Falling For Acacia: Chapter 12
Disclaimer: All Twilight related material is the sole property of the original author.
I spot Elizabeth's car as I walk across the parking lot. She's on the phone but sees me coming and raises her hand to give me a slight wave. She finishes her call as I get into the passenger seat, puts her phone back into the cradle, and she turns to me.
"Hello, Bella. Did you have a good day?
"Yeah, um, yes, thank you." I correct myself before she gives me another lecture on proper speech. Yet another part of being me that I'm expected to sacrifice…and God, only knows what this woman I'm about to meet will expect me to give up. I sigh and look out of the window as Elizabeth gets underway.
I miss Phil, even with his drug problem and the hardships that it caused, I didn't ever doubt that he loved me, the real me. I miss hearing him play his sax, I even miss Forks; something I never thought I'd say. And I reluctantly admit to myself that I really, really miss Edward. Since my own parents and then Phil died, he's come closest to making me feel like I belong. I don't know what it is about him or why it is, but I feel comfortable and safe with him. Even if sometimes I'm shy around him. I wish that I could feel settled at the house, but it's like my spidey senses just won't allow me to. I keep waiting for that other shoe to drop. Even my budding friendship with Rose and Alice doesn't make me feel better about this.
"Bella?" Elizabeth interrupts my though.
I turn to look at her.
"I think it would be helpful if I give you a little information about Ms. Jones, don't you think?
She continues without waiting for me to answer.
"Ms. Jones has been responsible for refining all of my girls. She's helped to turn them into the sophisticated, impeccably groomed and behaved young ladies that they now are. They are the envy at every gathering they attend. She could do the same for you, Bella. But, you need to welcome it and not always fight against anything new or different."
I don't say anything, what would be the point. I really don't have a choice… where do I have to go? I have no money, no family, no car and I'm scared of going into the social services system. I've read and heard about what happens to kids who do that. And who would want a nearly seventeen-year old stranger in their home?
I turn back to stare out of the window, and she goes on as if she's not at all affected by my stony silence. But I notice the little sigh. Yeah, I feel the same way about you!
"I've known Rowena Jones for many years. She's a very well known and well-connected socialite. After her husband died, she occupied her time by giving etiquette tuition to young society ladies, wealthy businessmen and women. She's even spent time in Washington, coaching senior diplomats so that their social behavior, even in the presence of royalty, is beyond reproach. You should feel privileged to have this opportunity, Bella." She finally finishes.
Okay, so this Rowena woman, knows what she's doing… so what?
Elizabeth finally gives up trying to engage me in conversation or make me feel excited about Ms. Jones or the lessons. She turns her attention back to the road, and we travel in silence.
We eventually pull up in front of a townhouse, in what looks like a really good neighborhood. "This is it," Elizabeth says as she readies herself to exit the car, and as always, she does so with amazing grace.
Well, perhaps I can at least learn to do that so I don't almost fall flat on my face nearly every time I get out of a vehicle. My klutziness was always a joke between Phil and me. I smile just a little at this memory.
We're standing in front of a very glossy, black door, which sports a large, shiny, brass knocker. Elizabeth knocks twice, and we wait. The door is opened by a slim, elegant woman. She's impeccably dressed in a dark grey, silk sheath dress and what looks like the softest cashmere cardigan in the palest pink. Her hair is warm auburn and styled in a sophisticated knot at the nape of her neck. She's wearing very little jewelry, only diamond studs and a fine, silver wristwatch. No, scratch that, given the quality of her clothing, it's probably some expensive metal that only looks like silver. And suddenly, despite how I feel about becoming someone that I'm not, I'm a little glad that I took care with my uniform today. I nervously touch the bottom of my silk scarf
She briefly makes eye contact with me, smiling warmly as she steps aside to let us enter. She greets Elizabeth with a lingering handshake and the obligatory, for Elizabeth, double kiss on the cheeks.
"Elizabeth, how wonderful to see you again. And this lovely young lady must be Isabella. It's a delight to meet you, my dear."
Elizabeth steps to the side, turning to face Ms. Jones and me, and she makes the introductions. "Rowena, meet Bella Swan, my soon to be adopted daughter. Bella has recently joined me and the other girls. She is our baby. Bella, this is Ms. Rowena Jones, a dear friend of mine."
I timidly take her hand, and she gives me light squeeze, which I think is meant to reassure me. "Hello, Bella. Please call me Rowena. " She smiles again.
"Would you join me? I'm just about to serve afternoon tea."
She leads the way and ushers us into a beautiful sitting room. My eyes sweep around the room, and I cannot help them widening. It's not ostentatious as I expected. It's filled with beautiful furniture, not matching, but all selected to complement. I've never seen a room like this, not even the sitting rooms at the house are this lovely, and that's saying a lot. This room is not as big, but it looks like what can only be described as "old money".
The room is decorated entirely in varying shades of soft grey and taupe. Two very comfortable looking sofas face each other at either end of the softly glowing fireplace. Two armchairs are drawn up to them on the side directly across from the fireplace. A largish rectangular coffee table in gleaming, rich wood is set between the seating. The table is decorated with books and a vase of flowers. It may look as if it was casually done to create the effortless, stylish look, but I can tell that a lot of thought went in to getting just that look. At the end, farthest away from the fireplace there's an arrangement of three delicate teacups in their saucers. Side, plates and white linen napkins are placed to the side. And just above this setting, is a silver three-tiered serving platter. I can see the yummy looking things arranged on it.
My eyes move across the room to see a bookcase, with an impressive display of books, not just neatly stacked in rows. Some of them are stacked flat on the shelves, displaying their titles and others are standing at an angle, leaning against some piece of décor or another. Vases of flowers and many works of art are dotted around the room. I don't usually take this much notice of details like this, but in this room, it's hard to ignore. The overall look is luxurious, but not intimidating, it's warm and inviting.
We sit down, and Elizabeth and I choose to each take a seat on a sofa. We face each other. Rowena takes her seat in the armchair closest to the cups. As if on cue, a middle-aged woman, accompanied by a younger woman enter. They wear a neat, black shirt-dress and black hose, and the younger woman is carrying a large silver tray, which she places on the table, close to Rowena. She steps aside and the older woman removes a silver teapot and two jugs, one is silver with a lid and the other crystal, which I can see contains milk. She removes a crystal sugar bowl and lastly, a small silver plate with matching tongs. Thin lemon slices are arranged on it. She sets it all on the table within Rowena's reach, and then nods to her with a small smile. Rowena smiles back and thanks both women as they leave.
She effortlessly holds cup and saucer in one hand and lifts the beautiful teapot. She looks up at Elizabeth and asks, "How do you take your tea, Liz?"
"Moderate, thank you, Rowena."
"Do you take sugar and would you prefer lemon or milk?"
Elizabeth asks for lemon and no sugar, and Rowena lifts a slice of lemon with the tongs, and eases it into the cup. She hands the cup to Elizabeth, asking whether she would like one of the very dainty finger sandwiches, cupcakes or cookies, which she calls 'shortbread fingers'.
Elizabeth declines and sits back with her cup in hand. She's just as graceful in how she manages to move back far enough into the sofa, while still elegantly holding onto her cup. How does she manage that?
Rowena turns to me and asks how I like my tea. I say that I don't mind it a bit strong. Her expression is warm, kindly, as she asks whether I'd like sugar, milk or lemon. I ask for milk and two sugars and can't help but notice Elizabeth's slight frown; most likely a sign of disapproval for having sugar. I decide to ignore her and smile shyly at Rowena as I wait for her to hand me my cup. She adds sugar cubes with yet another tiny pair of silver tongs and gently passes the cup over.
I lean forward to take the cup from her, and when I try to sit back onto the sofa, I awkwardly balance my cup and saucer, trying desperately not to spill onto my clothes, or worse still, the expensive furniture or rugs. My face flushes with embarrassment, and I can feel them looking at me. I finally settle in, clearly showing no grace, and look up to see a warm, half-smile of sympathy on Rowena's face. Elizabeth has a neutral expression as she concentrates on raising her cup to her lips.
Rowena asks whether I would like any refreshments. Not knowing how I could possibly juggle everything, I say a quiet, "No, thank you," even though I would have loved to taste the shortbread. She pours herself a cup, and I notice she does not take any sugar, milk or lemon. Instead, she adds some water from the silver jug. Oh, so that's what's in there, she must like her tea weak.
Rowena entertains us by asking Elizabeth how the girls are, and they talk generally about the weather and some mutual acquaintances. She also tries to engage me in the conversation by asking how I'm settling in with the other girls and at school. I give her standard, polite responses to avoid upsetting Elizabeth. I do not mention the fact that I'm homesick, even though I don't know where 'home' is. When she asks about my interests, I find that I enjoy her genuine interest in my love of photography. Since Phil died I have not felt like anyone has been truly interested in what I really feel or what interests me.
Finally, Elizabeth says we should be on our way. What, no lesson?
Rowena looks me in the eye and speaks quietly.
"Bella, I'm not sure how you feel about having tuition in etiquette. But I sense that you are not too comfortable. I want you to understand exactly what it is that I think I can give you, and how it may be useful in your future."
"I...I just don't want to be someone that I'm not," I hesitantly say in return. I can feel a lump in my throat, and I will myself not to get upset.
"Etiquette is not about changing who you are, Bella. I'ts about giving you confidence in yourself. It's not a rigid set of rules. Etiquette is not a straight jacket for being proper. It provides guidelines for doing things in a way that make people feel comfortable. It's for everyone, not just for the wealthy or only for people with high social status. It's for everybody, from all walks of life, of every age, or race.
It's not pretentious or snobbish. A polite person doesn't try to be someone he or she is not, and that person doesn't look down on someone," she finishes her speech.
I'm sure she can see the look of disbelief on my face. I don't buy what she's saying. She exchanges a brief look with Elizabeth, who just stands there, watching me. Rowena continues.
"You've actually had your first etiquette lesson this afternoon, without even realizing it, Bella." I look at her, raising my eyebrows slightly, thinking that she's full of shit, but she goes on.
"Tell me, Bella, did you feel comfortable sharing tea with me and Elizabeth?"
"Well...um...not really." I stumble over my words but decide to be honest.
"With confidence you will feel as comfortable in a setting such as this as you do at Starbucks. Etiquette is not just about making only you feel comfortable, but the people you interact with as well. Just as you were uncomfortable, so was I. As your hostess, I did not feel good that a guest of mine felt uneasy. But does that mean that I should have changed the way I've served tea for decades? And should my other guests change their expectations and behavior to ensure the comfort of one person? What if Starbucks should suddenly decide to serve their beverages in this manner because of one person, should they expect that all their patrons feel comfortable with that? What do you think, Bella?"
Oh! I kind of get it now.
"I can see your point." I look at her, and I feel warm seeing her kind smile. I think I could perhaps like her.
"Good, Bella, I think we are off to a good start. I really look forward to helping you to be not only a lovely young woman, but also a spectacular one. The key points, that hopefully you picked up on today; is that firstly, the hostess should always serve the tea. Never have an employee do it. It honors your guests if you take the time and effort to serve them. And if you are incapable for any reason, then have a friend do it on your behalf. You never pour the milk in first. By doing so, you are not able to control the strength of the tea. Never expect your guest to reach for their cup, hold it out to them. They should feel that you are giving, not that they are taking. If your guest prefers lemon and sugar, never add the lemon first as the acid in the lemon will prevent the sugar from dissolving properly. All of these things, which people may think of as pretentious, are actually done to ensure the comfort and enjoyment of others."
I look at her in astonishment; no way had I realized all of this when she was serving tea. I give her a small smile and hers widens in response.
Elizabeth and I are heading home and surprisingly, I don't feel as angry about the lessons any longer. Rowena is nice and I figure that small thing should be enough to at least get me through the lessons.
"How was your weekend with Rose and Alice?"
"It was okay."
"Good. I really want you to get along with them as well as the other girls. The three of you have a lot in common, Bella. You really are alike in so many ways. "
"That's a stretch." I chuckle sarcastically.
"You don't think so?"
"When I'm treated the same as they are, then maybe I'll believe that, but as of right now…." I leave my words hanging in the air purposely and gaze out of the window.
"You don't feel that you're treated fairly?" She almost sounds surprised.
"No. I don't. Rose and Alice are trusted to do whatever they want, and I have to tag along behind them like I'm a kid. I have no car, no cellphone, and I'm not allowed to choose my own clothing or my own food. I feel like I'm in prison; a really beautiful prison."
She laughs boisterously, and it's the first time I've actually seen her let loose in this way. Her laughter is contagious, and I can't help but chuckle at her.
"Oh Bella, you sound so much like Rose and Tanya when they first came to live with me. Answer one question, how many times have you already tried to sneak away?"
My head whips around, and my mouth open and closes repeatedly.
Does she really know, or is she just blowing smoke?
"It's alright, sweetheart. You don't have to answer. It's completely understandable that you would look to take flight. It's a natural reaction. In time, you will be given more liberties so that you won't feel the need to run away. "
"What about right now?"
"I will take the concerns you've expressed into consideration."
"Consideration." I mumble with a scoff.
"Okay, how about this, you try trusting me a little, and I'll do the same for you."
I don't respond because I don't trust her, period.
Once we've had dinner, I rush upstairs to see if Edward has responded to my email. I'm both thrilled and nervous to find that he has.
Follow this link and download the video chat messenger if you don't have it, that way we won't be playing email tag. Anyway, how are you? It was amazing that we saw each other at that party. I've been thinking about nothing but you ever since.
Despite my reservations since the restroom incident, I'm giddy at his words. I smile from ear to ear and continue reading.
I hope you're thinking about me too.
My screen name is EMC_#32. I'll be waiting.
PS I'm not going to let something like distance stop me from seeing you.
His last statement leaves me nervous and happy at the same time. I have absolutely no idea how he intends on us seeing each other face-to-face, but in the meantime, I follow the link he sent and download the video chat messenger. I start my homework while I wait for it to complete.
I finish up my homework, and I notice the download is complete. I successfully create an account equipped with a faceless photo and screen name.
Acacia's Mystery. The perfect name and profile pic!
After I add Edward's screen name to my contacts, I wait to see if he's online.
I come home from practice and dash upstairs to check if there are any messages from Bella. I hope she's read my email about the video chat messenger.
She's concerned about us not being able to see each other because of the distance. This gesture should reassure her that I'm nothing if not determined.
I wait for my laptop to load and login to the messenger. I have a new friend request from Acacia's Mystery.
I smile, knowing right away that it's her and accept the request. I see that she's online at this very moment, and I send her a message.
"I like the screen name."
I wait a few moments and see that she's typing a response.
"I thought you might. You can have all the credit."
Beautiful and Sassy, what a combination.
For the first time, I'm at a loss for what to say to her next. I've had a list of questions since I'd seen her at the party, but right now only one comes to mind.
"When can I see you again?"
I wait, but there's no response and no indication that she's typing a message. I worry that I've scared her off and begin to type another message saying I'm sorry for being pushy, but I'm interrupted by a video call.
I take a deep breath and answer her call.
Her face pops up on my screen, and I feel my smile spread. Even like this she's beautiful, and I know I'm pretty much a goner.
"It's perfect…for now." I let my words hang in the air so she can understand just what I mean.
"So, were you waiting for me?" I laugh.
"No. I just finished my homework and decided to take your advice and download the messenger. Aren't you a bit arrogant?" she says sarcastically and rolls her eyes.
"Nah, I'm far from that. I was just joking with you, but I'm glad I get to talk with you."
Her expression changes a little. She looks sad.
"I can't be on that long. My…I'm not allowed to be on the Internet for long periods of time."
"We've only been talking for five minutes," I say instantly, disappointment clear in my voice.
"I know, but…."
"Hey, it's okay. You don't have to explain. Believe me I understand how parents can be crazy with their rules."
"Yeah." she says despondently and looks away from the screen.
"Bella…I feel like if I don't reach out to you on this, then I'll never get to spend time with you again. So, I'm asking, can I see you? I'll come there. It's not a problem for me. I will do whatever I need to do to see you again," I say seriously.
"You're seeing me now."
"You know what I mean, and in case you don't, I'll go a step further. I will do whatever it takes to touch you again."
I hadn't envisioned those words coming out of my mouth, but there they are.
She fidgets and plays with a lock of hair. I can tell I've made her nervous, but I can't sugarcoat the way I feel any longer. For weeks, I thought that she was dead, and it left me with a void I couldn't explain. Then finally, she walks back into my life again, there's no way I'm approaching this the same way as before.
"It's not a hop, skip and jump from Forks to Bothell, Edward." Her huge, brown eyes are focused back on the screen, looking at me.
"You let me worry about that. Give me a day and time and I'll be there."
"I..I don't know." She looks around nervously.
"How about this weekend, Saturday at noon?"
"No, Saturday is no good." She excuses herself from the computer. I faintly hear a knock on her door and someone calling her name. She tells them she'll be a minute and rushes back over to the screen.
"Can you meet me on Friday after school, at the ferry in Kingston? I'll come to Forks."
"Um…yeah that's fine, but…I'm more than willing to come there."
"No, the ferry is fine. I'm done with school at two-thirty. I'll check arrival times and email them to you later," she says hurriedly.
"Okay, but…will I talk to you again before then?"
"Most likely, but right now I have to go. I'll email you. Bye."
She signs off without waiting for my reply. I can't help but think that she won't show up again, but I try and push those negative thoughts aside and hope that she wants to see me as much as I want to see her.