Bella hid in her cabin for as many hours as she could Sunday night and Monday during the daylight hours. She neither responded to, nor initiated any contact, with anyone. That included Angela who did her best to draw her friend out with offers to talk and to eat.
All offers were politely refused.
But Bella didn't mope.
She'd never pined or brooded over anyone or anything before so it didn't cross her mind to begin now.
No. Isabella Swan was made of sterner stuff than that.
Yes it was true that she was angry at Edward. It was also true that she'd been hurt by first his abrupt change in mood, then his public disinterest in her and then again by his hypocrisy, but the thought of curling up and giving in to her inner demons was not a serving suggestion that was considered by Bella.
She'd been presented with a problem and like the true math nerd she was she knew that if she worked hard enough on it she'd find either an answer to it or she'd work out who to ask for help from.
If she looked at the problem as an equation she knew she could work it out. The issue was assigning algebraic letters to each tendril of the problem. She labelled Edward as 'e' for obvious reasons. She gave Jake the letter 'a' not because he was by far the biggest problem she had, but because he was a big asshole.
She gave the idea of college and a shot at a normal life the letter 'L' and the idea of a deal between her parents and Jake the letter 'c' for corrupt.
Making a math problem out of the letters was easy for Bella.
She placed 'c' at the beginning of the problem. 'e' needed to be divided from 'c' so that their fledgling relationship had a chance. To keep the two issues separate for both of their sakes. Then 'a' needed to be subtracted from that value, which had the most obviously simple fix, which left her without a value for 'L'.
So, Bella took the first step towards removing 'a' from her list of problems. The ring had been on her finger for such a short time but already it had become a symbol of a hemmed in, mapped out future she didn't want. It slipped off her hand so easily it startled her. It left her wondering why she hadn't done it the instant she set foot at camp. 'A' had been subtracted from 'L' successfully. Now all she had to do was deal with 'c' in order to gain the 'L' that she really wanted.
'E' was a given. She wanted 'e' without reservation and with 'a' removed from the problem 'e' was free and clear to be pursued.
So 'c' became her main focus.
Her cell phone seemed to be her one obvious ally. With it she had access to people and information. If she could gain enough clarity over the value and intricacies of 'c' she might be able to make 'L' a reality. So she used her cell phone rapaciously over the hours between her discussion with Edward and the time that her hunger could no longer be ignored.
Edward slept fitfully on the dusty floor of the pressing shed that Sunday evening. Wrapped in the blankets Bella had brought from the storeroom and beneath the flickering light of the candles he lay on the uneven ground and stared into space. His contemplations took him the full gamut from fear and anxiety to elation and hope.
He woke with his thoughts somewhere in between.
He made his way back to camp slowly and bypassed the dining hall and the row of private cabins. He called a taxi and waited out on the road for it to arrive.
It was still too early for most of the businesses in town to be open so he ate up some time looking in windows and chatting to the older folk who shuffled along the footpaths along the main street. He helped the guys at the pub bring in the heavy crates of bottled wines and then moved on to the supermarket as soon as its doors opened for business.
He purchased a soda, a newspaper and a packet of jubes and spent another lazy hour sitting on a wooden park bench at the top end of town watching the world go on around himself.
When Pete opened the bookstore Edward was there, waiting. He begged to be allowed into the music store despite the fact that it wasn't normally open until lunch on Mondays and was granted special access only because Pete could see the anguish in his eyes and on his face.
Edward played steadily for four hours. He played whatever sheet music he could lay his hands on without going back into the store itself for more and then he played whatever came to mind when he'd exhausted all the available materials.
By early afternoon his shoulders ached and his fingers were cramping badly. His stomach was clenching with both hunger and with his anxiety and as his impromptu session came to an end he'd amassed quite an audience.
With the schools front doors shut only a muted sound could be heard on the street but it was enough to make passersby stop and listen and so when Edward finally closed the lid of the instrument and stood he was treated to an ovation from outside.
He bowed just once, bending deep at the waist in appreciation, before going next door to thank Pete for the opportunity.
Pete himself was quite concerned for the younger man. The deep purple smudges under his eyes hinted at little to no restful sleep and the grim set to his lips told of a worry that was quite great in its nature. Gentle prodding gained him no insight into the problem however, so he had to be content with the assurance that Edward would return to the school at three that afternoon to fulfil his obligation to play alongside the girl Pete had arranged the week before.
Edward ate at the bar of the pub in silence, his cell phone on the surface of the bar seemed to mock him at each glance.
The voice message from Jasper was the main source of his anxiety, but not the only one. His discussion with Bella weighed heavily on his mind but it was her parting words that made his gut clench the worst. She was right of course. If he wasn't willing to stand up to his own parents why should she?
Having ones hypocrisy pointed out hurt but realising that the accusation is correct hurt more. He was a hypocrite. He'd hurt Bella by not addressing his concerns immediately and he'd behaved appallingly during the trivia night. He'd played a part in hurting her long before he even knew her, of course, and that hurt too. Then he'd compounded the problem by admitting his complicity in the deal between their parents and instead of trying to help her see what was being played out behind her back he'd gone off on a personal tangent and had alienated her further.
He sat at the bar and tried to find a way to help the situation but inspiration didn't present itself in any helpful way. He had no ally. There was nobody to turn to who was in any position to help him, or Bella, and so he stared at his cell phone for a good hour over his meal.
Instinct told him not to contact his father. His mother would know nothing of the deal and contact with her would only interfere with his freedom at camp, so that was out of the question too.
There was no point contacting any of the other players in on the deal either. Edward had no friends other than those he'd made at camp so unloading his heavy heart and mind to any of them was futile.
And then there was the call from Whitlock.
He ordered himself another beer and took it out into the beer garden. It was empty as the weather had turned so cool so he was able to make the call in relative privacy.
His hand shook as he dialled the return number. His lunch churned unhappily in his belly and his heart clenched with the knowledge that his time with Isabella was very likely to be drawing to an abrupt close.
It was that he'd mourn most.
The job with his father was neither here nor there. He didn't want it anyway so losing it was not actually a loss. Same too his relationship with his parents. They'd never shown any interest in his well being and he doubted they would now if he contacted them and explained his unhappiness. If Whitlock was about to warn him off Bella he was bound to have either already discussed it with his parents and if he hadn't he would once the call was concluded.
No, there was nothing of any value to be lost other than Bella.
The main object of Edward's pain was herself in some pain. Mental pain.
By the time Edward was making his call to the states she had a thick pad of notes at her elbow and had used a significant portion of her data allowance trying to either confirm or put to rest Edward's accusations from the night before.
The connection between the three families was easy enough to verify on the internet. It was no secret that the three friends had been in business together since college. What information she could find only told her that the building estates were built by Cullen Property Development and that both Senator Billy Black and her own father had invested in the initial development. That was all on public record. There was no mention of any impropriety on any one of their behalves that she could find.
There weren't even any vague references to any of them using backdoors or underhanded methods to make the developments realised.
The only slightly sinister information she'd found on any of the parties was about Jake even though he had no public link to the developments, just like Edward had said he wouldn't. Jake been questioned three times about inter-office acts that had been deemed inappropriate by women on his staff, but three times the investigations had stopped with the women withdrawing their complaints.
He'd been linked with quite a few women over the years and had been seen publicly with a myriad of socialites and B list celebrities. He'd never been mentioned as having been in a relationship with any of them, just seen at various political and philanthropic events with them.
He wasn't spoken off fondly in any of the articles Bella could find online. In fact, the only mentions of him with regard to his character were pieces that painted him as a ladies' man with no obvious intention of settling down. That sat heavily in Bella's gut as she read them. His decision to propose to her seemed as though it came out of the blue.
The only article Bella found that gave some credence to anything Edward had said in the pressing shed was a political opinion piece that said that if Jake was to have any chance of winning the election he was going to need an appropriate woman at his side.
That made Bella uneasy. She'd never understood why Jake had wanted to marry her and if it did come down to him needing a suitable wife she could think of a hundred other of her peers that would do the job far better than she ever could.
And it was starting to look and feel more like a job than ever to Bella. Jobs didn't come with a jewellery component and as she stared at the engagement ring that sat on the coffee table in front of her she wondered why Jake had bothered with it.
Like Edward she wondered who to confide in and who to contact that could help her quantify just how much of what he'd had said that was true. Her mother wouldn't know and her father was likely to lie if it was true. She had no friends other than those she'd made at camp and none of them would have any idea about any of the business dealings going on at home.
As for her personal problem she wondered if Alice would be willing to at least listen to her reservations about the wedding.
If nothing else talking about Jake and how she felt about that situation would remove at least a little of the anxiety she was feeling.
Checking the time difference she winced and dialled anyway.
Alice had said she could call anytime.
Edward held his breath while he waited for his call to connect. He hadn't bothered to check the world clock on his cell phone to see what the time was in the states and by the time a very sleepy voice answered he'd almost completely backed out of the whole idea.
"Christ," Jasper grumbled as he struggled to answer his private cell phone. It took him three goes to get it the right way up and two goes to make his voice understandable. "Who's calling?" he asked once he had the ear piece to his ear and the microphone at his chin.
"Um, yeah..." Edward stammered, "Its Edward Cullen calling for Jasper Whitlock."
"Jesus Christ," Jasper all but shouted this time as he leapt from his bed and stubbed his big toe on the nightstand. "Hold on a minute," he implored down the phone while he reassured his wife that everything was fine, that his call was business related and that she should go back to sleep. He slipped on his robe and bolted down the stairs to his study before speaking into his phone again. "Thank you for returning my call," he told a nervous Edward.
"That's okay, sorry for getting you up. Time zones aren't my forte."
"Don't worry about it," Jasper assured him. "Look I realise you have no idea who I am but if you have the time I need to speak with you about a very important matter."
"I know who you are," Edward whispered down the line.
"Yeah. You're married to Bella's sister."
Bella huh? He'd never heard her name said that way and it was quite interesting to hear it said as such Jasper thought as he slid the key into the lock on his safe and began turning the barrel first left, then right, then left again. "That's right. How is my sister in law?" he asked as he withdrew the file folders from their hiding place and took them back to his desk.
"Not very happy with me at the moment, but she's...shit," Edward sighed as he swiped at the condensation of his beer glass. Running his hand through his hair yet again he winced. His scalp was beginning to get sore from his fingers constantly rubbing it with nerves and stress and his mind-to-mouth connection was failing him badly. "Look, can we just cut the shit? I know what you want from me."
Jasper was startled by the forthright language but covered it well. "You do? Do tell," he hedged and sat back in his chair to listen to the answer.
Edward sighed heavily and worried at his hair a little more as he considered the right way to word it. "You want me to stay away from Bella. I get it, okay? You don't need to spell it out for me and you certainly don't need to initiate any legal proceedings."
That made Jasper spring forward in his chair and almost made him drop the phone. "And why do you believe I'd be contacting you to insist upon that exactly?" Jasper hedged.
"Because her family, and you too if you are representing them legally I guess, think I'm no good for her. I know that she's engaged, so you don't need to spell it out. My father's probably gotten wind of me spending time with her and he's engaged your services to warn me off I'm guessing. Either way I get it. I imagine there has been mention of gold digging, corruption and probably alienation of affections from her family," Edward answered as bravely as he could.
Jasper was stunned. Stunned and appalled. He would never, ever make an uninformed character judgement on another and he would never entertain the notion of telling anyone else what they should do and whom they should do it with on a social basis. Not only did Jasper Whitlock not roll that way but he'd been on the receiving end of that type of character assassination himself and would not condone it done to another human being.
And that's why; with nothing other than his gut feelings to rely on, he was straight with Edward. "I am not the Swan family's lawyer, though I have drafted a number of documents for them in my time. And I've not been engaged by your family at this time either. I don't know anything about you personally, except for what's publicly available of course, so I wouldn't begin to cast aspersions on your character. Calling you a gold digger is ridiculous, and you know why. If you are corrupting my sister in law I'd say that was her business and none of mine. Unless of course she doesn't want to be corrupted by you. Then you and I would have issues. As for alienation of affection," he chuckled, "go your hardest."
Edward swallowed heavily, the sound of it quite clear down the phone line. "But...but..." he stammered, a left over boyhood reaction to stress.
"No buts," Jasper insisted. "I mean it. If you and Isabella are corrupting each other that is none of mine or anyone else's, business. But I can assure you, if you hurt the girl in any way, I'll come for you Edward."
"Yeah," Edward sighed. "I figured. Look, can we be frank with each other?"
"I have been and I'd appreciate it if you were," Jasper assured.
"I like her. A lot. And I realise I'm nobody and I've got nothing to offer her, but I do like her. I wouldn't try and sway her in any way though. I haven't advised her what to do and I won't. I just want the decision to be hers."
Jasper considered that for a second before replying. "I'm pleased to hear that you like her and I'm even more pleased to hear that you want her to make choices for herself. But you aren't nobody and you certainly aren't penniless. So let's have no more talk about that."
"Future earnings if I end up staying on in dad's firm, maybe," Edward grumbled, "but other than that..."
"I wouldn't call the Cullen legacy nothing," Jasper chuckled.
"A legacy of lies and sneaky backdoor deals," Edward muttered darkly.
It was then that Jasper twigged. The dealings that he'd had with Carlisle Cullen all those years ago began to make some sense. At last. He was about to explain to Edward why he had more to offer Isabella than future earnings when Edward interrupted.
"If there is anything you can do, any strings you can pull, any favours you can call in then you have to do it. Bella can't marry Jake Black. And not because I want her for myself, even though I do. She just can't marry him. I don't know how to make her see, and she won't believe me when I tell her, but he's evil. He's mixed up in this crazy scheme with her dad and my dad and shit... she's going to be stuck in the middle...and I don't know who to tell or what to do," Edward all but sobbed, his panicked emotions spilling from his lips as his brain worked on overload to divest itself of all the awful thoughts at once.
Of course this wasn't news to Jasper. He'd spent the past days locked in his office with Mike sifting through endless paperwork, attempting to follow not only the paper trail but the money trail that would give him the 'out' he needed for Isabella.
"Okay Edward, you need to calm down there buddy," Jasper said as calmly as he could. He'd always known that the key to getting Isabella out of her predicament was going to be this guy. Right from the instant Rosie had mentioned Isabella's interest. Even before he'd known an actual name he'd known. From the instant Tyler had confirmed their little romance he'd known. And it wasn't about Edward Cullen, not specifically anyway. Isabella didn't do little romances. Isabella didn't do romance full stop. If she'd fallen for someone he could help her get out of the mess she'd found herself in. If she had taken a liking to this guy that was all Jasper needed to know about him.
Taking a long, deep, cleansing breath Jasper gave his instructions slowly and clearly. "I'm going to send you some information, Edward. I can't stress enough how important it is that you keep the information confidential. If it gets out that I've been rummaging around in this stuff I'm toast, and so are you and probably Isabella too and she's going to have to marry Jake just to cover this shit up. I know you don't want that and I know she doesn't want that either, so the quieter this stays the better for you both. I'll fax it so it gets to you quickly and I'll send it to the fax in Rosie's private office. You can trust Rosie and you can trust Tyler too. But I'd still rather you didn't divulge anything in the documents until I tell you that you can, can we agree to that?" he asked.
"Rosie? You mean Rosalie? The director here?" Edward asked, baffled.
"That's her. She's not what she seems," Jasper said quietly. "Nothing sinister, let's just say that she's a friend and she's sympathetic to our mutual cause. Same goes for Tyler. Sorry to break it to you buddy but the walls have eyes and ears there."
"Tyler? Journalist Tyler? Cabin next to mine Tyler? What the fuck?" Edward hissed.
"Yeah, that Tyler. Look, it's complicated. But I swear it's nothing sinister. Neither of you are being watched or anything, but we sent Isabella there because we trusted Rosie to help her and Rosie trusts Tyler. So by extension you can trust them both. I'll explain more when I can. Can you agree to keep the documents to yourself and away from Isabella for now?"
"Yeah," Edward mumbled.
Jasper heard the soft tap at the door and moved towards it, "One second, Edward," he said down the line and opened the door to his wife. He mouthed the word 'Edward' at her and she held her cell phone up for him to see before she mouthed the word 'Isabella' at him. Nodding just once, and smiling widely at her, he went back to his desk and resumed his conversation. "Good. Now, I'll fax them first thing your tomorrow morning. Take them away, go into town to read them if you can. The pub might be good. Public place and all that, but away from camp too. Read over it all and get back to me. Don't email me whatever you do. Too traceable. Call this number, not the office number, or better yet fax me back any comments on a plain letterhead. Be vague if possible. I don't want to give any specifics over the phone but you'll understand that you and I are on the same page here once you've read what I send. As for the other points you've mentioned I'm going to fax you another document too, but this one is private for you. Your eyes only. I mean that. Giving you access to this one will get me fired," Jasper warned.
"Okay," Edward sighed again. His head was swimming with questions but he knew that the answers were going to lie in these documents and that Jasper wasn't willing to discuss them over the phone. "Just tell me that it's her choice. This marriage. Please tell me that if she chooses not to do this someone there will support her?" he begged.
"I swear it," Jasper agreed easily. "It's why we got her the hell out of here for a while in the first place. So she could decide for herself, without influence. I swear to you that if she chooses not to get married her sister and I will be there for her."
"And as for you, Edward, you should know that we're here for you too as of right now. If Isabella trusts you then we do too. If you need anything, or there is anything you want to talk about you just call. Anytime," Jasper offered.
"She's so mad at me," Edward whispered, afraid to voice it.
Jasper couldn't help but grin at the comment. This guy was enamoured enough with his sister in law to be worried about having upset her. "Alright," he began, "I'm taking off my lawyer hat and putting on my guy hat. Shoot," he chuckled.
Edward took a slug from his beer and sighed heavily. "It's a long story," he mumbled.
"I'm wide awake," Jasper laughed, "And it always is a long story where women are concerned."
Grateful and relieved to have someone to talk to Edward spilled his guts. All of it. Meeting Bella, their first interactions, their first kiss. He related how he felt about her, how happy she made him, how many times they'd laughed and all about their trips to town together. He explained how sad she'd been when she first arrived and how anxious and hemmed in he'd felt himself upon his arrival.
He talked to Jasper for two hours. All his hopes and fears came pouring out. He told how he didn't want to work for his father; how he hated the deals he'd had to be party to. He told about a lifetime of longing for music and his cowardly acceptance of his mother's life plan for him came out too and at the end of the conversation he felt lighter. He was no closer to a solution, to any of his or Bella's problems, but he did feel lighter for having gotten it all off his chest even if Jasper didn't turn out to be someone who could help.
He ended the call feeling better that Bella had at least the support of her sister and brother in law in her own troubles.
When three o'clock rolled around it was a more focused Edward who went to the music store to meet Pete. He was able to concentrate on the particulars of the young woman who he was going to meet and he was able to think more clearly about what Pete wanted him to look and listen for as they worked with her at the piano.
It was a happier Edward who returned to camp in the late afternoon and when Emmett came to find him in the conference centre he had been playing the camp piano for fun not out of frustration.
The new scheme Emmett presented him with sounded like a bit of fun and after two full days of anguish and anxiety Edward was up for a bit of fun.
Bella apologised for waking her sister when a groggy Mary Alice finally answered her cell phone, but wasted no time with pleasantries after that.
"I need your help," she all but barked down the line the instant her sister said she was awake enough to talk. "I've met someone," Bella began without hesitation. "He's a great guy and we get along really well but he's told me some things in the past couple of days that have my head in a spin and I need your help to make sense of them."
Mary Alice was wide awake then, if she hadn't been two minutes before. This was what she'd been waiting for. For Isabella to begin questioning her situation for herself. With her robe pulled tight around her waist Mary Alice crept down the stairs and paused at the door of her husband's study. "Give me two minutes and I'll call you right back," she told her sister firmly and disconnected the call.
Once she knew that Jasper was speaking with Edward she let him know that she was going to be speaking with Bella and made her way into the kitchen. She switched on the coffee pot and settled at the counter before dialling her sisters cell.
"Tell me everything," she told her sister when the call connected.
So Bella did. For the very first time Bella let it all out. All of it.
She explained how she wanted to go to college and live a life of her own design. She told her sister how she resented her mother and how unhappy she was at the thought of marrying Jake.
Bella told Alice all about Edward and how happy he made her feel. How they laughed and cuddled, kissed and held hands and then she told her sister how it had all unravelled in the last few days.
She told her sister about the accusations Edward had made about their fathers business dealings and all about his theory that her betrothal to Jake was just another business arrangement.
She outlined the information she'd been able to garner from the internet about the connections between the three families and admitted to her misgivings about the suspect nature of Jake's character.
When she could think of nothing else to add she asked Alice what she thought.
The line was silent for a long moment while Mary Alice thought about it and then, when she did speak, it was very quietly. "I think you might be right," she whispered almost conspiratorially to her little sister. "I think Jakes proposal was a political manoeuvre and I think he's a bastard," she admitted.
"What do I do now?" Bella begged, relieved to have at least her sister on side.
Wishing she could ask Jasper the best course of action Mary Alice gave her sister the best advice she could without consultation. "I think you should let me and Jaz check out the business side of things and I think you should talk to Edward as soon as you can. You can't do anything about your situation here at home until you have all the information to hand, so you should put that aside for now. I think you should do your best to mend things with Edward for right now and see if you can salvage that friendship while you wait. If he's someone you want in your life you should do your best to make that right."
Bella agreed and Mary Alice promised to enlist her husband's help to try and make sense of the business side of things. The two sisters hung up happier than either of them had been when the conversation began.
Bella went outside to try and work out what the terrible din was at the back of the cabins and Mary Alice went to find her husband.
The couple met in the hall outside his office.
"I think Edward's in love with your sister," Jasper grinned as he reached for her hand.
"And I think my sister's in love with Edward Cullen," Mary Alice chimed as she took his hand into hers. "Are you coming back to bed?" she asked.
Jasper kissed her knuckles and rubbed his thumb over the back of her hand gently. "No, Sweetpea. Edward's asked the right questions and I've told him I'll fax him the answers so I need to go and make that happen."
"Bella's finally asking the right questions too," Mary Alice smiled. "I've told her that you'll look into it all and that we'll get back to her as soon as we know anything."
"Good girl," Jasper said proudly. "Give Edward a chance to absorb the information I'm sending and give him a chance to explain it all to her and then we'll call them both and check how it all went, alright?"
Nodding thankfully Mary Alice pressed a soft kiss to her husband's cheek and moved towards the stairs to go back to bed. Turning back before she stepped up Mary Alice asked her husband if his impression of Edward Cullen had been confirmed from their conversation.
"Definitely," Jasper said happily. "He's a good guy, Sweetpea. He's honest and respectful and he truly does have your sisters best interests at heart. At the expense of his own actually," he frowned. "But I think I can help him with that. I don't want you to worry darlin', this is all panning out exactly right."
With a quiet thank you Mary Alice returned to her bed with a happy heart.
A/N: Thank you for reading.