Disclaimer: All Twilight Characters belong to Stephanie Meyer.
Held By Hope
It seemed to me ironic and just a little too inescapable that these grounds gave me my greatest refuge.
As I sat on the hemlock bench of Laurel Hill, the serenity of the night provided a meditative respite. I thought about the changes I'd seen firsthand in this world. I couldn't recall all my human days; the majority was lost in the dim memories that were the remnants of my humanity. Was it because I just didn't see them, or were things so ordinary and forgettable? I'd never really had the answer, no many how many times I'd considered it.
Maria never spoke of her humanity to me. I always sensed that she had seen more than she let on, but I didn't consider it gentlemanly to pry. She danced close to sharing a few times, and when she did, the distrust, fear, and aggression that emanated from her kicked a physical reaction into me, a tightening from my chest to my stomach. It was a sickening frustration, an irresolvable conflict. I did not need these feelings; I had enough of my own villainy and apprehension to handle. Yet, I wanted to give her a passionate emotional climate, free from apprehension and doubt, that we might find pleasure in each other's company. I set my troubled aura aside and focused on Maria, her needs and pleasures.
And we did find pleasure in each other's company for such a long time. I knew she needed my gift, but I needed hers, too. She used me; I used her. It was an even exchange most times, not something to fret over - it just was. Her strategic maneuvers were well communicated and easy to grasp, dealing typically with an issue head on and with excessive force. It suited my soldier's training.
What I didn't know is how it did not suit this soldier's… heart. I didn't find out until it was nearly too late. Who would have believed my heart, so long silent, could shout its needs so deeply into my awareness? Bloodlust ruled my life, my thirst, my maneuverings, but it did not find a permanent home in me; it did not satiate my needs or decide the course of my life. I was a vampire, true enough, but that was not all I was. There was something else, something missing. It was easier than I had ever believed to leave behind the life of carnage, mass attack, and savagery to my own kind.
Peter and Charlotte found a way to salvage themselves through their care for each other. Their love was uncomplicated by mystery and deceit, unlike the bond I held with Maria. Watching their affection grow to love, and love grow to trust - to binding, to need - my despair grew. I knew no hope. There would be no life in my existence – only my survival based on innocent death.
They reached out to me, included me, and I accepted those feelings of care that had been so absent in my world. I thought I'd found that safe harbor in the shelter of Peter and Charlotte's love. Though I was an outsider, I was their equal, their partner, their friend. These new concepts for me were borne of peace, and it was peace I craved. The calm in that connection restored my ravaged psyche, and I felt myself moving towards a healed existence. I believed that I could never find more peace than what they offered, given the nature of my existence.
Still, each time the thirst drove us to hunt, I felt the return of the despair. Turning innocents to lifeless hull was vicious, terrifying, and savage for me. I stood alone in a bell chamber of my own need, my thirst, wounded and deafened by the range of my victims' dawning realization that their hopes, their dreams, their lives were over. These emotions clamored within the chamber, echoing back to me their loss and regret. As their soul left their body, the burst of emotion released a keening despair that drained me, cutting deeply into my psyche. Three knives, three sets of razor teeth, three victims; the crushing weight of anguish tripled left me deaf to my own need. I hungered and yet starved; I thirsted and remained dry; I yearned for hope, for an end to this despair, and could not embrace my brother and sister.
With sadness and grief, I left their company. I wandered the cities of the North, searching for a way to restore my impaired, broken, incomplete emotional life.
I'd found it difficult to participate in city life. Men were dirty, foul mannered and mean; their hearts were painful and sharp; the women who strolled the streets at night were confused, bitter and blue, an altogether unappetizing maelstrom of emotion. But it was easy and abundant hunting grounds; no one seemed to miss the occasional lost soul who didn't show up for supper, or the loose-slippered fast trick who no longer held up the bar. Though city life did not hold much of a taste for a man of my upbringing, it slaked the burning thirst that had become my constant companion.
Yet even these dregs, this human refuse, experienced horrifying terror as I drained them. Though their inebriation and addictions left their hearts clouded and confused, which dulled the emotional abyss following each slaying, their deaths left me pensive and withdrawn. I fed to exist; I acted out of necessity, not pride or cruelty. I learned quickly enough that my motivations, my needs and the acceptance of my actions as need, did nothing to assuage the panic of my victims. Fear steeped in their blood and I ingested it. I found myself sick, melancholy, and grief-stricken after each feeding. My dejection grew and I became morose.
I knew I could not stop feeding on their blood. Nights of walking among them provided no solace, no escape; I fell, sucked beneath the mouth of the emotional maelstrom of the city. I sought to separate myself from their emotions until that moment of greatest need required satiation. I walked, and came to this place.
Laurel Hill Cemetery was known to me. Many a fallen general rested here, both Northern and Southern. I wandered these stones and markers so often I could patter the names aloud, like reading a hymnal or reciting a prayer.
I paused at the statue of Old Mortality and took a deep breath, as was my habit, a ritual of sorts. Although I wasn't sure why I did this, I'd noticed I felt better after that unnecessary cleansing breath. I didn't question the restoration; no one should ever rationalize or explain a gift of that magnitude. The converse was true of the habit I'd grown when passing the marker of Robert Stewart's grave. I felt anger and unrest pulling at the edges of my calm each time I passed the lightning-blasted Victorian monument. I'd intellectualized the dread as leftover rage, rage that extended beyond the grave. Even knowing I was the most fearsome creature on the grounds, I passed the marker quickly and without looking back.
Ah, I thought to myself. I'd finally arrived at my favorite place on all the grounds: The memorial of Lt. Colonel John C. Pemberton. I knew his history well. Pemberton was made legend by the rank and file of the Confederacy: A Northerner who gave up his rank and privilege to turn copperhead for the love of his wife, Martha Alice Thompson. He renounced his home and took arms to defend that of his wife.
His sacrifice of love remained unacknowledged, however. Martha Alice died in the smallpox epidemic of 1865, buried and consigned to oblivion before he returned home. His victories and defeats could not match the heights of his love for her or the depths of his despair over her loss.
My Southern upbringing left me both formidable and hopelessly romantic. My admiration for a man who lead so many in death and mayhem, yet loved so deeply, was immediate and enduring. He was an object of pity, as well. Scorned and outcast for military blunders that were not of his making alienated him from the South. Though considered a pariah for the siege and loss of Vicksburg, his love was the testament to which I held myself in measure.
It was my wont to stop here and marvel at the depth of feeling emanating from this place. He lived the remainder of his life in shame and sorrow, alone and virtually forgotten. The wage paid to him for his love was a reduction in rank, scorn of his northern countrymen, and the reputation of an untrustworthy fool. It was a sacrifice of the heart he made as a monument to his marriage and his wife.
Throughout his life, the memory of Mary Alice was never opaque or transparent. She remained as real and moving to him as if she walked and breathed at his side each day. The bench where I sat was his narthex of mourning. Every day he'd visit, kneeling at her headstone to leave a small bundle of tea roses, her favorite, and utter a prayer for her serenity and his reunion to her soul. He left his last bouquet the day before he died.
The incongruity of human sorrow and my ease and repose made me chuckle aloud. The air was changing; rain was coming. I felt the atmosphere grow thick.
I'd always believed the repose I felt here was the remnant of sentimentality from a man who loved his wife with an unyielding heart. This night, however, the aura of my surroundings seemed unnatural. The air felt crowded and deep; there was something different, something more powerful than simple nostalgia and reminiscence.
Having walked the Southern world throughout my long life with my particular ability, I imagined myself a connoisseur of feeling. My capacity and range left little unknown from affection to violence. Yet these feelings swirling about me now were so potent and indescribably sweet, it took me aback and left me breathless. My own panic set in; I had to escape the barrage of charity and sympathy threatening to swallow me whole.
I began to rise, inhaling deeply. I found I could not stand; something… restrained me. I tried again, my dread and anxiety fueling my strength. Again, I could not rise. Weariness overtook me and held me prisoner. The subtle touch of a woman's hand landed on my chest, gently restraining me from leaving. I tried to rise again and once more felt myself benevolently and tenderly imprisoned, pushed down to my seat. Something did not want me to leave.
This was new. In all my days, my strength and strategies ensured my freedom; unfettered and alone the past decades, my only emotional entanglement seized me as I fed. I felt no restraint or compulsion to stay anywhere in so very long that this new bondage beguiled and puzzled me. I sat on the rough-hewn wooden bench with my mouth agape, eyes wide.
I sensed the storm would break with the dawn and still I did not move. The gentle, loving restraint stayed with me. I sat unmoving, silent, without breathing, enraptured by this force. Whatever gripped me so desperately intended some lesson, some message I could not perceive. I released my panic and fear, listening, feeling, yearning, in constant communion with this sweet, dark captivation. As the rain began to fall, it spattered my stone face, forming tears I could not shed, tears for an unattainable, unforgettable love.
I was unsure how long I was a captive of this spirit, this soul of ardor. This shade of redemptive love had held me in its arms, close to its bosom, that I might know the peace, the hope, I had so longed for. I remained unmoving, a prisoner for so long I myself became statue-like, a tribute to love, kindness, and faith. I closed my eyes, delighting in the release and joy of that bright promise, and took in a long, heavy breath.
The intangible hand lifted from my chest as I inhaled the sweet scent of tea roses, and slowly, I opened my eyes, at last understanding the force that held me.
"Martha Alice?" I whispered. There was no answer.
"Martha Alice, please, please. Stay with me, just a bit more, please." The rain patter around me was the only response.
I was desolate. My head fell into my hands and I cried, "No, please, don't go, Martha Alice, please, please..."
Like a lover's embrace, a soft hand stroked the side of my face, coming to rest on my shoulder. The tea rose aroma hung in the rain for another moment, strong, persistent and pervasive. I sighed, "Martha Alice, Martha Alice…"
"Alice…" was all I heard as the scent of tea roses drowned in the rain.
I went into the city, soaked through and lost deep within my thoughts. Unconsciously, I tried to convince myself it was all a waking dream, a concoction of need and despair summoned up by my overactive emotions. How could it be real? But each rationalization was confounded by some real marker – a sign, I believed – that what had transpired was no random daydream of my conjuring. I wandered without direction, without purpose, searching. A bookstore featuring a newly published tome on Phineas Pemberton rose to my left, a signpost for a lost soul. I stumbled on, confused and dazed: St. Martha Elementary School, the Civil War Museum of Philadelphia, the Tea Rose Diner…
The Tea Rose Diner appeared before me and stunned me into stillness. The skies, grey and weeping, were as confounded as the emotions warring inside me. Standing in the rain, particularly in the middle of the street as I was, would bring undesirable and unwanted attention. I rushed to the door and ducked inside.
Thirst burned in my throat, but the longing for the spirit that had so recently filled me reigned in my limbs. I shook my sopping coat collar away from my neck, and gave a practiced shiver for whoever was watching as I moved to a booth for a seat. I kept my head down, staring at my hands, sorting through my own emotions and preparing a purposeless order for the waitress.
As I lifted my eyes from my hands, a small, elfin woman with eyes as black as thirst peered in my direction. I had fought too many in my day not to recognize one of my kind. I tensed for attack, but she simply bounced off her stool and strode in my direction, smiling. I watched her walk directly toward me and a glowing warmth and sanguine expectation, so strong and overwhelming, transfixed me. Although the love I witnessed at the graveyard was akin to this, I'd never felt anything with this intensity.
"You've kept me waiting a long time," she said.
I bowed my head. "I'm sorry, ma'am."
She held out her hand to me as I whispered, "Thank you, Martha Alice… thank you."
"I'm Alice," she said. I took her hand without hesitation and smiled, with more hope than I'd felt in a century.