Disclaimer: Yo no soy la dueña de Twilight, pero soy la dueña de CHIB. *Sticks tongue out*
A/N: I was so nervous about chapter 8 (ask Hadley Hemingway, my fantabulous comma-splice killer/semi-colon eradicator, who aside from beta'ing 13k words without batting an eyelash also had to talk me off a ledge) but you guys were so unbelievably supportive with your thoughtful opinions, ideas, and theories that I may or may have not done the "running man" around my living room a few times. Keep sharing with me! I love it. PMs, twitter ( maruxf), carrier pigeon, smoke signals…it doesn't matter. Just keep it coming! Now, onto the breach!
Chapter 9: Too Dear, This New Day
"This new day is too dear,
with its hopes and invitations,
to waste a moment on the yesterdays."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
My brain short-circuited.
It just couldn't wrap itself around the idea that this…being was for me.
That somehow, for some inexplicable reason, unremarkable Bella Swan had been selected for this extraordinary experience. That, after 17 years of being a hindrance, an afterthought, a mistake, I was finally getting a chance. And for that chance to be with him was catastrophically scrambling my mind.
Seriously, how was this even possible?
Three months ago, I was sitting in a dark shabby apartment with eviction notices stuck on the door, trying to figure out how I was going to feed myself, turn the electricity and gas back on, find money to give to the creepy landlord, and find where the hell Renee had disappeared to with my sad, little college fund.
Two months ago, I was sitting in the fake-cheery living area of a group home, listening to an overworked, overwhelmed social worker say, "We've finally located your father, sweetie." As if I didn't know where Charles Swan had been the entire time. As if I hadn't told the cops where he lived after I got home one day to find that the creepy landlord had finally changed the locks like he had threatened he would. One night spent shivering beneath the school bleachers was enough to show me that, no matter what, I wanted more than this. Looking at my life hastily packed (thanks to the creepy landlord's wife) in four grocery store plastic bags made it easier to swallow my pride. So I walked my underage self to the nearest police station and I gave myself up to the care of the State of Arizona. Two weeks later, my social worker fake-cheerily informed me that my "Dad" had been located. She had no way of knowing how thin the walls were in that place. I was still sitting in that sad room bored by the yellowing, inspirational posters, when I heard her tell the group home director "it was a battle to get Mr. Swan to agree to take in the girl. He don't sound too nice, but it's better than nothing."
A month ago, I was sitting in a dark, strange bedroom in the house of a dark, strange man that just happened to be my father, trying to figure out what the survival plan was going to be in this new cold, wet place. Plans that didn't, that couldn't, extend beyond what it would take to navigate my way through the day I was living. The rest of the days to come, the future, was just too far away from my reach, too impossible to even think about.
I had always walked looking down at my feet. I had to. Looking beyond that next step was of no use to me, not when the next step was always so dammed dangerous.
So I kept my head down like I always did.
So I didn't trip and fall over my own two feet…over my own life.
Less than a twenty-four hours ago, I was sitting in my crappy, funky-smelling truck after having fallen once again.
And then, I lifted my head for the first time.
Now, the future was standing in front of me.
Six feet and a couple inches tall, in jeans and the softest looking gray t-shirt ever, crazy hair, soft, concerned eyes, and a tender hand sweeping my tears.
How was this possible?
How can one go from having nothing but a menacing next step in the direction of nowhere, to potentially getting everything I never even dared to dream?
Yet, here he was. And it was mind-scrambling that as long as he and I worked together, we could and would provide each other with exactly what the other needed. This urge I felt within me to be there for him would never go away. And most amazingly of all, according to the Esme-Carlisle grapevine, Edward felt the same.
It was terrifying to feel this way. And it was the safest I'd ever felt.
"Please don't cry," Edward whispered, gently.
Hearing his voice for the first time made my brain flail and drop to the proverbial ground with a thump.
And I, of course, did the exact opposite of what he had so softly begged for.
All hell broke loose.
What had been a gentle stream turned into a torrent of big, fat tears.
I mean, saying that I ugly-cried would be insulting to ugly-criers everywhere.
In between sobs and hiccups and swollen eyes, I could see that my emotional Chernobyl was completely freaking him out, but I just couldn't stop. I just stood there looking at him, wringing my hands clasped over my chest, and bawling my eyeballs out.
That long, elegant hand that had so gently brushed my cheek had pulled back as if burned.
The longer I cried the bigger his eyes got.
He shuffled his feet.
Then, the shuffling turned into pacing.
He pulled his hair. His frown went from slightly baffled to bordering on horrified. He sighed. He pinched the bridge of his slightly crooked nose. He pressed the heels of his hands against his eyes. He paced some more. There was some unintelligible muttering. Then, more pacing with some additional hair pulling.
After what must have been an eternity, I calmed down enough to realize that, at some point during my meltdown, I must have plopped down on a protruding tree root. I also noticed that I was now in possession of a handkerchief delicately embroidered "EAMC" in royal blue thread and a delicious-smelling peacoat over my shoulders (that he was never getting back). Lastly, I was able to open my eyes just enough to see that EAMC had folded his tall frame into a surprisingly unimposing lump of vampire on the forest ground.
There he was…all moon-white, square-jawed, long-fingered mythical creature sitting "crisscross-apple sauce" on the loamy ground about 5 feet away from me.
He was slightly turned away, as if to give me a measure of privacy to fall apart, his eyes focusing on the ground before him.
My vampire was distractedly pushing a rock with a stick.
Back then forth. Then he sighed.
Back then forth. Sigh.
A rock-and-stick miniature forest hockey game.
The sight was so odd and so human, that it completely doused my spazz-attack.
He must have realized that I was no longer wailing the night away because, suddenly, his head snapped up. At first he looked relieved that my hysteria had waned, then his eyes widened. Not only was I not crying, I was fighting hard to hold in the sniggers…he'd been caught entertaining himself with a rock and a stick.
With a blur, he chucked the stick over his shoulder.
Hmmm…so that's how they move.
The sheepish, half-wince-half-smile, look on his face was too funny. So I giggled.
He must have sensed the ridiculousness of it all because, a second later, he joined my giggle-snorts with the wackiest sounding chuckle I'd ever heard. It was much louder and less refined than the type of laughter I, for some reason, expected from him. I should not mince words as it was a horse laugh. Maybe it was because he was so regal-looking, that to hear his less-than-perfect guffaws made him even more dear to me.
As our giggle attack subsided, I panicked.
See, I had a plan. It was vague, but it was a plan nonetheless. It involved strategy as to how I was going to conduct myself during our first meeting. I was going to be classy, lovely, and interesting. However, since I'm pretty sure I'd snotted everywhere, and hiccupped, and snorted a few times, my vague plan had gone down Hindenburg-style.
Yet, I believed with all my heart that I could still salvage my atrocious first impression, by blowing him away with absolutely fabulous first words.
I wanted them to be profound, meaningful, and eloquent. Thus, I asked:
"What does the 'A-M' stand for?"
Like I said, profound, meaningful, and eloquent.
Bad Bella face-palmed.
For a second, he looked confounded. Understandable. I'd just bewildered myself.
"Oh, it's for Anthony and Masen," he stated.
"Edward Anthony Masen Cullen," I named him again.
"Hi," I whispered, afraid that this bubble the held him and me in the same space would burst.
"Hello," he whispered back, just as quietly, looking at me like I was the last, icy-cold cola in the desert.
Okay, perhaps a drinking metaphor was not the wisest allegory to use in case of first-time meetings with a vampirebut, still, that's how he looked at me. Besides, these particular vamps preferred Bambi and Thumper for dinner, or so I thought, if my bizarro vision in the ER was any indication.
Anyway, I didn't mind in the least.
What was bugging me was that he was too far away.
So I forgot about insecurities and rejection and for the second time, I asked a Cullen for what I most desired.
"Edward, do you mind…could you maybe sit here, next to me?" I was probably going to faint and faceplant from all the blood in my body rushing to my face.
But it was totally worth it because after a swallow and a slight darkening of his eyes, he very slowly (like verrrrryyyy slowly) moved from his spot and sat next to me.
It was a small protruding tree root.
Bad Bella fist-pumped.
"I didn't want to make you uncomfortable," he explained.
Pshaw! As if.
"Why would you sitting next to me make me uncomfortable?" I really had no idea where he was going with this.
"Well, for starters, I'm a 107-year-old vampire," he said, wincing at the word vampire.
"Really?! I thought for sure you were going to say like a thousand, or something. I feel cheated," I said, giving him a sideways smile.
I had a feeling the vampire was going to have more difficulty with the terms of this relationship than the human. And that, surprisingly, propelled me forward.
"You ignored the part about me being a vampire," Captain Obvious stated the obvious.
If he was going to play the Mr. Obtuse card, I was going to return the favor.
I frowned. Was he actually trying to run me off?
"May I ask why?" he questioned.
Ugh. He was going to make me explain it to him.
"Well, I met your father, mother, brother and sister. And they explained things. About vampires and mates. How it works for you…erm, guys and how it seems to be working for me. What, uh, mating means and what it isn't. I know it takes work but, you know, if we…" I cleared my throat as the word "we" got stuck in my gullet, "do it…the work, I mean, it can be this remarkable thing. A forever type thing…" I trailed off, unsure of what else to say.
"And you are okay with all that?" he asked me, both, hopeful and disbelieving. His eyebrows looked like caterpillars reaching for his beautiful hair. I understood the feeling, I wanted to grab onto it too. I wondered if it was as soft as it looked.
"Yes," I nodded, without any doubt. Those had evaporated the moment I met his eyes for the first time.
"But…why? How?" he spluttered.
I sighed on the inside. This was going to be painful. I started blushing before even the first word came out.
"Because this morning, I…ugh! I felt you. Okay? And for the first time in my little, sad life, I found myself feeling like I had found my place, my home. I felt safe and protected. Being here with you feels right…like it's the precise place for me to be. And, now that I know that rightness, I never want to be without it. But, I also know, somehow, that I can be the same for you…and I want to be, if you'll let me, that is…" I finished.
I was so lame. Ugh.
Still, I did it. I put it all out there.
Now, the ball was in his court.
But, Edward was not moving.
He had just frozen. Eyes clenched. Lips pursed.
I looked away and read the riot act to my tear ducts. No mas tears!
This was a train-wreck. I couldn't look.
Then, the very moment I was about to bolt, or cry, or both, run away crying…I felt his pinky finger brush my pinky finger.
What in the world was that?
I held my breath.
Oh, do it again, Edward's pinky!
Come on! Show me that that incredible feeling wasn't an accident.
And, all of a sudden, there it was again. His pinky and the spark.
I turned my head.
Cracked one eye open.
Edward's face was turned away and, like my own eyes had been, his were clenched shut. His chest was not moving.
He was waiting for me, it seemed.
Okay, my turn.
I moved my pinky. Slightly. Just up and then down. Enough contact to feel the little folds of skin of his second knuckle and the tiny gold hairs there.
Just enough to pass the spark back to him.
The second he felt me, he gasped and turned his now wide-open eyes to the space between us.
Looking down at our hands, side-by-side on the mossy trunk, so different and yet the same, made me wish I was able to paint so I could drag all the colors on a canvas and mold with dripping oils this feeling pressing out against my ribcage. A photograph would not be enough to capture the dream coming alive in this moment.
"Would you allow me to hold your hand?" he asked quietly.
His words were formal, but his eyes showed something different.
They were raw and bursting with need.
I recognized in them the same need I'd felt...to belong, to be loved, and more importantly, to love in return. It seemed we had been on mirroring journeys. In his light mustard eyes, I saw every event, every detour, every path leading us to this exact spot. To this time and place that seemed to break relativity in half.
Tongue-tied, I could only nod.
Tenderly, he interlaced our fingers.
Once again, his touch was freeing. With him, I was not afraid to say what I thought, or what I felt. There was no point to shield or protect. I had been stripped bare.
"Look at that," I said in awe of such a silly, mundane thing, but so very miraculous to the two of us. "We fit, Edward."
"Like puzzle pieces," he said, using the same words I did to describe the warmth that filled me when Carlisle and Esme laced their hands at the diner.
I was going to hold his hand forever.
He must have agreed with me because we just sat there, looking down at our hands for several minutes.
The sky turned lilac. This quiet time was almost at an end. Charlie would wake up and I would have to go to school. Plus, I wanted to talk with Edward, even if that meant breaking this perfect silence.
"So…did you talk to your parents about today?" I asked curious as to how that conversation went.
He fidgeted, then nodded. Sort of.
It was more a head-twitch than a nod.
Then fidgeted again.
"Well, I- I didn't actually talk to them, but Esme showed me what occurred at the diner, what you discussed. She, um, showed me...in her mind."
"You read minds?" I yelped, my heart dropping to say hello to my stomach.
"Yes," he responded wincing, as if bracing himself for inevitable rejection. Immediately noticing his distress, I squeezed his hand as hard as I could.
Silly boy, if I was going to reject him for any reason it would be because…
Undead creature of the night? Nope. Not because of that.
Blood was the diet staple? Gross, but not because of that.
Prettier than me? Without question, but I wasn't vain enough to care. So no.
Older than Methuselah? Ehh, not that either.
I must have completely turned into a space cadet, while unsuccessfully racking my brain for a reason powerful enough to make me walk away from him, because he asked, "What are you thinking?"
"Ha! I knew it. You can't really read minds, you liar!"
I may have pointed a finger at him and given him the hairy-eyeball for trying to freak me out by trying to pull a "I-can-read-your-mind" fast one over me.
"I can too! But I, uh, I can't hear yours…it's very strange," he admitted, frowning.
His caterpillar brows were facing off.
Suddenly something occurred to me…oh, no!
"Did I break you?"
I winced. That question was not my finest moment as a conversationalist. I blame the caterpillars. They were adorably bushy. Cute. I liked them but they distracted me. Like his eyes, his lips and his jaw did. It's his fault for being so adorable.
He snorted. "Break me?"
"You know, your talent…" I gestured vaguely to his frontal lobe area.
"No, you didn't break me," he smiled and recaptured my flailing hands in his. "Your father is dreaming right now about a fishing boat…a Sun Dolphin Pro model that he has wanted for about 15 years now, I believe."
I gaped at him.
Charlie had a picture of that stupid boat in his room. Framed and everything. The ass.
And with a smirk that rivaled Dr. Cullen's, Smirky McSmirkerson, Jr., explained, "It's just you that is silent to me. It's the first time that has ever happened. I like it. It's very peaceful."
"So you hear everything?"
I could only imagine what it must be like to hear everything everybody was thinking. Though I knew there would be times that having him listen to my thoughts would avoid major miscommunication, I liked that I could provide him with some quiet company.
That only I could give him this.
"Yes. The thoughts of my…our family," he corrected himself with a tentative smile, "are the strongest. If I focus, I can hear them clearly two to three miles away. The rest of the thoughts are just white noise. It's loud, often vulgar, and annoying but, for the most part, I am able to not pay attention to it. Yours, however, is the only mind that I cannot hear. I am both curious and relieved," he concluded.
I had begun smiling when he corrected himself and included me in the family. By the end, I was grinning like a loon. I realized that it made perfect sense that I would be silent to him. He needed a reprieve from his gift and I could give it to him.
My wacky mind was made just for him.
"Like most things about us it seems like. One of a kind," I said, in wonder.
He nodded with sweet smile before his eyebrows got close together again. His eyes burned with intensity.
"Us," he said quietly, almost to himself.
"Yeah," I said just as softly, confirming that there was an "us."
We were a "we." Or we were going to be.
Suddenly, I was shivering. My yoga pants and t-shirt attire was no match for the chilly, moist air. Not even with his (mine, now) jacket on.
"You're cold. You should go back inside," he said, concerned, but reluctant. He made no motion to unlock our hands.
I wanted to leave him like I wanted a hole in the head. Really.
But, after another even more violent shiver, I knew he was right.
Standing up with me, he smiled.
"Would it be alright if…" he cleared his throat before continuing, "what I mean to say is, may I escort you to and from your classes tomorrow?"
Edward Cullen was courting me.
I understood that this was something that he wanted and needed to do for me.
While a part of me was ready for him to hit me over the head with a club and drag me by the hair to his cave, another part of me really, really liked the idea of taking my time to get to know as much as I could about him. Bad Bella pouted.
"Yes, I'd really like that," I admitted, just as bashfully. "Good night Edward."
I took a step away from him.
And then another.
Our linked hands finally separated.
And it was like somebody had cut my arm off.
I kept moving backwards (risking grave injury) until the worst of the feeling passed. Looking at him, though not a substitute to touching him, helped.
Just a little.
Bad Bella stomped her feet when I turned around.
I was halfway to the backdoor of the house, when I just had to ask him for one more thing. Turning back, I saw his tall, elegant form still standing where we'd parted.
"Edward, would you say my name? Out loud?"
The most glorious smile broke widely on his face.
"Bella," he whispered.
His eyes fluttered close, head turned upwards towards the brightening new-day sky, and he smiled.
Saying my name for the first time.
With his voice, making us real.
Running from the Swan house to my home would have taken about five minutes. Yet, I did not want to run. I wanted to walk. At human speed. I was having difficulty processing the experience of meeting Isabella. Hearing her nervous, candid, and brave declaration that she wanted an "us" seemed like a dream. Too good to be true. Ephemeral. So instead of rushing by at vampire speed, I walked.
My hands, the very hands that held and were held by Bella's warm ones, brushed against the velvety ferns, the tree trunks and the moss. The sensory experience, the physicality of touch, grounded me and served as reminder that I was not dreaming…or delusional.
Bella existed and I existed to her.
So lost was I in the memory of her words and her skin and how her small nose scrunched after she blurted out something she found embarrassing, that I almost walked into the Sul Doc river. Laughing at myself, I looked up to the imposing structure Esme had built for all of us.
Carlisle was waiting for sunrise, like he did every day.
But, it was not typical of Carlisle to be this distracted.
True, he did have a slight tendency to lose himself in a book, theory, medical journal, piece of art, or a view. But, it was rare that he would be so completely unaware of my approach. At the very least, my scent would have normally alerted him of my proximity. Yet, I couldn't detect any awareness of my presence in his thoughts at all. His entire beautiful mind was concentrating on the sunrise.
I placed a hand on his shoulder.
"You are getting a bit chilly there, old man. How long have you been standing here?"
I am always ambient temperature, Edward. Vampire, remember?
He gave me a sideways look and a small smile, before turning again towards the east. Carlisle was the reason why Esme designed all our houses with more windows and doorways to the outside spaces than solid walls. At first, she bemoaned and complained about having nowhere to hang artwork. However, she quickly realized that few things brought such tranquility to Carlisle as standing by a window or on balcony in quiet contemplation.
He was not praying or, at least, it was not often that he would actually formally pray. It was more like he stood in mindfulness of life, of the beginning of a new day, of the end of another day, a reaffirmation of his purpose, or just a reminder of his place in nature- not an apex predator above the laws of the divine, but just another being in creation.
And while I did not fully agree with some of the points in his philosophy, that he opened his mind to me in these private moments was humbling and peaceful.
I have not been here long. Just a couple of hours.
I nodded. Yet, that was longer than was typical.
And the smile I'd initially thought was tranquil was actually tinged with melancholy.
Then again, I suspected that the additional time in contemplation was necessary for him, as I had no doubts that whatever happened after I left earlier was not a pretty sight. In fact, the house appeared to be particularly quiet. I could only hear Esme's thoughts. She was in the library, reading…or trying to. Her distracted thoughts were vague, anxious and worn-out. She was trying to stop thinking about what could go wrong and the guilt. Instead, she was remembering Jasper's words, repeating them like a mantra, "…seems to me that's exactly what a good mama should do." Remember Esme. A good mama. A good mama...
"Edward, son," Carlisle called softly, diverting my attention. With an entreating look and a shake of the head, he requested privacy for Esme.
It's been a very difficult night for her. For us.
I felt my face fall. A part of me knew that leaving after telling Rosalie off was the cowardly way out. She was priming for a fight and I left fully aware that just because I, her favorite target, was no longer in the house, it would not stop her from unloading her anger on somebody else.
I should have stayed.
Yet, I was just so sick and tired of the anger, the vitriol, the never-ending friction, and the confrontations, that the last thing I wanted to do was stay and let Rose ruin this perfect day. As I ran away to hunt, to stretch my legs, to prepare for meeting Isabella, I assumed Rose would exercise only her normal histrionics. Now, however, the silent house, Esme's thoughts, and Carlisle's despondency all pointed to a much more serious conflict than I'd originally imagined.
"Carlisle, where is everybody?"
At my question, Carlisle leaned on the deck railing, his head hanging between his shoulders, as if carrying its weight was beyond him.
Alice and Jasper are hunting.
Nothing else was forthcoming.
"And Rosalie and Emmett?" I asked, a cold stone of dread knotting in my abdomen.
He sighed, but I could see when he lifted his head that the frown had disappeared. There was sadness in his thoughts, but there was certitude as well.
According to Alice, Rosalie and Emmett are currently in Seattle.
"Carlisle, what happened?" I whispered, matching his mental tone.
What should have happened long before now...
Edward, Rosalie is no longer welcome in this home.
"What?" I gasped.
Suddenly, Carlisle's shoulders began to shake. The cedar wood beneath his hands splintered and his eyes clenched, as if the darkness of his closed lids could erase the torment in his thoughts.
She…oh, God, Edward. She does not love us. She hates us. No! It's me she hates. Me. She hates me, but she punishes the rest of you for what I did to her…and Esme had to…because I couldn't. I brought Rose into this life, thus, she was my responsibility, her pain…I couldn't abandon her…even if she…I…
"Carlisle, don't try to explain. Just show it to me. Show me what happened," I begged him, shocked by his despair.
The very moment he stopped trying to present to the events using reason and logic, the images came forth.
The happiness and love he felt for Bella. His delight in her. The profound joy at her easy acceptance of him and Esme. The excitement he felt for me.
Alice's vision of Rose and Emmett arguing.
Me finally putting Rosalie in her place and leaving. Pride at my newfound strength. Fleeting hope that Rose would let it rest.
Rosalie challenging his authority. Mocking him. His feelings as he grappled to tame that part of him, the vampire coven alpha, that roared at the challenge.
Esme confronting Rosalie.
Rosalie attacking the core values he had dedicated his entire life to preserving. The pure, flinty rage he felt at Rose when she scorned everything he held dear, his family and his mate.
Pretend. Pretend. Pretend.
Esme's bravery. The fraying of the very palpable thread tying Rosalie to our family.
Emmett. Collateral damage, but not.
The pain, the guilt, the relief. Then the guilt again, because he was useless, powerless, a bumbling fool. His mate had to carry a burden that was his alone. Esme now had to live with doing what he could not do. Her tears.
The fire crackling. Esme on his lap. The scent of her hair and her skin in his lungs.
Alice's vision of his dearest son, me, standing in the moonlight saying the name of his new daughter and smiling.
The quiet of the new day. The same sun rising before him as it had for the last 363 years. And yet, rising today to illuminate a changed world.
"Oh, Carlisle, I knew I should have not gone." I felt the guilt creeping in, like an oppressive blanket.
"No, Edward," he objected, turning to face me. "While the situation is connected to you and Bella, you are not the cause. Do you understand?"
Son, it was only a matter of time. Rosalie, and Emmett by association, had been on the verge of this precipice for decades. Jasper can confirm this for you, but I am almost certain that there was a part of her that was desperately searching for such a moment.
Immediately, his posture relaxed. Rationality winning over his despair.
I knew the truth of his belief. I'd heard the irrational desire to confront, to destabilize, to hurt, in Rose's thoughts often enough. Yet, it was in my nature to feel responsible, guilty. But that was also irrational, so I nodded my assent.
And he turned his attention back to the horizon.
I could tell that he was still sad but there was happiness in him too.
His face, however, was composed.
It gave nothing away.
As if that would fool me.
So, I started the countdown.
So are you going to tell me about your meeting with Bella or will I have to ask?
I grinned. "Isn't that what you're doing? Asking?"
He rolled his eyes at me.
"Christ! Carlisle, I swear, you and Jasper are like two old biddies, inveterate gossips the lot of you…" I huffed, trying to stall. For some reason, I felt the need to keep my first moments with Bella private. At least until Alice returned and broadcasted her vision and Jasper confirmed everything I was feeling.
If Jasper wants to know, he will have to ask you himself. Besides, we both know that once Esme gets to you, she will squeeze every last detail out of you and then, she will tell me, of course. However, you can tell me first, you know? On your terms…
He had not finished that last thought when an amused voice floated from above.
"Carlisle Cullen, stop using me to get information out of that boy. Do you hear?"
I sniggered at his expression. It was the "Sullen Cullen" face, the original version according to Alice.
"And do not make that face!" Esme, once again, admonished from above.
My sniggering turned into full-blown laughter, which made Carlisle smile.
"How does she do that?" I asked between guffaws.
Edward, I have wondered that myself more times than I can count. It is an Esme-thing. Or it could be the fact that we have been standing here having a one-sided conversation for some time, and you smell like you either were in direct contact with Bella herself or you broke into Chief Swan's home and rolled around in Bella's laundry.
"As if I would ever do such a thing," I scoffed, rolling my eyes at his absurdity.
Ah! The hubris of the young. There will come a time, my recently-mated friend, when your love is away on business and you are feeling her absence acutely, and…
An image of himself, spread-eagled and smiling on their marital bed, surrounded by Esme's laundry appeared. Was he sniffing…?
"Oh dear God, please do stop! I beg you!" I pinched my nose and clenched my eyes as if that would help.
Are you ready to tell me now?
His smugness was almost intolerable but, seeing Carlisle smiling like this, was worth all his silly teasing. Especially after what had just happened to his family. Any happiness I could give him was more than worth the price of a few highly uncomfortable mental pictures.
Brushing the palms of my hands with my thumbs, I reminded myself that it was real. Yet, thinking back about the past hour, the scope of the implications and the vastness of what I was feeling, left me not knowing where to start.
What was the beginning?
And how could I ever do justice to the most significant moment of my life to this point?
I took a deep breath and decided to start with the first thing about the entire encounter that had struck me dumb.
"I had not intended to go there after hunting but, somehow, I found myself running straight to Chief Swan's back yard. Bella was waking up just as I arrived. She took a shower and came downstairs to do laundry, which for some reason, she prefers to do at bizarre hours of the night. While she was waiting, she sat on the drying machine to read...and I have never seen a more beautiful sight. She was engrossed in her book, when out of the blue, she looked up and saw me standing there, pinning me with those dark eyes of hers...and I could not move, or breathe, or look away. Carlisle, she said my name and it was like she was claiming every cell of my body." I knew I was grinning like a fool.
"She came to me, Carlisle. Opened the screened backdoor and marched right to me without hesitation and then..." I trailed off, wincing at the memory of Bella's tears.
"Well, she," I hesitated, "started to cry."
I only barely resisted pulling at my stupid hair. Her distress gutted me.
No. What I witnessed was not just crying. It was pain made liquid by her eyes. It was everything horrible in the world. There are no words.
"More like, she became hysterical," I blurted.
I did not want to admit that all evidence pointed to it being my fault. That Bella had completely lost it only after I managed to snap out of my amazement and spoke to her for the first time.
I was not going to mention the stick and rock thing, either.
I would never hear the end of it.
That sounds out of character. Perhaps she was overwhelmed. What was she thinking?
"That's the thing, Carlisle. I don't know. I cannot hear her mind. She is silent to me."
"Completely?" he gasped.
"Yes." I could not help but smile.
You seem surprisingly…nonchalant about this. I thought you would be more curious, if not downright…irritable, by this development.
In other words, Carlisle, ever the diplomat, was surprised that I was not throwing a tantrum of legendary proportions.
"I can't explain it. Yes, I wish I could hear her mind. Yet, it's nice, Carlisle. I can have actual conversations with her. I can actively listen to what she's saying instead of knowing what she means to say in advance. I had to look at her expression and her body language as part of communicating with her. Her silence forced me to experience her more completely than if I had known her thoughts. It made me feel…normal. It's very peaceful." I smiled again.
"One-of-a-kind," Bella had said. I agreed.
In that moment, I felt gratitude to whatever forces had placed me in Carlisle's path. That, by giving in to his loneliness and relenting to the pity he felt for my mother, he had made that fateful decision to change me and, thus, gave me the chance to experience this new day. He could have chosen anybody but, for some reason, he changed me. For a long time I resented his decision and could not understand why me, out of all the others sick and dying. Now, however, none of that mattered in the scheme of this new reality.
It sounds wonderful, Edward.
"She has allowed me to court her. I believe she understands this implicitly, though I do not understand how she does. It is not typical for the times. Antiquated, even. Yet, she did not scoff at my request to hold her hand and escort her at school."
Bella sees more than we can understand, Edward. It does not surprise me in the least that she intuited and respected your desire to woo her in such a manner. I also, more than strongly suspect, that Bella craves to be cared for and to care in return in equal measure.
I frowned when his thoughts briefly turned to the raw need for parental love he felt from Bella in the ER and in the diner.
I also got a glimpse of how their relationship was taking shape. It appeared Bella had found a true home. Refocusing on Carlisle, I noticed that he was, once again, smiling at the weak sun climbing up the sky.
A true home.
It was all so clear now.
"I did not understand before…"
Carlisle sent me a questioning, sideways glance.
"…why you stand by windows to watch the sunrise."
He tilted his head. Curiosity was pouring out of him, but he remained silent.
"It's a reminder, isn't it? Of how close we came to not getting the chance to see this day, or any new day. It's the little decisions, the big choices, dumb luck, fate, the signs along the way, the accidents, the wrong turns and the right ones, all of that combined have led you, me, us, to this exact moment in time. Take away any one of those things, and we would not be here today. I would have been dead long before Bella was even born. Or if we go farther back and you refused to participate in your father's raid that night, none of us would be here today. A new day serves to remind us of the butterfly flapping its wings in China. It's chaos theory, but there is no chaos in these results, Carlisle. Bella said that this place was exactly the place she needed to be…with me. And she is right. This is my place too, accidental or not. I would not have it any other way," I concluded, impassioned. Resolute.
All of the sudden, he turned and enveloped me in a hug.
A torrent of thoughts.
Every moment since he first saw me with my mother in a Chicago hospital flashed through his powerful mind: my illness, treating me with everything he knew about science and medicine, those few conversations as I lay dying, my last hours, the rooftop escape with my almost-corpse, clumsily recreating the bites given to him, the microsecond my blood hit his tongue, his fire, my burning, red eyes, my awakening to the thoughts of others, teaching me to hunt, orange eyes, piano notes, less anger and more conversation, yellow eyes, New York City, suffrage marches, speakeasies and jazz, discussions about everything, Ashland, Esme's burning, my dismay, my grudging acceptance, my caring for newborn Esme, my breaking point, the Crash of '29, the silent Bösendorfer, sitting in my abandoned room wondering about red eyes, how my hair felt against his cheek when he hugged me, my orange eyes welcomed, Rochester, listening to the radio as Adolf Hitler took control of Germany, Rosalie, Tennessee, Emmett, Forks, the treaty, blitzkrieg in Europe, Pearl Harbor, D-Day, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the horror and awe at the power humans just unleashed on the planet, Denali, Alice and Jasper, rock-and-roll, dancing with the family while I did my Jerry Lewis "Great Balls of Fire" impression, the Korean War, Rosa Parks, the Little Rock Nine, the freedom rides, the Bay of Pigs, shoulder-to-shoulder hearing the words "I have a dream," President Kennedy dead, the Beatles, Reverend King dead, Apollo 11, watching in awe at the power of the human mind, Ithaca, Vietnam, Woodstock, running from Alice to avoid bellbottoms and flowers in our hair, Watergate, Three-Mile Island, Denali, the first woman sworn in to the Supreme Court, the Challenger, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall," giggling like fools covered in black sludge while dragging terrified wildlife out of the oil spilling from the Exxon-Valdez, the first Iraqi War, the breakup of the USSR, Oklahoma City, Columbine, 9-11 and anxiously waiting next to me at St. Vincent's Hospital for patients that would never arrive, Iraq again, Denali again, Forks again, Bella Swan, how my hair feels against his cheek as he hugs me in this singular moment in time.
After a minute, Carlisle took a deep breath, his chest expanding and contracting against my own.
His mind was quiet but not like Bella's absolute silence. It was as if Carlisle was processing his feelings at a level beyond consciousness and without words.
After another minute, Carlisle slowly released me. The early morning sun bleached his hair and features white. His eyes, however, were dark and unfathomable.
"Carlisle?" I asked, perturbed by his silent mind.
"I have been standing here today, trying to understand how the situation with Rose had deteriorated to such a degree. For a long time, I have fought against the idea that turning her was a mistake. Yet, I can no longer deny the possibility. She believes this life is a mistake. Perhaps, it is time I stop relying on what I believed to be the right thing to do in that moment standing over her broken body in that Rochester alleyway... Perhaps, I need to look at what she believes and allow that to be the truth. It is her life and her truth, after all. This contemplation inevitably led me to consider your turning and the possibility that I was mistaken then, too," he explained, the intensity of his expression increasing with every word.
A chaotic wave of doubt, consideration, and thought crashed over his mind.
I wanted to interrupt him. I wanted to make this eminently good man see that the right or wrongness behind his reasons for turning me was now irrelevant. That there was no need for him to continue to torture himself with the uncertainty.
By claiming me, simply by saying my name, Isabella…my Bella, had made all the bad times fade into the background. Fade into nothingness.
Yet, finding Isabella had been transformative, not only for me, but for Carlisle as well. It seemed to have shifted a basic paradigm within him. This man, my father of the heart, was struggling to show me, to tell me, how the light of this new day was coloring the basic truths he had held on to for so long. Usually, Carlisle's mind was so sublimely organized, I could hear what he would say 10 to 15 sentences in advance of the words. Now, however, his thoughts and voice had become one. He was not planning or organizing, categorizing or dissecting. For the first time, Carlisle was talking to me without over-thinking. This was pure.
This was Carlisle's heart.
"I was not on-shift when you brought your mother to the hospital. By the time I arrived on the ward, you had already gone to make arrangements for your father's funeral. With my senses, it was clear from the beginning that barring a miracle, your mother would not survive. The influenza was deep within her and she was already displaying acute signs of the secondary bacterial pneumonia most of my patients were succumbing to. She was very ill, like the thousands of others that were around her. Yet, her first words after I had introduced myself as her physician, were about you. As I examined her, she spoke of your brilliance and kindness, your curiosity and compassion. She told me about your piano playing, your track-and-field successes, and your dutiful desire to join the war in Europe. She never asked if she was going to get better. Somehow, she knew that her prognosis was very poor. I could see it in her eyes that she was afraid. Yet, her fear was not for death. It was leaving you behind. As I was departing to attend to another patient, she said "Do keep an eye on my Juney, Dr. Cullen. That boy is my greatest achievement."
I smiled, vaguely remembering my mother calling me "Juney" instead of Junior.
"I am ashamed to admit that, as lovely as Elizabeth's sentiment was, her account of you was…typical. It was ordinary for humans to think their children remarkable in some way. In my arrogance, I ascribed it to humans having so little time to leave their mark on the world that they depended on their children to continue their legacies," Carlisle admitted quietly, briefly pausing and cringing at his conceit.
"I always did consider human life precious. But, at the time, it was precious to me only because I did not want to be a monster. At its core, it was about me challenging my father's fanatic belief that humans or monsters could amount to nothing more than what nature prescribed. Yes, I was repulsed by the idea of causing death but, during those first few years, I must confess that my thirst would have easily overridden the repulsion. The only thing that kept me from becoming the monster my father believed in was an act of rebellion. By resisting, I was proving him, and his zealous notion of good and evil, wrong. I was a monster, but I could do good."
"L'existence précède l'essence," I whispered in awe.
Existence preceding essence. Carlisle had been fighting the flames in his throat for centuries before Kierkegaard and Sartre and the rest of the existentialists were even born.
"Yes, well, those early years, that was nothing more than accidental philosophy for me, a by-product of "sticking it" to my father, if you will," he admitted with a small sheepish smirk, uncharacteristically making finger quotes around the colloquialism. He was obviously embarrassed that I was ascribing some purposeful, philosophical value where he saw nothing more than coincidence. Yet, I could see in his mischievous smile, the rebel that still hid behind the façade, pushing against the tide of his controlling demagogue father in the only way he could.
After a moment, he sobered again and sighed.
"As time went by and confidence in my ability to maintain an animal-only diet grew, it stopped being about rebellion. My philosophy, as you call it, evolved into a purposeful commitment to hold on to my humanity. During my time with the Volturi, however, it became apparent that holding on to my humanity was not about being able to blend into the human society through my diet. It had to be entirely about respecting humanity. What I mean is that even if my essence as a vampire, my physical nature, positioned me above humans in the natural scheme of things, respecting humanity meant that I must always hold them to be equals. And I set out to do so, to believe, that we were equal beings in our right to exist in peace.
"The sad truth is, I was naïve. I did not take into account what time, what the reality of immortality, does to convictions. After leaving the Italians, I spent the next 200 years roaming the planet, studying and learning science and medicine. But I was existing in the periphery of the world. I could not stay with a coven that did not follow my chosen diet and no matter how much I endeavored to be, I was not part of the human world. The more time I spent trapped between two worlds, the more I could see nothing but the differences. It became my kind and their kind. While humans were not an acceptable 'food source' and I would care for them to the best of my abilities as a doctor, I had reached the point where one human was the same as the next human. They were born and they inevitably died while I was left behind, unchanged and unaffected. I had lost my humanity and I did not realize the degree of my loss, until later that evening in 1918, when I saw you for the first time..." He trailed off, losing himself in that part of his mind that I knew was not for me to see or hear.
"Me? Carlisle, I-I don't understand…" I asked, perplexed.
"You see, as a rule without exception, the men in the hospital paced in waiting rooms, read the papers, discussed matters of politics and the war, sent maids in their stead, or simply did not visit the hospital at all. Edward, men did not sit by women's bedside softy humming Ravel and awkwardly brushing the tangles out of sweaty, copper-colored hair. Men did not apply ointment onto cracked and burning skin, nor did they read women's magazines and overly sentimental novels out-loud for their gravely-ill mothers. Especially not men of your station."
A vague, blurry memory of my human voice reading quietly to my mother, the scent of lilac-scented oils, and the rasp of a brush against dark red hair, came to me.
"Her 'greatest achievement' Elizabeth had called you. And observing you from the nurse's station, impossibly young and lanky, awkwardly folded on the too-short stool by your mother's bedside doing all those things for her, I understood that Elizabeth Masen was not boasting. Standing there in the middle of Cook County's 'death' ward, I understood that even though I lived among them, tended to them, and had never fed from them, I was as separated from humans as the Volturi brothers themselves. I had devalued humans to the point I saw them as nothing but a mass of parts expendable to the passage of time."
Holding my shoulders with both hands, his eyes familiar as my own, burned into mine.
"But then, I saw you…caring for her, changing her soaked linens, helping her with her toilette, uncaring of the whispers about the so-called inappropriateness of your behavior, how it was unseemly for somebody of your station to do so. Edward, your mother was right…you were extraordinary. You were not one of many. You were not expendable. And I wanted to know you, the individual. You were the first human I wanted to know, Edward."
His voice cracked and venom pooled in his eyes. After taking a deep breath, he continued, more quietly now, but never releasing me from his gaze.
"When I detected the smell of disease within you, my heart…a heart that had felt nothing for centuries, broke. I knew then, that I had to save you. That I was going to do everything in my power as a physician to heal you. That resolve became stronger after I began to treat you and converse with you. When medical science failed, when I failed, and your mother begged me to do what only I could do, there were no doubts about whether I was going to change you. My only doubts were about my ability to do so correctly."
There was steel in his eyes.
It was conviction.
"I acted not as the result of an ill-advised impulse or pity as I did with Rosalie, nor as penance as I did with Emmett. I did not turn you because I felt sorry or because your mother asked me to do so. While I was intrigued by you and desperately lonely, I had been as lonely that day as all the days before, without ever seriously entertaining the idea of making a companion for myself.
"Edward, I changed you because it was the only means I had left to preserve the goodness. You had to continue. Something compelled me to keep you in this world, in part for my own selfish reasons as it was because of you that I found the spark of my neglected humanity, but also because I knew that someday somebody would need you, this young man you are, who is filled with love and kindness, a man with a purpose greater than dying a slow, painful death before ever getting a chance to live," he finished with grit in his voice that broached no doubt.
I was shocked. Since my change, Carlisle had repeated the story of my turning as my mother's dying request and his need for companionship colliding on a fateful day. Yet, I was not changed just as a favor to my mother or as a panacea to Carlisle loneliness. Carlisle changed me because I had to be changed for some greater purpose he did not know, but could feel.
"For Bella?" I asked him for confirmation.
He nodded, relieved and exhausted.
I had hope for you. My decision to change you will never be too far from my own selfish desires, but with you…I changed you because I had hope that you would take this chance and run with it. It would be disingenuous to say that I was somehow absolutely certain that this would be the exact way it would all turn out. Yet, back then, I felt it in the marrow of my bones that your future had to be more than an anonymous end and a mass grave. You said it yourself, that it is the little accidents, all the decisions, which accumulate into a great path that we walk without realizing until we are halfway to our destination. Never forget, Edward, that I changed you, for yourself.
And, as if on cue, Esme approached and stood by the French doors that opened to this balcony.
"Go ahead, my love," she instructed her husband, with a kind smile.
"I couldn't admit this before," he continued less reluctantly, "because it would require admitting that there are indeed differences between you and the others."
"I-I don't quite understand," I asked him, confused.
"You are special, Edward. You always were. From the beginning. In that respect, Rosalie was right. Though we care for you all equally, my bond to you…"
And mine, as well, Esme mentally interjected.
Turning towards her, I saw that the tiredness and despondency I'd detected in her thoughts earlier were gone. Esme's expression was solemn, but she appeared to have reached a place of calm acceptance.
Noting our silent interaction, Carlisle amended, "…our bond to you, has always been deeper and more complete. I owe you more than you can imagine, Edward. I am the man I am today because of you."
That was ridiculous. If anybody owed anything, it would be me owing Carlisle the world.
"Don't roll your eyes at us, Sullen Cullen, Junior," Esme scolded as she approached us. "You do not see it…how the little things you constantly do for Carlisle and me makes us better people. You never have."
"Esme, I don't—"
"Don't interrupt," she chided kindly and held my hand. "From the beginning, in spite of your reservations about my presence in the life you had built with Carlisle, you accepted me because you loved him. But you did not stop there, you opened your heart to me too."
"Esme, anybody would have—"
"Done the same?" she interrupted again. "No, they certainly would not have. What happened tonight in this house is proof of that. And, before you bring up Jasper, Alice and Emmett, we all know that while, yes, they do love us, to them we are just confidants, counselors, friends, and brethren to varying degrees. Those boundaries are firmly set and won't change. You, on the other hand, have done us the great honor, of allowing us to be more to you than only that."
Esme was right.
These were my parents in every way that counted.
But for some reason, I could not say it. So, I nodded instead.
Still, in their eyes, I could see that they understood.
"You don't have to say it. We know and Edward, we are so very honored by your regard," Carlisle said quietly, squeezing my shoulder.
Esme smiled and brushed back the stubborn piece of hair that was always in my face.
"Edward, I promise that things will change. You deserve better than what we have been giving you for a long time. It will take time, but we will make it right," Carlisle said.
Before I started to object, he gave me a pointed look.
"I know you don't think so or that you believe it is not necessary, but it is. Especially now that Bella will be a part of our family. Dealing with Rosalie and Emmett will have to wait until they resolve their own issues. Yet, according to Alice's vision, great changes are coming and we must be prepared in every way. A great part of that requires that we make absolutely sure we are all on solid emotional ground and, for that, we need to make amends to you for a great many things," Carlisle stated.
Then he shook his head and grimaced sheepishly.
"Amends that should start right this moment by me asking you instead of telling you…so, Edward, what do you think?"
I closed my mouth with a snap. It wasn't that Carlisle never asked me for my opinion, it's just that he usually asked for my opinion to inform his own, not to divert the path once he had decided as leader of this family.
"I, um…that sounds like a plan?" The words clumsily tripping over my tongue.
"Are you asking him or are you telling him, Edward? This is Carlisle we are talking about. You know how he gets with imprecision," Esme teased.
"I am not that bad," Carlisle defended himself. He was actually pouting.
My not-so-quiet snort won me, what Alice would call, the "stink eye" from the blonde to my right.
"Darling, a week ago you spent 2 hours and 19 minutes grumbling about Dr. Gerandy's note on that patient's chart. I know the exact duration of your fit because I timed you."
Here we go.
"Es, it is not my fault the man cannot be bothered to use punctuation. He wrote "Patient unable to eat bloody stool." The visiting not-so-bright intern actually asked the patient why he was attempting to eat fecal matter. It was mortifying. A simple comma would have—"
"Carlisle!" Esme's warning interrupted the beginnings of a Carlisle grammar-rant that, once started, would go on for hours.
Besides, it was time for me to go meet Bella.
"Oh! Would you look at the time? Looks like it is time for me to go receive an education," I said, as I attempted a swift getaway.
But it was not to be.
No sooner than I had taken less than half a step away, Esme had linked arms with me and begun her inquisition.
"So, Edward, did you feel the 'spark' when you held hands with Bella? It's incredible, is it not? I told you that she would not run away from you, didn't I? She's such a darling girl, intelligent and intuitive and so beautiful. And the fact that she is silent to you is too perfect for words! Can you see how absolutely perfect that is? It's fate or straight out of a fairy tale."
Swallowing my pride, I turned back to a smirking Carlisle and mouthed, "Save me!"
His smug smile just got wider and he shook his head evilly.
You are on your own, son. Enjoy your day!
"I saw that, Carlisle!" Esme chided without turning.
And without missing a beat, she continued her Bella-gushing while she all but dragged me inside the house.
Behind me, Carlisle muttered and started to follow us, mentally planning his defense.
These were my parents.
Bella was right.
This was my place.
AN2- Ch.10 will be posted in two (2) weeks (at the latest). It is mid-term exam week, which applies to me since I'm back in school (new profession = yay! But changing profession = SUCKS!), and the current profession/work that I despise is giving it to me twenty different, painful ways (but it pays the bills so I have to take it like a porn star). Anyhoo, Ch. 10 is well on its way. Yet, given the level of brain drain I'm carrying around, instead of promising a deliverable with an impossible deadline and disappointing you all, I'm giving myself (and the fab Ms. Hemingway) a doable timeline and coming through as promised. So, two weeks!