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Oh, What a Night


"You know, I didn't even know her name / But I was never gonna be the same / What a lady, what a night!"

I really don't know when it happened. At some point, without my noticing the change, song lyrics stopped making sense.

I suppose I could figure it out if I really wanted to. There has to be a reason why I sort my music by year. I should listen to them in strict order sometime. Somewhere among my shelves of LPs, 45s, and more recent cassette tapes, I'll find where the breach occurred. Something tells me it was probably during the sixties, a time when it seemed like most of the chart-toppers were written — and performed — in a drug-induced stupor.

"Oh, I . . . got a funny feeling when she walked in the room / And I . . . as I recall it ended much too soon / Oh, what a night . . ."

"What ended?" I muttered, and Emmett, who'd been singing (well, I think that was his intention, although when he sings it sounds more like a violin being tuned) along with the radio, paused.


"What ended too soon? I don't get it," I answered him mechanically; it's not like I was really looking for an answer. Not from Emmett, of all people. Emmett, who thought Equality 7-2521 was a set of triplets until I helped straighten him out.

Emmett gaped at me for a second before bursting into that annoying laugh of his, the one that reminds me of a bull having an allergy attack and makes his singing preferable by comparison. I glared at him, wishing I'd never opened my mouth. He's going to ruin the rest of the song for me now, and while it's still among the top ten, who knows when I'll get to hear it playing again?

"Eddie, bro, you need to find yourself a woman, and quick," he finally choked out, still snorting over whatever it is I said to amuse him so. "You follow me?"

And I did, then; his thoughts, all jumbled and incoherent while he was enjoying that hearty laugh at my expense, now solidified to show me the joke I'd missed. Great. Well, no wonder Emmett caught on so quickly, though he's hardly sensitive to music most of the time. This song, as it would appear, was conceived by a mind that spends as much time in the gutter as his own. I love my brother, but sometimes I feel like the fifteen or so years we were born apart will always keep us from really understanding each other.

I reached out angrily and snapped off the radio. Suddenly the song didn't make me happy like it did when I heard the first few notes, now that I know what the lines are referring to. And yet . . . the lyrics really are secondary. It's the music itself, the beat, that gets inside me and makes me want to drive faster, as fast as the sleek Italian sports car can go, or even get out and run rather than keep everything locked inside. Anything so I wouldn't feel trapped like this.

So I guess lyrics aren't that important when you look at it that way. I never had this reaction to "I've Got the World on a String," that's for certain. Then again, the Depression was in full swing just then and I doubt anyone felt much like dancing. And no one had a Lamborghini to race around in with the radio pounding, nor was there any real demand for such a luxury.

Our family has never been poor, but the Depression did affect us — only in a different way from the humans. It was just Esme and Carlisle and I back then, or at least up until Rosalie joined us in 1933. In fact, "I've Got the World on a String" was the song playing that night on the radio when I caught Carlisle's scent outside our house in Rochester . . . and someone else's with him. Rosalie's. My sister's.

Emmett wouldn't join us for another two years, and Alice and Jasper were years away yet. Despite not having Alice's help with the stock market — or much of a stock market to help with — we were far wealthier than even the King family that Rosalie'd been set to marry into, due to Carlisle's years of working and the financially advantageous circumstances that kept us from having to buy food and whatnot. Well, we bought food, actually, just like we always have; we'd look strange otherwise. But we promptly gave it all away to the struggling food banks in the area.

Having money was always a problem in our quest to remain inconspicuous. At a time when men wore sandwich boards begging for work to feed their children, and those children often ended up in Carlisle's care for malnutrition and diseases secondary to that, it wasn't wise to flaunt what we had. Carlisle volunteered at the hospital, feeling it a sin to take their money under the circumstances. We lived in a small house, with just a Ford POS to service the whole family. Imagine remembering the Depression as a time when you had too much and needed to get creative in order to hide it.

Wondering how I'd ended up thinking of Rochester, more than forty years behind us now, I sighed and pressed the accelerator even closer to the floor. The Lamborghini purred as the speedometer hovered near two hundred. Kilometers, that is; I'm still a little angry, but not enough to wrap my beloved car around a tree.

Yes, times have definitely changed. We've moved around plenty in forty years, and just now we make our home in Menominee, Michigan. Having pretty much exhausted the more overcast cities, Carlisle threw up his hands, figuratively speaking, and told me to pick some place at random. It was time to revert to our fallbacks: night shift for Carlisle at the hospital, and 'homeschooling' for us kids.

I picked Menominee for the simple reason that I get a kick out of the name. If I can't even go out during the daytime, can I really bring myself to give a damn where we live? But it's Esme who suffers the most when we have to live like this, waiting for sunset or those blessed rainy days just to be able to leave the house. Right now, she's taking correspondence courses in interior design just to keep her mind occupied. Granted, we live out in the sticks, but it's still unwise to wander around the property in the daytime. We can usually smell the humans long before they see us . . . but we haven't been here long enough to know the risks.

I'm sixteen again, after reaching the record age of twenty-four during our last 'stopover.' Carlisle wanted me to say fourteen, or fifteen at most, but having only a year ago acquired my beautiful car, I couldn't stand the thought of not being able to drive it for two more years, or even one more year. Carlisle wasn't thrilled, but predictably, he acquiesced. He always says we need to grab happiness wherever and whenever we can, after all. I've never known him to deny any of us something we wanted very badly. My dad's really great that way.

So, as much as it blows to have to live like stereotypical vampires, we deal with it as best we can and pretty much wait around all day for the sun to set . . . not that there's any real nightlife here, either. But Emmett and I like to take the cars out and explore the back roads, especially those that take us by the river. This car . . . well, let me put it this way. They can have it when they pry it from around my cold, dead body.

Despite the fact that everyone but Alice drives like a bat out of hell, none of us have ever had a car accident. We can all hear approaching car engines or animals in plenty of time, and I can even hear people's internal chatter as an extra cushion. I suppose there'll be a huge mess one day when some weary driver pulls over for a nap among the shadows at the side of the road . . . but I'm not willing to live in a box against that eventuality. With that in mind, I added a mental zero to River Road's speed limit and pressed on.

The car was still miles ahead, but true to form, I could hear the thoughts of the driver as clearly as if he sat next to me and spoke aloud. He was alone, lamenting over having missed the game and wishing he had one of those videotape recorder things, wondering whether Scott will have cleaned the bathroom like he asked him to seventeen times just since yesterday, and happy over the results of that Bundy trial over in Utah if it means his daughter won't have to look over her shoulder anymore, though if he ever caught Sandra hitchhiking he'd break both her legs. Predictable chatter; I could just about picture the man, with his mutton-chop sideburns and scuffed Beatle boots, balancing a cigarette between two fingers while still keeping control of the steering wheel.

"Emmett, my man, there would appear to be a bump in the road up ahead," I informed my brother, using our code for cars that get in our way. "Do we go around it or drive over it?"

"Depends what kind of car it is," Emmett replied, playing along. "If it's a beater, we crush it. If it's a classic, we'll show mercy."

I laughed and hit the gas even harder, bringing us up near two-thirty. Our ultrasensitive hearing told us that the intruder's car was just around the slight bend in the road up ahead. For a human to take a curve in the wrong lane would be attempting suicide; we, however, would've heard any other cars coming and could afford to take it wide. The Lamborghini shot around the corner like a rocket, completely overtaking the 'bump' . . . a Menominee police cruiser.

"Oh, shit," Emmett hissed when the red and blue lights started flashing behind us, even as the black-and-white rapidly grew smaller in the rearview mirror. "You just passed a cop at, like, a hundred and fifty," he said, letting out a whistle. "Oh, well, he'll never catch us in that old junker." He settled back against the seat contentedly.

I grinned, relishing the thought of leaving one of Menominee's finest in the dust, and sped up to two-forty. The smile slipped, however, as I heard the officer's next thoughts. With a sigh, I took my foot off the gas and began to gently brake us down towards a stop.

"What are you doing?" Emmett bellowed frantically. "Do you want us to get caught?" He reached over like he was going to somehow make us go faster by throttling me.

"He knows the car's a Countach," I replied in a monotone, continuing to check our speed. "Even if I lose him, it won't be difficult to find out who owns a Lamborghini in this one-horse town."

Emmett left off trying to break my neck, but he slammed his fist into the passenger door. I actually heard the metal folding into a dent, even over his "Goddamn it!"

Emmett continued with his string of muttered curses as I coasted to a stop right near the battered 'De r Cro sing' sign, right where River Road starts to go by Ziemann Park. He didn't stop, either, until several minutes later when I rolled down my tinted window in response to the staccato tapping of the policeman. Officer Jackson, according to his nameplate, did a double take when he saw me.

What the hell is this kid doing in a Lamborghini? No way does it belong to him; it's gotta be hot. Oh, Jesus, look at the other one; he's the size of a gorilla! I'll bet my week's pay they're both high on something . . . probably robbed some rich guy up in Detroit or Grosse Pointe Shores . . . "License and registration, kid," he snapped at me.

I had both ready for him, and he scrutinized the documents as if he expected them to be fake. Which, technically, they were . . . or, at least, the documentation I'd used to get a driver's license in the first place was. Motor Vehicle people tend to look at you funny when you flash a birth certificate from 1901 . . . or at least they do when you don't look a day over twenty.

"Cullen? Doc Cullen's son?"

"Yes, sir," I replied. In the short time we've lived here, Carlisle has once again become known to almost every resident. My father is the type of man who just commands respect from everyone he meets, and by proxy, everyone they talk to after that.

"Huh. So this is how it works, then? Your father cures people, and you put them in the hospital?"

"We didn't hurt anyone!" I cried, my shell of blasé unconcern cracking as I realized what Carlisle would think if . . . okay, when he found out. Obviously, this wasn't going to end well.

"No, somehow you managed to avoid taking out half the town, God knows how," Jackson retorted. He tossed my papers back in my face, and I felt Emmett's low growl more than I actually heard it.

"Out of the car."

I gritted my teeth and did as he said, although I could tell from monitoring his thoughts that this was more about his jealousy over the car than anything else. Once outside, Jackson put me through walking a straight line and reciting the alphabet (completely honked him off when I did so glibly, backwards). Thoroughly rankled, he finally ordered me to get in the car. His car. "I'll have to take you kids down to the station with me."

"Why? Don't I just get a ticket? It's not like we're drunk or anything," I protested.

The officer leaned in until his face was inches from mine. "I clocked you at almost a hundred and fifty miles an hour, son," he spat. "You think I'm going to let you hop in your fancy car and try for two hundred the second I'm out of sight?"

"Look, you can't . . ." Surprisingly, it's Emmett, appearing so suddenly next to me that Jackson instinctively rests his hand on his weapon, who tells me to stuff it.

"Let's just go," he said, giving me a dark look. I sighed, knowing that it's not in our best interest to fight with the police. I just . . . I didn't like where this was going, and if we accompanied Officer Jackson to the police station, they'd call Carlisle for sure. But there was really no other choice. I gave my beloved car one last wistful look before crawling into the cramped backseat of a police vehicle whose stench of beer and puke made it an affront to the senses, not to mention that the car itself was a total disgrace to the automotive industry.

"Carlisle's going to be pissed," Emmett muttered suddenly from beside me, breaking into my thoughts.

I nodded absently, although I tended to disagree. Carlisle doesn't really get pissed; I could count on one hand the number of times over the past sixty years or so that I'd actually seen him angry. Believe me, none of them were caused by racing cars or one of us coming home later than we'd promised. But disappointment was something else entirely; Carlisle is easily disappointed. I think it's because, in his overly-idealistic mind, he sees us as far better than we really are, so it's always a real blow to him when we mess up. Poor man needs to lower his standards and save himself constant heartache.

Emmett and I were seated on a bench in Precinct 3B, waiting for Carlisle to come and pick us up. I think Officer Jackson would have much preferred to lock us up in the cage with the hooker in the leopard-print miniskirt and backless top and the dude with all the tattoos . . . except that both of us are underage. Well, that's what he thinks, anyway. So instead it was this metal bench with holes in the corners, designed to handcuff criminals to their seat and prevent them leaving or switching the channel on the fuzzy old television set or whatever it is people do for fun around here.

My sense of smell was not helping out in this environment. If I could choke, the thick curtain of cigarette smoke in here would surely do the job, if the body odor and perfume off the middle-aged hooker didn't. Jackson, Officer Krupke himself, was chewing on a huge, cheap cigar while slamming his stacks of paperwork around harder than was strictly necessary.

Spoiled rich kids, he thought angrily. Sixteen and driving a Countach, for the love of Christ. And their daddy will come down in a three-piece suit and pick them up, and maybe he'll yell at them for five minutes about wasting his time and embarrassing him, but the little one'll cry and next thing they'll both have some new toy to make up for it. The form he was working on suddenly tore under the pressure of his pen, and he furiously crumpled it into a ball before yanking a new one off the stack, glaring at Emmett as if he'd personally caused that little accident.

While I bristled at being referred to as the little one, I could certainly understand the policeman's resentment. He had four kids to support by himself; I'd seen their faces in his mind when he thought about what could have happened if Emmett and I had lost control of the car. And while I hardly think Jackson'd buy any of them a Lamborghini even if he had the funds, it caused me a pang of guilt to realize that he didn't even have enough money to get his son Toby a bicycle for Christmas, which fact was eating away at him like acid.

I heard Carlisle in my head before I caught his scent, and long before I actually saw him. "He's not angry," I murmured to my brother, "but the cop exaggerated when they spoke, so Dad's thinking we were playing cat and mouse, and he's really . . ." I searched my brain for a better word than 'disappointed.' ". . . let down," I finished lamely.

"Great," Emmett groaned. "Stupid cop."

I snorted at his narcissistic view of things. "Right, because without his spin on it, we'd be completely innocent and Carlisle would just be happy we're still in one piece."

"Edward, I'm just saying . . ."

One look from Carlisle as he came around the corner, and we both shut up in a hurry. I'd told Emmett that our father wasn't angry, but his face looked like it could go that way at any time as he walked over to where we sat and just stood staring down at us for a long moment. Emmett and I both fidgeted, not a usual vampire trait, while working to avoid looking him in the eye.

"Your car has been impounded, Edward," he finally said, "not that you will be driving it for quite some time, in any case." I nodded, realizing for the first time that I was probably in some serious trouble as far as my license is concerned. "The officer thought it would be a good idea to let you spend the night here . . . but I told him that would not be necessary."

Officer Krupke snorted from his desk, as if he personally disagreed with the good doctor's diagnosis.

"We will be having a serious talk when I get you boys home," Carlisle promised, "but in the meantime" — and here he gave me a pointed look — "I need some time to think. I would appreciate quiet on the drive there."

I nodded, understanding that he wanted me to refrain from listening to him on the way back to the house. "I'll try, Dad," I said quietly. I suppose to any other parent making a request, my response would sound impossibly cocky. Jackson slammed his desk drawer shut and stormed off in utter disgust. But Carlisle understood; he knows I can't just shut the mind-reading down on command like that. But I'd try to, and he knew I'd try. All in all, it was a silent procession that headed out to Carlisle's Mercedes under the sodium arc lamps in the parking lot.

Carlisle isn't neurotic about speed limits, but he doesn't drive a hundred miles an hour the way we do, either. I can't figure out why, since it isn't as if those extra couple hundred years he has on us were spent driving, which could theoretically have dulled the excitement for him. Maybe he used to ride his horse and buggy real fast or something, I don't know. But I was relieved when we finally pulled into the driveway. It's hard to tune people out, particularly when they're right near me . . . and when I have a vested interest in knowing what they're thinking. But I respect Carlisle's privacy. He hardly ever makes requests of us, so when he does, we all bend over backwards to accomodate him. I'd already run through "The Raven" twice and finally had to resort to repeating the chorus of "Yellow Submarine" just to keep my mind busy.

Our house, situated on six acres of beautiful, serene forest, is big enough that Dad and Esme, Rosalie and Emmett, Alice and Jasper, and I all have separate bedrooms, and Dad even gets his own study, too. It's a far cry from the place we had in Mobile, where I had to set up all my records and books in the unfinished basement that smelled like a dead body was rotting under the cement, and Dad's study was a sewing room smaller than the holding cell down at 3B.

It says a lot about just how generous Carlisle is that he offered to shelve his books in his and Esme's bedroom and give me the little sewing room, but that would hardly have been fair. Dad deserves to come home from the hospital and have a place to read by himself, and if their bedroom had to hold all his books and Esme's . . . well, whatever it is she collects, they'd have been forced to have sex in the bathroom. And that's another thing — in the basement, it was easier to tune out . . . that. Even now that we have this bigger house, I sometimes feel like I'm an abandoned carrot in a rabbit hutch.

Esme's always talking about building our dream house from scratch, or renovating an old one. She wants all the walls to be glass, or as much as possible without collapsing the whole structure, anyway. But it just doesn't make any sense. We never know how long we're going to be able to stay in one place before someone becomes suspicious, or before one of us has an 'accident.' Someday we'll find just the right set of circumstances, though, and Esme can have a huge house to transform into a refuge for our family. I suppose all that matters is that we're together . . . but I sure like not having to listen to my records in the basement.

Anyway, it was to the study that Carlisle ordered us when we got home. Esme was at the kitchen table, fussing with wallpaper samples and some kind of fabric; Carlisle went in to speak to her while Emmett and I trudged upstairs, dreading the impending interview. Rosalie and Alice were out, probably at the shopping center, but Jasper's scent was strong from his and Alice's room, where their television blared Laverne & Shirley. It's a toss-up whether David Lander's voice or Emmett's laugh gets on my nerves the most. Even from upstairs, and over the bleating laugh track, I could hear Mom and Dad talking almost as clearly as if they were there in the room with us. Sometimes I wonder how any of us are surprised at Christmas, but it does happen . . . on occasion. Except for Alice.

". . . loves that car so much, and you know they've never had an accident . . ."

". . . have to be so careful, and this is not going to help us lay low . . ."

". . . only kids, after all . . . inside all day . . ."

"Mom's taking up for us, as usual," I confided to Emmett, who was worrying that we'd be grounded this weekend when he planned to take Rosalie to Detroit for some kind of car show. He nodded, used to having Esme take our side. Dad doesn't like to come down hard on us kids, but he feels it's his duty or something. It's nice to have a mother that argues for you at times like these.

Finally, we heard Carlisle's footsteps creaking up the stairs, and Emmett and I both tried to look as if we weren't listening. I doubted Dad'd fall for it, but like I said, Carlisle's a sucker for believing we're all perfect with rare slip-ups rather than complete idiots with occasional moments of ordinariness. He just might.

Well, that pipe dream went right out the window as Carlisle walked into the room and shut the door firmly behind him. He paced slowly back and forth a couple of times, finally turning to face us before leaning back against the edge of the desk and crossing his arms, gazing steadily at Emmett and me. I tried not to eavesdrop on his thoughts . . . but this time, it's not just out of respect for him. I just really didn't want to know what he was thinking about us.

Emmett studied his ratty Converse sneakers, worn more to piss Alice off than for any other reason. Ever the suck-up, I tried to look Carlisle in the eye . . . only to find I couldn't get past his left shoulder. Nobody spoke, not out loud, anyhow, for a long time, but finally Carlisle sighed and started his lecture.

"Your mother and I do not ask very much from any of you," he began. "We ask that you help around the house, treat us and each other with love and respect, and most of all that you do your utmost to keep our family safe, which does not include making us visible to the police." The words, delivered in his usual reasoning tone, still cut me like a knife, and I could hear Emmett's thoughts taking a rare turn towards guilt.

We really let him down this time . . .

"I know you love your cars, and that it is fun to drive fast," Carlisle continued. "And, of course, you are not in physical danger like a human would be. You are both good kids — all of you are such terrific kids — and I want you to have fun and enjoy life. But what worries me is that you do not think about what would happen if you came around a corner and someone was walking too far from the shoulder of the road. Or even another group of teenagers out for fun, driving without their lights on in the wrong lane. You two would walk away without a scratch, but what about the humans? Could you do to their families what losing one of you would do to your mother and me?"

It's really a mystery, my reactions when Carlisle has to give a lecture like this. I'm a vampire without normal body functions. I can't sweat or produce tears, and I don't have a working heart to start pounding. Whatever causes lumps to form in people's throats — a phenomenon I've read about but never experienced — or makes knees shake and knock together doesn't occur in my body.

But when I heard the disappointment in Carlisle's voice, and saw the sadness in his eyes as he looked at us . . . and finally, when I caught from his thoughts a picture of just what losing even one of his 'children' would do to him . . . well, I just felt this terrible hollowness inside, and a wave of horrible, unspeakable pain ripped through some non-physical part of me.

"I'm sorry, Dad," I whispered, and Emmett echoed my apology.

"Sorry, Dad . . ."

Carlisle sighed. "I try to treat you as equals, and I hope you never feel that I do not respect you as adults. I also try to be understanding, since we all sometimes act our physical ages by default. But when you insist on acting immaturely, I feel I have no choice but to react accordingly." He straightened up from where he'd been leaning on the desk, and he took me by the shoulders before gently propelling me towards the corner by the door. "Face the wall, Edward, while I deal with your brother first."

And I knew, then, how Dad planned to 'react accordingly'; Emmett, who couldn't see Carlisle's thoughts or even my face — which I'm sure was showing some measure of panic — didn't catch on just yet. Not until Carlisle left me in the corner and walked back to his desk did I hear my brother's thoughts begin to comprehend the situation.

Oh, hell, no, he's not going to . . . ? Edward, tell me we aren't getting . . . ? "Aw, Dad, no way, I'm too old for that!" Emmett protested as Carlisle quietly asked him to take down his jeans and bend across the desk.

"I thought you were, son, but apparently I was wrong. Do as I tell you, please." I could still hear Emmett grumbling and protesting as he unzipped his pants . . . and then for a long moment, there was complete silence.

At the first smack, I winced and squeezed my eyes shut (as if I could really see, anyway). Emmett sucked in his breath — why we do that when we're surprised is the same kind of mystery as the hurting in my 'stomach' when I feel I've let Carlisle down — but didn't make any other sounds just then. After Dad gave him twelve or so in succession, however, Emmett's composure cracked and he let out a whimper. I was embarrassed for him; I knew how much it must have wounded his pride to give in that way, especially since Jasper and Esme could hear everything that transpired.

Of course, I could tell, also, as Emmett couldn't, that Carlisle was far from done. He continued to rhythmically apply his hand to the seat of my brother's shorts, and after six more, Emmett cried out loudly enough that I instinctively put my hands over my ears to block out the sound. It didn't help much, as my sensitive hearing still picked up the sound of the spanking going on behind me, but my hands muffled the worst of it.

Unfortunately, I could still hear Emmett's thoughts. When I hear what people are thinking, I hear it as clearly as if they'd actually spoken to me; it's why I sometimes accidentally answer thoughts out loud instead of waiting for the words. Because of this, I always pick up on every tone and inflection, and I knew Emmett was holding up better than I could; Dad's spanking was really hurting him. If he had to speak, he'd sound like a five-year-old child right now.

Out of sympathy for him, I tried my best not to listen even to his thoughts anymore. If I could've hummed or something, it would've been easier, but I didn't think Carlisle would appreciate that. I tried the same method that worked in the car, mentally reciting "The Raven," and it seemed to suffice. Emmett's punishment had been going on quite a while, and I shuddered to think about what was in store for me.

It's really no surprise that Carlisle chose to punish Emmett and me this way; we 'kids' have all been spanked by him at one time or another. Well, except for Alice. Who could get angry with sweet little Alice? She doesn't cause trouble for anyone. Usually, it's Emmett and Jasper, or Emmett and I, or occasionally Rosalie. Not too often, though — Rosalie's real problem is perpetual bitchiness, like she was changed in the middle of one godawful menstrual cycle and somehow got stuck for all eternity in that mode, and I reckon Carlisle can't do much about that.

It's not like we get punished for stupid things, like forgetting to vacuum or swearing; Carlisle doesn't even bat an eyelash. All it really takes is for Esme to remind us gently about our language or missed chores; if we respect Carlisle, then our feelings for our mother border on actual worship. It's the serious stuff, stuff like putting ourselves or the family at risk, that ends with one or more of us bent over Dad's desk. It sucks, and I try as hard as anyone else to wriggle out of it, usually . . . but he's never unfair. Never once have I felt like I got a raw deal from Carlisle, and I know he loves all of us more than anything in the world.

I was doing a good enough job with blocking out the noise, both audible and inaudible, that I thought I must have missed a lot of interim building up . . . because suddenly, Emmett gave a particularly loud wail that made me jump. I couldn't concentrate on poetry after that, and I was horrified to hear my brother start to really cry. Well, we can't actually produce tears . . . but the noise, the sobbing, is pretty much the same as it would be for a human. It was a new experience to hear my 'older' brother, so much bigger and stronger than I am, babbling and pleading with Carlisle to stop.

Mercifully, after a few more smacks, he did stop, and I didn't have to listen to the sounds of Emmett's spanking anymore. I could still hear him sobbing, but it was easier to tune out once it didn't spike in volume every time he got smacked. I just stood there with my hands pressed so hard to my ears that I figured I wouldn't hear right for days anyway, shaking as I waited for Carlisle to call me over.

Shaking. And taking some pretty deep breaths at that. Well, like I said, I can't explain the reaction; I just know it happens. Must be an instinctive attempt to relieve stress. I read somewhere that the reason some people wet themselves when they're scared is because, in the caveman days, the smell would often enough scare the big animals away. I guess if that primal instinct is still left over after all this time, less than sixty years of being a vampire couldn't completely erase my human breathing reflex.

Such inane chatter helped me continue to block Emmett out, well enough that I jumped about a foot when Carlisle's hand touched my shoulder. "It's time, son," he told me quietly.

My ears were ringing from being covered so long, but I could hear Emmett crying — much more subdued now, though — from the sofa. He looked up just as I started to follow Carlisle to the desk, and I heard him ask, Weren't you listening? Dad called you a couple times.

I shook my head, and Emmett's face registered surprise and gratitude. Oh . . . Thanks, bro. I appreciate it.

I shrugged, more concerned now with what was about to happen to me. I didn't like seeing Emmett so shaken; if Carlisle could hurt him enough to cry that much, it didn't bode well for me.

"Emmett, go and stand in the corner where Edward was," Carlisle ordered him, not unkindly. I barely noticed; I was too interested in my feet and wondering if it was within my powers to sink through the floor. When, out of the corner of my eye, I saw my brother facing away from me, I finally sighed and went to unfasten my jeans.

"Thank you, Edward, for not making me ask you first." Carlisle placed a comforting hand on my shoulder before I resolutely bent over his desk, the way Emmett had, resting my face against my clenched fists. I tensed, waiting for him to start my punishment. As my shoulders moved out of reach, Carlisle's hand slid down until it rested lightly on my lower back, a gesture I'm pretty familiar with. I suppose he does that in case we try to get up . . . but with Carlisle, it's more likely to let us know that he's still our dad and that we're not alone, even when he's punishing us for screwing up yet again.

I knew that Emmett needed to be in serious discomfort to carry on like he had, but I still held out hope that I'd be able to keep myself under control, at least until the very end. But like it had my brother, Carlisle's first smack knocked me completely for a loop, and I gasped at the impact. He's a gentle man and prefers to talk things out rather than resort to physical violence . . . but you wouldn't know it from the way he spanks.

That first was followed quickly by nine more, each of them with enough of a pause in between to let the sting really start to build up. I wished I could reach out and hold on to the far edge of the desk for support, but I knew it would just break off in pieces . . . it wouldn't be the first time that happened. I settled for balling my fists tighter and pushing against the unyielding walnut desktop as Carlisle continued to set fire to my backside.

It was never my intention to make my brother look like a coward, but I really don't like to carry on much during a spanking. Unfortunately, Carlisle isn't too keen on stoicism. If we don't let go and cry, he just spanks harder until we do. I understand why and all; it's an intense, stressful experience, and he thinks crying makes all the tension dissolve. But it's also horribly embarrassing, and I was ashamed when, after only about twenty-five repetitions of Carlisle's hand descending on my shorts, I broke into a dry crying jag that only got worse as he started in on my upper thighs and the place where I'd eventually be sitting . . . I hoped.

Finally, after a particularly painful series of smacks to the exact same place on my left side, I just gave up and wailed, "Dad, please . . . I'm sorry, just please stop . . ." whining louder than Emmett ever had, no longer caring who heard. Carlisle's hand on my back increased its pressure slightly as he repeated the process on the right, then finished up with ten of the hardest yet, all across my thighs. Oddly enough, it was actually kind of a relief, because at least the pain was finally spread across my whole backside instead of throbbing only on the left, like it had been. But it hurt, damn it, hurt like I'd been burnt by a blowtorch instead of spanked like a little kid, and I couldn't stop crying even when it was obvious my punishment was finally over.

Carlisle had me up off the desk and wrapped in a crushing embrace before I could even register what was happening, and at first I only pushed back rebelliously at his chest with my still-clenched fists. I felt I wanted no further contact with the man who'd lit into me until I'd broken down and begged him to stop. Dad let me go — reluctantly, it seemed — and watched while I fumbled awkwardly to pull up my jeans. I turned my back on him so he wouldn't see my face, gritting my teeth as the rough edge of my pants scraped against my sore backside.

But after my clothes were adjusted and I'd stood there a moment, alone, the seat of my jeans burning while I cried in a tearless rage, I regretted rejecting my father that way. He'd only been trying to comfort me . . . and now I realized how much I needed that comfort, yearned for it so desperately, in fact, that its absence felt like a fresh hole ripped in my chest. I wanted to apologize and ask him to hold me again . . . but it was too late for that now.

Dad obviously didn't agree; a second later, I felt his hands firmly taking my shoulders and turning me to face him. His sunshine-on-wheat eyes were so full of compassion and love that I felt a fresh surge of self-hatred for always being such a disappointment to him. Once again, he pulled me tight against his chest, and this time, I just leaned in and clung to my father shamelessly, my shoulders heaving from the tears that could never be shed. "Edward, I hated doing that," Carlisle murmured, tenderly rubbing my back as I cried. "It hurts me greatly when I see you hurt, particularly if I am the cause of your pain. But you have to be more careful, son. If this spanking makes you think twice next time, then it had to be done, as much as I loathed the task."

"I'm s-sorry," I stuttered, still trying to get control over my emotions. "I said I was sorry . . ."

"Shhhh . . . it's all over, Edward, son. And I hope this will be the last time I have to punish you."

I buried my face deeper into my dad's shoulder, breathing in that unique scent of his — it reminds me of sandalwood and those vanilla cookies my human mother used to bake, and makes me feel so safe whenever I'm close to him — and he held me that way for a long time while I cried out the last of my pain and humiliation.

Finally, Carlisle gently guided me over to the sofa where Emmett now sat, his crying long done and traces of his usual grin already starting to show up. I yelped as I sat down too hard on a still-throbbing behind, which elicited a snort from my brother.

"Emmett," Carlisle warned.

"It's all right," I muttered. And it was. "He wasn't making fun of me." I understood that, somehow; Emmett wasn't laughing at me, he was laughing at us, and letting me know that everything was back to normal.

Dad raised an eyebrow at us, but as Emmett playfully punched my arm just then — well, not so playfully that it didn't hurt, but that's Emmett for you — he just shrugged and smiled at our antics. Still, his voice, when he spoke, was stern.

"I said you boys were forgiven, and you are — you accepted the consequences of your actions like adults, and I am very proud of you . . ."

What's he been tripping on while we were gone? Emmett asked me silently.

There he goes again, giving us more credit than we deserve, I thought. And I thought I was a slow learner . . .

". . . but you will not be getting your car back, Edward, not until further notice."

I felt a pang of longing for my beautiful Lamborghini, but it's not like I didn't expect this, pretty much from the moment I parked it within view of the De r Cro sing sign. Seemed like a long time ago now. "That's fair, I guess."

"And I am grounding you both for the rest of the month." Emmett opened his mouth to protest, but one look from Carlisle nipped that right in the bud. "I feel that you both need some time to ponder the consequences of treating driving like a game. In a game, like those you play down at that arcade you're so fond of, there is always another chance. In real life, when someone is hurt, or dies, you cannot just pop in a coin and start over. I want you to think about that."

Not surprisingly, Carlisle was right again. Despite being spanked until I couldn't sit without squirming, I hadn't really made the connection until he said that. Suddenly, I didn't care about my car anymore. In fact, it made me sad to think that I'd ever attached such importance to an overpriced hunk of steel and leather. Carlisle and Esme and my brothers and sisters had been there long before I even set eyes on that car, and they'd be there long after it lay rusting in some scrap heap. Who cared if I ever saw it again?

"I understand, Dad," I said softly, and Carlisle's stern expression softened as he reached out and tousled my hair.

"I love you both so very much," he said, his voice finally breaking. "Do not ever forget that."

And I knew I wouldn't. Not ever again.

"Now go downstairs so your mother can yell at you," Carlisle ordered us, the corners of his mouth twitching at the idea of gentle Esme yelling at anyone.

Emmett and I rolled our eyes at each other before getting up and filing out the study door. Emmett shoved me into the doorframe, so I snagged his ankle and snickered as he stumbled into the hallway. Things were definitely back to normal.

"Man, what a night," my brother sighed, taking the stairs two at a time on his way downstairs.

Remembering what started the whole mess in the first place, I gave a derisive snort. "Yes, indeed," I muttered, following Emmett into the kitchen where Esme was waiting, visions of us being tortured in myriad ways flashing through her mind in much the same way as light reflected off those mirrored balls at the disco. "What a night."

The End