Disclaimer: The characters and their world belong to Stephenie Meyer. Any mistakes I have made interpreting them are, of course, my own.
It was that time of year again. It was a beautiful Thursday afternoon and the sun was streaming in through windows of my office. Under normal circumstances, I would have spent the day in the Hoh rainforest with the rest of the family, but one of the other surgeons was already on vacation and there hadn't been a free slot to take the day off from the hospital. Plus, it gave me time to get this other task done: spread before me on my desk were several small stacks of paper. My W-2, the account paperwork from each of our brokerage accounts, statements from some two dozen or so credit cards, and of course, Internal Revenue Service Form 1040.
I had to admit, I always kind of looked forward to this annual ritual: holing up at my desk for a few hours and bringing closure on another year of my family's life. So many things to deal with this year: although Edward's recently issued marriage certificate would emancipate him in the eyes of the IRS, I was now claiming Renesmee as a dependant. Then there was the added deduction for mortgage interest on the new house in Hanover, which we'd decided to rent out while Renesmee was growing up. Not to mention the host of capital gains that we always had to record. It was mundane, and wondrously so. It made me feel human.
As human as I could feel given that the entire U.S. Tax Code was stored in my head, anyway.
CULLEN, I penned at the top of the form, CARLISLE IV. The IV was a necessity—although our return every year was perfect and provided no reason to arouse suspicion, I had to somehow keep the IRS from noticing that I'd filed a return every April for the last 93 years, ever since the income tax had been levied. And so I had created four Carlisle Cullens. Carlisle Cullen, Jr., as far as the IRS knew, was 74, happily retired, and received his social security checks at the home he lived in with his son and grandson. Carlisle Cullen III was presently taking a long sabbatical from work and so had no income except from his stock portfolio that did an amazing job beating the market (thanks to Alice). And among the stacks of immaculately kept bogus paperwork in my filing cabinet was the death certificate for Carlisle Cullen, Sr., who according to my diagnosis and signature, had succumbed to kidney failure at the ripe old age of 97. I'd figured early on that if I established that the Cullen men lived well into old age, I'd have fewer problems with the paperwork as the years went on.
Immortality was getting more and more complicated with every passing decade. Before moveable type had really taken hold, there were almost no records save the church register of the town. Live on the outskirts of town, pretend to be an atheist, and no one ever bothered you about whether your name was on record. After moveable type it was a little harder—the medical schools I had attended in France certainly kept decent records, but even then it was difficult to trace a student once he had left, and all I'd needed was my diploma as proof that I was a qualified practitioner. In the New World, the most I'd had to worry about until the 1970s was just making sure that the year on my diploma from Harvard Medical School wasn't too far behind—enrolling Edward there twice under my name had helped with that charade. But now computers meant that every piece of paper had to be perfect, or someone would inevitably notice. Human parents kept their children's report cards out of nostalgia. I kept them to be sure that no teacher who had once taught a Cullen somewhere else in the country had moved, only to find the same seventeen-year-old in their class twenty years later. Most human memories weren't that good, but my children were more than memorable than most. To say nothing of the records of the schools now—they wanted a birth certificate and inoculation records, and they kept the social security numbers of every one of their pupils on file interminably.
I was beginning to think my expanded brain capacity existed for the sole purpose of dealing with the whole mess.
I bent over the paper and had just begun to fill in our address when I felt a hand at my collar and heard in my mind, Granddad.
The name seemed to warm me from the inside. It had been the better part of a year and I still wasn't used to it. Although I didn't have to be able to read Edward's mind to know with certainty that he never thought of me as anything but his father, he only ever addressed me by my name. So it was only through his daughter that I had finally achieved the name I hadn't realized I'd longed for. It was beautiful to hear, arousing a joy so deep it was almost painful.
"Renesmee." I turned a bit in my chair to appraise my granddaughter. I had nearly forgotten that she and Esme had not gone out with the others; they had stayed behind and gone to the grocery store instead. Our family had always made sure that we were seen there at least semi-regularly, and now that Renesmee was living with us we actually had a bit of a reason to go. Renesmee had, at much urging, decided that eating food every now and again was probably a good idea. Plus she knew it helped the rest of us keep up the charade if others saw our child eating ice cream and candy just like theirs did. She didn't much care for anything but sweets, but as she had gotten her perfect teeth from Edward, I wasn't too concerned.
Grandmother said I shouldn't disturb you.
"You are always welcome to be with me." I patted my knee, and she slid into my lap. She was almost imperceptibly heavier than she had been this morning, when we'd sat and read The New York Times together in the living room. It was maybe a fraction of an ounce, but I noticed. She was still growing fast—more slowly than before, more humanly, but fast nevertheless. It made me deeply sad. Having a child in this house—a growing, living child—was wonderful, something I'd thought I'd never experience. A few short years—the blink of an eye—and she would be as still as the rest of us. It seemed like mere hours ago that I had held her as an infant. Wise even then, she had put up with being held long after she'd begun to walk on her own; she knew that it made her seem more normal, and more importantly, she knew how much we all loved to hold her.
And still did, for that matter. I put my arm around her waist; she was so warm. Renesmee squirmed a little to look more closely at what I was doing. What is this? she asked, staring down at the desk too, her quick mind no doubt making inventory of all the paperwork arranged atop it.
"I'm filing our taxes," I explained. "These are all the papers about our finances for last year."
She picked up the nearest paper, my W-2 form from the hospital, and studied it carefully. This is what you make?
"Yes," I answered. "That was my income from the hospital last year."
It's not very much.
I laughed aloud. I was the highest paid surgeon on staff at Forks Hospital, second in income only to the hospital's CEO. "It's plenty," I said, tickling her so that she winced and giggled. "Very few people in the U.S. have salaries that high." Only in this family could two hundred thousand dollars possibly seem small.
She peered intently at the form before me on the desk, and I could almost see her mind working to compare it to my W-2. May I try it?
I handed her the pen, and she neatly wrote in all the figures from my income statement. It took me an only an instant to verify that she had completed the form perfectly. I chuckled.
Why are you laughing? She looked concerned. Did I do it wrong?
"No, it's perfect," I answered. She continued to frown at me—I hadn't given her the answer she'd asked for. "I'm laughing because no one will ever believe that you helped me do my taxes."
Six was our current claim for Renesmee's age. Of course her physical age was far less—seven months—and her intellect was far beyond that age, which meant she was easily bored by her peers. When she stopped growing, we could probably send her to high school just like we had with the others, but until then, it was too risky. She might start kindergarten and go through puberty in a matter of months. So we'd put out the word that we were home-schooling, which in actuality mostly consisted of Renesmee reading everything she could get her hands on. And doing my taxes, apparently. Well, it was good mathematics practice, if nothing else.
"Would you like to help me go through Schedule D? It's much more difficult." I pulled the second sheet forward along with the statements from the many brokerage accounts held in the name of Carlisle IV. She glanced at them a moment, then back at me.
Why do you do this?
"Why do I pay my taxes?"
"Many reasons." I looked at her and she stared up at me. It was at the same time comforting and unnerving to look into her dark brown eyes—I was so used to the golden eyes of the rest of our family. "It makes me feel human, and that's nice."
But you're not. None of us are.
"No, that's true." I paused. "The money goes to other people, though. And pays for the things that everyone uses together. Like the schools and the roads. And it helps people who can't afford to see doctors, which is very important."
Renesmee frowned at me. I was being pedantic, and she wasn't shy about letting her annoyance flood my mind. She knew I was holding something back.
"The Volturi will be headed this way if we're discovered," I added quietly. "Paying taxes keeps us all underground."
At this, Renesmee jerked her hand away from my body as though I'd caught fire. She was afraid of the Volturi, and didn't like us to worry about it. Edward had come to me a week or so after the Italian vampires had left our home told me that his daughter was having gruesome nightmares. Bella was unaware, as Renesmee had not told her mother, but Edward had seen them in his daughter's thoughts and was alarmed. I'd urged him to tell Bella at once. Far from the histrionics we'd both expected, Bella had been collected about the whole thing. "She's a child, she'll grow out of it," she said. Renesmee slept for the next month in Bella and Edward's bed, with at least one and usually both parents at her side—in that way, they were both able to monitor her dreams. Further, the three of them moved back into the main house for a stretch, because Bella and Edward felt that their daughter would find the presence of eight adults calming, which she did. And, true to Bella's prediction, the nightmares had stopped within two months. But that certainly didn't mean that Renesmee's fears had subsided, as she was reminding me now.
"If they ever come back, we will all protect you, you know that," I said.
"I am not worried about myself," she answered, startling me. Renesmee rarely spoke aloud, and I knew she was doing so only to avoid contact with me so that I wouldn't see what she was thinking. She had seen Irina destroyed by the Volturi—which one of us was she imagining being dismembered? Looking at her as she refused to meet my eyes, I had a disturbing feeling it was me.
"You are like your mother," I said quietly, rubbing her shoulder with one hand. "Concerned more for the welfare of those around you than your own."
She shook her head, her auburn curls brushing my chin and neck. "I am like you, Granddad." Her hand snuck back to the bare skin on my arm, and a memory came to me from her. The view was from midair, where she lay in her mother's arms, of me, standing before the two dozen vampires assembled with us. Me, talking to Aro, trying to convince him that there had been no wrongdoing. And Renesmee's fear, unexpressed to any of us at that moment, now flooded my thoughts and made my stomach turn. She had been terrified-but not that the Volturi might kill her, although the possibility was very real. No, what had frightened her so deeply was my willingness to suffer in her place.
I ran a hand through her soft hair as the memory ended and the gut-wrenching terror left my body. "Thank you for showing me that," I whispered. "I understand better now."
I don't want you ever to go, Renesmee thought fiercely, leaning into my chest.
"Going is certainly not in my plans," I answered, putting my arm around her more tightly. She sat silently for a long time, nearly as still as her parents were able to. There was just enough vampire in her to render her inhuman in that respect. I reveled in the feeling of her weight against my chest. How quickly would the day be coming when she didn't want to sit in laps anymore?
But you will, came Renesmee's thought, interrupting my own.
I frowned. "What do you mean?"
You will. If you have to. Like with Aro. To protect us.
I paused. While I knew better than to fall into the trap of assuming Renesmee was anything like a normal child, she still at times managed to floor me with her unnerving perceptiveness. Most children would have been perfectly content with my statement, but she had immediately noticed that I had not given her an absolute answer. I looked her in the eyes, and I could see the anxiety and uncertainty behind her gaze. I wanted desperately to allay her fears, but I didn't want to insult her intelligence, either.
"You are my family," I answered finally, stroking her cheek. The family I'd never known I was searching for; the family that had materialized around me so soon after that day when I had succumbed to my own loneliness and Elizabeth Masen's plea. I hadn't expected anything but a minute chance at having a companion—and I had wound up with six children and a wife. "I would do anything in my power for you."
This set Renesmee's thoughts spinning, making them unclear as she lay against me, but I caught a few words: noble, good, selfless.
"I'm not perfect, Ness," I murmured, raking another hand through her hair. In my mind flashed the memory first of Emmett, then Rosalie, then Esme and finally Edward, writhing in agony as my venom coursed through their veins. Four. Four that I had damned to this life, five if you counted Bella. Although I could never have left the sweet child who now sat in my lap without a mother…but then, of course, I had at first been hell-bent on preventing this very child from ever being born. I shuddered, tightening my grip on Renesmee as though my memory of what I might have done could cause her to disappear.
"I am so very far from perfect," I repeated softly.
You have not killed, she answered firmly. In three hundred sixty-four years. And although she was unwilling to put her thought to words, Edward's handsome face swam in her mind for a moment. I got the message. When the time had come—too quickly, only a few months after she had been born—that she'd asked about her family's past, her parents had wisely chosen to keep nothing from her. Edward had taken her in his arms and they had disappeared together into my office where he'd shown her the paintings that I'd collected and told the stories that they represented. I saw her eyes flit to that wall now, centering on one piece in particular: the Gris, the cubist mess that I'd bought in 1929 because it spoke to how jumbled I'd felt without Edward. It was a painting of a pianist, if you could call an abstract rendering of keys and body parts that. When I'd seen it in the gallery in Milwaukee, I'd nearly crumpled to the floor in grief. Esme insisted we buy it, and so it was part of my collection and my history. Renesmee knew perfectly well where her father had been when I'd bought that painting, and exactly what he'd been up to.
"Don't you think on that," I whispered, stroking her hair. "Not even for an instant. Your father is a good man."
I know. A flood of jumbled images came then—Edward, swinging her up over his head as she giggled; running after her in a game of tag; his hands next to hers on the grand piano as he taught her the basics of playing; his voice as he rocked her and sang the lullaby he'd composed just for her. Then just as quickly, the images shifted to me—me cradling her, my hands over her as I measured her growth as a baby, my arms around her as I read The Aeneid to her in Latin. Her love and adoration for us both radiated into me.
You are a good man too, Granddad.
My breath caught in my throat. "Thank you, Renesmee," I managed, suppressing the flood of emotion that was threatening to take over my senses. It was a good thing Edward wasn't here. He hated it when I got "gooey," as he put it.
As though in answer to my thought, I heard the front door crash open. A chorus of voices converged on the house at once.
"Yeah, well, I would've taken that mountain lion out in half a second if you hadn't been hunting the damn elk and sent it my way," I heard Emmett boast.
"I didn't have anything to do with that, that was Bella," Edward answered calmly. "And elk or no elk, you still managed to make such a mess of yourself with that lion."
"Right, well, I hunt. I don't consider it an occasion for fine dining."
"Honestly, Emmett," Alice chimed in. "One bear almost kills you once in your lifetime and you spend the rest of eternity trying to tear every animal you meet into little pieces."
Edward's laugh rang through the halls. Renesmee looked up at me, delighted.
"You should go see your parents," I whispered to her, just as I heard Bella ask, "Where's Renesmee?"
"Upstairs with Carlisle," Edward answered absently, having heard either my voice or my thoughts. "She's coming down."
Renesmee leapt off my lap and bolted out into the stairwell. I heard the shrieking giggle and the quick rush of air that told me she'd gone downstairs in her usual manner—by flinging herself headfirst off the second-floor landing. I winced. Edward's and Bella's reflexes were perfect, sure, but their daughter's weren't. Someday, something was going to go wrong. Thank goodness there were two M.D.s in the house.
"Hello, my doll," I heard Edward say. "Did you have a fun day?"
There was no sound of her answer; he'd obviously caught her and still had her in his arms.
"Well that does look like fun," Edward commented after a moment.
"What on earth is Carlisle up to, all holed up in his office?" This time it was Alice. "Esme said he's been up there all afternoon."
Alice must have been across the room, because I heard Renesmee answer her aloud. "He's doing…" she paused a moment, confusing me. She could probably recount the names of all the forms on my desk—she couldn't possibly have forgotten what I was up to?
"He's taking care of everybody," she answered finally.
I smiled. Leave it to Renesmee to boil our entire conversation down to its essence in five words. She was a brilliant girl. I stepped out onto the landing and surveyed the scene as I descended the stairs. Alice and Jasper sat in each other's arms on the couch, having just put on a Fred Astaire movie. Emmett was assembling our giant chessboard on the dining table as he narrated his hunt to a bored-looking Rosalie. I could hear Bella's laughter from the kitchen, where Jake had just finished telling a joke. As my feet hit the first floor, I caught the opening bars of Fauré's Berceuse, the four-handed piece that Edward had been teaching Renesmee the last several weeks.
"Carlisle?" Esme's voice was very quiet as she came to my side.
"You okay? You look—in awe."
In awe. I supposed that was true. I had spent a quarter of a millennium alone, believing myself to be backwards; sure I'd never find companionship. And now to step into my living room and join a houseful of people who shared my vision, who shared their love, whom I loved in return; sons, daughters, a granddaughter—it was nothing less than a miracle. I caught Edward's eye as he looked up from the piano, where he was watching his daughter's increasingly sure hands. He grinned, and nodded to the music stand, which was empty. She's got it memorized, he mouthed proudly, and I beamed back at him.
"Truthfully?" I said quietly, looking away from them, "I'm feeling blessed." If someone who might be eternally damned could be blessed, at any rate.
"Blessed?" Esme gave me a quizzical smile. "What on earth were you talking to Renesmee about?"
I shrugged. "Oh, we were just…taking care of everybody." I winked, putting an arm around her waist. "Come. Let's watch this chess game unfolding over here."
Esme smiled, and together, my wife and I went to join our children.