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"Lady, listen to the rhythm of my heartbeat . . . and you'll get just what I mean . . ."
Esme's singing was very, very soft — likely no human could have made out the words beyond a gentle hum. It was something she did unconsciously, not wanting to disturb Edward's playing, yet unable to stop herself from accompanying him for all that. "Embrace me, my sweet embraceable you . . . Embrace me, you irreplaceable you . . ."
"Edward, haven't you learned that song by now?!"
Esme's murmurs broke off abruptly, but the music itself continued without pause. "I learned it half an hour ago, Rosalie. Now I'm playing it over and over again so you can learn it, too," came Edward's smooth reply.
"Ha, ha. Could you please play something else? Anything else?"
Ah, the sweet sounds of siblings bent on tormenting each other. Even Edward's finest original composition could never compare in pitch, progression, or polytonality. From my study at the end of the hall, I could hear Edward chuckle as he swiftly shifted from the maudlin sounds of Gershwin to upbeat big band. "Happy days are here again, the skies above are clear again, so let's sing a song of cheer again . . ." he belted out in perfect time to the music.
Even I had to cringe at that — Edward, brilliant pianist though he may be, has never been the best singer. And I could tell that he was deliberately more off-key than usual, just to be annoying. I debated going out and telling them to stop their squabbling, but after all, no one was being hurt.
"Not that song!" I winced as Rosalie's outraged shriek threatened to burst my eardrums.
"I always knew you were a closet Republican, sis," Edward teased, pausing in his singing but continuing to pound the piano keys without a single wrong note.
"Would you stop torturing me?!" she wailed.
"Jesus Christ, Rose, are you on the rag or something?" No longer playful, Edward now sounded quite irritated.
"That's not funny!"
"I know it isn't funny — d'you see me laughing? I'm just trying to figure out why you're screaming like Fay Wray on a roller coaster," he shot back.
"I'm trying to read, and you've been banging away at that thing for hours," Rosalie whined. "It's giving me a headache."
Edward snorted, never ceasing his playing, which even I had to admit was a little annoying. I had heard that song just a few too many times during the long months of campaigning, and thought that with the elections finally over, we could move on to something else. "You are a vampire," he countered scathingly. "You don't get headaches."
"I don't get my rag, either, you half-wit."
"God help anyone who had to be around you when you did," Edward muttered.
"People were lucky to be around me at any time, and they knew it," Rosalie replied haughtily. I coughed into my sleeve to camouflage the choked laughter, knowing they could hear me . . . provided they were not too wrapped up in their argument, that is. Sometimes Rosalie was so vain it was comical.
"What do you want from me, Rose?"
"I want you to stop playing with your wife and do something useful for a change!" she shouted.
Edward growled deep in his throat and finally stopped, slamming the piano lid down over the keys — not hard enough to harm the instrument, but loud enough to cause me to jump. I was about to leave the study and separate the two of them — squabbling was one thing, but this was getting out of hand — when I heard Edward cross the room swiftly and open the front door. "Mom, I'm going hunting," he called out to Esme, who had been in the kitchen mixing paints the last time I had seen her. "Gotta be a mountain lioness I can take down somewhere," he added under his breath.
"Closest you'll ever get to a woman," Rosalie offered sweetly. Edward did not dignify that with an answer, but he banged the door shut so hard that the pictures hanging in the front hallway all rattled. I would have to speak with my son when he returned. Certainly Rosalie had provoked him, but that was twice in the space of a minute that he had almost damaged the house in a fit of temper.
"Good riddance!" Rosalie called, knowing he could still hear, before settling back on the sofa with a delicate sigh. I heard pages shuffling as she tried to regain her place in whatever novel Edward's playing had interrupted. I sighed too, returning to my own reading, thankful that we could now, at least, have a little peace.
I did not count on Esme, however. My wife can never bear to see anyone fighting, and she seems to have a special sense that tells her when the children are hurting or in trouble somehow. Surely Esme shared my concern over Rosalie's behavior which, while not absolutely out of character, had been even more temperamental and aggressive than usual as of late.
I heard her enter the living room and hesitantly approach Rosalie. "What's wrong, Rosie?" Esme asked softly. I smiled as I pictured my gentle wife hovering protectively over her teenage daughter, ready to commiserate over the intractable nature of men in general and Edward in particular.
"Nothing," Rosalie snapped. The smile vanished, and I gritted my teeth, not at all appreciative of the tone Rose was using on Esme, but then again, she was undoubtedly still aggravated with Edward and feeling snarly. No sense in my becoming involved and upsetting her even more.
"Honey, is something bothering you? You can tell me if there is, and I'll help if I can," Esme prodded gently.
I was startled by the sudden dull thunk, which I quickly deduced to be the sound of Rose's paperback hitting the wall. "Would you just leave me alone?! You are not my mother!" Rosalie screeched.
I was beyond angry, beyond even furious — in that moment, I saw red. I was in the front room in the blink of a human's eye, yet it was enough time for Esme's face to crumple as Rosalie's cruel words cut into her like knives. "Rosalie, I will speak to you in my study. Right now," I ordered her, my voice kept low only by the most concentrated effort.
"But — "
I snarled, something I normally never do, feeling a horrid sense of satisfaction at seeing my daughter wince. "Now, young lady."
Rosalie, hardly one to show weakness, stretched, stood up, lifted her chin haughtily, and swept out of the room. Esme had turned away, wrapping her slim arms around herself in a belated gesture of self-protection. I came up behind my pretty child bride and embraced her, purring gently into her ear as I held on tightly, my arms covering hers and supporting her weight.
"I didn't mean to upset her — I was only worried," Esme explained, her voice thick from trying too hard not to cry. "She's been so withdrawn and sad, and fighting with Edward like that . . . they don't usually get so vicious with each other."
"I know, love, I know," I murmured. "I will be having a serious talk with Rosalie about her attitude, you may rest assured."
Esme turned, as best she could while wrapped in my arms, and of course began to argue for Rose. "Carlisle, she's obviously very agitated. I'm fine; there's no need for that." Esme knew how I would have punished Edward for such an outburst, and she correctly assumed that I had the same thing in store for his sister.
I smiled sadly at Esme as I smoothed her soft hair back from her achingly lovely face. "You could forgive anyone, sweetheart," I murmured. "Is it not typically the father that takes the daughter's side, no matter what?" I added teasingly, leaning in until our foreheads were touching.
"And the mother who takes the son's, then?" she countered, playing along. I was pleased to see the corners of her mouth turning up. "Is that really how we are?" Esme's forehead creased with worry. "I try to treat them the same, but with Rose, I just don't know . . ." Her voice trailed off.
I sighed. "I want to treat them the same, love, and I do not believe we are ever unfair . . . but there is something about Rosalie, some shell that she has built up around herself, that prevents anyone from getting too close." Still rocking Esme, I continued, but now I was mostly speaking to myself. "We love her . . . but she will not be loved."
Rosalie sat perched on the edge of my desk, examining her nails. She took no notice of me as I walked into the study. I wanted to follow Edward's example and slam the door, if only to shock her into showing some emotion, but heaven knows I have overcome far more pressing temptations in my lifetime. The door clicked into place with no more force than if it had simply swung closed of its own accord.
Rosalie did not look up even then, but after several moments of my standing perfectly still without speaking so much as a word, I saw her eyes flicker uncertainly to my face. Seeing how intently I was watching her, my daughter feigned disinterest, but the uncomfortable way she shifted her weight belied any attempt at nonchalance.
This tactical maneuver had always wrought favorable results in Edward — that of unnerving the culprit with silence, causing the tension to mount until he was actually glad to hear me begin lecturing him. Rosalie was good at hiding her emotions, making it impossible to ascertain whether the same effect had been reached, but I had dragged this out long enough already. I was also calm enough now that I could give voice to my thoughts without caving to temptation and hurting Rosalie the way she had hurt Esme.
"Rosalie," I began, "one of the few rules in this house is that everyone is treated with respect. Bickering with your brother is one thing, but I cannot even believe what I just heard from you in there. You do not speak to Esme that way, is that understood?"
"What do you want from me? It's the truth," Rosalie challenged me.
I clenched my jaw and tried valiantly to stay calm. "Truth, much like beauty, is often in the eye of the beholder. Edward was not born to us, yet he takes no issue with accepting Esme and me as his parents. You may not agree, which is your prerogative. However, the fact that you would treat so callously a woman who has shown you nothing but love makes it clear to me that your beauty, at least, is only skin deep. I am very disappointed in you."
"I didn't ask for this!" Rosalie cried, gesturing angrily at her slim body and perfect features.
"None of us did, Rose," I answered her softly, meeting her anguished gaze. "None of us asked to be changed, nor, for that matter, to be born in the first place. I am sorry if this existence makes you so unhappy, but all any of us can do is our best with the hand we have been dealt."
"You didn't give me a choice! Why didn't you just leave me to die?" she hissed.
"Rosalie, I did not have long to ponder my decision. If it be that I did not choose correctly, all I can do is offer my apologies. But I did not change you for sport, only to cast you aside as a hunter leaves behind all but the buck's head. You were brought here and accepted as one of us. All we asked was that you abide by our few simple rules."
"Then I guess I'm not welcome here anymore, is that it?" Rosalie snapped at me. "I won't pretend she's my mother like Edward does, so I'm tossed out on my own?"
I shook my head. "You misunderstand, Rose," I told her. "Your place in this family is not contingent on your acceptance of the roles we wish to play in your life, nor does it hinge on your behaving perfectly at all times. However, just like your brother, you will be punished when necessary. Had Edward spoken to his mother the way you just did, no matter the circumstances, I would see to it that he did not sit for a full week. I am unaware of any reason why you should be different."
It took Rosalie a moment before understanding dawned on her perfect face. "You're going to spank me?" she cried incredulously.
"Surely you have been spanked before?" It would be singular, indeed, if she had not. Disciplinary methods had changed a great deal since my time as a human, but spanking was still the preferred method of correction. And with Rosalie's temper . . . someone must have had quite the task in taming her, I thought, shaking my head ruefully.
"Well . . . when I was much younger, of course — not for many years," she admitted.
"That certainly explains a great deal," I rejoined with a wry smile. "Perhaps it has been too long since you were reminded how to behave yourself properly."
"I'm ninet — well, eighteen, if you insist on keeping up this charade," Rosalie protested, rolling her eyes. "Spanking is for little kids."
"You are acting like a spoiled little child, Rose." She opened her mouth to protest, but I shook my head. "No, just listen. I fully intended to spank you the moment you lashed out at Esme, but even had there been any question about it, your inability to admit any wrongdoing would certainly make it necessary. Reasoning with you did nothing, nor has it done anything in the year you have been here."
Rosalie's eyes snapped with fury. "Well, I'm so sorry if I haven't turned into a simpering suck-up like your perfect son," she spat, "but in case you've forgotten, I don't have much reason to trust anyone."
I met Rose's furious gaze calmly, showing her that I felt only compassion for what she had suffered. "Rosalie, I understand how much pain you were in when you first came here. Some of it may never completely heal. But you cannot use the events of a year ago as an excuse to wallow in the past forever. You have a family that loves you. You are safe here. Whether you choose to love us in return is up to you, but in the meantime, you will follow our rules. They are neither unfair nor strict. Having broken one, you will accept the consequences."
Rosalie chewed on her lip for a moment, then suddenly smiled. I was rather taken aback by it — unnerving enough considering the present circumstances, this smile was something I had not seen once in all the year she had lived in our home. It was a soft, almost angelic expression that lit up her perfect features. No longer cold and haughty, she now appeared wistful and . . . rather fragile, inviting any true gentleman to try and comfort her in her distress.
"Carlisle," she began, her voice now velvet-soft and endearingly bewildered, "I really don't know what got into me. I know you've given me a home and been very kind, but sometimes . . . sometimes I miss my re — my human parents, and then I feel guilty. I guess I just snapped." Her eyes were wide and innocent, and I found myself feeling guilty despite knowing, intellectually, exactly what was happening.
"Rosalie, I know not if I can trust you to be honest, but please, tell me truthfully . . . you say that you have not been spanked in many years. Do you believe things might have been different — different even before the last time, in so far as frequency and severity — were it not for your looks?"
Rose's eyes narrowed. "What are you saying?"
"I am asking you a question. How many punishments did you circumvent by playing Daddy's pretty little girl, if you will, as you are undoubtedly trying to do right now?"
"You're not my daddy," she hissed venomously, the bewildered charade forgotten. "And you never will be."
It would never do to show Rosalie how much she had hurt me. "That is unfortunate, Rosalie," I answered evenly, betraying nothing beyond measured regret. "I would have liked to be thought of that way. I love you very much, and consider you my daughter, just as I consider Edward my son. You may not feel the same way, but it does not change my feelings, nor your punishment. You are still about to be spanked."
"Fine," she replied haughtily. "See if I care."
I sighed. "Bend across the desk, young lady," I told her. Rosalie obeyed with a toss of her hair, as if it were hardly worth her time to argue.
It was not my wish to humiliate Rose, nor to make her fear me. The rage I had felt at her treatment of Esme had cooled, and left in its place was the typical reluctance I had always dealt with when I had to punish Edward. Normally, I had my son take down his trousers for a spanking, but it would hardly be appropriate to lift Rosalie's skirt. Aside from being improper in itself, she would undoubtedly see the act as a violation reminiscent of her brutal attack the year before.
I placed my hand on the small of her back, but gently — the point was not to hold her down, but instead to reassure my daughter during what must, despite Rosalie's cavalier attitude, be a very stressful time for her, mentally as well as physically. This was confirmed for me as I felt her body tense under my hand. "It will be over soon, Rose," I promised her. She did not answer. I gave her a reassuring pat and, wanting to get her punishment over as quickly as possible, brought my other hand down twice in quick succession.
Edward, on the few occasions he had earned himself a spanking, always fought bravely not to cry or sob. Even when I assured him that there was no shame in doing either, he still would hold onto his dignity for longer than I would ever have thought possible. I vacillated between pride in my son's bravery and exasperation with his stubbornness. In fact, I often punished Edward harder than I had planned on simply so he would be forced to let go and cry. Holding one's emotions inside to seethe and fester is hardly cathartic.
Considering what I had seen of my daughter's cold disposition, I fully expected to meet the same obstinate resistance, and I dreaded having to push her too hard in order to evoke a response. I need not have worried, as it turned out — Rosalie absolutely shrieked when she felt those first two smacks, even over her skirt. For a moment, I was frightened that I had inadvertently hurt her, actually physically harmed her, until I realized that her cries were more those of a child in the midst of a tantrum than a woman in any serious pain.
Shaking my head impatiently, I continued with her spanking. Rosalie's cries spiked in volume as she realized that I was not reacting favorably to her theatrics. She attempted to rise, but it only required a bit more pressure against her back with my free hand to prevent that from happening. Next, my daughter tried the age-old maneuver of reaching back to protect her bottom from any more smacks. In one fluid movement, I took hold of her wrist with my left hand and pinned it to her back before she could even register that she was not being held down any longer. Finally, with all her attempts at fighting me thwarted, Rosalie resorted to wailing like a banshee, as if perhaps she felt I would become embarrassed and cease her punishment, or that someone would overhear — she could probably have been heard in Guam, as it were — and come to her rescue.
I continued to spank her without pause. "Rosalie, if you think this performance is going to end, or even mitigate, your punishment, it will not. Of course, I am not about to put up with histrionics, so perhaps this could wait until your brother gets home. I imagine you would be much quieter if you knew he was listening."
My daughter's yelps cut off abruptly, reducing the noise to quiet sobs and gasps more appropriate for the relatively few swats she had received thus far. "Thank you, Rosalie. Now, at least, you are finally acting your age." I continued to rain smacks down onto the seat of her skirt, and said nothing when her sobs grew louder. I expected as much, and I knew that at this point, her distress was genuine, not fabricated.
Finally, when I felt Rosalie had been punished enough, I stopped, released her wrist, and gave her a moment to realize that she was no longer being spanked, all the while gently stroking her back. When she tried to hoist herself up off my desk, I took hold of her upper arms and helped her to stand, then pulled her toward me to be held. No matter what Rosalie had done, she was still my daughter and had been punished. Now it was time to hold her and tell her she was forgiven. Rose, however, had other ideas.
"Let me go!" she shouted, snarling in rage as she pushed back against my shoulders. "Just leave me alo — " Her voice broke off into another sob as she put her hand to her forehead and turned away from me, trembling with nervous energy.
Not to be dissuaded, I reached out for Rosalie again. "Rose, stop this. I always hold Edward afterwards. And I love you just the way I love him." Once again, I pulled her close and began stroking her disheveled hair.
"Just go away! I don't want you touching me!" she cried against my chest, struggling against my hold on her.
"Consider it part of your punishment, then," I answered dryly. "But I will not be letting you go until you have calmed sufficiently." I placed my hand on the back of her neck, a gesture that always managed to quiet Edward's sobs. Rosalie responded at first, leaning further into my embrace, but that slip only seemed to fuel her rage. I believe that she wanted to be upset and resented my efforts to soothe her.
I had not allowed Rosalie's struggles to sway me while she was being punished, and comforting her afterwards was far more important. I held Rose as tight against my chest as I could, gently stroking her back with the hand that was not pressed against her neck. Gradually, my daughter's sobs grew quieter, and she ceased struggling against my hold. Without realizing it, I had begun a barely perceptible rocking back and forth, which seemed to have a hypnotic effect on Rosalie. She made no further protests, and it was probably fifteen minutes or better before I reluctantly let her loose.
Rosalie glared at me for a brief moment as she stepped back and crossed her arms. It pained me to see the contempt and loathing in her eyes. I sighed, running a hand through my hair as I leaned back against my desk. "Are you ready to talk, Rosalie?" I asked her patiently.
"No," Rosalie snapped. "There's nothing to talk about. You can hold me down and hurt me because you're stronger than I am, but I'll be damned if I'm going to sit and chat about it afterwards."
"You are still technically a newborn, Rosalie," I responded neutrally, despite the pang of guilt that her accusation caused me. "You could have fought me if you had needed to. But you know — and you knew — perfectly well that a disciplinary spanking is not the same as a physical attack. And I would never hold you down if I thought you were truly suffering, rather than just throwing a tantrum."
"As if I'd believe you love me just the way you love Edward," she added scathingly, switching tactics.
I sighed for a second time. "Perhaps I did not phrase that correctly," I said. "I suppose it is impossible to love any two people in the same way, as everyone is different. I meant that I do not love you any less."
"You're nothing but a liar," Rosalie shot back. "How could you love some girl off the street no less than your son? My real family would never have taken in strangers and held them up against their legitimate kids."
"I do not doubt that, Rosalie," I replied in measured tones. I probably should not have continued, but the urge to say the words that had been burning in me ever since I came upon her savaged beauty the year before was too strong. "However, you hardly have the option to return to them, and in the meantime, this is not such a terrible life. I should think a few house rules and the occasional spanking for breaking them would be a small price to pay for a family that loves you for yourself. Not the social standing they might achieve by selling you into a loveless marriage."
"How dare you?" she hissed. "Royce was drunk, and he'd never acted — if my parents had any idea, they would never have allowed me to start seeing him in the first place. He wanted me — they had nothing to do with it."
As much as I love my children, I have never been of the belief that it is better to hide one's head in the sand, nor to allow others to labor under misconceptions. The truth, however stark and ugly, is always better than ignorance, despite the pain it may bring. "Tell me, how did you meet, originally?" I inquired.
"Well, Daddy forgot his lunch one day, so Ma had me bring it to the bank for him." Rosalie smiled at the memory. "Royce was there, meeting with the branch manager."
Unlike most newborns, Rosalie's memories of her human existence were remarkably clear. I would imagine that it had something to do with the fact that she spent most of her time lamenting over what she had lost by being turned. How ironic it was, I often thought, that Edward, whose parents had been such wonderful people, had only dim recollections of them, while Rosalie's conniving, manipulative family remained crystal clear in her mind. "How utterly convenient," I replied. "What an astoundingly coincidental confluence of events."
Rosalie's eyes narrowed at the gentle sarcasm. "You don't know anything," she cried. "You — they were ecstatic for me, and Royce — "
"They were ecstatic for themselves," I contradicted her impatiently. "I suspect that you know this on some level. Why is it only now becoming an issue? You have managed to live with us for almost a year now, and it is only lately that your hostility has peaked." I frowned, then, as understanding suddenly dawned. "That is the problem, is it not?" I asked Rosalie softly. "'Tis drawing close to the year mark." And it was. February — the shortest month, yet the one whose days crawled sluggishly past every year in near-intolerable torpor — was already two weeks gone. Rosalie was to have been married at the end of last April. "That must be . . . very difficult for you." I reached out tentatively to stroke my daughter's hair.
She jerked away from me, baring her teeth in a furious hiss, and I saw, finally, that we had gone as far as we could. There would be no more discussion. I retracted my hand with a sigh of defeat and stepped back. "I didn't want this," Rosalie repeated once more, her voice cracking as she turned back toward the window. "I'd rather you left me to die."
"But I did not, Rose, and I grow tired of this argument. I brought you here to live. Your old life is gone now. You have parents and a brother, and we love you so very much. The sooner you realize that, the happier you will be."
"Just leave me alone," she whispered. I stared at her rigid back for a moment, then nodded in resignation, though she could not see my gesture. Crossing the room, I opened the door to leave the study, but paused in the doorway and turned back, my hand on the knob.
"You are part of this family now, whether you wish it or not," I informed Rosalie, trying not to let my voice tremble. "I cannot force you to apologize to Esme — I only ask that you do so if and when you can say it sincerely. Do not waste her time — or mine — with an empty gesture." Rosalie still faced the window, her lovely profile lit by the grey light that filtered through the lace curtains. "I love you, Rosalie. I know you may find that hard to believe right now, but it is true nonetheless. And I have never once regretted changing you." Gently pulling the door shut behind me, I left Rosalie to work through her crisis alone, as was her wish.
To be continued? It could stand alone . . . yet . . .