I hope you will understand the nature of my introduction and what I am to request of you to accept in return for my rather brief explanation.
I was a close friend of both your mother and father. In fact your mother was so much more to me. She was like that of a sister. In short I fell in love with her step uncle, Theodore, a man thirty years my senior, which drew us apart. We seized contact and never saw one another again when your mother fled with your father. And it is to this day that I regret the mistake and what I have come to bear as loss as a consequence.
My deepest condolence goes out to you for their tragic deaths. And of course for your Aunt’s demise shortly thereafter. At the time, I’m afraid I did not know of your name to trace your whereabouts. It was due to an acquaintance of mine that I was fortunate to have found an article regarding a book museum in which you were clearly pictured.
You looked so much like your mother. It was difficult at first for me to believe in what I was seeing. I wondered if I was imagining you, because I still missed the person I expected you to be, the times we once shared that could never be replaced.
If you would be so kind as to grant an old woman’s wish to meet with the only daughter of a woman I hold dear to my heart, I would like to invite you to visit me here in West Virginia for as long as necessary, or as little as you may require.
I do so hope you will accept. I hope you will also forgive me for disrupting your life if you so choose to decline my offer.
Though I believe you will understand the importance, which is why I have enclosed your plane ticket, first class.
The clock by my bed flashed 1:09, reminding me that I’d left behind Utah, with a bad feeling for good. What was I thinking?
I brushed my teeth and flossed, keeping my towel wrapped around me as I searched my luggage for my Manoush striped bustle dress and Ksubi Sandals. Not that I limited myself to wearing only designer togs. I wore thrift store clothes and hand me downs too. Anything as long as it was faultless and durable. Today I just wanted to extravagant my look, probably because I looked so drab from my recent relapse into too many sleepless nights.
A knock on my door made me jump.
“Coming,” I yelled, struggling to strap on my sandal. The door sounded again as if they hadn’t heard me. I marched over with my one bare foot, finding Esme the Cullen’s gardener preparing to knock again as I answered.
“Oh.” She backed away. “My, you gave me a fright.”
She didn’t look all that frightened. Maybe undernourished, in need of a few days sleep herself and surprised to see I was still here, but not alarmed. Not by me anyway.
“Are you alright?” She stepped closer. “We didn’t see you at dinner last night.” Her eyes darkened “We thought you might be unwell. In need of a doctor’s visit.”
What? Hell no.
“I’m fine Esme. I just needed to catch up on some sleep.” I smiled. Three weeks of sleep since Carmen’s thoughtful, but commanding invite I wanted to add.
“I see.” She smiled back, her eyes returning to their soft brown glow as she peered down at my outfit. “You look very…”
Now she did look afraid. Did I forget my bra? I looked down to check.
“Elegant...once again,” she said, with a subjective pause.
“Thanks.” Her awkwardness made me feel as though I was saying or doing something inappropriate. She suddenly slipped into one of her long gazes, one that probably needed me to click my fingers or splash cold water in her face.
“Are you hungry?” she asked, snapping out it with blurry eyes that were hugely expectant of a certain reply.
“Um, no, not really.”
Her expectancy blanked. It must have been the wrong answer.
“I think I’ll just snack on something.” My hoard of Baby Ruths and Twinkies.
“Okay.” She sounded disappointed “I’m to tell you of a meeting with Carmen’s closest friends. They’re eager to meet you.”
“Afraid so,” she pitied. “They’re waiting for you in the drawing room.”
She gave me some sort of respective glance then turned to walk away from me, her head bowed as if she was weeping into her hands.
“I...” I let her slip away like a willowy leaf, trying in my mind to figure out a way to get out of Carmen’s meet the freak arrangement. But I had no choice. She probably would have brought them upstairs to me.
I crammed on my other sandal and ate a few Twinkies, called Jared and explained in my most convincing voice that I was enjoying the arrangement full stop. Not that Carmen was less than to the point and lived in a refrigerator Mansion. I mean Manor.
Downstairs I could hear a commotion of voices, mostly the female variety, with the baritone of one over talkative male, young, but maybe a sleaze ball. His voice dripped with slurred undertones, something I had a feeling he thought was charismatic.
“I’m sure Edward will soon come to his senses.” Laughed Carmen as I opened the door, stepping into a room that was jaw dropping. It looked like the film-set for Wuthering Heights or Scarlet O’Hara’s bedroom.
“Ah, here she is,” exclaimed Carmen with her projectile bellow. “Here is Bella!”
They were all likely middle aged but didn’t look a day over thirty. They had Carmen’s youthful appearance and a way of smiling without usual crease lines. Botox junkies for sure. They all ooh and ahhed and hugged me as if I had been elected president, calling me things like A True Apple Blossom and Tutti Fruiti Honey.
The boy was too blond and synthetic looking in my opinion. His teeth were so white I could hardly see the lines in between them. Plus, his eager smile appeared to be another suggestion, that I like his forward approach. “It’s nice to finally meet you, Bella. Carmen’s told us a lot about you.”
I couldn’t say the same. “Really? Like what?”
They all watched while sipping tea from their dainty cups. A girl just behind the boy, who I hadn’t noticed, was scowling at me through canine looking teeth. Her hair was a dirtier blonde than his, almost red, her make-up too peach and drawn with what looked like Crayola.
“How you’re an artist. Have your own bookstore and survived a brutal orphanage,” he explained.
The girl harrumphed behind him.
Real nice I thought, shame Carmen had the first two incorrect and the last overstated, or was that her way of twisting the truth to how she liked it? Did society and class matter to a woman with only an inheritance as her cash-load?
Carmen smiled at me as if I was getting along with the Pope.
“So, what’s your name?” I asked him when we sat down and had a chance to talk without an audience. They chatted on gregariously amongst themselves, sharing their remarks on the Minister’s sermon or their groceries for the day.
“Jasper. He smiled, big and blinding.
He talked mostly after that. I allowed him too. I could tell we had nothing in common. His interests, without my asking, were clearly his preened looks and fast cars and faster girls, with an ambition to work for playboy, maybe as Hugh Heffner’s stair lift.
“Rosalie have you introduced yourself?” said a woman with tight peroxide curls. Her cheeks so full they looked made of pulp.
Rosalie with the heavy face paint and devil spawn eyes came over to the table and plopped herself onto the edge of a couch, a full wine glass in her hand instead of the tea, and an unlit cigarette rather than the pecan pie popping in and out of her mouth.
“I have eyes,” she answered sourly, sipping on her wine in between flaunting them at me with some sort of vaporised venom. It actually hurt my eyes to look at her for too long.
“It’s impolite not to at least say, hello,” encouraged the woman, with a sly smirk I found unnecessary.
“Lay off, Mom.” She cringed, standing to walk to an open window and light up her cigarette.
Jasper was enjoying her discomforted arrogance. He turned to glance at me like I had room raided and found a secret. He winked at me as Carmen drew in our attention. “Now children, you may leave to wander by yourselves.”
“Yes, Jasper, do be a gentleman and escort Bella for a walk,” said another woman with flaccid lips. I think it was his mom. She had the same 10000-watt smile.
“Sure thing,” he said, rising.
“Oh, I’m good, thanks.”
Escort? With a parasol and face fan too? It wasn’t 1918. Girls could take walks by themselves.
“Nonsense,” they all jeered in unison.
“Run along,” said Carmen, smiling at her friends. “We won’t keep you from a more intimate discussion.”
They all giggled like mischievous schoolgirls.
I didn’t recall telling Carmen I needed her to do any matchmaking. How did she know I didn’t have a boyfriend back home, that I wasn’t engaged or set to get married? I guess I even looked single.
Jasper lifted me by the arm. I had no choice but to let him.
“Well...,” said Rosalie from the window, puffing out smoke, probably as a way of raising a brow at our forced union. “The competition could get fierce.” She sneered to herself.
Carmen tensed at the words. The others sipped excessively, for the first time, keeping quiet.
“Off you go,” Carmen said.
Jasper eased me out the door before I could ask to speak to her alone, ask if what I saw in her was a wrangled panic.
Stepping outside though, I was glad to be back in the warmth of a gentle sunlight. We talked, but it was mainly, Jasper, and my head bobbing up and down to his every self-explanatory story about why he was so great at achieving so many things in a short length of time.
He could ride a plane, a buffalo, a horse, maybe even a lion. He could Jet Ski, snow board in the Swiss Alps, which he said he did every year, without forgetting to mention his father owned a ski-ing lodge in Zermatt.
I didn’t know where we were heading. It was a one way street with a thicket of shrubs beside narrow lanes and even narrower footpaths.
‘Have you met Edward?’
I thought it was a strange question to suddenly blurt out after his own homage. I hadn’t, since the boy from the balcony turned out to be Emmet the douche.
“No.” I didn’t have much to say on a no show, and that went for all of them, which made me wonder why he wasn’t asking about the rest of them so eagerly.
“He hates being called Ed or Eddy by the way. Anthony Mason are his middle names.”
“He’s a good friend. Though I should warn you. He can be difficult if you stand in his way.”
“As in what? Literally?” I laughed.
He stayed boringly serious. “Just don’t get it twisted. He means well, he just has a hard time showin it. If he blanks you, I wouldn’t take it to heart.”
The guy sounded like a complete moron.
“Thanks, I’ll keep that in mind.” I couldn’t have cared less. I was pretty good at blanking people too.
“But he has qualities you know. Things most people wouldn’t consider.”
I was beginning to wonder a little more about their friendship. He must have seen me coming to the conclusion.
“I’m just saying is all.” He shrugged. “I don’t want you hatin the guy before you get to know him. Now that’s all I’m saying.”
“Okay.” I smirked. “Whatever you say.”
“Listen.” He stopped walking. “You wanna grab a drink? Maybe a bite to eat someplace?”
“If you want.” I didn’t really care either way what we did, as long as he stopped yapping on about the divine but miser Edward. Oh...and his less than hidden talents.
He searched his pockets. “Dammit. I must have dropped it my wallet.” He shook his pants, as if it might have slipped into his boxers. “Look, you mind staying here while I search for it down the road. It mustn’t have gone far.” He stepped away before I could answer him. “Great, just stay here okay.”
He ran away and left me standing by a pay phone and a great view of the pure wilderness, just the cattle strolling the fields and a few crows cawing on a wood gate.
There was no-one else around. I didn’t even have change to call anyone, not that I knew the number to the Manor.
Jeez what a blag. How could he drop a wallet and not see or hear it clump to the ground? Did he even drop a wallet? Was he playing some cheap trick to leave me out here deserted?
I’d known him for like two minutes. Who knew what he was capable of? I was stuck on a road with no traffic or other people crazy enough to take a sweltering walk on the dumb side.
I decided to go after him, see if I could help him find it. At least be with someone rather than stranded.
I slipped off my new sandals half way. They were beginning to dig into my toes, and high fashion meant bigger blisters. But then I heard a voice call from behind me. It sounded like Jasper. Although I wasn’t sure how since he’d headed the other way. There was no one behind me, just sky and more sky and a lonely road to vast cornfields.
I turned and walked faster, the heat drying out my mouth and making me thirsty. Then something thumped into me and lifted me off the ground. Hands grab my waist and cushion my fall to the asphalt.
When I opened my eyes, I was on my back and dizzy, my head pounding as I tried to lift the weight of someone crushing my shoulder.
“I’m sorry. Are you okay?” said a male voice. It wasn’t Jasper’s. It was too sincere.
I stretched my eyes open to look at who was holding me. A face came into my watered down vision. Young and handsome, with hair a chocolate brown and matching eyes.
“I’m so sorry,” he kept saying. “I didn’t see you there.” He curled in his lips and lifted my dress to inspect the graze on the back of my leg. I had to push it back down to gain back some modesty.
“Are you hurt anywhere else?” he asked, now in a reserved tone.
I just shook my head, unable to differentiate the difference between feeling self-conscious or maybe still shell-shocked.
“Are you here alone?” Concern was so rife in his tone I had to make myself speak out of guilt.
“I’m okay,” I muttered, unable to look him in his impressive eyes. He sat back on his heels and observed me like he didn’t believe me.
“You sure look fine,” he said, a little too dreamily. “You’re acting kinda strange though.”
The accent wasn’t Virginian I noted, more Californian if I was to guess. His looks were a good ad for a place with lots of sea, sand and bouncing beach balls.
“You just ran into me,” I said, finding my voice.
He held out a hand. He was even smirking. “Let me help you up.” He lifted me slowly, but with a firm grip. Although his fingers were rough, his palms were ultra soft. I had to pull away once we were finally standing. He was taking a long time to let go of me.
“Can I walk you home?” he offered, placing his hands in his back pockets.
“I’m waiting…for someone,” I admitted, somehow reluctant.
He nodded as if he was thinking of what else to say. “Then do you mind if I stay with you until they turn up? I don’t think a girl like you should here alone.”
A girl like me? What kind of girl was I? Was it a good or a bad thing? Why did I even care? He persuaded me to accept his help again. I had to lean into him as I sort of hobbled to sit on a low brick wall, breathing in the likable scent of him that was musty, but sweet, like gasoline and liquidized sugar.
I edged away as soon as I mounted what began to ache my entire butt, watching him play with a gold button on his sleeve with the initial “J”, as we waited without so much as a loud breath. I suddenly couldn’t wait for Jasper to come back.
“So are you from town?” I began. The “mooing” of cattle was beginning to get to me.
“No, El Monte.”
Ha. I was right.
“Salt Lake City.”
“It is,” I said, over enthused with my pathetic homesickness.
He turned his head and smiled at me briefly “So have you been here long?”
I shook my head. “This is my second day.”
He laughed at that. It was a nice sound. “And you’re missing home already?”
“Aren’t you missing yours?” I pretended to pick something from my nail.
He stopped turning his button. He also stopped smiling. “There’s nothing to miss.”
“Why are you here anyway?”
“...If you don’t mind me asking.”
“Problem with the folks,” he said after a time, looking ahead and chewing on his top lip, somehow appearing all the more handsome during the meaningful pauses.
“So how you likin Blackville so far?” he asked, uplifting his voice.
I shrugged, unable to comment.
“I guess when you’ve seen it from here, you’ve seen about all of it?” He chuckled soundlessly.
“Is there much else to see?” I doubted it.
“No.” He laughed, crinkling his eyes and smiling really wide and crooked. I couldn’t help, but admire the geniality of it. The way it looked real cute on him. Crap. What was happening? Why was I even thinking that?
“So where are you staying?” I asked to try and lower my blood pressure clouding up my dense brain.
He stopped laughing all of a sudden, his eyes darting ahead to become lost someplace else.
“I’m staying at a...uh...Manor,” I confided, just to prove I wasn’t rubbernecking into his business. He just tapped the heels of his worn-out Converse.
Maybe I sounded like a total brag. Though if he had to live at Thorncrest, he would have known how damn cold it was, how even plain ugly in some parts.
“Yeah. How did you.--”
“It’s the only Manor. There’s no-one here that doesn’t know about it. I live close-by.”
He nodded “It’s the best way.”
“You’re right.” Not that I knew what it was like to live with people you could call family. Until maybe now. He was right though, alone was best.
“Bella,” yelled Jasper, panting up the road with his shirt hanging out of his jeans. “It’s no use, I couldn’t find it.” He jogged toward me then bended over to hold his knees and blow out through his lips. I didn’t bother to see how he was; from where I was sitting he was still capable of looking up my dress. He looked taken aback when he finally set his eyes on...shoot, I didn’t know his name, and he was getting ready to walk away.
“Hey, thanks for...staying with me.” I grabbed his arm then let go just as randomly.
“Anytime,” he said, glancing over at Jasper who was staring as if to propose some type of male testosterone contest, or at least hurtle him to the ground.
“I’m Bella by the way,” I said, this time trying to look him directly in his cool, green eyes. It made his mouth slant into the smile I was beginning to like too much.
“Jacob. But call me Jake.”
Did he think we were going to be seeing each other again for that to happen? I sure hoped so.
Jasper cleared his throat. “Are you ready to go?” He sounded affronted, not even bothering to ask me why I was bleeding.
When I turned back, Jake had walked away in the other direction, without a goodbye or a real confirmation I would see him again. My heart slinked down to my stomach. My ears muffled out the Jasper grovelling at my side as we walked for what felt like a lifetime back to the dreaded coldness of the Manor.