"Paintings That Speak"

RPOV

I was avoiding Jasper when I heard the distinct, resonating notes of the piano coming from Carlisle's office. It was the first time during my visit that I had heard music coming from someplace other than the grand piano that Edward so often occupied himself with on the first floor. It didn't sound like something Edward would play, either. He tended towards solid, yet lively rhythms. This piece was meandering, almost awkward. It reminded me of something I could have sworn I'd heard before, but couldn't quite place. No surprises there.

The door was open when I approached, which seemed to be the usual order of things, as were the medical reports that were splayed out across the desk in front of the doctor.

I had heard about his occupation long before our visit, but it was a strange and difficult thing for my mind to grasp that a vampire could stand to be around humans so often. To be around so much blood, without ever indulging in it himself. I'd probably drive myself crazy if I tried to do the same.

"Come in." He said, when he noticed me lingering in the doorway. His warm and welcoming smile urged me on as he put down his pen and pointedly pushed his paperwork aside. "Don't worry, I'll have plenty of time to finish these later, during the shower."

"Just so you know, I suggested inviting the boys too." I informed him as a I took a few, tentative steps inside. "But Rosalie and Alice were very adamant about being traditional, at least for Renesmee's first wedding."

"I appreciate the sentiment." He said with a flourish. "But, I believe Renesmee would be happier with a more intimate gathering in any case."

"Honestly, I think she'd be happy with whatever we put together for her. She's not difficult to please." I was drawn to the oil on canvas affixed to the wall beside me as I spoke, my eyes sweeping across the brushstrokes of the striped wall, the curved marble columns, the men in period clothing. I couldn't help but notice the familiar face to the right of the three men at the painting's center. "That's not . . . ?"

I turned my gaze back to Carlisle. He nodded, his expression bittersweet.

"It is." He said simply. "I should have known you would notice, Jasper tells me that you have a great fondness for the arts, drawing and painting in particular."

"I do." I fixed my attention on the painting once again. "The warm browning shadowing the artist used is indicative of the Roman Baroque technique. So, the artist was Italian trained. Seventeenth Century, by the classical arrangement."

"You have an eye for detail." He chuckled.

"I was an art student." I shrugged.

I couldn't remember exactly where I had picked up the ability to discern painting styles, and it wasn't a question I had even thought to ask myself until that moment. It must have been in college, but I couldn't tell you which class without looking at my transcript. Much like the alphabet, I simply knew the information without remembering where it had come from. It was just there, waiting to be called upon if I ever needed it.

"That was pained by Francesco Solimena. He was one of the most gifted artists that the Volturi patronized at the time. It was given to me as a gift when I left for the New World." He glanced at it, but only for a moment before his attention returned to me. "I keep it as a reminder that before I made the best decision in my life, I almost made the worst."

"What decision?" I asked taking another half-step forward, before I realized what I was doing.

"That painting was created whilst I contemplated the possibility of joining the Volturi on a more permanent basis." He pressed his lips together grimly. "Jasper has told you about the Volturi, hasn't he?"

I had only heard the name once before and that had been from Renesmee. At the time, I had assumed the Volturi were another vampire coven the Cullens were connected with, but for some reason were not particularly fond of. Or, maybe they weren't willing to put up with the shifters. There were a lot of explanations for not wanting to invite someone to your wedding. But, if Carlisle's somber expression held any weight, this was more than that.

"Um . . . no." Carlisle glanced towards the door, as if he expected someone else to walk in on us at any moment, but to the contrary, I couldn't even hear someone else on this floor. That only made me more concerned, if he was looking for an out where one didn't exist. "Should he have?"

"The Volturi are . . . the self-appointed rulers of the vampire world." He explained, with a resigned sigh. "They bear the burden of ensuring that our secret is kept, and in return exert a certain amount of power. They also expect a great deal of respect, so keep that in mind if you're ever unlucky enough to encounter them."

"Wait." I held up one finger, then directed it to the painting. "So, you lived with these . . . vampire feudal lords, or whatever you want to call them. They invited you to join their coven, and you think it would have been the biggest mistake of your life to say yes?"

"It's difficult to understand them if you haven't encountered them before."

"I know I'm a bit younger than you, but believe it or not, people still dislike each other." I teased. "It's a pretty universal topic."

Carlisle's demeanor changed entirely at that, a burst of laughter leaving him as suddenly as a clap of thunder on a clear, sunny day. Even when he managed to smother the sound, he couldn't quite stop smiling.

"I'll take your word for it." He quipped right back. "They were pompous, conceited, and although they were highly intellectual, they became rather numb, even to the things which they claimed to enjoy the most."

"And you're glad you didn't become like them; that makes sense."

"It's not just what I didn't become, it's everything I gained when I came to America." His expression grew warmer. "I didn't realize it then, but I made my first real connections when I came to the new world. I found friends. I found a family. I found the love of my life. For me, America really was a land of discovery. I can't imagine still being the lonely, lost soul that had once considered joining the Volturi, just so I could feel connected to something again. That's what that painting represents to me: it's a reminder of just how happy I am with my decision, with my life just as it is."

"That's perfect!" I gasped.

And it really was. Otherwise, I would have been rather ashamed of the comical realization on my face that made him sputter in a mixture of humor and confusion. Who could blame him? I'm sure at that moment, I looked like I belonged underneath an illuminated cartoon light bulb.

"E-Excuse me?" Was what he managed to say in the end.

It had been a while since I had really been struck by inspiration like that, but as soon as I registered what had happened, I managed to shake it off.

"Sorry," I said by way of apology. "You just gave me the best idea for Renesmee's gift."

"The bridal shower is in just a few hours." His impressive brow furrowed as he glanced at the clock "Don't you think you're cutting it a little close?"

"I prefer to think of myself as . . . spontaneous." I said, chuckling a little as I left the room, raising my voice as I neared the stairs. "Alice! We need to go shopping!"

I could hear her high-pitched squeal before I saw her coming around the corner. I was fairly confident that, had I been human, my eardrums probably would have burst at the noise. As it was, the noise was sharp, but nowhere near painful.

"Okay, I need—" I stated to explain, but Alice was always a step ahead.

"—I know exactly what you need!" She cut me off with a cheshire smile, already dragging me towards the garage by one arm. And she wasn't gentle, either. But, in a way, it was nice to be treated like a vampire for once. "There's this great antiques place in Port Angeles. If we hurry, you'll finish with time to spare. It's going to be a-ma-zing!"

Of course, even the engine of Alice's fancy sports car could only pushed so hard. Driving to Port Angeles would take time, an idea I hadn't considered until after we were driving at an excess of one hundred miles an hour down the freeway. When she brought up Jasper, I contemplated throwing myself from the vehicle for several seconds, but that would mean arriving at the shower empty handed in addition to having the authorities question how so many more potholes had appeared on the 101 practically overnight.

"Listen, you're his best friend." I said, doing my best to remain calm. "You get why I don't feel totally comfortable talking to you about this, right? I mean, you literally ran off to talk to him last time."

"I . . . I know." She chewed her bottom lip guiltily between her teeth. "I'm not saying talk to me. I'm saying talk to him. You two . . . you just need to communicate!"

"I don't know if I even want to talk to him, Alice!" I huffed, running a hand through hair that was flying everywhere thanks to the fact that the car's top was down. "I've been doing some thinking and . . . I know that I love him, but I don't know if he really loves me. I know he used to, I know that he thinks he still does, but the woman he really loves is the woman I used to be when I was human. And that woman is gone now. He's in love with the idea of that woman, not me. And I . . . I don't know how much longer I can do . . . whatever this is between us."

My voice cracked, as if I had been crying, and I could feel how badly my eyes were burning with the urge. I gave a heaving, breathless sob, but I choked the pain and hopelessness down before I lost control of it.

"Honey," She began softly, her voice barely a whisper. "That's not true. He does love you, I know it."

"He thinks that he does, too." I looked right at her and asked, as painful as it was. "What if you're wrong? What if you're both wrong, and all of this is for nothing."

"I wouldn't say it was for nothing." Her voice was still soft and motherly, even as she disagreed with me. "Nothing is for nothing. If you live long enough, you'll realize that, too."

I sighed and sat back harder in my seat, not wanting to think about the possibility I had just posed, despite the fact that it had been haunting my thoughts the last few days. I hadn't been able to get it out of my head after overhearing Jacob trying to write his vows, he was talking out loud, trying find the right way to say how different it was, loving the person you were with, instead of just loving the idea of someone. For him, it was about loving Renesmee beyond the fact that she was his imprint—whatever that was supposed to mean. For me . . . well, I didn't want to think about what it meant. Not anymore.

"I've been thinking about . . . maybe going off on my own for a while." Alice gasped sharply. "Not now. After the wedding. I'm afraid he'll know somehow, how unhappy I am if we sit down and talk and . . . and this is Renesmee and Jacob's time. Whatever happens between me and Jasper, I want it to be after. I don't want to spoil the wedding with this. So just . . . Just promise me you won't say anything? Not until after the wedding."

She remained stubbornly silent, so I elbowed her sharply, making the car jerk into the other lane for a moment. Thankfully no one else was around, and she was able to recover control of the car quickly.

"This is not something I saw coming." She mumbled sullenly.

I drew back my elbow again, making my meaning crystal clear.

"Fine, fine!" She said, before I could nudge her again. "Just don't make me crash this car. Rosalie would kill me after all the detail work she's done on it."

I wouldn't have actually done it, of course, but that wasn't something Alice needed to know right then.

Thankfully, Alice was much more forgiving than Jasper seemed to be lately, and she was laughing and smiling again by the time we returned for Port Angeles. Or, maybe retail therapy was really what worked for her. Either way, she was already smiling brightly by the time we were carrying the bags up the stairs.

By the time the shower started, it was as if our conversation in the car had never happened at all. I was glad. I didn't want to be the dark cloud hanging over anyone else's happiness. So, I played the ridiculous bridal games that Rosalie had contrived without complaint, despite the fact that I was at a major disadvantage for every single one. I didn't know nearly enough about Renesmee to succeed at bridal bingo. I was totally lost when we played a version of who am I? with popular celebrity couples. I did, however, come out as the reigning champion in bridal pictionary, although Alice had come in a close second.

I almost felt at equilibrium by the time Renesmee was opening the gifts we brought her. Esme had given Renesmee the cookbook her own mother had passed down to her when she had gotten married for the first time. It was a mystery why she had held on to it after all these years, considering the only thing I knew about her first marriage was that it wasn't a happy one, but it seemed to mean a lot to the two women. It was only the first gift, and Renesmee already looked ready to cry.

"It had all your favorite recipes." Esme said softly. "And Jacob's too, of course."

Bella gave her daughter a beautiful music box that looked like a miniature glass piano and played a soft, buoyant waltz.

"It's the first dance your father wrote you." She said, when Renesmee looked at her in question. "I was going to give you a recording, but . . ."

The pair exchanged a look of shared exasperation, no doubt over Edward, that ended in Renesmee giving her mother a too-tight hug.

"I love it, mom, really." Renesmee said earnestly.

Next, there was Rosalie, with a tiny pendant locket. On one side, was a photo of Jacob holding an infant, and the other was empty.

"It's for a wedding photo, obviously." Rosalie smiled widely. "To keep close to your heart."

"We've been looking for the perfect shoes for you." Alice said, when she presented her with glass slippers. "And you have always been our little princess, so . . ."

Then, it was my turn. It was a little strange being asked to participate in such an intimate event in someone else's life, when I hardly knew them. It was probably the reason it had taken me until the last minute to decide what to get her. But, luckily for me, I was an empath, and an artist, and every once in a great while, that was a good thing.

"I painted the way you feel when Jacob takes your hand." I explained, as the wrapping paper was pulled away to reveal a silhouette portrait of the pair standing together on the edge of a cliff at twilight. He was lifting her up in the air, her back arched to the sky. "Relationships aren't always easy. Sometimes things change, sometimes things fall apart . . . but the love between you two is special. And that's coming from an empath."

I felt my heart crack a little inside my chest as I said the words. I felt the same way about Jasper, but I was starting to accept that he didn't feel the same way about me, not anymore. It felt like I was dying, until I trampled it down, so forcefully that I couldn't feel anything.