Hi everyone! This week's chapter is a bit sad, but I suppose it's uplifting too, in the sense that the passage of time can make you feel both melancholy about what you've lost, and happy about what you have now. (Basically, this chapter is about existential angst, but it ends on a happy note. :)) I think that Esme's concerns in this chapter are something that would bother all of the Cullens at times; people my grandparents age are amazed at how much the world has changed in their lifetimes, and I imagine that change might be just as jarring for vampires if they were to take the time to reflect on everything that's happened in all their decades or centuries of life, and everything that might happen in the future.
Of course, Carlisle and Esme always try to cheer each other up when one or both of them are feeling down, and this chapter is no exception. Also, in "Eternity" and "I'm Always In Love," I have it that Carlisle and Esme share a birthday—if you want to know why, read "I'm Always In Love" to see how that happened. :) Thanks as always for your reviews; no chapter next week because I'm going on vacation, but I'll be back the week after with a new chapter (possibly a reader request—we'll see :)). Have a great week!
Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer is the author of "Twilight," and I really can't wait to read the "New Moon" graphic novel! (But first I need to pay my bills…)
As Esme stood under the gazebo, watching the rain soak the tree-lined footpaths of the park, she smiled sadly at the thought of Columbus as it had been a hundred years ago. It was Esme's one hundredth birthday, and the place where she'd grown up was almost unrecognizable now. The house she'd grown up in was gone, her family's farm sold long ago, and of course the sounds of traffic, music coming from dorms and headphones, and the other ambient noises of the human world were a far cry from those of a century ago.
Carlisle was teaching for a semester at the Ohio State College of Medicine, and Esme was taking classes for a new degree in architecture. Class was over for the day for Esme, and she and Carlisle had agreed to meet at the gazebo in the park near campus—she knew that his class was over by now too, but she'd asked him to find some flowers for her new garden as a birthday gift, so she guessed that that was where he was now. Some years, she and Carlisle gave each other elaborate or expensive gifts on their birthday—they'd agreed to share Esme's shortly before they were married—but some years, one or both of them wanted something simple, as was the case this year. Carlisle had only asked for a few new pairs of homemade socks (knitted carefully by Esme so that they'd be far more durable than socks designed by and made for humans), and Esme only wanted peonies for the garden.
It was strange, being a hundred years old. Esme was happy in her work and schooling, and still as in love with Carlisle as ever…but she couldn't help but worry about the future. Could things really go on this way forever? She tried to imagine living forever and couldn't, because as a unit of time, "forever" left a great deal to the imagination. What would their lives be like in 2095? And for how many centuries could she go on as she had so far in her life? Even for immortals, the future was hardly certain, and in a hundred years time, life had changed so dramatically that Esme wondered if she would even recognize herself, or the world, in another hundred years.
Esme smiled when she saw Carlisle coming. If there was anyone in the world who could make her think that one hundred wasn't so old, and that it might actually be a blessing to live another hundred years, then it was him.
"I managed to find white ones and red ones, but no pink yet," Carlisle said, indicating the potted plants he held in each hand. There was mud on his shirt—he'd obviously had to dig up the small wild peony plants himself, and the pots he'd put them in were a dazzling shade of dark blue, the glaze that covered them giving off a fine sheen.
"Where did you get the pots?" Esme wondered. "And the flowers, for that matter?"
"The flowers I found in a patch of woods behind my office on campus, and I stopped at a garden supply store on the way here for pots and potting soil, so we can keep these healthy until we get them home and plant them." Carlisle nodded out at the rain. "I'm sorry that our birthday's turned out to be so waterlogged."
"That's all right," Esme said, admiring the plants as he set them on the bench beside her. Then, when he sat down on her other side, she took his hand.
"You don't mind waiting to go to the island?" he said.
"We can go when the semester's over," Esme said with a shrug. "Besides, it's better we're not there today. I'm not in much of a mood to celebrate."
"Why not?" Carlisle asked, freeing his hand only to put his arm around her.
"It's just, I can hardly believe that I'm a hundred years old today," Esme said, staring out at the rain and shaking her head. "So much time has gone by since I came into the world. I can hardly believe how much things have changed, or how much they'll no doubt continue to change in the next hundred years. It's just a lot to take in."
"My dear Mrs. Cullen," Carlisle said with what she could tell was feigned gravity, "you hardly look a day over eighty."
Esme burst out laughing at that and smacked him on the arm. "And you hardly look a day over three hundred!" she said with a phony pout that quickly gave way to a grin.
"I know what you mean though," Carlisle said, his expression and tone more serious now. "In all the years I've lived, I've never gotten bored with life at all. But sometimes I do feel the strain of having lived so long without aging."
"I think that for our kind as well as for humans, "longevity" should refer to how long we can live well, not just how long we can physically continue to exist," Esme said thoughtfully. "I mean, from what you've told me about the Volturi—about Marcus in particular—immortality can be a curse as much as a blessing depending on who you are. We've discussed it before, but I suppose I'd like to hear your thoughts on this again: since knowing me, has it ever terrified you, thinking that there might be hundreds, even thousands of years of life ahead of you?"
"Frequently, yes," Carlisle said. "Obviously, before I knew you, I was often gripped by the terrible conviction that I was going to be alone forever. But of course it scares me sometimes, even now, when I think of the future and imagine that there might be things I can't protect you from. Even now, a few atom bombs could destroy everyone we hold dear; even vampires would have been lucky to survive if the Cold War had ever really heated up. But I suppose I mention it so seldom because I assume everyone feels that way sometimes—awed and even a little frightened at how long life can seem, I mean."
"Yes, I suppose that's true," Esme said slowly. "Of course, as a human, I also had those scary moments when life seemed to be going by too fast. Humans suffer from existential angst too—we all wonder why we're here and how long we're going to be here. And usually, whenever I've felt scared about the breadth and scope of immortality, I've always looked for something to distract me, either some project or some time alone with you."
Carlisle smiled. "Your coping mechanisms are similar to mine then. I think I was much the same when I was human too: when I was feeling mastered by the overwhelming potential of my own existence, I'd look for some useful work to keep me occupied."
"I guess that whether you'll live forever or not, all you can ever do is go on and hope that things get better," Esme said, leaning against Carlisle's shoulder. "And I suppose the world has always been a rather scary place, full of messes that seem too big for anyone to fix."
"Even if I really had forever, I could never save everyone or cure every disease," Carlisle said quietly. "But I'm grateful that I can do what I can, and I do my best to look on the bright side of things, because feeling sorry for myself has never done me any good. When I was alone, that was a lot harder, but I've found it's much easier to be optimistic when I get to see you every day."
Esme smiled. Perhaps existing was hard for everyone some days, no matter what age you were. "Did you know that peonies symbolize happy marriage and happy life, but Greek mythology has it that they're really a symbol of shame? With different stories like that, I always prefer the more optimistic one, which I suppose can be naïve, but you're right—I'm not helping myself or anyone else by worrying. The future's going get here eventually, no matter how much I fret about what it might bring, but we've managed to have a happy life so far, and I see no reason why we shouldn't be just as happy in 2095 as we are in 1995."
"So you wanted peonies to represent how happy we are?" Carlisle wondered.
Esme smiled. "Actually, I just like how they smell."
They both chuckled and then sat for a few moments in silence, watching the rain from the shelter of the gazebo.
"Want to start dancing like that scene in "Top Hat"?" Carlisle said suddenly. "I mean, it's raining, we're in a gazebo…"
Esme laughed. "I'll pass, thanks." It was getting dark now, and Esme was looking forward to sitting in front of the fireplace with Carlisle and discovering whatever surprise he had planned for her birthday; he could never seem to limit himself to just one gift.
"Let's go home," she said softly, thinking of their cozy little house just off campus. "I'd like to spend the rest of our birthday just with you. And let's make a fire tonight—I know it's not very cold tonight, but—"
"But it's your birthday, so you can have whatever you'd like," Carlisle said. "That's a perfect idea anyway, because though I know you only asked for these flowers, I've been waiting all day to give you another birthday present."
"Mmm, and what might that be?" Esme said eagerly, taking a plant in one hand and the collar of Carlisle's jacket in the other, pulling him to her for a quick kiss. She had a special birthday surprise for Carlisle too, but she would wait and reveal that later…
Carlisle simply grinned. "You'll just have to unwrap me and see."