Big thanks to PLLHalebSpoby and HollettLA for their help and finally making me understand a little more about dialogue commas hehe.
I don't own Twilight or any of its franchise.
A/N So I was on a writing roll that made me spit this one out rather quickly this time. It's a lot longer than the last chapter so I hope that makes up for the sporadic updating. Thanks for the lovely, and confused, reviews, I love them and they make me struggle harder to continue than ever before so keep 'em coming, please! Enjoy!
Finished with my bath, I had just sat down to enjoy the scrumptious-looking meal that Edward had somehow managed to prepare for me – without any obvious use of cooking devices – when there was a knock on the door.
Edward bowed to me, set down a massive plate of assorted meats in front of me, and went to answer the door.
Unable to conceal my curiosity, as it was, I turned to see who it was, even though there was no big surprise when I met Emmett's friendly gaze. "Hi, Emmett, I greeted and turned back to my food so the two butlers could get their ritual over and done with.
"Hello, Edward." Emmett's usually so boisterous voice sounded unusually flat, and my heart went out to the guy. Evidently, he too didn't find Rosalie's sudden urge to duel any more comprehensible than I did. "I am here for your Mistress's decision."
I cringed a little when Emmett's words brought back the quick debate Edward and I had gone through as I'd waited for him to prepare my bath earlier. He'd finally informed me of the three types of duels that Rosalie had offered, being right in the sense of them all being rather fixed on intellectual knowledge, and I had told him to pick since he knew how things went around here a lot better than I did.
Looking closer as Edward drew in breath to answer in a no doubt, long and convoluted manner, I saw that Emmett had lost that shine to him that I had always associated with pure happiness and contentment - despite his being a less than perfect butler. It didn't suit him.
"Come and join me, Emmett," I ordered with a gentle smile, pretending not to notice Edward's appalled gaze in my direction.
I knew I was probably committing a great sin, but to be honest, I didn't give a damn. I liked Emmett and he obviously needed some cheering up, so I wasn't changing my mind.
It looked like he spotted my resolve as well because he quietly nodded and made his way over to me. I graciously pretended not to notice the wary glance he shot toward Edward in the process.
"So, dig in." I grinned. "Edward's made more than enough for little ol' me." I leaned forward a bit and whispered furtively, "But you better eat something quick, 'cause you never know if Alice and Jasper are gonna barge in here and steal it all outta your hands."
Emmett grinned, apparently he too knew enough about the infamous duo to know I wasn't entirely joking. I waited for him to grab something first, but it seemed that even Emmett was too trained to even contemplate eating before a Mistress, whether or not she was his own.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: these damn butlers are weird.
Shaking off the brief flare of irritation, I forced another smile on my face and filled my plate. After a long pause, where Emmett once more looked over at Edward until I glared at him, he finally reached out and grabbed a roll of delicious smelling bread.
I waited a few minutes, until he'd had time to eat a little, before I asked my first question. "I know enough about you butlers and your insane loyalty, so I won't ask what I really want to know. But," I added after a quick look over at Edward, who'd moved a little at my words as if wanting to interrupt, "I do want to ask if—"
"Don't bother, Miss Bella," Emmett said, putting down the piece of chicken he'd been about to bite into. "I can honestly say that what Miss Rosalie is doing makes as little sense to me as it does to you."
My hopes crashed and burned immediately; I had no idea how much I had wanted Emmett to be able to change Rosalie's mind. Evidently, the butler had already tried and come up short, which kind of sucked since it was my only idea as to how to stop this whole mess.
"Well, I guess that's that then." I sighed, planting my head in my hands right there on the table, manners be damned. "I'm gonna get my as—butt kicked and bring shame and embarrassment to everyone who cares about these things."
"Miss Bella…" Edward began, only to stop with a small grimace. I glanced up at him and realized it was Emmett's presence that was making him hold back. Ignoring him, my head turned to Emmett.
"How are you holding up with all of this?"
Emmett's smile had to be made of glass it looked that fragile, but I gave him an A for effort nonetheless. "I mostly regret what all of this is doing to you, Miss Bella. I mean, your last duel was so recently."
Suddenly, it was as though he couldn't control himself anymore because the next thing I knew, he was talking a mile a minute, and fumbling with his jacket pocket. "Everything is just so messed up, Miss Bella. I don't know what to do anymore. Rose, I mean, Miss Rosalie has acted strange all day, and when I all but begged her to put a stop to this nonsense, she yelled at me. You have to understand that Miss Rosalie never yells at me. She yells at everyone else, sure, but not me."
At last, Emmett seemed to find whatever his enormous hand had searched for in his jacket pocket, because with his next breath he quickly withdrew it, and all but threw it at my face. I barely had a moment to flinch in surprise before Edward's nimble fingers had caught it in midair, checked it to make sure it wasn't some kind of cleverly hidden bomb, sent Emmett a glare that could freeze Hell and handed it over to me gently with a small bow.
"Thanks," I mumbled distractedly, eyeing the item that turned out to be an old, torn at the edges, photograph. It depicted a slightly younger, but still just as incomprehensibly big, Emmett standing behind a small family that was without a doubt the Hales. He was wearing the ugliest polka-dotted bowtie I had ever seen in my life, and I couldn't quite stop myself from giggling at the sight.
Emmett chuckled and pointed at the bowtie. "It was the first gift Miss Rosalie ever gave to me. The first thing she ever gave me that she made herself. I cannot tell you what it meant to me. Eventually Mr. Hale had to pull me aside and tell me that it did not give off the most elegant of butler personas, so I stopped wearing it. I still love it though."
The whole concept of Rosalie Hale, resident school Ice Queen, doing something so sweet was hard to swallow, but I managed to smile at the suddenly sad-looking butler next to me. Deciding to change the subject, I looked down at the picture again.
In front sat Rosalie; she looked to be twelve or thirteen years old, and even if it was only to myself, I had to admit that she looked nauseatingly cute and beautiful even then. It didn't hurt that she had a missing front tooth that was generously shown off in a big smile that I'd thought her quite impossible of. Her tiny arms were wrapped around two people, a man and a woman.
The man had to be her dad. One had to be blind not to spot the family resemblance; they shared the same golden hair and bright blue eyes – even their damn noses were identical.
The love that poured out of the now late Mr. Hale's face tore at my heartstrings. I looked over at my night table where I had a similar photo of my parents standing. In that moment, my grief had never been more profound, and all I wanted was to turn back time and hug my mom and dad like the little Rosalie on the picture was doing.
Then it struck me: Mr. Hale had just recently died and Rosalie was probably going through her own mourning, hating every second apart like I did when I wasn't too busy being distracted enough to forget their absence.
But that still doesn't give her the right to act so crazy and challenge innocent bystanders to idiotic duels, my conscience pointed out, and I fought back the wave of pity that had almost taken me over.
My attention went back to the picture in my hands, eyes gliding to the woman whose dark coloring told me that this was the stepmother that Edward had told me about earlier. She looked beautiful, no big surprise there, really, but even though her eyes portrayed genuine affection as she was enveloped by Rosalie's other arm in a hug, I couldn't quite see the same kind of love from her toward Rosalie that I saw in her husband.
"Does Rosalie get along with her stepmother?" The question left my lips without my really expecting it, and I bit my lip with dread as I waited for Emmett to either stomp away in anger at my prying or for Edward to shake his head at me with disappointment. Fortunately, it seemed like Emmett was just a carefree guy that didn't mind my curiosity or suspect the ulterior motives I felt forming within me.
"Uhm, sure." He shrugged. "They've always gotten along perfectly well. Mrs. Hale does frequent her charity events and fashion shows quite often, so Miss Rosalie doesn't spend a lot of time with her out of family time, I must admit. She usually spends her days down in the workshop with her father and their cars…well, she used to, but she hasn't stepped foot in there since her father died last month."
"Oh," I muttered and was about to hand the picture back when Emmett continued with a sigh.
"She has kept herself at the school, even during the times where she is allowed home. Not even Mr. King's presence has tempted her to go home."
"King as in Royce King?"
Edward's voice shocked me because never had he interfered with any of my personal conversations before, but I guess Emmett's status as a butler did make him a little less formal when it came down to it.
Emmett nodded and gently took his picture back, placing it in his jacket pocket again with a lot more care than he'd showed a moment ago. "Yes. Miss Rosalie is his fiancée. They've been betrothed since she was four years old."
"Eew!" Again, my brain-to-mouth filter seemed to be a little off because I couldn't keep the exclamation from escaping my lips. "Engaged as a four-year-old? What is this? The Middle Ages? That's barbaric, is what it is."
Shockingly, Emmett's smile was a tad condescending when he spoke. "Miss Bella, old fashioned though it may seem, it is quite common amongst young ladies such as yourself. It's believed to be a great fortune for those families involved."
Edward's nod of silent agreement suddenly made my stomach turn. "Err, Edward." My voice was a little shaky but I pretended not to care as I continued. "Am I by any chance engaged?"
The few seconds of silence before Edward answered me felt like an eternity to me, and I wanted nothing more than to jump into my bed and scream frantically into my pillow, just in case he was preparing to tell me that "Yes, Miss Bella, your betrothed is your great-uncle's cousin's niece's nephew's half-brother's father, who really looks quite young despite his fortieth birthday having just been celebrated."
If that turned out to be the case, I decided then and there I would be out of this crazy school so fast that not even Speedy Gonzales would have a shot at catching up to me.
Luckily, Edward cured me of my desperate internal preparations when he simply said that I was, so far, without any attachments in that area. Later, when I thought about his answer, I could have sworn that he'd looked a little angry at the very thought of my being engaged, almost possessive. Wishful thinking, perhaps?
In the distance there was a sound of a loud gong, and Edward immediately straightened himself up a little more and looked at Emmett with his mask of neutrality back in place. "It is time for Miss Bella's afternoon classes. Take her decision back to your Mistress and please inform her that the scheduling of when and where is entirely in her corner."
Emmett nodded, and after a quick bow in my direction, he left as quickly as he'd arrived.
I wanted to sit and think about all the things I'd learned, probe Edward for a little more information about everything, and maybe share my thoughts on the whole possible wicked stepmother idea, no matter how unfounded it seemed at the moment, but Edward had other ideas.
He walked over to my carelessly tossed to the side book bag, slung it around his shoulder like it didn't weigh a goddamn ton and held out his white-gloved hand to me. "Shall we, Miss Bella? It is not wise to be late. It is unladylike."
Groaning to show my displeasure, I got up and slowly made my way over to his side to face my doom. I hated when he pulled out the annoying ladylike thingie. It made me feel completely inadequate even when I had already told him that I wasn't gonna even to try to be one. But still, a girl liked to look her best for the guy she liked, right?
"When we return tonight –" Edward's deep voice brought me momentarily out of my misery, only to catapult me right into another one " –I shall collect Miss Rosalie's decision and inform you of the chosen time and date of your duel."
"Great, I just can't wait to show off my 'real life' knowledge to everyone," I muttered self-consciously and got into the Pink Horror.
The only thing comforting me was the fact that a duel of wits, so to speak, would without a doubt be way more low-key than the fighting duel that I had had to dress up for. "That's something at least," I muttered, ignoring the slightly puzzled look that Edward sent me as he strapped me in before the helicopter took off.
"No, absolutely not!"
People were staring at me with wide, disbelieving eyes, but frankly I didn't give a sh… well, it wasn't any of my concern, as Edward would phrase it. I was mad and embarrassed as hell.
When Edward had interrupted my rare alone slash study time at the humongous library that was the size of a small town, I had originally thought it was because he was going to take me back to the dorm for dinner.
Silly, innocent me…
The way his mouth was drawn tight together, coupled with the tiniest of frowns, should have tipped me off at first, but I was too preoccupied with finishing my mountain-like pile of homework so I wouldn't have to do anything the upcoming weekend but go to my stupid "Lady Classes."
Then he'd opened his mouth and all thoughts of relaxation flew out of me in a rush. Clearly, Rosalie was in a bigger hurry to kick my ass than anticipated even by him because she had summoned me to begin our duel of wits.
A moment later, Edward was leading the way to the Pink Horror, and I barely had time to comprehend what was going on before it landed on the designated area and he was guiding me toward the main building of the school.
I should have anticipated what came next due to the amount of parked helicopters and vehicles around me alone, I really should have, but, as already stated, I wasn't that smart.
Next thing I knew, Edward had led me through the entrance hall and opened the colossal, wooden doors into a room that made the great hall at Hogwarts look like a dump. There were tapestries and flickering candles in extremely beautiful crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. Several ornate tables stood around the edges of the room with gorgeous, roaring fireplaces in between them that were big enough to fit small families.
But I didn't really care about any of that after one quick look. No, all of my attention was now riveted on the gown and suit-wearing crowd I shared this absurd school experience with.
Their eyes were locked on me as soon as I walked inside, and after one brief, heavy pause, I just looked up at Edward and more or less growled, "No, absolutely not!"
Of course nothing came of my vehement and rather obvious disapproval, because in that moment, the school's headmistress, Adrianna Bellsworth, strolled over to me. She looked quite beautiful in her ruby red gown that showed a little more than a headmistress of young girls really should have been comfortable with, but I was too pissed off to even compliment her.
"Hello, dear," she greeted me and bent down to give me one of the most superficial cheek kisses I'd ever had the pleasure of receiving. "So happy that Edward here could fetch you so quickly. There's not a moment to waste, you know. After dear Rosalie told me of the upcoming event, we've worked full speed ahead to finish in time and, of course, to manage informing the rest of the student body of what's going to happen tonight."
"Great." The sarcasm dripped from my voice, and I didn't even try to contain it. I was stuck between running away and being branded a coward, or accepting these shenanigans that, frankly, was bound to be even more stupid than they seemed at that moment.
I don't even know why I'm gonna do this, I thought, warily watching Edward in case he'd do one of his magic transformations on me and put me in a gown of my own. All that's gonna happen if I lose is my having to leave this place, and that's not exactly a bad thing. Edward had informed me in between classes that Rosalie's stipulation of my possibly losing the duel would be that I had to leave the school for good. I had yet to figure out my own demand if I ended up winning, but I figured I'd wing it if that happened.
The phantom smell of burning wood and the warmth from the flames suddenly seemed to attack my senses, and I swallowed heavily when the memory of my childhood home exploding right in front of me struck me hard. If it hadn't been for Edward, I would not be there to bitch and moan about stupid duels and their crappy inventors, and all of it all seemed so trivial to me after I thought about that.
Edward told me I was in danger now that people know Aro Volturi has an heir. I bit my lip with worry that had nothing to do with my pending humiliation. If those same people try hurting me again I may die or get someone I care about, like Rebecca or Uncle Billy, hurt. And you wouldn't have Edward to ogle all the time, my less-than-innocent side suddenly interjected and I had to fight off a rising blush. Damn my annoyingly telltale cheeks!
With a small jolt, I was brought back to the present, and I looked up at an unusually agitated-looking Edward. His eyes were almost black with worry, and I wanted nothing more than to wrap my arms around him and soothe him to the best of my abilities. In that moment, I knew that even though I didn't really love it at St. Lucia, I didn't want to leave his side, so I took a deep breath to strengthen myself, turned to the headmistress with a fake smile plastered on my face.
"Let's do this."
"Wonderful." Adrianna swept her arms out in a dramatic pose that threatened to expose more of the woman than I cared to see. Her butler hovered behind her, clearly aware of the possible faux pas, so I didn't worry too much. "Come with me, my dear. Edward, you have to stay behind. There's no need for your assistance because that would just be incredibly unfair to Rosalie and her little butler."
I gave a small twitch when Adrianna's acrylic nails rubbed up and down my butler's defined chest, half-hoping she'd explode or something. Edward merely nodded somberly and elegantly stepped over to my side to give me some last minute advice.
"Miss Bella, I fear I have underestimated the scale of this event, but as long as you use your instincts and levelheadedness, I have no doubt you will emerge the victor. I believe I may have a solution to all of this, so I will have to leave the school for a little while. But I shall see you soon, I give you my word. Please be safe until I return."
Why was everyone suddenly acting like I was gonna go through a vast physical endeavor? It is only a damn quiz, I wondered to myself as I obediently followed Adrianna and her butler over to the thickest crowd, trying not to let Edward's impending mystery disappearance affect me too much.
The headmistress cleared her throat and everyone took one giant step back, leaving me with a clear view of Rosalie in the middle of it all.
The blonde looked paler than normal, but I attested that to the nerves that I felt plaguing my own body as I was gently led over to her. A second later, we were standing opposite each other and I tried my best to copy that look of emptiness on her face, but knowing me, I probably just ended up looking constipated.
To distract myself from whatever mad adventure I was about to embark upon, I let my eyes glide around at the people watching us like hawks. My gaze stopped at Angela, who was waving and smiling kindly with her ever so somber-looking butler, Ben, standing guard behind her. Edward's words about her permanently injuring another girl ran through me again, and I had to repress a shudder when I returned the wave.
It completely blew my rational mind how she was even still a student and not incarcerated, but Edward had tried to explain it to me when I had asked him about it after Emmett had left my room earlier.
Evidently, St. Lucia was a league of its own in terms of law and order. Personally, I thought it had more to do with the fact that everyone attending had ties to someone really powerful, meaning judges, politicians and people like that. Angela had gotten off with some community service in the hospital where the injured girl was staying, and according to Edward, they were actually friendly now. Like I said, it all blew my mind, and I had promised myself not to take anyone by their looks alone anymore.
"When I beat you—," Rosalie's melodic voice interrupted my musings, and I turned my head back to meet her hard stare head on "—I'll lend you Emmett's services to help you pack since Edward seems to have abandoned you."
Oh, goody. Smack talk. Talking smack was by no means new to me from my earlier school where Rebecca and I had engaged in it whenever one of the cocky boys had tried getting our attention – well, her attention, but I digress. I loved it, and so, for the first time, I felt fully confident in my interaction with the tall blonde in front of me.
"Tsk, Rose—," I rolled my eyes and crossed my arms "—unlike you, who I bet can't even tie her own shoelaces, I know how to actually fold and pack clothes into a bag. Thanks for the kind offer though."
If looks could kill, I had no doubt that my next destination was six feet under, and I had to stop myself from showing any of my growing apprehension on my face. Instead, I plastered on a huge smile that reeked of insincerity, just as our dear headmistress stepped over to us with a microphone in her hand.
Taking a deep breath, I straightened up and tried to project as much confidence as I could to mimic Rosalie. "Well—", I smirked, drawing her attention to me again "—let's get this unbelievably fancy, yet totally idiotic, party going, shall we?"
A/N A lot of talking, I know, but I've been getting a lot of questions and this is one way of answering them (a little) for you. As always, if you enjoyed, review and if you didn't, review and tell me why.
Until Next Time -
June 4th Edit: Rant about the unfairness of life removed due to Evil reviewer with no sense of humor or compassion.