I own nothing to do with Twilight- never will. Ever.
I want to thank you all so so so much for your reviews and alerts. It is so motivating to read what you guys think, so I'm really hoping you'll like this chapter. A bit more Edward and Bella into the mix.
Hope you enjoy, you're all so amazing. I'm truly touched! xxxx
Keep in mind that Bella is seventeen years old, she's fairly young, whereas Edward is twenty six. :-)
Family gatherings and dinners at home in Italy were always a fanfare production and my Ma had always loved and soaked up every second of preparing and planning meals in the kitchen a day or so in advance. My mother Esme always had the most wonderful culinary skills. It was seriously enviable. All us children, whether we were halfway across Italy doing our own things, or halfway across the world in America, we would always find ourselves coming back home for more.
There is a large selection of food on the table, laid across a fine white linen table cloth. A bowl mounts with dark black olives. Next to it, a plate full of Bruschetta drizzled in olive oil and topped with Prosciutto- an Italian type of thinly sliced ham. Next to my Pa's elbow, was a round bowl of his most favorite dish; linguine soaking in white clam sauce.
The steam from the hot linguine and lasagna and all the other types of heated food engulf around us, and the smell combined is deliciously mouth-watering.
"So Edward, what did they feed you while you stayed in a dorm at Dartmouth college?" My Ma asks conversationally while cutting a slice of Bruschetta in half with her knife.
She leans over in her seat quickly to plop the half down onto my youngest sister, Alice's plate, who responds with a big grin, then returns her eager attention back to me. It seems like she really wanted to know.
It appears she has forgiven me for staying away for so long, unlike my father, who gave me trouble about it every second he got, since returning home to visit.
I shrug. "Lots of food, Ma," I tell her. "No need to worry."
"But you're looking a little thin," she continues, running her eyes over my face contemplatively. "Then again, even as a young boy... you were always so thin that no large amount of food could ever fatten you up." She laughs heartily at the last part.
"Well, what can I say?" I joke, as I spoon some olives onto my plate. "I have a good metabolism, unlike Pa who looks like he is about to explode, any minute now." I had simply meant it as a joke, but I could tell he didn't take it that way.
His head darts upright from his plate the instance it falls out of my mouth and he gives me a dirty look. My face burns. He keeps staring at me in disgrace for a very long moment so I deliberately turn back to my plate and bring myself to eat.
Ma notices and clears her throat, also returning her attention to her plate of food.
My Pa chinks his fork very loudly against the tip of his glass and we all pause from our eating to give him our attention. "I would like to make a toast," he announces, "Stand with your glasses."
We all rise from our chairs at once, gripping onto our glasses of red wine in the similar fashion father does.
He lifts his glass high into the air and some of the dark red liquid sloshed over to splatter onto the table but he ignores it. Alice, however, gave out a giggle. I throw a smile at her.
Pa's grey eyes mist over, as he gives each one of us around the table a tender look. Then, he sighs deeply and claps his free hand over the right side of his chest, right where his heart was underneath.
"I have waited for this moment for years and at true last, it has arrived," he begins, planting his eyes on my mother. She gives him a small, wistful smile in return. "Not only has our beloved son returned to where he belongs- here, with his family- but he also now has himself a fiancée. A fiancée!"
I glance down at my glass, feeling everyone's eyes looking at me. There is a low murmer of excitement from my two sisters. They both want to know who and when. Ma gives out a surprised squeak from where she's standing.
"To our son and Isabella!" my father shouts and wine glasses clink together in celebration. I don't join in on the celebration. I don't touch my glass with anyone, I keep it right in front of me, eyes planted resolutely on it.
Then, an uncomfortable silence falls over. I look up to find everyone staring at me. My Ma, whose eyes well over with tears. My sister's, who are looking a little confused, but still they recover enough to give me a bright smile. Then, my eyes fall finally onto my Pa. He stands there, expectant and waiting, eyes boring into my own.
"Well, what do you have to say to me, son?" he says in a deceptively calm voice. "Don't I get a mere kiss and a hug from my son for my triumph in finding him a wife?"
I force on a smile for him. "Thank you," I mumble stiffly, not making any effort in hiding the unhappiness in my voice. He hears it and, for a moment, he just stands there, looking extremely angry. "Thank you for making me end things with Tanya. Thank you for showing me just how callous you can be, Pa." His jaw muscles twitch and his hand that holds his glass trembles.
"Fine then," he whispers to himself, then drains his glass hastily in one huge gulp. "Have it your way, then. You disappointment me." Maybe to stress point on just how disappointed he is in me, he lets his glass slip out of his hand. It smashes very loudly by his feet. He storms back into the house and just before he reaches inside, he yells, "Ungrateful, useless son!"
I smile bitterly to myself, then drain my glass. I glance up to see my mother staring at me, wide-eyed in fear.
I step over to her and take her face in my hands gently, and she lifts her hands up to cover them over my own. Her's are trembling.
"Edward," she whispers up at me urgently. "Please go to where your father is and apologize."
I'm stunned. I would have thought my mother, of all people, would be understanding enough to take both view-points in consideration.
"No, I won't. I'm not going to apologize for what I said, because it's the truth."
"Son, please," she begs hushedly, eyes panic-stricken and wet as they peer deeply into my own. "Please do this for me! Your father hasn't been himself in a long time. I hate to think what he might do to you, if you don't-"
"Ma," I cut in flatly. I stare deeply into her eyes. "I love you, and I love Pa no matter what. Call me stubborn, but I won't be apologizing anytime soon." I shake my head and give out a deep sigh in frustration. "I'm sorry but I-"
"Edward, please! What are you so angry at him for? What did he-"
"Ma, you know the American girl, who was helping you in the kitchen?" I ask, and she curtly nods. "Well, we were dating for over five years and then Dad made me break it off with her and got her to catch a plane back to the United States, free-of-charge!"
She stares at me, with a blank expression on her face. She doesn't understand what I'm grasping at. Fucking hell.
"He set up this whole fucked-up thing where I marry this Isabella girl, and I don't even know her!"
"But Edward, honey..." She laughs shakily, "I didn't even know your father! It might be hard to believe, but I was in the same situation!"
"What?" I stare at her, mouth open in shock. Did Ma and Pa get married out of their parent's will, too? No, that couldn't be possible anyway. Pa left his parent's as a young boy. His mother died, for Christ's sake. And Ma, well... I don't know.
She sniffs and a few tears roll down the sides of her cheeks. "I had no choice but to marry your father, because he came to visit my parent's one early morning and they could see that he was very powerful, and very wealthy."
"Yes," she laughs again. "It was all so strange. I was seventeen years old and he must have spotted me when I was helping my mother in the garden. I glanced up over the hillside and -there!- he was standing there and staring right at me, like he'd been hit by a lightning bolt or something."
"But, did you love him like you do now? Did you even want to be his wife?"
"Uh, not at first," she says, grimacing in embarrassment. "I felt such rebellion, because my parent's were pushing me away relentlessly into this stranger's hands. It was outside of my control. But he was very handsome back then. Charming, too."
A funny look comes across her face, and I can only describe it as awe.
"He had such thick blonde hair and, oh my god, he wouldn't seem to stop trying to flirt with me! He was determined to get my attention. He would throw flowers at my face and he'd even throw pebbles outside my bedroom window in the middle of the night, when my parent's were sleeping, just to wake me."
I frown at her in disbelief. That really didn't sound like my Pa at all.
Then again, he always did treat Ma differently, especially when they were alone, when no one was looking. As a boy, I'd walked in on them kissing and moaning a few times and my Pa would always be the one to spring apart and pretend he was staring at something near her, like one of the paintings on the wall or a potplant. My mother would be left looking all flushed in the face and panting.
Maybe he was different when he was younger, more carefree and romantic?
Her brows furrow as she remembers something. "Of course- and I know this isn't quite the consolation you're hoping for- but... I did not feel I loved him until after we consummated our marriage. Just experiencing how, uh, gentle and... loving he was, sealed the deal for me."
Now it was my turn to grimace in embarrassment. "Uh, okay," I say, after half a minute, thinking it through. "So, once we have sex... it'll work out differently?"
I move my hands from her face slowly and separate myself from her, taking a step back a fraction and folding my arms across my chest. I can't even look her in the eyes.
"Well, um, I'm just gonna go for a walk," I say, majorly embarrassed. "To let off some steam. I'll see you later. Oh, and I'm still not apologizing. Not yet anyway," I add quickly, behind my shoulder at her.
She stares at me in utter confusion as I slowly back away. Just before I make a turn and start walking through the orchards in the backyard, I hear her shouting, "Uh, no! No sex until after the wedding ceremony, dear!"
I toss my head and try to hide a snicker. Like that would happen.
I was above having sex with a girl I didn't know. I stop dead in my tracks, cursing myself all the while, just as I approach a clear pathway through the trees.
Oh, fuck. Why did I have to run into her now? Isabella.
Like before, I found myself breathless, short of breath. I hadn't felt that way toward Tanya, yet I didn't want to waste time dwelling on why. There was certainly something about her. Something... different. Something earthly and naive about the way she held herself.
She has a horse with her, a dark silvery stallion. She makes little cooing noises at it, while she runs a pair of outstretched hands down along its muzzle tenderly. I could tell she has a passion for animals; this horse especially. And if that wasn't reason enough to stir feelings of both attraction and desire for her, I didn't know what was.
"Oh, tell me what I should do," she whispers, in a very tiny voice.
My stomach leaps. For a moment there, I think she's actually talking to me... that she somehow knows I'm here and... I open my mouth to ask her what she means. Then, I realize she's actually talking to her horse. Not me, just her damn amazing stallion.
She runs her hand along his silvery neck, then leaves it there. "Help me," she says, short of a cry in desperation. I can't seem to move, or leave. I can't even feel my fucking toes but the hurt and plain agony in her voice crushes me. "My father says I have to marry this man's son and I... I don't know."
I swallow dryly and take a slow step backwards without paying any attention to where my foot was going. A twig crunches and snaps underneath my heel. Oh, great. It was definitely loud enough for her to hear, it had to be.
I close my eyes at the sound and swallow hard, holding my breath in.
I wait in dread for the moment she screams, or yells. Only... it doesn't come. All I hear, is her horse giving out a low-pitched whinnie. My eyes reopen at once.
She wasn't even looking, thank god. It was like she never even heard, surprisingly.
She gives out a sniffle, as she leans forward, her beautifully pale neck elongating as she tilts her head to rest her cheek gently against the meaty part of her horses shoulder.
"What if he's mean?" she continues a moment later, through more loud sniffles. It sounds alarmingly enough, like she is crying. "What if he hurts me? What if he treats me badly and beats me? After all, I've seen all those types of men that have come to visit his father. It can't be for anything good, it can't."
She was revealing openly, her doubts of marrying me- this weird stranger- to her horse. Only unbeknownst to her, I was eavesdropping in like an ass.
And what I was hearing, was that she didn't have much of a good opinion on me.
Of course, I knew her feelings matched mine the second my father made the prompt announcement, the second we laid eyes on one another; The prickling fear of marrying a stranger, yet the poignant itching of curiosity to get to know them, inside and out. Every dark, deep desire and every fear...
Or maybe that was just me. And that was seriously fucked-up.
I lean against a long winding trunk of a tree behind me, mesmerized, while I stare at her. I didn't know how long I stood there, listening and watching. But her sniffles became more frequent and I'm pretty sure I heard her give out a few moans somewhere along the line.
At least she can't see me watching her. At least, I'm hoping she can't. I'm hoping the low thick bushy branches of the tree keep my face concealed in the shadows.
There's an enormous echo of voices and, I realize just as suddenly that it's Alice calling out to me from our house, and it's now literally pitch-black dark outside. Poor Alice, I hadn't seen her in so long; she was probably dying to talk to me.
Stubbornly and quite cruelly, I admit, I ignore it and turn back to watch Isabella with her horse. Then, I realize it's too late, that I've been found out, because she's staring right at me intently through the trees.
She lifts a hand to push back a piece of shiny dark hair behind her ear, and shivers. "How did you, uhm... why are you here?" she stammers and blushes furiously.
Yeah, she's definitely a virgin, I think.
I climb out of the bushes, trying to appear friendly and as if I'm not some creepy guy who'd been hiding from her, like a Peeping Tom. "Yeah, sorry," I say quickly, desperate to explain before she starts screaming bloody murder. "I was just heading out for a walk. I forgot you lived next-door here."
She stares at me blankly for a second at my explanation, then turns away. She sniffs again, then raises her hands to quickly wipe her eyes.
Before it even registers in my mind what I'm saying to her, it flies out so carelessly, "Been crying?"
She looks a little on the defensive side. "Maybe. So what?"
"Why, you ask?" She gives out a little derisive snort. "Well, for starters, I feel completely betrayed by my own father. And second, I'm being forced to marry you and I don't like decisions being made for me. Ever."
I was stunned. First appearances told me she was so shy and quiet and yet, here she was, shooting her mouth off and voicing her frustrations out loud. I liked it.
"Well, that makes two of us."
Her dark eyes widen in doubt as she rakes her eyes over me, giving me the quick once over for some reason or another. It makes me feel quite self-conscious and left all the little hairs on the back of my neck standing on end.
"Really?" she asks, voice tinged with surprise.
"Yeah. I honestly don't like this idea, either."
"Then call it off," she says, like it's easy as tying a shoelace. Which it wasn't.
Her look turns pleading and I have to close my eyes, to shut it out of my vision. "I'm sorry but I can't. You cannot even begin to imagine how much power my father has. If I do, if I dare go against his wishes, he'll disown me as a son." Slowly, I open my eyes and give her a pleading look of my own. "My parent's are the most important people in my life. Surely, you understand that? I can't lose them by going against their wishes, like this."
I'm a little unnerved by her reaction to my words, when her hands fly up to cover her face. She shields her face from my sight for a very long stressful moment, her chest rising and falling as she heaves in desperate gulps of air. Once her hands fall from her face, I make out the wet stream of tears that roll down her cheeks
Sure, I was born to a father who lacked heart and who hardly ever showed his feelings, but that didn't mean that I was without.
I had wide experience with comforting both my sister's and my Ma throughout the years and I could tell when a woman needed comforting when I saw one. And it killed me to see her like this, all because she was being forced into marrying, well... me.
Would I really make such a bad husband? I'd like to think I wouldn't, no matter how arranged it was and how little I felt for the woman.
I take a step towards her, like she's a wild animal that could easily snap and become dangerous within a second.
"Listen, Isabella," I begin, as softly and soothingly as I can muster. She immediately stiffens and becomes wary with my approach. It's like she assumed I was going to start attacking her or raping her, or something. I hold out my hands to her, fingers splayed, just to show her I mean no harm. "I know you're worried about this, but... I promise you, I won't hurt you."
She's still staring into my eyes once I close the distance between us. They dart around my face several times, searching for any signs of treachery. I wasn't feeling concerned by what she so-happened to find in my expression; I wasn't lying, after all.
"But... how do I know I can trust you?"
I groan, exasperated, at her words, I run my hands through my hair, I rub at my eyes with my palms tiredly, searching desperately for the best possible way to explain. I didn't even know where to start.
"Isabella," I pant desperately and, as I go to meet her eyes again, she looks away, dragging them over to her horse.
When a stab of irritation hits, without thinking, I take her chin in my palm and lift her eyes back up to mine again. Her eyelids flicker closed at the gesture, and a small gasp slips from between her parted lips in- surprise? Fear? Anger? Who knows what.
"Isabella, please. You don't have to be frightened of me," I tell her, my voice cracking in desperation. Still, with my words of comfort, her eyes fall down to where my chest is for the slightest hint of a second and then she brings them back up again. "I think we can make this arrangement work. I won't be mean to you, beat you, or anything like that."
Her dark eyes scan over my face again. There are new tears welling in them.
Her hair is very long and wavy, like a silver wave in the moonlight. I want to reach out and see for myself, if it really is as soft as it looks, only I didn't want to creep her out anymore than I all ready had. That wouldn't be good.
Just as she opens her mouth to say something, a man is yelling from a while away.
"Bella?" he hollers. "Come inside now!"
She huffs in distress and gently takes my hand to move it away from her chin. Her hands were soft, like silk. I felt then I wanted to feel the sensations of said hands running all over me, down along my chest, my stomach, my-
"Bella, inside this instance!"
I felt the blood pound to my head over where my thoughts were taking me. How disgustingly impure.
She turns away and cups her hands over her mouth. "Okay, Pop!" she yells, her voice loud and clear and echoing through the trees. "I'm coming, just a minute!" She hisses derogatory Italian words underneath her breath, some that even I can understand. She was feeling very angry at being called in by her father Charles; she had a curfew.
I'm right on her tail as she moves urgently to climb onto her silvery horse, lunging her way up with her legs to sit onto it's back. I whisper her name. She is panting, as she turns to look down at me, her cheeks flushed. Her long hair whips back and forth behind her ears from the breeze.
"So, we have a deal here?" I ask.
She holds my gaze for a moment, then nods slowly, sniffing. "I have some, um, preconditions, though... before I agree to this with you."
"I'm all ears."
"Number one: you are not allowed to raise your fists at me, in any shape or form."
"Of course not!" I tell her quickly. I shudder at the thought.
"Number two: you keep your hands to yourself at all times, unless you have my permission. No touching, and no grabbing. Understand?"
"Uh-huh," I slide my hands into my trousers, just to show it. "Okay, easy."
"And, number three," she continues again. I roll my eyes up at her dramatically. What more does she want from me? Fuck. "Don't expect us to be doing any... uhm, 'funny' things." She quickly breaks eye-contact with me, scanning the trees.
"'Funny' things?" I repeat loudly in confusion, with both eyebrows raised.
She shoots me a pointed, meaningful look. One that I understand about half a minute later.
"Ah," I laugh, finding it both hilarious and disappointing. "No sex! I get it. But... everyone will be expecting us to consummate our marriage after the wedding's finished? What will we do instead, sleep?"
A coy smile stretches across her lips, the first one for me since we started talking tonight. "Use your imagination," she says and then she's off on her dark horse, galloping away through the bushes and out of sight into the darkness.
I turn and start walking back home through the bushes, grinning broadly to myself all the while, hands still tucked deeply inside my trouser pockets. Perhaps this wasn't going to be so hard after all, an arranged marriage.
As I push through the opening of the orchards, my parent's large and looming brick house comes back into view. My Pa told me years ago when I was a little boy, that the house had been built in the early eighteenth century. And now, though the floorboards creaked and the tan bricks layering it were worn and crumbled, it still was holding as strong as ever.
I take in a deep breath, inhaling in the cold, crisp evening air while I stood, taking all of the family house in with my eyes indulgently. My eyes scan the second story windows, the last on the left, to find that the light is still on and the red curtains haven't been closed yet. My Pa's study.
It meant only one thing; my Pa was lounging around in there, waiting for the very moment I knocked and entered. He was waiting for me to apologize over ruining supper. For all it's worth, he could go to hell. The only room I was entering in tonight, was the old room I had when I was a kid and even then, the only place I was going, was straight to bed.