"Hoquiam?" I uttered with disgust.
"What-quiam?" Emmett asked.
"Hoquiam, Emmett. It's a logging town on the peninsula," Carlisle explained.
I sat impatiently on the divan in our suite and ran my hands through my hair. The family was gathered together, listening to Carlisle's plans. "Hoquiam," I muttered again. I wished I could pull some hair out. I thought it might relieve my displeasure.
"You've never been there, Edward," Carlisle reminded me.
"What's in Hoquiam?" Emmett asked.
"Trees," I answered, growing more and more dejected. Esme squeezed my hand and silently begged me to listen with an open mind. Rosalie shifted where she sat, her thoughts nearly as despondent as my own.
"The Depression's ruined the logging industry," Carlisle continued. "The humans there need assistance, and they've been mobilizing to help themselves. It's the kind of community I would like to be a part of."
It appeared that Carlisle planned to take us on a tour of the most remote and downtrodden places in America. Hoquiam sounded much like Cumberland, but with taller trees and an ocean in place of a river.
"Couldn't we stay here, Carlisle?" Rosalie piped up. "I'm sure there are plenty of people that need you in Seattle. And they are helping themselves here, if that's your criteria. Just today someone passed me a flyer for an IWW rally, to protect workers' rights, or something." Then she turned to Emmett and spoke under her breath. "It was such a silly gesture on the human's part. Look at me. Can you imagine me, a socialist?" Rosalie asked with a derisive snort.
Emmett just raised his eyebrows, uncertain how to respond. I discretely shook my head in the negative to help him along. "No way, Rosie baby. Not you, ever. Not a socialist," he replied to her under his breath, while silently thanking me for the help.
I smiled, both at Emmett's smooth reply, and also encouraged by my sister's request. Perhaps our next move wasn't a done deal. If Rosalie wanted to stay in Seattle, I was certain Emmett would agree by default. "Rosalie has a point, Carlisle. Why not Seattle?" I asked. "There are schools, hospitals, lots of clouds, and there are forests surrounding the city, so there'd be plenty to eat."
Carlisle was visibly unhappy about the changing course of the conversation. He hadn't been propositioning us about whether we might like to go to Hoquiam; he had been informing us about where we were headed. "We can't stay in the city. I still haven't found it," he thought to himself. However, Carlisle still hadn't figured out what 'it' was. In my estimation, 'it' seemed a poor reason to continue on, when at least three of us wanted to stay.
"I second Rosalie's vote," I added, although I know Carlisle had not planned any such vote on the matter. "I'd much prefer Seattle to Hoquiam. I'd enroll in classes at the University. Their music program is extraordinary." I had no intention of taking music classes and playing the piano again. I wasn't being completely honest, but I felt I'd do what I had to, in order to stay.
Rosalie nodding approvingly in my direction.
"We're having so much fun, Carlisle," Rosalie continued. "Edward, Emmett and I even have plans for this evening. We have tickets for a cruise on the bay. It's black tie! We've never had the chance to do anything like this before. Maybe we could just give Seattle a chance."
My eyes went wide and I turned and looked squarely at my sister. I certainly hadn't agreed to the cruise. "What?" she silently asked me. "I'm doing what I have to so we can stay. I don't believe you'll be enrolling in music classes either."
Esme looked between her children and her mate. "Do you three really have plans together?"
Rosalie nodded, smiling. "Uh huh. A cruise on the bay! We'll all get dressed up, and there's going to be a band, I think, and dancing. I haven't been dancing since, well, since before…" Rosalie let her voice trail off and her eyes drifted back to Carlisle. She was putting on quite the show.
"We just want to have some fun, Esme," she added, casting her eyes to the floor. I wished I could speak directly to her mind. She may have been vampire, but she was no actress, and she was coming dangerously close to going too far.
"You're going too, Edward?" my mother asked.
I shrugged my shoulders and forced myself to grin in response. I had a bad feeling about the cruise, but I was repulsed by the idea of spending more time in the woods.
"And Emmett, do you think you're ready for something like that?" Esme asked.
"I was out in the city all yesterday with Edward and I did pretty good. I need to get a handle on my thirst. Rose is uh… a good motivator," he replied, grinning at his wife.
Esme laughed out loud about that. She and Carlisle had, after all, shared a suite with the newlyweds the night before. I was extremely glad I'd spent most of the evening at the Blue Moon, and then traversing Jackson, where many of the blues bars were located.
"Seattle Emmett?" Carlisle asked. I knew it was inconceivable that Emmett would choose city life on his own, but he wasn't on his own. Rosalie grabbed his hand, and pressed it to her chest. It was an underhanded move, and I had to wrench my mind from the man's thoughts, lest I get too detailed a view of my sister's anatomy.
"I'm with Rose," he answered. Carlisle shot him a questioning glance, knowing that Emmett detested the city. "I could make more money here," he shrugged.
If we stayed, I'd have to speak with Emmett. I didn't think professional card counter was an appropriate profession, but I was pleased that he'd thrown his weight behind Rosalie. Perhaps we'd stay in Seattle. It was a beautiful city, with rolling hills and pretty craftsman houses that I knew Esme would love.
"What do you say, Carlisle?" I asked.
I saw that Carlisle wanted to give in. I listened to him silently weigh the pleasure he'd find in his children's happiness with his need to continue on his confounding quest. Something in his subconscious still tugged at him, drawing him to the coast. He also considered Tanya's admonishments. She'd told him in no uncertain terms that he was too lenient as the leader of a large coven.
"Perhaps we shouldn't decide anything right now," Esme suggested. "We could wait it out here in the city while you consider the options, Carlisle. We could treat the next few days as a trial run, perhaps."
Carlisle looked between our three sets of eager eyes, and Esme looked at the ground and clutched his hand, supporting his decision, regardless of the outcome. He sighed, defeated. "Fine. Hoquiam can wait. I'll watch and see how well you all adjust, especially Emmett. My decision is not final, by any means. We'll play it by ear. But Edward and Rosalie, I expect you to watch Emmett closely, since this is something you both obviously want more than anyone else."
I let out a sigh of relief and Rosalie jumped up and threw her arms around Carlisle. "Thank you, thank you, thank you!" The she turned back to her mate. "Let's go decide what I'll wear this evening." Emmett didn't need anymore prompting with his mind still focused on Rosalie's chest.
Esme looked relieved as well, now that her family was united in a decision. "Carlisle, are we still going?" Esme asked. "I wanted to be there by dusk."
Carlisle and Esme had been so focused on our family's travel plans that they hadn't been thinking about their more immediate future. All at once I saw crystal blue waters surrounded by a dense pine forest, where deer had come to drink for the evening.
"We're going for… dinner in the mountains," Esme said smiling, wrapping her arm around her husband.
A glimmer of a smile played on Carlisle's lips as he momentarily shared his wife's vision. But then his thoughts came back to his children. "Edward, be careful tonight. No matter what Rosalie has promised the boy, there will be many humans in a confined space. Please, I'm placing my trust in you."
I felt the longing in his thoughts: he hungered for those moments alone with his mate, in a place awash in beauty and filled with passion for the one who fulfilled him. It was something he rarely allowed: he was always so responsible, so self-sacrificing, he always put himself second…and Esme had been suffering for it. Guilt flamed up in me. But I reminded myself that I had no intention of actually going on the cruise, so I assured Carlisle that all would be safe with some ease. I'd just have to wait for my parents to leave before I had it out with my siblings.
"Have you two lost your minds? We're not going on that cruise!" I'd practically knocked down their bedroom door as soon as my parents were out of earshot.
"Come on, Edward, it will be fun!" Rosalie whined, not bothering to extricate herself from Emmett's embrace. I saw many changes of dresses lying discarded…and some shredded…all around their room. She'd been trying on outfits, and Emmett had sampled them…some literally.
"For who exactly, Rosalie? We'll have to watch your mate like a hawk. And they'll all be watching us after my performance last night."
"Hey, wait a minute," Emmett cut in, placing Rosalie on the bed and jumping to his feet. "I did just fine last night. And I may not be able to read your mind, Anthony, but I'm pretty sure you enjoyed yourself, too."
I shrugged aside the truth of his words. "Emmett, we're trying to convince our parents to let us stay in this city. If we stay, we can't continue to cheat these men out of their money. They're human, not stupid." I threw a towel in his direction, hoping he'd use it to cover himself. Thank goodness Rosalie was already changed and fully clothed.
"There are other halls, there's Tacoma and Olympia right down south."
I rolled my eyes in frustration. Apparently my burgeoning outlaw of a brother had it all planned. "Gambling isn't a reason to stay in town."
"It's not your reason to stay, Edward. I can have my own reasons." I watched Rosalie pulling Emmett's new tuxedo out of the closet as if there were no question about whether or not we were going.
"You know that if I mention this to Carlisle, he'll have us all packing."
"So, go ahead and say something then. I'm sure you'll love Hoquiam," she challenged.
I paused. Rosalie was right. I certainly didn't want to give Carlisle reason for us to move on. "If we stay, there'll have to be ground rules. Getting involved in organized crime is not the best way to remain inconspicuous. We're going to invest those winnings, legally invest them."
"Like launder them?" Emmett grinned, pulling on his tuxedo pants. Thank god.
Rosalie stepped between the two of us. I noticed that she'd settled on a floor length, sparkly black gown. It was loose-fitting and gathered at her hips, but somehow it only enhanced her figure. "Please come with us tonight, Edward?" She batted her eyelashes for all she was worth.
"Have you heard anything I just said?" Of course, I knew she'd heard me; she was a vampire. She'd had no choice.
"I'd let you off the hook, but I don't know if I could restrain Emmett on my own, if it came to that."
"All the more reason we shouldn't go," I replied sternly. "It's a bad idea, Rosalie."
"But it's black tie! Edward, I haven't done anything like this since before Carlisle found me. Please? Emmett said he was so good last night. Wasn't he?"
I tried to stay steadfast. "If Emmett kills someone, they'll never let us stay in Seattle."
I wanted to say no. I knew I should say no. Clearly, unequivocally, no. I should have admitted to what Emmett and Rosalie were planning from the beginning. But, honestly, I had had fun the night before. I wanted to sit in a smoky room and read the minds of the humans around me. I didn't have to win as much as I had last time. Emmett had resisted the humans almost effortlessly, and if Rosalie wanted to have some fun, well, what was the harm?
My mind began enumerating what exactly the harm was, but I quickly switched off that line of thinking and turned back to Emmett and Rosalie.
"You've decided to come!" Rosalie cried, jumping up and down, before throwing her arms around me. "I wouldn't have gone without you! Thanks."
"I haven't said anything yet," I protested weakly.
"You don't have to, Edward. I don't know how you cheated everyone last night. You've got the worst poker face I've ever seen," she laughed.
"Fine. We'll go. But after this, we're seriously curbing your gambling habit, Emmett." And mentally, I vowed to curb my own gambling habit as well.
The Kalakala was something of a legend in its own time. The ship was built as a passenger ferry, but I'm sure such a passenger ferry had never before taken to the water. Its sweeping silver lines and ornate windows gave the ship an ultra modern, art deco flavor. Inside, the floors and moldings were high-polished cherry wood, local artists had painted murals on the walls, crystal chandeliers hung from the ceilings, and the chairs were upholstered in red velvet. By day, the Kalakala was the star of the Black Ball ferry line, and by night she was rented out to the highest bidder for cruises. The ship came with its own swing band: The Flying Bird Orchestra, the members of which were decked out in tuxedos and captain's hats as they entertained the boarding crowd.
And what a crowd it was. Shining cars were dropping off a small throng of men in dark tuxes and women in fine silks, furs, with glittering jewels and pearls. I felt appropriately awkward walking instead of being driven, and the humans turned to look at us askance as we clomped down the steep hill towards the pier. But once they looked, they couldn't look away.
Rosalie descended from the top of the hill like the golden sun had come to set on the pier instead of over the horizon. The human women were immediately beset with jealous thoughts and all manner of insecurity. Heretofore confident and self-assured men stumbled over their own feet as she walked by. Heads turned, and the human males reared like spooked horses, while they mentally placed her on a pedestal, one that often included a bed. I'd always known Rosalie was attractive in a cerebral sort of way, but now that she was mated, she glowed, she was more confident, and dare I say it, more happy. Especially in the face of such overwhelming admiration.
Emmett clutched Rosalie to his side and leveled threatening glares at any man that would hazard a glance in his mate's direction. A low rumble built in his chest, and I was immediately at his side, trying to imitate the steadying grip Carlisle would use on my shoulder whenever he'd try to hold me in check. Emmett swallowed and strained against my grip.
"This was a mistake," I hissed in my brother's ear. "Let's just turn around and go back to the suite where you can calm down."
"No, Edward!" Rosalie broke in. "We just got here. I haven't even danced yet."
"Emmett, be honest with yourself. You won't be able to handle this and you know it," I hissed warningly.
"Emmett," Rosalie pleaded.
"Way to be encouraging, Edward. You said the same thing last night. I can do this." He managed to wiggle out of my grasp, and took Rosalie by the arm and walked aboard the ship. I hastened to follow after them.
A waiter came by and offered us each flutes of champagne. "They're half full," Rosalie observed.
"You'll understand when she's on the bay," the waiter explained. "Not the smoothest of rides."
"Rosalie, put that down," I hissed, watching her hand stroke the stem of the crystal flute. "We're leaving."
Tseng Geming, or Doug, chose that moment to find the three of us. He'd actually been impatiently waiting, hoping to see us. He knew how much money we had to lose. "The brothers McCarty! You decided to come!" Doug's eyes twinkled as he eagerly shook our hands before sidling over to Rosalie. His head was about level with her chest, and he let his eyes linger there for a moment too long before craning his neck to smile up at her face. "You must be Mr. McCarty's wife."
"Happily married, indeed," Doug thought to himself.
"Lillian McCarty," Rosalie smiled demurely, holding out her gloved hand. Doug beamed, kissing her knuckles, and I heard the rumble in Emmett's chest again. However, the ship's engines were also roaring to life, and they masked the sound of Emmett's predatory growl from Doug's ears. Emmett pulled his wife slightly behind him and took a step in Doug's direction. To the little man's credit, or stupidity, he held his ground and smiled brightly into Emmett's face. I alone knew that he was suddenly afraid for his life.
"You are a very lucky man, in all except blackjack," he laughed nervously. "After your losses, Mr. McCarty, I'm surprised your wife allowed you back out." Emmett's upper lip was curling in a very non-human way.
"Don't be sore, Mr. McCarty. With a good luck charm as stunning as your Lillian, you are almost guaranteed to have better luck tonight." Doug's eyes raked over Rosalie, from her black satin pumps to the feather pinned in her hair. "And tonight you have the stars, and the city skyline, and a band, private rooms off the lower deck… Enjoy yourselves, McCarty's, I'm so happy you came." Doug began to edge away from the three of us, looking around for backup in case it became necessary. But before he could disappear into the crowd, he turned back to me. "And Anthony, you have a reserved seat below deck." And then he was gone, melting into the shadows.
"What a creep," Emmett hissed. "I could --"
Rosalie slapped Emmett lightly in the back of the head. "Don't even say it, Emmett. We all know what you could do. Please, just let it go."
The boat was slowly pulling away from the dock, and like it or not, unless we were willing to swim, our decision had been made. The Flying Bird Orchestra launched into Goodman's Lady Be Good, and Rosalie grabbed Emmett's hand. "Oh, Emmett, this is perfect," she cooed. "Kiss me?"
Emmett didn't disappoint, eager to possess her any way he could in front of all the other human males aboard. I gave them some space, making my way to the railing. Salty seawater sprayed up at me as the ship made its way out of port and the sparkling skyline began to recede behind us. I could just make out the black outline of Mount Rainier against the starry midnight blue sky.
"You could have said something!" Rosalie's voice carried through the crowd, like the tinkling of wind chimes amidst the bellows of beasts. I tuned back in to the couple's thoughts, reminding myself that I was here to monitor them. Emmett couldn't dance, and he'd neglected to tell Rosalie that pertinent fact. I decided to remind him that he was vampire and that all it would take was two minutes on the dance floor before he'd master the basics, when Rosalie came to me instead.
"Dance with me, Edward? Please?"
I looked to Emmett, and he shrugged his shoulders. "It would take a minute to teach him."
"He should have said something back at the hotel," she muttered dryly.
"But, won't he mind?"
"You're my brother! But if you won't, I'm sure I could get one of these humans to help."
I bit my lip, searching for reasons to refuse. "You should really dance with your mate."
"Please, Edward? Just a dance." She fluttered her eyelashes again, and it had no effect on me…at least not in the way she'd have liked. I felt nothing but pity and concern…I'd truly become her brother.
I glanced at Emmett again. He nodded, actually looking relieved, and turned his back on us to watch the panoramic scenery. The slow swinging sounds of Slow Boat to China wafted through the salty night air, and lights strung over our heads twinkled to life. Rosalie looked at me beseechingly, and grabbed my hand to pull me out onto the floor. I watched men with their cigars making their way below deck where the gambling was taking place.
"One dance, Rose. I can do one dance."
Both of us startled a little. I'd never called Rosalie 'Rose' before, but after hearing it so often on Emmett's lips, in his thoughts, it came out of my mouth naturally. "Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't --"
"It's okay, Edward. My human family called me Rose. And you're my family now. So, I don't mind." I held Rosalie's hand in mine, and she placed my other hand on her waist, and we began to sway slowly, albeit awkwardly to the music.
"Will he?" I asked, nodding towards Emmett's silhouette. His black shadow against the glittering night sky looked as imposing as ever.
Rosalie gazed at Emmett and I felt a shudder go through her frame. "There are other names he calls me, besides Rose," she replied under her breath.
There certainly were.
Rose and I settled into a more comfortable silence. The well-dressed humans twirled around us, and I realized that what felt awkward, was actually infinitely smoother than the humans managed. This made me smile despite myself, and I relaxed into the rhythm of the song, letting its swinging meter flow through my body. My mind strayed to the clubs I'd attended with Tanya a decade ago. The way we stood out amongst the humans, admired and desired. Of course, I never danced with Tanya. But Rose was my sister, a married woman. This was different, comforting almost. Rose and I spun, slipping through the crowd with ease, and the humans bumped into one another to make room for us. I glanced at my sister and she was beaming.
"You're happy." It wasn't a question. It was an observation.
Rosalie nodded, almost shyly. Well, as shy as Rosalie could get, I suppose. "Very," she agreed.
I nodded my head in Emmett's direction again.
"I think I'll always be happy now, Edward. Always."
And I was happy for my sister, and I spun her and dipped her unexpectedly. She didn't miss a beat. "I wasn't sure…" I continued when she was upright, "when you brought him to us. After you and I and what we'd been through. But now… now, it all seems like…" But, try as I might, I couldn't bring myself to say it was worth the man's eternal life in heaven, although I wanted to believe that. Rosalie smiled, nonetheless, seeming to understand.
"Thank you, Edward. That means a lot. What's he thinking, now? How's he doing?"
I paused for a moment, sampling his mental wares. "He's doing remarkably well with his hunger, because he's here for you. You should tell him he doesn't need to support you financially. I understand the impulse, but it's ridiculous."
Rosalie giggled and shrugged. "But it's something he wants. Why not?"
She frowned prettily. "Well, yeah, the gambling's bad. I'll bring it up after tonight. Okay?"
"I'd stick close to his side for the rest of the evening," I added.
Rosalie grinned at me and looked away, and I understood that she might have blushed were she human. "Well, I intended to do that, but why the suggestion?"
"He's not doing as well with his jealousy as we'd all like." Now that Emmett wasn't gazing at the water, he was glaring at the human men that were gaping at Rosalie as she danced by.
Rosalie smiled and her teeth glittered in the starlight. "Really?" She looked generally pleased that Emmett was jealous, no matter that he was in danger of strangling the odd human. Rosalie studied my face, and I'm sure my disapproval was showing. "He's not jealous of you and me, certainly?" she asked, moving a step away from me.
"Just a bit," I admitted. "It's directed more at every other human male on board. You haven't gone unnoticed this evening, sister. Emmett is not taking it well."
Rosalie smiled again, and buried her face in the crook of my shoulder. From her thoughts I knew she was equal parts embarrassed and proud. It wasn't that the dress she was wearing was particularly revealing. The floor length gown was loose fitting, and gathered at her hips, not even accentuating her hourglass frame. But it would be difficult to hide Rosalie's curves in anything, something the human males on board were all too aware of.
"I'll listen for him, Rose," I said, trying out her nickname again. "But stay by his side. If anything goes wrong tonight, I don't imagine we'll be in town for long."
"I've got it under control, Edward. We have an… arrangement."
"I know enough about the arrangement," I growled. At least Rosalie had the decency to appear abashed, keeping her face hidden. But Emmett had caught sight of us, and was misinterpreting Rosalie's embarrassment for… cuddling. I stepped away from my sister, but Emmett was making his way over to us with inhuman speed.
"What the hell?" he growled.
"Emmett," Rosalie stepped into her mate's path.
"This is about Edward, Rosalie."
"Emmett, there was nothing going on with my brother. Please! Get a hold of yourself."
"But you guys were dancing. And then, it wasn't just dancing."
"Emmett, you're being ridiculous. And you realize that by walking over here as fast as you did, you've made a spectacle of yourself. As if the sight of us weren't enough of a distraction. I have half a mind to beg out of the poker game to monitor you both."
But even as I uttered those words, I watched more gentlemen making their way to the stairs to join the game. I wanted to listen to their minds again. To watch the machinations of their brains as their conscious thoughts spun for hours on end. I wanted to pick up where I left off last time, watching the glowing light of their thoughts break through the tiny cracks in their carefully maintained façade.
I looked back at Emmett and Rosalie. My brother was rolling his eyes at me as he held Rosalie possessively. "I've got this, Edward. Sorry about the thing with Rose just now. You'll understand when you find someone." Rosalie was scowling in my direction, clearly unpleased at the prospect of having a chaperone for the evening.
"Last call, Mr. McCarty. Will you be joining us?" Doug managed to half-bounce, half-swagger over to us, looking remarkably self-assured as he did so. He slid his arm around my waist and grinned at me, only flinching slightly at as the feel of my cold, hard body became evident. "What is this boy made of?"
He wouldn't believe me if I told him.
"I'll stay if you don't think you can handle this on your own," I said to Rosalie. Doug followed my eyes and smiled suggestively at my sister. I suppressed the urge to pick him off the ground by his collar and toss him overboard. I didn't think it would go over well.
"We'll be fine, Edward. Won't we, Emmett?" Emmett pushed Rosalie behind himself and took a threatening step in Doug's direction.
"Please, Emmett. Take me down to the blackjack tables… you'll let me be your good luck charm?"
Three humans in dark suits quickly walked over to the four of us. Two stood behind Doug, and one placed himself between Emmett and the little man. "Everything alright here, boss?"
"Everything is perfect, Stan. I was just admiring the view. Nothing wrong with that, is there, Mr. McCarty?" Doug asked Emmett. Rosalie's hands were wound around Emmett's waist, and I saw the strain it was taking to actually hold him back.
"Just get that guy out of here and I can do this, Edward," Rosalie thought. "I'll find a quiet corner. We'll be fine. Please. We're here for the money. Please, go play." Then Rosalie whispered something in Emmett's ear in a voice so low and quick that I couldn't hear over the din of the crowd and the band. I watched the tension slowly leaving my brother's body.
"Would you show me to my table, Tseng Geming?" I asked, physically dragging Doug away from Emmett and Rosalie. The three men rearranged themselves around me in a way that was supposed to appear threatening, but the way their knees were shaking gave them away.
"Of course, Anthony. Of course. Right this way."
After Doug had escorted me to the poker table and introduced the other men, I'd pulled him into a seat, using more force than a human might.
"Let my brother cool off," I whispered by way of an explanation.
"She's something," Doug grinned by way of a response. His mind was not nearly as circumspect, and I had to shut out the images it clearly formed.
"She's my sister… in-law."
"She should be in movies." More indecent pictures.
"And you should spend some time below deck," I replied.
It didn't take long to get swept up into the poker game. Well, not the game, exactly. I played with a small part of my brain, almost like an afterthought. Poker was nearly as easy as breathing, strategically losing small amounts here and there, feigning uncertainty when I placed a large bet. Another small part of my brain listened keeping an eye on Doug. And I pushed Rosalie and Emmett out of my thoughts completely when Rosalie found that aforementioned dark spot where they could be alone.
No, my real pleasure lay in listening in on the thoughts of the humans seated around me. I marveled at the way that, instead of thinking many thoughts simultaneously, their minds would weave in an unwieldy pattern, moving inexplicably from one idea to the next, and somehow circling back to the original thought in the end. They seemed as surprised as I was that they completed that circuit. How they could one go about life like that and make it from point A to point B, I wasn't sure. However, a whole species seemed to do just that each day. Incredible.
There was one man across the table from me that I found particularly interesting. He looked about ten years older than my human age. The most remarkable thing about him was that his losing streak defied probability. I focused in on his mind in an effort to discern his tactic, and to figure out how he'd gone so far from any form of strategy. The answer was simple… it was impossible for him to keep his mind on the game. Instead, no matter the hand, the bet, the deal, the man's focus bounced back to thoughts of a girl.
I understood this… to a point. I'd been around mated vampires nearly my entire immortal life. Once mated, it was almost as if a vampire couldn't think of anything else besides his other half. But this man's thoughts were different. They were indecisive and insecure. He hardly knew what the girl thought of him. In fact, it seemed like he hardly knew her at all. He wondered what she thought, he studied her every movement, often repeatedly, to figure out what it meant for him. He decided that he couldn't live without her, and then he decided that he would never speak with her again, all within the span of a minute.
In his thoughts, he watched her walk down a hallway in an office building. He saw her boarding a bus. Her hand grazed his when she handed him a cup of coffee; it was soft and damp and he wondered if that meant she was perspiring because he was near. He couldn't hold onto the thoughts for long, though. They blinked on and off in his mind like fireflies on a summer evening. He replayed the thoughts at random, in mind-numbing detail. Yet he came to no conclusions.
When vampires met their mates, as far as I'd seen, there was no skepticism. Carlisle, Esme, Rosalie and Emmett all knew without a shadow of a doubt that they were meant for each other. Their thoughts always took the other partner into consideration. But their thoughts weren't full of uncertainty, like the human across the table from me.
I knew this was evidence of the frailty of human love, something Tanya had spoken about often. According to her, humans loved with a frantic fragility. Their love was pretty to watch from a distance she said, but all too soon it popped like a soap bubble, lost forever. Yet, even though this man's thoughts were insecure and scattered, there was a beauty to them, like a mosaic, the broken pieces fitting together to create something wonderful in the end. If nothing else, the poor man's love was formidable enough to shatter the laws of probability and make it inevitable that he would lose everything this evening. That was something a vampire would never do.
I was so wrapped up in the man's thought patterns, and the very large pile of chips accumulating in front of me, that it took me a split second too long to hear Rosalie and Emmett's thoughts. I was immediately on me feet, futilely searching the crowd. I'd let Doug out of my sight. I raced towards the stairs as fast as my legs could carry me, but I knew it wouldn't be fast enough.
Apparently, Doug had made another, very blatant, pass at Rosalie. After that, there was nothing Rosalie could have done. Emmett's jealousy, combined with his hunger had quickly ended things for the smooth Asian in the shiny suit.
I easily found Rosalie, Emmett… and Doug, limp and lifeless, in a dark corner close to the engine room. The wooden floorboards were sticky with the man's blood. Rosalie was seething, angry with Emmett both for the loss of the human's life, and because her evening had been ruined. And Emmett was beside himself with guilt, and simultaneously humming with satisfaction.
Rosalie spun around when she heard me approaching. "And where the hell were you?" she demanded.
"I came as soon as I heard --"
"Then you're losing your touch. You should have been here seconds ago."
I couldn't argue. I'd been so focused on the hapless human's love story that I'd lost all sense of what I should have been doing. That in and of itself was such a human thing to do that I was completely disarmed. I'd picked the worst possible moment to act human and get distracted. But I was not about to let on to Rosalie that I was at fault. "I didn't do this, Rosalie. Look to your husband when you're placing the blame."
"Oh, you better believe he's going to get his. What do you have to say for yourself, Emmett McCarty?" she demanded.
"But Rose, his hands were all over you… the way he looked at you. And you heard what he said! What was I supposed to do?"
"You weren't supposed to eat him!" Her voice was becoming dangerously loud.
I put my hand on her shoulder to try to calm her down, but she just shook me off. "None of that matters right now," I said, in a voice I hoped was simultaneously soothing and commanding. "His men are already looking for him. We need to get rid of him, and we need to get out of here."
"What?" Emmett asked, incredulous.
"You're covered in his blood. Don't you think it will arouse suspicion?"
"I hadn't thought --"
"No, you most obviously hadn't been thinking." Neither had I. I didn't mention that.
"But it's hours before we're back at the pier," Rosalie puzzled.
"My god, Rosalie, we can't just unload him at the pier! We're all going overboard. Now." I left no room for argument. We weighted Doug's body using an actual anchor, and then the three of us slipped over the side of the boat, praying that the darkness would be enough to keep us hidden from the humans' sight.
We surprised our parents, who'd thought they had the suite to themselves for the evening, when we showed up early, wet and bedraggled, Emmett reeking of human blood. To say that Carlisle was exasperated by our actions was a gross understatement.
"You said it was a cruise around the bay. A black tie event. How exactly did you fail to mention that it was hosted by members of an underground gambling ring? And then, to top it off, you murder one of the leaders of the syndicate?"
Carlisle stalked off, but left palpable anger in his wake. He didn't yell, he didn't strike anything, but his displeasure was etched in every smooth line of his face, and it showed in every carefully controlled step he took toward the room he'd been sharing with Esme.
"We're leaving immediately," he muttered, his voice barely a whisper, but laced with more menace than a tirade would have been able to convey. "If you three plan on coming with Esme and I, we'll be checking out within the next five minutes. I expect you dry, clean, and blood-free in the lobby. I'm going to Hoquiam. Your reckless and childish antics have held me up long enough."
We didn't argue. Killing an organized crime boss was inexcusable, to say the least.
While I quickly cleaned myself up and packed, I listened to Carlisle silently curse his judgment, doubt his leadership abilities, and consider whether or not Tanya had been right. Tanya told him he needed to be stricter with his family, that taking charge of a large group of vampires required severe regulation and obedience. This idea chafed at Carlisle's theory that trust and compassion would lead the way towards peaceful and harmonious co-existence. Tonight, anyway, it hadn't worked.
Esme simply shook her head, and couldn't look any of us in the eye. Knowing I'd disappointed her was devastating. I'd worked for years, trying to keep my word to Esme, trying to make things right after I'd hurt her so much by leaving. This had been a monumental lapse in judgment on my part, and a human's life had been lost. Emmett was beside himself with shame, Rosalie was angry with herself because she'd misjudged Emmett, but I was the most contrite of the group. I'd known firsthand the unbearable guilt that descended with the loss of a human life. I'd let foolish desires outweigh my caution. I had forever to find my way back to a city. Now it would take at least a generation before I could return to Seattle.
We packed quickly. We didn't have many belongings with us, and we were forced to leave behind much of what we'd purchased. This was no time to think of storage or shipping. And to make matters worse, I obviously hadn't the chance to cash out after I'd left the table. Not only did I forfeit my winnings, but I also lost all the money I'd put into the game in the first place. Rosalie and Emmett were left only slightly better off than when we'd arrived in Seattle.
As a result, we were all in a sour mood as we set off towards the peninsula and the tiny logging town of Hoquiam.
The morning dawned dark and gray. Seattle was overcast, but on the peninsula the sky seemed to have a weight all its own. All of the greens and browns and yellows seemed richer in this part of the world, in equal and opposite proportion to the dullness of the steely gray sky above, as if nature was trying valiantly to bring color to the senses.
The forests we passed through were different from the ones we'd traversed as we made our way south from Alaska. Whereas the Alaskan coastline had been breathtakingly dramatic, the Washington peninsula seemed somewhat dark and inaccessible. Its beauty emerged from the gloaming, revealing itself piece by piece, never giving anything completely away. You had to search for the striking landscapes; the snowcapped mountains, the turquoise blue waters, and the fields of delicate wildflowers all kept to themselves, asking for effort before you were allowed a viewing. The coast was littered with enormous boulders, some large enough to support their own forests, which rose from the sea like warning sentinels for those that might consider breaching the shore.
Hoquiam was a small town overflowing with unemployed loggers. With housing in short supply, we all piled into one room at a dingy hotel. For all intents and purposes, Emmett, Rosalie and I were grounded, forced to stay behind while Esme and Carlisle went out in search of housing and employment. We watched the gray clouds and the drizzle from the one window of the hotel room, while Carlisle secured an unpaid position at the small clinic in town. I spent spare hours in our floor's common water closet in order to give Emmett and Rosalie time to themselves. We didn't know we'd been enrolled to start high school in the fall until Esme and Carlisle returned to the hotel room one afternoon. They came home another day and let us know they'd purchased a parcel of land just outside of town where they intended to build a house from the ground up. And when we hunted, we were expected to follow Carlisle wherever he led us, keeping close enough so that he could keep track of our scent.
It didn't help matters that the humans had been forced into the woods in large numbers to hunt for game in order to keep food on the table. This pushed us deeper into the forest where we wouldn't have to compete for sustenance, and where Carlisle felt more willing to let Emmett roam. He led us northward, deep into the mountainous rain forest, where no matter the cloud cover, it was always night underneath the thick canopy of the trees. The evergreens towered hundreds of feet in the air, the bases of their trunks as wide as houses, moss hanging from branches in great yellow-green clumps. "Old Man's Beard," Carlisle commented, pointed at the thick tendrils glistening with moisture. "Its Latin name is Usnea, it can be used as an antiseptic."
"Thuja, Arbor vitae, the tree of life," Carlisle continued, rubbing his palm over the twining trunk of a large fir tree. "It's anti-fungal. And this bush down here is Berberis aquifolium, or Oregon grape. Its roots contain the yellow pigment berberis, an anti-bacterial agent. This area is a treasure trove of natural medication," he commented, spinning in a small circle, taking it all in.
"How do you know this?" Rosalie asked.
"I came through before, over one hundred years ago. But I wasn't looking for medicine that time. I was looking for the Denali clan."
But there was something else Carlisle wasn't saying out loud. He wasn't looking for medicine now, either. He didn't know what he was searching for, but he was searching. He was plagued with a constant desire to be out in the wilderness. He thought of the woods while he was in the clinic, he thought of the 'hunt' while he was watching our new house being built. His mind would return back again and again, almost of its own accord: wondering which path to take, planning deeper and deeper forays into the rainforest, staring at the shadows.
"What is it, Carlisle? What's driving you?" I asked one day, as Emmett, Rosalie and Esme tackled a small herd of whitetail.
"A feeling, nothing more. A sense deep within myself that I need something out there. Esme doesn't feel it. It's perhaps the first time we haven't shared an understanding. She's quite possibly repulsed by the whole venture."
"I believe we're all enchanted and repelled in equal measure."
"I can understand that," he admitted. "There is something out here that isn't quite right."
After we'd scoured the inland mountains, Carlisle took us up the coast, over beaches covered with weathered driftwood and multi-colored stones, until we were soaked with the rainwater from above and the sea spray at our feet. Then he'd aim us for the cliffs, driving us upward from the shore, until we stood on the edge of the country, looking out over the endless gray Pacific, and then back at the dark forest behind us, its secrets carefully contained.
We knew there were humans in the forest; natives had lived on this land forever. We avoided their settlements, Carlisle unwilling to bring Emmett close to humans while we were hunting. Yet one day as we were climbing up from the beach, our paths nearly crossed.
At first we were all overcome by their scent, which smelled anything but human. It was closer to the musky odor of dog, but it was laced with something revolting, something that drove me to a place I hadn't been in years. Venom poured into my mouth, and I crouched low to the ground, scouting the area, waiting to pounce. To pounce, and then to kill. To kill.
Each member of my family thought along the same lines simultaneously. We pounced on my brother, each of us attempting to hold him back. Emmett snarled and snapped uncontrollably, his thoughts rushing through his mind in furious waves, pushing his body to kill, to destroy.
The humans paused, almost as if they could detect us, although I knew that wasn't physically possible. They were still over a mile off. But I listened to their minds waiting, watching the woods for signs of hwohs wayth, or cold ones, as a few thought in English. We all held our breath, except for Emmett who was still scrambling on the damp forest floor. And then, as I began to detect faint predatory thoughts coming from Carlisle and Rosalie, I wondered for the first time if these were, in fact, actual humans. They were like nothing I'd ever encountered before. Yet, if they weren't human, I didn't know what they could possibly be.
I listened closely to their thoughts, searching for some clue as to what was happening, what could tear at the veneer of civility we'd worked to cloak ourselves in. Their distant presence managed to pull at the monster within us all. And then, quite suddenly, they left, heading away from us, back towards the shore.
Carlisle was watching me. "This is it, isn't it?" he asked silently, his excitement eclipsing his inexplicable desire to sink his teeth into whatever was out there.
"You would know better than I would. You're the one searching," I answered, a drop of venom escaping from the corner of my mouth.
"Let me up," Emmett managed. "What the hell were they?" he asked, as we all stood to our feet, disentangling ourselves from one another.
"What did you hear?" Carlisle asked me.
"They are searching too, for hwohs wayth, which I think translates to cold ones. And their chief is ill. They have him sequestered from the rest of their village. They believe it has something to do with a legend. And I heard names… the chief is called Ephraim Black."
"He has a fever, and is possibly delirious."
"Perhaps I'm meant to help him?" Carlisle thought to himself.
Carlisle saw fate and meaning where I saw coincidence and logic. "I can't say if you're meant to do anything. But I've known you long enough to know that if there's a sick human about, you'll do what you can to help."
Carlisle grinned, but his smile didn't meet his eyes. "Would you accompany me, Edward? Perhaps it's unethical to try to read a potential patient's mind, but I'd like all the help I could get. I feel I'm getting closer, but at the same time, I'm more lost than ever."
"Carlisle, let's go," Esme coaxed her husband. "I don't like this at all. I know they're only human, but it feels like we're in danger. We should leave this place."
After some research, we decided that the humans we'd encountered were from the Quileute Tribe that inhabited a tiny tract of land along the north central coast of the peninsula. The heart of the tribe lay within a one-mile radius in a tiny town called La Push.
Carlisle and I made our way up the coast the following day. True to every other trek we'd taken into this part of the peninsula, I felt equal parts repelled and attracted to the landscape the closer we came to the tribal lands. These feelings were only magnified in Carlisle, and it left him completely out of sorts. I couldn't say that he thirsted for the humans we were coming toward, but the pull that he felt was unlike anything he'd experienced before, and as a result, he was suspicious of his own intentions.
"You are beyond reproach, Carlisle," I assured my father. He startled a bit, as if he'd forgotten that I could hear his thoughts.
"It feels wrong to come here on a medical mission, when my intentions are unclear."
"Do you want to help the man?"
"If I can."
"Then go easy on yourself, father." I used the familial term to help ease his mind. He smiled at me gratefully, but I knew from his thoughts that he wasn't convinced. His own need for answers was marring his altruistic intentions for quite possibly the first time in his existence.
Carlisle was about to say something aloud about his qualms, when he was interrupted by the scent of oncoming humans. And they weren't just any humans. It was the uniquely maddening scent of the Quileutes. We were about a quarter mile out from the tribal land, as far as I could tell, and the men were coming straight for us, as if they could sense us. This was a feat that should have been impossible unless they had superhuman capabilities.
"This isn't right, Carlisle."
"Nothing feels right here, son. But there's nowhere else I'd rather be."
The closer the humans came, the more my primal instincts came to the fore. I tried to suppress the rumble in my chest, but venom was pouring into my mouth like it hadn't in nearly a decade. My body was electrified and my subconscious desperately wanted me to attack whoever was coming in our direction. I saw visions of my mouth sinking into russet-colored skin, and I shivered with pleasure. Carlisle grasped my elbow securely in his hand. After so many years, the gesture was so reassuring that I don't believe he'd physically have to hold me back. His touch conveyed trust, and represented the supportive love he gave unconditionally. It was all I needed to keep me in line.
Carlisle and I both waited impatiently for the humans to find us. To their credit it took no time at all. In less than five minutes they broke through the tree line about fifty yards from us.
The ten natives that assembled themselves before us were enormous. I'd seen many indigenous people over the years, and I'd observed that they were average to small–sized humans. But these men were giants, on par with Emmett, some quite possibly larger. Their straight black hair hung past their shoulders, and most held rifles aimed in our direction. All but one scowled across the clearing at us. Instead, the one boy focused on Carlisle with some interest, trying to recall something about the significance of golden eyes. He had warm eyes himself, I noticed, and he was more curious than angry.
"You're not welcome here," one of the largest shouted.
"I've come because I heard that your chief was ill," Carlisle replied in a calm and clear voice. "I'm a physician and I thought I could help. My name is Carlisle Cullen, and this is my son, Edward."
With mention that the chief was ill, the men became noticeably riled. I heard through their thoughts that they'd been keeping this fact a secret from most of the tribe. The chief was hidden away with tribal elders deep in the woods. And, inexplicably, they blamed Carlisle and I for all of it.
"Help? You and your son are our problem, not the solution."
And on some unseen cue, the men cocked their rifles. Of course, their bullets couldn't hurt us, so we weren't frightened by the display. But if we were human, like we were pretending to be, we should have been. Strangely enough, though, the men also seemed to understand that the rifles wouldn't wound us.
Suddenly, the expression on the curious boy's face changed and I gasped. He knew about Carlisle. In fact, they all did. I listened to the quick rendition of the legend that he'd just remembered. The boy bounded over to the large man that had spoken to us. He whispered in the man's ear in a voice that should have been too low for Carlisle and I to hear.
"Could he be the one they speak of? Look. Look at his eyes." But the larger man only shook the boy off, the same way a human might shake off an annoying puppy dog.
"Please. I mean no harm," Carlisle tried again. "I am only here to help, if I can."
"If you do not leave, we'll shoot." The large man was attempting to sound menacing, but any vampire could have heard the edge of fear in his voice, and could have smelled the anxiety on his skin, no matter that his scent was marred.
"We'll go now," Carlisle assured the assembled pack. "But tell your chief that I came. Let him know I would like to see him. To help him. I'm in these woods often with my family. It would be nice to know our neighbors, if nothing else."
"Know the neighbors," the large man laughed. "Oh, you will know the neighbors if your family, as you call them, decides to stay in the area. When the chief has changed, he will hunt you down one by one and kill you for sure."
"You don't know us, then. Do you?" the large man asked, feeling inexplicably bolder. "We know you, cold ones. We will not let you come and pick us off in the night. All of us are ready to die to defend our families. And Chief Black will be back soon enough to finish the job once and for all."
My eyes went wide with the thoughts that I heard coming from the men. "They know," I muttered.
Even from fifty yards, the man had heard. "We do," he snarled.
"We would never harm your families. Trust me. Let me meet your chief. We'll talk. He doesn't need to hunt us, as you say. Tell him to meet us here. We'll come every day to this spot. We'll make this right."
The family meeting that evening was contentious, to say the least. Esme and Rosalie were of the opinion that we should leave immediately. Esme was afraid for her family, and Rosalie loathed the idea that anyone might suspect she was a vampire. Also, she knew her husband well. With news that the tribe had threatened to hunt us down, Emmett was primed for battle.
"Just let them try. I'll tear them limb from limb," he growled. In his mind, he also sampled their blood. He caught me watching him, though, and shrugged his shoulders in my direction. "Come on, if they were trying to kill me I'd be well within my rights!"
But Carlisle would not budge. He was determined to meet the chief, and he was not about to let this conversation turn into another unintended vote. If the Quileutes knew what we were, he felt it was his duty to smooth over the situation, and he decided there was no better way than to help the chief.
I surprised myself by siding with Carlisle. I wanted to know more about the strange stinking humans with their legend about my father. And there was something about the manner in which that young boy had studied Carlisle. I wanted to know him better. And I wanted to meet the chief, the man that had spawned such loyalty.
Esme, of course, knew with one look at Carlisle that we weren't going anywhere. "We'll stay," she acquiesced. "But when you go back to that spot tomorrow, you won't go back alone. We'll go as a family. I know they're only humans, but we're a family and we'll face this threat together. Tomorrow they will meet us all."
Esme looked at each of us one by one, silently daring anyone to contradict her. When she felt the matter was settled, she slowly stood to her feet and very purposefully walked out the door with plans to go check on the progress of the new house. There weren't many options for making a dramatic exit in our cramped hotel room. Carlisle hastily followed Esme, leaving Rosalie, Emmett and I alone again.
"This is nuts!" Rosalie exclaimed. "What is it about those stinking humans?"
"I don't know," I admitted honestly. But whether or not I knew why, I was beginning to feel the same draw as Carlisle. I can't say that I was pleased.
The following day, the entire family returned to the clearing. Emmett paced eagerly back and forth like a caged lion, and I eyed Rosalie and Carlisle, silently imploring them to help me with my brother if the humans came back. Each of us was poised, waiting expectantly. And then, finally, we heard whispers in the shadows and the sound of human footsteps padding lightly on pine needles. The four of us immediately restrained Emmett, who glowered off into the darkness of the trees. But they never came, their scent disappearing as though it had all been a dream.
The next day Esme agreed that Carlisle and I could return alone, seeing the wisdom in leaving Emmett behind. Once again, the humans came close, but faded back into the forest instead of confronting us. On our return, we found a broken bed, a shattered lamp, and a splintered door in our hotel room.
"I left to check on the house, and this is what I returned to," Esme fumed. "Is it too much to ask you to act responsibly while we're gone?" she asked Rosalie and Emmett, who looked appropriately abashed, staring at the floor. "You're going to pay for this damage personally," she seethed, once again marching out of the door of the tiny room.
Carlisle and I were both discouraged when we returned to the clearing for the fourth day in a row. Esme was frustrated and angry, and it seemed Emmett couldn't be trusted with anything, even a hotel room. Furthermore, it didn't seem likely that the men of the tribe would return, let alone their ailing chief.
"Perhaps I was wrong," Carlisle confessed, as we settled on the ground to wait it out. "Maybe I'm here for another purpose."
"Maybe you're just here," I offered. "Maybe there is no purpose."
"Do you truly believe that, after seeing how this family has come together over the years?"
I wasn't sure how to reply. Certainly, I'd witnessed moments of magic, but right now our family was at odds with one another. It didn't seem like this was divinely destined. Quite the opposite, it felt like we were forcing the situation because of Carlisle's will.
And before I could answer, the maddening scent of the Quileutes blew towards us on the wind. But this time, it was much stronger. We couldn't hear them yet, and they weren't even close enough for me to listen to their thoughts. But one thing was certain; the scent was coming steadily closer.
"This is it," Carlisle thought as he scrambled to his feet.
I quickly counted eleven heartbeats coming in our direction. "There is one more," I whispered.
Carlisle nodded and worked to straighten his clothing and smooth back his hair.
"And the new one stinks," I added with a nervous chuckle.
"Sshh," Carlisle hushed.
We both stood completely still as the natives approached. It took immense effort not to charge into the underbrush and meet them with bared teeth; such was the effect of their smell on my senses.
And finally, after some of the longest five minutes of my existence, the natives walked into the clearing. The small boyish one smiled across the clearing at us. "He decided to come," he stated out loud in a cheery voice.
The others weren't as pleased to be back. They mumbled words under their breath and in their minds in a language that I wasn't familiar with. But their intent was clear. They were about as happy as Esme was about this meeting.
"Carlisle Cullen," the largest man addressed my father, disgust evident in every syllable he uttered. "I present to you our chief, Ephraim Black."
The men stepped aside, and Chief Black emerged from the shadows. He was easily seven feet tall, and as broad as Emmett, his gleaming black hair, unlike the others, was shorn close to his head. As he walked forward, the air around him quaked. It appeared that it required as much effort for him not to attack us, as was required for us to stay rooted in our spot. That made no sense. If he was human and he knew we were vampires, then he should also know there was no way he could kill us.
"Uh Yah so Chuh." His voice was a deep baritone that reverberated in his chest.
One thing was certain. He didn't seem ill.
Chief Black smiled, and I listened to his thoughts as he assessed our appearance, and oddly, as he studied our scent. His dark eyes flickered over ours, and he pursed his lips, uncertain of what he'd found near his home.
"You were right, Thomas Clearwater. Their eyes are wrong."
Chief Black took another step in our direction, and I instinctively took a step between Carlisle and the man in an attempt to shield the leader of my clan. I rumble built deep in my chest. I watched with suspicion, as the lines of the man's body seemed to momentarily blur. The men behind him shifted uneasily, but they weren't frightened like they'd been the last time we met. Instead, they were hoping for a fight.
"Before I kill you, I'm curious. Please tell me why your eyes are wrong. Is it true that you have been here before?"
A/N: Just a few notes... The Kalakala was a very real and very fancy ferry that eventually ended up as a fish processor run aground in Seattle. Today, there's a group of people trying to resurrect it to its former glory. I was so glad to get to write about it!
I did my best with Quileute language... I only found phonetic spelling online. Sorry for any potential mispellings to all the Quileutes out there!
Thanks to Jess A Brown and Lindz! You ladies rock! And thanks to everyone who reads and reviews... without you I wouldn't pick up my computer each night to write! xxx, M