Once a privileged heiress, Isabella Swan suddenly loses everything, including her family's prized book collection. When son of rival family Edward Cullen acquires the collection and offers her a job, she is in no position to refuse. A tentative friendship based on their mutual love for books grows complicated as they enter into an arrangement – she wants the books back; he wants her.
Chapter 4 - The Job
The cash till at Newton's Mini Market had been ringing non-stop all morning. It had very little to do with the goods the little convenience store had to offer. Rather, the village had been out in force to catch its newest cashier, Miss Isabella Swan, formerly of Swan Manor, in action on her first day at work.
Bella was fully aware she would become the village freak show when she took the job. Her mother would be horrified if she ever found out, but she had no choice. They needed the money and this was the only job available in Forks. Mike Newton whose gaze on her always lingered a little too long whenever she passed through the village, was only too happy to give it to her.
Most of the villagers bought small items. Gum. Sweets. A bottle of water.
Old Mrs Sheen bought a pair of flip flops that was inexplicably on sale in a minimart deep in the English countryside. Old Mrs Sheen. Flip flops. In the middle of winter.
The curious glances didn't bother Bella as much as the attention from the young men. When she was an heiress, she was considered beyond the reach of the village boys. Now destitute and working in a local shop, she was fair game, a damsel-in-distress ripe for rescuing. It was always studiously casual. An overly bright smile here. An off-handed compliment there. A faux-jokey invitation to the pub to test her reaction. By the end of the morning, Bella's patience had reached breaking point.
The annoying door chime announced the arrival of yet another customer, one that she especially did not want to see.
His cheeks and lips were flushed from the biting winter air, his hair tousled by the wind. There was an uncharacteristic twinkle in his eye as he gave her a surprisingly warm smile, as if greeting an old friend.
If Bella hadn't been so sure he was here to gloat at her, she would have been charmed.
He grabbed a bag of apples before casually strolling towards the cash till.
Doesn't he have a housekeeper to buy stuff like that? Bella thought irritatedly.
"You know, I took your advice." Edward began unhurriedly.
"I advertised in the village for someone to catalogue my library. There were a few applicants but only one anywhere near qualified for the job – Jessica Stanley, perhaps you know her?"
Of course Bella was familiar with Jessica Stanley, as were most of the young men in the village she imagined. Jessica was blonde and fond of the micro-mini skirts that were completely inappropriate for the English weather, especially in the countryside. As she looked at the tall, striking man in front of her, Bella realised with a pang that Jessica was probably using the job to get close to the Cullen heir.
"Anyway, I interviewed her in the library. When I walked in, she was holding a mug of tea and a copy of Pride and Prejudice. Your father's copy in fact, the gilt-tooled one."
Bella knew exactly which book he was referring to. An exquisite 1907 edition, cloth-bound with ornate gilding on the cover and delicate colour illustrations by Charles E Brock. Her favourite book in the entire library.
No, not my father's copy, Bella thought bitterly. Mine. He bought it for my 21st birthday. He kept it with the rest of the collection because he assumed I would one day inherit everything anyway.
"So, I asked her whether she liked Pride and Prejudice and she started going on and on about how Darcy wasn't hot enough for Keira Knightley and how Wickham was much hotter, and how she didn't understand why they were so sweaty all the time. It took me a while to realise that she was talking about a movie. I asked her about the book – turned out she didn't even know there was a book. "
He paused. Bella was sure the question was written all over her face. If she didn't know there was a Pride and Prejudice book, why the heck was she holding her vintage 1907 edition? What did she think it was, the freaking movie companion? Bella prayed desperately that Jessica Skank Stanley's hands were clean when she handled the book.
"She didn't want to stain my table with her tea mug. She was about to use it as a coaster. I stopped her in time."
The vein on Bella's forehead throbbed visibly.
Edward continued nonchalantly, "I could train her, I suppose. It's a shame you didn't want the job. There aren't many people with Masters in Literature in the village. None, in fact, apart from you.
"Well, I suppose I better get back before she tries to use my Ulysses as a place mat. Good to see you again."
He was baiting her, she was sure of it.
Bella looked around the shop. From the harsh fluorescent tubes to the shelves of almost-expired junk food that she herself would never have touched. She glanced behind her to see Mike staring at her legs.
She caught up with Edward just as he was driving off.
The Pride and Prejudice movie Jessica was talking about is the 2005 one directed by Joe Wright starring Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen. The director made a controversial decision to portray English country realism, hence the sweaty characters, messy hair, muddy hems and wandering poultry.
The vintage copy of Pride and Prejudice Jessica almost used as a coaster also exists. It's published by Dent. The particular one I found on the internet (there are cheaper copies of the same edition) retails for £2,000 or US$3,200. I may post pictures of it on my profile once I've figured out how to do so!
I'm trying to post a teaser of Chapter 5 on fictionatorsdotcom. Hope that goes through.
Reviews are better than receiving news that Colin Firth won the Oscar.
Ok no, not really, he totally deserved to win :)