There was no other course of action available to me, especially after what had happened yesterday, when Emmett Cullen had practically thrown Jasper Hale in front of a moving vehicle.
This was just one among the many things that needed to be addressed, and so it came to be that I was headed to the Cullen house one overcast Saturday afternoon.
It was quiet as I pulled up to the house. Too quiet.
It was possible no one was home. Part of me hoped no one was. I got out of my car and cautiously walked up on to the porch.
The house was too neat. Too perfect. Still too quiet. It made me nervous.
Hesitantly I knocked on the door. Then I waited. I looked around as I stood there. There was little to indicate that people actually lived here, excepting the many cars. Still, the place could easily have passed for a museum, it was so quiet.
Esme Cullen answered the door, looking more radiant than I remembered. She didn't seem at all surprised by my visit. "Good afternoon." She greeted me with a gentle smile. "May I help you?"
I wondered if she remembered me. "Yes, Mrs. Cullen. I'm Mr. Richerds."
"Yes, of course," she replied immediately. "You're the principal at the children's school. Is something the matter?" She asked, concern flitting over her face.
"In a manner of speaking, yes." I admitted. "There are a few things concerning your children I need to speak with you about."
"I'm afraid Carlisle isn't here," she apologized, "but come in, and I'll see what I can do for you."
I followed her inside the huge, spotless house. The place was immaculate. I wondered if the Cullens were expecting company.
Mrs. Cullen led me into the living room. "Please, have a seat. May I get you anything?"
"No, thank you." I was surprised by her reaction. Usually when I visit parents to discuss their children, they get hostile, or at least defensive. Mrs. Cullen was polite, treating me as cordially as if I had been invited to visit. I sat down on a chair that looked as if it belonged in a museum.
Mrs. Cullen seated herself gracefully on the couch. She was beautiful, like her adopted children, far more beautiful than should have been possible.
She reminded me of the reason I had come. "Is everything alright at the school?" She asked, but she seemed distracted, as if she weren't really all that concerned.
I cleared my throat. "There are a few things I feel need to be addressed, Mrs. Cullen. Things that have been let go for far too long."
"Oh?" She replied. I had her attention now. I opened my mouth to speak, and the door flew open.
"Careful." Mrs. Cullen chided gently, but her soft words were swallowed up in the choas that followed.
Jacob was there, glaring at Rosalie. They were deeply immersed in some sort of arguement, but I couldn't quite make out what the problem was. Edward and Nessie followed, also involved in some sort of disagreement, or perhaps the same one, though with less fury. Emmett was last, dragging Jasper along in a headlock as calmly as if they did this all the time, though Jasper himself was struggling furiously to get loose.
I had not yet been noticed, it seemed.
Mrs. Cullen frowned. "Shoes!" She raised her voice only slightly, but I was amazed to see almost all of them stop what they were doing and abashedly take off their shoes.
Once they were all sock footed (save Jasper), she spoke again. "Is something the matter?" She asked, eyeing the group.
"Yeah." Jacob replied angrily. "He bit me!" He pointed a finger at Jasper. I nearly choked. Had I heard right?
Esme frowned. "He what?"
Jacob cleared his throat. "I said he hit me." He replied, glaring at Jasper.
Jasper was livid. "You jumped me first, dog!" He snarled, twisting out of Emmett's grip. Jacob growled back, and Jasper lunged torwards Jacob.
Esme stepped fearlessly between the two, and the whole room went tense. I was worried myself, now, and wondered if I should intervene.
But Jasper froze, and Jacob was quiet. Both boys were completely still, waiting.
Mrs. Cullen looked over her children. "Is anyone injured?" She asked. Rosalie, Nessie, and Edward shook their heads. They were fine. "Outside, then." She told them. "Shoo!" They left without a word of protest. I was amazed.
Mrs. Cullen turned to Jacob. "Do I need to call a doctor?" She asked. He shook his head.
"It's not that bad." He mumbled.
"Get it taken care of, then, and then I want you outside with the others. Emmett?"
"I'm okay, Esme. Jasper hit me too when I pulled him away from Jacob, but it's nothing major." Emmett was rubbing his arm absently, but he grinned. "So you want me to stay, or go?"
"You can go to your room." Mrs. Cullen told him firmly. "You have homework to do."
Emmett groaned. "Aww, come on, Esme. I'll die of boredom before I get it all done."
Mrs. Cullen was not impressed. "Maybe next time you'll think before you throw your brother in front of a car. "
"What?" Emmett demanded. "Am I being punished for that? We were just playing!"
"Someone could have been hurt, Emmett." Mrs. Cullen told him. "Or worse. Now go."
"Fine. Fine." He grumbled, stalking up the stairs.
Mrs. Cullen turned her attention to Jasper, who hadn't moved. I wasn't sure the boy had even breathed. It surprised me. The way Doctor Cullen had taken control of things that nightmarish day I had had all of their children in the office at once, and the way she had been, for the most part, silent, had made me think that perhaps she didn't have any authority over the kids.
Apparently I had been mistaken.
She looked him over. "You need to calm down." She told him. He was still tense, and still looked ready to kill someone. "Go sit down." He remained where he was for a minute, as if he still had half a mind to go after Jacob. Then he ducked his head and retreated.
"Shoes." She said softly, and he stopped before he reached the carpet and knelt down to pull off the boots he was wearing.
"Sorry." He muttered, slipping out of his socks as well. He tucked them carefully into his boots, and went over and set his boots by the door. Then he returned to the living room and sat down on the couch. She sat down beside him. I was forgotten as they sat in tense silence.
After a moment, he sighed. "What happened?" Mrs. Cullen asked.
"I was teaching Nessie to ride a motorcycle." He admitted.
"Jasper." Mrs. Cullen reprimanded him. "Edward already told her no. Jacob told her no. Bella said absolutely not."
Jasper shrugged uncomfortably. "They said they wouldn't teach her. They didn't say I couldn't." He defended himself.
Mrs. Cullen sighed. "But you knew they would be upset."
Jasper shrugged again. "I didn't know Jacob would tackle me."
"He tackled you?"
"Knocked me off my bike." Jasper said easily. This seemed only to upset her more.
"He was that angry." Her response wasn't a question.
Jasper nodded. "It startled me. I overreacted. I b- I hit him." He stumbled over the admission. "That was when Edward and Emmett and Rosalie showed up. And Emmett tried to separate us." He licked his lips nervously. "I wasn't thinking clearly."
"Is Jacob alright?" Mrs. Cullen asked.
"Yes, ma'am." Jasper nodded. "Emmett's okay too."
"Are you okay?" She asked, and Jasper looked away.
"I got a bit knocked about," he said, "but it's nothing big."
"You sure?" She wasn't convinced.
He shrugged, and offered a reluctant smile. "Carlisle's gonna insist on checking us all out when he gets home anyway, just to be safe."
She smiled in return. "I know. But I still worry."
He stared down at his feet, and I started. Were those scars? What the-
His head snapped up to stare at me. His eyes were wide in alarm. He knew I had noticed. What was he afraid of?
"Is something wrong?" Mrs. Cullen had noticed the exchange. Jasper shook his head.
"Nope." He said, but he still looked worried. Was he hiding something? What had happened to his feet?
I let Mrs. Cullen lead me back to the reason for my visit, though by now I was discreetly studying the Hale twin sitting on the couch beside her.
I wondered if he had been abused. Whatever had happened to his feet, had someone here done that to him? I had always suspected something was wrong with the Cullen family, but I had never imagined that someone might-
"Well, you know how boys are." Mrs. Cullen was saying. "Emmett just has more other things on his mind than school."
I sighed. "But what you don't seem to understand, Mrs. Cullen, is that if your son fails his classes, he doesn't graduate."
She smiled that pretty smile of hers. "No, I understand, completely. Thank you for being so concerned for my son's well-being-"
"Mrs. Cullen," I found myself interrupting her, "do you know how close your son is to failing all his classes?"
"Right on the edge." Jasper startled me by interrupting. "He doesn't like school, so he puts in just enough effort to stay afloat. He's not going to fail any of his classes."
I turned to stare at the young man, and he quickly dropped his eyes, unwilling to maintain eye contact. It made me all the more suspicious that something was seriously wrong here.
"We do keep an eye on how our children are doing in school." Mrs. Cullen tried to reassure me. As it was, it only made me more upset. The Cullens had never been involved in anything school related. In fact, I had never spoken to them in person before the day I had to call them in because I had all eight of their children sitting outside my office.
"Really, Mrs. Cullen?" I demanded. "Because I don't recall seeing you, or your husband, at anything school related. I don't recall you ever being involved in field trips, or parent teacher meetings, or any other sort of activities. Your and your husband's involvement in your children's school life has been up to this point virtually nothing."
My outburst seemed to upset Jasper, but Mrs. Cullen herself wasn't bothered in the slightest. "I'm sorry that you think that because we haven't been around the school that we don't know anything about what our children are doing there." She told me kindly. "But we are aware of what our children get into at their school."
I was ready to challenge her. I pointed at Jasper, who flinched. "Fine." I snapped. "Your son, Jasper. Who is his homeroom teacher?"
"Ronald Simms." She replied easily.
"What classes does he have this year?" I demanded.
"Precalculus, Physics, Literature, American History, English, and Physical Education" She rattled off. "History is his favorite class, although he doesn't care for the teacher," She continued, "and he's only taking Physical Education because it's mandatory. He has a precalculus test Tuesday, and a Physics test Friday. He, Emmett, and Rosalie have a field trip next week to see a performance of The Tempest. Anything else you would like to know?" She asked gently.
I thought for a minute. "What grade is he in?" I asked.
She stopped, and apparently had to think about it. Finally she turned to Jasper. "Are you three seniors this year?" She asked uncertainly.
"Juniors." He replied. "Remember, we moved twice last year."
She frowned. "I was sure…"
"We started halfway through the year, and then moved at the beginning of summer." He reminded her. I seemed to be forgotten once again.
His feet were covered in scars. The skin was completely mutilated, covered with overlapping scars. His hands, I now noticed, also carried a few scars. He always wore long sleeves, I realized. Always kept his arms covered. Even in gym he usually wore sweatpants and a turtleneck while everyone else was in shorts and t-shirts, even his brothers.
Did he hide more scars, more signs of abuse? Was he mistreated here? Was that why he always seemed upset about something? Was that why he sometimes was so tense around people that he seemed almost to be in pain?
He caught me staring at his feet again, and turned to look at Mrs. Cullen. "What is it?" She asked immediately. "What's wrong?"
He gave her an affectionate smile. "Simply another complication." He told her. Then he looked back at me, and I got the sense that he was studying me, judging me. Finally he sighed, and unbuttoned his sleeve.
He didn't push it up far, but it was far enough that I could see even more scars on his arm. He rolled it back down and looked at me, waiting for me to meet his eyes.
When I finally did, he spoke. "You think I was abused." He said bluntly. I hesitated, and he continued. "I was. The people I lived with before were different from Esme and Carlisle. They were violent and abusive, and I was a lot like them before I came here. Carlisle and the others have been helping me deal with it. They've been helping me learn how to live a different life." He was completely serious as he continued. "Sometimes it still affects me, like today when I lunged at Jacob, or yesterday when Emmett shoved me in front of a car, but mostly things are okay now. Thanks for your concern, but living with the Cullens has been one of the best things that ever happened to me." He smiled then, his solemn mood broken.
And I believed him. I couldn't do anything else. It was obvious in the way he spoke that he meant every single word of it.
He started to lean back, but Mrs. Cullen pulled him into a hug. He rolled his eyes, but let her. "Sorry." She said, after she finally let him go. She looked ready to cry.
He shrugged. "It doesn't really bother me so much anymore." He told her. Then he looked back at me. "I know we aren't the most normal people you'll find around, and I know we do things differently. But you don't have to worry about us. We're right where we belong."
And again I couldn't help but believe that he was telling me the truth. The feeling lingered as I said goodbye and Jasper and Mrs. Cullen walked me out to the car. It stayed with me as I headed down the driveway and towards home.
Sure, they were odd, but maybe, just maybe, the Cullens were all right.
Disclaimer: I do not own Twilight.