It wasn't always as easy as relearning my arpeggios. Quite often, whether it was upon being taught something in a manner I conceived to be condescending or whether it was upon discovering that brushing my hair required far more delicacy than once it did, I would fly into a sudden rage or a sudden despair. It was just so different! My life had been static from birth to death; always had I been the favourite daughter, the prized child. It had been a simple progression from indulged girl to an accomplished young lady. This transition was anything but simple.
My three compatriots never begrudged me my outbursts. They let me weep or seethe as the mood struck me, and when I was recovered, there was always Esme, waiting to talk to me, or a piece of music waiting for me on the piano's music rest. Had I been in any mind to appreciate anything, I might have appreciated that Edward didn't impose his company on me, instead leaving me to pick through the piece alone.
Time passed in this manner, and I gradually found myself relaxing properly into the company of this strange little family. Esme became the sister I never had, an older sister who wanted not to compete with me, but to help me. This was one change that I could not resent. Such a gentle soul she was; it seemed impossible that she could ever cause pain to anyone. As I opened up further to her, it never once felt that I was forced into this new relationship through lack of other contact. I genuinely wanted this bond with her.
For one thing, it was easier to learn from her how to be a vampire. I did not want any condescension from a man, not even one such as Carlisle. Far less shameful to be taught by Esme, who was the last to learn, who understood better than the men my desire for modesty. Where before I had considered this location remote and alien, now I welcomed it for its isolation. There was no chance that we would run into a human, and so I could go to hunt with only Esme to take care of me. It was with her that I first gloried in the sight of my sparkling skin. It was with her that I practiced my hunting technique. And it was with her that I slowly began to accept that being a vampire could become normality.
Slowly, we began to learn each other's lives. She encouraged me to relive my human memories, and so I told her of my parents, my brother, my friends. In return, she recounted to me her upbringing, her escape, her second life, as she called it. She did not discuss her first marriage. I did not raise the topic of my fiancé. We would, I sensed, but not yet. The closest we ever got was our discussion of her family.
Our family? No, not quite. If I had to use the analogy of relatives, I would perhaps consider myself a cousin. There was no shared history between us, no shared traits. Furthermore, I could not nominate myself Rosalie Cullen. That simply wasn't me. I was Rosalie Hale, and I felt sure I would be for evermore. Too many times had I heard those words, hissed almost out of earshot: "That's Rosalie Hale." It was part of my charm, that I was a Hale. There was part of me that couldn't give that up.
It was one night, after we had hunted and I had kept for the first time the entirety of my dress, that I asked about her entrance into the family.
"Did you find it difficult?"
She inclined her head. "Yes and no. Yes in that I was very uncontrolled as a newborn. I found it hard to control my emotions, harder than you do. You know in what circumstances my first life ended; those emotions stayed with me. What was more, we were closer to a human town. I… I killed a man."
Her voice was no more than a breath as she made this admission. I was certainly shocked, but I didn't blame her, and that shocked me further. Still, I had had drummed into me many a time the impossibility of resisting a human scent so young.
"What was worse, he had a family. Two daughters and a wife. And I… But even Carlisle, who hates murder so vehemently, he never once let me take responsibility for that," she said. "I was never sure whether it would have been better had he blamed me. At least then I could have felt my own guilt, without worrying over his. He blamed himself, for leaving me alone, as did Edward. They accepted me so easily." Here, she smiled. "Carlisle knew me from when I was a foolish child of sixteen with a broken leg. On some level, we loved each other even then. There was never any notion that he could decide not to accept me, even if I took a while to realise that."
"Your relationship." I paused, unsure how to word my rather crude question. "It's different to a human one, isn't it?"
"I've never had anything to which I can compare it," she reminded me, causing me to flinch before I could stop myself. "But from what I've felt, and seen, and from what Carlisle has told me, vampiric relationships are very different to those of humans. For example, there has never been a record of a vampire leaving their mate. Never. Even for those who... are more violent, less sociable, they mate for life, however long that may be."
I knew she was talking of human drinkers, of natural vampires. The idea still disgusted me, though I had never yet been exposed to that temptation.
"Still, it's very rare for vampires to stay in groups of more than two. As a rule, we're more… animalistic. And those who are not mates are far more likely to go their own ways. The competition for food drives most covens to separate."
"Why did Edward stay with Carlisle, then?" I asked, my curiosity piqued.
Esme considered my question. "I don't know, at least not after Edward first… acclimatised. He needed help with his gift, and with his thirst. A few months, though, and he could have left. Perhaps he wanted company, perhaps he had grown accustomed to having Carlisle's mind around. Whatever it was, he grew to love Carlisle." Her smile was nostalgic. "I wish you could have seen them, back then. They were such a pair; you could almost believe they shared one mind. Before I knew about the mindreading, that's what I thought it was."
This was not what I saw day to day between the two of them. "What happened?" I probed.
With a sigh, Esme closed her eyes briefly. "I did," she told me. "I replaced Edward in Carlisle's affections. Of course, we couldn't help it; imagine meeting your soulmate. We were utterly inseparable. That's hard enough for anyone on the outside, but for a mindreader? And neither of us noticed before it was too late..."
"Too late?" I questioned.
Now she looked at me as though she were almost nervous. "Please don't think less of him," she said.
"Edward. He… he left us for a while. For four years. He… didn't want to live like us anymore."
As far as I could tell, she was making little sense. "In what way?"
Her eyes were full of pain as she whispered her response. "Our diet."
I was standing yards away before I realised I had even reacted. Esme stood to face me, to beg me: "He only took those who were themselves preying on society. The criminals, the murderers, the... He didn't take innocents. And he came back. Don't judge him too harshly."
"But he was a murderer!"
I saw how much it cost her to say: "So was I."
That drew me up short. Even if she had never intended to kill, she had. And her victim had not been a criminal, but an ordinary man. Without thinking about it, I touched the fingers of my left hand onto the ring that still adorned my right.
Wasn't I intending, too, to be a murderer?
I hadn't thought much on my plans for retribution on Royce. I hadn't forgotten, because it was impossible, but I hadn't exactly considered it for much time. Once or twice it had strayed into my mind, but I had let the thought drift away equally quickly. For one thing, there was no point thinking on my plan when I had no way of implementing it. I couldn't venture into human territory without wanting to drink from them, something I swore I would never do. I couldn't even consider going anywhere near Royce for fear that I might drink from him, and that was almost more repugnant than the idea of killing an innocent. Why, I wasn't sure. It was something to do with my desire to have no connection with him. Carlisle's venom had burnt away the signs of Roy's attack; I didn't want to taint this new body as my human one had been tainted.
Time, therefore, was one factor. Another was simply practicalities. I couldn't let Carlisle or Esme know of my plans. How they would disagree! They would try so hard to stop me, and I couldn't let that happen. As much as I couldn't stand the idea of killing any random human, neither could I stand the idea of leaving Royce alive. As such, I could not fail. I wanted his murder to be planned and foolproof, and I wanted him to be waiting for it.
Small ideas had already come to me. It would not be hard to find out where Royce was living, if indeed he had even moved. I could simply telephone the bank where he worked and claim to be my own cousin.
Still, there were other factors to which I did want to give more thought. For instance, Royce was not my only attacker.
I knew them all. Henry Westhorpe, who worked at the bank. Richard Worth, who had attended school with my brother. William Mountview, whose father I knew had approached mine over the possibilities of a match between us. John Townsend, who lived in Atlanta and had come up to Rochester for the wedding.
Atlanta was not far from the Smoky Mountains. Not for me, at least.
This was a factor which I had been contemplating more and more, recently. I did not want to rush my revenge on Royce. I did not want to in any way jeopardise my one chance of ending his life as he had mine. John Townsend, I cared about little. His death could be messy, a trial run, a dress rehearsal, and it wouldn't bother me.
It would also mean that Royce would know I was coming.
Yet it wasn't as easy as heading off now to Atlanta. Even without the bloodlust, I simply wouldn't know what to do. I was fairly sure I could remain in the shadows, hide myself under cover of night, but I would have to find him, and find him alone. I would have to ensure he couldn't make a noise. Then I would have to kill him without alerting anyone to my presence. And finally, I would have to leave without letting anyone suspect me.
This last, I felt, was hardly an issue. Why would any authority suspect a dead woman? If they were to put suspicion on anyone, it would be on my family, my brother perhaps. I didn't want that, either, but my brother was never without companions. He would have an alibi for any given night. When would any of my family come down to Atlanta, anyway?
No one would suspect a vampire, either. I had no plans to drain their blood. In fact, if I were going to avoid that eventuality, I would have to kill them without spilling a single drop. Perhaps a broken neck.
It was at this point that I realised that my human self would never have got so far as this in planning a murder. How could I have ever stomached the idea of snapping the neck of a man, of five men? And yet I wasn't the same person as I had been before that frozen night. I had killed too many animals with my bare hands to shy away from death. I had suffered too much at the hands of those I trusted to flinch from the idea of betrayal.
And I was a vampire. Murder was a natural instinct for me. Just as it was for Edward.
Finally remembering where I was and who I was with, I turned back to Esme. "I'm sorry," I said. "It shocked me. I think… I think I understand."
Her face relaxed. "I'm so glad. He's not proud of it, you understand."
"No, of course not," I replied, but they were merely words.
Edward was a murderer. He knew that I intended to kill my ex-fiancé. And he hadn't told Carlisle or Esme. How could he? What he had done was far worse than anything I had in mind.
Perhaps I had found the key to managing these feats. Perhaps Edward could help me.