Entry #93 – AH
Truly Anonymous Twilight Picture Prompt Contest
Title: The Artist
Picture Prompt Number: 24
Pairing: Edward, Bella
Word Count: 8348
Summary: The World's Fair of 1889 holds more promise than three people could ever dream.
Warnings and Disclaimer: All characters and references to Twilight belong to S. Meyer.
Maggie moves with surprising swiftness from one room of Mr. Masen's London townhouse to the other, armed with a rag and bucket. She is a rotund woman with achy joints and chapped hands. She is not young, though her curly red hair and high-pitched laugh give the impression she is not old, either. Mr. Masen believes her to be in her forties, but he'd never ask outright. He is a gentleman, after all.
The Masen House is not Maggie's favorite to maintain, but it is her easiest. There are no children to pick up after, wives to curtsey to, or flocks of guests to cook for. Aside from an occasional buyer stepping foot through the threshold, the home is stagnant, according to Maggie's standards. She wishes the twenty-seven-year-old man would find himself a young lady, settle down, and perhaps, have a child or two. Certainly not lock himself in his studio on the fourth floor for hours upon hours. It is the only room she does not tend, thus she rarely sees Mr. Masen.
The sun has given way to a particularly cold night, and the London streets are covered with gray slush which might soon freeze. Hurriedly, Maggie pitches the dirty water in the back yard, rinses her rag and bucket then places them both in the utility room properly. She still has dinner to cook for her own family. She changes into shoes suitable for the weather, but before she slips into her wool coat, Maggie arranges Mr. Masen's mail. Though there is not much, she ensures the violet envelope from a Mr. C. Cullen is at the top of the pile.
As Maggie descends the steps of the townhouse, the cold air biting at her fingertips, she glances up. A soft yellow glow emits from the fourth floor windows—Mr. Masen must be subdued this evening; she wonders what he's painting.
At 6AM, Isabella Swan unlocks the steel door of her workshop. It is a large space of brick and cement, a place once used to dye wools and then silks. She rents it for a decent amount of pounds and a promise not to burn it down. But with the rent comes a flat that is around the corner and up a flight of metal stairs, and is perfect.
Isabella stamps the new fallen snow from her boots onto the floor just inside the door. There is no heat in here, and for now the workspace appears dank and morose. Soon, though, the temperature will hover about one hundred degrees, and the room will fill with yellow-orange light and a harlequin of color.
She lights the furnace then retrieves a bucket of clear broken glass from a low shelf. The lingering fumes are still sharp, and in a moment, Isabella will prop open the steel door for fresh air.
She is the sole female gaffer in London and entirely aware of sordid things said behind her back because she is a woman who is seen wearing pants more than she wears skirts. To her face the same busybodies revere Isabella for her work. These things are trivial, inconsequential, particularly after she's transformed what would be garbage into something extraordinary. Glassblowing is a trade she learned from her father while she lived with him in America. Isabella was her father's apprentice, and now the twenty-five-year-old woman waits for hers.
Emmett McCarty is forty-five minutes late. He rushes through the door, tosses his snow-covered cap on a wooden table, smoothes out his dark, curly hair, and grins at Isabella.
"Emmett," Isabella says. "Don't think your dimples bring back the time you've missed. They may work on others, but they do not work on me." She does her best to hide her smile.
"Yes, ma'am. I'm sorry," he says, dipping his head, the flames from the glory hole already drying his damp clothes. "What are we doing today?"
Isabella's fingers are tinged a deep blue as she arranges her tools. "I've been commissioned by a man to make pieces for his new home in Paris."
"Pieces?" Emmett asks. He dumps glass into the crucible then moves it to the glory hole. "Like what? How many? Does he want vases? I'm getting pretty good at those. Will you deliver them? Can I go with you?"
Isabella wonders if Emmett actually takes a breath between questions, if it is the same with all boys his age. She should expect as much since he's been her apprentice for a little over a year now. She'd found him dirty and hungry, selling newspapers before sunrise in London proper. She'd struck up a conversation with the then eleven-year-old, and he'd told her his father had recently died of pneumonia, that he had to leave school so that he could work to help support his family.
When he was alive, Isabella's father had always teased her for bringing home strays that needed too much attention: a bird with a broken wing, a blind cat. She'd once found a turtle (a chink missing from the left side of its shell) and coaxed it for weeks until it trusted her enough to eat lettuce from her hand.
Emmett, however, is not a stray. Rather a boy with a heart of gold who reminds her of her father.
"I'm not entirely sure," Isabella says. "He wasn't specific in his letter. He only wrote that he would like to fill his home with color and beauty, and I can create as many or as few pieces as I'd like. His specifications being no two are alike."
"So I could make a vase?"
Isabella laughs. "Yes, Emmett, you can make a vase…And I will be delivering the pieces, though I don't think you should come with me."
Emmett's face contorts into protestation; Isabella raises a single, slender finger. "I expect to be gone for several days, and I cannot have you away from your family for so long."
"Miss Swan," he whines.
"I'm sorry, Emmett. Perhaps another time."
Edward Masen orders a bottle of Bordeaux and the lamb from the blonde waitress. There is a stone hearth off to his left; the fire inside crackles, embers whirling upward in a sudden rush each time the door of the restaurant is opened, cold air blowing in. At times, he wishes there wasn't a grate in front of the hearth so the embers could escape, fly up, and ignite the painting displayed atop the mantel. It is his early work, and it is juvenile and depthless.
He can barely stand to look at it, the palette all wrong for the cityscape. Too stringent, he thinks, his strokes too haphazard. Yet he comes to this place once a week to order wine and lamb because the food is outstanding and the nonexistent company is even better. And instead of asking the proprietor of the restaurant to take it down, Edward uses the piece as a reminder of what he no longer is.
As he waits for his food, Edward turns the violet envelope over and over between his fingers. He sips his wine and stares at the envelope for a good, long while. Inside is an offer from a Mr. C. Cullen, a man whom Edward has never met. Mr. Cullen would like to commission several paintings from Edward, whatever he deems appropriate for the modern motif he has planned for his Paris home. In the letter, Mr. Cullen also states he is willing to pay a hefty sum, knowing full-well that Mr. Masen's time and talent are not to be bargained, however he has only months to spare. Mr. Cullen explains he is preparing his home for the upcoming World's Fair.
Edward could do a lot with the money, not that he is dire, but should he take Mr. Cullen's offer, his wild fears of being in the position to quickly produce rubbish to turn an even quicker dollar will be fully eliminated. He would supply Maggie and her family with more food and better clothing, whether she argued with him or not—and she would. Edward could leave his townhouse as well as its ghosts. It is not all about the money.
The blonde waitress slides Edward's plate in front of him, and he glances back at the cityscape. "Thank you," he says before she turns. He takes a bite of the tender lamb then drops his fork on his plate with a clatter, nearly swallowing the meat whole. "Excuse me, Miss?" he calls to the waitress.
"Do you have a piece of paper and something to write with?"
"I'll see what I can find." Within moments she returns with a sheet of ivory paper and a fountain pen. "I hope this'll do," she says, waving toward the tiny grease stains dotting the center.
"It's perfectly fine," he says, then immediately begins to scribble down the semblance of a contract.
An hour has passed, and what remains of the lamb is now cold, a few drops of Bordeaux coating the bottom of its bottle. Edward has covered every inch of the paper with his terms for Mr. Cullen, one condition stated repeatedly: he wishes to be anonymous. Edward realizes this request is a gamble, and it is very likely that Mr. C. Cullen will scoff at his conditions, rescind the proposition.
But the rewards are worth risking foolish demands. He is certain there are several painters who'd sell their soul for this opportunity. Nevertheless, Edward was sought out for reasons unknown, and he believes he has leverage.
Edward folds the paper and tucks it neatly into his jacket pocket. He retrieves his hat and overcoat, and after paying for his meal, he bids the blonde waitress goodnight.
When he returns to his town house, Edward ascends the stairs to his studio. He turns on each lamp so the room is blinding white and begins to mix hues of blue.
Isabella's hands and arms look as though they've been marked with various shades of pink and red dye. Battle wounds, she likes to call them, but they are merely a collection of burns she's acquired over the last decade. Most have faded to a pale pink. Though she wears them unabashedly, they are now covered by the long, white gloves she uses for travel. No need to be the object of a stranger's curiosity, or worse, their pity.
For the past six months she—with Emmett's assistance—has created a number of pieces for her Paris commission. Many sit on shelves in her workshop because they seemed too ordinary, something that could easily be found in any shop on any street corner. She'd finally settled on seventeen individual and unusual creations, losing several nights of sleep in the process.
After taking the journey across the English Channel, Isabella stands on French soil, at last. All around women walk casually, fluttering fans as though to keep cool while their male counterparts stroll beside them waiting impatiently to board the train. Any other day Isabella would enjoy every bit of this glorious weather. Instead, she watches with hawk-like eyes as men load her wooden crates onto one of the cars.
The crates are packed with such things as an earthy green globe the size of a child's ball, a three-foot high oblong sculpture that is orange and yellow, appearing as though it is on fire when the light hits it just right, and of course, Emmett's smoky black vase is included as well. For fun, she's crafted dozens of indigo teardrops that can be suspended from a chandelier or perhaps even the ceiling giving the illusion of a falling sky if placed properly. Her favorite piece, however, is a misty blue bowl that is wide and shallow with bubbles trapped inside the glass as if they're frozen in time; it reminds her of a fairytale.
Inside the boxes are prisms of beauty worth more than she'd ever dreamed. Silently, she says a small prayer that Mr. C. Cullen will love each and every one of them.
Gravel crunches beneath her shoes as she steps closer to the men. "Please be careful with that," she says, hoping they understand her since she doesn't speak a word of French.
"Miss, we ain't gonna break a thing," the man says.
He mumbles something to the other man, and they laugh as they maneuver their way toward the ramp, crate in hands. His weathered cheeks are streaked with grease, and underneath his cap is a mess of black and gray hair. "Yeah," he says without offering any explanation.
They falter, the crate tipping before they regain their hold. She gasps, dropping a suitcase to the ground, and runs toward them. Isabella attempts to shove the second man aside while grabbing onto the crate. "Here, let me help," she says.
"Miss!" He shouts, but Isabella is not rattled. The scuffle earns craned necks, inquisitive stares, and the man takes notice. "You'll get me fired. Now, please go down to the passenger car," he says with a curt nod toward the front of the train. "Ain't nothing gonna happen to your parcels."
She releases the crate, clearly flustered by her own behavior. She is usually so much more in control. "My apologies, sir. It's...that's my work in there."
He sighs, but it sounds more like a tired growl. "I'll tell ya what. Let us get all your boxes on board, and you can come in to make sure we got'em set up good enough. Yeah?" She smiles, nodding, apologizing once more. "Right, then. Move away from the tracks before you mess that pretty dress of yours."
Isabella ensures her wares are safe and sound, neatly organized in a corner of the car, far away from the door. She rearranges another passenger's flat but long packages for fear they'll fall on top of her boxes. The men say nothing, only shake their heads and roll their eyes. She tells herself over and over again that she is not being paranoid. She's simply taking precautionary measures.
By the time Isabella reaches her private car, a luxury provided by Mr. C. Cullen, the train is moving.
The constant rocking of the train should soothe Edward, but his mind spins. He watches the outside world pass by in a blur. Very soon he will be in Paris. He'll show the buyer his paintings; he'll see if said buyer truly has an artistic eye, if he sees heart and life, or if he's merely eccentric, too reckless with his means. The outcome is imperative to Edward, something he hadn't realized until recently.
He'd left Chicago several years ago to prove a point, had been given an opportunity to pursue his passion. Looking back now, after having spent the past six months creating what he hopes are a true reflection of him, Edward understands his time in London has been lived in vain. If Mr. C. Cullen's motives are inane, Edward is not sure what he'll do aside from owning an oversized bank account. Ridiculous, he knows, to base his worth on one stranger's opinion, but what else does he have?
Though his thoughts still spin, they continue to return to the brazen woman who'd argued with the porters about her packages with the odd insignia before the train departed.
Mr. C. Cullen's footsteps echo in the vast foyer of his Paris home. They click and clack as they hit the marble floor in steady rhythm. He nods and smiles at staff who hastily put the final touches in each room before his guests arrive, which will be at any moment.
For the past year, he has consumed himself with revamping this old house, transforming it into something his late wife would have loved. He's breathed in the dust of new walls, slept amid boxes of Italian tiles in a windowless room, bled from the sharp edges of old, cracked porcelain. Mr. Carlisle Cullen's heart beats in every space of this house, and it is lonely without his Esme.
His gray-blond hair is slicked back neatly, but he nervously smoothes his hand over it anyway. He pushes aside a vase of fresh flowers, adjusts a photo of Esme that sits on a side table in the foyer so it can be viewed easily from every angle. Carlisle looks into the mirror hung above the side table and hopes his guests will not be able to see through him.
Startled by her sudden proximity, Carlisle jumps as his maid alerts him that the first of his guests has arrived. He thanks her, straightens his suit jacket then walks toward the double doors.
She is as lovely as he remembers. Isabella appears older, though, matured in a way only a confident young woman can achieve. Carlisle watches her interact with a few of his staff, hovering over her crates like a mother hen. He laughs to himself and thinks Esme would have been pleased with his decision to put his trust in Isabella, then and now.
He clears his throat. "Miss Swan?" She snaps her attention in his direction. "It will be fine. My staff are very competent. Why don't you come inside and freshen up since you've had such a long trip. Marcus will take your bags."
"Mr. Cullen," she says, walking toward him, extending her hand. He takes it, placing a light kiss on her gloved knuckles. "Yes, thank you. It's a pleasure to finally meet you, but I thought I was staying in a hotel."
"Miss Swan, the pleasure is all mine, and please call me Carlisle. Now if you're more comfortable in a hotel then by all means that's where you should go. Please know my invitation stands for you to stay here for the duration of your visit." He motions toward the door. "Shall we?"
Carlisle follows Isabella into the house. He stays paces behind her, observing her reactions to his home. Her crates are carried in, one by one, and set off to the side of the foyer. Between glancing at the boxes, she looks all around, taking her time as she does. Isabella seems to be impressed with what he's done; the smile she wears is genuine.
"Your home is beautiful," she says, and he thanks her. "When would you like to view what I've made?"
"Straight to the point, I see. Well, that is a good thing. I must admit, I am excited to see what you've come up with, but there is another artist coming. He should be here soon. Perhaps we should wait a few minutes?"
Her hands immediately find her hips, but she continues to smile. Carlisle wonders if she's offended she is not the only one who will have his or her work adorn his home. "Oh? Another gaffer?" she asks.
"No, a painter. I wouldn't dream of insulting you…or him. You're both here at the same time for the simple reason that it is more convenient for me. I hope you don't mind."
"Of course not," she says, relaxing. "I'm honored you have enough faith in me to purchase my work unseen."
"Ah, yes, faith. It is something we hold onto desperately, wouldn't you agree?"
Isabella cocks her head. "I suppose. Do you mind if I freshen up now?"
Carlisle calls for Marcus to show Isabella where her things have been taken. She ascends the staircase when he hears another carriage arrive outside. Carlisle takes a deep breath before he goes out to greet Edward.
She doesn't understand why she feels as comfortable as she does here. Perhaps it is because Mr. Cullen has honest, blue eyes or because he seems to respect his staff in the way a good father would his children—her father would be about his age if he were still alive.
Then again it could also be because the room that has been prepared for her is more lavish than any hotel room would be, at least she assumes so.
Jewel-toned textiles cover the bed and hang around the windows; a gilded mirror is perched in the corner, and furniture stained in deep browns etched with delicate gold swirls on its drawers serve as a sumptuous decoration more than a place to keep one's things. Isabella thinks this room was made for a princess. Though her persona is far from the princess type, she finds herself being swept away by her surroundings.
There is an air about Mr. Cullen that puts Isabella at ease. Something gentle, kind, and she has an innate feeling that she is right where she is supposed to be.
She knows to stay in a stranger's home would not be thought proper, and conducting a business transaction this way is far from normal. Then again, when has anyone ever thought Isabella Swan a proper young woman? She laughs quietly and decides to not make any decisions for now—her instincts have never steered her wrong before.
Outside her door, she hears two men speaking to one another. Their words are muffled, but one of the voices clearly belongs to Mr. Cullen. She wonders if the other belongs to Marcus, or perhaps, the painter.
Isabella creeps toward the door, but the voices have gone silent. She presses her ear against it as though she's a little girl again, listening for Santa Clause on Christmas Eve. She strains to hear something, when suddenly someone knocks loudly on the door and she shrieks then clasps her hand over her mouth.
"Miss Swan? Is everything all right?" Carlisle asks.
Isabella retreats away from the door. "Everything's fine," she says in a voice too high to be hers. She smiles at her silliness, smoothes her skirt and takes a deep breath.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes," she says then opens the door. "My apologies. I was just coming down."
"Please, take your time," he says, waving his hand dismissively. "Are you hungry? It is close to dinner and my cook has already begun to make preparations…"
"Wonderful. It will be nice to have company for dinner again."
"My wife passed away recently, and I haven't been…I haven't felt much like entertaining," he explains.
"I'm so sorry. I had no idea." He nods, turns to leave, but then she says, "If it's all right, I'd like to stay here instead of going to a hotel."
"I'd be delighted, Miss Swan…Mr. Masen will also be joining us for dinner. Afterward we'll take a look at the pieces you both have brought."
Isabella nods in assent, telling Carlisle she will be a few more minutes as she'd like to change into something more appropriate for dinner. He assures her it is completely unnecessary because this is not a formal gathering. He adds he doubts that Mr. Masen would mind either way, that Mr. Masen is looking forward to meeting her, and no matter what she chooses to wear he's certain she'll be exquisite.
Her cheeks flush and she dips her head, smiling. It's been a long time since Isabella has received a genuine compliment about her self. It is then she realizes she might do well if she relaxes, just a bit.
Thank goodness Isabella listened to Mrs. McCarty who'd advised that a girl should always be prepared. "Take the gown," she'd said. "You're going to Paris!" Isabella regards herself in the gilded mirror, wondering what Mrs. McCarty and Emmett, especially, are doing now, if her workshop is still in one piece.
The plum dress is no longer current fashion, but that does not matter to Isabella. She'd purchased it some time ago after it had resided in a dressmaker's window for weeks. She'd passed by the shop, at times on purpose, and gazed at the way the silver stitching curved and connected almost nonsensically around the skirt and up the bodice. Finally, she'd given in, and with no reason to wear the garment, it'd hung in her closet until yesterday.
And because she is feeling particularly girlish this evening, she adds silver gloves to her attire. They're not to hide her scars; Isabella simply likes the way they shimmer beneath the light.
Edward ambles from room to room on the main floor, hands clasped behind his back, surveying everything. He notes the colors and décor, the spacing, and envisions exactly where his paintings might be displayed, the suggestions he'll make if his opinion is asked. He's brought six canvases: five stand five feet tall and spread three feet wide. The sixth is much larger, and will require an entire wall.
Mr. Cullen, Carlisle, phantoms behind him. Edward acknowledges his presence by way of a courteous nod, an occasional smile. He's too cautious to indulge in polite conversation while they wait for Miss Swan to join them. If spoken to, he'll reply of course, but Carlisle hasn't said a word. Edward hopes he's not being rude. Chitchat will lead to his work, which will lead to the contract Carlisle knows nothing about. Edward dares not discuss his terms just yet. He'll wait until after dinner, after drinks and cigars should Carlisle partake in such things. Edward will wait until Miss Swan has had her turn. After she has retired for the evening he will then present Carlisle with his conditions. It's been his intent, all he's thought about for months until earlier today. Between rehearsing his speech and obsessing over his purpose, he's been surprisingly distracted.
Edward taps his fingers against his palm, awaiting Miss Swan's arrival. For the first time in years, Edward has truly smiled. When he saw the crates sitting in the foyer that clearly belonged to the woman from this morning his mouth turned up into a boyish grin. It's not every day one sees a black swan drawn on the side of a box, naturally they belonged to her. Carlisle asked him if he knew Miss Swan to which Edward replied, "So that's her name…" and then Carlisle mentioned something about the moon and fate. Edward didn't understand what he meant and did not ask Carlisle to elaborate.
Provided things were to go well with Carlisle, Edward had planned to stay the night in Paris before returning to London the following day. His itinerary might now change depending on what Miss Swan may do.
Marcus appears, announcing dinner.
A rosemary scent hangs heavier than the spiced plums or sage beef or the decadent mound of sugary pastries before him. Enough bowls and platters of food are spread along the dining table to supply an entire party. The room is lit by dozens of candles, their flames flickering and dancing as if on cue with the music being piped in from somewhere. It is not a formal dinner, but it certainly is intimate. Eccentric is the first thing that comes to Edward's mind, but his disappointment quickly diminishes when he sees a breathtaking woman in a purple gown enter the room.
Introductions are made as Edward swiftly walks toward Miss Swan. "Hello," he says, takes her gloved hand and kisses her knuckles. Her hand is delicate in his, and he is drawn to her lips as she replies. The smells of food permeates the air, but because Edward has not let go he is close enough to Miss Swan to smell her sweet perfume.
Perhaps he is holding her hand a bit too long, Carlisle politely clears his throat, yet Edward cannot seem to take his eyes off Miss Swan's. She does not shy away, holding his gaze the entire time. Before she releases his hand, she squeezes it gently. Mr. Masen is immediately and completely smitten.
Edward sits directly across from Miss Swan, Carlisle to his right. He sips his wine, eats small bites of his food, barely participating in the conversation, his eyes returning to Miss Swan to catch as many subtle glimpses as he can. He hears and acknowledges every word said, enamored when her brown eyes widen as though she hangs onto every word of Carlisle's explanation of the intricacies of the city's newest structure, the Eiffel Tower.
"What a shame that so few people will enjoy the architectural brilliance of it. It's to be taken down once the Fair is over." He tsks, shaking his head. "Did you see it on your way in?" Carlisle asks.
"I did. It's incredible," she replies, turning to Edward. "Did you?"
"It's hard to miss, but yes," Edward says, staring straight at her, "it's incredible."
He's all but forgotten his initial purpose now, watching her lips curve into smiles, the way her shoulders turn toward Carlisle, giving him her full attention when he speaks. Edward notices how she cocks her head to the side each time Carlisle has mentioned his late wife in casual passing and the way her chin lifts proudly which elongates her slender neck when she talks of her apprentice.
"He's a good boy, works very hard to help out his family. He has a younger sister, seven, who's a spitting image of her mother with her tight red curls. She's adorable," she says. "Emmett contributed a vase as well. I think you'll like it. He's becoming quite the artist."
"I'm sure he's been taught well," Edward says; Carlisle agrees.
"I suppose we'll find out when we finally unveil our pieces, won't we?" She winks and Edward laughs. "Perhaps one day the McCarty name will be famous."
Edward wipes the corner of his mouth with his napkin. "McCarty?"
"Yes." She sips her wine, looking between him and Carlisle. "Do you know the name?"
"I do. I employ a woman. Maggie McCarty? She lost her husband to illness, and I was aware she had children, but she'd never mentioned much more than that."
"She cares for your home?" Edward nods, impressed by her choice of words. "Well, Mr. Masen, I believe she is one in the same. It seems we have something more in common than our passion for art."
"So it does." He tips his glass toward her, and she returns the gesture.
Carlisle sits back in his chair. "What are the odds?" he says, raising his own glass. "Cheers to funny little things."
Perhaps peculiar is a more appropriate description of Carlisle, Edward thinks. No matter, he repeats the toast along with Miss Swan, and their eyes lock. This time, she looks away, her cheeks pink.
Shredded paper, wooden splinters, and discarded tops of crates are swept to the side of the foyer. By invitation he stands next to Carlisle who "oohs" and "ahhs" as Miss Swan removes her creations one by one with her bare hands, refusing both their help. Edward sees a few scars scattered along her forearms which, he thinks, add to her character.
But he frets he will be expected to return the invitation and allow Miss Swan to witness his paintings being shown for the first time as well. Tomorrow, I'll speak privately with Carlisle.
He praises her work, and she thanks him.
"May I?" she addresses Carlisle after he's had time to view everything, gushing over this and that. She holds one of her pieces, amber in color, thinner at the bottom, growing wider toward the top, the lip curled out into a wavy, whimsical pattern.
She leaves the room. "Miss Swan is very talented," Edward says.
"Indeed. I'm anxious to see how well you'll compliment each other."
Carlisle smiles. "Your work. As I stated in my letter, I want to fill this house with color and beauty. It doesn't really matter if your paintings aren't…Forgive me if I use an incorrect term as I am not an artist, but if they aren't of the same scheme or style as her glass. This is all for Esme who was a true artist," he admits. "And after meeting you both I'm very much intrigued how it will look in the end."
"I see. I think. All for Esme?" Edward immediately scolds himself for being so forward as though he and Carlisle are old friends. But there is something unusual about this place that makes Edward continue to forget why he's here. Miss Swan reenters, picks up a green globe and takes it up the staircase. "I believe she's decorating for you." He chuckles.
"I'm sure she'll find the perfect spot for everything," Carlisle says, but he does not say anything more.
"Undoubtedly. I apologize if I've offended you."
Carlisle tilts his head up at the chandelier above. "You didn't."
Edward keeps his stance next to Carlisle until Miss Swan has placed all of her glass, aside from the indigo teardrops, throughout the house. He knows exactly where he'll suggest his paintings be hung.
Isabella's skin burns from where it was touched by Mr. Masen's lips. She absently rubs her thumb across the spot while he rips the brown paper away from the giant canvas.
"Oh," she whispers. "Mr. Masen, it's extraordinary."
Entirely covered in blues, it is light and dark, morning and midnight, overlapping, separating, and coming back again. Thin rivers, unnoticeable until you stand within inches of the painting, of pale green, black, amethyst, and yellow travel from the center out, not all reaching the edge. It is a starburst of fervor. It is angry and joyful and powerful.
Mr. Masen reveals his other paintings, and they are the same but they are different. The one thing they share is a threadlike stream of dark red which seems to be their lifeline, connecting them.
Carlisle smiles. "I feel as though I'm staring at my best and my worst dream."
Mr. Masen laughs quietly. "Yes, yes it is."
Isabella glances at Mr. Masen's profile, how his shoulders relax minutely. His eyes are fixed downward, but the corner of his mouth lifts slightly and he is silent for a moment. When he turns, his features are softer, and there is a childlike flicker in his eyes.
Carlisle walks closer to the paintings. He nods to himself, bends down to trace his fingers over swirls and lines without touching them. Isabella wonders briefly if Carlisle felt the same fascination toward her work.
He takes a deep breath then looks at Isabella. "The blue bowl you made. The one with the bubbles inside? I think if it were placed below the large painting it'd appear as if the colors were falling into it, almost drawn to it."
"Proportionally you think it would work?"
She smiles, appraising his suggestion. "And perhaps these…" She moves to gather several teardrops, "Could hang above?" He nods, but there is something more behind his gaze. The way he kept stealing peeks at her throughout dinner was nothing more than flirtatious, a curiosity. But now the air feels warmer, and her heart beats faster. Mr. Masen holds onto her with his eyes, like he's professing his deepest secrets. She blinks, temporarily breaking the connection. "What do you think, Mr. Cullen?"
"I'll have my staff take care of it in the morning. You'll both be available?"
"Yes," they answer. Isabella shakes the fog from her head.
"If our host doesn't object, would you care to take a walk? That is, if you're not too tired." he asks, and she is taken by surprise.
"Oh, well, I don't—"
"I have a garden," Carlisle says, "at the back of the house. Rather dark now, but you're welcome to go there if you'd like."
"Mr. Cullen, you've been very gracious to us both, and I wouldn't want to be rude," she says but gapes at Mr. Masen. He mouths "please" to her, and she turns her head to hide her smile.
"Nonsense. I insist. It's getting late, and I think I'm going to retire for the evening. I can't thank you both enough for what you've done. Edward, will you be staying this evening?"
Mr. Masen hesitates while Isabella returns the teardrops to their box for safekeeping. When he doesn't answer Carlisle tells him to alert Marcus should he choose to stay, but if not be sure to come back early for a feast of a breakfast his cook has planned. He bids them goodnight.
To spend time alone with Mr. Masen could be a dangerous thing, yet it is the only thing Isabella wants to do. She knows nothing of this man who is offering his arm to her. If he is anything like his paintings, he is brilliant and tender, and she can hardly believe she hasn't heard of him before.
The steps to the patio are black, wet from an apparent rain that'd gone unnoticed during some part of the evening. Lamps are mysteriously being lit down the path and around a curve further down. Too dark to see who is doing this, the unexplained glows resemble giant fireflies, beckoning them to follow. She assumes it is most likely Marcus. It is chilly and damp out here, heightening the scent of orange blossoms and honeysuckle that are planted just outside the house.
Her hand rests comfortably in the crook of his elbow, and they leisurely stroll down the slate path with manicured shrubs, rose bushes, and peonies on either side. Isabella peeks up at Mr. Masen, catching a glimpse of him each time they pass one of the firefly lamps. He wears a grin, but his eyes stare straight ahead.
"Was there something you wanted to discuss with me, Mr. Masen?" Now she's the one who flirts, and it must be obvious. His grin has turned into a full-fledged smile.
"Everything," she repeats. "I don't know if it'd be wise to tell you all my secrets."
"And why not?"
"We've only just met."
He stops, breaks a rose from the bush and holds it up to his nose. He twirls it between his fingers and continues their unhurried pace. "Fair enough. Would you tell me tomorrow? Or the day after that?"
"It's possible," she says, taking the rose from his hand; he chuckles.
"Possible is good. Thank you, by the way, for agreeing to walk with me."
She glances up at him. "You're welcome."
As she sniffs the petals they reach the curve. The shrubs have thinned out, revealing a circular maze of kept grass and low-growing flowers. In the center there is a cement bench with rounded out legs. Mr. Masen motions to it, and she nods. She wants to come out here in the morning, convinced the entire scene is spectacular in daylight. Though by the cover of night, it is magical.
She also wants to ask him about his painting, why he reacted the way he did when Mr. Cullen compared it to a dream. She wants to spend the rest of the evening getting to know Mr. Masen. Perhaps Isabella wants too much, all at once.
"You're not originally from London, are you?" she asks. A safe question, she thinks.
He shakes his head. "No, I'm not. And by your accent, I'd wager you're not either."
"New York," she admits.
"Why did you—" they say and then laugh. Mr. Masen offers for her to sit first.
She folds her hands in her lap after laying the rose between them. "Something new. My father was a gaffer and did quite well. My first memory is of him standing near a lit furnace, spinning a milky piece of glass faster and faster until it grew rounder and wider. The flames were bright behind him which made him appear to be this powerful being manipulating something very otherworldly. I remember thinking he was the one responsible for creating the moon.
"He was a good man, taught me everything I know. But he was old, older than most who'd fathered children my age, and he passed away peacefully. It was too hard to stay in New York after he'd died."
"I'm very sorry," he says. "What about your mother? Is she still there?"
"I wouldn't really know. She is, or was, a singer. I imagine she's somewhere, though."
"Miss Swan, I—"
She turns to him, her knee brushing against his thigh. "Please, call me Isabella. And no apologies are necessary. I'm very happy."
"All right." Mr. Masen shifts, taking her hand, holding it between both of his. "Isabella, I'm enchanted to meet you. I'm Edward." He does not put her skin to his lips, but oh, how she wants him to.
They sit in silence, puffs of steam escaping their mouths. It must be colder than she realizes, but Isabella is so very warm. She feels a desire to lean forward, encourage him to do the same, to touch his lips with her own, but she does not. This little moment is one to savor.
Finally, she asks him why he left Chicago. She listens intently as Edward grapples for the proper words to explain what it was like to live in the shadow of a man whom he'd admired and absolutely adored. There is pride in his voice as Edward tells her that his father painted, that he was brilliant, dazzling Chicago society with his talent and charm.
He says he was just fifteen when he'd first noticed his father's speech slur. At eighteen, he'd watched his father drag his right leg when he walked, the right side of his face sagging, the way he could no longer hold a brush. And at twenty-one, Edward had stood outside his father's room no longer recognizing this man who was his father. He'd stared blankly at the ceiling while Edward's mother had sat beside his father, reading Dickens aloud.
"He's still alive," Edward says. "And my mother sits by his side, reading to him every day. I'd taken part of my trust and left Chicago a few years ago, determined to make my own way. The expectations to be like him…
"I've tried to emulate his technique, but could never get it quite right," he says. "But then some months ago I was sort of struck, if you will. I fused our styles together, and the result is what you saw tonight. It was the best way I knew how to honor my father."
"I think he'd be proud, Edward. You should be, too. You're an amazing artist."
He intertwines their fingers together. "Yes, well, you're quite impressive yourself. Would you consider showing me your work when we return to London?"
She smiles. "I would love to."
Isabella mentions the time, though she has no idea what a clock would read presently, nor does she want to leave Edward. She would sit with him until sunrise if she could, but they are not alone. Marcus has begun to extinguish the lamps at the far end of the garden.
Reluctantly, they depart the center of the maze, her hand back in his arm, and they promise future visits to one another.
"Do you wonder why Carlisle chose us?" she questions as they near the house. He asks if it really matters. "No, it really doesn't."
Before they reach the slate steps, Edward asks Isabella to wait a moment. They stand in the light illuminating from the house, and Isabella is once again spellbound by his green eyes.
"I don't want to say goodnight. I worry that tomorrow I'll wake up and this all would have been a dream, and I wonder as I've done since the second you walked into the dining room tonight, if you'd allow me to paint you. If you say yes, I'll know this is real."
A flutter runs through her. "Tonight?" she asks, her mind reeling with questions of where and when and how.
"Soon. Very, very soon. Say yes, Isabella." Edward beams, and she laughs.
"I don't know if I'd feel comfortable with my portrait hung somewhere, or even leaning against a wall, covered by a sheet."
He shakes his head. "Not a portrait. Color. Pale pink for the blush you wear now. Peach for your skin, something soft and delicate." Edward runs his finger along her cheek. "A gentle apricot for your voice. I'd mix shades of burgundy for days until I found the perfect brilliance for your heart, deep and magnificent. Hues of browns and golds for your eyes…I'd consider myself a fortunate man if I were to capture their essence." He moves his hand to her chin, tilting her head up slightly. "There would be no lines, no disorder, and it would not be defined, Miss Swan, because you are larger than anything a simple observer could ever comprehend."
His lips press softly against hers, once then twice, and she is back in that fog, though this time she does not want to shake it off. Edward releases too quickly, but she pulls him back for another kiss.
"I'm going to stay at a hotel tonight," he says, his voice low in her ear. "I don't think I trust myself enough to be a gentleman knowing you are right down the hall."
"My virtue thanks you." He laughs and kisses her neck. "Come back as early as you can."
"Early is not soon enough."
"Are you planning something wonderful for the Fair next month?" Isabella asks Carlisle. She lifts her glass of juice, smiling at Edward who sits across from her.
Carlisle glances between the two of them, noting a certain glow. "I have faith the outcome will be, yes. All of this was something Esme and I had planned while we lived in London, before she was suddenly taken from me. Well, not sudden to some I suppose. Though, eight months isn't nearly enough time to say goodbye to someone you've loved your entire life." Sounds of a hammer echo from the foyer.
Earlier this morning, Carlisle had advised his staff to meet with Edward and Isabella so they could be instructed where Edward's paintings should be displayed. Furniture has been rearranged, clearing the wall opposite the front door for the largest painting so it is the first thing seen upon entering his home.
"Shall we see how they're doing?" Carlisle asks.
Isabella and Edward follow, leaving their plates empty of the fruit, eggs, and ham they've feasted on.
"She was an artist. I mentioned that, didn't I? Yes, well, she worked with fabrics. Dyed silks and wools, cut and sewed garments. However, her true calling was decorating homes. She made the most gorgeous draperies, said that she liked to leave a little piece of her wherever she went, not have a piece of her traveling from here to there…if that makes any sense." He smiles then points to one of the men on a ladder who is hanging Isabella's teardrops. "Is that what you had in mind?"
"Yes, I think so," she says. Edward stands next to her, and Carlisle wonders if Edward is aware how he leans toward Isabella as though being pulled by an invisible string.
"I, on the other hand, am of opposite mind as her. Unlike the three of you, I see things in black and white. If someone took ill, I prescribed treatment. If they fell and cut their flesh, I stitched them up."
"You're a doctor?" Edward asks.
"Was. I couldn't fix my Esme," Carlisle says. "So, once we knew she was not going to get well again, we made arrangements for someone else to occupy the space where she was happiest." He looks kindly at Isabella. "It was the right decision."
"My workshop?" she asks and he nods. "So, all along you've known me, so to speak."
"Not necessarily, Isabella. When you first inquired about the space, my attorney alerted me. It was just a feeling. And you Edward, I'm afraid coming across your talent was pure luck. Or perhaps Esme had given me a little nudge in the right direction. No matter, I'd say things have worked out quite well.
"Nevertheless, she made me swear to continue on with our plan, finishing by the start of the World's Fair. Thanks to the two of you, I've made our deadline. The promise of the Eiffel Tower fascinated her, and I must say I can now see why."
For the entire morning Carlisle assists Isabella moving her decorative glass to enhance Edward's paintings. A stream of sunlight casts through a window in the parlor, and she places the yellow and orange piece in the center of the light, stunning Carlisle with its fiery illusion.
By mid-afternoon Carlisle has invited his guests to stay longer, during their tour of the Eiffel Tower. They decide another few days would be wonderful.
The end of the week is already here. Carlisle stands in the doorway and waves goodbye as Edward and Bella's carriage leaves to take them to the train.
Carlisle alerts Marcus that Mr. Masen's name may never be revealed, per his request. He adds that it is time to dismiss his staff, to be sure to tell them not to forget their envelopes which contain their wages.
In London, Isabella locks the door to her workshop. She's already sent Emmett home as he has school tomorrow.
The evening air is glorious, and after changing out of her work clothes, she decides to walk by the park before meeting Edward at the restaurant. He's promised a peek of her portrait that is not truly a portrait, tonight after dinner. Isabella waves hello to the dressmaker who stands in the window of the shop, holding this season's latest style. Isabella eyes the ruby fabric. Perhaps next year, she thinks.
Edward waits patiently for Isabella to arrive. In his pocket is the itinerary for a trip to Chicago, one he plans to share with Isabella. The blonde waitress asks what he'd like, and as usual, he orders two dishes of lamb and a bottle of Bordeaux.
In Paris, Carlisle gazes out his bedroom window. The streets have become quite crowded these past few days with tourists. From where he stands, he has the most spectacular view of the upper most part of the Eiffel Tower. He closes his curtains, then walks toward his bed. As he pulls the silver-plated revolver from the drawer of his bedside table, he silently tells Esme that he'll see her soon.