Here is to old alliances, new acquaintances and reassurances.
12. THE UNLIKELY HEIR: APERTURE
The sprawling forest surrounding the large compound was dense enough to hide me in my silent surveillance. As always, I simply sat in my car and stared. Today though, it just didn't feel right to be here; this little escape I had come to every day for the past fortnight. Today, I felt like a prisoner with my heart bound in guilt. I sighed and groaned softly, but the persistent heaviness I felt refused to lift as I stared unseeingly through the bald trees at the school only a few meters ahead.
It was an ordinary enough looking building. Bricks, wood and a bell tower to summon its populace to attend their required lessons, hardly classified it as exclusive. Yet, it was not the mundane shell that held the seemingly unattainable desire for me to step out of my little hideout and partake in its daily schedule. Within its depths, boys came and went as they completed the requirements for the fulfillment of their education and I yearned to experience that sense of meaning along with them.
Life in our home, and at the little waterfall in the forest where I had hidden for nearly a year, lacked that sense of efficacy. It was void and endless, with no plan or duty, and it caused me a greater envy for those boys – most of whom were my peers. They innocently walked across the yard in their neat uniforms, mere meters away from a vampire and I cringed at the possibility of one of them falling and bruising his knees. This unworthy beast I had become, feared its baser instincts and its craving for human blood disgusted me.
Of course, my reason for heeding the pull of the school in the first place was in no way aligned with the actual function of the structure, or the collective reason why many humans patronized it. I needed no formal education when I had a tutor that could surpass any of their meager geniuses and easy access to more books than they could ever dream possible under my own roof. I had better vision, hearing and a perfect memory; there was nothing for me to gain, scholastically at least, by enrolling at the boys' college.
Except that, it was tempting to imagine spending some part of immortality doing something other than tediously seeking a distraction from the constant boredom I felt when I was not reading Carlisle's books or playing my piano for hours on end.
It was not a new notion; Carlisle had attended medical school. He had been able to resist the temptation of their blood and even gone on to become a doctor. Maybe, it is not as hard as it seems, I mused, but the dry ache in my throat belied that thought. I was nothing like Carlisle and I knew I could never master that kind of courage and control. I ran my hand through my hair and gripped the steering wheel a little tighter. My hopes of stepping out today had dissipated, and all I could do now was turn my car around and head back.
I could never be like Carlisle. His phenomenal control was legendary and though I could fight through the days to resist, a part of me recognized my constant desire to taste the sweet, red, nectar of human blood again. As I drove towards home, my mind drifted back to my thwarted plans for the day.
Courage had failed me yet again and my imagination was my only reserve. I had convinced myself that I could walk through the halls at the college and find pleasure in a random professor's lecture. No matter how misguided or substandard the lecture was guaranteed to be, it would have been a welcome prospect if only I could find the will.
My father did his best to keep me entertained and during nights before this deadlock had began, the doctor had dedicated all his spare time to addressing my need for knowledge. We mostly spoke about medicine, but because his years and experience afforded him wisdom in all aspects of life, the topics became more and more diverse. As our nightly discussions progressed, it had become his habit to chuckle at human oversights and fallacies. I smiled bitterly as the memory of his laughter rang through my mind and lowered my head in shame.
Admittedly, there was no longer a need to keep up my angry pretense with him. This fact had been made clear as day to me, when he walked through the front door at home, absentmindedly equating me with Philip Masen. Without much effort, I had become quite curious as well about the ruby brooch and the blatant manner in which the human flaunted his wealth. Therefore, it would have been the right course of action, to approach my father and bring a halt to my obstinacy, but a twinge of pride had caused me to hold back this intelligence, leading him to his study while drawing me back to my foolishness.
Carlisle's brief meeting with Philip Masen had taken quite a toll on him. Prior to this morning, he had remained cooped up in his study for the entire week, perusing maps, scrolls of history and books that looked like they had not been opened in the last century, trying to find Philip Masen's ancestry. I silently marveled at his determination, but kept the truth that Mother had given me a similar pin with the same words carved beneath it, hidden in my head and in my closet. Again, pride took the blame for my inability to admit my mistakes and make amends.
In my defense, I argued that it was wiser to keep the ornament hidden, as the facts I gathered from Carlisle's mind suggested Philip Masen was a haughty and ruthless individual. His likes appalled me greatly and I did not want to be associated in any way with such as his kind. The human character formed in Carlisle's mind seemed like he cared only about the protection of his family's good image and untarnished name. His cold eyes suggested that, he was one who relied on his wealth and authority to garner respect. I imagined him as a wicked landlord who cared nothing for his poor and struggling tenants save for his returns at the end of the day.
We were by no means a poor family. Even before I became a vampire, I had never known a day of poverty. Carlisle was considered one of the best physicians in Ashland, and this belief probably extended throughout the whole of Wisconsin, so he was very well paid. His skill, coupled with his kindness and patience, made gratitude for his work more prevalent here than the reported death rate from the war.
Inevitably, this appreciation for the Dr. Cullen's abilities had translated into unnecessary visits to the house. Especially during this holiday season, gift bearing well-wishers, mostly poor mothers and widows, had offered the little they could in thanks for one kind gesture or the other.
Carlisle accepted their offerings heartily, no matter how meager, and sent them away. However, we were once forced to eat a morsel of food to placate a doubting mother and ever since, I had politely asked to be excused from meeting any more of his patients when they came by.
Gradually, it seemed we had lost the purpose behind our decision to move here. We had come to Ashland with the intention of finding a man and picking up a couple of letters. After four deaths, an intriguing stranger, a silver box and a two-week spell of teenage rebellion, we were still unwise about this adventure my mother had sent us on.
I could not blame her now for her warnings. As was true, my supposed human family turned out to be a bunch of ravenous leeches that infuriated me to no end. Even more than Carlisle was aware of, the embarrassment that rose within me every time I learned about another one more of their schemes had risen to levels I swore I could no longer contain. Simply, the reason I was opposed to opening the 'precious' box was because I was convinced it housed even more evidence of their vile effrontery. I was ashamed of their brazen audacity, greed and cruelty. Evil men! I thought, beside them, the devil could look like a saint.
Yet, my father was unwaveringly set on opening the abominable box and shaming me further. It was improbable that Anthony Masen had been any better than his heirs, if the reason I had been led to believe I had no family other than my parents while I was human was because of him, I quivered to think about what his wishes were bound to contain in his missives.
Nothing I explained to Carlisle seemed to sway his resolution to open the box, and considering the way events had aligned in the past week, there was little doubt that one of these days, the inevitably scarlet sins of my mortal kin were certain to be spilled with one tug of that flimsy metal lock.
The metal had seemed cool even to me this morning, when I picked the box up from the table where it had remained untouched for the past week. As the inquisitive doctor immersed deeper in his distractive obsession with finding my arrogant cousin's heritage, he had stopped shaking the box and left it to cool on the mahogany desk.
I had picked it up as though I needed confirmation of what I had heard several times in my father's head every time he shook the metal package. I also shook it when after close inspection, nothing hinted at its contents from its bland encasing. I came up to the conclusion that, he was right.
There seemed to be an object other than the letters within the silvery metal box and my interest or supposed lack thereof, had threatened to slip then and there. I steeled my jaw and set the abomination back in its place, but not before I slipped from my other resolve and spoke an audible answer to Carlisle's question.
His shock mirrored mine in the long moment he turned to stare at me. I saw my face harden into a determined frown in his mind, and no matter how hard I tried to rearrange my expression to suit one of dispassion, I simply kept failing. It had been childish to ignore him all this while. After all, adults would simply have spoken about the matter calmly and arrived at a logical compromise. I had proved my immaturity with fear that my own words would be heated and my ability to stay calm, perturbed, if I attempted to speak with him. It seemed a better option then, to simply hold my thoughts, my emotions and my words in a tight shell whenever I was in his presence.
When he had finally surfaced from his daze and silently asked if I had reconsidered my previous position, the coward in me had risen and clogged my throat. Pride had supported this lack of courage and I had returned to the safety of my gutless lair. I shrugged like it meant nothing to me when what I had really wanted to do, was to compromise and reconcile with the man who thought of me with nothing but affection and pride. That need, for the resolution to this standoff, had been my intention when I knocked at his door this morning, on my way to indulge in observing the experience I was sorely craving for.
Just like I hadn't been able to speak the words that would have set the contention between my father and I apart, I hadn't been able to step through the wooden doors today, even though I was appropriately dressed and the sun was low. It would have been nearly impossible for any of the other boys to suspect my intrusion without careful examination. The rooms were fairly dark and their numbers were quite large. Even if anyone had so much as nursed a stray idea about me, it would have taken a mere second for me to disappear and never return.
All my plans had failed today and sighing again with resignation, I turned on that final corner towards my home. Musing about the extensive and differing gulfs our worlds were never likely to breach, I hang my coat on the rack when I reached the foyer and I stole a glimpse at the piano sitting in the middle of the living room.
I was disheartened with the day and a spot of music could help soothe me, but I decided against it and walked into my room to wallow in my depression. Maybe if I had waited a little longer, I could have sat through their usually sparsely attended daily dusk service again, learned a thing or two and made my father proud.
Carlisle would most certainly have been proud to know that I had managed to attend church service at the boys' boarding school two days ago, without his persuasion. He would have been proud if only he had known, but since the coward in me never responded when he asked about my daily drives, it was very possible that he would never know. Even before I had stubbornly decided to ignore him, courage had failed me yet again in my need to ask his advice on my fixation.
I lounged lethargically in my overstuffed chaise, all this while refusing to make a move and put my newly acquired, albeit stolen uniform away for another chance tomorrow. It was barely an hour later, when I caught the voice of the tense thoughts of a man approaching the house. As usual, an eager patient bearing a basket of human baked goods, trembling with every step and yet anxious to present his modest well wishes to Dr. Cullen, had innocently intruded on my peaceful evening.
Oh, Harry! I heard the suddenly concerned mental voice of the vampire in the library above my room, call out, and he hastened downstairs to await the arrival of his visitor. So, Harry has finally decided to visit us, I thought, quickly pushing myself off the chair and heading into the living room to satisfy my curiosity and start a fire. The flames quickly devoured the dry wood I piled into the large hearth and cast dancing shadows in shades of orange and grey on the walls around the living room.
Harry's thoughts were a jumble of shame and regret as he stepped through the front door with Carlisle into the warming chamber, and I simultaneously felt and heard his relief and excitement when he saw me bent near the fire.
Oh, the doctor's nephew is home today, his excited thoughts noted.
I wonder where he has been all this while. Maybe, he has to attend school at the boys' boarding house. His clothes look just like their uniform. I smiled inwardly at my failure to change my clothes, and with a small smile, turned to greet Carlisle's visitor. I was slightly perplexed, but glad to see the once nervous man at ease.
His thoughts were full of awe at my inhuman appearance and hopeful that I could be a sort of buffer between him and his apparent unease with facing the doctor. I laughed gently, careful not to frighten him, when he laughed at his own inane jokes. In his thoughts, I seemed more jovial and less daunting than my father, and laughed more at the turnabout nature of the situation. He seemed pleased by my 'encouragement' and kept at his small talk up a while longer than was usually acceptable.
When it could no longer be avoided, I accepted his hardly filled basket with a smile and headed to the kitchen to place the food on a dry surface in our useless kitchen. Muffins, I supposed, could stay put a day longer than a lot of the other cakes we had received. Maybe Carlisle will hand them out to the sick children at the hospital tomorrow. I dashed to my room to pick up my pin and headed back into his study to inevitably listen to Harry's best wishes for the Cullen family this Christmas.
He faltered at first and his heart thumped erratically, but sooner than I expected, he calmed down and gathered the courage to say the merry words. The pair in the living room amused me with their misconceptions. The discomfiture between them only thickened because they were needlessly cautious of each other, and I laughed quietly from my place in the study while I fingered the latch on the silver box.
My father blamed himself for a nonexistent rift that he thought had developed from the mystery surrounding George Brooks's untimely demise, while Harry fought for the appropriate words to begin his confessions. Of course, he blamed his dead cousin for the most part, but he somehow managed to spill the truth as he thought about his father.
He winced with the memory of the pain he had suffered from the wounds he had sustained after an earlier miscalculation and I scoffed at his mental insistence that, they were still battle wounds even though they had not been inflicted in a battle and there was really no need to tell the doctor who had healed the painful fissures, how close he had himself come to an unmarked grave for this cause that we all relentlessly pursued – the Anthony Masen letters.
His words shocked Carlisle and when my father implored me to pay closer attention their conversation; I yielded and gave him what I had denied him earlier this afternoon – a sign. The nearly inaudible creak of the wooden chair as I stood up, was all he the reassurance he needed and for me, it was a confirmation of my willingness to end my idiocy.
I was still looking out through the window in the dark room, when I saw the visibly relieved human walk out into the cold air again. His aura mimicked mine to an extent. As I considered his words, and his sincere happiness that Mother had decided to bequeath her unfulfilled quest to Carlisle, my mind was appeased from its earlier worries about the nature of my grandfather's requests.
He walked away quickly, but just before he rounded the corner at the end of the street, he turned to look up through the study windows. I smiled at his hope to catch another glimpse of his 'new friend' and reached into my pocket to finger the bauble I had kept secret for too long.
My own hope, as I turned towards the door to greet my father with a smile, was that I had not been wrong to trust Harry's sincere assessment of grandpa Masen's intentions. Carlisle smiled back and quietly sat in the seat I gestured at. His thoughts were patient and though words eluded me then, I sought to convey my intention for reconciliation to him as I placed the silver box between us. He understood my remorse and murmured his own apology to me as well. I nodded in acceptance, discarding every trace of my previous demeanor in this moment of consensus.
I reached into my pocket then, and removed the small cotton sack where my pin had been carefully stored ever since my mother handed it to me many years ago. I removed the sparkling La Coeur de Lyon diamond, about three times the size I had seen from Carlisle's memories of Philip's own pin, and placed it beside the box on the desk between us. Trying hard to ignore his shocked thoughts, I pulled in a needless breath, grasped the lock on the 'contentious' metal box, and deftly pulled it away.
The King's Garden – Falling Up (Fangs)
Wait – Carried Away (No Compromise)
Rebirthing – Skillet (Comatose)
A/N: As usual, my thanks go to Slovesemmett, for taking the time to beta this baby, ur_only_male_reader, for the last minute editing skills and cfmom, for the priceless advice! Special thanks also go to all the doctors at the Kent and Canterbury Hospital for saving my son's life! I know this is the 2 billionth time I am saying this, but what mother wouldn't be grateful?
How's that for this chapter? Edward opened the box himself!
The Unlikely Heir was officially nominated for four categories in the Indies Twific Awards on Sunday.
Best Canon WIP (Work In Progress)
Best Characterizations (Non Edward/Bella) WIP
Best Non ExB Story Line WIP
Most Original Story Line WIP
I want to thank all of you for the nomination. It brings me so much joy that you consider this story one worthy of an award.