Chapter 5- The Angel Returns
Alice pulled the last of the curlers from my hair, letting the pretty ringlet fall in its place among the others. She grinned triumphantly.
"There, almost done," she sang before dancing off into Rosalie's room to pick up something.
"Almost?!" I gasped, incredulously. I'd let Alice have her fun with me for hours, starting with making me sit with a head full of curlers, letting her do my makeup into an elegant and sophisticated smoky look which left me looking far more like a glamour model than myself. I'd tried to argue with Alice over the frilled blue dress, claiming it was far too short, reaching only slightly past my thigh, but Alice wasn't having any of it. I had to admit though, it was the happiest I'd seen Alice since she'd declined Jasper's proposal.
It had been over a week since I'd found her hiding in that wardrobe. Since then she'd done nothing but work on her designs in order to take her mind off the whole fiasco, and most likely to remind herself of what she was giving everything up for. But even her work wasn't bringing her joy anymore. At night I could hear her pacing around her room in agitation. I'd often walk in on her sat in the living room; hunched over with her fingers to her temple as if she were seeking an outcome where she could have everything she wanted. I knew the only way she would find that would be by talking to Jasper, but she had refused.
Rosalie had been less than supportive towards Alice and her dilemma. At the beginning she would constantly yell while Alice huddled up on the sofa trying to block out the harsh words Rose was flinging at her. She'd shout for hours about how Alice's selfishness was going land Jasper right back at the bottom of a ditch, maybe even dead this time. I knew that Jasper had grown up since his dodgy high school years, but I had to admit the fear of this fate was still within me, and clearly it was still within Alice too. Alice flinched at every reminder of the state Jasper had been in before they had met, but her decision had not changed. She had to go, and she couldn't take Jasper with her.
After Rose had realised that Alice wasn't going to change her mind, she'd decided to move in with Jasper and his roommate, Ben, only returning occasionally to pick up fresh clothes or books. She had abided by Alice's wish to keep the knowledge of her promotion from Jasper until Alice had sorted everything out. I knew that this couldn't go on forever, but I planned to wait at least until Alice had had a reasonable amount of time to have some sense knocked into her before going to Jasper and telling him myself.
Alice returned with a large can of hairspray and began spraying it excessively over my hair. I'd sat still and closed my eyes when told to, aiming to keep the prolonging of torture to a minimum. Once she'd finished, Alice stood back, admiring her masterpiece.
"Ok," she squealed, "come take a look."
I got up from the antique chair in front of her grand vanity, and stood before the large floor-length mirror in her room. The sight which greeted me was beyond anything I had ever expected. Alice had transformed me. I took in every detail, my deep brown hair which now fell in intricate ringlets down to my waste, my smoky eyes which screamed mystery and even a hint of seductiveness, my lips which wore only a hint of rose lip-butter, the blue dress which hugged my body perfectly, the long slender legs which the blue frills from my dress revealed to a perfect extent, and the black, wedge ankle boots which created an edginess to the otherwise exceptionally feminine outfit. I was surprised to find I could almost walk in them with ease. I didn't look like me anymore.
"What do you think?" Alice asked, expectantly.
"Alice, you're incredible," I whispered. Her grin widened.
I turned to her and hugged her tightly. She giggled, "Glad you like it, but all of this can only enhance what's already there." I pulled back, smiling at her kind words. I picked up the black clutch from her bed, something we'd borrowed from Rose since it was simple, stylish and practical. It held only my phone, money for drinks and the USB stick with the presentation. Everything I would need for tonight.
I took a deep breath, steeling myself for what I was in for tonight. Public speaking really wasn't my forte. James and I had been practising every day after class this week, but each time I'd found myself mumbling or stuttering or even getting a bit light headed. And this was only with James in the room. I wished I had backed out, but there was no way I could let have let James down. He had so much faith in me, faith I had been striving for since the very moment I set foot in his class. Admittedly, part of me feared he would return to treating me like hopeless case as he used to.
Alice placed a hand on my shoulder. "It's going to be fine Bella. You can do this."
I nodded, not even a tiny bit convinced, but gave her a reassured smile. I pulled on the black raincoat Alice had chosen for me, another of Rosalie's I presumed. Alice pecked each of my cheeks lightly before wishing me good luck. I stepped out of the apartment, heading for the stairwell just around the corner.
"Bella wait" Alice called after me. It echoed around the halls. I turned back, leaning against the stair bannister. She hurried up to me, holding a cream envelope. I took it curiously, turning it over in my hands.
"Can you ask Rose to give that to Jasper please?" she asked, that sad look from last week returning to her eyes.
"Of course," I said, slipping the envelope into my clutch bag smoothly. As soon as it disappeared she became visibly happier, even nearly skipping back to our apartment.
"Bye," she called over her shoulder, before slamming the door shut behind after her. Seconds later I heard Fun's 'We Are Young' blasting from our apartment, which caused some angry shouts from our neighbours. Naturally, Alice ignored every one of them. I chuckled lightly and continued down towards the parking lot, sliding easily into my truck. She roared to life, startling a passer-by. My cheeks flamed as I pulled out, heading towards the hotel the presentation evening was being held at.
Providence Court Hotel was the nicest, not to mention most expensive, hotel in the area. It was only ten minutes away from my apartment, hiding snugly in a grove near the edge of Providence. I'd never been there before, nor had anyone I knew. The price was far beyond anything anyone I knew could afford. It was there for only the wealthiest and privileged visitors of Providence. The university had facilities for this kind of event on hand. Although they were not nearly as upscale and grand as the hotel, they were passable for normal presentations. I'd gathered from James that this alumnus, Edward Cullen, was a little more valuable to the university than most that came forward with the prospect of donations though. Therefore we were going all out to please him.
I turned onto the small country lane which was enveloped by a towering curtain of trees, leaning inwards to shroud the daylight from above. The road seemed never-ending, although it made sense considering the hotel was praised for its distance from the "wild" student life that surrounded this area. Finally I emerged from the wall of trees, relieved by the sight of daylight once more. It was dimming, leaving behind it a mysterious pink tint in the sky.
My first glimpse of the hotel left me completely stunned by its beauty. It was like an elegant mansion out of one my Jane Austen novels. There was an aura of nineteenth century England which lingered in vast grounds that extended beyond eyesight. Stone walls rose up before of me, looking suitably aged to match the natured location. Dim orange lights glowed from each of the many windows, inviting me into the warmth and refinement inside. I wanted nothing more than to ditch the entire presentation evening and explore this exquisite place for the rest of the night.
I pulled up in front of the grand entrance, still in awe of such beauty. A smartly dressed valet rushed forward, appraising my truck with poorly disguised enmity. Clearly this wasn't the type of vehicle that typically pulled up here, judging by the number of high class black sedans which were forming a queue behind me. As I hopped out, clutch in hand, he stopped me.
"Err ma'am, sorry but we have a private event here tonight. I'm afraid we don't have any rooms to spare. You could try the Holt Motel just off the highway."
I tried to ignore his critical sneer as I held out my keys. "Oh, my name's Isabella Swan, from the English Department of Brown. I should be on the guest list."
The valet pulled a folded piece of paper from his waistcoat pocket, scanning it briefly.
"Ah yes, Miss Swan. My apologies, right this way," his judgmental tone was replaced with politeness. He led me through grand entrance, repeating my name to one of his colleagues who handed me a name badge, before disappearing to park my truck.
A woman smiled falsely at me as she took my coat and moved to take my clutch. I held my palm up in to stop and she stepped back, smile never faltering. She handed me a slip of paper with the numbers 472 printed upon it, and bid me good evening.
I took a moment to appreciate the beauty of the hotel lobby which had been left mostly unchanged from its original decor. I turned, drinking in this room in its magnificence. The stone walls were bare except for the modern electric lights which shone brightly from each corner. To the left of the entrance, a grand staircase stood coated in blue carpeting and sleek wooden banisters which had the most extraordinary carvings. I would have gone closer to inspect had the lobby not been full of other guests who may have thought me strange considering the truck I had arrived in. The ceiling above also had some exquisite paintings on it from a huge palette of colours. In the centre hung a grand chandelier with candles that flickered in the soft breeze. Towards the right, a set of sofas, antique no doubt, sat arranged around the large fireplace which crackled invitingly. I would have loved to just lie there with a book all night.
"Bella!" someone called from behind me.
I turned and embraced the owner of the voice I recognised.
"Hey Rose, how are you?"
"I'm great, isn't this place stunning?" she gushed, pulling back. I nodded in agreement. Rose was wearing a jade floor length gown which slit to her knee. It had a single pleat, held by the bust of her dress that flowed down to flatter her slender legs. On her feet was a pair of stilettos that were high even by Rosalie's standard, with straps that crossed back and forth up her leg. The top of her dress was strapless, drawing attention to her bare neck, upon which a small diamond necklace was nestled into the crook. She'd put her hair in a stylish up-do, clearly wanting to show off her new accessory. She looked incredible, and I instantly felt a pang of envy as I realised Alice's work would never stand up against Rose's beauty, no matter how long I spent in that darn make-up chair.
We made our way towards the presentation room which was brightly lit by wall lights all around. The room was quite simple compared to the others I'd seen in this hotel, clearly having been refurbished in order to fit its new purpose. The room was huge though, making it ideal for the number of people who had turned up for the evening. I was sure every research department from Brown would have at least one representative, and then there was a matter of plus ones for the senior staff, and all the employees from this company of Edward Cullen's. Rather than having ordered rows of chairs set in front of the presentation stage, small high tables were scattered around the room for people to gather around in order to make the event seem less formal. A bar stood in the furthest corner from the presentation area, which had rows of champagne lined up across it.
"Shall we?" Rose prompted, and we grinned as we went over to fetch a glass each. With my nerves, I was sure I would need it.
We perched ourselves on two stools at one of the tables towards the back of the hall, sipping our champagne.
"Quite a turnout, huh?" Rose noted. I glanced nervously at the hundreds of guests who were milling around socially in their formal attire. Each time I spotted a new face, fear would strike me with a painful twinge in my stomach. I tried to distract myself.
"Alice gave me this, she asked for you to pass it on Jasper" I murmured, retrieving the envelope from my purse. Rose took it, turning it over in her hands with curiosity.
"Does that mean she's coming clean?" she asked.
I shrugged, taking a large swig of my drink. "Hopefully, this has gone on long enough."
Rose nodded, taking a smaller sip from her own drink.
Just then a man stepped up to the microphone placed on the large presentation stage. He tapped it once, causing the audience to jump, startled, and look in his direction. He cleared his throat once, a little embarrassed.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for joining us on this very special occasion. Tonight we are here to present to you the wonderful research that our university has carried out. We are very proud of all that we discover, and we're delighted to be able to celebrate and share each of our achievements tonight. Of course, we are all aware that the very generous Mr Cullen, from Masen Enterprises, has decided to aid the university in whatever way he can so that we may grow and expand this research to a greater level. May we please take a moment to thank him for his kind gesture."
The room burst into applause, with people beaming in all directions, hoping to get a glimpse of the elusive Edward Cullen. Rose rolled her eyes and snorted.
"Bet he doesn't even show up. I heard he never shows up to any of these functions, likes to keep to himself. No one really knows what he looks like, other than your typical rumours that his looks are godlike. Please," she huffed.
I raised my eyebrows at her. She smirked and leaned in closer.
"Rumour has it that he grew up as an orphan, looked after by his Aunt and Uncle. In his teenage years he got wildly rebellious, slept with the entire female student body at Brown, drank excessively, smoked heavily, all of that kind of rubbish. He graduated with flying colours, aced everything without even turning up to a single lecture, then not long after inherited this big company from a distant Uncle or whatever. No one knows how they were even related, but yeah. Now he's loaded, he just throws money at whatever," she whispered.
I scowled at her. "How do you know this?"
She giggled, "Once he got rich, a bunch of the girls he screwed over in college held a sexual harassment lawsuit. Of course he paid them all off before it could get too big, but it was too late. The media was all over his background and his upbringing. There was a huge fiasco of him trying to sue the media for invading his privacy. Lots of money was exchanged, and eventually he made the whole issue go away. The story is virtually untraceable. Luckily, I'm very good at getting information if I want it," she winked slyly.
I giggled with her. The applause died down and we could no longer discuss the scandalous Edward Cullen as the old man on stage continued.
"However, this is about much more than donations. It's about showing everything we have to offer here at Brown. How our high standard of work has led us to be the chosen subject of Mr Cullen's donations in the first place. We are a highly prestigious university and…"
People had already started chatting again, gathering around tables to discuss the beautiful gardens, or the fantastic venue. No one was paying attention to the man at the microphone and he trailed off into silence. I felt bad for the poor guy, but also felt a little sense of relief that people probably wouldn't pay attention to my presentation at all.
"Without further ado," he boomed, catching people's attention once more, but continuing as if he hadn't been ignored, "Let's begin the presentations. Please put your hands together for Lauren Mallory from the Department of American Studies." People clapped once more, with less enthusiasm, realising this wasn't going to be the fun social party they had been anticipating after all.
A slim corn-silk blonde girl stepped up on stage. She wore a pink dress that was two sizes too small for her, and fumbled to get her USB stick into the port on the side of the project computer. She cursed multiple times before finally managing to get it in, and then stepped up arrogantly to the centre of stage. When she began speaking, her nasal voice set my teeth on edge.
"The American Studies Department is constantly seeking to understand society and cultures which are emerging within our times. Our work is vital in ensuring that everyone has a critical awareness of cultural influences."
Rose huffed, "This is going to be a long night."
"Tell me about it," I moaned.
"Another?" she asked gleefully, holding up her empty champagne glass. I nodded gratefully and she disappeared to fetch two more from the bar.
After the fifteenth presentation, the audience had completely lost interest and were now swamping the bar. Rose and I, having finished almost four glasses of champagne, were barely capable of anything other than making crude jokes about the students presenting.
"What colour lipstick do you call that? Scarlet Hooker?" Rose chortled. The poor maths student we'd been insulting trotted off stage, clearly upset by the fact that no one had listened to a word she'd said.
It hadn't skipped our notice that most of the students doing the presentations were young females, although not all of them seemed to do the trick of playing eye candy for the mysterious Mr Cullen, who had yet to make an appearance.
"Right," Rose said, "I'm up next. Let's see if I can liven up the party."
"And now," the old man who had begun the presentation evening looked visibly bored by tonight's event. He clearly hadn't been lucky enough to get to the bar yet. "From the Institute for Brain Science, please welcome Miss Rosalie Hale to the stage."
The audience applauded slowly as Rose crossed to the front of the stage confidently, while a technician who seemed already head over heels for her put her USB in the port. Instantly the stunning colours which were projected around the room had heads turning to see what Rose had to say about her field. Of course, Rose knew how to capture attention. She allowed them to absorb all the stunning animations which showed the wonders of the human brain before beginning to entice them into her work with her excellent speech.
Rose and I had practised our presentations to one another before, so I knew hers inside out. Even without her cleverly put together presentation, she would have brought interest through her great knowledge of her subject, and the easily identifiable practical applications that went with it. She was a sure winner of Mr Cullen's donation.
I hunched over my table, fiddling with stem of my champagne glass.
"You look like you could use another," someone noted as they came to perch on the stool Rose had just vacated. His voice was smooth and low and seemed almost familiar, although I didn't look up to place it.
"As much as I'd love to, I really ought to stay at least a little bit sober. Wouldn't want to fall off the stage mid-presentation." I replied. He chuckled lightly.
"It would certainly make a change from the boring drawl that's been going on all night."
I looked up at Rose on stage, "Rosalie's presentation isn't boring at all," I countered, "she's far better than anyone else tonight."
My new companion hmm'd in agreement. "Still it's hardly needed. Neuroscience was always bound to get a donation, it's generally expected to."
I wanted to defend Rose's effort but even she'd admitted it didn't matter what she said, throw it the word 'brain research' and the money comes flooding in.
"So what do you do?" I asked my companion.
"Business and Economics," he replied. I could feel his gaze boring into me, and I ducked my head, using my hair to draw a curtain between his eyes and my face. "And what do you do, Miss… Swan?" he murmured, leaning around to read my name badge. That's when I finally saw him.
I instantly recognised his messy bronze hair, his green eyes, his sharp jaw. Oh no.
I gaped at him in horror.
"You," I uttered incredulously.
He raised his eyebrows, "I'm sorry?" he asked. That voice. I'd done my best to block the memory of our embarrassing encounter all week; I'd almost forgotten how gorgeous he was. Now I wondered how I could ever have forgotten, with a face that was made only for one place. Heaven.
I realised he must have thought I was answering his question, and flushed bright crimson.
"Sorry," I murmured, "I just- err- we've met."
He looked at my curiously, studying my face. Of course he wouldn't recognise me, I was completely ordinary, there was no way he'd ever remember a face like mine.
"Clumsy girl," he stated, grinning.
Crap. Him remembering was even worse than him not remembering. I turned a whole new shade of red, and found myself babbling.
"I really am sorry about the whole quad thing, I was in a massive rush and I-"
"Hey," he interrupted; looking at me with amusement, there was no hostility in his eyes now, only friendliness. Those eyes. "It's no problem, I was in a rush, you were in a rush, we both weren't looking around us. Water under the bridge," he grinned.
I found myself smiling too, pushing a lock of hair behind my ear.
"It's Bella, by the way," I said feeling myself relax as I got lost in his eyes.
His dark brows furrowed, confused.
"My name," I hurriedly corrected, "you called me Miss Swan, I prefer Bella."
The friendliness returned to his eyes and he held out a hand. "Bella," he repeated, "short for?"
"Isabella," I replied, tentatively shaking his hand. That same spark I had felt last week shot through my hand and I dropped it quickly before I embarrassed myself anymore. He didn't seem to notice, leaning casually on the table we were sat at.
"So, Bella, are you doing a presentation?" he asked.
The overwhelming nervousness I had felt before he'd arrived flooded back into me, and I had to grip the table to keep myself from collapsing.
"Yes, for the English Department. My Professor, James Taylor, he asked me to do it. He said I'd be good, but I think he was crazy to do so. I can't do public speaking, I can barely speak at all," he was definitely getting good evidence of that from my babbling. He mercifully interrupted before I could embarrass myself further.
"English, hmm? What books do you read?" he was looking at me so intensely, like he was truly interested in what I had to say.
"Anything really," I shrugged, "Shakespeare's a favourite, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, you name it. Actually, I've recently got into H.P. Lovecraft, or more modern Stephen King." I smiled, having stayed up most nights this week to read The Gunslinger.
"Lovecraft?" he asked surprised, "you know he was born here in Providence?" I nodded, already well informed about my authors.
"Girl knows her literature," he muttered to himself before he continued. "So why are you nervous about your presentation?"
I blinked at him, surprised he couldn't immediately tell. It was really very obvious. "I'm not great with public speaking, all the people- it's just not for me." I should have just stopped there, but something about this guy made me want to spill everything. "Last time I did a small presentation for my English class, I ended up fainting. It was mortifying, they had to call the nurse and then they called paramedics because they thought I'd bumped my head. People never really stopped thinking I was a massive idiot after that."
"Well, Isabella Swan," I loved how he said my full name, "how about tonight we change that impression?"
"Right," I sighed, leaning forward to hide my humiliation.
He paused for a minute, "Well, you seem relatively comfortable talking to me."
If only he knew how wild the butterflies in my stomach were going. Still, I chose not to express this little piece of information, instead just nodding.
"So how about you quite keep your eyes on me. Deliver your presentation as if there were no one else here but you and me, how does that sound?"
"Okay," I whispered, feeling absolutely terrified.
As if on cue, Rose left the stage, a huge round of applause and cheers following her as she went. She winked at me on her way off. The old man returned to the stage, looking far more excited by the prospects of this evening. That could only have meant that Rose's presentation had gone swimmingly. I felt like a poor friend for not paying attention.
"And now from the Department of Language and Literature, please welcome Miss Isabella Swan to the stage."
Beside me, my new acquaintance turned and smiled crookedly at me, my heart skipped a beat. His head bopped forward, motioning me to take my place on stage. I walked up, feeling completely panic stricken. The technician took my USB from me, placing it in the port, and up in front of the large crowd appeared my presentation. My throat closed up. Oh god. I turned towards the audience who were looking at me with eagerness, ready for a presentation that matched the perfection of Rosalie's. Oh god.
Then I saw him. My angel. Looking up at me with an encouraging smile, and I did exactly what he said. I forgot where we were. I forgot that a room full of people had their eyes on me. I forgot that somewhere, Edward Cullen, or his representatives, were judging me right now and basing their decision to aid the English department solely on what I said. I only saw him.
The panic which had been crushing my chest since the moment I had arrived seemed to seep away, leaving behind a confidence I had never felt before.
"Shakespeare, Dickens, Tolkien, these are the names of the past. Rowling, Brown, these names are very much the present. Names which are classic, written into history by their own words. These people didn't end wars or discover a country, but they did something that some consider even more extraordinary. They created a world…" my rehearsed speech fell from my tongue naturally. I found myself moving across the stage with ease, my eyes never leaving his.
The entire time he just kept smiling at me, nodding at me each time I paused to gather my thoughts. I finally reached my conclusion, the point I hadn't rehearsed yet. I knew what I was going to say though, deep down.
"There isn't a lot else to say, other than to each one of you, think of the first time you opened a book. Think of how you fell in love with the characters, the narrative, how you never wanted to put it down. Speaking of behalf of my fellow students and lecturers, there is nothing else in the world I want more than to bring that kind of love, passion, excitement, to people like you. So, I ask you to give us that opportunity, and maybe, just maybe, ours will be the names of tomorrow."
Corny I know, but it seemed to do the trick. The angel winked at me as suddenly the entire room burst into applause, almost as loud as Rosalie's. I beamed at him, relief swelling inside of me. As I left the stage, Rose waited for me, hands on hip.
"Bella Swan, what was that?"
I bit my lip worried, "Was it bad?" I asked, confused.
"Are you kidding!" she cried, pulling me into a large embrace, "You were incredible."
"Miss Swan," his smooth voice came from behind me. Rose's eyes shifted over my shoulder and widened as she took in his the sight of my angel. I turned, and once again was caught completely off guard by his striking eyes. He was wearing that crooked smile again, which made my heart falter, then take off double time. He handed me a fresh glass of champagne. "I think that deserves a toast," he murmured, chinking our glasses together.
The next presenter was stepping onto the stage, a chubby girl with cropped black hair, who looked at me enviously as this mystery man steered me towards a table at the far end of the room. I looked back at Rose in complete shock. Her expression seemed to mirror mine but she shooed me on encouragingly. We reached our destination, which seemed was tucked nicely into the corner. I took a sip of my champagne.
"You were right," I said, "I completely forgot the audience once I got up there."
He smiled, sipping his own champagne, "glad to be of service, Isabella." I would have corrected him, but the way he said my full name sounded so right, I was too busy swooning to care.
"Bella!" I heard some call.
The angel and I looked up at the same time to see James making his way over to us. He wasn't dressed in his usual get-up, instead sporting an old brown suit that looked a little too large for him, but sufficed. When he saw my company, James' grin faltered, before he recomposed himself in an attempt to appear the bolder man.
"Ah Bella, that was wonderful," he chimed, leaning in to give me a swift kiss on the cheek. I'm sure it was meant simply as a polite gesture, but the way he lingered there felt almost predatory to me.
"Thank you, James. I'm so grateful for your help."
James replied with a soft pat on the shoulder, "and I see that it did the trick. Mr Cullen is already discussing the benefits of donating to our fantastic department I see," he said, now turning to the angel. I looked between them confused.
"Mr Cullen?" I choked out. Oh no.
James chuckled, "Don't tell me you're on first name terms already Edward. That was fast moving, even by your standards," I heard a hint bitterness in his tone.
Oh god no. Please let this not be happening.
Edward, looked at me strangely, almost apologetically, with a slightly bashful gleam in his eyes. "Yes well, Isabella made quite an impression."
"She sure did," James replied, throwing an arm around my shoulders and pulling me into his side. This was just too uncomfortable, I had to get out of here.
"Excuse me," I gasped, pushing out from under James. My head was spinning.
James called after me, "Bella!"
I saw Rose turn to see what was going on, and caught her eye. Our eyes had a silent exchange as I bee-lined for the exit. I knew she would follow.
Well, this is a bit longer than usual. Anyway, I think this will be my last chapter until the end of January. Studying calls. I will see you all in the New Year, looking forward to it :). Thanks for reading.