A/N: I'm not dead, unwell or missing. Real Life occurred in abundance and then I found myself without internet access for a very long time. Here is a short but significant chapter to ease myself back in for those of you still out there.

Disclaimer: I do not own any poetry written by Sylvia Plath or anything written by Stephenie Meyer.

17. Esme

"But in twenty five years she'll be silver,

In fifty, gold.

A living doll, everywhere you look

It can sew, it can cook,

It can talk, talk, talk."

The Applicant by Sylvia Plath

Alice was getting very annoyed, and as a consequence so was I. With all the bitching and grumbling she'd been doing for the past fifteen minutes I was just about ready to pull over, kick her out and tell her to walk. Although as I was relying on her for directions I was just going have to put up with it and control myself. As long as she shut the hell up.

It had started off fine, she'd been cheeky, merry and well; Alice. We'd chatted, laughed and generally forgot all about the other crap and just enjoyed each others company. But as soon as we hit the (whatever it's called) she'd gotten increasingly more and more annoyed with my truck, and my driving.

"How can you even own a truck this old? Where the hell did you find it?" She said darkly to me, slumped back into the seat with her eyes narrowed. However the jolting of my truck tossed her up and down, ruining her attempt to be taken seriously. I laughed before answering.

"I found it in Glen Ellyn actually, when I first moved. And it's not that old. 1984 thank you very much." I said primly.

"More like 1904...." I ignored her jibe and concentrated on driving. I was careful of my speed, constantly checking the speedometer. There was a time I was reluctant to drive at all, even more so to get in a car. My father had understood.

But when I moved to Glen Ellyn I had passed a truck for sale as I was exploring the town. A white 1984 Chevrolet Scottsdale. At first I had baulked and avoided the street, but I couldn't stop thinking about it, and rather than becoming another unwelcome haunting reminder of what was, it became a comfort. I bought it with my first pay-check writing the horoscopes and the savings I'd stored up working various jobs ever since I was fourteen.

It guzzled gas, was incredibly loud and had no suspension at all. But I loved it, cared for it and drove it rarely.

This trip was the longest it had ever taken, and if it could make it this far, maybe it could go a bit further. When the time was right.

Alice found my slow driving annoying, the jolting of my truck infuriating and it's inability to block out the sound of the road unacceptable. I could sympathize but her constant criticisms were starting to wear and right in the middle of one of her rants at how she would willingly have taken no luggage at all if it meant we could have gone in her car I interrupted her and changed the subject,

"Seriously Bella, I'd throw the fucking case out the win-" Her arms held up in a miming throwing action toward the window, her head towards me with wide serious eyes.

"Why would Edward tell me not to listen to what his father says about him?" My tone was light, enquiring. But my hands convulsively gripped the steering wheel, the only indication of how much I wanted to hear the answer to my question.

Alice whipped her head round to face forward and shut her open mouth with a snap. I returned my eyes to the road ahead, a light rain had begun to fall. Descending on the zooming cars like a mist as evening rolled around.

"Dad can be very harsh about Edward that's all." Alice said finally after a long moment of silence. I switched my windscreen wipers on and thought about her answer.

"Why?" I asked, narrowing my eyes on the road ahead as the rain grew heavier.

"Dad struggles with disappointment." Her voice was quiet and out of the corner of my eye I could see she had turned to look out her window, her hands gripping each other in her lap.

I opened my mouth to ask another question but found my voice had gone, I swallowed and took a breath before trying again.

"Most fathers do." My voice came out rough and my eyes felt wet. I blinked them away and tried to ignore the turbulence of my emotions.

Alice switched the radio on and we spent the rest of the drive listening to an old country station, both lost in our thoughts and completely silent. Aside from the few comments Alice made to me about which turning to take.

About what Alice was thinking I guessed it to be Jasper or her Mom.

I thought about Edward.

I knew so much and yet so little about him. I knew what he liked, what he disliked. What would fire him up or calm him down. I knew exactly how he thought and how he acted, without even realising. I found the way I acted around him was always a reflection of his mood. If he seemed sombre I would try to cheer him, if he was happy I would bask in it.

But there was still so much unknown about him. He had still not talked about his wife to me, yet the way he acted sometimes made me believe it must be due to grief. He would slip into broodful silences if topics strayed toward marriage, and I saw him play with his wedding band when agitated. In those moments I would chastise myself for the softening of my feelings towards him, when he so clearly still loved his wife, but I...

He was not meant for me.

It was with melancholy spirits Alice and I pulled into her parents' drive, a wealthy looking neighbourhood about three hours from Glen Ellyn. Gravel crunched under my tyres as I pulled up to the tall, dark imposing house. I turned off my ignition and peered out of the windscreen at Mr and Mrs Cullens' sprawling property. The house was a huge black blot against the dark blue sky, the house situated in the middle of a huge lawn edged with dense forestry that could easily make you think you were in the middle of the wood if it weren't for the distant drone of the highway the other side of the trees.

Alice hopped out the truck and I heard her grunt of effort as she tugged her case out. I followed behind her with a start as I tore my wide eyes away from the enormity I was faced with. Together we lugged our cases up to the front step and Alice rapped quickly on the door, her face brighter at seeing her parents soon. She shot me an easy smile which although intended to, did not settle my nerves in any way. My breaths came out in shallow pants and my palms grew clammy as we waited for the door to open.

Finally the door opened, as I tried to focus on the why I was so nervous rather than the feelings of nerves themselves, the heavy green door pulled open to reveal a tall shadowy figure so similar in stature to Edward I gulped. I knew it wasn't but I suddenly wished so very much it was him.

Alice rushed at the figure, clamping her arms around him. I heard a chortle and the man's arms came around her hugging her tightly to him. She pulled back and I could see, who I presumed to be her father due to the startling likeness to Edward, beaming down at her.

She turned round to me, with the giddy, merry smile I always associated with Alice and beckoned me forward into the hall.

"Bella this is my uncle, Carlisle. Carlisle this is my friend Bella." She neatly made the introduction, gestured towards first Carlisle then myself with her hand and stood back to observe our meeting. I however just stood there with my mouth wide open thinking I'd just wandered onto the set of a soap opera. Not only was the man standing in front of me very handsome for someone in their late fifties, he was also the blond version of Edward. Right down to the eyes.

I dreaded to think how many closets this family needed for their skeletons.

"I'm very pleased to meet you." Carlisle said politely, a bemused expression on his face in reaction to my frozen stance.

"Likewise." I replied dazedly. Carlisle smiled kindly then pulled our cases in and stood them by the broad staircase which took up most of the hall.

"Everyone's in the living room." he said and turned to lead the way, Alice by his side and me following behind mired in confusion.

We passed shining pictures and mirrors through hallways too dark to make much out in, and as Carlisle and Alice chatted I searched for answers. Either this was Edward's mother's or father's twin or-- Edward's paternity was questionable. It would certainly explain the stark differences in personality between Edward and Alice.

We reached a worn wooden door which Carlisle pushed open with a creak and inside nestled on sofas on opposite sides of the room were two people. Edward's mother and--father.

Edward's father was tall like Carlisle and judging from the nose and shape face clearly brothers. In terms of biological fatherhood my money was still on Carlisle though. Alice had her father's eyes and smile, a neat looking grin that hid the bottom teeth and showed a glimpse of the top. He was not as lean as Carlisle and he looked the elder. His dark brown hair had streaks of grey threaded through, the only trait he appeared to share with Edward.

"This is my father, Charles Cullen." Alice said, turned slightly to me. "Dad, this is Bella." He rose and walked with an easy swagger towards me. His grin melted into a slow smile and he gently shook my hand. "I've heard much about you young lady. Nice to finally put a face to the name." He said with a piercing stare that seemed to go right through my skin, deep into my bones. He released my hand and slowly stepped back, but his gaze lingered and I grew red under his scrutiny.

"And this is my mother Esme." Alice declared in a thin voice, she moved aside so I could walk across the room to her mother. I could see from the door it was necessary.

Esme lay across the sofa dressed in a sage green nightgown, a white fleecy hat covered what I assumed to be her bare head. Her face was drawn and gaunt, grey hollows were under her eyes which appeared dim and tired. Her long neck was thin, veins and cartilage prominent. Her collar bones protruded and on her left side coming out of her skin were three tubes. The cuts surrounded them a violent red and edged with purpled bruising. A bag held the three tubes that sprouted from Esme's fragile body, and even though I knew what it was and thought I was prepared to see it and not react I knew it showed on my face. Understanding dawned on Esme's face and she held out a weak hand that grasped mine feebly and I caught it like a dead weight.

"Pleased to meet you." I said quietly, biting my lip and praying she was not hurt by the pity that must have shone from my eyes.

"You too." She replied, her voice breathy and so very quiet. Yet it was gentle and soft. She looked soft, and feminine. And motherly. Despite the severity of her thin body, and lost hair there was a quality to her that made me want to lay my head down, burrow into her stomach so that she might stroke my hair and sing me to sleep. I covered her cold hand with my own and squeezed it gently.

Alice came up behind me and leaned down to kiss her mother on the cheek.

"Hey mom, how are you?" Alice asked, kneeling down by her head. I went to let go of Esme's hand but she weakly kept hold, I knelt beside Alice and rested my hand on the sofa seat.

"Bit tired today, I must look a fright." She replied with a weak chuckle at the end. Followed by a wide yawn.

"I'll help you upstairs Esme if you like? You said you just wanted to wait until the girls got here." Carlisle said, moving to stand behind us. Charles stepped forward. "Don't worry Carlisle. I am perfectly able of helping my wife to bed. Why don't you go serve dinner. You're the chef after all." Charles said pleasantly, I glanced at Alice who appeared to be studiously ignoring the veiled jibe and just smiling steadily at her mother. Esme reached out her free hand and rested it on Alice's head, she turned into it and laid her head down on the sofa, smiling softly.

"It's alright, the girls can help me up." Esme said, ending the debate before Carlisle could answer. Esme retracted both hands and pushed herself up slowly into a sitting position. Following Alice's lead I took Esme's elbow and we got her to her feet. She was slightly shorter than I was in height, and her diminutive stature made her appear smaller still. Her back hunched slightly, and I saw her wince as the bag holding her Hickman line swayed. Alice placed a comforting hand high on her mother's back and the three of us made a slow procession to the door. Stopping only for Charles to kiss his wife on the forehead goodnight. His kiss was a quick peck that made no noise and was over in the blink of an eye. Carlisle stepped up to Esme next to Alice and bent in to kiss her on the cheek, taking more care and time than Charles. It was still done in a matter of seconds but from where I was standing I saw Esme briefly shut her eyes, and Carlisle's nose graze her cheek. Shivers ran down my spine and I looked away. This woman whose body I helped to hold up seemed to me a tragic character indeed, I was eager to know her better.

As though nothing had happened, as though Carlisle's momentary display of affection meant nothing we helped Esme to her room, a pastel coloured room of many shades and large soft looking furniture. She fell into her bed and with a quiet goodnight to both of us she fell asleep, Alice laid the covers over her and kissed her mother on the cheek. She stood up and looked down on her sleeping mother, gently she slid the hat off of Esme's head revealing tiny soft, baby looking hairs growing over Esme's scalp. They glinted red in the lamp-light. I felt Alice's arm shaking next to mine, I turned and saw her quietly sobbing. Both hands clasped over her mouth letting only tiny gasps escape. I put my arms around Alice and rubbed her back, my throat closed and I felt my eyes fill with tears at the pain this house seemed to hold. And the secrets, and lies.

Alice sniffed and drew back, nodding when I whispered if she was alright.

"I'm sorry, I just-- She looks worse than I thought. I haven't seen her in a few weeks and that fucking Hickman line gave her an infection. I didn't see how ill it made her, I only knew what Dad told me." She whispered fiercely.

"Why does she still have it if it gave her an infection?" I asked.

"She has so many fluids pumped into her veins it's quicker and 'less invasive' if the tubes are already there. Apparently it's better to not have to keep making new holes. Although personally I can't see how having one great big gaping hole permanently in your chest is any better." She spat bitterly. I looked down on Esme, her eyes moved quickly under her lips and she began to breathe out quiet snores. The room felt peaceful and tranquil, Alice turned out the lamp and for a moment we stood in the darkness. Watching over her sleeping mother and listening to the rain patter against the window pane.

The dining room was laid out simply and Charles and Carlisle had already begun when we walked through the door. Alice's tears had dried but her cheeks looked pink and I saw Charles look closely at her. Carlisle noticed too but looked away and smiled at me. We took our places and ate the chicken casserole Carlisle had cooked, I spoke little and it was mainly Alice and Charles who filled the silence. I could see Alice's animation in Charles, they had similar mannerisms and quirks.

Nothing of consequence was spoken of and Edward wasn't mentioned. They asked how the drive went, Charles asked after Jasper. Alice said little in response but enough to satisfy him. Afterwards we returned to the living room and Charles poured a glass of scotch for himself and Carlisle. It was not offered to Alice and I.

We sat in the living room a little while, conversation gradually dwindled and when Alice and I began yawning more and more we decided on an early night. Carlisle helped me up with my case, Charles carried the larger of Alice's two and she the other. I was to stay in one of the three spare rooms, Carlisle was in another. He was staying at the house too for the anniversary, and as an extra doctor on hand should Esme get another infection. Something I learnt she was particularly vulnerable to, if the Hickman line wasn't cleaned properly she'd get another and may not be as lucky next time.

My room was of decent size, near the bathroom but far from the family. It seemed the house was divided in half, on one the family stayed, on the other visitors. I found it telling Carlisle was designated to the visitor's half.

I sleepily unpacked my case, stuffing contents in drawers of the huge antique dresser and in the wardrobe with mirrored doors. The room had an antique feel to it, the bed a heavy wooden frame with a curtainless four poster frame.

On my way to the bathroom I looked at the many pictures that adorned the walls. I stopped in front of a photo showing a young Edward blowing out candles on a cake, his family around him smiling and clapping. Esme standing behind him looking so young and vibrant; her light brown hair fell in waves around her face and her body shone with health and vitality. On Edward's other side Charles stood also, younger but still much the same. He was ruffling Edward's hair, his other hand laid on Edward's shoulder to keep him in place. The smile on his face looked predatory more than fatherly, it unnerved me. And towards the back, behind others in the photo who I would possibly meet at the party, stood Carlisle. Only his head and shoulders were visible, he wore large rectangular framed glasses which reflected the light, his eyes hidden behind the lenses. But the smile on his face, the huge smile spread across his face made me feel so sad. He looked so proud, and so loving at the five year old Edward blowing his candles out with all his might.

I couldn't look away from Carlisle's face, because in that face I saw Edward. So distinctly. His hair cast in shadow looked brown, the features so startlingly similar. And I recognised that smile, I knew I had seen it on Edward's face before. It wasn't often Edward smiled so openly, very rare in fact. I thought back, cycling through my memories of him like pages in a photo album.

And then I remembered, the recollection made my hand shake as I reached up and traced the smile with my fingertip. That night in Alice's kitchen, when she'd made me laugh so hard after telling a joke. I was bent in double caught between trying to laugh and breath. The kitchen door squeaked open, and I lifted my head to see Edward's head poked through the doorway and beaming at me so brilliantly I couldn't look away. That loving and proud smile on Carlisle's face in the photo was on Edward's when he looked at me in that moment, that fleeting, significant moment. But I did not dare to decipher the meaning of it, I was sure it would break my heart.

I turned from the photo, but carried this new sensitivity with me into my sleep. That night my dreams twisted and turned, surrealist scenes littered the night and haunted me in the morning. I remember waking sobbing, my face dry but my mouth gasping out heartbroken cries. It made me wonder if it was possible to be in love with two men, was there room in my heart for two? But to me my heart was a barren wasteland, hollow and derelict. I could not nurture this sapling of affection, it would be kinder on Edward not to.

But later, as I fell asleep in my big, soft bed I let my mind run on pleasant fantasies. I allowed myself to imagine what it would be like, if I did.

A/N: Thanks for sticking with me, review if you forgive me for my awfully long absence.