I waited until Edward and Bella had left the classroom before grabbing my phone. I flipped through the directory I'd been given when I'd fist arrived and found the Cullen's number. I dialed and pressed the phone to my ear, listening to the ringing. It soon ceased and a voice I assumed belonged to Esme Cullen answered.
"Mrs. Cullen?" I asked. "It's Mr. St. John, the new Chemistry teacher.
"Oh, Mr. St. John," she said. "Did Edward speak to you about our invitation?"
"Yes, he did. I told him I'd have to decline, but I-"
"That's a shame," she said, cutting me off. "Mr. Cullen was so looking forward to meeting you."
"I see, I'm sorry to disappoint, but-"
"Are you sure you can't make it? We have been preparing for it all day."
"All right, then," I said. "If you insist. May I bring a few friends of mine?"
"Well, I don't see why not," she said. "Anyone we know?"
"No, they've only just arrived for a visit."
"And I suppose you want to spend as much time with them as possible before they have to go home?"
"Yes, that's why I initially declined."
"Well, bring them along."
"Thank you, Mrs. Cullen, I will.
"And, please, call me Esme.
"Esme, of course. I'll see you tonight."
"Yes, have a good afternoon, Mr. St. John."
I hung up and debated heading home. I had quite a few papers to grade, one of the hazards of accepting a job as a teacher, but I also wanted to address the…sparkling vampires issue. I lifted the receiver again and dialed, waiting patiently to hear a good friend's voice answer.
"Josef? It's Mick."
"Hey, Mick!" he said. "You tired of Forks all ready?"
"How soon can you get here?" I asked, ignoring his jibe.
"Why? Is something wrong? Is Beth okay?"
"No, nothing's wrong. There're just a few things I want to discuss with you.
"All right, but don't scare me like that," he said. "Should I meet you at your place?"
"Yeah," I said. "Beth'll let you in."
"What's this about, Mick?" Josef asked before I even had a chance to close the door. I pushed past him where he was leaning against the stair railing and headed to the kitchen. Beth sat at the table flipping through the day's newspaper. I set down my briefcase by the kitchen door and leaned against the wall as Josef joined us in the room.
"We have a dinner date," I said.
"With who?" Beth asked. "We don't exactly know anyone yet."
"The Cullens," I replied. "The local family of vamps."
"Vamps?" Josef asked. "That why you called me up? So we could have a family reunion?" I shook my head.
"I don't think they're family, Josef," I said. "They sparkle." Both he and Beth stared at me and I suppressed a light laugh at their confused expressions. "Yeah," I said. "That's what I thought."
"They sparkle?" Beth asked incredulously. I nodded.
"Yup. In the sun."
"You are kidding, right?" Josef queried. I shook my head.
"Not so far as I've found out, that's why I thought to call you," I said. "I thought you may want to help me investigate."
"I thought you guys moved here to get away from investigating," Josef said. I laughed.
"One more can't hurt," I said. "Can it, Beth?" I glanced at her, she shook her head.
"I don't see why not," she said. "Is this a formal affair?" I shrugged.
"Whether it is or isn't," Josef said, grinning. "Let's wow 'em."
"This place is gorgeous," Beth breathed as I carefully drove my Mercedes through the relative forest that led up to a large white house.
"Reminds me of your old place, Mick," Josef said. "Y'know, the one you had with Cor-"
"I get it Josef," I said, nodding. "And, yeah, it kind of does." We were quiet after that. I could see Beth casting me a worried glance, and I quickly caught her eye and flashed her a calm smile. She smiled back and the tension Josef's statement had caused slipped away.
I parked the car and, after sparing Josef a glare, I climbed out and rounded the car. I managed to grab the handle to the passenger door just as Beth began to push it open and I held it for her. She smiled at me and carefully slid out, smoothing wrinkles from her maroon dress as she straightened up.
"What? You don't hold my door for me, Mick?" Josef scoffed as he slipped out of the back seat. I laughed and shook my head.
"Shall we?" Beth said, her voice light with restrained laughter, and motioned towards the looming building. I nodded and led the way to the front door. I knocked twice, and the door was pulled open quickly and we were greeted by the smiling face of, I presumed, Esme Cullen.
"You must be Mr. St. John," she said, my suspicions confirmed by her voice. I nodded as she ushered us inside.
"Please, Mrs. Cullen, Mick," I said. She smiled.
"And, as I said on the phone, it's Esme."
"Of course," I replied, then motioned to Beth, then Josef. "This is Beth Turner, and this is Josef Kostan," I said. "Friends of mine."
"It's wonderful to meet you," Esme said. "The children are out back, and I believe Carlisle is in the dining room."
"I'd like to meet the kids, if that's all right," Beth said. "Mick doesn't talk much about them, despite teaching them." Esme smiled.
"The dining room's right through there," she said, pointing at a door at the other end of the massive room. I nodded and thanked her as she led Beth out to the back. I glanced at Josef.
"Does it still remind of Coraline's house?" I asked. He shook his head.
"Nope, Coraline didn't have a piano," he said, nodding at the grand instrument. I laughed.
"Shall we, then?" I asked. Josef nodded and I led the way through the door behind the piano to the kitchen and on to the dining room where our host, Carlisle Cullen, sat at the head of the table, his hands clasped together and his gaze watching the door.
"Mr. St. John," he said with a nod. "And…?"
"Josef Kostan," I said. Both men nodded to each other.
"Please, gentlemen, have a seat," Carlisle said, motioning to the numerous empty chairs that surrounded the table. I took a seat to Carlisle's right and Josef sat to his left. We sat in silence for a few moments, then Carlisle cleared his throat and spoke, answering the questions he knew Josef and I would ask.
"We feed off animal blood, Mr. St. John, Mr. Kostan," he said. "We have an agreement with the werewolves. If we ever bite a human, they will attack." This final statement was heavy, a warning to myself and Josef. I smiled.
"I get my blood from the morgue," I said.
"You'd be surprised how deeply Vampires have integrated themselves into society," Josef explained. Carlisle nodded.
"I suppose I would," he said. Again, we sat in silence, then it was Carlisle's turn to ask questions. "Where did you reside before moving to Forks?"
"Los Angeles," I said. He nodded slowly, not really understanding.
"How did you go unnoticed? There's a lot of sun there."
"We don't sparkle," Josef interjected before I could respond. I shot him a warning glare, but he was looking at Carlisle. The blond haired man nodded again, still obviously confused by this revelation, but he didn't push the issue any further. I took that as my cue to question him once again.
"Your family," I said. "Did you sire them all?" He nodded.
"For the most part," he said.
"How did you…decide?" I asked. "To turn them."
"They were dying, Mr. St. John," he said. "I saved them."
I glanced at Josef, whose eyes were on me. I nodded and he rose quickly.
"I'll see what Beth's up to," he said, and quickly departed. I turned my attention to Carlisle, surveying him for a few moments before I spoke.
"I had that option once," I said. "A man was dying and I could have turned him. But…" He looked up at me as I trailed off and I caught his eye before continuing. "It isn't really living, is it? It isn't really saving them." A sad smile crossed his face.
"You sound like Edward," he said. After a moment of silence, I nodded and stood.
"We'd better be going," I said. I shook his hand and he showed me out to the living room where Beth and Josef waited with the rest of the family. I allowed myself to be introduced to the 'children' before we said our goodbyes and took our leave of the Cullen family.
Later that night, I lay awake in my freezer, thinking over my conversation with Carlisle, remembering that day when Beth had begged me to save Josh, and I wondered if I had made the right decision.
Then I thought of my own quest to be human again, and I knew I had.
Because being a Vampire really isn't living.