Becoming a Cullen

[As always, I so much appreciate everyone who takes the time to leave a review. Really helps motivate me. Also, as always, many thanks to Ms. Meyer for letting us borrow her world and her fabulous cast of characters. Best wishes, Kelli]

Chapter 11. A Gift with Unexpected Consequences

Jasper Whitlock

A gentle mist sifted down from the heavy bank of clouds. Esme, her hair piled up under a brimmed straw hat, was standing beside me in the backyard. Standing beside me and not even thinking about it. It was better than a lack of fear. She trusted me. Felt protected with me near her. Made me uncomfortable and appreciated at the same time. Another big change this morning was watching all of the Cullen 'children' going to school. For the first time no watchdog was left behind. None of them, not even Edward, felt any concerns about leaving me alone with Esme.

Carlisle was at work. I'd felt his reluctance and worry fighting his sense of duty, but with Esme encouraging him, he'd left for the hospital. Wish I understood how he managed to do it. The idea of a vampire doctor was strange enough, but a surgeon? His hands dipped into their helpless bodies as he cut into them. Felt their hot blood flowing, seeing it, smelling it; the idea filled my mouth with venom. How in God's name did he resist? Can't help marveling at his self-control.

Traveling with Peter and Charlotte, I'd learned to tolerate being around humans without giving into my thirst for days at a time. Not the way the Cullens did though. Except for fleeting moments, I couldn't pretend to be human, interact with them. Too damn hard to ignore the temptation, when I ached for their blood, wanting that taste in my mouth, wanting the deep satisfaction that came from feeding. No matter what killing did to me as my gift joined me to my victims as they died, I craved it. Even now, long after Alice had taught me that our kind could live off animals that thirst for human blood dominated me. It was a battle every day to overcome it. She swore it would get easier.

Kept waiting for that day to come.

"Right there."

Esme interrupted my thoughts. Finished poring over her landscape design, she was pointed to a space between two pines. "That's where the Rose of Sharon and the rhododendrons will go. Then we can plant the daffodils and lily-of-the-valley underneath them. I'll start outlining the beds, and then would you start the edging?"

I nodded. Esme was planning to enlarge the flower garden that defined the backyard. She'd asked me if I wanted to help. I didn't mind. Time had never mattered to me once I was changed. Since Alice had decided to go to school, it was if I could feel every minute drag by. It was good to have something to keep me busy. Every so often, I'd get anxious and have to duck back into the house to check the time. Three-thirty seemed like a long time away.

Guess it was about the fifth time I went back into the house that Esme gave me a long look. Her face changed. I felt a thrill of pleasure touch me.

"Excuse me." Esme walked into the house.

Didn't like what I was feeling from her. Maria had looked at me like that sometimes. What she did to me next was usually bad. Wary, I listened to Esme's progress in the house. She went directly to the rooms she shared with Carlisle. I heard a drawer slide open, then shut. A pause. Then Esme came back out, carrying something small in one hand. Everything I'd learned about her told me that I had nothing to fear from her, but I couldn't help tensing.

"I wanted to give you something. It's not much, just a hand-me-down," Esme said. "Thought it might help while you're waiting for Alice to come home instead of having to check the clock all the time."

She handed me a squarish flat box, its tan leather worn by time. A man's gold pocket watch was inside. A thick twisted gold chain ran through my fingers as I lifted the watch. Inside the domed cover was a classical scene of women in flowing robes dancing under a full moon. Tiny diamond chips filled the navy sky with stars, with a full moon cut from a white gemstone. The clock face was pale gold dial with the numbers and hands in black. One cutout on the clock face had an image of the moon in its proper phase, decorated in more enamel, and another cutout showed the date. I'd rarely seen anything so fine. "Thank you, Esme. It's a mighty handsome piece."

"I set to the right time." Then she added, "It was my father's."

Felt as if I'd been punched in the gut. Couldn't even speak for a moment. She gave me her father's watch. Mute, I held it out. Couldn't take it. Wasn't right.

Esme laughed. "You gave me my life, Jasper. What's a watch to that? Please take it. It'll make me happy. Can't you tell?"

Her pleasure was real. I managed a smile, and said, "Thank you." After slipping the watch into my jacket pocket, I buttoned it to make sure it wouldn't fall out. Turned away to hide my face. Went back to hauling mulch and manure, making sure to keep my emotions reined in tight. Didn't want her to know what I was feeling. Confused, mostly. Uncomfortable. Couldn't help wondering what her motive was in giving me such a personal gift. With Maria, her pleasure had often meant my pain. The Cullen's affection for Esme made it clear that she wasn't like that. Or was she simply more subtle? She must know what kind of problems giving me such a personal, expensive gift would cause. Maybe she liked causing turmoil. Guess I'd find out when the rest of them came back this afternoon.

Esme knelt down, using a garden hose to outline the bed. It took her a while before she was happy with the design. Then it was my turn. I dug in the stony dirt and laid down gravel, then a row of bricks. Together we turned the soil, adding the manure and mulch. The deep scent of the earth, the familiar work reminded me of my father's farm. Had to push unwelcome snatches of memories away. Didn't like to remember that time. Hurt too much to think about what I'd lost.

Insisting that we work at human speed, it took the rest of the day to finish planting the bushes and the scores of bulbs Esme has bought. Every once in a while, I pulled out the watch to check the time, wiping my hands carefully before I handled it. Before we finished, the rain that had been threatening all day started. When we were done, Esme looked at me and laughed. "You look like you've been rolling around in the mud." She gingerly poked at her hair where it had fallen out from her hat. Amused, she added, "I probably look worse."

Knowing better than to criticize any woman's appearance, I just smiled and shook my head. She was right though. She was black mud from head to toe.

"Guess we better shower and change before our family get home."

I nodded. "I'll put the tools away."

"Thank you, Jasper. It was good to have your help today."

"You're welcome." Course she hadn't needed my help. Working at vampire speed and strength, she could have gotten the entire garden planted in very little time. Was still grateful for something to fill the empty hours waiting for Alice. Since Carlisle hadn't mentioned releasing me from my punishment, I couldn't retreat to my usual method of passing the time. No books, except for the one Carlisle had given me. Would have to read it someday, but couldn't face it right now.

Took my time in cleaning the tools, storing them into Esme's immaculate tool shed. It was tempting to jump into the lake to get the dirt off, as I would have done when I was with Maria or as a nomad, but the Cullens had a different idea of what clean meant. Alice did too. Dutifully, I stripped down and took a shower, changed into clean clothes.

When the watch reported that it was three-thirty, I went to wait in the porch. Picked a place near the door with three escape paths. Didn't want to be backed into a corner. Thought it best to be prepared for the likely reactions from the Cullens. As I waited, the rain stopped, the clouds drifting apart, letting the golden autumn sunlight through.

As always, it was a relief to sense Alice's presence as they returned from school. The car stopped in front of the house. Alice, the sun setting her sparkling, jumped out and raced up the stairs before the others. Her eyes bright, she said, "Let me see!"

Didn't have to guess what she was asking about. I handed her the watch. "Gorgeous, isn't it?" Keeping my voice casual, I asked, "Did you tell the others about it?"

Preoccupied with opening and examining the watch, Alice nodded.

Damn. Alice wasn't worried, but I knew too well how limited her gift could sometimes be when emotions were involved. Didn't want her to be around when the three Cullens reached the door. Been careful not to make decisions, not to think about anything more than reacting to any situation since this morning. "Would you put it upstairs on the bureau? Thought I'd rake some leaves and I don't want to drop it."

Alice flashed me a questioning look, then shrugged. "Okay."

Emmett and Edward with Rosalie trailing behind walked up the stairs. I tensed.

"Now your arm," Alice said. "Let me see."

"It's healed." It wasn't the right time to do this.

"Jasper."

Knew that tone. Knew Alice wouldn't quit when she thought something was important. I wanted her gone, safe inside the house. Fastest way to do that was to give her what she wanted. Pushed up my sleeve. The slanting afternoon light flowed like water across me. It highlighted the scars that so battered my skin that it muted the normal rainbow effect. Just another sign that I was different.

"See? All healed." Tugged my arm away and put her behind me as I walked toward the stairs, pretending that I was going to start raking. Couldn't do anything more to urge Alice inside or she'd know something was going on. All I could do now was to get the Cullens away from her so I walked down the front steps, past the weight of their eyes on me. They'd seen my exposed arm. Their emotions were what I expected. Surprise, mostly. Rosalie's disgust was stronger than any other emotion. Couldn't help flinching at that.

"Exactly how many fights have you been in?" Emmett asked, a tough of awe in his voice.

With an immortal's memory, I suppose I could have counted every fight. Not much point to it. Shrugged as my answer. Thankfully, I heard Alice going inside. Started thinking that maybe Alice's insistence at checking my wound had worked as a great distraction from Esme's gift.

"That's right," Edward said. "Esme gave you her father's watch."

Damn it. He'd plucked the thought right from my head. Emmett and Rosalie exchanged a look.

"That was nice of her," Edward continued.

"Yeah," Emmett said. Beside him, Rosalie gave an audible sniff and walked into the house. Uninterested.

I froze in shock. Couldn't sense a single hint of the emotions I'd expected. Maria had made me her general, a position that the others resented, but tolerated. Yet, whenever Maria had given me a personal gift, every newborn had been flooded with jealousy, resentment, anger and greed. Experience had taught me that the minute I loosened my leash on their tempers, a fight would start. A fight that wouldn't end until Maria's gift was destroyed. Or I was forced to kill. Truth was that I never fought that hard to keep them. Was more interested in preserving the peace among the newborns than in Maria's 'gifts'. I'd often suspected Maria 'rewarded' me to keep the newborns hating me, as if to make sure I couldn't turn her army against her.

Emmett nudged Edward. "What's wrong with him?"

"He's shocked that we're not jealous about the watch," Edward said. "He thinks we should want to fight over it and take it away from him."

"Why? I got a dozen watches. Including ones that Carlisle and Esme gave me."

"Maria. Seems she liked to cause Jasper trouble," Edward said, his tone flat.

"Oh." Emmett. Muttering something that sounded like bitch, he said louder. "Jasper, I'm glad Esme gave you her watch, okay?"

Another nudge from Edward and they both walked past me to the door. Then Emmett stopped dead in his tracks. His mood changed, excitement and anticipation racing through him. He turned to face me with a grin."Wait a sec'. I changed my mind. I am gonna' fight you for the watch."

Knew immediately it wasn't about the watch. Emmett had been waiting for a chance to test himself against me. However, I'd seen Emmett take down prey, mock-fight with Edward. His attacks reminded me too much of a newborn. Didn't want to hurt him, but I knew my instincts would betray me. Hadn't known him long enough to trust him, bone deep, the way I trusted Peter. Thought I'd be able to keep from killing him, but it would be hard.

Alice yelled something, but I couldn't hear the words as I watched Emmett stalk forward. I growled a warning but he took no notice. Big hands reached out toward me. Before he touched me, Emmett was hauled backward with a jerk. Then he was flying out over the car.

"Oh yeah?" Edward taunted Emmett. "You only get to fight Jasper if you get through me first." Without taking eyes off his indignant brother, Edward said, very fast. "Get out of the house. I'm going to have to wear him out before I can talk any sense into him."

"Thanks."

Edward nodded, then darted down the stairs to meet Emmett's charge, laughing.

Yes, my initial impression was right. This is a very weird family.