The Historian, however it is inspired by that book. I do hope you enjoy this new story. I have about ten chapters written and am going through them. I hope to update, at least in the beginning, once or twice a week. And you know, reviews mean love. So, click it? ;) ~Jen