I laid atop of my fluffy white bed with the white embossed comforter as I pondered my options. Run? Stay? What to do? There is a knot in my stomach that won't cease, and I know it shall be with me until the threat has packed up her bags and returned back to her mansion.
The ceiling fan spins around and around providing only a small amount of relief from the sweltering temperatures outside. You would have thought that when my sister made upgrades to our house, central air-conditioning would have been one of them. Just wait. I'm sure after a few uncomfortable nights, she will send for funds straightaway. Not for us or our comfort but for her own.
I stare around my room. White walls. White furniture. White everything. A proper atmosphere for a young virgin still awaiting a husband. Any amount of color and I might have an impure thought. I roll my eyes and press my head into the nearest pillow screaming out my frustrations.
My ears are on a constant alert. The moment that the gravel is kicked aside from the tires that tread down our path, I know it is only a matter of time before that knot in my stomach squeezes even more.
"Bella," my mother yells from downstairs. "Time to get up and showered. Your sister will be here any minute. Don't give her a reason to look down on you."
Like a shower would help.
I sit up and my pudgy stomach pooches out from under my tight top. I am aware why my mother has fitted me in nightwear that is one size too small. She thinks she is so smart finding subtle ways to encourage weight loss.
I forgo the shower. I hope I smell. Nothing will please me more than dissatisfying my sister. Normally I was a well-tempered easy-going girl who is eager to please but when it comes to Jessica, I am afraid that I lose all sense of reason.
I pull on some jeans and an extra-large t-shirt. I know the loose shirt will hide my natural shape. It makes me feel even more self-conscious to wear fitted clothes. I don't need to give another person a reason to pinch or prod at my fat.
While pulling on my sneakers, I hear a car slowly approaching. I run over to the window to check. Yes, it is her. Arriving in a chauffeured black Rolls Royce. A Mercedes or standard BMW being too low-brow for her grand entrance.
I can't face her yet. I just can't. Run it is. I know that if I were to go out the front door or even the back, I might be seen. I wait for my sister to get out of the car and give her due diligence to look around the property as if she needed to make a mental list of everything that should be rectified while she is here.
The minute I hear the front door open, I unlatch the lock on my window, raising it up and creep out slow and careful to ensure I don't fall. I carefully guide myself on the shingles of our newer roof to the side and slowly climb down the trellis, landing swiftly on my feet as I jump the last couple of feet down to the ground. I look in the window and see that no one is near the kitchen, so I take off running.
Who says that I don't exercise?
I run through the high grass field desperate to get to the tree line and out of sight before anyone can see me. I slow my pace and allow my lungs a break as I head through the tall oaks. I know this small thicket of woods like the back of my hand. Two acres of woods are what separate our land from that of the Cullen's.
The Cullen's were one of the wealthiest families in the state. Established money. The only reason I knew them was because my mother used to work as a nanny for them when Mrs. Cullen had the twins; Edward and Alice. Since I was born close in age and out of the kindness of Esme's heart, my mother was permitted to bring me with her to work. This is what separated Esme from the rest of her high-brow society. Normally a lady of her stature would never allow for the staff's children to socialize with her own. Someone like me might teach them improper manners. Thankfully, Esme was kind.
As I approached the house I knew that I would have to go up the tree and directly into Alice Cullen's window. As kind as Esme was, she would feel the need to report back to my mother my unsuitable dress and unkempt hair.
I grew up in this house. Even if I wasn't permitted to sleep over until my sister was engaged to a Newton. Everything changed for my family when we were honored with marriage to a high-class family. In our society as it stood, when a lady married into a family with means, it was the duty to her betrothed to see that her family was greatly compensated and given rise in station. Afterall It would be embarrassing for someone in the upper class to be seen with their in-laws who were lower.
The minute my sister said, 'I do', my father was given a promotion within his department. No longer a common police officer, he was made a lead investigator. My mother was expected to not work and gave notice to the Cullen family. Working was for the poor. A woman above a certain station was never expected to work unless they were from established money and then only if they wished to. Their husbands should be able to provide. This idea alone made me never want to get married.
Our house underwent a complete renovation and all the land that we used to pay rent for was gifted to my father. Now that my family wasn't in the lower working class, thanks to Jessica and her Michael Newton, I was expected to learn the proper ways of society and becoming a lady so that I may have a suitable marriage when the time came. That time was now, and I hated feeling like a prize cow put out for show where they might as well place a flashing neon sign above my head stating, 'available for marriage.'
Why someone would ever want to marry me was beyond my comprehension. One of the reasons my sister was coming for a long overdue visit. She did not come with the idea of spending time with her family. No, she was coming because she needed to be sure that her family wasn't an embarrassment when her husband and his family visited the state this coming holiday season for the east region Christmas Ball. Jessica's main embarrassment was me.
"Bella?" Alice asked opening her window when she saw me.
"Sorry, I would have called but I realized when I jumped down from my room, I had forgotten my phone. You know there was no way I would be able to get back upstairs without being seen."
I climbed onto the roof and watched out for the one tile that usually slipped me up.
Alice understood my plight. She was the kindest person I knew. Someone of her standing should never be friends with someone like me. No, I am not saying that because of the pecking order, that since Alice being a Cullen was from established money whereas my family was granted money, she should not want to be seen with me. Alice was on track to marry into one of the wealthiest families from down south. A friend like me; fatter and unappealing might have the ability to drag her down. But Alice was like her mother. Kind. She didn't care what people thought of our association.
There were only a handful of established money families in the state. Established meaning those who were blessed for centuries with their financial proclivities and people like our family who married into established money were gifted money. Or granted money. The whole thing was rather ridiculous if you asked me. Who cares how much money we had or how we came to have it? Oh, that's right, everyone.
Alice and I were best friends since we were four. Edward, Alice and I were thick as thieves growing up. Three best friends. Edward was like me. He too had a little problem in the weight department. We used to sneak off to the kitchen and while one of us distracted the staff, the other would ferret away some cookies or leftover cakes. I loved Edward. He was the first boy I ever loved. He even kissed me once, but no one could ever know about that. Not even Alice.
However, since we were nearing our teens, Edward was put on a strict diet and exercise regiment and the more weight he lost, the more he wouldn't hang out with me anymore. Now he was off over in Europe at school and from what Alice told me, his father was not too pleased since apparently, he was sleeping in classes and having lots of sex and drinking himself silly.
Occasionally, Alice would show me a picture of her brother and I could feel my body tingle just looking at him. He was so incredibly attractive. No longer pudgy but with muscles completely defined. It was the picture I would hold in my head when I was alone at night and able to touch myself in private. If my mother knew, she would skin me alive for having thoughts on a man who would never be my husband.
"So, when did the little troll arrive?" Alice asked.
I sighed and flopped down to her couch.
"Just now. I couldn't face her yet. I need my strength."
"Oh Bella, I wish you didn't have to see her. She is so cruel. She makes my blood boil. I can't wait until Jasper and I are wed. Don't worry, I will be sure to give your sister a proper education then. She may be with a Newton, but I will be with a Whitlock. Whitlock's always trumped Newtons."
Yes, Whitlock's do trump Newtons, but a male Cullen would trump them all. Edward and whomever he decided to wed, that girl's class would rise immediately.
"Well, I can't wait to see the look on her face come that day. Have you and Jasper set a date yet?"
Alice went over and sat back down at her vanity. She began to run a brush through her gorgeous chestnut brown hair.
"Not yet but his father and my father are in their final negotiations, so it will be only a matter of days before I can finally pick a date. I was thinking next summer but that feels like forever and day. I don't think I can wait that long…especially for sex."
I laughed and shook my head.
"Are you horny, Alice?" I giggled.
"Aren't you? My god, I can't wait to have sex. I think I will make a little negotiation of my own with Jasper. See to it that he gives me sex everyday…perhaps twice a day. Not only to have babies but because I know that once I start, I won't want to stop."
Hearing her go on about sex made me want it to but who the hell would ever have sex with me? Plus, I'm sure when my parents or sister found someone to take me on, they would want me to be pure. Sometimes it felt that was all I was good for. To my family, a possible financial gain and to my 'husband' one good pop of the cherry to stake his flag in to claim.
"I don't know if I will ever have sex. I think I would much rather be a spinster allowed to live her life however I wish. I would take having a job any day over a marriage."
"Oh, Bella. Don't say such things. Besides…. you work now so…not much would change."
She was lying. I didn't work. I "volunteered." I wasn't allowed to accept payment for my time because then people would think that my family was financially strapped and then we would bring shame to Michael Newton because he is after all responsible for our wellbeing by marrying my sister.
Currently, I volunteered at the local hospital where Alice's father, Carlisle Cullen worked. He was the chief of surgery there as well as having a financial claim in the hospital. He was the one who found me my volunteer position. At first, I would read to comatose patients or patients in the intensive care ward but lately, my job had changed. The hospital employees would call me the grim reaper. It was a silly joke. One I enjoyed but if my mother ever found out she would be horrified and expect me to quit straight away.
They called me the grim reaper because I wanted to sit with patients who had no one and were being taken off life support. No one should have to die alone. I took it upon myself to hold their hands or read to them so perhaps they would go peacefully knowing they weren't alone.
"I don't know Alice. I think I would rather take my chances with cats. Plus, if I was a cat lady then that would infuriate my sister and why would I pass up the chance to do that?"
"You sister would probably make your parents disown you. You wouldn't be able to afford cats. You would be a gutter baby."
"Awe, are you saying you wouldn't take me in and let me work for you? You know I can cook. I would make a fine chef for your budding family."
Alice set her brush down and turned to me.
"I would never let you work for me. Of course, I would take you in," she replied seriously. "Bella, there is something I want to ask you. I hope you will agree to it. It would mean the world to me."
Somehow our light conversation had turned serious.
"Would you be my maid of honor?"
My mouth slowly dropped open.
"You can't be serious," I replied.
"I am very much serious. You know I love you. You are my best friend. I can't imagine anyone else I would want to stand by my side on the happiest day of my life."
I slowly shook my head.
"Your mother would never agree to it. I mean…Esme is a dear but look at me? They would never want this to blemish your pictures," I replied waving my hand up and down my body.
"I don't care what my mother thinks or anyone else for that matter. True, you will have to wear a dress and do your hair and makeup. You can't come in jeans and a baggy t-shirt," she joked.
I threw a pillow from off her couch at her.
"Is that a yes or what?" Alice asked again.
I shook my head and laughed.
"Of course. I would be honored."
I stood up and went to hug her. A sense of dread filled my stomach when I thought of standing in front of all those people, but I would do it for Alice. Odd thing was, this kind of honor was something that might get my sister off my back. Being seen at the right hand of a Cullen on her wedding day did carry a certain clout.
I knew I couldn't spend my whole day with Alice as much as I wanted to. It would only take a couple of hours before my mom would send out a search party for me, so I shimmed down Alice's tree and headed back towards my house.
I had hoped my father would be home by the time I returned. He was always softer on me when Jessica would come. I knew my mother would take Jessica's side no matter what she said or did. It wasn't my mother's fault. Technically, Jessica was higher in class now with her marriage, so my mom would have no choice but to listen to Jessica and give her words weight.
"You better get in there. I think your sister is mighty upset with your disappearance," Miss Cope said as I came through the back door into the kitchen. We only gained Mrs. Cope after my sister marriage. She did all the standard housework and cooking.
I could hear my mother and Jessica talking in the dining room. It was tea time. I look down and see my pants are muddy and my shirt stained with sweat. I should sneak up to my room and shower, but I decided to go a different route.
"Good afternoon," I announced entering the formal dining room. My sneakers pounding on the soft wooden floors.
"Bella!" Jessica says my name in disgust.
"Bella, I told you to ready yourself. What is your explanation for this?" My mother asked.
"My apologies. I will dash upstairs and come back when I am acceptable."
"And just how long will that take?" my sister said nearly under her breath.
"Jessica," my mom scolded.
"Well…just how long am I expected to wait? From the looks of Bella, I will be here the rest of the year if I am to have any luck in managing her care."
I stopped in my tracks and turned around.
"Please don't go to any trouble, Jessica. You need not waste your time on me. In fact, how about we make a deal? You leave me be and I will be sure to make myself scarce when you're in-laws come this winter," I offered.
"Ugh," Jessica responded in disgust. "You think that my in-laws are just going to forget about my fat sister? They will want to see that some progress has been made since the wedding. How do you think it will make me look when they see you? They will be worried that daddy may have to sell the farm in order for someone to take his un-prized pig. And who do you think will be responsible for that dowry? Me and my well-connected husband."
For a brief moment, I forgot myself and hauled off to smack her straight across the face.
Jessica stood there staring at me. Oh, that's right, the slap was a pure fantasy that my mind played on me.
"Marriage agrees with you, Jessica."
A common greeting. She narrowed her eyes knowing that my words were insincere.
"And I don't see how it will ever agree with you!"
"Then deny me! Please. I would much rather spend my days on the streets than to put up with you!"
Now she had done it.
"Bella!" My mother snapped. "Stop it. She will not be denying anyone. Now go upstairs and for the love of god, throw away that entire outfit!"
"No, by all means, keep the outfit. It will be something you can wear when we start our exercising regiment. I have hired the best trainer in the western states to come and deal with you," Jessica said.
I wanted to fire back a snappy retort but stopped myself.
"I will gladly meet your trainer. But I am doing this for Alice and not you. Alice Cullen has asked me to be her maid of honor and I accepted."
My mother screamed out in joy and covered her mouth before it could provide further embarrassment. Jessica looked nearly offended.
"Oh, Bella! What a great honor," my mother praised bringing me in for the first genuine hug she gave me since I was a child.
"Did you get Esme's blessing? I doubt she would approve of this," Jessica replied.
I rolled my eyes.
"No, but Alice doesn't care. She wanted me."
Jessica shook her head.
"Alice Cullen always was a loon. I don't know how she ever convinced a Whitlock to look her way." Jessica said sounding a tad jealous.
"Be careful, Jessica. You are speaking down about a Cullen. What would people think if they knew of your harsh words? Do I need to remind you of your place? Should I run up and draw you a chart?"
"I don't need a chart. I know all the prominent families. Far better than you will ever know."
I snorted out loud which made Jessica's face turn green with repulsion.
"I only need to know one family. Cullen's trump them all," I sang turning on my heel and leaving the dining room.
I could hear her, and my mother continue discussing my sad nature as my feet traveled up the stairs and toward the shower. I was never one for bubble baths but knowing that it would keep me away from Jessica, I decided that now was the time to invest in some time alone.
I laid in our clawfoot bathtub and closed my eyes to listen to the birds outside my window while I thought about Alice's offer for maid of honor. Any normal girl would be giddy at the thought. I had never been a maid of honor before. Jessica would have laughed out loud or possibly cracked a smile if I ever asked to be her maid of honor when the time came to select someone. I was a bit surprised that I was even invited to the wedding. I wished I hadn't been. The looks on the faces of Michael Newton's family was enough to make me never want to leave my bedroom again. I hadn't seen them since and that was over three years ago.
After Alice and Jasper received their official permission to marry from their fathers, then the imaginary clock would be set. Jasper would take ownership of their new estate. Alice would be permitted to move into a guest suite until the day of their wedding and then after they said their vows, Alice would move into their bridal suite where forever she would stay with Jasper.
Every event up until the wedding would be planned out extensively and since I was the maid of honor, I would need to be ready to see to Alice's happiness. All while wearing a dress, I shuttered at the thought.
I sunk down deeper into my bathtub and let my hair wash clean under the water. My face is fully submerged. It was all so peaceful. What I wouldn't give to be left alone. Not my sister's problem. Not my father or mothers. Just left to be my own person.
I dream of what that life would look like if I wasn't forced to worry about marriage and the class system that had become so ingrained in our society. I think of South America. White sandy beaches. Hot perfect weather and exotic men who perhaps I could find one to think of me as attractive. I could have a job. Something honorable like a teacher or nurse. I would have children when I was ready, and they would be perfect. I try and picture my imaginary family, but a husband's face does not appear. My children fade away like sand being blown aside and my picture shows only me. Alone.
A loud bang on the door wakes me from my sad silly fantasies.
"Bella, you must get out soon. Dinner will be ready, and your father should arrive any moment," Mrs. Cope yells through the white wooden door.
I pull the plug on my bath and groan as I heave myself up and out. Mrs. Cope has left me enough time to blow dry my wet head so that I may give off a better impression. My naked body stands in front of the mirror and I hate that I immediately cringe at my rolls. I don't care what people think. I don't care what people think. I recite this over and over even if I don't believe a word of it.
I settle on dress pants and a dark green top. It is significantly a step up from what I wore previously that day, but I doubt it will placate my sister. When I do finally arrive downstairs, I can tell that everyone in the house is in a flurry of excitement.
My father sits in his comfy chair while he and my mother talk excitedly.
"There you are. Guess what just arrived?" My mother sings as she waves an ivory card around in her hand.
I shrug and hide partly behind the wall separating me from the living room.
"Oh, Bella. Stop standing like that. Straight up and proper. With lines like these, you can easily shave off a couple of pounds," she models to me how she wants me to stand. She looks like a swan attempting to straighten out its neck. Awkward and displeasing to my eye.
She pulls me into the room and I hear Jessica's heels click down the steps behind me. And here we go for round two.
"Jessica, look what just came." My mother has now forgotten me and moved onto her favorite daughter. She presents the ivory card to Jessica.
"Esme Cullen wishes to have tea with Bella tomorrow afternoon. This must mean she will approve Alice's choice for maid of honor. Can you imagine what this will mean for our family?"
"Mother, its just tea and…a bridal position. It's not a guaranteed marriage proposal. I don't know what everyone is getting so excited for."
"I can't believe it. My little Bella standing beside a Cullen on her wedding day. I am mighty proud of you," my father said acting as if he hadn't heard a word from my sister.
"She hasn't been little in over a decade," Jessica grumbled.
"I have to figure out what I am going to wear," my mother squealed.
It was customary for my mother to attend alongside me until I was married because only after marriage would I gain the insight to be able to speak for myself. However…
"No mother. I will attend with Bella," Jessica declared.
Since my sister was a station above my mother, she had the authority to come and speak on my behalf.
"No. Come on…" I complained.
I see the light go out in my mother's eyes as she sits down like a scolded puppy.
"Esme Cullen is as worthy as they come. I would think you would want someone like me to stand on your behalf and accept this honor. I will see to it that Esme knows that when it comes to representing our family, I will do everything in my power to make you acceptable."
I look over and plead with my father. The light has gone out in his eyes too.
"Bella…she makes a good case. I'm sure Jessica will have your best interest at heart," my father replied quietly.
I want to throw a tantrum, but I refrain. I want to run upstairs and scream into my pillow until my voice is hoarse, but I refrain. I want to shove my steaming chicken pot pie into my sisters face while at dinner, but I don't. Why? Because I am not that girl.
I see my future now. It is not in South America with some exotic husband or beautiful children. My future is being under my sisters' thumb for the rest of my life. Even if I did marry eventually, Jessica would always be higher in society. I would never get out from under her.
I married someone higher than a Newton.