Title: That Place By Me
Summary: A free-spirited girl becomes an abused wife-- yet from the depths of suicide, she's saved by one love and her own strength. This is the romantic story of loving in spite of sorrow and unexpected second chances. This is the life of Esme Cullen. CxE.
Preface and Extended Summary
It was only recently that I became fascinated with the character of Esme Cullen. Reading the books, we only see her as the mother of the Cullen family, important primarily because of her acceptance of Bella. She's seems quite tame.
Yet Esme's story is one of the most romantic, not to mention dramatic, background stories of the Twilight series. What must it have been like for an independent young girl to be crushed by an abusive husband? Driven to running away, how far she had fallen to become the mangled body and spirit left with nothing but the wreckage of happiness! Yet Esme is given the rare second chance. From suicide, Carlisle Cullen's love helps Esme fight her way out of despair and fear—thus she's wrought anew. That Esme's ability to love survived so many of life's bitter hurdles attests to her innate beauty.
This story is meant to be her life, and no one lives in a cultural vacuum. One of the best parts of writing an Esme story is having the characters we know in the present and playing with them in the completely different world of a different time. I try to incorporate as much history as feasible in my writing and add flavor with the culture of the time. People mentioned on the side with some facts attached to them are likely actual people I shamelessly use. Footnotes are included at the end of each chapter to share some extra facts I've gleaned.
I hope you enjoy the ride. Please leave a review; any comments are welcome—suggestions corrections, and compliments especially encouraged!
Love, as always,
P.S.: Anyone who is a fan of Elizabeth Gaskell's "North and South" or Jane Austen or any of those classic romances will see a few references. I just couldn't resist!
Chapter 1: Beginnings
The air seemed to pulsate with energy, swirling with an aroma so heady she couldn't resist breathing in as much as she could. When she tried to open her eyes, it seemed like the light was impossibly brilliant. Lines of flaring white seared painfully.
Squeezing her eyes shut, she could feel her pupils contracting and dilating, and her hand automatically shot up to press down on her eyelids. It was a full minute before she could peel her eyes open slowly.
The light came from a kerosene lamp floating in the darkness, stubbornly shining. She looked away from the eerie vision and saw spots in the shadows.
"Edward, please, turn down the lamp," a mild voice bid the invisible being. Quickly, the glare faded to a warm undulating radiance and floated to a small wooden table. The figure retreated into the dimly lit, wavering reflections of the lamp.
From the darkness stepped an apparition clothed in soft white and washed with the mellow orange glow filling the room, his face illuminated. It was so unexpected, and like in so many of the inconceivable happenings of the world, for a moment her brain didn't consciously make the recognition. That moment seemed an eternity. Her breath vanished and was replaced by sheer incredulity.
"Dr. Cullen?" All the impossibility of the situation was summed up in that whisper.
He gracefully lit on the edge of the bed. The same golden brown eyes scanned hers, just like in the memory she'd kept nearby for years, whose edges were faded and worn but no less vivid. She was afraid to speak, confused if this was her mind's creation or part of the realms of death.
He opened his mouth to speak, but stopped. Instead, he lifted his hand and brushed back a lock of her hair heavy with sweat, and with that mesmerizing and gentle voice that had lingered in the recesses of her mind said her name. Only her name, but it was enough. "Esme…"
From far away, it would have looked like a kite had lodged in the oak tree. Upon closer inspection, one could see the kite was actually Esme Platt, whose long cotton dress was rippling in the wind and who had let her light brown hair dangle in pieces among the leaves. She was lounging in a nook formed by the tree limbs, trying to read a book when she wasn't perusing the stretch of dirt road leading from Milton, and beyond that, Columbus.
Esme was getting impatient. Miss Lumley had insisted on visiting that afternoon, but there was no breath of her. She squinted into the sunlight again, looking past the wheat and barley that was too young for the time of year. The February snowstorms* that had jailed them in their home caused the rivers to gush in April, and by the time their fields had been drained it was already the end of May. Now, they'd be lucky to have a harvest before frost hit.
It was a sad and trying time. Ohio farmers were all suffering from the whims of the heavens, and Esme could see the lines deepen in her father's face, and the tightness of her mum's mouth. Esme sighed.
Putting her book into her calico bag, Esme hooked her hands around the next branch and heaved herself higher into the lofty green canopy. From here, she was above the roof of her home. She nestled herself against the tree trunk and closed her eyes. A strain of melody floated up from her mind. Come Josephine, in my flying machine going up, she goes*…What would it be like to fly? Oh, where would she go? New York, perhaps, to see the glittering lights in shops and where the air must've smelt like excitement and energy. Maybe Paris, or Austria-Hungary, or even somewhere far away like China. She would go one day, Esme promised herself…
Esme's reverie was broken suddenly. She peered through the tree leaves to Miss Lumley on the ground. "You're finally here!"
"Why, yes I am." Miss Lumley's charming face grinned under the brim of a wide straw hat. "And why, may I ask, are you lodged in a tree?"
Slightly abashed, Esme mumbled, "I was reading." She started picking her way down.
"Ah." Miss Lumley, though she should have been admonishing Esme for climbing trees, instead remarked, "I hope you've been reading responsible books? Fordyce's Sermons*, maybe?"
"Miss Lumley, Fordyce would turn in his grave at the irony of my unladylike behavior." Esme gave a snort and jumped the last couple of feet to land on the ground with a thud. "Actually, I was reading Gibbon's History* that you lent me—brilliant work."
With a smile, Miss Lumley beckoned Esme towards the house across the lawn. They quickly fell into debating the lack of civic virtue in the Roman era. As they reached the white painted porch, Esme broke off and quickly asked, "But Miss Lumley, why did you insist on coming over today? You can't have trekked all the way out from town for no reason."
"You'll know soon." Her light green eyes glittered in merriment at Esme's exasperated groan. Miss Lumley swept her white and blue striped daydress into the house and started undying her straw hat.
From the brilliant sunlight outside, stepping into the house took some adjustment. The rafters and beams were made of solid wood, and although the walls were wired with electricity, most of the recesses were dark and scarcely lit from the scattered light bulbs. Esme much preferred the blinding sunlight and the rush of the wind through the leaves.
Her mum bustled into the vestibule from the kitchen, quickly wiping back the tendrils of hair escaping her hair bun. "Miss Lumley! Please, take a seat in the next room while I get some drinks." She exited in a whiff of fresh bread and sage.
The sitting room was actually the center of the house life. Her little brother had left his wooden toys strewn around haphazardly and poking out from under the spartan chairs; her older sister's hat on the rickety table had some cloth flowers tacked on for the next time she could sew. Miss Lumley chose a seat by the mantle, which had in the place of honor a framed photo of the Platt's marriage. It was the only photo in the house.
Miss Lumley looked up at the photo. "Your parents looked happy," she commented.
Laura and John Platt had worn their best Sunday outfits for their wedding*, not having had much money. Their wedding portrait was an oval with blurred edges. Laura, whose face didn't yet show the ravages of twenty years eking a life out of a farm, sat in a wicker chair looking up at a John who looked like the most content man alive. They'd married in spite of poverty, but in love.
"Yes, they are."
Footsteps echoed in the hall. Laura Platt strode around the corner bearing a tray of iced lemonade and what Esme knew to be the last tin of saltines. She swept away Celeste's straw hat and gently placed the tray on the table and took a seat. "Please, Miss Lumley, help yourself. My husband will join us soon. Esme, pour her some lemonade."
"Thank you," Miss Lumley nodded to Esme offering the lemonade, but didn't take any saltines. "Your house is lovely. The pale peach matches the darker browns so warmly."
Esme's mum beamed. "It was all John's mother. This room was done even we married. Mrs. Platt had a great eye for the colors and patterns." Esme discreetly looked into her lemonade glass in anticipation of a long speech. Her mother could wax profusely about the home she was so proud of. She'd heard it all before.
"Sorry for the delay, ladies," John Platt interrupted, walking in from the kitchen in long strides from being accustomed to doing things practically and swiftly. His face, framed by golden red hair, was slightly red from the sun. As he took a chair next to his wife, Esme caught the rich scent of leather and the open fields of grain. "How do you do, Miss Lumley?"
"Fine, thank you. I spend my time drawing up some lesson plans for next year."
"Oh, good, good," said Mr. Platt, pouring himself lemonade.
"In fact, school is what I'm here to talk to you about. Or rather, Esme's schooling."
Mrs. Platt suddenly looked alarmed. "But I thought Esme was always top of her class!"
"She is," Miss Lumley looked at Esme with a twinkle in her eye. "I've never seen someone so voraciously consume knowledge as if it alone could satiate the blood."
"Well, that's our Esme." Mr. Platt said, exuding pride. Esme's cheeks were starting to color from the praise.
"I grew up in Columbus, and my family has long been friends with Henry Churchill King," Miss Lumley continued. The name didn't register with any of the three Platts. "He's currently the president of Oberlin College. I've written to him describing how Esme has been one of the best students I've ever taught, learning at a level far beyond her age."
Esme was burning up now.
"I've shown Mr. King Esme's grades and examples of her writing. Based on this, Oberlin has written me back showing strong interest in Esme joining their freshman class of 1913."
The Platts were all dumb-founded. Miss Lumley took a sip of lemonade. "Mr. King has hinted at a substantial scholarship for Esme, to help the costs of attending college. But that's all in the future." She waved it away. "In the meantime, to prepare for Oberlin, or a different college, she'll have to get a more comprehensive education than what I can give her in our small Milton schoolroom."
"She'd have to go to Columbus, right?" Mrs. Platt said anxiously.
Miss Lumley nodded. "Yes. There are several boarding schools for women in Columbus; I don't think Esme would want to travel the fifteen miles every day. I've heard many good things about Miss Langton's Academy for Young Ladies. Miss Langton herself replied to my letter saying they'd take on Esme. One of their graduates recently donated a large amount to the institution, money they're devoting to scholarships and the like. Cost would be perhaps forty dollars a year or less to you. It's a significant amount, I know, but Esme would be on the road to a very bright future."
All three Platts sat in silence at the end of her speech. In the silence, Esme felt like the cogs of her life were suddenly locking together. A boarding school in Columbus! Then college!
Mr. Platt broke the silence. "When does this school in Columbus start?"
"Soon. In mid-September."
Esme's parents looked at each other wide-eyed as time seemed to churn faster. Mrs. Platt said slowly, "Well..." There was an implied doubt.
In that one drawn out word, Esme's breath hitched with horror. Esme's heart tumbled in a flood of anxiety and hope. The path her life could go was ablaze with sudden clarity. Surely there must be a way for her to go!
Mr. Platt cut her off. "Laura, please." He gave her a pacifying look. "Miss Lumley, thank you for coming all the way out here. We weren't expecting this at all. It's a big decision, and we'll want some time before we do any choosing."
"Of course," Miss Lumley said gracefully, setting her lemonade down on the wood table and standing to the sound of rubbing petticoats. The Platts all stood as well. "Tell me of your decision soon. There will be little time as it is to prepare everything."
"You have our word we will," Mrs. Platt said as they walked the short distance to the front door. Esme followed, her steps excited by her exhilaration. "Within a few days." She opened the front door with a creak and the sunlight flooded in as if the light had been leaning against the door the whole time.
Miss Lumley gave a slight nod to the Platts and tied on her hat. She turned to Esme, standing a little back from her parents. "Esme, I have the highest faith in you. I think this is the opportunity of a lifetime; I hope you take it." Esme couldn't agree more.
With a last round of good wishes, the door closed behind Miss Lumley and the restrained atmosphere broke down.
"Forty dollars!" exclaimed her mother, her hair all awry and fluttering her hands. "Absolutely not!"
"But Laura, Esme'll have a real education."
"And oh, being in town! What kind of society would that be? We don't know anything about this Miss Langston!"
"Mother!" Esme broke in. "We've known Miss Lumley for so long. If she says her academy's good, I'm sure it is."
"But you'll be so far away!"
"Fifteen miles! It'll be a morning's wagon ride."
"Who'll take care of you?"
"I'll be fine!"
"I don't want you to go!"
Mr. Platt turned to his wife. "Laura, it won't be so bad. We have cousins in Columbus, and I know Mary and Thomas will be more than enough support."
"John," hissed Mrs. Platt. She was looking at him with shrewd, calculating eyes. "Where will we get forty dollars from? We don't even have enough to buy another tin of saltines!"
"Father, I've got a few dollars stored up," said Esme. "I'll be able to be a teacher after schooling ends."
Mrs. Platt huffed. "Don't go spending all that money!"
John drew himself up. "Esme is fifteen. She can do what she wants with her money." Mrs. Platt opened her mouth to argue, but Mr. Platt cut her off. "She's dead set on going to this school. I'll make it happen. We'll just not be getting the new tractor as soon. And that is that."
In that moment, a grin that shone with the sun she loved broke out on Esme's face. She gave a grateful and exhilarated hug to her father, thanking him. She was going to Columbus! Esme dashed out the back door. Her boots pounded through the grassy yard, her heart thudding, her caramel hair wild, until she was back at her favorite oak tree. Esme reached up, and with the grace of one familiar with the route, loped around the branches and pulled herself up.
It wasn't long before she was standing on the same branch she sat on less than an hour ago. If she had any space left in her mind after the shock, she would've marveled at how quickly things changed. From here, she could see the small figure of Miss Lumley walking to her home in Milton. She longed to scream out "I'm going! I'm going!" but she was too far away.
Instead, Esme, with the sun blazing overhead, surrounded with summer leaves, looked out towards Columbus. Her brown eyes were ablaze, her heart counting down the days. With the wind pulling back her hair in waving tresses and her dress rippling backwards, Esme might as well have been flying.
1. The February 16-18, 1910 snowstorms of Ohio led to 29.2 inches of snow that month in the Columbus area.
2. "Come Josephine, In My Flying Machine" was first a hit in 1910. Whimsical lyrics include "Whoa, dear, don't hit the moon!" It was a bigger hit when made into a duet in 1911. We know it better as the song Jack sings to Rose on the prow of the Titanic in April, 1912 ("I'm flying, Jack!")
3. Sermons for Young Women, or Fordyce's Sermons, was published in 1766 by Dr. James Fordyce, with the purpose of encouraging ladylike behavior and male supremacy (yuck.)
4. Esme's reading The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, a classic and highly influential book also known as The History. Theses include that the Romans' civic virtue declined and they fell into sloth by outsourcing Rome's defense to barbarians or foreigners and the more controversial claim that the rise of Christianity caused Romans to hope for a better heaven rather than bettering their earthly existence.
5. Until the 1920s-30s, wedding dresses were usually in contemporary styles as compared to now, where designs are based on Victorian gowns. Those who couldn't afford or were too practical to have a new dress for their wedding just wore their best outfits.