As always, the characters and their world belong to Stephenie Meyer. Any mistakes I have made interpreting them are, of course, my own.
NOTE: I don't post anything online I wouldn't be willing to look someone in the face and admit to having written. However, I realize it can set some people on edge to read sex scenes written by someone they know personally. So if you are a "real-life" friend, and it's going to make you uncomfortable to read something I've written that's not PG-13, I suggest that you click the "back" button. Thanks!
Many thanks to Simone and Julie for their input on the draft. A note about this piece is available on my Live Journal.
The year is 2010.
"It's from the late nineteenth century."
The woman looks up, startled. A smiling man has approached. He is short and balding, but seems pleasant enough.
"Used to be in an old women's boardinghouse right here in Ashland," he continues eagerly, gesturing to the chest of drawers. "It's in perfect condition."
The prospective buyer, a young woman in her early thirties, nods and runs an appreciative hand across the weathered top of the piece. She is furnishing her first home with her new husband, and their budget affords them only a few items from Craigslist, IKEA, and the occasional estate sale. The dresser is stickered at $200, far cheaper than she could buy it new, but still well out of her price range.
Still, she hovers near the piece of furniture for nearly an hour, occasionally going to other parts of the sale and filling her arms with a few small trinkets—a round table lamp for the living room, a child's chalkboard that will look cute in the aging kitchen. Her husband will sigh and shake his head when she comes home with it, but it's only three dollars and she can give up a latte for the occasional bit of décor.
The proprietor of the estate sale doesn't linger, but she sees that he continues to eye her as she doesn't manage to move far from the bureau. Finally, she puts her items down on the floor of the crowded living room.
It wouldn't hurt just to check its functionality. She doesn't have to buy it.
One by one, she opens the drawers, first the small jewelry drawers at the top, which are padded with a decaying velvet, then the larger drawers intended for clothes. Each drawer slides easily—it is a remarkable piece of craftsmanship, and as the salesman said, in pristine condition.
In the bottommost drawer, she spies a bundle of cloth, folded into a neat square and shoved into the back corner. Unthinkingly, she reaches for it. When she withdraws her hand, she finds she is clutching a soft baby quilt whose fabric is yellowed and thinned with age. The pattern is simple, squares and triangles in blue, yellow, and green. The pieces are sewn with uneven stitching and the joins are slightly crooked, as though whoever sewed it was making their first attempt at such a project. She unfolds it carefully, and a slip of paper flutters out of its folds. Laying the quilt gently on top of the bureau, she picks up the paper.
It is a newspaper clipping from January of 1921. An obituary.
Esme Anne Platt, 26, died Saturday from injuries sustained in a fall from Hollerman's Rise. Mrs. Platt was employed by Ashland High School, where she taught literature and grammar. She was a resident at the Graymercy widows' boardinghouse. Boardinghouse proprietor Dorothy McClintock reports that Mrs. Platt recently gave birth to and lost a son, John David, and was unwilling to comment further. Mother and child are interred at St. Alban's church cemetery. Surviving relations are unknown.
She sucks in her breath, staring down at the yellowed clipping. Hollerman's Rise is a cliff north of town. It has long since been blocked off, although the barriers and warnings of the steep drop are probably unnecessary in this age of razor blades and sleeping pills. It's almost easy now to die, if one wishes to. But the mother of the baby for whom this decaying quit was intended had been given no such easy out. Surviving relations are unknown.
Picking up the quilt again, she looks at its back. Sewn there in unsteady embroidery are the initials "J.D.P." John David Platt. The tiny letters, each slightly askew from the next, cause her to tear up for reasons she doesn't understand. She hasn't even given serious thought to having children yet—like other newlyweds their age, she and her husband have barely broached the topic. Yet the quilt in her hands seems to tug at her, speaking to her of a mother, waiting patiently— long enough to sew a quilt—for a baby who would never get the chance to live.
The deep voice of the proprietor startles her. "Still thinking about the dresser, ma'am?" He has a hopeful expression. "I could drop the price."
"No," she answers quietly, her head shaking from side to side. "I can't afford it." She gestures to the blue cloth draped over her arm. "But would you be willing to sell this quilt?"
For a moment, the balding man looks first at her, then at the quilt, and finally into her tear-filled eyes. He sees something in this woman, in the way she clutches the quilt to her chest. Why she's so attached to it, he doesn't understand—she came without a child, and she doesn't look pregnant; in fact, he thinks he remembers hearing her talk to another customer about her new husband and how they were furnishing their home on the cheap. But her fingers wrap lovingly around the weathered fabric, and his experienced eye recognizes the sign of someone who is attached to something so thoroughly she will pay any asking price.
So he gives her the quilt for free.
Roan Mountain, TN
The fire crackles and spits, sending boys from eight to eighteen scrambling backwards with laughter, only to return a moment later with their sticks, marshmallows, and eager expressions. They are troop #54 of Bull's Gap, Tennessee on their semi-annual camp-out. The younger boys are having difficulty settling down, a problem not in any way assisted by the jolt of sugar from the s'mores they've just devoured, but the leaders of the troop make no attempts to calm them yet. Instead, they sit back away from the fire in folding camp chairs, content to watch as the younger boys run and giggle, and the older boys josh one another and talk in hushed tones.
A single boy sits apart, red hair falling forward over his face. Like the other boys his age, Matthew Beals has allowed his hair to grow to his chin, where it curls in strange, untamable cowlicks, shielding his face from the expressions of the others. In truth, he doesn't want to catch their attention—only eavesdrop as they tell the story of Old Ghost McCarty.
As the tale has it, Old Ghost McCarty was a young man from Bull's Gap, not much older than some of the oldest scouts, who disappeared on a hunting trip almost seventy years ago. Each teller spins his own view on the story: sometimes Old McCarty had been killed by a bear, sometimes he had been turned into a bear. The mythology of the Appalachian mountains has always been rich—no end to the moral tales of how to behave.
But Matthew knows the real story of Old McCarty—Great Uncle Emmett, as Matthew knows him better. His grandfather's older brother by thirteen years. It was the days before the depression, when a good mountain mother had as many children as she could manage, and prayed for sons who could help with the hunting and then bring back work from the mines. Over the years, a few of the McCartys have made their way into Pennsylvania and the steel mills, but most of them are still in Bull's Gap—a huge clan of first, second, third cousins and all these same once and twice removed. The story of Old McCarty is a different one to them—a cautionary tale, yes, but also one of family pride. To hear the other scouts tell it, the story barely managed to be frightening, but to hear Matthew's grandfather tell it was absolutely thrilling.
It was a cold night in the middle of January, a harsh winter following a bad harvest, and beast was as hungry as man. It was for this that the black bear, a nursing mother, came onto the family's small farm. The men—there were five of them, the four oldest brothers and John McCarty, Matthew's warrior of a great-grandfather—had secured what little food stores they had to the best of their abilities, but barn doors are little match for starving bears even now, and in the nineteen thirties, this was even more the case.
And so it had been that the second-youngest McCarty, Marianne, had been caught when she'd gone to gather eggs or corn—the tale was non-specific as to this detail—and her scream had brought the men running from the house. Emmett was the fastest, the strongest, and the biggest—although he was third-oldest, he was the one no one would take on in a fight. No one, that was, except the hungry black bear.
"We heard that bear a-caterwauling something bad," Matthew's grandfather always says. For a while it seemed that Big Emmett would get the upper hand. But "then there came a mighty crash" and the back barn door ripped from its hinges…and both bear and man were gone. They found the bear dead.
They never found Great Uncle Emmett.
Seventy-five years later, Matthew Beals sits, rocking himself in front of the dying fire and watching the coals pulse a deep orange as the night breeze whips across them. And as he listens to the older boys wrap up their story, he stands.
"That ain't the way the story goes," he says.
His voice is quiet, but firm. One of the boys challenges him anyway.
"I mean, it ain't the way the story goes." In the light of the fire, sixteen sets of eyes flicker as they look up at him, and he steps closer to them.
"It weren't in the spring," he says carefully. "It was in the wintertime—in the cold part of the winter, January, February maybe. It was a bad winter after a bad harvest, and the animals, they was as hungry as the people…."
Every set of shining eyes trains on Matthew as the boy launches into the tale with all the fervor of a good mountain storyteller. And scoutmasters grin as Old Ghost McCarty helps Matthew Beals find his place in the pack.
Rosalie Hale dances in circles, giggling, her blond pigtails flying behind her like banners as she bobs around the other children. Her mother shushes her with a smile, but doesn't put much effort into scolding her daughter—it is a joyous occasion, and their extended family is too far-flung these days not to let Rosie run shrieking with her second cousins when they are together.
Christopher Hale watches this from his seat at the head of the room. He is the guest of honor, the man who has lived to age ninety. His three children, and their children, five of them, and their children, of whom little Rosie is one, are all gathered in the fellowship hall of his church, having sung "Happy Birthday" and showered him with another round of useless gifts.
Really, at this point, Christopher is only waiting to go the same way as everyone he's ever known: his parents, his wife, his younger brother. They are all gone now, as happens when one lives to such an advanced age. His family and his friends are now little more than memories, and often not even that. Rosie, who at age four shows every sign of growing to be just as beautiful as her flaxen-haired namesake, might one day hear stories about great-grandpa Christopher's sister, but she won't remember them. His mother destroyed their few photographs of Rosalie after they buried her in the church graveyard in Rochester, and so only Christopher is able judge whether or not the new Rosalie resembles the old. He still goes to the gravesite from time to time—he has remained in Rochester his whole life, living frozen in the place where his family suffered such pain and shame.
There are many things he has forgotten over the years, but only one memory he can't shrug off—his sister's body, broken, bleeding in the cold streets. At fourteen years old, he had been the one to find her, inches from death, her bones and her organs damaged beyond repair. She had died before Christopher could run to fetch the ambulance, and he remembered falling beside her broken body, his tears splashing into her bloodied hair. The horror of finding Rosalie pushed him into medicine, and he practiced for nearly forty years, trying to erase his sister's memory with every patient he treated. There is no doubt that he's saved the lives of hundreds, maybe even thousands, but still her unbearably beautiful face dances behind his eyelids when he tries to sleep at night.
They never found the culprit.
Now as he watches little Rosie giggle, her short legs sending her careening around the folding tables, Christopher prays that she will never know anything like what her great-great-aunt knew. He prays her beauty will be a blessing, not a curse, and that no one will ever lay an unkind hand on the little girl who is so happy on this day. She is born into a different era, another millennium entirely, and so she can continue to be the joyous girl who laughs easily, whose pigtails fly, whose doors are opened by her good looks and sharp mind and not slammed shut by men who believe her to be their property.
And so Christopher watches patiently, silently, as one Rosalie dances before him and another dances in his mind, two girls linked through decades by blond hair and a single name.
"I'm about to come."
He announces this dispassionately, as if she needs to be kept appraised of the situation. Although, to be honest, she might not know if he didn't say anything. Sex with Carlisle is mechanical—more mutual masturbation than an intimate joining of bodies. He fucks in utter silence, never crying out, never moaning, never grunting. Having now given his only verbal warning, he shudders once, twice, and then relaxes.
Tanya disentangles her fingers from his wavy locks and raises her body, dismounting him as he begins to go flaccid. The viscous venom that serves as his semen dribbles down the inside of her thigh. His eyes are half-closed, the only sign that she has provided him any sort of pleasure.
But then again, it might be annoyance.
They don't kiss. His hand gropes for her mons as she leans over him, two fingers searching for her entrance. He is good about this—they use each other, but he is considerate enough that he doesn't like to be the only one who comes. She rocks against his thumb and palm as his fingers move quickly and roughly inside her. It is impossible to forget that he is a physician when he does this—he finds her clitoris and g-spot easily, but always with the detached precision with which she suspects these same fingers find bloated appendixes and swollen lymph nodes. Tanya tries not to think about this.
Her friend and occasional lover moves through the world alone, stopping in any one place only a few years at a time to save the lives of the humans from whom he refuses to drink, and then moving on silently with some flimsy excuse when he can no longer pass for the age he's claiming. They met during the Depression when they each lived some twenty miles outside the same small town in Montana. He was shy, which was a personality trait Tanya had never before encountered in a vampire. She found him intriguing, not in the least for their shared dietary choices, and they had kept in touch. They'd been acquaintances for twenty years before she found out he had never been with a woman, and he rebuffed her advances for another ten before she finally attacked him one day in the Canadian lowlands. While he was distracted by drinking from an arctic wolf, she leapt on him, shredding his slacks and taking him into her mouth with such force that he shattered the tree she slammed him against. It wasn't love, that was for certain—what she felt from him more than anything that day was a quiet resignation as he at last allowed his body to be defiled. As it turned out, his instincts more than made up for his lack of experience, and they fucked for hours in the tundra. At last he stood, brushed some grass off his bare thighs, declared the experience "unexpected, but nice," and returned to the house.
She only sees him once every few years, and when she does, they have their time together—the same methodical encounter repeated again and again. It isn't the same as having a true partner, but he is the only male vampire she knows who adheres to the same diet—Eleazar, tied so firmly to Carmen, doesn't count—and it's nice to couple with a man of equal strength now and again. The arrangement has lasted decades, and while Carlisle has never seemed to mind, Tanya has begun to wonder if she is hurting him instead of doing him a favor.
His golden eyes are vacant as she bucks against his hand, finding her own completion with his aid. His fingers keep up their insistent rhythm for a few seconds after she comes, pressing hard into super-sensitive nerves so that her legs begin to tremble. It hurts, but it is a fulfilling pain, and she groans into his temple. Satisfied with her response, he withdraws his fingers in a quick stroke, making her gasp, and drags them through the coarse hair on his thigh to clean them. They are now marked, the two of them, each dripping with the juices of the other. She steps to the side, and he rises slowly from the hard-used chair.
"I'm going to take a shower," he says, and she nods.
The slacks he left abandoned on the floor are rumpled now, but he puts them on anyway—he is always embarrassed to be naked in her presence. There is a clicking sound as he fastens his belt, and then he is headed for the door, his head bowed with what might be reverence but is probably shame. She knows that his enjoyment of this is fleeting at best, if he even enjoys these encounters at all. They are not meant to be mates; they both know this. But he is her friend, and as she watches him go, Tanya wishes she could offer Carlisle more than just the occasional orgasm.
Jasper Whitlock is trying to sleep.
He can't, of course. Hasn't been able to since the middle of the nineteenth century, but it doesn't stop him from trying. He lies on his back on the luxurious bed, closing his eyes, and lets the sound of the ocean breeze lull him into a state of trance. The house in which he lies belongs to a resort, and he and Maria are only squatting here—it's not tourist season, which means less hunting but more comfortable places to live.
She's curled on top of him at the moment, which makes it very hard to pretend to do anything, much less something he can't physically do anyway. Her body is sinewy, like a cat's, and indeed he thinks of her that way sometimes, especially when she lies here purring as she's doing now. A single fingernail drags its way through his chest hair and this gives him chills. His skin is sensitive only to the touch of another of his kind, and in the few decades he lived with Charlotte and Peter, he found that as much as he didn't miss Maria, the affection Peter and Charlotte shared had grated on him. Every stolen glance, stroke of the arm, and of course the love and lust which poured off them in waves—for the first five years it had been thrilling, for the next five it had been tiring, and after fifteen, it had simply made him feel trapped.
And so he returned, back to the sticky air of the south, to the humans whose fear haunt him days after the kill, and eventually, to the bed of his creator.
At times he goes for weeks without feeding, still, and Maria chides him gently about this, always in Spanish, calling him querido even as she urges him toward another kill. She is gentler now than she used to be, no longer the stout woman-general he once knew. They are at peace, at least in one sense. The newborn wars are almost a century behind them now—it has been scores of years since any vampire needed control of the south. Between Mexico and the United States, feeding is hardly scarce any longer—the interstates, the airplanes, and the advent of central air-conditioning means the continent is settled from coast to coast. There is little need to fight for feeding territory when single cities now have populations in the tens of millions. Jasper hasn't even seen a newborn in eighty years.
The last one stayed with him, though.
It was not long after he left Peter and Charlotte, when he was wandering, sweeping across the country state by state. She was in Greensboro, Alabama, and from the looks of it, she'd been going mad for weeks, if not months. She was completely untamed, abandoned by whoever it had been that had turned her. Jasper knew the pattern, or really, the lack thereof. Her kills were erratic and frequent, and the humans were confused and scared. It didn't take long for the Volturi to find out these things—the Italian vampires had a frightening omniscience, it seemed. And his own reputation preceded him—he wouldn't fare well if found in the company of an unruly newborn. So he followed her for several days, sifting through the emotions of those around him in search of bloodlust and thirst.
It took him half a week to find her. She was good at hiding—out of fear, he assumed—and was skulking around an abandoned house between frequent kills when he finally happened across her. She was pretty—prettier than Nettie or Lucy had ever been, prettier than Maria, although he leaves that part out when he recounts the story. Short spiky black hair, and the body of a sprite. She was fast and strong, but like all newborns, foolish, and his hands found her shoulders in an instant.
And that is the moment that makes her haunt his memory, out of the thousands and thousands of newborns whose teeth marks criss-cross their way up and down his torso. Because when he finally caught her head, and prepared to lower his teeth to her neck, she looked into his eyes and said in a voice filled with wonder, "It's you."
He didn't take the time to find out what she meant.
The whole house burned down from her pyre. She was isolated enough that it took the humans hours to find the inferno and by then it was too late. Jasper was long gone by the time anyone else arrived, continuing his path ever southward. But as much as he tries, he can't shake that memory, and it dances before him even when he is in the throes of passion, and every time he lowers his lips to the pulsing jugular of his next kill. It's you, they all seem to say. It's you.
Maria's hand pulls him now from his reverie as it strokes firmly across his fly, and his body responds of its own accord. He wishes he were human, so that he could tell her he's tired—tired of killing, tired of being her plaything. But he is a vampire, and tiredness is an impossibility. While they may no longer be at war, the dark-haired woman before him is still his commander, and after decades, he's learned to take solace in the hierarchy.
So he doesn't move her hand and instead, pretends to sleep.
The sounds of the other interns' anxious whispers blend behind Carlisle, becoming a dull throb in his ears. They are excited, all of them. Finally degreed, able to claim the title "Doctor." Not fully licensed, but ready to practice. For a moment the sound is muffled ever so slightly as Carlisle pulls the scrub top over his head. Once again he has bought a new set for this first day so that he will fit in with all the others. His closet, however, contains over a hundred—green. blue, maroon, navy, embroidered with the insignias of hospitals all over the country and some from Canada as well.
Although the truth is a new set of scrubs will do Carlisle absolutely no good when it comes to fitting in.
Last night was the new interns' mixer, held at a local bar, and Carlisle was in attendance, dressed in dark jeans, a pair of men's boots, and a tight t-shirt through whose collar peeked a carefully arranged silver chain. Even after centuries, he still feels uncomfortable wearing jewelry, but it is fashionable for men in their twenties to wear necklaces these days. He looked the part of an age-peer to the others in the new intern cohort at Chicago Presbyterian, and he glided among them, making small talk throughout the evening.
They look down on him, these future neurosurgeons and cardiothoracic specialists. He is ostensibly training to be a GP, to work with every type of illness. His days will be filled attending to children with runny noses, women with migraines, men with sore shoulders. But he has already done these other specialties, time and time again, and he has grown weary of compartmentalizing his practice in this way. He prefers to treat the whole patient, the way it used to be. He has practiced medicine for so long now that those days of knowing his patients, their parents, their children, are becoming lost to his vast memory like discarded trinkets on the floor of a cluttered closet, long-since-forgotten nights when he would attend to a patient by lamplight on a cold evening, when it was a doctor's purview to sit bedside and cool a fevered brow.
This kind of medicine is gone, replaced by pathology labs and laparoscopic surgeries, CT scans and MRIs. Nowadays it is a battle, the doctors against sick bodies. Healing is no longer about the patient—it is about outcomes, statistics, bottom lines. And while it's true that nowadays patients survive and even avoid a host of illnesses which once were irrefutably lethal, something seems to have been lost in the shuffle.
He longs for the time when his patients knew him, or at least knew the him that he was willing to present. When he would treat entire families and even towns, and they all knew young Doctor Cullen as their doctor and their friend. It wasn't true companionship—never has been—but it is the closest he is ever able to come to sharing his life with another.
Now even that has been stripped away. The miracles of modern medicine, indeed.
And so today as the other new interns mill around him, excited and anxious as they pull on scrubs and coats, Carlisle steels himself for another round of being the twenty-six-year-old wunderkind, the intern who practices as though he has decades of experience (centuries, really). He'll stay here seven or ten years, until his youthful face betrays his lie, and then he'll leave under the ruse of having found a new position, and take his melancholy to a new place. There will be a new set of scrubs, a new stethoscope, a new photo ID to be clipped to his lapel, with the photo looking exactly the same as the old one.
Someone claps him suddenly on the back, surprising him, and he turns to see that the young man looks equally surprised, no doubt by the sheer solidness of Carlisle's body. He rarely allows himself to be touched, for fear that others will discover that his skin is not soft, his body too cool, his pulse forever stilled. Yet his skin tingles from even so much as the brush of a hand, and even just a friendly tap on the shoulder causes his impenetrable body to ache.
"You ready for this?" the other intern asks. "Exciting, yeah?"
Carlisle nods, even though it is not exciting, and after so many rounds, he barely looks forward to it any longer. His colleagues will kill patients with their ineptitude, and others will suffer under Carlisle's hands as he is forced to pretend he lacks the knowledge to save them. But he throws a brilliant smile onto his face and becomes the doctor he says he is. Twenty-six years old. Inexperienced. Happy.
"I know it's not going to be easy," the young doctor continues. "But today I'm so excited, I think I could do this forever." He flashes a brilliant smile. "We should go, though. They're waiting for us." And then he is gone into the throng of light blue and white, the other interns in their scrubs and new laboratory coats, the muted palette punctuated only by the brightly-colored stethoscopes which peek from their necklines and their pockets.
Slowly, Carlisle turns from his own locker. He gracefully swings his own white coat over his shoulders and shrugs his way into it; and shoves his own dark blue stethoscope into its pocket. A crisp, newly-laminated ID pronouncing him as CARLISLE CULLEN, M.D. gets affixed to his breast pocket with an extendable lanyard. The locker room is empty now, and for a brief moment he allows his forehead to fall against the cool metal of his locker, and his shoulders heave twice with a few deep breaths. Then he stands, straightens his coat, and heads out for another first day of work.
Forever, he thinks, is a very long time.
CareerBuilder has only a few listings for editorial jobs in Austin. Bella Swan scrolls through them absently, her eyes glazed over with sleep deprivation. This is her last finals period, and while it feels like she's been waiting her whole life for this moment, the actual moment feels as though its significance is fading away with every step she takes closer. The campus bookstore sends her an email almost every day reminding her about purchasing the things she needs to leave here: a cap and gown, graduation announcements, a Gators ring. She'll buy the cap and gown the day before the ceremony, and the announcements are unnecessary. The only people to tell are already coming—Phil and Renee will make the short jaunt down 301 from Jacksonville, and Charlie has had his plane ticket from Washington booked for months.
Charlie misses her, she knows. He once was more standoffish, until her junior year of high school and the very short stint of living with him in Forks. He was sad to see her go, and although he tried to hide it, she saw the tears in his eyes as she boarded the plane. But Bella is a city girl, and Forks was for her mother's convenience. Once Phil was signed, there was no reason for her to stay in Washington. Bella and Charlie see each other now as they always have, a few days at a time, over the holidays and sometimes in the summers. He is looking forward to coming to Gainesville. He's wanted to see the city where his little girl has spent the last four years. And, he wants to meet Derek.
Bella's nose wrinkles. Derek Mitchum is the reason she's surfing the Austin, TX classified ads to begin with. They met in their sophomore year, in the introduction to poetry class that was a prerequisite for all English majors. They had dinner together in the dormitory cafeteria later that evening and have been dating ever since. He was her first; she was his first that mattered. After graduation, he's moving on to UT Law, and she's planning to go with him. They went a week ago to look at apartments together, and as the sun blazed orange in the Texas sky, he asked her to marry him.
She told him she would think about it.
Derek is comfortable, like a pair of old pajamas. Theirs has never been a passionate love—they simply aren't that kind of couple. He chose English because it would prepare him for the LSAT; she declared because she didn't feel like looking around to see if there was something she liked better. Her love for Derek is like that. She loves him enough. Enough for a lifetime, she thinks. They could raise children together—she can see him pushing a child with his dark hair and high cheekbones in a stroller. It would be easy, marrying Derek. And maybe easy is better than passion.
The UT Press is looking for an Editorial Assistant, and the requirements look pretty doable—some office experience, bachelor's degree, preferably in English or a related field. Her pen taps anxiously against her desk—when did she pick it up?—as she examines the ad. Her mother told her not to undersell herself, that she is qualified for these jobs even though they say they want two to five years of experience which she certainly doesn't have. She is still staring at her screen when her phone beeps three times, and she flips it open to see a text message from Derek.
Pizza at Hello Faz? 6?
She pauses for a moment. Faz is a favorite for them both—they've had many a long conversation over the huge slices. She likes pepperoni only, and Derek, who prefers supreme, is always willing to forgo everything else for her preferences. It won't be all romance and flowers, the two of them. But maybe comfortable is what's meant to be.
My answer is yes.
It's a long moment before her phone beeps again.
She hesitates a second. She's been waiting a long time for this moment, or really, maybe it's that she's made Derek wait so long. Yet sitting in front of her computer, with her past arriving to visit in three days and her future glowing at her from a cell phone and a computer screen, good enough for the first time seems good enough. Maybe love that lasts a lifetime comes bottomed-off with thin crust and sprinkled with crushed red pepper. Before she realizes it, her eyes are tearing up thinking of a piece of pizza, and she drags the back of one wrist across her face before picking up the phone again. Her thumbs fly across the tiny qwerty keyboard and she pushes SEND before she can change the message:
Then she turns back to her computer, where the ad for the UT Press glows on the screen, and clicks "Apply."
It takes a human body approximately eight decades to fully decompose, depending on the quality of the soil and in what kind of coffin it was buried, if any. The groundskeeper at All Souls Episcopalian Church knows this—it was one of those weird things he'd sort of always wondered and to which Google and Wikipedia had happily supplied the answer—and sometimes he thinks about it when he walks among the rows and rows of headstones with his weed whacker and pruning shears. Which headstones sit atop bodies that still have flesh, which ones mark bodies that are merely brittle bones, which ones mark bodies that are now as much churned to mud by the rain as the topsoil beneath his feet.
A light drizzle is falling this evening, but it doesn't bother him; Chicago is as rainy as it is windy, and one gets used to the weather. The wet makes the grounds smell fresh, earthy, brings little buds up from the grass. Others are scared of cemeteries; they run past them with the breath held. But the rain reminds him that this is a place of life, and so these are the days he enjoys best, when he can be out with a single pair of shears and feel the water race its way down his face he works.
The sound of good shoes on the sidewalk startles him from his reverie, and he raises his head to see a man walking slowly past the cemetery, the brim of a stylish, somewhat old-fashioned hat pulled down over his forehead, his trench coat buttoned to his collar. He carries no umbrella, allowing the rain instead to fall on his shoulders in splotches. For a moment the groundskeeper's breath catches, and as though the man has heard him, he looks up.
There is something unsettling about the way the man's eyes shine in the twilight. They are yellow, like a cat's, and stare so blankly that for a moment the groundskeeper is afraid. But then he recognizes the deep sadness written in the lines of a face that looks far too young to bear it, and he wonders instead if the man knows someone buried here—a young wife maybe, or perhaps his child.
Yet the man makes no move toward the gate, no sign that it is his intention to enter the graveyard, instead standing in the light rain and staring sadly across to where the other man stands. Were he to enter, the headstone the groundskeeper has paused before would summon to him the crystal clear memory of a bronze-haired, green-eyed boy, and his beautiful mother who wanted so desperately for her son to live. He would remember the sheer force of will that had kept him from interfering, that kept him to free to slip away, always unnoticed. For who is he if he gives in to temptation? He survives by his denial—of his thirst, of his desires, of his sorrow. The temperance sustains him, as it always has and always will.
Thus the two men simply nod a quiet acknowledgment to each other before continuing about their business. The groundskeeper turns back to his shears, and allows himself to wonder if after ninety-one years the body of MASEN, EDWARD ANTHONY II has at last turned to earth. Humming a little, he begins to trim the onion grass away from the weathered marble.
And on the street, the vampire pulls down his hat and slinks off into the rain, alone.