Dedicated to Giselle-lx whose exceptional fiction inspired me to write this story.
" . . . Whether by accident or design, these are the moments when, because of a readiness within us and a collaboration with events occurring around us, we are forced to seriously reappraise ourselves and the conditions under which we live and to make certain choices that will affect the rest of our lives." –Frederick F. Flack
The beast quivered, preparing for its impossible escape. It tensed to leap and I surged forward. A moan trembled through my throat as my teeth sank into its neck. I felt the steam rise and shift around my lips as hot blood spurted from the wound, gushing into my mouth. The wild, musky scent of the cougar filled my senses as its blood pulsed through my body, flooding to the very core of my being.
Too quickly, the moment passed and I shoved the animal's carcass away. I swiped the back of my hand across my mouth and watched as the winter sun glinted off its still, vacant eyes and exposed fangs. I drew a deep breath and let my eyes drift closed. I listened. Nothing but the rush of wind creaking through pine boughs and the occasional flutter of wings disturbed the stillness. My limbs felt heavy as a rare peace settled into my bones. Silence. Here, no thoughts but my own lingered in the air around me. I felt a grin creep along the corners of my mouth.
"Merry Christmas, Edward," I murmured.
I knew Esme disapproved of my little tradition of disappearing during the holidays. She wanted our Christmases to be a Norman Rockwell portrait of family and togetherness. Of course I had nothing against family time, per se. Playing carols on the piano and opening presents; watching with amusement as Alice feigned surprise six different ways, and catching a shared smile between Carlisle and Esme as they reveled in the large family they had so longed for—these were moments I treasured. It was the moments after the presents were opened and the carols were sung that I found less than enjoyable.
It usually began with Emmett's smirk and a particular glint in his eye that only ever meant one thing. The glint was inevitably followed by Rosalie's mind-grating giggle. Her sigh signaled the start of a parade of x-rated images that made me want to gouge my eyes out with whatever sharp implement was within reach.
It wouldn't take long before Jasper latched on to the happy couple's emotion and echoed it back to the entire group. Then everyone else would sigh and touch and stare into their beloved's eyes, while I dashed to the piano to keep my hands respectably occupied. Focusing on my fingers as they raced across the keyboard, I'd barely notice as the others glided away to their respective rooms to continue celebrating. Only when Jasper's emotional hold weakened would I look up to find myself alone in the room, my mind shuddering against a crushing tsunami of images of my happy family engaged in carnal acts, some of which I was sure were illegal in at least 10 states.
I shook my head to dislodge the thought from my mind. The last thing I needed right now was the memory of Carlisle's guttural moan and Esme's sharp gasp as they tangled together in an impossible embrace.
Impossible embrace. The words reverberated in my mind even as I struggled to concentrate on something else—anything else. But Carlisle and Esme stubbornly remained in my mind's eye and I found myself unable to turn away. I watched helplessly as Carlisle's lips trembled against Esme's cheek and traveled slowly down across her jaw—each tender kiss, like a whispered prayer. Esme's fingers twined through his hair as she coaxed his head upward. Her eyes met his and widened with a wonder usually reserved for unexpected encounters with God. Their embrace was pure and reverent—the ultimate expression of perfect love.
Perfect for them, but impossible for me.
Not that I had ever really wanted to be in love, perfect or otherwise. I had existed on this Earth for one hundred and four years and in all that time I could safely say I had never felt gooey about a girl—certainly nothing near the way my father and brothers felt about their wives. Aside from the unfortunate access I had to certain thoughts, being the odd man out never really bothered me. Being single afforded me ample time to devote to my many studies and hobbies. I could be alone whenever I wanted without some clingy girl forcing herself into my mind or trying to rearrange my music collection or—God forbid—making me endure disco.
I felt a spasm build in my jaw as a vision of strawberry blonde hair swept across my memory and Tanya's face floated before me.
"You'll love them, Edward. They're all the rage now," she said as we sat together on the hideous shag carpet in her living room. She passed me the album cover and her hand brushed against mine. Such long, lean fingers—I wonder what else about him is long and lean? Well, hopefully not too lean . . .
"They sound like a bunch of cats in heat."
"You're not giving them a chance," she sighed, and I felt her fingertips brush the back of my neck.
I ignored her wandering hand and focused on the three faces on the album cover. "They look as ridiculous as they sound. Who in his right mind would willingly wear a white satin leisure suit?"
Satin can feel like heaven against naked skin, Edward. Her thought was the breath of a whisper. I tensed as her fingers traced slowly down my spine; her sickly sweet strawberry and cinnamon scent assaulted my nose. "Let me show you," she breathed.
I edged away from her and turned my attention back to the album cover, now nearly bent double under the force of my grip. "Barry, Robin . . . Maurice? What kind of parent names his child Maurice?"
Tanya's wayward hand rested on my knee. Slowly, it began to creep upward. My stomach clenched against a sudden rush of panic. In a flash I jerked my leg out of her grasp and flew to my feet.
"Tanya . . ." I warned.
She ignored me. Instantaneously, she stood pressed to my side; her suffocating perfume enveloped my body. I held my breath as she pulled me in close and rested her hand over my still heart.
"Tanya, I don't . . ."
"Listen to the beat of the music, Edward," she pushed. "It's like the pulse of life, throbbing through every inch of your body, urging you on to give yourself over to your animal desires."
I stood still as a statue. For a few moments, the only movement in the room was the revolution of the record on the turntable—the only sound, the cat-men screeching something about having a fever.
Then I felt her fingers brush along my jaw. Before I could shrug her off, she turned my face toward hers. Her amber eyes searched mine for a brief moment and then the corners of her mouth twisted downward. "You do feel . . . desires . . . don't you?" Perhaps Esme was right. Perhaps he was changed too young.
I twisted out of her embrace and was across the room in half a second. This time, she didn't follow.
"There's nothing wrong with me or my . . . desires," I began, crossing my arms resolutely across my chest. "I'm trying to be a gentleman."
Tanya's eyebrows shot up as her lips twisted in amusement. "A gentleman? Is that what you call it?" Try 'frigid'.
I felt a familiar headache begin to build in my temples. It was the same tension that always seemed to develop during those thankfully few moments when we found ourselves alone together. I took a deep, steadying breath. It was time to end this once and for all. "Tanya, I'm flattered by the interest you take in me. You're attractive and a great friend, but . . ."
"Strawberry blonde is not your type."
"No one is my 'type'; I don't have a 'type'. My desires, as you like to call them, simply don't run in the way of romance. I enjoy being single."
I thought that my firm tone would put an end to the conversation, but Tanya's laughter told me otherwise. In her thoughts, I saw myself as she did—standing with my shoulders tensed, my arms crossed protectively against my chest, my chin making a valiant attempt to look strong and composed as it jutted forward just a bit too far. I look exactly like the awkward, inexperienced adolescent she thought me to be.
"Oh, Edward. How little you know!" She shook her head, but a small smile still played on her lips.
"I'm nearly seventy-seven years old. I think I know my own mind, Tanya."
She rolled her eyes. "Come back in nine hundred years and then tell me what you know."
"And you're the expert about matters of the heart, oh queen of the all-night roller disco?"
In her mind I saw a train of men of all shapes and sizes and in every stage of undress flash by. Most appeared dazed and delighted as they succumbed to Tanya's temptations. However, I also saw more than one man lying still and pale in Tanya's bed as she tried in vain to revive them.
Her smile faltered. "All right," she admitted, "perhaps I don't know everything about love. But I do know a lot about the single life Edward, and I can safely say that it's not for everyone." She glided quietly to the record player. Delicately, she lifted the needle from the spinning record and shut off the power. She stood still for a moment, watching as the album slowly rotated to a stop.
"Being single definitely has its benefits for me. There are more than enough men out there to satisfy certain needs." She glanced at me, a wicked gleam in her eye. "And there's nothing more satisfying than the thrill of the hunt."
She looked away again, her expression suddenly wistful. "Although I can't say I haven't wondered once or twice what it might be like to be mated to someone."
An image of Tanya holding my hand shimmered in her mind for the briefest second before it suddenly disappeared. She slowly shook her head causing a cascade of strawberry blonde curls to sway slightly against her glittering halter-top. Then she heaved a theatrical sigh.
"Frankly, I'm not sure I have the patience to be tied to just one man. No variety—no surprises—I'm sure I would eventually become the first vampire ever to die of sexual monotony."
"Then you understand something of where I'm coming from," I interjected. "I don't want to be tied down, either."
She turned to me so quickly her image blurred. The small smile was back. "Edward, your situation and mine are completely different. Yes, we're both single, but I'm far more pragmatic than you could ever hope to be." She appraised me for a second, her eyes serious. "No, you're too much like Carlisle. How long did he go before he finally got laid?"
She snorted and a parade of images flashed by of Carlisle refusing her and her sisters again and again. From the assortment of clothing styles they wore, the events had transpired at least a hundred years before I had known him.
"And when he did ultimately give in, he married the girl first." Carlisle re-emerged in her mind, this time holding Esme tenderly in his arms, his eyes drifting closed as he softly brushed his lips against hers.
"Carlisle is a romantic, Edward . . . and so are you." Even if you are still too stubborn to realize it. "And a romantic requires a mate."
I opened my mouth to protest, but she beat me to it. "You may think you're happy now, but trust me; there will come a day when your hobbies won't completely satisfy."
"I know my min—"
"Yes, yes. You know your mind," she said, silently sliding up to me. She gently rested her hand on my shoulder and her golden eyes searched mine. "But Edward, what do you know of your heart?"
I shook my head violently, dislodging the vision of Tanya from my mind. I looked up into the ice-blue sky and followed the sun as it glistened off the snowy treetops. Slowly, my eyes traced downward until they rested upon the cougar. Frost gathered and glittered off its cooling backside and for a moment, the beast looked otherworldly—almost ethereal—draped in diamonds. I glanced down at my hands. Turning them slowly, I watched as they freakishly refracted the light into hundreds of gleaming rainbows. Before I realized what I was doing, my hands were jammed away into my jacket pockets.
For a long moment, I stared at the dead animal that lay at my feet. I noted his knife-like fangs and the razor-sharp claws hidden away in his frosty paws. He had been a predator—designed to maim and kill. I ran my tongue across my teeth. I felt the venom begin to pool in my mouth as I recalled myself hunched in the brush behind him, my legs poised to pounce as he lifted his nose in response to my scent. Deep in their pockets, my hands curled into fists and once again I felt his neck crack under my crushing grip.
The sound echoed in my mind and as it did, I watched as the cougar was replaced by a tall, lanky man who smelled of bathtub gin and terrified women. Another crack and another man appeared. Shorter and stockier than the first, his pockets were filled with money he'd stolen from his family, his hands twitching with the desperate desire to turn the cash into cocaine. Another crack, and another face emerged, then another. They flashed through my mind one after the other—not ceasing until the last man—the last victim—had made himself known. Three hundred and seventy. The number was forever burned into my consciousness.
I turned my head away from the dead beast. Designed to kill, I too was a predator. But unlike the cougar that hunted only out of instinct for his survival, I had hunted for pleasure and revenge. I was a heartless killer. I was a monster.
"That was over seventy years ago, Edward," Carlisle's patient voice reverberated in my mind. "You aren't that man anymore."
"It doesn't matter when it happened," I answered aloud. "I murdered those men. That can never be undone."
"You are forgiven," Carlisle's voice echoed.
I felt the familiar twin shocks of pain and guilt rush through my body. My hands suddenly flew to my head, my fingers twisting restlessly through my hair. "No." The word automatically fell from my lips. How could such unconscionable bloodlust ever be pardoned? Who but the men I murdered had the power to forgive me? Would they, even if they could?
"No . . ."
"You deserve better than this self-reproach, Edward. You have too noble a heart to suffer so much grief. You deserve happiness." Carlisle's voice was a mere breath, dissolving into the rush of the breeze through the pines.
"Happiness," I muttered. Carlisle was forever going on about how much I deserved happiness. And I was forever informing him that I was perfectly content with my life. I was part of a large, loving family—a rare occurrence among vampires. In material terms, I wanted for nothing. I had both the means and the time to indulge in all of my interests. Why shouldn't I be happy? In my mind, I had everything I needed.
But what do you know of your heart? Tanya's voice sounded in my head. I felt the ghost of her hand on my shoulder. Her sober gaze penetrated my body, settling on my still heart. For a moment, I listened to the silence there. My heart had not beaten in eighty-seven years and in all that time, I had made it a point to avoid focusing on that silence. A heartbeat signified to me the essence of life, of human life, however frail. The absence of that beat was a constant reminder of the unnatural existence that I, and those like me, lived. We were freaks of nature—cheating death, but never truly living.
Yet, as I continued to focus on the stillness, I felt something new and strange stutter to life within me. As the sensation grew, an image materialized before me—a memory of Carlisle and Esme I had not truly considered in over eight decades. They stood together in the small anti-chamber of the courthouse in Ashland. Carlisle, dressed in a white linen suit with one perfect red carnation in his lapel, reached for Esme's hand, treasuring it as if it were a priceless piece of porcelain. Esme wore a cream and gold cotton net dress trimmed in lace and covered in an intricate design of embroidered flowers. She gazed up at Carlisle and I imagined that if it were possible, her cheeks would be tinted a delicate pink.
Neither of them looked at the judge as he delivered the marriage service in his monotone voice. They had eyes only for each other. I watched as Esme stroked her thumb across the top of Carlisle's hand then moved to intertwine her fingers with his. I noticed how the slim gold band reflected the electric lights in the room as I handed it to Carlisle and how his fingers trembled slightly as he moved it into place on Esme's waiting finger. Then he raised his hand to her cheek—and she to his—as they drew together to seal their union with a kiss.
As their lips touched, the sensation in my chest seemed to transform, to become stronger and more urgent. No longer a flutter, it was a throbbing need.
"That's what I want," I whispered, hardly believing the words had come from my own mouth. My mind immediately struggled to take them back. I was a monster. I didn't deserve such a gift. But it was too late. The words had been spoken and the sensation . . . the desire . . . could not be denied. Perhaps I didn't deserve it, but I knew now what I wanted.
I wanted love—a perfect and eternal love—the kind of love that enveloped Carlisle and Esme. The realization ripped through me like a burst of lightening, shooting its electric fingers through every inch of my body.
The sensation was both exhilarating and excruciating. To desire love was one thing, but fulfilling that desire required two people, not one. What were the chances that there was someone out there meant for me? Slim to none, if I considered it rationally. Not only was I a vampire—a point of fact that severely limited my options from the outset—but I was also a vampire with an entirely unconventional diet. The only females I knew who fit into this category were Tanya and her sisters, and I knew without a doubt that none of them were meant for me.
I shook my head in frustration as the desire continued to beat against my chest. What kind of vindictive God would allow me to experience a need so strong, only to tease me with it? Perhaps that was the point. My punishment would be to long for an impossible love for the rest of eternity. Wonderful.
I sighed into the now darkened sky. I had been alone with my thoughts for too long. It was time to head back home to Forks where I would resume my slightly awkward place amidst a group of three blissfully matched couples. I felt a frown develop at the thought of it. Before, it hadn't been so bad being the odd man out. But now?
Perhaps what I needed was some time away—some real time away. Despite the continuous cloud cover that made Forks appealing to a family of vampires, it was also tiny and deadly dull. I could spend a few months traveling through Europe. I'd always wanted to visit Vienna. Maybe I could spend a year there studying music as an exchange student. Carlisle couldn't disagree with my leaving if it involved expanding my mind through education.
I considered this plan as I ran back to the house. I was a mile out when Esme's worried thoughts broke through to me. Edward's been gone too long. I don't care what Alice says, if he's not back in an hour, I'm going to search for him. It's so cold out there and he's all alone . . ."
I felt my mouth twitch into a grin as I listened to my mother's concern. Sometimes she seemed to forget that we were nearly indestructible immortals. The wintry air felt just as comfortable as the summer sun to me, but her tender concern touched me none-the-less.
I arrived at the house as the sun rose, unsurprised to find Carlisle and Esme standing together on the wide porch. Carlisle gripped Esme's hand and threaded his fingers through hers. He looked at me and smiled.
"Welcome home, Edward." Though his smile was serene, the relief he exuded in his thoughts was so strong I nearly stumbled backward.
Finally! Emse's relief was nearly as palpable as Carlisle's. I had almost reached the porch steps when I suddenly felt her thin arms squeezing me close. "Where were you?" She accused gently.
"I was hunting—just as I do every year," I answered. "I was only gone for a week."
Esme tightened her hold on me and I looked to Carlisle for enlightenment.
"Edward, you were gone for twelve days."
Two weeks. Time flies when you're having a catharsis.
Carlisle's eyes penetrated mine. I wish you had called us to let us know you would be away longer than planned. He joined Esme and me, gripping my shoulder warmly. It's all right, though. Alice saw that you were safe.
I strangled a sigh. If this was their reaction to an absence of two weeks in the Olympic National Forest, I could only imagine their response to my proposal to spend a year in Europe. I would have to tread carefully when I broached the subject with Carlisle.
Finally reassured that I had returned all in one piece, Esme relaxed her hold on me. She smiled, smoothing my hair across my forehead. I love you so much, Edward.
She turned to Carlisle and their eyes met, shining with devotion so deep, my chest ached. Carlisle brushed his palm against Esme's cheek and she pressed her hand against his. Between their thoughts, I heard nothing and everything. The silence they held was sacred, reflecting a bond that often transcended words.
My eyes followed Esme as she turned and headed back into the house. One thing was certain. I had to leave, and soon. I knew the throbbing desire in my chest would not abate while my family surrounded me. Far away, I might find some release.
Something's wrong. He looks distressed . . .
I felt the weight of Carlisle's worry, but I couldn't return his gaze. "Nothing's wrong, Carlisle. I just need a few minutes to settle back in, that's all."
And a few more to pack my bags, I thought grimly as I entered the house.
"You know you can always come to me with any problem, son," Carlisle said quietly from behind me as I prepared to mount the staircase. I want you to be happy.
I turned to him and offered a small smile. "I know, Carlisle. I want that, too."
He rested his hand on my shoulder for a brief moment, his eyebrows creased with concern. But rather than press the issue further, he turned and walked off toward the living room where Esme sat sketching.
I climbed the stairs, silently considering my next move. It was only when I reached my bedroom door that I heard her.
Prada, Gucci, Armani . . .Hi Edward! Cavalli, Chanel, Dior . . .
I opened the door to find Alice sitting lotus-style in the middle of my black leather couch. Her eyes were closed as if in deep concentration, but an impish grin danced across her lips.
"What are you doing in my room?" I demanded.
"Good morning to you, too," she replied, a smirk still on her face. Herrera, Jacobs, Lacroix, Lagerfeld . . .
"And will you stop bombarding me with all those designer names? I'm getting a headache." She was obviously hiding something from me, and whatever it was pleased her exceedingly. I tried to ignore her and headed toward my closet.
You're not going to Europe, Edward, Alice thought excitedly. Gaultier, Vuitton, Ludvik . . .
"I'm not?" I deadpanned, turning to her. Of course she would have foreseen my plan. "I believe I am the one entitled to make decisions about what I will or will not do with my life, Alice. Not you."
Her eyes suddenly popped open and her smile grew wide. Yes, you are definitely entitled to your own decisions. And you've made one—a huge one. I've had a vision.
Before I could respond, Alice's list of names disappeared and I suddenly saw myself sitting in a field of flowers. Sunlight sifted through the clouds, sending rays of light cascading into view. I knew the spot well; it was my meadow. I often spent time there when I wanted to be alone with my thoughts. Yet, as I focused more intently, I noticed that my vision self was not alone. His attention seemed to be drawn to a misty figure lingering in the grass nearby. My vision self smiled, reaching toward the mist, his eyes wide with an emotion I could barely acknowledge. He looked . . .I looked . . . happy. Blissfully happy. Without warning, the strange throbbing began to echo in my chest again.
"Edward!" Alice cried impatiently. "Don't you see her?"
"Her?" I asked dumbly.
"She's sitting right beside you. Don't you see?"
I peered more closely at the misty figure in the vision. Though it appeared to be the source of my vision self's obvious delight, it didn't look anything remotely like a woman. "You mean that creamy-brown smudge?"
"Don't call her a smudge," Alice retorted. She sounded genuinely offended and I fought the urge to laugh.
"All right. Even if it is a girl, who's to say she will appear in my life any time soon? This vision of yours could be decades or even hundreds of years into the future."
Alice rolled her eyes to the ceiling. "Edward, how can you be so dense? Look at the vision! You're wearing a shirt from Prada's 2006 spring-summer line. And you know I wouldn't allow you to wear anything outdated by even a year."
"Oh, right," I answered sardonically. "However could I have missed that?"
"Don't you know what this means?" She pressed excitedly, ignoring my attitude.
I shook my head.
"It means she's coming soon—within six months or at the very most, a year."
The throbbing sensation in my chest intensified.
"So now you know that you absolutely cannot run away to Europe."
I felt my spine bristle at that. "I don't run away from anything, Alice."
She raised an eyebrow in disbelief. Then her face suddenly softened. "I knew something powerful must have happened to you while you were away. I'd never had a vision of you like this before. You were so happy . . . and for the first time, you weren't alone."
"Yes," I answered, sitting down beside her on the sofa. Alice always told us that her visions were not random—they were triggered by decisions. "I suppose I decided that I don't want to be the odd man out anymore." I smiled at her as she wrapped her arms across my shoulders and gave me a squeeze.
"I knew you'd come to your senses sooner or later." Her eyes suddenly widened with glee. "I'm going to order that shirt for you right now." In half a second she was out the door.
I sat still for a moment, listening. Below me in the living room, I heard the soft scratch of Esme's charcoal pencil as she sketched. From her mental perspective, I saw Carlisle sitting quietly before her. He reached for her free hand and brushed his lips against the gold band on her finger, his mouth curling into a delighted grin.
"Carlisle is a romantic, Edward," I heard Tanya's voice declare, "and so are you. And a romantic requires a mate."
I smiled to myself as I considered what the coming year would bring.
Much of my inspiration for this story comes from Giselle-lx's fan fiction, including her interpretations of the Twilight characters (most notably Edward, Carlisle and Alice) and her back-story details. The number of men Edward claimed to have killed, 370, comes from her excellent story, Da Capo. Edward's memory of the men he killed echoes a scene in Da Capo that continues to astound me with its lushness and haunting beauty. I highly recommend all of her stories, if you haven't already read them. They are gems!
If you want to see a picture of the dress that inspired Esme's wedding gown, go to: www(dot)antiquedress(dot)com(forward slash)item7035(dot)htm.