Disclaimer: Twilight and its characters belong to Stephanie Meyer; this storyline and all original characters are the proptery of the author. No copyright infringement intended.
Just for clarification, because my Bella is English, I will be using UK English spelling and expressions throughout, even though Edward is American and some of this story will take place in the US. However, where we have direct access to Edward's thoughts I will lean towards Americanisms (but not spelling). Where I think there may be some confusion I will give an explanation/translation in my End Notes. The entire story is told in third person narrative.
Huge thanks to MauiGirl for her enthusiasm and support and for editing my ridiculously tortuous sentences. I am immensely grateful for her help in getting this, finally, to a stage where it can be posted.
Thursday 24 March 2011
The sleek, dark green car tore into the driveway of the impressive Victorian mansion, the creamy stucco façade standing in stark contrast to the verdant green of the lawned rectangle fronting the building.
Squealing to a stop in front of the main doors, the car's occupant took a moment to try and quell his fury, which the two hour drive from London had done little to dampen. Leaning back against the buttery leather upholstery of his Aston Martin DB9, he put his hands up to his face, rubbing his eyes and then sliding his long, elegant fingers through the mass of coppery hair crowning his chiselled features. Finally, taking a deep breath, he lowered his hands to the steering wheel and turned his head towards the sprawling building.
Roedean—arguably Britain's most famous and finest private girls' school—lay in the stunningly picturesque setting of England's South Downs, a stone's throw from Brighton's designer boutiques, café society and vibrant nightlife. Under other circumstances, the man would have delighted in the beauty of his surroundings, revelling in the stereotypical Englishness of the lush Sussex countryside. However, this was not such an occasion, and after muttering a barely audible expletive, he threw open the car door and unfolded his long, lean, be-suited frame with a languid grace which even a casual observer would note as inherently natural.
Entering through the panelled double doors, the man stopped just inside the entrance to speak to the receptionist sitting within the mahogany and glass enclosure to his right. The middle-aged woman with the improbably bright, carrot-red hair, looked up at the visitor and narrowly avoided sighing out loud at the Adonis before her. Smiling quickly to cover her embarrassment, she took a surreptitious breath and spoke.
"Good afternoon, sir, how may I help you?"
"Edward Cullen—Mrs Banner is expecting me," he responded tersely, his accent clearly identifying his American origins.
"Oh, yes, Mr Cullen, of course. Just one moment, please." Margaret Cope—for such was her name, picked out in gold letters on the dark wood block in front of her—felt her smile slip a little at his brusqueness, but nevertheless immediately picked up her phone and tapped out a number. The call was quickly answered. "Mrs Banner, Mr Cullen has arrived… very well… yes… of course."
She hung up the phone and looked up at the man in front of her, taking in his furrowed brow and clenched jaw.
"Please take a seat, Mr. Cullen," she said, smiling brightly at him, "Mrs Banner will be right out."
He stared at the woman for a moment, a look of frustration evident on his face, before turning away from the desk and striding over to the seating area opposite. He didn't sit, however, clearly annoyed at the delay and too wound up to let himself relax. Fortunately, he was not kept waiting more than a minute or two, and he swung round at the sound of his name being spoken in clipped Home Counties tones behind him.
"Mr Cullen, I'm Davina Banner, it's nice to see you again—although one would wish it to be in happier circumstances." She smiled at him, holding out her hand. Edward took in the tall, thin, rather mousy looking woman before him, taking her hand and shaking it firmly before dropping it and pulling his arm back to his side.
"Indeed, Mrs Banner. This really is extremely inconvenient—I can ill-afford the time to come down here every time Isabella breaks the rules. Isn't that why I pay your exorbitant school fees—to keep the girl in school and out of trouble?"
Unperturbed by his outburst, Mrs Banner smiled and turned away slightly, holding her arm out to indicate that he should accompany her. "Please, Mr Cullen, let's go to my office so we can talk."
Edward sighed loudly, but didn't demur, following behind the woman up a short staircase, turning left on the landing and walking down a carpeted corridor until they stopped outside a wide, mahogany door. Mrs Banner grasped the doorknob and pushed the door open, standing back to let Edward walk past her into the room.
Inside was all polished dark wood floors and panelling, the main focus of the room being a large antique oak desk situated in front of a vast, unlit stone fireplace.
"Please, Mr Cullen," the Headmistress gestured towards the visitors' chairs in front of her desk, as she walked around the desk and lowered herself into the high-backed leather chair on the opposite side.
Edward sat, crossing his right leg over his left and resting his hands on his right knee, one on top of the other.
"First, let me thank you for taking time out of what I know is a very busy schedule to drive down—"
"Let's cut the bullshit, Mrs Banner," Edward interrupted. "You and I both know you gave me little choice in the matter. So, now you've got me here, I am all ears. What the hell has she done now?"
Mrs Banner sighed, holding Edward's eye for a moment before looking down at a manila file on her desk, the words "Isabella Swan" emblazoned across the top right-hand corner in bold black letters.
"Very well, Mr Cullen, I'll spare you the bullshit, as you so eloquently put it," she said, throwing him a rueful glance. "As you know, Isabella has previously been a model student, and I am well aware that her current behaviour is atypical—just a phase many seventeen year old girls go through. However, on this occasion, it simply isn't possible to overlook her wilful attitude and conduct—Isabella must be shown that there are consequences to her actions."
"What, precisely, do you mean, Mrs Banner?" She didn't miss the rather pointed way he glanced at his watch before looking back to her, one eyebrow cocked in enquiry.
Looking down at the file, she flipped it open, appearing to peruse the contents, although Edward was pretty certain she knew exactly what was written there. A minute passed in silence, followed by Mrs Banner suddenly slapping the file closed and looking up at Edward as she lowered her forearms to the desk, knitting her fingers and leaning forward slightly.
"Right. Here it is in a nutshell. Isabella has been discovered smoking on school property more than once, she is drunk most weekends, several times failing to return to her dorm at night, and yesterday she was caught smoking cannabis in the games storage facility."
As quickly as she had started speaking, she stopped, her eyes never leaving Edward's. For himself, he was still struggling to comprehend what he was being told.
"What?" was his sorely inadequate response. His right hand shot up into his hair, tugging on it as he stared back at the Headmistress. She maintained eye contact, saying nothing, assuming his one-word outburst to be rhetorical.
Edward uncrossed his legs and stood up, looking over toward the window to his left. Closing his eyes for a moment, he once again assaulted his hair, before thrusting his hands into his trouser pockets and walking slowing over to the large casement.
Standing with his back to the Headmistress, he finally spoke.
"How could you let this happen? What the hell is going on here that a vulnerable seventeen year old girl is being given free rein to indulge every vice… ahh, shit!" He swung around to look at the woman behind the desk. "She's sleeping around as well, isn't she?" He sucked in a deep breath through his teeth, tilting his head back to look up at the ornate ceiling.
"I honestly can't say whether Isabella is sexually active,"—at her words, Edward visibly blanched—"but it is, of course, entirely possible, not to say likely," she finished.
Edward's shoulders dropped and a look of defeat settled on his face. He returned to Mrs Banner's desk, dropping heavily back into the chair he had previously occupied.
"I've tried, Davina—may I call you Davina?" At her nod of acquiescence, he continued. "You know the history, of course. I imagine it's all in the file. I was never cut out to be a father-figure, but Isabella's late parents were very insistent that I was the only person they trusted to take care of her in the event of their death—but none of us ever believed it would be necessary, least of all me. If I had, I doubt I would have agreed to them making me her legal guardian.
"When they were killed, I didn't really think much about it—oh, of course, I was devastated at the loss of my best friends and well aware that Isabella would struggle to get over it—she was only thirteen, for God's sake." Again, Edward's hand raked through his chaotic hair. "But I really did think, being here, with the support system of friends and teachers, she'd be okay. She was okay, wasn't she… at first?"
"Indeed, Edward, we believed Isabella had coped well with her loss, but we remained vigilant, as we knew there could be difficulties ahead as she grew into adolescence. I know it seems to you that we have been negligent in our duty of care, but I don't think any of us could have predicted how Isabella would change over this last term."
"But how the fu—sorry… how the hell is she getting out and obtaining drink and drugs so easily?" Edward's words were laced with the frustration and anger he was trying hard to keep under control.
"Edward, this is not a prison, and neither is it a family home where individual care and attention can be given. Let's face it, even with two parents in place, it is often difficult, and sometimes impossible, to control teenagers. With no parent-figure at all in her life—"
"Hang on a minute. Are you saying this is my fault? Jesus, what the fu—what am I paying you for?" Edward's voice increased in volume as he struggled to keep from exploding.
"I really don't think this is about apportioning blame, Mr Cullen," Oh, we're back to that shit, are we? Edward thought, "but Isabella is, for all her intelligence and seeming self-possession, a lonely girl in desperate need of affection and guidance—which, with the best will in the world, is not our role here at Roedean. We will support her as much as possible, but we have a duty of care to all the girls at the school and I cannot allow one student to disrupt school life or exert a negative influence on the student body."
Edward leaned forward, with his elbows on his thighs, his hands dry-washing his face. When he looked back up at Mrs Banner, his expression was bleak.
"So, what do you propose?" he asked quietly.
Davina Banner wasn't without sympathy for the man before her—apart from the fact that he was insanely attractive, she really did feel for him. A thirty-one year old millionaire workaholic and seemingly confirmed bachelor, trying to take care of a teenage girl to whom he was not biologically related was probably the last thing he ever wanted or felt capable of doing. Sadly, though, his difficulties were not her problem.
"What I propose—no, what I insist upon—is that you remove Isabella from school today—" as Edward started to protest she held her hand up to forestall him. "There's just four weeks left until the end of term and the Easter holidays and we can provide assignments for Isabella to complete which will count towards her coursework and her A-levels.
"You need to take her home and spend some time with her. For better or worse, Edward, you are her guardian and foster-father, and tough as that is, you made a promise to her parents and that means you owe Isabella some of your precious time and commitment. I know it's not easy and I know you are a very busy man, but somewhere down the line, this beautiful, clever girl is going to go very badly astray unless you are prepared to help her now, today." She paused, looking at him where he had now sat back in his chair. "The question is, do you care enough to be there for Isabella, or are you just going to wash your hands of her?"
Edward winced at her tone, dropping his head and looking at his clasped hands in his lap.
"I'm not saying it's going to be easy—it won't be—but if you can put some time and effort into showing that someone does love her and care about her future, I have no doubt she will get back on track and put all this nonsense behind her. Then, when she comes back after the holidays, she can start with a clean slate—and that's my promise to you." She leaned back, resting her left elbow on the arm of her chair and placing her chin on her upturned knuckles, regarding Edward steadily.
After a moment, Edward gave the woman a rueful smile which didn't reach his eyes, before launching himself out of the chair again and heading back to the window. Leaning both hands on either side of the casement he stared out, unseeing, at the rolling lawns and neat landscaping. Finally, letting out a breath he hadn't realised he'd been holding, he pushed himself away from the window and turned back to the Headmistress.
"Okay, I suppose you better wheel her in, then."
In an upper floor room, a slender brunette sat on her bed, knees pulled up and arms folded across them, on which she rested her cheek.
Bella Swan loved Roedean. She was a bright girl and had always excelled at school—learning came easy to her and the somewhat cloistered environment of boarding school suited her. Although not exactly ebullient, preferring to be more an observer than a partaker, nevertheless she had made good friends here and she couldn't deny that she enjoyed school.
Even after her parents' tragic death in a car crash in Italy, she found the routine and regimented life of a school boarder, together with the support of her teachers, her friends and their families, helped immeasurably during the months she spent grieving the loss of her much loved mother and father. The fact that her dad's best friend and business partner, Edward Cullen, was now her legal guardian, did not come as a surprise, as her parents had discussed with her in detail what would happen in the event of their premature demise.
Bella had known Edward half her life, and she had had a massive crush on him for just as long. As her grief subsided, she began to fantasise about how Edward would grow to love her, not just as his ward but as something much, much more. But as the time passed, she realised that in order to fall in love with her he would actually have to spend more than five minutes in her company once in a blue moon. Even when they did, on those rare occasions, occupy the same space, of late Edward was seldom more than politely solicitous, barely seeming to notice that the skinny, awkward girl he used to have so much time for was turning into a curvaceous and beautiful young woman. Nothing she did ever seemed to even capture his attention anymore, let alone stir his emotions.
Well, he was paying attention now—oh yes, now that she was finally starting to break out and have some fun—here he was, talking to Banjax in her office, as the two of them undoubtedly plotted to ruin her life. She knew he had arrived, because her friend Lauren had texted her with the news. Several of the girls had been looking out for him, knowing that Bella was in deep shit and that her hot guardian would have to be summoned. He didn't often come down to Sussex, but when he did—oh boy, the girls slapped on a little extra lip gloss and hitched their skirts ridiculously high, exchanging their Birkenstocks and Chucks for their Christian Louboutins and Jimmy Choos.
It had been her friends, Jessica and Lauren, who had finally convinced Bella that she needed to stop mooning over something she knew, in her heart, she could never have—the age difference alone being pretty much an insurmountable obstacle—and start looking for something which was attainable. Once unleashed, however, it was clear that Bella was not a woman of half-measures, and she very quickly surpassed her two friends in terms of bad behaviour; in short, Bella had very quickly morphed from a studious, well-behaved schoolgirl into a sexy, party-loving wild-child, drinking too much, experimenting with drugs and flirting outrageously with less than appropriate men.
And therein lay the crux of the matter which had so disturbed and appalled Edward, but in this one area his concerns were unfounded—despite years of pony club and cross-country riding putting a strain on her hymen, technically she remained a virgin—even as her increasingly out of control behaviour appeared to confirm the opposite.
Bella couldn't help but ruminate on what might have been, had her parents survived. She was pretty sure that she would have trodden another path, one much more in tune with her parents' and teachers' expectations. She wondered, also, whether she would have seen more, or less of Edward than she did now. It seemed unlikely it would have been less, because as her dad's business partner he had been a frequent visitor when she was a child, although being away at school much of the time and her parents being seasoned travellers, both for business and pleasure, meant that her interactions with Edward, such as they were, generally only occurred during school holidays.
Bella recalled, with startling clarity, the first time she had set eyes on Edward Cullen, when he had been invited to dinner by her parents. She had been eight years old and Edward was interning at her father's firm on some kind of student exchange scheme. The moment she saw him, standing in the living room talking to her dad, she had been enraptured. Tall and lean, with a shock of artfully gelled, glossy auburn hair, Bella had practically swooned when he turned to her with a wide smile—even at eight, Bella suspected she would never again experience a reaction so strong and all-consuming with any other man.
Fresh out of Harvard, Edward was a charming but cocky twenty-two year old American who thought he knew it all. But something about him drew in Charlie Swan and a father-son bond was forged between the self-made English millionaire businessman and the brash American trust-fund baby. And, despite his air of superiority, Edward found himself looking up to Charlie, admiring the tenacious spirit with which he had dragged himself out of his impoverished, single parent background of public housing and under-funded, inner-city schooling, to build a successful, multi-million pound publishing business.
At the time, the business focussed almost entirely on book publishing and the written word, but Charlie hadn't reversed his impecunious fortunes by being anything other than astute and tuned into market forces, and when Edward came to him with ideas about software and digital publishing, he had listened. Edward had an exceptionally bright mind, with a deeply intuitive grasp of future trends, and it very quickly became apparent that theirs was a partnership made in stock market heaven—with Edward's innovative ideas and Charlie's shrewd business mind, the profile and profits of Swan Publishing went from good to stratospheric. Edward made it possible for Swan Publishing to not only break the American market, but to firmly establish itself as a force to be reckoned with, with Edward on the ground, running the show, supported by both Charlie's friendship and his business acumen.
In Edward, Charlie found the son he'd never had, and the rightful heir to his empire. He also had a friend he trusted with his life—and, more importantly, the life of his precious daughter.
As for Edward, Charlie represented the father figure he had always felt was missing from his life. Carlisle Cullen had been very much an absent father who seldom involved himself in his son's life. He and Edward's mother, Elizabeth, had divorced when Edward was only four years old, and both his parents had quickly remarried, his mother to an Argentinian polo player with whom she lived in Buenos Aires, together with their two sons, and his father to brittle socialite, Esme Platt, with whom he had a daughter, Edward's half-sister, Alice. Edward had never felt loved or cherished, recognising that his parents' second families seemed to occupy what little space they had in their hearts. He rarely saw his father, hadn't seen his mother in almost ten years, and had never met his Argentinian half-brothers.
When Charlie and Renee Swan had crashed off a mountain pass in Italy four years earlier, even in her own grief Bella recognised the devastation felt by Edward at the loss of his surrogate parents. But at thirteen she desperately needed someone to hold her and tell her that everything would be okay, even though she knew it wouldn't, and as her appointed guardian she had longed for Edward to fill that void. Sadly, Edward did what he had always done when faced with loss, whether physical or emotional—he threw up walls and donned his metaphorical armour to ensure his survival.
And now the man Bella had never truly been able to think of as either a father or a brother was sitting downstairs, discussing her future with the Headmistress. She knew exactly what they were talking about—the day before, Bella had snuck out to the games storage shed to meet Paul Embry. Embry was a local in The Red Lion pub in Roedean village and she had spent the previous evening flirting with him and getting pretty drunk. He had promised to get her some dope and when he texted her the following morning she had arranged to meet him. Paul had duly arrived, and they had shared a joint huddled up on a deflated jump mattress surrounded by all the school's athletics equipment.
Paul had not yet parted with the bag of grass he had for Bella, very much hoping that she would be willing to pay for it with something other than money. She had let him kiss her and had even allowed him to slide his hand up under her shirt, hoping to feel some kind of connection. She was unsure whether she was prepared to let him go much further, but at that point her dilemma became moot, as Miss Kendal, the games mistress, chose that moment to check on whether there was a spare tennis court net. Hilary Kendal was not the most worldly of women, but even she knew immediately that the cigarette between Bella's fingers had not been manufactured by Imperial Tobacco—had it been, Bella would have been in bad enough trouble, but the fact that she was here with a man, clearly being groped by said man, and using an illegal substance, meant that she was very likely going to be expelled.
As Bella was contemplating her immediate future, there was a sharp, single knock on the door before it swung open, revealing Lauren and Jessica.
"He's here, Bella—God, he looks hot," Lauren sighed, throwing herself down on the end of the bed.
Jessica scowled at her, then looked across at Bella. "Shit, Bella, are you okay? Do you think Banjax is going to expel you?" She moved across the room and plonked herself down on the desk chair, wheeling it closer to the bed.
Bella finally looked up, a pained expression marring her features. Knowing that she might break down and cry if she spoke, she merely shrugged her shoulders. Jessica gave her a sympathetic smile, understanding clear on her face.
A loud sigh from Lauren drew both the other girls' attention, and Bella had to chuckle, despite the seriousness of her situation.
"So, Laurie, did you see him—did he look mad?" Bella asked, trying to keep her tone light.
Lauren rolled over onto her back and stared up at the ceiling. "Nope, didn't see him, more's the pity. But judging from his reaction when you got canned for staying out all night last month, he's gonna be pretty hacked off, don'tcha think?" Lauren paused, and then her face brightened suddenly. "Hey, if he takes you home, can we come visit? You know, be your supportive best friends… ooh, ooh, we could volunteer to bring you assignments or something, and, you know, stay over?" she finished, looking over at Bella hopefully.
"Jeez, Laurie, give it a rest. Edward is not going to have some sort of epiphany and suddenly fall madly in love with you," Bella groaned, rolling her eyes at her friend.
"Who said anything about love, sweetie—I just want him to fuck me stupid."
"Well, that wouldn't take long," Jess deadpanned.
There was a moment of stunned silence in the room before all three girls, as if on cue, burst out laughing. Bella straightened one of her legs and gave Lauren a hard shove with her foot, causing her to roll off the bed onto the floor, the 'oomph' sound emanating from her causing Jessica and Bella to laugh even harder.
It was at this precise moment that the door swung open to reveal Mrs Cope, who had been sent to summon Bella to the Head's office.
"Well, Isabella, I'm sorry to note that you still do not appear to understand the seriousness of your situation. Jessica, Lauren, go to your rooms immediately. Isabella, your guardian is with Mrs Banner and she has asked for you to join them right away." She looked pointedly at Bella's friends, who glared at her for a moment then both turned as one to give Bella a hug and wish her good luck before trudging past Mrs Cope and out the door.
"Now, if you please, Isabella."
Bella swivelled her legs off the bed, and pulled on a pair of ballet flats. Standing up, she glanced in the full length mirror. As a Year 13 student she was no longer required to wear school uniform, although during classes students were required to dress smartly. However, the school day was now over and so she was dressed in skinny black jeans and a short, very tight, black t-shirt, the entire ensemble moulded to her womanly curves like a second skin. She doubted either the Headmistress or Edward would approve, but right now she couldn't care less. She thought about pulling her long, mahogany brown hair into a ponytail but decided she might need it to hide behind, so left it loose around her shoulders and down her back.
"Okay, Mrs C, let's get this dog and pony show on the road," Bella exclaimed, barrelling past her and out the room with a bravado she didn't really feel. She could hear the older woman's huff of disapproval behind her as she followed Bella down to the Head's office, trying in vain to keep up with Bella's brisk pace. Before she even reached the door, Bella turned to Mrs Cope. "I've got this, Mrs C, you can get back to whatever you were doing," and before Mrs Cope was able to object, Bella reached her destination, gave a sharp rap of her knuckles on the door and entered. Like pulling off a Band-Aid, she thought to herself, inwardly cringing.
"Hello, Edward, how nice to see you again," she exclaimed, a wide smile plastered across her face.
Bella immediately sensed that her bonhomie was not reciprocated.
END NOTES: For those not familiar with the British school system, a school term is the same as a semester. A-Levels are the exams taken by 18 year olds, which are somewhat similar to SATs.
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