Age of Edward Contest
Your pen name: Whatsmynomdeplume
Title: The Dressmaker
Type of Edward: Gilded Age
"Edward," she says quietly. "You put this dress on me, made it so I could wear today, on my wedding day."
He nods and swallows. "I did. Just for you."
"Then will you not take it off me?"
He doesn't answer. He simply stands up and turns her around gently, and with shaking hands, so opposite of his sturdy tailor's fingers, begins to undo the buttons along the back.
There were many sounds that reached Edward in his studio. Even though the small room was nestled in the back of the shop, a sanctuary away from the hustle and bustle of the front, noises often filtered through.
The clip-clop of horseshoes on cobblestones.
The clink as his uncle Carlisle set his cup of tea down on the delicate saucer.
Even the constant whir and occasional whine of his sewing machine might have disturbed him, but it didn't. Edward had learned to empty his head of all distractions so he could focus on laying intricate stitch upon stitch, tethering fabrics as light as air to a base, so its wearer appeared to float without flying away.
Perhaps it was because it had been nearly three years since Edward emerged outside his uncle's shop, but he had managed to make himself not only estranged, but seemingly immune to the world beyond its front door. His aunt and uncle worried terribly, but they both knew Edward had been through a terrible ordeal in his young life and hoped that one day, this habit of shutting himself in would simply go away.
But on this particular day, Edward couldn't seem to set his mind straight. First, the ring of the bell that signaled a customer had entered the shop at the front sounded. Then, a lilting voice caught the very recesses of his attention and wouldn't let go until it grew louder and asserted, "I must, Mr. Cullen! I must see him!"
A few moments later, there was a tentative knock on the door of his sewing room.
"Come in," Edward said.
Uncle Carlisle poked his head in. "Dear boy, I'm sorry to be disturbing you—"
"It's alright, Uncle. I know you wouldn't without good reason."
Carlisle chuckled. "Ah, I'm not sure about the reason being good, but it certainly is adamant, yes. There's a young lady in the storefront; she picked up a dress she had ordered from us last week, one of yours—one of your finer ones, actually, not that they're not all splendid—"
"Uncle," Edward said, gently.
Carlisle went red because of his tendency to blather on. "Sorry. Anyway, Miss Swan is desperate to see you. She says... well, she is claiming... uh, what I mean to say is she is alleging that—"
"What did she say?" Edward asked.
"She said that there's something... wrong with the dress."
These were words Edward had never heard, not when associated with something sold in Carlisle's shop, and especially not in regard to one of his creations.
"She says there's something wrong with the dress. The dress she bought in this shop. The dress she bought in this shop that I made?" Edward's incredulity was apparent.
"...Yes," Carlisle answered, but the word was hardly out of his mouth before Edward roughly pushed his seat out and rose, striding into the main shop to see this woman who had dared to say something so outrageous, something so pernicious.
It was when he stepped into the main shop, a place he didn't venture to often and saw her, fiddling with a loose stitch on her gloves, that he finally understood roses and their thorns. Things so beautiful should be difficult to reach, impossible to touch and hold and smell and kiss. Otherwise, it would be too easy to want them. It would be too easy to believe one could have them.
"Excuse me," he said, in lieu of announcing himself and she startled, looking up. When she saw him, a wide smile grew on her face, and his anger wilted, just a little. Then he remembered her words and grew thorns of his own. "You had a problem with one of my dresses."
Her eyes grew wide, big and brown with the innocence of a child. "You're—you're Mr. Cullen? The reputed dressmaker?"
"I'm one of them; though it is my uncle who is most often attached to that particular salutation," he replied stonily.
"So the shop is named after you, then," she said.
"No. It is my uncle's."
"But it is called Cullen's Dressmakers."
Edward looked at her blankly. "Yes, it is. And I said, his name is Cullen."
"But he only sells the dresses. You're the dressmaker. Therefore, whether or not it is your shop, the shop is named after your occupation. Without the dressmaker, it's just Cullen's Shop, which could be anything. Your uncle chose to use the name to celebrate the importance your role in the shop and by extension, one can claim it is named for you."
Edward had no answer. He'd never particularly thought of it that way. He'd always been grateful to his uncle and Aunt Esme for taking him in after his parents' deaths, and his far-too-close-to-grave illness. He'd been a young man, strapping at seventeen, ready to see what all the world had to offer him, but fate had other plans. Struck with an illness that would take months to recover from, compounded with his orphaning, Edward had been resigned to the bed, too weak to even walk. Aunt Esme had neglected house and home and church and everything for the boy she cherished in place of the ones she would never have. She often fell asleep by his bedside, the oak rocking chair creaking slightly as she snored, her sewing unfinished in loose fingers. One night, on the closer end to recovery than sickness, Edward had been unable to sleep and in some whim of fancy, picked up her needlecraft.
Many say genius is born, not created, but perhaps Edward was the exception to the rule. The gift he'd discovered, of nimble fingers from years of piano playing, of an eye for detail and a mind that could craft whole designs from a single stitch had surfaced fast and furiously. Within a few years, Carlisle had transformed what used to be a general store in the middle of Chicago's most popular shopping district into a tailor's shop, and after delivering flawless dress after dress, they'd become the most lauded shop in the whole city. Only adding to the aura was the mysterious, reclusive master of the needle, who rarely emerged from the back room where he created magic through silks, mystery in cotton and majesty in wool.
Edward was too aware of the plight he might have been in had his aunt and uncle not taken him in and nurtured him to even this still-broken point; he sought to pay back their love and faith with every dress he made, every success he brought to the shop, every luxury he and Carlisle could give Esme. But being a reticent sort of fellow, he'd never said anything in words, and never thought of the significance of the shop's name. Perhaps once he had been Edward Masen, no one but a boy bursting to be a man. But now, because of Esme and Carlisle, he was a Cullen. He was Edward Cullen, dressmaker; the most sought-after dressmaker in all the city, perhaps even the state.
Realizing he'd been lost in his thoughts, Edward shook his head slightly. "Anyway, my uncle informed me that you claimed there was something wrong with the dress you bought." He practically spit out the words, surprised that he could even shape his mouth to utter them.
In what appeared to be a motion designed to only incense him further, the woman laughed. "I just never expected you to be so young!" she said, tangentially.
Edward huffed. "Yes, well, I'm sorry to disappoint you. Now, you said—"
"Oh, I'm not disappointed. Well, not in you, at least. Maybe in myself that a young man of my age is so accomplished, while I remain nothing but a bride-to-be, flitting about her business as if her life depended on it. I suppose, being that I am a woman and am of prime marriageable age, my life does depend on my getting married." She giggled. "How old are you?"
Edward wasn't sure why he answered, but he reasoned to himself that it was because he wanted to end the conversation as soon as possible, and not because there was something irresistibly compelling about the woman's radiant disposition. "I'm twenty-two."
"Oh, well, then, you've still got two years on me. I could become a master dressmaker in two years, perhaps," she rambled on, laughing.
"Oh no, no, sir. It will not to do have you call me 'madam'. Have we not established that I am not yet married? And that I am younger than you? Calling me 'madam' is practically an insult!" she said.
"Fine then. Miss—"
"Oh no. My name is Isabella Swan, and you may call me Miss Swan if your upbringing compels you to be formal or Isabella, if it compels you to be a gentleman and follow a lady's request. We're going to be good friends, you and I."
"If you'll excuse my candor, Miss Swan, I will say that I do not tend to be friends with any of my clients."
"Even less so with one that told you there was something wrong with one of your dresses, I imagine."
Edward remained silent, which in itself was an answer.
Isabella smiled. "Well, then, if that's to stand in the way of our friendship, I'll tell you right now: I was lying."
"Yes. I was lying. I asked to see you the other day, when I bought the dress, but your uncle told me you were working and that you rarely came out to see anyone. It's even more of a wonder that you can make dresses like these without even seeing the woman who will adorn them, but that's what your uncle says. Your aunt takes the measurements, your uncle helps deal with the customers and you, with only a few numbers on a scrawled outline, somehow craft the perfect dress." She smiled again. "And I had to see you and I thought, well, Isabella, if it takes drastic measures, then that's what it takes."
"Why did you need to see me so badly?" Edward asked.
The smile fell from Isabella's face. She reached into the pocket of her coat and pulled out a handkerchief. "This is—was my father's. He passed away a month ago. He... he was the person I'm closest to in the world; he arranged my marriage and he... I'm talking far too much. I need... I would like, if you could see it arranged, to have this included, somewhere in the material of my wedding dress. I... I want to have him with me on that day and I do not think holding this in my hand will be enough. He needs to be... he needs to be a part of it, a part of me, forever."
Too familiar with the loss of a dear parent, Edward swallowed and nodded, suddenly softened by her heartfelt, nearly tearful request. "I understand."
"When we had commissioned the dress, he was still alive, you see. So... I—"
"I understand, Miss Swan. And I'll do it. You must just inform me when it needs to be done by."
Isabella smiled, but it had none of the brightness of when she came in. It was a sad smile, the smile of someone trying to recover a little bit of oneself in the face of losing something irreplaceable. "Well, I am to marry on the last day of the year. So till December thirty-first."
"That's about thirty days. It will be done."
"Spare no expense, Mister Cullen. I have seen how much beauty you put into every dress you make and it would be unfair to ask you to put a little more than usual into this one. But I'm asking, nonetheless."
Edward finally smiled. "It will be done, Miss Swan."
He didn't smile this time. Taking the handkerchief from her, he simply said, "Good day, Miss Swan," and walked back into his studio.
For the first time, Edward almost dreads Isabella's arrival at the shop. For today when she comes in, she will try on the finished dress. Today when she leaves, she will not return.
This morning she will step into the shop, but tomorrow morning, she will step into a church and every morning after that, she will wake up in another man's arms. This is the last time that she will ever be anything of Edward's, whether a client for whom he made a dress or the woman he knows he will not be able to live without.
When she emerges from her carriage and steps into the shop, she greets him with such a wide smile that he knows will never not want her in his life. Even if she came everyday only to say goodbye and take his heart with her on her merry way, he would welcome her. Still he cannot smile back with the looming threat of tomorrow in his thoughts. As if realizing this as well, Isabella's smile grows small.
Edward isn't quite sure when these feelings for her developed; he was quite intolerant of her presence at first, but she wore him down. Her smile chipped away at the brick walls he'd surrounded his soul with and she'd found a key to let herself into the place where he'd hidden himself in so well. And she'd done it in such a short time—only to have to leave him now.
One last day with her. She will try on the dress that brought them together, oddly enough the same reason they will soon have to part, and then she'll be someone else's.
Edward turned the handkerchief in his hand over and over again. He stared at it from every angle, examined every seam. Saw the light grey embroidery of CJS and saw where it was worn. He ran his fingers over the parts he thought Isabella must have clutched in her own.
He didn't do any other work that day, even though there were always a million and one dresses to be finished. He simply stared at the handkerchief. Late in the evening, he went to the dress that Isabella had brought back. One look at it and he knew.
He dispatched Michael, the neighborhood errand boy, to the Swan house to deliver his message.
She came promptly at nine the next morning. She smiled just as wide and in lieu of greeting said, "Well, I suppose we have some work to do, don't we?"
Edward raised his eyebrows, still clinging onto his brusque manner. It had been a long time since he had been in the presence of someone other than his aunt or uncle and made to make conversation. He felt oddly off-kilter, and thought he was better off just staying in his sewing room in the back. "I have some work to do, Miss Swan. You are only here to approve the choice in fabrics I have selected."
She laughed. "And here I thought your message that you'd have to start from the beginning and make a completely new design and dress was merely a ruse to spend time with me."
He looked at her stoically. "Not quite."
She grinned back, immune to his icy demeanor. "You'll see, Mr. Cullen. You and I, we will be friends yet."
He smiled flatly. "Well, in the meanwhile, I'll just make a wedding dress while we're waiting for that to happen, shall I?"
She laughed again. "Oh, I do enjoy your sense of humor."
"I wasn't aware I was being humorous."
"Which is precisely what makes it so."
He sighed, stepping behind the counter to show her the fabrics he'd considered. He was not sure why he was being so prickly towards her. She admitted that there was nothing wrong with the dress and had merely asked him a favor, one that he had agreed to of his own accord. This redesign and remaking of a brand new dress was his idea too; seeing the other gown, he knew he couldn't do justice to it. She wanted a tribute, a gown that would hold her as dearly as her beloved late father; the gown she had was formal and cold.
This was all his doing, so he wasn't sure why he refused to give into her enthusiasm, except that it seemed to come back to his observation about the reason roses had thorns and the fear of being pricked.
"Well, this is what I envisioned. While it may be less fashionable, I intend to make the sleeves tighter, fitted as you are rather small in stature, and your arms and torso would be lost in looser sleeves. I shall use a Chantilly lace for the train that will be connected to the dress in the upper back region, between the shoulder blades, leaving you free to choose any veil you may see fit. Further, you may have noticed many ladies in Chicago society wearing a skirt that is slightly tighter to their silhouettes with the bottom flaring out, a bell sort of shape. Your dress will be nothing like that. You will find that I do not adhere to the fashion of the moment. I do not dress a time; I dress a woman and—"
"You've never had to explain your designs before, have you, Mr. Cullen?" Isabella interrupted.
"No, I haven't. Why?"
She giggled. "Because you're absolutely dreadful at it!" Edward was about to get in a huff when she continued, "You should know that whatever you decide, I agree to. I think you understand what I am asking and I have no doubt you will design and make me a dress to fulfill my wishes. You need not justify anything, not so much as a stitch to me."
"Well, then…" Edward said, at a loss for words. He wasn't quite sure what to say, but something about her made him smile, made him gentle.
"I do have another request though."
"And what is that?"
"My house is very empty; it has been ever since my father passed away. I long… I'm not sure what it is missing besides his presence but I was wondering if…" For the first time, she was tentative, almost timid in her asking. "May I spend some time here? Watch you as you make the dress?"
He could hear the loneliness form a sorrowful lilt in her voice and felt something within himself sing back. There was no conceivable way he could say anything but yes to her.
After Isabella emerges from behind the changing screen in the dress, she stares at her reflection for a long while. Finally, after what seems like eons, she turns to Edward with a full heart and eyes brimming.
"You've... you've made me beautiful," she says.
Edward smile is small but true. "It is hardly my doing."
"It is your dress."
He meets her eyes. "It is your dress. It is made for you, every detail. Every button, every inch, it is Isabella Swan, through and through."
She smiles, and it, too, is sad. "Yes. It'll be nice to have one last reminder of Isabella Swan."
"One last reminder?"
"Tomorrow, I shall be Isabella Black, shan't I?"
"Mrs. Isabella Black."
"Yes. Mrs. Isabella Black." She shakes her head. "Doesn't seem to fit quite right."
Edward doesn't know what to do with his hands, so he busies himself by needlessly kneeling, fussing with the hem of the dress. "I'm sure your father chose well for you."
"Sometimes, I think..."
He looks up. "What? What do you think?" He anticipates the answer with bated breath, for he sees something in her eyes that he thought he only imagined before. Things that he thought that cruel master hope was making him see with tricks that make it seem like the beautiful girl he is enamored with, the same beautiful girl who is getting married tomorrow, may not be nearly as indifferent as she should be.
"I think..." The front door bell rings and the spell is broken. Shaking her head slightly, Isabella looks away, at her reflection in the mirror and says, "I think you have made me beautiful."
There was a moment, early on in Edward and Isabella's acquaintance, that made her privy to his plight. She had, as she had been tending to do lately, spent far too much of her day at the shop—so much so that the time had crept past afternoon into the arms of late evening. Carlisle and Esme had gone for a walk and her escort had gone to accompany the guests—her future in-laws—she was to meet for supper soon.
She'd always been bold so she had no hesitation in explaining this to Edward and then, when he did not offer, in asking, "Will you escort me to where I need to go, Edward?"
The color Edward turned was something she'd never seen in a material—she'd never want to either. It was utterly ashen, devoid of warmth and full of worry.
He swallowed nervously, his eyes darting here and there as he quietly said, "I cannot leave the shop."
She frowned. "What? Hasn't Carlisle left you a set of keys to lock up? We shan't be long, I promise—"
"Edward, you're being ridiculous. This is a good part of town and it's not yet too late. I'm sure there will be no detriment to you—"
"No," he interrupted, an almost fierceness in the way his quiet word carried. "I cannot. I cannot."
Suddenly, it dawned on her. Why he was known as such a recluse, why she'd never run into him in another place, why he was always here whenever she came to visit. Edward didn't leave the shop. There were living quarters above the shop—despite their success, the Cullen's housing remained modest, only a small place with two bedrooms, one for Esme and Carlisle, the other for Edward. A small staircase in the back of the store, next to Edward's sewing room led upstairs and even as she comprehended it, the thought startled Isabella. Edward didn't go outside. Ever.
Almost if he saw the understanding dawn in her eyes, his face crumpled in embarrassment. "I cannot," he repeated over and over again, and each time he said it, the tone only grew more self-berating. "I cannot, I cannot, I cannot, I can—"
"Edward," Isabella said quietly, laying a hand on his arm. "Shhhh." He stopped and look from her hand to her face and saw not a trace of judgment there. "It's alright, I understand," she continued, even though she didn't really. "I'll just find another—"
And, as if a reward for her kindness, for her compassion and empathy, Carlisle and Esme strolled through the door. Carlisle, almost immediately understanding the situation, graciously offered to escort Isabella. And thought she left Edward behind, she didn't stop thinking about him, not even for a moment. As she wandered along from venue to venue that evening, she saw each place through new eyes: Edward's. She decided she would tell him about this tomorrow. What he did not see with his eyes, she would make up for with her words.
And that is how, true to her prediction, Edward and Isabella became friends.
It is when Isabella puts on her veil that Edward truly feels his loss. The veil he has not made—in fact, it is Esme's, the very one she wore when she married Carlisle, and her mother's before that and her mother's mother's even longer ago. It is a beautiful piece, gauzy with tiny embroidery on the outside, obscuring everyone's view of the bride's face while still allowing her to see. They'd found it one day and when Isabella asked if she could have it, Esme said yes immediately. Later, his aunt had made as if to apologize Edward—but how could she? What exactly was there to apologize about? Edward had not been brave enough to declare his feelings, and without doing so, had no claim on Isabella whatsoever.
But now, seeing Isabella hidden from his view, looking as she will to her husband tomorrow, in what should amount to a family heirloom but never will because of his self-imposed condition, he sees all that he is losing. His past is slowly fading away with his future, Isabella carrying both away until he will be left with nothing.
The days she came in, he barely got any work done. Maybe some of the boning that would go on top of the elongated corset she'd gotten from the outfitters, and true, he did finish a sleeve in her presence. But mostly, he'd just be caught up in her. Her chatter was friendly but never inane, her demeanor warm but never invasive.
He often laughed to himself at the accuracy of her earlier statement. She had become the first friend he'd made in a very long time.
It was the nights after the days she spent with him when the dress and his hands would come to life. He would hold in his mind the picture of her doing something earlier in the day, such as laughing, or helping Esme sweep (much to his aunt's horror) or simply watching his hands as he did the simplest of tasks. And around that he would build the garment piece by piece. He would often work through the entire night, his eyes only feeling heavy when the rooster from a nearby egg-house would crow.
She changed his life without him even realizing it; and when he did, he found himself slightly surprised that he didn't mind in the least.
She doesn't need to ask where her father's handkerchief is. When she was slipping on the dress, she'd noticed, on the inside, under all the layers of fabric, the bottom-most one that rested right against her chest was slightly different than the rest of the dress. The material was worn, well-loved and beloved. Edward had put her father right on her heart, where he would always be.
Edward watches as her fingers delicately run over the embroidery on the edge of the sleeve. What she does not know is that on the underside, the part of the fabric that touches her pulse, there is a tiny heart, embroidered in a pink so pale that it would look as white as the rest of the dress unless specifically pointed out. It was the last thing he stitched.
He doesn't point it out.
He had likened her earlier to a rose, but he knew now that was egregious; he was the prickly one, all thorns and bluster, not her. She was, if anything, a candle. A tiny little thing, slim and straight, but the light she cast changed the whole room.
It was just another day she was with them in the shop, but he looked at her in that moment and could hardly remember a time when she hadn't been there. She had become such a fixture in the shop over the last two weeks that she had taken to helping Carlisle with his sales. Whenever the shop would get a little crowded, she would pull out one of Edward's old sketchbooks and narrate the stories of each dress, stories she had only been told the previous day by him, but she made them far more interesting, far more alive that he ever could.
"You remember this dress, the one Tanya Vanderbilt wore to her engagement ball?" Isabella asked her captive audience, pointing to a sketch. Edward chuckled as he remembered her gleeful laughs when he'd told her the story behind that particular design the day previous.
"Oh yes," Madam Cope cooed back. "She did look wonderful, and that particular piece that stuck out in the back, almost like a tail—it was so bold, so daring!"
"Oh yes! That piece was out of necessity! Tanya is by no means a plump girl but for false reputations' sake, she gave Mr. Cullen measurements that were two inches too small!"
"She didn't!" gasped Angela Cheney.
"She did! And then, to add to the whole fiasco, she felt so ashamed to admit that it was too small that she tried to force herself into it. It held together for about three minute before splitting down the back and poor Miss Vanderbilt nearly shared far too much of herself with the older Mr. Cullen. Since this happened the night previous to the ball, Ed—the younger Mr. Cullen worked all night to come up with something that could save the dress. Lo and behold, he created that tail, as you called it, and voila!"
"Genius!" Madam Cope claimed; Angela even applauded, though the sound was muted by her gloves.
"I remember, I was so dreadfully jealous that she'd get to wear a Cullen design," Isabella mused wistfully.
"And now look at you! Having your own wedding dress made tailored to you!" Lauren Mallory said, in a tone that fell in that mysterious area between excitement and envy. She was, after all, only accompanying her mother to collect one of her dresses.
Isabella kept the smile on her face, though it was nowhere near as bright. "Yes. My wedding dress."
"And the hemline?" Edward asks, desperate to find something to keep her here, from taking the dress, the only thing that tethers her to him and leaving forever. "It's alright?"
Isabella steps down from the stool as she says, "Oh, yes, it seems fi—oh!" Before she can finish her sentence, she promptly trips, only to be saved from the indignity of falling face-first on the floor by Edward's arms. He rights her and cocks an amused eyebrow, trying to hold in his laughter.
"Are you sure about that hemline?"
She makes a face at him. "I'm sure. I'm just a little clumsy. Let's hope I do not have the urge to repeat this daring fall down the aisle tomorrow."
Edward's smile immediately shrinks at the mention of her wedding and she is sorry for it. He sees this on her face and brightens again, saying, "Well, at least tomorrow you'll have someone's arm to hold on to."
Very tentatively, almost trippingly, the words leave her mouth. "Perhaps, I should practice that."
Edward looks at her, eyebrows raised for a few moments. Then, saying not a word more, he crooks his elbow and offers it to her. Her eyes travel from his outstretched arm to his face and do not leave there as they walk slowly, perfectly in sync, down the length of the room. Arm in arm, eyes on eyes, heart to heart.
It was because of Isabella that Edward began coming to the front of their space, the shop, rather than continuing to hide in his sewing room. And when he did, like Isabella, many women were taken aback by Edward's young age, and more than many were pleased by his handsome looks. Whispers began spreading of how it could be possible that Edward could make dresses so perfect for a woman's body. The natural conclusion they came to was that he must be intimately familiar with the shape of womanliness. This conclusion was, as gossip tended to be, simply wrong.
But Isabella could hardly keep from hearing this gossip and one day, succumbing to it, she asked him. "How is it that you designed all those lovely dresses for women you'd never ever seen?"
It was quite late in the afternoon, the sun nearly exiting the sky to make way for evening, for her to still be at the shop; in fact, since Carlisle had closed the shop for a few days to take inventory, there had been no customers to entertain. After she'd finished helping Esme style the new mannequins that would sit in the window, she'd spent her time almost exclusively with Edward.
He'd not felt this type of ease, this freedom with anyone ever before. He could only answer her candidly, which was the manner he had been speaking in all day. "I'm not quite sure. I just… see something in my head."
Isabella laughed though he could hear a tinge of uncertainty in it. "You mean you see a perfect woman in your perfect dress and don't want to ruin the image? You must have to work horribly hard on mine, then."
Unversed in the ways of women as he was, Edward was not so unknowledgeable that he couldn't recognize the inadvertent announcement of an insecurity. "Your dress is the most easy to imagine—for I have the greatest inspiration. It is the most difficult to create because I must live up to the woman who will be in it, and I'm not sure anything—created or borne—could be as lovely as that."
Edward waited for the pang of shame that accompanied far too truthful honesty to strike him like lightning, but it never came. Isabella looked at him sharply, in a way that told him that she'd never received a compliment such as his before and he lost himself in her gaze. It was in that moment, holding her eyes as steadfastly as he longed to hold her, that he realized he would say anything to make her look at him like that.
Perhaps realizing that there was as much verity in their gaze as in his words, Isabella looked away. She fiddled with her engagement ring, touching it first as if to remind herself it was there, then twisting and turning it around her finger, perhaps to perform some magic trick that would make it disappear. But it remained, a reminder of time and duty.
Feeling uncomfortable that his last words were so candid, Edward quickly continued. "When I create a dress, I think about the idea of a woman as opposed to her reality."
Isabella laughed. "Am I supposed to understand what that means?"
Edward laughed too, shaking his head slightly. "I scarcely understand it myself. I think what I mean to say is… that a dress, or at least the type of dress I seek to make, is supposed to turn a woman into who she wants to be. Therefore, who she is matters not. A man beholds a woman's beauty in his eye, but a woman holds her beauty in her heart, in her mind, in her walk. I seek to create a dress that will live up to the woman she has always wanted to be, so that the dress can make her that woman precisely."
In a first, Isabella said nothing, looking at him as she had never quite seen him before.
Feeling self conscious, Edward chuckled nervously and said, "Kindly say something before I slink away to my sewing room and never reemerge."
Shaking her head slowly, as if to exit a trance, Isabella replied, "I don't quite know what to say. Except that I have heard love poems less romantic, less heartfelt than the words you have just spoken."
Edward was sure his face was the color of the dress he made for Rosalie Hale's coming-out party, a scarlet so vivid it invoked the thought of blood. "I am no poet."
"No, you are not. You are a dressmaker. The garment is your parchment, the thread your pen. Let no one say you are less of an artist than a sculptor, less of an intellectual than a scholar, less of a lover than a lover."
Edward blushed under her praise, but he couldn't look away. Just as he had emptied his brain into his mouth earlier, Isabella spoke in a manner in which honesty was almost too slight a word. He held her gaze for a long time, wondering what he'd done before he had brown eyes to look up from his work at, before he'd laughed, before he'd smiled, before he'd lived. Before Isabella.
Suddenly, as if realizing where they were, Isabella quickly rose to her feet, Edward following her. "It is getting late, I must leave," she said, gathering her coat and things and making her way to the door.
She walked quickly, but there was a hesitation in her steps. When she reached the doorway, she turned to look at Edward, who had not taken his eyes of her for a second. There were no gentle whispers of goodbyes or tender confessions of feeling but that last shared glance said what they could not say out loud themselves:
Let us make it so we never leave one another.
She emerges from behind the changing screen in the clothes she arrived in, just as he finishes packing her dress, putting enough tissue paper beneath it that it seems to rest in a bed as a opposed to a box, and giving it to her newly-arrived escort to take back to her home.
Dusting non-existent lint of her sleeves, she says, "There is so much I must thank you for."
Edward keeps his head bowed. "You have said thank you for the dress already, and I have told you it was my honor to make it. Please do not embarrass me with more adulation."
"But… it's not just the dress. You let me stay near you, watch your craft and know your heart as it made your fingers pull needle through fabric, lay button and match it to its mate; that time I spent with you… Edward, it was so much."
He dares to look at her and so quietly, he's not sure she even hears him, he says, "It was everything."
But she does hear him. "It was."
There is nothing left to do but say goodbye, wish her luck and happiness in the coming year and her new marriage. Nothing left to do but let her walk out of his shop and his life forever, leaving only her memory to live like a shadow on his days. She has been a tether to the outside world he had been away from so long, and he isn't quite sure how to be in the world knowing that she is also in it, but apart from him.
He does not know how to say goodbye, and neither does she. So they say nothing. He simply smiles and she returns it. As she walks by him, she allows the puff at the shoulder of her sleeve to sweep him gently, and he thinks sadly, that is the last time he will touch Isabella Swan.
Suddenly overcome, he turns around to tell her not to go. To tell her that he may have crafted the most beautiful dress for her, but it is what they crafted together in those moments, it is the girl in the gown that is the greatest thing in his life. To tell her that it is alright if no one else ever sees the dress; in fact, he would prefer it because that would mean she wouldn't marry Jacob Black tomorrow. It would mean she could stay with him.
But she has gone out the door already, into the world he has not dared approach, past that doorway he has not breached in so many years. The dressmaker is left standing alone in the shop, mannequins surrounding him as if to mock him with the false companionship he will have the for the rest of his life
Edward wakes the next morning, the last morning of the year with one thought: Isabella is getting married to someone else today.
Then a second thought:
And he hasn't the courage to do a thing about it.
He sleepwalks through his morning, dejected and depressed till uncle Carlisle sits down next to him.
Placing a gentle hand on his shoulder, Carlisle hands him a cup of tea that Edward stares at mournfully, as if he wishes he could drown himself in it.
"I've lost her, Uncle," Edward says quietly. If Carlisle is surprised that Edward is speaking of his feelings, he does not show it. Perhaps he isn't surprised, Edward muses. He's been a different man these few weeks around Isabella. How could his uncle not notice? "I've lost her, which seems impossible because she was never really mine. But somehow, that just makes it worse."
"Edward, do you really believe that?" Carlisle asks gently.
Edwards holds his head in his heads. "What can I do? I was too cowardly to tell her how I felt, and now, even when faced with the absolute abyss I feel in place of everything she brought to life in me, I cannot bring myself to do anything about it. I do not deserve her."
"No, you do not deserve her," Carlisle agrees quietly. Edward's head jerks up at hearing his uncle's harsh judgment, so he continues. "If you can sit here and know the thing you must do to try to win her and still do not do it, then you do not deserve her. If you can choose any alternative that is one besides laying your heart and soul at her feet, for her to bend down and pick up or stomp all over, then you do not deserve her. Only when you have stripped every bit of yourself bare, in slashed patches and wounds so deep they feel like raw flesh, then do you deserve her.
"I know you haven't had it easy. And you know your aunt and I love you and consider you nothing less than our own flesh, our own heart. But sometime after your parents died, Edward, you gave up. You stopped being the feisty young boy who dared to dream without limitations. You stopped letting people see that wide smile they loved so much; you stopped smiling at all. The only place you came alive again was in that sewing room. So we let you be, but perhaps, we left it too long. And then in Isabella's presence, you became the Edward we'd always known. I've seen the way you looked at her. If she cannot implore you to fight, to break these bonds you have tied around yourself, I scarcely think I can."
Edward blinks twice. His uncle has always been good-hearted but in a slightly bumbling way. But this impassioned speech, these steadfast words that spare no emotion and tell nothing but Carlisle's truest thoughts are a side Edward has never seen before. It rouses something in him, a bravery that is newly born from the support of one who truly loves you. It's serves as the kick in the pants Edward needs and he stands.
Smiling lightly, all he says to Carlisle is, "Thank you."
Then, grabbing the coat off the rack by the front door, Edward leaves the shop for the first time in nearly three years.
Carlisle does not need to ask where he is going. He only hopes Edward will not return alone.
It has been many years since Edward has seen sunlight without the barrier of a window, many years since he has felt the way it warms the skin. It reminds him a little of fabric, like the sunshine is a bright yellow color he wears. He lets it power him as he makes his way to the address of the church he read in Isabella's wedding announcement.
It is scary—no, terrifying, this place, this outside, this world he is making his way through. Horses and carriages run up and down the streets, and suddenly, the gentle clip-clop of their hooves he used to hear in his sewing room seem like thunderous stomping. People hustle and bustle everywhere, nary a care but to their own destination, and Edward would not know it, but he has emerged during rush hour.
His heart is pounding, his nails are digging into his palms where his fists are clenching and he has to force himself to take one, two, then three deep breaths. And it only when he takes these breaths, when fresh air enters him, does he feel invigorated. He closes his eyes briefly and imagines Isabella in his dress, her dress, their dress, and he knows this is what he must do.
When he finally finds himself at Old St. Patrick's Church, he sees the gathering of people there, no doubt for the wedding. He quickly sneaks behind the church, to the very back, searching for a door that will lead him inside where he might find Isabella. He is looking behind him when he very nearly runs into someone. He steadies their body with his hands before he realizes Isabella stands before him, in his dress, the veil pulled over her face. She is a bride and the most radiant one he has ever seen.
"Isabella," he says, breathing the word more than saying it.
"Edward… what—what are you doing here?" she asks, lifting her veil. Her face in its entire beauty is revealed to him and it nearly takes his breath away. He lets this emotion guide him once more, lets it fill his veins with so much courage that blood scarcely has room.
"I came to stop you," he says, boldly. Perhaps the old Edward, the one who hid in his sewing room and behind dresses would not be so candid, but that man is no longer here.
"To stop me?" she repeats.
He nods fervently and grasps both her hands in his, noting the soft leather gloves she wears as he runs his thumbs over the backs of her palms. "Yes, to stop you from getting married. To tell you that I cannot let this happen without making my intentions, my true emotions known. Yesterday, in the shop, I wished to tell you that you made me a new man, a better man, one that I couldn't have ever dreamed of being. But I couldn't yesterday, because I wasn't that man till this morning. I wasn't that better, newer man till I left the shop for the first time in three years—three years, Isabella! And I'm here to tell you that I will walk out any door, cross any street, search any city, ford any river and travel any country to find you and tell you I must be with you. That I think my heart has only been empty for so long because it knew, much better than I could, that you would come and fill it from the deepest depths to its very brim."
Isabella smiles, looking down at their joint hands. "I was coming to see you."
"You were?" he asks, shocked.
"Yes. I… I called off the wedding. I told Jacob that I could not give him my heart but I could give him my honesty and I could give him freedom from this bond that our fathers had bound. And I was coming to see you to tell you that I was happy with the man in the shop; the dressmaker who brought me such joy, who sheltered my heart and nurtured my hope. But if you are this new man, then I will love him too. I will love you, newer, better man, just as I have loved the older, inside you."
Edward brings her hands to his face, kissing them and hating the material that keeps her skin from him. Slowly, he takes one glove off, and clasps the hand to his chest, right over his heart. He slides the glove off her other hand and she cups his cheek. "You are so brave," she tells him. "So very brave."
He laughs softly. "I think you are the brave one between the two of us."
She shakes her head in disagreement and he laughs again, pulling her close and resting his forehead on hers. "Shall we agree to disagree?" he asks.
She tips her head, just slightly so their mouths are slightly closer together. Suddenly, Edward is consumed with thoughts of kissing her. "What do you think about being brave together?" she suggests.
And it is that word, together, that binds every thing in the moment for Edward. The sun is shining, the air is crisp and he is holding his beloved in his arms. Leaning forward, he gently presses his lips to hers, heart exulting when she presses back. Her hands move to slide around the back of his neck, as if to hold her to him for as long as she wants; he thinks it unnecessary as he'll stay here forever. Between their bodies, her hand is still clutched tightly in his and pressed to his chest, where his heart is pounding out happiness.
"I have another idea," Edward says, when they finally pull apart. "Something else we can do together."
He beholds her now, hardly believing this is the same morning he woke up and thought he'd lose her forever. Hand in hand, they'd made their way across the city, gathering Carlisle and Esme on their way. When Edward had asked Isabella if she had any family she'd want to come along, she'd looked down, no doubt thinking of her father and replied with a quiet no. Not even two seconds later, she'd gained a bright smile on her face and corrected herself. "I do. I do have a family and I believe I'm with them right now."
The smile Edward gave her was breath-stealing, beautiful and beatific and one she had never see him wear before. She couldn't help but reply with one just as joyful.
Quietly, in small parish close the shop, Edward married Isabella in the dress that had brought them together and nearly kept them apart. When she pulled her veil down over her face, it was only so he could lift it a few minutes later. When she leaned in to kiss him, it wasn't merely as the woman he loved, but as his bride. When they exchanged vows, he quietly held her wrist and turned the fabric to show her the pink embroidered heart and she replied that was exactly the reason she had loved every version of him she'd known so far. And would love every version she'd know from now on.
Just this morning, Edward had woken alone and miserable; now it is evening and tomorrow he will begin the new year jubilant. And he'll never be alone again. Carlisle and Esme have vacated the house, allowing them privacy on their wedding night and Isabella stands in his dress, in his arms. His wife, his everything.
"Edward," she says quietly. "You put this dress on me, made it so I could wear it today, on my wedding day."
He nods and swallows. "I did. Just for you."
"Then will you not take it off me?"
He doesn't answer. He simply stands up and turns her, and with shaking hands, so opposite of his sturdy tailor's fingers, begins to under the buttons along the back. Button by button, each one a little white pearl that separates from the loop holding it. Each one reveals a little more skin that he grazes softly as he undoes the next one. Each one reminds him that she's not only here, but she's his and each one makes him want to undo the next one twice as fast.
At last, the dress hangs, gaping from her shoulder. Holding up the sides, he slides one sleeve delicately down her arm and then the other. She turns, clutching the bodice to cover her chest with both arms. As she watches, he undoes his vest and shirt, tossing them away and then shedding his pants. Only when he is fully unclothed does he reach out to her, placing gentle hands on the arms that hold the material to her. She lets go, allowing the dress that brought them together to fall to the ground.
Now there is nothing between them and as Edward lays her down on the bed, he vows to her: not a dress, not a man, not a single thing will ever come between them again.
Thank you so much to arfalcon. She's a privilege to have as a reader and pure genius as a beta. Thanks to spanglemaker for her input and expertise and Lauren for catching things.
And always, always thank you for reading. leave me a thought if you feel like, I always love hearing from you all. This was for the Age of Edward contest and there's SO many great entries. You can read them here: .net/u/3315546/AgeOfEdward2012. Voting starts on Feb. 16. xo.