Author's Notes: For those of you who are familiar with my other story, "The Language of the Blood," this one-shot is Chapter Four, "Cold Hands," from Carlisle's point of view. Kaitipoola over at the Twilght Archives suggested that I write this, so all thanks go to her for the idea! For those of you who have not read LotB, it is not imperitive to the understanding of the plot that you read LotB first, just as it is not imperitive to the understanding of LotB that you read this story. They could both be considered stand-alones; this one would simply make just a little bit more sense if you read LotB first, at least up until Chap. 4. ;-) And by the way, the title does not hold any secret significance or foreshadowing. It was just a working title that stuck.
Disclaimer: Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, Carlisle Cullen, Esme Platt, Aro, and Caius all belong to Stephenie Meyer, and I can't thank her enough for sharing them with us! Betsy Olmstead, Samuel and Miriam Platt, Margaret, and the inn-keeper's wife all belong to me. "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," and one of its lines quoted herein, "a man of rugged countenance that was never lighted by a smile," belong to Robert Louis Stevenson, as well as "Treasure Island." The poem excerpts that are quoted are from "The Raven" and "The Sleeper," respectively, both by Edgar Allen Poe. "The Masque of the Red Death" also belongs to Poe.
And finally, a huge thanks to Fallen Roses 07 for the beta-ing, encouragement, and enthusiasm! 3
Something to Bite On
It was a slow night at the hospital, but that was no surprise. Nights were usually quite dead around Columbus Hospital, no pun intended. I supposed that was a good thing, really. It was much better that the city's citizens were home safely in their beds rather than out doing things that would land them in here with me.
I sighed and leaned back in my chair, closing my eyes. That was the one drawback to this profession that I had chosen so many hundreds of years ago – very few of my clients are happy to see me.
I heard a page turn, and a loud gasp of horror.
"Oh, dear! Oh, dear!"
I smiled and opened one eye.
My nurse assistant, Betsy Olmstead, was leaning forward in her seat, her face much closer to the pages of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde than was healthy for her eyes. Her mouth was open in an 'o' of suspense, and I watched as her eyes raced back and forth across the lines of the page until she sat straight up with a cry of, "No!"
I suppressed a chuckle, but I could still hear the humor in my own voice when I asked, "What's going on, Betsy?"
Betsy looked up and stared at me as though she had forgotten I was there. "H-he just woke up as Edward Hyde!" she whispered tremulously.
I opened my other eye. "Without having taken HJ7?" I prompted.
"You must be nearly to the end," I remarked.
"Yes," she agreed. "Whatever shall I read after this?"
"Why not Treasure Island? That, too, was written by Stevenson."
"Oh, but is it as good as this one?"
I smiled. "Even better. Though, it is more of an adventure than a horror story."
I nearly laughed when she looked disappointed. If only she knew….
I made a mental note to find my copy of The Complete Works of Edgar Allen Poe and lend it to her. Or perhaps I would give it to her; I had no need to look at the pages to be able to perfectly recall to mind any of his poems or novellas. I closed my eyes again, hearing Mrs. Olmstead's tell-tale heart thumping away as she read on, and I began reciting one of Poe's poems to myself.
Once upon a midnight dreary
While I pondered, weak and weary
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore-
When I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping—
BANG, BANG, BANG!
I must admit, I jumped.
So did Mrs. Olmstead, as was heralded by her shriek of surprise.
I shook my head at my ridiculousness and got to my feet. I made haste to the door, responding to the repeated urgent bangs upon the door, Mrs. Olmstead at my heels, still clutching her book.
I threw wide the door, and in rushed a man in a frenzy. He was a stocky man, with curly brown hair upon his head and face, and he looked back and forth between Mrs. Olmstead and myself, trying to recover himself.
I could feel Mrs. Olmstead shrink back slightly at my side, but I couldn't understand what her fear was. This man struck me as much less an Edward Hyde than a John Utterson - "a man of rugged countenance that was never lighted by a smile."
Nevertheless, I ignored Betsy's squeamishness and asked, "How can I help you, sir?"
"Are you the doctor?" he asked in a rush.
"I am," I replied. "Won't you come in?" I opened the door further and gestured to the room.
The man shook his head. "No, thank you. Your help is badly needed."
I was immediately alert. This man, whoever he was, was obviously not ill, so he must be a messenger of some sort. Was there a fire or some other disaster? I listened intently, but I could hear no sirens, no sounds of panic. I looked out over his shoulder into the dark street, and all that caught my eye was a covered carriage, bathed in a halo of light from a lamppost. I noticed a figure sitting upright inside the box, but she didn't appear to be in any immediate distress. However, if he had come in a carriage, than this was not a local emergency. All of this I observed in less than the time it took for the man to draw a deep breath.
"What seems to be the trouble?" I asked.
"My name is Samuel Platt. I come bringing my daughter, Esme, who is in dire need of medical attention. She was up a tree, chasing Margaret, but she fell – it looks as though she has broken her leg."
I nodded and turned to Betsy. "Mrs. Olmstead, will you please fetch a lantern and light it for us?"
Betsy nodded. "Of course, Dr. Cullen," she said, already heading for the matches.
Samuel Platt appeared to be still quite distraught, so I sought to calm him.
"Samuel Platt," I mused, "that's not a name I recognize. What part of the city to you hail from?"
Platt shook his head. "I don't come from Columbus. The local doctor was away… we got here as fast as we could… you were the next closest doctor." He looked down at his shoes.
I looked at him, feeling wary. "Mr. Platt… just how far did you travel to get here?"
"I got here as fast as I could drive the horses," he repeated, sounding more agitated by the minute. He hesitated, and then mumbled, "We got here in just over four hours."
My eyes widened. "Four hours!" I repeated in disbelief. I turned abruptly – too abruptly. One second, I was staring at Platt incredulously, the next, I was beckoning firmly to Mrs. Olmstead.
"Hurry up, Mrs. Olmstead," I commanded rather more sharply than necessary. When I glanced back at Mr. Platt, I saw him staring at me, blinking his eyes. I knew I had turned too fast; I had allowed my natural speed to take over me the way it yearned to when there was an emergency. But I forced my instincts down, made myself resume the semblance of normality. Fortunately, Mrs. Olmstead had finally managed to locate both lantern and matches, and she rushed towards us, clutching the lantern tightly.
I nodded to Mr. Platt. "Lead the way, sir."
I pushed open the door with perhaps a little too much force; it banged off of the wall and slammed shut on us as we hurried towards the carriage, which no longer looked so peaceful to me. However, perhaps it was the cool night air hitting my face, but once outside I felt calm return to me.
Mrs. Olmstead hurried after the two of us, fretting. "She rode how long? Oh! The poor dear!"
I could hear Mr. Platt's heart racing, and I knew that it would not be long before he began to panic over his daughter's safety. I questioned Mr. Platt calmly and methodically about his daughter's leg on the way to the carriage, so as not to frighten the poor child with having to hear that.
"Have you checked the leg? How swollen is it? How discolored? Are there any signs that the bone may have punctured the skin?"
I could hear Mr. Platt beginning to become slightly hysterical as he answered. "Punctured the skin? Can it do that? What does it mean if it's discolored?"
I thought it might be best if I didn't answer his stream of questions, so I speeded up my pace and stopped at the door of the carriage.
I didn't think it exactly appropriate to do what my doctoring instincts told me to and rip the barrier away from between my patient and myself, so I stood back and allowed Mr. Platt to open the door.
Inside, there was the woman whose figure I had seen from the hospital. She squinted her eyes to the light and shielded those of her daughter with her hand. I noticed that she and her daughter shared the same hair – wavy, with a golden-brown color, a sort of caramel. The woman gazed at me in unmasked relief.
"Doctor," she said, her voice sounding constricted.
I could literally taste the fear coming off of this woman and her poor daughter, and I smiled reassuringly. "Don't worry, madam, your daughter will be fine." I leaned into the carriage slowly, so as not to further scare her. I made a small move as if to pick her daughter up, but stayed at a distance until I asked, "May I?"
The girl's mother was thankfully calmer than her husband was at the moment, and she nodded and helped to transfer her daughter, Esme, to me. I lifted her easily into my arms, and as soon as the cloak she was wrapped in fell off, I knew which leg was broken. I lifted her right leg slightly away from her body and mine, so that it was safe from my movements. Esme Platt squeezed her eyes shut against the light and pressed her face into my chest. I wondered how much pain she was in.
As I started back towards the hospital, I saw her raise her face in my peripheral vision. She rested her head on my shoulder, her hair brushing against my nose momentarily. I inhaled her scent curiously. She had a sweet smell, which I thought quite fitting for her caramel-colored hair. I couldn't help but notice that this unusual color was somehow much more entrancing on this young girl that it was on her mother. Fascinating.
I was nearing the hospital when I felt it. Fingers. Warm fingers on the back of my neck. I realized that Esme Platt was stroking my hair with one hand, and I felt a shiver rush through my frame.
I was shocked by the intense surge that ran through me, and I quickly turned my head to see if she had felt it too. She swiftly removed her hand from my hair, and I felt something different run through me.
Disappointment. But why in the world should I be disappointed by anything some little girl did?
It was just the warmth, I guessed. You just enjoyed the warmth of her hand against your skin.
Nevertheless, I found myself surreptitiously glancing at her. Her cheeks were quite flushed, in pain, I assumed, so I hurried towards the door.
Mrs. Olmstead took the lead and pulled the door open. I turned at an angle so that I could get through the frame. I noticed Esme close her eyes again as I walked swiftly down the bright hallway. I took a left into an examination room and placed the girl down as gently as I could, delicately disengaging her arms from around my neck while Betsy rushed around at break-neck speed, turning on the lamps. I fought back a mental image of her running through town, shouting, "The regulars are coming! The regulars are coming!" and decided to distract myself with locating bandages and such.
Unfortunately, when one is working in one's own personal examination room, with a memory that recalls absolutely everything it has ever experienced, finding the things one needs can only be drawn out for so long.
I did my best to ignore the fact that Esme Platt was following my every move with her eyes. It wasn't that I was unused to females staring at me – quite the contrary. I'd had a few too many women patients who were entirely too pleased to unbutton their blouses for my comfort. Yet, as I meandered around the room collecting supplies, I was more aware of this girl than was usual even for someone like me. I could feel her gaze as though it burned me. Nevertheless, I tried to act as though she weren't in the room.
Presently, I became aware of the fact that Mrs. Olmstead was speaking to me.
"Will you be needing any surgical tools, Dr. Cullen? The poor child rode for four hours in a carriage – that's more than enough time for gangrene to set in if the bone went through her skin."
I was more aware than I cared to admit to Mrs. Olmstead that Miss Platt's skin was perfectly fine. Had the bone punctured, I would have been able to smell the blood seeping from the wound from all the way inside the hospital. No, the girl was perfectly fine. In terms of gangrene, at least.
She was, however, looking quite disturbed by the prospect of there being holes in her skin – understandably so – and I allowed myself just a short enough look to see that she had begun to tremble.
Therefore, it was for Esme, and not for Betsy's peace of mind that I murmured, "I'm sure everything is fine, Mrs. Olmstead."
Perhaps I indulged myself in thinking that Esme looked slightly calmed by these words, but Mrs. Olmstead was not so easily assuaged.
"Look, doctor! She's shaking! The infection may have already taken hold!"
I sighed. At this rate, the poor child would be positively catatonic by the time her leg was set. I decided that it was time to quit being a coward and look at Esme. I smiled sympathetically at her, and I saw that her eyes were wide with fright.
I stepped closer to her, pulling off my jacket as I did so.
"It's a cool night, and you're only wearing that light dress," I said soothingly. I wrapped my jacket around her small shoulders and helped her fit her hands into the sleeves, which were much too long for her arms.
She looked me full in the eye. "Thank you," she whispered softly.
She had a lovely voice - sweet and clear. I felt a smile spreading across my face.
"You're quite welcome, my dear."
I found myself unable to break eye contact with her. There was something in her eyes that held me there – a light, a positive energy. She was strong. Despite the agony that she must have been in, she refused to surrender to the pain. How very odd.
Mrs. Olmstead broke into my reverie.
"Oh, doctor, look at her – she's incoherent and dazed. Do you think she'll survive an amputation?"
Now, more than ever this evening, I had the urge to laugh. Dear Betsy certainly had a flare for the dramatic, and I was grateful to her for breaking whatever trance I had been under a moment before. But I heard Esme's heartbeat accelerate, and I thought that perhaps now was the time for tea.
I turned to regard Mrs. Olmstead. "Betsy," I said kindly. "Why don't you go and see to Miss Platt's parents? I'm sure Mrs. Platt would appreciate a cup of your marvelous tea." I had had quite a bit of experience with Betsy's tea. Her enthusiasm in regards to her brewing skills was always far too endearing to resist, and I too often found myself gulping the horrendous stuff down, solely to see the delighted look on her face when I pronounced it the best tea this side of the Appalachians.
Unfortunately, her ebullience for making tea was only matched by her fervor with high-pressure medical situations.
"But, doctor," she protested. "I should be here to assist-"
I suppressed a sigh. I supposed I was going to have to convince her. I looked her straight in the face. My eyes bored into hers until I saw the consent in her eyes and her mouth went slack.
"Now," I commanded quietly.
"All right," the poor, dazed creature muttered weakly. I immediately felt bad. As I watched her head for the door, I promised myself silently that I would locate Poe's Complete Works tonight, as soon as I was finished with Miss Platt.
"If she needs held down, doctor-"
"Mrs. Olmstead!" All right. Maybe I didn't feel so bad anymore.
"Yes, doctor," she said on her way out.
She closed the door, and I was alone with Esme Platt. Now that there was only one human in the room, I could more easily decipher which feelings belonged to whom. I knew now that it had been Esme's heart all along that was thumping erratically, and her adrenaline that pervaded the air with a wild energy. I also knew how very brave she must be, if she managed to keep all of her emotions under such control that I couldn't immediately tell that it was her terror that was bitter on the back on my tongue.
But now that Mrs. Olmstead was out of the room, I was confident that I could restore some serenity to Esme.
I turned my attentions to her, giving her a wide smile.
"Well, Esme, is it?" I asked, pretending that I wouldn't remember her name - as well as the name of every other patient I had ever, or would ever, treat - for the rest of my existence. "From what I hear you had yourself a battle with a vicious tree earlier this evening."
She nodded silently.
I started towards her, still smiling. I knew how defensive humans could get when they were in pain, so instead of heading straight to work on her leg, I simply rested my hands at the edge of her skirt and asked, "May I?"
Esme nodded again, and I raised her skirt to above her knees, folding it there. Broken bones are never pretty, but I had a feeling that, underneath all of the bruising, her bone was not broken very badly at all.
I continued to speak while I examined her leg, hoping to calm her, perhaps even amuse her. "I must say, it seems to have been quite an unfair duel. You should tell that tree to pick on someone its own size next time."
Something I had done had triggered a response in Esme. Her heart was working even faster, and I could smell the blood rushing to her face. Perhaps I had offended her somehow?
"Although I'm sure you gave as well as you got," I added quickly. "That tree probably deeply regrets having ever instigated a fight with someone as brave as you, my dear… I am correct in assuming that the tree started it, aren't I?" I teased her lightly, and looked up to gauge her expression.
She looked absolutely distraught. Her cheeks were burning crimson, and her wide eyes sparkled with the beginnings of tears.
How stupid I had been! There I was, making small talk with a young girl who must be in terrible pain, not to mention humiliated by the fact that I, a fully-grown male stranger, was poking around under her skirt! I wanted to kick myself, but that probably would not have helped the situation.
"I bed your pardon," I supplicated. "This must be… uncomfortable for you."
To my delight, Esme's lips turned up slightly. Was that a smile? Yes, I think it was.
And then, as if to add to my joy, she spoke quite softly, but I heard her as clearly as if she had been speaking into my ear. "The willow will think twice next time."
A wild smile spread across my face at the sound of her voice.
And then she was talking again. "I was climbing the tree," she explained.
I nodded. "Your father mentioned that. You followed your friend, correct?" Margaret, I recalled. In his rush to explain the situation, Samuel Platt had said the girl's name incoherently, as though I was familiar with her.
"Yes," said Esme. "But it wasn't her fault!"
I took a moment to appreciate Esme's protection of her friend, before turning back to her leg, my eyebrows up. "I thought we had established that it was the tree who was at fault?" I joked.
She laughed. "Yes."
I looked up, exultant. I wanted to see what her face looked like when she laughed. It was even nicer than I expected. Some of the color was coming back, but she still had a very creamy complexion. Her soft, gray eyes were no longer tearing up; now they shone with happiness.
I blinked. Treat her leg, I scolded myself.
I turned back to the break. I ascertained as much as I could from just looking at it, but the time shortly came when I needed to feel the break. Not wanting to startle her, I held my hands up so that she would see what I was about to do, and then I touched the bruises as softly as I could.
She started violently. Of course, as warm as her skin felt to me, that's how cold mine was to her.
I grinned, repentant. "I'm sorry. They're always cold." How true.
She spoke up suddenly. "Cold hands, warm heart."
I was moved; did she really think that? I shook my head. "I don't necessarily think that's true."
"Why not?" she challenged.
"Well," I started slowly. Then, impulsively, I reached out and took one of her hands. It was small and soft, and I could have completely concealed it inside of mine. "Your hands are very warm, my dear," I finished.
She was looking into my eyes again, and once again I was helpless to look away. Slowly, hypnotically, I leaned forward to press my lips to her knuckles, just to see what her skin would feel like against my lips. It had been so very long since I had had any contact with anyone. I missed touch terribly, and surely she wouldn't mind too badly. Her heart was pounding again. I watched as she leaned in, too, her eyes wide with expectation. I wondered what she could be thinking. Curiously, I tipped my head. She mirrored my action perfectly.
What the hell do you think you're doing?! My mind screamed at me.
I jerked away from her while I had brief control of my motor senses. I jumped to my feet and paced to the end of the room, the better to be far away from her. I couldn't look at her, for humiliation. When had I become so weak? I shook my head hard.
What was I thinking? She was a human! A sweet young girl whose whole life was ahead of her, who didn't deserve to have a monster like me taking advantage of her kindness. I had to finish mending her leg, but I needed several long moments to regain my composure first.
Finally, when I was sure I had my face back to normal, I rejoined her at the table. I ignored the look of confusion and hurt on her face, and instead resumed my small talk.
"Well, Esme, I'm sorry to say that I have some very bad news," I said, pulling a serious expression.
The conflict left her face and was replaced by fear. I was impressed by her attempt to ward off panic, and could detect only a slight tremor in her voice when she asked, "Yes?"
I sighed. "I'm afraid you'll be up and about in time for the start of the school year."
She giggled, her face relaxing.
"Your leg is broken, however, and I'll need to set it and cast it before you can go home."
She nodded, not quite so relaxed anymore. I knew she wouldn't ask, so I answered her question immediately.
"I'm afraid that setting the bone can be rather painful." She winced ever so slightly. "But, truthfully, you could be a lot worse off. This is a nice, clean break."
Her brow furrowed. "Basically," I explained, "if you had to break your leg, you did it the best way." I allowed myself a tiny grin.
She had stopped breathing, so I asked, "Would you like me to bring your parents in?"
She took a deep, shuddering breath before shaking her head. "No, thank you. I'll be fine."
Her nerve was astounding. So uncommon in a human her age. "Very well," I nodded, rolling up my sleeves.
I glanced up at her to see that she had shut her eyes. She was also holding her breath again. I considered her dubiously.
"Would you like something to bite on?" I offered, darkly amused for a moment. I was forcefully reminded of my days with the Volturi. Whenever Caius was feeling testy, Aro would raise his black eyebrows and ask him if he would like something to bite on.
Esme was nearly as pale as one of the Volturi, and she looked far more delicate as she opened her eyes and let out her breath in a gust.
She shook her head, to which I nodded, placing my hands in position on her leg.
Our eyes met. "I'll count to three, shall I?" I suggested.
"Mm-phm," was her response. She was biting her lip, turning it white.
"Wait!" she shouted.
What had happened? I looked at her, hoping that she hadn't broken her lip open.
Her lip was still perfectly intact, though, as she asked, "Is it, 'one, two, three, and then go' or is it, 'one, two, and go on three'?"
I was highly amused, but I hid it behind a contemplative look. "'One, two, and go on three,' I should think."
"All right." She nodded.
I tried again. "One… t-"
I looked up again. She was whiter than a ghost, and her forehead was glistening slightly. I knew that, if I touched her face, it would be cold and clammy.
"M-maybe you could just surprise me," she faltered.
I had to get this done quickly. So I turned back, waited a moment, and then abruptly shifted her bones into position.
A strangled gasp escaped her lips, and I looked up in time to see her eyes roll up in the back of her head. I jumped up from my seat, unconcerned as to how unnaturally fast I was moving, by human standards. It mattered not. By the time I reached her side, she was already unconscious.
Her frame collapsed, and I grabbed her in my arms to guide her fall. I laid her back slowly, one hand on the back of her head. Her hair was softer than down.
I guiltily indulged myself for a moment. I cradled her close to my chest, leaning my face in until it was millimeters from her hair, and inhaled deeply. I committed her scent to memory, and then reluctantly disentangled myself from her.
Some of her consciousness must have remained, because her arms tightened around me, and she let out a small moan of protest, too quiet for human ears. I chuckled, amused.
It wouldn't be very long at all until she came around, so I raced around the room, bandaging her leg in a blur.
Esme stirred slightly, and I saw the sheen of sweat drying on her brow.
I inched to her side, wondering how long it would take her to return to consciousness. I placed a hand gently on her forehead, feeling her temperature. Taking a human's temperature was a skill that it had taken me a while to acquire. One must disregard the iciness of one's own hand and the burn of the human's skin in order to find the true temperature. I remembered the first time I had taken a human's temperature in medical school. I had shouted that the teacher was burning up, only to have my classmates laugh at me.
I felt Esme stir again under my hand, her eyes fluttering open for a moment. She sighed. I smiled. She was awake again. I took my hand away.
Her eyes popped open, looking almost frustrated. I laughed softly, smiling down at her pale form.
"You blacked out for a minute, there," I said. No need to mention that she had, in fact, been out for only slightly less than fifty-four seconds. "Glad to have you back; I enjoy your company."
A pleased blush crept up her cheeks, and she looked away. Then, she sat up swiftly. She stared at her leg, eyebrows furrowed with confusion. I decided to let her use her imagination and cleared away my supplies while she ruminated.
"I believe I can bring Mrs. Olmstead in with your parents, now," I said when I was finished. "I imagine you'd like to go home?"
I headed for the door, opened it, and called down the hallway, "Mrs. Olmstead? Could you please bring Miss Platt's parents in?"
I retreated from the door and stood by a lamp, glancing at Esme every few seconds out of the corner of my eye. Was I imagining it, or did she look unhappy?
Her parents hurried in, and her mother ran to Esme's side. "Oh, Esme, darling…"
Samuel Platt looked at me. One look at him and I could tell that, now that his daughter was out of the woods, he was feeling much more relaxed. "Well, how is she?"
I felt a prick of annoyance at the tone in his voice, but I smiled and said, "Your daughter is going to be just fine, Mr. Platt. You should be very proud of her; she's a very courageous girl."
"I'm very glad to hear that," Platt said gruffly. "Perhaps this will teach her to be mature and stop climbing trees like a wild animal."
I glanced at Esme and saw her cheeks burn with shame. I felt terrible for her. I wished that I could touch her shoulder in comfort. Instead, I pulled my watch out of my pants pocket. "Hmm. It's nearing midnight. May I suggest that you find a place to bed down for the night? It's a long drive you made. There's a very nice place just down the street that I could show you."
Platt opened his mouth, doubt etched on his face. But Mrs. Platt cut him off before he had a chance.
"That would be lovely. Thank you so much, doctor."
I smiled at her. "My pleasure."
I walked up to Esme, smiling at her. I held out my hands and saw her pupils widen. "May I?" I asked for the third time that night.
She nodded and wrapped her arms around my neck, a delicate blush coming to her cheeks.
I scooped her legs up with one arm and placed the other at her back, lifting her effortlessly. I noticed Betsy standing on the other side of the bed. She looked quite emotional, clasping and unclasping her hands and shifting her weight restlessly from one foot to the other.
"Oh, you poor child!" she lamented. Here it comes, I thought. "And you're still a growing girl. Now it's unlikely that your legs will ever be the same length again!"
From the looks of utter horror on Esme and her mother's face, I could tell that bursting out laughing was not a wise course of action, so I limited myself to a smile and a tiny chuckle.
"I wouldn't worry about that, Mrs. Olmstead," I said. "We'll just have to be sure she doesn't eat her fruits and vegetables for the next eight weeks." I glanced down at Esme and winked at her. I was very relieved to hear her laugh.
"Shall we?" I suggested to Mr. and Mrs. Platt.
I thanked Mr. Platt for holding the door open, and started down the hall towards the door.
I heard Esme sigh softly. She leaned her head against me, nestling her face into my neck, and I felt her warm skin once again against mine.
I could hear her heartbeat slowing as I walked. Once we were outside, though, she startled awake for a moment, lifting her head to watch where we were heading. The light at the end of the otherwise pitch-black sidewalk was my destination. I hoped that her parents would stay close enough so that they wouldn't stumble or get lost in the darkness.
Esme laid her head against me again and sighed.
Presently, she fell into a slumber.
I stopped outside the inn door, having checked several times to see that the Platts were still behind me.
I nodded towards the door to indicate that Mr. Platt should knock. After a few moments, a sleepy-eyed woman appeared, yawning hugely.
"Good evening," I said pleasantly. "My name is Dr. Cullen. I work at the hospital just down the way, and I have several clients who arrived very late with an emergency. They live quite a distance from here, and I was hoping that you could accommodate them for the night." Just in case the inn-lady was feeling irked at having been woken in the dead of the night, I "convinced" her with my eyes. She nodded wordlessly and stepped back.
I allowed Mr. and Mrs. Platt to pass before me into the room, and then joined them in the cozy antechamber.
The inn-lady lead us to a room, instructed the Platts on where to find her or her husband should they have need, and then excused herself to bed.
Agilely, and with as few jarring movements as I could manage, I pulled the covers of one bed down and gently laid Esme into it. I reached down and pulled the shoe on her good foot off, setting it on the floor next to the bed. Then, I pulled up the covers, tucking them in around her sleeping form. She looked so peaceful sleeping. I watched her breathe evenly in and out until Samuel announced that he was going to go tend to the horses.
He left, and then Mrs. Platt whispered, "I do think I should go and ask the inn-keeper's wife about breakfast before she returns to bed."
I finally turned away from Esme to smile at her mother. "Yes, of course. I can show myself out."
Mrs. Platt came up to me, her face glowing. She took my hand in both of hers, shaking it. "Thank you so much for everything you have done for us, doctor," she whispered.
I smiled again. "You are quite welcome, Mrs. Platt," I murmured back.
I saw her eyes begin to fill up, and she turned and rushed from the room silently.
I turned back to Esme. She stirred a little, and we both sighed at the same time.
I hesitated, debating for a moment, and then leaned in until our faces were almost touching.
"Good-bye, Esme Platt," I whispered in her ear.
I straightened and then left the room, closing the door behind me.
Now that I was alone, I walked more quickly down the sidewalk back to the hospital.
Once back inside the hospital, I headed for one of the bookshelves in my office, on which I stored more literature than medical texts. I scanned the titles until I found what I was looking for.
I pulled The Complete Works of Edgar Allen Poe off of the shelf, blowing the dust off.
I found Mrs. Olmstead where she had been earlier this evening – hunched over in a chair, again glued to the pages of Jekyll and Hyde. I stopped in front of her and waited for her to notice my presence. She eventually looked up, and I held the book out to her, smiling.
"I think that you will enjoy this, Betsy," I said. "May I recommend that you start with The Masque of the Red Death?"
Her interest was piqued, I could tell.
"'The Masque'… well that sounds interesting." She took the book out of my hands, looking it over curiously.
I chuckled and went back to my seat.
A cool breeze floated in through the window, and I realized that I had left my jacket with Esme. I would let her keep it, I decided. Perhaps she would remember me fondly.
I silently regarded the room for several minutes, glancing around at the familiar objects.
I saw Mrs. Olmstead shiver, and I rose from my chair and crossed to the window to shut it.
I looked down the street, and I could still see the lamplight blazing at the inn. I gazed out into the night, and whispered so quietly that no human could ever hear.
"The lady sleeps! Oh, may her sleep,
Which is enduring, be so deep!"
I felt a stab of loneliness, and I sighed.
"Heaven have her in its sacred keep!"